Annie took lots of great photos with her camera this week, and shared them with me. She’s been so wonderful with Judah and Amie, who think she is the coolest person ever. They’ve read books, had adventures, watched movies, painted fingernails, done crafts, and played soccer. She and Amie even had afternoon tea at the American Girl doll store today and picked out a puppy for Amie’s Samantha doll. Thanks Annie for loving our kiddos!
In 2007, the year Judah was born, I was sitting in our little book-lined office in our condo in Lititz, PA, surfing the internet, clicking away on our giant Dell desktop computer, and I stumbled upon a blog called Orangette. I’d never read a food blog before, but I knew immediately this blog was special. I loved the quiet, crisp photos. I loved the descriptions of food. I was instantly compelled to jump up and try one of the recipes: stove top black beans with onion and cumin.
That began my love affair with food blogs and also sparked a desire to learn how to cook simple, tasty food from scratch, and I’ve followed Molly Wizenberg on Orangette from time to time through the years since. When her first memoir, A Homemade Life, came out, I devoured it.
This year her second book came out: Delancey, named for the pizza restaurant she and her husband opened in Seattle. I mentioned it to Pat over email when we were planning our trip and she said, “Delancey is in my neighborhood!” Sure enough, the little restaurant and it’s next door bar, Essex, also owned by Molly and Brandon, are just a few blocks from Pat, Cathy, and Annie’s street in Ballard.
David and I both read Delancey before we came, and we loved the book, not least because — believe it or not — there are some similarities between starting a restaurant and starting a church. I laughed my way through the memoir because in many ways, Molly and Brandon’s marriage feels like David’s and mine: both the fun and the exasperating parts. And so it was that on Thursday night the seven of us walked to Delancey for pizza.
This week I asked Pat if she had to choose one ethnicity of food to eat for the rest of her life, what her choice would be. And she said it’s an impossible decision because so much of the food we’ve tasted is the memories surrounding the meal — where we were, who we were with, what season of life we were in. You can’t pull the flavor of the food out of its experience.
I thought of that all week, thought how right she is. Our meal at Delancey was magical, not just because I love pizza. It was everything. It was discovering Orangette seven years ago as a brand-new mom who could barely cook a real meal. It was reading Molly Wizenberg’s memoirs and coming to think of her as one of my favorite writers.
It was getting on a plane and flying thousands of miles across the country to Seattle, which I’ve dreamed of for so long. It was staying with Cathy and Annie in their actual house — which we’ve only ever seen pictures of. It was all of us strolling together down the sidewalk right in their neighborhood and standing in front of a restaurant I’ve read about and seen photos of.
It was the heirloom tomato and basil salad and the ice-cold glass of Washington hard cider and the 12-inch pizza pies, simple with the thinnest, crispiest crusts, with all-local toppings (the grilled zucchini and anchovy was my favorite). It was sitting in the little dining room, surrounded by laughter and smiles and friendly staff, remembering stories of plaster-scraping and pizza-oven assembling, and cement-floor staining that went awry. It was seeing Brandon Pettit walk out from the kitchen to laugh with friends sitting two tables over and feeling so proud for him, for what he’s done here in Ballard. I wish him and his family all the best.
Our dinner at Delancey is truly one we’ll never forget.
This week Cathy and Pat have given us the gift of freedom. Our kids are having a blast and I’ve rarely seen them so uninterested in having attention from David and me. So we’ve been free to hole up and read books or escape for an evening walk or a morning in downtown Ballard — whatever we feel in the mood for. It’s been so very restful.
Yesterday we drove 30 minutes to the coast and took a ferry to Whidbey Island for the day. The sun shines bright here each day now, but it’s still breezy. We wear sweatshirts in the morning and gradually shed clothes during the day as the sun warms everything up.
Cathy told us about a hidden-away coffee shop on Whidbey, which we searched for as soon as we crossed over. We wound our way deeper into the woods until we were certain we were lost, then turned onto a tiny little tree-lined road, and at the end was a coffee roasting company — part warehouse, part log cabin — with a bustling cafe and a secret garden patio. We ate a hot breakfast and took time sipping coffee and reading.
At 58 miles long, Whidbey is the longest island in the continental U.S., so it took us an hour to drive up to Deception Pass at the northern tip. The fog cleared away while we walking the beach, rocks crunching underfoot and we could see mountains all around.
After Deception Pass, we made our way back south. We stopped at the little sea town of Coupeville to explore and find something to eat. We walked out on the dock and ducked in antique shops and finally settled ourselves at a wine shop on the water.
We sampled six Washington wines, some local cheese, and oysters. I might have topped our tasting off with a couple dark chocolate truffles. Then we drove to Double Bluff, where David went on a two-mile walk and I settled myself at a picnic table with a book.
I sat there with the golden evening sun warm on my back, surrounded by families with children happily splashing in the tide pools, the wide stretch of blue water studded with boats and paddle boards, towering evergreens along the cliffs, and on the horizon snow-capped Mt. Baker. There was grass and sand and rocks and water and greenery and piles of driftwood. So much color and contrast and beauty all in one place.
As the sun set, we made our way to Langley, a town on the south of Whidbey. One of our favorite parts of the day was all the different glimpses of the island we saw. Everything from beachfront vacation homes to wild cliffs to suburban stretches with McDonald’s and Home Depot. On the road to Langley we passed stretches of organic family farms with vine-covered greenhouses, straight out of a food memoir.
We bought slices of cheese pizza from Village Pizzeria in downtown Langley, and ate them outside on the sidewalk with a view of the water spread out below us. Then we finished our evening with a movie at the little local theater down the street.
We got home at 11:30 last night and fell into bed exhausted and with such happy memories of our adventure. Thanks Cathy, Annie, and Pat!
Yesterday morning David and I caught the bus to the center of downtown for breakfast at Pike Place, the sprawling fish/farmer’s market right on the water. It was still a little drizzly, but crowds gather early even on a weekday, an endless push of people from all over the world snapping iPhone photos of the fish tossing and the original Starbucks coffee shop.
David and I poked around the stalls, admired the rows and rows of fresh fruit and flowers, and ate way too much food. Sourdough cinnamon rolls, smoked salmon eggs benedict at Lowell’s Restaurant (we highly recommend), a chocolate macaron, and cups of fresh honey-sweetened greek yogurt. Later on we walked down the steps to the bay to meet Cathy, Pat and the kids at the Seattle Aquarium.
This summer our family of four is taking our first ever Genuine Vacation. By that I mean, it’s not connected to an event or fund-raising or a conference or any other trip. Nope. This time we made our plans and talked to David’s aunts and cousin, and chose our dates, and bought plane tickets for Seattle. Just because we wanted to.
David’s dad’s sisters, Cathy and Pat, live here on the same street in Ballard, a neighborhood in downtown Seattle. Cathy’s daughter Annie is 15. They’ve made a whole lot of trips to the East Coast over the years to see the Gentino clan, and we’ve always wanted to come to hang out with them (David’s last time here was in middle school).
So on Tuesday evening we got on a plane in Charlotte, touched down, raced through the Atlanta airport, and boarded another plane for Seattle. The only thing I have to say about our trip was how incredibly easy it was after certain other trips we’ve taken. The kids walked through the airport on their own and carried their own backpacks and actually slept during the five-hour flight. In short, they were amazing.
And now we’re here, thousands of miles from work and requests and normal demands of life and I feel like my head’s beginning to clear. We powered through our jet lag yesterday and are adapting to Seattle time and finding lots of adventures. My phone’s turned off and aside from this blog I’m stearing clear of the internet in favor of chatting with our family or curling up in the adirondack chair on the porch with a good long novel and a cup of tea, listening to the patter of rain on the vines and leaves all around me.
Lots of photos to come, but here’s Annie and Amie in Annie’s flower girl dress from our wedding 10 year ago. I love that Amie is the age Annie was when we got married, and also I have no idea where the time went.
I’ve been working away, in fits and starts, at my adoption reading this summer. After our home study, I fully intend to skim through Secrets of the Baby Whisperer again — my go-to book on newborns and scheduling with my first two kids. And when the baby comes, whenever that is, I’ll dig into What to Expect the First Year.
But my favorite books to read when expecting a baby are Anne Lamott’s memoirs. I believe David’s aunt recommended Operating Instructions when I was pregnant with Judah. It was the middle of summer when I first read it; we’d just moved 600 miles north to Lititz, Pennsylvania, for David to start seminary, and I was 7 months pregnant.
By then I was getting almost zero sleep at night and I’d waddle, bleary-eyed, into the living room at 2:00 a.m. and curl up in our big, ugly hand-me-down recliner and read Operating Instructions, which is Lamott’s memoir of her son’s first year of life, written journal-style. I laughed and cried my way through it and became more and more happy about being a mom.
Seven years later I’m “expecting” in an entirely different way, and I stumbled upon Some Assembly Required at the library, which Lamott wrote with her son Sam about her grandson’s first year, and which I like even better. She takes a trip to India in the book, which is just icing on the cake.
Anne Lamott is truly one of the best writers I’ve found. While her style is completely different, her word pictures (in my humble opinion) at times rank up there with Barbara Kingsolver or Wendell Berry. She’s a master story-teller.
I’m not at all the type of person to want to meet famous people, but Anne Lamott is one of those authors I feel I’d love to sit down and chat with. Preferably in her quirky house, drinking tea and surrounded by her pile of dogs and cats. She’s so very down to earth.
We have our theological differences, but she makes me look at God and my faith in a new way. I love the way she talks about her church. Most of all, I love her honesty. Very few people have the courage to be as honest as she is in her writing. It makes you squirm sometimes and get embarrassed for her, but it’s also like a huge sigh of relief because deep down you know, I’ve been there. I’m just like that. That kind of honesty changes you, frees you up a little bit to take off the mask and just be yourself.
She makes me want to go deeper in my writing. I think I’m fairly good at being honest, but I’m also still good at self-protecting. I want to push myself to use my words sparingly and creatively, and keep trying and trying until I find the right fit. I want to paint better word pictures. Bird by Bird is a great book of her advice about learning to write.
If you do pick up Operating Instructions, be warned that there’s a whole lot of swearing. Some Assembly Required is a bit more mellow. Both are gems.
As I reread her books on motherhood and grandmotherhood and laugh and cry all over again, mostly I want to stop and notice. I want to remember everything. I want to be careful to be honest about the terrible difficulty and exhaustion of raising little people, and also revel in the swell of wonder and joy that is truly unmatched in this world.