Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

This Week’s Muffin: Mini Mediterranean Muffins

It’s all book-writing and marathon-training here at the Blue Room. (Note to self–don’t have those things coincide in the future, mmm-kay?) Once those are both behind me I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled public rumination.

img_1098In the meantime, the weather is cooling off which means I’m making muffins again! This week’s recipe is one I love. It comes from Matt Kadey’s book Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sports and Adventure. I’ve made several recipes from this book and liked or loved each one.

Kadey’s book is divided into Before, During, and After, with each section’s recipes formulated for that phase of exercise. Before features light, healthy, carb-fortified foods; During has stuff that’s easily portable (including your own gels!); After focuses on the right protein/carb ratio to replenish muscles and energy.

These Mini Mediterranean muffins came from the During section, but they’re excellent to snack on anytime. I used them on my last 20 miler, and it was so nice to have something savory to offset the gels and chews I rely on heavily.

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground cornmeal (I used regular cornmeal and it seemed finely ground enough)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1/3 cup olive oil
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
2 ounces finely chopped feta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup drained and finely chopped roasted red peppers
1/3 cup pitted, finely chopped Kalamata olives


  1. Preheat oven to 350 and prepare 24 mini muffin cups with paper liners or cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients (flour through salt).
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, oil, and lemon zest.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just blended.
  5. Fold in cheese, peppers and olives.
  6. Divide into muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out mostly clean. Cool on rack.
  7. Keep chilled for up to 5 days and transport in small ziploc bags. (I have frozen a bunch for The Big Day.)

Speaking of which! I’m still raising money for Teens Run DC. Read more about it and sponsor me here.

Monday Runday: For the Kids

I’m still here.

It’s been a very packed few weeks. My book manuscript is due November 1, and I led a conference last week at Montreat Conference Center, which involved preaching six sermons and presenting four plenary presentations. (Yes, I’m thoroughly sick of myself.)

And, I’ve been marathon training.

After last year’s injury, I’m making another go at the Marine Corps Marathon–my second marathon and first time running MCM. I’ve got one 20 mile training run left, then the rest is taper, rest, good nutrition, and encasing myself in bubble wrap so I don’t do dumb stuff like twist my ankle in the shower or drop a full Hydroflask on my toe. (That second one has already happened.)

I’d really like your help making those marathon miles count.

I’m signed up as a charity fundraiser for Teens Run DC, and I’m trying to raise $400 before the race on October 30. I know with your help, I can do it. Here is my fundraising page.

Teens Run DC promotes the physical, social, and emotional well-being of underserved youth through a mentoring and distance running program. Youth in the program participate in running and life skills trainings each week, receive the support of an individual mentor and an embracing community, and engage in races, community events, and service learning opportunities. Through the program, middle and high school youth of all abilities and backgrounds envision and work towards their running and life goals.

I chose to support Teens Run DC because I believe in the power of running to change the lives of young people. I’ve seen my own three children set goals and achieve them through running.


I’ve seen them dig deep and cross that finish line with proud smiles.


And I’ve grown closer to each of them as we log miles together.


Teens Run DC helps bring all these positive benefits to at-risk youth in the city I love–Washington DC, the site of the Marine Corps Marathon.

Please support me in reaching my fundraising goal to foster resilience in our youth!

Learn more about Teens Run DC on their website, Facebook page or on Twitter. Thanks for your support!

Beyond the Catastrophe

I just got back from Chicago, where I finished a second week of improv class at the Second City Training Center. Improv has been described as summer camp for grownups—and it is—but for lots of us it’s a much deeper experience. Improv requires acute listening, so you can respond to your scene partner’s suggestions, rather than barreling in with your own pre-made ideas. It’s hard work, and an adventure, just like life is hard work and an adventure… with some summer camp thrown in, because we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously!

I love the fact that improvisers, even the ones who teach and perform at the highest levels of the field, always talk about what they do as “play.” They don’t say “I perform every Monday night,” or “she and I are in an improv group together.” They say, “I play on Mondays,” and “she and I have played together for five years.” What a great lesson for those of us who can get so mired in our to-do lists that we forget to find the joy. As I stare down this final push toward getting the manuscript done, I’m committed to bringing a spirit of play into the writing I’m doing. 

I just finished the book How to Be the Greatest Improviser on Earth by Will Hines. (Improvisers like hyperbole, eh? We call it “heightening.”) Lots of good gems in the book, but I was struck by this section in which Hines was talking about a friend who’s wired to find the good in every situation. Here’s how Hines describes it:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 5.15.45 PM

Now, we have to be careful how we deploy this kind of thinking. Brené Brown actually calls this “silver lining” someone—dismissing someone’s pain because we can come up with some positive spin on what’s occurred. It’s really up to each of us to make meaning out of the circumstances of our own lives, and that means not hopscotching over the tough stuff too quickly.

In this case, however, Will Hines appreciated his friend helping him find his way out of the dead end of rejection and into something that could bring life down the road. But even more than that, he was inspired by his friend’s ability to be oriented toward the good as a default—in other words, to assume there was a Yes, and then to look for it.

Some of us are naturally oriented toward pessimism. I kinda am. When something goes awry, I’m really good at catastrophizing. The plan isn’t just off the rails, it’s the Worst Thing That Could Have Happened. This takes a special kind of skill, I’ll admit—in fact, I’m pretty sure one of my Facebook friends posted an article recently that says pessimists are more creative than optimists. (I may be making that up, but don’t tell me otherwise, it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Still, catastrophizing doesn’t make for good improv, whether we’re talking about stage improv or life improv. Catastrophizing keeps us fearful, suspicious and stuck. Instead, I’m challenging myself to experience my life with an orientation toward the positive—like Phil Jackson, to say to myself, “This is good, because…”

And then to find that “holy because,” ripe for the picking. 


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Be the Game Board

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Happy August!

And boy, is August here with a vengeance in Northern Virginia. When I stepped outside to run early this morning, the humidity was 97%. Sixteen miles later, I felt every bit of it.

Many of you know I’m training for my second marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, here in DC in October. This is my grudge match—I had to defer last year’s entry due to injury. I’m excited for this hometown race, known for being well-run with lots of cheering crowds. The only downside is the timing—race in October means long runs in July, August and September. I keep telling myself that these hot, humid, hilly miles are building mental toughness, but in all honesty, every time I step outside into air that feels like it’s already been breathed, I want to cry. (Come on, my people are from Northern Europe. I’m built for permafrost.)

I was running recently on one of those hot and humid days when I passed a man in his 70s. We exchanged a quick greeting and as he shuffled by he said, “Beautiful morning.” At first I was dumbfounded: Beautiful? I can literally wring out my shirt right now. But then I decided to get outside myself and really take a look around. And it was beautiful. The sun was still low in the sky and casting lengthy shadows. The birds were singing. The green on the trees was rich and deep.

This weekend I was in North Carolina for a family reunion, and again I went for a morning run—later than I’d hoped, so the sun was beating down on me from the first step. Again it was humid and gross, and I found myself longing for crisp November, or even frigid February. But this time I remembered my running buddy from the week before, and I let myself really look at the deserted country road, the soft blue sky, and the meadow fuzzy with mature grass:


I realized how often I get trapped inside my own experience—how easy it is to be stuck there without considering other perspectives. To put it in religious language, this is perhaps a foundational human sin or shortcoming—to see our own narrative as the only valid one. Much of our consumer culture is designed to feed this individualistic focus—marketing, social media, even news sites serve up targeted messages designed just for us: our preferences, our prejudices, and our longings. This sunny, soupy day was bearing down on me with its oppressive heat, so how could it also be beautiful? Yet it was. (Not to mention the gratitude that comes from being able to put one foot in front of the other, breathe clean air into lungs, and move slowly but relentlessly forward.)

Recently when I wrote to you, I shared a story from the wonderful book The Art of Possibility. Permit me to share one more tidbit from that book. The authors, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, talk about shifting our perspective such that we see ourselves not as a pawn in a game, nor as the strategist of the game, pulling all the strings, but as the game board itself, “the framework for the game of life around you”:

The purpose of naming yourself as the board, or as the context in which life occurs to you, is to give yourself the power to transform your experience of any unwanted condition into one in which you care to live. We said your *experience*, not the condition itself. But of course once you do transform your experience and see things differently, other changes occur.

When you identify yourself as a single chess piece—and by analogy, as an individual in a particular role—you can only react to, complain about, or resist the moves that interrupted your plans. But if you name yourself as the board itself, you can turn all your attention to what you want to see happen, with none paid to what you need to win or fight or fix. …One by one, you bring everything you have been resisting into the fold. You, as the board, make room for all the moves, for the capture of the knight *and* the sacrifice of your bishop… for your miserable childhood *and* the circumstances of your parents’ lives… Why? Because that is what is there. It is the way things are.

On a superficial level, seeing yourself as the game board can seem narcissistic. But as I’ve considered this analogy, I find it provides an expansive space for me to receive life in all its complexity, not denying the unpleasant things, but also not letting them be the sum total of the experience.

Of course, things happen to us in life that are much more grave than a scheduled run on a humid day. This shift in perspective is very difficult work—lifetime work. But on a humid day in, with sweat rolling down my back, I got a startling and lovely glimpse that it was possible.

Peace, Joy and Yes,


Have You Had Some Failure Today?

I wrote this on my way home from a lovely week in Michigan, where I offered a series of lectures on Improvising with God at the Bay View Association, a Chautauqua institution with roots in the Methodist Church. I presented each morning, then the kids and I enjoyed afternoons of swimming, canoeing, sightseeing, and lots of ice cream.

And sunsets:

Whenever I speak to groups about approaching life as an improvisation, I try to make one thing clear: this work isn’t easy for me. I am notorious among friends and family for being uber-organized—for putting together a plan and implementing it within an inch of its life. So I’m learning and writing about this topic, not because it’s a natural fit for me, but because it’s not. I’ve joked that the book should probably be called “Improv for Control Freaks.”  I do this work because the universe doesn’t bend to our best-laid plans, and in those situations, improv can be a life-giving alternative to stomping our feet and buckling down harder. I’ve grown to love improv, and it’s helping me release my death-grip on the reins of my life and enjoy the ride. (Slowly. Sloooooowly.)

Case in point: improv helps us get comfortable with failure.  Many of us give lip service to the importance of making mistakes, of striving and falling short and learning from those experiences. For years I had a bookmark that said, “Show me a person who never makes a mistake and I’ll show you a person who never makes anything.” It’s a sentiment I wanted to believe. But I really didn’t. Failure was to be avoided. It was uncomfortable. It was unpleasant.

But failure is also essential in learning to improvise well. Perfectionism kills good improv onstage because it causes us to overthink, self-censor, and judge our efforts. And perfectionism can be a soul-killer in life because we remain captive to fear, convention and safety.

A friend recently sent me this video, an interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, a highly successful women’s lingerie company. In the video the CEO describes a family ritual as a child in which each person would be asked to share a story of failure. At their dinner table, failures were named and celebrated. How amazing! And these lessons helped shape her values as an entrepreneur.

Click here for the video–about 90 seconds long. 

Since seeing this video, we’ve done this ritual a couple of times as a family. It’s been powerful (and strangely fun) to name our failures and acknowledge them as a vital part of a creative, meaningful life. It’s also important for kids to hear that adults stumble too. My kids have even volunteered stories of failure recently.

I hope it doesn’t take them 44 years to realize that making mistakes and “living messy” can be its own reward–and can also open up a new world of growth.

Peace, Joy and Yes,


P.S. I love little libraries! I ran past this one several times while in Michigan. They bring me joy.

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