Sunday, November 29, 2015

Defiance Shirts - the Handmade Process

Jenni has been making Defiance Shirts for about a year now. She lets me help, when I am available.

We start with a stack of 100% cotton t-shirts.  These are usually picked up in batches of 5 or 10 by Jennilyn when she browses a thrift store, looking at the ones tagged on sale that day.  $1 or $2 each, they accrue until we have around 30.  That's what fits in our washer/dryer.  You can see the stack on the counter in front of Jennilyn.

We are wearing clothes that aren't going to be ruined by bleach.  This is a process that's rife with collateral bleaching...

Next, Jenni lays the stencil down on a shirt and sprays a few shots of pure bleach.  The stencil creates a negative resist to the spray.

On some of them, the effect is almost instantaneous.  It's an interesting process to see what the "under" color is after the bleach has removed the dye.

On others, the effect takes a few moments to really occur.  There have been a few shirts that had zero effect, but even the sturdiest usually will bleach out the pattern eventually.

Once the shirt has "turned" sufficiently, I quickly soak the shirt in a bowl of straight water (which turns a murky yellow due to the dye run-off) to remove any remaining liquid bleach, then rinse.

Then it gets a second soaking in a bowl of water mixed with vinegar, to stop the bleaching action.  It gets wrung out again, then set aside for the washing.

There is a slow wicking of the bleach into the paper layer of the stencil.  Eventually, we are going to have to replace it.  Jennilyn made it from an enlarged copy of Max's freshman BYU ID.  Very identifiable smirky look from Max.  When the pile of shirts is thick, sometimes she has to hold the stencil flat against the shirt, which is why she's wearing rubber gloves - bleach can "burn" the skin after long exposure.

Here's an example of a shirt that was slow to turn; this is what it looks like, still wet with bleach (it only looks like shading, but it's the dampness).

Jenni tells me I really help make the process go faster.  I'm just glad to be a part of it.

This is the basket almost full of shirts, ready to wash.  You can see some of the other colors we had to work with in this last batch.  It's more fun to see the mixture of shirts, though the most economical of batches was when we bought a 144 "remnant" shirts that were all brown.  Nice to get a large number, but the variety makes the process more interesting.

Striking, how that looks like Max, and like not-Max.  Backwards.

It is a sobering, tender, somber chore.  I touch my son's face, over and over again, smoothing wrinkles the way I once moved hair away from his peaceful, sleeping eyes (or gently wiped food from his baby mouth).

When we speak and distribute these shirts, we've been asked how we pay for them, or whether we would ever just buy them with the graphic silk-screened on to save time.  It seems to surprise people to find out we are hand-making them (I'd guess we've probably made about 500?  Maybe 600?).  Sometimes, people will discretely hand Jenni some cash to help with the next batch of purchases.  We appreciate the support.  When we spoke on APG in September, they were delighted to find out we didn't charge a speaking fee, and happy to reimburse for the purchase of our 144 shirts.

We don't mind the slow investment of a few shirts here, a dozen more there.  I keep hoping to spot one "in the wild" so I can ask the wearer where they got it.

I consider making these a reverent chance to see him, to share his story.

I miss him, and am grateful to hold him again, even a little, even like this.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Being a Dad

As long as I can remember, I wanted to be married.  I wanted to be a Dad.

I remember often "catching" my parents being affectionate. It's not like it's rare. I've amused myself over the years finding similar pictures of me, zeroing in on Jenni.

I knew really early, at an atomic level, that I wanted what they had.  I wanted to be happy like that.  I knew that being in love, being a family, being a Dad, I knew that it would be where I would become my best self, find my greatest happiness.

I was grateful to know early that being a parent wasn't about what I wanted.  It wasn't about the soaring joy of holding them in my arms when they were babies, wanting them to stay little forever.  It was about helping them become adults, doing a little shepherding, a little encouraging, letting them find their way, supporting them, finding that balance between correcting, helping, cheering, accepting.

“Marriage is more than your love for each other. … In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. … So love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God.”  -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906 – 1945

 So on Father's Day, I am grateful for my Dad.

I am grateful he has been careful and healthy, so he's still here in (relatively) good health.  I know it's frustrating to grow old and to have to start keeping track of details, to have to slow down and watch calories, take pills.  I want my Dad around for years to come.

I am grateful that he has had a chance to be a Grandpa to my kids.  They love Grandpa-time.

I am particularly grateful that he was always so kind towards my son Max, who at times was so frustrating.

I am grateful for the incredible time and attention he's paid as Sam has nurtured his interest in the fire department as it developed into a fully ripe desire to be a fireman.

I'm grateful for his tireless work ethic and his willingness to serve.

As my children have grown, as I have experienced the melancholy of adult problems (how I have longed to shed the burdens that cannot be solved, but only endured), I've wondered what kind of adult relationship I will have with my own children.  I've wondered if Dad is happy with how responsive, successful, engaged, his own children are.  I wonder if I can do better to honor him as a man and a father.

I'll try.

But I love you Dad, and I am grateful every day that I have you.  You are a good man, you are a great Dad.  I've spent my whole adult life being a father with you as my template.  As I consider the coming decades, I know I will continue to be grateful for your example as a Grandpa, too.

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Camping in May of 2013.  I *think* it was May 2013.

Our son Maxwell died over ten months ago.  As we near that sad anniversary, we are first moving through a season of smaller anniversary mournings.

The last time I drove Max to play practice.
The last time Max had dinner with us.
The last time I heard him sing.
The last time he texted me.

The last time we talked.
The last hug.
So many lasts.

So from two years ago, here are some pictures from the last time Max went camping with us.

It was Friday night, about a week after Stewart flew home from his mission.  We were going the next day to see the new Star Trek Into Darkness film.  It was the night our ward had a family camp-out.

I had ... forgotten that we'd invited Max to this.  So much of our interaction with him the past three years has been so dramatic (and traumatic sometimes), that it was startling to find him in these photos.  Nothing strange happened on this camp.  I didn't argue with him about anything.  It was just a normal weekend.

I do remember the kids playing basketball while the sun was setting.

It got pretty dark, pretty quick.

I remember this hoody.  If I recall correctly, we got it from the thrift store with the "dinosaur spikes" already attached.  Can't remember if no one else wanted it and since Max thought it was funny, he got it.  Or if I checked the weather, and knew it would be cool overnight, so grabbed some extra jackets for kids.

I think of Max, and I think of this pose.  He made it *all* the time.  1/4 turned away from the camera, smirking, thumbs up.

Annddd Suzanna makes *this* pose all the time too.  I love her exuberance in showing joy.

This was back when Sam was *not* yet taller than Stewart.  He is almost taller than me now.

Sam's super power is he can flap his arms at a blinding speed.

Where was Roxie Jane during the basketball game?

Sunrise through the trees the next morning.

Morning hot chocolate and pancakes.

I am grateful for our good memories, the good times we had.  If I had known this was the last time we'd go camping with Max, I would have taken more pictures.  I would have insisted someone take the camera and gotten a good family photo of all us, and our new massive 10-person tent.

If I had known.

There are more nostalgic memories to come in the next few months.  My Grandma Billie has moved into an assisted living facility, and her photo albums have come to me.  Most of the pictures in there of my family were given to her by us (which means I already have most of them somewhere), but going through them again has been a pleasant memory lane trip through photos we loved of people we love.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day! Mothers Day!

My Mom with her Sisters Jackie and Candy.

My Dad with his Mom (Billie), her Mom (Me-maw), and *her* Mom (Maudie)

Mom playing cards with Grandpa Stewart, Uncle Ron, and Dad

Mom, standing behind her Dad (Howard), sitting next to her Mom and two sisters

Mom and Dad in Billie's place, looking very '60s.

Mom and Dad.  That looks more '70s.

Mom holding me!

Mom holding me a few months earlier!

As I have grown older, as a person and a parent, I've come to realize how much we become our own person.  Our environment, our genes, our family and friends all influence us.  But we choose who we are, and often those choices can be seen as embracing our family/environment, or as rejecting it.

But we grow up feeling loved because of our mothers.  Our Moms made us, literally.  Then, with all their mortal burden, they loved us.  I am grateful everyday for the Mothers that have led to me.  I'm grateful I felt loved, and grateful for the Moms who keep trying, every day, to make family.

I love you Mom, happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Just Around the Corner

My son Maxwell sang in a premier choir. When he began singing with the Maryland State Boychoir, he was a tenor, but as his voice matured, he moved into the bass section.

We are fortunate to have many of their performances on video.  A few were filmed by us, but never with a great camera.  Lots of MSB parents film the Boychoir, but again, usually with not a great camera.  The video and audio quality are never the strong points.  Jittery camera work is pretty standard.  I regret not trying harder to record more, but I am grateful for all that we have.

I can hear him. I can see him. And my heart, in the brilliant clarity of grief, fills in the spaces where his face is blurry.

When I am really missing him, I go for a virtual stroll, looking for new sightings of him.  I find other people on facebook and youtube who have uploaded pictures or videos he's in, and then look to see if I can find another one with Max in it.

I have become an expert on where to look for him.  I can tell what year the video was filmed from what choristers are in the front row.  When Max was a tenor, he was in the middle.  When he became a bass, he started singing from the back corners of the choir. Usually the far left, (stage left), but sometimes the far right.  The videos we have of Boychoir performances are a trade-off.  If they take in the entire choir, it's at such a distance that it is impossible to make out real details of individual singers.  If the camera is close, or zoomed in, Max is off-screen somewhere to the right or left.

Last week, I found a video and I knew that Max was singing with the choir. I recognized the singers, that they were his contemporaries.  Many of them were boys who sang at his memorial.

I sat through one whole song, begging the camera to turn just a little to the left to see where I hoped Max would be singing.  I resisted the urge to skip ahead.  I didn't want to miss a quick image if the camera only moved that way briefly.  And it feels ... disrespectful to truncate a performance of him.
After one whole song, a second one began.  The camera moved slowly to the left.

I gasped seeing Max. There he was.  Like he had walked around the corner of my home, or stepped into my office at work.

There he was.

For just a second, there he was.  Beautiful, alive, and singing.

The second passes, and I am lost in the watery embrace of mourning and memory.  The camera panned back to the right, and Max was gone.

Gone again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Meeting Mezgeb Feb 24 2013

I can't believe it's been two years since we met Mezgeb!

I remember her being shy and pretty.  She loves her Mom.
And her sisters were used to her, liked her, loved her, too.

And food, of course!

I had forgotten that Max was with us when we went down.  Did we crowd into Grandpa's car with someone in the back?  Did we take two cars?

I miss having little kids to play with, to tickle.

Something serious.
And something silly.  I do remember Mezgeb sticking pretty close to Jen.

And John looking suave.

I am grateful for family!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Every Epic Love Story Chapter Ten; WorldCon, Atlanta 1986

Well, rats.  I meant to keep on writing this years ago when I began.  Originally, the reason I was writing this series was to inform a dialog with my absent daughter.  Away at BYU, she was dating, and I wanted her to have a record of how her Mom and I met and fell in love.

Things moved past a point where our history would be relevant to her story anymore.  She's been married almost three years now!  And events with our son Maxwell took all of our available focus these past months.

But this story, still unfinished in the telling, is part of a dialog with all of my children, not just Emma.

The things you do at the beginning matter.  I guess the trouble always is, you don't *know* it's the beginning of something.  You only realize in retrospect, "Hey, that thing mattered."  You should live every day like it matters.

When I think about the events at the end of the summer of 1986, I am baffled at the complexity of everything.  How did my parents accommodate such a weird collection of demands?  How is it possible that no one got lost or stranded?

 In July, Jennilyn spent a week in Maryland with me and my family.  In September, I was due to begin my Sophomore year at BYU.  I was eager to get back to Provo, eager to begin the process of turning in my mission paperwork, happy at the prospect of seeing Jennilyn again.  But first ...

First I wanted to see her again in Atlanta, Georgia, at the 44th World Science Fiction Convention. Now, in the last thirty years, Conventions ("Con"s) have exploded.  They have a Con for everything now.  But it was 1988, I was only 18, and it was new to me.  To me, it seemed like simple math.  I would go to Atlanta and hang out there with Jennilyn and some friends from BYU.  I would sleep on someone's floor for a few days, find food to eat, and then fly from Atlanta to Salt Lake City when it was over, and return to BYU.

I think this was the first time I'd ever rode in a glass elevator...

What makes me shake my head now is imagining one of *my* kids asking me if *they* could do something like that.

Where will you sleep?  Where will your stuff be (remember, not just a weekend's worth of stuff, a *semester's* worth of stuff)?  What will you eat?  How on earth are you going to get to Atlanta?!  How will you get from the Hotel to the Airport?  Seriously, what if you get lost?  What if your stuff gets lost?

I think my parents were *really* supportive, and they *really* liked Jennilyn.

I got in touch with someone else going to the Con who lived in the area, and we drove down to Atlanta together.  We met up with a bunch of other BYU Science Fiction fans, and spent the night at Jenni's Uncle's house in Atlanta, because the hotel rooms wouldn't be available until the following afternoon, after the Con began.  I ... have no memory of where my luggage was for those three days.  I barely remember eating, so I'm not sure where I got food.  I remember a couple of events.

I ran into William Gibson on an elevator.  He was very tall and we didn't talk.

The central event at a WorldCon is the awarding of that year's Hugos.  It was the year that Ender's Game was released, and we were all stupendously excited to have a Mormon SF author featured as a finalist for Novel of the Year.  After the awards presentation wear Scott Card won the Hugo for his Novel, I do remember sitting at a long table with a bunch of the other Provo Valley/Utah SF crew, celebrating the win with Scott Card.  Of course, Scott Card was waayyy at the other end of the table from where I was sitting, but it's one of my favorite brushes with fame, that I was at the after-party for that award with that author and my future bride.

The Con was amazing.  Jennilyn was amazing.  It was kind of a blur, the overload of far too much to do in such a short period of time, the cheating of sleep to go to one more presentation, watch one movie, attend one more event.  I do remember being irrationally jealous that I couldn't spend every single minute with Jenni.  I sometimes *still* have that feeling now.  Like I said, it's not rational.

We flew back to Salt Lake.  Somehow, I managed to hold onto all of my luggage.  Of all things, the Babcocks invited me on a camping trip to Zion's Narrows right after we got back.  So I went from one sensory overload to another!  But more time with Jenni = good.

Pro tip for camping with your girlfriend's Dad; don't be cute and sleep with your sleeping bags head-to-head with your girlfriend (so our heads were touching, but our feet stretched out in the opposite direction).  It seemed like a nice way to preserve a chaste distance, while allowing us to whisper sweet nothings and watch for shooting stars (we were camping without tents, the weather was amazing and clear).  But it ended up just being irritating.  We kept waking each other up during the night, which was disorienting and weird.

The hike up and back Zion's was amazing again. I was so in love with Jennilyn, and I adored her family. I remember over and over again, just basking in the glow of how much fun it was to be with her, to be with them, to be doing something so amazing.

The camping trip ended, we drove back to Provo, and got ready for school to start.  Jennilyn and I were getting ready to turn in our mission papers, and I was getting ready for an entire semester of dating Jennilyn.  We had a lot of interesting terrain to navigate.

Previously, on Every Epic Love Story chapter 9, A Summer Vacation in Maryland

Coming Soon, The *Absolutely True* Story of How and Why We Stopped Kissing for YEARS before we Got Married!