book reviews, celebrities

A review of Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma, by Karen Grassle…

If you were growing up in the 70s and 80s, it’s a fair bet that you might know who Karen Grassle is. For eight years, she played Caroline Ingalls– Ma– on the hit NBC show, Little House on the Prairie. I was born in 1972, so I was a child when that show was airing on prime time. I remember watching it on Monday nights, probably starting at the time I was about eight years old or so. By then, the show had been airing for some time, and was starting to jump the shark a bit. It wasn’t until I started watching reruns on TBS during my college years that I really became a fan.

Although I loved Little House, I wasn’t necessarily a fan of Michael Landon’s. I always thought he was kind of weird. One time, I saw a comedian do a hilarious imitation of the way he smiled, screwing his eyes a bit and twitching his jaw, as if he was trying to keep from crying. The comedian had him down perfectly, and every time I see Landon on screen, I’m reminded of it, as well as why he never came across as particularly handsome to me. Edited to add: I think the comedian might have been Jim Carrey. Here’s a clip.

When I got older, I started to understand why people found Michael Landon so charismatic. He had this “saint like” image that he tried to project in his projects. A lot of people were fooled by him, thinking that he was much like his saintly characters, especially Charles Ingalls– which was probably his most famous role. He was well-known for being generous and he certainly had a gift for making television programs that appealed to the masses. A lot of women thought he was “hot”, too, although it’s clear to me that he knew it, which I find kind of repellant.

As Karen Grassle points out in her recently published memoir, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma, there was a lot more to Michael Landon than met the eye. And he was no saint. But then, neither is she. I just finished her eye opening memoir last night, somewhat surprised by her story.

Karen Grassle talks to Megyn Kelly about her book and working with Michael Landon. In this interview, Grassle says Victor French was a “wonderful actor”. And he was. But he also had a problem with alcohol.

Karen Grassle’s life started off normally enough. She was born February 25, 1942 in Berkeley, California. She grew up in Ventura, the daughter of a real estate agent and a teacher. She also has a younger sister named Janey and an adopted son named Zach. When she was very young, Grassle was captivated by her Baptist faith. She studied ballet, acted in school plays, and was popular among her peers.

Her first year of college was spent in New Orleans, Louisiana at H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, which was the women’s branch of Tulane University. Grassle couldn’t hang in New Orleans. She found the atmosphere too offensive with the rampant racism in the South during the early 1960s. With help from her mother, Grassle went back to California and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, from which she graduated in 1965, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Dramatic Art.

After college, Grassle won a Fulbright Scholarship and moved to London for a year. Living in London gave Grassle the chance to travel around Europe, and she writes a bit about her experiences seeing the continent. She even includes a passage about riding on a train with a young Italian man and his father and having sex with the Italian guy while his father snored beneath them. I could relate to the train experience to Italy, minus the sex part. I once rode in a sleeper car with an Asian family on my way from Vienna to Venice and listened to the dad of the family snore all night. A little sex might have done me some good.

Grassle later moved to New York City, where she struggled financially, and picked up roles at the many theaters there. She drank a lot and smoked too much, and picked up interesting odd jobs to make ends meet, including a stint working as a size eight model for garment makers. Although she worked steadily, she didn’t really become financially successful in any sense until she moved back to California and auditioned for the role of Caroline Ingalls. The rest is history.

Yesterday, I wrote about Betty White, and how I think sometimes people mistook Betty White for her characters. I think the same may be true for Karen Grassle. On Little House on the Prairie, Grassle portrayed a beautiful, God-fearing, kind, gentle woman. Michael Landon portrayed a male version of that same ideal. But, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, actors are often not at all like the roles they play. That is apparently very true of Karen Grassle and Michael Landon. Grassle writes that the two of them didn’t get along very well after the first year of the show’s eight season run. Although on screen, they looked like they were deeply in love, they really were just acting…

In Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, Grassle gives readers a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes on Little House, but readers shouldn’t expect an exhaustive tell all about the show. This book is really a book about Karen Grassle. The title is a bit misleading, which is why I think Grassle got some low ratings from Amazon readers. I think a lot of people read Grassle’s book hoping for stories about Little House on the Prairie, and what they got is a book that is pretty much just about Karen Grassle’s life, with only a little bit about the show that made her a star. There’s also quite a bit of throwing Michael Landon under the bus and airing of “dirty laundry”. As someone who also often airs dirty laundry, I can understand why she wrote about these things… but I can also see why other readers found the revelations off-putting.

I mostly enjoyed reading Karen Grassle’s story. I don’t judge her for her life choices or mistakes. We all make them. Karen Grassle admits to being an alcoholic who had many difficult relationships with men, including an unfortunate tryst with actor Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers) that led to a sexually transmitted infection. She’s been married a few times. She’s had a couple of abortions. She turned away from Christianity. She didn’t get along with Michael Landon and, in fact, even judged him for infidelity, even though she had herself been unfaithful to at least one of her partners. I’d say she’s pretty much the antithesis of Caroline Ingalls, a role she played so convincingly.

Karen Grassle writes that she loved working with Scotty MacGregor, otherwise known as Mrs. Oleson.

I’m sure a lot of readers will judge Karen Grassle for not being Caroline Ingalls. I guess I can understand why they might, since the title implies that she’s going to impart wisdom the way “Ma Ingalls” did. But again, I think readers should understand that actors are human, and memoirs are the ultimate project in self-promotion. Of course the book is about Karen Grassle, and Karen Grassle isn’t “Ma Ingalls”. That was just the most famous one of the many roles she’s played over her long career. I, for one, was interested in reading about Grassle’s lesser known work on the world’s stages.

I appreciated reading about Karen Grassle’s work toward promoting women’s rights. She grew up in a time when racism and sexism were rampant, and anyone who wasn’t a white man had less power simply because they weren’t a white male. I think it’s pretty clear that Grassle is politically very liberal, and she feels very strongly about protecting women’s rights, including the right to have an abortion. Grassle had two experiences with abortion. The first one happened when she was 20 years old. She had to go to Mexico, and it was done secretly. The second one was done ten years later, in New York, where in 1972, abortion was legal. She compared the experiences, which I found interesting, and a bit frightening for today’s young women, who may soon lose the right to privacy and bodily autonomy. Some readers may have less sympathy for her, later in the book, when she laments how she eventually wanted a baby of her own. She did eventually adopt a son.

Grassle is also very involved in Jungian therapy, which I found intriguing, since my husband is also into Jungian therapy. She writes a bit about dream analysis, and some of the cool insights she got from some of her therapists. I probably wouldn’t have noticed that part of the book if Bill wasn’t working with a Jungian therapist. If I had read Karen Grassle’s book a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have cared about her revelations regarding Jungian psychology. But I guess it just goes to show you that as one’s life evolves, so do one’s interests.

The one thing I distinctly didn’t like about Karen Grassle’s book was a certain contrived quality it had. It was like she was trying really hard to write in an evocative way that came across as insincere. Her writing wasn’t terrible; it just seemed to lack some authenticity. Like she was trying too hard to turn a phrase or something.

I do think the title of the book is misleading. I’m sure it was purposely given that title to make sales, but plenty of people who bought it for the potential of Grassle’s “spilling the tea” about life on the Little House set will “spill the tea” that the book is only a little bit about the show. There’s very little about the children who played the Ingalls’ children, but she does include a couple of less flattering comments about Victor French (Mr. Edwards), as well as a few more positive comments about Scotty MacGregor (Harriett Oleson) and Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle). I think a lot of people will expect much more about the show. They won’t necessarily get that information in this book, which may disappoint some readers.

The last comment I want to make is that the book ends rather abruptly, just as Karen Grassle has married her second husband of three. I’m not sure why she chose to end the book at that point. Maybe it’s because it was just as the show was ending, in the early 1980s. But the book is clearly not just about Little House on the Prairie. Grassle wrote a lot about her young life, her years as a struggling actress, and what led up to her turn as “Ma Ingalls”. If the book had been more about the show, I might understand why she ended in the early 80s. But it’s clearly NOT just about the show. Again… I think a more accurate title would have served her better.

There are some photos included, though they aren’t so easy to see on my Kindle app.

I’m glad Karen Grassle was able to quit drinking, since it clearly affected her in a negative way and was problematic, particularly regarding her relationships with other people, as well as her image. As a fellow adult child of an alcoholic, I could relate to some of her comments about what it was like to grow up in that particular brand of dysfunction. I respect Karen Grassle’s talent, and some of her insights about working with Michael Landon. A lot of her complaints about Landon were about money, and how he allegedly wouldn’t agree to pay her what she felt she should be earning on a hit show.

This book could have been better, and should be retitled… and maybe even retooled. But overall, I’m not sorry I read it. I would just caution prospective readers not to expect a book that is just about Little House on the Prairie, containing heartwarming, homespun, words of wisdom from Ma Ingalls. Bright Lights, Prairie Dust is definitely not delivering much of that, in spite of its title.

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celebrities, lessons learned, music, musings, obits, YouTube

The first day of 2022…

I hope everyone enjoyed their New Year’s Eve 2021. Bill and I had a nice evening, marred only by the news that the great Betty White passed away. A lot of people reacted to the news of Betty’s New Year’s Eve demise with great sadness. She was a remarkable woman who was blessed with so much talent, beauty, and humor. When I think of how many people were touched by her, it almost overwhelms me. This was a lady whose career spanned many decades and generations, and she did it all– singing, dancing, acting, sales pitching, and especially comedy. She was the oldest Golden Girl, and the last one to leave us.

She was such an adorable and hilarious pro! God bless her, wherever she is… I hope she and her beloved husband, Allen Ludden, have finally reunited.

I loved Betty White as an entertainer. I admired her a great deal. However, I don’t feel particularly sad that she died, nor do I think of it as a tragic event. I think, as living and dying go, Betty White did it in grand fashion. As far as I know, she wasn’t seriously ill when she passed. In fact, she was even featured on People magazine’s cover this week, as she planned to celebrate her 100th birthday on January 17th. She was still “with it”, and not bed bound. Yes, it would have been wonderful if she could have celebrated one last birthday, but 99 years is still a hell of a good run. What happened to her eventually happens to us all… and she had the good fortune to do it on relatively favorable terms.

I think this one was my favorite! Betty’s dusty muffins could not be matched.

So no, I’m not totally saddened by Betty White’s death. She died the same year as several of her co-stars on the Mary Tyler Moore show, as we also lost Gavin McLeod, Ed Asner, and Cloris Leachman in 2021. And all of them lived to ripe old ages, having been able to work, play, and be in the world pretty much the entire time. We should all be so lucky… and in fact, I think we’re all lucky that we were alive at the same time she was.

*Giggle* She was so funny!

MOVING ON…

A lot of people were also mentioning how much 2021 sucked. I’m sure it really did suck for a lot of folks. COVID-19 has really screwed up normal living for so many. However, one good thing I have noticed about the COVID era is that some people are reprioritizing their lives. Yesterday, I read an awesome Reddit thread called “Twas the night before my resignation”, about a guy who decided some years ago that he no longer wanted to prioritize his career over his family. He started taking off the week between Christmas and New Year’s. In 2021, as usual, he scheduled that week off.

At the end of the year, a work emergency came up. It wasn’t something that should have affected his time off, and he did what he could to warn his employers that he would be taking that week off. But, as it happens, the company dragged its feet and the emergency, quite predictably, became dire as the guy’s week off approached… For best results, you really should read it for yourself. Suffice to say, the guy pretty much told his boss to pound sand, and was richly rewarded for his moxie. And to that, I say, “Kudos, and fuck those people!” I hate it when employers treat their employees like they own them. It’s nice to see that some workers have been able to claim some control over their work environments. I hope this is a trend that lasts, so that working conditions will improve for everyone.

I know… maybe it’s too much to hope for that there will be less greed and corruption in the American workplace. But I can dream, can’t I? Hell… if I were in the USA now, maybe someone would even hire me!

Bill and I actually had a fairly good 2021, in spite of COVID’s suck factor. We finally resolved our lawsuit, and it mostly went in our favor. I know it may seem like a small thing, but holding our former landlady accountable for her egregiously illegal actions, outright lies, and the really crappy way she treated us, was very satisfying. I think we learned a lesson from it, too. Hopefully, that lesson will carry over the next time someone tries to screw with us and shame us into automatically allowing them to have their way.

In 2021, Bill finally started working with a Jungian analyst, which is something he’s been wanting to do for a long time… and something I’ve felt he’s needed to do the whole time I’ve known him. The sessions have been very healing for him, but they’ve also been immensely rewarding and interesting. I didn’t know anything about Carl G. Jung when Bill and I met, despite my background. Social workers do study psychology, but it’s not really the bulk of what we learn, since social work is not psychology, per se. It’s been fascinating to learn more about Jung, and help Bill learn more. He’s been so intrigued by the process that he even started taking classes at the Jung Institute in Zurich. So far, the classes have been online, but we did get a chance to visit Zurich for the first time last summer. If we manage to stay here awhile, he may get to do some serious work.

As for my own successes… I’ve watched my relaunched blog explode. In 2021, I had over 560 times the hits I had in 2020, which was much more successful than 2019, when I moved my blog to WordPress. It really is picking up, and that’s been exciting to see, even though it took some time.

I felt pretty much forced to relocate the blog from Blogspot, although I had kind of wanted to do it for a long time. It was difficult and a bit depressing to start over in February 2019. I had a decent following on the original blog, even though it was a bit rawer than this one is. Moving the blog meant losing followers, as well as ad revenue. It’s not that I make a lot of money at all through ads, but it was kind of a nice thing to occasionally get paid by Google.

Well… that pretty much ended with a thud when I moved the blog, and for quite some time, I felt really constrained and nervous about writing. I know some people don’t think I have any talent… and some people think writing is a waste of my time, so they think nothing about messing with what I do… and some people just plain don’t like me, and want to cause trouble for me for selfish and dishonest reasons. This blog is NOT my life, but it is something I enjoy creating, and it gives me a purpose. So it was hard for me in 2019, when I experienced the setback that caused me to have to start over.

Two years later, I think my blog is better than it ever was. And I’ve been rewarded with new followers, and yes, more ad revenue. I only monetized the blog a few months ago, but pretty soon, I’ll be eligible to be paid. And I can only expect that this blog will be more successful than the original blog was, in terms of money, and quality content. The travel blog is a bit down in views lately, but hopefully COVID-19 will eventually be tamed enough so we can travel again. And really, I mainly write this stuff for myself, anyway, so anyone who reads and enjoys it is just icing on the cake.

I also found a new person with whom I can do music collaborations. In fact, I even uploaded our latest effort this morning! Music is something I do for fun and relaxation, so this is a rewarding development, too…

He lives in the States. We’ve never met, but we have similar musical tastes.

Another great thing that happened in 2021 was that Bill and I finally got to visit Croatia, and pay another visit to Slovenia. I already knew Slovenia was beautiful, but Croatia was magical. Although we didn’t have an “action packed” vacation in the fall, it was still probably one of my favorite trips yet. Just the sheer beauty of Croatia and Slovenia, as well as the time we spent in Austria (another favorite destination) was so awesome. I guess COVID has also made me a lot more grateful for ANY travel. Thank God for vaccines, too. I will be boosted in a few days, which may cause temporary discomfort, but will likely make my chances of dying from COVID lower.

We got to see a few friends, and make a few new friends… and the old friends who are real friends are still with us. We also didn’t lose any loved ones in 2021. In fact, in 2022, Bill will presumably gain another grandchild. And… our beloved Arran and Noyzi are still alive. Noyzi has even become a real part of the family, right down to loving on me when he wants something and showing up fashionably late to dinner! So that’s a blessing.

I have high hopes for 2022… I hope you do, too. To those of you who have been part of this blog, thank you so much! I especially want to thank my friends who have been here since the beginning. You are all a big part of the success, too!

2021 didn’t suck for us… but I know some people are really struggling right now. I don’t know what words of wisdom or comfort I can share. One friend mentioned how bad 2021 was, and I mentioned that I thought 2016 was worse– at least in terms of lost legends. She responded that she’d had a rough time of it in 2021, and compared 2021 to a few other horrible years she’d experienced.

I knew she’s been having a hard time, so I acknowledged that. And then I remembered one of my worst years ever– 1998. If I’m honest, there were a few times during that year that I seriously contemplated suicide. I was dealing with moderately severe depression, and I didn’t see how I was ever going to escape the situation I was in. It was NOT a hopeless situation by any means– which I clearly proved. But at the time, it felt hopeless… and my perspective was so blurred by depression and anxiety that I couldn’t see beyond the fog of despair and despondency.

But some very good things also happened that year. Yes, I was working in a restaurant job where I was abused daily, and I lived with my parents, who were kind of hostile and disappointed in me. I was young and basically healthy, but felt unattractive and unsuccessful. That year, I backed into some lady’s car in our driveway, because I was so upset… and that accident led me to finally seeing a therapist. Dr. Coe helped me so much, and I was eventually put on antidepressants that changed my life. To this day, I no longer feel as horrible as I did for most of my young life.

I eventually got pretty good at the restaurant job, and was able to make enough money to pay for the therapy and save up for an apartment. I bought a car. I had a terrible setback in November 1998– in fact, that was probably one of the worst months of my life. And yet, two months later, the medication was finally correct, and I started getting my shit together… and by November 1999, I was in a dual degree master’s program, proving to myself that I wasn’t as stupid or worthless as I had felt a year prior. That was also the month I “met” Bill online. By November 2002, we were married! And now, 19 years later, here we are… In 2022, I’ll presumably turn 50, and we will celebrate 20 years married.

So it’s good that I didn’t give in to my urges to off myself back in 1998. That would have meant missing out on some really wonderful things. That “abusive” job also led to meeting some truly great friends and learning valuable life and survival skills. In the long run, that turned out to be a good thing, too, despite the suffering that happened when I was still in that situation.

My point is, sometimes what seems like the shittiest times can lead to some pretty wonderful recoveries. So if you are struggling right now, I urge you to hang on as best you can. It can, and probably will, get better. But I also know that those words ring hollow when a person is really suffering. So just know, there are people who really do care, and have been through it, too… You’re probably more like them than you know… unless, of course, you’re Josh Duggar or Ghislaine Maxwell. Those two probably won’t be enjoying life for awhile.

And, with that bit of “wisdom”, I’m signing off for today… Got a few chores to take care of, and then it’s time to watch movies and concerts.

Happy New Year, everybody!

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dogs, dreams, funny stories, Reality TV

My erotic dream about Derick Dillard was interrupted by Noyzi!

I need a good laugh. Do you need a good laugh, too? Well, how about this for a giggle? This morning, I had an erotic dream about Derick Dillard. Yes, the very same Derick Dillard who is married to the former Jill Duggar and recently graduated from law school at the University of Arkansas. Yes, the very same Derick Dillard who is on the outs with Boob and his wife, and was vilified online for being mean to Jazz Jennings. Yes– fundie Christian Derick Dillard, who is not my type! I could have changed his diapers.

He’s not really my type. In my dream, he didn’t have a beard.

I don’t know WHY I had this dream. I am not attracted to Derick. I have a husband who rings my chimes quite expertly. I don’t follow the Dillards on social media, and only know what I read about them on the Duggar Family News page and see on videos by Katie Joy. Derick is also quite a bit younger than I am, so I doubt we’d have much in common. I’m not exactly a “cougar”.

I woke up at the usual time of 5:30am, which is when Arran always rouses and asks for breakfast and a potty break. I spent about an hour reading my latest book, but then got drowsy. I put the iPad down and drifted off to sleep. At some point, the weird erotic dream began. I was just on the edge of an earth shattering orgasm when I heard Bill say, “Jenny, look at this!”

I opened my eyes and there was Noyzi, the Kosovar rescue dog, peering around the corner at me. He had a big smile on his face and was wagging his tail. It was about 8:00am by that point. I guess he came upstairs to see if we’d died. We’re usually up long before 8:00. We have nice weather today and agreeable temperatures, so I guess it was good “sleeping weather”. Good enough to have a hot dream involving a fundie Christian.

Here’s the weirdest part of it. The dream was taking place in a bedroom in the house I grew up in. I think the bedroom was supposed to be the master bedroom, since it had a bathroom. But it was a very small room, so my “princess” sister got it when we moved there in 1980. Then, it was a guest room… then it was my room when I was living with my parents for almost two years after the Peace Corps. Then it went back to being a guest room. Now, I’m not sure what it is. My mom sold the house to the woman who used to work for my dad and bought his business from him.

Anyway, in my dream, beardless Derick and I were nude and he had his head on my shoulder. He breathed in, closed his eyes, and was about to lay me down on the bed when we were interrupted by Bill. Nothing nasty happened. It took me a minute to realize it had been a dream. Once I did, I was grateful… since I would rather Bill be doing the honors than Derick. Below are are a couple of videos of Noyzi’s “good morning”. He’s getting to be a very confident dog.

Noyzi stops by to check on us.
Get your ass out of bed!

Speaking of Noyzi, he’s becoming quite adorable. The other day, he was wanting a walk in the worst way. Lately, he’s taken to coming upstairs at around 9:30am, which is about the time I’m usually done blogging on a typical weekday. He’ll sit in the hallway and whine a little. Then he’ll come into the office and look at me adoringly. Then, if that doesn’t work, he’ll follow me into the bathroom and watch me take care of business. On Friday, he was in rare form. I was getting dressed, and Noyzi stood outside the door and barked at me. It wasn’t his usual high pitched “yip”, either. He meant that shit. If you watch any of the videos in this post, this is definitely the one to see. Noyzi is hilarious!

Noyzi wants a walk. NOW! If you watch any of the videos, this is the one to watch.

After I took the above video, I took another showing Noyzi and Arran running around like a couple of freaks as we prepared for our daily ritual of strolling the neighborhood. Arran is about 12, but he’s still pretty feisty and full of life. We worry about him a lot, because he is getting old… but he’s definitely still kicking, as evidenced below.

They are NUTS! But they love their walks. It’s hard to believe that Noyzi was not leash trained when we got him and had never known the joy of a walk around the neighborhood. He demands walks every day, now.

I probably had that dream because I was very close to being awake. Bill has been seeing a Jungian therapist and they spend a lot of time talking about Bill’s dreams. Bill even writes them down and sends them to the therapist. Maybe all of the talk about dreams is what prompted me to have this erotic morning dream about Derick Dillard… but I just question why it was Derick and not someone else. I mean, I guess I can be glad it wasn’t Donald Trump who invaded my dreams.

I did notice a couple of my first cousins once removed, who also happen to be brother and sister, both posted photos last night. Each cousin is expecting a baby with their respective spouses, and both appear to be pretty close to the blessed event. Maybe my dream was influenced by my uterus, as it sighs through the waning days of my fertility. Ah… what could have been, if I’d only been more sexually active. Oh well. I wish them happiness and luck as they expand their families. I wish I still felt like I’m a part of the family, but I don’t, really. That is pretty sad. I remember my cousins’ dad, who was my very kind uncle. I saw him for the last time when I last went “home” in 2014. He passed away about six weeks later.

Anyway, I’m not in dreamland now, and praise God for that. Maybe if I get fired up later, I’ll write something more serious. For now, I hope this post gave you a moment of amusement… or perhaps a moment of horror!

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