If you are one of my new neighbors and you were minding your own business – maybe sitting outside enjoying the morning, having a cup of coffee – I’m sorry.

            I just walked the dogs again.

            This should be a fairly straightforward event.  A transaction, if you will:  I will take you out, and you will do your business, which I will scoop.  You will get to smell a lot of exciting things, and we will get some exercise and it will be nice.

            But no.  Walking the dogs so far here in Virginia has not been great.  Unfortunately, I fear, it is often a spectacle.

            We – the two Labs, Molly and Sadie, and Daisy aka “Biscuit,” our little Cavalier – had mastered the basic concept of a walk when we lived in Arizona.  We lived on a dirt road; it was very tranquil, and then we walked up to the slightly bigger but still sleepy paved road.  We had our route.  It was good.

            Here, though, it has been a struggle.  That’s because these are Arizona dogs.

            They don’t like it if the grass gets high.  They are used to dirt, rocks, and scrub brush.

            They don’t like wet grass.  This is a big problem, because it has rained a lot since we’ve been here.  Also, there is dew.  Sadie is deeply suspicious of all moisture.  She doesn’t actually speak, but she doesn’t need to.  I know what she’s thinking:

            “Sadie, get over there on that grass.”

            “No.  It is moist.”

            Molly will do her business in the grass, but she won’t do it until I urge her.  She likes these small attentions, as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice used to dispense so meticulously.

              I try to start out on a positive note:  “Good wee-wee!”

            It goes downhill from there.  Over the course of the walk, as the three dogs attempt to braid themselves as if I were a Maypole, I’m constantly shifting leashes and multiple poop bags from hand to hand as I untangle them.  You know those dogwalkers in New York City who walk numerous dogs at one time?  I have no idea how they do that.

            I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve encountered a fellow pedestrian on a walk who says, “You’ve got your hands full.”  I usually smile and say, “It’s all upper body!”  Ha, ha, the hilarity.  Meanwhile, my mean inner self says, “Big duh, Sherlock!”

            We always start out, at least on my part, with some bit of optimism.  It quickly devolves.  We don’t make progress.  They just want to smell things.  They eat things.  Unsavory and disgusting things.  They pull in different directions.

            All of these dogs have been to obedience school and know how to heel and be well-behaved.  But out here on the street, all bets are off.  Out here on the street.  I feel like Baretta, the ‘70s TV detective played by Robert Blake.  It’s rough out here on the street.  You can take that to the bank, baby!

            After a while, I just want to go home.  I turn into the worst motivational speaker ever. 

            “Make a poop!”

            “Go poop!”

            “Do it!”

            “Do your business!”

            “This is your opportunity!”

            Yes.  I actually stood on the side of the road and said out loud:  “This is your opportunity!”

            Sadie is the best one on the leash, except for the part about deeply mistrusting all damp vegetation.

            Daisy is a puller.  She missed her true calling as a sled dog.  She should be out on the tundra, training for the Iditarod.  She is 24 pounds of motivation, except when she gets distracted by the smells and other items in the grass.

            The real instigator here is our otherwise practically perfect Molly, who is notorious for coming to a dead stop every few feet to sniff new aromas as thoroughly as possible, sometimes snorting like a truffle pig.   She plants her feet and sets her legs with the solidity of a Sumo wrestler.  She will not be moved.

            Another problem:  there is traffic.  There are no sidewalks.  At some places there is brush and we have to walk on the pavement.  When a car or truck comes by, I turn into Frodo Baggins when the Black Rider is on his trail:  “Get off the road!”

             I always try to smile and wave at the passing cars, virtue-signaling and reassuring with my highly visible orange poop bag.  “See? I’m a good neighbor!  I scoop!”

            Once we reach our big front yard, our problems are not yet over.

            This brings me to the deer.  We have at least six who basically live in our yard.  Kenny and Lenny, who are young males.  They don’t have a full set of antlers; just one “spike” in front of each ear.  One spike only.  “One ping only.”

            A female, Shirley, hangs out with them.

            And then there’s Laverne and the twins, who at one point were actively nursing in our back yard.  They are bigger now, but still have their Bambi spots.  (Note:  we also have three squirrels:  Skippy, Skippy, and Skippy.  They have no distinguishing characteristics and don’t get individual names.)

            My phone is quickly filling up with deer pictures and videos.  The animals are beautiful and I like them.  But our yard is their toilet.  I feel oddly intimate with them because, after all, I have seen them eating, scratching themselves, and going to the bathroom.  They’re like relatives doing gross personal hygiene in public.  It’s uncomfortable.

            “Daisy, don’t eat the grass.”

            “Oh, no, sweet mercy, that’s not grass!  Thanks, Kenny and Lenny.  Thanks a lot.”


© Janet Farrar Worthington

     Due to some Apple software glitch, I have two Siris.  They are both Irish.  I like having Siri with an accent.  For a while, she had a British-Indian accent.  She’s been Australian, and now her Irish relatives are on the job.

            It was going so well.  Irish Siri is cheerful, upbeat, thoughtful:  “Go past these lights, and at the next light, turn right.”  Well, thank you, Siri, because I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to get on the bypass here or up the road a bit.  I really appreciate it!

            We have just moved back to our former hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.  A lot of it is familiar, but it’s grown a lot, too, so I’ve been getting GPS help from Irish Siri when I have to go someplace.

            One day, I about spilled my to-go tea.  “Starting route to —,” wherever I was going.   But it wasn’t my happy Irish Siri.  It was depressed Irish Siri, her voice about an octave lower, talking slower.  It was brusque Siri.  Glum Siri.  Eeyore from “Winnie the Pooh” Siri.  “In 500 feet, turn right.”  She might as well have added:   “If you even want to go there.  That place has really gone downhill.”  Heavy sigh.  “Nothing stays the same, you know that?”

            Gone was the “We can get there together!” positive Siri.  Then, for the next few trips, happy Siri was back.  Then, depressed Siri was back.  Sometimes during the same trip, we would have one Siri for a few directions, and then the other.

            It’s optimistic “Marian, Madame Librarian” versus “The Sadder but Wiser Girl” in “The Music Man.”  I never know who I’m going to get.  It’s like living with an alcoholic.  “I hope Siri is having a good day today.”  I get in the car and my face looks like a grimace emoji.  Please be happy Irish Siri!  I take nothing for granted anymore.

            Sad Irish Siri is disillusioned.  She is a smoker.  She goes to the pub by herself, and always sits in the same booth.  No one else ever sits there.  “Jameson.  Start a tab.”  Who hurt you, Siri?  Who broke your heart?  I’m here if you want to talk.

            “Stay in the middle lane and continue onto Garth Road.”

             Happy Siri wears her hair in a perky ponytail.  She gets up and runs two miles every morning.  She volunteers at the senior center.  She’s saving up for a Vespa.  She’s been step dancing for twelve years.  Animals and children love her.   She always has fresh flowers in her house, which she picks from the cottage garden she has grown in her little front yard. She has a picket fence.  Birds land on her outstretched hand.   Her boyfriend is a firefighter.

            “In half a mile, turn right.  Do what you want.  I don’t even care.  What’s the point?  It’s one trip closer to death.

            “You’re taking this stuff to Goodwill, but you just bought more crap.  It’s the circle of crap.  Nobody even wants it.  They’re going to throw it away as soon as you drive off.  You didn’t even get the tax receipt.”  Depressed Siri put on twenty pounds during Covid.  Her roots need serious touch-up work.

            “All that stuff you bought? It will just be a burden for your kids to deal with when you die.”

            “That guy cut you off!  Men, am I right?  They’re all the same!  God, I hate this bra.”

            Sunny Siri wants to help.  “I could go with you to Victoria’s Secret if you’d like.  Maybe some new bras would brighten your day.  I also have a discount code for 20 percent off!”

            There is silence.  “And we could go smell the new candles at Bath and Body Works.”

            “It hasn’t been the same since they got rid of Cucumber Melon.  Everything good comes to an end.”

            “Sometimes they bring it back!  Along with White Citrus!  There’s always hope!”

            This is a lot.  This is rough.  I just want to take my dog, Daisy, to the groomer and need to know how to get there.  I need Siri to be on point!  At the top of her game!  Rerouting me around areas of heavy traffic!

            I went online for answers, and found a Mac forum discussion entitled, “Weird Siri Voice Changes.”  Someone said:  “Has anyone had any issues with Siri in the recent update?”  This person also had Irish Siri.  Most of the time, as with my Siri, she was her usual effervescent self.  “Occasionally, though, I will get feedback in a much more robotic, synthesized version of the voice.  Did Apple change Siri to use a more monotonous voice when performing on-device functions outside the internet?”  (As I said, this was a Mac forum, aka nerd city.)

            Someone else replied:  “What seemed to resolve this for me was going back to the Siri voice selection, and then selecting the voice again and making sure that it downloaded the high-resolution version of the voice.” Someone else chimed in; a different Apple update, the same problem.  “It was very annoying.”  Another person said the changed Siri sounded “dour.”

            “Yeah.  Whatever.  It’s five o’clock somewhere.” 

            Dour Siri has actually agreed to go to the mall with cheerful Siri.  Fortunately, they don’t need directions.  I gave them money to go to Starbucks.  Not the pub!  Don’t you take her to the pub, happy Siri!   Even if it’s Shepherd Pie night!  No more Guinness!  No Jameson!  No Boilermakers!  “I won’t!  Don’t worry!  She doesn’t need the carbs.”

            I told them to take the long way home.  Drive around a little.  The peace and quiet will be worth it.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

You might look at the words, “Prostate Wine,” and think:  “I’m pretty sure I don’t want to drink that.” Completely understandable!  But be assured, dear reader:  this is not some far more gross version of Swamp Butt, or even anything remotely distasteful.

            Actually, it’s a wonderful thing.  A celebration.  A bright, unexpected spark after a dark time.  Let me tell you how this came to be:

            Nearly three years ago, my husband, Mark, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which I’ve written about here, and a lot on my men’s health website, vitaljake.com.  Long story short, his dad died of it, and that started my career writing about prostate cancer, including several books with Johns Hopkins urologist Patrick Walsh.  My dad had it, but Pat Walsh removed his prostate, cured his cancer, and he lived two more decades.  Good years, too!  Both Mark and I lost grandfathers to complications from prostate cancer treatment they probably didn’t even need.  Needless to say, prostate cancer has been on my radar for 30 years, we were watching Mark like a hawk, and when his PSA went up, we got him an MRI, a biopsy, cancer was found, and we spent Christmas 2019 in a hotel in Baltimore near Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Mark had his prostate removed by an excellent Walsh-trained urologist, Mo Allaf.  Mark is cancer-free today, thank God!

            We charged the operation on our Costco card.  If you have a Costco card, you know that every spring, you get a dividend, based on how much you spent the previous year.

            Well, we spent quite a bit.  We put the airfare to Baltimore on there, too, and the hotel where we stayed, and all our meals, including room service twice on Christmas day.  And tips!  A few months later, we got our Costco reward.

We bought wine with it.  Almost all reds: Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah (as in, “Que, Syrah, Syrah”), Sangiovese.  A couple Rosés.

            Prostate wine, and a fine tradition was born!

            We now do this every year.  In fact, we made that annual wine-forward trip to Costco last weekend.  Mark has an app called Vivino on his phone.  You take a picture of the label on the bottle, and the app gives you reviews and those ratings numbers like 4.2 that mean something to schmancy wine people.  He buys some really good bottles, and he also buys some bottles that are kind of middle-priced, which he lets age in our wine cellar (which is basically just some Ikea shelving down under the house, but he’s really proud of it).  A few cheaper bottles, good for the ride home – kidding!  They go in the wine cellar, too.

As we push that flatbed – kidding again, it’s a cart!  a big, wine-laden Costco cart – if anybody asks us if we’re having a party, or shows any interest at all, or maybe even looks in our direction, we tell them our story.  It’s prostate wine!  We’re just so glad that we are here to drink it together.  Thank you, God!

When my mom died, as I’ve written about here, my dad and I were making that bleak trip to the funeral home to pick out a casket, arrange the visitation, and all that horrible stuff nobody ever wants to do.  I happened to look up, and right there in the sky, over our car, was a micro-rainbow with a lot of green in it.  It looked a lot like the green in my mom’s eyes.  We took it as a gift – a literal spot of beauty and joy on an otherwise dismal day.

  Recently, Mark and I joined Prescott Christian Church and were re-baptized – not just a genteel bit of water, either, but the full-on dunk.  I was lowered in the water, facing up and my eyes were shut, but I saw the sky above me.  A blue sky, with white clouds.  This was inside a large auditorium with no windows, and certainly no skylight.  But I saw it.  What a gift!

            That’s what prostate wine is.  It’s bright moments of joy, little gifts you didn’t expect at all.  You’ve seen the motivational posters, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  I guess you could say, if life gives you a bad prostate… no, wait, I don’t think that will work for a greeting card.  Never mind!  You know what I’m trying to say here!  Go, find your own prostate wine!  It’s out there, closer than you think.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

I miss the mall.  So much.  Not our current mall, limping along with its few stores, just hanging on by a thread and devastated by yet another blow, aka global pandemic.  No, I miss the mall from back in the day.

I miss the mall packed with people, no stores boarded up, where if you lucked into a good parking spot, it just made the whole trip even better!

I miss the food court.

I miss Orange Julius.

I miss Boardwalk Fries at Towson Town Center, with malt vinegar.

I miss going to Auntie Anne’s for a pretzel, and wondering if I will get it with cheese dipping sauce again, or if I will ever branch out and try something else.  Spoiler: I never branch out.  It’s always the cheese sauce!

I miss smelling Chick-Fil-A all over the mall and wondering if it’s lunchtime yet.

Speaking of Chick Fil-A, I miss getting up at 4:30 on Black Friday to go with my sister-in-law, Carole, for the Doorbusters, with our coupons we’ve cut from the Thanksgiving newspaper, armed with a long list and fueled on Chick-Fil-A breakfast Chick-n-Minis and a Chick-Fil-A Arnold Palmer: tea with lemonade.

I miss seeing the mall go all-out on decorations for every possible season, especially Christmas.  I miss the mall Santa and his North Pole scene.  I even miss the cheesy bubble-gum Christmas music that starts playing the day after Halloween.  Yes, I’ve got mall nostalgia.  I’ve got it bad.

I miss going to Ann Taylor and Brooks Brothers, not being able to afford anything, then going to the Ann Taylor and Brooks Brothers outlets and buying some crap that looks like what they are selling for many more dollars but is actually not the same quality at all, and regretting it.

I miss Pier One.

I miss looking at formal dresses for prom with my daughter, Blair, at the Jessica McClintock store at Tyson’s Corner in Virginia.

I miss B. Dalton and Walden’s, back in the 1980s, when they actually had depth of selection and before they started selling the same five books.  Even then, I supported them!

I miss Barnes & Noble.  I miss it so much.  I miss how it smelled, with the coffee shop in there.  I miss going into the children’s book section, ostensibly to look for books with my kids, but also looking for books I loved as a kid.   For that matter, I miss great bookstores I have known over the years, such as the Little Professor bookstore in Lexington, Kentucky, Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, and Borders Books in Towson, Maryland.

I miss Sears.  Don’t laugh.  Back in the day, before some genius decided they should offer shopping carts and before they fired most of their staff, back when they had actual salespeople who worked there for years and really knew their products, and were proud of them, Sears was a great store.  Don’t even get me started on the Wish Book.  I eagerly awaited that thing and spent hours lying on my stomach on the living room rug, studying this prized document and dog-earing many pages.  Their Kenmore appliances were as good as anybody’s, better than most, and their Craftsman tools were built to last, with their lifetime warranty.  You could count on them.

I miss Penney’s.  My mom used to say any mall with a Sears and a Penney’s was one she could work with, especially for buying kids’ clothes.  My brother wore out many a pair of Toughskins from Sears, with the reinforced knees for active kids.

I miss shopping at The Gap, and Gap Kids, and Baby Gap, where the kids’ clothes were expensive, but so cute.  Oddly, I don’t actually miss Toys R Us.  They had a lot of stuff and decent prices, but they sabotaged themselves by only having one or two lanes open, so no matter how happy you were when you went in there, by the time you waited for 15 minutes in dead silence to pay for your stuff, you were just done with it.  At least I was.

I miss going to the Sunglass Hut, looking at frames that are too expensive, and thinking about someday when I can walk in and buy any frames I want.

I miss Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, with their psychological warfare of making you open the glass door first and walk in – like you might not even be welcome – and looking at things I could never possibly afford.  Confession: at Saks, I never even shopped, but I used their bathrooms, which were pristine.  Pristine!

Speaking of snooty, from more recent days I miss the salespeople at Mac and Sephora, of every possible gender, all dressed in black, heavily made up, acting like they were doing you the biggest favor in the world – until you talked to them a little, showed you were nice, and then they mostly ended up being pretty nice, too.

I miss the kiosk for Rosetta Stone.  I just liked thinking about all those languages.

I miss the old Banana Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch, when they were super-cool travel stores with 40s music playing, impractical leather luggage, and tropical décor like you could step out on safari at any moment.

I miss going into Victoria’s Secret and feeling like it was like this secret cool girls’ club.

I miss Yankee Candle, especially around Halloween.

I miss Macy’s.  I miss going into Macy’s, Dillard’s, Belk, or some great department stores that don’t exist anymore, like McAlpin’s, Stewart’s, Shillito’s, Tapp’s, White’s, Goldwater’s, Hecht’s and Hutzler’s, and spraying myself with so many perfume samples that I become one giant detonated floral bomb.

I miss Nina Ricci’s “L’Air du Temps.”  I miss “Lauren,” by Ralph Lauren.  I miss “White Shoulders.”  Funny story: once on my break from working at Fayette Mall Cinemas in Lexington, Ky., I scampered to Shillito’s to spray myself with “Lauren,” which I couldn’t afford, and it was the exact same bottle but it was lotion!  I sprayed it all over my neck, then instantly ducked in shame because, of course, as a teenager you think everyone is watching you.

I miss the snotty Clinique ladies in their white coats, and waiting until they do me the favor of noticing that I’m standing there at the counter.

Again, speaking of snotty, I even miss Blockbuster Video.  They were so nasty about fining you if you didn’t rewind!  They had lots of fines, were arrogant and deserved their comeuppance, and I was glad when some competition like Hollywood Video came on the scene, but still.  On a Friday night for a while there, Blockbuster’s was the place to be.  There was a great video/DVD store in Charlottesville called Sneak Reviews.  It had a terrific foreign section, and lots of classic movies.  It was fun to just go to a video store and look at the world of possibilities!

I miss shopping for shoes and actually trying them on, instead of looking at Zappo’s and hoping for the best.

I miss making an effort before I went to the mall, because you never knew who else might be there.  I know, it sounds kind of like the lady I read about on the internet who likes the Dollar Store, because “you don’t have to get all dressed up like you do for Walmart,” but back in the day, the mall was the place to be seen!

Now, before you gently remind me that malls killed Main Street, just as video killed the radio star, let me say that I was a kid of the suburbs.  I could ride my bike to the mall.  Downtown Lexington was too far away, and my mom wouldn’t have wanted me going down there by myself, but the mall was safe.  And except for the Lansdowne Shoppes, an upscale-ish strip mall down the hill from our street, that was pretty much all we had nearby.

I miss going to the mall bathrooms and thinking how clean they were, especially compared to my dorm bathrooms.

I miss looking at furniture!  Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, This End Up, and even Macy’s, which had surprisingly good prices because volume, volume, volume.  I miss looking through the stacks of Karastan rugs.

I miss studying real Sterling silver patterns, and looking at crystal and china and everyday ironstone and the bridal registries, and thinking about someday.

I miss going into Williams-Sonoma and wondering how anybody could ever afford to pay $300 for a skillet.

In Lexington, way back in the day, near the entrance to Fayette Mall there was this store that was a bit of Old Black Forest Germany, with cuckoo clocks, and these wooden Christmas decorations where you light a candle and they spin round and round.   I don’t even know what they were called, and the store is long gone, but if you owned that store and on the slim chance you are reading this:  I remember your store.  I loved it.

In Columbia, S.C., at Columbia Mall there used to be this German deli, with big old barrel pickles and incredible German potato salad.

I miss Pappagallo stores, and Aigner purses, and Izod sweaters, and real Tretorns, not the fake ones they have now under the same brand name.  I miss walking in the jewelry store and looking at Add-a-Beads, real gold ones, with real 24k gold chains, and thinking they were so expensive, how could anybody afford a whole necklace all at once.

I miss walking into Bath & Body Works and smelling every single thing in the store.

I miss seeing oldsters and moms with strollers doing laps from one end of the mall to the other.

I think it’s fair to say that during the lockdown, I have helped contribute to Jeff Bezos’s net worth, which is now something like 1 percent of the U.S. GDP.   It’s pretty amazing, you can order anything in the world on Amazon, not have to leave your home, and get it in two days.

We have gained a lot.  But man, have we lost a lot, too.

© Janet Farrar Worthington




Trying Times

It’s a spit storm right now, people!  We’re right in the thick of it, and several things can happen in these trying times:


We can freak out.  Well, I think the current national coronavirus toilet paper shortage is evidence that this has occurred.  Good news:  we’re a nation of wipers!  So, there’s that.  The extreme is, we’re hunkered in our bunker (go ahead, feel free to use that as your next album title), with that black grease paint that football players put under their eyes to cut down the glare, or maybe face camo, looking at our stockpile of canned goods, pasta boxes, and mountain of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and waiting for somebody to come try and take it.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that!


We can be mean to each other.  There’s been plenty of that, too.  I live in a wonderful town called Prescott, up high in the mountains of Arizona.   The people here are almost always nice to each other.  They’re good people, and I will never, ever forget how tens of thousands of us turned out when the 19 firefighters from Prescott who died battling a horrific wildfire were brought back home.  People lined the streets, sitting for hours and just waiting for the hearses, accompanied by fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars.  They had flags and signs, but it was far from festive.  People were quiet and respectful, and grieving.  It was 19 of our own who died keeping the rest of us safe, and it was one of the most painful, raw, and hard-even-to-fathom things we ever went through.  But we did it, and the whole town came together.


That said, something really weird happens when these same people get on the Prescott Facebook page (and I have to do whatever the opposite of a shout-out – a shame-out? – to the moderators of that page; they could put a stop to it, but they don’t).  People are nasty.  They use the F word.  They insult people who post.  They love to hate on any of the vast tide of people fleeing the insanity and unlivability of California who have dared to move here for a better life.  When a new business opens, they give it bad reviews, instead of being glad that somebody felt strongly enough about this town and felt committed to offering something that might make it better and wanted to open up a new restaurant, or store, or food truck.  It’s really crummy.  I know this kind of online meanness and troll behavior happens a lot of places, but it really gets me.  It shouldn’t happen here.  But it does.


These same people also morph from the nice Dr. Jekyll, who lived to help his fellow man, into the awful Mr. Hyde when they go to Costco.  On a good day!  When all is well in the world, they block or even bump people with their carts, ace each other out for food samples, and just generally act like gluttons.  In the parking lot, showing no consideration for any other human, they rudely hold up a whole row for 10 minutes or more to get a good parking space.  That ain’t right.  Unless you need a handicapped spot, park a little further away and walk off the samples you’re about to pig out on, for God’s sake!  Burn a calorie or two!


Now that it’s all hit the fan, the Costco crowd has gotten even uglier.  Costco should have stopped the person who bought an entire pallet of toilet paper – either a hoarder or a scalper.  Safeway should have said no to the individual who filled three shopping carts with toilet paper.  I know, hindsight is 20-20, but if there had been some limits, maybe people wouldn’t be stealing the toilet paper from public restrooms, including at the hospital, where they’re also stealing masks and hand sanitizer.  My husband, Mark, texted me a picture yesterday of zero toilet paper in the endoscopy unit.  That is low, people!


We can feed despair.  Can’t stop reading the news?  You’re not alone.  Can’t stop worrying?  Join the club.  The more you read, the more you get those dopamine hits, the more your brain and body feed off the anxiety and respond with stress.


But panic, fear, and despair aren’t going to help anything.   In fact, the opposite:  they’re just going to hurt us.


So, what can we do?  We can start by being nice.  I have awesome neighbors, and I told them that if it gets really bad, we can make neighborhood soups!  Even if we eat it separately while social distancing.  I highly recommend the children’s book, Stone Soup.  It’s based on an old French tale about hungry soldiers who trick greedy, suspicious townspeople to contribute some of the ingredients they’ve been hoarding to make a delicious soup that everybody ends up enjoying.  Everybody kicked in a little, and it was great.


We can work together.  Even if we’re social-distancing and self-quarantining, we still have technology that lets us talk to each other.  Even without technology, people are making a difference.  Who hasn’t seen people on lockdown in their apartments in Italy, singing and dancing together on their balconies?  Who hasn’t watched, with tears streaming down your face, the magnificent tenor serenading the sunset on his balcony?  Okay, maybe that was just me bawling, but still:  there’s got to be something nice you can do for someone else today, even if it’s just picking up the phone to make sure a neighbor is doing okay.


We can have faith.  I should have put this one first, because it’s really the key to the whole benefits program, as Peter Falk said in my favorite movie, “The In-Laws” (the 1979 original with Alan Arkin!  It was sacrilege to do a remake, just putting that out there.)  We are supposed to have hope, and it starts with faith.  There have always been trying times – like World War II, or the Great Depression, or the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, or the American Civil War, with its 620,000 casualties.  And those are just the fairly recent ones!  Every generation has awful things happen.  But people get through it.  They KPO “Keep Plodding On,” as Winston Churchill said.  (He also said “Keep Buggering On,” but not in polite company.) As the Roman Stoic philosopher, Seneca, said, “vivere militare est.”  To live is to fight.  You have to fight!  Not with somebody else, ideally, but fight against hopelessness.  Fight for hope, and fight for courage, and fight for kindness.


We actually turn out better with a little adversity; it makes us stronger.  What’s my proof?  Every spoiled rotten kid or bratty adult you ever met who either never had to work for anything, or never had anyone use the word “no.”  Also, my proof is a field trip I took with my son, Josh, to the University of Arizona’s Biosphere when he was in the fourth grade.  The biosphere is its own microenvironment, complete with a mini-forest, all enclosed and protected from the elements.  I saw an acacia tree, and asked why it had stakes holding it up.  It turns out that trees need wind.  Trees that live outside, where there’s wind, get stronger, to keep themselves up.  Their wood changes; it’s the tree version of developing abs and core strength.  I found a nice article about it if you want to read more. Trees that grow up without wind are weaker and more likely to flop over or snap at a big gust.


If you’re a Christian, you may be familiar with what the Apostle Paul had to say about trying times, or tribulations, in Romans 5:  “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.


We can listen.  A lot of people are scared, worried, and afraid – if not of getting the actual pandemic itself, of not having child care since all the schools are closed, so the parents can go to work.  Afraid of not being able to pay the rent, because their business has closed.  They need somebody to talk to.  Maybe we can help, too:  go pick up groceries or a prescription for someone who’s older or high-risk.


Little things matter more than ever right now.  It may not seem like it, but your day will be better if you get up and get dressed.  Make your bed.  I am a big fan of the FlyLady, who helps people get organized and establish simple routines.  Her first tip: get dressed to shoes.  If you have your shoes on, you’re ready to do anything.  It’s just a little bit of armor to help you face the day – like putting on lipstick.  Her next tip:  clean out your kitchen sink.  Your counter may be cluttered, your life may be a mess, but by golly, if your kitchen sink is clean and not full of dirty dishes and old food, the world looks just that little bit better.  What little things can you do for yourself to help you face the world?  I hope you think of some things and do them!


This Saturday night, when we have our regular church service, I will be one of just a few people there.  That’s because church is closed, and we will be live-streaming the service on Facebook.  I play piano in the band, and this week, I will be singing with my dear friend, Leigh, one of our favorite songs:  “Take Up Your Spade,” by Sara Watkins.  The last verse is, “Give thanks, for all that you’ve been given.  Give thanks, for who you can become.  Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb.  Take up your spade and break ground.


It’s bad right now.  But we can help each other get through it.  Take up your spade and break ground.


© Janet Farrar Worthington


Hallmark Movies, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, you know I love you.  I have watched just about every single movie you two channels have done.  I’m a fan! However, some things have been on my mind.

First, would it be the worst thing in the world to let your actors age gracefully?  I’m so sad to see that two more formerly filler-free actresses – proud holdouts, I thought; I won’t name names – now have joined the “chipmunk cheek and Botox” club.  Why was this necessary?  They were beautiful before!  From the profile or ¾ view, you can really see it; these skinny women with chubby faces. They could store acorns in those cheeks!  It might hurt, if they had any feeling in there!  At least these two, unlike some others, don’t seem to have the trout pout yet, but I know it’s just a matter of time, and it makes me sad.

Tell me, Hallmark: do you have an equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,and there’s a Joint Chief of Anti-Aging?  Is the Botox-ordering done at the corporate level? Is it in the contract, like uppers to make Judy Garland lose weight?  Is it even more specific – a Chief of Botox, a Chief of Facelifts, a Chief of Hair Dye…

Yes, I know we’ve discussed this before, but why do the men have their hair dyed so dark?  Look at George Clooney; he’s a beautiful man, and he looks great with grey hair!  And if you say to me, “Absolutely not, this is our policy, we must dye the men’s hair!” then I would counter to you:  Okay, how about a highlight or two?  Something to break the relentless single color that no one actually has!  Squeeze some lemon juice on their hair and send them out in the sun, for God’s sake!  Something!

But there’s an even worse Joint Chief, someone I haven’t seen before… I don’t know who it is, of course, but I can feel his or her presence.  The Joint Chief of Men’s Hair Replacement.   In one recent episode of “Mystery 101,” a series I really like, I’m not kidding – multiple men in the movie, except for Kristoffer Polaha and Robin Thomas, seemed to have a toupee.  Again, I’m not out to shame, so I won’t name names, but… One man after another, it was either rug city or a bad combover; one guy I couldn’t be sure.  We don’t need this!

Let the scalp be free, men!  Many women, myself included, think you look great! Look at Prince William!  He’s doing all right!

 Quantity isn’t always the best thing:  Why are movie series so uneven?  There will be a really great Aurora Teagarden, and then one that’s not so good. A great Mystery 101, and one that’s not so good.  In our rush to get these movies out, are we using different directors, writers… what is it? It’s perfectly fine with me if you would rather take your time and keep the level of quality more even, instead of – as my great aunt, a hard-boiled bridge player, would say to describe hands with a few good cards and then nothing higher than an eight:  “Aces and spaces.”

Extending this thought a little bit:  Bring back Lori Loughlin! The woman hasn’t even gone to trial yet, and you not only convicted her, you wiped her off the face of the earth! The Garage Sale Mysteries were good! (Even though there was the hair dye issue in some of the men.)  I think you did this, Hallmark – joined in the automatic hate and social-media fomented shaming, which seems to be the default reaction to everything these days –  and then panic-filmed a bunch of movies trying to fill the giant hole in programming.  If you showed even the Garage Sale Movie reruns, that would be fine! I know you had some in the can. What if you just quietly slipped them out there, with no fanfare?

And what happens after her trial?  In this country, as the theme song to “Baretta” so succinctly put it, you do the crime, you do the time.  And, of course, the whole “innocent until proven guilty” in a court of law thing.  If she is punished, with jail time or community service, will you take her back then?  How much groveling will she have to do before we can at least see those reruns, if not entirely new movies with Dani and the antiques and vicarious yard sales?

About the similarities in plot… is that just a thing?  Let’s take the amnesia plot of “A Christmas to Remember.”  Let’s change it up, put it in the fall, make the male lead a doctor instead of a veterinarian, make the amnesiac a children’s book author instead of a Martha Stewart-type TV personality, and no one will know!  Yay!

Is there a “Wheel of Fortune”-type wheel, you spin and it’s one of a few basic plots?

Girl with workaholic (lawyer, advertising/magazine executive, website/app developer) boyfriend takes a vacation to a small town…

Girl who, herself, is a workaholic takes a trip to a small town/gets stuck in a lovely small town/leaves her busy corporate job and goes to a factory in the sticks… and discovers the meaning of Christmas, or Easter, or Valentine’s Day…

Single mom has a kid with a problem and meets a caring teacher/medical professional/tutor…

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t really mind the plot similarities!  I just wondered.  Is it a cost thing?  If so, there are hundreds of out-of-print Harlequin romances out there, with other plots.  I’m sure their authors would love to have their work live to see another day, made into a Hallmark movie – and you could probably get them for cheap!

What’s with the Golden Girls?  I have nothing against reruns.  In fact, when you take “Murder, She Wrote” off for Christmas, I go into withdrawal.  Never stop running “Murder, She Wrote!”

And I love “Psych”(and, in fact, have the entire DVD collection) and “Monk.” (Actually, I have those DVDs, too, but Monk’s OCD situations make me anxious sometimes, unlike “Psych,” which was perfection in every way, including its casting of Corbin Bernsen, but I digress.)

Please help me understand:  did you do an opinion poll and people overwhelmingly said, “We can’t get enough Bea Arthur!”

“Maude wasn’t enough!  In fact, we, the vast majority of your Hallmark movie audience, rejoiced at spinning off ‘Maude’ from ‘All in the Family,’ because her character was just that great!

“All Rue McClanahan, all the time!”

Betty White – well, I think she’s a hoot, loved her as Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”  But seriously:  Is it a deep discount thing?  “We can run ‘Golden Girls’ for pennies a day!”

Is there a list of forbidden phrases?  I know why nobody says “Goodbye,” after a phone call and they just hang up, instead.  That’s because some study done decades ago said viewers might tune out at the word goodbye, which is dumb.  It does seem rude to have people just hang up with no closure.  But I get that; it’s pretty much universal on TV.

However:  how come nobody ever dies in Hallmark land?  They pass.  I’m not advocating the use of insensitive phrases, like, “croaked,” or “kicked the bucket,” or “cashed in his chips,” but really, it’s noticeable.  It’s odd.  People don’t die, they just “pass.”  Like a burrito in the night…

A word about chemistry.  In some of your movies, notably your mystery series – again, I don’t want to name names; I’m not out to shame anyone – there is zero chemistry between the female and male leads.  Nada.  Zilch. Do you not do screen tests for this sort of thing?  It’s painful!

The exception to every rule? Royal movies. I love them! Can’t get enough of them! I don’t care if they’re stereotyped and hokey and unbelievable.  No standards apply here for this viewer!  Just keep ‘em coming!  I just like seeing princes and future kings and queens and princesses in little tiny fictional countries and their lovely castles and delightful servants and real or fake British accents and beautiful ball gowns!  The Joint Chief of Royal Movies is doing just fine.  Keep up the good work.  Jolly good show!

©Janet Farrar Worthington

I don’t want to cast shade, particularly about  a Hallmark movie, particularly a Hallmark movie that has Robby Benson – the voice of the beloved Beast in Disney’s animated classic, “Beauty and the Beast,” and, of course, the star of movies from my youth, including “Ice Castles.”  (Note I do not mention “Ode to Billie Joe,” directed by Max Baer, aka Jethro Bodine on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” which could have been so much better and was a sad disappointment.  Spoiler alert: Why didn’t Billie Joe just fake his death and run away with Glynnis O’Connor?)

So I’m not going to trash the movie.  I just want to note two things not related to the plot; no spoilers here!  One, this particular movie, “A Feeling of Home,” featured the worst quasi-Southern accent (it wasn’t Robbie Benson’s character) I have ever heard in my life.  I actually paused the movie, went on IMDB, and found out the guy playing this Texas cowboy was Australian. I thought they could do accents!  Maybe that’s just English actors.  Two, an even more egregious crime:  this quasi-Southern, quasi-cowboy HELD ONTO THE SADDLE AS HE RODE!!!

I actually taped a second showing of this movie, so I could make sure I truly saw what I thought I saw.  I regret to say, I was right.  Here’s the photographic proof.  Now, I am not one to judge anyone for holding onto the saddle; who hasn’t?  I certainly did it plenty of times myself, back in the day.  But this horse was not jumping a fence, or slipping down a rocky trail.  It was not at a gallop.  I don’t even know if its pace would count as a trot; it was more of a jog — nay, a brisk walk.

Let’s just take a moment to compare this with another man from the very deep South, and by that I mean New Zealand, and I’m talking about New Zealand actor Karl Urban, who played Eomer in “Lord of the Rings.”  He had many battle scenes, and to do them authentically, he spent hours on his own time learning not merely how to ride, but how to ride mostly just using his legs, so he could use his arms for wielding a sword, holding a shield, or throwing a spear.  What a boss!

Enough about that.  Now, for balance, let’s talk about something good.  And by good, I mean, something it’s hard to imagine living without, and by that, I mean:  Q-Tips. How did humanity get along all these millenia without the cotton swab?  There are many brands, but accept no substitutes:  Q-Tips are the best!  Some brands will short you on the cotton.  And when you do what they tell you not to do but everyone does (stick it in your ear), if you don’t have the name-brand Q-Tip, you might scrape your ear with an inadequate cushion of cotton.  Also, some cotton swabs just have a wooden or plastic handle on one end, depriving you of the opportunity to get the other ear with the same swab.  Not cost-effective, people!

So, in tribute to the humble Q-Tip, I have written this haiku.


Beloved Q-Tip

Not just a one-sided wand

Cotton on both ends.


Sometimes, my ears itch

Water, after my shower.

Thank God you are there.


Cosmetic savior

For my eyeliner mishaps

Cotton swab, my friend.


Now, while I’m on the subject of life-changing items, can we please take a moment to give thanks for Kleenex?  Actually, Kleenex or Puffs with aloe.  The invention of the disposable tissue was a life-changer.  Yes, the handkerchief has been romanticized in literature and film… a lady drops her lace-bordered handkerchief.  A gentleman picks it up, and takes a moment to enjoy the delicate scent of her perfume.  Or a man lends a woman his handkerchief.  It is monogrammed, and she keeps it close to her heart forever.  Lovely images… but let us consider that people actually BLOW THEIR NOSES IN THESE THINGS.  Here’s her delicate perfume… and here’s her nasal mucous!  Wow, it’s a little off-color; I wonder if she’s got a cold or if it’s just allergies…  Or perhaps she simply cries and dabs her eyes… even then, there’s clean-up.  Here’s her mascara!  Here’s her eyeshadow!  Hello, Shout or Spray ‘n’ Wash, or Tide to Go Instant Stain Remover — other breakthroughs for our times, I might add.

And then, one one bright day for humanity and civilization as we know it, a person of true genius came up with a revolutionary idea:  Let’s throw this away!   Let’s just not have to deal with it later!  Let’s be free of it!  Let us chuck it in the waste bin!  Why isn’t the date of this invention inscribed and celebrated in the annals of history?

So, clearly, we have much to be thankful for.  Even a movie with an accent-mutilating cowboy hanging onto a saddle?  Well… at least the scenery was nice.

© Janet Farrar Worthington