Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

Since we've already left the tour for last week's sad news about Mike Meador, I'll just go ahead and use this opportunity to tell you another story about why you can never take anything for granted.

Shortly after returning from our British Isles vacation this year, I spent a week going around to all the various annual health check-ups I do at least once a year —general check-up, dental, ob/gyn, annual mammogram, vision. All the usual routine boring stuff . . . except for that spot on the mammogram. If you've been paying attention in October, you might already know that 80% of these spots turn out to be nothing. This year, I found myself in the 20% that are cancer. The big C. The club I never wanted to join. Stunned is the only way I can describe it.
No family history, no hormone therapy, I was sure I was exempt.

After surgery to remove the lump came some good news: it was very small, and it had not spread to the lymph nodes. I'm healing from the surgery and, every day this week, I am having follow-up internal radiation therapy twice a day at the hospital. I come home between treatments each day and do lite versions of my usual daily activities. By Friday, the device that delivers the radiation will be removed after my last treatment and I will be done with the hard stuff. The return rate on this type of breast cancer is very small.

My surgery was done on September 30, one day before the start of breast cancer awareness month. I know, it's a lot of pink ribbons and heavy merchandising all month, but if you take nothing else away from the campaign, ladies, please get those annual mammograms. My spot wasn't there last year. If I had waited two years between mammograms, I don't think my outcome would have been nearly as positive as it has been.

So that's my story. At the end of this week, when the last treatment is done and the device comes out, I'm tossing my apron in the car, picking up my friend Leslie in Valparaiso, and heading out to make marbled papers with Galen Berry at Hollanders, something I've wanted to do for years. More details to come!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Farewell, my friend

Along with many other friends today, I am stunned at the news of Mike Meador's untimely death yesterday. Mike was the owner, or rather the instigator, of the artistic craziness that was Coffee Break Design. With humble beginnings as a rubber stamp company, peddling images that were so not cute from the back of RubberStampMadness magazine, Mike moved on to products that would soon change the world .... small colored eyelets in every possible color, stencils that came with the admonition to use them responsibly, and the world's best double stick tape.

Mike was a show man, a great think on his feet comedian, a musician who wrote about us. Who can forget the Ode to Keith LoBue? Or the exploding Peeps in Ginny's classroom, and the stencil barista who worked for tips? His delight in coaxing his wonderful wife, Chris, to do her imitation of Dorothy Hamill skating backwards into a room. Those late, late nights at Ginny's during ArtFul April weekends with MaryJo and Gayle, where we never stopped laughing with Mike. I will miss him dearly, but I can only imagine the tremendous vacancy that Chris and Andy feel in their lives.

I can see him now, working on that next stencil: This is heaven, this is not heaven .....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arts & Crafts in Glasgow

After that lovely day in the Irish countryside, we decided to do city sights at our next stop in Scotland. Glasgow was the birthplace of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, architect, designer, painter and sculptor, a leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau. When I was a graphic designer in the 1990's, one of my favorite fonts was inspired by Mackintosh's meticulous hand lettering, and it is still available today from ITC fonts.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh showed talent for architecture right out of the gate, winning competitions for building design in his early 20's. While in Glasgow, we visited two of his early works: the Lighthouse, which now houses a Mackintosh museum of his drawings, models, and designed objects, and the nearby Willow Tea Room. Alas, Mackintosh got into architecture just as the country was falling on hard times economically, forcing many architectural firms to close. He migrated to watercolor painting, then fabric design, often struggling to make ends meet. Sadly, he died of throat cancer at the age of 60. His work has become much more celebrated in recent years; there was a sort of Macintosh revival in the 1990's. We noted many similarities in his life and work to that of Frank Lloyd Wright in the U.S.

After our little Mackintosh fest, we decided to tour the streets of Glasgow to get a feel for the city. Many cities in Europe have these convenient "hop-on, hop-off" double decker buses, where you purchase a ticket for the day and are then entitled to board these special buses at any of their stops, getting off and spending time where you like, then re-boarding. It's a handly, inexpensive way to get around, and allows you to be somewhat spontaneous if you see something along the route that you'd like to explore in more detail. We hopped on at George Square, a main public area in the heart of the city, and rode around until we reached the Glasgow University area where we hopped off for our next adventure.

It was lunchtime, and although we rarely eat fried food, we had promised ourselves we would have a real fish and chips meal sometime during this trip. When we got off the bus, we were clearly in a student area—dozens of coffee and tea shops and Thai restaurants populating the street. But there, on a corner, we saw Tennants, a classic looking Scottish pub, and decided to poke our heads inside to see what they had to offer.

The interior was everything you might expect in an older pub; the menu claims it has been in this location since the 1500's. Tables were populated with older men, fixtures with their newspapers, swapping stories and downing pints, all of them characters. We sat down; I was longing to pull out my camera and take some photos but didn't want to jeopardize our position with the locals. We ordered lunch, and had the best fish and chips ever for less than the cost of a mediocre burger in the states. Outstanding!

Fortified by our substantial lunch, we walked on until we reached the fabulous Botanical Gardens, and could not resist going in for a visit. The conservatory was quite large and beautiful; the grounds even more so. We spent most of the afternoon there, then walked to another bus stop to catch our ride back to the heart of town. A short train ride back to the ship, and we were off to our next port in Scotland.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How McCool is this?

Upon arrival in Belfast, we immediately departed for the countryside. There is nothing more green, and more beautiful than the Irish coastline. On earlier trips to Ireland, we had seen the Ring of Kerry, and took this opportunity to see the coast from the northern part of the island. These earlier trips had taken place during times of conflict in Northern Ireland, and we had never been able to come as far north as Belfast.

Our destination this day was the Giant's Causeway, a breathtaking group of about 38.000 interlocking basalt columns, ranging from ground level to 36 feet high. They are mostly hexagonal, but some rocks have fewer or more sides. Grouped together, they form stepping stones leading from the surrounding hills into the water. Scientists explain that the formations are the result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago, but locals and storytellers have a much more colorful explanation.

Legend has it that a giant named Fionn macCumhaill—Finn McCool— lived on the north coast of Ireland with his wife Oonagh. Finn was being tauted by his rival across the water in Scotland, the giant Benandonner, and created the Causeway as a challenge to lure Benandonner across the channel for a showdown. Oonagh, however, decided to use a tactic of stealth over strength, and disguised the sleeping Finn as a baby in a large gown and bonnet under a blanket. When Benandonner arrived, she invited him in for tea and asked him not to wake the baby. Benandonner took one look at the size of the baby and thought better of the challenge, retreating home to Scotland and tearing up the Causeway on the way back.

Remnants of Finn can still be seen, such as his giant boot in the photo above. The rock formations are fascinating, and then there is the breathtaking sea beyond the rocks. You can probably find a remnant of Finn yourself if you live in a town with an Irish population... there are dozens of pubs and restaurants that bear his name here in the U.S. So now you know all about Finn McCool.

From the Giant's Causeway visitor center, you can see the town of Bushmill, famous for, well, Bushmill's whiskey, and site of the oldest distillery in Ireland.

On our return to the ship, our guide took us through the streets of Belfast, something we were never able to do in the past. Despite the relative calm that now prevails, there are plenty of signs of previous strife. Neighborhoods are either Catholic or Protestant; you instantly know by the flags that are flying from the houses and businesses. The two simply don't mix. Between neighborhoods, you will often find empty blocks of "no man's land", keeping the peace by maintaining some distance. In some parts of town, streets are blocked off with large iron gates and mural covered walls to keep the factions apart, a grim reminder that things haven't always been quiet in Belfast.

This was our last stop in Ireland, but it won't be our last visit. Ireland will always be on my list of places to return to again and again.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Happy Birthday John Lennon

When I was about 15, I was lucky enough to see the Beatles in concert at Cincinnati Gardens during their first tour of the U.S. Never mind that this was a terrible venue for musical events; you couldn't hear the music anyway for the screaming that accompanied all of their early concerts. I was one of those screamers; a fan then and still a fan today. You can find me every Sunday morning having Breakfast with the Beatles, a radio program on Chicago's WXRT-FM hosted by Terri Hemmert.

So naturally, we opted for the In the Footsteps of the Beatles tour when we landed in Liverpool. There is a wonderful museum to visit, The Beatles Story, which starts at the very beginning, long before the group came together. It is jam packed with audio and video clips, musical instruments, items of clothing, and other ephemera tracing the amazing journey of the fab four from poor scruffy lads to larger than life musicians. After the museum, we boarded a bus and went to see first hand the childhood homes of John, George and Paul; Ringo's home, alas, is in a part of town than has been blocked off for redevelopment and is no longer accessible. We went to Penny Lane, the roundabout with the bank and the barber shop, and stopped at the gate to Strawberry Fields, a former orphanage. All of these once ordinary places, now forever famous in songs we'll never forget. It was a fantastic day.

Next weekend, October 9, would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, and I know I've gotten older as well, but every time I hear a Beatles song, I become 16 or 20 again. Long live the power of music!