I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Stories Nature Writes - 1

Delores E. Topliff - Treasured Rocks
For Christmas 2018, my older son and his two youngest added an item to my bucket list AND helped me accomplish it. I’ve traveled to several continents, not all, but had not seen America’s Grand Canyon. My family wasn’t having it. Instead of coming to NE Mississippi where I now winter as they did last Christmas, they bought air tickets from Minneapolis to Phoenix and insisted I do the same from Memphis. We happily rendezvoused there and spent 36 hours in Scottsdale in a friend’s home before heading north to gain altitude. During our quiet day in Scottsdale, I asked if we could hike somewhere before the sun went down.

There were hiking trails nearby, some leading to mining activity. In one hour, we didn't cover much distance, but the many varied rocks we examined made this a special memory.

Nature’s rocks tell a story all their own. I’ve loved rocks since I was a four-year-old following my rock hound grandfather as he let me tag along while he sorted, washed, and sliced agates, thunder eggs, petrified wood, or other samples, and taught me to read the stories of rocks. In university, I took two college-level geology courses that were simply a continuation of the foundations my grandfather laid.

On the hiking trail, I was ecstatic to read many stories in the stacks of rocks we passed and sometimes stumbled over. They came in all colors, mostly fire-born igneous, and some with signs and colors that might indicate trace elements of copper, silver, or gold.

I got excited. My grandkids got excited. I hardly ever take trips anywhere without bringing a few rocks home to display fondly like photos of friends and family. I can usually tell guests where I got the samples and how they were formed.

During that one hour walk, we saw various samples (photo above). I also saw my love for rocks and their stories get transferred to my 13-year-old six-foot tall grandson. We didn’t carry collection bags but he had pockets in his Bermuda shorts. The further we walked, the fuller his pockets got and the more his shorts drooped. He nearly lost them twice, but that didn’t stop him from adding still more samples and holding up his sagging shorts by a firm hand on his waistband.

One single large colorful rock is my favorite. My grandson says he found it (I thought I did) but he allowed me to bring to Mississippi to remember our time. 

That rock is a survivor. It has endured much but its experiences produced beauty. Its white quartz bands are a hardness of 7 out of 10 on the mineral hardness scale, showing it may include small deposits of silver, gold, or other precious metals. It has suffered great pressure and fire, even intrusion, but been made stronger by each of them.
If TSA searched my suitcase as I flew back across country, they may have scratched their heads to see this in my luggage, but they let me bring it bring home.

We saw the Grand Canyon, too, and read its story, as well as other marvels. Those may be future stories. But it is this character-filled well-formed rock that became my favorite and sits on my bookcase now.

What items do you carry home from trips?

What are your favorite stories that nature writes?

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Goals for a New Year

Delores E. Topliff
As quoted in Forever, Erma, a collection of American humorist, Erma Bombeck’s best-known writings, she closed her March 10, 1987, column with these words that to me are a perfect guideline for anyone’s coming year:

“I always had a dream that when I am asked to give accounting of my life to a higher court, it will go like this: “So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were unfulfilled? Any unused talent that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?

And I will answer, “I’ve nothing to return. I spent everything you gave me.  I’m as naked as the day I was born.”

I don’t think life's goals can be expressed any better than that. May we live and enjoy 2019 to the best of our ability by living it to the fullest and then emptying our pockets to give everything we have.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

New and Old Christmas Carols

Delores E. Topliff
When we think of traditional Christmas carols such as "Away in a Manger" or "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," we assume they have been with us through the ages. As with many assumptions about history, we're wrong.
There is no way to prove what the first Christmas song was, but Christmas music has been produced since the fourth century although until St. Francis of Assisi in the 12th century, it wasn't typically used in religious services. England’s Puritan leader, Oliver Cromwell, banned singing Christmas carols during his period as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth from 1653-1658.
The French version of “The Friendly Beasts” about animals surrounding Christ at the nativity traces back to the 12th century, making it one candidate for the oldest Christmas carol that we sing today.
Variations of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” go back to 1650. In 1739, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was published, and many other familiar carols followed soon after.

In fact, most of what the English-speaking world regards as traditional Christmas music is less than 200 years old. A few Christian standards are much younger. “The Little Drummer Boy” was written in 1941, Frosty the Snowman in 1950, and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" in 1962. Rolf Harris’s Six White Boomers about kangaroos helping Santa bring gifts to Australia was released in 1980. To my shock our family owned and sang from the song book pictured at the left in the photo above.
The truth is, beautiful and memorable or fun and catchy Christmas songs are still being written. If they are good enough, they’ll be cherished and added to the repertoire. There’s no reason someone can’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to write the next popular Christmas song. Do it now, and we all may be singing it by next December 25th.

What is your all-time favorite Christmas Carol or song ever? Why? Have a Merry Christmas!

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

.Principles for Critiquing? Or Bone-crushing Reviews?

Delores E. Topliff
On June 14, 1922, Warren G. Harding became the first U.S. President to have his voice transmitted by radio. This did not impress journalist H. L. Mencken, who said of Harding, "He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash."

Mencken proved he could string words together, but what did he accomplish? We don’t find anything in them that is constructive or redemptive? Are they simply for pomp and show, like some kind of destructive political posturing?

Early Roman poet, Juvenal, is credited with developing Satire, but his was so darkly pessimistic and scathing, it is said that his own father-in-law killed himself after being criticized by Juvenal’s pen.

We don’t know the author of this rhyme, although Ruth Bell Graham is credited as often quoting it: “Be careful of the words you say, So keep them soft and sweetYou'll never know from day to day; Which ones you'll have to eat.”

An unwritten code should exist between all humans, not just writers, that our communication should support and build each other up, not tear down.
The refrain in U.S. Colonial History was, “No taxation without representation”. People with the freedom to think, write, and speak should be responsible to do so wisely. Whether we embrace the Golden Rule or not, its words apply in writing and in life, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

When I served as a school principal, I taught my teachers to write report cards to present the most serious problem in a positive and encouraging way so there was some chance for success. It certainly achieved better results than magnifying the problem.

Whether you’re in a critique group, a neighborhood committee, or other social platform, please share your best example of how wise and kind words made surviving a difficult situation possible.

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving or Turkey Day?

Delores E. Topliff
I was sad years back to find that numerous students even in Christian high schools and colleges do not know the origins behind American Thanksgiving and join many others in simply calling it Turkey Day. The busiest air traffic day of the year, the fourth Thursday in November is a heartwarming time to join family around a table featuring turkey, but it is also so much more.  

After surviving their first year in the Mayflower Colony, during the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims invited ninety Wampanoag Indians from a nearby village to express thanks and share their harvest with them. Despite extreme hardships and losses, our forefathers thanked God for freedom and a fresh start in a new land. 
These days Googling Thanksgiving brings up a wide-range of articles including virtual turkeys with no calories and vegetarian recipes made up of gelatin or other substitutes.

Who doesn’t enjoy turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry and other salads, various pies and great-grandma’s specialty prune-spice or cheesecakes? Before we stuff ourselves and later relax with football or naps, begin the meal by singing the Doxology to thank God “from whom all blessings flow.” Look at each face around the table, and enjoy the conversations and reminisce along with the food, but pass on the best parts of this tradition. Resist the trend to take the Thanks out of Thanksgiving as well as the giving for that matter to preserve the true heritage.

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

More Interesting Word Origins

Delores E. Topliff
I love tracking the origins of words because so there are often interesting stories behind them. Apparently knucklehead refers to someone with a brain the size of a knuckle. Samuel Johnson, the compiler of England's first dictionary, claims the word nincompoop comes from the Latin phrase non compos mentis (“not of right mind”), initially a legal term.

“I'll be a monkey's uncle,” does not connect to Darwinism as I imagined but expresses surprise, amazement or disbelief. That phrase first appeared in an Ohio newspaper February 8th, 1925, with the statement, “If that’s a joke, I’m a monkey’s uncle.”  

In 1807, William Cobbett wrote about using red herrings to lay a false trail while training hunting dogs—apparently over-ripe fish confused the sensitive noses of skilled hunting canines.

The term “caught red handed” originated in Scotland in the 15th century. Based on how it appears in early references, it describes people caught with blood on their hands from murder or poaching.

Malaria comes from two medieval Italian words “mal” meaning “bad” and “aria” meaning “air” – so it literally means “bad air”. The term was used to describe the unpleasant air coming from the marshlands surrounding Rome, which was believed to cause the disease. We now know that it’s the mosquitoes breeding in those conditions that cause the disease, not the air itself.

The world’s favorite lunch item is named for England’s 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. The story goes that 250 years ago, the 18th-century aristocrat requested that his valet bring him beef served between two slices of bread. He enjoyed eating this while playing card games as his hands wouldn’t get greasy and spoil the cards. Observing him, Montagu’s friends began asking for “the same as Sandwich”, and so the sandwich was born. Though people did eat bread with foods such as cheese and meat before this, those meals were known as “bread and cheese” or “bread and meat”. The sandwich is our ultimate convenience food.
Such findings make me want to discover more word origin stories. Please send your favorites.

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Dated Words—Here today, gone tomorrow

Delores E. Topliff
This blog highlights popular expressions made obsolete as technology marches forward. For example, I used to joke that I had a photographic memory that wasn’t developed (which worked fine in the camera film era but not in digital days). Some joke that it’s hard for any Clark Kent to change into Superman in this cell phone age when he can’t find a phone booth.

When a grandmother told her grandson she used to drive a Jalopy, he looked at her and asked, "What is a Jalopy?"

She said, “Heavens to Mergatroyd, you don’t know what a Jalopy is?”
He drew a blank again. Mergatroyd isn’t in Spellcheck. Google says the phrase is popularized by the cartoon character Snagglepuss on the Yogi Bear Show in the ‘60s but was used on the radio in 1944 by Bert Lahr, who played the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. Mergatroyd was the family name of aristocrats living in Yorkshire, England in 1371, but no one knows how their name jumped to an American cartoon. Before Mergatroyd, it was “Heavens to Betsy!” or “Gee whillikers!” but I won’t go there.
Sometimes few years go by before such changes occur, but those unaware of earlier technologies look at us like we’re from a different planet. Other words or phrases becoming obsolete include, “Don’t touch that dial”, “You sound like a broken record”, or “You should be hung out to dry.” What?

It’s sad when familiar words enter archival museums to be replaced by space-age-and-beyond terms. To communicate with current and coming generations, we must bridge vocabulary gaps, or risk obsoletism like Gregg’s Shorthand (which I still enjoy), Cursive Writing, or Stick Shift cars which are endangered species. Thankfully our kids and grandkids can help us.

Language is alive and grows with the times. Perhaps we can part with outdated technology terms if we’re careful to embrace the new ones taking their place but still pay respectful homage to the past.

What little-known word or term do you most wish to hang onto?

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

October 16 is National Dictionary Day

Delores E. Topliff
October 16 is National Dictionary Day, an unofficial holiday celebrating the birthday of Noah Webster who published An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828, the earliest version of the now famous, widely-used Merriam-Webster Dictionary.


A dictionary is a book, optical disc, mobile device, or online source containing the words of a language alphabetically and providing information about their meanings, pronunciations, etymologies, inflections, and derived forms.

The best way to celebrate Dictionary Day is by expanding our vocabularies. Make sure to keep a modern dictionary in your home and that a site like Dictionary.com is tabbed as a favorite on your computer. You might enjoy the Reader’s Digest monthly feature, “How to Increase Your Word Power, or sign yourself up to a site like Grandiloquent Word Of The Day to expand your vocabulary daily.

In his book, Dead Poets Society, author N.H. Kleinbaum describes the purpose of dictionaries: “So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”

People who love words usually enjoy puns and team up their dictionary with a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, so I’ll close with this quote that recently appeared on Facebook: “I swallowed a dictionary. It gave me thesaurus throat I’ve ever had.”

Groan, but only people skilled in dictionaries and vocabularies have that much fun with words.

What age were you when you began using a dictionary? Or, what is the most important thing you have learned from a dictionary?

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Danger Zone or Unwise Questions

Delores E. Topliff
Who has not accidentally asked unwise awkward questions you immediately wished you could retract? We vocalize questions in light, rising tones, but if offensive, the answers may fly back in heavy, angry tones.

Here are danger zone examples. Unless you’re sure someone is pregnant, a question to avoid if you see a friend gaining weight is, “When is your baby due?”

A risky parallel is, “What did you pay for that item of clothing?” (Your voice tone indicates how poor a choice you think it is).

Hair care and appearance present other minefields. A young woman styling my hair once commented, “You’ve got a really tight perm.” (My hair is naturally curly). Another woman cutting my curly hair asked, “Have you considered having your hair straightened?”

When one student showed up sporting a new and unusual hair style, a beloved teacher asked with a smile, “Who cut your hair? People can be sued for that.” (Because of his always-present smile, his comments were well-received.)

My sister six years younger than I enhances her hair color, but I do not. At her son’s wedding, a friend greeted her and welcomed me by saying, “How nice that your mother could be here with you.” My sister enjoyed that too much.

Now that my hair is gray, someone asked, “What color did your hair used to be?”

A student from long ago who is now in renewed contact asked, “How are you enjoying retirement? (I don’t feel that old, hope I don’t look my age, usually don’t act it, and still enjoy productive fulltime work).

Safe warning reminders might be, “Curiosity killed the cat”, or “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.

I wish I could say I have never asked any of the above questions, but I’d be lying.

What war-zone question have you asked that landed you in trouble, and how did you (hopefully) recover the situation?

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com