central park rainy fall day

Magpie Mail: What NYC Feels Like Now, Snapping Out of Funks, + Toddler Backpacks.

Q: Kids backpacks. My little one starts kindy in January — the school year in Australia. She will need a decent-sized one as they need 2 water bottles (water in the sunshine!), a hat (“no hat, no play”), spare clothes, lunch, and books. So not a decorative one in that it actually needs to hold a lot. Any ideas? I don’t mind girly but would rather avoid unicorns if possible! Bonus points for monogram and / or matching lunch boxes. 

A: Congratulations, mama! I would consider State Bags. They come in all different colors/patterns (some solids, too!), are well-made, and very roomy. Mini owns this exact style and we love it, though you might want to compare it in size to the very popular Kane Kids style, which has the added advantage of having built-in water bottle pockets on the exterior.

Livly Baby’s backpack is also well-loved by several moms who have emailed me on the subject — a lot of them say the size is just right for a small child, but it can still hold a lot.

Q: We just decided on Thanksgiving dinner plans out just my husband and I at a place with no dress code but you can dress as fancy as you’d like and no one would bat an eye. I keep remembering a green velvet dress or a burgundy velvet dress you mentioned wearing one year for Thanksgiving or Christmas? I’m about to dive back through any shopping posts you have related to the holidays but if you have any other suggestions I’m all ears!!! Definitely thinking about a padded headband look…

A: You have such a good memory! I own a green velvet Misa dress that I’ve worn a few holiday seasons in a row now. It’s no longer available from the label except for on websites like eBay and Poshmark. I’m absolutely dying over all the velvet finds in the Outnet clearance section, though! Check out this insanely chic burgundy skirt, just destined to be worn with a blouse in ivory or white (I mean….!!!!) and a padded headband.

Two velvet dresses I’m strongly considering for my own holiday wardrobe are this Self-Portrait (SWOON) and this GOAT. This clearance-rack Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini statement is also VERY on-trend right now with the collar (RBG??).

I also shared some other dressy Thanksgiving options here.

Cheers!

Q: Fall/winter boots for toddler girls? Not snow boots but everyday (Chelsea style, etc.)

A: I have bought Gap boots for mini for the past few years and let me speak candidly on them: I like the styles (she owns this pair right now — I especially appreciate that this style and many of their others can work just as well with tights and a dress as they can with jeans or leggings!) and you can usually find them at a great price, but they aren’t particularly well-made. I’ve more or less made peace with that trade-off in years past because mini has every year (!) switched shoe sizes mid-season, and I’ve had to buy a second pair in a bigger size, and so she wears them just about as long as they last anyhow. (This pair is so cute!)

If you are more confident than I am that your daughter will wear one pair all season, or are willing to make a bigger investment in a better quality shoe, I can’t say enough good things about the Elephanito brand, and this boot style is perfection. I find the metallics are a fantastic workaround in terms of outfit coordination. They go with everything.

This year, however, I also bought mini a pair of Ugg boots because we walk about 10-15 minutes each direction on our way to school every day and it is COLD and WET in the New York winter, and I really needed something that would hold up and keep her feet dry and warm. (We have also of necessity had to adopt the Scandi outlook that “there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing” because we NEED Central Park as a space to run off energy given our tight quarters and the lack of indoor activities this winter owing to COVID-19. So Ugg boots will be in our future to keep mini warm and happy on the weekend playground circuit!) I’ll be honest and say I had a mild case of PTSD about Ugg boots after their huge spike in popularity during my college years. But they really do serve a purpose and who am I kidding? They are COMFORTABLE.

Q: How are you doing? I mean, really — COVID recovery, mini in school, micro at home. It’s a lot!

A: You are so kind to check in on me. I shared some honest reflections on how we’re doing at the moment here, but the sloppy truth is that I feel alternately fatigued by the news cycle and persistence of the pandemic, inspired by what I am reading and the conversations we are having here on the blog, overwhelmed by the monotony and narrowness of my day-to-day life caring for two small children, motivated (on many fronts), and satisfied (also on many fronts). We’ve managed to create a zone of comfort at home by force of routine and a healthy amount of over-celebration of the minor things in life. (Halloween this year was EPIC — so many surprises and activities and treats for the children.) At the same time, I miss my parents and am desperate for a getaway without the children, but we’ll get there. All in, I’m hanging in there! I’m juggling all the same things you and countless other Magpie Moms are, I am sure — so the question is also, how are you?!

Q: On the hunt for chic house slippers that are cute but still warm.

A: My personal favorite is the moccasin style — I have bought these for years and years from L.L. Bean, Lands End, and J. Crew. I tend to wear them into the ground so have gone through a ton of pairs over the past decade or two. They go well with my underlying preppy/classic style.

However, this year, I am eyeing these cashmere slippers (swoon) or these ones (slipper-sock style) as well as these black velvet mules (look like you’re wearing tuxedo slippers at home!) Such a fun way to dress up our ever-expanding at-home/athleisure wardrobes. These sherpa ones also caught my eye — very on-trend.

Finally, this pair from Amazon has a memory foam base (!) and has received over 3,000 five star reviews. Did I mention they cost $25?

Q: Where can I get pretty door wreaths to last the winter season?

A: Maybe an artificial one is the way to go? Target has some pretty and affordable options, like this one, and Shop Terrain always has great options, like this faux magnolia wreath style or this reindeer moss style. The latter would look stunning with an enormous satin ribbon in blush or ivory tied on the bottom.

On the subject of wreaths, I’m currently eyeing this personalized “wreath sash.” Gorgeous!

Q: Holiday decor ideas?

A: I got you! I shared some of my favorite holiday decor finds here and here.

Q: A sleeping bag for a three year old girl, with maybe a monogramming option? I want something nice but not too expensive.

A: Asweets has very cute styles — we bought mini a tent from them last year and have been impressed with the quality and design. And then this L.L. Bean is timeless (and can be monogrammed!)

Q: A new Christmas tree topper!

A: We just bought this one from ABC Home (a Manhattan treasure!) last year, which has an artful Madonna-and-baby halo-esque quality to it (and is surprisingly lightweight, which is nice because if they are too heavy, they always sit lopsided!) I also love this Anthropologie style. More tree trimmings here!

Q: Thanksgiving and Christmas book recommendations for toddlers, please!

A: Mini has loved this turkey book for the past few Thanksgivings. It’s a silly rhyming book (read to the tune of “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”) but it also reinforces the idea of subtraction. (Sneaky!) Both of my kids also love all of the Karen Katz lift-the-flap books so this formulaic Thanksgiving one has been a hit. I give the children new books at every possible occasion, so this year, mini will be receiving this Thankful book, which focuses on the small things we take for granted in a super sweet way, and micro You’re My Little Pumpkin Pie. Roger Priddy is always a solid, safe choice, too — full of clear pictures and good vocabulary. Mini’s school also recommended Catherine Stock’s Thanksgiving Treat and Margaret Sutherland’s Thanksgiving Is for Giving Thanks. (Not buying only because she read them at school quite a bit.)

For Christmas, mini adores The Night Before Christmas, Dear Santa, and Christmas in the Manger. This year, I’m giving her The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (she’s seen the movie a number of times, but never read the book and I think she’ll be able to cope with its length at her age now). Micro will get this First Christmas lift-the-flap book.

My sister (an early literacy specialist) also recommended The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood, so I just added that one to my cart as well!

Q: Best cutlery/everyday silverware set? And basically any essential registry items.

A: Do you cook a lot? If so, I still stand behind everything on this “must-have for the kitchen” post from four years ago. I use every single item on that list close to daily and it occurred to me just now that I’ve not yet had to replace any of them. The only update is that I prefer these mini cutting boards. (Great stocking stuffer! We now have two and probably use them both about ten times a day between cutting up fruit for the children, slicing sandwiches, cutting citrus for cocktails, mincing parsley, etc.)

For silverware, we went with a simple set from Williams-Sonoma. Our thinking was that we wanted a set with decent quality that would not be too precious or expensive (they go through the dishwasher daily!) and that a big brand would likely carry for years to come in the event that we needed to buy extra sets at some point. I’m glad we went with something simple because I have gotten bored of some of the everyday glassware/dishes we bought that were too heavily patterned!

I would also definitely register for nice china. I know different people have different perspectives on this, but we use ours all the time and there’s something so beautiful about outfitting yourselves as a couple for hosting future events and celebrations. We actually eat off of ours at least once a week even if it’s just the two of us! (This has been helped considerably by the fact that our fine china is dishwasher-safe.) Order multiples of the serving dishes that go with your set — so handy for bigger festivities. Mr. Magpie and I didn’t register for everyday china — just the formal stuff! — because at the time we both had our own sets of everyday dishes. If I could do it again, I think this might be the only change I’d make: I’d register for an everyday set, too, preferably in plain white with a modest decoration (i.e., something I won’t get bored of and that shows food well) and trim off some of the linens I registered for. I use the linens so much less than I thought I would, but I find we’ve dragged our feet on buying a full replacement set of everyday china so we have a couple sets here of four dinner plates here and there but not “full, complete, soup-to-nuts everyday set.” My favorites in that category are Pottery Barn’s Emma collection and Juliska’s Berry & Thread.

Q: Best thermal pieces for littles and women!

A: I have to rave about these $13 thermals for little ones. Perfect for layering under snowsuits or even jeans on cold days. I also always stock up on the thermal tees from Old Navy for my children — inexpensive but fantastic for layering underneath sweaters. For me, I absolutely live in the thermal tees from Old Navy and Everlane in the winter — amazing for layering and super-soft.

Q: Can you re-post your cornbread stuffing recipe?

A: Yes — it’s in this post! Yum.

Q: What is NYC like now? (As a follow up to your post from the beginning of COVID-19?)

A: New York has proven its resilience in spades in the past few weeks. This spring was, frankly, unnerving. New York felt empty but there were so many ambulances cutting across town. I’ll never forget their haunting cadence. And then the curfews in early June afforded the impression of something vaguely post-apocalyptic, to be honest, with the streets devoid of cars. Over the summer, there was a noticeable uptick in crime and suspicious activity. I recall a string of weeks during which Mr. Magpie and I commented that it felt like we couldn’t leave the apartment without confronting something disturbing — I witnessed two fist fights, a drug overdose, open drug use on the subway, an uncomfortable comment about my engagement ring; Mr. Magpie was approached twice in uncomfortable interactions; mini’s school was vandalized; etc. These types of things happen all the time in any big city, but their density over the course of a few weeks jostled us.

I do feel that things have changed for the better in the past few weeks — say, since mid-September. More New Yorkers have returned to the city, the mayor must be doing something to crack down on some of the incidents of crime and violence (?), many stores and restaurants have reopened with varying degrees of precaution, and perhaps we have just gotten to “a new normal” where what once felt strange feels OK.

Mr. Magpie and I have gone out for one date downtown since the beginning of COVID19, and it honestly felt perfectly fine — nothing like a “ghost town,” as NYC has been billed elsewhere, at least. Most people are compliant about wearing masks, especially on the subway, where I have witnessed city employees handing them out for free. Up by us on the UWS, the restaurants, stores, and especially Central Park are always busy. Sometimes I am happy when it’s raining outside because it means my running routes in Central Park will be less trafficked — otherwise, the paths (especially in the areas around the Great Lawn, the Lake, and Jackie O. Reservoir) can be almost dense. I am not comfortable running without a mask in those areas on most mornings, even though it is hell to run while wearing it. Too many people!

All in, I’m moved by this city’s resilience. There was something so touching about watching marathoners complete their virtual NYC marathons in the Park last weekend, and my kind neighbors putting up a sign in the lobby telling us which doors in the building would have (contact-free!) trick or treat candy outside their doors, and the thousands of small businesses who have pivoted and built outdoor dining areas to adapt to these modern conditions.

P.S. NYC is still a shock.

Q: Stylish dog accessories! I’m getting a puppy.

A: Congratulations! I shared some of our favorite dog gear here, but I really love the fun patterns on these collars and leads at the moment and The Foggy Dog also always has amazing prints for dog beds, collars, kerchiefs, etc. I specifically love this elevated dog bowl set, which we own for Tilly. Works so much better for us than having separate bowls out on a mat (easier to move, less likely to spill, etc.) I wouldn’t spend too much on a dog bed or dog blankets at first — they will likely destroy them with their little puppy teeth. Old blankets or towels are a good starter bed 🙂

Finally, this is not particularly stylish, but we bought Tilly this Kurgo harness this year and it’s even better than our previous one. If you have a strong, active dog, these make life SO much easier.

Q: I would love to know more about your favorite/go-to wines. I’m always looking for new ones!

A: We are spoiled because we have two great wine shops that deliver to us and boast excellent curation (plus highly usable web interfaces). You might draw inspiration there and then ferret the individual bottles out at your local wine shop! We order from Flatiron Wines and Astor Wines and our usual M.O. is to buy a case at a time with a mix of sparkling wine, white wine, and red wine. (Rose in the summer, too.) We like to buy at a variety of price-points, so we have a few nice bottles for special dinners and a few less expensive bottles. (We label all the bottles on the bottom with stickers — green sticker if under $20, yellow sticker if under $25, red sticker if $25+ — so it’s easy to decide what to open on what occasion.) I often start by sorting from least expensive to highest in their search functions to facilitate this cost-aware approach to purchasing and I also usually filter by Astor Wine’s “Staff Picks” — it’s like having a built-in guide. Some of my absolute favorite every day wines are this carmenere (tastes like an earthy green pepper — delicious with tacos, fajitas, etc), this sangiovese or this Nebbiolo (both are super smooth Italians with pasta), and this pinot noir (light-bodied and perfect with roast chicken).

Q: How do you snap out of funks (unproductive ones or otherwise)?

A: I take an intentional, day-long break and focus on other things, especially activities that will recharge my creative batteries, like reading or getting outside. I think the key is intentionality — telling myself: “It’s OK you feel this way. We’re going to take a deep breath and think about other things, and I trust you enough to know you’ll be able to clip back in when you’re ready.” I have found this strategy works much better than when I half-heartedly muddle my way through whatever it is. Back when I had a more traditional job, this meant sometimes I’d put in for a vacation day and just do whatever it was I felt like doing that could take me out of my headspace — cooking an elaborate four course meal, treating myself to lunch with a glass of champagne and a book, getting a manicure/pedicure, reading a book while laying out on the roof of our house (in Chicago, in summer), etc. It has never failed me. Hitting pause is so powerful. I often find I work through things in the background.

Q: Did you sleep train? At what age?

A: I did not — it wasn’t for me. Emory started sleeping through the night consistently basically the day she turned one and Hill started sleeping through the night consistently at around nine months (?) with a few regressions afterward, and the most recent resolved itself when we pushed his dinner back by an hour (closer to bedtime) and pushed his bedtime back by 30 minutes (to 7 p.m.). We were right in our instincts: he was waking up hungry and going to bed before he was fully tired. So interesting how small tweaks to timing can make a world of difference, at least once beyond the first birthday.

In general, my only advice on this front is to listen to what empowers and feels right to you as a mom.

P.S. More Magpie Mail here.

8 Comments

  1. Hi! I am curious as to why, in all that has been going on this week, you did not mention the election/or comment on results? Considering you are a New Yorker, have a daughter, and a majority of your readers are women. This was such an incredibly important outcome for all of us, feels remiss not to acknowledge.

    1. Hi Rachel! I hear you and respect this feedback. It has often felt like I am writing with an elephant in the room (multiple elephants at times) this year. However, for many reasons, I choose not to use this space as a direct conduit for my political views.

      xx

  2. For the reader looking for Thanksgiving and Christmas books: Sarah Mackenzie at the Read Aloud Revival has a great list of picture books for each month of the year. It has been especially helpful this year when we can’t browse the library and have to reserve books sight unseen! We found the Thankful book you mentioned on that list, and I also recommend In November as a Thanksgiving-adjacent book. One book on her November list that I did NOT like was Squirrel Nutkin! So bizarre! Of course my daughter was fixated on it until I snuck it out to return to the library early. One of my very favorite Christmas books is Peter Spier’s Christmas. It has no words, just really great illustrations of the days leading up to (and right after) Christmas. I’m adding the Christmas Quiet to my library list, too. Thanks, Jen’s sister! 😉

    1. Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much for all of this, including the caveat on the Squirrel Nutkin book. I just added the Spier book to my cart! Thank you!!

      xx

  3. I love the advice about taking a day to pause. I have a friend who is struggling after recent events, and I’m afraid I am, too. I have had no words to help her, so I think I will suggest this (and lots of prayer).

    Thanks also for the children’s book recommendations! I never know what to get my nephews for Christmas (they are nine and five), but I like to gift them books.

    PS – amazing sale at BG! Thanks for the tip!

    1. Yay!! Such good scores in that sale, and so glad the book recs might be helpful.

      Let me know how “the pause” works for you and your friend. Hang in there! This is a really intense time.

      xx

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