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.

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!

That Time When I Almost Cut Off My Finger

Thank you to everybody who read last week’s blog post. An extra thank you to everybody who reached out to me after I posted it.

I forgot a pretty major part of last week’s story about my struggle to learn about photography.

I forgot to tell you about how I almost cut off my finger.

In last week’s blog post, I mentioned that I took a course on photojournalism during my final semester of college.

I NEEDED to pass this class in order to graduate. Saint Vincent required this class to graduate with a degree in Communications. Also, Saint Vincent charged tuition by the credit back then. I purposely took the absolute bare number of credits that I needed in order to graduate in order to reduce my student debt. So, I needed the three credits from this photojournalism class just to meet the minimum credit requirements for a bachelor’s degree – any bachelor’s degree.

I had a pretty eventful final semester of college. My youngest sibling was born less than two months before I graduated from college. (March 20, so happy belated birthday, Little Sister.) Now, my parents had FIVE children, not four children. I am the oldest of their five children. I absolutely could not just move back home with my parents for the next year or two until I found a well-paying job.

I worried about the photojournalism class until it made me sick. I KNEW that I would fail the class and NOT graduate on time.

Anyway, for our final photography project, we had to crop our photos and mat them for an exhibit to be held during finals week in Saint Vincent’s student union, which we called “The Shack.”

We held at least one workshop during class time to mat our photos. We each purchased Exacto knives and photography mats ahead of time.

Now, I will out myself about what a big idiot I can be. I don’t have a very good track record with knives. When I was a kid, my dad gave me my very first Swiss Army Knife. The VERY NEXT MORNING, I watched a videotape of the musical “The Sound of Music” as I played with my new knife. I closed the knife on my hand. I cut myself. I didn’t show my parents. They would take my knife away from me. I just grabbed a paper towel from the kitchen and pressed it against my bloody hand as I continued to watch “The Sound of Music.” I quietly waited for my hand to heal.

Apparently, I didn’t get any better with knife safety after I became a legal adult. I screwed up an entire bulk foil package of ketchup when I worked at Wendy’s (next to the PA Turnpike in Somerset) the same month that I turned 18. I was supposed to cut it out of a cardboard box with a box knife. I used the box knife to slice through the bulk ketchup’s foil container instead. The manager was pissed. She had me transfer all of the ketchup to another container so that most of it could be saved. I kept my job because apparently Wendy’s Next to the Turnpike desperately needed employees.

Anyway. I know – NOW – that I must never, ever, ever cut towards myself when I cut something with a knife.

I apparently did not know this when I was a final-semester college senior.

I cut towards myself with the Exacto knife.

I sliced through the tip and side of one of my fingers.

As soon as I cut myself, I knew that it was bad. I sliced though the top of my finger and along the side a bit.

My finger bled.

I ran out of the classroom without speaking to anybody.

My dorm was connected by a walkway with the room where we held the photography mat workshop. The workshop was on the same level as the walkway, as was my dorm room.

I ran into the hallway of my dorm and showed my finger to my very good friend, “Saoirse.”

Saoirse said, “I’m driving you to the hospital.”

Saoirse drove me to the Emergency Room at the hospital in Latrobe.

We got to the ER. We arrived at pretty much the same time as a woman who came into the ER on a stretcher.

The medics said that the woman had just gotten hit by a car.

The woman said, “I can’t feel my legs.”

The ER triaged me ahead of the woman who got hit by a car.

That’s right. I cut myself. At the hospital, I got to cut the line ahead of a woman who got hit by a car.

The ER sewed my finger back together. My finger eventually healed, just like my hand eventually healed that time that I closed a Swiss Army Knife on it.

Nobody in my photography class realized that I cut myself. Not the instructor. Nobody.

I returned to the classroom later that day and picked up the rest of my stuff. It was all still there. Even all of my photography workshop stuff. It was all exactly how I left it. Including the Exacto knife.

I got a B in the photojournalism class. I don’t know how that happened, because my final project looked pretty terrible.

I will forever be greatful to Saoirse for driving me to the ER that day. Saoirse, if you are reading this, thank you.

After this incident, I dreaded ever matting anything again. So, maybe my fear and anxiety of photography actually all came from the day that I almost cut off my finger.

Years later, my husband Jonathan walked me through how to properly mount a photo – you know, how to do it without ending up in the ER. He helped me to mat a photo that I actually like for an exhibit that I actually wanted to enter.

So, maybe my key take-aways from this story is that I have a gem of a friend in Saoirse and I have a gem of a husband in Jonathan.

Also, be careful with knives.

Photography Blog Confession

Here is a photo that I took of my husband taking a photo at Phipps Conservatory

I enjoy spending significant amounts of time in pursuit of a skill that other people had already written me off as unable to learn.

I’m talking about photography here.

Just as a background, I have a strabismus. I can’t see out of both of my eyes at the same time. I don’t remember ever being able to see out of both of my eyes at the same time, so perhaps I was born this way. I don’t know. However, in kindergarten or the first grade, I had a lot of trouble learning how to read. We had to sit at tables with other kids in our class, and take turns trying to read words. Then, we all got moved to tables based on which words we could read.

I got moved to the table with all of the rest of the kids who couldn’t read any of the words.

I resented my classmates who were moved to the tables with the kids who COULD read words. I thought, “Oh, hey, I bet that they think that they are better than me!”

Then, when the teacher tried to teach me how to read, I got pounding headaches. I got sent home on more than one instance due to my headaches.

My mom took me to my very first of many eye doctor appointments. The doctor determined that I had trouble with my vision.

(One time that I was in college, I told this story to some of my friends. They told me that this was the plot of a “Little House on the Prairie” television episode. Well, that may have been the case, but it also happened to me in real life.)

At the age of six, I ended up with my first pair of bifocals. At this point in my life, my mom also drove me an hour or so on several occasions to that I could visit a specialist in regards to my strabismus. Since we lived in the middle of nowhere, these visits to the specialist were a major trip for me. During each visit, I had to do eye exercises that involved trying to focus on an object tied to a string.

(I know a lot of parents who brag that their four-year-old child can read. If you are one of those parents, good for you! I could NOT read when I was four years old. When I was six, I had to sit at the table with all of the other kids who couldn’t read. And look how I ended up. Tomorr0w – March 18 – is the third year anniversary of my blog here.)

I’ve seen it suggested on the internet that Hitler and various serial killers such as H.H. Holmes had strabismuses. (Strabismi?) Well, I have one as well, and I haven’t killed anybody yet.

(Also, in the past five years, I visited a new optometrist AND a new PCP, and they both asked me whether I could actually see out of both eyes. Then I had to explain to both of them that I visited a specialist for my strabismus when I was younger, but that I still can’t see out of both of my eyes at the same time, and I have to switch back and forth.)

I mention all of this because I still struggle with my depth perception.

I mean, I can drive a car and dress myself. However, my depth perception issues frustrate me in learning new skills such as, you know, photography.

So, I didn’t really learn much about photography when I was a kid because I’m old and there was a larger barrier to entry back then in regards to equipment and technology. Smartphone with cameras weren’t a thing. Neither were DSLR’s. We had point-and-shoot cameras that required film in our house. However, my parents had four kids at that time. (It was later five kids because my youngest sibling was born when I was in college.) Camera film was expensive, and so was the cost of having photos developed. So, for instance, if I wasted an entire roll of film trying to photograph an inanimate object in an artsy way and then my mom paid to have the film developed, she wasn’t very happy to get the photos back from the developer and discover that an entire package of newly developed photos were just of the sky or a tree or a building. If I wanted to take a photo, it should be of a person or people, and they should be photographed head-on as they posed.

I had access to ONE film camera that wasn’t a point-and-shoot when I was in high school. It was the camera that belonged to the school newspaper, and I wrote for the school newspaper in 12th grade. However, I didn’t understand how any of the settings worked on this camera, so I happily passed all of the photography duties off on a classmate who actually knew how to use the camera.

So, anyway, fast-forward to my years at Saint Vincent College. I switched my major from accounting to Communication Arts, but my heart wasn’t in it because multiple people had made it very clear to me that I was destined to work at Wal-Mart for the rest of my life. (I DID work at Wal-Mart after college – for three months! Then, I moved on to something else. I ended up finding better-paying jobs. Majoring in something “unworthy” is NOT a moral failing that automatically consigns one to a lifetime of being a Victorian chimney sweep or something.)

So, my heart wasn’t really in my Communications classes because multiple people told me that I wouldn’t be able to succeed in the field. Saint Vincent College’s poor quality video equipment also frustrated me.

Looking back, I’m sure that my history of depth perception problems also caused me trouble with the one or two college video classes that I took. This didn’t occur to me at that time, though. I got B’s in video production, and I was more than happy to just take my B’s and just forget about the shame that I felt at struggling with all of it.

Anyway, for my final semester in college, I took my only still photography college class, which was called “Photojournalism” and was cross listed in the course catalogue for both Communications and English. It was required for my degree program. I had to pass this course in order to graduate. I didn’t have any background in still photography and the only camera that I owned at that time was a point-and-shoot. I didn’t understand still photography or camera use very well. I felt that the instructor was frustrated with me the entire time. I honestly worried all semester that I would fail the class and that I would not be allowed to graduate or walk at the end of the semester.

I finished this photography class with a B. I’m not at all sure how I got a B in the class. My final project was total crap. I think that the instructor just wanted to get me out of his hair.

So, as a result of these college experiences, I left school with a very bad taste in my mouth for video and still photography.

I ended up working in the financial services industry instead. I didn’t do anything creative for several years after college because I was made to understand that creativity didn’t pay the bills. And the people who told me this were right to tell me this. I still work in financial services. I can afford camera and blogging equipment now because I work in financial services.

I eventually met and married Jonathan Woytek. Jonathan enjoyed photography when he was in high school and college. He took photos for his high school yearbook. He drifted away from it. Then, on the way to our honeymoon in South Carolina, we drove off of the interstate at a very specific shopping center in North Carolina because Jonathan had learned that this shopping center included a very specific camera store. You see, Jonathan’s Best Man gave him wedding gift money specifically to use for the purchase of a new camera. Jonathan bought that camera on the way to our honeymoon.

Jonathan restarted his own love for photography.

A few years after this, I became interested in blogging. I told Jonathan that one of the things that I didn’t like about other people’s blogs were poor quality photos. Jonathan told me that if I wanted to create a decent blog myself, then I would have to learn how to create my own photos for it.

Then, Jonathan spent hours giving me photography lessons. We had to start pretty much from scratch because I had such a bad taste in my mouth with my prior experience trying to do photography. I cried more than once when Jonathan tried to get me to understand such concepts as Depth of Field.

Now, I might not be the best photographer in New Kensington or even in my own household. However, I consider it to be a very big accomplishment for me to go from “I don’t think that I am going to graduate from college because I can’t figure out this photography thing and I can tell that the instructor hates having to explain things to me,” to this: Last summer, my dad’s neighbor got socially-distanced married, and I took a photo of the bridal party’s socially-distanced car parade as it drove through my rural hometown. I emailed the photo to my aunt because she went to the same church as the bride, and a few weeks after this, I learned that MY photo had appeared in my childhood home county’s only daily newspaper as a “Photo of the Week.” Somebody had decided that MY photo was good enough to forward on to my childhood hometown newspaper.

Now, I mentioned that in the past, one of my barriers to entry to photography was my lack of equipment and technology. I have a lot more resources now. Heck, I use a program called Lightroom to straighten every single photo that I take because all of my photos are crooked when they come off of my camera’s memory card. (See above re: strabismus.) But I would argue that it’s pretty snobby to suggest that I shouldn’t enjoy or work on a discipline just because I need specific equipment in order to do it now. Ever since the 1800’s, photographers have taken advantage of the most high tech equipment to which they personally had access at that time.

I say all this, because I was thinking about all of the times in my life when I have observed people shutting other people down in particular disciplines. I thought about all of the times when somebody told me that I “wasn’t any good” at a skill, so I stopped trying to be good at the skill. I thought of the times when I observed the same thing happening to other people.

Heck, I STILL remember that time when I was six years and I had to go sit at the table with all of the other kids who couldn’t read. This ceased to be a problem shortly after I got my first pair of glasses. So, now I feel terrible if I ever made any of my classmates feel this same way. I hope that I didn’t shut down any of my classmates for trying to get better at school themselves.

I wrote this post because I wanted to share my experience about how I believed for YEARS that I was really terrible at a particular discipline, and that I would never improve at it, but now that I have fewer barriers to entry, I really enjoy this discipline as a hobby. I will probably never make a living doing photography. However, photography and blogging (and going on long walks to find things to blog and write about) significantly helped me get through my mom’s death in 2018 and also the past year of Covid-19 stress.

Happy third-year blog anniversary to me.