How to Stay Cool While Wearing Kroje

imageNow that summer is here in full force, we have to think about how to stay cool while wearing kroje. This is not an easy task. Wearing kroje usually requires (for women) at least a blouse, vest, skirt, apron, tights, and shoes. Most times there are also multiple skirts plus boots! It’s hard to stay cool when you’re wearing so many clothes.

On top of normal festivals that are often inside (at least part of the time), there are also parades. Unfortunately, these are not inside. The parades are usually scheduled on the hottest days of the year, at the hottest part of the day to test your poise as a queen, or so I’m convinced. Therefore, I believe it is my duty to share some wisdom on the subject.

Here are my suggestions on how to stay cool when you have to wear kroje:
1. Seek shade or shelter when possible. This is an obvious one.

2. Drink lots of cold water. Cooler water will help you feel more refreshed and they double as ice packs.

3. Strip unimportant layers off when necessary. This means that you need to be prepared to go shoe and tightless for parades. I know this is taboo in a normal situation, but parades have different rules. It doesn’t do any good to wear tights during a parade if they are soaked and you have to change them after anyway. Also, if no tights make the difference in whether or not you feel like dying of heat stroke, just take them off. You will be forgiven.

4. Invest in a neck cooler. They are those weird fabric squares that are stored in plastic tubes that you get wet and keep you blissfully cool all afternoon. These are great if you can find one in the same color as your kroje, get it wet, put it around your neck, and tuck under your blouse. Genius!

5. Wear a jumper. A jumper is a one piece dress. For kroje that means that you don’t have a separate vest and skirt; they are made as one piece. Often jumpers are made of a light cotton that you wear a blouse under and an apron on top, thus eliminating a layer. A good example of a jumper is the Domažlice kroje.

6. Have your kroje be made with lighter fabrics. Use lighter colors and lighter weight fabrics such as cotton to keep you cooler. Or, have interchangeable pieces, such as short sleeves for hot days and parades and longer sleeves for coolers days and inside events.

7. Keep an umbrella handy. An umbrella can help keep the Sun’s blazing rays off your skin. No sun burn and less heat.

8. Wear moisture wicking clothes under your kroje. This may sound like an extra layer and it is, but that bottom layer helps pull the sweat off your skin and cools you down. This may not be ideal for the whole day, but it’s a good way to keep your kroje cleaner.*

9. Bring a change of kroje. If all else fails and you are miserably sweaty and gross, then change into another kroje. Remember that queens don’t actually sweat though, we glisten.

10. Enlist an entourage. Ask family and friends to help with keeping you cool, hydrated, and feeling great! Have someone be in charge of the cooler and bringing you water when needed. Maybe, someone else is your official fanner. Have fun with it. You are a queen after all and you should be treated as one 😉

*tip courtesy of Michaela Steager, current Nebraska Czech-Slovak Queen.

 

If you want to hear more about being a Czech Queen, you can read about the Nebraska Czechs here, why I became a Czech queen here, my struggles here, and my tips on preparing for the pageant here.

As always, you can ask me questions or let me know your thoughts below on on the Facebook page. Happy cooling.

What it’s Like to be a Czechoholic

Proud to be American-Czech!1I have a treat for you today! Our fourth installment is a guest post from my friend Carrie Brown! She has been a great help to me both while I studied and traveled abroad in the Czech Republic and home in Nebraska. She has a huge wealth of knowledge in all things Czech and is a blast to hang out and talk with! I hope you enjoy a glimpse into her incredible life and experiences!

When I sat down to write this I realized it’s been OVER AN ENTIRE DECADE since I first got involved in the Czech-Slovak pageants! That’s unbelievable! And let me tell you, a lot has happened since then. Some people say they’re chocoholics because of their love of chocolate, but I guess I could be considered a Czechoholic. Read on and you’ll clearly see why.

Similarly to the other guest writers, I grew up with knedlíky, polka, koledy, koláče, vánočky, and family pride in our Czech heritage. At the recommendation of my grandparents Jack and Rose Marie Vankat, I represented the Omaha Czech Cultural Club as Queen in 2005, 2007, and 2008, and the third time really is a charm because I was finally crowned Miss Czech-Slovak Nebraska that 08-09 year. The following year I competed in the Miss Czech-Slovak US pageant and won 2nd Runner Up! What an honor it was to represent my family and further develop my own personal connection to the Czech heritage through those organizations, pageants, and events! But for this post, I’d like to focus less on my time as Queen, and more on my time spent in the Czech Republic.

“It is good and beautiful to celebrate the Czech heritage and culture our ancestors brought with them so long ago, but culture evolves. It is not frozen in time. Appreciation of the past is magnified when you see and experience the present in real life.”

My first trip to the Czech Republic was in 2008, the summer before I was due to compete in my third state pageant. My mother, aunt, and I joined the Czech heritage tour group from Doane College led by Janet Jeffries Beauvais (highly recommended!) and simply adored exploring the villages, meeting ancestors, dancing in the wine cellars and breweries, finding kroj pieces in antique shops, playing the dudy (Bohemian bagpipes) with a local legend, seeing old friends, getting lost in the winding streets of Old Town prague, and more. I could go on and on about how wonderful it was to finally be in the place I’d heard so much about. I just couldn’t get enough!Performing with 20+ bagpipers at Chodské slavnosti (I'm the farthest girl to the right)

Fast forward two years to the summer of 2010 when I (with the help of a friend) arranged to live with a family in one of the villages I’d visited on that first tour. I knew I had ancestors in the Chodsko region and that they were active musicians in the areas, so we all saw it as a perfect opportunity to share our cultures, languages, and musical interests. We had never met before, and my limited Czech and their limited English made communication interesting to say the least, but they’ve become “my Czech family” and I their “Američanka”. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world! That summer I also received a full scholarship through the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to study in an intensive, month-long Czech for Compatriots language course in Dobruška, Czech Republic (again, highly recommended!) with people from all over the world. We had class for several hours a day, seven days a week, along with excursions and presentations. And that was ALL in Czech! That summer I felt the difference between visiting a place and actually living there. I needed lots of coaxing to get in the train that would take me to the airport to fly back to Nebraska after that summer because again, I just couldn’t get enough.Practicing with my _Czech brother and sister_ for our performance at Chodské slavnosti

The whole journey back to Nebraska and for several months after that, I knew I wanted to get back to the Czech Republic as soon as possible. Long story short, after waking up at all hours of the night and looking presentable for different interviews over Skype, I ended up getting a teaching job in Prague!! I moved there in August of 2011 after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. So many people told me they wished they would have taken the chance to live abroad while they were young. I didn’t want to always wonder what it would be like, I wanted to live it. I had to seize the amazing opportunity and go for it! I told myself and others that I wanted to try it for at least one year, but ended up making Prague my home for four unforgettable years.Photo credit_ Lauren Barta. Graffiting the Lennon Wall

Like I said before, the difference between visiting and living there is vast. It’s impossible to make a list of everything I experienced in my four years there like one could for a trip. The longer I lived there, worked there, struggled and thrived there, the more I learned about myself and about modern Czech culture in general. I never quite know how to respond when people say, “So how was it?” How can I accurately convey how it felt to regularly lead a multinational congregation in song in 700+ year old St. Thomas church that was established by a king? Or to successfully set up automatic bill pay for gas and electricity entirely in Czech? (My grandma would be so proud!) Or to go to a post office daily for a week to pick up a birthday package, only to be told it got sent back? Or to be the only American playing the dudy at a festival in the square in which my ancestors surely walked hundreds of years ago? Or to be shuffled between three different foreign police offices before finding out that the papers I acquired didn’t count because they were signed in the wrong color of ink? Or sitting in the grass at my favorite park with a view of the castle with a beer in hand while my friend played the guitar? Or participating in holiday traditions with “my Czech family” such as weaving pomlázky for Easter or cleaning kapr to eat at Christmas? I could clearly go on and on! I’ve been back in Nebraska for about ten months now, but it’s still difficult to talk about all these experiences in the Czech Republic without getting emotional. I miss it every. single. day. At the same time, I know I have to be grateful for each of these memories that will last a lifetime, for the irreplaceable friendships I made, and for each of the stepping stones that made me who I am today.

The only advice I can give is this: GO. Whether it’s a trip or a move, please go. It is good and beautiful to celebrate the Czech heritage and culture our ancestors brought with them so long ago, but culture evolves. It is not frozen in time. Appreciation of the past is magnified when you see and experience the present in real life. Participating in Czech clubs, events, and the pageants in Nebraska further sparked my interest in all things Czech that my family had established long ago. My first trip to Czech Republic, living there for a summer, and ultimately moving there were a culmination of the passion I’ve had for over a decade. If you are able, I urge you to go experience it for yourself. Don’t let years pass by full of wonder and miss your chance to visit the fairytale Czech Republic. It’s as lovely as the national anthem so poetically describes. For me, one thing is certain. I’ll never sing Kde domov můj? (Where is my home?) the same way again.

 

If you missed the last three guest posts you can find them here:

Let me know what you think of Carrie’s post below or on Facebook! And have a safe Memorial Day weekend!

What Happens When You’re Comissioned to Make Kroje

imageI was commissioned to make a set of three matching kroje for a family from Wilber. When they came to me, I had one photo and a name of the town for reference. They asked me with complete confidence to complete them by the second week of June, giving me just over a month to make them, and the freedom to create as I saw fit. I have made quite a few kroje, both for myself and others, but I have never had the task of making a kroje from scratch with so little details and a strict time line.

After seeing the photo, I knew that I wouldn’t have a problem making the kroje, I just needed a few details. I contacted the museum where the photo was taken and asked for a photo of the back of the kroj and started searching for the fabric I would need. I got the fabric needed to make both the vest and blouse and constructed them without problems.

The issue comes with the skirt and apron. In the photo, it is unclear if the top layer is a skirt without an apron or an apron with an unknown skirt below. I still had not heard from the museum half way through my timeline and the fabric needed to be order online, so I had to make a decision. I was making a skirt, no apron.

Today, after almost three weeks of (not so patiently waiting and worrying), I finally heard back from the museum! The picture shows an apron with a white eyelet skirt behind. I would’ve never guessed what the skirt looked like and I almost made the apron as a skirt. I am so relieved to have the answers. Luckily, I hadn’t bought anything yet.

Now, I just have to wait for the fabric to come in and work like crazy to meet the deadline. I have some finagling I need to do for the fitting and embroidery and design on the vest to take care of.

Sitting here reflecting on my progress so far and on the process as a whole, I am really proud of myself. I look forward to making more kroje and learning more about how they are made so differently from village to village. I find it fascinating to discover all the new techniques, fabrics, and designs used. Stay tuned for a progress report and final results of this exciting project!

 

If you didn’t see my how-to post on making a Vintage Apron, Czech it out here! And as always leave me a line below or on Facebook.

From Iowa to the Czech Republic and Beyond

Waters Headshot1This is week three in my guest posts series and I am so excited to share a post from my friend Janna. She is eccentric, a great listener, and works like the energizer bunny! For her talent at nationals, Janna gave a puppet show completely in Czech! It was definitely one of the coolest talents I have ever seen! I hope you enjoy hearing about all the cool things she is doing!

I was so honored and excited when Danielle asked me to write a guest post for “My Czech List”. As we here in Iowa get ready for Houby Days, and the 15th Annual Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Pageant this weekend, it seems like the perfect time to reach out to all of you. I care to wager that most of you, the readers, are probably unfamiliar with who I am – so without further ado, please allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Janna Waters. I was the Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Queen of 2014-2015. I am originally from Marshalltown, Iowa, and graduated with my Bachelor’s in International Studies: Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies from the University of Iowa in 2013. During my time at Iowa, I participated in 4 study abroad programs that spanned 5 countries: Russia (twice), Italy, Estonia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. I was a student of Czech language, literature and culture for 3 years, and also founded The Czech Connection – a university student organization.

Ever since I was a little girl, my dream has been to earn my PhD and teach History at the university level (ballerina and professional basketball player also topped the list, but this seemed to be the most plausible). After my graduation in 2013, it took me a couple of years to find the right program for me. In the meantime, I became a non-degree seeking graduate student at the University of Iowa and a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures Department. I also worked full-time as an assistant store manager at a retail store; all while keeping up with my queenly duties and events (If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I have 2 speeds: “0” and “100,” and not much in between!).

To say that my year as Iowa’s Queen was nothing but magical would be a complete understatement. It changed my life, pure and simple. The people I met, the Midwestern communities that welcomed me in as one of their own, and the sisterhood that I formed with past, present and future queens will remain with me for the rest of my life. Our Czech and Slovak culture is truly special and completely unique; it is our privilege and duty to preserve it for future generations.

During my last few months as Iowa Queen, I was admitted into Russian and East European Studies Master’s programs at three universities: The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, and The University of Texas at Austin. After many hours of research and campus visits, I decided to make Ann Arbor my new home. Michigan’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) is one of the best, most respected programs of its kind in the US, and I knew it was where I was meant to be. On my very first visit to Ann Arbor, the program director asked, “Aren’t you Janna, the Czech Queen of Iowa?!” and that has been my identifier ever since…even when I meet important scholars! My focus in the program is on Imperial Russian History, and History of the Czech lands under the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I am the only Czech and Slovak specialist in my cohort; something that I take a lot of pride in. The University of Michigan has been very good to me, and I have loved my time in Ann Arbor so far. In Fall 2015, I was hired as a Graduate Student Instructor in the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department for the upper-level undergraduate course “The Czech New Wave and Its Legacy.” Fate always has a funny way of working out, and as luck would have it, my course supervisor was also the supervisor of my mentor from Iowa during her time at UMich in the early 1980s. During the Winter term (which is the equivalent of a “Spring” term at almost any other college/university) I was hired to work with the course “Central European Cinema,” and we watched a number of films from the previous semester. As a terminal Master’s student, our funding is not guaranteed, and GSIships are not promised to us. I have been exorbitantly fortunate for the opportunities that have been presented to me, and the amazing faculty that I get to work with every day. In Fall 2016, I will start another GSIship with the Screen Arts & Cultures Department teaching a mid-level “What is Film?” course. My teaching resume is becoming ridiculous!

Our program highly encourages us to work on our language skills and/or research for our thesis over the summer break. At U-M, we begin classes the day after Labor Day, we only get a 2 week winter break, our Winter exams are over by the end of April, which frees up 4 months of summer for us! As I have noted above, I rarely take the “easy” way out in any situation, and my summer plans are no different this year. After spending many hours on funding applications and research proposals, the academic gods smiled on me. I am the recipient of a Foreign Language/Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship through the federal government; I will be spending 7 weeks in Prague (beginning in June) studying Czech language at Charles University once again. When my time is up in the City of A Thousand Spires, I am off to Bratislava to begin my internship with the Bratislava City Gallery. I will spend 2 weeks there, and in mid-August I will travel to Náměšť nad Oslavou (near Brno) for a Moravian Folk Music Master Class. During the Winter term I took a course called “Czech Poetry Through Song”. As the only non-vocal performing student, I worked on researching lesser known composers and poets, as well as folklore, language and history; my time at the Master Class will be spent similarly. We’ll be living and working in a 17th century castle, so life could be a lot worse. When that week is up, I will travel back to Bratislava and resume working at the Gallery for another 2 weeks before flying back to Detroit on September 1st – Fall term begins on Sept. 6th.

In addition to my FLAS fellowship, I also received 4 other forms of research funding from various institutes and centers at the University of Michigan, such as the International Institute, the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, Rackham Graduate School, CREES and the Slavic Dept. I am completely humbled, yet proud, to announce that I am FULLY FUNDED for my 3 months of work in Europe!! I received the most summer funding out of anyone in my cohort (but, I am also doing more work in comparison). My research project is entitled, “Folklore through Sculpture, Print and Song in Moravia and Slovakia,” and I will be working on small parts of it in Prague, with the majority being conducted at the Gallery and Master Class. I plan to dedicate a section of my thesis to this project; as of right now, my Master’s thesis will look at folklore representations during the Czech and Slovak national revivals.

So, I guess the big question is, did my reign as Queen influence my future scholarship and career? I would say “yes” and “no”. Before my coronation, I had planned on studying Russian and Czech history in graduate school, and making that my life’s work. I will say that my time as Queen heavily influenced my thesis topic, and preliminary research trips for it.

I wish I had been given some glimpse into just how drastically my life would change as the Iowa Queen before I was crowned. This opportunity was an important stepping stone on my life path; while I cannot compete again due to my age, I still stay very active in the Cedar Rapids Czech community and with the Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Pageant. My intuition tells me that I have not yet ridden out all of the ripples that the Miss Czech-Slovak Organization created in my life, and it makes me excited about the future of our culture.

 

As always, if you have questions, comments, thoughts of any kind, please leave them below or on the facebook page! If you want to read either of the previous guest posts, you can meet Michaela here and Meagan here!

Choosing your Kroje and Success at Nationals

Meagan0I have another amazing post in store for you today as we continue week two of guest posts from the Czech community. Miss Meagan Kurmel is the current Miss Czech-Slovak US! She is from Omaha, Nebraska where she and her fiance are engineers and travel most weekends as ambassadors to the Czech and Slovak communities. In the following post, Meagan talks about how kroje impacted her journey to and success at Nationals. She also gives some fun tips to anyone looking to compete in the pageants. Here we go!

While I was preparing for the Nebraska and then national pageant, I was constantly centering myself on encouraging involvement in the culture and preserving the heritage. However, I wanted to ensure that I was being genuine to myself and was portraying myself as I am. Since the pageant topics are very encompassing, I found it was easiest for me to digest them in smaller pieces.

After accepting the honor of representing the Omaha chapter, I sat down with my family to discuss the pageant. We had a pretty good idea of where our ancestry was from. There were also some kroj that we had that were authentic in my family. After long talks, my family and I decided together that going authentic was the best route for me. However, when I ran for Miss Czech-Slovak Nebraska there was a rule stating that you could not wear more than one authentic piece. So we recreated one of the kroj and wore the vest as the authentic piece, in addition to authentic jewelry.

I have found that choosing Authentic or Americanized kroj is a deeply personal choice. Whichever is chosen, I would suggest to link it to you, your family, and your heritage. Making this choice sooner in the preparation for the pageant gives you and your family more time to research, design, make, and prepare your kroj. And trust me, more time is better! Another item I have found with kroj is that you need to make it your own. You should wear your kroj proudly and it should represent you, your family and where your family is from. Don’t forget the little details that bring your personality into it. For me this is totally about the shoes! See below for my description that I used:

Meagan is wearing an authentic kroj replicating her grandmother Helen Janicek-Kurmel’s kroj. This dates back to the early 20th century from the Piestany region of Slovakia. Meagan’s great-grandfather Frank Janicek emigrated from this region in the early 1900’s. The Piestany region is known for highly skilled silversmiths. Their craftsmanship is reflected in the silver embellishments seen throughout the kroj.

 Meagan’s blouse and cap are replicas of her grandmother’s. They are of fine cotton and decorated with yellow and orange cutwork embroidery, incorporating metallic threads in a floral design. The vest is of floral brocade and trimmed with ribbons and features three silver clasps, silver wire, and ten silver buttons. These clasps are traditionally on a black, blue or green bodice where the metal craftsmanship can be seen.

 Meagan is wearing her grandma Helen’s skirt. The full skirt is a two piece skirt-set made with black cotton fabric and smocked around the waist. Each is trimmed with embroidery in ivory, yellow and peach. You can see the many small stitches creating the raised designs. The skirt is trimmed with an ivory bobbin lace.

 This is completed with black boots and a floral Czech ribbon tied into a bow. This is the same sash her grandmother wore with her kroj. Meagan has accessorized her kroj with garnet jewelry. Her favorite piece is the garnet bracelet from her parents. The collection of garnet pendants from various family members reminds Meagan of what she values most in life…..family, love, and kindness.

The way I see it, the personal interview and the on stage interview really go hand in hand. I felt it was important to be very familiar with the history of our culture, be current on present day events, and know some about the culture. I also felt that, since I was wearing an authentic kroj, that I was knowledgeable in what I was wearing. I made sure to research what type of kroj was worn, from what villages, and when. I also found it fun to learn the small differences that set one village’s kroj apart from another. This is such a fun and interesting way to learn about our shared heritage.

One little tip I learned from being nervous for interviews, both on and off stage, is to take a deep breath and just be you. There is nothing better you can do than be you! And maybe, crack a really good joke!

For talent, I have found that each judge is looking at your presentation from a different angle. I would suggest to do something that you feel showcases your talent. Keep it clean and streamlined. If you are going to sing, keep your whole talent presentation about your singing. Also the stage size could play into how you present your talent. This is definitely not a determining factor, just one to consider. Finally, remember to smile! This is the talent and showmanship part of the competition.

After all of the preparation and the competition, I felt that being able to represent my state and now my country as a cultural ambassador was a wonderful culmination of myself, my family and my friends’ hard work and efforts. Passing on that heritage is important to myself and my family. Preparing for the state level and national level competitions, I also discovered a connection between my heritage and my chosen career field. I’ve discovered that Czechs and Slovaks have been prominent in science and engineering. Czechs and Slovaks have pioneered medical research, created drugs and treatments for diseases like AIDS and HIV. And even invented things like soft contact lenses and sugar cubes.

One time that I will always remember is the evening right after I was crowned. In Wilber, I walked with my family into Sokol Hall. The whole hall started cheering, it felt almost as loud at Memorial Stadium. It was a very enjoyable, family-centric time and to me that is what shared heritage is all about: family.

For those individuals who are preparing for their pageant, who are excited about sharing their heritage, and who may now want to be a queen, remember that a crown and sash does not make a queen; it’s the heart inside you and the example you leave that make a queen.

I strongly encourage others to promote their heritage. If there is anyone who is interested, please feel free to reach out to me.

Meagan Kurmel
Miss Czech-Slovak Nebraska 2014-2015
Miss Czech-Slovak US 2015-2016
missczechslovakus15@gmail.com
www.gofundme.com/missczskusa2015

**Photos by Mary Chavez of Mary Chavez Photography

I hope you enjoyed Miss Meagan’s perspective! If you missed last week, read about Michaela Steager’s experiences as Nebraska queen here! And as always, leave a comment below or on the facebook page! I would love to hear from you!

Don’t Blink! It Will be Over too Soon!

Professional3I announced a couple weeks ago that I had a surprise and here it is! This is the first guest post from someone in the Czech community, Miss Michaela Steger. She is the reigning Miss Czech-Slovak Nebraska and has an exciting story for you as she reflects back on her reign. Hope you like it!

Week after week I sit in the Doane KDNE Radio studio on Saturday mornings, listening to absolutely incredible and heartwarming music. Nothing of Adele, or other current pop stars, but something that is far more meaningful to my life, my past, and my future. Saturday mornings I work as the Producer for the Česka Muzika Polka show, where I get to reflect on my beautiful Czech-Slovak heritage through music. The hosts get on the microphones, introduce themselves and add, “here with us, being our producer is Miss Michaela Steager, the 2015-2016 Nebraska Czech-Slovak Queen.”

That’s me! It is always so surreal to hear, even almost a year after my coronation. Ever since I was a little girl, all I have wanted to do is dance around in kroj, be a princess, and someday be a queen like all the older girls. I remember going to Clarkson year after year to watch the Prague Chapter Queens compete, and then at Wilber to watch them embrace and share their heritage with the entire community. Of course back then it was about the ‘pretty dresses,’ talents, and crowns. Just as I grew from a three year old running around saying, “Yuck say Mash!” my understanding of the Czech-Slovak heritage and pageants has evolved as well.

When I decided to run for the Nebraska Czechs of Prague Queen, I was running for my Grandparents. Most specifically, for my Grandpa Adolph Nemec who passed in 2013. He was one of the main reasons that my mother, aunts, and a cousin were Queens. Grandpa would always throw Czech words into our daily conversations, and you were guaranteed a “Spanem Bohem” when you left the farm house. Naturally, when I decided to run I was doing it in his memory and his legacy. My reign would be one that would focus on the history of my family, the history of the countries, and all the incredible stories that come along with it. I was no longer the little girl who asked queens if I could try on their tiara, or asked if they lived in a castle. I wasn’t worried about the title, the sash, or the crown. I set out to travel and learn as much as I possibly could, I wanted to tell my stories, learn different takes on Czech-Slovak customs across our country, and touch as many lives as possible.

Clarkson was coming up and I was nervous. Not for talking on stage in front of hundreds of people, or falling during my talent, I was nervous for making my family proud of me. I knew that regardless of the results I would continue to do what I had been doing, that a title did not decide how I would live and help promote my heritage. This is what got me through the pageant, or as I like to call it, our heritage preservation program. Every chance I had to be around my family, I took it. Whether it was for a hug, a bottle of water, a laugh, or a polka, I wanted to be as close to my family as I could that day. That’s why we do what we do, for family. This program, and these events would not have been a glimmer in anyone’s imagination without the history of our families. We owe it to our ancestors and those still with us to carry on the traditions they laid before us. That is the foundation of my reign, not a title, or for parade candy, but family.

As I sit here with a little more than two months of my reign remaining, I have no regrets. I accomplished everything I set out to do. I am so happy and proud to say that I have made friends all across the country to help with my future adventures From Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Chicago, and even Washington D.C. I know I have gained so much support and love. There are no words for this community. To be able to walk into a room and have someone ask if they can take your picture, only to have a conversation and find out your ancestors lived five miles away from each other 100 years ago, gives me the most heartwarming pride.

That night in Clarkson, I was told to not blink, because this adventure would pass quicker than my heart could handle. I laughed and reassured everyone that I would soak in every second, which I did, but I also blinked. I am so very happy and envious of these new chapter queens who will be contending for this title at the end of June. I’m excited to pass on my knowledge and passion to not only the next Nebraska Queen, but all the queens after her; I just wish I had more time! Of course, once a Nebraska Queen always a Nebraska Queen, and my journey is far from being over.

With a job offer in the Czech Republic, a Study Abroad planned, and of course the Miss Czech-Slovak U. S. Pageant, I am continuing to submerge myself into this beautiful history. Every single one of us has a different story for why we do what we do, and I can’t wait to hear the stories of the other state queens in Wilber in August. Keeping in touch with some of the other girls, and watching their journeys over Facebook, I have complete faith that the future of our heritage is in good hands.

If you liked what you read, you can get to know Michaela a little better here! Or Czech her out on the Facebook page!

**Images by Dana Meduna

A Call to Action

megaphoneAhoj Pratele! As promised, this post is a preview for my article in the Czech Slavnosti which goes to print this Thursday May 5th. I don’t want to give too much away, but I would like to elaborate on a part of what I wrote. In the article I gave the Czech community a call to action. I asked that everyone get involved, not only to participate, but also to promote and preserve the culture for future generations. This is so important to me because becoming a part of the Czech community and the opportunities that I’ve had because of it changed my life!

When I started college, I thought I was going to get my teaching degree and then teach music until I retired. I had other goals, but the plan was to teach. I had no idea that I would study abroad, be a Czech queen, play in a Dudy band, or be writing this blog. None of these defining moments in my life would’ve happened if I wasn’t involved in the Czech community.

I want you to have some of the same experiences I did. I want you to know what a Czech brass band sounds like and what it feels like to dance a polka versus a waltz. I want you to taste Czech food and know that there is more than just kolache, dumplings, and pork. I want you to see the beautiful sights, whether that be the landscape of the Czech Republic or the queens in their kroje. I want you to know where you came from, who your ancestors were, and what that means to you. But even more than all that, I want you to share it.

The following is a quote from my article in the Slavnosti: “A vital part of preservation is making sure every generation is involved, that there are relevant activities for all ages, and that we learn why being Czech is important.” Part of what makes going to festivals and being a part of the Czech community is the people that are there with you. For me, those people are my grandparents, aunt and uncle, cousins, mom, and all the friends I’ve met.

My cousin Caroline was at every event with me throughout my three years as reigning queen. For the first part, she was queen assistant, an honorary role I gave her since I didn’t have a princess. She rode with me in parades, helped tote my things around, and was my partner in crime. The second half, she got to be Lincoln princess and had to share her role with the Lincoln queen. We grew even closer by sharing those experiences and it will always be something we share, especially when she is old enough to be queen and I have to tote her things around 😉

As I’m writing this I’m looking forward to Sunday May 1st, the Lincoln Czech Festival. This will be the first time this season that my family will be there. I love going and talking to people, performing, being an ambassador, but most of all sharing the experience with my family. We will get to sit and talk over Czech food and dance too! These experiences add another level to our relationship, we are not just family, we share a culture and community. There are few people who get to experience their heritage this way. I hope you will share your Czech heritage with your friends and family and see how it can widen your experience and strengthen your relationships.
To read my article in the Slavnosti, please go to www.czechslavnosti.com and click subscription. There is a wealth of knowledge on everything Czech including an extensive list of all the upcoming festivals and events. If you have questions or want to know more, I would love to hear from you below in the comments or on Facebook.

Genealogy: Where to Start

Www.myczechlist.comMy Czechoslovak Genealogical Society international (CGSI) member welcome packet came in the mail this week! It was like Christmas for a nerdy, family history obsessed person such as I. I carefully opened the Manila folder and read every word of the materials which included welcome letter, brochure, member packet, and current issue of their quarterly publication. (The contents are in the image above) Then, I got on the website and signed into the member only section and found the holy grail of resources, with links to sites, books, and tips on how to do research. I was seriously like a kid in a candy store.

Www.myczechlist.comOn top of that, my grandma brought boxes of her mother’s photos to Easter! My grandmother, her sisters, and I spent the afternoon absorbing ourselves in hundreds of photos. In my previous Genealogy research, I found a ton of info on my grandma’s father’s family, but almost none on her mother’s family. While rifling through some of the older loose photos, I found a couple photos of my grandma’s maternal great-grandparents with names on the back! This is a huge deal because I didn’t have either the photos or the names before. I was stuck with that side of the family and now I have a new lead. Yay!

Www.myczechlist.comIf you have not done family history research before, the previous paragraph may have been a little overwhelming, sorry about that. But, I have caught the genealogy bug and once you get started, I promise you will too! It is extremely gratifying to add another name or detail to my family tree and often mind-blowing to see photos of family members I know and those that died before I was born. It helps me feel connected to that family and I gain a better understanding of who I am and where I came from. It is something special to be a part of something bigger than yourself and know your place within it.

Because of this kismet with the genealogy society and the family photos, I have decided that I have no other choice but to resume my research once again. I’m going to start from scratch and look through all my files, photos, and documents to verify that the information I had was correct. In order to do this I need to be thorough and organized with the information and I thought you might be interested in how I’m going to do it and maybe join me on this adventure too!

Www.myczechlist.com1. Get Organized.
I started today by printing “family group record” sheets from ancestry.com (see photo above). These sheets have a standard format that I can fill in with each families information, starting with the husband and wife and listing the children below. This will allow me to do each set of parents and establish clear generations. It will also make me find out the information about all that couple’s children, not just the one that I descend from, making it easier to find more connections later if I hit a road block.
2. Start with Yourself and Move Outward.
The first thing I did with the sheets was fill out one for my husband and I. This is the starting point. Next, I will fill out one for my parents, then each set of my grandparents, and so on as far as I can remember.
3. Start Researching Recent Generations by Identifying Photos
Once I can no longer positively identify on my own the generations, I will start looking through pictures and writing down names.
4. Ask Family Members.
I will ask family for help with the photos to use their memory of generations I didn’t know and then check the documents I have gathered from family members who have done their own research (these documents must have sources or proof of who the generation is or I cannot use it). I note all this information on my sheets. You may have to ask around to find out who has done family history research or who may have photos, such as cousins, great aunts, or distant relatives you may not yet know.
5. Use the Internet.
Once I get done verifying all the information I can find from family members I will start googling surnames, documenting all citable sources. Then, I will check all the major genealogy sites such as ancestry.com, genealogy.org, or archives.gov to expand my search. Next, I will get more focused with internet sources. This is where my CGSI membership will come in handy! I have a wealth of knowledge by using their databases and resources that I have never tried before, meaning I will be more successful because I have more options.
6. Ask for Help.
Many libraries, town record keepers, and genealogy societies will have staff that can help do the research with you or for you for a fee. You will need to have quality records they can work from if you go this route, so make sure to be very detailed.

And that’s just the beginning! My goal is to use all the information I find, plus pictures and documents, to write an e-book of my family history for all the generations that will follow me and other family members who will be able to use it in their search. Hey, maybe I will find that you and I are related.

Keep a look out for my progress and I would love to hear about yours. If you have any questions you can message me here or on Facebook!

The Top 3 Reasons Why I Decided to Become a Czech Queen

image.jpegCzech festival season is fast approaching, and that means that each chapter is choosing a new queen. It’s been four years since I made the decision to become a Czech Queen. As I stop and reminisce, I thought it would be helpful to encourage any new queen candidates and let you know how I felt going into the process.

When I was asked to apply for Czech Queen I was a little overwhelmed. I had never been to a festival. I didn’t speak a word of Czech (unless you count the naughty ones). I didn’t have a costume. I knew absolutely nothing about what it meant to be Czech.

I was quickly reassured that all I needed was the desire to learn and everything else would fall into place. The more I contemplated the decision, the more I was enthralled by the idea. Here are are just three of the main reasons I decided to become a Czech Queen:

1. Intrigue
I was interested in learning more about the Czech community. I was not raised going to festivals or polka dances. My experience consisted of only a few button accordion lessons for a school project. I am curious by nature and always up to learning something new so I figured “what better way to learn and assimilate then be queen?

2. The opportunity to learn more about my heritage
My experience with my heritage included food, genealogy, and a couple of stories my papa told me about his grandparents. This was a great way to immerse myself in discovering what it meant to be of Czech descent. I would get to “Czech” out my genealogy on a deeper level and meet new family members who had done their own research. It’s a cool feeling to connect with your ancestry and not be absorbed in your own life.

3. A chance to compete
While I am not necessarily a competitive person, I do love to perform. I would have a reason to continue learning to play the accordion and discover more about Czech music. Plus, I’d never been the kind of person who wanted to compete in pageants. I didn’t mind however, the idea of dressing up in a folk costume, learning facts about the Czech Republic, and performing in front of a crowd.

Once I began attending festivals I was hooked. I loved the costumes, dances, and opportunities to meet with others who loved being Czech. This opportunity lead to me learning the language, studying abroad, and shaped my world view. My life path changed the day I decided to become a Czech Queen and I haven’t looked back since.

Has there been a time in your life that changed everything? Tell me about it here or on facebook!