The Liminal Space

I made a thing. :)

The genesis for the project came from a visit I made to the theatre about two months after we closed everything down. Everything happened so suddenly; we closed THE LADY FROM THE SEA a few hours before the first preview and there was no chance to clean up or strike anything. 
When I did return to check on the building and pick up a few items we needed for working remotely, walking back into the theatre was a sort of punch in the gut. Everything was right where we’d left it. The stage manager’s prompt book lay open on her table. The director’s music stand. My special tech coffee mug. Props on shelves backstage and costumes hung up haphazardly in the dressing rooms. The circle of chairs on stage where the acting company gathered as we wrestled with whether or not to close the show. It reminded me of my first visit to Pompeii, the way everything was just frozen in time. 

It’s a ritual of mine to sit alone in a darkened theatre, usually after everyone else has gone home at the end of a long tech day. I tell myself that it’s inertia keeping me in my seat, that I’m too tired to face the commute home just yet. But really, those moments of stillness are like church for me. It’s when I reconcile with my love for the theatre despite all of the difficulties. It erases the doubts. And I tap into the energy of all the actors and audience and emotions that have inhabited the space in the past. I first discovered this ritual while working in my spooky old college auditorium and have been doing it ever since. 

So, returning to the theatre after our hasty departure gave me a chance to sit in a seat and absorb all those feelings the way I used to do at the end of a long tech day. It felt raw and beautiful and tragic – exactly the way live theatre should be. And I wondered if there was a way to capture and share that experience. Coincidentally, that same day, our Director of Marketing emailed me to say that she’d heard of a theatre in the UK that had set up a webcam on stage, and could we do something like that? Boom. The project was born. 

 I tasked our Sound and Video Supervisor with figuring out how we might set up a live stream of the theatre and operate the video projectors and audio remotely and our Master Electrician with getting a set of programmable LED light bulbs.  I borrowed a set of 4 ghost lights from Manual Cinema (because weirdly, we’ve never owned one). We reached out to the artistic team to see if they were comfortable with my repurposing their work for this new thing we had in mind. I asked the marketing team if “The Liminal Space” was too nerdy a title (they reassured me that nothing is too nerdy for UChicago). 

And so we launched it at the end of June.  Some days I visit (virtually) and monkey with the lighting multiple times a day, other days it feels too raw for me to open the link at all. In my work as a Production Manager, I support/shepherd/facilitate the artistic process, but I rarely get to curate any work of my own. I was touched by the response from many of my fellow theatre artists. (It turns out I’m not the only one who likes to sit in an empty dark theatre. :) 

As I write this, the piece is nearing the end of it’s first phase: a sort of meditation on what we created, and lost, with THE LADY FROM THE SEA. The sound effects, music, video and visual elements are all from work that was created for that show. Next I hope to expand out to video and audio from other Court productions as we celebrate all the spectacle, large and small, that has taken place over the past 40 years. After that I’d like to invite other artists into the space to use the set as a sort of canvas for their own work: a multimedia artist might use the video projectors to share something, or a musician might use the stage for a live solo concert. In its final stage, I hope to leave the camera on as we dismantle the set and return the stage to empty in preparation for moving forward into the next phase. Only then will we turn the camera off and “go dark.”


Diversifying our children’s library

I’ve been on a bit of a children’s book buying bender lately, and I’ve been making selections from book lists that recommend books with BBIPOC [lead] characters, positive messaging about the value of diversity, and age-appropriate histories of civil rights heroes. We’re really enjoying some beautiful new books. But it got me thinking more carefully about just how many of our books feature predominantly, or exclusively, white characters. Now I’m noticing it every time we read, and I’m chagrined at how long it’s taken me TO notice. I keep thinking about how it would feel to read book after book to your children where the characters don’t look like your kids do, don’t live like your family does. And how do I message to my white sons that they are NOT the center of the universe if everything I read to them shows them that they are? 

So today I decided to assess the state of our children’s book collection.  I reviewed every book and first broke them into two categories: books with human characters, and books that don’t have human characters (mostly anthropomorphic animals or vehicles).

The latter were excluded from my assessment. For the former, I awarded -2 points to books with exclusively white characters, -1 to books with predominantly white characters with one or two token BBIPOC characters, +1 books with a good representation of non-white characters including lead characters and +2 books that have a diverse cast AND also include characters with disabilities, children who live in non-hetero-nuclear family units, families who don’t live in a house with a white picket fence, non-white-american cultural practices, etc.  I also created a special category of -3 points for books that employ racial stereotypes in the guise of diversity.*

The results:

Books with no humans, only anthropomorphic trucks and/or animals: 122. (I know).

Books scoring -3 (negative racial stereotypes): 2 

Books scoring -2 (exclusively white characters): 52

Books scoring -1 (token BBIPOC characters in an otherwise white cast): 13

Books scoring +1 (good diversity of characters): 19

Books scoring +2 (good racial diversity PLUS an effort to promote characters with disabilities, non-hetero-nuclear family structures, etc): 19

In terms of percentages:

54% don’t have humans in them at all

of the remaining 105 books:

63% received a negative score for their racial diversity

37% received a positive score for racial and other forms of diversity

Unfortunately I skewed future calculations by purging about 30 books across all non-human and negatively-scoring categories without really keeping count of what came from what category. I got rid of: 1) books that I really hate, 2) books that are are too old for either kid (buh bye, Pat the Bunny), and 3) books that received a negative score and didn’t have other redeeming qualities, such as 1) messages about the values** I try to promote in our family (Andrea Beaty’s Questioneers series), 2) exceptionally beautiful illustrations/classics (Where the Wild Things Are) or 3) were books my kids FLOVE and won’t go to sleep without multiple recitations nightly (Pout Pout Fish KILL ME NOW)

All in all, I think I have a free pass to buy about… 20 more children’s books that feature good representations of racial and cultural diversity. I’m pretty excited about using this tool to help build our library in a more conscientious way:

* Leif was two when we entered the world of Daniel Tiger; and for a long time I was really on board. The show teaches great lessons on social-emotional behavior and basic life skills for the 2-3 year old set, with catchy little tunes you can sing back to your kid when reinforcing the messages later (“growwwwwn ups come back!” “saying ‘I’m sorry’ is the first step, then ‘how can I help?'”). So I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see just how blatant and vivid the racial stereotypes are until another parent pointed it out to me. The Latino character is the town baker. The doctor is Indian. The Black character runs a music shop and is referred to as “Music Man Stan”, and of course King Friday, Queen Saturday, and their children Prince Tuesday and Prince Wednesday, are white. face-palm.

** A few years ago, Ben and I found ourselves unexpectedly gifted with a couple of hours of uninterrupted time for conversation as we drove from Chicago to Ohio and our offspring snoozed in the backseat. As we made plans for, and worried about, the future, we made a list of the 5 most important values we wished to impart to our sons, which are: (in no particular order): kindness, self-reliance, curiosity, empathy, and resilience.

On becoming a pathological liar

So, we buy a lot of cat litter. Old cats, one who is diabetic and one who has kidney disease = lots of cat pee = lots of cat litter. The pet store where I buy it sells it in 30 lb plastic buckets, and if you bring back the bucket and refill it yourself, it’s a bit cheaper. I’m cheap, and also hate the idea of the plastic waste going into the landfill, so I try to always refill the buckets we already have. but occasionally I’ve been out and needed to buy a bucket right away and didn’t have the old one with me to refill, so gradually we’ve amassed a collection of 6 buckets. But since buying cat litter is kind of a pain, I just take all 6 buckets and then don’t have to go as often.

Apparently this is not normal behavior.

I know this, because nearly every time I check out, the clerk at the store says something to the effect of, “wow, lady, you must have a lot of cats!!”

This is someone who works in a pet store. They see people exhibit crazy, my pet-is-my-child behavior all the time. There is a refrigerator cabinet selling fresh, locally made, grain-free “doggy sausage” right next to the counter for more than I spent on lunch last week. I mean, am I really the weirdest one in the store?

I used to try to give a quick and boring explanation:

me: “Both our cats are elderly and they pee a lot”
me: “One cat has kidney disease and the other has diabetes. They pee a lot.”
me: “I have a young son and it’s really hard to buy cat litter with him in tow and also hard to find a time to run errands without him, so I try to buy a lot at one time so I don’t have to do this very often.”

Boring. So boring I got bored even typing out those explanations. I get bored preparing to answer the question as I approach the counter.

So today I decided that from here forward, I’m going to amuse myself by making up fantastical stories instead.

clerk: “Wow, lady, how many cats do you have?!”

me: “Five.”
me: “Eight cats.”
me: “Eleven white persians with matching blue eyes and diamond collars.”
me: “Twelve siamese cats. You should hear them meow. It’s never quiet in my house.”
me: “I don’t even know they just keep breeding.”
me: “Well, comrade, I live in a commune and we have 17 cats and this month I’m on cat litter duty. Can I interest you in a pamphlet?”

Is this how people become pathological liars? Is it sheer boredom?

I’m still with her

I was surprised, when I looked back through the blog to find a roasted cauliflower recipe (me looking for old recipes is basically 99.9% of my blog’s search traffic), to discover that it’s been nearly a year since I’ve completed a post. I mean, surprised but not really surprised. Time, obviously, is an even more precious commodity around here than it used to be. But also social media* has risen up to take the place of blogs as a place to express ourselves. Case in point, I’ve been working on, revising and editing, this post on facebook all day. But it feels like as good an opportunity as any to return to the blog.

This morning, on this day-after-election day, though sick with dread, I am still with her.

I am still with Hillary Clinton, and I look forward to seeing what she’ll do next in her long career of public service. I am with President Obama, as he prepares to throw off the shackles of congress and move into the next chapter of his career.

I am with every her who hammered her fists on that glass ceiling last night, and maybe cried tears of rage or frustration, but also vowed not to give up.

I’m with every woman who has been groped or sexually harassed in the workplace, with the ones who were able to speak up and the ones who were not. I’m with every person of color who woke up this morning feeling a little bit less safe in their own country. I’m with Muslin Americans who fear vigilante passengers on an airplane, I’m with immigrants who fear a raid in the night. I’m with transgender hers/hims/theys who fear going into a public restroom. I will go with you.

I’m with every grassroots organization and non-profit who works to care for the impoverished and the marginalized. I will attend your bake sales, I will promote your causes. I will be an ally and I will bear witness. I will listen when you speak. I will buy Streetwise and I will give spare change and I will not close my heart to the people in this country.

I’m with every mother who didn’t know what to say to her young daughter this morning about the election results. I’m with every mother of a little boy, who, like me, woke this morning vowing to raise him to respect women and to care for the people around him. I can’t teach him to respect the highest office in our country’s government, not right now, but I can teach him to be kind.


*by “social media” i mean facebook, as i’m too old and cranky to keep track of all the other platforms the kids are using these days. and yes that includes twitter. and instagram. and snapchat. and a bunch of stuff i’ve never even heard of probably.

Gift Exchange Hand Warmers

Let’s be honest, there really hasn’t been much time for crafting or projects since our Leiflet arrived. I’ve been knitting a baby blanket for him since sometime in the second trimester, and it’s only just past halfway done now (he’s nearly 5 months old). But this past week I managed to actually start, and finish, a project. And it made me realize that it’s been ages since I’ve actually completed a knitting project. I went through the basket of knitting and realized that I’ve abandoned or frogged the last 4 or 5 projects in a row. There the lace yoga bag. The sweater dress for myself. There was the sweater I was going to repurpose into leg warmers. Oh yes, and the onesie knitted on SIZE ONE needles (what was I thinking?) that was purchased for the first nephew (now 3.5 years old), actually started for the second nephew (now 1.5 years old) and in danger of being too small for my own son before long it’s complete.

So it was nice to actually finish a project. I remembered that the point where knitting finally took off for me was when I developed the patience to knit things right — stop and pull out mistakes, check and recheck the gauge, read the pattern all the way through before diving in — and therefore stopped being discouraged by hastily-knit crappy things and started being pleased with the results of patience and effort (umm, duh, but one has to learn these things for oneself). The last few projects have been too slap-dash: ignoring mistakes, trying to frankenstein a pattern into something it’s not.

These hand warmers are my contribution to a holiday gift exchange. I don’t personally know the person I’m gifting (it’s a facebook moms’ group I’m part of), but I google-stalked her enough to know she lives in Massachusetts, and so I figured that these would be of good use. (Let’s hope she’s not allergic to wool).

I used this pattern, and pulled these together over the course of three evenings.




I’m pretty behind on blog posts. Because, um, three months ago this happened:


Leif Alexander Carlson Wilhelm was born on July 13, 2015, weighing 6lb 3oz and measuring 19.25in long*. He made a surprise arrival exactly one month ahead of his due date (causing us to miss, among other things, our own baby shower!). He spent the first 8 days of his life in the NICU at Comer Children’s Hospital but since coming home with us has been healthy and growing quickly.

* why ARE babies measured in long, instead of tall?

Jean Morken, 1920 – 2015

Four generations

This is the last photo I took with my grandmother. Last week I brought my son home to meet his great-grandmother. The first day we visited she sat up and held him, but the next two days she wasn’t able to get out of bed and so I placed Leif’s carseat on her walker and rolled it up close to her bedside. Without having to sit up, she could reach out and hold on to his foot. She held his foot and he slept, snoring softly, and we talked about how impossibly soft baby skin is. Grandma asked if we’d be home at Christmas, then teared up when she remembered that she probably wouldn’t be with us then. She’d already completed all of her Christmas shopping, gifts wrapped in silver paper and stashed on her closet shelves, every member of her family provided for. My mom, my son and I stood around her bedside and together we were four generations.

Yesterday afternoon she slipped softly away from us, leaving us just three generations again, and we each take up our new place in the chain. Leif was born on my grandparents’ 73rd wedding anniversary, and grandma left us exactly three months later. For three short months, I was part of a family four generations deep. This is the gift that my son gave us, and grandma’s passing is another sort of gift, delivering her out of a body that was failing her and into an afterlife where she won’t have to bear the bone-deep ache of missing my grandfather any longer. My grandparents left behind two children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. Now it’s our turn to carry the family forward, and their turn to rest.

the moneypit, no 29: magical floating cabinets

there’s nothing like discovering another one of those little easter eggs left behind by the criminally negligent previous owners. like when ben noticed that our kitchen cupboards had been screwed directly to the drywall (not a stud) and were gradually pulling out of the wall.

the immediate solution was to put the cupboards up on stilts. since the Rat Crisis of 2015 began almost immediately after this, the cupboards quickly moved down the priority list. like most of the visual flaws in this house, we learned not to even see the stilts after a while.

but this past weekend, while i patched and painted moulding in the dining room, ben installed the cupboards properly. it turned out the cupboards came constructed with a mounting rail, so all he had to do was actually anchor through the rail into a stud to shore things up.

this is not as easy as it sounds. nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. remember, russian nesting projects.

our walls, from outside to inside, consist of brick, 2×4″ studs placed at random intervals / open space where we wish there was insulation, then lathe, plaster, and then drywall. the layers of lathe means that a stud finder is a completely useless tool. absent of x-ray vision, the only way to determine the location of a stud is to drill exploratory holes. sometimes lots of them.

but he was successful. we took down the stilts, and after having gotten used to looking at them, it now looks like the cupboards just magically float above the countertops. at least adversity is gradually teaching us to appreciate the little things. like our magically floating cupboards that totally didn’t come crashing down in the middle of the night.

5 months, 5k

Baby's first 5k!

we took the baby along for his first 5k race today. the Ravenswood 5k is a favorite of mine, mainly because it starts and ends about 8 blocks from our house, enabling us to wake up at 7am for an 8am start time. and also because it loops through our neighborhood, is populated with our neighbors, and is generally the sort of friendly casual race that has room for kids, strollers and dogs as well as those stringy dudes who finish in 15 minutes flat. oh, and raises money for the ravenswood food pantry, too.

my “race” results:

Overall place 1876 / 3176
Div (women 35-40) 159 / 323
Finish time: 32:43

it’s not the 20 min times i used to log in high school cross country, but for being 24 weeks pregnant, it feels pretty good to have still finished in the top half of my division.

it was cold but a beautiful sunny morning, and our friends Chris and Carly ran with us. good friends, good community, good running.

5k, 5 months

i will admit that after spending about 8 hours yesterday, and another 4 today painting the dining room, and running this 5k a bit faster than i normally run these days, i am feeling creaky, sore and wiped out tonight! this kid is starting to slow me down, just a bit. already it’s clear that we are raising an active baby: i rarely hold still during the day, and when i’m up and moving, the baby seems perfectly content to be quiet and still. but as soon as i lay down at night, or even sit still for more than 20 minutes, then he wakes up and begins to kick. i suspect this means we’ll need to invest in some baby-shaking devices and some hand-free baby-wearing devices if we’ll have any hope of surviving the first few months.