Two Truths and a Lie

So, my manager at work has instructed her team that tomorrow we will play “Two Truths and a Lie” as part of a virtual team-building exercise. We will all need to log into our meeting prepared to play this game. That is, we all need to provide two things about us that are true and one thing about us that isn’t true. Our co-workers will need to guess the thing about us that isn’t true. If they guess correctly, then they win.

I’m brainstorming right now for this game. If any of my co-workers are reading this blog now prior to tomorrow’s meeting, then congratulations. You win.

Here is a bunch of stuff about me that is actually true:

I am the oldest of my parents’ five daughters.

I have a sister who is almost 22 years younger than I am.

I have an ancestor that was an American officer during the Revolutionary War.

My parents lived at their house in Somerset County for several decades before my dad realized that this ancestor from the American Revolution was actually buried only a few miles down the road from their house.

I have a great-grandfather that was a German soldier during World War I.

I have a great-grandfather that was a U.S. soldier during World War I.

My great-grandfather that was a U.S. soldier during World War I spoke German fluently because his family was German American. This great-grandfather was taken as a POW by the Germans. He overheard his German captors discussing in German their plans to shoot him. He protested this in German. His captors didn’t shoot him.

When I was a kid, my parents heated their house each Pennsylvania winter with a wood-burning furnace. My dad went to the top of a mountain each summer to cut our winter supply of firewood.

My dad kept me out of his woodshed by telling me that it was full of rattlesnakes.

My high school senior class trip consisted of a tour of a potato chip factory. (My high school sat down the street from the Snyder of Berlin potato chip factory in Somerset County. The entire senior class walked from our high school to the factory. We toured the factory. A bunch of my classmates waved to their relatives who worked at the factory. After the tour ended, we walked back to our high school. This was our entire “class trip.”)

My dad took me deer hunting, and I shot a doe on the first day of doe season when I was 17 years old.

I was in my mid-20’s the first time that I ever flew on an airplane.

I worked for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission one summer when I was in college. I got to visit abandoned tunnels that the Turnpike Commission now uses to store salt. I also got to paint parking spaces at a service plaza. I got to watch motorists drive across wet paint. I secured the job by writing a letter to Congressman John Murtha’s office.

My grandfather allegedly rode down the Pennsylvania Turnpike (uninvited) on his motorcycle before the turnpike had actually opened to the public.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended “Keystone Girls State,” a week-long program about politics for Pennyslvania high school girls hosted by the American Legion Ladies’ Auxillary. On the last night of the program, we had a banquet. A bunch of people left the banquet early to go watch live television footage of police chasing O.J. Simpson down an L.A. highway in his white Bronco. A little over a year later, I went to college. A bunch of my fellow college freshman skipped our mandatory seminar about alcohol abuse so that they could watch live coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial verdict. Other people wore headphones to the alcohol lecture and listened to the verdict on the radio. Someone stood up in the middle of the lecture and announced the verdict. The college’s dean stopped the alcohol presentation and repeated the verdict over the podium microphone.

I think that I have enough material to play “Two Truths and a Lie.”

Jonathan’s New Desk

Here is the blog post that my husband Jonathan wrote about the new desk that he built for himself.

Jonathan set up a new work area for himself because we have both been working from home since February / March. (Jonathan’s employer instructed him to start working from home in late February. My employer told me on Friday, March 13 to only come in to work every third day. My first day on this new schedule was Monday, March 16. A few hours after I reported to work on March 16, I received instructions that I was to start working from home full time effective immediately. Jonathan and I both take public transit to Pittsburgh. Jonathan has his own office at work. However, I work in a cubicle in an “open office.” Don’t even get me started about the “open office” concept!)

So, now Jonathan has a brand new desk to use in our living room. I have use of two desks that we already owned, including a desk that my mom and I picked out together at a furniture store on my 16th birthday. As I mentioned in the previous post, we both have “new” chairs. So, we’re all set to continue working from home together!

Return to the Ghost Town Trail

Ghost Town Trail, Cambria County, PA. May, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Almost every person in the entire world had a rough few months, or a rough few years, or a rough life.

I’ve worked from home full time since mid-March. I know that this takes me out of the running for “who had it roughest.”

I don’t want to get into a contest about who had it roughest. I won’t win. I don’t want to win.

Even so, I’ve struggled since March to make it through each work week – and that’s okay.

I heard through our aunt that my cousin K.G. and her co-workers decided to NOT call our current reality the “New Normal.” Instead, they refer to it as the “Temporary Weirdness.”

(Cousin K.G., if you’re reading this, keep in mind that I’m not trying to be F. Scott Fitzgerald as he plagiarizes his wife Zelda’s diary. Let me know if you want me to remove all references to “Temporary Weirdness” or else give you a writing credit for this blog post.)

So here’s two things that keep me going through this “Temporary Weirdness”:

1.) My “new” chair

My husband J. also works from home in our “Temporary Weirdness.” When this “started,” J. purchased a “new” chair for himself. That is, he purchased a chair from a company in Chicago that refurbishes office furniture and also manufactures Covid-19 masks. (The company was permitted to stay open BECAUSE they added “mask making” to their list of things that they now do.)

Meanwhile, I worked each day from one of our dining room chairs. I did this for several weeks.

I told myself that it wasn’t “necessary” for me to spend money on my own “new” chair because I should save up all that I could just in case I caught Covid-19 and got really sick or died. I know, that was stupid.

My back hurts even when I’m not sitting all day on a dining room chair. So, for several weeks, I snapped at J. all day, every day.

Then J. said to me, “Why don’t you use my chair today?”

I used J.’s chair that day.

That evening, we ordered a chair for me from the same company.

I really wish that I had just purchased my own comfortable chair back in early March!

See, I read the blogs of other people who work for long periods of time from home offices. A bunch of these people highly recommended that readers invest in comfortable office chairs. And it STILL took me weeks before I broke down and bought myself such a chair.

2.) Awesome podcasts, videos, and live-streamed events from extremely talented people

Ever since the global pandemic “quarantine” (it’s not a REAL quarantine) hit my world, I’ve entertained myself with podcasts, virtual tours, videos, live-streamed events, etc, from entertainers. Many of these extremely talented souls post links to their online tip jars since they haven’t been able to perform to live audiences since March. And of course I tip. After all, I’m privileged enough to work 40 hours a week from my “new” comfortable chair.

I consider many of these talents to be “essential workers” because they’ve helped me to function ever since the “Temporary Weirdness” started.

Actually, some of these talents helped me to make it through life as a semi-functional adult ever since my mom got sick and died two years ago.

And the thing is, almost all of these talents perform in places too far away for me to realistically visit in person. So, if the internet didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have the joy that they all give to me.

Here’s the thing that hurts me: I know that I will never be able to do for other people what these performers do for me. I will never be able to write a podcast, or take a photo or video, that will help somebody who just lost her mother make it through a stressful day of work. I will never give somebody a reason to get out of bed after nightmares about dying alone of Covid-19.

But, I can attempt to keep a single reader fairly amused for a few minutes.

Ghost Town Trail, Cambria County, PA. May, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this post isn’t actually about the Ghost Town Trail. Here is an actual post about the Ghost Town Trail.

(Just to recap: The Ghost Town Trail is a walking and bike trail in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. I graduated from high school in the county that sits just below Cambria County. After college, I worked for Americorps in the nearby economically devastated city of Johnstown. I shared office space with several Americorps members who contributed to the Ghost Town Trail. )

Anyway, my husband J. and I biked on the Ghost Town Trail last month.

(Don’t worry, the trail was “legally” open that day. We social distanced. We brought masks. We hand sanitized. We did nothing during our bike ride that would cause you to blame us for killing your grandparents. )

I blogged last June about our previous trip down the trail.

Last month, we rode on a newly-opened trail spur. This spur took us past the spooky old train depot pictured in this post.

The thing reminded me of Stephen King’s short story “Willa.”

I told J. that the train depot just HAD to be haunted. I just HAD to grab a photo just in case I “saw a ghost”.

I didn’t see any ghosts. Still, I hope that you enjoyed these photos for a few minutes.

Here’s something else that’s up with me and J.: My husband has been really busy with woodworking during our “quarantine.” He finished our downstairs bathroom medicine chest and he made himself a new desk. (You know, so that he can work from home during our Temporary Weirdness.) Here’s a blog post about the chest. He already wrote the post about the desk and he will post it next week.

Soldiers’ Lot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Cannon. Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

In 2018, I took a guided tour of Allegheny Cemetery. This cemetery is on the National Register of Historic places.

 Allegheny Cemetery includes a National Cemetery Administration’s soldiers’ lot. The Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot is located in Section 33 of Allegheny Cemetery. The majority of the 303 soldiers buried here were Civil War soldiers. Most of the burials were of Union soldiers; however, the lot also contains several Confederate soldiers.

I returned to the Soldiers’ Lot in 2019 in order to take some photos.

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I didn’t have any prior knowledge of this following soldier, but I Googled his name when I returned home.

From the Veterans Affairs / website for Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot: Corporal John M. Kendig (Civil War). He received the Medal of Honor while serving in the U.S. Army, Company A, 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry, for actions at Spotsylvania, Virginia, May 12, 1864. His citation was awarded under the name of Kindig. He died in 1869 and is buried in Section 33, Lot 66, Site 32.

Corporal John M. Kendig (Civil War). He received the Medal of Honor.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here’s a grave for an unknown Union (United States) Civil War soldier:

Unknown U.S. Soldier grave.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Finally, here is a Confederate grave that I saw at the Soldiers’ Lot. Note how the headstone differs from that of a Union soldier.

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

“Man Proposes, God Disposes”

“Man Proposes, God Disposes” by Edwin Landseer, 1864

I didn’t take any art history classes in college. So, maybe my post is about something that everyone who actually took art history learned in Art History 101.

But now I kinda want to learn more about art history.

This image is of an 1864 painting titled Man Proposes, God Disposes by the British artist Edwin Landseer. (I found this image on Wikipedia. Wikipedia advised that this image is in the Public Domain. I’m thinking of just starting a blog titled Things that I Learned from Wikipedia.)

This is a painting of two polar bears eating human remains in the ruins of a ship. You can see the bloody sails and the mast. The polar bear on the right stands over a ribcage.

Man Proposes, God Disposes was Landseer’s interpretation of what happened to the British explorer Sir John Franklin’s 1845 trip to the Arctic. You can read all about it on Wikipedia.

I learned about the painting today on the podcast Haunted Places from Parcast by Cutler Media. If you listen to this podcast on Spotify, you get to learn about a haunted place every Thursday AND you also get to learn about an urban legend every Tuesday. Today’s urban legend was about this painting.

This painting graces a wall at Royal Holloway, University of London. And the painting is HAUNTED, guys. Haunted. The painting is so haunted that the university covers it with a Union Jack when students are taking exams in the same room.

By coincidence, I listened to the podcast about this haunted polar bear painting RIGHT AFTER I listened to a completely different podcast about a real, 21st century guy who lived among grizzly bears every summer for a decade until one of the grizzlies ate the guy. We know the fate of the grizzly bear guy because a pilot flew over and saw a grizzly standing over a ribcage.

I wish that my mother-in-law, Fran, were still with us so that I could tell her all of these stories about bears. Fran loved bears – in theory. The local news reported that a black bear visited homes in the neighborhood next to Fran’s. Fran said, “Everybody gets a bear except me.”

(For the record, I pray that I NEVER see a bear in the wild. I will be perfectly okay if everybody gets a bear except me.)

So what?

Well, this whole global pandemic reminded me YET AGAIN that we’re not in charge. And I didn’t actually need ANY reminder that I’m not in charge.

So, it comforts me to read that the British Empire wasn’t actually in charge in 1845 when Sir John Franklin may or may not have gotten eaten by polar bears.

Severe Weather Photos

New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here are some photos that I took of the damage from the severe storm that hit New Kensington early this morning.

New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Quarantine Podcast

Historic Downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. November 2011. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Yesterday, I viewed an online training session. The host joked that “everybody” is now producing “quarantine podcasts” since most of us are now living under “Shelter in Place” orders.

Now, I received podcasting equipment for Christmas a year and a half ago. I haven’t used it as much as I had hoped. So, I’m going to take another shot at creating a podcast series about folklore and history, mainly in Western Pennsylvania.

So, this new series will be my personal “quarantine podcast.”

I don’t expect to make any money from my upcoming podcast. I’m not trying to take anything away from the people who already create podcasts – or give ghost tours – as their bread and butter. I’m just working on this to have a little bit of fun. So please be kind when I finally post an episode.

(If you get all snarky about me anyway, then I guess that I deserve it.)

In the meantime, here is a virtual flower show for you to enjoy.

Magnolia Tree. University of Pittsburgh Student Union. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. March 31, 2016. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is a photo of my husband Jonathan taking a photo at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh:

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is another photo from Phipps Conservatory:

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. April 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here are some photos that I took when I visited Longwood Gardens during a rainstorm and a flood warning:

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)