The Maccabee on the Mantel – A Review



When I was growing up the Jewish holiday of Chanukah was considered a simple 8-day celebration with family, a few dreidels and a menorah (Chanukiah).  By the time I had children of my own – Chanukah became a multi- zillion dollar industry!  Why the change?

Many believe it is because of more and more interfaith families. Others think that parents wish to provide for their Jewish children an experience akin to families who celebrate Christmas.

So, when the Elf on the Shelf – a little elf doll from “Santa’s workshop”,  made its’ debut a few years ago – it became quite the media and marketing sensation.  Now enter the Maccabee on the Mantel,  a plush toy with a storybook.    At first I was a bit skeptical – was this another way for someone to market to interfaith families?

As an educator who for a decade taught Judaics in a Jewish Sunday School, I was pleased to see an educational book that told the story of Chanukah and also included a song and blessings.  Then I went on to the website and learned a whole lot more from  “behind the scenes”.  The Maccabee on the Mantel is the brainchild of Abra Liberman-Garrett,  and mom of two.  The website offered this as a reason for her creation:

…And so she conceived the concept of a disarming and charming Macabee, a little boychick who would spread sunshine and delight to all the Jewish children who had him in their home.  Abra’s children positively reveled in the joy of this modern tradition in the making.  Now it is time to share this miracle of a Macabee with all those who are looking to create a fun family custom of their own.

For parents wishing to help share their Jewish culture, history and religious insights – this website is a welcome addition.  I usually would put an age rating on a review – but this unique box set could be for young and old.  The price is set for the box set – $34.95 on their website. Extra Maccabees and books can be purchased separately.  Click here for their online store.


For additional fun go to Youtube and check out the videos from the “Maccabee on the Mantel”. 

The Girls Q and A Book on Friendship – An interview with author, Annie Fox … complete with lessons for kids and adults alike!


The-Girls'-Q&A-Book-on-Friendship-092914-front-cover-800x1219Relationships between women fascinate me!  I have always been a “behavioral detective” – trying to unravel the mysteries of women interactions.  I have spent hours watching groups of women at events – such as PTA meetings, weddings or even my sorority get – togethers. I have had years of poolside experiences with kids and moms wondering why some women could be nice to a person one moment and then stab them with unkind words the moment they exited the group and their chaise lounge for their mini-van?

I have wondered how the adult women in our midst are teaching impressionable girls, including our daughters, about creating and maintaining healthy relationships with other females?  What makes women click as friends or just become a clique?

In an effort to continue my detective skills I ask my women readers to do the following:

1) Name a person who you met in elementary or middle school who has remained your friend in to your adult years?

2) Now think of a girl who seemed to always “have it out’ for you?

Why do you think one girl was and remained a “bestie” while the other was your “foe”?  Enter kid relationship expert and author, Annie Fox, who has always has been a promoter of teaching children about getting along with others. Her work on helping to end bullying in schools has been highly recognized nationwide. Her books have sold worldwide, including the MIDDLE SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL series.  In her most recent book, The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship, Annie provides a format and forum to help girls learn how to be good friends to other girls -by reducing the drama, increasing the conversation in a healthy and respectful way, and promoting kindness and understanding. The scenarios she offers reflect “common day” life and the diversity of characters and situations was much appreciated by this reviewer.

Recently, I asked a series of questions to be answered by our spotlighted author – Annie Fox.  

Enjoy her wisdom and sense of humor!

Louise:  You are a huge supporter of preventative education when it comes to bullying- do you think we are making strides in reducing bullying in the schools? And are girls worse than boys with bullying? 

Annie: I’m grateful there seems to be a growing awareness in many school districts that peer harassment is a real issue capable of causing real (and often lasting) damage to the psyches of kids. I am also grateful there now exist excellent resources for schools to help educators incorporate character development and SEL (Social Emotional Learning) into their curriculum. I am also grateful for the educators who prioritize graduating students who are empathetic, compassionate, and social courageous. Are we making “strides” in reducing social aggression in schools? Yes, of course. Are those strides being made universally? No. Is the progress happening quickly enough? Hell no! There are still many schools where teachers bully students and where teachers turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to students’ making sexist, homophobic, and racially-charged comments to other students. There are still school administrators who shrug and tell distraught parents of targeted students, “Kids will be kids.” or “Teen girls are just mean. What are you going to do about it?” (Actual statements made by school administrators as reported to me by extremely frustrated parents.)  

Are girls “worse” than boys with bullying? I don’t believe so. Both girls and boys are afflicted by Peer Approval Addiction in equal measure. Both genders struggle to do the right thing while simultaneously feeling compelled to do whatever it takes to fit in… including stuff they aren’t particularly proud of. The difference, if it exists at all, may be in the methodology girls and boys use to “take down” peers, online and off. I will also say that the seeds of compassion and empathy are equally prevalent in boys and girls. So, even though I wrote this book for girls, both boys and girls need to understand that their choices matter… in peer relationships and in life.

Louise:  You included quite a bit of diversity  in your book (bravo).  I can’t help but think they are an amalgam of the girls who write to you via Hey Terra! Are they?  

Annie:  Glad you noticed the diversity in the illustrations, Louise! My illustrator, the insanely talented Erica De Chavez, and I worked really hard to make sure that any and every girl would be able to see herself and her peers in these drawings. While I can’t know who exactly is sending me Hey Terra! email, (which I’ve been answering since 1997) I think it’s a safe bet that the questions I answer daily come from a very diverse group of tweens and teens. The email comes in from all over the country and all over the world.

 Louise: Do you believe that girls make lifelong friends more than boys/men?

 Annie:  Conventional wisdom points us in the direction of assuming that the friendships of girls/women are deeper and longer lasting than those of boys/men. But I have no empirical data to prove it either way. I certainly know women and men who are still very close to their childhood friends. And I know people, (men and women) who are warm and friendly, with high EQ (Emotional Intelligence) who no longer have meaningful connections to friends from childhood, high school or college. That said, real friendships… ones in which we feel accepted, respected and appreciated, are very important to every person’s ongoing social and emotional development, self-esteem, and feelings of connection to community.

Louise: Can you share a funny experience in the writing of the book?  

Annie: Erica and I had a ton of fun working on the illustrations. We would laugh and recall middle and high school friendship dramas of our own… Just letting the creative juices flow. Especially when the question we were trying to illustrate was written in very descriptive language. For example, “My friend treats me like I’m invisible.” Many girls can relate to that feeling… So we wanted to really play it up, to intensify the feeling the reader would get… whether in her own life was feeling “invisible” or if she was the one treating a friend that way. We played around with the concept of invisibility and finally asked each other the question “What if the girl in the illustration is actually invisible?!”  The finished drawing ended up looking like this!

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 3.49.15 PM


Louise:   Three wishes for the book are now granted – what would they be? Annie: 

  • That every girl currently facing an uncomfortable peer relationship and wondering, “What should I do?” would find this book under her pillow tonight.
  1. This book gets used by parents, teachers, and counselors to help girls handle their friendship challenges in ways that make the girls feel good about who they are.
  2. This book helps girls teach other girls about how to be a Super Friend.


Note that The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship is now available on Amazon and highly recommended for both the girls (and boys) in your life and the adults that live, love and nurture them.  The price is easy on the pocket, too- under $5 for the KINDLE version. Help young girls find this superb book under their pillows! Thanks to Annie, my readers and girls who are great super friends everywhere!   ~ Louise

Thursday, 10/16 at 10:16 a.m. – READY, SET, HOLD ON!

Nearly 25 years ago one of the worst earthquakes happened in the Bay area of California on October 17, 1989.  If history was to repeat itself- would YOU be ready for an earthquake and potential tsunami. Join millions this THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16th at 10:16am for the North American Earthquake drill by

This video is in American Sign Language (ASL), voiced and open captioned.

First week of the ASL Challenge

Have you joined the SIGNING FAMILIES 31 DAYS ASL CHALLENGE on YouTube?!  Each day during the month of October 2014 –  I am uploading sign language videos for easy learning.

Here are this weeks signs and a video of #5 – FAMILY


In case you missed them here are the other signed videos from the first week of the ASL CHALLENGE!










Will you accept the ASL CHALLENGE?

Starting tomorrow, October 1st,  I will be hosting a 31 days, 31 ASL CHALLENGE on  YouTube.     It is my goal to teach people FREE how to communicate using basic sign language.   The signs will be geared for daily living and school terminology with a sprinkle of signs in the event of a disaster or medical emergency.  Sign language has traditionally been considered only used within the Deaf community. However, more and more children and adults with Autism and Down Syndrome are now learning sign for communication, too!  So many reason to learn!

Where to start?

First, set aside up to five minutes a day to learn some basic sign language and practice! If you subscribe to my Youtube channel you will receive reminders every time a new video is uploaded.  Secondly, if you are so inclined, please share these one minute videos with others. And lastly,  enjoy the journey of learning this visual language.

Learn more on FACEBOOK, SIGNING FAMILIES and of course, on my TWITTER stream.



What are you doing October 16th at 10:16 a.m.?

dropcoverholdon_re On October 16th at 10:16 in the morning, I will be joining the  9.2 million Californians and 19 million worldwide (and counting) individuals who are planning on stopping EVERYTHING to participate in the SHAKE OUT earthquake and tsunami drill!

RegistrationShakeOut_Global_JoinUs_300x250  is EASY and the whole drill only takes a few minutes.

WOW – five minutes to practice how to be safe when a disaster strikes!

And, for you non-west coast folks – don’t think that earthquakes are just “our thing”.  If memory recalls correctly – one of the most recent earthquakes of a magnitude greater than 5.0 in the United States happened in Virginia!

Here is the PSA I made in sign language with open captions to help keep everyone safe, including those in our Deaf and HOH communities!


graphics from

Perhaps the Most Important 10 Word Question of the Year

I live in California – the state where people live in sunshine more days than they do not. Where access to free and outdoor activities abounds.  And, where this past week a serious threat to a local Pasadena high school was thwarted – thanks to the efforts of astute community members and law enforcement.

It isn’t yet September and we are talking about school violence as if it is an eventuality this new school year and no longer “breaking news”.  How can this be?  

Read about school violence facts here from CNN

So, I want to start a dialog and invite all respectful readers to join the conversation by answering this one complicated question with only ten words:

How can we make our schools safe for our students?




Damn that internet!



American actress Lauren Bacall






This week we lost two legends in the entertainment field- Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall.  I adored them both.  And, until the day when the internet came in to my life, I would spend my free time going to the movie theater or watching old classics on TV.  Now I am absorbed by catching every news and soundbite about these two actors on various social media timelines.

Nothing that should get done IS getting done today. Damn that internet!

Now I fully understand that as a human I am given free will.  But, let’s face it- those who are reading this blog also are giving some time to online media vs. other activities. At least for some of your day!

So, what I am to do?  Well, for starters I believe I may need to implement “unplugged Saturdays and Sundays”. That way I can spend time with real people or at least view people on a larger screen than my laptop.

Of course, I won’t totally divorce the internet – just reduce our relationship to weekdays! So, let’s see if I can do this challenge!!

(Pause for some introspection and time to check the calendar)

Oh wait- it is almost the EMMY AWARDS!  I guess my unplugged Saturdays and Sundays will need to be postponed until after August 25th when I am done covering the event as a social media correspondent for The Insider at CBS.

And for those two mega – stars-  Robin and Lauren – May you rest in peace – sweet peace!

The Summer Singer – Songwriter Competition that got my attention!

Something exciting, yet subtle, is happening on FACEBOOK  this Summer!  It is the EZDrummer 2 Songwriting Competition sponsored by Toontracks  (A software company that makes many musicians use for home studios to make their tunes sound even more amazing!)  The contest is one where winner takes home $10,000 and that is a lot of money for many who are competing!
Read the about the competition here.
I ordinarily would have bypassed any contest announcement on FACEBOOK, but this one caught my attention because one of the contestants is my good friend and talented songwriter,  Dara Baker (aka Dara On Radio).
Dara has a jazzy, sultry and sassiness quality to her voice.  This Floridian mom, entrepreneur and teacher wrote the music and lyrics to  I KNOW, in addition to singing it for her entry.

Listen here to I KNOW and vote for Dara!

I took an opportunity to interview Dara for this article.  
Here is what I discovered and would love to share with you-
Louise:  Dara we know that you want to win the first prize with your amazing song, however, what would be a second thing you wish to accomplish by entering this contest?

Dara: To win second place, of course!  LOL!  :-)  If I don’t win, I’m glad people who never heard my music got a chance to listen and to share.  Being a music educator, I’m always about spreading the word about the importance of music in all of our lives, be it writing, playing or just listening.

Louise:  How did you come up with this song idea and record it?
Dara: The song was written by me.  I sing lead and play piano, Ed ( her husband)  & I sing background vocals.  Ed played guitar and bass, programmed the drums and played the little synth parts in between.  We both recorded and mixed the song in our home studio.
Louise:  This is usually a blog that discusses educational matters.  Do you think this contest may help motivate people to keep music programs in schools instead of cutting performing arts programs.
Dara: It’s (the contest)  not really geared towards the educational community, however, it is open worldwide to people starting at age 13.  If you look at the number of entrants, it’s obvious to see just how many people feel the burning desire to be a part of the music industry.  Kids younger & younger are becoming songwriters every day with the ever increasing availability of some AWESOME computer software out there.  It’s becoming less and less expensive and easier to use with every passing day.  Also with social media, the desire to “be a star” is more approachable as well.Louise:  How can readers and our friends vote for you?
Dara:  Go to Facebook to vote via the “EZ Drummer 2 Songwriting Competition”.  Each voter is allowed to vote on FB once per day, so yeah, it would be great if EVERYONE voted EVERY day till the contest is closed and share the link!!!  :-)


th-1Learn more about Dara and what she does when she is not busy with music contests by connecting with her here:Dara…On Radio; Arts, Entertainment and the Business of it All  member


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If you are a person who participates in social media on a regular basis then you probably are familiar with this hashtag – #IRL – In Real Life.  That is when you meet someone from social media in person.  Up close.  No typing needed.

I first joined the social media world in 2008.  Tweeting a few thoughts from time to time. Then I stumbled upon a group of educators and family experts and we joined a bit of a “group”.  From there I hopped over to Facebook to extend my inner circle, followed by Pinterest, Instagram, Google +, Klout, Tumblr, etc.!

Many times I would wonder while “chatting” with my social media pals - If I met you in person would you be the same person you portray here in social media? Would you be so kind and generous or are you really an egotist or worse?

I am glad to report that I have met scores of my online connections and rarely was I disappointed. Yes, there were a few who I thought may have had giant egos and indeed they did – but they was few and far between.

I must say that meeting social media peeps in person gives the online experience a serious boost.  The relationships are genuine, we know each other, and not only by our TWITTER handles, and truly do care.

So, if you are ever given a chance to meet social media friends #IRL – I hope your experiences will be as positive as mine.

Enjoy the slideshow of some of the many friends I have met and follow them on TWITTER, if you wish (their handles are under the photos).


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