1900’s Fitness Plan

It’s relatively easy these days to find articles that speak fondly of the past. When life was slower. When all the current stresses of today were not a constant concern.

Perhaps we need a reminder once in a while that progress has some positive results. Take for example, the lunch hour of a businessman.

Do you long for the days when the shop door would be locked and the proprietor could go home for a home cooked meal? It does sound lovely — in contrast to the often hurried brown bag or take out fast food lunch gulped while at the desk. But is it true?

If you “lived above the shop” it was a short walk. And if your wife or older children were quick with the routine chores — wood or coal for the stove, washing, ironing, cleaning, emptying chamber pots — they could give free labor at the business.

Not everyone had such a short commute. Consider this view in Galena, IL. You got to walk one, two, or even three sets of steps like this four times a day – down in the morning, uphill for lunch, back down the hill for afternoon business, and a slow climb at the end of the day. And think about winter — those first and last trips would have been in the dark. Possible snow and ice. No gym membership required for aerobic exercise!


When We Grow Up

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a common question for one human to ask another, especially a child.

But what about other things. What does the puppy want to be? A search and rescue worker? A family pet?

What about a fruit? Do they want to be in a shortcake? A pie? A lunchbox?

I look at this little grouping of pears and wonder how many of them will make it to ripe? What will be their fate? I’m thinking a nice salad in the botanical garden restaurant would be a good place to end.


Have you another idea?

Public Time

Were church bells among the first?

They’ve proclaimed the hour of the day for centuries. First as a call to worship. And later as a mark of time to all within hearing.

Clocks on bell towers and city halls followed.

Businesses got in on the action later. Think of a photo of an American business district from the first half of the twentieth century. Does the jewelry store have a clock? Or the bank? Attached to the building? Or free standing like this model?


Today in our fascination with all things digital — several businesses and organizations within a mile will have bright, flashing signs which will give the time and temperature as one of a series of messages. Don’t blink! Any one message only remains seconds, barely time for an unsuspecting brain to notice.

I like the style above. It invites a person to slow down, take an extra look, absorb a bit of the world around yourself.


The President and…

…His First Lady.

The phrase is common now. But for the first portion of United States history the honorarium was not used. For example, you would have heard President and Mrs. Lincoln instead.

According to the home tour guide, the newspapers began to use the phrase in the 1870’s. Then it was President Grant and his First Lady. Her name was Julia and from what I’ve read about her, she was a strong and patient woman. And after seeing some of the furnishings which the family owned, I’d add a lady of excellent taste.

In the years between the Civil War and Grant’s election to president, the family lived in Galena, IL. They were gifted a fine, brick house on the hill. (Or one of the hills — the town has several.) While the house is open as a museum now, it’s easy to see how a family with four children would have lived comfortable here. It had all the modern conveniences. At least two of the bedrooms had stoves. A copper lined bathtub sat off the kitchen.

The lawn today is large and extends to the edge of the slope. It’s easy to imagine the area hosting a vegetable garden, flower beds, and of course, the privy.

Today the hostess looks out with an excellent view of the river and the main business district on the other side.


First to be known as “First Lady”

Julia Dent Grant

Wet Highway

The Mississippi River is an active highway. Find a viewing spot from St. Paul, MN to New Orleans, LA and it won’t take long until a tow of barges comes past.

One small, powerful boat controls nine, twelve, or even fifteen barges at a time on the upper portions of the river. Below the entrance of the Ohio, you may find larger tows, depending on the shipping company and the expertise of the individual boat skipper.

While grain and coal are the most common barged items you’ll find on the river they are not the only ones present. Water is an efficient method to transport all sorts of heavy, bulky goods from one river port to another.

Pleasure craft abound on the river in the summer — wise fishermen stay out of the marked shipping channel. And all craft, from full barges to a single canoeist use the locks at the frequent dams north of St. Louis.


Four barges carrying enough sand for thousands of backyard sandboxes.

A Touch of New

The great cities of the world include London, England. (Was it even necessary to add the country?)

The most recognizable of the tourist sites are historical. Many of them are connected to London’s function as the seat of government, a center of commerce for centuries, and a habit of building something new in the style of a past century.

London is also a modern city. Busy airports on the edge. A modern highway makes a ring around the urban area. An eclectic mix of trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes, and bicycles fill the city streets and make pedestrians nervous. (And religious.)

I present to you my final photo from this blog review of my recent vacation. A piece of modern skyline viewed from the Thames.


Fairy Tale Setting

A castle in the English countryside. Strong defenses are not required since most of the wars are over — but a nice drawbridge and moat will keep the riff-raff at bay.


The castle fell into dis-repair some generations after the most famous daughters called this “home”. An American millionaire restored much, expanded the gardens, and installed tourist worthy sights.

Fans and authors of historical romance should be able to build a story, invent a family, and a happy ending for either a son or daughter raised in such pleasant surroundings.

I ask one thing of the authors taking up the challenge above. Please have it end better for your heroine than it did for Anne Boleyn. (This is Hever Castle, her childhood home.)

By the Sea

By the Sea…repeat. Repeat with additional of beautiful. Raise your glass and drink with your companions.

We arrived in rain, at deep dusk, after a two hour drive turned into three and a half. So don’t feel surprised that we headed to our rooms instead of the beach.

Ahhh. Morning. A different story. The rain was gone. Locals were walking dogs. (One man on skateboard with dog on leash caused a double take.) It was exactly right for a short walk before breakfast.

Wear shoes on this beach. Stones of multiple sizes have been rinsed, and washed, and smoothed by years of waves. Shells left by sea critters blend in with the rocks and sport sharp edges where broken.

Due south and out of sight you’ll encounter France. Turn west and the next land will likely be Boston.


English channel on a peaceful morning.

Honor Granted

This weekend is a holiday in the United States. On Monday we officially remember those who served and sacrificed in defense of our country.

My father was a WWII veteran. Memorial Day will always remain in my mind as his holiday — no, he was not killed in action. He recovered from his physical wounds, lived an active life, and died when elderly.

On my recent vacation in England (are you tired of the photos yet?) I saw many memorials honoring the soldiers and sailors from a particular place or those who saw service at a specific time and place. The African War. The Great War. Animals in War. Admirals and generals and statesmen tested by events larger than themselves.

This quiet little gesture in Salisbury Cathedral touched me and flooded my heart with thoughts of my father, his comrades-in-arms, and their children.


Circle Game

Now join hands. Everyone step to the left and sing. “Ring around the…

The song changes from generation to generation and from one culture to another. The idea of children (or adults) joining hands and moving in a circle could be taken as the first step in developing or learning a folk dance. Perhaps a drum was added first – a stick against a hollow log. Flutes and harps are older than Bible stories. And the human voice may have been the very first musical instrument.

But not all circles are fun and games.

“Circle the wagons!” The cry is heard in multiple American West movies and television shows. Two or more people with their backs together make a good defense.

A circle with the people facing in allows many to see the same object or event at the same time. (Think theater in the round. Or a boxing “ring”.)

This circle has stood the test of time. It wasn’t created in a hurry and if they designed it as a puzzle they were successful. Even the best of scholars include lots of qualifiers  – may, believe, approximate, unknown – in their explanations.


“Ring around the giant stones.

They’ll be standing when we’re bones.”