Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to Buy Books for Cheap

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

The musty scent of the Strand used book store in New York City remains a happy childhood memory ingrained in my mind. Every week, my father and I would take the subway down to the Strand, where he would leave me to explore the children and youth section while he explored the religion section. We never came home empty handed, and for a few dollars, we brought home treasures.

The beauty of books is that their value lies not in their material worth, but in the words written inside.

As the holidays draw near, giving the gift of a book can be a treasured one. The right book can show how much you have thought you have put into the gift, regardless of its cost. One of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Doyle Melton, on Momastery, suggests the following method for gift giving that she uses for her children:

One Gift You Want
One Gift the World Needs
One Gift to Wear
One Gift to Read

Today I’m going to help you find that "gift to read" without breaking the bank, both online and at "brick and mortar" stores.

Online: There are now numerous online retailers of used books.  Books whose condition is marked “used-like new” or “very good” are often pretty much good as new. “Good” and even “acceptable condition” work well for both bibliophiles like me and for children, who care more about being held and read to than having a bright and shiny brand new book. For children, books are new if they are new to them, and it's extra exciting if they come in a package in the mail.

Thriftbooks is one of my favorite online used book sellers. Shipping is included in the price, books start at $2.99, there is a multi-book discount of $.50 on each additional book if you order more than one book from the same warehouse. If you subscribe to their email list, you will get occasional discount offers, like buy 4 books, get one free going on right now with the promo code HOHOHO (good till December 14). Thriftbooks also has a wish list option and you can get instant notifications if a book you want appears in any of their warehouses.

Amazon offers listings of used books from many different used book retailers, saving you the trouble of finding an online retailer of every single book you want. Just click “used offers” on the book you are considering. Books can start at 1 cent, but will include $3.99 shipping, so the lowest cost you would pay is $4. And if you can’t find the book used, Amazon generally has the lowest prices on new books online. From now till December 14th, if you enter promo code BOOKDEAL25, you will get 25% off of one book.

Brick and Mortar:

The Public Library. No, I am not talking about borrowing books. You can actually buy books from your library, VERY CHEAPLY. Once, and sometimes twice a year, your local public library will hold a library book sale. Some libraries have a book sale on an ongoing basis. The books on sale are often in great condition, and are donated books as well as cast-offs from the shelves. Every library has its own system. At mine, they hand out large shopping bags, which we can fill up and pay a total of $5 for all the books in the bag. I’ve filled up my bag with upwards of 20 books and paid only $5 for all of it, and all those books retail for $12-15 each.

Used Bookstores. Used bookstores abound in every town and city in the US. In England, many charity shops also have used book sections. Some Barnes & Noble branches contain used book sections. If you get a Barnes and Noble Membership, you get 10% off everything in the store, including used books, adding up to greater discounts.

Local Bookstores. Both big box and local bookstores have “bargain bins” where you can find great deals on new books. Sometimes bestsellers that are now out in paperback will be found in hardcover at the bargain section.

Enjoy shopping for your gift to read, and don’t forget to buy yourself one (or two, or three…)

(Note: The Thriftbooks and Amazon links above are affiliate links, which means that if you use those links to make your purchases, I will receive a small commission. I affiliate with retailers that I purchase things from and would recommend. You are not obligated to use those links, but if you do use them, thank you!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Year of Finishing Projects

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I write this post with my head hanging in shame.

After finishing a huge editing project of a 500 page translated book, I feel a sense of relief and some sense of accomplishment, but not much.

It took me almost eight years to finish this project, and it didn’t have to. In those eight years, the original author had even passed away. Granted, the book was long, the editing tedious, and I did it in my spare time.

But it did not have to take eight years.

I could have finished it before getting married. I could have finished it before having my first child. I could have finished it before having my second child.

But now that it is done, and in the hands of the publisher, I will share the lessons I have learned from this shamefully accomplished project, and what finally motivated me to finish it.

Lesson 1: When committing to a project, carve out the time to do it. I often listed this project as a task to get done on a day or a week, but I didn’t block out the time in my schedule for it. If I had allotted simply 30 minutes a day to work on it from the beginning, it would have been done in two years, not eight. Because I did not do so, the task was done in fits and spurts – I would get 30 pages done in one sitting, then go back to it five months later, after putting it on the back burner to more urgent tasks. This is a lesson in discipline, project management, and time management. This free ebook, How to Work for Yourself, shares some good ideas for how to carve out those needed minutes and hours. I wish I had read it eight years ago.

Lesson 2: I work better when I work with other people. Editing is a solitary and tedious job. It takes time and concentration, and usually involves me and a computer, or piece of paper and a pen. However, when I joined a translation committee, and there were others who were now checking the sections I edited against the original language, I moved more quickly. It became a team effort, and my teammates were reviewing sections of the book faster than I was editing them – which motivated me to finish more quickly. This means that I should figure out a way to make future projects also team efforts – even when they don’t seem so at first.

Lesson 3: I work well with deadlines. The final push for me to get this done was when the publisher started pressing for the final manuscript, and the translator started holding me accountable. The pressure was on, but because it had taken me so long, I still had to balance this task with responsibilities I did not have when I first started. The lesson for me on future projects that don’t have external deadlines is to create them – perhaps by asking others to hold me accountable to a deadline I have set, or by vowing not to move on to a new, more exciting project till I finish the one I’m working on now.

Eleven months into 2014, I’m sharing my new year’s resolution because I decided writing how I finished a long term project would be more useful than writing about my intentions to do so. 

What helps you accomplish projects you have started? Please share your tips and ideas!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Best Stuff I've Read Today on Back to School

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Today I'll share the best I've read on back to school week.

My sister is back to school in college and wrote this awesome blog post about how badly her first day went (well, that's what it seemed like at first).

A colleague where I teach, Dr. Mark Farag (no relation) wrote a great (and very short) e-book, on how to ace your classes in college, especially geared towards first year students.

Finally, allaying my trepidation as child #1 enters kindergarten, Glennon Doyle Melton, whose blog I am currently obsessed with, posted this touching photo album of her kids' first day of school (click, you will not regret it).

How was your first day of school?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Road Trip! How to Keep Your Toddlers Occupied Without a Tablet or DVD Player

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Congratulations to Jessica R. for winning my Moleskine giveaway! Stay tuned for future giveaways and don't forget to subscribe via email to always get the latest updates.

Twelve hours. Two kids, one 4 and one 2. A minivan with no working DVD player. How did we do it without pulling our hair out or regretting the trip for the rest of our lives? Here is how:

1- Leave in the morning or early afternoon. Leaving in the morning, right after breakfast, means we can enjoy a quiet ride about 3-4 hours later when the kids fall asleep. Leaving in the early afternoon means the kids will likely take their nap right away, giving us an hour or two of quiet on our way. The problem with leaving in the evening is that the kids will nap again and keep you up when you most need to rest - upon arrival!

2- Let them be. Sometimes we don't need to do much to entertain the kids on a long car ride, especially if we leave during the day (see #1). I am glad the DVD player in the minivan doesn't work - they just don't expect to be entertained in that way, and so they figure out their own ways. Sometimes, they just look outside the window and enjoy the scenery.

3- Bring along "lift a flap" books. These books are fun, interactive, and can occupy a preschooler and a toddler for at least 15 to 20 minutes when they are strapped into their carseats and have no other choice. Other toys that help include quiet finger activities, like threading/lacing toys, and mess free drawing boards like this one:

4- Bring along healthy snacks so you don't have to pay premium for them at rest stops. Use rest stops to walk around and get the wiggles out before getting back into the car for a few more hours. Keep eating light to prevent carsickness.

5- Sing songs, and play colors or "I spy" games. CDs with favorite songs can also help, if they don't drive you crazy. Sometimes having conversations about where we are and where we are going can be fun and educational.

What are some ways you have occupied toddlers on long drives? Share your tips in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Having it All" Does Not Mean Doing It All, or Doing it All At Once (part 2 in a series)

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

If we examine the definition of "having it all" I wrote in my last post on this topic, we will find that it actually contains more doing than having. What it really says is that a woman who "has it all" is a woman who is busy raising children, maintaining a relationship with her spouse if she has one, managing household tasks, and working hard at her job so that she can continue to advance in it. I'm exhausted just reading all of that, and if that is really "having it all," then it is no surprise that many women these days don't want to "have it all." That is to say, they don't want to do it all.

And we don't have to do it all to "have it all." I believe for any man and woman to "have it all," he and she must first decide what makes him or her content, and do those things. "Having it all" should mean having the life one is content with at the present time.
Having it all, but not doing it all, could mean that during the season of raising young children (or teenagers), staying at home or staying in a less demanding job might be the best choice for a parent. Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House in the US, did not start her successful and visible political career until the youngest of her five children went to college. Ann Marie Slaughter, the Princeton professor who kicked off this national conversation a year ago with her article, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All," already had a successful (and flexible) career in academia when she went off to her "dream job" at the State Department. I would argue that taking that job was not about "having it all," but doing too much at the same time. One of my most popular posts was about a crossing guard who knew how to do his job joyfully, sharing his joy with other people in the process. He didn't need a jet-setting job to be content.

On my last post, one of my readers shared an important article by Deborah Spar, the president of Barnard College and author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. She answered her title, "Can Women Really Have it All," with a 'no,' but spent the rest of the article talking about all the things women feel they need to be doing, and how they need to stop trying to be perfect in doing everything. Her conclusion:
The most crucial thing for women to know today? No one does it all. We each, if we're lucky, will have our chance to leave a mark on the world, but we are trying too hard to be perfect. So don't emulate Wonder Woman; think about what's wonderful to you instead. Then boldly, audaciously, joyfully, leave the rest behind.
In other words, stop trying to do everything, and be content with who you are and what you are able to have now.

Many families in the US unfortunately do not have the resources or the support to make ends meet, let alone "have it all." Recently, for example, a McDonald's employee was arrested for allowing her 9 year old daughter to play in the park during her shift. The lack of affordable, quality child care is part of the problem, and the inability for many shift workers to predict their own schedules and arrange for child care is another. Being content does not mean being complacent - we do need to work together to make it easier for all of us to work and take good care of our families at the same time. The Schedules that Work Act, recently introduced in Congress, is one step in the right direction. So is the Strong Start for Children Act, a bipartisan bill that would expand access to early childhood education and infant and toddler care to low and middle income families. You can support that bill by clicking here.

What are other ways we can help each other "have it all" (according to my definition above)? Please comment below (or subscribe to my blog via email) for another chance to win my Moleskine giveaway. The last chance to enter is tomorrow, 7/30. US addresses only.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Does it Mean to "Have it All"? (Part 1 in a series)

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom. I'm not sure. – PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi
I disagree. Women (and men) can, actually, have it all. And in this series of blog posts I am going to explain how.

To “have it all,” we first must figure out what “having it all” actually means. I’ll attempt to define it according to the national conversation in this post, and await your comments to refine (or redefine) that definition.

[Side note: This question is, in itself, a luxury. The Iraqi Christians fleeing Mosul are lucky to have their lives. It is just too painful for me to blog about that.]

A woman who “has it all” is a woman who is able to balance having a loving and fulfilling family life with children; run a household smoothly; and continue to advance in a career that challenges her intellectually while contributing (often significantly) to the household income. She really “has it all” if she can also maintain a workout schedule, a social life, and even a hobby or two.

Do you agree with the above definition? How would you change it? What would you add? Join the conversation and share your comments below, and be entered to win a pack of Moleskine Cahier notebooks. Gain a second entry by subscribing to this blog via email (giveaway ends on 7/30/2014, US addresses only).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Primal Way to Show Love to Your Child

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Congratulations to Marianna A. for winning my "Brain Candy" giveaway, a copy of the novel Illuminations by Mary Sharratt. I'd like to Visit the "Brain Candy" section of my AStore for more summer reading recommendations, and stay tuned for the next giveaway!

I’ve written about how important it is to discover our children’s primary love languages in a previous post about The Five Love Languages of Children. According to the book, primary love languages don’t emerge until children are a little older, past the preschool years. Until then, parents should share love with their children in all five languages. So this is my second post in a five part series with practical examples of using the five love languages with my own children. You can read my first post, on words of affirmation, here.

Love Language: Physical Touch
Sometimes, my pre-schooler wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, often with no obvious explanation, like going to bed late the night before, or being unusually hungry (I admit, he gets this from his mom). We used to combat his negativity with more negativity, which of course led to a downward spiral of arguments and time-outs all day. Reflecting on this, I considered another way to combat his morning bad moods. Lately, he had been getting interested in medicine, pretending to be a doctor and giving us “shots” with any writing instrument he could find. I had an epiphany, and decided to try my new idea the next time toddler woke up in a bad mood.

Soon enough, pre-schooler had a cranky morning. After refusing to say his morning prayers or eat his breakfast on no uncertain terms, I looked him and said, “It looks like you lost your good mood somewhere. I think we need to go back to your room, have an operation and find your good mood!”

Curiosity peaked, he allowed me to scoop him up and take him back to his room, where we conducted the following “operation:”

“First, we smooth out the frown on your face.” I smooth his frown wrinkles in between his eyes with my thumb.

“Second, we find your smile.” I turn up the corners of his lips; by this time he may already be smiling.

“Third, we TICKLE TICKLE TICKLE TICKLE!!!” By this time he’s laughing.

Finally, I ask, “Did we find your good mood?”

Usually, he’s laughing at this point, and says, “yes,” which is promptly followed by a hug. Sometimes he says “no,” just so we can do the “operation” again. Occasionally, it doesn’t work – sometimes he’s just crabby, and sometimes it is for valid reasons, like hunger, a late night, perhaps a headache, or a bad dream that he can’t verbalize. Sometimes we don’t do the whole “operation” – just scooping him up and holding him is enough to remind him that he is loved, even when he is cranky.

It’s no accident that in the well known story in Luke 18 and Matthew 19, parents bring their children to Jesus so He could touch them, and pray for them. “Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 18:15-16, NKJV). By asking Jesus to touch their children, they were asking Him to express love for them. One of the first ways a child receives love from parents is through physical touch.

The emotional and psychological benefits of cuddling infants and young children are well known; some studies have even shown that cuddling premature babies helps them experience less pain during medical procedures.

I have no trouble finding opportunities to cuddle my two year old – she will often play for a little, then come over to me to be hugged and kissed, then go back to playing. My son did that too, but the “cuddle breaks” are fewer and further between as he spends more and more time focused on play. Thankfully, showing love through physical touch does not always mean cuddles, hugs and kisses. He still likes to sit on my lap to read a book, ride piggy back on Mom or Dad, play rough-and-tumble every so often, hold my hand when he’s scared, or help me “find his good mood.”

How do you show your older child how much he or she is loved?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hair, Makeup, and My Kids

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I once was a skincare and makeup addict, rarely walking out the door without some kind of makeup on my face. That practice ended quickly when my first baby started habitually chewing on my chin as a teething soother, and I had to ask myself what else he could possibly be putting in his mouth when he did that. Add to this my second child’s love of playing with my hair, and suddenly I had to re-think all my skin care, makeup, and hair care products in light of what affects their ingredients might have on my developing infants—and on me.

Weeks of research lead me to this fantastic website: The Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database, Skin Deep. I learned about this database through the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which works to get potentially dangerous substances out of the everyday products we use, from shampoo, conditioner, lotion and sunscreen to foundation, lipstick and eyeliner. You can input the name of any product or brand in the Skin Deep database (also available as a mobile app), and if you don’t find a rating for the exact product, you can also search the ingredients of the product to see if it has potentially allergenic, toxic or carcinogenic ingredients.

So when I received a box of free samples of shampoo, conditioner, nail polish and lotion from Influenster to review in the mail, the first thing I did was read their ingredients. Then, I checked Skin Deep to see how the products were rated. As they are relatively new products, most were not, so for those I searched their ingredients instead.

My toes adorned with "Song of Summer," a nice nail color,
but not as cute as my two little ones enjoying summer.
(c) Phoebe Farag Mikhail
The Sinful Colors nail polish in “Song of Summer” seemed the most promising, stating that it has no formaldehyde, toluene, and DBP, toxic chemicals that were once common in nail polishes. Recent press about toxicity in nail polish has led to safer formulations in many brands. In addition, I like the subdued mint green color and the price tag – these polishes start at $1.99 per bottle. Skin Deep rated these polishes with a “moderate hazard.” I tried one coat on my toes and liked the color. There are even safer nail polishes on the market that include some of the traditional drugstore brands, so I would not go out of my way to purchase this brand.  

The Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe shampoo and conditioner did not appear in the database, but the other “Beach Babe” products from this line come up as a “moderate hazard.” I searched the ingredients of the conditioner, and some of them did come up as hazardous in the database. The strong scent is overwhelming, and while it did indeed produce “beach waves” when I tried it, I still had some frizz in my hair that I took care of with a little bit of organic hair oil. I’ll stick to my shampoo and conditioner from The Honest Company. Similarly, the Hawaiian Tropics Silk Hydration After Sun lotion came up as a “high hazard” in the database. I would rather soothe my skin after the sun with 100% aloe vera, like this bottle from Aubrey Organics.

Since being introduced to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Skin Deep database, I have done a purge of many of my cosmetics, skin care, and hair care items, gravitating instead towards safer and more pure products. This purge has also led me to reduce and simplify my use of these products in general, saving my family and me time, money, and our health. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Brain Candy, Beach Reading (Plus a Giveaway!)

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I used to consider one of my favorite pleasures in life a luxury. Losing myself in a good novel has always felt like candy for my brain. Now, studies have proven scientifically that reading is more like a brain multivitamin, and antidepressant, not just brain candy. In addition to increasing vocabulary, improving writing, staving off dementia and reducing stress, the most exciting outcome of reading discovered in all these studies, for me, is the discovery that reading literary fiction increases empathy and emotional intelligence.

The study was published in the journal Science, and its findings have been summarized in numerous articles, including these from the Scientific American and The New York Times. Five different experiments were done, each showing a direct causal relationship between reading literary fiction (versus nonfiction or popular fiction) and increased empathy among study participants. And another recent study by Emory University found that the effects on the brain of reading a novel can last over five days.

Reading, therefore, makes us all better people, in more ways than one. Reading is not only good for us as individuals, but good for  everyone around us as well. We not only become more knowledgeable, more capable, healthier and less stressed when we read, but we can also become more sensitive to the emotions of the people around us when we indulge in a good book.

So, in honor of the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation, I offer a giveaway and some recommendations for reading on your next physical or mental vacation. First, the giveaway: A hardcover copy of Illuminations by Mary Sharratt, a gripping historical fiction novel on the life of Hildegard of Bingen. One lucky blog reader will receive a free copy of this book. To enter the drawing, share the name and author of your own "brain candy" recommendation in the comments below by July 4th, 2014. You can also gain an entry by subscribing to this blog via email. I can only ship the book to a US address.

For more brain candy book recommendations, visit my "Brain Candy" category in my Amazon astore. I'll continue to add recommendations as I remember them. Please share your recommendations in the comments below, and happy, healthy reading!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hey Buddy! (How to Enjoy Your Job and Spread Joy to Others)

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

My kids call our crossing guard “Buddy,” because whenever we see him, whether in the car or walking, he greets us with a huge smile and a shout: “Hey, buddy!” and sends us off with a blessing: “Have a good one!” He does this with everyone who crosses his intersection. If we see him while walking, and the intersection is not busy, he’ll let my 4 year old son hold his “stop” sign for a minute. Drivers honk their greetings at him, and I’ve even seen cooler-than-thou high school students enthusiastically high-five him as they cross the street.

When there is no one to cross the street, “Buddy” keeps himself busy by feeding the birds and listening to music on a small boom box. On rainy days, he is even more cheerful in his big yellow raincoat, and no less boisterous in his greetings. He can’t be younger than 60 years old, but is as carefree in his demeanor as a toddler jumping in puddles, while responsibly keeping people safe as they cross the intersection. It’s abundantly clear that “Buddy” enjoys his job, and even more so, spreads this joy to everyone he meets—even the birds.

Many of us know people with “ordinary” jobs who manage to make them extraordinary. From the city bus driver who knows the names of all her regular passengers and waits for them if they run late, to the cashier who entertains a whining toddler while you dig for your wallet. These people manage to generously bring cheer to others, even others whose salaries and benefits may be 10 times theirs. This is what I’ve learned from “Buddy” and others like him about how to enjoy my job and spread joy to others:

"enable" by quickredfoxandkits
1- Do my job well, whatever it is.  When “Buddy” addresses every driver crossing the intersection, he gets the drivers eyes off their smart phones and reminds them that there will be little people crossing this street.\
2- Be generous with my smiles. The word generous is the key here. “Buddy” is generous with his cheer and it makes everyone else around him cheerful.
3- Make everyone I help feel special. Letting my son hold his stop sign is just one example of how “Buddy” makes everyone who crosses the street feel special. I’ve heard him address other students by name.
4-      Keep my energy level high. “Buddy’s” joy is authentic, and it shows that he is drawing from a wellspring somewhere that makes him able to give this to others. When not helping people cross the street, he snacks on small snacks and listens to music, both of which raise energy as well. 

Do you know someone who does an “ordinary” job exceptionally well? Share your story in the comments below.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Of Refugees and Blessings

A Review of Fleeing Herod: A Journey Through Coptic Egypt with the Holy Family
by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

My two year old daughter's favorite song these days is a catchy Arabic hymn sung by the Heart of David Choir in Egypt that, roughly translated, goes "A long time ago/A refugee came to you oh Egypt/A young boy and his family/He blessed your land/He blessed your people/Till your heart was satisfied with His blessings." On June 1, 2014, the Coptic Orthodox Church will be commemorating the feast of the entry of the Holy Family - Jesus Christ, His Mother Mary, and Joseph the Carpenter - into Egypt, a visit acknowledged and celebrated not just by all Christians, but by all Egyptians.

The fascinating book by James Cowan, Fleeing Herod: A Journey Through Coptic Egypt with the Holy Family revisits the ancient story of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt through Cowan's literal tracing of their legendary path. The Bible gives us a few verses of the angel's instructions to Joseph to take Mary and the infant Jesus to Egypt to flee the edict of Herod to kill all Hebrew children under the age of 3, fearing for his own throne. Tradition, history, and archeology provide us more details on their journey, and Cowan revisits all of these in this colorful travel memoir.

I read Fleeing Herod slowly, not because it was a slow read, but because each chapter offered so much to think about. In addition to Cowan's vibrant descriptions of his journey and of each place he visited, he describes the religious significance of each site to the ancient Egyptians at the time, as well as the tensions and fears the Holy Family must have felt with the daily dangers of thieves and bandits on the road, and Herod's soldiers and spies at their tails.

Most interesting to me were the conversations that Cowan chronicles with all of his hosts along the way - sometimes conversations about the holy site itself, but most often conversations about faith that cause Cowan himself to undergo his own personal transformation. By the time he reaches Mount Qussqam at Al-Muharraq, where the Holy Family lived for at least six months before making their way back down the Nile and on to Nazareth, Cowan writes, "I had spent so many weeks on the road re-creating the world of the Holy Family in Egypt. Their journey was a prototype for the one I was making in my head. Every crisis along the way was a spiritual crisis for me,as it had been for them" (p. 225).  The following is an excerpt from a pivotal conversation he later has at Deir al Muharraq with a monk named Father Angelus:

"The Holy Family came to Mount Qussqam because of a prophecy," Father Angelus went on. "God wanted to test his son by placing him in the most arid spot on earth. This was no act of politeness. His son had to be tested, even as a child. We do this with our own children, do we not? The Holy Father is no different: the baby Jesus had to be honed by fire. Otherwise, how could he begin to cut out the evil that was rampant in the world?"
"I have no idea, Father," I admitted.
"Suffering is the only antidote to the poison of the easy life. Mary knew this to be so, as did Joseph. They were like doctors; they administered herbs to their child. He needed to be made resistant to all the slings and arrows of the world. He needed to be made strong  in order to prepare himself for the difficulties that lay ahead. The crucifixion was never going to be a--how do you say it? A cake path?"
"A cakewalk, Father," I said.
"Call it what you will, yes. It takes more than a stroll in a garden to find courage enough to be crucified. Egypt made Jesus the man he became, I am certain of that."
"How can you be so sure, Father?" I ventured.
Father Angelus looked at me. I could feel his eyes boring into me.
"Because," he began, "Egypt is the eternal fire of humanity. It is here that every conceivable thought that has ever been has been properly tested" (pp. 230-231).

The Holy Family entered Egypt as refugees - and as Cowan beautifully takes us through their trip historically, mythologically, and spiritually - we learn how Egypt changed them, how they changed Egypt, and how Egypt became filled with their blessings. Although I have visited many of the sites Cowan writes about, it is my dream to visit all of them on a pilgrimage such as this. If I do, I will certainly take this book along with me.