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I’m Married to Santa Claus!

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Santa Hubby and me (Maria Cisneros Toth) at our doll shop in Running Springs.

It was the day after Thanksgiving of ’92 and I had a doll, teddy bear & collectible store called the, Itty Bitty Doll Shop, in Running Springs, a small community nestled between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.

Winter had arrived in time for the holidays and snow blanketed the mountains. Local businesses were gearing up for the tourists who would stop in town before trekking further up the hill.

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Santa with our goddaughter, Kayla.

To help bring customers into our store hubby reluctantly agreed to play Santa Claus. Before he had a chance to have a change of heart, I rented the red suit. We were optimistic and bought plenty of toys to fill Santa’s sack.

With so many tourists driving through town to reach the ski resorts and sledding areas, hubby playing Santa Claus seemed like the perfect marketing strategy. The Santa plan: he’d stand at the edge of our parking lot and wave people toward our store. A sure winner!

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Santa handing our goddaughter, Megan, a coconut. Yes, a coconut! Why? Because my hubby is also a nut!

Only thing was it turned out to be one of the most coldest and iciest days in years and our parking lot literally turned into a slippery ice skating rink!

Then it started to snow, and snow and the fog rolled in. And it became much too cold for anyone to want to stop and get out of the warmth and comfort of their cars.

Long story short, hubby became a drive-thru Santa. From our store window, I watched as a long line of cars inched along as families waited to see Santa Claus. Santa handed out toys and candy from his big, red sack. Hubby recalls lots of pictures being taken as children shared their Christmas wish list with him through rolled down car windows. I can only imagine the kids must have thought they had arrived at the North Pole!

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Santa with my friend’s daughter, Heather.

By evening, the Santa traffic had dwindled, so hubby rushed into the store for a handful of candy canes. Then I couldn’t help but smile as I watched him bolt toward the real estate office to deliver the candy stash to the agents. As he ran across Hilltop Blvd., it was almost as though I could hear him shout in a Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life sort of way, “Merry Chrishmas, Running Springs!”

The moment is etched in my heart forever.

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Santa with my friend’s daughter, Melissa.

So, on that very snowy and icy day, my hubby who is for the most part a reserved and quiet man had really become Santa Claus. Aside from one of my best friends and her daughters who stopped by early for photos, we didn’t make a single sale. In fact, we took a financial loss. But it was all worth it just to watch hubby put on the red suit and white beard and knowing he created a sleigh full of happy memories for children visiting our snowy community.

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It’s round two for this fun-loving Santa!

And it wouldn’t be the last time he’d wear the red suit either. A few years ago, I worked at an afterschool program for at risk youth. And once again, hubby handed out toys at our Christmas party to children of all ages who anxiously waited in line for a chance to talk to Santa Claus.

Even some of the grown-ups became believers!

It was so sweet the way he took his time with each child, listening to each of their special Christmas wishes. I was told by our site coordinator that for some of the children this would be the only Christmas they would have.

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Santa takes his time, listening to each child.

Gosh, how did I get so lucky to marry Santa Claus?!

Have you or someone you know ever dressed up as Santa Claus? Do you have a special Santa memory you’d like to share?

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Hot dog! You’re all invited to a wedding!

Hot dog! You’re all invited to a wedding!

I now pronouce you 'hot dog & hot dog!'

I now pronouce you ‘hot dog & hot dog!’

I’m a long distance grandma, so timing my phone calls to the grandkids isn’t always easy. I never know when they’re doing after school activities, homework, or having dinner. Last night was no different. I called when the twins were in the middle of homework. They passed the phone to each other and talked for a couple of minutes.

Then it was the 11-year-old’s turn. She was finishing up dinner. I asked her what she was eating and she told me about the ‘hashbrown’ rations in their home. I asked her what else they were having with the hashbrowns. She replied, “Scrambled eggs and a Weenie Man.”

“Huh?” I said. “What’s a Weenie Man?”

She immediately started singing a song about a hot dog who owns a hot dog stand and about a hot dog girl who wants to share her life with the weenie. Well, I laughed so hard, then quickly grabbed pen and paper and wrote down the words. We sang the song together till Grandma caught on to the lyrics and the catchy tune. Soon the twins were singing along, too.

The girls tried to explain over the phone how to make a ‘Weenie Man.’ I never quite understood all of the details, so since I was in a crafting sort of way I grabbed a couple of hot dogs out of the fridge and whipped up a couple of outfits out of Duck Tape. I know. I know. I’ve flipped, right?

So, now you’re all invited to a wedding–a ‘Weenie Man’ wedding!

Happiness to the bride & groom!

Maria’s Quick & Easy Christmas Craft Countdown

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!

Zany ideas are always popping into my head, so around Halloweentime when the idea to make a series of 12 crafting videos creeped into my mind I could hardly wait to get the holiday crafting party started.

It’s fun to upcycle those Scrabble game tiles!

I quickly made a list of ‘quick and easy’ crafts tutorials I could make for my Youtube channel. But what would I call my craft series? Hm. For a while, I entertained ‘The 12 Days of Christmas Crafts,’ but then noticed there were others with the same name. Hm. More thinking. Then after playing with words I came up with ‘Christmas Craft Countdown.’ It was a real tongue twister, but it had a pepperminty flavor and Christmasy ring to it.

Make a cool art journal/sketch pad from an old board game.

So, let the crafting begin. Coming up with ideas was the easy-peasy part. And mulitiple trips to my favorite craft store JoAnn Fabric & Crafts was tons of fun. After working at the craft store for about a year, I learned how to use my coupons and get the most savings for my crafting dollar. Believe me, I saved a lot of moola using my coupons. (You can find tutorials on how to use JoAnn coupons on my Youtube channel.)

How about repurposing a discarded children’s book & turn it into a cool sketch book?

These clutch purses & wallets are super simple & fun to make! I dare you to make just one!

Next, I needed to make up my sample crafts, then figure out how I would present these tutorials showing each step as I recreated the crafts for my audience. Let me just say for the record that I am a total amateur at making videos. (New 2013 goal: Learn how to make professional videos) I used my iPad to make the tutorials. I love my iPad2, but thought there must be a better way of getting the job done. So, I’ve asked Santa Claus for a tri-pod for my camera, though with all of the bloopers, I probably should have asked for a teleprompter. And maybe a director. The goof-ups were endless, so I finally decided to leave them in and had a good chuckle.

Snowglobes are so magical! These waterless snowy scenes are created in a quart size Mason jar.

I dare you to make this storytime glove and not burst into singing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ song.

By the time I got to video taping ‘Craft Project No. 10’ (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Hand Puppet) the spirit of Christmas possessed me. I started to sing. I can hardly carry a tune, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to sing Rudolph and so I sang to my little elf’s heart content.

And after wrapping up the 12th crafting video, something in the closet caught my eye. Something red. Something red with white trim. It was the cheesy, felt Santa Claus suit that I bought at JoAnn’s last Christmas when it was on sale. Then I remembered a leather strap with gold jingle bells attached to it from when hubby played Santa Claus at the after school program where I worked a few years ago. I dashed out of my craft room with two tiny reindeer at my heels (Okay, barking chihuahua/terriers ) and ‘yay!’ found the bells, then slipped on the cheap red suit and created the introduction to my ‘Christmas Craft Countdown.’ And all in only eight takes! (Ho! Ho! Ho!)

I kick start my holiday craft videos with this fun, festive, and yummy ‘Countdown to Christmas Candy Advent Calendar.’

Hope you enjoy the videos! Happy crafting! And happiest of holidays everyone!

Do you craft during the holidays? What are you making? Or what have you made in the past? Is there a handcrafted gift you received as a gift that you treasure?

Meet the friendliest, sweetest, most lovable and popular pig ever…. Stuart the Pig!

Every year, I look forward to the annual craft fair in Norco, California.

The craft fair starts the day after Thanksgiving and draws huge crowds. Today was no different. Hubby dropped me off at the entrance while I scurried off anxious to see all of the wonderful handcrafts displayed in an old chicken coop, a big barn, and the farm’s grounds.

Mmm. The arroma of freshly baked cookies wafted from the barn where there were more artisans selling their wares.

But as I walked past each table, nothing popped out at me. Nothing begged me to buy it and take it home. I felt a bit let down, then hubby found me in the crowd and we strolled the grounds featuring more crafters. There was everything from beaded jewelry to wooden toys to handsewn aprons. I desperately wanted something to say, “Buy me! Take me home!” Nothing.

Then…

…something caught my eye. Something large. Something with ears, a snout, and a tail that waggled like a happy dog. It was a pig! A big, beautiful, black potbellied pig. And his name was Stuart. I had never actually petted a pig before, let alone put my cheek next to one. But Stuart was friendly and loving all of the attention he was getting from me and other passersbys.

Stuart was a very popular pig!

I was beaming. Smiling. I whipped out my camera and started clicking.

Then his owner, Curt Mills, of Corona, California, explained how he had rescued Stuart three and a half years ago along with Stuart’s mother from an abusive breeder. Sadly, Stuart’s father didn’t make it.

I was captivated by Stuart’s story. Ping! My writer’s mind kicked in and I soaked up every word as he spoke of how he found a happy home for Stuart’s mother, and how Stuart likes to hop in the shower with him every morning for a scrub down with a bristly bath brush. And get this, Stuart is learning how to play the piano. Yes! Play the piano! I’m telling ya, this is one smart pig!

Stuart loves to give piggy kisses!

As a kid growing up on a farm in the Ozarks of Arkansas, Mr. Mills’ parents wouldn’t allow him to give their pigs names or become attached to them as pets. So, he never imagined himself ever owning a pig let alone two pigs. Yep. Stuart has a sister at home. Her name is Bella.

You see, thanks to Mr. Mills and his wife, Susie, Stuart really does have a wonderful life!

Before leaving, I wished Stuart a Merry Christmas, then hubby and I headed back to the big barn to buy our baked cookies. And all the way back to the truck, all I could do was talk about Stuart and what a terrific pig he was.

As for the craft fair. It was the first time in about 10 years that I didn’t buy anything. (Ornaments made by Susie Mills starring Stuart were sold out.) But I realized I was going home with something far more special. I had met one terrific potbellied pig that I’ll never forget!

Just look at the beautiful face!

Merry Christmas, Stuey!

Monster Fun Time at Barnes & Noble Book Store

Woo-hoo! I celebrated my 55th birthday this week and what better way to keep the birthday candles burning bright than to hang out with my writer peeps for a Monster Moon book signing. We met at the 4th annual City of Readers Bookfair at Barnes & Noble in Redlands, California.

From left to right, Maria Cisneros Toth (me), Lynn Kelley (middle), and Kathryn Sant on the Winnie the Pooh Storytime stage in the children’s department of Barnes & Noble.

Along with a couple of awesome Star Wars Storm Troopers.

Thanks for the escort guys!

Supportive and gorgeous friends from our writer’s critique group Books Born Here popped in.

From left to right, authors Carol J. Amato, Cindy (Annie) Howland, and Melissa Salazar.

And a surprise visit from Sam, a remarkable service dog from Cool Dog, School Dog padded on over and wagged a friendly ‘hello.’

A special memorial tribute was held for Sam’s mother, Ollie, also a therapy dog, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

A pinata bursting with gratitude goes to Sheri Becar. Sheri, an english and language arts teacher spearheads the City of Readers, a literacy program for the San Bernardino City Unified School District. Together, Barnes & Noble and the City of Readers have teamed up, creating this funtabulous literacy event for local students and their families. The special event offered author signings & readings, family activities, costumed characters, music, and lots more.

You’re awesome Sheri! And Barnes & Noble, you totally rock! Monster thanks for inviting us back to this super cool event. We had a great time meeting so many enthusiastic readers!

Sheri Becar takes a sneak peek at Lynn Kelley’s newly released book for early readers, Curse of the Double Digits.

It was a perfect day surrounded with oodles of books and good friends. What else could a birthday girl ask for?

Co-author/ZomBuddy Kathryn Sant entertained young readers with a scene from our second book in the Monster Moon mystery series, Secret of Haunted Bog. Take it away Kathy! And thanks everyone for making this such an unforgettable and fun day!

*Throws confetti!*

What type of reading program (s) does your community offer? How are you involved in promoting literacy? Who was the first author you ever met in person?

Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead at Disneyland

I feel lucky to have grown up in Southern California. I remember the citrus packing houses, the sweet scent of orange blossoms, red berries bursting from low-lying vines at roadside strawberry fields.

And Disneyland.

The Matterhorn Mountain where bobsleds whoosh through its snowy tunnels

Disneyland was just a few miles from our home. As a kid, I was mesmerized by the park’s snowcap Matterhorn Mountain. It’s peak seemed to almost touch the sky. On some days, as we drove by the amusement park, I’d spot Alpine climbers scaling the enormous mountain.

Disneyland honors Dia de los Muertos, in Frontierland, with several festive exhibits.

So what does Disneyland have to do with Dia de los Muertos when the Day of the Dead is about honoring the memory of our loved ones?

For me, everything.

Maria (me) at the Day of the Dead colorful display in Frontierland

After W.W. II, Dad worked as a cement mason. During the construction of Disneyland, he poured concrete foundations for some of the attractions, including the basin of the submarine ride. I think of Dad each time we stroll along the sidewalks of Main Street U.S.A., and again when I walk by the blue lagoon in Tomorrowland.

Dad served in the Pacific during W.W. II

And Mom…

Mom at age 15 overlooking Whittier, California

When I was six years old, she filled enough Blue Chip trading stamp books and took her six kidlets to Disneyland. I can still see her licking those stamps and pressing them into books. I can only imagine her excitement when she redeemed the stamps for park tickets.

Festive altars, offrendas is a tradtional way to honor loved ones.

Now, each time we visit the park, I drag hubby off to Fantasyland to ride Peter Pan’s Flight. And when the pirate boat sails through Wendy’s bedroom then dips out the window and off to Neverland, I’m six years old again and Mom is sitting beside me, pointing at all of the magical lights below.

I was a shy six year old when the pic of Mickey and I was taken. (It’s the only photo of the Mouse and I, and it’s a bit tattered.)

Do you celebrate Dia de los Muertos? If so, how do you honor/remember your loved ones?

Transient Billets, a True Ghostly Tale

It’s been more than a decade since I left my post at the newspaper. While there, I kept an ongoing journal in my work computer. When I left my job, I printed a copy of these random ramblings, tucked them into a folder and stuck it in my file cabinet.

Goal for 2013, clean out file cabinet.

Last week, while searching for some old Halloween art, I came across the forgotten folder. Inside, a ghostly tale which I had recently shared from memory with friends. But the one thing about memory, sometimes it becomes cobwebby and we forget the important details. And you know that old saying, the ghosts are in the details.  (Okay. I made that up.)

Anyhow, after reading my printed ramblings, I realized I had left out parts of the story.

So, grab a cup of hot cider, dim the lights, and read this ghostly tale by the glow of your computer screen….

It was November and the weather was gloomy when my sister and I arrived in Germany to visit her daughter serving in the U.S. Army. We stayed at a hotel in Giessen which is about an hour and a half drive from Frankfurt. The hotel was actually a transition house for incoming and outgoing American soldiers and their families. But originally, during W.W. II it had been occupied by German soldiers. There were tunnels beneath the hotel boarded by thick, steel doors.

Before I go on… keep in mind I knew nothing of the building’s history prior to what I’m about to tell you.

Within minutes of checking into our room, I opened the window and door, then began to burn sage to rid the small, cramped room of any negative energy (I had learned about smudging at a Native American retreat.). If some moody/cranky person (the living) previously occupied the room, I didn’t want their negative vibes to spoil our visit.

My original clay smudging bowl.

My sister and niece laughed at my quirkiness. Then my niece returned to her army base across the street while my sister and I decided to catch a cat nap before dinner. Jet lag.

That’s when I had the most peculiar dream, a dream that seemed so vivid and real. I found myself wandering along the long corridor which led to our room. There, sitting on the floor, in the small alcove in front of our door, was a young soldier dressed in a drab, green uniform and wearing military black boots. He had reddish hair and his face was solemn, almost expressionless.

I hesitated then slipped past him, making my way into the room. I shut the door, but wasn’t quick enough. The soldier pushed from the opposite side of the door as I threw all of my weight against the door from the inside. He repeatedly said, Billy. Hungry. Billy. As I struggled to keep him out, I glanced over my shoulder and saw my sister dead asleep on the twin bed. I called out for help, but it was as though she couldn’t hear my pleas. At last, just as I managed to shut the door completely and twisted the old-fahioned lock, I awoke to a sharp rap. It was my niece.

I let her in and shook off the strange dream.

Before leaving for dinner, we stopped at a pay phone in the lobby. I called my husband to let him know where we were staying in case of an emergency. When I asked my sister for the name of the hotel, she darted outside to check a sign post she had seen hidden by overgrown shrubs.

The name of the hotel….Transient Billets.

During our stay we visited places like Nuremburg and Paris. We had a great time. The morning before leaving for home, we packed our suitcases. We were joking around when all of a sudden I noticed the antique doorknob slowly moving back and forth, back and forth.

Click. Click. Click.

“Oh, someone’s here,” I said, thinking it was my niece again.

I flung the door wide ready to greet her. No one. Hmm. I looked down the long hallway and didn’t see anyone. (We were the only guests staying in that part of the building on the second floor). I found it odd since the old, wooden floorboards creaked and groaned whenever we walked across them. So, why didn’t I hear anyone coming or going?

Then, my sister fessed up. She had witnessed the doorknob jiggling back and forth several times during our stay. And each time she opened the door, no one was there.

“Remember my dream,” I reminded her. “The soldier trying to force his way into our room?”

“I don’t believe in those things,” she said as she continued to pack her suitcase.

And I dropped the subject.

Is it possible that when I opened the door and window then cleansed the room with the blessed sage that I shoved the earthbound soldier out of his space? The hungry earthbound spirit whose name I thought was Billy?

A few years later, I learned that billet is another german word for room. Billy… billets? Coincidence? Maybe. And maybe the wandering soldier just wanted to take back what belonged to him…his room.

I suppose in this ghostly encounter, my sister and I were the intruders.

Happy Halloween!

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever had a ghostly experience you’d like to share?