My Men Wear Levi’s


I know why “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” is such a big hit. It’s the jeans. From teenagers to baby boomers, we can all relate. Slipping into a comfortable pair of jeans instantly lowers blood pressure, gets us humming, and on our best days, makes us feel sexy.

When I was in high school, the competition was between Levi’s®, Lee® and Wrangler®. These days, teenagers have a greater variety to choose from.  But I still love those originals.

In my Westerns, my men wear Levi’s. If they’re Mounties, they wear breeches while on duty, but off, they’re all in denim. There’s nothing like a man wearing only a pair of jeans, is there? 


Levi’s originated in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. They were still popular twenty-five years later during the Klondike Gold Rush, where my books are set.  When I recently visited San Francisco, I discovered Levi’s flagship store in Union Square, the heart of the city. That’s it behind the palm trees at the top of the stairs.

In 1873, Levi Strauss was the first in the world to design a pair of blue jeans. He had a business partner, Jacob Davis, a tailor who came up with the idea for adding metal rivets. When their patent for metal rivets expired in 1891, dozens of other garment manufacturers added rivets to their jeans and jackets.   

Levi Strauss was born in Bavaria, Germany. When he was a boy (named Loeb at birth), he and his family emigrated to New York City. They ran a dry goods store. In 1853 when he was twenty-three, Levi moved to San Francisco. He opened a wholesale dry goods store of his own. Levi outfitted many smaller stores that were springing up all over the west coast. Items included jackets, overalls, coats, umbrellas and bolts of fabric.

Blue jeans were originally designed to withstand the wear-and-tear of the gold fields. The rivets gave extra strength to the pockets and kept the seams from ripping, while the denim twill weave was extra strong to withstand the assault of hard labor.

Denim twill weave gets its strength due to the diagonal ribbing that can be seen on the reverse side of the cloth. Maybe that’s why jeans mold to thighs and backsides like a great pair of leather gloves.

What’s the difference between denim and jean fabric? 

During weaving, denim has one thread that’s white, one that’s colored. Jean fabric has both threads in the same color. Hence those cheap imitations your mother tried to spring on you as a child.  “Oh, honey, they’re the same!”

The origin of the word denim is disputed. Some say it came from England, some France. Others say it was a mispronunciation of the French town where serge fabric was manufactured, “Serge de Nimes.” The debate continues.

There’s no clear reason why we began to interchange the word ‘denim’ with ‘blue jeans.’ In 1873, Levi’s blue jeans were originally referred to as ‘waist overalls.’

Regular ‘overalls’ (the kind with a bib) got their name because they were worn on top of trousers during work. In Britain, overalls were called dungarees. Dungarees got their name from the course calico cloth they were sewn from, originally from a place in India called Dongari Killa where the British had a fort. Dungaree cloth was thin and often poorly woven, and not to be confused with denim.

Blue jeans have always been a symbol of youth and rebellion. According to the Levi Strauss & Co. website, Bing Crosby was a big fan. In 1951 he went hunting with a friend in Canada, but when he tried to check into his Vancouver hotel, the front desk clerk wouldn’t let him in because his denims were not considered high class. The clerk didn’t recognize America’s most beloved singer. Luckily for Mr. Crosby, he was finally recognized by the bell hop. When Levi Strauss & Co. heard of his plight, they sewed him a tuxedo jacket, made of denim, of course. By 1958, newspapers claimed that ninety percent of America’s youth wore jeans everywhere except “in bed and in church.”

Jeans are more than a pair of pants. They’re a symbol of how we feel about ourselves. Don’t many women have a story about shedding a few pounds so they can get back into theirs? Valerie Bertinelli says so in her biography, LOSING IT.

Two years ago, I cleaned out my closet and finally threw out a pair I was saving…for over twenty years! I hadn’t realized it had been that long. They were already tight when I first bought them, and as soon as I had a glass of water, they no longer fit at all. Why was it so hard to throw them out? Maybe they were a symbol of my youth.

But you know what? Over the last few years, I’ve replaced them with some great below-the-belly-button jeans I hesitated to try before. (Mature women know what I’m talking about. Was I the only holdout?) The new ones look hipper than those other ones ever could and make me feel like a foxy mama.

Today I went shopping with my teenage daughter and she was thrilled to get a new pair of “skinny jeans.” Our parents used to say our jeans were painted on—today when I looked at my daughter, I knew how they felt looking at us.

So what about you? Do you have a favorite pair of jeans in your closet?  Or a favorite piece of clothing that makes you feel great when you wear it?

 What do your men wear?


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Time Travel: What You'd Find in a Surgeon's Bag

sb1Just like Mary Poppins’ magic carpetbag, medical bags of the 1800s carried surprising things. The medical profession was more advanced than we may think. Did you know, for instance, there was more than one bag a doctor might have carried to a house call?

Depending on the type of call, a doctor would have grabbed his or her general medical bag, an obstetrical bag or a surgical kit. Here’s a photo of an antique surgical kit that contains scalpels, tweezers, razors, scissors. They would have carried suturing material and gauze bandaging as well. 


Throughout history, different cultures from around the world have used various materials for sutures. Human hair, cotton, flax, silk and catgut, for example. Catgut was the most common in North America. It didn’t come from cats but the intestines of sheep, cows or horses. Surgeons discovered catgut was much stronger than plant fiber, so wouldn’t disintegrate in the body and the wound would not open up unexpectedly. 

In earlier times, doctors sometimes used hair from a horse’s tail. My heroine does this for an emergency in THE DOCTOR’S HOMECOMING. In another one of my books, THE COMMANDER, the surgeon uses violin strings (historically made from catgut) when all supplies run dry on the battlefield. When he returns home, he cherishes that violin for many heart wrenching reasons.

If you sew, you may recognize some of these suturing patterns: the interrupted stitch, figure 8, and running stitch. My medical graduate in 1880 Montana practices her stitching techniques on deerskin.

Bullet probes and extractors were a very big deal. They looked like bent tongs or forceps. They came in various lengths to extract a bullet, depending where it was located in the body.

Other items in the bag included:  stethoscope, glass thermometer (3 inch mercury ones started around 1867; up until then they were longer at 6 inches, sometimes 12), splints for broken bones (versus casts we use today), large knives and saws (ours are often powered by electricity—yuck!), vaginal specula, forceps for labor and delivery, and bloodletting instruments. Blood pressure instruments started to develop in the 1880s but were inaccurate. But by 1910, most American physicians had a portable one that was accurate, as they realized the importance of a blood pressure reading.

Surgeons would have various painkillers at their disposal. (see my previous article—Painkillers of the 1800s – under Categories — Medicine — in the sidebar.)

What about anesthesia? Nitrous oxide (called Laughing Gas because it made patients laugh) was first used as a dental anesthetic in 1844. Ether was used for general anesthesia starting in 1846, and chloroform in 1847. Chloroform anesthesia became very popular after it was administered to Queen Victoria in 1853 for childbirth.  


Today, surgeons specialize. To name a few — ENT (ear, nose, throat), cardiothoracic (heart and lungs), orthopaedic (bones) and pediatric.

Historically, when did the medical profession start to specialize? Here are a few dates, but keep in mind surgeons were becoming experts on an individual basis before the associations were formed. So if you’re a writer, you don’t have to limit yourself to these dates. Your surgeon might be known in the territory for being an expert in bone surgery. What he or she carries in her surgical bag might be based on this.

American Medical Association, founded 1847, Philadelphia.

American Surgical Association, founded 1880.

American Orthopaedic Association, founded in 1887, the first in the world.

The Western Ophthalmological, Otological, Laryngological and Rhinological Association (eyes, ears, throat and nose) was founded in 1896 (dubbed the WOOL society.) It’s now the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Most medical associations began on the eastern seaboard due to population patterns. However, doctors in the West may have become members. They may have received a quarterly newsletter, or a monthly subscription to a medical journal. Newsletters would announce new methods of surgery, recent research, upcoming guest lecturers, or visiting doctors from England, where they had a close bond.

Picture a surgeon stranded on a Montana mountaintop, devouring every page of a one-year-old medical journal, desperate for news. Or bartering his saddle for one. In THE DOCTOR’S HOMECOMING, my hero barters away the heroine’s medical bag, much to her fury, to save their lives.

Maybe the surgeon in your novel is reading one of these major publications: Journal of the American Medical Association,  founded 1883. (Today it’s the world-renowned JAMA.)

Or the British Medical Journal, started in 1840, then called The Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal.  Today it’s the world-renowned BMJ.)

One of the many reference sources for this article was ANTIQUE MEDICAL INSTRUMENTS by C. Keith Wilbur. Others can be found on my website

Back to Mary Poppins and her magic carpetbag. What is your handbag like? Are you a one-purse woman or do you have several, and switch back and forth? Is yours so big it gives you a backache? In a pinch, would you be able to pack clothes for an overnight getaway in your purse? Or do you, like me, prefer them as small as possible?

Do you carry anything unusual in your purse?

I’m not crazy about handbags, but I love briefcases. I’ve got them for all occasions—huge ones to haul books for booksignings, slender ones for carrying notes to a workshop, pretty ones that can double as a purse.


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On the Way to San Francisco and RWA…


Hello from California!  It’s absolutely gorgeous here! I’m driving up the Pacific Coast Highway on my way to San Francisco. We left Los Angeles Monday morning and missed the earthquake by a day. Luckily there were no major injuries or damage. We were in Napa Valley when it hit and didn’t feel a thing. I’ve got to show you these pictures. I grew up on Gidget movies and Beach Blanket Bingo, and have always wanted to see the land where they were filmed. Malibu mostly, I’m told. Oh, Moondoggy…

  This is the Big Sur area.


  This is a lookout point close to a seal feeding ground. In the distance, we spotted what looked like a shark jumping in the water, or maybe a dolphin. We were told that sharks feed on seals, so it’s possible it was a shark. Up on the cliffs, I spotted two eagles guarding their nest. The hairpin turns require such concentration when driving!

 I didn’t expect the landscape to be so dry all the way up the coast to San Francisco. We drove inland north of Santa Barbara, expecting thicker foliage, but it was as dry as straw and all crops have to be irrigated. Incredibly beautiful, and the grand scale is breathtaking.  North of San Francisco, we saw some areas along the road that were burned from the wildfires, and in fact saw a team of firefighters (about 10 trucks and helicopter crews) dousing a grass fire.


Below is a shopping mall in the middle of it all that looks like an oasis!

We hit San Francisco mid-Tuesday and drove north a couple of hours into Napa Valley. My daughter and niece wanted to see where Parent Trap was filmed. My husband and I wanted to sample some of the best wines in the world. 


And now, San Francisco…


  Painted in the international color of orange so that pilots can see it on a cloudy day.


  This is the beginning of Fisherman’s Wharf. Can you see the famous island of Alcatraz in the bay? It’s in the middle of the photo, to the right of the second big lamp post. A federal prison until 1963.


Union Square above–in the heart of shopping district. Beside it is an example of the architecture. There are seven variations of Victorian architecture in the world, and San Francisco proudly has four types. The city is amazing!  Hope you enjoyed the slide show.  Now I’m off to join the RWA convention and meet up with fellow Fillies.

Best wishes from San Francisco…

You Know You’re a Writer When…






Next week, more than 2,000 of us will be attending the RWA writer’s conference in San Francisco. So, I got to thinking about job descriptions. Jobs are hard to explain. I’ve had all sorts, starting as a young teenager—tomato picker, waitress, prison volunteer, venetian blind salesperson, blueprint designer, RN, medical writer (still do this freelance), television researcher, and where I’ve found my niche, novelist. I think I was destined to be a writer because ever since I can remember, I’ve wondered what it would be like to be in the other person’s shoes. 


Waitress taking my burger order? I wonder if she has family waiting for her shift to end. Person who rotates my tires?  I wonder what kind of music he listens to. Doctor advising me on a bout of bronchitis? I wonder if she had a hard time finding a parking space.  I can spend hours researching  job details to include in my novels. They’re the attitudes and hidden agenda of each character, whether the person is an undercover Mountie pretending to be an alcoholic drifter (the hero in KLONDIKE FEVER) or a gold miner who’s just struck it rich and has it all stolen (the heroine). 


There must be things about your job you wish you could explain to others. Difficult things, funny things, things only people in the business understand. Well, in honor of the upcoming RWA conference, here are a few humorous confessions from my life as a writer.


You Know You’re a Writer When…

by Kate Bridges


Have you ever tried to explain to your friends or significant other the headache of yet another revision,  or dilemma of three main characters whose names all start with F? Getting through the daily writing grind takes energy, hard work and a sense of humor. You know you’re cursed—blessed—to be a lifelong writer if the following signs apply to you… 


10)  You’re breathless at the sight of your thesaurus. 

9)  Even brochures in the doctor’s office are interesting research to you now.  How to Manage Bunions.” 

8 ) You love or hate movies on a whole new level.

7)  Your partner wants to give you an extra special birthday present. You get the choice of a romantic dinner and night out on the town, or to upgrade the hard drive on your computer. You choose the hard drive and a sandwich.

6)  Those painful childhood memories are suddenly very valuable. You wish you had more painful memories to draw upon.

5)  You spend more time deciding on the names of your characters than you did on your own children.

4)  You look forward to once-a-week grocery shopping for the social interaction.  

3)  When you enter the home of a new acquaintance, you feel strangely suspicious if there are no books in sight. 

2)  You enjoy starting hypothetical arguments with your partner—the ‘what if’ scenarios. “If I died tomorrow, how soon would you begin dating someone new?” 

1)  You’re thrilled to discover the word ‘infection’ was in use in 1875!


What are some of the jobs you’ve held over the years? Inside the home, or out. What was your very first job? Are there any details—positive or negative—you’d like to share?


Kate Bridges loves the writing life. She drove her husband crazy with hypothetical questions while writing KLONDIKE FEVER. She loves the smell of libraries, running her fingers along the crisp edge of a new pack of paper, and buying pens in every color.




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Kate’s winner

Thank you all for the hearty welcome to Petticoats and Pistols on my very first day! I enjoyed saying hello and reading your comments.

And the winner of the Mountie T-shirt and compact pen is….Sherry!

Congratulations, Sherry!  Please contact me through my website with your full name and address and I’ll send it right along.

See you next time!



Dipping and Shaking for Gold


Thank you for the warm welcome to Petticoats and Pistols! It’s an honor to be invited as a regular blogger and to share the same space with these stellar writers. I’m looking forward to chatting with all of you. As some already know, my stories are set in both the American and Canadian West. I’m currently writing about the Mounties.

Have you ever wondered what it was like, panning for gold? On my trip to the Yukon to research the Klondike Gold Rush, I tried my hand at it. (The photo above is one I took of the Yukon River.)

Here I am, giving it a shot. Gold is nineteen times the weight of water, so it naturally sinks to the bottom of the pan. The tricky part is washing away the gravel into smaller and smaller portions while still hanging onto the precious stuff. There’s quite a skill involved. They have a name for the proper technique:  dips and shakes. Never mix these motions together or you’ll lose the gold. Dipping the pan creates waves like an ocean tide over the pebbles. A gentle shake rattles them free until all you have left are nuggets or flakes. Easier said than done!

My arms started to feel heavy after only a few minutes. Imagine standing in a river for hours, or days or weeks till you found something of value. Another thing I hadn’t counted on was the iciness of the water. In the Yukon, spring thaw occurs in May, but the rivers remain frigid. During the Gold Rush days, I’m sure fingers went numb within minutes. How about a person’s feet and legs?

These are the flakes I came home with. They’re suspended in water. Each flake is roughly worth two bucks, and I found five. Some of the nuggets the stampeders discovered in the Klondike were the size of men’s fists–the largest the world has ever seen. And they were plucking hundreds of them from the riverbeds!

I couldn’t help myself–I brought home a gold pan as a souvenir. Most Klondike stampeders did not strike gold, so the pans themselves were more often used to wash socks or to fry fish. I accidentally left mine under an open window earlier in the year. It got rained on, hence rusty.  But now I feel like a real old-timer. Cost of pan: $12.95. Predicted selling price in future garage sale five years from now: 50 cents.

I try to imagine what it must have been like to strike gold big time, but the closest I come to feeling the excitement is when I watch the TV program, “Antiques Roadshow.” 

Do you have any hidden ‘nuggets’ at home? If the “Antiques Roadshow” were coming to your town, what’s the one thing you’d stand in line for, to get appraised?

I’ll start. From my husband’s side of the family, I inherited this ladies antique wristwatch. I believe it’s from the late 1800s. It was brought over from Germany, but may have been made anywhere in Europe (it doesn’t have the maker’s initials, but an emblem). The cool thing is it’s actually a lady’s pocket watch that some ingenious person designed a strap for, so it can sit on the wrist if the lady didn’t want it pinned to her blouse or sitting in her pocket. It must have been the way they first came up with an idea for a wristwatch.


The watch sat on my desk the whole time I was writing my first novel, THE DOCTOR’S HOMECOMING. It became the watch my heroine, the first female doctor in town, owned. Every time I touched it, I thought of Emma. From my search on the internet, I don’t believe it’s worth a huge amount, but it’s fun to imagine it’s worth a fortune.

How about you? What have you got buried in that trunk? Whatever you do, don’t wash or clean it. Experts say getting rid of its natural patina (signs of aging) decreases its value.

In honor of my first official post on Petticoats and Pistols, and in celebration of my current release now in bookstores, KLONDIKE FEVER, I’ll be randomly choosing a winner from someone who posts a comment here today. Prize:  One Mountie T-shirt (black, XL, 100% cotton) along with a compact RCMP pen, perfect size for a purse.

P.S. You know what the latest treasure is in northern Canada? Diamonds. They’re finding lots of them on the bottom of the lakes, equal in quality to those found in Africa.








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