Cindy and Mark Pennington's home is decked out in more red, white and blue than a patriotic parade.
The Fourth of July is a holiday that demands fun, colorful and sparkly decorations. Anything goes — from flags and bunting to foil spray centerpieces and stars-and-stripes confetti— as long as it's red, white and blue.
Days before the Fourth, Cindy Pennington empties about seven plastic totes of glittery decorations and places the red, white and blue items throughout the house and backyard. Some were handmade by daughters Anne and Ellen when they were younger; many are from friends who think of Pennington when they spot something red, white and blue.
Pennington conceded she might go "a little crazy" when it comes to decorating for Independence Day, but she blamed it on her parents.
"They started it when we were very young," she said. "I grew up on a dead-end street in Louisville, and my mom was always organizing Fourth of July celebrations.
"We had lake property in southern Indiana, too. In Pekin, Ind., there's a sign that says it's the site of the oldest continuous Fourth of July celebration in the United States. We got into that celebration in a big way. The parade has every beauty queen, every high school marching band, every old car. It's just a fabulous parade, and that fueled our flame for the Fourth of July."
Mark Pennington got caught up in the revelry when the couple married 32 years ago.
"When Mark joined our family he got inundated with all of this," she said. His job was to help set off fireworks, and that tradition continues at their home. But now that a Lexington ordinance limits fireworks in the city, he plans entertainment around — but not limited to — the children.
The Penningtons never know how many guests to expect.
"Sons and daughters of our friends will call and ask if they can come over. They will bring their kids, and that is super fun," Mark Pennington said.
"It was so hot last year that I was terribly worried about the kids overheating, so I told the parents to tell them to wear their bathing suits because we were going to do water things. We filled up 200 water balloons, and I built them little fishing holes (plastic pans filled with water) in the backyard under a shade tree," he said.
This year's activity is top secret but "requires construction."
When the youngsters are engaged in activities, the parents can relax and enjoy the party, he said.
The party includes former neighbors, old friends and sometimes relatives of their friends. As guests arrive, the kitchen fills with platters and casserole dishes. The Penningtons provide hamburgers, hot dogs, and brats, which are simple to prepare after a marathon celebration that begins the night before.
The couple and their friends meet for a picnic at the Lexington Philharmonic's patriotic concert July 3 at Transylvania University.
Merrymaking continues the next morning after a special family breakfast. They all meet on Main Street across from Second Presbyterian Church and cheer on runners in the Bluegrass 10,000, then stroll to the center of downtown for festival activities.
Then the Penningtons head home to prepare for their summer bash.
"It's a big holiday in my family, and we continue it," Cindy Pennington said.
Mark Pennington added: "Don't get her wrong. Every holiday is big."
Here are three of Cindy Pennington's recipes.
4th of July brats
4 large onions, sliced into rings
4 packages brats (5 per package)
Place brats and onion rings into a large wide-bottom pot. Cover with beer. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Remove brats from pot and save onions by pouring liquid through a strainer. Place on grill just long enough to get grill marks on each side. Serve with a variety of mustard choices and strained onions.
1 can French style green beans, drained
1 can white shoepeg corn, drained
1 can Le Sueur tiny peas, drained
1 jar (4 ounces) diced pimentos, drained
4 to 6 stalks celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Mix vegetables in large bowl. Combine ingredients for dressing in medium bowl, then pour over vegetables. Mix well. Chill before serving.
Twenty-four-hour cole slaw
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
11/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vinegar (Heinz tarragon or apple cider)
1 medium head cabbage, shredded
1 green pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
In medium bowl, combine salt, celery seed, mustard seed, sugar and vinegar. Set aside (Sugar will not dissolve until dressing is mixed with vegetables).
In a large bowl, combine vegetables, then pour vinegar mixture over all. Stir. Refrigerate 24 hours before serving.
Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.