Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

This Week’s Muffin: Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes, in Honor of the Muffin Runners

11947565_10153525264597969_462372193102116566_nA year ago in early August, I joined Moms Run This Town for my first group run. It was at 5 a.m. and was affectionately called the Muffin Run, because the host would bake muffins for everyone as an enticement for them to come out so ungodly early.

On my one-year anniversary of that first MRTT run, I was running on a tibial stress fracture without knowing it. So yeah, it doesn’t always work out nice and neat. But that’s running for you.

The host of the muffin run host still bakes every week, which is amazing considering we can get upwards of 30-40 people. And while the snacks are nice, folks don’t need the enticement anymore. There are 5 a.m. runs (and earlier) almost every day of the week.

Our family moves on Friday, so today was my last muffin run as a Springfield resident. I’ll still run with these ladies often, but it’ll mostly be long weekend runs. Although, I’ve already told the group that my first run post-injury will be with the 5 a.m. track babes. Yes, I will drive down for that triumphant (I hope) half mile.

IMG_8250This week I asked to be the muffin-maker. Since I can’t run, I biked around the neighborhood, which may be a first for the group. I brought these decadent beauties, adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything. These are fun and easy. Enjoy!


  • cooking spray
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 24 maraschino cherries
  • 1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple–reserve the juice
  • 1 package yellow cake mix (and oil and eggs called for on the package)
  • 1⅓ cups pineapple juice (you just need as much pineapple juice as water called for on the cake mix package – see note)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 24 muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. Line a work surface with parchment or waxed paper.
  3. Spoon 1 teaspoon melted butter into the bottom of each sprayed muffin cup.
  4. Spoon 1 tablespoon brown sugar in each muffin cup.
  5. Press a maraschino cherry into the center of the brown sugar in each muffin cup.
  6. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of crushed pineapple over the cherry and compact it with the back of a spoon into an even layer.
  7. Mix cake mix according to the package directions, replacing the water with pineapple juice. This may vary according to which cake mix you use. In large bowl with electric mixer on low speed until moistened, about 30 seconds. Turn mixer speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes.
  8. Pour pineapple cake batter into the muffin cups, filling them almost to the top.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven on the middle rack until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
  10. Allow cupcakes to cool at least 10 minutes before inverting muffin cups onto the waxed paper to release. (Unfortunately some of the topping stuck to the muffin pans, and I needed to spoon it back on. Still looked and tasted fine though.) Serve with pineapple and cherry sides up.

“Joy Machine”: The Wisdom of Stephen Colbert


I don’t read GQ very much–ok, ever–so I’m not sure how often you could use the word “transcendent” to describe one of its articles. But you can this month. Joel Lovell’s interview with Stephen Colbert is transcendent.

You can have your acerbic and perpetually indignant Jon Stewart. My love for Stephen is well known and documented on social media so I won’t elaborate on it here. (Except to say: Congressional testimony. Commencement speechBreaking character. Decent, thoughtful Catholicism.)

There are two big things that make Colbert who he is:

1. His father and two of his brothers died in a plane crash when he was 10 years old.

2. He discovered improvisation as a young man and continues to thrive on it.

Those things are related.

He unpacks that in the article.

He was tracing an arc on the table with his fingers and speaking with such deliberation and care. “I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

He doubles down on this point, quoting a letter JRR Tolkien wrote to a priest:

“‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.

“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.

What Colbert is describing is saying “Yes-and,” of receiving what life offers and building on it, which is the basic rule of improv. Sam Wells calls this process over-accepting in his book Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics. When life deals us a hand, we can:

  • reject it (deny it)
  • accept it (acknowledge that it’s happened and live in it), or
  • over-accept it (take what’s happened and build on it, which in some ways requires making friends with it).

I don’t love over-accepting as a term, but I think Wells’s framework is right on.

Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is awareness.

Why am I so drawn to improv? It’s not because I want to join a ComedySportz troupe. I’m not really interested in performing improv at all. It’s because improv is the basic human task—to make something beautiful with what’s been given to you, and to leave life better than you found it, which is the “and.”

Colbert doesn’t connect the dots between life and improv in the article, but he nods in that direction with this quote, which is practically a koan: “The end product [of the show] is jokes, but you could easily say the end product is intention. Having intentionality at all times… The process of process is process.”

I’m also drawn to improv because it scares me. I’m really good at planning. Organizing. Anticipating several steps down the road and developing contingencies. You have to, to some extent. But life happens. Bombs drop into the lives of 10 year olds.

Monday’s blog post shared some of my struggle with saying Yes-and to a running injury–and yes, it’s a full-on stress fracture, which means 12 weeks of no running.

I could reject it: keep on running, and injure myself further.

I could accept it: stop running, rest, do what the doctor suggests, try not to lose too much ground. (I kept it together pretty well, but when the doctor said, “You’ll start running again 1/2 a mile at a time,” that’s when I started to cry.)

But I’m trying really hard to over-accept. I’m trying to LOVE it. If Colbert can use that word to describe a life without his father and brothers, I can use it to describe a silly three-month running hiatus. This morning I started a separate page on my mama runners Facebook group for those of us who are injured to support one another. I hope that will grow into something long-term. I’ll be writing about what I’m learning, maybe just for myself, maybe for a wider audience. And I don’t want to spend the next three months “not losing ground.” I want to gain ground–maybe not physically, but mentally and spiritually. I’m still exploring what that means–it will be a process.

Read the whole article. There’s a lot more there.


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Sit Your Butt. Sit Your Butt. Sit Your Butt. Sit Your Butt.


You’d think a woman who wrote an entire book about Sabbath would be sanguine about the need for rest.

You’d be wrong.

And if you read the book, you know it was a constant struggle for me to embrace this work/rest rhythm. It still is.

I’ve been laid up for the last several days with a running injury. About 10 days ago I noticed a nagging tightness along the inside of my left shin. I rested for three days and tested it with a run–pain returned. Three more days of rest, then a run–pain again.

It’s a busy fall for races. I’m supposed to run the Ragnar Relay with my Steeple Chasers in early October, then the Marine Corps Marathon with my brother at the end of that month. My other brother is coming to town that weekend for the 10K, which Robert is also running. Robert’s sister will be in town. MY sister will be in town. It’s a whole thing, you see. I don’t have time for an injury. I’m very, very busy. Booked.

But… this pain.

So I decided to go to the orthopedist last Friday, who took an X-ray and referred me for an MRI. I’ll meet with him tomorrow to find out the MRI results, but we’re hoping to rule out a tibial stress fracture. The X-ray looked fine, but these things are tricky. The MRI will show whether I have a fracture or was headed for one. With this kind of injury, there are early signs–swelling in the vascular tissue around the bone, then later, edema in the marrow–and that’s what we’re looking for, or not. Hopefully not.

That’s the way it is with overuse and overwork, isn’t it? We don’t break instantly. Your body, your spirit, will talk to you, if you listen. There are signs. You can ignore them for a while, grit your teeth, take drugs to mask the pain, but denial only gets you so far. Sooner or later, you must do something different, or there will be a reckoning.

It’s no accident that these injuries are called stress reactions. And I could’ve sworn that among the many sounds the MRI made, one of them was a peristent, mechanical voice saying, “Sit your butt. Sit your butt. Sit your butt.”

Message received, giant clanking tube.

The best case scenario is a week of rest, maybe 2, during which I can bike, swim, pool run, and do the elliptical. The worst case (fracture) is 6-8 weeks of rest, and no Ragnar Relay, and no Marine Corps Marathon.

Running is my community, my stress relief, my hobby, my natural mood enhancer, and (ahem) my buffer when I want to eat cookies and cupcakes without worrying over the calories. I’ll do what I have to do to get strong again, even if that means no running for a while. I may not like it. But sometimes you’re so far gone you need to rest, even from the things that bring you joy. (Maybe you noticed the semi-humorous piece about how getting away with your kids shouldn’t be called vacations–those are trips. Because kids are a joy, but they’re also work, so if they come along, work comes along. Or the classic Onion article, Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean.)

I sometimes hear people say, “But I love my work. It gives me energy. I don’t feel the need to rest from it.” Fair enough. I’m not sure I fully believe them. Maybe they’re just wired differently. Or maybe they’re not working as hard as they claim. Or they aren’t as effective in their work as they think they are because they don’t have any downtime. Or they’re having some stress reactions in places they can’t see, and are keeping them at bay through drugs and gritted teeth.

The breakdown that happens is not just physical, it can be mental. Robert came home from a run on Sunday, having been to my #1 favorite running spot, along the Potomac River near National Airport. How dare he go to THAT place! After plenty of fuming, I said, “When I was in middle school and my mother was getting in shape, she would do exercise videos at night, and every night my dad would go to the kitchen for a bowl of ice cream and eat it in front of her. That’s how I felt when you told me where you’d been.”

The minute those words came out of my mouth I realized how ridiculous they were. My husband’s running brings him joy and good health–and he supports my joy and health wholeheartedly. My dad actions were passive-aggressive and the sign of an unhappy person who would soon leave our family. Conflating these two things was a stress reaction on my part–a sign I needed to loosen up a bit.

The good news is, perspective comes pretty quickly when you’re able to STOP. As I lay on the gurney with my legs sticking into the MRI tube, I had time to think. I thought about the woman who’d passed me in the hallway, wearing a hospital gown while I got away with street clothes, because they weren’t imaging any scary vital organs, just my leg. I thought about all the stories, much sadder than mine, that had their origins in that giant machine. And I was grateful. Grateful.

I’ll let you know what tomorrow’s doctor’s appointment brings. For now, I’m trying to Sit My Butt and embrace the rest.


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Photo of Mars from the European Space Agency through Creative Commons. From the description: “The many chasms, fractures and cracks in this area are thought to have been caused by stress in the planet’s crust as it stretched and pulled apart.”

This Week’s Muffin: Empty Nest Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Corn Muffins

OK, the recipe isn’t really called that—I added the Empty Nest thing because Robert and I are sans kiddoes this week. It is so quiet… and this batch of 18 muffins is lasting the two of us a loooong time. If you’re in a similar boat, best to refrigerate these and refresh them in the toaster oven or microwave.

logo-sRecipe comes from the wonderful site Six O’Clock Scramble. We’ve been subscribers for a long time and we love their healthy, kid-friendly and (mostly) simple dishes. The cornmeal adds a hearty texture to these muffins, along with the whole wheat flour. These aren’t too sweet, really, and work well as a breakfast food, snack, or as a side dish (which is how the Scramble suggests serving them).


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 15 oz. canned pumpkin (I love recipes that use the entire can, yay!)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup nonfat or low fat milk
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 18 muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the chocolate chips and beat just until smooth.
  4. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full with the batter, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  6. Let cool and serve immediately, or store tightly covered for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Question: Why must we still talk about race? Answer: Twelve.


Note: This post was picked up by the Huffington Post and you can also read it there.

I’m reading Ta Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me right now. It’s a dissonant experience because the language in the book is exquisite, and the truth of it is tough and hard.

I’m also reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, about the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to northern cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington DC in the early 20th century.

I highly recommend both books, especially if you are white. Read them with an open heart. Read them not to refute, but to understand. Read them in the spirit of Brian McLaren’s joke, “Why did Jesus cross the road?” “To get to the other.”

I hear a good bit of defensiveness from many white people when the subject of race comes up. They don’t understand why we are “still” talking about it. If pressed, they will often insist that they are not racist. They treat people equally. Everyone was nice to everyone in their high school. There was no racial tension.

All of those things may be true. But they’re not the point.

Twelve is the point.

I heard Isabel Wilkerson speak last week while I was at the Chautauqua Institution, just a few days before the anniversary of Ferguson. She began her talk by evoking #BlackLivesMatter. And I could hear some hackles rising. Do you know what hackles sound like? They begin as the sound of shifting in seats. Add some clearing of throats as people get ready to rehearse their “post racial” bona fides to anyone who will listen. It was a polite crowd, and I must say, a well-intentioned one, so the hackles simmered down. They sat and listened. And I hope they heard Isabel Wilkerson offer an offhand remark that, for me, shifts everything:

The institution of slavery persisted for twelve generations of African Americans in this country.

I knew it, but I didn’t know it.

Twelve generations.

Those of us who study the Bible know the power of the number twelve. There were twelve tribes of Israel. These tribes were God’s beloved ones. Later Jesus would call twelve disciples to walk with him in faithfulness. A woman reached out to Jesus for healing because she’d been hemorrhaging, her blood spilled upon the earth, for twelve years. And a little girl of twelve was brought to life again when Jesus’ words of liberation and empowerment filled her ears: little girl, GET UP.

For those of us who don’t read the Bible, no matter. Twelve generations is a long time.

Twelve generations of could-have-been.

Twelve generations of doctors and midwives and lawyers and writers, scrubbing floors in the master’s house.

Twelve generations of musicians and architects and sculptors and scholars, picking cotton from dawn until dusk.

And—it must be said, and was said by Isabel Wilkerson—twelve generations of white people who wouldn’t let the doctors heal, wouldn’t let the architects build, wouldn’t let the sculptors create. When you’re keeping a race of people down in the ditch, she said, that means you’re down in the ditch with them. Our history diminished all of us.

That’s why this conversation matters. That’s why we have to talk about it. If you’re not a racist, congratulations. I’m not going to argue with you, because it’s not the point.

Twelve is the point. Twelve is the point.

How long do you think it should take to dismantle twelve generations of racial oppression, not to mention Reconstruction, Jim Crow and its aftermath? Should we be “over it” by now? Ask my friend, who couldn’t get a job interview until she removed her “black-sounding” name from her resume, whether it’s over. Ask the black men in our communities, who are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire, whether it’s over.

My mother has an expression, “When it’s on you, it’s on you.” I didn’t ask for it to be on me—the privilege that comes from being white—but it’s on me. And I’m fooling only myself if I try and insist otherwise, just because we passed the Civil Rights Act and elected a black President.

It’s not about guilt. Guilt is a distraction, a side show, a dead end. My people did not own slaves. But the state of my birth fought under the Confederate flag. And contrary to popular belief, my white children will be more likely to receive a college scholarship than their friends who are people of color.

When it’s on you, it’s on you. And now it’s on all of us to talk about it—and also to listen.


During World War I there was a great migration north… painting by Jacob Lawrence.