Sunday, October 20, 2013

Autumnal stomping

Scott and I went out to a nearby wetlands nature area on a stormy-looking Saturday afternoon to breathe the crisp fall air and take in the colors of the season. Moments after we climbed back into the car, the rain started pouring! Perfect timing.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The apple story

It's almost three o'clock. Sarah is in a panic. She's scrambling around her office, muttering and worrying about things she didn't finish. This is her last day at the company. She has a flight to catch in 45 minutes. She's fretting. What if those last files on her desktop are important? Should she move them to the exchange? What about these papers - what if someone needs them?

"And this!" she says, picking up an apple. "Maeve, do you want an apple?" And then we both freeze, stare at each other, and start laughing. "Like the beginning," she says, and delivers the apple to me with a hug. "My God," I say. "I may have to resurrect my blog for this story."

A few minutes later, with Darren and me heckling her to drop everything and get the hell out the door to the airport already, she flees the building and climbs into her car. "I'll be looking for the apple story," she calls out as she drives off.

So here it is.

Twenty-three years ago, the twenty-year-old Maeve was sitting in the Michigan Union, doubtless wearing a long, paisley skirt and some sort of vest, and I was regretting that I had left my apartment without bringing any money with me. I stared hungrily at the offerings at Dagwood's, a busy sandwich counter manned by several undergraduates in blue polo shirts and matching caps. What if I asked one of them for an apple? Apples were less than a dollar. Surely it wouldn't be a big deal. I scanned the employees behind the counter. That one looked mean. That one looked too law-abiding. That one might be okay: an affable-looking blond girl with a genuine smile. I waited until the counter was free of customers and approached her.

"Do I look like the kind of person you would give a free apple to?" I asked.

She didn't hesitate. "Red or green?"

That was Sarah. We became friends immediately. As it turned out, we had taken one of those huge University of Michigan lecture-hall classes together the year before, and the class used a computerized system called Versaterm, where you could send messages to other students listed in the class roster: I don't think this process was called "e-mail" yet. I had sent a message to someone named Sarah Doolittle, saying, "I like your name!" and Sarah Doolittle had responded cheerfully. Once we started hanging out, we realized that we had had this exchange. But the apple was our first face-to-face contact.

I worked at an establishment in the Union that had the distinction of being the smallest Kinko's in the United States. The manager was a certain fellow named Andy, who managed to be a responsible supervisor, a fascinating and eclectic individual, and a sharp dresser all at once. He impressed me enormously. As I was chatting over the Dagwood's counter to Sarah on my break one day, she said, "This place is bogue!" (Well, maybe she didn't say "bogue," but she could have, and it's one of our favorite words, so let's say she did.) "Put in a good word for me at Kinko's so I can get out of here, would you?"

I did, and Andy hired her (though I suspect that Andy had already been paying attention to the cute Dagwood's girl who was obviously sharp as a tack, so I can't really take full credit), and we worked at Kinko's. Sarah and I made copies of our faces and posted them all over the shop one night, and then she came over and met my four housemates, chain-smoking guys who were instantly thrilled with her. And then Sarah and Andy got a little more closely acquainted. And then they moved in together.
Oh, but the story only starts there. I eventually ended up at an American Speedy Printing on Main Street, where my boyfriend Scott worked as a printer. Sarah had graduated and needed employment, so I sang her praises to my boss, Bill, who hired her. Once again, Sarah and I puttered around behind a copy shop counter, machines whirring and orders piling up. The girls from the Heidelberg next door sometimes brought pitchers of beer over for us, which caused a few creases in Bill's forehead, but Sarah and I always shouted him down and he eventually joined us in making short work of the beer - discreetly and in the back room, of course. We cranked They Might Be Giants and the B-52s on the boom box, which we had bought ourselves through the entrepreneurial effort of taking small stacks of paper stock left over from large orders and selling them for two or three dollars each until we had enough. Bill got a kick out of some of our terminology and adopted it with enthusiasm, for example frequently calling out as midday approached, "What's for lunch, trollops?"
A few years passed. Sarah and Andy got married. She and I both continued working in various locations and offices of the print shop business, now called Allegra, although I was only working evenings since I had gone back to school. After I finished, I got an administrative gig at Legal Services in downtown Ann Arbor. For maybe two brief years or so, we did not work at the same company.  Then, in early 1999, I saw an ad for some sort of music and movie database company that had just moved into offices in downtown Ann Arbor. This sounded exciting to me. I pelted their e-mail inbox with my resumé once a week, assuring them in my cover letter that they desperately needed me. Eventually, perhaps just to shut me up, they gave me an interview with the director of classical content. As it turned out, this was because I had listed classical music in my "interests." Take note, job seekers: the "Interests" section matters!

I was hired at the All Media Guide as a "classical link editor," as we were called in May of 1999. I was surrounded by goofballs and eccentrics who knew everything about everything and were eager to talk about it. I loved it. I also suddenly had good health insurance, which led to Scott and me getting married at the mayor's office in August - with Sarah and Andy witnessing. At some point, as I prattled enthusiastically to Sarah about my new job, I saw the wistful look in her eye and said, "You should work there, too! You would be perfect!" She was working herself to death at Allegra, having moved upward into the stressful world of customer service, and she was ready for a change. We were hiring crazily, and the non-fiction video department (yes, such a thing once existed!) needed an assistant editor. Sarah interviewed for it, drastic pay cut be damned, and by August we were working together once again. It was a fledgling company with a grand vision and creative participants, and we were both excited to be a part of it.

The rest of the story, which spans thirteen years, is merely the story of a company transitioning. Suffice it to say that Sarah and our colleagues and I got older; people left; new people arrived; there were good times; there were challenging times; you know how it goes. The company moved out of downtown. It got bought. We both got promoted. We learned new things. Years passed. And here we are. Sarah's last day.

So Sarah handed me an apple before she left today, just as she once did in the Michigan Union. I didn't have to decide on red or green this time, though. It was both. Well, red and yellow. 

And, like its long-ago predecessor, it was delicious - and deeply appreciated.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

I Don’t Know How She Did It: Memories from the Principal’s Daughter

I wrote this piece for a publication that came out this week celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of my school. The project ran into problems with printing costs and my piece had to be slashed in half. I decided to publish the full version here, along with the picture that was intended to accompany it. After all, what's a blog for otherwise?

I have a job at a database company, and my mother is always marveling at it. “I could never do all that,” she says. “Keeping up with all those different kinds of technology, learning new systems and new business terminology all the time. I don’t know how you do it!” And I just laugh. Keeping down my little desk job is nothing - nothing - in comparison with what my mother did.

By 1973, my mother had already lived in Copenhagen where my father had served as the founding principal of Copenhagen International School. They had turned their lives upside-down to move to a completely different country and help start up a completely new school, and then they had returned to the States in 1968 to allow my father to pursue a doctorate. Both of these moves required bravery, of course, on both their parts, but they shared a pioneer spirit. Then, in 1973, my father died suddenly. My mother was newly widowed and was suddenly raising a three-year-old daughter by herself. She needed to be brave for me and for herself, and she was.

Then the call came from Charles Gellar: would she come back to Copenhagen? A brand new school was in the works - Copenhagen International Junior School - and it needed a founding principal. Think about this. This still-grieving young woman would need to arrange for a move overseas, find a new home in Copenhagen, acclimate her small daughter to new surroundings, and serve as the principal of an elementary and middle school that didn’t yet exist. Many might balk. She didn’t hesitate. “That call changed my life,” she told Charles just recently, when we were all gathered for the fiftieth CIS anniversary event in April. She packed up her belongings and her child, moved to Copenhagen, and plunged in headfirst.

Initially, we stayed with a teacher named Manfred, whose house was roomy enough to serve as a way station for newly arrived teachers. It was loud and colorful and full of people, shaking my mother and me out of our quiet two-ness. Manfred was always instructing people to hide their money away now that they lived in Denmark because the Big Bad Government would take it all otherwise. There was an abstract painting in the hallway that reminded me of a monster emerging from the darkness, and I imagined that the Big Bad Government, whatever that was, resembled this monster. So, when I had coins, I hid them under the living room carpet. One day, Manfred tripped over them and pulled back the carpet, finding my stash. “How the hell did this get here?” he bellowed. I came forward and falteringly explained about hiding my money from the Big Bad Government, and he roared with laughter: “Good girl! Well done! Did you all hear that? This is a wise little girl!” Living with several people was a new thing for both my mother and me, and I remember her laughing at the candlelit dinner table with the others, and I liked that.

Then came our move to Amager. Again, my mother had to manage all that herself, and such a move is not easy. In the middle of our Amager living room stood my rocking horse, a noisy, plastic thing with springs that my mother paid dearly to move with us to Copenhagen. “I wanted you to have something familiar,” she later explained. She bought me a series of short-lived gerbils - Cindy, Cindy II, Molly Malone, and Mopsa. I don’t think she much liked them, but she was eager for me to be happy.

Most of my memories, however, have nothing to do with that apartment, because there was a place that was even more of a home. That place was on Stenosgade, and it was called Copenhagen International Junior School. In a way, that school was my sibling. My mother helped to bring it into existence and then gave it everything she had to ensure its success and survival. I remember that in those early days she had a recurring dream in which she was standing naked in front of an audience. “I wonder why I keep having that dream,” she would say, laughing it off. Later, of course, I learned that this is the most common and quintessential anxiety dream. But she didn’t have time to be consciously anxious. She was busy clicking up and down the echoing stairwell, keys jingling, making a school happen. And I knew every inch of that building. My friend and fellow staff kid Stephanie Gellar and I explored attic rooms, swung on the ropes in the gym, played with my gerbil in the downstairs hallway, acted out scenes on the music-room stage. My mother fostered in me a deep love of the school, this exciting new entity that was coming into being. We were also fiercely proud of it.

She had never been a principal before. Now she interviewed, hired, and evaluated teachers. She met with parents and resolved conflicts. She facilitated a multitude of meetings. She attended every school event. She wagged her finger at children sent to her office for bad behavior. Once I left my Danish kindergarten and started at CIJS, I was astonished to see that she never stopped, that her energy never flagged, whatever the time of day one might see her in action. I remember her at her desk, typing, focused, hurrying to complete a document before clicking off to her next meeting. But always a hug for me when I stopped in during break time, and questions about my day, and encouragement. Always the message “Well, you can do it!” - whatever it was. And when we got home, still in principal mode, she would sort through her mail and make any necessary phone calls before, finally, the sensible shoes and hose came off, and: “Time to coll-al-apse!” she would say, collapsing theatrically onto the sofa as she did so. After the “coll-al-apse” came a happy sigh - a sound that meant, that was a good day, I am happy with it, and I accomplished something. This pause was short-lived, since she had to scramble dinner together or even go back out into the world for some school-related event. But she seized downtime without regretting its brevity, appreciating every available minute.

As I moved up through the grades, I endured a fair amount of hassling from my classmates, probably 50% due to my own ultra-nerdiness and the other half because I was the principal’s daughter. “Ignore them,” my mother said crisply. “You don’t need anyone’s approval if you know who you are.” Well, frankly, I didn’t - not yet. But I saw what self-awareness and self-confidence looked like, and I wanted it. In the meantime, I faked it by imitating her, which served me reasonably well. Every now and then, I heard my mother referred to as the Dragon Lady, and one evening I asked her if she knew that she was called that, immediately regretting the question because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I needn’t have worried. “Oh, that,” she said. “That sort of thing comes with the job. It’s understandable. Remember, they only see one side of me.” I remember thinking, they should see the coll-al-apse!

I was particularly impressed with my mother’s ability to settle a whole gym full of children down when we gathered for assembly. She would step up and speak quietly and firmly, with a tone that suggested that this was no longer the time to mess around. At the fiftieth anniversary event a few weeks ago, I saw her do the same thing again with a gym full of alumni. That voice starts up and it’s all eyes to the stage. And I was approached by many that night who told me how familiar that voice was and how vividly she stands out in their memories.

The school flourished. The roster of students expanded, as did the school, physically, as we moved into the back building and built a bridge from the CIJS playground to the senior school building. My school sibling grew up as I grew up, and my mother loved and supported us both. Now the school is every bit a success story, as anyone reading these words knows. And me - well, sure, I’m fine, too. And my mother is admiring of my work at my database company. Every time she says, “I don’t know how you do it,” I see her whistling up and down the stairs at CIJS, balancing a work load five times as complex as mine with apparent effortlessness, and I shake my head. I will never know how she did it. But I’m glad she did. I had a childhood rich in excitement, rooted in support and love, and guided by a brave pioneer sensibility.

As both her daughter and as a CIJS pupil, I thank my mother for all of that, and for so very much more.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Provence in the Current!

My friend Liza has been keeping a remarkable little food blog called Provence in Ann Arbor for the past year or so. If you're in the Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti area, pick up the current Current (the June issue) and you will note that she has won the runner-up position for "Best Food Blog" for 2012. Whoo hoo!

Sadly, they completely butchered the URL, so she is unlikely to see much traffic from the printed link as it stands. Luckily, you guys already know all about the blog, right? It's linked under My Friends' Blogs to the right there, and I'm sure you've checked it out!

However, just in case, here are the pertinent details for the runner-up Best Food Blog according to Current Magazine's Readers Choice Best of Washtenaw County 2012. It's called Provence in Ann Arbor, and the correct URL is

That said, here's the picture from the Current, wrong link and all, because it's just exciting to see it there! Click on the image to drop in on Liza's culinary domain.

Congratulations, Liza! You deserve it. Looking forward to visiting Provence (i.e., your patio) again soon!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Football, fashion, and vintage advertising

This vintage ad interests me.

For one thing, it's interesting to look upon: it's from 1969 and it's got that late-Sixties-psychedelic-take-on-Art-Deco thing going on.

For another, there's the bizarre text, which reads: "Is there a female NFL fan so unfeminine that she doesn't deserve to do her own thing? No, no."


Okay, so let's strip out all the negatives and see if it makes more sense that way. "Is there a female NFL fan so feminine that she deserves to do her own thing? Yes, yes."

Okay. Still doesn't make sense! What's femininity (or lack thereof) got to do with football?!

But it's still a cool piece of advertising, and I am hereby sharing it with you in honor of the upcoming Super Bowl weekend.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A long-ago tea party

Long ago in the mists of time - maybe right around the Y2K apocalypse that never happened - five ladies gathered for a traditional High Tea at the Morita home.

As I recall, we did the whole bit, from clotted cream to "lemon crud." We served various tarts and fruit-filled pastries, fresh strawberries, and a variety of preserves. And cucumber sandwiches. And, of course, scones.

It was a pleasing event, and I was really pleased when Patsy found these pictures in the Morita archives! They called out to be blogged, so here they are.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Where diversity is an understatement"

Apparently, 20 years ago or so, I gave my sister my freshman dorm T-shirt from my stint at the University of Michigan. During our glorious visit to New York City a couple of weeks ago (from which I still plan to post pictures), she produced the tattered old thing from her suitcase and gave it back. I had forgotten all about it. I was thrilled.

Look at that! "East Quad: Where Diversity Is an Understatement." I wonder how many of my dorm mates from the third floor at that venerable dormitory in 1988 still have their T-shirt.

Those were exciting days. I'm glad Facebook has brought me back in touch with some of my old friends from that time, even if only in a Facebook kind of way. (Matt Diaz made paella! Maeve Sullivan likes this!) Everything was new and strange and American and exciting. I was in a certain degree of mental chaos and got in all kinds of trouble, but I don't regret it. I had good companions and exciting experiences. People and experience make us who we are, of course, and this shirt comes from an important Maeve-building era.

Thanks, Penny, for reuniting me with this old friend!