30 May 2008


Memorial Day Flowers For My Mother
(I had to put a filter on the photo, because I put the flowers in the fridge to keep them bright and some of them froze - I can't decide if it is morbid or hilarious, probably just what mom would expect from me)

I'm unsteady and off balance and can't quite get my feet underneath me. When I wake in the morning I feel it the most. An ache and a hunger that I don't quite yet understand how to soothe. I miss you mom.

Lucky Jello

When I was in high school, Sandy Kunz from the Sandy 1st ward, would make her nephews, neices, friends and whoever else might like to try it out "Lucky Jello" before big games and events at the school. Well, I have kept that tradition and have made lucky jello for the hockey team and the soccer team. I made some recently for the last soccer game of the season... it makes me giggle seeing 15 year old boys totally get into the stellar good karma properties of gelatin.

18 May 2008

Hour of Lead

My Dad Saying Goodbye to my Mom

I was in the middle of New York City on May 8th, by myself, when I received the news my mother had been killed in a horrific accident at the construction site of her and my father's new home. I became disoriented and confused with the shock and grief, but a young girl named Banika and friends I was traveling with guided me back to the hotel and on to a plane to join my family in Utah. I am still speechless. There is a rock upon my chest that feels heavy and tight. Here are the words I gave in tribute at her funeral:

I have spent years trying to be nothing like my mother. And when I opened the paper this past Sunday, Mother's Day, and saw her picture, I saw so much of myself reflected in her image, it brought me to my knees... I felt honored to be my mother's daughter.

Our relationship was sometimes tenuous... she is a fierce mother of strong daughters. I remarked to my dad yesterday that through this time of coming together I have noticed that the Toole women are very controlling, he replied, "You've just noticed". That tenacity, grit and inner resolve was a gift she gave to each of us.

My mother was like no other. She opened up a world of wonder and adventure to us. Exploring the edges of Blue Lake at East Fork, taking in the beauty of the freshly bloomed bluebells. She took us to the Seely Ranch in Colorado where we climbed the shale hills along the river and rode the horses for miles. She let us roam freely at her childhood home creating bonds with our cousins that provide the glue of strong families. She was a brilliant conspirator of snipe hunts at Girl Scout camp. My mother brought home refrigerator boxes and we would construct fantastic forts with every blanket, sheet, pillow, trinket and toy from the house and she would let us keep them up for weeks. She frequently took us to the zoo and let me perfect my roar at the mountain lions and introduced me to Shasta the Liger. She helped us dye thousands of Easter eggs to be thrown at other relatives in a bizarre ritual of the Stephens clan. She was a room mother and my husband and I remember being in Mrs. Sadler's third grade class where she left an indelible impression on both of us wearing cat-eye glasses and a flashy polka-dot shift which we now fondly refer to as the "wonder-bread dress".

My mother was mischievous and ditzy and flirtatious. I'm certain she acquired the mischievous trait from her own father whom she will always be remembered in the family lore as the one who shot him while deer hunting. Melanie and my mom came to visit me years ago in Missoula and I insisted we get in the car and drive to Spokane to do some shopping. As we passed Lake Coeur d'Alene I remarked that I didn't realize it was so big. My mom said, "Well you know it is an inlet from the ocean. Melanie and I looked at each other laughing and said, "Mom, we don't think Idaho has ever been on the coast." She had a not so hidden crush on Howie Long. And even though I think she was a bit insecure she had PRESENCE. She had a way of standing with her weight on one foot and with the other just have her heel touching the ground and give this look from under her brow that was just absolutely classy.

Her name is beautiful. The letters and their loops form an incredible rhythm and when I have writer's block or designer's block I trace them... S A U N D R A. Saundra Stephens Toole.

My mother was many things to many people. When we almost lost her a few years ago due to the blood clots I was so consumed in my own grief and sorrow, and then I looked around the room and saw that she was also Doug's wife, and Edison's daughter, and an aunt, a grandma, a friend - we are surrounded my so many who her life impacted and with whom we share this incredible pain at losing her. She had an uncanny ability to form individual relationships with all that she met. Private sanctuaries where even I, her own daughter, could not enter.

My mother's greatest trait however was not in being my mother, but by being so accepting of people. She loved her son's in law, her nephews and nieces, her dad, her grandchildren. Her friends. She belonged to so many worlds. She lived hard.

I have struggled over the past few days asking the question "why"? This is not fair, we got jipped! After all the countless people my mom and dad have helped it is just cruel irony that she was taken from us due to a tragic accident. I was comforted remembering conversations with my sons that my mom was particularly fond of recalling. Land had a classmate, a young girl in his first and second grade class who had experienced trauma and had become mute. When my mom asked Land why she didn't talk he replied in that innocent 6 year old voice, "That's the mystery grandma", I suppose now that is the only answer - it's the mystery and the mystery will sustain us.

When Chase was three we had a conversation that I have written down and shared with my mother. It was near Easter and after speaking about the Easter Story he asked, "Mom, do Chase's die?" I said, "You probably don't have to worry about it until you are old." He asked again, "Mom, are you old?" I replied, "a little, but I mean old like a grandma." His profound reply was, "But grandma can't die, because she can't lift that cross up all by herself". And I suppose we can take comfort in that - we don't have to carry this cross ourselves.

And to all of you, but to my dad and my sisters especially I want to conclude with the words to a song:

I love you Mom. (and I blew her a kiss) 

04 May 2008

how to have the perfect day...

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard from ONCE -my camera phone photo

Dean Kiger and a sweet view of my hood - Sue makes sure the hood looks good
Steve and I - DeAnn & 'the Boys' -  Me Outside

Part One - I don't think you can plan your perfect day -- there is serendipity involved. Mine occurred on Friday, May 2nd. I woke up super early for a swimming bootcamp. I rested for a bit when I got back home and overslept (luckily, Chase came to the house and woke me up). In a mad dash I got ready for GRADUATION! When I arrived at the Spectrum (wrong location) at 12:40 to get my cap and gown I remarked to the woman at the desk that I couldn't believe that so many people were arriving almost 2 hours early. She looked at me with an "are you on crack" expression and emphatically stated, "Graduation starts at 1:30 and the procession starts at 1:00 and you my dear need to be at the fieldhouse now to get a cap and gown". I didn't even let her finish the sentence and I was on the phone to Darren in a mad panic, "Go get Land out of school now, call Chase and tell him to get here stat"! I called my professor Steve and said, "Did you know this starts at 1:30 and not 2:30". He, thankfully, is so calm and replies, "Yes, I'm here in line, where are you?" I was running at that point across the field and sweating profusely. I paid for my cap and gown and when I went to pick up my name card the sweet young girl attending the table asked if she could help me get ready. I readily accepted; cap on, tassel hanging to the left, hood over left arm with the white portion toward your elbow. I can write a thesis, but those instructions are much too complicated in a panic state. I was the second to last person in the processional. So we are marching to the Spectrum and as we pass along the sidewalk by the green field the students from Edith Bowen are lining the path. The kindergarteners are waving yellow ribbons and shouting, "huzzah, huzzah". So many memories from when my boys were at Edith Bowen. Sharon Cook gives me a huge hug and all the teachers are congratulating me and the older children are putting their hands out to slap five. Matthew, my favorite 5th grader says, DeAnn, and I give him a hug and I swear, his little 10 year old buddy made all the work worth it. He asks Matthew, "Is that your sister"? The procession continues. Carolyn is standing along the sidewalk saying, "I have been waiting for you". I receive another congratulatory hug. As we enter the Spectrum the faculty are all greeting us. I'm all smiles as I pass Steve and Jeannie, and since I'm one of the last in line, President Albrecht is behind us. Darren, Land and Chase finally get there and I'm looking at them and thinking those those three men are what makes the earth turn. [sidenote: Chase realizes soon after that he has lost his wallet and leaves to retrace his steps -- eventually finding it, but missing the hooding of his mother] I told him that it is in his genes, look at my mess in arriving late and at the wrong place. It is finally my turn to be hooded. I politely ask if I can wait for Sue to do the honors. She tells the man helping her that I need to look extra good and then she asks me for yet another hug. I feel great. They say my name, and I proceed across the podium. The gentleman announcing the names has a British accent and I learn later that the boys were mocking him a bit and saying,"Harry Potter, receiving the Master of Science in Wizardry". Dean Kiger shakes my hand and gives me another hug and says congratulations and I reply, yes, congratulations! I always get tongue tied. I am elated. Something I thought I would never do, but deep inside always harbored the desire to get one of those fancy smancy hoods... that is what I was in it for. After the ceremony I am so pleased, I have my family with me and it is good.
Part Two - Ksenia, a friend of mine from Russia, had asked if I wanted to buy tickets to the Swell Season months ago. We drove to Salt Lake to see the Academy Award winning duo from the movie ONCE show their stuff. Hands down unbelievable! Marketa started with that haunting voice, "You have broken me all the way down, down upon my knees..." It was at the Depot and the Jazz were playing game six against the Rockets and the town was buzzed. The group played for nearly three hours and we wiggled as close to the stage as we could and stood the entire time. I about wet my pants when Liam, Glen and Marketa covered Van Morrison's Into the Mystic (I love that song) and then Forever Young (I want this sung at my funeral). I couldn't help myself -- I sang with abandon. And all I thought as we exited the venue and the streets were crowded and horns honking in celebration of the Jazz winning was this has been the perfect day.