Friday, September 14, 2018

A bowl of buzzing bees and My Big Panama Experience (Part 2)

We're almost half-way through September already--can you believe it? It's been a strange month weatherwise. Tons of rain and very cool conditions last weekend have changed to heat and humidity. How has your month been so far? I'm a bit worried about those of you who are near Hurricane Florence and hope you all stay safe.  I loved reading all of your comments on my last post and I hope you're looking forward to my next Panama trip installment later on in this post. If you love hiking and nature like I do, I think you'll enjoy it... But, first and foremost--what have I been stitching?

Well, I'm happy to say, I finally have a bowl full of bee stitching to share with you today. I began stitching these in May and now that summer is coming to an end, it seems like a good time to put the bee stitching to rest until next summer. I've really enjoyed it, though, and am looking forward to adding to my bee bowl next summer (and for many summers to come!).  

My first finish is a freebie from Sub Rosa Design called "The Bee's Reverie" which you can find right here.  I love Eszter's designs and when you visit her site you can check out her other charts, both for sale along with many lovely freebies.  I stitched this on 40 ct. Country Mocha Newcastle (which seems to be my go-to fabric lately!) with DMC threads. I did change a few threads from what was suggested so the colors would look better on my chosen fabric. 

The Bee's Reverie by Subrosa Design

I think this design has such a sweet old-fashioned look to it so I chose my finishing materials with that in mind. A bit of lace, some buttons, and a brown mini-print fabric turned this design into a charming pillow. It is the largest  bee pillow that I've done this summer as you'll see when I share all of them in a minute...

A new finish for my bee bowl

I forgot to take a "before" photo of my next finish--Prairie Schooler bee from Book No. 54 called "Garden Beasties." This stitched up very quickly on 40 ct. country mocha Newcastle. I did change a couple of the colors--used pink DMC 223, gold 729, green 3052, and ecru. Well, I guess I changed all of the colors except for the bee and the stripes in the hive! I thought a black button would look cute as the opening for the hive along with the black pins and ruched ribbon trim on this circular finish. Since I had no black pins, I simply used a permanent black marker to "paint" the pin heads... It worked like magic!

Prairie Schooler Bee from "Garden Beasties" booklet

So, here are the five bee pieces I stitched throughout the summer of 2018. Which is your favorite? I think "H Is For Honeybee" is mine, but I'm very pleased with all of them. The best part? I had all of these patterns in my stash and didn't spend a cent on bee charts.

My quintet of bee finishes for the summer of 2018

I finally got my "bee bowl" set up and on display yesterday and I love it! If you look closely, you'll notice that there are six pillows in the bowl... Well, the one on the far left is a Homespun Elegance piece that I stitched four years ago. If you would like to read about that particular finish, you can click here to find more information about it. My bowl is a long, thin one that I picked up at Kohl's a few years back--I like it because the designs can sit side by side and don't cover each other up like in many other bowl displays. The two framed bee pictures in the back are ones I found online, printed off, and framed. I thought they made a nice backdrop to my bee bowl and I really love having the display on the sideboard near my kitchen table!

A bowl full of buzzing bees now sits in my kitchen

Would you like to see a couple of close-ups?

I tried to coordinate the colors in all of the bee-themed pieces I stitched this summer by using mostly pink, pale green, black and gold

Thank you all for your sweet comments and support on my bee obsession this summer! I quite enjoy "themed stitching" and I'm glad you've come along with my on my journey to "stitch all the bees!"

I wonder how many hours of bee stitching I did this season?

So, on to fall and Christmas stitching... I've been working on a larger Prairie Schooler piece which is almost done so I'll share that with you next time along with my monthly Christmas ornaments for August and September. 

Panama (Part 2): Hikes and Nature... Are any of you hikers? I really love doing at least one hike whenever we visit a new part of the world and in Panama we were lucky enough to hike in four different locations. Well, lucky with three of them, that is! The fourth is an experience I'd rather forget... But, I'll begin by telling you about the three enjoyable hikes and sharing some photos of each with you. These are not all my photos (unless they are marked with "Stitching Dreams,"  they were taken by one of my sons who have much better cameras than the one on my iPhone).

Soberanía National Park... We chose this 55,000 acre park due to the reported "abundance of birdlife." There are supposedly over 500 species of birds there. Um... would you believe we saw exactly one bird. Very disappointing! Were we in the wrong part of the park? Was it too late in the day or the wrong time of the year? Should we have gone with a guide? Were the birds just being camera-shy? We did have a nice hike, saw some other small creatures, and enjoyed it, but it would have been much better with bird sightings.

Into the woods we go

The lone bird we saw on our hike that day

A shy turtle tries to hide under the leaves

The rain held off until around 2 PM, just like my son predicted!  It's the rainy season from mid-April through November in Panama and it rains nearly every afternoon until dinnertime.

The water was a fascinating milky-blue color in the streams and waterfalls in this particular park.

Parque Natural Metropolitano... This 573-acre park is set right in the heart of Panama City! Imagine a rain forest within a city and you have an idea of what this unique park was like.  If you love to sweat while you hike, this is the place for you... It is nearly 90° or above all year round in Panama with high humidity. Me? I hate to sweat and I never sweat as much in my entire life as when we hiked in Panama! But, if you just ignore your wet, frizzy hair, soaked clothing, and dripping face, you'll do just fine :) 

A family of coati scrambles up into a tree. The coati are closely related to the raccoon.

A coati posing for a close-up in this darling photo taken by my youngest son

A tiny frog in detail captured by my youngest son's camera.

I'm not sure if this tree has a fungus or just what those pointy things are!

A fairly large spider waits for his prey

I think the creatures that captivated us the most on our hikes were the armies of leafcutter ants. Look closely below--many of the ants are carrying pieces of leaves that they have carefully cut off and are transporting them to their nests. They can carry 20 times their body weight and were just fascinating to watch as they marched on and on. It is said that, after human beings, these ants have the most complex animal society on Earth and their underground nests can be as wide as 98 feet!

My youngest son shot a brief video of the leafcutter ants at work:

Panama City as seen from the Parque Natural Metropolitano

Ancon Hill lies in an area that was used by the United States for administration of the Panama Canal until 1977. The 654-foot high hill leads to the highest point in Panama City.  It is not really a hiking trail--you just walk up a steep road, but the rewards are some gorgeous views of the city. We were so hoping to see a monkey or a sloth since this was our last day in Panama... A few of us were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a lone monkey perched high up in a tree near the top of the hill. Sadly, I was not one of them... 

The sprawling metropolis of Panama City as seen from the top of Ancon Hill

My daughter-in-law took this family photo of the four of us... We sure missed our middle son!

A view of Casco Viejo (the neighborhood where our Airbnb was located) off in the distance.

The Panama Canal as seen from Ancon Hill

I love this photo of my youngest son admiring the city that he called home for six months. I wonder what he was thinking...

Some of the unusual flowers, mushrooms, and greenery that we saw on our hikes in Panama

Santa Fe / Bermejo Falls... Okay--cue the ominous music! The "hike from hell" is about to get underway... But, first a little background. We wanted to get out of the city and experience more of the countryside of Panama so we decided to take a five hour drive to the mountain village of Santa Fe and spend the night. The tiny hotel we stayed at was charming--only four rooms... and we slept under mosquito netting--which was a first! It had such lovely vistas of the mountains and for those of you who have read my blog for a long time, you know that the mountains are my "happy place." As soon as I gaze out over those peaks and valleys, I feel immediate relaxation (a bit like what happens when I sit down to stitch!). As you can see, it was a misty, cool afternoon when we arrived and we spent our time just relaxing on the porch, playing card games, and lazing in the swaying hammocks.

The misty mountains that greeted us in Santa Fe

I got up early to see the sun rise the following morning. Little did I know that the day would be all downhill from that point!

After looking through the hotel's binder of suggested activities in the area, the staff put us in touch with two local guides to take us on a hike to three waterfalls in the Santa Fe National Park area. We met with the guides ahead of time asking them about the length and difficulty of the trek and they described it as a leisurely 5-hour hike to see the flora and fauna while seeing the waterfalls in the area. We specifically asked them about getting wet as we had not brought water shoes or swimsuits with us and they assured us that "aside from spray from the one waterfall," we would be fine. Well, let me tell you this... don't believe everything your guide tells you!

To get to the starting point of the hike we took a bumpy truck ride up  a mountain and were promptly given hiking sticks. (I learned that I love using a hiking stick--the one good thing to come out of this hike!).  

We should have known we were in trouble when the guide pulled out his machete. It turns out the hiking trail was so dense and overgrown in places that he had to whack a path for us to even walk through!

We hadn't walked very far when the guide told us to move to the edge of the path. A local farmer was herding his poor bony cows up the hill which meant we would soon be walking through their "left-overs" as we walked down the hill and across their grazing field!

We were still in one piece and smiling when we reached the first waterfall. This is me, my husband, and our youngest son--the reason we were in Panama!

After the first waterfall, things deteriorated quickly... the jungle became more wild and thick and the path grew narrower. My oldest son is looking like "Do we really want to do this?!" as the guide waits for us to catch up.

Huge rocks, rushing water, and fallen trees gave the landscape a wild, untamed look. We crossed many of these smaller streams by scooting or crawling across the rocks. They were just too slippery to stand on.

Little did we know that we would be fording rivers (remember, the guides told us we wouldn't be getting wet?!). If you could see the look on my face up close it was one of pure terror (yes, that's me in the middle in the white and gray). It was up to my waist at times and the rocks were so slippery it was like walking on ice. I fell often during the several river crossings we made that day so you can imagine what the hiking was like in soaked hiking shoes, socks, and clothing. Thankfully, I had given my phone to my oldest son to put in a waterproof bag. Unfortunately, I had our Passports in my bag and they got drenched. Luckily, they dried out just fine!

At the base of the third waterfall, the guys took a little dip in the cold water while my daughter-in-law and I attempted to dry out.

After we reached the top of the third waterfall (which was so crazy wet with the spray that I couldn't even take a photo!), I thought the worst was over. I was wrong. We had to climb up higher and right after this photo was taken, my youngest son had to reach down with his hiking pole for me to grab on to so he could pull me up while my husband helped push me from behind. The rocks were enormous and I was just too little and weak to crawl up on my own. What if I had fallen? I hate to even think about it!

My oldest son took this photo and it gives you an extremely good picture of the sheer wildness of the area. We were hiking along the river, crossing boulders and pulling ourselves up and down extremely muddy hills with ropes (with no harnesses!). My poor daughter-in-law almost fell off a cliff when attempting to crawl over a flat rock turned at a 60° angle on the side of one hill.  Honestly,  that hike out of the jungle was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life...

And then it began raining... and the rain turned the "trail" into a clay-like mud that practically swallowed our shoes with each step. And the stones turned into slippery, slimy pieces of rock. And the falling began in earnest. I can't even tell you how many times I fell over the 8 hours that we hiked. It was truly amazing that I didn't break a bone, given the fact that I have osteoporosis; a miracle in my mind! But, I did manage to twist both ankles and my left knee so severely that I had to hold on to the guide's arm or hand for the last two hours making the hike even slower for everyone! Each painful step felt like a knife was stabbing up my leg into my knee.

At one point I fell on my bottom smack dab in the mud and just wanted to stay there. My legs felt like quivering jelly and I had almost nothing left to give. Thoughts of headlines screaming "American Family of Five Dies in Panama Jungle" started going through my head. I truly thought I was going to die... But, somehow, I managed to struggle to my feet and  began trudging through the rain and mud while asking the guide every ten minutes, "Are we almost there?" He just looked at me with sad, brown eyes and shook his head. When we finally saw that muddy cow-pie filled field I was overjoyed because I knew we were close! Who thought I'd ever be happy to be walking through that stuff?! And when I glimpsed the  rusty truck waiting to take us five exhausted, sopping wet, mud-covered Americans back to the hotel for what surely would feel like the best shower ever, I simply said, "Thank God." 

After showering, we couldn't wait to get back to civilization and when we saw a McDonald's in the next town, I practically screamed! We are not ordinarily fast-food eaters, but I've never had a meal taste so much like home as that juicy Big Mac, "world-famous" fries, and hot fudge sundae did that night. Comfort food in every sense of the word. It was exactly what we needed...

In the 5-hour car ride back to our Airbnb, I think we were all in a state of shock as to how the day had unfolded. We agreed that we should have stopped and turned around after the first waterfall. There were warning signs... The guides tore down a fence at one point so we could continue on our hike. Was it being blocked because it was too dangerous? The guides wanted to be fully paid before the hike... I think that should have raised questions on our part. Our emotions ran the gamut from anger to betrayal to relief to numbness. To be honest, I have had difficulty sleeping since that hike--I keep playing it over and over in my head and realizing just how lucky I was to come out of it relatively unscathed. The soreness in my legs and upper arms (from using the ropes to pull myself up and down hillsides) was unbelievable for a few days. I can't imagine how bad it would have been if I weren't a regular exerciser. My body was covered with bruises that have, thankfully, faded away.

The moral of my story is this--trust your gut and learn when to say "enough is enough." Other countries are very different from the United States and have few, if any, standards for guides in the tourism industry. Outside of Panama City, it was a bit like the "wild-wild west." Anything goes so to speak! We know that some day, we'll look back on this story and laugh and shake our heads. It will be one of those tales that becomes  part of our "family folklore," that's for sure. But, for now... I'm still feeling very thankful to be alive and living in the United States of America. ♥♥♥ There really is no place like home. Oh, and by the way--did we see any animals or wildlife on that horrid hike? Just one small snake resting on the side of a tree...

So, this post has taken me many hours to put together (yes, I am crazy, but I want to put everything into words to read when I'm old(er) and gray(er) and can no longer recall our travels in such detail). I look forward to writing the final portion on the arts and history of Panama--I think you'll enjoy it!  Until then, thank you all for your wonderful and thoughtful comments. They really mean so much to me. Enjoy your weekend and I hope those of you in the path of Hurricane Florence stay safe. Bye for now...

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Some late summer finishes and my Big Panama Experience (Part One)

I'm back! Did you miss me? A few of you faithful readers emailed me to ask if I was okay and that was so kind of you... I've simply been away from home more days than I've been at home this month. The first week in August found me relaxing at the (very rainy!) beach in North Carolina with my husband's family for our annual reunion. And then we were home for only five days (while I did laundry and repacked our suitcases) and jetted off to Panama! Yes, Panama--quite an adventure! If you'd like to "travel along with me," I'd love to have you... But, first, let's begin with what I've been stitching, okay?

This was the very first piece I've stitched by The Scarlett House, but it won't be my last. I truly loved everything about it (even if I did have to rip out that bottom border twice to get it right!). Isn't it sweet with that many-windowed white house framed by giant strawberries? And the huge birds and the tiny kitty (or puppy!)... I wanted the strawberry color to look like that shown on the front of the chart (which is called "Strawberry House) so I chose to use Classic Colorworks "Clay Pot" as the skein of the suggested GAST "Pomegranate" that I had was just not right. I love this pinkish-peachy color so much!

"Strawberry House" by The Scarlett House

To finish it up, I used Vonna's "Mounted Flat Ornament" tutorial and simply framed it. Really love the result! And that frame is very special, because it is one that my middle son picked up for me during one of his thrifting adventures. He is always on the lookout for small, older frames for me (especially square ones!) and he found this. I painted and distressed it and am really pleased with how it turned out. What do you think? Now I just need to find the perfect place to display it...

All framed up in a painted/distressed frame from Goodwill

I also have a new bee finish to share with you. I know you've seen this one many times and perhaps some of you have stitched it yourselves. But, have you seen it stitched "over one?" So tiny and I made it into another sweet pillow for my bee bowl. This is "Honeybee Sampling" by Little House Needleworks stitched "over one" on 28 ct. mushroom Lugana using DMC threads.

Little House Needleworks "Honeybee Sampling" stitched "over one"

It is a mere 2 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches in size! After sewing it, I added some cording in DMC 420 and topped it off with a black and white gingham bow. I photographed it next to a pair of scissors so you could see the true scale of it. Cute and tiny--just how I like my finishes :)

Another bee finish for the summer of 2018

I have a couple other bee designs almost finished so I'll share those with you next time. That may be it for my bee stitching this summer. I'll show you all of my 2018 bee creations when I'm done for this year. I do plan to keep up the bee stitching next summer, too--so many of you sent me the most delightful bee charts and I really want to stitch them all! If only I had more hours in my day!

So... let's go to Panama! Have any of you visited? It certainly wasn't a country that was on my "must visit" list, but when you have a son who lives all over the world, you get to visit some pretty interesting places. He's inspired us to visit Seville, Spain in 2011 and then travel to Buenos Aires and Patagonia in Argentina (with a side trip to Uruguay!) in 2015. Our youngest son has been living in Panama since March of this year and will wind down his duties at the end of September. I can tell he is having very mixed feelings about returning to the daily "rat-race" that he experiences in Washington, DC. Life in Panama is much more easy going and laid back. People simply seem more relaxed and I hope my photos will help you get a feel for the country. So, grab a cup of coffee or tea (or, in my case, hot cocoa!), sit back, and please join me for a visit to the most modern of Latin American countries!

My son has been living in the beautiful Intercontinental Miramar Hotel in Panama for nearly six months now and, in a way, he has become a fixture in the place. The staff knows him and goes out of its way to help him out and make him feel at home. We decided to spend one night in the same hotel before we moved to the Airbnb we had rented for the week and this is what greeted us when we arrived...

This raspberry-chocolate dessert was waiting for us in our hotel room at midnight! Did we save it for the morning? No way!!

We arrived in the dark, but the next morning we opened the curtains in our 25th story room to reveal this spectacular sight! This is the view my son gets to enjoy every morning (just two floors below!).

The view from Panama's Intercontinental Miramar Hotel

Below is a view from his bedroom window looking up the coast the other way. As you can see, this is a city of high-rises that houses almost 900,000 people (1.5 million in its metropolitan area). It has a very Americanized feel to it (think Miami!) due to the presence of so many Americans living there from the time the Panama Canal was being built in the early 1900s until the control of the Canal was fully turned over to Panama in 1999.

Panama City, Panama--one skyscraper after another!

My son knows me well and knows I am not really a "city" person, so he suggested we rent an Airbnb in the Casco Viejo section rather than stay in the busy city. This charming historic district was settled in 1673 and was named a "Unesco World Heritage Site" in 1997. After the original location of Panama City (now know as Panama Viejo) was virtually destroyed in 1671, the remaining inhabitants moved to this more protected location on a narrow, rocky peninsula. Casco Viejo is an area of contrasts--you will find a beautifully renovated home right next to a dilapidated ruin with trees and vines growing out through the windows.

The contrast of new and old side by side

Casco Viejo thrived until the 1930s when its wealthier residents began moving away from the narrow streets and older architecture to the more automobile-friendly, modern suburbs. The area fell into disrepair and despair--and, by the end of the 20th century, it was filled with not much more than weed infested, crumbling buildings inhabited by vagrants and squatters.

Shells of some buildings are still standing waiting to be remodeled and given a second chance at life.

There was a kind of beauty even in the old ruins

Fortunately, the designation of the area as a World Heritage Site in 1997 brought new hope and, that, along with some government tax incentives, have helped the area begin to turn around. Today you can find beautifully restored examples of French, Spanish, and American colonial architecture on display. Casco Viejo has now become the hip new neighborhood in which to live, filled with many restaurants, shops, and clubs.

Beautifully renovated homes in Casco Viejo

Just look at all of the gorgeous architectural details in this one!

Of course, the blue house by the sea was my favorite.

Big and beautiful doors were everywhere!

This is the part of Panama City where you will find many of the monuments and older churches...

The statue of Simon Bolivar who liberated much of Latin America from Spanish rule

Relaxing in Plaza Bolivar

Iglesia de La Merced (built in 1680)... it is said that the front facade was carried piece by piece from its original location in Panama Viejo!

La Compañía de Jesús was a Jesuit monastery and the site of Panama's first university

If you peek inside the former Jesuit monastery, you'll notice many little snail-shaped niches which were built to honor the wealth of marine life in Panama.

This was originally the barracks of the Spanish troops, but it was made into a monument to honor the many Frenchmen who died in their attempt to build the Panama Canal.

And speaking of the Panama Canal--you really can't visit Panama without stopping by to see one of the world's most amazing engineering marvels. The path to finishing the 51 mile long strip of land into a navigable waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was begun by the French in 1881. However, due to huge loss of life (over 20,000 men died during the building of the canal due to accidents, tropical diseases, snake and insect bites, etc.) and engineering problems, the United States took over the construction in 1904. By 1914, the canal was open, saving weeks of travel time for ships that formerly had to pass around the tip of South America to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa. 

Unfortunately, we didn't choose the best day to visit the canal! Who knew it would be school visitation day?! Hundreds of very (very!!!) excited children ranging from kindergarten through high school age were there with us. I wish I'd taken a photo of them in their colorful school uniforms! The noise level made it impossible to hear what the announcer was saying as we watched a huge ship pass through the canal. Luckily, we were able to watch a film and walk through the museum to learn more on our own.

The Miraflores locks that allow ships to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean and vice versa

A huge freighter enters the left side of the locks and the water level is raised.

And here it is after going through the locks on its way to the Atlantic Ocean

Whew! This is getting way....too....long! I will share three more photos with you and then continue my Panama tour in my next post.  Below is the Airbnb where we stayed in Casco Viejo--a wonderful location within walking distance of so many little shops, tasty restaurants, and interesting sights. My oldest son and his wife went with us, my youngest spent a few nights there (a nice change from his long hotel stay!), and there was a third bedroom for us. I love the Airbnb experience and find it so much more relaxing (and less expensive!) than hotels for a family like ours.

We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in this building in Casco Viejo

The view from our balcony--can you spot the skyscrapers of Panama City in the distance?

One of the glorious sunsets as seen from our rooftop deck at our Airbnb

Thank you for hanging in there 'til the end! I plan on two more chapters to my "Panama Experience." Next I'll talk about the wildlife and hikes that we went on (one of which I feel lucky to have survived--truly). And the final part will showcase more of the history, culture and traditions of this small country. They are very proud of their homeland--as they should be! Wishing you a wonderful stitch-filled week, everyone--thank you all for following my blog, reading my way-too-long posts, and leaving all of your heartfelt comments. I truly look forward to each and every one. Bye for now...