In the Wild With Jackie: Leapin' Lizards, It's the Blue Belly!

By Jackie Johansen

This time of year, Menifee is just crawling with lizards!

These quick-footed animals can catch you off-guard sometimes, but they are great for your garden. They are often seen basking in the sun, where they absorb heat, and can often be seen doing something that can only be compared to human push-ups. This motion is done for the same reasons that that some humans do push-ups: To show their strength and to attract mates.

This display marks their territory and warns other lizards to stay out. If you ever get a chance to observe these push-ups, you might think that the lizard is trying to threaten you, but there is a better chance that there is another lizard lurking around that you didn’t even notice.

What lizards have you seen in Menifee? The most common type is formally called the “Western Fence Lizard,” also known as the “blue belly.” These names suit this species well because they are often found basking in the sun on rock walls or on fences, and can also be seen running up your stucco.

If you happen to be brave enough to pick up one of these lizards, you will find that their ventral side (the underneath) is brightly colored with blue stripes on either side -- hence the nickname of “blue belly.”

Blue belly lizards are also small medical miracles. These lizards create a protein that kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. This bacterium is carried in the gut of the western black-legged tick. When the tick bites onto and stays attached to a human for a few days, the bacteria is transferred to the human.

If an infected tick bites and attaches to the blue belly lizard, the protein from the blood of the lizard is transferred to the gut of the tick, and the tick is actually healed from the bacteria, and is no longer a carrier of Lyme disease. This amazing feature is still not fully understood, but is likely the reason California has had a much lower occurrence of Lyme disease than in eastern states.

What animals have you seen in Menifee lately?

Jackie Johansen loves everything outdoors and spending time with her husband and kids. She teaches high school biology for Julian Charter School and holds degrees in zoology, conservation biology, education, and technology. Her "In the Wild" column will appear here once a month.




What's Up, Doc? The Road to Kindergarten Class

By Randall Freeman, PhD

I didn't set out to become a teacher. As a 9-year-old altar boy, I was determined to become a priest. At the age of 10, I discovered girls. Scratch that idea.

By the age of 12, I decided that I was going to be the next Perry Mason. Grades and reality set in. By this time, I was in the middle of my senior year of college. It would have been foolish to change my political science major at that point, so I completed my undergraduate degree.

Having completed college, I now had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. It took another decade to realize that some Supreme Being was directing me to becoming a teacher. So, after 11 years of drifting, I went back to school and earned my teaching credential at UC Riverside.

By now, I had decided that I would teach fifth grade until I died. Within a few short years, I realized something – girls were entering puberty in fourth grade. I did not want to deal with this situation -- ever. (Reread my previous column to see how that turned out.)

About this time, another teacher wanted to loop to first grade with her kindergarten students. She talked me into taking her kindergarten spot so she could do so. (You see how well I was being trained to deal with females; say OK and keep my mouth shut.)

So I became a kindergarten teacher. Well, technically, I became a teacher who was assigned to kindergarten. It took me a long time before I felt I could call myself a kindergarten teacher. The first month, I caught the stomach flu from one of my students. The experience taught me a valuable experience – keep a certain discreet distance from the little ones to maintain good physical health.

I slept some 10 hours a night until I learned to pace myself. Fortunately, I was single at the time. Didn't last very long, though.

My second year as a kindergarten teacher, I met Karen. Karen was a real kindergarten teacher while I was still very much a novice. I must explain that it was not because we were kindergarten teachers that I met the love of my life. Our district teachers’ unions were holding a combined training for building reps. This was Karen’s first experience as a rep; in fact, it was the first thing she ever did as a site rep. It was kismet.

Over the years, I have bounced back and forth between kindergarten and first grade. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up earning my doctorate in Early Childhood Education. I would never have imagined any of this when I was a kid or even in school the first time around.

If not for becoming a teacher, I would never have met Karen. I never would have become the father of four beautiful daughters (thank God they take after their mother in that respect). I likely would never have ended up in a place called Menifee. Strange how life turns out.

Randy Freeman and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, and 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, and Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.






Menifee Mom: Family Togetherness, In the Pool and Out

By Karen Thomas

After enduring eight hot Menifee summers, we finally put in a pool!

The reasons for waiting were many: Cost, housing market crash, safety with toddlers in the house, maintenance, etc. Everything finally came together last fall and we decided to go for it.

Putting in the pool was quite an adventure, but it was worth it. My kids have their friends over more, which I honestly do enjoy, and we've already created some great family memories.

The first pool party we had brought some older teenage boys into the pool, along with their crazy acrobatic flips. My husband and I were quite impressed and, after everyone had gone home, thought we'd like to try it out.

Our kids can bear witness that our first attempts were not pretty. My husband said that I looked like Superman crash landing into the water and his attempts displayed some pretty nice back flops! By the time we were done practicing, we pretty much conceded that we weren't as young as we used to be and that the tricks are best left to the teenagers. Our backs hurt, our necks hurt, and our egos were a little bruised as well.

Our kids, on the other hand, enjoyed seeing mom and dad making a fool of themselves and fail at something. We all shared a good laugh together, but more importantly, our kids realized that it's OK to try and fail. Hopefully it will give them a little more confidence to try out something new the next time they get the opportunity.

They haven't quite attempted the flips yet; they're having too much fun teasing us, but I know they will.

The family environment is such a great opportunity for learning and growth. We can try new things, share experiences together, and know that no matter what the outcome, we will still be loved and accepted. Our lives are so full and busy, it's nice to have something that brings everyone together and causes us to slow down and just relax.

You don't have to have a pool to enjoy family togetherness. Something as simple as cooking dinner together and then sitting down to eat as a family can bring wonderful memories and opportunities to share life's ups and downs. (My kids love to remind me of the time I set the French bread on fire in the oven!)

What matters is that you find something you can enjoy together that lets you slow down, relax, and just be yourself. We all need a safe place where we can leave the world behind and do just that.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every other week. Comments are welcome.





What's Up, Doc? New Columnist Remembers Big Event

Editor's note: This is the first entry in a new column by Menifee resident Randy Freeman. Randy and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, & 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, & Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.



By Randy Freeman

Without a doubt, the most difficult job in the world is raising a family. Being a parent is a 24/7 position, entered into without any prior training or experience. It is strictly on-the-job training.

My oldest daughter was born when I was 41 years old. The change in our lives was immediate and drastic. Overnight, our lives were completely rearranged. I enjoyed Daniela immensely and I learned to sleep in short spurts in a space barely able to accommodate my body. I learned why kidneys were named kidneys. Kid’s knees were firmly planted in my back when I wished to sleep.

Eventually, I began to get the hang of it. God must have thought so, because my wife became pregnant again. She had informed me from the beginning that the first two pregnancies were "on her" but afterward it would be up to me if I wanted more children.

She never should have said that. At seven weeks, she came home from the doctor and wordlessly handed me a small blue bag. I must have looked puzzled because her next words were, "We have to move and you can’t go to Grand Lodge!"

I was no more understanding than I had been when she handed me the bag. I looked in the bag and saw three baby rattles. Okay, I was dense; I still lacked understanding. I looked at Karen with that husbandly puzzled look on my face. She finally spoke the words that brought understanding – and shock.

"I’m pregnant with triplets."

No response.

She stared at me. "We’re having three babies."

OK, now I got it. I didn’t move for about a good 10 minutes. When I found my voice, I kind of gurgled a bit. Karen reiterated the news that we were having three babies – at the same time.

When I recovered my equilibrium, I called my mom. When she heard the news, she laughed so loud and hard that I had to hold the phone away from my ear. Karen snatched the phone from my hand and slammed it on the hook. My mom called back and apologized – to Karen.

The following month, Karen had amniocenteses administered to make certain that the babies were healthy. The argument that we had been engaged in over learning the genders of the babies was made moot. One result of an amniocentesis was learning the sex of each baby. Then followed those fateful words:

“Baby A is a girl.” I crossed my fingers.

“Baby B is a girl.” I crossed my toes. (This wasn't easy to do, as I was wearing shoes at the time.)

“Baby C is a girl.”

I had nothing left to cross. I sat down with a thud.

It sank in slowly. The great news was that all of the babies were healthy. The fateful news is that I would forever be the father of four – that’s 4 in numerals – four daughters!

I was 45 years old.






Menifee Mom: Let's Remember What We're Celebrating

By Karen Thomas

Last weekend, we got to join in on the Menifee tradition of celebrating the 4th of July, our country's Independence Day, a week early. My kids enjoyed the small town parade held before the fireworks and cheered on all the locals as they went by. Even the small amount of candy thrown brought smiles to their faces.

The best part, however, was the fireworks show. It's always a relatively low-key display, by some standards, but nice to enjoy with the kids. As a parent, I especially appreciate not having to fight crowds to get home when it's over!

Our family gathered together in our back yard to watch the fireworks and turned on some patriotic music. As we sang along to "America the Beautiful," "You're a Grand Old Flag," and "My Country 'Tis of Thee, " I couldn't help but feel appreciation to live in this great country.

Many disagree on the direction our country is headed politically, socially, or economically. Some think we're making progress, others think we're headed for doomsday. But either way, I can't help but think how lucky we are to have the freedom to disagree or to fight for change.

I hope that when the 4th of July rolls around, we instill in our kids a sense of patriotism. They may hear our criticism and complaints about things that happen, but they also need to hear about all the good things we have going for us in the USA.

From the pilgrims and the founding fathers to military men and women who serve our country, our history is rich with people who gave all they had to make our country what it is today.

As we gather together this weekend for the real 4th of July celebration, let's remember how good we have it. And with each explosion that goes off in the sky, let's think of those freedoms we enjoy and the people who made that possible.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every other week. Comments are welcome.





Menifee Mom: There's a Way to Make Every Summer Day Count

By Karen Thomas

It's official: Summer vacation is now in full swing! With all the end of school year events, the last few weeks of school felt like a knock-down, drag-out event. Echoes of, "I can't wait for school to be over," could be heard all around town, from parents and kids alike.

The last weeks of school in my family included field trips, class parties, kindergarten graduation, 8th grade promotion, band concerts, awards ceremonies for multiple children, Jr. Olympics, eight volleyball
games (they packed those in at the end!), soccer playoffs, a piano recital, soccer team parties, and final exams. It is amazing how much we can fit in a day when we have to!

It's no wonder everyone breaths a sign of relief when that final bell rings.

With two of my kids advancing in school, that bell left me with mixed emotions. My first child will be starting high school next year and I'm realizing that I have only four short years left with her at home.

At the other end of the spectrum, my youngest is advancing into first grade. Our little kid years are pretty much gone. As much as I thought I couldn't wait for this, I am going to miss the innocence of those preschool and kindergarten years.

You know, when all the kids in the class are their friend and they can't wait to show you the picture they colored just for you. On the bright side, summer means that the kids are home and you have free time to enjoy activities with them. One of my friends likes to make a summer bucket list with her kids. They talk about all the things they'd like to do during their time off and make a poster.

This helps them focus in on things they want to do each day rather than lazily letting the days go by and finding themselves at the end of summer, realizing they didn't really accomplish anything.

I love this idea! Not a summer has passed where my high expectations of what I wanted to accomplish were not shattered. This year, I'm going to actually have a bit of a schedule each day. Nothing major, but something that will ensure we accomplish a few things and still free time to enjoy.

If we do it right, we will find that we truly enjoy the time our kids have off instead of counting the days until they are back in school again. Our summer vacations are short and the kids grow up fast, so let's be proactive and make each day count!

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every other week. Comments are welcome.






Menifee Mom: A Reminder to Count Your Blessings

By Karen Thomas

It's not uncommon to have a short encounter with someone totally change your day. We've all experienced rude drivers or shoppers who leave us more than a little irritated. But what's really amazing is how a brief conversation with a stranger can leave you with a new perspective on life.

That's what happened last weekend when I was out to dinner at Texas Roadhouse, celebrating a friend's birthday. As we waited to be seated, a woman across the restaurant caught our eye.

She was simply stunning. It wasn't the fact that she was wearing beautiful clothes or had good hair; it was the aura about her. She wasn't doing anything to draw attention to herself, yet in a busy restaurant, she stood out from everyone else.

As we walked out of the restaurant after dinner, the same woman was standing with a group outside. Again, she just stood out. A friend of mine decided that a compliment was in order. So, she introduced herself to her and explained how we had been commenting on how stunning she looked that evening.

To our surprise, the woman shared that she had just beaten cancer.

"On this side of cancer," she said, "everything in life is wonderful."

A second chance on life: That was her story.

Her comment has stayed with me all week. So often we get downtrodden by the little things: Too much to do in too little time, dirty dishes left in the family room, backpacks scattered about the house, having to wait out a four-hour window for a repair man, or being stuck in traffic.

I imagine that having a second chance at life makes you grateful to even be around to experience those things. Someone once told me to be grateful for the laundry and dishes, because it's evidence that you have a family and a home where those things can collect.

I'm thankful to have crossed paths with this cancer survivor. Her unexpected story made me realize that instead of getting annoyed by the little things in life, I need to be quick to count my blessings and be thankful I'm here to experience another day.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every other week. Comments are welcome.






Loading