The Magpie Diary: May 12, 2024.

By: Jen Shoop

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I spend a lot of time alone. I work for myself, in my own home, and our children are out of the house at school and then extra curriculars between 8 and either 3:30 or 5:30 most days. I do eat lunch with Mr. Magpie around noon, but beyond that, I’m solo for much of the week. I was made for this eremitic life — or perhaps I unknowingly sought it out. I enjoy my own company and feel most myself when alone, or in the sparing company of a few close friends and family members. As I get older, I find myself more in tune with my own physical and emotional limits, and I can tell you that I require a lot of solitary time in order to function at my best. If I run on less, I’m all awkward angles and grinding gears.

Since starting my new fitness regimen a few weeks ago, it’s felt like I’ve been spending even more time than usual by myself. But when I looked closer, I realized I’m still netting the same number of solo hours each week — it’s just that working out, especially running, gives me more “quality time” with myself than usual. When I run, I am unpacking, I am planning, I am revising, I am self-criticizing, I am reminding myself to go easy. I am sometimes circling a drain, fretting over things I did or didn’t do, and sometimes swinging through a near-euphoric stratosphere (thank you, runner’s high) as I tick through all the things I have to be grateful for. All of this unexpected “me time” has led me to reflect intensively on this past year in which I have learned so much about myself. I have been working, yeomen-like, through my instinct to smooth things over, appease, please all parties — an instinct that led to a situation that boiled over last year. I have been staring it straight in the face, and plundering its pockets. What is this continuous urge to reassure others “it’s OK,” and “no problem” and to hush my own perceptions in order to make space for others? I think some of it is shaped by my birth order (oldest daughter), some of it is my innate personality, and some of it was forged by a few experiences in my childhood that led me to believe that following the rules, not causing any trouble, and taking up as little room as possible was the safest and most virtuous way to move through the world. Recent experiences suggest otherwise. But it is difficult to unlearn something so deeply wired. It has felt like slowly taking myself apart, brick by brick. (I’m not at the foundation yet, either.) I have asked myself, “Do I need to do this? Do I need to unlearn this?” I think the answer is yes. Arthur E. Smith wrote: “Metamorphosis is the naturally occurring consequence of paying attention.” So, yes — I am looking closely at myself and rearrangement seems to follow. After all, I want to be able to stand still in my center rather than waving away, dismissing, diverting attention from something that’s not fair, right, kind–or that’s just not something I want to do. Last summer, one of my girlfriends observed me contorting myself to accommodate the wishes of others, and she shook me gently on the shoulder and said: “But, Jen, this isn’t your job.” A seismic shift in the space of six words. I had not even conceived of the fact that there might have been a path in which I was not pretzeling around the needs of others.

I think what I’m after, here and in so many other areas of my life as I turn 40, is an internal, equipoised quiet. A place of buoying equilibrium in which I balance the various inputs around me without over-compensating in any one direction. You know how when you first start a workout routine, it is difficult to maintain balance while lifting one leg, or one arm, or lunging on one foot? Over time, you develop the core muscles necessary to make these movements without windmilling through the air. Slowly it becomes easier to stabilize. That’s where I want to be — strong at the core.

So, a lot of wood-chopping on these morning runs. Maybe God put me on this fitness journey because I needed a quiet place to meet myself, and take a look at what’s been going on beneath the hood.

Onward, as we say —

And, a few little snapshots from the week, too —

When the good ice cream is on sale at Whole Foods (don’t mind if I do), plus the epitome of #fashun: Birks with socks and leggings. (But really, you do need these leggings — the best colors, a perfect fit, and a soft-but-slightly-compressive brushed cotton material.)

Holding hands with Mr. Magpie on the way back from an impromptu Monday night dinner out with the kids. We were listening to Rhye’s “Stay Open” with the windows down and the spring air in our hair, and our children sleepy in the backseat, and it was one of those golden moments I won’t soon forget.

Glass of red wine in a juice glass in my favorite chair — so relaxing. Spoiler alert: I did not look at all like Cindy Crawford.

Running through the Little Falls park trail that leads to the Crescent Trail. It is lush and overgrown — exactly what I think of when I try to describe D.C. — at least the Northwest quadrant of it in which I grew up — to someone who’s never visited. I wrote about this elsewhere: “D.C. has always seemed, to me, small and slack — like a mildly overgrown thicket or a tumbler of water that’s been sitting, sweating, in the heat, a ring of water pooled around its basin.  There is a languor to it — especially in the summer — underscored by the heavy shade of trees you’ll find most anywhere in Northwest D.C. in particular, and the torpid buzz of cicadas, and the canopy of humidity.  The lush green spaces are unmanicured; street signs are often partially obscured by vines or branches; medians will occasionally boast knee-high grass.  There is a thickness, a drawl to things, that has always made me think of the city as part wild — but not wild in the awe-inspiring sense of the Rocky Mountains; wild in the sense of the wood playhouse my father built with birch planks from Hechingers and installed at the top of a small hill in our backyard, beneath a shady pine tree.  We played in it for the better part of two weeks and then found spider webs and raccoon droppings in its interior, and purple splotches of bird poop on its roof.  From then on, the playhouse was the answer to many rounds of truth or dare that typically ended with one of us screaming as we’d jet down the hill, swiping phantom creepy crawlies off our shoulders.  “There was a rabid squirrel in there!” my sister once told me, eyes wide.  Like this playhouse, D.C. felt wild in a parochial sense, in a backyard animal sense.”

Celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday (which spurred the writing of this post!). The kids living their best terry cloth lives in Minnow (outfits linked here). I loved catching this snap of my boy with his hand on my in laws’ dog, McDuff. A mini Tilly, and he looks like he’s pilfering for crumbs here.

Our friends has a Derby party with the cutest details. I asked, and my girlfriend got the Derby cups from When It Rains Paper (lots of other designs available). I brought them a few little gifts including this Fishwife x Fly by Jing Smoked Salmon. Amazing what a little ribbon and some crinkle paper do for presentation! The gift beneath is wrapped in one of these handy Gwrap bags from Joy Creative Shop. No tissue paper, no ribbon, no box needed! You seal with one of their provided sticker labels.

Elizabeth’s roses in bloom on the side of our house. I watched them accommodating the breeze for a few minutes one morning and then had to play John Prine’s “I Remember Everything” a few times and have a good cry. (More on that song here.)

We made an excursion to the nursery to buy some more herbs and plants this past week, too. My son wore this tennis racquet sweatshirt every chance he had this week. I’m sure all mothers feel this way about their children, but I could stare at them all day long and never stop thinking how beautiful they are.

Hope you have a good week, Magpies. Go easy!

P.S. A few fun orders I made while writing this post: this lemon-lime lightweight sweatshirt; these novelty shades in the blue; these jelly Eleftherias in the fun blue; this dress; and these mesh flats (I’d been eyeing a pair of mesh flats forever).

P.P.S. My summer reading list.

P.P.P.S. Updated my Shop, my Shopbop hearts, and my Amazon shop!

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2 thoughts on “The Magpie Diary: May 12, 2024.

  1. Hi Jen,
    I hear you. The people pleasing runs deep in eldest daughters, myself included. But I also think it’s part of how we women are socialized to maintain the status quo (even when it doesn’t serve us).

    When I find myself prioritizing the comfort of others over my values, I have a book I turn to. My Marianist university included in the core curriculum “Jesus and Nonviolence: a third way” by Walter Wink. I have so many quotes highlighted, and today it opened to “Can people who are engaged in oppressive acts repent unless they are made uncomfortable with their actions?…Loving confrontation can free both the oppressed from docility and the oppressor from sin.” I believe in right action and care for the community more than not making a fuss, but it still goes against my nature. But these are tools to make change not from a position of power, but a position of weakness. It’s the exact right book to turn to when you feel powerless or boxed in. I highly recommend it, it reframes things in such an interesting way.

    – –

    I’m trying very hard to shop my closet, and I’ve been saving a bag of stained white favorites (a gauze shirt of my husband’s, a boring white button down, a smocked dress, my son’s t and shorts, dish towels, a pair of socks) and today I used our local equivalent of RIT dye to turn a washing machine load bright Kelly green. It was so satisfying! I’m completely delighted. And now we have a set of matching clothes that’ll be fun at the beach club this summer. If anyone else has grand DIY ideas but poor follow through, this is the craft for you! I’m now planning to embroider some of the dyed clothes but with two little kids it may not happen this summer!

    1. Love this note – thank you so much for the suggestions and book recs. Comforting to know I’m not alone in this struggle, too.

      Love this clever way to repurpose stained whites!!


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