Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Muffin of the Week: Easy Cranberry, for the #RagnarDC Steeple Chasers

A sign my daughter made for last year's Ragnar Relay team.

A sign my daughter made for last year’s Ragnar Relay team.

EDIT: I wrote this post early in the week, then spent the morning before Ragnar monitoring weather reports. As of this update, our team is still a go, but the muffins didn’t get made. So let’s call these muffins Hurricane Joaquin muffins instead.

It’s Ragnar Relay week here in the nation’s capital, and as this post goes live, our team, the Steeple Chasers, is somewhere in Maryland, making the long and hilarious 200-mile running trek from Cumberland to DC. You can read about last year’s Steeple Chasers adventure here.

Despite my injury, I’m staying on as driver and general merry-maker. And muffin provider. This week I went with something simple, with no weird ingredients that might be tough on runners’ tummies. I also made mini-muffins so people can pop a little one in their mouth if they need a quick burst of energy.

EASY CRANBERRY MUFFINS — adapted from Eating on a Dime

  • 2 cups Flour
  • ¾ cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 Eggs
  • ¾ cup Orange Juice
  • ⅓ cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 cup chopped Cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Coat muffin pan with cooking spray. (12 regular sized muffins or 24ish mini muffins)
  3. Mix together flour, brown sugar and baking powder. Set aside.
  4. Beat together eggs. orange juice and oil.
  5. Add wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until moistened.
  6. Fold in cranberries.
  7. Spoon into prepared muffin pan.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  9. Cool on a wire rack.


What’s the Difference Between Family Time and Sabbath?

The seven year old, reading the holy texts on a recent Sabbath...

The seven year old, reading the holy texts on a recent Sabbath…

Three years after the publication of Sabbath in the Suburbs, I continue to speak to groups about our family’s experience of taking a day each week for rest and play… which looks very different now than it did during the year-long experiment, but that’s another post.

People who’ve read the book will notice that we didn’t spend the day doing “holy” activities. We didn’t read scripture together or pray (except before meals) or even talk about God all that much. We often lit a candle to designate that this time was somehow set apart, but otherwise, there was nothing particularly religious in our observance. So what gives?

Or as many people ask me, “We already have family time together; what makes Sabbath different?”

First, I don’t believe in creating a division between so-called secular and sacred activities. In my tradition, we believe and profess that God is the Lord of our whole lives. Yes, there are times that we intentionally focus on our spiritual lives, through study or prayer or small groups or a worship service. But all of life is (or can be) an act of devotion to God as we understand God.

That said, I believe the language we use matters–in fact, what we name something changes the nature of the thing we’re naming. It’s great to have family time, and there’s nothing wrong with calling it that. But invoking the word Sabbath acknowledges that God is also present, and that the things we do during this time can nurture our spiritual lives as well as our sense of family connectedness. It gives us a different vision and perspective on that time.

The other day I was listening to Krista Tippett’s On Being interview of social scientist Ellen Langer, and they were talking about this exact phenomenon. In one study, subjects were asked to evaluate a series of jokes and cartoons. For half the group, the researchers framed the activity as work; the other half, play. Those who were told to play reported a much greater enjoyment than those who were “working” at the very same activity.

Similarly, Langer referenced a study of chambermaids–women who are on their feet all day doing constant physical labor. This group experienced actual physiological changes when they named their daily activity “exercise” rather than simply “work.” Fascinating!

So here’s an easy experiment for those of you who want to connect with this old, ancient practice that has such resonance for Jewish and Christian communities but don’t know where to start. Put the label of Sabbath on something you already do: family time, your daily ritual of tea and Sudoku, even your workout at the gym. See what changes, what feels different. See if the activity resonates on a different level. And report back!


By the way, the entire interview with Ellen Langer was fascinating. Did you know mindfulness is possible without a meditation practice?

Monday Runday: On (Not) Being a Runner

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m recovering from a stress fracture in my tibia. It’s my first running injury in almost five years of running.

Three important things have happened recently:

1. This weekend I missed my first scheduled race as a result of this injury. I hated it. And there will be many many more.

2. I reached the halfway point of my 12-week recovery time last Thursday. I am now closer to the next time I will run (November 5) than the last time I ran (August 13).

3. After several weeks with zero pain, my leg has started hurting again. It comes and goes and is a 1 on the pain scale, but still–it aches.

Obviously #3 may impact #2. And that sucks.

My current theory is that I’ve been walking too much. “Every step you take will set you back,” the doctor said ominously when he gave me the diagnosis. I’m certainly not walking for exercise, but come on. I chase around three kids and just moved to a four-level townhouse in a walking-oriented suburb. We walk our kids to school and back. The commercial center is pedestrian-friendly and ringed by parking garages. There’s Target and the grocery store and Costco.

I may be the only person in the market for a Fitbit so I can limit the number of steps I take.

I’ve been doing too much.

That’s the thing about recovery–whether it’s from injury, illness, childbirth, maybe addiction recovery too.

You don’t get to decide how much your body or spirit can take.
You don’t get to decide what you can get away with.
You don’t get to decide what “too much” is.

I loathe that.

Meanwhile I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a runner. I have friends who run but don’t claim the name because they think they’re not fast enough / dedicated enough / knowledgeable enough. I used to be that way. I ran, and that was enough. I didn’t need the noun, the verb worked just fine for me.

But at the heart of it, I agree with those who say “If you run, you’re a runner.” There’s no entrance exam or minimum pace or uniform. If you lace up shoes and hit the road or trail or track, you’re a runner.

A runner is one who runs.
Except now I’m not running.

Lots of runner friends jumped in to reassure me. You’re still a runner! You’re recovering from an injury, but you fully intend to get back to running. You’re doing everything in your power to be back out there again! (Including pool running, which is the most ridiculous-looking exercise that doesn’t involve Sweatin’ to the Oldies.)

My friends are right. I’m doing everything I can so I can resume this unexpected passion of mine. And I love them for those affirmations. But I finally figured out something important: I wasn’t needing reassurance that I was still a runner. I was wanting to try on the identity of not-runner, at least for this 12 weeks.

Because while I expect to make a full recovery–in the universe’s timing, not mine, dangit–there’s a possibility that I will not be able to run as much as I did before. Or I won’t run at all. That’s not the injury talking. That’s life talking. No guarantees, folks. That’s what item #3 above has reminded me–you can do the best you can and still, the hand gets dealt to you.

So rather than find a way to continue to claim the title runner for the next six weeks, what’s exciting me more is to let a beloved part of myself go and realize that the world doesn’t end. There’s great freedom in trying on new things. Swimmer. Biker. Spectator. Cheerleader. Person who sleeps in on the weekends instead of lacing up shoes at 5 in the morning.

Let me be clear–I’m not saying other injured or sidelined runners are no longer runners. I’m saying for me it’s been fun to live my life independent of that identity I jumped headlong into five years ago.

I ran into this Roald Dahl quote recently:


As a high school senior I had a teacher for AP English that I absolutely loved. I remember asking her to sign my yearbook at the end of the year. I secretly hoped she’d write that I was her star student, the best student she’d ever had. Instead she wrote, “It’s rare to have a student who loves the class as much as I do.” In retrospect, that affirmation has probably served me better.

Go at it full speed, even if it’s swimming speed.
Embrace it with both arms, even if “it” is a set of handlebars.
Lukewarm is no good.

When You Can’t Have Family Dinner… Plus the Muffin of the Week

It has one of the highest impacts of anything we do as families… and it becomes harder and harder the older the kids get.

It’s dinner as a family.

Study after study talks about the benefits of a family dinner. It’s important physically, emotionally, spiritually, even mentally–according to this article, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read aloud to. As someone whose job used to involve a lot of evening meetings, and now involves travel a couple of times a month, family dinner is a challenge. But it’s also a cherished value for us. It may not be leisurely or gourmet quality, but I’d say we pull it off four or five times a week.

That average just got a lot harder. On Mondays, our kids have choir rehearsals. It’s a single program, but they’re in three different choirs that all start and end at different times. It’s not close enough to our house to drop off and pick up, so we’ve been MacGyvering our way through it with sack dinners, the occasional GoPicnic, and bringing homework along while we wait in what is thankfully a very comfortable space to hang out for three hours.

Wednesday is our other challenge–piano night. We were able to keep all of the kids with the same beloved piano teacher we had before we moved, but the lessons are one after the other during the dinner hour. So again we’re doing the sack dinner thing. I drop the kids off and go somewhere nearby to do some writing, then pick them up when they’re done.


For the last two weeks we’ve tried a new practice. If we can’t have dinner together, we can at least have dessert together. Monday is too hectic to do anything and we get home too late. So on Wednesdays when the kids and I get home, Robert has the table set for something simple: last week it was ice cream, this week it was these pumpkin gingerbread muffins with whipped cream and Trader Joe’s lemon curd.

We use the fancy dessert plates (because it’s no extra effort) and do our customary dinnertime check-in of most favorite and least favorite parts of the day. It’s been a great way to end our day.

…Ok, this week someone had a meltdown and left the table in a huff. That happens too.

What do you do to make family meals or other special times happen in the midst of your busy life?


adapted from Simply Recipes


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced candied or fresh ginger (optional)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 Tbsp water


1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare 12 muffin cups or a loaf pan with cooking spray.

2 In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

3 In another bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together the pumpkin purée, melted butter, sugar, molasses, fresh or candied ginger, eggs, and water.

4 Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir only until incorporated.

5 Place the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes (loaf) or 15-20 minutes (muffins), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then gently run a knife around the edge and remove from pan(s). Let cool on a rack for 30 minutes or longer.

What Parents Wish Teens Understood about Social Media… and Vice Versa

4175247254_0d1d063004_o_0I’ve recently had occasion to spend time with groups of teens and parents talking about spirituality in the smartphone age–how we set good boundaries and habits, how we bring our healthiest selves to that endeavor, etc. I started out asking each group, “What do you wish your [parents/teens] understood about your feelings about technology and social media?”

I had this idea that I’d write one blog post from each perspective. But as these conversations went on, I realized that was the wrong approach, and unnecessary. Because generally, teens and adults would say the same thing to one another. Here are a few themes:

Both think the other spends too much time online. Parents are worried that their teens are interacting more and more through a screen and not building healthy habits for face-to-face interaction. But youth are just as likely to say that their parents are on Facebook too much, or can’t get through a meal without checking email or responding to a text.

Both were worried about the tech world being a “burden” for the other. You can see why parents would worry about how all this screen time is affecting young minds (and sleep cycles). But youth talked about this too. One young person said, “At least for us, a lot of our screen time is social. But it seems like my parents are always working and having to check in.”

Both see the value in tech-free times. One of my conversations was with a church youth group, and it was the youth themselves (in consult with their advisors) who came up with the tech-free policy for their meetings: they turn in their phones at the beginning and get them back at the end. They also listed many of the same “sacred spaces” where phones and tablets should be off-limits as their parents did: the dinner table, whenever an important conversation is taking place, etc. One parent who heard the teens’ comments about this quipped, “If you value tech-free time so much, why do you holler when we tell you to turn it off or take away your devices?” Touche. Then again, complaining about parental boundaries is a time-honored task of the teenager. What’s more, young people don’t like being interrupted in a task any more than we do. Take a phone out of their hand mid-text and they will complain, just like we testily respond “Just a minute!!!” when someone demands our attention while on our phones.

Both admitted an impact on attention span. This expresses itself a little differently in different generations—like teens before them, today’s youth have multiple “inputs” going at once, much more than adults do—but both teens and adults feel the effects of “monkey mind.”

Both understand the difference between the curated persona and the fullness of life. The youth talked about their parents “bragging about us on Facebook,” and in turn the parents lamented the litany of selfies their kids took in order to get the right one. In a sense, though, we all understand the rules of the game: what we put online, and see online about others, is not the complete story. Then again, both groups said there’s a difference between knowing that intellectually and feeling it in our gut. It still hurts when other people seem to be living their lives better than you are.

Parents worry how this affects a child’s emerging sense of self and self-worth–rightly so, I think. But while this is just a hunch, I wonder whether young people will actually be better at handling this as adults than we currently are, because they’ve had the time and the mental elasticity to learn how.


I know there’s a difference between what people say and what people do. We all know the “right answer” to this stuff–whether we take it to heart in the heat of the moment, when the text is calling to us, or when we want that shot of affirmation from Instagram, is another matter. I also know that kids who attend a church youth group aren’t necessarily a random sampling of teens. But I found it comforting that the puzzles and struggles of the digital age are pretty universal across generations. Ultimately it highlighted the need for good communication. I firmly believe that teens will be much more likely to embrace norms that they’re a part of negotiating. Here’s a set of good resources to start that work, from the Note to Self podcast.

And for our part, we adults can do a better job of modeling healthy behavior. It reminds me of a parenting class I took years ago. We were asked to write down the attributes we wanted our children to have when they were grown up—maturity, generosity, compassion, etc. After sharing our lists with one another, the facilitator said, “Great–that’s your list to work on. You want them to have a spirit of service? Cultivate that in yourself.”

If you want your children to have a healthy relationship with technology–and have healthy relationships through technology–we need to start with ourselves.


Photo by Lauren Randolph for On Being.