Women of Substance

Woman of Substance: My Magpie Mother, Elaine.

By: Jen Shoop

So many of you have gotten to know my luminary of a mother through my frequent references to her and her exceptional kindness, devotion, and empathy that she’s cultivated her own celebrity status around these parts. And oh my, is it deserved. I’m almost at a loss for words as to how I can describe her pithily here, but suffice to say that she is my best friend, my greatest role model, my trusted sounding board, and everything to which I aspire in life.

Elaine was born in Washington, D.C., the fifth of seven children in a tight-knit, very Catholic family. She attended Stone Ridge High School (though all of her own four daughters attended Visitation or the National Cathedral School — traitors! — but this fact, too, serves as a reflection of her deep and selfless dedication to the wellbeing of her children, as she preferred to find the best possible school for each of us versus craft some sort of matrilineal legacy) and then Marymount College before pursuing certification to become a Montessori school teacher, which she happily and competently exercised until after she had married my father and was expecting the first of her five children. She has since been a full-time mother and home-maker, rule-maker and rule-enforcer, devoted wife, volunteer, support system to about half the women in the D.C. area, speed-reader, etiquette guru, expert-level shopper, Zumba dancer, and tenured philanthropist. And so you can see that my mother is many things, but any tribute to her must acknowledge that she is first and foremost a devout Catholic. If perchance a pair of sunglasses goes missing, you are more likely to find yourself praying to St. Anthony alongside her than actually looking for said object. I have leaned on her rock-solid faith throughout my life, finding myself the fortunate beneficiary of thousands of decades of the rosary, which she says daily on her morning walk around the neighborhood in support of a long and rotating list of intentions. (Many of my friends’ names have found their way onto this list, occasionally or in fact mainly without their knowledge. “Mom, can you add so-and-so to the list? She’s going through a tough time.“) And when I found myself alone in a taxi cab on the way to Mount Sinai Hospital having regular contractions at 32 weeks pregnant, I called her, sobbing, and she sat on the other end of the phone and prayed the Hail Mary with me until my tears had abated and I was able to make it through a prayer without losing my voice.

How many times I have called her in moments of duress, confusion, hurt, agony — and how many times she has calmly listened and sorted it all out, usually and most poignantly through the intercession of Saint Mary.

Don’t let her saintliness and decorousness fool you, though: my mother is also quick to laugh, down to earth, and supremely approachable. She’s been known to shock all of us with an unexpected wisecrack, and it has occasionally been said that she could make conversation with a brick wall.

But where I see her shine brightest (and of course this is heavily biased by my privileged role as her daughter) is as a mother. She is practical. She is never over-fussy or overbearing. She is patient, affectionate, encouraging, involved, present — and yet has nurtured our independence, curiosity, and self-sufficiency in all things. She is easy with words of affection but will tell it to you straight when you need to hear it. She is, in short, #momgoals. I think I may need to write a follow-up post interviewing her on her approach to parenting, in fact, but for now, while I have her pinned down — her answers to my Proust Questionnaire.

Favorite qualities in a woman.

Kindness, humility and being a good listener.

Your favorite heroine.

The Blessed Virgin Mary. I can’t imagine how difficult her life was, and she accepted it with such grace.

Your main fault.

Too much of a planner. I should try to go with the flow more often.  [Ed. note: the apple does not fall far from the tree. Also, you can see I come by my meal-planning skills earnestly.]

My greatest strength.


Your idea of happiness.

Being with my family.

Your idea of misery.

Being a shoe salesperson! And being without my family.

 Currently at the top of your shopping list list.

Self Portrait pleated chiffon dress in ice blue.

Desert island beauty product.

8 Hour Cream by Elizabeth Arden.

Last thing you bought.

Arcona Triad Toner Pad duo and Rothy’s flats in scooter red.

I feel most empowered wearing:

My J. McLaughlin v-neck sheath dress.

My favorite Magpie Post:

The one about me, the one about your father, and the one about Elizabeth.

Elaine-Inspired Shopping Finds.

First, never have I ever seen anything more my mother than this pearl-encrusted cashmere sweater (on super super sale).

Second, all of these things are so Elaine it hurts:

+Hermes scarf.

+Cartier tank watch.

+Cuyana leather tote (<<one of her all-time favorite purchases).

+Kate Spade plates.

+Alexis shirtdress (on super sale!)

+My Brilliant Friend by Elena Farrante. My mother is a voracious reader and devoured this series before it was “A Thing.”

+Arcona Triad Toner Pads. My mom and I love these so much — such a great, easy way to refresh, cleanse, and tone skin. And we especially love a good deal (get a duo for a great value during the Nordstrom Sale).

+Linen placemats. My mother sets a proper table every single day, even when it’s only she and my father and they’re eating frozen pizza. (Which doesn’t happen often, but when it does…it’s still on china with linen napkins.)

+Chinoiserie wood bench. So my mom’s style, especially in that sunny shade of yellow.

+Lladro Madonna. My mom has an expansive collection of Lladro porcelain, the centerpeice of which is her elaborate Christmas creche.

+8 Hour Cream. She’s been putting this on us since we were wee ones — every burn, scratch, chapped lip, hang nail got the same treatment. She often carries it in the lipstick form in her purse.

+Cuyana cardholder. For her daily rosary walks, so she can just carry the essentials.

+Pique husband pillow. Just the kind of old school home affordance you’d find on my mom’s bed. (She also has things like bed trays for breakfast in bed and toast holders.)

+Bernardaud teapot. My mom has a beautiful collection of china and she often brings them out for her formal teas, of which she’s thrown many in her day.

+Lady Dior Bag. My mom inherited one from my elegant grandmother!

+Burberry quilted coat. This is so my mom. I feel like it was invented for her.

+Cashmere travel scarf. My mom owns these in every single color.

P.S. My mom is something of a beauty junkie. She’s said on many occasions that she has more than enough bath/beauty products to last her multiple lifetimes. She’s driven me to buy most of the beauty must-haves in my medicine cabinet.

P.P.S. My mother’s summer must-haves are included in this roundup.

P.P.P.S. She was how she kept time. Ugh, my heart.

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14 thoughts on “Woman of Substance: My Magpie Mother, Elaine.

  1. Oh St Anthony! What else would you suggest we do??? Look! Brought back many memories of my grandmother……and her coming out to a car shaking holy water on it to secure our passage…..down to the shops 😉

    Loved this – she sounds like an amazing woman and how lovely for you to recognise that! I would love to do this for my mum – for all to see!

    1. 🙂 So sweet. Sounds like your grandmother and my mother would get along famously. You can always do the same thing (a profile / praise piece) and just mail it to your mom! Sometimes I write her thank you notes in the mail, too…xxx

  2. Your mom sounds like such a woman of grace! Thank you for sharing! I love that Lladro Madonna.
    I think you look like Giuliana Rancic in that photo! Beautiful!

    1. WHAAA — thank you! Such a compliment 🙂

      And I’m so glad you liked “meeting” my mom 🙂 She is simply the best.

  3. Our mothers would get along! I immediately smiled about the St. Anthony comment as this happens with my mother too. When we went to Notre Dame, my mother insisted on stopping first for a giant bouquet to lay at his statue. (We lose a lot of things; he’s a cherished friend in the Bryant household.)

    I didn’t realize until reading this though how deeply impactful my mother’s faith has been on my life as well. I hope to carry that into my children’s life whenever that day comes. TBH, my faith needs a little work to get that level. But it’s wonderful to have mothers like ours to set the example ❤️. Thanks for sharing. I hope to hear from her more!

    1. Ha – so funny how so many Catholic daughters related to the St. Anthony comment 🙂

      I’m with you. I have some work to do to get to the level of my mother’s faith. Don’t know I’ll ever get there, but I will try.

  4. Your mom! She sounds like such a wonderful, formidable woman of substance. Thank you for sharing a bit more about her; she’s inspirational! (As are you!)


    1. She is the best. So glad you enjoyed this profile on her, though it barely scratches the surface. xx

  5. Been waiting for this post! I always thought you had a good mother, but now I know it! Please include her in your daily blessings! Xoxo

  6. Always love a Stone Ridge girl (coming from a Stone Ridge girl)… What a wonderfully faithful and loving mother you have. I feel many of these same sentiments about my own mother (another SR and Marymount alum!) and often wonder if I’ll ever be able to measure up in any way, shape, or form; even if I don’t become a mother myself. We’re lucky to have such inspirational women guiding our families.

    Also, pretty sure your mom helped me one day at the Op Shop! I’m a Christ Child member and that’s my favorite source for unique and affordable art! xo

  7. Finally! Mrs. Nurmi is everyone’s second mother and during wedding planning (eons who) gave me the best advice I’ve ever received – something to the effect of “say Yes as often as possible so that when to say No, they’ll know you mean it”.

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