All posts by cjtobin

Be Good-at-Organizers

Axel grabbed onto my backpack as I fumbled with my purse organizer. There was someone waiting behind us, and I had to pull the organizer out of the backpack, then open the organizer, then open my wallet, and take out and insert my ATM card. As soon as I was done with the card, I’d need to repeat the process in reverse.

Upon exiting the ATM, Axel asked me, ‘What is going on with this thing?” shaking the mid-size black zipped bag as I shoved the card back into my wallet, completing Step 1 of getting everything put away. 

“I asked for it for my birthday!” I explained. “It was on Oprah’s Favorite Things list.” 

He didn’t look convinced.

“I change bags a lot. Sometimes I use my purse and sometimes I use Little L’s diaper bag. Or I take my backpack to work. And it’s hard to remember to grab everything. So it’s nice to have my wallet and sunglasses and chapstick all in one place.”

The issue, though, on this particular day, wasn’t the organizer itself. Or my organization. The biggest issue was that the organizer was so large that I had to zip it up and place it sideways in my backpack. This meant that in order to access it, I had to pull it OUT of the bag. 

“It looks like you’re carrying around a men’s shaving kit,” Axel said. And actually, it did.

But Oprah’s organizer was sure to help me avoid arriving at work without the key to my classroom or at a happy hour having to ask a friend to pay for me.

I had opened the package on my birthday morning in the presence of Megan, who was visiting from Portland, and Little L. Even though I knew what was in the package, I couldn’t wait to pull it out and let them witness me getting organized! 

It’s hard to say who was more enthralled by the in-organizer light feature, Little L or Megan. I don’t blame either of them. It is pretty cool.

I put all of my items in it immediately and began using it in time to go out for birthday brunch.

The next morning when I was finalizing my bags for our family-friend trip up North, I simply grabbed the organizer from the front hall closet and put it in Little L’s diaper bag! I was organized and ready to go, just like the pages of O Magazine had promised I would be!

But when we pulled into Subway for a quick lunch that I was planning to treat for, I discovered that my organizer was missing one essential item: my wallet.

“Umm, I guess lunch isn’t on me,” I explained as we piled out of the car. Even more problematic than my lack of generosity was that I was about to embark on a trip without my wallet.

But never fear. My brother, who we’ll call David, and his partner, who we’ll call Ami, were going to be joining us later in the week and would be going to my place to get my car to drive up in. 

“Can you grab my wallet when you’re there? I must have left it in my gold backpack after brunch,” I texted them.

Dare I say I felt a little… disorganized?

On Wednesday night, David called just as about we were all heading out to dinner. “We can’t find your wallet,” he said, somewhat frantically. “It’s not in the gold backpack. Ami also checked your pink purse and your red backpack.”

“What about the little boxes in the entryway? Or else last time I couldn’t find it, it had fallen down in the shoes in the shoe rack.”

“We’ll look,” he said. “I’ll text you if we find it.”

“I’ll also call Red Stag,” I said. By this time we were walking into the restaurant – everyone had entered except me. 

Red Stag, where I had brunched just a few days prior, did not have the wallet. Uh-oh.

I walked into the restaurant, ready to try to enjoy my evening. I was worried though.

“Did you have it at brunch on your birthday?” Megan asked.

“I did.”

“You know,” I said. “I wonder if it could be in the organizer. It wasn’t in the main compartment, but…”

I hadn’t brought the organizer with to dinner, even though Megan and I wanted to treat. I’d told her I’d chip in if I ever found my wallet. 

It was looking like maybe I was about to get  a(nother) free meal.

We got back to the cabin we were staying at, and I removed my own shoes and Little L’s. Megan ran upstairs and returned to the living room holding the purse organizer.

“Do you want to look?” she asked. 

“You check,” I told her. 

I’m not saying this happened, but wouldn’t it have been cool if she had used the in-organizer light to illuminate the bag as she scoured it? 

It didn’t take more than two seconds. She pulled open a zipper inside the main compartment and — surprise! — there was my wallet!!

A lot of dancing, shouting, and cajoling ensued. And later an apology to Ami and David for their wasted time and efforts. “We ransacked your apartment,” Ami said. And for that, I was grateful — and very much hoped they had cleaned up afterwards.

The purse organizer continues to bug Axel. As I head back to work this week, I’ve started thinking about how I can put my work keys and headphones in there too. But how will I get my headphones out of the organizer that’s housed in the backpack while I’m walking to work? 

My friend Nellie shows her purse organization system in response to my bit about the organizer. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of talking about the organizer.

Although I may not be used to all its nooks and crannies and I may have chosen a too-large size and I know I will have to stop on my way to work to pull the headphones out, I stand by my organizer. Best of all is the light. On more that one occasion as we sat at a restaurant trying to keep Little L entertained in her highchair, I’ve pulled the organizer from her diaper bag, grabbed emptied it, and handed it to her. She zips and unzips it and turns the light on and off. Much like Megan’s initial reaction to the organizer.

I know you’re wondering — what do I do with my bottle of pills, my wallet, my headphones, my chapstick, and my sunglasses when I empty the organizer?

I just toss them in whatever bag I have on hand, and somehow, I always manage to find them later.


List of what I forgot on a trip to my Aunt Nan’s cabin in Northern Wisconsin:

  1. Computer charger. Apparently my forgetfulness was also an affront to Axel, who planned to use my computer for more than I did (writing this blog post and streaming a couple Lynx games)
  2. Fitbit charger. Some of you may know I am trying to get 10,000 steps a day – if not 15,000! – in an effort to earn free stuff through my work. In trying to stay true to my stepping (easier in the city than on vacation), I decided to make walking a mile to the lake with Little L part of my daily routine. Imagine me with a miniature travel stroller using a tote bag as a makeshift backpack.
  3. Forgetting to put my Fitbit back on upon leaving the beach. Carrying it in my bag for a good 1,000 wasted steps! 

But on the third morning at the beach, I set the Ziplock with my Fitbit on my beach chair and I remembered to put it back on before carrying Little L into the “Barn House” for lunch.

Midlunch I tapped on it, feeling somewhat giddy at the large number of steps I expected to see, and – nothing.

“It died!” I announced, searching for the Ziplock and verifying that no water had snuck in. 

“Oh, the battery died?” my dad asked. 

“Must be the battery,” Axel seconded.

But both Axel and I had charged our Fitbits the night before we left — so that we wouldn’t need to bring the charger with us — and his was still going strong. 

“Maybe you check it more than I do,” he suggested. “That might drain the battery.”

If you know how obsessed I am with data, that does seem just the tiniest bit plausible.

There was hope for procuring a charger. My stepmom, who has a Fitbit, was coming in from Madison that day (not on foot, though that would have been a lot of steps). It seemed likely that she would have her charger.

But alas, I hesitated, and by the time she got my text requesting that she bring it along, she had left, without her charger. She, like Axel and I, had charged it the night before her departure, in order to avoid carrying her charger along. 

When I lamented to my cousin Junie and her girlfriend Basel about all the things I couldn’t do without my chargers, Basel suggested that I use a good old-fashioned pen and paper to do my writing. “Sometimes it’s really nice to be tech-free at the cabin,” she said. Then she found me an empty notebook because I had forgotten my journal at home. 

“Have another piece of cobbler,” said Junie, opening up a pan of last night’s dessert. She had made it from scratch – blueberries and baseball-sized biscuits, instead of the standard granola crumble on top. 

“I shouldn’t,” I said. I had eaten two pieces the night before.

“You’re on vacation!” Junie said, which technically was true for the next hour and forty-five minutes that I hoped Little L would be napping. 

“It’s not like you need to worry about getting your steps anyway,” Axel pointed out. Just the night before, when the Fitbit was still in service, Axel and I had been walking back in forth through the living room to rack up steps. This is similar to our at-home routine of walking the halls of the condo to increase our numbers. 

“Cobbler-eating can be your new workout,” he said. If only I had some way to track it.

The lack of Fitbit provided me with a comforting lackadaisical attitude toward my physical activity. Without the fear of fewer steps, I would stop walking to the lake and instead make the much simpler and more rational decision to drive. We’d get there sooner and I could go for a swim instead. Who cares that my feet wouldn’t be striking the ground as I paddled through the waves?

I was distressed, though, because of the Million Step Challenge that I was participating in for work over the summer. How would I ever earn my extra points if I got zero steps for five days in a row? 

“There may be one last-ditch effort,” Axel said on the day he was set to ride back to the Cities with Junie. Little L and I would be staying for another three days – unplugged, it would seem.

“Aunt Nan is driving in to the Cities tomorrow morning to pick up her friend who’s flying in,” Axel explained, “and then coming back up.” 

“Wait, what?” That was a two and a half-hour drive each way!

“Do you think our place is on the way back from the airport?” Axel wondered. 

It was, actually. I envisioned Aunt Nan existing 35W, Axel waiting at a stoplight and throwing the charger in her open window, and her accelerating straight back onto the on-ramp. 

But it turned out that Aunt Nan would be picking something up from Basel’s house in the morning. 

Could this actually work?

“Junie, are you going over to Basel’s tonight after you’re both back home from the cabin?” 

She was.

“Axel, can Junie just drop you off at home?” He had been hoping that she’d drive him right to his work happy hour. But if she took him home, then Junie could wait in the car while he ran inside and procured my charger – wait, BOTH of my chargers! She’d then bring them to Basel, who would hand them off to Aunt Nan the next morning. 

I didn’t know if they would do it. “You don’t have to,” I said, both because it seemed like a hassle, and because – well, Basel had a point. I was starting to enjoy my untracked, uncharged freedom.

After they departed, I sat looking at the blueberry cobbler Junie had made. Basel had set an empty bowl and spoon in front of me before she’d gone.

I served up a double helping and began writing in my new notebook. I was on vacation after all.

That evening, with some Introvert Time before me, I went back to the notebook at the counter, this time with some cantaloupe and fizzy water to keep me company.

And then I got a text from Axel who had arrived home. “Fitbit charger and computer charger will be arriving tomorrow! I’m walking to my happy hour to get some steps!”

I should have been overjoyed. But, to Basel’s point, a part of me was growing accustomed to my low-tech existence. Especially the part of me that wanted to spend nap time eating blueberry cobbler rather than jogging down the road. Right at that moment, my stepmom was walking laps around the Barn House while I was sitting on a stool eating fruit.

“Any news on the Great Charger Exchange?” Aunt Nan asked me that evening when she returned home from dinner. I filled her in – tomorrow she would receive the package and bring it North.

So here I sit, writing this blog post on 23% battery, waiting for the last leg of the Great Charger Exchange to come to fruition. My dad wanted me to walk a lemon over to the Barn House during Little L’s naptime, but I had insisted he come pick it up. “I don’t have my Fitbit yet,” I’d explained. “So I really don’t need the steps.”

“Sounds like the incentive program hasn’t exactly translated to intrinsic motivation,” he said. “You don’t want to walk just for the exercise?”

He has a point. Maybe I should take a walk, just because.

But then again, I am on vacation.


“There’s no water in it!” Axel said as we approached the park, having dropped off our knives to be sharpened at the Farmer’s Market, much too his excitement. Our knives and my tweezers, which to Axel’s surprise, the knife guy had been more than willing to sharpen.

“What? No water? Yeah, right,” I said. I was not falling for that one.

But as we approached, it was, indeed waterless.

Little L was all suited up in her flowery blue swimskirt and turtleneck.

A sign on the pool stated the obvious: “POOL CLOSED.” To ease the potential tantrums of parents and kids alike, it listed the addresses of two nearby pools.

Disappointed and hot, we convinced Little L that swinging would be a good substitute to swimming. Then we stopped back into our lobby for some refreshing water from the gym and I asked Little L if she wanted to try another pool.

“Nother poo-wew,” she responded.

She and I set out on our own this time. Axel was content with his sharpened knives. “I’ll start getting lunch ready,” he said with a big smile as he pressed the button to take the elevator upstairs.

As we approached the second pool, a tiny doubt entered the back of my mind. A bystander at the park said that the wading pool near his house hadn’t opened yet because it was next to a school and school had just ended yesterday. This pool, too, was next to a school…

But why would they have listed Holmes Pool if it weren’t open?

Yet, as we approached, I didn’t see sparkles or waves.

“Let’s see if this one has water in it, Little L!” I was having flashbacks to the Great California Park Search.

Again, the pool was empty. I sighed. “Oh, that’s so silly!” I said, trying to show Little L that we could both take this all in stride. Life doesn’t always give you water in your wading pool, right?

But even worse than disappointed, I was hot. If you’ve ever been outside with me on a day above 80, you know I get very crabby when I’m hot.

“We’ll figure something out,” I told Little L. “Let’s go home and talk to Daddy.” We needed to get my phone to look up nearby pools and grab the car keys – I was NOT walking to another pool in this heat.

Little L was probably hot too. Or just disappointed. Or impatient. She was fussing as we approached our building.

“Will Daddy wonder why we’re home so soon? We should say, ‘You won’t believe this!'”

I unlocked the door.

“You’re home!” Axel said.

“You won’t believe–“

“The pool was closed!” Axel deduced. “And get this – we didn’t get your tweezers back with the knives.”

“Ah. So we have to go back to the Farmer’s Market too.”

I started searching the Minneapolis Parks website. Turns out there’s a whole page where they let you know pools’ statuses – both pools we tried today appeared as yellow dots on the map.

At least we’re not a red dot! But a 3:1 ration of green to yellow? I see why they created this website!

“Let’s just give her a bath,” Axel said.

“But I told her we’d go to the pool!” I say. I am nothing if not a woman of my word.

“She’ll love it.”

“Little L, you want a bath?” Axel called to her.

“Baby take baff!” she scampered into the bathroom, still dressed in her swim turtleneck.

“I’ll give her a bath while you go pick up the tweezers,” Axel said.

I sighed and refilled my water bottle. Then I changed out of my swimsuit, because wearing a swimsuit is actually quite hot when you don’t have the cooling effects of the water to combat it.

“Maybe I’ll take a post-it note and put it on the sign at the park.”

It may be the nearest pool, but it sure isn’t the one with the most water!

30 minutes later, I was back home, sweaty and crabby. But I had my tweezers and I had done my civic duty.

I could hear Little L laughing in the tub.

With any luck, we would find an open pool another day, or our yellow dots on the map would turn neon green. Until then, I was tired and sweaty from all of this pool-searching.

Maybe I could take a bath. But would the tub be open? I’d learn my lesson. I got out my phone and made sure the bathtub was marked with a green dot before walking the extra 20 feet to the bathroom.

Thank you, Moms

I have applied to only one writing contest since Little L was born nearly two years ago now. Applying and getting rejected from random contests used to be a favorite pasttime of mine. 

The one contest that I applied to was something I found in Parents Magazine, a magazine that mysteriously began appearing at my house without my having ordered or paid for it shortly after Little L’s arrival. 

The topic of the contest was something “unexpected” about yourself as a parent. 

Unexpectedly, I missed the deadline, something that would not have slipped by me before parenthood. Now I’m lucky if I put the newly made yams in the fridge rather than back in the oven.

I sent the essay in anyway; this was the only thing I’d revised and edited in awhile and I wanted someone to read it. I didn’t even get a response, stripping me of my usual self-righteousness when I get the rejection email. 

I don’t know if anyone ever read my entry, but you can read it now. It focused on mothering, so I’m sharing it in honor of Mother’s Day.

I am grateful to all of our parents/Little L’s grandparents for the love and support they show as we try our hand at this parenting thing. I love knowing Little L has us all on her team. Thank you.

As written, about a year ago (which is why some details seem incorrect as pertaining to my current life), about what surprises me about myself as a parent:

I don’t like clutter; as soon as my daughter outgrows her clothes, we pass them on. That’s exactly how I would have envisioned myself as a parent. 

I also thought, naively, that I was going to continue as a self-sufficient adult.

About that, I was completely wrong. 

My baby arrived six weeks early; we didn’t yet have a crib. She spent the first month in the hospital (we had time to get the crib). She couldn’t breastfeed; I pumped exclusively.

When she was six months old and it was time to leave her at daycare, she lasted – we lasted – four days.

We accepted my mom’s and mother-in-law’s offers, which we had rebuffed up until then, to watch her at home. My baby spends two days a week with her grandparents, one with me, and two with a babysitter – a dear friend’s cousin.

My mother-in-law brings us delicious vegetarian food. My mom does our laundry and sweeps. My father-in-law cleans our bathtub. The babysitter does the baby’s laundry and empties the dishwasher. 

Without this parade of love, we would eat only frozen pizza and our baby would crawl around in dust bunnies and sleep on snot-filled sheets.

Both of our moms lived in cities without family nearby when we were born – perhaps this is why they are so quick to help us out. Not only does their love and support keep us fed and clean, but it strengthens our relationships with them and our daughter’s relationship with them too.

One of the best parts of this year is learning a seemingly obvious lesson: offering and accepting help is part of being a family.

I suppose it’s possible that my husband and I could survive parenting without this village of support.

I’m just thankful we don’t have to.

As originally not published, anywhere. Except here and now.

Spring Breaking Point

The night before Axel, Little L and I were to leave for California, Axel and I talked through how the grand voyage would go. This would be our third plane trip with Little L, but it had been about nine months since the last time we flew. 

My first point of business: coffee. 

“No. Definitely not,” Axel replied before I even started to plead my case. On the last trip I asked for a cup of coffee which Axel then had to practically hold over the person to his left since Little L was sitting on my lap and grabbing at everything in sight.

“It’s not safe,” he said. “She wiggles too much.” 

I already knew it wouldn’t work, but I wanted him to understand my suffering. “It’s just, imagine this. You’re in a situation that is super stressful. And then, all of the sudden, someone walks by you, offering, for free, the thing that is your favorite in the world! And you’re supposed to say no!”

We settled on that I would buy a glass of wine instead. But it wouldn’t be free. 

When they came through the aisle with the coffee I followed the plan and ordered my glass of wine, which turned out to be a small bottle of wine. But I didn’t drink it. Axel stored the unopened bottle in the diaper bag because Little L had begun her Hour of Despair. When walking up and down the aisles was a grand failure, nearby passengers – a family traveling with three kids; they were clearly experts – offered us M&M’s and music on their phone. 

Little L’s bedtime came and went, and although she was sucking her fingers and we pulled out her sleep sack and her worn bear, there was no sleep.

By the time we were to Carrie and Max’s house, Little L passed out in her Pack N Play exactly two minutes after we left her, clutching Oso the Bear, even though it had been thrown on the airplane bathroom floor in a fit of rage. 

Thirteen hours later, Little L woke up in better spirits. 

What she didn’t know was that outside her window in California, a park awaited her. 

But not just any park. 

A closed park. 

This would be Little L’s own tempting coffee cart situation.

We went out looking for parks. “This one is closed,” I said, “but I think there’s an open one on the next block. We’ll have an adventure!”

“Ven-chew!” Little L chimed in, clearly now knowing what she was – or wasn’t – in for.

I jogged, using the umbrella stroller that was about a foot too low, and we approached another park!


Little L took it in stride, but I knew I’d better think quick.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “Let’s just go to the school. I know they have a playground!” 

So I shuffled over there, starting to break a bit of a sweat, only to turn the corner and see the the big black fence of the school locked, perhaps because it was Sunday.

There’s a park behind that fence.

“Ok how about you just explore here?” I asked Little L. There was a ramp that Little L walked up and down and some plants for her to look at and try to sit on.

The next day Axel and I walked about half an hour to a park where Little L could play on the slides.

Only 23 minutes to go!

She had finally gotten her long-awaited metaphorical cup of airplane coffee.

A good April Fool’s joke would have been if this park was closed too!

A few days later, we boarded an early morning flight home to Minneapolis. I was seated with a perky Little L on my lap – she seems to take after me in that she seems not to mind early rising as much as staying up late – when a woman walking down the aisle said, “I know that baby.” 

This woman, possibly a grandma now, has been here, been me, with a baby on her lap. She wants me to know that she knows my plight. Parenthood really is something we never forget, I thought to myself. 

“I hope she’s happier this time.” 

Ooooooooooh. It dawned on me.

“Wait, you were on the Friday flight?” I asked in horror.

“I just felt so bad for her,” she said generously before continuing down the aisle where I’m pretty sure she asked the flight attend to sell her and her seat mates noise-cancelling headphones.

This flight went much better. I drank just a cup of water and forced myself to politely decline the tempting coffee cart that came down the aisle. 

Little L was in good spirits most of the flight, eating cereal and bananas, coloring and playing with her new dinosaur. 

Until about an hour from home, she announced, “All done!”

“All done, all done, all done!” 

She scrambled to get off my lap. 

“We’re not home yet. Here, do you want to see a book?” 

But before I knew what hit me, Axel knew what hit the guy in front of us.

“She threw her cup!” Axel whispered to me.

“What?” I looked under the seat and noticed the cup by the feet of the man seated directly in front of us. 

He turned and passed it to me. “I’m so sorry,” I said, mortified. I didn’t ask if the cup had hit him, but from his tight-lipped smile, I think it probably did. 

Axel wrangled Little L and I brought out the last item in the diaper bag of tricks – a Highlights magazine for babies. “Fly, fly, fly!” I sang the poem written in a quietish voice to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell.” I desperately checked the “time until arrival” every minute or so. Little L was all done with this plane ride, and so were we.

A week later, we had made many trips to the local open park, consumed plenty of coffee, and traveled on zero more airplanes.

Then we found out an April snow storm was coming. I cancelled my Thursday acupuncture appointment; it would be hard to get there. Axel would still be attending his Wednesday appointment, though, which was just around the time when the snow would begin. 

“Hey,” I texted him. “Since I can’t go to acupuncture tomorrow, could you bring me a free coffee from the lobby? Decaf espresso. Hit the button two times. Thank you!” The free coffee machine is a key part of the healing experience.

Axel arrived home an hour and a half after his appointment had ended, carrying a cup of lukewarm espresso. “I gave you three shots,” he told me. 

“Thank you so much for carrying it all the way home!”

He wiped melted snow off his face. “I had to wait for the bus for an hour,” he said. I imagined him in the blizzard carefully balancing the cup of coffee in his hand.

I smiled as I took a sip. “Hey,” I said. “I think this makes up for the lack of coffee on the plane.”

Sure, drinking coffee that is coming down the aisle on a cart in front of you is convenient. But having your partner carry your cup of doctor’s office espresso home for an hour in the snow, uphill both ways, in sopping wet tennis shoes makes it all the more delicious.

I didn’t even throw the cup at his head.

This episode of Good Work Great Life is brought to you by Minnesota and its April thunder snow – happy Snow Day, yet again!


On Christmas Eve, my brother presented Little L a homemade holiday card in lieu of a gift. Scrawled in black sharpie, it said, “I know one day when you’re older and able to read, you won’t have this card because Carissa will recycle it tonight.”

That wasn’t exactly true – it took me a few weeks to go through the holiday paper accumulations. I scanned the card. And then rather than dropping it in the recycling, I sent it to do a pre-recycle stint in Little L’s Purple Box of Paper (she takes after Axel with her love for shuffling papers). She can look at the photos and cards that came this holiday season before they meet their fate.

Like my brother, who is wise not to spend more than 3 cents on a sheet of printer paper for his holiday wishes, I am quite aware of what happens to cards. For most people, at least. My friend Thom, upon seeing Little L’s Purple Box, told me he keeps his holiday cards.

“Every year?” I asked.

“Yup,” he answered. “But I could be convinced otherwise.”

While that’s not my job, per se, I do hope he starts some sort of holiday card plan. He has a large basement for storage, but after a few more years of this, he might need to build a storage locker in the backyard or start a Second-Hand Holiday Card store. He has a lot of friends and family.

One day last week I took the recycling down to the garage. I opened the second bin from the right – the middle one is usually full, so I always go for the one-off.

I was about to pour my recycling in when I saw it.

Was that a card… from me!?

I would recognize my cheap Target cards anywhere. Plus the not-really-cursive and not-really-not-cursive mix of capitals and lowercase looked quite similar to my signature scrawl (I was known as the Poster Queen in high school for my stellar sign-making skills).

Upon a bit of closer inspection, it was indeed a sympathy card that I had written for a neighbor who had lost a pet.

I told Axel about it later.

“Well, I mean, you didn’t expect them to keep it forever, did you?”

“No, no.”

I mean, I was actually proud of them that they had thrown it out. So promptly, too. They really were on top of their stuff.

“It’s just – you don’t expect to see your own card in your own recycling bin.”

“Makes you think twice about writing paper cards, doesn’t it?” Axel pointed out.

card in recycling bin
Reenactment of finding the card in the recycling – I was too stunned in the moment to gather the evidence. This is actually a card that I was recycling. Not from a neighbor, I will add.

I like my paper cards. I don’t want to stop giving them or getting them. I also don’t want to keep them indefinitely.

Some of you may have been thinking it was going to be a card I had given Axel that he dropped in the bin. For a few reasons, that wouldn’t be.

A) Axel is a bit of a paper shuffler. I doubt he would be downsizing his own papers without my prompting.

B) Axel lives with me. I often downsize his papers (with his permission of course). A card I had written to Axel would likely have been scanned – by me – and have been in my recycling bag, not in the bin.

C) Axel knows what a snoop I am. In a situation where A and B didn’t ring true, he would take that card to work and recycled it there.

Now are you wondering if the neighbors scanned their card? I was concerned about that too, especially given the quick turnover. Just in case they had overlooked it, I snapped a photo and texted it to them for good measure.

Just kidding. At least I hope you think I am.

This Dirty Plate

“What is this?” 

As I opened the trunk to retrieve the diaper bag, I encountered a plate. 

A dirty plate. And it wasn’t even our plate!

“Oh, Axel,” I sighed.

Then just last week Axel pulled a plastic bag out of his backpack. 

Is that a plate in your backpack!?

“Look! It’s another plate from work,” he said proudly. Again it had food remnants on it.

Over tamales at Maya, I took the chance to interview Axel about his system. 

“Can you explain why I found a dirty plate in the trunk?” I ask in what I won’t even pretend was a non-judgmental tone. 

“You picked me up one day after work and I placed an umbrella and the plate in the trunk and I forgot about them when we got home. Because it’s kind of odd to have a dirty plate in the trunk. That’s not something you remember.”

“But then later you had a plate in your backpack,” I pressed.

“My system has evolved. I now bag it and put it in my backpack so I’m more likely to notice it and wash it and bring it back to work.” 

If you’re going to carry a dirty plate around with you, in a bag is the way to do it.

More likely? Makes me wonder how many plates Axel has carried in that bag at a time.

“But why are you bringing the dirty plates home with you at all if they’re from the kitchen at work?”

“Well, I have to weigh the costs and benefits,” he tells me. 

“Please, say more.” 

“Well, missing my bus home and waiting an additional 25 minutes at a bus stop wouldn’t be worth taking the time to wash it.”

“Why are you forced to make that choice?” I ask. Some people might think one would have taken care of the plate before closing time.

“My office is too far away from the lounge,” he explains. 

“And… the plate can’t just stay in your office?” I mean, I wouldn’t want to leave a dirty plate in my office, but you never know.

“There are roaches in my office, so I can’t leave anything with food particles. Otherwise, you’re right, I would just leave it. Having a dirty plate with cockroaches on it is worse than just having a dirty plate.”

“In a bag, you mean. Or in the trunk.” 

“Please don’t judge me,” he says. 

Plates ready to be returned to work. But wait… are they sitting on the NOT-Shelf!?

“So how can we all apply the dirty plate in the bag to our lives?” I ask. Maybe I can learn something from this practice.

After thinking a minute and munching on a tortilla, Axel sums it up. “Sometimes the optimal outcome may raise eyebrows. It doesn’t mean that you stop in the pursuit of excellence.”

I laugh as I spoon up my final rice drenched in salsa from the salsa bar.

“I feel like I may not be super comfortable with this article by the way,” Axel says, eyeing me suspiciously as I take notes on my phone. “In fact, if you’re quoting me, I get fact-checking rights.”

Note: This post was fact-checked by Axel himself. Two edits were made.


“You better get writing your blog post,” Nellie texted.

Joanie was next. “Another day off!?”

Alissa chimed in. “A snow day for you! I have faith in my district this time too!”

After the fated phone call, in which the unidentified voice that I would now recognize anywhere called and said, “Hello colleagues,” I did my Snow Day Dance as Little L and Axel looked on. And then I dialed Thom.

He answered (This may seem like a small thing, but he has a toddler and an infant and it was 6PM. Him answering was even more unlikely than a sixth snow day).

“I deserved this one,” he said. And he did.

“Not that it’s going to be relaxing,” he added.

“Yeah, snow days with little kids aren’t exactly like the snow days of the past.” I remember lounging around, reading, going for a walk in the snow, watching some daytime TV…

“I’m going to be watching both of the kids,” Thom said. His toddler’s day care would be open, but because of the snow, he wouldn’t want to drive him there.

What about the baby?

“My mother-in-law was going to watch him tomorrow,” he said. “But I think this means she gets the day off from driving over here in the snow.”

And same for my mom. She has our cold now, so I’m glad for her that she gets a Sick Day/Snow Day.

At bedtime, I heard Axel telling Little L what she had to look forward to tomorrow. “Tomorrow Mama is going to be home with you! We’re so happy for her, because she got a snow day! Of course, she didn’t really get the day off, because it’s going to be a Mama-Little L-Daddy day.”

“Hey since you’re working from home tomorrow, maybe you could give me like an hour? Not a Snow Day, but a Snow Hour?”

“I could do that he said.”

Then he turned to Little L. “We’re going to give Mama a Snow Fifteen Minutes tomorrow!”

Tomorrow will be snowy with a high of 29 degrees. Above zero!

Finally, a Snow Day that is reminiscent of the snowy days I see in the books Little L pages through like Amy Loves the Snow and A Very Special Snowflake. I think it’s time someone writes the soon-to-be-famous A Very Cabin Fever Polar Vortex series.

But tomorrow there will be snow we can go out in.

Sure, I would love a day to lounge around and kick the last sinus aches of last week’s cold. It would be great to sleep in until 8. Or 7. But this is an unexpected day off. I can deal with one child; I would normally be teaching 150 over the course of the day. Hopefully Thom can deal with two.

I will be looking forward to taking Little L out in the snow. And to my Snow Fifteen-to-Sixty Minutes courtesy of Axel.

And of course, as always, I’ll be looking forward to nap time.

Thank you, Minnesota winter. And sorry to all the parents and families out there who are inconvenienced by this – I know there is a flip side.

Axel says it’s time to watch Bob’s Burgers and celebrate.

Let the snow begin.

The Polar Vortex…Continues?

“You’ll probably actually have to work most of this week,” Thom texted me on Tuesday.

“Most?” I responded. “Do you mean most, like my four normal days? Or do you mean most of my four days?” I didn’t try to hide the excitement in my words.

Since my last post, I had been alerted to the fact that Thom had spent much of then Polar Vortex week with not just his baby, but with his toddler who had stayed home from daycare because of the weather. “It was 20% fun, 40% hard, and 45% so hard that I lost my mind and can no longer do math.” 

This is why you don’t ask someone on paternity/maternity leave how their “vacation” is going.

This week was Thom’s last week home on paternity leave. For his sake, I hoped that there wouldn’t be another unexpected day off that he had to use his sick time for. 

But for my own sake, I hoped there would be.

Come Wednesday, there was talk of lots of snow! I heard a student at school ask the principal if school would be canceled on Thursday. “I don’t think so,” she said. “But it’s always a good idea to check.” 

To me, that meant a probable no. I have no evidence to support this, but I think there must be some undercover email chain for principals and office staff that lets them know ahead of time what is most likely going to happen with school cancellations. I remember the secretary at my former school smiling at me conspiratorially one day and saying, “Oh, I think they’ll cancel tomorrow.” They did.

Wednesday evening the snow began. I kept checking out the window, hopefully. Was it coming down hard enough? 

And then, around 6PM, as I was heating up some sweet potatoes for Little L’s dinner, the phone rang. 

It was a Minneapolis Public Schools number!

Jumping up and down, I answered.

“Please hold for a message from the Minneapolis Public Schools.” 

Oh yes! I could wait seconds to hear the good news!

“Hello families,” my principal’s voice said. “I want to remind you that tomorrow morning is Family Involvement Day.” 

I sighed. I had been duped. 

I woke up at 4:30AM the next morning as Little L coughed a bit in her crib. I checked my phone. Minneapolis Public Schools had a message on its website: “School WILL be in session on Thursday, February 7.” 

I checked the forecast. I had an acupuncture appointment at the U that afternoon and I would need to drive. 

“Do you think I should cancel?” I asked Axel. 

“I don’t think it’s supposed to be that bad, is it?” he asked.

I hadn’t made it to the gym that morning, so I hadn’t seen Sven Sungaard’s local forecast. 

But at 11:30 at recess duty, the snow was still coming down – hard. In fact, I could barely see the other side of the field. Did I really want to drive in this? 

On my lunch half-hour, I saw the art teacher. “Congrats on your commute!” she said. She lives near school too. But much of the staff would be driving to the suburbs, or further even, South Minneapolis.

I told her that I was going to maybe drive to acupuncture. “I think it helps me stay calm. But driving in this makes me anxious. So…” 

As I filed through my phone to call and cancel the appointment, the art teacher leaned in and smiled. “I think they might call it for tomorrow. This is supposed to continue all night and the windchill tomorrow morning is -35.” Negative 35 windchill is the requirement for a school cancellation!

“Really? You think? Oh wow, that would be way better than having needles stuck in me!”

A district email said that all after-school activities had been cancelled. Then the assistant from prekindergarten came up to my room and asked if I wanted any help this afternoon because the afternoon prekindergarten class had been cancelled!

Things were looking quite promising. 

I trudged home from work, thankful indeed for my short commute on foot. 

I was again checking out the window for snow and heating Little L’s sweet potatoes, when I noticed a missed call on my phone.

It was from the Minneapolis Public Schools. 

I dialed into my voicemail, and there it was. 

“Colleagues, there will be no school tomorrow, February 8.” The message was significantly shorter than the previous FOUR messages for snow/cold days. They didn’t even state the reason, though I later read on the district’s Twitter account that the combination of snow/ice and -30 degree windchill was enough to make them think it would be dangerous for students to be waiting outside in the morning for likely delayed buses. 

Little L saw me do my No School Dance yet again. 

I had gotten 80% of the Snow/Cold days. Fair enough.

Thom texted me. “Okay, this is starting to sting.” 

I texted my friend Alissa, a former Minneapolis teacher who had moved to another local district a few years ago. “No school tomorrow!?!?”

She texted back. “I know! I’m so happy for you! We’re still waiting to find out!”

I was impressed by her ability to feel sympathetic joy — i.e. happiness for someone else’s happiness — for me. I also got texts from Joanie and Ana who had seen on the news that I had won yet another day without school. “Yay! Enjoy!” they told me.

Last Friday Alissa and I went to Happy Hour after my long one-day Polar Vortex workweek. She told me about how last Monday when all of the other schools were closed, her school district already had a staff-only day on the books; staff was still to report, but two hours late. The teachers were in a  training that was supposed to end at 4PM. At 3:45, everyone’s phones began ringing and they got the news that school would be closed for the next two days. 

“Everyone was laughing and jumping up and down and screaming!” Alissa told me. “The presenter tried like three times to get us back on track, but we were so wild that he eventually said we would just end early.” 

Both Alissa and I lamented that this “Teachers Find Out They Get Two Unexpected Days Off” moment was not caught on video.

This morning I was down at the gym watching the school closings, I mean, the news, while I worked out. They got to the “R”s and Alissa’s district was not on the screen. When they cycled through, her son’s district was! Ana’s son’s district was closed too! Ana later told me her son said, “What? Again!!?” when he found out.

I of course gave a hoot when Minneapolis Public Schools flashed up on the bottom of the screen, which in retrospect may have looked to the other early-morning exercisers like I was cheering for whatever piece of bad news was on at the time.

On my way back upstairs I pulled up Alissa’s district’s website. I so wanted her to partake in this unexpected windfall (snowfall?). “IMPORTANT MESSAGE!” came across the screen along with a pop-up window.

This was it!

“School WILL be in session on Friday, February 8,” it said. 

It made me wonder – when Alissa decided to change districts, did she look into their data on snow/cold days? It could play an important factor for a potential student/family/employee. 

I found out later that although Joanie and Wendall’s son’s preschool was also open, they decided to keep him home that day. I’m sure the teachers who did have to teach that day didn’t mind their reduced class sizes. Joanie and Wendall, we hope to hang out with you again someday, but now Little L is sick. Go figure.

The highlight of this Snow Day was when Little L and I spotted a mini-plow cleaning the sidewalks on the street below. Snow was shooting out the top, at least 30 feet high! “Look, it’s a plow? A snowblower?” What was this contraption called? Then I saw its logo. “It’s a Bobcat,” I told her.

When Axel came home, we were still looking out the window. “Tell Daddy what we saw,” I coaxed her. 


“Books?” Axel guessed. 

“A Bobcat!” I told him. 

“Like with no tail?” He seemed puzzled. 

After we’d cleared up the confusion, we continued to watch for more Bobcats – they cleared the two bridges in the distance as well!

We have to clarify when people came over. To the untrained ear, it seems like Little L wanders around the living roo, asking us to lift her up so she can look for a “vaca” or a “vodka” out the window. 

“Bah-cuh, bah-cuh!”

Now that Thom is back at work with the rest of us, we’ll see what the rest of winter brings. It would be greedy for me to hope for more days off for myself. I got my 80%, fair and square.

But to have a friend’s best interests in mind? 

That’s just generosity.

This post was intended to be posted on the day it was begun, last Friday on my actual Snow Day off. It should be noted that a Snow Day caring for a sick toddler is much different than a Snow Day on one’s own. Hence the post a week later. Enjoy.

Once Upon a Polar Vortex

“Are you going to write about this?” Axel asked me as I sat on the floor as Little L played with her “zoom-zooms” and the microwave clock counted down the minutes until nap time. 

“I wasn’t planning on it.” 

“You should,” Axel insisted. “Your readers will want to know.”

Monday morning: While working out in the gym in my building, I see the school closings flashing across the bottom of the screen. We start in the Ns and since my workout isn’t that long, we are only to Lakeville by the time I leave the gym again. At this rate, they should just post the ones that are in session.

I check my voicemail as soon as I get back upstairs. Minneapolis Public Schools called last night after I was asleep. Ugh.

You see, usually I would be thrilled with a snow day. But I don’t work on Mondays. And so the Monday Snow Day makes me think that it’s less likely that we’ll get any Cold Days later in the week, something there’s been talk of. 

However, it is fair. I work four days a week, so I shouldn’t get to take part in all of the snow days. I should get 80%. 

I text my friend Thom who is on paternity leave. “Ugh. Snow Day. From the only other teacher in Minneapolis not happy about this.” 

“I’m going to file a grievance,” he texts back. All that sick time he was using up for his leave and school isn’t even in session…

For some reason, Little L sleeps in, giving me a sort of Snow Morning. After I shower, I get to drink coffee and write in my journal for almost an hour. I write about how it’s not a snow day for dads on paternity leave or stay-at-home moms or part-time workers who don’t work Mondays.

Little L’s music class is cancelled, which I’m partly disappointed by – what will we do all day? – but mostly relieved by – we won’t have to drive in the snow. 

I text my new friend, who I’ll call Veronica. She and I met earlier this year on the street. We were both pushing strollers at 7:30AM on a Saturday and she crossed the street to continue the conversation I had started when we had first passed each other. It was friendship built on the early-morning desperation of wanting to interact with another adult, which is as good a reason as any. Veronica is at home with her one-year-old and I guessed that not being able to go outside was making her a little stir-crazy. 

“Music is cancelled! Want to come over? You can park in our garage!” 

She was there half an hour later with Baby D, who ate his breakfast at our counter while Little L partook in a second breakfast of some baby puffs that Veronica brought to share with her. 

Sadly for us, they left after just half an hour – Baby D’s nap was coming up. Little L and I had the whole day in front of us.

Little L went down for her nap around noon – she’s been toying around with just one nap these days. I had my fingers crossed that it would be a long one. While reclining on the sofa in the media room, I thought to text our nanny who comes on Tuesdays, just to make sure she was recovered from the sickness she’d had last week. 

She said that her flu had turned to a cold but that she could function. 

Uh-oh. Have I mentioned that we are germaphobes?

Plus we’ve been waiting to see Joanie and Wendall for weeks now – their kids have been off and on sick. We need to stay healthy for the sake of our friendship.

Now, I had been fantasizing about no school on either Tuesday or Wednesday because of the projected negative 50 windchill. If it was going to come on Wednesday, I would stay home with Little L and Grandma S would get the day off. If it was to come on Tuesday, well, we have the nanny that day and I planned to take advantage of some alone time. I was thinking I could brave it to get out to my favorite café for a couple leisurely hours then walk home to my car and go visit Thom and his baby for another few hours. Maybe I would end the day with a visit to my brother, who works from home, for a quick cup of free coffee from his lobby.

But this was just a fantasy since I figured school wouldn’t be closed both Monday and Tuesday. I was sure we could get a grandma in here to sub, so I told the nanny that she should take tomorrow as a sick day. 

But a sub wasn’t needed because shortly thereafter my friend Kole texted, “closed tomorrow and Wednesday.” 

They were announcing today that we were getting two days in a ROW!? This was unprecedented. But it made sense – students had been off last Thursday and Friday for staff work days; at this point parents with day jobs must have been desperate figuring out what to do with their kids. I guess the thought was to give them a little notice.

“Staff members should NOT report to work,” the phone call said an hour later. I danced around the kitchen as Axel and Little L listened along with me on speakerphone. 

I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get a day all to myself, but it was actually better this way – staying out all day in the negative 40 temps just to get my money’s worth from the nanny seemed a bit brutal. Little L and I would get some extra time together at home where blankets and extra layers of clothing abound. Plus I would get to lay down during nap time.

I texted Veronica. “School’s cancelled. Wanna come again tomorrow?” 

“We’ll be there at 8:30,” she texted back.

I texted Thom. “You must be mad.” 

“I’m at peace now,” he wrote back. 

Tuesday was much the same as Monday. Except that because Monday’s nap had only been an hour and a half, I decided to try an earlier nap time. 

“I want her to sleep longer,” I told Veronica. “And I want her nap to be later. But she’s only been taking long naps when it’s earlier.”

“Well if she’s only going to sleep longer when it’s earlier,” Veronica said, “maybe you should try that.” 

This was exactly what I’d been thinking, so I gave it a go. Little L got her earlier nap and slept… fifteen minutes less than the day before. We hadn’t even reached noon, and I would have no more naps to look forward to.

Axel, however, lucked out, because he had been hoping we’d give him a ride to his meeting on campus. Driving through the university, I saw students completely bundled, only their eyes peeping out between their hoods and scarves. I also saw several youth wearing nary a hat.

I so wanted to call their moms and tell them.

Little L and I returned home and it was still only 1PM. 

Little L, however, had some fun up her sleeve. She took some plastic bowls, a spoon, and a little container to a spot on the dining room floor. “Bay bih, bay bih.” 

I had no idea what she wanted. 

But then she patted her chest. 

“Oh, you want your bib?” Baby bib.

I put her bib on her, and she sat there on the floor, spooning imaginary food from the trough of her bib to the bowl, for like minutes in a row without getting up. 

I tried to sneak off to do some kitchen cleaning, but this was not part of the game. 

“Mama!” She took me by the hand and led me back to this spot on the floor. Perhaps there was an imaginary table there that I couldn’t see. She patted the floor. “Mama.” 

Later when I snuck off she came over saying “ma sih! ma sih!” She wanted music! I turned the stereo on.

She patted the ground. Mama sit.

So I was part of the entertainment. I sat there, and then laid there, yawning. I had used the first hour of nap time to scan some papers that had been building up. But then there was only one hour of nap time, so I never got around to the highly important part where you get to lay down. 

Little L was so excited about her plates, bowls, and spoons that she spent almost an hour playing with them. She was so happy just to sit next to me and pretend to eat egg out of a plastic container and hand me her spoon once in a while.

My friend whose alias I can’t remember insisted that I get the IKEA kids’ dish set. I resisted at first. But today, I am SO glad I gave in. Also, you know who you are. What’s your alias!?

I thought, this is so nice. 

I also thought, this is so boring.

I decided then that there would be an afternoon nap or at least a rest period. I put Little L in her crib around 3:15. She was wide awake, but I was not. I laid down on my bed and read all the while listening to what sounded like a gymnastic routine on Little L’s monitor. Around 3:45 I went back to get her, slightly rested. I like to think she had benefitted from her Alone Time too.

We went with our neighbor across the hall and her baby down to the lobby where we sat and chatted and Little L bounced up and down on the ottoman and let a few dogs lick her. One dog, who we’ll call Squash, was wearing a bright yellow padded coat. 

My neighbor Barb and her husband came by, all bundled up, going to Ginger Hop for Happy Hour. 

“Stay warm!” I told them. 

“We will! The real fun is tonight when we’ll go on a two mile walk.” 

I laughed. 

“Every year we pick the coldest night of the year and walk two miles.” 

Wait, they were serious! I couldn’t decide whether this was an incredibly dangerous or somewhat endearing tradition. Probably both.

That night I told Axel that we should open a bottle of wine. It wasn’t every Tuesday that you didn’t have to work the next day. Because that’s right – at this point the university had cancelled not just classes but work for all employees the next day too! 

My friend Alissa invited me out to listen to an author reading this evening, but after first using Little L’s bedtime as an excuse, I eventually told her it was just too cold for me. She and another friend went though – Hardcore Midwesterners!

We were both going to have a Cold Day!

“I still have to work,” Axel told me. “But from home.”

“What? How?”

“I have a call. Plus I have a lot to do. But they sent an email saying that if we work we get comp time later.” 

“So we both have off and I’m watching Little L and you get comp time? Do I get comp time too?” 

“You’ll have to talk to Grandma S about that,” Axel said. She was getting Wednesday off from her Grandma duties. I didn’t get the impression that she was really all that excited about it.

On Wednesday morning I pull up Little L’s shade to find circles of frost covering the window.

“Uh-oh. Ay ay ay,” Little L remarks.

She grabs one of her washcloths and starts to “kee” the windows. But it will be another day until the frost begins to melt even a little. 

Veronica and Baby D come over again. Later we sweep and eat lunch and look at books. Her nap is slightly longer. 

During nap time Megan texts me from Oregon and asks if I am staying safe. I tell her that I am and that we are only going to venture out to go to Whole Foods, which has an underground parking ramp, so we won’t be out in the elements at all – from covered garage to covered garage.

“Wait? What? No. That worries me. Can’t you get groceries delivered?”

“Ahh, I’m sorry to make you worry,” I text back. “That’s why I didn’t want to tell my mom! Amazon stopped delivering groceries. I’ll bundle us up. Don’t worry.”

It was about this time that I got a phone call. And you know who it was, don’t you? It was Minneapolis Public Schools telling me that schools will remain closed on Thursday and that all non-essential staff should NOT report to work.

“We WILL have class as scheduled on Friday, February 1. We look forward to welcoming all staff back to finish the week strong.” I ran into the bedroom where Axel was on a call, pointing frantically at my laptop where I had pulled up the MPS website showing “No School on Thursday.” His eyes bulged in jealousy and astonishment.

Soon after, Veronica texted. “Minneapolis is closed again! Does that mean you’re off?” She must have gotten a call because she and Baby D take classes through Minneapolis ECFE.

“Yes! Want to come over again? If you’re not too sick of us yet?” 

“If you don’t mind us coming again we’d love to!”

“You are really lucky you met her when you did,” Axel tells me. It seems unlikely we would have met strolling the streets this week.

On Thursday I get up early to go to the gym downstairs again. It is currently 23 below air temperature; the wind chill is colder. My body is starting to ache from the lack of moving, I think, or I guess possibly the cold. I see on the news that many people have lost power and that crews have been working – during the night!? – to fix it. They show images of workers wearing masks.

I also learn that local churches have opened up their doors to provide more beds for people who are homeless – how could anyone sleep outside in this? Then I see an unrelated bit about a local man who is sleeping outdoors in a hammock just for fun. 

When “Minneapolis Public Schools” flashes on the bottom of the screen I do a raise-the-roof dance on the treadmill. 

After Veronica and Baby D’s visit, Little L and I go out for a walk in the halls. We check the mail, which we haven’t picked up all week, but alas, our box is empty. The saying about “snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” does NOT include the polar vortex. Rightfully so.

Little L and I have a good day and in the afternoon Nana J stops by – she and Grandpa J got the day off from Little L-care, but she still wanted to see us and bring us some food. I cleverly schedule the visit for after nap time and before dinner time – the time of day that seems to go on and on. After further consultation with Veronica, naptime will now happen around noon, because short or long, that is the time of day when I need a break.

All in all, I’ve done pretty well. I got to take advantage of 75% of our four unexpected days off, which is pretty darn close to my part-time appointment. The only way to make it perfectly even would be if Minneapolis called right about now to say they changed their mind about Friday.

But I’m not banking on it. For now, I’ll bundle up and head to work and finish the week strong. And with a one-day week, it shouldn’t be all that hard.

Which at this point, shouldn’t be all that hard.