Holiday Gems

One of the joys of the holiday is settling down

after all the energetic activities

to read inspired holiday fiction.

 

You are no doubt familiar with some of the well-known holiday books and short stories…

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol…     The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson…

Eugene Field’s The First Christmas Tree…          O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi…

A Visit from St. Nicholas   (‘Twas the night before Christmas) by Clement Clarke Moore…

And, of course, the sacred Bible accounts of the first Christmas.

 

Well, here are some gems that I’ve recently discovered.

They are not as well known, perhaps, but are some of the most beautiful holiday stories I’ve read!

Christmas Day in the Morning” by Pearl S. Buck

A farm boy works so hard, only to see disappointment in his father’s eyes, until one Christmas he overhears his parents’ conversation and learns what Dad really thinks of him.

 

My Christmas Miracle by Taylor Caldwell

A true story of the lowest point of her life

 

A Christmas Inspiration” by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Fun-loving young women living together in a boarding house take notice of one of their quirky, quiet neighbors.

 

A Gift from the Heart” by Norman Vincent Peale

The true story of a young Swiss girl employed by a wealthy American family and her Christmas surprise.

 

The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien (1976)

A collection of letters the author wrote from 1920 to 1943 to his children “from Father Christmas”.

 

and, my VERY favorite,

The Man at the Gate of the World by W.E. Cule

The Magi Caspar’s quest to find the Saviour of the World, and his obedience to the call to stand at the Gate of the World—in the city of Damascus—and wash the feet of weary travelers.

Most of these I found during the past few weeks of reading these two books:

A Classic Christmas, and The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories.

 

For more selections

Here is American Literature’s beautiful collection of Christmas Stories, and

(I can’t resist!) Linus’s version of the first Christmas.

 

Wishing you many peaceful, happy hours of reading, and

A HAPPY NEW YEAR 2020!

 

Discovering Ralph Connor

In July of 2009, I went for a hike in our nearby Rockies. It was on Grotto Mountain, an expansive mountain that fills the landscape east of the mountain town of Canmore, Alberta, one of my favorite towns in Alberta.

Here is a photo I took from the trail on Grotto Mountain, looking south….

….and another looking west at a group of peaks called The Three Sisters:

After hiking I went into Canmore and took some pictures of the town, including this one:

… and I loved it so much, I used it for my Gravatar!

Okay, that’s all to set up the fact that I love the area around Canmore.

While on another hike this past summer, I’d met someone who recommended a tour of the Canmore Mines, so I thought I’d get some information about it, to plan a visit.

Well, one online rabbit-trail led to another, and soon I was on a webpage and map of Historic Sites in Canmore. Good! More things to see when I go there the next time!  Included was this note:

Ralph Connor United Church, a little farther down 8th Street, was built in 1890 and is now a Provincial Historic Site. The church is named for its first reverend, Charles Gordon, who used the pen name Ralph Connor for the 35 books he authored.

Hmm, never heard of him.

Did it say he wrote books?!

With the description, I was surprised to see a photograph almost identical to my photo of the mountains behind the church:

Wow, that’s “my church”, now I’m interested! So who is this obscure author Ralph Connor, and what kind of novels did he write?

It turns out that from 1890 to 1893 he served as a missionary in the Northwest Territories (including what is now Alberta, which didn’t become a province until 1905) before moving to Manitoba.

Okay, now I’m really interested. Here is more detail of Rev. Charles Gordon’s fascinating background in a section from an excellent archived article in Maclean’s magazine November 15,1953:

He was Canada’s most prolific bestseller at the turn of the 19th century!  So why haven’t I heard of him before?

Probably because a preacher-author in the early 1900s writing about hard-drinking lumbermen in Canada being moved to prayer couldn’t have much of a following.

Wrong.  The same Maclean’s article says:

“From Calcutta to New York… five million copies… Canada’s all-time best-selling novelist” ?!  And in the United States police were called out to control crowds attending lectures he gave… President Woodrow Wilson admired his books and Henry Ford, as Connor’s luncheon host, sent a servant to his library to get a pile of them for the author to autograph.

That was then, in about 1900.

Yet, even now, he is included in the Canadian Encyclopedia’s article about best selling English books in Canada. I have found his novels in hardcover at a local bookstore, available at my library, and at Amazon and other booksellers online, including gutenberg.org.

This October 15, 1959 article and photo in the Glengarry Ont newspaper honors Ralph Connor, as well as this very moving account written in 2016 about the Reverend Charles Gordon as a Chaplain in World War I.

In 1921 a silent movie was made of his book Sky Pilot , starring Colleen Moore (who was a popular silent movie star).

I’m currently reading his book Black Rock: A Tale of the Selkirks , which is written about the Canmore area. It only took me a few sentences to understand why his books have been so popular–excellent writing, brilliant dialogue and inspiring, gripping plots!

Today I went back to my original 2009 photo and zoomed in on the sign in front of the church.  Sure enough, there it is, “Ralph Connor”. I had never noticed the sign, I was only looking at how beautiful it was to have the mountains in the background of the church steeple.

Now I look forward to visiting the church on my next drive to Canmore, knowing the history of Reverend Charles Gordon who built the first church in that town (which is still going strong after 125 years!), and through the lifelike “sermons” in his novels, became famous as author Ralph Connor.

Am I the only one who hadn’t heard of Ralph Connor? Have you read any of his books? If so, let me know what your favorites are! If not, I hope you have a look at one of his novels and let me know what you think!

Imagine! The best quality books for free!

Well, you don’t need to imagine it, it’s true!

As a fellow blogger said, “I rarely pay full price for books. Loving classics has its advantages, they are widely available and utterly cheap.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Ever since I figured out how to put them on my Kindle, I’ve had a blast finding vintage treasures on Gutenberg.org, Internet Archive, Google eBooks and many other websites, including searching for free classic Kindle books on Amazon.  I’ve also discovered many books in PDF format that I put on my ancient tablet to read, and many of these have beautiful illustrations.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorites, followed by some links to whet your appetite even more!

After reading biographical information on the poet Francis Ridley Havergal, I learned that, among many other books, she contributed to a holiday book called Christmas Sunshine. Havergal’s rich poetry appears alongside Thackeray, Milton, Shakespeare and Dickens in a beautifully illustrated book, here.

 

Always interested in nature and children’s books, I have found a treasure trove of nature books written for children in the late 1800’s. My favorite is The Child’s Book of Nature by Worthington Hooker, MD, “intended to aid mothers and teachers in the training of children in the observation of nature.” I love that it was a high priority then–let’s reinstate it now!

One that is similar, but written for all ages, is The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In by Sir John Lubbock in 1892. It is part science, part inspiration, and contains some lovely illustrations, like the one below.

.

 

 

One of my favorite fiction authors is Georgette Heyer, and thankfully she was a prolific author. I can find a lot of her books in paperback in bookstores, but for those that I haven’t run across, I can usually find them online. Among her always humorous regencies, Frederica (which I am currently reading) and The Black Moth are two of several Heyer novels loaded onto my Kindle and tablet.

 

The Practical Herbal Medicine Handbook , although admittedly not vintage or classic, is nevertheless another gem of a book I couldn’t resist including. I loaded it and several other natural healing books onto my Kindle, which I found on Amazon for free!

And here are some interesting websites to get you started as you explore the literary riches of the internet:

Gutenberg.org’s Top 100 eBooks as of Yesterday

Download 20 Popular High School Literature Books

The Library of Congress Classic Books

Classic eBooks by Female Writers

11 places for thrifty bookworms to download free e-books

Classic Children’s Books Now Digitized and Put Online

UCLA Children’s Book Collection at Archive.org

International Children’s Digital Library

 

Enjoy!  And please, share your favorites!

 

Fellow vintage book readers

I just wanted to share some of my favorite websites for vintage books and reviews for all of you fellow vintage book afficionados!

Leaves and Pages

“Bibliovore. Botanist. Gardener. Armchair Traveller and Vintage Book Explorer”  And I would add: “Voracious Reader”!

A feast! On this blog I find excellent reviews of books published in every year from 1900 to present, and several amazing indexes on her website pages.

https://leavesandpages.com/2013/04/23/reviews-sylvester-or-the-wicked-uncle-the-grand-sophy-by-georgette-heyer/

https://leavesandpages.com/book-reviews-index/

https://leavesandpages.com/book-reviews-by-publishing-date/

Figments and Frames

I’ve been enjoying following this blog for quite a while.  The author of this blog is a writer based in Maine and New Jersey, and this is where she documents her growing antique book collection. She also covers a range of similar subjects, including life in frontier America, Native American interactions, early American and indigenous folklore, and all sorts of literature on food, from hunting and gathering to farming innovations and cookbooks. She says she can’t resist buying old illustrated children’s books and literary classics when she can find them. I can relate!

https://figmentsandframes.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/modern-tales-animal-stories/

Books Around the Table

This is my newest discovery, I’m just starting to mine the blog posts.

https://booksaroundthetable.wordpress.com/category/vintage-childrens-book-illustrations/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-3

The Art of Children’s Picture Books

This blog is archived and no longer active, but it is full of eye candy! Have a glance at these sweet images…

http://theartofchildrenspicturebooks.blogspot.com/2015/04/

And just for fun, check out this Reader’s Digest article, which reports that a first edition of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is worth $180,159!

https://www.rd.com/culture/rare-books-worth-a-fortune/

 

Such great stuff from awesome bloggers!

Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day – June 21

As part of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation work with its aboriginal peoples, we are celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day today!

In my area of Calgary there are events well worth attending at Fort Calgary and Canmore to honor our First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.

National Indigenous Peoples Day June 21

There are plenty of resources for teachers and children here:

The story of Claire and her Grandfather is designed to enhance young people’s awareness of some of the many contributions and inventions by Aboriginal people.  In addition to the text, there is also an online audio story.

 

Coloring pages abound!  …..like this one:

 

Here is more information on National Indigenous Peoples Day, and a video of making fry bread.

 

I’m proud of our country for this initiative!

Review of All In by Lisa Simonds

I have just finished one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, and am absolutely in awe of this new author’s writing talent.

Lisa Simonds has the ability to write in a way that lets us experience all the action, dialogue, thoughts and scenes–without noticing that we’re reading a book.

 

The pace of All In is perfect, and the book is gripping. I stayed up way too late to see what happened next. However, I am sensitive and very picky about which characters I spend my time with, and felt increasingly uncomfortable living Cami’s life along with her.

On the other hand, I admired this woman’s strength, commitment, authenticity and honesty with herself, as well as with others. I was positive that a book of this quality was worth powering through, and the ending was exactly what I was expecting: excellent!

 

I admire–and require–novels that are realistic, and every character and scene in All In was exactly that. The dialogue was natural, nothing in the plot line was cliched or predictable. The transformation that happened in Cami’s heart and life felt completely genuine.

I look forward to Lisa’s next masterpiece!

The ebook is available now, and the print version will be available in August 2019. You can also enjoy the author’s musings at her blog, Leaves of Grace. Here is one post among many that showcases the excellence and depth of her writing.

Titus: A Comrade of the Cross – a classic novel for Easter

In 1894, a publisher held a writing competition to obtain the best manuscript that would inspire a child’s Christian faith. Florence Kingsley submitted her manuscript for Titus: A Comrade of the Cross and won the $1,000 award. In six weeks, 200,000 copies had been printed to meet demand.

The story is about a young boy named Titus, the son of a downtrodden mother and a poor, violent fisherman. His brother Stephen is remarkably kind, considering the fact that he was crippled from a beating by their father. Titus is cynical of what he hears about Jesus, and warns Stephen against any hope of healing.

This historical novel takes place at the time of the first Easter.

“Titus was listening with all his ears, but he said nothing, for he hoped that the man would speak further…. He could have slipped away in the dark easily enough, and was half-minded to do so.

Then he reflected that he might learn something more of his mysterious birth and parentage, if he stayed; besides, he had a strong curiosity to see the much-talked-of Barabbas; and underneath all, was an unconfessed desire to share in the exciting events which were soon to follow.”

 

Over thirty years ago, I was given a copy of this hardcover novel,. The cover was ragged, and as I skimmed the text I could tell that the language was ancient and confusing. It sat on my shelf for a long time because I had no interest in reading it, but I kept it out of affection for the person who gave it to me.

Finally, years later, I picked it up and started reading it, and couldn’t put it down. The language wasn’t a problem once I got used to it, and even though halfway through the book I found that a whole chunk of pages was missing, the suspenseful plot and true-to-life characters still mesmerized me.

I can honestly say that my faith grew tremendously from reading–and having “lived”–this story.

I was still reading it when my first son was born, and we gave him a middle name that was not the name of a relative, but of a character that touched me deeply in Titus: A Comrade of the Cross. 

 

Because Titus: Comrade of the Cross is so well-known and well-loved, this book is readily available to read online or by download, at such sites at archive.org and google books. Free audio of the book is offered at LibriVox. Hardcover copies are also easily available at various online bookstores, including Chapters-Indigo. Lamplighter.net features a great video blurb about it, and Bookworm Blessings has an excellent review and summary.

Although it was originally written for children and youth, I recommend this book for any age. Its longevity attests to its quality! The author wrote a total of 3 books in this “Comrades of the Cross” series, including Stephen: A Soldier of the Cross and The Cross Triumphant, as well as many other books.

Are you familiar with Florence M. Kingsley? Have you read any of her other books? Let me know if you have any favorites you’d like to recommend.  You can leave me a comment below. I always love hearing from you!

And I wish you a Happy Easter!

A German Christmas

Today my post is by a guest author, sharing first-hand memories of what Christmas was like for the children of Germany two generations ago.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

One of us always wanted to be the first to pull the 30th of November off the calendar, because Dec. 1 marked the beginning of the Christmas season.

The Advent calendar was taped on the window pane, the Advent wreath was hung around the kitchen lamp, the stores were suddenly full of wonder and magic and angel hair, and children began to write their Christmas lists.

Mama would say, “Remember, Sankt Nikolaus is keeping books on everything.” Every time she reminded me I tried very hard not to commit the slightest infraction of the rules and never say, or even think an unkind word. To my sister, the angel, that came natural, and the baby had no rules and couldn’t talk. To be quite honest though, I was always tempted to test Sankt Nikolaus’ omniscience – (or mother’s memory, which I suspected of being an able and willing informer). The only thing which kept me from being tagged incorrigible was the thought of Sankt Nikolaus’ fearsome companion, Krampus, who was known to lack understanding for temperaments such as mine.

I suppose the underlying idea which was being instilled in us was that “You can’t have what you wish for unless you earn it with virtue.”

Advent Calendar “Im Lande des Christkinds” (In the Land of the Christ Child)

On the evening of Dec. 6, (Sankt Nikolaus Day), the children in Germany eagerly await, or dread, the “hour of judgment.” Mothers prepare a festive table with Spekulatius and Pfeffernuesse (the traditional Christmas cookies) and lighted candles as a welcome for the honored visitors. Father is, for different reasons, always out until after “it’s over,” and wide eyed, fidgety children sit humbly on the living room floor. (But no matter how hard you try to look humble, you appear to be holding your breath and jump at the sound of the doorbell.)

Our Sankt Nikolaus was a tall, slender, awe inspiring, yet gentle, figure dressed in a white robe trimmed with gold braid. He wore a tall, pointed bishop’s hat set above kindly eyes and a resolute mouth made softer by the white, wavy beard. With a faint smile and soothing voice, he read from the list of nice and naughty things we had done, and he was surprisingly accurate.

“Well, I will see you all again next year, and I trust I will have nothing but good things to say. God bless.” He patted us gently on the head, winked at Mother and slowly disappeared into the hall.

Then suddenly Krampus appeared in the door. My little sister’s eyes widened, and she gripped my arm. And Krampus did look fearsome! Dressed in black from hood to boot, he carried a switch torn from a tree and a rope in one hand, and a sack flung over his shoulder in the other.

Without saying a word…his kind doesn’t talk…they just get physical…Krampus struck the floor with his switch as he aimed for my legs. At that point I thought I would faint. But then he turned on his heels and quickly left the room. How I wished Papa had been there to see such cruelty to helpless children! But fathers are always out of the room then because they have such important things to do.

Mother, who always had that twinkle in her eyes (a mixture of understanding and gentle reproach) looked at us and said, “Now, remember, you have time to make amends; so be good and keep praying for Christkindl to come.”

Every day until Christmas Eve was a new delight. Every morning we would politely take turns at opening a new window in the Advent calendar, would listen with both ears when Mama or Papa spoke, and were grateful for every encouraging note contained in the 24 little drawers of the Christmas House.

Frau Holly, the fairytale lady in the sky, was shaking her featherbeds and pillows just at a time when the layer of snow wore thin under the sleds, or the frozen leaves clung to the boots when we played in the nearby woods.

Frau Holly, you see, would shake the bedding so hard that the seams popped and all the feathers and down spilled out and made the sky white. We would catch the gaily dancing feathers and watch them melt in our hands.

And our little Bavarian town, surrounded by dark, dense, whispering pines, was the loveliest place on earth.

A day or two before Christmas, Papa would cut a fresh tree in the woods so tall that the star which adorned its tip would touch the ceiling. No one was allowed in the living room; all the hoping, the wondering, the preparing, was done in the family kitchen. At 6 o’clock on the dot, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of baked fish was served. The magic hour of 7 o’clock seemed an eternity away.

With pounding hearts and flushed faces and deep faith in Christkindl, we’d wait for Papa to ring the bell from the living room. Then we would all rush to the door at once, and there, in the opposite corner of the room, stood the Christmas tree, decorated with white and silvery balls and angel hair, white candles lit to bathe the room in shimmering light, and Wunderkerzen throwing off sparks reflected in children’s eyes.

Lit candles and Wunderkerzen (sparklers) on the Christmas tree

As Papa passed out the presents, the excitement melted into a warm and sublime feeling of happiness and love.

And I quietly vowed, from that day forward, to always be good and kind and forgiving … just like Christkindl.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Thanks Mom!  I can never hear this story too many times. I love you!

 

 Last summer, visiting my mother’s home town of Bayerisch Eisenstein, Germany, for the first time

For a first-hand telling of my own–rather humorous–childhood Christmases, showing the strong German traditions even while growing up in the U.S., you can read my article here.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoy hearing it. Merry Christmas! And may the Christ child, the Savior, Emmanuel, be with you always.

 

 

Photo credits:  The photo of St. Nikolaus and Krampus is courtesy of Terrie Schweitzer at Flickr, “St. Nicholas and Krampus”, https://www.flickr.com/photos/terriem/11285200115/.    The gorgeous advent calendar is courtesy of Richard Ernst Kepler [Public domain], https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Ernst_Kepler_-_Im_Lande_des_Christkinds.jpg.    The lovely winter scene is courtesy of MaxPixel CC0 Public Domain “Snow, Snowfall, Lantern, Lights, Light, Christmas, Mood” https://www.maxpixel.net/Christmas-Snow-Lights-Lantern-Light-Mood-Snowfall-1782614 .  The above black and white photos are from my mom’s scrapbook, and the last color photo is from my camera.

An easy way to marvel at the night sky

… or the early morning sky, in my case.

For almost a week I have noticed a extra-bright light in the still-dark southeast sky before I go to work. At first I thought it was an airplane; it’s not uncommon for me to stand out on my balcony and see a brilliant light in the sky heading toward me until it is almost overhead, and then turning north to the airport.

But this one just sat there, blazing. Was it a comet? I didn’t remember hearing about a comet, but was curious so I Googled it. I landed on Time and Date’s  “Planets Visible in the Night Sky” .  There on the The Interactive Night Sky Map you can see what the night sky looks like–at this very moment, at your exact location. And there was my bright light and the crescent moon exactly where I saw them.

The Interactive Night Sky Map

The luminous orb turned out to be my old friend, Venus, “the morning star” whom I’ve long admired. But I still didn’t know why it seemed so much brighter than usual.

I got my answer on EarthSky.org:

Venus is brightest in our sky around the time it passes between us and the sun. Astronomers call this its “greatest illuminated extent”. In 2018, Venus will reach its greatest illuminated extent in the morning sky on December 1 or 2, 2018. You can read more about it here.

PikWizard

And also, by coincidence, it turns out that right now there is a comet we can see! Wirtanen, the last comet of 2018, will be visible throughout December. In my area, the best time to see it is from about 7:30 to 9:45 PM.

 

Ah, the sky!

Such joy to the eye!

In you we can see

Eternity

 

Seek the one who fashions the Pleiades and Orion, who turns the deep darkness into morning, who darkens day into night, who calls out to the waters of the sea, pouring them out onto the surface of the earth: the LORD is his name. (Amos 5:8)

 

Image at PikWizard is licensed under CC0

Banff Bison – Sustainability in Canada’s Ecosystems

Ever since I learned about Canada’s ecosystems while researching my book Respect Our World-SustainabilityI have had the topic on my radar. I am very thrilled about Parks Canada’s announcement that after 140 years of absence, bison have been reintroduced to Banff National Park!  Right in my backyard!

This is not only an ecological triumph, it is also a move to show respect and a spirit of reconciliation with our First Nations people throughout the country, who are very near and dear to my heart.

Treat yourselves to an inspiring story, and some gorgeous scenery in this video!