Christmas was one of those times it was wonderful to be growing up in Germany.
Everywhere, there was Christmas. I would walk home in the snow, and pausing to look up and see a sky full of stars as the church bells all rang the hour. We would sled down the half mile of the Osterberg. I would walk downtown to the Christmas market at the town square, with all the merchants with brightly colored umbrellas over their stalls and tables, picking my way through the apples and oranges and nuts, through the tables of hand-carved wooden toys, though the beautiful ornaments, and all the while, the air was filled with the smell of gingerbread, and of crepes, but most of all, the smell of candied almonds being made in a big barrel.

One year, our youth sponsors took us on a hike the week before Christmas. It was a long hike, thorough the woods. As the afternoon wore on, it got darker and darker, and we walked closer and closer to each other. We were in a thick pine forest, and beyond our flashlights, there was almost no light—that is why they call it the Black Forest.
It began to snow, coming down quickly in huge white flakes, and coating the ground ahead of us. The line tightened even more, and the littler children walked in the footprints of the larger kids. The snow began coming down even harder, so that one could barely see the dark shadows of the trees before and behind us, and covering our footprints behind us. It was now pitch black, covered over with a flurry cloud of white.

Suddenly, we stumbled into a clearing.

In the middle of the clearing was a pine tree covered from top to bottom with burning candles. The dazzling light turned the dark world we were in into a blinding white sphere. As each heavy snowflake would drift into view, it would suddenly shine. It remains one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and one of the most extravagant. There was also a candle-lit table with hot cocoa and Christmas cookies, and we warmed up and ate and sang songs, all the while staring at the beautiful tree covered with dozens and dozens of burning candles. In the middle of the chaos and darkness of the forest, a wonderful, dazzling bit of light had been planted. It served no purpose, but it defied the cold dreariness of winter, and, by its exuberance, turned it dazzling white.


When I am not at the Bistro or my other two jobs, I live with a misanthropic dog.
It’s not entirely true that he doesn’t like people; he likes people, but is not very good at liking.
Mickey also growls at and bites people.Mickey on chair 001
There are folks who think that dogs are good judges of character; he is not. He has bitten some of the best people I know. People see him and say, “Oh! He’s so cute! Is he sweet?” No. He isn’t. It is just a matter of time before he snaps at you.
Vets insist he be muzzled and sometimes even drugged before they will examine him.

Mickey is a Cairn Terriorist.

He seems to hate most people, but he loves me.
He still bites me occasionally, but usually I bite him back, and I weigh 150 pounds more than he does.
I also growl and bark more loudly.

Because he is unpredictable and vicious, he is often called “Stupid Dog!” but he is not. He is quite smart–not wise, but clever.
Once, when we were taking care of a golden retriever, the two of them were completing for my attention. Biscuit won by sitting on me–all 200 pounds of him. Mickey stared at him a minute, then walked into another room, and came back carrying a tennis ball in his mouth. He looked at Biscuit for a moment, then he flicked his head, tossing the tennis ball into the next room. Biscuit bounded off after it, and Mickey quietly took his place.

Mickey was a stray when we got him.
He appears to have been on the road for quite a while–his claws were worn down, and he had at least 4 intestinal parasites. He has an odd kink in his tail, so I think it was broken at some point. He will never allow anyone to touch his tail, in fact, he will turn with a furious snarl if startled from the back, sometimes even if touched anywhere near his haunches.

I put up with him; in fact, I’m rather fond of him, but I accept that Mickey on Round Bald (2)his affection will not come when I choose, but rather when he chooses. I wonder what happened in the two or three years before I knew him. I wonder if he chose to run away from something, I wonder what broke his tail and stiffened that hip. I assume he has his reasons for his fear and anger; sometimes, they catch up to him in his nightmares, or during storms and loud noises.

I will never know; he is a dog and can never tell me his history.
Yet he does have one.

I don’t have to understand him to care for him.
I just have to care, and to be there with food, water, play, companionship, long walks on the AT. and a lap for naps.
It’s actually better if I know I don’t understand him, and I don’t make any assumptions or have expectations.
I just have to read his mood right now.

He doesn’t really understand me either, and he knows this.
Yet he is fond of me.

He doesn’t have to be sweet for me to care for him. His unpredictability and lack of insight don’t remove my responsibility to care for him, rather they make it stronger.
After all, we humans should be the understanding creatures.



Anybody who knows me knows that I have a tendency to lose things—notes, books, pens, spectacles, kidneys, my left hand, etc. Once I almost lost my brother.

It happened like this:
James & I were out for a long walk in the woods a mile or so from the apartment we lived in. I admit, I was a little unhappy to have my brother tagging along, and was wishing I were with cooler friends, but there it was. We were late getting home (again, anybody who knows me knows that I am almost always late; I have a fairly good sense of time, but choose to ignore it). We were late, and I was worried about getting into trouble, so we took a short-cut.
There was a huge construction site near our house, and by cutting across it (I love a good steeple chase, always have) I felt we could make better time. It was probably to be a new apartment building—20 stories or so, so they had dug a good basement/foundation, and left a pile of dirt. The pile of dirt was about a story and a half tall, and maybe a block wide—in the Midwest, this would qualify as a mountain.  We began to climb,
…and climb,
…and climb.

At the top, there was a huge plateau of dirt, stretching as far as I could see; I couldn’t even see the 16 story building we lived in, just a world of dirt. It had been raining for a few days, so it was muddy, and we sunk in as we walked, but I had the confidence of an 11-year-old who lives life as a disinherited nobleman, so I wasn’t worried.
Maybe a little worried about what my Mom would say, but not terribly worried.

We started across the mud, two small explorers alone in a wasteland.

About half way through, we encountered a big patch of clay, and James began to sink. You sink a little bit in mud, but clay pulls you down like quicksand, and holds you tight.
He sank, and started to yell.
I told him to keep very, very still, otherwise he would sink deeper.
He kept still, but started to cry.
He was chest deep in vicious clay, still sinking, and I had no firm footing to pull him out.
These were some of the most terrifying minutes I have ever spent.

Talking to him, trying to calm him, I worked my way to where he was stuck. He looked at me with his watery pale blue eyes, panicked, but absolutely convinced that I would take care of him. I wish I had been as sure.

I only knew that the thought of losing him was more than I could bear.

Gradually—I am not entirely sure how—I worked him out of that hole he was sinking into. All of him except one shoe, which I couldn’t recover.
We slogged home in silence, and were in big trouble; we were late, we were covered head to toe in mud, and he was missing one shoe.

I have a retarded brother.
I realize that anyone who has a brother has thought that at some time, but my brother has Down Syndrome. It is a genetic disorder—one of those failed meiosis things—meaning he has an extra 21st chromosome. This leads to a variety of developmental delays and physical differences. He can communicate English, German and ASL, and, when he isn’t cranky and mule-headed, has an amazing level of empathy, but he does have cognitive and social limitations. As his younger brother (he loves to remind me he is the older one and the good-looking one; my sister is incredibly smart, that left me as the creative, eccentric one), this was generally difficult.

Let me make perfectly clear that I do not like the word retarded, and I hate hearing it used as a pejorative.

Until I started High School, we had never been in the same school. If any of you remember the High School Cafeteria, you will remember that there are rigid social divisions—who can sit with whom, who the cool or popular kids are, which are the pariahs. You might remember the nerdy or geek tables as being the outcasts—the freaks—but there was always one table that was even lower on the scale: The Special Education Table. In those days, the Special Education kids were kept far way—often in a trailer—but invisible, except in the cafeteria. Each day, I would see him there with his buddies, and each day, I would turn my face, afraid to be shamed by being associated with “them.”

This was terrible.
I was wracked with guilt for weeks.
Each day I resolved I would say Hi, and each day I would chicken out, and them kick myself for my cowardice. “He’s your brother! How can you disown him?!?” However, each time I walked by, I turned away, afraid of what my friends might say. I thought about it constantly,  lay awake at night brooding on it, prayed about it, worked it through, but I felt so awful.

Finally, after a month or so, I worked up the courage, and, as I walked by, in a little timid voice, I said: “Hi, Jimmy.”

He stared at me with those blue eyes.
Terror and shame played across them.
He turned away, and covered his face, hoping his friends hadn’t noticed that this “freshman,” this geeky kid with glasses and braces and a voice that cracked had talked to him.

I laughed.

After that, each day I made it a point to stop, and in as loud a voice as I could to yell: “Hey, Jim-bo!”

That’s what brothers do.

PS: He turns 52 next Saturday. If you want to send him a card, send a message, and I’ll send you his address. He loves to have a fuss made over him (who doesn’t?)

1205signature courage

Gluten-free Almond Scones

GF Almond Scones 1I am just finishing teaching a class on Ancient Philosophy which I call “How to Live Well.” Of course, part of learning that is learning to drink tea and eat scones, so I had them over for the last class & their presentations.
One of them, a very dear one, discovered last summer that she was sensitive to both Lactose and Gluten, so I had to come up with some substitutes.


  • 1 1/2 cup Almond flour
  • 1 1/2 cup Rice flour
  • 1 cup gluten-free wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  •  3 Tbsp chilled butter (margarine if lactose free)
  • 1 cup  Plain yogurt (coconut yogurt if lactose free)
  • 1 egg
  • Slivered almonds or raisins to taste.

Step 1, Prepare Ye the way: Preheat the oven to 400°, assemble all the ingredients, run to the store for what you are missing (who finished the baking powder!?!), and grease two baking sheets.

Step 2, sifting the dry ingredients: In one bowl sift (mix if you don’t have a sifter) the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix thoroughly.

Step 3, pastry cutting: Cut in the ice cold sliced butter, using either a pastry cutter or a knife. I suppose some processer thingy can do this, too, but I don’t own one. The result should be crumbly.

Step 4, mixing the wet ingredients: In another bowl, mix the yoghurt and the egg.

Step 4, combining the big mess: Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix well. The results might be a bit gloppy. Try not to overwork the dough. The consistency will be much firmer than batter, but a little more liquid than cookie dough, a little drier than raw muffin. Stir in nuts or dried fruit if you want.

Step 5, baking: Flouring your hands, form little scone sized patties out of the dough and put them on the greased. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. See how they look. Stick a toothpick in one and see if it comes out battery.

Final Step, share and enjoy They do make a handy breakfast, GF Almond Scones 2which is much easier to eat in the car than the pie. They are perfect for sharing over breakfast, or in the afternoon over tea, or for dropping by and giving to friends.