Christmas Traditions: The Nutcracker

Christmas Traditions: The Nutcracker

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My Kentucky: A Lexington Late Bloomer

Fried chicken, horses, white picket fences and farms.


These were my reactions when I learned that my family was moving to Kentucky. Granted, I was only 12 at the time, but based on whatever I “knew” about Kentucky, this was going to suck. I liked Georgia. I was leaving my world of friends, sweet tea, peaches, boiled peanuts and grits.

At Keeneland

At Keeneland

Unfortunately, I fought Kentucky for years. My introverted nature made it hard to make friends, and I always longed for a different place. I spent my high school summers at fat camp near San Diego, where I tried to convince people that even though I lived in Kentucky, I wore shoes and didn’t have a horse. I dreamed of going to college in California, which seemed so large and amazing to me. I applied to several California universities and got in to them. Imagine my crazy disappointment when the financial aid and scholarships weren’t enough to convince my parents (who were going through a divorce and my mom was dealing with a degenerative neurological disease) to spend $20K per year plus all my expenses when I could go to the University of Kentucky for next-to-nothing.

I grunted and grumbled and dreamed of other, more exotic places I could be. (Yes, at that time I thought California was “exotic.” Silly me). I was an advertising major, and went to an advertising conference in NYC and decided that I could go to California OR New York. And for that point, I could also go to Chicago or Atlanta. Truly, my stubborn mind wanted to be anywhere but Kentucky.

Looking back, I can see where my loyalties started to change. My freshman year I went to UK basketball games and joined the frenzy of the Big Blue Nation. I had blue eyeliner to write “UK” on my cheeks, and had blue nail polish to match. I went to Keeneland a few times and liked the pretty horses. I met a down-home Kentucky boy and fell in love. I was hooked, for better or for worse.

My blood turned blue when I got to grad school. I quit my job and went into an intensive MBA program at UK. There, I spread my Lexington wings and finally learned how to fly. Nights downtown sitting outside a bar nursing a bourbon and diet coke after a day of tailgaiting, horse races and socializing at Keeneland. I discovered the Lexington Farmers Market, apple picking at Boyds Orchard, events at The Limestone Club, and corn hole in the backyard. And vineyards - did you know Kentucky has many of them, on old tobacco land? This girl even got married in one, under the speldor of the Kentucky fall (on the day that UK beat LSU's #1 ranked football team, no less. The UK fight song erupted over the DJs speakers). My grooms cake was Lexington's famous Spalding donuts, and we drank Kentucky wine and Kentucky beer.

I now hang out with a friend in her Highlands neighborhood in Louisville, wandering up and down Bardstown Road along with the hipsters in the hoodies and prepsters with Bugaboos. I even *gasp* joined the Junior League and quickly learned to appreciate all things Lilly Pulitzer, but more importantly, the value of serving the community. This summer I experienced my first Kentucky lake, with the beautiful surroundings and friendly, beer-drinking boaters. The rest of my family left Kentucky years ago, and I've chosen to stay here.

I may have been a late bloomer, but now, my Kentucky is my home.

My Kentucky: Eastern, Central and Beyond...

My Kentucky is a sleepy rural town where every grocery shopping trip includes a half hour or so for socializing.

My Kentucky is hitting up tailgates in the Orange, Blue and Purple Lots, making plans for the following day's races, and analyzing the Dribble-Drive offense.

My Kentucky is being seated between Congressional candidates and tattooed hipsters at the latest Highlands hotspot, and finding neither to be out of place.

I grew up in a tiny Eastern Kentucky coal camp town of five hundred or so people,  the same town where my parents were high school sweethearts.  My paternal grandparents each logged four decades of service to the local school system, and countless people learned to read under my grandmother's instruction.  It's the kind of town where everyone is a teetotaler, despite the fact that most of us are descended from a moonshiner or two.  It's the kind of town where church dinners and high school basketball games are still important community events.  It's the kind of town where you're never asked your name at the pharmacy or the dry cleaners.  Everyone simply knows who you are.

Like most small-town Kentuckians, I moved to Lexington for college when I was seventeen.  Here, I learned about a way of Kentucky life that was as foreign to me as the customs of far-off continents.  Horse farms and bourbon and country clubs weren't a part of the Kentucky of my childhood, nor was rush hour traffic. Soon, I found that Lexington was more a large town than a small city -- it was friendly, inviting and comfortable.  I stayed in Lexington for several years after college and grad school; I cheered on my beloved Wildcats, watched the races at Keeneland, and attended more Cheapside Happy Hours than one should proudly acknowledge.  I found that I truly loved the vibe and aesthetic of that town; I proudly adopted its equestrian-prep clothing and needlepoint belts as well as  its slavish devotion to the "inside the Circle" lifestyle.  Lexington became the town I love.

I moved to Louisville for work in my late twenties.  Ironically enough, it was in the most fast-paced, Midwestern city in Kentucky that I fell in love with a fellow Eastern Kentuckian, with whom I'd attended undergrad.  We quickly came to love the quirky Highlands neighborhood where we settled.  We found ourselves immersed in a foodie culture, setting our Saturday morning alarm clocks early enough to beat the local sous chefs to the farmers' market.   We took our Labrador puppy to Starbucks and Irish pubs, where he was treated like a rock star.  We kept Louisville weird, as they say.  Or, at least as weird as a corporate lawyer and a Junior Leaguer can keep things.

A few years ago, my beau and I moved to Nashville for his work.  As we made friends and contacts in the Music City, I found myself speaking for all things Kentucky: I gave advice on baking with bourbon (that Tennessee swill will never be bourbon. End of story.), buying Derby tickets, tailgating in Lexington,  making quilts, and the best restaurants along every major highway in the state.  I found that, despite the cognitive dissonance I'd always assigned to the three chapters of my Kentucky life, I simply knew and loved my home state.  And, when we eventually moved back to Lexington, we realized that any corner of the Commonwealth was "home."