Shaking Things Up Kentucky Style: Shaker Village, Teneia, and The Village Idiot

With a busy day planned ahead of us, we began our morning with a light breakfast at Daily Offerings Coffee Roastery…


…a Southern hipster coffee shop offering several adventurous and traditional options. One of the more daring ambassadors tried the Lavender Honey Latte, and as Alex described it, “it felt like my mouth had just taken a bath.”


Others went for coconut or caramel lattes, and pastries to complement their drinks: coffee cakes, chocolate cookies, and blueberry scones. Once everyone had their fill, we departed for our first destination and activity of the day, a trip to Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill.

The Shakers fled England and first settled in New Lebanon, New York. In 1805, a group of 44 Shakers settled in Kentucky. Today there are no surviving Shakers in Kentucky and only a handful in Maine, but much of their settlement is still intact within the Pleasant Hill site. The historic farms of the village are maintained by the village’s employees, and crops and livestock are used at Pleasant Hill’s restaurant.

Our drive to Shaker Village through the Kentucky countryside was beautiful — a truly pleasant ride to start the day. Upon our arrival, we exchanged our charter bus for a school bus needed to maneuver a narrow, winding road to the Kentucky River a few miles away. There we boarded the Dixie Belle Riverboat for


…a trip downriver through the Kentucky River Palisades, so named for the steep limestone cliffs and scenic outcroppings.


The Shakers used to travel the Kentucky River to New Orleans once or twice a year to trade goods they produced. At the time, this was a significant endeavor and few Shakers actually traveled on behalf of the community. The captain explained that the Kentucky River is 255 miles long and is normally a deep shade of green, but due to the recent rains, the water was a muddy brown (and over 14 feet deep).

We cruised alongside the limestone cliffs and the lush green trees that stood high above the riverbank, ever alert for signs of wildlife. The river is home to many types of turtles (including snapping turtles!) and snakes. Although we weren’t lucky enough to see any river critters, we enjoyed the scenic view and relaxing breeze before traveling back to the Village for the second half of the tour.


The Village tour began with a walk down one of the main streets, the guide noting the limestone buildings among green fields, and explaining to us that during the Shaker’s lifetime in the settlement very little of the land would be left vacant. Shakers did not believe in unusable land, so they worked every plot as efficiently as possible — whether to build family dwellings, grow crops, graze livestock, or build an ice house.

Shakers were a religious group who believed the way to enhance their worship of God was to live as simply as possible and as purely as Jesus Christ. They were not Luddites, though, and believed in using technological advances to help them live simple lives. In their attempts to be close to Christ, one of the sacrifices in joining the congregation was to become celibate. Men and woman stayed segregated among family dwellings, with one half of the buildings dedicated to men and the other half to women. Men and women also maintained an arm’s length distance away from each other and had their own staircase to travel among floors in their living quarters.

The Shakers also preached a need for equality. All Shakers were equal and none deserved more attention than another, a quite different viewpoint in 1805 when several types of groups did not have equal rights. The village’s ministry, the governing religious body for each community, was composed of both men and women from various communities appointed by the Shaker’s central ministry in New Lebanon. This helped remove community ministry leaders’ potential prejudices against other members of the village. The community was further regulated by segregating the leaders to their own living quarters and workshops, both of which we were able to tour. It was an interesting twist to community governing for the political science majors in the group.

"Shaker" Attire Worn by Brian and Kaitlyn, Standing the Traditional Distance Apart
Shaker Attire Worn by Brian and Kaitlyn, Standing the Traditional Distance Apart

Unlike traditional Christian services, Shakers did not believe in one designated leader preaching at all times. Although they did make use of the King James Bible, and participated in prayer, services were led by “whoever was moved by the Holy Spirit” on that particular day. Their religious ceremonies were not constrained by time, with the shortest service in Pleasant Hill recorded at only 15 minutes and the longest at 23 hours!

During worship the Shakers were known to sing songs, especially those who were “filled with the spirit,” and members were encouraged to record their songs (in writing) and share among members of the community and of other villages. Lyrics would come from a member’s need to express their devotion towards God, and reportedly sometimes by God himself, taking hold of a member’s body and using them as a vessel, as our tour guide described it.

Further, Shakers did not believe in using instruments nor in solo demonstrations; they believed that complex musical arrangements only took away from the song’s devotional message. From these lively worships (of which non-Shakers were invited to attend) the group was termed as the Shaking Quakers, for seldom had anyone seen such an enthusiastic mode of worship composed of dancing and singing. After a brief demonstration of a few “Shaker” songs, we were ready for our next Kentucky adventure.

We didn’t have to go far, though.  We met up with the other part of our group and walked the two short blocks from our hotel to the street party the SLC had planned for attendees and their families. We reached the 5/3 Pavilion at Cheapside Park and mingled with other guests. While we were there we ran into two new friends, Chris and Marisela Darminin.  We had previously met Chris during skeet shooting, and were excited to meet Marisela. They were both from Texas and glad to visit with fellow Texans at SLC, as were we!


After speaking to them for a while and learning much about their careers and the great organizations that they support, we headed to our dinner destination, The Village Idiot.

Local Lexington icon The Village Idiot is in a building encompassing part of Lexington’s oldest post office building, dating back to 1825. We were all eager to try their fare since we had heard great things about the restaurant. Before our food arrived, we enjoyed bowls of fries and the cheese and sausage dip. Some of us had their famous (or maybe infamous?) “Idiot Burger,” a burger patty topped with an onion ring filled with pulled pork and topped off with a pretzel bun…it looked like quite the challenge!


Others shared the duck & waffles (on those, Beatriz said, “The sweet taste of the waffles combined with the succulence of the duck was such a great combination that [she] was left drooling for more”); the Village Idiot Cheese Platter; and a Caprese Burger. With great gusto, we savored these delightful dishes, enjoying this picturesque place rich in food and history. We left satisfied that The Village Idiot had been the “smartest” choice for dinner.

After a filling dinner, we were all ready to enjoy another event, the “preview reception” for next year’s conference, as put on by that host state.  In this case, it was – and will be –Mississippi. As soon as we arrived, we were warmly greeted by numerous elected Senators and Representatives (and other representatives) from Mississippi who were handing out warm welcomes (and goodie bags) at the door.

We had arrived in time to hear an enthusiastic, well-written speech from the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Philip Gunn, who captured our attention and left us wanting to visit Mississippi, the home to great names such as: Jerry Rice, Jerry Lee Lewis, and John Grisham. We even had the chance to chat for a few minutes with him and his wife (who is actually a Texan!)…


and get a quick pic.


We also met up with an acquaintance from the night before, Ms. Leslie Hafner, who was the Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor of Tennessee.  She was very nice, and we were grateful to be able to get a photo with her before leaving the conference.


The evening’s entertainment, native-Mississippi jazz singer, Teneia Sanders-Eichelberger, as joined by her husband, Ben Eichelberger, was great to listen to while chatting with other guests.


She had a unique blend of blues, soul, and southern music, and we were able to briefly meet them after their performance, as well.


After an eventful night filled with great music and great people, we left to many cheers of “See you in Biloxi!” as we trudged off toward our hotel, anxious to reenergize for the next day’s activities.

Horsing Around in Kentucky

July 10, 2016

On our second day in Lexington, Kentucky for the Southern Legislative Conference we ventured out into the countryside. Amidst the green fields where Thoroughbreds grazed and galloped, there stood the Blue Grass Sportsmen’s League. Here, the LEAPsters were introduced to the unique sport of skeet shooting. Although most of us had already handled firearms before, never had we shot at moving clay targets shouldering a 20-gauge shotgun.

Skeet Shooting

After a safety briefing on the proper way to handle a gun and other expectations while out at the range, we headed towards the fields, all geared up with eye and ear protection. As we neared our station, the firing instructor kindly greeted us and demonstrated our “duck’s” path of flight, to prepare us on how to direct the movement of our firearm. Positioning ourselves at the station’s front, facing the field, hovering a right index finger over the trigger, eyes sighting over the barrel, calming our breath, keeping our arms sturdy and relaxed, checking our positioning to hold the butt of the stock close to our shoulder, we stood ready to call the clay’s pull. (This is work.)


After giving the mark, the orange disk would take flight, hurrying through the field resembling an escaping bird. After hearing a bang and seeing a smoking barrel, our hopes were that the projectiles would meet the clay target. However, more often than not the disk would fly pristine of any shattering and would only break as it landed on a tree or onto the ground, never having been grazed by our ammunition.


As we attempted, failed, and triumphed at hitting our “sim” ducks, our instructor took note of our gun handling and offered much-needed advice on how to successfully fire the shotgun.


Moving through every station with clay disks flying from left to right, from bottom of the field into the sky (forcing us to point our firearm at a 60 degree angle), to rolling on the ground, the number one rule was to direct the barrel with our left hand while following the target’s path.


Doing this would enable us to keep a more stable firearm, ensure that we properly sight the barrel with the target, and keep a more relaxed posture, all major contributors to skeet shooting success.


After firing the various wooden stock, single-action pump shotguns; synthetic stock, semiautomatic shotguns; and the classic over-under, break-action shotguns at the range, we celebrated our marksmanship experiences over a lunch of fried chicken and bread pudding. With beaten shoulders bearing red marks and bruises, some more severe than others, we boarded the bus back to the Lexington Convention Center to prepare for our next treat – a picnic break with some special guests at nearby Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in Jessamine County, Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Road Trip–A Conversation With Cameron Ludwick and Blair Hess


In April we began reading My Old Kentucky Road Trip by Cameron M. Ludwick and Blair Thomas Hess to prepare for our own road trip to the Blue Grass State! From this book, we learned much about Kentucky, and we used the book as a guide to our time in The Bluegrass State.  Amazingly, the authors agreed to meet with us while we were in Kentucky, and our meeting spot was historic Camp Nelson, a former trading post between the Confederates and the Union during the Civil War.


We were excited to meet the two young women who had helped guide us on our way through the state.  We began our picnic-style rendezvous with the exchange of gifts – evidence that both parties were from the South. Coincidentally, we bought each other Kentucky-famous Bourbon chocolates…


…but they outdid us in also bringing Ale8, the official Kentucky soda. After a round of introductions, we proceeded to enjoy a fun afternoon filled with history, laughter, and most importantly, mentorship.


Did you know that Rabbit Hash, Kentucky (yes, that’s correct) has a dog for a mayor? Neither did we, at least not before reading about it in My Old Kentucky Road Trip.


Luckily, these Kentucky experts filled us in on fascinating facts that make Kentucky interesting and unique – and made us want to explore Kentucky even more.


One interesting place we discussed is in Louisville, the Waverly Hill Sanatorium. Waverly Hill is a former hospital for tuberculosis patients that was virtually a city unto itself, turned into a nursing home after the tuberculosis epidemic. Now, one can join a haunted historic tour (at night!). Testimonials have noted that it is the scariest yet most informative tour in the state.

The conversation throughout the afternoon was humorous and interesting. Blair and Cameron had a special way of telling stories. We clung to every word they said because they made us feel as if we had taken trips with them because of all the details they relayed in their book. We were thankful for the time they took to meet with us and share their experiences and encouragement.


A story can be a powerful tool. This pair has used their Kentucky road trip storytelling and insight to rebrand their beautiful state. We can hope – and practice – to write similarly: inspiring, and full of new experiences and opportunities.


Horsing Around in Kentucky

The last evening activity planned for this day (Sunday, July 10) was Family Night at the Kentucky Horse Park, “a working horse farm and an educational theme park.”


In true “Kentucky Derby” fashion, an enthusiastic trumpeter announced our arrival. We were directed immediately to the food, where we found authentic Kentucky fare like brisket, burgers and corn on the cob.


We were lucky to have enjoyed dinner at a table with Mrs. Leslie Hafner, currently Senior Advisor to the Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, and her husband – who has a political science degree! We had a pleasant conversation and discussed many current issues in government. Mrs. Haslam described her various job duties as a senior advisor to the Governor of Tennessee. She noted the favorite part of her job is being able to not just hear constituent’s concerns but to truly find solutions to be able to assist them.

 We also enjoyed telling the Hafners our favorite parts about our trip to SLC, some of which was directly through their home state, Tennessee, and we even shared some info about our organization, and our blogs, at which they insisted they look. (We were all excited about this since we put in quite a bit of effort!). After dinner with our pleasant company, we headed for the dessert table to sample ice cream and shaved ice. We all grabbed some dessert and began looking for the horse riding area. Sadly, when we arrived at the location of the horse rides it was too late to ride horses, so instead we took a few pictures and headed for the horse museum.


Located in the Kentucky Horse Park, the museum had various exhibits, including a timeline of the horse, breeds of the world, and horses in sports. Some of our favorite artifacts were the old carriages and the jockey memorabilia.


Bryan and Ryan even took the opportunity to continue playing the part they had started the previous night at Keeneland by dressing up in jockey gear.


We learned much about a variety of horse breeds from all over the world before running to catch the bus back to the hotel. Although our visit to the museum was short, we enjoyed learning more about Kentucky’s largest industry!


 After an entire day spent out, we were all ready for some rest, but not before we had a small birthday surprise for Beatriz! She turned 19 today and we (thanks to Professor Yawn) had a surprise “party” for the birthday girl. We all gathered to eat cookies from a unique place called Insomnia Cookies that just happens to deliver freshly baked cookies until 3:00am! We enjoyed ice cream and cookies and looked at the photos from the prior day before calling it another great day and heading to bed.