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2014 Holiday Letter

2014 has been another interesting year. We traveled to Maryland, Georgia (US), Israel, London (UK), and Turkey (Mira only). We presented and participated in a growing number of events at Ryerson University's LIFE Institute – walks, courses, book and luncheon clubs. I continued with my involvement in neighbourhood concerns, and will be offering a LIFE course on “A Great Yonge Street” in the coming term. Friends and family visited us, from near and far. And coping with aging became a topic for study, discussion and reflection. 

Winter at the CottageWe continue to find a satisfying balance between our condo in downtown Toronto and our much more tranquil place in the country. (Click on a thumbnail image to see a pop-up with a larger version.) Our downtown neighbourhood is being subject to intense development pressure. Within a few blocks of where we live, there are more than 10,000 new condos units on the drawing boards. The 78 storey condo down the street (now Canada's tallest) is occupied; the 75 storey condo up the street should be opening its retail levels in a few months. Within two blocks of our condo there are 7 tall condo buildings under construction, approved or proposed (about 3,000 new units).

It's a time of change, growth, challenge and opportunity. Development money is flooding into our neighbourhood. “Our” stretch of Yonge Street (between College and Bloor) has seen better times. But it has the “location, location, location” advantage of being on the major north-south subway line and within easy walking distance of much of downtown Toronto. There are growing signs that well-designed new buildings, in attractive settings, will sell rapidly and at attractive prices. There is reason for cautious optimism that Yonge Street (Toronto's “Main” Street) will develop into a recognized Great Street. The course I will be offering is one of the ways to advocate for that development. There is even a YongeLove video [link] with me as the lead talking head.

When we moved downtown 12 years ago, we still used the car for regular activities like shopping. Now, weeks can go by without taking our car out of the underground garage. The big exception is getting to our place in the country – you can't really get there by any form of public transit. But downtown, we walk to most shopping, concerts, the theater and friends. We even walk on organized walks. Jane's Walks [link] began in Toronto and is now a world-wide annual event. We regularly participate in the weekly (during good weather) LIFE Institute walks, and I led a LIFE Walk along Yonge Street this fall.

Otto and MiraThe first foreign trip we took was to fly down to Georgia to visit Mira's brother and his wife. They live just outside Columbus, Georgia. On a short sideSavannah Park trip to Savannah, we learned that Georgia began as an anti-slavery, anti-lawyer British colony. The original governor, James Oglethorpe, did not want slaves and did not want lawyers. Economic reality forced slaves on the colony and lawyers found their way in, notwithstanding Oglethorpe's wishes. It was an interesting trip and Savannah is an interesting colonial port city.

ImageOur next foreign trip was to drive down to see the new retirement condo that Mira's sister Doris and her husband Zoltan recently purchased. The condo is located in Annapolis, Maryland, on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. It's a great site, just a short distance from their son Tom's home. We hope that their health, and in particular Doris' Parkinson's, will stabilize enough that they can really enjoy their new condo and its great location.

We have begun to take greater advantage of The LIFE Institute. It's a semi-autonomous organization dedicated to seniors' continuing education, located on the Ryerson campus, just a short walk south of our condo. LIFE (Learning Is For Ever) [link] has some 1,500 members and puts on dozens of courses each term. I presented a spring course on “The Impact of High Tech” [link] and a fall course on “JS Bach and His Successors” [link]. The music course was a first for me. I always enjoyed music, but had never before attempted to present a course. But it seemed to have been well received, … thanks to the multiple musical examples available as videos on YouTube.

This involvement with The LIFE Institute was one of the inspirations for my interest in aging, coping and well-being. The 3rd Age is the name given to that period after retirement when we have the least constraints. Members of the 3rd Age are reasonably fit, physically and mentally, and have relatively few financial or family constraints. We're free to do as we will, and in particular free to contribute to social well-being. As a society we already have enough people pursuing wealth, we need more people pursuing well-being. 3rd Age members could and should be important in making a difference in society. The LIFE Institute is one way to contribute to well-being. (Here's a [link] to the background material for a talk that I gave at The LIFE Institute on that subject.)

ImageIn the midst of this, we found time for a trip to Israel. We had never been, and our good friends, the Borodins, were spending part of a sabbatical leave there. TheyImage invited us to visit. We started out in Tel Aviv, took a side trip with the Borodins to ancient Petra (just across the border in Jordan), and ended by spending a few days in Jerusalem. We were there before the recent troubles and had a wonderful opportunity to see Jerusalem with the help of the Borodin's friends Menachem and ImageSarah Magidor. Menachem recently retired as president of Hebrew University. He and Sarah spent most of a full day with us guiding us around the old city of Jerusalem. The day ended with a most enjoyable dinner in their home. They helped us see “their” progressive Jerusalem. It was a memorable ten days. Petra was spectacular, and the Borodins and Magidors made it a deeply enjoyable and personal experience.

During the year we continued as subscribers to Music in the Afternoon, now in its 117th season. Joe and Ann Cira introduced us to this Womens Musical Club of Toronto series [link], and we have been able to precede many of the concerts with lunch with the Ciras. The Club offers a series of five excellemt afternoon chamber music concerts at an affordable price. For 3rd Age members living in Toronto it's a great way to spend five Thursday afternoons.

In additon to lunches in Toronto, we were able Imageto connect with the Ciras on a trip to London. This trip to England began in Cambridge. We had been told that it is more approachable Imagethan Oxford and in our too short time there, it was obvious that Cambridge is an attractive place to visit. Many colleges and buildings are open to the public, often for only a nominal fee. This was quite unlike our experience in London where everything seemed to come with a noticeable price tag. Notwithstanding the highImage prices, London is interesting. Mira took advantage of the British Museum (located a short walk from our hotel) to get a preview of what was to come in her travels.

After a week in England, I flew back to Toronto and Mira went on to Istanbul. She joined Priscilla, our good friend from college days. They joined a group of 12 British tourists and continued on to Dalaman. That was the start of a 2 week cruise along the south-western coast of Turkey. The tour included daily excursions to different archaeological sites of Imageancient LyciaImage. The British were there in the 19th century and took many works back to the British Museum, where Mira saw this complete 4th century Lycian tomb. The cruise had only 14 passengers and one very knowledgeable guide, all acommodated on Imagean 18 person “gulet” (traditional Turkish schooner). This all happened because Priscilla  had booked onto the tour with a friend of hers who, for health reasons, was not able to go. Mira jumped at the chance to substitute for Priscilla's friend and had a memorable and most enjoyable 14 days on the tour.

Mira's nephew Paul and his partner, Jonathan, made their annual US Thanksgiving trek to TorontoImage. They've been visiting us since we were as old as they are now – they were 25 and we were 50. How time flies. We always spend hours talking about the “impossible” political, social and economic conditions in the world. There are enough major trouble points that it seems increasingly likely that they will be faced with major social disruptions, but we may be too old to witness the trauma. The industrial revolution was profoundly disruptive, but at least it did not happen all at once across all countries. The impending revolution looks to impact virtually all countries at almost the same time, … and could be even more disruptive than the industrial revolution.

In the face of this, and in the face of normal process of aging, what's a 3rd Age member to do? Our response has been to focus in on more local concerns where we have a chance of making a positive difference. We spend more time with friends, and Mira now maintains regular telephone contact with her three siblings (I was an only child and have no close living blood relatives). We work to effect local improvements – Mira worked on the local Heritage Conservation District study and I'm putting energy into improvements along our local stretch of Yonge Street. There is a real chance that we can make a difference, albeit not on a grand scale. It seems a fitting use of the freedom that comes with 3rd Age membership.

We hope that our fellow 3rd Age members will join with us to support positive social change in 2015, and beyond. And that all of you, regardless of age, will find ways to contribute to the well-being of valued communities.