“We Opened A B&B!” #ActiveRetirement

The Baldwin Village Inn is a surprising refuge of peace smack dab in the middle of Toronto’s bustling downtown, mere blocks from museums, world-class hospitals, and several universities & colleges. Located on the strip of restaurants that make up Baldwin Village, the brightly painted yellow property features a beautiful garden all around, and a brick patio out front at which one of the hosts can often be found sitting in summer.

I headed over to the Inn recently to speak with owner Tess Concepcion and some of the Inn’s current boarders. (Full disclosure: I booked my parents a short stay during their first TO visit 6 months earlier).

Married couple and now bed-and-breakfast owners Tess & Roger emigrated to Canada from the Philippines, and both spent most of their careers within the corporate banking sector. Familiar with real estate investment, they began buying properties 30 years ago, engaging in flipping and renting of property. It is one of these old properties that went from rental to renovation to B&B. It was also a new home for the hosts who eventually sold their suburban house and moved on location for greater convenience. Transitioning to the B&B lifestyle takes time: Tess says it took her about three years to de-stress and find contentment in her new role, used to the fast paced adrenaline highs of investment banking as she was.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Tess and Roger’s active retirement are the ways in which their understanding of each other and themselves has deepened. Tess, who rises most mornings to make breakfast for their guests, is preferential to quiet periods of meditation. She was surprised to watch her husband display a social side never noticed before–he handles most of the communications while she thrives in her “behind-the-scenes” role in operations.

In 10 years, Tess & Roger have built an incredible network of people linked by having stayed in the intimate 6-bedroom Baldwin Village Inn, hailing from even as far as Tel Aviv. They see boarders that there for travel, but also academics in town for conferences or parents who have moved to the city so their children may receive the best medical treatment for rare conditions. Many of their former guests are “like family”.

Tess tells me that running a B&B has been the perfect segue into old age because it keeps her active and thinking, but does not put significant stress on her. She says the continual contact with young people helps keep her mental capacity high. “Because we are at this part of life, we are curious and happy. We have no agenda. That period of our lives is over. It allows people to be very open to who they are.”

Here are some tips I picked up from Tess’s experiences:

Don’t try to copy success. One person’s skills, knowledge and aspirations don’t necessarily translate well. Even the definition of success and what makes one “happy” vary widely from individual to individual

Look for success by utilizing what you already have & understand. For Tess & Roger, their job experience meant they had an edge on the real estate market & investments.

Prepare & plan for retirement. “Cash flow is always a necessity. Fixed income is not enough. Expenses escalate.”

Be patient. Retirement is a process, not just a flipped switch.

More photos from the Baldwin Village Inn & other properties:

Directors & Actors of G & T: An Independent Italian Webseries

G & T is an Italian Youtube-based drama that follows several friends & acquaintances after college, and aims to highlight LGBT issues within Italy. With almost no funding or support from outside organizations, the series has run successfully for 2 years, and features music from Italy’s emerging music artists. I interviewed the show’s directors, who are also the main characters of the show.

Who are you?

Francesco: My name is Francesco D’Alessio – I play Giulio in the G & T webseries – and I’ve been an acting coach for twelve years now. I’ve also directed a lot of plays and… what else? Oh, yes, I’m working on G&T, so I’ve got a lot on my plate and I’m really happy with it all.

Matteo: Hi, my name is Matteo Rocchi – I play Tommaso in the G & T webseries – I got my degree in Arts, Music and Show Business last year at the University of Torino, and now my energies are mainly focused on theatre and video-making. Even if I work long hours and sometimes I’m tired as hell, I’m doing what I like the most, and that’s a privilege. And then there’s G&T, which is great, really.

Characters in Action: Matteo Rocchi & Francesco D'Alessio
Characters in Action: Matteo Rocchi & Francesco D’Alessio as Tommaso & Giulio

How did you know wanted to work in the film industry?

M: It may sound cheesy or presumptuous, but you don’t get to choose to be an actor or a director. It’s the job that chooses you. At some point you just know.

F: I totally agree with that. Every time I watched a David Lynch movie or an episode of Twin Peaks I knew wanted to work in the film industry.

How did you begin working together?

M: We’ve met through common friends in 2010 and we immediately clicked, professionally speaking. When Francesco mentioned the idea of doing a gay themed webseries I was instantly intrigued.

F: In the same period we started to work on a play called Il marito di mio figlio (My Son’s Husband), where we played boyfriends. It was a sort of run through for G&T.

How did you come up with the concept of G&T?

F: G&T was born from the need to portray the complex, and yet ordinary, love story between two young men without stereotypes and censures: something we don’t get to see often in Italian movies and television.

M: It was just the need to see something different. We surfed the net a lot before starting with the project, and we couldn’t find anything similar to what we had in mind: an everyday life story, about two normal people, two best friends discovering themselves and their feeling for each other. Actors, screenwriters and director are just like novelists: they feel compelled to tell stories. Even with a small budget.

How did you begin the process of actually creating a webseries? What challenges did you face during the building stages?

M: Given that is a completely independent project and had a virtually nonexistent budget to begin with, we had to face a lot of challenges. Since the beginning, we decided to put a great deal of attention in the storytelling. We talked about the project with two other screenwriters – Lorenzo Li Calzi and Gabriele Pellegrino – and they decided to get on board. Once we started writing, we knew we were on the right track, and that fuelled us to keep on working.

F: Starting with the first draft of the storyline, we worked together through the fourteen episodes of the first series. It was an interesting process, because I think we have grown as writers along with our characters.

What are some unexpected experiences you’ve had since starting G&T?

F: For me, the most unexpected and touching thing is receiving e-mails from guys living in small cities or villages, telling me that – thanks to G&T – they’ve found the courage to come out to their family and friends: I think that’s amazing!

The Directors
The Directors
On average, how many days of work are put into each episode? (from filming to editing)?

M: Between writing, shooting and editing, a single series of G&T requires an entire year of work, more or less. Once the screenplay is ready, the shootings are organized according to the locations, and not following the episodes’ order.

F: Some days we have to shoot on the “house of Giulio and Tommaso” set, and we’re there doing a cuddling scene from the episode 2×12, and one hour later we found ourselves in the same place, yelling like crazy for a fight scene from the episode 2×03. You step from a scene to a completely different one quickly, which is really stimulating as an actor.

What does a day in your life look like?

M: When we’re shooting, we have to wake up at 7 a.m. to be on the set at 8 a.m.

F: Usually we have breakfast together at 8.30 a.m., reading the working schedule.

M: We shoot all through the morning, and at around 14.00 a.m. we have lunch.

F: When we’re lucky. Sometimes we are too busy to eat.

M: That’s true…

F: In the afternoon we shoot some more. Some days we shoot up to seven scenes!

M: We usually stop at 9.00 p.m. to have dinner, but sometimes we miss that too.

F: Then, we have a meeting to make plans for the following day. By the time we’re done, it’s 2.00 a.m.

M: Rinse and repeat for at least 6 months.

F: Yeah. Life on a set, it’s really tough, but we have a lot of fun too. We spend so much time with our fellows cast mates and with the crew that they feel like family.

Do you think it is important that gay characters be represented by gay actors? Why or why not?

I think the sexuality of the actor is irrelevant, no matter what role he plays. The best part of our job is the possibility to be someone else, to explore emotions and feelings that sometimes are very distant from the ones we experiment in our everyday life, and a character’s sexuality is just one more thing to explore.

What is the purpose behind your series?

F: First of all, we wished to have an audience as heterogeneous as possible: we never aimed for an LGBT audience only. I think anyone is able to enjoy G&T, because anyone can relate with the stories we tell, in spite of their sexual orientation.

When it comes to LGBT rights, Italy is still in the Dark Ages. Marriage between two people of the same sex is not allowed, an issue we addressed not only during this season of G&T, but also in a video in favor of same sex marriages we created with some of our cast members and the support of the Municipality of Turin (here is the link, if you’d like to take a look). We hope to get as much visibility as possible in order to make people understand that we are all entitled to be whoever we are and to have the same rights.

Get Ready for Season 3!
Get Ready for Season 3!

From Theater Festivals to Street Art Proliferation: Lilie Zendel’s 30+ years in Government, Cultural & Art Affairs

Tell me about your career history.

I started at York University with a BFA in Theater Performance, took two years off to travel near the end of my degree, and finished my degree at University of Toronto. Then I started with a summer job in Community and Special Events helping numerous community groups polish their presentations HarbourFest. I stayed in that position for over a year, and once a position opened up, I began working to manage the International Theatre Festival called the World Stage. I did that for 10 years, and then for a little under a year I left—I’d gotten really tired of traveling. I had a great professional life but my personal life was shambles. And then 9 months into that, because I’d worked 10 years on the international level, I was invited to work at the Canadian Consulate in New York to do international arts promotion. I stayed there for close to 14 years.

After that, I came back and worked in Toronto in the area of cultural services. Two years ago, I was invited by the Public Realm Section, Transportation Services to start the StreetARToronto program. They’d looked at best practices around the world and asked me to look at the Philadelphia Mural Program, and recognizing that our city has very different needs, launch a program that was similar in that it beautified the city, while addressing graffiti and vandalism.

Artist Maya Hayuk working on StART mural
Artist Maya Hayuk working on StART mural

How did you go from dropping out of theatre school to putting together events at the international level?

After returning from a two-year travel I did finally complete my university degree. I went to University of Toronto. I have to say—people never want to hear this, but I happened to be at the right place at the right time! Perhaps it was a reflection of the landscape at that time.
Once I got the opportunity and the job, I certainly did take full advantage of it and I have to admit, those were the days you had a good idea it was a lot easier and less competitive to find sponsors. We had a tobacco company which was one of our main sponsors. A lot of the other festivals I worked on were the sin companies. They were great in that they were completely hands off as long as you delivered their demographic. You could be as daring and innovative as you wanted!

Were you still working closely your field of study (theater) while in New York?

No, if anything in NY I was really focused on the publishing industry. You have to realize that in Canada, no matter how successful of a writer you are or a dancer you are, even for dance companies, there are maybe six cities you can do a tour in. So for any company to really “exist”, they have to penetrate the US market. New York was absolutely vital because if you could get a good review in the NY Times you book yourself an entire season in the States. I worked very closely with media and did a lot of networking. It was really one-on-one, developing a lot of personal relationships.

What have you seen across your many roles that remains the same?

I think whenever you work in the arts you have to be passionate about it; you have to be extremely knowledgeable. In NYC what I loved was that you really had to have an encyclopedic knowledge of not just theatre, but music, dance, TV…a lot of times people would call you and say, “I’ve heard of someone, can you give me some information on them?” and you’d always have to look knowledgeable. So for me it was just an absolute delight to learn what artists were doing and to appreciate it. It was a great opportunity to appreciate what made Canada unique, what made our artists so special—emerging and established.

And what is it that makes Canada unique?

It depended. It certainly felt, and I’ve heard a lot of people say that because we’re a smaller country, we’re not really in the spotlight the way Americans are, so be it theater or even advertising, you can take more risks. If you fail, it never as visible and disasters are never as expensive. So I thought there was always a certain cleverness, quirkiness, and originality. Definitely not as rigid.

With Harbourfront, how did you step up to the plate with managing an international festival?

I think I was lucky in that I was young, and so was Harbourfront. It was sort of virgin territory. And it was great for me in that I was able to cut my teeth on the International Children’s Festival. Taking the leap from doing an international kids fest to international theater festival wasn’t that huge. I was already responsible for some major events like Canada week and had already gained so much experience…so much of it was negotiating, dealing with personalities, artists, and understanding audiences & what they wanted to see.

What specifically about artists makes them challenging to deal with?

As somebody who wanted to be an artist and in the end decided I just couldn’t cope with the rejection and I realized that early on. I decided my place was behind the stage. As such I have a tremendous respect for artists, because I didn’t have the guts to do it. I think it takes a certain drive, self-confidence, ambition, a certain focus that I lacked. So I always admire people that find an obsession and pursue it obsessively, but I also think that passion means that you have to be incredibly headstrong, and protect your turf. Particularly coming from theater, I think the achieved skill that I learned is that you can never get a play up without enormous collaboration.

Did traveling help you find your path?

I was very lucky, when I was 10 year old my parents took me and my older brothers overseas and after that I never wanted to go back to summer camp. For the rest of my life, I just had this incredible appetite to travel, to discover other cultures, see how people define themselves, see what their values are, so when I got to Harbourfront, being able to launch an international theatre festival was incredibly gratifying. It met so many of my interests and also I really felt particularly with the festival, in a city as diverse as Toronto, it gave people an opportunity to understand who their neighbors were and where their roots were from.

For someone pursuing a similar field, what are your recommendations?

Nowadays with technology, it’s a whole different landscape. Everybody’s a critic. There used to be very limited cultural gatekeepers, and that’s just being blown apart. Where it will all land, I’m not sure. Theatres can be brick and mortar now, they can travel around, companies come together for a show and then disband. Particularly in Canada, with so many different government funding agencies, people are working multidisciplinary now.
Art and technology are the future, and I believe that those who master both will succeed. It requires an incredible ability to work together much more with different disciplines.

My advice is to look at people or organizations that you admire & go after it. I don’t care at what level you get your foot in the door. My feeling is that if you find somebody or an organization that fits your values then go after it. As much as you think “everyone’s there”—things change, people move on, opportunities arise…. Decide where you want to be and who you want to hang out with, and eventually they’ll make room for you.

Life as a Youtube Blogger, Traveler & Professor: An Interview with Mark Wolters

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is Mark Wolters. I come from a small town in West Central Illinois, I love traveling with my family, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and actually I love teaching. I have lived in 10 countries for studying and work reasons. I have my bachelor’s degree from the U of I, my master’s from Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany and my PhD in Management from the Technical University of Lisbon. I run a travel and culture website on the side of my teaching duties at the University of Illinois, where I try to give honest travel advice that cuts through all of the BS that a lot of travel guides give people.


2. How did you become the person you are today?
Through my travels and living abroad so frequently I learned to appreciate all the differences in the world and find the good and the bad in places (but mostly focus on the good). I have a pretty jovial attitude towards life and I thank God every day for how much I have been blessed with two amazing kids, a super star awesome wife, great parents and fantastic students that I have been able to teach around the world and here at the U of I.

3. How did you choose to study business starting as an undergraduate? Was there a moment when you knew that it was exactly what you wanted to do?
My dad worked in Mexico a lot when I was younger and I loved meeting the executives that would travel up to our hometown. I would get to work with them when I was in high school, I remember thinking that it seemed pretty cool to be a “businessman”, and I loved the international aspect–so I went to the U of I in the college of business. I had an amazing marketing professor who inspired me to study marketing. And the rest is history.

4. Did you attend university directly after high school, or take a gap for other experiences?
I actually graduated a year early from high school and spent what would have been my senior year in high school living in Finland, going to school there as an exchange student.

5. Congrats on receiving an ISS Teaching Excellence Award this year. Did you initially know that you wanted to become a professor, and if not what led you on that path? Was it planned from the “get-go” or something that developed along the way?

Well, there was one time during my undergrad studies where I was in the Grad Library and debated with myself if I wanted to be a businessman or a teacher. I figured I had a more secure future if I went into business and a better chance to travel. Only after finishing my master’s degree did I see an opening for a volunteer lecturer in Lithuania. I volunteered for a year teaching at a University in Lithuania and I loved it. Then I taught and taught but one day realized if I wanted to make teaching a career I needed to get my PhD. I started my PhD and was teaching full time while studying in Portugal. And thank you for the kind words regarding the ISS teaching award. It really is the biggest honor I could ever receive here at the U of I and that the students chose me, it is just amazing and humbling at the same time. I cannot say thank you enough to my students.

6. You have lectured at universities and colleges around the world on topics of business and economics. How have you achieved this?

Just like everything it is about who you know and the networks you come up with, my Brazil gig was a friend of a friend new someone, my teaching job in Portugal came from a bunch of professors that had done their PhDs from the U of I (so we had something to talk about), so basically networking and searching for those opportunities. Yes, I would have preferred to have lived in Paris or Rome, but I knew I should not be picky when looking for work abroad and when the Lithuania teaching opportunity popped up I took it and it was a great decision.

7. How do you decide which country to visit next?
We throw darts on a dart board 🙂
And we look at where we haven’t gone before and where we have friends so we can visit them, because now when we travel it is more about seeing our friends from around the world and spending time with them than it is to just “collect towns”

8. How has bringing your family along on your travels changed your perspective?
It is fantastic! I love it when my kids see a city or site for the first time. I have been to Paris about 20 times, but when I went a couple years back and my then five-year-old got excited and shouted, “Dad!!!! Its the Eiffel Tower!!!”. He was so excited it felt like I was seeing the Eiffel again for the first time. It just makes the experience so much better. I actually am depressed when I travel without my family, I feel naked and actually really weird without them.

9. How do you balance your family life, Wolters World, and your lecturing position?
I don’t sleep… Ever…

10. What advice do you have for those who are trying to pick a career path?
Do what makes you happy, the money will follow. If you go on a path you hate you will stick with it for a few years and then next thing you know you realize “oh crap, I am 35 years old and I wasted the last 10 years of my life working a crap job I hate”. You don’t get those years back so enjoy your life and enjoy the job you have. I love teaching, I love being up there in front of students and helping them grow in their education. It means the world to me to see students learn and that is a great payment for me. I could make more money in the private sector, but I would not be as happy as I am when I am up in Foellinger lecturing to my 600 students and seeing in their eyes that they “get it.” The handshakes and thanks you get at the end of the semester really make it all worthwhile.

Vote: Mark is currently competing for USATODAY’s Best Travel Videographer of the year! Cast your vote here.