Musings + Essays

Petite Excitements, Part II.

By: Jen Shoop

+I just finished Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and wow, wow, wow. Wow! Wow! I loved this book so much I did not want it to end, even though it positively tore me up. I cannot remember the last time a book elicited such a strong emotional response from me — I wept over this book. (And this, on the heels of reading the unrelentingly dark and depressing Shuggie Bain!) Hamnet is the fictional account of Shakespeare’s marriage to his eccentric wife Agnes and the unthinkable loss of their son, Hamnet, at the age of 11. It is the most truthful writing about my experience of motherhood that I have ever encountered — every word so beautifully captures the radiating, hungry love and fear I hold for my children, and how that intensity laps up against the small details of parenting and nurturing little bodies. Oh, God — Hamnet’s death was an unbearable ache to encounter in words. I don’t think I will ever get over the description of his death or Agnes’ reaction to it. My worst fears realized. And all so exceptionally and achingly well-captured, with unbearably effective restraint. Just wow. Wow! I believe it might be my second favorite book I’ve read in the past decade. (Circe is first, then probably Dutch House and Red at the Bone tie for third). I loved it so much I think I will order it in hard copy to keep on my shelf. (More books to read right now here.)

+After the intensity of Hamnet, I toggled back to thrillers — now reading The Wife by Alafair Burke alongside my sisters and mother! (We just started a little thriller book club since many of us enjoy the genre and my mother always has her ear to the ground in terms of trending thrillers.)

+My mom tipped me off to a crazy Kindle promotion on her favorite book series ever, Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Unset. For a limited time, it is only $2.99 to download the entire series (normally each book in the trilogy is like $10-$15!). I’ve been meaning to read it for actual decades at her insistence and now I’ve downloaded the set! Description: “Set in fourteenth-century Norway, Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset tells the life story of one passionate and headstrong woman. Painting a richly detailed backdrop, Undset immerses readers in the day-to-day life, social conventions, and political and religious undercurrents of the period.” Very excited.

+It is Mr. Magpie’s birthday today! A touch anticlimactic in that he guessed (!) what I’d bought him for his birthday, which is a manual coffee grinder. Coffee enthusiasts claim that manually grinding your coffee is superior to electrically grinding it, even with an electric burr grinder (which is better than other types as it does not burn the beans as much in the grinding process), unless you are willing to spend over $2K on the best of the best, which we are not. And so Mr. Magpie has been pining over the idea of buying a top-of-the-line manual coffee grinder in lieu of our electric Capresso (which, to be clear, gets good reviews and has served us well over time). One thing I love about Mr. Magpie is his endless pursuit of the best in everything he does — coffee brewing among them. So if it means putting in extra elbow grease with a manual grinder, so be it! I spent hours researching the subject, reading arcane Reddit threads, watching videos (!) of coffee experts (!!) discussing the ins and outs of different models, knowing all the while that Mr. Magpie has been reading the same for the past few weeks and that I had to put in commensurate thought to honor his interest in this area. I now know way, way too much on the subject, but ended up with a Comandante — just sharing in case any of you have coffee nerd loved ones and you want to really knock his/her socks off with an abstruse gift. At any rate, on Sunday night, while I was leaning against the kitchen counter, unhelpfully swirling a glass of red wine while he was undertaking the fifth hour of cooking a very involved platter of enchiladas in mole sauce, he brought up the subject of coffee grinders, and I could not (!) keep a poker face. He arched his eyebrow and said: “You got it for me, didn’t you?” So, we celebrated early that night by opening it a full five days in advance of his actual birthday. Tonight, I have a few other gifts for him (none as special and recherche as the grinder) that we’ll open while we enjoy Polo Bar delivery and a nice bottle of champagne. I’ll be wearing this Rhode dress in a different colorway that seems to be sold out everywhere to mark the occasion!

+My sister-in-law and I had a fascinating discussion of “Bridgerton” over text (some interesting comments by fellow viewers at the end of this post, in which I shared some inaugural thoughts), and I found this to be one of the most provoking things she had to say: “A good question to ask ourselves is what we want out of historical fiction — does an ‘old-fashioned’ set up allow the characters to push against norms of the time in interesting ways? Or do we want the history rewritten, in a sense, through our modern lenses?” She also passed along this excellent discussion of the show along similar lines by women much sharper than I and more conversant in the Romance genre conventions more generally. Enjoy — they articulate many of my apprehensions about the show wonderfully.

+One of the women in the above-linked discussion uses the term “milquetoast” to describe Daphne and another comments: “Daphne as portrayed is a blancmange of a heroine isn’t she? Her bangs were more compelling than she was, and most of the time her bangs were extremely distracting.” A) What a burn and B) must immediately find excuse to use both “milquetoast” and “blancmange.” See how long it takes me to weave one or both into an upcoming post…

+I bought myself one of these expensive and enormous day planners this year, and when it arrived, I was disconcerted: a brick of a thing, portly in all dimensions. However, I have to say I have been enjoying some of its prompts, including space in the frontispiece to write out your values, goals, passions, which I initially dismissed as silly and then took nontrivial amounts of time sussing out in a way that felt useful. It also boasts a little square in the upper left hand corner of every day to identify your “Top Three.” I am finding this practice helpful in the intentionality category, especially after long days of parenting, when I can write, as the following-morning’s “top three”: “carve out time to read by yourself” or “spend one-on-one time with Emory, no phone.” That is — it presents a pre-fabbed means to course correct and hold myself to it. The brand also has a diffusion line at a weekly cadence for less that I’ve used in the past. I am liking the one-page-a-day extravagance of the full-size, though. A visual reminder that we can make a lot out of every day. My one gripe is that, as a leftie, I have to contend with that damned spiral, and I also find it very difficult to write in the lower portion of the page given how thick the notebook is. Small things, but true ones.

+Mini turns four in March. I’ve already been scheming about a candy-themed birthday, and she has already dreamed up her birthday wishlist: superhero Duplos (yep) and blue sunglasses (coming right up). I think we will also get her a tricycle. We had been planning on buying one for her for Christmas, but I was paralyzed by the conflicting perspectives of so many moms in the comments here, and then Mr. Magpie pointed out that we might not get much use out of it until the spring thaw anyhow. I think I’ve decided to skip the balance bike based on some of your feedback and instead go with a tricycle, but stay tuned. I will also be getting her a subscription to National Geographic and another sensory kit — these have been so profoundly loved in our home in the past six months. I often “make them” myself — using rice, beans, play-doh, and little figurines and scoops/tools — but there is something ultra-intriguing to little hands to have a whole new treasure trove of color-coordinated figures and shapes and poms and the like in a fresh new box. I have bought/gifted ones from Knead to Play, my friend Liz of Home with Elizabeth, and Young, Wild + Friedman. All so amazing!

+I had to update my Valentine’s Day post to share that I ended up buying these red corduroy overalls for micro to wear on Valentine’s Day (and here in bigger toddler sizes). Nothing like classic Osh Kosh. He will look too cute. He has a few pairs that I like to layer over turtlenecks. These ticking stripe ones are also beyond adorable!

+Speaking of VDay, Target restocked these darling $3 melamine heart bowls and plates.

+Before Hamnet, I finished Ruth Ware’s most recent thriller, One by One. I found it slow-footed at the start but am glad I stuck with it — the final 30% of the book is thriller-writing at its finest. The moonlit ski scene! Ah! Just brilliant! I was on the edge of my seat. How long until they make this into a movie?!

+My post-holiday thank-you writing session depleted my reserves of stationery, and so I revisited this post to replenish my stock. Currently agonizing over the font description but committed to ordering an elegant set from Haute Papier, but also drawn to a bright, modern set of these for more informal letter writing. Good to have both, I think. You never know when you might need to lean on a carefully-drafted condolence card…speaking of, I remember after my grandfather died, a neighbor wrote a letter of condolence to my parents on thick ivory paper with black trim and their names in script across the top. Did they keep a set of somber paper just for such dismal correspondence?

+A combination of micro’s prying fingers and a couple of laundering incidents destroyed one of the little pillows in micro’s crib, which he actually uses! (He actually puts his head down on the pillow every night — too cute.). A few I have loved as possible replacements: this Ellis Hill, this applique style (in a boudoir size), and this scallop-edged one with the airplane monogram, which I believe is the winner. Too cute.

+I shared this brand recently, but I cannot get over the precious prints of these pajamas for littles for only $26. Mini must have a set for summer.

+I really enjoyed putting together this roundup of European pharmacy favorites and received so many enthusiastic messages about it! I think we all love the same thing — good quality products at a reasonable price with a mystique about them. Along those lines, I really cannot underscore how much I love (!) this $35 facial cleansing oil. With each passing day, I grow more and more enamored of it. I use it in the A.M. after reading from Caroline Hirons that it’s best to avoid cleansers that are too astringent in the morning and it sets up my face with the loveliest glow. Scent-sensitives, beware: this oil has a strong botanical/herb scent to it that makes me feel as though I’ve just been at a high-end spa where the masseuse used a rosemary oil all over my body. I now love it, of course, but it took some accommodation. It is lovely in every way and I love the way my skin looks in the morning after I apply this and then add my vitamin C serum and Clarins Double serum. I am a glowing, radiant goddess! (Such is what I say to myself in the mirror.) Amazing! Amazing stuff!

+Also have to asterisk my earlier (milquetoast…? too early?) review of Westman Atelier’s Blush Stick in the Dou Dou color. I am properly obsessed now and am back to serve as its hypegirl. The color imparts the flush of cold air you might see on Winona Ryder or Kiera Knightley after riding, breathlessly, on horseback across a gray, cold English countryscape. That is, it is a perfect deep flush and, now that I’m mastering its application, exquisitely natural-looking. J’adore j’adore j’adore. Will absolutely be giving this or the highlighter as gifts to girlfriends this year. (NOTE: New clients can get 10% off with code CLEAN10.)

+I haven’t succumbed to the Veja trend (though I like them — I just didn’t know I needed another pair of dressy sneakers beyond my GGs), but I am digging this new, slightly more athletic style in the pink or even (gasp) the white, which are borderline orthopedic-looking, but have a cool factor I’ve seen other women pull off in the city. Would be v. cute with jeans.

+This Brock Collection top is on obscene sale. I need it? More sale finds in a similar vein here, including several Brock beauties.

+Into the latest Studio McGee for Target releases — especially this $25 woven bowl! Que bello!

P.S. Still v into this color green.

P.P.S. Truly appreciate your kind words, empathy, and encouragement as I grope my way through toddler tantrums. (Your comments on this post…!)

P.P.P.S. My thoughts on the New Year.

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19 thoughts on “Petite Excitements, Part II.

  1. Super intrigued by the Comandante grinder! How have you/Mr. Magpie liked it, now that you’ve had it for a few weeks? We have a high-quality electric one, but I’m always up for a coffee-game upgrade!


    1. Hi! Mr. Magpie loves it. I have to be honest and say that I am not quite as sophisticated in my appreciation of coffee since I add a healthy amount of cream and sugar to my cup, but I have noticed that it yields a smoother cup of coffee — it’s silky and rich. It takes a while to figure out the right level of granularity (too far in either direction can lead to bitterness) and Mr. Magpie has slowly dialed in on the right level. He’s obsessed! Definitely recommend if you are a big coffee lover. It brings me joy that it brings him so much joy!


  2. Just saw the discussion from last year on the balance bike vs training wheels! Ha! Still might be worth letting her try out a regular bike 🙂

  3. Jen, one thought on the tricycle. I got that Radio Flyer push trike for my daughter, who is about 6 months younger than yours, last Christmas and she never really got the hang of it. Then last week we were at a bike shop, looking at something for me, and she wanted to play on the 16″ bikes with training wheels. She was much better on those; it was easier for her to pedal and the salesman said that many kids do better on them. I had assumed that my daughter would be too small for a regular bike for awhile longer. You might take Mini to a bike store and let her try out the bigger kids bikes before you commit to a tricycle.

    1. !! Thank you so much for this tip!! Maybe that’s the ticket — see what she reacts most strongly to! Merci merci!


  4. Hmm, I equally intrigued by and intimidated to try the Day Designer! I love the idea one-page-per-day (could become a journal of sorts! Could allow me to flesh out ideas and projects!), but worry that the practicality of lugging it back and forth to work would lead me to abandon it sooner rather than later. Thoughts??
    xo H

    1. Hi Heidi! It is a brick. For sure. I honestly am not sure whether I would be up for lugging back/forth to work if taking public transit or walking far. BUT. I am currently enjoying the upside (and I also only have to “commute” with it a few steps from my bedroom to the dining room…). I am very pleased with it so far, especially some of the built-in fields I mentioned. It also gives you a ton of space to make notes for yourself, add even very insignicant to-dos, jot down a phone number, etc. I am really loving it as a blank page to help me navigate my day with intentionality.


  5. Hamnet was definitely my favorite book from 2020! I loved it so much that I bought the UK edition for my shelf – I thought it was even more beautiful than the US edition.

    1. Oo I love this! And I’m a sucker for a beautiful cover 🙂 I’m going to have to agree and say that Hamnet is the best thing I’ve read since Circe, which was two or three years ago. Absolutely amazing.


  6. I LOVE Kristin Lavrensdatter! It’s been close to a decade since I read all three, but you have reminded me how I have been wanting to read them again. They are so beautifully written, and Undset has profound insight into the human condition, particularly regarding marriage and religion. It’s interesting that she wrote the trilogy shortly after the collapse of her own marriage and a few years before her conversion to Catholicism. Would love to hear your thoughts if you ever read them!

    1. Hi Mary! (Welcome to the comments section!). Super interesting context for the book – thank you for sharing! Will for sure be considering the book with these lenses in hand. I will report back when I dig in!


  7. Hi Jen! Where did you buy the Comandente? My husband sounds very similar to yours and has a birthday coming up! I saw the website lists some shops in the US that carry and would be curious to know which you selected!! Thank you!

  8. Check out the Woom bike! We don’t have one but I know they are so popular and we will probably get one when the time for a bike comes! A good hybrid on balance bike / real bike (I believe transitions from balance to real). I do think they are super back-ordered though.

    1. Oo thanks for this tip! It does look like they wouldn’t arrive in time for her birthday, but maybe we’ll give her something else and then buy this for her over the summer? Anyway, thanks for the suggestion! Must do my recon!


  9. Good Morning – two questions:
    1. I have been looking at the red Osh Kosh but for a 1 year old…need a 2T…what size does Micro wear? Is there a different link to find them in red larger than 24 months?

    2. I really want to use cream blush but have found most do not have “staying power”…how do you feel the W. Atelier one do in this area?

    As always, thank you.

    1. Hi Nancy! Yes, you can buy the same corduroy style in red in a 2T here:

      Hill wears a 24M in Osh Kosh right now and they fit him perfectly (he’s 19 mos and tall but slim). My guess is that he’ll be in a 2T around May.

      Re: cream blush, to be honest, I feel like my entire face of makeup droops by 5 pm (I apply in the morning around 7:30 a.m.) and I usually refresh it then. This includes the Westman blush. I’ll keep my ears/eyes out for longer lasting makeup but I would say Westman has about the same staying power as most of my makeup!


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