For the Old Kentucky Home Far Away

(song: My Old Kentucky Home/artist: Stephen Collins Foster)

My husband and I got married on May 1, 2004. When we found out (after the date was set) that it was also Kentucky Derby day, we decided that the groom's cake (I'm from the south. It's a thing we do...) should be in the shape of a mint julep cup, to signify the Derby. What we expected was a sheet cake. What we got was a 3-D monstrosity that haunts us to this day. But it made for a very interesting conversation piece.

What we had was a failure to communicate.

Anyway, since our anniversary rarely falls on a Saturday, it became our tradition to celebrate on the first Saturday in May -- Kentucky Derby Day. From 2005-2008 this happened at whatever restaurant/bar we dined. In 2009, our pal Brett invited us to a huge Kentucky Derby party, and a new tradition was born. Hosted by Kentucky-native-turned-Brooklynite, Michael Boyd, this annual party that once was a smallish gathering in his Brooklyn apartment has grown to epic proportions - dude has sponsors - and for the past five Derbys, has been held at Brooklyn's The Bell House

There's square dancing, live music, a contest for best formal and informal hat, and a sharp-dressed man contest. My husband has been runner-up three times. Always a bridesmaid. There's also on-site hat sales , yummy food vendors and of course, mint juleps.

At post time, they show the race on a giant screen, everyone goes nuts for two minutes, some people win money, then the crowd thins out and the "after party" starts. Three words: Live Band Karaoke. This is one of my favorite events of the party. I love watching, and occasionally (twice) I've been brave enough to take the stage.

But the thing I look forward to the most - besides an excuse to drink during the day - is getting dressed up. And when I tell you people go all out with their derby attire, I mean they go ALL OUT. Fashions and themes run the gamut. You got your hipsters in creatively kitschy homemade hats and vintage dresses. You got your dudes in classic seersucker and bow ties. You got your folks in jockey silks. I saw a guy dressed as horse one year. My husband and I have raised our fashion bar a little higher every year. It certainly has been more fun for me as my size has diminished.

2009 - Derby fashion novices playing it safe.

2010 - My hat got bigger. Hubby got a bow tie.
 Also, this happened:
Living out my karaoke dreams with our pal Brett. We massacred the Iggy Pop/Kate Pierson duet "Candy".

2011 - I was still in the fitness test group and super happy about the size 6 dress, but really nervous about being at a party because I couldn't really imbibe on "off program" drinks and food. Hubby got new saddle shoes.
2012 - Hubby's aunt found these amazing vintage Lily Pulitzer pants in her attic. He opted for a Thurston Howell look with the ascot. I bought a hat with handmade felt flowers and added white gloves and pearls. This was our finest fashion year by far. We even made the Wall Street Journal (online).

2013 - Same hat (What? It was expensive!), green dress. Hubby wore seersucker...AGAIN. How could he top 2012?
 Also this happened: 
Our pal Ed gave me a shot at redemption. I got to sing "Candy" again, and though I do not have video to prove it, we were awesome! I know because the 5 really inebriated guys that were still around by the time we performed, told me so. And drunk people know good karaoke when they see it...

I love this day for so many reasons. It reminds me of what was the happiest day of my life before my son's birth. It gives my husband and me a great excuse to cut loose and act like we did at our wedding reception (there's lots of spazzy dancing) and, best of all, we're home and in bed by 10PM. It's fun and people-with-kids friendly! I've already started shopping for 2014. Giddy'up!


2014 - Our friend Michael didn't have his annual party in Brooklyn this year so we jumped boroughs (and tax brackets) and headed to 11 Madison Park in Manhattan. A swanky time was had by all!
I ditched the hat and became a dedicated fascinator wearer. Hubby got a new bow tie.

2015 - Year two at 11 Madison Park in Manhattan.

We drank mint juleps. (duh)
And, oh yeah, Neil Patrick Harris was there too! (I love you, Doogie!)

2016 - Year three at 11 Madison Park in Manhattan. If it ain't broke...

We almost didn't make this one.  I had just gotten back from Georgia, a trip that would be the last time I'd see my dad alive, and I was so emotionally drained. He passed away 5 days later. I'm glad my husband "forced" me to enjoy myself. It was a great afternoon/evening despite the sucktastic situation with my dad.