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10 Things I’ve Learned Being Friends With Elderly Women

When I was in my 20’s I had an elderly friend down the street in West Hartford, Connecticut named Eleanor. She loved me and adored my dog, Buddy. She also enjoyed drinking and when I got home from work around 11:30 p.m. she was always waiting up for me. We would have a nightcap and talk. She also watched Buddy for me when I went out of town. She was a neighbor and a special friend. When I moved away I eventually lost touch with El and then I learned she passed. That first friendship led to others. They started as mitzvahs (a meritorious or charitable act) then developed into so much more. I got to know Esther by delivering Meals on Wheels for Jewish Family Services. I got to know Ursula by volunteering at the nearby assisted living facility. Over the years I have learned many things from these women friends. These are my top 10.

1) They don’t want to be referred to as little old lady friends. They don’t want to be reminded that they are growing old. They just want to be called friends. This really is the deepest compliment.

2) Their pictures tell stories and they are eager to share them. The days before they grew old were full of family and accomplishments. They were not always infirm. They enjoy sharing their histories with you. They’ve had lives, sometimes hard lives. They are wise and engaging and I love our conversations.

3) They still want to look attractive. Every day Ursula puts on her makeup. She enjoys showing off her new outfits and bragging about how inexpensive they are. Even though she can move only one arm she is always dressed up. Esther was a shut in but she always looked nice. Every older woman I know takes pride in her appearance and wants to age gracefully.

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4) Even as their world becomes smaller they yearn to learn and socialize. Ursula threw a small party in her room at the assisted living facility on New Year’s Day. She bought food, beer and wine for whoever dropped by. Visits light up her life. She likes to shop and go to movies and during warm weather months we go to the nearby bar and have a beer. She still wants to eat good food. Her body is broken but her mind is clear. My elderly friends enjoy people bringing the world into their lives. They want to know what you do and meet your family. They want you to meet theirs too. They may be older, but they don’t want to be boring.

5) Sometimes they get cranky and they don’t want people to tell them to cheer up. Spending days as a shut in or in a nursing home is difficult. Like most of us they have hard days. But like most of us, it passes and they get positive again.

6) They want to have some things they can control. They are often at the mercy of institutions and their children. Having a say in their lives is important.

7) They want their children to be honest with them. They want their children to visit and be patient with them. They want to be able to reach them on the phone. They tell me about the ways their family doesn’t make them feel important.

8) They like to sit in the sun. Being inside all day can be dark and lonely. Going outside, even for a short time, is an automatic mood enhancer.

9) Even in their 80’s, elderly women still have things they want to accomplish. Supporting them in these dreams makes them feel things are possible.

10) The greatest gift you can give is to help someone die with dignity. When Esther was moved from her home she lost her will to live. Once in assisted living she stopped eating and drinking. No one could talk her out of it and she willed herself to die. In three weeks she was gone. My Nana had an accident and no longer could speak or feed herself. She did the same thing. Being there for them without judgment during their exit is a tremendous blessing to them.

Having close friendships with elderly women has helped me get a good look at what it’s like to age. It has taught me to be more vigilant about my health. I have also learned how limited the options are for the infirm and how frightfully expensive it is to be in assisted living. I have deepened my compassion for them and for my friends who are coping with elderly parents, especially those with dementia. Finally, it has taught me the blessings of wellness and the importance of accepting what comes your way with grace. And I have been extremely grateful to be considered extended family to those with so much love yet to give.

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Going Back to Paniolo Country

My mother always had her head in her art. One of my earliest recollections growing up was her gluing tiny glass stones into mosaics of colorful peacocks. Then she shifted to ceramics and for years our cars could not park in the garage because of her kiln and workshop. When I sang in a choir called Na Kani Pela we needed to raise money so we could represent Hawaii for the Bicentennial. She conducted a group of moms who worked to make centerpieces of town criers from the 1700’s for our banquet. She was always up to her elbows in art projects. When my dad died she took up painting and during this time entered what I consider her most confident and creative period. I have paintings hanging in my home of a rabbi, of Japanese carp called koi, and of Parisian street scenes like you might see on Montmartre. She put her art away for a time when she remarried and spent years dancing the tango. I am a tanguera she once told me. For a time music took the place of paint and canvas. Now she is back at it with fancy figurines and fans and masks. Her art is full of fantasy and whimsy and old Hawaiiana. My favorite piece is an oil painting called Paniolo Country.

Paniolo Country by Art by Jael

I love cowboys and Hawaii and asked my mom how this painting came to be.  I am curious what catches her eye.

Years ago Dad and I flew to Molokai, Kalaupapa, which was the leper colony, with Bob Benson in his private little plane from Frito Lay. He asked us to join him for the day and he would get a special pass because they were getting ready to do away with the leper colony and turn it into a museum. As frightened as I was of flying, and especially in a small plane, we joined him with his wife Beth for that once in a lifetime opportunity. What I saw from the top of the cliffs was what the painting depicts. I remember thinking, wow, what a view! I thought this was the best view in the world and the poor people there cannot fully enjoy it. I did not paint this painting till after Dad died. It was when I saw one day in a magazine something similar and it reminded me of what I saw in Kalaupapa looking down. They used to throw the lepers down the cliffs into the ocean before Father Damien came. You could only reach the top at one time on horseback to bring supplies. There was no other way except a very narrow trail for horses and mules.

Paniolo Country is just one of many paintings and unique pieces you might enjoy at Art by Jael.  Her inspiration comes from the scenery of Hawaii and the imagery of her own imagination. Perhaps you will find yourself a treasure.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see photography by Vicky Collins visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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Blair’s First Filmmaking Job

My 12 year old son, Blair Ewalt, a budding filmmaker and 7th grade student at Denver School of the Arts, just produced his first professional film.  It is a two and a half minute promotional piece for an exhibit called “The 4000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks” at Denver’s Mizel Museum. The exhibit opens on February 2, 2011.  

It took Blair less than two weeks to produce the video.  He shot it in high definition and edited it on Final Cut. He did the videotaping over Christmas break so he didn’t miss any school.  What makes me particularly proud about this is that his father and I didn’t get him the job.  The marketing manager of the Mizel Museum, Sue Stoveall, remembered his audition film for DSA, a short called “A Christmas Gift,” and thought he had the right stuff.

He will have his first paycheck soon and the museum is sending a press release out to the Denver Post and other media singing the praises of the middle school kid who they hired.  Congratulations, Blair.  Someday I’m sure we will all be working for you.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

 

 


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Happy Hanukkah (Yeshiva University Style)

Mazel Tov to the students of Yeshiva University who came up with this clever video, “Candlelight.” What a creative way to wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah and appeal to people of all ages. Love all these knock off’s of of Taio Cruz’s song “Dynamite.”

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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War and Remembrance 6

My conversation between Ben Coker, Jr. is getting more interesting as we dig deeper into issues. We come from very different points of view but we’re finding common ground.

Hi Ben,

I hope you and your family are doing well. Sorry it took me a while to get back to you. I have been quite busy and wanted to give your note adequate thought. Your really impress me with your knowledge of history. Many of my beliefs are from the gut. As I read through your letter I notice we agree in degree on many points. But why must people destroy just so they can turn around and rebuild? It seems there have been times in recent memory where change came about without us devastating the infrastructure and crushing the people. The Berlin Wall came down without America rushing in. We are not sending troops to Israel or Palestine to settle differences there. We didn’t go into South Africa to end apartheid. We stayed calm when North Korea rattled its sabers. Just because there is a rogue leader or nation doesn’t mean soldiers need to march in and annihilate people and communities to influence and protect our interests. There are diplomatic solutions to tyrants and bad behavior. It may take more time but I believe it is time well spent. People may think by exercising patience we allow the extremists to organize or worse yet, kill those fighting for peace like Ahmad Shah Massoud, Yitzak Rabin and Benazir Bhutto. Perhaps, but I think America must be careful in the world and not shove our values down other throats. Granted some things like 9-11 and Pearl Harbor require swift and strong intervention, but war must be thought through. The world would be a better place if we didn’t beat our adversaries into submission. Wars are difficult to win.

I believe most people around the globe are good and want peace. I think we really need to be careful not to lump people together. I get very frustrated with people who assume all Muslims are bad because they refuse to distinguish an extremist from a woman who wears a headscarf. I am not defending behavior that threatens Americans. I loathe the terrorists and those who would do us harm. But I wonder how many people who denounce Muslims actually know one personally. I wonder how many people who think Muslims aren’t raging enough against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other extremists, have actually asked them what they think. I believe that most Muslims cringe over the behavior of the radicals even if they mind their own business. I agree with you that it would be wise for more moderate, peace loving Muslims to verbally condemn radical behavior, but I think people need to walk in their shoes before passing judgment. If I recall you did not speak out during Vietnam because of respect for your parents. Is it surprising that others hold their tongues instead of risk their reputation or draw unwanted attention to themselves and their family?

And on this next point you will probably want to throttle me. I agree with you that building a Mosque a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero is insensitive. But that said, is it inconceivable that a mosque could be used to build awareness, peace and understanding. Just because there is a mosque does that mean it is radicalizing people? It is a place of worship and a community center and from what I understand it is meant to bring people together in peace. We are a country that defends freedom of religion, yet people are trying to take that away. Isn’t that what we are fighting for? Our freedom? Our rights? I think people are getting kind of hysterical. It isn’t just at Ground Zero. Folks don’t want a mosque in Tennessee. They create laws so we don’t have Sharia Law in Oklahoma. America has always been this great melting pot but now people are getting extremely xenophobic. When did we get so afraid of everyone? I agree the media is whipping people into a frenzy. Looking forward to that discussion too. Hope you and your family are anticipating a wonderful Thanksgiving flush with gratitude. Looking forward to hearing from you. Best, Vicky

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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War and Remembrance 4

Part 4 in the dialogue between me and Ben Coker, Jr. of South Carolina following my Veterans Day post.

Hi Mr. Coker,

I’m enjoying our dialogue.  I am not the student of history that you are but as a television news producer and international traveler I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on current events.  I would like to address your question on whether we should turn our heads from those who are being oppressed, maimed and killed throughout the world.  Absolutely not!  I personally know the cost of the Holocaust.  My family died in it.  But should we send in armies every time we perceive a threat or injustice?  I don’t think so.  Clearly after 9-11 we had to get tough and go after those who violated us and killed so many of our citizens.  I remember watching NBC’s Today Show on the morning of the attack and telling my then 7 year old son (the subject of the Veterans Day post) that we were going to war.  It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.  We had to strike back.  But have we really done anything to beat down radical Islam?  We may have disorganized the extremists and driven them into caves, but they’re not going away and in the process we have alienated many moderate, peace loving Muslims throughout the world.

I’m thinking Greg Mortenson who is building schools in the remote reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan is doing as much if not more good than our armies. Instead of battling with guns, Mortenson is fighting so children will grow up educated and be able to look the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the eye and say this is not for me.  So many of the people in the world who become radicalized do so because they have no opportunities or hope for a future.  Our armies may be holding the line but I think we need systemic changes in those countries to beat down oppression.  That is when women and children will be better off.  Our armies, and George Bush, may have kept another attack from American soil, but we shouldn’t forget the work of Laura Bush who went to Afghanistan to champion women’s rights and education there.  This may be very Pollyanna of me and I’m not saying we don’t need war, but I think we need diplomacy and peace more.  Eagerly awaiting your thoughts.  Best, Vicky

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

 


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War and Remembrance 3

My conversation with Ben Coker, Jr. of South Carolina continues following my Veterans Day post.

In response to your letter to me, I very respectfully offer the following:

I agree with you on the point you made about unity going into WWII. We had been seriously violated by Japan’s blatant and flagrant attack on us at Pearl Harbor. However before I discuss that issue, let’s examine the time at which these events occurred. In 1929 the Stock Market crashed and left a nation in disarray and financially devastated. My father was born in 1910, my mother 1917. They told us children of the difficulty they had suffered through the ensuing years to the conclusion of the war. The American people’s endurance of these traumatic years prepared them to face the difficult years of WWII. They were united and had resolved to defeat the tyrants who had inflicted so much devastation.

This unity persisted throughout WWII; However Churchill had made repeated requests of President Roosevelt to enter the war as ally to England and France without fruition. Our leadership had taken the position that “We did not have a dog in the fight” which seems to be the attitude of most people about so many issues that so immensely impact our lives. Nevertheless, coming out of WWII our nation remained united and we enjoyed much growth and financial advancement during the fifties. Nonetheless, there was an effort by the Communist nations after WWII to spread communism throughout the world. Russia and China were asserting themselves in the effort to spread communism to other nations even if this had to be achieved through hostile action as it had been done in so many other instances.

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Young, Jewish, Proud

An amazing statement of intention and possibly, hopefully, finally, the generation that will lead us to a lasting peace in the Middle East alongside young Palestinians just like them.

http://www.youngjewishproud.org/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Favorite Friends I’ve Never Met

Several of my friends and even my family think social networking is a waste of time.  They won’t Facebook, Twitter or read blogs and can’t really understand what I get from it.  I’ve found the most vehement opposition from my tango dancing mother and my friends who are cyclists.  These are not ladies who exercise casually, but rather women who compete on the dance floor, do 100 mile bike rides in the Rockies and think it’s fun to race up Mt. Diablo in Northern California.  Their buff bodies speak to their passion.  My flying fingers speak to mine.  They are my bricks and mortar relationships.  But because of social networking I have a new circle of virtual friends who I enjoy and respect, even though we have never met or for that matter, may never meet. 

First there is Susan MacCaulay.  She is a Canadian living in Dubai.  I stumbled across her website Amazing Women Rock (http://amazingwomenrock.com) when it was quite new.  What seems to have started out as a place to go for moderate Muslim women has morphed into something much larger and universal.  She is a champion of women around the world and has a large following now.  The first thing you notice about her is her passion for pink, her platinum blonde hair and her trendy get ups.  On one occasion she turned the camera on herself in a Riyadh hotel room and talked about how strange it was being a woman on a road trip to Saudi Arabia.  Then she posted it on YouTube and endured the threats from those who felt they were disrespected.  She has an elderly and opinionated mother who she adores somewhere back in Canada who reminds me of David Lettermen’s mom.  I am such a fan of hers I even contemplated a trip to Africa through Dubai just so I could meet her.  She hollers about injustice towards women and celebrates their achievements.  Susan rocks! 

Second is Dr. Qanta Ahmed.  She is a striking British national whose family came from Pakistan.  What’s interesting about virtual friendships is you often forget what brought you into someone’s universe.  I think I crossed her path doing research on a story for HDNet’s World Report but I’m not sure.  She had written an article about her transformative relationship with a rabbi who made her fall in love with Judaism while she lived in Charleston, South Carolina.  The irony came at the end when you found out she was a Muslim.  She is one of the most articulate voices for connection between people of all faiths.  She told me about her book “In The Land of Invisible Women.”  I ran out to buy it.  She wrote about the time when she couldn’t renew her visa in the United States and had to leave the country even though she was a doctor practicing medicine.  She moved for two years to Saudi Arabia and tells the story of the culture shock for a professional woman under the kingdom’s repressive laws.  Even so, she had a remarkable journey, had great stories about Riyadh and the Hajj, and got in touch with her Muslim faith.  I was stunned by her writing ability.  She has an amazing eye for detail and there was an extraordinary richness in her voice.  I still don’t know how she finds time to practice medicine with so much social networking.       

Third is my filmmaking friend, Zippy (is that the greatest name or what?) Nyaruri.  I met her via email when I needed a fixer for a story on the monetization of food aid in Kenya.  A fixer is a producer on the ground in a foreign country who helps set up a story and takes care of arrangements.  Without a fixer it is next to impossible to handle all the logistics and relationships.  Our story fell through but we have kept in touch through Facebook.  Through Zippy I see Africa.  When I first was introduced to her she was bouncing back and forth between Kampala and Nairobi.  Now she lives in Capetown, South Africa and recently she posted pictures of herself in Namibia.  She is developing a documentary about one of the few women truck drivers in Africa.  She introduced us to a fellow filmmaker named Godwin Opuly who runs sound and second camera for us when we are doing video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  Even though I have never met Zippy, when I considered visiting Capetown for the FIFA World Cup, she invited me to stay in her home.

Fourth is Caroline Jones.  She actually found me when she saw a story I produced about an acid attack victim called Juliette.  She was so moved she asked if she could use a photograph of her as the foundation for a painting.  Caroline’s ambition is to help others through art.  Her inspirations are women facing obstacles and the book “Half the Sky” by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn.  Caroline has created a body of work she calls Nguvu http://nguvu.artworkfolio.com.  Nguvu means strength in Swahili and her exhibit is this August in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  She will donate 50% of the sale from each work to the organization selected by the photographer.  She also builds boats, has a daughter and is a vegan who blogs about tasty recipes for other vegans.  That’s all I know about her.

Finally there is Karen Daniel.  She is a freelance television producer just like me who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.  She’s loves NASCAR and drives a truck.  She idolizes Dolly Parton and Linda Ellerbee.  She is the kind of person that you recommend even if you don’t know them because you know she gets it.  She’s been described as fearless and like me she wished she moved to New York City right out of college.  She has grey hair and the last time we chatted I told her that models dye their hair grey now.  It’s the new hip thing.  We also have a mutual acquaintance.  I met Ashton Ramsey trying to book Neil Wanless for the Today Show.  He’s the impoverished young cowboy who won a 200+ million dollar lottery in Winner, South Dakota.  Talk about a small world.  Both Ashton and I know Karen Daniel.  Once again, I can’t recall how it came up but imagine my surprise when I’m sitting in a small town bar and we both know my virtual friend.

Of course my virtual friendships aren’t anything like the ones I have with those who I grew up with, break bread with, go to book club with, and take Sunday walks with.  Those are the lasting friendships of my life.  But my virtual friendships are enriching my life and broadening my circle and I’m learning and pondering things that I never would have considered if I weren’t running across these amazing women around the world.  My college friend, Margaret Hoeveler’s mother, Griff, used to say at the end of the day you can count your true friends on one hand.  I think that’s wise but I also have a circle of special social networking friends I can count on one hand and they assure me the energy I spend doing this is not a waste of time.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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River Jordan Redux

In June 2009 I posted a blog about the dire condition of the River Jordan and how a unique collaboration of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians are cooperating to save it and care for the needs of a parched region.  National Geographic Magazine has done the story “Parting the Waters” for its April edition on Water.  It showcases the environmental dilemma, the political issues that have led to it, and how Friends of the Earth Middle East is committed to solving the crisis.  What’s striking about the story is that, despite the lack of cooperation in the Mideast, people are managing to collaborate over water.  They are fighting together for a resource they can’t live without.     

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/04/parting-the-waters/belt-text

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.