A Doug's Life: Time to Get Involved

I blame all this on my daughter, Megan.

First, she took two of my grandchildren away from me by moving from our home in the San Gabriel Valley to a remote outpost called Menifee. Seems husband Jeff got a job servicing airplanes on March Air Reserve Base. So what? Is that a reason for me to drive over an hour to see the little weasels?

Then, after convincing me that Menifee isn't such a bad place after all, she found us the home we now live in out here. We weren't having too much luck on our own, but she goes online and finds us the perfect place in five minutes. Go figure.

And finally, just as I was deciding Menifee would be a nice, quiet place to sit back and relax between teaching college courses, she sends me a link to this article saying a website called Menifee 24/7 is looking for freelance writers.

Thanks, Megan. Now I've got my hand in everything, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Rotary Club to the Menifee Valley Historical Association and every club in between. I spend my "free" time stomping across local farms, speaking to community groups and riding in hot air balloons.

But you know what? It sure beats the life of a couch potato. Semi-retirement can wait. There will be plenty of time later to enjoy the desert sunrise.

I urge you to join me and get involved, if you aren't already.

You don't have to write for the local news blog to make connections around town. And you don't have to jump from one activity to the next. Pick one community organization or local cause and be a volunteer. This isn't just farmland anymore, you know. There is much to do in many areas, and more folks are needed to do it.

As I've stated before, this community is an interesting mix of residents, including:

-- Old-timers from the pioneer farm days.

-- Retirees living in the Sun City "core" of the community.

-- Commuters who are here just long enough to catch 40 winks each night.

-- Soccer moms.

Each group is fairly well represented around town, but often only in their comfort zone. The pioneer families run the historical association. The Sun City senior citizens support their community center activities enthusiastically. The soccer moms chat via community Facebook groups and cart their kids around to sports events, dance class and play dates. (Sorry, Megan. No disrespect intended).

There's nothing wrong with that, but I would suggest more of a blending of cultures to really increase community interaction in Menifee. Hey, if I can sit through a city council meeting one day and attend a Menifee Arts Council fund-raiser the next, anyone can do it. Remember, I was a sports writer, which means I have limited social skills.

The way I see it, community service organizations and other local groups would benefit from a wider talent pool. At the same time, the members would benefit from expanding their horizons. Meanwhile, the whole community might just draw a little bit closer together.

So think about it, will you? You have so many options. Besides the ones previously mentioned, there's the Friends of the Sun City Library; the Community Cupboard charity; Sun City K9 Adoptions; and more youth sports programs than you can count.

You don't have to be like Linda Denver, whom I believe has shown up at every Menifee community gathering I have ever attended, but I bet you can do more than you are now. Like the community service ads say, "Make a Difference." Chances are, you will have more fun than you ever dreamed.

If not, you can always help me chase Megan's kids around the block. Somebody has to do it.

A Doug's Life: Country Roads Don't Always "Take Me Home"

When you yearn for the rural appeal of places like this, you have to take the bad with the good.

No, I'm not talking about the smell that wafts our way from the dairy farm every once in a while. Nope, not even the "road apples" one must watch for around the horse stables. Not the skunks, the rattlesnakes nor the coyotes.

I'm talking about the roads you people have out here.

Remember, I'm a transplanted city boy. Where I come from, they don't put brand new housing developments next to 100-year-old farms. Back home, a rough road is a three-lane boulevard with a few potholes. Out here, it's a cow path that doubles as an avenue.

Granted, the tremendous growth in this community in recent years has resulted in more paved roads, wider roads and faster ways to get from one end of the valley to the other. Unfortunately, this whole transportation issue remains problematic, at best.

As we all know, you're still stuck in the middle if you live near Holland Road and want to get from one side of the 215 to the other. Your choices are the usually congested Newport Road bridge to the north, the unusually narrow Scott Road bridge to the south, or a catapult.

And don't get me started on why I can't drive from my home in Hidden Meadows straight up Menifee Road to my daughter's house in Heritage Lake. If they don't soon plow through the 100 yards or so of rocky landscape that separates the two sections of that road, I may have to buy me a jeep and go for it.

But that was nothing compared to my latest adventure, which occurred Monday morning while I was trying to navigate my Toyota Camry south on Haun Road past Scott.

Remember, it had rained hard the night before. If you know that area, you probably know the trouble I encountered. Still being a bit of a drifter in these parts, I wasn't prepared.

It was supposed to be a simple drive over to the Bouris ranch for an interview. I looked up the address and punched it into my trusty iPhone GPS. Coming from the intersection of Newport and Haun, where I started out after a few errands, the gadget told me to head directly south on Haun, which would become Zeiders Road, where the ranch is. A piece of cake, I figured.

I guess the GPS was a stranger to Zeiders Road, too.

About 50 yards after I crossed Scott Road heading south, the pavement ended and I found myself on a narrow dirt road. No problem, I figured. I couldn't make out any street addresses, but I was pretty sure the ranch would be just a house or two down the road.

A bumpy quarter-mile or so later, I realized I was the only car on the road. Worse yet, the dirt road had become a mud hole. I weaved through a mine field of puddles and ditches OK, but suddenly I was wishing I had brought the pickup truck instead. A horse, even. What kind of cowboy wannabe am I?

Finally, about the time I decided it would take longer to turn around and drive back through the mud than keep going, the middle of the road smoothed out quite a bit. I tried to follow some tire tracks I could make out in front of me, navigating between some rather deep ditches on either side of the road.

That's when I lost tire traction almost completely. Sliding from one side of the road to the other, it was like driving on ice. What could be worse, I thought? How about getting stuck in a rut and having to be towed out of there?

Fortunately, that didn't happen. For 20 or 30 treacherous yards, I kept on the gas pedal and slithered along at about 5 mph until I made it to where the pavement resumed -- right at the Bouris ranch.

Lo and behold, I now know you can approach the ranch from Keller Road to the south and avoid the dirt (and mud) patch. That's the route the locals take.

But hey, I survived. I didn't have to step out of the car in the middle of the quagmire and sink in up to my knees. I didn't need a tow truck to haul my vehicle out of there, or even a team of horses. Next time, I'll check out the landscape first.

Meanwhile, I still can't drive from my house to my daughter's house as the crow flies, and that stinks worse than the dairy farm.

A Doug's Life: Let the Writing Begin

As a former newspaperman and current college journalism professor, I have a certain affinity for the written word.

Professionally, I have spent the last 35 years figuring out the best way to assemble written words. I enjoy teaching others the many options they have in doing so. At the same time, I respect the rules of grammar and punctuation that require a certain amount of discipline in writing clearly and concisely.

So on the one hand, I cringe every time I read something with a misplaced comma, a sentence fragment or a subject that doesn't agree with a verb. "Text talk" drives me crazy. It's before, not B4. Are we rewriting the language with terms such as LOL, OMG and BTW?

On the other hand, I appreciate the fact that the Internet and text messaging have renewed interest among young people in reading and writing. I tell my college students that as long as they keep the LOLs in their informal chat and out of their job applications, I will look the other way if they promise to keep writing.

In a strange sense, it seems that all this modern technology was God's gift to the human race to help save the written word. Some things simply are better expressed through artful use of the language, giving careful thought to a sentence or phrase that might be mutilated if blurted out orally.

But even more important, we should be encouraged to write thoughtfully and often in order to develop our skills of creativity.

That's why I love the idea of the Menifee 24/7 and Arts Council Menifee Writing Contest.

Announced at Tuesday night's Menifee City Council meeting, this contest is open to students from kindergarten through eighth grade, in three age categories. Students are invited to enter the contest with an essay on the theme "Why I Like Menifee."

Awesome. That's pretty much been the theme of this column for the five months I've been in town. I can't wait to read the youth's take on it.

Think about it. Most of the writing done by young people falls into two categories: Assigned school projects and text messages or Facebook posts. The first sometimes is too structured and complex to be any fun. The second is fun, but not structured enough to develop true writing skills.

This contest allows students to express their true feelings about their hometown, with just the right mix of factors. The rules of the contest and spirit of the competition should motivate them to write effectively. The subject matter should evoke the free expression we often see in their texts, blogs and status updates.

And of course the lure of prizes doesn't hurt. The winners will receive a gift bag of prizes from local merchants. In addition, they will have lunch with Mayor John Denver; receive a certificate of achievement from the City of Menifee; and have their entry published here on Menifee 24/7.

So parents, make sure your children know about this contest. Encourage them to enter. Students, sharpen those pencils, burn up that computer keyboard, let your imaginations loose.

No matter how many gadgets are invented to enhance communication, people always will have the urge to send written messages to others. You don't have to make a living of it, like some of us, but the more effectively you can do it, the more successful you will be in life. Here's a great chance to practice.

Besides, it could be fun!

A Doug's Life: There's Nothing Like March Madness on the Big Screen(s)

I enjoy March Madness as much as the next guy, but I do not participate in office pools.

For me, trying to predict the upsets in a college basketball tournament is as frustrating as trying to play the game myself. As a teenager, I tore my Achilles tendon playing hoops. As a college newspaper sports editor, I took a Basketball Theory class and was laughed off the court.

These days, after three foot surgeries, I'm lucky I can walk. I doubt I could beat Betty White in a game of HORSE.

Unfortunately, I'm not much better at predicting the outcome of a tournament that pairs off 72 teams from across the country. I mean, what makes one decide that an upset win by No. 15 seed Lehigh over No. 2 seed Duke is more likely than No. 15 Detroit beating No. 2 Kansas?

Whether you hang on the outcome of every game in your carefully completed bracket or simply enjoy fast action and a good game, one thing's certain:

Thanks to the tournament's mass exposure through multiple TV networks, watching the tournament on a big screen is incredibly convenient and enjoyable.

To get through the first two frantic days of the tournament last week, CBS partnered with TBS, TNT and TruTV to make sure every game was covered. As long as you kept fresh batteries in your remote and had a quick trigger finger, you didn't miss a thing.

Most notably, there were the upsets. There always are upsets. But two No. 15 seeds beating No. 2 seeds on the same day? Norfolk State beating Missouri was surprising enough, but Lehigh defeating Duke was a real shocker.

Upsets occur in every NCAA tournament. In a seven-game series, Duke would dispose of Lehigh like yesterday's trash. But in a single-elimination format, the underdog always has a chance.

So how does one handicap the remaining 16 teams? Because I don't gamble on upsets in trying to win office pools, I usually go with the No. 1 seed that seems hottest in the tournament -- unless one of my personal favorites is still in it and I think they have a shot.

Being a North Carolina fan, I thought I had the best of both worlds this year. The Tar Heels are seeded No. 1 and they're playing well. After relatively easy wins over Vermont and Creighton, UNC is headed for a Midwest Regional semifinal with Ohio on Friday.

Now for the bad news. Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall, the team's offensive leader, broke his wrist in the Creighton game and underwent surgery on Monday. Suddenly, I'm not so confident about the Tar Heels taking the trophy. Being realistic, I would now go with Kentucky, seeded No. 1 in the South Regional and playing Indiana on Friday.

So you've got four games on Thursday and four more on Friday. Each night, two games will be going on at once. If you don't want to deal with the remote and have a craving for food and beverage better than the stuff languishing in your fridge, The Beer Hunter in Menifee's Countryside Marketplace is the place to go.

The Beer Hunter serves much more than beer -- although it certainly has that, with a fine selection of craft beers including offerings from Craft Brewing of Lake Elsinore and Black Market Brewing of Temecula. It also offers a menu of food choices including appetizers, burgers, pizza and salads. Although it is considered a sports "pub and grill," The Beer Hunter caters to families and people of all ages.

"The atmosphere here is a great mix for all kinds of people," said Bill Gillette, manager at The Beer Hunter. "There's no extra loud music, lots of families, and like our saying goes, 'If it's not on at the Beer Hunter, it's not on.' "

That's in reference to the 32 big screen TVs, which feature a variety of sports events every night of the week. This week, although patrons will be able to watch all kinds of NBA, NHL and motorsports action, the focus will be on college basketball.

On Thursday, the Beer Hunter offers Happy Hour from 3-6 p.m. and again from 9 p.m. to closing. So if you want a place to relax, get some grub and drinks and watch the Wisconsin-Syracuse and Louisville-Michigan State games on adjacent screens, this is the place to be. And if you want to stick around to catch both Cincinnati-Ohio State and Florida-Marquette later in the evening, The Beer Hunter has you covered.

Then if you want to check back on Friday night and see how my Tar Heels do against Ohio, you're guaranteed to have a good time. I can't promise a North Carolina victory, but I can personally vouch for the Beer Hunter Burger.

A Doug's Life: People Who Need People...

For five months now, I've been writing about the new things I've experienced and dreamed about since my move to Menifee. There's been a lot of talk about Menifee's back roads, horse stables, lakes, even a hot air balloon ride.

None of that is why I came out here. Those things are simply icing on the cake.

I wouldn't be here were it not for family. That's the reason I first heard of this place, the reason I began visiting this place, and ultimately the reason I moved to this place.

I can talk (and write) all I want about Menifee's blue skies, starry nights and outdoor life. But when it comes right down to it, it's all about who you're with.

It's about the people -- especially those about whom we care the most.

I was reminded of this last weekend, when my 2-year-old grandson Cameron was hospitalized with pneumonia. My daughter Megan, her husband Jeff and their two children, Cameron and Kaylee, were among the primary reasons we moved here. They too live in Menifee, as do two of our other children and one grandchild. We haven't brought the whole clan yet, but we're working on it.

And when we all get together, it doesn't really matter where it is. We feel the love. That's why it was so difficult to watch that little boy squirm in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV and refusing to eat or drink.

Cameron is much better this week. He had two helpings of mom's lasagna the other day, is running all around the house, and is once again bugging Pop for the use of my iPhone (who knew they had all these apps?).

But for a scary couple of days, it was as if our cute little Cameron was missing. Suddenly, I didn't give a darn about my surroundings and leisure time activities. They could've stuck me in a New York high rise or a cave in Arkansas and I wouldn't have cared, just as long as that little kid was smiling.

I think that's as it should be. I hope that's the way it is, or someday will be, for people everywhere, including of course the good people of Menifee. As the community grows and the new continues to mingle with the old, we should forget about our surroundings, put aside any distractions, and simply get to know and appreciate each other.

It has been my privilege the last few months to get to know some great community leaders here. You all should be proud of the individuals who donate their time in service to others. And you know what? The more service they do, the happier they seem. I think there's a lesson to be learned there.

I appreciate the warm welcome my family and I have received since moving here. I am excited about the community organizations I am becoming involved with, and I cherish the friendships I am making. But I don't want to limit my circle of new friends to public officials and community activists. I want to get to know the guy on the street corner, the person across the aisle in the supermarket, the lady walking her dog next to the dry creek bed.

You don't have to be my toddler grandson, sick in a hospital bed, for me to care about you. You don't have to be president of the Chamber of Commerce, superintendent of schools, or even a horse rancher (wow, can't believe I just said that).

You just have to be willing to reach out, smile and talk to one another. Show that you care. That kind of caring is what's impressed me most about Menifee -- not the "great adventure." I've seen it all around me, from my closest friends and family here to the average Joe I pass on the sidewalk.

People are what will make this community rise or fall in the years to come. That can be said for pretty much anywhere else, I suppose. We can moan about gas prices, presidential candidates or the high unemployment rate. Or we can forget about our troubles and look for a way to help someone else.

So if you see me out and about in these parts -- study my cowboy profile shot, which my wife hates -- smile and say hello. I really will appreciate it. After all, horses don't talk.

A Doug's Life: Time Management

I'm back.

It's been a long two weeks since my last entry here -- the account of my exciting trip into the skies over Menifee in a hot air balloon. Since then, I have been buried under a pile of term papers. It seems that when you're a college professor, students actually expect to receive a grade for their work in a timely manner.

A couple things: First, I wasn't literally buried under a pile of papers. In this electronic era, all assignments submitted to me are digital. So in reality, my in box was full. Second, it's partly my fault for procrastinating.

Ah, yes, the focus of this column: Procrastination.

Why do so many of us put off until tomorrow (or next week, or next month) what we could do today? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, and the contributing factors are different for each person.

Here are some of mine:

-- A change in surroundings often is refreshing, but also can be a distraction. I've written previously about my fascination with the new opportunities Menifee presents to a guy like me. Yet sometimes I get so busy dreaming about horse ranches, fish ponds and abandoned mines that I forget to actually visit them. Or I visit them and put off writing about them. I think the hot air balloon column was an exception because the crisp, fresh air stimulated my brain cells.

-- Once a sports writer, always a sports writer. I can be sitting at my desk, working on a column or grading papers, and the Clippers basketball game beckons. Suddenly, I'm writing about a three-point play instead of the Countryside Marketplace. Focus, dude!

-- For every time-saving device the electronic age gives us, it presents us with a device that is equally as time-consuming, if not more. On one hand, the automatic insert and "cut and paste" functions of computerized word processing save me lots of time in writing and editing. On the other hand, it's hard to stay focused when your iPhone keeps buzzing, announcing the arrival of a new email, Facebook posting, tweet or some other message out of cyberspace.

-- From the window of my second-floor office at home, I have a great view of the green hillsides and blue skies of Menifee. This is why I moved from Temple City, where my view of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains was blocked by the brick wall of a Ralphs supermarket. Unfortunately, window gazing soon becomes daydreaming, and I'm off track again.

-- If you're going to become a teacher, choose a subject in which the student's work can easily be graded. Thanks to electronic devices, multiple choice quizzes, math problems and a variety of student work can be scanned for correct answers. If nothing else, a teacher can have an assistant help check the answers. If you teach journalism, pretty much every assignment is an essay. The teacher must read, comprehend, analyze content, check grammar and punctuation ... it takes time, people!

But enough with the sob stories. I love what I do, and I must admit that what I both teach and do as a second job require discipline on deadline. Although it's hectic at times, I thrive on the adrenaline rush.

That said, another factor comes into play in order to avoid procrastination and frustration -- something called balance.

In short, it's important not to take on more than you can handle. And if you must, do what I'm always telling my students to do when writing news stories -- prioritize. Accomplish the most important things each day and leave the rest for another time.

And here, I think, is the real key: Deciding what the most important things really are. Living out here where there's a bit more room to breathe, I'm starting to figure that out. This is why, even though I'm still behind in grading papers, I am content to take time out to play with the grandkids, or drive the countryside, or just sit outside and enjoy the view.

Yes, I'm a procrastinator, but I'm OK with that as long as I'm delaying one thing for something that's more beneficial at the moment. But if I take two weeks between columns again, someone poke me with a stick. There are limits to everything.