Ricki and Me

All the early influences on my writing were musicians. Singer/songwriters. I wanted to be one but I didn’t have the voice. I wrote bad poetry, I played guitar, I could sing a tiny bit, but I knew I didn’t have that magic. So I wrote other things and listened to the great music of the 50s, 60s and beyond. We all felt lucky that these bands came up with us. Their lyrics inspired me. Being from Detroit, I loved Motown as well as Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin. I loved the folkies and the country rockers. I listened to Dylan like he was a prophet, which of course, in his own way, he is.

“Last Chance Texaco” is my favorite Ricki Lee Jones song, although you might only know “Chuck E’s in Love” which was a monster hit for her in the early 80s. I never pre-order books but I did hers (titled “Last Chance Texaco”) because I adore her music and also years after her boyfriend was Tom Waits, who wrote his own memoir a few years ago and all he said about Ricki and their breakup was “She scared me.” I think he didn’t like she was a bigger star than he was, but whatever. She doesn’t say that, but she has a lot to say about her love affair with Tom. She was so in love and it took her so long to get over him. Now I get the bigger picture of that story, from both sides. I admire Waits as a musician but writing her off in one line of his book was such a guy thing to do.

I love rock memoirs, but I had started to notice that male rockers were much more numerous when it came to writing their stories. Must be because for every female singer/songwriter there are many many male rock gods. I decided I wouldn’t read any more male musician memoirs (unless Dylan ever writes “Chronicles Part Two”). Why? I can’t relate. I hate how they almost all brag about groupies and we all know many of these girls are underage. I used to love Graham Nash, his singing and songwriting, but at the end of his book, he says he tells his new wife, the love of his life, she’s just going to have to put up with him and his groupies and what they do together. They are part of the road, he says. No wonder Paul put Linda in his band.

Women songwriters tend to write better memoirs than the men with their predictable trajectories. I have read a few great male rock stories, like when I was desperate for a new book and I read David Grohl’s. I was so glad I did. I hated him for getting a band together, being lead singer, and playing guitar. Seems like he just wanted to take Kurt’s place. But I found out he didn’t. He had the same feeling about it all at first as I did. He knew the fans would. Many told him he’d never be Kurt. But his story was really good and he was a musician before he ever knew Kurt and had been in all the teenage boy bands that the artists cut their teeth on. He already played guitar. He’d already been a lead singer. And music was in his blood. I ended up not hating him anymore and really appreciating him, if not his music.

But Ricki Lee did more than tell a great story. She set something loose in me, something I’ve carried around way too long. We’re the same age and went through very similar childhoods and teenage years. Her parents were always breaking up and getting back together. Her mother kicked her out of the house at age 14. (I was 15 when my mom did the same). She lived rough and was often hungry, just like me. Both of us hitchhiked as a way to be somewhere different and maybe find a good meal at the end of the ride. Neither of us could legally drive or get a job. We both continually, when things got really bad, called our moms. Who inevitably sent the plane ticket. She wasn’t writing songs yet but she was singing and gathering material. I wasn’t writing stories yet, but I did have a notebook of (bad) poetry that I left in Key West.

To this day (and I’m 66) I feel it’s a miracle I survived those years unhurt. And I’ve never known anyone who existed like I did, sleeping on couches and in cars with my little bundle of clothes. Scared, cold, hungry. I had some lucky times, when a friend’s mom would let me stay for a few weeks or months. That’s really where Ricki’s story and mine diverge. But it freed me in a way. I was NOT such a freak after all. My parents were NOT the only couple who kept doing the break up/get back together dance. And while Ricki Lee went on to singer/songwriter fame and fortune, I became a not-famous fiction writer.

Also, Bob Dylan told Ricki Lee her album “Pirates” (with the Tom Waits break up song “Lucky Guy”) is real poetry. Bob Dylan! Her lyrics are that good and her voice is sublime. If you want to hear Ricki Lee, she’s on You Tube playing the guitar in her living room in New Orleans, kind of a cool marketing thing for the book. I’m not doing much marketing for my most recent book, Jane in St Pete. I had a whole thing planned but Covid kinda ruined it. But I just thought of something! I can leave you a link; there it is.

After the Break

I took a little Spring Break from blogging and it has served me well. I managed a lot more pages on my manuscript and that was the idea. Or in part anyway. I also feel like after 19 years blogging, daily then weekly, I needed to reassess its usefulness. I come back to blogging determined to continue the Retirement Diaries category despite my husband hating all social media and not wanting me to write about him. He did not mention photos, however. So enough about him! I’ll continue to write about writing too. 100 pages into my manuscript. Thanks, Covid. Writing up a Storm. Vaccinated, too. Maybe soon I’ll get back to behaving as normal again? I miss my family and friends face-to-face. Miss everyone, but especially my grandkids, who are still at the age where they think grandparents are cool.

I’ll catch you up on my writing next time, but today, I have a (sort of) (for now) health triumph. When my innards took a slow turn downward, it was difficult to write about, because as one editor, when rejecting her manuscript, said to Tessa Miller, author of What Doesn’t Kill You, “poop stories don’t sell.” I picked up Miller’s medical memoir because I also have the same digestive health challenges and wondered if she had any tips for living easier with what ails me. Miller has Crohn’s disease, which is the most horrible of the chronic poop diseases. At least I came away with that…there may be worse. Wait. I know there’s worse. She mentions them.

I’m feeling grateful that once again, I have found a pill and diet that seems to work. Meaning, I go to the bathroom like a regular person. For too long, I was very hung up on diets, hoping to cure myself if I just avoided dairy/sugar/wheat/grapes/broccoli. I don’t think that anymore. Much more important, which I knew but conveniently forgot for awhile, was to eat smaller meals. Easier on the digestion. There was not a whole lot of “don’t eat this food ever” in Miller’s book, or much mention of food at all, such a nice relief from the heavy focus I’ve had on food since all this started about eight years ago.

For eight years I was convinced that the right diet would make me right again. I tried “mostly plants” aka vegan, that didn’t help at all. Before that was vegetarianism, which I practiced for years, but also did not stop the progress of whatever disease I have. My doc is treating it as IBSD, but I need more testing once I’m back in Michigan. Another diet my doctor suggested was the Mediterranean diet; it didn’t help the core problem either. I did the “Starch Solution” which people swore by, although I think it was more about losing weight while eating potatoes. Yet all these diet did make health claims that just weren’t true for me.

Another thing Miller said was that it takes a long time to diagnose gut disease. I still don’t have a solid label for whatever has been plaguing me. First it was “lactose intolerance” but the meds for that stopped working after a few months. Finally, wheat was the last thing I had not given up. Wheat. It is in everything. Also, I love toast! As my new pill says, most people will not be able to stick with a diet that cuts wheat. Here’s where I’ve been for six months or so now: no sugar, no starchy vegetables, no raw vegetables, only berries and bananas for fruit, no dairy, no wheat, no processed foods. And yes, that’s hard to stick to. When I ate any of those foods, or gave myself a day to eat what I wanted: ice cream, chips, cookies, flourless chocolate cake and white wine, for example, I lost all control of more than my diet.

Wine doesn’t seem to adversely affect my bowels, for which I am grateful. Although I note that when I have wine, I don’t sleep well. Yes, getting old is quite the ride. It takes a long time to learn things and as I age, my body creates new problems to deal with. I’d say that’s true for most of us. As I take this new medicine as directed (a generic of IBGard and also a good probiotic) I have been doing well. It’s a challenge to take two pills thirty minutes before each meal, but I’m managing with the help of a food journal. If I eat dairy, I still take Lactaid, too.

Oh and age is not always to blame! Miller started having problems in her early 20s. But she has Crohn’s and that’s similar but different from my food sensitivities, many of which I do think happen as we get older, especially lactose intolerance. Her book is for everyone who has struggled with gut health. She’s so young and knows so much. While me, I’m a slow learner.

Holiday Eating

Delicious food and drink are a lovely part of my holidays. It’s always been this way, but has become even more delightful now that my kids are grown and moved away. Kids are the main treat, really. Without them, we’re just adults stuffing ourselves silly and perhaps drinking too much eggnog. Even during Covid. I only had three people in my house but I purchased enough baked goods, high fat foods, and alcohol that we still have not finished off. Not a problem with the booze. It doesn’t spoil.

But I do have a problem with food, maybe more than one. First, I’m overweight, so I should not be eating cookies. Second, I have digestive issues I try to control with things like Omeprazole, Lactaid and IBGard. I also have a personal gastroenterologist who has been keeping track of my digestive tract for a very long time. Maybe twenty years.

Probably ten years in, I started having bathroom issues and I blamed that drug. My gastro guy said “Do you want to die of cancer or try to control your toilet trouble?” (The test for my persistent heartburn had revealed pre-cancer cells). So I kept taking the double dose until finally, after many clear tests, he suggested I try taking one pill a day, not two. I had to taper off the double dose gradually, but I did it without heartburn. It did nothing to help with the distress in my lower digestive system.

My personal physician advised Lactaid, then IBgard. I’ve tried pre and probiotics as well. I’ve tried every diet known to man, I’ve read and studied and I’m doing okay on most days. Holidays, not so good. Lactaid worked for a long time, but not so much these days. IBgard had me ecstatic for about a month. An expensive mix of pre-pro biotic plus a secret scarce ingredient found in a specific location that is very difficult to get to, had mixed results. Also I tried to find a dietician, but during Covid, that’s not easy. Meanwhile, sometimes, if I indulged in a treat like a slice of buttered toast, my body revolted in increasingly distressing ways. Even if the “butter” is non-dairy. I use almond milk-cream-peanut butter, etc.

That’s the back story. Moving forward to this Christmas and the feast I provided for my dad, my husband and myself. I was feeling pretty good about this expensive new pill. I ate whatever I wanted. I of course wanted it all. Twice. My dad and I talked a bit about this problem of mine…he has the same thing. My husband, who ate everything we did, does not have our digestive issues. Lucky him. Meanwhile Dad says “Have you looked down the diaper aisle lately? There’s as many diapers for old people as there are for babies.” I gave him some Lactaid because he has a dish of frozen yogurt every night.

My dad is only 18 years older than I am. I see my future and it’s not pretty. Unless I can successfully revise my eating habits. I’m currently reading an IBS cookbook that deals with FODMAP foods. I’ve read it before. Understanding FODMAP will drive you crazy, but wearing diapers? I can’t deal with the idea of that. If I can heal myself by what I eat, I’m doing it. I’m making an appointment with my gastro guy, who I had an appointment with during Covid. He cracks me up. When I reminded him that Omeprazole could be the source of my problem, he said “all medications cause diarrhea.” It’s ironic. Even medications to help cure diarrhea list “diarrhea” as a side effect.

What younger people (and people with better gut health, some of which is inherited) don’t know is that those side effects may not apply to you…until they do.

Our First Florida Christmas

We got to Florida on Thursday. I believe Al put the naked tree up that very day. We already had it down here for a family party one December. Our Seattle family flew in and Dad was here and I wanted a tree because Julia was still a baby and Owen was still little too. Kids love Christmas. So do I. Of course there were presents!

Since we’re planning to sell our Michigan home, and never ever ever be there for Christmas again, I brought down some of my favorite Christmas things. Dad came over Friday and we decorated the tree. That’s our bubble, now. Three. I invited Dad for Christmas dinner and then we all looked at each other. When exactly WAS Christmas? Why, just one week away. We’re going to keep our decor Christmasy until whenever in January I can finally part with it.

After Dad left, Al said, “The tree looks nice, but there are no presents!” We don’t usually do much in the way of gifts for Christmas, so this shocked me. Today we will shop for presents (wearing masks of course) and order the ham. Florida is wide open. I’m hoping with all my heart most of the small St Pete businesses and stores survived. We’ll find out today. And maybe see some neighbors and catch up on the gossip. From a safe distance.

I am Covid weary and Christmas cheery. See you next year!

Christmas Differences

Seems like this close to a year, I should be updating Retirement Diaries. On the other hand, isn’t everyone doing the same thing? Staying home? Lots of people dying every day. It’s depressing. We’ve lost several in our Michigan community. Out of 100 or so people, five died within a few weeks. I’ve had to make an effort to stay upbeat, not let fear or depression swamp me. It’s hard. I think it is for most of us.

Al and I have always thought differently about Christmas. It was so difficult in the early years of our marriage. My mother made our Christmas mornings magical so I enjoyed everything about it and Al didn’t share my enthusiasm. He didn’t like the commercial aspects of the holidays. But he never woke up to a living room filled with toys not just under the tree but set up like little scenes. For me, there was the little table and chairs, with a doll in one of the chairs and the Easy Bake oven on the table. Everything sparkled. One year there was a guitar for one of my brothers and a drum kit for the other one.

I didn’t know that having a special Christmas with lots of toys was commercial. I didn’t think about that. But now I see what Al means and it doesn’t matter to me that we don’t give each other loads of gifts. But it mattered to me when my boys were little. Al and I had very different childhoods and it took a few years to understand each other and all the various family traditions. We got to know each other better just by talking it out over the course of ten or twenty years. LOL I’m not even kidding. But we’re fine now and I don’t expect him to have loads of presents for me under the tree.

Many years we’ll think of one big item that we both want and we’ll buy that. Some years he surprises me with a special piece of jewelry. This year, trying to declutter the house before putting it up for sale in the spring, my mind has been hammering home to me that I have way too much stuff. It wasn’t always that way, but somehow I have about twenty boxes of Christmas decorations. I’ve sorted them into donate/trash/keep piles. Then I had to do two piles, one for Christmas in Florida this year and one for Christmas in Florida when we buy our new home. Because our condo is cute, but it’s little.

We are leaving in a week and I’m excited despite Covid. I still love Christmas. So far we have donated two large loads of Christmas things, including a tree and ornaments. I used to shop at thrift shops and Salvation Army so I’m always happy to donate things I can’t use anymore, thinking “someone will like this tree.” I tell myself a little story about how there’s a person or a couple or a family who don’t have money for a tree and they happen to spot my donated tree for $5 or whatever the price. And they’re thrilled to take it home and hang ornaments on it, wondering what kind of person gives away such nice things.

Very early in our marriage I would say to Al “I can’t believe you don’t like Christmas! Who doesn’t like Christmas?” and he’d say “I like Christmas, but I don’t like the commercial aspects of it.” And I would roll my eyes, thinking he was Scrooge. But now that our life overflows with so much stuff, I see his point.