Reader Q+As: Paint Colors, Special Occasion Jewelry, Winter Footwear + More.

By: Jen Shoop

I thought I’d share answers to a spate of recent reader questions today.  I absolutely love reading emails from you; I respond to each and every one.  Imagine you’re sitting across from me at the coffee shop above, just two gal pals gabbing away.  (Or join our book club and we can talk IRL.)

Q: Where can I find a non-cheesy adult advent wreath?

A: There are lot of really tacky looking ones out there.  I was just looking for this the other day and came across this elegant, simple boxwood one.  It doesn’t come with candles, but these would do — or, if you’re a traditionalist, this set, which includes the correct colors: three purple, one pink (at least in the Catholic church).  For something a bit less traditional (and with a more petite footprint), I thought this modern take on the advent wreath was kind of cool in a Scandi-sleek way.

Q: What color is your iPhone case?

I own this in white.  I debated between the white and orange for a long time though.

Q: I’m struggling with paint colors for our new house and thought I might ask you??

A:   I’m a little bit out of my element here as I’ve only ever had to pick paint colors to repaint wooden furniture (and I picked a high-gloss forest green).  We lucked out in the first home, as it had been recently repainted in elegant colors.  But here are my thoughts:

+I learned this from this great book on interior design and specifically color theory: you should never be able to name a paint color head-on when you see it.  I.e., you should have trouble “naming” the colors on your walls.  They should be: “oh, it’s kind of a gray-green-blue…with a little yellow?”  Or “it’s a whitish-gray color?”  The point is that more sophisticated colors will be beautiful and unique blends.  Anything that can be described as straight up “yellow” or “pink” is too much.
+I am personally drawn to yellow walls in living areas.  My mother-in-law painted their front living area the happiest yellow-cream color and it always feels like the house is aglow.  Random preference!
+I’d spend time scouring the sites of interior designers I like/trust — they often list the paint colors they’ve used, or might be able to answer a simple email.  My personal favorite interior designers are Amy Berry, Veere Grenney, Nate Berkus, Mark D. Sikes, and Dina Bandman.  Look at their portfolios and their Instagram accounts and see what strikes you.  I am often drawn towards moody gray-blues, but I know a lot of people are very into whites/grays.  They will probably have the colors listed!
+Designer/blogger Erin Gates occasionally runs blog posts on colors she recommends for the houses she designs (like this one), and they’re usually safe bets.
+This article might also be a good starting point.

Q: Can you share a refreshed day-in-the-life post now that you’re in NYC?

A: You are sweet to inquire.  Because I’m a huge fan of the Grub Street Diet series, I’ll gluttonously indulge in my own, semi-food-oriented variation.  Mini wakes us by 7 a.m. every morning, and I change her a diaper, pour her a bottle, and bring her into our bed to enjoy it while we squeeze in a final few minutes of rest.  Then Mr. Magpie heads off for his shower/shave/dress routine while I turn on the news and play with mini for a few minutes — usually coloring or “changing babydoll’s diaper” these days — before I head into the kitchen to make breakfast, which is more of a production than it should be, to be honest.  Mr. Magpie is ritualistic with his breakfast: I pour him a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, scoop out a bowl of yogurt (we love Noosa and Liberte), and cut up whatever fruit we have on hand — right now, a lot of pears, citrus, and melon because they are more in season than berries.  I always add a “carb” to his plate, which he insists he does not need but always devours — a waffle with peanut butter on it, an English muffin with butter, a slice of babka from Breads Bakery (next door to us and the best in the city), and on good days, some sort of baked good I’ve prepared, like Orangette’s banana bread, which is always a crowd pleaser.  Then I prepare breakfast for mini and I: sometimes overnight oats (so easy prepared the overnight way; we put diced banana, figs, and walnuts in ours), sometimes a fried or scrambled egg, sometimes waffles with cream cheese or peanut butter on top, sometimes yogurt with granola. And always fruit on the side. This morning, it was links of breakfast sausage from Eataly, cranberry English muffins (they are seasonal and SO GOOD) with Plugra butter, and segmented citrus (grapefruit for Mr. Magpie, mandarin oranges for mini and I).   I don’t know how, but breakfast has become complicated in our little home!    I find myself carrying out a huge tray of various plates.  Eh well.

We all sit at the table during breakfast, commenting on the news and chatting about the day’s plans, and then Mr. Magpie prepares pourover coffee for me, packs his in a thermos (these are our favorite), and takes Tilly for her morning walk.  Mini and I usually linger a little longer at the table and then she flutters around while I clear the table, clean the kitchen, tidy her toys, change her into her outfit for the day, make the beds, and get myself ready.  Mr. Magpie is usually back at some point during this whirlwind of activity to kiss us goodbye and head out for the day.

On nanny days, I am regimented about having everyone dressed and the house tidy before 9 a.m. so that I can maximize writing time.  I often pack mini’s lunch when our nanny has a playdate scheduled.  Today, it was leftover “lemon pasta” (one of her favorite dishes — pasta mixed with grated lemon, pecorino romano, a bit of butter, and dried cranberries), veggie straws, and diced kiwi.  I’ll have that packed in one of these bento box tupperware along with a full thermos of water and a baggie of diced fruit or goldfish or raisins by 9 a.m. as well.  I usually try to hang out for a few minutes with mini and the nanny to catch up and make sure everything is going smoothly and then abscond to a nearby cafe or retreat to my bedroom to write.  My goal is to complete two posts per nanny day, which sometimes happens and sometimes does not.  I get a lot of questions about my process with this blog.  The truth is that I have never had an encounter with writer’s block.  How do I have so much to write?!  I insist that you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman of thirty with less on her mind!  I usually have a couple of ideas for a post floating around in my head at any given time.  I’ll write until around 12:30, when I break for lunch — often leftovers or a hastily thrown together salad or tartine made from whatever we have on hand.  Today was a good lunch day, though: a salad from Maison Kayser along with one of their olive rolls, to which I am unabashedly addicted.  I almost always have a LaCroix or Spindrift with lunch.  I usually call Mr. Magpie around this time for a quick catch-up, though we’ve often texted throughout the morning.  Mini is home by now, either eating her lunch at the table or winding down for her nap, which usually starts between 1 and 1:30, so this time is often punctuated with breaks to attend to her.

After lunch, I take Tilly for a long walk while listening to a podcast (next on my list: the How I Made This featuring Jeni Britton Bauer, recommended by a reader) or talking to my mom or sister on the phone.  After I return, I either resume writing, poke around the Internet looking for new inspiration, or tackle whatever to-dos are on my list and easier to accomplish without mini in tow.  Sometimes that means a quick run to the grocery, a blog-related visit/meeting, a doctor’s appointment, a manicure, or getting a headstart on cooking dinner.  (Mr. Magpie and I almost always plan our dinners a few days in advance so we have groceries on hand.)

Our nanny leaves at 5, at which point I try my darnedest to shut down my laptop and hide my phone so I can focus on mini.  It’s an ongoing battle.  We usually play and read books until 5:45, when I begin to prepare mini’s dinner — tonight, a chicken cutlet I pounded thin, breaded, and pan-fried, some orzo, and diced cucumber (one of the few vegetables she loves).  I usually call my mom while making her dinner.  Mr. Magpie is almost always home by six, so we sit at the table and enjoy a glass of wine and an “amuse bouche” (fancy for whatever we have on hand — smoked almonds, pumpernickel sticks, a little hunk of cheese) while she eats.  Then it’s bath time, playtime, and finish-her-bottle time.  She’s often so excited to see Mr. Magpie, there’s no one else in her entire universe for this hour.  So I’ll tidy up the kitchen, her room, etc, and sneak in a little phone session while Mr. Magpie romps around with her.

Then bedtime for mini — we brush her teeth, say goodnight to everything and everyone (literally — Tilly, the oranges in the bowl on the table, dollbaby, lamps), read two books of her choosing, and say prayers.  Then I kiss her and remind her how special she is and tuck her into bed.  She’s easy with bedtime; she rarely makes a peep.

When I emerge from her nursery, Mr. Magpie and I usually high-five each other (no joke) and then make dinner.  Mr. Magpie cooks most nights (he’s better at it than I am), though sometimes I’ll be at the helm.  We cook almost every other night of the week, eating leftovers on the days in between and ordering out maybe once a week, usually on Saturday or Sunday.  Last night, it was leftover pork cochinita tacos with rice and beans.  Tonight, it’s a Zuni’s baked bonne femme fish recipe that I love and hate.  Her recipes are overwrought and finicky in my opinion (and I’m a pragmatic cook!) — but Mr. Magpie is always quick to add: “and they turn out perfectly every time.”  Harrumph.  We’ve gotten into a bad habit of eating in front of the TV, but we promise ourselves it’s temporary, until we start eating dinner with mini, which we’ve begun doing on the weekends.  Parents out there — who else agrees that there is something ridiculously luxurious about the glazed over quiet of dinner in front of a TV after a baby is asleep?  I wish this weren’t true, but it is.  After dinner, I make myself a cup of herbal tea (usually peppermint) and we have dessert.  Always.  Often ice cream (we love Adirondack pistachio-cardamom and Ample Hills Peppermint Pattie right now), but tonight, we’ve upgraded with cookies I picked up at Levain.  Then I tidy the kitchen while Mr. Magpie takes Tilly on her evening walk, pour us both large glasses of water, wash and moisturize my face (I use this and this after removing makeup with micellar water and these cotton pads), and turn down our bed, a ridiculous little habit that makes me very happy.  (I use this to make the sheets and pillows look extra inviting.)  We’re usually in bed by 9:30 or 10, when I read for about thirty minutes on my Kindle while Tilly gets her nightly snuggle with Mr. Magpie.

And when I can’t sleep, something on this list happens, or I buy something online from my phone.  Last night, it was these boots for mini.

Q:What would you tell someone wanting to create a blog in today’s saturated space?

A:  Oof.  This is a tough one.  In general, I root on people who are striking out to build something of their own.  But I am also conditioned and hardened by the experience of building and shutting down a business in the past, and so I say: think critically and carefully (see specific cautions below), know that nothing happens overnight (temper expectations!), and then go boldly into it.

My experience is assuredly idiosyncratic, but it’s all I know, so I’ll share my story.  I began my blog purely as a passion project eight years ago.  It was borne of boredom while exercising.  At the time, I would sweat away on an elliptical for forty-five minutes a day (it now feels so dated to say that — what, no Orange Theory?!), and I’d kill the time by reading fashion magazines.  I used to challenge myself to pick one item off each page that I’d actually want to buy (weird pastime) and to imagine how I’d style it.  So it’s true what they say: boredom is the mother of invention.  My little habit helped me refine my aesthetic and whetted an appetite for curating and organizing fashion finds — and so I launched a blog on WordPress.  When I started, I didn’t write with an audience in mind (!) and had no ambition to turn it into a career; I hadn’t a clue about marketing it.  I was pleasantly surprised when friends and family members started following along.  The blog has grown organically over time, and, as I’ve gradually transformed it into more of a long-form writing outlet dotted through with things I love, the followers have multiplied.  I’ve discovered — to my genuine delight — that many of you share similar interests, queries, anxieties, triumphs along the way.  Hm: so I am not alone in my thoughts after all?

Interestingly, I have found that my blog has truly taken off ever since I carved out the time and space to dig into the writing, which, I’ve come to realize, is my biggest strength.  And so, if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that I’ve been successful because I’ve been driving in my own lane and doing what feels authentic to me: writing, reading other good writing, and writing about that reading — but balancing it all with lighter fare.  I am not a noncomformist in any way in my life, but I do feel I am squarely doing my own thing with this blog, so perhaps I qualify here.

This to-thine-ownself-be-true ethos makes sense within a broader business context, too: when I was building a technology company, investors loved asking us about our “unfair competitive advantage.”  This was trite start-up lingo for “what makes you different? / what makes you more likely than the next guy to succeed”?  If I were to answer this question about my blog, I’d say that I have brought my background in academia/literature to bear in a unique outlet for long-form writing about motherhood, adulting, relationships, and other lifestyle topics.  This might be a useful framework for thinking about a new blog.  What sets you apart?  What makes you unique?  Is it your voice?  Is it your background in a particular industry that will give you an “insider’s look”?  Is it your connections to amazing people whom you can feature?   If you can articulate something compelling here, there’s probably a meaty opportunity at hand.

Q: I always struggle to find winter-appropriate shoes for date nights out.  What do you wear with skirts/dresses?

A: Suede pumps (these are my upgrade pick) or suede kitten-heeled booties (these are my upgrade pick) are my go-tos.  I wear them with jeans and a blouse or with black tights when wearing skirts/dresses.  I also love Loeffler Randall’s high-shaft boots from years past, like their Ranas (still a few available on Amazon).  I have three or four LR pairs in slightly varying styles I bought over the years that I rotate through.  The quality of their boots is insane, and I like how their older styles are a bit less trendy/more timeless, with a reasonable heel.

Q: NYC mom here — how did you find your nannies?  Did you do a trial period before hiring full-time?

A: All word of mouth!  My mom had told me first-hand referrals were the best way to find a good nanny, and I obliged.  She also encouraged me to cast a wide net, and to ask everyone from doormen to housekeepers to friends, and so I did!  The first nanny we found was through our doorman (and we adored her, and we still use her to sit!)  We have learned over time that it’s important to be specific and up-front about expectations while interviewing, and to take your time, too.  One of the most illustrative questions to ask is: “Is there anything you absolutely don’t do/aren’t comfortable doing around the house or with regards to caring for mini?”  It’s interesting to hear the responses — this is where you find out if someone is uncomfortable with doing laundry or feeding the dog or cooking or whatever it might be.  (All of which is fine — but important for ironing out!)  I also always make clear that I work from home; some nannies don’t like that.  Anyway, I digress.

Yes, we do a trial period before hiring; we didn’t initially, but have learned it’s better that way.  We agree to a month-long trial where we pay by the hour and ensure that we are the right fit for her and vice versa.  At the end of the month, we talk about how things went and decide whether to pursue a formal arrangement, which will in turn include paid time off, a list of paid holidays, transit arrangements, pay rate, protocol when ill, etc.

I also had some luck finding nannies to interview through the Facebook group “Upper West Side Moms.”  (I think there are groups for most neighborhoods in Manhattan.)  There are almost always moms posting about nannies looking for extra work.

Q: I run a startup and have had a rough and tumble 2018, which is ending on a high note with closing my first round of fundraising from a strategic partner I’m really excited about. I want to commemorate this milestone for myself, and acknowledge what I accomplished to make it happen, and so am thinking about buying myself a piece of jewelry — ideally a necklace, as I’m not much of a bracelet person and my engagement/wedding ring are pretty dominant on my left hand. I’ve been eyeing Maya Brenner necklaces but those feel a little to mom + baby-centric in many cases, and like Ariel Gordon’s stuff but definitely want silver/platinum and her smaller more every day dainty pieces available in those metals don’t resonate with me for this particular use case — they’re a little too cutesy.Suggestions?

A: First: THE HUGEST CONGRATULATIONS!  Successful fundraising is soul-and-body-depleting and also ultra-rare for women.  I am so excited for you and love the idea of commemorating this enormous achievement with a piece of jewelry.

The first thing I thought was of the silver diamonds-by-the-yard necklace Mr. Magpie gave me for a birthday a few years ago.  I wear it every single day.  It looks just as elegant with a formal evening gown as it does peeking out underneath a crisp white button down while pitching to investors.  I love the length, the proportions, the delicacy of it.  A lot of jewelers carry variations on this theme, possibly for less.  But there’s nothing like Tiffany.

My second thought was Jennifer Zeuner.  I love her delicate layering pieces and a lariat necklace of hers was one of my most cherished possessions for several summers until I lost it.  I personally love this customizable necklace, which you could do with your name or initials or even a saying that matters to you.  I also love this delicate cross but know that’s not for everyone — other chic pieces include this horoscope necklace (if you’re into that — these are so cool!) and this wishbone necklace.  (Personally, I think entrepreneurs need both wishbones and backbones.)

I know you said you’re not into bracelets as much, but I have also eyed these Monica Vinader bracelets for a long time.  You can get them engraved!

You might also check out Missoma.  They have a little quirkier pieces — more like vintage flea market looking finds — but I love a lot of their pieces.

Q: Just for fun – what’s the best bargain you’ve scored in recent memory?

I managed to snag one of these alpaca throws for our new bedding situation with a one-day-only $100 off code at St. Frank.  I had been eyeing them for years but just couldn’t pull the trigger.

Q:  Baby girl essentials: best hair bows and girly clothes!

A: Hair bows: PoppyBows on Etsy.  The best colors and styles.  I do feel like her prices keep going up, though!

Girly clothes: oh my, where to begin?  The brands I continue to return to season after season are Luli and Me (love classics like this), La Coqueta (love floral dresses like this — on sale!), Sal E Pimenta (especially for swimwear), Foque (mini has worn this many times this season), and Bellabliss (mini wore this for her “twos program” interviews — I like that they walk the line between traditional and wearable very well; there is nothing too frou frou and most holds up well in the wash).  When I first found out I was pregnant with a girl, I spent a lot of money at Jacadi, too.  They have the most adorable pieces with elegant details like bows and scallop trim.  I like classics like this corduroy jumper, and they last and last and last.  I am also constantly scouring Gap (gravitate towards classics like this), Zara (this with a peter pan collar onesie underneath is right up my alley), and H&M (this is fun!) for standouts.

Q: Favorite holiday traditions?  Any updates on the book?

A: Love this question!  I wrote about some of our holiday traditions here, mainly as they pertain to decorating.  But the main traditions I’m most excited to introduce to mini are: 1) an advent calendar with a special treat every day; 2) a creche, where baby Jesus is only put out on Christmas morning — my mom did this when we were growing up and it was so special; and 3) Christmas just for Mr. Magpie and I.  We always pick a night before Christmas (since we’re always down in D.C. for the actual day), make an elaborate meal, drink expensive champagne, and watch A Christmas Story while exchanging gifts.  It is the absolute coziest.

The book!  THE BOOK!  I have the concept in my mind and have written bits of it in fits and starts.  I am a long way off to be honest.  I think I would need to add an extra day or two a week of dedicated writing time to get through it at a reasonable clip.  I have thought about pausing and polishing some of the vignettes I’ve written and am pleased with and sharing them here on the blog…stay tuned!  You are kind to ask.  What do you want to read?!?!?

Q: Would you ever do an apartment tour?

A: Yes, but I’d probably omit the corner of our bedroom with that heinous dresser I wrote about (HA!).  In all reality, this may actually happen sooner than later as I have a dear friend working on a special project along these lines.  Will announce as details materialize!


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6 thoughts on “Reader Q+As: Paint Colors, Special Occasion Jewelry, Winter Footwear + More.

  1. I’m intrigued by that paint color trick! Thanks for sharing that. I also LOVED reading your day-in-the-life response … I, too, love the Grub Street Diet column (maybe because I’m mildly nosy and love food? Ha!) and yours did not disappoint. 🙂 xo

  2. I second Gina’s comment. One thing I kept coming back to was – a treat every night! The way you wrote the sentence, it seemed like this was part of a larger philosophy. Like why deny yourself? Is is easier to just have dessert every night than to have to decide whether or not to have it? Your food diary was so delightful – it really speaks of a person who is enjoying the rich and varied texture of life and not taking anything for granted. It inspired me!

    1. Wow — thanks, Emily! You made me stop and think about what our eating habits suggest about us — and I do think they’re in line with our broader philosophies in life, many of which tend toward the “all things in moderation” line of thinking. We do eat small portions, but why deprive ourselves?! Anyway, thanks for writing this! It surprised me 🙂 xo

  3. Jen, this was a treat today- I started this post while I was drinking my coffee at home, read some more when I was on the subway, and finished at my desk where I could click and spend with abandon on all the adorable little girl outfits that you shared (my child dresses so much better than me these days). Your meals-on-a-day-in-the-life was especially delightful; I felt like I was enjoying a cranberry english muffin or a bowl of Peppermint Pattie ice cream right next to you! Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions with your usual thoughtful and insightful approach.

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