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.

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)

Sunsets and Sunrises

Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. May 7, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

So, a little bit over a week ago, my maternal grandmother died. Grandma Margaret.

Grandma celebrated her 90th birthday this past summer. In fact, she celebrated her birthday during the week between my birthday and my sister’s birthday, and several other family birthdays occurred during this same week. Grandma left behind a lot of people who loved her. However, I understand that all or almost all people who live to the age of 90 lose much. My grandfather died several years ago. And, as Grandma reminded me, she herself had only one sister, named Shirley. Shirley died of cancer in her 20’s. About two years after the first Shirley died, my grandmother had my mom and she named my mom Shirley. My mom, the second Shirley, died of cancer three years ago. Grandma wondered about this to me. She wondered about the odds of losing both of her Shirleys to the same disease, decades apart.

But, I remember something completely different now. After my mom died, I sat and looked through Grandma’s photo albums with her. We looked through an album consisting mostly of photos that Grandma herself took. Grandma took A LOT of photos of sunrises and sunsets. She took some of these photos when she visited my uncle in Florida. She took other sunset photos over the winter countryside after my grandparents retired and moved out to farmland in Beaver County and raised goats. She took them with her point-and-shoot camera. She paid to develop them, then put them into her photo albums along with her photos of her family.

I learned that day that when I enjoy a sunrise or a sunset, I owe this at least in part to Grandma Margaret.

Sunrises are beautiful. Sunsets are sad but also beautiful. Neither exists without the other.

Mural: “Rising Phoenix” at Voodoo Brewery by Shane Pilster

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

If you Google “New Kensington” and “Voodoo Brewery,” you can find a lot of photos of Shane Pilster’s “Rising Phoenix” mural. In fact, here are photos that I took last December, a week after Krampus brought me my camera.

You can also find a lot of information about New Kensington’s Voodoo Brewery / Voodoo at the Ritz and Old Town Overhaul with a quick Google search. Here’s such an article from the Trib.

So, for this blog post, I took a bunch of photos that showed the “Rising Phoenix” mural in the background as the community gathered for New Kensington’s Christmas Parade.

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

I felt really defeated last spring over the setbacks that Jonathan and I had encountered in trying to rebuild our front porch. I wrote a snarky post on this very blog about how murals weren’t going to solve New Kensington’s problems. The murals weren’t solving any of MY problems. My sister Elizabeth is a hero because she read the post right after I published it. She told me that I was harsh. I took the blog post down about an hour after I published it. The post now resides for eternity in blog post hell. Or, maybe it resides in blog post purgatory because with my luck it’s cached somewhere.

But, now our porch is almost complete. I feel much more hopeful about my future here in New Kensington.

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

These marchers arrived on a bus from Valley High School in New Kensington. I watched the bus arrive. It travelled past me and unloaded on the next block over from where I sat waiting the parade to begin. I saw kids sitting next to the windows, holding their trombones.

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

I have a soft spot for the high school marching band. I marched in a high school band when I grew up in Somerset County. I played the clarinet.

I don’t remember getting to march past any cool brewery murals, though.

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