Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Putting (Serenity Prayer) Puzzle Pieces Together

When I was a child, whenever I came across a book I enjoyed (Cherry Ames, Pollyanna, Swallows and Amazons - to name a few) I immediately went to the library to see if the book was part of a series. If it was, I would read them all - I hated to part with the characters and their adventures.

My adult reading follows a similar pattern, except that now, when I come across a book I enjoy, I not only try to read all the author has written, but I follow references and quotes and try to read the books the author has quoted. Which is how I happened to be reading Now and Then by Frederick Buechner, a story of this novelist-turned-theologian's years in seminary and early ministry. I had come across references to his books and felt it was time to learn more about this contemporary Christian writer.

One of the interesting anecdotes in this book concerns Reinhold Niebuhr who had been one of his professors at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Niebuhr, best known - to me - as the author of the Serenity Prayer, had had a stroke, but he was still teaching. This is how Buechner remembers him:

I see Reinhold Niebuhr, for instance. in a beret with the wind ballooning out his raincoat as he walks his poodle along Riverside Drive. A stroke had left his speech slightly indistinct at times and one arm less than fully functional, but he always gave me the impression of great energy and wit, great involvement in the events of the time. He had been Roosevelt's adviser... There seemed to be ... no eminence that he couldn't have attained in any field where he'd chosen to attain it; but it was to the church that he gave himself in all its shabbiness, as well as all its glory, to his students, to the work of Christ, whom he served with all his urbanity and shrewdness - that tamed cynic, as he called himself, his bad arm tucked in against his chest and his speech slurred... It was the glittering breadth of his knowledge that I remember best, his gift for applying the insights of the Christian faith to the whole spectrum of politics, economics, international affairs.

As I read that, I wondered if this was when he wrote the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Was it after his stroke that he realized he had to accept the things he couldn't change and simply get on with his life...?

But no, I discovered (thanks to the internet). It seems that he wrote the prayer much earlier. It had been sent to World War II soldiers and army chaplains as a prayer of comfort. His debilitating stroke came at least a decade later, in 1952 - at age 60.

Did the prayer offer him comfort or guidance at this time? I wondered. Did he ever think of it as a strange foreshadowing?

Again, the answer came (thanks to the Internet) in the link above, where
Niebuhr tells of his depression following the stroke, and his embarrassment when people constantly reminded him of the words of the Serenity Prayer.

"I confessed my embarrassment to our family physician, who had a sense of humor touched with gentle cynicism," he writes.

"Don't worry," the doctor told him. "Doctors and preachers are not expected to practice what they preach."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Granuloma Annulare

I have... granuloma annulare...

It's not a serious problem... Just one that people often ask me about when they notice the strange skin discoloration on my hand.

It started quite a few years ago (perhaps 10 or 15) - a reddish smudge on a knuckle of my right hand that made me think I must have (unknowingly) burned myself taking a pan out of the oven. The reddish spot resembled a burn. But then it grew into a circle. At this point I talked to my doctor about it, and he reassured me that it was "nothing." But to be on the safe side, he sent me to a dermatologist to confirm his diagnosis. The dermatologist did a biopsy which confirmed that nothing serious was wrong.

It will go away in time, he told me. Don't worry about it.

And it did. After several years, the mark - spread across my right hand - disappeared. But about that time, a similar one started on my left hand! It slowly grew and eventually spread across my hand. It's been there for several years now, too.

And today, I noticed something on my right arm, just above my wrist... A darkish smudge that looks like a birth mark or a burn...

Is that another one starting on my right side again? That is what they look like when they start.

Only time will tell.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Late August Garden

I wander around my late summer garden to see how many flowers are still in bloom...

This red tea rose is still doing well. In fact, some buds are still forming!

The echinacea is still blooming...

The black-eyed Susans...

And a few lingering phlox...

... to the left of this mauve flower I don't know the name of...

The sedum is coming into its own, turning pink and swarming with bees...

There are a few golden glow rudbeckias left, enmeshed in the cherry snow fountain tree.

The dandelions are back!!

Wandering around, enjoying the peace and quiet of the cooler weather, I am startled by...

...a neighborhood cat!

(Perhaps there is some catnip among the vines and the flowers!)

Sunday, August 28, 2011


At a recent wedding I attended, the officiating priest compared marriage to God... Marriage is God-business, he suggested, as couples share in the creation process and children are born.

God allows us to share in His creation...

As I look around my (unkempt) garden the day after the wedding, it occurs to me that gardening is also God-business... In fact, it was the first work the first couple was called to do - care for the Garden of Eden. Gardeners also co-create with God: planting seeds, moving plants around, watering the garden.

But in the birth of a child - as in a garden - God provides that spark of life that leads to growth. The gardener's (and the parent's) responsibility is to care for the growth God gives.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

GARLIC Festival

One recent Saturday Terry and I headed to one of our favorite Farmer's Markets...

... to discover that it had been overrun by lovers of GARLIC...

There were twice as many stands as usual.

As I wandered around the crowded market, I was on a learning curve...

I learned that there are many kinds of garlic...

Some with romantic names like "music"!

There were also books on growing garlic.

I definitely felt out of my league! Later on I went online and discovered in this TLC article that there are over 400 varieties!! I had no idea!!

I also discovered that these specialty garlics are much more expensive than supermarket garlic.

There was a lot going on - even a fire truck for children to explore. But for me, GARLIC DAY was disappointing. I don't like crowds - and in the end, I didn't buy anything.

(Confession: When it comes to garlic, I buy mine pre-crushed, in a supermarket jar.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gnomes Having Fun

Garden gnomes have been around for a long time. A while back, I read about one that had traveled the world...

Ours hasn't led such an adventuresome life, never having been outdoors. (It sits on a bedroom shelf.)

It appears that gnomes are as popular as ever... Just today I saw this gnome T-shirt: "Chillin' with my gnomies."

Gnomes still capture the imagination!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Last Year - Construction; This Year - Repairs!

Last summer the city spent thousands of dollars renewing the main sewer line near our home...

The project took months

So I was more than a little surprised to see...

... repairs...

... after the last rain!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mini Cheese Cakes

I haven't been baking in a while: it has been too hot.

But I wanted to use up these containers of cream cheese and Greek yogurt - left over from a birthday breakfast of bagels and cream cheese. So I turned to an old favorite: a recipe for mini cheese cakes.

I used to make this recipe a lot, especially for pot-luck lunches at work.

Paper cups make them easy to handle, and they are the right size if someone wants to taste a selection of desserts.

The recipe is found in the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Kraft Cookbook. (p. 182)

(I have more cream cheese than the recipe calls for, so I'll make one and a half times what the recipe calls for. The recipe is very flexible.)

I also have two bases for the cakes. Instead of the crumb base in the recipe, I'll simply use arrowroot biscuits (broken to size) and some round wafers I happen to have. (I have my cousin Elizabeth to thank for this trick.)

Here's the original recipe:

  • Mix together 1/3 cup of graham wafer crumbs, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon soft or melted margarine.
  • Press a tablespoon of the crumb mixture into each of 6 paper-lined muffin cups.
  • Bake for 5 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside.
Cream Cheese Filling:

  • With an electric beater, mix together an 8 ounce packIage of cream cheese (softened), 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 1 egg.

  • When well blended, spoon mixture into paper cups until they are three-quarters full.
  • Bake for 25 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Cool and serve as is or with a bit of jam or cooked fruit on top, to add color and taste.

The recipe is supposed to be for 6 servings, but I always end up making more than that. Perhaps mine are smaller. (Which is why using little cookies or bits of wafers as the base works well for me. I can always add a few more if necessary.) This time my one and a half times the recipe made 17 mini cheese cakes.

Chilled for a while in the fridge, the mini cheesecakes were delicious! I wonder how they would taste with a ginger snap, chocolate wafer or even Oreo cookie base...

I should add that these freeze wonderfully. They can be taken out and thawed quickly for an easy dessert.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Count Your Blessings!

The phone rings and I reach for it, reminding myself to use my right ear, as my left ear is still blocked. (Yes, I still have swimmers ear! And I am beginning a second round of ear drop medication to try to clear it up.)

It's lucky both ears aren't blocked! I suddenly realize. Or I wouldn't be able to talk on the telephone at all! Count your blessings!!

Not long afterward I call my mother on the phone.

How are you today? I ask, hoping her sore knee hasn't gotten worse.

About the same, she replies. But I was just thinking: I'm glad I don't have the problem on both knees... Or I wouldn't be able to walk at all!

Yes, count your blessings!

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Montebello Cafe

The name "Montebello" conjures up a chateau, not a town. But, after visiting the chateau, we discovered the town, too, with its bed and breakfast establishments and cafes...

We stopped for lunch in one that is both a B&B... and a cafe!

We enjoyed soup...

Croissant sandwiches...

Omelet with fruit...

And a delicious chocolate brownie... with homemade sauce!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Our Theology is Autobiographical

I am pausing to reflect on these words by theologian and novelist, Frederick Buechner, on the interconnectedness of our experiences and our beliefs:

"...all theology... is at its heart autobiography... what a theologian is doing essentially is examining as honestly as he can the rough-and-tumble of his own experience with all its ups and downs, its mysteries and loose ends, and expressing in logical and abstract terms the truths about human life and about God that he believes he has found implicit there..."

He goes on to add: "It seems to me... that if God speaks to us at all in this world... it is into our personal lives that he speaks."

If so, all that we experience... all that we have experienced... is extremely important, as it is the vehicle God uses to teach us, not only about life, but about Himself.

Maybe it's time for me to stop asking: Why have these (hurtful) things happened to me...? God has allowed them: They are His personal "curriculum" for me in His school of faith and life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Amazing Sky!

Occasionally I lift my head and see...

 amazing sky!

(When I saw this one in the parking lot of a big store...

... the moment suddenly became sacred! )

It made me realize I should be lifting my head more often!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Corn Season is Here!

Corn season is here - so (in family tradition) we stop at all roadside corn stands, hoping to find AMAZING corn-on-the-cob.

I'm not sure why...

But every batch so far... (this year)... has been disappointing!