Category Archives: PA State Parks

Our travels, stories, photos and recommendations from the state parks in Pennsylvania.

Thinking of Dad with Laughter

Memorial Day — one of my favorite holidays when we remember those who served and those who gave their lives so that we can be free. In Pennsylvania, it’s the official kickoff to summer with a long weekend, usually warmer weather and family cookouts.

Friday, the 22nd was the funeral mass of a friend’s wife. I had never met her, but I knew about her illness as I talked about it with him. She had an aggressive form of cancer and he had asked me about mine. I prayed for her often and for peace for her family. I lit a candle for her when I heard about her cancer and then again when I heard she had passed away. I had no idea until I attended the mass just how much faith they had.

Thursday evening I was apprehensive about attending, because she was only five years older than me, and I was worried that I might be pensive the rest of the weekend. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. In fact, I was inspired. I know that is an odd thing to say after leaving a funeral mass. I felt the same way when my Dad passed away and we left his funeral mass. It’s because I believed! I remember belting out “On Eagle’s Wings” as we left the church, and I knew in that moment that my Dad was with God!

Their family believed. During the eulogy, he told us their story — that they put all their faith and trust in God that he would make her well — but they knew if he didn’t that it was his Will. And either way it was a win-win situation for her. His faith was simple and beautiful. And he believed that everything came with a lesson and was teaching them something. He smiled and laughed — and he had peace, as did the rest of their family. As we sang “On Eagle’s Wings” as we left church, I thought of my Dad. Saturday was the anniversary of his death — May 23, 2002. It’s been 13 years.

I thought about my Dad all day on Saturday. Tom was servicing the jet ski, because we were taking it out to Shenango Lake on Sunday, even though the water was only 68°. If you’re careful, only your legs get wet — I figured we’d be okay as long as we didn’t fall in. We were going to church at 5 pm at St. Gregory, going out to dinner at the Waterhole after church, and then watching the fireworks show at Cooper’s Lake.

I talk to my Dad all the time, even though he’s not here. I pray for him everyday and then I talk to him. I’d just love to see him smile at me one more time. When I think of him, I remember a very fond memory of him where he is sitting on his bed watching TV and I go into the room and his face lights up — he grins and exclaims, “Pam! What are you up to?” And I jump on the bed next to him and give him a hug. I can recall his face so clearly and the sound of voice. I think of this all the time, because I never want to forget him.

Pyrotechnics at Coopers Lake

Pyrotechnics at Coopers Lake.

As we waited for the fireworks to start, I was thinking of how appropriate to watch fireworks on this day, because Dad loved a good fireworks show. We couldn’t hear the music during the fireworks, but I imagined something patriotic — in memory of Dad.

Sunday we headed out to the lake. Tom got up early and waxed the jet ski, because it was looking a little dirty and sun-faded from last year. That turned out to be a big mistake!!!

We met up with my brother Tommy and his fiancé, Gretchen and her son Sam who were already on the boat. After cruising around a bit, Tom and I went out on the jet ski for a couples ride. We didn’t do that often, because it’s not as fun with the extra weight on the jet ski. When we went back to the boat so Tom could get off, Tommy wanted to take the jet ski out with Gretchen. So we both decided to get off. And that’s when it happened.

Memorial Day on Shenango Lake.

Memorial Day on Shenango Lake.

Somehow Tom leaned the wrong way when I was supposed to get off and the jet ski started to tip, but as I tried to counter balance, my foot slipped on the side of the jet ski and boom — I was in the water before I knew what hit me. I twisted my bad leg and I’m not sure what I’ve done to it (I can’t put any weight on it when I go up the stairs). Tom also fell in — we were lucky that neither of us hit our head or were injured any worse. Tom’s leg was also stuck sideways in the jet ski.

Well after this fiasco, Gretchen and Sam no longer wanted to go on the jet ski. I told them that I have never fallen in — because that has never happened to me! Thanks Tom for waxing it and creating a super slippery surface. In the shock of what happened, I never even felt the 68° water temperature. So, after talking Gretchen and Sam into going, Gretchen starts to climb on the jet ski as Tommy is already seated on it and she slips on the super slippery surface and before you know it — she’s in the water too.

We got the biggest laugh about it on the way home. It was hysterical, and I wish we could have been on one of the boats around us. I’m sure they got a good laugh at our expense. These are the kinds of things that happened when we used to go boating with Dad. Despite my new injury, it was a great day. And I hope my Dad got a good laugh with us.

Always B E L I E V E !

Late Summer Road Trip

Our road trip to New York and Canada seemed like a long time ago now. The leaves were still green and the weather was still warm. Our trip started with a weekend to Ithaca, NY in the Finger Lakes where I knew we could photograph a few of the waterfalls in that area without having to hike a long distance. Then we would head to Canada where we would spend time in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls.

We had three goals with this trip. The first was some serious rest and relaxation. Work has been very stressful for me this summer and I couldn’t wait to just get away. The same for Tom and we hadn’t yet had a vacation this summer. The second was to make a trip to the Small Talk Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I had decided to create a basket using their “dinner party themed” wines (just gorgeous, creative concept and labels) for the Quigley Catholic Gala. And lastly, we had wanted to photograph some landscapes and waterfalls, as we had been working so hard on getting the silky water effect with our new camera.

Finger Lakes, NY
We spent the day just outside of Ithaca and photographed the following waterfall in the Robert Treman State Park, just off Enfield Falls Road (Rt. 327) at the west end of the park.

Using NDx8 filter

This shot was taken with our Nikon D7100 with ISO 100, F22 using our new Hoya NDx8 Filter (click to enlarge).

From there we traveled west on Rt. 327 to Seneca Lake and Watkins Glen. We had stopped at many waterfalls along the way, but this was my other favorite photograph, taken at the SHE-QUA-GA Falls in Watkins Glen. I was so surprised, because the last time we had visited this waterfall in the winter, it was gushing with water. But I loved that it was so wispy and dainty with rich patches of green moss.

SHE-QUA-GA Falls

This shot was taken with our Nikon D7100 with ISO 100, F22 using our new Hoya NDx8 Filter (click to enlarge).

Niagara Falls, ONT, Canada
We headed to Canada from there. I dropped my camera on the first day at the White Water Rapids exhibit. I had gotten a couple of photographs using our ND filters, but when I dropped the camera, the strap had luckily caught on the tripod and it wasn’t impacted. But I was still holding the remote release and it ripped apart, partially broken inside the camera and the rest of it was in my hand. Nice. We were done using filters. We tried, but every one of them that required the long exposure came back blurry — we just couldn’t hold the camera still enough, even propped on a hard surface. Here are a few photos that I did like:

Silky Rapids

This shot was taken with our Nikon D7100 with ISO 100, F8 using our new Hoya NDx8 Filter (click to enlarge).

This shot was taken with our Nikon D7100 with ISO 100, F8 using our new Hoya ND x400 Filter (click to enlarge). This one had a little movement.

This shot was taken with our Nikon D7100 with ISO 100, F8 using our new Hoya ND x400 Filter (click to enlarge). This one had a little movement.

This shot was taken with our Nikon D7100 with ISO 100, F10 without filters (click to enlarge).

This shot was taken with our Nikon D7100 with ISO 100, F10 without filters (click to enlarge).

Tom taking some photos after I broke the remote release.

Tom taking some photos after I broke the remote release. This shot was taken with my iPhone 4s.

Overall, the trip didn’t turn out quite like we had planned. We wished we had stayed in the Finger Lakes a couple more days and less in Canada.

We changed hotels the first night in Canada, because our Hampton Inn was so outdated that neither of us could deal. When Tom couldn’t stay, you know it’s bad. Nothing like a tiny shower stall, while having a giant heart-shaped jacuzzi tub in a retro 1970’s pink plastic. It was like a bad movie. So we moved further away from Niagara-on-the-Lake and to the Sheraton overlooking the Canadian Falls. It wasn’t the greatest either, but much better than the Hampton.  We had also seen and done everything in Niagara Falls, so after five days, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. By the end of the week, I didn’t have much energy and wasn’t feeling so great — little did I know that I would be in the hospital the following week!

So, we have no more road trips planned for the rest of 2014. But we do have a Caribbean trip coming up in November to Aruba. And we’re taking the camera!!! And I’m feeling fantastic!!! Let the countdown begin!

Always B E L I E V E !

Camera In Tow

This shot was taken with a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera using a manual mode, f/22, ISO 6. Click image for full size.

This shot was taken with a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera using a manual mode, aperture f/22, shutter speed 1/6, ISO 200. Click image for larger size.

Tom and I spent the day at McConnells Mill (again!), trying to figure out how to use all the features on the camera that we bought at Christmas. It was our hope that after taking our photography class and making the time to go out and shoot, we would learn how to use the manual mode. I think we still have a long way to go!  We’ve been on a mission to capture silky water, fireworks and star trails — all photographs requiring long exposures or long shutter speeds. 

We’ve played with the camera settings all summer and at every opportunity. Every time we came back from shooting, we re-read the manual, re-googled for new thoughts and ideas about what we are doing wrong, and made notes for the next time out. It seems like a long process, but rewarding at the same time.

While we still don’t have the lighting quite right, we’ve somewhat achieved the silky water, even though it rained all week and the water was muddy. And of course, after downloading the photos today, realized we had the ISO at 200 and thought we were shooting at 100. If you’re new to photography and want to try creating silky water, my best tip is to look for a cloudy day or go shooting in the morning or at dusk. The bright sunshine or daylight will blow out the water. We had a lot of sun today and had to wait for it to go behind the clouds. The other challenge we continually face is my ability to scale over the side of gorges and very steep gullies. It’s been our experience so far that some of the best sites require a long hike — and maybe even rappelling! Unfortunately, my hip doesn’t usually co-operate.


McConnells Mill is an absolute amazing place. The glaciers that came through western PA left rocks the size of homes. These rocks are nestled on the way into the park, as well as throughout the entire gorge. You can see just how large the one rock is that Tom is leaning against. While the summer may be coming to an end, we still have a couple of good months to shoot outdoors. We have trips planned to the Finger Lakes, NY, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ONT and Tionesta, PA. And then when it starts to turn cold, we’ll be headed to Aruba, camera in tow.

Always B E L I E V E !

Glorious Days


Looking back, I have absolutely wonderful memories of my Dad’s fishing boat. As Debbie and I floated around the pool this past Sunday, we started reminiscing about all the good times on the water or at the cabin — and sunny days on the fishing boat that could comfortably fit our family of six. Mom and Tommy sold the boat this past weekend to a very nice family of four that would use the boat for all the same reasons we loved it as kids.

Dad bought it new in 1978. I was 11 years old and I remember him telling us about the colors he picked — the sparkle in the shiny fiberglass finish and the white contrast of the design. He talked about the two lounge seats for relaxing and the two high seats meant for fishing off both ends of the boat. It even had a snazzy container for keeping fish. He brought it home and shined it up, and we were all fitted for life jackets and fishing gear. I can remember how excited we were — like kids on Christmas day.

Life revolved around fishing in the summers and relaxing on the boat. Sometimes Dad would get us up at four in the morning so we could get on the lake before sunrise. Mom and I would take the lounge seats, wrapped up in blankets and napped until daybreak. It would be chilly on the water and sometimes it was covered with a thick, cold fog. We’d watch the sun break through that and burn it off to reveal a glorious sunny day. Sometimes I would just look over the side of the boat and see how far I could see into the water. It would rock rhythmically on the water and was very soothing.

Mom always packed lunchmeat, double stuff oreos, homemade chocolate chip cookies, M&Ms and chips. One of the storage bins below the lounge chairs held the food, while the other had ice that stored cans of soda. Debbie and Tommy usually rode on the front of the boat and Bob and Dad had the back seats. Tommy was only two when we got the boat and rarely joined us on the water until he was seven or eight. That kid loved to fish and he was pretty good at it.

Dad_fishingDad was at his happiest on the boat. He always was laughing and smiling and left all the problems of work at the office. This was his time with the family. I think it was one of his special places — that ranked up there with spending time at the cabin — hunting, fishing, hiking and just being outdoors. And it rubbed off on us — we all love the water.

I remember one time Tommy was learning to cast — he threw his pole back, as he was sitting on the back fishing chair, and snagged my nose when he cast forward. I had a nose piercing long before that was cool — except for the night crawler hanging from my nose. Another time, we took the boat to Lake Erie. This was back in the day when Mom and Dad rented these little cabins in Vermillion, OH along the lake for a week. The water was so rough that Dad made us get out and swim to shore to our beach area. He decided it was better not to have his entire family on the boat if it capsized! Most of the time we took it to Lake Arthur, because it was closest to home. And later the Tionesta Lake once we built the cabin. All of these lakes catered to fisherman. My Dad complained when anyone disturbed the fishing — as you could use high powered boats and jet skis at Tionesta Lake.

My high school years, Dad worked for a specialty glass company in Coldwater, Michigan after the last B&W steel mill closed. He rented a small, one-room cabin right on the water that had its own dock — staying there during the work week and coming home to his family on the weekends. He docked the boat there a couple of summers, and we all took turns spending some time up there. The boat gave Dad some comfort during the long weeks alone. He sacrificed much so that we could go to college.

Sometimes those glorious sunny days on the boat would turn into steamy afternoons with a pop-up thunderstorm. We usually didn’t have time to get to the car, so Dad would pull the boat along shore and we would ride out the storm on the water. I would be petrified. The boat would fill up with water above our ankles and there wouldn’t be a dry spot anywhere. I would always think, “there’s no way God will hit the boat with lightning, because Bob’s on the boat and he wouldn’t take a priest, because there’s a shortage of priests!” That was the time that Mom tried to get Dad to change out of his heavy wet jeans into her purple polka dot shorts just while his pants dried. He refused and said he would rather sit in his underwear, because someone might see him in those shorts. Sure enough, the fish & game commission came around to check our fishing licenses.

The last time I was in the boat was in 2009, a couple of months after my major surgery. I had fallen into some kind of funk or depression, as I didn’t have the strength to go back to work at that time. My brother, Bob was convinced that I just needed to get out of the house, so he took myself, Tom and my Mom out for a day of fishing on Lake Arthur. I’ll always remember that day as the day that started to bring me back to life.

This boat represented good things for 36 years of my life. While the boat may be gone, of course, the memories remain for each one of us. I doubt my Dad had any idea just how much it meant to all of us. And now a new family will start new memories of their own.

A L W A Y S  B E L I E V E !

Finding the Beauty

It snowed this entire week — except for maybe Tuesday! By Friday morning, it was snowing again, and I just couldn’t take it — that little bit of added stress on top of everything else was putting me over the edge! If I could have just went back to bed and got up when the sun came out around 10 am, I would have been much more relaxed! To make matters worse, the morning show guys on my radio were joking that we were getting another 3″ on Friday night. I am now officially over the cold, the gray, the sludge, the slop, the ice, the filth and the salt of this winter!!! 

By the time I got home from work, I decided I needed to readjust my attitude on winter, because we still have at least a month to go, including a trip to Ellicottville, NY next weekend! And for me, the next month at work will be packed full of travel and all kinds of new business initiatives — there just was no room for any added stress. Not to mention my CT scan is due and my doctor’s appointment is coming up — all things that typically add to my stress, even when I pretend otherwise — just know they’re looming puts me on edge!

So I told Tom I wanted to go out and find some beauty in this winter. I know it exists as I daydream of a crackling fireplace in a cabin in the woods, while a thick blanket of snow falls outside — having no place to go and nothing to do. Or thinking of pure peacefulness with only the sound of a stream running through a lush green forest after a fresh snowfall. That’s what we needed to find — it’s what I love about winter.

As luck would have it, we got another two inches of snow on Friday night and woke up to a fresh coating on Saturday. We decided to head out to McConnells Mill State Park to practice what we learned in our digital photography class. The class wrapped up this past Thursday, and we were anxious to start practicing the theory. And surely there we could find some unspoiled beauty with McConnells Mill’s covered bridge, running stream and waterfall. Now, believe it or not, neither of us have ever been to McConnells Mill, even though it’s located just 30 minutes north of where we live. We figured this might be the perfect place to actually see the beauty in this relentless winter!

Now, if any of you know my husband, Tom well, you know that he never heads out anywhere without enough gas in the car. As we passed a little two-pump gas station in Harlansburg, he thought maybe he should have stopped — he only had a quarter of a tank of gas. We continued on, and as we got into the park, the roads were snow covered by a few inches. I was following a map on an App I had downloaded, and when we came to a fork in the road, I told him to go right. That way took us to the covered bridge, and we would have to hike to the waterfall. He made the right turn, and there we were facing a very steep slope over the hillside without any guardrails — and we couldn’t even begin to the see how far down it went. But we didn’t have a choice, there was no way to turn around at this point.

McConnells MillAs we crawled over the hillside, I snapped a couple of photos through the windshield with my iPhone. It got really steep, and I was nervous, telling Tom we should have taken my SUV. Tom agreed, but neither of us knew we would encounter these kinds of slopes! I had no idea how far down it went and was really worried about coming out the other side. Tom stopped in the middle and sighed — he was mumbling something about he wished he would have stopped for gas. We decided to get out of the park and get gas so Tom could relax. If we could make it out.

McConnells MillAs we reach the bottom and started climbing up the other side of the slope, Tom was getting worried that the roads were very snow covered on this side — he hoped it didn’t get much steeper. We came up to a Jeep that had stopped in the middle of the hill between two large rocks — rocks the size of small homes. He was really sweating now that we were going to get stuck on the hill. But we didn’t! This view took my breath away — it was amazing. We made it out of the park ten minutes later, and went back to Rt. 19 where Tom found the nearest gas station and bathroom!

We went back again, knowing we could make it in and out now, and actually parked at the covered bridge. Parking was tight as there were quite a few other people had the same idea as we did. It wasn’t as peaceful as we had hoped — I actually couldn’t believe how many people were out there. I tread through some deep snow banks and took some pictures of the stream. I thought it may actually have a lot of ice, but there was none. There was no where to set up the tripod, so we called it a day.

Yes, we found some gorgeous views and the snow was pretty. But I realized that it wasn’t so much about finding the scenic snowscapes, but finding the peace that came with it. For me, finding the beauty this winter means I need find some time to slow down and unwind.

Here I’ve been looking for some reprieve from this winter, realizing it’s peace I’m seeking, and God has been talking to me all week — in the novena that I’ve been praying to St. Francis of Assisi — who is the perfect example of peace. It’s not finding the beauty with my eyes, but finding the beauty within my heart.

Always B E L I E V E .