15 Derby Hats That Will Have You Ready to Run for the Roses

Forget your handicappers and announcers and ESPN. Despite what you may have heard, Derby Day is, first and foremost, a social event. It’s an occasion for people to let loose, to see and be seen, and the true Derby goer knows that the perfect day starts with the perfect ensemble. And what is the key to the perfect Derby ensemble? The hat.

Not merely a cherry on top of your sartorial sundae, if you identify as a lady type person, the Derby hat you choose to perch on your head is the single most important factor in the glorious success, or horrific failure, or your Derby ensemble. From the zany to the classic, the sculptural to the understated, the millinery on display come the first Saturday in May is as distinctive as the jockeys’ silks, and as individual. To go hatless would be a fashion crime severe enough to give Miranda Priestley a coronary, and a deep sign of disrespect to the cultural institution that has flourished, sans pause, for 142 years.

But fear not, my lovelies. For while the task is daunting and the pressure great, you too can find the Derby hat that speaks to your soul — a festooned key that will unlock your next-level Derby experience. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, though you can certainly go that route. It could be crafted by the finest milliner or bedecked with flowers you taped on yourself. The important thing is that you have one, and that it is all you. Here are some options to get you started.

Fascinators

ModCloth, $49.99

ModCloth, $49.99

ModCloth, $19.99

ModCloth, $19.99

ModCloth, $19.99

ModCloth, $19.99

Hats

ModCloth, $34.99

ModCloth, $34.99

H&M, $14.99

H&M, $14.99

ModCloth, $24.99

ModCloth, $24.99

ModCloth, $54.99

ModCloth, $54.99

Forever 21, $14.90

Forever 21, $14.90

Forever 21, $17.90

Forever 21, $17.90

all photos via retailers’ web sites

April Round Up

Spring has officially, finally, gloriously sprung here in New York, and we’ve been soaking up all the sunshine and ice cream and cherry blossoms we can get. All this warm weather has lured us up and out of our cozy dens — to the roof, to the theatre, to concerts, to brunch, to Philadelphia, to other boroughs, to all kinds of adventures. Zelda saw our beloved Houndmouth (sadly sans Katie Toupin, but still a rocking good time), Scout continued her Shakespeare binge (Are you following @saucyandoverbold? You should be following @saucyandoverbold.), and we both jammed out to the Avett Brothers, celebrated new pads and happy trails for various friends, and drank lots of cocktails with our squad. And now, with Thunder just behind us and our second annual Brooklyn Derby party a couple weeks ahead, we’re passing on over (eh? eh?) into full-blown Kentucky mania and raising a glass (preferably containing an ice cold julep) to the adventures still to come.

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What We’re Doing: What a doozy of a month, y’all. Zelda made a list of New York books to read and did some musing on her rooftop and this city she now finds herself calling home. Scout got all warm and fuzzy about her self-made family of New York friends and reviewed our new and improved hometown museum, the Speed. We made bourbon ball cupcakes and Kentucky Lillies, got pumped up to go out, and drew inspiration from the Bluegrass State. Looking back, it seems home was the theme of our April this year: both the one we left behind (but will never forget, and continue to claim) back by the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs, and the one we have made for ourselves here, in the shadow of the Chrysler Building.

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What We’re Listening To: The warm weather has New York emerging from hibernation, putting on real pants, and venturing out to paint the town. As we all know, a great night starts with a great pump-up jam, and so for this month’s playlist we brought together some of our favorite fun, kickass, sexy getting ready songs. From Watsky to Mika to Rihanna to Yelle (and some two-named artists in between), these tracks have us dancing around kitchens, hairbrush microphone in hand, and then heading out on the town…or straight to our couch. Cause hey, you do you. Sometimes all you need is a party of one.

We also love: Bless your heart, April, you brought us so many delights for our eardrums to feast on! We can hardly believe the musical bounty of the past few weeks: The LumineersCleopatra, Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop’s Love Letter for Fire, Tegan and Sara’s Love You to Death (well, at least two singles’ worth), Ingrid Nilsen and Cat Valdes’s new podcast “Ladies Who Lunch,” plus a brand-new track from those brothers named Avett, a preview of awesome things to come on True Sadness this June. And then, of course, there’s Lemonade.

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What We’re Watching: Unbreakable, we’re alive, damnit! Kimmy Schmidt is back, and we are very excited (though we were a bit disappointed about the lack of a Pinot Noir redux). Kimmy makes us feel better about our lives, her positivity radiating through several new New York City adventures: Everyone needs therapy, Titus finds love, Lillian fights gentrification, Jacqueline becomes a sort of okay person! Scout also binged all of Amazon’s Catastrophe, which was fantastic. Her take away: basically You’re the Worst if Gretchen and Jimmy had met 10 years later. Also, Rob Delaney is really tall — like, giant.

We also love: This video of Gavin Creel and Aaron Tveit at Miscast, doing their take on “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent (also these Broadway babies slaying Hamilton’s  “The Schuyler Sisters”). After a lackluster beginning to the season, Scout’s favorite show, The 100, is finally back to where it should be, and she can’t wait for the last few episodes. Zelda’s over the moon that The Mindy Project finally returned to her life. And we got gripping finales for iZombie, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (don’t even get us started on how big an idiot Greg is).

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What We’re Reading: This profile of the Queen of Soul herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin (The New Yorker). This peak behind the scenes of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History archives (BuzzFeed). This trend piece (yes, eugh, we know, but this one actually speaks to our souls) on how staying out just may be the new going in (T Magazine). This tribute to the Bard, ole Billy Shakes, dead 400 years this month (The New York Times). This portrait of the 93-year-old queen of Creole cuisine, Leah Chase (The New Yorker). This defense of the matzah meal pancake (Lucky Peach). This look at the so-far-seemingly-awesome new Doctor Who companion, and why she’s such good news (Vanity Fair). This guide to throwing the perfect, perfectly French dinner party (AFAR). And in books, Scout finally read (and loved) Stiff, Mary Roach’s hilarious and engrossing look at history and misadventures of human cadavers, while Zelda is still reeling from the enchanting saga that is Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News (book hangovers are real, y’all).

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What We’re Eating: This month, we tested out theory that everything that can be put into cupcake form, should be — Derby style! Our bourbon pecan cupcakes tasted like Kentucky and Derby and home, and will definitely be making the menu at our annual shindig next month. With the weather finally warming up, we’re visiting all our favorite outdoor spots, because nothing says spring in Brooklyn like eating outside. Scout’s new favorite? The new taco truck that opened across the street from her apartment building, which is probably dangerous. And the end of this month has been less about what we are eating and more about what we are not, as it’s Passover, Scout’s favorite Jewish holiday, despite having to avoid her favorite food: bread.

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What We’re Drinking: In honor of early May festivities (we’ve said it enough, you know what we’re talking about now, right?), Zelda shook up her version of the Oaks Lilly — the mint julep alternative for those that don’t like dark liquor (bless their hearts). After a trying trip to gather all the ingredients (three different stores!?!), this easy, tasty drink was perfect, and for once we had the correct glasses for serving. Still, we’re stocking Zelda’s kitchen with Bulleit and Old Forester to make ample amounts of our favorite minty stand-by come Derby Day. In other beverage news, Scout made it to The Sampler’s April bottle share. Her favorite find? Always fantastic brewery Hill Farmstead’s saison, Edith. Also: ICED COFFEE SEASON IS HERE! Time to channel our inner Nancy Botwin. Preferably on a rooftop.

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What’s On Our Wishlist: This month’s wishlist is mostly for Derby gear. We need this, to make crushed ice and have the perfect juleps. Also this, this, and this to properly adorn our heads for the big day. And we wouldn’t say no to these geographically-themed tees from ShopLocal KY, or to this 4/20 spin on Kentucky for Kentucky’s classic Y’all shirt, made of Kentucky hemp.

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Photos via: POPOPTIQCOMINGSOONBUZZFEEDShopLocalKY

It’s A Tier

“Best friend is not a person, Danny; it’s a tier.” – Mindy Kaling

Maybe it’s the spring weather, maybe it’s Derby season and all the thoughts of home it brings, but Zelda and I have both come to a startling realization lately: We like it here. Proud Southern ladies that we are, we find ourselves *gasp* happy, living in this smoggy, smelly, sleepless city. We never thought this would be. Is it home? I don’t know, but possibly. Zelda waxed poetic last week about her roof and her life here, which brought us to a conversation about home. For me, my acceptance of New York as home, or at least a home, came because I’ve realized how hard it would be to leave it. Six months to a year into my time here, I thought I would be able to just pack up and go…somewhere, anywhere, else. But now, leaving would be so difficult — not really because of the place specifically, but the people I’ve met here.

Making friends as an adult is weird. Unlike childhood or college days, for the most part, these are people you have to actively choose to spend your time with, and in New York when it takes an hour to get pretty much anywhere, time is a commodity. I only schlep my ass from Bushwick to Ditmas Park (or, god forbid, Queens), for certain people. I have trouble leaving my bedroom to go to the refrigerator: Cross-borough commuting means real commitment. 

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When you’re in school, you meet people and become friends because you are constantly in the same place and going through the same things. Your social network is built in, a buffet of potential pals from which you can pick and choose. But when you enter the real world and are left without much of a structure or built-in cohort, making your friends becomes strange. It’s hard and it requires effort, and on top of that, staying in touch with the friends you’ve already made after you left the hallowed halls of the educational institution of your choice requires even more effort. Even though we live in the same city, Zelda and I see each other a lot less than we did in high school, and we came up with this blog scheme in part to force ourselves into seeing each other on a regular basis (not that we wouldn’t otherwise, but it definitely helps to have a shared project). My best friend from college and I live together, and we still don’t see each other that much. But at least with those old friends, you have a foundation to work off of; you can go lengths of time without contact and still pick up right where you left off, because you’ve got deep roots. New friends, adult friends, New York friends are harder, because you’ve got to somehow build a relationship without forced proximity or a shared activity to hold the foundation of your friendship together.

I made my first friend in New York sitting at a beer bar a few blocks away from my first tiny apartment in Alphabet City. The bar itself had just opened, and I had already made it my local spot. On the night in question, there was one other girl at the bar (not uncommon at places that served craft beer three and half years ago; I’m happy to say ratios have since improved). We were both at least two or three beers in, and both there often enough to know the bartender; he introduced us and we hit it off, exchanged numbers, and intended to hangout. We didn’t.

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I have so many numbers in my phone of people I’ve met once (usually at a bar) and never actually got up the nerve to text. However, I found myself in that same bar six or so months later (on the same stool I’d been on once a week for those six months), slightly inebriated and chatting to a super cool girl, with a strange sense of déjà vu. We went to exchange numbers only to find that we were already in each other’s phones. We had a good laugh about how we must have been pretty drunk last time if neither of us recalled meeting the other. But that second meeting was enough to force us to put some actual effort into the friendship.

That girl is now one of my best friends in New York. We hang out whenever we can, even if it only ends up being once a month or so. She got me the job that got me through six months of post-grad school life. I saw her transition out of a career she hated to one she loves. Plus, she’s my favorite drinking buddy. But it took our meeting twice, six months apart, to get there. In this stage of life, in this chosen city, sometimes you have to meet someone multiple times before you actually decide to make a go at the whole friendship thing.

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I was sitting at a bar in Midtown sipping on old fashioned when I had the strange, sudden realization that the guy I was drinking with (and also his fiancée, also known as Jason and Sarah) had somehow become one of my best friends. Without my even realizing it, our friendship had reached a level where his leaving town for a couple of weeks motivated me to drag myself to Midtown to get a drink in a bar full of finance bros with him (a sacrifice both of us made for this friendship). This was the first time the concept really struck me as strange. I made a friend, as a mid-twenties adult, and now I’m in that friend’s wedding and comfortable enough to pass out on their floor. The more I examined it, the more I realized that these were the friends that made New York home. The people I’ve met here, the people I’ve chosen here, new and old, are the ones that will make it hard for me to inevitably leave (someday, not in the near future). And because of them, I can’t imagine going right now.

Last night I attended a goodbye party for a friend I made at my last job, a work friend that had I been there longer might have become closer. She was packing up and moving to Boston with the intent of starting a family. And while obviously she was excited and happy about it, it kind of terrified me. This place, these people, are what home is for me now. It’s marathoning something amazing or terrible while sprawled out on Jason and Sarah’s massive couch, it’s grabbing drinks or dinner with Krista, it’s dancing in the kitchen with Jennifer, it’s going to concerts and plays and watching DCOM’s with Katie, it’s shooting the shit and playing Werewolf at Andrew and Ellen’s, it’s watching British panel shows and playing board games with Stephanie, it’s making fun of our dog with Claire. It’s these people that I’m not going to be able to wrap up and take with me, even if I wish I could. These are my people: my best friends. I add them to the long list that I’ve collected over the years — in Louisville, Baltimore, Prague, and Brevard. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can only have one, because in the wise words of Mindy Kaling, best friend is not a person: It’s a tier, and it’s home.

Eat This, Drink That: Bourbon Ball Cupcakes and Lillies For Fillies

As is customary come April here on Zelda & Scout (and in our lives in general), we have entered full-on Derby mode. Now we’ve already visited the two biggest culinary traditions of Derby (aka juleps and pie) on the blog, but there are still plenty of thematic treats left to share with you!

On the Eat This side, Scout was really not feeling like cooking this past weekend (Let’s be honest, is she ever? No. No she’s not). But she soldiered through (okay, after some mild whining) and searched for a recipe that would get her enthused. She toyed with the idea of making that trademark Louisville dish — the Hot Brown — but it was more of an involved process than she was looking for (this is also the reason why burgoo remains the only one of Scout’s Southern goal recipes she has yet to conquer — there’s just so many ingredients!). Next she contemplated that signature Kentucky candy, the bourbon ball, but candy making is nearly always a hit or miss process. She needed a way to combine all the flavors of Derby, but in a form that wasn’t overwhelmingly complicated, and that wasn’t pie, because we’ve done pie. Which led to an important realization: Everything is better in cupcake form.

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Ah, the cupcake, that  personal-sized and adorable wonderl. Scout recently made some snickerdoodle cupcakes that were A+, which has led her to believe that everything that can be cupcaked should be cupcaked, just as everything that can be waffled should be waffled (see: Arrogant Swine Waffle Mac & Cheese). So armed with this recipe from Bluegrass Bites (shout out to fellow Louisville gal, Lindsay!), we set out to wrap up the taste of Derby in a copper-foil casing.

While they’re slated as Bourbon Ball cupcakes, the flavors in these guys are essentially the same as Derby Pie — chocolate, bourbon, and pecans — so we could call them the cupcaked version of either. Bottom line: It’s Kentucky in a tiny cake. Due to time constraints and Scout’s baking inexperience, we chose to cut out the the chocolate ganache center, but in our opinion more chocolate is always good, so you do you.

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As per Lindsay’s directions, we started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees and our cupcake tray with Zelda’s very julep chic copper liners. Next, we combined 1 stick of butter, 2 tablespoons of cocoa, ¼ cup of water and ¼ cup of bourbon (with a little extra splash, because why not) in a medium saucepan, stirring until the butter melted and the mixture was smooth. Setting it aside to cool, in a standing mixer (a hand-me-down from Zelda’s baking whiz of a mama), we beat 2 large egg, ¼ cup of buttermilk, and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Once the butter mixture was cool, we added it to the mixer as well, beating to combine.

In a separate bowl, Scout whisked together the dry ingredients: 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar, ½ teaspoon of baking soda, and ¼ teaspoon of salt (singing along to What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress is optional at this point, but highly recommended). This then went into the mixer as well, gradually, so as not to cause a flour explosion in Zelda’s kitchen.

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Once all the ingredients were combined, we poured the batter (which should be fairly thin), into our cupcake pan (Note: The recipe says it makes 12 cupcakes. While we were able to stretch it that far, several of our cakes ended up on the smaller side, so we would recommend either dividing the batter among 9 cups, or upping your portions slightly.). Into the oven they went, to bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Then it was on to step two, pecan frosting! First things first: Toast 1 heaping cup of pecans. Lindsay’s recipe calls for you to do this in the oven, but we did it in a pan on the stove and it worked out just fine. Allow your pecans to cool enough so you can handle them, then finely chop. Next, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 4 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of firmly packed light brown sugar, and 6 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream. Bring to a boil, stirring consistently, and let boil for about a minute before removing it from heat. Then whisk in 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar. Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and your chopped pecans, and set it aside to cool. We got distracted by how good this smelled and looked, basically pralines in a pan (or praw-leens, if you’re Zelda). Excitement levels were, needless to say, high.

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While our cupcakes and frosting cooled, Zelda tackled the drink portion of the evening. Now when it comes to Derby, we are 100% Team Julep. But even we can admit that sometimes, just maybe, you want to switch it up for something a little lighter, a little fruitier, a little, dare we say, pinker?

Enter the Lilly, official drink of the Kentucky Oaks — the race for the fillies held the day before Derby and celebrated with much gusto (and no school or work) by the locals. Most of the work for this drink came in the form of procuring the ingredients: We had to go to three stores (one grocery, two liquor) in order to procure the four necessary elements (Zelda was so frazzled that she forgot to buy the garnish. Le sigh.). But once we had all four bottles in hand, it was smooth sailing! The official recipe we used, courtesy of the Kentucky Derby website, is short on instructions, simply saying, “Once the ingredients are mixed, place the pinkish cocktail in [a glass.]”

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Left to wing it, Zelda decided to use her shaker, because it makes her feel like a legit bartending badass. So into the shaker went 1 1/4 oz of vodka, 1 oz of sweet and sour mix, ¼ oz of triple sec, 3 oz of cranberry juice, and a few cubes of ice. She shook to combine and then poured the indeed pinkish concoction into her stemless wine glass. Now the recipe calls for a glass of crushed ice; Zelda did her best to improvise with the help of a mallet and some well-placed towels (see above), but not being in possession of an ice maker, her results remained on the cubier side. The recipe also calls for the bartender to garnish with a blackberry and a lemon slice. Having forgotten to purchase either of these items, she threw in a colorful straw and called it a day.

While we remain julep loyalists through and through, these Lillies were mighty tasty! Sweet but not overwhelmingly so (definitely make sure you get cranberry juice and not cranberry juice cocktail, which would throw the whole thing into cavity range), we’ll definitely be keeping this in our rotation for the spring and summer months, especially for those poor souls who have not learned to appreciate the glory of Kentucky’s finest brown liquor, and yet have somehow managed to remain our friends. The mind boggles.

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Cocktails in hand, it was time to finish our dessert! We ran into some issues when we attempted to frost the cupcakes. In an unforeseen hiccup, leaving out the ganache had removed a vital glue that is meant to hold the pecan frosting to the cake. We tried a spreader, we tried icing tips, and finally thanks to an old-fashioned plastic bag we managed to dose each cupcake with some praline goodness, smoothing as necessary with our fingertips like true professionals. And while they weren’t as pretty as we had hoped, they tasted fantastic. Even without the filling, the cake was plenty moist, and the frosting gave Zelda all kinds of flashbacks to family trips to New Orleans  in days gone by. Which really, at the end of the day, has been the overwhelming lesson of this whole cooking venture: It doesn’t have to look good, as long as it tastes great.

Look Up

“When this old world starts getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face, I climb way up to the top of the stairs, and all my cares just drift right into space…”  — Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “Up on the Roof

I’ve been spending a lot of time on rooftops lately. My rooftop, specifically. It’s my new sunny day routine — wake up, get dressed, pop across the street to the coffee shop, chat with the barista while she makes my usual, grab my book and headphones and keys, and then climb the four flights up to a locked door. There’s a certain amount of juggling that happens at the top, as I attempt to open the door without spilling coffee or sending my bookmark fluttering back to the landing below. And then finally, with a click of the gold latch, suddenly everything is quiet. It’s just me up there (perks to having an unconventional work schedule). I breathe in the wind and the sky, the baking brownstones and far off Manhattan skyline. The air is clearer up there, undisturbed by the near-constant construction that tends to fill my gentrifying neighborhood with dust and noise and a tinge of resentment. And before I settle down with book and coffee for an hour or two, back against the sun-soaked eaves, toes freed from my ballet flats, I take a second to just be. To breathe and soak up the sunshine and the skyline. To feel for a moment like this city, in all its chaos, is laid out waiting at my feet.

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Rooftop culture is one of the gems of New York, a secret nobody quite seems to let you in on until you move here. All those apartment buildings with their lack of space or light or air come with one big advantage — flat roofs — and so when the roomies and I were moving last summer, one of the perks we were most excited about was access to one of said roofs. And then we moved, and even though this urban oasis lay just four flights up, I stayed on the first floor, safe inside the confines of our apartment. I don’t know what exactly made me stay down below decks, as it were: a vague but unshakeable anxiety brought on by all this change and the abrupt unmooring from my first New York home. I was recalibrating, getting to know my new space, nesting and decorating and starting to make it feel less anonymous and more like mine, and that didn’t seem to leave me the mental energy to venture upstairs. August passed, and September, and then the temperature dropped and before I knew it rooftop season had gone. I kicked myself, cursing the unexploited afternoons I could have spent surveying my new hood and soaking up some much-needed vitamin D. All winter I stewed, thinking about the rooftop parties that could have been thrown, the lazy bottles of wine I could have nursed with a friend or two while we talked about…whatever.

So when springtime finally hit this year, I was ready. There was a knot in my stomach the first time I climbed. I don’t know what I expected to find — a locked door, a judgmental neighbor, another apartment already having claimed the uppermost territory as their own. But I found peace and quiet, a comfy corner to curl up in the sun. It was exactly what I needed.

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I’ve been in New York for two and half years now, so by this point I’ve been asked if/how I like it here more times than I can count. For my first year here, the answer was, depending on my intimacy with the inquirer, either an acrobatic weaseling away from an answer or a blunt acknowledgement that damn, this city was really kicking my ass. I was broke and I was homesick and I was frustrated and I was sad. I felt lost in the noise and crowds, missing Paris and Louisville and another life I could have somewhere else entirely. And yet I stuck with it, feeling that a decision to move on to other shores would be an admission of defeat, a sign that I didn’t have what it took to make it here. And so time passed, I got a new job and made new friends and explored more corners of the city. And one day, somebody asked me, “Do you like it there?” and I was astonished to find myself answering, honestly, “Yes.”

I am happy in New York, and for a long time that’s not a sentence I thought I would ever be able to say. A lot of that has to do with the people who populate my own personal slice of the world here. So many of the friends nearest and dearest to my heart call one of the five boroughs (or, let’s be honest, three — nobody lives in Staten Island or the Bronx) home. But I think New York and I have also come to an understanding. We’ve gotten to know one another, and while I don’t think we’ll ever have the kind of rapturous romance I felt with Paris or share the enduring kinship of soulmates I’ll forever have with Louisville, there is love there, a fond and deep affection that now makes it hard for me to think concretely about tearing myself away.

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It’s so easy in New York to get bogged down. We keep our eyes on the sidewalk in front of us, the next hour or the next day or the next subway transfer or the next paycheck, focusing all our energy on how we’re going to make it through. We see the dirt and the cracks and the trash, the uneven pavement striving to make us stumble. We live our lives in survival mode, struggling just to keep our heads above the water. But if we stay, and if we’re lucky, someday we might start to look up. We might start to see the trees and the sky, the patchwork quilt of architecture and history peppered with surprising detail. There’s so much beauty in this city, but so much of it is easy to miss. And it’s only by sticking it out that we may someday stop treading water, and start to actually swim.

I think that’s why my rooftop is, at this moment, my happy place. It literally, physically, pulls me out of the everyday and forces me to change perspective, to look at the big picture. There’s nothing pushing or shoving me up there. No one steps on my toes. I can sip my coffee and look at the life I have made, here, in a city that does not make it easy to carve out your niche. It forces me to admit that, though I often couldn’t see it for all the dust and dirt, the heartache and disappointment, all these years that I thought I was failing, I was actually building a nest. Despite my and New York’s best, and worst, intentions, and seemingly against all odds, I’ve made this city into a home.

Inspiration Tuesday: The Sun Shines Bright

April is upon us, which means our favorite holiday is just around the corner. That’s right, Derby time is upon us! So our inspiration this month comes from our old Kentucky home — where the sun shines bright and the meadow’s in the bloom, and where we always wish we were this time of year. We’re always a bit homesick for our beloved bluegrass country, but the feeling is at its most acute come the first Saturday in May. Derby for us is not just a horse race: It’s a cultural phenomenon, a day when our entire hometown takes the day off and gathers in the sunshine (or torrential downpour, depending on the whims of that year’s weather gods) to drink bourbon and throw dollars down on the galloping ponies. It’s a holiday about home and heritage, innately Southern and so particular to the unique flavors of the Ville. So at this time of year, however far we find ourselves from the Twin Spires, we’ll sing one song for our old Kentucky home, and raise our glasses in a toast: “Next year at Churchill.”

Art: “Kentucky Sunlight (Lincoln’s Birthday),” Spencer Finch (2016)

Poem: “There and Back Again,” n.m.h.

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Book: The Bar Belle by Sara Havens

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Song: “Coming Home,” Leon Bridges

Video: “Stephen Fry in Kentucky” (excerpt from Stephen Fry in America)

Quotation: “How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” — William Faulkner

Photos Via: THE SPEED MUSEUM, BAR BELLE BLOG

A New Speed

I’ve forgotten how to go to museums — or at least, I’m not good at it anymore. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, but now that I go to one five days a week for work, I don’t excel at it the way I used to, which makes museum-going as a social activity difficult. As soon as I step through the doors of a museum, my work brain turns on. I start analyzing and critiquing, which makes it kind of hard to enjoy things until I’ve been to said museum two or three times.

Zelda and her brother got to experience this in full force on our short jaunt back to Louisville a couple weeks ago. On Easter Sunday, the three of us went to check out the newly reopened Speed Museum. The Speed had been closed for the larger part of three years while it underwent major renovations, opening back up to the public in March, two weeks before our visit. The renovation gives the museum nearly twice the space it had before and definitely updates its look. This was the art museum I grew up with, the first museum where I had a job (read: unpaid internship, because non-profits), and I owe it a lot. I hadn’t been back since that 2010 internship, and I was excited to see how much it had changed. The answer: a lot.

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 We entered through the new building, a contemporary-looking concrete and glass structure with sleek finishes and an admissions desk that lit up. We were greeted at the door and given fancy new maps of the layout, in a lovely blue that the Speed seems to have adopted as the new color of their brand (coincidentally, the same color that my current employer is phasing out). Upon this first interaction, my brain automatically went to the work place: I wonder if those are volunteers or paid employees, I wonder what their title is, whose purview are they under: Visitors Services, Engagement, Security? My first job at my current institution involved greeting people, so I know how sucky a job it can be for long periods of time. Because of this, I try to go out of my way to genuinely talk to people who are greeting me, because I know how much a legitimate human interaction can brighten up your entire day. It’s the same reason that once you’ve been a server, you are automatically nice to other servers: You’ve been in their shoes. You know where the blisters start.

So we’re three steps into the museum, and I’m already thinking about work. We came on a Sunday, which (thanks to a hefty donation by the Brown family, basically the Mafia of the Ville) meant it was free. Honestly, I was a teensy bit disappointed, because I really like flashing my museum badge to get free admission. Museum employees have each other’s backs! But for the most part I was thrilled because FREE MUSEUMS ARE AMAZING. Everyone should get to see art. Everyone.

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As we made our way to the permanent collection, I still found myself comparing and contrasting in my head. The first two galleries in the new layout are themed “Discovery” and feature pieces from each of the collections that will be given more context later — a sort of visual introduction to the Museum. This isn’t uncommon in encyclopedic museums, but I think it works best in a museum of the Speed’s size. My own institution does it, but it’s almost too much at first, so it overwhelms rather than informs or contextualizes. At the Speed, the Discovery galleries give the casual visitor an idea of the collection, and allow a more art-experienced visitor to make cross-collection connections. Plus, it highlights objects that might otherwise be overlooked; placing things out of context is often a good way to engage visitors more.

The collection is wonderfully highlighted in the new space, and there is a noticeable effort to get visitors making connections with the art. In addition to including and highlighting their non-Western art (an area where many American museums, and art history in general, fall by the wayside), there’s also an effort to engage art on a local level. The museum includes a “Kentucky Collection,” which highlights the history and culture of the state, encouraging visitors to see the scope and importance of art on the local and global level.

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I also appreciated the amount of information the visitors are given. There’s a lot of opinions about museum wall labels (I know right? Those little placards on the wall next to paintings? The ones you skim over, if you read them at all? A lot of work goes into what those should say and precisely how much they should say.). A lot of people think that labels should be minimal, allowing visitors to interpret the art in their own way. But this often gets pushed to an extreme where visitors aren’t given enough information to stay engaged. I appreciated that the Speed didn’t venture too far one way or the other. Some objects were given additional information to help visitors contextualize the whole gallery, but we weren’t inundated with unnecessary information, or subjective opinions.

Where the renovation shines is in the new contemporary galleries, with a ton of space for some of the collection’s amazing works from more recent times. The contemporary works are housed entirely in the new 62,500-square foot north building. The sleek modern space, designed by Thai architect Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY architecture, allows the contemporary collection the space to shine and lets the form of the museum complement the art that’s inside it. It’s here that we (figuratively) met our new favorite art patron, the Reverend Al Shands, whose name graced every other wall label with promised gifts to the museum (and prompted a quick Google search to find out just who this generous dude was — a story worthy of its own post).

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As for me, still in work mode, I could only marvel at the basically empty first floor of the north building and think, this is a killer event space, they’re going to do so well with this –also those benches are awesome…am I the only person who notices benches in museums? To be fair, the benches were really cool, especially if you’re someone who’s had to deal with both patrons complaining that there’s nowhere to sit and and museum professionals complaining that the benches aren’t the right aesthetic. I love a healthy balance that way, and the Speed nailed it. We spent a few minutes imagining what it might have been like to have prom in the space before we headed to the small gift shop (a bit disappointing, and lacking in both bumper stickers and magnets, which were what we were after). After that, it was a quick hop, skip, and a car ride to coffee and chocolate chip cookies. We may have only been home for 24 hours, but Please and Thank You is not to be missed.

All in all, I am so excited about the new Speed. The renovation has brought life back into a place I loved when I was younger, and is getting even more people engaged in art. My only big complaint? The photography policy is super confusing, and not clearly labeled or explicitly explained on the wall labels or really in the map. But aside from that, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience, much to my pleasant surprise. I was a little bummed we didn’t have time to check out the new and improved education center, but there’s always time to go back. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for this place and what it will bring to my home. After an afternoon well spent, we headed out into the bright sunshine with smiles, a sense of discovery, and as many informational pamphlets as fit in my purse…you know, for research.