I didn’t get to all of the incredible questions I received, so I will be doing another installment of Magpie Mail soon. The above photo is how I’d like you to imagine me responding to these questions (chic! on the go!), but the truth is that I sit down and ponder each and every one for a long, long time before responding and so I need to break them out across manageably-sized posts, or each Magpie Mail post would be about an hour’s worth of reading! Feel free to keep your inquiries coming to firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message me via Instagram. I treasure these questions so dearly.
Q: How do you balance being an anticipator with living in the moment? I struggle with this.
A: Me too, my friend. I wrote a whole post on my anticipator tendencies. I have noticed a marked change in myself over the past few weeks, though, and I think it’s because I finally — after 35 years and, more specifically, the chaos of adapting to life with two children — have figured out how to set appropriate expectations for what can be accomplished in a day. I have disciplined myself not to overstuff my days and to include plenty of padding in my schedule, and I find that leading my life at a more metered, quasi-leisurely pace has afforded me much more space to enjoy the happenstance. Let me be more specific: I used to toss five or ten goals on my “to-do” list on any given day even though I knew they were likely unrealistic and then I’d get to around 4 p.m. and grimace at the remainder. I felt so disheartened shifting items from today’s docket to tomorrow’s — it felt like unfinished business and it left me anxious and harried throughout the day, to the point that I was never enjoying even the pleasant bits! (It’s difficult to enjoy a manicure when you’re glancing at your watch hoping you’ll make it home by the time the nanny needs to leave or your call is going to start.) Nowadays, I am far more thoughtful about what makes it onto a given day’s to-do list. I think in terms of time, and then add generous buffers. For example, if I know a blog post typically takes me two hours to write, I’ll estimate two and a half or even three. If Tilly’s walk typically takes 20 minutes, I’ll estimate 30 or 45. If a call is scheduled for thirty minutes, I’ll estimate an hour. And so on. And I will never toss anything else onto the list unless it fits within the six hours I have our nanny here. After that, I assume I will be entirely preoccupied with the children and all bets are off in terms of accomplishing anything on my list.
In short, I think time management and setting low expectations (or, as I prefer to think of them, “graciously sized expectations”) have enabled me to feel like I am making progress everyday and have also afforded me new pockets of spare time to settle into the moment. So, if I want to take Tilly on a longer walk one day? No problem. If I want to duck out for a coffee? Great. I also find myself more capable of dialing in on the present moment because I’m not sprinting around trying to accomplish fifty five things in an hour. (Honest N.B.: The foregoing is oriented around “a good day” — I obviously have many days where I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off.)
The other element that has helped is recognizing “slices of joy” as they are happening. This has taken some mental gymnastics as I am just as prone as you are to thinking ahead and wondering about the next fifty nine things I am hoping to accomplish. But more recently, whether I am on the subway en route to pick up mini or grocery shopping by myself or watching mini hopscotch at the playground, I find myself pausing and pulling myself out of my thoughts to say: “This moment is really nice. I am happy, I have no child crying or in need of anything, and I am just going to soak this up.”
Finally, list therapy! If I can put something on my mind down on paper so I can return to it later, when I have more time, I am more likely to return to the present. Sometimes I will even make a pre-list of all of the things I would like to do in a given week/month or as pertains to a particular part of my life (for example, decorating our apartment) and will then divvy up the line items across my calendar when I have a minute to do so. (I really like Wunderlist and my paper planner for both of these. Wunderlist is great because it syncs automatically across devices and I’m never far from my phone, so I can easily insert a new “to do” to then transpose onto my paper planner when I get home.)
Magpies, what other tips do you have?!
Q: Looking for a 30th birthday gift for my brother and want to make it extra special as he accomplished a major career milestone this year. Thoughts?
A: So sweet and generous of you! I included some of my favorite gifts for men here, all of which are Mr. Magpie-approved, and he is one of the most discerning and detail-oriented people I know. The Filson briefcase might be a good pick given his recent work achievement. I have found a number of meaningful gifts for my brother from Best Made Co. — he lives in Montana and likes the outdoors, and all of their gear is well-made and style-conscious. Alternately, a few years ago, I purchased Mr. Magpie a beautiful alligator belt from Paul Stuart here in NYC (note that you need to buy the buckle separately — could be cool to have it etched with his initials?) and I like the way that gift nods to his new career milestone? (If he’s more of a casual guy — I also bought Mr. Magpie one of these oyster buckles for a casual leather belt and he wears it constantly.) Finally, what about a beautiful wallet or money clip? This is the kind of thing a guy would never buy for himself but would use regularly. This one from Moore & Giles is incredible. I would probably add a little card that says: “Now that you’re making fat stacks…” (Ha!)
Q: What are your go-to black pants and black flats? I’m always looking for work basics.
A: Hi! I like J. Crew for black trim-fit pants, and have always had the best luck buying work-appropriate trousers/pants from Theory (these look like a good pick, and are on ridiculous sale!) though it has admittedly been years since I was in the market for suiting. For basic flats, I love my Chanel ballet flats and a pair of Loeffler Randall pointed toe flats from a few seasons back (similar to these). I have also been eyeing these flats from Prada for several seasons — they are simply perfect.
Q: How did you get up the courage to move to NYC?
A: You know, it all happened so quickly and we were so excited about the opportunity that I never stopped to think about the move in these terms! I was mainly fixated on the happy idea that we’d be closer to family and back to our East Coast roots. Moving more recently (within Manhattan) required a lot more awareness, energy, and courage. We had a little baby, we were navigating a lot of transitions, and I was flat out exhausted from three months of sleeplessness. The move was overwhelming and it would have been so much easier to just stay put. (So much so that I drove myself to illness and migraine!) I had to continuously, assiduously remind myself that we were on our way to a much better living arrangement for our entire family and force myself to keep my eyes on the prize. But, man! It took a lot of gearing up to make that move happen. I’m so glad it’s behind us.
Q: When contemplating furniture purchases, are there things you flat-out avoid on account of children? Fabrics, materials, etc.?
A: Still very much learning on this front, largely through the thoughtfulness and insight of Erin Gates in her book Elements of Family Style, which is definitely worth purchasing as she prioritizes the functional and durable but also provides explanations of why other materials are less practical so you can gauge the risk for yourself. In general though, I would say avoid white/patterns with a lot of white in them, read or inquire about the recommended care for any rug/upholstery (for example, our couch was beautifully upholstered in a linen weave and we made the mistake of running through the cushion covers through the washing machine — and they essentially deteriorated and shredded within a few months of use afterward! In retrospect, I should have had them professionally cleaned or found a fabric that could be cleaned in the washing machine), and think carefully about things with sharp edges (i.e., glass tables, metal accents, and the like). I think a couch with a machine-washable slipcover is a genius way to get through the years when kids are ultra-messy and spill-prone. If you like the look, leather is also highly durable and family-friendly! Finally, imagine a child interacting with all of your furniture before purchasing. A tall glass etagere or a bench prone to slamming shut might not be the best investments if you have a toddler wheeling around. And cool-looking round stools with no back might not be the best fit for your kitchen counters might not be ideal for a small child.
P.S. I was just looking at some chairs from a new-to-me label, TheInside, and noticed that you can tick a box for “child and pet friendly” fabrics when selecting the upholstery. How brilliant!?
Q: Window treatments that won’t cost more than a college education?
A: My first thought was Crate & Barrel because we bought mini these adorable blackout curtains for her nursery in our old apartment and they were well-made and exactly what I was looking for — but at a reasonable price. Something like this or this would be classic and affordable in a range of rooms. You can also find incredible values on Etsy — check out this boutique, which offers stunning panel curtains using beautiful high-end fabric like Thibault (love this) and gets incredible reviews. I also think simple silk panels like these can be super elegant in a dining room. Imagine them in the spa color as the backdrop/foil to some lovely Louis XIV dining chairs upholstered in robin’s egg blue?!
Anthro also has some really fun, loud prints at a good price if you “live out loud” / enjoy a boho vibe when it comes to home decor.
Q: What is the rug-sizing resource you referred to in your post on rugs?
A: This handy diagram from Empire Rugs! So helpful! Have bookmarked it for future use.
Q: I’ve been using the MZ Wallace backpack but am looking for something with more structure. What would you recommend?
A: I hear you – what you gain in the M.Z. Wallace backpack’s lightweightness you lose in structure. (Though I still believe that backpack is one of the best items I’ve bought in a long while — I could not live without it while commuting mini home from school in the afternoons!) I would suggest considering either a StateBags or maybe investing (splurge!) in a gently-used Gucci logo backpack? I also know that people rave about Dagne Dover but it’s not so much my aesthetic. Still, could be worth investigating given all the strong reviews.
Q: When did you introduce Maileg or dolls to your daughter?
A: She received her first Maileg mice as a gift when she was born, and I was unfamiliar with the brand until that point. I think she started playing with them around a year old? They are beyond adorable — so cleverly and sweetly designed. The details are insane. My mother-in-law and I usually gift her one or two new ones over the course of a year. How could we not give her this when Hill was born?!
Q: Some ideas for toddler dresses for preschool interviews? And outfits for mama, too!
A: I dressed mini in Bellabliss for interviews — I feel like they strike just the right balance between traditional/somewhat proper and yet not too frou-frou or over the top. I specifically remember her wearing this to one of them; I also love this. I feel the same way about Nantucket Kids (something like this) and Busy Bees (love this for the occasion and just want to note that I bought like five of these rompers for micro for next summer when they were on sale earlier this year) — classic, timeless, and yet functional. I loved the idea of mini wearing Pepa & Co or D. Porthault but knew that those labels/styles can also project a certain kind of image (slightly fussy) and I was conscious of that. I erred on the side of beautiful, well-made, traditional clothing. I think Jacadi would also be a good call. I mean, this jumper with a little peter pan collar blouse/top, a big bow, and some patent mary janes? GET OUTTA HERE. Too cute. (As an aside, Condor knee socks or Jeffries’ cable-knit tights with Elephantito Mary Janes are perfect with any of the above mentioned looks.)
For you: I included a lot of “ladylike” looks here that feel appropriate for the occasion, but want to specifically suggest considering this. It would work with flats or heels (my go-tos: this pair from J.Crew, which are more comfortable and just as stylish as than the very-similar-looking Manolo BBs) and feels both polished and playful. If that feels too “fancy,” maybe a cashmere sweater, your favorite jeans or slim-cut pants, a headband, and some great shoes (look for less with these)? I’m also really coming around to the idea of statement trousers like these or these with a slim-fit cotton sweater on top and vintage statement earrings.
Q: I’m looking to coordinate outfits with my son but have only been able to find pieces for mothers and daughters. Can you help? My style veers toward classic.
A: So sweet! Depending on the occasion, would you consider Polo? Matching white polos or cable-knit sweaters or even classic flag sweaters (this for you, this for him) would be completely timeless. I can actually imagine a photo of you and your boy barefoot on the beach in black and white in any of those looks. Pink Chicken also occasionally includes boy stuff — consider this and this.
You might also pick a pattern/fabric — say, tartan or dark-wash denim or red velvet and go from there even if you’re mixing and matching brands/styles versus looking for coordinating outfits from the getgo.
Q: Things for a bride-to-be!
A: Congrats!! Such a fun and exciting and emotional time. I shared a lot of my favorite bridelette finds here, but a few other thoughts I’ve shared across the blog that I’ll collect here: this jumpsuit (on sale in select sizes here!) is so flattering (I own it in lipstick red) and would be absolutely adorable for a rehearsal dinner or bachelorette, depending on formality/accessories. I look back fondly on having the wedding date stitched into my dress in blue thread, though I wish I’d had one of these custom labels done up. I also loved keeping my notes in a personalized Smythson notebook for the occasion — it made me feel put-together and sort of commemorated the whole wedding-planning process. Also — you must have one of these diamond cleaning sticks to keep the ring looking flawless!
Q: My husband is interested in learning to bake bread. Do you or Mr. Magpie have any gift recommendations?
A: Thank you for this question as I used it as bait to remind Mr. Magpie that he should start a small series on the blog showcasing his cooking/baking efforts. But to your question: yes! Mr. Magpie read Flour Water Salt Yeast and Tartine Bread cover to cover and then felt equipped to start making his own bread. He also used (and strongly encourages the purchase of) these brotforms, inexpensive bench scrapers, and multi-quart storage containers for proofing.
Q: What did you get mini for her first Christmas? What are you getting micro? Do you buy keepsakes every year?
A: I specifically remember buying mini this Hape music set, her first Corolle doll, and a set of Duplos for her first Christmas, because we wanted to give her a diversity of toys/modalities to play with. For her second Christmas, her big gift was a Micro scooter in coca-cola red and a ladybug helmet. More gift ideas here.
This year, we are considering a tricycle for mini (love this or this and this is just darling) and I’ve always wanted one of these or a classic Bruder truck for micro, though I know he’s still too young.
Keepsakes: I do buy a new ornament for Mr. Magpie and mini every year, and plan to of course add one for micro, too.
Q: What are your favorite online furniture brands? We are moving.
A: As you may have gathered, I love Serena and Lily. I rarely collaborate with brands but I made an exception for them because I love their products so much and have bought a number of investment pieces from them over the course of the last five or ten years. I have also had great luck with Crate and Barrel — my first bed and dresser set right out of college were from them, and they were the most expensive and important items I’d ever bought myself. They were well-made, stood up to the test of time, and timeless in style. We’ve since bought a number of items from them — most recently their leaning bookcases, which flank our TV in the living room. We also own and adore pieces from Room and Board, Jayson Home, Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, Ballard Designs, Jonathan Adler, and Pottery Barn. We’ve had spotty luck with West Elm — I don’t think their furniture is as well made as some of the other big box stores, but their decor is fun. I’ve also found great accent pieces from Target — stuff like these inexpensive x-benches are perfect at for adding texture and additional seating to a living space without breaking the bank.
A couple of other brands on my radar: LivenUp Design, Society Social, Oomph Home, The Inside, and Alabama Sawyer. And of course you can always find amazing stuff at OneKingsLane — currently eyeing this bench and these chairs.
Q: Can you recommend a good carseat tray? When we travel, would be nice to have her be occupied with a sticker book or something to put snacks on, etc to help pass the time.
A: Love this idea. I don’t have one, but I would be inclined towards the one by Skip Hop. They tend to make well-designed products and I personally like that it’s not as much of an eyesore as so many of the other designs I’ve seen. (And a lot of the other designs have about fifty-five pockets and pouches and I just cannot see my toddler delicately placing each and every item back in those pouches — seems over-engineered.)