Absolutely no idea what to buy for the man in your life? Join the club!
It’s Husband’s birthday, and I struggle every year to find a gift that I think/hope/pray he will like. (I blame my mother-in-law for having a baby so near to Christmas.) It’s impossible. Anything that he might need, he has either bought for himself, or has recently received at Christmas; which leaves me with nothing. Literally, nothing.
I know that some couples don’t buy gifts for each other, but we do—it’s one of the ways we express our love. Husband is extremely good at this in reverse, and I have over the years received many thoughtful gifts.
This year is worse than ever, because I cannot even think of little things to buy for him. I know that he already has a stash of chocolates and shortbread and men-magazines to read. (I should clarify, by men-magazines I mean magazines about cars, not naked women.) In desperation, I searched online shops under the ‘gifts for men’ tab. This is what I discovered:
Alcohol related gifts. These seem to be popular (but he already has these from Christmas). Men, it seems, like craft beers, whiskey, and (way down the list) gin-making kits. There are many variations on this, including beer mats/towels/tee-shirts, and appropriately shaped glasses and openers. Plus, of course, the actual drinks. A good idea if not buying right after Christmas, when the cupboards are full of half-full bottles of alcohol.
Curry related gifts. Strangely, this appears as the next popular choice. Clearly men in England eat a lot of curry. Many of the related gifts involve growing chillies, or sets of spices, or aprons. Do men also enjoy cooking curry? This has not been my experience.
Coffee is third on the list. Maybe after cooking curry and drinking beers/whiskey/gin, the man in your life likes to settle down with an exotic coffee? Unfortunately, Husband has settled on Ily coffee made in a cafetiere, and in his mind, nothing else compares in terms of flavour and ease—so not for him.
Massage devices. (Again, I will clarify: neck/feet massage kits, nothing dodgy!) I don’t know what Husband thinks about these, but he has never wanted a spa holiday, so I’m assuming he wouldn’t want to sit still long enough for something resembling a hairdryer to scratch his neck.
Toiletries, with various spicy smells. Do men want to smell like an Egyptian souq? I don’t think mine does. I think he would worry if I gave him a gift encouraging him to be cleaner.
Lego. This has proved popular in the past, and has provided many contented (and noisy) hours while watching telly with me, making various well-engineered vehicles. However, I think I have given too many of these recently. Also, it seems that once constructed, these intricate feats of engineering can never be dismantled, but must be displayed on a table or shelf. My life is too short to dust them (and no one else is going to) so they simply become dirty toys that are regularly smuggled by him into the sitting room (which I try to keep clean and tidy ready for unexpected guests/visits by the police) or, worse, on top of my kitchen units.
Multi-tools are also a thing that apparently, men desire. There are many varieties, and they resemble a grown-up version of a penknife, with a hammer, screw-driver, saw, all folded into one tool. I cannot believe this is ever useful. Either it would be too heavy to be fun, or the tools would be too flimsy for real work. But perhaps I need to do further research, maybe every man dreams of owning an all-in-one tool that he can produce from his pocket to save the world/fix the wobbly table at a moment’s notice. (If all else fails, this might have to be the gift this year.)
Lamps on heads are also a thing. You can buy them incorporated into a natty woolly hat, or on an headband. Maybe men all want to be coal miners really, and it makes them feel butch? Or perhaps the whole ‘torch held in the teeth’ thing happens more often than I think? But I don’t have the sort of husband who does much D.I.Y. in dark, inaccessible places, and I think it would be like buying me a mop—so I don’t want to encourage that sort of gift-giving.
Finally, there is a whole lot of tat which is either too sexual to mention here, or too useless to even bother with. Do men really want a structure to keep their bedside table tidy? Or an illuminated toilet seat? Or a pen that can bend into various shapes? A grow-your-own bonsai kit looks fun, but the sceptic in me feels it would never work. Therefore, I am stumped. Maybe I will dig out my knitting needles in the hope that a homemade gift will show that I care. Or maybe not. Please send help.
Hoping you find what you’re looking for this week. Thanks for reading. Take care. Love, Anne x
As promised, I will tell you about the two papers which I enjoyed the most at the SOTS conference. They both helped to shape my understanding of who God is—and are far removed from the way God is presented at Sunday School. As before, please note that I am describing the lectures as per my own understanding, with apologies if I am not accurately describing what the papers said.
Peter Hatton: ברית as treaty
The Hebrew word ‘beret’ (ברית) is frequently used in the Old Testament, and is usually translated as ‘covenant.’ Therefore, God made a ‘covenant’ with Noah, that he would not flood the world again, and he made a ‘covenant’ with Abram that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars, and so on. However, Peter Hatton suggested that our understanding of ‘covenant’ is misleading, and ‘treaty’ would be a better word. He said, “You don’t make covenants with friends, but with enemies.” There is an element of threat when a covenant is made—and we tend to forget this today. A ‘covenant’ or treaty is very different to a contract, which is an agreement between two equal sides, with no underlying threat, and with a right to appeal if things change.
He then discussed the treaty made with Noah, which was symbolised by a bow in the sky. A bow was a sign of power, a threat of attack. Peter showed several examples of pictures of bows from the ancient world, and each time they were signifying threat and power. The bow shown to Noah is a bow (not a rainbow) and it is immediately after God has murdered/executed all the people and animals in the world (so definitely something of a threat would be understood). [This is not something my Sunday School teachers emphasized, with our songs about ‘When you see a rainbow, remember God is love…’]
The treaty with Abram included a sign too. Abram had slaughtered animals, and cut them in half, and fire had gone between the halves. In the ancient world, people sometimes walked between divided carcasses, to symbolise the idea that if they went back on the agreement, they would be like the dead animals. [A little like in a Court of Law, we swear to tell the whole truth ‘so help me God’ in other words, only God will be able to save me if I lie.] In the example of Abram, God was saying that he would be like a divided carcass if the covenant was broken. [I am unclear here as to who the he might be. According to my notes, Peter Hatton said that Abram would be like the dead animals, but when I later read a commentary, they said that it was God himself who was saying he (God) would be like the animals if he didn’t fulfil the covenant. I think the Hebrew can mean either, so you can decide for yourself. Either way, the covenant/treaty held an element of threat.]
Peter’s paper then considered why this element of threat might be important. When people are in situations of conflict, pretence tends to disappear, and people are very real/honest. Peter said that when he has counselled couples with marriage problems, they are in conflict, and they tend to be honest about the hurt and difficulty. He remarked that in this situation, when people are genuine about the pain, they can start to rebuild. He also said that marriage is a covenant/treaty between people who are different (because individuals are different). [He lost me a little here, perhaps I was tired, but I don’t entirely see the same link with a marriage covenant and conflict/threat. But maybe you can work that out for yourself.]
Philip Jenson: Mathematical Monotheism
For me, this was the most helpful paper of all, because I have been struggling with the idea that the Old Testament is very clear that there is ‘One God’ and yet Christians are very strong on the Trinity (which to my mind, is basically three Gods working as one).
Philip Jenson pointed out that ‘monotheism’ is a term that first arose in the 17th century, which is when understanding of mathematics and science was developing rapidly. The idea (rather than the word) of monotheism first arose during the exile. Before then, people held a belief in monolatry (that only one God should be worshipped, above all other gods).
The Hebrew word for ‘one’ is אחד and it means more than the mathematical idea of quantity. אחד is about quality, about being incomparable, being in a position above all others. ‘God’ is not countable. Numbers are unhelpful here. God is known by power. אחד might be better translated as ‘unique’ rather than ‘one.’
[I think some of these comments about inappropriate translations maybe arise because language is not static, and our understanding of words changes over time. Therefore, when Hebrew is being translated today, words like ‘one’ or ‘covenant’ have slightly different nuances than they did during the reign of King James and the Authorised Version.]
Another problem with this is our understanding of the word ‘god.’ What is a god? Modern people don’t like to think that there could be lots of different gods floating around. However, the Bible speaks of ‘Heavenly Beings’ and some are named (Eg. Seraphim). These might be who were understood to be ‘gods.’ Or perhaps the ‘gods’ were man-made, anything that was worshipped and revered, anything that people treated like a god. Anything that rivalled people’s loyalty to God. Therefore, they did exist, but not in a way that was separate from human perception. A carved animal was a god, because it was worshipped as a god but if placed on a shelf as a mere ornament, it was not a god.
The paper then considered texts that possibly contradicted this idea, such as Isaiah 44: 6, “…beside me there is no god.” This seems to exclude the possibility of other gods. But this ‘exclusion formula’ might refer to power rather than the existence of other gods, so is inconclusive.
The conclusion was that God, YWH, is incomparable, and his multiple titles add to the hierarchy (because a lack of names implied a lack of status in the ancient world). The implication in the Bible is that other gods were created by God, and were potentially mortal (ie. not eternal).
I found it all extremely interesting, with lots of ideas to mull on. I also find it helpful when thinking about the Trinity, because I don’t need to try and explain an apparent contradiction between ‘one God,’ and that I believe Jesus was God, and yet he prayed to his Father, who was God. I can stop worrying about how many I can count, and focus on the unique, incomparable being who is God. I am very happy to admit that this God is beyond my understanding, and leave it there.
Hope you have a great week. Take care. Love, Anne x
Today is a sad day. I know that I said I would continue to tell you about the best two papers at SOTS, but Kia died yesterday. Kia, my German Shepherd Dog, was my friend for 16 years. Although she had become old, and mostly lay on her big bed in the kitchen, she seemed very happy. A couple of times a day, she would come up the garden when I fed the poultry, and occasionally she would even start towards a stick—until she remembered how much effort it would be to bend down and pick it up. But yesterday, she suddenly took a turn for the worse, and her wobbly back legs were practically useless, and she gave me ‘that look’ which said she was tired, and had had enough, and it was time to say goodbye.
I worried that if she tried to get up during the night and couldn’t, or if she toileted and couldn’t move out of it, she would be very distressed. So I kissed her head, and whispered that we would meet again (because I firmly believe that God will take care of that) and we took her to the vet, and let her go peacefully.
Now I am clearing away the remains of her presence: washing her bed, finding a cupboard for the dog bowls, wondering why I bought quite so many poop bags. I have food to give away, and old towels to wash and fold. I cry a lot, and remember, and feel loss, but there is something therapeutic about the sorting of it all, something healing in the clearing up. Perhaps that’s why we need rituals when people die, we need something to do while we mourn.
Today is difficult. There is so much to miss, even of a dog who had limited her world to the kitchen and garden. The kitchen is horribly empty. When I picked up the compost bin, there was no head turned towards me, waiting to see if I was going into the garden. Kia would watch, waiting until I actually put on my coat—so she could be sure I wasn’t going to trick her and shut her into the utility room—and then she would heave herself up, and totter to the door. We would walk up the garden together, the cats coming to greet her, and she would watch me as I fed the ducks and chickens. In the past, she would bark in warning if the chickens made a fuss and tried to fly near me (she hated them flying) but recently that was too much effort, so she just watched, checking.
I realise today how often I touched her—scratching her neck every time I passed that big bed on the kitchen floor. As I use the sink, I wait for the shove of her nose in the back of my legs, reminding me to fill her water bowl. No one watches when I go to the fridge, waiting to see if something tasty is coming out, something like cold turkey, which would make it worth the effort of getting up, just in case I passed her a piece. She was very polite, and after a few attempts at stealing food as a puppy, she never stole, and never watched us eat (because I never fed her from the table).
But she knew that when we had steak, I would cut off the fat and put it in her bowl, and without fail, her nose would appear at the table just as we finished eating. I don’t know how she knew that we had finished, I guess she recognised the sound of the fat being chopped up. I don’t think we will be eating steak again for a while; it wouldn’t feel right.
German Shepherd’s are dogs with opinions, and Kia had an opinion on everything. I remember it being a surprise when she was young, how I had to learn that German Shepherd’s were different to my previous dogs. Nosier. I would open a cupboard door, and her head would be in front of mine, blocking the view, checking to see what was inside. Most visitors she liked, and would greet with enthusiasm. A few she disliked (not sure why) and she growled when she saw them. A favoured few she adored, and even in the last weeks she would stagger to greet them before returning to her bed.
Kia was always a ‘mouthy’ dog. As a puppy, it took ages to teach her not to nip (I would scream loudly, as if I was in agony, even if she gently touched me with her teeth). When an adult, she never snapped, and was gentle with the cats and chickens, but when we walked, she would sometimes take my hand in her mouth, like a child holding hands.
As a young adult, Kia had boundless energy. We walked for miles, and she would jump over stiles, and chase sticks. She was very good with livestock, and walked quietly next to me, greeting cows through the fence and looking cross when they licked her head (cows are very licky animals). Though she sometimes barked at horses. And if off the lead, I am pretty sure she would have chased sheep, so we never risked that one.
One of my fondest memories is when I came home after surgery, and was lying in bed, when I heard a noise at the door. Kia (who was not allowed upstairs) was standing there, checking. When I noticed, she tiptoed away, as if pretending it wasn’t her.
But most of my thoughts today are of the old Kia. At 16, she was old for several years, and it was a dignified, peaceful old age. It is with a sad, but very grateful heart, that I say goodbye.
Thanks for reading. Next time I will get back to those papers from SOTS (because they really were extremely interesting).
Have a good week, and take care. Love, Anne x
I will leave you with some photos across the years. (I have grown older too!)
I was invited to attend the Society for Old Testament Study conference. It sounded interesting, and not something I have experienced before, so I was keen to attend. I sent off my application form and fee, booked a train to Sheffield and put the date in my diary. That was the easy part. (I also explained to my family that ‘SOTS’ did not mean what they thought it meant! They had images of drunken old men sharing sticky bottles of whiskey.)
British Rail announced strikes, and my train to Sheffield was cancelled. I decided that the conference was still worth attending, so booked a train for the day before, and a room in a Premier Inn. Worried that the cost/hassle was now increasing. A few other people from college were going, some by coach on the day of the conference, and one via the same train and Premier Inn as me. We would all travel home together after the conference. This is important. I have very annoying issues with anxiety, but usually if I force myself to do things, especially with other people to distract me, then it’s fine and no one notices. I strive to be normal.
However, the train drivers then announced a strike for the 5th, which is when we were travelling home. I agreed with my friends that we would catch a coach from Sheffield to Victoria. Which sounded easy until I thought about it. The coach picked up from a motorway junction. This might be tricky to reach with all our bags. The coach only went as far as Victoria, and there were no trains to bring me nearer home. It also looked like I would be travelling alone the day before the conference, and staying in the Premier Inn on my own, as the others opted for different travel plans. It was the final straw, and I was about to cancel. Husband then kindly said he would drive me, book an Airbnb where he could work, and drive me home afterwards. Phew! I was saved. (This is why I love the man. That and his wickedly funny sense of humour.)
The first day of the conference arrived and I desperately hoped it would be cancelled. It wasn’t. It was held at Sheffield University, which I found very confusing when arriving on a dark January afternoon. Managed to find the registration place, and checked into the ‘hotel’ (which was basically a student room. But a much nicer one than when I was a student.) I told my son, who knows the university, that the seminars were being held in ‘The Edge.’ He told me this is the student bar, and I should watch out for the jello-shots. (Not sure the family fully believed my explanation of SOTS.)
The itinerary was full, with lectures interspersed with drinks or meals. I soon got into the swing of it, my brain switched into conference mode: chatting to strangers over drinks, checking the timetable, listening to people present papers, learning almost as much from the questions that followed. Most of the papers were very interesting, despite being read. I have realised that this is a thing in academic circles. Someone writes a paper (Eg. ‘The false prophets were overly optimistic, which is a human trait.’) They are then given 45 minutes to read it, followed by 15 minutes of questions.
Often the questions were not really questions at all. Sometimes they seemed a veiled criticism, suggesting someone else had already written about the subject extensively. Sometimes they were adding information from their own studies in the past. Sometimes they were an opportunity to cite their own paper/book. And occasionally they actually were questions, usually asking for clarity or how the paper tackled a certain problem raised elsewhere. It felt combative, and whilst enjoying the intellectual to-and-fro, I was glad that I wasn’t presenting anything.
I was aware that everyone was more learned than me (most seemed to be lecturers at universities). Most were probably more intelligent. I listened, and learned.
I also drank a lot of coffee.
There is not room here to talk about the papers that were presented. Some of them were brilliant, so I will write a few brief blogs to tell you about the ideas being discussed. I arrived home feeling drunk — nothing to do with alcohol, more complete saturation-point of my brain. I am so glad that I went.
Thanks for reading. I hope your brain has a work-out this week too. Take care. Love, Anne x
It has been fascinating during my studies, to hear about different influences that have changed the way people see themselves and their world. Today, we accept things like a ‘sub-conscious’ or an ‘inner spirit’ without really thinking about where those ideas came from. They are part of our cultural thinking, and we refer to them effortlessly during conversations. Yet, they have not always been known concepts. They were introduced at a particular time by a particular philosopher.
The same has been true for centuries, and one aspect of studying the New Testament, is knowing which philosophers influenced the thinking at the time. This isn’t disputing any inspiration from God, but it’s recognising that the books were physically written by humans, and those people lived in a culture, and there were certain philosophies that we see reflected in what they wrote. They couldn’t have written about ‘outer space’ or ‘gravity,’ and especially not ‘cyber’ or ‘virtual’ because those things were not yet thought about. Here is a brief summary of the philosophies that were well-known the New Testament world. You can decide whether some of the thinking is incorporated into what was written. (I am only including the snippets of their teachings that I found interesting—you can do your own research if you want to know more!)
Socrates (470 -399 BC)
Socrates said: “The only wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” He was killed by being forced to drink a cup of hemlock. He didn’t write anything, so we mainly know of his teaching via his pupils.
Plato (428 – 348 BC) Plato was heavily influenced by Socrates. He wrote a story, with Socrates teaching about cave dwellers:
‘A group of people lived deep in a dark cave. They sat behind a fire, and a puppeteer moved puppets, casting their shadow on the cave wall, telling the story of the world. This is how the cave people understood the world. But one day, a man left the group, and walked past the fire and out into the sunshine. At first he was blinded by the light, but gradually his eyes adjusted, and he saw that the plants and animals in the real world were better in every way to the shadow images he had seen previously. He went back into the cave and tried to tell his friends, but they refused to listen because his eyes could no longer see in the dark cave, and they decided he was blind.’ Plato wanted to teach people to ‘see’ the real world.
Plato said that the material world is transitory, and humans are capable of reaching an ideal state, which is eternal. He thought the intellect was the most important part of a person, and he differentiated between the intellect/spirit and the material/physical. Two separate parts of humans.
He also had an interesting idea for how society should operate: Plato divided people into those who were ‘rational’ (had wisdom) and said they should govern. The ‘spirited’ people were brave, so they should be soldiers and teachers. ‘Sensuous’ people should be providers, part of commerce, because they were temperate (knew moderation). This, he said, would bring social order and justice. [Looking for politicians who are wise might be difficult today, when being fast-talkers and good presenters seems more likely to get them elected than being wise. I guess Plato lived in a different time.]
Aristotle (384 – 323) Aristotle was Plato’s pupil. He thought that thinking (which he called ‘contemplation’) was superior to doing things. He thought the point of life was to contemplate God, and to serve him, and to pursue happiness. (I confess to be slightly confused by this, as he also said that contemplation is how humans can imitate gods, so not sure he was referring to God.) He taught that good action leads to good habits which leads to good disposition. All things should be tempered by moderation.
Sometime around Plato and Aristotle we had the Stoics. Stoicism taught that God was omnipresent, and everything was subject to his will. People should therefore not worry about what they cannot change (apatheia). Whatever happens, should be accepted. They said everyone should be treated well, because everyone shares the same spirit. Virtue is to know God’s will, and to follow it.
Plotinus (204 – 270 CE) He was a Neo-Platonic philosopher, and he tried to build on Plato’s work. He not only separated the body and soul, but also decided that ‘matter’ or the physical body was evil, and only ‘reason’ or spirit, are good. Therefore, the soul is more important than the body.
They all said lots more, obviously, but a lot of it was boring or confusing or both, so I have given you a brief overview. Interesting, huh?
I will tell you more about my studies in another blog. Thank you for reading.
Hope you have a philosophical day. Take care. Love, Anne x
Something completely different: Have you read a copy of Out by Ten yet?
Reviews for Out by Ten:
“Out by Ten is a thrilling read from the very beginning. Set in the early days of a Covid world, every reader can instantly connect with the narrative landscape. The story is full of intrigue which maintains the same pace through the entire book keeping you captivated. There are some delightfully unpredictable twists which add to the thrill. Some deep issues explored too making this an emotionally mature read. I enjoyed discovering the double meaning of the book’s title Out by Ten ( read it to find out! )- very clever and a surprising revelation.”
After eight days, Joseph came and circumcised the baby. How he wailed! It felt cruel, though I knew it was the right thing to do, even in this strange place we must obey the Jewish laws. We also formally gave him the name Yeshua, the name we had been told to give him by the angel all those months ago.
I wondered if Joseph minded, people would know it wasn’t a family name. I also had no one called Yeshua in my own family, though I did know a boy from my childhood with the name.
After forty days, we had to travel to Jerusalem, to pay for redemption at the temple. As Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, we had to pay five shekels of silver. We couldn’t afford a lamb, so bought two pigeons to sacrifice.
It was nice to leave Bethlehem and to have some exercise at last, to see people and to take my baby into the world. I felt quite excited as I approached the temple, our holy place. I didn’t recognise anyone, but everyone could see we had a new baby and lots of the women came over to see him. I felt so happy!
We walked through the Beautiful Gate and up to the Gate of Nicanor.
It was then that something strange happened. As Joseph and I walked through the temple, a man approached us. He came to look at Yeshua and indicated that he wanted to hold him. That was a little unusual but there was something about him, something that made you sure he was a good man, someone you could trust.
When he looked at the baby, the old man got all emotional and prayed, thanking God and saying that now he could die in peace. He blessed me and Joseph too and then he leant towards me and said something which was very strange.
He said Yeshua would cause “the fall and rising of many in Israel” and would be “a sign that would be opposed so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
What does that mean? I know that he is God’s own son and that he is part of the plan to establish God’s reign on earth. Will he be opposed? Surely everyone will accept God’s anointed one, we have waited so long for him.
But then he said something that made me afraid; this old man with his determined face and bright eyes. His face was very near, I could smell his breath.
He said that a sword would pierce my soul.
Something inside contracted, all the joy of entering the temple evaporated into a lump of fear. Fear and anger. I practically snatched Yeshua away from him. I want my son to grow strong and be happy, will I suffer for this? I will do everything in my power to protect him; he is mine.
I knew I was tired, not getting enough sleep and it was hard to care for a new baby in a strange place without my mother to help me. I felt that I did not want to hear the man’s words, even if they were true. I was coping with enough, and I felt that although I had been brave, I couldn’t be brave any more.
Thankfully the man left us and almost at once an old lady approached. She was ancient, her white hair showed under her mitpahath and she leant heavily on a stick. What I noticed most were her eyes. They almost sparkled! You could tell at once that she was a holy woman and also one who loved to laugh.
As soon as she saw Yeshua, the elderly woman started to pray loudly, thanking God and telling people nearby that if they wanted Jerusalem to be redeemed, they should look to the baby. I was glad that no Romans were allowed in the temple; we would have been in trouble.
We finished making the offerings and then went back to Bethlehem. I didn’t know whether to tell Joseph what the old man had told me. I kept thinking about his words, worrying about what they might mean. I was so tired, I decided I would wait and maybe tell him later.
The months passed and we settled into life in Bethlehem. We moved into a little house and Joseph found work on the many building projects that the Romans have introduced.
Yeshua continued to thrive. He grew into a sturdy toddler and would walk around the room holding onto the stools and baskets. I loved to feel his solid weight when I carried him on my hip, the light touch of his chubby fingers when he reached up to touch my face. There was pure joy in the gurgle of his giggles. He started to sleep much better at night and Joseph and I were thinking about having another child. But then everything changed.
It was one evening, still quite early but we had filled the lamp with olive oil and lit the linen wick. Joseph put it on a bushel basket, so the room was well lit and we could talk about the day. Suddenly, there was a banging at the door.
Joseph went at once and there, in the road, was a group of Persian travellers. They had dismounted from their horses and were peering intently into the house. They told Joseph they had seen a star and had come to worship the king. I was so glad I hadn’t gone to bed yet!
We let them into the house and I went to get Yeshua. He was damp from sleep and his tired eyes looked blearily around him. I wondered if he would cry but he seemed fascinated by our strange visitors. They wore their hair in long curls and one had a band of gold on his head. It glinted in the lamp light and I could see Yeshua watching it intently. Their clothes were patterned with birds and flowers.
We offered them wine; it was clear they were tired from their journey. I was embarrassed that we only had two stools to offer them, but they didn’t seem to mind and in fact insisted that I should sit on one with Yeshua and they were happy to sit on the rush mat. They didn’t really sit anyway, they wanted to kneel before Yeshua.
Then they gave him gifts. They were beautiful to look at. They gave him gold, signifying that he is a king. They gave him frankincense. The strong aroma filled the house and I wondered if Yeshua was to be a priest, even though he is not descended from Levi. They also gave him myrrh. Myrrh is costly but is for embalming a body. It was a strange gift for a baby and I wondered what it meant.
They told us their story before they left. In their Persian home, they were magi, watching the stars and foretelling the future. Many months ago, at the time of Yeshua’s birth, they had seen a special star which they knew meant a powerful new king had been born and they determined they would find him and worship him. Unfortunately, following the star caused them to go to Jerusalem first (I always knew that star gazing was a misleading activity). They went to Herod’s palace and asked where the new king was. This was scary; Herod had shown he was not a king to be trusted and his cruelty was well known. I would not have wanted to visit his palace.
However, it sounded as though he had decided to be helpful. Herod asked the scribes to research the early scriptures and they discovered that the promised king was to be born in Bethlehem. The king told the Easterners, asking them to find the king and then return and tell him theexact location, so that he too could worship.
I wondered what would happen next. Would Herod himself come to visit my precious baby or would we be summoned to the palace? This was not a comfortable thought.
I also wondered: why had the palace scribes not come to visit us? Why didn’t they travel with the Easterners to see the baby? Did they not believe the scriptures that they studied so diligently? Surely, if they were truly expecting a redeemer they would also have come? I frowned, feeling uneasy. There was something that I didn’t understand, and it nagged at me.
The men left. They planned to sleep in an inn and return to Jerusalem the next day. We could not offer them lodging in our tiny house and they seemed content to leave now they had seen Yeshua.
I returned Yeshua to bed and soon afterwards Joseph and I also went to sleep.
I had not been asleep for long when Joseph woke me. He shook me awake, then went to light the lamp. I could see his face was tense and instantly turned to check Yeshua was well. He was sleeping soundly.
Joseph told me I needed to get up—at once—we needed to leave. He said that he had had a dream, like the dream when the angel told him that the baby inside me was God’s son. It was so intense, so real, that he could not ignore it. Joseph said he had been told we must leave Bethlehem, leave Israel; Yeshua is in danger, Herod plans to kill him.
For a moment I paused, wondering why I too had not been warned. But then understanding flooded through me, as I realised—God had told Joseph to take care of me and Yeshua—that was a hard task for a man, to care for a son that was not his own. So now, God was telling Joseph alone what we needed to do, underlining his role, establishing him as head of our family. It was a kind act, asserting Joseph’s value, his part in all this.
I began to pack our things, Joseph was hurrying me, telling me to only take what was essential, we needed to leave.
We were to go to Egypt. Egypt! Could this be right? Was Yeshua not to be king of the Jews? I packed hurriedly and we left that very night.
What would the future hold? Would we ever return to our home town? The future was uncertain but I knew that something bigger than us was happening. Whatever happened, God had a plan and no one could alter the course of that, not Herod, not the Romans. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were part of the plan—and that was enough.
Thank you for reading.
This account necessarily involves some imagination but I believe it is also as historically correct as possible (and more accurate than some of our Christmas carols!) If you are aware of any historical errors, please tell me and I will modify it. I used a variety of sources including: The Gospels of Matthew and Luke Geoffrey Bromily (1995) William Hendriksen William Barclay Joseph P Amar (university of Notre Dame) Michael Marlowe Tessa Afshar Kenneth Bailey
I travelled to Bethlehem in a small cart. Every bump (and there were many) was agony. As I was jolted along, I was racked with pain. The baby’s time was near, you see and the pain was almost unbearable. Later, they would sing songs about a cute donkey carrying me. Nice thought! I don’t think there’s any way you could have got me on a donkey. As each contraction cramped every muscle in my torso, I huddled up like an animal and prayed for it to be over.
I could see Joseph, watching me as he walked alongside. He really didn’t have the first idea what to do. Oh, how I wanted my mother. I yearned for her to be there, holding my hand, telling me everything was all right and would be over soon.
When we arrived at Joseph’s uncle’s house, the women folk came and helped me inside. The room was crowded. All Joseph’s male relatives from miles around had come to the house for shelter and food. The women were busy cooking supper and the men were drinking wine and comparing stories. They all told Joseph how much he resembled his grandfather, Matthan and laughed at old stories from years ago. The smell of fish and fresh bread was nauseating. I was so tired and so uncomfortable.
Joseph knew I was suffering and asked if there was somewhere quiet that I could go. There was no chance that we would get a place in the inn, they had filled up days ago. Somewhere quiet, in a little house packed with relatives?
There were some fraught discussions and then his aunt suggested that the animal shelter, down on the lower floor of the house, might be best. It wasn’t terribly clean, but it would be quiet and private and at least it wouldn’t smell of fish.
Joseph helped me to go down, and a couple of the women came too. One of them examined me and told me the baby was a long way off yet, first babies always take their time in coming. This was not great news but I felt better having her there. I felt that she knew what was happening, had seen this before; it took some of the fear away.
I was frightened, you see. I was horribly afraid that somehow I would damage my baby. My baby and God’s. I knew he was going to be special, I knew I had a great task ahead of me but it all seemed to be going horribly wrong. I trusted that God was still in control but he felt so far away.
Could the baby not have been born in a palace, surrounded by comfort? Would these poor beginnings really be part of a plan? Could they really make this king accessible to the people? I had no idea.
I was a mere girl; I had no education and my memory of scriptures was often fuzzy. To be honest, at this present moment, I didn’t even care. I just wanted this baby OUT! Special or not, my body was tired of carrying him, tired of being stretched and pushed, of fitting something inside that was now too big to be there. I needed this baby to be born and I was too exhausted to wait much longer.
How I longed for sleep. The pain in my back was terrible. Great waves of cramp that seared through my body, making me oblivious to everything else. I was vaguely aware that someone was sweeping the floor and moving the animals to a far corner. They had laid out a mattress and blankets for me to rest on but I couldn’t lie still for long. I felt better standing, rocking in time with the pain, trying to remember to breathe: in out, in out. Someone offered me water but I couldn’t drink. I wasn’t thirsty—I just wanted this baby to be born.
I could see Joseph with his big anxious eyes watching me. He didn’t know what to do. Someone suggested he should go into the house to eat and I nodded in agreement. There was nothing he could do and the poor man must have been tired too. He had endured such an emotional time lately. First there was his fear and anger when he first heard about the baby (now that was a difficult conversation!) Then he had to endure the smirks of his friends when the pregnancy became public knowledge. He never complained, but I know he felt embarrassed, wished that God could have chosen a different girl.
We had been travelling for five days, with hardly any rest and the last couple of days had been chilly. I know he felt the burden of caring for me, watching for bandits on the roads and wondering if we would make it to Bethlehem in time. If the baby had come early, I don’t know what he’d have done—left me with strangers on the road somewhere I guess and come to register on his own. One didn’t mess with a Roman decree. . .
The pain eventually became almost constant. Joseph had eaten and rested but I continued to sway in discomfort in the little room of animals. Every so often one of them would poop, and although the women with me cleaned it up quickly, the smell pervaded the atmosphere. It was hard to ignore.
I could hear the musicians gathering, someone must have told them the birth would be soon. They would stand outside, waiting to hear whether the baby was a boy so they could play. That gave me hope, maybe soon the baby would arrive.
Then at last, in a final searing pain, the baby was born. I looked down at his blue waxy body as he wriggled on the blanket, and I knew that he was mine. My love for him was overwhelming. He was part of me, I would die rather than let anything hurt him.
One of the women wiped him down with oil and salt and I held him in my arms while they looked for the swaddling bands in our luggage.
How beautiful he was. His indigo eyes would soon turn brown and they gazed at me trustingly. I loved him with my whole being.
Outside, there was the sound of music and singing as the musicians heralded the arrival of a boy, and I smiled, knowing they would have quietly slid away into the night if the baby had been a girl. But there had been no chance of that, not this time.
Joseph came and took the baby from me. He held the tiny baby in his giant carpenter’s hands, hands that spoke of hard work and safety. He didn’t say anything, this man who had been chosen to protect me; he simply stared at the baby—looking, wondering.
Then the baby started to mouth for food and Joseph passed him back. The women showed me how to feed him, but he was soon asleep. Then we gently wrapped him in the swaddling bands, securing his tiny limbs so he would feel snug and secure and his bones would grow straight and true. He was so beautiful. It was hard to remember what the angel had told me, that this was God’s son too. I began to wonder if I had imagined it, if it were all a dream. This baby did not look like God, he was a baby. My baby.
“If it’s true God,” I thought, “Let there be another sign. He is so little and I love him so much. Is all this travelling, and squashing into a crowded house with the animals, really part of the plan? Are you still in control? Can you still see me? Remind me again…”
I too needed to sleep. Joseph fetched fresh hay and put it in the animal’s manger, covering it with a soft blanket. I didn’t want him to put the baby there, I wanted to keep him on the bed next to me, but Joseph was worried I might roll on him in my sleep. Then he laid the baby down and told me to sleep. He looked deep into my eyes and brushed my collar bone lightly with his fingers.
“Soon you’ll be truly mine,” he whispered. I knew what he meant and felt myself blush. I was so tired, I thought I would sleep for a week.
I actually slept for about two hours. I was abruptly woken by loud voices and a draft of cold air as the door was flung open. There, standing uncertainly in the doorway was a group of youths. Their clothes were dirty and exuded the strong smell of sheep. Joseph was with them.
“Mary? Are you awake?” he asked.
It would be hard not to be with all the noise from outside.
“These shepherds want to see the baby. They were told by angels where they could find him and they have come to look at him.”
I checked I was decently covered before nodding, letting Joseph know that it was all right, they could come in. They trouped into the room. They seemed so big and clumsy in such a small space, with their long limbs and rough clothes. I worried they might hurt the baby.
But they didn’t try to touch him, they just stared for a while and then one of them knelt and they all followed suit, kneeling before the manger, staring at the baby.
Then they told me their story, how they had been in the fields and an angel had appeared. They had thought they were going to die, to be struck down right where they were.
The angel had reassured them, told them that a saviour had been born, the Christ who we’ve all been waiting for. They would find him lying in a manger. Then suddenly there were lots of angels, all praising God and saying he was pleased with people on earth.
After the angels had gone, finding they were still alive after all, the shepherds decided to come at once and see for themselves. It was as though they couldn’t quite believe what they had seen and heard, they needed to actually see the baby with their own eyes.
I felt so humbled and so cared for. God had heard my thoughts. He was reassuring me. It was all his plan, not some terrible mistake; circumstances hadn’t caused us to drop out of his control, he could still see me. We were meant to be here. He even knew about the manger!
I listened and smiled and treasured my thoughts.
The shepherds left as noisily as they came. I could hear them in the streets, shouting their news, telling everyone what had happened. They were so excited, I expect they woke up half the town. They had of course woken the baby who was now crying with a thin wail that jarred my nerves and was impossible to ignore. I fed him some more and then we both slept. A tired, contented sleep borne from exhaustion and wonder.
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It was my birthday. Having a birthday in December is always bit of a mixed blessing, but thankfully it’s far enough from the 25th that it never gets tangled up with Christmas (though I can never display my birthday cards for more than a week). Anyway, my birthday this year was very pleasant.
Husband kept the day clear of work, and we went shopping at Bluewater. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that I hate shopping, especially for clothes. This was an exception, and it was rather fun.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to join a board dinner at Trinity House. Do you know Trinity House? (I think you can tour it during the day—it’s next door to The Four Seasons hotel, near the north bank of the Thames.) Anyway, it was nice to be invited for a posh meal, and I dressed carefully. I knew that the board members would be arriving straight from a board meeting—mainly in suits/office attire. So smart, but not evening dress. I am completely uninterested in clothes, but I do own a few ‘posh’ items, so wore some smart trousers with a silk blouse and cashmere sweater, added some pearls and earrings, checked my hair for bits of hay/chicken poop, found some clean shoes, and set off. I thought I looked fine.
The evening was lovely. Trinity House is beautiful. We left our coats in the cloakroom, and walked up a sweeping staircase to where drinks were being served. I was introduced to a few people, and then the gong sounded, and we were ushered into the dining room. There was a big fireplace, and oil paintings, and an huge oak table with flower arrangements. Dinner was very fancy, and the company was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The following day, I made the mistake of mentioning my outfit. I explained to Husband that I intensely dislike wearing heels, and you can’t wear a dress with flat shoes, and was my outfit okay? Apparently, it was ‘surprisingly casual.’ I pointed out that the clothes were all expensive, but discovered this makes no difference. Apparently, there are certain items (like sweaters) that are ‘casual’ and other items (like jackets) that are ‘formal.’ I therefore decided that for my birthday, I should buy a ’formal’ outfit. But a comfortable one, because heels and tight bodices and cold knees spoil the evening.
Bluewater has lots of shops. I hoped to find everything in John Lewis, but they don’t keep many clothes in my size, so we failed, and had to venture into other shops. My sister had advised me to buy the whole outfit, so I wouldn’t go home wondering which cardigan or shoes to wear. Husband agreed that trousers can be smart, but only when worn with a jacket. This I do not understand. We found some trousers (they looked to me exactly like the ones I had worn). We found a jacket (which looks to me no smarter than my lovely sweater). We found some shoes, which honestly look exactly like the ones I wore—but when I remarked on this in the shop, the assistant told me that my shoes were ‘casual’ and these were ‘formal.’ In another shop, the assistant entered into the project and brought me several things to wear (which I rejected) including a gold top, which surprisingly, I kept. Goodness! Who would have thought I would ever wear a gold top? Very disco! But apparently it isn’t disco at all. Apparently, when worn with smart trousers and a jacket, it’s ‘formal.’
I admit, I have learnt nothing. I am still completely bemused as to what the difference between clothes is. However, I now own an approved formal outfit. Am just waiting for the next invitation…
Hope you are suitably attired this week. Thanks for reading. Take care. Love, Anne x
Woke to a cloudy morning, but not actually raining. Went for a run. There were fishermen today when we ran beside the coast, casting their lines into the grey sea. After a quick shower we walked round the corner, and found a tiny café next to the law court. We had coffee and croissants while watching the criminals arriving! (Rather fun to try and guess who was a lawyer and who was the criminal and what crimes they committed. Especially exciting if someone arrived with a police escort. I didn’t take photos, as I didn’t want to end up in court myself.)
I read some more of my Ethics book (this is part of my college course, and I have to write a review on it, and it is NOT an easy read. More like reading an encyclopedia than a textbook.) Gave up after a couple of hours, and we drove to Gnejna Bay. Much more fun than a boring textbook. It was windy, and there were kite-surfers jumping the waves. We ate ice-creams (not very nice ones, I think mine had melted and refrozen) and watched the surfers enjoying the wind.
Drove towards a red fort, which looked exciting from a distance but more like a public loo when we arrived. We could also see a pyramid, far away in the distance. We worked out it was on Gozo, but there was NOT a pyramid on Gozo, so we were confused. Husband stopped for a walk (not my choice) and we strolled across scrubby land towards a tower. Malta is full of towers. Some are beautiful, some are imposing, this was neither.
We then followed signs to Popeye Village. This was my choice. We weren’t sure what to expect — possible a hotel complex or water park, maybe just a hamlet with a cute name. It turned out to be a film set, used in the Popeye film. We didn’t pay to go in, as you could see it across the bay. It was rather fun. There was a car park with a restaurant (and toilets) and a surprising number of other people had driven down the narrow lane to see the village.
Dinner in Café Sei as Papannis was closed on Thursdays. We found it by using Trip Advisor, but I’m suspicious the reviews weren’t authentic. It was okay, and our food was pleasant, but it wasn’t worth the reviews it had received.
Friday 25th November
On the 25th November, Christmas arrives in Malta. We woke to sunshine. After our run, we had coffee and croissants on the balcony, looking across Republic Square to the blue sea in the distance. It was nice, though noisy as builders working on the Grand Palace opposite had their radio on full blast. Valletta IS noisy. If you live in a city you probably wouldn’t notice, but it was vastly different to our home in the countryside — not unpleasant, just different.
We drove to St. Paul’s Bay. This is where St.Paul was shipwrecked in Bible times. I assume there were fewer buildings in those days, though the hills would have been the same. We drove round the bay, and looked across the water to St.Paul’s Island (which has a giant statue of St.Paul on it).
We then drove to Selmun Palace. This was built by a charity who were raising funds to ransom Christians who had been enslaved by the Ottomans. The palace was beautiful, set on a hill top, and very ornate. I’m not sure it was very good use of funds though — I suspect the enslaved Christians would have preferred the money had been used to set them free. Apparently, there were so many people that needed rescuing that the charity had a lottery to decide who would be ransomed. Tough if your name didn’t get picked. The palace was used as a hunting lodge, and knights would stay there and hunt rabbits — the income was used to free more slaves. (Though I am deeply suspicious that the cost of the building was more than any income raised.)
Dinner at Papannis. Lovely. The bar under our apartment had live music tonight, which lasted until very late. Not so lovely.
Saturday 26th November
We woke to the sound of cranes at 6am. Short night. Yesterday, people were talking about heavy rain storms, but it was still dry so we went for a run. We have learnt that in Malta, if it’s going to rain heavily there is very little warning — a few drips and then an instant deluge. We therefore abandoned our normal route along the coast and ran in the streets near the apartment. We saw lots of Christmas lights, and a Nativity scene (as I said yesterday, Christmas arrives on 25th November in Malta). As soon as we felt the first drips of rain, we raced back to the apartment. We got inside just as it started to pour.
There was a big storm. It tripped the fuse so we had no electricity for a while, and the bedroom roof started to leak so I put a saucepan underneath to catch the drips. We ate toast and coffee in the apartment, and I tried (many times) to photograph the forked lightening over the sea, but failed.
After lunch, we walked quickly to the car park and collected the car. We drove to ‘Clapham Junction’ which is so named because there are lines of cart tracks in the rock. No one knows exactly when the tracks were made — some people date them back as early as the Phoenicians — at least earlier than 700 BC. They are at a prehistoric site near Siġġiewi. We parked (no signs, so needed to follow Google maps) and started to walk towards where we thought they might be. But then it rained, so we hopped back into the car. Drove to a viewpoint on Dingli Cliffs (basically all grey and windy). The rain stopped, so we drove back to look at the tracks. It took us a while to find them, but once we had seen them, and realised what we were looking for, they were easy to see — very deep grooves worn into the limestone. They were much deeper than I was expecting.
Nearby were some caves, which were part of a Bronze Age settlement.
Next, we drove to the Blue Grotto. There was a parking area, and a pathway along the cliff edge to a viewpoint. I spent a long time looking at a pretty cove and taking photographs. Husband then told me this was not the grotto, and directed me round the corner. The grotto was spectacular — much better than the pretty cove!
There were also some really interesting plants growing on the cliff. They looked like little trees growing from a plant not dissimilar to an aloe vera. When I got close, I realised that the ‘flowers’ on the ‘trees’ were actually baby versions of the parent plant. I think that the long stalk falls over, and deposits the baby plants at a distance to the parent, where they can then fall off and start to grow. (I spent ages trying to find them on the internet, but I never found them. If you know the name, please let me know.)
Drove back to Valletta and made it into the apartment before the rain started again. Malta reminds me of Cyprus, but with lots of churches and ancient forts and towers. Even tiny fishing villages have watchman towers, guarding the coastline.
Sunday 27th November
Our last day. We had to leave the apartment by 10am, and our flight was in the evening, so we were homeless for a day. In the sunshine, this would have been a treat. Not so much in the rain. We drove back to see the ancient cart tracks, because we had realised that we never actually found the main set. This time we followed the map, and found them — lines and lines of tracks, running to the edge of a slope. Then it poured with rain, and we were completely soaked running back to the car.
We found a hyper market, and used the facilities, and tried to think of somewhere that would be fun to drive to in the rain. Gave up, and went to the airport. Camped in the corner of a food hall for a few hours (I tried to read more of the stodgy Ethics book that has defeated me all holiday). Eventually it was time to check-in, and leave Malta.
If you fancy visiting Malta in November, it has some lovely scenery. There are fewer people, so parking and visiting attractions is much easier. Valletta is beautiful. If you are lucky with the weather, it will be warm and sunny — but we had lots of rain, and it gets chilly. It’s a fun place to visit, but personally I prefer it in the summer.
By the way, the ‘pyramid’ we saw on Gozo turned out to be the Citadel when seen through binoculars!
Thanks for reading. Have a lovely day, and take care. Love, Anne x
(And if you can name the plant, please tell me!)
If you enjoy my travel blogs, you should read my book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary
Available from Amazon as a kindle book or paperback—it makes a great Christmas gift!
Arrived in Malta. The Airbnb is a 20 minute drive from the airport. Staying in Valletta, which is pedestrianised, so parked in multistorey car park and wheeled our suitcases through the city. Rain was forecast but never appeared, so felt very thankful.
Dumped bags in the apartment and went to McDonald’s. Sometimes, when you’re very tired, you just want something very easy/familiar. It hit the spot. We were the only people, including the staff, who were over twenty!
The apartment is weird. It’s all on one level except for the bedroom, which is reached via a steep spiral staircase. The bedroom contains a bed—nothing else. We left our bags in the sitting room, changed in the kitchen. Very odd.
Monday 21st November.
We woke early and went for a run. (Well, ONE of us woke early, and then had a hard job waking the other—but we did both go for a run.) The apartment looks better in daylight. It’s right in the centre of Valletta, and has two balconies that overlook the city. The bedroom, whilst odd, is also wonderfully light and has a view of the sea. Husband carried up a small set of shelves, so I can put a few things up there.
We had breakfast in Eddie’s Café in Republic Square. They didn’t serve croissants, so I tried a Maltese pastry—which was flakey pastry (quite greasy) filled with cheese. I wasn’t a fan. Husband had Eggs Benedict, which was much nicer, so I ate some of that.
It then basically poured with rain all day. The bedroom has a tin roof, so I read an Ethics book while the rain rattled above me. The sea turned from blue to grey and then disappeared from view. We walked to a little Italian restaurant for dinner: Papannis. Great food and wine, with friendly service. Returned to the apartment feeling happy.
Tuesday 22nd November
Not raining. Brilliant! We ran through the Victoria Arch, along the coast, then up the hill to the apartment (one of us walked up the hill). Showered, then had coffee and croissant at Caffé Cordina in Republic Square. Perfect.
We can see a big dome from the apartment, so we walked there (it’s a big church, rebuilt after the war. A LOT of Malta needed to be rebuilt after the war.) We found our way down to Boat Street, and had a lovely walk next to the coast. As we passed the imposing city wall, we could see where the bricks had been cut from the rock. When the knights arrived in Malta, they must have cut the rocks into bricks (thus lowering the base) and built the wall right there (hence not needing to transport the bricks very far). Clever. The wall is now weathered, but I still wouldn’t fancy having to climb it to attack the fort.
The weather was windy (needed my woolly hat) but sunny. When we sheltered from the wind, it was very warm—tee-shirt weather—but mostly we needed a jumper and coat. This was unexpected, I had assumed Malta would be warmer in November.
Returned to apartment and I read more of my Ethics book (quite heavy-going). Fell asleep while reading, and woke up to feel the bed shaking—thought it was Husband trying to wake me—realised it was an earthquake! It didn’t last very long, but there was quite a lot of movement. I checked Twitter (which is always the fastest way to confirm an earthquake I have learned). The earthquake was measured at 4.4.
Dinner at Papannis again. Lovely.
Wednesday 23rd November
Lots of wind and rain (and church bells) during the night, so woke up tired. It was grey and windy, but not actually raining, so we went for a run. I love running next to the sea, there’s something that makes me feel like a child again.
Breakfast at Caffe Cordina again. Today the pigeons were annoying. They’re very aggressive, and as soon as they see food they try to fly onto the table. If people leave uneaten food when they leave, the table is instantly swarmed with pigeons. Not very hygienic. I don’t like city pigeons much (they’re like rats).
Went back to apartment and I tried to read more of the Ethics book. Managed to not fall asleep. Gave up, and we went for a walk along the south eastern coast. We could see warships and a cruise ship and more of Malta across the inlet. Malta is distinctive, with its cities of golden stone and steep walls rising up from the coast, and so many churches—domes and steeples in every direction. Which means lots of bells. The bells near the apartment were fairly random in when they rang, and some of them rang throughout the night.
Dinner at Papannis again—we will have to eat somewhere else tomorrow as they shut on Thursdays.
I will tell you more about our trip in my next blog. Thanks for reading. Take care. Love, Anne x
If you enjoy my travel blogs, you should read my book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary
Available from Amazon as a kindle book or paperback—it makes a great Christmas gift!