Friday miscellany: Magnolias, and my out-of-office blog post

Spring has sprung! If you follow me on Instagram (@lvanderkam), you know I have been obsessed with the magnolia tree in my front yard. We made an offer on our house in early March 2011, when everything was still winter gray. Closing in mid-April, and seeing all the flowering trees, was a delightful surprise!

The magnolia tree in the front yard is my favorite. I watch for the blooms, then try to take them all in. When I wrote about “savoring” in Off the Clock, I learned about the importance of looking forward to something, calling your attention to it, noticing it, using all your senses, capturing it in some sort of artifact, and looking back on it. So I used all those techniques. I make my priority lists for the upcoming weeks on Friday afternoons, and last Friday I chose “Enjoy magnolia tree” as my week’s top personal priority.

So I did enjoy it! I ate lunch in front of the tree. I looked at the tree each morning while the kids waited for the bus. I took copious pictures. I took pictures of my kids in front of the tree. I sat on the front stoop one evening watching the darkness fall over that tree. Soon the blossoms will be gone, so I do what I can to celebrate these days.

(The dogwoods, plum trees, and Bradford pears are blooming too, but for whatever reason, those feel slightly less magnificent. Even though the plum trees are quite beautiful!)

In other news: My children are on spring break for school next week so I won’t be posting much here. I’ll do a vacation post when I am back in my office.

In the meantime, I need some book recommendations for reading (yes, I am spending spring break with my kids, but I still have high hopes for some reading time). What are you reading now that you’ve enjoyed?


20 thoughts on “Friday miscellany: Magnolias, and my out-of-office blog post

  1. Book tip: Curtis Sittenfeld, pretty much all books, but recently especially “Eligible” and “American Wife”.

  2. 1. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, Hosting one of my book clubs tonight and everyone loved it.
    2. Rules of Civility by Amor Townes.
    3. Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. I don’t usually read celebrity type books, but she has had an interesting life so far and taught me things about Indian Culture.
    4. See if your alma mater has an online book club-mine days and it has been fun.
    5. I have been savoring our South Jersey daffodils and look forward to savoring the tulips that are about to pop-reminds me of when I purchased them in Amsterdam.

  3. I have gotten some great book recs from you! If you haven’t already read “Asymmetry” by Lisa Halliday, it’s a pretty fascinating book that I had to read a couple times to fully appreciate. I’m reading “The Sympathizer” right now and it’s a rich cultural commentary.

  4. I was just listening to a podcast interview with Charles Martin and his books sound interesting. One called Long Way Gone will be made into a movie soon.

  5. tigers in red weather by liza klaussmann – it started a little slow and wasnt sure i would like it but it picks up quickly and it will make you gasp at the end. i picked this title from a magazine years ago – it promised to be a good “beach read”. i have a list of my books to read on goodreads, and i finally picked this one out my 405 books i want to read.

    bird box by josh by josh malerman. I had heard about the bird box challenge (with pre-teens you hear about different “challenges” on you tube. I had no interest in reading this until my sister read it and this type of book has never been her type. I got the book on cd – 8 hours worth which i listened to on my daily commute and errand running in just 6 days. If I had actually read the book in hand I probably would have finished it in 1-2 days even though i wanted to savor it.

    1. I just read Bird Box as it was available to download on my Hoopla app, and while it wasn’t a total waste of time, since I read it while stranded at the airport, it is far from a good book. It is a post-apocalyptic horror story with a flimsy plot, annoying characters, and inauthentic portrayals of childbirth. I don’t recommend it.

  6. Min Jin Lee, Pachinko; she has another book, Free Food for Millionaires, which I haven’t read but is next on the list. John Podhoretz recommended Lee on Twitter, and I’m so glad I bit!

    I would echo the recommendation of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility; A Gentleman in Moscow is also good.

  7. I have a feeling you’ve already read it, but I really love Mary Laura Philpott’s “I Miss You When I Blink”. It’s exactly the book I need right now, and I’m trying to make it last as long as possible (highly recommend it to other Type A/anxious/Upholder readers out there!).

  8. Your tree is beautiful! I love that enjoying it was a top priority!
    I’d recommend the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. I think it’s a great series for spring break with kids. I think the first one was called “A Curious Beginning”. It’s a mystery, but still feels light and witty enough to read on vacation. Very well written, and just a lot of fun!

  9. The Radium Girls
    The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
    Becoming Mrs. Lewis
    Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
    Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor (habits and running–so good!)
    101 Rules of Walkability
    Becoming by Michelle Obama
    Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

    I have read these all recently and enjoyed them!

  10. Hello Laura!
    We used to live in Northern Virginia and looked forward every year to what we called the “tulip trees,” or these magnificent :”saucer magnolias.” We’d sometimes go into downtown DC specifically to see them. Our neighbor had two, and we’d wait each year to see if we’d get a late freeze after they had budded.

    Two book recommendations: “Ten Caesars” by Barry Strauss, who was just a guest on Jonah Goldberg’s podcast. Also, mentioned on the Milk Street Radio podcast, “Tiny Hot Dogs: A Memoir” by Mary Giuliani. I had two Audible credits available and so got both. Best thing about Audible: their returns policy. I’m not sure I can listen to the narrator who’s doing the Caesars book, but we’ll see.

  11. Books I’m currently Reading
    1. From Here to Eternity
    2. Michelle Obama’s Becoming (I think you read this already)
    3. Gentleman in Moscow
    4. The Next Right Thing

    Some other Recs
    1. Home Fire
    2. Little Fires Everywhere

    Enjoy the break!

  12. For relaxed holiday reading I recommend some Liane Moriarty (I’ve recently read Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty) – the kind of books were you mysteriously have time for reading because you want to find out the end. The Crazy Rich Asians series has also been good – very different to the movies, with a modern Pride and Prejudice vibe.

  13. I recently finished The Best We Could Do, a graphic novel about Vietnamese refugees. It was my first graphic novel, and it was beautiful. I have friends who were “boat people”, so it was interesting to read about another person’s journey. I read it on Libby but I plan on purchasing a hard copy too.

    Also, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, and The Rosie Project. Oh and if you like YA I really enjoyed all of the Wrinkle in Time books!

  14. My fave books so far this year:
    Killers of the Flower Moon by Grann
    The Lost Man by Jane Harper
    This Much Country by Kristin Knight Pace
    When You Read This by Adkins
    More on my Instagram (@bookloverspizza)

  15. I would echo Gentleman in Moscow – there is a strong time theme that you would particularly like – and Pachinko.
    My favorites so far this year
    Inheritance by Shapiro
    Harry’s Trees by Cohen
    Meet me at the Museum – Youngson
    The Huntress – Quinn – WWII and it includes a Russian Night Witch aviator character

  16. Oh! I’ve been meaning to recommend this one to you for ages — Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth — A Life Beyond “Cheaper by the Dozen”

    I don’t read a lot of biographies but this one was so fascinating to me. It was all about how the “Cheaper by the Dozen” mom made a professional life work at the turn of the last century, both before and after her husband’s death. It was such a different picture from the movie/kids’ books, and focused heavily on time management. There were SO MANY PARALLELS to all the stuff we talk about here. I noticed she had a lot of help (early days, her mother in law; later, lots of live in help) and they also experimented with what tasks they could outsource and how to get the kids more engaged. Really felt contemporary and relatable in most ways.

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