The Power of Kind Words

Great Love

Our amazing trip to California started with my family standing on a dark stoop in the Sunset District of San Francisco, holding several giant pieces of luggage and realizing we had no place to stay.

I’d booked a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) apartment for our days in San Fran, as hotels are crazy expensive and traveling with six people goes better if we have access to a kitchen (cheaper eats) and laundry facilities. However, after we’d ridden our cab to the flat, and I’d followed the directions to open the lock box, I didn’t find a key. I could, through the glass panel door, see lights on in the apartment and shoes in the foyer. My stomach took a nose dive.

This is where six of us huddled, in the dark.
This is where six of us huddled, in the dark.

I turned to Husband. “It looks like somebody is in there. I’m afraid we need a plan B.”

Hubby, a master of Internet research, looked up hotels while I texted, called, and texted the owner of the VRBO apartment. My kids stared up at me from the sidewalk.

“Um, Mom, do we have a place to stay?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure.”

Worried expressions were exchanged.  My kids like a plan almost as much as I do.

When the owner called, I explained our plight, hoping that perhaps I was misreading the situation, or that I had the wrong apartment, or that there was some other reasonable explanation for why we were still stuck outside at 9pm (midnight Virginia time) on a strange San Francisco street. He responded with concern, apologies, and “Give me just a minute to make some calls.”

I broke out in a sweat, which is significant as San Fran is actually quite cool in July.
Meanwhile, hubby and I searched hotels. Marriott. Hyatt. Hilton. The kids were uncharacteristically quiet.

The door to the flat, not open for us!
The door to the flat, not open for us!

The owner called back.  “I can’t believe it. Nothing like this has happened in eight years. I’m very sorry, but my dad booked the apartment, and the schedule didn’t get updated and, someone else is in the flat.”

This is where, if my situation were a movie, the music would have reached a crescendo and panic would have flooded my eyes as the camera panned in for a closeup.

But, it wasn’t a movie. It was real. It was midnight, Julia time, and I needed to find a place for my family to sleep after a long day of traveling. I could have snapped. I could have poured out all of my frustration and fatigue on this owner who had screwed up in a colossal way.

But fortunately, “the power of nice words” kicked in. I wanted to get my family to safe shelter, so I kept my words, and my tone, focused on solving the problem. “We don’t have a rental car, we’re out here with our four kids, and it’s late and dark and we haven’t eaten dinner yet and if you could help us find a place to stay, we would really appreciate it.”

The owner apologized profusely, promised me a full refund, and started looking up hotels. Eventually, we booked two rooms at a Marriott in the financial district. The owner sent an Uber car to pick us up, and in follow-up texts, I explained that we had chosen his apartment because we wanted a kitchen, laundry, and our kids to experience the residential side of the city. In response, he stood by his promise of a full refund and offered to let us have the flat for two nights later in the week, free of charge. He would pay for our transport from the hotel to the flat.

I consulted with hubby and took the deal.

The flat where we eventually stayed. Don't you love the architectural details? Very San Fran.
The flat where we eventually stayed. Don’t you love the architectural details? Very San Fran.

The owner then praised me for my calmness, and I had to laugh.  I’m a ginger, and sometimes the red fury comes out, or more often, the stress monster. But that night, I kept cool. Perhaps I was too tired to muster up a nasty tone. Perhaps I was scared more than angry. Maybe the Holy Spirit tamed my tongue. Or, if I’m being honest, I’ll say that I hate confrontations and only get ugly when pushed to extreme limits.

The owner could have reacted differently too. He could have gotten defensive, or just refunded the money and washed his hands of us.  Instead, we were two strangers who worked together to solve a problem.

How different might our world be if we all did this, every day, with every interaction?

Later, when we finally sat down to a meal and drinks at the hotel bar (I’ve never had a better glass of Pinot Noir), the owner sent this:

I couldn’t be happier that you chose tonight to be the coolest cat on the planet. You could’ve played it differently. And although I would’ve taken whatever you gave me tonight with an embarrassed smile and help in any way I could, I would’ve just refunded your money and been on my way. Instead, and let it be a lesson to your kids, you were gracious and that in turn made me want to literally jump out of my skin and come help you guys.

See what happened? We were nice to each other in a tense situation and good things happened.  Incidentally, the owner checked on us throughout our stay in San Fran and ensured Pay Pal had refunded our money.  I knew he wanted what was best for us.

I’m not trying to earn praise; I’m sharing this experience because I honestly believe that in small ways, every day, we can bring more kindness into a world that desperately needs it. I also post this to remind myself that the next time I want to spew out bitter words, I can make a more productive choice. I did it once, I can do it again, and maybe more often with the people closest to me.

Great Love

On a recent episode of Dear Hank and John, one of my favorite podcasts, a listener sent in this question: “There’s so much violence and hate in the news.  In a world full of injustice, what can I do to make a difference? Sometimes I feel so helpless.”

I’m not claiming that a negotiation with a VRBO owner can stop random shootings. However, words have power, and we can use kind words to make a difference. Every day. Every word.

Will you help me start a word revolution?







Click to tweet: Words have power, and we can use kind words to make a difference.  Every day.  Every word.

What I Love and Hate In Books

background made from opened books

All year, I’ve been participating in the Who I Am project with Dana, Bev and other bloggers. Thanks to Who I Am, you can read about my Coke addiction or my most embarrassing kindergarten moment. (Yes, it involved a boy.) This month’s prompt asked us to share things we love and hate. I’ll take the Word Nerd approach and focus on what I love and hate in BOOKS!

What I Love In Books

I enjoy all the stuff that every book nerd likes, like getting lost in a good story and falling in love with characters. But here are some more “Julia specific” qualifiers:

  • I love it when a book presents a well-developed villain that I might even be able to relate to, just a little. For example, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince is my favorite book in J.K. Rowling’s series because we get so much interesting back story about Tom Riddle/ Voldemort.
  • all the lightI love it when a book helps me see multiple sides of a complex issue. For example, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See helped me understand how an entire nation could be duped/manipulated/bullied into following the Nazis. Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes explores the many issues around assisted suicide.
  • I love it when a book has literary references or includes poetry, because this appeals to my English major soul, brings more depth and intellect to the story, and exposes me to verse (I love poetry but don’t allot much time to reading it.) John Green always has some great literary references in his novels; Whitman’s “Song of Myself” plays a prominent role in Paper Towns.
  • I love happy, hopeful, or uplifting endings. The world is depressing enough; I don’t want a book to add to my woes. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like a book that requires tissues. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak are two of my favorites because despite the tragedy, there is a hopeful, triumphant message.

What I Hate In Books

  • I hate when a story is all breathtaking action and no character development. I don’t like feeling like I’m being tugged, at race speed, through a plot. For example, I didn’t like The Lightening Thief because it felt like one crisis after the next.
  • Leaving TimeI hate when a book dumps in supernatural elements out of no where. If there are going to be ghosts or magic, let me know in the first chapter so I’m prepared. Example, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult.
  • I hate when a book has too many adverbs. “Miles said disapprovingly.” Bah!
  • I hate when books have twist endings that feel very sudden, shocking, or unrealistic. I appreciate a well crafted surprise, but sometimes the plot feels stretched too far, or I feel manipulated. Examples: Gone Girl, Leaving Time, and We Were Liars. (However, Liars remains a favorite for its gorgeous prose.)

What things do you love or hate in books?

I’m going to post this as an intro to my Book Reviews page so that readers get a feel for my kind of books. Thanks for the prompt, Dana and Bev!

If you want to join in the Who I Am project, visit Dana’s blog.

Who I Am


Thanks for stopping by!







Yosemite: Travel Tips and Info

On the way to Mirror Lake

Hello, Word Nerds!  I’m sorry I’ve been gone for so long, but I had a fabulous summer traveling and spending time with the kids, and I hope to share some things I learned in the weeks to come.  For starters, I’m highlighting my trip to the amazing Yosemite National Park.

The Origin of “Yosemite”

The name of this famous park has an interesting history that I’d like to explore in honor of Wondrous Words Wednesday.  If you like to learn about words, visit Bermuda Onion for the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme, where bloggers share new words they’ve learned from reading.

Yosemite is filled with amazing natural beauty, so you might think its name means “beautiful” or “impressive”.  Nope.  In the Indian language of Miwok, Yosemite means “those who kill”.  The Miwok people who lived near the Yosemite Valley used this name to describe the fearsome tribe of renegades who lived in the valley under the rule of Chief Tenaya.

Tenaya’s people called the Valley Awooni or Owwoni for (gaping) “large mouth.”   This is an excellent description of the Valley, which is walled in on each side by breathtaking and enormous rock formations.

Yosemite Falls, as viewed from the Valley floor
Yosemite Falls, as viewed from the Valley floor

If the people who lived in the Valley actually called it Awooni, why do we call it Yosemite today?  L.H. Bunnell named the Valley in 1851, following a common practice of European settlers to ignore Indian place names.  Bunnell was part of the Mariposa Battalion, a group of local miners who joined ranks to defend themselves against Indian raids.  Bunnell named the area after the Indian tribe the battalion captured and drove out of the Valley.

More info at Origin of the Word Yosemite.

The view down Nevada Fall
The view down Nevada Fall. “Don’t drop the camera, Mom!”

If you’ve never been to Yosemite, I highly recommend it.  The views are gorgeous, and you can find easy hikes or very challenging ones.  The hike to the top of Nevada Fall took us up to 9600 feet.  My legs shook while I took the shot above.

Everything at Yosemite is huge, making you feel small and bringing life in general into perspective.  It’s a great destination for a family trip, with long hours to bond while hiking, chatting, and sharing PB&J sandwiches.

Yosemite Travel Tips

  • Stay inside of the park.  We rented a VRBO cabin in Wawona, about a 30 minute drive from the Valley, and avoided huge lines of traffic at the gates.
  • Get up and out early, again to avoid the congestion and the heat.
Biking is a great way to explore the Valley
Biking is a great way to explore the Valley
  • Rent a bike to explore the Valley floor.  The price was reasonable, although the bikes were cruisers with coaster brakes.  (I was jealous of the tourists with mountain bikes.)  We pedaled past great views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome and covered much more ground than we could have on foot.
  • A great hike: the Mist Trail.  If you make it to the top, you’ll see two fantastic waterfalls.  You’ll also climb over 600 steps.  *feel the burn*
  • Intersperse hiking trips with less strenuous activities, like horseback riding or hanging out in a river.
  • Make the hour drive out to Toulunme Meadows.  You’ll be treated to gorgeous views of the Sierras and Alpine Lakes, especially if you do the Cathedral Lakes hike.
Cathedral Lake
We were at 10,000 feet for this shot of one of the Cathedral Lakes


  • Travel with experienced hikers and backpackers.  Our friends Kate and Aaron came prepared with mosquito netting, plenty of water bottles and backpacks, and tons of general hiking knowledge, like how to prepare for using the bathroom in the wilderness.  (You’ll need a small roll of TP and an extra zip lock to “pack out” any used paper. )
  • Pack “lip goop” and lotion.  Our east coast skin wasn’t used to the California dryness.  And be ready to breathe some dust.
  • For a great resource, check out the travel book Yosemite: The Complete Guide, by James Kaiser.  

Have you ever been to Yosemite?  Can you share any tips?  Do you know an interesting story behind a popular vacation destination?

Thanks for adding to the discussion!








How Technology Has Changed How Children Discover Reading

kids media

Please welcome my guest Caroline from Culture Coverage.  Check out the site for some great reading info on popular culture, and of course, reading.  (Image credit: Pixabay)

Most of us enjoy a good book, but it’s not always easy to figure out how to share that feeling with others, especially children. We’d like to extend our thanks to Julia for featuring our post and contributing to a needed area. If you’re looking to do some reading of your own, check out her summer reading list.

Many times technology designed for adults finds its way into the hands of children. As a child, I found myself fascinated by the toys and gadgets used by adults; now, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. What TV was then, tablets and smartphones are now. Let us see then how things have changed.

In School

Several decades ago, the educational system set a goal to encourage children to read books. They did so in a variety of ways: the Reading Rainbow series, point-based test taking (e.g., Accelerated Reader), summer readings, group sessions, book reports…the list goes on.

And while many of those ideas have stuck around, smart technology has changed the delivery system. For instance, better-funded schools have begun providing tablets for each child in a classroom. Others have gone the route of individual laptops or even desktop computers. All have software installed designed for a few different things.

These apps tend to focus on helping kids get better at ready either by having them listen and respond or by playing games that incorporate reading skills. While this doesn’t replace group reading, it definitely offers some alternatives to allow each child to get more personalized attention.

The programs mentioned above such as Reading Rainbow have naturally jumped on board by creating their own apps to expand their original program to more children. Non-physical books are considerably cheaper in most cases, meaning parents can afford to purchase more reading material for their kids.

At Home

Naturally, the environment at home mirrors some of what’s happening at school. Children just barely able to walk are playing first with devices that resemble phones and tablets, while kids just entering kindergarten may already have their own devices. If configured right, these tools enable parents to offer their children entertainment beyond the television.

Busy parents may find it difficult to sit and read to their kids as often as they’d like, but with digital audiobooks, they can offer alternatives. Another big area of change is for parents that simply can’t be home: Skype or similar programs allow them to come face to face with their children no matter what the distance. It’s much better than phoning in and makes reading together very close to sitting together the old fashion way.

Tomorrow and Beyond

Today’s newest methods of engagement may not be tomorrow’s. Sure, new apps are always being developed to answer new needs, but will the technology remain the same? Wearable smart items and previously unconnected items are becoming more and more popular. In time, our children are also likely to become more connected, which means their connection to reading is likely to change as well.

Thankfully, books don’t appear to be going anywhere too soon. Kindles might be convenient, but there’s still no substitute for the physical copy of a favorite book. Children are engaging in different ways than before, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

My own kids have very mixed interests: they read books at school, but at home they’re already becoming pretty attached to my tablet (it’s bigger and easier to use than my phone and a lot less personal). While they tend to enjoy games the most, I have to remind myself that nearly all games require some degree of reading. Even outside of the games though, they find it easier to read at home sometimes because they aren’t distracted by all their friends.

Do you have children? How have you encouraged them to become avid readers? Share with us in the comments how technology has changed the game for you!

About the Author: Caroline is a technology enthusiast and internet security specialist. Reading is an integral part of staying current in these areas; if you’d like to read more, check out some of her posts on Secure Thoughts and Culture Coverage.

New Releases from J.K. Rowling

cursed child 2

I’ve seen posters at Barnes and Noble and excited updates on social media – new Harry Potter stories are coming out soon!!   J.K. Rowling’s name is floating around on many upcoming releases, and the kids and I had to figure out what is going on in the world of magic.  Here are some Word Nerd updates on everything Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Currently in previews, this play by Jack Thorne will open officially at the Palace Theater London on July 30, 2016.  Based on a story written by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series, where we find Harry as an adult, struggling with his past while he juggles fatherhood and his job at the Ministry of Magic. Find more information about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the official play website.  Here’s a snippet about the premise:

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

The official script book (official rehearsal edition) of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will go on sale July 31, 2016; according to Amazon, a “Definitive Edition” of the script will go on sale in early 2017.

Barnes and Noble will host release parties nationwide to celebrate this new story in the Harry Potter series.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic BeastsThis movie about Newt Scamander, author of the Hogwarts text Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, follows his adventures in New York’s secret community of wizards and witches seven decades before Harry reads his text at school. Release date: November 18, 2016. See more about Fantastic Beasts on IMDB.

The screenplay for Fantastic Beasts, written by J.K. Rowling, will be available November 19, 2016.

Die hard Potter fans can also buy their own copy of the textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Hogwarts Classics

In June of 2016, publishers released a box set of two classic texts any Hogwarts student (or fan) should read: Quiddich Through the Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Available at Amazon.

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

Very Good LivesI stumbled across this book by J.K. Rowling on one of those “must read” tables in the middle of Barnes and Noble. In 2008, Rowling gave the commencement speech at Harvard University. Very Good Lives is the transcript of that speech, which many reviewers on Goodreads found inspiring. Profits from the sales of Very Good Lives benefit Lumos, a non-profit international children’s organization founded by J.K. Rowling, which works to end the institutionalization of children around the world.


Goodreads fans say it takes 15 minutes to read and is worth every second. I could use a short but inspiring speech right now…

Do you have any news to add on these releases or others from J.K. Rowling? Do you plan on getting the books, or seeing the play and/or movie?

I’m leaving on vacation next week and will return with more Word Nerd tips, and hopefully some fabulous photos, in August. Watch for a guest post on kids, books and technology soon.

Thanks for getting fangirl with me!







When to Use Capital vs. Capitol

capital graphic

I traveled with my daughter’s eighth grade class to Washington, D.C. this spring, and one of the things that struck me, besides how loud teens can be on a bus at 11pm, was that I still don’t know the difference between capitol, Capitol, and capital.

Clearly, a woman who prides herself on “Word Nerd Knowledge” should have this basic spelling issue resolved, especially during a presidential election year.  Do you know when to use which?

Let’s start with the one with the most inclusive definition first:

capital \ˈka-pə-təl\ from the Latin caput, head [Merriam-Webster]


  • the uppermost part of a column or pilaster


  • describing an uppercase letter <A, B, C, etc>
  • punishable by death <a capital crime>
  • important or influential <capital ships>
  • the seat of government <Richmond is state capital>
  • relating assets that add to the long-term net worth of a corporation <capital improvements>
  • excellent <a capital book>

Now, for capitol (switching the second “a” to an “o” makes a big difference here):

capitol, from the Latin Capitolium, temple of Jupiter at Rome on the Capitoline hill

  • a building in which a state legislative body meets
  • a group of buildings in which the functions of state government are carried out

US CapitolCapitol (note capitalization)

  • the building in which the United States Congress meets at Washington


I think it’s cool how the word etymology reflects a significant difference in the different spellings here.

Word Nerd Workout

Choose the right word, (capital/ capitol / Capitol) for each of the sentences below.

  1. We went on a field trip to Columbia, the state capital/capitol/Capitol of South Carolina.
  2. Picketers were protesting outside of the capital/capitol/Capitol building in D.C.
  3. Proper nouns should always begin with a capital/capitol/Capitol letter.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!