A Doug's Life: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night...

Call me naive, but I didn't think this sort of thing happened around here anymore.

Driving down Haun Road near the intersection of Garbani Road the other morning, I noticed people getting out of their cars, taking photos of something in the large wheat field there. Come to find out it was a flock of sheep -- hundreds of the critters -- grazing on what was left of the recent wheat harvest.

Pulling over and getting out of the car, I noticed a shepherd -- crook and all -- standing watch over the flock with his sheepdog nearby. Where was I -- Greece? Where were the three wise men? Even in good old Menifee -- Mayberry west, as I sometimes call it -- I had never seen this before.

Approaching the shepherd from behind, I was reassured this is the 21st Century when he turned around with a cell phone pressed to his cheek.

"Hello," I said.

The response: A smile.

"Where did all these sheep come from?"

Another smile.

"What's your name?"


"How do you spell that?"


OK, so we've established where this guy is from and the fact we have a language barrier. So I went to the universal language, pulling out my camera. He nodded and posed.

The sheep? Well, they were starting to notice me. After taking some long-range shots, I wanted to move in a bit closer. First, I got the evil eye. Do sheep charge? Doesn't matter. I have Saul and his sheepdog to protect me. But instead of rushing me, they started to wander off toward a bush that had more vegetation on it than the stubble of a recently harvested wheat field.

I learned later from local historian and longtime Menifee resident Betty Bouris that the wheat fields in that area are farmed by David Zeiders, descendant of a pioneer Menifee family. A couple times a year, after harvest time, he brings in a huge flock of sheep to act as lawnmowers. After they much on the remains the wheat thresher missed, Saul and his dog move them along to the next open field.

Saul stays on a trailer on the property and keeps watch on the animals by day and by night. The sheep -- usually brought in from Nuevo or Lakeside, said Bouris -- are carted off when the land is sufficiently cleared and ready to be plowed under for the next crop of wheat. Today, they're still out there, this time on the west side of Haun road. Stop by and say hello.

So now I know. After I've been a Menifee resident for a while, I guess this will become a familiar sight. For now, I feel a bit like I've been dropped in the middle of a travelogue somewhere in Europe or the Middle East.

And hey, no travel costs. Thanks, Saul.

A Doug's Life: Are You Ready for Some Football?

In case I never mentioned it before, I used to be a sports writer.

"Wow," people would say to me. "They pay you to go to games?"

Well, that's pretty much how it worked. Teams would give me a media credential, a seat in the press box and access to the athletes. Unfortunately, my editor also gave me a deadline that often arrived minutes after the game ended.

Oh yeah, that's loads of fun. Just as you're sending your first lead saying the Dodgers beat the Giants 5-4, some jerk hits a two-out home run in the top of the ninth for the Giants, who now lead 6-5, and just two minutes before your deadline. You're darn right I got paid to go to games. Just not enough.

OK, so maybe it wasn't such a bad career. I got to travel across the country, see a lot of exciting games and meet many interesting people. Although I started by covering baseball, which remains my favorite sport, I finished by covering football, which in many ways was the most fun of all.

For one thing, football usually is played during the day, which sure eases the deadline pressure. Besides that, there's nothing else in sports quite like game day at a football stadium.

If you're talking pro football, you've got the tailgate parties, traditional rivalries and unparalleled displays of skill. In college football, you've got the pep rallies, school bands and unpredictability of bowl matchups.

And at the high school level, you've got hometown pride at stake. After all, who doesn't want their local prep football team to do well?

So here we are again -- already into the NFL exhibition season, less than two weeks from the college football season and just five days away from the return of high school football to Menifee. Whether you're heading down the road to watch the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, cheering on your favorite college team on the big screen at The Beer Hunter, following Mt. San Jacinto College's Eagles or cheering for Heritage High and Paloma Valley, it's football time here in Menifee.

Now that I'm back in the business of writing for publication every day, I think we'll throw some football at you here at Menifee 24/7.

In our ongoing efforts to look for things the good folks of Menifee are interested in, it certainly seems that high school football qualifies. How many of you agree? I would expect every proud parent to add their supporting comment below, but what about the rest of you? Who wants to see a writeup and photos of Heritage and Paloma Valley football games on this site each Saturday morning? Speak up now.

If you're a fan of the Heritage High Patriots, you surely remember last season, when the team won the Sunbelt League title, finished 12-2 and advanced all the way to the CIF championship game. If your team is the Paloma Valley Warriors, you're probably looking forward to the chance to improve upon last year's 2-9 record. Either way, it all starts Friday night.

Paloma Valley opens its season at home against San Bernardino at 7 p.m. Heritage opens on the road, vs. San Jacinto at Hemet High School, also at 7 p.m.

As they say in the big leagues, good seats are available. But whether you're there in the stands or not, Menifee 24/7 can provide you with highlights -- if you want them.

You tell us. Are you ready for some football?

A Doug's Life: You Can Kick and Scream All You Want, but Please Don't Do It When There Are Kids in the Crosswalk

OK, everyone, just calm down.

Take a deep breath. Grab a cool cloth. Sip on a cold beverage.

It's hot outside -- darn near unbearably hot. It's mid-August -- the dog days of summer -- but for the students of Menifee, it's back to school, like it or not. And that means many parents are on edge these days, too.

People are hot, tired and irritable. Parents whose children used to take the bus to school must now search for neighborhood carpools or adjust their already hectic work schedules to drive their kids to school. This adds to traffic congestion that was already bad in a town that continues to struggle with growing pains.

Cars jammed the streets surrounding every school in town Thursday, obviously worse than last year. Students walking and on bikes darted in and out of traffic. Regardless of who you blame, it's a fact that the elimination of many school bus routes because of budget issues is having an impact on Menifee.

And this was only day one.

Yes, I know -- it's no fun out there right now. Picking up some kids from school Thursday afternoon, I sat in traffic without moving for several minutes, around the corner and several hundred yards from the school parking lot. Finally, traffic started crawling in both directions as students tried either to find their ride or weave their way past the mess on the long walk home.

On the Menifee 24/7 Facebook page, there are dozens of comments from parents angry about the lack of busing, the increased traffic and the inconvenience for everyone involved. It seems everybody has a solution to our problems. Well, as long as everyone else is spouting off, let me throw in my two cents' worth. Actually, make it six cents' worth:

Stay calm. Stay focused. Look at the big picture.

If we do these three things, we just might survive this situation with our sanity intact. No guarantees, but it's better than some of the ideas I've heard.

First, if you stay calm and think before you speak, you'll present a better argument to those who can make a difference. Many of you have threatened to voice your concerns at school board or city council meetings, and some of you already have. True, that's your right.

Just remember, council and board members don't respond directly to your comments, simply because of public meeting protocol. You won't get instant feedback. If they got into a discussion with every person who stepped up to the podium, the whole meeting would be public comments. But that doesn't mean they aren't listening.

I've talked to these people. They're as frustrated as you are. They'd like to tell the state legislators in Sacramento the same things you're telling them. In fact, they often do.

So far, that hasn't given us our state funding back. But they keep trying, keep stating their case as your elected representatives. Just as you should keep stating your case -- but through proper channels. You can gripe to the local politicians, but you can also complain to those at the top of this trickle-down mess. Write letters and emails. Be constructive, not destructive, with your comments.

Second, if you stay focused on the task at hand, you will help us all avoid making matters even worse. There's plenty of time to vent your frustration when you get home. Don't do it when you're behind the wheel, holding the lives of your children and others in your hands.

Leave early on your drive to school, take your time and accept the situation for what it is -- unfortunate, but unavoidable for the time being. Drive defensively. Be patient. If you're stuck in the car an extra few minutes with your kids, what's the worst thing that can happen? You have a conversation with them?

Third, remember the overall scheme of things. Look at the big picture. To the person who is shortsighted, it sucks being late to work because you had to drive your kid through a traffic jam. But to the person with a little bit of foresight, the money you're saving by living out here takes away some of the sting.

And to the person who really looks at the big picture ... well, every one of those aggravating drives through the school zone brings your child one step closer to a college diploma. Isn't that the ultimate goal?

They don't call me Mr. Positive for nothing.

A Doug's Life: Do Area Seniors Know How to Have Fun? Bingo!

G 52! That's G-FIVE-TWO!

Robert Heflin picks up the ping pong ball, randomly selected by the electronic contraption in front of him, and places it in front of a mini camera. Instantly, the G 52 symbol is magnified on a large TV screen at both ends of the room. If aging ears miss his loud call over the microphone, aging eyes are able to make out that image.

If somehow they are not, there always is help.

Dora Unger will be 100 years old on Oct. 1. She was born six months after the sinking of the Titanic. Dora plays Bingo every Wednesday afternoon with more than 50 friends and neighbors in the recreation room of Menifee/Sun City Concern, a nonprofit corporation that has served area residents for nearly 40 years.

Dora takes pretty good care of herself. She enjoys chatting with friends around the Bingo table and she's never had to wear glasses. But hey, she's darn near 100 and the game can move fast. Carol Culhane, her caretaker, makes sure she knows when to mark the numbers with her large colored marker.

What's your secret to long life, Dora?

"Just live every day," she says with a smile.

Yeah, I guess that would help.

You won't get deep philosophical theories from the people here. They've been there, done that. Senior citizens who have lived in the Sun City core for years, they gather each week at this time simply to stretch their legs, exercise their vocal chords and have some fun.

Across the room, Norrene Levine is celebrating a birthday. She and her friend Barbara Truncale wear matching Bingo Queen T-shirts. Each is working on several Bingo cards at once -- with time left over to chat.

Barbara, 82, always shows up for Bingo even though she is in a wheelchair because of a leg amputation. Dial a Ride gets here there and she does the rest.

"I'm still going strong," says Barbara, smiling under her Yankees cap.

Norrene, the birthday girl, is asked how old she is today.

"Eighteen," she replies with a wink. "Old enough to drink."

OK, so she's really 81, but who's counting? Norrene, who lives in Nuevo, has been playing Bingo in Sun City since 1998, when the games were played at the Sun City Civic Association Center. Every week, she and Barbara go next door to Boston Billie's for the Bingo Special lunch, then head over to the room marked "Cooling Center" during the summer.

Although the air conditioning in the old building does provide relief from the heat, the room isn't exactly cool after being packed to capacity for a while. Diane Jerrold, office manager for Menifee/Sun City Concern, admits the AC unit can't keep up with a crowd any bigger than this.

She wishes they could accommodate more -- but in many ways, the organization does.

Each day, staff members call on shut-ins in the community to make sure they are OK. On this day, Pat Hamilton checked on a woman whose AC was out. Pat made sure she had water and a fan and convinced an AC technician to volunteer his time to fix the problem.

"So many of these seniors just stay in the area because they don't want to drive," Diane Jerrold says. "They get lonely. This organization was formed 38 years ago because seniors were dying in their homes and nobody knew until someone found the body."

Menifee/Sun City Concern offers assistance to seniors in finding caregivers. Its employees are in contact with 2,500 seniors every month. And those who work for Jerrold do it out of the goodness of their heart.

Last Christmas, because of a loss of funding, the entire office staff was laid off. Every one of them agreed to stay on as volunteers -- and are still doing so nearly eight months later.

Recently, the center added a Friday night Bingo session to its weekly calendar. Seniors pay $10 for their Bingo card and can win up to $100.

Wanda Bower and her husband Lee are regular Wednesday Bingo players, along with their daughter, Debbie. They moved to Sun City years ago after visiting Debbie, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton at the time. They fell in love with the area -- and with Bingo.

"It's good for your eyes and your mind," Wanda says. "It helps keep us going. And it's good to see old friends."

It doesn't hurt if G 52's a winner, either.

Menifee/Sun City Concern
26814 Cherry Hills Blvd., Sun City
Bingo Wednesdays at 12:45 p.m., Fridays at 5 p.m.

Time to Get Serious About Menifee Rides Program

We may be small in number, but we're mighty in purpose.

The Menifee Rides program was first introduced in this space several weeks ago, when it became apparent that school bus service in the Menifee Union School District would be drastically reduced for the coming school year. Since then, we've created a website and a Facebook page as message boards for parents whose children face transportation challenges this school year.

So far, the response has been less than overwhelming. But that's OK. Maybe most of the parents have already arranged a carpool for their children or have other arrangements to replace the school bus. If so, that's great. We're here only to give folks another option.

If only five or 10 of us work together to transport a few children to school, we're still doing a great service.

I understand that this is not the perfect solution. I get it. Yes, it would be nice to have more money in the school district budget for buses. It would also be nice to have more money for more teachers, and school supplies, and extracurricular activities. But right now, it ain't happening. So you take what you can get.

What we're offering is a program in which parents trust each other enough to help each other by driving children to school. In many cases, these arrangements could involve friends and neighbors who already know each other. If not, let's get everyone together so no one is a "stranger" going into this.

If you're worried about the liability of driving other children or of the potential danger in letting your child ride with someone else, remember that no one is forcing you to participate. We have no funds for a million-dollar insurance policy. We have no funds for expensive background checks.

What we do have is a bunch of people with good hearts -- people who believe we can make this work. We have people who will make safety the top priority before anyone gets into anyone else's car.

To begin building that sense of trust, it's time for those involved to meet face to face. I'm proposing a meeting next Monday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. for all those who are truly interested in participating. Where? Depends on the response. I'm hoping my living room is too small for the crowd. If someone wants to donate a meeting room, great. If not, we'll meet in a park somewhere.

We just need to get it done.

So let me know if you're in. Time is short, with school starting next week. There are several ways to contact me:

Email menifeerides@gmail.com

Leave a comment on our website: menifeerides.blogspot.com

Leave a comment on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/menifeerides

Those who have previously contacted me will receive an updated reply by tomorrow. If you still need help or can volunteer to drive, please let me know, including whether you can attend a meeting Monday night.

We can do this.

A Doug's Life: There's Always Time for a Roadside Treat

I drive by there every day, glancing over at the little shack in the field as I fly past on Newport Road.

This time, something made me stop. I guess I didn't really need what they were selling, but why not? If nothing else, I could pull out of heavy traffic for a minute and check out some fresh produce.

It's a strawberry stand. You know, the kind of thing you used to see a lot more of around Southern California. We even had some in the San Gabriel Valley back in the day. Now, of course, the strawberry fields there are gone, and you'd have to sell a boatload of berries to afford to lease a piece of land the size of a postage stamp.

But here in Menifee, where there's still considerable open space -- no matter what the critics say -- the strawberry stand in the open grass field didn't really seem out of place.

"How enterprising," was my first thought. One has to have ambition and a bit of patience to make money selling fruit by the side of the road. My second thought: I needed fresh ingredients for my morning protein shake.

Pulling onto the patch of dirt that serves as a parking lot, I got out of my car and walked over to the stand. The only one there was a woman sitting inside in the shade, surrounded by sweet-smelling strawberries.

Her name is Mary Kimball. She sits in that stand every day of the week, from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., or "when we're out of strawberries." She runs the stand for her brother's company, "Bob and Gary's Field Fresh Berries." They have stands in Menifee, Murrieta, Temecula and Hemet.

No strawberry fields, however. The berries are trucked in from Northern California, fresh and juicy.

"Try one," Mary said, gesturing to the row of flats spread out in front of her, overflowing with ripe red berries.

One bite and I was sold. There's something about fresh fruit picked up out in the fresh air, rather than out of a bin in aisle 5. OK, so maybe these berries weren't grown anywhere near here, but for some reason I felt like a kid again, holding my mom's hand as she got personal service from the butcher and the grocer at the corner market.

Oh sure, I can chat with the cashier at the supermarket checkout stand. But how personable is that exchange? I'm busy sliding my debit card and punching buttons while the checker is fumbling with the can of green beans that won't scan. Now that's personal service.

Mary Kimball said she used to work in the escrow business, where she was forced to use a computer at least part of the time. Out there in the strawberry stand, the only electronic gadget she has is a smart phone she barely knows how to use.

"Every day is different out here," she said. "I can sit here for an hour with nobody coming, then four cars will pull in at once. The other day, somebody came along and bought a whole bunch of boxes to make strawberry jam. I have people who've been coming here 15 years."

Bob and Gary's does not use coupons. Their only advertising is a sign at the side of the road. It's business in its simplest form -- something they've been doing in Menifee for 18 years.

"We used to be down the road, where the IHOP is now," Mary said. "When they sold that land, we moved over here. Been here about nine years.

"I like the atmosphere around here. Coming to work here is like coming to something different. We've been here so long, it's like we're part of the town."

You are, Mary. And here's hoping you stay for a long time to come.

The New Look of Menifee 24/7

If you're reading this from a laptop or desktop, congratulations, you're seeing our new website design.

The new look, which is only viewable on desktops and laptops, went live this morning after spending several months evaluating new design ideas and ironing out all the bugs. Here are the advantages to the new design...

  • Loads faster - being only two columns, instead of the previous three, it loads faster. We also upgraded the ad banners by using asynchronous coding, which means the rest of the website can load while the ads are still loading. Before, the ads had to completely load before the rest of the website could finish.

  • Threaded commenting - you can now comment on other peoples comments. You'll see a little "Reply" link below each comment, formatting and placing your comment directly below someone else's. No longer must you specify who you're talking to.

  • Wider content column - the articles are physically wider, allowing for larger images. Before the articles maxed out at 500 pixels width, we now have up to 615 pixels of width.

  • Popular posts - there's now a feature below the ad banners for "Popular Posts", which shows you to top five most read articles over the past 30 days.

  • New ad units - we now offer a horizontal ad next to our logo. We're also featuring flyer ads, where we take your flyer and display it on the side of the page. We can also display coupons on the side of the page too. Contact us about advertising.
It seems every 18 to 24 months we go through a redesign. That's about what all websites have to do just to stay up with the latest trends and technology in online publishing.

But it seems the demographic is changing over to mobile.

Nearly 1/3 of our readers (32.54% over the last 30 days) are accessing our content from a mobile device. It was only a few months ago that figure was at 25%. It's growing so quickly, I wouldn't be surprised if it reached 50% by the end of this year.

Mobile users won't see this new redesign. What they'll see instead is a more simplified version of Menifee 24/7 designed for easier reading in small dimensions. Redesigning our mobile platform is perhaps our next step.

And for those of you reading us from our e-mail subscription, you've noticed a new redesign as well.

BTW, our rise in mobile readers is not just a global thing, it's also a reflection on Menifee as a community. It shows that residents here are quickly settling into the mobile revolution.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, are all investing heavily into their mobile platforms and developing new technology to track consumers using cellphone GPS. The idea is that they will know precisely where you are and be able to deliver you coupons for nearby establishments.

I'm not sure yet that's where we're going to go with Menifee 24/7. Our focus has been to bring you the latest news and announcements, and I'd rather stay with that.

But the publishing business goes hand-in-hand with the advertising business, we can't stop being marketers too.

Meanwhile, since we still have another 2/3 of our readers on laptops and desktops, it's an 800-pound gorilla we can't ignore. But I can't help wondering if this new redesign will be the last for Menifee 24/7. I wonder from this point forward all of our efforts will be focused on mobile publishing. It's almost like that gorilla is quickly turning into a dinosaur.