Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

This Week’s Muffin: Coffeecake

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DC traffic earlier today

The traffic outside was frightful thanks to snow that hit at just the wrong time… Schools were open but it was treacherous for buses, walkers and drivers alike. So I opted to keep the kids home, but not before baking some “sorry you have to go to school” muffins.

Here they are. Adapted from The Ultimate Muffin Book by Weinstein and Scarbrough

1/2 c. chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (which I just realized I forgot. Oh well)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease or line 12 muffin cups.
  2. Make the filling: Combine nuts, 3 tablespoons of the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt in a small bowl; set aside.
  3. Whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and remaining salt.
  4. In a separate bowl combine remaining butter, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Fold wet ingredients into dry.
  5. Fill muffin cups 1/2 full with batter; level off the batter. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each muffin cup; top off with the remaining batter.
  6. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy.

Nine Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

An update from a previous post.

e2bea3ef389032a3b8df0afe7f7999c8Resolutions get a bad rap. There’s a lot of guilt in play, as people feel like they should make them. Other people make them and quickly break them: more guilt. Still other folks genuinely want to follow through but don’t know how.

As for me, I love looking back and looking forward. And I make resolutions, though I call them something else (see below). Whether I fulfill them or not is really secondary. This year I’ve decided to tackle this Ultimate Reading Challenge. And I’m setting a goal to run 1,000 miles in 2015. That’s about 20 miles a week, and feels ambitious but doable, since I’m running a half marathon in March and the Marine Corps Marathon in October. Training for those two races should put me at 750 easily, unless something happens.

And things do happen. Whether I achieve those goals or not, setting them is the important part for me. It points me in the direction I want to go.

Still, if you want to make some New Year’s goals stick, here are some tips that have worked for me and other people I know:

  1. Set an intention instead. Resolutions have always felt too brittle for me. (After all, when we don’t follow through, we say we broke them.) Intentions are more flexible. Listen to the difference between “I resolve” and “I set the intent.” The former feels like one of Harry Potter’s Unbreakable Vows; the latter points you in a worthwhile direction. Maybe you need the force of the former, but I like the latter because it can bend as our lives shift. And we can set intentions again and again. There’s a reason people in 12 step programs take things one day at a time.
  2. Make it a story. Most resolutions are vague goals that lack context. Donald Miller suggests we come up with stories instead. Stories are compelling, and they take us somewhere. According to Miller’s definition, a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it. What could be a better framework for a New Year’s improvement project? “Lose weight” is a worthy goal, but without a concrete story to hang it on, it’s too easy to give up. So instead of getting in shape, a story-based resolution might be to complete a road race or do a big hike with friends.
  3. Explore the 5 W’s. In ninth grade journalism class I learned the basics of a news story: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. (Also How.) If you want your resolutions to stick, you need to spend some time with these questions. So you want to cook at home more instead of eating out. Who will support you in this effort, and whom will be impacted by this lifestyle change? What will you do to make this happen? When will you plan, shop and cook? Where will this happen—do you need to de-clutter the kitchen? stock the pantry? And most importantly, Why is it important that you do this? [Update: another way to look at this is to focus not on making goals, but on refining your systems.]
  4. Take things monthly. Gretchen Rubin is a pioneer of this approach. Her book The Happiness Project chronicles a year-long self-improvement project with a different emphasis each month (money, home, family, etc.). Why not pick something modest to work on in January? Then on January 31 you get to celebrate your success (or shrug off your failure) and move on to something new in February.
  5. Pick a word. Many of my pastor friends hand out stars with words on them to their congregations on Epiphany Sunday—I’ve done it myself. These words become a prayer or meditation focus. For folks who find self-reflection tedious, there’s something serendipitous about being given a word to live with for a whole year. (My 2014 word was compassion.)
  6. Let the resolution grow out of a deeper reflection. Ideally, a resolution, intention, or story will grow out of a period of reflecting on the year to come. In other words, don’t go for the same knee-jerk resolution you pick every year—it may not fit your life right now. If you’re about to move across country or get a promotion at work, it’s probably not the right time to take on a new hobby or join that CrossFit class. Or because of those changes, it may be the perfect time to take care of yourself. But the point is, your resolution needs to grow out of a realistic assessment of the year to come. I’ve been using this tool to say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015, but there are tons of tools like this on the Internet.
  7. Build in some No with your Yes. I’m convinced that a lot of resolutions fail because people add on habits or practices without taking other things away. So you want to spend 20 minutes each morning in prayer or meditation. OK… but what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen? (Additional sleep? that bleary-eyed early morning Facebook session?)
  8. Tell people. Every December writing group would together for a Christmas luncheon, and we would go around the table and share our writing goals for the coming year. Stating our goals aloud in the company of trusted friends was powerful. We are communal creatures—only the most disciplined among us can make a major life change without any support, encouragement or accountability from friends and family. If you’re one of those rocks or islands that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us, tweet or Facebook your goals. Blog about them. Tell a friend. Heck, tell me in the comments—I will cheer you on!
  9. Take two steps, not just one. This one came from a recent issue of Runners World. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, people who take only one step toward an exercise or weight-loss regimen (like joining a gym) were more likely to engage in activities that were counterproductive (like bingeing on brownies). Meanwhile, their peers who took a follow-up step (working out right after joining the gym) were more likely to stick with their plan. So while Lao Tzu is right that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, don’t neglect the second step either.

What are your hopes for 2015? If you’re not sure where to start thinking, check out my post from earlier this week, What Will Be in 2015?


Image source

What Will Be in 2015?

The week of New Year’s is one of my favorites of the year. The run-up to Christmas is over but schedules aren’t quite back to normal, so things are quieter, more relaxed. The kids are out of school (though they’ve been driving me a tidge crazy at times). And my birthday so close to New Year’s invites reflection and taking stock.

I love the idea of the new year being a clean slate. I need that every year. (I need it more often than that, actually—thank heaven for the weekly prayer of confession in worship, when we let go of the brokenness and ask that it be healed and renewed.)

As I think about what 2015 might bring to birth in my life, the following video came my way, “Acorn” by Madeline Sharafian. I love the story that’s told in just 4 beautiful minutes. I’m touched by this little acorn’s attempt to fulfill its destiny of “acornness,” yet in its own unique way. That is our human calling, is it not? I heard Jesuit priest and writer James Martin tell Krista Tippett this week:

As [Thomas] Merton said, for me to be a saint means to be myself. …I remember in the novitiate, there was a young novice who would get up in the morning at 6:30 and pray all the time. And I thought well, gee, to be holy, I guess I have to do that. So I’d get up and I’d pray, and I was falling asleep all the time. And then there was another novice who was super quiet, so I thought oh I have to be really quiet, and diffident. And, sort of soft spoken. And my spiritual director said to me, what’s wrong with you? You’re so quiet. I said, well, so-and-so’s quiet. And he’s really holy. And he said, you know, in order to become holy, you don’t become someone else. You just become yourself.

Whether you’re a resolution/intention-maker like me or not, I invite you to watch this in with a seeker’s heart and consider the hard work of transformation and the grace at play as well. What might 2015 hold for you?

As the artist says in her description: “Growing up is hard, but it’s also beautiful. We can do it!” Indeed.

Happy Hygge!


My friend Laura Collins posted a link last week to an article about the Danish concept of hygge [pronounced something like HYU-gah]. This was a new concept to me… which is crazy, really. I mean, Dana means “the Dane,” for heaven’s sake!

There’s no English equivalent, but loosely translated, hygge refers to a cozy sense of togetherness and well-being. (It’s fitting that hygge autocorrects to “hugged” on my phone.)

Hygge is big this time of year, but it can be cultivated anytime. From the article:

“In other languages the word for hygge or coziness is more a physical thing, and hygge is more a mental thing,” explains Lotte Hansen, a library science student from Aalborg, Denmark, who’s interning at the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa. “It’s like a feeling, and it’s big at Christmastime. The candles, the food, being with your family.”

“It’s not only Christmas, though,” she adds, noting hygge is a pervasive, year-round spirit. “It’s like a mood you have. We can see hygge in many things, in many situations.”

This flexibility of hygge is a major reason why English words like “cozy” don’t do it justice. “Coziness relates to physical surroundings — a jersey can be cozy, or a warm bed — whereas hygge has more to do with people’s behavior toward each other,” writes author Helen Dyrbye in “Xenophobe’s Guide to the Danes.” “It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment rolled into one.”

This is an important distinction. When I first read about hygge I got it right away—it’s a Christmas feeling, but also a Sabbath feeling. I have felt that warm sense of rightness during our family’s Sabbath time together, especially when we stick close to home. Day-long Sabbaths are now much harder to come by than they were when I was writing the book. A few hours here and there are the best we can manage. Still, I occasionally catch glimpses of holy hygge.

Holiday hygge can be elusive if family relations are strained, there’s an empty chair at the table, or people are so stressed trying to manufacture faux hygge that they miss the conviviality and contentment that’s at the heart of the thing. I also see how Christmas-oriented marketing can convince us to go for coziness over true hygge. L.L. Bean will happily sell you shearling-lined slippers to wear while curled up in front of the fire. But if hygge is about the way we are with one another, we don’t need the slippers, or even the fireplace.

But if I’m understanding the concept correctly, there is an atmospheric element to hygge. It’s not just about attitude. This pleases me, because I generally enjoy the homemaking preparations for Christmas. I’m selective about what I do: baked goods, yes, Christmas cards no; candles on the table, yes, decorations outside, no, we’re miserable suburbanites in that regard. Such preparations can seem frivolous in light of so much despair and turmoil in the world. But if, in all our holiday bustling we’re really cultivating hygge, then well, that feels like worthwhile labor.

Those of us who are Christian will gather in two nights’ time to hear once again the story of God assuming human flesh. This means that our matter, matters, and that authentic things in life aren’t just products of our intellects, but are actually experienced through our five senses and felt in our very pores. The irreverent rip of colored paper and pop of tape as a loved one digs into a wrapped gift. The various aromas emanating from the oven. The glow of candlelight. The same carols, sung year after year.

What are your markers of hygge? Whatever they are, I wish you oodles of it.


photo credit: FullMetalGenesis via photopin cc

Bread of the Week: Uncle John Calvin’s French Toast Casserole

If I know the Internet--and I like to think I do--someone will 'shop a chef's hat onto this picture.

If I know the Internet–and I like to think I do–someone will Photoshop a chef’s hat onto this picture.

This week’s recipe is not a muffin, but it’s still a great breakfast food (or lunch food, or dinner food).

When I was new in ministry, a friend said she liked to use leftover communion bread to make bread pudding. It’s not often I get to bring home the bread after a worship service, but that’s what I like to do too. More specifically, I like to make french toast casserole, recipe below.

In a discussion on Facebook it seems that the Catholics and Episcopalians are a bit squicked out theologically by the body of Christ, mixed with egg and milk and baked. With all respect to my transubstantiating brothers and sisters, I say, ¡Viva la reformación! 

Incidentally, the Presbyterian Book of Order requires that you dispose of leftover bread “in a manner consistent with the Reformed understanding of the Sacrament and the principles of good stewardship.” As I put the dish together last night, I thought about our Longest Night service, and the many prayers that were spoken and unspoken around that loaf. That counts, does it not?

Uncle John Calvin’s French Toast Casserole

Feel free to adjust the recipe based on how much bread you have. This morning’s casserole was made in a 11×7 and baked for about 40 minutes.


  • leftover communion bread, or a loaf of challah or other firm bread
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • maple syrup, for serving


  1. Grease a 13- by 9-inch glass baking dish with softened butter or cooking spray.
  2. Slice or tear the bread into 1-inch pieces.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.
  4. Arrange half the bread in a single layer in the prepared dish, then sprinkle half the sugar mixture evenly over the top. Add a second layer with the remaining bread and the sugar mixture.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add the milk and vanilla extract, whisking until well blended.
  6. Starting from the sides of the dish and working toward the center, pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread. With a spatula, gently press down on the bread to coat it with the egg mixture. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours.
  7. Heat the oven to 350°. Bake the casserole covered for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until the casserole turns a light golden brown and looks slightly puffed, about 30 minutes more.
  8. Serve the casserole warm with maple syrup. Give thanks for the spiritual presence of Christ.