Musings + Essays

Where Many Walk Alone.

By: Jen Shoop

I’ve found myself heady with deja vu the past couple of days walking Tilly through Central Park.  The leaves are turning; the sky is November-gray.  There is a chill in the air.  I’m reminded of the evening walk Mr. Magpie and I took with a nine-month old mini after Thanksgiving dinner last fall.  We’d decided to stay put in New York for the holiday because the move to Manhattan had done a number on us and we weren’t up for voluntary travel.  The night prior, on an “insider’s tip,” we’d walked twenty blocks in brisk, 30 degree weather to watch Macy’s inflate the balloons for the Thanksgiving Day parade.  We were smug with native Manhattanite knowledge: “we’re like the real New Yorkers,” we thought.  The crowd at 79th and Columbus– comprised largely of tourists, we noted, with disappointment — was thick and stagnant; after 40 minutes of shivering and nary a Snoopy float in sight, we turned back, dispirited, and thawed out in our apartment with glasses of wine.  “Well, we’re not insiders yet,” I shrugged, that all-too-familiar feeling of dislocation I’d been harboring since the move resurfacing unpleasantly.

The next morning, we left the apartment to walk Tilly and found our street deserted and eerily quiet.  No cars, no foot traffic.  We learned that Central Park West and many of the side streets perpendicular to it had been blocked off for the parade.  Observers had been camping out on the banks of the street since early dawn.  And here we were, casually walking our dog and happening upon the parade, mid-stride.  We looked at each other: “No, now we’re like real New Yorkers.”  We ambled along the largely-empty sidewalk in front of our building, a sparse crowd of maybe 10 people between us and the floats.  We waved to Santa.  We craned our necks to take in the Snoopy balloon, that specter we’d watched through our television sets on Thanksgiving mornings for thirty-some years.  We thought: “Now this is magic.”  I knew immediately that this moment, standing on the curb of CPW with my little family, would be a cornerstone memory in the story of how we fell in love with New York, how we’d come to be anointed as part of the New York tribe.

That night, before the Thanksgiving dinner we’d managed to pull off in our narrow galley kitchen, its counters about a tenth the size of the ones we’d enjoyed in Chicago, Mr. Magpie offered to read the Thanksgiving prayer my father has read every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.  It’s written in my mother’s loopy script, photocopied so many times it’s faintly legible.  Something swelled inside.  Mr. Magpie is not a Catholic; he does not attend Mass with mini and I.  And so I recognized in this gesture the depth of his commitment to the three of us as a family unit, adopted religious traditions and all.

“For food in a world where many walk in hunger;

For faith in a world where many walk in fear;

For friends in a world where many walk alone;

We give you thanks, O Lord.”

I bowed my head as he started to read these lines, but mini started squawking and I looked up at her.  Mr. Magpie stopped after the second line, broke off abruptly.  I glanced over, wondering if he was waiting for mini to settle down before he’d proceed, and noticed instead that he was clenching and unclenching his jaw.  He cleared his throat once, then again.  Then took a breath, and read the last two lines.

I walked around the table, squeezed his shoulder.  We sat quietly for a minute, composing ourselves.

After dinner, I insisted mini and I accompany Mr. Magpie on his nightly walk with Tilly, though it was past mini’s bedtime and bone-chillingly cold outside.  We poured some of the juicy, jammy zinfandel from dinner into a travel mug, buried mini in fleece, and headed out the door.  We walked around the perimeter of Heckscher Ballfields in a satisfied haze, the crunch of leaves beneath our feet.  The park was almost entirely empty.  We moved together, a cluster in motion.

I have been revisiting this memory the last several days, feeling the same swell inside each and every time, startling myself with the prick of tears as I think of the clenching and unclenching of his jaw, the breaking of curfew to stroll together around the park, the prodigious gift of family when many walk alone.

Post-Scripts: Thinking Ahead to Thanksgiving.

+There is a recipe for sweet potatoes with crushed peanuts on top that will change your entire life in this cookbook (one of our all-time favorites).  Please add it to your Thanksgiving day menu.  You’re welcome. [Updated after publication on 10/10/18: One reader requested that I share the recipe here.  I found it online here.  The recipe calls for sorghum syrup, which my grocery does not carry, so I ordered it online here: . If you’re like, “Great, now I’ll have 1/2 a jar of sorghum syrup I’ll never use,” worry not. I’ve used it as a substitute for molasses and honey in other recipes.]

+More thoughts on the prodigious gift of family.

+I like to get dressed up for Thanksgiving, and so does Mr. Magpie.  But if your family is more casual, maybe a chic new sweater with your denim — something like this, which looks virtually identical to a Ganni sweater that costs about three or four times what this one does, or this.  (Love the fur-cuff sweaters all over the place lately…)

+For those of us who prefer to get dolled up — last year, I bought a deep green velvet wrap dress from MISAThis is strikingly similar and far less expensive, and I also love this one in any of the colors.  Would look great to pair the pink with a burgundy shoe, but navy and silver are festive on their own.  I also love this velvet style from Saloni.  There’s just something about the holidays that calls for velvet.  Alternately, go on-trend with this, which has a kind of alluring 70s vibe to it that I’m into, and I love that golden color!, or this, which nails the prairie chic trend.  (I’d wear the latter with black suede pumps.)

+In all likelihood, though, I think I’m buying this cream fit and flare number, which I can imagine myself wearing in infinite permutations.  It would look great with emerald green or cranberry red accents for Thanksgiving.

+I have a number of friends and readers who are pregnant right now and have asked for input on styling for formal occasions.  For Thanksgiving, I’d recommend this (not maternity but forgiving) with sleek black pointed toe mules or this (also comes in a cranberry color, but I prefer the ivory).  Don’t forget the maternity tights.

+For minis: I ordered this for mini this year; she wore this smocked beauty last year.  This floral smocked style could be super cute, though I must present a caveat for Cecil&Lou items — I find that they run a little baggy/loose/voluminous, which can have a kind of weird Little Lord Fauntleroy effect that I’m not into.  I like a shorter hem and a trim fit on mini — think Shirley Temple.  That said, I have found some really cute stuff from there and the prices are much better than elsewhere for the traditional look.

+Alternately for minis: I also like something less obviously Thanksgiving-themed, like this, this, or this.  And then there’s that $25 H&M steal, which would be perfect for the occasion as well, especially with a pair of pom pom knee socks (mini owns these in multiple colors).  Finally, love this with a big chocolate brown bow.

+For boys: corduroy pants and a cable-knit sweater.  Basically, Mr. Magpie but shrunken.  And don’t even get me started on these adorable driving mocs.

+For tabletop, I love my turkey tureen.  Yes, it’s made the trek to New York with us, where it’s occupying precious shelf space.  But I love it for some inexplicable reason.  I like it against a linen runner like this, maybe with mini boxwoods as the greenery and a boxwood wreath on the wall.  (As an aside, I still daydream about one day owning the Juliska Country Estate collection for Thanksgiving/fall.  I love it so.  And I also love these bird plates.)

+Loving this donegal sweater dress (with driving mocs?) and how chic is this mock-neck sweatshirt?!  Never seen anything like it.  Love it for weekend mornings.

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18 thoughts on “Where Many Walk Alone.

  1. I used this blessing for a dinner of 15 people on a night between Christmas and NYE – it was loved by all. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Ohhh I am so touched to hear this! I love this simple, moving prayer. Glad it found a home in your family, too. xoxo

  2. Thanksgiving! What a wondrous time. I love the dress you’re considering for this year — classic and feminine. (Julia’s designs are so great, and I am hoping to see them in person sometime soon to get a better idea about fabrication!)

    I think I will be going to my parents’ in either a floral Ganni number or a red wool Suno with black accents. I can’t decide if the latter is too harsh for Thanksgiving, though. Hmm! I’m keeping my eyes out for other options, too.

    Your memory of Mr. Magpie reciting the blessing is so sweet. I love how attuned you are to the many blessings in your life. We should all be that way! xo

    1. You know what – I’ve been meaning to post an update on the GMG dress. I received it and it was enormous on me, even in the smallest size. I’m petite but not THAT petite. It just did not work at all! So disappointed. I also felt that the fabric was not the level of finish/quality I had expected. BUT it is darling and maybe it would work on a different frame.

      Ganni floral FTW! Sounds so chic.

      Impossible not to be attuned to these blessings in my life!!! xoxo

      1. Yes! I do love so many of her designs, and I’d actually read that some are better-made than others, so I’m still intrigued by other styles. xo

  3. Good Morning! just wondered if you have come across any nice driving moccs lately? I’m a size 42/11 and find it really hard to find.!

    1. Hi Alicia! Thanks for checking in. My first thought was my pair of Tod’s Gommini loafers. I LOVE mine and they are built to last. I saw they carry up to a size 42 here:

      I love the pale pink color, but gray or black suede would probably go with EVERYTHING.

      If you’re not looking to make quite as big an investment, people rave about the M. Gemi Felize style:

      They carry up to size 43 and come in fantastic colors. I think that they might offer $50 off your first purchase from their site but you may need to sleuth around for a coupon code or email them to see if they’ll honor it. A popup used to appear along those lines…

      Finally, I love this pair I found at DSW in classic saddle brown leather or pretty blush pink. Both colors are available in a size 11 and are on sale for $59!:

      Love the styling of them. They look like a pair of Tod’s!


  4. This is Jen commenting on my own post because a reader’s comment accidentally got deleted. Gilli had asked whether the sweet potato recipe I reference in the post is available online without purchase of the book, and I tracked it down:

    My grocery did not carry sorghum syrup so I ordered it online here:

    If you’re like, “Great, now I’ll have 1/2 a jar of sorghum syrup I’ll never use,” worry not. I’ve used it as a substitute for molasses and honey in other recipes.


  5. Love this so much. We have a similar family blessing (handwritten in my great grandmother’s loopy script- they don’t teach it like they used to!!) and it always gets me choked up, even though I hear it every year: “Bless our dear ones gathered together on this Thanksgiving, and those no longer with us gathered here in affectionate bonds of memory. Bless the dear ones who are in distant places and who make us richer just because they care. Keep us faithful and true and grateful always. Let us learn not to accept unwonderingly the goodness of life, but to be constant in our expression of Thanksgiving.”

    1. Oof, I loved this. Especially the acknowledgement of “those no longer with us gathered here in affectionate bonds of memory.” The affectionate bonds of memory! What a gorgeous, gracious way to remind us how connected we are to them. Thank you so much for sharing this, Anna. xoxo

  6. I really love this post, Jen–there is something to be said about staying put over Thanksgiving and the surprising sense of calm that falls over an otherwise bustling city like NYC or DC! I’ve spent a couple of the holidays here and it’s idyll in a way you’d never expect. Kind of makes you fall in love with a place all over again!

    1. Totally agree, Monica — and I think it might also have something to do with the feeling of laying roots in a city all your own, of settling down somewhere and staying there. Love it. Hope you enjoy the holiday whether you head home or stay put in D.C. xo

  7. Love this post, especially the prayer! I think I got choked up, too, ha! There is something special about the November-gray sky and New York in its stillness. I miss it.

    I love the velvet picks here – that Saloni dress! I hesitated buying another velvet piece since I haven’t really worn what I had gotten last winter. However, I recently picked up the gray-blue velvet tank from J Crew during their most recent sale. I’m glad I did, though, and will consider wearing it on Thanksgiving – while saying that prayer 🙂

    1. The stillness of NYC in fall is right — especially in contrast with the windiness of Chicago at that time of year. You are so right.

      I know the velvet tank you’re talking about and LOVE that one. Will look so good tucked into high-waist jeans or paired with a skirt in virtually any shape (full, pencil, mini). Chiiic. xo

  8. I loved the children selections in this post! Thank you-ordered a dress for my daughter! Do you have any suggestions on hair bows for a 3 year old with A LOT of hair?
    P.S. Your writing is beautiful. I look forward to your post each morning.

    1. Hi Melissa! Thank you so much for the compliment, and for letting me know. Glad and flattered to have you here each morning.

      Hmm, toddlers with a lot of hair. I’m not sure how helpful this will be, but right now, I use these clear plastic elastics to secure my daughter’s hair into a ponytail first:

      They are super snug and do not fall out. You might have to look around for bigger width ones (I know they exist — have seen them in CVS — something like this: in the large size) to make sure the super small ones aren’t just too itty bitty for your daughter’s hair. Anyway, I secure her hair into a ponytail with one of those and then add a clip-in bow. I buy all her bows from PoppyBows on Etsy:

      Let me know if that’s remotely in the vein of what you’re looking for. I’ll not be surprised if a fellow Magpie chimes in with an even better solution though!


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