Friday, May 28, 2010

Glaciers and Geysers

The proper name of the country is not “Iceland” but “Island”. That’s the name that is printed on all its postage stamps: Island. I knew about the stamps because I went there with a group of middle-aged stamp collectors.

If I made a list of places I wanted to visit, Paris would be first, never mind the rest of France. Then I wanted to go to England and Italy, and lots of other countries. Never in my dreams had I imagined that the first time I flew away from the U.S. it would be to go to Iceland. But when Wallace offered to take me there, I packed my bags. I found a unique and fascinating place.

I was not surprised recently when a volcano suddenly erupted out of the center of a glacier. When I went there I saw, just off shore, a new little island created when a volcano suddenly came up out of the sea. Iceland is a large island, about the size Virginia, totally formed by volcanoes pushed up from the bottom of the North Atlantic, just as Hawaii was formed in the Pacific.

While Hawaii is tropical, Iceland is just south of the Arctic Circle, so far north that big trees won’t grow there. And it has enormous glaciers.

The plane landed at the air base at Keflavic, and we rode a bus for miles toward Iceland’s capital through a landscape that looked as if we had arrived on the Moon. The only thing vaguely similar was that barren stretch of Arizona desert on the road to Las Vegas.

After a few days in Reyjavic, the stamp collectors and I were taken on a tour of the countryside. We went around bare, rocky mountains, where our guide insisted trolls lived underground, and across pastureland, where long-haired sheep roamed about in the short grass.

We traveled on unpaved roads and over bridges so narrow that the bus had rubber bumpers on the sides to keep it from being scraped against the railings.

We saw a glacier, about as high as a four-story building. That was just the end of it. We were told it stretched for miles between the mountains. Was this the one that the volcano poked through to spew ash over Europe? I don’t know.

We saw a magnificent waterfall, like Niagara falls dropping into the Grand Canyon.

We also saw a field of geysers, like in Yellowstone Park. Or, more properly, Yellowstone has geysers like Iceland, as the Atlantic island was discovered first. The word “geyser” is an Icelandic word. We were told that, unlike Old Faithful, Iceland’s geysers do not erupt on schedule. Our guide said he could pour a box of Tide into the opening, and the geyser would retaliate with a splendid shower of steam.

All this was extremely interesting, but the best part of Iceland was meeting the people. I’ll tell about that in the next blog.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


That volcano in Iceland continues to spew out ash clouds, making havoc of air travel between the U.S. and Europe. Every time I see photos of the mountain erupting out of the center of that glacier it evokes my memories my own trip to Iceland.

When I lived in Chicago, Iceland Airlines had cheap fares to Europe. I made several trips leaving Chicago from O’Hare, and landing briefly in Iceland before continuing on to Luxemburg, the only place in Europe outside Scandinavia where Iceland had airport privileges.

Only once did I see more of Iceland than an hour in the airport. It was on my first trip overseas, and we went with a bunch of middle-aged stamp collectors.

My husband, Wally, was a stamp collector. My children went without new clothes for school, but Wally always had money to buy stamps. His parents came from Denmark, and his specialty was Danish stamps. When his mother died, his total inheritance was $250 (she liked to go to the horse races). He bought a rare stamp to complete his Danish collection.

Then he started adding Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. When we were divorced, I got the house. Everyone said, “Aren’t you lucky? He let you have the house.”

Yes, I got a $70,000 house with the $45,000 mortgage. He got to keep his stamp collection worth $80,000.

But that came later.

In 1975 I never imagined a divorce in our future. That year the international stamp exhibition was in Copenhagen. Chicago’s Scandinavian Collectors Club arranged a group tour with five days in Iceland and a week in Copenhagen. Wally let me go with him.

Taking a trip with a group of fuddy-duddy old men stamp collectors was . . . . well, unusual. But I’m glad I got to experience Iceland. Many years later I was able to visit many other countries. Iceland remains near the top of the list as the most interesting.

I’ll tell you more about Iceland later this week.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dreaming of Europe

During World War II our family lived in a big, brick “Dutch colonial” house on Cooper Street in Fort Worth. With five bedrooms, Mother rented out two of them.
Mildred, who lived in our house throughout the war, left for work early each morning, taking a bus to the “bomber plant.” building planes to fly over Germany and bomb their cities into rubble.

In addition to the trauma of the war – all the young men were fighting in the Pacific or in Italy – polio was rampant in Fort Worth. Swimming pools were closed, and parents were told to keep their children at home. As a teenager, I was considered a child.

I spent the long, hot summers in my parents bedroom, sitting in my great-grandmother’s rocker beside the back window, hoping to catch a cool breeze - 100 degrees and no air-conditioning - and reading National Geographic.

Someone gave my mother all the issues of the Geographic back to 1926. The magazines had their own bookcase, three shelves of lurid yellow with black lettering on their tattered spines. Illustrations in the early issues were black and white photos, but in later years the magazines had special color sections. I remember Hungarian folk dancers wearing bright red boots. How I wished I could see those dancers!

I dreamed of seeing all of Europe, but that summer it was blowing up, burning up, disappearing under heaps of twisted steel girders and fallen bricks and stones Would there be anything left after the war? In 1943 we could not see an end to the war, much less the rebuilding of Europe afterwords.

I dreamed. I cut a map of Europe out of the newspaper. The purpose of the map was to show countries occupied by Germans. I ignored that. With a fountain pen I marked out a trip, starting in Paris and going down the Loire River and over the Pyrenees to Spain, than back across Southern France to Italy, and so on. Yes, going to Hungary and looping back to end in the Netherlands.

A lot happened to me between 1943 and 1983, when I finally took my “Dream Trip”, forty years after I spent that lonely summer in my parents’ bedroom reading magazines. I drove all over Western Europe in my new BMW. What an adventure! Worth waiting for.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Texas Plays

Texas is not Broadway, but some interesting things are going on stage here. A few weeks ago Lois and I went to a Garland Little Theater production of “Funny Girl.” The lead actress screamed and sang in what she thought was a Bronx accent. Texans can not play New York. It was dreadful.

Lois and I also saw three plays set in Texas. All were interesting.

Two months ago the same company produced “Greater Tuna.” A broad comedy with illiterate, gun-toting, hard-drinking, car-stealing, cussin’ characters, typical of some small Texas towns. Not great theater but great fun.

More recently we went down to Mesquite to see “A Texas Romance.” A romantic comedy about a young man in love with an older woman. Some interesting insights on relationships. What obligations does a woman owe a man, just because he loves her? The woman’s sister has a tubercular husband. The doctor says he will die if they do not move to the New Mexico desert. She does not want to leave home. (Typical Texan!}

Today the Montclair bus took us into Dallas to the Bath House Playhouse. In a small theater (inside what was once the bath house for swimmers at White Rock Lake), we saw a bare stage production with a group of actors playing the part of actors in a Texas summer theater.

There were plenty of laughs to entertain the Texans who did not follow the references to Chekhov and his play in which the characters talk about “going to Moscow” but never go.

The leading role, an actress “Well-Traveled but Not Well-Known”, dreamed of escaping from small-town Texas, worked in theaters all over the country but has not made it to Broadway. In the end she goes with the director of the summer theater to live in Mankato, Minnesota.

When I saw the play’s title, “Well-Traveled but Not Well-Known”, I said, “That’s me.” Once I dreamed of going to New York. Perhaps there I could find a publisher for my novels. Instead, I married and moved to Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Albuquerque, and ended up back in Texas living in a retirement home with a bunch of other old ladies.

Mine is a pleasant life, surrounded by Texans.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


On the last Thursday each month I go to the library to meet with a group of women to talk about a book we’ve all read. I enjoy the discussions, but . . .

This month we read “The Romanov Prophecy.” One of the silliest books I’ve ever read!

The novel tells about a conspiracy to restore the Romanovs to the throne in Russia, with a cabal of American industrialists and corrupt Russians conspiring to elect a puppet so they can control the country, a plot which is threatened by a group which has secretly hidden the true successors to Nicholas II. Many murders occur as the hero tracks down the heir of the Czar’s son Alexis, who survived the massacre of Nicholas and Alexandria and their family and who ended up living with his sister Anastasia in secret in North Carolina.

Did you ever read anything more ridiculous?

On the bookshelf in my living room I took down my copy of “The Tragic Dynasty”, subtitled “A History of the Romanovs” by John Bergamini. The last chapter is “The Romanovs Since the Revolution” which tells about all the various relatives of the last Czar who managed to escape Russia when the Bolsheviks took over. According to Bergamini, in 1969, when this book was published, there was a large group of Russian nobility living in New York, where “It is easy to encounter (them) at their church on Ninety-sixth Street.”

According to Bergamini, a successor to the Russian throne was not the buffoon portrayed in “The Romanov Prophecy” but Cyril Vladimirovich, the last Czar’s first cousin, who was proclaimed “Emperor of All the Russias” in France in 1924. “Cyril I” died in Paris in 1938, “leaving his London-educated son the empty title.” This son, “Vladimir has stayed out of the news and quietly celebrated his fiftieth birthday at St. Briac in September, 1967.”

I said it was ridiculous to portray Nicholas’ two youngest children surviving (they didn’t!). But migrating to North Carolina?

Nicholas II’s two sisters, Xenia and Olga, both escaped the Revolution. In 1948 Olga and her husband, Colonel Koulikovsy, moved to a farm in Canada. As an elderly invalid she lived with a Russian family over a barbershop in East Toronto. “Her being invited to appear at a shipboard reception for Queen Elizabeth in 1959 startled her unsuspecting Canadian neighbors.”

Why do readers lap up “historical” novels? Just read history. The truth is often more interesting than any thing a novelist can imagine.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Calling on Friends

I had a whole list of errands I needed to do. As I backed my car out of the parking space behind our apartment, a man stopped me.

“Your right rear tire is low.”

That changed everything. Instead of going to the mall and the supermarket, I drove straight to Discount Tires, where I have a contract for tire care. I told the man behind the counter to check the tires, and since I was there, would he please have them rotated?

“That will take an hour or more.”


There I was, with a long “to do” list in my purse, sitting on a little plastic chair in that shabby office smelling of rubber and dust, stuck for an hour with nothing to read but automotive magazines. How to pass the time? I took out my cell phone and called friends in New Mexico.

It was so good to hear those familiar voices! These were the women I palled around with when I lived in Albuquerque. We reminisced about the things we did, the book signings and Philharmonic concerts.

Our lives have changed since I moved to Texas. Betsy no longer drives and spends most of her days alone. Frances cares for her grumpy old husband, who will soon be 90. Nurses and therapists are in and out of her house all the time.

We remembered Charles and Florence, who had no children but were nutty about their toy poodle. Florence enthusiastically bought fancy little coats to keep the dog warm when she took him out for walks. She and her husband stopped coming to the senior center for lunch because the poodle was lonely when they were away. The little beast yapped constantly, and I couldn’t go in their house without him jumping up and clawing my legs.

I told Frances, “I thought they were silly in the way they doted on that dog. Now I am just as silly about my cat Charlie.”

“He sits on your lap and purrs,” Frances reminded me.

“Charlie keeps me company,” I said, “That cat is the only male in my life.”

“That’s better than a man,” said Frances.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Doctor Visits

Doctors are outraged by the new health plan. If payments are cut, they will refuse to care for Medicare patients.

I am one of those old people whose Medicare payments are much higher than the taxes I pay. As you know, I am in dialysis three days each week. These treatments are extremely expensive. I’m grateful for Medicare and insurance which pay for all my medical bills. Dialysis keeps me alive.

Many of the other patients I see at the dialysis center are on Medicaid. Your taxes pay for them. But many of them would not be there if they had not been too poor to go to doctors earlier in their lives.

Before each session the nurse listens to my heart and lungs. The technician takes my temperature before and after each treatment. Since I have two bad arms, a blood pressure cuff is strapped to my left leg. During dialysis that cuff tries to amputate my leg every 30 minutes. Once a month I have complete tests of all the components in my blood.

Once a week the doctor comes around, looks at my chart, says, “Do you have any problems?” and goes on to the patient in the next chair. I’ll let you know later how much he gets paid.

You’d think that would be enough doctoring for anyone, but every specialist I’ve ever seen has insisted that I have a “primary” physician. I’m sure the tiny, young Indian woman listed as my primary doctor is capable. She wanted to see me every three months. I said I’d come once a year.

I saw my primary physician on March 15. This week I received my E.O.B. (explanation of benefits) from my insurance company for that visit. All she needed to do was renew prescriptions. These are all “maintenance” medications which I need to keep me going. One is for my thyroid, which I’ve taken for 65 years!

At the Baylor Senior Health Center I waited for over an hour. The doctor came in. I said, “Do you have the blood tests I asked the dialysis center to send you?”

“No,” said the doctor, “I won’t write any prescriptions until I see the results of the tests.”

The nurse wrote down a list of the prescriptions I needed refilled. I saw the doctor for about five minutes and then waited the rest of the afternoon for the dialysis center to fax the blood tests. At five o’clock I went home. A few days later the prescriptions came in the mail.

Now about the E.O.B. The doctor billed $173.82 for her services, and the Baylor Senior Health Center asked for an additional $102.83. How much did Medicare allow? The doctor was allowed $75.52, of which Medicare paid $60.42, the rest by my insurance. In addition, Baylor was allowed $68.56, of which Medicare paid $54.85, the rest by insurance.

Don’t you think $144.08 was enough to pay for this doctor visit? I think it was excessive.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day 2010

Another Mother’s Day and once again I am alone. I ate lunch with Jean and Mary. Jean’s family took her to the cafeteria for dinner last night. Mary’s sons sent her flowers, and all three called her this morning.

I talked to my daughter Friday evening. Martha promised her brother David that she would order flowers for me. She said she had been too busy at work to place the order. Cody, our cook, came by our table and gave me a yellow rose.

Sallye also stopped at our table. She said her son and his dog came to her apartment this morning. The dog had a flower and a card attached to his collar. “They didn’t stay long. He went to the park to play with the dog.”

So it is. Some children smother their mothers with gifts. Other mothers have to be pleased to get a card. And some, like me, get nothing. Does it mean that some women are better mothers than others?

My children’s father was a real Scrooge when it came to giving me presents. When it wasn’t a holiday, as he came home from work he would stop at the train station and pick up a half-pound box of chocolates or a handful of daffodils. But for special occasions? My birthday, Valentine’s, Christmas – nothing! We went out on our 24th wedding anniversary, and I paid for our dinner.

Children learn habits from both parents. If my children don’t send gifts, they are just following their father’s example.

Today Martha and David are middle-aged parents. I see them doing what I did when they were teenagers. Both have demanding jobs. After work, both devote their lives to caring for their spouses and children. Both are excellent parents. I worry that they don’t have time for anything except work and family.

Other old women who live where I do are dependent on their children for everything. Elizabeth’s daughter comes to take her to the grocery store. Erline’s son writes the checks and pays her bills. Becky can’t go to a play because she has to go to her grandson’s soccer game. At times it seems these women and their children don’t have lives of their own.

I am independent, thank you. I live in my own apartment, still drive my car, went to the theater last week, balance my own checkbook, keep up with politics, and read two weekly magazines and at least one book each month. I am content with a full and active life, even though my children live a thousand miles away.

The price of independence is that my children don’t worry about me. They know I can take care of myself. If there is an emergency, I will call 911.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Immigrants

Arizona law allows police to arrest anyone who can not prove he/she is a U.S. citizen. Protests, both opponents and supporters of the new law, erupted in cities all over the country. On television I saw the march in Dallas, with thousands of Hispanics waving American flags.

The U.S.-Mexican border is overrun by poor, brown-skinned people who risk death to come here. What can we do about illegal immigrants?

First, we need to understand: The desperate people who come here illegally believe that the U.S. is still a land of opportunity. They dream of becoming citizens.

People say, “Let them come legally.” Under current laws, unskilled people from Latin America can not obtain visas to enter the U.S. legally without waiting for 15 or 20 years. By that time, their children would have starved.

“Illegals” are willing to take the lowest-paid jobs and work under terrible conditions. Did you see the documentary about workers in the Tyson chicken plants? Our own black and white citizens won’t work in those dark, dangerous, and degrading conditions. Illegal aliens do it because, bad as it is, at least it is a job, and there is no work for them in Mexico.

A woman I ate lunch with told me she sold her house and moved to this retirement community because her neighborhood was being taken by “undesirables.” I wonder if she knew any of her new neighbors. When I moved to Garland four years ago, I bought a house in a formerly “all white” area, but which was changing into a black and Hispanic neighborhood. I had good neighbors. Friends who came to visit commented on how quiet it was. In the three years I lived there I know of one robbery: of the black professional couple who were away on vacation.

While I owned that house, I was dependent on a young Mexican couple. Miguel took care of my lawn, mowing and edging, keeping it beautiful. His wife cleaned my house. The first time Maria came, she walked straight to the windows, pulling up the blinds and starting to clean the glass. I knew she was going to give the house a thorough cleaning. You could not find better workers.

Miguel and Maria are among those despised “illegals.” They come from large, poor families. Maria would like to visit her widowed mother in Mexico, but they want to live in the U.S. Their three young children were born in Dallas County.

Congress is now writing new immigration laws. Instead of building more fences, I wish they would pass legislation to make visas easier to obtain and in which each immigrant visa would include an application for citizenship. Let the American dream become a reality.

At the same time I recommend: elimination of the current law which allows citizens of foreign countries to stay here as “permanent residents.” Also, eliminate “dual citizenship.” Anyone who lives here for five years should pledge allegiance to the United States, become a citizen, or leave