Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Eated It

I've been checking out my fellow triathletes' blogs in the last few days. It seems like I'm the only one who has traded in my training schedule for holiday cookie binges and a steady liquid diet of beer at lunch, followed by wine at dinner.

I won't lie -- it's been fun...but it's probably best that that this season of gluttony comes to an end soon. Well, maybe in another couple of days. Base training can wait until next week, right?

There are still a couple of cookies left in the kitchen. They aren't going to eat themselves.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I've made it back to the nest here in Hershey. No matter how old I get, there are still times when being home in the town I grew up in, curled up on the couch in the house I grew up in, can feel like a piece of heaven on earth. Especially at Christmas.

I'm thrilled to be home, where my mother makes this time of year magical. Still. Even though her children are technicially adults (we may not act like it most of the time, but whatever), the woman still goes to the trouble of making Christmas as big deal as it was when we were little kids. I mean, she doesn't put the presents under the carefully decorated tree--which she no doubt spent an entire day perfecting--until we've gone to bed on Christmas Eve. Today there is a full agenda of baking and card writing and gift wrapping to be done. It's never ending. And it's just as I remember it for every year of my life.

It's been quite a year and I can't say I'm all that sad to see 2007 slip away into the history books. There's so much to look forward to in 2008 (more on that to come...), but right now I'm just enjoying the peace and security and tradition that is a Strout Christmas. Well, until the dysfunction sets in, probably sometime around noon on December 25th. But, what's a family holiday without a bit of dysfunction anyway?

I'm wishing everybody a joyous, healthy, and memorable holiday season. Eat cookies without guilt and toast to all the new adventures ahead. Cheers!


Sunday, December 9, 2007

December 9, 1987

My dad as a kid, enjoying the day at Saylor's Lake.

I remember standing in the kitchen in the late afternoon that day in December. I was 13 years old and had just spent the last several hours in the orthodontist's office, going through a painful rite of passage: getting braces. There I stood, with an aching mouth full of metal and a bag full of homework I wanted to toss in the fire place.

It was unusual that my dad had taken several days off of work that week, uncharacteristically playing Mr. Mom, carting my brother and me off to activities and appointments in between helping my mother decorate the house for Christmas.

My face was forlorn, my attitude was everything you'd expect from a cranky teen who was feeling the burn-out effects of being a year-round competitive swimmer. I begged my dad to let me skip practice that afternoon. While I was learning how to play every bit the part of a daddy's girl, there were definitely limits. For one, whining was strictly prohibited in the Strout household. The guy--though fun-loving with an insanely smart, dry sense of humor--had a strong will and his own clear sense of right and wrong. Even for his only daughter, there was rarely room for compromise. And he had a bullshit detector like nobody's business. I don't know anybody, really, who ever defeated it.

“You’re going,” he said firmly, as we stood in the kitchen. “You made a commitment, you're part of a team, and you have to stick to it.”

As I trudged out the door, defeated, I had no idea those would be his last words to me. While I was swimming, he died of a heart attack during his own daily workout in our basement.
This morning I woke up to a cold, rainy day and decided instead of pulling the warm covers over my head, I'd head out to meet some friends and run a 10K. I haven't run a step in the last month, but knew the combination of paying for a race and meeting people would be enough incentive to get me out the door.

I'm not big on anniversaries. Truth be told, I typically forget them or choose not to acknowledge them at all. For some reason, however, today I find it hard to believe that it's been 20 years since my dad died. It seems like that number is too big, that it's simply not possible that so much time has passed. There are days when I still feel like that moody young girl who doesn't want to go to swim practice.

I thought about my dad this morning as I started the race. The two of us biked together, skied together, he took me golfing (that one didn't stick), he came to all of my swimming and cross country meets, enthusiastically cheering and congratulating me after every race, even when I came in last (which was more often than not).

And we ran together.

I'm not sure when it started, but there came a time, obviously at a young age, when I'd jump at the opportunity to tag along on one of his jogs. He was my very first running buddy. Our house, situated on what seemed like a mountain at the time, was surrounded by long country roads. I'd follow him up the hill, out to an old barn, and back home. I look back and wonder where his incredible patience came from, now knowing full well that my pace had to be slower than slow.

To me, it seemed as though we must be running at least 100 miles. In reality, it was less than three. We'd come back into the house and drop to the floor of the family room, where there were push-ups and sit-ups to do.

My dad knew a daughter who always tried really hard but was never the fastest one on the team. Not even close. He still found a way to make me feel like it was just as important and just as much of an accomplishment to be passionate, dedicated, and committed to whatever it was I chose to do and to the people relying on me to do it. As an adult, I realize that those values are deeply instilled in my very being and I take serious heart in the fact that they came directly from him.

And along the way, he also showed me that life isn't full--just not nearly complete--unless it includes a healthy dose of fun. And so today I ran because after not running for four weeks, there was no choice but to do it for pure enjoyment. I floated through 6.2 miles, cheering for my friends on the out-and-backs, and thinking how cool it would've been if my dad had been around to do marathons and triathlons with me. That, I know, would've been fun. I crossed the finish line and much to my amazement, I had clocked a 10K best time of 46:37.

Certainly everybody has those dividing (and defining) lines of "before" and "after" in their lives. I never really thought of my dad's death as that, though I suppose it might be. I prefer to think of what he was able to give me in just 13 years: blue eyes, a strong will, an intolerance of whining, an inability to sit still, a sense of responsibility and adventure, high expectations, an exceptional capacity to overcome, an above-average appreciation for sarcasm, a deep love of genuine laughter, and fearlessness.

Oh, and the bullshit detector? I got that, too. Thanks, dad.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

My apartment smells like my grandparents' house on a Sunday afternoon.

In a rare occurrence, I actually turned on my stove today (it works!) and made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. As I pulled a plate and bowl from the cabinet, which happen to be hand-me-downs from my Grammy and Poppop's house, there was a familiar aroma from my childhood filling up the place. It was, of course, just my lunch cooking, but there are certain scents that just take you back in an instant.

There were those weekends--usually not during swim season--that my parents would pack us up in the station wagon and head to Bangor, PA to visit my grandparents. It was always an extra-special treat if my cousins were also going to be visiting from Connecticut. What's better than a house full of instant playmates?

Regardless of who was there, we always headed to church on Sunday mornings, just a few blocks away. When we returned, we kids would scramble up the stairs, eager to change out of our church clothes into something more suitable for wreaking havoc outside, in the basement, or in my grandfather's dental office (conveniently located in the house), while my grandmother started making lunch for the whole crew. Inevitably Sunday "supper" included soup and, if I was lucky, grilled-cheese of about two things I'd actually agree to eat back then.

While I savored my lunch this afternoon, I thought how nice it'd be if I could bottle up that scent (rather than, you know, cooking more often...) and let it air when I need a nice dose of comfort and nostalgia for the days when troubles were few--and Sundays were reserved for soup, sandwiches, and family.