What Does Debrief Mean?

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday!  If you like to learn new words, you’re in the right place.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for links to more noteworthy vocabulary.

We had a word nerd debate in our house last week.  My son said that he “debriefed” his friend about a party.

I know – what 14-year-old boy uses the word “debrief”?  Mine, thank you.  And I’m proud.

But, I told him I didn’t think he was using the word correctly.  “Couldn’t you just say you ‘briefed’ her about what happened, as in a briefing? Debrief sounds like the opposite of a ‘briefing’.

He insisted, in Tomiak style, that he was right.  His father joined him.

I pulled out the Merriam Webster app.

Two minutes later, I had to admit they were right, sort of.

Debrief \dē-‘brēf\ verb; first used in 1945

  1. to interrogate someone upon return (as from a mission) in order to obtain useful information
  2. to carefully review upon completion (debrief the flight)

My son was telling his friend about something he’d done; he wasn’t asking her questions.  But he argued that his use fit under the “to carefully review” definition.

I still say it’s not quite the right use, but no one is listening any more.

Did you note the year this word first started being used?  This is definitely a term of military origin.

Word Nerd Workout

Can you use debrief correctly in a sentence?  Better yet, let me know if you have word nerd debates in your house and which words inspire them.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!


Spread the word on Twitter: Word nerd word: debrief = to interrogate someone upon return from a mission; more at http://wp.me/p2SvHJ-sQ via @juliatomiak

What Is Your Screen Time to Reading Ratio?

Do these devices = the enemy?

My kids complain that I’m a “screen time Nazi” just because I set limits on the time we all spend with screens.

I like Instagram as much as the next girl, but with all things in life, balance must prevail.

Even though we have more free time in summer, that doesn’t mean our time with electronic devices should exponentially increase.  Right?

Some data about summer reading

A recent study about kids and summer time reading disturbed me.   During the “Library Barnacles” Book Riot podcast, hosts Jeff and Rebecca discussed a study promoted by RIF (Reading is Fundamental).  Over 1000 parents with kids aged 5-11 answered questions about their children’s leisure habits over the summer. Parents said that on average, in the summer their children spend:

  • 17.4 hours/week watching T.V. or playing video games
  • 16.7 hours/week  playing outside
  • 5.9 hours/week reading

Do these numbers concern you?

I was glad to see the 16 hours of outside playtime, but the 17: 5 ratio of screen time to book time bothered me.  That’s three times more hours on screens!

The hosts of the Book Riot podcast didn’t find the results shocking.  They argued that since kids spend more time playing outside in the summer, it leaves them less time to read.

I must respectfully disagree.  Hello!  If kids are spending 17 hours on video games and T.V.s, they probably aren’t outside.

Am I over-reacting here?

My husband thinks I am.  As a child who didn’t grow up reading much, he isn’t surprised by the numbers and tells me it’s unrealistic to expect more reading.

But I’m not willing to back down.  Couldn’t we all strive for a more equal balance between screens and books?  How about a 2:1 ratio?

books outside

We shouldn’t force kids to read in the summer.  But we can entice.

  • If we limit their time on screens, maybe they will pick up that book off the floor.
  • If we save screen time for an hour or two later in the day, maybe they will do something productive/ creative/ intellectually stimulating before they crouch over a device.  Like read.
  • If we establish a device curfew (ours is 9 pm -  for me too!), perhaps they will develop the lovely habit of reading before sleeping.  What a great way to use the natural light of those long summer nights.

And, for those of you playing Candy Crush all the time, wouldn’t you be more likely to read if you turned that screen off?

Yes, I have a teenager with a phone.  And he stares at his little screen of text messages during the day.  But if I keep interesting books around for him, he also reads an hour or two a day.


Do I live up to my own standards?

I did a survey of my leisure habits and discovered that I spend, on average, about 15 hours per week on social media, blogs, and T.V. and 6 hours reading books/ periodicals. I’m not counting my writing screen time.  It’s hard to tease out reliable numbers because I read a lot online (articles, blog posts, etc.)

Looks like I’m edging close to that 3:1 ratio myself.  Which reinforces my notion that I need to stop fiddling on my phone/iPad/ computer by 9 pm each night and dedicate the later hours of the day to reading books and magazines.  Being online in the evening usually revs me up and makes it hard to settle down for sleep.

What about you?  Tally up the average hours you spend reading versus screening.  What’s your screen to book ratio?  What do you think about the results of the study?  

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.


Vocabulary from Gardening: Hermetically

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday – ready to learn something new?  Visit Kathy at Bermudaonion for links to word nerdy words.

When I came home from my vacation, I was pleased to find my garden NOT overrun with weeds.  However, something (deer, bunnies?) had eaten my green bean plants down to the stem.  Every one.

Time to plant more.  The seed envelope recommended sowing through June, but I figured I might as well use up all those smooth, white seeds, even though July 4th had passed.  While planting, I noticed a peculiar word; the package was “hermetically sealed”.

hermetic \hər-‘mə-tik\ adj.  relating to the mystical and alchemical writings and teachings of the first three centuries A.D. attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and the belief that Hermes invented a magic seal to keep vessels airtight; meanings:

    • Airtight (hermetic seal)
    • Impervious to external influence (e.g., sheltered by the hermetic private school setting)
    • Recluse, solitary (hermetic life)


Word Nerd Workout

Can you use hermetic in a sentence?  Better yet, have you learned any interesting words from gardening – besides all of those obscure Latin names for plants?



Why You Should Read Maniac Magee

maniac mageeI wanted a fun book for my daughter and her friends to read this summer.  Something fun and light, yet worthwhile.  For years I’ve heard of the Newberry Award Winning middle grade novel Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.  My son even ran in a Maniac Magee fun run years ago – we still have the shirt!  But I’d never read the novel.  Until now.

The Premise

Legends surround Maniac Magee.  He can run fast, defeat monsters, defy gravity.  The truth: eleven year old Jeffrey Lionel Magee was orphaned at three and sent to live with his feuding aunt and uncle.  When he couldn’t stand the fighting anymore, he ran away.  Right to the town of Two Mills, where he stirred up trouble by challenging everybody’s notions of home, family, and racial boundaries.

Spinelli narrates Maniac Magee in a humorous, kid friendly style.  The story has something for everyone: sports, (running and baseball), a bully named after a chocolate bar, a hero, and a spunky girl who loves her books so much that she carries them with her to school each day in a suitcase.  (Guess who my favorite character was?)

Great Discussion Topics

Finding things to discuss about Maniac Magee was easy – there are lots of topics relevant to the book that also have personal significance to readers.  This was great, because even a bookish twelve year old prefers to talk about herself more than a novel.  If you read this book, and I think you should, here are some questions to ponder:

Mars Bar

© 2014 Pete, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

  • Lots of characters in Maniac Magee have nicknames.  What are they?  Who calls Jeffrey “Maniac” and who doesn’t?  Why?  Does “Maniac” fit Jeffrey?  What are your nicknames?  Do you like them?  What do you think of this quote:

Inside his house, a kid gets one name, but on the other side of the door, it’s whatever the rest of the world wants to call him.

  • Maniac lives in many different places, including the zoo.  What does he think makes a home?  What do you think makes a home?  How does each home change Maniac?  How does he change each place he lives?
  • The prelude to the story says:

“The history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball.”

What does this mean?  What’s the difference between legend and snowball?

  • The people of Two Mills are divided by race, and at first Maniac doesn’t understand the division.

For the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black.  He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange.  But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.

What color are you?  Are people in your town/school divided by color or another outward characteristics?  How important are physical traits?


I have to admit, although my daughter liked the book, the third person narrative confused her at times; she thought it skipped around a lot.  I enjoyed the balance of action, thoughtful insights, and quirky characters.  Maniac Magee also has several positive messages; It’s one of those kid lit books that’s great for adults to read too.

To “sweeten” the book discussion, I baked homemade butterscotch krimpets, a favorite snack of Maniac’s.  A week later, I found Tastykake Krimpets at the grocery store, but my kids and I decided that homemade tasted better.  (Doesn’t it always?)  I tried to find Mars bars (the inspiration for a nick name in the book), but they were discontinued in the early 2000′s.  We substituted Milky Ways.

Have you read Maniac Magee?  What did you think?  Can you suggest another kid lit book for summer reading?

Thanks for stopping by.


Share on Twitter:  Looking for fun summer #kidlit ? Try Maniac Magee – legends, heroes, and butterscotch krimpets via @juliatomiak #amreading

Vocabulary from One Thousand Gifts: Coruscate

wondrous memePost vacation day three.

As my dear friend Kristen says, “Re-entry is a bear.”

I had a wonderful trip, mostly unplugged and immersed in the moment.  My soul refreshed. Now the trick is to keep the vacation with me, even as I return to the mundane, unpack the bags, tackle the laundry.

I started reading a book during vacation that’s nurturing my peaceful attitude.  Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts carries a powerful message of appreciation and hope. Voskamp’s writing challenges my mind in its style and meaning.  Here’s a passage:

Losses do that.  One life-loss can infect the whole of a life.  Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids.  Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.

Needless to say, Voskamp uses many words that send me to my Merriam-Webster app.  The first one I’d like to share for Wondrous Words Wednesday is coruscate.

Freshly fallen snow coruscates in the sun, countless stars across fields, tress in the woods falling soundlessly, their blue shadows stretching.


coruscate \’kor-ə-skāt\ verb, from Latin coruscare to flash; to give off or reflect light in bright beams or flashes, sparkle; to be brilliant or showy in technique or style

Word Nerd Workout

Can you think of something else that “coruscates”?  M-W gives the example of shiny chrome on a polished car coruscating in the sun.  What can you think of?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.  It’s good to be back.



What to Read at the Beach: Popcorn Books

I’m still on vacation, reading and relaxing.  Please welcome my friend and fellow Wordsmith Studio member Carol Cooney as she shares some great ideas for beach reads.


Julia kindly asked me to explain a category of books I call “Popcorn Books.” A popcorn book is one that you read for entertainment. The plot moves quickly and has no redeeming value except as light reading.

Debbie MacomberPopcorn books are good all year round, but they are great beach reads. The plot is easy to follow, and you will not spend any time looking up the vocabulary. You can set the book down and pick it up a week later and not have a problem picking up where you left off. In fact, if you do have a problem, it won’t last long because you can untangle the plot pretty fast.  These books are readily available at the library.

I am not knocking these books; I love a good popcorn book. They can be a “Calgon take me away” moment when you are having a bad day. They are entertaining.

I do have some favorite popcorn book authors. The first is Debbie Macomber. If somehow you are not familiar with Debbie Macomber, she is the prolific author of over 150 books. Yes, you read that right. Some of her books are categorized as romance novels and some are contemporary women’s fiction. I am not personally prone to read the romance novels although since I read her books, one or two may have inadvertently slipped into my hands. One of her series, the Cedar Cove Series, is currently playing on the Hallmark channel. I have not seen it but the books were good.   Another series that just recently had a new addition is the Blossom Street Series.  The new book is The Blossom Street Brides. We could just say that if you took up reading Debbie Macomber, it will take you long past summer.

I found Mariah Steward has some wonderful popcorn books. Her Chesapeake Diaries series is a fine example. (A sad admission – I sometimes just don’t pay enough attention to what I am doing. I bought one of her books by accident. I meant to buy Mary Stewart and got carried away with the sale price tag…)

Gemma HallidayIn a different vein, but still what I would consider a popcorn book, are the books by Gemma Halliday. I originally found these books because they were so inexpensive. They were on special for the Nook and I picked up a couple. I read the High Heel Mystery Series first.

(As an aside, I read an interview with Lena Dunham, the creator and writer of the HBO series, Girls. She talked about how she would not read a book with a high heel, a diamond, or lipstick on the cover. Well, let’s just say that the Gemma Halliday books are not for her.)

These books are popcorn light. I am laughing as I write this because they are just so close to trashy. The lead character is just kind of a flake but she is humorous.

You might not tell your book club about these books but you might find out that they can be addicting.

Thanks for reading!

Can you suggest any books that might fit the “Popcorn” category? 

Carol CooneyMy name is Carol Early Cooney and I am a wife, mom, property manager, and professional blogger. My family might tell you that I read a lot. I would tell you that it was parenting by example. I read in hopes that my children would think that it was the thing to do and they would read. It looks like it worked. Somewhere in this parenting thing there has to be a win, right?

I write about books on my blog at www.cecooney.com. You can also find out more at www.carolearlycooney.com. Come join me, we will see what books are out there that we like.