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

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

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.