Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

I’m smirking now at my Tuesday post on getting back into a running habit, because, well, as Robert Burns put it — “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” (“Gang aft agley” being Scottish for “often go wrong/awry.”) I wrote that on a high, blissfully unaware that by the time the post was published, we would be burrowing into quarantine because a loved one in our home has tested positive for COVID. Symptoms are mild, and the rest of us are negative, and it seems that the buck stopped here — no one else who we’d had contact with has tested positive — and so there are tiny victories to celebrate, and perspectives on which to perch. It could be worse! seems always on the tip of my tongue, at least when I am not driven to the point of minor mania owing to parenting while in conditions of lockdown.

And it well could be. I know this because I had COVID a year and a half ago, and those were dark times. The delta between living in semi-isolation (because true isolation was impossible in our NYC apartment) then, at the darkest depths of the pandemic in New York, when we could measure the severity of the shockingly high death toll by the frequency of ambulances careening down 86th to get across the Park to the hospitals, and I was frantically googling things like “how long does it take to get to the worst point of covid” and “what does it mean if I can’t taste anything” and “if I have symptoms x and y, is this considered a ‘severe’ case” and the results barely registered anything but fringe-y Reddit articles and personal Instagram posts because there just wasn’t enough information out there yet, and the city was empty and there was no one to turn to because everyone was frightened and quarantined —

And the reality of living through quarantine now, in our new home, with a big stretch of back yard and more space than we know what to do with, when the symptoms are mild and we know so much more treating this virus anyhow, and (and and and!) I am nestled deep in a network of the biggest-hearted friends who have brought by dinners, and crates of puzzles and stickers and crafts for the children, and bags of groceries, because many of them have been here before and know what it means — !

It’s a delta nearly too wide to calculate, and it’s a funny thing, to be grateful for the wideness between these two experiences, because I don’t feel grateful at all for the first go around, and I’m not on speaking terms with round two either. I still feel traumatized by the first. I had the conscious thought, when I was at the nadir of my symptoms and felt as though my body was being pressed through a pasta roller and could not keep anything down, that I would not permit myself to go to a hospital because I did not want to die there alone. There is not enough distance between the formulation of that thought and where I sit now to express anything but shuddering distaste. So instead I am simply grateful for the delta between then and now, and that will have to be enough to keep my wobbly legs peddling.



+On making it through the first go around: it begins with a prayer.

+It was hard to live through that experience in NYC. I always qualify that many people had it much worse, and that is incontrovertibly true. But it was really, really hard.

+On not treating life in the pandemic as an alternity. This is my one life!

+On a happier note: ice cream moments and golden moments.

+Time to dust off my favorite quarantine cocktail recipe.

Shopping Break.

On another happy note: some pretty things to divert attention.

+I feel like all of us are in a sequin mood this season — I can’t get enough. How cute is this $118 jumpsuit?!

+With all the time at home, we’ve been doing a ton of projects, crafts, and baking! This cookbook is great so far! We made the oatmeal chocolate cookie bars and they were delicious. Thanks to the Magpies who recommended this to me.

+As a result, I decided I need a Christmas cookie platter — torn between this Juliska and this $34 steal!

+Adorable mini velvet plaid skirt.

+Erin Gates described this candle as “the best seasonless candle.” Love the idea of finding a candle that works during any season! I will say I am majorly impressed with the holiday candle I got from Hotel Lobby (sold out in my scent now) and will be going back for more.

+Cute holiday tags to attach to your Christmas baking gifts!

+Have this sweater in the burgundy, might go back for a second colorway. I am so into turtleneck everything!

+Adorable velvet blouse (love the pearl buttons!)

+I’ve shared a few pictures of our “Christmas village” on the sideboard/buffet in our dining room and received a bunch of questions about them. They are Target from last year, but they have more similar ones this year, including these ceramic ones (probably not the best pick if you have little ones around) and these galvanized metal ones (almost identical to ours but mine are white). This $42 mini village set is also beyond adorable — such a fantastic price!

+Cute Christmas dress if you’re expecting — can wear without bump, too!

+Absolutely adore these earrings. Big enough to make a statement, but they’d go with anything (even a sweater and jeans).

+I bought fake snow and this set of trees and figurines for sensory play this week. Will I majorly regret the snow? Probably.

+In case any one else is in a similar boat: more sensory play ideas here and indoor activities for young children here.

+A fabulous indoor BBQ shrimp recipe.

+Something about this whimsical embroidered sweater speaks to me.

+I polled my Instagram Magpies to discern the best books we’ve recently read. The top three vote-getters: Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William, Miranda Heller’s Paper Palace, and Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds.

+Two super cute ornaments I found: I think I have to buy this for my former-London-dwelling sister and this for my sewing afficionado MIL. And do I need this one? So cute!

+Cutest cardigan

+Love this sherpa jacket.

+Has anyone tried this handheld clothing press? It’s like a mix straightening iron for clothes. I’m super intrigued by this and might buy and test as an alternative to my steamer.

+More favorite laundry gear here.

+What to wear to a wedding.

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24 thoughts on “Deltas.

  1. Thinking of you and your family! As a mom often (>50%) solo parenting often my 14 month old (and 19 weeks pregnant with baby #2), this weekend was brutal when I got hit hard with the stomach flu. All about survival like you said. My goal for the weekend was keeping the the three of us alive. Everything else was bonus. I hope everyone is on the up and up!!

    I loved the book recommendations and would love any tv show, movie, music, podcast recommendations too.

    Long time fan, usually checking at 2 a.m. when I get woke up and then can’t immediately go back to sleep.


    1. Oh, girl!! Hang in there. I was just messaging with another Magpie in a similar boat — it is already a lot to be pregnant, but throw an active older sibling in there and sickness on top?! Ahh! I am so sorry about the stomach flu and hoping this week is proving to be much brighter.

      I’ll have to do an update on all I’m watching/listening to, but the TL;DR…

      +I cannot stop listening to Kacey Musgraves’ “Starcrossed” album. I love her and this album was a sleeper hit for me — I was like “what? do I like this?…oh wait I like this…OMG I CAN’T STOP.” Any time I am sitting down to work or wanting music on in the kitchen/family room but don’t know what I feel like, I listen to her. I also went through a major Brandi Carlile and John Prine kick a few weeks ago, and I listen to a lot of Haim and Taylor Swift, too.

      +For TV, we are watching Succession and Only Murders in the Building at the moment, but I’m excited to get into Emily in Paris Season 2 (comes out Dec 22!) The first season was polarizing (a lot of hate for it!), but it was such a lovely and ridiculous diversion during the depths of the pandemic.

      +Movies — best movie we’ve watched in recent memory is “Dune.” It’s a sci-fi/fantasy type movie, which I am not often drawn to (unpopular opinion, but I just have never been able to get into Star Wars), but it’s EPIC. I thought the acting, sets, music, cinematography — everything! — was flawless!

      Hang in there, friend!!!


  2. Reading this post late and hoping that means you’re about halfway through the quarantine — sending endurance and prayers for good health as you navigate the next half! XO

    1. Me too! I hope it speeds by as quickly as it can. Your description of your fear and uncertainty when you had COVID was so powerful; it really felt quite visceral to me (I haven’t had COVID, but I’ve been there before with medical uncertainty and the googling and fear is all too real). I live in New Zealand and we’ve been all but COVID-free for most of the pandemic, and I wish more New Zealanders would read the accounts from those countries that have been badly affected. There is a tiny but incredibly vocal percentage of anti-vaxxers here who make me SO ANGRY – they have no idea how fortunate we are that we were able to stave off COVID for so long until most of us were vaccinated, and obviously, choosing not to be vaccinated endangers more people than just the one choosing. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and again, all my thoughts are with you as you hopefully speed towards a complete recovery.

      1. Hi Hayley – Thank you so much for the encouraging note and well wishes! We are hanging tough!

        It’s interesting you mention this point because I vividly remember reading a random post by someone in Italy when the first wave of COVID was ravaging that area and it hadn’t yet reached the US, and I remember puzzling over what the author meant by “it’s so dark and so hard here.” I couldn’t wrap my mind around what that meant on a day-to-day basis. She said something about having to wait in line to use the grocery store one by one and I thought — “What?! That’s crazy – that would never happen here.” And sure enough. But the grocery store example was the mildest of my worries when the time came. It was so scary to know I was living in the “epicenter” of the virus at that time, and I felt like I was risking my life every time I left the apartment to walk Tilly at night or take the children to Central Park for some fresh air (we ventured out for nothing else)! “Risking my life” might sound like an overstatement now but it felt that way at the time, between reports from my doctor friends, one of whom texted me and said “I’m just trying to survive each day” and what we heard on the news about respirator shortages and AHH!

        Anyway, dark to revisit but just to say that I appreciate your note!!


  3. Oh Jen! I’m so, so sorry to hear this. Sending prayers to you and your family… will be thinking of you, and hoping for an easy recovery for your family member.

  4. Sending prayers to you and your loved one. Hope it’s a mild case and they have a speedy recovery. Hope you can enjoy this close together time out, because the holiday season is always so stressful!

  5. I’m so sorry you’re having to revisit COVID quarantine! My husband and I both had it last Christmas and it was horrible. We’ve both had exposures recently and had to isolate/test but every time it happens we’re thrown back to our mutual misery and the fear. I’ll be praying for you all, that it passes quickly with no further illnesses, and that you can resume your enjoyment of the holiday season in full. xo H

    1. Thank you! I’m so sorry to hear that for you, too. It really is challenging and disruptive for everyone. My husband is isolated and going crazy on his own, and I am downstairs with the children without him all day. We miss him so much! Ahh! Slowly moving forward…


  6. To echo the others above, I’m so sorry! Even if the burden at this stage is more logistical than medical, it’s still a real one. We’ve had SO MANY school closures this fall, and the resultant scrambling to get tests and figure out who’s watching whom when … oy. The other day a (childless) colleague referenced our “post-covid” era and it took a lot for me not to snap at him. Anyhow, as you say, onwards!

    1. Thank you — yes! The logistics are crazy. I just had a friend text me who is on her THIRD school closure this year where a student in her son’s class has tested positive, and that means she is required to quarantine with her son for 10 days. It is so hard for working parents!!! I am lucky that I have a flexible schedule and work for myself. So complicated with a more traditional job — how do you pause work for multiple two week periods?! It is so hard!


  7. I am so sorry to hear of the positive case in your household. Things are very different from March 2020 but no less serious. I wish your loved one a healthy, speedy recovery and no further cases!

  8. Jen, I’m so sorry to hear about your family member! As someone who had COVID after you and read your posts to keep my spirits up, it seems like a lifetime ago we were there. But also, wasn’t that just yesterday. I’ll be thinking of you!

    1. Hi! Solidarity! Yes — it is a really seasick sensation to think back on when I had it versus now. It’s all “the same era” (COVID) but also so different. Thanks for the encouragement!


  9. Hi Jen!
    How funny, the exact same thing has happened in my household this week! Such a strange reality to be faced with and I keep joking that I am having Shelter in Place flashbacks and it’s slightly traumatic but we are trying to make the most of it. Helps that it’s been 70 degrees out and we can have some beach days.
    Hope you guys hang in there!
    Loved reading your perspective.

    1. Oh no! I’m so sorry for you, too! It feels so surreal that we could have made it so long without a positive case and BOOM. Hope you are hanging in there!


  10. Aw no, I’m so sorry to hear this. As a fellow type-A/planner who also has some mild Covid PTSD, I’ve struggled with these inconvenient and unexpected quarantine periods due to a close contact exposure, but I’ve found that leaning into them and making the most of the time with loved ones it has me feeling *almost* grateful. Just goes to show that frame of mind is everything. Prayers to a speedy recovery. Xx

    1. Thank you, Amy! You know, it’s interesting. The first day I came in with big “I GOT THIS” energy. The second day, I got to 4 PM and had a quiet tear in the bathroom as I contemplated how I would ever make it through. Since then, I’ve majorly lowered expectations on everything. The kids want to stay in the bath for 40 minutes and emerge as prunes? Sure. Three granola bars a day? Fine. Dinner happens early or late depending on the mood of the children and how ready the meal is? Shrug. It’s been much, much easier to muddle through with more of a “go with the flow, que sera, lean into the structurelessness” mindset. The days are long but we have been making the best of it and I think, honestly, my children are having a great time.


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