Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

Do you have phrases you’ve picked up along the way that make you feel better? Words you repeat to yourself on bad days, in trying times, on those inevitable afternoons where somehow you’re stranded without a ride and it starts to rain and you have no umbrella? I’m thinking specifically of an afternoon of torrential downpour in Manhattan where I went to pick mini up from school and she immediately wiped out on the slick streets and, as I then carried her crying through the rain, stupidly decided it would be best to get in a cab back uptown, and then we sat in gridlocked traffic for thirty minutes and made it one avenue, so I jumped out and ran with mini through the storm to the nearest subway stop — Penn Station — which is basically the closest approximation to Hell I can imagine, especially on a rainy day, and the 1 platform was about as far as physically possible from where we entered the station, and when we arrived, we did not realize that the 1 track was being shared with the 7 line and got onto the wrong train after waiting 14 minutes and had to stop and switch at another stop and OH MY GOD. Definitely a case of Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Today, I’m sharing a string of “footholds,” as I’ve come to think of them — little perches I use when I need to marshal my energy on particularly tempestuous or stressful days.

Focus on me, not on the storm.” (The prayer I repeated to myself over and over during my second c-section. Saying those words, I actually felt my vision focus, as if I was being drawn into a narrow corridor, and the scariness around me blurred into the periphery. More on this here.)

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” (This is by Charles Darwin and I think of it often, especially in parenting matters, where I aspire to be the green reed that bends rather than the mighty oak that snaps in the storm. Parenting has required, for me, a continuous openness to changing course, tinkering, re-evaluating what’s working and what’s not. The same is true in my experience with entrepreneurship. Mr. Magpie told me early on “What works for your first 100 customers won’t work for your next 100” — meaning that things change as you scale and you must be adaptable.)

These are the days that must happen to you.” -Walt Whitman (Always helps me poke my head up over the crest and realize that there is more ahead. More here.)

The only way out is through.” (Wrote about this here.)

When we worry about things, we end up living them twice.”

Things must end to begin again.” I’ve always been bad at endings. These words brings me peace.

We were together; I forget the rest.” -Walt Whitman (actually an abridgment of his words, but I prefer the concision). Whenever I think on these words, I zoom way out of whatever’s in front of me and realize how insignificant the details will be in a matter of days or weeks. Eventually, I will only remember being with my loved ones.


Not everything that weighs you down is yours to carry.” Helpful to perform a loose accounting of what’s on my mind and to let go of the things outside of my purview.

One more minute.” I borrowed this from a mantra a Magpie reader shared in the comments section on this Getting-to-Know-You post, and I love it. I reminds me not to get caught up in the long road ahead. It also helps when I am at my wit’s end in parenting matters, or when I was massively pregnant and uncomfortable.

If you understood how frequently people cope by projecting, you’d learn to take absolutely nothing personally.” – Octavia Butler. Ultra-helpful when reeling from a tense situation with friends/loved ones. I find these words also remind me to lead with empathy and think through what might be going on beneath the hood.

People will kill you over time, and how they’ll kill you is with tiny, harmless phrases, like ‘be realistic.’” -Dylan Moran. I have in fact been surrounded by more patrons than detractors my entire life but there have still been moments where I have warmed my hands around this sentiment and gone boldly in a different direction.

If all were rain and never sun, No bow could span the hill; If all were sun and never rain, There’d be no rainbow still.” -Christina Rossetti. Cheesy but true — brighter days ahead only appreciable by contrast.

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.” – Max Ehrmann, part of his incredible “Desiderata.” I have especially taken this to heart over the past two years, after realizing I sometimes speak to myself with a somewhat nasty tone of voice!

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville. Giddy up! Muscle through those hard days! Persist!

What about you? What words give you the boost you need to make it through the blahs, the grays, the darks?


+Favorite literary quotes.

+On chasing my would-be husband.

+A bit of fiction.

Shopping Break.

+This Ulla dress is spectacular. Love the pleating, length, ties, pattern…and this similarly silhouetted beauty from the same brand is on sale!

+Are you kidding me with this adorable $20 fur-trim coat for a little lady in the cherry red?!

+This well-priced satin handbag would be so chic for all of your holiday festivities! Also comes in a fun and very bold green color.

+The colorblocking on this little boy’s fleece is so good.

+If you’re still on the hunt for a Thanksgiving dress, this popular style is fully stocked in all sizes and under $125.

+These chelsea boots are super good looking for your man. (I often give shoes as holiday gifts because Mr. Magpie will rarely buy them for himself.) Mr. Magpie’s cousin emailed me about this Australian brand — he’d just invested in a pair himself and encouraged me to introduce the label to my readers!

+OO do I need these pine tree motif goblets for the holiday table?!

+This townhouse ornament!!!

+PSA: I found a little cache of highly-covetable Le Lion sweaters on sale for 50% off here!

+Jennifer Behr inspired velvet headbands for under $20. The perfect accoutrement for your Thanksgiving look.

+Speaking of Jennifer Behr, just treated myself to these Jennifer Behr-inspired hair slides!

+These square placemats are fun — also love these quilted ones.

+Love cheese crisps and cheese straws to serve alongside a happy hour cocktail. Was just thinking it would be cute to empty a bundle of these into a cellophane bag and tie off with a ribbon when going to enjoy a drink at a friend’s house.

+This dress looks so comfortable and easy to wear…chic!

+Have a feeling this well-priced, puff-sleeved tartan dress will be tres popular this winter. More fab tartan finds here.

+Adore this platter for holiday dishes/treats, and I love this holiday mug for holiday tea.

+I’ve shared gift ideas for babies and young children but not yet for older kids. This light-up basketball would be perfect for a slightly older boy. I’m thinking of getting these for our neighbors, 6 and 8. I recently bought them these model sets from Revell for their birthdays — another good standby for that age group.

+This cake stand is gorgeous and so reasonably priced.

+Lots of seasonal wedding guest dress options here.

+Such a fabulous statement necklace.

+Already stocking up on some activities for the children to enjoy during Thanksgiving so the adults can linger at the table for more than ten minutes. I’m going to get these classic turkey paper crowns and maybe these “I’m thankful for” turkeys or these coloring postersa. Crackers are always a hit, too!

+These ribbon candy trees are beyond chic for a mantle/tablescape.

+OMG this puppet theatre for children! Beyond adorable. Another great big-ticket item idea for holidays.

+These decorative flocked trees are fab!

+Head here for all things holiday.

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34 thoughts on “Footholds.

  1. Mine is definitely your “pressure is a choice” which stopped me in my tracks when I read it several years ago. Similar to “when we worry about things, we love them twice” is helps me pause and reflect on the source of my urgency and stress.

  2. love the comments on this post!

    I find myself often repeating “just do the next right thing” …..which I think is from Frozen? Lol. I can get overwhelmed by the perpetual intention/to do/improvement list and this always helps to manageably focus me on what is in front of me.

    1. Totally — that’s a great one because it both breaks down the vastness of the future into something more immediate and manageable and also reminds me you to keep your moral compass finely tuned. Thanks for sharing that one too!


  3. “Because I cannot govern events, I govern myself” has helps me to quell the control-freak within– especially over the past 1.5 years!

  4. Oh I love this so much!!

    Some of mine –

    “Be not afraid/I go before you always” (yes, from the hymn)

    “You can’t control the weather” – a reminder from my mom that some things really are just out of our control

    “Just win the next five” – a strategy from my hs volleyball coach to break the 25 pt game down into 5 smaller pieces. I often say to myself “just win the next 5” when I’m feeling stuck.

    “Sh!t Happens” – for me I think of this in the context of one of my Ignatian theology professors, who said that most of life falls somewhere in between “everything happens for a reason” (everything is pre-destined) and “sh!t happens” (it’s all random), but sometimes stuff really does just happen and we don’t have to learn from it or accept it as specifically ordained by God. Particularly helpful in this last year of so many covid deaths etc.

    “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live” – J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

    “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy” – the movie version of another HP quote

    I have a list of other favorite quotes and sayings but these are the words I find myself using as footholds!

    1. Oo these are so, so good. I especially love the “Be not afraid / I go before you always” which is one of my favorite hymns, right behind the slightly cheesy but soaring “And He will raise you up on Eagle’s wings.” I love love that song. Super nostalgic and brings me back to attending Mass in the cold Church attached to my parochial grade school.

      Thanks for bringing that back for me today, and for sharing all of these great footholds!


  5. One of my major go to’s is from my Teacher, Baba Hari Dass, a silent monk:
    “Don’t think you are carrying the whole world. Make it play. Make it a prayer.”

  6. Okay, so here are a few I have repeated to myself a few hundred times:

    From my father (one of the smartest men I have ever known), “With age comes perspective.”

    From my sister (one of the most generous, kindest women I know), “Life by the yard is hard, but by the inch it’s a cinch.”

    One that I have been repeating incessantly the last month or so and am not sure to whom I should credit, “Faith over fear.”

    I would commonly refer to these as mantras, but will now be calling them footholds.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing these — I love how each has its connection to someone you love and trust. Beautiful. “Faith over fear” indeed!!!


  7. I also love “the only way out is through.”

    Similar sentiment to some mentioned above, but GK Chesterton’s “It is easy to be heavy, it is hard to be light.” Helps me remember that I want to be positive and if at all possible, breezy (cue the Monica answering machine scene from Friends)!

    This one by Anais Nin has helped me take leaps before: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

    1. Heather — I love the idea that “it’s easy to be heavy, hard to be light.” It is so true. I am going to be thinking on this phrase for the next few days. Like, what are the things I can shed and how can I focus on all the good stuff?!


  8. I’ve never thought of them as “footholds” before, but I love the imagery it conjures up. A few of my go-to’s for perspective when I’m struggling, whether it be during a rough hour or trying to make it through a rough week:

    “The only way out is through.”
    “Remember the days when you prayed for what you have now.”
    “The world owes you nothing; it was here first.” – Mark Twain (I think!).
    “The days are long and the years are short” sums up motherhood so well. There’s a reason it’s a cliche.

    1. “Remember the days when you prayed for what you have now.” Wow! This stopped me in my tracks this morning. Thank you so much for sharing it here.


  9. I love this post. THANK YOU and I hope to incorporate more of these sentiments into my daily thoughts.

    I always tell my kids “I’ve got bigger fish to fry”, if I’m feeling listless/meh “We’re all here, we may as well have fun” (reminder that just being here is worthwhile on its own) and another “the easiest thing in the world to do it complain” (kind of a reminder to celebrate the positive, and that negativity is often brought out by the ease with which it is dispelled. i love the notion of not complaining and pointing out when circumstances are great (ahh this fall weather, writing in to recognize great customer service, etc!)

    thanks for the inspo.

    1. These are fantastic, and I especially agree with the last one on so many fronts. Pessimism is always cooler, and easier! I mainly want to surround myself who live life with genuine enthusiasm and gratitude!


  10. I often find myself repeating the refrain from “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You have to go through it.

    And when I want to be easier on myself and the world, Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, particularly the opening line: “You do not have to be good.”

    1. Love both of these. Your quotation of the Bear Hunt book reminded me that my mother used to tell me to repeat: “I think I can, I think I can” to myself, a la The Little Engine that Could. I find myself telling my own daughter to do the same. The power of positive thinking!!


    2. Sarah, yes! I say this one to myself nearly as often as to my children, both because I enjoy the stiff-upper-lip encouragement and for the fun of the following sibilance. Owl Moon has a lovely one too: “when you go owling, you don’t need words or warm or anything but hope.” I fancy the singular focus in it. A last one I say often that is not from a children’s book is from Jon McPhee: “The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.” Humbling and inspiring in the same blow.

  11. I love the overlapping ideas of footholds, prayers, and mantras — a mantra being something we say to ourselves and a prayer being something we say to a higher power who is listening. And feeling listened to is everything, right? I love that you feature Whitman more than once, here; I often joke that Whitman’s poetry should be cross-listed in the self-help section. He always soothes me. (And “Song of Myself” has such perfect mantras to adapt – already in the first person!) “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is also a foothold poem for me in tough times: “It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, …”

    1. Oh wow — love the “dark patches” quote and hadn’t heard it. Pocketing that for future footholding…

      Also love your disambiguation of prayer from mantra. Stirring to think about today!


  12. I almost always lean on the matra, Just breathe! So often, when I lose my foothold in life, it takes my breath away, and I feel so out of control. I tell myself to stop and just breathe. It calms me and at some point, later on that day or even after I’ve slept on the problem/issue, I can tackle it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my problems cannot be properly addressed until I am calm and think clearly.
    We all learn through life the best ways to handle ourselves. It takes time and too many errors before we figure it out! If other people are involved, I’ve learned the hard way to ask myself “If you were on the receiving end of what you’re about to say or do, how would YOU feel”? It’s important to me, maybe not for everyone, but life would be so much better if we didn’t have to hurt others with our responses. (Easier said than done, but I try!)

    1. Such great insights — especially the note on taking a beat to regain composure. I definitely hurtle myself full force into things and would do well to remember to step back and breathe.

      Thank you!


  13. I love this idea of footholds! You had a post on favorite quotations a while back that I similarly loved and I realized many of my favorite quotes are concise or one-liners that I can repeat to myself in certain situations.

    “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” From Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, which I believe you recently featured as well. Along those same lines, some variation of “what is meant for you will not pass you by” to deal with a disappointment like not getting what I thought was a dream job.

    Also from Desiderata, to remind myself to be kind to myself: “You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

    As a new mom, the message from the Moms on Call books (I’m paraphrasing) that God chose me specifically to be the mother of my child has been comforting as I blunder through.

    To remain hopeful amidst the horrors of systematic racism, white nationalism, and police brutality, MLK: “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

    A Whitman favorite that allows me to change my mind/grow/adapt: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

    And so many Mary Oliver lines lend words to my deeply-felt convictions but the most important to me is “What is it you plan to do with your with your one wild and precious life?” (emphasis for me on the ONE.)

    1. Hi Nicki! These are fantastic — thank you so much for sharing them. I love especially the message from “Moms on Call,” which is both empowering and moving.


  14. The wife of a dear friend once said something so breathtakingly rude to me that I spent months afterwards turning it over in my head. Eventually I settled on the conclusion that her comment said more about her than it did about me. I try to keep that in the back of my mind whenever I tense situation with another person arises. Very similar to the Octavia Butler quote above, actually. Not to absolve myself of guilt in situations when I am clearly in the wrong, but to remind myself that in situations like that, the other person probably had a lot of her own feelings that didn’t involve me fueling the comment.

    1. Hi Anna! I so know the road you traveled with that incident. I had something similar happen a year ago and I landed in the same place — which in the end I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to arrive at. Still, wow — experience is a cruel teacher!


  15. In the throes of many exasperated and sleepless nights with a newborn, my husband turned to me and said, “On the radar screen of our lives this will be a tiny blip.” That comment instantly changed my perception. I’ve referred to those wise words many times since. And remarkably, I look back now at those sleepless nights with loving nostalgia.

    1. Hi Nan – Oh yes! It is so helpful to zoom out like that when you’re wondering how you’ll ever make it through. Along the same lines, a Magpie reader suggested asking yourself: “Will this matter in a week? In a month? In a year? In ten years?” It’s so helpful to remember that many of these situations are very short-lived, without much anticipated long-term repurcussions.

      Thanks for sharing!


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