What's Up, Doc? Well, Here's Some Teaching Resources

By Randall Freeman, PhD

Right about now, parents and caregivers are wondering how to successfully help their children with their learning in school. You may feel a bit out of sorts, especially with some new terms and phrases being bandied about. Like Common Core, Extended Learning, etc.

A few years ago, I created a website to help everybody – teachers, parents/caregivers, students – to access the enormous number of educational resources that are available on the Internet. There are so many resources; you may not know where to even begin looking for them.

My website, titled Dr. Freeman’s Educational Site (I know, not much creative thought here), is located at http://drfreeman.webs.com/. I have regularly updated it in order to simplify helping you with your child’s learning. There are sections for teacher, parents, and students.

Hopefully, this column will help you to begin easily navigating your way through my website.
On the main page, there is a yellow pull-down menu at the top. Parents, click on MORE and you will see 4 STUDENTS and TEACHERS & PARENTS. These are the most critical sections for you to assist your child and you with easing learning. There are numerous links to assist you in simplifying your life. Think of these links as your Yellow Pages® to online educational resources.

I have divided the links by subject area and – hopefully – by age groups. These links should assist you in your search for learning and practice.

There are also links to special needs issues, including autism and the like. These links will enlighten you on what families of special needs children deal with on a daily basis. They will increase awareness for us all.

There is a section on the Common Core State Standards. I am not here to attempt to convince anybody to accept or reject these standards. I believe that the majority of us have already made up our minds about CCSS. The fact is that the Common Core State Standards are now required in all public school districts in California, so I am providing (objective) information about CCSS. Check out the links for the benefit of your child and yourself in understanding what they are and are not.

In teaching the CCSS, a particular link is very useful for understanding by both teachers and parents/caregivers. The link is www.teachingchannel.com. It is located under the heading TOP WEBSITES 4 TEACHERS and is the second link from the top. The Teaching Channel provides short tutorial videos for each CCSS standard and is clearly marked as such.

My intention for this column and my website is to make everybody’s job just a little easier. Regarding Common Core, I am refraining from an opinion piece on it, simply providing you with the resources to understand it and how to make your child’s learning somewhat simpler. Even if you vehemently disagree with Common Core, it is good to know your enemy. It is the law for public schools as of now.

Randy Freeman and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, and 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, and Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.








Menifee Mom: Parents, Give Common Core a Chance

By Karen Thomas

Common Core seems to be the buzzword these days. With the school year in full swing and this being the first year of full implementation of Common Core at our schools in Menifee, it's a good time to share my first impressions, at least in the theory behind it.

How it comes through in implementation, I admit, is a different story. Though I'm no expert, I have done some research on the subject to know how it will affect my kids.

When I entered my freshman year of high school (like my daughter this year), my class became the "guinea pigs" for testing an education reform centering on "Outcome Based Education" that was supposed to take over in Oregon. With that program, it seemed that core curriculum was thrown out the window and instead teachers were supposed to focus on developing qualities in the students.

For four years, the focus was on ensuring we became things such as Effective Communicators, Quality Producers, and Collaborative Contributors. The idea was that there is such a vast amount of ever changing information out there, it is better to teach kids how to learn for themselves instead of trying to pack information into their heads.

It was a big change. Having experienced that, I have a different perspective than many on what happens when change hits our schools.

One very positive aspect of Common Core is that there will be uniformity of standards among different states in our country. We have had many opportunities to move, and each time I have looked in depth at the test scores as well as standards taught at different schools in different states. I can verify that California has had the highest standards of all places I've researched.

When No Child Left Behind compared the performance of different states, they weren't comparing apples to apples. Each state set its own timeline for when standards were taught and wrote its own tests to align with that. So, when we were testing our third graders on multiplication, other states were waiting until fourth grade.

Not only does this create an impossible situation to compare states' performances, but it makes it difficult for families who move around. Their child may either repeat a good part of a year's worth of curriculum, or find themselves behind, depending on where they are going.

But let's get to the meat of the issue -- the change in curriculum. It is clear that in some ways there are fewer standards the kids have to learn. However, the idea is that those standards will be taught more in depth so that they are actually understood. Gone will be the days of blindly following math formulas, for example. Instead, the kids will learn why the formula works and how to apply it to real life situations.

Similar to the Outcome Based Education I experienced, Common Core focuses on teaching kids to read non-fiction material, make sense of it, and do something with the knowledge they gain.

These are just a few aspects of Common Core, but they are the ones I really like. We complained a lot about the education reform I experienced in high school, but once I got to college, I did see the value in what we did. I knew how to find and understand information in textbooks and research journals in the library. I knew how to work independently as well as with a group. I could use my research and put together a presentation appropriate for a lay audience or a professional one.

What excites me about Common Core is that the goal is to develop these skills and qualities in our kids that will help them be successful in college and/or career, but it doesn't throw core standards out the window. The ABC's and 123's and everything else on up will still be taught. They are not getting rid of the standards, they are just making them common among the states.

The big complaint I hear is that the government is brainwashing our children. However, the federal government doesn't write the curriculum and they aren't the ones deciding how those standards will be taught. That is done at the local and state level. Common Core simply outlines what the standards need to be.

I know that there are a lot of challenges with Common Core. I think that our kids and teachers will struggle as we transition. It will be difficult to change their mindset with math, for example, that they can't just crunch numbers but they have to understand the concepts behind the number crunching.

I will say that I did very well in math and tutored a lot of my friends in high school, but I never fully understood it. Some would ask, "Why does that work?" and I would say, "I don't know, but it does. Just follow the steps."

Our country has been far behind others in our academic performance. We've also looked at moving abroad, and I can tell you the direction Common Core takes us is in line with the rest of the world. I even discovered recently that new versions of the SAT and ACT college entrance exams are being released that align with Common Core.

Will there be bumps in the road? Yes. Will our kids complain? Most certainly. Will we as parents get confused when they show us their math homework? Probably. I hope that doesn't all mean we will throw in the towel.

There will be changes to Common Core and tweaking that needs to take place, that is expected and part of any program, whether it be in education or the corporate world. But I do think the concepts at the heart of this change are good and needed.

Our job as parents is to support our kids and help them through this transition year. I can tell you from experience, when parents protest, it only makes the kids struggle more and mentally give up. So let our communication be that of cooperation and partnership with our schools, working to find solutions so that we can work together to make this successful and make our kids the best students in the world.

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 other week. Comments are welcome.





What's Up, Doc? Lessons Learned from 'Star Trek' Series

By Randall Freeman, PhD

“Space, the final frontier…”

I was barely 11 years old when Star Trek first came to television. In the original three-year run, the starship Enterprise and her crew encountered many new life forms and met dozens of new civilizations. She also addressed many of the serious social and political issues of the 1960s.

William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Nichelle Nichols’ Lieutenant Uhura shared TV’s first interracial kiss in the 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”. It followed by mere months the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It ironically appeared on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1968.

Star Trek did not shy away from important issues of any kind. The Vulcan philosophy of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) was also introduced in 1968’s “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” The idea that people gathered together to accomplish a goal was greater than whatever goals could possibly be achieved on an individual basis was another breakthrough for television of the time. We Terrans can learn a lot from other civilizations if we allow ourselves to listen and observe with an open mind. We are greater together than apart.

As an impressionable 11-year-old boy, I became engrossed in Star Trek. I thought at the time that I was simply watching an outer space show. Upon reflection, I realized that it was much more than that.

Star Trek helped me to realize that prejudice was ridiculous. The episode “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” showed me the insanity of judging people on appearance only. The entire planet of Cheron destroyed itself because the people who were white on the left side of their face and the people who were white on the right side of their face could not or would not accept these tiny differences in appearance.

There were many more such examples. I learned to realize what my own strengths and weaknesses were and to build upon my strengths while striving to strengthen my weaknesses. I came to realize that guiding young people into realizing their own potential was what my life needed to be directed toward. It took some time, but I came to accept and embrace that I was meant to be a teacher.

As a teacher of young children, teaching the curriculum is only a part of my job. Assisting the children to work toward what they aspired to be was another critically important part of my job. I should make it clear that it is not what I think they should be or what the family believes they should do, but what THEY want for their lives.

Individuals need to decide for themselves what they will do with their future. For those who love and support them, our job is to guide them along their path. Every person has a different path.

This is for me the essence of Star Trek’s message: Boldly Go Where You are Meant to Go. There is no Final Frontier.

Beam me up, Scotty.

Randy Freeman and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, and 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, and Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.




Menifee Mom: The Cat Wars Haven't Gotten Any Easier

By Karen Thomas

For the past few months, I've been trying to pretend I didn't see the clumps of cat hair collecting around my yard. It is a sure sign that it is time to shave the cat again, but I was not feeling up to the task. However, after my kids begin to insist that we get it done, I gave in.

I wrote about my cat shaving experience last year, and this one wasn't much better. However, the kids are now a year older. Let me just say, older doesn't always mean more helpful.

The youngest two children were the only ones naive enough to volunteer to help. I got out all the necessary equipment: Long protective gloves and electric pet clippers. My kids thought a cat treat would be good, because that works for the dog. I don't really keep cat treats around, so they thought a can of tuna fish would be just right.

Picture this for a moment: A mom and a first and fifth grader armed with long gloves, a razor, and an open can of tuna, staring down one large unhappy cat with a look that says, "Don't even think about it."

So we began.

It started out OK. He ate some tuna while I began working on his back. The closer I got to his tail and stomach, though, the more agitated he got. Soon a deep growl began in his throat. The cat made it clear that he was NOT happy! I told my fifth grader to grab the cat by the scruff of the neck and lift it in the air so I could finish working his belly.

She grabbed the cat and somewhat succeeded in lifting him. The growling was joined by hissing. The youngest child grabbed the tuna and held it up to his face (while he was hanging in the air), saying, "Here Shadow, want a treat?"

The cat began to twist and squirm, the youngest was chasing his moving head with the tuna can, while the older child was struggling to keep a grip on him. All the while, I was trying to shave a matted area on his belly.

The cat was winning.

I announced, "I think the cat needs a break for a minute." (Really, I needed a break for a minute.)
Despite the gloves, I had sustained a few good scratches and it was time to call in back-up.
Enter the 12-year-old. She is a bit tougher and has a secret desire to show this cat who's boss.

She succeeded in holding him a bit more firmly. The youngest came back out and continued to try to calm him with tuna. Finally, I told her the cat would enjoy the tuna so much more if she waited until we were done. That seemed to make sense and the can disappeared. She was content to observe for now.

Soon the youngest said, "Look, he has one ear up and one ear down. That means something! I have a book that will help us. Let me get it!"

Before I knew it, she stuck a book right between me and the cat and was reading to me the part about cat body language.

"See mom, it says right here that...."

This would be great, if I wasn't currently trying to wrestle a cat with an electric razor! At that point, there was no mystery how the cat was feeling or how I was feeling, for that matter!
Finally, I raised the white flag and called a truce.

The cat looked somewhat like he had gotten hit by a lawnmower, but he had begun to spray us with his stench and I was done fighting.

The cat escaped outside the first chance he got. I imagine him getting picked on by all the neighborhood cats. The thought makes me smile and I think, "Nope, I win!"

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 other week. Comments are welcome.






What's Up, Doc? Another Crazy, Lazy Summer Gone By

By Randall Freeman, PhD

The summer of 2014 has been a typical summer for the Freeman Family. Dad Randy is dealing with a shoulder injury suffered at work last November, when he was run over by a tricycle (insert giggle here). Sarah was installed as Honored Queen for the local Job’s Daughters Bethel, while Megan and Holly were installed as Senior and Junior Princesses, respectively.

Big sister Daniela turned 17 years old (going on 32), Mom Karen also celebrated her birthday (age not disclosed in order to live another year). For Father’s Day, I received the DVD player I requested. Now I’m watching Prime Amazon Stream Videos on my computer because the TV is taken.

For our 21st Wedding Anniversary, I attended a morning Riverside County School Board meeting, took Holly and Megan to the Lodge so they could serve the Masons as part of the Bethel fundraising efforts, and attended a water polo fundraising meeting. My lovely bride attended water polo games and took Daniela and Sarah to club water polo practice in Corona.

Happy Anniversary, Honey.

I was finally notified that I qualified for shoulder surgery. (It only took eight months for worker’s compensation to agree to what everyone else knew months ago. I understand that eight months is very quick for WC.) I was blessed to learn that surgery could go forward on Aug. 7. Nice early 59th birthday present (birthday was the 11th).

I was supposed to return to work on Aug. 8, but I didn’t quite make it. The idea of teaching kindergarten a month or more after substitute teachers trained them for me warms my soul.

Our Chinese and Spanish visitors arrived on July 17. We very much enjoy these opportunities to share our home with students from other countries. Last year, we hosted two boys and and one girl. This year it was easy -- only two girls.

Daniela was in the Junior Olympics for water polo in San Jose. Mom Karen escaped – er, went with her -- as parental support. Everybody else stayed home with Dad.

No getaway trip to Phoenix this year. I missed the 118-degree temperatures. I missed turning the AC in the suite down to 63 degrees to take a nap while Karen and the girls enjoyed the eight swimming pools. Maybe next year.

All in all, it was a typical Freeman Family summer – six teenage girls (including our visitors from China and Spain for three weeks), three dogs, a 16-year-old cat who believes she owns me (she does -- 15 years of training worked wonders), and a turtle.

The summer has included the occasional school board meeting, trying not to kill the lawn, and watching all five seasons of "Eureka" in one month. Now when do I get to go back to teaching kindergarten?

Randy Freeman and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, and 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, and Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.









Menifee Mom: Lessons Learned About Art, Culture

By Karen Thomas

While academics and sports take up a lot of our family's spare time, I do attempt to help my kids be well-rounded in other areas. So this week a trip to the Los Angeles Museum of Art was on our agenda.

We briefly visited LACMA many years ago and the kids couldn't remember a thing about it. The main thing I remembered was an exhibit with art featuring different colors of florescent lights. I didn't get it. I knew, however, there was a lot more to discover there.

Our visit started at the children's museum, which is basically a place where the kids could draw and paint. It was very relaxing and my girls enjoyed it; well, except for one child. She got frustrated and claimed that her painting was "horrible." Despite my encouraging words, she threw them away. The others left theirs out to dry while we explored.

At first, we saw mostly relics from Asia in years gone by: Pottery, china, furniture, etc. But then we hit the Ahmanson building and were wowed by the modern art exhibits. The kids couldn't believe a blue triangle was art and got a kick out the flying SPAM can.

The next room brought abstract art: Paint splatters and all. "I could do that!" one of them shouted as I quickly told them to remember their museum manners. Soon we came upon a room full of Picasso's artwork. I've always been entertained by his art, but my girls just thought it was plain weird. We took a seat and I asked them to look around and pick which was their favorite. This got them to actually study the works a bit instead of passing them off as strange.

Soon we were enjoying works by Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and more. We talked about the different styles of painting, the use of dots or lines, light and shadow, depth and perspective. Well, I talked about it and they politely listened. While they weren't completely intrigued, they did show some interest in the various styles and commented about what they liked and didn't like.

Next we took a look at contemporary art that seemed to break all the rules. Most were not paintings, but large three dimensional structures.

I wasn't sure what my kids thought of our visit to the museum until late in the day, when we stopped at a library and gift shop. My older girls started reading through books about some of the artists and styles we had seen. The younger ones looked at postcard prints of the more famous works. I asked them which of the artwork we saw was their favorite. I was amazed when they could not only tell me which one they liked, but why.

We still had some time before we had to go home, so I let them paint one more time. I encouraged them to try out one of the different styles of art we had seen. My oldest ones went for the impressionism styles. I think the idea that that their art didn't have to look perfect was freeing for them. Realizing art didn't have to look like a photograph, the child who had thrown her previous paintings away made not only one, but two paintings, and was quite proud of them.

People sometimes wonder why we should make an effort to be "cultured." I always felt like it gave us a greater perspective on life in general and made us more interesting people. After watching the effect a few hours at an art museum had on just one of my children, however, I think it is so much more than that. Taking time to give our kids cultural experiences can teach our children to appreciate the differences that exist among us and that it's OK to try your own thing.

Whether it's artists daring to paint outside the lines or pilgrims willing to leave everything behind and settle a new country, it's people willing to break the mold and do something creative or stand for something different that brings about growth in our society. Sometimes the hardest lessons for kids (and adults) to learn is that they don't have to be exactly like everyone else. It really is OK to be different.

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 other week. Comments are welcome.






What's Up, Doc? Remember the Role of a Teacher

By Randall Freeman, PhD

What is a teacher?

A teacher is a caregiver for all students, not just those in his/her classroom. A teacher is a counselor, listening to the desires and concerns of his or her students. A teacher is a custodian, responsible for the cleanliness and constant care of his or her classroom.

A teacher is an interior decorator, assigned to regularly set up, arrange, and rearrange the classroom for 180 days. A teacher is an accountant, required to daily grade and post student grades to the online gradebook. A teacher is a listener, listening to parents and guardians express concerns and anguish over their children’s’ behavior and work. Sometimes teachers even receive praise.

A teacher spends more time with his or her students while they’re awake than anybody else in the students’ lives. That's an average of six hours a day. The parents may spend 3-4 hours with the children while they’re awake. Most people don’t think about this fact and the resulting importance in each child’s life.

As a teacher of very young children, I am regularly identified with the primary caregiver. I have been called mom, grandpa, - even grandma! The importance of a teacher in a child’s life cannot be overstated. A teacher is a primary role model for 30-180 students on a daily basis.

In high school, teachers play very important roles in the lives of their students. Teachers lend an ear to the unique issues and concerns of teenage students when the students feel uncomfortable in speaking with their parents. Teachers guide them toward helpful resources. They do not judge their students.

A teacher is a nurse. A teacher provides immediate basic first aid – usually a Band-Aid – and secures the health technician when the need is greater. A teacher provides comfort when feelings are hurt and counsel when a student strays from the path of righteousness.

A teacher is a lawgiver, guiding his or her students in creating a code of conduct for the class to follow. The rewards and consequences are also created and discussed so that all might understand behavioral expectations. The teacher models the proper behavior.

A teacher always demonstrates respect and caring toward and in front of his or her students. Parents, administrators, and other students come into daily contact with the teacher. The teacher is always "on". Students watch what the teacher does more than what he or she says.

Mostly, a teacher is human. Humans make and learn from making mistakes. Demands are made of teachers from students, parents, and administrators that do not allow for mistakes. Teachers are held to a higher standard, one that is impossible to maintain indefinitely.

Keep the above on your refrigerator and reread it occasionally. Remember what your child’s teacher is responsible for and appreciate the job they do. To a teacher, teaching is not just a job, it is a way of life.

Randy Freeman and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, and 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, and Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.




In the Wild With Jackie: Leapin' Lizards, It's the Blue Belly!

By Jackie Johansen

This time of year, Menifee is just crawling with lizards!

These quick-footed animals can catch you off-guard sometimes, but they are great for your garden. They are often seen basking in the sun, where they absorb heat, and can often be seen doing something that can only be compared to human push-ups. This motion is done for the same reasons that that some humans do push-ups: To show their strength and to attract mates.

This display marks their territory and warns other lizards to stay out. If you ever get a chance to observe these push-ups, you might think that the lizard is trying to threaten you, but there is a better chance that there is another lizard lurking around that you didn’t even notice.

What lizards have you seen in Menifee? The most common type is formally called the “Western Fence Lizard,” also known as the “blue belly.” These names suit this species well because they are often found basking in the sun on rock walls or on fences, and can also be seen running up your stucco.

If you happen to be brave enough to pick up one of these lizards, you will find that their ventral side (the underneath) is brightly colored with blue stripes on either side -- hence the nickname of “blue belly.”

Blue belly lizards are also small medical miracles. These lizards create a protein that kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. This bacterium is carried in the gut of the western black-legged tick. When the tick bites onto and stays attached to a human for a few days, the bacteria is transferred to the human.

If an infected tick bites and attaches to the blue belly lizard, the protein from the blood of the lizard is transferred to the gut of the tick, and the tick is actually healed from the bacteria, and is no longer a carrier of Lyme disease. This amazing feature is still not fully understood, but is likely the reason California has had a much lower occurrence of Lyme disease than in eastern states.

What animals have you seen in Menifee lately?

Jackie Johansen loves everything outdoors and spending time with her husband and kids. She teaches high school biology for Julian Charter School and holds degrees in zoology, conservation biology, education, and technology. Her "In the Wild" column will appear here once a month.




What's Up, Doc? The Road to Kindergarten Class

By Randall Freeman, PhD

I didn't set out to become a teacher. As a 9-year-old altar boy, I was determined to become a priest. At the age of 10, I discovered girls. Scratch that idea.

By the age of 12, I decided that I was going to be the next Perry Mason. Grades and reality set in. By this time, I was in the middle of my senior year of college. It would have been foolish to change my political science major at that point, so I completed my undergraduate degree.

Having completed college, I now had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. It took another decade to realize that some Supreme Being was directing me to becoming a teacher. So, after 11 years of drifting, I went back to school and earned my teaching credential at UC Riverside.

By now, I had decided that I would teach fifth grade until I died. Within a few short years, I realized something – girls were entering puberty in fourth grade. I did not want to deal with this situation -- ever. (Reread my previous column to see how that turned out.)

About this time, another teacher wanted to loop to first grade with her kindergarten students. She talked me into taking her kindergarten spot so she could do so. (You see how well I was being trained to deal with females; say OK and keep my mouth shut.)

So I became a kindergarten teacher. Well, technically, I became a teacher who was assigned to kindergarten. It took me a long time before I felt I could call myself a kindergarten teacher. The first month, I caught the stomach flu from one of my students. The experience taught me a valuable experience – keep a certain discreet distance from the little ones to maintain good physical health.

I slept some 10 hours a night until I learned to pace myself. Fortunately, I was single at the time. Didn't last very long, though.

My second year as a kindergarten teacher, I met Karen. Karen was a real kindergarten teacher while I was still very much a novice. I must explain that it was not because we were kindergarten teachers that I met the love of my life. Our district teachers’ unions were holding a combined training for building reps. This was Karen’s first experience as a rep; in fact, it was the first thing she ever did as a site rep. It was kismet.

Over the years, I have bounced back and forth between kindergarten and first grade. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up earning my doctorate in Early Childhood Education. I would never have imagined any of this when I was a kid or even in school the first time around.

If not for becoming a teacher, I would never have met Karen. I never would have become the father of four beautiful daughters (thank God they take after their mother in that respect). I likely would never have ended up in a place called Menifee. Strange how life turns out.

Randy Freeman and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, and 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, and Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.






Menifee Mom: Family Togetherness, In the Pool and Out

By Karen Thomas

After enduring eight hot Menifee summers, we finally put in a pool!

The reasons for waiting were many: Cost, housing market crash, safety with toddlers in the house, maintenance, etc. Everything finally came together last fall and we decided to go for it.

Putting in the pool was quite an adventure, but it was worth it. My kids have their friends over more, which I honestly do enjoy, and we've already created some great family memories.

The first pool party we had brought some older teenage boys into the pool, along with their crazy acrobatic flips. My husband and I were quite impressed and, after everyone had gone home, thought we'd like to try it out.

Our kids can bear witness that our first attempts were not pretty. My husband said that I looked like Superman crash landing into the water and his attempts displayed some pretty nice back flops! By the time we were done practicing, we pretty much conceded that we weren't as young as we used to be and that the tricks are best left to the teenagers. Our backs hurt, our necks hurt, and our egos were a little bruised as well.

Our kids, on the other hand, enjoyed seeing mom and dad making a fool of themselves and fail at something. We all shared a good laugh together, but more importantly, our kids realized that it's OK to try and fail. Hopefully it will give them a little more confidence to try out something new the next time they get the opportunity.

They haven't quite attempted the flips yet; they're having too much fun teasing us, but I know they will.

The family environment is such a great opportunity for learning and growth. We can try new things, share experiences together, and know that no matter what the outcome, we will still be loved and accepted. Our lives are so full and busy, it's nice to have something that brings everyone together and causes us to slow down and just relax.

You don't have to have a pool to enjoy family togetherness. Something as simple as cooking dinner together and then sitting down to eat as a family can bring wonderful memories and opportunities to share life's ups and downs. (My kids love to remind me of the time I set the French bread on fire in the oven!)

What matters is that you find something you can enjoy together that lets you slow down, relax, and just be yourself. We all need a safe place where we can leave the world behind and do just that.

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 other week. Comments are welcome.





What's Up, Doc? New Columnist Remembers Big Event

Editor's note: This is the first entry in a new column by Menifee resident Randy Freeman. Randy and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, & 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, & Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.



By Randy Freeman

Without a doubt, the most difficult job in the world is raising a family. Being a parent is a 24/7 position, entered into without any prior training or experience. It is strictly on-the-job training.

My oldest daughter was born when I was 41 years old. The change in our lives was immediate and drastic. Overnight, our lives were completely rearranged. I enjoyed Daniela immensely and I learned to sleep in short spurts in a space barely able to accommodate my body. I learned why kidneys were named kidneys. Kid’s knees were firmly planted in my back when I wished to sleep.

Eventually, I began to get the hang of it. God must have thought so, because my wife became pregnant again. She had informed me from the beginning that the first two pregnancies were "on her" but afterward it would be up to me if I wanted more children.

She never should have said that. At seven weeks, she came home from the doctor and wordlessly handed me a small blue bag. I must have looked puzzled because her next words were, "We have to move and you can’t go to Grand Lodge!"

I was no more understanding than I had been when she handed me the bag. I looked in the bag and saw three baby rattles. Okay, I was dense; I still lacked understanding. I looked at Karen with that husbandly puzzled look on my face. She finally spoke the words that brought understanding – and shock.

"I’m pregnant with triplets."

No response.

She stared at me. "We’re having three babies."

OK, now I got it. I didn’t move for about a good 10 minutes. When I found my voice, I kind of gurgled a bit. Karen reiterated the news that we were having three babies – at the same time.

When I recovered my equilibrium, I called my mom. When she heard the news, she laughed so loud and hard that I had to hold the phone away from my ear. Karen snatched the phone from my hand and slammed it on the hook. My mom called back and apologized – to Karen.

The following month, Karen had amniocenteses administered to make certain that the babies were healthy. The argument that we had been engaged in over learning the genders of the babies was made moot. One result of an amniocentesis was learning the sex of each baby. Then followed those fateful words:

“Baby A is a girl.” I crossed my fingers.

“Baby B is a girl.” I crossed my toes. (This wasn't easy to do, as I was wearing shoes at the time.)

“Baby C is a girl.”

I had nothing left to cross. I sat down with a thud.

It sank in slowly. The great news was that all of the babies were healthy. The fateful news is that I would forever be the father of four – that’s 4 in numerals – four daughters!

I was 45 years old.






Menifee Mom: Let's Remember What We're Celebrating

By Karen Thomas

Last weekend, we got to join in on the Menifee tradition of celebrating the 4th of July, our country's Independence Day, a week early. My kids enjoyed the small town parade held before the fireworks and cheered on all the locals as they went by. Even the small amount of candy thrown brought smiles to their faces.

The best part, however, was the fireworks show. It's always a relatively low-key display, by some standards, but nice to enjoy with the kids. As a parent, I especially appreciate not having to fight crowds to get home when it's over!

Our family gathered together in our back yard to watch the fireworks and turned on some patriotic music. As we sang along to "America the Beautiful," "You're a Grand Old Flag," and "My Country 'Tis of Thee, " I couldn't help but feel appreciation to live in this great country.

Many disagree on the direction our country is headed politically, socially, or economically. Some think we're making progress, others think we're headed for doomsday. But either way, I can't help but think how lucky we are to have the freedom to disagree or to fight for change.

I hope that when the 4th of July rolls around, we instill in our kids a sense of patriotism. They may hear our criticism and complaints about things that happen, but they also need to hear about all the good things we have going for us in the USA.

From the pilgrims and the founding fathers to military men and women who serve our country, our history is rich with people who gave all they had to make our country what it is today.

As we gather together this weekend for the real 4th of July celebration, let's remember how good we have it. And with each explosion that goes off in the sky, let's think of those freedoms we enjoy and the people who made that possible.

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 other week. Comments are welcome.





Menifee Mom: There's a Way to Make Every Summer Day Count

By Karen Thomas

It's official: Summer vacation is now in full swing! With all the end of school year events, the last few weeks of school felt like a knock-down, drag-out event. Echoes of, "I can't wait for school to be over," could be heard all around town, from parents and kids alike.

The last weeks of school in my family included field trips, class parties, kindergarten graduation, 8th grade promotion, band concerts, awards ceremonies for multiple children, Jr. Olympics, eight volleyball
games (they packed those in at the end!), soccer playoffs, a piano recital, soccer team parties, and final exams. It is amazing how much we can fit in a day when we have to!

It's no wonder everyone breaths a sign of relief when that final bell rings.

With two of my kids advancing in school, that bell left me with mixed emotions. My first child will be starting high school next year and I'm realizing that I have only four short years left with her at home.

At the other end of the spectrum, my youngest is advancing into first grade. Our little kid years are pretty much gone. As much as I thought I couldn't wait for this, I am going to miss the innocence of those preschool and kindergarten years.

You know, when all the kids in the class are their friend and they can't wait to show you the picture they colored just for you. On the bright side, summer means that the kids are home and you have free time to enjoy activities with them. One of my friends likes to make a summer bucket list with her kids. They talk about all the things they'd like to do during their time off and make a poster.

This helps them focus in on things they want to do each day rather than lazily letting the days go by and finding themselves at the end of summer, realizing they didn't really accomplish anything.

I love this idea! Not a summer has passed where my high expectations of what I wanted to accomplish were not shattered. This year, I'm going to actually have a bit of a schedule each day. Nothing major, but something that will ensure we accomplish a few things and still free time to enjoy.

If we do it right, we will find that we truly enjoy the time our kids have off instead of counting the days until they are back in school again. Our summer vacations are short and the kids grow up fast, so let's be proactive and make each day count!

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 other week. Comments are welcome.






Menifee Mom: A Reminder to Count Your Blessings

By Karen Thomas

It's not uncommon to have a short encounter with someone totally change your day. We've all experienced rude drivers or shoppers who leave us more than a little irritated. But what's really amazing is how a brief conversation with a stranger can leave you with a new perspective on life.

That's what happened last weekend when I was out to dinner at Texas Roadhouse, celebrating a friend's birthday. As we waited to be seated, a woman across the restaurant caught our eye.

She was simply stunning. It wasn't the fact that she was wearing beautiful clothes or had good hair; it was the aura about her. She wasn't doing anything to draw attention to herself, yet in a busy restaurant, she stood out from everyone else.

As we walked out of the restaurant after dinner, the same woman was standing with a group outside. Again, she just stood out. A friend of mine decided that a compliment was in order. So, she introduced herself to her and explained how we had been commenting on how stunning she looked that evening.

To our surprise, the woman shared that she had just beaten cancer.

"On this side of cancer," she said, "everything in life is wonderful."

A second chance on life: That was her story.

Her comment has stayed with me all week. So often we get downtrodden by the little things: Too much to do in too little time, dirty dishes left in the family room, backpacks scattered about the house, having to wait out a four-hour window for a repair man, or being stuck in traffic.

I imagine that having a second chance at life makes you grateful to even be around to experience those things. Someone once told me to be grateful for the laundry and dishes, because it's evidence that you have a family and a home where those things can collect.

I'm thankful to have crossed paths with this cancer survivor. Her unexpected story made me realize that instead of getting annoyed by the little things in life, I need to be quick to count my blessings and be thankful I'm here to experience another day.

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 other week. Comments are welcome.






In the Wild With Jackie: Observing the Great Egret

By Jackie Johansen

Have you noticed a large, white, svelte bird standing or walking near the ponds or in the fields of Menifee? Does it seem out of place?

This bird of 40 inches was most likely hunting, and is most often found near shorelines of either fresh or salty water. The great egret has a wingspan of nearly five feet, and often lives 15 years in the wild. Great egrets have been seen in our area for several years, and hopefully are a mainstay. Their “S-Shaped” body and height make it a standout among other birds in Menifee.

Once hunted nearly to extinction for its feathers, the great egret is a beautiful and carnivorous bird. It hunts by walking slowly or standing still for long periods of time before gobbling its prey. Favorite foods of the egret include frogs and fish, but in our area, they have been observed eating mice and lizards. Their pointy beak can deliver a sharp blow to their prey, which is then swallowed whole.

During mating season, these otherwise pristine white birds will develop a patch of neon green skin near their beaks. These birds prefer to nest near water, and the males will allow the females to work on the nest, but will often be seen completing it on their own. The finished nest is made up of pliable plant material that dries into a one-foot deep, cupped shaped nest that can be three feet across.

If no tall trees near water can be found, the birds may resort to nesting on the ground or on man-made structures. The parents of the chicks are monogamous, and both parents take turns incubating the pale blue/green eggs in 3-4 day time periods. After hatching, the baby egrets can be very aggressive toward one another and, often, only the strongest survive. After about 3 ½ weeks, the babies will fledge, or leave the nest.

The impressive wingspan of the egret helps this powerful flier reach cruising speeds of 25 mph with only two wing beats per second. Occasionally, you can spot an egret swimming in the water looking for its prey, but this is a rarity.

The great egret is also the official symbol of the National Audubon Society because of the massive recovery that it experienced over time.

Have you been curious about any of Menifee’s wildlife lately? Leave your questions in the comment box.

Jackie Johansen loves everything outdoors and spending time with her husband and kids. She teaches high school biology for Julian Charter School and holds degrees in zoology, conservation biology, education, and technology. Her "In the Wild" column will appear here once a month.




Menifee Mom: A Time to Remember All the Blessings

By Karen Thomas

Mother's Day: A time to pause and think of all the things good women do for children. Whether it's their own child or not, so many women sacrifice so much of themselves for the well-being of another.

I think most of us didn't fully appreciate all our mothers did for us until we became a parent ourselves and experienced how difficult it is. Each stage of our children's lives are filled with challenges. Sometimes the only thing that gets us through it is the love we have for our kids.

I was remembering the other day how hard it was when my youngest was a baby and I had three somewhat needy elementary kids. When it was time to do homework, it seemed they all needed help at the same time. I'd go from kid to kid, answering questions, only to hear, "Mom, (the baby) is coloring on my homework!"

Sure enough, my youngest had climbed up on the table and was scribbling all over their work. I guess she saw all of us staring at those papers and was just trying to figure out what was so interesting. Or, she was trying to remove the object that was taking my attention away from her.

In a moment, she'd reach her hand out and grab the papers and have them scrunched up and torn. My attempts to pull her away from the table brought screaming and crying like only a toddler can do, further frustrating homework efforts. The next thing I'd hear was, "I can't concentrate with her crying like that!"

No need to blame dogs. In our house, the note to school sometimes read, "I'm sorry, but the baby ate her homework."

Bedtime offered different challenges. So many nights, our bedtime routine included sitting on the floor trying to lull the baby to sleep while reading bedtime stories to the older children. Of course, the baby would usually end up crying and our story would be interrupted. Instead of the picture perfect routine of tucking kids in at night, we often ended up with crying and chaos because there just weren't enough parents to handle everyone's wants at the same time.

As the kids get older the challenges don't necessarily get easier, they just change. Once they get home from school, the day often turns into a whirlwind of activity. Helping kids study for tests, buying supplies for projects, showing them how to do a Power Point presentation, studying the math book in effort to help them with a problem, consoling a kid who's had a tough day, making them dinner, or figuring out how to get four kids to four different activities that always seem to start at the same time are just a few of the things we juggle in those short hours between school and bedtime.

Yes, being a mom is a challenge. Often Dads do so much to help out, and I'm not discounting that. They too play an important role in the life of a child. But in most cases the juggling is left to the mom. Though we often get down on ourselves for our inability to be everything to everyone all the time, the efforts we make do matter. Our caring and love alone make a difference in the lives of the children around us.

I hope that last weekend we all remembered the moms in our lives, whether it was one who raised us or someone who took on that role in our life in some way. Most of us don't give them enough credit or thanks for the sacrifices they made for us or the time they took to shape us into the person we have become.

As an adult, I can look back now and say, "Thanks, Mom, for plugging away day after day, for giving up so much of yourself, for not giving up when things seemed unbearable, for doing the best you could for your kids, and for loving each of us individually."

As the mother of four girls, I haven't heard those sincere words of thanks just yet. But I do get some pretty amusing and heartfelt gifts each Mother's Day. For now, I treasure those hand prints and notes. They are enough to keep this mom juggling.

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 other week. Comments are welcome.




Menifee Foodie: Delicious Peanut Butter Pie

By Malissa Meeks

I apologize for not having a column the last few weeks. My sweet Aunt Edith, from Florida, passed away and I have been down south for her funeral, visiting with my southern family and friends, and reacquainting my taste buds with amazing southern cuisine.

Refined southern women take a lot of pride in their cooking. Most of them have their signature dishes. For my mother, it is her German Cheese Bread and her Squash Casserole. My grandmother’s signature dishes were Divinity, Fried Mush and Deviled Crab.

Aunt Edith had many signature dishes, but she was best known for her peanut butter pie. Considering that I am a peanut butter lover, it was not hard to fall in love with this pie. I have attempted making one as good as hers and even though mine turns out pretty good, having had hers, I know mine doesn’t quite measure up to hers.

I really would not put it past her to leave out a simple step just so that her pie was always superior to anyone who tried her recipe. So in honor of Aunt Edith, here is her recipe for amazing Peanut Butter Pie.

Peanut Butter Pie

3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/3 cup peanut butter
Mix with fingertips till crumbly and set aside.

Bake a pie shell and let it cool. Place the above in pie shell, saving about 2 Tbsp for top of meringue.

Filling for pie:
2/3 cup of sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3 egg yolks
3 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. melted butter

Mix dry ingredients in top of double boiler; give a good stir with whisk. Add milk. Cook over boiling water in double boiler until mixture begins to thicken, stirring often to keep filling smooth.

Add a little hot mixture to slightly beaten egg yolks. Return to hot mixture; continue cooking and keep stirring until thick. Add vanilla and butter.

Cool over ice and continue stirring with whisk while cooling to prevent crusting.

Now put it together. Pour cooled filling on top of the crumbs in shell. Top with meringue and sprinkle reserved crumbs on top.

Bake on lower rack of oven for 5 minutes or until golden brown.

If you would like to make this a chocolate peanut butter pie, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cocoa to the dry ingredients.

My mouth is watering for a piece of this deliciousness.

Cookbook Corner:

I love peanut butter and have found a really good cookbook that has a great variety of recipes using peanut butter, ranging from main dishes to desserts. The author is Pamela Barnes. She has also authored a cookbook entitled "Jams and Jellies in Less Than 30 Minutes." Her recipes are so unique and very delicious. Her cookbooks are available on amazon.com.

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 other week. Leave comments here or email them to menifee247info@gmail.com.







Menifee Mom: Easter Egg Hunt Scored Another Hit

By Karen Thomas

It was Saturday morning of the annual Menifee community Easter egg hunt. I walked through the door from my weekly group long run and found my family all still in bed. The hunt was set to start in just 45 minutes! Our spring break sleep habits were seriously encroaching on our plans for the day.

I quickly surveyed my kids: "Does anyone still want to go to the Easter egg hunt?"

The answer was a unanimous, "Yes!" (At least from the younger kids. There was one member who was a bit less enthusiastic about rushing out the door for plastic eggs.) After a scurry to get changed, gather the baskets from the attic and find some breakfast, we were in the car and on our way.

We haven't been to the Marion Ashley Community Center very often and we were pleased to see that the newly completed section of Menifee Road made it a short drive. We arrived at 10 a.m. on the dot, just when the flyer said the event would begin. However, we soon learned that the hunt didn't actually start until 10:45.

Our early arrival was not a disappointment, though, because there were several fun activities to keep the kids busy. They participated in a bean bag toss and a ring toss and won treats. My husband and I liked the idea of the bunny hop race, a version of the potato sack races we did as kids. It took A LOT of prodding, but our girls finally participated.

We enjoyed seeing the kids, young and old, try to hop down the little race track. One kid would take the lead, only to get caught up in his sack, fall down, and get passed by. Our girls all admitted it was exhausting trying to hop down the track and back, but they had fun. We enjoyed a bit of nostalgia.

The main event, the egg hunt, did not disappoint. The hunts were organized by age groups, to make it fair, and there was no shortage of eggs! For the older groups, the entire outfield was littered with eggs.

Our youngest daughter had a small section to hunt in. We remembered how last year she would pick up an egg and open it to see what was inside before gathering another egg. Needless to say, she didn't get many that year. This time she knew what to do. Running to an open area with lots of eggs, she started picking them up as fast as she could. Good thing, too, because in less than two minutes the eggs were gone.

I noticed an event worker had kept back a few eggs to give to some little ones who had missed the hunt or not gotten many. I was impressed at their thoughtfulness.

The oldest kids were led to the backstops of the baseball fields. You could see it in their eyes: they were ready to race. We watched as our two kids strategically positioned themselves and discussed their egg collecting plans.

With their eye set on a particular patch of grass, they listened for the signal. Soon we heard, "On your mark, get set, go!" and the kids were off, leaving a cloud of dust behind them. We watched all the kids running everywhere, frantically gathering as many eggs as possible. We laughed when we noticed one daughter's basket was so full that eggs fell out as she ran to another area. Kids were right behind her, picking them up!

It was a brief and fun way to start our Easter weekend. I really appreciated that the activities were planned for Saturday, leaving Sunday free for family and religious services. Valley-Wide Recreation has held this event in Menifee for many years and each time my kids have enjoyed it.

It would have been easier to let everyone stay in bed and enjoy a lazy Saturday morning, but we would have missed an opportunity to create memories. Sometimes the best family events and traditions are the little things we do.

Thanks, Valley-Wide, for continuing a great Menifee Easter tradition and helping a growing city maintain a small town feel!

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 other week. Comments are welcome.




Menifee Mom: The Approach to Motherhood is Crucial

By Karen Thomas

On a recent Monday morning, I found myself rejoicing as I sent my kids off to school. It had been a weekend filled with drama, senseless arguments, and overall frustration for me as a mother. To top it off, the house had become a complete disaster zone. With each kid I dropped off at school, I felt as if a weight was being lifted from my shoulders.

Before I could even think of tackling the chores at home, though, I needed a stress relieving run. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed, so that day I decided to listen to a podcast about motherhood as I ran. There was so much going through my mind, I didn't focus on most of what I heard. But one phrase stuck out: "Deliberate Motherhood."

I honestly couldn't tell you what the podcast said this meant, but it was such an interesting phrase it got me thinking. That morning I just couldn't wait to get my kids out of the house and out of my hair. I know all moms feel that way from time to time. Still, I wondered if I was deliberately being a mother to my kids, or if I was simply surviving each day.

I stearted looking at the day to day happenings in life, like school, homework, meals, sports, chores, shopping, playtime, etc. and all the issues that arise in the midst of it. I wondered if I use those events to purposely teach my children skills they need for life, or if I am just trying to check things off of a "to do list." Do I take advantage of teachable moments?

As I've tried to mother my children more "deliberately," I've realized that it doesn't necessarily mean making great changes to the things I am already doing. It's more about changing my attitude and sometimes my approach. I realize that even the little routine things we do are shaping the childhood memories my kids will have as adults.

When I welcome my kids home from school, by simply being sincere and taking a moment to stop and greet them, I am purposely helping them feel loved at home and happy to be here.

When we go to soccer practice, if I give them a few words of encouragement on the way or take time to ask meaningful questions about practice afterwards (and actually focus on their answers), then I am becoming a part of that soccer experience with them.

When they ask for help with homework, I can slow down and focus as I help them instead of just giving them rushed advice as I pass by.

I've found that changing my approach helps me to enjoy motherhood more and helps my kids to sense that I enjoy being a mom; that I enjoy being their mom. With the busy pace of life, it is easy to get caught up in just getting things done. If we can remember to get those things done with a purpose in mind, we are deliberately being the mom our kids need.

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 other week. Comments are welcome.




Menifee Mom: More Lessons Learned From Another Shaker

By Karen Thomas

Did your family feel the earthquake last weekend? Mine did. We were all sitting upstairs talking on my bed when everything started rumbling. It was a small shaker, but it certainly got our attention!

I'd like to say that our efforts to teach our kids to "duck, cover, and hold on" were successful and everyone grabbed a pillow to protect their heads, but we all just sat there saying, "We're having an earthquake!" I know it didn't require action, but I'd like to have seen some type of thoughtful reaction. At least I can proudly report that no one panicked.

After a long quiet period, it seems the earthquake faults have awakened again. Perhaps the little shaker we had was also a wake-up call to all of us that we need to be prepared.

Though the city of Menifee isn't on top of any major faults, it does lie between the San Jacinto Fault and Elsinore Fault. Some experts say the Elsinore fault is at high risk of producing a big quake soon.

When you have little kids, preparing for an earthquake can be a little tricky. You have to find that balance between teaching them what we need to do and not scaring them so much that they won't leave your side! For the most part, though, I have found that helping our kids feel prepared eases their fears.

We found some great videos online that demonstrate what to do and what not to do. We previewed them first to determine which ones were most appropriate for our kids. It really helped them visualize what it would be like in an actual earthquake and helped them to see what they can do to be safe in different situations: Lying in bed, in the car, at school, playing outside, etc. For days afterwards, our kids would ask, "What should I do in this room if there was an earthquake?"

The USGS and FEMA websites have pages dedicated to teaching kids how to be prepared. There are even online games. The Earthquake Country Alliance outlined the following seven basic steps for earthquake preparedness:

Step 1: Secure your space by identifying hazards and securing moveable items. (Our family is reminded that we need to secure that tall heavy armoire and bunk beds in the kids room!)

Step 2: Plan to be safe by creating a disaster plan and deciding how you will communicate in an emergency. (We told our kids where our alternate meeting place is in case our home is not accessible.)

Step 3: Organize disaster supplies in convenient locations. (We have backpacks with basic food and emergency supplies for each member of our family. It is also advised that you keep a flashlight, sneakers, and leather gloves next to the bed to aid in escaping a major disaster.)

Step 4: Minimize financial hardship by organizing important documents, strengthening your property, and considering insurance. (Keeping insurance documents, birth certificates, etc . in a fireproof safe is always a good idea.)

Step 5: Drop, Cover, and Hold On when the earth shakes. (We learned that you shouldn't run outside and if you are in bed, stay there. You shouldn't run to your kids' rooms because you are likely to get hurt on the way, making you no help to them when shaking stops. And -- a surprise to me -- doorways are not the safest place!)

Step 6: Improve safety after earthquakes by evacuating if necessary, helping the injured, and preventing further injuries or damage. (In the event there is damage, you should shut off your main gas line and avoid using any electricity; a spark could cause an explosion if there is a gas leak.)

Step 7: Restore daily life by reconnecting with others, repairing damage, and rebuilding community.

I love step 7! Whenever there is a major disaster, we see contrasting images of communities pulling together and looters taking advantage of the situation. In Menifee, our citizens have shown a lot of support for others who've experienced their own personal disasters of one kind or another. I'd like to think that we would help dig each other out in a large scale disaster, too.

If nothing else, teach the members of your family to "Duck, Cover, and Hold On." It just may save their life someday.

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 other week. Comments are welcome.







In the Wild With Jackie: The Painted Ladies Are Here

Editor's note: This is the first monthly column by the newest addition to our columnist lineup. Jackie Johansen's "In the Wild With Jackie" column will focus on wildlife found in the Menifee area.

By Jackie Johansen

If you have been out for a walk lately, or even had to clean your windshield, you have likely encountered lots of butterflies!

While winter didn’t really come to Menifee this year, spring is definitely here. Among the blossoms you will likely find lots of Painted Ladies, a delightful orange and black butterfly.

Painted ladies start out as an egg, usually on the underside of leaves. In their larval stage, they look like tiny ants, and eventually grow to the size of a 1 ½ inches. After four molts, and forming a chrysalis, this butterfly is ready to emerge.

But be warned: Just before hatching, the chrysalis can move wildly. This jiggling motion might make you jump, just like it is supposed to. The motion is meant to scare predators away from this otherwise tasty snack.

You are likely in for a good laugh if you watch a child try to catch one of these. The painted lady doesn’t fly very straight. In fact, their flying behavior has been described as a “cork screw.”

This beautiful butterfly is a helpful pollinator to our area, and is likely benefitting your garden, because it mostly feeds on weeds, like thistle. It also has a migration route from California to Mexico in some years.

Many scientists have hypothesized that their migration pattern is tied to El Nino weather patterns, when the deserts have more water and flowers. During this “irruptive migration,” an irregular migration that isn’t tied to any known environmental cues, this butterfly can travel up to 100 miles per day, and has been clocked at speeds of 30 miles per hour. This helps explain the windshield mess!

The painted lady is the most widely dispersed butterfly on the planet, and are most often found in Riverside County from July to October. It is a popular choice for science projects, and for home-hatching fun! Next time you see this little lady, take note. She won’t be around long!

What animals or plants have piqued your curiosity in Menifee lately?

Jackie Johansen loves everything outdoors and spending time with her husband and kids. She teaches high school biology for Julian Charter School and holds degrees in zoology, conservation biology, education, and technology. Her "In the Wild" column will appear here once a month.






Menifee Mom: It's Time to Just Get Out There and Run

By Karen Thomas

Winter is officially over (well, what was supposed to be winter, anyway!) and race season is in full swing.

I used to think that races were for runners who had a natural ability, were fast, and trained hard all the time. But I've learned that most of the participants are average people, often moms like me, who started running to get in shape.

I signed up for my first race because I had a group of friends who were going to train for it and it was the perfect opportunity to cross something off of my bucket list. At the time, my only goal was to complete the race. I never thought it would turn into a hobby. But once I got through the pain (yes, I will admit to some pain) of training and experienced the thrill of crossing the finish line, I could only think about how much I wanted to do it again!

Yes, running is a bit addicting.

It's now been almost two years since my first race. While squeezing in runs during the week and waking up early on Saturday to get a long run in before a busy day with the kids can be difficult, I continue to do it. Let me share with you why I run and why, if you have any desire to be a runner, you should give it a try.

1. It's Convenient and It's Free: Well, not completely free. You do need a decent pair of running shoes and if you sign up for races, there are entry fees. However, there is no gym membership to pay for, no driving to the gym, and no limitations as to where or when you can run. Just step out your door and get going! In just 30 minutes, you can be done with a great workout.

2. You Get Time to Yourself: I love to listen to fun music while I run, but I also will turn on podcasts that let me think or inspire me. Sometimes I just leave the headphones off and use the time to sort out my thoughts. With our busy lives, we all need some time to do just that.

3. I Have More Energy: OK, there are times I come home just dead tired. But most of the time my days are way more productive when I start with a run. It just gets me moving and often the momentum gets carried throughout the rest of the day. Plus, being in better shape gives you more energy.

4. A Sense of Achievement: I think the hardest part of being a mom is feeling like you never accomplish anything. You finish the laundry only to turn around and see the baskets filling up again. The dishes never end, there is always food to be prepared, and there are always messes to clean up. But with running I can set goals, track my progress, and when a race is over I can feel like I actually achieved something tangible. Yes, motherhood is rewarding in more ways than I can count, but sometimes a mom just needs something she can accomplish that is hers alone and completely within her control.

5. Social Time: OK, so this contradicts reason No. 2 a bit, but I also love to run with friends. Short runs are generally time for myself, but the best part of a long run is being with friends. It's great to get together with other moms and solve all of life's problems while completing a 10-mile run. I really could have used this when my kids were all little!

Despite the true enjoyment I now find in running, the thing that really keeps me motivated are races. Once I'm signed up, my training takes on new meaning.

So find a race that interests you (a nightime glow race, a mud run, a color run, an obstacle race, or even just an ordinary 5K or half marathon; a quick Internet search will yield tons of options), con a friend into signing up with you, and get going! If you want to stay really close to home, the city of Menifee hosts a 5K and half marathon in May as well as an annual Veteran's day race.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and run!

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 other week. Comments are welcome.





Menifee Foodie: Great Ideas Come From Great Food Blogs

By Malissa Meeks

We are so fortunate to live in the age of computers. There is a fountain of knowledge at your fingertips. You Tube, recipe web sites and food blogs are all so valuable in our continuing quest to be the best foodie we can be.

One of my favorites is Six Sisters. Since I have six daughters, I was of course drawn to this site. Six Sisters was created as a way for six sisters to stay in contact with each other and share ideas and recipes. These awesome ladies actually have a best selling cookbook out entitled Six Sisters. They have recipes for just about anything you are looking for.

One of the things I like about their site is the organization. They have the recipes indexed by type and this makes it so easy to find just what you are looking for. Their recipes are easy to follow and I have been very pleased with just about everything I have made from their recipe file. They can be found at www.sixsistersstuff.com.

Another blog I have recently been introduced to is Fire and Spice. Sisters who just happen to be twins write this blog. They are from a very large family and are both busy moms so they keep nutrition and time saving in mind.

These sisters are very health conscious and wanted to share recipes that they have both created and tried that put a healthier meal on the table. A couple of my favorites are the Cilantro Lime Chicken Enchiladas and the Skinny Slow Cooker Taco Soup. On their blog they list some of their favorite foodie blogs, which are also a great resource. They can be located at http://twinnersrecipeblog.blogspot.com.

Once you get into the foodie blogosphere, it is almost addicting. There are so many great ideas and recipes out there and they are all at your fingertips. Mix things up. Make a new recipe every week that you have never made before. It is so much fun to get out of your rut and do something different.

If you have a favorite blog that you would like to share with our readers, leave a comment. We would love to explore your blogs.

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 other week. Leave comments here or email them to menifee247info@gmail.com.





Man About Menifee: These Boy Scouts Need Your Help

By David Baker

Frequent readers of my columns will know that I have written about a wide variety of topics, ranging from helpful how-tos to announcements of community events.

One thing that has always impressed me about the community of Menifee and the surrounding areas is the sense of fellowship and outpouring of support that tends to occur during times of hardship.

I've seen it with members of our community that have fallen ill or become injured. We all saw it in each other during the Terry Smith Jr. case. I've witnessed instances of extreme giving associated with the Menifee Christmas Dinner.

I suppose this is why news stories like this one about the theft of a scout trailer surprise me that much more:

For those who haven't heard, the Boy Scouts of Troop 332 from Wildomar showed up for their weekly Tuesday night meeting and discovered their toy hauler with all of their camping gear had been stolen.

Apparently, the trailer was parked in front of the local VFW post and the last time anybody remembered seeing it was Friday night.

When I read about this crime, I had the same reaction a lot of you probably did. That reaction was to ask myself, "How desperate does someone need to be to steal from the Boy Scouts?" I suppose the answer is in the question, because it would have to be somebody who is incredibly desperate.

However, knowing the nature of my friends and neighbors here in Menifee, I suspect that many of you will turn this negative into a positive by a show of support for these boys. Hopefully we can show them that there are good people of the world, too.

I am still trying to get contact information for the scoutmaster or committee chairperson of this Troop. If anyone has this information or if anyone knows about an organized effort to help these boys restock supplies, please post a comment below or send me an email at manaboutmenifee@gmail.com

I certainly intend to do everything I can to help out. And of course if you have any information that will help the police catch the criminals, or recover any of the gear, please contact Investigator Cornett at 951-245-3357, or by email at LakeElsinoreStation@RiversideSheriff.org

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





Menifee Foodie: Breakfast House Gets High Marks

By Malissa Meeks

I don’t go out to breakfast very often, but when I do, I know where I will be headed.

One recent morning I went to The Breakfast House Los Tejabanes, located at 27701 Scott Road in Menifee. Let me just say it was delightful.

We were greeted immediately upon arriving by a very friendly hostess. We were seated and our waiter came out immediately with a cinnamon coated flour tortilla as a treat to snack on while we decided what we would order.

The menu has something for everyone. The breakfast menu offered everything from steak to grits, and this Southern girl was excited to see grits on the menu.

The restaurant was very clean and welcoming. There were booths as well as tables with fresh linen on them. The music was at the right volume where it was easy to have a conversation at your table and be able to hear everyone. The kitchen is well partitioned off so you are not hearing a lot of kitchen noise. They have an area for larger groups and can accommodate between 13 and 20 in a larger group setting.

I ordered the corned beef scramble bowl. The bowl came with a choice of toast or biscuits and gravy. I, of course, chose the biscuits and gravy. The bowl contained corned beef, cubed potatoes, bell pepper, onion, cheese, and scrambled eggs and was topped with an adequate amount of cheese. It was delicious. It was almost like a homemade corned beef hash but one step better with the added ingredients.

The menu also includes lunch and dinner with a very large variety of choices. I am eager to try some of their dinner choices.

They have daily specials, which are displayed on a board when you enter the restaurant. Check out their website for their specials at www.breakfasthouselostejabanes.com. Some of the specials include Taco Tuesday, which they also have on Thursday. Street Tacos are only 99 cents and Fish or Shrimp Tacos are only $1.99. Wednesday’s kids eat free with the purchase of an adult entrĂ©e. Monday through Friday they have a breakfast special from 6-8 a.m. This includes two pancakes, one egg and bacon or sausage for $2.99.

They have a children’s menu and offer a 10 percent military discount.

I highly recommend The Breakfast House Los Tejabanes. I give this restaurant five out or five 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 other week. Leave comments here or email them to menifee247info@gmail.com.






Menifee Mom: High School Years Have Finally Arrived

By Karen Thomas

Last week, my husband and I had the opportunity to take our daughter to high school orientation. It was the first time we had set foot in a high school since our own high school days. It was both nostalgic and terrifying at the same time!

When you have four daughters, you get comments all the time about how hard it is going to be when they are all teenagers. After previewing the world of high school, I've realized that those years are now upon us.

We met up with some of her friends and their parents as we arrived at the gym and took our places in the bleachers. The orientation basically consisted of performances by several of the clubs in the school. The marching band played a fight song while the cheerleaders led a cheer. We also were entertained by the color guard, a Polynesian dance club, another dance club, NJROTC, robotics club, and the drama club.

It was great to see the variety of activities and sports our kids can be involved in while navigating their way through high school. But at the same time, it was a wake-up call to the fact that these kids are growing up. In just four years, they will pretty much be adults and ready to live on their own at college.

As I watched the girls look on at the world that awaits them, I noticed that they were feeling a bit shocked and overwhelmed as well. There was definitely a different feeling being among high school students.

Seeing their apprehension brought me a bit of comfort. It was kind of like that day when you drop off your kindergartner at their first day of school. You don't want them to be clingy and cry, but at the same time it's nice when they feel a little unsure about taking that next step in life. It's nice to know that as much as she tries to convince you otherwise, your child really isn't in a hurry to grow up.

The girls were interested in many sports and activities and we enjoyed seeing them visit the different stations set up where they could sign an interest list. It was fun to see them get excited as they started shaping their high school years. I was pleased to see that they were looking at both things that would be fun and things that would lead them toward academic success.

As parents, we joked with our kids about how they should choose something like NJROTC, where they are fully clothed and get to throw guns around. (A good way to avoid sending the wrong messages to hormonal boys! Yes, I'm not ready to have a daughter in high school.)

As scary as it is, I know that high school will be a great experience for our daughter. Over these next four years, she will grow into the kind of person she'll be as an adult. So as much as I want her to stay my little girl, I know that she has to grow up. It's my job to encourage her to try new things and guide her as she navigates these new waters so that someday when she's the mom, she can look back at her own high school years with good memories and not regret.

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 other Thursday. Comments are welcome.








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