Craks, Bams, Flowers, and Winds – Doing What Makes You Smile

I was looking for a way to connect with my new upstate New York community, to meet people, make new friends.  I had played the ancient game of mah-jongg many years ago in Westchester, where I raised my family for 25 years, but really didn’t have the time to hone my skills.  Dinner needed to be cooked, laundry needed to be done, homework needed supervision, the dog needed to be walked!  My husband, while helpful, is not me.  I am a controlling individual, so have no one to blame but myself for always being pressed for time. Enter retirement!

Mah-jongg dates back from the Quing Dynasty, an ancient Chinese game of tiles being made into suits of flowers, dragons, winds, craks, and bams (short for bamboo) Even suits, odd combinations, singles and pairs, consecutive runs, etc. One lives and breathes the Official Standard Hands And Rules card, which you are allowed to keep in front of you while playing ( $9 sold by the synagogue with proceeds often going to worthy Jewish causes such as Hadassah) issued by the National Mah Jongg League, Inc now in it’s 81st year.

The game was brought to American shores in the early 1920’s.  The theory is that with the advent of immigrants coming to this country, it was a way of tying folks together.

Much like Chinese food, which we all know Jews eat on Christmas Day, the game became synonymous with this cultural group of middle aged women.  In the 1950’s when bungalow colonies were popular as summer vacationing destinations, ladies sat around the pool and played in groups during the week, waiting for their husbands to come up on weekends from the hot city.  My own family did this (not that my  mother played mah-jongg-she wouldn’t dream of it!) while my father toiled in Harlem running a drug store with his brother.

Every Monday, since I returned from winter in Mexico, I drive to Temple Israel in Catskill, NY (where else?!) to sit with a group of women, some older than me, some younger, make that none younger!  I may not have much in common with them, but we all share our fascination with this ancient, somewhat exotic game of strategy, focus, tactics, and a bit of luck!  Getting good tiles from the onset doesn’t hurt.  There is casual banter among the players and one must come with $5 in quarters for the betting (big stakes poker this is not!) plus $3 as a contribution to the snacks that are set out on a table every week.  Cake from someone’s birthday the previous weekend, cookies, trail mix, brownies, etc.  Jewish women like a nosh!

I am getting to know people from week to week and I like the challenge of the game, in addition to the fact that we are mostly of the same faith so share a certain simpatico. We play from 12-4 on Mondays with a break for lunch and I am sitting at the beginner’s  table for now. The women are patient and someone comes over to look at my hand pointing out possible combinations, since  I am still a newbie. There is something captivating about the click clacking of the tiles.

Amy Tan wrote in “The Joy Luck Club”, of her mother asking the question, ‘What’s the difference between Jewish and Chinese mah-jongg?” Her mother replies, “Entirely different kind of playing…Jewish mah-jongg they watch only for their own tile, play only with their eyes.”

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It’s even said when the last member of a mah-jongg group dies, it’s her job to bring the mah-jongg set with her to the world to come.” Now, that’s dedication!

 

 

If you think this game will make you smile, here’s how to get started – thanks to our friends at Amazon!  Just click the image below.

 

Today’s Takeaway…

What is that you love to do?  What haven’t you had the time for during all those many years raising a family?  Is it gardening, bridge, a book club, ceramics, painting?  Maybe, it’s mah-jongg. Follow your passion.  Now is the time! Maybe, you’ll make a new friend or two.

. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Pick up a tennis racket, even if you’ve never played.  Pickle ball, which Barclay and I are both learning.  Who cares if you look silly or make a mistake!  You have nothing to prove.  You’ve lived a successful life and can do whatever makes you smile. 🙂

Enjoy the ride

xox Barclay & Joy

 

Mother’s Day 2018

Joy —

Today being Mother’s Day calls for a special post.  Barclay and I have been experimenting on co-writing certain posts.  We feel jointly our own individual memories and perspectives make for one hell of a great read!! (all modesty aside)

Mother’s Day, to me has always been about celebrating my own mother, not my motherhood.  It took me many years and sadly the death of my own mother to understand that this is my day too.  Funnily enough, as my good friend Christine would say, my own mother, Muriel (of previous blog fame!) thought these holidays were silly.  She always said, “the greeting card industry invented them” and “every day should be about celebrating your mother.”

I always remembered to say I love you and to be mindful of how special a person Muriel was (quirky, a bit odd, a character for sure, but the best mother I could have wished for, if I had ordered her up) So this day, May 13th, 2018, I recall the very first Mother’s Day without mine. (Muriel passed away Feb 21, 1990.)

I changed my mind and decided not to be teary and remember that first Mother’s Day, but rather to reflect on the unique character that Muriel was.  She was trapped in the 1950’s, but secretly had a yearning to break out..  She didn’t care for other women that much, small talk, swapping recipes, and ladies lunches.  My mother preferred to  take her Tuesday off from motherdom and wifedom (though she didn’t work), ride the #4 bus downtown, shop at Lord & Taylor, and eat lunch at the Birdcage restaurant, probably collecting her thoughts and dreams. She then would prepare my father’s shrimp cocktail  for when he came home serving him as he sat throne like waiting for his food.

She was a great listener and old ladies (probably a few years older than me now!!) loved telling her their problems.  She was compassionate, thoughtful, and kind hearted. She wore a girdle, though she was thin all her life, never accentuated her curvature of the spine (born with it) by wearing form fitting clothes, and sat in the window of the bathroom where the natural light was best to apply Max Factor pancake makeup, false eyelashes in the 60’s and thereafter, as well as pressing it all onto her skin with ice wrapped in a tissue.  Oh, the things we do for beauty! She used Noxema every night to wash her face, applied cold cream, and wrapped her bouffant hairdo in toilet paper to keep it in place until next week’s beauty parlor appointment.

She loved me dearly, though not overly affectionate (my father made up for that) and I always knew I could go to her for whatever upset me. I always wanted my relationship with my daughters to be what I had with my mother and I have been blessed to have that.  So this Mother’s Day, 2018, I think of you mommy, but also know it is my day too.

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Barclay —

Sometimes I am asked how I came to live in the midwest.  The answer I give is that I attended college in suburban Chicago and then “settled” here (as if I am Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie).  The real answer is I was trying to get as far away from my mother as possible.

This was a positive.

States between us — I now have an entire file drawer filled with birthday cards – she was fond of Snoopy – and notes that begin with “Dearest Barcs” or better yet, “Barcsy” and end with hand drawn hearts, the emojis of yesteryear.   I also have letters written in careful cursive on yellow legal paper – all ending with the word, love.

 

Love wasn’t a word Peggy used with wild abandon.   But she did love fiercely without sentimentality.  A friend of hers once told Charlie (my brother) and me how proud she was of us – to the point of boasting.  For some reason she could only direct such thoughts to her pen or to Florida friends.

But…

At the end we discovered that Peggy had her own file drawer.   In it we found clippings from college tennis, letters from camp, articles written, birthday cards – featuring the Peanuts gang of course.  Evidence of pride.  Of love.

When Mom passed away one October evening in 2010 we held her hands standing around the hospice bed – something she would have recoiled at.  She would also have been aghast at not wearing lipstick.  Yet she looked radiant as she stepped onto gold pavement.

Surrounded by Love.

 

 

“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow.” – Maya Angelou

 

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No takeaways today, just enjoy the day.  If you are a mother rejoice in being lucky enough to have children.  If you want to have them, may your prayers be answered to have them.  If you are fortunate enough to still have a mother to call, go ahead and pick up the phone.  No text, no email, just let her hear your voice.

Enjoy the ride

xox Barclay and Joy

 

 

 

 

 

“I Feel Pretty”-run, don’t walk and take a daughter with you. Rent one if you don’t have one!

 

My daughter and I went to the new Amy Schumer movie this past weekend. It takes a lot for me to spend $18 for a movie, although I can now get in for a discounted $16 as a senior.  Being old has it’s plusses! I am so glad I paid up and saw it!  It was wonderful!  The message is spot on and coming from a woman who appears to be beautiful inside and out, it is believable and rings true for so many young girls.

It was funny, emotional, and hit home for me personally.  We live in an age where physical beauty is still super important, slim bodies, toned, white teeth, straight teeth, the right clothes, the right hair style, color, etc etc.  I was so hoping that our infatuation with looks and body types had dissipated; after all, models like Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence and Hunter McGrady are some of the hottest names on the runway and in fashion.  Sports Illustrated picks swim suit models like Kate Upton, who is no skinny Minnie, but rather a full figured gorgeous girl.

The fact is we are still fixated on beauty and as a society probably always will be.  Amy Schumer’s movie is simple in its premise, but delivers a punch that  made my daughter and I teary in the end.  It’s a message that resonates and celebrates positivity, confidence, and gumption. If you feel you are beautiful, then you are, no matter what the outside world thinks.  That mirror is your friend, not your enemy and you tell it how you feel about yourself, not the other way around!

The beautiful model in the movie (Emily Ratajkowski) doesn’t have the confidence that Renee (Amy Schumer’s character) has and is seen crying in the Soul Cycle locker room after having been dumped by a guy.  It’s such a wonderful message for an average girl to see. Even the beautiful ones get dumped for all sorts of reasons and it doesn’t hurt any less.  A gorgeous face and perfect body do not spare you from emotional let downs. Shit happens!

I truly hope that my daughter (I have two, but no names mentioned) will take away the message that was intended and see herself for the incredible person she is.  Kind, thoughtful, principled, loyal, devoted; these traits are what make one stand apart from the pack. Beauty is ephemeral, no matter what and what’s left is the inner being.

So, go see this movie, alone, with a friend or best with a daughter.  You will walk out with a smile on your face and a desire to see it again on Netflix a year from now!

 Today’s takeaway…

. Perhaps Maria, as in West Side Story Maria should have sung “I Feel Confident” rather than “I Feel Pretty” Even she was fixated on her looks! Maybe Tony would have lived if she had sung a different tune!

. Try not to dwell on looks yourself (this is directed at me!) The message we send to our kids sticks with them and can later cause them to focus on the wrong traits in a boyfriend, a girlfriend, themselves.

Thank you Amy Schumer for a wonderful movie!

Enjoy the ride

xox Barclay and Joy

 

The Simplicity of Life

We are back in upstate New York now, Columbia County (deer and tick country!) where it is most definitely still winter.  We left 85 degree weather last week to arrive at a blustery, average temp of 39-45 degree with a dusting of the white stuff yesterday morning on our lawn!  Unreal! Where is global warming?!

 

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In being back home, I see life in much more simple terms.  The light is different here.  It’s almost translucent and the colors are vibrant.  It’s a setting that The Hudson School of painters saw and capitalized on in their magnificent landscapes of trees and farmland.

I hear the sounds of wild turkeys, birds, coyotes, and deer leaping in the brush. My neighbor, who has a farm and chickens roaming around has agreed to sell me eggs on a weekly basis.  These are real “free range” “cage free” birds and I’ll be  making egg salad from the fruits of their labor!

I understand why people live longer up here. “Men in rural areas on average can expect to celebrate their 78th birthday -two years longer than those in the city-while women will pass 82, almost a year and a half  more than their urban peers. It’s official: move to the countryside and you live longer (a study by The Guardian).  The stress is gone, the serenity and beauty of the landscape puts  one at peace. One of my very good friends’ mother lived to be over 100 yrs old residing in a remote part of Northern Maine. Same principle. How many centenarians does Willard Scott report on in major urban areas?  New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago; these are working cities.  Everything is stressful in New York City:  going to the dry cleaner, waiting for the subway, ordering take out! No wonder people are gray and sallow, grumpy looking, agitated! Don’t get me wrong.  I am a New York City girl through and through, but I am getting to like the boonies.

 

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I understand why at this third chapter of life (Jane Fonda refers to it as “the third act”-see link for an incredible Ted Talk courtesy Jane, https://www.ted.com Jane Fonda:Life’s third act)   – who doesn’t look a day over 55!!) gives us the time to see things differently, simplistically. When you strip away, excess, material things, competition, greed, jealousy,  we can truly appreciate the every day, the each day.  I always felt strapped for time, no time to be alone with my thoughts, no time to read (thank God for commuting!), to pick a recipe for dinner, to reach out to a friend and have a juicy hour-long conversation.  Now I can and I am and it feels wonderful! Eva Gabor and  Eddie Albert, known as Lisa, the socialite wife and Oliver Wendell Douglas, the New York lawyer found Green Acres in 1965 to give them just that. Though Eva went kicking and screaming in her evening gowns and Bulgari jewelry, she grew to accept it.  If Eva did it, so can I!  Simplicity for simplicity’s sake is my new mantra.

 

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Today’s Takeaway…

.  Truly, stop and smell the roses.  Savor the simple things that life gives us every day.  Don’t take them for granted.  One day, you may not be able to hear those birds singing or see the colors of the morning sky.

Time is precious.  Don’t waste it. Plan your day and get out there.  In the words of Muriel, sage purveyor of wisdom, “You can sleep when you’re dead” (which is not to say that I’m not enjoying my going back to sleep in the morning and waking at 10! That’s the beauty of retirement!

Enjoy the ride

xox Barclay and Joy

 

 

 

Goodbye little village of Ajijic

This week my husband and I left our Winter home in Mexico bound for the States.  After 3 months of perfect weather, (so dull and predictable!) back to where we will spend Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Last year I counted the days (literally x ing them off on the calendar and counting)  until we returned, fearing I had made a mistake in retiring early, not sure if this was the right place, wondering if my adaptation to a foreign country and culture were just not going to happen.  I had read that a transplant to another country starts off with this feeling of euphoria and excitement exploring all that is new to them only to be brought down to reality in year two.  Naturally, I would be different and found my first year to be okay, hearing my daughter’s voice in my head- “It’s so dusty and dirty, why would you want to live here?!”  At the end of this Winter, I found myself a bit sad, although happy to return to my furry children, my human children (not necessarily in the order I have outlined!), friends, and family members. I had grown attached to this dusty little village of 10,500 (2010 census) about 1,000 full time folks and 700 snowbirds, a term I have always hated, but have become one! What makes an everlasting experience in this new phase of   life are the relationships we make, the connections, the chemistry.  We met people that we would never have met in any other setting, from different coasts, different backgrounds, but the most important factor being we are all in similar stages of life.  There are some who still work, but have the flexibility to work from anywhere, but most are like me and have retired, seeking a different life style, out of the box thinkers.

Without the pressures of everyday life, a job, commuting, juggling family and career, you can focus on people, really listen, share experiences and begin anew in this third chapter. I found myself relaxed this year, not as reflective, but for the first time being in the present.  I saw this little village on Lake Chapala with fresh eyes, smiling as the sunshine beamed in every morning.  How can you be grumpy and depressed in a place that birds sing, hummingbirds hum and horses clip clop on  quaint cobblestone streets.  It is like a Hollywood movie set made to look like an old time Mexican village, except it’s for real!

I learned that material things don’t matter as much.  Whether I wear my Cartier Love bracelet or a piece of colorful string who cares!  The fancy cars are driven for the most part by Guadalajarans who come for the weekend and people don’t dress in fancy designer clothes, nor do they flash expensive jewelry. Puerto Vallarta or Cancun this is not.  It is understated and low key.  For a city girl who loved her labels (although I never paid full price!  What smart Jewish girl would?!) , I have come to terms with what is important to me now.  I did all that stuff, I fell into the upwardly mobile trappings of can you beat this.  I am comfortable in my own skin now and none of that is really important to me anymore.  I have nothing to prove. I made it in New York and, as the song goes, “If you can make it there…..”

So, as I am back home now, I know that I will return next Winter to my little village of Ajijic a wiser woman than I was two years ago.  I have made great friends who I care about, who I can be silly with and drink too many margaritas with, but who’s to remember in the morning!  My friends from childhood, college, early 20’s, 30s, are my life long friends, milestone friends, but the life I have ahead of me is as important and meaningful as the life behind me. Crocus are blooming, Winter seems to be going on vacation somewhere else, and the crispness of a new season is in the air. I feel very blessed.

Today’s Takeaway:

Everybody adapts at a different pace.  Give yourself time, cut yourself slack, and understand that if you’ve worked a lifetime (42 years to be exact!)  you don’t just step on the brakes and turn the car around.

Embrace the here and now.  Be present.  Living in the past is a killer and won’t get you anywhere new.  The road ahead is filled with wonderful surprises if you just begin walking.

Enjoy the ride

x0x Barclay and Joy

 

 

 

 

 

I Only Eat To Live

This is something my mother, Muriel (if you’ve been reading our blog) used to say.  REALLY! How could anyone feel that way.  I love food!  I adore eating! Food and drink are a divine part of life, not mere sustenance.

Muriel was eccentric, as I have mentioned previously.  She was all of 5 feet tall and probably 100 lbs.  She was stuck in a time warp (I say this lovingly) as she wore stockings with garters, a girdle, and went to bed with toilet paper around her head to preserve her once a week beauty parlor look. She was a creature of habit, the target advertisers live for!  I digress though, since this is my post about food.

She ate because she had to.  She hated cooking and only broke out of her mold to try new recipes because I bugged her. I tried to add some spice to her cooking by buying her a casserole cookbook for a present one year.  I thought maybe she would enjoy eating more if she experimented with new foods, ingredients.  This wasn’t the 1950’s anymore. I love a good meatloaf as much as the next person, but I had friends whose foreign born mothers made stuffed cabbage or meatballs, or noodle kugel!  Too ethnic for Muriel who prided herself on being a 4th generation American.

The cooking of a stew in winter or a quiche in the oven is sublime.  It evokes memories, it makes your salivary glands water, it enriches the soul.  (well, maybe that’s a bit too literary-who am I Tom Jones?!) It does satisfy, satiate, and with a glass of full bodied wine is there anything better (that you can talk about in a blog meant for the general public!)

My father, on the other hand loved food, relished it. His best meal was hot dogs (called “Specials” from Gitlitz – 79th and Broadway), one of the legendary upper west side delis of yesteryear, long gone.  He’d pick me up from Sunday School  and buy dogs, coleslaw, sauerkraut, and French fries. It was sublime!  Daddy closed his eyes when he ate and chewed slowly savoring every bite.  Muriel ate from the pot that she made dinner in while standing at the stove.  It was a matter of getting the meal out of the way, because as I said she ate to live! The faster she could get it down, the better. Then, she could start the clean up process and get the hell out of the kitchen!

Clearly, I come from a family of contrasts.  Potato chips, pretzels, peanuts, ribs, fried chicken, pot roast, a good juicy steak with blood on the plate, love it all.  “If music be the food of love, play on”  “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw. You get the picture.  Muriel was in the minority. Her passions might have been for designer clothes and theatre;  a sirloin steak just wasn’t top priority!

Today’s Takeaways…

. Live with passion, zeal in everything you do.  Retirement doesn’t mean you end that phase of life!  It’s just not on your company’s expense account anymore!

. Food and wine play a big part in life.  Savor every sip and morsel.

Enjoy the ride

xox Barclay and Joy

Facing Fear: JOY WALKS ON FIRE!

One Saturday night my husband and I decided to attend an early celebration of the Spring Equinox, which would include fire walking!

I had seen this sort of thing done by Tony Robbins and was familiar with Deepak Chopra  who helped to popularize it. It was either this or celebrating St. Patrick’s Day Mexico style with Irish stew at Funky Finn’s, a local music venue for drinking and dancing.  Fire walking intrigued me. The event was promoted on FB showing 60 other crazy people thinking of doing the same thing on a Saturday night.

My husband and I showed up tentatively planning on listening to the coach, a hippy looking Baby Boomer with long white hair and a casual air.  There were only a few people at first nervously signing a list of attendees and being asked to donate for the evening’s expenses. So, for 300 pesos (about $17) we would tempt the fates and walk on hot coals of between 800 and 1700 degrees farenheit!!!!!!!!

More and more people showed up, both locals and Gringos, which was nice to see and we began. The coach has been doing this with his wife for many years.  (I wondered, does he have a resume that says certified fire walker?)

He spoke of losing your fears, having a relationship with the fire, changing one’s life, etc. A little cult-y sounding, but my interest was piqued. We were asked to write down on a piece of paper the things we wanted to get rid of in our lives on one side and the things we wanted to welcome into our lives on the other. My husband made suggestions!  I wrote down my own flaws (the few I have!) and what I hope to bring into my life after this altering experience.

We then were asked to come up one by one and throw the piece of paper into the burning fire.  Very symbolic to be sure.  As the sun was setting and darkness beginning to envelope the crowd, the fire was deemed ready.  The coals have to be almost ash, but glowing red for the walk to begin.

The coach explained the scientific reasons for why people don’t go up in flames or leave with 3rd degree burns.  There was no ambulance on site so I guess he knew what he was doing! He told the group that each person would come up, stand in front of the coals that had now been placed on a piece of turf, and make the split  decision to walk or not walk. Caminar or no caminar. I thought I was going to walk, but wasn’t 100%, nonetheless my husband was on board.  Being competitive and knowing I may not have this opportunity again  back up North, I was going to walk too!!

A bit scary, but after watching several people do it walking at a comfortable pace (not supposed to run screaming!) I was psyched.  It felt hot, but not unbearable and I stayed fixated on the fire.  Mind over matter at its utmost. With people cheering each person who completed the walk with hoots and hollers, I was on a high!  A fire high! I have a small blister on one foot, that the coach called “fire kisses”.  Many people who do this get them, so I am now officially in the fire walkers club. Oprah has nothing on me!

Today’s newsletter, called ‘I’ve Been Thinking”, by Maria Shriver, whom I read religiously every Sunday, just happened to focus on fear.  How apropos.  “Fear.  It’s one of the scariest and most complex emotions that we face as human beings.  It can paralyze us and stop us in our tracks.  Or, it can motivate us to keep fighting and keep pushing forward.”

Today’s Takeaway

. Maria said it best. We must push through fear.  It is the one emotion that plagues every human being.  The idea is to face it head on and prove to yourself that you can do anything!!

.Take advantage of opportunities that come your way. It could have been an ordinary Saturday night or a celebration of St. Patrick’s Day at Funky Finn’s.  This was so much more, a memory and an accomplishment I will remember forever.  Best part, my husband and I did it together!

Enjoy the ride!

xox Barclay and Joy