Living by Asterisms.

By: Jen Shoop
"Do I go looking for signs of the dead, or do they find me?"

Nearly every day, I make a left in front of a corner house numbered 8101. No matter what I am listening to, what demands my children are making of me, what mood I find myself in, the numbers jump at me as though the hidden design in a stereogram. 8101 was my grandparents’ street address for as long as I knew them. My parents rarely referred to their home as “your grandparents’ home” or “Mia and Granddad’s,” using instead “8101” as shorthand: “We’ll stop by 8101,” they’d say, or “the party is at 8101.”

Which is to say that, nearly every day, my grandparents sit with me for half a block. I see the house number, and I reach for their memory.

How does this happen, I wondered the other day? Do I go looking for signs of the dead, or do they find me?

Sometimes, I recoil from the idea of signs. Their pursuit seems naive, tender-footed. Some days, “the world is too much with me” to lean into them. I am too practical, or too burnt out to reach for something phantasmagoric. Other days, I can’t see any other way to live. I am no stranger to this tether pole. I have withstood the same swing of belief and disbelief in many matters of faith over the years. I wonder sometimes whether this makes me an untrustworthy Catholic, or someone unqualified to speak on matters of my own faith. But the truth is: some days I have the backbone to squeeze my eyes shut and make the leap, and other days, I sit quietly in the shallow end and hope that the skepticism will pass. It always has. And its passing usually coincides with the discovery of a small but shocking coincidence, like the number 8101 on my daily drive. I think what it comes down to is openness, pronation, even dedication to pattern. I choose to find echoes where I could see randomness. I want to draw the lines that make this life make sense, to chart the belt between the component stars of Orion. At the end of the day, I’d rather wander starstruck, identifying asterisms, than feel my way blindly through a shapeless and inconsonant dark.


+Related: Gretel and her breadcrumb trail.

+In case you’re also a wanderer.

+An essay on my granddad.

+Tender green blades, or watching my children sprout with new discoveries.

Shopping Break.

+Do you get manicures? I’ve had to mainly stop getting gels (though I love them!) because they weaken my nails so much, but a few of you have recommended Dazzle Dry and Olive & June as longer-lasting non-gel options. Any intel? Related: whenever I’m between manicures but things have gotten too chipped to wear, I will remove all my nail polish (I live for nail polish removing wipes — so much more efficient and thorough than liquid and cotton ball) and apply this nail concealer, which does a great job making nails look glossy/polished and hiding any imperfections. The pale/transparent colors make it nearly impossible to botch!

+RUN. Floafers just restocked and flying off the shelves. My son lived in these (like a fancy Native) last summer and when I checked a few weeks ago (while putting together this spring fashion post for little boys), I couldn’t find any colors in his size!

+I tried Agolde’s Parker denim shorts, which I know SO many of you love, but they just did not work for my body. I feel like the short length is too short and the long length too long, and neither do me any favors. Just not made for my short legs, I guess. I am intrigued by the cut of these Citizens shorts, though. I feel like the slight flare outward might better suit my figure? I like the idea of tucking a blouse (love love love — you can see me wearing this one here) into them to balance out the fray.

+OK, these pants arrived and I LOVE. I ordered a bunch of things to try and these are 100% staying. They have a good amount of stretch in them, so they kind of cling to the body in all the right spots and then fall with some nice structure elsewhere. Not like a standard chino fit, which is more boxy/straight. Take your true size.

+GUYS. This collarless black denim jacket is FIRE. I just ordered it. Gap is slaying this season! I also bought our favorite kick fit jeans in the white and this striped sand tee.

+These tennis club socks sell out every year (I just ordered Mr. Magpie a pair). They also have a new pickleball set, and I love these retro-style shorts as well this striped cardigan, which reminds me of the one I bought from Toteme this fall. And of course I live in their modern long tees. Get 20% off your order with code SPRING23!

+Vuori joggers in pretty spring hues.

+I’m always adding to my “quiet activity” bin in my closet — things I take with us when we’re going out to eat, going over to grandparents’ home, going to Church, or going out on an adventure in the car. You just never know when your kids will hit their limit and need something to focus on, quietly. I just added some sticker-by-number books to the bin: tucked this away for the Easter basket, but ordered this for my son and this for my daughter for more immediate use. These $3 search and finds have also been really popular with my children lately. Even my son can do them unassisted, on this own! (He’s 3.5)

+More quiet activities for children here, and Easter basket fillers here.

+WAIT I LOVE THIS CLARE VIVIER TOTE. The colors are so punchy! Imagine against our new Alice Walk striped pieces and white jeans…!

+Oh my goodness – these sweet dresses in three darling patterns are only $10! I so wish my daughter still fit into a size 4.

+Speaking of sweet finds for little ones, I love these little “Dashwood sets” from Sunhouse. My daughter loved wearing this right out of the bath last summer — they’re soft as PJs but cute enough to wear in public.

+Paravel’s limited edition aviator suitcase is SO handsome. I bought Mr. Magpie an Away rollaboard for Christmas and now am itching to buy a new one for myself…the pink Away is calling my name but that aviator!!!

+A dress for everyday living.

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10 thoughts on “Living by Asterisms.

  1. I’m late to comment, but I am also a Catholic and a firm believer in signs! For reference, I have also seen a medium and wholly believe that she was able to connect me with the departed. So, consider that I take on a wide range of world views, haha!
    Regardless, I don’t think seeing signs as meaningful rather than merely coincidental is a sign of silliness or wavering in logic. Believing in signs is optimism!

    1. I love this perspective – and I agree. I think it is a choice — choosing to see positive, life-affirming, resonant way of the world.


    2. The book Signs by Laura Lynne Jackson is all about the love language our departed loved ones use to communicate with us. My grandmother is my guardian angel, and after reading Laura’s book, I asked her to send me lady bugs when I’m feeling burnt out, isolated or down. Wow. I feel her presence now more than ever…and always when I need it most. I picked the book up on a whim for a flight to meet some girlfriends for a weekend in Asheville. The friend who picked me up at the airport had lost her father 6 months before our trip and opened up about losing her faith as a result of his death. That was my opening to tell her about the book, and when I did, I asked if there were songs or inside jokes…anything that would remind her of her father. Without skipping a beat, she said “donkeys.” An our later, we arrived at our rental property in Asheville. We turned down the long winding driveway and saw a pasture full of…you guessed it…donkeys. Artwork in the cabin? Donkeys. Wifi password? Donkeys. I still get chill bumps thinking about it. It feels like magic but it is so beautiful and tangible and healing.

      1. Oh my gosh – that is so incredibly powerful. I love the idea that her dad was visiting with her in those ways. So gorgeous. Thank you for the book recommendation, too!


  2. Beautiful writing, as always! I read this post this morning and all day I’ve been thinking of how to respond. The only “sign” I can think of was when I got a new job on the fifth anniversary of my grandmother’s death. On one hand, I can chalk it up to being a coincidence, but at the same time I truly think there has to be a deeper meaning and that my grandmother was interceding for me. Other than that, I’m not sure I’ve experienced many signs. However, I have experienced moments where the veil between heaven and earth seems particularly thin: moments where I feel extra close to my deceased grandparents, like they’re looking out for me, or where I feel a really strong and distinct yearning to be with them.

    For what it’s worth, I’m also Catholic and I don’t think seeing signs makes you untrustworthy or unqualified. Others may disagree, but I think it actually aligns well with Catholicism, the Catholic view of death, the communion of saints, and intercessory prayer.

    1. Oh gosh – I love this phrase, Sarah: “I have experienced moments where the veil between heaven and earth seems particularly thin.” Wow. I know exactly what you mean. I have felt this way a lot about my deceased friend Elizabeth. Sometimes she almost appears to me in dreams — like, I can feel her warm presence, and how…? It’s not even a sign, it’s a strong sensation of her presence. Thank you so much for sharing this. The more stories you Magpies are sharing on “signs,” the more convicted I feel in their truth. How can it be otherwise? Thanks for this lovely note, and for sharing the story of your grandmother’s intercession with your job! I believe it. I really do.


  3. Jen, my father died just before Christmas of a very brief illness and I tell you what, the signs are what’s keeping me going. Seabirds flying over our house that’s a 15 minute drive from the coast (i.e. they don’t usually come this far in); John Denver randomly playing on my Spotify (I don’t listen to country music!); a kayak on top of a car or a small yacht sailing vibrantly out on the sea just when I need to see one. And beyond that, a strange and newfound sense of safety in the world. I can feel him looking out for me and the very air feels benevolent. It all sounds a bit kooky and I’m sure if I looked into it there would be prosaic explanations for the signs… but I need them to just be what they are, a reminder of how wonderful my dad is, how much he loves me, and how his energy is still in this world. I do believe that signs come when we need them regardless of any other factors influencing them.

    1. This is so beautiful, Hayley. Thank you so much for sharing these signs – hearing you share these is deeply convincing, reassuring to me. I’m so glad you’ve found your dad in these small phenomena! So beautiful.


  4. I can relate to this so much! Also a Catholic but sometimes see ’signs’. The most memorable one, that I can’t seem to disregard as coincidence was a few years ago I was on vacation with my family in California when my very beloved uncle passed away. I was unable to travel for the funeral (thanks Covid) and so the morning after he died I visited a Catholic Church in the town were staying in as my husband played with our kids in a playground across the road. In the church I cried and prayed and as I left the church, the scent of the flowers that he had grown in his garden overwhelmed me (he was a well known gardener) – to the point that I walked around the church lawn looking for the flowers. Was I just looking for a sign? Perhaps, Was it a real connection, perhaps, but it provided a comfort in a sad time.

    1. I love this so much. I have to choose to believe that was your uncle! I can’t figure away around it. Thanks for sharing that memory — I’m sure very bittersweet to look back on.


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