What’s Good About a Small Town

Sometimes, like when I tell people that there aren’t any Advanced Placement classes in our county, or that the high school (built circa 1950) doesn’t have air conditioning or more than two outlets in a classroom, I wonder why on earth we live in this small town in southwest Virginia. I grew up in Fairfax County, a well funded school division outside of Washington, D.C. My high school had a separate arts building with multiple auditoriums, as well as air conditioning. My kids have had a much different educational experience than I have, and sometimes I lie awake at night, queasy with guilt.

But last week, in a chilly church parking lot, 35 people reminded me of what is good here.

Seventeen years ago, my husband and I, both products of suburbia and military families, moved to this town, population 9000, seeking a sense of community. We live nestled against the Appalachian Mountains, and the views are gorgeous. Unfortunately, the funding is scarce.

We have three grocery stores (two are Food Lions), four auto parts stores, and no decent shopping.  (The nearest mall is 45 miles away.) We have a movie theater, but it’s never crowded, and I’m afraid it will close someday, which would devastate my teens as it is one of the few sources of entertainment here.

The general mentality is conservative (Trump posters abound); the local accent is a drawl. Recently, our county Board of Supervisors decided to spend millions building an agricultural expo center in the hopes of drawing business to our economically depressed county. The same Board declined to spend millions on building new schools, even though a high quality school system would also attract business and new residents. For a mother of four children, this is frustrating.

But here’s the good part. Last Sunday, my son asked for volunteers from the community to help him with his science fair project. These people weren’t going to get anything for their time, just the appreciation of a kid collecting data on headlight glare. Over two chilly evenings, 35 people showed up in our church parking lot, including a woman who taught him in preschool and one who taught him in third grade. (”He’s gotten taller!” she said. 🙂 ) All of them expressed interest in my son and his project, and I’m wise enough to know this says as much about their character as it does about my son’s.

We don’t have a Target or state of the art school buildings, but we do have something else: people matter here. I’ve seen many examples of this: when friends take care of my children during family emergencies, when people in the community clip and share photos of my kids from the local paper, when adults who aren’t related to my kids attend their sporting and academic events and send them notes of encouragement. Once, when my 15 year old daughter complained about how horrid our town is, I listed the names of 10 people outside of our family who care about her and pray for her.

I never had that in Fairfax County.

So, when the next wave of doubt hits, and it will, most likely at 3am, I will try to remember those 35 people who came out to help my kid. True, my children have experienced limited educational resources and a lack of progressive thinking, but because of that, they have learned to make due with what they have and to find ways to challenge themselves. I hope when they graduate and leave this place, they will thrive in academic environments with more opportunities. I also hope they will remember what they learned growing up in this small town: people matter.

All communities have their pros and cons. What are some of the pros and cons of where you live?

What Were the Top Ten Words of 2017

2017 was an interesting year characterized by an outspoken president, horrific weather events, and controversial protests. We shouldn’t be surprised that the top ten words from 2017 would also be interesting and controversial, including feminism, gaffe, and syzygy. (I actually know syzygy. Do you?)

Every year, Merriam-Webster.com names its top ten words of the year, based on how many times they were looked up. Here they are, all definitions from Merriam-Webster.com.

Feminism: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes;  organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

I like to think of feminism as this: a world view that appreciates the complicated nature of human beings and does not use gender as a basis for behavioral expectations or intrinsic value. Like so many other concepts, it isn’t something that can be understood in simplistic, black and white terms. I can be a feminist and a stay at home mom at the same time. Even men can be feminists, which doesn’t mean they are into pink (although that’s okay); it means they believe in the respectful treatment of women.

In 2017, feminism was a top look up throughout the year, with spikes following the Women’s Marches of January 2017, the release of the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, and the rise of the #MeToo movement. There has been so much coverage and controversy surrounding the word and its meaning that Merriam-Webster declared feminism its Word of the Year for 2017.


Complicit: helping to commit a crime

This word was used often during the year to describe various activities of the Trump administration.

Recuse: to disqualify oneself as judge in a particular case

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gained attention when he recused himself from the investigation of Hillary Clinton and of the possible collusion between Russia and the Trump administration.

Empathy: the ability to share another person’s feelings

This word often came up in criticism of Trump and the Republicans (are you seeing a trend here?). It is also an important value of the #MeToo campaign.

holding hands
Photo: Yoel Ben-Avraham via flickr CC-BY-ND

Dotard: a person in senile decay who demonstrates decreasing mental poise and alertness

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used this word to describe Donald Trump.

Syzygy: a nearly straight line configuration of three celestial bodies

This word was popular in August because of the solar eclipse. Cool Word Nerd Note: Syzygy was the name of my high school literary magazine. 🙂

Gyro: a gyroscope, gyrocompass, pronounced \ ˈjī-(ˌ)rō \;  a Greek sandwich made from lamb and beef, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce on pita bread, pronounced \ ˈyē-ˌrō , ˈzhir-ō \

Both words come from the Greek gyros meaning turn, and the spike in look ups happened after a Jimmy Fallon skit about the pronunciation of “gyro”.

Federalism: the distribution of power in an organization between the central authority and its constituent units; eg, the Federal government and the states

This word basically relates to states rights, and it got popular when Senator Lindsay Graham said of the Affordable Care Act that legislators must choose between socialism and federalism regarding health care.

Hurricane: a tropical cyclone with winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour or greater that occurs especially in the western Atlantic, that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning, and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes.

People were probably seeking for technical information while looking up “hurricane” in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria.

Gaffe: a noticeable mistake

There was a big gaffe during 2017 Academy Awards, when the Oscar for best picture was originally given to La La Land but Moonlight was the real winner.

Did you learn anything new?  What are your favorites from this list? 

I’m a big fan of feminism and empathy.  I hope we see more of those in 2018, and a lot less of words like complicit, dotard, and gaffe.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!







How to Handle the Cold: Hygge


I live in Virginia and have suffered the blows of the “bomb cyclone”.  As my daughter says, “15 degrees isn’t a high, it’s a low!” Surprisingly, and sadly, for my youngest child, we haven’t gotten much snow, just frigid temps and relentless wind, but in a weird twist of normal winter weather, my in-laws got six inches at the beach!

What to do when the entire east coast, including Florida, is submerged in ridiculously cold temperatures? Embrace the Danish phenomenon of hygge (HOO-gah).

Hygge means “cozy”, and it describes the Danish obsession with homey pleasures like candlelight, fire, fuzzy socks, knit sweaters, porridge, coffee, and the company of good friends. For something to be hyggelig (HOO-gah-lee), it must be calm, comforting, and warm, and it must convey a feeling of belonging.  If we are going to survive the polar freeze via hygge, we need to stay home in a “hygge krog” (cozy nook), wrap up in blankets, drink something hot, (the Danes like glogg, or spiced wine), eat something yummy, and watch a good movie with our favorite people.  Sounds good, right?

Some people think hygge came about as a reaction to the expensive and somewhat elitist “well being movement” that perpetuated the idea that happiness could be found in overpriced leggings and bottled juice. It could also be a coping mechanism in a country with long dark winters and 179 days of rain each year. Danes must be on to something, though, because Denmark is often listed as the happiest country in the world, even surpassing its Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Norway, which also have small populations and abundant social programs (like subsidized child care).  But they don’t have what the Danes have: hygge.

hygge The hygge trend is spreading to other countries, including Britain and the United States. If you’re interested in learning more about hygge, check out these resources:

I could definitely get into hygge, especially when it’s dark by 5:30 and the temperature is described by one digit.  I love candles (except the Danes use unscented, and I prefer a good Bath and Body Works three wick), and we’ve got plenty of blankets.  My only concern is all that sitting and eating of comfort food could add some permanent padding to my five foot frame.  I’m going to have to balance hygge time with dreadmill time.

Have you heard of hygge?  How are you surviving the “bomb cyclone”? 

Stay warm!







A Holiday Gift: You Don’t Have to Do It All


Yesterday, my 15-year-old daughter looked at me over the mountain of groceries in our shopping cart and said, “I have come to the realization that holidays are a lot of work.”

I leaned over the loaves of bread between us. “And I have bad news for you; it doesn’t get any better.”

Whoops, not the best example of spreading Christmas cheer.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I hear the first Christmas Carol in November (which is, by the way, horribly WRONG), I don’t think of lights or presents or even the baby Jesus.  I think of work.

Thinking of the gifts.  Shopping for the gifts.  Wrapping the gifts.  It’s not that it’s so difficult, it’s that it’s so much.  I literally have a spread sheet to help me remember what Santa is giving, what grandparents are giving, what we are giving, and if the  distribution is even among  the children.  Then there are all the other gifts, for friends and teachers and youth pastors.  Astrophysics it is not; mentally exhausting it is.

My husband accuses me of making things harder than they need to be.  So this year, I took his advice and allowed myself to simplify my holiday to do list.  One thing that made a huge difference: instead of shopping for gifts for my five nieces and nephews, I just gave them cash.

This didn’t come easily.  I felt guilty.  Somehow inadequate.  My sister-in-law always chooses thoughtful gifts for my kids.  She also lives in a city, has access to stores, and likes to shop.  I live in the boonies, (we just got reliable Internet a few months ago), the nearest decent stores are an hour away, and I hate to shop.

When SIL called to run her gift ideas by me, I felt the guilt coming on, and for a moment,  I almost caved.  Would I be a bad aunt if I didn’t have individually selected gifts for the cousins?  I contemplated a trip to American Eagle and Barnes and Noble. And the younger boys, they’d want something sporty…  But then I remembered my husband’s advice, Stop making this hard.

With a bit of trepidation, I told my sister-in-law, “I’m just giving your kids cash.”  And do you know what she said?

“My kids like cash.”

No judgement.  No disappointment.  Lots of relief for me.

So here’s my gift to you this holiday season: you don’t have to do it all.  Cash or gift cards are OK.  You don’t have to spend an hour composing a letter to include with the Christmas cards.  In fact, you don’t have to send Christmas cards at all.  Happy New Year cards work too.  And if you don’t get five batches of cookies baked by December 24, certainly no one will starve.

Do what you can, enjoy what you do.

No matter what holiday you celebrate this season, don’t feel guilty for letting some things go so that you can enjoy the lights and carols and most importantly, the people around you.

It’s just a few days before Christmas.  What can you let go?

Happy Holidays!







Favorite Books of 2017

Here it is! A fabulous list of recommended books made by readers for readers! Thank you to everyone who contributed. The winner for this year’s giveaway is:

Mary Nichols

Congratulations to Mary!

Now, here are the books word nerd readers loved, along with the reasons why they loved ’em.

Adult Fiction

  • Small Great Things
    One of my favorites for 2017 too!
  • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – “I love Jodi’s writing. Family drama, current and really important issue, and her signature surprise twist at the end!”
  • The Life List by Lori Nelson Speilman “It is the story of a 34-year-old woman whose beloved mother dies and while she expects to inherit a company and lots of money is instead sent on a quest to re-discover herself.”
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by P. Patrick  “On the first anniversary of his wife’s death, Arthur Pepper decides he has to clean out her closet. In the closet, he finds a red velvet box with a charm bracelet. He has never seen the bracelet before and it does not look like anything his wife would wear. He sets out on a journey to find out about his wife’s life before she met him.”
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara “A long and tough read, but it is still with me, months after I finished it.”
  • All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn GreenwoodAs the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle.” Goodreads
  • This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel  “This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.  When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.  Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.”  Goodreads 
  • Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, short story collection “I liked all the stories in it and I loved some. Hanks writes in a variety of formats (traditional, movie script, movie junket itinerary, small-town newspaper social column, and so on), in a variety of settings, and from a variety of perspectives. And–bonus–a typewriter features in some way in every story.”
  • Come Sundown by Nora Roberts  
  • The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah historical fiction, WWII (see my review here)
  • Changes (The Dresden Files #12) by Jim Butcher urban fantasy/ paranormal
  • The Martian  by Andy Weir 
  • America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray historical fiction about Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, “a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.” Goodreads
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Diana Norman “Great take on the clash between science and religion at the time of King Kenry II, and how gender roles played out (and got in the way) in the late medieval period. The plot is “Chaucer meets CSI.” Makes you skin crawl, but you can’t stop reading.”
  • Order to Kill by Kyle Mills “This is the first book written by Mills in this series since the series creator, Vince Flynn, passed away. If you like CIA/Black ops types of books this whole series is a must read.”
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders  (Man Booker Prize 2017, Goodreads Choice Award Winner 2017) “Historical reports say that when Lincoln’s 11-year-old son died, the president was so stricken with grief that he returned to the crypt several times to hold his son’s body.  From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying.”  Goodreads

Adult Non-fictionHidden FiguresWe Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on race and resegregation by Jeff Chang  “Explains so much of what is going on in the U.S. at the moment and puts things into perspective.”

  • Miracles and Massacres by Glenn Beck “Little known stories from American history.”
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shutterly 
  • I Beat the Odds by Michael Oher “Big Mike” from the movie The Blind Side tells his story.

Young Adult

  • What to Say Next by Julie Bauxbaum “When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find.”Goodreads
  • The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin  “After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting–things don’t just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone.” Goodreads
  • The Hate You GiveThe Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Goodreads Choice Award Winner 2017)  “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.”  Goodreads

Middle Grade

  • The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud  “It’s the last book in the Lockwood & Co. series. I LOVE this series. As in, as much as Harry Potter (warning, it’s a bit spookier and I wouldn’t recommend it the series for kids under 11 or so).”
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio  Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.  Goodreads

Wow, I have so many more books I want to read now!  I’m definitely sharing these titles with my book club.  Thanks again to everyone who contributed, and happy shopping!

What Was Your Favorite Book of 2017?

I thought I was doing well.  Thanksgiving was early this year, so I had an extra week to prepare for the Christmas crazy.  But then, this morning, my youngest child said, “Mom, Christmas is only 18 days away!”

Cue the panic.  I’m no where close to being ready.  I haven’t even made the Christmas card yet.

He didn’t mean to frighten me.  His enthusiasm for Christmas is inspiring, actually.  He’s the only child who still cares enough about the Christmas count down to put a new felt ornament on the Christmas tree advent calendar that Nana made by hand many years ago.  The three teens haven’t touched it.  Sniff.

My mother in law made this when my husband was her little boy.

This is the last Christmas before the first kid goes away to school, and I know that once the “kids in college” phase starts, it will change our lives into something not necessarily bad, but different.  I’m grappling with which traditions to cling to and which ones to let go as the kids get older and their interests change.  On my annual Christmas shopping trip with my friend Leslie, we didn’t visit Toys R Us.  (I’m okay with that.)   The kids still want to pick Secret Santas among the siblings. (I love that.)  Most of them just want cash for Christmas.  (Hmm… easier wrapping?)

One tradition I will keep is getting each of them at least one book for Christmas.  Which takes me away from my sentimental musings and brings me to the point of this post.

Are you, like me, a little behind on holiday shopping?  Do you need gift ideas for friends, loved ones, teachers?  I have a solution for you.

Books make great gifts. They are easy to mail, reusable, instructive, and entertaining. Besides, buying books supports writers and the publishing industry, and we all want to keep books around, right?  The problem: finding proper books for each person on your gift list. Here’s where Diary of a Word Nerd can help.

Today I’m starting the Favorite Books Giveaway for 2017.  Tell me your favorite book from 2017 and the reason you liked it.  I’ll add your book to a list of recommendations and your name to a drawing of potential winners. In the end, we’ll have a collection of fabulous book titles to use as a shopping guide, and one lucky winner will have a Barnes and Noble gift card.

Favorite Books of 2017: Giveaway details

  • You may enter the giveaway by commenting on my blog, my Facebook profile, my Twitter feed, or my Instagram Favorite Book post by December 13, 2017.
  • Your comment must include your favorite book from 2017 and a short explanation of why you recommend it.  All genres welcome.
  • The book doesn’t have to be published in 2017, just read in 2017.
  • I will announce the winner on Wednesday, December 13 with the full list of favorites. That will give you plenty of shopping time. 😉
  • The giveaway winner must provide a mailing address for the gift card.

The first suggestions

My friend Dana asked me to suggest books for a 13-year-old girl, and I thought I’d list those here, as maybe Dana isn’t the only one who could benefit.

Contemporary realistic – all of these are thoughtful YA without too much “content”

Historical fiction

  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (WWII)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (WWII)
  • Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (China, cultural revolution)


  • The Matched series by Ally Condie ( a good “entry” level dystopian series)
  • The Divergent series by Veronica Roth

Now, your turn.  Share your favorite read from 2017 and help me make a great shopping list!

Thanks for contributing!