Big Blue Dallas: Our Trip to the Final Four

The second the buzzer sounded after Aaron Harrison's spectacular game winning shot against Michigan to reach the Final Four, my husband said, "We have to go." Within a few hours, we had made travel arrangements, hotel reservations, found tickets, and made sure my mom could fly over and stay with our younger boys.

By Friday, I had gotten a Big Blue pedicure, packed my lucky sweater, and rounded up all of my eldest son's Kentucky gear. I put on my lucky blue earrings (which were, oddly enough, given to me by my very dear friend who just happens to be the biggest Gator I know).

Had John known Russell Wilson's collegiate loyalties, he would have left the Seahawks lid at home, I'm sure.
This guy was on our flight. Proud to say I successfully controlled my tripping foot.

Yes, there is something Big and Blue happening in Dallas!

Pre-gaming at Bracket Town

I was so excited to run into my Transylvania University friend, classmate, and sorority sister, Lisa Ezell Allen!
This was definitely good luck. 

Almost beat his old man in Pop-a- Shot!

This IS the year of the UK tattoo, right?
See below.

Unfortunately, they didn't have this one available.

Before leaving Bracket Town to make the drive to AT&T Stadium, we picked up some official Final Four merchandise. We are so nice, we even picked up some Gator gear for our sweet friends.
SEC love, y'all.

Absolutely thrilled to share this time with my favorite ten year old Wildcat!

I really wanted to see an All-SEC final. Boo.

There was some foreshadowing.

That many people and very little traffic control. It was a late night, but we didn't mind. Why? 

Because this happened!

Then THIS happened!

An unbelievable finish!

Best Night Ever

When the game ended, we hugged strangers and didn't care at all. More than one Cat fan was overheard saying, "I'm so happy, I don't even know what to do!" Then there was more hugging, because that's what you do when you are so happy you don't know what to do.

Here I sit on Monday, back at my house in North Carolina, a decision made in favor of school and work, and one I knew we would regret. I desperately want to be back there in Dallas, or at least somewhere on Limestone. I feel as antsy as you probably do, but don't worry y'all. I have my lucky earrings.

Favorite Thanksgiving Dish? Easy.

I have one job to do for Thanksgiving. I pack up my family and get us all to Kentucky. No kitchen, no turkey brining, no worrying about the perfect side. This leaves me with plenty of time on the road to  feel nostalgic for my favorite holiday dishes and extoll the virtues of my favorite sweet potato topping. (Pecans, in case you were wondering.) There is one simple dish that serves as my holiday harbinger, and that is my mother's uncomplicated but superb cranberry relish. Although she has made this recipe for as long as I can remember, she won't take credit for creating it. She attributes this recipe to Mrs. Pauline Eblen of Henderson, who is the sweetest little woman you could ever hope to meet. No wonder it's so delicious.

Here's what you need:

2 small oranges, unpeeled
1 lb. cranberries
1 cup sugar*

The mason jar in the back contains coconut palm sugar, which I substitute
for the cane sugar to the right.
The result is not as pretty but every bit as scrumptious.

Slice the ends of the oranges away, then cut oranges into 1/2 inch chunks. Fill food processor with all the ingredients, then chop and grind to your desired texture. I recommend letting it chill for a day or so in your refrigerator to allow the flavors to marry. They will be so happy together, I promise.

Takes about a minute to grind all this to a perfect relish consistency.

Here's some helpful cranberry relish advice that you will want to follow, assuming that you make this once and immediately declare that you wish you had more of this or could save some for next summer. Try buying eight pounds of cranberries and a full bag of oranges. This stuff freezes exceptionally well, so plan on freezing one cup portions that you can easily thaw when you want to add a lovely burst of color to a table or just want a crazy good dollop of tangy cranberries on your mid-May turkey sandwich.

I didn't have any cooked poultry available, so please take my word that this tastes heavenly on any type of bird. Say you have some chicken breasts in the oven, but you become distracted by one child while his tiny partner in crime tosses your timer into the sink. Dried out chicken? Boom. Cranberry relish to the rescue! Imagine a boring leftover turkey sandwich promoted to gourmet status by some leafy greens and the zing from this cranberry relish. But just between us, you don't need anything but a ramekin dish and a spoon to enjoy this stuff.

Digging into some of this deliciousness in a few short days!

What dish signals Thanksgiving and the coming holiday season for you? We would love to hear from you!

Father of the Blues: W.C. Handy's Legacy Celebrated in Henderson

Way back in 1990, soon after beginning her career as the Director of Tourism for Henderson County, Marcia Eblen was busy brainstorming ideas for new community events. I feel confident that some divine intervention led her to discover that W.C. Handy, also known as the "Father of the Blues," had spent significant time in Henderson.  While in Henderson, Handy met his wife, Elizabeth, while performing at a barbecue. Outdoor music? Blues? Barbecue? Sounds like a festival to me!

Watch this lovely lady (who happens to be the mother of yours truly) give a brief explanation of Handy's ties to Henderson, Kentucky:

For twenty three years now, the residents of Henderson have enjoyed a free, week-long blues festival full of lunchtime entertainment, street strut parades, mouth-watering barbecue, and outdoor, musical heaven on earth. The annual W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival is held mainly along the banks of the Ohio River in Audubon Mill Park. But don't think that this is just for the locals. I remember walking around our downtown streets during the festival twelve years ago and finding license plates belonging to Montana, Canada, and California! And it's no wonder. Past performers have included Leon Redbone, John Hammond, Koko Taylor, and Bernard Allison. (You can also catch Bernard Allison headlining this year's Java Blues Jam, the festival's big Saturday night closer on the 15th.)

Just check out this year's lineup:

  • Bernard Allison
  • Voice of the Wetlands Allstars 
  • Janiva Magness 
  • Royal Southern Brotherhood 
  • The Holmes Brothers 
  • Peter Karp and Sue Foley 
  • Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band 
  • Super Chikan 
  • Blues Caravan 2013 Featuring Bart Walker, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Jimmy Bowskil 
  • Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble 
  • Terry Evans Band 
  • Michael Gough Band
  • Boscoe France Band
  •  Lamont Gillispie and 100 Proof Blues 
  • David Dunavent and Evol Love Band
  •  Amazing Soul Crackers 
  • Three Shades of Grey 
  • Jimtown Saints 
  • Blues 4U 
  • Bob Minnette and The Dixieland Society

Kicking off the festival is the William Branaman Street Strut People's Parade. This parade has evolved from a few dozen curious folks parading alongside the few who were adventurous enough to dress up for the event to a crowd favorite with tons of Hendersonians of all ages going all out in their costumes to decorating their wagons, strollers, and parasols, ready to strut and compete for the title of Grande Ooh-Pee-Doo. The Parade forms at 9:30 am on Saturday, June 8th,  at Central Park.

Henderson residents enjoy a Street Strut and showing off their creative decorations.
(I see you, Steve Gold!)
One of the most popular nights of the festival shines the spotlight on Zydeco music and scrumptious Cajun food. Ever enjoyed some bread pudding on a Thursday night at the festival? I bet you have, because my mom had to quit making it in our kitchen and turn that job over to a larger operation! (Don't worry - it's still the same recipe it always was. Raise your hand if you love it. You, too?) The red beans and rice are also not to be missed. Here is a little look into the behind-the-scenes efforts by so many volunteers to make that night an annual success. Once again, I know this interviewee pretty well, and you will no doubt see other familiar faces hard at work:

Throughout the week, there are several Handy Lunch Breaks and Happy Hours at many of Henderson's favorite downtown restaurants, including Rockhouse @ Wolf's, Commonwealth Kitchen + Bar, Planters Coffeehouse, Delizio On the Corner, and On Deck. Check here to see the full calendar of events.

Do yourself a favor and go enjoy some part of this wonderful community event. You will love it, even if you don't fancy yourself a blues lover. Trust me! If you have been once or for twenty three years, let us know your favorite thing about the festival.

Henderson's Annual Tribute to Veterans

Before Memorial Day is too far past us, I want to share with the rest of you fine Kentuckians something special that we Hendersonians observe every year.  Our Central Park is always lovely, but this is the time of year when walking or driving by has us all stopping to reflect upon our vast freedoms and those who have served our military forces to preserve them. Imagine gazing out at over 4,600 of these crosses, each one a tribute to a deceased Henderson veteran.

A section of crosses erected annually in Henderson's Central Park

For the past 67 years, these crosses have been displayed in conjuncture with Henderson's unique and emotional Memorial Day Service. I am willing to admit that as a very young child, I thought that all these people were buried in Central Park. I am only admitting this because I bet I'm not alone! Once I grew old enough to know better, I realized what an enduring, tangible reminder our community has of the many sacrifices made by our brave veterans.

Henderson County Judge-Executive, Hugh McCormick, expressed the hope that children would always be present at the annual ceremony and carry on this important tradition. The photos in this post were provided by Henderson County native Rhonda Cravens Richard, who has blessed me with years of friendship and has deep connections to our flag (She was born on Flag Day, naturally!), to exercising our right to vote, and certainly to all generations of her family. She relayed to me the story of her eldest daughter visiting the Central Park crosses of her grandfather and great-grandfather (Rhonda's daddy and grandaddy) with her great-grandmother, Emma Cravens. At that time, Ms. Cravens was able to show her the crosses and tell her all about her grandfather. She has since lost most of her eyesight, which makes the picture below all the more moving. If I know one little girl who will carry the patriotism of the Central Park crosses and the Memorial Day Ceremony in her heart, here she is:

My flag loving friend's sweet daughter, Annaleigh, hearing all about her grandfather and
great-grandfather from her precious great-grandmother.

Read more about this longstanding Henderson tradition in this recent article by the Gleaner.

What does your hometown do to honor its past and present military service members?

W&M Custom Jewelry and Derby Week Style

As all Kentuckians know, there is no time quite like Derby. I won't go on too much about how I'll be here in North Carolina, settling for a measly two hours of Derby coverage and absolutely no local news flavor. I did not see a single Thunder firework, won't be out at the mini admiring the balloons floating overhead (although I understand the balloon race has moved to Friday since I have been gone, so I guess none of us will be doing that), have not partaken in a single chuckwagon treat.

One of the best features of Derby Week is the fashion. If you are like me, usually running around town in your yoga pants, you relish the opportunity to dress the heck up. One thing Kentuckians know is how to do it up right for Oaks and Derby. Start with a hat or fascinator, then find your dress, and don't forget to choose the perfect accessories. Speaking of perfect accessories, you need look no further than Louisville's own wonderful W&M Custom Jewelry.

If you haven't heard of W&M Jewelry (And if you haven't... WHAT? Get with it!), you can learn more about Megan Walz and Becky McClellan, the remarkable duo behind the brand, on their website or here in this article by StyleBlueprint Louisville. (By the way, I recommend the entire StyleBlueprint blog, so read through it when you have time and subscribe. My favorite amongst favorites is my dear friend Heidi, who wrote the W&M article.) Take a moment to peruse the lovely W&M website, and you will quickly discover that picking a favorite is simply not possible. Perhaps you could try to narrow down which bauble you want to get your hands on first, second, third... thirty-seventh, and so on. Here's a peek at just a few pieces that caught my eye.

Turquoise disk with silver starfish, $165

Three strand tortoise agate on gold chain, $155

Three strand peach jade on gold satin chain, $145

Two strand mint jade with removable vintage brooch, $185

Laborite and gold disk chain, $98

Gold tulips on vermeil, $59
Aqua sun drops on vermeil,  $79

Coral Enamel Rose studs $49

Gold on gold wire cuff, $95
So let's get down to business. You have The Hat. Your dress is ready to go. Do your accessories measure up to the rest of your outfit? If there are two women whom I trust to accessorize me and have a blast doing it, certainly they are Becky and Megan. I mean, just look at these lovely ladies!

Here's Megan...
photo credit: Adele Reding Phototgraphy

... and this is Becky
photo credit: Adele Reding Photography
I hope you didn't miss Christa Ritchie's feature about Becky in the Courier-Journal! In addition to that inspiration, Becky offers excellent advice for your time at the track.
  • Derby is the event where bigger is better. Big Jewelry, Big Hats, Big Fashion. This is the day where you want to show off your inner Derby Diva!
  • Don't forget it's a "Pink Out" for the Oaks. W&M's variety of stones come in many shapes, sizes, hues, and styles that allow easy incorporation into any outfit.
Megan also has some perfect style tips for this quintessential Kentucky experience...
  • Spring in Kentucky and Derby Season are such a colorful time of year. Accessorize with a big, colorful W&M necklace and pair of earrings to finish off your perfect track attire. Don't be afraid of color!
  • The perfect pairing for any fascinator are our classic tulip earrings. Not only are these the perfect match for any fascinator, but you'll get plenty of wear out of them, from the track to watching your kids' sporting events.
  • Above all, don't forget to accessorize with W&M, drink a mint julep, and pack a comfortable pair of shoes!
What's that you say? You wish someone would just give you a magnificent pair of W&M earrings to wear for Oaks or Derby or any other day? You're in luck! Becky and Megan have kindly provided us with a beautiful pair of gold peacock dangle earrings, and you can win them! (Notice that Becky is wearing a pair in her photo above.) I hereby promise in writing not to run off with them and pretend they were "lost in the mail." 

W&M Gold Peacock Earrings

Not everyone can win, however, so seek out W&M in several Louisville boutiques. For my hometown honeys, head over to Owensboro and shop at Studio Slant. I even have good news for my local North Carolina friends! You'll be pleased to know that you can find W&M at several Monkee's locations, including Charlotte, Greenville, and Wilmington. For us Raleigh girls, let's head to Monkee's of Chapel Hill. 

Since this Kentucky expat will be attending a fancy North Carolina pig pickin' fundraiser (no joke) while the Derby is taking place, I'll ask y'all to sing "My Old Kentucky Home" loudly enough for me to hear you over the Appalachians. I will also take this opportunity to point out that any piece of W&M jewelry makes an ideal Mother's Day gift. (You listening, Mr. Townsend?)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

{Drawing runs through 12 a.m. Monday, 4/29. Winner will be announced Monday morning. No member of the HerKentucky writing staff was compensated for this post.}

What's a Kentucky Fan To Do?

So, got any plans this weekend? As a lifelong and loyal Kentucky fan, I’d like to skip the tournament and plunge myself headfirst into Derby festivities, but  I live over here in North Carolina, and there aren’t any. Specifically, I live in Wake County, home of NC State and a 45 minute drive to either UNC or Duke. As you can imagine, living here amongst these similarly basketball crazed folks, I find it much more fun when we win the championship than I do when we are knocked out of the NIT by Zack Morris. Fine, whatever. Robert Morris.

Actually, living outside of Kentucky for such a long time has allowed me to almost want U of L to win a game or two, and that’s saying something. Go Birds. And while I’m mentioning Kentucky schools in the tournament, here’s hoping that Western Kentucky becomes the first 16 seed to upset a 1 seed. If anyone loves to choke in the tournament, it’s Kansas, so here’s your chance, Toppers!

Anyway, as difficult as some of the past week’s games have been for many of us to watch, there has been a multitude of excellent basketball programs available to ease the pain. Let's review my favorites.

1. Of course there has been coverage of Julius Randle joining the Harrison twins, James Young, Dakari Johnson, and Marcus Lee in Kentucky’s next recruiting class. Some analysts are calling this the best recruiting class ever, by anyone, anywhere. (Did you hear that, Fab Five?) And what’s important about that? Well, this kind of news serves as the light at the end of a disappointing tunnel. And of course that light is another banner hanging from the rafters at Rupp.

Welcome to the BBN, Julius!

2. Did you catch Bluegrass Kingdom: The Gospel of Kentucky Basketball? Any Kentucky fan would declare it the finest of love letters to our beloved basketball team and the most passionate fanbase ever known. I wager that even someone who didn’t necessarily like Kentucky but appreciates history and good basketball could think of a nice word or two. You will see everyone from Pat Riley to MKG singing the praises of the program. If you missed it, and I hope you didn’t, you can catch it here.

3. We were also drawn into the latest 30 for 30 on ESPN, which heralded Jimmy Valvano and his 1983 NC State Tournament Champions. The documentary is called Survive and Advance, which coincidentally is my mantra for each day with all my sports crazed, busy boys; well-traveled husband; and geriatric dog. But back to Jimmy V... I think that anyone with a heart that isn’t cold and dark has to admire such an inspirational man and the courage with which he lived out the end of his life. The touching way that his former players reunite and reminisce about the days of their unbelievable Cinderella run (which were apparently 30 years ago – excuse me, whaaaat?) brought me to tears. Don’t care who you pull for here in the ACC – you would give Jimmy V. a standing ovation if you could.

Cats or no Cats, of course I will still watch plenty of basketball in the coming weeks. No time like NCAA Tournament time is more rife with rivalry and excitement. Having lived in both Kentucky and North Carolina, we have certainly witnessed some intense rivalries. One thing I know for sure? Whether you love the Cats or the Cards, the Heels or the Pack, there is a single, common thread that binds all of us together. None of us likes this guy:

*Apologies to my three friends who actually do like this guy

You Can Take the Girl Out Of Kentucky...

 HerKentucky is thrilled to welcome our newest contributor, my dear friend and college classmate Allie Townsend! Allie, a Henderson native and Transylvania alumna, lives in North Carolina with a houseful of boys -- her husband and college sweetheart Landy, their three amazing boys, and their sweet old dog. Allie gracefully juggles her roles as freelance writer and supermom while making sure her kids are wearing the right (Wildcat) shade of blue deep in the heart of ACC country. --HCW

Here I sit, a solid six years into my second stint in the heart of North Carolina. I am wondering, as I often do, whether I will ever feel that this place is home. I mean, shouldn’t I? I have spent nearly a fifth of my life here; I enjoy the mild weather and the mere glances I give to my heavy winter coat as it remains hanging in the closet; I love our close-knit neighborhood where we have made top-shelf friends; and should we ever move away, my first thought is that I cannot possibly bear to leave my gym. Shoot, y’all, I can arrive either at the beach or in the mountains within two hours. Despite all the benefits, the answer remains and always shall be: no, not really. Home, as they say, is where the heart is. And for us? Home is Kentucky.

Our family’s roots are firmly planted in western Kentucky, although we made our way all around the Commonwealth. I was born and raised in Henderson, my husband in Owensboro. Despite growing up only 30 minutes removed, we never crossed paths until I laid eyes on that sandy haired boy in Dr. Lyon’s Western Civ class at Transylvania University, way the heck back in 1993. There we learned that both my grandfather and Landy’s father were Middlesboro natives. We called Louisville home after graduation, and we bought our first house in St. Matthews when we were married in 1999. Two of our three boys were born at Baptist East in Louisville. Our little caboose baby will always be known as the only North Carolina native in the family, but he will have a heavy dose of Big Blue to help him learn that he is a Kentuckian at heart.

Speaking of Big Blue, we endeavor to raise Kentucky-loving kids right on Tobacco Road. We must contend with NC State, UNC, and Duke, all of which lie within a 45-minute drive from our home. Just kidding about Duke - nobody here likes them, either. I will have much to say about the tumult of living outside SEC country. Never did I think I would find myself commiserating with Gators or the Crimson Tide (The Pachyderms? I don't know.), but sure enough, here we are, acting as if nobody else is allowed to say a word against our sisters and brothers.

I might be the most chronically homesick girl you’ve ever known. Fortunately, there have been many occasions when Kentucky has reached out with a pat on the back and a, “There, there.” Last fall, as I was bustling between school and soccer practice, a truck stopped outside the house and a nice man came out to talk to us about our UK flag. Turns out? Our new friend, Scott Lay, knows half of the Phi Taus from my class at Transylvania. And now there he is, just living right behind us with his beautiful family! Our neighbor across the street? The super-sweet Emily Branscum Belanger, UK alumna from Somerset! A couple of doors down from them lives the family of former UK offensive lineman Kevin Disotelle. Just a few months ago, while attending a spa day to celebrate a friend’s birthday, I sat down with the one girl I didn’t yet know, the absolutely lovely Kari Kirby Shoaf, a proud UK graduate!

Oddly enough, the most comforting bit of home did not come from a Kentuckian at all. One of the first things I discovered about my neighbor and serious Tar Heel, Monica Kinton, was that her grandmother hailed from Hardin County. Of course, she didn’t tell me the county like you fine Kentuckians would, but she did say, “E-town,” so I knew she was legit. I practically swooned when she relayed to me that her grandmother pronounced “eggs” just like my own Hardin County born mother: “aigs.”  At that moment, I knew I would be just fine no matter my zip code.

After living here in beautiful North Carolina for so long, I could go on and on about all the things I really do love here. What I love most of all, though, is that Kentucky is everywhere, and thank goodness for that.