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, May 28, 2019

Writing is painting with words

In Amsterdam's Rikstad Museum, a friend pointed out one special touch that made Rembrandt an outstanding master. His subject’s eye color was not simply solid brown or blue, but was highlighted with a single speck of white or pearl color, like light hitting and refracting from the eye, making it more life-like. Gaze in the eyes of a close friend or family member. Check their eye color, and you’ll see what I mean. Greatness comes from such detail.

Well-chosen details in writing help our characters stand out from one another. Or describe a landscape in such specific detail we know what mood or emotion will follow. Shakespeare mastered that skill. Dickens brought it to perfection. His sunlit landscapes with balmy skies prepare us for happiness. Storms, with thunder and lightning rolling for light and sound effects, set the stage for brooding disaster. We feel shuddering terror in his Great Expectations graveyard scene just before the terrible Magwitch rises from behind a tombstone and demands food. The spider-web garlanded home of aged spinster, Miss Havisham, including her intact rotted wedding cake, shows as much information as the dialogue tells--and we nearly need to hold our hankies to our noses.

Choose a favorite book or scene that stays with you, utilizing a skill you’d love to use in your own writing or conversations. Kipling’s Jungle Books includes this northern India panorama scene, inviting our eyes to take the journey, too. In my mind’s eye, I have repeated this journey more times that I can count: Looking across the valley, the eye was deceived by the size of things, and could not at first realize that what seemed to be low scrub, on the opposite mountain-flank, was in truth a forest of hundred-foot pines. Purun Bhagat saw an eagle swoop across the gigantic hollow, but the great bird dwindled to a dot ere it was half-way over.” 

Now please name a favorite book or scene and share what you love most about it. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Will the real Wonder Woman please stand up

Delores E. Topliff
Wonder Woman is the 2017 American movie based on a DC Comics character for the first time starring a female as a superhero. Diana, princess of the Amazons, was raised on a sheltered island and equipped with superpowers to become an unbeatable warrior. When she hears that massive conflict endangers the world, she leaves her home to fight the threat to end the war to end all wars and save the world from evil. 

Our living female population is grateful a female finally made the cut to superpower, but is the movie hero truly the first wonder woman ever? In my mind, many others in history can be nominated. What about Ruth, Esther, Jael, or Deborah, or Mary from the Bible? What about Joan of Arc? Florence Nightingale? Clara Barton? Marie Curie? Sacajawea? Or a special woman you suggest.

I just became aware of Gertrude Caroline Ederle, an American competitive swimmer and Olympic champion who became the first woman to swim the 21-mile English Channel in 1926. I’m quite well read. Why did it take me this many years to learn of her accomplishment?

What about mothers who are there for us almost every day of their lives but are often unsung heroes? We’ve just celebrated Mother’s Day maybe with chocolates, roses, cards, and/or a meal out to show our thanks.

Whether you favor Hollywood’s version or someone from the Bible, history, favorite literature, or your own family, share your vote to name your candidate for the true wonder woman award. Or if you prefer, train and swim any body of water to surpass past achievements and become a record-holding Wonder Woman in that or any other field yourself.

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Humor wins battles

Delores E. Topliff

Roman military general, Julius Caesar, didn’t become emperor overnight or with military skills alone. He was also a top-level public relations expert whose skills could turn Madison Avenue advertising execs green with envy. He included hilarious reports of his troops’ victories across Gaul (France) in his rollicking account, The Gallic Wars. Ever since Carthage’s General, Hannibal, terrorized Italy by invading from over the Alps with elephants, Rome’s citizens feared the massive beasts. Caesar wrote a tall tale of outsmarting the elephants who slept standing upright leaning against trees. He said his men simply sawed through the trees the elephants leaned against by pulling crosscut saws back and forth to the rhythm of the elephants’ snores until the beasts fell down to be captured or killed.

Caesar sent generous gifts and cash home to Rome’s citizens for distributed to make his name and exploits great. He also named them in his will to receive pocket cash and have much of his land made into public parks.

My favorite of his public relations schemes involves how he raised the morale of his troops. Before starting each battle, he gathered his men on a high hill or mountain top. His officers delivered well-planned strategy moves, but his crowning touch happened last. Caesar hired master joke writers and personally selected the funniest story. After everything else was done, Caesar had the day’s funniest side-splitting story told just before tipping lances to send his troops hurtling downhill roaring with laughter toward enemies waiting in the valley or on opposite hills. It was just plain demoralizing. History tells us that over half of his enemies fled before ever engaging Rome’s soldiers in battle. They turned tail and ran away, unnerved by military men so confident they ran forward guffawing.

Scripture says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Psalm 59 adds, “But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision.” Caesar did have the heathen in derision.

Good humor makes any day better. Whether we are telling or hearing a joke, getting its punch line right with perfect time is a valuable skill using the beginning, middle, end formula of any story writing.

What is your favorite joke? Mine starts with the Polish man who sure his wife wanted to kill him because she kept “Polish Remover” in the medicine cabinetand it gets worse from there. Share your favorite joke and send us rollicking into whatever we face today.

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Roget’s Thesaurus - The power of the right word

Delores E. Topliff
When it’s time to paint a room in your home, you try to choose the right color paint and the perfect specific shade of that color. That often involves going to your favorite hardware or paint store to collect folders holding hundreds of paint chip color samples.
On fresh spring days, I’ve looked outside and counted a thousand shades of green. Paint stores prove I’m right. There are that many shades of green, and also equal variations of yellows, blues, whites, reds, and everything in betweenso many they boggle the mind.
On a missions trip to the Philippines, I bought  a freshwater pearl necklace that was such a warm blend of peach, yellow, and cream, I desired to paint my living room that color. By spending much time in my local paint store, I finally matched the color chip and am surrounded by a beautiful living memory.
·         Similarly in writing we want to create the perfect moods, sensations, and expressions. We want to express things more evocative than that our hero or heroine walked beneath a blue sky. If that sky is an especially descriptive blue, it helps us more easily experience the scene and mood. Here are some word choices available through the fabulous writing tool created almost two centuries ago by Peter Mark Roget, a British physician, natural theologian, and lexicographer. In the impressive compilation of descriptive words he named a Thesaurus, his options for blue include aquamarine, azure, beryl, cerulean, cobalt, indigo, navy, royal, sapphire, teal, turquoise, sapphire, and ultramarine, and more.
His tool provides rich, textured word choices for colors, actions, and practically any item or phenomenon in this world. It permits us to write with a full color palette. His work is an alphabetized catalog of related word options. When he released it in 1852, he described his first Thesaurus this way. “It is now nearly fifty years since I first projected a system of verbal classification. Conceiving that such a compilation might help to supply my own deficiencies, I had, in the year 1805, completed a classed catalogue of words on a small scale, but on the same principle, and nearly in the same form, as the Thesaurus now published.
His original 1852 Thesaurus contained 15,000 words. Since then each edition has been larger. Jane Weber, my amazing 9th grade creative writing teacher in Vancouver, Washington, gave each of her fifteen students a paperback Thesaurus. That is just one of many ways she inspired and changed our lives. I personally love to roam the descriptive lists of color choices that to me are more delicious than the flavors available at our local Baskin Robbins.
When did you first see or use a Thesaurus?
How often do you use one? What are some of your favorite word finds there?
For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

How long does it take to influence a life?

Delores E. Topliff

When I was age 7, Marilyn Witt, a high school senior who lived nearby, babysat my little sister and me one evening. I don't recall her coming any other time, but she arrived carrying an intriguing heavy black box with a handle. Marilyn said it held a typewriter to fill out her college applications after my little sister went to sleep. Once I heard that, there was no chance I would fall asleep. She had brought me two new words—typewriter and college.

When she took the typewriter out of its case and set it up, she explained how it worked. Then she sat me on her lap to peck a few keys that then struck black printed letters on the clean piece of paper she had rolled into the cylinder. I was fascinated with the possibilities.

Next, as she spread out her application forms, she told me about college. “It’s a place where you go to learn and have a better life,” she said. That sounded wonderful, too. No one in our family had been, but I never forgot and started saving for it that summer as I picked strawberries for Birdseye Frozen Foods—but that’s another story.

Marilyn brought me two new words that night—typewriter, and college. Both have been happy additions to my life. College teachers use typewriters and later computers lots. Then I became a writer, and writers use them even more.

That babysitting evening long ago triggered interests that established  major directions for my life. I don’t recall Marilyn babysitting us more than that one evening, but it was enough. I will never forget both new concepts she taught me, and I am very thankful! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

March 8th is National Proofreading Day

Delores E. Topliff

Another comment for the preceding is, "Use a comma, fight cannibalism." This event hasn’t been around long, but here’s how it is described in our nation's calendar: “National Proofreading Day is observed each year on March 8th. This day was created to bring awareness to the importance of proofreading. National Proofreading Day promotes mistake-free writing. Carefully review all your letters and documents to make a positive and professional impression. 


In 2011, Judy Beaver created Proofreading Day in remembrance of her mother, Flo. On her website (nationalproofreadingday.com) Judy relates that her mother loved to correct people. Judy thought by creating the day on Flo’s birthday, it would be a fun way to remember her and remind people to take more time to proofread their work.


During the Reagan administration, all of the posters and brochures had been printed and distributed nationwide honoring National Secretary Day before it was discovered Secretary was misspelled.


Once when touring an advertising agency, thanks to many college English classes, I was the one in the group who noticed that the rough draft of a very expensive glossy Oscar Meyer ad, misspelled wieners. Horrors! Thankfully, we corrected it in time.


Autocorrect introduces a greater need than ever for diligent proofreading. Dedicated vigilance is required to avoid some of the worst errors possible. I won’t list some blush-worthy bloopers here, but we’ve all had them.


Therefore, on each March 8th, and on every day between, let’s thank editors everywhere, as well as our friends and family, unofficial editors, who also do so much to help us write beautifully and correctly to produce our very best.


Learn more about this yearly event at http://nationalproofreadingday.com/

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Jingles - Words and/or tunes that stick in the brain

Delores E. Topliff
 jingle is the lively, cheery sound of a bell when rung or jostled. Today, it also defines a tune and words used in advertising, podcasts, or other commercial purposes that are used for sound branding. They contain hooks specifically promoting a product or service, usually by including advertising slogans in radio and/or t.v. commercials. Many jingles are based on changing the lyrics of popular songs. They create words and tune associations so strong and unforgettable that we automatically,  unconsciously, reach for the product. The more they boost sales, the more we hear them.

At age five, my older son cried when I wouldn’t buy Wonder Bread "that builds strong bodies eight ways!” I explained that I had baked nutritious fresh bread and cinnamon rolls at home, but he worried they might not help him grow as well. (I should have advertised.)
Timeless examples are, “N-e-s-t-l-e-s = Nestles makes the very best, chocolate!” KFC’s “finger lickin’ good”, and Rice Krispies “Snap, crackle, pop”.

In his wonderful story spoof, “Punch, Brothers, Punch”, Mark Twain describes contracting a virus-like jingle that took over his brain for days until he managed to infect someone else with it, removing the jingle from his own mind. If only it were that easy . . .

The longest running jingles is for McCormick Foods' Aeroplane Jelly. Composed in Australia before 1943, it was used into the 21st century. During the 1940s, it was played more than 100 times a day on some stations. Can anyone say “brainwashing”?

What jingles have you enjoyed the most?

Which have been the hardest to erase from your mind?

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Where were you the severe winter of 2019?

Delores E. Topliff
Hopefully, you’ve survived what recent terms describe as Snowmageddon, Snownado, Polar Vortex 2019, and more.

This winter I dodged the brunt of it by enjoying time in NE Mississippi, but I feel for friends and loved ones experiencing this winter’s brutal cold. It meant 2-3 day school suspensions and even U.S. mail not being delivered for the first time in history in parts of seven states. However, I’ve paid my dues in many past winters in the Edmonton, Alberta, Canada area and later further north along Northern British Columbia’s beautiful Alaska Hwy. 

When my two sons and I lived near Edmonton, we ice skated outside on a sunny day with no wind at -20F and soon removed our coats and felt comfortable in only sweaters. 

Later, 500 miles further north, we didn’t have clothes dryers so hung wet laundry outside. I remember removing freeze-dried clothes from the line at -30 F, and when I tugged on a flannel nightgown folded over the wire, stared as it came off in my hands in two stiff halves.

Another cold day, the car I was driving on the Alaska Hwy. broke down between Mile 147 and Mile 109 with the daytime high temperature only reached -30F. My two U.S. city resident passengers were terrified. What to do? Afternoon light was fading, which brought increasing cold, and we were outside of cell phone range. I tucked my one blanket around my friends, prayed, and stuck out my thumb to hitchhike to friends I knew would help—if I could reach them. Several cars passed, and then a Montana-licensed pickup hit the brakes. Sure enough, the driver was a handsome, courteous, Marlboro-smoking, fringe leather-jacket, and coybot hat cowboy who drove me to my friends and stayed long enough to be sure they could solve my situation. A friend asked if he was an angel in disguise. I hadn’t pictured angels smoking Marlboros, but he met the other qualifications.

At -60 F on another sunny day without wind, I stood outside making sure our caged rabbits had food and water. I was bundled up, feeling no cold, until I removed my mitts and glove to open the wire hatch at the the cage front to reach inside. My fingers stuck to that wire like kids had fingers or tongues stick to the small ice box portions of old refrigerators long ago I tugged, lost a little skin, but pulled free, and after putting food and water inside, went back inside.

Similes try to make dangerously intense cold bearable by adding humor. I like these: It’s as cold as a murderer’s heart. As cold as a polar bear’s toenails. Colder than a banker’s heart on foreclosure day at the widows’ and orphans’ home. Colder than a metal toilet seat in an Alaskan outhouse . .
Please share your favorite—or your memory of this barely bearable winter, and have fun! This severe winter is as cold as . . .?
P.S. It’s true that throwing boiling water into temperatures of -33 F and lower produces instant snow with rocket sounds. We’ve done it often. Enjoy this link https://www.wired.com/story/the-very-vortex-y-science-of-making-snow-from-boiling-water/

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Stories Nature Writes - 2

Delores E. Topliff - The Grand Canyon of the Colorado

Last Dec. 23rd, my older son and his two youngest kids arranged their school vacation to show me the Grand Canyon. I’ve visited interesting places in other lands, but I had missed this American treasure, and my family wanted me to see it. They were right. It was awe-inspiring, and I agree with a friend who says everyone should see the Grand Canyon.

Native Americans have always known it was there. They called it “mountains lying down.” In September, 1540, thirteen Spanish soldiers from Coronado’s army were the first Europeans to see it while searching for seven rumored Cities of Gold. Six million visitors a year from all over the world suggest that the canyon is better than gold.

Considered one of the greatest natural wonders on earth, it is visible from outer space. Geologists say that ancient seas accumulated layers of sand as they eroded surrounding material. They believe the canyon formed as the Colorado River carved a path through the Colorado Plateau as it flowed down and out from the Rocky Mountains after their uplift. The canyon is 277 miles long at its greatest point, 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep.

Seeing such beauty and immense proportions impressed us. The sum total was greater than its individual parts of colorful rocks and cliffs with steep slopes and a rushing river at the bottom. We kept repeating terms like massive, spectacular, breathtaking, and divine design with awe in our voices. We spent less than one full day there, but we’ll never forget it.

Along with my photos of multi-colored canyon walls and cliffs, I remember the expressions on my grandchildren’s faces as they first saw each thing. Our new shared experience tied us more closely together and we still talk about it in phone calls since then.

Where have you traveled and what have you seen that has impacted you and/or your family greatly?

What favorite place do you visit that always makes you want to come back?

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