“Just Like” the Uber Rich; Meet Our New Trophy Tree

April 25, 2021. New Kensington, PA.

The New York Times has a firewall.

I can read ten free New York Times articles a month from my personal devices. Then, the firewall blocks me from reading more.

Sometimes I think about purchasing an online subscription to the Times. However, the Times published something or fired someone with which I disagreed. Did an editor tweet something stupid? Perhaps an organized labor dispute? Anyway, it was enough to keep me from giving money to the Times. (Same reason that I don’t pay to read past the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s firewall.)

(I can also log into my work computer and read such firewalled-stories using my employer’s corporate subscriptions, but I don’t like to do too much reading about personal interests on my work computer. Surveillance and all that.)

I mention all of this ’cause the Wall Street Journal has a similar firewall. If I’m not willing to pay to read my 11th Times article of the month, I’m not going to pay the Journal to read one or two articles posted there each year.

Instead, I use the same workaround to get beyond the Journal‘s firewall that I use to snoop around the Times‘ firewall:

I Google key words from the article’s title to see if somebody else republished the story as an AP story, or to see if another, non-firewall publication already posted a story about the firewalled story that I actually want to read. Sometimes, I go onto the publication’s Facebook page to see if they posted a link to the story there. Then, I read the story’s Facebook comments. If the story has enough comments from enough engaged readers, I get a synopsis.

If I’m still not satisfied, then I break down and read the story on my work computer.

The TL;DR from all of this is that I only read the first four paragraphs of the Wall Street Journal article The Newest Status Symbol for High-Net Worth Homeowners: Trophy Trees,” by Katherine Clarke, dated April 22, 2021. The firewall blocked the rest of the story for me. I had to go read a synopsis of the rest of this story on DailyMail.com.

So, here’s the gist that I cobbled together: Really, really rich people – referred to as “super rich,” “superrich,” “uber rich,” etc., have a new way to spend enormous amounts of money: they hire consultants to scout out other people’s trees and offer those people lots and lots of money to purchase said trees. Then, they hire specialists to dig up the trees – root systems and all – and transport these trees to the rich person’s estate. The specialists transplant the trees on the rich person’s estate, just as if the tree had been there for years.

I’m not talking about the time that my dad went to a nursery and purchased baby trees in little buckets for our front yard, or the time that Jonathan and I hired landscapers to bring baby trees in buckets to our house and plant them along our sidewalk.

I am talking about a tree just doing its tree thing, setting down roots in the earth. Some human digs up the tree’s roots, moves the tree to a new location, replants said tree in the new location, and tells the tree, “This is your new home now!”

So, I pieced together what I could without reading the full original article, and I thought, “Jonathan and I are on trend!”

You see, a much-beloved Japanese maple tree used to live in our backyard.

We spent years trying to keep the tree from dying. The tree eventually died, though. We were very sad.

Before the tree died, though, it dropped seeds all over our backyard. Japanese maple saplings popped up all over our yard. Most of these saplings popped up in poorly shaded areas or other spots that were not very good locations for us to host brand-new trees.

Several times, Jonathan attempted to transplant these saplings to other spots in our backyard. Each time, the saplings died.

By last fall, the original Japanese maple which shaded our backyard was dead, cut down, and existed as firewood next to our backyard chiminea.

Jonathan noted that one of the Japanese maple’s saplings still thrived very close to a rear corner of our house. Despite that particular location’s intense shade, the sapling was now quite large – a regular little tree, in fact. Unfortunately, this little tree grew way too close to our house’s foundation for our comfort.

So, we decided to risk digging up as much of this little tree’s root system as we could. To replant this little tree in a different part of our yard. The tree could die in this replant. However, we couldn’t let the tree put down more roots in its current location – next to our house’s foundation.

We chose our front yard for the replant because the front yard gets more direct sunlight than does our back yard.

So, here is what our little tree looked like in autumn 2020 after our replant. I took this photo off of my smart phone:

October 2020. New Kensington, PA.

Here is the same tree today, from a different angle:

April 25, 2021. New Kensington, PA

So, you see, Jonathan and I are “just like” the “uber rich!”

Now, I know that so few uber rich exist, that any publication can take any dumb thing or not-so-dumb thing that a handful of the extremely rich people do, and say, “You see, a significant number of the people in the X tier of wealth are doing this thing! It’s a trend!” For instance, a few years ago, I listened to a podcast about this one tech billionaire who flew around the world in his private plane looking at birds for a year so that he could cross all of these birds off of his list of “birds that you MUST see – but they MUST all be seen in a one year time period in order for you to get bragging rights!” The podcast episode intended to highlight the “trend” of “extreme bird watching” among the ultra-wealthy.

I know that having Jonathan dig up a little tree so that it doesn’t damage our house’s foundation, and then replanting this same tree in a sunnier patch of our yard in order to give the tree a second chance is NOT the same thing as purchasing somebody else’s fully-grown tree, moving it on a flatbed truck, and replanting it beside a billionaire’s new construction mansion as if the tree “always” lived there.

I took this close-up of the newly replanted Japanese maple’s leaves the morning after a snowfall, late April, 2021. New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

However, with all of the money that I save by not purchasing subscriptions to websites with firewalls, I might someday be as wealthy as the Uber Rich.

New Kensington Mural: Updated

Updated: Here are the photos that I took at yesterday’s mural dedication.

Mural Dedication. Downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 11, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Mural Dedication. Downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 11, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is my blog post from last week:

Mural Creation. Downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 5, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men`s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever- growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.

This quote from the architect Daniel Burnham produces a lot of Google results. However, I learned about this from Adam Selzer’s Mysterious Chicago livestreams. Selzer taught me that Burnham spoke these words at an urban planning conference in London in October 1910.

So, today when my husband came back from his lunchtime walk around Parnassus and downtown New Kensington, he told me something.

He said, “Hey, they’re putting up that mural downtown right now.”

Mural Creation. Downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 5, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

We’ve known for awhile now that community leaders planned for a mural in downtown New Kensington. In fact, here is the story from the local media that told Jonathan and I almost everything that we knew about the mural.

You will be able to see this mural as you finish crossing the bridge that locals call “The New Kensington Bridge” (technically the C.L. Schmitt Bridge) over the Allegheny River, into downtown New Kensington.

It’s being added to the side of a building right next to the scene of a devastating multi-building fire that happened a few years ago. In fact, my husband worked at the scene of this fire as a volunteer firefighter. In my opinion, the fire seemed to be pretty heartbreaking for so many people. So, I’m happy to see something pretty created here.

I’m so happy that I headed downtown and took photos of the mural-in-progress.

Every single one of you who comes here to look at my photos is fantastic and I love you all. For those of you who dream bigger than I do, “God Bless You!”

Mural Creation. Downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 5, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Mural Creation. Downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 5, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Mural Creation. Downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 5, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Snyder of Berlin

Snyder of Berlin. Berlin, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. April 10, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Snyder of Berlin potato chips are named after Berlin, Pennsylvania.

I know that several other plants now also make snacks under the Snyder of Berlin label.

However, I grew up in the town after which the chips are named. I went to school for a decade down the street from the Berlin factory.

In fact, the plant’s Berlin address lists “Stadium Street.” The “Stadium” part of “Stadium Street” is in reference to my high school’s football stadium. The stadium sat between my school and the potato chip factory. (I was in the high school marching band. I marched down Stadium Street many times.)

You could see and smell the factory from the school on windy days. It smelled like french fries. Like fried potatoes.

The school district, Berlin Brothersvalley, consists of three buildings connected by a tunnel. That’s the entire school district. When I started school there, the school district was only two buildings connected by a tunnel.

I was in the second grade when my family moved to the Berlin area. We rented a house for a few months. Our landlady introduced herself. She told us that she herself worked at the “chip plant.” She gave us several bags of Snyder’s potato chips as a housewarming gift.

A few weeks before my high school graduation, the entire senior class of Berlin Brothersvalley High School walked from our school to the factory. There were less than 80 of us. They divided us into several groups for our plant tour. We laughed about the hair nets that we had to wear. Several of my classmates waved to their family members who worked in the plant. This was our senior class field trip.

Kecksburg UFO Detour

Kecksburg UFO Monument. Nicknamed “The Acorn.” Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. April 10, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I watched a lot of the original series of Unsolved Mysteries this past winter. (This is in reference to the original episodes hosted by Robert Stack.) These are currently available to watch for no additional charge on Amazon with an Amazon Prime membership.

The Unsolved Mysteries episode that covered the Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, UFO is Season #3, Episode 1. It first aired on September 19, 1990.

I remember watching this episode when it aired on network television.

I was so excited because the turnoff for Kecksburg was midway on the trip from our house in Berlin, Pennsylvania (Somerset County) to my grandma’s house in Irwin. So, Unsolved Mysteries finally visited “my” neck of the woods. Sort of.

(Kecksburg is located near Mount Pleasant, and I still get excited when I see the road sign for Kecksburg when I drive from New Kensington to the house where I grew up.)

Anyway, I now live in New Kensington and part of my family still lives in Berlin. I drive through Mount Pleasant on Route 31 on my trips to Berlin. The established route bores me sometimes. So, when the weather is nice, I take various “scenic routes.”

Yesterday, I drove to Berlin and I chose a scenic route that took me through Kecksburg. Except, I took a wrong turn at an intersection in Kecksburg. I pulled into a parking lot to check my directions.

I thought, “Doesn’t Kecksburg have some sort of monument to the UFO incident? Maybe I should see if I can find it.”

So, I searched for the Kecksburg UFO monument on my phone. It turned out that the UFO monument was actually a 4 minute walk DIRECTLY BEHIND ME.

As in, if I had gotten out of my car and turned around, I would have seen the monument in the distance.

So, I drove over the the monument and snapped this photo.

I learned that locals refer to this momument as “The Acorn.”

Here is a newspaper article from the Trib about this monument.

As part of this detour through Kecksburg, I drove on Clay Pike Road. I first tried out this scenic route last fall. The trip is gorgeous in good weather but especially in the fall. I highly recommend it.

I STILL (Heart) Biff; Easter Vigil Mass

Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 3, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 3, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

The New Kensington and Mount Saint Peter folks who read my blog know about the “I (Heart) Biff” graffiti. Just very quickly, an industrial building used to stand across the street from Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. Somebody spray painted “I (heart sign) Biff” on the side of this building that faced the church. So, every time that anybody exited Mount Saint Peter from the front door, they could look across the street and see something that looked sort of like this: I <3 Biff.

The graffiti got removed more than once. Each time this happened, somebody sprayed it back onto the building. This went on FOR DECADES.

In 2018, the I <3 Biff building got demolished. The local news media tracked down the woman who spray painted the original graffiti on the building. We all got to learn the identity of the real Biff. It’s a pretty fun bit of local folklore now.

Just as a sidenote, Jonathan’s mom, Fran, worked at Mount Saint Peter for years. Jonathan and I got married at this church.

Meanwhile, in the past decade or so (weather permitting), Mount Saint Peter’s Easter Vigil Masses (held on the evening prior to Easter Sunday) commenced with a bonfire on the steps in front of the church.

These fires involved New Kensington’s volunteer fire department. Jonathan often volunteered for this bonfire.

I didn’t include this in any of the photos that I have here, but there was actually a fire truck parked on the right side of the building during this bonfire.

I attended these Easter Vigil masses and watched the bonfire. I used to attend with my sister-in-law, my mother-in-law Fran, and other friends and Woytek family members. After Mass ended, Fran usually spent the next hour or so inside the church, talking to people. We all kept up the tradition after Fran passed away in 2016.

Then, we got late night tacos from the Taco Bell drive-thru because Taco Bell was one of the few kitchens still open and serving food in New Kensington that late on the night before Easter.

Last year, the church held no bonfire due to Covid-19. Jonathan and I still went to the Taco Bell drive-thru the night before Easter. This year, I skipped the in-person Mass because I haven’t yet had the privilege to receive any doses at all of life-saving vaccine. Jonathan volunteered at this year’s bonfire because he is already fully vaccinated. We’re still going to get Taco Bell tacos tonight.

So, instead of attending in-person Mass, I played with my new camera that I got for Christmas. I took photos of the Mount Saint Peter bonfire as seen from downtown New Kensington.

Now, I need to mention here that Mount Saint Peter is built on a hill overlooking downtown New Kensington. You can see the downtown and also Parnassus from Mount Saint Peter’s parking lot. However, you couldn’t previously see Mount Saint Peter from the downtown because the I <3 Biff building blocked the view. Now that that building is gone, I can stand behind the fenced-off former site of this building and see the church. Tonight, I could watch the Easter Vigil bonfire and take photos of it.

So, here you go. I posted above a photo of the Easter Vigil bonfire as seen from directly behind the site of the former I <3 Biff site.

Now, to be honest, I drove up to Mount Saint Peter shortly after noon today so that I could show you the prep work for tonight’s bonfire and tonight’s Mass. Here are the pallets which were all stacked up and waiting to go on Mount Saint Peter’s front steps.

Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 3, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

You see that empty lot behind the pallets and directly across the street? That was the site of the infamous I <3 Biff building.

Here are the floral wreaths waiting to be hung on the door for Easter. It takes a lot of hard work to prep a church for the Easter Masses!

Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 3, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is a sign on the door reminding parishioners of steps that they can take to prevent Covid-19:

Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 3, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is a view from the church. The I <3 Biff building used to be directly across the street from this:

Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 3, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here are some firefighters getting ready for the big bonfire:

Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 3, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 3, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I was sad to skip this year’s Easter Vigil Mass at Mount Saint Peter, but at least I get to eat my yearly Taco Bell tacos tonight.