Up Close & Personal – Jessica Bredbenner

Up Close & Personal – Jessica Bredbenner

Jessica Bredbenner is the owner and founder of Tiddlywinks Boutique, a children’s clothing store in Dunmore, which also offers birthday party services. Her storefront was preceded by a Tiddlywinks camper that has allowed her to take her services to various locations. She was inspired to create the camper after seeing a mobile store parked in front of a mall while she lived in Oregon. Bredbenner is a graduate of West Scranton High School and Marywood University, where she studied marketing. She and her fiance David live in Dallas with their 3-year-old daughter.

Meet Jessica Bredbenner…

Q: Describe Tiddlywinks Boutique and the variety of services it offers.
A:
It started with just the camper. My vision of this was to have something totally unique to the area and give girls this unique experience. At least 75 percent of the business is private parties, so moms will book birthday parties for their daughters. I also do public parties so moms or grandmothers can bring their daughter. We do princess-themed tea parties, and for older girls, we do what we call “makeover balls,” which are themed makeup, hair and a craft. They can dress up in as many costumes as they want, and we do fashion shows.

Q: How did you come up with the name “Tiddlywinks Boutique”?
A:
I wanted something meaningful. I didn’t want to just pick a name. My grandparents were a huge influence on my life. My grandfather, who is almost 90 years old, is everything. I’m his only granddaughter. He helped me remodel the camper. I remember playing the game Tiddlywinks when I was younger. I used to play it a couple times a week when I went to my grandparents’ house. I’ve always been into vintage and old-school, retro stuff. I try to find and collect the game Tiddlywinks now.

Q: Where does your interest in sewing and making come from?
A:
I’ve always been very artistic. I was never into TV and movies. I was always sitting there cutting things out, drawing and coloring as a little girl. I’ve always been the creative type. I started doing craft shows as a teenager. I guess that was the entrepreneur in me too. When I got into high school, I was very into the arts. My senior year of high school, I took a sewing class by mistake. It was a random elective that I got placed into. I just picked it up like that. I was planning to study art and thought I was going to be an art teacher or professor, but I loved making clothes throughout college. I loved the fashion industry. I did an internship for, at the time, a startup fashion magazine in New York City. I got to do Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and I sat next to Betsey Johnson and did her show. It was a lot of fun.

Q: What is your favorite part about making clothes to be worn?
A:
The creative oven and designing the clothes. In college, I always thought, “I don’t want to buy this skirt for $20 when I can make it for $5.” That’s just the bargain-hunting and business part of me. That aspect along with the creative aspect and being able to make something my own and unique.

Q: How does your own daughter inspire your clothing design ideas?
A:
There are so many different styles to children’s clothing. A lot of boutiques have their own style, just like any clothing store. I try to keep things different to other boutiques out there but make them youthful, whimsical and princessey. The first dress I made for my daughter was a vintage, whimsical dress. It had princesses on it and was such a pretty fabric. I put lace and satin on it, but it was also modern so she could wear it to church too. I’m going to put her in a dress until she tells me no.

Q: If you could only make one clothing item for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
A:
A dress. It’s just classic. It’s the time of times since back in the Victorian age. Styles have changed, but today, a lot of girls don’t wear dresses that often. I don’t send my daughter out in dresses everyday, but back in the ’50s, you wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house with your kid in pants; so, definitely a dress.

Q: What influence do you hope you and your business can have on your daughter?
A:
I want to show her that any of her dreams are possible, but it takes hard work and you have to keep at it. As she gets older, I want her to realize she should follow her dreams and keep her mind to it.

Q: What is the biggest message you hope to give the young girls you interact with?
A:
Girl empowerment is the main thing. Coming in, being creative and feeling special is the mission. I see it so many times where the moms aren’t here and the kids just get so into it. They’re so excited when they get here because it’s something different.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A:
I did a big fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation before I opened this store. The theme was “Enchanted Winter Ball.” There were vendors, and everyone came dressed up. I like to support that organization. I am also a part of the Rising Tide Society. I just became the group leader, which was pretty exciting. There are different chapters throughout the United States. It’s entrepreneurs, business owners (and) people in the creative industry, so photographers, wedding planners and stuff like that. We have monthly meetings. Our vision is community over competition, and it’s a nice group we have.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A:
My family has been my support system with everything. My grandfather helped raise me and watched me every day and has been my backbone and my support system since I was little. Growing up with that has shaped me to be appreciative. I didn’t come from a lot of money, so I was taught to work hard for things if I wanted them.

Fab 5 – January 17, 2019

Fab 5 – January 17, 2019

1. ‘Knox Mine Disaster’
On the 60th anniversary of the Knox Mine Disaster, Wyoming Seminary’s Kirby Center for Creative Arts, 260 N. Sprague Avenue, Kingston, will host the premiere screening of a documentary about the deadly 1959 incident.
The program will take place Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30. The event will include a live performance by Lex Romane and a discussion with the filmmakers. Twelve men died in the disaster after the Susquehanna River broke through the surface of a mine in Port Griffith, flooding the caverns below. The cave-in resulted in a whirlpool, which rescuers tried to plug with more than 50 train cars. Tickets for the screening of “Knox Mine Disaster” cost $15, and seating is limited, so tickets must be purchased in advance. For tickets, visit knoxminedisaster.com or call 570-270-2190.

2. ‘Balancing Act’
Listen to the music of Baljinder Sekhon and hear from the man himself Saturday, Jan. 19, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral, 35 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre.
The Northeastern Pennsylvania Chamber Music Society program “Balancing Act” will begin with a pre-concert lecture by Sekhon at 7 p.m. with the music following at 8.
The program will feature Sekhon’s pieces “Balancing Act” for saxophone and guitar, “Sonata of Puzzles” for saxophone and piano and “Three Little Lights” for violin and piano as well as Aaron Copland’s “Sonata for violin and piano.” The performers will include Duo Montagnard, a pair that has performed across the world and consists of Joseph Murphy on saxophone and Matthew Slotkin on guitar. John Michael Vaida also will perform on violin with Eun-Joo Kwak on piano.
Tickets cost $20 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information, visit nepacms.org or call 570-763-9323.

3. John Mulaney and Pete Davidson
Comedians John Mulaney and Pete Davidson will perform twice this weekend at F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, Wilkes-Barre.
Shows will take place Sunday, Jan. 20, at 7 and 10 p.m. Tickets cost $48, plus fees, and are available at the box office, 570-826-1100 and kirbycenter.org.
Mulaney has written for “Saturday Night Live,” has released several comedy albums and has won three Emmy awards. He most recently voiced Peter Porker/Spider-Ham in the film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
Davidson currently s tars on “Saturday Night Live,” which he joined in 2014, and also has appeared on numerous television shows.
The use of cellphones, smart watches, cameras and recording devices is not allowed during the show, and guests must secure all devices in Yondr pouches upon arriving. The pouches then will be unlocked when the show ends.

4. Disney’s ‘Newsies’
Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple’s Youth Theatre Program will stage Disney’s “Newsies” this weekend.
The production, featuring performers from grades four through 12, will take place Friday, Jan. 18, and Saturday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 20, at 2 p.m. in the cultural center’s Shopland Hall, 420 N. Washington Ave. The show is directed by Camille Reinecke with music direction by Joey James and choreography by Jackilyn Yamialkowski.
Based on the 1992 film of the same name, the show takes place in New York City at the turn of the 20th century and tells the tale of newsboys rallying against unfair conditions.
Tickets cost $5, and general admission seating is first-come, first-served. For tickets, visit the box office or ticketmaster.com or call 570-344-1111.

5. ‘An Evening with Micah Holt’
Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic presents its second chamber concert of the season, “An Evening with Micah Holt,” on Thursday, Jan. 17.
The 7 p.m. concert will take place at First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, 300 School St., and features principal trumpet player Holt performing several masterworks.
Tickets cost $35 and are available at nepaphil.org. For more information,
call 570-270-4444.

‘Napoleon Dynamite’ cast to reunite at screening at Kirby Center

‘Napoleon Dynamite’ cast to reunite at screening at Kirby Center

If you find yourself at F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Jan. 12, all of your wildest dreams will come true.
At 7 p.m. that night, the downtown Wilkes-Barre venue will welcome the leads from cult classic film “Napoleon Dynamite” for a special screening and question-and-answer session.
Jon Heder, who played the title character in the 2004 indie hit, will be joined live in conversation with supporting cast members Jon Gries, who played his Uncle Rico in the film, and Efren Ramirez, who was unforgettable as new student Pedro Sánchez, who becomes Napoleon’s best friend and (spoiler alert) successfully runs for class president thanks to some sweet dance moves.
Before the trio of actors hits the stage, Weekend Times spoke with Ramirez by phone from his hometown of Los Angeles (where we caught him in the middle of “eating Frosted Mini-Wheats,” he admitted) and got answers to a few questions about how being part of “Napoleon” changed the course of his career.
Q: Tell me about how this role changed your life.
A:
You study and you train and you do the work as an actor. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In high school, I would do a lot of plays, and in college, I studied theater. For a number of years, I did TV shows and commercials. When I did “Napoleon Dynamite,” everything changed. You play such a unique character. When you do a movie, you have no idea the results. You read a script and you go, “This is really cool,” and you do it. It just so happened to fit. You go out and see all these “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts, and then you see bobbleheads and action figures. You would never think that would actually happen. Some of the perks are sometimes I go into places for free, but the other thing is I do get mobbed.

Q: What do you wish fans knew about the movie and what your character meant to you?
A:
Two things, the first: sometimes people forget that the movie was made by students at (Brigham Young University). They were film students, and it was their very first film. It was shot at the very moment when movies went from film to digital, and it was hard for them. When they marketed it, nobody wanted to produce it. When I read it, I said, “What is it? Who is this Pedro guy?” But they took a chance and raised half a million dollars altogether. I remember them telling me their struggles just to make that happen. When I came onboard, I wasn’t so sure myself. I was working on a Fox show called “Boston Public” and a Disney show, “Even Stevens,” where I played a bully. When I got “Napoleon Dynamite,” I was making choices as Pedro, because you start to create a character and you hope it works. We hoped to have a great time telling the story. First time I met Jon Heder was in wardrobe, and he was dressed up as Napoleon and he said, “Are you Pedro?” (in the character’s voice). We just knew that we loved what we were doing. We enjoyed it, no matter how low the budget was. It was difficult, but we made it happen. Once you put it together and it got in several film festivals and from there was bought up (by major studios), and we had no idea (that would happen), but what I can say is, we all took a risk in something we love to do and trusted that what we were creating, that something was going to occur out of that.

Q: Do you have any regrets about how “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts or some of your most quotable lines have become huge pieces of pop culture?
A:
No, there are no regrets. I met actors who have played (iconic) roles, and all I could tell you is, I’m grateful. Because of “Napoleon Dynamite,” I bought my parents a house, I got my own house, I get to live a life where I can choose different projects to work on, I get to play different characters. I was able to travel around the world. It’s an interesting life, living as an actor. I used to DJ at raves to pay for studying acting and writing. I did it to survive, because it was a way I could use my voice. I was very shy, very quiet, when I was younger. I was the nerd. I’m still a nerd. But now because of involvement in “Napoleon Dynamite,” I’m able to use my voice and really select how I can go and change with different characters. One thing that I know is that you never want to play the villain in a movie, because then when people see you, they kind of hate you. (Laughs) But Pedro is somebody that a lot of people loved because he’s somebody you would never think would want to become (class) president. Every character in “Napoleon Dynamite” is so relatable because they come from a small town where nothing much happens, and they’re really trying to figure life out.

Q: You’ll be appearing with Jon Gries and Jon Heder. Have you all maintained relationships since the movie?
A:
Working as an actor, when you start working on production, you immediately become family. “Napoleon Dynamite” was very unique because it was extremely low-budget, and you get to know who everyone really is. I still talk to everyone. Jon Gries is a director, and his father was a director, and because of him I learned a lot about working as an actor and writer and how directors really tell a story with movies. I would do Comic-Cons with Jon (Heder) as well, and people went bananas to see us as Napoleon and Pedro together. We’re all living different lives, but reach out to each other. We’re constantly surprised and constantly grateful.
__________________________________________________________________________________________

If you go
What:
“Napoleon Dynamite”: A Conversation with Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez and Jon Gries
When: Saturday, Jan. 12, 7 p.m.; doors open at 5:30
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Details: Tickets cost $25, $35 and $55 for general admission and $99 for VIP meet-and-greet, plus fees, available through the box office, online at kirbycenter.org and by calling 570-826-1100.

Up Close & Personal – Tony Mendicino

Up Close & Personal – Tony Mendicino

Tony Mendicino is the executive chef at Slocum Hollow Bar & Restaurant at Montage Mountain Resorts, Scranton. He earned a bachelor’s degrees in culinary arts and business from Keystone College and recently received recognition as Electric City’s “Best Chef 2018.” He lives in Scranton.

Meet Tony Mendicino…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A:
I’m from Scranton, born and raised. I grew up in the restaurant industry. I originally went to school to be a teacher and found out after the first year that it wasn’t for me, so I decided to go to culinary school. I went to Keystone for that; I also got my bachelor’s in business from Keystone.

Q: What led to you becoming the chef at Montage Mountain Resorts?
A:
I started my career at Scranton Country Club. I went from there to Glenmaura; I was their sous-chef. Last year I started here (at Montage Mountain) as the executive chef. I was also around golf courses growing up. This is my first resort; it’s a great experience. It’s a different atmosphere from the country clubs and the golf courses. I worked at a couple cafes. I was at Northern Light in downtown Scranton for a very long time. Then I was at Pine Hills, Scranton Country Club and worked my way here.

Q: What does your job as executive chef entail?
A:
My day-to-day is coming in, doing orders, running all my numbers and cooking — it’s my passion. I’m always back in the kitchen making sure everything is going alright, and I’m back there with my guys supporting them. It’s awesome to be able to be at this level in my career. Being only 27, it’s a really good experience. I grew up on this mountain; being from the area, I’m a skier. I actually used to work here when I was younger in high school, so things came full circle to where I’m back here working as the executive chef.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to make the move from teaching to cooking?
A:
I’ve always been in the restaurant industry, all through high school. My mom was always cooking dinner, and as a child I was always there helping. It was always in me that I wanted to be a cook. I went to Marywood (University) for secondary education to be a history teacher. I did my first year of observations, and I realized that I wanted to proceed with culinary school. The interest was there all along. I had wanted to go to culinary school straight out of high school, but a lot of times, the job is very demanding. I thought maybe being a teacher would be a better choice, but for me it was more about the passion behind it. I wanted to be in the kitchen.

Q: What makes you so passionate about cooking?
A:
A lot of it is based on tradition. With Italian, Asian, it’s all about the cultures. When you’re learning a new style of cooking, you’re not only learning about the food, you’re learning about the culture behind it also. It’s a really cool way to interact with the food and get a background and where it came from.

Q: Who are your favorite chefs?
A:
I do a lot of Asian and Italian style. Everyone can get together over food. One of my role models has always been Anthony Bourdain. The way he cooked, the way he presented himself, was always awesome. Even seeing him in TV shows, it was really cool to watch everything he was doing. Reading his book “Kitchen Confidential” was huge for me in culinary school. It was like my Bible. Another one is David Chang in New York City with Momofuku food chains. He’s a great chef to model after. He does noodles, and he’s centered around his culture, which is awesome.

Q: What is something different you hope you can bring to the food scene in Scranton?
A:
I always try to incorporate something new and sort of get people to go out of their comfort zones. It’s things that people don’t normally see, and I’m trying to bring that to the resort and the restaurant. I’m trying to get people to open themselves up and try new things. The Scranton food scene has definitely been working its way up. Everyone that I know who is opening new restaurants — such as AV, Peculiar Slurp Shop, Bar Pazzo and all of them — it’s really up and coming. The area is definitely growing. I try to stay with fresh products. Our beef is all local. The mountain has been here for years, so I’m trying to keep everything local if I can. For a ski resort, it’s hard because it’s quick service. So I’m trying to do awesome food really fast.

Q: Whether cooked by you, or not, what is your favorite food to eat?
A:
Ramen. I’ll make ramen at my house, I’ll go to Peculiar Slurp Shop, anytime I can I’ll go to New York City to eat at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Ramen is huge for me. I love it. It’s a comfort food. Fresh ramen, not the packs, are great.

Q: What are three kitchen essentials you can’t live without?
A:
Tongs and my knife. They’re like extensions of my hands. Those two I definitely can’t live without. And probably pizza, in all honesty. My two top things are definitely my tongs and knife.

Q: What is your favorite thing to cook?
A:
I enjoy cooking ramen; that’s one of my favorites. As far as traditional Italian things, that’s what I grew up with, making pasta. Nothing beats sitting there, putting everything into making the dough, stretching it and rolling it out. It’s the fruits of labor, so when you’re done making it, you get to eat it and enjoy everything that you just put into it. My favorite thing is to be able to make pasta and be able to enjoy it after.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A:
In the winter, I enjoy skiing. I take trips to Vermont if I can get away. In summer, I like going to baseball games, including Yankees games, and the RailRiders being down the road is awesome. I like to be outside.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A:
I think a lot of my shaping comes from my family. They’ve always supported me and backed me, even when I didn’t want to be a teacher and wanted to go into this profession. Another time was my second year in culinary school. I had awesome teachers, and they really molded who I was and brought out the chef in me. Them pushing me harder and harder to get better really molded me.

Q: Final word?
A:
With us being up in the mountain, it’s hard to come up here and eat, but definitely try to make a venture up here. It’s a cool facility. I’d like to see more people come to the mountain and eat on top of just skiers.

Up Close & Personal – Jami Kali

Up Close & Personal – Jami Kali

Jami Kali is the vocalist, lyricist and synthesizer for Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms. She is a graduate of GAR Memorial Junior-Senior High School, Wilkes-Barre, and Wilkes University, where she double-majored in English and philosophy. She and her band will take their first tour this year when they travel across New England in April. She lives in Wilkes-Barre.

Meet Jami Kali…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A:
I grew up in a heavily musical household. Both my mother and father were musicians, and they really encouraged me to express myself creatively. When my dad saw me playing around on one of his synthesizers, my parents decided to push this for me. They were really supportive of that my whole life. My dad is a guitarist. His jam room was right next to my nursery, so I would be in my crib, and he was going off on the guitar. I always enjoyed it. I started singing at a really young age. I was singing along to my favorite bands and music. My mom was always singing at the house, and she had a really beautiful voice. I started to realize I really enjoyed singing.

Q: Was there a specific time that made you realize you wanted
to be a musician?
A:
There was a jam session that my friend and I had. There was a picture of a girl on the wall. She looked very sad, and she was carrying a basket of flowers. They were joking around and said, “Jami, write lyrics about that girl,” and I did. We were just goofing around, and I started singing it. We thought it sounded really good. We wrote a song called “Black-eyed Susan” because she was picking black-eyed Susan flowers, and that was actually when my first band started with those people.

Q: What groups and musical roles did you have in the past?
A:
The first band began in 2011; it was called Mock Sun. That was like an experimental, dream punk band. That lasted for about six years. I had no idea how to book a show or how to record and release an album. It taught me how to do the whole band thing. That’s how I met my co-writer, Ray. We realized we wanted to collaborate, and that’s how Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms started. I started it as a solo project with a little recorder and my loop station. It then turned into a duo with Ray. We were so like-minded. We put some feelers out and acquired Anthony Shiny Montini, our drummer, and Matthew Chesney, our bass player. Once those guys came into the mix, it turned into something new, and it keeps evolving.

Q: Tell me about Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms.
A:
The four of us get along so well and collaborate so wonderfully. We are so different, too, that we bring so many elements to the practice space. We have so many different musical tastes.

Q: What influences you?
A:
I was a poet before I was a musician. I wrote and read a lot of poetry. The beats really inspired me. I was trying to hone in on the craft of writing poetry, and word play was always one of my favorite past times. The means of writing the poem was always more fun than to have the poem at the end. A lot of my style is heavily poetic and very dreamy. I was influenced by punk, pop and the grunge scene.

Q: How does that come together in the band?
A:
We came up with a genre called neo-psych, space rock. There’s a new movement of psychedelic music. We fit with that a bit, but we’re not exactly a psych band. We’re very spacey, ethereal, dreamy and groove-driven. There’s elements of pop, and we’re very eclectic. One thing many people say to us is there isn’t any other music like us. It’s hard to put us in a category.

Q: Tell me about the self-titled album you released earlier this year.
A:
That album explores a lot of topics relating to growth and evolving as a human, shedding the skin and becoming something new. It explores the cycle of life and the changes that take place. We recorded it all do-it-yourself; we set up a recording studio in our apartment, and we had such a good time recording it.

Q: Talk about your study of philosophy that’s had such an influence on you.
A:
When I started college, I was really into the animal rights movement. My first semester there was a course called the “Philosophy of Animal Rights.” I jumped into that, not having ever delved into philosophy. That blew my mind. I really loved hearing all the arguments, counter-arguments and different perspectives that went into every thought, issue and ethical dilemmas. It really got my wheels turning in a different way, the constant questioning. I’ve always been a deep thinker, but philosophy really changed my perspective on life.

Q: Prior to performing, you were afraid of public speaking. How did you overcome that?
A:
I was the head editor of the school’s magazine, and we would run poetry readings. I had terrifying social anxiety and fear of public speaking. When I ran these poetry readings, I felt like I was going to faint. I was filled with fear, but it seemed like I had this crazy desire to do the things that I feared the most because it’s empowering to tackle that fear of yours. The poetry readings really got me to feel a type of comfort in my voice that I didn’t feel. I remember the first time I stepped up to a microphone to do a poetry reading; I didn’t like the sound of my own voice over a microphone, so I didn’t use one. Now I love it. It’s not that I love the sound so much, but I just love the feeling of your expression coming through.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that’s helped shape who you are today?
A:
I had some experiences when I traveled across the country that really changed who I was. I remember being in the desert for the first time, and in the Badlands. There’s some type of silent beauty that’s really hard to put into words. You have to be there to feel it. That put me at a type of peace and understanding with the world. Being out west was a really incredible learning experience and really grounded me.

Photos by Emma Black. Thanks to Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms members: Ray Novitski, Anthony “Shiny” Montini and Matthew Chesney for joining in.

Up Close & Personal – Gretchen Kohut

Up Close & Personal – Gretchen Kohut

Gretchen Kohut dedicates her time around the holidays to making them special for others. Christmas is her favorite time of year, and she now spends her downtime in the winter giving back, performing as her self-invented character, Gretchen the Elf. She is an independent support living coach at St. Joseph’s Center and an activity coordinator for Allied Services. A graduate of Sacred Heart High School in Carbondale, Kohut earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Marywood University. She and her husband David live in Scranton’s East Mountain section with their 9-year-old son, Tyler.

Meet Gretchen Kohut…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A:
I was born and raised in Carbondale. I have a degree in restaurant and hotel management from Marywood University. I did my degree for many years, and when I was pregnant with my son I realized I wanted more of a part-time job so I could spend more time with the family. The Elf on a Shelf was getting so big, and nobody in the area did anything like this. I started calling day cares and schools to see if they would be interested in a visit by the elf. I created the concept of (how), at the end, the kids whisper in my elf ear what they want for Christmas, and I fly back to the North Pole and report to Santa. The nursing homes and assisted livings heard about it by word of mouth. This is my sixth year, and it’s gotten bigger each year.

Q: What led up to Elf on the Shelf?
A:
I managed Cooper’s (Seafood House) for almost 10 years, and I developed and ran kids’ birthday parties there. Right out of college, I started working at Perkins, and managed Perkins and Ruby Tuesday’s. I never thought I would leave Cooper’s. They treated me like family. I loved it so much. I had to make a decision (when I had my son) as to if I could work nights, weekends and holidays, and I didn’t think I could.

Q: Describe the work you do as Gretchen the Elf.
A:
I do singing, dancing, story time and talk about experiences from the North Pole with kids. I take snowshoes from the North Pole, and I teach the kids how to dance North Pole-style. It’s stomping around in your snowshoes and jumping over a ski mountain; I created it. Then I report back to Santa and tell him what the children want for Christmas and if they’re good or bad. When I go to nursing homes and assisted livings, they don’t know the concept of Elf on the Shelf since that’s for children. I am just Gretchen the Elf, and I do sing-alongs and spread my Christmas cheer. My son still believes in the elf. I still have fun hiding the elves, and I have to pretend that I fly back to the North Pole a couple times a week, so I make sure that I bring something back from the North Pole each time. I have a special ringtone on my phone from Santa to carry on with my son.

Q: You mentioned Christmas is your favorite time of year. What makes it such a special time for you?
A:
My family has always been very big on holidays, including birthdays. Christmas is just one of my favorites, and my birthday is in December. I used to get my Christmas money and go to Mermelstein’s, in Carbondale and decorate my room from top to bottom in Christmas spirit. I never thought I would be an elf, but I just love Christmas so much. After I had my son, it made Christmas even more of a happier time because I got to celebrate with a child. Now he’s picked up my trait of decorating his room for Christmas. I love to give; I love to buy gifts for other people, and I love to go to the nursing homes to sing.

Q: Since you created a character who dresses up and sings, do you have any background or previous interest in performance?
A:
When I developed and ran kids’ birthday parties at Cooper’s, I found a calling and a desire to work with children. I love to make them happy. I was trying to think of another way to have fun with children, and that’s when the elf came about.

Q: What is your favorite part about the interactions you have?
A:
With the residents, I try to be very cautious, because for some people, Christmas is not a happy time. Some people don’t have family, and some have lost a loved one. I am very cautious that I don’t make them feel worse. Being a people person is part of my job, and I can read people very well. It’s all about a connection I make with them and being able to read them, and if they don’t want to be involved, I don’t continue to push.

Q: What activities do you enjoy doing with your son?
A:
Every afternoon, my son and I walk Lake Scranton. He’s been doing that since he can walk. We like nature and go on a lot of nature hikes. I love to be involved with him. I pick him up from school every day. I never miss a day picking him up, so he can tell me about his day. He is also a skier — I am not — but during the winter when I am busier, my husband takes him skiing.

Q: What other hobbies do you have?
A:
I don’t have many hobbies, but I love to exercise and be healthy. I love swimming and the summer. I love hiking and biking and bike every morning. Nature and being healthy are my biggest hobbies.

Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A:
I can’t sit still. Even my husband will say I don’t sit down until seven o’clock at night. I’m so high energy that I have a hard time sitting.

Q: Talk about your work as an individual support living coach.
A:
I have four individuals with special needs, and I coach them to live independently in the community. They all live on their own. It’s like having four adult children of your own. I have a compassion for people with special needs. I was looking for a part-time job. I heard about this, and when I started out, I thought it wasn’t my cup of tea. I only planned to do it until my son went to school, but I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s amazing and very rewarding.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A:
I didn’t want to go to college. My father pretty much forced me to go to college. I wanted to drop out, and I didn’t think it was for me. I think my father is my big inspiration. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my father persuading me to go to school and get my degree.