Magpie Mail: What to Wear to a City Hall Wedding, Sensory Bin Woes, + Newborn Photo Outfits.

By: Jen Shoop

Q: We were supposed to get married in NYC in June but with everything going on we have had to reschedule.  Now, it seems that we will be having our reception in 2021 instead so we are planning on getting married at City Hall in New York whenever it reopens.  So now I need to figure out what to wear!  Do you have any recommendations for a fabulous white dress?  I assume that it will be spring/summertime when we can finally go to City Hall, but I guess you never really know!  I don’t want anything that is too trendy but am open to any suggestions you may have!

A: Oh! — I am so sorry for the change in plans. There is something terribly romantic about a City Hall wedding, though. A few thoughts…

+My top pick is this elegant Saloni. The covered buttons are perfectly bridal and the cut and fit of the dress are stunning.

+For a throwback City Hall vibe, this structured dress, or even something that has more of a “suiting” vibe, like this or — wow — vintage Chanel.

+This is a chic little dress that feels celebratory and carefree.

+This Staud is beautifully romantic.

+A crisp white shirtdress can be dressed up with fantastic accessories — this has a Lauren Bacall or vintage 1950s actress flair to it. (Or this knee-length variation.) Both so impossibly chic!

+I know you said you aren’t into trends, but I had to share a few picks for others who might be in the same boat but want a contemporary look, because they are SO good: this Aje, this Rebecca De Ravenel (pretty much my dream “getaway” wedding dress if you do an outfit change at the end), and — wow — this pantsuit situation.

+Whatever direction you go — buy some fabulous shoes! I love these lace beauties, these Emilia Wicksteads (something blue!), and these Loeffler Randalls.

+More beautiful bridal scores here. Can I draw your attention to this insane pearl clutch?!

Finally, and if I may be so bold — just go for it. Wear the long veil, or buy the ridiculous shoes, or sew that dress patch into your city hall wedding dress, or wear your new “mrs.” name out of the ceremony. You will never regret celebrating what is sure to be the most important day of your life with a small, splurge-y or fanciful detail.

Q: I keep wanting to jump on the sensory bin bandwagon for my toddler, but it seems so daunting. And I’ve already had one traumatic experience with water beads. Have you done any successful sensory bins?  And do you worry about your 10 month old putting any of the pieces in his mouth?

A: I totally hear you. As I mentioned in my roundup of indoor toddler activities, I am also new to the sensory bin world.  The waterbeads can be a particular kind of hell — we only use those in the bath tub because otherwise they go EVERYWHERE and, to your point, my 10-month-old son would 100% put them in his mouth.  So far, our favorite sensory bin has been dyed rice (we use these trays for all of our sensory activities, though these deeper ones look even better for projects like this!).  Place 1 cup of rice with 1 tablespoon of vinegar and a few drops of food coloring in a couple of different baggies and have your toddler shake, shake, shake.  Then spread out and dry on wax paper-lined baking sheets for six hours. (Note: mini loved helping me dye the rice — it was the perfect “cooking” project because proportions don’t totally matter, there are only a few ingredients, and it was fun for her to shake the baggies.)  Ever since, we have used the rice to “bake” (I give her a whisk, some measuring cups and spoons, cupcake tins, etc) and to find letters of the alphabet or little toy animals.  Yes, the rice does spill but we usually play with it on the floor of the kitchen/bathroom and sweep immediately after, and it’s not as big a deal anyway: if micro eats it, no biggie.

It is hard to get over the hump of worrying about the chaos/mess. I find that if I put out a big beach towel and encourage her to “stay on the towel,” it’s easier to let her make a mess and then just pick up the towel and shake it out after.

Q: What are you doing to stay positive during all this virus craziness?

A: I hear you. This is hard.

My chief strategy has been focusing on today only. If I let myself think about how long this might go on, what could happen, etc, etc — it’s just too much.

Instead: What small things can make today better? What can I enjoy at this moment — a fresh cup of tea, a dance party, a glass of rose, an extra cookie, a hot shower? Who can I check on or connect with virtually to make today a little brighter?

Also — a lot of prayer and distraction.

Q: Newborn outfit photo outfits — we’ll need to do them outside because of COVID19. Recs for mom, dad, and baby?

A: Welcome, baby! Hope you are hanging in there, mama. This has got to be the most unusual and anxiety-inducing time to have had a baby. I like the idea of sticking to a palette of white and blue — timeless, crisp, and fairly easy to find.

For mom: this ditsy floral print, this ethereal white dress, this scallop gingham dress, this on-trend blue linen, or this embroidered white chiffon midi (on sale — so, so elegant; reminds me of something a Fitzgerald heroine would wear).

For dad: seersucker pants, blue twill trousers, or denim with a white oxford.

For a baby boy: this classic romper, this gingham bubble, this Peter Pan collar preciousness, a blue knit set.

For a baby girl: this polka dot romper, a perfect traditional bubble, this spectacular floral bubble, or this sweet striped beauty (the collar!!!)

Q: Do you have any more recipes like your shrimp boil — easy and delicious?

A: Zuni Roast Chicken! This recipe requires advanced planning (you pre-season the bird two days prior to cooking it, but it’s a cinch to season!) but yields the most perfect roast chicken with the crispiest, most delicious skin. We usually pair this with orzo dressed in lemon, butter, and chili flakes and a simply boiled vegetable (green beans, peas, etc.) Outrageously good.

One of our other favorite meals is Daniel Boulud’s hangar steak with shallots. Requires very few ingredients and is relatively simple to prepare — but a knock-out.

P.S. The shrimp boil recipe is here, and another good weeknight dinner recipe here, too.

Q: If you had $100 to spend on women’s clothing at Target or Old Navy, what would you buy?

A: A couple of my favorite finds from these retailers:










*If I am following the rules to the letter, the items asterisked is exactly what I would buy with the $100 budget!

P.S. More amazing, fashion-forward, affordable finds here.

P.P.S. Expecting moms: LOVE THIS.

Q: How are you addressing or preventing sibling rivalry?

A: Our approach is to try our best to spend a lot of one-on-one time with each child. Before the pandemic, we got into a great groove where, every weekend, Mr. Magpie or I would take mini out for an excursion all by herself. Sometimes it was as simple as getting a cookie from the bakery down the street, or picking out a flower at the local florist. Other times, it involved a special trip to see a performance or attend a book reading. Now, we try to use micro’s morning nap as an opportunity to spend focused time with her, working on a project/activity.

In a more abstract sense, we are really careful with our language in front of them. A friend of mine once told me that “little rabbits have big ears,” and I’ve never forgotten that. To that end, we never compare the children in front of one another (we also try to avoid this in our own conversations — both are different and perfect!), say “I love you” a lot a lot a lot a lot, and verbally recognize their strengths all the time, especially during nightly affirmations. My hope is that by celebrating them and their differences, reassuring them, and reminding them how much they are loved, this will help.

Q: How do you keep up on baby photos/baby books/baby milestones? Any systems?

A: I could be better about this — I know I will kick myself one day. I did just order (now — ten months in — yikes!!!) a baby book for micro, as I had one for mini, too. Fortunately, I have been fairly consistent about noting milestones in a digital note on my iPhone for both children, as it’s easy to quickly log something in there during the day, so I trust I’ll have enough in there to jog my memory. For photos, we have a shared Apple photos album called “The Adventures of Emory and Hill” and we upload our best pictures there — honestly, we probably have a picture for nearly every day! Can you imagine?! I take a lot of pictures. We love this because we have shared the album with my siblings and our parents, and they can keep tabs on the children and leave comments, too. It’s a great way to keep everyone connected. Every now and then, I order prints online to update our frames. I would love to do a proper album at some point, printed and shipped to myself and our mothers…one day!

Q: How do you organize your clothes?

A: I shared all my favorite organization gear for closets/wardrobes/dressers here, but I will say that folding shirts and pants for dresser drawers the Marie Kondo way has completely changed my life and has made it much easier to keep my drawers tidy (and to stay on top of it). More generally, I stow out-of-season clothes in fabric cubes (wish they’d had this pretty print back when I bought my set!) and line the top of our closet with them. (When we were shorter on space, I used Ziploc space bags) and then organize my hanging clothes by type (skirt/top/dresses) and then by color within each category, and my folded clothes by type (tops/jeans/pajamas/exercise) and then by color.

Q: I’m the officiant for my brother’s boho-chic SoCal wedding in July — dress help please!

A: Wow! So special. Luckily, boho is very in right now, and options abound. Below, a few of my favorites:







Q: Any ideas on great housewarming gifts for a recipient who is excellent at gift giving?

A: I hear you — I have a few friends like this, too. How about…

+Some gorgeous custom monogram hand towels. I bought these for my son’s bathroom and was so wildly impressed with the customer service and quality.

+Gorgeously-scented hand wash — don’t know why it’s $3 cheaper here than anywhere else?! This stuff is absolute heaven though, and even the most discerning of recipients will appreciate this.

+If a foodie: a parcel from Eataly — some good olive oil, the best dried pasta on the planet.

+A fun set of cards — with a note mentioning how much fun you’ll have playing together around her gorgeous new living room at some point in the future…

+So random, but if she’s a vintage-score lover: I’ve been eyeing this gorgeous letter opener, and maybe would pair it with some pretty notepads? For her new desk/office space?

+Farmgirl Flowers. Flowers never disappoint, and this is my absolute favorite delivery service. I have been wowed so many times by orders through them.

+Pretty tea towels.

Q: How do you handle Sunday worship during quarantine?

A: Thank you for this question, as it caused me to re-evaluate whether I could be doing something different — something better — on this front. Currently, I look up the readings for the Catholic Mass online on Sundays and read them to myself in the morning, usually before I get out of bed. We did observe the Pope’s televised Sunday Mass on Easter, and I was surprised at how well-behaved mini was throughout its entirety, but I have frankly not tried any other weekend. (My parents do, though.) My thinking has been that I will get more out of “Mass” by observing the readings in quiet than I would corralling my children, but — frankly — your question has led me to wonder whether it might not be the right thing to do for my children to have them observe me tuning in. What are other prayerful folks doing?

P.S. Have been eyeing this Horror Vacui dress intensely, but just found this lookalike!!! Ordered!

P.P.S. Currently reading.

P.P.P.S. How to read.

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13 thoughts on “Magpie Mail: What to Wear to a City Hall Wedding, Sensory Bin Woes, + Newborn Photo Outfits.

  1. Ooh thank you for Target recs — I love finding great deals there! Last year I scored a cotton button-front midi dress with bow shoulder straps from their Who What Wear line, and it’s one of my favorite summer dresses. I stock up on the Cat & Jack leggings for my toddler too, especially when they’re sometimes marked down to $4 a pair!

    I haven’t done any semblance of Mass in front of my daughter, but we pray together every day and I try to follow her lead. One night at bedtime she asked me to recite the “Hail Mary” repeatedly and I thought, how interesting… the very beginnings of the rosary, right there. I wonder if it offered her some measure of comfort (though at two and a half, who can really know?), as it did for me?

    Please know that this is not a judgment of your parenting or anyone else’s parenting *at all*, especially in these difficult times in which we try to offer curious and active children activities at home with the limited outdoor options we have, particularly for those in big cities. But… I have SUCH a hard time with food in sensory bins. I was born and raised in a developing country, and while I was privileged to grow up comfortably and never experienced food insecurity, the poverty and hunger around us was just so apparent. My siblings and I were raised by the generation who valued finishing what’s on your plate… Then fast forward to my 20s, when I came to the US for graduate school and work, I was shocked at the use of rice, beans, pasta, etc in huge, almost bath-tub size sensory bins in preschools, that they would then throw away for sanitary reasons (I get that). I was an early childhood education/special education major and I understand the benefits of sensory play and saw firsthand how much fun and learning children experienced during sensory play. I did offer these types of activities when I was teaching, but man, it was tough. Even after 17 years in the US, I still can’t reconcile this in my head, and I have not been able to offer such activities to my toddler, and I wonder, am I limiting her learning opportunities? On the positive side, the quantities of food for sensory play for one child at home is far, far less than the amounts used in preschool classrooms. I will say though that I’m more comfortable with things like cornstarch goop, perhaps because we wouldn’t necessarily eat cornstarch for sustenance…? My first choice would definitely be non-edibles though…

    Again, this is not a judgment nor a means to guilt or shame you or anyone, but my own “issue”… and simply a different perspective. Maybe I’ll get there and be able to offer such types of play to my kid. Or maybe I won’t, and that’s ok too… I didn’t grow up with that kind of play, and I suppose I turned out ok…

    1. Hi Mia – That makes complete sense to me, and I can imagine it would be triggering to see bins of beans/rice thrown out daily. I hear you. I’ll be thinking of this next time I consider a project. On the PLUS side, I do think that all this indoor time with my daughter has taught me to be INSANELY resourceful. I never thought I’d be the type of person who would save paper towel rolls and old cardboard boxes and jam jars but now I see these things and think — “THAT WOULD BE PERFECT FOR A PROJECT.” I know there are a lot of moms that were born this way, but the quarantine has really taught me to be a lot more careful with “waste.” The same goes for food! I now find myself stretching everything I have to make as much as possible out of it. Groceries have become much easier to find in the last week or so, but I think I’ll carry this mentality with me for a long time (forever?). Anyway, not totally what you were after, but some related thoughts…


  2. We have been watching Cardinal Dolan’s Sunday Mass from St. Patrick’s and have really been enjoying it!

    1. Thanks, Jeanne! You’ve encouraged me – think I’m going to tune in this Sunday and see how it goes with Emory!


  3. Love that Saloni! Regarding Mass, I’ve been acting similarly to you. If we turn it on, it winds up just being the background to the children’s activities, and we can’t really watch/participate, so we have mostly been trying to read the readings, etc. as you have said. Who knows when regular Mass will resume, but I’ll focus on modeling behavior for my children then when we can safely all go. This is an aberrant time for sure! (And given the state of things with the Sunday obligation lifted, we don’t “have to” tune in, so I’m okay with this arrangement!)

    1. Thanks for weighing in on this – interesting counterpoint. I also have been worried about the “holiness” of the Mass experience at home — or the erosion of the holiness when it’s set against the din of my children begging for snacks or playing with their toys or what have you. I am inclined to continue to quietly read the readings to myself though it breaks my heart when Emory asks whether it’s Sunday, and whether we’re going to Church. It was such a special excursion for just she and I every Sunday…


  4. Love your styling suggestions, as always, especially for the City Hall bride and the wedding officiant. So many gorgeous options!

    I wanted to say, if you’re interested in a printed photo book — check out Artifact Uprising. I’ve been SO impressed with the quality of their items, particularly their layflat clothbound albums. They’re not inexpensive, but they’re SO nice!


    1. I’ve heard of that company but never looked closely — thank you!!! Great to have a first-hand review.


    2. I hear you — I had only really seen them on Instagram and was wondering if they were all hype. (Ha!) I decided to try them out for a small photo printing project as a test, before diving in and making a proper album for my parents. The quality, particularly of that clothbound, lay-flat option, is top-notch! I was impressed with the quality of the smaller loose prints as well.


  5. This pandemic is making me very budget-conscious and I really loved your Target and Old Navy recs—I hope you’ll make this a regular thing! I love mixing high/low and finding those gems at really accessible prices.

  6. You crush it every time with your recommendations and styling ideas!

    Your thought on having your children observe you tuning into mass is an interesting one. I have a friend who showed up to dinner once wearing a cute winter hat. We all remarked how much we liked it. Her response ‘if I want my daughter to wear one, why would she if I don’t.’ That always stayed with me.

    The hanger recipe sounds delicious. Another favorite in our household is Giada’s Shrimp Fra Diavolo recipe. It’s effortless and tastes restaurant quality.

    1. Thank you!! That’s such a good point about modeling the behavior we want to see in our kids…thanks for the food for thought 🙂


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