Yes, Virginia, I still mail Christmas cards.

We never sent Christmas cards out when I was growing up. Our family is tiny so there was no one to send them to. …So I’m not sure where the idea of sending Christmas cards came from, really. But I can remember as a teenager scraping together cash so I could buy my first pack of cards. They were Hallmark cards (so fancy) with a picture of mugs of cocoa and a heartwarming sentiment inside. Feeling it needed to be “Christmasier”, I also handfed the cards through our inkjet printer to add Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening to the interior of the card.

Teenaged Lauren, you were such a dork.

I sent the cards to my far-flung friends that first year. Everyone seemed tickled by the sentiment… probably because I’m such a geek. The next year, my list quintupled. (Gotta love the in-laws!) OH MAN. CARDS FOR EVERYONE!

One year, I handmade cards. Like I said – Lauren of back then was a total dork. I did not realize what a huge undertaking it was going to be. Still, they didn’t turn out so bad!

 

(I haven’t done it since.) (I usually go to Papyrus after the new year and scoop up cards in bulk at 70% off.) (I hope not paying full price at Papyrus doesn’t ruin the Christmas magic, in-laws.) (Parentheses are like secrets in writing, right?)

I know it’s antiquated, especially in this digital age. But I like it. I enjoy sitting in front of the TV and writing until my hands are sore. The sense of accomplishment at throwing fistfuls of cards into the mail… So good. This year we got a stamp for our return address and stickers to seal the envelopes, so I think I’ve hit peak Christmas card lady.

I don’t have a lot of traditions. But this one is mine.

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Hockey: Of Octopi and Men

The Stanley Cup Finals are next week, but hockey is dead to Detroit until at least the fall when the new season starts. The Red Wings were knocked out of the running for this year’s Stanley Cup and “Thank you!” billboards went up around the major freeways. The city seems a bit bummed, but a lot of people have moved on to watching the Tigers because that’s just what you do.

Of all the sports I don’t really care about, hockey is probably the sport I don’t care about the least. The idea of brutal feats of strength makes me pretty uncomfortable. You’d think that basketball would be my (jock) jam in that case, but I fell into hockey. My mother was into hockey when I was growing up, so I knew the teams and the basics of how the sport worked. In adulthood it came up again because I married a lifelong Detroiter and hockey is just a part of that.

While the sport is a fair amount of men with Scandinavian backgrounds beating each other up on ice, there is a mythology around the sport that just delights me.

I went to my first hockey game as an adult in Houston. While not typically associated with ice, Houston had a really good minor league hockey team. The last year I lived in Houston they went to the finals. They lost, but it was a hell of a game. (In writing this post, I found out that shortly after I left town, so did they. Which bums me out a bit. It was a nice part of living in Houston.)

Sitting with a friend at this first game, the clock for the period ran down to two minutes. The announcer clicked on, “Two minute warning, two minute warning.” The entirety of the crowd said, in unison, “Thank you!” I had no idea what to make of it. What just happened?

“We said thank you to the announcer.”

“Why?!”

“Because he let us know there were two minutes left in the period.”

“Yes but… that’s his job. So why?”

“Because that’s just what you do.”

With a sport rooted in Canada, I should have known. This gesture was just charming.

Then there’s the stuff you see at any game: the fan who gets seats next to the penalty box on the away side so he can put up little signs taunting the player trapped inside. Something like, “I’ve been told to go to my room. :(“ with an arrow pointing to the dude waiting out the seconds til he can burst forth on the ice again. There’s the ringing of the cow bells, which might be more of a ‘sports in general’ thing, but there’s a lot of cow bell ringing which is odd to an outsider.

There’s the teddy bear toss, which is a hockey tradition around Christmas. Fans are asked to bring stuffed animals to donate to charity. When the home team scores its first goal, fans are suppose to fling their stuffed animals to the ice. It’s crazy to see. Here’s a video from Buzz Bishop of a particularly crazy one, with a nice little primer:

Isn’t that crazy? The text on that youtube video says it was around 25,000 stuffed animals.

Detroit has a… similar tradition. But weirder. When home games happen in the playoffs, people bring octopi to the game and will throw them on the ice.

Yeah. That’s a thing. Again we ask ourselves: why?

Back in 1952, the league was a little different. You needed 8 wins to secure Lord Stanley’s Cup and the championship. The Wings had seven. Two guys working in a fish market put together that an octopus has 8 legs, 8 legs is like 8 wins, and oh my god let’s bring an octopus to the game and throw it on the ice!

They did. They won. A tradition was born. A tradition that continues today and even gave birth to the Wings’ mascot, Al the Octopus.

This is crazy, right? I mean, baseball has rally caps, which is just wearing a hat wrong. Football has the act of ruining a grown man’s winning day with a Gatorade shower. But hockey has the chanting, the cowbells, the people hurling dead cephalopods onto the playing area of a sporting event… There’s so much. What makes this so different? Why are these traditions just as much a part of the game as the ice and the puck?

Ah, forget it, Jake. It’s Hockeytown.

I’m not ready for this cranberry jelly.

cranberry

At Thanksgiving we never ate Ocean Spray cranberry “sauce” from a can.

A good half of you, by my entirely unscientific polling, are gasping dramatically and clutching your pearls right now. Calm down. I lived a deprived childhood! I didn’t see the Back To the Future films until I was in my late 20s. We didn’t grow up with extended family, so I didn’t have a weird aunt until I got married. I didn’t even know Canada existed until I moved to Texas. Everyone thought that’s where my accent was from. Like I said – totally deprived.

This tradition was something I was unaware of. I knew of the evil of jello and it’s ilk. Straddling the line of solid and liquid, never having to decide on one or the other. I’d like to speak to those forms directly now: MAKE UP YOUR MIND. EVEN THE ROTTING PUMPKINS ON MY FRONT PORCH HAVE TO DECIDE EVENTUALLY. DO IT.

(Maybe I shouldn’t evoke images of decomposing organic material while trying to talk food the day after gluttony’s holiday, but I am a rebel.)

For those who may be unaware as I was, this holiday tradition marries the overindulgence of the proteins and carbohydrates at the Thanksgiving feast with the bitter, angry ire of cranberries served the only way that science was able to make them palatable for the masses: as a gelatinous tube.

Behold.

thesauce

That’s it. A time honored tradition for many, this solid-ish “sauce” is served just like that. Not mixed into anything. Not melted down. A freestanding monument to corn syrup, can to plate. It is generally served in slices. When asked if you mash it, I was met with shrieking. It is pictured in a friend’s sauce server from the 1950s, passed down to him because of his devotion to this strange side dish/condiment/thing.

Having grown up without this tradition, I’ve never eaten it before. So for the sake of science, journalism, and all that is holy, I tried some.

And it was… terrible. It’s just a nondescript tart mass that is really only defined by it’s texture: jelly, but grainy. After a single bite I declared the experiment over and my husband happily gobbled up the remains.

The moral of this culinary adventure? Traditions are weird. I’m going to stick to the homemade cranberry sauce from the vulgar-yet-delightful Thug Kitchen. It looks like cranberries and tastes like them too, no wiggle required. Keep that in mind for next year.