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, 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 
does.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When You're Running on Empty

by Teri Smith

Face it. Sometimes we get depleted. We'd like to put on a front that says "all is well", but life sometimes has a way of sapping our strength. The Bible says we're created with a spirit, soul, and body. Any of these can end up drained.

But we don't have to stay that way! We can replenish, and here's a few suggestions.

If your spirit needs refreshing, make sure you're at church! Worshiping with other believers does wonders to lift that part of us that connects with God. Or sign up for a Bible conference. I've enjoyed several of Beth Moore's conferences. Sign up for a Bible study. Bible Study Fellowship and Precepts are both great places to start. And don't forget your own personal quiet time. God's Word has it's own power to renew our spirits.

But maybe your soul needs revival. The soul is that part of our being that has affections. Sometimes we refer to it as our "heart". I suggest maintaining friendships. Invite a friend to go on a walk with you. I have a walking buddy who often phones and asks if I'd like to walk. It helps that I've known her since childhood, but don't be afraid to make a new friend. Probably there's someone close by who would treasure a new friend. Ask her to join you at a restaurant. God made us to enjoy companionship.

But I also find that sometimes, it's really my body that needs refueled. This is when that "walking with a friend" has a duel purpose. Or join a gym. Take up a new sport like tennis or swimming. And don't forget healthy eating. Binge eating or too much sugar never picks us up in the long run.

Now about that writing. What can you do if you're out of inspiration? That's part of what we Ponderers are all about. We'd love to encourage you or help you brainstorm. Just let us know how we can help! I also suggest My Book Therapy with Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. It's an amazing community of writers to teach and inspire. American Christian Fiction Writers also has a yearly conference with amazing teachers, appointments with agents and editors. It pretty much has to be experienced to fully understand.

What about you? What do you do to keep vibrant in your spirit, soul, and body? Share, please!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Unexpected


They were talking about drag racing. About souped-up cars, low-riders, and all that fun stuff.

“My first car was a low-rider,” I said.

They didn’t believe me. Especially when I produced a picture of that particular vehicle—the Suzuki Sidekick I bought off eBay when I was in college. The one with ground effects, big rims, skinny tires, and a custom paint job. (And a whole lot of issues, but that’s beside the point.)

Fun times.

A few weeks after my new friends found out this little tidbit, they were still shaking their heads in disbelief. Besides hearing the roar of the engine and bouncing along as I shifted gears, the unexpectedness was half the fun of my little tin can. People didn’t expect someone like me to step out of that car. Without even meaning to, they imagined who would be sitting behind the wheel, and I didn’t fit the stereotype. Which just made life a little more fun.

Another friend is a musician—very talented. She’s a petite young woman who can talk faster than anyone I know, plays the organ and piano, loves classical music and old architecture and reading and discovering a good restaurant. Also, she loves to shoot and has a growing gun collection.

That last bit, to me, didn’t fit the mold. It was unexpected, and makes getting to know her that much more delightful.

In my current WIP, I’m really enjoying working with one of my characters. She’s loud and gets into people’s business, wears a bandana and has a few blue hair extensions mixed in with her dark locks. And she has a soft spot for old-fashioned Sunday dinner, complete with embroidered linens—not an interest you would expect her to have if you met her. (Which I hope you will at some point.) She’s lace and rough-hewn wood, and the hero can’t help being fascinated by her.

For you writers, what about your current story—do any of your characters have an unexpected hobby, collection, quirk, etc.? And what’s something people might find unexpected about you?
I love how God created each of us unique. No carbon copies, no copy and paste. We’re each wonderfully and remarkably made. So learn something new about someone around you today, and see if you can find a way to add new dimensions to your characters.

~ Jenness
(Stay tuned -- A brand new website is coming SOON!)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Do you run from? Or toward your enemies? Our choice determines the outcome.

Delores E. Topliff
     Friends who live in northern British Columbia, Canada, tell me when you surprise bears in the forest (unless they have young with them) your best bet is to make lots of noise and run toward them—like God had David run toward Goliath. My friends use this technique, and it works.
     The closest I got to that situation was while working in an even more remote area doing forestry vegetation surveys when a large unhappy moose made increasingly threatening sounds near me. 
     On foot and armed with only a notebook and a small bell, I feebly sang, “No weapon formed against me will prosper,” and prayed like mad. Soon the thunderstorm that had been playing hide and seek overhead for hours boomed and headed our way. Aware of the storm but not of the L-A-R-G-E moose near me, my boss called it a day and came from a distant point on his quad to take me back to civilization.
     Julius Caesar knew this principle, too. After giving his troops their battle strategies, he had his joke writers deliver the week’s most hilarious story just before he lowered a lance and send his men RUNNING into battle roaring with laughter. History says that on more than half of those occasions, as enemies saw robust well-armed soldiers running toward them laughing like maniacs, the enemies turned tail and FLED rather than staying to fight.
     What about you? Whether writing a book or facing life, how we face our enemies has LOTS to do with what happens next. Instead of cowering, change the situation. Turn the tables on enemies by doing what they don’t expect, and make them so afraid THEY run.
     Actually little in life deserves fear. An adage says that dogs only bite victims if they sense we’re afraid. Long ago I (mostly) chose the habit of not yielding to fear by not giving negative issues recognition or spending much energy on them. Most times, they shrink away to nothing anyway. Or flee as we celebrate their departure. 
     Therefore, live, laugh, TERRIFY the enemyand enjoy happy days.
     Now, tell us about a time when this has worked for you, or how you're going to face fear next time.



Monday, May 23, 2016

What Makes a Page-Turner?

Let's talk about what makes us keep turning the pages of a book. When a thousand things call to us, why is it that we can't put the book down?

I think we'd all agree that it's a character we begin to care about on page one. We care because she's likable, and she's got trouble. Or, as writers call it, conflict. 

But what exactly does that involve? In the overall story, it means the difficulty the main character has in reaching her goals and the uncertainty of the outcome. We're not sure if she'll get what she desires so badly, so we read on.

Conflict is not just disagreement or argument. In fact, that can be annoying. But a character torn in two directions, makes us want to read on. 

So if you're writing a story, force your character into something she'd never do. Make him say something he'd never say. 

Write so that there's macro tension--the goal that she can't reach, and micro tension--the concern about what's said or done in the next sentence.

What do you think? What makes you keep turning the pages of a book? And what annoys you in a book?