For more about Allison and her books visit her website at For now, please relax and brace yourself for the occasionally coherent ramblings of Allison's mind.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Winter Classic: Expounding on the Merits of Ice Hockey

I’m sure you already have Monday, January 2 starred, circled, and highlighted on your calendar. I know I have ever since the announcement that this season’s Winter Classic NHL game would feature the Flyers and be held in Philadelphia.

In case you’re not up on all things NHL, the Winter Classic is a relatively new annual event where two NHL teams play their scheduled New Year’s game at an outdoor venue. The day is long, cold, expensive… and incredibly popular. HBO even covers the participating teams in a short miniseries which is a fascinating behind the scenes documentary even if you don’t follow hockey.

Having said all that, it’s no secret that I’m an avid fan of many sports, not just hockey. After some careful analysis and unbiased contemplation, I’ve come to the conclusion that hockey may not be the most popular sport in the USA, but objectively speaking, it’s the most impressive.

1. The Athletes:

Hockey players get a bad rap for their missing teeth and stitched faces, but the reality is, they are probably the best conditioned athletes of any sport as a whole. Hockey players require the cardio training of basketball and soccer players, the strength and toughness of football players, and the agility and coordination of baseball, tennis, and most other sports.

In most other sports, you can compensate for missing pieces of the puzzle with other skills. Not the greatest runner? That’s ok, you can play first base. Not the strongest guy on the team? That’s ok, you can play wide receiver. A little overweight? No problem, you’re a pitcher, or a lineman, or an outfielder.

Not in hockey. You better be tough, strong, well-conditioned, and agile. That’s a minimum. Specific skills and positions are the icing, not the cake like in other sports. Oh, and you have to do it all on skates at break neck speeds.

Have you ever seen the inside of a hockey locker room? From the neck down it’s like a waiting room for a Calvin Klein casting. Perfectly muscular, Greek warrior physiques isn’t a plus, but a requirement. Check out a baseball or football locker room. With several exceptions, it’s more of a casting for a Hardees commercial.

2. Watchability/Pacing:

I love baseball. I love baseball because I love numbers, stats, and white noise. There’s something comforting about having the TV on even if you’re not watching it. It’s a reminder that there’s a bigger world outside of your own little microcosm which helps put the stress of everyday life in perspective. The baseball season is great for that. For several months out of the year there is something to glow on my TV every night while I do laundry, clean up from dinner, take care of the kids, prepare for work the next day, eventually doze off on the couch… Baseball: the sport you can watch without watching.

From a pure watchability and pacing standpoint, however, hockey is the opposite and superior to other sports. Intense from buzzer to buzzer. Rife with momentums shifts, physical confrontation, sleek scoring plays, impressive skill and stick handling. It’s the perfect mix of team effort and individual expertise compacted into nonstop action.

Football is 45 minutes of movement and 3 hours of standing around. Baseball is 3 hours of standing around. Soccer is 1.5 hours of movement and 38 seconds of excitement.

Hockey is the only sport that combines nearly constant action with constant excitement. Sure there are whistles, but they’re not built into the game like football. I guess a similar argument could be made for basketball, although there are many more stoppages than in hockey. Plus, a basketball game is meaningless until the last two minutes, unlike hockey where every play matters. More importantly, I don’t like basketball.

Love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue that hockey isn’t the most fast-paced, intense, and action-packed of all the major sports.

3. Atmosphere/Fans:

There are several other arguments we could make about the superiority of hockey, but I will leave you with just one more point to keep the magic number to three.

I don’t care if you hate hockey and swore you’d never go to a game. It’s true they’re expensive, and if your local team is beloved like ours, they’re crowded and difficult to attend. But I promise you, there is nothing, NOTHING, like seeing a home team score a goal live.

I’ve been to many sporting events and my favorite experience of all is the eruption of a hockey stadium when your team scores. There is no word other than eruption to describe it. The air horn blares, every fan jumps to his or her feet in one collective, unanimous scream that echoes throughout the indoor stadium. I get chills just thinking about it. Watching on TV can’t replicate that feeling of elation, that roar, that instant connection with twenty thousand other fans who are now your best friends for two hours.

Hockey fans are hardcore. You don’t spend $80 for two tickets, $15 for parking, $125 for a jersey, and $75 for food because it’s a fun thing to do with the guys after work (baseball). You don’t tag along with your neighbors because there’s going to be a kickin’ tailgate party beforehand and you always said you wanted to try a game at least once in your lifetime (football). You go because you love hockey and you know you’ll be surrounded by several thousand other people who love hockey.

This is a not a casual Sunday afternoon at the ballpark. When I go to games, I don’t leave my seat. At the end of regulation you stand and stretch, your rear sore from balancing on the edge of that hard plastic seat for two and a half hours. Your voice is hoarse from screaming. You’ve exchanged smiles, high fives, and conversation with at least a dozen strangers around you. And you don’t even care that you’re going to sit in the parking lot for an hour trying to get out of your space.

You don’t care, because you just watched some of the best athletes in the world compete in one of the most intense, exciting games on the planet.

Monday is the Winter Classic. Go Flyers.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Adventures in Zoology: A Wildlife Observation of the Simon Property

When you live on a farm, you expect to be surrounded by animals. When you live in a remote mountainside cabin, you expect to be surrounded by animals. When you live on a large tropical estate, you expect to be surrounded by animals. When you live on a third of an acre in a populated eastern Pennsylvanian suburban development, you expect to be surrounded by shrubs and nosy neighbors.

Not us.

How we ended up somewhere between a Hitchcock movie and Snow White’s fairyland forest is beyond me, but our little piece of the pie must break some kind of record for wild fauna per square foot. We have an entire woodland ecosystem coexisting in our fifteen trees lining the edge of our backyard. This is the story of what lies behind the sliding glass patio door that serves as a portal into this strange, unexpected world.

1. The Squirrels

It could have been cute.  We actually have frolicking squirrels. They don’t run, they don’t work, they actually frolic. One of these days they WILL burst into song and my poor tortured cat will be even more frantic locked behind the glass door as they taunt her from the safety of our yard.

I remember one day in spring when a handful of young ones darted past the window. Then another. Then this terrifying flood of squirrel nation tore by, frolicking gaily with their little evil squirrel grins because somehow they know we don’t have a BB gun and we wouldn’t have the guts to use it if we did.

Even on Christmas day with temperatures hovering in the 30’s and 40’s we watched them parade around the patio, daring us to protest their presence. Daring us to face them like men. Of course, we cowered behind the glass as usual. My father seemed to think squirrels were supposed to hibernate. Not our squirrels. They never rest. Score one for Hitchcock.

2. The Groundhog

This is not your neighborhood groundhog. This is a suburban walrus. I still remember the day it first waddled up to the infamous sliding glass door, taking its turn at approaching the entrance to the human world. I don’t know what it was trying to do, or where it was trying to go, or why it chose our door of all places, but my first instinct was to marvel at the otter. I took some pictures, my cat went nuts, and yes, I thought about rabies. But then again, for four years I’ve lived with a door that attracts everything from frogs to stray cats to snakes to yes, squirrel hordes, so having strange animals hovering around outside is par for the course.

Upon later reflection, my superior reasoning skills determined it was probably not an otter. Or a beaver (my second choice). I also ruled out land-dwelling manatee and trunkless elephant. To be fair, I’d forgotten about the existence of groundhogs. When I remembered, groundhog seemed more responsible. Thirty pounds of groundhog.

I’ve since discovered its home by our neighbor’s fence. It does kind of resemble a beached sea creature when it lounges in the sun. Lazy thing. Snow White would have no use for it. Score two for Hitchcock.

3. The Fox

As if it’s not strange enough to have a fox roaming around your small yard, ours only has three legs. I’m sure there’s a story there. I’m sure I don’t care.

Have you ever heard a fox bark? We were terrified the first time we heard a blood-curdling screaming child in our driveway. We sped to the window only to see this scraggly rat of a thing chatting with the neighbor’s dogs. It was not the sleek, fuzzy animal you’ve seen in cartoons and on National Geographic. It was more of large matted cat. With a pointy nose and three legs. It’s hard to imagine it seducing another animal into conforming to its will a la the classic fables. (Except maybe out of pity.)

I can’t see Hitchcock doing much with such an unappetizing, pathetic villain. I can’t see Snow White including it in her circle of dancing forest friends. No, the fox is just another of the woodland abnormalities unique to our yard.

Listed above are just a few of the highlights of what you can expect from our small urban wonderland. We also have deer, snakes, birds of every variety, chipmunks, a mole, a frog, and a giant toad. And all of these (except the mole) have been observed from behind the sliding glass door. I hate to imagine what we’d find if we actually lived in the woods.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Call Me Scrooge

Ok, I’ll admit it. I may need a visit from the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Actually, that’s not true if their main purpose is to turn a raisin of a weasel into a legitimate human being. But if they’re also supposed to make people like Christmas movies, then they should fly in and take the guest room. They’ve got their work cut out for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the Christmas holiday. It’s a time for family, celebration, and for us, has strong religious implications. In fact, we just had a Christmas baby. Our very own Christmas angel, Gabriel.

But Christmas movies. And they’re on an endless loop not for a couple days. Not even a week. Now it’s like two months. Soon we’ll be counting down to Christmas on ABC Family starting in September.

I was going to review some movies in the spirit of the season, but it’s impossible. I don’t know enough adjectives to write multiple reviews of the exact same movie with different actors and slightly different plot points.

There’s only been one good Christmas movie in the past twenty years – Elf. Everything else is straight up cheese and a complete waste of time. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. I unknowingly married the president of Santa’s fan club. I’ve been tortured with pieces of all of them for several years now. I lose complete control of the TV and DVR for the entire month of December.

That may be harsh. Maybe it’s my scrooginess whining in generalities. Maybe it’s from too much cable guide scrolling on the upstairs TV looking for ANYTHING other than titles like Christmas in Handcuffs, 25 Dates for Christmas, A Career Woman Thinks She Has It All Until It’s Christmas And She’s Alone And Realizes There’s So Much More To Life (Oh, And The Humble Plumber Is Totally Hot And Shows Her The Real Meaning Of Christmas).

Ok, so those may not be actual titles, but you’re nodding because you know exactly what I’m talking about and they very well could be. Those are the ones that ruin the genre for jaded skeptics like me. There may still be good ones out there, but I will miss them because I’ll be darned if I spend two hours of my precious little free time watching a waitress plot with her friends to trick the cute bartender into posing under the mistletoe only to find out in the end that she only had to ask. See, he liked her too.

Wait… no! No! Scrooge would have fired her butt in the opening scene for sexual harassment, lack of productivity, and creating a disruptive work environment. As he should have. I can’t argue with that.

My equally skeptical college roommate and I had a phrase for this phenomenon of Hollywood and cable assuming the laws of physics and the universe no longer apply from December 1 to December 25 (and that their audience suddenly loses 20 IQ points). We called it “Christmas Magic” and wryly applied the label to every unlikely event that occurred during the season. From an unexpected good grade on an exam to a flirty glance from the crush of the week, we would toss “Christmas Magic” as loosely as the season seemed to demand.

So here’s my review of every Christmas movie except Elf: Don’t. Watch Elf instead. After that, go buy Switchfoot’s latest album “Vice Verses.” It’s a better use of your time and money. Oh, and it’s a gift that will keep on giving long after December 25. Now that’s Christmas magic.