Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Publishing Hobby

Over the past several years I have published a total of 13 books. As 2015 comes to a close, I’d like to recap my publishing efforts with a summary of this aspect of my life.

My Father’s Love
·         A book of the poems written by my father, Vernon Russell, during WWII while on a ship in the South Pacific. Published as a tribute to him (he passed away in 2006 just a few days short of my parents’ 60th anniversary). All the copies went to family and friends.
·         3/2009, 70 pages, total printing of 18 copies

College Daze
·         A book of all the poems that I have written. While the earliest one dates to my elementary school days, the vast majority were written during a creative streak while I was in college (hence the name).
·         3/2009, 136 pages, total printing of 18 copies

Special Poems for Special People
·         A book of poems that had been written by my mother-in-law, Mary Ellen VanDeCar. Most were written to/about other people in her life. I did this as a surprise to her while she was in a nursing home the final year of her life (she passed away in February 2010). She was very surprised to receive it and was the “star” of the nursing home for several months – after all, how many people in nursing homes have a book published!
·         5/2009, 210 pages, total printing of 112 copies

The Replacement
·         The true war stories of a friend from church, Robert Kauffman, who served as a private during WWII. This was God-directed – I was showing some men my father’s book at a breakfast meeting when I distinctly heard God saying to me, “Go see Bob.” After breakfast I drove to his house and told him that God had sent me to ask about publishing his stories. Bob’s wife had passed away a few months earlier and, as he had devoted the prior couple of years to taking care of her, he wasn’t sure what to do next. This reinvigorated him. Over the next few years he gave innumerable speeches to various civic organizations and churches, appeared on TV, and spoke at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
·         9/2009, 208 pages, total printing of 1163 copies

My Legacy
·         Another book of poetry, these were written by Ardella Bray, another friend from church, who had written most of them as tributes to people in her life at milestone events.
·         6/2010, 100 pages, total printing of 103 copies

Thoughts to Ponder
·         A friend from work, Lela Hartranft, had been writing short devotionals as inserts for her church bulletins for a number of years and wanted to turn them into a book of 366 devotionals (one for every day of the year). Part of the challenge was that these had been written in several different word processors over the years and they all had to be converted to a common format. This is the largest book I have done, but it was a joy to work on.
·         8/2010, 408 pages, total printing of 155 copies

Sir Marrok and The Complete Sir Marrok
·         When our daughter and son-in-law had their first child they gave him the middle name of Marrok, after Sir Marrok of the Knights of the Round Table. A fictional book had been written about Sir Marrok in 1902, but it was long out of print (and out of copyright) and the only copies were ones that had been scanned from library collections. As a tribute to my grandson, I converted a scanned copy to a fresh document and republished it. As I had been reading it, there was a spot in the book where the original author, Allen French, had alluded to two stories that he had not included. I decided to challenge myself and wrote the “missing” chapters, in the same style as the original author and fitting in with his timeline. I then published a second version a few months later.
·         Sir Marrok, 7/2010, 128 pages, total printing of 27 copies
·         The Complete Sir Marrok, 11/2010, total printing of 24 copies

Passing it On: Lessons Learned in Life
·         Another long-time friend, Richard Gehman, had been a missionary in Kenya, Africa for many years. He decided to write his life story and asked my help in publishing it. He has also written several other books about missions, but this was a more personal effort.
·         7/2011, 260 pages, total printing of 158 copies

Calvinism in Light of the General Tenor of the Scriptures
·         I seem to be attracted to older friends with church connections. Roy Hertzog is a retired pastor and wanted to publish the results of many years of research that he had done on a theological topic. A very different genre from most of my other publishing efforts, but I learn from everything that I publish as I read them very thoroughly as I edit them.
·         5/2015, 142 pages, total printing of 85 copies

My Life
·         After doing books for many others, I decided to publish my own life story. I had also been frustrated as I kept running into things that I wish I had asked my parents and grandparents before they passed on. So I tried to answer those same questions about myself so that my children and grandchildren would have the answers when they began asking these types of questions. This was a fun writing exercise as I mostly just sat at the computer and wrote in a “stream of consciousness” style to capture all that I could remember about my life.
·         11/2015, 186 pages, total printing of 30 copies

He Gave Me A Song
·         I was approached by a lady I know who had been helping an older friend, Sammie Trumbore, with the editing of a book of her life story. Sammie had grown up in the depression in Texas and had a vivid memory of all that had happened to her, but every chapter was written as if someone in her life at the time was writing about her. A joy for me to help with this. It also turned out that my wife and I knew Sammie from a few decades before when her daughter was a part of a Sunday School class at our church.
·         3/2015, 240 pages, total printing of 203 copies

Journeys with God
·         Marilyn Harris is the cousin of Roy Hertzog (above). She is a retired home health care nurse and has edited one of the “bibles” of this field, “Handbook of Home Health Care Administration,” now in its sixth edition. But this was a more personal book of devotions and short stories from her life so was not necessarily appropriate for the professional editing and distribution that her other book used. A great lady to get to know and another fun effort for me as I got to read through all that she had written.
·         11/2015, 132 pages, total printing of 205 copies

When I retired in 2007 at the age of 58-1/2, I never envisioned having a hobby of book publishing. But here I am, nearly 9 years later, with a portfolio of 13 books. I also have a few others “in the works” that may or may not come to fruition in the coming year or so (a follow-on to “Journeys with God”, a book about my high school principal, Mr. D’Agostino, being written by his daughter, and another I’m not at liberty to share yet).

I don’t make much money with this hobby. Most of the copies I provide at cost to the writer and they can give them away or sell as they desire. My only income is from the copies that are sold via and that has amounted to only a little over $1000 during the past 7 years. But this is a hobby, so the goal is to not spend too much money, not to turn a profit.

My real joy is seeing the happiness on the faces of those who have written these books – Bob, Ardella, Lela, Sammie, Marilyn, Roy, etc. There is something about holding in your hands a physical copy of something that you may have spent many years writing. I’m glad for the small part that I am able to play in this.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Original Jingle Bells

If you ask nearly anyone, they will be able to recognize and sing (at least a little bit) the familiar Christmas song, Jingle Bells. However, the tune that they sing is NOTHING like the original.

The original song was written in 1857 by my 3rd cousin (five times removed), James Lord Pierpont. James lived from 1822 to 1893 and wrote a number of songs. However, Jingle Bells is probably the only one that people have heard of. The original song was titled, “One Horse Open Sleigh” and had not only a much more complicated tune, but slightly different words. (see for the complete story).

You can see beginning on page 3 the different tune of the chorus. Instead of starting out with seven consecutive notes the same, and several other strings of the same notes in a row, the original tune is much more complicated.

Here is a link to the music itself. ( And if you like a much more jazzed up version, here is one for a player piano (

I hope you enjoy this little bit of history into a song that was written by one of my relatives.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Moving to Wolcott in 1946

In an earlier posting (The Nomadic Life of Vernon Russell), I wrote the following – “That summer he bought a home and land and when they married in September of that year that’s where they began their married life.”

I was thinking earlier today how much of a bold move that was. My parents were not even dating before my father went off to serve in WWII in the summer of 1944. My mother was just the younger sister of my father’s best friend. But she was also part of a group of young people at Mill Plain Union Church who wrote letters to the boys overseas. They began a long series of letters to each other over the next two years. When he returned in late April of 1946 he proposed to her. He had a few weeks yet to serve at the Brooklyn Navy Yard before he was finally discharged at the end of May 1946. They married in September of 1946 and after a brief honeymoon moved into the house that they had purchased in Wolcott and where they would live until passing away 60 and 66 years later respectively.

Although the north end of Wolcott was not that far geographically from Waterbury, in many ways it was a world away. Consider the following:

·         Wolcott had no post office, so mail in the southern part of town was delivered from Waterbury but mail in the northern part of town was an RFD Bristol address.
·         Wolcott had no phone exchange, so while phones in the southern part of town were from Waterbury, phones in the northern part of town were from Bristol. It was a long distance phone call to everyone in Waterbury – to all their friends and relatives, my father’s work, etc.
·         Unlike the well-developed school system in Waterbury with multiple high schools, Wolcott was just beginning to think about something other than one-room elementary schools. The first such school, Alcott School, had been approved by the voters the previous year (1945), but at the time that my parents bought their property the students were likely still going to the old North School. And a high school was over a decade in the future with high school students having to take a bus to Waterbury.
·         The population of the entire town was perhaps 2500 people, most of whom lived in the southern half of town.
·         Although Wolcott Road had been completed (as the first paved road in town) in 1935, traffic on it was quite light. (My father often mentioned that in those early years it was not unusual that he could drive all the way to Waterbury in the morning without seeing another car.)

The house and land that they purchased was on a dirt road a short distance from Wolcott Road. There were only two homes on that dirt road – theirs which had been built five years previously (in 1941), and a much smaller house which had been built in 1943.

The price of the house and the accompanying 23 acres of land was around $7,000. I’m sure that the relative isolation of living in the north end of Wolcott was some of the reason for that price. But while that seems like such a small amount of money today, it was still three times my father’s annual salary back in 1946, so the mortgage seemed like a huge amount of money! Here are some statistics from that year:

·         Federal minimum wage - $0.40/hour
·         Average annual income - $2600
·         Average home cost - $5150
·         Monthly apartment rental - $35
·         New car - $1125
·         First class stamp - $0.03
·         One year tuition at Harvard - $420
·         Milk/eggs/bread - $0.67/gallon, $0.59/dozen, $0.10/loaf

My father’s separation pay from the Navy went toward the down payment on the house and a few items of furniture. Some of the other items of furniture were donations from family and friends.

I wonder what their family and friends thought about them buying a house “so far out”. A place with an RFD Bristol address, a place where a phone call to them was long distance, a place in a town with mostly one-room schools and no high school, and a big piece of property that cost three times my father’s salary.

Truly that was a bold move for them. But as the years (and decades) passed, as the town grew and as their family grew with it, it was a move that they never regretted. Maybe they were just ahead of their time!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015

I looked at my calendar the other day and realized that another year was approaching completion and it was time to write our annual Christmas letter.

Family – Finally, a year without a new grandchild! Looks like we’ll be stopping at seven.

Chris and family decided this year that they would be moving from New Jersey to Florida. Their best friends from Lockheed both moved to the Orlando area (one staying with Lockheed and the other going with Wycliffe Associates). That left a big hole in their lives, so they decided to move there as well. Chris filled out an application and sent it to several groups at the Orlando Lockheed facility and was accepted. Of course, moving that far meant a lot of work – both to get their current place ready for sale, for the move itself, and then finding a new place to live in FL. Lockheed paid for a trip down to do house hunting, but they did a lot of looking online before going. They settled on a small (960 sq. ft.) place that needed a bit of work, but that had a pool in the backyard (or perhaps I should emphasize that had a yard as they had just a small lot in a trailer park in NJ). After some negotiations and an inspection, they took ownership a few weeks ago and moved in just before Thanksgiving (they were staying in an extended-stay hotel for a few weeks in the meantime).

We made one last trip to NJ in October to stay with them for a few days – and to help with some of the preparations for moving. So not only were we their first guests in NJ, but now we were their last guests there as well. We’ll miss having them close enough that we could just run down for a weekend. A trip to FL is going to require a lot more planning and will have to be longer than a weekend with the amount of travel time! But we’re already starting to make plans for a trip in the early spring!

One of the things that keeps us tied up here is taking care of Kim and Matthew’s four boys. Ethan started kindergarten this year at Seven Generations Charter School. We (Kim as well as Donna and I) decided that taking a 45-minute bus ride to school every day was a bit much for a 5-year old. But we discovered another family who lived just down the foot of our hill had the same thought (they have three girls with the oldest being Ethan’s age). So we have a carpool arrangement – I take Ethan to their house in the morning and Addie’s mom drives the two of them (as well as her other two) in. Originally Kim was going to pick them up on her way home, but her job changed (more on that below), so I drive in to Emmaus in the afternoon and bring the two kids home. Ethan and Addie have become best of friends and even sit at the same table in the same room (there are three kindergarten classes in the school). While it’s an extra chore to do the driving every day, that also means that there are only three boys home during the day to take care of, so that’s become a little easier. Only four more years until they’re all in school! Since we’re going to be associated with the school for several years I have joined their Board of Trustees.

Besides Chris’s job transfer, Kim also decided to make a change this year. The company that she’s been in for the past 15 years was going nowhere. Penn Treaty is officially in “rehab” meaning that the state has taken them over. They thought that once they came out of rehab that they could become a third-party provider of long term care claims, but the state has been dragging this on for so long that it now appears that there will be other more established claims providers and that Penn Treaty will be disappearing before too long. So, rather than waiting for that to happen, Kim decided to apply for one of the other providers that has a better future. She got a promotion (to assistant manager of operations) out of it and a nice raise, but it also means that she has a one hour commute instead of the nice 15-minute drive that she had before. So she’s not home until a little after 6pm these days (work day is 8:30-5:00) instead of having a 7:00-3:00 shift and getting home before 4pm. Her change as well as the move for Chris and family all took place in November – so we’re still getting used to new routines.

Travels – Since we are tied down a bit with caring for grandchildren we don’t get in much traveling right now.  However, besides our usual week at Pinebrook in the Poconos with the entire family, I did have one very significant trip this year.

I was selected as a flight chaperon for AFS this year and chose to chaperon the exchange students returning to Ghana at the end of their year here. Since part of the requirement is that the chaperon stay in the country for a week, I stayed for an extra nine days and spent the time with our exchange student daughter, Shirley. Picture above is me with Shirley and her mother on the beach by the hotel. I asked Shirley for a recommendation for a hotel that was near where she lived and told her that I didn’t want to do the typical tourist things, but to spend time “with the people.” Except for a few other westerners who were in the hotel for the weekend when I first arrived, I didn’t see any other fair-skinned folks for the entire time I was there. It was wonderful!

One of the highlights of the trip was getting an audience with the Ruler of the Ga tribe (the tribe that Shirley is part of). His Royal Majesty King Odaifio Welentsi III is the Overlord of the Ga’s, the Paramount Chief of the Nungua Traditional Area and President of the Nungua Traditional Council. In the picture below I am wearing traditional Ghanaian garb in preparation for my audience with the king. 

Miscellaneous We finally decided to make the move that many have been and eliminate our “landline” phone and depend solely on our cell phones. So the number that we’ve had for the past 37 years will no longer reach us. Our primary number will be my cell, since I have it on all the time – 610-703-5545. Please erase our old number and use this one instead. Donna is still getting used to keeping her cell phone with her and keeping it charged and on, so she may not always answer, but her number is 610-739-6210.

Continuing my weight loss challenge of doing it slowly and steadily, I’ve taken off another 6 pounds this past year. Still a ways to go, but I’m continuing to move in the right direction, and by having all of you as a yearly check-in that gives an extra incentive!

Helped publish yet another book this year – this one a series of devotions and memories that was written by a lady who is related to a few of the older members of our church (and who went there from birth to age 18 – but that was over 65 years ago). Completed the project in a record six weeks. Now she’s already working on part two!

Planning a visit to Connecticut in a few weeks to meet some distant Russell relatives that I have discovered during my genealogy research. Getting to know these “long lost” relatives is fun.

Hoping that all of you are doing well. This may not be politically correct these days, but here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

.Alan & Donna