Monday, April 30, 2012

Bashing California

Lately I've been seeing a lot of articles concerning the state of affairs in California, particularly with regards to the business climate, cost of living, quality of life, etc. I rarely see articles praising California; everyone seems to focus on bashing the state.

My family moved to California (from western New York State) in 1972, when I was ten years old. From day one, I hated it there. I'm quite certain my opinion of the entire state was terminally colored by the rotten elementary school I attended, where I was teased and bullied unmercifully for six months (while my parents had a house built) until I relocated to a different (and less hostile) school.

After that first traumatic year, I suppose you could say I got along okay in the Golden State, but I never felt settled or at home, and never had any intention of staying. Nevertheless, you know how it is: inertia goes a long way in keeping someone in the same spot for years and years.

I can quite honestly say the best thing that I ever got out of California was my husband. I've been eternally blessed by marrying this most wonderful man.

When we got married in 1990, it didn't take us long to start devising a plan to leave California. By that point we didn't really have much of a quarrel with the state. We were both well employed, we were renting a nice house with a spacious back yard for our dogs; in short, we were doing fine.

But both of us had the yearning to leave. It just seemed California was too crowded, too expensive, too regulated, and (for me) too hot. The state seemed to stifle independence and self-sufficiency. We weren't sure exactly where we wanted to go, but we knew we needed to get out of the urban zones for which California is justifiably famous and have room to stretch our legs and be more independent. We considered the northern portion and/or the eastern section (along the Sierra Nevada chain) but in the end we up and moved to southwest Oregon in 1992, where we happily stayed for ten years before moving yet again to Idaho.

So my roots in California are fairly deep. My family still lives there. So does Don's family. We have endless dear friends who live there. But neither of us has the slightest desire to ever return (except to visit, of course).

It seems California's regulatory nature and hostile business climate have worsened in the two decades since we left. My older brother is particularly faithful about filling me in about California's woes, and although he's firmly entrenched in that state, he has no illusions about its problems.

Supplementing my brother's emails, I've also been seeing more and more news articles about California's problems. A WND columnist wrote two pieces (here and here) outlining some of the issues. It seems the state is beyond fixing because its issues are too big. What will become of it is anyone's guess.

It's well documented that businesses are leaving California in droves due to the hostile climate and high taxes. Other states have proven more welcoming and enticing, with far lower costs of living as well as more favorable tax incentives. "The Golden State's fastest-growing entity is government and its biggest product is red tape," notes Allysia Finley in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in which she interviews urban studies Professor Joel Kotkin. Dr. Kotkin notes that the high home prices keep many young people out of the housing market (I can testify!).

The cost of living in California is so astronomical that the middle-class can't afford to live there. Let's put it this way: if Don and I tried to acquire in California what we have here in Idaho -- namely, twenty acres with a good-sized house and a barn -- we'd be spending upwards of a million dollars, easily. And we'd have a mortgage to match. But we spent one-tenth of that by moving to Idaho instead. And we bought this place solely on the income from a home craft business, for Pete's sake. Try doing that in California.

Ironically the state is a magnet to those unable or unwilling to work because the welfare benefits are incredibly generous. This contributes to the income disparity and overall decrease in the tax base for the state, which is why the state continuously increases taxes on the middle class. Catch-22 anyone?

Someone sent me an interesting article on InfoWars (a site I normally avoid because I dislike its conspiratorial they're-out-to-get-us mentality) entitled Sixteen Reasons to Move Away from California. I found I couldn't disagree with a single one of them.

California is a state with a staggering amount of beautiful natural terrain. Ocean beaches, dry hot desert, flat valley floors, high mountains, lush forests, temperate woodlands... it's astounding how many different biomes can be found in one state. There are also pockets with low population (notably the northern-most areas). But the long arm of government reaches every single one of those isolated pockets. No matter how far away from urban areas someone might live, they will still be taxed and regulated to a far higher degree than almost anywhere else.

It saddens me to watch California's slow-motion crash-and-burn. It saddens me that a state which was once a golden land of opportunity for millions -- including my parents, back in 1972 -- is now a state people must flee in order to seek opportunity.

And it saddens me even more that California politicians -- both Democrat and Republican -- don't get it. They don't get why people and business are leaving. They don't get that higher taxes are not greeted with cries of joy from the overtaxed. They don't get that more red tape and higher regulations don't entice businesses to be creative or innovative. They. Just. Don't. Get. It.

So despite the distance from beloved family members, I sure don't regret leaving the Golden State.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The "secret handshake" of Preppers

Don had an interesting experience the other day when he went to buy hay.

The farmer from whom he bought the hay lived waaaay out there (at a location which shall remain undisclosed). This guy was a REAL farmer. Like most real farmers, his house was modest but it was surrounded by silos and giant barns.

Don drove up and met the farmer (I'll call him George) who introduced himself then said, “Great, follow me.”

George jumped in his truck, and Don followed with his truck and trailer. They went about a quarter-mile back to the dirt road and turned onto a beautifully-maintained gravel road, which they traveled for about 1.5 miles. Keep in mind this was a private road. In fact, the road –- all of it –- as well as the land it went through -- belonged to the farmer. I’ll leave you to guess how many thousands of acres that represents.

They dropped down into a swale full of trees, past ponds, up a hill, and approached two barns the size of aircraft hangers. Don said a Boeing 747 could have fit into either barn. The buildings were jammed full of equipment and vehicles, and waaaaay in the back was a teeny tiny pile of hay.

In fact the pile was huge, but it looked small because (a) it was so far away across the width of the building; and (b) it was dwarfed by the sheer size of the inside space.

George soon had two 700-lb. bales of hay loaded onto the trailer. Don paid him and George said he’s have lots more hay if we needed it next fall.

Don commented that we didn’t own anything near as nice as George’s spread. Don told him, “We have twenty acres and we sometimes hay an absentee owner’s 40 acres as well. We have about twelve head of cattle.”

George said, “It’s good to have livestock. You never know what’s coming up.”

Don replied, “Yeah, you never know what’s coming up.”

Don told me later that immediately -- immediately -– he knew George was a Prepper. Don said George’s words were spoken in such a way that Don knew -– and George knew -– where each man stood in that regard. It was almost like the cliché coded language you hear in old detective movie spoofs: “The RAIN appears to be BLUE.” Code reply: “But the TULIPS are growing WELL.” Their short conversation was like the “secret handshake” of Preppers.

Had Don not said something about the uncertainty of the future, their exchange would have ended right there and nothing more would have been hinted at.

But the conversation concluded when Don gave the final verbal “secret statement” of the exchange: “But you know it isn’t gonna be good.”

The farmer replied, “Yeah, it’s good that people are out there getting prepared.”

End of conversation.

We’ll be seeing George a few more times as we pick up the rest of the hay we paid for. I’ll tag along on the next excursion because I’m curious to meet him and see his farm for myself. No photos, though. We owe George that much OpSec.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stupid &^#$@*^ country living

It's been the day from hell.

We ran out of hay after this morning's feeding. Remember all that hay we put up last summer? It's gone.

This isn't unexpected, actually. Last year we were buying hay by March, so the fact that we were able to make it through most of April this year isn't bad.

We knew we knew we were running low on hay, but we also faced a Catch-22: the farmer who had the best price for hay wouldn't sell on days when it was sunny, because he was working on sunny days (makes sense, can't blame him), so we had to wait for a rainy day.

This is all we have left in the barn. The bales you see are bales of wind grass (also called cheat grass), an invasive species the cows won't touch. It's nutritionally useless and (apparently) bad-tasting. When the farmer baled our neighbor's land last year, he baled what was there... including some wind grass (it's not like you can pick and choose what to bale, after all). So -- since we can't use this for food, we'll save it for bedding.

Today was rainy. Rainy, cold, and nasty. (So much for our 80F days!) It was a day to get hay.

So Don and I borrowed a trailer from a neighbor and took off...

...and got as far as a turnoff from the highway about twenty minutes from home when the truck overheated. Dangerously so. Crud.

There we sat on the side of the road, listening to the rain pounding down on the truck roof, waiting for the temperature to regulate to we could make it into the nearest town (about ten miles away).

We limped into town, keeping an eagle eye on the engine temperature, and parked in an awkward spot (remember, we had a trailer) while Don added coolant and we waited for the engine to cool. Is it the thermostat or is it the water pump? Hopefully the problem is the former and not the latter, since a water pump costs a fortune to replace (and must be done by a mechanic), whereas a new thermostat costs about $9 and Don can replace that himself.

Anyway, our appointed time to meet the farmer came and went, so we called and explained our situation and said we'd try again later to get hay. When the truck's temperature went down, we turned around and drove home verrrrry carefully, watching the gauge the whole time.

Once we reached home, Don called another neighbor and offered to pay him if he could pick up some hay for us. But this neighbor (who works for the highway department) had been fighting the weather all day, was just getting off work, and was exhausted.

So Don called yet another neighbor and asked to borrow her truck to hitch up to the trailer to go fetch some hay. She freely offered the use of her truck but warned him that it, too, was not in ideal shape, since it was making funny noises...

Meanwhile the rain was pelting down so hard it was making bubbles in the puddles.

So off Don went with the borrowed vehicles. While he was gone, I marshaled the girls to help me straighten up the barn.

We stacked all the dross bales in a corner to be used for bedding...

We raked up all the lose hay in a pile, also to be used for bedding (we could also use this for feeding in a pinch, though it's not the greatest stuff)...

...and gathered the hundreds of lengths of haybale twine that we chucked in piles over the winter...

...into a neat pile.

So while the rain poured and the wind blew, we waited for Don to return with hay. Meanwhile we now had a wide place to put it.

When he got back with two bales on the trailer, we realized we had no way to get the durn things off the trailer and into the barn. (The bales weigh about 700 lbs. each.)

So we had to chain them up one at a time...

...and use a (borrowed) tractor to drag them off the trailer.

Then Don pushed the bale toward the barn...

...then scooted the tractor around so I could chain it up for him to pull in.

We repeated this procedure with the second bale. It was a whole lotta work for two flippin' bales of hay. And the frustrating thing is, we bought another 15 bales we somehow have to get from there to here. Groan.

Borrow borrow borrow. It seems that's all we did all day long. A process that should have taken two hours ended up taking seven hours and necessitated the use of other peoples’ possessions. And a whole day was shot.

With small bales, we can move them around ourselves. But most farmers understandably prefer to bale in large bales, which means using equipment to move them around, equipment we don’t own and can’t afford.

Meanwhile our internet service (which is normally fairly speedy) was running so slow this evening that each photo in this blog post took about ten or fifteen minutes to load. A blog post that should have taken about ten minutes to put up ended up taking ninety.

Sorry to gripe, it's just been one of those days, a day filled with petty annoyances and major inconveniences and lots of hassle. One of those days when we just want to collapse with a glass of wine in the evening and be thankful we have so many lovely and generous friends who entrust us with their vehicles and equipment.

Haven’t we all had days like this? Okay, I’ll feel better tomorrow, honest.

Country living. Not always what it's cracked up to be.

Snip snip!

Last September, Younger Daughter cut her hair and donated the resulting ponytail to Locks of Love. This is the second time she's donated her hair.

Older Daughter had wanted to cut her hair again as well (she also has donated once) but back in September it was still a bit too short for donation, so we waited until now. Last Monday was the big day!

Length from the band: twelve inches, more than enough to donate.

The big moment. It's always hard on me to cut the girls' hair because I love long hair. But hey, it's their choice.

The result looks kinda butchered at the moment...

...but she looks terrific!

Here's the disembodied ponytail, always a weird sight.

The next morning (when the light was better), Don did some evening up on her hair. He's much better at this sort of thing than I am.

We've decided her new haircut resembles the 1920s "flapper" look -- very flattering.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Take the challenge: ONE WEEK without spending!!!

Here's an interesting query that came across my computer this morning:

Yahoo! Finance and Shine for Women on Yahoo! would like to find a volunteer to take part in a segment about "Financial Detox" -- we need a woman to spend ONE WEEK without spending ANY money -- they must buy all of their groceries ahead of time, restrict their gas consumption, and do other things to prepare for a week of no spending! We are looking for someone who is already super thrifty and can feels confident they can take on the challenge!

Requirements: Must live within 45mins drive from Manhattan and be willing to spend ONE WEEK without spending any money. If you are a thrifty person who feels like you can take on the challenge, let us know! This will shoot on or around June 8th (you will take the challenge and document it the week prior).

Please tell me about yourself -- where do you live, what do you do for a living, for fun? Who do you live with and why are you up for this challenge? If you can take a guess at what you spend in cash on necessities each week, I'd love to know!

I confess I burst out laughing upon reading this. One week? Are they kidding? As I told my kids, “That’s a blog post. That’s just gotta be a blog post.”

Is this true? Is it really that hard to go a week without spending any money, espeically if you're allowed to stock up on groceries ahead of time? I mean, it's not like they're seeking shopoholics. They're seeking frugal people.

So how many of YOU go a week without spending? LOL -- maybe some of you should apply for this show, as I suspect I have a plethora of frugal readers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Welcome Tattler!

I'd like to welcome the continued advertising of Tattler Reusable Canning Lids!!

I first found out about Tattler lids almost two years ago when I inquired if I could receive a box of lids in exchange for doing a review. They promptly sent two boxes (which I shared with a friend) and I tested these babies out.  Well, I became an instant convert. In fact, I saved my pennies and ended up buying a lifetime supply of lids which, in my opinion, has been one of the best investments we've made to date.

You see, one of my biggest concerns when it comes to canning is running out of lids. Disposable canning lids are meant to be just that -- disposable. While I had a fair number of disposable lids stockpiled, the inexorable fact remained that eventually I would run out.

So what's a Prepper to do? What the world needed was canning lids that were reusable, by golly. And lo and behold, they exist!

The Tattler company has been around since the 1970s and has some of the best customer service I've ever found. Tattler lids take a little getting used to and have a slightly different technique than disposable lids, and because of that there were instances where I needed some guidance. A quick email to the Tattler folks and boom, I had my answers.

After I received my lifetime supply of lids, I deliberately put my disposable lids on a high and inconvenient shelf so I wouldn't be tempted to mindlessly reach for them. I wanted to master the Tattler lids, and how glad I am that I switched completely.

I simply cannot think of a better product for long-term food sustainability than reusable canning lids.  And that is why I welcome the Tattler folks as a continued advertiser on this blog.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Treat for a hot spring day -- orange ice cream

It suddenly got hot here in northern Idaho. And I mean hot. Today it got up to 80F which, if you're not used to it, is roasting. That's why I like Idaho, you see -- where 80F is roasting. (Where we used to live, 115F was roasting. Literally.)

So it was the perfect day to make ice cream. A neighbor gave us this "cheating" recipe ("cheating" because it's made with all store-bought ingredients instead of fresh eggs, fresh cream, etc.). Despite the fake ingredients, it has turned into one of our favorites treats. It tastes exactly like orange creamsicles.

Start with a can of sweetened condensed milk and a tub of fake whipped cream (Cool Whip or its equivalent).

To this add a liter of orange soda pop. (That's one liter, not the whole two-liter bottle).

I use about half a bag of ice. I have to smash it up a bit or else the canister won't turn in our older ice-cream maker.

Snug the canister into the tub. We got this old ice-cream maker for $5 at a thrift store years ago, and it works like a charm. (Powered by electricity, BTW.)

Half the crushed ice, packed around the canister.

Adding rock salt...

The rest of the ice, some more salt, and it's ready to go.

Fitting the motor on top.

I let it churn for half an hour.

Right now it's very very soft...

...but that doesn't keep the kids from digging right in!

I made two batches and put them in the big freezer to harden. If this weather keeps up, I might be making more very soon!

Oops, never mind. The weather is supposed to turn cooler and rainy... more like a typical April in these parts.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A little less arrogance, please

I received a snark a few days ago, and have been debating about whether to post it or not. I’ve decided to compromise and post parts of it.

First, a little background. Way back when I was in high school, I decided I wanted to be a field biologist, a second Jane Goodall. I burned with the desire to study animals in their natural habitats, to live a rugged outdoor life. To that effect, I knew I couldn’t be a high-maintenance kind of woman.

This attitude continued through college, through summers working in the field, and even into my post-college years working in office buildings. In fact, that early training has never really left me, which perhaps accounts for my satisfaction to live an unglamorous life shoveling manure and milking cows on a farm.

But clearly not everyone feels the same way. We all know someone (usually a woman) who is high-maintenance, whose raven locks can only be touched with organic grape-leaf and wild-hemp shampoo costing $15 a bottle.

Well, that’s the kind per woman who just sent the snark, who was “absolutely disgusted” with my attitude on fashion. “For some one with no interest in fashion you seem to spend a lot of time mocking those who enjoy doing their hair and makeup and dressing in nice clothes,” she wrote. “I am the type of girl who spends thousands of dollars on handbags and shoes, I have no interest in living in the country or farming.” [Which begs the question, why are you hanging around a blog that focuses on living in the country and farming? Just asking.]

The gist of the woman’s argument was how she would never dream of mocking us for our “People of Walmart”-style fashions, how she wouldn’t lower herself to say anything negative about our clothes, and she “would never dream of making fun and demeaning those who find enjoyment from country living.”

“I find your clothes in the pictures you have on your blog to be embarrassing and ridiculous,” she adds, “but I would never make a post on my blog showing shoes you like that I find ugly and proceeding to mock them. If you don't like how someone dressed that’s your problem, not theirs.” She concludes by saying, “Please consider that before you try to shame another person into conforming to your world view. Now I'm going to take my own advice and find a new blog to read that contains a little less arrogance.”

My first thought upon reading her email was, Good riddance to bad rubbish. But then I had a second thought: maybe she’s a little bit right.

You see, I regard high-maintenance women with genuine puzzlement. Unless you’re wealthy, anyone who spends “thousands of dollars on handbags and shoes” instead of sensible things like paying off debt or paying down the principle on your mortgage or even buying some storable food just makes me shake my head in wonderment. I truly don’t get it.

And what will happen to people like this if the bleep hits the fan? What good are their “thousands of dollars” worth of handbags and shoes then?

Yet the fashion industry is unquestionably massive. As I wrote in an earlier post, "I suppose I can't get down too hard on fashion and makeup sites. There's nothing illegal or immoral about them. They feed huge international industries that employ millions. And women have taken an interest in fashion and makeup since the dawn of civilization, so my sour grapes doesn't change that historical fact. I guess my concern is when women become so obsessed with the shallow to the exclusion of the serious, it makes me concerned that they won't be able to handle anything BUT the shallow. On the other hand, I suppose I shouldn't worry. Scarlet O'Hara started shallow and look how she pulled off handling a war."

So for those whom I’ve offended because of arrogance for my views on fashion, I tender my apologies. But I’m not gonna stop poking fun. If that will continue to offend, then you may prefer to read one of the many different blogs on the internet that focuses on fashion.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Trained to identify resistors

If anyone -- anyone! -- has ever questioned the public school system, you must watch this video clip.

This clip features an interview with Charlotte Iserbyt, who served as senior policy adviser in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (U.S. Dept of Ed) in the first Reagan administration. What she saw there caused her to become a whistleblower and ultimately to write the book The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America [full disclosure: haven't read it].

During interview, she relates how she had access to all the documents for the "restructuring" of not only American education, but global education. She was trained to "identify the resistors" (to the sex ed/drug ed/alcohol ed/suicide ed/death ed programs) and try and get them to join.

During some in-service training while on her local school board in Maine, she was given a thick manual called "Innovations to Education: A Change Agent's Guide" which gave specific and deliberate instructions on how to "con the Christians" and others who were upset with what the schools were trying to do, and how to "bring them over to your side."

All of this "change agent" training was (and still is) funded by the U.S. Office of Education, with funding starting in about the late 1960s. She described how "facilitators" would come to school districts to train teachers. And teachers throughout the years had to undergo constant training and re-training, along with sensitivity training to "break their values" so there is no right and no wrong.

Ms. Iserbyt mentions Dr. Benjamin Bloom, whom she describes as "the most important behavioral psychologist ever to live" after Pavlov and Skinner, as the one who implemented this system in the United States. She paraphrases his "blatant" beliefs: "The purpose of education is to change the thoughts, actions, and feelings of students" and how he defines good teaching as "challenging the students' fixed beliefs" in order to effect change. She describes how he could "take a student from here to there -- from a belief in God or his country or whatever to being an atheist and not believing in his country in one hour. They bring about the attitude and values change through the emotions of the child.

So what are your thoughts on this? Is Mr. Iserbyt a conspiracy nut or is she accurate in what she says she witnessed while in the Department of Education? Does anyone have any more information on this?

(Still no regrets that we chose to homeschool...)

You must live in Idaho if...

I am valiantly trying to catch up on my backed-up email inbox. There are lots of comments I've received in the last few months for which I never sent a reply, and by now those emails are so out of date it would be almost embarrassing to answer them, so I'll apologize to anyone kind enough to send an email and who never got a response.

Anyway, a reader sent this some time ago and I thought it was worth a chuckle.

This is What Jeff Foxworthy Had to Say About Idahoans

• If someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance and they don’t work there, you live in Idaho.

• If you’ve worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you live in Idaho.

• If you’ve had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed the wrong number, you live in Idaho.

• If you measure distance in hours, you live in Idaho.

• If you know several people who have hit a deer more than once, you live in Idaho.

• If you have switched from ‘heat’ to ‘A/C’ and back again in the same day, you live in Idaho.

• If you install security lights on your house and garage but leave both unlocked, you live in Idaho.

• If you can drive 75 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching, you live in Idaho.

• If you design your kid’s Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit, you live in Idaho.

• If the speed limit on the highway is 75 mph — you’re going 80, and everyone is still passing you, you live in Idaho.

• If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow, you live in Idaho. [YES!!! This is SO true on our two-mile dirt road!!]

• If you know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction, you live in Idaho.

• If you find 10 degrees ‘a little chilly’ you live in Idaho.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The American Idol culture

We've had our friend GG (who is almost 17) with us for the two weeks of her Easter vacation from boarding school. In an effort to entertain the poor kid beyond our usual daily routine of farm chores, schoolwork, reading, housecleaning, etc., we've taken a few excursions into the city just for jollies.

If you think an extended stay on a farm is boring, just try finding something to do in a city that doesn't require large outlays of cash. We've actually wandered through two malls just for slips and giggles, and all four of us (myself, Older and Younger Daughter, and GG) find ourselves agog at the awfulness of them. Rather than energized and refreshed, we come away foot-sore and critical -- even GG, who is a self-described confirmed urbanite.

One moment was pretty funny. We walked into a mall and stopped at the Mall Directory to get our bearings. "We have to go THIS way," said Older Daughter. "Or is it THAT way?" I replied. We got our bearings and started walking, after which I said to Younger Daughter, "That's it. This confirms us as a bunch of country bumpkins."

As usual, our biggest chuckles came from shoe fashions. I confess, current trendy women's shoe fashions just floor me. I mean, really... why would anyone wear these? And how do they do it? It's like walking around on tippy-toe all day. Ouch.

The girls decided they had to try on a pair. So while GG was occupied in looking for a pair of sensible flats (which was the reason we were in this shoe store to begin with), Older and Younger Daughter each slipped on a pair of heels. Then balancing carefully and pulling themselves upright with the help of the shelving units, they paused long enough for me to take a picture before collapsing back on the bench. Phew, what an ordeal!

(Momentary digression: On the other hand, these shoe fashions are certainly no weirder than what's gracing fashion catwalks these days, such as: Bricks on the feet...

...and an urban interpretation of the Wild West. The caption reads: "Suffer for your art: The heels can only be worn for several hours at a time before becoming too uncomfortable."

Okay, end of digression.)

We paused by a store selling "nail art" and agreed the results liked like pretty and decorative vampire claws or something. We also speculated on what it would be like to milk a cow with these things on. Poor cow.

I took special note of a store targeted specifically at little girls...

...because of how outrageously fluorescent this year's fashions appear to be. No sneaking through the woods watching deer in these colors!

The, um, "messages" displayed in shop windows are questionable at best. (And this doesn't even include the Victoria's Secret windows, which we passed in a hurry with eyes averted).

(Oddly the most interesting store we encountered -- and I'm kicking myself for not taking photos -- was a store selling... reptiles. Yes, really. It was a large place with many display cases selling everything from chameleons to pythons to turtles to tarantulas (yes I'm aware tarantulas are not reptiles, duh) to anoles to iguanas. It was like wandering into a small zoo. The display cases were beautiful and everything was nicely maintained, squeaky clean, and fascinating. Why on earth a store like this was located in a mall, and what volume of business they must get, can only be surmised.)

The rare trips to these cultural icons confirmed my low opinion of malls. To me, they're the epitome of an "American Idol culture," full of shallow and vain interests. Once in awhile this country bumpkin mama needs confirmation that raising kids in the country isn't such a bad thing.

Malls also reinforced the stupidity of fashion trends in general. In the past, readers have sent me stuff that would make your eyeballs bleed.

Consider these: Mantyhose... designed for "warmth and comfort."

The article mentions these trendy items are also called "brosiery," "guylons," "he-tards," and "beau-hose" -- and assure the appalled reader that "Function over form may be the truest drive behind the sales" since "figures that show sales are strongest in some of the world's coldest countries."

Or consider these: Manties. Yes, that's manly panties.

Somehow coupled with all this nonsense pop culture fashion, it didn't surprise me to stumble upon this horrifying article about a Toddlers & Tiaras mother who modeled a G-string in front of her two-year-old daughter to help her become "culturally diverse."

Apparently this woman -- a mother of four -- was being photographed for a racy calendar and insisted her daughter watch the shoot. She told the photographer, "My style of parenting is extremely different. I think exposing your child to whatever you can is just a really great way to be culturally diverse."

The mother also said, "She know, and has full comprehension of how the business works. She has a vast understanding that some seven-year-olds, six-year-olds don't have." She also believes her daughter is more like a 17-year-old than a toddler. Way to mess up your kid, lady.

The implications of this woman's actions and the repercussions it will have on her children are absolutely beyond belief.

You see, to me this whole fashion thing is just a continuum. The stuff we see in malls is at one end; the (cough) "mother" who sticks her naked butt in her toddler's face in the name of "diversity" is at the other end.

In the end, it's the children who suffer. And those children will grow into adults who think this stuff is normal.

Okay, I'm done ranting.