The Magpie Diary: Mar. 31, 2024.

By: Jen Shoop

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One of the Table Topics cards my daughter pulled over dinner this week read: “What is art? What is not art?”

We invited her interpretation first, and she understandably spoke about paintings, drawings, things on canvas. I told her that there are many definitions, and that people disagree on its enclosures (c.f. Duchamp’s “Fountain”), but that I had a liberal interpretation: anything that you create with focus and intention. “In other words, anything can be art.” I pointed at Mr. Magpie’s cooking, the poetry of his mise en place, the energy he brings to every phase of its realization. I added that art can be getting dressed, designing your day, humming a tune, arranging your bookshelves, writing a piece of poetry, calligraphing on paper, gardening. At this point, she began to glaze over and shuffle the deck for a new prompt, and I cut myself off, but I could have gone on and on —

In fact, Emory, our lives can be art, if we exercise adequate attention, and the thread is you. Each day of your life, you move through the day, weaving a happy little pattern, leaving your stitching behind. You are the strand that draws together the line of stuffed animals on your pillows, the music on the speaker, the outfit you laid out on the floor last night, the way you like your sandwiches cut, the stories in your diary, the drawings on the wall, the post-it note that reads: “come on in 🙂 on your bedroom door.” How beautiful to imagine yourself as the piecing thread in a masterful quilt you will assemble over the course of your life. To know that everything you lovingly touch is seamed with your color.

I have been thinking happily about this metaphor since. I am the thread. What am I stitching right now?


Happy Easter, if you are celebrating — we will be at the chaotic mid-morning family mass at our parish, the pews lined with children in pastels buzzing with the energy of Peep-and-jelly-bean breakfasts, and then enjoying a lamb-centric Easter Sunday dinner with my parents and Mr. Magpie’s. Easter is probably my favorite holiday, and I’m speaking now from a cultural rather than religious perspective. It has much less of the intensity and window dressing of Christmas or Thanksgiving, and we enter into it with a loose-armed “what should we eat this year?” energy. Our attitude harkens back to a string of Easters spent with friends and siblings in our home in Chicago — all of us were transplants to the area, and none of us would fly home for the holiday, so we’d assemble a motley crew each year, and it had the aura of “the kids stuck at boarding school while everyone else flew home.” We’d toast with champagne, linger around the table for hours, lollygag in the backyard (weather permitting — Chicago can be merciless in March and April), open bottle after bottle of wine, go back for seconds, and then post-meal snacks, listen to music at top decibel. We’d fare la scarpetta into the wee hours of the morning.

From a religious perspective, of course, it is a time of triumph and miracle, which brings its own inner revolutions.


The children are off school for ten days, and we leave for a short spring break trip later this week, so as I sit here, I feel a bit like “how will we get it all done?” We must dye eggs, bake anginetti, fill baskets, order wine, make multiple trips to the market, pack for the trip, do special loads of laundry for the trip, find ways to keep the children occupied, order activities for the car, make reservations for dinner. But it’s OK because it’s always OK. At this point in my life, the moment I began to feel the friction of “oh my God, how will I ever get it all done?”, I just tell myself: “You always do. Trust yourself.” And I do. Fretting about it does nothing to help the cause.

Now I must sit for a spell and make a couple of lists to get myself organized…


Snapshots from the week:

My girl’s aforementioned “Come on in” sticky note. Don’t mind the chip in the door. (Kids!) She has sticky notes all over her walls. They used to bother me but I now see them as a really sweet form of self-expression. (Bonus: they won’t ruin the paint.) Plus, I’m a big fan of the philosophical underpinnings of a post-it. A small, fungible space that can only hold one thought but can be rearranged easily? Yes! A brilliant creativity tool! I go through probably a pad a week…?!

My baby girl in her Petite Plume nightgown. Out of frame: me trying not to expedite her or my son while they eat their breakfasts. Weekday mornings are always such a rush! (An interesting conversation about this going on here, as I mentioned yesterday.) The dry erase chore charts (seen below) have been helpful — specifically, having them own (and willingly check off!) the uniform-setting-out at bedtime the night before eases things a bit. I recently read something about how structured our children’s lives are — how little control they have! — during a standard school week. Finding tiny ways to give them more autonomy makes sense.

Mr. Magpie and I have been obsessed with burning incense in the evenings. It’s not just the smell — it’s a multi-sensory experience — watching the stick burn down, the smoke fill the air. Very relaxing. We like Aesop’s sandalwood scent. Also above: my favorite scalloped rattan tray from Half Past Seven, and the acrylic coasters from Proper Table we own in multiple patterns and use all over the place in our home. Both female-founded small businesses with lovely entrepreneurs at the helm. (And you can see my daughter eating off one of the Proper Table placemats in the photo above!)

The afternoon light! I was so charmed by the lay of the sunshine here. Also, I know they’re ridiculous, but my Ugg Tazz slippers have been one of my favorite possession this long winter. I found a few still in stock here and here.

We took the children for ramen at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka over the weekend, and it was excellent. We’ve been a few times, and this visit I decided it’s the best I’ve had in the D.C. area. It’s in a bit of an odd location — among office buildings in the Tyson’s area — and its placement alongside Whole Foods and other chains might appear to undermine its authenticity, but don’t let it! Absolutely delicious.

Afterward, we enjoyed Dolcezza gelato back in Bethesda. I had a bananas foster flavor that was out of this world, but I am still enduring sticker shock — the smallest serving you can buy is $7.25, and of course both of my children needed their own. How can it be that a few scoops of ice cream for a family of four costs $30? Anyhow – we chose Dolcezza because we’d also wanted to buy a few espresso shots for espresso martinis later in the evening, and this was a location that offered both excellent gelato and excellent coffee! Note my son in his Virginia sweatshirt. We brought it back for him from our recent trip to Charlottesville and he wore it to bed (and any other opportunity he could) for a week straight. (He wears a uniform to school, so couldn’t indulge his wishes during the week.). He’s also majorly in his peace sign era.

Espresso martini time, using Dolcezza espresso! Friends had invited us over for dinner and games at their house at 8 o’clock so I needed a little caffeine boost. (We are usually winding down for bed around 9-9:30.). I shared our espresso martini recipe here. We like to serve these in these glasses. Mr. Magpie is a huge proponent of the proper garnish, so he added three coffee beans. So pretty!

Because of aforementioned ramen and ice cream adventures, my son’s Virginia sweatshirt (and, truth be told, my own Frank and Eileen henley — seen above) were splattered with broth and gelato. I used this spray on both items, then used a small scrub brush with hot water to rub in and placed in laundry. The stains came out immediately! I’m impressed with this stuff!

Me, earlier this week, pretending that it was not 30 degrees outside by wearing my fav Birks around the house. A fun new-to-me brand called Electric and Rose sent me these pull-on utility pants and they are SO comfortable and easy to wear. A nice break from more standard cuts of denim, but a tad long so I rolled at the hem. They strike me as the kind of thing I’d wear at the beach, but I also think they’ll become part of my new “writing uniform” because they are so comfortable while sitting for long stretches at a desk. I paired with two pieces from Cella Jane’s collab with Splendid: a striped tee (I like the longer length of the sleeve) and a henley polo over top. The top feels more like a sweatshirt than a shirt — very similar to Spanx’s Airweight line. I meant to share these when the collab first launched — really beautiful basics in a pretty, natural palette. Ultra-soft and high quality.

OK, Magpies — onward we go —

P.S. Shopbop hearts, updated multiple times this week! At the top of my wishlist: this Alemais, these blue Birks, this Farm Rio set.

P.P.S. A poem that energizes me.

P.P.P.S. Nocturnes.

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2 thoughts on “The Magpie Diary: Mar. 31, 2024.

  1. Hi Jen!

    My son had an anaphylactic reaction Saturday evening. He’s food allergic, but this wasn’t one of his known allergens, but a food he’d eaten safely many times. Our first truly serious reaction though he’s had an epipen since he was a baby. We rode in the ambulance, got checked out, and were luckily home within 2 hours thanks to my quick hand with medication. My son is safe and none the worse for wear. So Easter morning found me hastily removing food treats from eggs and raiding my birthday cabinet since he’ll be more reactive to even normally safe foods this week, and at mass I was weeping and grateful in the pews. Not thinking of the food I didn’t make, the house that wasn’t clean, but of my babies safe and watchful in my lap. My little son still isn’t used to church (“We go see Jesus now? Where Jesus go?”) and claps and shouts “yay!” after every song. Glory be.

    I love the post-it’s! What a glimpse into her inner world. At her age I had scotch taped animals I cut out from Ranger Rick in a collage over my bed. I know it drove my mom up the wall but I loved it!

    I’ve just started reading Autonomy Supportive Parenting, and it’s slow going but very interesting, and I know the author has a Substack. I see it in including our kids in chores and errands, and the control you’ve given Emory over her wardrobe, and letting my small son pick his clothes from my online shopping cart, the breakfast plate eaten slowly, the sweatshirt worn to bed, and all the conversations we’ve been contemplating here! Onward. xx

    1. What a nightmare, Kelly! I’m so glad he’s OK, and that you were able to follow your instincts and move quickly, but what a scare! I’m glad you found that moment in the Church, though. Such a great reframe. THIS is what matters.

      Thanks for the parenting book suggestion!! Sounds right up our alley.


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