A Doug's Life: Making Big Plans for 2012

As I understand it, New Year's resolutions are supposed to be one's commitments to accomplish things or take a certain course of action in specific areas.

Most people interpret this as a promise to "do better" in certain areas, such as losing weight or managing one's time better. Yet a New Year's resolution also can simply be stated as a goal to do something you've always wanted to do -- say, climb Mt. Everest.

I'm no mountain climber, but I'm pretty good at keeping lists. So as I close out 2011 and prepare to welcome 2012 in my new home of Menifee, here are my New Year's resolutions, in no particular order:

Read at least two books a month: I should be able to do much better than that, and I used to, before I started grading all those darn college term papers. I have dozens of carefully chosen books sitting on the shelves of my office, still waiting to be read. I think the goal is to devote at least 30 minutes each night to a good book before turning in. Now do I start with "Lonesome Dove" or "Gold Dust and Gunsmoke"?

Learn Menifee history: OK, so the town is named after a guy who was a miner in the area in the 1800s. There's got to be more to it than that. Recently, I joined the Menifee Valley Historical Society. It's time to go on some hikes and dig through some old documents.

Grade those papers on time: There's nothing like getting three weeks behind in grading papers when you have 80 students turning in two or three writing assignments a week. Trust me, I've been there -- like last quarter. My wife Kristen would say, "Can't I help you grade?" No, dear. They're like essays, not multiple choice quizzes. They require my personal expertise (sounds impressive, doesn't it?)

Take riding lessons: Horseback riding, of course. I've already lined up some possibilities. Hey, animals like me. Now, will my backside like the saddle after an hour or two? We'll find out.

Work out regularly: Last year, I was in the gym five days a week and lost 20 pounds. Then I had foot surgery and was on crutches for nine weeks. Now I'm 15 pounds heavier and feeling kinda sluggish. But I did find a nice local gym, so I'm back at it come Jan. 3. Until then, bring on the chips, soda and a whole bunch of football on TV.

Go camping: Haven't done it in years, unless you count a rented RV on the beach. I'm talking a tent and sleeping bags. This will happen during the spring or summer, when I can lay out under the stars without freezing my arsenal off. Anyone got any sterno?

Stay focused: I can be in the middle of a news article or grading a student's essay when my mind suddenly takes me to Maui or Dodge City. What the heck? C'mon, man, focus. I think it's today's society, which encourages us to log hours at work while checking Facebook status updates and tweets every 10 minutes. Something's got to give.

Explore the area on foot: I can't get everywhere I need to by car. There are trails, canyons, old mine sites and other cool spots I'll have to hike to. If my bad foot doesn't hold up, it's back in the saddle for me. It will happen.

Work on my family history: I've researched my ancestors back to 1531 in Germany and I created a website to tell others all about it. That's not good enough. Until I trace my line back to Adam and Eve, the work isn't done. Again, it's a matter of making the time. The information is out there. Anyone else got a horse thief in their family tree?

Drive from Newport and Antelope to the Countryside Marketplace parking lot in less than five minutes: Hey, you have to set your goals high.

Be kind to others: Not that I'm not already, but we can all do better. You know all those times you pass someone in the office hallway or on the sidewalk and keep your head down or look the other way? I think it's time to say "hello" and smile on more of these occasions. There's only maybe one chance in a million that person is an ax murderer. I'll take that chance.

They might even smile and say "hello" back.

Happy New Year, everyone, and here's to a great 2012 in Menifee.

A Doug's Life: Dreaming of the View From Up in the Wild Blue Yonder

If you haven't realized by now that I'm fascinated with the rural atmosphere and outdoor life of the Menifee area, you haven't been paying attention.

It's ironic, really, because although I fancy myself an outdoorsman, I spend most of my time in a classroom or pounding away on a computer keyboard. I'm not much of a fisherman, I have yet to take those horse riding lessons, and my camping experience is limited. But my imagination is a rugged, grizzled veteran. It's working all the time.

So as I drive throughout the scenic Menifee Valley and take in the sights (what's with all the boulders?), I find myself constantly looking for ways to explore the landscape.

One vantage point that intrigues yet frightens me at the same time: Seeing it all from the air.

There are several ways one can do this, of course. The only one I'm really familiar with is the commercial jet. Having logged many thousands of miles as an airline passenger on road trips as a sports writer over the years, I have no problem forgetting about my fear of heights when I'm in a large, air-conditioned aircraft with people all around me and a good book to read.

Unfortunately, you don't see much of the ground scenery from 30,000 feet. Besides, I choose an aisle seat whenever possible. Much easier access to the little sports writers' room when the need arises.

Anyway, I figure Southwest Flight 3140 is not a viable option for a birds-eye view of these parts.

OK, so maybe a small aircraft that flies lower and can be piloted on a specific flight path over the area. I had fun checking out the 1928 model two-seat plane being built by local flight enthusiasts at the French Valley Airport. Obviously, there are somewhat larger and more enclosed private planes. Could I see myself in one?

Sure -- as long as it stays on the runway. I'm not getting up in one of those contraptions, even if the C-17s from March Air Reserve Base make room for me. If the engine goes, so do I. On to the next idea.

Driving down the 215, I occasionally see bodies floating to the ground under parachutes, often in large groups. I get it. Perris has one of the most popular "drop zones" around. Sometimes you see large groups of people skydiving together. Just a few months ago, Menifee 24/7 reported on a record skydive by 200 jumpers.

Sounds like fun, but I'll pass. If I tried that, I wouldn't see a bit of landscape on the way down, even after the chute opened. I'd be too busy saying the Lord's Prayer.

What's left? Well, there's always a hot air balloon. I might be able to handle that. I'd still be scared to death of falling over the side, but I think I could control myself enough to check out the sights. There would be that horrifying childhood memory of the Wizard of Oz floating off uncontrollably into the stratosphere, but hey, every adventure has some element of danger, right?

I figure I could see the location of all the local lakes, enjoy the view of all the open fields, and basically develop a greater appreciation for the open space we have around here. I could enjoy some of that beautiful clean air we have, up close and personal. The views of the local hills and the snow-capped mountains would be spectacular, I'm sure.

Yep, that's it. When I'm ready to take to the skies above Menifee Valley, I'm doing it in a hot air balloon.

But you'll notice I said "When I'm ready." That could be a while. Like the horse riding lessons and the fishing trip, it's still on the "to do" list. No use rushing things.

Meanwhile, I think I'll take a nice, long walk.

A Doug's Life: Recognizing the True Meaning of Christmas

There we were, standing in front of the Carnes family's "MaryChrisMess" house on Calle Pompeii, when it hit me.

I was holding my 2-year-old grandson, Cameron, and looking at a fascinating miniature village built into the front of the Carnes home. There were festive miniature houses, villagers, carnival rides, skaters, even a drive-in theatre with a real movie playing on a small screen. An electric train chugged its way through the village, back and forth from one end of the long display to the other.

I had been there the night before, gathering information and photos for this website, but it hadn't quite been the same. That time, I was so concerned with the big picture, I hadn't noticed all the little treasures, each holding their own special meaning. This time, my eyes followed the path of the train and studied the smiles on the faces of those tiny figurines.

I let my imagination go to work. I remembered the electric train set I had as a boy and the fun I had watching it. Then I watched little Cameron's face, which lit up as his eyes took in the entire scene. I smiled as he giggled every time the train hit the end of the track and bounced back the other way.

Then I turned and looked all around me in the Carnes' driveway. Everywhere I looked, friends and neighbors laughed, hugged and exchanged greetings. A firepit surrounded by chairs welcomed appreciative visitors. Mary Carnes snapped photos of each guest -- many of whom left canned goods as donations for a local charity. Inside, her husband Chris served visitors soup and meatballs and thanked them for stopping by.

Suddenly, I realized once again what I probably always have known, but too often forget:

This is what Christmas is all about.

It's about people like Chris and Mary Carnes, who open up their home each night for a month at Christmas time, just to give something back to the community they love. It's about the visitors who come to show their appreciation and help the less fortunate with their donations to Menifee Community Cupboard.

It's about people like Sherry Durado, who recently opened her Sun City home to visitors with a similar display for two weekends earlier this month. It's about people like Linda Denver, a Menifee resident who works all year on community service projects, then plays Mrs. Claus for the little ones at Christmas time.

And it's about people like Cpt. Jesse Karr, who delivers care packages to Marines in Afghanistan while his parents and friends back home in Menifee prepare more supplies to ship overseas.

People have different opinions on what Christmas is really about. In fact, some don't recognize Christmas at all. To be politically correct, we are told, we are to wish others "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

I happen to be one who believes we can celebrate Christ's birth, declare his belief to others, and still respect the beliefs of all those around him. Isn't that why we live in America?

OK, I'm jumping off the soap box now. All I'm trying to say is, we can all get along as friends and neighbors and respect each other, whether you believe in Jesus Christ; acknowledge Santa Claus; celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or simply the winter solstice; or believe in none of the above.

No matter what you do or don't believe in, you have the capacity to care for others. If nothing else, this time of year is a reminder of the blessings we have and the ability we have to bless others.

If you doubt this, watch the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life." Or visit the Carnes house (thanks, Mary, for taking the photo of us shown below).

Or just pause a moment to look around you at this special time of year.

So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all, no matter what your situation or beliefs. Have a great weekend, give your loved ones a hug, and do something kind for someone else.

It really is a great feeling.

A Doug's Life: Baby, it's Cold Outside

OK, so it's been two months since we moved to Menifee, and we're still here. I've hounded my wife about the idea of feed leasing a horse, invited her to help me look for old mine sites, tried to buy a full-scale replica of a stagecoach for the front yard -- and she's still speaking to me.

I think we're staying.

Hey, she has her nice four-bedroom house to live in with nary a horse in sight, even from the upstairs windows. She has shopping centers within easy driving distance and her debit card works just the same out here. What's she got to complain about?

Well, maybe there is one thing: It's a lot colder out here.

Kristen hates the cold. It could be 70 degrees with sunny skies and she would be reaching for a sweater. I once considered interviewing for a job in Utah. She asked what I'd think about being divorced again.

So you can imagine how she feels about the weather out here. And while I rather enjoy the change of seasons, I have to admit it's been a bit chilly lately.

In our old neighborhood, a couple nights in the 30s would have us searching for thermal underwear. But maybe that's because it didn't happen often. Out here, it's been a regular thing the last few weeks.

At first, I thought my rather timid Golden Retriever was shaking because he was nervous about his new surroundings. I finally figured out he was freezing his tail off. He stays inside most of the time anyway, but these days his "restroom" trips are shorter than usual.

That reminds me of my favorite "cold dog" story, told to me by my distant cousin while we were visiting them at the old family farm house in rural North Carolina a few years back.

The house is rented out these days, but for more than 100 years, it was home to Spoon family members. The place was built in the early 1800s. It has no central heat. When my cousins spent a few days there one Christmas, they used space heaters in a few rooms and closed up the rest of the house.

One thing they forgot was the dog's water bowl. When they got up on Christmas morning and opened up the rest of the house, old Fido headed across the cold kitchen floor to get a drink of water. Unfortunately, it was frozen solid.

Now that's cold.

Really, though, I don't mind it. It reminds me that open, remote areas often experience both extremes on the thermometer. My first job in journalism was in Barstow, which I had always considered a desert sauna. Not in January, I learned -- especially when you have to get up at 5:30 a.m. and your feet hit the cold tile floor.

So despite my wife's complaints and my dog's shivering backside, I'm actually getting used to this weather. I keep telling myself how much more I will appreciate these chilly mornings during those hot summer afternoons to come. In fact, I find it rather invigorating.

As long as we're cooling it down a bit, why not go all the way? Christmas is almost here. Bring on the snow.

I read on this website recently Steve Johnson's recollection of the last Menifee snowfall, in 2004. Sounds like it was just enough to take some pics and make a snowball or two before the white stuff melted.

I'll take that.

If I can live somewhere within reasonable driving distance of Disneyland, have horses for neighbors, enjoy a light snow once in a while and still have my modern tract home with a fireplace, I'm good. Just give me a little bit of everything, in moderation.

In other words, I'd like to ride a horse once in a while without having to take care of it 24/7. By the same token, I'd like to play in a little bit of snow -- not shovel it, like I'd have to do in Utah.

Is that asking too much?

So whether you consider this weather seasonably comfortable or downright freezing, remember that variety is the spice of life. Here, we can bundle up like Eskimos to give us that Christmas feeling in December, then strip down to the bare essentials and work on our tan come June.

And hey, you can ride horses year-round. What's not to like?

A Doug's Life: Catching the Santa Spirit

Do you remember sitting on Santa's lap?

My memories are sketchy, but once in a while it comes back to me -- especially at this time of year. And of course it helps to have old photos, like the shot of the handsome little man pictured here with old St. Nick.

This photo was taken around 1959 in front of Hinshaw's Department Store in Arcadia. In those days, Hinshaw's and the small shopping center surrounding it were a major hub for shoppers in the West San Gabriel Valley. At Christmas time, it was like a holiday playground for wide-eyed kids.

Strings of lights and colorful decorations hung high above Baldwin Avenue. Christmas music seemed to drift outside from every storefront. And inside a big red booth erected on the wide sidewalk in front of the Hinshaw's display window, Santa Claus welcomed the children, listening to Christmas wishes and handing out candy.

There we stood with our parents in a long line, sometimes shivering in the cold, fascinated by the big red Christmas bulbs and twinkling lights, our eyes fixed on the man in the big red and white suit.

Then I grew up. They built a mall up the street, eventually forcing Hinshaw's out of business. They narrowed the sidewalk along Baldwin Avenue to create a bus stop.

Santa hasn't been seen in front of that building since then. But you know what? He's always somewhere, and there are always kids around to sit on his lap. Here in Menifee, that will happen this weekend in our own "little" shopping hub, Countryside Marketplace.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive at 5:30 p.m. Friday to light up the Winter Wonderland Santa House by the food court at the Marketplace, located at the corner of Newport Road and Haun Road.

You know the Marketplace. It's your reason not to drive to Murrieta or Temecula for shopping and dining. Hey, they've got everything from a Target store to a Red Robin restaurant to The Beer Hunter sports pub and grill to In-N-Out -- with more than 30 merchants in all. I quickly learned that everyone around here knows where the Marketplace is.

But even the Marketplace doesn't always have Santa Claus, which is one reason to head out there with the little ones this weekend. If you've forgotten what it felt like to sit on Santa's lap, watch your children or grandchildren do the same thing. It all comes back real fast.

There will be plenty to do, even if you're too big to fit on Santa's knee for a picture. There will be carolers and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Santa will have a petting farm set up, and there will be treats for the kids. Santa and his elves will return for more of the same each afternoon through Dec. 20.

I'll be there in line with some of our little ones, if for no other reason than to look for the reaction of the kids when they meet up with the big guy.

A tip for those who plan to attend (besides getting there early): Encourage the little ones to sit on Santa's lap, but don't force it. They'll enjoy it when they're good and ready. If they're not ready, you'll know in about two seconds and approximately 90 decibels.

That doesn't mean they don't care, or that they don't want presents under the tree. It's just that they've never had a close encounter with a fat guy in a white beard and a furry red costume before. Be patient with them.

Besides, that's half the fun. You've got to admit, it's rather entertaining to watch the range of emotions displayed in the Santa House, whether it's your kid or someone else's.

I have no idea whether I ever cried on Santa's lap, but I suspect I might have, at least once or twice. I have several old photos showing me with Santa, including one when I was six months old -- with a smile on my face. But for some reason, I don't have another shot of me and Santa until the one you see here, when I was about 4. Did mom destroy the pics of me screaming like a girl when I was 2 or 3?

I don't remember whether my children ever cried on Santa's lap, and neither do they. My guess is, they did. With many kids, there seems to be that critical meeting, around age 2, when they're old enough to realize that mom or dad is abandoning them on the knee of a rather large stranger whose face they can barely see behind all that hair. But after the screams, mom or dad takes them back, everyone has a good laugh and someone sticks a candy cane in their mouth.

Tragedy averted. Then, when they turn 3 or 4, they're all smiles on Santa's lap and you're the one with tears in your eyes.

It's already happened with the grandkids this year in previous Santa encounters. Riley, who's almost 4, climbed right up on Santa's lap and smiled for the camera. This is the little girl who last year screamed bloody murder. Cameron, who just turned 2, had a meltdown and never made it to the big man.

Yeah, a good time was had by all. And we're ready to do it again Friday night.

So if you're in the neighborhood this weekend, stop by and say hello. We'll be out there -- the family, Santa, his elves, carolers, and a whole lot of other nice people.

And it's OK that the Marketplace doesn't have a Hinshaw's Department Store. It has Santa Claus and little children, and that's good enough for me.

Holiday Happenings at Countryside Marketplace

Friday, Dec. 16: 5:30-8 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 17-18: Noon-4 p.m.
Monday & Tuesday, Dec. 19-20: 3-6 p.m.

A Doug's Life: Kids, Carnivals and Quackers

Around our house, you never quite know how "family time" is going to work out.

It was Sunday afternoon and the kids were over. That's four children, ages 28-33. Add four grandchildren, ages 2-5, and we can pretty much provide our own entertainment. Just watching the little ones interact with each other is kind of like going to the circus.

This time, the plan was to get out of the house and enjoy the beautiful day before the rains came. A previous plan to meet at Disneyland had already been scrapped. Who needs the Magic Kingdom when we have our own Frontier Land right here?

First stop was the Winchester Cowboy Christmas Festival. How could it not be? The grandkids know all about Pop's obsession with the Old West. The minute I told them we were going to a carnival where the cowboys lived, they were headed for the car.

What's not to like about a town named Winchester? I was ready for the mounted posse to meet us at the city limits. Perhaps there would be a shootout at high noon, or a rodeo, or at least a pony ride for the kids.

Maybe our timing was just bad.

Granted, it was the last day of a four-day festival, which had featured a live band, hay rides and other western-themed attractions the three previous days. True, it was pretty cold outside and the clouds were rolling in. Bottom line, the vendors were starting to pack up and the cowboys were nowhere to be found.

But guess what? The carnival was still there. Even little Blake, who dressed up like Cowboy Bob for Halloween with hat, boots, vest and six-shooter, forgot about the absence of gunslingers when he saw the miniature roller coaster and carousel.

All the little ones had a good time, which meant the big ones were all smiles, too. As a parent or grandparent, you often enjoy life through the eyes of the children.

When 5-year-old Kaylee climbed all the way to the top of the super slide and came flying down the chute all by herself for the first time, we cheered. When 3-year-old Riley led her cousin Blake onto the roller coaster, we reached for our cameras. When 2-year-old Cameron ran for the "horsie" on the carousel, we had to run to keep up.

Everyone had fun -- and we needed neither Mickey Mouse nor Sheriff John to do it.

Deciding that it was still early, we headed a bit south to visit the Temecula Duck Pond. Located on Ynez Road just off the 15 Freeway, it's a pretty, peaceful place with a Veterans Memorial -- which the grandkids didn't notice -- and a whole lot of ducks -- which they did.

It's amazing how entertained the little ones are by a bunch of birds they can see close up for free. The parents had to hold the kids by their belt loops as the little ones leaned over the water to drop bread crumbs and laugh as the ducks splashed around to get into position for a treat.

It was a gentle reminder about the simple pleasures of life and the joys any family can find in the little things that are all around us.

So while we'll still make trips to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm (the cowboys, you know), our family will continue to explore things right here in our back yard. As long as we're together and the Menifee area has treasures to be found, there will be more good times ahead.

carnival rides
duck pond

A Doug's Life: Let's Get Back to the Basics

Several weeks ago, when I first moved here to Menifee, I had to explain to the locals where I had come from.

"Temple City," I would say. "No? How about Arcadia? OK, you know Pasadena, right?"

Today, I would wager that most everyone knows about Temple City. Unfortunately, that is the case because Temple City became national news last week when it was almost blown off the map.

My wife and I still own a house there. The day after the big windstorm, we drove back to check on things, alarmed by Facebook postings from friends about how bad it was. Surely they are exaggerating, we thought.

Reality set in as we reached the outskirts of town. Apparently, Temple City was ground zero. Hundreds of fallen trees blocked streets. We barely made it under a sagging power line with our vehicle. Crews were scrambling to replace power poles that literally had snapped in two during winds in excess of 100 mph.

Fortunately, our old house was still intact, with only minor damage. We did notice that the power was out in the entire neighborhood.

"What an inconvenience it will be for them for the next few hours," we said as we headed back east.

Well, "a few hours" turned out to be almost a week. We returned to Temple City Wednesday to learn that power had been restored just the night before. For six days and nights, our neighbors had shivered in the darkness, seeing by candlelight and using old-fashioned methods to prepare food.

Through all this, I believe there's a lesson to be learned.

For the people of Temple City, the lesson is obvious: Be prepared for anything and be willing to do whatever it takes to survive with as little complaint as possible. Have food storage on hand. Keep a reserve supply of fresh water. Find ways to pass the time and keep a positive attitude when you're without modern conveniences, such as television and the Internet.

For the people of Menifee, I think there's something else we can all take from this. Because of our surroundings, we have an opportunity to practice survival skills without the need to simulate conditions, virtually in our own back yard. In other words, we can experience what it's really like to "rough it" without having to drive two hours to reach the great outdoors.

Why wait until the lights go out to find out how you would get through the night or cook your food? Plan a weekend trip to a nearby campground, such as Wilderness Lakes, Lake Skinner, Lake Perris or even Ortega Oaks. Pitch your tent, set up a campfire, light the lantern and set up the board games. Get a taste of how your ancestors did things.

Why wait until a natural disaster strikes to figure out how you would get around without a car? Learn how to ride a horse. There are plenty of them around here. You can go somewhere like the Briarcliff Equestrian Center, right here on Briggs Road. Or just make friends with one of the local cowboys or stable hands. I've found them to be downright hospitable.

Horse riding not your thing? Gee, you could actually take a nice, long walk. Check out some of the many hiking trails around here. Yes, you can get from one place to another without a set of wheels. Someday, you might have to.

Ever wonder what people did for food before they had a supermarket down the street? Try catching your next meal. This area has ample opportunities for fishing. I'm a terrible fisherman, but trying to catch the big one gives me a greater appreciation for those who once relied on such skills to survive. It also helps me develop the patience I would need if those skills really came into play in times of emergency.

Sure, I'm glad our power didn't go out the night the winds came. Yes, I will continue to prepare meals in the microwave, drive my Toyota Camry around town and watch baseball on TV. However, I also plan to rededicate my efforts to experience the "basics" of life.

When disaster strikes, I want to know how to take care of myself and others. In the meantime, I just want to have some fun with the outdoor activities we have all around us.

A Doug's Life: Controlled Development

From what I can tell in the six weeks I've been here, Menifee offers an attractive mix of modern comfort and rural charm.

I've said that before. Now the question is, will it stay that way?

According to census data, Menifee's population in 2010 was 77,519. That's considerably more than the mere hundreds who were living here on ranches before Sun City was first developed in the early 1960s. It's a dramatic increase from the approximately 9,000 who lived here in 1990. It's even a lot more than the 42,064 reported in the 2000 census, after the great migration began.

It's also roughly the crowd count in the left-turn lane from Newport Road to Haun during rush hour -- or so it seems.

Is that growth? You bet it is. Is that good for the local economy? Of course. Why do you think new businesses keep popping up in local marketplaces, while a renewed housing market spurs plans for more housing construction?

I'm not saying that's bad. It's part of what brought me here. By joining the mass exodus east from the Los Angeles suburbs, I'm as guilty as anyone of taking advantage of more affordable housing and a lot more open space.

Let's just make sure some of that open space remains.

In his last public appearance here before leaving Menifee's Third District because of recent redistricting actions, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone predicted that "Menifee will be the next future economic powerhouse in Riverside County. It has the potential to grow twice the size of Murrieta or Temecula."

The prospect of such growth is thrilling in some ways and frightening in others. Pardon me for being a bit selfish, but can you hold off just a few more years before you turn Menifee into the next Rancho Cucamonga? I haven't hit retirement age yet.

I'm not proud to admit this, but I want it all. I want to live somewhere I can sit out at night under a blanket of stars, but I don't want to be elbow-to-elbow with my neighbors to do it. I want to get up in the morning and breathe the fresh air -- and I actually like it when it's mixed with the smell of horses.

I like having somewhere like the Countryside Marketplace to serve my every shopping need. I would rather not have one on every other corner, however. I love the floor plans and yard space of these nearly new houses, but I also like the peaceful feeling of a walk past open pastures.

The way I look at it, Menifee is in an envious, yet challenging, position. To loosely quote that famous line from the movie Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come." We know the area will continue to attract new residents, and of course they will all be as nice as I am, so the old-timers should welcome them. But when is enough really enough?

Fortunately, there are wise and dedicated people in the community who are working to ensure things don't get out of hand.

City council member Tom Fuhrman speaks about the importance of controlled development -- in other words, legislation and ordinances to ensure that all the "little people" aren't pushed off their ranches to turn every square inch of land into houses and condominiums.

Local rancher Lynn Mattocks, a member of the Riverside County Trails Committee, works with other concerned citizens to preserve the natural beauty of the area and identify multi-purpose trails for responsible recreational use.

When I wrote a couple weeks ago about the serenity and open spaces of Menifee, a former co-worker of mine responded to say that, since he moved to Temecula in 2000, the population had more than doubled, to more than 100,000. "It won't take long for Menifee to join the party," he quipped.

Maybe he's right. Perhaps you can't stop progress. But maybe we can throw a lasso around it and rein it in a bit. There's got to be a happy medium there somewhere.

A Doug's Life: A Time for Thanks

In November of 1621, a group of Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered for a three-day "autumn feast" to celebrate the colonists' first harvest of crops.

In 1863, after more than two centuries of "thanksgiving" observances on various dates at the state and local levels, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the final Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving holiday.

Sometime in the 1970s, the day after Thanksgiving was designated Black Friday, recognizing the extreme efforts retailers were making to cash in on Christmas shopping mere hours after the last turkey plate was scraped clean.

And every year since then, the beginning of Christmas season has crept closer to Halloween.

Thanksgiving, it seems, is becoming the forgotten holiday.

When I was a kid, my mother refused to recognize the Christmas season until the day after Thanksgiving. None of the Christmas record albums -- including my favorite, an "Alvin and the Chipmunks" album on red vinyl -- were placed on the turntable of the stereo console. The flocked Christmas tree with the red bulbs and the color wheel spotlight was still at least two weeks away.

And Christmas shopping? Well, the lists were made, but no gifts had been purchased. And there certainly was no Thanksgiving night strategy session to discuss Black Friday survival techniques -- because there was no Black Friday.

Nope, we spent Thanksgiving night doing the things we were most thankful for. Mostly, that was spending time with the family.

What a novel concept.

I still look forward to Thanksgiving. We still gather around the dinner table, spend most of the day together and take at least a few minutes to discuss what we're thankful for. But there is that planning session to determine which store sales to hit at 6 a.m., or 4 a.m., or midnight, or -- gulp -- 10 p.m. that very evening.

For some family members, it's hard to resist because of the marketing efforts of retailers. How can one not be tempted to camp outside a store front for two days if it guarantees you a bargain on the latest Wii game or a Dora the Explorer kitchen?

Thanksgiving is easily forgotten when the witches' hats and skeleton costumes are replaced on the store shelves by twinkle lights and stuffed Santas. It's almost like November doesn't exist. Would it be so bad if we had four weeks of normalcy between "Trick or Treat" and "Jingle Bells"?

Now I'm not so naive as to think things will change. I know some of the Christmas gifts have already been bought, and a whole lot more will be purchased on a very hectic Friday.

But in the meantime, just let me have my Thanksgiving, with some time to relax and remember the reasons I have to give thanks.

Happy holidays, everyone. You'll notice that's "holidays" with an "S".

Yes, there really is more than one. Please don't let the other be forgotten.

Menifee 24/7 Enters It's Eighth Year of Publication This Month

It's been seven full years since Menifee 24/7 launched as of this month, and now we're beginning our eighth.

This past year has thus far been the biggest for Menifee 24/7. We brought on a dedicated sales and marketing person in the beginning of the year, and thus far added a couple more sales and marketing people. We've also hired several more writers.

And it looks like we'll publish 600 articles this year. The next biggest output we had was 349 articles in 2008.

On top of all that, our sales staff has signed up several advertisers, making it possible to hire all those writers. We actually created jobs here in Menifee.

In some ways, we could argue that Menifee 24/7 has had a successful year. I know we've gained many more readers. More people and businesses know about us now than ever before. But it seems like we're still struggling.

In a town like Menifee, where there's a large population of seniors, people still turn to print for their news. A lot of them don't even have computers.

But where we've made great gains is with the mobile demographic. Right now, 20% of our readers access our content via some kind of mobile device, be it a smartphone or tablet computer. That figure grows by about 1-2% each month.

We also launched an app for Android devices, though we're still working out some kinks.

And I continue to meet more people throughout Menifee that rely on their smartphones and tablets for all of their news and information. All across the country there is a growing demographic that just doesn't read paper anymore.

So many people these days keep track of one another through Facebook. Earlier this year we launched our Facebook Page. And today with over 5,500 fans, we have the largest, and the most active Facebook community in all Southwest Riverside County.

Menifee 24/7 represents a readership who'd rather tap on their phones while sitting at the bar instead of opening up a newspaper. Sure, Menifee still has a demand for paper-based media, but if you're a business that wants to reach the younger, the more tech savvy demographic, we're the only game in town.

Albeit, Menifee is still a city that wants its paper, things are starting to turn around now. With home building starting back up again, young families from Orange and San Diego Counties will come to Menifee. As Supervisor Jeff Stone said in a recent meeting here in town, "Menifee will be the next future economic powerhouse in Riverside County, it has the potential the grow twice the size of Murrieta or Temecula".

We're going to spend the next year championing those people who make the shift from paper to digital.

A Doug's Life: Is This Too Good to be True?

They've probably done studies on this, but I firmly believe that one's environment has a lot to do with one's state of mind.

A couple of columns ago, I wrote about the appeal of the relaxed, rural atmosphere here in Menifee. A reader commented on that post, writing that she and her husband have lived here 23 years and that whenever she mentions moving back to "the city," he refuses to listen.

"He loves it here," she wrote. "He says it's his getaway from the craziness of the city."

I feel that way too, and I've been here only about a month. Which makes me wonder: How many of you feel the same?

My guess is, many of you do. At least that's the way it appears to us newcomers. Our whole family has been impressed with just how darn happy and courteous everyone seems to be in these parts.

Oh, I'm sure I'll see the other side of things eventually. You drive the Newport Road bridge between Antelope and Haun in rush hour often enough, you're bound to get the "California salute" from a stressed-out motorist sooner or later, right?

And I'm sure there's that grouchy old rancher out there somewhere, just waiting to give me an earful the first time I wander onto his property while innocently looking for a lost mine.

So far, so good, however. For five weeks, people have pretty much been all smiles. That's great, but it's kinda scary for a guy who, like the previously mentioned reader's husband, is used to the "craziness of the city."

I mean, can this be real? Is there something in the water or what?

I always considered my old neighborhood in the San Gabriel Valley to be fairly peaceful and friendly, but that was measured by a whole different standard. I'm used to a society where you keep your head down when you pass someone on the street. Not that I'm a big fan of that kind of behavior, but it becomes second nature when everyone is doing it.

Here, you can start a friendly conversation with the person behind you in the supermarket checkout line without fear for your safety.

In the "big city," teenagers laugh at us middle-aged folk and try to run us over with skateboards. Here, they smile and hold the door open for you. When the store clerks back home greet each person who comes through the door, you know it's because they have to. Here, it seems like they really mean it.

So what is it? The clean air? The wide-open spaces?

Frankly, I kind of expected to see more animosity between the old-time ranch dwellers and the young families who have moved into the new housing developments in the last few years. Naturally, there are differences of opinion regarding how much land development should continue. Even so, there appears to be a genuine effort to maintain controlled land development that is satisfactory to all.

If the rest of the "newcomers" are like me, they're happy and nice to each other because, for the first time in a while, they have room to breathe. Sure, they live in close quarters, but in new, affordable, roomy houses in neighborhoods where block parties and community pride are the norm.

And in most cases, there's a sprawling ranch, placid lake or pleasant hiking trail within a few minutes' walk.

As for the old-timers? Obviously, I can't speak for them. Perhaps some will write in and let me know. So far, the local business people, city officials and even the cowboys who've been here a while have been more than hospitable to this here city slicker.

For this, I thank you, one and all. Whatever your secret to happiness is, I'd like the recipe. Thanks for the warm welcome, and for being kind to one another. It makes a person want to stay a while.

Sooner or later, I will offend someone with one of these columns, or violate an equestrian right of way, or trespass on someone's south 40 because I can't read a map. When it happens, I'll keep my cool. As a longtime journalist, you come to expect adversity.

I just haven't found it yet.

A Doug's Life: Hook, Line and Sinker

In the month I've been here, it's become clear to me that Menifee and the surrounding areas have a thing about lakes.

There are the bigger lakes even I had heard about before moving here: Lake Elsinore, Lake Perris, Lake Matthews. There's that big lake out east I've heard tell about -- Diamond Valley Lake.

There's Canyon Lake, the center of a gated community west of here. Then there's those smaller bodies of water adding beauty and atmosphere to the housing developments surrounding me: Menifee Lakes, Tres Lagos, Heritage Lake...

Why couldn't it be July instead of the middle of November?

No one will ever call me an outdoorsman, but I'd like to learn. My experience with watersports and fishing is limited, but it seems there are some great possibilities around here.

Whether it's paddle boats on Heritage Lake, boating on Lake Elsinore or fishing on Diamond Valley Lake, they certainly are more challenging and manly pursuits than the water attractions I'm used to. You know, like the Log Ride at Knott's Berry Farm.

My parents were not campers, fishermen or anything of that sort, so my exposure to things like this was primarily through my uncle and cousin, who were really into it. I tagged along with them on some fascinating deep-sea fishing trips. They even caught a six-foot blue shark off Catalina once.

Of course, I was standing back at the time, trying not to get tangled in my fishing line.

My fresh water boating adventures also have been limited. I've thrown more than a few fish hooks into Big Bear Lake, but most of the time, we ended up at the Trout Farm up the hill. I actually have a couple fishing poles and a tackle box full of stuff. I just don't use it very well.

But never mind all that. Never mind that my first wife lost her wedding ring overboard in Lake Isabella. Never mind that my current wife took a turn too sharp on a jet ski with me sitting behind her, giving me an "up close and personal" view of the fish in the bay at Cabo San Lucas.

Despite all this, I'm ready to search for greater adventures in the lakes around here. To that end, I am open to suggestions.

Let's focus on fishing. I saw a sign for a trout farm off the 215 on the way to Murrieta, but I don't want to take the easy way out. Maybe later, to show off for the grandkids, but not yet.

Where's the best place to go for an unskilled angler to catch something -- anything -- in less than eight hours? Moreover, what do you suggest for bait, lures, sinkers and all that good stuff?

I notice there's a Kids Trout Derby scheduled for Sunday at Diamond Valley Lake. The age limit is 3-12, and kids must be accompanied by a parent. Sounds like fun.

Now all I need is a 12-year-old who can teach me how to reel in the big ones.

Maybe Diamond Valley Lake isn't the place to start. If not there, where? And do you recommend fishing from the shore, off a dock, from a boat or what?

As a fisherman, I may be all thumbs, but right now I'm all ears. Tell me your fish stories and give me some tips. I can taste that trout already.

I'm not big on cleaning fish, but as a necessary evil, I can handle it. I'd rather deal with that than this whole "catch and release" concept. I've never really understood that.

If somebody spent several minutes reeling me in by a hook through my cheek, I think I would prefer they just put me out of my misery. Why throw me back, traumatized and in serious need of oral surgery? But that's just me.

So maybe I'm rather naive about the whole subject, but I can learn. I'll give it a shot. Look out, whoppers, I'm coming to get you.

As always, your input is appreciated. Reply with your fish stories and I'll tell you mine as they happen. Just one rule: No tall tales.

A Doug's Life: Sittin' 'Round the Campfire

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play...

So I've been in town almost a month now and I'm starting to get what the old cowboy song is talking about.

OK, so I was a bit too late to check out the buffalo. The bison that used to entertain visitors to city councilman Tom Fuhrman's ranch passed on a few months before I got here. And although I've discovered the relatively traffic-free route along Antelope Road, I have seen neither deer nor antelope here, playing or otherwise.

Even so, in just the few weeks I have been a Menifee resident, I have begun to feel a sense of peace in a "new housing development, old-time rural atmosphere" kind of way.

Remember those episodes from the last season of "I Love Lucy," when the Ricardos and Mertzes moved out of New York City and into a ranch house in the country? That's kind of what it feels like. Country living, but with modern conveniences when you need them.

Sure, we had some open fields and a few horses in the San Gabriel Valley, where I come from, but you had to drive at least a few miles to find them. Otherwise, it was pretty much wall-to-wall homes that cost a mint and had relatively little space. Out here, you can find a modern, affordable, five-bedroom house in a development less than 10 years old -- and have to walk maybe two blocks to find the nearest cow pasture.

I envy those of you who are retired here or who work in town. Fortunately, I get to work at home a few days a week. The rest of the time, I make the 50-minute drive to Cal Poly Pomona, where I teach journalism.

Believe me, it's worth the drive to live out here. Any stress I have accumulated during the drive into the "big city" evaporates on the way home, about the time I cruise past the wooly mammoth -- or whatever that thing is -- at the top of that hill overlooking the 60 Freeway at the Pyrite Street exit.

(By the way, is that place worth visiting? I love roadside attractions).

The rural atmosphere really begins to soak in as I head south on the 215, past open fields toward Menifee. Then comes the really enjoyable part: I can exit the freeway, pull through Wendy's for a quick bite, pick up any supplies I need from one of several modern shopping centers, and still be within walking distance of the prairie.

(OK, so maybe it's a desert prairie, but I find it relaxing).

I know, I know. I haven't yet experienced the cold of winter here, nor the sizzling heat of summer. Maybe it won't end up being the paradise I see and feel now. But don't burst my bubble just yet.

Let me find out for myself if I've really found the "country home" I've always dreamed about.

During one of my several trips to rural North Carolina to research my family history, I discovered an old farm house on 300 acres of land, owned by distant relatives since the early 1800s. The place has no central air or heat, an old hand water pump at the kitchen sink and a model T Ford sitting in the barn. Now that's what I call a country home.

But considering that it would cost me a divorce to move there, I am happy to settle in Menifee with the little woman, the dog, our daughter and granddaughter. Maybe a horse in the back 40.

OK, maybe a rental horse down the street. I'll take that.

It would've been nice to see the buffalo, though.

A Doug's Life: Those Furtive Felines

OK, I admit it. I am not a cat person.

I've always been a dog guy. You know, the whole loyalty thing and all that. A dog will give you all the affection you want and come back for more.

If a cat feels you have rubbed it the wrong way -- literally or otherwise -- it's gone over the fence in two seconds. Cats can disappear for hours, days or weeks. But when they show up again, you'd better have the food ready, or else.

Maybe I'm not being fair to the furry little creatures. It's just that cats and I have never hit it off, despite our many encounters.

I really should have more compassion for them, considering what I've seen some of them go through.

Years ago, the family cat had a litter of kittens. In the beginning, we kept them in a cardboard box. Our little nephew came over for a visit and wanted to see the kittens. When we weren't looking, he strangled one.

It was an accident, of course. Just like it was an accident when the kitten we were holding for a friend escaped from the front porch before she could get there to pick it up. Who knew it could squeeze through the narrow bars of the front gate?

We've tried over and over with cats through the years -- usually to appease the kids. My daughter had a cute kitten when she was in third grade. Then one day, a neighborhood dog broke through the back-yard hedge, chased down the kitten and murdered it, right in front of the kid.

Even though I'm not a big fan of theirs, cats seem to like me. Once, I was confined to bed following foot surgery when my wife asked me to keep an eye on our very pregnant cat. The cat was placed next to me on the bed in a cozy cardboard box with warm blanket and all.

No sooner had my wife left on an errand than the cat let out a blood-curdling scream, leaped out of the box onto my chest, and proceeded to deliver her litter all over me.

Yeah, I can do without cats.

Here's my problem. The rest of my family seems to like them. So here I am again, with two felines I'm not thrilled with, but about which I have a certain amount of compassion.

The dilemma: What to do with them?

For now, they are still at our previous home in the San Gabriel Valley. We're still there often enough, packing up the rest of our stuff, to keep them fed and watered. Neighbors keep an eye out for them. The cats don't really seem to care if we're there or not. In fact, they've pretty much taken over the place.

We have plenty of room for them in our new place here in Menifee, but we also have more family members living here now and cats don't really fit into the picture. Besides, we're renting and we only have approval for the family dog. So the challenge is to find other homes for Angel (a female about 10) and Cosmo (an 8-year-old male).

So far, we have no takers for these creatures in our old neighborhood. If we don't bring the cats with us, a visit to the local animal shelter might be our only option. That might not end well, if you know what I mean.

If we bring them out here, we need someone to take them or somewhere to place them. You all know the area better than I do. What are our options?

I know of the great work being done by the Sun City K9 Adoptions group, which is featured regularly on this site. It appears they take cats as well. I know there are also other animal rescue groups in the area.

I know cats are very territorial. What would you do? I feel sorry for the little critters and they are well-behaved. It's just time for them to move on -- either out here or somewhere else in the San Gabriel Valley.

At least if they end up somewhere out here, I will feel like we did more than simply walk out on them or take them to a cat death chamber back home. On the other hand, they may hate us for yanking them out of their familiar surroundings and take off somewhere out here, only to be eaten by a coyote.

Let me know if you have any ideas. I really want my next cat story to have a happy ending.

A Doug's Life: Halloween Hijinks

Jeff Ortiz paused during an impromptu interview on his darkened front porch to get back to business.

"Somebody's coming," he mumbled through his Michael Myers fright mask.

Two teenage girls approached, hesitating as the mist from Ortiz's fog machine returned and the creepy music -- complete with moans and screams -- gradually increased. They gave me a strange look, as if a guy in jeans and a polo shirt was not who they were expecting.

"Go ahead," I told them. "It's not my house."

Stepping aside, I watched in amusement as Ortiz crept out of the shadows, candy bowl in his outstretched hands, saying nothing to the frightened girls as he stood there menacingly in the trench coat and mask made famous by the villainous character of the movie series whose title says it all:


Just as Ortiz put a scare into the neighborhood kids on Shadow Hills Court, residents all around Menifee enjoyed some good old-fashioned trick or treating Monday night. By 6 p.m., with dusk barely settling over the hills, little creatures had taken to the streets. Everywhere you looked, there they were: zombies, barnyard animals, princesses, Spongebob, Peter Pan...

And although doorbells went unanswered at some homes, most area residents in our unofficial survey in the Hidden Meadows community welcomed trick or treaters with scary yet safe surroundings and snacks.

Community involvement all around town helped make this a fun and family-centered time of year. Halloween events were held in several places throughout the last several days.

There was the Halloween Harvest Festival all weekend at Wickerd Farms; a "Halloween Fun" event Friday night at Lazy Creek Park; a "Zumballoween" party Saturday night at the Marion V. Ashley Community Center; "trunk or treat" parties at many area churches; and much more.

But when it comes right down to it, the real treasures of Halloween are the sights of little children marching up and down local streets, proudly wearing their costumes, parents at their side, sharing smiles with neighbors they know -- and some they've never met.

My escorts for the evening were three of my grandchildren, who along with me are fairly recent residents of Menifee. Kaylee, age 5 and Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz" for the night, and her brother Cameron -- age 2 and safely tucked into a cow costume -- have lived here for a little more than a year. Riley, age 3 and dressed up like a "lady doctor," arrived in town about three weeks ago, with the rest of us.

Where we come from, Halloween has changed a bit over the decades. I'm not saying our section of the San Gabriel Valley has become too dangerous for night-time walks, but the emphasis on a "safer Halloween environment" has certainly resulted in fewer little kids knocking on neighborhood doors. Instead, parents are urged to take their children to public places where large crowds gather for trick or treating.

This trend has become popular in many towns across the country. But at least on this night in this town, the kids were out in force on the local streets and the residents were loving it.

"This is the way I remember Halloween, growing up as a kid," said Ortiz, who previously lived in South El Monte. "You'd be scared to go up to a house, but you'd do it anyway because you wanted the candy. It was fun.

"Now they tell the kids to go to churches for trunk or treating or to the mall. We're losing that small-town appeal of Halloween neighborhoods. I'm just trying to do my part to bring it back."

Ortiz, president of the Hidden Meadows Home Owners Association, advertised his "haunted house" on the community Facebook page. His neighborhood wasn't unique in this regard. In the Heritage Lake community, residents were asked to tour "haunted houses" in the neighborhood and vote on their favorite.

In Hidden Meadows, Halloween was a lot more fun than a stroll through the local mall would've been. Cameron the cow had a little trouble keeping up with Dorothy and the lady doctor, but the look on his face as he approached each door was precious. Kaylee's exclamation of "Look, now I got five Nerds" was worth the long walk. And Riley's enthusiastic runs up each walkway were reminiscent of the childhood each adult re-lived for a few moments as we exchanged greetings on the sidewalks.

The residents of Highland Court, a quiet cul-de-sac, get together each year on this night for fellowship, food and fun for the kiddies. Dorothy, Dr. Riley and the cute little cow collected candy from a well-stocked table on the driveway of Tony Aguirre, host of this year's block party, as introductions were made.

"We take turns hosting this," Aguirre said. "Somebody said, 'Hey we need a bigger driveway.' So this year, it's our turn."

Flames from a small portable firepit lit up the faces of the neighbors seated in a circle, joining trick or treaters in enjoying not only candy, but treats from another table stocked with sushi, chili, chips and other delights.

The firepit was well supervised because Dave, from down the street, is a firefighter. Mike, another neighbor, traded jokes with Louie Moreno, proclaimed the "mayor" of Highland Court by the others.

"We've been here five, six years, since the beginning," Moreno said. "Everybody on the block gets involved and contributes to the food and candy."

When, I asked, is Moreno's term as "mayor" up?

"You can't vote him out," shouted Mike from the other side of the driveway. "He's got the pool."

Yep, I think I'm gonna like this place.

A Doug's Life: The Adventure Begins

Hello, Menifee. It's nice to meet you.

Actually, we've met before. My daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren moved out here a little more than a year ago. I figured that if I ever wanted to see them again, maybe I should drive out here for a visit. So I've done that several times in the last 15 months.

I always made it back home alive, so I decided Menifee really wasn't the wild frontier or the end of the earth. Honestly, I kind of liked it. It's different from my old stomping grounds -- in a good way.

We all grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. You know, that place just east of Los Angeles where you can see (and chew on) the air. The place where a three-bedroom house in a run-down neighborhood will cost you somewhere around $700,000. It wouldn't impress you out here, but they do have wide-open spaces in the SGV. They're called parking lots at 2 a.m.

Anyway, I grew up in a little town called Temple City, in the shadows of Pasadena (you know, the Rose Parade and all that). I got married, raised two children there, got divorced, got remarried, inherited three stepchildren, and was pretty darn satisfied with life.

For nearly 30 years, I worked as a sports writer and sports editor for the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group, including the Pasadena Star-News and San Gabriel Valley Tribune. You talk about horrible working conditions. They paid me to watch Dodgers games, make road trips with the USC football team to Notre Dame, cover the Super Bowl, interview Kobe Bryant and his Lakers teammates... Sheesh. I don't know how I did it, but somehow I survived.

For a couple seasons, I sat next to the beat writer from the Riverside Press-Enterprise in the Dodger Stadium press box. I used to marvel at the fact that every night after the game, he made the drive all the way back to Riverside -- only to turn around and make the same drive again the next day.

Why? I asked. "It's nice out there," he said.

OK, so I knew there was a rustic appeal to certain parts of the Inland Empire. I just wasn't sure I'd ever want to live there. Maybe I was just too settled in my comfort zone out there in suburban L.A. But gradually, I began to yearn for a change of scenery and some wide-open spaces other than the parking lot at Santa Anita Racetrack. I also began to realize that I had a little bit of the adventurer in me.

My explorations really began when I got interested in American history and in researching the family surname. I discovered that there are actually thousands of people in the U.S. with the last name Spoon. So there. In fact, if you go back far enough, you can trace the family line to Germany, where the surname was Loffel (German for spoon).

My research took me back to rural North Carolina, where my ancestors lived in the 1700s. I was fascinated. I could drive forever on winding country roads, passing a farm house every quarter-mile or so, with green farmland in between. There were small, very old cemeteries behind every church -- many filled with giant headstones bearing the name Spoon. I walked creek beds looking for the ruins of ancestral homes, crawled through underbrush to find the crumbling remains of a long-deceased cousin's house, and hiked the grounds of another cousin's 300-acre farm, first established in the early 1800s.

All around me, there was history. I was in heaven. My wife, Kristen, kinda felt like she was in the other place, but she put up with me.

She and the kids even put up with me when I would drag them to remote locations throughout California, exploring ghost towns and listening to cowboy stories. Apparently, the city boy was changing as he got older.

Eventually, I left the newspaper business, maintaining my love for journalism by teaching news reporting at my alma mater, Cal Poly Pomona. Eight years later, I'm still there. But my 15-minute commute turned into 50 minutes because the appeal of Menifee finally got to me.

Every time we would visit the kids out here, the drive seemed a little easier. Not only that, I began to fall in love with the unique combination of vibrant, attractive modern communities and historic charm. Menifee is a place you can live in comfort, experience economic growth, raise your family in safe surroundings and still walk just down the road to pet a horse.

Yeah, I decided, Menifee was for me.

Two weeks ago, we found a lovely home here, packed up our belongings and headed east. Now we have two daughters, a son-in-law and three grandchildren living out here, plus some close friends who had already relocated here. So far, we love it here -- but we have a lot yet to discover.

That's where you come in. As you read about my experiences as a newcomer to Menifee, tell me what you think. I love reader comments. Am I judging your community fairly? What am I missing? Where are the good "cowboy" hangouts? What's a good day trip for the grandkids? What do you like about Menifee?

I'll be posting columns regularly and hope to hear from you. If you run into me around town, please say hello. I won't bite. I'm just a semi-retired city slicker, trying to settle into a new home on the range.

Growing Gains, Not Growing Pains

Because content is still king, we've expanded Menifee 24/7 by creating our new column section.

Doug Spoon, a long time sports writer and editor for San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and who currently teaches journalism at Cal Poly Pomona, recently moved to Menifee and will be featured here with his view on life as a new resident under a new column called "A Doug's Life".

With nearly 80,000 residents, its about time Menifee has its own columnist who can offer a unique look at life in the city that we think will one-day become the economic capital of Southwest Riverside County. And Spoon, who spent 26 years covering Los Angeles sports teams, seems to have the talent to make it happen.

I'll plan to chime in with my column from time to time talking about how Menifee 24/7 is growing and what influence we're making into the community.

And with that said, we're happy to announce that we've hired some new writers and sales people. That brings our staff up to ten people. It's feels good to know that we've created some jobs in this city.

We also hope to use this new section to feature opinions from guest writers, perhaps elected officials or other community leaders.

Thanks for following,