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2016 Holiday Letter

This year Mira got her wish – our condo now has new hardwood flooring to replace the old wall-to-wall carpet. It almost looks like a new condo, but everything wasn't back in place until Boxing Day. And there are still odds and ends to finish up. (Click on any photo to get to an enlarged version; return with your browser. Photo on left is finished living room.) Inevitably, this letter was delayed.

It's been an interesting year. Winter was late in starting. The lake at our cottage had not frozen by early January. And there was relatively little snow in 2016. That was certainly convenient – the driveway at the cottage rarely needed to be shoveled. One negative consequence is that we began to experience water shortage problems with our well by the fall of the year. Our hope is that with a normal amount of snow in 2017, the ground water will be replenished and our well will again be reliable.

This year I offered a couple music courses through Ryerson's LIFE Institute. In the winter term, I offered a course on the String Quartet and in the fall term, I offered Exploring Beethoven. Mira acted as my Class Host for both courses – she made the participants feel welcomed and helped to keep me on track. Offering courses is a way for me to explore interesting material in greater depth than I would do on my own. This coming term I'll present The Imagination of Glenn Gould. Mira has again volunteered to be Class Host, helping to keep me on track.

In May, after the string quartet course was over, Mira and I traveled to Baltimore to see her sister, Doris, and her family. Doris and her husband Zoltan have moved to a most attractive retirement condominium located on Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis. Doris, Zoltan and their five children have always been our closest family. Even though both Doris and Zoltan have health problems, it was good to see them again. We plan to drive down to see them again early in 2017. (photo of Doris and Charlotte, her eldest daughter)

I again offered a Yonge Street LIFE walk. The street is Upper Canada's oldest, having been established for military purpose before there was a Toronto. It's now the focus of intense developer speculation. Within just a few blocks of our downtown condo there are in excess of 10,000 new condo units just completed, under construction or approved for construction. With each new building valued in the hundreds of millions, the politics can be intense. (photo of me pointing to the new 75 storey condo tower just down the street from us)

Ontario is “blessed” with the Ontario Municipal Board. It has the power to overturn any municipal land use decision. It's our supreme planning authority. But it's neither staffed nor structured to make good planning decisions. One 2016 mediation effort in which I participated was about shadow and transitions in our immediate neighbourhood. It lasted 14 days, spread over several months, with one entire afternoon spent on three words! In addition to the time required, it's expensive to retain the necessary counsel and recognized professional expertise. Something needs to change, … and there may even be the political will to make some changes.

This year, our socializing was again rewarding. The Borodins continue to be our oldest Toronto friends. We joined them at three Canadian Opera Company performances (Marriage of Figaro, Norma & Carmen), in summer we went with them to Stratford (see photo on right), and during the year we dined at their house or they dined at our condo on a regular basis. Since the Stieges returned to Toronto, we have regularly enjoyed cultural events with them, and Mira and Susie often go to events that do not sufficiently interest Mike or me. Mira's old “construction” friends, including the two year old daughter of Coleen spent the day with us at our cottage(photo on left). And Doug and Claudette, including their dog Remy, visited us in the country where all five of us explored a newly opened trail a few miles from our cottage.

Barbara Deller returned to Toronto for one of her regular visits. We had the opportunity to dine with her when she passed through on her way to Arowhon Pines in Algonquin Park. And this year, Charlotte, Doris and Zoltan's oldest daughter, visited Toronto with her regular traveling girl friends. We got to meet all of them one evening and got to spend time with Charlotte before she flew back to Baltimore. US Thanksgiving saw a return visit to Toronto by Paul, Mira's nephew, and Jonathan, his partner. They have been visiting us regularly for over two decades – it didn't seem that long until we counted back to their first visit.

Mira and I continue in “reasonable” health. As we age, there are new concerns, but we were able to complete a vigorous seven day walking tour of eastern Sicily in October. A typical day saw us bussed to an attractive location where we walked several miles, often including a 500 meter descent and ascent to view the bottom of one of the more spectacular gorges. The walk around the Mount Etna area was particularly challenging. The “mountains” are really heaps of volcanic ash. Walking on a 2 ft wide path along the side of a 100 ft mound of ash is not for the faint of heart.

Sicily is full of interesting things for the tourist. We only saw a small part of eastern Sicily, but there was a wide range of experiences on offer, from the urban Catania, to the spectacular gorges, to the ancient ruins (Greek, Roman & Byzantine), and to Etna – a still active volcano with clear evidence of its recent activity on display.  We ate well when we were on our own in Catania, but the walking tour organizers didn't manage to offer much beyond basic food. All in all, however, it was a most enjoyable experience.

The year is ending with a clutch of social activities. It began with a Shabbat dinner on December 23rd at the Borodins, whose eldest daughter (now a rabbi living in Seattle) was present and offered a traditional blessing. This was followed by a Christmas Eve gathering at Cheri Roosen-Runge's daughter's house – Peter Roosen-Runge, Cheri's late husband, was a close friend. (photo on left of Anna, Cheri's daughter lighting a candle on their tree) And then on Christmas Day, we enjoyed Lynn Friesen's famous meat pie, … made following her mother's secret recipe. Jamie, Lynn's husband, and I were colleagues back when we both taught at York University. (photo on right of Lynn and Jamie preparing the famous meat pie)

Looking back, 2016 saw major changes in our condo – new kitchen counters and new hardwood flooring. Mira's California sister Marie contributed, sending us a clutch of attractive rugs that became surplus as she downsized. They show very well on our new floor. Much appreciated. 2016 also saw the start of major changes outside our condo. Twin condo towers are going up just the other side of a laneway that runs along the west side of our building. (photo of what we see from our living room windows) Our immediate neighbourhood is being transformed. I'm moderately optimistic that the changes can be made to return our stretch of Yonge Street to its former status as a place for pedestrians.

And the political changes in the United States have only just started. This year for the first time I voted in the US Presidential Election. Donald Trump has been described as one of the world's best con men, but there's no way he could be described as either informed or insightful. Lord only knows what he will do in his four years as President of the US. If he doesn't plunge the world into a cataclysmic disaster, the divisiveness he inspires may just give his successor enough ammunition to actually do something about the problems we face.

The world is certainly changing. We're changing as well. It's hardly the best of all possible worlds, but there is reason for modest personal optimism. 2016 was interesting and rewarding. We hope 2017 will also prove to be interesting and rewarding, for us and for all of our friends and acquaintances.