Thursday, May 23, 2024

"Let the Ladies Not Be Idle" - The Victorian Home Workout by Jo-Ann Roberts


Lately, my daily exercise routine has taken a back seat to severe leg pain brought on by a problem in my spine. I've had MRIs, medication, hot and cold packs, and now, physical therapy.

All of which led me to wonder as I go through my exercise routine at home, did women in the 19th century engage in any type of exercise at home? I mean in addition to the myriads of chores they had to perform every day just to keep themselves and their families functioning.

To my surprise, after digging and uncovering several early exercise manuals, women were, indeed, encouraged to exercise at home, petticoats and all. They revealed a lot about 19th-century culture and attitudes on health and women.

The 19th century saw an evolution in attitudes and opinions on how middle and upper-class women should be spending their time. On the one hand, parents, preachers, public figures, and newspapers of the day were quick to criticize women for anything perceived as silly or idle. And on the other hand, pastimes were highly prized.

Walkers Exercises for Ladies is one of the earlier exercise manuals from the 19th century. Published in the 1830s, Donald Walker sought to rid the world of sedentary ladies and present options for exercise that were both intentional and appealing to women. One of the reasons is that when left to their own devices, they could hardly be trusted to pursue activities with any health benefits!

"The only exercises, indeed, to which, in their hours of relaxation, young ladies have access, are in general only a few insignificant games, or amusements extremely limited...for exercise indulged in without any regulation might produce real inconveniences, which a system composed of select exercises, suited to the age and strength of the pupil, does not produce.” 

The American Woman’s Home, published in 1869, shows exactly the type of double-bind women could be put in, for it criticized exercise for exercise's sake at the same time that it encouraged women to get plenty of movement and be mindful of their physical health: 

“…it is far better to trust useful domestic exercises at home than to send a young person out to walk for the mere purpose of exercise. Young girls can seldom be made to realize the value of health, and the need for exercise to secure it, to feel much interest in walking abroad when they have no other object." 

There were also many references to dancing in the 19th-century manuals on exercise. Again, opinions varied.  We may think today that dancing in the 19th century was an innocent activity that people, couldn’t get enough of, yet there were actually a lot of skeptics. 

A treatise written in 1868 by Catherine Beecher, included long chapters on proper exercise and looking after one’s health. But one activity Miss Beecher would not provide her stamp of approval to was dancing: 

“The writer was once inclined to the common opinion, that dancing was harmless, and might be properly regulated; and she allowed a fair trial to be made, under her auspices, by its advocates. The result was, a full conviction, that it secured no good effect, which could not be better gained another way..."

However, it seems that all experts of the time could agree on one thing: calisthenics was where it was at. Derived from two Greek words meaning “strength” and “beauty,” the stationary strength exercises would dominate the fitness world for over a hundred years and still remain present today. 

Catherine Beecher herself is credited with being one of the first influencers to popularize calisthenics. And while Walker’s book pre-dates her 1856 Physiology and Calisthenics, the latter appears to have taken off much more with the general public. 

Here are a few examples of 19th-century ideas on calisthenics: 

  1. They bring every part of the system into action. 
  2. Expand the chest.
  3. Bring down the shoulders. 
  4. Make the form erect.
  5. Give grace to motion. 
  6. Increase muscular strength. 
  7. Give a light elastic step in walking. 
  8. Restore the distorted or weakened members of the system. 
  9. Prevent tight lacing. 
  10. Promote cheerfulness.
  11. Render the mind more active. 
  12. They are conducive to general health. 

Sounds like the same reasons we exercise to stay fit. However, I'm not sure about #9...tight lacing? Every day I give thanks to whoever invented elastic waist pants!

Published in 1861, The Portable Gymnasium was about how to use an exercise machine that actually looks quite a bit like the ones still used today, and certainly with the same functionality. 

The author, Gustav Ernst, openly and enthusiastically states in the intro that the machine is meant to be used just as much by women as by men. He also states that while it may be an expense, the machine is a practical investment considering the cost of public gyms (this also surprised me) and the inconvenience of leaving the house: 

 “In an economical point of view, where there are several members in a family, repay itself in less than six months, if the expenses incurred by using a public Gymnasium are considered...such salutary amusement as may rank with the useful occupation when unfavorable weather or other circumstances preclude out-door exercise.”


Still, those in favor of calisthenics and more strenuous exercise for women faced detractors

To gentle and proper exercise for youthful females at school, no objection can be urged…. But when you come to teach grown-up women – wives, mothers, and aught we know grandmothers…how to handle a pike and jump over a dinner table – it is possible that the gymnastical part of education may be carried too far.… For our parts, we would rather that their ‘muscular powers’ were never brought into ‘full action’…. They are so delightful as they are, that we would not for the world run any risk of spoiling, or even altering them. (12)

By the late 19th century, other forms of exercise, including tennis and bicycling, became open to women, although there continued to be people who regarded vigorous physical activity as unsuitable for ladies.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Kate Condie - Writer Interview

Post (C) Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

Kate Condie via Amazon Author Page

A fascinating and enlightening interview with Kate Condie. Fans will enjoy her background and new readers can look forward to some great stories.

Do you write for the market or yourself?

I definitely want to sell books, so I try to keep the market in mind, but I would say I write more for myself. I put too much time into my stories to write ones I’m not completely in love with. How grueling would that be?!

I think where I try to use the market would be in my blurbs and titles. I like to use what I call “Trope-y titles”. It’s exactly what it sounds like; I list things like “Cowboy” or “Bandit” in the title. This way when someone is looking for a cowboy romance, they can clearly see mine is a great option.

Same for my blurb, I call out the parts of my book that are trending at the moment. A blurb can be changed rather easily, but a genuine book cannot.

What life experiences influenced your writing?

My grandparents have this cabin in Wyoming. It’s a few miles away from a ghost town called Kirwin. Throughout my life, I’ve taken many trips to that town and read the signs telling about the town’s mining history. I read about how the town’s remoteness required many miners to mail-order brides. I just HAD to figure out a scenario that would be severe enough that a woman would agree to be a mail-order bride. I decided she’d have to literally be facing death to agree to a marriage sight unseen. By the time I started writing my book “A Winter’s Vow,” I had already worked out most of the bride’s situation and personality. The story just flew from my fingertips. It is still the easiest book I’ve ever written. I think the story was just in me for so long begging to be released


Where did you get the idea for your latest release?

I often work backward in my idea process. In the case of my latest release, I had this idea to send a family of brothers west. I wanted the first book to conclude at the start of the trail, which meant they would have to be a couple with history, but I also wanted enough content for an entire book so that history had to be disrupted in some way.

I toyed with the idea that the female main character would have forgotten their love in an amnesia type of scenario, so the male character would have to win her heart all over again. He would already be all in, and she would logically know that this man is good for her, all she needs is to FEEL the love that used to be there.

I thought, what if they were more than just in love? What if they were engaged, and she’d forgotten everything? Heartbreaking! I ran with that for a bit, but I wanted more. So I thought, what if they were married? But remember, I’m writing in the past, and back then a woman was literally her husband’s property.

So I came up with the idea that theirs was a secret marriage and she lost her memory before anyone else learned what they’d done. So our hero would be the only person in the book to know the truth. And he’d be disinclined to “trap” her with the information until he was sure she wanted to be married to him again. He wants a woman at his side because she loves him, not because she belongs to him.

So there we have “To Win His Wife”, a husband trying to win a woman who already is his wife.


Care to share your writing routine?

My day-to-day routine is waking up before my kids and writing every morning. If I have a deadline I’m trying to meet, I sometimes do a 6-hour workday on Saturday while my husband takes the kids somewhere.

As far as the writing process goes, I consider myself more of a pantster, at least in regards to the plot. I write character-heavy books and before I write, I have a good idea of who my characters are; their past, their wounds, their secret dreams. As I write, their needs or personalities influence the direction the story takes. Meaning, that the trouble they get into is either self-inflicted or author-inflicted to induce growth.

I love it when I get an idea and try to plug it into my manuscript, but I can’t because I know the character would never do that thing. Those are the times when I know I’ve got a well-fleshed-out character.

 Do you research while writing or before?

When I first started writing, I tried to write a historical book and got too caught up in the research to write much of anything. So I went back to contemporary romance. It was only when I decided to write a historical romance about an area and history I was already familiar with that I had the confidence to write until the end.

Now, I do some research before I start writing, but I am no historian. I’m a Google-as-needed author. If I have an idea that needs historical details, I’ll read a website or two to get a feel for the events and attitudes, but then I close that tab and get going on the writing part.

To me, a story is about the characters’ growth. A reader isn’t there to see what happens to the land after a tornado hits it, they’re there to see what the people do after their lives have literally been turned upside down. I don’t think human emotions have changed all that much (if at all) since the beginning of time. They say write what you know, so I prefer to focus on the human experience.

That being said, I read to escape and I think being transported to another time in history is icing on the cake. Also, I adore learning about history through fiction, so I am deeply grateful for the authors who share their knowledge of history through well-researched novels.


What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?

It’s never too late to chase your dreams. When I was in college and deciding on a major, I was far too pragmatic to pursue art as a career. I never would have pictured myself as a writer.

I believe there are seasons in life and it’s okay if the timing wasn’t right before, or even if it isn’t quite right at the moment. Life is long (in a good way!) and as long as we’re deliberate, we can accomplish the things that are important to us.

What books or authors inspired you?

I am from Southern Oregon and when a friend told me about a book series written in Northern California, I was excited to read it. I’d visited the area loads of times and it was so fun to picture familiar places as I read. The series was Virgin River by Robyn Carr. The only downside (for me) was that there was too much heat for my preference. I kept thinking, “I could write this without the sex.” I think all of us writers are cocky like that at some point.

I started writing and realized just how difficult it is. But after a few manuscripts, I found my groove. I wrote a few contemporary romances, similar to Carr’s, but clean. Then I tried my hand at historical romance and discovered that’s where my heart is.

Thank you, Kate, for sharing your writing journey and process. Fans and new readers alike can learn a lot.

Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy. 



Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Walk-a-Heaps- Infantry Soldiers of the Frontier Wars by Zina Abbott


In the old Western movies, and even among the Western novels, including romances, the cavalry are the glory guys. On their trusty steeds, they come riding to the rescue, guns blazing. Most unfamiliar with the weapons used by various military groups think they shot rifles. 

By the end of the American Civil War, repeating long guns had been invented. One tended to be rifles--longer barrels which allowed for greater accuracy at longer distances. The other was carbines--shorter barrels which could more easily be handled, aimed, and fired while riding on an equine. Cavalry carried carbines.

The truth was, the infantry were the mainstay of the U.S. Army during the frontier Indian Wars era. 


Cavalry soldiers in campaign dress

What distinguished them from the cavalry was, they fought with the longer-barreled rifles, not carbines. Rifles were unwieldy weapons when fired from horseback. However, when the soldiers on the ground fired rifles, they were able to shoot targets at a greater distance and with far more accurately than any soldier--mounted or on the ground--firing a carbine.

An example was the Rosebud Campaign in 1876. When the cavalry fled one ridge because the Natives threatened to overwhelm them, they were forced across a ravine held by the enemy. It was the infantry soldiers with the accuracy provided by their long rifle barrels, who were positioned on the destination ridge, who prevented a greater loss of cavalry life than would have happened otherwise.

Infantry soldiers in campaign dress

Some infantrymen, like the soldier on the horse in the above image, were mounted infantry. They rode horses or mules to get from point A to point B. However, because they carried and fought with the longer barreled, more unwieldy rifles, they dismounted and shot while on the ground. Infantry soldiers also often traveled in wagons or ambulances when crossing long distances.

Infantry soldiers carrying full campaign gear

Mostly, infantry soldiers walked. They were required to carry everything they might need for severals days of survival on their bodies. Because of this, the Plains Tribes called the infantry soldiers Walk-a-Heaps. (or Walks-a-Heap / Walk-a-Heap)

One might think that cavalry soldiers could cover more ground more quickly. If covering a longer distance, the cavalry mounts required extra fodder over and above what they could graze on the Great Plains. Also, the horses needed to be rested. Often, although cavalry units could out-distance infantry soldiers in the short-term, well-seasoned companies of infantry soldiers marching on foot often caught up with, and maybe passed, cavalry troops.


Infantry soldiers in campaign dress

Here is an image of infantrymen and their gear. The kneeling soldier looks most like Asher Henderson, my hero in Florence's Good Deed, in both appearance and attitude when confronting conflict.


I have written western romance novels with cavalry officers as heroes. However, for both Elise and Florence's Good Deed (and a future book, yet unrevealed), I chose infantry soldiers. To find the book description and purchase options for Florence's Good Deed, please CLICK HERE

In my most recent book, Lucy, released today, the main characters also did a lot of walking a heap across the plains and deserts of the California Trail, the Central Overland Route, and the Central Overland Trail.

To find the book description and purchase options for Lucy, which is Book 46 in the Prairie Roses Collection, please CLICK HERE