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2013 Holiday Letter

2013 saw us busier than ever, but we didn't find the time for much traveling, just a couple car trips to Baltimore and one longer plane trip that covered both Seattle and Portland. Mira discovered the joys of working on a Heritage Conservation District application. And I got into questions about what it means for us to search for meaning. I even put my hand back in the technology pot, building a website for a friend's new technology start-up.
ImageThe year began with the Borodins joining us for dinner. We felt privileged that Judy and Allan's two youngest adult children, Talia and Josh, also joined us. [Click on any photo to open a pop-up window with an expanded version of the image.] That was an auspicious social beginning for our year. My big effort in early 2013 centered on the Urban Planning course I developed and presented at Ryerson's LIFE Institute. The LIFE (Learning Is ForEver) Institute offers non-credit courses to its members, all of whom must be 50+ years of age.
The course consisted of eight two-hour sessions spread over an eight week period. Presenting LIFE courses, I find, helps me organize my thinking. I had already worked on a number of urban planning issues that were local hot topics. These topics ranged from critiquing the proposed condo towers that are to go up just outside my window, to community efforts aimed at converting much of a local empty 2 acre lot into a park.
ImageThis spring saw unusually high water levels at our cottage on Buckhorn Lake. The cottage itself was never at risk, but the only access to our dock was through some deep puddles. That high water might have been one Imageof the reasons that a grey heron visited us several times this spring. This spring saw high winds at our cottage. We had another tree fall down. As a result of that falling tree, we have fire wood for heat during this winter.
ImageWhen the weather improved and my course finished, we drove down to see Mira's sister Doris and her husband Zoltan. They moved from Cleveland to Baltimore several years ago and moved more recently into a retirement community. None of us are getting any younger and it was good to see them again.
ImageThis spring Neil Davidson's wife joined him at the small education conference he regularly attends in Toronto. We had the opportunity to have dinner with Neil and Jan. Neil is another Cleveland connection. He and I went to Case together and he came to our wedding in Cleveland these many years ago. They are now mostly retired in a different Baltimore retirement community.
Our big adventure was to fly out to Jill Borodin's wedding in Seattle. Jill is the Borodin's eldest child and the senior rabbi in a conservative temple in Seattle. The informalImageity and openness of her community made for ceremony that was informal, warm and even funny (in parts). I had expected a more “conservative” social environment, but it must have been Jill (and Seattle) that made the difference. While in Seattle, we had the opportunity to have lunch with Jake, Mira's brother's oldest grandson. He's now all grown up, and it was good to reconnect.
We took advantage of being on the west coast by driving down to Portland. That city has acquired a reputation for effective urban planning. They are busy installing new streetcar tracks. We found that public transit was the best way to get Imagedowntown. It's a walkable downtown with what must be North America's larget bookstore – Powell's. It's very much a pedestrian and bike oriented city. They maintain a public bike parking facility for the major health campus that's located a cable car ride up the local mountain. It's a smaller scale city than Toronto, but I wish we could pull off some of the pedestrian, bike and transit features that we saw in Portland.
Mira and Judy Borodin had committed us to the Canadian Opera Company season for the last few years. We attended the last of the 2012-13 COC performances in the spring. I'm still not convinced that opera is the best way to enjoy music – there's too much stage activity and not enough real music. We didn't renew for the 2013-14 season, in part because the Borodins are off on a sabbatical that's taking them to various and sundry places in the world.
We continue with our subscription to the string quartet series at the Jane Mallet theater. This series brings some of the world's finest quartets to Toronto. It's the concert series that I most enjoy. We also continued with our subscription to Music in the Afternoon, presented by the Womens Musical Club of Toronto. They put on affordable afternoon concerts on the University of Toronto campus, … and this year was its 115th season. The social lunch before the concerns, often with the Ciras, adds to our enjoyment.
ImageThe summer saw Mira busy with work on the Yonge Street Heritage Conservation District application. The photo shows a 19th centry Fire House Tower that is located kitty-corner to our condo on Yonge Street - Mira was responsible for building the heritage documentation for that tower. The Province is prepared to provide special rules for districts that have important heritage elements. But every building within a proposed heritage district must be documented, with photographs and as complete a history as possible. Her work was on buildings very close to our condo. The challenge for the heritage consultants is going to be to find a way to use the heritage conservation legislation to protect the social role of Yonge Street. A final report is more than 12 months in the future.
I spent much of the summer preparing for my second LIFE Institute course. This one was on “Our Search for Meaning”. I had come to see that personal meaning could be found in contributing to communities that I value. That fits with my interest in the communitarian view of society – it's not just rights, but also responsibilities that should be important. This position met my emotional need for meaning, but I wondered if a solid argument could be presented in support of that position. My six sessions built the argument for finding meaning in contribution to community. I feel better about the position, and the course may have helped some of the participants understand how they can find meaning.
ImageWe had relatively few visitors at our cottage this past summer, but the Friesens did join us for a weekend that included a performance at The 4th Line Theater. It's an interesting theater experience. They produce plays of local interest in barnyard setting. The plays begin in the early evening and end before it get dark. The play we saw this year was about “The Real McCoy”. He was a real person who grew up in Ontario, but had a larger impact in the US. McCoy was a black railroad engineer who invented a better way to oil the wheels on a train - they were the real McCoy. On the day after the theater performance we went to see the sights in Peterborough. In the background of the photo can be seen the world-famous Peterborough lift-lock. It's an engineering marvel from the end of the 19th century, ... that never made much economic sense, but is still an impressive feat of engineering.
ImagePriscilla visited us again this year. Our connection with her started back in Cleveland, and she was also at our wedding these many years ago. She's moved around a bit. We used to stop at her place in Pennsylvania on our way to Baltimore, but she moved to Wisconsin. She's a spunky lady and makes regular car trips back East. Next year, Mira is planning to join her for two weeks on a small sailing ship as it visits ports on the southern coast of Turkey.
ImageUrban planning efforts continue in downtown Toronto. One of the interesting place making activities is finding new, significant names for the small laneways that can be found in the city. This photograph shows the crowd gathered for the unveiling of the Al Sparrow lane in our neighbourhood. Al was a progressive city councillor who led the good fight for a better Toronto. Naming the laneway was only symbolic, but such acts help to give Toronto places that are important to people.
The local big urban planning accomplishment was development of the North Downtown Yonge Street Planning Framework. It puts in place some real height and design requirements for all new buildings along our stretch of Yonge Street. Using the thinking behind this framework led to changes in the proposed towers outside my window. Twin 55 storey towers on a 7 storey base have become one 52 storey tower and one 25 storey tower, on a 3 storey base. The proposed view from my window will be much improved. The big local urban planning challenge will be to structure things so that the right kind of fine-grained retail finds a happy home on our stretch of Yonge Street, and along its adjacent lane ways. And all of this needs to come together in time for the planned revitalization of the street in 2016.
ImageThis fall we decided it was time for a second visit to Baltimore. Doris is putting up a courageous struggle with Parkinson's. There had been regular health email reports circulated by the children of Doris and Zoltan (who are no longer really "children"). Doris was reported to have good days, and not so good days. It's been hard on Doris, and on Zoltan. We decided to visit, recognizing that we might only be able to spend limited time with them. We were fortunate and were able to spend an afternoon, an evening, and then the following morning with them.
ImageMira's nephew, Paul, and his partner, Jonathan visited us again this (US) Thanksgiving. It's become a welcome annual Thanksgiving visit. This year we went to see a play that was staged next to our condo in the Buddies in Bad Times theater. “The Gay History Project” received excellent reviews. It was three actors telling the story, as they see it, of gay history in Toronto. The reviews were right, it was good theater. We sat in the first row and had the unusual experience of meeting the three actors before the performance began.
ImageToronto has become quite the film city. The Toronto International Film Festival, or tiff, has become one of the most important venues at which a new film can be introduced. tiff has its own building right downtown. This fall, tiff mounted an exhibition of "severed ears, parasitic blobs, evil surgical instruments, masochistic clothing and a boozing Mugwump." It was all part of David Cronenberg: Evolution. We went to see what all the fuss was about, ... and got outselves photographed with the boozing Mugwump, direct from the set of Naked Lunch..
ImageLIFE courses continue into 2014. I've got a short 4 session course on the Impact of High Tech. Mira continues her participation in book clubs and regularly takes LIFE courses that interest her. She attended my first two LIFE courses, but plans to pass on the one this winter. The social year ended on a positive note. Judy and Allan Borodin and Lynn and Jamie Friesen joined usImage for dinner before Christmas. As you can see from Mira's expression, it was an enjoyable dinner. Our plan is to spend much of the holiday out at the cottage. Fresh snow on the lake and a wood fire in the cottage provide a great way to end the year. The quiet time at the end of the year is also an appropriate time to remember the passing of Peter Roosen-Runge. Peter and I were colleagues at York and we remained friends. He died this fall after a long period of failing health. We miss him.