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, July 17, 2018

Improve your writing by joke-writing and -telling

Delores E. Topliff
For those eager to write prizewinning stories, consider mastering the art of joke-writing. Jokes are miniature stories with a definite beginning, middle, and end. Get the sequence wrong, or leave out something essential, and it falls flat, giving you instant feedback. 

Master comedian and joke-writer, Sid Caesar, once said, “A joke is a story with a curlicue.” A tale with an added twist.

Successful stand-up comedian, Jerry Corley offers an online joke-writing clinic and says, “We must first understand why people laugh. Fact: the number one element that triggers human laughter is SURPRISE. It’s like magic, only with words. A magician surprises the audience when he does his trick. If there is no surprise, there is no trick…. Without surprise, you’re gonna have a…boring act.”

Steven Wright was a successful early stand-up comedian in the 1980s. He often looked through newspapers for interesting words. “There was no joke, it was just a word, like…electrolysis—I wrote a whole joke on that. For the first six months, I would sit down and try to write jokes, but after that, I didn’t sit down anymore. My subconscious was scanning all the time the things that could be a joke. My mind was looking for stuff, and some of it would leap out as a joke. It was just like a factory in my head…. It never shut down, it never stopped. I don’t go, ‘I’m gonna write a joke.’ I just go through the world and see stuff. It’s like I exercised the part of my mind of noticing things to the point where I now notice without even trying to.”
That’s how writing is meant to be. Hear an interesting news item and tuck it away for a story possibility, or pass it on to an author friend. Look at life with awareness. Joke-writing offers miniature practice units that can build to longer pieces, or maybe even the long-awaited Great American Novel!
Sure enough, my favorite jokes feature word confusion, like the Polish man who told a lawyer his wife wanted to kill him because a bottle in the bathroom labeled “polish remover”. When asked if she had any grounds, the husband replied, “Ya, two and a half acres.”
“No, no, does she have any reasons?”
“Sure, in our cereal every morning.”
It gets crazier, and may not be funny to you, but I’m on the floor laughing.
Now share your favorite joke and identify the trigger that makes it happen. Better yet, practice writing one and telling it soon.

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Who created these North American Flags?

Delores E. Topliff

Until July 4th approached, I didn’t know there were doubts that Betsy Ross created our first American flag. The Betsy Ross Facts website says, “Of all famous American Revolutionary women in history, the woman who stands out as an icon is Betsy Ross. Although there is no actual historical evidence, she is widely regarded as the person who sewed the very first American Flag. A patriotic symbol, such as a flag, was just what the American colonists needed as a symbol to help unite them during the War for Independence.” 

What? Further research took me to a site stating, “The main reason historians and flag experts do not believe that Betsy Ross designed or sewed the first American flag is a lack of historical evidence and documentation…. No records show that the Continental Congress had a committee to design the national flag in the spring of 1776.”

For now, it seems the true creator of America’s first flag remains a mystery.

The person who designed our 50-star American flag is Robert G. Heft, age 17 in 1958 in Ohio when he created the design for a high school project and received a B−. (Some teachers grade hard.)

In 1927, Alaska held a flag design competition. The chosen winner to represent the future flag of the Territory of Alaska was Benny Benson, a 13-year-old Alaskan Native living in a children’s home in Seward. His eight gold stars on a field of blue showed the Big Dipper constellation lined up with the North Star overhead, representing the northernmost state. Until then, since its purchase from Russia in 1867, Alaska had flown only the U.S. flag.

Since its confederation in 1867, Canada’s flag had resembled Britain’s Union Jack until their 1965 national competition selected the Maple Leaf suggested by University of Toronto student, George F. G. Stanley. However, see
https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/10/16/canadian-flag-designs-photos_n_4109726.html for other great 
flag designs that got cut.

The coat of arms on Mexico’s flag represents an ancient legend for how the Aztecs chose the site to build their capital city, Tenochtitlan, (Mexico City today). The leader of the Aztecs, also known as the Mexica, had a dream with their god of war instructing them to settle in the place where they found an eagle on a cactus eating a serpent, and they did. 

What does it take to create a flag, emblem, or motto, to successfully steer our ship of state by? Do you have a family flag or crest?

If you were to modify your nation’s flag, what change would you make? Why?

Meanwhile, enjoy a wonderful May 5th, July 1st, July 4th, and every day! 

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Word Fruit Salad

Delores E. Topliff

We’ve all done it, gotten our words fractured and said the wrong thing. English clergyman William Archibald Spooner became so famous for his accidental tongue twists with unintentional comic effect, we now call them Spoonerisms. Thanks to fun-with-words.com, the column on the left shows what his hearers heard, often in sermons, and the column on the right shows what the reverend intended to say. After reading these, I’d be a blithering idiot, if I knew how to blither. Now please share the worst word tangle you never hoped to say—and have a great week!

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

fighting a liar
lighting a fire
you hissed my mystery lecture
you missed my history lecture
cattle ships and bruisers
battle ships and cruisers
nosey little cook
cozy little nook
a blushing crow
a crushing blow
tons of soil
sons of toil
our queer old Dean
our dear old Queen
we'll have the hags flung out
we'll have the flags hung out
you've tasted two worms
you've wasted two terms
our shoving leopard
our loving shepherd
a half-warmed fish
a half-formed wish
is the bean dizzy?
is the Dean busy?
blow your nose
go and shake a tower
go and take a shower
tease my ears
ease my tears
nicking your pose
picking your nose
you have very mad banners
you have very bad manners
lack of pies
pack of lies
it's roaring with pain
it's pouring with rain
sealing the hick
healing the sick
go help me sod
so help me God
pit nicking
nit picking
bowel feast
foul beast
I'm a damp stealer
I'm a stamp dealer
hypodemic nurdle
hypodermic needle
wave the sails
save the whales
chipping the flannel on TV
flipping the channel on TV
mad bunny
bad money
I'm shout of the hour
I'm out of the shower
lead of spite
speed of light
this is the pun fart
this is the fun part
I hit my bunny phone
I hit my funny bone
flutter by
bedding wells
wedding bells
I must mend the sail
I must send the mail
cop porn
it crawls through the fax
it falls through the cracks
my zips are lipped
my lips are zipped
bat flattery
flat battery
would you like a nasal hut?
would you like a hazel nut?
puke on
belly jeans
jelly beans
eye ball
bye all
fight in your race
right in your face
ready as a stock
steady as a rock
no tails
toe nails
hiss and lear
listen here
soul of ballad
bowl of salad

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Travel is its own reward

Delores E. Topliff
For many, June officially kicks off travel season. Because I take writing seriously, and also love meaningful travel, it boosted my morale when Trip Advisor told me that my occasional trip and travel evaluations have currently been read and voted helpful by over 17,000 people. What? Who knew? That encourages me to take greater care to report accurately with candid helpfulness about what I find in destinations. Like me, you may sometimes get steered wrong by glowing reports that don’t match the place once you reach your pre-paid destination—when it’s too late and too costly to make changes. I’ll skip telling my recent horror story, but when asked, I did report accurately on that travel site. In all areas of life, words matter. I won’t use them to mislead others.

My last (and favorite) fortune cookie said, “Travel is its own reward.” Yes!
Besides getting us where we need to go, travel serves a greater purpose. In his classic, Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Although Twain was a great comic writer, he wasn’t being funny here—this is solid truth.

These wise words are credited to ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand li starts beneath one's feet.” That’s been modernized to, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”so true in life as well as travel.

Now tell us what your favorite trip has been so far, and what you have learned. Or, where you hope to travel next? Also visit my website, delorestopliff.com, for news and updates, and have a great week! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Would you live in a library if you could?

Delores E. Topliff
When I was a young mom and grad student with two little boys ages 5 and 3, I took them with me everywhere I could, sometimes even to classes I taught. We visited public and university libraries, some with deep, dark basements, and others seven-stories tall, for lengthy periods of time. My sons took to them like ducks to water and cheerfully called them the “book caves”.  

That why I was struck by an NPR radio program of a boy who lived in a library with his parents and is now a writer. (I borrow heavily from his story below.) Is there a correlation? You betcha!

Decades back, custodians in the New York Public Library system could live in the buildings with their families. Raymond Clark’s dad was a custodian, and their family lived on the top floor of the Washington Heights branch in upper Manhattan starting in 1949, when Ronald was fifteen. Later, in the 1970s, he raised his daughter, Jamilah, in the same apartment until she was five. He later told that grown daughter that being a library custodian was like being, "the keeper of the temple of knowledge."

At first, Ronald was ashamed of his unusual home. But once the library closed for the day, he loved being the only kid in the building… “If I had any question about anything, I would get up in the middle of the night, go down, get out a book, (and) read until 3 o'clock in the morning . . . I began to realize how great I had it because the library gave me the thirst of learning—and this just never left me."

Living in the library shaped the man he became. “He was the first in his family to graduate from high school”, and (to his dad’s delight) eventually “got a position as a college professor. Read the full interview at https://www.npr.org/2017/10/13/557328529/how-living-in-a-library-gave-one-man-the-thirst-of-learning

Do you love books? Do they fuel you with wisdom and inspiration to take on limitless horizons? While you may not actually want to live in one, share your favorite ways to surround yourself with books. Please also check my website delorestopliff.com for more posts and updates.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

What if familiar stories ended differently?

Delores E. Topliff
Twice so far, the University of Northwestern-St. Paul where I teach has hosted the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association annual championships and will do so again this summer. NCFCA is the oldest and most established homeschool forensics league in the U.S. I've loved being a finalist judge the last two times and will train to do that again. The students in the competition are highly skilled and qualified candidates from across our nation delivering impassioned presentations with professional dedication. 

One duo-team's interpretive selection was Ken Bradbury's Open to Interpretation, a fun remake of Hansel and Gretel that brings it to a modern forensic setting with a canny private detective solving the crime. Here's the link: https://www.hitplays.com/hp/Scripts/Samples/OpentoInterpretation=061914.pdf

It's good to realize that no story's current ending is cast in cement. People and situations do change. We can use fresh thinking to imagine other creative outcomes. 

What if Little Red Riding Hood ate the wolf, instead of him eating her? What if the three little pigs outwit their wolf to become a clever trio going around the countryside outsmarting all wolves until the landscape is free and safe?

What if Jack and Jill don’t go up the hill at all, but down into the valley for water instead and devise a brilliant way for a pipeline or flume to carry the stream’s velocity uphill so no one ever has to climb hills to fetch water--or fall down--again?

Plot twists are refreshing. Think about any of your favorite stories that could have an interesting alternate ending, and share.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Spoonerisms, plus Victor Borge, and too much alphabetized logic for me

Delores E. Topliff
Spoonerisms are verbal errors in which speaker accidentally transpose the initial sounds or letters of two or more words, usually to humorous effect, as in the sentence accidentally saying you have hissed the mystery lectures, instead of, you have missed the history lectures, a simple tlip of the songue, or tons of soil for sons of toil, etc.

Any of us of a certain age who watched Danish-American comedian, conductor, and pianist, Victor Borge, loved the man called the “clown prince of Denmark” and the “comedian of the keyboard”. He achieved great popularity in radio and television in the U.S. and Europe after fleeing here from Denmark during WWII. He arrived with no money but soon gained a following through his music and humor. His trick of boosting numbers up a notch to make our ears hear the unexpected was wonderful. He “tiptoed through the threelips” to earn a fivetune. In other examples, "Once upon a time" becomes "twice upon a time," "wonderful" becomes "twoderful”, “forehead" becomes "fivehead," "anyone for tennis" becomes "anytwo five elevennis", "I ate a tenderloin with my fork and so forth" becomes "'I nine an elevenderloin with my five'k', and so fifth.”
He said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” and lived it.

Finally, I read about this phenomenon when the Nov. 2017 Reader’s Digest asked what these words have in common—"abhors, almost, begins, biopsy, chimps, chintz.”
Answer? “With 6 letters apiece, they’re among the longest English words with every letter in alphabetized order.”
Whoa—who even figures those things out?

Share any of your favorite word delights, and have a great week. 
Also visit my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April Showers bring May flowers

Delores E. Topliff
April showers bring May flowers—or so we’ve been told.One sourcetraces that phrase to an 1886 saying which might have deeper roots in a 1610 poem. Another source says the phrase should sound like this: "March winds bring April showers which bring May flowers AND June bugs."  

In general, rain does affect the timing and abundance of flowers, said David Inouye, a Univ. of Maryland biology professor. He notes that some plants flower a second time in late summer if they have a good soaking, but for most species, initial flowering is more closely tied to temperature than to rain.
April is “typically a wet month in much of the U.S.,” says another author, Libby Ellwood. “Plants may not know the (April showers) proverb, but rarely have to worry about having enough water in the spring to start producing flowers." Others say water decides flowering dates less than warming temperatures.
These are photos of Easter 2018 in greater Minneapolis, MN. Our Siberian Husky, Willow, was happy seeing an Easter snowman. The rest of us? Not so much. Easter fell on April Fool's Day this year, but we hoped the forecast of 3-5 inches more of the white stuff falling on three other days that week was a joke. Actually, it proved true as we broke records with plummeting temperatures and prolonged unseasonable cold. We didn't want to be record breakers. We just wanted a nice, normal spring!
Maybe our snow (not rain) showers will at least produce snow drop flowers! May our warm, welcoming thoughts of spring help her arrive to triumph soon. 

Albert Camus said it best. "In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer."

Now it's your turn. 
What is your favorite season of the year and why? How do you handle it if your season  doesn't arrive on time?