Fool Me Once

I’m always on the hunt for stories by my favorite Christian authors. By now, you probably know who my top three are:

Isabella Alden (writing as Pansy)

Grace Livingston Hill

Marcia Livingston (writing as Mrs. C. L. Livingston)

I love finding a gem of a story that hasn’t seen the light of day in years, and making it available for others to read.

So you can imagine my excitement when I came across a book for sale that had not one—not two—but three novel-length stories by Isabella Alden!

The seller provided a helpful snapshot of the anthology’s table of contents:

I recognized the title of the first story; The Randolphs was one of the first Pansy books I ever read; but the other two Pansy titles were brand new to me. So, of course I hit the “buy now” button and claimed that book for my own!

The book arrived yesterday, and I could hardly wait to open it up and begin reading. I snuggled down in my favorite chair and turned to page 65 to read the story titled “A New Craft.”

Imagine my surprise when I saw this instead:

Image of the first page of the story with title "A New Graft on the Family Tree" at the top.

Argh! That’s not a new story, at least, not for me. I’ve had my very own hardback copy of A New Graft on the Family Tree on my bookshelf for years.

But I shook off my disappointment, remembering I still had a third story to read, Wise to Win. So I flipped to the appropriate page, took a sip of my favorite tea (to help get me back into reading mode), and dove into the story.

Image of the first page of the story with the title "Wise to Win" at the top.

I hadn’t read very far before I began to think the story sounded familiar. So I did a search of all my Pansy books and found it was word-for-word the same as One Commonplace Day, another book I already had.

Argh, again!

One Commonplace Day was originally published in 1886, so I’m not sure why it was reprinted in this 1903 anthology under a different title. I’ll confess, though, that this isn’t the first time I’ve been fooled like this. Over the years I’ve bought a few Pansy books, only to find out I already owned them under a different title:

Interrupted was republished at a later date under the title, Out in the World.

Ester Ried, Yet Speaking was republished as Following Heavenward.

And Six O’clock in the Evening was published under two different titles: Grandma’s Miracles and Stories Told at Six O’clock in the Evening.

Luckily, I caught myself before I bought Way Station, a reprint of Twenty Minutes Late.

I’m a little sad that my latest book-buying experience didn’t end the way I wanted. Still, there are a few of silver linings:

  • The remaining stories in the book are ones I haven’t read before, so I’m looking forward to enjoying them.
  • This one-hundred-and-eighteen-year-old book is in great shape! Once I’ve read it, I plan to donate it so someone else can enjoy the stories as much as I have.
  • It has illustrations! I may have already shared the stories before, but the illustrations of key moments in the Pansy stories are very nice and worth sharing in future blog posts.
Photo of open book showing one of the book's illustrations.

Will my latest book-buying experience deter me from buying other Pansy books? Absolutely not! I’ll continue to hunt for short stories and novels written by my favorite authors; and when I find them, you can bet I’ll share them on my Pansy blog.

If you haven’t visited my Isabella Alden blog yet, please follow this link. You’ll find lots of Christian books and stories to read for free. See you there!

My New Book Nook

It pains me to have to admit it, but I have come to the point in my life when I have to own up to the fact that I have too many books.

There. I said it.

Now the question is: What do I do about it?

Meme. Having too many books is not a problem. Not having enough shelving, that's a problem.

When I stand back and look at my bookcases full of the books I love and want to read again; and books I want to keep forever; and books just waiting to be read for the first time—I honestly wonder how I can ever part with any of them.

But I have to, because there just isn’t room in my home for any new books. So I’ve come up with a plan to help me make the tough decision about which books stay and which books go.

Now that the weather is nice, I set up a little reading nook on my screened porch, with a small bookcase and a comfy chair. The window blinds help shield me from passersby, but I can adjust them to let in the right amount of reading light. And the rug on the floor brings a bit of warmth to the cold concrete floor.

Photo of chair, side table with coffee mug, and short bookcase with books on each shelf.

On the shelves are a variety of books:

  • Some I have not yet read, but they’ve been sitting on the top of my To-Be-Read pile.
  • Some I have read, but I read them so long ago, I need to refresh my memory in order to decide if they’re still keepers.
Photo of book shelf showing spines of historical fiction novels in order by author last name.

Of course, I had to organize them by genre, then by author last name (don’t ask me why; I just had to).

Photo of book shelf showing spines of historical fiction boooks.

And I added this little lady to keep watch over the historical romance shelf:

Photo of porcelain figurine of woman dressed in 19th century gown.

Once I’ve worked my way through a re-read of these books, I’ll be able to make that crucial decision of which books to keep and which to donate or share with others. Then I’ll restock the book nook shelves with the next round of books to re-read.

I tried it out yesterday with a cup of tea and had a very nice hour of reading time. This may turn out to be a very good system. What do you think?

Jo March’s Writing Career

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently purchased a lot of old newspapers and magazines. I know some people like to rip old newspapers apart in order to frame their advertisements, but I collect magazines and newspapers for the articles and stories.

A lovely wood-cut illustration from Gleasons’ Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion.

Somehow, mixed in with the newspaper issues I purchased, the seller had added a few issues of a periodical called Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, all of which were dated in the 1850s.

I never heard of the magazine before. Flipping through the pages, I saw they were filled with poems, song lyrics, bits of news stories, brief biographies, and histories of all sorts.

But the best things were the stories. They have titles like:

The Pirate’s Dungeon

Rodolpho: The Mystery of Venice

The Clergyman’s Love

Conrado de Beltran: The Buccaneer of the Gulf. A Romantic story of the Sea and Shore

As soon as I saw the titles I thought immediately of Josephine March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Perhaps you’ve read Little Women, too.

In particular, I was reminded of the latter part of the novel, when Jo went to work as a governess to the children of a family friend, Mrs. Kirke, at a boarding house in New York. While there, she cared for Mrs. Kirke’s children by day, but at night she wrote sensational stories for a newspaper called The Weekly Volcano.

Her first story was a “thrilling tale;” and when the newspaper’s editor bought it for the princely sum of “twenty-five to thirty,” Jo saw a way to make some good money. She “rashly took a plunge into the frothy sea of sensational literature” and produced story after story.

Soon Jo’s “emaciated purse grew stout, and the little hoard she was making to take [her sister] Beth to the mountains next summer grew slowly but surely as the weeks passed.”

When I was young, the March sisters—Jo, in particular—were my favorite literary characters. But as I flipped through the pages of the old magazines I received, and saw the story titles, I realized it’s been decades since I last read Little Women.

In fact, my last read was so long ago, when I sat down to write this blog post, I couldn’t remember the titles of any of Jo’s sensational stories—or even if the titles were ever mentioned in the novel!

So, of course, there was only one way I could think of to answer that question: I had to drop everything and re-read Little Women to refresh my memory.

The Frontispiece from my poor battered, often-read copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Hours later, I’m still reading, unable to lay Little Women aside. I’d forgotten how well written and entertaining the novel is, and how much I care about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy; and even Aunt March, Marmee, and Laurie. The last few hours of reading have reminded me of all the reasons I loved Little Women when I was young—and all the reasons this charming, entertaining novel deserves to be read much more often than once every twenty-plus years!

So, thank you to the book seller who tucked a few issues of Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion into my recent order. You have given me many more hours of pleasure than I anticipated.

How about you? Is there a book you loved in your younger years that deserves a re-read?

A New Version of an Old Favorite

I’ve become a very picky TV watcher.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to watch a variety of programs in different genres, but over  the last several months I stopped watching programs I used to enjoy.

Dramas have become too gritty and upsetting; medical shows too intense; and comedies, for the most part, are just annoying and rarely make me laugh.

I don’t know when it happened, but the number of programs I watch—and especially the number of channels I’m willing to tune into—have really shrunk in number.

In a previous post I wrote about how much I enjoy Signed, Sealed Delivered, and you can bet I’ve watched the entire series as well as the films over the last few months. But old favorites only go so far.

So when I heard that Britain’s BBC had filmed a brand new adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small (the semi-autobiographical books by veterinarian James Herriot), and it was coming to American PBS stations in the new year, I was intrigued.

I was a big fan of James Herriot’s books when they first appeared in the U.S. in the mid-1970s. I read them all, and enjoyed them so much I read them again. They’ve been on my keeper shelf ever since.

Then the BBC adapted the books for TV in a delightful series that I watched and loved. It ticked all the boxes: quirky characters, entertaining anecdotes about animals, some drama and some laughs, and a sympathetic main character who was just your average guy trying to learn the ropes of a new job in a brand new city.

The original leads in the 1978 TV series.

One of the main reasons I loved the original books and TV series was how comforting they were. They made me nostalgic for a time I never knew but would like to: when life was simple, and people talked to each other face to face; when handshakes meant something, and neighbors helped neighbors.

A sweet moment in the new adaptation.

In fact, I loved the old show so much, I wondered if the new adaptation could possibly live up to my expectations. Would they try to modernize the story to make it “relevant” for the twenty-first century?

I am happy to report, they did not!

I’ve watched the first three episodes of the new version, and I like it very much. It’s a faithful adaptation of Herriot’s books. The characters are just as lovable, charming, and entertaining in the new version as they were in the old.

The cast of the 2020 adaptation.

Another thing I love about the new series is the pains they took to expand James Herriot’s world. It depicts Yorkshire—its villages and countryside—in all its glory, so I really get a sense of place, and how different those new surroundings must have been for James to get used to.

Actor Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot with the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside as a backdrop.

At last I found something new to watch on TV! And since PBS has aired only half the episodes, I now have a show I can look forward to watching for the next four Sunday evenings. How refreshing!

A charming Yorkshire village setting for the new TV series.

One good thing that has resulted from watching the new series is that it has inspired me to dust off my old copies of the original James Herriot books and reread them. It’s been several years since I even touched them, and I have to say it’s like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

As much as I enjoyed the 1970s TV show and like the new 2020 version, the original book is better. It just is.

Do you have a favorite television show you like to watch over and over?

In the crazy pandemic world we live in, is there a book, TV show, or movie that entertains and comforts you?

What a Year!

Like a lot of people, I had some big plans for 2020.

And as it did for a lot of people, COVID-19 changed each and every one of those plans. Changed them as in, none of my plans were accomplished. Not one.


In any other year, I would have beaten myself up for such poor performance, but not this year. With the box full of crazy uncertainty this year foisted on us all, I decided I would not fall into the trap of focusing on my shortcomings.

Run for your lives! It’s the attack of the year 2020!

Instead, I want to tell you about something good that happened—something from which we will all benefit.

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a fan of writer Isabella Alden. Her novels mean so much to me, and I admire her example of living a Christ-centered life. It’s been my joy to help spread the word about her stories on my other blog (www.IsabellaAlden.com/blog) and help new readers discover the beauty of her stories for themselves.

Because I post regularly on that blog (and on corresponding Facebook and Twitter accounts) with samples of her stories and news about her life, I’m always on the hunt for information I can share about Isabella.

A couple of months ago, I found a treasure trove of some of her short stories in a collection of magazines I purchased from an auction site. Each story is new to me with titles I’ve never heard of before.

A few of the stories are only one chapter long; some stories are as long as eight chapters; and one is a full-length novel! I feel as if I hit the Isabella Alden Jackpot!

If you’re like me, you probably need a good Isabella Alden story after the year we’ve had, and I’ve got the perfect one to share. Please  check with me here (or on Isabella’s blog) on January 12, when I’ll publish the first of the new stories, “For This.”

In the meantime, I wish you a bright and promising New Year! See you in January!

Labor Day and Root Beer Floats

In the century since Labor Day was made a national holiday, it has slowly evolved into a patriotic celebration of America; but the day originally began as a tribute to American workers.

My parents epitomized the ideal American worker: they started their own business in the 1960s and worked hard—sometimes seven days a week—to make it profitable, all the while raising five children.

Now that I’m an adult, I can look back and recognize there were times when their business wasn’t doing very well, and we barely had enough money to put dinner on the table on a given night; but my parents never mentioned such troubles to us kids. They just persevered and worked a little harder to turn things around.

My dad built a barbecue just like this one in our back yard.

But no matter how many hours of work they put in throughout the year, Labor Day was always a holiday at our house, even during the hard times. My parents always took the day off and turned it into a family celebration. They made sure we had hot dogs to barbecue, corn on the cob to butter up, and thick slices of watermelon to munch.

But for me, the best part of our Labor Day celebration meal was the root beer floats. They were a special treat at our house.

I have a vivid childhood memory of the day I learned the hard way not to stir a root beer float. After a couple of vigorous cranks with my straw, my float boiled over and spread like a lava flow across the table. And there was no way to stop it! My mom went into action, picking up plates and serving bowls as quick a wink so they wouldn’t be overtaken with sticky root beer. My oldest sister teased me about it for days.

At the time, Hires Root Beer was probably the most popular brand, but there was also a local Denver company that made sodas of all kinds.

Duffy’s Delicious Drinks began business in Denver in the 1920s and root beer was one of their most popular sodas. This old postcard from the 1940s shows the Duffy factory as it looked then.

And here’s how the same building looks now on Larimer Street in downtown Denver.

I don’t know when Duffy’s Delicious Drinks went out of business, but today’s locals still sometimes find old bottle caps and glass bottles bearing the Duffy name in fields and undeveloped lots across the front range of Colorado.

What’s your favorite memory of Labor Day celebrations past?

A Big Gift!

It’s Christmas Eve, and in the spirit of the day, I thought I’d share with you a Christmas-themed selection from my postcard card collection.

In 1951 a chapter of the V.F.W. (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Massachusetts participated in their city’s Christmas Wonderland Exposition. The V.F.W.’s contribution was a six-room model “gift home,” completely furnished and valued at $30,000. That’s a $300,000 house in today’s money!

To help promote tours of the house and to entice people to enter the drawing, members of the V.F.W. printed and mailed postcards. The front of the card features an artist’s rendering of the house (pictured above). Here’s the back of the postcard, which, in 1951, cost only a one penny stamp to mail:

This “model gift home” looks like such a charming house, I’d like to live in it myself! And the good news is that it’s still standing today.

From The Boston Globe, Sunday, November 25, 1951.

I searched old newspapers to see if I could discover the name of the person who won the property, but I didn’t’ have any luck. I hope the family that moved in had many happy years there.

I guess it’s true that some of the best gifts we can receive (or give) don’t always fit under the Christmas tree!

Christmas with Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Last year at this time I did a post about my favorite Christmas-themed movies. This year I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite television series that never fails to warm my heart at Christmas-time.

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” first aired on the Hallmark Channel as a two-hour movie in 2013. In 2014 ten episodes aired as a series. Then, ten more individual two-hour made-for-TV movies aired over the following years through 2018.

I can tell you, I was hooked on this series from the opening credits of Episode 1. For me, it was a special show with unique characters and story lines that never failed to catch and hold my attention. Here’s why:

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” was set in Denver, Colorado, my home town. The opening credits usually feature an aerial shot of downtown Denver streets, or some nearby location that I instantly recognize.

The downtown Denver skyline in the opening scene of an episode of Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

The show’s premise: a team of U.S. Post Office employees in the Dead Letter Office use their exceptional skills to unite misdirected and undeliverable mail with the intended recipients.

The team at work in the Dead Letter Office.

Sound boring? It’s not! In fact, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” is one of the most heart-felt, charming, and meaningful shows I’ve ever watched. It was also a ratings success.

Here’s the promo video for the first episode, which aired in 2014:

Each episode is, at its core, about hope and healing and the difference one person can make in the life of someone in need.

Another thing I love about the series is the quiet faith exhibited by Oliver O’Toole, the leader of the Post Office team, played by Eric Mabius.

Eric Mabius as Oliver O’Toole, the leader of “The Postables” team in the Dead Letter Office

In every episode Oliver’s faith in God is quietly on display, but never in-your-face. Oliver’s faith is simply “there.” When Shane, one of his team members, and someone who resists anything related to religion, is struggling in her life, Oliver tells her:

“I’m not perfect, but through it all, I have learned how to hold firm in a storm, not by holding on to whatever I can find for as long as I can, but by trusting that the one thing that matters in this world will never let go of me. And, Shane … That’s what perfect love is. Perfect love casts out all that pain, all that fear, and replaces it with hope. And hope is what you were asking for in that letter. And every Christmas since, hope is what you have been given. Don’t you see it? It’s right here for you.”

Crystal Lowe, Geoff Gustafson, Kristin Booth and Eric Mabius play the quirky team at the Dead Letter Office.

I have to confess, there’s a point in every episode where I tear up a little, but that’s because the show’s gentle messages of love, faith, forgiveness and redemption never fail to touch my heart. At the same time, I can tell you that each episode leaves me feeling hopeful and satisfied; and there’s always a lesson to be found about honor and doing your best to help others.

The team selects their next project.

So, this weekend, I’m firing up the DVD player and watching “Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas.”

And if I make popcorn, I might even binge watch all the other episodes, too!

Have you ever watched “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”? I’d love to hear what you think of the show!