Sunday, September 30, 2018

Seasonal Stitching and My Big Panama Experience (Part Three)

Oh, my--is it really the end of September already? I am finally managing to squeeze in one last post for the month. I really do try to post twice a month, but I tend to procrastinate now that I'm retired and tell myself, "Oh, I'll do that tomorrow." Can you believe I have now been retired for a year? It's been a mixture of relaxation, changes, and sadness, to be honest with you. I still really miss my old coworkers and many (not all!!) of the patrons who used to stop by the Reference Desk to chat. But, most of my fellow librarians have also retired within this past year so I know it wouldn't be the same even if I were still working. On the other hand, I relish those lazy mornings when I can lounge in bed "just a bit longer" and not have to wake to an alarm and get myself off to work. I am still struggling with making the best use of my time and feel guilty when I don't accomplish as much as I would like in any given day. But, I try to remind myself that I've earned the right to relax--I raised three wonderful sons and spent 29 years serving the public at the library, right?

I did manage to get a lot of stitching in this month and have caught up with my monthly Christmas ornaments. First of all, I'd love to share this gorgeous Prairie Schooler fall finish with you. It is called "Autumn Leaves" (Book No. 132) and is stitched on 40 ct. country mocha Newcastle linen with the suggested threads. For some reason, I rarely feel the need to change colors when I'm stitching Prairie Schooler pieces. I'm not sure if I'll frame this one or finish it off in some other way. On 40 ct. it really isn't that big so I'll have to think about it for a while.

Prairie Schooler's "Autumn Leaves" finish

I really love everything about this finish--the fabulous fall colors, the cute little black kitty, and that funny gray squirrel scampering to the top of the oak tree on the right. Did you know the wording is actually based on a poem "Come Little Leaves" by George Cooper?  Later on, music was added... Now, when I was younger, I probably would have been able to play this piece on the piano. I took lessons for a few years in elementary school and then quit at the age of 12 when I thought playing piano wasn't "cool" anymore! My mother always told me I would regret it--and you know what, mom--you were right! Are any of you piano lesson drop-outs, too?

"Come Little Leaves"

Here are a couple of close-ups of the piece for you.

The center square pictures a barn, but you can pick other motifs to stitch instead. After the fact, I wish I had picked the pumpkin motif to stitch. Oh well, I can always make a small pillow with the pumpkin design and display them together, right?

Most of you know just how much I love black cats!

For my long-time readers, the bottom portion of this sampler might look a wee bit familiar. Well, that's because I actually stitched it way back in 2012 when I was doing my "Bowl Of the Month" stitching and did this one for the October theme of black cats. I finished it into a little pin pillow which you can read about right here. There are lots of other cute black cat ideas in that post, too, if you are a black cat fan like me!

My small pillow finish of the lower portion of "Autumn Leaves" from 2012.

For my August ornament, I stitched another of the Little House Needleworks Farmhouse Christmas series.  Let's see if you recognize it! I stitched it over one on 28ct. black Monaco and it really changed the look of "Grandma's Quilt." What do you think?

"Grandma's Quilt" by Little House Needleworks

And then to finish it off, I turned it on the diagonal, added some greenery,  a small red bell, and my handmade cording. I just love it!

My ornament for August.

September's ornament is from the new 2018 Just Cross Stitch Ornament Issue and is called "My Christmas Song" by MTV Designs.  You know my love of cardinals (you can read about the special feelings I have for those beautiful red birds in this post) so I couldn't resist this one. I forgot to take a "before finish" photo, but this was charted as a rectangular design with red notes. I decided to make the notes black  and I added more of them along with additional snowflakes so I could make an oval ornament. It almost looks like the fabric is printed that way, doesn't it? But no, it just started off as plain old 36 ct. pearl gray Edinburgh linen! I ruched some black and white gingham ribbon and added it to the edge along with some red pins. What do you think? So, on to my last three ornaments of the year--can you believe we are 3/4 done with 2018?

"My Christmas Song" finish for September's ornament

On to my final installment of my Panama holiday... No, you won't be reading about any harrowing hikes this time... one was enough to last a lifetime! Today, I'm going to focus on the arts and the history of the country. One of our most pleasant afternoons was spent in Panama Viejo which is the original site of Panama City and has been a World Heritage Site since 1997. Shortly after it was founded in 1519 by Spanish conquistador,  Pedro Arias de Ávila, it became an important stop in the route used to transport gold and silver from Peru to Spain. For over 150 years, the original city thrived and grew to resemble the village shown in the diorama below.

A diorama of what Panama Viejo probably looked like before it was destroyed in 1671

However, in 1671, Welsh pirate, Henry Morgan, attacked the city, fires broke out, and thousands died. The survivors fled to a more protected area which is now the site of Casco Viejo (which I talked about in my first Panama post and where our Airbnb was located). Today, all that remains of the oldest part of Panama City are a few crumbling buildings.

All that remains of the old church and its bell tower
I love the juxtaposition of the ancient bell tower with the modern skyscrapers in the distance.

The stairs of the bell tower have been modernized so we were able to climb them for a 360° view of both the old and the new.
You can see more ruins of other buildings in the lower left
The tower not only housed the bells of the church, but also served as a lookout post.

There was such a relaxed and peaceful air as we walked among the ruins of Panama Viejo.

A final look...

One of the things I was most interested in seeing in Panama were two groups of the indegenous people: the  Emberá   and the Guna (also called Kuna).  Unfortunately, we did not get to visit the Emberá village that my youngest son had so enjoyed, but we were able to see members of the Guna people selling their brightly colored fabric molas at a local market. 

A market stall selling molas which are made from layers of cotton fabric using applique and reverse applique.
The quality of a mola is judged by the number of layers of fabric used and the fineness of the stitching. A mola can take from two weeks to six months to make!
Two Guna women  chatting while selling their wares. The one behind the middle mola kept hiding each time I tried to take a photo. She would smile at me and then duck behind the mola as if she were playing peek-a-boo! The molas are sold to tourists to be used as wall hangings or to make pillows. They are  not to be made into clothing--that is something reserved for the Guna people alone.
Here is a closer look of the brightly colored clothing of the Guna women. The scarf is called a "muswe" and is worn as a sign of respect.  The beaded wrapping around the arms and legs is called "uini" and is made from yards of string looped through glass beads and wrapped around the lower legs and forearms in different designs. 

At the market we also saw piles of what we think of as "Panama hats." Did you know that authentic Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador?

My son wanted a real Panamanian hat so he journeyed to La Pintada to buy a genuine "sombrero pintado." The shop was quiet that day so he said he enjoyed a nice chat with the owner (pictured above in front of his hats). The brims can be flipped up or down for different looks.

For some reason, license plates were being sold in many of the booths at the market. I'm not sure if people use them for art projects or just purchase them as souvenirs. 

On our walk back to the Airbnb, I spotted this cute metal creation of a woman seated at a sewing machine!

My youngest son had to work several of the days we visited so he suggested that we go to see a traditional Panamanian dance show on our own. Since he has lived at the hotel where the show was being held for the past six months, most everyone on the staff knows him--he is almost like a mini-celebrity! So, he made the reservations and they gave us wonderful seats--right up front with great views. 

Oh, the costumes were amazing! The girls wore more colorful, elaborate outfits, while the young men wore simpler costumes consisting of a long white shirt, britches, a crossbody bag, and a sombrero pintado.

The girls dresses (called "pollera") can cost $300 to $3000 and are worn for festivals and holidays. They can take up to a year to make! Elaborate headdresses, gold jewelry, and pompoms complete the look.

I've posted a short video (hope it works!) so you can see and listen to some of the dancers in action.  The music is loud and there is a heavy drum presence as you will hear...

What do you think? Would we make it as Panamanian dancers?

One of my most traveled friends once told me that it is the unexpected "finds" that you stumble upon during a visit to another country that will often bring you the most joy. Well, on our final night in Panama we just happened to walk into what was described as a restaurant that served "Panamanian traditional food." When we entered the restaurant, we were surprised to find that all but one table was already filled with diners who had made reservations. Luckily, the host gave us the lone remaining table. It turned out that every Saturday night there was a dance show included at no cost! The restaurant was called Diablicos and, as the name suggests, there were scary looking devil masks everywhere... The food was excellent and we had ringside seats to watch the dancers. An unexpected joy for sure!

Here you can see a close-up of one of the dancers ready to entertain us.

Dancing among the devils!

And then there were two scary male skull dancers--yikes! I shot a short 30 second video so you can see them in action.

It seems to be traditional to pull audience members up at the end of the show to perform with the dancers. At the performance at the hotel they pulled my daughter-in-law up and at this show they brought up my youngest son! Thank goodness they didn't ask me! 

Here are the three of us (my oldest son and daughter-in-law had to leave earlier that day for home) with the four dancers. (No, I do not have pink hair--it was just the spotlights shining on us!)

The following morning we boarded our plane back to the United States with so many wonderful (and one not so wonderful!) memories. I wish we had had a couple more days there to visit some of the memorable sights my son has seen since March. Luckily, we can imagine them through his photos and stories. Undoubtedly, the best part of my trip was spending time and making new memories with four of my favorite people. From hiking in the woods, to playing games at our favorite brew pub, to relaxing on the rooftop, to trying interesting foods and experiencing new cultures--it's so much more fun to have my family along for the ride. I'd say it's time to start planning our next family trip (and this time, I hope our middle son will be joining us, too!).  Where should we go next? What was your favorite trip--either internationally or here in the United States? I'd love to hear your recommendations!

"Families are like quilts: lives pieced together, stitched with smiles and tears, colored with memories, and bound with love and prayers."  (Author unknown)

Adios, Panama!

Thank you for traveling with me once again--I hope you enjoyed it and I hope some of you even get to visit Panama some day. I will be glad to return to mostly stitching posts as these travel posts have taken hours to pull together. I so appreciated the many comments on my last post and your concerns about my safety on that horrid hike. The memory of it is beginning to fade and I'm sleeping better, so that's good! Anyway--happy October everyone! Hope it's a great month filled with that delightful fresh autumn air, crispy leaves, and lots of stitching time. Bye for now...

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...

During 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...