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

 

My love for Hallmark movies and also Hallmark mysteries is deep and abiding.  One of my favorite things to do is put my jammies on, get all fixed on the couch with at least one and maybe three dogs and, if I’m lucky, my husband and/or one of my kids, and watch a seasonally appropriate Hallmark movie or a new Hallmark mystery series.

My daughter, Blair, is my long-distance Hallmark movie partner, so my even more favorite thing to do is text her while we’re both watching one of these movies together, although in different states.   I also like to pause the movie and take screen shots with my phone – which I always have nearby so I can go on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) website for reference when I want to look up a cast member.

“More Bitter Than Death”

The movie this time was the latest installment in the Emma Fielding mystery series:    “More Bitter Than Death.”  That’s a quote from Ecclesiastes 7:26. “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.”  Study this.  Ponder it, and – just kidding!  The passage itself actually sheds no light whatsoever!

However (no spoilers here, don’t worry) a clue from this passage does lead our astute heroine, Emma Fielding, to identify and confront the killer. Also: nifty title for a movie!

In this movie – very important – we see Emma and FBI agent Jim Conner finally admit they like each other.  (Jim Conner, by the way, is played by the excellent James Tupper, who was so good in “Love’s Long Journey,” a favorite Hallmark movie from 2005, as Henry, the bereaved, disillusioned-but-deep-down-a-good-man-who-really-does-still-believe-in-God, ranch hand).   So, he’s great.  We also meet someone from Emma’s past – Duncan Thatcher (played by Mark Valley, aka Brad Chase from “Boston Legal”) a handsome archeology professor from Cambridge, whom Emma describes as “perfect.”  She should know; they used to be an item.

So, this guy’s a Brit.  (I hate to nit-pick, but he actually uses the word, “crevasse.” Does anyone, really, use that word? Besides screenwriters?)  He’s brilliant, well-dressed, and clearly interested in picking up where they left off.  But Emma was wiser than she realized when she dumped him years ago.  He’s actually not perfect!  You’d think, of all the people in all the places in the world, a professor from Cambridge University would be conversant with correct word usage.  But no! Not once, but twice! Both times, he’s speaking of his membership, during his college student days, in a secret society.  I took two pictures here, and you can see, twice he says, “I’m an alumni.”  Not the singular alumnus, or even the ambiguous, “alum.”

People, my mother was an English teacher and my father is a retired journalism professor.  I can’t help myself; it’s in my DNA.  This makes my flesh crawl.

Later, we hear an unfortunate grammatical error from the Dean of the College, or maybe even the whole university, I’m a little fuzzy on this point, because I was on IMDB, trying to look him up.  Alas, once again, IMDB has failed me, and I can’t give you the actor’s name.  I have noticed this odd phenomenon when I have been trying to look up actors in a Hallmark movie:  it’s hard to get a list of the entire cast.  I can’t imagine why this occurs, but it has happened to me with Hallmark movies numerous times.  IMDB just has a partial cast list (see my picture of it). So I don’t know who this actor is, and although I’ve seen him before, I can’t recall which movies.  It’s bothering me.

But I digress:  Here is a high-level college official using bad grammar, asking, “by who?”

Please.  By whom.  Please.

The Murder

I didn’t mean to get so sidetracked, but that’s just the way it is with the IMDB/Hallmark rabbit hole.  Now we come to the murder.  The victim – again, not listed on the IMDB cast list – looked familiar.  I thought she resembled Margot Kidder – who was, of course, the best Lois Lane ever in the best Superman movie ever, opposite the best Superman ever, Christopher Reeve.  So I looked on IMDB, and sure enough, there she was:  Janet Kidder.  Margot’s niece!  Isn’t that nice!  She has been in a few other Hallmark movies, and of course, she’s Canadian, so she’s doubly Hallmark-appropriate.

Basically, at a fancy dinner meeting, Janet Kidder gets up to a podium and keels over.  Now, this brings me to another very important issue I have with Hallmark murder movies: Why do they not even try CPR?  Come on, how about a chest compression?  Just try it! Check the airway!  Maybe she choked on a biscuit, or something, not that they had a biscuit at this fancy dinner, but still, she could have tucked one away, eaten it furtively and then choked on it!  What could it hurt to check for a biscuit?

But no.  Instead, the FBI guy gets up there, feels her carotid artery, and says, “She’s dead.”

Emma Fielding gasps.

The Friend

It’s always so nice to see Crystal Balint – Canadian, of course – although she also didn’t make the IMDB cast list (see above).   She’s a versatile actress and has been in a bunch of Hallmark movies, and she saved the day as a seamstress in “Royal New Year’s Eve,” for Jessy Shram’s Cinderella-like character.   Just a shout-out to one of my many favorites in the Hallmark family.

Interestingly, as I was trying to take her picture, I captured two of Emma instead.  Apparently, there was quite the discussion of saffron as an ingredient.

One Suspect

There were several suspects, but I just want to commend Professor Braverman for his ability to scamper like a hamster in a totally unexpected chase scene with Jim Connor and, at the end, Duncan Thatcher joining in.  Running up a VW Bug, jumping over fences. Just a nimble and speedy guy!   I’ve seen him before, but who is the actor?  I have no idea – because, again, he didn’t make the partial cast list.  Thanks for nothing (again), IMDB!

Cut to Commercial

Note to Emma Fielding producers:   The picture of Emma Fielding on the promo for the series looks a lot different from Emma today.  They are both beautiful pictures, but let’s make the effort to keep it current.

As to the commercials themselves:  I make my living writing about medical problems.  My husband is a doctor.  Our families have had their share of serious medical conditions.  I’m no stranger to illness.  But for the love of God, are there no healthy people who watch Hallmark? 

On a regular movie-watching night, it’s pretty common to see commercials for:

  • Walgreens, particularly people on Medicare Part D.
  • The Hurry Cane, although I like that one, because the one scrappy guy with the better cane gets the girl.
  • This happy disposable undies lady (this photo I actually took from a magazine, but it’s the same lady).
  • Medicine for metastatic breast cancer.
  • A terrifying one about a poor man with Parkinson’s disease who is suffering from hallucinations. He sees multiple Chocolate Labs, so I guess if I had to hallucinate, I’d rather see Labs than monsters, but still.
  • Some commercial for medicine that includes this phrase: “blood clots that lead to death.”
  • This commercial (see photo) for bipolar medicine, featuring some poor woman who is looking at all her binge purchases, and then when the medicine kicks in, she has a happy interaction with the delivery guy who is taking them for returns.

 

Hallmark, as far as I know, people of all ages like your movies.  Some are even in good health!

There are some commercials that are not medical.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen this one featuring the cute little girls who make “princess toast” for their mom, I’d have several dollars by now.  It’s for Nature Made gummy vitamins, but I like the commercial mainly because I like to hear the mom say, “Oh!” in a delighted way. She’s just so happy!  Hallmark, put her in a movie!

But then there was this one for Reese’s Easter candy.   Don’t get me wrong: I love Reese’s Cups.  But this commercial makes me feel uncomfortable.  A chocolate bunny makes its way toward a jar of peanut butter, and suddenly we hear Marvin Gaye singing, “Let’s Get It On.”  Ew!  No!  I don’t want that!

What was wrong with the old Reese’s origin story commercials like this one , featuring teen heart throb Robby Benson and “Happy Days” star Donny Most, aka Ralph Malph?  They are walking along, one eating a chocolate bar, one eating peanut butter, and they bump into each other:

“Hey, you got your chocolate on my peanut butter!”

“You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”

The result:  Two great tastes that go great together. That was genius!  That was classic!

Not a cringe-worthy, creepy, weird chocolate bunny sidling up to the peanut butter jar.

Also, I don’t want that bunny near my kids.

 

© Janet Farrar Worthington

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know I love Hallmark movies.   I love both kinds – country and western, as they said at Bob’s Country Bunker in “The Blues Brothers.”  Or, in the case of Hallmark, the romantic comedies and the mysteries.  The dramas are good, too, but since I feel there’s enough drama in the world, I prefer the lighter movies.

            Yes, I’ve had my little issues with Hallmark over the years.  One, the hair dye thing, which I’ve mentioned before.  Somebody there dyes the hair of the leading men too dark; also, the hair of some the leading ladies is too dark.  Add a highlight or two, people!  

And there’s the whole Santa thing.  The Christmas movies hardly ever mention the reason for the season – the birth of Jesus Christ.  Instead, it’s generally all Santa, all the time, and it’s kind of creepy sometimes, like kids pray to Santa.  Something good happens, and the kid says, looking upward, “Thanks, Santa!”  Santa is the kindly, godly figure who tweaks fate to bring two people together, or, at a child’s request, finds a soulmate for a single parent.

            So that creeps me out a little, but it’s still pretty much fine.  I love Hallmark!

            Even the ads, for cancer medicines, medicines for people with diabetes, the Hurry Cane, Benefiber, some kind of hair removal device that looks like a pen but, if I were to bet any money on it, probably hurts to use.  But I fast-forward those ads, so really, they don’t bother me.

            I love the royal movies!  I love the holiday movies!  I love the mysteries!  I truly do!

            In fact, I love them so much, that last night instead of watching the Oscars, which are political and stress me out, I watched installment two of the “Chronicle Mysteries,” starring Alison Sweeney and Benjamin Ayres as her probable love interest as the series develops – although I have to say, I think there’s some chemistry there with Toby Levins, who plays fireman Shawn, and who also played her brother-in-law, Bill Todd, on the “Murder, She Baked” series – because Hallmark movies, like the old Warner Brothers movies long ago, basically use the same people.  I actually really like this. It’s nice to see familiar faces. Comforting and homey, in fact. So, instead of having Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, C. Aubrey Smith, Alan Hale, Sr. (not Alan Hale, Jr., aka the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island”), Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette, or others in the Warner stable, you get – well, a bunch of Canadians!  

            Because Hallmark actors are Canadian!  

            I’m not questioning it; I just accept it.  Nay, I embrace it! Pardon my digression.

            Anyway, last night, there was an unrecognized, integral player in “The Chronicle Mysteries: The Wrong Man.”  It wasn’t Peter Benson, always delightful to see, although I always think of him as Arthur in the “Aurora Teagarden” movies.  (Note: I saw him in a Hallmark Christmas movie, “Christmas List,” and although he was the doomed first boyfriend – in Hallmark land, the boyfriend at the beginning of the movie is a workaholic and does not get the girl – he was a darned good ice skater.  I was impressed.  Nice skating, sir!)  Nor was it another favorite, Dave Collette, who plays Bubba Rankart on the “Aurora Teagarden” series.  It was so nice to see him here as Chuck.

            No, the very important player I’m talking about was a messenger bag.

            Benjamin Ayres’ character is a reporter, and somewhere, maybe in Canada, some props master thought:  Reporter. Aha!  Messenger bag!

            Also:  leather jacket!  Maybe he takes it off to shower, swim, or sleep, but we don’t know.  

            Anyhoo, God bless him or her, that props master made sure that in just about every single scene, Benjamin Ayres had that messenger bag.  

            It was like “the football,” or “the atomic football,” the emergency satchel that accompanies the President everywhere with top-secret contents that would authorize a nuclear attack.  

            I became obsessed with the messenger bag, worn diagonally across Benjamin Ayres’ shoulder.  I started texting my daughter, Blair, about it. 

            I have only one regret:  I only started photo-documenting this bag with my phone about halfway through the movie. I should have been on it sooner. Darn, darn, darn.  

            Here’s the first one.  (Note: I was lying on the couch with the three dogs, so I was at a slight angle.)

This isn’t the greatest picture, but here’s the messenger bag, on a mission with Drew (Benjamin Ayres) to a newspaper office in Philly.

            Here’s my initial text to Blair, as I was gradually realizing the momentum and power of the bag.  “Drew, the reporter, wears a bag diagonally… in every scene!”

The bag went with Drew and Alex for coffee, and conversation.

            I added, “Note to self:  put on messenger bag.”

The bag likes Uncle Miles.
The bag is excited, because Drew has important information.

            This scene prompted some reflection:  “But maybe I am completely wrong… maybe it’s got his portable dialysis machine or something.”  “Maybe a supplemental organ.”  “Or hair product.”

Close-up of the strap, and the leather jacket.

            Blair said, “You could have prepared a lovely slideshow.”

The bag notes that while Alex has an umbrella, Drew does not.

            The scenes kept coming.  Thank God for Direct TV, which lets me pause the movie.  

            Blair told me not to stop documenting.  “The people need to know!”

Back at the Chronicle, giving vital information to Alex.

            Toward the end of the movie, the action really heated up, and there was a dramatic change:  He was carrying the bag, instead of wearing it diagonally over the shoulder! What are we to make of this development?

You can’t see it so much in the picture, but my goodness, look at the shadow! The bag has left the shoulder!

            And finally, here’s a shot from the movie’s last scene.  Holding the bag in both hands! Is it closure?  I don’t know!

You could say that Alex and Uncle Miles have left Drew holding the bag.

            Hallmark, how you taunt me! And haunt me!

            Also, I can’t allow Michael Kopsa, who plays Uncle Miles, with those piercing blue eyes, to go without a shout-out.  Another Hallmark regular, also Canadian, he has been in many of my favorite Hallmark movies, including the “Father Christmas” and “In the Vineyard” series, and he adds dignity.  

            I can only hope to see all of these old friends, and the new one – the messenger bag – in the very near future.

            Also the leather jacket!

            © Janet Farrar Worthington

I used to write letters all the time. I had a pen pal in England. I wrote letters to relatives, to friends from out of state, to President Richard Nixon – long before Watergate, and he sent me black-and-white prints from his trip to China. It was no big deal. I would just sit down, dash one off, pop a stamp on there and send it out.

What happened? Now, I crank out e-mails like nobody’s business, but they’re usually pretty short. I’m a fast typist, so basically, I just think and the letters instantly appear on the screen.

Maybe that’s the problem. It is so easy to sit there and type, and click send. These days, for some reason, I find it unbelievably arduous to pick up a pen and apply it to paper. It’s like the pen is made of lead and I’m moving in slow motion, weighed down like one of those sponge divers, tied to the boat with a rope and holding a heavy rock as ballast. Oh, the effort! Can’t… go… on…much… longer…

In shame, I have resorted to Christmas cards that are mainly just a photo, thinking that even though I probably won’t – who am I kidding, I know I won’t – have it in me to write a newsy update to go with each card… Maybe, just maybe, I could manage to lift a pen and sign our family’s names.

Yet even that pitiful effort becomes tormented. Each year, I usually send less than half of what I’ve ordered, which in itself is some ambition-free, low-ball number.

            I am so lame.

This is a shame, because there has never been such an abundance of lovely letter-writing products available to me. I love to look at the American Stationery catalog. Embossed, heavy stock, beautiful linings for envelopes, monograms, piping, cards, notepaper, personalized everything – you name it, they can do it, and make it look classy and elegant. I even bought a fountain pen, thinking – well, I don’t know, I guess hoping to get inspired by looking at the nib, or something.

This year, once again I purchased lovely Christmas photo cards (with hardly any room for text, and a lovely gold liner for the envelope). Sadly, I don’t even want to use those anymore because I have now lost 16 pounds and the photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day after a huge meal (note to self, don’t ever do that again!) and pre-diet, so I look at myself and think of one of the floats in the Macy’s parade; also, “pumpkin pie bloat.”

On a whim, I also bought some beautiful non-holiday stationery. Note cards, actually; I didn’t want to get too ambitious and then have my few words look even smaller on a large field of paper.   They are very elegant.

I look at them and imagine myself, like Jane Austen or anyone in any of her books, sitting down at an elegant writing desk and attending to my morning correspondence. Or maybe as Donna Reed, writing thank you notes or letters to distant aunts, or sending invitations to my next bridge party or luncheon. I don’t have bridge parties or luncheons, either, by the way. Or dinner parties, which my parents used to have a lot when I was a kid.

Mark and I love the 1979 movie (not the recent remake!), “The In-Laws,” and we quote from it a lot. In one scene, Vince Ricardo, played by Peter Falk, is talking to his son, Tommy, and says, “Remember when we used to play ball on Nagel Avenue?” Tommy tells him that, in fact, they never actually played ball on Nagel Avenue, but “We talked about playing ball on Nagel Avenue.”

Well, we talk about entertaining. We don’t actually do it. We talk about having our neighbors over; we’ve got great neighbors, and it would be a nice thing to do. But we don’t ever pull the trigger and have a cookout, or even go buy food somewhere and put it in our own dishes and pretend like we made it.

I don’t know why. Is the world that much more stressful than it used to be – so much so that when we’re not working, when we’re all home, we just want to nest there and decompress and not do much?

I talk about writing letters.

Maybe it’s lack of muscle memory. I type so much more often than I write. When I was an English major at Vanderbilt, we took tests in blue books. None of it was multiple choice; it was all essays. I remember writing up a storm for every test.  Side tidbit: because I’m left-handed, I would always get that telltale coating of blue or black ink on the side of my left hand, too, because it’s a right-handed world and right-handed people don’t have to sweep their hands across the words they’ve just written and smudge their ink. But I digress. Back in the day, I could write all day and it was fine; it was just something I did.

Now, because it’s not just something I routinely do but I want it to be, I am making the effort. I have written three letters so far on my beautiful stationery. Whoo! Shoot up a flare!

Or maybe, hold your applause. I’m not penning hefty epistles, mind you; in fact, the best word to describe them might be “brief.” Or maybe “concise.” But it’s a start.

Funny thing: I’m kind of enjoying the exercise itself – sitting down, composing my thoughts and trying to put them down coherently.

It’s more thoughtful than just fast-typing or worse, shooting an emoji at someone because I’m too lazy to use words at all.

I don’t know how this year’s Christmas cards are going to go. I don’t want to get ahead of myself; it’s still an effort, and I don’t think the postal service is going to be complaining about the extra work of delivering my voluminous correspondence. I’m not going to be signing up for any pen pal programs. But if you write me a letter, there’s a fairly good chance I will actually write you back – a few words, at least.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

Can we just pause for a minute to bask in the glory that is “Murder, She Wrote?” Thank God for Hallmark showing this on TV – several episodes, every night. My sons are even getting into it. They like Jessica Fletcher, played to perfection by Angela Lansbury. Well, really, Angela Lansbury is perfection, that goes without saying… But Jessica is just awesome. She doesn’t judge, she’s compassionate, she’s really smart, with an eye for the smallest detail that could be a clue, and she is deeply loyal to her friends.

And man, does that woman have a lot of friends. Distant relatives, old college chums, former neighbors – she’s got connections all over the world, and when she’s not in her home of Cabot Cove, she’s off visiting one of them. That’s the excuse to take her to the next murder, of course. But “Murder, She Wrote” draws you in, not just for the mystery itself, but for the unparalleled stable of guest stars. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who” of Hollywood.

I have actually bookmarked the “Murder, She Wrote” page on the Internet Movie Database, for quick and convenient reference – because God help me if I don’t have my phone handy and I get sucked into an episode.

“Oh, that guy,” I’ll say. Then I have to pause the show and go look him up. It’s Bo Hopkins, playing Lt. Ray Jenkins, in “Armed Response,” Season One, episode 19. And how do I know him? Well, let’s check the old IMDB… oh, looky here, he was on “The Andy Griffith Show” in 1967, in the episode, “Goober the Executive.” And then, of course, I have to take a minute to ponder the glory of George “Goober” Lindsay, because I loved him and that show. But I refuse to get sidetracked for too long, because here Bo is on “Bonanza” in 1969, playing Stretch Logan in the episode, “The Witness.” He was in a couple episodes of “Mod Squad,” but I skip over that because I never really got into that show – and may I point out, lest you think I am considerably older than I actually am, that I saw all of these early shows as reruns on after-school TV in the seventies and eighties.

But back to Bo Hopkins… how do I know him? Oh, he was on “Hawaii Five-O” – the real one, of course, with Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett. Nope… here we go: he was on a bunch of episodes of “The Rockford Files,” as a character named John Cooper. And on two episodes of “Charlie’s Angels,” one in 1976 and another in 1979.   And he was on “Dynasty!” Dang, he played Matthew Blaisdel.   He’s still alive and kicking, got a couple things in post-production. Good for him.

Whew! Now I can get back to the show. Holy cow, that was Eddie Bracken! God bless him, he was brilliant in “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” the 1943 comedy written and directed by the wonderful Preston Sturges. Betty Hutton was in that with him, what a hoot… No, I must get back to Jessica Fletcher!

Last night, my son, Josh, and I were watching an early one, Season Two, episode 1, “Widow, Weep for Me,” from 1985. I do believe this is the first one to feature the recurring character Michael Hagarty, an Irishman played by Len Cariou – who, I now know from IMDB, is actually Canadian.

“My God, that’s Cyd Charisse!” I said to Josh. “Who?” he said. “You remember “Singin’ in the Rain?” He vaguely did. Note to self: make him watch that incredible movie again. It’s part of his cultural heritage. “She was a dancer, and she could do this vertical split, it was just incredible. Her legs seemed to be longer than Gene Kelly. She was amazing.  The song was ‘Gotta Dance,’ and Gene Kelly was tossing this coin up in the air…” But in this episode, she’s secretly married to Mel Ferrer at this luxurious tropical resort.

Howard Hesseman was on this episode, too, as a shady cop. “He was on this show called WKRP in Cincinnati,” I explain to Josh, “playing a deejay named Johnny Fever who got fired for saying the word, ‘Booger.’” In an age where people routinely scream the F word, Josh found this hard to believe.

Oh, it’s a swirling vortex, that “Murder, She Wrote.” You think you’re just watching a simple TV show, but it’s actually a space-time-continuum wormhole, that simultaneously pulls you back and forward in time as you remember all these stars and then veer off down one path after another, looking at this show, and that movie, and this cast, and remembering, always remembering…

Mary Wickes was in this episode, too, as a wealthy widow who gets bumped off for her jewels. “I think she was in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ as Katie, the maid, who says, ‘Cabbage has a cabbage smell,” I say to Josh.   Hold on, I must check to verify this. Oh, no! I was completely wrong – it was Marjorie Main! “Who was Marjorie Main?” And of course, this leads me to the “Ma and Pa Kettle” movies, which spun off from “The Egg and I,” a great book by Betty McDonald… the movie starred Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, who of course played a bad guy in “Double Indemnity” but redeemed himself on “My Three Sons,” which of course brings me to the wonderful William Demerest as the big softy, Uncle Charlie… But back to Marjorie Main. There she was in 1946 in “The Harvey Girls,” another movie with Judy Garland, which featured that great song, “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe”…

Yes, it’s a treacherous web, that “Murder, She Wrote.” One must tread cautiously. Let us remember Daedalus, the genius inventor from ancient Greece – who, among many impossible jobs, was tasked by King Minos to solve the unsolvable puzzle of stringing a thread through a conch shell (this in itself was part of a plot to trap Daedalus, but let’s just try to stay on the path here). Daedalus poked a hole in the conch shell, smeared it with honey, and tied a string to an ant. The ant wound its way through the spirals of the shell, taking the string with it.

So the moral to this story is, when you watch “Murder, She Wrote,” keep a tether nearby, lest you get drawn into the many twists and turns of Memory Lane and stay there for hours – or, at least, until the next episode.

 

© Janet Farrar Worthington

 

It has taken me six months, but with the help of the Lose It app I have lost fifteen pounds. I’ve changed the way I eat, certainly the amount I eat, because apparently my daily calorie limit is about 1,200 a day. I did not know this. I thought if I just didn’t eat a lot of junk food, I was doing fine. I thought if I exercised more, I would lose weight. I was wrong.

Here are some of the other things I have learned.

First and foremost, pooping is a privilege, not a right. Who knew? Apparently, you have to have a certain amount of daily fiber, which I was getting back in the blissful days when I just ate whatever I wanted, didn’t think about it, and just lived my life. But then I got the Lose It app, and its slogan should be: “You now have to count your calories every day for the rest of your life, and you have to make every single dang stupid calorie count.” So until I figured out how to live within my caloric means, I had to make either-or choices, and I erred on the side of protein.

Protein doesn’t make you poop.  This I also did not know, so yeah, that was a cranky couple of days.  Another thing I learned: Protein also doesn’t feed your brain.

You have to have some carbs. Carbs are good for the brain. I thought I was being so virtuous and Paleo, just eating lean meats, and some fruits and vegetables, but clearly not enough (see above). Then I started having problems remembering words. I am a writer, and I could not think of words! I don’t know how to convey the horror of this, except maybe the gaping maw of the Sarlacc – the sand monster in the pit near Jabba the Hut’s place, in whose belly, as C-3PO explains, “you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.” That’s how scary it is for me not to be able to think right.

I told my husband, Mark, this. Mark is a doctor. He said, “It’s the diet. You need carbs. Eat a cracker. Drink a Coke.”

Mark, a very wise husband in addition to being an excellent physician, knows my love of the Mexican Coke, which is made with cane sugar the way Coke used to be – not “Original” Coke (original, my butt!), which has high-fructose corn syrup, and not that crap with the green label and stevia. Mexican Coke is God’s Coke! I usually drink one bottle over the course of a day, a little shot at a time. But I digress. Mark was right. I was convinced I was doing the right thing, just eating protein and some vegetables and fruit (again, clearly not enough). And yet – in my job as a medical writer, I cover a lot of research on dementia, and I had myself all worked up, thinking: “Oh, God, it’s starting!” So I Googled “on a diet can’t think” and found all kinds of articles talking about how your brain needs carbs, and how the lack of carbs actually hurts your brain.  My daughter, Blair, has been telling me that I need to worry more about eating a balanced diet than counting calories.  I didn’t listen to her, either.  I now publicly acknowledge that she was right, too.

I started eating more carbs, and I immediately felt better and could think again.  I am considering stockpiling Tater Tots.

Carbs are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Actually, the greatest thing since sliced bread is unsliced bread. A nice ciabatta, or rustic Tuscan loaf with olives, or some sourdough, or my new favorite, jalapeño cheddar. With a little dish of olive oil, some salt sprinkled in there, and some herbs. Oh, sweet Lord, I’m salivating just thinking about it.

When I lost 10 pounds, the Lose It app sent me a congratulatory message, saying that 10 pounds is what an average watermelon weighs, and I had lost the equivalent of that. That made me feel really good. I imagined carrying a watermelon around, and how heavy that was. The weight loss has been so gradual, I haven’t really noticed that I am no longer carrying around a watermelon. I just feel better. I want to lose about three more pounds.

The thing is, the more weight I have lost, the more I realize, food is good. Food is really good. Out here in the mountains of Arizona, I think about water a lot, and at least once a day, as I’m watering my plants, the words “water is life” pop into my head. I put water in my piano, to keep the humidity up. I water my indoor plants. I water my outdoor plants. We even installed a mist system to cool down the back deck and help our plants with very tiny amounts of water. I had never seen such a thing until we moved here and went down to Phoenix, where they have them outside just about every store and restaurant. So, definitely, water is life. Go, water! But food is life, too, and when you don’t eat enough, you feel like crap. If you don’t eat the right kinds of food – just Cheetos, for instance, or just junk food, or not enough salt, not enough carbs or protein – you feel like crap. And take it from me: not enough fiber, you feel like crap. Oh, the irony.

 

© Janet Farrar Worthington