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,  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


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