Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sugar and Spice

Sugar and spice
and everything nice
that's what little girls are made of

Sunshine and rainbows

and ribbons for hair bows
that's what little girls are made of

Tea parties, laces

and baby doll faces
that's what little girls are made of

                     ~ Anonymous Author

I have a feeling they're also made of spit up, poo, tears, and wails, but also coos, cuddles, smiles, and laughs.

I guess we'll be finding out come August.

That's right--we had our 20-week ultrasound last Wednesday. The doctor wasn't totally sure, because Baby was being modest, but he was "pretty certain" that we have a daughter. We'll try to confirm at our next ultrasound in early May.

So how do we feel about having a daughter? We're both very happy, of course! Jeff told me in the doctor's office that I was beaming. He's always said that as long as our child is healthy, he'll be happy--I think the exact words were "Ten and ten and I'm good"--even as he consistently used masculine pronouns with regard to Baby. (He accurately pointed out that as long as the sex is unknown, it's grammatically correct to use masculine pronouns.) Meanwhile, I've used feminine pronouns all along, spent more time and energy putting feminine names together, and daydreamed about our little girl. I've been well aware of the fact that I would be very happy with either a boy or a girl, but I somehow couldn't think of this child as a boy for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Now we officially get to start picking out our daughter's name! I've been looking at and playing with names for a long time, since well before we started trying to have a baby. I was ready to pick a boy name and a girl name beginning the day we got the positive pregnancy test, but Jeff would have none of it. "Why do the work twice?" he asked. He refused to consider names until we knew the baby's sex. Of course, even now, I'm planning to have one of each picked out, just in case Baby surprises us on her birthday by being a him--it's been known to happen, folks. But for now we'll focus on the girl name first, and then I'll work on getting Jeff to see the wisdom of picking out a boy name too--although if the next ultrasound confirms her status as a her, it'll be an uphill battle.

That's all for today--I just wanted to share the news. I'm hoping before too long to put up a post showing Baby's development through ultrasound pictures, since we've had so many ... but maybe I'll wait until after the May ultrasound to do that so I can post a complete set. For today I'll just share my favorite sonogram so far--one of the ones taken during the nucal translucency ultrasound on 30 January. I love how Baby looks so much like a teddy bear in this one, and how the placenta or whatever that is by her side appears to be cradling her.

Have a good week, everyone!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The last full day of our Nile cruise started with an excursion to a couple of sites in Aswan. It was a beautiful day in Aswan, sunny, cool, and windy. Like every other day on the cruise, the absence of air pollution was divine--we breathed deeply and admired the bright blue sky.

Our first stop was the Unfinished Obelisk--an obelisk (the same shape as the Washington Monument) still lying uncompleted in the granite quarry. It originally was supposed to be 42 meters (almost 138 feet by my calculations, although Wikipedia says 120 feet) tall and would have been the tallest obelisk had it been completed. It was abandoned when the granite cracked. Its presence in the quarry apparently has helped egyptologists figure out how obelisks were made and transported in ancient Egyptian times. This website has a nice description of how the obelisks--which each were made from a single huge piece of granite--were removed from the ground. It concurs nicely with what I remember being told by Hesham: A harder stone was used to dig a row of holes around the intended obelisk, and wood was placed into those holes. Then water was poured over it, causing the wood to expand and split the rock. Heated bricks and cold water were used to smooth the sides. I'm not sure how they actually raised the obelisk from the quarry, but it was transported to a boat and from there to whatever site it was intended for. Once at the site, a hole was dug at the intended location for the obelisk's base to sit down into. Then sand was removed from beneath the bottom of the obelisk so that it slid into the hole and ended up standing upright--as a precaution, a hill of sand had been built on the other side, so that the obelisk wouldn't tip over too far as it fell. Once the obelisk was securely in its location, the hill was removed.

After visiting the Unfinished Obelisk, we traveled by boat to Agilika Island to see the Temple of Philae, a temple to Isis. It was a beautiful trip that didn't last long enough! We walked from the bus to the docking area, which was crowded with a dozen or so small motorboats. The motor
boat drivers all tried to fit their boats into the area right beside the dock--an area large enough for only a few of them. Boats that were dropping off passengers gently nosed empty boats out of their way as they slowly edged toward the dock; empty boats did the same, as the drivers hoped to pick up passengers; and full boats pushed their way through the throng trying to get away from shore. It was classical Egyptian transportation, except that in the boats, it was perfectly okay to make contact with the other vehicles--a practice that is frowned upon when the vehicles in question are cars! Once our group was settled in a boat and clear of the throng, we enjoyed a short ride to the island. We passed other islands on the way and enjoyed the lush greenery and stark rock formations.

The spectacular views continued once we were on Agilika Island. Hesham led us to a side area where we sat while he explained the history of the temple we were to see. The Temple of Philae got its name from its original home--the island of Philae, located about 550 meters (1800 feet) from Agilika. It was built there because
Philae was believed to be where one of the pieces of Osiris was buried, and where his wife Isis found it in order to reconstruct his body and bring him back to life. Apparently temples to Isis were built in each of the traditional locations where Osiris's pieces were hidden. Philae actually was a little too small to hold the temple that the builders wanted to create, so modifications had to be made to the traditional design. The modification that I remember is that, whereas most temples were built with the halls and sanctuary in a straight line, at Philae there was a slight offset, because the temple would not have fit on the island had it been built in a straight line.

So if the temple was built on Philae, why did we go to Agilika to see it? Because it was moved. Philae, already a small island, was partially submerged when the first Aswan dam--the Aswan Low Dam--was completed in 1902, jeopardizing the temple. When the construction of the Aswan High Dam was begun in 1960, it was obvious that the island would be flooded even more, making it even less likely that the temple would survive and cutting off access to the soon-to-be submerged temple whether it survived or not. So UNESCO started a project to save the temple, as well as other sites located on what was to become the floor of Lake Nasser. Dams were built around the island to relieve the flooding. The temple was recorded and measured carefully to ensure that it could be reconstructed accurately in its new home. Finally, the buildings were dismantled--creating around 40,000 pieces--and moved to Agilika, a larger and higher island where the reassembled temple would remain above the waterline. Below is a picture of what's left of Phileo from Agilika.

The information I couldn't remember about Philae and the temple was found at: Wikipedia and  Egypt Travel.

After our tour of the temple and its outbuildings on Agilika island, we returned to the ship for lunch. Then we enjoyed a felucca ride on the Nile that afternoon. The ride was nice, as we passed by several beautiful sites, but it definitely was odd. We wore life jackets. In Cairo, I'm not sure the felucca guys would recognize a life jacket if someone smacked them upside the head with it--they're just not used. In Aswan, we were required to wear them. Of course, that was an Abercrombie & Kent requirement--we were told to bring the life jackets from our cabins--not a felucca guy requirement. But it still made it feel less like an authentic Egyptian experience. It quickly became more authentic, however, when the two felucca guys brought out their satchels of souvenirs for sale before we went back to the dock.

That evening, we had our "farewell banquet." The next morning after breakfast, we checked out of our cabin. Several passengers headed straight for the airport, some to go home and others to fly to Abu Simbel to see the temple there. Jeff and I relaxed in the public areas of the ship until noon, when we were picked up to go to the airport. Our original itinerary had shown the cruise not ending until lunch, so our flight to Cairo left in early afternoon. Had we been notified of the change in itinerary, we may have booked a morning trip to Abu Simbel, but it also was nice just to spend some more time relaxing on the ship. I was a little templed out at that point. I hear that Abu Simbel is amazing, so I'd hate to see it in a less-than-eager state of mind--hopefully we'll be able to get down that way again before we leave Egypt.

Maybe a Lake Nasser cruise early next spring?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Edfu and Kom Ombo

Now returning to our Nile cruise after an inexcusably long break ...

I must begin with full disclosure. On this day of the cruise, I was unaccountably exhausted. Most of the information provided by our guide, Hesham, did not register with me at all that day. The weeks since the trip have further dulled my memory. As a result, most of the information in this particular entry is from various websites, rather than from my memories of the tours themselves.

We started out with an early morning sail, departing from Luxor and heading to Edfu. We had the opportunity to be woken up to view the ship's passage through the lock at Esna, where the ship had to be raised to a higher water level, but Jeff and I chose to sleep through this event. It was uncertain when it would occur--as early as 3am or as late as 6. In either case, we decided that sleeping late on vacation was more important than watching an event that, while probably fascinating, occurred just too early in the morning.

At a much more reasonable time that morning, we docked at Edfu and went ashore to tour the Temple of Horus, possibly the best preserved temple in Egypt. It was built during the Greco-Roman period, with construction beginning in 237 BC and continuing until 57 BC. Horus was the falcon-headed god and husband to the goddess Hathor, whose temple we saw at Dendera. There are images of Horus and Hathor engraved on the facade of the first hypostyle hall.

As we approached the temple, we could see the remnants of the carvings on the facade. The carvings were symmetrical, with the same scene mirrored on each side. The scene shows the pharaoh holding captive enemies by their hair and killing them in the presence of Horus.

Further in to the temple, in the sanctuary, we saw a reconstruction of the ceremonial barge--called a barque--that would have been used once a year to transport the statue of Horus to visit his wife Hathor in Dendera. From what I understand, Hathor visited Horus once a year, and Horus returned the visit once a year. In this way, the married god and goddess maintained their relationship. The statues even were left alone together at night so they could engage in sexual activity!

Sources for information about Edfu: Wikipedia, Egypt Travel, and Sacred Destinations.

After our visit to Edfu, we returned to the ship for lunch and a lazy afternoon, during which I again tried to stay awake. Early that evening, we docked in Kom Ombo and went ashore to tour the temple there, which was dedicated to two deities: Sobek, the crocodile god of fertility, and Haroeris, or Horus the Elder, the sun god of war. This temple is symmetrical--every room that exists for Sobek on the right also exists for Haroeris on the left. There were two entrances, two sanctuaries, and probably even two sets of priests.

There were three things that I found memorable about this temple, apart from its double design. The first was that crocodiles were kept at the temple in honor of Sobek--the belief was that crocodiles could be prevented from harming the population if they were worshiped. So a captive crocodile was kept at the temple at all times so that it could be worshiped. Hesham told us that it is believed that the crocodiles were young--when they got older, bigger, and scarier, they mysteriously died (possibly as a result of being poisoned by the priests) and were mummified. The crocodile mummies were found at the site.

The second memorable thing about the temple at Kom Ombo was the section that seemed to be dedicated to ancient Egyptian medical practices. There were carvings depicting medical instruments and procedures, even childbirth.

Third, I finally got to see something that I'd heard and read about repeatedly--a nilometer. There's one here in Cairo, but I haven't been to see it. Nilometers existed in various places along the Nile. Their purpose was to measure the height of the river, I believe during the annual floods. The nilometer consists of a cistern dug deep into the ground near the river. It's connect to the river by an underground tunnel, through which the river water enters the cistern. Stairs spiral down the walls so that priests or whoever did the measuring could go down to water level and use a pole or some such to measure the distance from the bottom of the cistern to the top of the water. The water level determined the amount that the people had to pay in taxes. If the Nile was high, it was a good crop year; taxes were accordingly raised. If the Nile was low, it was not a good year for crops; taxes were accordingly lowered.

Sources for information about the temple at Kom Ombo: Wikipedia and Tour Egypt. I remembered the information about the crocodiles, medical instruments, and nilometer on my own, so you may not want to assume that I remembered it all correctly.

After we left the temple at Kom Ombo, it was time to go back to the ship for dinner. Wednesday night was Egyptian night, so most people wore gallabeyyas. Most of them were purchased on the ship for pretty reasonable prices. Of course, I wore the one I bought a year or so ago in Kerdassa, and Jeff wore one he bought at the Khan back in October. The meal was all traditional Egyptian food--the most notable being koshary and schawarma (our favorites). After the meal there was an Egyptian party in the lounge, but I was dead on my feet, so we just went to bed instead of joining in the fun.

Next: the final day of sightseeing--Aswan.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm Back ...

I really did mean to be gone only for a few days. Jeff and I took a long weekend to visit Sharm el Sheikh and meet up with some friends there, and I fully intended to start blogging again as soon as we got back. Obviously, that didn't happen. We had the nice relaxing weekend, and then I'm not sure what happened. I got into one of my reading kicks, during which I spend almost every waking moment voraciously reading my current obsession. Unfortunately, my obsession this time was not a single book but a 4-book series, so it took a few days. Other than that, I really think I've just been lazy.

I do intend to finish the series about the Nile cruise--I think there are only two more days to cover on that--and then I'll do a post about our time in Sharm. No guarantees on the timing, though; I'm beginning to learn better. I'll try to get another post up within a day or two. This one is just to let you all know I'm still alive :-)