Mandy Boyle

NEPA-er with Moxie. Writer. Sometimes Actor. Nerdy Girl.

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Photo By: michelle

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?

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!

 

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!

 

 

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.

Birds and Pigs

Photo By: Hsiang Chang

Desperation, thy name is Angry Birds.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been breaking up my breakneck schedule with games of Angry Birds. I’ve never actually played the whole game through, but I find that it’s a nice distraction when I need give my brain a break. Well, sort of.

When I got a new phone, I went through the Google Play store looking for apps to download and when I found Angry Birds again, my enthusiasm for it was renewed. I had forgotten I even had it on my old phone. Now was my chance to get back into it and actually play the game through until the end.

I told myself, “Hey, it’s just a game. This’ll be fun.”

“You can just relax and play for a little while,” I said.

“It’s just birds, pigs, and physics – what could go wrong?”

What the what was I thinking?

For weeks, I’ve sacrificed sleep and sanity to play Angry Birds. I’m embarrassed to even say how many nights it was that I’ve squinted in the dark at my screen, trying like hell to get those damned TNT boxes to explode in just the right way so that I can knock out those little green demons and earn more points. Oh yeah, and when you’re actually done beating a level, it’s all like, “Nah, you weren’t that good. It took you 2 hours just to beat this one level – so you only get a star.”

Only. one. star.

You have to be kidding me.

Then, I reached my tipping point. It was a stressful day at work, I wasn’t feeling great, and I was sleep deprived already from working on a project. I needed a release. I needed some time with Angry Birds.

So I played. And I got stuck. I played this one level over and over and over again – FOR DAYS. Days, I tell you! I couldn’t do it. One little piggie was always left, grinning at me. My blood pressure rose. My face had to be twisted into some fierce grimace between pain and rage.

That’s it. I’m doing it.

So I did it. I caved and sprung for “The Mighty Eagle”.

Best damn 99 cents ever.

Photo By: Alexei Petrenko

Now instead of killing myself to beat an unbeatable level, I use that sucker to just explode away my problems. It’s a nice feeling of pure destruction. But, there’s a part of me that feels guilty. Am I taking the easy way out? Am I giving up? Am I just another lazy American spending way too much time on her cell phone?

Probably, but sometimes, it just feels good when your screen looks like this:

Photo By: Vince Viloria

 

 

 

 

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