Final Friday

“Final Friday” Event. VooDoo Brewery. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. April 22, 2022. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I took this photo at the “Final Friday” event held in New Kensington on April 22, 2022. Organizers schedule “Final Friday” in downtown New Kensington for the final Friday evening of every “warm weather” month. The Hoffman Road Band performed at this particular “Final Friday” event.

Claude Monet’s Better Dreams

“Monet in Bloom.” Phipps Conservatory. Pittsburgh, PA. April 29, 2022. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I posted here some photos that I took at Phipps Conservatory this past Friday. In about a week or so, you will most likely see a story in the local media about the grand opening of Phipps’ upcoming exhibit, “Monet in Bloom.”

Phipps’ Spring Flower Show ended a few weeks ago. The “Monet in Bloom” show doesn’t officially open until next Saturday. However, Phipps remains open between exhibits. They install signs around their facility noting that visitors are watching the upcoming exhibit’s progress. The “Monet in Bloom” show was such a work-in-progress when Jonathan and I viewed it this past Friday.

“Monet in Bloom.” Phipps Conservatory. Pittsburgh, PA. April 29, 2022. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Wikipedia told me that Claude Monet’s father “disapproved” of Monet’s artistic ambitions and “wanted him to pursue a career in business.” So, you know, pretty on par with everything that I have ever read about creative people.

When he was a young adult, the older adults in his life most likely said stuff to him like, “Time for you to get better dreams, Claude. My co-worker’s son, Jean Pierre, studied accounting. He has a job offer and a hiring bonus. The neighbor kid, Antoine, is finishing his Pharmacy degree. How do you intend to feed yourself, Claude?”

I think that Claude Monet did just fine. We’re all just trying to do the best that we can.

“Monet in Bloom.” Phipps Conservatory. Pittsburgh, PA. April 29, 2022. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Jonathan and I celebrated our wedding anniversary on Friday.

We travelled downtown and watched five young (college aged?) women hold a Dunkin’ Donuts party at PPG Plaza. The women kicked off the party by feeding doughnut bits to the plaza pigeons. The women boosted the party with a marriage proposal (complete with PPG Plaza Water Fountain, bended knee, ring, and screams of delight) between two of the women.

We heard a tour guide tell his group that locals refer to the PPG Fountain as the “Tomb of the Unknown Bowler.” (The fountain sort-of resembles bowling balls propping up a really big bowling pin. Here’s a photo from 2012.)

(Edit: A Google search told me that “former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Peter Leo” created the landmark’s nickname.)

PPG Plaza Water Fountain, October 2012. Some critics refer to it as the “Tomb of the Unknown Bowler” since the fountain “sort of” resembles bowling balls propping up a really big bowling pin.

Pitt’s graduation took place this weekend around the city. While we sat at the plaza, a man robed in doctoral regalia carried a folding camp chair back and forth across the plaza. (We joked that this chair was his graduation gift. “Congratulations on your doctorate! Here’s a camp chair. Now carry it back to your car!“)

Everyone’s just doing the best that they can.

Heron vs Koi?

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I’m not a bird or fish expert. I took “Biology for Dummies” at Saint Vincent College. (The class was officially titled “Biology for Non-Science Majors” or something.)

I have this weird obsession for bird photography, though. I spent an afternoon in St. James Park in London once. I took something like 300 photos of ducks in the pond there. I had more pics on my memory card of ducks than I had of Buckingham Palace.

I just lose it when I see heron. I’m not the world’s most observant person. Still, I remember the first time that I saw a heron “in the wild” here in Western Pennsylvania. I was an adult. We were driving on a highway that spooned a creek. I yelled, “Hey, there’s a heron standing in the creek!”

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

Now, in the warm months, I see at least one heron fly directly over my backyard in Parnassus. Same time each evening. Perhaps my yard sits under the flight path between Pucketa (Puckety) Creek and the Allegheny River? What do you think? Again, I took “Biology for Dummies.” My bird knowledge comes from the Audubon Society’s website.

I have a lot of, ahem, “feelings” about the air and water quality here in Western PA. I grew up in rural Central PA and in the rural Laurel Highlands. My mom grew up in Pittsburgh. I travelled to the ‘burgh to visit her family. I don’t mean “the affluent suburbs outside of Pittsburgh.” I mean Carrick and Brownsville Road.

One of my strongest memories about Pittsburgh from back then was the smell. Everything smelled like sulphur. You know, because of the mills. I was born just about the time that the Pennsylvania steel industry started to collapse. It collapsed all throughout my childhood. Here’s the thing that gets me though: Mom lived in Pittsburgh from birth to age 20. She lived in rural PA for the rest of her life. Mom never smoked. (I smoked occasionally when I lived on my own. But my mother never smoked. She never lived with a smoker.) My mom died of lung cancer two days after her 64th birthday. So, yeah, even non-smokers get lung cancer sometimes. Pittsburgh’s air kill my mom?

Back to the birds. From what I understand (again, from “Biology for Dummies” and some internet science articles), Western PA was filthy for decades. Then, a bunch of folks tried to clean up things. In fact, Saint Vincent itself has a cleaned-up pond. Now we’re sort of a kinder habitat for birds and such. Including my heron.

So, anyway, my employer held an Earth Day photography contest on its intranet. Prizes are bragging rights only.

Since I took millions of bird photos, I entered one of these for the contest. I posted a heron photo. I wrote in the caption that to me, the heron is a symbol of the air and water clean-up efforts here in Western PA.

Within hours of my posting about my heron excitement, this one employee (who I don’t know) from another office (on the East Coast of the US) left a comment on my post. The comment went something like this:

I used to have a Koi pond my backyard. The pond had about 20 fish that were all worth a great deal of money. One day, I came home and all of the Koi were gone. My neighbor showed me a photo of a blue heron sitting on my roof looking down at the empty pond. So, I blame the heron for eating all of my expensive fish. I had to close my Koi pond.

(She capitalized the word “koi.”)

I have family friends who lost their own koi to raccoons. I’m sorry to hear this. They went out and got fencing to protect their koi pond from predators.

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021.
This one’s blurry. Oh well. You try asking a heron to stay put so that you can get a photo.
Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I learned from a five-second Google search that heron are native to our part of North America. Koi are not native to North America.

Really, how privileged do you have to be for you to view photos of an Earth Day contest, see a photo of a bird that’s making a comeback in its native habitat, and complain that a bird from the same species ate your (non-native) exotic fish?

Heron. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 25, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

In honor of heron just doing their best to survive in their natural habitat on this Earth, here are a bunch of heron photos that I took.

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. October, 2020. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

CMU Fence with Ukrainian Colors

Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA. March 11, 2022. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Carnegie Mellon University has a fence that gets painted a lot as part of a fun campus tradition. I’m going to link here CMU’s own explanation of the fence painting. Everything that I know about the fence tradition came from the internet or from a random friend-of-a-friend who attended CMU. If you want more information about this, a Google search will serve you much better.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the most (very possibly the most) rigorous and respected schools in the Pittsburgh area. I’m not privileged enough or ambitious enough to have attended CMU myself. I know a lot of people who work for CMU. From what I have heard, CMU is a good employer. I even know a few highly gifted CMU alumni. I don’t know any of them well enough to have heard any first-hand stories about this fence.

Anyway, here’s a photo that I took showing the fence, painted with Ukrainian colors on March 11, 2022. My husband rents a parking space for his job on one end of CMU’s campus. On March 11, he and I visited Phipps Conservatory. Phipps is located outside a different end of the campus. Rather than search for parking right outside of Phipps, we parked in my husband’s “free” (that he already paid to rent) parking spot and walked across CMU’s campus to reach Phipps.

I agreed to do this because I got a pedometer watch for Christmas. The walk across the CMU campus increased my step count on the watch.

Well, the path that we intended to utilize to cut across CMU was actually blocked due to a campus construction project. So, we detoured around campus. We saw much more of CMU’s campus than we originally intended on seeing. We caught this glance of CMU’s legendary fence.

I apologize that the photo is so grainy.

I could have gotten closer to the fence. I would have had to walk across a muddy field. I was already tired from walking around the construction detour. I’m still out of shape from sitting around and drinking all day during the 2020 Covid lockdown. (I’m kidding. Maybe. Why do you think that I had to ask for a pedometer for Christmas?) So, I took this photo from quite a distance away.

After I burned so many steps walking around CMU and Phipps, we walked to Schenley Plaza and drank bubble tea.

I’m old enough to remember when Schenley Plaza was just a parking lot across the street from the Cathedral of Learning. I rode with my friends Erin and Nate when Erin parked her car there once.

Erin said, “You know, they’re going to replace this parking lot with a park.”

I said, “But where will everyone park?”

Well, last month I learned that if you want to partially walk off your Covid binge pounds, you can park on one side of Carnegie Mellon, walk over to the other side of Carnegie Mellon, walk through Phipps, walk over to the former parking lot that is now Schenley Plaza, and then walk back to your parking spot at CMU.

Just take it easy on the bubble tea.

Shout-out to Ghost Tour Operators

Nemacolin Castle. (Bowman’s Castle.) Brownsville, PA. Circa October 8, 2011. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Firstly, I added a few more photos of downtown New Kensington. Some were of the December parade. I also added a photo of the new Anne Frank mural. You can click on the “Murals” tab in the last post to see all of my posts that include mural photos.

I have a new podcast rec for people who like spooky things. I personally listen to this on Spotify. If you don’t do Spotify, it’s available on other popular platforms. The podcast is “Ghost Tour” from Southern Gothic Media.

I’m already a HUGE fun of Brandon Schexnayder’s “Southern Gothic” podcast. I’m such a fan that I joined its Patreon membership. So, I barked and drooled (not really) when Schexnayder announced that he partnered with Alicia King Marshall of Franklin Walking Tours to produce “Ghost Tour.”

Ghost Tour” currently has only one season. The hosts interviewed the owners and operators of ghost tour companies. I’m not talking about the “scare houses” with theatrical blood and gore and manufactured horror stories. Those are fun for some people. That’s not the theme of this podcast. I’m talking about those research-based ghost tours at historically significant sites. For instance, in Episode #5, Alicia King Marshall discussed the ghost stories that Franklin Walking Tours told about the 1864 Battle of Franklin in Franklin, Tennessee. In Episode #7, the hosts interviewed Janan Boehme, the Tour Manager / house historian at the Winchester Mystery House in California.

Ghost Tour” attracted me since I’m curious about how to create a historical ghost tour.

In other news, Troy Taylor from American Hauntings (a podcast, book, and ghost tour company based in Illinois) did a shout-out to southwestern Pennsylvania in one of his recent Zoom livestreams. He specifically referenced Nemacolin Castle in Brownsville. He also referenced the borough of California, Pennsylvania. Nemacolin Castle is a 1700’s and 1800’s -era home that I blogged about here. It sits on a cliff overlooking the Monongahela River (the Mon). It was built in sections over multiple decades. The same family lived in it from the 1700’s up through the 1900’s. Multiple ghosts from multiple generations reputedly haunt it.

My dad learned how to be a high school Special Education teacher at California University of Pennsylvania while he courted my mom in Pittsburgh. Dad refers to the school as “Harvard on the Mon.” I was really excited to discover that I have a family connection to a place that Troy Taylor visited.

Taylor also gave a shout-out to a tattoo parlor that he patronized in that region. I’m trying to track down the name of this place so that I can get a tattoo from the same person who gave Troy Taylor one. I’m that much of a Troy Taylor fan.

Humor doesn’t translate very well on the internet. I’m not really going to drive out to Brownsville just to do this. It’s a 120 mile round trip from my house. Gas is expensive and I don’t like to drive. I’m still glad that southwestern Pennsylvania made a good impression on Taylor. The American Hauntings podcast, hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck, is available on Spotify, iTunes, and other platforms.

Valley High School Color Guard; Mural by Shane Pilster

Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here’s another photo of Valley High School’s marching band at the December 2021 Christmas Parade in downtown New Kensington.

I didn’t grow up in New Kensington. I grew up in Somerset County. However, I was in my own high school’s marching band for four years. Well, first I was in my elementary and junior high concert bands. I wanted to quit before high school. The high school band seemed like too much work. My parents didn’t want me to quit band because they had already invested money in my music interests (or lack thereof). My parents had a handful of other kids. (There are five of us!) They realized that I had a better chance of getting college financial aid if I had “high school marching band” listed as an extracurricular on my applications. Also, I have never been accused of being “too physically fit.” Most likely my parents figured that participation in the marching band would force me to get some exercise. So, four years of marching band it was!

It worked out well for me. Almost all of my high school friends were also in the band. I’m old. I remember stuff differently than how it actually went down. However, I remember all of the fun stuff about band and very little about the unpleasant stuff. (For instance, band camp.) I’m trying to work on a lifestyle change. I get discouraged about all of the extra walking. I remember that I actually walked much further during four years of football games and parades and practices. (All while blowing through a woodwind.) I can totally up my walking game now!

I recently Googled my old band director. He retired from teaching. He now performs professionally with other professional musicians. He didn’t just put in his time and then let his art atrophy. He’s still going strong. I find this inspiring.

Anne Frank Mural by Christian Miller

Anne Frank Mural by Christian Miller. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Mural by Christian Miller who is from New Kensington. Thanks to Westmoreland Community Action and Marvin Birner.

Anne Frank Mural by Christian Miller. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Who Painted These Dog Murals?

Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

First off, thanks to everyone who sent me condolences on the death of my grandmother (my late mom’s mom) last month. I greatly appreciate the cards and emails.

Grandma reminded me a little bit of Betty White. Grandma was 90 years old and Betty White was 99. To be honest, it kinda hurt when, right after Grandma passed away, I saw Betty White appear in a television commercial. Then, a few weeks after Grandma passed away, Betty White also passed away. I also lost one of my favorite uncles in 2021 – my dad’s brother. My family greatly appreciates everyone who reached out to us.

Here’s another “mural” photo for you. I don’t know who did this one. My Google skills fail me today. So, if anyone knows who painted these dogs in these windows, please reach out to me. I would love to credit the artist.

Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
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