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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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Overwhelmed with Options

If there’s one thing I’ve found so far on the wedding planning journey, is that the options are just so overwhelming.

I’m only in the earliest stages of planning, and thank goodness I have at least a few things figured out. I know (roughly) what my centerpieces will be. We’re not doing a wedding cake and instead, we’ll have a dessert bar. We’ve narrowed it down to two months that we’d like to have the wedding in. But choosing a venue? Kill me.

(Psst…some of the venues we are considering are in the photos…)

Photos taken from venue websites. Except for the one at night. That came from my Mister.

The venue is one of the biggest decisions you make in wedding planning – and I’ve found that it can be one of the most frustrating pursuits so far.

I’ve contacted more than 35 venues in the past three months. I’ve heard back from maybe a third of those. Some were completely out of our price range, so they got cut off the list first. Then we got rid of the venues that couldn’t accommodate our guest list. Then the ones that wouldn’t allow for alcohol to be served (we like our beverages!). Then there were some that were flaky, non-responsive, or rude. Cut.

Now, I’ve got things narrowed down to about 5-7 venues. We haven’t visited any yet and that’s the next step of the journey, but trimming down the volume of venues did give me some insight into the process (and hopefully I can apply this to other areas of my planning):

  • Know what’s important to you. When it comes to choosing a venue, we want a place that has good food (or allows for good outside catering), is attractive, is easily accessible, and isn’t a hassle in any way. The less stress we have for this shindig, the better. Both my fiance and I are on the same page with the type of “feel” we want our venue to have, as well as what we want and don’t want in our reception. 
  • Have an idea of limits. A rough estimate of your guest list can make a huge difference. Before we even got engaged, Brent and I made mock guest lists out of curiosity to see how many people we’d want to have. We’re around 175 (though I have this overwhelming urge to want to invite everyone, but curbing that is a topic for another post) and having that number in mind made it easier to look at venues. Right off the bat, I was able to slim down my list of places to contact for pricing quotes.
  • Think about your guests. My biggest priority for the day is for everyone to have a good time, and I want to make sure that they’re comfortable and well taken care of. I consider their needs as well as my own desires for what I want the wedding reception to be.
  • First impressions matter. I think more favorably about the venues and vendors that responded quickly (and thoroughly!) to my inquiries about pricing and capacity. Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with a few who took forever to respond, never called back, never followed through, were vague and difficult, or just didn’t impress me. Professionalism, friendliness, and a dedication to service makes a different to a couple shopping for a venue – if you don’t have this down, you’re missing out in a big way.

We still have a lot of time before we have to start nailing down the nitty gritty details, but this is going to be a biggie. It’s going to determine a lot of other things (including the date!) so I’m taking extra care to not rush into it and to think everything through.

Speaking of thinking things through, am I over analyzing? Should I just pick a place and run with it? What did you do for your wedding? I’d love to get your thoughts too!

 

 

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Eavesdropping

I’ve always like overhearing other people’s conversations.

When I’m out at restaurants, I often find myself picking up on tidbits from neighboring booths. An old man griping to another about Social Security. A mother telling her child where pancake syrup comes from. Two people awkwardly making small talk on a a blind date. It’s always been so interesting.

Photo By: Dingxiang Lin

I don’t usually ever comment or chime in. I smile quietly to myself and listen, taking it all in, maybe trying to put myself in another’s shoes. Sometimes I think about how this conversation should be written down and turned into a short story or a movie, but I never once open a notebook to do so. I think that’s what I enjoy most about it – it’s a quiet moment of appreciation and unknowing connection with other people. I’ve never met you, but I can relate to you and what you’re saying. Or if I can’t relate, I’m willing to learn.

Earlier this week, I got the chance to travel for work, so my eavesdropping habits took me 30,000 feet above my normal territory.

On the plane, two women sat behind me. One lived in Los Angeles and was home for a week to visit family. She worked in a lab, rode horses, and said her coworkers were straight out of The Big Bang Theory. The other was visiting from Houston, returning home to see a friend. Both asked questions about the other’s life. They laughed. They commented on how the shopping in NEPA sucks and how they’re always surprised at the difference in thinking they see when they come back. They both felt that NEPA was “sad”, “depressing”, “frustrating”, and “backwards”. They noted how their loved ones in respective cities have to “retrain” them to act, feel, and speak “normally.”

This was something that I didn’t like overhearing, yet it’s something I’ve heard all too many times before.

Photo By: Marzena

The notion that Northeastern Pennsylvania sucks is not a new one. We have our fair share of problems. Bankrupt cities, high unemployment rates, slashed funding for social programs, politicians lining their pockets, and a river of corruption running under the surface. Socially, we come from diverse backgrounds and share histories firmly rooted in coal mining, immigration, and getting through hard times. Sometimes, this gives us the sense that there’s never progress being made and that we’re always five years behind everyone else. We have a tendency toward depression and addiction is as prevalent as the churches. But we’re also hardworking and pretty friendly. We do a lot more than we give ourselves credit for and there’s a growing number of people who believe that NEPA isn’t so bad. I consider myself to be one of those people.

Photo By: smata2

We all grew up hearing the same things. We’ve been told to get the hell out of here and go somewhere you can “make it”.  Apparently Philadelphia and New York were our only other options for civilization. When I was a teenager, I wanted to live the dream of being a writer with a cat, a perfectly made cocktail, and a cozy apartment in Manhattan (nevermind the cost, the challenge, and the rest of the city I glossed over in my big idea). I thought “The Valley” had no room to grow into something truly remarkable and turned my eyes to New York. When you’re a teenager, you think you knew everything – you really didn’t.

When I began my college search, I looked out of state. I got in, but at the time, my great-grandparents were ill and I wanted to be at least in driving distance in case anything happened. They were such a big part of my life, so I turned my search for a school back to Pennsylvania. I found Marywood and it ended up being the best deal for my heart and my wallet. So I stayed. They passed away. Time did too. But it was okay, because I didn’t ever feel resentful of my decision. By that time, I was fortunate to have found other people who opened my eyes to the idea that you can affect change and live the life you want, no matter where you live. It was a revelation – and it’s made me a happier person ever since.

Photo By: revblake

I’ve fallen in love with NEPA over and over again since making that choice. I’ve learned more about my history. I’ve explored new places. I’ve built a life here – and it’s one that I feel proud of. And I’m thankful to have met others who share this love and unyielding sense of optimism for where we live. (Also, pierogies.)

Despite what you’ve been told, there are always things happening here – good things, too. If you say there’s nothing to do here, you’re not looking. And if you see something is lacking or if there’s an opportunity for something amazing, make it yourself. It’s how NEPA BlogCon, The Vintage, Whiskey Bacon and so many other wonderful things came into being. Be part of something.

The two women I heard on the plane reminded me of something I already know: your entire life is not governed by your zip code. You can do what you love, create what you imagine, learn what you are dying to know, and try new things every day, no matter where you are. I’m lucky – and thankful – to be living here. And I hope on their next trip home, they can fall in love again with NEPA like I did.

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