The Secret Garden

In the middle of London’s West End there’s a beautiful secret garden, the Phoenix Garden. Ever since I accidentally discovered it, it has been my number one favourite place in London. There’s something about the green and the peaceful quiet in the middle of one of London’s busiest areas that is mesmerizing. During the rough parts of my latest hospitalizations I shut my eyes and transported myself to my favourite bench there.

So I decided to create a very quick sketch of one of the benches there, and try to work on my plant textures. This is clearly something that I still need to work on, but it’s good to know where I started.

Watercolour sketch of a bench nestled in greenery at the side of a reddish path.
Quick sketch of a bench in the Phoenix garden

Here’s a photo of this magical place:

Skyscraper in the background, pigeon flying on the left, and green garden with a red brick path in the foreground.
The Phoenix Garden in all its glory.

Cutty Sark, Greenwich

When I visited London in June Greenwich ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of the trip. The place was hard hit by the pandemic, and everything that made it so special to me seemed to have been wiped out because of it. There was no vintage and antique market next to the movie theatre. There were no grandmas selling baked goods for charity in the movie theatre foyer. Nauticalia, the maritime themed shop on zero longitude, had shut down. A good third of the stores around the Greenwich Market were permanently closed, and there was a general dismal aura around the place. The Maritime Museum required pre-booking an entrance, and so not many people visited it. Greenwich is a place that needs tourists to thrive, and with a pandemic and pandemic restrictions it felt deflated, a shadow of its former, sparkling self.

What still is vibrant and lovely is the place itself, and to remind myself of its potential and of my potential to visit it again someday in better times I created a quick sketch of the road leading to the Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark ship in the background, with a circus tent before it and buildings to the left, all drawn in ink and watercolour.

Schminke and Daniel Smith watercolours, Noodler’s Lexington Grey ink, Stillman and Birn Pocket Alpha.

An Update on My Health

Since my last post on the subject about a month has passed, and boy did a lot happen during that month.

The super traumatic biopsy I went through didn’t yield results, so I had to be hospitalized again (for the third time) to get a mediastinal biopsy under full anaesthesia. My first ever operation.

The procedure went well, but my recovery took more time than planned, and the results of the biopsy took two weeks to arrive (hello, Grey’s Anatomy with your very realistic “8 minutes for a biopsy result”). By the time the results arrived I had more and more difficulty breathing, to the point where on the day of their arrival I came into the hospital to be hospitalized for the fourth time, this time because I just couldn’t breath.

I never thought about my breath so much as I did during those few days. I was connected to oxygen and pumped full of steroids and still had to consciously think and struggle for each breath, for every inhale and exhale. You can’t talk, you can’t sleep, you can barely eat, you just breath, breath, breath.

Luckily the biopsy results were better than any of us could anticipate: I have Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s very treatable, and though it requires chemotherapy, the course is less intense than I had anticipated.

Two days after my biopsy results arrived I got my first chemotherapy treatment (ABVD, for those interested), and an hour and a half after treatment I could breath independently. I didn’t need oxygen. I could speak in whole sentences. I could be released home.

View of succulents and other plants with the sea in the background.
I have to replace my runs with walks now, but luckily I live in a place with nice walking views.

I have a chemotherapy treatment every two weeks. I’m slowly rebuilding my routine around those treatments, and so hope to start posting more often now that my life isn’t a complete chaos of hospital/home/hospital/home. There are things that I won’t be able to do for a long while (such as running, which is a heartache), but luckily most of my hobbies and all of my work are things that I can do indoors, at a computer or a desk.

Take a good, long, deep breath for me and appreciate it. It really is precious.

I Have a Tumour

I debated whether to write this post or not, and whether to write it now or wait for later, when I know which tumour I have. In the end I decided to start a post and write what comes out, and not try to overthink it.

I have a tumour in my chest cavity (mediastinal). Back in February this year I was forced to stop running for about two months due to a rather serious bout of Plantar Fasciitis. Due to Covid restrictions I had delayed replacing my insoles, and this was the price pay. After two months of rest, stretching and a course of anti-inflammatory pills I felt better and in the beginning of April I started running again.

Or at least I tried.

I had shortness of breath once I started, to the point where I had to stop running a few times during my run. I thought that it was due to me not running for almost two months. But the runs after that first one didn’t get better and after a few more I went to the doctor.

My GP said that my lungs were clear and he couldn’t hear anything. I told him that I was wheezing at night (at this point I was), and that I found running impossible and walking increasingly difficult. He said that it was a virus that was going around, and prescribed something to help with congestion. It was a 10 day course of tablets, and it did nothing to help with my shortness of breath or my wheezing and coughs.

I knew that something was seriously wrong, and thought that at the age of 39 I may have developed asthma. At this point it was time to fly to London, so I took my mother’s inhaler and went on the trip. I have no idea how I made it through 13-15,000 steps per day for 12 days there, but I did.

Once I returned I went to see my GP again, this time demanding a referral to a spirometry test and and to a lung specialist. Last Thursday I took the spirometry test and the results were abysmal. I had 35% lung capacity, and I scared the technician enough that she tried to do everything possible to get me to see a lung specialist that day. She didn’t succeed but my family managed to book me a to a lung doctor that day. He said that it wasn’t asthma, but he had no idea what it was. I needed to get a CT done.

I took a spirometry test at 13:40. I saw a lung doctor at 16:30. At 18:30 I had a CT angio done (my first CT ever). At 19:10 I had the results in my inbox.

A large mediastinal tumour. Possibly lymphoma.

Me, a healthy, non-smoking, non-drinking, physically active 39 year old.

I was admitted to hospital on Friday, and had a series of tests done, including a super painful, super traumatic biopsy on Sunday. I was released home for a few days of rest on Tuesday, and now, Saturday night, I’m back in hospital waiting for my very first PET CT on Sunday morning.

The hospital

I have no idea how I’m coping. For now I’m in a cloud of uncertainly and with zero control over my life as a phalanx of very good doctors try to figure out exactly what we’re dealing with here. It’s a tumor for sure, the question is which kind exactly. I’m moving around in my life as if it is someone else’s.

I’m back to journalling, after a break due to my mom’s health problems, Covid and several other personal issues. Recording everything as it happens has helped me deal with things. Analogue tools are still best for processing, and even though I would have loved to luxuriate with a Parker 51 on some Tomoe River Paper, I know the practicalities of hospitals enough to use a Karas Kustoms Render K with my favourite refill (Uni-ball UMR-85) and a Moleskine instead.

London: A Trip to a City Emerging From a Pandemic

I was in London for the past two weeks, and it was a strange and unique experience. Until Covid-19 I used to visit London once a year, every year. Once the travel restrictions changed so that I didn’t have to quarantine on the way there or on the way back, I decided to book a trip. It ended up being a good but somewhat bittersweet trip, with a lot of interesting new caveats and restrictions that I had to take into account.

Kensington Gardens on a sunny Sunday with very few people outside.
Kensington Gardens on a sunny Sunday with very few people outside.
  • I was travelling to London from a Green List country. That meant taking a Covid test 72 hours before the flight, filling a Locator Form, and taking a Covid test within 2 days of arrival. On the way back I had to take a Covid test 72 hours before my flight back, as well as another test upon arrival. These were all PCR tests in my case, which were uncomfortable to take (first time I took a Covid test) but not painful. They were expensive, and dealing with them did add an added layer of hassle to the trip. In London I bought a test package from Randox, using the British Airways code to bring the price down (it was still much, much more expensive than local tests here – 60 GBP per test after a 50% discount), and dropped the test at a clinic near the British Museum. I would have said that the experience was smooth, except one of the kits that I ordered had a test tube that wasn’t sealed properly, which meant that all the preserving liquid inside leaked. I got a replacement from Randox, but it was a hassle to get them on the phone and get my test kit replaced.
  • London is not for the spontaneous at the moment. You have to book every museum visit in advance. There are fewer musical and theatre tickets on sale as social distancing requirements are still in effect, and there are less show on, which means you need to book well in advance and there is no lining up for day-of tickets. Exhibitions are also at limited capacity, which means that for the popular ones at the V&A, for instance, you will have to book more than a month in advance. Concerts are the same deal, and many churches no longer offer concerts due to social distancing requirements. If you want to see or hear anything, you’re going to have to plan it out to the minute well before your trip.
  • Places are closed or have closed down. I expected that to some extent, as this was case here as well, but I was taken by surprise by the amount of closures, considering just how much support (relatively) the UK government provided to citizens during the lockdowns. Antique markets seem to have taken most of the brunt, with Portobello being a gutted (many arcades are half or three quarters shuttered), Spitalfields reverted mostly to crafts and food, and Greenwich losing one of its markets. A lot of stores in the most expensive and touristy parts of town (Covent Garden, Oxford/Regent Street) are closed and papered over with posters etc so you won’t notice as much. Some have moved to places with lower rents, most have shut down.
Socially distanced performance of Six: The Musical. Chairs with the cardboard sign remained empty. About half the chairs in the picture are marked with signs.
Socially distanced performance of Six: The Musical. Chairs with the cardboard sign remained empty.
  • There are upsides to visiting London now: there are much fewer tourists, which means much fewer lines to things, accommodation prices are lower, and as long as you book a ticket in advance, museums and attractions are emptier. There’s no shortage of cabs after a show, and you usual can find a place to sit in any restaurant you want to.
  • A lot of places have moved to contactless payment only (i.e. no cash), and restaurants are among the most aggressive of the bunch in terms of movement to no cash payment. In many places you will order your meal via an app or a website, and in almost everywhere you’ll be required to scan in via the NHS covid tracker app, or provide your personal details for tracking purposes. If that’s something you feel uncomfortable with, I understand, but do know that you are in one of the most surveilled cities in the world when you’re in London, so maybe it’s not the city for you.
  • Masks and disinfectants everywhere. Not much else to say about that.
  • Museums and larger stores have designated entrances and exits now, which means that you can’t go in through any door that you want.
Trafalgar Square deserted.
Trafalgar Square deserted.
  • London is still London though: there are a lot of interesting things to see and do, especially if you plan ahead. We saw the refurbished wings of the National Gallery (they take you through one of three set tours across the gallery, or you can do more than one tour. It’s not a guided tour – just a path that they want patrons to follow). It’s well worth the visit. We saw the Alice exhibition in V&A and it was wonderful, and the Fantastic Beasts exhibition the Natural History Museum, and it was nice, especially for children (very interactive).
Covent Garden. very few people outside.
Covent Garden. I have never seen it so empty before.
  • We also heard a jazz concert in St Martin in the Fields, heard Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall, and even managed to see Princess Diana’s dress at Kensington Palace. All in all it was a good, if peculiar trip.
Fantastic Beasts

Starting To Get Back To Normal

I met with friends for a meal for the first time in a little over a year and it was glorious. We were all vaccinated, and so we could sit down and talk over food and drinks in Tel Aviv that was starting to get back to normal. There are still plenty of signs that Covid is still with us: we were masked at first as was the staff, the first place we chose to go to had closed down and due to the new occupancy rules it was difficult to find a place that could seat us. None of that mattered as we sat down and talked and laughed for hours. I hadn’t realized how much I missed meeting people face to face until I finally had a chance to do so.
As I was waiting for everyone to arrive I sat on a bench and drew the first thing that I saw in the dusky evening. In the end I ran out of time and light, but I decided to leave the drawing as is and not fix it at home. A true Urban Sketch that will forever capture the moment for me.

Analogue Planning and Task Management in Covid Times

When Covid-19 hit last year and I started working from home my old task management system completely disintegrated. It was a combination of trying to find a new work/life/health balance, coupled with starting a new job that really made me aware that my old running daily work checklist and home checklist were no longer going to work. I was also keenly aware that I could no longer do any long term planning, and yet that I had to find a way to plan ahead somehow, or I’d accomplish none of my long term goals. After trying several systems with little to no success, it took until January 2021 for me to find a system that worked for me. In the hopes that this may help someone build out their own system, here is a glimpse into mine.

The system is built into two separate Moleskine Large Hardcover Squared notebooks. This was my notebook of choice for my previous system, and it has served me well. I don’t use fountain pens for my planning, just fine gel pens, and I don’t mind the ghosting, as I find that it’s more pronounced in photos than it is when I actually use the page. One notebook is my weekly planner, and I reference it about once or twice a day. The other notebook is my daily task list, and I reference and update it all the time. Why two notebooks and not one notebook with both a weekly plan and daily pages? I tried that and the need to constantly flip between pages with no ability to see my weekly plan before me as I create my daily task lists was too much for me to deal with. I don’t have a dearth of notebooks and I do have dearth of time and attention, so two notebooks it is.

Here’s a weekly notebook spread:

Weekly notebook spread, before filling.

Each spread in my weekly notebook is divided between my weekly schedule/plan on the the left hand side of the spread, and a weekly goal list on the right hand side. This is a sample of the following week’s spread before I start really filling it. On the left hand side I fill in the days of the week and the dates. I put in appointments and things that I need to take into account while doing my planning, but this page isn’t a replacement for my Fantastical calendar. I still want and heavily use a digital calendar with reminders, but this notebook page is crucial for my ability to see and plan ahead. I plan and think better on paper, and so if I have a D&D game on a certain day, I know that I need to schedule time to prep for it. This is also where I plan my weekly training: when I run, when I go to the gym and when I rest. I also use it to plan ahead things that I need to be aware of for my mother’s various doctor’s appointments, from reminders, to various forms that need to be filled, blood tests scheduled etc.

The right side of the page is the most important part of each spread, as it is where I plan out what I want to get done each week. My yearly goals are broken down and mapped out week by week here. I break the goals down by title, and then write down 2-3 related goals under each one (except the fitness goal which gets more). Some goal groups are consistent – fitness, reading, writing, blog, cleaning. Other goal groups change depending on the week and my focus. The “Also” goal group is for miscellany, such as watching a weekly episode of a show that I don’t want spoiled, or renewing/cancelling subscriptions.

The daily notebook is much simpler, and is merely an evolution of my old task system, adapted to working from home:

Daily task list, in the afternoon of the day it was created.

On the left side of every work day there is a professional task list, with work related things that I want to do that day. On the right side of the page is the personal task list, with stuff that I want to do before and after work. On weekends the two sides of the page simply both list out personal tasks. This system is clear, simple to use, flexible and doesn’t require a lot of “meta” effort to set up or maintain.

If you’re struggling with time management lately, take some time to create a system that works for you and doesn’t overwhelm you. I highly recommend not using a planner but rather creating your own schedule, since it saves you from the disappointment and stress of empty planner pages. It also allows you to add specific pages to your setup as the need arises. For instance, as global shipping and our local post office have gone haywire since Covid, I dedicated a spread in my weekly notebook to tracking various shipments. When I need to go to the post office to collect a package I note it down in my schedule, and so it was easy for me to use a different page on the same notebook to track the status of each package.

Let me know if this was helpful, and if you’ve also been forced to revamp your planning over the past year.

Typewriters, pens, pins, and more.

My Pen Chalet exclusive Typewriter Retro 51s arrived this week, and the mint one is a perfect match to my Hermes Baby (and Hermes 2000) typewriter keys. I’m happy that I splurged on this pen and the copper Typewriter edition. They are both utterly unnecessary pens that make me smile without breaking the bank. I have 11 typewriters, but these are the first typewriter themed Retro51s that I’ve bought. I only slightly regret not getting the red one as well.

It was a virtual convention kind of fortnight, and in both cases the pandemic afforded me the opportunity to go to a convention that I normally wouldn’t have been able to attend. The fun and pretty well run one was the Disney Pin Trading 20th anniversary event. I’m not a huge Disney pin trader by far – I have pins from my Disney races and a few others that caught my eye, because I’m so aware of how easily I got fall down that rabbit hole. But I was curious enough about the behind the scenes of pin creation and well aware that is probably going to be my only chance to attend such an event that I enrolled. It was interesting and fun, and a generally well thought out event that didn’t feel like a “we’re doing the same thing only on zoom” kind of thing. I wish that I could say the same about Kubecon, the second convention that I attended. It’s a poster child of how not to run a virtual convention. Still I managed to learn quite a lot from the hours that I squeezed in, and I plan on catching up on more video sessions next week.

My first Disney Pin Trading Pins, from the DLP inaugural half-marathon weekend.

This weekend was stormy, so no long run today. I had about a month of perfect running weather so far, and it looks like I may yet make my 2020 running distance stretch goal of 700km run total this year.

In a fit of anger and frustration I created an “obituary” page for 2020 in my journal, but one that listed the bad moments of the year. It ended up taking four pages, but I managed to find something positive about most of the moments and events of the year, so it cheered me up.

TV (or streaming to be exact) has been one of the high points of the past few weeks. I don’t watch much of it, but “Ted Lasso”, and the new seasons of “The Mandalorian” and “Star Trek Discovery” have been great to watch. Also I’ve been playing “Pandemic Legacy Season Zero” and so far it’s excellent and distinctly different from its predecessors.

Journalling in Difficult Times

I finished my Moleskine Sakura journal and started a Moleskine Pokemon Charizard journal a few days ago. It’s always fun to finish a journal, to have a beautiful physical object to hold in your hands, one that is heavy with words and memories.

Sakura on the left, Charizard on the right

I started the Sakura journal when we were already quarantined, and the world and my life were getting really strange and pretty stressful. I managed to journal every day until the end of June, which is when I broke my streak and my journaling habit started unravelling.

I love how chonky my finished journals are.

I usually finish a journal every 3 months or so. This one lasted for double that, because I barely journaled in July and August, and I didn’t journal at all in September. Every day I wanted to sit down and write, but I couldn’t face the added stress of the backlog that I felt the constant urge to make up for.

I stopped writing because of some serious family health issues, and I was so stressed out and tired during it all that I couldn’t pick up a pen at the end of the day and relive everything again. I knew that getting things out on paper would help, but I was overwhelmed.

In October I decided to give myself a break. Forget about the backlog. Leave those months empty, and move on. I went back to journalling, writing twice a day, every day for the past two weeks (once at the tail end of my morning routine, and once before I go to sleep). I also don’t care if I filled two pages (as was my usual standard), a page and a half, or half a page. I write about the little things in my life, and really try to keep it positive, to make journalling a joy again, a point of escape, and not another “let’s enumerate the ways in which the world is terrible these days” exercise. I have enough of that on social media. So far it’s working and I’m having fun. Will it last? I hope so. If not, I’ll take a break and get back to it later. The point is that I’m no longer willing to let journalling become a stressor in my life. It’s either something I enjoy, or something that I don’t do.

30 Days of Drawing: Days 11-15

I decided not to take part in Inktober this year. Instead I’ll be drawing at least one page a day in my Stillman and Birn Pocket Alphas. You can see days 1-5 here, days 6-10 here.

It was Yom Kippur when I drew these, and a very strange Yom Kippur it was. The country was under lockdown, and so some of the prayers were set outside, including this one in Kikar Atarim:

The streets were more deserted than usual during Yom Kippur. There are no cars around, and everything is closed, but the pandemic added another eerie aspect to it all:

I woke up early in the morning to draw Kikar Dizengoff utterly deserted. The Agam fountain in its centre is still colourless, but I actually think that it works. I love how the multicoloured chairs around the fountain just grab your eye:

I was searching for some flowers to draw, when this came up: a Dior dress from the exhibition we saw over a year ago. I’m not very happy with the wild highlight and shadowing choices that I made, and you can see that the Alpha paper doesn’t allow for multiple washes, but you learn from your mistakes more than from your successes:

I went for a stroll looking for things to draw and found this abandoned couch lorded over by a local cat. I had to juggle all of my art supplies on my hands, so that was a challenge, but I like how the cat and couch came out. I may later on touch up the bush on the left, but as Stillman and Birn Alpha paper doesn’t take too well to reworking, I may just leave it as it is: