I’m Speaking at WordCamp Asheville

by Alicia Lewis Murray on May 29, 2014

wordcampashevillebanner770x443I’m so excited that a WordPress WordCamp has come to my new hometown of Asheville, NC. If you aren’t familiar with WordCamps, they are conferences that focus on topics for WordPress users and they are offered all across the country. It’s a great community of like-minded people who want to better themselves with this tool.

I use WordPress for this blog and love the tools and the network that it provides. When I first moved here, I went on MeetUp to find a group to join in order to meet people. I found a WordPress MeetUp group that meets every month where users share ideas and help each other with all things WordPress. Look one up to see if there is one in your city.

From there it was mentioned about getting WordCamp in Asheville. There were other ones in North Carolina, and the not-too-far Atlanta, but none right here in this creative, mountain city. So, we decided to start one! What a great journey. I volunteered right away to be a part of this and have enjoyed my time as an organizer this year.

I’ll be talking about Work, Life, Blog Balance where I’ll share tips and tools on how to create a live that is balanced based on your terms. I’m going to share my journey of finding the right balance and how I left corporate America to find a more meaningful life. It’s what I want this blog to be about — to help people find what’s important, and how to make it happen. I’m still finishing up my presentation and I hope to develop a version that I can share on the blog later this summer.

If you’re going to be at WordCamp Asheville this weekend, be sure to say HI, I’d love to meet you.


find your joySandra Bullock gave a commencement address to the class of 2014 at Warren Easton Charter High School recently. Her main topic was to not worry and to find your joy.

“Nothing’s a failure, it’s just not supposed to work out that way because something better is supposed to come along,” she told the graduates.


Nothing is a failure if you believe everything that happens is for a reason. That each day is an adventure on the journey of our lives.

She ended her short speech with:

“Go find your joy. It’s what you’re going to remember in the end. It’s not the worry, it’s not the what-ifs. It’s the joy that stays with you.”

Watch the speech below:

Photo credit: harrykeely


20 books to read after diary of a wimpy kidMy eight-year-old son recently blew threw the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. And I mean blew threw them! He got the first three as a set for Christmas. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. We were first introduced to the series at Thanksgiving when we were visiting a friend’s house and my friend was reading one of the books to her kids at bedtime. My children listened, and laughed, to the story. Thus, the idea for a Christmas present.

My son (a second-grader) immediately started reading the books for his daily required homework reading material. Then, I’d find him on the couch reading without setting the timer. Then, he asked to read before he went to bed. By himself! Amazing! I love these books!

He was reading them so fast that I couldn’t afford to go out and buy the entire series so I started stalking the library. As he was reading a book in the series, I’d order the next one. When I picked him up from school, I had the next book waiting for him on this seat in the car and he picked it up and start reading on the way home.

Well, we managed to get all the books in the series and he finished them all. Now what? I thought. So, I posted the question to my friends on Facebook and got a huge response. I’d forgotten how many of my friends are elementary school workers (teachers and librarians) — they had tons of recommendations. While I haven’t read all of these books, I have good friends so I trust this is a great list to start from to keep our kids reading. And, it’s perfect for summer time reading.

Without further adu, I give you the complete list of suggestions for what to read after The Diary of a Wimpy Kid:

Most of these books fall into the 8-12 year old range.

Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce. This one was recommended several times as a similar book to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

NERDS by Michael Buckley

39 Clues series by Rick Riordan. This series comes recommended by a few friends, one of whom said her daughter is devouring them.

Dork Diaries by Rachel Renée Russell. I don’t think my son will touch this series because there is a girl on the cover, but they look like a great next best thing to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Who Was/Who Is series. I can attest to this series. These are wonderful books based on histrocial facts about famous people, both living and dead. We started with Who Was Walt Disney?

My Weird School series by Dan Guutman

Books by Andrew Clements. I’ve read that Frindle is his most popular book, but he has tons.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. Most of the books on this list are new, but this, this book brings back memories. Oh how I loved Judy Blume!

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. Another blast from the past.

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. These are just super silly, but anything that gets my kids reading …

Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson

Redwall series by Bryan Jacques

The Strange Case of Origami Yoga by Tom Angleberger

Cam Jansen series by David A. Adler

Hank the Cow Dog by John R. Erickson

Horrible Harry series by Suzy Kline

Zapato Power series by Jacqueline Jules

A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy

Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket

My Father’s Dragon trilogy by Ruth Stiles Gannett

I think I would be remiss if I didn’t include Harry Potter on this list, but surprisingly it didn’t come up as a recommend to my question on Facebook. I think this might the a big winner in our house now that my son is old enough to read chapter books on his own.

And, here’s a great graphic that shows which books are most popular at libraries:

Popular kid's books

Image source.


Do you have any additional recommendations? What books do your elementary-aged kids enjoy devouring? Leave a comment below!

Affiliate links are used in this post which means, if you make a purchase from one of the links, I get a teeny, tiny commission. The price of the item is the same as if you purchased without the affiliate link.





Work Life Balance At the End of the School Year

by Alicia Lewis Murray on May 19, 2014

Oh my! May is so busy. We’re in the last days of the school year and I can feel it. Parties, field trips, no homework (this, I like!), end of year teacher gifts, parties.

Did I say parties? It’s enough to drive parents crazy. Juggling schedule changes is not easy and as we prepare for summertime when the kids will need child care of some sort or another, it’s a balancing act that all parents go through. Stay at home parents also face child care challenges, I’m sure, as they are used to a certain amount of time at home while the kids are in school. (I don’t know how home school families do it all! But I’m sure there is a method to it.)

May is so busy that I forgot to update the blog header from April to May — just snuck that in tonight, hopefully no one will notice.

I hope you are enjoying this time of year and trying to stay stress-free as possible. It’s times like these that I try to take a step back and enjoy the moments. Today my daughter’s pre-K class spent the early afternoon hours at a neighborhood park. This was not a field trip, but a time for fellowship and being together to celebrate the end of the school year. I have several projects I’m working on this week and need as much computer time as I can get, which made this play date a bit challenging.

Instead of complaining, instead of being negative about it, I decided to enjoy the time at the park. I decided to embrace the time with my daughter. I’ll stay up late tonight to get the work done. I’ll get up early tomorrow too, if I need to.

But, today, today I spent a magical day outside in the sunshine swinging my daughter and her friends on a big-ol tire swing until they couldn’t take it any more. “More,” they yelled. “Higher,” they screamed.

Yes, May is busy, but soon it will be summer. Soon the children will be older. Soon I will miss how busy May is.



Vintage Cake With a Brownie Surprise Inside

by Alicia Lewis Murray on May 12, 2014

vintage cake with a surprise brownie inside | easy to make

The amazing Amanda Rettke from Iambaker.net has a new cookbook, “surprise-inside cakes: amazing cakes for every occasion — with a little something extra inside,” that came out this spring. It details her creative genius in cake baking and decorating, and how to make surprises inside cakes.

I’ve been following her blog for several years now and one of the best cakes I’ve ever made (that really wowed the guests) was inspired by a cake that Amanda made — the rainbow-inside cake. My Elmo cake was so cute on the outside, with Elmo’s famous grin, and some colorful polka-dots, but the reall wow came when I cut the cake open to reveal rainbow colored layers of cake.  (See my Elmo rainbow cake here.) I made it for my daugther’s second birthday and 3 years later she talks about that cake. Now, that’s the power of a surprise!

Well, Amanda has outdone herself this time. Actually, she outdoes herself every time she bakes a new cake. Seriously, I don’t know how this woman does it. She has five children. Young children. Yet, she takes time to make these amazing creations. When I heard about her cookbook I knew I had to have it. And, it’s as beautiful as I imagined.

vintage cake Rettke cookbookThe cookbook is full of photos and step-by-step instructions on how to recreate her masterpieces at home. Did I say she’s a genius? Look at that heart-shaped, rainbow-inside cake on the cover!

I decided to embark on a cake from the cookbook. For each recipe, she tells the reader the difficulty level — I stuck with the “easy” category. She also has several cakes in the “medium” and even some in the “challenging” category. I stayed far, far way from challenging category. Maybe next time.

The Vintage Cake spoke to me in both ease and look. It’s a beautifully simple cake. But, there is a surprise. A surprise without all the work. A delicious surprise at the bottom of the cake.

vintage cake with surprise brownie insideThere is a brownie inside this cake! Not only a brownie, but a brownie with a chocolate sauce that is poured on warm so that it can seep into the brownie layer making it even more delicious.

vintage cake with brownie bottom layer | yumYep, it’s a winner. Just like all the cakes seem.

This book is so much fun. And, Amanda doesn’t just show you how to make the surprises, she’s got all her favorite cake and frosting recipes in the beginning of the book. So, if you just want a masterful chocolate or white cake, you can get that too. This book would make a great present for any of your baking friends. Even if they never attempt to make a surprise inside a cake, it’s a book of inspiration and will surely spark creativity in any baker.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. Thanks! Affiliate links are used in this post.