“I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade… And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.” ~ Ron White
I’d been waiting months to see the Chihuly exhibit at Maker’s Mark Distillery with Marcie Christensen and Annie Bassoni. Our night finally arrived, and off we went into an absolutely beautiful, albeit chilly, evening. You might recall that I’d seen the exhibit last month, but that just meant I could be their tour guide tonight. It also meant I could be a bit more prepared for photos since I knew what to expect. And, as a bonus, the distillery had decorated for Christmas. Very pretty.
As Marcie pointed out, photographs of Chihuly’s work don’t do it justice – none of it. Doesn’t matter what piece it is. I’ve yet to see a photo that’s even close to the experience of actually standing before a piece. The wow factor defies description. The work is so intricate and fluid that no two elements, no two angles look the same. There’s always something new to discover. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Marcie and Annie take it all in. I imagine I looked very similar when I first saw the exhibit.
On top of all this, during our ride to Loretto (where Maker’s Mark is located), we had great conversations about spirituality and books and travel. Marcie told us all about her upcoming trips. She’s leaving soon for Africa, then Hawaii, then Scotland with a little Texas and California thrown in for domestic pleasure. Annie and I, and her many other friends, will live vicariously though her travel adventures, but one thing’s for sure: we three won’t be forgetting Chihuly night at Maker’s Mark anytime soon. This was a gift!
“There’s too much hate and bad shit in this world. Ya’ll be good to somebody when you can.”
~ Catfish Cooley
One of the best things about Marcie’s hen henna party last week was her willingness to be a blank canvas for anyone willing to try their hand at henna. Deb Chenault was, of course, the perfect person to give it a go. She is maybe best known for her jewelry, but she’s an incredibly gifted visual artist as well (she’s also a gifted writer). Also, it spoke volumes about Tammy Cornett’s character that she would be okay with someone else working alongside her. Not only was she okay with it, she encouraged it. Yes, the hen henna party was pretty clucking cool, and I was fortunate to be amongst such generous, open, kind – and arty – hens.
“In a way life itself tracks a person’s generosity, much like an airline might track frequent flyer miles. The more you give, the more you earn, the higher you fly, and the further you go.” ~ Robin Jackson
Today I did something I’ve never done. I went to a protest march; the Women’s March. I tend to keep my political views to myself. The outhouse provides me a positive, creative outlet. Politics don’t really belong here because I don’t find them particularly positive. But today I have to talk about it. I exercise my right to vote at every election, and I take that very seriously. A century ago, women were beaten and scorned and God knows what to get me that right. I refuse to dishonor them by not going to the polls. My father and his brothers, even my mother through her military service, fought to uphold this right as well. I honor them when I cast my votes. As a progressive in Kentucky I often lose, but I go to the polls anyway. You can call me a lot of things, but sore loser isn’t one of them.
I did not go to the march as an anti-president protestor. I never want our presidents to fail. I don’t want congress to fail. Nobody wins if/when these things happen. No, I went to the march because ours is a democracy admired around the world for its ability to survive whatever gets thrown at us, and that survival depends solely on people getting off their asses when they don’t like what they see and doing something about it. I went to the march because of the inexcusable behavior during the campaign that allowed America’s underbelly of racist, sexist, cruelly insensitive hypocritical culture, the level of which is nearly incomprehensible, to raise its head. It’s not the campaign tone alone that I have a problem with; it’s the culture to which that behavior gave voice. Disturbing though it is, I am not at all surprised by it. You don’t have to be a minority to know it’s there. You just have to be willing to acknowledge it.
A man did not win the American presidential election. Apathy won the election. Frankly, I think having a president who did not earn his seat by popular vote, buoyed by a single-party controlled congress that, thus far, appears perfectly alright with whatever happens regardless of the consequences, will be an excellent thing for this country. Let’s hear it for this reawakened bravado of the McCarthy-era wealthy, white patriarchy. You can’t fight what you can’t see. So, here it is, front and center. If you don’t like it, do something about it. If you do like it, enjoy it. I suspect this current Washington line-up is just the punch in the gut that Apathy needed. After what I witnessed today, the mid-term congressional elections are in 2018, and this resistance train is mighty and moving fast. Things will change.
I went to the Women’s March today expecting nothing but women. Boy, was I in for a surprise. There were just as many men. They made my heart sing. There were young people and elderly people. There were people in wheelchairs and babies in strollers, and gay people and straight people and people somewhere in between, and black and brown and white people, and people in costumes I didn’t understand at all. There were friends and colleagues and strangers all around me. This might have been called the Women’s March, but this was really The People’s March. This is what democracy looks like, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.
I’ve seen estimates for Lexington’s Women’s March between 5000-9000 people. There was an estimated 2.5 million protestors across the country today, apparently making this the largest protest in American history. I marched today for my mother, and my grandmothers, my aunts and cousins, friends and colleagues, and for all the men I know who would never condone the behavior that’s been unleashed. Jim Brown and Lance Hughes felt particularly close. I marched for my dad who loves me from the bottom of his heart and would never, ever, ever talk about me like a piece of meat. He is a decent, honorable man. We are so blessed to live in a country that gives us the right to peaceably assemble, and for our voices to be heard. God knows we’ve got our faults, but America is already great, and I reject any suggestion that it is not. I’m not a political junky or an activist. My view here is simple compared to the complexity of the situation. All I really know is that I love everybody. I don’t care what a person’s religion is, or who they sleep with, or how many sins they may – or may not have – committed, or what color their skin is. If they are kind, respectful human beings, I welcome them in my world, and I hope they would welcome me into theirs. To me, this is what being Christ-like looks like, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. It is also fundamental to my political views.
“Change is tough… it also makes you better.” ~ LaTrisha Milton Blunt
When I first met Marcie she told me about her dog, Annie. She talked about her with a familiar love. She talked about her as I talked about my Sadie (1992-2009). I understand that special bond between a woman and her dog because I was lucky enough to have it with Sadie. There’s not a single day I don’t miss her, and not a single day I don’t feel special that she picked me.
They were living in rural Anderson County when Marcie told me about Annie. If memory serves, a torrential downpour had spooked the dog and she was missing. She was gone so long she was feared dead. And then, as country dogs do sometimes even after long periods of time, she miraculously reappeared.
When Marcie sold her house to move to Lexington there was some concern about Annie’s transition, being a country dog and all. Between Ann and Marcie, they helped Annie get her footing. Annie is a precious being. Not particularly fond of the camera, but willing because she came to greet me as soon as I walked in. She said okay to my lens, and that’s a gift from human and animal alike. She is as perfect as Marcie said, and just as kind as Marcie.
“The beauty of life lies not in eliminating what we consider troublesome,
but in learning how to grow using turmoil as a tool.” ~ Terry A. Gordon
My friend Marcella Christensen has been undergoing chemo and radiation for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for several months. She got the diagnosis just a week or so after we attended the Death Cafe back in September. Looking at the link you’ll notice she was walking with a cane that day. She thought she had a knee going bad. It turned out to be far worse. This was a profound diagnosis given that Marcie lost her husband to cancer; a battle with which she is intimately familiar, and certainly not one she expected to deal with again. Yet, as Marcie is wont to do, she pulled-up her big girl britches and headed straight for treatment with the kind of life affirming attitude that is nothing less than inspirational.
Marcie’s friend Tammy Cornett does henna. Marcie wanted her bald head adorned with henna designs. She’d planned a henna “hen” party last month, but Tammy got sick, and, well, you can’t be hanging out with sick people when you’re having chemo. But today, the stars aligned, and most all the hens could be present for the Decorating of The Noggin. We met at Ann Daugherty’s delightful house. She’s Marcie’s BFF. The photos don’t do it justice. Inside or out, you don’t really feel like you’re in the city. It was perfect for a hen party. As you can see, we were enthralled with the process. Deb Chenault and Ann each contributed a small design to The Noggin. That’s Marcie’s sister, Linda, taking a picture. Marcie introduced her as “My Linda,” which I thought was sweet as can be. That little person seated to the right of Deb? That’s Kathy Robinson whom I met at the Death Cafe and immediately fell in love with. This was the first time I’d seen her since September. It turns out that she was in the hospital at the same time as Marcie (but not with cancer)! I hugged her extra hard when I found out how lucky we were to still have her, too.
I didn’t get to stay long enough to see the finished product, but I’ll see it soon. For however short my time, I was extremely grateful to be in everyone’s company, and witness this moving event. There was nothing but love and gratitude swirling around in that room. I met new people, and hugged old friends. Their gentle spirits and kind energy lifted me so much, as I’m sure was true for each of them as well. The best news of all is that Marcie’s cancer is gone save for a few small spots that will be eradicated with a final round of chemo and radiation. What glorious, hopeful news. This day definitely goes in the win category,
“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” ~ Jim Rohn
This is Kathy Robinson. We just met today. The second she opened her mouth I felt like I’d known her my entire life. This photo is pretty much how we looked most of the day. Kathy and I had the opportunity to meet because we attended the first Death Cafe in Kentucky (as far as I know it’s the first). Marcie Christensen invited us along with Deborah Knittle (below). Marcie drove the chariot and picked us up one at a time. None of us had met, well, except we all knew Marcie. If that’s all we had done today I would have had a blast.
But our day was destined to be so much more than a joy ride. Death Cafe was held at the tea house on Furnace Mountain. If you’re not familiar with Furnace Mountain, it’s an 850 acre Zen Buddhist retreat near Clay City in Estill County. Imagine that: a Buddhist retreat in Eastern Kentucky! It’s so beautiful on that mountain, and the drive through the red river valley was simply gorgeous. You’re still wondering what on Earth a Death Cafe is, aren’t you? In short, it’s a small gathering of people interested in talking about death. Honestly, I didn’t know much more than that going in, so I was expecting tears and psychobabble. There was neither. Death Cafe is not therapy. It’s a simple gathering of people willing to talk about death and dying. As morbid as that may sound, the actual experience of it was anything but. When you think about it, it’s remarkable how little we are willing to talk about the subject.
This is Micki Eul with Kathy. Like Kathy, I loved her immediately. She and her friend, Tyson, shared a table with Kathy and I, and we were able to get acquainted fairly well. Micki, at only 38, is a three-year cancer survivor. Her brush with death gave her a different perspective on death from what she started with. But that perspective is very similar to that of Kathy’s, who said one of the most profound things today. She said, “My goal is to have a good death.” Think about that for a minute. What is your idea of a good death? If you ask Micki and Kathy, they’ll tell you it’s living every day as if it will be your last; fully embracing every ounce of goodness and happiness you were born on this Earth to experience. Can I get an ‘Amen?’
Now, you’re wondering why I was there, aren’t you? I haven’t had a horrible illness. I’m still young enough to (conceivably) double my age before I die of old age. So, why Death Cafe? I’ll tell you what I told the group. The day after my fourth birthday my Uncle Ralph Paul was killed in Vietnam. He played with me more than all my other aunts and uncles. He came to see me a lot. He was my friend, and that was a big deal for an only child like me. I don’t remember what mom and dad told me about his dying, but I knew there was no coming back from death. I also knew it was not the end. Whatever they said laid the foundation for me to handle death from that point forward. I’ve seen people die. I’ve watched people suffer until they die. I’ve seen them die young. I’ve seen them die when they’re a century old. One of the joys in my life is that I know and care about a lot of people. Knowing they could die before me is part of the love package. I’ve had to say goodbye to my share, but I’ve never felt like it was over. It’s just so long for now. My parents did their job really well, and hopefully some of what they gave me I can give to others. As I always say, ‘Ain’t none of us gettin’ outta here alive.’ Make sure yours is a good death.
“Let today be the day you finally release yourself from the imprisonment of past grudges and anger. Simplify your life. Let go of the poisonous past and live the abundantly beautiful present.”
~ Dr. Steve Maraboli
The Michler’s Christmas Fair – way back the first of December – doubled as an excuse for the Happiness Gals to convene for our Christmas celebration. Not all of us could be there (we missed them), and none of my shots are very good. So, since I’m rarely in the group photos, I thought I’d lead off with a blurry self-portrait courtesy of the fair’s tuba player. That we’re missing excellent pix of the day is irrelevant really. What mattered was that we were together sharing conversation, laughter, and good cheer. I love my gals. They’re such a blessing.
“Consider becoming the type of energy that, no matter where you go,
you always add value to the spaces and lives of those around you.”
This was a big, nervous day for me. If you’ve been following the outhouse, then you know I’ve been working on a series of photos called Sacred Spaces. The first exhibit of the work was scheduled to hang today at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Lexington. Because God and the Universe love me, it just happened to coincide with Sandy Davis’ first return to Lexington since moving to Boston. Sandy has been a big supporter of my work and she always had my back when it comes to all the things I’m horrible with, like marketing myself. I’ve leaned on her artistic senses to put this exhibit together, so it was only right that she should be there when it went up. I trust her eye, and I trust Marlon Hurst, so I stepped aside and let them hang the show. It was a huge load off my shoulders, frankly. I get too close to the work sometimes to know what’s best. I’m indebted to them forever for helping me. And while they did the heavy lifting, Harriette Swart and Stacy Yelton talked to me at length about the work itself. Their conversations were so cathartic, so soothing, that my nerves calmed and I felt more confident about the work, and most importantly, the impact of the work. It was a truly special time that I will never forget (Sandy insisted on the Kopana style selfie, and Sandy gets what she wants!).
My day wasn’t done. No, this great day was meant to be a spectacular day! We left the exhibit and met our Happiness gal pals at National Provisions for a late brunch. This was the first time we’ve all been together since Erin had moved before Sandy, Annie, and Jeanne Marie joined us. Plus, we’ve added Harriette Swart and Marcie Christensen because they are meant to be here. We’ve all had a big year, but most of us have undergone big life changes; from moving homes to changing careers to adult responsibilities, and so on. I just can’t believe how lucky I’ve gotten to find these friends. It’s mostly thanks to Deb Chenault for putting her Happiness Project out there and letting us be part of it. Every one of these women is talented, unique, big-hearted, and smart. I’m just happy and in love with all of them. And Marlon, too, because he’s cool enough to be a gal pal… if he was a gal. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
“If your love for me requires that I hide parts of who I am, then you don’t love me. Love is never a request for silence.” ~ DeRay McKesson
Sandy Davis is going back to Boston. We – Stacy Yelton, Annie Bassoni, Deb Chenault, Harriette Swart, Marcella Christensen, and myself – met for the final time tonight. It went way too fast. I’m going to miss Sandy. We’re all going to miss her: her laughter, her warmth, her smile, her enthusiasm, her smarts, and most of all, her great big giant compassionate sweet heart. I’m not worried, though. Kentucky, Lexington in particular, is like Hotel California for many people. You can check out, but you can never leave, not really. Sandy will be back. I will cherish the memories we’ve shared, and I will light a candle to her good life until she returns. It’s not goodbye, just so long.
“There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under the jurisdiction… I can choose how I’m going to regard unfortunate circumstances in my life-whether I will see them as curses or opportunities. I can choose my words and the tone of voice in which I speak to others. And most of all, I can choose my thoughts.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
One of my favorite things about the traditional Derby Day cookout is seeing John Lumagui. I never get to see him enough, so any opportunity, however long or short, is a joy. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s usually something that makes me howl with laughter. John met Wally for the first time today. In fact, Wally was the official greeter, and he loudly announced each new guest. This, of course, was not what John was expecting. He was one of Sadie’s best friends who, like John, was very quiet. Wally is anything but quiet, but he and John bonded by the time the party had ended and that was a good start for me.
As is often the case, the crowd changed throughout the day. Early arrivals, Deb Chenault and Marcella Christensen (below), had obligations that took them away before the race. Meanwhile, The Brereton-Stewarts and The Davis-Olivers (both relative newlyweds) arrived later in the day to help ring in the race. Watching his bride from across the yard, Greg Davis remarked, “You know, it was two years ago at this party when I first saw her in her Derby Pants.” That was the first any of us had seen of Vanessa’s Derby pants. She wore them again this year. Some things are tradition.
I almost cancelled this year’s party because I’ve been sick with what I can only assume is a horrible case of allergies. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I especially couldn’t do it because Sandy Davis is moving back to Boston in a few weeks. She has been a mainstay in my Derby Day tradition, and I’m hoping she’ll make this a reason for her annual return to Kentucky so that her smile will always grace our cookout. I’m so glad I didn’t cancel. Even though I couldn’t say much – literally – I enjoyed seeing everyone’s happy faces; hearing their jovial banter and gentle, steady laughter; and feeling the kindness they each possess for one another, even the people who were just meeting for the first time. That’s what the cookout is all about for me: being with people who are kind and happy. I’d have to be on my deathbed not to have it. Luckily I’m not.