Saturday, March 28, 2009

Out the gate

The kids had been asking to go to Maryanne's farm all week, but I had things to do. Finally, I found a day to steal the truck away from Brad and get us out there. We arrived mid-morning, and the kids spent a couple of hours petting dogs, horses, goats, and in general, exploring and enjoying the outside. It was a beautiful day. Brian took a few photos of Honor as she relocated goats around the goat pen. She was having quite a conversation with the young animals - we're not sure about what, but it was good to see her feeling so comfortable and confident with them.

After a bit, Brian came up and said "I'm ready." Ready for what? To ride of course!

Maryanne's assistant suggested we take a short ride off the farm for fun. The kids, for safety, had to have their horses tied to an experienced rider, but they still rode on a bareback pad to give them the practice of staying balanced. I rode Brian's favorite horse, Lily, with a saddle. All the horses seemed happy to be going out for a walk and followed along happily. At first Honor wanted to go slower. During last week's riding, her horse took off trotting when Brian's did... even though she didn't want to trot(!).. and while she rode her at a trot quite naturally, but she wasn't ready to do so again - not yet! After a bit though, given a choice to take a short ride or a long ride, Honor chose the long path. We went out for an hour and the kids and we had a great time. I was feeling the saddle by the time we got back, and Honor said that her 'legs were dizzy' when she dismounted. The benefit of being little means she was lifted down, I had to climb. I guess I need to keep in mind a saying a friend used to throw around a lot: pain is just weakness leaving the body.

We went around a big loop on paths that wound through local farm land and beside the irrigation canals and ditches. We saw people working, animals resting, water pumps of all sorts transferring water. It was a bright, warm, and clear day and we could see for quite a distance. We saw the Great Pyramids of Giza off in the distance, and the closer Abu Sir Pyramids. We also saw a number of birds, including the oddly pretty hudhud, the ever-present white wading bird (of which Egypt seems to have a variety. I caught a photo of one of these guys, a little egret), the intelligent and full of character hooded crows, some little shiny black feathered water fowl, and a bird with stunning blue wings that may have been a bee eater, but it was too fast for me to get a good look.

Here is a slide show of photos I took while out on our ride. Pretty impressive that not only did I get some fairly nice photos, I managed to do so without falling off the horse into a canal somewhere! Hey... come on! Sitting on a moving animal with very little experience, snapping photos in all directions. I was impressed. Probably a good thing I was in a saddle and Lily is such a steady horse :)

It was after 3pm by the time we finished riding, so I called Brad and checked to see when he'd be done for the day. I told him if he would be willing to use some comp time, we'd come get him and we could go out to dinner. He was willing, so we headed downtown to find him. I was impressed with myself again - yes, twice in one day - that I remembered how to get from the Abu Sir area to downtown in a straight forward and relatively easy manner. Roads in Cairo aren't always as logical as they appear on a map. Sometimes you simply cannot get to point B from point A. We did it though, and hijacked Brad off to the Nile Bukhara Indian restaurant in Maadi for an early dinner. All in all, we had a very pleasant day.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Honor and I joined a girl's day out shopping in a little town called Kirdasa. I'm not sure how, or why, we ever found this place, but it appears to be something of a outlet market town for local clothes and other items. A friend and I like the cotton embroidered tunics and this is a great place to find them. They also have a great selection of adult sized galebeyas - in very simple, to very elaborate, styles, as well as kids' galabeyas and girls' clothes. I invited Brian to come along just to get out and see this other part of the greater Cairo area, but understandably, he was not at all interested in clothes shopping.

Honor had a blast though. Here she is... shopping like an Egyptian! (no, I didn't pose her, she did it herself...)
We stopped a rug shop too. I've bought several items here in the past, including a selection of small weavings - like those hanging behind Honor.
Lounging about looking at the various weavings.
Honor shows off a kitty galabeya we got for her at another store.
Two hangings I liked. I got one like the one on the right, but instead of blues, the sky is red and the desert is in greens and yellows.
I liked this village scene too.
Another nice one with great detail.
and Honor liked this one.
Honor, like the rest of us, got shopped out
Street view.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Al-Azhar Park

A recent field trip with Honor's class, took us to al-Azhar Park in Cairo. This may not be something on all tour schedules right now, although it probably should be. On one hand, it is a park. Flowers, trees, playground... pretty standard, so why spend a day of your vacation in Egypt at a city park? On the other hand, it is located in a very scenic part of the city, on top a hill that provides a very nice view (on a clear day) from all sides.

I would highly recommend reading through the pages on the al-Azhar Park website. On the historical tab, read the Project Brief. It provides a very interesting history of how the whole Park was a project to provide more green space in the city, to revitalize a very poor area in need of some serious rehabilitation, and to protect the heritage and historical buildings in the area. From the project brief:
"In 1992, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture established its Historic Cities Support Programme, to implement urban rehabilitation projects in different parts of the Islamic world. Cairo became its most demanding project, encompassing not only the construction of the Park but the restoration of the 1.5 kilometre section of the Ayyubid wall revealed by the removal of the accumulated rubble. It also included the socioeconomic rehabilitation of the neighbouring Historic City, which required launching of numerous restoration and community-initiated development projects. The larger area development project became a testing ground, and a case study, for finding solutions to challenges ranging from the technical demands of physical restoration to the equally challenging issues of socioeconomic development."
Basically, the park was not a simple clean-up project... it was a project to reclaim the whole area, people, land, buildings, etc., for now and the future. No way that cleaning it up would be simple either... the site of the park had been used as a garbage dump for over 500 years! ... and as clean up progressed, important archaeological conservation efforts was also conducted to dig out and preserve a 1.5 kilometre section of the historic Ayyubid Wall and towers. The project brief is a good read - history of the park as well as a bit about the history of the city. I also recommend looking through the Tour section of the al-Azhar website for many nice photos.

I enjoyed walking around the park with the kids. They're young, so we did not stand still and talk too far in depth about what we were passing by ... it seems that the kids had lessons about the park before the field trip as they were answering questions as we went. They had a chance to play on the playground, and after a walk through the park to see the sights, we had a picnic in the grass. I didn't get many photos of the actual gardens, ponds, or pretty buildings... although perhaps I should have, as they did a great job and the grounds are beautiful. I enjoyed walking through the park and looking at the city past the trees and flowers, the view is spectactular all around. We brought binoculars and Honor enjoyed the view as well.

Here is a slide show of our visit:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wearing of the green

How did you start your day? Our day started off with giggles. It might have had something to do with my getting a bright green, non-toxic, felt-tip marker and waking the kids up by gently drawing 4 leaf clovers on their arms!

Honor in particular had been a bit worried as today was her PE day and she had to wear her red and navy uniform. My waking her up with a shamrock 'tattoo' was a great relief... and very silly. I also gave her green socks and tied her hair up in as many green hair accessories (and an elastic green bead bracelet!) as I could fit. Brian only wanted one green hair elastic, but he was able to dress in green clothes.

An added benefit - I told them if they hurried up and got ready fast, I'd have time to give them a 2nd shamrock on their other arm. They did not dawdle!

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Hope you had fun too. :)

Math games, times two

Brian had a dice game for math homework. I was cooking when he brought it out and he asked if I could play, so I suggested that, if he didn't want to wait for me to reach a stopping point, he could teach his sister to play - if it was a game that could be played with adding or subtracting, or even counting (rather than multiplication). I believe the game called for 5 or more rolls of the dice, so it had bigger numbers than Honor has been using in kindergarten, but she can count dots, even if she's not up to complex double-digit addition yet.

After playing Brian's homework game, Honor got out a worksheet that her class had done and she taught Brian how to play a number race game with dice.

Who says math isn't fun?

17 Years!!

What can I say? I've taken off the tags, thrown away the receipt... I'm keeping this guy!

Our anniversary was on a school night, and we no longer have a nanny, so we didn't got out for a late night date, but the kids stayed over with a friend, and we went to a very nice Chinese/Japanese restaurant nearby. Teppanyaki overlooking the Nile at sunset... how nice!

The restaurant is named "Fusion" and we found both the food and service to be excellent. Very pleasant atmosphere as well.

Not sure where we will be for next year's celebration, but this one was definitely fun.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Organic Farming, Egyptian style

It's been a very busy week. Good busy, with field trips and fun with family, but also taken up with a meeting and illness which caused us to miss out on a much anticipated party. Ah well, that's life. Busy, with ups and downs.

Brian's class attended a field trip at the beginning of the week to an organic farm out in Dashour. This was actually the same farm that Honor went to last year to learn about date harvesting, but Brian's class had completely different activities.

Our first stop on the trip, was at a small farm where a donkey-powered waterwheel was demonstrated. It was a simple mechanism, but moved an amazing amount of water. We then continued on to a villa for the rest of the field trip. The kids were able to have snack and recess in the lovely garden there before everyone was loaded onto a donkey cart to ride to a nearby village.

They were invited to see inside a local farmer's home. The local homes are very simple, and the teacher made sure to point out how we have different priorities than these local farmers, and how their needs differ. There was no furniture in the parts of the house we saw, although the walls had once been painted a nice eggshell blue with roller applied flowers for decoration. There were electrical light bulbs hanging from wires from the tall ceiling, and of course, the every-present satellite dish on the roof! In the center of the home, an open staircase led up to the roof where the livestock was kept safe. I had never thought about it, but it makes sense. There was a lovely, open (half walls) porch on the home with a great view of the surrounding fields.

After this brief visit, they loaded back on the cart, and went back to the main villa. The kids were able to see a variety of greenhouses and other gardens, then were taught how to plant cuttings from a jade plant (a pot of which they got to keep).

There was a craftsman at the villa demonstrating traditional ways of making necessary products using the main wooden stems of palm branches. It was amazing to watch him work. He sliced the branches into equal lengths, split them into usable widths. Bored holes in the pieces, and banged them into a wide variety of projects. Very fast! As I was ending up with too much to carry, I bought a small basket - of the type that harvesters use to pick and carry produce.

We then loaded up on the bus and rode out to the nearby desert. We crossed the irrigation canal, and went past a local cemetery, which was built on high ground in case of flooding. We went through a small village where the roads were barely wide enough for the buses to get through... meaning "fold in the mirrors and hold your breath"! We saw a clay mine and brick factory that we were told had once stood on valuable greenland. The factory was moved out to the desert to free the fertile soil for planting.

There were also areas of this desert area where water was being pumped in, in order to reclaim the land. We were told that the land had once been farm land, but had been lost to the desert. They were working on bringing it back. It was quite something to see garlic, spinach and other greenery sprouting up out of the dry sand. The kids were invited to pull some weeds, as weeds took valuable water away from the good plants. They were also turned loose to harvest some tomatoes... the last fruit from an almost used up patch, but the kids did their best.

We went back to the villa, and the kids spread out through the garden to sketch the flowers. Their grade has regular visits to a senior center near the school. One of the projects they'll be working on, will be to create a floral mosaic for the center. The sketches they do will be painted, blown up, and printed nicely to make a mosaic.

Eventually these busy kids had lunch on the lawn. It included some delicious fresh veggies, local cheeses, and a sweet bread/cake called fateer, with honey on it, as a treat from our hostess. Then, after a bit of playing to let their stomachs settle, it was time to get back on the road and head home. It was a full day of activity, and I took a lot of photos. There is so much to see everywhere in Cairo. I love to drive around the area, watch the people, and see the real day to day life... maybe more so than I enjoy the 'tourist sites'. Real life is much more interesting.

Hope you enjoyed sharing this bit of Egypt with us.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Last weekend, with horses

We were supposed to go visit al-Sorat Farm again this weekend, but Brad wasn't feeling 100%, and I overslept. The kids and/or cats are usually noisy and demanding enough to, at least, wake us up early - even if we don't actually want to get up before 7am on a weekend - but not this time. I stumbled out of bed at 9:30am and found them quietly playing in the living room. I called Maryanne, and she said it was probably going to be a messy day anyway. The temps were going up, and the wind was changing to come in from the desert. Tomorrow is forecast to be worse. Sure enough, by noon the current conditions were 80+F and "Sand". It cleared up by late afternoon, 90F with the "sand" downgraded to "nice evening breeze", so we will be heading off to a movie-on-the-lawn, dinner and entertainment, at the club.

Here are some photos of our visit last weekend. Maryanne is going into the hospital for knee surgery today, so as you enjoy these photos, please send her a prayer or two for a fast and easy recovery.

This is how we felt this morning:

Actually, last Friday was very chilly, and windy. A sandstorm was brewing by early afternoon when we left Abu Sir to return to Maadi. The sun was nice and warm though, and the dogs made snuggling in the sun-baked sand look like a surprisingly inviting way to avoid the wind.

Brian had the first riding lesson of the day. He likes this photo of himself wearing the cool helmet. He is riding Dorika, Maryanne's boss mare. Not only is she a pretty horse, she is very gentle and patient with kids.

Brian riding, he was very serious:

After riding, Brian went hay-climbing! See, you can tell it was truly cold out - Brian has an actual sweater on!!
We also met a visitor to the farm. He was to go to his new owner later in the day, but in the meantime, he really wanted to come out and be a part of the fun. Maryanne told us that he loved kids, and this horse made sure made his wishes to get out and play were known, by banging on his door!
Brian also had to have a visit with his favorite baby goat... they are too cute to resist.
Then it was Honor's turn for her lesson:
She really paid attention.
She was very careful to do exactly as she was directed and she was riding all over the ring.

I was surprised at how serious and attentive she was and I think she was learning a lot. Both kids were very disappointed that we were not going back today, but Honor in particular had been talking up how she wanted to ride again. Soon enough.

After Honor's lesson, she joined her brother on the big hay pile. He taught her how to slide down the side of it and they were soon covered in the stuff!
They also met the birds. They went with Maryanne and helped to feed the chickens, turkey, and doves. They were allowed to hold a quail - which is probably the first time they ever touched a bird. They also got to collect a few chicken eggs; the duck eggs were left for hatching.
While the kids were playing, I had a riding lesson with Lily. I was not very stable on bareback, it has been awhile(!), but the horse was clever enough to go at a pace that was good for both of us. She even stopped when I was wobbly. I learned how to communicate with her and she learned to listen to me without my having to insist too many times. I was told she was a lazy horse and so I had to be firm or she'd push me around. I got her to do all that I wanted - except trot. I have a feeling though, that she was right in that regard. I probably wasn't ready to trot!
It wasn't that funny!
Ok... maybe it was!
We went to the movie on the lawn tonight. We had steaks for dinner, grilled perfectly, and the movie was Madagascar Escape 2 Africa". I hadn't seen the movie before and it was hilarious! To be honest, I had never wanted to see the original Madagascar movie in the first place - an animated Seinfeld, but with a bunch of whiny, overly dramatic animals in place of a bunch of whiny, overly dramatic humans, I mean, why?! But I was forced to watch it, shown on a plane once, and even without listening to the soundtrack (I really did try to avoid the thing) I had to admit that it was fun. I enjoyed it with sound too, eventually. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the inept, yet thoroughly professional, militant penguins! Despite my enjoyment of the first one though, I didn't hold out much hope for a decent sequel, and avoided that one too. I was wrong again. It was too much fun. Maybe better than the first.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Why we do not need TV

or... a tiny sampling of what our life sounds like.

Honor was born with her own soundtrack and is always singing. Always. Unless she's asleep, but maybe she is singing in her dreams and we just cannot hear? Or, when she is talking, she might not be singing at the same time, but once that stops, the music is soon to start again.

Here she channels, I believe (because I really should not try to classify her) Arlo Guthrie with his Motorcycle Song, Pheobe from Friends as she sings Smelly Cat, and of course, Sponge Bob. She seemed to have been going for a serious folksy-blusey type improv, but had a hard time keeping a straight face (I couldn't resist giggling either). Yes, she is accompanying her singing with her own guitar music... she was sitting behind the couch where I could not video her well. As it was, I missed the best/first part of the song, but caught some of the end.

Kids' Day '09

Wow! Finally, a break to sit down and play with some photos. I think I've been running since last Thursday and I'm ready for the weekend... I do not want to hear that this is Sunday, the start of the week, and I have to wait another 5 days.. lalalala I can't hear yooou!.

Anyway, Brian and Honor's school had Kids' Day last Thursday and it was a HIGHLY anticipated event (again) and another very successful day (again!). Everybody involved did a wonderful job. The day's activities were sponsored by Coca-Cola, the makers of Dasani water - they provided the T-shirts... how awesome is that? No, they aren't paying me(!), I just think the t-shirts, with screen print art contributed by a student, are a very nice touch.

Brian did not have as amazing a day as he did last year. Unfortunately he got hit by an asthma attack during the first event and had to take a break. Although he managed to get back into the games, he was worn down... not that you can tell by the photos in the slideshow below, but he was truly running on low steam. I think he managed to have fun anyway, and loved the free pizza provided by the PTO for lunch, as well as the 'waffle on a stick' I picked up for his dessert at the bagel stand on campus... I had never heard of this waffle on a stick thing, but Brian mentioned them to me when I said I was going there to get my lunch... and how could I refuse to get my worn down, but still trying to go, young guy a treat?? He even decided to stay late for his after-school activities. He wasn't ill, with a fever or anything, but the lack of oxygen can truly be mean to a kid. Oh, and he also broke his glasses. Not too big of a deal as we found the lens undamaged and got them repaired this weekend, but he likes them, so it was a sad moment.

Honor was at full steam and she and her class had a great afternoon. The younger set had slightly different activities in the afternoon than the older students, but they were equally active. I was amazed that Honor had energy enough to play more when we got home. Enjoy: