Magpie Mail: Flower Girl Dresses, Pantry Staples, and Informational Interviews.

Q: I was hoping to ask for your thoughts on where I might be able to find Flower Girl dresses. I’m getting married next May (in a church ceremony followed by a black-tie reception under a tent) and am coming up short! Our flower girls will be three and four next year — I’ve perused Feltman Brothers and love some of their styles, but it looks like their largest size is 4T and I’m worried about needing some wiggle room, size-wise. What I truly adore are the beautiful Pepa & Co. dresses, especially the white ones with silk sashes, but I have to believe that it’s not necessary to spend ~$350 on a flower girl’s dress…! 

A: I love those Pepa and Co dresses, too, but agree that the pricepoint is insane.  Here are some other options:

+These similar ones from Fifi and Finn (seen above).  Still spend-y but more reasonable.

+These taffeta ones from Bellabliss — you can swap out the sashes for a different color!  I order a ton of stuff from Bellabliss and they are very reliable and well-made without being as crazy expensive as some of the other brands.

+These ones from Daniel + Sofia.  (Note that prices are in AUD, not USD.)  am pretty sure you could also reach out and ask for something custom since I think most of their pieces are made to order anyway.  They do a lot of elegant, traditional dresses that I swoon over.

+Finally, La Coqueta is one of my absolute favorite brands for children, and they’re having a big sale — check out their special occasion section!

Q: I’m moving from DC back to my home state of Alabama, so I’m on the job hunt. Are you a fan of informational interviews? How would you set them up with friends of friends or friends of family friends?

A: Hi! Sending you best wishes on your job search — I know how stressful that can be. I’m torn on this question. To be honest, I feel I wasted a lot of time in “informational interviews” with people when I was job hunting, but that was probably a function of my demure personality and my uncertainty about what I ultimately wanted to do. On the flip side, when people have asked me for informational interviews, I have often wanted to ask: “Let’s speak frankly — are you asking for a job? An introduction to someone I know? A letter of reference? Do you want me to circulate your resume to a few people? Give you the inside track on jobs at my company? Or are you genuinely curious about how to break into this industry and what it’s like working here?”

So I guess my advice would be to think carefully about your objective and be as frank as possible when asking for help. Just make it as easy as possible for them to get it done, i.e., if they say they will make an intro, pass along a brief blurb for them to use on you and your background.

But if you aren’t sure where you want to land or what you aim to get out of the conversation, I’d hold off until you have a firmer grasp to make the most of everyone’s time.

Q: How do you work around your daughter? Or do you only work when the nanny or husband is there? Asking as a fellow working mom with a toddler who demands my attention!

A: I hear you! This is an easy one: I do not and cannot work when I am watching the children by myself. I’m reminded of my very first appointment with mini’s pediatrician, when she was only a few days old. The doctor asked: “And who will be looking after Emory? Daycare? Nanny? One of you?” And I said: “Oh, well, I work from home and have a flexible schedule.” She replied, not unkindly: “Looking after a child is a full-time job.” And so we found a nanny.

Q:What should I wear to a black tie wedding while pregnant?

A: That is a tall order! Maternity-friendly evening wear is hard to come by. I’d check out ASOS and Zara for pieces that are inexpensive and fashion-forward — I like this, worn with high heels, an updo, and big earrings (I know the length is not “black tie,” but you get a little more flexibility with the rules when pregnant), and this is fun and could work with a bump. For something a little more playful, check out this or this, whose shapes are very high-fashion and bump-friendly. If you’re in the mood to splurge, this dress is EPIC and would work with or without a bump. Hatch always has a decent selection of styles, although I feel like they are best suited for taller women — I’d have looked swallowed-up in a lot of their pieces (and they run really big, FYI). I love this and this.

Finally, a lot of LoveShackFancy styles work with a smaller bump; I wore one to Christmas when I was almost five months pregnant. I love this one.

Q: What are your pantry staples?

A: Afeltra dried pasta in a range of shapes; canned San Marzano tomatoes (we like this brand); Royal basmati rice; Barbara’s Bakery Peanut Butter Puffins cereal; Justin’s Peanut Butter; Bonne Maman Jams; crackers (I love mini saltines and Firehook Bakery ones with fancy cheese); goldfish, Annie’s bunnies snacks/grahams, and freeze-dried fruit for mini; granola bars; Petit Ecolier and/or Quadratini cookies; and — much to Mr. Magpie’s chagrin, as he is not a snacker but will indulge when they are around — always some special “junk” food for emergencies. My indulgences: Cheetohs, spicy Cheez-its, and salt and vinegar chips.

P.S. My favorite kitchen gear and my general approach to cooking.

Q: What’s your approach to discipline and toddler meltdowns? [Ed. note: I received a number of questions along these lines, and am responding to them all at once here.]

A: I am so flattered you’d ask my opinion! I do not consider myself an expert or even well-informed; I tend to follow my gut in all things parenting-related, so certainly take my perspective with a grain of salt.

In general, following an adage of my grandmother’s, we try to say “yes” as often as possible so that when we say “no,” mini knows we mean it. This means I’ve had to be very thoughtful about our rules, i.e., do I really need to tell her “no” when she’s emptying her toy bin on the ground even though the mess is driving me nuts? Or standing up on the couch? Or speaking really loudly but sweetly in micro’s face while he’s attempting to sleep? In general, I try to explain why it’d be best to do something differently or distract her/focus her attention on something else rather than tell her to stop doing something. I’m surprised at how well it works, and how nicely it prevents that particular issue from becoming a boundary-testing source of contention (i.e., “Oh, mom told me not to do this, so let me try THIS variation or see if she notices THIS.”)

At any rate, when we do tell her “no” and she ignores us or any time she gets physical (hits or kicks), she goes into time-out for a minute. We explain why when placing her in time-out and then again when taking her out of it, give her a hug, and tell her we love her. Occasionally, we find ourselves in “time out ping pong”: she does something she shouldn’t, we place her in time out, she emerges and does the exact same thing, we place her back in time out, etc. We are trying our best to be consistent about disciplining the same way each time, no matter how long it takes, so she comprehends the boundary. Most of the time, though, one “time out “is enough of a shock to the system that she’ll snap out of it.

For toddler meltdowns — ugh. These are rough. I feel like they fall into one of two categories: either she isn’t getting her way or she’s frustrated by something she can’t express (which often coincides with exhaustion). If it’s the former, I tend to calmly repeat my position (“no, you can’t have a third cookie today, but you can have a piece of fruit”) a handful of times to make sure she understands I’m not changing tack, and then ignore her. If it’s the latter — and I feel like this will be controversial to say since I have a hunch that a lot of parenting books advance the opposite (?) — I have found that I prolong meltdowns by trying to engage with her and puzzle out what’s wrong, i.e., asking her what she wants, presenting her with different distractions, running through options of what we can do, etc. Whenever I’ve gone this route, I end up in a thirty minute long whine/screech session with no result. Instead, I have found that the best thing to do is to silently go through a mental checklist of common problems — could she be hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, tired, uncomfortable, in pain, feverish? — and address any that might be bothering her and then essentially ignore her and go about my household duties/tasks until she settles down or offers up something that she needs/wants, occasionally pausing to ask her, in as soothing and composed a voice as I can manage: “How’s it going? Are you ready to color with me yet?”.

If things get really dicey, I can almost always snap her out of a funk by way of distraction, often through physical comedy (i.e., pretending to run into a wall), but I try to avoid that strategy unless absolutely necessary (i.e., we are in Church or I just need her to get into the damn stroller!).

I will say that any time she has a particularly bad meltdown, I think back later and realize that it almost always coincides with exhaustion, hunger, or transitions. I’m not sure if this is specific to Emory or more generally applicable to toddlers, but she has a tough time with transitioning from one activity to another, moving from playtime to naptime, moving from indoor activities to going outside to do something, going from getting into jammies to brushing her teeth, etc. Transitions! Tough for her — even small ones. Knowing this has helped me prevent them or at least accept/understand why they are happening, and has taught me to move swiftly through our routines to prevent the straggling and lollygagging that eventually blows up in my face by presenting her with too many opportunities to resist or melt down.

Q: I’m going to a wedding next month — cocktail attire, half indoor and half outdoor. Any RTR suggestions?

Yes! My favorites:

+I actually own this Saloni in red, and it is super flattering and elegant (love the length) and in a heavy-weight, formal-leaning fabric. Super chic with nude Alexandre Birman sandals.

+This festive but ladylike polka-dotted style.

+This saucy Alice McCall. One of my favorite labels for fashion-forward cocktail styles.

+This gorgeous floral midi.

+This lacy Alexis.

+This polka dotted Red Valentino — paired with super high heels and an updo and red lips.

+I own this cherry-print beauty and it is SO fun.

Q: What are your favorite bargain buy clothes for kiddos?

A: My biggest tip is to wait for end-of-season sales/flash sales on higher end clothing and stock up then. I usually follow my favorite childrenswear retailers on Instagram and pounce whenever they run flash sales or release promo codes — check out DuckDuckGoose, Loozieloo, BornBoutique, CPC Kids, and BusyBeesKids, to name a few. But, of course, even with discounts, a lot of those labels can be spend-y. My favorite affordable sources:

+Gap (I like their frilly blouses — like this — paired with white or navy leggings, and I always find chic little dresses and overalls each season);

+Ralph Lauren’s sale section (always full of insane deals — these polos are currently under $10!);

+Primary for leggings and tees;

+Charming Mary (love tops like this, paired with leggings) and Les Gamins (love their pinafores and overalls) have cute pieces that aren’t exactly “bargain” but are much less expensive than you’ll find in other boutiques with similar styles;

+H+M — always super cute finds, like these $5 cotton dresses (the ladybug one!), these bib overalls, this striped dress, and these striped shorts. Not well-made, but good for rough and tumbly play.

+Sale section at Janie + Jack. This is in my cart for mini for the next fourth of July, and how cute are these?!

+Amazon for Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, good deals on Kissy Kissy one-pieces for babies (like this), Vaenait baby “loungewear”, and especially Polarn O. Pyret, as I always find crazy crazy blowout prices on their extremely well-made Swedish clothes (like leggings, day dresses, and onesies).

P.S. Some great Amazon finds for littles here.

Q: What are some game/play ideas for toddlers?

A: We spend a lot of time “cooking food” using inexpensive plastic food sets — mini loves to take my order, set the table, feed her dolls, etc. and miming real life with her Fisher Price dollhouse and dolls. I love both of these because they promote imaginative play and also give me a funny glimpse into how she sees the world. We spend hours acting out various scenarios. I also feel that these specific toys have taught her how to play by herself; she gravitates towards them any time she’s awake. I will often listen in on her having one doll tell another to “sit down on the toilet” or beseech another to “not push!”

I have also been surprised at how much she has loved her counting bears and her stack and sort toy. She uses them both as they were intended as well as according to her own creative devices — for example, the wooden pieces on her stack and sort toy are often pieces of food she arranges (“tomatoes, cheese, grapes”) and she likes to use the wooden pegs on which they are meant to hang as if they are birthday candles. The counting bears are characters in her dollhouse — or sometimes, just fun to line up in rows or place in the appropriate muffin liner.

Now that she’s a little older, we do a lot of fort-building using pillows and blankets, play dress up, bake together (a total mess, but she loves it — even easy things, using box mixes), and paint using watercolors. I’ve also found she really enjoys being given household tasks, like setting the table, “folding laundry,” sweeping the floor using her broom/mop, picking out a diaper for her brother while I am changing him, placing muffin liners into muffin tins when I am making muffins, etc. Finally, I took a bunch of old gift cards and loyalty cards and put them in an expensive card case and she absolutely LOVES to remove all the cards, “swipe them” (i.e., jam them into the crack of our drop-leaf table), and put them back in the card holder. It’s funny how the most mundane, everyday objects in my life are magical to her.

But my favorite thing? Take her to the playground and let her run, or use sidewalk chalk, or prance through the sprinklers/splash pads that are at nearly every public playground in Central Park. I love watching her, encouraging her, letting her run around, especially since we have such limited play space at home.

Q: What are your tips for organization and closet clean outs?

A: I shared some of my thoughts on home organization and favorite organizational products here, inspired (like everyone else) by Marie Kondo, and — late last year — some additional musings here. Two over-arching thoughts:

  1. To get and stay organized, you need to buy the right tools. I find it borderline impossible to keep things tidy if I don’t have the right containers, dividers, bins, etc. I’ve found myself so much more orderly ever since I invested in, for example, these clear drawer organizers that now line every drawer and cabinet in our home. The same goes for things like my diaper bag — having a separate pouch for each child, a slot for the bottle, a special pouch for my own stuff, makes it so, so much easier to get what I need.
  2. Try not to tackle too much at once, or it’s overwhelming and discouraging. Especially late in my pregnancy, I tried to tackle one household task a day, whether that was organizing mini’s dresser in order to donate too-small clothes and make space for in-season ones, mopping the floor of the bathroom, organizing our snack cabinet, cleaning out the fridge, etc. If I tried to tackle more than one of those things a day, I’d be exhausted, frustrated by my progress, and burnt out. Instead, my M.O. has been to make a long list of all the things I want to tackle (i.e., “linen closet,” “medicine cabinet in master bedroom,” etc.) and then address them one at a time.

Q: What 3 books have you been meaning to read but not gotten around to yet?

A: Great question. Home Fire, which I feel like I’ve been saying I would read next for the last year straight. It’s supposed to be excellent, but the premise is vaguely repellent to me for some reason — I can’t figure out why, but whenever I approach it, I just don’t feel like it. Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift has been recommended to me by at least half a dozen people, but I keep putting it off in favor of fiction. And — A Little Life, which several trusted reader friends of mine have said is among the best books they’ve read in recent memory, but is also supposed to be horribly disturbing and upsetting. Saving it for a time in my life when I’m better emotionally equipped and not horribly sleep deprived…

P.S. I’ve never been a Tevas gal (not my style), but OMG, these little kid Hungry Caterpillar ones! Will Tevas be the new Birk?! HA! (Speaking of…)

P.P.S. Email me your burning questions any time at jennifer@thefashionmagpie.com.

19 Comments

  1. Hi Jen,

    For the next Magpie Mail, I’m attending a wedding in October, daytime in Calif. wine country, and I was wondering if you could help me find a dress to wear? Something like that gorgeous Self Portrait dress (https://www.shopbop.com/tiered-floral-lace-printed-dress/vp/v=1/1549765445.htm?extid=affprg_linkshare_SB-QFGLnEolOWg&cvosrc=affiliate.linkshare.QFGLnEolOWg&sharedid=42352&subid1=QFGLnEolOWg-foj0wf.GPOhAVWh9_ieNeA) or the Reformation one you linked to earlier (https://www.thereformation.com/products/dolci-dress?utm_source=QFGLnEolOWg&utm_medium=15&utm_campaign=LinkShare&sid=LS298X102&ranMID=40090&ranEAID=2575853&ranSiteID=QFGLnEolOWg-_abnCsNwrlWgucujRsLkvg) would be great.

    Kicker? Hopefully under $100/$120, either to buy or to rent (on that just-starting-out-as-a-teacher budget, woo!). I was browsing a few different sites but would love some help just getting pointed in the right direction!

    Thanks, Annie

  2. I liked Homefire while reading it, but was not left with strong emotions about it. It has mostly faded away, which is often a bad sign.
    A Little Life has not faded away, and I did enjoy reading it – or, let’s say, the writing itself was enjoyable to be with. While I was in many ways really attached to the book and went through it quickly, I ended up finding it distasteful. It was so brutal as to be almost pornographic. It reminded me of Slumdog Millionaire, in some ways — a look at suffering that becomes voyeuristic as horrible violence piles on top of horrible violence. I felt manipulated, at the expense of retaining real empathy. (I do value restraint in books, though, as I think about it — Little Fires Everywhere for instance felt to me like there were just a few too many mothers, and I wished she had pulled back one or two storylines.) I’d certainly be curious to hear your take on A Little Life sometime when you have the emotional energy for it.

    1. Oof, not sure I’m up for something “so brutal as to be pornographic.” Yikes. I know exactly what you mean. Landon and I went to the museum of contemporary art in San Francisco several years ago and there was an exhibit on voyeurism, and it left us both sick to our stomachs. We felt complicit in some of the “art” (using those quotes intentionally as I do NOT feel that a lot of it qualified) and left with a burden of guilt on our shoulders, as though we’d just done something wrong and untoward and even disgusting. Ugh. I shudder just thinking about it. We talked afterward at length about the experience — whether the fact that we felt something so deeply from walking through a curated space did in fact mean that we’d just had a good artistic experience, or whether it was overly manipulative and baseless and irresponsible for the gallery to have shown it. Anyway, I have grappled with these exact emotions at length…

      Also, re: Little Fires — I agree. I liked that book and occasionally think back on it (which is a good sign) but felt it was overwrought with its own symbology.

      xx

  3. Regarding transitions leading to tantrums – I have a 3 year old and read “No Bad Kids” by Janet Lansbury to help when she entered the “terrible 2s”. I took away two key things from the book which have really and truly worked for us.

    The first – give toddlers a warning. Let them know “5 more minutes and then we are going to leave” or “you can only read one more book and then it’s bed time” or whatever the case may be. I have personally had great luck setting a timer (“Alexa, set a bedtime timer for 3 minutes”). It goes off and my toddler usually willingly heads upstairs with me.

    The second – Toddlers love independence but are also easily overwhelmed. So give them a choice, but not too many. Instead of saying “pick up all these toys” say “do you want to put these toys on the shelf or in the basket?” You get the idea!

    Parents, take from that what you will but I have honestly found those two things to be key in warding off tantrums! 🙂

    1. Oh Joanna! These are fantastic. Landon and I discussed them at length the other night. The first we have been doing (borderline exhaustively) for some time now, and we’ve even been using the timer trick nightly for the past few months. It does help…sort of. She gets the idea that when the timer goes off, it’s time to finish and move on to the next thing, but it still doesn’t prevent the whining/resistance. Working on that one. Maybe consistency is key and she’ll eventually “get” it.

      The notion of choices, but not too many is brilliant. I actually was just reading about that in the parent handbook for mini’s Montessori program — they talk a lot about structured independence, giving kids enough options but not too many. I have been testing this out this week, i.e., “you can do this or this” or breaking things down into much smaller, more discrete decisions, i.e., not just “it’s time for bed, so we need to brush our teeth, read our books, and turn off the light” but “it’s time to brush our teeth, do you want the apple toothpaste or the strawberry toothpaste?”

      Thank you for sharing these wisdoms!

      xx

  4. Jen, I love these so much! Random question for the next Q&A … my MIL gifted me a pink red and orange Hermès shawl for my birthday, and it’s so beautiful but for some reason I never know what to wear it with (maybe because the colors are very bright, and also because it’s so precious I get worried I’ll damage it), so it’s been sitting on my shelf. How would you recommend styling it? I never know what to wear with it!

    1. Hi Jess! So chic. I actually have given this a lot of thought since I was gifted TWO Hermes scarves this summer (!!) I usually like to wear mine draped around my shoulders while wearing a solid white or denim shirtdress:

      http://bit.ly/32Htok9

      http://bit.ly/2ynpNtB

      I like the way these dresses feel timeless on their own but the scarf adds interest and elegance. You can have the shoes dress the look up or down — i.e., pointed toe flats for work or a ladylike vibe, Supergas for a casual Frenchwoman on the weekend lewk, leather slides for an everyday urban chic pea situation.

      xx

  5. Great tips here! I am eyeing a few of those RTR dress options for an October wedding I’m attending … so many good ones there!

    I, too, have been intrigued by Melinda Gates’ book and A Little Life. Home Fire sounds intriguing as well! I’m currently reading A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, and enjoying it. I have so many books I want to read, though, including Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (!!! — have heard so many rave reviews of this one, by friends & influencers alike!) and The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo.

    Also, a note on affordable clothes for kids: Century21 often has a really good selection of high-end/European brands at a discount. I know the locations in Manhattan can be BONKERS and often picked-over, but if you ever find yourself in the ‘burbs of Long Island or NJ, there are quieter locations there! I’ve gotten a bunch of Kissy Kissy there for pennies on the dollar.

    xx

    1. WHAAA. There’s a Century 21 not far from where we live on the UWS. Going to make a trip there immediately. You had me at Kissy Kissy.

      xx

    2. Def worth a visit, but with a caveat: it can be totally hit or miss and oftentimes you feel like a vulture, scavenging for deals (?) — just be forewarned! xx

  6. Oh man, I have SO MANY thoughts and feelings about A Little Life. I still can’t decide if it’s the best worst book I’ve ever read, or the worst best book I’ve ever read. It’s definitely an absolutely brutal read and not one you should undertake if you’re feeling at all fragile. I think the best overview of the book is Choire Sicha’s absolutely hilarious takedown in the 2016 Powell’s Tournament of Books (I don’t think I can link here, but it’ll pop up if you google it.) “How is it? you would ask; “I don’t know!” everyone would yell back, swamped by its methodical onslaught” is the best way to sum it up. Ok I’l stop there, I could go on for a while!

    1. Anna- thanks on the tip on the Tournament of Books. Living in Portland (and in Powells 3-4x a week) how have I never heard of this!?!! I just an spent an hour devouring the reviews from past tournaments…like brain candy!!! I wish I could be friends with all the judges haha xx

    2. HA! Brilliant. OK, this book does not sound like it’s the one for me. Thanks for your honest review. xx

  7. I was the same way with Homefire! Then after hearing another rave review on the High Low (seemingly the 6438th recommendation) I finally got my hands on a copy. Jen- it was excellent. I was completely enthralled and hugely impressed and swept by the writing. Push it to the top of your list!

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