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, October 25, 2016

Tell me where that name came from (Part 1)

Delores E. Topliff
Researching and now writing historic novels, I love learning stories behind the words, rhymes, etc., that are now part of our everyday world. For example, the tongue twister, “She sells sea shells down by the seashore” comes from historic fact, but not about seashells. Mary Anning, born in 1799 in Dorset, England, was the eldest daughter in a family that supplemented income by digging up fossils near the sea to sell to tourists. She had little education but excelled in fossils and filled in many blanks for science. I wish I’d known the gal and you can read more about her at http://www.littlethings.com/she-sells-seashells-meaning

There are two fascinating explanations for Orange Marmalade's invention and name. One is that Mary, Queen of Scots, got a bad chill while riding horseback through a rainy night to meet her lover, Bothwell. Her French chef boiled orange peel with juice and sugar to cure her and she liked it so much she then kept it at her bedside always.

The second is that a French king had a young daughter also named Marie who was so sick and near death who would not take nourishment. Her desperate dad decreed that whoever could create a food to tempt her to eat and live would be handsomely rewarded. Supposedly, a poor but bright young man boiled oranges crushed in sugar, which she loved, and began her return to health. That story ends with the young man receiving gold plus becoming her husband (and probably starting a Marmalade factory). In French, the words for, Marie is sick are Marie est malade, close enough in sound there must be some basis in fact. 

Which version do you vote for? Tell us the background of any fascinating word origin you know and enjoy.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When Faith Gets Down in the Dirt

What exactly is Faith? I could give you a trite definition. Faith is believing when you can’t see.

Or a more Biblical one: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Hebrews 11:1

Or even a dictionary definition. “Belief that is not based on proof.”

I can toss out synonyms: belief, confidence, trust and conviction.

We have a whole list of people who exhibited faith in Hebrews 11.

  • Noah building the ark
  • Abraham obeying God to travel without knowing where he was going
  • Moses leading the people of God out of Egypt
  • David going out to fight the giant

But for some reason faith doesn’t seem to get real until it gets personal. What if God puts some unexpected twists in your road like He did mine?

  • He sends you from Texas to Canada to work in a tiny Christian publishing company with little pay
  • He calls you to be a missionary in Bolivia, a country you've never seen
  • He withholds the natural children you longed for
  • He allows an aneurism that leaves your brain reeling for a while

This is when faith gets down in the dirt, sometimes leaving us without a reason to trust…except…well, except God. Sometimes we can wait a long time to until that faith comes to fruition. Sometimes we may not see it until we get to heaven. In the meantime, that “hanging in there” and that “waiting what seems like forever” shines to others around you as a modern day example of faith.  No answers yet.  Just trust.

And for the record, here’s my list of a few blessings that came from the “hanging in there”.

  • When I got to Canada I met the young man I would marry! And I fell in love with a whole beautiful new country
  • When I went to Bolivia, I saw many people come to know Christ as their Savior. I also received the surprise of my life when God opened the way for us to adopt 3 beautiful and wonderful children!
  • The major illness opened the way for me to be with my parents and take care of them in their weakness until God called them home.

I still have unanswered questions and things I wonder about. But that’s the precious thing about faith. We can rest and leave these in the capable hands of our Savior. When we get to heaven, we can ask God all our hard questions. I know He’ll answer them to our perfect satisfaction.

How has faith had an impact in your life? Please share!

(By Teri Smith)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

History lives just down the street and around the corner

Delores E. Topliff

I grew up in the town around Fort Vancouver, Washington, the end of the Oregon Trail, and that connection to history had impact. Built in 1825, the fort also has the oldest apple tree in the Pacific Northwest from seeds brought by an English sea captain a year later. 

Even now when I’m there in season I nibble on that tree’s small green apples to digest more history. Before the fort became a national monument, anyone could roam the place, so at age eleven I explored the original well, so deep it made me dizzy to look into its depths. I crawled the last few feet on my stomach to peer down past the perfectly fitted stones lining its walls to clear water in the bottom. I wanted to drink that water as another link to the past and loved realizing those stones were perfectly fitted by craftsman hands not so very long ago.

This September I attended Voyageur Days at Minnesota’s North West Fur Post built in 1804. Cheerful people in period dress taught life skills, offered authentic trade goods, and played music on instruments true to the time. I saw and heard a nine note range Scottish small pipe played for parlor entertainment by squeezing a small air bag under the arm instead of blowing the fierce warrior blasts that terrified enemies. It was as if I had walked down a street, turned some corner, and found myself living in earlier years. The staff and visitors delightfully spoke of people in conversation that I’m researching for a historic novel as intimately as if they were the new family just moving into the neighborhood.

In the U.S. and Canada., history is alive and well and didn’t actually happen that long ago. My grandchildren like to quiz me on life before T.V., space shots, internet, and other modern inventions, yet don’t realize they’re also missing out on great experiences from earlier days.

History is still being written and we each have a starring role. What favorite historic place do you love to frequent and why? What historic impact do you most want your life to have? I want to write about both past and present in ways that make them live.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Great Escape from Today's Headlines

Election fireworks. Sports protests...and protests against the protests. More shocking: provocations from a nation taunting the U.S. Navy.

Wow. There's plenty to get our blood pressure shooting up these days.

And that's all the more reason to take a break with a great book that keeps you turning the pages.

Now this is not your cute, picket-fence romance. But it will take you to another world for a while.

Our own Patricia Bradley (a.k.a. Pat Trainum to us), has penned another great read!

Let me just give you a bit of the back cover copy to stir your interest:

When Bailey Adams left Logan Point two years ago for Mexico, she thought she was getting away from her problems. Running into her ex-fiance Danny Maxwell was not part of the plan--neither was being chased through the city by the local drug cartel, the Calatrava. Now despite her best efforts, Danny is her only chance of escaping the people chasing her and getting back to Logan Point safely. Can Bailey find the strength to face what's coming? And in the midst of the chaos, can she keep herself from falling in love with her rescuer all over again.

I promise you, this book will take you away from today's headlines for a wonderful story of second chances. And I think you'll be inspired by Bailey Adams!

I've had a few heart-beating incidents in my missionary travels, and someday I'll write about a few of them. Tell me about one of your brushes with danger, and if you send me your snail-mail address, I'll enter your name in a drawing for a copy of Silence in the Dark.

by Teri Smith

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How to (almost) guarantee that Queen Elizabeth II will visit with you

Delores E. Topliff

This post could also be called be called, How to turn flaws into art, because that’s what my British friend Elfreda (Freda) Alexander did throughout her life. Her daughter, Helen, told me that in 1921 at age 14, Freda went to work in a pool of girls trained and then sent two at a time to stately estate homes like Downton Abbey to repair ancient tapestries, and sometimes, even Royal tapestries. 

As a result Freda loved threads, yarns, wools, and all kinds of fibers all of her days. In a retirement home in old age when her mind was not clear, her daughter Helen cut small holes in certain things so Freda could enjoy mending them. Freda would ‘play’ for hours in the safety of the care home or a nearby park, 
I knew her after their family emigrated to Canada years before Freda entered a retirement home. Until then any sweater, towel, fabric, or blanket with a hole ended up not just being ‘darned’ to replace missing threads, but wonderfully embroidered until a new bird or flower or star or vine provided an end result so much lovelier than the original. I’m privileged to own two of Freda’s creations and show their photos here. The photos below are two halves of one piece but I couldn't quite get my technology to join them.

In married life, besides raising three children, she and her husband, Hugh, nurtured over one hundred Foster Children in their home in Middlesex and later Sussex, England. There, too, I imagine Freda identifying gaps and holes in those children and choosing the needed emotional threads, colors, and stitches to add loving designs to those who came to them. Perhaps they received some government ‘subsidy, but no payment could adequately repay the wonderful investment made.

How do you thank a devoted couple like that? Queen Elizabeth II found a way. When the queen once visited the area Freda was invited to meet the queen who personally said ‘thank you'. I’ve enjoyed seeing the photo and story from their local paper.

What about you? When you find blemishes or holes in writing or life, how do you mend them? What creative design do you bring to life's tapestry better that is better than what was there before? That is our wonderful life opportunity.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Hardest Part About Being a Writer

(Hint: it’s not grammar.)

Face it. Writing ranks right up at the top of the list of difficult tasks for many people.  It scares folks.

But the hardest part about being a writer isn’t grammar or spelling. It’s not even criticism although that does sting from time to time.

And believe me, the hardest part isn’t coming up with new ideas.

To be honest, new ideas create the most trying aspect of being a writer. Ideas! Those voices inside our heads keep popping up.  They never stop. Just as we try to relax for a moment, the topic of the next blog post pops into our head. How many of us get the next best idea in the shower? We begin to fall asleep and—bam! The next chapter of our book unfolds in our heads. Of course, we have to get up and jot it down.

Then a rebellious character says something we hadn’t planned at all. It takes us in a new direction.  Rewrite!

Well, type away. Oh! An idea for a brand new book intrudes in the middle of the scene!

So I suggest that the most challenging part about being a writer is that the voices never leave our heads. The intrusion never stops.  

But it’s also the most exciting part. We cannot shut out those voices anyway, so we embrace them and keep a pencil handy. Besides, for a writer, there's nothing worse than for the voices to go silent. 

Do you agree? If not, what makes the toughest part to you?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

More "What's in a name?"

Delores E. Topliff

Words perfectly-suited to life situations are coins for the realms we travel and do business in, just like we exchange currencies at international borders to exchange goods with the people there. Similarly, authors define their writing audience to choose words that will achieve the best impact in hitting targets for successful communication.

Let's mint great expressions that survive like many fun general domain phrases passed down to us, along with the interesting stories behind them.

Whether we say Heaven’s to Betsy, or Heaven’s to Murgatroyd, depends on cultural background. “Betsy” (as in Sweet Betsy from Pike) is very American while Murgatroyd comes from the Middle English and Norse words, Mooor Gate Royde meaning “district leading to the moors,” and became the surname of a Yorkshire, England constable.

To be worth our salt means to be worth our pay and the word salary originates from it. If we’re not worth our salt, we’re in trouble.

Being below the salt goes back to medieval times.  As a valued seasoning and preservative, salt was placed in the middle of dining tables. The lord and his family were seated above it while other guests and servants sat below the salt.

Sincere from Roman times literally means without wax, guaranteeing that the sculpture or stonework presented is genuineno wax was applied to fill or hide imperfections, a subterfuge easily discovered when heat was applied.
Authors show sincerity in characters. When heat is applied, are ours genuine? Or do cracks appear as their beauty and/or stability is seen to be flawed and needing repair.

There are a million more, and I still love place names, too. I’ve been to Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat. My sons have visited Cold Foot, AK. And there are more places I want to see to hear their storiesplaces like the Foggy Bottom part of Washington D.C., Yellow Knife, NWT, Accident, MD, Cut and Shoot, TX, Hell, AZ (that one’s easy to guess), and the Highway leading there.

What about you? Tell us your favorite phrases or place names, and if you know their stories, pass them on.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Why We Write

A dear friend asked me two weeks ago to help two young homeschool girls with their composition. They had written a thank you note to my friend, and she panicked when she saw a sample of their writing. It matters because she loves their family.

In seeking to prepare a class, I wondered how to impress upon them the importance of this part of their education. I asked them, "Why do we write?" I wanted them to consider the possibilities in life when they might need to this skill.

Perhaps all of us need to consider it. In this season of elections, we might need to convince our friends how important certain issues are. (I promise not to make our blog political by giving my opinion, but I confess--I'm tempted!)

Consider this. Many folks go from week to week, seldom hearing from a friend. Why not make their day by penning a letter? Or maybe we need to persuade a discouraged relative to read the Bible or go to church. A little consolation in difficult times can go a long way. Spread a little encouragement around your sphere of acquaintances--by writing!

Someday you may need to request an item from a company. Or you might want to inform some folks about a great opportunity. What about letters or articles for a newspaper?  We all know the cliche how the pen triumphs over the sword! Who knows? You could be the person to make a difference in your community.

Then the rest of us turn up. We can't not write. Ok, I know that's a double negative. But in this case, nothing else says it. I think God put an urge to write into our DNA! We write something--all the time. Stories swirl in our heads, and we cannot make them go away! Nor should we.

What have I left out? Why do you write? Why should our kids learn to write? What are you working on right now?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What's In A Name?

Delores E. Topliff

Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name will smell as sweet.” But will it?
Names are designating words by which we know and identify people, places, and things. John the son of John becomes John Johnson (I had an uncle by marriage named that). Names can indicate professions, like Carpenter, Baker, Smith, or Shepherd.

Some places are named for famous people, like the real towns of George, Washington, or Astoria, Oregon, for famous German-American founding entrepreneur, John Jacob Astor.

Since Norman French times in England My last name, Topliff, indicated a family living at the top of a Yorkshire cliff. I tease that it’s spelled more simply now because there erosion made the “c” fall over the edge.

Alexander the Great named thirteen cities for himself, though the one we know best today is Alexandria, Egypt.

Companies can be named for inventors, like the Ford Motor Company, or Smith and Wesson. Ships are sometimes named to honor people like the Queen Elizabeth the II, or the Santa Maria.

We may buy real estate and christen it Happy Acres or Retirement Bliss. People get inventive with pleasure craft names like Lazy Days, or Our Children’s Inheritance.

It’s a travesty that the name of Bethlehem Hospital in London long ago got contracted to “Bedlam” and now stands for the mentally ill people treated there. Similarly the word “gossip” came from “Gospel,” meaning “Good news,” though that's seldom the case now.

There are real towns with names I’d love to explore, like Nowthen or Embarrass, MN, Coffee, MS, Chicken, AK, and many more. It’s a privilege to choose perfect names for children or pets. It’s even fun inventing names for characters and places in stories or books we write.

A friend once overhauled my car and warned me not to drive far because he couldn’t vouch for its reliability. It safely drive a thousand miles each way to a church convention and back, but I pranked him by phoning and saying I’d broken down in fictional, “Houndstooth, Kentucky.”

The names of people dearest to us often end up being our favorite names of all. Rose? Maybe no contest. Thorn? Probably a far different association.

Which names mean the most to you? What would you name your future vacation getaway or retirement haven?

“A rose by any other name will smell as sweet” . . . but I’m not sure it always