Monday, February 28, 2011

Super Mamika

Image by Sacha Goldberger

A few years back, French photographer Sacha Goldberger realized that his 91-year old Hungarian grandmother ("mamika") was lonely and depressed. So he proposed taking her portrait, the result being that it is plainly evident how Mr. Goldberger feels about his Mamika. He adores her.

Image by Sacha Goldberger

To say the series of photos produced by Sacha and his Mamika were therapeutic for his grandmother, Frederika, is an understatement. She had become something of a sensation in her 90th decade, with all of her humor and joy back where it should be- front and center.

Now I ask you, wouldn't it be a blast for your facility to do something similar? I'm sure that it would be possible to find a photographer willing to volunteer their time and talents to do the photos in exchange for some free advertising. Or an art student or accomplished amateur. With well-photographed pictures, you could produce a calendar or series of greeting cards as a fundraiser for your facility. The portraits wouldn't even necessarily need to be as elaborately staged as Super Mamika's portraits, maybe a plain backdrop (like the flag in the photo below) with just the right props. You could have a calendar theme of your choosing so maybe one year the residents participating could be super heros, maybe the next they could portray favorite movie characters or reenact famous paintings or historical events. Perhaps the theme could be of past professions or dream jobs, maybe funny takes on facility programs and activities.

Just imagine the discussions you could have with your residents as you decide at Resident Council whether or not to pursue this activity. Imagine the discussions as you brainstorm for themes. What kind of stories would your residents tell during their photo shoot, for newsletter articles, during reminiscence groups? Would you not love to be a fly on the wall as your resident shows off and talks about their photo(s) and experiences with their family members?

Image by Sacha Golderberger

Of course you have to do all of the photo releases and consents. Above all it would be absolutely mandatory that the dignity of your residents be maintained- something most Activity Directors do naturally. The resident models should have capacity and should have as much creative input into their portraits as possible. Each resident model should, I feel, have final say as to which photo(s) would be published. Not the family, not the facility, not the Activity Director-- the resident.

I've listed some websites for you to check out (click on the link, not the icon). Some are strictly fundraising, some are not. As a disclaimer, I have not done business with any of these sites and am not being paid to promote them- I'm simply listing some possible resources. Of course you can and should check out local print shops but these sites should be able to give you a starting point as far as pricing and possibilities.

Yearbox Custom Calendar Printing has a variety a calendar styles and of course the more you buy the cheaper they are per calendar.
Create Photo Calendars - Scroll down the page a bit for a nicely priced annual calendar.

Shutterfly has a variety of calendars, cards, and other products for you to customize. has more kinds of customizable items such as CDs & DVDs, cookbooks, poetry books, and photo books.

So those are just a few resource- hope they give you lots of ideas. When you are looking at pricing, the calendars that are stapled instead of spiral bound are way cheaper.

For more photos of Mamika check out Eugene's blog where I originally stumbled across Mamika (not literally, of course) by clicking here. Mamika has a Facebook page as well as one on MySpace.  Sacha Goldberger also has a website. It will be helpful if you speak Hungarian. Just sayin'.

Susan Adcox, on her blog Susan's Grandparents Blog,  raises the question as to whether or not these photos exploit Frederika rather than empower her. Click here to go to her post and read her comments. She refers her readers to Peter Zander's photos of seniors. These too are beautiful photos  and  you can see them by clicking here.

I like both of the photographers' photos. Frederika clearly has capacity to decide if she wants to dress in silver spandex and be posted all over the web. She is clearly celebrating who she is and has a rich enough sense of humor to celebrate the silliness of it all. Go girl! Zander's photos speak to an entirely different aspect of being elderly and are appealing on a deeper more personal level.

What do you think? Click on "Comments" below and share your thoughts.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pearl's Inspiration

Many years ago, when I first began working in Long Term Care, there was a resident at the facility where I worked named Pearl. And she was a pearl, a true gem of a woman. Pearl never graduated from high school, only going through 5th grade because it was necessary for her to go to work in order to help support the family. This was back in the late 1930's when opportunities for a young black woman were truly limited. Pearl cleaned houses, worked in a bakery, and was a nanny to countless children. Pearl raised her family alone after her husband of 3 years left and she simply did what she had to do in order to survive. She once told me that living in the nursing home was the most luxurious life she had ever known.

During Pearl's admission interview, I of course asked her about any creative pursuits she had enjoyed over the years. I knew what was coming. No, she shared, she never had the time, money, or resources for creative activities. And besides, Pearl continued, she just wasn't an artistic person. Yet working without patterns, instructions, or any education other than what her mother had shown her, Pearl made clothes for herself and her kids from free and cast off lengths of fabric. She made quilts out of old clothing, fashioned flowers for her church hats from newspaper. Every spring Pearl would lay out her garden and plant the seeds she had saved from the previous year and she could bake anything you suggested, even if you suggested some crazy surprise ingredient. She just knew these things. But Pearl never thought of any of these activities as hobbies and never considered herself to be creative. It was work. It was what had to be done to get through life.

Image via Gatsby and Me

So I asked Pearl if she would like to try some coloring. She had done a little bit of coloring with the kids she had nannied but had never actually completed an entire picture. And she certainly never actually drew anything. But Pearl was a curious soul and so with a bit of trepidation she agreed. Her first picture was an 8 x 10 zerox copy from a coloring book of a bouquet of flowers- three daisies and some leaves. Pearl was stunned. She couldn't believe that she had colored a complete picture. Her second picture was one of those big 11 x 17 pages- a cat sitting in a window with flowered curtains and more fresh daisies. Oh my, you should have heard Pearl protest when I gave her that big blank page and a box of colored pencils. She swore it was too difficult for her and it would never look good and people would make fun because, she was certain, she had no artistic ability. So we struck a deal when I convinced her to color the curtains. That's all, just the curtains. Of course you know that she colored the entire picture.

One day, in the middle of coloring her third picture, Pearl sat back and looked at her coloring page for a very long time. Finally, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "I never knew I could do this." Pearl was 72 years old. And "do this" she could. I started showing her little hints about shading and shadows. I showed her how colors mixed to make new colors- really basic stuff like blue and yellow make green. Pearl was mesmerized. She started coming to every single craft group and I had to work pretty fast to keep her stocked up with coloring pages. Her room became an art gallery. When I proposed that she try some painting, Pearl looked at me for several minutes with one of the most piercing looks ever directed at me before her face broke into a smile and she giggled. Yes, she giggled like a school girl. "You know I'm gonna do that." she said.

One of the most precious gifts I've ever received was a picture from Pearl. I almost named this blog "Pearl's Greenhouse." An elderly maid who couldn't read and who would make up names for colors that were way better than Crayola's names for them has, in a sense, been by my side almost every day of my career as an Activity Director. It was such a blessing to have had that experience with Pearl so very early in my career as an Activity Director. I still call "Cornflower Blue" by Pearl's name for it- "Ocean of My Dreams."

A pearl begins with a seed, a tiny bit of almost nothing. Pearl thought she had nothing but she had a seed. All she needed was nurturing. I love it when someone is able to unearth their creativity, when they respond to a little warmth and nurturing and build the courage to push up through the soil and bloom.

Spruce seedlings 2
By Barnaby S via Flickr

OK- with my next post in a couple of days we're going to get started! I will begin sharing some benefits of creativity and will introduce you to a very super Grandmother.

Take a look at the links in the side bar and don't hesitate for a second to send me some suggested sites to add via my email. I do have some other side bar categories that will be added over time but at least we're started with something. Also, take a look at the Tabs across the top of the blog- these are the some of the main areas (but not the only areas) that I would like to focus on so again, please let me know if you have post ideas to contribute. I will be soliciting Guest Bloggers down the road so get your ideas brewing.

On the side bar are two things in which I would like for you to participate. First, sign up for an email subscription- you'll be notified by email when a new post goes up. Also, please consider becoming a gardener in the greenhouse by becoming a Follower. By Following, you can log into an RSS feed such as Google Reader and follow posts from there. The cool thing about that, besides it being free, is you can add different blogs you are following and read all the recents posts from one place. So if you follow other activity blogs, such as Recharging Retirees just for example, you can get posts for all in one place. Love all that techie geek stuff!

And as always you can leave a comment for a particular post by clicking on "Comments" at the end of each post. Comments are published on the blog after each post and are great for sharing ideas and thoughts about that day's topic.

Hey- I'm getting pretty excited to start on this growing season with y'all and would love for each of you to become part of this community- a community garden for our residents!

See ya next time.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Welcome To The Greenhouse

Sunflower Seedlings
Photo by Samantha Simpson via Flickr

Hi, and welcome to The Creativity Greenhouse.

Photo by thumeco via Flickr

The Greenhouse is currently under construction and you will notice regular tweaks. Please keep checking in as things will be starting to sprout very soon.

Grandma in the Garden
Photo by K-Bot via Flickr

I am excited to start on this trip with you as we seek to foster creativity and self-expression in our senior "creativity gardeners." Once we have the dirt, fertilizer, an irrigation system, the warm nurturing sun and some fat mulching earthworms for good measure in place, we'll start to work on our growing season with many seeds of creativity for you to plant among your residents. I'm looking forward to exploring and sharing the endless varieties of creativity found in the seniors we serve as well as learning about your great program ideas.

The Old Yellow Watering Can
Photo by Karen via Flickr

I would also like to have direct input and feedback from you, the Activity Directors all over the map who are planning and implementing an incredible range of programming for our seniors. You may email me directly or comment here (use the "Comments" link at the end of this post) with your ideas, your needs, your suggestions. My hope is that this blog is hosted by me but not totally by me. Each of you are creative, whether you think so or not, and it is my hopes that this blog will provide an opportunity to share your creativity and to highlight your creative residents, facilities, and programs. As we learn ways to nurture the creativity in our seniors, I also desire to nurture your creativity and to refresh your soul as well.

So please, share your thoughts here and check back regularly. Spring is coming!!

Old Boots with a New Life
Photo by Cheryl Binstock via Flickr

Your comments are always welcome in The Creativity Greenhouse because I love to know what you're thinking. Just click on "Comments" below.