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Friday, January 17, 2020

Riding Side-Saddle

Last August, I had the opportunity to ride side-saddle at Firefly Equestion in Utah. I've ridden astride a handful of time prior to this experience, which certainly helped, but in no way do I consider myself an experienced rider.

Firefly had two different types of side saddles--a Western, which has a lip that curved up at the back of the seat (the cantle) and an English, which doesn't curve. Both saddles had two pommels, or leaping horns, on the left side and a single stirrup.

Fun fact: the leaping pommel wasn't added until the mid-1830s. This addition increased security for the lady when she galloped or jumped. Prior to that time, the lady had to be a very skilled rider and exercise caution when jumping or riding at faster speeds.

When mounting my horse, I used a tall mounting block. My left foot went into the stirrup and my right leg swung over the far side of the horse as if I were going to ride astride. Once my rear was in the saddle and my left thigh was tucked up into the lower pommel, I swung my right leg back over the horse and placed it in the upper pommel. If I had been sitting in a chair, it felt like I had frozen in the middle of crossing my legs with the middle of my right calf hovering just in front of my left knee. The top pommel cupped my leg just behind my knee.

It's important to note that my hips were parallel with the horse's back, my shoulders back, and my rear as far back in the saddle as I could sit the entire time. (The lip in the Western side saddle would have been very helpful in this instance, if only to indicate where I was in relation to the edge of the saddle.) This position, as much for the horse's comfort as my own safety, distributed my weight more evenly across the horse's back and kept my balance centered on the horse instead of leaning toward one side or the other.

Once I was situated in the saddle, my riding instructor handed me a short riding crop which I held in my right hand. My hands went over the top of the reins instead of under. (Imagine you were forcing open an elevator door.)

Instead of squeezing my legs to start moving like I would if I were astride, I nudged the horse with my left leg and tapped his shoulder with the crop.

We started off with a walk while I adjusted to this style. Honestly, the hardest part for me was keeping my back and shoulders straight. I imagine that for Victorians, this was not nearly as difficult as it is for modern Americans. I also had a tendency to shove my foot forward in the stirrup instead of leaving the ball of my foot on the bar.

Once I was comfortable with a walk, we increased speed to a trot. This is where I really had a difficult time. Where a walk is a smooth motion, the trot is a lot bouncier and I, in my silky athletic pants instead of a natural-fiber riding habit, had a hard time staying back in the saddle. Every time I slid forward or off toward one of the sides, my horse would slow down. (I guarantee I would have ended up on the ground if it weren't for his good training.)

Unfortunately, my lesson ended at this point.

I was surprised at how much of a difference the correct posture made, but I would try it again in a heartbeat.

Friday, January 10, 2020

by Donna Hatch

Nothing says British Custom like afternoon tea. While most of us may think of afternoon tea as an upper lass tradition dating back hundreds of years, I discovered something else entirely; it's relatively new. In fact, High Tea has only been around for a little over a hundred years.

First, we must travel back to the sixteen hundreds, when King Charles II’s Portuguese bride, Catherine, brought a cask of it along with her dowry. She unwittingly started a new fashion--afternoon tea. However, tea came largely from the Orient, so it was expensive. Therefore, only the rich could afford tea until larger amounts began to be imported, resulting in lowered prices. Still, tea in the afternoon didn't become common until the 1700's. Thomas Garraway introduced tea in his London coffee house claiming tea had medicinal qualities with this advertisement:: “This excellent beverage, recommended by all Chinese doctors, and which the Chinese call ‘Tcha’, other nations ‘Tay’ or ‘Tee’, is on sale at Sultaness Mead close to the Royal Exchange in London.” (Le Palais des Thes)

By the Regency Era, the custom had long-since caught on and the upper class had afternoon tea about four o’clock, which was before the fashionable time to promenade in Hyde Park if one resided in London. Afternoon tea included, of course, tea served hot. In addition to tea, one might find any of these tasty treats: small finger sandwiches (thin and crust-less, thank you), biscuits (which the Americans call cookies), seedcake, macarons, and small cakes sometimes called fairy cakes with butter icing which were about the size of mini cupcakes. Regency tea did traditionally include petite fours but with macarons available, that would suit me just fine. There has been much discussion among Regency enthusiasts as to whether scones with jam and clotted cream (also known as Devonshire cream) were served during the Regency or if that became more common during the Victorian era when High Tea became such a grand affair. Without a time machine, one may never know.

Food with tea probably evolved because the upper classes ate dinner at the fashionable time of about eight o’clock at night, and since many had not yet adopted the custom of luncheon or nuncheon, they probably needed that small meal in the middle of the day. Personally, I like a small meal in the afternoon even though I do eat lunch. I would have made a great hobbit with the custom of eating "elevensies" and lunch and afternoon tea, etc. But I digress.

“High Tea” developed during the Victorian era. Some accounts say that high tea, served later in the day at about five or six o’clock, originated with the lower classes but I don’t understand how they could come home from work for high tea and then return to work for a few hours and then go home again for dinner. *shrug* Plus, tea was expensive so not many of the lower classes could afford it.

At any rate, High Tea is a more filling meal than afternoon tea. High tea usually comes with white and brown bread, meats such as roast pork, fish like salmon, scones, an assortment of sweets such as cake pie, trifle, lemon-cheese tarts, sponge cake, walnut cake, chocolate roll, pound cake, currant teacake, curd tart, a variety of cheeses, jellies, as well as butter or clotted cream. In addition, the term High Tea comes from how and where the guests are seated. According to Laura Boyl in her article "Tea Time" on the Jane Austen website: the different names are derived from the height of the tables where the meals were served. Low tea is served on a table, which in the United States would be called “coffee tables.” High tea is served on the dinner table.

Because the characters in my Regency romance novels all hail from the upper class, or end up there eventually, I will focus on Regency afternoon tea because that's what they do every day, unless they are fighting pirates or running for their lives or battling villains, of course.

Most sandwiches in the UK are traditionally made with a very thin white bread, generously buttered with potted paste. The potted paste could similar to deviled ham, but also could be a fish paste--salmon, for instance, very thinly spread. I guess they liked their pleasures small, thin, and bite-sized.
Tea was (and still is, sometimes) served in a china or silver pot accompanied by slices of lemon or milk. They never put cream in their tea or it ruined the flavor. According to Regency researcher and author, Kathryn Kane, tea leaves used during the Regency were chopped much more coarsely than those used today. The large size required that the tea be steeped for a longer period, but it also made it easier to strain the used leaves from the tea after it had been steeped. There was a special implement included in many tea services used to clear the strainer at the base of the spout of the teapot or to strain the used leaves out of each cup before it was served. You can find more detail here, if you wish.

However, Regency author Grace Kone, who is British, told me that if it's done correctly, the tea leaves stay on the bottom, with just enough pouring out to make a scattering of leaves for fortune-telling. (It sounds very Harry Potter, doesn't it?) Grace said she has never in her life strained leaf tea. Other British friends such as author Janis Susan May Patterson use a tea ball, which is a small metal case into which she places the tea leaves. These are also known as 'tea eggs.' Other British friends pour their tea into their cups through a silver tea strainer.

Here is a recipe, courtesy Regency author, Miranda Neville, for cucumber sandwiches:
  • Very thinly sliced white bread (or whole wheat if you insist on being healthy but really, why bother?). I use Pepperidge Farm Very Thin
  • Good quality unsalted butter
  • English cucumbers (about† one and a half per loaf of bread)
  • Salt
1. Slice the cucumbers very thin. Put them in a colander mixed up with some salt, weigh them down with a plate, and leave them in the sink to drain for an hour or two.
2. Wash the salt off and pat dry with a dishtowel.
3. Butter the bread.
4. Put two layers of cucumber slices in each sandwich and press flat with your hand so it all sticks together, preferably without becoming totally squashed.
5. Cut off the crusts (very important). With a big sharp knife cut each sandwich into four – triangles, squares, or strips, your preference.

Me, again. After some trial and error, I decided I like cream cheese instead of butter, but that is a modern substitution.

Here is another tea party must (at least in my opinion)--macarons. From “The Royal Pavilion at Brighton a booklet A Choice Selection of Regency Recipes you can now make at Home” here is a recipe for macarons.

Photo by Chelsea Audibert on Unsplash
1 large egg white
2 oz ( 55 g) ground almonds
2 oz (55) g caster sugar
a few drops rose water (or whatever flavor you prefer)
1-2 drops almond essence
about 12 slivered almonds (optional)

Heat oven to 160C/325F/gas3
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment paper. Whisk egg white until stiff. Using a large metal spoon, fold in ground almonds, sugar, rosewater (or your choice of flavoring), and almond essence.  Mix until blended into a smooth thick paste.

Using a teaspoon, put blobs of the mixture on the lined baking sheet, leaving space between them to allow for expansion during cooking. Flatten with the back of a spoon. If you like you can top each with a sliver of almond.  Bake for about 20 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to wire rack and leave to cool. Makes about 12.

Trust me; these are delicious. I prefer to make them the modern way with a dab of buttercream frosting in the middle of two so they make a sandwich cookie, but they're tasty plain.

I’m not a traditional tea drinker because I don't use caffeine, so I deviate with herbal tea in my cup.

Having Afternoon Tea is great fun. I think my next party will be a tea party. Have you ever attended a tea party?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Can a Woman Write?

The wordings, semantics and style used in a book usually give away lots of clues about the author’s character. Yet in the Heian Japan (794 – 1185 CE) there was a unique tool that pointed the gender of the author – women used the phonetic alphabet Hiragana, whilst men pursued their writing in Chinese scripts Kanji.

A handwritten copy of the manuscript of the Genji Monogatari. A mammoth work consisting of 54 chapters and entirely written in Hiragana.
The Genji Monogatari Emaki or The Tale of Genji Scrolls is a famous illustrated handscroll of the Japanese literature from the 11th century. It is sometimes called the world's first novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic. 
It was written in an archaic court language that was already unreadable a century after it was written; therefore, whilst regarded as a masterpiece, its precise classification and influence in both the East Asian and Western canons has been a matter of debate.

Below are samples of the illustrations of the scrolls. They are a bit faded, but bear in mind they are more than a thousand years old.

Yadorigi Scroll Illustration

Sekiya Scroll Illustration

Apart from the fact that the author was a noblewoman who lived in the Emperor’s court and a possible relation to the almighty courtier – Fujiwara no Michinaga – we know very little about the person who authored the work. For over one thousand years she moved in the literary world with the moniker Murasaki Shikibu; however, this was not her real name.

A picture of the author Murasaki Shikibu by 17th century painter Tosa Mitsuoki

The good news is that we now know a bit more about this magnificent literary work, as in October 2019, a manuscript containing a missing part of The Tale of Genji has been found among the heirlooms of the family of a former feudal lord. Experts have confirmed the authenticity of the material found as being one chapter of a five-chapter section called “Aobyoshibon” (Blue Cover Book).

Motofuyu Okochi presents part of the oldest copy of "The Tale of Genji"

The Tale of Genji covers a 70 year period and is rich in dramatic reversals. The protagonist Hikari Genji (who was partially modelled on Fujiwara no Michinaga) was born the son of the emperor and a heartthrob. He has his imperial status stripped away as a means of protecting him from court intrigues. His supernatural charisma leads him to a series of love affairs ranging from numerous extramarital entanglements with aristocratic ladies and even with the empress, the wife of his father. His encounters challenge religious and age taboos, yet are fully garnished with pleasures and troubles.
The Genji Monogatari was translated into modern Japanese by Yosano Akiko and into many English versions, the latest and most palatable for current readers by Dennis Washburn, which allowed a massive increase in its readership.

Genji and Murasaki, one of his lovers. Scenes of the movie:
The Tale of Genji, A Thousand Year Enigma

The epic saga of the oldest, continuous hereditary monarchy in the world (2600) years – the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan can be read in my book "The Goddesses of Japan" sold on Amazon.
The royal bloodline is traced back to the Creators of the Country and their descendants – the founders of the legendary Yamato Dynasty.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Autum, Fall, and Mabon...which one do you celebrate?

Signs of autumn are already showing in many parts of the US but September 23, 2019 was officially the first day of Autumn, or "fall" as we Americans call it. Celebrating the end of summer and the beginning of autumn is an ancient practice that influences us today.

Long ago, when the air cooled and the leaves turned gorgeous shades of gold, red and burgundy, people did more than don sweaters, switch their clothing to darker colors, and decorate their homes with autumn leaves and pumpkins.  Anciently, the Autumn Equinox or Harvest Home was called Mabon, pronounced 'MAY-bon', after a Welsh god called Mabon ap Modron which literally means 'son of mother.'

One Mabon Celtic ritual was taking the last sheaf of corn harvested and dressing it in fine clothes, or weaving it into a wicker-like man or woman. Apparently, they believed the sun was trapped in the corn and needed to be set free. So they burned it and spread the ashes on their fields.

Mabon is also known as the Feast of Avalon, derived from the word Avalon which means 'the land of the apples'.  It was also traditional at Mabon to honor the dead by placing apples on burial cairns as a symbolism of rebirth. It was also a way for the living to anticipate being reunited with their loved ones who had passed on.
Many people often associate autumn with being melancholy and facing the end of the liveliness of summer and the beginning of the bleakness of winter. Grey skies cause many people to retreat, both physically and mentally. Autumn is the time of year when the celebrated English poet, John Keats, wrote his most acclaimed poem, "To Autumn" which has a distinctly melancholy beauty.

The ancient Celtics, however, used this time to reflect on the past year as well as celebrate nature's bounty by having a feast and a celebration. I imagine those were the roots for the Thanksgiving feast that Americans celebrate.

I hope you have a lovely autumn, surrounded by family and friends.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Having A Ball ~ The Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath by Jenna Jaxon

This past summer I was fortunate enough to visit Bath for three days to do some sight seeing and soak up the local color for the Regency historicals I am writing. At the time I was actually finishing up a story for the Yuletide Happily Ever After II anthology called It Happened at Christmas. And where do you think the story is set?


So I walked all over the town. I got to walk to the Royal Crescent, (and take a picture of No. 12 where the hero of my story lived), I visited the Jane Austen Center and spent a lovely afternoon there (writing with quill and ink, no less!), but my biggest thrill was visiting the Upper Assembly Rooms and especially the ballroom! As I walked in I was aware as never before how close in time we are to the past. I was looking at the same walls, the same chandeliers, the same alcoves as Jane Austen did two centuries ago. The same room I wrote about and my
characters danced in two nights ago. I must admit I had a bit of a fan-girl moment—for a room!

The Upper Assembly Rooms began to be a “thing” in Georgian England. They were completed by John Wood in 1771 with the building shaped like a huge U, the ball room on one side, connected by an octagonal room, with the tea room opposite and an octagonal room connecting them on one end. Unfortunately, the Upper Assembly Rooms were pretty much passe by the time the Regency came into bloom, although a lot of very fashionable folk still came to take the waters and see and be seen.

These rooms were the express domain the Master of Ceremonies, beginning with Mr. Richard “Beau” Nash. The Master of Ceremonies was in charge of running the balls each week, of which there were two, one on Tuesday (Dress Ball) and one on Thursday (Fancy Ball), and overseeing the card games several night each week. The Master of Ceremonies would also introduce young gentlemen to young ladies for the purposes of facilitating their dancing together.

The Tea Room was used as a refreshment room, where the most popular beverage was, in fact, tea. Concerts were held there on Wednesdays. The Octagonal Room was for cards and gambling.

The Bath Season ran from October through early June, at which point everyone who had a country estate retired to it to escape the heat.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little tour down memory lane, walking through Bath an soaking up the history.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Castles that tell the History of a Nation

The iconic castles seen today in many Japanese postcards have a history of their own to tell the world. Their architecture and structures changed, evolved and shaped to suit the needs of the time they were built; yet, they all had a common point–they were majestic and commanding.

Castle foundation
Kin no Sachi, a castle roof decoration
During the turbulent Warring States period (1467–1568) the castles were constructed as fortresses to guard the feudal warlords and their retainers against the enemies. Built on top of mountains (yamajiro) for defence purposes, they were surrounded by a moat and fourfold overlapping stone walls of height of 61 meters/200 feet. The section of the walls placed in front of the gates were angled to confuse the intruders. Should the trespassers overcome this obstacle, then sudden descents and switchbacks on the ground layout, stopped them from finding the entrance of the main keep. Should the entrance be found, however, some areas of the floors of the main keep were partitioned as a maze to trap the invaders. Furthermore, the use of technique of piling disordered stones (ranseki-zumi) to build the foundation, not only added to its security, as it was very hard to climb them, but also allowed for flexibility and movement during an earthquake. These fortifications were considered impregnable.
Nagoya Castle Interior
In the second half of the 16th century, the country was unified, and people lived more peaceful times. Unlike their predecessors, the new castles were built on flatlands (hirajiro) or on small hills in the plains (hirayamajiro), where they served as a region's administrative and military headquarters and a symbol of authority. Usually a small town called jokamachi (castle town) formed around these structures, breeding a lively urban area of vassal dwellings, merchants and artisans.
Once achieving a pinnacle of 5,000, many castles were destroyed voluntarily or involuntarily along the history.
In 1615, the Shogun issued a decree prohibiting the warlords to have more than one castle in their domains and many had to be destroyed.
The Osaka Castle
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the incoming government issued its own decree on removal of castles, and many more were crashed to the ground.
During the World War II, many were shattered and today, only a dozen original castles, survives.
Yet, several dozen castles were reconstructed over the past decades, bringing them back to their former glory.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace, the official residence of the Imperial Family was the last dwelling of the Shogun, who was deposed in 1868. The capital then moved from Kyoto to Edo, the city known today as Tokyo.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace

The epic saga of the oldest, continuous hereditary monarchy in the world (2600 years) – the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan can be read in my book "The Goddesses of Japan" sold on Amazon.
The royal bloodline is traced back to the Creators of the Country and their descendants – the founders of the legendary Yamato Dynasty.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Dogs of the Regency and Georgian Periods by Jenna Jaxon

Although dogs were originally domesticated to help men with major tasks like hunting or getting rid of vermin, or herding the cattle, by the early Regency period certain breeds had become very popular as pets. Different dogs went in and out of fashion in the centuries leading up to the 19th and this change in popularity of breeds can be seen in the portraiture of the times.

During the 18th century, the Labrador, the Poodle, the Greyhound, the English Bulldog and the Pug were all favorites with both ladies and gentlemen. All of these had a “working class” background, having been used for such varied employments as retrieving nets and fish, bull and bear baiting, hunting or coursing rabbits, save perhaps the pug, whose “root can be traced to 400 BC China, where the dogs were bred to adorn the laps of Chinese sovereigns during the Shang dynasty.” So pugs have always been ornamental rather than working dogs.

At the dawn of the 19th century, however, most dogs became much better known as house pets than working or hunting companions,
although they still performed those functions as well. But ladies began to dote more especially on the smaller breeds, such as the pug and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

“During Tudor times, Toy Spaniels were quite common as ladies' pets, but it was under the Stuarts that they were given the royal title of King Charles Spaniels.” King Charles was so enamored of the Toy Spaniels that he always had several around him and in various portraits. These small dogs went in and out of fashion, but resurfaced during the Regency to vie with the pug for the most popular dogs.

In my upcoming novel, Much Ado About A Widow, the heroine has a King Charles Spaniel, Lulu, who traces her lineage all the way back to King Charles’ dogs. Lulu is quite as much a character as either the hero or the heroine and first keeps the two apart, only to help, in the end, get them together.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a look at pet dogs in the Regency and Georgian periods and will remember how ladies and gentlemen of the past also loved their furry companions.

“The Pug in Mansfield Park and the 19th Century” from Jane Austen’s World.
“History of the King Charles Spaniel” from the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club Blog.