Friday, December 26, 2014

New book announcement: Meet the Avot! (Biblical rhymes for family times.)

Meet the Avot, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

I couldn’t decide what to call this book.  Avos?  Avot?  We live in Israel, but I am proudly Ashkenazi. 

In my head I say Shabbos, Shavuos and Avos, but everybody around me says Shabbat, Shavuot and Avot.  I also still call our Chanukah candle-holder a menorah, resisting the “Chanukiyah” pull with all my strength.

I went with Avot anyway, just as I have in most of my recent books.  There’s just too many of “them” out there… and when I say them, I mean also my own children, who are learning in Israeli schools.  The Family Torah is all-Ashkenazi, all the time.  But everything else is Sefardi, pronunciation-wise.  Including this book.

It’s short but sweet:  a collection of children's rhymes (with illustrations) to introduce the Avos/Avot :  Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, plus Noach, Moshe, Shimshon and David.

Meet the Avot, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod
(Click on the cover or click here to see it on Amazon.)

It’s based on poems and ideas I came up with while homeschooling -- but never had a chance before to edit and "smooth" for public consumption, the book is perfect for Shabbos (or Shabbat?) -table discussion or just to help kids get a sense of who these important ancestors were.

You won't find the whole story of each one's life, but you will find one "moment" or incident for each that shares a lesson we and our kids can still learn from today.

This one won't be coming out in print; right now, it's Kindle only (if you mail me a receipt for your Kindle copy, I can send you an epub or any other version you need for your own ereader!).  You might not love ebooks as your main reading-to/with-kids vehicle (join the club!), but I hope you'll try it out anyway.  I'd love to hear what you think.

To thank you for following my blog in 2014, I'm making the book 99 cents (Canada/U.S.) from now until January 15th.  After that, it will go up to $2.99.  Click here to view/buy on Amazon.

Enjoy and Shabbat shalom!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

12 nights of Chanukah fun: a mega Jewish holiday picture book roundup


Usually, I write reviews of Jewish books – for kids and adults – here on this blog (Adventures in MamaLand).  But I also have a blog called Write Kids’ Books, specifically for children’s book writers.  Sometimes, there’s some crossover and I’m not sure where to post something.

When I took a children’s picture-book writing course earlier this year, I had to research “comps” – comparable books on a similar topic.  Since I was writing a Chanukah book, I decided to research what else was out there in the world of Chanukah books.  I chose these books almost at random, but I think it’s a good assortment of what’s out there.

Over on my writing blog, I’ve shared a short analysis of each of these books. 

  • How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
  • Mrs. Greenberg's Messy Hanukkah, by Linda Glasser, illustrated by Nancy Cote
  • Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster, by Jane Sutton, illustrated by Andy Rowland
  • Chanukah Lights, by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Robert Sabuda
  • Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat: A Chanukah Story, written and illustrated by Naomi Howland
  • The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber
  • Sammy Spider's First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn
  • Biscuit's Hanukkah, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories
  • Elmo’s Little Dreidel, by Naomi Kleinberg, illustrated by Christopher Moroney
  • Light The Lights! A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah And Christmas, by Margaret Moorman
  • Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap, by Deborah Bodin Cohen, illustrated by Shahar Kober
  • Battle for Torah: The Message of Hanukkah, by Kay Kindall, illustrated by Neil Kindall

I hope you’ll head over there and take a look – and maybe discover a couple of new favourites.  (I’ve also included two of my own Chanukah books for kids.  I hope you’ll check these ones out, too.)


Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

A new kind of science book – written for Jewish kids

Screenshot from Olam Shel Emet:  Spineless Wonders, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Let’s face it.  There are more of them than there are of us.

I’m talking about Christians.

Lots of them in the world.  And not so many of us.

When we were homeschooling, I envied Christian homeschoolers the wealth of educational kkresources they had that integrated their faith with every subject imaginable:  from literature to math, from history to science.  So much so that we tried out a few programs, like Apologia Science.  I liked them to some extent, and the faith part was great, but we kept running up against bits of the program that we couldn’t use:  the Christian parts.

I particularly loved the idea of integrating faith and science.  That’s why I decided to create a new series of science ebooks written specifically for kids growing up with a Jewish worldview.

  • Have you ever wanted to hand your kids a science book knowing they’ll get more out of it than just the bare facts?
  • Have you wished they could learn about science through the wonder of faith – without encountering random Christian tidbits?
  • Do you want them to know that Hashem is behind everything that exists on this earth, even if it’s not usually considered part of “limudei kodesh”?

We live in an Olam Shel Emet – a world of Torah truth.  So that’s what I’m calling these books.

It takes a long time to write a book from scratch.  A reeeeeally long time.  On my other blog, writing about and reviewing children’s books and ebooks, I’ve been able to read some of what I think are the best books available in this genre, so I have pretty high standards.  Plus, I don’t have anything like this to work from – everything here is original and totally new.

The first volume in the series – I’m writing them, so I get to pick what I write! – is all about invertebrates:  Hashem’s “spineless wonders,” in the sea and on the land.

What animals are covered?

  • In the sea:  Jellyfish, corals, sponges, octopus, starfish
  • On land:  Worms, bugs, germs, snails, crabs

(Don’t worry; I know bugs and germs aren’t scientific terms – I cover that in plenty of detail in the book.)

Here’s a short excerpt from the introduction.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

REVIEW & EXCERPT: There’s a Shark in the Mikvah! A mitzvah book with BITE?


If I say “mikveh book,” do you groan inside?  Do you think of a book that might be Important to read, with a capital I?  Heavy, serious, but not all that fun?

This is not that book.

The hilarious cover gives that away immediately:

cover, There's a Shark in the Mivah back cover, There's a Shark in the Mivah

This book is called There’s a Shark in the Mikvah, and it’s a new collection of stories written by Penny Thau and Naava Swirsky. 

Be prepared.  This book has bite, by which I mean attitude.  There are no bland platitudes here about the centrality of the mikveh to Jewish life… just fun, spicy anecdotes that actually add up to a very substantial whole.

You’re not only going to want to read it over and over but also buy copies for every new kallah (bride) you know to help them love this mitzvah that often gets a lousy rap.  It’s just a shame they didn’t make it in a laminated, waterproof editing that you could bring along to your pre-mikveh soak.

And I’m so excited to be able to share an excerpt from this book with you here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

It’s Kislev – is your pocket full of heart?


Want to see something cool?

Both of my kids’ schools are making a huge deal out of something I’ve literally never noticed.  The name of the current Hebrew month, Kislev (כסלו), can be divided - with only a little wizardry - into two separate words:  kis (כיס/pocket) and lev (לב/heart).  (That’s the wizardry – the “vav” is swapped out for a “vais”/”vet”.)

So GZ brought home this “mitzvah note” project from Kitah Alef (Grade One), where we have to use this month fill up his “pocket” with love and nachas.

Which I think is just an absolutely terrific excuse to praise a kid who’s three months into his first real year of school and hovering halfway between feeling confident because he knows the routines and feeling like he’s drowning in the despair that comes from realizing there are so many months (and years) still to go.

Very cool.  Why didn’t they do this at either of my kids’ Jewish schools back in Canada?  No idea.

A good friend of mine growing up, who moved from Russia to Israel and then to Canada, told me he acquired his overwhelming love of puns because they didn’t exist in Hebrew.  But from what I’ve seen, Israelis love puns and use them often; the cheesier, the better.  And in this case, a little pun can do a lot of good for your kids’ self-esteem.

Sort of like a little “kiss”… straight to their “lev.”


I write books for kids!  They’re cool!  I promise!  Sign up here to keep updated with all that’s happening in the world of me-as-fledgling author.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

[kiss photo credit:  Yogi via Wikimedia]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My mother’s favourite* joke


My mother has a joke.  Maybe you’ve heard it before?

So a guy goes to the doctor.  Says, “Doctor, it hurts when I go like this.”
And the doctor says, “So don’t go like that.”

This was almost literally my conversation today, with my second orthopedist this month, about the unbearable pain in my right foot.

My problem is that it only hurts when I’m barefoot.  Put on a pair of shoes and I’m Wonder Woman.  I leave everybody in my dust.  Take them off… and I’m Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma, barely able to get out of bed.

This pain has a name:  PTTI.  That’s its name in Hebrew, too.  Posterior Tibial Tendon Insufficiency.  Don’t Google it; the pictures are horrific and mine really isn’t that bad (see below).  Basically, it means that the flat feet I’ve had my whole life have bottomed out completely. 

So today I met with Ortho #2, Specialist Foot Ortho Guy.  Ortho #1 was a regular ortho, non-specialist.  Both very nice and personable despite the long lines outside their doors.  This guy was slightly older, grey hair, distinguished looking small beard and glasses.  Faint, faint, faint trace of a Russian accent.

Conversation with the Doctor.

Me:  Should I sit down?

Him:  Of course.  You think I should sit while a woman is standing?  Anyway, I see people with foot problems.  What do you think the chair is there for?  (This was a torrent of Hebrew; these are the only four things I picked out of the deluge.)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

9 things you’ve got to stop saying about mental illness… and 4 questions to ask yourself instead.


NOTE: One year after my brother Eli's death in 2014, I published a book about the intertwining of our lives and his struggle with schizophrenia. This post and many other writings are included, in slightly different form, in that book.
Please wait until the ride has come to a full and complete stop is now available in print and Kindle editions.

Through laughter and tears, I invite you to come share my final journey with my brother.

Some of these phrases are so deeply ingrained that you might not even realize you’re talking about mental illness when you say them.

  1. “You’re driving me crazy.”
  2. “I’m feeling schizophrenic about the situation.”
  3. “Quit being so paranoid!”
  4. “Are you totally nuts?”
  5. “He broke up with that psycho girlfriend.”
  6. “Maybe you’re hearing things.”
  7. “She’s a little disturbed.”
  8. “Welcome to the loony bin.”
  9. “He has issues.”

Oh, yeah… and then there’s the Big #10:  “mental illness.”  What does it mean, anyway?  Is it like a virus, rotting away at somebody’s brain? 

Most of us have no clue. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The family tree of grief – a quote


Have you lost somebody you loved?

Of course you have.  I know from all the people who spoke to me and shared stories after my brother Eli died in the spring.  Maybe you told me yours.  I loved hearing those stories.  I don’t know what I will do with them yet, but they are all still alive, here in my mind, waiting to come out in some way.

This quote jumped out at me over Shabbos, and I wanted to share it.

An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken"It's a sort of kinship, as though there is a family tree of grief. On this branch the lost children, on this the suicided parents, here the beloved mentally ill siblings. When something terrible happens, you discover all of a sudden that you have a new set of relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins."

- Elizabeth McCracken, from the book An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Will you believe me if I tell you that a book about grief can be funny?  Happy?  Optimistic? 

"This is the happiest story in the world, with the saddest ending," McCracken begins her memoir, about the loss of a baby, and the birth of two more.  About becoming a mother and a bereaved mother in the same instant. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

MamaLand Review: Elisha Davidson, the kosher Harry Potter –?


Are you ready for a wild ride? 

I hope so, because writer M. R. (Rhonda) Attar has just released the first in what promises to be a trilogy of adventure books about young Elisha Davidson, Elisha Davidson and the Letters of Fire (Menorah Books:  2014).

Elisha Davidson and the Letters of Fire I’d call the book weird and wonderful.  But I’d also caution that it’s not for the youngest readers, or maybe for any reader younger than 12 or 13.  There are scenes that are frightening and/or violent, like in the first chapter, where a renowned professor passes out era pool of blood.  (He remains comatose for the entire book.)

This is an ambitious book, weaving hundreds of years of mystical Jewish teachings into an exciting modern-day story.  It reads quickly as long as you don’t let yourself get too hung up on the details.  But that might be just me.

Like I said:  weird… and wonderful.

There are enough parallels to the Harry Potter books to either delight or annoy fans, depending on how they feel about such things. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Enter to win: “Chanukah Monsters” Chanukah Disaster giveaway!


Chanukah’s coming… What could go wrong???

Well, Murphy’s Law of Holidays says anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong when it comes to holiday seasons.  But there’s no reason we can’t laugh about it now.

Tell me all about your biggest, baddest, funniest, craziest or most MONSTROUS Chanukah disaster and you could win my book Chanukah Monsters (softcover, 8.5” x 8.5”, full-colour paperback, retail value $8.99 on, including mailing anywhere in the United States or Canada (sorry, other people; I love you, but you’re too expensive!).

  1. One winner will receive one copy of Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod (hey, that’s me!).
  2. Second and third runners-up will receive a free e-copy of any of my books available in digital form (winner’s choice).

Come on… think up your worst disaster.  Get it off your chest and help the rest of us smile when we’re thinking about what could go wrong (or right) this year.  It doesn’t have to involve fire, or latke poisoning, but it could…

To win: 

  1. Share your story in the Comments section below.  Nothing fancy; just a couple of sentences.
  2. But wait!  You ALSO have to enter via the Giveaway Tools contest box below (entering a comment alone isn’t enough).  The Giveaway Tools gadget offers you a few other cool ways to win.  These are all optional.
  3. Winners will be drawn on Nov 22/23 via Giveaway Tools, and results will be posted on this page.

I can’t wait to see your stories!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

FREE Chanukah Monsters colouring book

image from Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Like it, Share it, pass it along!  Here’s the link:

(You may have to join CurrClick if you haven't already, but membership is free, and this was easier than hosting the PDF myself).

The colouring book is based on the artist’s original sketches for my new book, Chanukah Monsters, with brief all-new text added by moi.

FREE Chanukah Monsters Colouring Book, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

While you’re at it, if you like the colouring book, check out the original Chanukah Monsters, available now for print and Kindle from

Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Enjoy, and if you do, pass it along to a friend!


Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Friday, November 07, 2014

Why I wrote a Jewish book about Christmas.


I’ve spent years creating picture books, stories and curriculum materials on every possible Jewish theme.  But when I sat down to write my first chapter book for slightly older readers, I surprised myself:

It turns out it’s all about Christmas.

It’s called No Santa!, and there’s a picture of the jolly guy himself right there on the cover – chased by a menorah.

No Santa! by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Why did I write this book?  Why davka (specifically) about Christmas?

Because Christmas just is.  Even for Jewish kids, if they’re growing up in North America (or any country other than Israel), it’s not possible to avoid it or sidestep it.  And many kids, even if they are Jewish, grow up celebrating it in some way.

Oh, we never SAID we were “celebrating Christmas” when we were growing up.  My parents would never have allowed that.  We never had a tree – that was waaaay over the line.  But we had stockings.  Beautiful felt stockings, hand-decorated in red and green and sequins.  And every year, on Christmas morning, we’d wake up and race downstairs eagerly to find them stuffed full of little gifts.  (Anything too big for the stockings went on the end tables instead.)

Of course, stockings don’t fill themselves.  On December 24th, before bed, we’d put out cookies of some sort for Santa.  I don’t remember if we left him milk with it.  Probably.

It was cute.  We were totally adorable.  We have pictures of ourselves on Christmas morning, in jammies and bathrobes, surrounded by wrapping paper.  Some years, there was a menorah in the background, too. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

No, we’re not all the same (even though I wish we were)


“What might save us, me and you… is if the Russians love their children, too.”  Singer / songwriter Sting wrote that near the end of the Cold War, when we still thought Russians were going to be the death of us (listen here or watch it below).

I came of age with these optimistic words ringing in my ears – and the assumption that, since our enemies are just like us, we’ll ultimately find peace.

I hate to say it, but Sting lied to a whole generation of us.  We’re really not all the same.

A friend said in a dvar Torah last week that while Migdal Bavel (the Towel of Babel) was being built, the builders had tremendous unity of purpose.  They were all working together in harmony. It was the first and last time all the people of the world worked together with such clarity. 

So why did Hashem object, to the point of smashing the tower and scattering the people?

My friend explained that if one of the builders fell down from the tower to his death, the others wouldn’t cry.  No big deal; they had lots of people.  If a brick fell down, however… it was the end of the world. 

At the time, bricks were the hottest new technology.  They’d just been invented, and they were hard to make.  There were also no sophisticated modern ovens, so bricks tended to be fragile and crumble easily.

Bricks were valuable.  People were throwaways.

You wouldn’t believe anyone was like that today, would you?  Like Sting says, we’re all basically the same, with the same values, right?

Reluctantly, I don’t think so anymore.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hashem's Amazing World: three terrific science / nature books for Jewish kids

The Hashem's Amazing World series, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Looking for a way to share the wonders of science and nature with Jewish kids?
These books may be the answer.
I don't post a lot of brags on here, but I wanted to quickly pop in and let you know how excited I am about this series - the Hashem's Amazing World series.  
The first book, Zoom: A Trip to the Moon, has been out for a while.  But the other two have been sitting in various stages of Technical Difficulty-land for a few months while life caught up with us and I had to deal with other things (excuse me, did I mention I just moved to another continent last year?).

I love looking at all the covers lined up like this (and at home, lining up the real thing is even more thrilling)...

What are they all about???

Zoom! A trip to the moon - explores the moon, earth and space, and gets our little explorer home in time for Shabbat.

Buzz! A teeny tiny world - gets down and dirty with some actual bugs (and a spider), and explores why Hashem put bugs here in the first place.

Baby! Life before birth - discreetly explores what happens before a baby is born from a spiritual and physical perspective.  In case you're worried, when I say discreet, I mean it - I've tried to strike a balance between sharing information and letting parents decide how much their kids are ready to know.  Here are two sample images.  Click through to see more.

What's next???

I'm definitely interested in suggestions for future books.  Someone suggested dinosaurs.  Now THERE is a topic that would be terrific with a lot of kids, but needs to be handled very carefully from a perspective of hashkafa.

Any other thoughts?

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Friday, October 17, 2014

MamaLand Review: Every Picture Tells a Story, a new illustrated weekly parsha book for kids


How are parsha books like popcorn?  You can’t have just one! 

If you’re anything like our family, you already have a preponderance of parsha books. 

But it’s impossible to have “enough,” isn’t it?  Especially when it comes to finding great kids’ parsha books that are both appealing to kids and reflect your family’s hashkafa (religious outlook).  And especially if the author isn’t afraid to do something a little different.  So when the chance to review a new parsha book that combines words and pictures in an innovative new format came along, I got a bit excited. 

There’s a good chance that this book may be just right for your family.

For my review, I received free from the publisher both the hardcover Every Picture Tells a Story Volume One:  Bereishis (Menorah Books: 2014) and the accompanying softcover colouring book:

cover, Every Picture Tells a Story cover, Every Picture Tells a Story (colouring book)

Aren’t those great covers?  They’re bilingual!  And they tell you exactly what you’re going to get inside. 

(I don’t love the fact that on Amazon, you can’t use “Look Inside” to peek into the books, but the publisher has previews on their website instead.  Smart marketing would suggest that they include a URL to these previews in the book description on Amazon, because I was not the only one deterred by this.)

Here’s what I loved about the book, right off the bat:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

FREE Printable Easy Reader Mini-Book, “On Rosh Hashanah”


Joining the free printable mini-books I have made for Shavuos, Pesach and Chanukah, is this awesome little counting book for Rosh Hashanah.  Specially designed to print, cut out and staple at home.

imageimage image

To receive a free PDF of this very simple print-cut-staple easy reader for Pesach, featuring all the usual cute “borrowed” Internet graphics you have come to love from my printables, please sign up for my mailing list (below).  I’ll send it to you within 24 hours.

If you’re already on my mailing list, just fire off an email to me at

Here are the others in this series:

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

The hour between 12 and 1


What time is it right now where you are?

As I write this, it's early morning here (Israel) and the middle of the night in North America.  Time for all reasonable people to be sleeping. 

Are you still awake?

It is also Elul, the time before Rosh Hashanah when we make the changes in our lives so we can start becoming the holy people Hashem wants us to be.

When we lived in North America, it was nice having friends in Israel because I could chat with them late at night.  For them it was morning; their kids had already gone to school.

And I was up much too late.

Here, I find the same thing happening in reverse.  When it's late at night here, everybody's running around back in North America, getting supper ready, relaxing during the evening.

And I am STILL up much too late.

The hour between 12 and 1 is the worst.  Maybe you know the feeling.  The thought that you should just shut down and go to bed?  The sense of diminishing returns. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Shopping for picture books for Jewish holidays? Here are 6 you’ll love.


Do you have something you’re really bad at?

I do, so I’ll go first.

I’m lousy at self-promotion. 

Not just bad.  Lousy.  Especially in person.  I have been at people’s houses, shown them the parsha book that I wrote, and then, when they ask me where they can buy one, I say something like, “oh, it’s probably not right for you.”  Or, “you don’t want to buy it.”

Literally, I have said that.  More than once.  I’m like the ANTI self-promotion force.  I am my own worst critic.

But it’s that time on the Jewish calendar (note to self:  buy new calendars!) when we head out – or head online – to buy kids’ books for the upcoming fall yamim tovim.  Whether they’re for our own children, other people’s children, or just to hand out randomly to children we meet on the subway (hey, a struggling author can hope, right?).  We’re all in the mood for books that make Judaism fun, colourful and appealing.

So I’m going to take a break to blow my own horn, briefly, and let you know that with the fall chagim coming up, you still have time to explore some books I wrote that you and your kids might enjoy.  If you aren’t interested, don’t buy them... drat – there I go, undermining myself again.

Let’s start over:

These are ALL great books.  I’m proud of them.  And they’re all reasonably priced and available on  Bonus:  buy any book with a Kindle edition, and I’ve set things up so it will give you the Kindle version FREE.

(If you’re in Israel, contact me; I have copies here that I can send you directly.)

Here are all my yom tov books (so far; there are more coming!)… and why you and your kids will love them:

image Penguin Rosh Hashanah Because penguins… and Rosh Hashanah.  How cool are they together?  (Answer:  very.)
image We Didn’t Have an Etrog! Everything’s ready for Sukkos / Sukkot… except the etrog (esrog)!  Two eager kids learn a lesson in patience as they prepare for yom tov.
image One Chanukah Night For slightly older kids, Sammy comes face-to-face with history and discovers his own connection with the stories of the Tanach.
image The Marror Man Run, run, as fast as you can… think you know the ending?  Maybe not, in this fun Pesach twist on a classic tale.
image Seven Special Gifts Perfect for Sukkos / Sukkot, Shavuos / Shavuot, or just generally reading about the Land of Israel.
image Shabbat Monsters Not exactly a yom tov book, but Shabbat comes around every week, and with these cute monsters, every kid will look forward to it.

This isn’t all I’ve written, just everything that has a bit of a festival “flavour.”  Click here to see all my books. 

Can I ask you a favour?

While I’m tooting my own horn… it’s kind of tiring being the only one.

If you’ve bought or read one of my books in the past, please click back through and leave a review.  As an independent writer, I live and die by reviews.  They’re the best way to tell other readers that a book by a new and undiscovered writer deserves their attention.

Again, click here to find all my books and (hopefully) leave a fair review.

And now, back to my regularly-scheduled self-effacement…

Thanks for your support.  I totally appreciate it!!!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Start to finish, a Rosh Hashanah (ish) Israel (ish) craft project


Spoiler alert!  If you are on our “nearest and dearest” list, please don’t scroll down to peek at the craft project revealed below.  It is currently winging its way to you in the mail.  Be patient.

(Um, if you feel you are near and dear and considerable time has passed and you have NOT received your very own Craft in the mail – well, oops.  We still love you, but are far from having our act together over here on this new side of the Atlantic.  Better luck to all of us next year.)

So my nanny used to get these cards.  Maybe you’ve seen them.  They were all-occasion cards with paintings on the front.  Mediocre paintings of puppies and kittens and clowns and water and boats.  And the only thing that was special about the cards was that on the back, they said they were mouth-painted by people who had no limbs.

Mouth-painted.  That phrase stuck with me, maybe because everybody always told me not to put paintbrushes in my mouth.  Or maybe the image of a limbless guy painting a landscape.

And the thing is, they didn’t have to be GOOD paintings.  Once you knew they were mouth-painted, that was enough.

So that’s how I think about our craft project.  A year ago, we had our legs pulled out from beneath us by our move to Israel.  Sure, we did it deliberately, we planned it in advance, and we’re happy we came.  But a year ago, I was overwhelmed by the thought of finding vegetables, making lasagna, assembling a meal.  Let alone renting an apartment, finding a job, ordering gas balloons, and all the other things that we’ve managed to accomplish in the year we’ve lived here.

We have had such a beautiful summer, homeschooling together.  And I wanted to wrap it up with a nice something that we could send to everybody we love before Rosh Hashanah.

Luckily, I planned ahead of time.  Between Pesach and June, when things were flowering, I took the liberty of stripping lots of flowers and bringing them home to press.  The kids thought I was nuts, but okay.

(They realized it was cool when they saw me opening up a couple of huge dictionaries and plopping the flowers inside.)

Some flowers faded more than others, but whatever… this is all about lessons learned, and not about the end result.

Remember, it’s like mouth-painting. 

We’re not just doing crafts – we’re doing crafts in Israel.  Everything is hard:  I don’t have my regular glue, scissors, paper, whatever.  No WalMart; how are you supposed to craft without WalMart?

But I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the flowers all along. 

A few years ago, Naomi Rivka designed a bookmark that I knew was never going to win the public library bookmark contest.  But I thought it was beautiful, so I printed off colour copies, mounted them on cardboard and “laminated” them and gave them out to a few lucky relatives.

That’s what I wanted to do with the flowers.  Only without cardboard, without my regular glue, with weird Israeli laminating plastic… well.  It’s about the process, not the product… right?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Two things that are definitely not “us.” Thing #1.


Thing #2 is Tzfat.  A city we love, but will probably never live in.  You can read more about that over here.

But it’s Thing #1 that hurts. 

Thing #1 is homeschooling.

It’s hard not to cry as I write this (partly because Windows Live Writer ate my last version of this after I’d spent 10 minutes typing – waah).

I have had the BEST summer, learning at home with the kids.  Learning, growing, exploring, doing cool stuff together.  And yeah, proving to myself that even here in Israel, I’m still me.  They’re still them, albeit now with a touch of Israeli schoolkid chutzpah.

Given the choice, the kids would continue homeschooling, all year long.  Staying in PJs, going on tiyulim, choosing what to learn, how fast, at exactly the right level.

Given the choice, we grown-ups would continue homeschooling, all year long.  Avoiding making lunches, and yeah, staying in PJs.  Missing the chance to throw ourselves on the one-size-fits-all, inexorable conveyor belt that is any education system, even in Israel.

Have I mentioned that I hate making lunches? 

Ask any of my kids; it’s true.  Always have.  It doesn’t help that I hate almost all sandwiches and this is a nation that reveres them to the point of mandating a nationwide sandwich break at 10am every day.

But, of course, sandwiches are not a good reason to keep your children home.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Free-BEE! Free Kindle book on


My favourite price in the world:  free.  And my favourite thing in the world:  a kids’ book.  (Yes, one of mine.)

Please Like, Share and pass along this deal.  FREE UNTIL AUGUST 14 ONLY!

Learn a little about Israel's modern history and its most beloved songwriter in this short kids' chapter book! This week (Aug 10-14), my book "Naomi Shemer: Teaching Israel to Sing" is FREE for Kindle.


I started writing this book when my daughter, named after Naomi Shemer, was a baby… but only finished it last year, when she was 8.  A long time in the making, but I think it’s worth every second.  (And I loved reading it to her and telling her about the amazing lady for whom she’s named.

Acclaimed in her lifetime as the "First Lady of Israeli Song" and the author of unforgettable classics like Jerusalem of Gold (Yerushalayim shel Zahav), Naomi Shemer is almost unknown in the English-speaking world. With its engaging, straighforward narrative, this book opens the world of Naomi Shemer for the first time to English-speaking children and their parents. Come find out what made her special.

(I'd also love to get some reviews up, so if you and your kids read/enjoy it, please leave an honest review to help others.)

Here are some shots from the paperback version of the book:

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