Photo Contest at the Sabbath Blog

The book is loose in the world now!

My friend (and member of my youth group back in the day) Hallie sent me this photo from the Dripolator in Black Mountain NC:


It inspired me to have a contest. Read about it here at the Sabbath blog. And have fun with it!


Happy Birthday Robert!

Robert is 40 today!!! Yippee!!!!

To celebrate, here are some fireworks, h/t Colossal. These are long exposure photographs, but the twist is that the photographer started the shot out of focus, then focused once the explosion started.

I could draw an analogy between these photos and a life well lived, how it’s all a combination of breathtaking clarity and soft focus, and a trust in the long view of things.

Eh, never mind. Just enjoy…



More at the link.

R, you’re the best.

Sabbath “Try-its”–In Honor of the Girl Scouts

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts! To celebrate and have a little fun, I had the Young Clergy Women design a Sabbath “merit badge” during our time in Chicago.

The brownie badges are called “try-its,” which is a name I like because it’s about invitation and not mastery. (And that was the spirit of the assignment, rather than making Sabbath yet another thing we must “achieve.” How can we invite people into deeper Sabbath-keeping?)

Try-its are triangular though, which I find a harder shape to work with, so we went with the traditional round badge shape. I gave people a large circle and invited them to work in groups to make a design and/or a list of suggested activities. I remember the Girl Scout badges I earned as a child had lists of activities with lots of choices, e.g. “complete one task from group A, two from group B, etc.” So I encouraged people to include some margin and grace in their lists.

There were some great ideas and designs. Here is a favorite:

One side of the badge is an image that represents “avoidance” or saying no to certain things, and the other side is an image of “engagement” or saying yes to our hearts’ yearnings.

I also like that each list has people choose 4 out of 7 of the activities. You don’t have to do it perfectly. Sabbath isn’t about a checklist.

What do you think? What would you include?

Incidentally, Chalice will be setting up a site for Sabbath in the Suburbs in the coming weeks, and I’ll be blogging there a couple times a week as well as here at the Blue Room. I’ll include some of the other badges on that site. Stay tuned.

Experiments in Food Rule #39

I’m a Maira Kalman fangirl. Some years ago I gave my sister-in-law a copy of Strunk and White illustrated by Kalman, and had to get one for myself. Last Christmas it was Robert’s turn: he received Food Rules by Michael Pollan, featuring Kalman’s quirky illustrations:

The food rules are listed here, though the book itself is worth checking out. One of my favorites is #39:

Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.

The idea is that anything you cook is going to be made with (generally) wholesome ingredients, so by making your own you will cut way down on preservatives, trans fats and Red 40 Lake.

But also, the effort involved in cooking your own junk food is an automatic limiter. Having a Costco-sized box of Oreos in your house can be more problematic than having 18 molasses cookies. Having to make them yourself means unless you have all the time in the world, you will have less on hand. And if your kids helped you make them, they are probably monitoring how quickly they’re disappearing.

We didn’t intentionally decide to follow this food rule—we’ve kinda backed our way into it. During the spring I got on a huge muffin kick and made a different muffin each week: strawberry lemonade, honey oat, pineapple bran. Muffins are a great hybrid food: are they a dessert? Are they a breakfast food? Plus they come in a single size: automatic portion control. Yeah, you can eat multiple muffins at a sitting—

not that I’ve ever done that… ~cough~

But at least you clearly see that’s what you’re doing, as opposed to furtively cutting yourself a bigger slice of quickbread or cake and calling it “one serving.”

Summer is too hot for the oven, so we’ve moved from muffins to ice cream. Robert picked up the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book and has been having a field day. Their flavors are to die for: chocolate malt, fluffernutter, and Elvis: The Fat Years, which is banana ice cream studded with bacon peanut brittle.

(Robert wants me to tell you that the sugar content in some of these recipes keeps them from freezing very hard, so he’s made some tweaks.  He’s also adjusted the level of cream and milk to lighten them a little.)

The good thing about these flavors is a little goes a long way. Their chocolate is SO chocolatey that one serving is plenty. (Did you know that 1/2 cup of ice cream is considered a serving?)

One caveat: this week he made Harvey Milk and Honey (hey, they’re based in San Francisco) which involves raw honey and graham cracker pieces toasted in butter. That one, we could eat pints and pints of. You’ve been warned.

When I first heard about Food Rules I thought great, another scold. But there are so many rules that you can’t possibly follow them all, so there’s a gracious freedom to adopt those rules that make the most sense for you.

OK, you could follow them all, but I’m not sure I want to know you.

What do you think of food rules—Pollan’s or others? Do you have any food rules you follow?

It’s Encourage an Artist Day!

First, let me say what a feast of wisdom you all have provided with your quote suggestions for my empty epigraph slot! Keep ’em coming!

Contest closes at 5 p.m. today and then I have decisions to make.

(You improve your chances of winning if you provide bibliographic information, including page number…or at least enough info for me to find it easily. The deadline’s breathing down my neck.)

But I’m actually writing to tell you that it’s Encourage an Artist Day. Yes, I just made that up but it’s my blog and I can do that.

This morning I got an e-mail from an elder at a Presbyterian Church in Ohio. Their pastor recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of his ordination and this elder was looking for something to mark the occasion. She found this litany I wrote, a reaffirmation of ordination vows. I originally wrote it for my annual preacher camp, The Well, but decided to send it to Reformed Worship on the hunch that there aren’t many litanies of this kind out there.

It was such a gift to receive this elder’s e-mail, I cannot even tell you. It was a simple thanks, nothing elaborate, but it came at just the right time.

So I charge you, Blue Room readers who value creativity and beauty, who read widely and revel in artistic expressions—send a note of encouragement or thanks to a preacher, writer, artist, blogger, musician or [fill in the blank]. With Twitter and Facebook and other means of communication, it’s easier than ever to be in touch with the people who inspire you. And report back on how it went!

Sending my note right now…

I Need a Quote! Contest and Giveaway

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 

I love a good quote, and this one from E.B. White is one of my favorites. It’s the first of twelve epigraphs in my book, Sabbath in the Suburbs.

The trouble is, there are thirteen chapters.

A big publishing house that will remain nameless didn’t bother to answer my request for permission to use a verse of this wonderful poem. So, I need a new quote and I need it by tomorrow.

No sense in drawing these things out, eh?

Obviously the quote should have something to do with Sabbath, or time, or living gently in the midst of our days. It can also come from the other direction and highlight the frantic busyness that grips many of us. It must not require me to seek permission, which means it can be from a book but it can’t be more than one line of poetry, hymn, song, or prayer, unless it is in the public domain (generally pre-1923).

Comment here or on my Facebook author page or e-mail me at maryannmcdana (at) gmail (dot) com with your suggestion by 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday June 26. If your quote is chosen I’ll send you a copy of the book when it comes out, plus an added surprise bonus.

Image: bonus photo of my Meglet, who improves the world simply by enjoying it.

Post-Vacation Miscellany

We’re back from a very satisfying vacation in Springpatch, Midwestern State. The trip was not without its snafus—Robert and Caroline caught colds, and I hurt my back for a couple of days after doing this weird surfing thing in the pool with James. But the kids were 97% delightful in the car (and without DVDs to boot!) and we got lots of rest at the grandparents’.

Having kids who are old enough not to need constant vigilance/suggestions of things to do = priceless.

Caroline enjoyed playing on a real piano. Our digital piano is wonderful but there’s no beating an actual grand. She is teaching herself this piece. I’m boggling at the motivation in this kid, but it sure made for a nice soundtrack for our trip.

James had a breakthrough in the swimming pool and is now going under water after many months/years of unhappiness at getting his face wet. Tonight he went from bobbing up and down in place to actual locomotion. He was SO proud.

Meanwhile, Margaret can turn a mean cartwheel.

As for me, I have two more days to finish proofing the PDF of my book. It’s very exciting to see it at this stage. July is going to be a tremendous month, with a number of conferences and articles and things on tap.

And school’s out, which means I will be doing the summer shuffle: camps, babysitters, swim team, child care, etc.

Coming tomorrow: a contest/giveaway with a VERY quick turnaround. I need a new epigraph for one of my chapters, something about Sabbath and/or living lightly in time. Put your thinking caps on….more details in the morning.

And now, a few photos. The headwear came from New Salem. That’s Caroline hanging on the monkey bars, and I included the one of me because I think I look relaxed… a rare posture for me 🙂