Menifee Mom: The Cat Wars Haven't Gotten Any Easier

By Karen Thomas

For the past few months, I've been trying to pretend I didn't see the clumps of cat hair collecting around my yard. It is a sure sign that it is time to shave the cat again, but I was not feeling up to the task. However, after my kids begin to insist that we get it done, I gave in.

I wrote about my cat shaving experience last year, and this one wasn't much better. However, the kids are now a year older. Let me just say, older doesn't always mean more helpful.

The youngest two children were the only ones naive enough to volunteer to help. I got out all the necessary equipment: Long protective gloves and electric pet clippers. My kids thought a cat treat would be good, because that works for the dog. I don't really keep cat treats around, so they thought a can of tuna fish would be just right.

Picture this for a moment: A mom and a first and fifth grader armed with long gloves, a razor, and an open can of tuna, staring down one large unhappy cat with a look that says, "Don't even think about it."

So we began.

It started out OK. He ate some tuna while I began working on his back. The closer I got to his tail and stomach, though, the more agitated he got. Soon a deep growl began in his throat. The cat made it clear that he was NOT happy! I told my fifth grader to grab the cat by the scruff of the neck and lift it in the air so I could finish working his belly.

She grabbed the cat and somewhat succeeded in lifting him. The growling was joined by hissing. The youngest child grabbed the tuna and held it up to his face (while he was hanging in the air), saying, "Here Shadow, want a treat?"

The cat began to twist and squirm, the youngest was chasing his moving head with the tuna can, while the older child was struggling to keep a grip on him. All the while, I was trying to shave a matted area on his belly.

The cat was winning.

I announced, "I think the cat needs a break for a minute." (Really, I needed a break for a minute.)
Despite the gloves, I had sustained a few good scratches and it was time to call in back-up.
Enter the 12-year-old. She is a bit tougher and has a secret desire to show this cat who's boss.

She succeeded in holding him a bit more firmly. The youngest came back out and continued to try to calm him with tuna. Finally, I told her the cat would enjoy the tuna so much more if she waited until we were done. That seemed to make sense and the can disappeared. She was content to observe for now.

Soon the youngest said, "Look, he has one ear up and one ear down. That means something! I have a book that will help us. Let me get it!"

Before I knew it, she stuck a book right between me and the cat and was reading to me the part about cat body language.

"See mom, it says right here that...."

This would be great, if I wasn't currently trying to wrestle a cat with an electric razor! At that point, there was no mystery how the cat was feeling or how I was feeling, for that matter!
Finally, I raised the white flag and called a truce.

The cat looked somewhat like he had gotten hit by a lawnmower, but he had begun to spray us with his stench and I was done fighting.

The cat escaped outside the first chance he got. I imagine him getting picked on by all the neighborhood cats. The thought makes me smile and I think, "Nope, I win!"

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? Another Crazy, Lazy Summer Gone By

By Randall Freeman, PhD

The summer of 2014 has been a typical summer for the Freeman Family. Dad Randy is dealing with a shoulder injury suffered at work last November, when he was run over by a tricycle (insert giggle here). Sarah was installed as Honored Queen for the local Job’s Daughters Bethel, while Megan and Holly were installed as Senior and Junior Princesses, respectively.

Big sister Daniela turned 17 years old (going on 32), Mom Karen also celebrated her birthday (age not disclosed in order to live another year). For Father’s Day, I received the DVD player I requested. Now I’m watching Prime Amazon Stream Videos on my computer because the TV is taken.

For our 21st Wedding Anniversary, I attended a morning Riverside County School Board meeting, took Holly and Megan to the Lodge so they could serve the Masons as part of the Bethel fundraising efforts, and attended a water polo fundraising meeting. My lovely bride attended water polo games and took Daniela and Sarah to club water polo practice in Corona.

Happy Anniversary, Honey.

I was finally notified that I qualified for shoulder surgery. (It only took eight months for worker’s compensation to agree to what everyone else knew months ago. I understand that eight months is very quick for WC.) I was blessed to learn that surgery could go forward on Aug. 7. Nice early 59th birthday present (birthday was the 11th).

I was supposed to return to work on Aug. 8, but I didn’t quite make it. The idea of teaching kindergarten a month or more after substitute teachers trained them for me warms my soul.

Our Chinese and Spanish visitors arrived on July 17. We very much enjoy these opportunities to share our home with students from other countries. Last year, we hosted two boys and and one girl. This year it was easy -- only two girls.

Daniela was in the Junior Olympics for water polo in San Jose. Mom Karen escaped – er, went with her -- as parental support. Everybody else stayed home with Dad.

No getaway trip to Phoenix this year. I missed the 118-degree temperatures. I missed turning the AC in the suite down to 63 degrees to take a nap while Karen and the girls enjoyed the eight swimming pools. Maybe next year.

All in all, it was a typical Freeman Family summer – six teenage girls (including our visitors from China and Spain for three weeks), three dogs, a 16-year-old cat who believes she owns me (she does -- 15 years of training worked wonders), and a turtle.

The summer has included the occasional school board meeting, trying not to kill the lawn, and watching all five seasons of "Eureka" in one month. Now when do I get to go back to teaching kindergarten?

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: Lessons Learned About Art, Culture

By Karen Thomas

While academics and sports take up a lot of our family's spare time, I do attempt to help my kids be well-rounded in other areas. So this week a trip to the Los Angeles Museum of Art was on our agenda.

We briefly visited LACMA many years ago and the kids couldn't remember a thing about it. The main thing I remembered was an exhibit with art featuring different colors of florescent lights. I didn't get it. I knew, however, there was a lot more to discover there.

Our visit started at the children's museum, which is basically a place where the kids could draw and paint. It was very relaxing and my girls enjoyed it; well, except for one child. She got frustrated and claimed that her painting was "horrible." Despite my encouraging words, she threw them away. The others left theirs out to dry while we explored.

At first, we saw mostly relics from Asia in years gone by: Pottery, china, furniture, etc. But then we hit the Ahmanson building and were wowed by the modern art exhibits. The kids couldn't believe a blue triangle was art and got a kick out the flying SPAM can.

The next room brought abstract art: Paint splatters and all. "I could do that!" one of them shouted as I quickly told them to remember their museum manners. Soon we came upon a room full of Picasso's artwork. I've always been entertained by his art, but my girls just thought it was plain weird. We took a seat and I asked them to look around and pick which was their favorite. This got them to actually study the works a bit instead of passing them off as strange.

Soon we were enjoying works by Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and more. We talked about the different styles of painting, the use of dots or lines, light and shadow, depth and perspective. Well, I talked about it and they politely listened. While they weren't completely intrigued, they did show some interest in the various styles and commented about what they liked and didn't like.

Next we took a look at contemporary art that seemed to break all the rules. Most were not paintings, but large three dimensional structures.

I wasn't sure what my kids thought of our visit to the museum until late in the day, when we stopped at a library and gift shop. My older girls started reading through books about some of the artists and styles we had seen. The younger ones looked at postcard prints of the more famous works. I asked them which of the artwork we saw was their favorite. I was amazed when they could not only tell me which one they liked, but why.

We still had some time before we had to go home, so I let them paint one more time. I encouraged them to try out one of the different styles of art we had seen. My oldest ones went for the impressionism styles. I think the idea that that their art didn't have to look perfect was freeing for them. Realizing art didn't have to look like a photograph, the child who had thrown her previous paintings away made not only one, but two paintings, and was quite proud of them.

People sometimes wonder why we should make an effort to be "cultured." I always felt like it gave us a greater perspective on life in general and made us more interesting people. After watching the effect a few hours at an art museum had on just one of my children, however, I think it is so much more than that. Taking time to give our kids cultural experiences can teach our children to appreciate the differences that exist among us and that it's OK to try your own thing.

Whether it's artists daring to paint outside the lines or pilgrims willing to leave everything behind and settle a new country, it's people willing to break the mold and do something creative or stand for something different that brings about growth in our society. Sometimes the hardest lessons for kids (and adults) to learn is that they don't have to be exactly like everyone else. It really is OK to be different.

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? Remember the Role of a Teacher

By Randall Freeman, PhD

What is a teacher?

A teacher is a caregiver for all students, not just those in his/her classroom. A teacher is a counselor, listening to the desires and concerns of his or her students. A teacher is a custodian, responsible for the cleanliness and constant care of his or her classroom.

A teacher is an interior decorator, assigned to regularly set up, arrange, and rearrange the classroom for 180 days. A teacher is an accountant, required to daily grade and post student grades to the online gradebook. A teacher is a listener, listening to parents and guardians express concerns and anguish over their children’s’ behavior and work. Sometimes teachers even receive praise.

A teacher spends more time with his or her students while they’re awake than anybody else in the students’ lives. That's an average of six hours a day. The parents may spend 3-4 hours with the children while they’re awake. Most people don’t think about this fact and the resulting importance in each child’s life.

As a teacher of very young children, I am regularly identified with the primary caregiver. I have been called mom, grandpa, - even grandma! The importance of a teacher in a child’s life cannot be overstated. A teacher is a primary role model for 30-180 students on a daily basis.

In high school, teachers play very important roles in the lives of their students. Teachers lend an ear to the unique issues and concerns of teenage students when the students feel uncomfortable in speaking with their parents. Teachers guide them toward helpful resources. They do not judge their students.

A teacher is a nurse. A teacher provides immediate basic first aid – usually a Band-Aid – and secures the health technician when the need is greater. A teacher provides comfort when feelings are hurt and counsel when a student strays from the path of righteousness.

A teacher is a lawgiver, guiding his or her students in creating a code of conduct for the class to follow. The rewards and consequences are also created and discussed so that all might understand behavioral expectations. The teacher models the proper behavior.

A teacher always demonstrates respect and caring toward and in front of his or her students. Parents, administrators, and other students come into daily contact with the teacher. The teacher is always "on". Students watch what the teacher does more than what he or she says.

Mostly, a teacher is human. Humans make and learn from making mistakes. Demands are made of teachers from students, parents, and administrators that do not allow for mistakes. Teachers are held to a higher standard, one that is impossible to maintain indefinitely.

Keep the above on your refrigerator and reread it occasionally. Remember what your child’s teacher is responsible for and appreciate the job they do. To a teacher, teaching is not just a job, it is a way of life.

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.




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.





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