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Tete-a-tete: Introducing the NFL’s 2023 Ultimate Tailgate Team

Whether it’s fantasy leagues, the Pro Bowl, or the All-Madden teams, football players are constantly being ranked and put into groups based on their unique skills and attributes. As a fan of the game myself, this practice has inspired me to create my own team based on a quintessential element of football: the tailgate party.

And to be a member of the 2023 Ultimate Tailgate Team, the most important qualification is the player’s name.

First, a few disclaimers. I did my best to avoid duplicate names while also representing each team in the NFL. As such, even though there may be multiple players who share a name, only one or two were selected.

I also went deep into the rosters in search of the best candidates, so there may be a few names that are unfamiliar – but trust me, all of them are deserving. The rosters were also my source for each player’s official team position.

Without further ado, I present to you the 2023 Ultimate Tailgate Team.

You can’t have the ultimate tailgate unless you have amazing grill masters. Who better to put in charge of the grill than Detroit Lions linebacker Anthony Pittman and Chicago Bears wide receiver D’Onta Foreman, aided by Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Ezekiel Turner?

They’ll need multiple assistants to help them prepare everything, and Carolina Panthers safety Alex Cook, Buffalo Bills running back James Cook, and New York Jets quarterback Tim Boyle are more than up to the challenge.

We’ll also have grill specialists who can cook your burger exactly the way you like it. If you prefer it medium, see Montaric Brown, cornerback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, or Jake Browning, quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals. If you prefer it well done, Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Amari Burney and Panthers outside linebacker Brian Burns will take care of you.

There should be plenty of options to put on the grill that go beyond the traditional hamburger. These will be overseen by Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham, and Atlanta Falcons tight end Feleipe Franks.

Poultry can be provided by Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, and Henry Byrd, offensive lineman for the 49ers practice squad.

The right seasonings can make or break your grilled meats. Those can be supplied by New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner and 49ers long snapper Taybor Pepper.

If you prefer fish, rest assured that Bills kicker Tyler Bass and Denver Broncos tight end Adam Trautman have you covered. For some unconventional options, we can enlist Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Malik Herring, Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb, and Broncos outside linebacker Nik Bonitto, whose last name is one T away from a tasty tuna-like fish.

And I can’t imagine a better trio for cleaning and preparing any fresh-caught fish than punter Trenton Gill and long snapper Patrick Scales, both of the Bears, and Los Angeles Chargers safety AJ Finley.

With such a variety of meat and fish, we’ll need some delicious side dishes. Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice and Indianapolis Colts center/guard Will Fries are the perfect duo to handle this part of the menu. New York Giants wide receiver Parris Campbell will supplement with a selection of soups and stews.

An amazing tailgate requires a lot of bread – rolls, pitas, sandwich bread, pizza dough. Budda Baker, safety for the Cardinals, will head up this division, with help from New England Patriots offensive tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Cowboys defensive end Tyrus Wheat, and Los Angeles Rams defensive back Russ Yeast.

Even though it’s a tailgate party, you should still eat your veggies. Cesar Ruiz, center/guard for the New Orleans Saints, and Antoine Green, wide receiver for the Lions, will have no trouble putting together an excellent salad, and New York Jets wide receiver Randall Cobb can bring the corn.

AJ Cole III, punter for the Las Vegas Raiders, will handle the slaws. Defensive back Jabril Peppers of the Patriots can chop up vegetables for a crudité platter, and we’ll put David Mayo, linebacker for the Washington Commanders, in charge of making a dip.

If veggies aren’t really your thing but you still want to enjoy the dip, you can always substitute some of the chips brought by Commanders wide receiver Byron Pringle.

In addition to vegetables, there’ll also be plenty of fruit, as provided by Miami Dolphins cornerback Eli Apple and Seattle Seahawks running back Kenny McIntosh.

Braxton Berrios, wide receiver for the Dolphins, can take charge of the mixed berry salad, assisted by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback James Bradberry, Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry III, and brothers David Quessenberry, who is a tackle for the Vikings, and Scott Quessenberry, a center for the Houston Texans.

Snacks will likewise be abundant. Camaron Cheeseman, long snapper for the Commanders, and Tucker Kraft, tight end for the Green Bay Packers, can collaborate on an epic charcuterie board, and Tennessee Titans running back Julius Chestnut will bring an assortment of mixed nuts.

The beer cooler will be fully stocked, thanks to the combined efforts of Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Chandler Brewer, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr., Baltimore Ravens punter Jordan Stout, and Saints running back Kendre Miller.

Matt Hennessy, offensive lineman for the Falcons, will oversee the cognacs and other spirits, and Sheldrick Redwine, defensive back for the Cowboys practice squad, and Zach Chardonnay – I mean, Charbonnet – running back for the Seahawks, will take care of the wines.

A selection of non-alcoholic beverages will be provided by Steelers defensive tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk, Texans center/guard Juice Scruggs, and Lions quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

And of course, we can’t forget dessert. Baker Mayfield, quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will supervise, aided by Teair Tart, defensive tackle for the Titans. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham can toast marshmallows for s’mores with some help from Chargers quarterback Easton Stick, and Packers wide receiver Malik Heath and New York Giants kicker Cade York can provide the candy bars.

If you want seconds on anything on the menu, head on over to Elijah Moore, wide receiver for the Browns. He’ll hook you up.

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon, both of the Rams, will supply all the necessary plates, utensils, and so forth, and the centerpieces will be provided by Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers. Once the festivities have drawn to a close, Browns guard Michael Dunn will take charge of the cleanup.

And if at any point we run out of anything, we can always send Jaxson Kirkland, guard for the Bengals practice squad, on a Costco run.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published November 26, 2023

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Tete-a-tete: Newsboys reunion concert elicits a nostalgia suckerpunch, yet reminds that awesomeness does not change

The older you get, the more quickly time seems to pass. It doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s passing quickly in the moment, however. It’s more that every once in a while, something comes to your attention that makes you realize that decades have gone by in the blink of an eye – a nostalgia suckerpunch, if you will.

I was doubled over by a nostalgia suckerpunch just two weeks ago, when a friend and I went to see the Newsboys, one of our favorite bands from high school, in concert. She had seen them perform multiple times over the years, following the band through personnel changes and the evolution of their sound. I, on the other hand, had last seen the Newsboys in concert about 20 years ago, making the experience rather surreal.

The Newsboys are a Christian rock band that formed in the 1980s and saw some of their peak popularity in the mid to late ‘90s, which happily coincided with my high school youth group years. At that time, the band had just released its “Take Me to Your Leader” album and lead vocals and frontman responsibilities were being transferred from John James to Peter Furler.

Peter Furler, in my humble opinion, is Christian rock’s answer to The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. Along with the shaved head, black eyeliner and charismatic stage presence, both share a commitment to creativity and a willingness to experiment musically. At the same time, Furler remains true to his faith, wrestling honestly with doubts and difficulties in his lyrics but always coming back to God’s love and faithfulness.

Furler left the Newsboys in 2009 to pursue a solo career, and Michael Tait (of Christian rap/rock trio DC Talk) became the group’s lead vocalist. Furler has continued to collaborate with the band, with this reunion tour being the most recent project. The reunion tour also features former bassist Phil Joel, which gave my friend and I the hitherto unimaginable opportunity to see the lineup from our high school days.

The first clue that a bit of time had passed since then was my response to my friend’s text message about tickets going on sale: “Does the venue have seats? I don’t think I can stand for that long anymore.”

When that same friend called me 20 years ago, overjoyed because she had managed to get us front-row tickets to the Newsboys’ “Step up to the Microphone” tour, sitting down was the last thing on my mind. We spent the entire concert pressed up against the stage, taking pictures with our disposable cameras, beyond excited to be so close to our favorite group.

My friend assured me that the venue had assigned seating and that, Newsboys reunion or not, she was not going to stand up for a three-hour concert either.

Since our parents weren’t footing the bill this time around, we opted for reasonably priced seats that were a bit further from the stage but still offered an excellent view. Online tickets sales and venue maps are a godsend. No more frantically dialing the box office the moment it opens and praying you don’t end up behind a pole.

I couldn’t help but notice, however, that the seats closest to the stage came with a VIP package that included a photo with the band, a question and answer session before the show and other perks. That was definitely not available 20 years ago – there’s no way we would’ve missed out on that.

On the evening of the concert, we met up after my friend finished work and she drove us to the venue. We both have licenses now, but we also know that time will never improve my sense of direction. I am simply one of nature’s passengers.

I suppose we could’ve looked up our former assistant youth group leader (who was also another friend’s older brother) and asked if he’d like to drive us again, but I think he may still be recovering from dealing with a minivan full of overexcited teenage girls. Sorry, Kevin. I’d like to think we helped prepare you for what lies ahead with your own daughters.

The reunion concert was wonderful but unexpectedly disorienting. It began with the Newsboys’ current lineup playing their more recent hits, none of which I was familiar with. Furler and Joel then joined them onstage for a song, after which Tait left and the lineup I knew in high school played their hits from that era.

My friend and I expended most of our saved-up concert energy during this part, dancing and singing along to the soundtrack of our teenage years. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed this particular group of musicians and their musical output from this time period, and I found I appreciated it even more because of how much the Christian music industry has changed.

There’s a definite trend toward worship music these days, with groups like Hillsong United topping the charts. I have nothing against a well-written worship song, but it’s hard to imagine teenagers today feeling the same way about Hillsong United that I felt about the Newsboys. That was music I could play for my non-Christian friends, music I could blast in the car with the windows down, because it was good music that spoke to the times and to people’s life circumstances in addition to matters of faith.

And Furler was the kind of frontman I could relate to, especially as a new Christian with creative aspirations of my own. Someone a little quirky, someone who didn’t feel they had to fit into a particular mold just because they were a Christian but simply glorified God by being who God made them to be.

That part of the concert was over all too soon. Tait (who is awesome in his own right) returned to the stage, Furler and Joel left and the rest of the setlist focused on more recent songs that I wasn’t familiar with. Everyone came back for one last song together, and then it was over. I was left sitting in my seat with ringing ears, hands that were numb from applauding and no idea what year it was.

I remembered pretty quickly, because as my friend and I were taking a selfie in front of the stage, we found ourselves accidentally blocking the path of Phil Joel. It had to be 2018 and not 1998 because we actually managed to say coherent words to him. At my friend’s request, he posed for a picture with her before continuing on his way. I declined her offer to follow him and ask him to take a picture with me because I am an idiot who doesn’t like to bother people.

Evidence of the current year abounded as we stopped by the merchandise tables. My wallet contained only my own cash (no supplements from Mom and Dad), which was rather diminished from paying for my ticket and my share of gas and parking.

Twenty years ago, my friend and I would’ve stocked up on T-shirts, jewelry, stickers, photos of the band – anything we found aesthetically appealing. This time, she passed on the T-shirts even though she liked the designs because her office dress code is not quite as relaxed as her high school dress code. I likewise took practicality into consideration and opted for a CD and a pin.

It wasn’t a school night this time around, but it was a work night, so we headed out shortly after that.

Though it’s been a few weeks since the concert, I’m still recovering from the nostalgia suckerpunch it inflicted. It’s hard not to be shocked at how much time has passed and how many things have changed.

Thankfully, the most important things have remained the same. Jesus still loves me as much as He did 20 years ago. My sense of direction is still terrible, but it’s okay because other people are willing to handle the driving. And good music is forever, as are the lessons you learn from it.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published May 3, 2018

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Tete-a-tete: When it comes to cat toys, sometimes there are strings attached

Things that are fun are not always completely safe, and that’s a difficult lesson to impart to a young’un. A child who’s been given, say, their first smartphone doesn’t necessarily understand why its use is limited or supervised. Young pets who’ve been given new toys understand this concept even less, as Boots has so vigorously demonstrated.

I accept that my family bears the brunt of the responsibility in this matter. We were so accustomed to having an older cat who had seen everything, done everything and just wanted hugs (Cleo was 22 when she passed away), we didn’t really consider the ramifications of introducing Boots, who is now about 3, to the wonderful world of toys.

When Dad brought home a stuffed mouse that dangles from a long elastic attached to a stick, it never occurred to us that she might be encountering such a toy for the first time.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Bootsie showed up in our yard as an older kitten and decided to adopt us. Her past is something of a mystery to us, but her hunting prowess indicates she spent significant time on her own in the woods – an environment that is decidedly lacking in kitty toys.

Boots was entranced by this artificial prey that appeared to move on its own, stalking it from under the bench in the living room and chasing it down until she caught it in her paws, refusing to let it go. Given how her outdoor time was extremely limited this winter, it’s no surprise that she wants to play with Jorge (yes, we named the mouse) all the time.

Unfortunately for Boots, this requires a willing human to manipulate her prey. Jorge and other toys that incorporate strings are kept in a container in the living room for her safety, as even a skilled predator can get tangled up if left unsupervised. Some components of these toys could also be ripped off by overzealous jaws and accidentally swallowed, so she’s not allowed to play with them unless one of us is guiding her playtime.

She will therefore position herself next to the container and stare at anyone who comes within eyeshot, trying to bend them to her will. If that doesn’t work because no one is near the living room, Boots will seek out whichever family member is closest and try to bring them over to her toys.

To give a common example, if I’m in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher, she’ll approach me, meowing, as though she wants me to pet her. When I reach down to do so, she turns and bolts out of the kitchen and into the living room in hopes I’ll follow her and play with her. If she doesn’t get results the first time, she’ll try a few more times before giving up.

Should these subtler attempts fail, Boots will stand in the living room and cry, broadcasting the unfairness of her circumstances to the entire household. If she still doesn’t get a response, she’ll find the nearest family member and personally give them an earful.

It bears mentioning that playing with Bootsie is not an easy task. She expects these toys to move like real prey – speeding around, doubling back, hiding behind the furniture.

I regret to say that I have been deemed subpar in recreational prey manipulation. When I respond to the kitty’s summons and follow her to her toys, she’s excited at first but then immediately loses interest because my movements are too sluggish for her tastes.

I put forth my best efforts, making Jorge dash and dodge and dive, and Boots just sits there, angrily hunched, glaring off into space and refusing to engage. It’s gotten to the point where when she attempts to recruit me for playtime, I remind her of how bitterly I’ve disappointed her in the past and tell her she’d probably prefer not playing at all.

Regrettably, Boots doesn’t seem to have a good long-term memory, and the string of disappointments continues.

Mom is the recreational prey manipulator of choice. She has the energy, stamina and creativity to make Jorge move realistically for several minutes, which is plenty of time for Boots to feel like she’s had a good hunt. Boots doesn’t always agree with that assessment, however, so sometimes Mom has to distract her with another toy in order to release Jorge from her grip.

Aside from Jorge and other toys with strings, Boots has numerous other playthings that can be safely left out for her. Dad has made sure of that. One of her favorites is what can only be described as a mouse patootie. It’s just the lower half of a mouse – tail, rump and hindquarters. I suppose it gives her a certain sense of accomplishment as a hunter.

She also enjoys playing with a bomb-shaped catnip toy that looks like it’s straight out of an old Warner Brothers cartoon and a catnip sack shaped like a wine bottle that Mom picked up at a winery. Mom tends to put these three toys away if Boots isn’t playing with them, as it makes for a rather morally questionable scene on the living room floor.

Despite this spoiling, Bootsie’s favorites continue to be the toys with strings. Unlike a child who will eventually understand their parents’ reasons for limiting or supervising their smartphone use or even a dog who can be taught to obey certain commands in certain situations, she will never quite fathom why we’re so stingy with the toys she loves most.

And yet, when our independent feline curls up in my lap, demanding security and snuggling, I can almost believe she understands that our stinginess comes from a place of love and protection and that these toys are not the be-all end-all of kitty cat existence.

Again, I can almost believe that. Because the moment I try to stand up, Boots bounds off my lap and into the living room, ready for round two.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published April 5, 2018

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Tete-a-tete: Youngest Brother finds a hobby thanks to ‘The Great British Baking Show’

Over the past few years, I have developed a talent for finding binge-worthy shows on Netflix and getting the rest of the family sucked into them. Often, the only result is hours of entertainment, but my recent discovery of “The Great British Baking Show” has led to tangible benefits for 20-year-old Youngest Brother.

If you have not had the pleasure, “The Great British Baking Show” features a dozen talented amateur bakers vying to be named the U.K.’s best. Each week, the show’s judges, renowned cookbook writer Mary Berry and top artisan baker Paul Hollywood, assign a new set of challenges to test the bakers’ skills.

With the exception of the final week of competition, which is among three remaining finalists, one competitor is eliminated each week and one earns the distinction of being that week’s star baker. The tension is diffused by the wonderfully dry observations of hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc.

What makes “The Great British Baking Show” so delightful to watch is the attitude of the competitors. Though all of them want to be the last baker standing, they want to win because they baked well and proved they deserved that honor rather than because others baked poorly and were eliminated.

There seems to be a genuine air of camaraderie among the bakers. They cheer each other on, sincerely compliment each other’s work, offer comfort over the judges’ criticism and even lend a hand if someone else is in trouble. It’s quite refreshing, especially when you’re used to competitive cooking shows like “Hell’s Kitchen.”

When I first began watching “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix, there were no takers among the family. I eventually converted Mom, who found it absolutely enchanting after she realized it wasn’t an instructional cooking show.

Enter Youngest Brother, home from college on his winter break and looking for quality time with the family and a quality viewing experience. Quickly swept up in the British baking awesomeness, he found one competitor particularly impressive: Andrew, a 25-year-old aerospace engineer.

In the course of a single episode, Andrew modified his rolling pin to achieve a more uniform thickness of dough, used the word “tessellate” properly and constructed a three-dimensional gingerbread scene according to detailed schematics he drew up himself, accompanied by a checklist that allowed him to track the status of all his gingerbread components.

Youngest Brother, a second-year electrical engineering student, was inspired.

It must be said that Youngest Brother is no stranger to the kitchen. He started cooking as part of Boy Scout campouts in elementary school, and in high school, one of his merit badges required him to plan and prepare three days’ worth of meals for at least two people.

I was one of the beneficiaries of the fruits of his labor, and I still remember the tuna salad he made that had shredded cheese and raisins in it. Youngest Brother, please consider this my official request that you make this again the next time you’re home.

His cooking skills fell by the wayside during his first year of college due to his dining hall-based meal plan and adjusting to the rigors of the electrical engineering major, so last semester was his first time being responsible for his own meals. Regrettably, he wasn’t able to do much advance planning on that front and ended up getting by on cereal, instant ramen, and smoothies purchased at a beverage stand on campus.

When he came home for winter break, he had hopes that perhaps he could recalibrate and get organized enough to eat better next semester, but given how stressful his course load was looking, he wasn’t very optimistic.

And then, he watched Andrew bake a set of savory, hot-water crust pies inspired by a da Vinci spiral. The gear-shaped pies were of different sizes and presented on a series of platforms in such a way that when he turned a mechanism, the pies all rotated like an interlocking set of gears – and they tasted wonderful, too.

If Andrew could accomplish such an incredible feat of pie engineering, why not Youngest Brother? At the very least, he felt confident he could manage more than instant ramen and was excited to explore the possibilities.

It helped, too, that Mom and Dad were supportive of his culinary aspirations. A few days before he went back to school, they reminded him of a cookbook of simple recipes they had given him when he started college and took him to Costco to stock up on easy-to-prepare staples like tuna fish and oatmeal.

Youngest Brother expressed a desire to pick up some ingredients for baking, so Mom suggested they stop at Sauders in Seneca Falls, NY on the drive back to school. It was his first time in what is essentially the Mennonite equivalent of Walmart, and he was astounded by the variety of spices he could buy in bulk – and their very reasonable price tags. He may be the only student on his campus whose post-vacation move-in involved huge sacks of flour and brown sugar and a tub of apple butter.

Cooking has now become part of Youngest Brother’s daily life as well as one of the ways he manages stress. In addition to making his meals, he’s made apple streusel muffins for his friends and a pumpkin Swiss roll for a party. He’s become quite popular at his on-campus job (everyone loves a good and generous baker), and his roommate even bought him an apron.

Should anyone try to convince you that there are no benefits to binge-watching a TV show, please feel free to present Youngest Brother as a binge-watching success story. Thus far, there have been no negative effects.

Well, except for his tendency to speak with a British accent while baking, but that’s a consequence we’re willing to live with.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published March 1, 2018

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Tete-a-tete: Evolution of a football fan, or why I’m looking forward to Super Bowl LII

It’s that time of year again – the time when all football fans outside of New England despise us because the Patriots will be playing in yet another Super Bowl.

In the past, this news wouldn’t have meant much to me. I would’ve been proud that New England’s team is doing so well and then carried on with whatever I was doing. This year, I’m really looking forward to watching the Super Bowl, a phenomenon that is largely due to how much time I spent with Grandpa these last few years.

Football was his favorite sport to watch, especially college football, because of how quickly and dramatically the outcome of a game can change. When he came to visit during the holidays, he would manage to watch just about every NFL or college game being broadcast, including all the bowl games, no matter how inconsequential they seemed. Any time you walked into our family room from mid-December to mid-January, there would be a football game on the TV.

The one exception was the year we changed our cable package. Among the many channels eliminated were the various sports networks, which was initially no big deal. Dad might catch the odd baseball game, but that was about it for regular sports viewing in our household.

When Grandpa arrived for his holiday visit, however, our new cable package became a big problem, as he could only watch the football games on the major broadcast networks. He was heartbroken. We tried to see if we could order the necessary channels for the duration of his visit, but the cable company couldn’t do it.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to cheer up a depressed football fan who’s missing all the smaller bowl games by trying to get them interested in basketball. It doesn’t work.

As Grandpa’s health declined and Mom and I began spending more time with him at his home in upstate New York, we inevitably began watching a lot more football. Grandpa was happy to explain the game, and Mom and I found ourselves enjoying the sport more as we developed a better understanding of what was going on.

Mom, as a result, has become a devoted Patriots fan. She is extremely impressed with Tom Brady’s skills as a quarterback and watches the games with her Patriots Yearbook to help her identify the players and their positions more quickly.

She has also become very protective of Gronk. Mom doesn’t like to see any player get injured, even those the Patriots are playing against, but she gets very upset when the opposing team’s defense tries to take him out. She goes into full angry-mama-bear mode, yelling at the screen and telling them to leave Gronk alone.

I am not quite as enthusiastic about the Patriots, but I believe it’s important to consider where I started. Previously, my greatest period of interest in football was when I was in elementary school and decided to throw a Super Bowl party. I couldn’t tell you what Super Bowl it was, just that it was getting a lot of hype on the playground. We lived in upstate New York at the time, so it’s likely the Buffalo Bills were involved.

Anyway, my friends and I were all excited to watch the big game and eat pizza together – until the game actually came on. None of us had any clue what was happening on the field, and it took all of three minutes for us to get bored. Fortunately, Dad managed to locate a VHS copy of “Footloose,” and Kevin Bacon ended up winning Super Bowl MVP.

Fast-forward to the Patriots’ amazing season last year. I had a much better understanding of what was happening on the field, which made their comeback that much more incredible. For the first time ever, I watched a Super Bowl for a reason other than the halftime show. The Patriots’ history-making resurgence in the second half of Super Bowl LI had me glued to the screen like “Footloose” never did (except, maybe, during the part where they’re playing chicken with tractors).

I will definitely be tuning in for Super Bowl LII this weekend, and the anticipation has only been heightened by the outcome of the championship games. The AFC championship game between the Patriots and the Jaguars was exactly the kind of football Grandpa liked: solid playing from both teams with the trailing team coming from behind to win. It was not, however, the kind of football Mom likes, as Gronk was escorted off the field with a concussion despite her angry warnings to the Jaguars’ defense.

The trouncing of the Vikings by the Eagles in the NFC championship was painful to watch. Once the score becomes that unbalanced and the trailing team fails to rally, no one’s really enjoying the game anymore, as evidenced by the fights that started to break out amongst the players on the field.

Though it would’ve been great for the Vikings to play a Super Bowl in their hometown, it would’ve been heartbreaking for them to lose that Super Bowl to the Patriots. I’m not trying to trash-talk anyone here; it’s pretty much a fact that if the Vikings played against the Patriots the way they played against the Eagles, they would lose.

The Eagles have demonstrated, however, that they are a worthy rival for the reigning Super Bowl champs. We’re sure to see some riveting football in Super Bowl LII. It might even get to the point where I consider the halftime show an annoying interruption and wait impatiently for it to end so we can get on with the second half – after I’ve gotten more snacks, that is.

Here’s to a great game this weekend, in which all the players are “Footloose” and giving it everything they’ve got. Go, Pats!

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Feb. 1, 2018

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Tete-a-tete: Younger Sister’s penchant for staying on schedule never takes a holiday

Christmas loses a bit of its magic when children become older. Once the Santa Claus mythos has been dispelled, there’s less of a sense of urgency to go to bed early on Christmas Eve and wake up early on Christmas Day. By the time the college years roll around, you may be opening gifts in the early afternoon.

And yet, as the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Though the timing of our Christmas celebration may have changed now that Youngest Brother and Younger Sister are both in college, Younger Sister is still Younger Sister, which means the family will be held to a schedule regardless.

I affectionately refer to Younger Sister as “the tick-tock lady.” She is adamant that she be on time for everything, which, by her standards, means being early. If she has something to do but doesn’t need to do it at a set time – for example, picking up a prescription before the pharmacy closes – she’ll still have a schedule to which she is adhering in her head.

If you happen to be accompanying Younger Sister to an event or on an errand, she will tell you, quite firmly, what time she is leaving and remind you frequently in the hours leading up to the intended departure time. Should you not be ready at the pre-established time, you may find yourself chasing her car up the driveway.

We were initially confused when Younger Sister’s insistence on punctuality and schedule-keeping began manifesting itself, as there didn’t seem to be any precedence for this sort of mindset in the family. And then, after Grandma passed away a few years ago, we realized Grandpa was the tick-tock man. The only thing that had kept him from adhering to a rigid personal timetable was years of training by Grandma. Once she was gone, all those old instincts came flooding back.

Mom learned this the hard way when Grandpa decided it was time to leave for church and she still needed a few minutes to finish getting ready. Grandpa went downstairs and got into the front passenger seat of the car, Dad accompanying him to assist him.

Grandpa informed Dad that Mom “knew where the church was” and told him to go ahead and drive. Dad didn’t have much choice in the matter, so Mom ended up having to walk to church.

Given that that was what Grandpa was like in his late 80s, you can imagine what Christmas was like with 18-year-old Younger Sister as the driving time-keeping force. This was our first Christmas in 20 years without Grandpa, who passed away earlier this year, but Younger Sister stepped seamlessly into his role as the unofficial keeper of the schedule.

Of the three of us kids celebrating the holiday at home, she was (naturally) the first one to wake up. Mom and Dad convinced her to wait patiently for about an hour and a half, which was itself a Christmas miracle. I’m sure, however, that being allowed to open her stocking in the interim contributed to her willingness to wait.

Then, she began texting the family group chat, politely requesting that Youngest Brother and I join the rest of the family to open Christmas presents:

“Get up here now.”

After half an hour without a response, she visited our bedrooms to deliver the request in person. “Aren’t you up yet? We need to open presents!”

I had actually been awake since receiving her text; I was just waiting to see how long it would take her to break down my door and drag me out of bed. I may be an adult, but I’m still her sister, and I can’t help messing with her a bit when given the opportunity.

Once Youngest Brother and I joined the rest of the family and we all began opening presents, Younger Sister chastised me for opening mine too slowly. We had nothing pressing to do for the rest of the day, but her mental schedule did not entail spending her afternoon watching me ooh and ah over fuzzy socks.

I am of the opinion that if someone takes the time to think of me and spends their hard-earned money on a gift for me, the least I can do is take my time opening it and express my gratitude and appreciation while doing so. Mom in particular puts a lot of care into wrapping gifts, so I often exclaim over the bow or comment on the placement of the pattern on the wrapping paper before I open them.

Younger Sister, however, feels that too much of this creates an unnecessary drag on the gift-opening process. She’s all about efficiency, and –

I’m sorry, I just lost my train of thought because Younger Sister returned home after running an errand and pounded on the front door and rang the doorbell and yelled until I opened it for her.

Where was I? Oh yes, she likes things to happen according to her timetable and becomes somewhat irate if they don’t.

As the years go by, our family’s Christmas celebration will likely continue to change as we kids get older and life takes us in different directions. Through it all, however, Younger Sister will be there to keep us on time and on task, whether we like it or not.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Jan. 4, 2018

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Tete-a-tete: Grandpa had a ‘Wonderful Life’

As Christmas approaches, our thoughts tend to turn toward those who are no longer with us. Losses loom particularly large when we face our first Christmas without a beloved family member, especially when they’ve been a regular part of our celebration.

For the first time in 20 years, Grandpa will not be spending the holiday with us. He passed away in August at the age of 92.

We’ve never had a Christmas in New Hampshire without him. Every December since we moved to the great Granite State, Grandpa and Grandma would travel from their home in Seneca Falls, NY to spend the holidays with us, leaving just after New Year’s. After Grandma passed away in 2013, Mom would drive to New York and bring Grandpa back for his holiday visit.

Before Grandma and Grandpa would make their visit, they would participate in another holiday tradition: the “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival. Seneca Falls is widely thought to be the inspiration for the town of Bedford Falls, NY, the setting of Frank Capra’s classic Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Seneca Falls has held the festival every December since 1996 to celebrate the town’s connections to the film.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” tells the story of George Bailey, who has sacrificed his own dreams for the sake of helping others and is on the brink of committing suicide due to a devastating turn of events. Clarence, George’s guardian angel, is dispatched to intervene and shows him what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born.

Each year, the festival presents the George Bailey Award to an individual who exemplifies the spirit of George Bailey – someone who is a fixture of the community, who is generous with their time and resources and tirelessly puts others first. This year, the award will be presented to Grandpa posthumously.

I know this would’ve meant a lot to Grandpa, and it certainly means a lot to our family. It’s especially significant given that Grandpa’s similarity to George Bailey goes beyond a love of community and a desire to help others.

Like George, Grandpa wasn’t interested in taking over the family business – a farm in this case, not a building and loan association – and was eager to leave small town life behind and see the world. During their senior year of high school in 1943, Grandpa and his twin brother enlisted in the military to serve their country in World War II.

At this time, they were largely responsible for running the family farm. Their grandfather, who had previously run the farm, was injured in an accident and soon passed away, and their mother and father both worked at other jobs. Their request to enlist was denied, with the chairman of the local draft board telling them they were “drafted on the farm” because someone needed to be working the fields to provide rations for the soldiers.

Grandpa’s twin was given the opportunity to take college classes and soon left the farm for a career in sales. Grandpa, unfortunately, was not eligible for that opportunity because he was married and owned a home.

Like George, Grandpa married a charming and determined young lady who could keep up with his Charleston. Unlike George and Mary, Grandpa and Grandma actually won the Charleston contest in which they participated and did not fall into the swimming pool under the floor of the high school gym. They were high school sweethearts who went to every school dance together and continued to be dance partners until Grandma’s passing.

Their first home was an old structure that was being used for grain storage right up until the newlyweds shoveled it out. Much like Mary with the drafty old house, Grandma used her artistic sensibilities and flair for interior design to transform the former silo into a warm and welcoming home. Eventually, they were able to move into the main farmhouse, which Grandma decorated with the same artistry and skill.

Grandpa and Grandma remained on the farm for nearly 60 years and raised three children, setting aside their own dreams for the sake of the greater good. As with George and Mary, all the money they made went back into the family business to keep things going and continue taking care of people. They were never wealthy, but they were rich in the things that mattered.

As Clarence said in the film, “No man is a failure who has friends.” There was a place for everyone at the farm, with various family members and friends finding a job, a place to stay or simply a place at the table whenever they needed it.

Grandpa’s good character, friendly manner and persistence in doing what needed to be done were evident to all who knew him, and he and his twin brother were a memorable presence at the “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival. Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu and famously said, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings,” met Grandpa at the festival on numerous occasions over the years. She took the time to send a lovely message of condolence to our family, assuring us that Grandpa undoubtedly has his wings.

From left to right: Grandpa’s twin, actress Karolyn Grimes (who played Zuzu) and Grandpa posed for a photo together at the 2016 “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival in Seneca Falls, NY.

From left to right: Grandpa’s twin, actress Karolyn Grimes (who played Zuzu) and Grandpa posed for a photo together at the 2016 “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival in Seneca Falls, NY.

To quote Clarence once more, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

It’s only natural to experience some heaviness of heart during the holidays when you’re missing a loved one. We can celebrate their life even while we are missing their presence in ours.

No matter the hardships and disappointments we may experience, George Bailey and Grandpa remind us that when all is said and done, it’s a wonderful life.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Dec. 7, 2017

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Tete-a-tete: Streamlined technology makes it easier to come home for the holidays – unlike when I was in college

Youngest Brother and Younger Sister will soon be coming home from college for Thanksgiving. Along with their dirty laundry, they’ll be bringing something I was never able to bring home for a weekend when I was in college: their computers.

It amazes me how quickly technology has changed. Even though it’s been a little more than a decade since I was a college student, from a technological standpoint, it was essentially a different epoch. Laptops existed but had not yet come into widespread use. I had a decidedly-non-portable desktop PC, as did most of my friends.

Each person who lived on campus had their own landline in their dorm room, the extension for which was listed in the campus phone book. I remember being excited to have a T1 internet connection, as it was so much faster than the dialup connection we had at home.

Facebook was in its nascent stages; YouTube and Twitter did not yet exist. Our main social media platforms were a campus-wide system called FirstClass, AOL Instant Messenger and LiveJournal. No one referred to it as “social media” at the time, however, because the term hadn’t been invented yet. We simply called it what it was for us: procrastination.

Digitalization of entertainment was in its infancy. Overall, if you wanted to enjoy a particular type of entertainment, you needed to have it in tangible form, along with the appropriate equipment to play it. Watching a movie required a TV and a videotape and VCR or a DVD and a DVD player. Listening to music required a CD and a CD player. Reading a book required, well, a book.

As you can imagine, dorm rooms were rather crowded when I was in college, especially if you or your roommate was a bit of a movie buff or a bookworm.

Going home for a holiday weekend was an exercise in decision-making and deprivation. You couldn’t take your computer with you. If you had a computer at home, the internet connection likely wasn’t fast enough to keep in touch with your friends. You had to choose what movies, music and books to bring with you, especially if you had a long distance to travel.

And all Youngest Brother and Younger Sister have to do is grab their laptops or tablets, their smartphones and the respective chargers, and they have all of that and more. I mean, I even had to bring my portable alarm clock home with me. They just set the alarm on their phones.

Even more impressive is that Youngest Brother and Younger Sister’s computers fit in their backpack and purse respectively. Try doing that with a monitor, keyboard, tower, mouse and the tangle of cords needed to connect all the components. And their phones fit in their pockets!

I don’t mean to sound naïve or credulous (Phones! Phones that fit into pockets!), but I do believe we’ve become so comfortable with our current technology that we sometimes forget how incredible – and how fast – these advancements have been.

My college computer had a 1 gigabyte hard drive. A little more than a decade later, my smartphone has a capacity of 13 gigabytes, with additional storage in the cloud. Had you mentioned the iCloud to me back in college, I would’ve assumed it was something that built up in the center of a hurricane.

These developments are mind-blowing, yet we often take them for granted. It’s easy for me to get frustrated with slow or spotty Wi-Fi – until I remember the days when I would wait half an hour to connect to the internet through our phone line, only to be booted off every time someone called our house.

Technology has not always been a servant at my beck and call, doing its utmost to make my life convenient. It wasn’t that long ago that I would change my habits to suit the technology. During my college breaks, I would use the internet at home in the wee hours of the morning when I could be (relatively) sure of an uninterrupted connection.

How very odd to think that my parents would tell us how fortunate we were for not having to walk to school (uphill, both ways) in the freezing cold, and now I’m telling my youngest siblings to appreciate their instantaneous internet connectivity and have patience when their apps are slow to refresh. Hardship is indeed relative.

Overall, I’m pleased that Youngest Brother and Younger Sister don’t have to make the choices I did when coming home for a holiday and can enjoy the benefits of compact, effective technology. But I am anticipating a definite downside to it.

Since they don’t have to cram their luggage with DVDs, books and CDs, they have more room for dirty laundry. The internet has become much faster since I was in college, but it still takes the same amount of time to do a load of laundry. Happy Thanksgiving, Mom and Dad.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Nov. 2, 2017

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Tete-a-tete: Terrifying toys make childhood memorable

People have designed some downright terrifying things with the misguided belief that they’ll be enjoyed by children and well-meaning parents have purchased them, blissfully unaware of how their child might respond. Indeed, there are several unsettling toys and books from my childhood that have left their imprint on my psyche and cemented my status as “the practice child,” the affectionate nickname my father bestowed upon the oldest of his four children.

The first terrifying toy I can remember is a plush Gizmo, the original mogwai in the dark comedy “Gremlins.” I thought Gizmo was adorable until I found out that if you got him wet, he could spawn other mogwais, who would then turn into horrifying monsters if you fed them after midnight. Not exactly what a four-year-old is looking for in a cuddly bedtime companion.

Speaking of which, I’m a little fuzzy on how a four-year-old managed to find out these details about the movie. Perhaps Dad made some sort of joke about banning Gizmo from my tea parties.

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time one of his jokes backfired. At age 3, I asked my freshly-shaven father where his mustache went. He cheerfully informed me that he had put it in the closet. I refused to go near the closet until he proved his mustache wasn’t really in there.

You can therefore understand why, when Gizmo was deemed too scary to remain in my bedroom, I put him in the closet. Not my closet, of course – Mom and Dad’s.

Dad’s father worked for a book publishing company and often gave us books and book-related items that were lingering in the stockroom, including a set of four plush toys based on the characters from “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.

The only one I found remotely tolerable was Max, the protagonist, who was clad in a wolf costume. The other three creatures were, as best as my young eyes could discern, a bull/gorilla hybrid, a bumblebee/lion hybrid and a cross between a chicken and a terrifying elderly aunt. I wanted nothing to do with them.

“But they’re so unique!” my parents protested. “They’ll be collector’s items someday!”

That’s nice. Someone else can collect them, then. Into the closet they went. By this time, Oldest Younger Brother was on the scene, so I put them in his closet.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure if Oldest Younger Brother ever knew I did this. Either way, I apologize for turning your closet into a chamber of childhood horrors.

Another of Grandpa’s more questionable bestowals was “Fever Dream,” a glow-in-the-dark picture book. I remembered the title from my childhood but not the author. As soon as Google revealed that the story was penned by esteemed sci-fi and horror writer Ray Bradbury, I questioned the sanity of my grandfather and my parents.

Here’s how Amazon summarizes the book: “A young boy’s illness comes alive, taking over his body bit by bit until he dies – but the virus remains alive in his body. A portion of each illustration glows in the dark.” What better bedtime reading material for your eight-year-old daughter?

Such a story is obviously ripe for interpretation and analysis, but my prevailing memory of it is the protagonist crying to his mother that he no longer has hands, just stumps, and his mother telling him it’s just his imagination and he’s overreacting.

My guess is that neither my grandfather nor my parents took the time to read the book before giving it to me. The fact that it came in a set with glow-in-the-dark versions of “The Speckled Band” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and “The Golden Touch,” a retelling of the tale of King Midas by Nathaniel Hawthorne, may have given them a false sense of security. My parents have always been big on the classics.

None of these stories appealed to my eight-year-old self as bedtime reading material, especially after I encountered the illustration in “Fever Dream” that depicted the young boy being entirely consumed by glow-in-the-dark flames. All three books were speedily relocated to Oldest Younger Brother’s closet.

And last but not least, there was Teddy Ruxpin, who ended up being an unintentional source of terror. Essentially a teddy bear with a cassette player inside, Teddy Ruxpin’s eyes would move and his mouth would open and close in time with the narration on the cassette so that he appeared to be telling the story. He had his own storybooks and even a cartoon show that chronicled his magical adventures in the land of Grundo.

Everything was sunshiney and pleasant until his mechanical innerworkings began to break down. It started off as a slight distortion of the voices on the cassette and devolved into a metallic grinding, making it look like Teddy Ruxpin was gnashing his teeth and rolling his eyes in fury.

I’m just relieved my parents didn’t buy any of the cassettes on which Teddy Ruxpin sang lullabies – I already had plenty of fuel for nightmares. He too took up residence in Oldest Younger Brother’s closet.

The unintentional receipt of creepy toys and books from well-meaning adults is a part of childhood and one that continues to resonate with us as grown-ups. Horror movies like the “Child’s Play” series are popular for a reason. They allow us to revisit those scary memories at a safe distance, secure in the knowledge that these things can’t really hurt us.

Just don’t go in the closet.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Oct. 5, 2017

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Tete-a-tete: The pitfalls of dining out as a slow eater

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s an accomplishment to be able to do something slowly. Unfortunately, if that something happens to be eating, you’re more likely to receive frustrated looks from your dining companions than compliments about your serene approach to your sandwich or admiration of your sound digestion.

As a slow eater myself, I’ve noticed that certain methods of meal presentation put the leisurely diner at a disadvantage and can result in unnecessary stress and unsatisfied stomachs. There’s no need to avoid such situations – slow eaters can and should eat wherever they desire – but forewarned is forearmed, and you can perhaps make a few adjustments to ensure you get your fair share of food.

First up is buffet-style. I’m not talking about buffet-style restaurants, where the food is plentiful and flows from the kitchen in an endless river, but buffet-style events where a limited amount of food has been prepared and a third of the people attending didn’t bother to RSVP. Talk about pressure.

Unless the event organizers are looking to encourage chaos and mayhem, tables are generally called up to the buffet one at a time. You end up having to take everything you want during that first trip since there might not be anything left by the time you make a second trip. Faster eaters will be back in the buffet line before you’ve even sat down with your first plate and there’s limited food to begin with.

This can lead to some awkward plate-neighbors, such as the ambrosia salad and the potato salad that began to meld on my plate at one such event. Had there been a guarantee of a second trip, I would’ve taken the ambrosia salad on its own as a dessert, but mayonnaise-infused ambrosia salad is better than none at all.

In hindsight, I could indeed have made a second trip (and a third, and a fourth) for the ambrosia salad as the amount left over indicated I was the only one eating it anyway.

Next is tapas, where you share numerous small plates of food with your dining companions instead of ordering your own individual entrées. If you aren’t from a culture or family environment where sharing food is encouraged, this can quickly devolve into a race to stake your claim.

Slow eaters generally have two options in a tapas setting. You can inhale your food and watch the communal dishes like a hawk, doing your best to keep pace with your fellow diners and ensure you get what’s yours, or you can snag your share ahead of time by putting it on your personal plate. Given that the first option is a fast track to indigestion, I tend to go with the second one, even though, as with buffet-style, it can mean ending up with a pile of awkward plate-neighbors.

To further complicate matters, some of these small plates come with odd-numbered servings – three tacos, five dumplings – that make it impossible to share fairly unless you buy multiple plates of the same food, which kind of defeats the purpose of tapas. This may be less of an issue for those who are accustomed to sharing, but for those who aren’t, snaking the last jumbo sea scallop without asking can seriously impact your relationships.

And lastly, we have my personal Waterloo: the multicourse sit-down dinner. The pace at which the courses are brought to the table and cleared away far outstrips the speed at which I can chew and swallow.

This dining format, which I’ve encountered at events like weddings and business conventions, generally starts off with a bread basket. By the time that’s been passed around, the salads arrive. If you’re a slow eater, you’ve managed to butter your roll and take a few bites of lettuce before the server returns to clear the salads in anticipation of the soup course.

Some servers will take away the plates of those who’ve finished and bring the soup course for everyone, leaving the salads of those who are still working on them, but others will wait until it looks like everyone is done. If you’re the only one at your table still eating, you might find the server appearing at your elbow the moment you put your fork down for any reason, asking if you’d like them to clear your plate. I’ve lost some lovely salads that way.

After the soup comes the entrée, which is then whisked away to make room for dessert. Some servers may bring coffee during dessert and allow you to linger over both, while others might not bring it until the dessert plates have been cleared. What it boils down to, though, is that you’re given roughly thrice as long to drink a cup of coffee as to eat a roll, soup, salad, an entrée and possibly dessert. They might as well bring Pepto around with the sugar and cream.

As a slow eater, there is unfortunately no way for me to win in this situation. At the meal’s end, I’m overstuffed because I ate too quickly so I could keep up with the courses or prevent dishes from piling up in front of me, or I’m still hungry because all my food was cleared away before I could finish it. Either way, I’m glaring at my empty coffee cup because I don’t drink coffee and am wishing this time could’ve been put toward the other courses.

Being a slow eater is good for your digestion but can result in stress headaches when dining out in environments where speed is the key to a satisfied stomach. More often than not, you can adapt in ways that enable you to secure your fair share of food, but sometimes you just have to admit defeat and order a pizza when you get home.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Sept. 7, 2017

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