Bye Bye Cookies and Soda; Hello Gym

In a Dec. 30 column listing my New Year's Resolutions, I pledged to start working out regularly again and get back to healthy eating habits.

Is it January yet?

Talk about getting off to a rough start. The whole plan was to lose the 15 pounds I had gained since having foot surgery last summer, which forced me out of the gym for quite a while. The good news at that time: I had kept off five of the 20 pounds I had lost a year ago, when this whole fitness thing started.

The bad news: Those five pounds are back. Not only that, another five jumped on along with them, making me five pounds heavier than I was in the beginning. (Well, not really in the beginning. I think I was something like 8 pounds, 10 ounces when this whole thing really started, but you know what I mean).

OK, so now for the excuses. Sure, I have some. You think I'm just going to admit I'm a lazy old man?

Excuse No. 1 -- As soon as toe surgery for a bone fusion took place last July, I went from five days a week in the gym to 24/7 at home on crutches. Or, as my granddaughter Riley called them, my "crunches." Every five minutes it was, "Pop, you need your crunches?" No, Riley, I'll just sit here and feel sorry for myself. Run along, now.

But even though I couldn't work out in the gym for months because of the swelling and healing in my foot, I figured the lack of a workout with weights, cycles, swimming, etc., would be offset by the workout I got on my crutches. Man, I got pretty good on those things. I raced everywhere on them. I had to be burning major calories. Unfortunately, this leads us to the next excuse.

Excuse No. 2 -- Although those thousands of "steps" I took on the crutches was a decent cardio workout, it also screwed up my shoulder. When I finally got off the darn things, I had more pain lifting my arms above my head than in my foot. The doctor's diagnosis: A strained rotator cuff, probably caused by hoisting myself off the ground over and over for months on end, with only my arms to support the weight.

Excuse No. 3 -- Realizing I still couldn't walk normally and now could barely reach back to pull my seat belt across my slowly expanding waistline, I let the frustration get to me. Rather than maintaining the calorie-counting regimen that had worked so well, with protein shakes and lots of fresh fruits and veggies, I gave in to the "Hey, things are on hold anyway, so where's the cookies?" line of thinking.

The other day, remembering my New Year's pledge and feeling somewhat better both physically and mentally, I decided enough was enough. Inspired by a sign of increased healing in my reconstructed toe and by a shot of steroids in my shoulder, I set this week as my return to the gym -- and the salad, apples and small portions of fish and chicken. Sadly, this also means saying goodbye once again to soda, fast food and my all-time favorite -- chocolate chip cookies.

For the record, I don't start this until Wednesday. Right now, I'm enjoying the last few days of ice cream sandwiches, cheeseburgers and Dr. Pepper. But boy, in three more days, I'm attacking those extra 25 pounds like a pit bull in a meat factory.

Four months ago, when I was still new to Menifee, getting back into shape was a process for which I promised to give my loyal readers regular updates. I believe the promo on the Menifee 24/7 Facebook page was something like, "Read about Doug's resolutions and see how he does."

Well, I do believe I am now kinder to others. Beyond that, it's back to square one with those New Year's Resolutions.

So if you see me riding a 10-speed around town (remember, I can't run too well) or stocking up on carrots at the local grocery store, cheer me on. Summertime is coming, and I don't want to be a blob. I still plan on getting those horseback riding lessons, and I would hate to climb on and send some fine steed to its knees.

A Doug's Life: "I'll Get You, You Rascal"

Springtime has arrived in Menifee, and the critters are coming out to play.

It started with rabbits. Cute little things that run (hop) in bunches around the neighborhood. I have no problem with them -- maybe because they've stayed out of my back yard.

Unfortunately, other varmints haven't.

Several weeks ago, I noticed a rather large hole at one end of the dirt embankment at the back of our property. "Snake," was my first thought. I started to peer down into the hole until I had visions of a giant python clamping onto my shnoz.

"Let's just wait and see what happens," I said to myself, and walked away.

Sometime later, about 50 feet across the embankment, I discovered a similar but somewhat smaller hole. Now I'm thinking Monty Python has completed a secret passage roughly the size of the Holland Tunnel, in snake scale. Now I'm concerned. But still, I haven't seen any creature emerge from its front or back door.

As time went on, I was reminded of the arrival of animals and insects that were relatively dormant during the cold winter months. As soon as we had a couple warm days, I noticed that our neighbor's pretty violet ground cover had become Hotel California for approximately 9 million bees. Next, after forgetting to close the screen door a couple times while letting the breeze in, I inadvertently invited a clan of "Daddy Longlegs" (the scientific term) into the house.

But still no snakes, nor anything bigger than an insect. Only the haunting evidence of such.

Then came the frantic barks of our Golden Retriever, Binny, at some unseen enemy out back. Why is it that the beast can sense danger a mile away, yet can't hold a "sit" command for more than two seconds? Anyway, I knew something was out there. And when I saw Binny digging up the big hole and sticking his nose in there, I almost expected him to come out with only half a snout. But nothing.

The next time my gardener came around, I showed him the first hole. His response:

"You got a raccoon."

"Are you sure?" I responded. "Have you seen him?"

"Nope," he replied. "But there's raccoon poop all along the base of your fence."

Apparently, the experts can tell raccoon poop from that of a dog, cat, weasel or any number of other critters. I took his word for it. The hole is now filled in and the gardener is on the lookout. The smaller hole, he said, is home to a gopher.

"I'll get him," he said.

I trust him, but now he's got me thinking. It isn't even May yet. What do I have to look forward to? Coyotes? Scorpions? Rattlers? This is pretty much the desert, right?

"Prairie dogs, maybe," said my gardener. "Beautiful creatures. Wait 'til you see one standing there on his hind legs, just staring at you."

Yeah, I can wait.

Trust me, I'm no stranger to back yard creatures. At our home in Temple City, possums were frequent visitors. Nasty things. I would be awakened by the sound of our previous dog, an ornery yellow lab, tossing around a possum like a rag doll. I'd find them dead in the yard. One even ended up in the house, finding convenient entry through the dog door.

I chased birds, mice, rats and possums out of our old house. One time, in the dark, my bare foot stepped on a half-eaten squirrel. But raccoons and snakes? Don't know if I'm ready for that.

As I've said many times before, something about this town appeals to me. Much of that appeal has to do with animals -- horses, especially. But no horse has ever tried to reconstruct my back planter, and I doubt one ever would.

As for Mr. Raccoon, well ... I'm not going down without a fight. Bring it on, you little masked mischief maker. Two of us are meeting in that back yard and one is coming out in a cage.

Wonder if I'm claustrophobic.

A Doug's Life: Lessons Learned in Menifee

It's hard to believe, but it has now been exactly six months since our family first arrived in town.

OK, so we didn't come across the plains in a covered wagon or anything like that. We didn't fly in from a foreign country. Menifee isn't all that different from a lot of Southern California cities I've lived in and visited.

Of course, it does have its own personality, its own unique individuals and other factors that make it like nowhere else. So as I look back on the events of the last six months, here's a list of "10 Things I've Learned About Menifee":

1. Since 2008 it has officially been part of the city of Menifee, but it's Sun City to the folks who live there. Menifee city officials may need Sun City residents' tax dollars for the "greater good" of the community as a whole, but they're not taking their name away, darn it.

It's kind of like the five boroughs of New York, on a much smaller scale. Whether Sun City is the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens or whatever of Menifee, I'm not sure. I just know that if you venture into Brooklyn and talk about being in New York, the locals will correct you. Same thing here with Sun City.

2. The night skies above Menifee have stars -- lots of them. I had almost forgotten such things existed.

3. The left-turn lane on westbound Newport Road leading up to Haun Road is one of the longest I've ever seen. At one point, it splits into two lanes. But guess what? It still isn't long enough.

If they stick one more business in the Countryside Marketplace, they'd better add a monorail line while they're at it. You know that vacant lot across the street where they're supposed to some day build another marketplace? Better make it a parking structure instead.

4. All these new housing developments make a three-car garage seem so luxurious. Wow, they even split them into two garages, one on each side!

So what? If you're like me, you'll never fit a car in there. It's just more room to pack a bunch of junk. How does one audition for the TV show "Hoarders"?

5. You don't want to drive too far west on Holland Road past Tom Fuhrman's ranch after a good rain. What starts out as a fun little "dip" in the dirt road quickly resembles Lake Michigan. Bring fins and a snorkel.

6. It took me a month to realize I wasn't doing that bad a job picking up dog poop in the back yard. It's the dairy farm over the hill. You get used to it.

7. In terms of population explosion, Temecula became the new Moreno Valley. Then Murrieta became the new Temecula. Now Menifee is becoming the new Murrieta. What will be the new Menifee? Winchester?

8. Apparently, man-made lakes are supposed to be a sign of luxury living. Build a housing tract in Menifee, dig a lake and fill it up. And they do look nice. But you have to throw the fish back after you catch them! What am I supposed to eat? Coyote meat is too tough.

9. People complain about the lack of restaurants in town. See, I told you we should be allowed to eat the fish.

10. Overall, it's been a fun six months -- and I haven't even climbed onto a saddle yet. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

My Year as Ms. Menifee Valley Chamber

This last year I've been honored to serve the Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Menifee as Ms. Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce. Crowned last April by Southwest Pageants, I have spent my tenure dedicating my time to Menifee. In total 5 Chamber Queens were crowned last year and I've had the distinct pleasure of working with all of them for the benefit of Menifee and it's residents.

At the City's Independence Day Celebration, we hosted a "Kiss From a Queen" Kissing Booth to raise funds for the Menifee Valley Community Cupboard. We raised over $100 that day and had a great time sharing information with attendees about the Cupboard and the community.

Ribbon cuttings are one of our primary responsibilities when volunteering for the Chamber. But it's certainly not all work! We have a great time at every event, welcoming new businesses to the community, teaching them about all the city has to offer and meeting their customers and staff. All of the Queens love answering questions about Menifee and do our best to help connect people with other business owners that can help them.

I've also had the pleasure of attending numerous events around town. Menifee Action Group held a reception to welcome our new County Supervisor Marion Ashley and to thank our previous County Supervisor Jeff Stone. I was honored to attend and get to spend some time with Mr. Stone, learning about our community. Besides ribbon cuttings I have enjoyed attending Menifee Rotary, Menifee City Council Meetings, Menifee Planning Commission Meetings, the Menifee Skate Park organization meeting, NAFE meetings, Menifee City Birthday Party and so much more. Taking time to learn about the city has been very rewarding for me!

Working in conjunction with a number of local businesses as well as my employer, Clear Digital Media, Inc., I've been a part of raising money for the charity that I've chosen to represent, Menifee Valley Community Cupboard. In January we held a Casino Night and over the course of the year I've been fortunate enough to contribute in raising nearly $2000 for the Cupboard. But my mission was more than raising money for the Cupboard; my mission is to raise awareness in the community for this organization and others like it. I've learned that one person can make a difference.

One of the highlights of the year was singing at Menifee Valley Community Cupboard's fundraiser, "Celebrity Karaoke". It was so much fun being able to be silly and ridiculous, while raising money! Not only did I enjoy performing, but I loved the performances by other community members including Mayor John Denver and his wife Linda, Dr. Johnathan Greenberg, Superintendent of Perris Union High School District, and the winner of the Most Talented Award, Menifee Planning Commissioner Bill Zimmerman. Even though I had the best "backup band", we all lost out to Brian Walker of Farmers Insurance for Entertainer of the Year Award!

The Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce hosts 12 Chamber Mixers a year, all held the first Wednesday evening of the month. Open to the public, these mixers are a great way to meet other business owners, managers, elected officials, philanthropic volunteers and community members. Attending these mixers has been not only delightful, but filled with networking opportunities for business contacts and opportunities to help others. The Chamber also holds a Coffee Mixer in the mornings every second Wednesday of the month. The people I've met and built relationships with at these events have been so wonderful!

On Saturday, April 14, I will have the great pleasure of crowning our next Ms. Menifee Valley Chamber at the 2012 Ms./Mrs./Senior Menifee Valley Chamber Pageant, presented by Southwest Pageants. I look forward to passing this honor on to our next Ms. Queen and wish her congratulations on her new title. It is with my deepest, sincere gratitude that I end my reign and I wish to thank everyone who welcomed me, encouraged me, and blessed me this past year. While I take the responsibility seriously, that doesn't mean I didn't have a great deal of fun and take opportunities for silliness along the way! If it's not fun, then why do it, right? I've certainly enjoyed every minute of it!

A Doug's Life: Dodgers or Padres, L.A. or San Diego... Must I Choose?

Yes, it's that time of year again. Today marks the baseball season opener for the Los Angeles Dodgers -- a team I rooted for growing up and later covered for nearly 10 years as a sports writer and columnist.

Oh, yeah. I neglected to mention that the Dodgers' opponent today -- and the home team for the four-game series -- is the San Diego Padres.

And here I sit in Menifee, caught in the middle.

I have written previously about the identity crisis I see for the community of Menifee. It seems you can't decide whether to be:

-- A retirement community with some nice new homes on the other side of the tracks (OK, freeway).

-- A tradition-rich farming community that is changing with the times.

-- A few thousand Generation Y'ers who have set up camp in tract homes and are ready to take over.

Obviously, the goal is to be a successful combination of all three. Hopefully, that's possible. But what about when it comes to sports teams? In that area, it's all or nothing, right?

Is this a Dodgers town or a Padres town? Or even an Angels town?

I need to know, because this whole sports fan thing is merely one aspect of a bigger picture. As a Menifee resident for six months now, I feel the need to declare my metropolitan allegiance. So either I'm a transplanted, loyal Angeleno or a born-again, relocated San Diegan.

Help me out here. Which side of the fence am I supposed to be on?

I've seen several Padres decals on cars and SD caps in the crowds around here. It took a while for me to realize we're only a little more than 70 miles from San Diego. Frankly, I haven't been down there since I moved here.

I guess I still identify with the L.A. crowd, because I spend a few days a week driving west on the 60 Freeway. But hey, Dodger Stadium is only 83 miles and about 90 minutes from here. That's not exactly a cross-country trip. And if you're an Albert Pujols fan and like a somewhat safer environment, Angel Stadium is the closest of all three ballparks -- just over 50 miles and an hour's drive.

So am I supposed to be a San Diego guy, an L.A. guy or -- gulp -- an Orange County guy?

I just want to fit in with the crowd. OK, so I may travel around town wearing a Chicago Cubs cap. Sorry, I'm not giving that up. It's the same underdog obsession that had me rooting for the Clippers before they were good. But I am willing to jump on the Padres bandwagon if it will get me a membership card in the Menifee Insiders Club.

It's human nature to want to belong. I will never turn my back on the Dodgers, but I'm willing to give the Padres a chance. On a larger scale, I am willing to start hanging out in Old Town and Mission Bay if it makes me one of the guys.

While awaiting your advice, I will revert to my "objective" sports writing method of watching baseball. There will be "no cheering in the press box" today while I take note of what both squads are doing.

I will also be giving thanks that I no longer have to file 800 words on the contest by 11 p.m.