Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mind Sliding: Adventures in China

The Chinese language is so completely different from English that I expected traveling in China would entail a few adventures. I was not disappointed, though some were rather different than I anticipated. It turns out that Yangshuo, the area I visited, is a popular enough destination that many signs and menus have English translations. It also turns out that Chinese language structure and vocabulary is different enough to make direct translation a bit tricky.

We saw this first hand on an excursion in the Yangshuo region to Moon Hill, so named because of the moon shaped arch that forms its peak.

Moon Hill

We hoped that climbing the 800 limestone steps to the top would reward us with a good view of the area. Sure enough, just as we reached the top the haze cleared enough for the sun to shine through a bit and reveal numerous of the karst towers for which the region is known.

View from atop Moon Hill

Still, the most interesting part of this excursion was in the signs and their English translations along the stairs to the top. For the most part we could understand what they were getting at. Yes, the stairs would indeed be slippery on rainy days.

And, yes, the mountain path is steep.

The translations are charmingly not quite right. Rather than lose something in the translation, these signs gain something in the translation. This one seems like a good piece of general advice. Certainly it's applicable to dealing with too-slick salespeople!

This one made me wonder if those drop down menus common in software are really so dangerous. Better stay away!

This one made me feel that whoever put up the sign was really, really concerned for my safety.

But this one still has me stumped. What is empty? And why should I be careful on it?

Here is my favorite of all. It captures that feeling I have when I can't find a name or a word I am looking for. Or when I think about this year's presidential election.

Just so you know my mind hasn't slid too far, here are a few more photos from the China trip. Yangshuo is a beautiful area and its citizens are kind and warm. It is definitely worth a visit.

Surveying the scene in Yangshuo

Yangshuo vendor

Fencing, one of bamboo's many uses

Detail of a door in one of the "ancient villages"

Sunset in the Yangshuo countryside

Typical old style farm house

In the Xingping market

Transaction in the Xingping market

Raftsman along the Yulong River

Rafting along the Yulong River

In the Yulong River Valley

The Yulong River

View from atop Lao Zhai Shan: Xingping, the Li River and karst towers

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Flower Filled Spring

I've said before that spring is a wonderful time to be in central Texas. This year was no exception. In fact, it was the best wildflower year I think I have ever seen. Thanks to substantial and well-timed rains from winter through spring the flowers got just the right mix of water, sun and warmth for spectacular shows.

Texas Mountain Laurels, a small evergreen tree, bloomed in February. This one attracted dozens of Pipevine swallowtail butterflies.

Bluebonnets, or Lupinus texensis, the state flower of Texas provided the first no-holds barred show of meadow flowers.

I love how they glow in the late afternoon light.

These cactus were, for once, more flower than spine. I still wouldn't advise that you try to pick them.

Just as the bluebonnets were fading, these little yellow flowers, brown bitterweed, opened up.

And then came Indian blankets, acres and acres of orangey red.

Even the deer seem amazed.

Up close you can see how the petals vary from red with yellow tips to entirely red.

The other nice thing about being at home for a while this spring was that I made so much progress on my various projects. I finished knitting the Calza shawl I was working on during March's cruise. (The pattern is available through Webs here.) Manos del Uruguay Serena hand-dyed yarn (60% baby alpaca, 40% cotton) is a delight to work with and results in subtle color variations. The finished shawl is light, soft and drapes beautifully.

The simple short-row pattern is worked in garter-stitch with a ribbed cable on the long end so both sides look exactly the same. Ta da! Completely reversible! I have gotten lots of use from it already, finding it great for airplane rides (remember the days when they offered blankets for free?) and over-air-conditioned restaurants.

On the quilting front, I finished piecing and quilting my Cookie Tree quilt. It awaits a binding.

I also finished piecing and quilting this broken star quilt for my younger daughter. It too still needs a binding.

I quilted the star's diamonds using an orange peel design and the background in a radiating pattern of alternating wavy and squiggly lines. I added up my quilting time and was amazed that it came to over eight hours!

I made a set of placemats out of some blocks leftover from another quilt. They were a fun way to practice freehand quilting on my long arm machine before I attempted the star quilt above.

I finished enough sixteen-patch blocks for a quilt and started putting them all together.

And finally, I have kept up with the "Westering Women" block of the month. Month four, Lone Elm, has so many pieces that it is naturally a very busy looking block. I think my use of only three fabrics helps to alleviate that and makes the overall tree design stronger.

My next post or two will be about China so I hope you'll visit again soon!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Does Traversing the Panama Canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific Count as "Westering?"

I ask this question because when I made the traverse in March I discovered that the Pacific end of the canal is actually east of the Atlantic end.  Initially that seemed very strange to me since the Canal was built as a faster route from the east coast to the west coast and here we were farther east than when we started. Of course, it isn't really strange at all. The fastest route between two places is often more a function of elevation change than of distance. By going around the Rocky Mountains, but not all the way around South America, the Panama Canal made the trip between the east and west coasts considerably faster and easier.

Entering the Gatun Locks

Anyway, traversing the Panama Canal is a fascinating way to spend a day. We went through the the Gatun Locks on our very large cruise ship, the Island Princess. Like many ships, it was designed specifically to fit through the canal, with mere inches between the ship and the walls of the locks.

A large container ship was in the lane next to us.

This view of the Culebra Cut at the continental divide gives you an idea of just how much material had to be removed to make the channel.

The Culebra Cut and the Centennial Bridge

The canal first opened over one hundred years ago and the original locks and gates are still in use today, though larger ones currently under construction are due to open within a few months.

Wall of the Miraflores Locks

We traversed the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks on a very small boat, which gave quite a different perspective than the deck of a big cruise ship. We were practically at water level, sharing the locks with the container ship Diamantis P.

The question of "westering" is relevant to me at the moment because I am participating in Barbara Brackman's "Westering Women" block of the month project. I have now completed three blocks and am nearly finished with the fourth. I have been tempted to add the sashing and sew the blocks together, but am holding off to see how the other blocks develop. Rather than choose all my fabrics at the outset, I just gathered together all the reproduction fabrics from my stash and decide on specific fabrics block by block. Since I don't know now what colors I will end up choosing, it seems like a good idea to wait until the blocks are completed before choosing the sashing.

Blocks one through three, all hand pieced

I was thinking that this project would make a big dent in my stash, but I'm a third of the way through and there is no noticeable difference. Sigh.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cartagena, Colombia

During last month's cruise I had time for a quick tour through Cartagena's old city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

City wall with San Pedro Claver Church dome in the background 

I could have spent days exploring the narrow streets lined with brightly painted Spanish colonial buildings,

My favorites had windows and balconies spilling over with bouganinvillea.

Street life in Cartagena's old city is varied and vibrant. We watched children play on the old wall,

visitors pose for photos in front of the Church of Saint Peter (San Pedro) Claver,

dancers perform in the Plaza de Bolivar,

and an artist paint landscapes on glass.

The large number of street vendors shows just how popular a tourist destination the old city is. I found the artistry of the displays striking. This one looks very much like a scrappy quilt.

Bright yellow walls with crisp white trim made a particularly appealing backdrop.

Although I didn't make a single stitch on the quilt pieces I brought along, these bright walls gave me the idea to try yellow as a background color. I had previously settled on using tan and a rich brown to set the squares.

Cartagena's yellow walls made me wonder if a brighter color would be more fun.

I still have five more of the sixteen patch squares to make before I put it all together so I can think about the choice of setting a little bit longer.