Category Archives: Easily Amused

Woof-Woof, Where are you?

This morning Little L and I saw her***! At least we thought we did. We saw a shadow near the door right before the lights went out. 

Was it Woof-Woof? Or a new sofa?

Now that the leaves have fallen, we can see the house across the way.

Aren’t they pretty much asking us to keep tabs on their dog? 

Little L’s first winter, I remember spending a lot of time rocking her in front of the window, looking out on the world below – yes, it still existed. One of the sights was a dog rolling around in the leaves and snow.

Last year we shared this sight with Little L. Just beginning to make words that people could understand, she referred to our furry friend, with her shiny black coat and white-tipped tail, as “Woo-Woo.” 

Then around New Year’s when my dad came for a visit, we wanted to show him Woof-Woof… but we hadn’t seen her for quite awhile.

“That’s because Woof-Woof might be… AAAACK!” Axel made a gesture hypothesizing that Woof-Woof was no longer part of this world.

“Woo-Woo Aaack! Woo-Woo Aaaack!” Little L ran around saying. Whoops.

But a few days later, we saw her. Woof-Woof was not, as Axel had stipulated, aack.

All summer we didn’t see Woof-Woof, but with the leaves on the trees, we can’t get a clear view of her backyard or living room. There was one possible spotting as we were walking down the street; I was relieved that Woof-Woof’s people didn’t seem to recognize us.

Eagerly peering across the way, I’m reminded of weekend mornings with my childhood friend, who I’ll call Lauren, with a spy notebook in hand, observing the neighborhood happenings. “Golf ball on street,” we wrote. “Where did it come from?” Little L and I should start taking notes. “Lights on at 7:02AM,” we would record. “Movement downstairs?”

“Once the leaves fall, we’ll be able to see Woof-Woof’s house!” I told Little L as fall approached. Although Little L no longer calls dogs woo-woos, the name had stuck.

And just as I’m starting to doubt myself, this morning, in the early morning dark with the lights on inside Woo-Woo’s house, I saw something hovering near the door.  

Could it have been? 

Little L and I had pulled an ottoman up to the window to make ourselves comfortable.

“Where is Woof-Woof?” she asked me.

“What do you think? Maybe sleeping? Eating?”

“Woof Woof’s sleeping,” she said, sliding down off the ottoman.

Last winter Little L had a Woof-Woof on loan for a few weeks. It wasn’t long before she realized we should be walking our Woof-Woof down to the lobby to take it out, like all our neighbors do. “She really knows how to care for this thing!” I thought. And then, after about one day of walking Woof-Woof, she handed the leash over to me. “Mama! Mama!” she demanded.

And then I spotted a black formation near the glass door that leads outside. 

“Little L! Look!”

She scampered back over.

“Do you think it’s Woof-Woof?”

She laughs. “Yeah,” she said.

But then the people turned the lights out, and we couldn’t see Woof-Woof anymore, even though we knew she was there, and perhaps she’d seen us too.

“Where is light?” Little L asked.

“Oh, the people probably turned it off to go to work,” I surmise.

Or else they’ve seen us and just want a little privacy.

But as the days go by and I’m able to get a clearer view into their house with the ever-falling leaves, I’m not totally convinced that we’ve seen Woof-Woof. Maybe it was just a new sofa.

I’m not giving up hope, though, and neither is Little L. It’s not even winter yet. We’ve got at least six more months to search for Woof-Woof before those pesky leaves grow back.

And search we will.

***Because I do not know if Woof-Woof is female or male, I am referring to her here as a “she.” Why do so many books and songs automatically default to referring to all animals as “he?” Come on, modern culture! Get with the times!

Welcome to Costco

“What? YOU went to Costco??!?” Ana texted me back.

Which made me realize that I haven’t yet outed myself as a megastore shopper. Yup, for all of my talk of minimalism, I’ve been walking around with a CostCo card in my wallet for the past ten months.

It all started because my brother David and his partner Ami had a membership. They often borrowed our car to go shopping and brought us a box of Aussie Bites as a thank you (these things are delicious and the marketing makes you think they’re good for you).

On a Saturday morning this past winter, Axel, Little L, David, and I found ourselves at Costco. It was a big day. We were going to become members.

“Yeah, sure, we can do the Executive Membership,” I heard Axel saying. 

As David stuck “negative space stickers” on Little L in the cart, I turned my attention to what was happening at the Customer Service counter. “We were just going to do the cheaper membership,” I reminded Axel.

“But you get two percent back on everything you spend! And they comp you the difference on next year’s membership if you don’t spend enough.” Axel loves a good deal.

“But David is buying this for you as a gift. We weren’t going to spend any of our own money…”

With Axel buying that argument, I filled out the form and checked the “Basic Membership” box. 

I handed the paper to the woman behind the counter while my brother placed bears and Ls on Little L’s pink jeans. 

“So you’re doing the Executive Membership then?” 

“No, the Basic,” I said. Like I wrote. On the form.

“Oh, no, you’ll want the Executive. As a family, you will definitely be spending enough to make it worth it to you.” 

Axel’s interest piqued again. I was about to give in.

“Plus, if you don’t spend enough to make it worth it in the first year, we’ll chip in for your membership for the second year!”  Ms. Costco had just sealed her fate. I HATE pressure, peer or commercial or otherwise.

“No thank you. Basic membership please.” 

A couple minutes later, after much babble about how much she herself spends on diapers, she agreed to ring up the Basic Membership. 

“Plus, it’s a gift from my brother,” I said. “And he wanted to get us the Basic.” 

“Oh, but I can ring it up with two credit cards!” This woman was desperate. And really good at her job.

After we had paid for the Basic Membership, been photographed, and were free of her clutches, we set out about our inaugural shopping trip as Members. We’d tagged along before, but now we were legit.

I should mention that we were shopping at the new Business Center location near us. The best thing about this location, besides being able to buy 13 printers or a giant paper shredder, is that there are not that many people there.

Who doesn’t need 24 white washcloths? Recently Wendall offered Little L one to clean her hands off after brunch at his and Joanie’s house.

Enjoying the empty space in the wide aisles, it was time to do the math. “So you get two percent back on your purchases if you get that higher membership. And it costs 120 dollars and the normal one costs 60. So…” 

After some mental calculations we concluded that it would be $3,000 that we would have to spend in order to break even on joiner’s fees if we got an Executive Membership for the year. 

“We will not spend that much on Aussie Bites and blueberries and artichoke hearts,” I said. We were only going to make sporadic trips for an item here and there.

At least that was the plan. Until the following Saturday, when I asked Axel what he wanted to do.

He wanted to go to Costco. 

“For what?” I asked. I hadn’t even opened the gallon-size container of hummus; we had a loaf of bread still frozen, and the artichoke hearts remained in the cupboard untouched. 

“Well, I thought we could get some Aussie Bites,” he said. Ever since Megan and Cameron passed them off to us as breakfast on a visit to Portland, we were hooked.

“Are you just trying to get us to spend $3,000?” He’d devoured last week’s Aussie Bites at a quicker pace than was usual.

“Yeah, I’m gonna go in and buy a palette of peanut butter, seventeen garbage cans for $10, and a box of ten pizzas.”

Axel was exaggerating. It’s a four-pack. And yes, they are a delicious treat when I get some couch time to myself!

After a trip to the park, we stopped by CostCo. Little L, getting sleepy, had removed both of her teal mittens and one hot pink shoe. 

“Why don’t you guys are just wait in the car?” Axel suggested, jumping out of the car and readying his Costco ID. I was so relieved.

Little L watched the passers-by and their carts, pointing and saying “Baby.” As in, take this baby in that cart! Perhaps CostCo was growing on her too.

Axel returned carrying a giant bag of blueberries – were we even done with last week’s bag? – and an enormous bottle of pomegranate juice.

“They didn’t have the Aussie Bites?” I asked. 

“Nope,” he said. “So I got more blueberries.” 

“But why do you have that juice?” 

“It will be delicious!” he said, smiling. 

As our year of membership nears its end, I have not yet done the math to see how much we’ve spent. I don’t think it’s near $3,000, and so, I’m hoping that we have stuck it to the CostCo woman who so much wanted to upsell us. 

But then again, we do have a few months left before the year is up, and Axel has been saying we should go this weekend.

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.

Uncharged!

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.

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.

Snow-Cation

“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. 

“Bah-cuh.” 

“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.

On Your Left… Right?

“On your left!” a voice rang out from behind as we were crossing the wooden bridge that connects Nicollet Island to St. Anthony Main.

I quickly steered Little L’s stroller as close as I could get to the bridge support to the left of us—

That’s right. Well, no, that’s left. I went left.

Four runners – the serious kind with neon green spandex and masks that molded to their noses – dodged between Little L and I on the left and Axel, who had expertly jumped to the right.

“Sorry!” I exclaimed, still a little frightened.

“Sorry!” a runner turned back and said. “We just didn’t want to scare you.”

This was taken the next day – not the same speed or size of group or color of spandex. But you get the gist.

“Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” A Chorus of Minnesota Nice – theirs and mine- ensued as they left us in the January ice.

Axel laughed. “They said, ‘on the left.’ They wouldn’t believe you’re an elementary teacher who couldn’t figure out left and right.”

“Well, actually,” I jumped to my own defense. “I heard ‘left,’ so I jumped left. I didn’t have time to think that if they’re on the left then I need to go to the right.”

If they had said, “On your left in 30 seconds,” I probably would have had the necessary time to self-correct.

“So would you rather that they said, ‘move right?'” Axel asked.

“I mean, it would be clearer.”

Clearer, yes, like the January morning. But friendlier – not so much.

I don’t anticipate that Minnesotans will change their practice anytime soon, but it does raise a question about etiquette versus utility. And it makes me wonder – no, it makes me sure – that there must be places in the world where people tell you where to move in order to avoid this awkward situation.

But are they nice?

And what is it I say, you’re wondering. Sometimes when I’m walking, I pass people. I either just sneak around them or hover awkwardly behind them until there’s a break to get around. I don’t notify them that I, in fact, am walking faster than them. On a city street, you can usually take advantage of a stoplight as an opportunity to overtake a slower pedestrian as you cross at the crosswalk – they tend to be wide.

Also, when it’s a male-female pair walking slower than me smack in the middle of the sidewalk, I have noticed the woman often asks her friend/coworker/partner/relative to move over so I can get by. Especially when I’m pushing Little L in the stroller. This is not empirical research; it is simply observational and I haven’t even tracked my findings.

Just saying, though.

And when I jog? My slow jog barely warrants passing a walker. The last time I passed another jogger was – well, never. So if I need to pass a walker, I don’t usually say anything, unless they are smack dab in the middle of the street – which, now that I think of it, Little L, Axel and I were in the situation of the four runners on the bridge.

So maybe the lesson here isn’t what you should say when you pass someone, but more that when you are on the street going along at a pace that might be slower than others, make sure you’re sharing the sidewalk and remember that the people behind you may not be as turtle-paced as you.

Remember that someone may want to pass you on the right.

Or the left.

2018 Year In Review

Back in the day when my email address was still at yahoo.com, Axel and I used to sometimes host a small gathering on New Year’s Eve with a survey reflecting on the past year and looking forward into the New Year. Introverts loved this “party” and went home at 8:15 when they were done with their reflections and hopped into bed. Extraverts talked quietly to each other about the questions and then left to go to a real party after.

It’s been many years since I’ve hosted a gathering on New Year’s Eve though unbelievably I did manage to attend one last year! There were no surveys though and by the time I realized this, it was too late to curate one.

I had brunch with my childhood friend Alice, in town from New York, just a few days ago. As we were parting ways, she said, “If you make a survey, send it to me!”

So here you go Alice and here you go everyone! I highly recommend printing this out or copying it down onto real paper, but I suppose you could just look at it on your phone and think about the answers. If you thought your New Year’s Eve in front of the TV with a box of Wheat Thins was going to be boring, it has now turned into the Reflective Event of the Year!

Happy Surveying to You and Yours. I, for one, hope to get back into surveys in 2019. May there be many more where this came from.

2018 Year in Review

What three verbs summarize your year?

What things (if any) made you laugh this year?

 What things (if any) made you cry?

 Who was there for you this year? Who were you there for?

 Did you make any 2018 New Year’s Resolutions?

 If so, are you able to recall or look up what they were?

 If you have any idea of what they were, how did you do meeting those aspirations?

 If you have no idea what they were, or didn’t make any, why?

 Did you receive any odd holiday cards this year? If you didn’t understand them, did you contact the sender for clarity?

Draw a picture of the Typical You of 2018:

 

 

2019 Year in Preview

What ways of being do you want to continue into 2019? 

What do you want to add/change in the new year? 

What superhuman powers will you need to live the way you want to live this year?

What people, things, or situations are going to limit your dreams for the new year?

 Can you imagine any way to limit the limitations?

Draw an encounter between the Typical You of 2018 (see your previous drawing) on their worst day and the Typical You of 2019 on their best day.

 

 

 

Now save a copy of this somewhere so that you remember what you’re hoping for this year.

Happy 2019!!!