Politics and friendship

Have you ever seen political disagreements ruin a good friendship? Or a marriage? I mean between people who generally share the same values and beliefs. This seems to be fairly common. “The blessings of democracy”, indeed.


“The Friendship-Deficit Syndrome”, by Fr. C. John McCloskey, III.

St. Isidore Ranch Update

Two years ago, I made the trek to Oregon to pick up a Dexter cow and her calf.  The price was right, but there was a condition: I had to take another mean, wild, unmanageable one-eyed cow with me. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and asked him if he wanted to start his own Dexter herd. He agreed, so I brought the cow home and she’s been on our pasture with the others ever since. My friend named her Blackberry Blossom.

Well, Blackberry Blossom turned out to be made of gold. Several months after bringing her home, she dropped a calf! She had not been purposely bred, and no one had any idea that she was pregnant. As a result of this mystery calf my friend now has a fat steer almost ready for the freezer.

A year ago last June, we had Blackberry Blossom and two others artificially inseminated. We don’t keep a bull on the property. The oldest of the three became crippled and had to be slaughtered before she was ready to calve. Another cow, Camelia, gave birth to a heifer without complications. Blackberry Blossom did not get pregnant, apparently. Her baby steer (now bigger than she is) had not yet weaned itself, so that might have been part of the problem.  We just figured we’d try again next year.

Last week, Kelly – the young cowboy who rents our pasture – pulled up in his dusty old truck and asked to speak with me. Did I know that one of my cows just had a calf? he asked.  I said that was impossible, there must be some mistake. No mistake, he insisted. He had been treating the calf for pneumonia for a couple of days, and it looks like she’s going to make it. I was incredulous. How can that be? We don’t keep a bull, and her AI treatment was 15 months ago. So far, despite the advances of technology, they still haven’t come up with a self-fertilizing breed of cattle!

Nevertheless, there it was: a calf. Facts are facts.

Kelly asked me if I had seen any of the neighbor’s cattle in my pasture lately. I assured him that I had not. Does the neighbor keep a bull? he asked. I wasn’t sure. I’d seen just one bull across the fence in the past, but that was more than a year ago. Well, the only explanation he could think of is that Blackberry Blossom was impregnated by a neighbor bull. And the calf, he said, appeared to be much bigger than an ordinary Dexter calf and was probably half-Angus.

So my fortunate friend, who decided on a whim to accept a wild one-eyed Dexter whom nobody wanted, ended up with two “freebies” from nowhere! Some people have all the luck.


Last Saturday we rose at 5:00am, loaded the kids and their instruments in the van, and headed for the historic gold-mining town of Weaverville, California for its third annual Old Time Fiddle Contest.  We went with another family whose children also fiddle – that’s right, Blackberry Blossom’s family – and between our two families we had six children in the contest. They all played marvellously well. It’s heartwarming to see so many young people keeping the “old time fiddle” tradition alive in California. I am also proud to say that our Amy Rachel won 2nd place in her division – quite an accomplishment for someone who has only been playing for a couple of years! Toward the end of the day we were treated to some bluegrass gospel music by the Winton Family of Redding. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like live, acoustic bluegrass right up close.

These contests have been organized by the California State Old Time Fiddler’s Association since the 1950s, beginning in Butte County. The contestants are mostly from little towns in Northern California, but some come from out of state to participate. There are always a dozen or more RVs and trailers set up in the parking lot. Next month we’ll be going to another contest in Red Bluff, which lasts three days and is considered the Granddaddy of them all.

These events are delightful for their wholesomeness and homely political incorrectness. From the natural religiosity of the organizers, to the corny jokes of the MCs, to the earthy titles of the songs played, it’s everything the uppity PC world despises. Here’s a place where simple, small-town people can just be themselves without having to walk on eggshells. And this in California – the real California, the California that few people know exists.

The Times of Antichrist

A timely reminder by Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman:

Is the enemy of Christ, and His Church, to arise out of a certain special falling away from God? And is there no reason to fear that some such Apostasy is gradually preparing, gathering, hastening on in this very day? For is there not at this very time a special effort made almost all over the world, that is, every here and there, more or less in sight or out of sight, in this or that place, but most visibly or formidably in its most civilized and powerful parts, an effort to do without Religion? Is there not an opinion avowed and growing, that a nation has nothing to do with Religion; that it is merely a matter for each man’s own conscience? Is there not a vigorous and united movement in all countries to cast down the Church of Christ from power and place?

Is there not a feverish and ever-busy endeavor to get rid of the necessity of Religion in public transactions? for example, an attempt to get rid of oaths, under a pretence that they are too sacred for affairs of common life, instead of providing that they be taken more reverently and more suitably? An attempt to educate without Religion?—that is, by putting all forms of Religion together, which comes to the same thing? An attempt to enforce temperance, and the virtues which flow from it, without Religion, by means of Societies which are built on mere principles of utility? An attempt to make expedience, and not truth, the end and the rule of measures of State and the enactments of Law? An attempt to make numbers, and not the Truth, the ground of maintaining, or not maintaining, this or that creed, as if we had any reason whatever in Scripture for thinking that the many will be in the right, and the few in the wrong? An attempt to deprive the Bible of its one meaning to the exclusion of all other, to make people think that it may have an hundred meanings all equally good, or, in other words, that it has no meaning at all, is a dead letter, and may be put aside? An attempt to supersede Religion altogether, as far as it is external or objective, as far as it is displayed in ordinances, or can be expressed by written words,—to confine it to our inward feelings, and thus, considering how variable, how evanescent our feelings are, an attempt, in fact, to destroy Religion?

Surely, there is at this day a confederacy of evil, marshalling its hosts from all parts of the world, organizing itself, taking its measures, enclosing the Church of Christ as in a net, and preparing the way for a general Apostasy from it. Whether this very Apostasy is to give birth to Antichrist, or whether he is still to be delayed, as he has already been delayed so long, we cannot know; but at any rate this Apostasy, and all its tokens and instruments, are of the Evil One, and savour of death. Far be it from any of us to be of those simple ones who are taken in that snare which is circling around us! Far be it from us to be seduced with the fair promises in which Satan is sure to hide his poison!

Do you think he is so unskillful in his craft, as to ask you openly and plainly to join him in his warfare against the Truth? No; he offers you baits to tempt you. He promises you civil liberty; he promises you equality; he promises you trade and wealth; he promises you a remission of taxes; he promises you reform. This is the way in which he conceals from you the kind of work to which he is putting you; he tempts you to rail against your rulers and superiors; he does so himself, and induces you to imitate him; or he promises you illumination, —he offers you knowledge, science, philosophy, enlargement of mind. He scoffs at times gone by; he scoffs at every institution which reveres them. He prompts you what to say, and then listens to you, and praises you, and encourages you. He bids you mount aloft. He shows you how to become as gods. Then he laughs and jokes with you, and gets intimate with you; he takes your hand, and gets his fingers between yours, and grasps them, and then you are his.

To summarize …

Glenn County budget crisis: cuts looming.

California budget crisis intensifies.

California unemployment climbs to 7.3%, highest in 12 years.

California’s out-migration problem.

Worst financial crisis since 1930s with no end in sight.

America’s Financial Apocalypse Heralds Decade Long Depression.

U.S. economy is unsustainable, says GAO chief.

California marriage amendment loses ground, now trails by 17 points.

Florida marriage amendment in trouble.

Use of Plan B abortifacient surges.

U.S. birth rate hits all time low.

Demographic Winter is upon us.

“My personal opinion”

Here’s what Governor Palin said about abortion in her interview with Charlie Gibson:

GIBSON: In the time I have left, I want to talk about some social issues.


GIBSON: Roe v. Wade, do you think it should be reversed?

PALIN: I think it should and I think that states should be able to decide that issue… I am pro-life. I do respect other people’s opinion on this, also, and I think that a culture of life is best for America… What I want to do, when elected vice president, with John McCain, hopefully, be able to reach out and work with those who are on the other side of this issue, because I know that we can all agree on the need for and the desire for fewer abortions in America and greater support for adoption, for other alternatives that women can and should be empowered to embrace, to allow that culture of life. That’s my personal opinion on this, Charlie.

GIBSON: John McCain would allow abortion in cases of rape and incest. Do you believe in it only in the case where the life of the mother is in danger?

PALIN: That is my personal opinion.

GIBSON: Would you change and accept it in rape and incest?

PALIN: My personal opinion is that abortion allowed if the life of the mother is endangered. Please understand me on this. I do understand McCain’s position on this. I do understand others who are very passionate about this issue who have a differing.

GIBSON: Embryonic stem cell research, John McCain has been supportive of it.

PALIN: You know, when you’re running for office, your life is an open book and you do owe it to Americans to talk about your personal opinion, which may end up being different than what the policy in an administration would be. My personal opinion is we should not create human life, create an embryo and then destroy it for research, if there are other options out there… And thankfully, again, not only are there other options, but we’re getting closer and closer to finding a tremendous amount more of options, like, as I mentioned, the adult stem cell research.

Sarah Palin refers to her “personal opinion” five times in this brief segment. I think this rivals Joe Biden’s usage in his interview with Brokaw. She seems very anxious to drive home the point. It’s personal, not political. She also strongly hints that we should not expect her personal opinion to have any influence over the policies of a McCain administration.

TRANSLATION: “Don’t worry, pro-choicers, my personal opinions are no threat whatsoever to your cherished right to kill unborn children. Neither will my strictly personal opinions have any influence over the policies of John McCain. Please vote for John McCain despite my personal opinions, which don’t matter in this election, because they’re just personal.”

Thoughts on Assisted Living Homes

WestHaven Assisted Living here in town is run by the Orland Evangelical Free Church. The kids performed there again yesterday, and almost the entire community was gathered to listen. The residents were very friendly and most seemed happy. They clapped and made eyes at the baby while listening to the music. They thanked us profusely when it was over.

Our children have also performed at another home in Orland, and the atmosphere there was completely different. There was no joy. Only a few residents showed up. They were non-responsive. There wasn’t even a caregiver present. The kids weren’t asked back.

What’s the difference? The biggest difference is that WestHaven is a community of faith. It’s classic American evangelical protestantism at its most fervent. Every staff member agrees to a statement of religious belief. In addition to the spiritual element, it is obvious that the administration and staff care deeply about the residents. The caregivers are kind, pleasant, and devoted. Lots of smiles. They engage the residents in conversation. This isn’t just a job for them. I happen to know the administrator personally, and it isn’t just a job for him either. One of his primary goals is to serve not only the residents, but the employees as well. “We’re building a culture here”, he told me. Also, the facility is well-kept and aesthetically pleasing. Although it is an institution of 27 beds, it feels as much like a regular home as is possible under the circumstances. There is lots of sunlight and space for the residents to go outdoors. I’ve dropped in on them when they were gathered together singing hymns. Their activities for September include “shopping trip”, ” youth choir”, “tea party”, “picnic”, “matinee movie (‘High Noon’)”, “massage with Nadaline”, “ice cream social” and “wild west day & bbq”.

As for the other home? I’ve never been inside, but the outside looks thoroughly depressing. There is very little outdoor space, for one thing, and I doubt that much sunlight makes it through the windows. No flowers, no potted plants, no interesting landscaping whatsoever. The building and the surrounding foliage are dark. There is a large satellite dish in the yard. I can only speculate as to what the residents watch on television in their rooms – that alone is enough to poison the atmosphere of an entire community. The building is for sale, by the way. Probably an indicator that the owners have lost any enthusiasm they may have once had for the enterprise, and this undoubtedly affects the morale of the residents.

What might a Catholic assisted living home look like? Hopefully, it would look a lot like WestHaven in many respects, but would be quite different in others. There would be Catholic art (though not exclusively) and sacramentals throughout; daily recitation of the rosary and other devotions; readings from the Scriptures and the lives of the saints; a staff of Catholic caregivers; an outdoor shrine and Mary garden; and regular visits from a priest to hear confessions, provide spiritual direction, and celebrate Mass.

In addition, the food would be healthy and locally grown – perhaps from a vegetable garden right there on the property! (Is that legal?) Those who can’t help in the garden, can watch. Even I enjoy watching gardeners at work. I wonder, too, if it might be possible for at least some of the residents to do a little productive work. Perhaps making scapulars and rosaries, or even just stuffing envelopes. My guess is that everyone benefits from using their abilities to the fullest.

Sadly, there is no such home for elderly Catholics in this part of the state …

Elder Care: The Coming Crisis

Once again, I want to thank everyone who has said a prayer, left a comment, sent an e-mail, or made a helpful job suggestion in the last 24 hours. I resist the very idea of the blogosphere as a “community”, but sometimes, I have to admit, it comes pretty close. God bless you, one and all, and be assured that I have remembered you all in my own poor prayers.

To have actually written “we will consider relocating for an opportunity that has serious long-term potential” indicates the desperation I was feeling. I suppose we’re not quite that desperate yet. I need to try harder – and pray harder – to find a solution here in the north valley so that we can build on the foundation we already have.

I drove into town around noon today. I needed to stop by the church and pray that novena, pick up some fence equipment at the feed store, purchase some wire at the hardware store, and grab a sandwich at the new cafe. At two of the businesses I ran into several people I know, and at the third I ended up in a friendly conversation with a neighbor I had never met. The town is familiar now, the sights and sounds and smells, and even, at last, many of the people. In December we’ll have lived here for four years. The thought of starting over somewhere else is not a pleasant one.


For the last several years, since my grandmother became ill, the thought of nursing homes and elder care has haunted me. So many lonely and suffering people, so many with no family to care for them, no saintly nuns at their bedsides, no sacramentals in their sterile rooms, no priests to hear their confessions. This has motivated us to visit assisted living facilities so that our children can play some music and bring a little cheer to these folks. During the evening rosary one of the children usually mentions “for the people in nursing homes” as a prayer intention. My wife, too, is a pharmacy consultant for nursing homes and is developing a soft spot for those whom she serves.

Of course, many people in elder care facilities have good families who visit often and do everything they can for their aging relatives. It sometimes happens that a nursing home, or an assisted living facility, really is the best solution – even when there are loving family members willing and able to help. Increasingly, however, the children of the elderly do not live nearby, or they are estranged for some reason, or they don’t exist at all. The generation now entering nursing homes is one that embraced contraception. Their children, if they had any, didn’t usually stay close to home. They were taught to pursue their careers no matter where they ended up, and often enough, they didn’t have much of a choice.

Additional signs of estrangement between today’s elderly and their children can be found on the backs of recreational vehicles, whose bumper stickers proudly proclaim “We’re spending our children’s inheritance”. Increasing numbers of people are choosing to live in “active adult” retirement communities, which exclude families with children, placing yet another psychological barrier between the generations.

A recent NY Times article reflects the anxiety of those who have chosen to remain single and childless, and who are now facing the hard realities of old age:

As a single childless woman, I share the fear of my readers, above, and no amount of financial preparation for a prolonged old age calms me. For sure, my long-term care insurance policy will buy me a home health aide and pay to retrofit my house if I’m able to remain here, or contribute to care in another setting. I have the luxury of savings and a mortgage that will be paid off by the time I’m 70. If I need a geriatric case manager, I’ll probably be able to afford one. I count my blessings.

But, having witnessed the “new old age’’ from a front-row seat, I’m haunted by the knowledge that there is no one who will care about me in the deepest and most loving sense of the word at the end of my life. No one who will advocate for me, not simply for adequate care but for the small and arguably inessential things that can make life worth living even in compromised health.

This modern phenomenon of childless adults is going to have serious consequences for nursing and elder care. The need for workers in this field will be acute in the very near term. An alarming study titled “Life Without Children” reveals the data:

“In 1970, 73.6  percent of women, ages 25-29, had already entered their childrearing years and were living with at least one minor child of their own.  By 2000, the share had dropped to 48.7 percent.  In 1970, 27.4 percent of women, ages 50-54, had at least one minor child of their own in the household.  By 2000, the share of such women had fallen to 15.4 percent. A growing percentage of women today are not having any children.  In 2004, almost one out of five women in their early forties was childless.  In 1976, it was one out of ten.”

“We are in the midst of a profound change in American life.  Demographically, socially and culturally, the nation is shifting from a society of child-rearing families to a society of child-free adults.  The percentage of households with children has declined from half of all households in 1960 to less than one-third today—the lowest percentage in the nation’s history. Indeed, if the twentieth century aspired to become the ‘century of the child,’ the twenty-first may well become the century of the child-free.”

Every cloud has a silver lining. Economically, of course, the elder care “industry” is going to explode. That’s good news for healthcare workers, who will be in great demand. It is also good news for Christians who are serious about holiness. Caring for the aged, the sick and the dying is a time-tested road to sanctity. Many a saint has been perfected in the school of love now known as “elder care”. Perhaps, if Catholics begin now to flock to the health professions, we can both ease the suffering of the elderly and stem the tide of harrassment that has lately besieged Catholic institutions due to the Church’s pro-life ethic.