The Point

by Jenny on 18 August 2016

2016-07-17 Lake-012

Life moves according to some sort of plan. Then suddenly it doesn’t. Everything changes at one single point in time.

I bet that everybody who reads this blog already knows about what happened last week, but I blogged today so that future entries on the subject will make more sense.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2015, my husband Jonathan’s family buried Jonathan’s grandmother, Babcia. Babcia was the mother of Jonathan’s mom Fran.

In May 2016, my father-in-law Dr. Dennis Woytek, retired from his faculty position in the Department of Journalism and Multimedia Arts at Duquesne University. We Woyteks (his wife and their kids and the kids’ spouses and their grandkids) all attended a retirement reception at Duquesne that included a bunch of yummy food.

In late June, Jonathan received a job offer at Carnegie Mellon University. This is where Jonathan worked before he became a high school teacher five years ago. He arranged a start date of mid-August. Jonathan was so excited to share the news with Fran.

In mid-July, Jonathan and I traveled to Michigan to spend two weeks on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the UP) with Jonathan’s parents, Dennis and Fran. Jonathan’s sister Marissa and her family joined us for the second week of the trip.

For background, Dennis worked at a radio station in St. Ignace, Michigan for the first three years of Dennis and Fran’s married life. St. Ignace sits at the southern tip of the UP, next to the northern end of the Mackinac Bridge. Dennis and Fran fell in love with the UP, even though they moved back to Western Pennsylvania after their stint there. They brought their three kids to the UP for vacations. After Jonathan and I got engaged, Fran invited me to vacation in the UP with them. I too fell in love with the UP.

To get back to the story, Fran and Denny arrived in St. Ignace, Michigan on July 16 and Jonathan and I joined them a few hours later. We rented a house right there on the bay, and we spent the next two weeks watching the boat traffic enter and leave the harbor, along the coast of Lake Huron.

On July 17, we – Dennis, Fran, Jonathan, and I –  sat on the back porch of the rental house and watched the sun set behind the bay. I took the photo that you see at the top of this blog entry. Dennis and Jonathan are both much better photographers than I am, so they coached me through the shot. I actually took the photo, though.

July 19 was my birthday. Fran baked me a chocolate cake topped with crumbled peanut butter cups. Fran loved to cook and bake, and mine was the last birthday cake that she baked. That night, we got takeout from a popular St. Ignace restaurant and we – Dennis, Fran, Jonathan, and I – ate dinner in the park next to the Mackinac Bridge, on the Straits of Mackinac. We watched the bridge light up in the twilight.

On July 22, we – Dennis, Fran, Jonathan, and I – drove along the coast of Lake Michigan, then up north to Munising on Lake Superior. Jonathan and I rented a pontoon boat and we took Denny and Fran on a trip along Lake Superior to see the Pictured Rocks. Here is my blog entry about the trip.  Fran told us that she wanted to see Miner’s Castle for years, and she was glad that we took her to see it

Fran impressed us by agreeing to actually get on the boat with us. Even though she lived in the UP for three years, she had a lifelong fear of actually being on the water. Here is my blog post about her decision to only travel to Mackinac Island on the largest ferry boat available.

(Let me say that Dennis and Fran lived in the UP when the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in 1975 and Dennis was one of the first people to actually report the news about the Fitzgerald on the air. They remembered well the actual storm that caused this tragedy. So on my first trip to Michigan, they took me to Whitefish Point on Whitefish Bay. A memorial to the crew of the Fitzgerald sits next to the lighthouse there. On that first trip of mine to Lake Superior, Fran made sure that I picked up a large red Solo cup’s worth of colorful stones from the shore, right there next to the lighthouse and the memorial at Whitefish Point. )

On July 31 Jonathan and I returned from Michigan. Denny, Fran, and Marissa’s family all returned to Western PA within a few days after we did.

On Friday, August 5, Fran and Denny came over to our house and watched the opening ceremonies of the Rio Olympics with us. I was tired because I got up at 5 a.m. that day to go to work, so I went to bed halfway through the ceremonies without saying good-bye to anybody.

On Sunday, August 7 Jonathan and I went sailing at Moraine State Park. We received a message from Joanthan’s parents that they had arrived safely in Maryland to visit Jonathan’s sister Sarah and Sarah’s family.

On Monday, August 8 Fran passed away suddenly.

Jonathan’s entire family is heartbroken and devastated. Obviously, for as badly as I feel, Jonathan and his dad Dennis and his sisters Sarah and Marissa and his Aunt Joany and his Uncle Andy feel much worse than I do.

There’s so much more I want to write, but I just can’t.  I buried the lede on this blog post, and I don’t care.


Fran was so supportive of this blog. She was always one of the first people to “Facebook Like” each entry. She always told me how much she enjoyed my posts.  She shared them with her friends. Her love for Northern Michigan and her advocacy of New Kensington shaped much of what I wrote here.

Dennis and his kids laid Fran to rest in her Mackinac Island sweatshirt. I gave her some of those stones that she told me to pick up from the shore of Whitefish Point.

Jonathan started his new job yesterday. He and I went out for dinner and milkshakes in downtown Pittsburgh. That’s where we are at this point.

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2015-09-26 Erie Niagara-102

Tall Ships Erie will be September 8 – 11, 2016. On this weekend, visitors will be able to view and tour several tall ships docked in Erie, Pennsylvania.

I don’t have any additional information about this year’s festival than what I see on this official website.

However, Jonathan and I spent several hours at Tall Ships Erie in 2013. I share our personal experience here in case it helps anybody who plans to attend this year’s festival.

Let me start by saying that I don’t like large crowds of people. I haven’t even been to Kennywood in years. This swayed my reaction to the festival.

Now, to be fair, I agreed to attend the festival, knowing full well that the tall ships festivals only come to the Great Lakes once every three years. And only in certain cities.

These tall ships don’t stop for any festivals in Cleveland, and Pittsburgh isn’t on a giant lake. So, the Cleveand and Pittsburgh tall ships fans came to . . . Erie!

Just like us.

Also, to be fair, we showed up at this festival in the middle of that weekend’s Saturday afternoon.

I bet that Saturday afternoon was the absolute peak time of the whole shindig.

So, it goes without saying: the festival was horrendously packed when we got there.

Now, Jonathan read the official website / blog prior to 2013 Tall Ships Erie.  He felt that this website, and its accompanying blog, started out strong, but as we got closer to festival time, the website stopped being updated as much and lacked some information. For instance, we couldn’t tell from the website where exactly we needed to go in order to enter the festival.

When we got to Erie, we were still confused about where exactly we needed to go in order to actually get into the festival. Therefore, we drove past all of the signs for paid parking lots and shuttle buses. Somehow, we lucked into finding a FREE (and legal!) parking spot next to the water, near where some of the tall ships docked.

A fence separated us from the ships, though. Were was the festival entrance? Or any signs for the festival entrance?

We found no festival staff to offer guidance. (Nor any signs.) We got directions to the ticket booth from a random person.

After we found the ticket booth and paid our admission, we realized that the lines to actually tour any of the tall ships were incredibly long.

For instance, see the below photo of the 2 ships that you needed to to enter Erie’s convention center in order to tour. However, the line coming out of the convention center on the opposite side of the building from these ships contained so many people that we were too intimidated to wait in said queue.

So, instead we just walked around the festival and looked at the outsides of the boats for two hours. By that time, we had about an hour left before the festival closed for the day. We noted that the lines to tour some of the boats were nonexistent. We were able to tour 2 ships and ask questions of the crew in that final hour before the festival closed.

We have plans to attend this again in 2016, but I am nervous about the large crowds.

2013-09-07 tall ships-048


Here’s a final note: The photos from this blog entry come from 3 places:

1.) 2013 Tall Ships Erie

2.) In September 2015, Jonathan and I sat at the North Pier at Presque Isle State Park in Erie when the U.S. Brig Niagara passed us under full sail.

3.) Earlier this month, the Niagara sailed past the house that we rented in St. Ignace, Michigan. The Niagara then docked in St. Ignace, a short walk from our accommodations. (The Niagara was on its way to a tall ships festival in Chicago.)

2016-07-21 Niagara-025

Here are my other blog entries about the Niagara:

From Erie to Michigan

This is Presque Isle


On the Gitchee Gumee

by Jenny 25 July 2016 History

One late July or early August more than a decade ago, I saw Lake Superior for the very first time. At Whitefish Point, on Whitefish Bay. If you ever listened to Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” then you know that this ballad details the real life tragedy of a freighter that sank […]

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This morning the U.S. Brig Niagara sailed past the house that we’re renting in St. Ignace, Michigan! We often see the Niagara in its home port of Erie, Pennsylvania. I learned through the Tall Ships America website that the Niagara and other tall ships are in a series of festivals this summer. They “festivaled” in […]

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Sunset Cruise Surprise

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Sometimes It Is Important to Listen to Kitty

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“Pokémon Go” to Parnassus

by Jenny 11 July 2016 History
Thumbnail image for “Pokémon Go” to Parnassus

“There’s a Mewtwo in the backyard. #PokemonGo” (Twitter.) So I found out about Pokémon Go this past Saturday. I read about it on Twitter. Then we went to Point State Park, and saw a bunch of people walking around the Point staring at their phones the whole time. “Yeah, they’re playing Pokemon,” Jonathan said. I don’t […]

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Here’s what the New York Times Thinks about Western PA

by Jenny 5 July 2016 New Kensington

The New York Times just printed this article about Monessen, Pennsylvania. Now, I know that Monessen is NOT New Kensington. From reading this article, though, it sounds as if some Monessen residents have the same hopes and dreams for their city as we have for ours. Part of that is getting past the idea that big […]

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So I Took This Photo Yesterday

by Jenny 28 June 2016 Western Pennsylvania

I took this photo yesterday from the veranda of the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park. My dad told me that this bird is a cedar waxwing. Bald Eagle State Park is about a 30 minute drive from Penn State University. Both are in Centre County, which is in the geographic center of Pennsylvania. […]

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