Category Archives: pennsylvania

Two Pubs: Wilkes Magazine & interviewed in Keystone Edge

Posted these two on my writing blog as separate posts, but figured I’d post them here as well:

I am super excited to share this publishing credit! I contributed an article to the Summer 2010 Wilkes magazine on the various ways social media is being used across the Wilkes University campus. From PR students using these newer mediums for their real-world clients to nature podcasts, students, professors and staff are going social. Read the store online here by downloading a PDF.

Wilkes Magazine Summer 2010 Going Social Donna Talarico

A few weeks ago at work I received a call from freelance writer Sara Hodon. She was working on a piece on technology companies for Keystone Edge, an online publication dedicated to the new economy of Pennsylvania. Sara’s piece was about Internet marketing. Her article is very comprehensive and includes quotes from me, as well as some other PA-based tech firms. Additionally, photographer Aimee Dilger took some fantastic photos around Solid Cactus.

This article, “Search No More: PA Companies Lead Online Marketing Revolution” is a true testament to the work we do at Solid Cactus as well as to the success of online marketing.

Solid Cactus Donna Talarico Keystone Edge Article

Screen shot of the Keystone Edge site, where we were the "cover" story.


Tornado Warning for Wilkes-Barre Brings Back OK Memories

Today is an odd weather day in Northeast PA. We have a tornado watch. That doesn’t happen too often. Sure, we get hail and damaging winds. But I believe the last time we had a really devastating tornado in Wilkes-Barre ish areas was in 1998 at Lake Carey. At any rate, I had one of my end of the world dreams last night. We were leaving town quickly and by the time the bus we were on got out of town, I overheard someone saying the town was gone. In my dream, I had to pee so I told someone that I was glad I didn’t stop to pee after all or else I may not have made it. (I don’t know what the end of the world came from in my dream.) So, like you may also experience, when you have to pee in your dream, sometimes you wake up and have to pee, too. So, I woke up. I grabbed my iPhone to see what time it was. It felt early. I have no windows in my bedroom, so it’s a dark dungeon and I never know what time it is. Oversleeping is a result. A welcome result. My iPhone though was as dark as my room. Died overnight. (Like all those people in my dream.) I plugged it in and ran downstairs to pee. The clock on the stove told me it was just after 11. I took a few swigs of apple juice from the jug and when I got back upstairs to return to bed, I saw my phone also got some juice. And several old texts from earlier in the morning popped up. They were from the weather channel.

Tornado Watch for Wilkes-Barre.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Luzerne County.

Shit, I thought. Is my dream coming true? I lay back down,heart still racing a bit from having a movie-like Armageddon dream (it wasn’t a nightmare – it was more like a movie) but maybe racing because fear of dying in a tornado in the waking world was setting in.

I lived in Oklahoma for three years and that’s when I first really learned about tornadoes. In my memoir, I wrote a chapter about aclimating to Tulsa. Here’s a small excerpt of that chapter. To bring you up to speed, this is almost halfway through the book – the first part is about growing up in the Poconos. Here, I was 13, it was the Spring of 1992 and I had just moved to Tulsa — this was my third school that year.


One of the first things I learned in my new school is that we may have made a tiny mistake in moving to Tulsa. I am not sure if my mom knew how much she was endangering our lives by bringing us to Oklahoma.

tulsa tornado
This is an image from the most deadly tornado in Tulsa. I also lived there for that, 1993 or 1994 I think. It destroyed a huge truckstop when it came up I-44. Image credit from

I knew what tornadoes were: I’d seen the Wizard of Oz many times. But, I never thought I’d have to prepare for one. Since it was spring, which everyone in Tulsa called Tornado Season, we had tornado drills to practice how we’d survive if high, spiral-shaped winds hit Nimitz Middle School. Back in Pennsylvania, we only had fire drills, so this was quite scary. When the tornado drill bell sounded, we proceeded to the interior hallways and sat Indian-style facing the lockers. Being by the interior walls was safer, we were told. There were no windows, so we’d be protected from glass shards. We put our arms behind our necks and placed our heads down in our laps. This would shield us from the debris. After the first tornado drill, when we were back in the classroom, we were issued an informational packet with all sorts of safety tips and preparation techniques from an educational program Channel 8 News put together called Travis Meyer’s Wicked Weather Guide. Travis was a local meteorologist, so I trusted his judgment and studied his guide as if it were material for an exam.

But, I wasn’t at school the first time a tornado threatened my new city.

One Thursday in mid-May, Joe, Theresa, Michelle, Dan, and I were planning on going to the movies, New Jack City I think.   It was raining and I was getting petrified. I knew that rain in the heat could cause a thunderstorm and that thunder and lightening could bring a tornado. Our television had been on all day and, on the little ticker beneath the show, there was a tornado watch for Tulsa County. A watch, according to Travis Meyer’s Wicked Weather Guide, meant there was a possibility a tornado could form. But, a little later in the day, that watch transformed into a warning, which meant there were actually tornadoes on the ground. There was no way I was going outside.

“I am not going!” I yelled to Joe, even though going to the movies was one of my favorite things to do. Not much could tear me away from the prospect of Reese’s Pieces and hot, drizzly butter, but dying in a tornado did the trick.

He just laughed at me and continued watching TV. I called my mom at work. The mall management was instructing all employees and shoppers to head to the mall’s tornado shelter but, yet, she assured me everything would be fine; it was just a precaution. I’d be safe at the movies. My aunts and Dan had gathered at our apartment for the family outing. They saw I was freaking out.

“What’s the matter with you, Gutt?” asked Dan. He’d nicknamed Theresa and I “Butt and Gutt.” He even drew stick figures to represent this duo. Mine had a bubble in the front; Theresa’s bubble was in the back. I hated it.

“Don’t you watch TV? There’s a freakin’ tornado,” I cried from the hallway, the interior hallway.

“Well, a huge movie theater is safer than this place,” he said.

I didn’t care. I did what Travis Meyers said to do when severe weather struck. I pulled my twin foam mattress into my bathroom and told my family I was climbing in what was dubbed the safest place in the house, the bathtub. A video we watched in school showed totally destroyed houses with toilets and tubs still standing admist the debris.

“Oh, Jesus Fucking Christ, Donna. Stop your happy horseshit. Let’s go,” Joe said.

“We’re gonna die. Don’t you care?” I said getting into the tub. “Oh, I forgot my radio.”

I got out of the tub and went across the hall to my bedroom to grab my AM/FM alarm clock, which had batteries inside as a back up. This way, I would be aware of all the destruction and find out when it was safe to come out of the tub.

“I can’t believe you’re gonna miss the movie,” yelled Theresa. I was leaving her alone with all adults. She liked being with the adults anyway; she always sat at the adult table on holidays while the boys and I had more fun at the kids’ table. “You’re such a wuss.”

Wuss, I thought. I had the guide, in black and white, right here. Meteorological professionals don’t call it a tornado warning for no reason. There was a serious threat. She asked me one last time if I was really going to sit in the bathtub while they went to enjoy a movie.

“Yes. I told you guys. I’m staying here. You guys are crazy.”

She left the bathroom and I heard the front door slam. I could hear thunder and rain. I read and reread Travis Meyer’s Wicked Weather Guide in the bathtub until I became bored. The weather had calmed down. I put the mattress back on my bed. I plugged back in my alarm clock. I survived my first tornado. I waited for my family to come back from the movie theater, secretly wishing Joe got caught up in the winds like the cows in Wizard of Oz. But, the tornado had passed our part of Tulsa — this time. In fact, the Tulsa World the next day called it an F0 tornado, only causing some tree branches to fall.

A Walk Through Luzerne & Swoyersville In Pictures: Thoughts of Local History & More

IMG_0530I’ve started walking again. For a while, I was going to the Back Mountain Trail. When I say for a while, I mean three or four times since the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day. But recently, I decided just to walk my neighborhood so I didn’t have to drive to the trail. I really enjoy it. I walked the neighborhood a few times this summer, too, going a few different directions throughout Swoyersville and Luzerne. But, finally chose a route that I like and have been walking that ever since. My regular route is pretty interesting. When I say regular, I really mean the past four days. That’s about as regular I’ve been with exercise all summer. Ha!

On Tuesday, just making my way down two houses from mine, a neighbor’s outdoor cat brushed up against me. I bent down to pet him or her. The orange kitty followed me for about a block and a half. It was cute. So I took a picture and posted it to Twitter through Twitpic. Whenever I do that on my iPhone, Pandora shuts off. It’s annoying.

After I saw the cat, I saw a bunny rabbit hop across the street. I thought to myself, “Do bunnies walk, too? Or do they just hop?”

Then, I passed a tan, blond dude who I met in my basement once (sidebar: he was building shelves for my landlord in the other half of the basement I never go it – my neighbor’s side- so he scared the crap outta me. But we talked about the Bob Dylan show I was headed to that week). He was just stepping out to his porch, and hollered, “Hey! How was Dylan?!” After that, two or three neighbors waved and greeted me. I realized that aside from the people who live on either side of me in my own house, and that bandanna guy, I don’t know any neighbors.

So, I sent another tweet: I should meet more neighbors- everyone’s so nice as I walk by. Yes. This is live ‘stweam’ of conscience while I’m trying to uh, ‘twexercise’

At that point, I decided what the heck, I’ll record my walk. Pandora was already off from taking pictures of animals and tweeting. Here’s some thoughts and sights from my walk from my house on Oliver St. in Swoyersville to when it turns into Oliver St. in Luzerne, down some side street I forget, down Miller to the dead end, around the old railroad tracks, and up Charles about six or seven blocks, making a right onto Church Street in Luzerne, and taking that until it turns into Main Street in Swoyersville, and then finally taking a right back down Oliver.

Donna's walk: The Cat

This is the orange cat. When I first moved to his apartment in September 2008, I thought he/she was a stray. But then I saw its collar. However, she’s an outdoor cat and roams the neighborhood. Its brother or sisters also roam around. They are like Heathcliff and Friends!

Airplane in yard in Luzerne

Miller Street. 200 block. Wow. There is an airplane in someone’s yard. A real airplane, like the ones you jump out of when you skydive. I wanted to take a closer pic, but I was afraid I would get yelled at.

Donna's Walk The Rabbit

Miller Street. 200 block. Not the bunny that made me pose the question about bunnies being able to walk too, but Luzerne is filled with rabbits. Too bad it didn’t tell me we were late for a party and take me with him on an adventure.

F. W. Roberts Sons Roofing Luzerne

Miller Street. 100 block? Now this is nostalgic. Never knew this was here. This is right at the dead end of Miller, where the railroad tracks are and a bunch of old warehouses. There was also a train station one block over here in the old days. This was probably a prime location for this family business. Now, desolation. Or not. The windows looked new, so I Googled the name when I got home, and looks like this still may be in operation. Found something about it being incorporated in 1974. So, could be a family business that DID last over 100 years. However, the building still has that old, nostalgic feel. (I want to research this now!)

stray yellow ball

Not sure. Maybe Eley Street? Whenever I see a ball, even one this small, I get sad because it means some child probably lost it playing catch.

Railroad Tracks in Luzerne

Not sure. Maybe Eley Street? The railroad tracks, all filled with stone. Don’t think these are used anymore. There was SO much litter along the sides of the tracks. Sad.

Andy Peruginos Luzerne

Charles Street. 200 block. Andy Perugino’s. I always forget this restaurant is here. They have good food. I should go here more often. It’s off the beaten path on Charles Street in Luzerne. Again, right off the tracks. Probably used to get lots of traffic from the people at the train station.

Milk Crate in Street

Charles Street. 400 block. Milk crate. Remember getting milk delivered and those old wooden crates? I don’t. But I wish I did. My mom’s high school best friend’s father was a milk man and delivered milk to homes. She told me he worked for the dairy until he retired (maybe still does?) but his role changed as technology changed.

Door with no stairs

Charles St. 600 block. Odd. Guess they don’t use this door. No steps. A very high mailbox. The door was open, however, probably for natural AC. I am hoping they have a front door. If not, they must be A) Agoraphobic B) A high jump champ C) On house arrest. The picture is a little blurry because I thought I saw a shadow coming and I didn’t want to get yelled at. Especially if the answer to my multiple choice question was C.

Luzerne County Corruption Citizens Voice Newspaper Box

Church Street. No matter how peaceful a walk is in NEPA, you can’t escape the recent headlines of corruption. I am starting to wish I was around for railroad’s boom and milk delivery.

Empty Storefront in Swoyersville Old Sporting Goods Store

An old long-empty sporting goods store that really pushed that it sold shotgun shells. It made me sad because there was still an “open” sign on the door with a sticker beneath it that said, “Buy your fishing license here.”

Swoyersville Pennsylvania Faded Street Sign

Crossing the border of Luzerne into Swoyersville. Just look at how faded the sign is. After seeing the railroad tracks, the old roofing company, the milk crate and other empty store fronts, I thought about how faded this area is. There are nice things here and nice houses. But mixed within it all are reminders that things used to be better.(The days of coal!)

Looking Down Oliver Street in Swoyersville

I always thought of the upper part of Swoyersville to be like a shelf. The main street in Swoyersville runs from Luzerne all the way to West Pittston. Most of it is at a higher elevation, looking down to the valley. In the picture above you can see down the street, into the valley, but then also see the other mountain that creates the Wyoming Valley. On the other side of that is the Pocono area.

Looking up to the Back Mountain.

Yet, from the main drag in Swoyersville you can also look up at what we call the “Back Mountain.” Swoyersville is like a shelf hung up between the Wilkes-Barre/Kingston and Dallas/Back Mountain. This isn’t a really great picture of it because of the iPhone and from my view with all the homes.

Culm bank in Swoyersville
A view of the culm bank, a Swoyersville landmark. You can’t zoom on the iPhone so this picture doesn’t do it justice at all. There are flags planted in the top. That heap of gray stands for our area’s rich coal history. It reminds us that these empty storefronts were once full. That all the little run down shacks (between other houses that were kept up with or restored) around Swoyersville once were home to coal miners. Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and lots of the mainline communities in Northeast PA are on the upswing. But these little off-the-path places like Swoyersville make me sad.

Pile of concrete slabs

Oliver Street. My Street. Every time I walk past these stacks of concrete, I think they are going to fall down on me. But who I am kidding? They are rusty all over. There’s plants growing in them. They’ve been sitting there for decades. They won’t fall.

Neighborhood cat cat-napping

I arrived on my porch to find the other neighborhood kitty asleep on my porch chair. She’s been sleeping there a lot the past few weeks. My neighbor J* thinks she may be on her way out. She looks very frail, and hobbles when she walks.  I pet her and went inside. I don’t know if I feel so hot after the walk.

Cat sniffing for other cat

My cat, Spectra, sniffs the heck out of me. I cheated on her with the orange kitty, I suppose.

I took a little rest on my sofa. My walk conjured up so many thoughts. I smiled and said hi to other walkers, and people sitting on their porches. It was a gorgeous day. The colors were vibrant, from the blue sky to the green grass to the rainbow of wildflowers dotting so many lawns. There were old couples chatting like they were teenagers in love. There were young couples enjoying coffee or beer or glasses of wine on their porches. There were kids riding trikes. There were kids riding bikes. There were smells of people grilling. There were sounds of splashes from backyard pools. (In fact, I mentally cataloged all the houses on my ‘regular’ route that had pools and noted that they were on the ‘friends-to-make’ list- just kidding.) So, those things all made me smile.

On the other hand, mixed in, there were dull colors of washed out houses, sheds, and warehouses. There were rotting porches. EMPTY porches. There was the smell of must. There were junk cars. There was a huge heap of culm. That made me sad.

It’s no secret that Northeast Pennsylvania is a depressed area. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many positive changes. There’s a lot to do here. There’s a lot of talent here.  You can have a career here. Some careers, you do need to leave. But there are opportunities. I love it. Many friends of mine moved away. Some came back, though. But I never left. I have big city dreams. Or did. I am not quite sure. Something about this area keeps me here. Still, things will never be the same. Wilkes-Barre and it’s surrounding ‘coal towns’ like Swoyersville were once ritzy, some would say, a mini-New York City. Coal was booming. Railroads were too. Mills. Car plants. A manufacturing hub, if you will.

The few pictures I took on my walk are teensy reminders. I never thought a walk to clear my head (and help me lose weight) would instead fill my thoughts to maximum capacity and make me feel so heavy.

Twitter Up a Storm: A simple photo leads to “front” page news in Wilkes-Barre – Scranton newsapp

This is a blog post about a cool Twitter thingy that happened Friday evening. This would be a perfect example to use in a class or workshop on social media on how news can travel fast… of course this is not as cool as what happened with the Hudson Plane Crash and my client Janis Krums who took the first picture of the crash… (read about his cool story, here in the NY Daily News and also an article I wrote about Twitter and Janis, here.)

Some of my favorite cohorts and I were relaxing in the dorm before getting ready for the Wilkes University Creative Writing banquet/graduation when the thunder clouds rolled in. The wind started to blow. We ran from one side of the Ten East South Street Apartments to the other, checking out the view on either side of the building. The clouds were incredible. I took a picture with my iPhone and Twitpic‘d it right away, as did my friend Jon. I took a bunch more with my regular camera as well.

Storm Twit Pic Wilkes-Barre

A few moments later,I get a direct message from a fellow NEPA tweeter who works for Times-Shamrock (publisher of The Scranton Times, Citizen’s Voice, among others) asking for permission to use the picture. Of course I agreed.

Picture 5

Meanwhile, people were retweeting my picture. The pics of the storm were spreading as fast as the storm itself. The news organizations Twitter accounts, as well as people I follow were sending the picture around. Picture 6

Then, while at the Wilkes banquet, I checked Twitter through my Tweetie app and saw the the Scranton Times website had posted its story or the wicked weather. An early version just had my picture, then they later updated the story with reports on the damage. There is another really cool picture someone else submitted of an uprooted tree.

Donna Talarico storm picture Scranton Times Twitter

This is a testament to how news being tweeted as it happens, as well as gathering photos and eye-witness accounts to help research the story– and then for more in-depth stories- users can later check-out the news outlets websites, publications and broadcasts. I just this was cool to share. And yes… it stopped storming before we headed to campus so our hair and outfits were all good. To read the whole story in the Scranton Times, go here. The only thing that would have been cooler is if this happened BEFORE my panel on “Social Media for the Anti-Social Writer.”

Centralia and Halloween Party I – A little late of a post

Last weekend was pretty awesome. I would have added a post sooner, but being without Internet at home and sheer laziness of going somewhere with wi-fi kind of got in the way.
Friday night, a few co-workers and I met up with my creative writing bud A. and headed to Gravestone Manor, a theatrical haunted house in Wilkes-Barre, where two of my other creative writing friends work. It was pretty cool. Then, we hit up Old Tyme Charley’s in Plains for a little 40lb. Head and a lot of bomb shots- Jager bombs. Grape bombs. Raspberry bombs. I also ran into some old radio buds, so that’s always fun!! With a case of heartburn, we then hit up Flaherty’s in Edwardsville where we pretty much closed down the place. It was nice little tour of some of the finest bars in NEPA…
Saturday, I hibernated all day until it was time to get ready for A and C’s annual Halloween bash. I’ll post some pics later of that. Fun times ensued as usual. I reigned champion at Beer Pong, and then the Flip Cup team I was on also rocked. My friends may have had a pole, too. And you know what that means for a drunk Donna. There may or may not be videos.
Sunday, it was a hungover road trip to Centralia… you can read more about that on the post below. But I saw a part of Centralia I never saw before- the portion of Route 61 that is closed off. It goes on for a few miles- we walked a lot of it- really getting some exercise, too– you just don’t realized it’s a big hill when you go down… haha. The big crack in the road was quite impressive- trees were growing out of it. But what was even more amusing was the graffiti painted on the road. Craziness.
So much changed in Centralia since I first started going- a lot more has been torn down, but there was still cool stuff to see. I just really enjoyed the weekend. I was completely exhausted by Monday! But what a great weekend- a haunted house, a few bars, a great party, a cool road trip and still some good sleep!
I still have yet to get my TV and washer and dryer, but I guess I’m not really home enough to watch TV. My two new neighbors commented on that fact last night, as I ran into the house to change and then leave again for dinner with co-workers at Rustic Kitchen at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs casino. They were outside smoking and said, “When are you ever home?!”

Berks County Roadtrip: Crystal Cave and Roadside America

Today was all about reliving old memories, while making new ones. I had a very cool childhood. I was fortunate enough to spend almost every weekend on the road to music gigs- and during our travels we always made it a point to stop at roadside tourist attractions. I think that’s why I always bonded with the Griswalds. At any rate, Dave hasn’t been to any of these cool places I’ve been to. When we first met, he told me that he loved trains. And for four years, I’ve been trying to go on a day trip to check out Roadside America, the world’s largest miniature village. Since Crystal Cave was in near by Kutztown, I plotted a spontaneous Sunday afternoon.

Roadside America, Shartlesville
Roadside America is just amazing. Of course last time I was there I was a kid, so things looked a lot bigger- but this roadside Pennsylvania attraction is definitely one to take in. The 1,500 square-foot attraction was started by brothers Larry and Paul Geiringer. The story is that when the two were boys, they lived on a mountain and saw all these ‘miniature’ houses and buildings. They were fascinated by them- even upon learning they were regular size buildings…. They began to build models and train sets and their passion eventually led to Roadside America. Paul became and priest and moved to Ohio, while Larry kept going. He passed away in 1963; his wife took over until her death in 1973 and to this day, the same family runs Roadside America.

What is so cool about Roadside America is that all the miniatures are hand-made from simple tools– the hard way– but also as I like to say, “the heart way.” The stained-glass windows on the little churches are all hand-painted. So, so cool.
Some things that you’ll see at Roadside America in addition to streams, waterfalls, trains and trolleys are: Indian tee-pee villages; snowcapped mountains with winter activities and working cable cars; tribute to the coal, lumber, steel and energy industries; the Old West; rural farms with a hoe-down in the barn; a modern zoo; early colonial towns with great architecture; a circus; an airport and so much more. There is music playing throughout, as well as buttons you can push to make certain things work- very, very cool.

Every half-hour Roadside America tells everyone to take a seat and they play patriotic music as they turn down the lights so only the lights within the village are on- it is kind of like a sunset, night and sunrise show. Very cool. The only thing that I didn’t like was in the slides was a picture of Jesus- that was unnecessary to me, but this IS after all a family business and they seem to have religious roots.
No matter how old you are at Roadside America, you feel like a total kid again. I should also mention there is a gift shop which of course sells Roadside America souvenirs, but also lots of train items and a selection of PA Dutch and Amish items, too.

Crystal Cave, Route 222, Kutztown, Pa.
I wrote so much about Roadside America that I don’t want this post to be too, too long. I was at Crystal Cave many times as a kid, so it was cool to bring Dave here as well. The site closes Nov. 30, so the season was winding down- this was good because we had a small group. We had a spunky teenage tour guide, Steph I think her name was. Very funny and good with the lingo. It always helps when you have a knowledgeable tour guide!

This cavern is very cool- a great geological lesson for sure! We got to see stalactites, stalagmites, flowing rock and other geological marvels made only from sediment and water over the course of hundreds of years. It’s amazing that this structure exists underneath Pennsylvania farm country. What was kind of cool to learn was that early visitors were allowed to saw off stalagmites/tites as souvenirs, so some of the cave’s treasures are now family heirlooms! 54-degrees year-round, Crystal Cave is definitely literally cool as well.