Welcome to the first ever Three Men in Various Places SMACKDOWN!

In this corner, written seven years before our current champion but lacking a dog…it’s Three in Norway (By Two of Them)!

And in this corner, still laugh-out-loud funny over a hundred years after its publication and holding a very special place in your announcer’s heart; it’s the book that’s so good, its author was named twice…it’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)!

Okay, we all know how this is going to end, but when I saw that this Three in Norway (By Two of Them) was the inspiration for my favorite book in the history of the ever-ever, I figured I should give it a read. And, actually, I’m glad I did because it makes me appreciate Jerome K. Jerome’s writing ability even more. Not that Three in Norway is bad, it’s just…different. While they’re both ostensibly travelogues, I think only Three in Norway really is and I’m afraid I think that’s what makes it less enjoyable.

The authors’ voice takes a little getting used to as its written in a strange mix of third person and first person (no one ever refers to themselves as “I” but they do say “we”), but mostly it’s just quite…dry. I never really felt like I cared about the three characters and the three of them all seemed fairly interchangeable – unlike George, Harris and J. who are both charming and memorable.

Also, there’s a lot of fishing. I mean, a LOT of fishing. And reindeer hunting. Neither of which are really my thing and I don’t think it’s possible to make fishing seem exciting, so there are quite long stretches of story where I was just bored. One person I lent Three Men in a Boat to gave it back to me after they’d finished it and said “I didn’t really get it – nothing happened.” Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last much longer. Turns out all those asides and tangents that Jerome incorporates keeps things lively and interesting – otherwise it would just be three dudes in a boat on the Thames. Three in Norway, on the other hand, never ventures out of the present moment (or hardly ever does).

To be fair, I think the Two of Them were not going for the same comic effect that Jerome was – and if you’re wanting to go hunting and fishing in the wilds of Norway with Three in Norway as your guide, you’d probably be glad of that. But, really, apart from there being three men and the fact that they’re going somewhere, I would say there are actually very few similarities between the two (yes, I know Jerome originally did intend his book to be a genuine travelogue – thank goodness that didn’t work out!).

I dogeared a couple of Jerome-esque pages to show you that there are glimpses of a similar wit here and there:

Lighting a fire for breakfast was a toilsome busines, but at last we found some wood dry enough to burn. It continued raining in a nice keep-at-it-all-day-if-you-like kind of manner, so we resided in the tent, and read, and indulged in whisky and water for lunch to counteract any ill effects of the reading–for some of it was poetry. (p. 38)

They also get into one or two situations that would do George, Harris, and J. proud:

Soon the cauldron was heated and brought into the tent, and the eager crowd drew near with cups and spoons, and one lifted the lid, while another plunged his cup into the steaming savoury mess. And then arose a great cry of horror and desolation, and the sleeping valley rang with the wail of men in despair, for John had put the wrong pot on the fire, and we had been presented with boiling, dirty water in which the dinner-things had been washed up; while all the time the soup pot was quiet, untouched and cold in the corner of the tent where it is kept.

And speaking of their tent, these guys have a pretty sweet setup going! I mean, an actual camp with a stove they built themselves and everything – and they bake bread in it!

The one place where these three outshine George, Harris, and J. is in their actual woodsmen skills – George, Harris, and J. would have starved to death on the first day if they’d relied on fishing and hunting for their sustenance.

And I do have to give them credit for recognizing genius when they see it:

We all think Mark Twain the best writer for camp life that has yet been discovered, and we have three or four of his books here. Besides our library of light literature consists of Shakespeare, Longfellow, Dr. Johnson’s Table-talk, and novels by Whyte Melville, Walford, and Thackeray. But Mark and William get more work than all the rest. (p. 173)

Let’s be honest, we all knew this was never going to be a fair fight, but I think Three in Norway does an admirable job at the attempt even though it doesn’t quite make it. But if I ever go fishing in Norway, it’ll be the first book I turn to.

Okay, one last one-last treat…

Heather’s mom went strawberry picking a few days ago and the crops were so plentiful that even after making the most amazing strawberry jam, she still had lots left over and Heather brought me a bag of them. Which meant the race was on! I have a hard time keeping fresh fruit in the house because I just can’t seem to eat them all before they go all mushy and horrible – but these strawberries looked so good, I was determined not to let them go to waste. So I ate some and made Martha Stewart via Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Summer Cake.

Everything Smitten Kitchen says is true – there’s more berry than cake here and because of the long time everything just sort of dissolves together and makes a fantastic, jammy cake. So yummy and perfect for summer!

What’s an animal that lives in Illinois that screams that’s not a peacock?

Monday night, around 2 am, I woke up to a horrible screeching sound and my first thought was, of course, “BANSHEE!” It went on for maybe 30 seconds and then stopped. Once I’d woken up sufficiently to reassure myself it wasn’t actually a banshee, I figured I’d just heard some animal being eaten by another animal – unfortunate, but, you know, the circle of life and all that, I guess.

Then last night, again around 2 am, I was jolted awake by the same noise. This time it went on for maybe a minute. When it was over and I’d once again convinced myself that it probably wasn’t a banshee, I decided to figure out what was making such a horrible noise. When I’d told Liz about it on Tuesday, she’d suggested that maybe it had been an owl, so I started my google search there. Turns out eastern screech owls live in Illinois! But, after listening to a couple of websites that had audio clips of their calls, I learned that, contrary to their name, screech owls? Don’t screech.

So I started searching for pretty much the title of this post and up popped a similar question from someone in Ohio – they were guessing it was either an owl or a fox. One of the people who answered the question linked to a video of foxes making various sounds and, lo and behold, that was what I’d been hearing! But you have to close your eyes and pretend that it’s just woken you up in the middle of the night (it’s not that scary when you see the little fox actually making the noise).

Isn’t that horrifying?! I agree with one of the commenters who says “We seriously thought we had a velociraptor living in the pond area behind our apartment. The sounds at the beginning of this are identical to what we heard. Who would ever guess a fox makes this noise? It was utterly bone-chilling when we heard it.”

Apparently more and more foxes are moving into urban areas – it keeps them safe from coyotes and there are plenty of rabbits and squirrels to snack on (and probably garbage cans to root through). Everything I read said that foxes are hardly ever a threat to dogs and cats which is a relief because there are at least two neighborhood cats around here that go outside. But there are also chickens somewhere (I know because I often hear the rooster in the morning) and it sounds like foxes are good at burrowing into coops, so I hope their owner has taken necessary precautions!

I’m happy to have more wildlife around here, but…they need to not make that noise anymore.

I’m keeping it short and sweet…

Sleepwalk With Me: And Other Painfully True Stories by Mike Birbiglia

You know what? I’ve been staring at this post for a while now, trying to think of what to say and I’m just going to have to take my cue from Virgil Thomson: I like Mike Birbiglia; I also like his comedy and his book.

My rating: B+ (And that’s only because he includes bits that he’s already used in his standup – if it had been all new material, I would have given it an A.)


I have finally vanquished Scott Westerfeld’s trilogy!

Uglies, Pretties, and Specials by Scott Westerfeld

It was exhausting and took me waaaaaaay longer than it should have for me to get through these three books, but I finally triumphed!

It’s an intriguing premise and Westerfeld’s a good writer, but the reason it took me so long to finish these books is that I didn’t care about the characters. Not a single one. The main character, Tally, is not very bright and just gets lucky most of the time. She makes terrible decisions and doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes. Her friend, Shay, is wasted – she starts out a protagonist, but then turns into a selfish, whiny, reckless (and not in an interesting way), flat character who doesn’t seem to have any motivation behind her actions. I’m still not sure if she ended up a good guy or a redeemed bad guy somehow.

By the third book, when Westerfeld opens up the focus of his world to include other cities and governments, I found that more interesting – probably because he was expanding upon the aforementioned intriguing premise – but still could not have cared less for the fate of any of his characters. What a waste.

My rating: D+

Meh, fun enough…

It’s a Pirates movie. You pretty much know what to expect by now. The problem with that is that, honestly, a lot of the swash has gone out of the buckle at this point. Johnny Depp in eyeliner is always pretty to look at and Geoffrey Rush is clearly still having loads of fun playing Barbosa. Ian McShane has really come into his own playing bad guys lately, but poor Penelope Cruz seems a little out of place here.

Big set action pieces abound and Blackbeard’s ship is pretty cool, but the movie is weighed down with a pretty flimsy mermaid subplot that could have been a lot better.

But it’s a fun enough way to spend a couple of hours on a hot sunny day – just don’t expect it to have the same fun and sparkle that the first one did (not that any of the sequels have even come close to it, so I don’t know why I’d expect you to expect it)…

Summer blockbuster tally = 10-2-0

Mother’s Day, take 2!

My grandparents weren’t able to make it for our belated Mother’s Day brunch, so the next weekend, we got together for another celebratory meal. This time things were a bit more casual and we definitely FINALLY put together an easy, tasty, quick meal. My mom and I were very proud of ourselves.

For the main course, my mom made Paprika-Buttermilk Chicken Tenders (Heather and I had Morningstar (faux) Buffalo Wings – Heather because she’s a finicky eater and me because I’m a veggie) and to go along with them, we had Buttermilk Biscuits and Tangy Goat Cheese and Dill Potato Salad.

The biscuits were good, but mine didn’t rise nearly as much as they did in the picture. I thought the potato salad was delicious, but my mom (who inexplicably doesn’t like goat cheese) wasn’t completely sold. It may have something to do with the possibility that I added twice as much goat cheese as the recipe called for. But I liked it.

For dessert, we had Ina’s Black and White Angel Food Cake.

Angel food cake is surprisingly easy to make, but with the chocolate, it was just too sweet for me – I prefer mine with just whipped cream and maybe some fresh fruit. But everyone else seemed pleased with it!

Out of order, but it’s worth it!

Uh, you need to see this movie. Like now. Actually more like yesterday.

I’m a fan of most comic book movies anyway, but the X-Men movies are among my favorites. And this is hands down my favorite of the X-Men movies. It was awesome. It’s a prequel to the rest of the movies, filling in those of us who haven’t read the comics on exactly what happened between Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) to put them on opposite sides. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have really good chemistry as two people with different approaches to the same issue – I’ll be honest, I really wanted them to make out a couple times, especially when Charles is helping Erik focus his abilities to move a satellite dish. He totally should have gone for it.

ETA: Haha, apparently, James McAvoy agrees with me: “It is a little bit of a mini-tragedy that him and Magneto don’t, you know, have sex and become married and become best friends.” [source]

The supporting cast are (mostly) good, too – Kevin Bacon is definitely ominous as the villain and the team of mutants that Charles and Erik assemble are all likable. The one weak spot is, unfortunately, Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique. I haven’t seen Winter’s Bone, but everything I heard about her was good. Alas, she is…not good here. I don’t know if it was the part or the writing, but given the quality of the rest of the film, I’m inclined to think that it’s her. This does not bode well for the Hunger Games movies…

The only problem (and it’s not a problem – it’s just that I’m not sure it was intended) is that the movie makes Magneto a lot more sympathetic than Professor X – he has good reason to be distrustful of non-mutants and, although he may not use the most ideal methods to get his results, you can definitely see his point. And Professor X is a little insufferable – so optimistic and smooth and a little self-righteous despite not always using his own abilities for solely virtuous purposes.

Plus, come on, Magneto pulls a submarine out of the ocean. How cool is that?!

Summer blockbuster tally = 10-1-0

Happy Mother’s Day!

And I’m only, what, four weeks behind? Two of those weeks are not my fault – my mom came down with a sinus infection and we had to put off our Mother’s Day celebration until she was feeling better.

We started off with Summer Fruit Sangria and Blackberry Hors D’oeuvres.

Obviously it’s not quite summer yet, so I had to just use what fruit I could find at the market for the sangria – I managed to find most of what Martha Stewart suggests, but, alas, no Meyer lemons or apricots. Know what they did have? Pomegranates. Bastards. I replaced the feta in the blackberry skewers with mozzarella, but I think that made them a little bland. I’d probably try goat cheese next time, I think.

Up next was a Tomato and Leek Frittata and Minty Watermelon Salad:

The frittata was very good – it’s made lighter and fluffier than frittatas I’m used to because it uses mostly egg whites. I really wanted to like the fruit salad, but I think it was a little sweet for me – I think next time I would just sprinkle the fruit with chopped mint and grated ginger instead of adding extra sweetness with the simple syrup.

And finally, we had a Strawberry and Mango Roulade:

I’ve made roulades before, but the cake from this recipe was odd – kind of rubbery. I’d make a roulade again with the same strawberry, mango, and whipped cream filling, but I’d definitely find a different recipe for the cake.