Summer Roadtrip: Rainy Days and Tough Decisions

by Alicia Lewis Murray on June 23, 2014

campingThe sound of small kernels of popcorn being popped in a small saucepan on the stove hovers above my head as I work. The rain has been dripping from the sky with increased intensity since the day before. I have work to do so I’m not upset that we can’t be outside today.

The kids are in the movie theater that we created in the back “bedroom,” consisting of a queen-sized bed with a single bunk above. A princess sheet hangs over the bunk, creating a fort below. The kids sit propped on my old body pillow that I used when I was pregnant with each of them, and their own superhero pillows leaning against it – as theater cushions. My husband’s laptop serves as the movie screen and a DVD they’ve seen a million times becomes something new. I take a break from work to make popcorn in the microwave to complete the movie theater experience, and perhaps take my mind off the popping sounds on top of the camper.

This is the worst of our vacation so far. Last week we didn’t have hot water, but that was fixed with a stop to Camping World on our way to our new destination. So, we have hot water, but the rain has prevented us from doing anything fun. But fun is relative on a trip like this. Part of the journey is slowing down, doing different things. Even if it means being in a 200 square foot space for two days with three other people with nothing other than our books, a laptop, and some old DVDs.

The rain finally let up enough the next day to allow us to drive into Lake Placid, NY, home of the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics. Beautiful town with scenic mountain views as a backdrop to the lake. We only got one day here before heading on through Vermont and New Hampshire where we faced our toughest decision yet: Do we spend $75 to take the ferry (truck, trailer, and all) across picturesque Lake Champlain or do we stop at the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory?

Read Part I and Part II of our family summer roadtrip series.



Summer Reading Lists to Keep Your Kids Reading

by Alicia Lewis Murray on June 13, 2014

summerreadinglistsSummer break has officially started for much of us, and will begin soon for the rest of you. With summer comes relaxation, vacation, camps, boredom, and lack of recall of everything our kids learned in school this year. We’re big on doing homework over the summer to keep our kids’ minds from turning to a bowl of mush. In doing some research I found several resources to help you find age-or grade-level appropriate book titles for your kids this summer.

Summer Reading List for Tweens
This is a very specific list for tweens, but is a good list of books that will engage your young reader and maybe even make them enjoy reading for fun. She’s got a really beautiful, printable PDF for convenience too.

Chapter Books to Read After Diary of a Wimpy Kid
This is my list of books that I compiled from asking my friend’s what my son would enjoy after reading the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. It’s a list of 20 books for ages 8-12.

Barnes & Noble Summer Reading
This site breaks its list up by age range, but also offers a free book for children who read 8 book and keep a journal of what they read. Can’t beat that.

A Diverse Summer Reading List for Kids
This list starts with, “In children’s books, it can be easier to find talking pandas than characters of color. Only six percent of children’s book published in 2012 featured diverse characters.” The list contains 25 books.

Association of Library services to Children
Includes PDFs broken down by grade level.

Scholastic’s Summer Reading Lists
The site offers a summer reading challenge to schools who read the most, striving to set a new world record. It also has lists for each age range.

Education World
A collection of summer reading lists from all over.

And, be sure to check our local school and library to see if they publish a list.

Photo credit: danjaeger


A Tale of The Other Sister — Anne Frank’s Sister

by Alicia Lewis Murray on June 11, 2014

What if Anne Frank’s sister survived the holocaust? What if she lived to see her sister’ Diary become so famous? This is the setting of the first novel I’ve been able to read in two years.

Margot,” by Jillian Cantor, is told from the voice of Anne Frank’s sister who was able to flee Nazi-controlled Poland. She changes her name and tries to live a normal existence. Yet, how can she, when she has a number tattooed to her arm which she covers with a sweater even when it’s sweltering heat.

Two years is a long time to have skipped novels. In the past I always had a novel on my nightstand. Always. Even if it took a few months to complete, I was always reading a book. Non-fiction. I loved escaping into other worlds. It’s a great way to de-stress.

But two years ago I entered graduate school and my life was extremely unbalanced. I went to work, did drop off or pick up each day for my kids, came home and cooked, cleaned, got kids ready for bed, did my own homework, and collapsed only to do it over again. There was only time for Harvard Business Review articles or non-fiction related to class. And, I loved reading these. But I missed novels.

When I graduated last summer I thought it would be easy to jump back into watching mindless TV and reading novels, but that wasn’t the case. I found myself only able to read non-fiction. Books about social media, blogging, self improvement. That’s all I could read.

Last summer I visited Auschwitz during a school trip, which is why Margot probably stuck a cord with me. I’ve been to Anne Frank’s house. Read her diary and this story was intriguing. It’s fiction, but based on facts from Anne’s now famous little red diary.

Affiliate links are used in this post.



Lessons Learned on our Family Roadtrip

by Alicia Lewis Murray on June 9, 2014

Our 6-week family camping road trip began one week ago when I couldn’t find my passport. Now, a week in, we’ve already seen and learned so much. We’re traveling by car, pulling our beloved, yet-unnamed travel trailer staying in spots up and down the east coast.

Normally, we blow a tire on camping trips. Imagine having to pull over on the interstate, with a 25-foot trailer behind you, having to get out of the car, jack up your trailer, change the tire, and get back on the road. All while entertaining two young children inside the car so your husband can concentrate on the tire repair. Not fun. This is usually our tale.

This trip, however, (so far!) we have not blown a tire – so far!

Upon our first night, we were so excited to arrive in West Virginia to a delightful campground, complete with a lighthouse. We have no idea why there is a working lighthouse in West Virginia, away from the ocean, but it was there. We had mountains, and lush, green grass on our toes as we set up the camper for the night. Inside, we were preparing dinner when I felt something wet on my foot. HMM, what liquid did someone spill on my clean floor?

I looked down at my feet and there was a pool of water on the floor, certainly more than juice that could have spilled from a cup. It’s a leak.

By now, my husband heard me saying, ‘leak! There is a leak!” and came into the camper to assist. We determined the hot water tank was leaking.

The quickest solution to this problem is to turn the hot water off. We let the tank drain what is had remaining in its tank and soaked up the water that had leaked out. We’ll call to get it fixed, we said to ourselves. Or stop somewhere along the way.

When you need something like this repaired in your home, you call someone and they come to fix it. If it’s a repair in your car, you take the car to the shop, leave it, and pick it up when it’s fixed. But when you drive your home around, well, the repair is complicated. We haven’t been able to find anyone that has the correct part to fix it so we’ve been without hot water for a week. It’s REAL camping.

We’ve been heating hot water on the stove and putting it into the tub for the kids, and my husband and I are braving campground community showers.

The good news is that this is the worst of our week. The rest has been amazing. We camped in Pennsylvania and got to see where my husband spent his summers boating on an amazingly huge lake. We went boating one day.

On our way to our next stop we took an early evening break and saw the famous Groundhog Day groundhog, Punxatauny Phil! The real deal. He lives in a library.

The kids are learning about geography as we cross state lines, and when we make pit stops. Did you know the New River Gorge in West Virginia is on the back of the Virginia quarter? We didn’t either.

And, we’ve seen the American side of Niagara Falls. That passport will come in handy tomorrow as we head to Canada to see the falls from the other side.

Read Part one of the series: Our Family’s Epic Summer Road Trip Starts Now, Maybe


Our Family’s Epic Summer Road Trip Starts Now, Maybe

by Alicia Lewis Murray on June 2, 2014

camping trip“We have a problem,” my husband bellows as he walks up the stairs to our bedroom. It’s 10:00 p.m. and I’m making the hard decision between taking my black sequined, strappy heels or using my Teva sandals as dress shoes for when we’re in New York City.

“I can’t find your passport,” he calmly reports. In less than 9 hours we are departing for our 6-week epic, family journey. We go downstairs and start looking for my little blue book, but it’s not in any of the usual places.

Just 8 weeks earlier we were racing to pick up the kids from school to take them to a mid-day appointment at the post office (aka passport agency) where they only track appointments in pencil on an old-fashioned spiral paper calendar. The passport agency requires both parents and the children to be present to obtain passports for minors. Somehow I missed the “children must be present” part when I scheduled the appointment. We made it to the appointment on time and were told we had just the right amount of time for the passports to be mailed before our trip. Mission accomplished. The passports line item got checked off our travel to-do list. Until tonight.

Where did I last have my passport? I’m thinking. “Paris,” I say, to my husband. “We both had ours, I flew back to Orlando, you flew back to my parents to pick up the kids.” Two weeks, after our anniversary trip to Paris last year, I finished final projects for grad school, and we packed up 12 years of household collections into a moving truck and drove two cars, our camper, the cat and the dog to a new state. I hadn’t seen my passport since our trip.

With a heavy sigh, I told myself to remain calm. We have 9 whole hours to find it. What’s the worst case scenario? I came up with three options: 1. We leave a day late so I can spend tomorrow searching for it. 2. We don’t cross over to Canada on our trip. Maybe my husband and the kids go, but I stay back. 3. We leave for the trip as planned and I request an expedited replacement and pay the fees. None of these options were making me feel better.

We’ve been planning this trip for over a year, trying to maximize sabbatical time my husband has accrued working for a company with generous employee benefits. We’re thankful for the benefit of this time and are trying to make the most of it, recognizing it as a gift. We’re traveling up and down the east coast of the United States in a 25-foot travel trailer. We’ll be stopping in places like: Pennsylvania, the coast of Maine, Boston, New York, Hershey, Penn, Washington DC, and the beaches of Virginia.

And, thankfully, we’ll make it to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Within an hour of my husband’s discovery of my missing passport, we located the little blue book with stamps from France, neatly tucked into a folder with other important papers also waiting to be found.