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, November 7, 2017

If the pen is mightier than the sword, don’t let your pen get dull.

Delores E. Topliff 
My last post featured the popular phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I was surprised to find it was written in 1839 by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a contemporary of Charles Dickens. He also originated the phrase, “the great unwashed,” and “the almighty dollar.” However, he is most remembered for less-successful words. The opening sentence of his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, reads, “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

What?

In Peanuts, beloved cartoonist Charles Schulz often shows Snoopy daydreaming about writing books with that opening.

A contemporary of Charles Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, a had many writing accomplishments, including some truly successful novels, but is sadly remembered most for this mocked, often-parodied phrase described as, “the archetypal example of a florid, melodramatic style of fiction writing” known as purple prose. In fact, since 1982 San Jose State University has sponsored a Bulwer-Lytton  Fiction Contest, “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”

Critics admit that Bulwer-Lytton’s original lines did fulfill the requirement of starting with a generalized scene and then filling in specific details. BUT he went too far. It might be funnier if many of us aren’t sometimes guilty of similar overwriting. Meanwhile, we are entertained by intentionally bad entries in recent Bulwer-Lytton contests.

“She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on. Not with good paint like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and just like that cheap paint the dress needed two more coats to cover her.”

Another often-quoted favorite: “Edmund waited, then immediately waited again.” And then, “As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were to ever break wind in the sound chamber, he would never hear the end of it.”

I won't ask you to write similar words, unless you want to enter that contest. Instead, name an author or book whose writing you enjoy. I admire Barbara Kingsolver’s thoughtful, informative fiction and what Annie Proulx accomplishes in her newest ambitious historical, Barkskins. Now, please share yours.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The pen is mightier than the sword, so keep your pen sharp!


Delores E.  Topliff

Written words inform us, entertain, and even change history. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln described Harriett Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as, “The little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."
Near that same time, Charles Dickens wrote about poverty, hunger, child labor, cruelty, and injustice in novels like Hard Times, Great Expectations, Bleak House, and more, to stir people to action for social change. Years back, his Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, was named the fourth top-selling book of all time with the Bible being first; a 2010 survey drops his book to sixth place, but that is still impressive.
The phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword, is credited to English author, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a contemporary of Dickens. The fact that most of us know and recite his 1839 phrase is more proof that true words stand the test of time.

In childhood, or any part of life, most of us have favorite books whose stories and characters stayed with us to influence our lives. Maybe we practiced survival techniques like Last of the Mohicans, Swiss Family Robinson, Little House on the Prairie, or were inspired to courage by Sydney Carton in Dickens’ Tale.

King Solomon correctly said, “of making many books there is no end.” Thankfully, there is no need to have an end in sight.

Today on Facebook, someone posted, “The swordfish has few predators to worry about in the wild, except the seldom seen penfish, which is said to be even mightier.” I love that!

What do you consider the most important book you have read? Name one (or two) that inspired and challenged you. In grade school, Gene Stratton Porter’s Girl of the Limberlost confirmed my love for nature and encouraged me to progress in life as far as I could by getting all the education possible.

If you could write any book of your heart and dreams, describe its focus. What are your highest hopes for all it would accomplish?

Now, I hope you will pick up your pen and begin.

Picture credit to https://www.boredpanda.com/charlie-hebdo-shooting-tribute-illustrators-cartoonists/


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Collective Nouns—charming delights for word lovers

Delores E. Topliff
This post began when I saw a delightful bird in Scotland and asked its name.
“It’s a Chaffinch, in the Finch family,” my friend said. “A group is called a charm of finches.”
That had me off and running since I’m a logophile, a lover of words of nearly all kinds. Some of the most fascinating in our English lexicon are the wonderful, unique terms used for collective nouns.
Ants and bees come in nests or swarms, and we have skeins or gaggles of geese, while butterflies are a flutter or kaleidoscope.
A group of penguins in the water is a raft; on land they are a waddle.
An assembly of crows is a murder, but a gathering of ravens is an unkindness.
We have parliaments of owls and flights of swallows. Swans are in bevies or banks until they fly, when they are also flights or wedges.
Donkeys or asses, cattle, and sheep are considered herds. So are giraffes, zebras, camels, elk, caribou, reindeer, and even people when in a crowd or mob.
Sheep, goats, chicken, ducks, and geese are also grouped in flocks.
Pigs and hogs are drifts or droves, but piglets come in litters.
Fish are in schools until they are caught when they become a catch, drought, or haul. Whales or dolphins are pods.
Baboons or apes are a troop or shrewdness, but we have a crash of rhinoceroses, and prides of lions.
We see basks of crocodiles but congregations of alligators.
The British Egerton Manuscript from around 1450 lists 106 collective nouns. The Book of St. Albans in 1486, mostly in verse, has 164 and adds leaps of leopards, a busyness of ferrets, yokes of oxen, and burdens of mules. Some groups are named for their young, like coverts of coots or kindles of kittens, or by how they respond when flushed, like a sord of mallards, or routs of wolves.
I find these fascinating but even this list is not exhaustive, so I’ll keep my ears open for more. I hope you'll tell us your favorite—or even bravely suggest a brand new one.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

If 'Home is where the heart is', mine keeps growing

Delores E. Topliff
“There’s a Tibetan saying: “Wherever you have friends, that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.”

In my life, many valued ongoing friendships result from my many years of teaching high school and college in various places. A friend of mine made a list, and found that during that time, truly over 100 mostly young people have lived in my home while pursuing educations.

When people from North America or any nation live in your home for one to three years, sometimes with their parents or other relatives also visiting, amazing and meaningful relationships form and we become extended family. That makes me unusually rich in widespread relationships that have given me opportunities to visit their homes and enjoy bird’s eye views of their homes and homelands.

I’ve just returned from 34 never-to-be-forgotten amazing days in Denmark, Spain, Ireland, and Scotland. Many of my friends are openly jealous, but these connections have grown deeper and even more precious beyond the initial years of our times together. You don’t have to master the language to have a good time, though all efforts are appreciated. There are 5-year-old boy and girl twins in Denmark I do antics for, and they giggle every time and easily communicate they want more. I loved being invited into multiple homes near Madrid and Seville, Spain, where one dinner was served at 10:30 p.m. after a day that reached 42 C or 107.6 F degrees. Respect and understanding grows even deeper with each time together and continues long after I board a train or plane for the next place. I spoke with a friend yesterday who is considering housing a foreign student; of course, my unqualified recommendation was ‘yes’.

The only downside to such travel experiences is that the more often you enjoy close times together, the more you miss those visited after your return. Of course my door is also wide open for them their visits anytime possible.

Meanwhile, long live air miles and patiently-researched airline seat sales. Long live friendships that are warm and close whilel we laugh at minor cultural differences and enjoy each other whether or not we agree on political viewpoints or other minor differences. So much more unites us than will ever divide us. I recommend travel opportunities and exchanges to anyone who can manage them, and am forever thankful for the rich experiences that so far are mine.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

People Who Influence Our Lives


 If you had to list seven people (or groups) who influenced your life, who would they be?

My list would look something like this.

My mother
1     1.     Jesus – Oh, but some might say, He’s not a real person. I beg to differ! There’s plenty of historical evidence that Jesus lived in this world and died on a cross. The Bible also speaks of over 500 witnesses of His resurrection.  So I choose Jesus as the first on my list because He has made the greatest difference. I have peace about the future because of Jesus. I have the certainty that my sins are forgiven through faith in Him. I have wonderful friends that I would not have had if I didn’t know Jesus. So, yes, the number one person is my Savior.

       2.     My Parents—They loved me unconditionally and were always in my court. My mother radiated a sweet spirit for my family. My dad made me memorize whole chapters in the Bible. I am so thankful for them.

My brothers
      3.     My 3 brothers—Oh, yes, they sometimes tease me mercilessly, but they never leave me any doubt that they love me, their only sister. Even if I sometimes try their patience, I know I can always count on these brothers. Their texts, phone calls and visits lift my spirits.


       4.     My Adopted Kids, Tommy, Danny & Sarah—Although I loved them at first sight and chose them, they have turned that love right around on me and now show me daily how much they really care. And for the record, this includes their spouses as well.  It’s a good day when I get to spend time with any of them! And cheering for the Dallas Cowboys with Sarah's hubby, Treviel, makes it extra fun.

My 3 precious kids

       5.     My hubby –Yes, I have to say he’s stayed by my side and put up with me for over 40 years. (And since I can often be a “pickle”  that’s saying a lot.)  We’ve shared adventures in Canada, Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. We encountered snakes, Gila Monsters, poisonous asps, microscopic weird things I’d never heard of and a military coup.

Pam, my angel
         6.  Then there's Pam!  It’s a long story, but after an aneurism, she basically gave me my brains back and became my "angel". 



6       7.     My friend, Becky—Since I didn’t have a sister in the flesh, God gave me a close friend so I’d know what a sister is like. There are no words that can describe the friendship, the fun, the fellowship and more that we’ve enjoyed over the years. We were toddlers when we met, so I cannot remember not knowing her. She even shares her granddaughters with me by bringing them here for tea parties.

That’s not everyone, by any means. I have wonderful cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and friends. What about you? Which folks have influenced your life?  Share, please!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How things get their names Part 2 (and what does twine have to do with cars?)

Delores E. Topliff
This is my second post about car brands, often named for inventors or developers. "Automobile" is a French-coined word adopted by manufacturers.

In 1909, when it was clear automobiles were not a passing fad, eight Detroit businessmen partnered to make and sell cars for less than $1,000 (equal to around $26,000 today). That company was Hudson Motors, named for Joseph L. Hudson, entrepreneur founder of Hudson’s Department Stores. 

DeSoto, offered by Chrysler in 1929, was named after Spanish explorer, Hernando deSoto.

The first wheeled Dodge was a bicycle. The Dodge brothers’ reputation for craftsmanship led to making car parts. In 1902 they won a contract for 3,000 transmissions for the first Olds car. Henry Ford was so impressed, he teamed up with them and Dodge produced all parts for Ford’s 1903 Model A Runabout except the wheels and cabins. For the next 11 years both companies partnered and prospered.

The name Jeep probably comes from World War II slang for "new, unproven recruits or unproven vehicles." Others say it’s a contraction of G.P., General Purpose.

Nash Motors made cars in Wisconsin from 1916-1937. Until 1954, they were the automotive branch of Nash-Kelvinator, bringing innovations like the heating-ventilation system still used today, unibody construction in 1941, seatbelts in 1950, the first US compact cars in 1950, and muscle cars in 1957.

Plymouths, by Chrysler, introduced maybe the most famous engine in car history. They were named after Plymouth Binder Twine, produced by Plymouth Cordage, a twine with high popularity among farmers.

Studebaker was an Indiana wagon and automobile manufacturer. Begun in 1852 as Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing, they  produced wagons for farmers, miners, and the military, and later began automotive production in 1902 with electric cars, and in 1904 with Studebaker Automobile Company gasoline vehicles.
Jaguar is considered the best ever name for a sports car, winning above other animal names suggested by a British ad agency in 1935. Ford scored with Mercury, the fleet-footed messenger of the gods in Greek and Roman mythology, also the source for Lincoln's Zephyr, god of the wind.

Many current names were not originally part of the auto industry. Toyota came from Toyoda Loom Works in Japan. When their family began car production, they changed the "d" to a "t", more elegant in Japanese script.

Mechanic Soichiro Honda produced motorized bicycles after World War II and then graduated to cars.

Volkswagen resulted from Adolf Hitler's call for a car for the common folks, meaning "people's car" in German. The prototype was earlier known as "
Strength through Joy."

There are many interesting origin stories beyond this partial list. Some people select car makes or model based on their personalities. I name the cars I personally owndo you? My Nash Rambler years back was “Laplander” because it “lapped up the miles.” I began a list of suggested model names once when stuck in traffic, but haven’t sent it anywhere. Great current model names like Voyageur, Ram, and Sequoia are clear winners. Due to size, we might associate Hummer with Guzzler.

So what’s your answer? If starting companies to manufacture products, do we name them for ourselves? Or use terms emphasizing product qualities?

Now, please suggest the name for the next dream car, or any product of your choice.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Celebrating the Fourth of July

I suspect that everyone has their own ideas as to what makes the Fourth of July special. For some, they just must have a parade. Patriotic floats, Uncle Sam lookalikes, and bands.

Others might just like the time to go to a lake or beach to splash in the water and soak up some sun. Even if you stay home, then you need the grilled meat, the salads, and the red, white, and blue desserts.

Or maybe it's that huge display of fireworks which seems to get more amazing every year.

Or do you like hearing a concert with the all-American favorites: American the Beautiful, This Land is Your Land, My Country 'Tis of Thee, and of course The Star Spangled Banner?

Some special people take the time to thank our veterans and active military for their service to our nation. I have a banner that I put in my front flower bed that looks something like this one.

I could enjoy all of these typical activities, but I could have every single one of them and still miss out on what I enjoy the most.

You see, for me, a celebration isn't complete without my family. The parades, the fireworks, the music, and the food--none of it would be special with family and friends.

So as we celebrate our great country's "happy birthday", I wish for a wonderful day for you. But never forget that it would be hollow without sharing it with those you love.

How do you like to celebrate?

And Happy Birthday, America!


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How do things get their names? Part I

Delores E. Topliff

For this post, I’ll focus on the origination of some American auto brands. Their names are often linked to their inventor or developer. Henry Ford may be the best-known example. However, the Edsel, named for his only son, was intended to be a successful separate brand but appeared during a recession and is now remembered as the term for a project or idea that failed.

Scottish-born Detroit-based inventor, David Buick, founded his Buick Motor Car Co. in 1903. His cars benefitted from the overhead valve engine he invented, a major improvement still with us.

Cadillacs are named after Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac, the French nobleman who founded Detroit in 1703.

Industrialist William Durant developed General Motors and named the Chevrolet for a popular, fearless Swiss race driver involved with his organization for a time. Besides, he liked the ring of the name.

Pontiacs were produced by the Pontiac Buggy Co., originally a horseless carriage manufacturer, and named for a renowned Great Lakes area Ottawa Indian war chief.

Lincoln Motors was founded in 1917 by Henry Leland. An engineer, Leland named his car and company after Abraham Lincoln, the first presidential candidate for whom he ever voted (in 1864).

There are enough car makes and models for a l-o-n-g list, so before this puts you to sleep, take a look in your garage? Did the name of a make or model name influence your purchase? (I hope not. Mine is a Nissan Rogue).

One Freshman English textbook contains a great essay teaching classification through matching cars to people’s stations in life. If they could afford them, young men drove fast, racy sport cars. Young marrieds moved up to coupes or sedans, and families expanded into station wagons or vans. My mid-size SUV matches my happy stage of life and is great for projects and grandkids


If you invented and sold a new car or model, how would you choose a a name? Would you emphasize the maker? Or its traits? Names that might be true but should not be used include, Guzzler, Beast, Auto Loan, Budget Breaker, Mortgaged to the Hilt, Mechanic’s Nightmare. Attractive names that exist or have existed include, Runabout, Wind, Zephyr, Voyageur, Nomad, Mountaineer, and many more. 

Now, please tell us about the best car you’ve ever owned, or name the future car of your dreams. Happy driving, and have fun!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Art of Brevity

 by Teri Smith

William Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  Many other writers have advised us to keep our writing concise because no one enjoys slogging through many words for a nugget of a thought.

Sometimes after church, I review my notes for a “sentence sermon”. Here are a few examples from my recent notes:

“God says to you: There’s nothing you can do to surprise me.”

“Man keeps trying to make heaven on earth, but there’s only one heaven.”

“If there were no Jesus, we would just be humans longing for Him.”

I enjoy single, pithy sentences like these because the concept stays with me longer.

For similar reasons, writing teachers encourage their students to keep their writing concise.

James Scott Bell in his book, How to Write Dazzling Dialogue, encourages writes to “cut dialogue to the bone.”   

I’m astonished how applying that one piece of advice makes dialogue flow. If you add tension between characters within the dialogue, it sizzles.

Even high school English teachers caution their students to exchange weak verbs coupled with adverbs for a single strong verb. (Or at least they should!) For example, change “walked quickly” to “strode”. 

The Elements of Style, a classic book first published in 1918, remains one of best expositions on writing.  The author advises us to not overwrite, to avoid fancy words, and to not use two words when one will do.

So whether you’re speaking or writing, Shakespeare’s advice still stands. Boil it down to one word: brevity.