The Magpie Diary: April 7, 2024.

By: Jen Shoop

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It’s 2 a.m. and I wake in a sweat. An actual sweat, bed clothes damp. Do I have a fever? Is this perimenopause? Both possibilities (and recurring realities) at this phase of my life, with little children who ferry home a new virus every day of the week and twice on Tuesday, and the big 4-0 staring at me from a few months down the road in June. But no, it’s that sour anxiety that likes to spill into the midnight hour, suffusing everything with its dark imaginings, two or three nights each month. This time, it’s worrying about my son’s sinus infection. I routinely fret over whether I’ve missed a symptom — my favorite form of self torture. Even though I intellectually recognize this instinct to be a direct result of the heightening of medical anxieties during COVID, and the experience of watching a best friend discover a life-ending cancer in herself, it is difficult for me to escape the pawing “what abouts…” Then I busy myself with the way I disciplined my daughter — was it too harshly? How might I have approached that moment differently? (She needs the firmly-drawn line, but how to be gentle about it, too?) Insert here the four or five random guilt-inducing Instagram posts and newsletter threads I skimmed about motherhood and all the things I should be doing better. Then the text I sent to a friend — was my lax attempt at humor received the right way? Then the three unanswered emails in my inbox that deserved a response three days ago. Then bigger worryings about a relationship that needs work, and how and if I can mend it, and whether that’s my responsibility or not.

No matter how much I work on my worrying ways and how well I fare during the daytime, the midnight hour assails! In daylight, I am capable, and present-minded. I catch myself wandering down the worry trailhead and cut myself off. I invite myself to imagine multiple possible (and better) endings. (Take that, catastrophizing!) I take a deep breath; I let the thoughts slick off like rain bubbles. I stare the worst possible scenario in the face and decide I will still be OK. But two or three nights a month, midnight comes and I am instead a twist of bedsheets, all raw emotion, with thoughts that gallop across the darkened ceiling unbidden and unbreakable.

I decided recently that I needed to make a change. I cannot let a sliver of time on the clock face intimidate me at random. I am stronger than this! I began to make a study of the midnight sessions — what seemed to precede them? Why was this happening only a few nights a month?

I noticed a few things that seem to collectively precipitate a bad midnight: 1) Heightened state of busy-ness. Adjacent: going to bed with things half-done, or not carefully copied over to the next day’s agenda. It’s as though that unfinished business needs a place to sleep, cannot find one, and therefore rouses me to take my spot. 2) Bad sleep hygiene the preceding few days. 3) An extra glass or two of wine. 4) Time of the month — the few nights before my period are almost always an open window for my midnight worry sessions. 5) Lack of physical activity. I now accept that I will take breaks from running several times a year — it’s a feature of my fitness regimen, not a bug. I do this because I’m sick, traveling, or consciously prioritizing other things, and I’ve made peace with the lapses. But if I am hurtling into a cluster of bad midnights, I need to make it my business to break a sweat. A friend of mine once told me that “when you feel you have no time to exercise, you probably need it the most.” Amen to that. 6) Working or writing too close to bedtime. This nearly always shuttles me into a different plane of energy such that it feels I’m vibrating outside of my body until the wee hours of the morning, at which point I am tired, wandering, and therefore prone to a worry session.

What struck me about this reconnoiter was the accretive nature of our stressors. It’s never just one thing. Those midnights are inselbergs that rise out of an alchemy of many loosely-related irritants. Some of these pressures are difficult to change, or attenuate. But at a minimum I now know to drink more water and less wine, and to prioritize sleep and exercise, at certain times of the month. Also: to avoid a late night work session at all costs, and to be sure to copy my to-dos from one page of the agenda to the next.

Have you noticed anything similar in yourself? What do you avoid, or commit to?

Also this week, in pictures…

Listening to myself and moving my body! I tried something new: hot power yoga! I loved it. I went into it reminding myself that nothing changes if nothing changes, and that I could go at my own pace. (Why are new studios so intimidating?). I was surprised by how much I loved it. Truly exhilarating and I’m going again this week! Below: high fashion, y’all. Socks and Birks — we’ve arrived. But I do love everything I’m wearing and highly recommend each: my oversized, washed-out, vintage-looking sweatshirt from Left on Friday; my Beyond Yoga leggings; my silver Birks; my Naghedi tote; my Target socks.

I also went for a rainy, moody run in my favorite Nike tights and Therma-fit half-zip. Both good rainy/chilly pieces because the tights are moisture-wicking and the half-zip is both insulating and also breathable. My muddy socks tell the whole story, don’t they?

Easter recap! Stars of the show: sous-vide carrots with compound citrus butter and honeycomb on top; artichauts barigoule; not pictured: a succulent grilled lamb with herb sauce and potatoes dauphinoise; pastel paint sticks from the Easter basket; anginetti cookies (recipe linked); an Easter tablescape with In the Roundhouse china and cutlery, Hester and Cook paper products, Mrs. Alice tablecloth, and Sweetgrass Home napkins; and a peek at my current favorite pajamas alongside overnight yeasted waffles (recipe linked).

And, a recap of Charlottesville. Highlights: my son at a UVA baseball game (perfect timing, as he started Little League with newfound seriousness the day after we got back!); a family-friendly tour of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home (45 minutes — seek out Dick, our guide! So patient and inviting!); exploring the Grounds at UVA; wine tasting at Jefferson Vineyards (wine was just OK — I still think Early Mountain and Barboursville are the top spots to taste — but gorgeous views and a sweet old dog named Malcolm to greet you); and the pool at Boar’s Head Inn. I had a few questions about where we stayed, and I’ll be blunt: if you can swing it, stay at Keswick. It’s a spectacular property with beautiful rooms and gracious common areas and the food/bar are a notch above. The view from their heated infinity pool is transportive. Boar’s Head is perfectly lovely, but more standard fare, with accommodations that feel a bit more worn and less special. However. We went into the accommodations for this trip with intention. We wanted adjoining rooms, where the children could play in the morning (6:18 a.m.: “Mama, can I wake up and play?”) and watch a movie in their beds in the evening, and Mr. Magpie and I could close the door and stay up later, and chat, and have a bit more privacy ourselves. We looked at our stay as a break for all of us, and knew that taking a suite at Keswick (the only acceptable option once we looked into rates) would have impinged on everyone’s comfort. The rates at Boar’s Head are very reasonable, especially if you visit during the week, as we did. Adjoining rooms at Keswick would have cost 4x as much, and the luxury would have assuredly been lost on our children. Our children were over the moon about having their own room with their own queen sized beds, and going to a hotel pool, and enjoying a proper hotel breakfast with OJ and bacon and all the trimmings — I mean, you would have thought we’d taken them to the Ritz! Just a reminder that children take joy in simple things. (Boar’s Head is also closer to Grounds, so it felt easier to get to Bodo’s and Mincer’s on the corner, to the ballgame, to walk around, etc. But if I were to go back again with just Landon, we’d absolutely re-book at Keswick. We had such a lovely time there a few weeks ago.)

Sharing a few links to some of the favorite things we packed and wore on the trip:

+My son’s oyster swim trunks and the best goggles for little ones;

+My Sezane bag;

+These pin art toys were such a huge hit — the children took them EVERYWHERE we went and found them endlessly entertaining;

+My son’s 80s sweatshirt and striped tee. I love the look of the tee so much, I want to buy in all colors! Waiting for their annual sale to stock up…

+I also shared a bunch of my favorite travel gear for families here, and did end up getting the Calpak tote. Currently in my cart: this set of Paravel suitcases for upcoming travel!

+My favorite comfortable dress. I own it in three colors! I know many of you adore these dresses too. One of you wrote to say you bought two dresses from Mille on my rec, and that they’ve become your absolute favorites in your closet and that you never cease to fetch compliments in them!

What’s new in your neck of the woods?

P.S. The magic and mayhem of traveling with young children.

P.P.S. Three nights in Calistoga, CA.

P.P.P.S. Everything I ate for three days.

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8 thoughts on “The Magpie Diary: April 7, 2024.

  1. This is my second week subscribing to The Magpie Diary and I have to say, it’s the best self-care gift to myself. Your words are poetry-adjacent and bear reading a second time.
    This is my new Friday mid-workday restorative moment. Plus, your littles are adorable. Also enjoying all the snippets within your text. Thank you for this glimpse into your world!!

  2. I can relate on SO many levels!! Thank you for putting to words the anxieties that come with being a modern parent and worker in the post-covid era!

    Practical q: does the cal pack count as a personal item?

    Ps I think you’d like pure barre!

    1. Thank you SO much for making me feel less alone in this!

      I’m confident the Cal bag would count as a personal item (I would personally risk it) but don’t quote me on it!!


  3. This same thing plagues me once or twice a month. Usually it is similiar situations; overly busy days or weeks ahead, a stressful situation lingering in the back of my mind. I usually do a giant brain dump on my phone (I know, I know, I shouldn’t turn it on but sometimes there’s no way around it). I will write/type out every little thing that comes across my mind, worries, things to follow up on, ANYTHING. Usually when I re-read it in the morning, they are so trivial or look different in the morning light.

    1. Amen to this — it is SO true. In plain daylight, all my worries seem so ridiculous! I’ll try your suggestion – thank you!


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