I found Ali Kaplan on Instagram. Her bio reads: “I shop. A lot.” So of course, I wanted to hear more about how she spends her days!
(Spoiler alert: She does shop. A lot. But there’s a lot more on her daily plate, including merging her boys pretty seamlessly into her daily work when she can. She has an interesting take on her reasons behind that decision, which really resonated with me.)
If you’re in Minneapolis, you’ll want to follow her. If you’re not, you’ll still want to peek in on her finds. I really hope you enjoy this walk alongside Ali.
After years of waking to the stares of small humans in need of food and cuddles, I’m pretty much always the first one up on weekdays. Summer activities for Oscar, 11, and Ezra, eight, start at 9:00 a.m., and I think I’ve had to wake them almost every day. Bedtime tends to creep later and later in the summer as we take advantage of every ounce of the day here in the Twin Cities.
I get up between 6:00 and 6:45, depending on how late I was up the night before (generally too late). I start thinking about what’s on tap for the day the minute the alarm sounds so I jump right up to get to it. I give myself one moment to breathe and clear my head…and then I fire up the phone while brushing my teeth. Email, social media, CNN headlines, The Skimm.
I relish the quiet time in the morning, when the house is my own and messes have yet to be made. I take few minutes to open up all the blinds and curtains — I love how the morning light streams in through the family room and touches the edge of the kitchen in our 1950s rambler. We live in Golden Valley, a quiet suburb filled with midcentury modern homes on the edge of Minneapolis. There are days it still weirds me out that I live in the ‘burbs, but this is the perfect compromise: we have the yard, the friendly neighborhood, the good school district, but we’re also five minutes from downtown, and just a few blocks from bike paths that will take you around many Minneapolis lakes, through downtown, to the Mississippi River, and even into St. Paul without ever getting on the road. This morning, like most, the street outside our house is quiet, save for the occasional dog walker.
I’d like to make myself a latte, but I don’t want to waste my precious writing minutes. So I tiptoe into our (who am I kidding? my) home office/extra bedroom. I’ve got a deadline today for a feature I’m writing for Delta Sky Magazine and it still needs some polishing. Often I can get more done in that early hour before the day gets going than I can all afternoon at my office.
On a day when I don’t have too much work hanging over my head, I’ll run over to the gym for a quick workout, and get back before the kids wake up. Ideally, that would happen at least three times a week. In reality, I’m lucky if it’s once or twice. Besides, today is Thursday — the morning of my weekly segment on the Fox 9 Morning Buzz — so I have to leave a little earlier than usual.
Okay, so that’s two gigs I’ve mentioned before 9:00 a.m., neither one of which is my full-time day job! I’m the senior editor of shopping and style for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. I’ve been with the magazine for six years. Prior to that I was a newspaper reporter and columnist. Early on in my career, I covered everything from city council meetings to trials to murder scenes, but in my last newspaper job, at the St. Paul Pioneer Press — which brought me back to my native Minnesota — I covered fashion and retail, writing a column and developing an expertise on the subject. That lead to my blog, Ali Shops, a radio show, Shop Girls on myTalk107.1, which I host every Saturday morning with my mother! And also to frequent TV appearances, like the regular spot I do on the Twin Cities’ Fox affiliate, where I talk about everything from fashion trends and cool products to new stores and best sales.
For a style editor, I’d say I’m pretty un-fussy. Only recently have I started wearing foundation, and only for TV. Blame HD. My friend, the makeup artist Fatima Olive recently recommended Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation when I want more coverage. Smart tip: she suggested I get it in two shades, darker for summer and lighter for the paler days of winter. It goes on smooth and without dreaded caking or lines that generally make me loathe foundation. Before applying that, I start with Origins GinZing eye cream, which is a great wake up call, de-puffing and brightening, like the label promises! Other essentials in my makeup bag: Bobbi Brown Corrector and Concealer, Sephora eyeliner (glides right on — I’m terrible with pencils!), and Origins GinZing mascara.
Perhaps even more important is what I don’t do, and that’s wash my hair. Never in the morning. And rarely even a day or two before TV (Yes, I do shampoo around my TV schedule. There. I said it). I’d say three days after washing is about when my hair is at its best, and I can generally get a week out of it, thanks to a few spritzes of dry shampoo on the in between days. It’s healthier for my thick, wavy hair, and saves me SO MUCH TIME!
I often listen to a podcast while I’m in the bathroom getting ready. I love StartUp from Gimlet Media. Also anything NPR, especially Planet Money. Pretty much all things media, tech, start up, retail and trend are fascinating to me. Oh, and for something totally different, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. It’s this whole other side of Alec, trust me!
So this brings us to about 7:45 and my people are still sleeping. I head into the kitchen to make lunches, which is a daily challenge. Both of my boys have recently declared themselves vegetarians, which I’m in no position to fight, since I’m a longtime veg head myself. Of course, I actually eat vegetables and get protein from beans and tofu, which I’ve pointed out to Oscar, who is really more of a noodletarian at the moment. Ezra loves salads and sushi and many vegetables, which is great, but he won’t eat sandwiches! Mind you: he eats bread; he eats cheese. Just never together! I’d like to tell you I’m whipping up arugula salads and deviled eggs like my cheffy friend Molly, whose beautiful Instagram shots @mollylherrmann of the lunches she packs for her son make me feel equal parts inspired and inadequate. On a real Mother-of-the-Year type week, I’ll make a batch of egg salad on Sunday night to pack in lunches. But today, it’s going to be cream cheese bagels. Carrots for Ezra, cucumber slices for Oscar, baked cheese puffs (thank you, Trader Joe’s), and apple sauce squeezies (how did we even function before fruit was available in tube form?!).
Then I slice up some strawberries and set them out on the kitchen table. See, if I ask the boys if they want strawberries for breakfast, they might say no. But if the fruit is in front of them, experience tells me, they’ll just eat it! I am about to finally make that latte, when I hear the troops stirring, so I go open their shades to speed things along.
Confession time. I still lay out clothes for my kids. Call me an enabler. Call me a helicopter parent. Call me a style editor. Whatever. I know my boys are quite capable of grabbing a t-shirt and shorts, and often, they do. They’re pretty good at matching, too! But on mornings when we need to be out the door on time, it’s just quicker this way. And here’s the crazy part: they will put on whatever I lay out! Could be a chicken costume. They don’t care! Note to self: I should test that chicken costume theory sometime. Just not on a school or camp day.
While the boys finish dressing, I scoot back to my desk to print my notes for TV and take one final check of email before packing up my bag. The boys come in and throw themselves on the couch, peppering me with questions about what’s going on today.
I usher them to the kitchen table, where they automatically begin gobbling those strawberry slices. This is when my groggy husband appears. I’ll cut him some slack because he was up late grading papers and he has to teach a class tonight from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. He’s a professor in a doctoral program where most of the students are professionals, so a lot of the classwork happens in the evening. This means he can be home in the mornings, but is often gone a couple of nights a week.
He offers to take over finishing breakfast and lunch prep, but the truth is, chaotic as the mornings can get and as many directions as I feel pulled, I like to have this early time with my kids whenever possible. I like talking to them about day will hold, and hearing what’s on their minds. I like quizzing them on spelling test days. Knowing what they’re eating. I like making sure all the details of the day have been considered (Water bottles? Check! Afternoon snacks? Check! Oscar’s script for theater rehearsal? Check! Goggles for swimming? Whoops! Go grab ‘em, Ezra!). My husband shakes his head and tries to reassure me he’s got it even as he thanks me for printing out the permission slip for tomorrow’s field trip, which he may or may not have forgotten.
One summer task I am only too happy to delegate: sunscreen and bug spray application. Rustin tackles that, and then drives the boys. Ezra to day camp; Oscar to rehearsal for Guys & Dolls, the summer musical at our community center. I take off for the TV station. All that time in the kitchen, and I never managed to eat breakfast myself, so I grab a banana and a granola bar on the way out the door. Still haven’t had any coffee.
I arrive at the TV station a few minutes after 9:00 for my 9:30 a.m. appearance. Today feels luxurious. Generally I have lots of products with me to assemble on the display table, but today, it’s just me, sitting on the couch with the hosts offering a preview of Target’s new children’s line Cat & Jack and explaining why it’s significant. I sent the producer product images to show while I talk.
Back in the Dark Ages when I attended journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you had to pick a track: print or broadcast. I was print all the way, and really never imagined I’d one day be on TV or hosting a radio show. Not to mention, writing a blog, working on a mobile app (more on that later) and broadcasting chunks of my life and work on social media! There are days I long for a couple fewer things to do, but overall, I love that I get to wear so many hats. Ultimately, everything I do relates to content: creating it, and sharing it. I appreciate the challenge of thinking about how I can tell a story in many different ways. I love that every day is different.
After TV, I head to the magazine offices in downtown Minneapolis. Finally, coffee! I treat myself to a skim vanilla latte from the Caribou Coffee in the lobby. Today, the senior editors are meeting with the new class of interns to tell them what to expect. I also need to check in with the events team. It may be summer, but my head is in fall because we are in the throws of planning our big annual fall fashion show, Fashionopolis. Tickets go on sale this week, and it always sells out!
Depending on where we are in the monthly cycle of putting together the magazine, I’m in the office probably three or four days a week, mostly for meetings. Making a magazine requires a lot of collaboration, but so much of what I do requires me to be out and about: interviews, store visits, photo shoots, media appearances. The relative flexibility is what keeps me sane. If one of my kids needs to see the dentist in the middle of the day, I know I can take him. The trade off is, I’m always working at night. That’s when I am finally able to sit down and do most of my writing.
Between meetings, I pick up sushi (vegetarian!) and eat it at my desk (it’s a cubicle, folks!) because I’m in a hurry to get out of the office…and go shopping. Seriously. I’ve got several photo shoots coming up for our September issue, and I need to see what fall merchandise is arriving in stores. As a city magazine, we love to celebrate what’s available locally. I head to the North Loop, which is just minutes from my office. If you visit Minneapolis, it’s a must! North Loop is the hottest neighborhood for sure, with nationally acclaimed restaurants like Spoon & Stable, and some of the best boutiques in town. For your hit list: MartinPatrick 3, D.NOLO, the Foundry Home Goods, and Grethen House. Grab a coffee at the Bachelor Farmer Café, where all the hipsters refuel throughout the day.
When I’m visiting stores for work, I try to stay focused and avoid shopping for myself – that would be dangerous. At the same time, as a working mom, the ability to multi-task is enormously helpful when I need to grab a birthday gift or, um, a new pair of shoes.
The thing about my job: it’s really a lifestyle. If I didn’t enjoy it, it would be miserable because I’m sort of always doing it; even when I’m running mundane personal errands, I’m observing shopping habits or trends or having experiences that make their way into my columns and blog posts. I know some parents try to draw a distinct line between work and home life. I’ve gone the opposite way. From the time my boys were babies, I took them shopping with me because it’s a part of my job I could do with them, and I’d always rather be with them. So I got very efficient about taking care of interviews and meetings and things that require talking to other people while they are at school or activities, and then grouping product pulls or checking out new stores for times when they could go with me.
Do they complain? Sure, sometimes. That period of time when my oldest was scared of mannequins proved especially challenging, but we worked through it. I think it’s good for the boys to see what I do, to learn how to behave during a professional interaction. And there’s the added benefit that they don’t expect to buy something every time we go to a store. They know it’s Mommy’s work.
Speaking of, I pick the boys up on the early side today because I want to swing by the Mall of America, and I figured that’s something I could do with them…especially on a night when Dad will be home late. Ezra’s baseball season has ended — of course, fall ball is right around the corner — but for now, we have our evenings back. Some nights, that means a bike ride or getting together with friends. Tonight, it’s the mall. An international tourist attraction, the Mall of America is our local mall and a place where I do a lot of work. It’s so routine for my boys, they don’t even bother asking if we can ride roller-coasters tonight.
After years of writing about the ins and outs of the largest mall in America, I decided to organize everything I know about the place — from nicest bathrooms and best bargain racks to free stuff to entertain kids — into an independent mobile guide called Ali Shops Mall of America. It’s kind of like the ultimate concierge in the palm of your hand. My goal is to eventually create editorial-driven guides at other major malls throughout the country. My kids think they are special correspondents, and in a way, they are. Seeing how they react to a new ride or restaurant or the interesting places they find to sit while I look at dresses often guides my recommendations to readers. Tonight, we visit a few stores, snap a few pictures, and as a thank you for their cooperation, I treat them to bubble tea.
We end up having dinner at the mall, at Piada Italian Street Food. No matter where we eat, we like to go around the dinner table and do roses and thorns, where we each tell something good that happened during the day, and something bad. I think it’s important to address both. I’m going to consider today a success, seeing as Oscar’s only thorn was downtime at rehearsal, and Ezra’s was not getting to play baseball at the park this evening…which I’m not going to feel too bad about, seeing as my husband and I have played with him every other night this week. Turns out, I’m not a bad pitcher.
We head home and still have about an hour before bedtime. Ezra sits down at the kitchen table to draw; Oscar heads to the computer to write. So fascinating to see how differently their brains work! I helped Oscar launch his own blog this summer, which has been such a fun project. I’m equally glad that Ezra has something of his own to take pride in: his artwork was accepted in the youth division of the Uptown Art Fair, one of the biggest art fairs of the summer in Minneapolis, so he’s been busily adding geometric drawings to his collection to get ready for that.
We end the evening on Ezra’s bed. He reads some Diary of a Wimpy Kid to me, and I read a few pages to him. Oscar practically knows the book by heart, but he joins anyway, for the cuddle time. Rustin gets home as we’re turning off the lights.
I give Rustin the highlights of the day as he eats a late dinner. It would be sooo nice to flop onto the sofa now and watch Silicon Valley, but I’ve got a blog post to write. He has papers to grade.
It’s after midnight when I get into bed, and I’m thinking about Arianna Huffington. Yep, Arianna Huffington: media tycoon turned sleep evangelist. I interviewed her recently, and as she described her elaborate sleep rituals, I ended up confessing that I go to bed in an old t-shirt, and finish my day by making a to-do list for tomorrow. The act of actually writing down what needs to happen tomorrow helps me go to sleep with a clear head rather than worrying that I’ve forgotten something.
To-do lists are fine, Arianna said, but she suggested I follow that with a gratitude list. Three things I’m grateful for to end the day on a positive note. Sure, the to-dos are never-ending, but today was productive. Moreover, it was fun. I’m so lucky that work takes me many different places and to meet many interesting people. I’m so lucky that I can do what I do and still be home most days for breakfast and dinner. I’m happy that I spent the evening with my kids, and even managed to sneak in a little work while making sure they had some fun. And ultimately, I’m excited about the man who is about to spoon me, and at peace knowing my kids are snoring just down the hall.
I’m asleep as my head hits the pillow. My husband says it’s my special talent.
Ali, you’re amazing. You’re so lucky to be able to spend some time with your boys while you work — you made it through Oscar’s fear of mannequins! — and I especially loved this parenting point: “I think it’s good for the boys to see what I do, to learn how to behave during a professional interaction.”
As for ending the day with a gratitude list, I’m remembering this tonight, for sure. There’s always a lot to add to my task list, but definitely many more things for which to say a heartfelt thank you!