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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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On Father’s Day: A Gift from the Grave

My father, Ed Collins, died when my son, Kyle, was just one year old.  Perhaps he knew his time was short because on April 28, 1994, less than three months after Kyle was born, he wrote him this letter.  On the envelope it said “To Kyle on his 18th birthday.”  We gave it to Kyle this past February.  We had waited for years to see this treasure and hear my father’s voice again.  I’ve transcribed the letter here in my father’s words, as he wrote it down.

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A LETTER TO MY ONLY GRANDSON

Before you read and understand this letter, I may no longer be here.  I just want you to know, it was the best day of my life when you were born.  The 4th of February will always be a holiday.  I will celebrate it as long as I live.  I remember February 2nd, when my brother was born, and February 15 when my father was born in 1878.

I doubt if you will ever comprehend what time it was.  No electricity, radio, T.V. or computers.  Those things are taken now so much for granted, yet 125 years ago people went to bed when it got dark, the rooster was the alarm clock and at 5 o’clock in the morning people got up to eat breakfast made from oats, Oatmeal.  They took a horse drawn street car, or in winter a sleigh to go to work.

I was born in 1922.  Things were already much better by then.  In some homes there was electricity.  Mother made breakfast on a stove burning coal.  In winter 25 below 0 was a normal winter day in far away Poland where I lived.

Maybe someday you will look at a map of the world to discover to your amazement that you have some kinship in cities like Tarnow and Krakow, and maybe when you travel through Europe, you will stop in those cities.  They meant a lot to me.  I was a very sentimental Polack.  I also made a good American.

You will travel a different road in your life.  Your father and mother will show you the modern way of life that befits the end of the 20th-21st century.  I envy you.  It will be a time full of exciting inventions to make life easier for people to live.  It will be a life full of temptations to take the most comfortable road to success.

Take a little advice from a man that passed this way.  You will never know, nor will you understand life and compassion if you take the easiest road in life.  To understand life a man has to take some bumps and climb some fences.  Stop, smell the flowers, live each day, as if it was your last.  Don’t wait for thanks and appreciation from others, just do things the best and most humane way, you will never go wrong.

Just ask yourself, is it the truth, is it fair?  Will it build goodwill and better friendship, will it be beneficial to all concerned.  If you take this road, you might not always win, but you will never lose, while climbing the road, the steep mountain that blocks your way, on the way to becoming a man.  Love, Ed Collins, Your Grandfather.

For more on Vicky Collins visit her website at Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Start a Holiday Tradition: Christmas Tamales

Every year on Christmas eve I make tamales for my family and neighbors. It has become a holiday tradition and labor of love and my girlfriends join me with their own recipes in my kitchen. We cook our tamales and socialize and drink and it’s all very festive. In the event you’d like to start a tamale tradition of your own, here’s a great recipe. My family loves it and insist I make them every year.  Happy holidays to everyone.

Chicken Tamales Recipe from Maseca Collection – Jesus Bojorquez

Mexican Recipe Ingredients:

6 cups Maseca Corn Masa Mix for Tamales
6 cups Chicken broth
1 cup corn oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 large rotisserie chicken
2 cans salsa verde or tomatillo sauce
1 bag corn husks

Mexican Recipe Instructions:

Soak the corn husks in warm water until soft.
Blend with an electric mixer Maseca corn masa mix for tamales, corn oil, salt, baking powder and the chicken broth to obtain a consistent mixture.
Shred the chicken and marinate in the green salsa or tomatillo sauce.
Spread masa evenly over corn husks, and spread a spoonful of marinated chicken on top of the masa.
Fold the sides of the corn husk to center over the masa so that they overlap to make along package.
Fold the empty part of the husk under so that it rest against the side of the tamale with a seam.
Place the tamales in a steamer and cook tamales for 35-40 minutes. Check every 20 minutes.The tamales are cooked when they separate easily from the corn husk.

Enjoy this delicious chicken tamales Mexican food recipe! I also add shredded Colby/Jack cheese to each tamale.

Preparation Time (min): 60
Cook Time (min): 60
Prep Tool: Tamale Steamer

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


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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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Facetime Instead of Facebook: 36 Hours in Honolulu

The Sunday New York Times had a feature in its Travel Section today on how to spend 36 hours in Honolulu.  It singled out some of my favorite places like Kapiolani Park, Chinatown and the drive from Hanauma Bay to Waimanalo with stops at Sandy Beach and Makapuu.  With no disrespect to the author, Jocelyn Fujii, I would like to suggest my own itinerary based on recent travels and a reunion with Na Kani Pela, a choir I sang with in high school that represented Hawaii for the Bicentennial celebration.  I guarantee you will have a magical time.

Na Kani Pela choir gathers for 35th Reunion in Honolulu.

First, start by bringing in the people who made your high school years memorable.  Collect them all on Facebook then invite them and their families for a big reunion bash.  Bug them until they say yes, as showing up for a reunion 35 years later gives people considerable angst.  Get people warmed up with a small gathering at the Ground Floor on Richards Street in downtown Honolulu and listen to some Hawaiian music.  Hold a pot luck at the home of your calabash mama who looks just like she did 35 years ago.  Watch the spark of recognition in her eyes with each arrival and the tears of joy as she gives you a huge ohana hug.  Realize you are older now then she was back in 1976.  Shudder!  Celebrate as each of your high school friends walks through the door.  Sing the songs that were the soundtrack of your youth.  Take photos.  Hug alot.  Talk story.  Bring tons of food and pig out.

Stay in room 1431 of the Waikiki Beach Marriott with a view of Honolulu that will make you never want to leave.  Spend time with your sisters for the first time in three decades on your island home.  Bring your sons along as dates.  Let them roam around Waikiki like you did when you were teenagers.  Get up early every day and walk around Diamond Head.  Discover the Farmers Market at Kapiolani Community College.  Have inari sushi, fried green tomatoes and shave ice for breakfast.  Talk to a homeless man named George on Kalakaua Avenue who reminds you that “just because you don’t have a roof over your head, doesn’t mean you don’t have a home.”  Visit your favorite beaches on Oahu.  Eat plate lunch at Zippy’s, L & L, Kaneke’s and Ted’s Bakery.  Have breakfast at Wailana.  Char siu omelet.  Ono!

Na Kani Pela picnic in Waimanalo

Have a picnic on the beach at Sherwood’s in Waimanalo.  Make Kukui Nut leis with your buddies and talk more story.  Watch your children play in the surf and get stung by Portuguese Man of Wars just like you did when you were a kid.  Be baffled as they stay in the water even though the pain makes them want to jump out of their shorts.  Realize that if your son was growing up in Hawaii today it would be a perfect fit just like it was for you so many years ago.  Have a banquet at the Elk’s Club and watch 4th of July fireworks in the distance.  Ooh and aah!  See all your friends in their muumuus and aloha shirts.  Realize you are all older and a few pounds heavier but you can still sing and raise the roof like you did when you were teenagers.  Watch two generations of hula dancers and tell your friends just how much they meant in your life.  Hug some more, this time holding on tighter, as you say goodbye for now.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

There is no place like Hawaii, and to me, there is no place like Honolulu, where I grew up and still continue to call home.  The only problem is that you eventually have to leave.  36 hours go by quickly.  This time when I flew back to the mainland over the lights of Waikiki I took so much more with me.  I carried my friends from Na Kani Pela, I took a tropical sea of memories and the music that played in the background of my youth.  I came back to Colorado with a full heart and a sense of how lucky I was to be a kid who grew up in a place like that, with friends like that, surrounded by love like that.  That’s how you spend 36 hours in Honolulu.  Now we’ll have to stay in touch on Facebook.

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


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How to Live Forever

Want to live to be a thousand years old? It’s not far fetched at all if you ask theoretician and geneticist Aubrey de Grey. He believes within the next 25 years there is a 50/50 chance we’ll have the technologies to extend human life indefinitely. I learned of Aubrey and his ideas in 2005 and immediately pitched the story to NBC’s Today Show. They were intrigued. With the help of correspondent Kerry Sanders and the London bureau, we went out and interviewed Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge. When we finished the story we sent it in to the show. It was promptly killed. Too out there for a mainstream audience. Plus it didn’t help that Aubrey looked like Methuselah.

Aubrey de Grey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, CA.

Fast forward to 2011 and there Aubrey was in the news again.  This time I pitched the story to HDNet’s World Report. The program is always looking for stories that deal with interesting issues and are not widely told. This time correspondent Willem Marx met up with Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge and also went punting with him on the Thames River. For my part, I finally got to meet Aubrey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, California. He is tall and wiry and moves like someone with no time to lose.  He lovingly strokes the beard which hangs almost to his waist. I asked him if his distinctive look helped or hurt him as he went out in the world trying to win over scientists and venture capitalists to support his work. He said it helped because people looked at him and saw a guy who is not materialistic in the least. It’s very clear to them that he is not doing this to get rich.

Through his SENS Foundation non-profit, Aubrey and the scientists who work with him are creating an intersection between research on the biology of aging and regenerative medicine. By doing experiments with the building blocks of cells they hope to someday develop treatments that repair the damage caused by aging, and restore people to a state where they are biologically younger than they were when they started. In other words, people could live out their entire lives as healthy as young adults. Five years ago, the scientific community considered his ideas kind of kooky but now the research is catching up with his theories and Aubrey is gaining credibility. “This is not science fiction anymore, this is science forseeable,” Aubrey proclaims.

Of course the implications are mind boggling but Aubrey brushes them off. “People always say hang on. If we stop the problem of aging we’re going to have a whole lot of other problems. We’re going to have overpopulation or dictators who live forever, or how will we have the pensions, or won’t it be boring. If I want to be flippant, I say those are problems I’d like to have, thank you very much. Ultimately I don’t see people who want to get cancer or Alzheimer’s disease or cardiovascular disease or Type 2 Diabetes or any of these things we are going to prevent by curing aging. I don’t meet people who want any of those things so I find it frustrating when people take the view we’re going to create the problems and refuse to adopt any sense of proportion about this and accept the problem we have today is a big one, a problem that kills 100,000 people every day, most of them after a long period of ill health and disease and debilitation and dependence and decrepitude. It’s pretty clear that the problem we would solve is quite a big one, and yes, the transition to a post aging world is going to be a big one, and the more forward planning we do to make it less turbulent the better, but the transition to the industrial revolution was pretty turbulent too, yet there aren’t many people who believe the industrial revolution was a mistake.”

If you want to learn more about Aubrey de Grey and his work and vision tune in to HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, May 17th at 9 p.m. ET/7 p.m. MT.

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


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The Power of Words

As a writer I’m impressed by how powerful words can be.  As a producer I’m awed by the power of images to tell stories.  This little video about how words evoke compassion left me speechless and a bit teary eyed too.

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


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Rocky Mountain News Retrospective

Two years ago the Rocky Mountain News ended publication after 150 years.  The Colorado newspaper was a casualty of a changing media environment which saw the bankruptcy of dailies across America.  Recently former Rocky editor and publisher, John Temple, sent out a survey to his former staffers to see how they were faring in their careers.  Ryan Warner of Colorado Public Radio sat down with him to crunch the numbers and have an enlightening conversation on the state of the newspaper business and how things are going in his current job as editor of the EBay backed local online news source, Honolulu Civil Beat.

http://www.cpr.org/article/Rocky_Journalists_Two_Years_Later

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


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Deja Vu

My youngest son, Blair, is 13 years old today.  A teenager.  Now I have two of them.  I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. Last night I was in his room, sitting on his bed, leaning against the wall, when I had a powerful deja vu.  Just days after his birth I was in the same place, sitting on a futon, holding him in front of me so I could look directly in his eyes, and I was talking to this baby we tried so desperately hard to have.  “Blair, you complete me.”

I was on maternity leave from my “permalance” television production job at NBC News, hoping to get the call that I was being brought on staff.  I was hugely pregnant when they flew me to New York right before Christmas for my interviews at 30 Rock and MSNBC, then I heard nothing.  A month later I left to have a baby and still nothing.  Blair was born on February 1 and I was well into my leave with no word.  I was starting to give up hope that I would get the job.  I remember holding my baby and telling him that it didn’t matter.  “Blair, you complete me.”

Shortly after, the most enormous bouquet of flowers showed up at my door.  It was the kind you see in a hotel lobby.  The card read “Your friends at NBC News would like to welcome Blair Aaron to the world and welcome you to the NBC Family.”  It was one of the most stunning and unexpected gestures I had ever experienced.  Last night I sat on Blair’s bed, cuddling my 13 year old son and I told him that story about how two dreams had come true.  A big boy snuggled in my arms this time and I repeated what I had told him so long ago.  “Blair, you complete me.”

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

 

 

 


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Goat Tears: Wish I’d Thought of This

If all commercials were this much fun I think I might want to produce them. Kudos to editor Brent Herrington at 3008 in Dallas for a very clever way to sell pain reliever. I won’t forget Mission Pharmaceutical’s Thera-Gesic or the crying goat.  More fun even than the Aflac duck!

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