Up Close & Personal – Eleanor Gwyn-Jones

Up Close & Personal – Eleanor Gwyn-Jones

Eleanor Gwyn-Jones is an independent Mary Kay director, author and the proprietor of the Lion’s Den, Clarks Summit. Having grown up in London, she says her British accent may fool some people, but she considers Northeast Pennsylvania to be home. She has published two novels, “Theatricks” and “Jazz Hands,” and has two additional novels that will be published soon. While she has worked her way through the ranks of Mary Kay, there is more to her story than “lotion and lipstick.” She attended secondary school at Parsons Mead and earned a degree in biology from University of Southampton, both in England. She lives in Scranton’s Green Ridge section with her partner, Matt Mang, and their rescue dog, Beanie.

Meet Eleanor Gwyn-Jones…

Tell me a little about yourself. 
I came 14 years ago on a fiance visa. I met this handsome, dashing American hunk. The visa process is so complicated. I was surprised it would be so difficult for me to get a visa. We really had to go through flaming hoops. I lived in West Pittston for a wee while. It was sort of the beginning and the breaking of the fairy tale. I had the opportunity to go back to England when that relationship ended. I had just started my business here, and I had just gotten an agent for my first novel. It seemed foolhardy to go back home with a tail between my legs, so I started a new chapter. I moved to Clarks Summit, and I really went gung-ho with my Mary Kay business and really dived deep into writing.

Of the cities you’ve lived in, what sticks out most about NEPA?
I have made such wonderful friendships here. Ride-or-die kind of relationships with girlfriends who I know would champion me to the end of the earth, and I them. I feel very fortunate at finding them. When you vibrate at a certain energy level, you find these fabulous people who similarly want to change the world and want to make an impact. People who are joyful and who are passionate and love what they do, and are on a mission, and that’s what I love and was able to find here.

What was your pre-U.S. life like?
I always wanted to be an actress. When I was 17, I got selected for the National Youth Theater. This was a summer camp in London. It was this glorious summer. All the school counselors said “acting is very well and good, but you really need to get an education, because 99 percent of actresses are out of work.” I got myself a BSc honors degree in biology. It wasn’t easy, because when you don’t love a subject, it’s all work. After three years, I got through it, and I was ready to pursue my passion to be an actress. I started to audition for drama schools, but I had no idea how expensive it would be to go to drama school. I got through a couple rounds of auditions, and I went to this weekend workshop, and it was just a nightmare. I really disliked the whole experience. Then I auditioned for a children’s company. They needed someone who was going to be an actress and could do some administration things. They selected me. I started promoting the shows and worked as an agent for the company. I took the company from being a few shows here and there to three or four shows a week.

Can you talk about your novels? 
The first two focus on Enna and her journey. She’s the original Brit out of water. She’s a director and in “Theatricks”; she goes through the visa process. … I took nuggets of things I knew, so she meets an American, she’s trying to fight for her theater, which is being threatened to be overtaken by the property developers, but she’s failing. I really dearly wanted to write about the visa process because it was quite hysterical (for me). … It’s finding where home is, finding what’s important to you, what women prioritize and value, and sometimes what we need is not actually what we want, or what we want, it’s not what we need. So in the second book, she leaves the theater and she actually becomes very involved in yoga, which is something that is important to me. I want my characters to feel, and I want my readers to feel. I try to use a lot of symbolism and imagery.

Does your acting background influence you as a writer?
All of my novels thus far are written in first person. We really see in the first two Enna’s perspective, and in the third, Evie’s, and I put myself in that position. I’ll often be writing and tears will be pouring down my face because I’m feeling it. I often find that times in my life when I’ve been dreadfully unhappy, I’ve been super creative. I guess that means you get to live your life vicariously through all these different versions of you.

Do you have a favorite topic to write about?
Obviously my background is in theater, so there’s something very lovely about writing scenes that are set in a theater, because that feels like home to me. I guess I like to create it artificially. Although I do feel at home in this area, I feel sad that there’s not a big theater.

Has your perspective of the U.S. changed since arriving and living here?
I have come to notice that in Northeast PA there is that community that is welcoming. As a small business owner, the support that I have had has been, both for the writing and having my Mary Kay business, has been really heart warming. It’s that relationship-building, and people have time for you here, whereas I believe when I was in New York, and not to speak badly about New York, people didn’t have time to talk to you or find out about you. Whether you’re writing stories and you’re learning about people or whether you’re trying to help you or your small business thrive, it’s all about the people you meet along the way and how you can help them. I think we’re better together. When we support each other, if my customer base hears about your business, then you might have more potential customers than if you tell your customers about me.

You own the Lion’s Den in Clarks Summit. What is the concept behind it? 
When I became a Mary Kay director, you have what’s called your unit, but your unit and a number after it sounds very utilitarian. Most Mary Kay directors give their unit a unit name, and I wanted something that symbolized more. I was named after Eleanor of Aquitaine, and she was the mother of Richard the Lionheart, and Richard the Lionheart fought in the crusades. It just fit, so my units are called the Lionhearts. So I was looking for a space that was local and that I could invite my girls, that I could praise them to success and I could teach them and I could meet my own customers and have great interactions with them and really have a base. … This isn’t a shop. I don’t sell products from shelves. What it is is it’s an experience, and it’s a training center, it’s a success center, it’s where, whether you’ve had a good day, you bring your energy to the table, you lift people up, and if you’ve had a rubbish day, we build you up. It’s really so much more than just lotion and lipstick.

Up Close & Personal – EunJin Newkirk

Up Close & Personal – EunJin Newkirk

EunJin Newkirk is the business face of Newkirk Honey. She and her husband, Jason, have run the business from their home since 2011. They care for honey bee colonies in their backyard, which also is home to chickens, goats and dogs. They sell their honey at several local vendor fairs and recently opened a stand in the Marketplace at Steamtown. EunJin and Jason live in Scranton with their daughter, Areum.

Meet EunJin Newkirk…

How long have you been beekeeping, and how did you get started?
My husband started beekeeping in high school, helping his neighbor who had 10,000 hives, more than 20 years ago. Most of their work was for commercial pollination rather than producing honey. That was how he initially learned how to work with bees.

Why did he decide to continue with it? 
We moved from Iowa in 2011 when my husband took a job in Waymart. I was sure that I could pursue a career in design, but it wasn’t happening. After a while, Jason began to urge me to start a beekeeping business. It became my full-time job.

What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part is interacting with customers. As a maker, hearing how people like our food is a wonderful feeling, and the encouragement keeps us going every day. Also designing my own label is a part of the job that I really enjoy.

Can you talk about the setup of your hives? You have this all based at home, and everything happens outside your house?
We set up our hives over different locations, but most are in Lackawanna County. A lot of them are located on the West Mountain in Scranton, which is also where we live. Last year and this (year), we maintained 200 hives over seven locations, and we plan to keep those numbers for a while. As bees don’t need attention every single day, we stop by one-by-one to see if any of them need more boxes or other maintenance throughout the year and harvest the summer honey.

Can you share a memorable beekeeping story?
Not too long after my daughter was born, we were going to drop the nuc boxes (mini hives that we rent from bee sellers) back to central Pennsylvania. We were excited about how good the year was going to be with new bees that we purchased. It was the first time we made a purchase with the money that we made by selling honey from a year before. I was about to get in the truck and got stung by a bee. All of a sudden, I started having a hard time breathing. My husband took me to urgent care, and I ended up in the emergency room. It was a big sign that I am very allergic to bee stings, but we had no idea. That night, we really had to think seriously if we can keep this business with my personal … condition. My answer was yes, because I was just falling in love with bees.

What is your favorite honey product to make and use or eat?
It’s absolutely the Raw Honey Fruit Tea. But obviously we use the Wildflower Honey the most.

Why is Raw Honey Fruit Tea your favorite?
It’s created with my family tradition. I still remember that when the seasonal fruits started coming out to the market, my mom and grandmother always bought a bulk of them. Or oftentimes we just went to the orchards and preserved (the fruits) with bags of sugar and kept them in a jar, then made tea throughout the year. It was so good, and they told me how each of the different ingredients work for minor physical issues. As I am a beekeeper, I got creative with using my honey to make a better flavor in the most natural way. And it came out from there. But the thing that you have to know is, in Asia, “tea” means basically anything you drink. So tea often doesn’t contain an herb or any other dried leaves or flowers. Sometimes people ask if there is any tea in it, but it’s just a honey and dried fruit and natural extract.

How long have you lived in the United States? And what brought you here? 
I’ve been in this country for 12 years now. I was born and raised in South Korea and decided to come to this country in 2006. I came to New York City to study English but always had a dream of living in this country permanently. There are many reasons why I wanted to be in this country, and I am making the dreams come true one by one. All I can say is whatever the reason was, I am in a dream that I don’t want to wake up from.

Can you talk about your family and what it means to you to be part of a family-owned business?
We harvested our first honey at the same time our daughter was born. Now she is almost 6 years old. When we started a business as a family, we wanted to be hard-working Americans who provided high-quality products and had integrity so our children can learn that the products that are sold are reliable and something they can be proud of.

What are your hobbies and/or interests outside of beekeeping and the business? 
I had a minor in Asian fiber art, so I do embroidery and some crafting. But with my career and experience in the food industry, I am also interested in food product branding as well as visual marketing in farm brands.

What advice would you give someone who wants to try beekeeping? 
Do it for fun. It’s a pretty expensive hobby if you really want to do it right. You can get easily frustrated as they are very difficult creatures to deal with. 

Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today? 
I am and have always been active. However during my pregnancy, I had a hard time dealing with muscle pains all over my body for the first time. So I started working out on a not-so-serious level only for a couple of hours twice a week. Now I feel even better than before the pregnancy.

What is a fun fact that most people don’t know about you? 
I always come up with crazy and quick ideas that make people surprised or panic. For example, I decided to come to the U.S. and all it took was a week of thought and the following week I was in New York City.

Up Close & Personal – Rachel Rafalko

Up Close & Personal – Rachel Rafalko

Rachel Rafalko, designer and founder of Boheme Gardens—an online seller of handmade jewelry, teas, plants and more—weaves many creative hobbies into her life. She also owns Gemini Natural Images, through which she works as a natural light photographer. A graduate of Mid Valley Secondary Center, she studied art at a vocational-technical school. She and her fiance, Billy, live in Throop with their 2-year-old son.

Meet Rachel Rafalko…

How did you first get into photography?
I had been hanging out with the guys in the hardcore bands for years, then I started photographing
them at shows. I also got into the festival scene. The people from the festivals, they’d see me taking pictures, and I’d meet them through that. Photography turned from taking pictures of them into being friends with them, because you get to know them over the years. It has helped me be more social, because I’ve always been sort of an introverted person, and photography is almost a gateway to help me meet people.

What is your favorite thing about photography?
I really need to get out more and do more landscape photography, because that’s where my passion is. You don’t have to chase (landscapes). You don’t have to tell them what to do. Most times, I don’t go looking to take pictures. I just happen to have a camera on me at the time, and I walk around and see what I can find. It’s more like a treasure hunt.

Do you have a favorite original photograph? 
I was working at Ritter’s Farm Market and was cleaning the flowers. I just happened to notice that one grew as a double daisy and it looked like a heart. A corner of it was even used for my first business card.

Where does your business name “Gemini Natural Images” come from?
I’m a Gemini, and I’ve always prided myself on that. I think it suits me perfectly. I see things from so many different aspects that I think it suits me to be the twins. “Natural” comes from the fact that I don’t really like to Photoshop or over-edit my photos. I want people to see things the way they really are. I thought “images” sounded better than “photography.” It’s an image in your mind that you remember, not the photograph.

How does gardening fit into your life?
I love plants. I actually had a brown thumb until I was about 30, and then all of a sudden I was able to grow things, and it was amazing. I always wanted to have a garden but ended up killing my plants. I think it’s fantastic to be able to eat your own plants; everything tastes better, (and) you know the source of where it came from. The condition of the world right now and the condition of our food, I think there’s a lot of waste going on. When you’re gardening, you get to preserve things.

How about the teas you produce?
The ones that I do grow, I dry in big baskets and mix them up every day. As far as flavors, I use a lot of what I think tastes good. I try to study as much as I can with what’s going to do what for a person and what could have an adverse reaction.

You also make and sell jewelry. Can you describe your design style?
A lot of what I learned at vo-tech and the composition part of the courses helped me with the way I build jewelry. I can see what balances each other out, what colors will look good. A lot of people would think that these look kind of fancy, but I try to make them so that you can wear them with jeans and a T-shirt and they won’t look out of place. I’m not a person who wears much jewelry, but I do wear a lot of these because I think they can go with just about any outfit.

Do you feel each of your hobbies is complemented by the others?
Oh yes, all day long. Some of the greatest pictures I take are of my garden and things I’m growing. The photography ties in with the jewelry, I know how to display it; I know how take photos of it to make it look more attractive. You see so many people trying to sell something, and they just don’t display it right. It can be the most beautiful thing in the world, but maybe they have it hanging on their dirty hand. If I get a day where I can sit and create the whole day, I’ll spend 10 minutes in the garden, two hours editing. I can’t focus on one thing. I think that’s why I do so many things.

Have you had to overcome any major challenges in your life?
My mom passed away last summer. That was really hard. It put me into some deep feelings. She was hurting for a long time, and it was the right thing that happened for her. I think that was the biggest hurdle I’ve faced in my entire life. My dad has been through a lot losing my mom and still helped us through getting our lives together. Everything I do, I hope that she’s proud of me, and I still keep her in my mind just like I did when she was alive. I want her to see me and say, “Wow, you’re doing great,” so she knows she did things right with me. The way I’m raising my son is the way she raised me.

What is your favorite thing about being a mom?
The amazement of how fast he grows and learns things. Sometimes he learns things that we didn’t even teach him. It’s just nature that he does these things at a certain time in his life, and it’s absolutely amazing. Have you had a time or experience in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I was always very introverted, and it was April 1999 that I had a really big change in my life. I met a lot of people who welcomed me into their group, and it was an extremely large group of friends. It really showed me how to open up to people. With these people, we did everything together all the time, and it really helped me open up as a person.

What do you enjoy doing aside from the business and business-related hobbies?
Cooking. My fiance is a cook at the University of Scranton. When we met, that was one of the things that bonded us. We both considered starting a catering business someday too. We actually catered my own baby shower. Leading up to it, I cooked for two weeks rolling around in an office chair because
I was so pregnant.

Fun fact?
I’m obsessed with the Muppets and “The Simpsons.” I have every episode of the Muppets show, including the ones from the ’90s.

Up Close & Personal – Susan Crane

Up Close & Personal – Susan Crane

Susan Crane picked up her first bonsai tree many years ago, and her passion for the craft has only grown since. A graduate of Mansfield University with a degree in elementary education, she works for Geisinger Marworth in Waverly Twp. but also founded and owns 2 Cranes Plants. She runs the business from her home, selling bonsai, topiary, succulent and ivy wreaths and kokedama. Crane blends her educational background with her passion for bonsai, noting that “I have a classroom where I train young trees, with their individual needs in mind, so they develop into beautiful bonsai.” She and her husband Bob, whom she met when they attended Central Scranton High School, live in Scranton and will celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. They have two children, Sarah and Matthew, and a granddaughter, Grace.

Meet Susan Crane…

Talk about your work at Marworth.
I’ve been there 21 years, and I work in the outpatient office. I schedule appointments; I do the intake information, the pre-admission information; I get them scheduled, collect stats, take care of charges and stuff like that. It’s a varied position.

How did bonsai become such a big hobby of yours?
I’ve always loved plants. When I was in college, I always had plants. I think that’s where it started. I bought a little ficus tree, and it had all those little rocks glued into the pot. It was a very pretty pot, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I had never seen anything like that, and it was just fascinating to me. I didn’t have any clue how to take care of it. I found a nursery in Laflin. When I called, a woman answered, and I said I have this little bonsai tree. I told her all about it and how I didn’t know what to do with it. She said, “I happen to be the president of the NEPA Bonsai Society.” I almost fell out of my chair, I just couldn’t believe there was a bonsai society in Northeast PA. I decided to go to the next meeting because I was really interested, so that was the beginning. I’ve been in the club for 18 years now.

Can you talk about your involvement with the NEPA Bonsai Society?
I’m the vice president. It’s a new role for me. The club has just been a really exciting thing for me, and to have other people who are also that excited about it, it’s wonderful. They’re wonderful people. They’re really like my family. I just love them and feel very supported and encouraged there. I never feel intimidated, and bonsai can be very intimidating. I just love it.

Can you tell me more about bonsai?
It’s an ancient Asian art. “Bonsai” means “tree in a pot” or some kind of container. The goal of bonsai is not just to put a tree in a pot, but to make the tree look natural and old, like something you’d see in nature, but it’s miniaturized. There are all different techniques and styles and different pots and rules you have to know. You don’t necessarily have to follow them, but you have to know them. A lot of it is pruning techniques and thickening the trunk, because the thicker the trunk, the older the tree will look, and how to position the branches. A lot of trees when they’re older, the branches bend downward and kind of tell a story. Using wire is one technique to shape the branches. There are logistics to it, and there’s an art to it. The most important part of Bonsai is you have to know what kind of tree you have, and what does that tree need — whether it be light conditions, watering, temperature — you should have success.

What are some challenges of growing bonsai? 
We’ve had such crazy weather, it’s really difficult. The nights can be cold; we can get too much rain. A lot of times, I’ll move some things that can’t take any more water and put them on my porch where they’re more protected. If they get too much rain, they can get root rot. It’s a balancing act when you have a lot of trees. You have to know what they want and what they can tolerate and care for them accordingly.

What setbacks have you faced with bonsai?
You lose trees. I had a beautiful rosemary, and I lost it this year, and I don’t know why. You’re nurturing these and taking care of them. You want them to grow and survive and look their best. It’s almost like a child. I think a challenge for me is wiring. What branches do I keep? What branches do I lose? People help me. That’s where the club comes in. They like to share information, and it’s very nurturing. If I didn’t have the club, I don’t think I’d be doing this, because I could never do it on my own.

What is most gratifying for you?
I’m always saying to my husband, “Look how beautiful it looks. I can’t believe how pretty they are.” He says, “They all look the same to me,” but if someone else sees how pretty it is and wants it, and I can tell them how to take care of it, it’s really gratifying. Sometimes at shows, people say things like, “You have the most beautiful table or booth” or “I don’t know which one to get. They’re all so nice,” and it’s just very gratifying that someone is interested in something I’m doing.

Is there a spiritual element to growing bonsai?
There is. People delve into all sorts of spiritual aspects, but for me it’s like a Zen. I know when I’m working on my trees, I don’t know what else is around me. I don’t know if that’s spiritual or not. I am totally focused on that, and it’s very relaxing. Some people are very into what the tree is saying to you. They’re living things, and just like we like the sun and the air, they do too; they are happy. If something isn’t happy, it tells you and shows you. It might drop all its leaves, or have bugs or insects.

What are your interests and hobbies outside of bonsai?
I was in the orchid club, but that’s another plant. I had a dog and just put my dog down. I used to spend a lot of time with her. We used to take long walks together. Bonsai is enough. (Laughs) It’s a lot and can be pretty crazy.

Have you had a time or moment in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I think my husband has been such a support to me and has let me do my own thing. He always let me do whatever I wanted to do and never gave me flack. His support and my kids’ support has been wonderful. It’s so gratifying to know that I can do something that other people are interested in, and I really like that I can help them. I’m doing what I really love to do.

Up Close & Personal – Don Fisch Jr.

Up Close & Personal – Don Fisch Jr.

Don Fisch Jr. is a Scranton native who works as a digital solutions leader at Friedman Electric and recently launched DF Custom Concepts, through which he builds wooden stools with personalized or custom silhouettes carved into them. A graduate of Scranton High School, he earned degrees in culinary arts and hotel restaurant management from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York. Fisch loves spending time with his family and extended family. He and his wife, Abby, live in Scranton with their children, Andrew 3, and Ellie, 5 months.

Meet Don Fisch Jr. …

Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m 36; I’ve been married six years. I’m from Scranton and went to middle school and high school with my wife. I went to college to be a chef and went to culinary school for four years. I moved home about 10 years ago to be closer to family and decided to change careers. The (Buy Local Marketplace at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple) was the first show I was publicly at (as DF Custom Concepts). My father was a carpenter, so I learned a lot of good traits from my dad. We formalized DF Custom Concepts very recently.

How did a culinary career lead you to electrical sales and then the launch of a business?
I call it the triple play. Culinary school was my passion at the time. It was the business I grew up in, and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t work around here. I worked in Hershey, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as a chef, which is a very different type of atmosphere in the restaurant world than it is in Northeast PA. When I decided to come home 10 years ago, my intention was to just come home for a brief period and then conquer another city. I quickly realized two things: One, I didn’t want to move away (I had started dating my wife), and two, the type of restaurant industry experience that I was into was certainly not around here. It wasn’t for me as a profession, so I made a big, drastic move to completely change careers. All the while, woodworking has always been part of my life and a hobby.

What do you do at Friedman Electric?
My business card says “digital solutions leader.” I work with customers and our associates essentially to make people’s lives easier through a digital channel. I meet with companies or our customers and try to streamline and digitize their buying process. I work with their software and figure out what kind of tasks we can do mutually with a partnership to make our customer more effective and inevitably make us more effective and profitable.

What is the process of making stools like?
For the silhouette stool, we can make up to four images on them. The first step is Abby and I brainstorming what sets of images go together and are marketable. We make a template then transfer the image to raw stock, cut it out, paint it, then begin to assemble it. For customers who are looking for something unique, it’s the same concept. We have a conversation about the interests of the individual who it’s for and what can we do logistically or technically from a cutout perspective, because not everything can be done in a silhouette. There’s a technical thought that goes into it, and is it realistic?

What challenges or obstacles have you had to overcome through launching the business?
I never really thought about having to market something, because I was always building to custom requests. It’s a different philosophy now with what will sell. What can I be profitable with, and what can I make and produce in a manner that’s consistent and technically possible? That was a challenge, because it was new to me. Also, trying to judge the market of where can I sell the product based on my time and my cost of material and still be happy with what comes back. Being new to the market, the last thing I want is to be written off as too expensive. I’m trying to find that happy medium where I’m happy with the profitability and the customer doesn’t feel like they’re being taken for a ride.

What are your hobbies outside of woodworking?
Cooking is a hobby. For a period it was my profession; now it’s a hobby again. I like anything outdoors. We go for hikes and bike rides. I also spend a lot of time maintaining our aquarium and with the kids. We love to travel. We don’t do nearly as much now that we used to, but anytime we can get a day trip (in), we try to.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
There is certainly something that made me think about life differently. When my son was born, leading up, it was all remodeling the room, and we had checklists of things we had to do, and it was a rigid process. We had to do so many tasks before we got to the hospital. Oddly enough, the night before Andrew was born, my wife checked the last thing off her list. Andrew was born the next day; there were all these emotions and hype. The day we went home, we walked out of the hospital, and we had Andrew in hand. The doors shut, and we got in the car. I looked at Abby and said, “We came as two, and we’re leaving as a family.” It was this overwhelming moment and realizing we were responsible for a child. I’ll never forget the moment we pulled out of the parking lot and left the hospital plus one.

Fun fact?
Abby and I started going to school together in seventh grade. In high school, both of us were involved with the plays. We dated for a week during one of the plays. I (sarcastically) say that she’s been chasing me ever since. We went separate ways and didn’t reconnect until we moved home. When we went on our first date, I told her the two things I remembered from dating her were the pancakes she made with her grandma and her favorite ice cream. To this day, 10 years into our relationship, we make those pancakes every weekend and have ice cream almost every night.

The final word is yours…
If there’s any takeaway, my family is by far the most important thing in my life. Both (Abby and I) come from fairly sizable families and are very close to our families. That’s why we moved home. I left what was a great career, and Abby was a scuba-diving instructor in Hawaii and Jamaica, and we came back to NEPA. We both left good careers and completely started over. We have a handful of friends who we regularly see; I think it’s the NEPA-ian way. As far as the business end of things, it’s new, so I want to make a name for what it is and I want it to remain fun in two respects: one, it doesn’t get overwhelming and (I) let it evolve into whatever it’s going to be; and two, that it remains fresh and there are new things and customers driving me to be better at the craft.

For more information about DF Custom Concepts visit Don’s website: facebook.com/DFCustomConcepts/

Up Close & Personal – Tyler Dempsey

Up Close & Personal – Tyler Dempsey

Tyler Dempsey is a professional drummer and drum instructor who gives lessons out of his home and at private studios in Wilkes-Barre and Moscow. He is the house drummer at the Deerhead Inn in Delaware Water Gap; weekend drummer at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Plains Twp.; and plays every other Monday with his trio at Crotti’s on Ash, Scranton. He is a graduate of Abington Heights High School, earned a liberal arts degree from Penn State University and studied jazz performance at New Jersey City University. He lives in Clarks Summit with his dog, Finley.

Meet Tyler Dempsey…

How did you get started playing drums?
My cousin Corey gave me my first pair of drumsticks. I really looked up to him, and I saw him playing. He was a huge inspiration, and I wanted to be just like him. His brother Todd gave me my first drum set, so it was the cousin connection that got me started. I was probably 7 or 8 years old.

Given your age, what interested you in jazz as opposed to mainstream pop music?
Corey gave me a Buddy Rich CD. I had been listening to pop music before that. I remember him giving me the CD and specifically thinking I want to do this for the rest of my life. I do like other types of music as well. I play with some indie rock groups and a country group, but I love jazz. It’s really expressive music, and I like the improvisational aspect of it.

What about hearing the jazz music for the first time made you want to make music a career?
The recording that I referenced, something about the excitement and the power of hearing a big band really got me going. The idea of being a musician as a professional came a little later on. I saw other musicians that I looked up to and mentors and teachers of mine, and I just liked their lifestyle. I liked the freedom of being a musician, having some days free and a flexible schedule. I also liked the travel of it. I think it was the mentors and teachers that I was around that got me hooked on being a professional.

Where is the coolest place you’ve traveled to play music?
I subbed on an 80-day tour for about a month. We drove from Scranton to Texas to California and back. We got to see a lot of the country, and there were some really cool spots in California that we played. That was a jazz tour, but we played in venues that Jay Leno has played and other bigger venues, so it was really cool.

What groups do you perform with?
Recently I joined a group called Lewis & Clarke; they’re an Indie band led by Lou Rogai. He heard me at the Deerhead Inn and decided he really wanted jazz musicians to try playing his music. I also play with a band called Porter and Sayles, and that was through the jazz connection as well. Now I’m leading my own trio at Crotti’s on Ash. That’s more of an electric jazz thing, which isn’t done too often around here. There’s a guy named Matt Vashlishan who plays ewi, which is an electric wind instrument, so that’s kind of a rarity. I have Joe Michaels on bass and myself on drums, and we play a lot of original music. That’s been kind of pushing the limits of the type of music going on around here.

What is your favorite part about being a drum teacher?
I like the problem-solving aspect of it and seeing issues that students have and trying to figure out the best way to address it. I end up learning more about what’s going on and look at things in more depth to uncover what’s happening. If I wasn’t teaching, I’d probably be doing things in drumming and not think about what it is and how to explain it, and the teaching brings that out of me. I have to think more analytically.

What is something performing has taught you that you try to teach your students?
I’ve been told before that your job as a sideman or a drummer in general is to make everybody else sound good. So being a team player and just to make it like we’re playing music, not working music. It should be fun and engaging for everyone.

How did performing lead you to teaching?
I took a bunch of lessons over the years, so I was surrounded with different teachers. I kind of picked up on their teaching styles and different ways of doing things. It was always an interest of mine to share things with other people.

Do you play any other instruments?
In high school, I tried to take advantage of as many musical opportunities as possible. I did band, orchestra, choir and music theory. I was a bass in the choir and played the upright bass in the orchestra. I also took piano lessons in high school. I still fool around with the piano and bass a little bit, mostly to try to write music and improvise rather than to write actual songs.

What led you to stick with drums?
It was that initial attraction. Even though there are other cool instruments and I have fun playing them, the drums have been unwavering. I don’t know what it is about the drums, but I just know that I like being in the driver’s seat. A lot of people describe playing the drums as driving the boat or the bus; you have a lot of responsibilities, and it’s kind of an important job to be a drummer in a band, and I like that drummer.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of music?
I really enjoy fitness. I like going for runs and going to the gym. I have a puppy named Finley. We spend a lot of time together. I like taking him for walks and playing with him. I enjoy exercising and would love to run a half marathon or full marathon some day, but that’s a huge undertaking.

Have you had a time or moment in your life that helped shaped you into who you are today?
In terms of music, I was asked to do a high-profile gig, and I got fired before the show. It wasn’t in a nasty way, but (they decided) to use somebody else, and that was a real hit to my ego. That was kind of a turning point, and I realized there’s a level of preparation for every situation. I’m not always going to be the best guy for every situation, and there are of course people who do things better.

To follow updates about Tyler’s upcoming shows or book drum lessons, visit his Facebook page  or website tylerdempseymusic.com

Photos by Emma Black



Up Close & Personal – Melissa Carestia

Up Close & Personal – Melissa Carestia

Melissa Carestia is an art enthusiast working to grow the Scranton arts community. A native of Leonardo, New Jersey, she graduated from Keystone College with a degree in visual art and concentrations in photography, print making and book arts, and she is pursuing a master’s degree in arts administration from Drexel University. She is employed by AFA Gallery, Scranton, and sits on the board of Scranton Fringe Festival. In her spare time, you most likely can find her baking, hiking or having fun at a dance party. She lives in Scranton with her boyfriend.

Meet Melissa Carestia…

Talk about your role at the AFA Gallery. 
I’m the gallery coordinator. I’m here part-time, and I’m the only employee. I work with artists who are exhibiting (and) manage volunteers. I’m the public face, and I talk to people. I do outreach and plan monthly rotating exhibitions as well. 

What made you so passionate about art?
When I was a kid, I would always steal my parents’ camera and take pictures around the house. From there it spiraled. In high school, I was the kid who always had a disposable camera. It was something that I knew I wanted to continue doing. When I was looking at colleges, it was a no-brainer I wanted to go for photography. After college when I was looking for jobs, I realized I didn’t want to be making art for people as a living. I would rather have my art in my own time, but I want to help other people who want to make a living with their art. I feel like getting into arts administration was finding my calling. I’m also starting to get into arts advocacy work. If I don’t pursue that as a full-time career, being an advocate is always going to be a hobby of mine.

What specifically do you advocate for in the arts?
Part of it is education to the public, lawmakers. … It’s to help show the importance of arts and what they can do for people. There are a lot of things with the new tax reform that affect artists, so (I can be) advocating to have those lawmakers make sure that people such as art teachers who buy their own supplies are able to write that off in their taxes. Whether it’s art in health, education or the economy, you can find something to advocate for.

What type of art do you enjoy doing most?
I love to go out and take photographs. Anything I can do with my hands, so crocheting (too). I was getting into making paper collages at one point, and that was very methodical. I love learning new skill sets because I think you can apply that knowledge to other things like problem-solving.

Who is your favorite artist?
Ansel Adams is hands-down my favorite photographer of all time. His work speaks so much and is so beautiful. He really captured the landscape of America and helped conserve it. I love his work. I love (Edgar) Degas. The way he captured light; he and other impressionists were really inspired by photography, and you can see that through their work. I’m also super-obsessed with Nan Goldin and her “Ballad of Sexual Dependency.” It was amazing to see her prints in person.

Why do you enjoy supporting local art?
People are making great stuff. Old masters and things like the Impressionists, those are beautiful images that mean so much. People who are working locally and trying to make a living by selling their artwork are doing great stuff, too. We have an ample amount of talent in this area, and a lot of them are selling stuff for really affordable prices. Art is an investment, and it’s valuable, but if you don’t love it, why have it? Some of my favorite work is done by my friends.

Are there any upcoming events we should look out for at the AFA Gallery?
This is AFA’s 30th-year anniversary. The organization was created in 1988. We have some plans in the works. Sept. 1, we’re going to have an anniversary party here, and it’s going to coincide with our Founders Exhibition. An exhibition on the first floor will highlight our founding members, and then on the second floor will be the friends and active volunteers, so it will be founders and friends. There is also something very special in the works for October, so stay tuned for that.

With First Friday coming up, what type of work will we see on display at the next exhibit?
(This) month is always my favorite. It’s the member show. Twice a year, (AFA) members can exhibit work with us. It’ll be opening May 4. It’s going to be a sampling of what is currently being made in NEPA. You’re going to be able to see all different mediums with all different themes. It’s really eclectic and nice. It’s nice to see what local people are doing. You have people who do traditional oil landscapes, but you also have people who do found-object sculpture. 

What is your involvement with the Scranton Fringe Festival?
I sit on their board of directors. I also run their visual fringe, which is the visual art portion of the festival, and I sit on the programming committee, and we put together the schedule. The Scranton Story Slam is part of the Fringe Festival, too. I’m not heavily involved with that, but we do good stuff. We’re having our first story slam on May 12 at the Scranton Cultural Center, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Have you had a moment in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
Getting that camera in my hand. I feel like if I didn’t do that when I was little, I don’t know what I’d be doing now. I had such an interest in image making and capturing moments that it has really spiraled into what my life is, and I love everything that I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s this one picture, I must be 5 or 6, and my parents have this really large mirror in their house, and it’s me taking a picture of myself. Retrospectively, it’s so artsy; it was just me and something to take a picture of in that moment.


To learn more about the AFA Gallery or become a member visit the AFA Gallery’s website 


Up Close & Personal – Kevin Stanford

Up Close & Personal – Kevin Stanford

Kevin Stanford is an academic adviser for undergraduate students in the Kania School of Management at the University of Scranton. He is passionate about chameleons, which he breeds and sells. He has been featured in podcasts on chameleonbreeder.com, and his chameleons were featured in a National Geographic video “Beautiful Footage: Chameleons Are Amazing.” A graduate of Western Wayne High School, Stanford earned a degree in business from Penn State University and plans to receive his master’s degree in business administration from U of S this spring. He lives in Scranton with his boyfriend, Brian.

Meet Kevin Stanford…

What is working with dozens of undergraduate students every day like?
I love it. It definitely felt like I found my niche when I found this job. I’ve known I wanted to get into higher education for quite a few years, but I didn’t know specifically what job, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What is your favorite part about being an academic adviser?
Seeing someone come in as a freshman and then completely changing into a grown-up and how much they mature and everything that they’ve done, then watching them walk across the stage at graduation.

What about chameleons interests you?
Just how different they are. I love the fact that they change color and they have long tongues and they have oven mitt-looking hands and their eyes look in different directions at once, so they’re not just the typical reptile.

Why did you get into chameleon breeding?
Specifically chameleons was about 15 years ago. I had lots of snakes, lizards, frogs and all sorts of things growing up, which was kind of a mixture of my parents because my mom kept fuzzy animals and my dad brought home stuff like snakes. I liked the challenge of chameleons, because they’re a lot harder to keep and breed than other groups of reptiles.

What are some challenges that make chameleons difficult to breed?
The eggs can take up to a year to hatch. Some of them require cooling, so I may need to hibernate the eggs after a month and a half at room temperature. I’ll lower the temperature to 50 degrees for the next month and a half, then back to room temperature. Once the hatchlings come out of the eggs, just raising them can be a challenge, too. One of the most frustrating things, and it used to happen a lot, was realizing that there wasn’t enough vitamin A in the parents for the Carpet Chameleons, so the babies would incubate for the entire 12 months and the eggs would be ready to hatch, but instead of breaking open, the baby would die full-term inside. It took me a couple years, with about a 10-percent success rate, to figure out that was what I was missing. That was really frustrating, especially when you wait a year to see something and there was nothing you could do at that point.

What is the breeding process like?
Once I have an adult pair, you test the female for being receptive. When they are, they’ll get mellow colors. After breeding, you separate them immediately because they don’t like each other. The female is usually pregnant for about a month. Once she’s around her due date, you can either see or feel the eggs in her abdomen. You put her in a garbage can or bucket with about eight inches of moist sand, and she’ll dig a tunnel and lay her eggs, then cover them up. Then you dig up the eggs and put them in something called vermiculite. Most of the species I have lay between 10 to 20 eggs at one time. I put the eggs in a vermiculite and spring-water mixture and put them in deli cups to incubate them for nine to 12 months.

What is something you want people to know about chameleons?
As far as pets go, if you’re going to get one, do a lot of research beforehand, because they’re more high-maintenance than other animals. I have automated misting systems that go off six times a day and require drainage. I have ultrasonic humidifiers in the cages that go off for three hours at night and in the morning. I have expensive ultraviolet lights that come from overseas. The insects (chameleons eat) need to be fed the proper stuff before you feed it to the chameleon; they call it gutloading. A lot of this overlaps with other animals, but chameleons are less-forgiving of mistakes.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
Being successful at something that is a challenge, (and) when you do well in areas that maybe a lot of people don’t. I spend a lot of time in the room with chameleons just watching them. It’s sort of like my Zen garden and relaxing.

Why do chameleons change color?
It’s a popular thought that the reason chameleons change color is to match their surroundings, but that’s not the case. They change for different physiological and psychological reasons. If a female is not receptive to a male, she’ll get really bright colors and patterns. She might lighten her colors to show that she is receptive. Males will do the same thing when they’re fighting with other males. Also, if it’s really hot, they’ll get really light colored, just like if you would wear light-colored clothing to reflect the heat in a warm climate. If they’re cold, they could get really dark to absorb the heat from the sun.

What are your hobbies outside of breeding chameleons?
I like the gym, and I love the outdoors. Ever since I was little, my dad took me hiking. I was in eighth grade when I saw my first rattlesnake, and I was super excited. That kind of got me hooked, so I like to be outdoors as much as I can.

For more on Kevin Stanford’s chameleons check out his Facebook page Kevin Stanford Chameleons

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Danielle Fleming

Up Close & Personal – Danielle Fleming

Danielle Fleming co-owns NOTE Fragrances, 401 Spruce St., Scranton, and recently opened the shop’s second location at 312 S. State St., Clarks Summit. Her pink peony fragrance has been featured by Ipsy, a nationally distributed, monthly cosmetic subscription service, and she has been featured in Elle and Cosmopolitan magazines and on MSNBC. Fleming graduated from Abington Heights High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Moravian College in Bethlehem and master’s degrees in mental health counseling and instructional leadership from Marywood University. She lives in Dunmore with her husband and co-owner of NOTE, Mark Bonfiglio.

Meet Danielle Fleming…

What is NOTE Fragrances?
NOTE Fragrances is a boutique perfumery and a custom perfume studio. A boutique perfumery means we are a small-scale, artisan-batch perfumery. We do everything in small batches; everything is handmade and hand-produced. We’ve used machines for some things, but “boutique” really means the scale. You’re not going to find our brand at Macy’s. It’s more of a niche perfume brand.

What is a “note”?
“Note” is another way to say “a scent.” When you build a fragrance, notes are the building blocks. There are top, middle and base notes. We categorize them based on their molecular structure and weight. Building a fragrance is combining the notes, and that’s how NOTE became the brand name as well.

What was your business experience prior to NOTE Fragrances?
I had a company called Danielle & Co. that I ran from when I was 22 up until NOTE in 2013. We re-branded Danielle & Co. into NOTE because we wanted to focus on the custom perfume studio experience and the connection of the psychology of scent and getting people to connect with aromas.

What led you to opening a second location in Clarks Summit?
Danielle & Co. was originally based in Clarks Summit, and when we moved into Scranton, we saw some fallout from customers in (Clarks Summit). So as we were approaching this past holiday season, we said let’s do a pop-up (shop) and get our Clarks Summit customers to know this new brand, NOTE Fragrances. So we decided to pop up. We were just a pop-up, but the feedback was so wonderful, and people really wanted us to stay. It beat our projections, and all the signs said stay.

What is it like to be back in your hometown?
There is always a sense of home. I spent my childhood and high school years here, and I also built my first business here. So it was coming home on a business level and a personal level, so it feels really good.

How did studying psychology, mental health counseling and instructional leadership lead you to opening a perfume studio?
I started studying the psychology of scent. I was interning at the University of Scranton’s counseling center. I noticed that the students I was working with needed something else besides talking. I wanted to create something that wasn’t seen as medication. I originally just wanted to be a psychologist, but I was so fascinated by the powerful effects of aromas and how we connect to them and how they enhance our memory, alter our mood and can make us feel happy or whatever it is we are looking for. I’ve been studying that for a long time and realized that what connects to one person doesn’t necessarily connect to the next person. The purpose behind creating the studio was to get people to create something that they connect to.

Can you describe the custom perfume studio experience?
We try to talk to the customer first before we start sniffing to get a good sense of what they’re comfortable with. That helps them get used to the process, but it also helps us to better design for them. Then there’s a 10-minute demonstration where we talk about working with the perfumer’s organ; this is where they will sniff different notes, (and) we explain what scent families mean and how they work together. We also explain the note classifications. Then they will dip blotters into the different scented oils and put their blend together. We really want the customer to control the process and to be the designer of it.

Why is working with the sense of smell significant?
People connect to it. We’ve had people make fragrances to connect to loved ones who passed away or for a loved one. We’ve had brides create their own fragrance to wear on their wedding day, and what’s more special than to have your own signature scent on your wedding day? I did it for myself, and every time I wear the fragrance, I go back to the island I got married on. That is the powerful effect of aroma and how it works with our brain. It’s fascinating to watch and see people. Some have been brought to tears going through the experience.

What inspires your ideas for scents?
I get inspired a lot by the environment, so a lot of my creations are based off of trips I’ve taken. Santal Woods is based off a walk I took on the coast of Maine. Orchid Noir is based off of our honeymoon in St. Lucia. At night, you could smell all the night’s blooming flowers and spices of the kitchen. A lot of times when I’m in a certain environment, I get inspired and say, “How can I translate that and what I experienced into a fragrance?”

What are some of your interests outside of the business?
I like to travel. My husband and I really love the Finger Lakes Region of New York, so we go up there quite a bit. We lived there for a year when we had a shop there. During that experience, I got into wine. I had the chance to become friends with a lot of wine-makers, so I watched them, and we actually developed a line of candles based off of those relationships.

What is something, personally or professionally, being a business owner has taught you?
What I’ve learned about myself is we can always handle more than we think. I’ve also learned that what you think is a really big deal, whether it’s good or bad, six months down the road, it’s just a blip on the radar. I’ve learned to become a better businessperson by not allowing perfection to hinder my progress.

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Kari Johnson

Up Close & Personal – Kari Johnson

Kari Johnson owns AOS Metals, 527 Bogart Place, Scranton, where she designs and sells handmade jewelry. She describes her products as “simple and classic, but something that will last forever and stay in style.” A graduate of Tunkhannock Area High School, she attended Keystone College and lived in Jackson, Wyoming, for 12 years, where she studied at University of Wyoming. She lives in Clarks Summit with her dog, Milo.

Meet Kari Johnson…

How did you get into jewelry making?
It first started when I was living out in Jackson, Wyoming. I was just looking for a creative outlet to do during the winter since it’s nine months of winter. Jackson is a huge arts town, so it was really great to be able to try different things. I did some pottery, I did some metal-smithing, and I really loved it. Being able to melt metal and hammer metal was a great outlet.

What led to your hobby becoming a business?
When I really started to take it seriously as a hobby, it got very expensive. The tools aren’t cheap; the metal isn’t cheap. I went to a farmer’s market in Jackson thinking, I” should try to sell some of this stuff to support my habit,” and it went really well, so I kind of just took it from there.

How do you choose the specific materials you use?
Everything I pick, I hand-pick. The blues and greens are turquoise, from people out in Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. They mine it themselves. They’re lapidary artists, so they’re bringing it back to their studio and cutting it how they see the colors. It’s another way to support the arts instead of buying from overseas where it’s mass-produced. That way I get to actually pick what I’m receiving.

Your logo is an iconic feather. How did it come to be?
I think there’s a stance with feathers that is special to so many people. I know a lot of people think that when they find a feather, a loved one who passed away is thinking of them. I think they just symbolize so many beautiful things to so many people. It’s fun to help them have that memory.

Can you describe some of the processes and techniques you use?
We’ll go back to the feathers. It’s very time-consuming. Each feather starts completely as a sheet of metal. I trace the feather and go in with a tiny jeweler’s saw and cut it out. Then you fire them; I have to solder the spine on and cut the wire. When it’s fired, each one comes out differently (colored). I try to pair them up so they have a similar color palette. 

You recently started teaching jewelry-making classes. What can people expect if they sign up for a class?
They’re a lot of fun. They’re BYOB, so that always helps. You get a bar, and you can learn how to stamp using all the different designs and learn about the pressure of the hammer and how you’re indenting. I talk about some of the different metals we use and what effect the stamp has on that metal.

Have you gotten any interesting custom requests?
Sometimes I stamp something, and I don’t know what it means. Then a client will tell me it has to do with a pet they’ve lost or a child they’ve lost. It’s just these moments that you’re able to create for someone as a memory, and it tugs at my heartstrings, and to be a part of something that special and to make something for someone that they’re going to hold that close to their heart.

How can people find your products outside of the storefront?
We do a lot of shows. We usually travel every weekend, especially in the summer and fall up until Christmas. We try to keep it local. We do the Montage festivals, wine festivals in Tunkhannock, and ScrantonMade is a fantastic festival. We have satellite stores as well — Hallmark in Tunkhannock, NOTE Fragrances in Clarks Summit, and we’re getting ready to move into On&On (in Scranton). We are on Facebook and Instagram at AOSmetals, and we have a website, so you can order from all of those.

What is in the future for AOS Metals?
We love this location and there’s a lot that’s going to be happening here. One of my goals is to help other artists. As an artist, you’re putting something out there that’s very personal, and you put your time and thought into it, and it’s a representation of yourself. It’s very intimidating, so I want to have a safe place for artists to display their work without having to invest too much money. They can put their work up (in AOS Metals), and if they sell something, it’s without having to put any money up front.

What are your hobbies outside of the business?
I like hanging out with my family. I’ll visit my parents. It’s nice to see everybody, and they’ve got a lot of land, so Milo really loves it.

If you weren’t running AOS Metals as a career, what would you be doing?
When I lived in Jackson, I was a nanny for two incredible families. I helped raise the girls, and I just went to visit them a few weeks ago, and they’re still my girls. I love kids. Everyone told me I should be a kindergarten or elementary school art teacher, so it probably would have been something along that line.

What separates you from other stores that sell handmade jewelry in Scranton?
There are tons of stores in Scranton that are great at supporting artists. I was wondering, “How is my store going to be different?” I think it’s my metal work. The fact that you can walk in the store and get something personalized and leave with it five minutes later, or the fact that customers are able to design something themselves. They’re dealing with the actual artist and not just a store owner.


Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Mike LaBella

Up Close & Personal – Mike LaBella

Singer, songwriter, and guitar and ukelele player Mike LaBella writes songs based on his travels and adventures, many of which include Scranton. He graduated from The University of Scranton in 2017 with degrees in philosophy and communication and will play in Scranton throughout the spring and summer. His next show will take place Saturday, April 21, at 8:30 p.m. in Back Breakers Lounge at Back Breakers Training Center, 1008 N. Washington Ave., Scranton.
Meet Mike LaBella…

Much of your original music and lyrics are inspired by your time in Scranton. What specifically inspires you?
The first time I became acquainted with Scranton was coming here for school at the University of Scranton. In the four years that I spent here, I really fell in love with this place. I came to Scranton at a time in my life when I was really growing as a songwriter and I was looking for inspiration in different places, and I found a lot of that in Scranton, in the people I met here, in the character of the town and in the community within the university.

What do you mean by the “character of the town”?
The thing that I love about the city is the on-the-surface bleakness and the starkness, but juxtaposed to the warmth and kindness that I’ve found here. Wherever you go, you can be surprised by the kindness of people and the welcoming nature, but it’s especially surprising here just because it’s not what you’d expect if you just look at the surface.

You have a series of music based on Scranton called “Steamtown Tapes.” Can you explain some of your inspiration for that?
That was a project I did my senior year. I was trying to put some songs together that I wrote about Scranton. There’s a song called “Honey Whiskey,” which is the favorite drink of a person who I became very close with and showed me that despite being here for three years, I didn’t know as much about Scranton as I thought I did. Another one, “Love Your Enemy,” was written in my house on Linden Street. I’ve taken those songs with me, and I’m currently working on an EP called “The Pennsylvania EP” that will include those songs and all the songs living in this state has inspired.

What was your music experience prior to Scranton?
I played in a cover band in high school. We had gigged a bit and won high school battle of the bands, but that was the biggest thing up to that point. I continued to play throughout my time in Scranton. What changed in Scranton was meeting Tim Poole; he plays alongside me whenever he can, and he’s one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met. We played in a lot of different groups together, but now it’s pretty much just me and him, and I’m really happy where we’re at together.

Describe the contrast between being in a cover band, playing solo and performing as a group of two.
I love the opportunity to play original music even if it is for smaller crowds and not for money, because, to me, I’ve always wanted to tell a new story with music. Playing original music with Tim has afforded me the opportunity to sing the songs that I want and sing to audiences who are there to listen and are open to new experiences. The time I spent playing covers — I’ve been playing in bars since I was 16 — taught me what I had to do to play in front of a crowd and how to work a crowd. I think that was important, but I’m happy to be where I am now and be able to play songs that I’ve written over the past couple years.

Who are your musical influences?
It changes for me a lot, but over the past few years, it’s been Trevor Hall. He’s like folk, indie and reggae, but his songs are very spiritual and founded in deep spiritual journey. More recently, Foy Vance; I just think that guy is a powerhouse of a songwriter.

What are your interests outside of music?
Philosophy. I had an amazing experience with philosophy at (University of) Scranton, and the department is great. It helped me develop as a person and helped me understand what character meant and what kind of morality I wanted to move forward in life with and what kind of spirituality I wanted to embrace and how to live that.

As someone who studies philosophy, what is your personal philosophy, or some wisdom you’ve learned that you try to live by?
Be there for people because nobody, even if they pretend to, has their life figured out, and that can cause a great amount of suffering and confusion and loneliness, and we need to be there for each other.

Do you have one particularly meaningful lyric you’ve written?
I might never answer this twice the same way, but I’d have to say it’s from the song called “Love Your Enemy.” The lyric is, “I don’t want a reason to be kind.” What that gets back to is the uncertainty and the fallibility of a lot of our convictions about life and truth and what is real. There is a lot of uncertainty, but I don’t think that is an excuse to not be good to other people.

Are you involved in any other activities or volunteer organizations?
My dad runs a foundation called the Trinity Help Foundation. He does a lot of local work in soup kitchens. He also does work in Haiti. I’ve been looking for a way to contribute. I have a day job outside of music, so I have the opportunity to give the money I make from music, whether it’s from ticket sales or getting the cut of a bar tab at the end of a show, and donate it to my dad’s foundation. I always consider music a gift. My attraction to music didn’t have to happen, so I see it as a service and look at what it can do for other people.

To listen to more of Mike’s music, visit his website: mikelabellamusic.com, YouTube Channel and find him on Instagram: mikelabellamusic

photos by Emma Black 

Up Close & Personal – Lisa DeNardo

Up Close & Personal – Lisa DeNardo

Lisa DeNardo is professional photographer and owns and operates Lisa DeNardo Photography, which specializes in weddings. A native of Downingtown, she studied graphic design at Moore College of Art & Design and fine arts at West Chester University. She has five children, Kayla, 17; Bella, 13; Hawthorn, 11; Lake, 8; and Sorrel, 5. They live in Dickson City.
Meet Lisa DeNardo…

How did you first end up in the photography business?
I’ve always loved taking pictures. I had my first camera when I was 10 or 11. It was this bright pink and yellow neon Polaroid. As far as starting my business, I shot my first wedding 15 years ago on film. But it was just for a friend. I officially started my business in 2014. That was the first year I started doing weddings.

What is it that you enjoy the most about photography?
I just like capturing emotions. And I like capturing pieces of time that people can look at forever. There are so many things that are always happening that we’re missing, because we’re so busy. And so it’s like this little piece that you can control, when you capture something, especially during a wedding. There’s so many pictures that get taken that the bride and groom had no idea happened.

What’s your favorite picture that you’ve ever taken?

It’s probably this picture of my kids. We were getting ready to move and most everything was packed away, except for a box of dress-up clothes. I’m inside, getting things cleaned up and packing things, and I look out the window, and there was this field behind the house, with this rock wall, and they’re all up there in these crazy dress-up outfits. It was like, “Bam! I’ve got to get my camera and capture this.” It’s a pretty cool picture. I think it defines who they are and who we are as a family.

Submitted photo, Lisa DeNardo

What do you like to do in your free time?
I do CrossFit at CrossFit Vertex in Olyphant. It has helped me grow tremendously and is a huge part of my everyday life. I’m usually there five days a week, and I like to compete locally, for fun. I also travel. That’s a big part of my business that’s kind of evolved. I started my business, based out of Scranton, in 2014. In 2016, I went to visit a friend in New Mexico, and I just fell in love with it. When I came back, I was brainstorming on ideas of how to bring the two together and get me back out there and be able to travel more. I started advertising out of Santa Fe, and I booked three weddings for 2017, and I already have four for 2018. I’m always thinking of ways to kind of blend work and play.

Favorite music?
Right now, I’d say my favorites are Modest Mouse and Matt and Kim. Also the Lumineers, Two Door Cinema Club, Milky Chance. I also really love the indie folk revival and older alternative music. I grew up listening to bands like Weezer, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins.

Favorite city?
Taos, New Mexico.

Favorite vacation spot?
I’m a wanderer, so I can’t say I have a favorite place to go. If I go somewhere, most likely, I’ll want to go somewhere different next time.

How did you end up in NEPA?
To farm. I moved up here from the suburbs of Philadelphia because there’s more open space and more farmland. I actually moved to Wayne County first, before I moved here, to farm.

Do you still farm?
No. Not in Dickson City. (Laughs)

You’ve been here for six years. What do you like the most about the area?
The trees and mountains and rivers. There’s so much more wild space to explore up here than down in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I love being outside and hiking, so having easy access to state parks and new trails is a definite plus to living here.

All-time favorite movie?
“Little Miss Sunshine.”

Favorite TV show?
“The Office.”

Favorite holiday?
Not so much a holiday, but I like the fall.

Favorite food?

Biggest pet peeve?
When people don’t pick up their dog’s poop.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“‘We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell.

Is there anything about you that might really surprise people? I  played the piano for seven years, growing up, and I played drums for two years.

Have you had a defining personal moment in your life or time in your life?
Probably going through a divorce and being separated. That just really forced me to redefine who I was as an individual and just start forging the path that I’m on right now. I started my business, I started traveling more, I started CrossFit. I feel like everything, as to where I’m at right now, and how it’s unfolded over the past three or four years, came from that.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

Photos by Emma Black


Up Close & Personal – Maria Santomauro

Up Close & Personal – Maria Santomauro

Maria Santomauro is director of strategic initiatives at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple. She is a native of West Scranton and is a graduate of Scranton Central High School and Marywood University, where she earned a degree in communications, public relations and advertising. She has three children: Joseph, Janette and Julianna. She lives in the Hill Section of Scranton with Bernie McGurl.
Meet Maria Santomauro…

Tell us a little about your work at the cultural center.
My title is a weird title, as I have a lot of job responsibilities. What it really means is that we’ve worked a whole lot of different job responsibilities together and I’ve assumed those responsibilities. We’re a nonprofit organization, so we rely on all different kinds of revenue-generating streams and resources, from grants to sponsorships to our leader donors. I reach out to our corporate sponsors and work with them on all of our programming. They’re all important, but that’s one of the very important things that I do.

What’s it like to work in such an historic building every day?
It’s amazing. And I love this building not just because I work here, but I’ve been connected to it since I was 4 years old. I studied dance for 20 years. I studied tap, dance and ballet, and I have pictures of me when I was about 7 years old, backstage, right in the ballroom.

You recently launched a new music series, “Underground Microphone,” which happens every Tuesday. It’s hosted by Lily Mao, and the music runs from 6 to 8 p.m. What else can you tell us about it?
It was actually the brainchild of Jason Helman, our business office manager and box office manager. The idea came up at a staff meeting, and as a team, we really liked the concept. Lily also helps with the booking, and we’ve been working together on finding acts. And what’s really nice about it is that it’s attracting an audience that we would not normally get. And it’s all different types of music. If you’re an artist and you’d like to perform, there’s really no rules. But it’s not an open mic. The artists are scheduled in advance, so we know who’s going to be performing a few weeks down the road.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to go and check out musicians. Concerts, gigs … whenever I can get turned on to some new music, I’m there.

Who are some of your all-time favorite artists?
Steely Dan and David Bowie. I also like Supertramp, the Beatles and Mark Knopfler.

Do you follow sports?
New York Giants. My dad actually had a tryout with the Giants.

Favorite city?
New York. My daughter lives there.

Favorite vacation spot?
Cape May. It’s so beautiful, and the history is just incredible.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The people are wonderful. For everything that’s wrong with this area, there’s so much more that we fail to recognize as right and good. There’s a lot of good. And there are so many good people. And you see it when someone needs help. Everyone bands together and that sense of community kicks in. I also like the change of seasons.

Favorite food?
I love Italian and I love Asian, but if had to pick one, it would be seafood.

Favorite holiday?
The entire season from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

All-time favorite movie?
“The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Terms of Endearment” and “The Godfather.”

Favorite TV show?
“Masterpiece Theater” on PBS.

Any pets?
A cat, Roxy.

Biggest pet peeve?
When people take credit for other people’s work.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“Those who hear not the music think the dancers mad.” — Friedrich Nietzsche.

Favorite book or author?
Mitch Albom. I like his approach with storytelling.

Is there anything about you that might really surprise people?
I’m known to have a big personality and to be able to walk into a room and not appear shy. I appear confident, and I’m always engaging and I do love to meet people. I used to say that my No. 1 goal was to meet everyone in the whole entire world. But really and truly, deep down inside, I’m shy. I like my quiet time, and I’m kind of private, even though I’m not.

Have you had a time in your life, or a person in your life, or a moment in your life, that’s really helped shape you into the person you are today?
For me, it’s been anyone that I’ve spent a good amount of time with. Whether it was my parents, my siblings, having been married, my children — all of that does mold who we are. And the takeaway is the experiences gained and the lessons learned.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Michelle Cadden Hayes

Up Close & Personal – Michelle Cadden Hayes

Michelle Cadden Hayes is the owner and operator of The Electric City Bakehouse, which opened last week on Penn Avenue in Scranton. She is a graduate of Scranton High School and Keystone College, where she earned a degree in culinary arts. She has two children: Wilkie, 4, and Bailee, who will turn three in March. They live in Clarks Summit.
Meet Michelle Cadden Hayes …

What inspired you to want to open your own bakehouse?
I studied culinary arts, but I’m self-taught with the cakes. While I was going to culinary school, I rented out a small private commercial kitchen, and I was doing cakes out of there, and that kind of helped put me through culinary school. I did it for a couple of years, but I stopped doing it while I was having babies. (Laughs) Once they got a little bit older, and I felt it was manageable to open something, I wanted to get back into it. And recently, the trends with the drip cakes are what inspired me. They really allow for a more creative outlet, rather than having someone show me a picture of something and wanting something exactly like that. A lot of times I have somewhat of a creative freedom to create them, and that’s really what I love doing.

You’re a brand new business. What are your expectations?
I’m hoping that the community embraces the idea of a modern cakery, rather than a traditional bakery, and that I’m able to introduce some new things to the area. I also want to get involved in special events. For First Friday, we’re going to do some special events, and we’re going to be offering different cooking and decorating classes. And I’m just hoping that the community embraces all of that.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love to cook, I love to entertain, and I love doing things with my children. We’re always looking for different things to do and we’re at the park all the time in the summer. And I love to travel.

Favorite music?
The Dave Matthews Band. O.A.R. Elton John. Frank Sinatra. I really like all genres of music. Right now what I’m listening to a lot of Ed Sheeran.

Do you follow sports?
Philly everything. I love the Eagles and the Phillies. We’re excited for baseball, and we just won the Super Bowl, so it’s looking good.

You mentioned that you love to travel. What’s your favorite city?
Portland, Oregon. Big foodie town, really hipster and lots of unique places to go. I love the vibe there, and they have the best food that I’ve ever had in any city.

Favorite vacation spot?
My favorite place that I’ve travelled to is Sicily. And I like Charleston. But if we’re talking more local, I love taking the kids to Cape May.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I like the change of seasons, though I wish the winter was a little bit shorter. And I really like the community. It’s a small town vibe, but with a little bit of a larger population. Everybody kind of knows everyone, and if you say your last name, more than likely, someone knows your family.

All-time favorite movie?
I like everything from romantic comedies to government conspiracy films and everything in between, but if I really had to pick, I guess it would be “Marley & Me.”

Favorite TV show?
“Grey’s Anatomy,” “This Is Us,” “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” and “Chopped.”

Favorite holiday?

Favorite food?
Thai food. It’s my favorite to cook and eat.

Biggest pet peeve?
When you’re driving and you let people cross the street and the don’t say, “Thank you.”

Any pets?
A basset hound named Levi. I’m a big dog lover.

Guilty pleasure?
Sometimes I like to watch reality television, just because at the end of the day, when I can’t think anymore, it takes the least amount of brain cells. (Laughs)

Favorite book or author?
I used to like Nicholas Sparks, but now, I really love “Gone Girl.” And I like anything about government conspiracy. I’m not really into conspiracy, but I just find it interesting.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
I went skydiving. Now that I’m a Mom, I value my own life more, but if I didn’t have kids I would do it again. (Laughs)

Have you had a moment in your life or a time in your life that has really helped shape you as a person?
My dad died when I was 13. He was an entrepreneur and a hard worker, and I think that kind of shaped the idea of what I had for this business. You try to include motherhood or parenthood with a small business, and there are sacrifices on their part and sacrifices on my part. But when I think back, it kind of shaped my work ethic and a lot of who I am — just seeing him work so much. We were there, when we were seven or eight, ringing up customers and setting up pricing on displays, and those are memories that I’m fond of. When I feel bad about my kids being here, and I think back on that, it’s all positive.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Tony Frable

Up Close & Personal – Tony Frable

Tony Frable is the owner and operator of Morgan’Z Pub & Eatery in Scranton. He also works with the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General. Morgan’Z Pub & Eatery was first opened by his family in 2009, and he has been the principal operator since 2012. He is a native of West Scranton and is a graduate of West Scranton High School and Marywood University, where he earned a degree in accounting. He lives in Scranton.
Meet Tony Frable …

Tell us a little about Morgan’Z Pub & Eatery.
We’re in the Green Ridge section, and we have a pretty large patio, and one of the few patios in Scranton, so our summers are incredibly busy. We have two bars outside and about 10 TVs. It was very unique for a while, but now more and more bars are starting to put on patios. We took over in 2009 and gave it a new name, but we’ve traced the history of the bar back to the early 1950s.

What do you enjoy about it the most?
All of the people I meet. All the connections I’ve made. I’ve made a lot of close friends. We’ve been doing it for nine years, so as you’d imagine, we’ve met a lot of people in that time, so really, it’s all of the great people I’ve met and all of the friends that I’ve made.

You’re also pretty involved in the community and with fundraisers and benefits, correct?
It’s the most rewarding part of having the business. We do a benefit every year in memory of Kelcey Hallinan, a young girl from Dunmore who passed from Lymphoma, and we donate the proceeds to a children’s hospital or Make-A-Wish. We were also just one of the stops for the Jackson Vee fundraiser.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’m really interested in racing and race cars. One of the things I’m involved with this year is bringing back a motorsports expo to Scranton. The last one was in 1998, at the old Grossman’s building, and I came up with this idea to bring it back. I partnered with a few guys, we formed a company, and we started securing sponsors. And at the end of March, on the 24th and 25th, we’re going to have the car show again at The Icebox, which ironically, is right across the street from where Grossman’s used to be. And really, all of my free time has gone to that. But it doesn’t feel like work, because it’s kind of fun.

Favorite music?
The Talking Heads. The Police. I enjoy live music.

Do you follow sports?
Oakland Raiders.

Favorite vacation spot or place you’ve visited?
I went to Phoenix a few years ago, for a Notre Dame game, and it was funny, but everybody knew we weren’t from there. Not because of the way we talked or anything, but because we were “underdressed” for the 80 degree weather. It was November, and when we left, it was 20 or 30 degrees, but it was 80 degrees there. So we had shorts on, and T-shirts, and they said, “We can tell you’re not from here, because it’s cold.” To them, 80 was cold. (Laughs)

Favorite thing about NEPA?
We absolutely have the best food. Pizza, wings … I’m always amazed that chain restaurants try to come in here, because we already have the best.

Favorite food?
My brother and I have this wing sauce. It’s a spicy Italian. We just made it up a few weeks ago, and it’s really good on chicken wings. The people that we rolled it out to really like it.

Favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving. It’s the best meal. And it’s just really simple and laid back, and you just appreciate your time with your friends and family.

Any pets?
No pets, but I have a cactus. Somebody gave it to me as a housewarming gift about four years ago. It’s very low maintenance. I have to water it about every three weeks. And I haven’t killed it yet. It’s still with me. (Laughs)

All-time favorite movie?
“Me, Myself & Irene.”

Favorite TV show?
I’ve always liked comedies and cartoons … things to laugh at and not take too seriously. I also like the History Channel.

Biggest pet peeve?
People that complain too much on Facebook.

Guilty pleasure?
Red Bull Zero.

Is there anything about you that might really surprise people?
Probably not, because I’m usually really, really open. But once in a while I’ll meet someone that says. “I can’t believe that you like race cars.” They seem to think I’m not the type of person that would want to get my hands dirty. But I do a little bit of everything.

Who, if anyone, has the greatest impact and influence on you and your life?
It was just my Mom and I until I was about five, and we were really, probably, kind of poor. But I never knew. I was only a little kid, but I never knew I was poor, even until I was much older. And so I give a lot of credit to my mom. I think she did a pretty good job of raising me.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

Photos by Emma Black