The April Fools’ Day Spring Flower Show in Parnassus, Pennsylvania

Impromptu Spring Flower Show. Parnassus, New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 1, 2021. April Fools’ Day. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Happy April Fools’ Day in Parnassus, Pennsylvania.

My husband, Jonathan, and I usually visit Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh a few days prior to Easter (so, during Holy Week). We visit – and photograph – the annual Spring Flower Show.

We didn’t do this during Spring 2020 because Phipps held no Spring Flower Show that year.

As of today – April 1, 2021 – I haven’t yet received a Covid-19 vaccine in the lovely Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, due to circumstances beyond my control.

For this reason and others surrounding this Global Pandemic, my husband and I decided to skip the 2021 Spring Flower Show at Phipps.

Today, on April 1 – April Fools’ Day – snow fell on my neighborhood of Parnassus. Snow accumulated on the ground – and also on the spring flowers.

So, I photographed the snow-covered Spring Flower Show in my own neighborhood.

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Overcome by Engagement Photography

Gristmill and Covered Bridge at Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. This is the one-lane road on which we walked from the parking lot. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

So, just as a heads-up, you are not going to see any engagement photos in this blog post.

Yesterday, my husband Jonathan drove to Butler to run an errand. I came with him and we brought our cameras along so that we could take photos if we saw anything scenic.

After Jonathan finished his errand, he drove us to McConnells Mill State Park. The park has a mailing address in Portersville, Pennsylvania. However, the park is surrounded by woods and includes woods and hiking trails. The park features an 1860’s-era gristmill next to Slippery Rock Creek.

The mill sits at a small waterfall.

Next to the mill sits a covered bridge built in the 1870’s. The bridge crosses Slippery Rock Creek at the bottom of the waterfall.

Here is the park’s official website.

A ghost story exists about the gristmill. So, if you want to conduct a ghost-related internet search, there you go.

The park includes very limited parking between the mill and the covered bridge. However, I don’t think that I have ever actually visited the park when any of this parking was available to me. A majority of park visitors have to park on the hill above the park. A one-lane road leads from the two parking lots on the hill above, down to the mill. You can have a shorter walk (instead of walking from the parking lots down the one-lane road to the gristmill) if you use a “multi-floor level” set of wooden steps from one of these parking lots, down the extremely steep hillside, to the mill.

Now, when Jonathan first suggested that we visit the park yesterday, I got nervous thinking about the ice.

Serious accidents happened on the hillside and also on Slippery Rock Creek. In fact, one of my former classmates was involved in a fatal accident at this park shortly after we graduated. For this reason, even though I visited this park with my parents when I was a kid, I get nervous about safety (mainly, falling over the hillside or into the creek) at McConnells Mill.

However, we both brought spikes to wear on the bottoms of our boots. We agreed to not use the hillside steps. We decided that if we could not find a place to safely park, we would give up on the visit.

Also, of course, we brought masks and agreed that we would leave if we weren’t able to social distance. The inside of the mill building is currently closed for the winter and also for Covid-19.

We did park in one of the parking lots at the top of the hill. That parking lot was pretty empty. We walked down the one-lane road to the mill. We saw and heard people “ice climbing” on the steep hillside (which, by the way, is actually a cliff).

I felt more confident about the ice than usual because I wore the spikes on my boots. Still, I stayed pretty close to the mill. I did cross the road in front of the covered bridge at one point for a photo. However, I didn’t walk through the bridge for a look at the mill from the other side of the creek.

Gristmill and Covered Bridge at Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. The covered bridge was directly behind me. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Jonathan trekked more adventurously than I did for his own mill photography. However, he told me that for some of the shots that he wanted, he had to wait for other visitors to get out of the way. Then, he had to get the shots that he wanted and get out of the way of other photographers.

Looking through my photos of our trip, I don’t have that many people standing in my shots. Maybe that’s because all of the people were over with Jonathan, trying to take photos from the same vantage point as him.

Covered Bridge. Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

At the mill, I saw a young woman wearing what looked to me to be a “winter engagement photo outfit.” You know, boots with jeans. But not the type of boots that one wears to shovel a car out of snow. The type of boots that one wears when trying to look cute. A cute top. A cute coat. Red lipstick. The entire look was the look of a woman trying to look cute.

Jonathan and I never actually had our own engagement photos taken. However, Jonathan took the engagement photos for several of our sisters. I acted as his “photographer’s assistant” for these events. That is, I held Jonathan’s lighting equipment where he needed me to hold it. (So, I guess that I was actually a human light stand.) I served this same function for several other photography sessions that Jonathan did for other people’s senior high school photos and engagements.

It’s been several years since Jonathan’s last customer contracted him for a photography gig. At one time, Jonathan looked into the possibility of swapping his day job for the life of a professional photographer. However, then a completely different job opportunity presented itself to Jonathan.

I should also mention here that I took my sister O.’s senior high school photos on my own. On the day that I did this, Jonathan rested from a sprained ankle and thus he wasn’t around to offer assistance. I am flattered that O. asked me to do this.

Here’s the tl; dr to all of this: I like to scout out tourist attractions for spots to take portrait photography. When we visit parks and other attractions, I like to detect which people are part of a high school senior or engagement photography session. Obviously, at least one person in the party has to have at least one camera. Sometimes, the people in the group carry multiple cameras and / or lighting equipment.

So, anyway, I saw this woman at the mill who looked as if she was dressed up to have her engagement photo taken.

Jonathan showed up. Jonathan offered to walk back to the parking lot himself, then drive to the mill and pick me up. I accepted Jonathan’s offer.

I waited at our agreed-up pick-up spot directly across the road from the front of the mill. I saw the “cute engagement outfit” woman, accompanied by two men and a woman with a camera.

The woman with the camera directed the “cute engagement outfit woman” to pose with one of the men. I assumed that the “cute engagement outfit woman” and the man with whom she posed were an engaged couple. The woman with the camera posed them in front of an ice formation.

The woman with the camera then asked the second man to get out of her shot.

Then, the woman with the camera posed the “engaged couple” in front of the mill’s front woodwork.

The woman with the camera again berated the second man to get out of her shot. Actually, I think that her exact words were, “Get the hell out of my shot.”

To be honest, I kinda got the impression that the second man was the photographer’s significant other or else some other man with whom she was extremely familiar. She spoke to him as if he was on this trip specifically to accompany her. Maybe he was even supposed to be her photographer’s assistant. Except, he was a photographer’s assistant who annoyed the photographer.

I heard the photographer say to the engaged couple, “Now, show us the ring.”

Just then, Jonathan drove up to me. I jumped into his truck. I was pretty cold.

“Hey, I think that somebody is getting engagement photos,” I said, pointing to the group.

“I saw them earlier,” said Jonathan.

Jonathan then said, “I think that the photographer brought her guy along as an assistant, and he is in trouble.”

Jonathan explained that he heard the photographer ask the guy, “Did you bring it?,” apparently referring to a piece of equipment. Then, she said, “Oh, nevermind,” as if she were already upset at him.

Then, Jonathan told me that he got the vibe from observing this group that the man in the “engaged couple” was in trouble with his woman as well.

I mentioned before that Jonathan and I didn’t get engagement photos. Jonathan proposed to me on a cold December 22 at night at Pittsburgh’s West End Overlook, on the mountain above The Point- the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Jonathan brought his camera in order to photograph me as he proposed. However, when he went to take my photo, his camera’s batteries were dead. He looked through his pockets for fresh batteries. I was sick with an earache and infection and in no mood to pose in the cold. The morning after our engagement, I visited my doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics.

A few months after our Christmas Eve-Eve-Eve engagement, we road tripped to Toronto for a long weekend. We stopped at Niagara Falls on the way up AND on the way home. We watched the icy Niagara River flow over the icicle-covered ledge of the Falls. I pressured Jonathan to get down on one knee with my ring in front of the Falls for me to take a photo. I intended to tell people that it was a photo of Jonathan proposing to me at the Falls. I don’t know what happened to that photo. I don’t know how I managed to keep from scaring Jonathan away.

I’ve been to other parks where I’ve watched other couples as they pose for photos. Sometimes, the couple seems happy. Sometimes, the couple seems unhappy. For instance, the man seems unenthusiastic about posing for the photo, and the woman seems unhappy about the man being unenthusiastic.

This other time, Jonathan and I picnicked at another park and a bunch of people showed up and held a wedding at a pavilion near our picnic table. We overheard the entire ceremony. The couple wrote their own vows. The bride said to the groom, “I’ve loved you ever since the day that you ran up the wrong set of stairs and knocked on my door.”

On the drive home from our picnic, Jonathan said to me, “Poor girl. She had to marry a guy who couldn’t figure out which stairs to use.”

I am glad that Jonathan put up with me when I made him pose on one knee in front of Niagara Falls.

Girl Scout Confessions

My niece is selling Girl Scout cookies right now. I ate an entire box of thin mints by myself this past week. That’s not my real confession today, though.

I was a Girl Scout for years. My school district didn’t have a Girl Scout troop for high school kids, which is pretty much why I stopped being a Girl Scout. (That’s okay, though, because I was busy with marching band by then.)

Anyway, I attended two different Girl Scout camps: Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp in Meyersdale, and Camp Conshatawba in Summerhill. I also went cabin camping with my Girl Scout troop at a state park. I was kind of a brat at all three of these places.

(See my post on my other blog about the Girl Scout Mother’s Day cabin cooking adventure. Apparently, I had a real problem with learning to not talk about other people behind their backs.)

The Maple Valley camp was actually held at a public park (Maple Valley Park) in a wooded area outside of Meyersdale. The park had a swimming pool open to the public back then. The Girl Scouts only occupied one section of the park for one week each year. The Boy Scouts had their own week and their own camp at this same section of this park.

The Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp was held one week in August from Monday – Friday. A school bus picked us up in Berlin each day, and took us the ten miles to Meyersdale. Other Girl Scouts from all over Somerset County also attended this camp with us.

Once we arrived at camp, we were assigned to a temporary Girl Scout “troop” and we did most of our activities with that troop all week. The troop usually included other girls around our same age who attended our same school, if possible. (So, our “troops” often included the same girls who belonged to our “school year” Girl Scout troop.)

We went swimming each day if the teenaged lifeguards who supervised Maple Valley’s public pool didn’t hear thunder.

We sang songs when the camp leaders wanted to keep us busy and tire us out.

We learned how to prepare food in the woods so that we could camp by ourselves and still be able to eat. One time, we mixed up instant pudding in plastic resealable bags just in case we needed to make pudding and didn’t have any spoons or bowls or something. One of the plastic bags burst all over one girl’s jeans. In my adult life, I have never mixed up food in a plastic resealable bag, even when I was in the woods. I think that my Girl Scout camp experience turned me off from ever preparing food in plastic bags.

We played in the small creek that ran through Maple Valley Park. Then, one day, a camp leader approached our “troop” and told us that we couldn’t play in the creek any more because one of the other “troops” just saw a snake in the creek. Looking back, I think that it’s just a pretty good decision to not let large groups of pre-teen kids play in creeks that aren’t pre-inspected for broken beer bottles and discarded fishing hooks. (That’s actually how my sister K. later cut her foot one time when she was on a trip with just me and our dad.) Also, I have feared snakes my entire life. (In fact, my dad kept me out of his woodshed and also the upper loft of our garage for DECADES by telling me that snakes lived there.) However, on this particular stint at Girl Scout camp, I was PISSED that an adult told me that I couldn’t play in a creek “merely” because somebody saw a snake. I was convinced (with absolutely no basis for my reasoning) that the Boy Scouts were totally allowed to play in the creek, and that I was only told to not play in the creek because I was a Girl Scout.

The “snake incident” is not my real confession, either.

Despite its name, the oldest kids at Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp actually camped at the park on Thursday night into Friday morning.

We had to “put up our own tents,” even though I am pretty sure that the adults did most of the real work.

Looking back, I wonder how much “fun” the adults had with this.

Anyway, one year, I was in the same “troop” as a girl that I shall call Padmé.

Now, Padmé and I were both from Berlin. We went to the same school and she and I had been in the same “school year” Girl Scout troop. However, Padmé was actually a grade level above me in our school. Our “school year” Girl Scout troop had thirty other girls in it. Padmé and I were not really friends during the school year.

However, during that week at Girl Scout camp, Padmé and I became best buddies.

On Thursday night, Padmé told me that I could “sleep on one of her pillows.”

Guys, this was all pre-Covid.

Also, just for the record, I did bring my own pillow.

However, I accepted Padmé’s offer. I slept on one of her pillows that night.

However, I also fell asleep that night with chewing gum in my mouth.

I woke up the next morning to discover that my chewing gum now covered one side of Padmé’s pillow.

I picked some of the gum off of Padmé’s pillow. The rest of the gum stayed on Padmé’s pillow.

I chose not to cop to Padmé about getting gum on her pillow. When I returned her pillow, I turned the “gum side” so that it faced away from her.

We said our good-byes. I stared at the gum side of her pillow.

I don’t think that Padmé and I ever had another conversation . As I said above, she was a grade ahead of me in school. I don’t think that we were together in Girl Scouts again. Years later, I saw her often in the hallway of our high school. I don’t think that we were in any of the same high school activities.

I wondered now long it took Padmé to see the gum.

I wondered now much trouble she got into with her mom.

I don’t think that I ever again fell asleep with gum in my mouth.