blog news, book reviews, celebrities, LDS, mental health

Then again, maybe I won’t… at least not today.

At the end of yesterday’s post, I shared two videos by Mr. Atheist. On those videos, Jimmy Snow, aka Mr. Atheist, reacted to videos put out by anti-abortion activist, Kristan Hawkins. I watched the videos and cringed pretty hard. I thought maybe I would offer my own thoughts on them today, but I think that maybe I’ll postpone that plan. I had written I would comment on them if people were interested. It seems that no one was… or, at least no one is at this point in time. And frankly, I just don’t feel like writing about Kristan Hawkins today. I don’t think I can stomach listening to her talk about why abortions should be outlawed in all cases. Besides, Jimmy already does a pretty good job of explaining why Kristan’s opinions are wrong.

Nope. Today, I think I’d rather write about the book I’m reading right now. I’m finding it much more compelling than I did my previous book, The Case for Heaven, which really didn’t interest me much at all. I was glad to finish Lee Strobel’s book about what comes after death. I moved on to my favorite type of book– a celebrity memoir. I’m currently reading Jennette McCurdy’s new book, I’m Glad My Mom Died. The title alone is very compelling, isn’t it? You just KNOW there’s gonna be a trainwreck.

Meet Jennette McCurdy… she is fascinating.

I’m not quite ready to review this book yet, as I’m only about halfway through it. What I will say for now is that Jennette McCurdy’s story reminds me a little of Melissa Francis’s book, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir. Melissa Francis is, of course, much older than Jennette McCurdy is, but the two have a lot in common. They both suffered stage mothers from hell. Both were actresses, not necessarily because they wanted to be, but because their mothers wanted them to be. Both suffered extreme abuse on all levels. I think Melissa’s mom was more sadistic, while Jennette’s mom was more manipulative and emotionally abusive. Also, to my knowledge, Melissa’s mom is still living, while Jennette’s mom succumbed to breast cancer in 2013.

Before I bought her book, I didn’t even know who Jennette McCurdy is. I’m well beyond the years of watching new Nickelodeon shows– not that the show she was famous for is all that new anymore. Jennette was on iCarly, but she also did guest roles on other shows, commercials, and other stuff. McCurdy’s story is also interesting to me because, besides being raised LDS, she also had problems with eating disorders (which her mother enthusiastically encouraged), anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. The chapters are very short, so even though I’m only halfway through the book, I’ve already gotten to chapter 44 or so. And each chapter is more shocking than the last, as McCurdy shares the sheer nuttiness of her mother, the craziness of being a child actress, her mental health issues, and the religion aspect that complicates everything. The crazy thing is, she NEVER even wanted to be an actress. She just happens to have a talent for acting, and her narcissistic mother exploited it to the hilt.

I have never been LDS myself, but Bill was LDS for awhile. His daughter is still a very active church member, and the LDS church– which was Ex’s idea– has had an impact on my life. I know a lot about the church, its practices, and what its members believe. However, I have never been a member, nor would I ever be one. McCurdy seems to have gotten a lot of comfort from church when she was growing up. I relate to that, because I know Bill’s daughter has also gotten comfort from the church when things were especially crazy as she was growing up. In some ways, I also see a lot of similarities between the way Ex behaves, and the way Jennette’s mother did. She is extremely manipulative, possessive, controlling, and just plain weird. But I’ll get more into that when I review the book, which at the rate I’m going, should be within the next few days. I’m finding the book a real page turner, but in kind of a trainwreck sort of way. I’m simultaneously fascinated by the story and horrified by what this poor young woman had to cope with when she was a child.

I know some people will take issue with the title… It sounds horrible. However, I can totally understand why she used that title. Her mother sounds like she was true nightmare to have to deal with. For just an example– imagine your mother sending you dozens of emails, text messages, and voice messages after she’s seen pictures of you on TMZ, taken by a paparazzo. You are an adult, in Hawaii with your boyfriend, but you feel you have to lie to your mother about where you are. You come up with a ruse to trick her, only to have it foiled by a photographer, hungry for a sale. Your mom sends you all manner of abuse, accusing you of giving her cancer, bringing her shame, and calling you things like “filthy whore” and “all used up”. Then, as she signs off with “love”, she adds a P.S.– “Please send money for a fridge. Ours broke, and the yogurt is going sour.”

Imagine your mother explaining how to engage in eating disordered behaviors when you’re still a child, in the midst of becoming a woman. Imagine being fourteen years old and still sitting in a booster seat in the car. Imagine your mother insisting on showering you when you’re sixteen, sometimes also with your brother; her excuse is that she’s a former beautician and wants to make sure you wash your hair “correctly”, so it will impress a casting director. Imagine your mom using your money to pay the mortgage, and being forced to sleep on a mat in the dining room, because the bed you purchased for yourself is covered in your mother’s miscellaneous crap.

I know that Melissa Francis and Jennette McCurdy aren’t the only ones with stage mothers from hell. Wil Wheaton has also spoken openly about his own abusive, money hungry, fame whoring parents, who forced him to act when he didn’t want to do it. I’ll probably read his book next, since it’s been in the queue for awhile, and it will probably dovetail nicely with I’m Glad My Mom Died. I love a good tell all memoir, especially when it involves questionable parenting. Shirley MacLaine’s daughter, Sachi Parker, wrote a pretty good one some years ago. It seems the kids who grew up in show business had it the worst, especially in the days before child welfare advocacy was less of a thing than it is today. If a parent was also a celebrity, then the chances for massive dysfunction go up exponentially. Christina Crawford started it when she wrote Mommie Dearest, but there have been some real whoppers since her book was published in 1978. Gary Crosby wrote a pretty shocking book, too.

Anyway… I am looking forward to finishing the book and writing a review of it. I think it will be interesting on many levels to several of my regular readers, as well as new ones who haven’t found my blog yet. So stay tuned. I’ll sign off now and get back to reading.

celebrities, music, obits

Grace and gratitude: a fond farewell to Olivia Newton-John…

Just as I was going to bed last night, I got the news that Olivia Newton-John had died at age 73, having spent the past three decades battling breast cancer. I have been an Olivia fan since I was about– oh, I don’t know, maybe three or four years old. I have always loved her very sweet voice, from the time she was an up and coming country star until she was a guest star on Glee.

There were a few interludes in her career that I liked somewhat less. I wasn’t a big fan of the song “Physical” when it was popular, probably because it was such a departure from what she had been doing in the 70s. Also, I got super sick of that song, because it was constantly on the radio and MTV. But, as I got older, I came to appreciate her in almost every incarnation, even when she was doing super sexed up songs like “Soul Kiss” and “Tied Up”. I listened to her less in the 90s, although I know she put out some new age type music then. I also remember she had an Aussie clothing line called Koala Blue.

Then, in 2016, she joined singer-songwriters Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky on the album Liv On. What I loved about that album was that all of the songs were so beautiful, with lyrics that were comforting, grateful, and consoling coupled with gorgeous melodies and harmonies. The trio must have known people would want to sing these songs, since they also released a karaoke version. On more than one occasion, when I’ve listened to Liv On, I’ve found myself choked up with emotion. I’m not sure why they put out an album with so many emotional songs on it. Maybe it was because Olivia had battled breast cancer, as did Beth Nielsen-Chapman. I just read that Amy Sky’s mother also suffered and died of breast cancer, so she has also been very active in raising money for breast cancer research. Indeed, Olivia even opened a research center in Australia to help battle cancer.

I know Olivia was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in the 90s, but she went into remission. In 2013, the disease came back, and a few years after that, it had spread to her spine. I read that the pain was pretty unbearable during this time, yet there was Olivia, so sunny, upbeat, pretty, and blonde. She always looked like an angel to me, even when she was supposed to be sexy, like at the end of Grease, when she traded her plain pink frocks for black leather, satin pants, and heels. Those winsome looks, combined with her beautiful voice, were enchanting to me. She was the one rare singer my dad and I could always agree on when we were in the car together. And I always admired her positive outlook and genuinely sweet demeanor, always delivered with good humor.

My favorite Olivia era is the 70s. I used to listen to three specific albums repeatedly: If You Love Me Let Me Know, from 1974, Don’t Stop Believin’ from 1976, and Making A Good Thing Better, from 1977, which my dad had on 8 track. Years later, I also fell in love with her 1975 album, Have You Never Been Mellow. To this day, I’ll often put on that album when I need to calm down. In fact, in my memories yesterday, I even mentioned that song, as I remembered moving to Texas in 2013, where we would stay only a year before leaving the United States for Germany. I remember being awed by her powerful vocals when she took on big songs like “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.” And I always got a good laugh when I heard her try songs like “Ring of Fire”, which she gave a disco bent flavored with country, or “I’ll Bet You A Kangaroo”, which was no doubt a tribute to Australia, her adopted homeland.

Olivia’s music got me through many rough times. It also helped me bond with others. One of my best friends in college, a guy named Chris, was (and still is) a huge Olivia fan. He even went as far as to get a picture with her and an autograph, which he posted on Facebook yesterday. She was the one person whose albums he would always buy, and pretty much the only person whose music we could discuss without him managing to piss me off (don’t get him started about James Taylor). I loved to sing her songs at karaoke shows, and would often bond with others who liked her music, too. She was always a popular choice!

I even enjoyed Olivia’s forays into acting. I especially loved Xanadu, which was released when I was seven years old. I didn’t see it until a couple of years later, when we had HBO. In the early 80s, that movie was constantly showing on the cable movie networks. It bombed at the box office, but the soundtrack was awesome! And for 8 and 9 year old me, it was a magical film, with so many special effects and fantasy elements. Yes, as a 50 year old, I know it’s a cheesy film with a ridiculous plot, but I still count it as a favorite guilty pleasure. It, too, is something I watch when I need to cheer up. I can always count on Olivia to make me smile and soothe my soul with her sweet, warm, powerful voice.

I probably won’t do her justice, but I’ve decided to try a couple of songs from Liv On, as my own tribute to Olivia. We’ll see how they go. I would like to do some of her early stuff, too, but as it’s early in the morning, I figure my voice will probably hold out better with some of her more recent, more vocally forgiving songs. So watch this space, because this is where I’ll share the results, when they’re ready… which if I know myself, will be in a couple of hours or so.

A pretty song I tried from Liv On… You might recognize the lyrics.

I was going to do a second song. I may decide to do it tomorrow. I almost had it wired this morning, but Arran and Noyzi were demanding a walk, and then I decided it was too hot to try another. So maybe tomorrow… if only for the challenge of it, and the fact that I will always love channeling my inner Olivia.

I finally managed “Grace and Gratitude” a month after I posted this…

book reviews, dogs

Repost: Review of The Dog Lived (and So Will I)…

I just found two more lumps on Arran. They’re probably mast cell tumors. This has been an ongoing problem with Arran, who got his first one in 2015 and had another one removed in January. Zane also had MCTs before he finally graduated to lymphoma and passed away in 2019. Anyway, I am reminded of a book I read in December 2016 to keep my hopes up. I’m reposting it for those who might find it useful. It appears as/is.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been processing the news that my sweet beagle, Zane, has mast cell cancer.  My other dog, Arran, also had a mast cell tumor removed and there’s been no recurrence so far.  I’m not sure we’ll be as lucky with Zane.  I have a lot of anxiety about my dogs and life in general.  When I’m faced with a problem like this, I usually go hunting for information.  In my quest for information, I ran across a book called The Dog Lived (and So Will I): A Memoir.

Written by twice divorced California lawyer Teresa Rhyne, this is a book about a dog named Seamus who had an aggressive mast cell tumor.  The dog eventually recovered from the tumor.  Then Teresa found a lump in her breast that was cancerous.  Rhyne turned her odyssey into a successful blog and then wrote her book, which was originally published in 2012.  I will admit that I decided to download the book because I was looking for a hopeful story.  In Rhyne’s book, I did find some hope.  

At the beginning of the book, Rhyne is coming back from a trip to Ireland, where she’d gone to see relatives.  She had just been through her second divorce and lost her two dogs within months of each other.  She’s overwhelmed and depressed, but looks amazing.  Rhyne explains that when the chips are down, she ups her personal grooming.  It’s like an armor she wears to help her bring her “A game”.

Rhyne has an irreverent sense of humor and writes about how much she enjoyed her Irish relatives tendency to use the f word liberally.  When she met Seamus, a dog who seemed to need her as much as she needed him, she was reminded of her irreverent relatives.  Although Seamus proves to be a challenge to train, they become a pair.  And then Rhyne starts a new relationship with a man named Chris, twelve years her junior.

This book is part dog story and part love story, with a healthy sprinkling of medical and veterinary drama thrown in.  Rhyne adds her interesting sense of humor and the compelling stories of how she and her dog both battled cancer and annoying doctors, and both survived.  It’s probably just the kind of book I should be reading right now.  Thanks to Rhyne’s way with words, I managed to get through this book quickly and effortlessly.  I related to her story and admire how she’s turned her experiences into a new career.  After the success of her first book, Rhyne wrote another.  She now does public speaking and continues to rescue dogs.

As for us and our situation with Zane, I’m not really sure what’s going to happen.  His tumor was not as aggressive as Seamus’s was.  We live in a different country and Zane is a bit older and grayer.  At this point, I’m more inclined to work hard to give him a great quality of life rather than put him through multiple surgeries and chemotherapy.

I have to admit, though, that reading about Seamus was inspiring.  Rhyne’s story about her breast cancer was also interesting, even if it left me checking my boobs.  I was impressed the most by Rhyne’s loyal and long suffering boyfriend, Chris, who was apparently Teresa’s rock.  To be honest, Rhyne comes across as somewhat self-absorbed, although I figure she’s also pretty genuine.  I’d much rather deal with someone genuine but somewhat unlikable over someone who’s fake.

Anyway… I would recommend The Dog Lived (and So Will I) to interested readers.  I give it four stars out of five.

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book reviews

Olivia Newton John’s life story, Don’t Stop Believin’…

When I was a child, I loved Olivia Newton-John’s music. My dad was also a fan, and he had at least three of her albums. Two were on cassette tape and one was on 8-track. I wore all three of them out. She was the one singer whose music we could agree on when we were in the car. I loved her super sweet voice and light country sound, which eventually evolved into radio friendly pop. Her range was very impressive. Even in her country days, she’d try other genres. I remember her version of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, which is not my favorite of her songs, but still impressively done.

As I got older, Olivia started doing other things. She was in Grease with John Travolta, then Xanadu. I loved Xanadu when I was a kid. I watch it now, only as a total guilty pleasure. When it used to air on HBO all the time, I’d watch it over and over again and I liked it better than Grease. What can I say? I was a child, and children aren’t always known for their good taste. I do still love the soundtrack from Xanadu, even if the movie is cheesy and ridiculous.

When I was in college, I had a good friend who loved Olivia’s music even more than I did. Although he admits his musical tastes “suck” (and that was actually how he put it), we do both share an affection for Olivia. He even added me to a Facebook group full of her fans. I don’t participate in it much, but I do enjoy some of the posts. That was where I first heard about her book, Don’t Stop Believin’, which was just released to U.S. readers in March. I believe it was available in Australia before then. I’ve also heard a movie was made, an edited version of which appeared on Lifetime. I haven’t seen it.

She’s looking great!

Olivia Newton-John was recently in the news because tabloids had reported that she was on her death bed. Olivia, just as sunny and beautiful as ever, responded by making a video letting everyone know she’s doing fine, even though she struggles with cancer. Much of Olivia’s book is about her cancer struggle, although she doesn’t include a lot of gruesome details about it. Unfortunately, it appears that besides stunning good looks, musical talent, and a winsome personality, Olivia inherited a tendency toward cancer. Her older sister, Rona, tragically died of a brain tumor in 2013 and Olivia has had three bouts of cancer, which started in her breast back in 1992.

A 1976 gem… back in Olivia’s heyday. My dad had this album on cassette and I wore it out.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” (not to be confused with the epic song by Journey), was a song that appeared on Olivia’s 1976 album by the same name. I don’t think it was one of her best known hits, but the title does fit with the overall theme of her book, which is about being positive and living your best life. Olivia Newton-John maintains a lovely attitude and upbeat tone, sure to delight her fans, even if some people don’t see it as entirely believable.

I’ll be honest. I’m kind of a cranky, cynical person. I can’t help it. When I read a book that is about 99% sweetness and light, I have some trouble believing it’s entirely truthful. I’m sure Olivia Newton-John is a very warm and friendly person, but much of what she’s written in her book seems more about PR than the truth. One reviewer on gave her a one star rating and noticed a lot of the same things I did. Olivia has nothing bad to say– and she does a lot of name dropping. On one hand, a reader could conclude that even stars like Olivia can be starstruck by other celebrities. On the other, sometimes it comes off as a little tacky. Olivia Newton-John also promotes alternative healthcare therapies. I’m not one to totally dismiss alternative medicine, but she doesn’t really provide enough information, particularly from credible sources, that explains why these therapies are so good for cancer treatment. Instead, she does a lot of cheerleading for the cancer center she lent her name to in Australia. It actually sounds like a wonderful place for treatment, but it’s probably out of reach for a lot of her readers.

Olivia Newton-John’s book is relentlessly cheerful, even though she’s been through some challenges. Some people will appreciate that quality. Even I, as an admitted grouch about some things, was able to take a pearl of wisdom from the book. When Olivia was first diagnosed with cancer, a person noted that the cancer would cause her to grow. Although I wouldn’t wish cancer on a person to help them evolve, I do agree that difficulties in life help a person become resilient, resourceful, and wise. Maybe, in a weird way, a person can see the experience of having cancer as a kind of “gift”… on the other hand, my guess is that most people would not see it that way… especially the many people who do not have Olivia Newton-John’s fame and fortune to sustain them. Moreover, speaking only for myself, I appreciate it when people are honest. I felt like Olivia Newton-John’s book could have used a bit more honesty.

Olivia is not actually a native Australian, although she definitely promotes that image. Olivia Newton-John’s father was British. Her mother was German. Olivia and her siblings were born in England and they moved to Australia when she was a child. I did rather enjoy Olivia’s comments about her famous Nobel Prize winning grandfather, Max Born, who was friends with Albert Einstein. Olivia writes that she is a hopeless failure at math, just like I am. However, they say math and music are connected. Like Olivia, I excel at musical pursuits. Interestingly enough, like Olivia, I also have some family members who are great at math, but don’t do music.

I would have liked to have read a bit more about Olivia Newton-John’s upbringing, more about her important relationships… I guess what I’m really saying is that this book lacked depth. Olivia adores her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, but really doesn’t write much about her, other than relentless positivity. Chloe famously suffered from anorexia nervosa, much like Olivia’s dear friend Karen Carpenter, who also gets a mention. This would have been a good opportunity for Olivia to write a little bit about anorexia nervosa and how she dealt with her daughter’s experiences with it. But she just glosses over it, and doesn’t mention her daughter’s cosmetic surgery at all. This wasn’t a book about Chloe, of course, but I think it almost would have been better to not mention the eating disorders than just gloss over them with a brief mention.

I remember back in college, a friend quipped that listening to Olivia Newton-John’s music is a bit like being wrapped in cotton candy and set out in the sun. As much as I enjoy her very sweet vocals, I have to admit, that description of her music kind of fits. I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that her book is almost as sweet. That quality might annoy some readers, but overall, I found Don’t Stop Believin’ to be an uplifting book. Olivia Newton-John shares with me a love of animals, particularly dogs and horses, and an affinity for music. I wish I could be as beautiful, kind, and lovely as she appears to be. I’m glad she’s found help for her cancer that focuses on wellness and natural healing. It appears to be working. When it comes to cancer, I say do whatever you can to make the healing as bearable as successful as possible. I wish Olivia well, and would recommend her book to fans. Just don’t expect a lot of dishing.