Freelance Writing


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Uniquely Kentuckian

(Feature Article)

A few summers ago my husband and I started visiting state parks on day trips. We actually didn't realize our new tradition until a few trips in. Our home is relatively close to two state parks, so it wasn't a stretch to end up at one. These trips were rooted in our love of the Kentucky hot brown dish. Warm, gooey cheese smothering a hot heaping pile of turkey, ham, and the holy grail of meats - bacon. It's almost an out-of-body experience in complete deliciousness. I am happy to report that both Greenbo State Park in Greenup and Carter Caves State Park in Olive Hill, both serve extraordinary hot browns in their restaurants. We take great pride in our Kentucky roots and traditions and most of the time the places we travel to or visit, whether intended or not, are within the crooked borders of our beloved Commonwealth. Kentucky has a varied landscape with rich traditions from cars to camps. We don't really know where we will end up on our ventures, but it's sure to be something or somewhere worth the trip.
Our latest venture through our old Kentucky home took us down the infamous Route 23. You know, that one Dwight sang about - "Readin', Writin', & Route 23." The almost 160-mile long route is also known as the “Country Music Highway” and stretches from the Virginia state line to its northern end at the Ohio River at South Shore. Appropriately named, myriad of famous musicians and talents have sprung from its reach, including the Judds, Dwight Yoakam, and Loretta Lynn.  
As proud as I am of all things Kentucky, I admit here and now that I had never in all of my years as a true blue Kentuckian been to visit Loretta Lynn's home place in Van Lear, Ky. I remember listening to Loretta's songs playing through the house as I grew up and was no stranger as an adult to her tunes. I could never forget Sissy Spacek's thickly-accented line from the Coal Miner's Daughter movie - "Quit yer growling Doo, you sound like a big ol' bear."
If there was any place that centered on Kentucky roots, it's Loretta's place. It's nestled deep into a holler, not a hollow, barely announced and the road leading up to the ordinary cabin she grew up in is as unceremonious as anything could be as it creeps along the bottom of steep hillsides. At one point on our adventure to Butcher Holler, my husband and I, believed we were totally lost and this could not possibly be the way to Lynn's infamous childhood home. However, we realized we were on the right track when we passed a rock with bold painted letters announcing it as Butcher Holler, and we, indeed after a few more minutes down the crooked narrow road, pulled up to an old wooden house that looked as if it were desperately clinging to the steep hillside behind it.

Greeted by an outhouse and an old stone bench, it immediately felt like not just a place, but a home. Inside were memories and remnants of a life left behind by a tightly bound family. From the worn patterned walls to the aged wood furniture it reflected a true Kentucky family. It showed grit, tenacity, and pride. Simple but deeply rooted in its walls and furniture that refused to be weakened with time and full of life and memories that so characterize Kentucky families and their homes. I felt as if I were walking through not just her history, but Kentucky's history too and every other warm but worn Kentucky country home. Memories from the home of my own grandparents and parents sprung up and I felt completely at home in its simplicity. I wish I had visited her home place sooner, but I doubt that I would have appreciated  the parallels to my home state and people. Sometimes it is missing something or some place that punctuates meaning, and living many years outside of Kentucky and away from my home, had, no doubt, changed the way I view my own state.

I left the Loretta Lynn Butcher Holler home place in Van Lear, Ky beaming with pride. I felt as if I too was her family now. After all, Kentuckians typically feel and show a strong connection for fellow Commonwealth brothers and sisters.   We thrive in our traditions and unique Kentucky characteristics. I remember feeling like the proverbial fish out of water while living outside of Seattle, Washington taking a Linguistics class. A Kentuckian trying to pronounce ten and tin so that they sounded differently was apparently an entertaining circus act to everyone there. I remember that moment as not horrible for me, but for them. The thought of not having something as unique as my Kentucky-Appalachian dialect was unthinkable and sad to me. The students in that class quickly informed me that "correct" pronunciations should not reflect any regional dialects. I almost felt sorry for them. You should have seen their faces when I effortlessly threw out a big "y'all" on them.
Wherever you find yourself, I'm sure that like me, you'll still find comfort in your own traditions and characteristics. From food to houses to pronunciations, we Kentuckians just seem to draw strength from the things that are uniquely Kentucky or Kentuckian. It's our identity. Wherever I went outside of Kentucky, I noticed that non-Kentuckians did not seem to draw their identify or their comfort from anything they shared with their fellow state-family members. I lived in many different states and places over the years and I enjoyed the variety and opportunities life has given me. So, by all means, travel and enjoy. But if you're like me, you'll find that there's just something missing in all those places. Maybe this is why my husband and I still travel to unique places but almost always within the borders of our old Kentucky home. It truly is a great place to claim as home and be a part of a much larger family. And there's no shame in staying home when you're from a place like Kentucky. If you do find yourself outside of the comfort of your Kentucky home, rest assured all those things that make it home and truly unique will remain strong and alive and will be there when you get back. Even those delicious Kentucky hot browns.

For more information:

Loretta Lynn's Homeplace Butcher Holler
Millers Creek Road
Van Lear, KY

Greenbo Lake State Resort Park
965 Lodge Rd.
Greenup, KY 41144
Phone: (606) 473-7324
Park Manager: Stephanie Poplin

Carter Caves State Resort Park
344 Caveland Dr.
Olive Hill, KY 41164
Phone: (606) 286-4411
Park Manager: Chris Perry

Carter Caves State Park Homepage

Old Things New - New Things Old
(DIY Feature Article) 

This seems to be the prevailing theme in current farmhouse decor and diys. The juxtaposition of old and worn treasures with freshly purchased objects that have yet to create their own meaning and significance. At some point, those old treasures had to be someone's new purchase, right? While I truly value the treasures, probably too much, I wonder if I'm creating any new treasures for anyone after me to collect. I guess it is good then that we don't rely solely on the old and worn for our decor. Today's new purchases are tomorrow's treasures, after all.

On my short list of old treasures for me is my grandmother's china cabinet. I got it years before she was gone, so, in a way, it really was handed down to me from her. I wonder if it would mean more or less or completely the same if I had been given it after her death. I don't think it would matter much, but I am glad that I know it came from her. It wasn't a sacred item in her house or even a piece that I have memories of seeing when I went to my mam-mam's house to visit her. But it is the sort of thing that I know she had and used and loved. She would have had the shelves overflowing with the dainty tea cups she loved to collect and most likely, a handkerchief or two sticking inside a few of them along with pictures of all five of her granddaughters. That look so embodied her character - soft but strong, beautiful but full of purpose, and determined to survive.

On its journey to its present state, the stout cabinet has endured sanding, priming, painting, and more sanding. After my husband had painted two beautiful crisp coats of white gloss paint on it, I grabbed the sandpaper and began my version of distressing it. The look on his face was priceless. I think he's new to this "old but new-new but old thing." He said if he realized I was just going to ruin his careful paint job, he would have not tried to do such a good job. To this day, whenever I paint something, he asks me if my plan is to, in his words, "ruin it with sandpaper." Some day he'll get used to this.

New but old and old but new, my grandmother's china cabinet sits stout and proud in the corner of my dining room. I once had the shelves stuffed full of knick-knacks, but at some point, decided that all that took too much away from the cabinet itself. A few selected dishes and collectibles now call it home. It's appropriate that the only remainders of her favorite dish pattern decorate its top shelf. Somehow I think she would smile at that.

On other shelves are some truly new things - a farmhouse "chicken feeder", which as a true born-and raised-on-a-farm-in-Kentucky-girl, is not accurate. We never fed chickens from an aluminum tray. Ever. Never. But, there it is with its slots filled with random old things - collected seashells, bottle caps and bottles, and a cardinal figurine. They say cardinals can represent a loved one's presence, so although I am not a follower or believer of such lore, it felt wrong for it to not be there.

Other rehab efforts on the cabinet involved removing the main door, which opened the cabinet space up since it had long lost the side panel doors. Their vacant space holds chicken wire across the door span (we never used that either on the farm). The inside is painted a light shade of grey. It was left in its original rich, dark wood shade for most of its life with me, but I wanted to lighten the whole cabinet up so I gave it a good few coats of paint on the inside.

And that's the story behind my "new but old - old but new", rehab (sort of) of my grandmother's china cabinet. It's the perfect mix of old with new that we love so much these days in all things farmhouse. Old treasures will never go out of style, but don't forget to create some of your own to pass on.

You CAN Keep Your "Stuff" and NOT Feel Guilty. Here's how...

(Feature Article with Links and Title Graphic)

I admit it. I'm a collector of things. New, old, found, bought, salvaged, folded, packed, and stacked things. And I've made my peace with it and come to the conclusion that I should not feel guilty for it.

The trending wave of minimalism and decluttering has long been in full swing. We've been inundated with articles and television shows that brainwash us into believing that things are bad and then tell or show us just how to get rid of our stuff so that we can truly live and experience life. A quick Google search about "having stuff" turned up no less than seven out of ten results with headlines like these...

"Why Stuff Is Making You Unhealthy and Unhappy"

"Americans Have Too Much Stuff"

"Materialism Makes You Miserable"

"The Hazards of Too Much Stuff"

Clearly, minimalism is in and having stuff is out.

Regardless of opinions and even official studies, I like my stuff, or "crap", as one article called it, and I'm tired of hearing that it's not good for me, or that it makes me unhappy or unhealthy, and that I should feel guilty for it. Just the opposite is true. My "stuff" helps me feel connected, gives me purpose, and tells me where I've been and where I'm going.

What kinds of things do I collect, stash, horde? Well, anything that is useful to my diy projects, anything that I might find useful for a future project, and things that are collectibles, momentos, hand-me-downs, sentimental objects, and anything in general that I'm a fan of. For example, I have some leftover wood trim pieces that I took off of a recently salvaged armoire. I have a stack of miscellaneous frames that I am hording for a future wall project. I also have pieces of materials and fabric remnants that are folded and stacked for whatever project I find for them. As soon as I decide that a sweater has served its purpose in my closet, it finds itself a new home in my materials stash to wait for a useful project. And then there's my University of Kentucky collectibles that, as a true blue fan, can't and won't part with even if I have to rotate them in and out of displays. These things are my stuff. The majority of my stuff are random bits and pieces that are labeled as "for future projects." My husband just sees junk and clutter, of course. Not everyone can see potential.

 I've come to the realization that there's a compromise to be made here. The key is determining exactly what stuff is meaningful to you and then taking a no-holds-barred stand against the minimalist, stuff-is-bad movement. Be forewarned that this isn't a way to justify having an entire spare bedroom, basement, or dining room table being swallowed up with 50 years of magazines you've collected. When things and stuff interfere with living life, you've got to recognize that those things are not bringing you any joy or comfort.  But for those people who have things and stuff that you feel bring you a sense of life and meaning in some way, then this post might make some sense or even relief from the guilt and shame you've been convinced that you should feel.

I've recently been watching the show "Tidying Up" on Netflix. The show is based on the KonMari method of, exactly what it says, tidying up and organizing your home. Renowned tidying expert and founder of this method, Marie Kondo is featured on the show bringing her decluttering and organizing expertise to a variety of families and couples in the United States. It really is a fascinating and useful process to watch. It may seem contrary to the message of this post, but it actually inspired it.
Her philosophy is to only keep items or things or crap or whatever term you prefer, that spark joy for you. And there it is, the determining factor in how to decide what needs to go and the defense of what to keep.

I truly feel that this thing called "joy" is unfamiliar to many people. It's not the same thing as happiness. I am happy, but I feel joy. It can be described as an almost giddy feeling when you are focused on enjoying a moment or memory associated with an object or thing.

I recently had another student describe me as being "joyful with my students." As a teacher, I'm not sure I will ever receive a more meaningful compliment. It meant more than if someone had said I was happy or motivated...this was joyful. I was thinking what exactly was the difference here and how could I explain it. That giddy feeling, when the entire world melts away and all you have is a goofy smile on your face - that's joy.

If you apply Marie Kondo's philosophy to your things and stuff, then you'll know what you need to keep and what you can actually let go. She'll even show you how to organize your "spark joy" things. But make no mistake, I can and do and will have my stuff and I will not be apologizing for any of it anymore.

So, keep, but organize, your collected, found, bought, salvaged, folded, packed, and stacked things if they pass Kondo's "spark joy" test and throw off that veil of shame and guilt.

Ironic that a cleaning, decluttering, and organizing show has brought me to proudly claim that, yes, I am a collector and I have no shame in it. And you shouldn't either.


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