Man About Menifee: Scout Earns a Major Award

By David Baker

There are some experiences that, while very small to adults, make a huge impact to a child. I had the opportunity not only to attend and observe, but to participate in just such an event this week for one of my son’s friends.

For most Cub Scouts, there is a very important intermediate step between the transition of elementary age Cubs and Middle School aged Boy Scouts. This stage is called Webelos, or “We’ll Be Loyal Scouts”. For a select few, this rank culminates in an award known as the Arrow of Light, the highest award a Cub Scout can earn.

One young man, Eric, who joined our pack over the summer, came to us from a pack in Florida. Being the son of an Army recruiter, he has moved around quite a bit. Over the last five years, he has been a member of three different Cub Scout Packs.

Despite this, he was not only the first Webelos of Pack 374 this year to earn his Arrow of Light, but he also earned the Webelos Super Achiever Award, an award for a Webelos who has earned every possible Activity Badge.

This award is so rarely handed out, that when the Cubmaster went to pick it up at the Scout Store, at first no one knew what he was asking for. After they figured it out, several council employees came out of the office to ask the name of the scout who earned such an award.

Eric’s dad Tim presented the Pack with a new ceremonial Arrow of Light Candle Holder, and as the Cubmaster read through the ceremony, Eric and his parents took turns lighting the seven candles, which stood for the seven points of light on the Arrow of Light insignia.

Then the Pack members and his parents presented him with a homemade arrow carved by a local scoutmaster, and a plaque to hang it on. Eric’s mom even carefully assembled a shadow box of each award Eric had earned along his journey.

Of course no Cub Scout meeting would be complete without a degree of goofy fun, too. After the ceremony, the boys got to use PVC pipe to create a lung-powered marshmallow rifle. With this “firearm”, the boys got a brief entry level course in range safety and how to listed to a “range master” for direction.

Undoubtedly, this was a night that many of the boys, definitely Eric and his family, will never forget.

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

Menifee Mom: It's Time to Focus on Water Preservation

By Karen Thomas

It is an interesting thing living through a California drought when you've experienced the same in other wetter states. Until recently, I wasn't even aware that we are currently experiencing the worst drought in California history. Were you?

We experienced a drought when we lived in Pennsylvania. In that area, when there is a drought, no one is allowed to irrigate at all (no watering lawns or gardens) or wash their cars. We had to save rainwater in barrels (yes, we got some rain during the drought) and use buckets to catch water from the shower as it heated up if we wanted to water anything outside.

In Colorado, we always had watering restrictions, whether or not there was a drought. You were only allowed to water on certain days of the week, depending on your address, and each sprinkler zone could only run for a few minutes maximum. The hours you could water each day were limited as well. If you were caught watering too long or at the wrong time, you faced hefty fines. Also, there were only a few months during the year you were allowed to plant sod, because it requires extra water the first few weeks.

After living in these states, we came to the California desert. We were shocked to find out that here we can water whenever we want, as much as we want, even during a drought (which have been most of the years we've lived here). It is not unusual to see lawn sprinklers going off in the middle of a 100-degree day, to see them running in the middle of a heavy downpour, or to see excess water pouring off the lawn onto the sidewalk.

Now that we are in a pretty severe situation, I've heard we may actually have water restrictions headed our way. Some people see this as a sign of how bad it has gotten, but I'm just left thinking, "It's about time!"

Whether we are legally restricted in our water use, it would be wise for all of us to assess our water use habits and make some corrections. If we all do our part, we can make the water we do have stretch a bit further.

In our family, we've talked to our children about the severity of our drought here in California and most of the western United States. If we get all members of the house involved, little changes can make a big difference.

Here are some simple ideas my family is working on. They don't require a trip to the home improvement store, so you can start saving water today!

1. Only water the lawn during early morning hours. Right now, lawns need little water. Once a week is sufficient. In the summer, split your watering into two very short cycles a couple hours apart. This allows the water to soak in deeper and minimizes run-off.

2. Limit showers to five minutes. For some, it also means limiting showers to once per day. (I never would have thought that would happen in my house; there was a time I had to plead for my kids to shower!) Using a timer not only helps keep you on track, but it can help turn the task into a game for your kids as they race the clock.

3. Start filling the tub immediately. Don't let the cold water go down the drain while you wait for hot. Just mix them together and adjust the temperature as it fills.

4. Turn off the water when you brush your teeth. We've all heard this; now let's do it!

5. Run only full loads in the dishwasher. For those who wash by hand, fill a sink with rinse water instead of running the tap the whole time.

6. Use a broom to clean off your patio instead of hosing it down.

There are many, many more ways you can conserve water. The key is to be aware of the problem and do something to help California get through this drought. Make sure your kids understand the situation and make them feel empowered to be part of the solution. You just may find that they are the ones reminding you!

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: Here's Some Recipes for Super Bowl Sunday

By Malissa Meeks

I am not a huge television football fan. I enjoy going to football games, especially when I have a team to cheer on. When my girls were in high school, two of them were cheerleaders. My husband and I would go to every football game. We always had a great time, except for the games where there was that one obnoxious fan sitting in the bleachers with her cowbell. Sheesh, I guess there’s one in every crowd.

I'm also a huge fan of people gathering together to have some fun when a great game is being played.

The Super Bowl is such a popular time for friends and family to gather together to watch an exciting game with awesome commercials. In my old neighborhood, we could hear the cheers coming from our neighbors' houses when there was a good play made or the frustration when there was a bad call.

If you are the lucky one hosting a Super Bowl party, it is a lot of work. So let’s make this a little easier. The first recipe I am going to share is almost too good to be true, but believe me, it is so simple and so delicious. In fact, my husband had a work potluck on Monday and his fellow workers were literally scooping up this meat into paper cups to take home.

Carnitas Tacos


Pork Roast
1 large jar of salsa

1. Get out your trusty crock pot. You know, the one we just had a column about.

2. Put in your pork roast. At Costco, there is a 4-pack of pork roasts for about $1.99 per pound. They are a great size, packaged individually, and perfect for this recipe. You can cook as many as you need. For a group of 30, I cooked 3.

3. Pour the entire jar of salsa over the top of the meat. (I really like the Kirkland Organic Salsa for this recipe. It is a large jar and really gives this meat great flavor).

4. Set your crock pot on low for 7 hours and go put your feet up.

5. After the 7 hours, the meat should be tender enough to pull apart in large chunks. Pull the meat apart, stir it around in the juices and set it to cook for another hour. This allows all of that yummy salsa flavored juice to make it to all of the meat.

6. Once the meat is done cooking, drain off some of the liquid and shred the meat with a fork. I don’t shred it super fine, as we enjoy nice pieces of meat to bite into.

7. I like to serve these with corn tortillas, but flour also works out well.

The toppings I like to use are:

1. Chopped cabbage
2. Diced onion
3. Chopped cilantro
4. Grated Monterey Jack Cheese
5. Sour cream
6. Salsa

Great sides to this are Chips and Salsa, Black Beans and Cilantro Lime Rice. This is a fun meal to serve in the foil tins. You can get those at Smart and Final.

Black Beans just out of the can aren’t that great. An easy way to turn OK black beans into great black beans is below.

Black Beans (copycat recipe from Café Rio)


2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/3 c. tomato juice
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped


In a skillet, cook garlic and cumin in olive oil over medium heat until you can smell it. Add beans, tomato juice and salt. Continually stir until heated through. Add the cilantro just prior to serving.

Serves: 6

How easy is that recipe?

Cilantro Lime Rice (another copycat recipe from Café Rio)


1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1 tsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 can chicken broth (15 oz.)
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro chopped


In a saucepan, combine rice, butter, garlic, 1 tsp. lime juice, chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes, until rice is tender. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp. lime juice, sugar and cilantro. Pour over hot cooked rice and mix in as you fluff the rice.

Make these recipes for your guests and I guarantee you will score a winning touchdown.

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 each Wednesday. Leave comments here or email them to

Menifee Plugged In: Grammy Awards Ends on a Low Note

By Neil Kristjansson

So the Grammys were on TV last night. I usually don’t watch these sorts of things. Knowing most of my personal favorites won’t ever make an appearance there, let alone get nominated for anything, is kind of a turn-off.

Fortunately, I found out that quite a few of my interests were going to show up. Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl (from Foo Fighters), and Lindsey Buckingham (from Fleetwood Mac) were going to close the show. How cool is that? Yeah, I mean, sure my favorite band is playing. But with Lindsey Buckingham? Live? That’s even better. But there’s a terrible twist to this that I’ll get to later.

For the most part, the Grammys were actually pretty enjoyable this year. Of course, most awards fell into their expected place, but a few stand-outs made their way onto the list of winners. Lorde, although a pretty big sensation now from her popular song “Royals”, actually surprised me when she won Song of the Year. Something about a 17-year-old New Zealander showing up all over U.S. radio and taking home an award like that is odd to me. But good for her, you know? That takes some effort.

Winning both Record of the Year for their track “Get Lucky” and Album of the Year for their album “Random Access Memories”, Daft Punk definitely came out on top. If you haven’t heard it, go check it out. I’d easily put it in my top 5 albums of 2013. But that victory is even more surprising to me than Lorde’s.

For the most part, the Grammys have been nothing more than a popularity contest without any judgment of the quality of the music. And now, for once, they did it right. Although it wasn’t my favorite, I definitely think Daft Punk deserved the win. Good for you, DP.

Oh yeah, how could I forget? Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performed their song “Same Love” with Mary Lambert and Madonna joining them as Queen Latifah wed 33 couples – some gay, some not. I’ll be honest, I actually got chills at that. Tears welled up in much of the crowd’s eyes as 66 people walked away from the show in one of the happiest moments of their lives. Pretty beautiful stuff, really.

Lastly, after a pretty stellar Grammys (what I’d have called them up until this point), it was time to close. Between Yoko Ono fumbling around her words to announce nominees and LL Cool J’s too-long-to-be-funny jokes, the show ended up running about 15 minutes late. Pushing the time slot of any show is going to be bad for viewers, regardless of what they’re watching. In this case, I (and several other people) waited three and a half hours through the pop culture sensations to get to the ‘supergroup’ performance at the end.

Boom, introduction and it’s on. Nine Inch Nails starts with their single “Copy of A”, with Lindsey Buckingham playing guitar instead of a synthesizer. The song builds up, explosion, bam, boom, screens part and Dave Grohl is on drums, Josh Homme (of Queens of the Stone Age) plays a mini-solo and soon Nine Inch Nails finishes their song.

It’s shortened for the Grammys' sake, but it was still intense. The show quickly segues into Queens of the Stone Age’s single “My God is the Sun”. Everybody’s going crazy. The band is spectacular, the visuals are spectacular – everything is going great. Until, out of nowhere: A sponsorship ad for Delta Airlines right in the middle of the song. It just showed up.

The sound was louder than the band, the logo completely took over the screen for a good five to 10 seconds and it cut back to a long shot of the band playing. Then? Credits. The credits start rolling, and as the song is nearing its last note, the Grammys are over. They pull the plug and it goes straight to commercial.

“The biggest night for music”, and this is what happens? I get that a thousand cool things happened before hand, but on a night specified for showing respect to the music industry, they don’t even allow the band their full attention, let alone the last note of their song.

I was happy enough to catch the moment where two of my favorite bands joined the stage together, but it fell apart with that absolute disregard for them as both artists and people. That’s completely disrespectful, and shame on the Grammys. That’s disgusting.

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

Menifee Mom: Here's One Resolution Worth Keeping

By Karen Thomas

I know, I know, making New Year's Resolutions is maybe a bit lame and out of date, but every year I still love the idea of a fresh start to a new year. It is a great time to evaluate what you are doing right and what you want to change.

Now that we are approaching the end of January, it's a good time to self-check and see how those resolutions are coming along.

On New Year's Eve, I decided to get my kids involved in making some resolutions. I tried to explain to them what they are and talked about some of my resolutions. They seemed little interested in the idea.

"Come on," I said. "Isn't there something you would like to do better or accomplish this year?"

Again, I was met with blank stares. After a few minutes, though, one of them did say something about resolving to win a video game they had been working on ... not exactly the kind of resolution I had in mind, but at least this child was thinking.

I pushed forward and shared my resolutions; one of them being to hug my children goodnight every night. Yes, I am a little surprised myself that I have gotten away from doing this. I guess that as my kids got older and more independent and I no longer had to "tuck them into bed," the hugs became less frequent.

I thought my words had fallen on deaf ears, as the topic of conversation soon moved on to our plans for our New Year's Eve celebration.

However, that night after ALL my kids managed to stay up past midnight, I heard one of my children calling down the hall, "Don't forget, you promised to hug us goodnight every night!"

What mom can resist climbing out of bed after hearing that? The fact that it meant something to her made me realize even more how important it is that of all resolutions, this is one I need to follow through on.

You see, every day our kids are growing up. With one approaching high school and my baby in Kindergarten, I've realized even more how my time with them is slipping away. I've got to cherish them and make time for the little things, even things like a goodnight hug. Before I know it, those beds will be empty.

So maybe it is a bit lame to make resolutions just because of some arbitrary date on the calendar, but this year I'm glad I took the time to do it and to make them known. Because really, anything that motivates us to make positive changes in our life, or in the life of our kids, is a good thing.

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: Nothing Tops the Magic of the Crock Pot

By Malissa Meeks

One of the greatest tools available to a busy household is the crock pot. It has been around since the early 70’s. I remember when I got my first crock pot. It was the basic Rival crock pot that had a setting for low and high heat. Now crock pots are amazing. They have come a long way.

Now they have timers, multiple uses, temperature probes, locking lids, removable cooking inserts and you can even set them to turn on and off when you want them to.

After 38 years, I finally replaced my crock pot. I wanted one of the newer ones with all the bells and whistles. I kept thinking that my old one would die and then I could justify getting a new one. I decided it was never going to die and just went ahead and got a new one. The old one has been moved to the RV and is used often when we are camping.

The biggest down side to the crock pot has always been the cleanup, but now that is not even an issue. There are liners that you line your crock pot with. Cook and serve your dinner and when it’s time to clean up, you simply remove the crock pot liner. Now there is no excuse to not use your crock pot.

Here are some tips for better tasting meals when you use your crock pot:

1. Only fill the crock pot one-half to one-third full. The crock pot needs to have room to form steam. If it is filled to the top, your food will not cook as evenly and will not be as moist as you want it to be.

2. Fresh vegetables taste much better than frozen or canned vegetables when cooking in the crock pot.

3. Browning your meat before you put it in the crock pot enhances the flavor of the meat.

4. I like to trim the fat from meat before adding it to my meal. Fat does add flavor, but it will make your broth too oily. Leave some fat, but trim most of it off.

5. Don’t add too much liquid. Most recipes do not require much liquid for cooking. If you’re making soup, then add all the liquid you need, but don’t let all of your crock pot meals turn into soup.

6. High temperature is about 300 degrees. Low is about 200 degrees.

7. DO NOT take the lid off during your cooking time. Every time you remove the lid, it takes between 15 and 20 minutes for the crock pot to return to the correct temperature. A lot of the cooking is done by steam and you lose the steam every time you lift the lid.

8. Less expensive cuts of meat are great in the crock pot. Cook them on low and they are so tender and tasty.

9. Add hard vegetables such as potatoes and carrots in the early stages of cooking. Add softer vegetables such as squash and mushrooms during the last hour of cooking.

10. If you find that your dish is too soupy, remove the lid, leave the heat on and allow some of the liquid to evaporate.

One of my favorite things to cook in my crock pot is pot roast. When I cook a pot roast in the crock pot, my house smells so good all day long. I cook my roast the same way my mom did. To me, it is the most delicious pot roast recipe I have tasted.

Here it is:

1. Brown your pot roast. Some crock pots have a browning setting. If yours does not, just brown it in a skillet on your cook top. Browning helps to build the flavor of the meat.

2. Put roast in the crock pot.
3. Pour on package of powdered onion soup over top of meat.
4. Add about 1 cup of water.
5. Cook on low.
6. After a couple of hours I add peeled potatoes, cut into large chunks and carrots.

Cooking time will depend on the size of your roast. Don’t forget to make gravy out of the wonderful juices.

There are literally hundreds of recipes on Pinterest and the Internet for crock pot cooking. Save yourself some time, dust off that crock pot and get cooking.

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 each week. Leave comments here or email them to

Menifee Plugged In: One Man's Favorite Songs

By Neil Kristjansson

So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my phone. The screen’s cracked, it’s slower than molasses and I use it all the time. Not really for browsing the web or chatting on Facebook, though. That’s about 25 percent of what its purpose is in my life. For the most part, it’s all about the several gigabytes of music I have stored on it.

Most of the time, as I’m driving to wherever I’m going, I’ll have it blasting into my ears so loud the car vibrates. I never realize it’s that loud, but it gets there. I get so lost in the music that I forget there’s a world around me.

Typically, I’ll play one band when I drive. I’ll just throw it on shuffle and let that one band do its thing. But lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve been less focused on that and more so on the other stuff that’s mostly been storage for me. All of it is music I like, so why would I just leave it unplayed? Badda-bing, badda-boom. It’s been playing into my ears nonstop now for days.

I wanted to share with all of you my favorite songs. Not my favorite bands, but my top five favorite songs of all time. The songs I absolutely hope to hear now that I let my phone shuffle through the entirety of its music library. The songs that are so close to me, I know them front and back like I know my own friends. Here we go:

5. Henry Purcell – Dido’s Lament (When I am laid in earth)

For me, this is almost an odd pick. I enjoy the sounds of opera, but a lot of it I don’t. When I discovered this song, something about it just clicked. I connected to it immediately. Something about the emotion behind the singer, regardless of who's playing Dido. It’s just one of those songs that strikes a chord in whoever is the voice. And it’s absolutely beautiful.

4. System of a Down – Radio/Video (2005)

System of a Down has always been one of my favorite bands. In fact, if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. But this song is my absolute favorite from them. If I’m ever feeling blue, I throw this song on and I find myself smiling for four minutes straight. The vocal harmonies, the joyful and thankful lyrics, the middle-eastern inspired scales. I don’t know. It’s definitely not something everybody would be into, but I know that if I’m ever introducing System of a Down to any of my friends, I would show them this song. It epitomizes the band’s sound, it shows their talent, and it’s just a really, really good song.

3. Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)

A couple years ago, I heard about Nick Drake from some comment online. I tend to stay away from the '60s/early '70s era because it’s never really done anything for me. I respect it, I enjoy it, but it’s just not my thing. Maybe it was just the timing, but Nick Drake and his last album Pink Moon really, really meant something to me. It was so mournful, but also so reassuring in its own way. The whole album is beautiful, really. But this, the opening track, is what sets the tone and man, is it probably his best song.

2. Aphex Twin – Avril 14th (2001)

Aphex Twin. What an odd guy. His music is generalized by its fast, electronic beats. He’s known for being almost disturbing in both his image and his art. Way ahead of his time, and even considered a favorite by the likes of Skrillex, Aphex Twin is actually a really great musician. This track, Avril 14th, is something incredibly unique from him. It’s not just a solo piano piece. In fact, he’s not even playing it. In terms of behind the scenes, it’s special because of the work put into programming it all. At the time, that was a difficult thing to accomplish and Aphex Twin did it. But on a more personal level, this song resonates a lot. This is the song I imagine when I see myself at my future wedding. This song, to me, sounds like love in every sense of the word. Absolutely amazing and beautiful.

1. Nine Inch Nails – A Warm Place (1994)

A Warm Place. It’s my absolute favorite song of all time. This song has done so many things for me, as a person, a friend, a son, and a human being. I can’t even begin to describe the depth of this song. The context of its placement on The Downward Spiral (the album it’s from) is absolutely perfect. In the middle of chaos and dissonance is this break. A Warm Place – it’s titled so perfectly. This song, to me, is the moment of peace and solidarity when everything around you has gone to hell. But, it’s so much more than that.

It transcends just emotionality, sadness or happiness. Close your eyes, think of the world, think of the past, present and future, think of everything and everyone around you. This song is peace of mind. In sadness, it makes you sadder. In happiness, it makes you happier. I can’t find anything wrong with it. A Warm Place was there for me when I had nobody. Fittingly, it’s my warm place.

Underneath the opening sounds is a quiet message. One that’s resonated inside of me for years. I’ve constructed my morality, my mentality and my life in general around the simple message in this song. “The best thing about life is knowing you put it together.”

Just typing about these has put me on a roller coaster. Wow. I’m going to go sit back, relax, and listen to some more music. Music, man. Isn’t it great?

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: Scouts Get Some Campout Experience

By David Baker

Now that we are two weeks into the New Year and school is back in session, I feel a little bit like a bear coming out of hibernation at the end of the winter. It was nice to have several weeks where there was extremely light traffic on my commute to San Diego from Menifee. I know from speaking with many of you that a lot of you can relate as well.

The kids are becoming busier, too. The earth is slowly starting to spin back toward the sun and I'm finding we are starting to venture outside just a little bit more.

My daughter Alexandra is a Girl Scout with Troop number 40550 here in Menifee. This weekend, Jennifer is taking Alexandra to a troop camp out at Lake Skinner in Temecula. Lake Skinner boasts fishing, recreational vehicle camping and tent camping facilities.

Coincidentally, Jeremiah and the other boys from his Webelos patrol in Cub Scout pack 374 have begun planning some patrol campouts for themselves. The campground the boys unanimously chose for their first campout next month is also Lake Skinner.

One Girl Scout rule on campouts is that there must be a very clear and straight shot right to the restroom and other facilities. The rules for the boys, while similar, are a little different. The Cub Scouts will be using Skinner's outlying camping area, which they identified on the map as their "overflow camping". There won't be any electricity or hose spigots, but the restroom will be a short walk away.

For the many of the Webelos, this will be their first semi-primitive camp. We will pack in everything that we need and pack it out. This will not be a "drive up and drop off" type of camp. I’m interested to see how the boys do with this. This is designed to get the Cub Scout boys geared up for Boy Scouts, which they will join this summer.

Boy Scouts routinely backpack a considerable distance before setting up camp. In addition, the boys plan the events and the menu for the trip. Until now, the adults have done all the planning and the boys simply showed up for the fun, but they are at the age where they can practice taking part in the business side of the fun.

What are you and your family doing differently now that the days are getting longer? Log in and leave a comment below.

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: All Local Motorists Feel the Same Frustration

By Karen Thomas

In the eight years I've lived here, I've seen a lot of changes come to our city. Most of them have been welcome. Being able to shop local and avoid the drive to Temecula is definitely nice. Seeing some beauty added to our landscape is also a plus. What isn't nice, though, is the traffic that comes with growth. At the moment, a drive south on the 215 to shop can actually be easier!

It is amazing the sense of dread I feel when I find out that one of my kids has soccer practice "on the other side of the freeway." Though it might only be a couple miles away, the trip can take 15-20 minutes or more. My kids aren't the only impatient ones when we go from thinking we'll be early to being late!

For all those who cross the freeway in the afternoon, you know what I mean. I'm sure I'm not the only one to second guess that trip to Target or some other destination because of the traffic.

Thankfully, our city has projects underway to improve the situation. Up until last week, it has been mostly painless. Sure, things are torn up and definitely inconvenient for those who live nearby or rely on sidewalks on that street, but generally it hasn't been too bad.

This week, though, when traffic went down to one lane on Newport Road, it got really crazy! I am sure that when the overpass work begins, we'll all be grumbling even louder.

When I get really irritated, I try to remember how much better it will be when it is all done. Remember the 45-minute drive we used to have coming home from Temecula?

I have horrible memories of hungry crying kids in the back of my car when we used to drive home from gymnastics in Temecula. No matter how hard I tried, our classes always got out during rush hour. That drive was one reason I did not argue when my kids decided they were done with gymnastics.

However, now that the freeway has expanded to three lanes, it is back to taking 15 minutes or less. I remember the first time I drove on the expanded freeway during the afternoon. The first thing I said when I walked through my front door was, "I didn't have to hit the brakes or stop even once while on the freeway!" It was amazing!

Because the major overpass projects aren't expected to be done until 2016 and 2017, it looks like we'll be clinging to memories like this for a while.

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: Try the King of the Cookbooks

By Malissa Meeks

Some people have a cookbook corner, or a cookbook shelf, or just a few cookbooks that fit in a drawer. Not me. I have a complete cabinet dedicated to one of my favorite things -- COOKBOOKS!!!!!

I love cookbooks. I read cookbooks the same way some people read a good novel. I love to get ideas, combine recipes and make the recipes my own by changing things up.

I have never been one to be content with a cooking rut. I love to have variety in our menu. I love to cook things that have a great presentation as well as great taste.

Several years ago, I came across one of my favorite cookbooks: "Top Secret Restaurant Recipes" by Todd Wilbur. He has several books out but I enjoy his trilogy, books 1, 2 and 3. With these books, you can recreate your favorite meals from P.F. Chang, Red Lobster, Buca di Beppo, Hard Rock Café, Applebee's, Tony Romas and the list goes on and on. I gave these cookbooks to my daughters as a gift and they use them often. In fact, it could have been the recipe for Chang’s Spicy Chicken that won over my son-in-law.

My personal favorite recipe is Buca de Beppo Chicken Limone. It is such a simple recipe and I love to make the sauce and serve it over a seafood medley or asparagus. It is delicious.

One of the things I like about these cookbooks is that Wilbur not only gives you the recipe, he also provides a blueprint which shows you how to make the recipe as well as a write-up explaining how he found the secret to reproducing the restaurant recipe. The secret to some of the recipes is not always in an ingredient but in the process of how you use the ingredients.

I suggest that you start with books 2 and 3. While book 1 has good recipes, books 2 and 3 have awesome recipes. You can purchase these on Amazon.

Every recipe I have made from these books has been a home run. Believe me, fellow foodies, these cookbooks will change the way you cook.

Pick one of these books up and begin to impress your family and friends with these amazing recipes. It’s time to put away the Sloppy Joe's and spaghetti and try some new recipes.

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 each week. Leave comments here or email them to

Man About Menifee: It's All About Hidden Treasures

By David Baker

The age old question for most fathers is, “How do I relate to my children?”

I saw a video from a conference where the guest speaker was a video game designer who was speaking about the positive side of gaming. She shared a study done of hospice workers who shared the most frequent regrets people give near the end of their life. The top three from that list are:

1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
2. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
3. I wish I had let myself be happier.

For everyone, each of these regrets means something slightly different, but for me it is about finding balance in life, especially where my children are concerned.

I always try to find something each of my kids and I can call our own to bond over. For my tech-savvy middle son, 10-year-old Jeremiah, we bond over discussion of music, social media, TV, and video games. The trouble I find is that those topics don’t generally involve a lot of sunlight. He rides his bike around and plays on the playground, but I wanted something that provided him some intellectual stimulation as well.

Then a few years ago, I heard a podcast on Geocaching. This is a high-tech treasure hunt that has roots to similar games dating back to the 1800’s in England, where travelers would leave notes in boxes along a trail, usually with a clue inside on where to find the next box.

I went to and created a free account and found out that I didn’t even need a geocaching GPS. I was able to use my smartphone and download a free app. I did a quick trial run around the neighborhood and took Jeremiah out and we had a lot of fun.

Lately, he has been asking me to help hide geocaches for others to find. That gave me an idea. How about we invite our friends and neighbors in Menifee to play as well? I decided to give it a shot. Before we get started, here are a few things you need to know about Geocaching:

1. Make sure you are well prepared. Depending on the terrain, sometimes a cache can involve several hours of hiking to find. For information on how to be properly prepared for a hike, click here.

2. No Trespassing. Caches may never be hidden on private property without the express consent of the owner. Many caches are hidden on property open to the public, ranging from parks to shopping centers.

3. Beware of “muggles”. This term is borrowed from the popular “Harry Potter” book and movie franchise. It refers to anyone who does not participate in geocaching. The goal is to not give away the location to casual bystanders.

Here is how it will go. I have hidden a cache (pictured) in Menifee somewhere that will be posted on within the next six days, once it has been reviewed and deemed appropriate by staff. This will be an easy find for beginners and the cache code is GC4WAV5.

Log on, create a free account, and using your smartphone or GPS, locate the cache. The first one to find it and sign the log can help me hide the next one. It will be a great way to meet new people, have some fun, and explore Menifee together.

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: Time to Begin Another Hamster Adventure

By Karen Thomas

This week we finally let our daughter buy a hamster. This is our second time having one.

The first one belonged to a different daughter. We consented that time because we figured a hamster is one pet you know will not be a long-term commitment. It’s not like a dog or cat that you know will be a part of your family for many years. Let’s face it, hamsters just don’t live that long. Besides, I always wanted a hamster growing up, so deep inside, I kinda wanted one, too.

It turned out, hamster ownership wasn’t quite as easy as we expected. First off, those cages get pretty smelly and are more work to clean out than a litter box. The next surprise came when our daughter went to check on the hamster one day and it had disappeared. No, it wasn’t hiding, it was gone!

We first suspected the dog, but our daughter was certain her door had been kept closed. We searched all over, but just couldn’t find it. Later that day, we noticed some carpet next to her closet door was chewed up. After digging a bit deeper, we found the stuffed animals weren’t the only things that had made the closet their home! We found the hamster hiding in the back corner.

It had a little bloody spot on its body, which had my daughter in tears. We think it must have scratched itself on the carpet tack strip. As we consoled her and assured her the hamster would be just fine and certainly didn’t need a vet (no way am I taking a $12 pet to the vet!), we noticed a package of fruit snacks had been chewed open. Apparently, our hamster had a sweet tooth!

What really irritated my husband and I, though, was that our carpet was now damaged! We managed to patch it with a little square of carpet from inside the closet, but it will never look the same. Lesson learned: Dogs and cats aren’t the only pets that can damage your home!

After that, our hamster cage got a lock on it. Our little Houdini was not getting out again.

It was only a few months later that we noticed a stench in the bedroom. This was not the normal, “It’s time to clean the cage!” stench. It was much worse. We set out to clean the cage and noticed that a large bulge was forming on the hamster’s side. Over the next week or two, it got bigger, and the symptoms got stinkier. We think it had cancer.

It was not a pleasant ending for our pet.

Thankfully it was over quickly, but our daughter was pretty upset. My husband and I saw the thing mostly as a dead rodent, but to her it was her PET and she mourned its loss. We did our best to comfort her, but in our heads all we could think was, “How are we going to dispose of this thing?”

It didn’t seem right to throw it in the trash. That definitely wouldn’t go over well with our daughter. So the only alternative we saw was to bury it on the hill in our backyard. My daughter found a little shoebox and some tissues to wrap it in. My husband dug the hole. My daughter found a nice smooth rock and made a gravestone.

When it was time to bury the hamster, all of our children came out to watch the event. It was raining and cold and we were all gathered around the hole with umbrellas.

It was a classic funeral scene. Our daughter started crying. My husband, who never liked the thing, had compassion and said a few kind words about the hamster. (This was turning into a full-on pet funeral!) The kids all took turns sharing some good memory they had of the hamster.

As I stood there listening to our kids and realizing the experience this had been for them, out of the corner of my eye I noticed our dog looking on from the distance. I knew he was just waiting for us to leave so he could finally get the prize we had kept from him! My husband and I just looked at each other. It was all we could do to not laugh at the situation we were experiencing. It was a classic sitcom episode.

So, here we go again. We’ve begun another adventure with a pet hamster. Pets, and kids, certainly keep life interesting!

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: Carnitas Express Earns a 4-Star Review

By Malissa Meeks

Today I decided to check out the Mexican food options in Menifee. Most Mexican restaurants seem to be the same to me, but when you find a bad one, it can be miserable. Fortunately, I had some good Mexican food at Carnitas Express.

Carnitas Express is located at 26900 Newport Road in Menifee. It is in a strip mall but is a large location. The Health Department rating is an “A”.

I went during lunch and was very pleased with the lunch menu. There are about 10 items on the lunch menu and all cost less than $6. The menu at Carnitas Express also includes a large breakfast menu, salads, a very large Mexican menu and some American items.

My daughter, who recommended the restaurant, ordered their grilled chicken salad and it was beautiful and delicious. The lettuce was crisp, the chicken was tender and everything on the salad was very fresh. The salad included garlic toast and it was also delicious.

I had the cheese enchilada with rice and beans. It was a fairly large enchilada. It was very cheesy. The beans were fresh and the rice was very good. Every table is served chips and salsa. The salsa was very good. They have a salsa and pepper bar as well.

The service was good. We were greeted immediately and taken to our table.

Carnitas Express has Taco Tuesday, where ground beef, shredded beef, and chicken tacos are $1.49 each all day. On Wednesday, kids eat free with an adult entrée purchase.

On Friday, there is a Mariachi band from 6-9 p.m. The band performs in the bar as well as strolling through the dining room and performs at your table. Breakfast is served all day.

Carnitas Express has been in Menifee for 16 years. I give Carnitas Express 4 spoons.

If you know of a restaurant in Menifee that you would like me to try, please respond to this article.

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 each week. Leave comments here or email them to

Menifee Plugged In: Guns of Icarus Online is Worth a Try

By Neil Kristjansson

About a month ago, a friend of mine introduced me to this game called Guns of Icarus Online. I had no prior knowledge of the title. I was unaware of the genre, never saw any gameplay footage – nothing.

This was something completely new to me, and I had low hopes at first. Usually, when I’m introduced to an indie game, the process of me playing it goes as such: Buy, download, install, play for an hour, put it away, and forget I even own it.

Indie games are really a huge hit and miss for me, because most are incredibly cheap and hold little content. But Guns of Icarus Online was something pleasantly surprising -- like trying a new food that I would find I loved.

Guns of Icarus Online is essentially a game based around airship combat. But here’s the kicker. It isn’t a strategy game, it isn’t a side-scroller. It’s in first person, and an airship takes four people to maintain and run. It’s a multiplayer game that really, really emphasizes the aspect of teamwork to succeed. And the best part is, it’s good at it.

In my experience, my friends and I always play multiplayer games while communicating via Skype so that we can work better and complete goals quicker. Guns of Icarus had us literally yelling at each other as if we were actually on the ship together. I’d pilot The Fairy Foot (our ship’s name) through clouds, over mountains, and under bridges, telling my friends to shoot which cannons where or which parts to fix. It was so… intense.

In a really slow paced way, it felt like legitimate airship combat – if there’s even a real thing. As if I know what it’s like, but it’s fun and scary and a great way to work at communication and teamwork. I actually have nothing bad to say about the gameplay.

On the other hand, I do have some major gripes about the customization aspect of Guns of Icarus Online. See, I never have a problem with customization if there is none to begin with. And see, there’s a bit of customization to be done in this game, but it’s all either locked or obtained through microtransactions.

The former is understandable, except for the time it takes to actually unlock them. The latter? Those are horrible. This is a personal preference, and hopefully I speak for many people when I say this: Microtransactions are awful. Companies should never, ever do them. In terms of cosmetics, they should be included in the game to be unlocked. In terms of gameplay, only for expansions and add-ons. In terms of mechanics? Pay to win is just as awful as microtransactions.

The aesthetics of Guns of Icarus Online are actually quite pretty. It has an awesome art style and a lot of what’s unlockable, that doesn’t require you to pay real money, isn’t half-bad looking itself. In terms of ship customization, well, that’s a different thing. I’m not sure if you can purchase add-ons for it, but you can certainly choose from a variance of turrets, cannons and other weapons to bulk up the offensive aspect of your ship. Oh, and you can also rename it from the presets.

My ship went from being the Goldfish to the Fairy Foot. Why? I dunno. But there’s something so funny and ridiculous knowing that I’m dominating the enemy in a ship called “the Fairy Foot”.

All-in-all, I’d honestly say Guns of Icarus was a near-perfect example of what an indie game is capable of being if it weren’t for the customization problems. The gameplay is phenomenal and original, the music is great, the art-style is pretty – it’s a really great game. If anybody is interested, you can purchase it via Steam for $15. And if I were you, I’d get your friends in on it, too. This is definitely a game to enjoy with your buddies.

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

Menifee Mom: Family Bonding Around the Kitchen Sink?

By Karen Thomas

Chores are one of the necessary battles moms face with their kids. We hated them when we were kids, but now that we’re the mom, we realize how important they are. Not only do they teach our kids important life skills, but they help us accomplish the never-ending tasks that come with taking care of a home and family.

Sometimes, though, when the kids insist on doing a substandard job or argue every step of the way, we wonder if it is just easier to do it ourselves!

A few months ago, we noticed that our dishwasher wasn’t doing a very good job getting our dishes clean. We found we had to rewash much of what had gone into it. The kids, of course, blamed each other for the problem. "She didn’t rinse them right" and "She always loads them wrong," were often heard.

Well, it got so bad that clearly something was wrong with the machine, not just the humans running it. We inspected it and found it wasn’t spraying on the top. So, my husband and I searched the "University of YouTube" to find solutions.

We were amazed to find just what we were looking for: A video showing step-by-step how to solve our problem. We started taking apart the dishwasher to clean out the food grinder in the bottom.
As soon as we took apart the machine, we found the problem: Foreign objects stuck in the grinder mechanism.

Most notable was the large San Diego Zoo window cling, the popsicle stick, and the chicken bones that had somehow been dropped into the dishwasher and made their way through the drain. It was clear that dishes hadn’t always been properly scraped and that at some point toddlers of ours had dropped a few things in, too.

After cleaning it out, we had a working dishwasher again ... for a few days. Turns out we need to replace the grinder mechanism. So in the meantime, we have been doing dishes the old-fashioned way. It hasn’t been nearly as inconvenient as I expected it to be. As a bonus, my kids are getting a lot of practice!

In the beginning, the kids were good sports about it. I found that I enjoyed the time I got to spend with them. It was uninterrupted time. We would talk about things and sometimes could even be heard singing Christmas songs as we washed together. It wasn’t long, though, until the novelty wore off and now it is just another dreaded chore. Famous lines from our kids this past week:

"This isn’t clean, wash it again." Then of course the washer replies, "It is clean, you just aren’t rinsing right!"

"Ew, the water is gross! There’s floaties in it. I’m not sticking my hand in there!"

"The water’s too hot!"

"Mom! She’s not working fast enough."

"Hurry up ... we’ve been doing this forever!"

"Mom, she just dropped a glass in the sink and broke another glass and a plate. Now there is broken glass in the dish water with all the dishes! I think she’s just trying to get out of washing."

More often than not, though, I’ve found that this new task isn’t all that bad. When we aren’t working alongside the girls, we are often entertained by the conversations they carry on while they work. There are squabbles, but there are also moments of laughter and joking. The best part is, unlike the past, I’ve always got cupboards full of clean dishes!

Thankfully this has all happened during their time off from school, so they have more time to do chores. I’m not sure how well this will work when we are back to hours of homework every night, but hopefully by then they will have either gotten really efficient at washing them or we will have repaired the machine.

Either way, this is one chore battle that was worth following through on. The unexpected bonus: With all the soapy water they keep splashing on the floor, that area of my kitchen stays really clean!

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.