Musings + Essays

Magpie Mail: Toddler Backpacks, Kitchen Towels, + New Year’s Resolutions.

By: Jen Shoop

Q: I’d love your product recommendations on a toddler backpack. I’m sending my 2-year-old daughter to part-time care early next year. A big milestone for her and me, as she’s never been in group care.  My “wish list” features are wipeable fabric/material, elastic side pockets for a water bottle, and simpler designs. I’m not too keen on monogramming, so this is not a requirement for me, as I’ll most likely use a hanging bag tag instead.

A: Such an emotional time! Hang in there. Mini owns this StateBags Mini Lorimer in the toile and a monogrammed lunchbox like this and both are great. I also love:




Q: Kitchen towel solutions/recommendations! Absorbency and functionality necessary.

A: I find these pantry towels from W-S to be the absolute best. They are far more absorbent than the more attractive striped towels W-S is known for and I like that one side is “nubby” and the other side “smooth” — the textured side is great for drying glassware, dishes, etc. I also have and love this inexpensive microfiber drying mat when I need a spot to place pots/pans while air-drying. Super thick and absorbent. I own it in the marble pattern.

Q: Are you asking for any books for Christmas?

A: Truthfully, we treat books like paper towels or toothpaste in this house — i.e., a utility that we buy as we go rather than a special treat, so it never dawns on me to add books to my Christmas list. I will say that the next books on my lust-list are the new Shari LaPena for a little brain vacation and Rachel Cusk’s Outline, which looks artful and important. I would also love to add this coffee table book to my collection.

Q: Your approach to sentimentality vs. Marie Kondo? Was this a struggle in your move?

A: This is always tough for me. I find that if I linger too long on any one item or spend more than, say, an hour sorting items, I want to keep everything. I have found it helpful to set a timer for sixty minutes and organize items in one specific area of the house — i.e., one closet or one dresser or one cabinet — and create three piles: trash, keep, donate/sell. It’s the most effective way for me to prevent myself from hoarding…

P.S. More musing on organization here and here.

Q: You mentioned staying organized in your drawers — how do you do it?

A: These little bins are my lifesaver. They help me keep my bedside tidy, i.e., pens in one, hair ties in another, loose jewelry I need to ultimately return to their bags in another, etc. The same goes for my desk drawer and medicine cabinets and “miscellaneous” cabinets in the pantry/kitchen. Using these forces me to place things in their correct spot. And if something doesn’t fit in one? I am compelled to find its rightful home.

I will also say that more recently I have been repeating a new mantra: “Do things to completion.” I find sometimes I’m sprinting around, trying to manage a thousand things at once, and I will — for example — just move my ironing board out of the way so I can get to my dresser drawer rather than taking the thirty seconds to collapse the board and return it to the closet. It’s a really small change but it’s made me feel much more serene and — how to say it? — in control? The same ethos applies to drawer organization. If I’m tossing something into a drawer just so it’s “out of sight, out of mind,” I will tell myself: “No, do this to completion” and take a minute out of my day to put it in its rightful place.

Of course, this is aspirational — I’m guilty of shoving things in the closet when guests are about to arrive!

Q: Can you share about the switch from Truth Serum to Vintner’s Daughter?

A: Yes — thanks for asking this because I know I’ve raved about both in turn. And I still find both to be exceptional products. Though I was thrilled with the Truth Serum, I had read so much about Vintner’s Daughter that I wanted to test it out after I finished my bottle of TS and haven’t gone back since. Here’s my analysis: Truth Serum is a gel that dissolves into your skin and “turns on the lights” when applied. I love the immediate effect — my skin looks bright, happy, and awake. I also went through about a bottle every other month (yikes) and was shocked to see how quickly it went. Vintner’s Daughter, on the other hand, is a deeply-scented, rich oil. I place a drop right on my forehead and on each cheek and then pat/massage into my skin in the morning. It almost has the consistency of olive oil but dries pretty quickly (i.e., it doesn’t leave an oily residue). I feel my skin looks more deeply hydrated and elastic from the inside out consistently, i.e., even hours and hours after application. In short, Truth Serum is sort of like an immediate light switch turns on and Vintner’s Daughter is more like a candle burning from the inside — all the time, 24-hours-a-day.

Q: Do you tailor many items you purchase? Or just wear dresses and tops the fit and length they are?

A: Yes! I have to have all maxi dresses and pants tailored because I’m a shrimp — 5’0 — and I often have to have straps shortened and waists taken in. However, I’m not always inclined to tailor a midi or knee-length dress; sometimes I like the way a dress looks hitting me at the ankle even though it is meant to be worn at mid-calf.

Tailoring costs a freaking fortune in New York. It’s not uncommon for me to spend $60 or $80 tailoring a single garment (ughhh) — so I always factor that in when contemplating price.

If an article of clothing is under $100 and doesn’t fit correctly, I usually return it, because the cost of having it tailored will almost double its purchase price!

Q: What are the best hostess gifts for sweet friends hosting a baby shower?

A: So sweet of your friends, and congratulations to YOU! A few ideas:







Q: Navigating parenting philosophies! What has been your journey?

A: I am too impressionable when it comes to reading parenting philosophies. I read something and think, “Oh GOD! I’ve missed the boat!” My approach has instead been to trust my instincts, confer with Mr. Magpie regularly (we have nightly download sessions* about the various things that have come up throughout the day as parents — “I put her in time out for this…what do you think?”), and to call my mother, my sister, or my friend Steph for everything else. I have avoided parenting material because I know that I will read it with eyes wide open and then fret. Even now, with mini in Montessori, we attend various parent education nights that they put on and I will scurry home, my mind filled with ideas and my heart sinking at all the things we’ve not yet done — and then Mr. Magpie and I have to sit down and choose to either adopt or discard the recommendations after thoughtful conversation. Essentially, we need to re-center and remind ourselves to filter all suggestions through our own experience and instincts, and the powerful prism of reality/common sense.

HUGE, ENORMOUS caveat: some of the moms I most respect and trust are prolific readers/investigators of various parenting philosophies, so the foregoing should not stand as any kind of indication that I think I know what I’m doing more than anyone else. I decidedly do not. (This, coming earnestly from a mother who spent no less than sixty minutes this evening attempting to get her nearly-three-year-old into pajamas. There were tears. There were time outs. There were flailing legs being forced into pajamas. There was an accident smack dab in the middle. And at the end of it, a puffy-faced toddler asked me: “Are you dis’pointed at me?” And I wanted to die or sob or something and instead just reassured her that though I had been disappointed at her, I loved her, and that we could move on. OY VEY. WHAT IS HAPPENING. EMOTIONAL WHIPLASH. I DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING.)

But I do know myself well enough to understand that I am at my best and most comfortable when I am responding organically via my own intuition and the principles Mr. Magpie and I share. I feel disempowered when I feel as though other voices are speaking in my ear.

So that’s my unsatisfying response to that.

*We call these download sessions “STPs” or “Shoop Talking Points” (ha!) and we run down a list of items that came up throughout the day that need the other’s input — everything from coordinating our social schedules to booking travel plans to purchasing wine to planning dinners — and there are always multiple items pertaining to the children. This gives me the space to share what’s happened and solicit his feedback, and I think this has ultimately given us a platform to craft our own shared philosophy, though I haven’t the faintest idea how to corral it into something legible.

Q: Gifts for the guy that has it all (literally)!

A: I hear you — Mr. Magpie falls into this category. I shared a list of my favorite gifts for men here. If nothing fits the bill, what about an experience? If you are local to NY, you might consider The Magician at the NoMad (super fun) or Hack The Met. Elsewhere — a membership to a local museum or a special restaurant experience (i.e., sit at the chef’s table). Finally, food gifts tend to go a long way with the men in my family. My Dad loved his Jeni’s Ice Cream order, and we’ve gifted Alaskan King Crab Legs, MilkBar cakes, and Callie’s Biscuits to other, very pleased recipients.

Q: Dress ideas for a mother for christening in January.

A: Congratulations!!! I’d reach for a tweed dress like this (look for less with this) and pair it with a pearl headband and black pumps. I also like this dress with pearl accessories — ladylike and timeless. Though I tend to like to wear white for a christening, I realize that’s not for everyone, especially with January as the backdrop, so I also love this LBD and this polka dot shirtdress as alternatives.

Q: Potty training advice?

A: Oh, joy! I would say timing is everything — avoid starting just before or after other huge life events (we did not heed this and suffered the consequences), make sure your child seems ready (is interested and aware), and make sure YOU are ready as parents in the sense that you are on the same page with your spouse, you don’t have any major trips coming up, and you have thought about this enough to feel it’s time. (Don’t let other people’s children dictate your timeline!!! i.e., Jane is doing it, so should I! Trust me that most parents probably wish they’d waited even longer to start…) A big part of that parental readiness is accepting that it’s going to be a messy and exhausting time. It’s not so much the grossness of cleaning up (though this gets old), but the slow emotional fray of cajoling your child onto the toilet every two hours only to be met with resistance — for weeks, in our case. I would also pick and choose from the various approaches out there what makes most sense for you. For example, we never used pull-ups during the day but did at night (people have differing opinions on this). And we did not start by rewarding her extrinsically (our school advised against this), but quickly found that we had better outcomes when we gave her a chocolate chip after a successful trip. (Other parents use charts/M&Ms from day 1.) Further, we never used a “potty” and instead just put one of these rings on our toilet. Our reasoning was that it would be an extra step to train her to use a full-sized toilet when the time came. (And also, one less thing to clean. That said, when we were in the weeds, I ordered a potty that we then never even took out of the box.) And though many parents told us that if things don’t “click” within the first three days, to stop and try again in a few months — we persisted, and finally things did click at day six. (Yes, six days of accidents later. Our nanny thought I had gone insane.) We felt it would be too confusing for mini if we went back. But maybe that approach works for other parents/children!

In short, I would suggest picking what resonates best with you and what seems most practical for your circumstances. Anyone that says toilet training via xyz method is foolproof…well, take with a big grain of salt. A Magpie reader recently wrote: “Humans have been to the moon and understand quantum physics. If there was one ‘foolproof’ way to get all babies to sleep we would know about it and it would work.” I feel the same way about most things parenting-related, including toileting.

Finally, maybe consider removing the rug from your living/playroom area. I’m serious. I wish we’d done this…

Oh, and order yourself a nice case of wine for the duration. HA!

P.S. I had a lot of people recommend these thick Hannah Andersson training underwear and, like all Hannah products, they are well-made. However, if your child has an accident, even a thick pair of underwear is not going to help that much, and in retrospect I’m not sure $50 for 5 pairs of underwear was a great investment, especially when you are probably going to end up throwing out at least one or two pairs of them. We ended up buying tons of additional, inexpensive pairs on Amazon to supplement.

P.P.S. I have always found books helpful with transitions like these — in this case, this book was exceptional at helping to reinforce the idea of waiting during the first week or two when mini don’t quite get how to time things. Mini also really reacted strongly (favorably!) to this book and this one. We kept them all in a bin by the toilet for her.

P.P.P.S. OK LAST THING. I guess I do have a lot of thoughts on this. Can you tell we just got through it!? This portable/collapsible toilet ring is GENIUS. It was so helpful for us when we were just getting mini used to using toilets in public.

Q: How do you do your New Year’s Resolutions? Looking to plan ahead this year.

A: I’ve done this differently from year to year. One year, I focused on a single, aspirational attribute: gentleness. I intended to be gentle in my interactions with everyone around me, including myself. The problem was that it was difficult to measure success, but still — it did set the tone for the year and gave me a kind of aspirational touchstone to return to. Other years, I have written a more traditional tick list of specific goals, which is a solid approach in that you can then return to them every month to evaluate what progress you’ve made. (In years past, I’ve added recurring calendar invites to check in with myself.) Last year, I just set one big goal for myself, and I think I’ll do the same this year. I find simplicity is easier with these things.

Q: How many clothes did you buy in different age groups (NB, 0-3, etc.) for your children?

A: I would try to have about a week’s worth of outfits on hand for each age, plus some spare basics like footies and onesies and leggings because you will need to keep some of those in your diaper bag / at arm’s length for your occasional blowout/mess. Then add a few special occasion outfits as your calendar demands (i.e., birthday, special occasion, christening, holiday). I really try hard to make a lot of Hill’s bottoms/tops interchangeable so I can keep him looking fresh — ha!

I would underbuy in the NB category because sometimes babies enter the world wearing a size 0-3, or you can make do with a slightly bigger size when they are itty bitty. Neither of my children have worn a size NB for more than two weeks, I think…

I wrote a little bit about some of the wardrobe basics I buy at every age for my children here.

Q: Woud you ever write a book?

A: This is a long-term goal of mine…maybe one day! A shared a little about this aspiration here.

Q: Looking for an Audrey Hepburn look — cigarette pants, blouse, black flats. Suggestions?

A: I would go with J. Crew Cameron pants, pointed toe flats from Margaux or these embellished ones from J. Crew, and then a white blouse with a contemporary twist so it doesn’t look too staid — something like this or this. (But if you’re a true traditionalist, this blouse is classic and well-priced.)

P.S. More Magpie Mail!

P.P.S. Are you ready for Christmas?

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25 thoughts on “Magpie Mail: Toddler Backpacks, Kitchen Towels, + New Year’s Resolutions.

  1. I believe that I was thinking of Good Genes instead of Truth Serum….48.00 is definitely doable. Will try it out. Also looking forward to yours as well as others followers thoughts on The Ordinary skincare products. Appreciate the thoughts/feedback so far.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts on the truth serum vs VD! I became totally hooked on truth serum about a year ago through your blog (we share many tried and trues!) and now I’m so intrigued by the Vinter’s Daughter. Love all of your posts and grateful for the parenting wisdom/experience/thoughts always! (1 year old twins) Keep it all coming! Xoxo

    1. Yay!!! So glad you’ve enjoyed Truth Serum and would be intrigued to hear your reaction to VD if you ever splurge. Thanks for the encouragement! Glad to have you here, friend 🙂 xx

  3. Looking forward to your thoughts on Outline! I’m still trying to decide what I think.

    Following along here, always, though silently,


  4. I would highly recommend the ll bean junior backpack! My son currently has the seersucker backpack from oh mint which is a LOVE. It is so lightweight and easy for both him to carry or us but the ll beak backpack looks fabulous and is probably the next one I’ll get him for kindergarten!

  5. Thank you so much for the backpack recommendations, Jen!

    Although it doesn’t seem to have the side water bottle pockets, I am absolutely LOVING the blue State bag you recommended, if only for the subtle feminism messages — how clever! I chuckled at the geese and the bras! Decisions, decisions….

    If I may chime in about Vintner’s Daughter… I have been eyeing this product for a while too as I’ve spent more time than I care to admit researching skincare. Couple things for your reader: I couldn’t find a store close to me to sample it, so I requested a sample from this online store Ayla Beauty. There’s a small fee for shipping, if I remember correctly, but you can at least try a small vial of it before committing to close to $200. You get a $5 gift certificate towards a purchase on their site. Which I know doesn’t seem like a lot, but every $ counts, right! Also, Vintner’s Daughter rarely, if ever, goes on sale even on big sale days like Cyber Monday, but if you use “Ebates” (cash back for online purchases – it’s a plug-in you add to your browser), sometimes Neiman Marcus offers a whopping 10% or even 15% (like on Cyber Monday) cash back, so it offers quite a bit of discount especially for a high-end item. You’d still pay the full price up front, but within a few days you get the cash back into your PayPal account (which you can transfer to your main bank account). If you’re unfamiliar with Ebates, it may sound like a lot of steps to set up and use it, but I felt it was worth it as I shop online probably 95% of the time.

    And if I may chime in one more time in response to a comment from Kristin (and I say this as a former teacher): gift cards!!! e.g. Starbucks, Target tend to be popular ones. 😉

    1. Wow – great tips here! I’ve had a couple of other readers endorse eBates but have never investigated fully. Might need to do this — your comment about the % of shopping you do that is online stuck out to me, as I rarely — RARELY — shop in brick and mortar stores anymore. xx

  6. I always find that these posts are packed with wisdom! Thank you so much for all of your thoughtful responses (and of course to the Magpie community for asking such good questions!) I’m going to heed your sentimentality vs. Konmari advice this weekend as I attempt to clean out my office … !


    1. These posts are so fun to put together and I’m honored to be asked for my opinion! Good luck with the organization…

  7. Oh potty training. This is so timely, as we just started a week ago. She’s actually doing really well so far but it is still ROUGH. Especially those first few days we spent essentially confined to the kitchen to avoid carpet mishaps as you mentioned. I remember feeling like “I just want my life back!” It’s hard to go from having a relatively independent toddler to having to watch her like a hawk. Also, it feels similar to early parenthood in that I’m having to build a lot of extra time into any outings or activities…time for 2-3 trips to the potty before we leave in case she refuses to go the first time, time for potty-related stall tactics before bed, time for scenarios like yesterday when we took a “quick” trip to the store and I got her and the groceries loaded into the car and then she asked to go potty. So we sprinted back into the store…only to have a false alarm. Ah well. Keep having to remind myself that this is temporary! I second the vote for a folding travel potty, soooo helpful.

    1. Oh Steph – HANG IN THERE. You’re in the weeds. I totally relate to everything you mentioned here, especially your note about “it’s hard to go from having a relatively independent toddler to having to watch her like a hawk.” It feels in some ways like a regression, an imposition. There are new complexities to consider, like how long you’ll be out and whether there will be a bathroom and when she last peed and — oh! It’s kind of like newbornhood in that way, there’s a lot of juggling of schedules and mental math and contingency mapping. Thinking of you and all the other moms in the throes…


  8. How fortunate we are to have friends that do the “heavy lifting” when it comes to all kinds of things; parenting, the best waterproof boots, restaurant recommendations, travel questions, etc. Having those different friends you can call on because you know they’ve put in extensive thought and research is such a treasure. I have several – one always has the best shoes, one has the best travel advice, one is a Trader Joes Queen and has great tips for their offerings. It’s so nice, and I hope I am that person for some of my friends as well.

    1. I am sure you are! This is such a sweet reminder to recognize (and celebrate!) the strengths, interests, and areas of expertise in our loved ones. Thanks for writing this!

  9. This was a nice mix of questions and super helpful responses! I, too, will convince myself to keep items if I linger too long when purging. And I’ve also tried to be better about doing things “to completion.” It just takes a few more seconds or minutes, really! I will say, when I have guests coming, I will also shove things in the nearest closet or drawer, hehe.

    GREAT overview of Truth Serum and Vintner’s Daughter – I’m still so intrigued by the latter as I have yet to find a serum I truly love.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond and share xo

    1. Of course! Yes, the “do things to completion” is a work in progress. Said it to myself A LOT this past weekend…

  10. Hoping I can sneak in another question! Do you have gift ideas for Mini’s teachers? My daughter is in a two morning a week, two year old program and her three teachers are incredible.

    1. Hi Kristin! See above comment from another reader on gift cards to Starbucks/Target — a fellow teacher friend said the same thing. (Or even an Amazon gift card?) I am not allowed to give the teachers gifts at mini’s school so had not given this much thought previously but will contemplate and add to next Magpie Mail!


  11. Good Morning- I believe you that Truth Serum as well as Vitner’s Daughter is wonderful but I just cannot justify the price for my personal budget. Are there any serums and moisturizers under 75.00 that you can recommend? I go into Sephora to look at skin care and am overwhelmed. Have wondered how good The Ordinary products are but afraid for the cheap price they cannot be quality? I am on the older side I am sure from most of your readers so anti aging and dry skin are 2 of my prime concerns. Thanks in advance. Love your blog so much!

    1. Hi, long term reader & lurker here. I heard about a dupe for Vintner’s Daughter on the Forever 35 podcast recently and ended up trying it out. It is Flower & Bone Supply’s Miracle Face Oil and I have to say that it is delightful! MUCH cheaper than VD but uses several of the same ingredients. I’ve been using for about a month now and I really love it. I combine it each night with the Ordinary’s niacinimide + zinc serum & their Buffet + copper peptides, and after it all sinks in I use my Rx Epiduo Forte. My skin has been very happy with this combo, and for reference I’m 37 and live in the southeast with combo/ acne prone skin. Hope you find this helpful. 🙂

    2. Hi Nancy, just wanted to say that I have a very varied skincare routine (some high-end, pricier products and some drugstore staples) and have been overall very impressed with the products I’ve tried from The Ordinary, namely the squalane (very hydrating for dry skin), the retinol in squalane (they have several concentrations, from 0.2% retinol up to 1%) and the 2% Hyaluronic Acid + B5. I would advise against the Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, as I did not find it hydrating enough even for my combination/oily skin. I have never tried the Buffet serum but have heard good things about that one also. I hope this is helpful!

      1. Thanks for the rec, Kate! I actually did not know anything about this brand until the comments on this post!! Investigating…

    3. Hi Nancy! Several of the other readers already provided some intriguing suggestions (The Ordinary, Flower & Bone Supply’s Miracle Face Oil), but the Truth Serum is $48 and definitely worth a try as well! Thanks for writing in on this and thanks to the Magpie readers who shared their input! xx

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