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Monday, April 08 2013

Of all the movies I’ve ever seen, The Goonies is still one of my favorites. I love the idea that you could be goofing off in the attic with your friends on some rainy day and suddenly stumble across a secret map that leads you on a booby-trapped journey to a pirate ship full of treasure. How awesome would that be?

That’s probably why I was so intrigued by a recent newspaper article. Forrest Fenn, an eighty-two-year-old multimillionaire, created his own personal treasure chest after he was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer and given little chance to survive more than three years. That was over twenty years ago, and Fenn has been adding to his treasure chest since then. Finally, three years ago, he buried the chest somewhere in New Mexico. Or so he claims. While some friends and skeptics doubt that Fenn really parted with his treasure, he himself says it’s out there and ready for the taking. All you have to do is find it.

To help you in your quest, Finn has written a poem with a set of clues. He tinkered with the poem over the years until he was satisfied that they provided enough information without making the search too easy. His motivation for creating a treasure hunt is that he wants to give kids a reason to put down their cell phones and video controllers and go outside. He must figure there’s not much more exciting than hunting down a chest full of gold.

You can find the clues in his autobiography, Thrill of the Chase, which also tells his life story and how he came to acquire all those riches. I haven’t purchased the book, but I’m tempted. Did he really hide his treasure chest after spending all those years adding to it? Would I be able to solve the riddles and find the secret location? Would it be worth the risk now that the New Mexico government has warned treasure seekers that they can’t keep the gold if it’s hidden on public land?

Even with that caveat, I’d love to try anyway. Who knows, one of these days you might just find me on a plane to New Mexico, embarking on my own Goonies adventure.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:26 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 25 2013

There are no bees in the mason house yet, but it's still early in the season. I haven't given up hope. Maybe it takes the lone female bee a while to settle on where to establish her home. After all, she has to build the nest, collect the pollen, and care for her young by herself. She'd want to pick the perfect place. Having the house right next to the kids' sandbox might not help either. We'll see.


In the meantime, it's time to start planting. For Christmas, I received a vegetable-garden terrarium to try my luck at growing fruits and vegetables from seed, rather than buying plants to transplant into the yard. Yesterday, I created my mini garden. The box had everything I needed, from germination disks (which expanded into soil when I added water) to five packs of seeds to a bag of decorative gravel. They even threw in a little plastic cow to add that farm touch.

After I'd prepped the soil and laid out the gravel, I planted seeds for strawberries, green beans, lettuce, and mini carrots. With any luck, in a couple of months, I'll have enough miniature vegetables to make myself a miniature salad.


While I wait, the kids are trying their own hand at gardening. Target had mini greenhouses in their dollar section a couple of weeks ago. It seemed like a foolproof way to have the kids see fast results before they could lose interest. Sure enough, the seeds germinated within a few days, and the kids are currently growing their own cilantro and basil.

The cilantro, in particular, is thriving. Too bad I'm not growing tomatoes in my mini-garden. Then we'd be all set to make salsa. Still, I can't wait to harvest our first set of crops, even if it's all in miniature.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:17 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 11 2013

Now that March is in full swing and the weather is consistently warmer, I need to find a good place to hang my Mason house.

It's not a house for people, or even birds, but rather, for bees -- non-stinging Mason bees to be exact.

I wasn't that familiar with Mason bees until I saw a picture of the house and started reading. Turns out Mason bees are major pollinators, which should help my garden and neighboring ones, as well. They like to nest in holes or tubes and are a solitary bee. No worker bees hang around the house. They don't build a traditional hive. Instead, the female builds a nest by herself and lays her eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the bees mate and the males die. Sorry, guys!


If I can get a female to move into the bee house, it'll be fun for the kids (and myself) to watch the bee set up house and raise her young. The trick is how to attract the bees. How will they know the house is meant for them? Do we even have Mason bees in our yard? They do well in harsh winters and tend to live in the north, so who knows if they even like sunny California.


I suspect a pesky yellow jacket will take up residence in the Mason house instead. Or one of the dozens of funnel-weaver spiders we have in our yard. The house is perfect for the way they spin their webs. Regardless of who moves in, it'll be a fun experiment to see if we can create a house full of Mason bees.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:50 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 18 2013

My grandmother had the greenest thumb I've ever known. Her yard was always full of beautiful gardens that flourished and produced lovely flowers. She was particularly proud of her iris beds. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit that gene. Instead, I have something closer to a black thumb. Plants don't literally die when I walk by, but they do have a tendency to get quite ill when I take care of them (or rather, don't take care of them, since I constantly forget to water them).


But my bad luck with plants doesn't stop me from trying to grow my own vegetables. Every spring, I drag my husband down to the garden center and pick out little tomato seedlings and young strawberry bushes, convinced that this is the year that my garden will grow. Instead, snails eat all the leaves on the strawberry plants, and my herbs wilt and die. My tomato plants usually survive, but instead of producing abundant crops of plump red orbs, the branches grow spindly and sick looking. The resulting tomatoes look like miniature cherry tomatoes, as if cherry tomatoes weren't small enough to start with. On the plus side, these itty bitty tomatoes that are no bigger than my thumbnail pack a huge amount of flavor. I toss them on salads and enjoy them as much as I can. Still, I dream of salsas and caprese salads or tomato slices topped with cheese and broiled on sourdough bread.


Maybe this year will be different. This will be the year when my plants grow so tall that I have to stake them to keep them from falling over. This will be the year when I have so many strawberries that I learn how to make preserves.


To bolster my confidence, I'm currently growing a chia pet.

Since chia pets are essentially foolproof, even I can't mess this up. I'm hoping that once I get on a growing streak, I can transfer that success to my vegetable garden. I can already imagine roasted tomatoes stuffed with cheese and bread crumbs, homemade marinara sauces, and hearty sandwiches. Ah, to dream.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 01:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 04 2013

It was one of my favorite days of the year yesterday. It's a day when friends and family gather round, eat high-fat snacks and copious amounts of pizza, and sit back to watch a bunch of commercials. I've heard rumors that there's some sort of football game in between all those commercials, but I never pay attention to that part. For me, Super Bowl Sunday is all about those overpriced, overhyped ads.


My unrealistically high expectations are fueled by the "Best of the Super Bowls ads" specials that always air in the week before the game, a reminder of just how funny or memorable those thirty-second spots can be. So while little surprises me anymore, yesterday's collection had some real gems.


There were the touching ads, like Dodge Ram's spot with Paul Harvey and So God Made a Farmer. Paul Harvey was on the radio for so long that he became one of those people I took for granted. He was always there, so he'd continue to always be there. Now that he's been gone a few years, hearing his voice only reminded me of what a great broadcaster he was. And So God Made a Farmer sent a powerful message about hard work and values that made me want to cheer. The Oprah spot about supporting our troops was also a winner.


The Super Bowl would not be complete without the funny ads, too. Kia's Babylandia ad was cute and touching, while Amy Poehler made me laugh at her Best Buy spot. The two ads from Doritos were both amusing though not as good as years past. Then again, Doritos has proven itself to be a frontrunner for some of the funniest Super Bowl ads, so maybe I'm expecting too much from them.


Overall, I thought yesterday's commercials were solid for the most part and notable in several instances. Only a few were duds (Go Daddy, anyone?) What were your favorites?

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:26 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, January 14 2013

I've added another New Year's resolution to my list since last week. Not only will I try to exercise more and eat better by adding fruits and vegetables to my meals, but I plan to try one new cookie recipe a week. Now I realize cookies and healthy eating don't really go hand-in-hand, but I'm trying for a well-rounded, balanced diet, and there must be room for cookies in there somewhere if I look hard enough.


The idea came to mind when I received Joanna Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook for Christmas. First off, what a genius idea to put all the recipes from her mystery books into a single cookbook. I like to pass my books along or donate them when I finish reading them, but I found myself keeping a few of her mysteries strictly for the handful of recipes in the back. It's so much better to have a single book taking up room on my bookshelf.


And what's in the Lake Eden Cookbook? Cookie recipes. Lots of cookie recipes (as well as cakes and candies and a few other things). While reading through all the different types of cookies, I had to ask myself if it was better to sit around drooling over these recipes without actually trying them or if I should break down and whip up a batch. Considering how much my kids like cookies, the answer seemed obvious. I mean, how many cookies would I possibly get to eat anyway before my kids and husband gobbled them up? Two? Three?


So I'm going to start with the Short Stack Cookies. The intro describes them as tasting just like pancakes with butter and syrup poured on top. My expectations are ridiculously high. If they really do taste like pancakes, I might start eating cookies for breakfast. After that, it's vegetables and heart-healthy foods for the rest of the day. Until it's time for dessert, that is.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:30 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, January 07 2013

A new year always signals the start of new opportunities. Sure, the first day of January isn't all that different from the last day of December or the second day of May or any other day of the year, but for some reason, January 1st seems like the perfect time to kick bad habits and start good ones. As with previous years, I've vowed to exercise more and eat better. Each year, I improve a little bit, so maybe in another ten or fifteen years, I'll finally reach my goal.


This year, I'm more focused than usual on how I want to change my eating habits. I tend to eat a healthy breakfast and fairly decent lunch or dinner, but I'm seriously lacking in one respect: fruits and vegetables. I eat hardly any. Sure, I cook casseroles with peas mixed in or soup with carrots and celery, but that's only a few times a week, not every day.  The old recommendation from the experts was to eat five servings a day of either fruits or vegetables, and now they've decided five isn't nearly enough.  Up to thirteen servings is needed to get all those vitamins and minerals that provide optimal health. Thirteen? Eek! How can I possibly get that many servings into a single day?


Maybe the next time I'm at the grocery store, I should stop and study the vegetables piled up high on their stands or laid out in rows for easy grabbing, instead of shoving the cart straight past on my way to the cheese section. Maybe I should stop rushing through the side dish sections in my cooking magazines and actually study the recipes. I might find one I like. It's time to change priorities. Man cannot live on protein and starches alone (well, technically he can, but it's not always a good idea).


And what about that pesky exercise? Will this be the year I finally reach five days a week? I started out with a bang this year, exercising two days in a row, eager to stay on track. But then I was sore on the third day and decided to skip working out until I felt better. Now, here I sit on the couch, covered in a nice warm blanket, and exercising seems like the least appealing thing in the world. But I will fight the laziness! I will rise up and do some stretches! In a while. After my TV show's over. And then it's back to keeping my resolutions!

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:03 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 31 2012

Now that Christmas is over and all the decorations have been packed up and stowed in the garage, it's time to get back on track with blogging. Maybe that should be my New Year's resolution, along with exercising on a regular basis and eating more vegetables (Wait, I think those were my resolutions last year. Come to think of it, the year before, too.).


I don't know why Christmas sends me into such a frenzy every year. I can read a calendar. I know when the 25th of December is getting closer. And yet, every time, I find myself panicking at the last second. I think it's caused by the lull of mid-December. I always start Thanksgiving weekend with a bang by ordering a few presents online, drafting up my Christmas card list, and dragging the bins out of the garage to spruce up the house. With such a solid start, I convince myself that I'm well ahead of the game and then immediately slack off, buying presents here and there, taking several days to address those Christmas cards instead of a single afternoon, and just generally limping along.


Then, with one week to go, I suddenly realize how close Christmas really is and how much I still need to accomplish. I haven't finished shopping! I don't have enough wrapping paper! The kids haven't made their gifts for the grandparents yet! With so many extra trips to the stores and out-of-the-ordinary tasks, everything else falls by the wayside. The kids don't need a bath every day, do they?  A frozen lasagna is just as good as the homemade kind, right?


But that's all behind me, now. The month is coming to a close, the family survived the holidays, and my to-do list is considerably shorter. It's time to begin anew starting with a blog posting.

May everyone have a happy and safe New Year's celebration tonight and a wonderful 2013!

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 10 2012

A friend of mine gave my son a sea monkey kit for his birthday last month. I've never had sea monkeys myself and was really looking forward to seeing them spring to life. It seemed like a fun and easy way to teach him the responsibility of owning a pet, even if that pet starts out in a dried prehistoric state inside a paper packet.


I read the directions, and it seemed simple enough. On the first day, we put distilled water in the tank (a very adorable Mars-themed container) and added a packet of water purifier. We let the water settle for a day and then poured in the instant life eggs. Nothing happened right away, but by the next day, we could see itty, bitty, little things swimming around. Success!


Then things got a little dicey. Based on the two sets of instructions, it wasn't clear if we started feeding them on Day 3 or Day 5. I averaged it out to Day 4, and we dumped the finely ground green mystery powder into the water. By the next day, only two sea monkeys were swimming around. The day after that, only one. And then there were none. Oops.

Luckily, Toys R Us sells replacement sea monkeys for a relatively low price. I figured we just overfed the little guys. We tried again, carefully following the directions. This time we were rewarded with four sea monkeys, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. They all died, one by one. This time, we hadn't overfed them, but what else could it be?


Was the water too cold? They apparently like a fairly warm climate, and my son's room stays cool this time of year. Am I supposed to get them a heat lamp? Is it something else?

I hate to give up. My son diligently opens his blinds every morning for the indirect sunlight they supposedly like. He should be rewarded with the sight of tiny brine shrimp paddling around.


At the very least, I'll give it one more go. And if anyone knows the secret to keeping sea monkeys alive, I'd love to hear it.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:55 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 03 2012

Starting next month, a big change is coming to the county where I live. Plastic bags will be banned at grocery stores and any other business selling packaged food. Instead, customers must bring their own reusable bags or pay ten cents for each paper bag needed to pack up their purchases.


When the bill first passed, I immediately became cranky. I didn't want other people telling me how to tote home my groceries. Needing reusable bags was going to require a whole other level of planning when going to the store. I'd need to remember not only to bring the bags to the store, but to actually take them inside with me. I can already see myself at the checkout line, paying ten cents a bag because mine were still in my trunk. That's a big change for something as simple as grocery shopping (have I ever mentioned how resistant I am to change?).


But after I had a chance to get used to the idea, it started to sound pretty good. It'd be nice to shop with sturdier bags. I wouldn't have to worry about one handle of the paper bag ripping off when I tried to take it out of the cart. I wouldn't have to worry about a giant hole in the plastic bag when a sharp-cornered cracker box tore through. Not to mention that I'd no longer have to cram more folded up paper bags and wadded up plastic ones into the gap  between my fridge and the pantry (I'm sure there's a better place to store them, but it really is awfully handy).


Then there's the matter of obtaining reusable bags, but that's already covered. Over the last few years, we've collected several reusable bags from street festival giveaways or Target's handout on Earth Day.


Is it really such a big deal to bring my bags to the store? Probably not. I just need to keep the bags in the car, and before I know it, bringing them inside will be second nature. And I can feel good knowing I'm helping the planet with this one small change.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email