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It’s BlogCon Week + How I Stay Organized

Woo hoo! It’s finally arrived!

NEPA BlogCon is this week and I’m super excited for what promises to be the best year yet. We have an incredible speaker line up, an improv group performing, sweet SWAG, and opportunities to help Blue Chip Farms Animal Refuge even more. This day has been a year in the making, so, if you want to be part of it, get your ticket right now (we stop selling October 3). I hope to see you there!

As you know, the fall is a busy time for me. I’ve got BlogCon, The Vintage Board, an upcoming theater production (you really, really need to be there), some writing projects, plus all of those other wonderful things that go along with the season, like carving pumpkins and taking walks through the changing leaves.

One of the most commonly asked questions I get from friends, family, and even complete strangers is:  How to you keep your life organized with so much on your plate?

Well, the best way I can describe it is really organized chaos. I’m only so-so at personal organization. Just look at my car and you’ll see what I mean (it’s a holy friggin’ disaster). My closet is appalling most of the time. I’m awful at keeping up with household chores. This entire section of my life should be a different post. 

I keep a busy schedule, and there are some things that I do use to keep me on top of everything on my to do list, which actually segues perfectly into my first tool for organization:

Lists. I make lots of them. I make them on scraps of paper and in notebooks, which I carry three of in my purse. Lists serve as my reminders, as well as a sort of guideline. I write down projects I need to complete and mix in specific tasks that I can cross off easily, so I feel like I’m accomplishing something.

Google Calendar. For planning NEPA BlogCon and coordinating other meetings, Google Calendar is awesome. I get pop reminders in my Gmail, plus, I have it synced with my phone so that I get an alarm/reminder when something is approaching.

Gmail. I’m notorious for opening up a draft email and writing down random thoughts, to dos, and giving myself links of resources to read later. It’s sort of my catch all place and mobile swipe file. If you don’t know what a swipe file is, I highly recommend.

Pinterest. This is where I hoard things I want to try, resources I find valuable, and how-tos that I plan on using for my wedding. It’s been a huge, huge help with wedding planning because there are just so many resources there to look through.

Google Drive. I use this on the daily for updating spreadsheets (which I’m using for wedding planning), and for my activities with NEPA BlogCon and The Vintage Theater Board. This is where I do a lot of collaboration and as you can see above, Google tools are certainly a trend for me!

Task Widget. On my smartphone, I have a task widget on one of my screens that gives a to do list that syncs with my calendar. It’s wonderful. It’s my “hey! don’t for get this!” list.

Outlook Calendar. This is actually something I use in my 9 to 5, but it’s still a great tool. Because of the nature of my job, I often have a lot of meetings and phone calls throughout the day, so getting things done can be a bit tricky. I block off sections of time in a day or in a week to complete my other to-dos so that it doesn’t get scheduled over. I’ve found this really helps to keep me on track and on task, no matter how crazy work gets (and it’s always crazy in a good way!)

But beyond these tools, I also do something that I highly recommend for everyone to manage their busy schedules: know when to say “no”.

I’m not always the greatest at saying no, but in recent months, I’ve been more assertive about protecting my time so that I’m not overextending myself. Granted, it’s a balancing act and something that I always work on, but I’m much more conscious of how I spend my time after reading something that said:

how you spend your time should align with what you value. 

This really spoke to me, and since then, I’ve made more time for my fiance, my family, and my friends, instead of letting work or outside projects overwhelm me and take up all of my time. I’ve also trimmed away things that weren’t as important to me and started focusing my energies on things that I love, are good for me, are healthy, and make me feel happy. Because life is entirely too short not to be.

When I feel passionate about something, I usually over-commit because I feel so strongly about helping and having that thing succeed, whatever it may be. But, I’m trying to be better because ultimately, when I’m balanced, my projects are balanced too and they get the right amount of my attention.

What tools do you use for organization? I love to hear about them!

 

 

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What 5 Improv Rules Taught Me About Blogging

Over the summer, I took an improv class at The Vintage as a way to help me think on my feet. Call it a step closer towards modeling myself after Liz Lemon. I’ve always admired comedians and improv seemed like a lot of fun (and it was!) so, I gave it a try. It was incredibly rewarding and in the spring, I’m looking to take the next level of the class, taught by the awesome Conor O’Brien of Unorganized Business.

P.S. If you want to see us in action, see the clip below – I’m in the blue and green flowered dress playing “Pet Peeves”. Before the fire alarm went off.

But besides being a great experience that had me laughing and smiling for hours on end, I actually took away some great rules that I can apply to other things, like blogging.

Here are the five core improv rules I learned in my first class – and how they apply to making your blog even better.

1.) Don’t Deny

Denial is what makes a scene go south and that was the first rule I learned in improv. When you refuse an offer made by your scene partner (e.g. the scene is in a Starbucks and you say, “No! We’re on a football field), the scene falls flat and you both look bad – and the scene doesn’t go anywhere. In blogging, don’t deny can work on two levels. First, don’t deny your voice and who you are. Know your brand, what’s important to you, and know that you are always on – and you have to flow with that if you want to be a good blogger. Secondly, don’t deny your readers by not allowing for them to share in a conversation, or by not blogging consistently, or by mistreating them (yes, there are bloggers that do this). Treat your audience with respect and they’ll help you. Finally, always do the “yes, and…?” I read somewhere to ask yourself five times “yes, and…?” to gain more clarity on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, or what you’re saying. The same rule can be applied in both improv and blogging. Ask yourself, “yes, and…” to keep things going in a post you’re writing, an idea you’re developing, or a scene you’re performing.

2.) Don’t Ask Open Ended Questions

Don’t get me wrong – this is an essential things for interviews, but looking at this idea in the light of improv, keeping questions tight, or rather, keeping blog topics tight, allows for the audience to stay with you. When you start a post with nothing particular in mind, rambling usually tends to spill out. It’s tough for the reader to enjoy rambling, so it helps to know what you’re going to write about going in. I keep a running list of topics in note pads, or if I have a few moments, I start a draft and jot down a quick outline or a few words or sentences that I’ve already thought up. That way, when I sit down, I know where I’m going. How I’m getting there is half the fun.

3.) Don’t Always Go for the Joke

I’m a ham. I really, really am. As a sometimes actor, I tend to gravitate towards comedic roles where I can make people laugh. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. With improv, I had to flex my muscles to not go for the joke, which was a welcome exercise. When you force yourself to be funny, it so often comes off as not so. I want to be authentic when I’m in a scene for improv and I feel the same way about my blog. If I’m funny, it’s because it’s real. I try really hard to not insert humor on purpose. Anything I write is pretty much exactly what the voice in my head is saying. Sticking to the character, sticking to the scene, and staying present in the moment makes for humor naturally – and that’s what I’d like to go for here, too.

4.) Be a Good Partner

The people I worked with as part of my improv class were fantastic. They were so open, so eager, and so willing to try anything, which made for a great class. When you’re in a scene, you want to support your partner as much as possible so that they look better and as a result, you look great too. The scene works when you both feel comfortable, confident, and totally at ease with each other. For my blog, it’s about not making it too much about me. Yes, I’m a “life” blogger, but I always want to encourage others to share and comment on what I’m saying. I like conversations and I hope that this blog is a place for that. As a blogger, you want to tell a story, but you also want to spark a dialogue and hopefully contribute something meaningful.

5.) Tell a Story

This is what we do as people. We tell stories. In improv, we do it through words, movement, voice, character, and presence. In blogging, we do this by crafting words around topics that we feel compelled to write about. We write or we do scenes because we have something to say and we want to do it in a way that’s interesting – and gives something back to other people. I blog because I want my voice heard, but I also blog because I want people to enjoy what I’m writing. It’s a gift, a challenge, and a joy to be interesting.

If I get a comment, a visitor that stays for awhile, or a smile, or a laugh, or even just a moment of reflection on something I’ve written, I’ve done my job – and it’s just as rewarding as seeing an audience light up or totally engaged.

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Braving Bridal Hoards

A glimpse of the expo. I do have to say that the Scranton Cultural Center did a wonderful job with the atmosphere.

Oh, my. Well, that was interesting.

I’m talking about the NEPA Bridal Expo. It was overly warm, overly crowded, and all kinds of awkward. Normally, I’m pretty positive about everything – but this? I sort of make a cringey face when I think back to it.

Sadly, I didn’t win anything. The whole reason I went was to try for door prizes and to get ideas. I wanted to check out vendors and learn more about some possible venues. I only walked away with one idea that I thought was really unique.  I was disappointed to only see a couple of vendors there that I had remotely considered for services. The rest were either way out of my price range or just not my thing.

Like, there had to be an entire row’s worth of hotels. Some were venues, others were just offering specials for couples needing rooms for out of town guests (which is great and all!), but I would have liked to see more diversity of vendors in that department. What about the event centers? The restaurants? The picnic groves? The non-traditional spots? The barns, taverns, and country clubs?

I would have liked to see more caterers present, too. Weddings are so much about the food and I would have enjoyed sampling or at least seeing more menus. I only saw one dedicated caterer (which is one that I’m considering) and a specialty candy and ice cream buffet provider. Sadly, there were no bakeries to be found.

There were some photographers, some travel groups, one limousine company, some DJs, one florist, a couple of spas, and a dress shop. Where was the diversity? Where were the untold vendors I hadn’t heard about yet? Was I expecting too much? Perhaps.

I also would have liked to see more budget-friendly options. So much just screamed…excess. Like, really – who needs a frigging laser light show or light up furniture? Or not one, not two, but THREE DJs for one evening? Seven open bars? I get it – it’s your big day, but can the brides who don’t have much to spend get the same attention? Can we have more budget-friendly vendors? Pretty please?

Okay, enough with the ranting. Maybe it’s limited for a reason. Maybe it’s expensive to get a booth. Maybe the vendors don’t see a great return and that’s why there are so few. I don’t know the reasons, but what I do know is that I really wished there could have been more options.

The whole thing wasn’t bad. The fashion show had its moments of hilarity, particularly with a little boy hamming it up as the featured ring bearer model. I got a couple of interesting swag pieces and a few coupons I might use. I made an appointment to try dresses in December to test the waters in that department. I spent time with my Mom and took advantage of whatever free food samples were present. You can never go wrong with chocolates, fruit, or mimosas bubbling over in a fountain.

But he entire experience reaffirmed that I’m really not like most other brides. The amount of vapid conversation I overheard was just incredible – it sort of left me with a bad taste in my mouth. So much vanity. That’s the best way I can describe it. It was all sky high heels, perfectly coiffed locks, bitchy attitudes, and a disregard for budget. Rubbing up against each other in overcrowded aisles. With purses. OH MY GOD THE PURSES.

It’s sad that weddings have become so focused on appearance, rather than what the event is really about: the coming together of two people with those they love in celebration, community, and hope.

When I think about the best weddings I’ve been to, I think about how great of a time I had. I don’t remember the bride’s gown or what lighting concept was present. I never can think of what the wedding cake looked like. My biggest priorities as a bride fall in line with what I remember about weddings I’ve been to: good food, good music, and a good time had by all. And I know that my priorities aren’t the same as other brides – and that’s okay because it’s your day and your dime. I do, however, remember if the bride was acting like a jerkface or if the couple looked totally in love.

Thank goodness for my Mom. She spent the day wisecracking with gems like, “What’s with all this your mother crap? What happened to those days when they thought I was your sister?”, “Is that a booze fountain? We need one of those. We’re all about the booze fountain.”  and of course, my favorite, “Look at that action. Hot. Mess.”

She sums it up perfectly. This event was kind of a hot mess – but at least I feel better knowing  what I want and don’t want as a bride.

 

 

 

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Autumn, I Love You

I can’t recall being more excited about the return of fall that I am this year. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been really digging these cooler temperatures and the slight change in the color of the leaves. Fall is one of my favorite seasons and I’m feeling in the spirit at the moment. Here’s what I’m loving (and looking forward to most) about autumn:

 

Apple cider.

Served hot or cold, it’s one of my favorite things about fall. I’m also a big fan of apple cider donuts, too! When I go out for a drink with friends or co-workers, hard cider is my drink of choice. I’m not really a beer girl, but there’s something about swigging this sweet, tangy, and bubbly treat from a glass bottle. Simply put, I love cider.

The Vintage Theater

Photo By Brent Pennington

Fall Ball.

The Vintage is welcoming the return of autumn with a Fall Ball event on September 21 beginning at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $5-$10 (give more if you can!) and the event promises live music, gourmet chocolates, farm fresh foods, artisan wares, and mulled wine. What’s not to love? I can’t wait for this – I hope to see you there!

Photo By: Hannah Dewey

Apples.

Macintosh are my favorite to munch on, but I also like making applesauce with Granny Smiths, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bit of lemon peel. I also love the sounds apples make, like when you run your fingers across its skin, or catch one that’s being tossed to you, or that first bite.

Photo by Brent Pennington

Photo by Brent Pennington

NEPA BlogCon.

October 5 is the day we’ve all been waiting for. NEPA BlogCon will return and I’m so excited to be one of the founders of this amazing conference. We have great speakers in store, plus, we’re raising money for Blue Chip Farms Animal Refuge. Please grab your tickets before we close registration on 9/27!

Photo By: Suzie Banks

Cinnamon.

Friday night, I had THE BEST hot chocolate at The Cafe at The Vintage. It’s called Aretha’s Hot Chocolate, and it’s a blend of milk and dark chocolate chips melted with steamed milk and topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. It’s like a hug in a cup. Cinnamon just has this taste and scent of home.

Sweaters.

There’s nothing better than being wrapped in softness. On my “get ready for fall” trip to Target, I nabbed two knit sweaters that I can’t wait to wear. My ideal sweater is lightweight, super soft, and warm. I don’t like chunky knits or anything itchy. I’m picky about my sweaters, but you can bet that I love wearing them once those temperatures drop!

Photo By: Chris Malonis

High school football.

I’m not a fan of football, but I try to make it to at least one high school football game a year. The atmosphere is electric and I think I go as much for the people watching and experience as I do for the game. I usually try to go back to my old high school for the Old Shoe Game. I usually run into a few classmates and it’s a nice way to spend an evening. Just be sure to bring blankets – those bleachers can be brutal.

Photo By: Donna Apsey

Haunted house commercials on the radio.

This is a weird quirk, but I absolutely love haunted house radio commercials. Every time I catch one, I immediately stay on that station. I think it reminds me of my own fun working in a haunted house while I was a teenager. Many September and October weekends were spent at the Lehman Haunted Barn. Strangely enough, I won’t ever go through as a customer though. I enjoyed working in one, but I’m still scared out of my wits to walk through as a patron. I know the tricks, I know they’re all real people like me, but I just can’t do it. I’ve never successfully been through a haunted house before, either!

Photo By: jenloveskev

Tights and boots.

Oh, my boots. I love my boots. And I love wearing tights – and being generally covered up. This season, I’ve picked up a few pairs of tights in some new colors, including mustard, emerald green, plum, and teal.

Photo By: 0rwellian

Windows open and two blankets on the bed nights.

Chilly nights are perfect for snuggling up. We’ve got two blankets on the bed and now it’s just so cozy. I love waking up and having the tip of my nose feel chilly while the rest of me is warm.

Photo By: SunnySideUpSD

Pumpkin baked goods.

I’m making pumpkin muffins this weekend based on this Smitten Kitchen recipe. I love pumpkin muffins, pumpkin scones, pumpkin chocolate chip bread…you’ll probably see me turn into a pumpkin after this fall because I’m so excited to start baking with it. Strangely enough, pumpkin pie isn’t on my list of must-eats. I’m all about the pumpkin breads and muffins, baby!

 What do you love most about this incredible season?

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How I’m Spending Time: Blog of the Year Awards and BlogCon

It’s a busy time of year for me.

Each fall, my mind spins with flashes of WordPress, Google Docs, and email blasts galore.

It’s BlogCon season, baby.

Along with three other fantastic women (Karla Porter, Leslie Stewart, and Michelle Davies), I put together NEPA’s only blogging and social media conference. It’s pretty much a rolling year for us with ongoing planning and promotion. We love what we do – not just because it’s a chance to help our community learn, but we also help a local charity.

This year, the proceeds go to Blue Chip Farms Animal Refuge. This no-kill shelter holds a very special place in my heart. It’s where I got my little fuzzball, Annie.

My love for animals transcends cats.

My love for animals transcends cats.

We’ll be donating our proceeds from ticket sales to help Blue Chip, plus, my Mister is graciously offering free blogger head shots in exchange for a donation of pet care items. Here’s the scoop on that if you’re interested!

In addition to helping out Blue Chip, this year will have lots of things that bloggers, students, and professional communicators alike can look forward to, including:

  • A networking session built right into the day. You asked for it and we answered. We’ve given you a solid block of time to mix and mingle. Plus, our friends from Unorganized Business (Scranton’s most awesome improv group) will be performing and helping to break the ice. 
  • A track just for businesses! We’ve added sessions tailored for businesses in particular and we’re welcoming any business of any size, in any industry, to attend.
  • A full schedule of awesome sessions and panels. Here’s where you can see the itinerary.
  • SWAG BAGS. GLORIOUS SWAG BAGS.

So, what’s happening? What are the details? Frankly, there’s too much to list, but here are the highlights of what I’m working on RIGHT. NOW. :

  • Blog of the Year Awards: We’re doing something new this year. We’ve decided to honor the best and brightest of NEPA’s blogging community with Blog of the Year Awards. Each week, you can vote (and nominate) your favorite blog to win the award. Winners will receive some cool gear plus a free ticket to NEPA BlogCon. Here’s where you can vote
  • Super Secret Squirrel Deal: We’re doing a special one-day promo – and it’s today. If you get your ticket to NEPA BlogCon between now and midnight, you save 20% off admission. Just enter in 20TUESDAY at the checkout. But don’t wait – this deal ends when the clock strikes twelve (Eastern Standard Time, of course)!
  • Videos! We’ve started making some videos this year where we’ll be answering your questions. If you want to see me answer one (it can be anything, really), leave a comment here and I may choose it for the next video. Stay tuned for video posts – they’re coming, I swear!
  • Tickets are on sale until September 27. We’re capping registration a little earlier this year because we’re anticipating another sold out crowd and need a little extra time to prepare for this kickass event. Grab your ticket now so you can reserve your spot. Tickets are cheaper than last year, too!

I hope to see you at this year’s conference!

 

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