Ruben Flores creates fall decorations at LOCA Arts Education presentation on Oct 19 at Laguna Nursery

LOCA Arts Education invites the public to a holiday decorating presentation on Thurs, Oct 19, from 5-7 p.m. at Laguna Nursery. Award winning horticulturalist Ruben Flores demonstrates how to create original designs using organic and found materials. Holiday colors, ties, and attachments will be discussed, as well as the use of fruits and vegetables. 

“We can start by looking in our gardens,” Ruben said. “There are fantastic branches, palm leaves, and seed pods outside right now.” 

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Photo by LOCA

Ruben Flores uses organic and found materials to create fall décor on Oct 19

“Let’s get squashy,” laughed Flores, “this will be lots of fun!”

Seating and hospitality provided, along with a sale of hand-painted LOCA art shirts. 

Admission is $20 for guests, free for LOCA members. To register, visit the calendar pages at or call (949)363-4700. 

Laguna Nursery is located at 397 N Coast Hwy. Metered parking is on the street.

65th Annual BOO Blast Carnival offers fiendish fun with family & friends at El Morro School on Oct 27

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Carnival rides and creepy fun at BOO Blast 

El Morro Elementary School’s 65th Annual BOO Blast carnival extravaganza is just around the corner! It runs from 2:30-7:30 p.m. on Fri, Oct 27 at the school grounds. There will be face painting from Star’s face painting team from the Sawdust Festival, a fabulous food court, boolicious bake sale, game booths and prizes. Free admission and parking. All proceeds from event sales go directly to the El Morro PTA and are used to support programs and purchases for the school children.

A Salute to Halloween

Photo by Jean Brotherton

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Throwing shade, skeleton style?

America’s only Coffin Escape Race delivers fright, fun and fog here in Laguna: Who will ring the bell first?


Photos by Cyrus Polk

Imagine a small dark room with two coffins positioned parallel to each other, a flickering candelabra between them, wafting fog, and the acrid smell of fear heavy in the air (wait, I think that might have been the fog). Imagine waking up in one of the coffins, realizing there’s no way out, clawing the lid with bloody fingers, screaming until your voice is hoarse, yet no one hears. 

But this is not a Stephen King movie, this is real. This is Deadringers, America’s only coffin escape game race, and it takes place right here in Laguna. Two contestants climb into the coffins and vie with each other to solve the puzzle inside, ring the bell, and get out first, before the 15-minute deadline.

Being buried alive is my worst nightmare. Luckily, on this day, I am only an observer. Soon, though, the intrepid Jason Feddy and Steph Weaver Weinberg will brave the mock burial. 

The fear of being buried alive is an ancient obsession, and even has its own name, taphophobia, a Greek word meaning “fear of graves.” In the distant past, coffins included a bell to ring to alert grave keepers in the event someone was mistakenly buried alive (which evidently happened quite often during the cholera epidemic in the 18th and 19th centuries). 

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Climb in, if you dare

Happily, Tyler Russell, who invented this coffin race, tells me that “almost everyone has been surprised at how comfortable and spacious the coffins are. Any fear they have quickly disappears as soon as they start attempting to solve the puzzles.” 

“Comfortable and spacious” are not words one generally associates with entering a coffin, especially under the usual circumstances. But, fortunately, this is a game.

In the hallway just outside the room, Jason says, “I have no idea what to expect.” And he admits he’s a bit claustrophobic, but is doing this out of the goodness of his heart for Tyler. 

Tyler is a busy man. Along with co-creator Jonathan Katz and Engineer Scott Fregoso, they created The Escape Bus and recently, Deadringers. The Escape Bus, a Southern California mobile escape room, is used for birthday parties, corporate team building, and in school settings to encourage group skills. (Two to six players must work together to escape a maximum-security transport.)

In May, after a trip to Budapest, Hungary, which happens to be the escape room capital of the world, Tyler came up with the concept for Deadringers. Scott built the 7 x 3 foot coffins in Tucson and drove them here for their premiere this month. Each coffin is technically advanced and custom built with ventilators and feature state of the art lighting and sound effects.

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Your coffin awaits

In a strange twist, Tyler harbors his own phobia. He’s afraid of elevators and always takes the stairs. He says, “I’ll watch other people enjoy this. I like games, but being locked in a tight space is not my own desire.” 

As Steph and Jason wait to enter their coffins, Tyler gives instructions, “Shut your eyes until the game begins (blindfolds will be used in the future); no force is necessary; use one finger; and there is a glow-in-the-dark emergency button. Every five minutes you’ll hear ambient sounds to let you know five minutes have passed.”

As Jason and Steph climb in, neither seems reluctant, although Steph appears more enthusiastic. Before the lids are closed and locked, Tyler says, “As soon as you hear the gravedigger talking, you can start.”

For a few minutes, there is silence. His voice muffled, Jason says, “I’m not dead yet.”

Then we hear what sound like rats scrabbling around inside.

Jason says, “I need my glasses.” Apparently, there’s reading involved. Glasses are fetched. The coffin lid is briefly lifted, an arm reaches for glasses, and the lid shuts again.

“I need to add that to the instructions,” Tyler says. 

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The coffin interior is lavishly padded for the comfort of the inhabitant

More scrabbling. 

Finally, after nine minutes, Steph’s bell rings. The record so far has been eight and a half minutes.

When asked how he is through the side of the coffin, Jason says, “Oh, you know.”  

As she gets out, Steph says, “That was comfortable. I want to stay in.” She obviously has no fear of small spaces.

Once both Jason and Steph step outside, Tyler lets my twelve-year-old grandson get in one of the coffins. He loves it. Tyler says Deadringers is especially popular with that age group, and fortunately, there’s no age limit.

Jason offers his last words on the subject, “I’ve been in a coffin, it’s good practice for the real thing. But I prefer to be cremated.”

Take note, this might be your only chance to be buried…and more importantly, to be given the chance to emerge alive.

(Tyler isn’t sure what he’ll do with the coffins after Halloween. May we remind him that Tiny Houses are now in vogue? And we need affordable housing in Laguna.)

The coffin races will be offered throughout the month of October. For an appointment, and to learn more, visit

Crystal Cove Soiree celebrates achievements with dining, dancing and fundraising in a fabulous setting  

A sold-out crowd of 438 raised $467,497 net, with attendees enjoying an evening under the stars, complete with breath-taking sunset views and an elegant dinner catered by title sponsor, The Resort at Pelican Hill. The 15th Annual Crystal Cove Soiree on Oct. 7, hosted by the Crystal Cove Conservancy, was decidedly a success.

“It was a milestone year and our 15th annual soiree similarly was superb from start to finish. This year we announced our name change to Crystal Cove Conservancy shortly after receiving unanimous approval from the Coastal Commission for permits to restore the final 17 historic cottages at the north end of our beach,” said Alix Hobbs, president and chief executive officer, Crystal Cove Conservancy. “Our environmental science and marine biology educational programs grew to 4,500 students this year and thanks to the success of the 2017 Soiree guests’ generous support, the number of students will grow even higher in the new year.”

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Submitted photo

Crystal Cove Board

Funds raised at the Soiree will support important education programs to help create the next generation of environmental stewards. The Conservancy uses a social enterprise model to fund preservation, conservation and education initiatives with the goal of creating a sustainable future for Crystal Cove State Park. The Conservancy has become a statewide model for how funds can be reinvested into the park.

The Soiree began at sunset with an al fresco cocktail reception with hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction. The Resort at Pelican Hill donated the hors d’oeuvres as well as the delectable dinner duo of filet mignon and Maine lobster. A live auction, live music and dancing to Super Diamond, the popular Neil Diamond tribute band, rounded out the evening. Guests had opportunities to purchase fabulous luxury silent and live auction items, as well as supported fund-a-need, to help with student scholarships for important STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math).  In an opportunity drawing, Lili McGraw won a three-night stay in the beachfront Crystal Cove Cottage #14, and David and Karen Lagrew won the Bin Drop trip to Cabo to stay at Casa Tequila for three nights and four days.

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A large group from Expedia enjoyed the event

Laura Davick, Founder and Vice President of the Conservancy, noted, “Our community has been so supportive since the earliest days, when we fought hard to keep our Cove from becoming a luxury resort. Instead, Crystal Cove is on the National Registry of Historic Places, is one of California’s newest Historical Landmarks, and is arguably the region’s singular, unchanged place in the sun.  

“More than 25,000 overnight guests enjoy our 29 cottages already restored and we believe the community will continue to support our largest preservation initiative to date, to renovate the final 17 cottages on the North Beach that will bring true sustainability to Crystal Cove for future generations.”

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Submitted photo

Stephanie Queseda’s group

Crystal Cove Conservancy is the nonprofit public benefit partner to Crystal Cove State Park, employing a social enterprise model to fund important preservation, education and conservation initiatives that will cultivate our planet’s next generation of environmental stewards ensuring that Crystal Cove, and places like it, live on for generations. 

The Conservancy, formerly known as Crystal Cove Alliance, was founded in 1999 by Laura Davick to save Crystal Cove Historic District from being developed into a luxury resort property.

The Conservancy works in partnership with California State Parks to provide stewardship support for Crystal Cove’s nearly 2,800 acres of public lands including: The Crystal Cove Historic District and beach cottages (a National Register of Historic Places site); 2,400 acres of pristine wilderness habitat and the unspoiled Moro Canyon watershed (a National Natural Landmark site); over three miles of rocky beach coastline and intertidal habitat; 400 acres of coastal bluff habitat; and special underwater and offshore areas including the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area MPA. 

By being a stewardship partner for this Southern California jewel, the Conservancy has been uniquely positioned to develop a nationally recognized STEM education program that uses authentic field science and monitoring to immerse students and community members in the practice of conservation and open space management. For more information, visit

Laptop computers make a world of difference in distant Nepal: R Star supporters make it happen

Getting necessary teaching and educational equipment to R Star’s one school in Nepal is quite a challenge. (R Star helps people in the poorest parts of Nepal to gain the education and the means to support themselves financially – women in particular.)

So it was a great thrill for the Founder of R Star, Lagunan Rosalind Russell, when two stalwart supporters offered to help.

In early October Pam Wicks and Susan Brown were on their way to India, and then to Nepal, for the spiritual work they enjoy.  They both agreed to add laptop computers to their packed suitcases, meaning two computers were soon en route to R Star’s school of 65 children, TOW-N (Top of the World Nepal elementary school).

“For more than six months I have been attempting to get 30 desktop computers to Nepal, but the Nepali government requires ‘new’ items or the tax is more than the cost to purchase a computer there,” Rosalind says. “Creative as I am as a result of living in this very creative environment in Laguna, I haven’t yet been able to get this accomplished. 

“I am getting closer with the help of my new Nepali contact, who will help with the paperwork to get 15 of the 30 needed. He will locate 60 people to transport all of them… the tower with one person, the monitor and mouse with another person. The computers are all refurbished and with new programs ready to go, but they are in Montreal of all places, where the person who donated them lives.” 

Submitted photo

Pam Wicks, Susan Brown (not pictured) and Rabin bonded immediately

With half the desktop computers not able to get to TOW-N, the plan to take laptops made sense. Generous donors gifted their not-so-old ones to R Star for a write-off, while helping rural children who have very few opportunities to become computer-literate. 

And so the first two laptops headed out with Pam and Susan. 

“Both women were hoping to see at least our school out of the ones in the 51 villages we serve, but their preplanned trip didn’t allow more than a few minutes to visit,” Rosalind says. 

The lead man in Nepal, Rabindra, (or Rosalind’s son who adopted her along with his siblings years back), was able to meet Pam and Susan personally, picking up the laptops moments before the two departed to see a temple.  

Rabin said his heart connected with both of them immediately, just as Pam and Susan had connected with Rosalind upon first meeting her. Rabin called to tell his maaytae (Mom) Rosalind just how wonderful their connection was.

Rabin learned from the caring computer carriers that Rosalind loves the low heeled highly decorated shoes the Nepalese sari-wearing women wear, in all colors. So Pam and Susan agreed to help to bring a gift from his heart to his mom.  

Rosalind says she is beyond excited about the delivery of the computers, but as any shoe-loving woman, would be, she is ecstatic about the shoes due to arrive next week.

Interested in helping R Star with a used, in perfect condition 4 years or younger computer or perhaps a Kindle which R Star has an intern load for immediate use, or just wish to donate?  Call 949 497 4911 or write This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   or use the website to donate:  There are many ways to help and bless others.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

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Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie  Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

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