Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Eleni 10.10.1999-6.3.2018

We found Eleni as a feral-born kitten in November 1999. She was an only kitten, or only surviving kitten, a tuxedo black and white short hair, with an unfriendly tabby mother. Eleni and her mother were among a group of feral cats we were feeding in our garden. It soon became clear that Eleni’s mother was unwell, as her fur was covered in fungal infections. She was starting to reject Eleni, who was afraid of the other cats and often had trouble getting any of the food we were putting out for them. She must have been about six weeks old in December 1999 when we decided to adopt her.

It had been a few months since we had lost our previous cat, Percy, an indoor-outdoor tabby male who turned out to be older than we had realized. He died of kidney problems, and the vet said he must have been about 15 years old. He had been living with us for 5 years, since his previous owners moved away and took their dog but abandoned him. At the time I felt ready for the commitment of having an indoor-only cat, and wanted to have a kitten that we would know from the beginning.
The moment of deciding to adopt was very special. I had brought down food for the feral cats and I took Eleni aside to feed her away from the adults. She let me touch her, pick her up into my lap, and she ate and let me stroke her. She looked into my eyes with such a look of trust that I knew the time was right. I promised her she would be my cat forever, and took her home. 

The first night we kept her in the kitchen, with her food and water, and access to the balcony with the litter box. We wanted to be sure that she would use the litter box, and she knew immediately what to do with it. The next day she went to the vet. She had the expected fleas and worms, and also a bit of the fungal parasite that her mother had. She also had some sniffles. The vet gave her an injection of antibiotics, treatment for the fleas and worms, and her first vaccination. We were given a cream to put on her fungal infected areas, mainly her ears and her paws. She recovered quickly and gradually became a happy indoor kitten, playing with toys, climbing on everything, and sleeping in our bed.
Eleni was an anxious kitten who imprinted on us and became very attached to us. She moved home with us and quickly adapted to her new surroundings. She grew into a contented adult, was spayed, of course, and enjoyed playing and climbing on her cat tree. She preferred dry food and a closed litter box. She liked watching birds outside the window, but never really tried to hunt.

When Eleni was two years old, we thought she was getting bored and kept asking her if she wanted a kitten. We thought if we had two cats we would get one sitting on each lap. Around that time, Pandora came along and we adopted her because she was obviously looking for a home and we couldn’t say no. We knew we should take the introduction slowly. At first, we kept Pandora in a separate room, with her own food and litter box. Eleni was very anxious about having another cat in the house. She often vomited when she saw or smelled Pandora. When they finally met, Eleni was fearful, while Pandora just wanted to play with her. It was quite upsetting to see how Eleni could be troubled by such a small, fluffy kitten. After a while, they learned to tolerate each other, but never really became friends. They had the bed as a safe zone, but Pandora liked to ambush Eleni and sometimes chased her around the house. They had no problem sharing a food bowl and the litter box, and sometimes sat quite close to each other, or on two different levels of the cat tree. When there were birds outside the window, they both watched them and chattered at them. Eleni usually slept between our pillows or cuddled under the covers in my arms, while Pandora slept at the foot of the bed. Having Pandora around was good for Eleni, as she became playful again and seemed less bored, though perhaps more anxious.
We moved home another couple of times, and the well being of our two cats was always important, so we always chose homes close to a vet. We soon had to accept that Eleni was a lap cat while Pandora wasn’t, and at most would sit next to one of us. While Pandora was a challenge, Eleni was always very loving and intimate. I could spend hours holding her and stroking her and enjoying her purring. When she was anxious, I could calm her down and make her feel safe again.

As Eleni grew older, she began experiencing some bladder infections. They happened every year or two, and we had to give her antibiotics to clear them up. She did not enjoy taking pills, and we had to adopt the purrito method of wrapping her in a towel to do this. Eventually the vet realized that the problem was associated with a degeneration in her lower spine, just above the tail. This caused pain in her lower back and made it uncomfortable and sometimes painful for her to squat in the litter box. She often cried before, during, and after using the litter box, or had to go to the box several times until she was able to overcome the pain and do what she needed to. The vet prescribed a pain medication that we gave her twice a day. Fortunately it was a liquid, which was easier to give than a pill. The spinal problem sometimes caused her rear legs to straighten without her volition, and so she would suddenly slip while walking. Her rear legs also sometimes twitched or kicked out, and she was as surprised by this as we were. 

Since we started having to give Eleni medication twice a day, we decided not to travel or even spend a night away from home. We didn’t feel that she would let someone else give her the medicine, and we were willing to make this sacrifice for her sake. Some people might not understand how we could do this for a cat, but she was a family member and greatly loved. When we travelled in the past, I always missed my cats so much and sometimes felt worried about them. This is one disadvantage of having cats. It is difficult to take them travelling with you, even just overnight, and you have to leave them with a cat sitter or in a cat pension. When you are particularly attached to a cat, this is one of the costs.

During Pandora’s illness, Eleni was rather confused. Pandora started smelling of vet, and eventually spent a few days with a feeding tube and a cone of shame, and we had to keep giving her medication and feeding her through the tube. Then Pandora left and didn’t return. We were not clear how Eleni reacted to Pandora’s disappearance, but at the time I was happy to have Eleni, both as a source of comfort for me and as another cat who needed my devoted care. Because Eleni never really got on well with Pandora, we decided not to adopt another kitten and to let her enjoy her final years as an only cat. She was fifteen when Pandora died.

We had promised Eleni we wouldn’t have to move again, but unfortunately we had an unexpected adventure in November 2016. There was a major forest fire near our home and we had to evacuate. This involved taking Eleni in her carrier, walking for about 4 kilometers to a safe evacuation centre, and then staying overnight with friends. The friends had dogs, but were very considerate and took their dogs to stay with relatives so Eleni could be comfortable. We returned home the next day and found our house undamaged, and Eleni very quickly returned to normal. This was just another example of how she was attached to us and could adapt to new surroundings because we were there to keep her calm.

Eleni is by far the cat I have had the longest, and the closest, most intimate friend. While Pandora accepted affection on her own terms, Eleni delighted in physical contact and craved cuddles. She was a lap cat, though in the summer it tended to be too hot for her to sit on a lap for very long. Cat people will understand the special bond that forms between human and cat and know what it can mean.
I learned from the foster kitten cams the importance of tracking a cat’s weight, and after weight loss was one of the first clues to Pandora’s conditions, I bought a baby scale and we weighed Eleni every day and kept a record so we would know if something started changing. Her weight gradually declined and she ate less and less, despite our efforts to find food she would be willing to eat.
Three weeks ago, Eleni had another bladder infection and spent another night in hospital. They did an ultrasound and found a growth in her liver, which could have been a tumour or a cyst. Obviously, at the age of 18 the risks of surgery outweighed any possible benefits. She was given antibiotics and appetite pills, which we gave her for a week. She seemed a bit better after that, but still ate very little and kept losing weight. Last night, she was in constant pain and cried for hours. We knew it was time to let her go and release her from the pain we could no longer alleviate.
I always knew that losing Eleni would be one of the hardest things I would have to experience. She was my constant companion and my close friend for a long time, and while I loved Pandora and had a special type of closeness with her, it was not the same as with Eleni. Having Eleni in my life made me a better person, and saving her life was one of the best things I've ever done. Letting her go was the right decision, caring more about removing her pain than about the pain of loss I am experiencing now.

Friday, February 16, 2018

2018 ITA Conference

This week I attended the 2018 ITA conference, held at ZOA House, Tel Aviv. This year the conference was a one-day event, with two parallel tracks.

The conference opened with a plenary workshop by John Di Rico, entitled "Selling Your Translation and Interpreting Services". The focus was on customer-centric sales, how to respond to an initial inquiry with a phone call where the translator learns the customer's real needs and can thus offer a service that meets these needs.

I attended mostly lectures in the business track rather than the professional track. Arie Rotem, CPA, gave details about tax-deductible expenses for self-employed professionals, and Tzahi Riefer explained how the new law making it compulsory for self-employed professionals to save for a pension works. These were both useful lectures on issues translators may leave to their accountants and not fully understand themselves. Then Anat Krauz discussed negotiations and conflict resolution by thinking outside the box, basically encouraging the awareness that things are not "either-or" and there are many different solutions to be found, and that it's up to us to decide how to respond in any given situation. This was a rather inspirational lecture and lacked practical examples of how actual conflicts were resolved using this non-adversarial thinking.

After lunch, Inga Michaeli discussed various aspects of professional development, including specialization and adapting how we present ourselves on CVs and in social media to the sort of work we do and want to receive. Then I went to a presentation by Ofek Ron of Software Sources about ABBYY Fine Reader software, which involves OCR and various options for working with PDF documents. Some of the features are useful for translators, depending on the sort of documents they receive and produce.

The conference concluded with a plenary panel discussion. Representatives of four translation agencies, Inbal Amir Cohen from MGS, Rina Neeman from LegalTrans, Emanuel Weisgras from WeisWords, and Neta Ziv from Transnet, answered questions from the chair, Eliezer Nowodworski regarding how they work with their freelance translators. It was interesting to hear their perspective, though it has been many years since I worked with translation agencies. They agreed on many things, but had slightly different approaches on some issues, such as working with new translators and training them on the job.

While this conference was smaller than those of previous years, the quality remained consistent. I hope the ITA will be able to return to larger events in the future.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Lessons from last year's fire

Smoke rising from the direction of my home
One year ago today we had to evacuate our home due to fires in our area. Here are some of the lessons I learned from this experience.

People sometimes ask hypothetically: "What would you rescue if your house was on fire?" I faced this situation in reality, and the answer was that I just took my cat, Eleni, in her carrier, and my everyday backpack. I didn't think about saving any valuables, or any items of sentimental value, or even about taking practical things like a phone charger. When I heard that we had to leave, I just took Eleni and left. Since then I have prepared an emergency backpack, which I keep near the front door. It contains things like a change of clothes, food and water, cat food, toiletries, and a spare phone charger. I'd like to hope that there won't be a "next time", but if there is, I'll be better equipped.

The experience showed me something about my personal coping mechanism. When bad things happen, I tend to shut down emotionally and react practically. It's my way of protecting myself from becoming overwhelmed. During the entire experience, I was mostly just thinking about getting through the next few hours and not about the chance that our home and all our possessions might be destroyed. I don't know if this is necessarily a good response, but it seems to work for me.

I learned that Eleni is adaptable and flexible, provided she knows we are with her. During the 4 km. walk to the evacuation centre, the wait there all afternoon, and the night we spent with friends, she didn't panic the way she does when we go to the vet. In retrospect, I later realized that she must have already been deaf, so at least she wasn't bothered by the unusual sounds during this experience. I did realize, though, that things would have been more difficult if I'd had more than one cat! If this had happened a couple of years earlier, I would have been carrying both Eleni and Pandora, in two cat carriers as they wouldn't be willing to share. It did make me wonder if we'll ever have more than one cat again, considering the difficulty of escaping with them in emergencies!

I discovered who my friends are. Throughout the day, I got phone calls and messages from family and friends, and also from people who know me professionally. It was gratifying to know that so many people care about me. We received many invitations to stay at other people's homes overnight. In the end, we chose to stay with Maia and Ben. I'm very grateful for the welcome we received. They took their dogs to stay with relatives because Eleni was uncomfortable with them, borrowed a litter box for Eleni, made us dinner, and were great company, distracting us from worrying about our potential loss. I'm sure other people would also have been similarly helpful, and it's good to know that at times of need we're not alone.

Another lesson was that even the thought of losing everything we own didn't upset me as much as I would have expected. I thought to myself: "we're strong enough to overcome this", and decided that if we'd lost everything, this would be a good chance to start from scratch and live a more minimalistic lifestyle. The biggest loss, of course, would have been all our books. I don't know if we'd ever have replaced the vast majority of them, but perhaps it would have given us the opportunity to repurchase only the most important books. We own so many things we never use and may never use again. This got me thinking about decluttering our life and reducing the amount of possessions, and while we haven't done much of this yet, it's certainly on our to do list.

Finally, the experience of the fire added to my overall anxiety. I've lived through wars, rocket attacks, waves of terrorist bombings and stabbing attacks, other fires, and minor earthquakes. This was the event that came closest to having a major impact on my life. The feeling that something life-threatening could happen at any moment has never really left me, and each traumatic experience just reinforces the sense of fragility of my everyday reality. I don't let it control me, but it has changed my outlook on life. This is just something that I have to accept and live with.

Friday, September 15, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

This week our vet clinic, Medi-Vet, organized a different sort of customer event. Instead of the lecture evenings they have held before, with animal-related topics, this time they arranged a special screening of the documentary film An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

The film addresses the issue of climate change, focusing on the lead-up to the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2016. I haven't seen the 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth, and I was expecting this film to present further evidence for human-caused climate change. It did some of that, but mainly focused on Al Gore and his efforts to educate about climate change and influence policy. While Mr. Gore is obviously sincere and committed to his cause, and could be considered a hero, I find hero-worship and personality cults distasteful and sometimes counterproductive, and would have preferred to see a bit less of this aspect.

Climate change has its opponents, who deny that it's happening at all, or deny that human activity has had any impact on the climate. These deniers seek to discredit the scientific proof. It seems that their reasons for this are disingenuous. In some cases these people have a vested interest in the polluting industries, while others consider it hubris to believe that humans could have such a profound influence, sometimes due to their religious beliefs that place humans as subordinate to deities.  However, the scientific consensus is unanimous, and choosing to reject and ignore it seems much more hubristic than accepting it and trying to mitigate the self-evident problem before it gets worse.

Also, many of the climate deniers have an ideological opposition to any government regulation, seeing it as a restriction of industry's freedom. But when the choice is between granting companies the freedom to make the world a worse place for the current population and for future generations in the name of short-term profit, and forcing them to do the right thing and care about humanity and our planet, I think regulation seems to be absolutely justified.

The film presented one of the ethical dilemmas facing the struggle for clean energy. Before and during the Paris Climate talks, the Indian government argued that in order to bring India (and other third world countries) out of poverty and into prosperity, they would have to use the tried and tested fossil fuel economy rather than the new renewable energy model. They argued that western developed countries had used fossil fuels for 150 years, and that the third world should be given a chance to catch up instead of being accused of polluting the planet. This is a flawed argument. Once you know that something is bad, you stop using it no matter what its benefits might be. One could similarly argue that some of the US economy's early progress was based on slavery, and therefore other countries should be allowed to use slavery to catch up.

In all ethical arguments, justice lies on the side of what benefits the community as a whole. In this case, the community is the entire human race and the whole planet. The problem is that the issue is being addressed on a country level and the human race has yet to achieve the cohesion required for a global consensus. I would have expected the whole of humanity to unite in the face of this global threat, but instead we still see governments thinking in narrow national terms. I hope this sort of thinking will change.

The film showed how Al Gore was instrumental in getting India to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. He achieved this by obtaining favourable conditions for the construction of solar power facilities in India instead of the polluting fossil fuel power plants that India had been intending to construct. Ultimately, the use of renewable energy is a win-win situation. It does create jobs and does contribute to economic growth, despite what the deniers argue. It is particularly suited to third world countries, where there is a lot of sunshine and wind that can be converted into clean energy. And, as the film pointed out, installing renewable energy in third world countries is similar to the "leapfrogging" effect of third world countries adopting cellular phone technology instead of emulating the past path of western development by starting with land-line phones.

As the film drew to a close, we all knew what was coming. After the hope inspired by the Paris Climate Agreement came the disappointment of President Trump's decision to withdraw the US from it. It seems that progress is always two steps forward, one step back. This short-sighted ideological stupidity, which is either incredibly ignorant or incredibly malicious (or both) will have a devastating effect on the planet we all share. We can only hope that this withdrawal will be short lived, and that the next US administration will do what it can to redress the balance. In the meantime, individuals, companies, and governments should do what they can to reduce their carbon footprints and contribute to educating the public on the importance of science and progress.

This was a thought-provoking film, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to watch it and think about the issues it raised.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Living with a deaf cat

Our cat Eleni, aged nearly 18, has recently become deaf. We don't know exactly when it started, and presumably it was a gradual process. It took us a while to be certain.

The symptoms of deafness include, obviously, not reacting to sounds. Eleni stopped responding when called, and also stopped being startled by loud noises like she used to. She also started meowing really loudly, because she can't hear herself.

Deafness is common in senior cats, and there's nothing to do about it. When we told the vet, he just shrugged. But while we can't change her condition, we have had to adapt our interactions to this new situation.

First, we obviously can't call her. We have to get into her field of vision and make hand gestures at her. She is learning to come when beckoned. We also can't comfort her by talking to her when she meows in another room, and have to get up and go to her, see if anything's wrong, and help her get settled.

We have to accept the loud volume of her meows, which have often made people talking to me on the phone to comment on my "crying baby"!

We have to be careful not to startle her when we approach. It can be disconcerting when we walk up behind her and she doesn't realize. So we have to try to move gently into her field of vision so she sees us. I've also tried treading more heavily on the floor, hoping that she'll feel the vibrations of my footsteps, but this doesn't seem to work. Perhaps our tiled floor doesn't pass the vibrations as well as a wooden floor would.

One advantage of her condition is that she is no longer upset by loud noises, including dogs barking outside and things like sirens and thunderstorms. In fact, she now sleeps more deeply, sometimes for many hours.

Eleni has also become more interested in watching the computer screen, where we watch kitten cams, live safaris, and various films and series. She seems to recognize cats on screen, and particularly enjoys watching birds.

I wonder what it felt like to have her hearing gradually weaken and disappear. Does she feel isolated? Does she feel threatened by not having this important sense? The only thing I can compare this to is my frustration as my eyesight became imperfect before I got glasses, but that is nothing like losing a sense entirely.

I miss seeing her swivel her ears around to hear sounds coming from different directions. Her ears are now almost permanently in the relaxed, front-facing position.

I still talk to her. This is partly because it's a habit and I do it for my own benefit, as part of treating her as a person. I also hope that perhaps when she's sitting on or next to me she might sense the vibrations of my speech.

To make up for the lack of vocal communication, we spend more time stroking and holding her. She's always been a very tactile cat, and now that she's elderly and less active, she demands and receives even more physical contact. I hope that this makes up for the loss of her hearing as much as possible.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Happily Married

Today we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. To mark this occasion, I want to share some thoughts on what makes a happy marriage, along with some of our wedding photos.

To have a happy marriage, you have to choose the right person. I strongly believe in choosing someone similar to you, and dislike the phrase "opposites attract", at least when it comes to stable relationships. Partners should share the same values and should agree on important matters like religion and politics, whether to have children and how to raise them, and what lifestyle they want to share.

In order to find a suitable partner, you have to understand yourself and learn what is important to you. You also have to learn how to be authentic and communicate your true self when entering an intimate relationship. The early days of falling in love involve taking some risks. At first, you may not be sure that your love is reciprocated, and you may fear rejection. Ideally, both partners share their feelings for each other early in the growing relationship and learn how to talk openly and honestly.

Marriage is the most intimate form of friendship. Friends understand each other and want what's best for each other, and married friends have a vested interest in each other's happiness and well-being. You want to do what's best for your partner, and to be the best person you can, both for yourself and because it benefits your partner. You want to support your partner's development and help them be the best person they can. There's some sort of mutually beneficial altruism in being part of a committed couple.

As one of the few people whose first relationship turned into a happy marriage, I am unable to compare relationships that eventually end with those that last, at least from my personal experience. One of the important things is to form a sense of "us" early on, and to make that the centre of your life. People around you may not see your partner the way you do, or may not understand the strength of your relationship. Once you have decided to make the commitment to spend your lives together, your priorities are decided.

People sometimes ask "why get married?". I think that making a public commitment to each other, a declaration of intentions, can strengthen a relationship. The fact that most societies have a system of formalizing relationships indicates that this is a human need. There are also legal advantages to being a married couple, which is why I think all countries should have full equality for adults to marry their partner of choice, and a range of options, including both civil marriages (like ours) and various religious ceremonies.

I see marriage as a commitment of two individuals to share their lives and form a household or family. Within this formal arrangement, each couple has a relationship based on the partners' personalities and behaviours. A good marriage allows each partner to grow and develop, knowing that their spouse gives them support and trust. My visual image for a marriage is of two trees planted next to each other. Over the years, the roots and the branches become intertwined, holding and supporting each other, but the trees are still separate individuals and can develop in their own way.

Successful marriages are those where the partners respect, trust, and even admire each other, along with the expected love, affection, warmth, and compassion. There should be no power struggles within a marriage, and both partners should know that what benefits one of them benefits both, rather than coming at the expense of the other partner.

Ultimately, happily married couples grow old together, sharing the memories and accumulated wisdom of their long, shared experience. Knowing that someone knows you so completely and has chosen to share a lifetime with you must be one of the most satisfying feelings possible.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pixies Live at Caesarea

Last night I saw the band Pixies play live at Caesarea Roman Theatre.

This was the first time I've watched a show at this venue, an ancient theatre seating about 4,000 people, right by the sea. We sat right at the top and enjoyed the sea breeze after a very hot and humid day.

It was a nostalgic concert for me. I enjoyed the Pixies' music in the late eighties and early nineties, and it both informed my subsequent musical taste and influenced some of the other bands I love.

I was familiar with the older songs, and found that the newer songs were consistent with their signature sound. Their style can best be described as distortion guitar rock with weird lyrics. The songs are quite short, and the concert moved quickly from one song to the next.

The performance was polished and professional, with good acoustics and lighting, but it lacked any personal interaction with the audience. People who come to see bands play live crave the appreciation of the musicians they enjoy, and it seemed strange and perhaps even hostile that the Pixies didn't even say "good evening", let alone acknowledge what country they were in.

It seemed that the audience wanted to enjoy the show regardless of this coldness and despite some of them, like me, not being familiar with the band's entire repertoire. The atmosphere might also have been slightly muted by the venue not selling any beer, which tends to be standard at rock concerts. Also, although smoking was prohibited in the theatre, many people ignored this and smoked, which reduced the enjoyment of non-smokers like me.