Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother? (P.D. Eastman):  I've always liked this book and recently have been reading it more, so I thought I would share some of the observations I have accumulated over the years.

First off, yes this is a Dr. Seuss book.  We had lots of Dr. Seuss books growing up and the Bear and the Bean [1] have the beginnings of a sizable collection of their own.

This one was not written by Seuss, but instead by Eastman who also wrote "Go Dog Go!"  Another classic and another one we read quite often.

Anyway on to the grading and comments [2]:

The cover: Simple enough cover.  Personally, I always liked the dog on the cover.  Much more than the bird.  Since the dog is only on four-ish [3] pages, I always felt I was kind of cheated by the implicit promise made by his appearing on the front.

The story itself starts on page three and let me just jump right in to the controversy and say that from the beginning it is abundantly clear that the egg the mother bird is sitting on is clearly not hers.  I realize that the baby bird that hatches later looks a lot like her, but nevertheless it cannot be hers.  Compare the size of the egg to the mother bird. [Picture] The egg is larger than the mother's entire torso.  There is simply no way that egg came out of that bird.  Trying to contemplate it brings up images from Stephen King's Dreamcatcher. [4]  And forget about trying to imagine what she looked like just prior to laying it.

From here the plot moves on with the baby falling out of his nest and going in search of his mom.  There's a few pages spent getting him moving and then we begin the meat of the story in which he runs into a variety of things and questions if they are his mother.

The first encounter is with a kitten. The kitten doesn't say anything.  Which is fine as it is very cute and just a kitten.  Except then you realize that this bird is literally minutes old and can already talk.  The kitten is clearly days, if not weeks, old.  Why doesn't it talk?  I've decided it is stunned into silence by the sudden appearance of lunch and immobilized by the variety of choices it has on how to consume it. Alternately, perhaps its giant staring eyes are meant to imply that it simply isn't that bright. [5] Whatever the answer the presence of the kitten gives the Bean plenty of opportunity to show off his meowing prowess.

Up next is a hen.  I've no real problems with the bird, except perhaps disappointed at its one word response.  The Bean has no real idea what a chicken should sound like and if you make some chicken noises for him he laughs in a way that implies he thinks you are completely off your nut.

Now the dog makes his big appearance. [6]  I've decided the dog's voice sounds like a civil war era southern gentleman named Beauregard. [7]

There's a recap of the birds adventure so far and then he come to a cow.  The cow clearly sounds like a snobbish, over weight, socialite dressed in a skirt suit and pearls in a tea room in Manhattan. [8]  I've no problem with the cow, though it is at this point you realize that this bird lives in a very brown world.  Besides a touch of yellow here and there and some even rarer splashes of red, everything in this world is the exact same shade of brown.  Bird, kitten, hen, dog, cow, tree, nest, rocks, shadows, etc, etc, are all the same color.  It is a depressing universe.

Now the baby bird begins to have a crisis of identity and we start to see just exactly who he is. [9]  Mentally pulling himself up by the bootstraps [10] he moves on in earnest and comes to the wreckage of an old car. We should note that the car is the first thing to not be mostly brown, but is instead yellow.  As a child this car always made me kind of sad.  I felt bad that it was left here abandoned and useless.  As if to point this out to the reader, in later recaps when the bird lists the things that are not his mother, the car is never mentioned.

The baby bird then meets a boat and an airplane, which have red highlights [11]. Neither are his mother, but they do finally let us begin to see just what voice this bird has.  It is clear that the role of the bird should be read with as much drama and pathos as possible.  He speaks like a Shakespearean actor trying, with the limited dialogue he has, to break the hearts of everyone who hears his plight and stir in our breasts raw emotion. [12]

The drama continues as the baby bird has his last encounter.  It is a steam shovel [13], which the bird names a 'Snort' after the noise the machine makes.  When he was younger the Bear loved to read this book except for this part.  He would actually try to get me to skip these pages because he was clearly frightened by the 'Snort' [14].

The baby bird is then saved as the shovel deposits him back into his own nest.  Only this brings up another problem with the text.  This bird has traveled quite some distance at this point.  He has passed four different animals and a wrecked car.  He's peered down into a deep valley at a boat on a river and then moved on to stare up at a plane in the sky.  Finally moving on to encounter the shovel.  He started out walking and after the cow he was running and yet, somehow, the operator of the Snort knows where he came from and where he needs to be returned to.

Is the shovel's operator the most eagle eyed person on the planet?  Able to spot small birds falling out of nests half a mile or more away?  It just doesn't seem possible.

More likely, I believe we are to assume that the baby bird has not been travelling in a straight line. Instead he has been spiraling outward from the tree passing by various things that ultimately are not what he thinks they are in a kind of "I am the Cheese" journey.  Such that by the time he meets the Snort he is still only mere feet from his starting point.  Who knows maybe the Snort is not a steam shovel at all [15] or maybe the bird never left the nest at all and the entire journey was a flight of fancy.

The book ends with the baby bird back in his nest just in time for his mother, who has been oblivious to the entire journey [16], to return with the baby's first meal.  She asks him if he knows who she is and armed with his newly earned knowledge, the baby proudly lists off everything that she isn't.  And having discerned all that, and despite never having anyone tell him or even use the word, he declares she is a bird and his mother. [17]

Despite the flaws in the book mentioned above, I, and the boys, still do enjoy it tremendously and I hope you will too.

Are You My Mother?: A

[1] - In case you've forgotten, go here, though the post is two years old now, it at least will let you know who is who.
[2] - In some cases I've found pictures of some of the pages online.  Here are links to two sites with several for those not fortunate enough to own this piece of classic literature.  Here and here.
[3] - The tip of his tail is on one page.  Not sure if that really counts.
[4] - Technically I've never seen the movie as I heard it was awful, but I've seen several previews so I'm pretty sure what happens in the book happens in the movie.  (For what it's worth, I thought the book was pretty good.)
[5] - Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.
[6] - Big being a relative term.  He only has two lines, but hey it's better than the chicken.
[7] - It's obvious from the text.
[8] - Also very obvious from the text.
[9] - More on that later.
[10] - Not pictured, but if they were they would be brown.
[11] - Clearly living things are brown.  Old worthless machines are yellow and useful functioning ones are red.
[12]This is particularly evident on page 42.  His cries to the plane of "Here I am, Mother!" should evoke images of the likes of Lawrence Olivier or Orson Welles spotlighted left of center stage, surrounded by darkness, on his knees, one arm reached up into the sky, the other clenched at his chest as he cries out in emotional pain.
[13] - Similar to an excavator, but not the same.  Also note how the machine is a combination of red, brown and yellow.  Given our previous color scheme, is it alive or machine?  Is it useful or used up?  It is all these and none of them.  It is a monster and as the book reveals, it is also a savior.
[14] - Which I never did.  Man up, son.
[15] - Perhaps it is a metaphor for how technology can help us realize our goals.
[16] - There is a comment to be made here about the bird/nut not falling far from the tree, but I'll let you make it on your own.
[17] - It occurs to me that perhaps I have misread the text and this last page is actually the lynch pin.  Perhaps the books is meant to be commentary on the self and identity.  A sort of Freudian/Nietzsche-ian dialogue on the id.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cereal: Aldi vs the Name Brands

Cereal: Aldi vs the Name Brands:

I have previously talked about how much I love cereal. [1]

And I suspect at some point I will talk about how much I like the store Aldi. [2]

One of the many things I like about Aldi is that there store brand is often as good, if not better, than the name brands.  This is very true with their cereals.

Aldi cereals are boxed under the name: Millville. [3]

I have, naturally, tried many of these and now I present to you a face-off between the Aldi brands and their name brand counterparts. [4]

Kid's Crunch vs Cap'n Crunch (Quaker): Just so you don't think this is going to be a completely one sided review, I figured I start with this one.  To put it bluntly, I think a bowl of Styrofoam would be better.  This stuff was flavorless and texturally was like Cap'n Crunch which had gotten soggy, dried out and then went stale. [5]  There is a peanut butter version of Kid's Crunch, but I don't really like the peanut butter version of Cap'n Crunch, so you won't catch me trying it.

The Verdict: Quaker is the clear winner.

Honey Crunch 'n Oats vs Honey Bunches of Oats (Post):  I think that there are two Aldi versions of this one, as compared to the six hundred versions of the Post cereal. [6]  The Aldi versions don't taste exactly like the Post cereals but they taste just as good in their own way.  Also the Aldi versions don't have quite as many oat clusters. [7]

The Verdict: A tie.

Frosted Flakes vs Frosted Flakes (Kellogg's): If you hadn't noticed before the name "Frosted Flakes" is not actually copyrighted. So everybody tends to have their own version.  I'm a big fan of the frosted flakes, despite the fact that they go soggy in milk very quickly.  Well the Aldi version slightly solves that by coating each flake in ten pounds of sugar.  This makes them oh so much better. [8]  And just like the Kellogg's version the flake part gets all stuck up in your teeth.

The Verdict: Aldi wins

Chocolate Frosted Flakes vs Frosted Flakes: Choco Zucaritas (Kellogg's): The Kellogg's version used to be called Frosted Flakes Chocolate with Choco Zucaritas in smaller writing underneath, but while you weren't watching they dropped the word Chocolate all-together.  Last summer (2013) there was an Aldi version.  It was probably the noisiest cereal ever invented [9] Nevertheless it was very good.  I am sad that they have not yet brought it back.

The Verdict: Aldi wins

Crispy Oats vs Cheerios (General Mills): The Aldi version isn't bad, but it isn't very good either.

The Verdict: General Mills wins

Honey Nut Crispy Oats vs Honey Nut Cheerios (General Mills): Every once in a while I get a hankering for Honey Nut Cheerios.  If I'm lucky I can satisfy it away from home, because if I buy a box, I eat one bowl and then it sits on the shelf until it goes stale.  The Aldi version tastes effectively the same but the O's are much harder and crunchier.  Which I actually think is a positive.  And I spend less money as it sits on the shelf going bad.

The Verdict: Aldi wins.

Apple Cinnamon Crispy Oats vs Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (General Mills): Aldi used to stock this on a regular basis.  It came in the same cases as the Honey Nut version, but I guess it didn't sell as well because they no longer make it.  To me it tasted better than the the Cheerios version and it was also much harder and crunchier.  Which was even more of a positive in this case.

The Verdict: Aldi wins.

Peanut Butter Cocoa Puffs vs Reese's Puffs (General Mills): Reese's Puffs are pretty tasty, but the Aldi version are just a bit more coated in the peanut butter goodness.  Besides making them taste better, it also makes them just a bit heavier.  Also, they actually retain the milk inside themselves better than Reese's Puffs.

The Verdict: Aldi wins handily.

Fruit Rounds vs Froot Loops (Kellogg's): Remember how I said the Kid's Crunch was kind of like flavorless Styrofoam?  Well they take the stuff that was too flavorful for the Kid's Crunch and use it to make the Fruit Rounds.  Blaaaagh!

The Verdict: Kellogg's win easily [10]

Marshmallows and Stars vs Lucky Charms (General Mills): The cereal bits are bad. The marshmallows are gross.  About the only good thing about this cereal is that it comes packaged in a box that fits easily into your trash can.

The Verdict: General Mills wins decisively.

Aldi Raisin Bran vs Kellogg's Raisin Bran vs Post Raisin Bran: This is another example of a cereal name that isn't copyrighted.  All three are pretty good.  Not something I go to on a regular basis.  [11]  Of the three I like the Kellogg's version the best.

The Verdict: Kellogg's wins by a nose [12]

Crunchy Granola Raisin Bran vs Raisin Bran Crunch (Kellogg's): Again both of the cereals are fine.  But the Aldi version's flakes are tastier and crunchier.

The Verdict: Aldi wins

Cinnamon Crunch Squares vs Cinnamon Toast Crunch (General Mills): The Aldi version has more powdery cinnamon and sugar on it.  This makes it a little more toothsome [13].  Either are fine, but we go through a lot of the Aldi version in our house.

The Verdict: Aldi wins.

Corn Squares/Rice Squares vs Corn Chex/Rice Chex (Quaker): All of them test nearly the same.  The Aldi versions are even harder to tell apart.  The Aldi versions are also just a bit less solid.  This gives a slight edge to the Chex.

The Verdict: Quaker Wins.

There are actually a lot of other Aldi versions of cereals but as they are versions of name brand cereals that I don't eat in the first place, I've never bothered to try them.

Looking at the results it seems like you've got about a 50% chance that an Aldi Millville cereal will be better than name brand version and since the Aldi versions are much cheaper, I never feel bad about trying them out and then if they suck, throwing them away.

[1] - You can read it here
[2] - Perhaps the future version of myself can come back and put that link here.
[3] - Any similarity to the name 'General Mills' is entirely coincidental. I'm sure.
[4] - Presented, mostly, in the order I thought of them.
[5] - If that's even possible.
[6] - And that is only a slight exaggeration.
[7] - Which might be an issue for you, but wasn't for me.
[8] - I also highly recommend them poured onto ice cream.
[9] - With the obvious exception of the tooth shattering Grape Nuts.
[10] - And hopefully the Fruit Rounds die.
[11] - If you need your colon cleared out any of the three will do you proud.
[12] - Or should I have said by a scoop?
[13] - If I can say that without sounding too pompous.

Monday, June 9, 2014

RC Cola

RC Cola: I know what you are thinking.  RC Cola?  Who even sells [1] that stuff any more?

I just finished spending a week in Cincinnati and at the end of the week I was lucky enough to go see game 5 of the Kelly Cup [2] playoffs.  Strangely when I went to get a drink at the concession stand at the U.S. Bank Arena [3] I was confronted with an unexpected set of choices.  There was no Coke. There was no Pepsi.  There was only RC.

In case you don't know RC Cola stands for Royal Crown Cola and actually has a pretty interesting back story.

If, like me, you were asked to name a cola that started in Georgia, the only possible answer would be Coca-Cola.  But RC Cola also started here. [4]  In 1903 Claud Hatcher's grocery store was selling a sizable amount of Coke and thought that his orders to Coca-Cola were large enough that he deserved a discount.  Coke disagreed and Hatcher cancelled his orders to Coke and told them they would regret it.  He then went into the basement of his store and developed his own beverage and the name of that product was: Royal Crown Ginger Ale. [5]

He went on to develop a couple of other flavors as well [6] before finally getting around to creating RC Cola.  Though I'm not sure that Coke ever got around to regretting not giving Hatcher a discount, Hatcher did manage to make what is basically the ignored third wheel in the cola wars. [7]

The RC line does have a few highlights in it.  They were the first company to sell soda in a can.  And they were also the first to sell soda in an aluminum can.  The Pook was a big fan of Diet Rite for a while, but that was when it was one of the few colas to be made with Splenda. [8]  For me you can't do much better than the commercials for RC 100. [9]  The commercials had lots of things with numbers on them shrinking down to zero (a bathroom scale being the one I remember best).  Anyway, it was catchy enough that to this day it doesn't take much to get me to start singing the whole thing. [10]

As for the actual RC Cola?

It pretty much starts out mostly flat and finishes the journey in record time.  I only drank half of mine at the hockey game.

RC Cola: C-

[1] - Never mind buys
[2] - That's the ECHL championship.  Yes I realize it is minor league hockey and yes I realize that I could have seen the actual Stanley cup playoffs the same night, but the Stanley Cup was on TV and this was live.
[3] - Home of the Cincinnati Cyclones.
[4] - In Columbus Georgia to be specific.
[5] - Yeah, I didn't see that coming either.
[6] - Strawberry and Root Beer
[7] - It's kind of like if Cain and Abel had a third brother named Brian that really didn't ever do anything of note and thus wasn't mentioned.
[8] - She quit buying it once Coke released Diet Coke w/ Splenda.  (Ooh, twist the knife.)
[9] - I never actually drank the soda.
[10] - RC 100's got nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.  No sugar and no caffeine.