Monday, April 19, 2010


I spent twenty-seven years of my life in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so cowboys are not a new phenomenon to me. In Tulsa, I saw them everywhere--well, at least I saw men wearing cowboy hats and cowboy boots everywhere. They sauntered into grocery stores, and politely removed their hats at movie theaters and restaurants. But, being a California girl originally, cowboys remained a unique characteristic of Oklahoma, kind of like the heat and humidity of Oklahoma summers, or the southern twang of "y'all." I watched from afar, but never got to know a "real" cowboy.

But last weekend, I had the honor of attending the Western Heritage Awards at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Surrounded by hundreds of cowboy peers, my friend and writing mentor, Dusty Richards, was presented an award for Outstanding Western Novel for his book, The Sundown Chaser.

Before and during the ceremony, we were surrounded by cowboys and cowgirls--most were real, but there were certainly some "wanna-be" cowfolk, like me. What a community I found -- ranchers, horsemen, performers, artists, writers -- all with a love of cowboy culture.

I have to admit, I was surprised to feel so "at home" with a group that in the past, I had only watched from "afar." But their warmth, patriotism, determined self-sufficiency and down-home charm drew me in.

In some of the presentations, I sensed concern that cowboys may become a thing of the past. There are fewer western movies and fewer novels these days. I overheard one rancher talking about the "cowboy way" not being the most efficient way to ranch anymore. But, in the hundreds of people present that weekend, I also saw a determination not to let that happen -- a determination to keep the cowboy alive.

When I left Oklahoma City to return home, I thought a long time about the cowboys I'd met and listened to, and I hoped more people would get to know a cowboy, and wouldn't simply watch this symbol of American culture from afar.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sister Left, Sister Right - Conclusion

Many of you have asked about the results of the experiment my left-leaning sister and I (right-leaning)agreed to perform. (See my blog dated February 18, 2010.) Sister Left, Sister Right

In this experiment, we each selected a program from a media source which we both agreed was biased to the "right" -- Fox News, and the "left" -- MSNBC. I asked her to watch "Special Report with Bret Baier" on Fox News, and she asked me to watch "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC. We felt these two programs tended to be "fair and balanced."

I watched 2.5 of Rachel Maddow's shows, trying to keep an open mind. Initially, I found much of what she said provocative, and worth considering -- after all, I was trying to keep an open mind. However, the more I listened to her, the more offended I became at her sarcasm and wisecracking, usually at the expense of conservatives. The longer I watched, the harder it became to keep my mind open to her views and opinions.

Believe me, I realize this happens all the time on "the right," also. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh -- all present opinions with which I generally agree, but I am often "turned off" by their presentation, and I wonder if those center-minded, and certainly left-minded people must shut their minds off to it, also.

As for my sister, she did watch Bret Baier, and commented that she felt it was a fairly balanced (no pun intended,) and calm, unemotionally presented news program.

But shortly after that, when I asked her what she thought of later editions, she commented that she had decided that watching or listening to politically-oriented programs -- on either side of the political spectrum -- brought her unnecessary anxiety. She told me she didn't think it was worth it to have that kind of stress in her life, and she didn't really want to participate in the experiment anymore.

I was disappointed, but I also understood, especially after recently getting into a political discussion with a friend with whom I'd previously been able to discuss any difference. On this particular instance, we'd gotten into a discussion about social justice or injustice, as the case may be. Should we take from the rich to give to the poor? Is it "fair?" And what about bailouts? This discussion did not remain calm and unemotional as most of our previous discussions had. Things were said by both of us. And though they may have been intended to provoke thought or change, instead, they brought hurt feelings.

It was a sad eye-opener for me. If I can't discuss differences with a sister I love and respect, and a good friend who I've respected for several years, the vitriol and lack of respect for differences of opinion really has gotten out of hand.

I did not come away from this experiement with any answers. Only more questions -- the first one being, "Why?"

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Five Things I Learned About the Czech Republic

1) I probably should have known this, but I’ll admit, at the point in history when “Czechoslovakia” became the Czech Republic, I was not yet a “news junkie.” I didn’t pay attention to the news of the world, probably because my life was too full of taking care of my two young children, going to school and working. Therefore, before we planned this trip to Prague, I didn’t realize Czechoslovakia no longer existed, and that it is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

2) I’d always heard the term “Bohemian,” and perhaps even strived to be such a person — artistic, free-spirited, unconventional. Before we traveled to the Czech Republic, I didn’t know that Bohemia is a REAL place, the largest region in the Czech Republic. It consists of a central basin surrounded by mountain ranges. We visited Prague, which is in Central Bohemia, and Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, in South Bohemia.

3) In studying the history of the Czech Republic, I learned the meaning of two words I’d never heard before: defenestration and immolation.

Defenestration – the act of throwing a thing or person out of a window. The first “Prague Defenestration” occurred in 1419, when several Catholic councilors were thrown from the window of Prague’s New Town Hall during the reformation movement, which demanded the restraint of the church in state affairs. A second “Prague Defenestration” occurred in 1618, representatives of the non-Catholic Bohemian states threw two of Emperor Matthias’s emissaries out of a window at Prague Castle. It marked the beginning the The Thirty Years War, which lasted until 1648.

Immolation – the act of sacrifice, as if by fire. In 1969, twenty-year old Jan Palach burned himself to death to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia by troops of the Warsaw Pact, by order of the Soviet Union. This invasion signaled the end of “Prague Spring,” and resulted in the return of orthodox Communists to power.

4) I learned the beloved Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was based on Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, (907-935). He is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic.

5) If I had been born in Czechoslovakia, I would have been two years old when the “Prague Spring” began. This was a reform movement within the Communist party which had taken over the country after the Red Army liberated Prague from the Nazis during World War II. I would have been ten years old when in August, 1968, the “Prague Spring” ended and the Soviet Union and members of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia to halt the period of political liberalization and return the country to orthodox Communism.

At the time of the Velvet Revolution, a non-violent uprising that began in November, 1989, I would have been thirty-one years old. By then, I had two children. One of our tour guides, who looked to be about the age of my children, told us that during the period from 1968 – 1989, parents told their children to “blend in. Don’t do anything to stand out.” I found this fascinating. I never thought of Communism in those terms – that it would change the whole way one might parent their children.

The young woman who was our tour guide (center in the picture below,) told us about the year she spent as an au pair in America. Though she was initially disappointed that the “American Dream” was not all she hoped it would be, she came away with a determination to speak her mind, to stand out, to be an individual.

This to me, was the most serendipitous lesson from my trip to the Czech Republic, because in learning about the history of this country, and in talking to people who had lived through Communism coming in and out of their country, I saw what we so often take for granted in America -- the freedom to stand out, and to be an individual --perhaps even Bohemian!