(Book Review) Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Fr Nicola Yanney

Three years ago my family and I moved from my native Oregon to NW Wisconsin. It’s not much of a move compared to Fr Nicola Yanney’s immigration from Syria to Nebraska, but in a small way I left everything I’d ever known, and when I heard about this book I really needed to read it. It told the story of another soul who not only left home and church and family, but who settled here in the American midwest.

I’m sure it’s a different place than when the Yanneys originally made their homestead, but in some ways we face similar obstacles. Out among the farms, Orthodox parishes are few and far between and usually small. A regular pastor might or might not be attached to a parish. The elements and the climate can be harsh and unforgiving. In rural America, people are still often monetarily poor.

“Apostle to the Plains” is the story of a man who, in the midst of all this rocky soil, not only sprouted, but in Christ bloomed and flourished. In a worldly sense he endured tremendous sorrow. As I listened, I found myself in tears approximately every forty pages, because of all the bereavement that was so common at the turn of the 20th century (which is a compliment I must pay the authors of this book – I don’t recall the last time a historical biography engaged me on such an emotional level).  Fr Nicola bore every cross. He sacrificed everything most of us consider most valuable: family, honest prosperity, a home. But in the words of the Apostle Paul, “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil 3:8). Fr Nicola Yanney truly exchanged everything he had for the pearl of great price, and he continued to do so until he died.

On a wider historic level the book gives readers a glimpse into the foundations of Orthodoxy in America, and through Fr Nicola’s eyes, a very personal experience of the struggles the church suffered in becoming established here.  I am a convert to Orthodoxy, and without people like Fr Nicola to shepherd Orthodox immigrants through those years, I wonder if an American Orthodoxy would’ve survived for me to be baptized into. On behalf of myself, my husband and my four children  (who were all baptized just after their birth) I feel deep gratitude to Fr Nicola and those like him who sacrificed so much temporal treasure for the sake of eternal gain. IMG_20200507_100211_075

Educating at Home

How’s everyone doing out there with this weirdness going on? Every day it’s something new. Sort of. Us introverts are more or less carrying on as usual. Homeschool parents are feeling kind of validated. Which led to this post, because a few friends have asked my input recently. More explicitly, “you do this all the time – how do you do it?!”

My first thought is “I don’t!” Not “I don’t home school,” but “I am not doing what you are doing.” I had the privilege of homeschooling from the start, which means I’ve set up my life, to some extent, around schooling my kids. It’s part of every day and has been from the beginning, so we have a lot of advantages: routines, expectations, lots of time to think (since before my kids were born, in my case – that’s when I decided to homeschool), lots of time to study and learn how to teach my own kids, connections in a homeschool community. This is not to discourage you or say that without these advantages you can’t homeschool your children well. It’s a suggestion that we compare apples to apples. We are playing entirely different games.

To my mind, in this quarantine situation, parents who are temporarily schooling at home are more accurately substitute teachers. Well, guess what? I did that too. It was my first job after grad school, and it was harder than any job I did before or since. You are not only tasked with teaching, but with somehow picking up where a different teacher (with a different approach and style, because she is a different person) left off. You probably need to help your students keep up with a syllabus so that they aren’t behind and don’t forget what they’ve learned when regular schooling resumes. You might even be doing it while keeping up with your regular job. Friend, that’s a tall order.

So, while acknowledging that our situations are so different and possibly I don’t have much idea of the hurdles you face, I can offer the following suggestions. They are submitted in a spirit of solidarity, as parents who want our children to grow up with the best resources we can give them, whatever that might look like under normal circumstances.

1. Pray. Begin each day with prayer and begin each lesson with prayer. Not religious? I believe God honors whatever grasp of truth we possess, so do what your conscience prompts. Just take a minute to remember what our ultimate goal is: these children are gifts, and our efforts honor the gift.

2. Pace yourself. When you’re home with kids all day, giving the kind of attention required by formal education, it’s exhausting for all involved – if you don’t pace properly. Every moment does not need to be filled. You do not need to be together at every moment (constant togetherness is a recipe for disaster in any relationship). Here’s our schedule to give you an idea of what I mean. Bear in mind that we are in no way religious about this schedule. In fact, yesterday was sunny and warm, so we played outside and called it a field day.

5am: Wake.

5-6:30am: Chores, free play.

6:30am: Morning prayers.

7am: Breakfast.

8am: Outdoor play, weather permitting (inclement weather is any temperature below 0 – our time outside is sometimes short but it helps get the “ya-yas” out.

9am: “Morning basket.” This includes a prayer for God to help us with our mental efforts, a Bible reading, the life of a saint, discussion of a prayer by a saint (we choose one for the week to talk about), and a poem. Often they are sipping hot cocoa while this happens.

10am. Free play, often Legos or play doh or coloring. Sometimes we listen to an audiobook or music.

11am: Nap or rest, depending on the kid.

11am: Academic time with oldest kid – reading, writing, math.

12pm: Lunch.

1pm: Outdoor play.

2pm: Afternoon academics, including history, geography, literature, nature study, natural history, art appreciation, music appreciation, or hand crafts.

3pm: Free play. Sometimes a project with mom.

4pm: Dinner, usually while listening to the “Readings from Under the Grapevine” podcast.

4:45pm: Pyjamas, prayers, brush teeth, bedtime stories.

5-5:30pm: Bedtime.

Does it look like minimal academic time? My oldest is just about to turn 6 and we follow a Charlotte Mason philosophy, which means the academics are somewhat intense but the periods are very short. Quality over quantity, which I think is a good lesson for any educator – it just works with where kids are at developmentally. Lots of time left for movement and exercising other parts of the brain.

3. Don’t underestimate the learning value of all things that are not “school.” We waited until almost age 6 to begin formally educating our oldest, because of Charlotte Mason’s persuasive argument that until age 6, kids have more important work to do. They spend 6 years learning all about the world around them, developing a relationship with it, and developing personally. Only after that important “first-hand” work is complete, is it time to approach abstractions like letters and numbers.

Remember it’s a season, and education is a long process. Few things we do on a given day will make or break the long term results of our kids’ education. Our relationships with them, however, are slightly more sensitive. Emphasize relationship over school and both relationship and learning seem to benefit.

Get outside in nature, cook or bake together, get reacquainted with your pets or your hobbies. Tell stories you didn’t have time to tell before. Reconnect. This weird chapter in our lives could be made into a gift.

What I’d Have Said Had I Been There

Yesterday was my dad’s funeral. After a series of disappointments I won’t list, I wasn’t able to be there. If I had been, I’d have read the following. This is the Paschal homily of St John Chrysostom, and I can’t think of a more meaningful text for the circumstances (well, other than the text of an Orthodox funeral, but dad wasn’t Orthodox, so he missed out on that). St John tells us everything about why we should not fear death. At all. And if there’s any place I want to hear that, it’s at a funeral.

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Memory Eternal, Thomas Dawson. ☦

Just Eat Your Spinach

A couple of times this year I’ve written that I feel like I’m dying, so now that I believe you’ll be stuck with me a while longer, I feel obliged to offer an explanation, if not an apology. If the last one to the grave writes the epitaphs, I’m still in the race. Looking at you, Christina.

I saw a neurologist, who told me that whatever is wrong, it’s not in my head. I really appreciated that because the first three doctors I saw seemed to think that it was – one even suggested I was just depressed. I said, “but I feel happy…” She said, “well, you can be depressed without having a low mood.” I was first diagnosed with depression at age 9, and in 30 years of contending with mood disorders that’s a new one on me. I was sleeping 18 hours a day, had chronic joint pain, and brain fog that made me feel drunk, but to be honest, I have rarely felt happier. I was too dumb with fatigue to worry or feel sad about anything.

Most importantly, he said, it’s not anything scary like multiple sclerosis or early onset Alzheimer’s. Overnight oxymetry even ruled out sleep apnea. So the good news is, I have none of those things. So, so, so much gratitude. The bad news is we still don’t know what I do have.

If anything (other than celiac, which is quite possibly VERY MUCH enough). 30 days ago I started an autoimmune diet and started trying to work out again. 30 days ago “trying to” were the key words in that sentence, because I could barely peel myself off the floor, I was so tired. Tonight I completed a 30 minute HIIT workout without thinking about it.

So, the other obligation I feel here is to do a little evangelizing. The good news is this: like your mama told you, eat your veggies, your fish, and your pastured meats, and you’ll be strong like Popeye. Or something. That’s basically the only change I made. Having a celiac diagnosis, I also dropped all grains, and to find out if I have other issues I temporarily eliminated dairy, eggs, legumes, and nightshade vegetables. I’m adding those back one at a time starting this week. Not grains, of course. Grains and I have finalized an acrimonious – apocalyptic, even – divorce. But the takeaway is this: I got kind of responsible about my nutrition (compared to my previous diet, which included days of living on coffee alone, at times – I have four kids under 6 – don’t judge), and I now feel better than I felt before I felt terminal.

Your mama knew what she was talking about. Eat your spinach.

Why I Write…Really

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: attend!

My degree is in teaching writing. I’m slow to admit that as I feel it holds me to a standard I’m usually too lazy to meet. In part I pursued English as a career because I enjoy watching the torture inflicted by my very presence at parties when people begin to think I must know grammar and proper usage and they tie themselves in mental knots trying to avoid split infinitives or dangling modifiers.

For the record, the last actual grammar class I took was during my undergraduate studies in 2002. These days I mostly know grammar by feel just like all native English speakers. In fact, if anything, my attunement to grammar is a curse, because it’s genuine torture to hear words like “gift” being used as a verb – “I gifted her a Strunk and White first edition” – and feel that such use is completely barbaric and also know that it’s a historically and factually correct use that has been observed since the 16th century. OMG, SO wrong and yet so painfully right…

No. The real reason I wanted to teach writing had nothing to do with my grammar Nazi streak. It was the discovery that I see life differently when I’m writing it than when I’m living it, and that was an epiphany to me. One tends to want to share epiphanies with others: therefore, teaching.

Day to day, I am extremely practical and tend to bury my nose in the next thing on my extensive to-do list. I miss the forest for the trees because I seem to be a reincarnated border collie. I am wired for the doing, constantly doing, always moving, preferably running.

But as better people than me have observed (Ferris Buehler), you can let a whole life slip through your fingers like that. My kids are growing up, my relationship with my husband is developing, my farm is evolving, the seasons are changing, I am aging.

Unless I write it I’m unlikely to laugh at my ridiculous goats, who are a total menace as well as a riot. The other day one of the does got stuck in the chicken pen. She was losing her mind. Her friends were losing their minds. The chickens were losing their minds. The barn cats were sitting back and munching popcorn. I was annoyed at the addition of another problem to solve in an already-overloaded day. But dang, man. The farm beasts are the best entertainment money can buy, if you pause and attend.

Unless I write it, it will pass me by that even in my third winter here the cold continues to surprise me. My husband and I both spent almost the first 40 years of our lives in temperate climates, and as we drove from Oregon to Wisconsin in the November of 2017 we watched the temperature drop with some awe. We drove through Dickinson, ND, and noted that 9 degrees there was the coldest temperature either of us had ever experienced. Two years later, I’ve survived a wind chill of -53, but I still seem not to understand cold well. Monday night the temperature fell to -7, and as I walked from the house to the barn to do chores I was somehow surprised at how cold it felt. Having experienced weather so much colder, why did -7 feel so cold? Well, genius, temperature past a certain point is no longer relative. It’s a good thing I’m writing that down, since it seems not to be sinking in otherwise.

Unless I write it I miss the fleeting moments in which my children are themselves at this particular point in their lives. My Marta will only be this two and a half year old girl for a short while. She will soon outgrow her ridiculous toddler quirks. Right now she plays little games – she asks “what did you say?” over and over until you realize she heard you just fine the first time and is trying to see how long she can keep you engaged (or how long she can keep a straight face, since manipulating adults is the top amusement in her life).

So there we have it. I love writing because it forces me to attend. I apologize if it doesn’t always generate the most fascinating blog content. I strive for interesting writing but sometimes I’m also clacking on the keyboard just to record and notice. The only people I teach now are my four homeschool kiddos and occasionally my friends who remember I have the skills to polish a resume for them. But let me tell you one thing: even if you never love your writing enough to let other eyes see it, keep writing. It helps your own eyes see much more clearly.

A Drunken Narcoleptic

What a wild ride this has been. I hesitate to write so soon just in case it’s not over, but I am starving for normalcy, so I’ll take the risk. Please accept my advance apology for any awkward or clumsy language use in the following, because the events of the last three weeks significantly affected my language understanding and use.

A drunken narcoleptic.

That’s how I told my husband to treat me for the past three weeks. I was so tired I couldn’t remember my own name. After he went to work, the lunatics were in charge of the asylum. As far as I can tell there’s some other adult here besides me who puts the milk in the cupboard rather than the fridge and who is constantly beginning chores and walking away in the middle. I called the feed store and made the poor guy tell me goat mineral prices three times because it took me too long to write them down: I forgot in the middle.

I was so tired that when someone suggested that coffee could be affecting me paradoxically somehow, causing me to be sleepier, I dropped it the same day. That’s right: I broke up with coffee. My love and the only friend that has been constantly holding my hand through days of barely being able to keep my eyes open.

Now, I know how to deal with being tired, how to carry on. I’m a former Alaskan fish processor, a three-time marathoner, pregnant four times, and mom of four resulting newborns. I think I have earned a PhD in fatigue studies. Still, last week my husband had to stay home from work two days because I could not get out of bed, and once up I couldn’t stay awake.

I’ve seen four doctors in search of a reason behind this. Starting last August, at which time my baby started sleeping through the night regularly and there was no reason for me to feel deliriously sleepy, fatigued, and in head to toe pain.

“Your labs are all normal!” the nurses said cheerfully after the first two visits, and I never heard from them again. After the third visit I got referred to a neurologist to test for narcolepsy, because “your labs were all normal in October – no reason to check them again.” Well. I guess I’ll go home and try to feel as well as my labs indicate that I am.

Last week we bit the bullet and visited a Mayo clinic hospital, 45 minutes away, that bastion of medical competence and leading edge of research. They agreed that there were more labs to be run. My doctor called me on Friday: “celiac.”

Now, I suspected wheat was a possible offender and dropped it in October when doctor #2 threw up her hands and said “there’s nothing wrong with you.” At least three members of my immediate family are significantly allergic. And after I stopped eating it I did, indeed, feel better. Until early January.

“It’s possible you accidentally ate some gluten through cross contamination,” my doctor said. “And folks with celiac can have allergies to things other than wheat. And having celiac increases your odds of developing other autoimmune disorders…” The ongoing severe brain fog, he said, was concerning. It wasn’t uncommon with getting “glutened” and could be expected to last up to a month. But he wondered, especially, about the part where I had become quiet because it was too hard for my brain to construct sentences, and I couldn’t read because text was too complex, and couldn’t listen to audiobooks because sentences were too long for me to follow. I never realized how confusing English syntax could be if you couldn’t remember the subject long enough to apply a verb to it, or remember who did what to the object. I have a referral to a neurologist.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to adult in a 24 hour drunken stupor, much less tried to parent or run a small farm in one, but I havent felt this dazed and confused since college. I promised lifelong loyalty to my orneriest dairy goat because I milked her one day, walked out of the barn with her still in the stanchion, and forgot about her till I came out to collect eggs two hours later. Poor beast.

Fortunately my children are pretty vocal and if I left them in a stanchion they’d say something. Loudly. And probably offer me some choice words about putting them in a goat stanchion (though what farming parent of a three year old hasn’t considered it?).

So I dropped every possible allergic offender from my diet: coffee, dairy, wheat, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, sugar. I subsist on meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. I started exercising again daily because I read that could clear the brain fog. I consume enough omega 3s (in whole food form) to rebuild 20 brains. I do think things are improving: friends were over yesterday and I think I managed to hold a reasonable adult conversation with them, though I accidentally left that morning’s milk in the freezer and forgot it, and almost nuked an empty bowl, leaving the broccoli on the counter next to the microwave. Look at me – I’m even taking a stab at writing.

And here’s my favorite funny about the whole thing: what if I’m not suddenly mentally incompetent, but in reality have received sudden enlightenment in regard to my true, lifelong mental condition? Maybe I was always this much of a train wreck and I only just noticed…

I’ll keep you posted!

Let Us Attend

“Attend!” barked my 10th grade French teacher.

“Wisdom! Let us attend!” cries the deacon.

And I got F’s in attendance throughout all my schooling. Including grad school.

The whole world is red flagging my lack of attendance.

I feel like there’s a theme here. The new year is approaching and everyone seems to be choosing a “word of the year,” and while I usually rebel against such trends, sometimes they actually do represent a good idea. A word to focus my attention on for the year, one to center my efforts around. A theme to…attend to.

In English I hear “be attentive.” In French it means “wait.” In Latin it actually means “to stretch toward.” Sort of like you do when you’re waiting and being super attentive, listening so hard you’re about to fall out of your chair? Ah. That’s the word I’m looking for then. Because I’ve noticed a glaring lack of this in my life.

I am a doer, an early riser, a marker of benches, a measurer of accomplishments, a writer and checker-offer of “to do” lists. When I feel bad about myself I remember a handful of my proudest accomplishments and they genuinely make me feel better. For a minute. But then I remember that in reality those accomplishments represented me only for approximately the moment in which they were happening. I want to think that as a person who finished several marathons with reasonable times that this means “I am a person who completes marathons!” And I did probably take away something valuable from the experience. But is that the most important quality in me now? Do I really have to throw myself back 13 years to find my most redeeming quality? Isn’t there anything more to me, now?

Only if I stop and look at now. Only if I…attend. But I’m usually way too busy for that. I’m changing diapers, feeding children, cleaning a house, milking goats, worrying about the budget, cooking the food, pursuing a side gig for some extra money, writing a blog. Right now I do not have time.

And yet it’s a truism that right now is the only time I have. Right now is when I can watch my little people unfold, like little presents daily unwrapping themselves, into the people they are. Right now is when I can be thankful for the food, the home, the sufficient income, the useful work.

I thought about choosing the word “present,” like be present, but the fact that “attend” is an imperative verb is helpful to me. When I hear it, usually it’s somewhat shouted. Deacons don’t whisper and neither do high school French teachers. And I probably need it shouted at me. I am not good at hearing it.

Step 1. We are losing our TV. If you’ve known us for any length of time, we’ve been TV free three separate times. Each time, after a year or two, someone has kindly corrected our lack of electronics. We are about to uncorrect.

Step 2. Limit phone time. I love my phone to death, no joke. I love sharing pictures of my kids with family we left in Oregon two years ago. I love texting with friends, since as a rural stay at home mom in a one car family I don’t socialize a lot. I run an Etsy business that I publicize through social media. But I shudder at my habit of turning to my phone in times of stress or boredom. Once upon a time stress and boredom were a source of creativity. Time to return them to their rightful throne.

Step 3. Attend! Be present. Anchor to reality through five senses, radically accept this current moment, be here, now.

Those are the goals and that is the word for 2020. Attend. I imagine it will greatly improve everything it touches.

Relevant Worship (a review of “Orthodox Worship,” By Benjamin Williams and Harold Anstall

What did worship in the early church look like? Which modern church reflects that worship the most closely? If Judaism is the mother of Christianity, why does so much modern Christian worship bear no resemblance to Jewish worship? At what point did things change so drastically? For that matter…what’s the purpose of worship at all?

Modern Christians are either falling away from the church in droves or they are fighting tooth and nail to find their way back to a faith that looks more like what the Apostles experienced. Their struggle is often fuelled by the questions above.

If you have questions like these, the book “Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity With the Synagogue, the Temple, and the Early Church” is the text you are looking for. In this book, Benjamin Williams and Harold Anstall explain how closely early Christian worship was intertwined with temple and synagogue worship, and they paint a picture of the early church. They flesh out the Gospel account of Jesus’ worship as an observant Jew and describe how the Apostles and early disciples would have continued to practice their Jewish faith with the illumination or faith in Christ.

Because early Christian worship was so intertwined with Jewish worship, they observe, it was liturgical in the same way, and Jewish liturgical worship was revealed by God in the Old Testament as a reflection of heavenly worship. That leads us to the purpose of worship, its critical importance, and the root of a modern problem: the majority of modern Christian worship no longer follows a liturgical format, and it has thus lost its root as a reflection of heavenly worship.

If liturgy is so important, where do we turn? To the only church that has remained stubbornly faithful, throughout history, to its liturgical tradition: the Eastern Orthodox church. This church looks strange to many Western Christians, having grown out of a culture foreign to us. But it shares its culture and history with Christ and the Apostles themselves. In part one, the book explains how the Orthodox Divine Liturgy we see today developed from the original Old Testament liturgical worship, through the worship of the early Christians. In the book’s second part, Williams and Anstall write a useful guide to the origins, format, elements and meaning of the oldest liturgy in Christendom, and show it to be unalterably relevant, as the inheritance of that heavenly liturgy first revealed by God to the Jews. Listen to this book and you will learn, in fact, how it is that liturgy includes not just the purpose of worship, but the meaning of life itself.

Top 10 Dysphoric Christmas Songs

Not everyone feels totally ready to Rock Around the Christmas Tree. For some of us, even if we aren’t feeling downright Grinchy, our bells sound a little more…bass, than jingly. “Merry” does not describe us.

In the words of the immortal 80s band “The Waitresses,”

Bah humbug! – that’s too strong

cause it is my favorite holiday

Indeed, Waitresses. But between “bah humbug” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is there some room for us, who are a little ambivalent and maybe even a little on the dark side?

Here are ten links to songs that make up my Dysphoric Christmas Playlist.

1. The Nutcracker “Coffee (Arabian Dance)” (Tchaikovsky). https://youtu.be/B5ciIug1kbM

Like your Christmas in a minor key? Tchaikovsky is your man. If you know the story, this part of the Nutcracker isn’t actually sad, but pulled out of context it could be downright morose.

2. “River” (Joni Mitchell)

Yep, sometimes I wish I had a river I could skate away on. Adulting at The Most Wonderful Time of the Year can be a bit much.

3. “I Believe in Father Christmas” (Greg Lake)

“Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get we deserve.” This gem is a little on the cynical side, but I’m almost 40, and yeah, many years have passed since I could experience Christmas as an unadulterated joy. I’m thankful to be re-experiencing it that way, somewhat, through my own children, but I do sometimes feel a little sold.

4. “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” (Nat King Cole)

This one might perversely turn your dysphoria around, since it’s so maudlin it’s hard to suppress a little laugh. “I’m so sorry for that laddie / he hasn’t got a daddy / the little boy that Santa Claus forgot.” At the very least you’ll laugh so you don’t cry.

5. “If We Make it Through December” (Merle Haggard)

(Thanks to a fellow blogger for this one – you know who you are.) Hard times persist even at Christmastime, as all grownups know, despite assertions from songs like “We Need a Little Christmas.” Christmas does not actually make everything better.

6. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (Band Aid)

Despite some naiveté and an excess of wokeness, they’ve got a point. (Also there are lots of places in the world that don’t get snow at Christmas, and they do still, somehow, know it’s Christmas, but it would be pedantic to point that out I guess.) Tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you.


7. “Hard Candy Christmas” (Dolly Parton)

Thanks, Dolly. I, too, am barely getting through tomorrow (there might be some grammatical tense agreement issues there), but together we won’t let sorrow bring us way down.

8. “The Same Old Lang Syne” (Dan Fogelberg)

Ah, the lament for lost innocence and the wondering about what might have been. Sums up my holiday angst nicely, though mine has nothing to do with old lovers.

9. “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch” (original version, sung by Thurl Ravenscroft)

a) You’re welcome – whenever this particular Jeopardy question comes up you’ll know the answer is “who was Thurl Ravenscroft?”

b) I do feel an odd sense of affirmation when I listen to this, the full, lyrical indictment of the original Grinch. Because I don’t think I can yet claim to be “a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce,” so – vindicated – and yet I do feel a certain sympathy for and resonance with the Grinch himself, whose “heart is full of unwashed socks.” It’s complicated.

10. Turns out that my Dysphoric Christmas Playlist actually has only 9 songs. Life is like that: a little disappointing sometimes. Even at Christmas.

A Day in the Life of Nicholas

Note: Suitable for use as an instructional text. – ND.

5 am: Begin the day with a round of recreational screaming. Not crying – let me be clear – this is just warming up my pipes. I can’t yet break glass with my shrieking but I can feel I’m getting close. More practice.

5:05 am: Glad I warmed up my pipes, because it’s time to express my strenuous disapproval that dad insists on a diaper change before food. When my shrieking breaks a window they’ll rearrange their priorities.

5:10 am: I think behaviorists call this “shaping via negative feedback.” The food is definitely not arriving fast enough. I will make conditions intolerable until it gets here. Via shrieking.

6 am: The food is gone and it was definitely not enough. More screaming will convey my dissatisfaction.

6:30 am: Prayers. If I spit up a tenth of my breakfast by the time we finish the trisagion prayers, I have time to scream along with the troparia. I don’t have a lot else to offer during this season of my life, so I hope Jesus accepts my sacrifices of spitups and screaming.

7 am: Having surrendered a tenth of my own breakfast it’s time to scream till dad surrenders some of his. I’ll take some eggs and some toast, please, and don’t be stingy with the apple butter.

7:30 am: Clean up any dropped food under breakfast table.

8 am: Play time, and since it’s December I can choose between climbing the Christmas tree or just eating the fir needles I find on the floor underneath. Feeling both lazy and peckish so I munch needles – I hear they’re rich in vitamin C.

9 am: Munch some orange chalk my sister accidentally dropped. It doesn’t taste like oranges at all but has a decent crunch.

9:30 am: Mom left the bathroom door open so I snack on some cat food. Why do they insist on acting like it will poison me? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Mo doesn’t mind sharing – why are you so stingy?

10 am: Nap time or so I’m told. If it fits my agenda I might snooze. Or I might fit in a little more recreational screaming.

12 pm: Lunch. The service here is awful but the food is decent. Venison and sweet potatoes. Bonus: sweet potatoes have a really eye catching color on neutral carpet.

1 pm: Physical fitness is extremely important. I like to get a little core workout doing what I call “gator rolls with resistance.” I do these during most diaper changes. Mom and dad provide resistance.

2 pm: Squirm til put down.

2:02 pm: Scream till picked up.

2:03:30: Repeat sequence for about two hours.

4 pm: Catnap or more vocal exercises.

5 pm: Dinner. First my own, then anyone else’s who is susceptible to my irresistible ways (screaming).

5:30 pm: Bedtime. I’m pretty done by now. I might shriek a little if they’re too slow putting me down. See what I did there? All day long I scream to be picked up and then I flip the script last thing. Can’t let things get predictable.

8 pm: Growl periodically just to make them wonder what they heard. Keep them looking at the baby monitor. That way if you really need something you’ve honed their attentiveness. Note: under no circumstances actually cry, or they may come and try to drag you out of your warm, cozy bed for some misdirected insanity like a late night diaper change.

1 am: more growling. Because sleep deprived parents are suggestible parents who submit to my irresistible wiles (screaming).