Grandma “Mac”

“I may not always be with you
But when we’re far apart
Remember you will be with me
Right inside my heart”
-Marc Wambolt-

Today would have been my maternal grandmother’s 90th birthday.  She passed away six years ago but her influence stays with me in so many ways.  I just wanted to spend a few minutes talking about her.  So many of my memories of growing up include her.

My Grandma “Mac”, as she used to sign all of our birthday and Christmas cards, was one heck of a woman.  She probably knew my undergraduate recital pieces better than anyone else (except me).  I had my senior recital scheduled for the end of January.  In fact, it was about the second week of school for that semester.   I had my recital jury in place of my semester jury during finals of the fall semester, then went home for Christmas.  Things during the month of December had been so stressful for me because of finals on top of recital preparation and finalization of all the details.  My grandma had moved in with my parents temporarily.  She had some health problems that had been plaguing her for a few years and needed to be where she had help if needed.  She was eventually able to live on her own again but at this point, she lived with my parents.  She would spend her days in her chair in the room that had my piano.  She had a TV there, as well as her crocheting, books, etc.  So, I came home for Christmas so stressed and felt the need to practice but did not want to bother my grandma.  So, I would find other things to keep me busy.  At one point I was in the kitchen doing something and my grandma called for me.  She had very little voice and so when I heard her, I knew to come.  She looked at me and asked me if it wasn’t time that I did some practicing.  I laughed and told her that I just didn’t want to bother her.  I knew she had her “shows.”  She then told me that she knew it was important for me to practice and she loved to hear me play.  My mom had recently given me the Reader’s Digest Christmas book (I recommend everyone get this book!).  So, I would warm up by playing my grandma Christmas pieces from this book and then I would practice my recital pieces.  We did this for the entire Christmas break that I remained at home.  My grandma knew my recital pieces better than anyone.  She was unable to attend any of my school recitals but she made sure that I had a rose.  She was with me in spirit then as she is now.  I think of this time often and smile.

I want to share with you five things that I learned from this grandma.  I learned many more than five but this number will suffice for today.

  1. When you are handed trial after trial to trudge through, just keep going.  My grandma was dealt a life that I do not think I would be able to handle.  She lost her dad at an early age, her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at a fairly young age, she buried two sons, and she had poor health during her later years.  I  know there were so many other things on her plate as well.  She never gave up.  She never said (at least out loud) that this was too much for her to handle.  She put a smile on her face and trudged forward.  She was a true example of enduring to the end.  I hope and pray daily that I may become like her in this respect.  Just keep moving.
  2. Be nice.  Just be nice.  I never heard my grandma say a cruel word to or about anyone.  She was the epitome of the “sweet old woman.”  When she died, I remember so many people saying how she was so kind and welcoming to them.  I remember visiting her in the hospital this one particular time and a couple of the nurses were getting ready to transfer her from the bed to her chair.  To do this, they had to use the hoyer lift.  She would clench her eyes and hang on tight.  She hated that thing.  I told her more than once to pretend that it was an amusement park ride but she did not buy what I was selling.  They got her situated in her chair, she smiled, looked up, and thanked them.  She was constantly smiling and thanking people, even when she could have been yelling or cursing.  I am not that nice now.  I need to work on being like my grandma in that respect.  I think that the act of being nice and grateful is something that is not being employed in today’s society.  Just be nice and say thank you.
  3. Keep working your brain.  You are not too old to learn.  My grandma did not finish high school as a teenager.  She earned her GED in the 1980s alongside her youngest daughter.  I remember seeing those pictures and being so proud of her for doing that even while I was very young.  It takes a lot of guts to go back to finish something that was started so long ago.  She was never not reading a book and never not working on crossword puzzles.  I think my mom is a lot like her in that way.  Always keeping busy, always learn something.  It is important to keep your mind engaged as you age, especially as the body begins to deteriorate.
  4. Family is everything.  My grandma married at 16 and had 10 children.  She remained close to her siblings as well.  I remember going with her to visit her sisters and groaning because I knew that we would be gone for hours.  I definitely liked some of her siblings more than others.  Then, there was Memorial Day and my parents and I would take her to what felt like 500 cemeteries to visit the graves of her husband, son, parents, and siblings.  500 cemeteries…well, at least 3 or 4.  My grandma was in her element when her children and their families got together.  It did not happen very often because of the physical distance that separates some of them.  Family is everything.  When I told her I was moving to Oklahoma to get my Master’s degree, she shook her head and told me it was well past time that I found a husband.  I laughed and shook it off as a grandmotherly thing of her to say.  I sometimes wonder, though, if I wouldn’t have been married by now if I had heeded her advice.
  5. Always make sure that there are treats for people who stop by.  My grandma was the queen of the chocolate.  Her freezer would have bags of her homemade chocolate chip cookies (my favorite recipe ever) and she would have some in her cookie jar.  If you put a frozen cookie in the microwave for about 20 seconds, it tasted just like it came out of the oven.  My Uncle Chad taught me that trick when we both wanted a cookie but the only ones available were frozen.  When we (the grandchildren) entered the house, we yelled hi to grandma in the other room and went to get a cookie before going to find her.  She was a grand hostess and would always ask if her visitors wanted something to drink and then would ask specifics.  She always had Coke for my dad, and sometimes even a chocolate cream pie in the fridge for him.  She would keep other things on hand too but she always had lots of goodies!  I remember once, in the later years, she told my dad to go get him a Coke from the fridge.  He stayed in his seat and she definitely was not satisfied with that so she used her lift chair to stand up, then slowly (I mean SLOWLY) began walking with her walker to the kitchen.  When asked what she was doing, she said that she was getting my dad a Coke.  He told her to sit back down and he would get it.  She waved him off and said that she needed to get us all a piece of the pie that she had made.  Always make sure that those who visit you feel welcomed….and full.

The last time that I saw my grandma was two days after I had moved back to Idaho from Oklahoma.  As soon as we returned to Idaho, my mom turned and went back to Utah to be with her at the hospital.  A couple days later my dad and I went to be with the family.  When I walked into her hospital room, she saw me, and smiled.  Then she saw something beyond me, beyond this world, and I cannot tell you her expression.  That day was the last that I saw her in this life but she is with me so often.  The night of her viewing, when I saw her in the casket, I lost it.  I had tried since she died to be so strong because that is what she would have been.  I knew logically that the release from this life and its physical challenges had been a blessing for her but my heart did not understand.  I still miss her more than I ever thought that I would but I feel her with me when I most need that reassurance.

My grandma was the most good-natured, selfless, kind woman that I have ever met.   She was filled with faith and I cherish the letter she wrote to me in which she told me what she believed and that she loved me.  She lived through some really rough times but she kept going.   If I become even 25% of the woman she was, I will be doing well.

I know that this was a bit rambly but I have been meaning to write this particular blog for over six years.  Waiting for six years to express my thoughts about my Grandma McMurray did nothing to ease how difficult this task ended up being for me.  So, if you have something that you need to express to or about someone, do it now.  Time does not necessarily make things easier, it just cements your memory.

“I wish I’d paid better attention. I didn’t yet think of time as finite. I didn’t fully appreciate the stories she told me until I became adult, and by then I had to make do with snippets pasted together, a film projected on the back of my mind.” – Jessica Maria Tuccelli

The Mind Enters Itself

8d65c75a-501a-458f-8ab6-e392267dcf9a“Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?”
-Theodore Roethke-


Do you ever feel like you are losing your mind?  I mean really losing your mind.  This is me – at least the me of now.

I have developed this huge fear of dementia – more specifically of Alzheimer’s.  A person that has Alzheimer’s Disease has a brain that looks like Swiss Cheese – holes everywhere.  This disease literally eats pieces of your brain.  You forget people.  You forget places.  You forget experiences.  You forget how to take care of yourself.  You forget how to swallow.  You forget how to talk.  You lose you.

Back in the 1980s, my maternal grandfather had Alzheimer’s.  He died not long after I turned five, so I have very few memories of him.  In fact, I only have one memory and I am not sure it is even real.  Over the years, I have heard my mom talk about her father during this period.  He would walk and walk and walk and have to be brought home from miles away.  He had moments of not recognizing his wife of many years or his children.  She always comes back to, “I wish we knew then what is known now about this disease.  It would have helped us.”  It is true that very little was known and so members of the family were hurt much more by his forgetting them than perhaps could have been the result.  The family had not been given key information to aid them in their coping with this loss of their husband and father.  This information just was not readily available because it was still early days.

Alzheimer’s Disease is called “The Long Goodbye” for a reason.  By the time a person does die, he is truly and completely gone.  I see this every day at work.  I see the grief family members are called to endure as they slowly lose their family member.  Would I wish this disease on even my greatest enemy?  NO!

I feel this incredible fear and almost certainty that this will happen to me.  I do not want to miss or regret any moment of the life that I am given.

I often feel that my mind is this jumbled jar of thoughts, ideas, and warring emotions.  This past week has been one of heightened creativity.  However, with this creativity comes this feeling of unimaginable madness.  I could not even begin to describe this feeling.  It is like wanting more, more, more and being given a pittance.  I want more time to devote to my art, more time for personal and professional creativity, more time to just live.  I am happy and sad, satisfied and unsatisfied, energized and exhausted all at the same time.

So, for today, I live and create.  Tomorrow I hope to be able to do the same.  There will come a day, hopefully in the far distant future, when I may not even remember that I desired to do so.

Peace and Love (And Creativity),

The Mad Pianist 4efca8b5-d861-48cd-aeda-84be1f3b2651


The Confessional

It’s another segment of confession time. There are several new readers to this site and I want to say “Welcome!” So, for your reading pleasure, here are some confessions of a mad pianist – just so you get to know me and my eccentricities a little better.29d5f034-2559-4c2e-9dd2-f669aa5211a1

  1. I hate walking outside after dark. I always have. You could say that I am afraid of being attacked by someone or something. I think it goes back to my watching “Unsolved Mysteries” as a young child. This fear also extends into going into any basement when I am alone – regardless of the time of day. I think I mostly blame my brother for this one. He would tell me all sorts of stories about things coming to get me. For example, he once told me that if I jumped too high on the trampoline that the aliens would be able to see me and come take me away. He would also join me in watching “Unsolved Mysteries” and then concoct ways to scare me out of my skin. Such a wonderful brother, right? No, really- he was and is pretty great.
  2. I organize my books (mainly my books and other stuff as well) by height. I then further break it down alphabetically by author’s last name if there are several books at the same height. I also have organized all my movies alphabetically and the TV on DVD is separate. All my music is organized alphabetically by name of band and further by name of album. Maybe it’s a little OCD but it makes me feel better.
  3. I become really obsessed with things at times. Meaning that once I find something that really strikes me, I tend to focus on that and only that for quite some time. The subject matter rarely matters because it shifts every few months. I have spent time focused on the Kennedy’s, piano technique, certain TV shows, authors, etc.
  4. I get really paranoid when I’m driving my car and all of a sudden some vehicle suddenly appears behind me and follows me for quite some time. I always feel like they are deliberately following me and are, once again, going to attack me. Can I blame the crime and conspiracy shows that I sometimes like to watch?
  5. I actually enjoy pain. I know that sounds bad but it’s pretty true. Not all pain, of course. I hate headaches and pain when I’m sick. However, I get really excited if I wake up sore in the mornings. I love bruises – not only are they like battle wounds but it’s pleasantly hurtful when you accidentally touch them. I think pain is a wonderful way to remember that you are alive. It’s like justifying life.
  6. I really, really, really hate overhead lighting. It’s almost intrusive. I love a room lit just by lamplight and candles. I remember always laughing at the clarinet professor during my undergrad years because of his not using the overhead lighting but I totally get it now. It just really bugs me when something is too bright. Call me whatever you will, but soft lighting will always be the way to go. I can never have too many lamps.
  7. I love to travel – to see the way that people all over live. I don’t even mind traveling alone. On my bucket list is a plethora of places I want to see. One of my goals is to set foot on each of the seven continents before I die.
  8. I tend to over think everything. I believe that there is a definite reason for everything and I am continuously racking my brain in order to try and figure things out. I also tend to doubt myself and my decisions pretty much all the time. It’s a constant source of stress for me wondering whether I’m really doing the things that I’m meant to do.
  9. I have a really hard time paying attention a lot of the time. When I had to attend class, I would drift off and not really hear some of what was said. If you are ever talking to me and wondering if I’m ever paying attention, I’m probably not. I tune out and respond to people with “mmmhmmm” and a head nod so they think I am actually listening to them. I will now hang my head in shame.
  10. I always felt that I was really misplaced in my life. I love Idaho and country-living but I never really felt like I belonged. Idaho will always be home for me, at least in my heart but I don’t know that I will make my entire life here. I enjoyed living in Oklahoma as well but it wasn’t necessarily “home” either. One day I will find the place I feel I belong and all will be well in my world. This I do believe.
  11. I’m not antisocial. I have a hard time putting myself out there because of many things. I fear that I will be left alone and/or will be the odd person out. I suppose I leave myself out on purpose to make the rejection of myself my own fault. I want to be more involved and perhaps I can work on that but give me some time.
  12. I love thunderstorms and just rain in general. While I lived in Oklahoma, it was like weather heaven for me. I loved how the thunder would shake the whole house. After I came back to Idaho, I would really anticipate the thunderstorms and then be sorely disappointed. Lightning and thunder are wonderful. Sigh.
  13. One of the happiest places for me to be is wrapped up in a blanket under a lamp reading a book. I have a lot of books on my “to-read” list. I will never run out of adventures and worlds to temporarily inhabit.
  14. I truly do think that my family is filled with a bunch of freaks but I wouldn’t trade them for the sake of normality. We are all blessedly different but somehow seem to get along most of the time.
  15. I really miss my “what the bleep down the rabbit hole” days with Lisa and Andrea. You will be introduced to these characters soon – maybe next week. They really taught me to live the day that I am given and to embrace whatever life has in store. I never thought that my friends could be my family until I met these wonderful gals.
  16. I have discovered that I have more patience than I ever thought I had. Granted, there are days when I have very little but it’s more than maybe could be present. Today, for instance, I really wanted to snap at some of the old people I work with. Everyone was having a bad day and was grumpy (me included). I swear, if one more person asks me for a napkin while I am handing out the percussion instruments I am seriously going to snap! All is well. I still have a job.
  17. I think if given the right opportunities and the right contacts, I could do something amazing with my life. I am still not sure what that something amazing would look like but I know it is there. Perhaps this here is just the first step in a series of adventures that will follow. I really, really hope so.
  18. As a child, I always thought that I would die tragically as a teenager. Now, I have the fear that I will die young but it will be murder. This used to not terrify me as much as it does now. The older I get the more concerned I am for the associations I make for this very reason.
  19. I like playing scales and arpeggios. GASP. I never thought I would admit to that one but there it is. The more I practice and work at my scales, the better I play in general. Now, who wouldn’t like to play scales if the results are out of this world FANTASTIC? Go play your scales.
  20. I am in a box musically. I am trying to break out of this box but it is so incredibly hard. I love Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Schumann, Bartok, etc. but I absolutely hate Joplin and most ragtime. My mother is probably shaking her head by now. She would love nothing more than for me to play a whole program of ragtime. I struggle with the will and desire to even learn one piece. So, I am going to work at working at this. All in good time.

So, there are a few of my confessions. Why don’t you send me a couple of yours? What is it about yourself that you really wish you didn’t know? The funnier the better. Go for it. You know you want to send them to me.

Don’t forget to send me your questions and comments. The more questions you have to ask, the better. I promise to get to them all and then answers just might surprise you. You want to know why the Mad Pianist thinks the sky is blue, why political parties cannot seem to get along, or why your pedaling foot hurts? Use the contact me form and send in whatever you want to send in!

Peace and love (and a few good confessions),

The Mad Pianist