Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Thomas J. McGranahan, Sr., my friend and former coworker at Virginia Repertory Theatre (formerly Barksdale Theatre & Theatre IV) passed away last week from complications of cancer. He was a hardworking, funny, feisty, all-around good guy. I flew back to Richmond this past Memorial Day weekend for the funeral, which was packed, and rightly so. Tom had a lot of friends. A LOT.

Virginia Rep Artistic Director, Bruce Miller, wrote a moving blog post tribute to Tom, which you can find here. There was also a nice article about him in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The only thing I will add is that I will personally miss hearing him call me (and every woman, really) "darlin'" as well as all his other Tom-isms that will no longer be heard in his high raspy voice, spoken at 1,000 miles per hour, to any passerby within earshot.

No doubt Tom is now cracking jokes with St. Peter and the angels over a liverwurst on rye.

"Nobody here but us chickens!"

Love & miss you, Tom.

Thomas Joseph McGranahan, Sr.
April 16, 1931 - May 23, 2013
Blessed be his memory.

Friday, April 12, 2013


This evening, I learned of the tragic death of my college piano instructor, M. Solveig Steen. She died in a fire in her home in Sioux Falls early this morning. She planned to retire from Augustana College at the end of this school year. She was 77. Solveig (pronounced "soul-vay") was such a fixture in my college years, and I was grateful that we kept in touch after. I submitted the following to Augustana upon their request for memories of this remarkable woman. I will miss her immensely.

- - -

I studied piano with Solveig all four years at Augie and we kept in regular contact after I graduated. She would update me via type-written letters regarding her latest home improvement projects, her travels, and of course, her beloved students. She truly cared about each of them, but had a soft spot for the youngest ones. One student in particular she lovingly referred to as her "adopted grandson, Sam" -- who is probably a college student himself now.

The opposite of stuffy or rigid, Solveig had a delightful sense of humor and was just plain fun to be around. She'd wistfully recount how she "weighed 88 lbs in her younger years" and was constantly saying she needed to diet (which she didn't) but that she loved food too much. She was a notorious night owl and would stay up until the wee hours of the morning watching cable TV ("there are just so many channels!"). She was always in the middle of some major project or other, either landscaping or remodeling or something that required power tools and heavy lifting. I visited with her at her home a couple times, and after showing me the latest and greatest improvements, she'd describe in detail the next "to-do" item on her ever-lengthening list. She certainly didn't shy away from hard work and would go completely stir-crazy if an illness or injury stalled her progress.

Solveig's favorite musical piece was Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and once she took time out of my lesson to walk me down to the listening room, pull the LP off the shelf (because "analog sounds better") and play it for me. We sat in silence listening to the gorgeous music, which she later pointed out was brilliantly used in the Charlie Sheen movie, Platoon. To this day, I think of her whenever I hear those gut-wrenching crescendos.

Solveig had a zeal for life: for faith, art, adventure, current events, music, and especially, the piano. She knew when I hadn't practiced but didn't berate me for it. Instead, she'd tell me about how much she practiced when she studied under Ruth Slenczynska, which had the same effect. She was a patient instructor who infused her lessons with laughter, storytelling, and artistic passion. She introduced me to my favorite composer, Frederic Chopin, and once told me, "you were made for Chopin, and Chopin was made for you." One of the greatest compliments I ever received was when she told me I had executed a passage from one of his Preludes better than she could. It was a proud moment for me, and I like to think it was a moment of pride for her too.

Every person can point to two or three teachers in his or her past who have had a lasting, life-changing impact. I am blessed that Solveig was one of those teachers. Even though she is gone, she will continue to be a pivotal figure in my life, and no doubt, in the lives -- and music -- of many others.

Blessed be her memory.

Margaret Solveig Steen
January 9, 1936 - April 12, 2013

Friday, September 14, 2012

Saucy goodness

In lieu of writing about something heady, I thought I'd share a tasty recipe.

I don't know about you, but our tomatoes are going gangbusters. I made this fresh pasta sauce last weekend and was not disappointed! Alas, I did not take any photos of it because we yummed it up before it occurred to me. (The photo at left is from Kitchen Confidante.)

I used the recipe from Diana Rattray in About.com's Southern Food section.

My tweaks to the recipe are in red below.


1 to 1½ pounds ripe tomatoes; about 3 large tomatoes (I used two extra-large Brandywine heirloom tomatoes and a handful of Sweet Baby Girl cherry tomatoes)
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
diced onion (or onion flakes)
½-1+ teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound whole grain spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving


If desired, peel tomatoes (I did); remove seeds, straining juice into a bowl. Save the juice and discard seeds. In a food processor, combine garlic, tomatoes with juice, olive oil, basil, and onion. Pulse quickly to chop roughly. Pulse more for a smoother sauce, if desired. Transfer to a bowl, add salt and pepper and let stand to marinate for about 20 minutes (I did not transfer to a bowl; I just let mine marinate in the Cuisinart).

Cook pasta until just tender, drain and toss hot with the marinated tomato sauce. If hotter spaghetti is desired, heat the sauce just until hot on stovetop or in microwave (I recommend doing this). Serve immediately topped with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 to 6. 

Buon appetito!

Friday, August 31, 2012

< BOLD >

I like your Christ; 
I do not like 
your Christians.  
Mohandas Ghandi

This quote has been on my mind a lot in the last couple months. There are likely thousands of others who share this viewpoint, and I can't say I blame them. 

The term "Christian" really doesn't mean anything. Or rather, it has grown to encompass such a broad spectrum of beliefs and behaviors that I would venture to say the term has become as far removed as ever from its original meaning of "one who follows Christ," and has even taken on a negative connotation.

I can't help but wonder about the traits of those Christians Ghandi encountered. Were they self-righteous? Self-centered? Self-aggrandizing? Did they justify nefarious behavior for the purposes of proselytizing? Did they discriminate? Judge? Belittle? Perhaps the opposite—perhaps their lives were marked by idle indifference or passivity. Or, perhaps Ghandi was unable to discern any difference between the lives of Christians and the lives of non-Christians—in which case, what's the point?

This is not a post about hypocrisy, or abuses of the church, or political extremism. I just wanted to share what has been on my heart, in the hope that maybe what I have to say will encourage others who face similar challenges of faith. Lately, I've felt called to examine my own life and my own belief system, and ask myself whether I could have been the type of "Christian" that led Ghandi to make that statement. 

Living as an authentic Christ follower is hard. That's not an excuse, it's just a fact. Jesus confirmed this would be the case when he told his disciples (the first Christ followers) very clearly, In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33) He didn't say, "you might  have trouble." He also told them, Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:22)  Not "if  they hate, exclude, insult, reject"... when. 

One thing that is  easy in today's America is to be comfortable. I include myself in this statement. It is so easy for me to settle into a routine and live a vanilla life. Yes, I have occasional adventures, but usually for my own enjoyment. Am I really living the way Christ intended? What would that  life look like?

Among other characteristics, a life that follows Christ is one of love, selflessness, compassion, patience, self-control, generosity, kindness... boldness. I found over two dozen Bible verses that contain the word "boldness," many of which have to do with professing one's faith, and living a life that reflects it. (Acts 4:13, Philippians 1:20, I John 4:17, among others).

Choosing to boldly follow Christ takes courage. Why? Because doing so means willingly stepping into trouble, hatred, exclusion, insults, and rejection. So why would anyone deliberately follow that path? The truth is, fear keeps many from doing just that. And admittedly, it has been a challenge for me.

But what I have discovered is that despite the difficulties we are sure to encounter for following Christ, we do not face those challenges alone. (Deuteronomy 31:8, Matthew 28:20)

In fact, we have been promised two rewards when we do: 

1. Victory over the troubles of the world. 
[T]ake heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) 

2. Blessing when we endure troubles for following Christ. 
Blessed are you
when men hate... exclude... insult... reject...
(Luke 6:22) 

This means we will move past the negative experiences to receive the blessing that flows when we cast our fears aside and boldly follow Him.  I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) Christ empowers us to share out of the abundance we receive and be a blessing to others—to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world that desperately needs Him. 

I can't help but wonder what Ghandi would have said had he met Christians whose lives truly reflected Christ. We can only speculate. Personally, I have reached a point in my life where I want to embrace boldness, live authentically, and reflect the light of Christ in a dark world.  

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14,16)  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Time flies...

...when you're not on Facebook!

I can't believe I've been Facebook-free for one month. I really thought I would miss it more than I did. Actually, I'm kind of appalled at how much I DIDN'T miss it. When I clicked that "deactivate" button on July 6th, my quickening pulse and sweaty palms were clear indicators that I had made the right decision. I was really quite disgusted with myself. Afterwards, I lost track of how many times my thumb instinctively flew to that blue "F" icon on on my phone. At least I removed the button from the favorites toolbar on my browser, otherwise I'm sure my mouse cursor would have floated up to click that too. In fact, it probably did. Gross.

It's also highly intriguing to me that three separate friends (that I know of... there may be more) also parted ways with Facebook in the last four weeks, all for various reasons, but all of which stemmed from bad experiences... account hacking, Facebook-sponsored spam-bots, drama-inducing posts. It was kind of nice knowing I wasn't the only fed-up Facebooker.

I must say, I really enjoyed using other forms of communication over the last month, which included Twitter, LinkedIn, email, text, and talking. I also found that I took more time to read -- that is, read things other than people's status updates or political rants or Words With Friends scores. Although I did get some of that from Twitter. But the beauty of Twitter is that in a matter of seconds, comments roll off the screen, never to be thought of again. Quite unlike FB's "Top Stories" that would stare back at me. All. Day. Long.

It was a nice experiment, and a much needed rehab from Crackbook. Yet, in spite of my new-found freedom, I will likely reactivate my account anyway.

I know, I know.

I certainly have no intention to revert to the addict I once was, and I plan to keep that bookmark removed from my favorites. Maybe I'll become one of those people who has an active  Facebook account but "is never on."

We're about to find out.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A slap in the Facebook

Facebook. That wonderful, awful, social networking site that has permanently changed the way the world communicates. Tonight, I deactivated my account for the first time since I opened it in 2007 or whenever it was. Yup, I'm now one of "those" people. I don't know how long I'll be gone. I just want to remind myself of what life was like before Facebook.

Facebook can be a great tool for keeping in touch. I've been able to reconnect with dozens of people who I may never have heard from again had it not been for the 'Book. I got to see photos of family and friends near and far, and stay apprised of birthdays, anniversaries, and general goings on in the lives of my 920 "friends."

But I recently found myself embroiled in the dark side of The FB. The side where one slip of etiquette, one typo, one misplaced comment, ETC., can quickly spiral into miscommunication, confusion, hurt feelings, and a slew of other negative emotions. Not the first time it's happened, and probably not the last, so I've chosen to say toodle-loo for awhile.

Overall, I think the pros of Facebook outweigh the cons. But for me, at least at the moment, I'm very happy at the prospect of not having to keep track of another set of Ps & Qs, or deal with the consequences of botching them. Certainly, I will miss Facebook. But for now, I will give good ol' fashioned e-mail and telephone a try.

Will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Valued customer

You know that wonderful feeling when you go to a store and the experience is so good that when it's over, you can hardly believe it wasn't a dream? You go in, there's no line, the staff is friendly and treat you like royalty, the thing you want is on sale, plus you get a bonus item, and a coupon for a future visit, just because you're a valued customer?

That's how my Dad always makes me feel.

My Dad is the most generous person I know. Of course, he has many other great traits as well -- he is hard-working, strong, smart, dependable, handy, funny, etc. But few people exemplify generosity as well as my Dad.

I became especially aware of this as I reached adulthood, when (even though I was "on my own") he would change my oil, buy me new tires, pay for meals out, or slip me a $20 just because. I watched him selflessly and earnestly offer anything he had that would help out my brothers, family, neighbors, and even strangers.

When my car got stolen a dozen years ago, Dad hunted all over the place until he found the perfect replacement car -- which turned out to be my beloved red Grand Am that I drove until I moved to Virginia. He knew that red was my favorite color and remembered that when I was a kid I lonnnnged to drive a Pontiac one day. (Props to Pontiac for effectively marketing to 10-year-olds.)

Even now, my Dad is still treating me like a princess. Most recently, he & my Mom helped us move from VA to MN, helping pay for gas & food & hotels along the way and also taking shifts behind the wheel. He was the one who noticed that our dual tires on the moving truck were rubbing together and needed more air, and that the special tire stems required going to a truck stop. I don't like to think about what could have happened if he hadn't been there to notice.

For 35 years, my Dad has been a living example of what it means to put others first, and to treat everyone like a "valued customer." The standard he has set is one I truly admire, and one I aspire to.

Thank you, Dad, for your example.

Happy Father's Day! I love you!