Diana Belchase is Now Top Secret Washington!

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Hi everyone!

First, I want to thank you all for being such wonderful supporters all these years. If this sounds like a retirement speech, it most definitely is not. I’m still around, but I’ve moved the content of this website elsewhere.

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Being a writer and a reviewer, I am constantly being asked to give my opinions on books and I alway want to support deserving authors. But the reason I wanted to write a blog, wasn’t to focus on books, but on my life, as an author, here in Washington, and as I travel the world. There is so much I want to blog about, but the message was getting a bit muddled.

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I’ve been lucky enough to be invited into D.C. embassies, into homes that are closed to the average person, into places in the government or private sector that people from outside of D.C. often wonder about. So, Top Secret Washington: Diana Belchase Behind Closed Doors will focus on those things. Here is the website address: TopSecretWashington.com.  I hope you’ll join me there. 🙂

But for those of you who love the bookish side of me, don’t despair. Those posts and reviews are now on BookSmartTV.wordpress.com which is where you’ll also see news about my new TV show, BookSmart and also my latest author video interviews. I hope you’ll join me there, too!

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And for your convenience, the two sites are linked.  Look in the top tab of either site and you’ll see the other site listed. Click on that tab and you’ll be able to go seamlessly from one to the other. And in the right hand corner, you’ll see what’s new on the other site and be able to click on those articles directly.

So, I hope you’ll continue to support me and like the new look.  If you have any questions, you can use the contact form here or on either site to get a hold of me.

Sending you great big hugs!

Diana Belchase

Inspiration at the Met: China Through the Looking Glass

Possibly one of the most frequent questions I get as an author is: Where does your inspiration come from?

The answer: From everything, and everybody, everywhere. 

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An example of this is from a recent trip to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The fantastic exhibit, China Through the Looking Glass, had all the hamster-wheels in my brain running at full speed. In possibly the world’s best curated exhibit, the amazing Met staff arranged clothing that had been inspired by Chinese art, not in a separate clothing exhibit, but right in the midst of their Chinese art section. Visitors could see how a lacquer screen influenced a dress, how decorative items guided the bottle for Opium perfume, or how the flutter of fans were reflected in the flounce of a ballgown.

It had my little noggin smoking, too.

Look at the gold number above. What could you hide underneath that skirt? What are the observant statues thinking? One Buddha reclines seductively, the other looks down as if guarding his own secret. Are they enemies or friends as the beautiful spy negotiates the party?

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Could the flounces of this dress be hiding tools to break into a safe? Or gear to climb out a four story window?

And this jacket appears to be practically bullet proof already. Do these long sleeves hide guns or maybe a knife?

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And among the bustle and hustle of tourists of every description what information is being traded, who is being followed, and who disappears into the crowd?

Hopefully you’ll see some of these threads weave into stories with the release of my book, The Spy in the Mirror, next yearUntil then, perhaps your imagination will run as wild as mine.

(All images copyright 2015 Diana Belchase)

 

Dark Secrets of the Chincoteague and Assateague Island Ponies

This summer, before you take your horse-crazy teenaged daughter to Chincoteague to see the pony swim from Assateague Island, there are few facts you might want to know. The story is dark, less than romantic, and a hard truth about how women are perceived by men yet today.

The wild ponies of Chincoteague belong to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department in a grant from the Federal government.  Each year the ponies are moved from Assateague Island to Chincoteague to allow vets to inspect them and to auction off animals that exceed the 150 horse herd limitations.**  The average price of a Chincoteague Pony, also known as an Assateague Horse, is about $1300, though prices as high as $11,700*** have been bid.  The money goes for a great cause, buying equipment for the volunteer firefighters. ****

The men who round up the horses are affectionately known as Salt Water Cowboys.  Many are from the fire department, but not all.  They are not only bound together in a brotherhood of spirit, but also of blood, as sons often follow in their father’s footsteps in this labor of love.

Notice I said men, fathers and sons?

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The Salt Water Cowboys appear to refuse to let a single female, no matter how qualified, into their tight knit group.

Perhaps the women and girls who go this year should bring picket signs with them asking where the female riders are?

If you check the internet, you will not find any reference to this possibly discriminatory practice – at least none that I could find.  The stories are romantically portrayed – the beauty of the horses, the wonderful charity and wildlife refuge supported by these men’s efforts.  However, my neighbor is one of these Salt Water Cowboys.  His twenty-year-old daughter is one of the best equestrians in the state.  This is a young woman who has worked in a landscape business moving trees with her bare hands during the day, and in the evenings and her days off, works her own business taking care of and training horses.  Not only is she knowledgeable and strong, with blue ribbons lining her bedroom, her sweet attitude and hard work make her one of the neighborhood’s most adored females.

I am extremely troubled when her mother tells me that this young woman has been directly and frankly informed that she will never be permitted to join the Salt Water Cowboys, nor ever ride to gather the herd and pen the horses, merely because she’s female.

DSC02229In a fit of compassion, this year, she was told she’d be allowed to muck stalls and clean tack – as if playing Cinderella to her often less accomplished male cohorts somehow makes things better!

What I’d like to know is how this potentially discriminatory practice continues in a society where we feel we’ve conquered the most overt forms of discrimination against women.  I’d also like to know why no news correspondent has jumped at the chance to cover this story.

To be fair, when I contacted the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department’s PR Spokesperson and member since 1992, Denise Bowden, she told me that “It’s not that females aren’t exactly not allowed to join, but there is a many years long wait list, and they are only allowing fire volunteers to join at this time.”  She did confirm, however, that there is not a single female currently riding among the Salt Water Cowboys.

Considering the number of qualified horsewomen in this area, and the long tradition of penning ponies, doesn’t this seem strange?

My neighbor lives more than three and a half hours, from Chincoteague.  It is unlikely he is an active member of that fire department.  In addition, quite a fuss was made about a young boy, Tyler Marks, being inducted into the Saltwater Cowboys at the age of 16 in 2010.*****  My neighbor’s daughter has been involved with the group as an observer and supporter since she was born.  How many years on the wait list does that account for?  Stories of fathers and sons abound, but not even the two token female officers, Denise Bowden, V.P. or Cathy Repsher, Asst. Sec.,****** the only women on the roster, currently appear to ride with the group.

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There are female firefighters throughout the country, are none of them qualified to ride with the Salt Water Cowboys?

In a July 2007 article in the Washington Post, group member, Eddie Thornton, was quoted as saying, ” There’s really no training.  I mean, you have to be capable of riding a horse and know how to control a horse.”  When reporter, Karen Hart, asked “So, if someone who wasn’t a part of the fire company wanted to be a saltwater cowboy, how would they go about joining the roundup?” Thornton replied, “They would have to talk to the pony committee chariman and tell them how long they’ve been riding.  And if they have an available spot, they may be able to go, they may not.”*******

Too bad Ms. Hart didn’t ask him whether or not they had to be male.

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The Newbery winning children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague (1947) inspired generations of girls to take up riding.  The 1961 film, Misty, based on that book, is still a favorite among girls today.  At the roundup onChincoteague during the last Wednesday and Thursday of every July, the number of women and girls far exceed those of males.********  They look on with glee, never knowing that the event will possibly forever mark them as different, as inferior and separate, by a band of men known as the Salt Water Cowboys of Chincoteague.71XzmB2j3ML._SL1000_

* Wikipedia

** Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company// Pony Penning History

***Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company// Pony FAQ

**** Wikipedia

***** “Youngest Salt Water Cowboy in First Pony Penning” by Misty Thornton and Robert Boswell, July 27, 2010, Enfold (wildpoytales.info/archives/1283) Island Life, Pony Tales

***** Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company List of Members (cvfc3.com/members/volunteer)

******* “A Cowboy of Cincoteague’s Pony Express” by Karen Hart, Special to The Washington Post, Sunday, Jully 22, 2007

******** “Chincoteague Island: “Saltwater Cowboys” Round up wild Ponies. (Local) by Erika Reif, Staff writer, The Virginian-Piolot, July 31, 1997.

Postcards from D.C., Washington’s Cherry Blossoms!

The blossoms are set to burst any day now, so I’m sending those photos to all of you in hopes you’ll make the trip to Washington, D.C. and share in this spectacular sight. I promise you, there is no description in the world that will equal the experience of walking through showers of petals, or being engulfed in the scent of cherry blossoms!

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Palms and Traditions: Celebrating Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, a holiday that many Americans overlook. But in churches around the world, people gather, pray, and use palm fronds during the mass to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase

Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase

Among Italian-Americans this day is a whole lot more. I remember my father making us go to a second church service if the palm fronds at the first church weren’t to his satisfaction. Then we’d spend the day making little things out of the blessed palms — heart of Jesus rings, crosses, Jacob’s ladder. He regretted not learning the things his father and grandfather used to make — little donkeys, sheep and other animals.

Palm Processional

Palm Processional. Dad would have loved these gorgeous palms!  (c) Diana Belchase

 

These items would decorate our house all year long. At the end of the year, the church requires palms to be burned, but we couldn’t ever seem to do that. We just added to the ever-increasing collection of straw-like bric a brac that festooned our home.

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One of my late father’s Jacob’s Ladders still sits on my bookshelf. (c) Diana Belchase

 

Palm Sunday also meant an elaborate midday dinner with special treats my grandmother made only once a year. Her recipes took hours to make and every bite was infused with love.

Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase

Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase

I miss those days and now, married into a non-Italian family I see the blessing growing up Italian really was. My husband’s family has been here for three hundred years. There are no family traditions other than an annual reunion that will probably die out when the last of his parents’ generation does. His cousins are scattered far and wide. They rarely see one another, rarely call, although the love in that family is as real as it is in my own. They just have a different way of expressing it.

I think, perhaps, this is more common than I ever suspected. It’s recently occurred to me that all those Martha Stewart magazines we love, all those home cooking shows on TV, the special issues and episodes with holiday ideas, are the symptom of a country minus an identity. We are so wonderfully integrated many of us have lost a bit of the “old country” that originally brought us here.

Entering Church with Palm Cross

We long to remember what grandma cooked and what our great-grandfather made. Second-generation Americans like Martha and me are so full of traditions, we can’t help wanting to share them with others. For Martha it’s become a cottage industry, for me it’s stuffing my friends’ faces with food they often say they can’t believe I made.

Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase

Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase

Today I smiled as I saw first-generation Filipinos and Africans quickly fashioning little crosses during the service from the fronds in their hands. They gathered more as they left the church, and I realized their homes must look much as my own used to. I loved that their families aren’t just full of love, but also full of tradition, the way mine used to be.

Wedding rings and Palm Fronds

Wedding rings and Palm Fronds (c) Diana Belchase

 

So I wonder dear reader, do you have family traditions? Are you searching for more? Are you able to pass these down to your children? Please tell me, I’d really like to know.

Wishing you all the blessings of a wonderful season — be it Easter, or Passover, or just plain spring. We’re lucky to be here, in the land our ancestors fought so hard to bring us to — whether it be three hundred years or only one. We’re Americans and that’s a tremendously wonderful thing to be.

XO