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Greetings from the Port-Swiller residence, where Robbo just spent four hours with a shovel cleaning up after the Storm of the Century of the Millenium.   Having a wonderful time, wish you were here.  (Yes, I’m looking at YOU, Kathy!)

Altogether, we got a solid two feet of the white stuff, although what with the swirling and drifting, it was rayther deeper on some parts of the driveway.  And of course, the street plows left a veritable glacier at the end, something which I believe brings intense satisfaction to their malevolent hearts.

Friends, I tell you truly that my arms and shoulders hurt so much right now, I can barely lift them.  I shudder to think what they’re going to feel like tomorrow.  There is an increasing body of opinion that Robbo is getting too old for this sort of  thing.  As, well, offensive as I find my nearest and dearest telling me so, I begin to wonder if there isn’t something in it.

At any rate, I am now going to plump down and watch whatever football game happens to be on and not feel guilty about it.  Even Mrs. R believes I’ve earned the rest of the day off.

UPDATE:  Well, football proved to be pretty boring, so after a while I tottered back outside to deal with the ice.  Evidently, this blog has a snow plow driver readership, because after I maligned them above I discovered that our mailbox had been clipped by one of them and tossed into a drift.  [Insert sound of grumbling here.]

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Last evening saw the first recital of the All Port-Swiller Ad Hoc Crash and Burn Choral Society, with Self manning the keyboard and the gels belting their way through the usual variety of holiday carols and songs.   I note this because this is the first year all three of them have actually wanted to sing, and furthermore to sing together.

As for the quality?  Well, let’s say that we make up in viggah what we lack in accuracy.   After we managed to hit the last note all together on one of the songs (“Jingle Bells”, I think), I turned to the gels, smiled and said, “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”

None of them knew what I was talking about, but they still thought the remark was immensely funny.    

May we have many more such performances.

When I awoke this morning and saw six or seven inches of snow already on the ground outside the Port-Swiller residence, my first thought was, “That’s enough, thank you.  You can stop now.”

No such luck, I’m afraid – it’s been bucketing down ever since and the latest forecasts peg the total accumulation at something close to two feet.   My back is already aching in anticipation of the prospect of having to dig out of it.

But never mind.  In the meantime, we’re stocked up on foodstuffs, adult beverages and firewood, so it won’t be all bad.

I’ve come to the conclusion that at this time of year one may either resign oneself to the fact of pine needles scattered all over the house or one may run stark, raving mad.

UPDATE:  I had the above thought as I was replacing dried out sprigs and branches in our two Advent wreaths, a process that becomes necessary every year because the one we have in the dining room uses a nice brass base that can’t get too wet and the one the gels make at RFEC that lives in the kitchen simply gets neglected.

Since then, the youngest gel and I shlepped out to purchase the Port-swiller family Christmas tree.  For the most part, we tend to be fairly modest seasonal decorators.  A tree, a couple wreaths on the door, the Creche, the odd festive knick-knack – that’s pretty much it most years.   However, as I stood at the tree lot, I was suddenly seized with the odd desire to purchase a couple ropes of white pine and surprise Mrs. Robbo by decorating interior doorways and mantle-pieces, plus wrapping the columns on the portico out front.  Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, Robbo has been festooning.

So in a way, I am pursuing both the course of resignation and the course of madness.

But then, by now regular readers should be used to that.

Regular port-swillers will probably have figured out by now my strong Anglophilic streak.   What some might not understand is what that term means – at least to me.  It certainly doesn’t mean a love for what G.B. actually is now – a crumpled, defeated, Socialist state on the verge of being absorbed into a caliphate.   Rayther, it’s a love of a particular set of idealized values associated with her history and culture.  Unrealistic? Perhaps.  But critical to keeping alive the flame of Western Civilization?  I certainly think so.

Well anyway, I bring all this up mostly to point out that there is one British tradition with which I will have no truck whatever, namely Christmas turkey.  As I believe I mentioned last month some time, I don’t really like turkey that much, thus making Thanksgiving dinner a fairly meh meal for me.  But celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior with anything other than a big, rare roast of beef, Yorkshire pudding and all their proper attendant goodies?

As Vizzini would say, “Inconceivable!”

This year the Port-swiller household is remaining at home for the holidays, with no extended family coming in from out of town.  As it turns out, some close friends of ours find themselves in the same situation.  When we discovered our mutual situation, they immediately invited us to come join them for Christmas dinner, which we plan to do.  Fortunately, they have exactly the same idea about the proper menu for the day.

UPDATE:  I suppose I have to confess that I did once enjoy a turkey dinner on Christmas.  I was eight years old at the time and it was a wild bird, not a store-bought domestic one.  Perhaps what made it particularly tasty in my memory was the fact that I had shot it myself.   (Can you imagine that nowadays?)  Pride is an excellent garnish, indeed.

I apologize if I’ve been a bit of a bore about the whole religion thing in my posting lately.  My bad for not changing the record more often.

Well, here’s a bit of a tune-changer:  Some time either earlier this school year or the end of last year – I really can’t recall when – the upper forms at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method were told off to run a timed mile.  In that event, the eldest daughter clocked in at a shuffling, albeit not-quite-glacial, time of 10 minutes and change, finishing well back in the pack.

They ran the time trial again this week, and I’m happy to report that the gel finished second out of the whole group, coming in at 6 minutes and change.  Her next younger sister finished not very far behind her.

I happened to be at St. Marie of the BEM this afternoon, exchanging the Scylla of the annual office holiday party for the Charybdis of the school one, when somebody approached me to compliment me on the gel’s speed. “Yes, thanks,” I replied, “It’s amazing what can happen when they actually get off their lazy backsides and apply themselves.”

I must say in the gel’s defense that she was pretty durn pleased with herself as well.  Is it just possible that she’s finally learning something of the pleasure of real achievement?

The current forecast is for double-punch snow storms in Your Nation’s Capital, with the first dumping anywhere from 6 to 10 inches starting, well, tonight and the second rolling in Christmas Eve.

Keep talking, Al.  Keep talking……

Another day, another batch of holiday mail pledging the love and conveying the family news of people I’ve never heard of in my life.

I notice that the trend away from traditional folding cards with seasonal art on their covers and hand-written greetings inside and toward single sheet Shutterfly-generated picture postcards continues apace this year.  (A quick count among those received at the Port Swiller household so far puts the ratio at about 5:2 in favor of the latter.)  I’ve got no particular beef with this fashion, but it’s something I personally would not choose to do.

I also notice with some amusement the perils of what one might call automated holiday cheer:  we received three different copies of exactly the same card and news letter from the same family on the same day.  To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to receive two cards from the same source may be regarded as a misfortune;  to receive three looks like carelessness.

This evening I happened to notice a placard attached to the side of a bus here in Your Nation’s Capital.  It featured a group of Santa-hat-clad young persons, all smiles, and the caption “No God? …..No Problem!”

A quick bit o’ research reveiled this to be the seasonal campaign of an outfit called the American Humanist Association.   Say they in their p.r. bumf:

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, explained, “We’re hoping this campaign will build awareness about the humanist movement and our ethical life philosophy–particularly among the ‘nones:’ the rapidly growing percentage of people who claim no religion.”

Since 2005, humanist advertising has become increasingly visible, in particular with highway billboards erected in major cities across the United States. And last year, the American Humanist Association sparked national controversy by advertising the slogan “Why Believe in a God? Just be Good for Goodness’ Sake,” which appeared on Washington, D.C. Metro buses.

This year’s holiday campaign aims to promote the idea of being good without God. For example, on D.C. ads that appear on the interior of Metro cars and buses the slogan is accompanied by the explanation, “Be Good for Goodness’ Sake. Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.”

“Humanists have always understood that striving to make the world a better place is one of humanity’s most important responsibilities,” said Speckhardt. “Religion does not have a monopoly on morality–millions of people are good without believing in God.”

Speckhardt pointed to the false assumption held by many that not believing in God indicates a lack of morality as the reason for needing such advertising campaigns. “We want to change the way people think and talk about nontheists, and to pave the way for acceptance of humanism as a valid and positive philosophy of life.”

“We also want nontheists to know there is a community of like-minded individuals out there they can connect with,” continued Speckhardt. “Many feel uncomfortable talking openly about their personal beliefs because of prejudice against them–they fear they’ll be rejected by their family, their friends and their community, and in some cases, they even fear retaliation for their beliefs. But the American Humanist Association provides an accepting community for nontheists to turn to for support and ways to get involved.”

So said Lucifer, I believe, from the bed of burning, firey coal, after he’d been chucked out of Heaven for presuming he could do a better job than God.  (Well, okay….Milton gave Lucifer somewhat more stirring lines than does the AHA presser, and Lucifer at least acknowledged a real Heaven against which to rebel, but you get the point.)  And to the claim that humans can be “good” without a belief in God?  Well, you show me the historickal math, AHA, and then perhaps we’ll talk.

You know what, though? In the end, I find myself feeling terribly, terribly sorry for these people.  What a horrifyingly lonely way to pass through life.

One of the lines of the blessing we say in the Port-Swiller household before meals thanks God, “for Faith, when so many walk in darkness.”  I happened to be brooding upon this the other evening, and it especially hit home when I laid eyeballs on the AHA poster.  Frankly, it is wholely incomprehensible to me to fathom a mind-set that insists there is no Divine.  

Look, I believe in the Trinity.  This fills me with joy, and also influences my behavior toward others.  If I’m wrong, I’ll die having lived a more or less good life (with respect to my fellow humans) and gratified by the expectation of eternal happiness, even if it doesn’t come true.   

On the other hand, I could state proudly that I don’t buy in to any of that silly superstision.  But could I ever truly believe it? Wouldn’t there always be those nagging doubts knawing at me?  And, if I turned out to be wrong, how would I face Him and explain my error once I’d passed?

I would imagine that many so-called atheists muddle these questions from time to time, much to their discomfort.  Perhaps that’s why the advertising campaigns of outfits like AHA tend to be so shrill. 

God help these people, even if they don’t want it.

Apparently, there are some genuine benefits that go along with looking younger than your age:

LONDON – Those baby-faced people now have another reason to be smug: a new Danish study says looking young apparently means a longer life.

Research published online Monday in the British medical journal BMJ suggests that people who look younger than their years also live longer.

In 2001, Danish researchers conducted physical and cognitive tests on more than 1,800 pairs of twins over aged 70, as well as taking photos of their faces. Three groups of people who didn’t know the twins’ real ages guessed how old they were. The researchers then tracked how long the twins survived over 7 years.

The experts found that people who looked younger than their actual age were far more likely to survive, even after they adjusted for other factors like gender and environment. The bigger the difference in perceived age within any twin pair, the more likely it was that the older-looking twin died first.

They also found a possible biological explanation: people who looked younger also tended to have longer telomeres, a key DNA component that is linked to aging. People with shorter telomeres are thought to age faster. In the Danish study, the more fresh-faced people had longer telomeres.

Well, I don’t know much about telomeres.  All I know is that I turn 45 in just over a month and yet I still get carded from time to time whilst restocking the port-swiller cellars.   While I used to resent this, I’m beginning to enjoy it.

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