Menifee Foodie: Time for Traditions, a New Beginning

By Malissa Meeks

When I was a child growing up in Florida, we always ate Black-Eyed Peas on New Years Day. I didn’t really understand why it was so important to my mom that we ate our peas, but as I grew older, I gained that understanding.

The tradition is that by doing this, we will bring ourselves good luck and prosperity for the New Year. I am not a superstitious person, but I do have a dish of black-eyed peas every New Year.

Some other traditional New Years foods are greens. Greens are the color of money and are believed to bring financial prosperity. Dried beans are believed to represent coins. Fish is lucky for a couple of reasons. The scales represent money and because they swim in schools, they represent abundance. Noodles and rice are symbols of long life and abundance. If you were to plan your New Years celebration around these symbolic foods, you might end up with a strange dinner.

My husband and I have been married for 39 years and we have made the same New Years Eve dinner for all 39 years. It has been a great opportunity for us to invite friends and family to come over for our traditional Japanese dinner.

My husband spent two years in Japan and learned to love Japanese food. Every year he cooks tempura, gyoza, teriyaki chicken and rice for our New Years party. If our kids cannot make it to our house for New Years Eve, they prepare this same dinner at their house.

Traditions are so much fun and often food is a big part of family traditions. What would camping be without smores? What would a birthday be without a birthday cake? It is interesting how food is not just part of nutrition but also a huge part of bringing people together and families forming their own traditions.

My New Years wish for all of you is a year of prosperity, love, peace and a year full of all of the good things that you desire.

Share with our readers what your New Years traditions are by writing a comment to this column.

Happy New Year from the Menifee 24/7 Foodie.

Malissa Meeks is a mother of seven who knows her way around the kitchen. By her estimate, she has prepared more than 42,000 meals over the years. She also knows what she likes in a good restaurant. Her column appears here every Tuesday. Leave comments here or email them to

Man About Menifee: Volunteers Needed for Bike Rodeo

By David Baker

In many households with children, I suspect, the morning after Christmas played out in a similar way.

As parents sleep in, exhausted from the festivities the day before, children awake and venture out of their rooms to begin playing with the toys they so hastily opened the day before. As the morning unfolds and the parents stumble out of bed, some form of nourishment ensues, often in the form of leftovers. The presents that are at the top of children’s lists quickly becomes apparent.

One of the most stereotypical of Christmas presents is some form of bicycle. Whether it is a toddler’s first tricycle or simply a replacement for one that has become too small, undoubtedly many children got bikes under the Christmas tree this year. Bicycles are a great way to get kids unplugged from the television or video games and into the sunshine.

Last March for my oldest son Nikkolas' senior year community service project, a requirement for graduation from Santa Rosa Academy, he put together Menifee’s First Annual bicycle rodeo. All on his own, he went out to local businesses, solicited support in the form of monetary donations and product donations for a raffle. He reached out to adults in the community for support with staffing and finding a location.

In short, he did a lot of work for an 18-year-old. One of the comments he made when it was all don, was that he wanted to make it a yearly tradition. We always went to the local bike rodeo every year when he was a kid in Ramona, a small town in Northeast San Diego County, and he wanted to bring this to his younger siblings and the kids of Menifee.

The rodeo consisted of an obstacle course led by an officer from the Menifee Police Departmen; a traffic safety themed magic show performed by Mr. Porkpie, a local children’s performer; and several booths, including a concession stand, and a bike check station by Menifee Bicycles.

Toward the end of the rodeo, there was a raffle drawing for prizes ranging from a $5 value to a $50 value, and everybody got a prize. All the proceeds were donated to the Menifee Youth Foundation.

I wasn’t allowed to help last time because it was a school project, but this year we all can. Nikk wants to make the event bigger and better this year and he is looking for the best place to hold it, as well as a new list of volunteers and activities.

If you are interested in participating as an attendee or a volunteer, please reach out to Nikk or me at or of course you can email me at
Further dates and information will be provided based on participation and location availabilities. Thank you in advance for your support.

David Baker, our Man About Menifee, writes about his adventures in and around town every Friday in this space. You may leave comments for him here or email him at

Menifee Mom: The Simple Gifts Can Be The Best Ones

By Karen Thomas

Over the years, we have experienced the agony of having our kids ask for one of the year’s "Hot Toys" for Christmas.

Before I had kids, I saw the frenzy surrounding toys like "Tickle Me Elmo" and "Cabbage Patch Dolls." I just didn’t understand it. But then I became a parent and experienced "FurReal Friends," "Zhu Zhu Pets," "Pillow Pets"” and "Nintendo Wii."

I’ve never camped out to get an item or pushed my way through crowds, but I have kept my eye out online and kept my eyes open in the store, hoping I might snag that most wanted item. I do like to bring joy to my kids at Christmas, but I’m not willing to go to extremes.

I always figure if nothing else, they can wait until Easter and I will find something else they will love. It’s a reality of life that we just don’t always get what we want, but it is nice if it we can make it happen.

This year, for various reasons, we told the kids that we were keeping Christmas pretty low-key. As a result, our older kids kept their lists to more practical items they wanted. And somehow even our younger kids didn’t zone in on all the commercial advertising for toys, but instead focused on a few things they’ve really wanted throughout the year.

I will admit that I was a little worried that Christmas morning would come as a disappointment. However, it wasn’t at all. Instead, each child got a couple things they really appreciated and were surprised to get a few extra things.

What really struck me, however, were the gifts that brought joy to my 5-year-old. Unlike Christmases in the past, it wasn’t anything you’d see advertised on TV or in the Sunday paper. What she loved most was the hula hoop and hopper ball she got from Santa: Two classic (and inexpensive) toys that have been around for years. She’s been playing with them all day!

For me, the Christmas stress was the lowest it has been in years. I never realized how much time I have spent worrying and fretting about buying the right gifts. I’m hoping that somehow this can carry on to future years and that my kids can remember that it doesn’t take a ton of "stuff" to make a great Christmas.

It’s time spent with family and friends and focusing on the reason for the season that makes it the "most wonderful time of the year."

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.

Menifee Plugged In: Time for Some Christmas Cheer

By Neil Kristjansson

Christmas is coming fast. What’s so great about that? Lots of things. Especially the cheesy jingles on the radio.

So I figured: What’s the best thing to write about right now? Christmas songs.

I took a small poll to find out what some folks’ favorite Christmas songs were. They could nominate one song but not vote for their own. Then, the final four would make the list. So here they are:

4. Burl Ives – Silver & Gold

3. Libera – Carol of the Bells

2. DMX – Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer

1. Frank Sinatra – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Personally, I absolutely love "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Never before have I heard such a classy way of portraying the Christmas spirit. It’s great. This is the list from the folks I asked, but I’d like to give a couple of honorable mentions.

These are songs that I like to hear every year around this time. Unfortunately, they aren’t all quite up to snuff with what qualifies as the holly jolly Christmas tunes, but they are based around the holiday itself. So, here they are:

Low – Just like Christmas

Sufjan Stevens – Sister Winter

I think the beauty of Christmas music is that it seems to maintain a sense of joy in it regardless. That track from Low, while being a rather melancholy song in lyrics, sounds upbeat. It sounds holly and jolly. That’s the thing about this time of year. No matter how bad the year was, there’s something uplifting in the lights, the cold air, the piano and tambourine of the jingles we always hear. This is the best time of year.

Happy Holidays, everybody! And have a safe, happy New Year.

Man About Menifee: It's Time to Get Back in Shape

By David Baker

Testing and displaying the upper limits of one’s physical prowess is a concept familiar to most men. In fact, body building has its own set of myths in our culture.

Every young man who has gone through a weight training class has heard the tale of the sixth century Grecian soldier and Olympic Wrestler, Milos of Croton, who is said to have started training as a boy by carrying a calf on his shoulders for several hours every day until eventually the calf grew to a bull. Weight Training coaches today use this story to illustrate the benefits of a training method called progressive resistance.

When I was a kid, we lived on an acre of land in a smaller town in the outskirts of San Diego. As the oldest, it often became my responsibility to mow the yard. Now when I say mow the yard, this was a process that took approximately 12 hours, usually split over a Saturday and Sunday.

From the time I was 13 years old, I would gather the clippings and stuff the trash cans as full as I could carry and haul them to the end of our driveway for the trash man (this was before trash cans had wheels, mind you). One day when I was about 16, my parents got a note from the trash company that we were filling the cans too full and the trash collectors could not lift them anymore.

When I heard this, I chuckled because by that time I was carrying them one-handed all the way with my arm fully extended upward. This was no steer, but it filled me with a certain sense of pride.

Later, during my junior and senior year in high school, I joined weight training and I began to learn about the different muscle groups, how they worked together and how to train. It was a wonderful experience for me.

Over the years, as it happens so often, life concerns such as bills, kids, my job, have taken priority over health and fitness. I’ve often joked that I’m in shape, as long as you consider round a shape. So when I saw the signs for Fitness 19 last fall and heard they had the lower pre-opening rates, I jumped at the opportunity.

The gym, which opens Dec. 24, will have cardio machines, weight training, and personal trainers on staff, and even certain classes will be available to members without paying an extra class fee. A good friend of mine is teaching the Zumba class, and you should believe me when I tell you, she earns her nickname of “Barbie Sergeant”.

Every week or so, I’ve driven by and seen the building take shape. I’ve spoken to a number of the employees already who know me at least by sight now. There were a number of delays, but finally this Tuesday they are opening and I will be glad to see it happen.

So I am putting it out there for all my readers. Join me in the pledge to change shape and get more fit. I may never have the body of a Greek Warrior, but maybe a little less cushion around the middle couldn’t hurt.

Have a safe and healthy holiday.

David Baker, our Man About Menifee, writes about his adventures in and around town every week in this space. You may leave comments for him here or email him at

Menifee Mom: We Should Honor Beliefs, Not Deny Them

By Karen Thomas
It seems like there has been an increasing number of interfaith meetings this holiday season. I’m not sure why that is, or if I just happen to be more aware of them than I have been in the past.

Still, I really appreciate the efforts people are making to find unity among different faiths. People may have different ideas about certain points of doctrine, but instead of focusing on the differences, they take the time to focus on what is the same: faith, family, generosity, love, reaching out to those in need, and good old fashioned kindness.

There was a large interfaith meeting held in Murrieta during Thanksgiving that was well attended by many faiths. Thanksgiving is an easy holiday for religions to honor together. No matter what your beliefs are in God, you still share that common feeling of gratitude for the things that you have. Even more, you share gratitude that there were people brave enough to settle this land and bring us the religious freedom we enjoy; the religious freedom that makes it possible for all these faiths to peacefully exist together in one area.

The holiday season we are in now, on the other hand, is filled with religious meaning. Because of all the different religious holidays that are celebrated this time of year, wishing one another a generic “Happy Holidays” has gained popularity.

The greeting is seen as a way to avoid offending others and a convenient way to cover all holidays. Though there is certainly nothing wrong with it, in fact it is nice to see people being cheerful and kind, I think in some ways it keeps us from sharing the reason for the season that each one of us value.

If these interfaith meetings are intended to bring us together, then our holiday greetings should likewise allow us to share and respect one another’s beliefs.

If I wish someone a Merry Christmas and they in turn wish me a Happy Hanukkah, am I offended? Of course not. In fact, I will likely wish them a Happy Hanukkah in return. Doesn’t an exchange like that do more to bring awareness and an acceptance of our differences than a generic greeting? I think so.

My family does indeed celebrate Christmas, but I love that my kids get to learn about different religious holidays in school. It teaches them that while beliefs may be different, the joy and meaning of the celebration is still real and important for each individual. Teaching about different beliefs does more to bring about religious tolerance than ignoring them completely.

So I want to wish each of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year, and a happy time spent with family and friends. (If I missed a holiday, and I’m sure I did, let me know. I’d love to hear what your family is celebrating!)

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.

Menifee Foodie: It’s All About the Love

By Malissa Meeks

As I sit here in my kitchen after a full day of Christmas baking, I ponder the reason I did all of this baking. First let me offer a little background of why I have been baking all day.

My husband asked me if I could put together a few “goodies” for him to give to some of his co-workers. I said of course I would and started planning. (I am a total planner).

I planned out how many items I would be making for these “few” friends at work and got the shopping list ready. On Monday I asked my husband for a head count so that I would have enough Christmas tins, loaded with homemade goodies, ready for him to take to work on Wednesday. When he gave me the final number, I almost had a heart attack. I was watching him count out the “few” friends and when the fingers on both hands were used, I was surprised to say the least. He needs 15 Christmas tins loaded up with goodies.

Yesterday I shopped and today I have spent the entire day in the kitchen cooking a variety of goodies, some of traditional items and some new items. Now I am looking at the 15 empty Christmas tins and getting ready to load them up.

Why do we do this? Christmas is the busiest time of the year, yet we take time out of our busy schedules, money out of our budget and do service and good deeds for others.

I guess the answer is one of the reasons for the season. It’s all about the love. I don’t know all of the people my husband will be giving these Christmas tins to, but I know my husband loves his co-workers and this is his way of showing it. I love my husband, so I bake and bake for him.

I will be putting together a few tins for some of my friends and neighbors we really care about. So even though I am exhausted from all of the cooking that was done here today, it was a great feeling to do this and share some love.

One of my daughters was here with me helping out. What a great time we have had working together. This daughter has a one-month-old baby and her husband is deployed. He left when the baby was 8 days old. You can bet that some of these treats will be heading his direction.

So during this busy season if you have not already done so, take some time to do something for others that they will appreciate. I guarantee it will make your Christmas season better.

Merry Christmas to all of my fellow foodies.

Malissa Meeks is a mother of seven who knows her way around the kitchen. By her estimate, she has prepared more than 42,000 meals over the years. She also knows what she likes in a good restaurant. Her column appears here every week. Leave comments here or email them to

Man About Menifee: Christmas Time is Family Time

By David Baker

This week has been a busy one for our brood. Lately, I am starting to see some truth to the cliché that in the all the hubub of the business end of Christmas, we have to actively seek out the spirit of the season. One of the things this means to me is to celebrate all my kids equally.

My youngest son, Joshuah, was born like many babies, a little cue ball. He was as bald as it gets. All of my kids were that way. My daughter didn’t have any significant hair until she was almost 2. For a while, Jennifer and I have been joking about Joshuah’s baby mullet. He was baby up front, party in the back.

Finally, we decided his hair was overall long enough that we deemed a haircut appropriate. We wanted to take Christmas pictures without him looking like a ragamuffin, so we took him to get his first haircut on Thursday. He did surprisingly well -- not a tear or a shriek in sight.

Jeremiah and Alexandra are both in a Christmas Pageant at church. I love our youth program because they always come up with fresh new ideas for the various Holiday Pageants. This year the play is called an “Out of the Box Christmas”.

The play is about a cast of characters in a Christmas Play that receives the wrong costumes, so instead of Angels, they get Cheerleaders and instead of the Archangel Gabriel, they have to make do with a super hero called “Super G”. The moral of the story is really that it’s the thought that counts, actions speak louder than words, and if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
The kids had a play practice on Wednesday and they seem just about ready. Like many parents, I love to see my kids strut their stuff. It brings me great joy that they have this creative outlet.

This weekend is looking like it is going to be just as busy with the business side of Christmas once again. We have a last -inute play practice Saturday, followed by Christmas Caroling with Girl Scout troop 40550 of Menifee, and possibly some Christmas shopping. On Sunday is the kids’ play, and after that the toy drive for Menifee Christmas Dinner across from Menifee Marketplace on Haun Road.

This is our family’s first year volunteering for this organization but I intend to do my best to educate my kids that Christmas has more meaning than just the big guy in the red suit bearing gifts. That part is fun, but it is better to give than receive.

This year what are some of the little moments you intend to treasure with each other? Post your comments in the section below.

David Baker, our Man About Menifee, writes about his adventures in and around town every week in this space. You may leave comments for him here or email him at

Menifee Mom: Middle School Band Members Get a Special Treat

By Karen Thomas

My husband and I had a great opportunity to chaperone the Bell Mountain Middle School Symphonic Band field trip to Disneyland last Friday. They had auditioned and were selected out of hundreds of other bands to perform at the California Adventure theme park.

Being a chaperone isn't what is sounds like. These kids don't have to be babysat. In fact, they are allowed to cruise the park on their own for the day. Their main instructions are to follow the rules and be at the designated places on time.

At first, I was a bit surprised at the level of freedom they were given. When our daughter went last year, I had not let her roam freely in a theme park with her friends before. However, I decided that the band has done this for many years and hasn't had problems, so it was time to let go.

So, as a chaperone I didn't need to accompany the kids anywhere, but the band did need help transporting equipment and parents are needed to be on hand in the event of an emergency.

This was actually my second trip with the band. Last year I was able to go to Knotts Berry Farm with them for a band competition. For that trip, I chose to spend part of the day with my daughter and her friends in an effort to get to know them better.

Both experiences reminded me a few things about middle school kids:

1. They actually can be pretty responsible. Each time they had to meet their teacher for something, they were there on time. Not once was the band director left waiting for someone to show up. Considering that they were at a theme park with long lines for rides and long distances to walk, that was impressive.

2. They aren't always very thoughtful about looking out for each other. During both trips, I witnessed several kids getting "ditched" by their groups. From what I could see, it wasn't intentional. It seemed to be a case of a large group of kids getting caught up in the fun, hurrying off to where they wanted to go, and not bothering to check to make sure no one was left behind. It was an example of how middle school kids can be pretty self-centered at times.

For the most part, though, they did a good job. Granted, these are some of the best kids in the school; it takes discipline and dedication to get into Symphonic Band. Still, I was impressed with the lack of issues that arose on these trips. I was even more impressed at the quality of music these kids can produce. Their director requires a lot of them, and they rise to his expectations. Listening to them play is truly enjoyable. Hearing them play in a setting like Disneyland was a rare treat.

In many areas, budget cuts have made the band program a thing of the past. In Menifee Union School District, however, it has remained a priority. This is one of the reasons we chose to come to this area. Music enriches the lives of these kids and helps develop qualities that will bring them success in life no matter what profession they choose.

These band trips have given me a chance to see how kids I've known since Kindergarten are beginning to mature into responsible young adults. I hope our community will continue to support the music programs at our schools, because it does make a difference in our future.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.

Menifee Foodie: Christmas Baking for the Whole Family

By Malissa Meeks

What are your favorite smells of Christmas? When my granddaughter Maxyne was in Kindergarten, her class made a list of their favorite Christmas things. The teacher gave them a paper that had the five senses printed on it and the students had to complete the sentence with their favorite things. Maxyne's went something like this:

The sound of Christmas Carols
The sight of Christmas Lights
The smells of Grammy’s cheese bread
The taste of Christmas Cookies
The feel of Christmas Love

Maxyne is now 14 years old and none of her favorite Christmas things have changed. Two of her favorite things happen in my kitchen. Forming Christmas traditions in the kitchen can be some of the happiest times of the holiday season.

I have six daughters who are now adults and we still get together every Christmas and do our baking. Now that I have granddaughters who are young, we have added a couple of baking favorites that are easy and fun for the kids to be involved in making. Kids love to cook. They seem to feel special when they are included in baking.

Here are a couple of recipes that are fast, easy and fun for the kids to make with you.

Pretzel Turtles

20 small pretzels (I use the waffle pretzels)
20 Rolo candies
20 pecan halves

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Put the 20 pretzels on baking sheet in a single layer.
4. Unwrap the Rolo’s and place one on top of each pretzel.
5. Bake for 4 minutes (chocolate will have a shine)
6. Remove from oven and put 1 pecan on top of each rolo. Press down lightly with your thumb.
7. Let cool.

Saltine Toffee (sounds strange but is so tasty)

1.5 sleeves of saltine crackers
1 stick butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
3. Arrange the crackers in a single layer on the baking sheet. Don’t leave any spaces. Crush any remaining crackers and set aside.
4. Place butter and brown sugar in small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring the entire time.
5. Carefully pour over crackers. If you miss some spaces, don’t be too concerned. The toffee will spread when baking.
6. Bake for 5 minutes. Toffee should be boiling on top of the crackers. Remove from oven and let cool for 1 minute.
7. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the crackers and let melt. Spread over all of the crackers. While the toffee is still melted sprinkle the top with the crushed crackers.
8. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Break the toffee into uneven pieces by hand.
9. This can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

Enjoy your time in the kitchen with your family. I have been making my baking list and checking it twice for my family’s big baking day next week. I can’t wait!!!

Malissa Meeks is a mother of seven who knows her way around the kitchen. By her estimate, she has prepared more than 42,000 meals over the years. She also knows what she likes in a good restaurant. Her column appears here every week. Leave comments here or email them to

Menifee Plugged In: Just a Few of Music's Turn-Offs

By Neil Kristjansson

This week, I have found myself listening to more music than I typically do. And by more, I mean more variety -- things I normally wouldn’t figure I’d catch myself listening to. It could be something poppy, mellow, or an old tune I listened to when I was a little kid. It’s weird.

It’s all got me thinking about music in general again. Now, I don’t like to go on rants about these sorts of things. When it comes to something subjective, I don’t want to be the guy to try and force my opinions onto you or be the self-righteous critic. But with everything that’s been going into my ears the past couple weeks, I’ve caught myself making a mental list of things that sort of ... irk me. My musical turn-ons and turn-offs, so to speak. It doesn’t necessarily annoy me, it just doesn’t create a spark in me. The things I think are boring in music.

Here’s a list:

1. The “Whoa-Oh-Ohs”
You know what I’m talking about here. Typically, they’re at their most popular in catchy mainstream pop songs. The stuff you hear on the radio that everybody complains about. When the beat gets going, the song builds up, and the chorus kicks in, then bam: There it is. The “whoa-oh-oh” that everybody listening can sing along to.

For what it’s worth, the hook is what keeps people listening. It’s the moment of the song that the mumblers can sing and the singers can mumble. Because, well, it’s not hard to remember melodies. Roar? Bad Romance? Tik Tok? Even as far back as "Hey Jude." They’re not bad, they’re catchy, but they’re getting old.

2. The Insincerity
This isn’t a new thing either. And in all honesty, I don’t have anything positive to say about this one. See, the thing is, sincerity doesn’t mean it has to be some deep, sad song that makes you think. Even a party song can be sincere. People give Miley Cyrus a lot of flak for acting the way she does now, but I appreciate the effort she’s putting in.

I’m talking about the people who stand on stage, singing fantasized sorrows of something that never happened to them. Or, the people who half-sing a song about some intense party every time they throw something out there without any kind of variation in their creativity. Just off the top of my head? Pitbull. I don’t like Pitbull. Why is he famous? I don’t get it. Brokencyde is another. Man, I hate Brokencyde.

3. The Forced Angst

When I hear a song that starts out sounding really awesome, I enjoy it. But that enjoyment becomes embarrassment if the first line happens to be something about darkness and broken hearts. Or vampires. HIM is a guilty pleasure of mine when it comes to this, but for the most part, I can’t stand to hear it. It becomes especially embarrassing when you do some further research and find out that a 37-year-old man is writing about being the “Leader of the Broken Hearts” (looking at you, Papa Roach).

There are instances this sort of thing works, reaching back to HIM, where everything ties in together. The vocals aren’t whiny, the music isn’t regurgitated from the last hit single, and the lyrics usually go beyond “she broke my heart, I’m filled with darkness, the world is black, I am so heartless.” It’s incredibly one-dimensional and juvenile to do it. If you’re angsty, be open and honest. Don’t write it like something you’d find on a wristband at Hot Topic.

4. The Same Thing
Whether it’s the barefoot acoustic, catchy drumming of an indie band or the synthesized claps of radio pop, it’s all the same. One tune after the other, whether it’s popular or not, sounds like one long drone of catchy music over and over. I know I sound like I’m being overly cynical. It’s really just feel-good music. Not something you sit down to find some deeper meaning. That’s not always great.

It’s not just the big bands that do that sort of thing. Metal bands are especially notorious of this. It’s great if you’re into a certain genre, but I don’t like hearing about a band playing the same exact style of music after 20 years. If that’s the case, at least try to keep it interesting. Not the same thing over and over and over again.

5. The Autotuned

This is not as irritating as the others. Autotuning is actually pretty widely used in production. It really depends entirely on the subtlety of it. Not everybody can be an Alicia Keys or a Meatloaf. But? When it comes to some talentless businessman like That stinks. Daft Punk’s alright, though.

6. The Bad Fans
This is all about the fans. The fans that like to rub in how long they’ve listened. The fans that like to point out their age. The fans that caricturize the band’s image. The fans that force it into you.

“Oh, well I’ve known about them since before they performed.”

There’s nothing more of a put-off than being called a poser by somebody trying their absolute hardest to outdo their favorite band in the world. I can’t stand the rabid fans that attack and ridicule somebody for not understanding or knowing the same things as themselves. If you find yourself in a position to help somebody into a new style of music – unfamiliar territory – show them around. Don’t belittle them because your musical empire is so much more vast and important than somebody else’s.

Music is entirely subjective. It’s all opinions. That’s what’s great about it. But a smudge on the scenery can ruin an entire painting. And that’s what these feel like to me. Smudges, smears, scratches. Things that can so easily taint something so beautiful.

Neil Kristjansson's "Menifee Plugged In" column appears each week. He writes about two things of interest to most of the younger generation -- music and electronic gaming. He welcomes your comments here or though email at

Man About Menifee: Christmas Isn't All About the Decorations

By David Baker

As I've mentioned before, we here at the Baker household have been getting ready for Christmas. We've been putting up decorations, buying presents and in general, getting ready for the holiday.

This week has been a little tough. First Joshuah, and then one by one everybody else, fell to whatever stomach virus is going around right now. We did manage to get some lights up, though. We wrapped our palm trees in candy cane fashion with red and white lights and Nikk got them up along the roof. Unfortunately, we were only halfway done with the decorating when everything came to a halt.

While we didn't participate too much in the hubbub of Black Friday this year, we did take advantage of a few sales last weekend. Jennifer prefers shopping online and having it all conveniently delivered and was able to get most of the kids' gifts bought.

This weekend, we will be picking up our Christmas tree, bringing it home and decorating it. Joshuah is extremely excited about all the lights and decorations, or what he calls "pretties", starting to appear around town.

It's fun for me to get to see my children's faces light up with wonder and anticipation the closer we get to Christmas. Seeing the surprise on their face when they get whatever it is they wanted even some of those things they didn't think they were going to get is a fun experience for me.

I enjoy buying my children things when I can. However, one of the things I worry about the most is giving them the wrong impression of the holiday and letting them think it's more about the commercialization then about giving goodwill.

That's why this Christmas season one of the causes that I'm proud to support is the Menifee Christmas Dinner. This weekend you can plan on seeing us helping out with the toy drives on the 7th and 8th as well as next weekend, the 14th and 15th. If you happen to see them outside Ralph's market on Antelope Road, feel free to make a donation as well.

David Baker, our Man About Menifee, writes about his adventures in and around town every Friday in this space. You may leave comments for him here or email him at

Menifee Mom: Holidays Are Fun; Travel is a Nightmare

By Karen Thomas

Last weekend as I was sitting at home snuggled up on the couch with a blanket, I decided to check and see what people were up to on Facebook.

I was bombarded with photos of traffic and descriptions of how many extra hours it was adding to trips home from Thanksgiving. For the first time in many years, my family actually stayed home for the holiday. With the kids having a whole week off school, it is very tempting to hit the road. But this year, we got to have family come to us.

Sure, it meant I was hosting the big dinner and I didn’t get to have a relaxing “get-away,” but it also meant I got to avoid the weekend after Thanksgiving traffic! I had almost forgotten to revel in the joy of this until I saw what so many others were experiencing.

As I reflected on my many end-of-vacation traffic horror stories, I envisioned being stuck in the car with whining, hungry kids who need to go to the bathroom and are dying to get out of the car just as much as me. Suddenly, I enjoyed my cozy couch and blanket even more.

Have you ever driven back from Vegas the weekend after Thanksgiving? It’s something you’ll never want to repeat. I’ll share just one experience.

Our first year, we came home on a Sunday and hit the Vegas to LA stretch in the afternoon. It seemed everyone in the LA metro area was parked on that freeway at that moment. My husband and I were traveling with our three kids (one wasn’t born yet) and they were still little tykes. There were no exits, no cities, and no buildings -- nothing for miles except freeway, cars, and desert.

And we were all traveling at an average speed of 5 miles an hour, for many hours.

As we began calculating just how long this trip was going to take us at this speed, we realized other people had more urgent issues. At first we wondered why so many cars were pulled off to the side of the road. Then we saw it -- the desperate attempts to relieve themselves.

I’m sure we’ve all offered to pull over so our kid can use a bush in a desperate situation during a road trip. But in this case, there were a few problems with that solution:

1) There were no bushes, or trees, or even cacti along this stretch of the freeway.

2) The traffic was not zooming by; rather, it was stopped and there was nothing to look at except those people on the side of the road.

3) Many of those cars were filled with curious kids looking out the window.

We did our best to avert their attention, but inside I was just praying my kids could hold out a bit longer so we wouldn’t have to join them. When a rest area finally came and we navigated the traffic to exit, we were greeted with lines 100 people long!

Suddenly, those people on the side of the road didn’t seem so crazy.

Eventually, around Barstow, traffic started moving. By then it was well past dinner and we were all starving. We waited in a very long drive-through line only to find out that they were sold out of everything our kids wanted. We went to another place; same story. At that point, we were starting to feel like cattle going out to feed. We finally asked the person taking our order, “Well, what DO you have?” We took it and hit the road one last time. I was just glad the gas stations weren’t out of gas!

In the end, it took us almost nine hours to travel a stretch of road that normally takes four. After a while, the kids weren’t the only ones saying, “Are we there yet?”

Seeing family during the holidays IS part of what makes it so special. Because of that, we have braved that traffic many times (though each year we try some different strategy to avoid it). Still, I’m glad that the annual road trip is one tradition we got to skip out on, at least for this year.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.

Menifee Foodie: Southern Manners and Pimento Cheese Spread

By Malissa Meeks

Being raised in Florida, I consider myself a Southern Belle. Even though it has been many years since I lived down south, I will always be a Southern Belle. You can take the Belle out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the Belle.

There are some serious rules that must be followed in order to be a Southern Belle. Here are a few of my favorites, taken from The Southern Belle Primer.

1. "Even though Princess Margaret wore white shoes after Labor Day during a visit to the United States, that doesn’t mean you should, too. (Her press secretary had to issue a "statement" to clear up that the English have no such rules). A Southern Belle never wears white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day."
2. "My dear, this is something you must always remember. Your bosom can be fake. Your smile can be fake and your hair color can be fake. But your pearls and your silver must always be real."
3. "Make sure that the punch served at your wedding reception matches the bridesmaid’s shoes. Duh."
4. "You don’t want a deviled egg plate? Well, bless your heart.” really can’t imagine anyone not having a deviled egg plate.

I was taught how to entertain by the best. My mother was known for her entertaining. If you were invited to one of her dinner parties, soirees, gatherings or shindigs, you were fortunate.

Every night, dinner was a formal event. The table was always set as if company was coming. I remember learning the "proper" way to set a table and took great pride when I was able to do this without any "reminders" from my mom. I will always be grateful for my ability to put together a great party. Thanks, Mom.

In the South, a favorite appetizer for any event is Pimento Cheese Spread. Christmas is not Christmas without it. Of course, no one makes it better than my mother, but I do try.

As the holidays approach, I hope you will be able to incorporate this recipe into your holiday entertaining. This is one of those recipes that can be made days ahead or time and actually tastes better when it has been in the fridge for a couple of days.

Pimento Cheese

1 lb. yellow cheese (Sharp, Medium, Mild Cheddar, or Longhorn, etc.)
1 or 2 large jars of chopped pimentos
½ to 1 medium onion finely chopped
Mayonnaise (enough to moisten)
Sugar to taste
Salt to taste

Preparation: Grate the cheese. Dice the onions. Mix together with the pimentos (don’t drain), a little sugar, salt (to taste), and mayonnaise. Be careful not to use too much mayonnaise; you don’t want this runny, just moistened.

After mixing by hand, I put it into the food processor and mix it again to make it finer and more like a spread.

Serve on crackers.

Keep refrigerated.

There is no way that this will not be a hit at your Holiday party. I hope ya’ll all enjoy this fabulous cheese spread.

Malissa Meeks is a mother of seven who knows her way around the kitchen. By her estimate, she has prepared more than 42,000 meals over the years. She also knows what she likes in a good restaurant. Her column appears here every Tuesday. Leave comments here or email them to

Menifee Plugged In: Elder Scrolls Online, Hearthstone a Hit

By Neil Kristjansson

This week’s been all over the place. Between Thanksgiving and sickness, I didn’t have the chance to do everything I’d wanted to, but thankfully I had the liberty of trying out Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls Online and Blizzard’s Hearthstone games last weekend.

So, in my post-Thanksgiving nausea, I got the chance to think over what I’d played and whether I really liked it or not. To start, I’ll discuss Hearthstone.

Hearthstone is essentially the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game for the computer. It's similar to Magic: The Gathering, in the sense that you play a card and attack your opponent. It’s super simple, but man is it fun.

Decks are composed of cards that fit into a certain category (I.E. hunter, warrior, mage, warlock, etc.) and can be customized in and out of each other if not specific to a class. Well-known heroes of Warcraft make their return in this, too. Every deck needs a leader, and everybody from Rexxar to Anduin is there.

Other than being a simple card game, Hearthstone isn’t much else. But after it’s officially released to players as a full game, I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot. I’m not much into card games, but I’ve played this one for a long time already.

Now, about The Elder Scrolls Online…

This title’s been surrounded by quite a bit of controversy. Die-hard fans of the Elder Scrolls (TES) series might go as far as to call it a bastardization of its former glory, while others see it as just another MMO.

Honestly speaking, I was genuinely surprised by it. I woke up one morning to find out I was accepted into the beta. Half of me was thrilled, while the other half was kind of apathetic. MMOs have a tendency of being hyped to no end, only to come out on the other end as just another World of Warcraft clone set in a new world. It's something that doesn’t really hold up on its own and kind of falls apart.

So, time came for me to jump in and see what Bethesda had prepped for us beta testers. And, like I said, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Customization was great, game play was solid, graphics were beautiful...

Let me elaborate. We’re talking about an MMO about a game based around the universe of Skyrim. To give you some insight on why those surprise me, Skyrim was released two years ago and is known for being one of the more beautiful games of the previous generation.

Now, MMOs have a history of having pretty poor graphics. Usually it’s out of bad optimization or trying to appeal to a wider audience. The Elder Scrolls Online managed to bypass those MMO tropes and still actually feel like your standard TES title. The only difference? I could actually play with other people.

Experience this vast, open world with other people. Go into huge dungeons and fight who-knows-what kind of enemies with other people. What used to be 50 percent reluctance had become 100 percent optimism.

The 12-year-old-me’s dreams had actually come true, and now it’s set to be a full game. I don’t want to say it will be a World of Warcraft-killer, not by any means. But I certainly hope that The Elder Scrolls Online broadens the MMO market. It’s new, and it’s awesome.

Keep in mind, both of these games are still in the beta stage. Things are prone to change and may be incomplete. While that may be the case, if what’s been showcased already is any indication of how the final product might turn out, then sign me up.

Neil Kristjansson's "Menifee Plugged In" column appears each Monday. He writes about two things of interest to most of the younger generation -- music and electronic gaming. He welcomes your comments here or though email at

Man About Menifee: This Turkey Dinner Took Some Patience

By David Baker

Well, another Thanksgiving is over at the Baker household and I am extremely thankful. Don't get me wrong. A holiday that encourages reflection and appreciation for all the blessings that we have is wonderful, but it can be a little stressful, too.

The day started out normally enough. I woke up, got showered and changed and started getting the house ready to receive our guests. At 10 a.m., I went to pick up our holiday dinner order from Stater Brothers. Yes, we cheated and let the grocery store handle the bulk of the preparation this year.

I brought the food back to the house and went outside to clean out the garage while Jennifer got ready to cook. My mission was clear: To retrieve and unearth as many Christmas decorations as possible. I got a pretty good start on it too, until one of the kids came out and told me there was a problem with the turkey.

You see, when the turkey comes it is pretty much cooked, but it still needs to be heated all the way through, and in order to do that, the turkey is essentially double bagged. The outer bag is just a cover and the inner bag that surrounds the turkey holds in the juices.

Jennifer had very carefully removed the outer bag but as she was doing it, all the juices spilled out. As it turned out, there was a small tear in the inner bag, but now with all the juices spilled out, we weren't sure how to proceed. We didn't want to end up with a dried-out turkey.

I called the Stater Brothers deli to see what my options were. They were courteous and invited me to bring the turkey back and exchange it for a new one. When I got back to the house, we very carefully opened the outer package again. In true Murphy's Law fashion, the inner bag on this turkey had also ruptured, but this time we anticipated i,t so no juices were lost.

I called Stater Brothers again and they suggested dumping the turkey, juice and all, into a roasting pan, covering it with tinfoil and baking according to the directions. This wouldn't have been a big deal, except we didn't have a roasting pan. So I went back out again and picked up a disposable roasting pan and some tinfoil and came back to the house.

We put our turkey in the oven, albeit an hour late, and began cooking. My in-laws came shortly thereafter and we all sat down to watch some holiday movies and enjoy some appetizers. We eventually ate the turkey, which was quite juicy and delicious, and enjoyed some pie for dessert.

Now with all my guests gone, I'm sitting here looking at this pile of Christmas decorations that will be going up in the next week. It genuinely feels like the holiday season has begun.

David Baker, our Man About Menifee, writes about his adventures in and around town every Friday in this space. You may leave comments for him here or email him at

Menifee Mom: Let's Not Rush Through Thanksgiving

By Karen Thomas

I read a comic last week depicting a family gathered around the dinner table at Thanksgiving. Immediately after expressing thanks for their blessings, the kids exclaimed, "OK, now let me tell you what I want for Christmas!"

This is an all too familiar scene at my house and I’m sure many others. One would think that having a holiday where we pause and express gratitude for all the many things we have would help lessen the "wants" at Christmastime. I have tried really hard to separate the two holidays, but it seems to get harder every year.

Part of the problem is the black Friday Christmas shopping madness so many of us experience. I have often gotten a good chunk of my shopping done the weekend after Thanksgiving, when sometimes great deals can be found. Because of that, I have caught myself asking my kids for their Christmas wishes during Thanksgiving. I always hate doing that because it does feel like I am taking away from the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday.

To make matters worse, this year Thanksgiving is just four weeks before Christmas, making moms feel an even bigger crunch to get the shopping done.

This year, retailers seem to be taking advantage of our vulnerability to sales and pressed timelines and have started the sales even earlier: During our Thanksgiving dinner! But, when there is a budget to keep and great deals to be had, it’s hard not to join in. I’ve definitely snagged some great deals online during Thanksgiving.

However, I wonder what effect this has on our kids. Does it even further erode our ability to pause and feel thankful for all that we have? Sure, some people have more than others, but for the most part we all have so much more than so many around the world. If we all could just take time to really remember and appreciate that, then perhaps even Christmas will have more meaning for our families.

So this year, I’ve really tried to avoid putting out the Christmas decorations early and push the wish lists too much. Yes, we’ve had some discussion about it (a mom has to plan!), but not as much as in the past. I’m sure I’ll still be online a bit hunting out bargains, but I refuse to hit the stores or let shopping consume me during this most important holiday.

Will it make a difference for my family? Maybe not, but at least my kids will know that Thanksgiving is important and not just a rest stop on our way to Christmas.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.

Menifee Foodie: You Can't Beat the Food, Service at Filippi's

By Malissa Meeks

Thanksgiving is already here and Christmas is just around the corner. This is the busiest time of the year, but also my favorite time of year. I love getting together with family and friends, the decorating, cooking, shopping and all of the other things the holiday season brings.

Sometimes during this busy time, I really don’t have time to cook. On those nights, we love to go to Filippi’s Pizza Grotto. They are located at 27309 Jefferson Ave, Temecula. Their menu is very reasonably priced and the food is delicious.

Monday thru Thursday, they have a "Feast for Two", which is such a fabulous value. It easily feeds 4-5 people. The feast includes their fabulous bread, two large salads, two large slices of lasagna, two large servings of spaghetti and one pizza. The feast is for dine in only.

I have had a variety of items on their menu and they have always been delicious. Their lasagna is my favorite.

It is always a good choice to top your dinner off with a dish of Spumoni. The Spumoni at Filippi’s is top notch.

We have always had great service. The servers are very busy but seem to stay on top of things. The restaurant is clean and family friendly.

I give Filippi’s 5 spoons.

Malissa Meeks is a mother of seven who knows her way around the kitchen. By her estimate, she has prepared more than 42,000 meals over the years. She also knows what she likes in a good restaurant. Her column appears here every Tuesday. Leave comments here or email them to

Menifee Plugged In: Closing of The Vault Signals End of an Era

By Neil Kristjansson

Last week, news came out that The Vault, a music venue in Temecula, is set to close by December. Serving no alcoholic beverages but catering to audiences of all ages, it struggled to keep up a high amount of traffic to fund itself.

I’ve been there a few times, and I can honestly say that it was a great venue.

Not every band I’d seen was my type, or fit into my taste, but the venue itself made a huge difference here in our little area of Southwestern Riverside County. Local talent could come out of their bedrooms and their garages and pursue the dream they’d always wanted. Even just a group of people who want to have some fun. Either way, people could play there; that’s all that really mattered.

From local talent to big names, plenty of different groups came through. From punk to party, it was always fun.

I remember my first time being there. A friend of mine had approached me, asking if I wanted to go and see his band play at The Vault. I bought a ticket and showed up. Up until that point, the only concerts I’d ever been to had been in arenas or amphitheaters, so I had no idea what a smaller place like this would be like. But I wasn’t disappointed.

In a room that size, there’s something more intense, more personal, than what you would normally experience at a bigger venue. Whether it’s a band you like, don’t like, or don’t really care for, the motion and vibration of that moment is enough to make you say "screw it" and have a good time.

Nobody cares if you’re throwing yourself around or just standing in the back. That’s the beauty of what The Vault gave to our little spot of California.

Thankfully, as we wave goodbye to this chapter of the local music scene, another is already planned. The Vault’s promoter, Ivan McClain, is currently looking for investors to open up an even larger venue early next year. Whatever happens, I support the venture.

So what’s going to happen with The Vault in its last week? Zebrahead performed on Nov. 22, a free-to-attend show titled "The Death of the Vault" is scheduled this Friday, Nov. 29, and lastly the latest installment of Band Wars will take place this Saturday, Nov. 30.

"The Death of the Vault" will feature several different artists who supported and attended the venue over the years. This includes The Maxies, Defunked, The Infamous They, Illnoise, Indica Roots, and Expulsion. It’s the last chance any of us will have to be there, and I’m not passing it up.

Neil Kristjansson's "Menifee Plugged In" column appears each Monday. He writes about two things of interest to most of the younger generation -- music and electronic gaming. He welcomes your comments here or though email at

Man About Menifee: Rain Makes Safe Driving a Priority

By David Baker

I remember my first car. It was a teal 1993 Ford Escort four-door sedan. It had a five-speed manual transmission, four cylinders, and got around 27 or 28 miles to gallon on average.

I think a lot of people could probably tell you a lot about their first car because it represents a lot of other firsts as well. A whole wide world of possibilities seems to present itself.

I can remember the first time I picked a girl up for a date. I remember the first time I stayed out all night with my friends. I remember the first time I helped somebody move -- which would be way easier with the truck, by the way.

Of course there were more than a few firsts I would rather forget. I remember my first speeding ticket. I remember the first time I had to pay for a significant car repair. And I remember my first automobile accident.

It was around this time of year, raining like it is now, and I had my drivers license for a little over six months. I was driving past the local movie theater. I thought I saw somebody I recognized, so I turned my head just for second, and yes, it was a girl. I turned my head back forward and there was a small Toyota pickup truck stopped, presumably to make a left turn. I slammed on the brakes but due to the recent rains, my car hydroplaned and continued right into the back of the Toyota.

I remember being in a slight state of panic. I remember calling my folks and exchanging information with the other driver. Most of all, I remember feeling disappointed.

We've reached that time of year when Menifee, like most of Southern California, is experiencing its first significant rainstorm. Drivers should use my story as a learning experience.

You see when we drive, our cars secrete various oils and petroleum products that soak into the semipermeable asphalt of our roads. When the first serious rains hit, the oils float to the top of the water and that makes our roads extra slick. Already, there have been multiple serious vehicle collisions on our roads over the past couple of days.

When I took Alexandra to school on Thursday, I saw the tail end of yet another one at the corner of Newport and Murrieta roads. I wasn't able to gather all the details, but the picture spoke volumes. Two police officers were watching a car get loaded up onto a tow truck and the front end of the car was smashed. Whatever the car had hit had already pulled away and there were flares directing traffic around this car.

When you join other drivers on the road this week, leave some extra stopping distance. Make sure your windshield wipers are in proper condition, your tire treads are good, and you turn on your headlights -- not so you can see in the rain, but so others can see you better. Above all, be safe and enjoy your holiday.

David Baker, our Man About Menifee, writes about his adventures in and around town every Friday in this space. You may leave comments for him here or email him at

Menifee Mom: Sometimes, it's Best Not to See Big Picture

By Karen Thomas

Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the Vail Lake Ragnar Trail Relay race. These races are often summed up with the words "Run. Eat. Camp. Sleep? Repeat."

We ran gnarly hills, in the dark, with little or no sleep. Not only was it a unique and fun experience to share with friends, but it also brought moments that caused me to pause and think.

Unlike most races, the Ragnar Trail Relay had lots of opportunities to mingle with fellow racers. In a normal race you show up, line up to start, run the race, and go home. You might exchange a few words in passing with other runners, but that's about it.

In this race, we were all camping out together in a huge field. Only one person per team was out running at a time, which meant everyone else had lots of down time. Last weekend was quite chilly and damp, so a lot of people hung out at the bonfire.

As I sat by the fire, waiting my turn to run, I talked to other runners and observed the conversations around me. We compared which loops we had run, shared our experiences, and gave tips. People talked about their kids and shared humorous stories. I heard one man say, "Becoming a dad is the best thing that ever happened to me."

I was struck how so many people, from different walks of life, could come together and camp peaceably with each other and even enjoy good conversation. It is amazing how one common thread, a love of running, can unite people. Outside of the race venue we may have never spoken, but in that moment we weren't really strangers or competitors, but friends who were in this crazy adventure together.

The craziest thing about this race was running on trails in the dark. We all wore headlamps, but really those only gave you a view of what was right in front of you; it was like running with tunnel vision. Once the sun came up, I looked out at the course and couldn't believe that I had just run all those trails. It looked so different at night.

Part of me was disappointed I didn't get to see the views from the tops of the hills or have the complete picture of my course as I was running it. However, the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that maybe not seeing the whole picture sometimes is a good thing.

One of the loops, the "green loop," had one hill that required you to be part mountain goat to climb. Some people scaled it on hands and knees; most at least touched their hands down at times to keep balanced. Because I could only see what was right in front of me, it didn't seem scary or overwhelming. I just took it a few feet at a time and kept moving forward.

But now I wonder, if I had seen the grand scale of it and how high on the mountain I was, would I have been so confident as I climbed? For all I know, the trails could have been close to a cliff. However, my limited field of vision forced me to focus on the path in front of me and did not allow me to get distracted by my surroundings or overwhelmed by what was still to come.

Have you ever had a mountain you had to climb, literally or figuratively, and thought you'd never get past it? Or, have you trudged through a difficult time in life not realizing just how hard it was until after it was over and you looked back on your experience?

It can be nice to see what's ahead, but I think that sometimes it's also nice to have blinders on, so to speak, and only see the path that is right in front of you. Sometimes difficult things are best taken in small pieces. And then, when it's over, you can look back in awe at what you've accomplished.

However, I think the guy who got sprayed by a skunk might disagree: It would have been nice to see that coming.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.

Menifee Foodie: Planning Your Turkey Dinner is the Key

By Malissa Meeks

As the main Thanksgiving cook at my house for over 30 years, I have often thought that the best part of Thanksgiving is that it’s over. I get very excited to plan our Thanksgiving Dinner, but by the time it’s served, I am totally exhausted. I actually have rarely eaten the entire meal.

Our family has gotten really large and I love to put on an impressive meal. A few years ago, I decided that I was losing sight of what this day should be about and not enjoying being with family and friends as much as I should. I would feel like hibernating for days after Thanksgiving was over. That being said, I decided that I needed to find ways to make this process simpler.

Here are a few things that I have done that really have helped make holiday meals more enjoyable for me.

1. Plan your table ahead of time. You can choose your centerpiece, dishes, serving dishes, linens, everything weeks ahead of time. Set your table three days before the big day.

2. Get out all of the serving dishes a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Put a sticky note saying what goes inside of each serving dish on the dish. Put the serving utensil in the dish also. I always have so many helpers in the kitchen. Doing this makes it so much easier to get the dinner on the table. If you have room, set up a folding table to put your serving dishes on.

3. Do as much cutting and chopping ahead of time as possible. Celery, onion, grating cheese, cutting some fruits, chopping nuts, etc. These are things that can be done in advance. Put them in Ziploc bags and mark on each bag what dish that item is to be used in.

4. I always make the day before Thanksgiving my baking day. It’s a fun time to invite my daughters to come and bake with me. I prepare all of the desserts and put together dips or any casseroles that I can on that prep day. Casseroles can be made days ahead of time. I just put them in a Ziploc bag and bake them on the big day. (Can you tell I love Ziploc bags?)

5. Assign out as many dishes as you can. Most guests really enjoy helping out by bringing a side dish. It is a fun thing to ask them to bring a favorite traditional dish from their family that your family may not be familiar with.

6. Write out a schedule for the big day. This will help you with the flow of things. I know exactly what time I need to start cooking the turkey, making the rolls, baking casseroles, etc.

7. If you have one oven, you really need to pace yourself. Actually, I do not even cook my turkey in an oven. Years ago, I invested $40 in a roaster oven. I can set that in any room and bake my turkey. This gives you more room to work with in your kitchen and frees up your oven. The turkey also seems to cook a little faster in the roaster oven.

Hopefully, these tips will make it so that the thing you are most grateful for is not that Thanksgiving is over!

Malissa Meeks is a mother of seven who knows her way around the kitchen. By her estimate, she has prepared more than 42,000 meals over the years. She also knows what she likes in a good restaurant. Her column appears here every Tuesday. Leave comments here or email them to

Menifee Plugged In: Playstation 4 Hits the Mark

By Neil Kristjansson

Last Friday, Nov. 15 marked the release of Playstation 4. The next generation of gaming has arrived, and boy is it pretty.

For eight years, the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 have controlled the market. While Nintendo’s Wii sat on the sidelines, appealing to a more general crowd, Sony and Microsoft pushed towards a more “dedicated” approach to gaming. And so, after so long, it’s time for the new.

With a different design and different technological specs, it’s better than ever. Graphically speaking, it’s nothing but pure eye candy. Oh man, oh man, I cannot emphasize that enough. People have a tendency to say that graphics aren’t a big deal when it comes to games. That gameplay is all that matters. Which, to some extent, is true. Gameplay is what makes a game a game. But gameplay can only change so much over time. It is composed of ideas and algorithms that mostly stay the same.

Graphics, on the other hand, have changed so much in just the past 10 years. We used to see heads in the shape of flat diamonds, textures that looked like colorized white noise. Now? It’s borderline real. For example, seeing images from Metal Gear Solid V makes me think, how much further can we go? I grew up with the progression of visual technology and even I’m astounded at how far it’s come.

Going back to speaking of gameplay, the Playstation 4 has a new line of titles that don’t quite blow my mind. Typically, games that come with the release of a new console – the first lineup – are never the best. However, that’s probably due to the fact that most of them happen to be sequels of the previous generation. Oh well. In time, they’ll come to prove themselves.

In time, everything will be absolutely amazing. As for now? One of the launch titles is this cute adventure called “Knack”. It’s essentially trying to emulate the Pixar quality of being cute and cartoony. But it doesn’t quite add up to being an astonishingly great title, as it’s short and typical. At least it’s cute and pretty.

As for my major, major, MAJOR gripe: The Playstation 4 is NOT backwards compatible. I HATE THAT. It’s a marketing scheme by game companies to make more money. It’s absolute crap. What backwards compatibility is, is the ability to play (for instance) a Playstation 2 game on a Playstation 4. In order for that to work, you’d have to repurchase the title on the Playstation Store and download/install it to the system.

It’s an absolute waste of money if you actually have the game already. In a perfect world, all consoles would be backwards compatible. But, in my opinion, the best approach to this would be the ability to at least read the disc and provide a free download to the system. Or a discount at least. It’s so stupid.

As for everything else? It’s great. Fantastic. Sony did a great job with the Playstation 4. It’s improved its social features tremendously. You can stream your gameplay from your console. You can use Facebook from your console. And with the new Share button right in the middle of the controller, it’s literally as easy with the click of a button.

The next generation has arrived. And it’s only going to get better from here. I can only hope you’re as excited as I am.

Neil Kristjansson's "Menifee Plugged In" column appears each Monday. He writes about two things of interest to most of the younger generation -- music and electronic gaming. He welcomes your comments here or though email at

Man About Menifee: Cub Scouts Make Food Drive a Success

By David Baker

I was walking my dogs the other day and I started contemplating the similarities and differences between the canine species and the human species. We're both pack animals hardwired to respond well within a structured family unit. We'll both protect our families if we have to. And some of us really like to get our belly rubbed.

Certainly there's a world of difference between us, though. Arguably one of the biggest differences separating humans from the animal kingdom is the concept of altruism. Of course for my kids it's not always the easiest concept to grasp, but I do my best to teach to them anyway.

Some people will tell you that altruism, or caring for those who are having a hard time caring for themselves, comes from a religious aspect. Others would say it's purely logical, a highly effective way to propagate the species. Whatever your position, most people would agree that it is a good thing.

This past weekend, the Cub Scouts of Pack 374 showed off their altruism and collected food for the Menifee Valley Community Cupboard in front of Ralph's Grocery on Antelope Road. The effort was part of a nationwide program called Scouting for Food.

Denise Boring, a den leader with the Pack, was also the Scouting for Food chairperson this year.

"We did over 1,100 pounds of food last year, so I figured we'd set the bar a little higher with a goal of 1,500 pounds," she said.

In true form, Jeremiah was out there assisting in helping on Saturday afternoon immediately following the Menifee Veterans Day 5K run.

As shoppers entered the store, the boys would hand out fliers explaining the kind of food they were looking for. Many people participated. Some people gave a few canned goods while others donated entire shopping carts full of food. The true spirit of the holiday season was in the air.

After all the food was collected and weighed, the Pack pulled in a whopping 2,228 pounds of food. Not only did the Pack double its contribution from last year, but it topped the contributions of every other pack in the district. Of course the purpose of this exercise was not to compete with anyone except to say that the boys did their best to make it better than they did last year.

It is still nice to show the boys something huge and tangible that came from their efforts. And a pat on the back doesn't hur,t either. I’m a proud father; it’s my right.

At Tuesday's scout meeting, the boys posed for a photograph with the Menifee Valley Community Cupboard banner, showing their enthusiasm for the cause. What causes do you support this time of year? Comment below and let us know.

David Baker, our Man About Menifee, writes about his adventures in and around town every Friday in this space. You may leave comments for him here or email him at

Menifee Mom: Remember the Good You See in Your Kids

By Karen Thomas

Watching someone else evaluate your kid is an interesting experience. As parents, we naturally want to defend our kid and stand up for them when someone else may be putting them down. But when your kid is trying out for a soccer team, all you can do is stand there and watch it happen.

This past week, two of my girls decided to try out for a team with AYSO. Many of their friends have chosen to join club teams, but frankly I much prefer the cost and convenience of a Menifee AYSO team! So, really, this is their one shot at joining a competitive team each year.

I've actually already had two girls on these competitive teams for the past two years, so the tryout routine isn't new to our family.

I have to say, though, that with my younger daughter joining the ranks, the experience has been different. My other girls were a bit older for their first evaluation and, having not had anyone else in the family play on the team, they felt less pressure. This younger daughter has been watching her sisters play competitive soccer for two years and she has entered this wanting to make the team very badly.

So this week it was her turn to try out.

The first day of tryouts, I could feel a bit of the tension in the air. My daughter played well from the start, but I could sense she was nervous. The fire wasn't there yet. I kept thinking, "Come on girl ... show them what you've got!" But soon, parents started asking who that short-haired blonde girl was, because, "She's good!" I proudly answered, "That's my daughter!"

It wasn't long before I saw the fire lit under her and she really brought her game. But you know they've been evaluating from the start and you wonder if it's enough.

Every time she did something good, I would look to the evaluators and wonder, "Did they see that?" You know they are looking for so many details and at so many kids. You just don't know how they see your kid in the mix of all that!

It is very hard to stand by and know that this is their shot. They may have a bad day because of the mix of kids they had to scrimmage with or because they let nerves get the best of them. (Especially when they want it so badly.) You just want to send a subliminal message to the evaluators and say, "My kid is awesome ... if only you could come watch her in a game ... or talk to her coach ... you would see what a star she is!" or "Do you know how much this girl wants this?"

However, that's just not how it works. You've got to work with the system in place and hope that your child shines at all the right moments.

I think parents feel that way a lot with their kids, whether it's in sports or school or just in life. We see all these amazing things about them, but sometimes worry if their teachers or their peers are seeing it, too. We worry if they are being judged unfairly in a situation or if others are given an unfair advantage due to different circumstances.

In the end, all we can do is the best we can, given the hand we're dealt. If the outcome isn't what we want, like we don't make the soccer team, then we dust ourselves off and keep trying. You only lose if you quit trying.

Most of all, always let your kids hear from YOU the good you see in them, because they may not hear it anywhere else.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.

Menifee Foodie: One of the Great Things to Do With Apples

By Malissa Meeks

When I was a little girl, there was only one way that I would eat apples. My grandpa Boppo would take out his pocketknife and peel an apple for me. He would cut it into small slices and we would enjoy this crisp, red apple together.

Boppo would tell me that I was the apple of his eye. As a small child, I really did not know what he meant and I remember looking deep into his eyes, trying to find that apple. Boppo is gone and what I have are memories of those precious moments spent with my Boppo. Apples have never tasted as good as when he would slice them up for me.

I am out of state right now and the other day I drove past a picture perfect red barn selling nothing but freshly picked apples. I could not resist stopping and picking up a bag of apples. They are delicious. I have had so much fun trying new recipes as well as making some old never-fail recipes with these apples. I made a delicious apple crisp with that fabulous oatmeal crumb topping. I fell in love with my new recipe choice.

I made Salted Carmel Apple Hand Pies. This crust is so amazingly delicious. It is flaky and light. This is the kind of treat you and your family will not be able to get enough of.

Salted Caramel Apple Hand Pies


2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
½ cup cold sour cream

2 cups small diced (peeled) apples
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
8 caramels rough chopped

Crust: Mix together all dry ingredients. Cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly. Add sour cream. Form a ball with the dough. I had to add a few drops of cold water to give the mixture more moisture. Handle crust as little as possible. The more your handle pie crust, the tougher the crust gets.

Filling: Put diced apples into bowl. Don’t cut them too small; you want to bite into them and not have mush. Mix lemon juice on apples. Add the remaining ingredients and toss until all apples are covered with the spices.

Roll out crust and cut into circles. I like them a little on the large side but still small enough to hold in your hand. You will need to cut 2 circles for each pie. I was able to get 12 pies total out of my crust.

Put bottom circles on baking pan. Spoon apple mixture on top, leaving enough room to put the top crust on and seal. Make sure each pie gets some caramels.

Put crust on top. Seal the edges by going around each pie with your fork prongs.

Make a slit in the top of each pie.

Make an egg wash by mixing together 1 beaten egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush this on top of each pie.

Sprinkle the top of each pie with large flake sea salt. Don’t go overboard on this. If you don’t like the sea salt, you could use sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Bake until golden brown.

This recipe is so tasty. I guarantee your family will love these little gems.


Malissa Meeks is a mother of seven who knows her way around the kitchen. By her estimate, she has prepared more than 42,000 meals over the years. She also knows what she likes in a good restaurant. Her column appears here every Tuesday. Leave comments here or email them to

Menifee Plugged In: Nine Inch Nails Rocks Staples Center

By Neil Kristjansson

Nine Inch Nails made their way to southern California Friday night, headlining a show at the Staples Center for their tour, Tension 2013.

The night started with post-rock band Explosions in the Sky (most famously known for their song "Your Hand In Mine", which they happened to play, and it was great). It blew me away; I’d never seen an opening act that put that much passion into, well, opening for another band.

Unfortunately, because of their role in the show, people felt it was OK to sit around, eating their food and drinking their beers, discussing the most trivial nonsense anybody could have heard. I mean, this guy behind me was yelling, over the music, to his friend about the long line at Hooters and how he didn’t want to wait around to get in.

Oh, it drove me nuts. Luckily, they quieted down toward the end of Explosions in the Sky’s set and I could finally enjoy the ambient sounds.

Afterwards, the lights re-dimmed and the faint bubbling of a poppy-sounding synthesizer stirred the crowd. Everyone was going wild. No more than 10 seconds later, the show had begun.

Nine Inch Nails began with the second single off their new record Hesitation Marks, “Copy of A”. The whole room was dancing, the lights were flashing, and the quality of everything was amazing. Besides being just a tour of concert after concert, Nine Inch Nails has decided to create quite the spectacle by turning the typical show into an absolutely stunning light display uniquely from song to song.

I’ve been to quite a few concerts and I can honestly say this was the best one I’d been to yet.
I’d gone in without much anticipation for hearing the songs I was hoping for. I understood that the Tension 2013 tour was more about promoting the new album with a dash of older hits. From my research, my favorite tracks off the new record had made themselves scarce, only appearing from time to time on separate occasions. But I was in for quite a treat.

Halfway into the set, I heard a familiar bass and chiming noise, indicating the intro to the track “Various Methods of Escape”. I lost it. I couldn’t believe my ears, but I had to. It was really happening. Just a few tracks down the list, I caught a drone I’d heard a million times before. “In Two” was about to begin, and by now I was about as excited as a kid in a candy store.

And even then, just in between those two songs were at least three more that I wasn’t expecting to catch. But I did. Up until this point, everything was absolutely perfect. Nothing was wrong, and nothing could get better than it already as. But I was wrong. So, so, so wrong.

It wasn’t until I heard my favorite song of all time that I knew this was a special night. You know, one of those nights where the right song comes on at the right time. When something’s going on and there’s just that one track that tugs at your heart string and lets you come back to feeling OK. Yeah, it was that kind of moment.

My favorite song, “A Warm Place”, came seemingly out of nowhere, like the calm of a storm. So peaceful, so serene, so happy, yet so melancholy. The moment had transcended beyond just the band I was listening to performing a song I liked. It was a break. A break from the intensity of the lights before it, the sounds before it, and even as much as the events of my week before it.

The importance of the song had gone beyond the usual listen, seeing as I was standing before the man who’d created it, hearing it being performed right in front of me. It was special.

Following my three-minute, teary-eyed “moment”, the band continued with the hits. The big names, you know, “Wish”, “The Hand That Feeds”, “Head Like a Hole”. The songs that would get the lazy, not-so-big fans back up and dancing. The only way to describe the room was just a giant, collective smile that wanted to scream along to the words that it knew. For songs that are so aligned with angst and anger, everybody was really happy to hear it.

And suddenly, a screen appeared with the band’s logo “NIN”. It appeared as if they’d walked off stage, but we all knew it wasn’t true. The encore was yet to come.

They returned to play a final six songs. Everybody was really surprised to hear the return of two lesser-known songs: "Even Deeper" off The Fragile and “In This Twilight” off Year Zero. The very last song, the traditional song for all Nine Inch Nails shows, the one song that a room full of heavy to casual fans would know, and would sing, began. The haunting sound of an acoustic guitar, and the even more-so haunting lines “I hurt myself today”, resonated through the room as the crowd chanted alongside Trent Reznor to his, arguably, most famous song, “Hurt”.

I can’t describe the emotions going through the room. The show was nearly two hours long, and it had come down to this moment. It was like catching the final episode to a television show you’d been following for a long time. You didn’t want it to end, but there was this level of acceptance that told you it had to.

The room was filled with this sense of sadness emanating from thousands of fans all singing the same words that seemed to bounce back and forth from person to person. You look to your left, somebody’s on the verge of tears; to your right, the same thing. It only intensified the emotions I’d felt, and everybody else around me.

“If I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way”. And boom. Dissonance, noise, a fading wail of a guitar, and a wave goodbye from the band. The show was over.

Frisson. A word used to describe that chill of excitement that runs down your spine when you listen to music. That’s all I can really say to describe it. All of it. I laughed, I cried, I danced – I did it all here. Hopefully, somewhere down the line, they will tour again. Or maybe another band will come along and surpass it. Who knows?

I can only say that I have never been so blown away by a group of musicians than I was Friday night.

Neil Kristjansson's "Menifee Plugged In" column appears each Monday. He writes about two things of interest to most of the younger generation -- music and electronic gaming. He welcomes your comments here or though email at