The Magpie Diary: Dec. 17, 2023.

By: Jen Shoop

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Above: Goop sweater; J. Crew turtleneck (old, similar here); LL Bean bag (<<free ship!).

Today is my best friend’s 40th birthday and I feel like I’m turning 40 today, too. I don’t generally attach much meaning to so-called “milestone” birthdays but this one does feel monumental — more from a personal timeline standpoint than anything else. By that I mean: for the past year, I have had the distinct sensation that I am closing one chapter of my life and entering a new one. My children are out of baby-and-toddler-hood, and we’ve settled into a long-term home and community. So many of the question marks that followed me around, shadow-like, for the past decade and a half, have suddenly turned into answers, with periods at the end. We are done having children; we have chosen the school our children will attend through eighth grade; we are settled, probably permanently, in the D.C. area; I have a clearer vision of what I want to do with the balance of my life, and it is to continue to write. Hopefully some fiction, definitely more essays, but — God willing — the pen will continue to fit snugly in my hand. I didn’t always have that clarity of purpose. I knew I loved to write, but I had other interests, too, and I didn’t know whether I could support myself on paper alone. We have answered those questions. In that sense, I’ve been “turning 40” since I moved to Bethesda. Or maybe “turning 40” is the wrong shorthand; maybe I’ve just been “turning a leaf.” One thing Mr. Magpie and I often talk about are “signals of growth.” We’ve gone reconnoitering for these signals in many different domains over the years: professional, personal, parenting, social. The enchiridion for this kind of scouting: You know how sometimes you realize you’ve been feeling a different way about things that you used to find either challenging or comforting or just status quo? For example: your job felt very difficult, or satisfying, or simply “doable,” and you realize one morning you’ve been harboring different feelings for a stretch? This feels too easy, this feels too boring, I’m just going to mail it in, etc? Or one afternoon you notice that the nature of your days has changed, almost imperceptibly, over the past few months? You used to spend all your hours doing x, and now you’re actually doing y and z? Or, you used to spend most of your free time with person a, and now you spend much more time with persons b and c? Or the communities in which you used to feel at home now feel kind of…frictional? Uncomfortable? You find yourself less at ease in them, reaching, almost without knowing it, for something else? Sometimes extrinsic things complement these changes: your boss is asking you to take on new kinds of work; you’re receiving more invitations to participate in new kinds of activities; different family members are asking different things of you. We call these “signals of growth.” Signs that you are leveling up. Indicators that you are passing through the threshold to the upstairs rooms.

This was perhaps easiest to see in past entrepreneurial contexts. One thing we talked a lot about in the start-up environments in which I worked for a time: “what you do to get your first 10 customers is going to be different from what you do to get your next 100 customers. And that will be different from what you do to get your next 1000 customers.” If you’ve ever built something from scratch, you know how true this is. Say you decide to start selling your homemade peppermint-and-chocolate drizzled popcorn that your family has been loving for years. Your first ten customers might be friends, family, kind colleagues, former bosses. You are going to cultivate a high-touch sale, with a text or email letting them know that (boot-kicking-the-ground) you’ve “started this little side business and if you’re interested, you can buy a pack here!” Or you might not charge them for anything — you might give them out for free and beg them to tell their friends. Then you go out for the next 100 customers, and you might have learned something about where your customers might be, and you go to those places and find them — Christmas markets, school sales, mom’s groups? You still might be charging less than you’re worth, and you’re probably driving around dropping the popcorn off between after-school sports and the grocery. But once you’re getting to the 1000 mark, your process changes again. Maybe you start selling online, or you’re contemplating how to get this into a local boutique. Each phase, you encounter what feel like insurmountable challenges, as you’ve just figured out how to do the last kind of “sale” well and now you’re being asked to innovate and draw in new techniques (and you need to start shipping! and figure out how to connect with the right person at the local shops!). But all of these changes are signals of growth.

This is also true in our social lives, in parenting, in personal matters of all stripes. As you grow, you might find yourself temporarily panicking or straining out of a former role/pattern, and you’re not sure why. You don’t usually have the discernible framework of “oh, this is just leveling up my business from customer level 100 to 1000” as outlined in the popcorn example above, so you must instead trust yourself to read the signs and have faith that you are on an upward trajectory. I saw a clip on Instagram the other day of a little boy — probably two years old — who was climbing on gymnastic ropes, learning to use his weight to hold the ropes taut. He was shockingly dextrous. He was smiling but focused. The voice-over said that, as a parent, you should not interrupt children when they are “doing dangerous things carefully — this is where we learn.” I thought immediately of Montessori, of how my children were taught to carry small glass objects around, and to pour from pitchers, and to use carrot peelers, at the age of 18 months, or two years. At home, these undertakings made my palms sweaty, but the truth is that they were given the opportunity to “do dangerous things carefully” at school, and this is how they cultivated fine and gross motor skills, and learned to take care of everyday household objects, and figured out how to move with grace throughout their environments. Growth happens in discomfort.

(As I write this, I am desperately trying to apply the framework to my daughter’s current reading tastes, as I know she is “reading [dangerous-ish] things carefully.” How do I scaffold the interest, while helping prevent injury? I’ve been reflecting on this deeply the past few weeks. I’ve decided I’m still generally anti-censoring-anything, but now must double down on my efforts to read alongside her, and have conversations about what we’ve read just after. This has been going well so far. I am always surprised and moved by her deep insights and easy sense of right and wrong. At the same time, if something is really too upsetting for her — that Guts graphic novel I mentioned turned her world upside down — my daughter’s teacher suggested the following language: “Reading is similar to watching movies and not all books are appropriate for everyone. These books are for when you’re older.” She also pointed out that “the fact that she found some content disturbing is also a good discussion point because she will understand why you shouldn’t read everything just because you can.”)

Anyhow — all of this talk about discomfort in growth might sound strange after I’ve just said that my most recent “leveling up” has been a kind of “settling down.” But there have been strains in the soft folds, too — mainly of the emotional sort. Did I adequately cherish my children’s baby years? Did we say “no” to opportunities in New York that could have been enriching, interesting, etc? And there have been many adjustments, and sheddings, and closed doors. I have seen myself try on new versions of myself, with varying degrees of comfort. Am I the type of mom who participates in the “mom’s club” at school? Do I involve myself in old friend groups from childhood? How integrated should I be in my neighborhood? There are so many places I could apply myself, and the stakes feel high as we will be here for a long time.

Again, the very nature and density of these questions suggests I am turning a leaf. Passing through the lintel from one phase to the next.

Onward — !!

Also this week…

+We saw Santa! The sickness gods smiled on us by not having us get sick until after this peak holiday event. Mini lost her front tooth a week ago, and Santa said he’d “try to do something about that front tooth,” and mini’s face was ablaze with delight and wonder. I actually got micro to wear the sweater he refused to wear on Thanksgiving (small victories — he didn’t even say a word when I slipped it over his head, and I’m so grateful I had the vague foresight to pick one that would work for both holidays). Mini had a gorgeous tartan dress but decided she hated it at the last minute (too itchy, too tight!) and I said “OK, that’s fine. Pick something else.” I’m not going to have her miserable while meeting Santa, and I’m truly done with the battle over clothes, full stop. So she chose this gold tinsel situation that I actually bought her for her holiday concert — her class is meant to wear something gold, and she chose it. So that’s where we landed. I love her little topcoat from La Coqueta (again, she picked the color!)

+The best photo I got of myself from Santa day. I had the cutest outfit on, too — this dress from Maxwell and Geraldine (not sure if you can see but it has velvet trim at the skirt and sleeves — also available in a gorgeous black swiss dot that is a bit more versatile for beyond Christmas, but still festive for the season — both on high sell out risk) and glittery boots. But my daughter was just out of the bathroom stall and it was not the time for a photo shoot. Santa was waiting! (I do want to wax poetic again about this ivory topcoat from Veronica Beard. She’s elegance, she’s grace. I feel like a zillion bucks in her. Styling/sizing notes here. BTW, I love my hair in the post I just linked. I had it done at home via GlamSquad and would 10/10 recommend this service again. Obviously, you’re always rolling the dice with the technician, but I’ve had my hair done at home via GlamSquad twice this season and both times were excellent, it is SO convenient (duh), and not that much more expensive than going to DryBar. I think it works out to being about the same dollar amount actually, but then you have the time-savings of not having to go anywhere, park, etc. Plus, I think you get $10 or $20 off your first service. Definitely worth trying. Schedule now for NYE! Treat yourself!)

+OK, also above: I’m wearing my Dorsey Margaux earrings (legit don’t take these off), which have sadly sold out, but these Crawfords are very similar and ship immediately. I have the emerald ones en route to me now. Planning to wear this entire holiday week! I’m also wearing this Dorsey ring! (More details on my Dorsey collection here and here. These items were gifted to me.)

+Below: delightful pour of nog, pre-illness. Recipe here. One thing we both love about nog is that you can mix up a batch and keep it in the fridge for the week in a glass jug with a stopper like this. (The alcohol kills any bacteria — people actually keep nog in the fridge for even a full year, so it can age! We tried this last year and didn’t love the flavor, so are back to just mixing up a match or two each season.)

+Fast-forward to 36 hours later, when this apple slice was the first bite of food I’d had in a full day. Yuck. When I am sick, especially with stomach ailments, I absolutely crave apples and apple sauce — I think because they’re sweet / so sugar-dense? And my body craves the hit of energy, as it’s running on fumes? This has led me to kind of dread when I “feel like an apple.” (“Oh God, am I sick?”)

+The morning after barfpocalypse, it had snowed! It felt like waking up in a snow globe. We were all (drowsily) mesmerized. The experience felt adjacent to the metaphor I’d danced with in this little musing on how, even during the longest and darkest day, morning comes. And sometimes earlier than we think. The arbor vitae below are one of my favorite parts of our property. The texture is visually soothing. Especially wearing little jackets of snow.

+My Sennheisers deserved a glamor shot in their pretty (cheap) new stand. I know I’ve yapped about these too much already, but they are easily the biggest upgrade I’ve made to my creative life in years. I am so much more productive and focused when I’m wearing them and in a flow. You know the general concept of “protecting your energy” and “protecting your peace” that is so popular (rightfully so!) right now? These have been a pathway to protect my creative energy and peace. I had not know how much background noise I was processing while in the throes of writing. I swear I hear everything that happens during my husband’s workday, and absorb little shadow energies while doing that! Anyhow, if you’ve been on the fence, this has to be your call to leap for them, because they’re currently on super sale. 33% off in select colors. Your creative spirit will thank you.

+Another little vanity shot, this time for mini’s new Nikes. HOW AMAZING ARE THEY?! They remind me of Marty McFly and she loves that the soles are blue (her favorite color). She was so excited about them that she didn’t want to wear certain pants because they’d cover the swoosh.

+[ED NOTE: I have to run a quick update post-publication and say that the whipped boyshorts from Negative are THE most comfortable, most flattering, non-restrictive, silky-smooth, attractive underwear ever. I hadn’t fully tested them prior to writing/publishing this section. I am hooked and already have several additional pairs in my cart. The only problem is that they are $$! You can basically get three pairs of the Stripe and Stares mentioned below for the price of one. But you will be obsessed with them.] OK, Magpies. I’ve been looking for years for good sleeping underwear. I’ve resigned to these cheap Plain Jane Amazon ones because they’re mostly cotton (95%, plus 5% spandex for stretch) and, well, cheap. (Size up — life is too short for too-tight underwear.) But they aren’t, like, the softest or stretchiest or most comfortable. However, it felt like all the other styles I considered were too pricey or didn’t look comfortable enough. I just discovered Stripe & Stare and I’m obsessed. They are silky smooth with a good amount of stretch (my personal preference for sleeping!). Instructions say hand wash but I throw in the laundry. If you’re a “grown up,” they have good essential color sets but I went with patterns — these and these. Also on the undergarment train: my Negative bra came (along with the rest of my order) and omggg. So comfortable, and saucy, and pretty. I am absolutely going to order myself one of their two packs (for a small saving). I also want to try the waffle style. I’m not sure, in full transparency, how well these work for larger chested women — they are fairly thin with no support. Also, take note of sizing, as I typically just order the smallest size, but ended up going with a 1 instead of a 0 in some styles.

+Shopbop sent me as a holiday gift this Lunya set. I’ve wanted to try this brand forever and ever but always felt like they were a bit too cool for me? I have never been so excited by a gift from a brand before — isn’t a good gift always the kind of thing you want but wouldn’t buy for myself? I am strangely fixated on / obsessed with the 80s style silk scrunchie. I’ve been wearing it around the house, washing my hair, etc. Small glimmer of joy. More of my recent Shopbop favorite finds here.

+Writing this while wearing this fisherman sweater. It is so, so good for the price. One of my friends bought a bunch in different colors to give to her best friends for Christmas!

P.S. “You can change who you are at any time. And with nobody’s permission.”

P.P.S. One of my favorite recent weeks of outfits. I loved everything I wore that week.

P.P.P.S. What are the traditions that matter? Important reflection point for me as I head into the holiday week and feel like I need to do all the things!

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6 thoughts on “The Magpie Diary: Dec. 17, 2023.

    1. LOVE the henley. It is ultra-soft. I will say I’m more comfortable wearing it around the house (very snug, fairly low-cut, and semi-sheer) or layered beneath a cardigan versus with company. I have been wearing a lot around the house and to sleep in! I did not order the pants – I ordered some of the whipped shorts and boy shorts and both are divine. The boy shorts in particular are so flattering and comfortable!!

      Note on henley sizing: runs small/tight/snug.


  1. PSA, Becky Malinsky has great ski gear recs in her latest newsletter!

    Also, I’m aspiring to make several healthy-ish freezer meals before my surgery. I’m think chili, stuffed shells, green chile stew… I know what a wonderful cook you are and I’d love any suggestions you have!! XO

    1. Thanks for the Becky reminder!! For freezer food: my first thoughts were soup and baked ziti or a homemade bolognese sauce you can put over easy-to-boil pasta. Wishing you a speedy recovery!!


      1. Perfect thanks Jen!
        P.S. I found Father Rohr’s latest newsletter very comforting and lovely, especially given the state of the world right now. You might as well:) xo

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