Beginner’s Guide to the KY Derby

Disclosure: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I could receive a commission if you click a link or purchase a product. I only endorse products which I have used and enjoyed!

I’ve lived in Kentucky my entire life. I’ve been to the Derby several times, and have celebrated it many more times at parties in people’s homes. I’ve put together some Derby essentials for anyone attending the Derby for the first time or wanting to add some authenticity to their own Derby party. Seasoned Derby goers will also find some great shopping tips, drink recipes, and a brush up on betting.

Fashion for the Gals

When I think of Derby fashion, the first thing that comes to mind is outrageous hats. The point of a Derby hat is to be noticed! Whether you choose something in the smaller fascinator variety or something full scale, be bold in your choice. Wear something that stands out and sets your outfit off. If you haven’t thought about a hat at this point and are actually attending the Derby, there has never been a better time to use your Amazon Prime membership and have Derby hat arrive at your house in 2 days. You simply have to wear one. End of story. If want to add the option of trying them on beforehand, Macys and T.J. Maxx always have a nice, affordable hat variety, too.

Beyond “wear a hat” there is no other real rule for Derby fashion. I would dress for a nice daytime spring or summer wedding, with a mind toward dressing to impress. A great thought for the opportunity to wear something designer without paying the designer price is a service called Rent the Runway. They overnight you a designer dress to rent for an event, costing a small fraction of what you would pay to buy the dress. For a small additional price, you can even add on a backup dress to make sure you get something you like. I used Rent the Runway to attend a formal function last year, and had a great experience. My most fashion-forward friend Kasey introduced me to it, and swears by it! Check out their selection of Derby appropriate dresses, and if you see something you like, you can use this link to get a free backup size or this one to get 20% off your first order.

Me and Kasey Renting the Runway
Me and Kasey Renting the Runway


As I’m sure you know, the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. It’s basically a combination of bourbon, sugar water and mint. So, let me be clear, if you don’t like bourbon, you won’t like Mint Juleps! Mint Juleps are sold at the Derby, in a very cool commemorative glass that is updated every year. I don’t like bourbon myself, so the glass is the highlight of the experience, for me. If you’re having a party at your house, you can serve them in their traditional serve wear, a silver Julep Cup.

My bourbon drinking friends tell me that the best Mint Juleps are the ones sold at the Derby, which makes it lucky for you, if you’re trying to replicate it. The Kentucky Derby website  details that the Mint Julep served at the event is Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail (which is sold in liquor stores) served with fresh mint and crushed ice. The site also offers the following recipe, if you’d like to make them yourself:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • sprigs of fresh mint
  • crushed ice
  • Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whisky
  • Silver Julep Cups

Make a simply syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Old Forester Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

For those of us who aren’t bourbon drinkers, there is another, newer traditional drink that still fits the occasion. The Kentucky Oaks, which runs at Churchill Downs the day before the Derby, is a similar race for fillies (female horses). The Oaks has become a “celebration of the ladies” with pink décor and a much more palatable pink drink, the Grey Goose Oaks Lily. This drink made its official debut in 2006, though the race itself has been around since 1875. The Lily also comes with a cool souvenir stemless wine glass, and can be easily duplicated using the recipe, also published on the Kentucky Derby website:

  • 1 1/4 oz. Grey Goose vodka
  • 1 oz. sweet and sour mix
  • 1/4 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. cranberry juice

Once the ingredients are mixed, place the pinkish cocktail in an Official Oaks Lily glass (stemless wine glass) with crushed ice, add a straw and garnish with a blackberry and a lemon wedge.


Betting the Kentucky Derby is like any other gambling event. Sometimes people win out of sheer luck, and other times people win because they’ve skillfully studied the field and calculated the odds. You don’t have time to learn those skills and shop for your hat, but you can learn the basic betting lingo so you can sound like you know what you’re doing! Making a bet is made up of a few pieces of key information with specific terms for each :

  • How much you’re betting per horse, per finish
  • What horse(s) you betting on
  • How you want those horses to perform in the race
  • What order you want them to finish in relation to each other

I’ll take these out of order to make more sense of the idea. First, a horse can finish the race in first, second or third place in most betting schemes. These are known in betting speak as win, place, and show. So you can bet on a single horse to either win, to place, or to show. If you think the horse could do any of those, you can bet it to do all three, which is called betting on a horse across the board. You can also place a win/place or a place/show bet.

The minimum bet for these basic bets is $2, but note that your betting amount is multiplied by the number of positions you bet the horse to finish. So, if you bet $2 on a horse across the board, you’re betting $2 for it to win, $2 for it place, and $2 for it show, so your bet would cost $6.

The amount you win back is determined by the odds of the horse winning at the time the race starts (this changes as bets are placed, so watch the screen at the track rather than relying on your paper betting program), how much you bet, and how difficult your bet was. For instance, if you bet a horse to show and it wins, you still get paid back, but because you had 3 chances for the horse to finish, you get less than a person who bet the same horse only to win. To figure out how much you’ll get back on a $2 win bet, multiply your odds by 2, then add $2. You can refer to this cheat sheet, too.

Choosing a single horse to finish a race can pay well if the odds are low that your horse will win. Low odds are reflected in a high number, like 50-1, and people call the low odds horses the long shots. The better opportunity to make a little bit more off your horses comes from what are known as exotic bets. In these scenarios, you group together the horses that you like, in order to choose the horses that will finish in the win, place, and show. If you want to choose just the win and place horses, that is called an exacta. If you want to choose the win, place, and show horses, that is called a trifecta. You can even choose the first four horses to finish in a superfecta.

If you name the horses in your exacta, trifecta or superfecta, they will be taken down in the specific order that you name them, and they have to finish in that order for you to win. If you would like to add the option of the horses finishing in any order, you can box your exacta, trifecta, or superfecta.  The minimum bet for an exacta is $2, for a trifecta is 50 cents, and for a superfecta is often 10 cents. However, keep in mind again that you’re multiplying horses and positions, so these bets can get expensive. My favorite exotic bet is a 10 cent superfecta box. It will cost you $2.40 because you’re betting so many horses in so many options, but it will often pay at least $75 if you win!

So, putting all this together, when you go to make your bet, it should sound something like this: “I’d like to bet (give the race number and the racetrack if you’re not betting on the upcoming race at the racetrack you’re in), $2 on horse 5 across the board.” or “I’d like to bet a $2 exacta box on horses 6 and 8.” You’ll pay and a paper ticket with your bets listed will be handed to you. Check the ticket before you walk away to make sure it is correct, because once you walk away, it’s too late to make changes. If you win, you come back to the betting windows to cash in your tickets.

Hopefully I’ve given you enough information here to participate in some Kentucky Derby fun like you know what’s going on! If you can’t make it to Kentucky, consider having your own Derby party!


4 Awesome DIY Updates Under $50

Disclosure: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I could receive a commission if you click a link or purchase a product. I only endorse products which I have used and enjoyed!

I’ve been in my house for a little over 10 years now. I’m at the point where there are lots of things I’d like to replace. The furniture I bought in 2005 is not in style anymore, my daughter is getting bigger and needs better dedicated space to “kid,” and I would like for the adult spaces in my house to feel more current. Unfortunately, I don’t have a million dollars to spend buying all new furniture and redecorating. So, this year my husband and I have been focusing on affordable updates we can make to our home to give it a modern feel without breaking the bank! These are some of the easy, fun projects I’ve been working on this year, with detail about how I did it, what supplies I used, and helpful things I learned that can save you time or money. As you know, I’m a lawyer and mom (and now a blogger), so I don’t have a ton of free time. I’m also not particularly crafty. So, I share these projects with the underlying message that if I can do them, you can certainly do them, too! HUGE BONUS, I didn’t spend more than $50 on any of them!

Crystal Chandelier

DIY crystal chandelier update


I want to start with the easiest, and perhaps most visually appealing finish of all, the chandelier in my dining room. The chandelier pictured on top came with my house, as the builder installation. I’ve never thought much about it, until I started tinkering around Pinterest, and seeing the lighting in some of my trendy friends’ houses. I realized I could add some bling and dark lamp shades for a much more updated look pretty easily. I bought this long strand of crystals (which was enough to do this project and the next one and still have a fair amount left over) and these crystal tear drops.

The only other thing I used for this project was a can of black spray paint. I found it much easier and cheaper to paint the lamp shades black than to buy new ones. The painting was probably the longest part of this process, because I had to spray paint, let a coat dry, and then paint again until I got the coverage complete and dark enough. The how-to on the rest of this one was simple. I didn’t even take the chandelier down to decorate it with the crystals. The crystal garland is strung together with removable loops, like what you find on a key ring, so you can make strands any length you need them to be. My chandelier has a large circular loop at the top, so I clipped one end of the garland strand to that loop, ran it down and across base of the electric candle stick, and just back up to the circle. I went around and did this for every candle, so that crystal was going up and down both sides of the candle, hanging at the length I thought looked best. I made sure each garland strand was the same length, so the chandelier would be even. The crystal drops also come with the same loops, so I just hung them off the natural loops of the chandelier. If you’re considering a project like this – my advice is to just work with the design of your chandelier the best that you’re able, in order to minimize your work and keep it simple. You can also change the color of the chandelier itself from gold to silver, or to an any other color easily with spray paint. For maybe an hour’s time and roughly $25, I could not have been happier with how this one turned out.

Crystal Entry Way Light

entry boob light

My entry way hall lighting is another piece that I hadn’t thought much about until doing the same perusing of Pinterest and my more fashionable friends’ home décor that I discussed above. I saw this blog post on Pinterest and followed the instructions exactly for this project. The light on the left above is the original builder grade light in my entry hall. I bought the “boob light” on the top right at the Habitat Restore for $5, since the project required a light with a center piece to link the crystals to, and spray painted it from gold to silver. I used the same strand of crystal garland I bought from the previous project, and still may have enough left over to do one more light. My lesson learned on this project arises from how tedious it was to put small holes all the way around the light and the center piece. Especially the center piece. I used a hammer and nail to put the holes in the light and my husband used a drill to do the ones around the center piece. If I were to do this project over, I think I would skip changing to the “boob light” and just string crystals from one side to the other of the original light (top left). I plan to try this with my remaining crystals, so I will post an update once it’s completed.

Breakfast Table

Collage 2016-05-04 22_01_18

This project was probably the most involved, and the one that I’m still having the hardest time getting right. BUT, the table itself is a hand me down, so I also have nothing to lose in experimenting with this until I get it right. I’m hoping that by learning on some pieces I have nothing invested in and don’t care to potentially ruin, I can learn enough to move on to updating all of my bedroom furniture. This table started off as a black table with matching chairs. My daughter stuck stickers all over it, the surface was worn and chipping from too many wipe downs, and it was just generally an eye sore.

old table

So, I started with the idea of just painting it. I removed all the stickers, and spray painted the table and the chairs gray. No biggie, they turned out pretty well. Although I do have to say, it’s hard to spray paint and not get drips. So, if you take this route, be patient! Spray in light coats over and over, allowing each coat to dry before adding another, and giving yourself sufficient space from the furniture. Patience is not my strong suit, so my furniture has drips. I would be upset if this were a nicer piece. After the spray painting, again drawn in by the lure of Pinterest, I decided to mask some of the drama on the surface by stenciling an intricate design onto it. The design is lovely, but I have lots to say about stenciling that can help you bypass some of my mistakes.

I tried a couple of different paint methods with the stencil. Using regular latex wall paint left the design too thick and peeling.

stencil paint is too thick

Using spray paint left a much more even design, but please observe the following tips meticulously! The stencil HAS to lay totally flat to the surface, or you will end up with this!

stencil not laid flat

I used this stencil adhesive to get a much better result. Also make sure you have every surface around the stencil completely covered before you spray. Spray paint travels horribly. Next, the bigger the stencil, the less you’ll have to repeat the design. This can REALLY speed the pace of a project like this in which you’re having to wait for every design to dry before moving on. Hobby Lobby has some really nice large stencils. Finally, have more than one stencil, especially if you have an intricate design. This allowed me to do different parts of the table while waiting for another area to dry. My stencils also ripped after a few uses, so I had to replace them anyway. Having extras allowed me to keep going without another trip to the store. All in all, this project has a great look, but you should really practice on a throw away surface with the stencils and spray paint if you want to try it out. It is a slow moving project, so give yourself lots of time. Once you get the surface done, you’ll need to coat it with some kind of clear coat (spray paint lacquer does not cover a flat surface like this well, so think brush on here) to give it the protection it will need for every day use.


DIY Playhouse update

Last, but not least, we decided to update a playhouse that we were able to score from our neighbors when they sold their house. The playhouse itself is sturdy, but all the stain and paint were worn and really in need of refreshing. My daughter, like many 3 year old girls, loves all things princess. So, I decided that if I was going to be redoing this thing, I may as well do it in a style that she would love rather than the standard log look with green accents. I consulted with the paint professional at Lowe’s, who advised me that any outdoor paint would work well for this project. I decided on the Valspar Storm Coat and chose a light gray, though it looks more white in the outdoor light. Keep that mind if you use color, and go for something darker than you want so it won’t appear too light in the natural sunlight.

I contemplated sanding or power washing the entire thing, but the cost and effort seemed a little prohibitive. Plus, I sanded a few truly rough spots, and did not see a substantial difference between the sanded spots and the non-sanded spots when I started painting over it.  So I just decided to paint over the whole thing without giving it a full once over. I realize this might not yield the best result in the long haul, but I’m not necessarily going for a professional look here. The paint is much thicker and covers better than a stain would, so sanding to perfection won’t show as much with paint anyway. Once I got started, this was pretty much like any standard painting project. I used a brush for corners and edges, and a short 4″ roller for the planks with no problems. Easy as pie.

I used pink and purple Valspar spray paint for the previously green accents: climbing rocks, handles, and steering wheel. (I’m still considering whether to paint the slide purple or leave it green.) My only real take away is that flat spray paint did much better than glossy for the pink and purple accents. (I used pink glossy and purple flat because that’s all I could find). The flat paint dried quicker and more evenly. So if you can take the time to find the colors you want in flat, you’ll get a better look. If you decide to go with non-traditional colors for you playhouse, also know that Amazon carries a whole host of accessories in every color! These would push the cost of this project over the $50 mark, but would really set off your playhouse if you wanted to take it up a notch or had a gift card to spend.

I hope these projects have your wheels turning about how you can upgrade some of your own outdated pieces on budget. Pinterest is full of great ideas for projects like these. I have tons pinned to my Pinterest boards so feel free to check out ideas I’ve come across and look for others that you like (follow me while you’re there and invite me to follow you!). Get creative and find pieces you can practice on! I’d love to see projects you’ve done or hear what you’ve decided to try…

The New Thank You Note

Disclaimer: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you click a link or buy a product. I only endorse products or brands which I have used and enjoy!

Thank you notes. Basic etiquette dictates that we send them. I’m a believer myself that an old fashioned handwritten thank you note is that perfect chivalrous gesture that is both extremely polite and wholly effective at expressing gratitude and genuine interest. I always enjoy getting them, and when I can get my act together to keep up with sending them, I love the thought of going a little extra distance to let someone know I appreciate them. That said, do I always take the time to write them? No. Is it because I am ungrateful and uninterested? No. Like most people, I’m pretty busy, my mind is going in 1000 directions, and if I don’t take the time to stop and do something right when I think about it, it might not get done. That’s no excuse to miss an opportunity to give sincere thanks to someone who has taken the time to select a gift for me (or my child) or to do something nice for us. So in today’s world, where a camera phone is always in hand and our lives are shareable in a click, I’d like to offer a new way in which we can modernize and enhance the notion of thank you notes. I think you’ll find that this idea will both allow you to correspond better in your busy lives, and also really give back to the person who was kind enough to give to you!

The Thank You Photo/Video

Thank you photo

Confession: I’m 40 and my mom still buys me clothes. I’m not ashamed of that, because my mom is gorgeous and she has wonderful taste! How many times have you put on a favorite bracelet that your parents bought you, or dressed your child in the outfit Aunt Susie was so proud to give her, and immediately thought of that person? If they were standing there, you’d turn to them and say “Hey look, here’s the ___ you bought me! Doesn’t it look great?! I love it and I’m so glad you bought it for me.” But, since they don’t hang out in your closet, or maybe even live in your town, that moment is lost.  While I’m not great at writing thank you notes (especially to my closer relatives), I have really tried to make an effort to catch these moment with a photo or video.

For example, I recently spoke at a conference in the lawyer segment of my life, and I wore a suit that my mom had just bought me (because she’s awesome that way). The suit looked great and I got several compliments on it. I thanked my mom when she bought me the suit, but I also took the time to snap a quick photo of myself wearing it for the speaking event, text it to her, and let her know that I got complimented in it.

A traditional thank you note for a monetary gift might let the giver know how we plan to use the gift. Today, we can take this notion a step further by showing the person what we’ve done with their gift using a photo or video to show the final outcome. If you’ve saved all your wedding money to buy a new house, why not send a thank you photo or video of your family in your new home to the folks who helped get you there? Even snapping a photo or video of your slightly less-stressed self enjoying the gift card someone sent you is bound to put a smile on their face and yours.

A video can really enhance the would-be photo with more detail and emotion. Shoot a quick video of your child saying thank you to grandma for the birthday money that will go into her piggy bank, or twirling in the new dress like a ballerina.  All the immediate reaction and genuine gratitude remain intact forever in a video that can be watched any time the giver is missing you or feeling down. It takes the photo experience up a notch by letting the giver hear your voice, see your expressions in action, and adding more life to an otherwise still moment. The occasional video can really mean the world to someone who keeps up with you and/or your kids primarily through still photos and rarely gets to see you in person.

Things to think about when using photo thanks:

  • You can quickly filter, edit, sticker and caption your photos and videos to get your message perfect and add some tone and character. There are lots of free apps and software so tinker with them and see what works best for you.
  • Photos and videos can be a quick way to express your gratitude on the go, or they can be your way of taking your thanks to the next level by really making a unique and meaningful display. Consider which is the best fit for your message and use accordingly.
  • Keep your recipient in mind. There are lots of ways to deliver your thanks – text, email or a social media post tagging your benefactor, to name a few. Choose a method they understand, are comfortable with using, and which will allow them to enjoy the message more than once. Some people are very private or would be easily embarrassed by a public shout out. Think about what appeals to the person you’re reaching out to so the message is best received.
  • For some folks, technology is not a good fit. For instance, my grandmother’s phone is not set up to receive picture texts and she is not on social media. If I want her to be able to really enjoy my messages, I may have to take the extra time to print photos off and mail them with a little note. If your recipient is very traditional, this may ring true for them as well. Walgreen’s is my favorite spot for this. Their app lets you print to your nearest store choosing either pics from your phone or Facebook account.  (Here’s a coupon if you have some photos to print now 41% OFF Prints w/ code PICS41NOW)

The Takeaway. When someone gives you a gift and then has an opportunity to see you enjoying it in real time, with it positively affecting your life, their gift to you becomes a gift back to them. They get the joy of feeling good about something they did for you, which is really the ultimate thank you for their nice gesture. Get creative with your thanks, the effects will be felt ten fold!