Delancey book cover“There were many moments early on when I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to be eaten alive by a wild animal than to show up for work. But in the midst of those hours, there was one that I always loved. It begins around 3:30 pm, when the servers set up the dining room. They set the tables, light the votives, and fill the water glasses. On the surface, it seems pretty mundane….But…for that hour, the room has this calm, consistent thrum to it, a sort of potential energy that feels peaceful and reassuring. I looked forward to it every day, and I still do.” Delancey

Delancey is a funny, beautifully written memoir about the founding of a wood-fired pizza restaurant in Seattle. It would make an excellent holiday present for readers who appreciate good food and frank, inspiring accounts of what it takes to start a business from scratch.

I loved Delancey because I grew up in our family’s floral shop, and the book is an authentic depiction of what it takes to establish and run a small business – the successes as well as the moments of despair when you question whether all the effort and sacrifice is worth it. Molly Wizenberg is frank and honest about the good and the bad. She is the author of the hugely popular blog Orangette, as well as another memoir, A Homemade Life. Orangette is one of my favorite blogs; Molly depicts her everyday life of cooking at home (recipes included), raising a daughter, and running Delancey with her husband, Brandon.

In the memoir, I especially enjoyed Molly’s descriptions of how Brandon developed and perfected their pizza recipes and the day-in, day-out routines and rituals of running a restaurant. They reminded me of days in the flower shop that began at the crack of dawn and sometimes ended after midnight, especially during the holidays.

Molly writes about the behind-the-scenes drama in the life of Delancey, but she also beautifully depicts her search for meaning in what she and Brandon are building. After the adrenaline of inspiration began to wear off, Molly got off the treadmill for a bit to take stock.

Here is one of my favorite parts, when Molly travels to London, dines with friends at the River Cafe and has an epiphany:

“…we watched the lunch crew set up their staff meal, a buffet along the bar. They filled their plates and began to stream past us to a lawn next to the patio, where they sat together, at least twenty of them, to eat. They smiled and gestured and leaned into each other, and the whole scene was eminently civilized, idyllic, the kind of vignette you find in an MFK Fisher essay about a restaurant in the French countryside in the first half of the last century. I couldn’t stop staring at them, watching the way they were with each other, the way they clearly enjoyed being there…These people, I thought, are making something here. ….These people know, and they care, that what they’re making is beautiful. They aren’t just going through the motions; they’re going after it. It was spectacular to watch: calm, precise, quietly exuberant.”

Oh, and, by the way, Molly includes twenty recipes for simple, homemade food she, Brandon, and their daughter June eat at home. This is a yummy, inspiring memoir.

The most important thing

Prayer wheel

For three days I’ve been thinking about the families of the children who died in Newtown, Connecticut.

I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to be a parent.

Our first child was born prematurely on a bright, crisp autumn day. One minute I was lying in bed planning how I’d spend my Sunday, the next my husband and I were racing to the hospital. Our wee one seemed determined to make his appearance on planet earth right then and there on Interstate 90.

A few hours later – after a very short labor – we had a son.

I looked at him sleeping on his tummy in his isolette in the NICU. A scrunched-up bundle in a baby blanket with his little bottom in the air and a head of black Irish/Sicilian hair. Suddenly I knew I would sacrifice anything, even my life, for this new little person. It was like when you look at someone you’ve seen before and realize you’re in love – except it was much, much more than that.  For a moment my ego dissolved. I was no longer the center of my own little universe.

Book cover, Some Assembly Required
As displayed in Queen Anne Books, Seattle

A few years later, when I read Anne Lamott’s words in Operating Instructions, I thought: she has it exactly right. Last week, I came across the same passage again on one of my favorite blogs, and I planned to share the post and add my thoughts. Then Friday happened and Lamott’s words took on a greater urgency for me as I shopped at the market for Christmas cookies and decorations.

Before I got pregnant with Sam, I felt there wasn’t anything that could happen that would utterly destroy me. . . . Now there is something that could happen that I could not survive: I could lose Sam. I look down into his staggeringly lovely little face, and I can hardly breathe sometimes. He is all I have ever wanted, and my heart is so huge with love that I feel like it is about to go off. At the same time, I feel that he has completely ruined my life, because I didn’t used to care all that much.

I think that moments of great joy and great tragedy shock us out of the ordinary and awaken within us a singular intensity of compassion, good will, and love. The boundaries between us and them, between the self and the other, fall away, if only temporarily.

There will be plenty of time later to ask why and bicker and debate the meaning of Newtown and what can be done to stop it from happening again.

The most important thing now is to ride the great wave of love and compassion this tragedy has released into the world – for as long as it lasts –  and take care of our children, 27 heartbroken families, and each other.

Quote: Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, Anne Lamott. Fawcett Columbine, New York: 1993.