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2017 Holiday Letter

It’s time to look back on 2017. Both Mira and I are now full-fledged Canadian citizens, but we retain our US citizenship. And we have strong family connections back in the US. The US and its President have been top of news for much of this past year. Trump’s loud messages could not be avoided. The US no longer aspires to be leader of the free world. Its President actively fans the flames of civil discord.

It puts me in mind of what it was like back in the McCarthy era. Back then it was fear of communists. Today, in Trump’s America, it’s fear of foreigners, especially Muslim foreigners. In both cases, objective truth had little to do with the messages being broadcast from Washington. The parallels are sobering. Senator McCarthy ran roughshod over the truth for almost ten years. I’m not confident the world would survive eight years with Trump the US President.

Toronto had its share of Trump protests. The photo on the left was taken during the Women's March at Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto City Hall. One of the unintended consequences has been to take the political pressure off the Canadian Prime Minister. Almost anything Trudeau does is better than what could be expected from Trump. (Click on any photo to see an expanded version. Use your browser’s “back” command to return.)

Our first foreign trip was to Annapolis to see Doris, Mira’s sister, and her husband Zoltan. Doris is suffering from Parkinson's disease and Zoltan’s health has been precarious. It was good to see them early in the year even if Doris had difficulty recognizing us, and Zoltan had only a limited ability to get around. We returned to Annapolis for the celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary (and our 55th). Unfortunately, our third trip to Annapolis was to attend the memorial service for Zoltan. We’ll miss him. He was an important part of what made their family strong, and what welcomed us into that family.

This was a year in which we visited Mira’s other sister in Bakersfield, California. Marie and her husband Bill have lived their entire married life in Bakersfield where both of them were teachers. They are now living in a retirement community (pictured left). Bill’s health isn’t the greatest and Marie is having memory problems, but they were both welcoming when we visited them in the spring. Walking along the street between their place and our hotel, we marvelled at the cost of housing – a reasonable house on a reasonable street was offered for sale at $150,000. That was something like 10% of what a similar house would cost in Toronto.

In the fall we visited Mira’s brother Otto and his wife Margie in their home just outside Columbus, Georgia. During their life together, they moved around because Otto was the project manager for major public construction projects, jumping from one coast to the other. In retirement, they returned close to where they met in Georgia. Otto has serious health problems, but an animated conversation was still possible, ... arguing about whether athletes should be allowed to protest during the playing of the US national anthem.

This year saw the regular Thanksgiving return of Paul, Otto’s son, and his partner Jonathan. It’s now been almost 25 years since they began their regular visits to Toronto. (In the photo, Paul is between Mira and Jonathan.) Paul has made a thing of bringing us foodstuffs made in Ohio – they live in Columbus, Ohio. This year we received two bottles of Ohio wine, assorted Ohio jams, Ohio relishes and Ohio dry salami, plus a full complement of Penzeys salts. We look forward to their annual visits and hope that their sons might join them on a future visit, at Thanksgiving or some other time.

Our local social connections continue apace. When possible, we begin Music in the Afternoon concerts with lunch with the Ciras – Joe and Anne. The concert series has been running for more than 100 years, but we’ve only been attending since retirement. The Cira connection is a welcomed addition to enjoyable afternoons. Pricilla Older, now that she has moved back East to Pittsburgh, visited us this past year. All three of us went to see the Aga Khan museum that recently opened in Toronto. It’s not a spectacular building, but does have a deep serenity that resonates in a strong human way.

The Borodins found time in what has become a hectic life to join us for an annual theatre visit to Stratford. They have one daughter and family in Washington, DC and another in Seattle. Both must be visited regularly. And Allan maintains a regular academic speaking and research schedule. Allan is only slightly younger than me – it’s a wonder that he has the energy for all of that activity. This past year also saw regular events with the Friesens, Lynn and Jamie. We celebrated with them, we dined with them and we attended the theatre with them.

Life continued at the cottage. The water problem we had was easy to fix. All we needed to do was replace one of the filters in the intake line, (but the local plumber wasn’t able to diagnose the problem). The problem was solved in time for the summer. The Weirs visited us again this past summer, Doug, Claudette and Remy (that’s him in the photo). Doug and Claudette insist that Remy now knows his way at our cottage. Our social year ended with dinner, dessert and champagne shared with the two adult Weirs. The connection to all three Weirs is rewarding.

Our “big” adventure was a walking tour of Greece in the early fall. It was only a week in the the Peloponnese, plus a few days in Athens, but it did give us a taste of Greece. We saw what was was described as the “world’s oldest olive tree”, sill bearing olives after 2,500 years. In retrospect, it was probably one of the world’s oldest olive trees, but still ... It was hot with the temperatures in the mid to high 30’s, but we still managed 15 kilometre walks. It was heartening to still have the energy for long walks in the sun.

Our connection with Ryerson University’s LIFE Institute continued. We took courses and I taught a couple courses, with Mira’s help as Class Host. In the spring I did a course on Glenn Gould and in the fall a course on urban planning. Mira’s participation as Class Host was a positive contribution to the experience of class participants. We’re now viewed as a team – I do the lectures, Mira makes sure that I pay attention to participant’s concerns. I’m also involved in updating the LIFE website. LIFE offers several hundred courses each year and the competition for places in the most popular courses can be intense. The website can stutter badly under load. Improved performance is important, as will be additional features to allow LIFE to cope with the pressures from its 2,000-plus members, all over50. While I’m not teaching any LIFE technology courses, I am actively involved with LIFE technology.

Mira continued in her involvement with the Canadian Association of Women in Construction. She’s a past president and continues to lead the Bursary scholarship effort that provides support for women taking construction programs in local colleges. I continue as a board member of our local resident’s association. Toronto is going through “interesting” urban planning times. There are a number of planed buildings that are to rise almost 90+ storeys. And increasingly creative ways are being found to take advantage of little used spaces in our downtown. A new Bentway Park is to open in a few days under the Gardiner expressway. The space will be used for a string of linked skating rinks in winter and event spaces in the other seasons. (“Bentway” is the name for the massive concrete supports that hold up the Gardiner.)

This new Bentway park is almost emblematic of what is happening on a number of levels. It’s a positive and creative way to address the need for more public space in our downtown. The #MeToo movement is a positive and creative way to address the sexual aggression that swirls around the US President. There are forces at work that would lead us to bad places, from an overcrowded downtown Toronto to a harshly repressive public space. There are also opposing forces. Let us hope that 2018 will see an effective strengthening of those opposing forces.