It’s Never the Cream.

By: Jen Shoop

This week, I underwent the harrowing annual experience of a Thanksgiving week Whole Foods visit. Even when we plan our Thanksgiving meal prep with militaristic precision, there are still things we forget, or (in this case) weekend logistics that get in the way of the best laid plans.

The lot was gridlocked. I found myself waiting, with my signal on, for an elderly woman to get into her car so I could take her spot. The driver behind me laid on the horn, likely not seeing that I was waiting for this woman to turn on her lights and reverse out of the spot. I sat there for what felt like an eternity (but was in actuality under 30 seconds) waiting for the car to back out while this woman honked and gesticulated with increasing wildness behind me. I pointed to the spot, and tried to yell back: “She’s coming out!” and the woman screamed back: “There are other spots, lady!” I did not see any in my immediate vicinity, and at this point, the car was reversing. I finally pulled in and the driver behind me careened around, yelling obscenities out the window in my general direction. Nervously, I walked into the Whole Foods and immediately saw the angry driver enter the store behind me. I found myself waiting for punishment as I skittishly selected my carrots and brussels sprouts. When I stole a look at the woman, I could tell she was pretending not to see me. It is so much easier to unleash frustration on someone when you are not face to face. For a split second, I contemplated approaching her with some kind of message, but what was there to say? The likelihood a confrontation in the supermarket would yield anything good was next to nil. (I thought, too, of Mr. Magpie’s frequent adage when encountering a situation where it appears that one party has bats in the belfry: “D.N.E.” or “Do not engage.”) Moreover, I was, frankly, relieved that she chose not to engage with me. After, I found myself walking around the shop as though on tenterhooks. When I returned home, I was unloading the groceries and Mr. Magpie held up the $8 bottle of fancy cream I’d bought for the mashed potatoes. “Why’d you get half and half?” he asked. “We need cream.” I burst into tears on the spot.

He knew, of course, it wasn’t the cream. It’s never the cream.

I stood there, wilted. A swarm of thoughts surrounded me, and I took some time to filter through them while putting pen to journal paper. Below, some insights that I am burnishing as I head into the holiday season, when stress levels can run high and interactions with others can run amok.

My first rivulet of thought was: how could I let a total stranger upset me in this way? I do not think I did anything wrong, but — at worst — I introduced a thirty second delay into her life, and her response was disproportionate. I rationally see that I should be able to let her aggression bounce right off me, as it was unmerited and seemingly blindly directed. This reminds me of one of themes I have returned to month after month in my mid-to-late 30s, as I try to unstrap myself from the habit of self-blame: You cannot control the behavior of others. Her flare-up said little about me and a lot about her.

My second, and more generous, thought: the holidays can be stressful, and people act in weird ways during them. I should give her a grace note and move on with my life. Maybe she was about to hit the road for a ten hour drive and I was inching her closer to rush hour. Maybe it’s the first Thanksgiving she’s spending on her own. Trust me, I can invent a thousand sob stories that will sufficiently fill in the blank. It is hard, though, to extend that kind of understanding when you are offered something entirely different. Still, it’s a north star, and something I hope to keep in the front of my mind during this season in particular. This is a time that calls for a gentle headspace.

Third, the fact that I burst into tears over this altogether minor scenario suggests I need to prioritize rest. This feels next to impossible to accomplish this week, with plans chock-a-block, but I came across a quote a few weeks ago that said: “Rest is more than napping on the sofa. Rest is anything that makes our nervous systems feel safe enough for our stress responses to switch off so our minds and bodies can recover and restore.” I am sitting here, drawing up a mental list of what those things might be — an early bedtime, a light-hearted book, taking a break from my desk to drop off a little gift I picked up from Whole Foods for a neighbor.

Which brings me to my final thought: we publish the good news. Yesterday, I took my children to see a staged performance of “A Year with Frog and the Toad” (an adaptation of the series by Arnold Lobel) at Imagination Stage. It was adorable, with clever sets and silly lyrics and actors who give it their all. The performance tracks frog and toad around a calendar year, cycling through all the seasons, and ends with a darling Christmas cheer song that felt like the perfect way for us to ease into the holidays. My children were transfixed! The only reason I knew about this performance was because one of my neighbors generously offered us four tickets. I do not know this particular neighbor very well and was deeply touched that she’d thought of us. I sat in the theater and thought how special it was to watch my son double over in laughter, and climb onto my lap during “the scary part,” and kick off the holiday season in this festive way, all because of my neighbor’s generosity.

I have a point: I could either headline the Whole Foods visit as “The Time a Stranger Yelled at Me” or “The Time I Went to Buy My Neighbor a Thank You Gift for Treating My Family to a Special Holiday Performance.” I think we all know the one that sticks. We publish the good news.

I’m wishing you all the happiest, coziest holiday season, but if you anticipate or find turbulence, I’m giving you a little squeeze and hoping some of my takeaways above might help smooth things out.



+A podcast on apologies that blew my mind.

+Give yourself a soft landing when you need it!

+Pertinent this week: how to fill your cup when you’re short on time.

+Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

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Shopping Break.

The following content may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+I did update the shopping section of yesterday’s post to include a few sales I came across post-publication, including Doen (don’t miss my favorite top!) and Lake. You know how I feel about their Relax Set — treat yourself! Incidentally, when I am upset about something, as I was after the WF incident, the most delightful self-indulgence for me is to take a hot shower, put on the Relax Set, slather my face with a hydrating overnight cream (currently loving this overnight skin recovery mask from EltaMD, and it’s 27% off with code JEN27), and get into bed with my hair wet (so relaxing for me even though I look like hell in the morning) to watch a cozy movie.

+These slingbacks from J. Crew are beyond chic.

+I just ordered myself this NodPod weighted eye mask. I shared it a few weeks ago and one of my friends wrote to say: “This gives me instant deep sleep.” Um, yes pls.

+A perfect navy wedding guest dress, currently 50% off from La Ligne.

+AHHH. I’m so tempted to order the Dyson Air Wrap while it’s $119 off (tick the box for discount to apply). I’ve been on the fence about this purchase forever! I have been collecting all the best Amazon Black Friday finds I’ve come across here. My top rec is this incredible bluetooth speaker! It’s virtually indestructible. We use it all summer long when we’re hanging out in the backyard / grilling / traveling. I can’t believe the price right now. This soft-sided Yeti travel cooler would be handy for summer / travel…and a couple of great toy deals there, too, including on Magna-tiles and Lego.

+Ordering a set of these melamine tartan plates. These are ideal for sending off with a plate of cookies to a neighbor / hostess and not requesting the plate back.

+The entire internet is on sale, but leave it to me to find the one thing “excluded from promo” — still, I am contemplating order this chic pointelle turtleneck from Gap! While there, check out these adorable tartan-lined jeans for your son. My boy owns a pair! They’re currently 50% off.

+There are some great men’s buys included in Shopbop’s 25% off sale. I love these NBs, these vintage socks, and this puffer vest. Also – these are Mr. Magpie’s favorite golf shorts. My top men’s picks that are a part of the sale here.

+Margaux demi ballet flats are on sale!

+This textured lace dress from H&M looks much more expensive than it is. Also LOVE this dramatic navy top (also H&M).

+This top coat in the hot pink or banana yellow!!! SO good and currently on serious sale.

+Bring the tinsel with these $50 sequin pants.

+Love these quilted velvet stockings!

+This tartan fleece is fun.

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30 thoughts on “It’s Never the Cream.

  1. Oh Jen! I’m so sorry this happened to you. “It’s never the cream” — I couldn’t agree more and I’ll be pocketing this statement as a shorthand reminder for dealing with heated situations. I find that it is true with my daughter too. When she is having a meltdown over something, I later find (after she and I debrief/process the situation when she’s calm) that she wasn’t really melting down about whatever that “thing” was. Often it is a series of triggers/sensory overload/overwhelm over the course of the day, and that “thing” was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

    YES to a “gentle headspace”, especially this season.

    1. Yes – so true with children, especially when they aren’t yet able to pinpoint or articulate the source of the frustration. It always comes out afterward, and sometimes at the strangest times!

      Thanks for the note —


  2. Your irate driver story reminded me of when I had the same experience! The person came into the store and confronted me, I pretended I didn’t speak English. Still makes me laugh!

  3. Jen,
    I am so very sorry you encountered this “person” (the best word I could use). I have found that as our cities grow, the entitled ones seem to dominate our otherwise serene landscape now. Where did these creatures come from, and how were they raised? It’s absolutely appalling to me. The DNE theory is easy to say but hard to do. Congratulations for your inner strength in not engaging.

    Another life lesson we must digest!
    Hugs and more hugs!

    1. Thank you so much, Cynthia 🙂 So appreciate all the solidarity, encouragement, perspective from my Magpies today. Thank you, friend.


  4. Jennifer—you’re so right. It’s never about the cream. The woman in the parking lot no doubt has her own (crazy) story.
    And the mashed potatoes will be wonderful—with heavy cream or half and half or milk or even a vegan substitute. Just breathe.

    I am probably your mother’s age and awaiting the arrival of my own (lovely) daughter and her family and just realized I am missing key ingredients for the tamales. (Side dish/long story/I’m in California). After a brief collapse into bed and tears I thought of Instacart (not used since the height of Covid). And as my husband said—it doesn’t matter. Anything is going to be fine.
    And in fact anything will be perfect.

    It’s not about the cream. It’s about love.
    Happy Thanksgiving

    1. Deborah! This note made me tear up. You are so right. Thanks for the reminder that it’s not about the cream, the messed up dish, the interaction with the stranger — it’s about the perspective that we have everything we need at home. Thank you for helping me reset my perspective.

      Just breathe!!


  5. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’ve been there and I always take it so personally too. I have also-I am not proud to admit-been the angry person honking. (If anyone is reading this and was in the Trader Joe’s parking lot in Chicago in November of 2016 my sincere apologies-I think about that meltdown often with a great deal of shame)

    I had and liked the Dyson Air Wrap until you showed me the light with the Revlon One-Step. I swear it is so much better. The Dyson does have the styling tools but for a basic blowout I much prefer the Revlon.

    1. Oh Melissa! Your public apology is moving and a reminder that we’ve all had our moments (yet another reason to let this woman off the hook!).

      Thanks for the note on the Revlon!! Still use and love it myself, too!!


  6. I had a similar situation recently. I live in Europe and travel between there and Asia more than I’d like. I detest flying and am always nervous because of the charged atmosphere and unknown elements of human behavior. I’m not a fearful flyer in the traditional way but am scared of others and the potential for meltdowns.

    We had a long flight in business class with all the lovely food and wine and even more lovely lie flat seat. All seemed fine. A woman around my age asked my husband to get her bag. He declined as he’s recovering from some back pain. She went nuts. Calling him horrible names and generally being abusive. I said nothing because I was so shocked. I’m also very non confrontational. Then she turned to me and told my husband, “your girl is ugly.”

    The funny thing is that now I’m deep in my 30s, I consider being called a girl a wonderful compliment!! I know this was 100% about her (and I suspect a copious amount of alcohol) but that unfairness of your incident really resonated. I’m certainly going to keep DNE in my mental toolkit when flying!

    1. Oh my God — I cannot even imagine this transpiring in real life? How ugly and awful! I’m sorry you had to experience that, but it’s so clear from afar that this says so much about her and nothing about you. SO hard not to take it personally but sheesh. Did anyone else on the plane lock eyes with you in distress/shock? Sometimes this has been my saving grace — catching the eye of a kind passerby during a situation like this reminds me that it’s not me, it’s the perpetrator!

      Anyway, so sorry to hear about that situation.

      I love that you’re “publishing the good news” by thinking about her slight as a compliment that you look youthful!! Such a great way to reclaim the moment and not let her win out!!

      DNE, girlie!


  7. A man once honked his horn at me because he hadn’t had the right of way. We drove into the same car park and I drove round a bit trying to get away from him. I eventually stopped as he kept following. He blocked my car in, screamed at me and, even after seeing my 8 year old nephew in the back, told me he would kill me if I ever got in his way again. He was a normal looking middle aged man with his wife in the car on a quiet afternoon. It really freaked me out. I guess what I’m saying is you can’t give grace to everyone if their reaction is massively disproportionate, although remembering the good is a good tactic to work for.

    I completely understand the crying, because it’s never about the cream.

    1. Victoria! What an ugly and terrifying interaction. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I cannot imagine a grown man behaving this way — so disturbing and beyond the pale. Sending you love — that would totally shake me up.


  8. I know this is tangential to your story, but this kind of horrible behavior is such a symptom of car culture and it really grinds my gears. Something about being behind the wheel of a car empowers people to be truly terrible to one another in a way that they wouldn’t dare to be when face-to-face. Case in point, the woman changing her tune as soon as you encountered each other inside the store. And as cars get larger and larger and cities get even more choked with traffic, the situation only worsens. I’ve been listening to the podcast The War on Cars a lot lately, so this has been on the mind. ANYWAY, I’ve definitely had experiences similar to yours and it’s just the absolute worst feeling. I hope it will soon become a distant memory.

    1. Hi Anna – So true! Landon and I were just discussing this downstairs! What is it — the sense of containment/physical separation? The fact that you can jet off in a second? The feeling of anonymity? One thing he observed is that there are a lot of cars in our area that have bumper stickers with local schools on them and whenever we see one of them driving aggressively, we can’t help but wonder “do we know that family?” and peering into the window. Not as anonymous as you’d think…!


    2. Anna!! This is such a salient point and I think about it all the time — as someone who prefers to walk or bike whenever possible, and detests driving in the closest city (which is 5 mins away across a river, lol) Just last week I was paused while at a green light, turning right (signaling!) while waiting for a pack of schoolchildren to cross the street (for which they had right of way). The person behind me laid on their horn and then sped around me while flipping the bird out the window!! I was more angry than sad or shaken, but I managed not to reciprocate. I love Jen’s framing for this type of situation, but it can be tough to deal with sometimes — and I fully agree that cars make everything SO much worse. Hence my life plan to always live somewhere where there is a culture of walking and cycling!

      Jen, I am always inspired by your optimism and grace!


      1. Ugh – I am so sorry that happened to you! It is so frustrating to be on the receiving end of someone’s misplaced impatience. I found it very hard to shake off!!


  9. Jen,I have to thank you for sharing this with us today. When you got to the part where you burst into tears, so did I. I am still enjoying a nice cry as I type and I am sending this to some friends and family. Life can be so stressful and beautiful all at the same time. We can get so worked up and it is overwhelming.Thank you for being here in this space today.

    1. Oh Marsha – you are so kind. I am so grateful to you for the solidarity! It moves me that my bursting into tears led you to tears, too — not my intention but so appreciate the compassion. It really can be (as you put it so well) equally stressful and beautiful around the holidays. Wishing you kind seas this season!!


  10. Years ago as I started a legal career in New York, I worked in an area that was quite combative, I was, and am!, a decidedly non combative person, but as I started my new job, one of the partners took me aside and told me that he used to do this job and that ‘some calls and interactions are not going to feel so good’ It was such a small thing but I have carried that with me years after leaving that firm. Any time I have a rude interaction or upsetting run in, I think of that. I think that it reassures me that these things happen to everyone sometimes and it’s almost never personal and that its ok to ‘not feel so good’ after such interactions.

    1. Deirdre – Thank you so much for this note and for sharing/paying forward your colleague’s comment. I love the way his note gives us a little elbow space to rise above the situation and realize “unpleasant things are going to happen, and that’s OK – we’ll get through them.” Just acknowledging that possibility makes it easier to cope with them when they materialize.

      Thanks for sharing —


  11. Ooph, the holiday hustle is a great reminder of one of those reframes that keep my boat afloat- If you don’t have time to meditate for five minutes, then you should meditate for an hour.
    When you feel like there’s no time to relax, it’s time to prioritize relaxing even more- too true.
    Here in solidarity.

    1. This is SUCH a good point. Amen amen. I took this fully on board last night. I had a lot to do, but instead, I relaxed with Mr. Magpie. Just what the doctor ordered.


  12. Sometimes these exceedingly rude interactions bring me to tears because they are so shocking! I guess that’s a privilege in and of itself: I’m not usually subject to rudeness by strangers, as some people of various religion/races/ethnicities/disabilities.

    But even acknowledging that, I’m still left breathless by these sort of rude interactions. One particular bad one was when I was traveling home for my grandfather’s funeral. A woman absolutely blew up at me for following the TSA’s pointed instructions, which necessitated me moving past her and her children. I immediately started crying. And then cried again when my dad picked me up at the airport and asked how my flight was. Sometimes there is little else you can do!

    1. Ouch, That interaction would have left me shaken as well. One thing I have learned, sadly, is that random people can be unpredictable and mean. I have to remind myself that at times. Hang in there!

      1. Echoing Laurie’s sentiment! This ties in well with Deirdre’s comment that “some interactions are not going to feel so good.” It’s just going to happen. We can’t control how others behave. A lot of time people cope by way of projecting, etc. Says nothing about us!


    2. Molly! I am so, so sorry that happened to you. This is to me such a reminder to give people the benefit of the doubt / grace / etc, as you just never know what they’re going through. Not that I would ever blow up at a stranger (!), but — a good reminder to “drive gently” in all my interactions, including with the woman at WF.

      Thanks for the note, and I’m sorry for your loss!


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