It's hard to believe that nearly a month has gone by since Scranton's first StorySlam. I was proud to be one of 10 storytellers on this oratorial maiden voyage (I'm not sure that's event a word but I'm using it). The Vintage Theater in downtown Scranton was packed to a degree that I could tell who used and didn't use their Degree. It was hot, sweaty and exciting.

I was the fifth speaker and the last before the intermission. Every storyteller did an awesome job to share a bit of personality and a little glimpse inside a page of their scrapbook of life's memories. Of course Connor McGuigan as emcee was nothing short of what I imagine is his usual high level of charm and comedic delight (I have not had the pleasure of attending his performances and appearances in the past few years - nothing personal- with my schedule I just haven't been able to attend but have heard the buzz). 

I was especially nervous before delivering my story on stage. It was a completely different feeling than what I typically experience before performing stand-up comedy or doing one of my Laugh to Live wellness workshops. My story meant a lot to me and I wanted it to matter to people in even the slightest way. I wanted people to know just how important the relationship I had made with my French friend is to me. I wanted my story to also grab the audiences' ears and hearts. And, being the type of person who follows rules because that is what attending Catholic School from age 5 to 17 taught me, I wanted to follow the rule of not going longer than 7 minutes. I knew for weeks and weeks what my story would be about but it was only the afternoon of Saturday, March 31 (the event date) that I finally put my story into words and practiced it a few times. I didn't want to memorize it but I wanted to be sure that I hit certain points. I wanted it to make sense so I feared leaving out crucial information. And heaven forbid I leave out my snarky lines that I thought were sure to bring out some laughs.

When I took the stage I felt ready and I just told the story. I was in the moment and I did remember to share all of the things I had practiced earlier in the day. I talked about how after 9-11 America was on edge and emotional. There was anger, bitterness, sadness, confusion, pride and I said even among all of it, I felt there was hope.  I talked about how people were afraid to fly which is why there were incredible fares being offered and how that led to me taking my dream trip to Paris. I told how the anti-French sentiment was strong and recalled our renaming of America's #1 "vegetable" French fries to freedom fries. (I don't recall however McDonald's ever changing their menu boards to say that a Happy Meal included a cheeseburger, drink, cheap plastic toy and Freedom Fries.) I remember with a sly smirk the handful or more of people who asked me why I wanted to visit France. I entertained inane questions like "Why do you want to visit there, what's to see there?" I would tilt my head and say to myself "Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Brie, baguettes, beaujolais, duh!!!" And my other favorite question/comment was "Why go there? They hate us!"  As if every person in France had sat down to pen a letter "Dear America, We hate you!!  Signed, The French."   I told the audience that I was glad I didn't get this letter because my bags were packed and I was headed to France.

I went on to tell how I was on a train to a little town called Auvers- sur-oise, where my favorite painter Van Gogh is buried, but didn't know what stop to take. I approached a petite woman to ask where I should exit the train and she held up her keys and expressed that if we got off at her stop, she would drive us there. I was surprised to say the least. She was a tiny woman. We were two strangers. Two American strangers. And one of us was a man. My traveling companion was a male friend, Chris P. As I followed her to her car I was thrilled to be speaking to a real, live French woman and getting into her tiny little French car, driving down narrow little French streets (rues).  I told how I could sense that she was the type of person who was doing this to be nice and would not accept the Euros I offered her. Sure enough she would not take my money but she suggested that we exchange addresses and she would send me a postcard from Italy where she was going on vacation the next day with her husband Jean-Claude.

I further shared that nearly 10 years have passed and not only did I receive that postcard from Italy but when Marie and her granddaughter Chloe came to New York City four years ago, I visited with her and showed her the Brooklyn Bridge and her favorite building the Flatiron Building. And, I took her to Ground Zero. At the time the memorial was still under construction so we looked through fences at a big hole in the ground and a lot of construction equipment. She looked at it and turned to me with a very pained expression and said "What sadness." It didn't matter that it was the country that she and her country "hated," she looked at me understanding what a great loss it must have been for our country and how any person would be saddened by such a tragedy.  I wrapped up my story by saying that I knew then even more than I ever knew that "they" don't hate "us" and that when we look at one another as individual people with not just our eyes but with our heart, hope is always possible. Anything is possible.

I was happy to share my story and I hope that people felt just a little of the connection that I have made with Marie and her husband Jean-Clause DeGuines of St. Leu La Foret, France. Two years ago I spent a week with Marie and her husband in their home while they treated me like family showing me Versailles, Monet's Garden at Giverny, a French jazz club, the Eiffel Tower in the daytime and so much more. This coming September 2012 I will fly to Marseille to spend a week with Marie and Jean-Claude in Provence. Now I get to fulfill another dream of seeing the French countryside and it's appropriate that I'll get to do it with the woman I met on my first dream trip to France.

Scranton feasted on the stories told at the first StorySlam on March 31. They did not go away full and needing a Pepto Bismol. They took in just enough to make them already hungry for more. The McNichols are hard at work putting things in motion for the second StorySlam this Summer. We hope that the stories will continue. I think it's a great way to unite people and help to make the world a little smaller as we share more of ourselves with one another in person rather than through facebook posts.

For more information, check out the newly active:

It's often been featured in movies. This year it was the whole premise for a movie. And every year many of us spend time thinking about what we'll do to celebrate. I'm talking about New Year's Eve. For much of my life I've spent New Year's Eve with good friends celebrating at house parties. Food. Drink. Laughs. Good times. I was often sans date but I was never curled in the fetal position crying because I had no lover to kiss at midnight. In fact, there's really only two NYE I can recall when I did have someone special to kiss at midnight. And on one of those NYE's I ended up screaming and yelling at my guy because he just had to call his ex-girlfriend only minutes after midnight to wish her Happy New Year. I believe he told me she had broken her leg and was in the hospital so that was all the more reason she needed to hear his voice. Now, don't think I'm heartless but this woman was the topic of 90% of our arguments and let's face it, it wasn't really about her at all. Rather it was about my ex-boyfriend's behavior and my ridiculous notion that he might change and my willingness to put up with the behavior and punish us both with my tantrums of yelling and throwing things (I'm not proud but I would throw my shoes, keys - nothing too big - I would have thrown him but I lacked the strength, in many ways). Okay, this story is taking a turn that I didn't intend so let's get back to New Year's Eve as my topic. 

Every year I secretly hope that I'll be doing something fabulous on New Year's Eve, even though I know it's just another night and I would have to seek out or create those fabulous things. Let's face it, I'm not living in a Romance Novel. (Umberto isn't going to descend from the sky with his hot Latin body and whisk me away on his yacht to an island of riches and happily ever after where we make our own fireworks for the New Year and I wake up to the booming success of my business, etc.)  I guess part of me does believe NYE deserves its special status because it is the night when we say good-bye to the previous year, whether characterized as good or bad, and we have the chance to shift our focus and actions to all the plans and dreams we want to fulfill in the year ahead. I'm in that phase of my life now in which most of my friends are married and most have children, which has meant a lot of changes to my life as well, that I didn't ask for. For the most part, it's fine. But it does affect or impact the plans I make. So this year when I received a facebook invite to a NYE yoga class at Mission Yoga, a new studio opening in downtown Scranton, I thought I might attend. I wasn't convinced it was going to be the best way to spend my NYE. I did think about it for a long time and kind of waited to see what else came up. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great idea for me to choose to spend my NYE doing something really healthy for my mind, body and spirit. Truly, is there any better way to welcome in a new year than to be very peaceful, centered and healthy?! Yet there was still that part of me that wanted to dress up, put on more make-up than usual and sip champagne. I was invited to a house party that I'm sure would have been the usual food, drinks, conversations with nice people but I was thinking that yoga was sounding like a really good idea. There was just this twinge I was feeling that somehow I was a loser for making plans with myself for NYE. And now all I can say is "Shame on me for not thinking I am worthy of plans to do something healthy for myself."

The yoga class started at 10:30 PM and I knew that if I didn't leave my house until 10 PM that I wouldn't leave my house, period. You see, I am in a relationship. I'm engaged in a pretty serious relationship this winter with my couch. (The longer I sit on it, the more attached we get to one another.) I thought that I would visit some First Night Venues before the yoga class. Again, there was this twinge or little voice in my head that was whispering that I would look like a loser to other people if I were to attend these venues alone. But then I told myself, "If I lived in NYC or another larger city I wouldn't even think twice about going out alone. I just happen to live in a smaller city where coupling is more the norm."

I left my house around 8 PM Saturday night to head to the Steamtown Mall where I bought my First Night Button. I then headed to Afa Gallery to hear the talented little Ms. Mollie Edsell play guitar and sing. As always she was adorable and quite good. Then I went to the Federal Building to watch my friends in the group "Here We Are In Spain" perform improv. Even though there were pillars in my way for pretty much the entire show, I still enjoyed the show from an aural perspective. I perform improv and have performed with these guys before so it was kind of fun to just imagine what the visual antics were taking place. After the show I had the chance to speak with a friend I haven't seen in years and then I headed to Mission Yoga on Spruce Street. As I suspected and somewhat feared, because I still house my 5-year-old self filled with social anxiety walking into kindergarten class filled with people I don't know, most people there knew other people or at least had come with friends. I was the only "loner" so-to-speak but that was no big deal.

The almost 90-minute yoga class was amazing. Kelly and Alex, the owners of Mission Yoga, were very welcoming. Kelly led the class and I really enjoyed it. It was a challenge at times and it was beyond peaceful and replenishing at other times. As party horns blew outside, I didn't for one second wish I had a drink in my hand or that I was tuned in to Ryan and Dick counting down to midnight. As the class ended we were able to enjoy the fireworks going off outside above the courthouse. It was the perfect end and beginning for me. I left the yoga studio and watched the fireworks outside. The beautiful bright purples and greens were so pretty. I was in a state of zen and felt truly healthy and glad about the choice I had made  for myself to spend NYE in downtown Scranton and more specifically that I had ushered in 2012 doing something healthy for me. I hope that I continue the practice of making many more decisions that have me and my health and prosperity at the center. When I am happy, healthy and prosper, I can help others through my gifts! 

Happy New Year - I hope you'll enjoy 2012 by visiting many beautiful people and places in Scranton!

Each year I get excited about viewing Christmas lights at Nay Aug Park and throughout a number of different neighborhoods in Scranton including South Side, Green Ridge and others. This year did not disappoint. With four of my favorite gal pals at my side, I took in this year's light display at Nay Aug and then proceeded to visit the always well-lit and now-famous home on Moosic Street in South Side. We toured another neighborhood nearby in the Nativity section and then headed over to Green Ridge to see the beautiful home decorations on North Washington and Wyoming Avenues. The best part of the trip is just the lights alone but the comments exchanged inside the car among us gals that are just as colorful as the light displays. We tease one another and laugh a lot! Here's a snippet from my Tuesday night visit to see the lights of Nay Aug Park and other parts of Scranton.
About six years ago when we piled into Steph's Honda, I didn't know that we were starting what would become an annual tradition but I'm so glad that's what it has become. Each year, Steph, Mel, Jean and Sophia and I go to Nay Aug Park in one car to view the Christmas lights at Nay Aug Park together. Some times we'll have coffee, hot chocolate or lattes from Starbucks and I'll bring a bag of cookies I've made for the holiday season. (Life is always sweeter with a little snack.) Steph drives and we all share funny banter as we drive through the park, remarking on the lights with a few "ooohs and ahhs" thrown in for good measure. The lights are the reason that we schedule this date on a week night in mid December but it's about so much more. We've created so many fun memories that we often talk about months and years later. "Remember when Sophia said... " And we do more than our share of "laughing all the way."

One of my favorite memories is from about two years ago when then 7-year old Sophia was making up her own Christmas jokes. The first few she told were not hilarious but they were cute funny, like you would expect from a child. Then she told a joke that just didn't make sense and we didn't even fake laugh. After that Sophia proclaimed "Ugh, that was lame wasn't it?"  And THAT made all of us crack up.

Now ever year we make sure that we plan our night to drive around Nay Aug Park to enjoy the holiday light show, drive through a number of Scranton neighborhoods to appreciate the beauty of many decorated houses and then return to my home in North Scranton where we laugh more, eat, drink and exchange Christmas presents in front of my Christmas tree giving off a wonderful fresh scent. I am happy to host our post-lights fun. Having people in my home fills it with warmth that lasts a long time in the form of memories and pleasant thoughts that make me smile.

Brighten up your holiday season by viewing the lights at Nay Aug Park this year. It may sound corny but the experience will "light up your life."
Pack up the car with some hot chocolate, cookies and good friends and get to Nay Aug Park now through January
I think it goes without saying that I'm not one of the people who believes there's nothing to do in Scranton. Usually there are more than enough things to do in Scranton and the surrounding communities if only we choose to leave our homes. I'm often guilty of choosing my couch, a soft throw and a Bravo marathon on TV over going out. In fact, Friday night I did spend on my couch listening to the warm rain fall. But on Saturday and Sunday, I took advantage of the variety of good things that Scranton and its people have to offer.

On Saturday morning I met a friend to run from Mellow Park in Peckville to parts of rails to trails pathway in Jessup and Archbald. We passed the quickly moving Lackawanna River (or I should say, it passed us) and enjoyed the leaves on the trail and a bit of mud that we were tough enough to handle. In the evening I went to the Olde Brick Theater in my neighborhood of North Scranton, more specifically Providence section, to see original plays written by local talented writers as part of the Jason Miller Playwrights Project at Scranton Public Theater. Writers took their inspiration from the cross section outline of rooms that remains in the wake of the demolition of the former Pub Charles at Linden Street and Penn Avenue. Each participating author has written a scene set in one specific room in 'The Providence Arms' -- a nondescript, fictional boarding house in Scranton.I was so impressed with these plays. I laughed - a lot. I was moved. I felt sadness. I felt nostalgic for an era in which I never even lived. I really enjoyed the great writing, acting and directing that was not only showcased in Scranton but was created here as well.

On Sunday I took a shorter run by myself from my home in North Scranton to one of my favorite coffee places, Zummo's in the Green Ridge section of Scranton. At 9 AM the sun was already hot and I was feeling this short 2.something mile run. There I met a good friend and we chatted at an outside table over coffee and something healthy and rather tasty homemade granola bar. The coffee served here is the delicious Electric City Roasting Company coffee. You won't find another coffee quite like what this local company brews. And Zummo's provides the perfect setting where you can enjoy the flavor of the neighborhood as well as the coffee, watching families, couples and hip singles pass in and out - after church or a bike ride or a walk or carrying notebooks and laptops. While I was there I recognized a couple of talented female artists - one whose copper and glass work is sold nationally in catalogs and proudly displayed in restaurants and galleries in Scranton.

To finish my weekend I took my parents to Maiolatesi's Winery in Scott Township. It's not officially Scranton but it's a mere 7ish miles away. For Scranton and other northeast PA residents it's a short jaunt for views that are breathtaking and access to a fun way to spend a beautiful afternoon outdoors. Having been there before I knew about the winery's nice deck with glass tables and comfortable chairs where we would "picnic" with our food and the wine we would buy. To me it's very European to spend an afternoon sitting, talking, staring at the sky while sipping on delicious wine and tasting cheese, grapes and a fresh baguette. Maybe that sounds trite, pretentious or poser-ish but I really don't care. I enjoy it fully. My mom and I split a bottle of the Sparkling Viognier, which was cold and crisp and had just the right amount of effervescence. My father who prefers red wines, which research tends to favor for heart health when drunk in moderation, enjoyed some Cabernet Franc. I've been there with family and a variety of friends and I always have a good time. Maybe it's the wine talking but I think the sight of a beautiful sky and mountains makes me feel a bit more spiritual and very grateful to be alive to enjoy it all.

That's a weekend in Scranton.
I never knew how good it could feel to lay on the grass at Courthouse Square in downtown Scranton until last night. I really had not thought about it to be honest, but I had the chance last night and it was peaceful and beautiful. I didn't decide to just go lay on the lawn and I'm not suggesting you do that.  Last night, Jaya Yoga of Clarks Summit held an event called "Yoga After Dark" on the lawn.  Yoga was led by Kelly O’Brien and Hilary Steinberg from Jaya and Abby Scaramuzzo from Symmetry Studio in Scranton. DJ Brian Langan was spinning the fun tunes that included "Party All the Time" by Eddie Murphy and "Off the Wall" by Michael Jackson! My toes were tapping on their yoga mat before we got started. Once we started I was concentrating on my poses of course - so I wouldn't fall over - so I would get the most of the practice.  And probably the most fun was that everyone who attended received glow sticks to wear as a necklace, bracelet or anklet or whatever accessory depending on what they wanted to glow.

 The event was free with donations being collected for  the SGT Jan Argonish Ride Fund to help area families with people serving in the military and to help the soldiers themselves. SGT Argonish was a Peckville resident who died serving his country in Afghanistan. His memory lives on through the fundraisers held by his loved ones. 

On a day that hit 90 (I'm guessing) I wasn't sure if I would enjoy the yoga because I was feeling pretty sluggish all afternoon but it felt really comfortable on the grass and I even felt a slight breeze or two. I was happy to see the 30 or more people who made the same choice that I did to get out of the house or away from the pool and get outside to share in the practice of yoga. 

As I lay on my mat waiting for the festivities to start I saw the reflection of the Scranton Electric City sign in one of the Courthouse windows. My iPhone camera could not capture the coolness of this image I saw best with my own eyes but that was just one small reason of the many reasons that I was glad I decided to attend. The yoga itself was great. I hadn't taken a class in many months so I was afraid I wouldn't do too well. (As anyone who has ever taken yoga knows, it's a practice that is all about what is right for you and your body. It's not meant to be a competition by any means or about right and wrong - that's just where my mind and ego tend to take me.) I enjoyed the exercises and my legs are feeling them today, which is a nice way for my body to say thank you for choosing to attend Yoga After Dark and thank you to those who organized the event!

Yoga After Dark was one more cool event held in Scranton that I like. So pick up a newspaper or look at your events on Facebook. There are many things for you to like here in the Electric City. 


I often get on what I call my "soapbox" when people insult my birthplace of Scranton. Scranton is not perfect (no place is) and of course it has its flaws. But what is definitely not true of Scranton is that "there's nothing to do," a phrase I've heard uttered by many who live here. Of course these folks and some others have often muttered much worse about the city through the years. Being more of a defensive person (yes I'm aware and I admit it), I tend to respond to these comments or even the hint of them by saying all of the great things that are going on here.  But why should I play defense when I can be on offense. I can talk about what I enjoy in the city of Scranton any time. I can put it out there and let people decide for themselves. But at least they'll have the information.This light bulb lit this afternoon when I finished a run around Lake Scranton - one of my favorite places to visit in Scranton. I thought why not take pictures and even record the places I think make the city great and then share them by posting them. I didn't photograph today but I will the next time I go there to run. In the mean time I can use words to describe it. The distance around is about 3 1/2 or 3 3/4 miles. I say "or" because, while I believe it is 3 3/4, I'm not positive. There's plenty of shade from beautiful trees to provide shelter from the sun and intense heat on really hot days, which is why I enjoy running there. And in addition to the shade, there are a few spots to stick your hand in refreshing fresh water to cool off as I did today.

I love that the path around the lake has a variety of people enjoying it. There are families, couples, friends and individuals all there to enjoy the beauty in their own way. Some take a slow stroll stopping to look at birds through binoculars or to photograph the water, the geese or the trees, others walk briskly for exercise, families meander with little ones and others run - some times going around twice or more. There are some pesky hills that make it tough to continue conversation with a friend. These are the parts of the run where I choose to be silent. Let's face it, my mouth is going for most of the rest of the run. And that's even when I'm by myself :-)   No, I don't talk to myself at the lake. It's enough that I do it in my car and at my house. I haven't begun doing it in public yet.

A warning to new comers about some waste: beware of the poop left by the geese. It's quite messy but at least it tends to be confined to one area near the large bridge. It becomes a bit of a mine field but I'd like to think of it as a fun obstacle.

Lake Scranton is beautiful in every season. When the leaves begin to change color it truly is beautiful to see the oranges and yellows falling from the trees, probably my favorite time at the lake.  And you can often catch a glimpse of deer crossing the path as well. Years ago when I was a teen-ager there were black bear spottings but I haven't heard of anything lately and I've never seen a bear.  If you like squirrels and chipmunks you're in luck. I won't taint this with my thoughts on squirrels. Let's just say they're not my favorite furry critters - to say the least.

If you haven't been to Lake Scranton, I recommend you visit. It's free and it's beautiful. You can get exercise in an idyllic setting. It sure beats the treadmill.  A couple notes: bikes, scooters, roller blades (any things with wheels) and pets are not permitted (Nay Aug and McDade Parks, which are also beautiful, do allow bikes and pets though so don't get excited).

I hope you enjoy the lake as much as I do. I think we're fortunate to have it!
I remember hearing about places like Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore having an evening once a month in which people would walk around the downtown of the city and look in galleries, enjoy wine and conversation and just have fun. I used to say, "Wow, that sounds really cool. I'd like to do something like that."  Now I do that every First Friday of the month in downtown Scranton. I don't know how many years it has been going on. I can recall attending faithfully for about the last three years or so. When I first went I used to hope that enough people would support it so it would continue as a regular event. Now I'm thrilled to see that now only do people attend, the activities and places for art and other entertainment continue to grow.

The evenings are as colorful and fun as the different works of art on display. In June I went downtown by myself knowing that I would meet up with my friend Jean and her daughter, husband and kids later on. I attended POWER's white out event in front of the great new business Bella Faccias. Kind and talented artists Judith Youschock and Beth Burkhauser were painting T-shirts, hats, sneakers - any white piece of clothing you wanted painted. I wore a long-sleeve T-shirt and being the self-marketer that I am, I asked Judy to paint my business logo "Laugh to Live" on the front of my shirt and later returned to have the frog Wartz from my book "He's Not Prince Charming When..." painted on the back. I'm all about fun self-promotion and getting creative with marketing. I later headed to Lavish, another wonderful shop in downtown Scranton that has that touch of luxury and pampering, to see my dear friend Jack Puhl who does amazing paintings and now has his own line of soaps, lotions and candles at Lavish. As usual Jack was smiling and featured a new series of paintings that I really enjoyed. They made me feel at home. There were so many things going on in June that I didn't get to take them all in - and that's a good thing.

July was just as fabulous. I started off with a visit to two of my favorite women in the city: Kathy and Amanda Fox, the owners of Fanciful Fox - another wonderful local shop with hand made soaps and lotions, vegan products and fair trade items. Oh, and I cannot forget the original jewelry. My favorite item is a necklace made from recycled materials that is a silver apple with a green "seed" in the design. The Foxes have been so supportive of me and so many other people in the city that they deserve nothing but the best that good karma has to offer. After visiting them I walked over to Fidelity Bank on North Washington Avenue to enjoy Music for Models - a talented band with the great singer Tara Michel and Marko Marcinko (keyboardist and jazz drummer) and other members that I apologize for not knowing the names of because they deserve props to!  After enjoying some great tunes I walked down the street to Courthouse where the crowd was treated to the surprise flash mob dance in support of Marley's Mission. This fabulous group did a choreographed dance to Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." It was awesome! I was so excited and wished I knew the dance steps they learned because my feet were moving. It was like a street dance party. The night could not end without visits to two of my favorite places to see art: ArtWorks and Afa Gallery - both on Lackawanna Avenue. There is so much energy in those two places that you can't help but become intoxicated by the positive energy emanating from the crowd. Of course, a glass of Chardonnay doesn't hurt either ( I advise everyone to drink responsibly of course and have a driver if you plan on imbibing a few glasses of wine).

If you've read this far then you probably already knew about this great event and just wanted to read someone else's perspective but if you're  a newbie, then I'm thrilled you read this far and I hope you'll head to downtown Scranton on August 5. Not only is that the First Friday Art Walk but it's also part of Scranton's Jazz Festival. Be sure to check out acts at The Radisson and all of the bars downtown like the Bog, the Banshee and countless others.