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Politics with my Cappuccino

My barista leaned over the counter today.  “What do you think of the MSNBC host who said she hoped it was a Tea Party member rather than a Muslim who set the car bomb in Times Square?”  His colleague at the cappucino maker edged closer to hear what I had to say.  “Well,” I replied, “I wish it was someone from the Tea Party.  It actually kind of makes me sick to my stomach every time I hear it’s a Muslim because I think the large majority of them aren’t radicalized and it just gets more difficult for law abiding Muslims.”  My barista rolled his eyes and got back to work.  My barista and I have been sparring politically for a while now.  It has become a regular occurrence. 

Standby for the great irony here.  My youngish, handsome barista who drives a sporty car (he says he married well) is wildly conservative.  Not what you’d expect.  Consider your barista.  Hip?  Trendy?  Teva Sandals?  Mine is a supporter of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party and is sick of all these bailouts.  Me?  I’m the middle aged suburban mom in an upscale Denver suburb, as liberal as they come, who believes government has a financial obligation to its people and coming to the rescue is necessary now and then.  His eyes light up when he sees me come in for my daily nonfat dry cappuccino fix.  “Vicky, what do you think of this?  Vicky, can’t wait to hear your opinion on this one.  Vicky, how are you going to feel when your taxes go up?  Vicky, come over here.  I need to ask you about something.”  Politics is part of my coffee ritual now. 

At first I was a bit surprised by his forwardness.  I couldn’t imagine our discreet back and forth was good for business or that his company or customers would approve.  After a particularly intense exchange, which lasted about five minutes and had his colleagues calling him back to work, I got downright uncomfortable.  We were discussing President Obama and Congress and health care reform.  He made sure I understood that my taxes were going up and soon my income would be shrinking.  I didn’t articulate my position succinctly.  Race came up.  I walked out of the store replaying the discussion in my head.  I talked to my friends about whether I should say something to him or stop visiting.  After thinking it through, I came to the conclusion that this exchange is good for both of us, but in measured doses.  Kind of like one cup of coffee a day.  After all, discussing politics at the local coffee shop is what we do in America.  Right?    

A while back I was listening to NPR and there was a discussion about Melinda Blau’s book “Consequential Strangers.”  These are the people on the periphery of our lives that matter.  They are not friends or colleagues, but rather the people who we intersect with over the course of our lives that have an impact nonetheless.  They are the lady at the bank who greets me when I come in, the woman I sit and talk to on the airplane, people I’ve never met on Facebook who intrigue me with their posts.  Our interactions make a difference in my life.  My barista is a “consequential stranger” and even though I think his politics are strange, I walk through the world more knowledgeable because we talk out our differences.  He knows what I drink, greets me by name, has my coffee ready before I get to the cashier and now he knows my politics and I know his.  I doubt we’re opening each others minds or mellowing each other out.  Most likely we’re just agreeing to disagree and entertaining the staff.  I’m hearing about the Tea Party with my cup of joe.  He’s hearing what I like about our President.  We’re not shouting each other down or holding up signs.  It’s rather civilized.  Like meeting over coffee.

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

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Denver Public Schools Takes a Stand

My husband, Darrell, was beside himself.  What’s up with this?  We have a son about to enter the Denver Public Schools and here they are banning employees from travelling to Arizona because of opposition to the new immigration law.  He was fuming.  Don’t they have more important things to worry about (like higher graduation rates?)  He even called KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman radio show to vent.  I tried to rationalize the decision.  Perhaps they didn’t want their employees to be harassed or racially profiled, or they were being considerate of their large Hispanic population, or it was a pre-emptive strike because Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis was already threatening to do something similar in Colorado if elected.  It may be a misguided protest, I told him, but the Denver Public Schools took a stand for human rights.  My husband, on the other hand, felt that by standing up in this way, DPS was supporting illegal immigration.  And what business was it of the Denver Public Schools anyway?  It’s an Arizona law.  The majority of Arizonans support it.  He continues to be apoplectic. 

I certainly can appreciate his frustration and Arizona’s too.  The state has become a revolving door for illegal immigrants.  But as difficult as it may be, in my opinion it is the federal government that should be coming up with a policy for dealing with this, not individual states.  Perhaps the best thing that came of Arizona’s law is that it reminded President Obama and Congress of how urgent this problem has become and of the fact that the states have lost hope that the federal government will ever deal with the situation.  Comprehensive immigration reform has gone to the back burner and even if it suddenly becomes a priority, which is doubtful because mid-term elections are coming up and this is so fractious, Republicans and Democrats will drag the country through another agonizing process even as we heal from the health care debate and illegal immigrants stream across the border.  Unless the federal government mobilizes soon states will take matters into their own hands.  And so will Denver Public Schools which, in my husband’s opinion, should be worrying about education.

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


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Kara’s Tea Party: Am I Missing Something Here?

Eddie is one of my very closest friends.  We have known each other since we were teenagers and knew of each other even longer.  Our fathers were best friends and Polish immigrants who met in London following World War II and came to America on the Queen Mary together.  When I lived in Connecticut and Eddie was in New York we hung out together every other weekend.  We attended each others weddings.  We love each others spouses and parents and the relationship between our families is continuing now for a third generation.  When I travel to New York I stay with Eddie and if he ever would go west of New Jersey I would roll out the red carpet for him in Denver.  Eddie and his wife, Mary, have raised two incredible kids and I hope my children will be as worldly and successful.  I am blessed to have Eddie and his family in my life.   

As close as Eddie and I are, we are on completely different wavelengths politically.  He is very conservative and admires Sarah Palin.  I am very liberal and support Barack Obama.  We love to debate and adore each other despite our points of view.  So I shouldn’t have been surprised when he sent me a message on Facebook saying “My daughter is KICK-ASS.”  He was proud because Kara attended a Tea Party Rally in Washington D.C. and made an impromptu speech.  She talked about the dollar and how it is losing its meaning because it is no longer earned but rather allocated (she said stolen) through government programs which we are taxed to support.  Kara standing up for the populist Tea Party and shouting out for fiscal responsibility has shaken me.  Until now it has been easy for me to ignore the protesters because they look nothing like me.  I cringe when I hear Sarah Palin’s braying and  see people who remind me of my father-in-law who lives in small town Iowa when I scan the crowds.  If Kara is jumping on the bandwagon it’s time to pay attention.  I need to ask if I’m missing something here?

Another good friend who also shook his head over my politics used to tell me “If you’re young and you’re Republican you have no heart.  If you’re old and you’re a Democrat you have no head.”  So what was Kara doing at a Tea Party Rally?  I’m not certain I can dismiss this movement anymore as a bunch of Republican extremists.  If the message is making sense to smart college educated kids like Kara then perhaps the Tea Party is gaining the kind of traction that will make a difference at the polls in November.  I hope other liberals like me who look at the Tea Party as a movement that clutters the airwaves with hate speak and reaches out to the disenfranchised few and their birther friends, ask themselves if they’re missing something too.  And when they start getting uncomfortable like I am now, when they start realizing that maybe this is a party to be reckoned with, then maybe they can stand up like Kara did and make some noise.

To learn more about Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Some Thoughts on Home

This month’s “More” magazine has a series of essays, by influential women authors, about the meaning of home.  “A Wanderer’s Retreat” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni really speaks to me.  Her writing is flavorful and evocative as chai.  Her story about first loving her grandfather’s home, connecting with landscapes after his loss, then finally finding home in her own heart resonates with the wanderer in me and perhaps would even have meaning for my parents who shared her immigrant experience.  When I was getting ready to leave Vancouver and the Olympics people would ask if I was excited to go home.  It’s a complicated question.  Of course I was more than ready to see my family and be a part of my community again, but I have never considered Denver, Colorado to be home.  There are memories in every house, but I’m not attached to any of the abodes I’ve lived in as an adult.  On the other hand, each time I think of Waa Street and see the skyline of Honolulu, and the lush landscape of Hawaii that’s what fills my soul.  Folks say “home is where the heart is” but maybe as Chitra found out “heart is where the home is.”  For all of my footloose friends and readers who, like me, have moved to chase dreams around the world, perhaps this is what home really looks like.   

A WANDERER’S RETREAT by Chitra Vanerjee Divakaruni

     My father was a footloose man, so as a child I was shunted from town to town in India, a different one almost every year. Our houses blur in my mind. What I remember most is the smell of new paint and the nervousness in my stomach as I got ready to attend yet another school where I knew no one.  Home to me was my grandfather’s house in our ancestral village of Gurap, in the eastern part of India.  To my child’s eye, it was the biggest house in the world and the best (though on returning as a young woman, I realized that it was, in fact, quite ordinary.)

     The two story brick house had a long veranda that looked out on jasmine trees and gardenia bushes.  My grandfather, a retired doctor, was an avid gardener and whenever I visited him, I helped enthusiastically.  Behind the house was a mango orchard that was exciting and scary.  Rumor was, people had seen cobras there– and ghosts.  My days at grandfather’s were filled with freedom and wonder.  I went with him for long walks in the fields of mustard flowers and listened at night, in his cool, tiled bedroom lit by a kerosene lamp, to stories of gods, heroes and demons with the snarling heads of animals. 

     My family left for the United States when I was 19.  My entire first year in my new country, I wept for that house, knowing instinctively that by the time I went back to visit, it would not be the same.  And it wasn’t.  When I was 22, my grandfather died, and with him much of the house’s magic passed out of this world. 

     I must have inherited my father’s footloose nature, because I too have moved around, sometimes for my husband’s career, sometimes for my own, to Illinois, Ohio and a succession of cities in California.  Now we live in Texas.  Perhaps my willingness to relocate comes from being an immigrant: Once you give up your first home, once you suffer through that initial heartache, giving up one more house doesn’t seem to matter so much.  I lost faith in man-made structures and became attached to landscapes: the windy expanse of Lake Michigan, the wide flowering of buckwheat trees, the ancient redwoods and the curve of the Pacific, the water oaks bordering shady bayous that harbored egrets.  Yet I couldn’t hold on to them either. 

     As I grew older, I began to yearn for a permanent home.  Even after we’d been in Texas for seven years, I still wondered if permanence could exist in this sublunary world. 

     One day, by fortunate blessing I discovered meditation.  Through it, I began to feel the quiet center within, filled with light and the deep comfort of belonging and being loved.  This is what I’d always been searching for in all those houses and gardens and all the illuminated beauties of nature.  And all this time it had been in my heart, waiting patiently for me to turn to it: the home of all homes.    

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


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Esther’s Last Dance

Esther Heller tells me she used to be a dancer.  She says she won competitions in Paris and Athens and even Kamchatka (although she no longer is certain where that is.)  She used to teach dancing in Denver.  Waltzes and Polkas and Fox Trots.  She did it for free so people could learn to move their feet.  But now Esther’s feet have betrayed her.  Until a couple weeks ago, 90 year old Esther lived in her own apartment, overlooking the college where she also taught French for many years.  Over the past years she hardly went out but she led the life she chose.  Then she fell and broke her arm. 

Now Esther, who says she visited 200 countries and speaks 12 languages, lives in a assisted living world called Shalom Park.  She lies in bed and politely refuses to eat.  She likes Ginger Ale so she drinks a bit.  Each day she grows weaker and each day dementia takes more of the memories that have sustained her for a lifetime.  The memories of Poland and the family she lost in the Holocaust and how she didn’t go to school and how she was put to work at 13 and somehow out of sheer will she managed to go to college and eventually become a teacher at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School. 

I come in to visit her but she doesn’t remember who I am anymore or that I am the one who brought her the orange tulips.  She wants to know what day it is, what time it is, and why so many people keep coming into her room.  I show her pictures of places she has seen in Israel, Rome, Istanbul and Prague.  She looks at the Coliseum and the Western Wall in Jerusalem and says “I can’t place it.”  Now and then memories flicker by and she smiles sadly.  But she remembers she used to be a dancer and how she won competitions and taught people how to move.  From where I sit, in the chair across from her bed, Esther seems to be choreographing her last dance.  She has chosen not to follow.  She will do it her way.  She will lead as she dances out of the world.

NOTE: Esther Heller died peacefully in her sleep on December 3, 2009.  I was blessed to know her and am grateful that I had the opportunity to hear her stories. 

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


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The Faith Club

I’ve spent the last two days in temple celebrating Rosh Hashanah but for some reason this year I’m not feeling it.  Perhaps it’s because I only show up for the high holidays and each year it’s the same story of Isaac and Abraham and Hannah and Peninah.  My Jewish experience is so limited.  Rabbi Mo is at the top of his game with sermons about living in the moment and about coming home to family.  I hoped my 15 year old grasped his lesson about how everything you do affects those around you.  But still the year 5770 is not stirring me like Days of Awe in the last few years.  So I decided to do something different.  My friend Kathy, suggested I read the book “The Faith Club” so during these 1o days I’m reading it and really thinking about how I feel about religion.  My friend Susan MacCaulay who has a website called “Amazing Women Rock(http://amazingwomenrock.com) out of Dubai said she’d link to my musings. 

“The Faith Club” is a book written by three women, Ranya Idliby who is Muslim, Suzanne Oliver who is Christian and Priscilla Warner who is Jewish.  It is a very honest recount of their meetings over time and their exploration of what unites and divides them.  I love this book for its candor.  The women are fearless in their desire to confront each other and grow in interfaith friendship and understanding.  They beat down stereotypes and shared controversial points of view.  We are told never to talk about religion but they did and it was transcendent.  As I write this I’m only on page 80.  I have lots to read but I’m inspired to write and search for greater understanding. 

On the way back from temple today my son Kyle and I were arguing.  Why was I wasting his time making him go?  Why can’t we go to the temple by our house where his friends go?  For that matter why can’t he just be Christian?  I feel a great connection to Israel and the Jewish culture but I’m finding it difficult to pass it along to my children.  I was never raised Jewish because my father suffered too much during the Holocaust.  His parents were killed in the concentration camps.  I came back to my heritage and to Judaism when I became a mother.  I didn’t want my children to grow up in a vacuum.  My father tried to talk me out of it because he felt I would be persecuted.  My parents went a long ways to spare me the pain of being Jewish in what they perceived was an anti-semitic world.  They sent me to an Episcopal School and I sang in a Catholic choir.  To this day I love the traditions of the Catholic Church and in some ways I envy born again Christians for the way their faith fills them and for their one way certainty.  At the same time my Jesus envy ends when my kids say “come Lord Jesus be our guest” at the dinner table every time my Lutheran in-laws come to visit or when there is so much hate and dogmatic thinking in the name of religion.  What would Jesus do?  Certainly not kill doctors at abortion clinics.  I don’t believe there is just one way and all religious zealots make me want to scream.  Why can’t we all just get along?

I will continue to blog on this subject as I read the book.  It is my project during these Jewish holidays.  I wish I had a faith club to help me process this so perhaps if anyone reads my blog we can dialogue and learn more about each other’s faiths.  I wish for the courage the women in “The Faith Club” have to speak openly and honestly and I would love to find like minded people who would enjoy sharing their journeys as well.  I’m just getting to the portion of the book where Ranya speaks of the difficulties in being Muslim in America.  Tonight in Denver, Najibullah Zazi and his father, Mohammed, were arrested as part of an ongoing terror investigation.  I’m sure it’s making a moderate Muslim like Ranya cringe.  Fear and misunderstanding.  As all faiths go through the year we need more to unite us rather than divide us. 

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


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A Dog Speaks Out On Michael Vick

My name is Ka$h (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) and I’m a chow shepard cross.  I’m a former pound puppy who was adopted from the Denver Humane Society in October by a wonderful family.  I was only a few months old when they got me and was already returned by someone else.  When I came to my new home I had issues.  I would pee when I was happy or when I was scared or even when someone came to pat me on the head.  And I would fight with the other dog, Sydney.  We would go at it whenever food came between us and I hurt Sydney very badly.  My new family was exasperated and they were going to send me back to the pound.  But they gave me a second chance.  Now I am one year old and I’m a good girl.  I don’t pee on the rug anymore and I try really hard not to fight.  I’m an excellent watchdog and there is no one else who chases a ball as well as I do.  You should see me.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. 

Being a dog I don’t like what Michael Vick did.  He was mean to animals and he hurt them.  I met alot of dogs in the pound who were abused and they were scarred badly.  It made them hard to adopt sometimes.  It seems weird that someone as fortunate as he was would do something so evil.  But I think he should get a second chance too.  He has gifts and maybe because of this experience he will be smarter and more compassionate and learn to do the right thing, just like I did.  Maybe he’ll even set an example for children and volunteer at the Humane Society.  If he does then he can stay with his new NFL family, the Philadelphia Eagles, and if he doesn’t, well, he just might end up back in the pound.  There are lots of dogs, and two legged animals, who deserve a chance at redemption.  I hope Michael Vick steps up like I did.  I am a smart dog and I’ve earned my place in the family.  I challenge Michael Vick to be good like me.

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


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A Denver Death Examined

I was particularly moved by Denver Post reporter Karen Auge’s story about the death of one homeless man and the efforts to uncover his backstory.  What probably made people notice this death is the photo of a trio of maintenence workers on the 16th Street Mall who were trying to revive him.  To the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless each of these lives matter but how often do the rest of us look the other way and ignore the plight of the homeless.  At least in death, people cared to know about Rick Johnson. 

http://www.denverpost.com/ci_12916115?source=bb

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


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How People Live

During April I’ve had a photo exhibit running in Studio 13 Gallery in Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District.  It’s called “How People Live” and is a collection of photographs from the streets and slums around the world that illuminate the diversity of people and the condition of the poor.  Photos were taken in Uganda, China, Thailand, India, Brazil, Mexico, and various places in America.  Most of the photos were gathered while I was on television production assignments.  “How People Live” was a fundraiser for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and I want to thank all the people who supported this effort.  I’ve posted the photos to Facebook and Flickr and wanted to share them with a broader audience.  Hope you find them compelling and enlightening. 

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1106444740&ref=profile

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vickycollins

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


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Twitter to the Chief

President Barack Obama & Vice-President Joe Biden

President Barack Obama & Vice-President Joe Biden

President Obama came to Denver today to sign the economic stimulus bill.  He chose the Mile High City because it is on the cutting edge of green technologies he believes will take America into the future.  I attended because I am producing a story on the impact of the economy on public hospitals.  Stimulus dollars are going to provide relief for health care too.  The story is slated to air on HDNet’s World Report (http://hd.net) on March 24.  I was in the crowd as a producer of a documentary length story for television, as a photographer, a blogger and for the first time, a twitterer. 

It was a powerful convergence of journalism and social networking.  I was doing what journalists do, taking down facts and quotes for my larger story, but I was also taking photos for my blog and twittering in between.  Within seconds of sending out tweets I had people texting me to tell me they were following my posts.  When I returned home I saw that my blog had three times as many hits as usual.  A month from now a 30 minute story about how the economic crisis is driving public hospitals into insolvency will air but today I broadcasted 140 word stories (@vickycollins)  and was excited to discover that there was an audience for those too.

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