Our daughter has been teaching English in Santiago, Chile, since the beginning of the year,
so we jumped on the chance to not only visit her, but make the extra jump south to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world: Patagonia! 

 We flew down Christmas day (this was our present to ourselves) and spent a couple days in the city, and then flew to the remote town of Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile, then drove four hours to their famous national park, Torres Del Paine. It’s like our Yosemite, in that it has a concentration of stunning mountains and wildlife. Up until recent years, you had to explore this part of the world with a backpack, but now they have small hotels and cabins so you can investigate its wonder through day hikes and other excursions.

  

 This is a view of the waterways next to Puerto Natalie, which is three hours from the park. It’s very popular to ride ferries through the gorgeous fjords.

 These are the famous peaks in Torres Del Paine, and backpackers access them through the famous “W” trail.

We made it up to one side of the trail during a 7-hour day hike to an incredible view. Yes, all the lakes and rivers in the park are this unbelievable teal/aqua color, the result of silt from the glaciers.

One day we took a daylong river tour along the Serrano river that winds through the park. We were able to walk up to this massive glacier, and spotted Chilean Condors soaring overhead. We visited during their summer (high season is in December and January) and the weather was almost perfect—around 55 to 60 degrees. The weather is known to shift suddenly, and the winds are notorious. We got lucky.

 

The blue of the glaciers was almost hard to fathom.

 The park is loaded with critters and amazing flora and fauna. Small herds of these antelope-like creatures were everywhere. They are called guanacos. They support the local puma (mountain lions.)

 

 The rhea, or ostrich-type birds, were also ubiquitous.

As a wanna-be birder, I went gaga over the Magellan Oystercatchers (the black and white bird with bright orange/red beak in foreground) and Black-Necked Swans and their babies. I won’t bore you with all my “lifers,” but the birds were outrageous (flocks of Black-faced Ibis, all sorts of hawks and I even found a Common Snipe!)

 One day, another tourist caught this giant salmon on a fishing line right outside our cabin on the Serrano river. It was over four feet long! (We stayed at the Hosteria Lago Tyndall, and highly recommend their simple cabins!)

 

 On our way back to Santiago, we took a two-hour ferry to the Isle of Magellan (yes, in the actually Magellan Straits!!) to visit the giant penguin colony there.

We learned how these guys arrive in September and either dig their small burrows, or if they already have one, return to the same hole—lay two eggs, and raise their babies.

 

 They mate for life and the dads apparently do a lot of the childcare. (Those are the two babies on the left.)

 On our last day in the park, we drove about an hour to another lake just outside the north end of the park, Lago Amargo, just to see these Chilean Flamingoes. We had no idea we would find these tropical birds here.

 Here’s my son, Caden, and daughter, Cassidy. Caden took all these amazing photos and let me share them here. And Cassidy was a great host and provided many insights to the Chilean culture. If you can swing the steep plane ticket, I highly recommend a visit to Chile, and especially the magnificent and pristine Patagonia!

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Fall at The Weathersfield Inn in Vermont

 

During our yearly visit back east to spend time at our family cabins in New Hampshire, we took a little getaway up through southern Vermont at the end of September. We spent our first night at The Weathersfield Inn in Perkinsville, VT, based on a recommendation from a friend.

 

We lucked out on the timing of our trip to see the fall foliage, which was already underway. But our timing at this foodie haven wasn’t so great. Their popular restaurant was closed on Mondays, the night we stayed. (The gracious inn owners directed to another wonderful foodie restaurant just up the road.)

 

 

But there are worse things. The place was gorgeous and quaint. The grounds were wooded and they had a little pond and visitors could explore their kitchen gardens near the main inn.

Turns out the owners are a nice couple from Pasadena, California! They had owned it for about three years, and now it’s among the top inns in New England! (It’s not cheap, but well worth a romantic getaway!)

 

Apparently, the place is hopping on nights the restaurant is open, and it draws a locals crowd and anyone lucky enough to be passing by or staying at the inn.

 

This is the entrance, which features this wood-burning stove designed to bake bread.

Apparently the area has an agricultural history and is turning out a lot of home-grown, sustainable, green and organic (and all that good stuff) products, such as this boiled cider.

The Inn also sponsors cooking classes. I would have loved to attend the “Eat, Drink, Like It’s 1699″ class on vintage cocktails. Would love to raise a glass to this amazing place!

 

 

At the very end of 2012, we bought our first vintage camper: A 1988 Perris Pacer fiberglass “egg” camper. I first fell in love with these lightweight trailers after reading about them on the blog of the peripatetic artist Lily Stockman at BigBangStudio. After months of scouring Craigslist, Ebay and other sources, and driving all over Southern California to check out used egg trailers, we finally found one we loved.

This is what it looked like when we first brought it home from San Diego. Yes, it was cute even then. The awnings were a nice touch. But the photo flatters it. The shell was covered with rivet holes, and it had an overall dingy feel about it. The interior was unbearable.

Get the picture? (Here are more “before” shots.) We spent the first half of 2013 fixing up the interior, and found advice and support from the generous community of fellow egg owners at the online site, FiberglassRv. One man, Robert Johans, who restores these eggs professionally at The Egg Plant in Oregon, was the most inspiring and helpful, offering tips on every step, down to where to buy certain light fixtures and types of paint.

Weekend after weekend, my husband, Charlie, and I worked on it. We put in a new floor, replaced the cabinet covers and fixtures, made curtains, had new seat cushions made, added new lights, painted the entire interior, and a lot of other little improvements. My husband is handy, and the small scale of the projects made it all doable.

 

But how much of this can you take? So by the time we finished sprucing up the inside, we were ready for someone else to take over.

Then we found these nice guys. Jerry and Armando from Pacific RV Body Shop in Garden Grove, California–about 40 minutes from our house.

 

They mostly paint the giant campers, but took great care and pride in our little Pacer. They did an amazing job, painting the exterior, upgrading the lights, replacing the frig, and building a custom storage box. (If you liked it better before, keep it to yourself!)

 

Here are some shots of the inside (taken with my cell phone). We took out the bunk bed option and made the bottom bunk into a permanent couch, or bunk for one.

The two-burner gas stove and sink are still original and work great. It’s all very simple and utilitarian, but we love it that way. (Pillow fabric by silkscreen master Harwood Steiger.)

If you aren’t familiar with these campers, this little table comes off the support pole and drops down to make a platform for a small double bed. The seat cushions cover the surface, and are comfortable when you add a topping of memory foam. We learned the most about the trailer and what we need to do next when we finally took it camping…

So far, we have taken it out to the desert near Palm Springs, twice. This shot is from a visit to Joshua Tree, where we camped next to a house some friends were renting. They also had this amazing vintage trailer up on blocks. We have also camped at Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County (about ten minutes from our home in Laguna Beach) and at San Onofre State Park (about a half hour south in San Diego County.) My goal is to test out all the campgrounds in Orange County and publish a little local guide (just another one of those projects!).

Camping at Caspers Regional Park in Orange County

 

I’ve saved the most exciting news for last. We have been invited to be part of the Vintage Trailer Show in Palm Springs during Modernism Week. How cool is that? We went to the see the show last year and it was so much fun! I noticed, however, that they didn’t have any of the “egg” style of campers featured, and thought I would offer ours if they were interested. The director of the show, Mona Heath, was enthusiastic and said they already plan to include two other “egg” style campers this year, a Scamp and a Boler, and would love to have our Perris Pacer there as well. Wow!!!

Available to Rent for Photo Shoots! Email: J9Robinsonlb@yahoo.com

 

Ours is nothing like almost all of the other vintage trailers, many of which have been professionally restored inside and out. But Mona liked the idea of featuring campers like ours to demonstrate what people can do with these little gems–even newbies like us with no real rehab experience and working on a DIY budget.

The Vintage Trailer Show is the weekend of February 22 and 23. Tickets are $15  and kids are free. So please come and say hi!

 We have had several weeks of stunning sunsets here in Southern California. I live up a hill from my hometown of Laguna Beach, and a couple blocks from a city park, called Alta Laguna Park. At about 1,000 feet above sea level, it’s one of the best sunset viewing spots in the area. My husband and I walk our dog, Jenny, over there to catch the sunsets. Here are a few recent shots from my Iphone.

 

You can almost tell when they are going to be amazing. All you need is a varied cloud cover, and the light from the setting sun blasts up and illuminates them. The view from this park looks southwest and over the hills and town, and out toward Catalina Island (on the right). There’s another small island just to the south, called San Clemente, and you only see that on super clear days.

 

 

This shot (and several others, including that first one) were taken when the marine layer (fog) was starting to roll in. But it didn’t block the illuminated clouds in the distance. Quite a phenomenon when this all happens at the same time. You can see the ocean right above the hill tops, reflecting the orange light.

 

This was the same view but taken several hours before sunset. It was a very moody day and the air was still and the clouds made it feel like dusk almost all day.

 

  

This is just a shot with some of those pink, orange and yellow clouds looking like flames.

So what’s the point? Well, lots of people like to visit our tourist town in summer (and are often shocked that it’s soggy and cold from the fog–especially during June gloom.) But a great time to visit is winter, especially December, if you want to miss the crowds and catch some of these sunsets.

 

And here’s a shot of our sweet dog, Jenny, who accompanies us to watch the sunsets. And she could usually care less. But I still think she’s still really cute!

I’ve been VERY lazy lately, but I knew anyone following Laguna Dirt would want to know about a fun event coming up in Southern California next Sunday (Dec. 15). Three of the best garden bloggers from this area are teaming up to share some of their treasures at the Long Beach Flea Market. And you can meet them in person, too!

I’ve shamelessly copied the post by Denise from her A Growing Obsession blog so you can get all the details. She’s way too modest. This trio of plant fiends not only know their horticulture, but they are artists, writers, photographers, designers, and simply great people.

Hope to see you there! Here is her post (notice her amazing photographs!) :

a very merry flea


Where & When: Find us Sunday, December 15, 2013, at the Long Beach Antique Market. It opens early (6:30 a.m.!), so it won’t take too big of a bite out of your day.

Who: Me, garden designer Dustin Gimbel (non-secateur), and graphic artist Reuben Munoz (RanchoReubidoux) will be manning the stall for a winter blogger meetup and pop-up shop at one of the best flea markets in Southern California. Our little flea market just became even merrier, now that Reuben has joined the festivities.

Why: Holiday shopping at the malls has always been a no-go zone for me, and online shopping can get a little…well, sterile. I’ve made it a tradition to hit the fleas in December, for the people watching, for the serendipitous flea-bagging, for the sheer spectacle of it all. I can’t wait to find out what it’s like on the other side of the table, not that I won’t be squeezing in a good browse too…

What: There’ll be some industrial salvage, pots and plants, along with some hand-made stuff created just for this flea, including mural pieces by Reuben.

 


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Dustin’s concrete gems continue to proliferate, short and squat gems, elongated pyramidal gems, sea urchin gems…
(Diamonds are an agave’s best friend.)

 

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And I’m coaxing more and more sailor knotwork out of Marty now that his summer job on the Catalina Island ferries is on hiatus, the huge doorstops that take incredible muscle to tighten (I can’t do it yet, dammit!) as well as smaller sizes for bookshelves, paper weights — wherever the eye would like to trace the lines of a briny, ropy orb, or a computer-fatigued hand needs to grasp and weigh something reassuringly solid, or a reminder is needed that fresh breezes and adventures are on the way. The office is more rigging loft now, with rope strewn everywhere. We found some beautiful vintage line at a marine salvage yard in Newport Beach, including some lovely honey colors and subtle variegateds.

 

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I can hardly bear to sell any of it, so even if I have to reload the car with it all, it’s a win/win. At least we’ll get the chance to meet up with some of you, our comrades and fellow devotees of the impeccable design work done by the plant kindgdom. We’re gathering up simple textures and shapes that people with an eye for beautiful plants would like to have nearby, especially in winter. I can’t speak for Reuben, though — no telling what he’s up to! And I have no idea how we’re going to fit it all into one stall, especially since Dustin wants to bring some big specimen plants. But it promises to be a very merry flea indeed, if slightly shambolic as the best fleas are, with hot cider and cookies. We’d all love to meet up with you there. (Marty dared me to fit in the word shambolic. He should know I never back away from a dare.)

 

I’ve known about The Ecology Center for a number of years now, but never stopped by to visit. It’s right next door to one of my favorite veggie/fruit stands–South Coast Farms (all organic!). It was founded in 2008, when the city of San Juan Capistrano decided to convert the city’s oldest historic farmhouse into a community educational facility.

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Welcome to The Succulent Cafe!

My husband and I wandered into this little gem of a cafe in Oceanside, California, on our way home from the San Diego Airport. I wish the photos were better, but I snapped these shots with my phone camera.

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Have you heard about Slow Food? We learned about this group from a foodie friend in Laguna about a year ago. Tonight, we finally made it to one of their events. And we are going back, for sure! My understanding is that the Slow Food movement was started in 1986 in response to someone putting a McDonald’s in Italy (Fast food, slow food–get it?). Today, chapters all over the world are helping spread food culture, and work to “link the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.”

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My friend Jill warned me about camping down at Trails, which are the gorgeous, remote surf beaches at the southern tip of Orange County and northern border of San Diego County. When I asked if she wanted to join us at one of the spots along what’s called The Bluffs at San Onofre State Beach in May, she wisely scoped them out ahead of time while surfing down there. And she took a polite pass.

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Photo by John Ellis

 

For some unexplainable reason, I have never been to the Venice Home and Garden Tour. I’ve always had a conflict with the date. But this year, I cleared my calendar well ahead of time: Saturday, May 4. If it’s anything like the Venice Art Walk, I know the experience will be fun, interesting and sheer happy-making!

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