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Rosemary's Christmas Letter 2021

The famous saying of Yogi Berra “Its Déjà vu all over again” comes to mind this Christmas. Just when we thought Covid was behind us and Delta was a vanishing nightmare, then like the Grinch who stole Christmas, Omicron turned up on our doorstep to put pay to all our holiday plans! With my airline ticket, passport, and vaccine card close at hand, I still managed to head off for a long-planned Christmas trip back home to South Africa. 


If you remember back to my Christmas letter 2020 you will have picked up on my excitement for the changeover in the administration from Trump to Biden. We all had such high hopes that 2021 would be a year of recovery and renewal. And then, January 6 occurred, and we all became aware of how deep the divide was in this country. Biden’s first year in office brought nothing but challenges, fighting the pandemic, fighting the supply chain gridlock that is gripping our country, the pent-up demand for goods and services that is driving up inflation, and standing in the wings from Mar-a-Lago in Florida, the specter of yet another Trump administration in 2024. Biden’s optimistic “Build Back Better” initiative seems less and less likely at the end of his first year in office. I fear the midterm elections in 2022 will completely immobilize any initiative coming out of Washington DC.


The highlights of 2021


Despite the constraints of travel and social distancing, I still managed a few fun trips this year. In early June my rafting buddies and I headed out to the snake River in Hells Canyon. The mighty Snake River winds its way through Hells Canyon, the deepest river-carved gorge in North America. The river flows north through the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and forms the boundary between Idaho and Oregon. After six months of being closeted up and living behind a mask, this trip was lifesaving and spiritually renewing. The wilderness has a way of bringing the beauty of life and the comfort of team spirit back to the foreground of one’s mind.

The rapids were exhilarating, the food an amazing gastronomic experience, and the campsite evening activities, were, as always, hilarious!

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During the pandemic in 2020, Mandy and Ben purchased a house on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts. I made my first visit to the island with them at the end of July, and what a joyful week it was.  The island is really quite small, located about 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, and reachable only by ferry. The island is 14 miles in length and 3.5 miles wide which means it is perfect biking terrain for me. The beaches surrounding the island are truly picturesque, and supported hours and hours of beach roaming. The small town of Nantucket has more restaurants per capita than any big city in the US, and, while it’s fairly expensive, it offers some of the best cuisine I have ever enjoyed. The Hellers spent most of the days on the beach, and since I am not a beach person, I spent most of the days roaming the entire island on my bike. The week away offered wonderful family time, great beach sunsets, and exquisite relaxation opportunities.

We returned to Nantucket for Thanksgiving this year, with Dave and Jill joining us with their puppy Fern. Ben prepared a simply delicious turkey for a group of 17 people, and Mandy and I worked up the sides and the pies to finish off the gastronomic feast. While the weather was pretty chilly, we still got to go out for early morning walks with the dogs, play flag football on the beach with the kids (Mimosas in hand), and take long hikes up the coast to the lighthouse on the northern shore.

Despite the restrictions on eating indoors during 2021, some of my good friends and I sneaked away for dinners together, and these were very special highlights of my year. My girlfriends are such a blessing in my life, and I don’t know what I would do without their love and friendship.

It is hard to believe that in July this year I completed 34 years of wonderful service here at Cornell University. Early on in my career my best friend and I would chat about moving institutions, and I would always respond by saying that the day I felt bored or did not feel enthusiastic about what I was doing would be the day I would look for another job. I am pleased to report that that day has never come, and I feel incredibly blessed for these amazing years I have enjoyed surrounded by a group of colleagues who are exceptional, and cohorts of some of the most amazing young minds this country has to offer. As I say every year in my Christmas letter, I love my job! While graduation is always a bittersweet time of the year, I know it is time for the young ones to launch, and for the freshmen to start on their amazing college experience.


The year with my students was filled with wonderful times together, apple picking in the orchards, pickle ball tournaments, dinners out together, and wonderful experiences in the classroom. Farewell class of 2021, you will always be close in my heart.

The lows of 2021


2021 was not without its challenges and heartache. In March my beloved daughter Mandy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, they caught it very early, but that did not absolve her from facing six months of grueling chemotherapy and a full month of radiation. We are grateful for the fact that she was under the care of one of the best oncologists in Boston, and the prognosis is excellent. Mandy was a pillar of strength through this whole process, and she is truly my hero. Her strength and positive attitude at every point in the treatment process was truly something to observe and marvel at. 


Then, midway through the year we received the devastating news that my brother in law’s cancer had returned. Five years ago, he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.  He underwent the miracle surgery called “Whipple” surgery, and a long period of chemotherapy after which he enjoyed almost 5 years of high-quality living. The return of his cancer has meant another six months of chemotherapy. What a brave and wonderful soul he is, full of hope, and with a positive attitude that puts all our grumbling and griping about small frustrations in life to shame


The grandchildren are growing up, but I don’t feel any older, how can that be?


Almost before my eyes the grandchildren have turned into “grand teenagers.” Alexa is now inches taller than I am, what a humbling experience. Jessie and Alexa are avid soccer and lacrosse players and are considering basketball this year.  Buster is into sports in a big way, baseball, ice hockey, football, you name it and he’s on the team.

As 2021 draws to a close I leave you all with THREE WISHES: a new year filled with love, the warmth of friendship, and the blessings of good health.

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