Weekly Update: Flowers and Races

This week was busy and filled with milestones. On Sunday I celebrated my 40th birthday. That’s not something that I was sure that I’d get to celebrate: in June and July last year I thought that I was dealing with a much more aggressive form of lymphoma, and I was unsure if I’d live to 40. Being where I am right now in terms of health and life in general makes me feel lucky and blessed.

On Wednesday I participated in my first race since 2019 (I missed a race in early 2020 due to Covid concerns, and then all the local races were cancelled until late 2021, when I was dealing with cancer). I was worried about the crowds triggering my post trauma, and the start of the race was challenging, but then the crowds cleared up and I had a great time.

I sketched a bit this week, working with watercolour pencils and watercolours. I’m still experimenting a lot, and still trying to work out how to sketch plants and foliage. Here’s a very quick sketch from a local garden, done with ballpoint, Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils and watercolours (Schmincke Horadam and Daniel Smith) on a Stillman and Birn pocket sketchbook. I didn’t feel like sketching so I just did a quick study of some rocks and plants, experimenting with textures.

Quick experimental rock and plant sketch.

I’ve inked up all of the fountain pens that I bought on my latest trip. That’s an Oldwin 2000 Years of History pen in silver (gorgeous, with a fantastic nib, but very heavy as it’s large and has a silver body), two Waterman 52s, with lovely flexible nibs. One of the pens is still stickered, and yet in the spirit of use the good china, I inked it. There’s also a Wahl Eversharp in the Kashmir colourway. I think that it’s an Equiposed that somehow got an adjustable nib on it, but I bought it for the phenomenal nib, not the pen body as much. All four pens were bought at Mora Stylos in Paris, and I am very happy with them.

I also popped a J. Herbin Eclat de Saphir cartridge into the Kaweco Collection Sport Iridescent Pearl pen that I bought in Present and Correct in London. It was very difficult not to buy up that entire shop, especially since I visited it twice.

The other two pens were inked up before my trip and are probably going to be written dry this week or the next: a Lamy Safari Petrol with a fine nib that I use for sketching as it has De Atramentis Urban Grey document ink in it and that’s waterproof, and a Schon Design Pocket 6 in 3D Teal that has a Diamine Sherwood Green cartridge in it.

From top to bottom: Oldwin 2000 Years of History, two Waterman 52s (the bottom one is stickered), Lamy Safari Petrol, Kaweco Collection Sport Iridescent Pearl, Schon Design Pocket 6 3D Teal, Wahl Eversharp Equiposed.

The Oldwin is inked with Pilot Iroshizuku Kosumosu, a new ink that I got as a gift from the lovely Mr. Mora. I don’t have many pink inks so it will be nice to give this ink a try.
I still am having terrible luck with J. Herbin inks. Their regular lineup is so watery and desaturated, it’s always been a bit of a let down, especially when compared to the vibrant colours on their labels.
All the vintage pens are filled with Waterman ink, as it’s safe on vintage pens and very easy to clean out. There’s Florida Blue (now called Serenity Blue), Havana Brown (now called Absolute Brown) and my desert island ink, Waterman Blue Black (now called Mysterious Blue).

Ink samples of the all the pens on original Tomoe River Paper.

In terms of reading, I finished reading Ben Aaronovitch’s “Amongst Our Weapons” and it was a really fun read. His previous novel in the “Rivers of London” series, “False Value” got me a little worried that he’d lost his touch (it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t nearly as good as his previous seven books), but “Amongst Out Weapons” is a return to form.
I’ve also finished reading Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced” and boy does she know how to write. The characters, setting, period come to life, and you can sense an intelligent and keenly observing mind at work.
I’m now back with the Tournament of Books, this time with “Our Country Friends” by Gary Shteyngart. If I find this book tiresome, I may yet give up on the Tournament of Books list as I’ve got more than enough good books that I can’t wait to dig into.

Next week is very busy, so I’m not sure if I’ll have time for any long posts. In the meanwhile, please remember to take a break from social media and enjoy your life: call a friend, take a walk, listen to a family member, be kind to someone, volunteer in some way. And if you are on social media, please be kind.

Weekly Update: It’s been a while

It’s been a while since the last update, and since I’ve been travelling there also haven’t been many posts lately. I plan to get back to a regular posting schedule next week, but first, an update.

Health

As the weather changed, and as I had to travel, my neuropathy has seen ups and downs. It was absolutely terrible on the plane, but it’s much better now. At this point my pain level hovers around a 2-3, and that’s something that I’ve learned to live with. I’ve been able to get back to drawing, I’ve started building Legos again (something that I picked up as a meditational/self-soothing hobby during my hospitalisation and really helped me while I could still build them), and I’ve had no trouble typing lately.

Watercolour pencil sketch of the lookout over the separate beach in Tel Aviv.

Reading

I’ve been on a murder mystery roll lately, mostly because April was a travel month. I’ve read three early Agatha Christie mysteries, after not picking up one of her books for years, and I rediscovered how entertaining and insightful she could be. I’m currently steaming through the latest “Rivers of London” book, “Amongst Our Weapons” by Ben Aaronovitch (so far it’s been a very enjoyable read), and I have a Miss Marple mystery (“A Murder is Announced”) before I return to more serious and lengthy reading.

As for the Tournament of Books challenge, I made my way through Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” And found it even more insufferable than “Normal People”. I couldn’t stand the characters, the slow and stilted writing, the self importance of everyone involved, and how little plot there was to make up for all the rest.
Anne Garréta’s “In Concrete” wasn’t great, but I’m not sure that it isn’t a matter of a lot of meaning and innuendo being lost in translation, despite the valiant efforts of the translator. It was at least an interesting book with interesting characters – a sort of female, French take on Tristram Shandy.
The Echo Wife” by Sarah Gailey was a fascinating near future science fiction novel that is worth reading even if you don’t like science fiction. It has a lot to say about what makes us who we are, and how cycles of abuse are created and can be broken.
I’ve started reading Gary Shteyngart’s “Our Country Friends” but I moved to lighter reading while I was traveling. It’s the next book in the challenge that I intend to finish.

Currently Inked

I cleaned out all of my fountain pens before my trip, apart from my Schon Design pocket 6, and two Lamy Safaris filled with De Atramentis Document ink. I bough a few fountain pens, a bit of ink, and a whole host of notebook and art supplies during my trip and I’m planning to break them out and give them a try and review a few during the coming weeks. Meanwhile I still have one Lamy Safari inked up for my sketches, the Schon Design pocket 6 fountain pen which I’m about to write dry, and a newly inked Kaweco Collection Iridescent Pearl. I wasn’t planning on buying it, but I saw it at “Present and Correct” and couldn’t resist. As I bought a few tins of J. Herbin ink cartridges while I was in Paris, I popped an Eclat de Saphir cartridge into this pen.

Other

In other news I quit my job of the past 13 years this week, and I’m starting a new job next month. It was a difficult decision to make, and one that took me a while, but I truly believe that this change will be for the better.

Have a great week!

Weekly Update: Remission and Apple Watch

Long time and no update, not so much because things haven’t been going on, but mostly because I’m still having trouble typing as my chemo induced neuropathy gets worse with the cold, and it’s been pretty cold here.

Health

So my post-treatment PET-CT results came in and I’m officially in remission. That is great news – it means that there’s no active disease that can be detected in scans. Now we wait and see if it really is gone for good (it’s a 5 year wait, but the first two years and the first year in particular are crucial), and deal with the side effects and damage the cancer and treatment left behind. It’s a lot of work, basically another full time job building back my body and mind to a place where they aren’t what they used to be (that’s just not going to happen) but where they are as healthy as they can be.

To that end, I “broke down” and purchased an Apple Watch two weeks ago. I really like analogue watches, which is why I’ve avoided buying a smart watch until now, but at the recommendation of several health professionals I decided to give it a try. As my phone is an iPhone, I went with the Apple Watch series 7 GPS, and as I use the Nike running and training apps (NRC and NTC – highly recommended and free to use), I went with the black Nike version of the watch.

Timex Peanuts watch on the left, Apple Watch series 7 Nike edition on the right.

So far it has been a great purchase. I’ve been using it to track my runs and training, my heart rate, breathing and blood oxygen levels, and for bio-feedback based meditation. I’ve also been using it to track my sleep, which is pretty abysmal and the moment due to the residual effect of drugs that I had to take during chemo and are still in my system (and will remain there for a few months yet).

As for the analogue watches that I love wearing, I gave up on them for a few days, and then decided to just do as a local celebrity does and wear more than one watch at a time. So I have an Apple Watch on my left hand and an analogue watch on my right hand, and though it may seem excessive or eccentric it makes me happy (and I still like checking the time on analogue watches better).

Reading

I finished reading Percival Everett’s “The Trees” and it was excellent. A brilliant, funny, dark and timely novel that proves that contemporary satire can still be written. This kind of novel is why I read the books on “The Tournament of Books” list, as otherwise I never would have heard of it, let alone read it. Highly recommended.

I then read Dr. Jennifer Gunter’s “Menopause Manifesto”. It is a must read: expertly written, chock full of information that I would have had trouble finding elsewhere, interesting and kind. Even if you think that your menopause is years away, or if you’re someone who won’t experience menopause this is still a book that you should read, and sooner rather than later.

I’m now reading Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You” for the Tournament of Books and not enjoying it much. I really didn’t like “Normal People” and I wouldn’t have tried another Rooney novel if it wasn’t on the ToB list. I know a lot of people like Rooney’s writing, and she’s won several awards for it, but I find it whiny, boring and self indulgent, and so far “Beautiful World” is worse than “Normal People” in that aspect. I’m trying to be open minded and patient, so I’m not giving up on it yet. Hopefully it will improve with time.

Currently Inked

As the weather has been cold my neuropathy has been too painful for me to journal regularly. My fingers feel like someone has taken a set of pliers to them, or else someone has lit a lighter under them. It will be warming up a bit next week, and so I’ve set aside a few pens that I intend to write with. I’m down to 18 pens (!) currently inked, and if I do get to journal as much as I expect this week then I’ll probably write 2-3 more pens dry. Not many of my Diamine Inkvent 2021 pens remain inked, but I’m not going to be able to write them all dry by the end of the month. As March will be a warmer month and more time will have passed from my treatments I’m hoping that my neuropathy will improve and I’ll be able to write more, and maybe even get back to regular sketching.

By the way, in April Diamine will be issuing the Diamine Inkvent 2021 inks in “Red Edition” glass bottles, just like the original Inkvent “Blue Edition” bottles. These make for great gifts as the inks are very good and the bottles are stunning. I still haven’t finalized the list of inks that I intend to buy, but for now it includes Brandy Snap, Night Shade, Ash, Harmony and Thunderbolt or Ruby Blues.

From top to bottom: Platinum 3776, Visconti Van Gogh, Kanilea, Lamy Safari, Pilot Falcon, Lamy Studio, Diplomat Aero

Other

The Pen Addict podcast celebrated 10 years (!) and 500 episodes in an epic and fun episode where Brad and Myke read the listeners’ favourite stationery items. This one is well worth a listen, and is sure to make you smile.

I finished watching “The Book of Bobba Fett” on Disney+ and generally liked it. It would have been nice to have more Bobba and Fennec and have the flashbacks more integrated into the later story line. I didn’t like the cyborgs much, and I wish that it wasn’t so much a “Mandalorian 2.5” season but its own thing. I think that Bobba and Fennec’s storyline suffered because of the tie to “The Mandalorian,” fun as it was. Hopefully they get a second season where they’re allowed to stand on their own for a while.

If you aren’t listening to the “Maintenance Phase” podcast, please do. This week’s episode was about “Super Size Me” and boy did I learn a lot from it.

Liz Steel and Marc Taro Holmes are hosting the One Week 100 People challenge again this year on 7-11 March 2022, and hopefully I’ll be able to join it again, hands be willing. It’s a really fun challenge, especially if you don’t feel confident drawing people. There’s a bonus challenge for people who want to sketch from life, but if I’ll participate it will likely be by drawing from Flickr photos as Covid is still raging out there, and I’m still vulnerable to it.

Weekly Update: PET CT, Pens and Mischief Movie Night In

I haven’t written an update in a long time, because my neuropathy has gotten much worse since I finished my treatments. It’s painful to type, to write or draw, and it gets worse in the cold. Of course we’ve been having a series of cold days here, which has meant that typing a blog post has been a considerable challenge.

Two Egyptian Geese are having a dip in a roadside “pond”.

Health

I went through a PET-CT, my third and hopefully my last, last Sunday. It’s a long and not very pleasant experience, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. This week I’ll get the results and discuss with my doctor what to expect over the coming months. Meanwhile, neuropathy is kicking my ass, so posts will be sporadic until things get a little better.

This contraption injected me with radioactive sugar before my PET-CT.

I also got my fourth Covid vaccine, in the hopes of staving off the dreaded Omicron variant. I’ve been constantly masked and hiding as much as possible at home, but I’ve got a series of hospital visits coming up, so I’m hoping that the vaccine (and mask) will help me avoid infection and stay safe.

Reading

I started a new reading challenge, but I’m taking my time with it. I just finished the fabulous “The Trees” by Percival Everett, and the pretty terrible “All’s Well” by Mona Awad (lots of good intentions, terrible delivery). If you enjoyed “My Sister, Serial Killer,” you’ll love “The Trees”. It is a darkly funny, fast and very clever detective/revenge story that is just a joy to read, despite the very difficult topic.

I’m not sure what’s next on my reading list, but it may just be a non-fiction book before I delve into the next Tournament of Books pairing.

Writing

My hands are making writing problematic, but I did manage to write a pretty long post on the blog this week. It’s a taste of a project that I’ve been wanting to work on even since I got sick, and I look forward to be able to actually sit down and type for longer periods of time to get it done.

Currently Inked

I finished my Diamine Inkvent 2021 reviews with 32 pens inked, and I promised myself that I will write them all dry. That’s the most pens I’ve ever had inked at one time, and it’s turning out to be quite a challenge, but a fun and interesting one. This week I’ve written four pens dry (a Lamy Safari, two Monteverde Giant Sequoias and a Sailor Pro Gear Graphite Lighthouse), bringing the count of inked pens down to 22. It’s slow going because I have trouble using my pens, but I am making an effort to journal each day with them, so I do hope to write them all dry by the end of next month. I’ve been using them in my Moleskine, because I love their format the best, and just writing on one side of the page since I have enough notebooks to afford to do that. That way I can use the pens I like in the notebook I like and not worry about avoiding bleedthrough.

Other Things

I got back to running, which is major. I’ve been a runner since November 2011, until the 7 month break in running that I was forced to take last year due to my cancer and treatments. It was very hard for me to stop running, and it is difficult to get back into it now for various reasons, but I’m lacing up and getting out there and that’s what matters at this point. The most important thing I’m having to learn is to be kind and patient with my body after all it’s been through.

I’ve also watched the charity broadcast of the Mischief Theatre group (of “The Play that Goes Wrong” fame), “Mischief Movie Night In: The Wizard of Paddington Station” . You have until the 31st of January to purchase a ticket to see the broadcast and all the profit goes to charity. It’s a fun, family friendly way to pass an evening and do some good at the same time.

2021: Looking Back at a “Heavy” Year

My hands have been killing me with the worst neuropathy since my treatments began, so I’ve been trying to limit my typing to what I need to do for work. That is why this post took so long to write, and why my posting schedule may be a little off until things improve with my neuropathy.

2021 was a hell of a year for me. It started with me doing Liz Steel‘s excellent Sketchbook Design course. I also took some fantastic and very illuminating tea seminars with Juyan Webster from the Chinese Tea Company. If you have any interest in tea and you get a chance to have a tea seminar with her, I highly recommend it.

Early on in the year is also when a close family member got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and that’s also when my journalling went on the fritz. This was the notebook I was using at the time, a Moleskine Pokemon Charmander limited edition and I abandoned it 2/3rds of the way through.

Abandoned Moleskine.

Covid was raging, I was working from home, at a new job, and I spent the first quarter of the year trying to fit my drawing and running into the new quarantine rules that kept getting both stricter and more confusing with each iteration. I happily got vaccinated as soon as I could, and I’m still very grateful to the amazing scientists and doctors who came up with vaccines in such a short time frame.
I managed to participate in the OneWeek100People challenge, which is very demanding but also a lot of fun. If you can spare the time I recommend giving it a try.

In the beginning of April I started having shortness of breath (dyspnea) while running. It got worse with time and soon I couldn’t run at all, and then I couldn’t walk very fast or far, climb stairs, etc. After a long and laborious road to get a diagnosis, in the beginning of June I learned that I had cancer, and in the beginning of July I got a diagnosis and started ABVD chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A few things helped me get through that incredibly difficult time. First and foremost, my phenomenal family (mother, father and brother) that rallied around me and took care of me from the moment of the first diagnosis and to this day. I can’t imagine going through this process without them. Almost as important were my friends, who visited me in the hospital and cheered me up, and kept in touch and cheered me on during the treatments. Finally it was journaling and reading. I started this Moleskine “I am New York” on the day I was first admitted to hospital, and writing in it gave me perspective and kept me sane.

Journal of a bad year.

And books? Books have always been my comfort and escape. I saw a few things on Disney+ while I was hospitalized, but books helped distract me from a lot the most unpleasant and painful parts of this journey.
I was happy to discover that one of my favourite Moleskine limited edition series, the denim ones, was back in stock, and so once I finished the “I am New York” journal I moved into this Moleskine “Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.” one. It’s such a well conceptualized and executed design, it was a joy to use. This was when I decided to regularly use fountain pens to journal with, and just use only one side of the page. I have more than enough notebooks to support that decision.

This notebook took me through the second part of chemo to the end of it.

And now, and the beginning of 2022 I started a new journal, a Moleskine Peanuts Sakura. Pretty, right? Let’s hope I get to fill it with good news and positive thoughts.

A new Moleskine for a new and better year.

Some favourites from the past year:

My favourite pen was the Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. Quite a surprise for me, but it hasn’t been out of rotation since I got it.

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass – fantastic and beautiful pen.

Another pen purchase that came in at a close second was the Diplomat Elox Rings and the Diplomat Aero (basically the same pen with a slightly different body design). These are wonderful workhorses, and a joy to use.

Diplomat Elox Rings on the left and Diplomat Aero in Champagne on the right.

I didn’t read as much this year as last year, but I did read a few really great books. Here’s a list of a few standouts among them:

  • The Good War, by Studs Terkel. WWII as I’ve never experienced it before – as seen and told by the “regular people” who lived through it.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Not an easy read by far, but a breathtaking work of fiction nonetheless. Worth the effort.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. A surprisingly moving tale of a character that you won’t expect to fall in love with, and yet you will.
  • Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, by Hillary Mantel. Why should I care about Thomas Cromwell? How can you not care about Thomas Cromwell after reading these books? An era and place come to life, in a world filled with complex and compelling characters.
  • Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. Watch the movie AND read the book. Both are excellent, and both offer a chance to look into a part of modern living that we were hitherto oblivious of.
  • Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Just a fun and interesting sci-fi novel. If you enjoyed the Martian, you’ll enjoy this.
  • Underland, by Robert Macfarlane. What happens in the deep dark places beneath our feet? A lyrical work of non-fiction.
  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. The love story between Achilles and Patroclus told with great gentleness and heart.
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. An understated and masterful work of science fiction that explores themes of humanity, identity, friendship and love, among other things.
  • Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead. How can you write a heist novel that isn’t a heist novel but rather a story of a person, a time and place? Whitehead’s writing is exceptional, and Harlem Shuffle is just another proof of that.
  • The Expanse books 1-4, James S.A. Corey. I haven’t read book 5 and onwards yet, but I did read the first four books of The Expanse this year. They aren’t perfect (Holden is a bit much), but they are very good at world-building, with interesting and unique plots and complex and believable characters (apart from Holden, who is a bit much). The books are each written in a different style, and they improve with time.

In terms of art supplies, 2021 was the year of the super-granulating watercolours from Schmincke, and also when I added Daniel Smith watercolours to my palette. Schmincke just announced that the super-granulating colours will be permanently added to their offerings, and that they are issuing three more permanent sets into this series (Desert, Shire and Vulcano), and another limited edition set, Haze.

I’ll be talking about planning for 2022 on one of my next posts. In the meanwhile, have a great new year, and don’t forget to take time and breath.

Weekly Update: Haifa, Nazareth and Too Many Pens.

This week started with a well deserved three day vacation in Haifa and Nazareth. We were practically the only people at the hotel in Haifa, and in the Hula natural reserve, and we took a private tour in Nazareth, well before the holiday rush. Everyone was triple vaccinated, almost everything was outside, and we all got a bit of a break from a very tough year.

Water buffaloes in the Hula reserve.
Nazareth Christmas tree.
Haifa at night.
Ramat Hanadiv garden.

Health

The week started on the rough side. I couldn’t taste anything on Sunday and Monday (due to chemo, not Covid) and my taste only started to gradually return on Tuesday (sweet coming back first, then salty and the rest) and it still hasn’t returned to anything like normal. It’s like someone turned my tastebuds way down. An interesting experience. Neuropathy was also very bad at the beginning of the week, but started improving at around Wednesday.
Next week is my 12th and (hopefully) final treatment, and then my body gets a bit of a rest. It’s carried me very well these past six months through all the treatments, and I’m grateful for it (yes, even though it has cancer).

Reading

I’ve finished reading “Everyone Has a Podcast (Except You)” by the McElroy brothers. I was planning on starting a podcast before I got cancer. I’m not sure whether I’ll move forward with my podcast idea now or not.
I’ve started reading Colson Whitehead’s “Harlem Shuffle” and it is riveting. He’s such a fantastic writer, bringing people, places and past times to life with elegance and style.

I’ve taken a look at the 2022 Tournament of Books shortlist and unlike last year’s list which wasn’t appealing to me, this year I plan on reading the books on the list in my own version of the Tournament of Books. That’s 18 books, of which I have already read the fantastic “Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Writing

Creating an Inkvent post a day has been really time consuming, and I’ve gotten a sizeable amount of writing homework from my therapist. I’m also running a backlog on my journalling because of a combination of vacation plus neuropathy. We’ll see how next week goes.

Currently Inked

Too many pens, because of Inkvent. Also, a few machined pens have arrived and are waiting patiently for me to try them out. Thankfully I have a lot of writing to do, so hopefully that will help me bring things under control.

Other Things

The rest of my advent calendars are now on hold because a daily post for the Diamine Inkvent one is such a lot of work. My usual resolutions/yearly goals plan is officially off as I’m working with my therapist on planning ahead when you have cancer (doable, but tricky). Once I’m done with that I’ll have a dedicated post about it, because I have the feeling that it could help other people in these uncertain times.

Weekly Update: Hello There

This weekly update is a bit late because I had chemo last week and the neuropathy has been taking me to town. It’s all I can do at this point to keep up with my daily Inkvent posts. So this update will be shorter than usual, but still hopefully satisfying.

Health

Chemo 11 out 12 was on Tuesday last week. Wednesday-Thursday was all about steroids side effects, and then the chemo side effects kicked in. I’ve completely lost my sense of taste, plus I had the horrible rusty metal taste in my mouth (if you think that doesn’t make sense, so do I, but chemo begs to differ). The metal taste subsided on Sunday, but I still haven’t gotten my sense of taste back, and the neuropathy has kicked in. I didn’t have a break from it as of last treatment and I knew that it was going to be rough, but it still takes me by surprise each time. As of writing this I can only very faintly feel my fingers and toes, and every once in a while a wave of pain sears through them. A friend of mine said that it sounded like torture to him, but I told him that I’ve gotten used to it. I just make adjustments for these days, and count my blessings that I can still type by muscle memory, and still use pens if I go very slowly and carefully.

I did get a very special visitor during this round of chemo, and to celebrate it you all get to see me for the first time.
So that’s me, Nofar, on the left, and that’s the wonderful Jenny, the Irish Setter therapy dog on the right. She utterly made my day.

Reading

I finished “Cibola Burn,” the fourth Expanse book by James SA Corey. Rarely do science fiction novels manage to create compelling characters (especially a large cast of compelling characters), a rich and believable and interesting world, and also highlight something about humanity that speaks to our current affairs. “Cibola Burn” pulls it off, by portraying how people, as individuals and groups, behave under extreme circumstances and when they think that the normal rules of engagement are off. It was written well before Covid and is in no way about plagues, but is very prescient about how certain people take advantage of these “frontier” situations to their advantage, others just try to survive, and still others rise to the occasion, ignoring previous political and social divides, and work for the betterment of humanity at large. The best of “The Expanse” books so far, and a very good sci-fi novel in general.

Weekly Update: Old Friends and Advent Calendars

Check out the view of the Mediterranean from one of my morning walks this week:

Takes the edge off your problems, right?

This week was filled with catch up meetings and conversations with old friends, some of which I hadn’t talked to in years. They’re all lovely people and it was really great talking to them, and it’s something that’s going into my “soft planning” for next year: spending more time talking to friends and family. More about soft planning when I have a better idea of what it looks like.

This week also marked the beginning of December and with it the opening of four out of five of my advent calendars (I’m saving one for the end of the month, to cheer me up in the interim between my last chemo treatment and my PET CT).
I’m making daily posts (so far) reviewing the inks in my Diamine Inkvent calendar, and I’m enjoying the process very much. It’s fun to get to sketch and write with a variety of pens and inks, even though on Sunday to Wednesday this week I barely felt my fingers and writing was painful (due to chemo related neuropathy).
I really enjoyed the Lego Star Wars advent calendar that I purchased last year, and this year’s calendar is Mandalorian themed, so I’m enjoying it even more. Lego has replaced running as my relaxation and reflection aid, at least until I can lace up again. This is what was behind door 1 in the calendar:

A tiny Razor Crest! Isn’t it adorable?

The third advent calendar is a Disney Pins one. I’m not a serious pin collector – I just buy them once in a while, if I like the design. I find some of them fantastic design objects, and the ones in this calendar have been perfection so far. Each one is designed like a Christmas stocking, but themed to a specific Disney movie. To see what I mean, check out the design on this Little Mermaid themed one:

Sebastian agrees that this pin is design perfection.

The fourth advent calendar is a Fancy Feast pet food one, and my cats love it.

Anyone else have cool or interesting advent calendars to share?

Health

Neuropathy has been really pronounced for most of this week. Typing has been a pain, holding a pen and writing has been a pain, but it’s still manageable and its all for a good cause (getting rid of my cancer once and for all), so I’m rolling with the punches. Things started to improve on Wednesday evening, and even though I’m still suffering from neuropathy and I won’t get a break until well after the treatments end, at least it’s now less painful and I can feel more of my fingers as I use them. Next week is chemo 11 of 12, and I’m kind of looking forward to it, as I can see the end of the treatments looming near.
As for my mental health, I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough with my therapist that has been difficult but helpful and hopefully healing. Be kind to yourself this week, and in general. Life is tough enough without us adding any more pain and fear and hate to it.

Reading

I haven’t done as much reading as I would have liked this week, partly because I’m trying to stretch “Cibola Burn” to last me until my chemo next week. It’s an excellent piece of sci-fi writing, and I’m spacing my reading so that I get to read the final quarter of it as I’m getting my treatment.

Writing

A rough week for writing (see Health to see why), yet I’ve still gotten sample pages written for my Inkvent reviews, and I’ve journaled a lot. This is my current journal (a Moleskine Denim Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.), and so far the Inkvent inks have worked well in it. I write on just one side of the page when I’m using fountain pens in this notebook, to avoid dealing with the show-through, but there’s no feathering or spreading with these pens and inks (see Inkvent days 1-4 here to see which ones I’m using), and there’s very little bleed-through.
As per my psychologist, very few people journal, and journalling is a good thing, so get thee to thy notebook stash (I know you have one. We all do), and start writing away. It’s worth it.

Moleskine Denim Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.

Other Things

This is the time of year when I usually start planning next year (i.e. my yearly plan/resolutions). This year that’s not going to happen, at least not in the same way.
Yes, I’m finishing my treatments before the end of the year, but there’s still a chance that my cancer will return, and if it will, it usually comes back fast. I’m afraid to plan ahead the way I’ve planned ahead so far. So I’ve put my planning Baron Fig into a drawer and I’m working on “soft planning”. When I know what that is and how it looks like I’ll share it in a separate post.

Have a great week, everyone!

Weekly Update: Winter Cats and Yayoi Kusama

We’re still not getting a real winter yet, but I did get some new Rumpl blankets in this week and that was enough to get my cats into full winter mode. Hopefully there will be some rain next week to justify their need for winter cuddles.

The gentleman.
The lady.

I dared to venture out on the day before my Chemo session, because I really wanted to see the Yayoi Kusama retrospective in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. I arrived when the place was relatively empty, and wore a mask the entire time (as did almost all of the other visitors). The curation of the exhibit was phenomenal, and I enjoyed it very much. I loved seeing Kusama’s early sketches in her sketchbook, as well as her later sculptors and rooms. There was a new room, created specifically for this exhibit, the “Galaxy” room, which was my favourite:

Inside the Galaxy room.

Walking through the museum became a very colourful and oftentimes surreal experience. There’s nothing like being dwarfed by pink tentacles:

Pink tentacles in the atrium.

The penultimate room was phenomenal, with a steel ball exhibit on the floor that toyed with people’s need to view themselves (so many people lay down on the floor to take selfies), and two mosaics of Kusama’s paintings: one colourful and one in black and white, on opposite walls. It was very striking.

With my treatments getting progressively harder, flu season (yes, I’m vaccinated, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that I won’t get sick), and a new Covid variant on the rise I doubt that I’ll be going out much for the next few months. That just makes my visit to this colourful, interesting and joyful exhibition even more precious to me.

Health

I had my 10th Chemo treatment (the second treatment of the fifth cycle) on Tuesday, and this time I asked to get less steroids. So instead of a really, really, really, really, really large amount of steroids, I was given a really, really large amount of steroids. It was a risk (the steroids serve as anti-emetics and general boosters to help me get through the treatment), but so far it has paid off. I could sleep better and longer after the treatment, which helped me feel a little better. The treatments are getting harder, and as I suspected I now no longer have a break in my neuropathy. As I’m typing this, I feel about four out of ten fingers. The secret to typing like this is to be like Wile E. Coyote and not look down or think about typing as I type 🙂

Reading

I got less reading done than I expected this week, and I’m only about a third of the way through James S.A. Corey’s “Cibola Burn” (the Expanse #4). I also need to dedicate some time to update my Goodreads reviews. I have a few notes on books that I’ve read that I’ve yet to publish there. Luckily my reading journal is still around to help me keep track of things.

I’m enjoying the way that the Expanse novels unfold, with 3-4 viewpoints in each one, and large systems of government, military and industry are made human without being overly simplified.

Writing

I journaled a lot this week, but other than that I didn’t get any writing done. My neuropathy meant that holding a pen has become virtually impossible since Thursday evening. I really miss holding and using my pens.

Currently Inked

I’ve been focusing on my standard pens this week (while I could still hold them). The Retro 51 Typewriters have Monteverde gel ink refills installed, and I’m really enjoying them (I don’t like the standard Schmitt refill). The Karas Kustoms Periwinkle Bolt V2 has a dragonskin grip and a cerakote finish and is gorgeous. The other Bolt is the steampunk one, which I love and use regularly. The Tactile Turn Nautilus is the most unique and gorgeous of my standard pens, and the click mechanism is a lot of fun to fidget with. The Uni Jetstream Edge was a pen that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy very much, but I ended up writing the most journal pages with it this week. I can’t explain why I love writing with this pen so much, but I just do. The same can be said of the Pilot Hi-Tec-C next to it, which I’m about to run dry (a pen achievement, if ever there was one). The barrel is cracked, of course, but somehow the tip has remained intact and the gel ink refill hasn’t yet inexplicably stopped flowing.

From left to right: Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uni Jetstream Edge, Tactile Turn Nautilus, Karas Kustoms Steampunk Bolt V2, Karas Kustoms Periwinkle Bolt V2, Retro 51 Typewriter green, Retro 51 Typewriter copper.

Other Things

I’m hoping that my neuropathy improves next week, so that I can get back to journalling. I’ve started working on some long term projects and with the encouragement of my therapist I may actually get back to planning more than two weeks ahead.

The seeds in my garden have started germinating, which is always a joy to see. Monday is going to be very dry and warm so I’ll have to keep a look out for their health and mine then.

As is usual for a Chemo week, a lot of my time was spent trying to fall asleep and failing, so productivity wise it’s not the best. Hopefully next week will be better.

Weekly Update: Shots and Lego

The weather started to improve this week, and with it my health. The winds from the East stopped blowing dust in, and the terrible heat and dryness broke, hopefully until summer next year. It finally started raining on Thursday, and as the weather cooled off I could start to clear out and replant my container garden.

Health

This week was the “good” week (i.e. the no Chemo week, where my body gets to recover), even though Sunday and Monday had super hot and dry conditions that made breathing miserable and made my nose bleed (a problem when you’re on blood thinners, as I am). But the weather improved and I started feeling better as I made up for lost sleep and the neuropathy started to gradually subside.
I also got a pneumonia vaccine (I’m eligible because of my Chemo trashed immune system), and another shot to keep my blood count where it should be. I used to be afraid of shots and blood tests when I was little, and leery of them as an adult, but now they’re nothing to me. I’ve been pricked and prodded so many times that I’ve gotten inured to the procedure.

Next week is Chemo 10 of 12, and also when I start scheduling my post Chemo tests.

Reading

I finished Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies”. I couldn’t put it down, so I ended up reading it during Chemo instead of starting on something lighter. She really makes Henry the VIII’s court come to life, and Thomas Cromwell is such a fascinating character in a book filled to the brim with fascinating characters. I’m a bit wary about reading the last book in the trilogy, “The Mirror and the Light,” as I’ve been warned that it’s not as good, but I will probably read it eventually.
I started reading James S. A. Corey’s “Cibola Burn” and so far it looks like a fun and engrossing read. They really know how to write entertaining epic science fiction that highlights how the various modern “tribes” of humanity work and how individuals interact with them.

Writing

My neuropathy started improving on Wednesday, and so I could backlog the journalling days that I missed. Hopefully I’ll get more writing done this week, but even if I only journal that will be OK considering the condition of my hands and the fact that I need to type with them as I work every day. Sometimes you need to cut yourself some slack.

From left to right: PenBBS, Retro 51, Esterbrook and Leonardo

Currently Inked

I wrote my Kanilea dry. I really enjoyed using it, although I still believe that Kanilea pens are overpriced beauties. I bought my pen second-hand on the Pen Addict Slack, but as the message was archived and the pen that I got is no longer made by Kanilea I have no idea what its name is. That’s something for me to figure out.
I wasn’t planning on adding a pen to the rotation, but my Leonardo Momento Zero Grande Mother of Pearl arrived and it was too pretty to sit in a box until I got to it. I was feeling nostalgic so I filled it with Waterman South Sea Blue, a really great and inexpensive ink that has now been renamed to “Inspired Blue” which is not a very descriptive or inspiring name.
Also in rotation: my Esterbrook Estie Seaglass with a Journal nib, filled with Diamine Jack Frost. This pen and nib combination is so much fun to use I may return it to the rotation for a third time in a row once I’ve written it dry.
The Retro 51 Wings of the Monarch fountain pen with a 1.1 stub nib filled with Caran d’Ache Saffron. The pen drags a little as it writes so I may try to smooth the nib out once I’ve written it dry.
PenBBS Year of the Ox, a trusty, workhorse writer filled with Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-Ho.

Other Things

There was a local shopping event two weeks ago, and I went a little wild buying Lego sets. I’ve started building Legos as a way to relax and clear my head once I go sick, and they’ve been quite a comfort during the past few months. I can’t build them on days with bad neuropathy, but on good days they really cheer me up. I’m working on the Hogwarts Icons Collector’s Edition right now, and Hedwig is absolutely stunning.