Fifty X 50 : Oly Backstrom

I met up with Oly on another one of those unnaturally warm and sunny days in November. He suggested we meet at the foot bridge that connects the small park on Wellington Crescent on one side of the Assiniboine to the Omand Creek park on the other side. It’s built into a rail bridge. When I inquired that maybe this bridge was some sort of metaphor to his life, Oly replied he simply chose it as he spends a lot of time in the parks and lives in the neighbourhood. Little did I know what that meant! Our session was punctuated by Oly running into at least three different people he knew, and I think several others who chatted with us simply because they recognize Oly as part of the community! While were on the foot bridge a train came through, a rare occasion. We laughed again about freight trains as metaphors and stood on the bridge while it rolled by us, mere feet away. It was a pretty cool experience. Connecting with Oly and learning about his work and how passionate he is toward it, was equally as cool an experience.

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My real name’s Orland, not too many people call me that. My friends just decided at one point in time that Ollie sounded more Swedish, and was a better fit to Backstrom, so my friends started calling me Ollie, and it’s what I ended up running with. I turned 50 January 31st. I’m a Winnipeg-er. I’m not a born and bred Winnipeg-er. I moved here in 1987. I’m originally from Saskatchewan. Started growing up on a farm near what’s now a ghost town. I went to a one room school until I moved my family to Swift Current when I was about 12. So I’ve been here in Winnipeg for almost 30 years, and I’ve been working at a non-profit organization called SCE Lifeworks for 22 years. And it helps people with development disabilities find work in the community. I started there in 1994 with a three month term, and have been there ever since in about six different positions.

It feels great to be 50. Part of the reason I think it feels great is I’ve learned a few things to make sure I’m doing what I need to do to make it feel great  I think I’m a little better at not being my own worst enemy the older I’ve gotten, and I think I’m a little bit better at being my better self as I’ve gotten older.

I think turning 28 was probably the toughest milestone transition. 28, in and of itself, wasn’t a transition year, but when I turned 28 I thought, “Well, I might as well be 30 now.” But being 50, I didn’t really reflect a lot on it being a big milestone until we actually started talking about it. It was almost like I avoided thinking about it [chuckles]. Now that we’re talking about it, I just find that really interesting. Maybe part of it is, a lot of us are busy enough not to be quite as reflective as we used to be.

About eight years ago. I think the stress of work was starting to get to me, and I was starting to have heart palpitations, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t exercising or anything. Then I joined the Refit and that was an amazing move toward helping me manage my stress and hitting the reset button for work the next day. That’s been one of the big things, to be honest.

This wasn’t a revelation at 50, but I think there came a point in time where I realized that I do have to be a little more purposeful about my own thought life. There was a period of time in my life where I had a pretty dark cloud over my head. I could be a little bit hard on myself and let that eat me up. I’d get into some negative thought cycles that I needed to be purposeful about getting myself out of.  I had more control of that than maybe I originally thought I did, so that was another revelation. If I started getting into a situation where I was beating myself up a bit too much, I’d be grabbing the steering wheel of my thought life and steering it back onto the road. I think there are people who struggle with mental health challenges who may not have as much control and maybe there were periods of time where I felt that, but I realized there was a point where I had to try I had to grab the steering wheel and get it back on.

A big an epiphany come to me in the early 90s when I read a book by Viktor Frankl called “Man’s Search for Meaning” Its about his experience in the concentration camps, seeing people have their humanity stripped away from them. He observed how some people even though every aspect of their life was being controlled, they never let go of that sense of control that they had of their own approach to life or the way they treated the people who were in the concentration camp with them. It isn’t all nature or nurture there will always be a little seed of control and freedom that you have to make choices. Reading that really kind of shook me up and made me re-evaluate the hole I was kind of digging for myself.

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Coming out of university and still waiting on tables, I knew that I wanted to do something that “helped people” and I had no idea what that meant. I had no idea what the lives of people with intellectual disabilities looked like or how people were supported, but discovered this organization that happened to have this vision of solely inclusive service. I wish I could say I looked at my career options and that’s what I chose, but that isn’t the truth at all. I stumbled into it, and I was fortunate enough to fall into this work and have some great people around me who were able to inform me about how people with intellectual disabilities should be fully included, and how we  have to be purposeful about including people in society.

In my work I’ve had a chance to play a role in helping people build some new points of references in Manitoba and Winnipeg about where people with developmental disabilities fit and how people with developmental disabilities can contribute meaningfully in the workplace and other places. But of course, a person always wishes they played a bigger role and that’s an ongoing journey and struggle too.

In Manitoba there are still a lot of people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and autism coming out of high school, for example. It’s an invisible field, but people are still often going to day programs doing recreational activities coming out of high school. And some are still working in workshops as well, at least partly segregated from the community. In my work I’ve had a chance to work with some other great champions in the community, to show people can make that valued contribution, and make really meaningful community connections in the community, and live fulfilling lives in the community.

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So the next part of our journey, and part of what I’m trying to influence is the idea that the people we serve are capable of taking on more valued roles, and taking on more complicated work. One of the big projects I’ve been working on the last six years is Project Search, where high school students with developmental disabilities are embedded within large, valued organizations where you typically wouldn’t see many people with intellectual disabilities or autism. But they’re fully embedded within those businesses for what would have been their last year of high school working through free work experiences or internships. We’re trying to identify atypical roles, and more valued roles within those organizations. It’s happening at Manitoba Hydro, Government of Manitoba, and HSC Winnipeg.

My hope is that we are building our own point of reference of what people are capable of. The longer we’re embedded the more we develop eyes to see ourselves where people could fit in that value, and do complicated tasks that people would have never thought of.  The longer we’re embedded my hope is that our colleagues at HSC Winnipeg, and Manitoba Hydro, Government of Manitoba develop their own eyes to see that too.

When we started Project Search conceptually our partners at Manitoba Hydro and Government of Manitoba were keen on the concept. But when the rubber hits the road they’re trying to figure out with us, “So where are people going to work? What kind of work experiences are people going to get?” Because the only points of reference were the ones we had shown them, and that was those typical roles, those logical cleaning roles. And so over time those attitudes within those organizations have started to shift, and it’s been gratifying to see there are wins to that, but still a lot of work to do. For people with developmental disabilities what they are transitioning into out of high school,  it’s a pretty good chance that that’s what they’re going to be doing for a fairly long period of their life – maybe all their typical working adult life. So if we can play a role to present a different way forward and build that new point of reference, even if people aren’t coming into Project Search, they can see the possibilities and identify them elsewhere. That’d be gratifying for me.

dscf7585_ian_mccauslandI remember a time, I wouldn’t have been in this work for very many years. I was probably as gratified from the work, but also frustrated with some of the systemic barriers to move things forward. I remember a conversation I had with a really good friend who was in similar work where he was just as emotionally invested. he said, “Some days I just want to punch the clock, at five o’clock and just want to go home and forget about it” And I remember thinking, “Yeah, I kind of get that,” at the time, but I don’t feel that now. I think the systemic barriers are still there and the frustrations still there, but it the longer you are doing the work, while the change might be incremental, you can look back and say “Yeah I’m glad I’m not checking out at 5:00 after making widgets. I’m glad I could witness this progress.”

I think I’m finding finding a better way to channel that frustration and contextualize it, but also realizing I’m sticking with it, I’m not going anywhere. If there are systemic barriers I want to be that guy that keeps on poking at them.

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You don’t have life all plotted out and planned out. And don’t panic about that, but also be aware there are opportunities that are going to fall in your lap that you maybe don’t see as opportunities yet. Something that looks like a little bit of a side road might just be that road you end up staying on and that might not be a bad thing. So don’t panic if you don’t have it all plotted out. There’s a part of me who wants to say to the 25-year-old who has it all plotted it out [chuckles], “Be ready for things to play out much differently than how you expect it and that’s okay, and you might be richer for that too.”

I can still relate to the 25-year-old where I haven’t plotted it out, so I’m trying not to panic about it. For my next 50?  Just keep on being persistent. Keep on finding ways to channel frustration in a productive way. The other thing I think about as being 50 is, I’ve been very lucky with my health. At some point in time, life is going to serve me a curveball with my health in the next 50 years that I’ve never had to deal with before. I don’t have any wise things to say to myself, other than to not take for granted what you have now, embrace that as part of the package of living when it happens.dscf7635_ian_mccausland



Fifty X 50: Melanie Verhaeghe

I worked with Melanie many years ago at a now defunct magazine , Winnipeg Homes. Then for a time we were neighbours, living next door to each other. But it had been quite a while since I have had a chance to catch up with her on her life. It took some work to align schedules but we finally settled on date .  It was the day after Trump’s victory, which resulted in a rather busy work day for Melanie, While I waited for Melanie to arrive, I watched that momentous sunset that seemingly all of Winnipeg look to that day as some glimmer of hope.dsc_3974_ian_mccauslandI know it’s going to sound sort of like sunshine and lollipops, but it really just is a number.  Leading up to being 50, that’s when I started thinking about, “Oh, my god, being 50,” and “What does that mean?” When I was younger, I had this vision of a 50-year-old being a grandma and being old and nights in their pyjamas watching TV with a cup of tea, and I don’t really feel like that’s what 50-year-olds are I think  what 50 is now is not what 50 was years ago.

Having my son at 40 plays into that a little bit. It certainly keeps you young. I was busy living life and working on my career. I just hadn’t thought about having a child. Then when it happened, he was late. He could have been born when I was 39, but he decided to make it to my 40th. I’m great with that and it was the right time for me. If you look at some of the statistics, a lot of women are having children at an older age. I know other interviews were talking about they’re out of the sleepless nights, have  all this time for themselves, that kind of stuff. I did a lot of that when I was younger, so now I feel like I have a lot of wisdom and experience that I can share with my son

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When I was 25, I was just trying to figure it all out, “What am I doing with my life? What’s my career direction? What am I doing? Where am I going?” If I could go back in time I’d say, “Don’t sweat it. It’s going to be good. It’ll be fine.” Because what I started out to be when I was 18 was not what I ended up in.

I went to university for education, became a student teacher, then two years on, I realized that really wasn’t what I wanted to do. I think it was because I was too young. At the time when you’re 18 or  19, and you’re substitute teaching for 14-year olds, it just felt funny to me. I thought, “Well, I don’t really know much more than they do. How could I possibly be teaching them anything?” So I did what all good 20-year-olds do and backpacked around Europe and found myself and did a little reinvention and realized that journalism was what I wanted to do. And that’s where I am. I went from writing in a small-town newspaper to being the senior producer of news at CBC in Winnipeg. And I’ve done a lot of traveling with work and I’ve done documentaries all over the place.

There were definitely challenges early on, being a woman. I remember one time when I was a reporter in the field,  I got a story a competitor didn’t have, they said “Oh, it’s because you were wearing a short skirt that day.”  The competitor was male and said to me at a press conference in front of a group of reporters . At that point, I didn’t say anything and I regret it because in my head I was fuming.

Like who cares what I was wearing? I beat you on a story and that’s all you got? It’s like the judge saying ‘why couldn’t you keep your knees together ‘ absolutely ridiculous.

There were other times when I did complain. Once was a boss and the reaction I got from his boss was less than satisfying. Let’s just say I immediately started looking for another job.

Now I’m one of the people running a newsroom and that kind of behaviour is not tolerated under my watch. And by the way the short skirt comment guy never got promoted.

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I’m in an industry where before, a deadline would be the next day’s newspaper or the 6 o’clock newscast, and now the deadline is right now. It’s Twitter. It’s Facebook. It’s get a story up online right now. So the competitive nature is even– it’s like, I don’t know, 100-fold or more than what it used to be. M first year of journalism school, I was still typing on a typewriter. I didn’t have a computer. I was handing in papers printed on a typewriter. Now if I can’t get an answer on Google in 30 seconds, I’m frustrated [chuckles].  But I think journalism, itself, the core of understanding and getting to the bottom of a story, has been not been changed. How it gets presented has changed but what makes a good story and what you need to do to get that story hasn’t changed. So I’m always asking, “Did you talk to that person? Did you call that person? What about this? What about that angle? Are you sure? What’s that person’s motivation?” All of those things still exist, so that has not changed at all.

I’m doing a form of teaching at work. Helping with some of the younger staff, and teaching them what I know, and helping them become better journalists. There’s always been pressure in this industry. If someone else has tweeted something else, we need to get that story right away. And I’d rather be right than first, so I try not to get sucked into that kind of pressure and I’d rather that we had the story right. That’s one area that I can kind of direct people and calm them down.

dsc_4135_ian_mccauslandWhen our parents were younger, there wasn’t a TV set, or it was black and white, then it was colour. There was one channel, there were three channels. Now there’s what? Thousands of channels. It’s all an evolution in technology. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just a changing world. The only thing that bothers me a little bit is when somebody says, “I have 6,000 friends on Facebook.” You don’t have 6,000 friends. I worry a bit about this generation about how they actually communicate with one another. Do they actually have real, meaningful conversations? Short little text messages and Facebook messages doesn’t feel as real to me. And sometimes I feel like the bullying that goes on online is far more dangerous than the schoolyard bullying that we might have witnessed, as kids. It’s much, much different, and that, to me, is frightening.

For so many years you chase and you chase and you chase the thing – whatever it might be, if it’s a career goal, or something else, you’re chasing. I feel like I don’t need to do that anymore. I feel very  centred and grounded and really happy with where I am in life. My kid’s a great kid, my husband is fantastic. I just feel really, really grateful. And I think that’s where I feel like my life is going to now, gratitude and giving back to the community,  versus really chasing something. I don’t feel I need to do that anymore.

dsc_4017_ian_mccauslandMy outlets for dealing with stress would be friends, family, reading. I work out almost every day to try to stay healthy and to stay fit. I think that it’s really important just to take care of yourself. I mean if you’re going to live another fifty do you have to take care of yourself.

My mom is 80 and my dad’s 82, and they just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary a couple weeks ago. They’re pretty healthy so I have no reason to believe that I won’t live for a lot longer [chuckles]. I’d really like to see my son grow up and be a good person and a healthy adult in whatever he wants to do in his life. I want to be around for that. My husband and I always joke about this, but the older I get, the less tolerant I am of cold. So one of my goals is to not be here in the winter when I’m retired.

dsc_4042_ian_mccauslandAnd retirement doesn’t feel daunting to me, I’ll be okay with it. There are lots of different ways to channel my creative energy. I would be okay with retiring from what I’m currently doing and then actually maybe doing something else that wasn’t as dramatic.  Who knows, what  journalism will look like in ten years?

It’s just remarkable how quickly it’s gone. But I don’t like to dwell on age. I don’t necessarily feel like I act like a stereotypical 50-year-old.  I am surrounded by positive young people. You know what’s current, you know what’s going on, that helps. As well, having a ten-year-old really helps you stay active.

 

Fifty X 50 : Sabine Chorley

Sabine operates a busy wedding photography business under the name of Sterling Images. She approached this interview with the same passion and enthusiasm she brings to her own work. We met on a gloriously mild and sunny day in November, where riding motorcycles was still very possible.sabine_chorley_by_ian_mccausland3_ian_mccausland-1

I think you have a look at your life and it just feels like it went by so fast. So for me, it was like you want to slow down a little bit. Being a wedding photographer, you’re away from your family and friends every weekend, every holiday, we’re the ones photographing on Thanksgiving because that’s when all the families are together.  My husband and I have three kids between two of us. I have two and my husband has one. And we have four grandkids now. So now that I have grandkids, it’s time to slow down a little bit and enjoy that instead of being with everyone else’s families.

Trying to find that balance between work and family has been a challenge. I always feel like work pulls me in one direction and there isn’t enough time for family. And then all of a sudden, wham, you’re thrown a health issue. And then everything stops and it’s not about work anymore. It’s about really appreciating the days that you have.

It was a couple of years ago, maybe a little bit longer. It was a mini stroke scare, suddenly I am changing directions in taking care of my health, changing my work schedule. I remember the doctor saying, “You need to treat your job like just a full-time job, eight hours a day.” Well, that’s impossible with the schedule I’m on.  Again, it’s trying to find the balance. And the only time I don’t think of any of that is when I’m with my family or when I’m on my motorcycle.

 

sabine_chorley_by_ian_mccausland2_ian_mccausland-1I’ve always wanted a motorcycle, it was on my bucket list. I wanted to be riding a bike before I turned 50, so that’s kind of what I decided to do. I put it off for a couple of years because summers are crazy busy, but four years ago, a friend of mine said, “If you’re not going to do it now, you may never do it!” she said, “You just need to make the time and do it.” I sat down that afternoon, I cleared my schedule, and did my bike course.

I bought the bike first and then everything else just kind of fell into place. When I’m on my bike there’s no cellphones, no computers, no emails to check. I’m one with the road. And for me, that signifies what 50 should be like. A slower pace of life, and it’s more about experiencing the here and now versus how to do this, got to do this, running all over the place. We’ve done three, four-hour road trips, overnights up to Minaki and things like that. It’s slow and steady, but the main thing is just getting on and riding. It’s what makes me feel at peace now.

sabine_chorley_by_ian_mccausland4_ian_mccausland-1I love connecting with people. I can talk to a 20-year-old as well as I can talk to a 50-year-old, you just find a commonality there. I don’t think I need to try very hard because, in my heart, I feel like I’m still in my 30s. And I think that’s half the battle. In fact, before I turned 50, someone would say, “Well, how old are you? 40?” I’m like, “I don’t know, let me do the math,” because it didn’t matter to me. Because some days you wake up and you might feel 50 and other days you feel like you’re 25 and you’re ready to go.

When I am connecting with a young bride, they can sense I love weddings, and then instantly the difference in age falls away. But the positive side to that is I think they trust you because you’ve been around the block, you’ve done weddings. They know you’re not going to be this flakey photographer that going to take their money and then disappear. I think there is that sense of trust when you have the age behind you.

I love everything about my family, about how we are and the road that we’ve traveled to get to where we are. It’s my biggest accomplishment. Secondly, I’m really happy with the job I’ve done as a photographer. I feel like we don’t ever stop growing, and I think it’s important that we keep on that journey, and that keeps me motivated to do better and with photography, you just never stop learning. I think the industry just keeps moving, and I’m able to keep moving with it. I think that’s an accomplishment versus someone that might be stuck into an older style of photography.

You have to slow down and really experience more of things from the heart space versus the head space of being too busy and getting things done.I think if  I have one regret, it would just be that life has been about work and less about all of the things that matter. Slow down and enjoy it.

Fifty X 50: Leah Janzen

The many times my path had crossed Leah’s over the years, through work,  I saw her as a very focused and serious person. So I was surprised when she enthusiastically signed on to this project. As you’ll read, so was she. The 50 yr old Leah that showed up to my studio was far from serious, and very relaxed but still focused on the task at hand. Leah mentioned that once committed to being profiled, she used this opportunity to reflect on being 50 thus far and her thoughts reflect that.
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I just remember my mum saying, “Wait until you’re 50. Your 50’s are the best.” She maintained that that was the best decade of her life, easily. My mom is no longer here, but she get to say “I told you so” on this one because I remember scoffing at her and thinking, “Oh my God are you kidding me? That’s so old.” But she was right, it’s a good time

Because you don’t give a f*ck what anybody thinks of you anymore. And you’re still young enough that you’re traveling, and you have a few bucks, and you have your health, and you can still do a whole lot of stuff. So, I didn’t believe her at the time, but I believe it now. Its a nice period of time. I’m not trying to prove anything anymore, I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. So that stress is less intense.

Somebody told me a saying not long ago: “What other people think of you is none of your business” and it wasn’t until just this last six months of being 50 where I really started to internalize that and not care what other people think of me. This interview for example, I never would have done this in a million years when I was 30, 40. I would have been intimidated by it or I just wouldn’t have done it.
Its a big deal  to get to that point in your life as a woman. Because women are so programmed to worry about the impression they make, and what people think, and be nice, and don’t speak your mind. So to get to a point in your life where that doesn’t matter is really exciting. I think there’s a liberation for women. Even my friends that have kids in university, they can go for dinner, go away for the weekend. Some of them haven’t been able to do that for 20 years. So it’s like the doors are blown off a little bit and they’re having fun again.

I am kind of a hyper person, and I’m a type A person, so I feel like I’ve just been sprinting through my life. Doing as much as I can, sort of having all of the experiences I can, meeting as many people as I can. It feels like it’s just slowing down a bit now, but in a really good way. I don’t need to do ten things on a weekend. I can do two, but I can do them really well and really enjoy them. And come away from them with a really good experience. While I’m sitting here talking to you, I’m not thinking about what I’m doing later tonight, which would’ve been my default before. I was always thinking about the next thing. I don’t do that as much anymore.

I don’t feel as self-consciousness and have a willingness to make a fool of myself or laugh at myself. Now I can have way more fun than I feel like I used to because I don’t care. So I’ll try shit, and I’ll do things that I wouldn’t normally have done, and be able to laugh at it if it doesn’t work. It’s walking around my very buttoned-down office and singing because I’m stressed. We’ve got eighteen things happening, I’ll sing as I’m walking down the hall because it helps me, and I don’t care. So I’ll be trying to get a co-worker’s attention, and I’ll sing at her instead of going and getting her – that kind of thing. I don’t have that same level of self-affectedness. I’ll sing karaoke which I’ve never done in my whole life. That kind of thing. I’ve done nothing completely out of my wheelhouse, but I don’t give it as much power. If I want to do something, I do it now.

leah_janzen_by_ian_mccausland_4I found that turning 50, I’ve made some big life choices that I think were motivated by that. They’ve been big life changes that have been really good. I changed my job that I thought I would be at until I retired. It was a great, nothing wrong with it, great job. But I made that change. I’ve left a relationship, a ten-year relationship. Those kinds of things I feel are motivated by the sentiment”Well, if you’re not going to do it now, what are you waiting for? When were you going to do this?”

So it’s been a difficult six months, it’s not been an easy year. Yet every major change that I’ve been through in this six months, I’ve been through in one way or another in my life before. So it’s not nearly as traumatic, because I know I am going to survive it. It’s not that break-up when you’re 22 and you think your life’s over and you’re writing, dark poetry in your bedroom. I’m going to be okay. Making those big changes in my life was scary, but I knew I’d come out the other end of it okay in one form or another.  So again, that takes the fear out of it. It takes the fear out of everything. Try it. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll be okay.

In a way it’s been disconcerting to have all this change in one year, but in a way it’s also been good because I feel like I’m responding to the challenge of  making your second half the best it can be. If things aren’t making you happy, change them. And don’t bitch, and don’t whine, and don’t blame it all on circumstance, do it.

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I just am so, grateful for everything I have, and for that group of people that have seen me through all those horrible things and have been there and been good friends and good family. There’s a new depth to the relationships that I have that I’m really, really grateful for because I thought they already were good. But, again, because you don’t have the fear, I can tell somebody that I love them or how important that they are to me or if I’m pissed off of at them. Even at work– I can have conversations with people that report to me now that I would have just been petrified to have.

It was so challenging as a young woman entering a newsroom. I was just so scared to be there, didn’t think I deserve to be there, didn’t think I was good enough to be there, and worried constantly about what everybody else was thinking about me. So if I could go back and tell myself to settle down, I would. But I don’t know if you can. I think you have to live that at some point in your young life to appreciate not feeling that way any more. I think everyone has to have a period in their life where they feel like that, because then when you’re done feeling it, it’s so great. And you can look back and see yourself and go, “Shit, I didn’t need to be like that.”

But it can also be a driving force. That’s why I think I was successful in my careers that I’ve had. Because as a young woman, I felt I wasn’t good enough, and that I was being judged, so that drove me. If I hadn’t had to go through that, and didn’t have to go through those feelings of inadequacy, I don’t know if I would have ultimately been successful. But I was to do it over again, I would tell myself to relax, don’t just tick boxes, enjoy an experience of something. It’s not just so you can get to the next one. And love the people that are in your life, appreciate them, nurture them, enjoy those friendships, because those are going to see you all the way through.

leah_janzen_by_ian_mccausland_5I see this as such a greatest time in my life, but I’m sure it’s not for everybody. I can see if you’re in the middle of a divorce and you’ve got kids, or you’ve got health issues, or financial concerns, this could be a very challenging time. A few things for me weren’t where they wanted to be, and they were things that I had power to change. And I’m in that top 1% of the world’s population, I have a roof, I have food, and I have a job and I’ve got money. So for me, it’s a wonderful time but I can appreciate that there’d be people for whom this was not a good time in their life at all and I’d be sorry for that because I do see it as kind of that it’s the tipping point into the second half. You should start the second half in what should be full control of your life right now and that should be exciting. I find it exciting, but I’m in a fortunate position.

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It’s gone so fast. And that the other thing you just realize, if this is your second half, it is going to go just as fast So I even start thinking about things like, what is my legacy going to be if I don’t have kids and grand kids? There’s a group of eight of us that grew up together and we travel together once a year and go to the lake It’s been such an integral relationship for all us in our lives to have that core group of friends, We’ve started talking as a group  “What do we want as a group our legacy to be?” Do we want to do something philanthropically to leave as a group? Do we want to create a fund, something to support a young woman who couldn’t otherwise go to school or something like that. So yeah, we’re starting to have those conversations when ten years ago we would have just had another drink! [Laughter] So I think those conversations starting to happen but even the fact that we’re starting to talk about it kind of cracks me up but in a good way.

Fifty X 50: Sherry Punak-Murphy

sherry-punak-murphy_by_ian_mccausland-4_ian_mccauslandI don’t know what it’s like to be 50 because I still feel 30, and so the whole idea of turning 50 just scares the crap out of me because that’s– when did that happen? You know what I mean?

Growing up, I had a really rough childhood. Alcoholic father. My mother committed suicide when I was a teenager. I had one of those paths where you could have gone this way or you could have gone this way, and somewhere along the line I had a teacher that said, “You know, you’re really smart. You should take more of my classes” – it was geography – “and you should go to university,” and it had never crossed my mind, why would I go to university? I don’t even know what that is. But I listened to him. I took all these geography courses in high school and got a scholarship and went to university.  I felt at home at university. There were smart people that were involved, that cared about the community, and it felt like family, and so I went through university and then did a whole bunch of stuff. Then met my husband and we got married and I helped him and his ex-wife raise four step children.

In my mid-30s, I ended up suffering a really bad mental breakdown and ended up hospitalized twice. I was not the best mental patient on the planet [chuckles]. I was really miserable and suicidal.  In the hospital they were treating me like I was this sick, depressed, manic type of person. But I’m like, “But I’m here. I’m a human being and I used to do this and I used to do that, and now I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t function, I couldn’t bathe, I couldn’t leave the house.” I found it very frustrating in the hospital because that’s how they treated everybody. Well, that one’s schizophrenic, this one’s manic, this one’s depressed. And they kind of put you in these little groups, and then that’s what you were. And here, you take your pills and this will make you better. I felt that the system failed a lot of people that were in there but I wasn’t going to let them fail me so I said, “The hell with it. I’m going to fix myself.”

And there was this book, and I can’t even remember what the book was called, but it had to do with how you speak to yourself in your head, like the comments. And it said to pick a movie star or somebody to change the voice inside your head so it wasn’t this constant crap that you get. And Jeff Bridges’ birthday happens to be the same day as mine and so I just picked his name out of the hat. His birthday is the same day as mine. I knew some of his movies. And that’s what I did. I started watching his movies and listening to him, trying to change that voice inside my head so that it would be his, much more gentle and much more kind, considerate fellow. He grew up in that world of celebrity so he could’ve easily have been a jerk, but it doesn’t sound like he is. The fact that he’s still married to the same woman for 30 years, something like that. And you never hear anything bad about him as a celebrity. So I call him my muse. My husband used to get jealous and I said, “No, it’s not a sexual thing. It’s more of an aspiring to be like.” But Matthew McConaughey, that’s another story. Or Benedict Cumberbatch. [laughter]sherry-punak-murphy_by_ian_mccausland-3_ian_mccausland

The first time I was hospitalized, I didn’t tell a soul. Like my husband knew and two or three close friends, and of course, my boss. But the second time, I didn’t care who knew. I was like, “You know what? There’s something wrong with me. Something’s not right up here, and there’s nothing that I can do.” No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do anything about it. It was the medication and the therapy that helped. Now, I’m very open about it. I talk about it, and I find that people will come up to me and go, “Were you in the hospital?” I’m like, “Yeah.” “Well, how did that end up? Where’d you see a shrink. How did that happen?” And then I’m able to tell them. Like they still whisper about it, but they know they can come to me and I can show them the ropes and how to get through that system because it’s a horrible system. It’s horrible when you’re down there trying to maneuver through the system. It’s easier when you’re outside looking in.

I’ve gotten better, obviously. I’m back to working full-time. I was off for a year from work, which was awful because I couldn’t leave my house or any of that sort of stuff. It really took a toll on my marriage. But I made it back to work. No one thought I would be able to do it but I was determined.

And if I didn’t work I didn’t know what I would be. I mean, that’s how you define yourself is by what you do. But I ended up making it back. We did a gradual return to work process, which was wonderful, and now I’m fine. I have an excellent doctor who I see about every two weeks, every month, and the Jeff Bridges voice is slowly changing into my doctor’s voice because he’s very positive. And I find that if I take my medication, I’m compliant with that and go to my doctor, I’m mentally even-steven as opposed to way up there or way down there.

I don’t want anyone to go through the pain that I went through.  When I think back to the suicide attempt it just amazes me that I was that sick that I was going to do that, when life is just so wonderful. Why would I want to end it?

I did a lot of self introspection and all that sort of stuff when I was in my 30s. I went back to the Catholic church, tried that out, tried Buddhism, tried all those sort of things, trying to figure out where spiritually I belong and actually found out that a lot of my mental health issues was because of the Catholic church and the teachings that I had learned when I was younger that I didn’t have the capacity to know what they were talking about. And then when I was older, it was like, “Huh. That probably shouldn’t have been taught to such a young person without the further explanation.” That was really, really healthy for me to be able to put that on a hook. But I’m the person who I am today because I went through all that stuff and went through all those hardships growing up.

The most gratifying experience of my 50 years was actually the birth of my son. We had fertility issues, so having him and getting pregnant was amazing. And then being pregnant was amazing. I loved being pregnant. I wasn’t sick or any of that sort of stuff. I actually really liked the attention that I got from other people being pregnant, and I liked not being alone. I always had this person with me that I talked to constantly, and now he talks constantly to me [chuckles]. It is a deep bond. Our birthdays are two days apart. His is on the second and then mine’s on the fourth, so he was my birthday present, basically.

I helped raise four stepchildren, so I decided, “Hey, I can do this mothering thing.” So I changed my mind about not having kids and then ended up having Aiden at 40. It’s been the most wonderful ten years of my life. I’m much calmer, busier of course, but I like that. He keeps me young. he’s a smart kid and he’s always questioning things. He keeps me on my toes.

He’s an interesting kid, and I wish he could stay little forever because I know teenage years are coming up and moms aren’t so important, and I’m just going to have to find something else to make me feel important after he’s– because right now I’m the centre of this universe, as most kids’ moms are.

Aiden’s friends in school, all of his bestest buddies that he’s got, he’s got this tight little group of about five of them, all of their parents are older, like my age. So I don’t know whether it’s because we interact more with our children or what it is, but yeah, all of his friends are really great, very smart, and their parents are very involved in the school stuff.

sherry-punak-murphy_by_ian_mccausland-5_ian_mccauslandI’m a biologist in Shilo on the military base. I started as a summer student in Shilo and then I was a casual, and then a term, Now I’ve been working there for 25 years, I’m the old timer, which is kind of cool. I’m the one that people come to for advice, and that used to be me. I would go to the old timers and say, “Tell me everything. What was the base like back then? What was the training area like? What kind of wildlife is out there?” All that sort of stuff. I think that was one thing I did right was question these people and asked them what they wanted. And now I’m spouting off some of the stuff that they’ve said. One of the things that one of my mentors, Boyd, would say to me, he goes, “You know, Sherry?” He goes, “In the government, it always goes around in a big circle.” He goes, “There’s cutbacks then there’s hiring and then there’s cutbacks and hiring.” He says, “You’ll be the last one to shut the lights out on your way out. Don’t sweat it.” So I never have. So when the cuts came with the Harper  government  I was like, “Well, if he cuts my job, I get two years. I can get retrained. I’ll find something to do.” And I think that’s because when we got out of university there were no jobs, so we just never assumed that we would get anything. So I was extremely lucky that I got into the federal government and I stuck to my guns and stayed until they couldn’t work without me, like I knew too much. They had spent too much money to train me that they had to keep me around.

I’ll continue working because I love my job. I want to take better care of myself physically during my 50s than I’ve ever done before because I never had to before. And now I see that I want to live to 100. I want to be able to see and meet my grandchildren.

sherry-punak-murphy_by_ian_mccausland-2_ian_mccauslandMy biggest regret in life is not finishing my master’s degree. I went and did my master’s, all but dissertation. I did all the research. But I just didn’t have the confidence to write the thesis. I tried for three or four years to write it. There was just a wall, a block. Then finally about ten years ago, I think, my husband and I took all my research data and just burned it because it was just in a bucket and it was just holding me down. One of the things I’d like to do is be one of those mature students. When I’m 60, 65, go to school and get my master’s. When I did mine, there was an 80-year-old fellow that was in our class. He was such a joy to be around because he didn’t give a shit. The rest of us were like always in a panic, right? We had a exam coming up or we had to mark papers or whatever, and he’s like so calm, “Hmm. I’m here to learn, I’m going to write my paper.” Because he didn’t worry, he was just there to learn. And I think that when I was in my 20’s I wasn’t there to learn, it was get it done. Eventually, I would really like to teach. I love to be in front of a classroom. The times that I’ve done it, I’ve really enjoyed it

I think I would  tell somebody in their 20s to follow their dream. You know, my dream when I was a little girl was always to be a scientist. My teachers all through my report cards would say I was the science bug and I loved insects. And then when I went to university, I took an entomology class and I sucked at it. I got a C in the course, but I loved it so much that I figured that I could do it as an amateur. I didn’t have to do it as a professional. So that’s what I do now. And I love photography too, so I take pictures of insects and that’s what I put on my Facebook. I put a little picture of an insect and then I write a little description about it because everybody thinks all insects are the same. They’re all just bugs, right? Well, they’re not all just bugs. I kind of feel like I can educate people that way and still nurture that little girl that loved insects when she was little and the one that was in university that loved them but sucked at the course [laughter]. I had the most enthusiasm in class but that was about it.

I do find that I am much more comfortable in who I am. I’m able to say, “Yeah, I have a mental illness.” It doesn’t stop me from doing things. I don’t let it define me, but it’s a part of me. I carry it around with me. That’s why I’ve got the semicolon on my hand to always remind me that I didn’t give up. A semicolon is used when an author could have ended a sentence but chose not to. I could have ended my life, but somehow I chose to go on.

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Style Hunter Fox

One of my goals this year was to reach out to people who I admire and see if we could collaborate together.  Monique AKA Style Hunter Fox is definitely someone I wanted to work with and I was thrilled when she agreed.

I was even more excited when she revealed her plans, to showcase local finds while channels this season’s looks:

There are two truths that my followers would know about me they would be these. First, I looooove fashion!!! It inspires me and brings me joy! Secondly, I adore Winnipeg! Our vibrant cultural events, majestic skies, the one degree of separation from anyone you meet.

Now one might think that a “shop local” voice like mine would sometimes find our prairie-city-with-a-small-town-vibe to be a frustrating place to find the fashions that I desire, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many seem to equate “a stylish city” with one that has many H&M locations or uber expensive department stores. Let me give you a different perspective of a stylish city. MY view of the fashion available to us in our home town.

While pouring over the not-to-be-missed September issue of Vogue for fall fashion, I felt instantly inspired by not only the images I saw but by what I knew to be happening in our own, local design scene.

You can read more about Monique style choices, links to local retailers, all of it, over on her blog… HERE>

I had fun creating these images, many thanks to Monique for the opportunity to work on this project!

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Fifty X 50 : Steve Lambert

This is the first instalment of a special project I started when I turned 50.  It’s called Fifty X50 and my intention is to profile 50 different people who are all going through the exact same thing I am going through, being 50 years old.

My first profile is Steve Lambert

 

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A month before I turned 50, I ran my fastest ever half marathon. For four years I’d been trying to break an hour thirty. Finally did it, with eight seconds to spare at the age of 49 and 11 months and change. And then I turned 50 and ever since then I’ve been battling nagging injuries. Nothing major, I’ve been in good health most of my life, but stuff that prevents me from running. And I’ve had to pull out of a couple of races because of sore hips, an IT band issue. I noticed 40 was where the metabolism dropped and it seems easier to put on weight after 40. That’s one of the reasons I started distance running.

I’ve learned as I got older is that you play the long game. the people who just don’t always hold themselves to a high standard don’t last. They might have a short-term gain. They might have a real nice “gotcha” story. But your reputation is everything, and at 50, I can think that– I hope that  you develop a reputation where people think you’ll be fair, that you’ll act in good faith. And as you get older, your reputation good or bad, gets more and more established. Sometimes I’ll be trying to get and interview with somebody – they’re reluctant to talk to the media – but if they know somebody who I’ve dealt with for a long time, that reputation, that word of mouth thing, can help.

I always try to be appreciative of the good things I’ve been given. We Gen-Xers, in some cases, we’ve been given a raw deal, but I think we have it a lot easier than the Millennials. We benefited from some of the huge benefits that the Baby Boomer generation had – cheap housing , cheap tuition. Jobs were an issue, there weren’t a lot of job opportunities. It took me a while to get a job. But we enjoyed, again, some of the benefits. When we got into the work force, there were still defined benefit pensions, for example. There was still a belief in longevity with one company or two or three, but it wasn’t this über economy that today’s kids are getting into. And on the flip side, we made our stupid youthful mistakes before the internet. So we were in a sort of sweet spot in that sense, in that you’d go skinny dipping and nobody had a camera phone around you.

the nice thing about being 50 is that you’ve survived the sleep-deprived 30s and early 40s when your kids are waking up in the middle of the night. You can’t get a good night’s sleep. You’re worried your kid’s going to not survive because they’re this tiny bundle of thing. You’ve made it through all that and your kids are getting lives of their own. So 50 is nice in that way, in that you start sort of having more  space to yourself that you haven’t had since pre-kids.

And a challenge as I hit 50 was that I’d spent so much time raising kids, my wife and I just in the family, raising kids, being there all the time, going to every event, always being a parent that you lose yourself a bit. And it’s only in the last two, three years that I’ve really been able to find the time and make an effort to get in touch with friends and have a life outside my marriage that is more than just like once a month going out with the guys. Now it’s more like I can explore activities, I can have hobbies again that I can do regularly, which I haven’t been able to do when my kids were young. You’re used to make the kids breakfast, get them to school, go to work, come back from work. It’s  a rush and you’ve got only this much time that you forget how to just enjoy the expense of free time and how to live in the moment and enjoy three hours that you might have sitting on a rock by the Forks,  as opposed to having 10 chores that you have to do in the next half hour, and get the kids to bed and bathed and stuff. I’d almost forgotten what that was like and so I’m re-learning, at this stage, how to have that free time and have space and time for me.

steve_lambert_by_ian_mccausland-350 is a good rest area on the road to your retirement, where you think, “Okay, what am I going to do the next 10 or 15 years? I’ve got a little more time now. The financial insecurity of being 20 and 30 is behind me. I’ve got a little more time, a little more money. So, what do I like to do?” And reconnecting with, “I have the time and I have the money. What is it I like to do? And what is it I like to do that’s good for me [laughter]?” Because you can like to do all sorts of things that are bad for you.

I don’t know if I’d retire full time. If I’m still healthy, what I thought might be doable is to job share, with some poor post-millennial who’s coming onto the job market. Because these poor guys and gals, they don’t have– they’re going into small workplaces or they’re contracting to do things on their own. They’re not going into a workplace where they’re being mentored on site, where they’re working alongside somebody who might have 30 years. For the most part, people are coming in and not getting a lot of on-the-job training. Or they’re just making mistakes as they go and learning that way. At least in the media, when I started out, you would go into a newsroom and there would be a big newsroom. And there would be young people and old people and middle aged people. And there was always somebody even on a beat. If you would go to city hall, there would be another person from your media outlet at city hall and you would learn from that person. So I see myself, health permitting, being able to spend two, three days a week job-sharing with somebody younger, teaching them the ropes. If all goes well.  But it’s a nice age because you can start planning your exit from the work force, whether you want to exit full time or not. And also plan retirement, and what are you going to do with all this free time.

My wife and I were talking about that. It’s like, “Could we do freedom 55?” And we could probably retire at 55 and live like church mice and be okay. But we’ve been working all our lives. We’ve been working towards something. So we’re thinking holidays, travel, a second property.

So we’re working towards something like that. And so now it’s a juggling thing. If we want a certain lifestyle, then it’s not freedom 55, and it’s 60, perhaps later. And I do want to plan– I could probably work beyond 60, but I don’t want to have to work beyond 60. I would like to be in a position where financially I could drop out, if my health goes south, if the kids have problems, if I’m required elsewhere I would like to be able to work part time or retire.

I’ve tried to tell my kids, and it came to me fairly late in life, that the key to happiness, for me, is to be a nice person, a positive person and to surround yourself with nice and positive people. When my kids started school years and they were having trouble, even in elementary school. I kept telling them, “Surround yourself with nice positive people and be a nice positive person yourself, and you just get in this loop of positive feedback, of positive emotion and of confidence. That you’ve got friends who’ve got your back, that sort of thing. So that’s one thing I try to live by and with age comes the confidence that if there is a really negative person in your life you don’t have to deal with them.

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There are people who don’t like what I write, and for the most part, we agree to disagree. And it’s only in very rare instances but these things add up – five, six times over 26 years -where people feel they’ve been very, very wronged, and they’re after you, and you’ll produce the tape at the interview and say, “No, look. I’m correct.” and they won’t back down. You just try to be reasonable, and if you’re confident that you’re in the reasonable ground, and you’re trying to be accepting of their point of view but not accepting of pure fiction or false accusations, then you can feel pretty good. And again, it’s that age thing where you’ve been through it a lot and you know yourself more at 50.

I think the biggest challenge has been being a parent, like just keeping a family together because parenting is so draining, especially when the kids are very little, and you’re completely sleep deprived, and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, and your partner doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing, and you’re figuring this out on the go, and it’s all very stressful. That was a stressful time, when the kids were young. And my wife and I have been together– our first date was 30 years ago next month. So marriage is work family is work and when you add in the sleep deprivation and the stress of not knowing what you’re doing when you’re a new parent, that was probably the biggest challenge.

Second biggest challenge was establishing my career. Six months after graduation, I was ready to give up, manage my friends band and hit the road, when I got a call from a radio station in Yellowknife. And I’d spent all my life in Montreal. So getting that first job was a real challenge. But then it turned out to be a tremendous opportunity. Tremendous culture shock going to Yellowknife, seeing a completely different part of the country. And when you’re young and you’re working your way up the first job is the hardest to get, the second job is almost as hard to  get, third job is a little easier. It took me about four or five jobs to was earning decent money. And I knew the whole time that I would have to claw my way up the ladder, to get decent pay where I could afford a family. Because my wife and I had always wanted a family, we wanted kids. And at one point I told her, “Look, I want to earn–” I forget what the dollar amount was back then, I think it was about $40,000 or $45,000. I said, “Look, I want to earn $40,000 a year before we have kids so we can feed them [chuckles]. And she said – this is shortly after university – she said, “Just admit you don’t want kids then [chuckles].

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We moved a lot. In four years we moved from Montreal to Yellowknife to Brandon so Saskatoon to Edmonton to Ottawa. Different health cards, different drivers licenses every time. Every six, seven months we were in a different province or territory. It was exciting. My wife really liked it. She was in law school at the time, so she had to repeat her second year of law twice. So she did it, and repeated it, and then repeated it in different schools because we were moving around. And eventually, she graduated law school in Edmonton and I was in Halifax by that time. So that was a challenge, too. But in the end, it got us – by the mid-’90s I was in a good place. And it felt like a long time but it was only it was only six years after I graduated, and five years after I had started in the field.

There’s a resiliency that comes with age. You realize that you’ve survived these things that you’ve faced. And that gives you confidence that you can survive what lies ahead.

I think I worried too much when I was younger, and there is a certain wisdom and calmness that comes with age that you think a little setback is deadly and you go from emotional highs to emotional lows, and you think that oh it’s going to be great, then something happens and it’s going to be awful. And I think with age things smooth out

Steve Lambert is a Winnipeg -based journalist.

Convention Centre for Ciao Magazine

Profile of Chef Quentin Harty and the newly renovated and expanded Winnipg Convention Centre.

CROWD PLEASING

At the RBC Convention Centre, serving hundreds of identical, impeccable plates is all in a day’s work.

by Joelle Kidd

Clad in spick-and-span chefs’ whites and a towering toque blanche, chef Quentin Harty cuts an impressive figure. Kind, friendly, and professional, this executive chef wears decades of cooking experience on his sleeve. He knows the importance of good management.
His style, he says, is firm but fair. “There’s no room for error.”
Indeed, when hundreds, even thousands, of plates are leaving the kitchen under his supervision, Harty must be sure his crack team is operating at full capacity.

you can read the entire article HERE

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NuBurger for Ciao Magazine

The latest Ciao Magazine feature was on the cool burger joint Nuburger. The guys who own and operate the restaurant were a ton of fun to work with, definitely of the “Work Hard, Play Hard” mindset. As much goofing round you see here, they were very exacting about the food styling of their beloved and delicious burgers. As you can see here, it’s paid off, these burgers are as tasty as they look!

Head over to the Ciao Website where you can read the latest issue online

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The Big Leap for CPA magazine.

Recent shoot for CPA magazine featuring two Winnipeger’s who are from somewhere else  and decided to pursue their dreams here… I’ve included a brief excerpt but encourage you to read the entire article

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ADRIAN ONG, FINANCIAL ANALYST, PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT OF MANITOBA (WINNIPEG)

Although he owns a car, Adrian Ong takes the bus whenever he can. It’s a little luxury this Winnipeg resident never had in his former life, where he always felt unsafe on public transit. “When I’m riding on the bus here I feel happy because I’m not afraid anymore,” he says. Home used to be the Philippines, and while Ong had a good lifestyle and a successful career managing the finances for his family’s food-industry chain, security was becoming a major concern. “We had maids and a driver, but we couldn’t take transit or go out on our own,” he says, noting that on two occasions, he’d been poked in the neck with a sharp object by potential muggers when walking on the sidewalk. Years later his sister and brother-in-law would be brutally killed by robbers outside the factory they owned. “You don’t want to live in a world of paranoia as it’s not healthy for the heart and soul.”

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ASIA YUFIT, ASSOCIATE MANAGER, FINANCIAL AND REPORTING PROCESSES, CAPITAL MANAGEMENT, GREAT-WEST LIFE ASSURANCE CO. (WINNIPEG)

Born in Siberia, Asia Yufit wasn’t concerned about the Winnipeg winters. But she and her husband, Mark, did worry about how they would provide for the two children they had uprooted from Israel to be here.
Yufit was pregnant with her first daughter and living in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, when she and Mark started talking about relocating. “It was 2006 and the situation in our country wasn’t pleasant,” she says, still remembering the sound of rockets coming in from Lebanon. “It is one thing when you’re concerned only about yourself, but it is very different when there are children involved.”

 

Nicole and the Petzval 58mm

I have such a great job, I get to meet so many interesting people. Nicole is one of those people. We worked together on several projects over the years, with Nicole doing hair and makeup on them. I finally decided one day I need to photograph her, and told her so!

Well it took a few years for that to finally happen. We’re both busy people! But I am so glad I finally had Nicole drop by the studio for a portrait. She is a wonderful person, incredible beautiful inside and out. As is always the case, when I have interesting people in the studio, I almost have to remember to take some photos, we just talk and talk…

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The Petzval 58mm

Nicole allowed me to try out my new lens as well. The Petzval 58mm  from Lomography. It isn’t a perfect lens and thats why I kinda like it! It create all sorts of weird aberrations and out of focus stuff!

from the website :

The New Petzval 58 Lens allows you to control the bokeh in your photos like never before. With each different bokeh level and aperture combination, you’ll get entirely different effects. Pick your Bokeh Control and Aperture Level here and discover your very own favorite combination for Petzval perfection

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Churchill Wild food shots

Recently I collaborated with Shel Zolkewich to shoot a series of food shots celebrating the menu of the Churchill Wild Lodge. Shel did the food styling and I did the photography.

The gang at Churchill Wild were fascinated with the process of assembling these shots and did a profile on Shel and I on their blog:

Hours and hours of work can go into one shot.

“Even longer if you have to pick the cranberries off the tundra,” said Zolkewich with a smile in her voice.

“You see a beautiful photo of food and you think it looks great and so appetizing,” continued Zolkewich. “Then you sort of delve into why it’s working for you and why it’s hitting all your triggers. What you think it might smell like or taste like. There are a hundred little details that may have gone into that one photo. Like scouring the cupboards of other people’s kitchens and my own searching for all kinds of props to make it work.”

And it did. Beautifully.

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