Magpie Mail: Turtlenecks, Moving Tips, + Bathroom Storage.

By: Jen Shoop

Q: Looking for an amazing cream turtleneck sweater for the winter.

A: I love this Everlane cashmere style, this chunky cableknit, and this elegant one from Brooks Brothers.

Related: chic statement sweaters for fall here!

Q: Best (preferably midi) sweater dress for an outdoor drive-by baby shower (mine!)

A: Congratulations! This one is super fun with the bow in the back (and on sale, and cashmere!). Caveat emptor: I found Hatch ran really big. This turtleneck style is very on-trend with the exaggerated sleeves, maybe paired with a fun fall headband. And this one in the black would be sleek with some trendy flats. If you’re earlier in your pregnancy (slash this *could* work with a serious bump — can’t tell from the pictures), I am obsessed with this non-maternity sweater dress. Currently in my cart!

Q: I’m planning to move to DC from Seattle by Christmas. Any planning tips, especially in light of COVID19?

A: Wow! Good luck — I know how stressful a move can be, and then throw in COVID-19 and the fact that it’s cross-country and just know that you need to be kind to yourself. These were the things that helped us tremendously in all of our moves:

+Craft a long checklist in an excel document or digital list tool like Wunderlist or even the Reminders app in your iPhone of every last thing that crosses your mind that you need to do. Everything from registering your car to cashing in public transit fare cards to selling the couch you know you won’t be bringing with you. Add to this list as things cross your mind. For me, having a central, organized place to keep everything made me feel more in control and like I was less likely to let something slip through the cracks. Then assign each item a due date and an urgency level (high, medium, low). Organize by due date and make sure to tackle the most urgent items at the top of the list first.

+If you can swing it, pay for professional packers. This has totally saved my sanity the last three moves.

+Whether you use professional packers or not, you will need to organize, declutter, and pack certain items yourself. Start this early — even a month before the move date — because sometimes things take a lot more time than you think. With each move, I have found myself waylaid by all the organization/extra steps that come with sifting through items to donate, trash, and sell. It all takes time and coordination! Probably a good idea to tackle dense closets earliest.

+My dad has always been on me to change my license/ID as soon as I get to a new state, and transfer car tags, etc. He’s always been right. You can run into weird issues if you don’t do this ASAP.

+Pack a capsule wardrobe that can span two weeks and “living essentials” bag (i.e., cosmetics, hair care, brush, medicines, chargers, laptop, laundry detergent, dish soap and a sponge, plastic cups) for yourself and keep that isolated in a suitcase for yourself about a week prior to moving. That way, you can pack freely without having to worry about fishing things out.

+Keep a DO NOT PACK space somewhere in your apartment with a few rolls of paper towels, cleaning spray, sharpies, sponges, hand soap, masking tape, trash bags (!!!), and a wine key (ha). These are things you always need and that are easy to throw into boxes before you realize you still need them.


Q: Which do you value more, religion or spirituality?

A: I had to sit with this question for a long time. I felt instinctually as though I should say that I value spirituality more, as preferring “religion” might suggest that I am more interested in the rules and apparatus than I am its core teachings. But, upon reflection, the truth is that I don’t know if I can disambiguate between the two, as they are so deeply connected to one another for me. I was raised by devout Catholic parents, attended Catholic school until college, and frankly fell in love with the rituals and culture of the Catholic Church as a child. My spiritual life has developed within that framework — has been borne of it — and so I can’t imagine one without the other, or assign a value to either. I’m deeply curious about the provenance of this question, and what other Magpies would have to say about this topic.

Q: Any brother/sister Halloween costume ideas?

A: We are doing a family homage to The Little Mermaid. Mini begged to be Ariel so we got her a standard dress-up set (complete with red wig — it’s hilarious on her), micro is Sebastian (<<technically a lobster costume but looks like a crab), Mr. Magpie is King Triton (trident, wig, and crown), and I am a very lazy Ursula. (She assigned us our characters).

The fact that she was so adamant about being Ariel made it pretty easy. If your kids are not particularly jazzed on anything in particular, I’m dying over this baby Eeyore costume (they have all the Pooh characters for ages under 24M) and this for a toddler Piglet.

Basically, all the Disney movies present adorable brother/sister costume ideas!

Q: Any gift ideas for a 1.5 year old girl?

A: Yes! I did a round up of great gifts for toddlers here and recently a round-up of “slow-burn toys” for little children. Speaking specifically to this age, mini loved her mini Carolle doll, Little People house and toys, and play food, especially her tea set, at 1.5.

Q: I’m looking for casual clothes that also make me look put together. I’m a mom of two!

A: I hear you, mama! For fall, I would recommend buying a pair of jeans that makes you feel good about yourself first and foremost. J. Brand is still running this 40% off promotion, and I alternate between a few pairs of J. Brands and J. Crew toothpick jeans, which fit me like a dream and are almost always on sale. Add a pair of great everyday shoes that allow for movement and are comfortable — I have been living in my Gucci mules, my GG sneakers, and my VB loafers — and then buy some inexpensive on-trend tops and accessories. In short, my formula is this: invest in pieces that do the hard work (jeans and shoes that you’ll wear constantly!) and scrimp on the trendier pieces that you won’t wear for dozens of seasons but that make you feel “together” and “relevant” now. A few trendy scores I particularly like today:







Q: Any suggestions for games to play with family for Thanksgiving?

A: So fun! Love that you’re thinking ahead like this. I just ordered this to play with my sister and brother-in-law for the occasion, but if children will be around, Apples to Apples and Scattergories are always big hits in our family.

Q: Do you have recommendations for baby’s first Christmas ornament? Thanks so much!

A: Ooh, yes! I’m in love with these hand-stitched linen ones. Beyond beautiful.

Separately, another holiday item for children worth planning ahead for: an advent calendar. We gift mini little treats every day of Advent and I think I might upgrade to this one this year.

Finally, this custom home portrait ornament is such a stunning gift for a new home-owner!

Q: I’m looking for toddler winter gloves, hats, and scarves!

A: For gloves, I can’t recommend this inexpensive 3-pack more. Good colors and they will get lost, so it’s nice that they’re not super-precious. (Plus, I already like having multiples — I already stowed one set in her backpack.)

For hats, I am in love with the ones from Blueberry Hill. I bought one for mini last year similar to this and she received so many compliments. They are well-priced but look almost hand-knitted by a grandmother. This solid cream one is probably the most practical as it will go with anything, but I love this fair-isle style, too.

I also was absolutely swooning over this personalized hat a friend of mine gave micro when he was born — it was so beyond precious on him. These TBBC ones are also super cute.

Q: When on a budget for clothes, shoes, etc., how do you choose where to invest and where not to?

A: My personal philosophy is to invest in good shoes. You wear them every single day, they probably take more of a beating than any other article of clothing you own (and therefore quality or the lack thereof shows quickly), and they can make a $20 cotton dress look amazing. “Good shoes” does not have to mean “non-trendy,” either. I have Valentino Rockstuds, Gucci Princetowns, and Aquazzura Christy lace-ups that I anticipated would fade out of favor but I still wear every single season and I still feel great about. These are shoes that look amazing after infinite uses because they are great quality and built to last! If I were preparing to invest in one pair of shoes, I would recommend a pair of Chanel ballet flats. These have never, ever, ever gone out of style and they go with everything from dresses to jeans to even shorts! You’ll feel like a million bucks in them.

The other area I would invest in is really good denim that makes you feel great — at least, if you’re like me, and wear denim most days of autumn and winter.

Then you can pair with inexpensive sweaters, exaggerated collar tops, and the like. My approach is generally to save on the upper half of my body (tops, accessories) and to invest in the bottom half (jeans, shoes).

Q: Best children’s books about Jesus or The Bible for a three year old?

A: I had to call in the expert for this one, who recommended this children’s Bible. (Elizabeth is also a very devout Catholic and I routinely turn to her for advice on raising my children in the faith.). She did warn that the questions at the end of every story are heavy-handed and repetitive, but added that her son (just turned 5) absolutely loves the Bible and those questions. I just ordered it for mini, realizing I did not have a children’s Bible for her!

The religious books that mini has loved for a long time are this lift-the-flap Noah’s Ark book, this Christmas book (which we read all year round — she’s loved this since she was one year old!), and this prayer book.

Q: What would you use for bathroom shelves or bathroom storage for a cramped space?

A: I so feel you on this. We had to get really crafty with using every spare inch of our bathroom in our first apartment here in NY in particular. A couple thoughts…

+This narrow storage cabinet has clean, simple, unobtrusive lines for stowing beauty products, toilet paper, towels, etc.

+This is a clever pair of free-floating shelves, one of which has a hand towel rack — could be perfect for above a toilet or next to a sink.

+Decorative risers/tiers are a clever way for maximizing storage on a sink or in a sill even. I like this one and this one for things like perfume, hand wash, soaps, etc.

+I don’t love over-the-toilet furniture because I feel like they tend to make the space feel more cluttered and clunky, but sometimes you don’t really have a choice in the matter if you’re super tight on space. This one and this one are chic options.

+This caddy is an attractive way to make the most of a narrow space — use it horizontally!

+A storage cart like this or this (note the built-in pocket for hot tools!) could be the ticket — I like that they aren’t as chunky/bulky as a lot of furniture solutions might be, and the open shelving makes things easy to access (and blocks out less space in the room).

+This OXO shower caddy is SO thoughtfully designed. Randomly one of my favorite home purchases, with hooks for a loofah and a bed for your razor and the perfect height for most shampoos/conditioners. It also stores A LOT.

+A free-standing towel rack could be one way to get overflow towels out of a cabinet to free up more space for products.

P.S. More Magpie Mail.

P.P.S. Target home finds.

P.P.P.S. What are you secretly good at?

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35 thoughts on “Magpie Mail: Turtlenecks, Moving Tips, + Bathroom Storage.

  1. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and reading through the comments I know that I’m the odd duck out on this. I am writing with respect though and if that’s not apparent please tell me as it’s truly not my intent to present otherwise.

    In thinking about this I determined that I view spirituality and religion as two separate concepts. I actually googled the definition of spirituality, which is “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things,” and the definition of religion, which is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” If I had to describe myself I would say I am an agnostic atheist who sometimes enjoy reading about religion depending on who it’s coming from and how it’s presented (I enjoy your writing on it here.).

    It’s really very hard to describe my thoughts on this because I’ve never written it out, just felt it. I view spirituality as living your life striving to be a good person, to care about important mattes, to feel empathy, to support others, to do good. All kinds of things come into play there. Karma for one. Feeling balanced as another. Feeling fulfilled or discontent. It’s almost like a feeling in the air, or an invisible wind flowing behind you. I imagine in as the little wind spirals you see depicted in 90s Disney movies (I’m thinking Pocahontas) Spirituality, to me, is practiced in various ways, but I’ve never considered praying or going to church as spiritual things, as strange as that sounds. I do realize that people that are religious want those same things, I just find them to be wrapped up in a different bundle.

    Religion has a bundle of spirituality all on it’s own – a different kind of spirituality. It’s a dedicated and known act, there are rules and standards and practices. The same things might be wanted (be kind, helpful, do good, etc.) but it’s conjured and thought out and presented in a different manner. I don’t personally know any religious people that I would consider spiritual, though I realize it’s deeply personal and therefore not always outwardly presented.

    I don’t know, I hope I’ve explained myself well but it’s hard to match words to feelings.

    1. Hi JC – Thank you for sharing your perspective so carefully and thoughtfully. I am confident that there are many readers that feel similarly to you and I applaud you for making your voice heard when it might have felt as though everyone was pulling in the opposite direction!

      I totally agree that many people that practice religion “want those same things” you enumerated, but are seeking them or living them out by virtue of the structure of a religious institution. In my case, Catholicism provides me with some of the tools and habits that enable me to “strive to be a good person” and “do good,” to quote the aspirations you laid out.

      A lot to think about here. I love that this conversation spurred you to sit down and define what spirituality means to you. It did the same for me.


  2. So much food for thought here, especially with the spirituality vs. religion question! This has had me thinking deeply this morning. My gut instinct is to say that I value spirituality much more than religion, and I really adore Joyce’s comment about a Native American approach — for me, mind, body, and spirit feel all interconnected. Thinking about religion, though — for context … I harbor absolutely NO judgment about other approaches, but for me, as someone who was raised Catholic, it is incredibly hard to look beyond the self-serving corruption that allowed decades (centuries?) of abuse at the hands of the clergy. When the Boston Globe story broke in 2002, I stopped going to church and have never gone back in a meaningful way (other than when required for family weddings/funerals). The fact that this major scandal came to light at such a formative time in my life (I was 17) has everything to do with how I’ve conceptualized of religion since then. My parents instilled Catholic/Christian values in me from birth, and since 2002, they have always told my siblings and me that it’s possible to be a good person without attending church. I’m sure some (many?) Catholics would disagree with this approach, but for our family, it has been the only way to continue forward. It is extremely important to me to ensure that not a dime of my hard-earned money would go to people who have been complicit in a system that has oppressed many fellow Catholics over the years, and this would be hard to avoid if I was attending church regularly.

    Whew! Hope this is not too heavy of a comment to leave. On a lighter note, speaking of board games, you might love Telestrations or Telestrations After Dark (the adult version) — it’s like a mashup of Pictionary and the telephone game!


    1. Hi MK – Not too heavy! The conversation warrants this level of introspection and seriousness. I respect your perspective and the thought and conversation that went into it and I am certain many readers share it. There were so many interesting insights in the comments here — it made me think of a recent conversation I had with my brother, who is a professor of literature, and who said that some of his favorite conversations with his students are around fundamental, blunt questions like: “What does it mean to read?” and “what is a text?” Conversations like these force me to articulate assumptions or partly-formed understandings that I have pieced together in various ways. Super helpful (and healthy) to put myself on the spot like that.


    2. Thank you for fostering dialogue in your comments section! I admire that so much. I was a bit nervous to read your response to my comment, as I feared it might be seen as too judgmental — and that was honestly not my intention! I deeply appreciate your willingness to let readers post their views and feelings here, and for also opening up the conversation by posting about deep topics in the first place. xxx

      1. Never feel nervous! This is a space for civil conversation. I wish you knew how varied the opinions are in my family — our dinnertime conversations (though they are so few and far between these days given COVID and the fact that we are spread out geographically across the US) are rife with polite disagreement. Thank you for chiming in. xx

  3. The religion v. spiritual question! I believe the crux of the question boils down to: What IS spiritual?

    Religion is more easily definable. And, obviously, I think man’s interpretation of religion and religious institutions over the years have, sadly, caused much pain. From wars to child abuse to Northern Ireland to the Gaza Strip, to homophobic messages, etc. These things, I believe, drive people to say “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.”

    But what does being spiritual mean?

    In my opinion (but I think maybe everyone’s opinion?), Jesus WAS a spiritual teacher. The Buddha WAS a spiritual teacher.

    So separating religion from spirituality feels downright impossible.

    But can you separate spirituality from religion? Well, what is spirituality?

    I’m reminded of a story I read about a Native American Tribe who couldn’t understand white men talking about Mind, Body and Spirit as three separate entities. To them, everything was spiritual. From the moment they woke up to the moment they went to sleep.

    And when I reflect on that story I think: “I think that’s what Jesus was talking about.” 🙂

    1. Hi Joyce — Yes! This is so insightful. I agree that complicated part is defining spirituality, especially because I cannot imagine my spirituality without inflections of Catholicism, and my inherited understanding of God, the teachings of Jesus, etc. I feel as though I keep trying to clear a looking glass to conceptualize it but can only see through my own lens. Another reader, JC, had some interesting thoughts on what spirituality means to her as an agnostic that were enlightening to me.


  4. Love this!! Mom of three here and I agree with all of this, madewell jeans that are comfy and interesting cuts + golden goose (or superga/rothys) with a cheaper top is a good go to. I was in a constant lululemon rut and find I really like to actually throw on jeans and a sweater now that things are cooling off! Sometimes even the amazon peasant dress and sneakers makes it into the rotation.

    I do lately feel like the MZ Wallace tote is super hard to carry for me with three kids (such slippery straps!)

    1. I hear you on the straps – the one problem area in the bag, and many readers have cited this. I do find that if you sort of twist the straps under one another on your shoulder, it helps, but I really wish they’d find a better solution. xx

  5. I have been mulling over the spirituality versus religion question since reading your post early this morning, and find it such an interesting question, particularly the way in which the reader posed the question. In terms of what I personally value more, I am inclined to agree with you and Molly who commented earlier in that the two are hard if not impossible to separate from each other in my mind. I, too, was raised Catholic — my mother even spent a brief spell as a novice nun before changing her mind and ultimately meeting my dad. Lucky for me she did! Still, though, her Catholic upbringing was always and remains vital to her life. She was always open in talking about her faith with me and the importance of certain rituals in her life, not the least of which was the novena she prayed when struggling with the pregnancy that resulted in my birth. My father, on the other hand, was raised Lutheran but enjoyed a multitude of experiences visiting churches of different denominations, finding joy in each over the years. While he harbored many criticisms of the Catholic church, he spent most of my childhood working in a Catholic high school and would not have changed those years for anything. I attended a private school in the Sacred Heart network; while the school was led by Catholic nuns, and occasional liturgies were led by priests, the sense I always had was that I went to a spiritual school more than a Catholic school.
    I cannot deny that a great deal of my sense of my own spirituality is connected directly or indirectly to my ‘Catholic-ish’ upbringing…but while I will always identify myself as a Catholic, my personal spiritual path has had such varied scenery, I can’t deny the non-Catholic / non-religious parts of how I got to where I am.
    I suppose all of this boils down to a definitive “it’s hard to say.” I value my experiences, both in and out of religious tradition, and thank God for the road I’ve been fortunate to travel.
    Such a terrific question to think about!

    1. Hi Susan – Wow! Thank you so much for exploring this subject so vulnerably and thoughtfully. Even though you landed in a “it’s hard to say” space, I feel like you surfaced so many important observations, including your parents’ evolving relationships with the Church and how those might have shaped your own outlook, and your comment that your “spiritual path has such varied scenery.” I love that expression and that imagery. xx

  6. I asked the moving tips question and appreciate everyone’s responses! I’ve bookmarked this post to refer back to when the time comes, hopefully very soon!

    I love the advice of having a box readily available with essentials that’ll be needed right away (sheets, shower liner, cleaning supplies, box cutter, scissors, towels, etc.), in addition to the capsule wardrobe and toiletry bag. I’ve found this to be so helpful in all of my moves, but particularly cross country moves.

    1. Yes! Good luck with the move, my friend! One other unsolicited piece of advice: know that moving is very stressful. Go easy on yourself. Peel back on any other commitments/activities while you’re in the throes…you got this! xx

  7. Another question for you: best tote bag for working mom of two kids? I need something that looks polished and professional but can hold toys snacks etc too. Help??

    1. Hi Elizabeth! Welcome to the comments section. Both I and many of my readers love the MZ Wallace Medium Metro tote as a versatile tote for basically any occasion. If you purchased in black or navy, it could absolutely work for schlepping your belongings to work:


      I wrote a full review on this bag as an excellent diaper bag here:


      If you work in an even more traditional environment and need something with even more polish, consider the Cuyana Everyday Structured tote:


      I own one of these bags in the less-structured zippered top variation and am astounded by the quality for the price. The pebbled leather holds up really well, and the bag looks much more expensive than it is (always reminds me of a Mansur Gavriel).

      Naghedi woven tote bags also get great marks for durability and style:


      They look like a mix between a Goyard and a Bottega Veneta. Tres chic!


    2. If you happen to purchase a tote, the leatherology insert is perfect for organizing the contents if it happens to fit in your bag and is of superior quality.

    3. Thank you so much! I’ve had my eye on the Cuyana tote so I think you’ve just sold me on it. (Also, I love your blog. Been reading it for years. I went to W&L a couple of years ahead of when you were at UVA I believe).

      1. Elizabeth! Thank you so much for reading along, fellow (erstwhile, for me) Virginian! I think you’ll love the Cuyana. I am super impressed with the quality, and the pebbled leather is able to bear a whole manner of sins without showing much wear. xx

  8. Re: moving – have a set of sheets for each bed that will be slept in the first night in the new house that are clean and easily accessible. Nothing worse than trying to track down multiple boxes of linens trying to find sheets when you (or your little one or whoever!) are just beyond tired.

    Re: Spiritual or Religious? I really don’t think that you can separate out the two when it comes to Catholicism; my spirituality sometimes buoys my religiosity and my religiosity sometimes buoys my spirituality.

    I understand how some people can be “spiritual but not religious” but to me that just seem to be the same as being agnostic – and when you’re Catholic, you’re religiosity informs your spirituality so distinctly. Even though I am truly a “cafeteria Catholic” because I have a very hard time accepting some of the social teachings of the Church as well as the institutional hierarchy that has allowed abuse to run rampant, I still don’t think that my conception of God can be separated from the fact that I am Catholic.

    And also once you throw in the fact that being Catholic is also cultural – my grandparents all immigrated to the US from Ireland so we are truly “Irish-Catholic” – it adds another layer.

    I’m curious to hear what others think about this! I view spirituality as how close you feel to God in any given moment and what God is to you – so therefore it’s always changing. But others probably have a different definition! (Whew – this got me going this morning! Sorry for writing a novel!)

    1. SO smart, Molly, on the sheets front! You guys are surfacing all these great details I’d forgotten about.

      Never apologize for the length of your comments – I found your thoughts on this subject really interesting and very similar to my own. I wonder how somebody might feel if they are a later-in-life convert, or were not raised in a particular faith? It’s just disingenuous for me to try to extricate religion from spirituality in my case; I’d be curious for others with different backgrounds.


  9. Thanks for the reminder to shop for a 1st Christmas ornament!

    Fellow mom of two trying to look put together here! I’m struggling with tops but I’ve pretty much settled on madewell for all jeans purchases. I love how their skinny jeans fit, and I’ve found a few other silhouettes that also work for me. And for anyone who likes the “leather sneakers with a twist” look but can’t justify the GG price tag…I just bought a pair of these and I looooove them http://www.golausa.com/womens-c15/gola-classics-womens-orchid-ii-cheetah-p1662. They make me feel v. British-cool, if that’s a thing 😉

    1. British-cool is definitely a thing, and I love those sneakers! So chic! Love the idea of pairing these with jeans or even a dress. xx

  10. Oh my gosh, I love the baby’s first Christmas ornament and bought it immediately. Thanks for the recommendation!

  11. Knowing that you invest in shoes, have you tried Sarah Flint shoes? They’re all the rage with a few bloggers I follow but out of my general price range for shoes. I would be be willing to buy them (on sale!) if they’re truly as great as they say but who can tell?!

    1. Hi JC! I’ve seen those everywhere, too, but never purchased! Sorry I can’t be more of a resource on this one :/. xx

    2. Hi JC,

      I have a pair of pumps (black leather, highest heel) and really like them. They are comfortable but I will say it takes a few wears for the toe box to stretch a bit. They come with an extra pair of heel tips (? – the bottom part of the heel that wears down) which was nice. I’m thinking of purchasing a pair of flats next.

      I was iffy on the price as well and used Meghan Donovan’s (witwhimsy.com) discount code & don’t regret the purchase at all. Hope this helps!

  12. Re: moving. Make sure to also have scissors/a box cutter at the ready for unpacking! We had to run to the store at the last minute with this latest move to pick up these essentials since we forgot to put these in our “open first” box, and who knows which of our 200+ boxes had them.

    Also, if you can, somehow labeling where your boxes will go in your new place will immensely help when unpacking boxes. The movers ostensibly did this for us, but mislabeled many boxes (or labeled them obscurely), so we ended up having to shuffle a bunch of boxes around which was annoying, especially when it involved carrying them up/down two flights of stairs.

    1. Ooh YES to the scissors and box cutter — thanks for that reminder. How quickly we forget…

      And really good tip on the labeling. With our move from Chicago to NY, we created an elaborate inventory system that was overkill, numbering all boxes, identifying the room it belonged to, etc. This more recent go around we went too lax and let the movers do everything and wound up with a similar issue (though no stairs for us — small blessing of having a small space). I agree that working out some sort of middle ground system would be best.


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