Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

This Week’s Muffin: Apple Cider “Donut”

I was skeptical about these because they have no fat in them whatsoever—well, except the melted butter/cinnamon sugar coating. But they turned out scrumptious. Of course, like most low-fat recipes, they make up for it in sugar, which is no better nutritionally. Oh well, the apple cider has some fiber in it, right? Don’t tell me differently.

I messed up the cinnamon sugar step. Instead of dipping them in melted butter, THEN rolling them in cinnamon sugar, I mixed it all together and coated the muffins. So what should have looked an elegant dusting of snow on each muffin ended up looking like this:

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However, I’m sold on the “mistake.” The topping became a nice glaze when it cooled. Yum.

Last thing before the recipe: Don’t forget the girls’ fundraiser. We’re on our way to $1000, and Carol of the Bells is sounding very good!

Apple Cider Donut Muffins

Recipe available at Baked by Rachel.

When you get to the last step, consider following in my absent-minded footsteps by combining butter, cinnamon and sugar and coating the muffins with the glaze.

Does Your Life Feel Too Jam-Packed? That’s Perfect.

 

Robert and I attended an event last Saturday evening. It was the final thing in a long string of almost back-to-back events that day. When we got in the car and fired up the GPS, we saw it would take 40 minutes to get there.

The event began in 40 minutes.

That’s a terrible feeling.

It worked in this case, despite bad weather, DC traffic, and the need to find on-site parking. A bit of a miracle, honestly. But it could have been otherwise. In this case, being late would’ve meant awkwardly slipping into a pew before the bride walked down the aisle. Not a good situation.

I write a lot in my Sabbath musings about the importance of margin. So many of us live lives without any margin. We schedule back-to-back events, overstuff our days, and hop on social media at every idle moment. This takes a toll on us physically, mentally and spiritually.

We need space to pause and breathe. We need a buffer to absorb the unexpected, the things that don’t go according to plan.

But the opposite is also true. Sometimes there is no room for margin. We have to adapt to life without it. And doing so can even be energizing.

I’m reading a book about Charles Lindbergh. (It’s Bill Bryson’s delightful One Summer: America, 1927, so it’s also about Babe Ruth and other amazing figures and events from that time.) One of Lindbergh’s big challenges was to reduce the weight on his plane so he could save fuel on his trip across the Atlantic. He took absolutely nothing he didn’t need. He even trimmed the pages of his flight book, eliminating the white spaces on the sheets of paper.

No margin.

For Charles Lindbergh, this was a deathly serious process—nobody had pulled off what he was attempting to do—but there’s also something creative about such an effort. What do I absolutely need? What can I get away with not having? It reminds me of the few times I backpacked as a Girl Scout. There’s something profound about whittling down the essentials so you’re not carrying around extra weight. (Don’t take the entire tube of toothpaste. Squeeze what you need into a ziplock bag.)

This metaphor could apply to time in one of two ways. On the one hand, you might consider what’s weighing you down, the ballast in your life that needs to drop. But today I’m intrigued with the other side of that image: to eliminate all margins such that there is no time to “spare.” To live a life as precisely calibrated as Lindbergh’s plane.

Today was one of those days in which one thing bumped up against the next such that there was no slack time. I could have dropped a bunch of stuff to allow for some margin, but instead I decided to go for it. It all worked beautifully, to my amazement. I had just enough time to pick up a few groceries between kiss and ride and the pastoral visit. And when I got home from clergy group, I managed a short run, breezing past my kids walking home from the bus so I beat them to the house. Of course I was ready to adjust at any moment, to jettison my plans if something went awry. But it didn’t. And it was a full, lovely day in a full, lovely life.

There’s a big caveat here. Be mindful of the impact your lack of margin has on your mental health—and on others. Making people wait because of your chronic lateness shows a lack of respect for other people—and I say that as someone who has made people wait because I’ve tried to do too much stuff in too little time. But if others will not suffer, why not go for it? Cram your life full! You may discover hidden resources and creativity you never knew you had. (The only time I made the honor roll in college was the semester I was working three part-time jobs. Of course, I got pneumonia at the end. Maybe the trick is knowing when you need margin and when you don’t.)

I know a lot of people who feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. Like the 40 minute trip downtown for an event that starts in 40 minutes, that can be a terrible feeling. And sometimes we do it to ourselves—holding on to standards of perfection we could let go of, refusing to let other people step in to help, keeping ourselves busy in an attempt to feel important.

But the truth is, a crammed-full life is a privilege.

Yes, sooner or later our busy lives catch up to us. We need breaks.

But it’s a gift to be needed. It’s an honor to have people counting on us. It means we are connected, that we matter to our families and our communities, that we have skills that are of use to the world around us. As much as I celebrate the gifts of Sabbath, I celebrate the gifts of a crammed-full life too.

Help People Transitioning from Homelessness. Receive the Gift of Music

 

FullSizeRenderTwo years ago my daughters decided they wanted to do something to help people in our community who are homeless. We set up a fundraiser whereby people donated to Homestretch, a wonderful organization here in Fairfax County, and in exchange folks received various thank you gifts from Caroline and Margaret. We raised close to $1,000 for Homestretch, thanks to the girls’ hard work and your generosity. In fact, I met with staff of Homestretch recently, and they specifically remembered the little girls who gave their time and talent to help people who are transitioning from homelessness to a more stable life.

After a hiatus from this project last year, the girls want to do it again. Caroline and Margaret will be putting together another collection of holiday music, but rather than CDs we’re going completely digital this year. Everyone who gives (regardless of amount) will receive a link for downloading the songs to iTunes or other mp3 system. We’ve got a lot more instruments in the mix this year—voice and piano, but also cello, guitar, recorder, maybe even ukelele. Caroline has also gotten a little more experience with GarageBand, so who knows what they’ll come up with!

Here’s how it works:

1. Make a donation of any amount to one of the organizations listed below.

2. Email me at maryannmcdana (at) gmail (dot) com and let me know of your donation, preferably with a screen shot of the donation page.

3. Once the album is finished, we will email you the link for download. We hope to complete it by December 22, so you’ll have time to put it in your holiday rotation! If you give $50 or more, we will also send the link to a friend of your choosing as a gift from you, dressed up in a nice festive email describing your gift.

Here are the organizations. Two to choose from!

  • Homestretch, Inc. – serving people in Northern Virginia
  • Love Wins Ministries — Love Wins is actually based in Raleigh, but I’ve gotten to know the pastor and director, Hugh Hollowell, via social media. Love Wins operates on grace and a shoestring, and does amazing work both with advocacy and as a ministry of presence. The girls wanted to add Love Wins after I told them about David, Ashley, and Baby Liberty. Liberty is due to be born very soon after Ashley’s water broke at 30 weeks. They have a long list of needs—please give what you can to Love Wins or to help this struggling family.

Thank you in advance for your generosity and for helping Caroline and Margaret make a difference.

In Which an Atheist Schools Me on Sabbath-Keeping

Confession: I used to be really good about a weekend tech sabbath, but I’ve fallen off the wagon.

I know how it happened: I joined my beloved running group, which organizes group runs (including on the weekends) via Facebook. My traditional practice had been to begin tech sabbath by actually deleting the Facebook app from my phone, among other preparations, but that became inconvenient with keeping track of the running logistics. And well… bad habits crept back in.

I’m ready to recommit. Like Bilbo, I feel “thin, sort of stretched… like butter scraped over too much bread.”

There’s lots of videos out there encouraging people to unplug. I wrote about one here and said that while I appreciate the basic message, I get impatient with the lack of nuance. After all, there’s a human being on the other side of that screen.

But here’s one that spoke to me. It’s from the School of Life, founded by my favorite atheist and author of Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton.

Really… I’d attend the School of Life except
a) there are no locations in DC and
b) I just can’t quit Jesus.

There are two things that really work for me in this video:

1. I like the provocative “because” statements. Yes, some of them echo the “evils of technology” trope, but most go deeper than that. My favorites are
There are thoughts waiting to be disentangled.
and
It’s too easy to use the dramas of others as an escape from the trickier bits of oneself. 
Guilty as charged!

2. It’s grounded in a spiritual practice that has a rhythm to it. As the video says, “the religious guys were on to something.” This isn’t a “kill your smartphone” message, it’s an invitation to take just 24 hours every so often and rediscover the embodied life right around you.

What do you think? Do you take a break from technology? How/why do you do it?

An Advent Playlist: What Would You Add?

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Got to talking on Facebook the other day about Advent albums—in theory, this should be its own thing, as a season separate from Christmas, but it’s often folded into the behemoth category of Christmas music.

I only knew of one album of Advent music, but of course, many friends schooled me on the other great ones out there. So I’ve been building a bit of a playlist, which people have asked for.

Here you go—sorry there are no links, but I’m doing this quickly since we’re celebrating a certain seven year old’s birthday today. A quick Google or iTunes search will get you there.

ALBUMS

Advent: Piano Solos, Jim Morgan. Especially these tracks: Rejoice, Divinum Mysterium, Hyfrydance (my favorite)

Advent at Ephesus, Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. I dumped the whole album onto the playlist because it’s such lovely choral music.

Midwinter, Peter Mayer. This singer-songwriter hits just the right Adventish tone on this album of original music, though a few tracks are explicitly Christmasy. So you should avoid Stables, Christmas Morning, Heavenly Child, and Make My Christmas Day until later. But don’t forget to add them to your Christmas playlist because they’re beautiful. I dream of using Where Is the Light with a church choir someday. It’s rousing!

Advent, Vol. 1 and Advent, Vol. 2, The Brilliance. These were recommendations, haven’t downloaded them yet. Same with Advent by Tangled Blue.

SONGS

Thanksgiving, George Winston, December.

Each Winter As the Year Grows Colder, Marty Haugen. Haven’t found a version of this that I love, but the words are wonderful, very Adventish.

God, Beyond All Names, Bernadette Farrell. I like the Trinity Episcopal Church version. I could listen to these lyrics all day. And it has a fun alto line.

Veni Emmanuel and Of the Father’s Love Begotten, both from Winter’s Solstice III by Wyndham Hill

Beneath the Trees, William Ackerman, Winter Solstice

There is No Rose, Chanticleer, A Chanticleer Christmas

Lo How a Rose E’er-Blooming, Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker, The Hymns of Christmas

O Come O Come Emmanuel, Pentatonix, PTXmas

Gabriel’s Message, Sting. He has a couple versions of this (most recently on his Winter’s Night album) but I like the original 1980s version from A Very Special Christmas.

Enjoy! What have I missed?

~

photo credit: chrisotruro via photopin cc