Posts Tagged 'Inauguration'

Bluegrass Has a Ball in Washington

It was all about the Bluegrass Ball in D.C. on Inauguration eve.               The Bourbon Trail reception that welcomed party-goers in to the festivities was warm,  relaxed and started off the evening by setting an easy-going  atmosphere; the Kentucky Bourbon Producers also supplied spirits for soaking cherries in the desserts.  The dinner planned by Louisville’s Proof on Main chef Michael Paley included locally grown and raised Bibb lettuce from Louisville’s Grateful Greens, bison from the Kentucky Bison Company in Goshen, striped bass from Bluefin Seafood in Louisville and country ham from Newsome’s Country Hams in Paducah.  The stars were shining brightly for about 1400 Kentuckians and their guests, as Muhammed Ali and wife Lonnie, Ashley Judd, and Phyllis George with daughter Pamela Brown took the stage, and as our elected political figures led some singing. 

The charm of the setting was enhanced by the lush and brightly colored floral arrangements at each table.  Some were high, others low, and many sparkled with small lights.  

Behind the scenes, volunteers from the Kentucky Society of Washington had been working with UK College of Agriculture’s floriculture specialist Sharon Bale for two days, creating some magnificient masterpieces and then transporting them to tables for the event.  After driving a passenger van packed to the roof with flowers from Lexington to D.C., a crew was waiting to unload, unpack and begin to reorganize into an on-the-fly workshop.  The first job was to create over 100 pave balls by lining spheres of Oasis, which is a water-holding florists’ foam, with rosebuds and and mums. The effect was stunning, and in the enormous ballroom of the Wardman Park Marriott, they appeared to be bright spots of color floating above the black tablecloths.  Next, tall acrylic towers were topped with curly willow branches illuminated by small, battery-powered lights,  and hung with orchids and lilies grown at Sullivan Farms in Rough River which created almost a tropical forest atmosphere overhead.  Finally, floral rings were filled with flowers and more tiny lights to glow at table level. 

Everything came together beautifully Monday afternoon, and when the Ball began, and dignitaries walked down the sweeping stairway into the darkened hall, they seemed to be walking through a starlit forest.  From all the volunteers who worked so hard to pull the event together, you could hear a sigh of relief as My Old Kentucky Home was sung once more.

Presidential Inauguration 2009: A Bed of Roses? A D.C. Report …


Want to know what today’s Inauguration was like for two eye-witnesses?  Today was a day like no other.  Despite the late-night partying at the Bluegrass Ball, I managed to wake up at 5 a.m. because I very much wanted to see this historic inauguration ceremony.  Thanks to incessant hinting about wanting tickets to witness the swearing-in in-person, Jenny Inman, a commodities broker from Owensboro, who is President of Kentucky Women in Ag this year, took pity on Sharon Bale and me, and had her husband ask their new Member of Congress Brett Guthrie if there were any to spare.  The ‘Luck of Kentucky’ was with us, because Guthrie, new to the Hill as of two weeks ago, found some at the last minute, so we were set to claim our patch of standing space just outside the Reflecting Pool on the Mall in front of the Capitol Building. 

We made it to the Metro subway in the dark at about 6 a.m., armed with warm jackets, good walking shoes and cameras; we’d limited our coffee drinking to avoid rest room emergencies, and the excitement of the day was enough of a wake-up call.  The  Metro cars were jam-packed with people pressed closer than I remember Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing.  A disembodied voice from the speaker kept repeating something like “Please do not overcrowd cars; other trains will be following shortly,” but nobody was willing to trust that information.  We held our wallets and breaths, waiting for our stop at Union Station.  Later we learned that over one million people were expected to ride the trains, setting a record ridership.

Emerging from Union Station, we were within 3 blocks of the Capitol, and a breathtaking view of thousands of visitors already milling around the area.  That’s also when the trouble began.  Signs pointed us toward different entry points to the Mall, sorted by colors on tickets: purple, silver, orange.  Lines of people already were standing on sidewalks waiting for their turns to pass through security checkpoints which were out of sight, stretching blocks away.  Vendors hawking Obama-stuff and hand warmers, security police and portable toilets lent a festive air to the scene.  We began searching for our line, only to encounter masses of people jamming streets,  and conflicting information about how to get where we needed to go.  Somewhere near 1st and D, there were so many people that nobody could move.  For an hour and a half, we stood immoblilzed in the street, in a mass human beings pressed, pushing, determined to get to a place they could see the Inauguration, somewhere, but unable to move.  Squashed, even having the air knowcked out of me a couple times, it was a dangerous situation. and I began to think I was stuck in a model of what hell would be like.   Buildings in this area have no spaces in between, so this solid pack of people was simply trapped. No doors opened, no authorities appeared, chanting started about moving barriers, and someone called for a doctor.  Shrubbery was totally trampled, small trees climbed by scouts who gave reports of movement, mostly lack thereof on the street corners.ahead.   We learned from a friend via cell-phone that at 10:30 a.m., the space on the Mall was getting full according to TV news, and we were unlikely to get in.   After about another half-hour, traffic control officers opened a closed road, and we were able to climb over concrete barriers and escape the crowd, single file, but in the direction away from the Mall.  Instead of fighting the crowd, we adopted “Change we can count on” as a more reasonable motto, and took the Metro, at that point fairly empty in the Inaugural lull, back toward our hotel.   On Connecticut Avenue, we found a comfortable, sunny Italian restaurant with a big-screen TV. where we enjoyed the swearing-in in style with a crowd of friendly folks who maintained plenty of personal space around them.  I’m happy to say I was there, and the Inauguration ceremony was moving.

Presidential Inauguration 2009: A Bed of Roses?

Curly willow branches above, flowers and vases in the window.

Curly willow branches above, flowers and vases in the window.

Bluegrass Ball flowers ready to be packed.

Bluegrass Ball flowers ready to be packed.

January 16, 2009 6:30PM

We loaded the van with flowers and

Finished packing, but no room for suitcases.

supplies this afternoon, in preparation for leaving at 5:30AM tomorrow morning.  I mean, we really loaded the van.  It was packed so full that there may be no room for suitcases.  We’ll be driving about 10 hours tomorrow, to get the perishable goods to the Wardman Park Marriott hotel in Washington, DC by evening.  Since the flowers can’t tolerate too much cold, and this is the coldest day of the year, it’s parked in a semi-heated storage area tonight.  There are lilies grown right here in Kentucky, as well as boxwood and curly willow tied on the roof.  Symbolic goldenrod, our state flower, is also included in the plans. 

I don’t think I’ll sleep much tonight.  Will keep you updated. 

Volunteers preparing arrangements for the Kentucky Inauguration in Frankfort January 10, 2009 9PM   I am going to see Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration in person on January 20th.  Me, and reportedly 3 million other people.  OK, so I have not been able to wheedle a ticket to the swearing-in ceremony from any of my elected representatives, but I am still hoping somebody will come through. Pretty please?

Sharon Bale, checking out some Deco Beads

But then, I have another purpose for going to Washington, D.C.: I’ll be travelling with Floriculture Specialist Sharon Bale from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, bringing fresh cut flowers and supplies to create centerpieces for the Kentucky Society’s Bluegrass Ball on January 19th.  When it comes to floral arrangements, Bale is a creative genius; ever since I heard about the last quadrennial event, I’ve been begging to tag along this time, and my wish was granted.  So, a group of D.C. volunteers and I will be putting together flowers under Bale’s direction, to top about 150 tables, seating a total of about 1500 guests, most of whom are Kentuckians with the luck (or is it skill?) to be in Washington at the right time. 

Floral decor from Governor Steve Beshear's Inaugural Celebration

Floral arrangements from Governor Steve Beshear's Inaugural Celebration

Bale has been preparing all her life for these kinds of events.  She says she was “just about born to work with flowers.”  At UK, she conducts trials not just for the All America Selections program, which develops new cultivars each year, but also with annuals and perennials like hydrangeas; she also teaches horticulture classes and gives presentations about how to use and created floral designs.

This will be Bale’s third Presidential Inauguration ball, but here in Kentucky she has worked with Governors’ administrations starting with Martha Layne Collins and most recently prepared floral decorations for Governor Steve Beshear’s celebration.  Bright, explosions of color which seem to vibrate with the excitement of the day are what’s in store for folks attending the Bluegrass Ball.  But getting them ready for the big event is not exactly a bed of roses. 

Boxes of supplies for the Bluegrass Ball

Bale began planning and ordering the hardware for the arrangements back before Thanksgiving.  She has an assortment of shapes and sizes planned for the tables, from low settings in hot pink bases, to taller forms and curly willow branches strung with tiny lights.  About 12 boxes of supplies are waiting in a warehouse right now, which we’ll transport to D.C., along with the order of fresh cut flowers that was just placed last Monday.  I sure hope that the 23-degree temperatures and snow, the 9+hour drive, the vehicle security inspections, predicted heavy traffic and D.C. bridge and road closures don’t set our plans back too much.  Watch for updates.