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Tete-a-tete: Walk a mile in my Boots: Viva la feline difference

When a pet you’ve had for a long time passes away and you get another of the same type of pet, there are, shall we say, expectations. You might be anticipating bedtime snuggles with your new cat or bringing your new dog on weekend camping trips. After all, that’s how the previous pet behaved or what they enjoyed, and how different can two members of the same species be?

Very different, it turns out.

It’s been a little more than two years since Cleo, our longtime family cat, passed away at the ripe old age of 22 and a little more than a year since we adopted Boots. Or, more accurately, since Boots adopted us. As mentioned in a previous column, she showed up in our yard one day (having first foraged through our garbage for leftovers) and adamantly expressed her intentions to become part of the family. Who were we to say no?

At first, we chalked up the differences in Boots’ and Cleo’s personalities to the fact that Boots had been on her own outdoors for goodness knows how long. We knew it would take some time for her to adjust to having a home and being around people. As such, we weren’t surprised when she was initially non-vocal.

Cats meow to communicate with people and use other types of sounds to communicate with their fellow felines. Given that Boots was coming from an environment without any people or other cats and where the slightest peep could cause her dinner to flee or announce her presence to a predator, it made sense that she was silent.

Cleo was always very vocal, meowing not only to express her basic needs – feed me, pet me, clean my box, open the door – but simply to have a conversation. If you spoke to her, she would respond with a sound of some sort, and you could go back and forth. Her favorite topics tended to be that cheeky squirrel in the front yard, the weather and politics. Asking Cleo who she planned to vote for in an upcoming election was a surefire way to unleash a lengthy feline rant.

It took a few months for Boots to vocalize in any form, meowing or otherwise. While she’s become a bit more of a conversationalist, she directs the majority of her communication toward filling her most important need: getting us to open the door so she can go outside.

And she’s very good at it. The crying, the wailing, the piteous meows – she makes it clear that if she doesn’t get to go outside, her little kitty heart will break due to the cruelty and injustice of this cold, cold world and it will be all our fault.

Interestingly, Boots only does this when she wants to go out. When she wants to come in, she’ll sit quietly on the other side of the door until someone happens to open it. If she’s hungry and there isn’t any food in her dish, she’ll go take a nap and check back later. Apart from her burning desire to spend a significant portion of her day outside, she’s largely undemanding.

Cleo, on the other hand, used to stick her claws in the molding around the door and shake the door when she wanted to come inside, all the while muttering like a person who’s misplaced their keys. Empty food dishes would be brought to our attention immediately – and repeatedly, until the situation was rectified.

As Boots became more comfortable with us, we began to realize how very different she was from Cleo. Boots is a committed hunter and has systematically eliminated all of the moles, mice and chipmunks from our yard. Anything she doesn’t present to us as a gift, she eats.

Cleo hunted for sport in her younger years but got more creative as she got older. On one occasion, we had a cookout with friends and extended family, and Cleo wanted to impress our company. To show everyone what a good hunter she was, she brought us a dead bird she found in the woods that was already partially decomposed and acted as though she had killed it herself.

In keeping with Cleo’s lackadaisical attitude toward hunting, her interest in toys tended to be rather limited. She would wrestle with a catnip mouse for a moment or two, and that would be about it.

Boots treats toys as prey and completely obliterates them. I once bought her a catnip snake to play with, thinking it might be large enough to withstand her assaults. A day or so later, the living room floor was covered in catnip, stuffing and scraps of fabric, with a bored-looking cat snoozing in a nearby chair.

Parenting experts say that you shouldn’t compare your children, and I’m learning that the same is true regarding pets. Even when you’re dealing with members of the same species, the only similarities you can count on are matters of biology. Personalities, temperament, food preferences (Cleo liked seafood, Boots prefers beef) – there is room for infinite variety. Each pet brings their own unique qualities to the household they join.

I must admit, however, that I certainly wouldn’t mind if Boots stopped bringing some of her “unique qualities” to our household and leaving them on the garage floor.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Sept. 1, 2016

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Tete-a-tete: Slacker movies offer unlikely heroes

For every goal we want to achieve in life, there’s a corresponding checklist of instructions. Want to go to a good college? Take all the AP classes you can in high school, be involved in extracurricular activities and score high on your SATs. Want to get a good job? Join professional organizations in college and find internships in your field. Want a better job than the one you have? Engage in networking and professional development.

And so it continues, with checklists for what you should do to get married, buy a house, have children, raise children, enjoy a comfortable retirement. Step after step after step after step.

If you follow all the instructions and check all the boxes, supposedly you’ll achieve your goal. But what if you miss a step? Can you still succeed even if you don’t do everything right?

These questions weighed particularly heavy on my mind throughout high school and college. I’ve always been a diligent box-checker, but it was somewhat terrifying to feel like my future hinged on the choices I made from the ages of 14-22. I see 18-year-old Youngest Brother experiencing some of that uneasiness as he prepares to leave for college.

In these circumstances, it helps to have your heroes. I found mine in a rather unlikely place: slacker movies.

Loosely defined, a slacker movie is any movie that features an underachieving protagonist who bucks the conventional way of doing things. They don’t follow the instructions, they don’t check all the boxes and they still manage to achieve their goals.

As a disclaimer, I do not condone juvenile delinquency, disrespect for authority or any other dangerous or unhealthy behaviors that slacker movies may glorify. What I find fascinating is the ability of the characters to succeed in spite of not following the rules.

Take, for example, the cult classic “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” (1979). Punk rock chick Riff Randell dreams of writing songs for the Ramones, today considered one of the most influential punk bands in music history. A high school senior with more detentions than anyone in her school’s history, Riff would rather fantasize about meeting lead singer Joey Ramone than study for her classes. As Riff admits, she only uses her math book “on special equations.”

She butts heads with Miss Togar, the new vice principal in charge of discipline, who tries to keep her from attending the Ramones concert and enlists the parents to help destroy the students’ rock albums. Sparks fly, and Riff emerges victorious. She manages to go to the concert anyway, the Ramones like her song so much that they put it on their next album and she makes it clear to Miss Togar that demerits, overzealous hall monitors and black marks on her permanent record have no power over her.

As a student who had far more in common with Riff’s academically successful friend Kate than with Riff herself, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” was music to my ears. It was eye-opening to consider that the things that carried so much weight at that stage in my life – GPA, class rank, SAT scores – weren’t that important after all. It was refreshing to think that success could be achieved by thinking outside the box, working outside the system and, if all else failed, shredding the vice principal’s discipline records with a chainsaw.

In college, I was introduced to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989), a more fantasy-driven take on the slacker movie. Bill and Ted are not exactly high academic achievers – they confuse George Washington with Captain Ahab from “Moby Dick.” Their history teacher gives them an ultimatum: if they don’t get a good grade on their final report, they’ll fail the class. To make matters worse, Ted’s father will send him to military school in Alaska, breaking up Wyld Stallyns, the boys’ nascent metal band, before they even learn how to play their instruments properly.

Unbeknownst to Bill and Ted, their music is destined to change the world, putting an end to war and poverty and bringing peace. A man named Rufus is sent from the future with a time machine (cleverly disguised as a phone booth) so that they can do research for their report and pass their history class, thus keeping the band together and preserving the utopian future.

This movie was a continuous source of encouragement for me throughout college. If Bill and Ted could manage to pull off their history report, then surely I could write a paper on “Paradise Lost,” memorize the kanji for my Japanese midterm and compose a counterpoint to a cantus firmus in Phrygian mode by the end of the week – although I certainly wouldn’t have minded having a time machine so I could bring Milton, Li Si and Johann Joseph Fux to give me a hand.

When life seems like one long checklist after another and missing a step the difference between success and failure, it’s encouraging to remember those slackers of cinematic fame who managed to achieve their goals in spite of their blatant disregard for the rules.

Though I wouldn’t recommend following these characters’ approaches to life, they do serve as a comforting reminder that you don’t have to be perfect or do everything right in order to succeed. Even if you’re convinced that Caesar was a “salad dressing dude,” you can still bring about world peace.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Aug. 4, 2016

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Tete-a-tete – Bag that theory: Purse contents aren’t all that enlightening

It’s been said that you can tell a lot about a woman by her purse and its contents – her personality, how organized or prepared she is, and so forth. Given that a woman’s purse is considered an accessory and thus as personal a matter of taste as her necklace or nail polish, it’s a theory that makes sense.

In practice, however, I’ve discovered that a woman’s choice of purse is more like her choice of car. It might be fancy or expensive, but more often than not it’s a matter of functionality. A purse of the more decorative variety simply doesn’t hold up under the strains of daily life, just as a dune buggy isn’t really the best choice for winter driving. And just as a car comes equipped with standard features, purses tend to have standard contents.

I have drawn these conclusions based on minutes of intensive research, which consisted of cataloging the contents of the purses of three generations of women: mine, Mom’s and Grandma’s. (Grandma passed away a few years ago, but Mom has recently been going through more of Grandma’s belongings, including her purse.) I would’ve included 17-year-old Younger Sister in my data set, but she doesn’t usually carry a purse, preferring instead to keep her cell phone in her pocket and carry a wrist wallet.

My first finding was that the women in my family tend to carry multiple purses simultaneously. In keeping with the car comparison, this would be like adding a roof rack or a trailer to your vehicle to expand your storage capacity.

Mom’s current “purse” is a tote bag containing two small zippered pouches, a medium-sized purse and a wallet. This, she explains, is because sometimes you don’t need everything in your purse; you only need some of it. As such, she has everything carefully separated inside her tote bag according to how and when it might be needed so she can pare down her purse as required.

Mom learned this technique from Grandma, who would have her large main purse (a hefty leather handbag she referred to as her “lethal weapon”) and a smaller auxiliary purse with just the essentials.

Given that Mom has a tendency to misplace her cell phone, she has also started wearing a pouch that clips on to her belt. In addition to her phone, it contains her ID, a little cash and a credit card so that she never has to dig for (or worry about misplacing) her most important items.

I employ the multi-purse method on special occasions, such as weddings where an evening bag is technically more appropriate but a tote bag is required to fit everything I need. Evening bags are such a lie. There’s room for a lipstick, but good luck fitting your car keys and your phone, much less a sweater and a more comfortable pair of shoes.

My second finding as a result of my in-depth purse research is that women carry many of the same things in their purses, even in spite of generational differences. Between the three of us, tissues, ink pens, paper, lip balm or lipstick, cell phones and wallets all came up as common items. As I mentioned earlier, these would be the standard features on your car.

There was some variety among these items, however, in terms of brands and how many of each item was found in the purses. In regards to lip products, for example, Grandma had a lip balm without a label and an Estee Lauder lipstick in Chilly Berry and Mom had Blistex and a ChapStick with SPF. I, too, had a ChapStick with SPF as well as a Tony Moly peach lip balm, purchased solely because the container looks like a peach. For writing utensils, Grandma and I each had one ink pen a piece, while Mom had about half a dozen, including a highlighter.

There were also a few items (the “special features”) that were unique to one particular purse. Grandma had an emery board, a mirrored compact and a small hairbrush, Mom had sunscreen, a little First Aid kit and a small screwdriver, tape measure and folding scissors and I had a business card case and a folding fan (not everywhere you go has air conditioning).

These special features aren’t tremendously exciting or unusual, nor do I think they reveal that much about our habits or personalities. Looking solely at the contents of our purses, someone could correctly determine that Grandma was well coiffed with tastefully done makeup. The fact that Mom and I don’t carry hairbrushes or mirrors, however, doesn’t mean we have messy hair. Mom usually wears hats or puts her hair up, and my hair is naturally wavy so I only comb through it when it’s wet. Also, you don’t really need a mirror to properly apply lip balm.

Likewise, a person could accurately conclude that Mom is well prepared for emergency situations. The absence of those items in Grandma’s purse, however, is not because she was unprepared for emergencies but because she kept them elsewhere in the car (her actual car, not a metaphorical purse-car). I don’t do a lot of long-distance driving or traveling so I don’t really have need of those items.

Contrary to what is sometimes said, a woman’s purse and its contents offer very little insight into the kind of person she is. Though you might be able to make some accurate generalizations, you’ll probably learn more about her personality and habits by looking at her car. Even when you carry multiple purses, you can only fit so many things in your handbag.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published July 7, 2016


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Tete-a-tete: Keeping up with the pace of modern-day elder care

Elder care used to be about making sure your aging loved one had the appropriate mobility and home health aids and selecting the best nursing home when the time came. These days, however, with people leading longer, healthier and more active lives, caring for an aging relative has become a whole new ball game.

To those who haven’t experienced this for themselves, when I say that I’m going to upstate New York to help my mom take care of my 91-year-old grandfather, it conjures up images of, say, spoon-feeding porridge to a bedridden nonagenarian.

In this case, it’s not really like that.

Grandpa works out three days a week at the local health center, where he swims laps in the pool and uses the weight machines. He works part-time selling petroleum products and has been a member of a yacht club for nearly 70 years. He’s part of a weekly bridge club, serves as an elder in his church, and regularly socializes with friends, including his identical twin brother.

It’s kind of a riot when he’s together with his brother. They banter back and forth and stories of their youthful shenanigans tend to come out, like the time they were caught waterskiing on the canal that runs through Seneca Falls (a definite no-no). It’s like listening to a real-life Waldorf and Statler from “The Muppet Show.”

Medical appointments are certainly involved when we visit Grandpa, but they’re far from the only thing. To help facilitate Grandpa’s sales work, my uncle got him a computer. This is the first time in Grandpa’s life that he has ever had a computer, and he is diligently learning how to type using the ubiquitous Mavis Beacon typing software, an endeavor Mom and I are helping him to troubleshoot. He initially had a tendency to position his fingers one off from the home keys, which led to numerous ants tumbling off the log in one of those typing games until he figured out what was wrong. Now he’s plugging along at a steady pace with far fewer errors.

One of the tasks Mom has delegated to me is to go through Grandpa’s inbox and weed out any spam that may have snuck past the filters. I also go through his cell phone and delete text messages he’s received (Grandpa doesn’t text, but people sometimes send him messages) and old voicemails. He’s always been a stickler for an empty postal mailbox and an empty answering machine, and that mindset has transferred to their technological counterparts.

The empty email inbox, unfortunately, is nigh impossible. Just because you’ve responded to an email doesn’t mean you’ll never need to look at it again – you might need it for reference in the future. As such, we’re encouraging him to think of his inbox as a filing cabinet rather than the electronic equivalent of a postal mailbox. He’s expressed concern about running out of space, but we’ve assured him that he has plenty of room to store old emails and still receive new ones.

I also assist in matters of editing, research, and archiving. As the longest-tenured member of his yacht club and a former commodore (or a former club president, in non-nautical terms), Grandpa is often called upon to contribute articles to the club newsletter or historical information for special events. His memory is sharp as a tack, but spelling, punctuation and grammar have never been his strong suit. We’ve worked out a system where he jots down his thoughts with pen and paper and I type them up, asking him for clarification and additional information as needed.

Last year, Grandpa and his twin gave a talk during his church’s coffee hour on the history of the family farm, which was in the family for 150 years. For this occasion, Mom put together an extensive PowerPoint presentation featuring old photographs and historical timelines, with some technical assistance and grammatical input from me. I also helped assemble the notes for what Grandpa and his twin were going to say, and during the talk itself, I took on the crucial task of manning the controls, advancing the presentation from one slide to the next.

Modern-day elder care can be a far cry from stopping by the nursing home on a Saturday afternoon to play board games with your loved one and talk to the doctor about their current medications. Though medical advocacy is still an important part of it, it’s also about providing the assistance they need to continue living a full and independent life for as long as possible.

And that assistance can take many forms. As I’m sitting on the couch in my aunt and uncle’s cottage and writing this column, my view of the lake is regularly interrupted by Grandpa and his twin zipping along in a John Deere Gator. Grandpa is now backing up, and Mom is spotting him. He and his brother are about to drive up from the cottage to where Grandpa has parked his SUV so they can unload the petroleum products he’s ordered for his customers, and Mom is following on foot to give them a hand.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published June 2, 2016

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Tete-a-tete: Easter dinner reveals a shocking family secret

In a world of casual acquaintances and social media friendships, you know your family members better than anyone else. You’ve participated in their milestones, been with them through thick and thin and know their likes and dislikes down to a T.

And then, one of them drops a bombshell so shocking, you wonder if you really know them at all.

Oldest Younger Brother and his wife, Sister-in-law, joined us for Easter dinner this year. Mom and Dad had prepared our traditional repast: roast lamb with mint sauce and a ham steak.

As we were passing the serving dishes, Oldest Younger Brother said that he had something important to tell us. We waited until the dishes had made their rounds and everyone had been served, anticipating news about a work-related decision or perhaps an announcement about starting a family.

He took a deep breath, and uttered the words that shattered our world forever:

“I like ham.”

In near unison, our entire family exclaimed, “What?”

For the past 20 years, Oldest Younger Brother has portrayed himself as an ardent ham-hater. In fact, this is one of the reasons our Easter dinner has roast lamb as its centerpiece and the more ubiquitous ham has been reduced to a side dish. If Oldest Younger Brother is partaking of what would otherwise be a ham-centric meal, there needs to be a non-ham option so he’ll have something to eat.

He gestured to his plate. “I took a piece of the ham steak when it went around to see if anyone might notice.” He cut into the ham and took a bite of it with obvious enjoyment.

There was a considerable amount of sputtering as we tried to wrap our minds around this revelation.

“I’ve been encouraging him to come clean,” Sister-in-law said. “I told him that he couldn’t keep lying to his family about this.”

When Oldest Younger Brother was 10 years old, Mom prepared a ham for dinner. Though he liked ham, that wasn’t what he wanted for dinner that night. He told Mom that he didn’t like ham and made a fuss about how there wasn’t anything for him to eat for dinner because ham was the only option. Mom took his complaint seriously and made him a frozen pizza instead, satisfying his immediate craving for a non-ham meal.

But now that he had established himself as a ham-hater, there was no going back. I stopped suggesting ham and pineapple as a pizza topping when we ordered out, Dad stopped packing ham sandwiches in his lunches and Mom began providing alternatives for him at every ham-centric meal. At 10 years old, Mom and Dad felt Oldest Younger Brother was old enough to voice his opinion about his gastronomical dislikes and have a say in what he ate as long as he made healthy food choices.

Even though he really and truly loved ham, Oldest Youngest Brother couldn’t let on that he did without getting caught in his lie and possibly punished. There was also the thrill of having gotten away with his deception, and he wanted to see how long he could keep it up. He successfully maintained his ruse until he went away to college at age 18, sneaking into the kitchen late at night after the rest of the family was asleep to eat leftover ham scraps.

Given that Oldest Younger Brother has not been a full-time resident at the family homestead for more than a decade now, it could be argued that we could’ve returned to our regular consumption of ham as soon as he had gone away to college. By that time, however, it had become a way of life, and Oldest Younger Brother is at the homestead enough, especially for holidays, that it didn’t make much sense to return to ham-centric meals.

And so, Oldest Younger Brother moved out and enjoyed ham to his heart’s content, making sure to abstain from ham consumption in the presence of his family, while the rest of us continued to suffer ham deprivation. All I can say is thank God it wasn’t bacon.

I have had a particularly difficult time adjusting to Oldest Younger Brother’s revelation, for, in addition to missing out on years of spiral hams, I have missed out on years of Grandma’s homemade raisin sauce, a recipe that is only served with ham.

Since ham was typically not the focal point of our meals because Oldest Younger Brother wouldn’t eat it, we would usually have a ham steak instead of a spiral ham with all the trimmings. Given its much smaller size, it isn’t really worth the trouble of making raisin sauce for a ham steak.

To top it off, Youngest Brother is 18 and Younger Sister is 17. Because of Oldest Younger Brother’s 20-year deception, they have been raised in a world without raisin sauce and thus have not developed an appreciation for raisins. This is unspeakably cruel and, it turns out, entirely unnecessary. It has been a hard thing to forgive.

Truly, we know very little about other people, even our closest family members. One moment, everything is rosy, and the next, you’re wondering who that ham-loving stranger sitting at your dining room table is.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published May 5, 2016

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Tete-a-tete: Time flies when you forget to change the clocks

Daylight Saving Time is our biannual reminder of the subjective qualities of time. Though nearly the entire United States employs this system, a significant portion of the global population does not spring forward and fall back.

For those of us who do, there is a certain period during which time-related confusion is expected. For every cell phone or electronic clock that updates itself automatically, there’s an older clock that needs to be changed by hand. If that manual adjustment does not occur, we end up being too late or too early.

It’s one thing when this happens on the day of the time change. It’s another thing when it happens almost a week later.

The church we attend decided to hold a dinner-and-a-movie event as part of its adult Christian education program, and Mom and I were in charge of preparing the dinner. Those of you who are long-time readers of this column may have just cringed involuntarily, as you will recall that cooking is not exactly the forte of the Santoski women. (We recently buried another failed corned beef brisket in the front yard. So much for Saint Patrick’s Day dinner.)

Since we are well aware of our proclivity for culinary disaster, we opted for an uncomplicated menu: beef stew in a crock pot, a Caesar salad, a few flatbread pizzas, and cookies for dessert. The beef stew had been cooking all day and the salad simply needed to be tossed. The pizzas would only take 10-15 minutes to bake, so we saved those for last, intending to pop them in the oven at 6:15 p.m. so they would be nice and hot when people arrived at 6:30 p.m.

Even though the preparations involved were simple, we arrived at the church at 4 p.m. to give ourselves plenty of time to get things ready at a leisurely pace. We also wanted to leave enough time to deal with whatever unexpected circumstances might rear their ugly heads, like the croutons going rogue.

I assumed responsibility for keeping track of the time so that Mom could focus on the preparations without having to worry about when to put the pizzas in. Since I know how quickly time can slip away, I preheated the oven immediately to avoid unnecessary panic come 6:15.

Mom focused on setting up the TV and DVD player while I tossed the salad (mercifully, all of the croutons behaved). We then moved on to wiping down the table and assembling the appropriate dishes and silverware, my eye always on the clock in the church kitchen, counting down to pizza time.

Neither of us wear a watch, and we both had our cell phones in our purses, as we didn’t want them to get misplaced (or covered in salad dressing) in the midst of our preparations. Besides, who needs an additional timekeeping device when there’s a perfectly good clock on the kitchen wall?

A little before 5:30 p.m., one of our church members came into the fellowship hall. We thought nothing of it at first. Since he holds a position in the lay leadership and is very involved with the church’s services and events, it’s not unusual for him to be at the church at a variety of times.

When he mentioned that his wife would be joining us in a few minutes and that she was really looking forward to seeing the movie, we were perplexed, wondering why they had decided to arrive an hour early. We’re a small, close-knit church community, though, so perhaps they had come early to see if there was anything they could do to help.

And then, I happened to check the clock on the wall in the fellowship hall and realized that it was 6:30 p.m., not 5:30 p.m. When the clocks in the church were changed that previous Sunday, apparently the one in the kitchen had been overlooked.

Thank God I had had the foresight to preheat the oven – and that everyone was gracious about starting dinner 15 minutes late.

Time is subjective, to an extent. As the classic example goes, a minute can feel like an eternity depending on which side of the bathroom door you’re on. Though the experience of time may be relative, standardized timekeeping is essential to keep everyone on the same schedule. Daylight Saving Time, in spite of our best efforts and our technological advances, continues to be a monkey wrench in the cogs of a smoothly functioning society.

And as I write this, I realize that the effects of that monkey wrench may be more far-reaching than I originally thought, because even though we discovered that the clock in the church kitchen hadn’t been changed, I’m not sure that we actually did anything about it.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published April 7, 2016

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Tete-a-tete: Here in New Hampshire, we don’t take voting ‘for granite’

For many states, the presidential primary is a brief, contained event. Candidates campaign in their states for a few weeks, perhaps a few months, before votes are cast, and the interruptions to daily life are relatively minimal.

Here in the great Granite State, where we have the first presidential primary in the nation, the campaigning season is, shall we say, somewhat more extensive. Presidential hopefuls may venture out among the people of New Hampshire as much as two years before the primary to see if there’s enough interest to mount a campaign.

As for the months leading up to the primary, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a candidate or one of their campaign workers.

With the incredible amount of attention candidates give to New Hampshire, there’s no better place to be a first-time voter. You can meet the candidates in person at any number of events (both small and large), ask them about the issues that are important to you and even score tickets to the official debates.

This happened to be 18-year-old Youngest Brother’s first primary. I’d like to say he took full advantage of our first-in-the-nation status, attending events and talking with the candidates in person in order to make an informed decision, but the truth is that he didn’t really need to. The candidates did quite a thorough job of reaching out to our household without us having to seek them out.

Sometimes this eagerness to engage the common man can get a little overwhelming. Every week night for perhaps six months leading up to the primary, our land line would ring multiple times from 5-9 p.m. Nine times out of ten, it was a polling firm asking for our input for a political survey or a robo-call inviting us to events or to participate in telephone town halls.

After the first month or so, I did my best to avoid these calls. I’d let them ring over to the answering machine or, if I had to answer the phone, hang up quickly if the caller took too long to reply. If the caller takes a few moments to respond, it’s generally an indicator that a robocall is processing what you’ve said and preparing to reply or that you’re being patched through the system of a call center.

The emphasis here is on the word “generally.” I accidentally hung up on my uncle once, who called back rather mystified.

Mom, on the other hand, loves taking these calls. She considers them an invitation to make herself heard and have what matters to her, not just to voters in general, represented in poll results and campaign plans. If she doesn’t share her opinions, she reasons, who will?

It is a noble perspective, to be sure, but in the practical, these calls can be rather disruptive. It’s challenging to appreciate the benefits of our first-in-the-nation status when you’re constantly pausing the TV show you’re watching as a family or delaying sitting down to dinner.

Mom’s enthusiasm, however, has made it difficult for me to justify avoiding these calls. By the night before the primary, I was willingly giving my opinion to the pollsters and wishing I had done so more regularly throughout the polling season.

Grandpa, a lifelong resident of New York state, was visiting us during this time, and he remarked on the volume of the political calls and mailings we received. He assumed that this was because Mom had once volunteered with a campaign a number of years ago and our family’s contact information was now in our political party’s system.

He was absolutely flummoxed when I explained to him that this was simply the natural result of living in New Hampshire. Everyone, whether or not they’ve volunteered with a campaign, gets inundated with event invitations and requests to participate in surveys. Other states don’t receive nearly as much targeted attention.

Though Youngest Brother isn’t receiving this attention himself just yet, he certainly benefited from the attention the rest of the voters in our household received. He would hear the kinds of questions we were being asked and listen to the new information we’d learned about the candidates, participating in the conversations and forming his own opinions.

The most important part of his first primary, however, occurred at the polling place, after he voted. One of the selectmen announced that a first-time voter had just submitted his ballot and pointed out Youngest Brother and said his name. Everyone at the polling place applauded and cheered for him, which really reinforced to him not only the general importance of voting, but the importance of him voting.

In addition to this primary being Youngest Brother’s first voting experience, it was also the first presidential primary since I graduated college where I haven’t been working in a newsroom. I can honestly say that I do not feel any less informed about the candidates as a regular citizen than when I was, for lack of a better term, a “media insider.”

And that, to me, is the wonderful thing about having the nation’s first presidential primary. Any candidate who’s really serious about being elected president goes out of their way to make themselves accessible to the everyday voter. You don’t have to have special connections to hear them speak in person or to ask them a question. In fact, you might not even feel the need to meet them in person after spending so many nights participating in telephone town halls.

Though the sheer number of opportunities for political engagement can get overwhelming, they serve as important lessons to first-time voters like Youngest Brother, as well as reminders for those of us who have been through a few election cycles.

Your opinions matter. Your vote matters. And they have the power to shape our political reality. There’s really no better place to learn this than New Hampshire.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published March 3, 2016

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Tete-a-tete: An Eagle takes flight in another family milestone

Milestones tend to occur in groups. All of your grandchildren start graduating high school and college, for example, or all of your friends start getting married and having kids. After a season heavy with similar milestones, we generally anticipate a break of some sort, as there are only so many family members and friends who are likely to experience the same social landmarks around the same time.

With the last of the engaged couples in my circle of family and friends having married last fall and many of the married couples busy with infants or toddlers, I mistakenly assumed we were due for a break. And then, I was blindsided by the reality that 16-year-old Younger Sister and 18-year-old Youngest Brother are now reaching their own set of milestones.

It’s not that I’m oblivious to the events taking place in the lives of my youngest siblings. I remember quite clearly when they both got their driver’s licenses, when Younger Sister was hired for her part-time job and when Youngest Brother received his first college acceptance letter. Indeed, I was part of all of these processes, whether it was offering advice or simply offering the use of my car.

These achievements, however, did not prepare me for Youngest Brother’s Eagle Scout court of honor. There’s a significant emotional difference between a family celebration with a congratulatory cake and a two-hour-long ceremony with a color guard and presentations by our state senator and representative.

Eagle Scout, as you may know, is the highest rank attainable for a Boy Scout. The requirements are rigorous and culminate with a service project that demonstrates the candidate’s leadership skills and benefits the community. After conferring with the Brookline Conservation Commission, Youngest Brother decided to take on the daunting task of better distinguishing the Cider Mill Pond Trailhead to increase the visibility of this hiking area.

His project consists of three parts: a kiosk where maps and information can be posted, a sign marking the site and a gravel parking lot. Before Youngest Brother’s project, the trailhead was just an overgrown field, and if you weren’t in the know, you’d have no idea that it’s the starting point for roughly three hundred acres of trails.

If you have a degree of familiarity with Eagle projects, you can see that his project was actually three projects. Completing any one of those three components for the trailhead would have been sufficient to fulfill the requirements for Eagle. Youngest Brother realized, however, that to really make the trailhead visible and maximize the usefulness of his project to the community, he would need to do all three components.

Due to the sheer scope of the project and obstacles imposed by the weather (you can’t put a signpost into the ground if the ground is frozen), the project took about two years to complete. It was a lot of hard work for Youngest Brother, his troop members and the family members, friends and other volunteers who helped.

Numerous presentations were made at Youngest Brother’s court of honor, with Scout leaders, government officials and leaders from veterans organizations all saying wonderful things about his dedication, perseverance and leadership ability. Hearing their words – and knowing them to be true because of everything I’ve seen over the years – made me realize for the first time just how grown up he is.

See, my typical experience of Youngest Brother is him sprawled on the couch in his pajamas, asking me to fill him in on the plot of the TV show I’m watching because he wandered into the living room partway through it. This is on the rare occasion that I see him at all – he’s constantly busy with school and activities and has a thriving social life. Witnessing him standing on the podium at his court of honor, impressive in his full uniform with all his badges and insignia, was a proud and surprising moment for me.

And that’s when it hit me: I am not going to make it through high school graduations without crying.

The reception that followed the court of honor was another opportunity to marvel at the passage of time. I used to see Youngest Brother’s friends fairly regularly when they’d come over to the family homestead to play video games or have all-night movie marathons, but that changed when they began reaching the driving age. Instead of spending time at each other’s houses, they now meet at fast food restaurants and movie theaters and gaming stores, enjoying the exercise of their newfound freedom.

As a result, I had difficulty recognizing some of Youngest Brother’s friends because they had grown a foot taller or acquired considerable facial hair since last I saw them. Once I managed to figure out who everyone was, we had pleasant conversations about the court of honor, college plans and how fantastically envious they all were of Oldest Younger Brother’s lumberjack-grade beard and mustache.

I’ve become so accustomed to the milestones that define my own age group – people getting married, having babies, earning promotions, buying houses – that the milestones for the teenage set kind of snuck up on me. Youngest Brother’s court of honor has served as a wakeup call in that respect. He’ll be graduating high school in June and departing for college in the fall. Next year, Younger Sister will do the same.

I look forward to celebrating their achievements and seeing what new things they’ll accomplish in this next season of their lives. In the meantime, I intend to focus more on enjoying those ordinary moments I have with both of my youngest siblings, having been reminded that they won’t last forever.

Also, I’ll be stocking up on tissues. Lots and lots of tissues.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Feb. 4, 2016

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Problematic Fans 101.2 – Tips and tactics for handling problematic fans

In part one of this series, I discussed how to distinguish between the various types of problematic fans and the wide range of problematic behaviors. Here, we’ll focus on how you can deal with these problematic fans in ways that are emotionally healthy, physically safe, and bring glory to God. Continue reading


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Problematic Fans 101.1 – How to recognize a problematic fan and identify why they’re problematic

If you consistently follow a performer’s activities and interact with their other fans in person or online, chances are you will encounter a problematic fan. Simply put, a problematic fan is any fan with whom you have a problem. These problems can take a variety of forms, but they usually stem from the following root: their behavior – on social media or in real life – is annoying, upsetting, or downright damaging to you, other fans, or the performer themselves.

So how do you deal with these fans? The first step is identifying the nature of the problem. Taking the time to do this will help you respond appropriately. Please note that such problems can have multiple layers, so you may find that several of the following factors are involved in your particular situation. Continue reading

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