Happy New Year Mah Jongg Style



I went to the mailbox today and it was like Christmas. The new Mah Jongg card for 2014 was there. For some reason the monopoly run by Ruth at the National Mah Jongg League in NYC has the New Mah Jongg year start April 1. That means that women (and maybe a few men) around the country are all getting their new cards that hold the key to what hands you can win with for the next 12 months.


What? You don’t know what Mah Jongg is? Well it is one of my best addictions, no calories and brain building at the same time. Mah Jongg is an ancient Chinese rummy type game, played with tiles. Seventy-seven years ago someone Americanized the game by adding jokers and creating a card that declared about 70 hands that would be the only ways to win that year.


In Chinese Mah Jongg there are thousands of winning hands that don’t change from one century to the next. The problem is that they are not written down in a form American’s can learn them, let alone memorize them.


I think the New Yorkers who started the American Mah Jongg League did it to put an end to arguments about what a winning hand is. Thus a business was started, which I know did not upset them any. Although they have a monopoly on the creation of the new card they have simplified the game by creating a card that sits in front of every player as a reference.

The new Mah Jongg year also is a great equalizer. In Chinese Mah Jongg the longer you have been playing and learning hands the greater your advantage. In American Mah Jongg new and old players alike all start at the same place on April 1, kind of.


As I take my first glance at this new card I see lots of hands that have been part of old cards. That helps a little, but also can add confusion to an old dog like me. Mah Jongg is all about recognizing patterns, but if I have not memorized what those patterns are it is hard to find them.


Nonetheless the new card is always a reason to celebrate. If you ever want to learn to play Mah Jongg this is the best time of year to do so. I have taught at least 300 people how to play the game and am happy to set up a class if I have enough interested students. Three three-hour classes with playtime are all you need to get started. Let me warn you if you take to it you may have to block an afternoon out a week to feed your addiction, but I will tell you it is time well spent with friends.

Just Because I am Talking Does Not Mean You Have to Listen




Last night was the Durham Academy Auction. It was a beautiful night. The Co-chairs Jane Waters and Kim Leversedge did the appropriate amount of worrying about how the moneymaking side of the evening might go. I know having chaired auctions that no matter how beautiful the decoration are (and Pokey Schiff and Kristy Rosenberg are rock stars on that front), and how many people you get to buy tickets and after all the wrangling the acquisitions people do to get good auction items you still lay awake at night fearful that your auction will be the one that does not raise the money you want it to.


Jane and Kim did everything they could before the auction and then they entrusted the baby they spent all year birthing in my hands as auctioneer with my new sidekick Assistant Headmaster Lee Hark. (For those of you who don’t know Lee he is a world class sidekick as can be seen from his international You Tube hit Durham Academy Weather Announcement). For the record I asked Lee to help me on stage at the auction in September, long before Headmaster Michael Ulku-Steiner made him famous.


Lee and I had to get to the Washington-Duke an hour before the auction for the “sound check.” This is the time that the techy guys wire us up with mikes, mine being the over the ear little wire on my cheek and Lee’s a microphone clipped below his bow tie. We practice our witty banter in a giant ballroom full of tables and chairs, but devoid of the 350 guests. All sounds fine. But having been a charity auctioneer I know this sound check means nothing. Well it just means that the techy guys know their equipment is hooked up.


In the world of charity auctions there are three ways of making money. A silent auction where now a days people bid using their phones – brilliant, worked great last night, made a ton of money thanks to some generous parents bidding up a class project. Then there is the Fund-a-need portion where people just give money for the love of the school; no goods or services are traded. That too was done by our own phones and raised 30% over our goal, great job and thank you.


The last way and the reason I exist is the Live Auction. We had ten items, painstakingly curated to ensure that all demographics were covered, something for kids, boys, girls, grown men, women and families. The live auction is what gives auction chairs angina. What if no one bids? What if the donor of an item who is in the room is embarrassed by a lack of interest? What if no one pays attention?


Here is the reality of charity auctions…less than ten percent of the people in the room have any interest in bidding on anything in the live auction. Live auction items are there to make big bucks. They are not $50 items but thousands of dollar items. That being the case as the auctioneer I know that if you are not interested in bidding you probably are going to talk to your neighbor during the auction and that is all right with me.


My job is to have meaningful bidding conversations with the few who have money they want to spend and get them to spend wildly. It is not my job to make everyone in the room sit quietly and listen to me. For all the people who love me and those with a vested interest in the outcome of the auction, all the people talking makes them crazy. Lee said to me, “You are so funny and people are missing some great material.” Yes, it is nice when you really have an audience wrapped around your hand and they are laughing at just the right moment, but charity auctions are not those events.


Last night was no different. What did happen was exactly was should happen. Enough people were enough interested to pay close enough attention to keep bidding on every item. Everything sold for more than we thought it would. Two really generous donors, Sheppy Vann, retiring Pre-school head and chef extraordinaire Amy Tournquist of Watts Grocery, both had donated items that were going so high that they agreed on the spot to double their donated items. That meant double the amount of work for them, but double the amount of money for the school.


The Live Auction was a big success. Lee, as sidekick did an impressive job modeling the Lilly Pulitzer items. Lots of generous people bid and kept bidding and that’s what I like at an auction. I don’t care if you are talking to your neighbor. I want you to come to the DA auction and have fun and if the spirit or the auctioneer moves you, spend a little money.


Thanks to all the people who worked so hard all year to pull this thing off –the rest of the steering committee I have not already mentioned, Elizabeth Aldridge, Michelle Beischer, Stacey Burkert, Mimi Hansen, Linsey Hughes, Ann Leininger, Caroline Rogers, Nicole Smithwick, Laura Virkler and Molly Walsh. Thanks especially to Sarah Motsinger who calmly and brilliantly staffs the auction all year, Leslie Holdsworth my rock and the whole development office who are invaluable spotters for me during the auction.


The night was a knockout. I was one tiny cog in a big wheel. I say a huge round of applause for all the people working so hard for so long. Congratulations, you did it.

The Walking Blog Excuse



Today Russ came in my office while I was walking at the treadmill desk and asked where the owner’s manual for Katherine was. Katherine is the name Carter has given the car she got for Christmas. “Isn’t it in the car?” I asked. What a dumb question, of course he had already looked there. I stepped off the treadmill and started searching my regular desk. I could not put my hands on it right away and stalled Russ by saying, “I can’t find it and walk at the same time.” He patiently said he would look online for the answer.


Walking nine miles a day takes up a lot of time. There are a few things I am good at doing while walking; talking on the phone, writing on my computer and watching TV are the top three. I also can fold laundry, but I need to improve my system of having the laundry basket on a chair to the side of the desk and putting the folded clothes on the desk. A couple of times now I have almost been thrown backwards off the treadmill as I leaned down sideways to get an item from the basket to fold. I am just not coordinated enough to walk a straight constant line and twist and dip at the same time.


I got to thinking about all the things that are not getting done around here because I am walking and writing my blog. The mail, something I should be able to do while walking seems to be piling up around the house. Even the mail that is actually on my walking desk is piling up. The clothes I have sorted to be donated are still in a big pile on a chair in my bedroom. Speaking of piles, the 100 white linen napkins from our Christmas party are washed and ready to be ironed – it’s only been three months. I have an engagement present that has not been mailed for a month and a half. These are just the recent things.


When we came home from London and Paris I realized that I have not made one scrapbook from any trip for the last seven years at least. I got to thinking that I could do a decade of trips in one book. It would have to be all pictures since I basically don’t remember any details. My vegetable garden plot is unprepared for the off chance that it may get warm enough to plant. I think last year I just threw a few plants in the ground and never pulled one weed and my blog was my only excuse since I was not doing this walking thing then.


Things I have gotten done because of this walking desk is that I have not missed a day of blogging in almost two years, as long as you give me credit for the blogs Carter and Russ wrote when I was sick. I also watched all six seasons of Breaking Bad in one month. It was a great way to keep me on the treadmill, but was depressing when I finished it. The same could be said for House of Cards. Binge watching whole shows is great treadmill work, unfortunately it is bad for living a regular life.


But then I consider my bigger goal. I am walking to try and get to my goal weight. Last year, before I got the walking desk I was stuck in a rut. I was maintaining my weight, but not easily and still had a significant way to go. Since I got the desk I have lost 24 pounds. The other day someone asked me the total I have lost since I started the blog, I thought about and told them 85, I was wrong, it is 89 pounds. So I am giving myself a break from ironing, or gardening or scrapbook making because I actually am accomplishing what I set out to do. There is no need to think that I can do all things all the time. So if there was something I was supposed to do for you, my excuse is I’m on my treadmill writing my blog and that comes first. I have finally found the secret to losing weight and I am not going to let guilt change my course.

Goldilocks Clothes



This week on TV I heard two conflicting reports about the same thing; one said that women buy clothes that are too small in hopes they will lose weight and fit in them and the other said that women purchase clothes that are too big just because they feel good. Now don’t ask me to site the references to these two reports, but I think both of them are correct, just not for the same people.


I feel like there are three groups of women, those who are the wishful shoppers buying smaller clothes, those that are the shlumpy shoppers buying clothes too big and a very small group who actually only buy things that fit well at that very moment. I am in the shlumpy group. Years of changing sizes mostly in the upwards range has trained me that I am more likely to get to wear something longer if it is little big. That’s not a good way to be if you would like to remain your current size or get smaller, but that is the reality I have created for myself.


I know plenty of people who always buy clothes that are too small and they tend to be small people to begin with. My thought for them is, “how much smaller can you get, buy the thing that fits you now.” But perhaps that is how these thinner people at least stay thin. Is that money well spent to keep you at your current weight because you really want to be five pounds thinner to fit into that dress with the tags on it in your closet?


Then there are those few people who always have the appropriately fitting and age appropriate clothes on. They tend not to vary much in their weight which has got to really help since probably all the clothes in their closet are the same size. What I want to know from this group is do you have any clothes that are too big or too small and you put them on when dressing in the morning and rule them out because the fit is not right that day?


My assertion is that no one looks better than the person who is dressed in perfectly fitting clothes. It does not matter if they are designer or from Target, a good fit makes the wearer look best. A great tailor is your best friend, but what are you to do when losing weight? I hate to take the same pair of pants in to be altered every five pounds especially when those pants feel so good a little bigger.


There comes the rub between how good something looks and how good it feels. Today I went to get a Mani/Pedi and my new workout pants were in the wash. I like to wear workout pants when I have to roll the legs up above the knees to get a good foot soaking. I pulled out the ‘fell off my ass” old yoga pants from the donate pile and put them on. The amount of spandex still in them kept them on well enough to go to the salon and boy did they feel like my best pair of PJs. This made an outfit that was way less that attractive but so tempting to wear past the nails stage as long as I did not have to pass a mirror. I did see myself and it was the best definition of shlumpy.


Now I am trying to change which goldilocks bear I am from too big, skipping too small and going to just right in the fit of my clothes. It’s going to be hard. I know I have some favorite items that are too big that must go. I welcome any opinions of my outfits if you see me around. Changing one’s natural inclination is difficult.

The Auction is Coming…The Auction is Coming…




Of all the volunteer jobs I do, and lord knows I do a lot of different things for many various organizations, my favorite job is being an auctioneer at a charity auction. Being a charity auctioneer is like a cross between hosting the Academy Awards and being a stripper just with less glamour and no nudity.


Most of the people who are there are not interested in bidding on anything so they are not paying attention and the other half have had too much to drink. Having never been a stripper I can imagine the half drunk people are similar to their patrons. You want them drunk enough to give you their money but not so drunk that they want to lunge on the stage.


The auction I will be working on Saturday is one of my favorites, Carter’s school, Durham Academy. Today I was meeting with my secret cohort, who will be joining me as my assistant this year and we tried to figure out how many years I have been the Auctioneer for DA. My best guess is five, but these things all seem to run together.


If you are part of the DA family I hope you are coming to Auction, which is appropriately themed on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. My helper and I considered dressing up as the boy and the tree, with me as the tree. In the end it seemed difficult for me to not just give my apples and branches to the boy, but getting down to being just a stump was more than I could give as auctioneer.


Even without the costumes I promise that this year will be lots of fun, especially with my new helper. There are also some fabulous items in the live auction; a Lilly Pulitzer party at the store, US Open Golf tickets for 14 days of both the men’s and women’s tournaments, a weekend at a great Figure Eight House, A night for two people, one being a sous chef and the other a guest bartender at Nana’s, A week of starter camp at Sea Gull or Seafarer (even for this year which is sold out, or save it for next summer), A house in Vail for next spring break, an Amy Tournquist Dinner for 16 where you get the run of her new bakery Hummingbird all to yourselves and the best meal you ever ate and two special items from our own retiring Sheppy Vann.


Of course there will be my favorite way for everyone at the auction to show their love and support for the school, FUND-A-NEED. For those people who don’t need another thing, or just want a 100% fully tax-deductable donation just give money when I ask you to. It all goes to the best place, the school that you entrust your treasure with everyday, your child.


If you can’t make it to the auction you can donate and bid online. If there is something you want in the live auction we have proxy bidders who are happy to bid for you.   Just click here to visit the auction website and read all the descriptions for yourself. I hope to see you Saturday night and I promise to keep my clothes on as long as you keep bidding big.




I look out the window

The grass is bright green.

The forsythia’s blooming

A big yellow scream.


Daffodils trumpet proudly

In squadrons they stand.

Periwinkle blooms

Lavender carpets the land.


The sun’s shining brightly

High up in the sky.

From inside it looks

Like spring’s best try.


Excited, I step outside

To the cloudless blue.

The cold slaps my face

And I scream FU.

Don’t Hate Me…



Remember that old Pantene commercial, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”? I don’t know if anyone ever said that in real life, but it was brilliant marketing because the presumptuous line was forever ingrained in the mind of anyone alive in the 80’s. What I remember thinking about that ad when I saw it is, “Hey, you aren’t so beautiful.”


Because of that ad I am always hesitant to start any sentence with, “Don’t hate me…” It conjures up a horrible arrogance. All that being said I’m going to say this anyway, “Don’t hate me because I have a cleaning lady.” I know I’m lucky and I am eternally grateful to have help to clean my house. I really like to have a tidy house, but if I did not have help I would be one grouchy person.


There is one terrible problem with having someone come and clean my house once a week; the kitchen is so clean I hate to think about messing it up by cooking in it. For a few of my friends this would be a great excuse since they hate to cook or even that they don’t think about eating. For me it is a problem.


Now my cleaning lady has been coming on the same day for many, many years. You would think I could plan ahead and do a lot of really messy cooking the day before, like anything that involves searing meat that releases tiny grease droplets into the air, but no. It never fails that the day my kitchen gets totally simonized is the day I decide I need to cook up a batch of chicken thighs. Or I remember a friend’s birthday and need to pull out the ‘ole Kitchen Aid mixer and whip up a cake sending flour around the room.


I am thinking that maybe I can turn “my cleaning lady just came and cleaned the kitchen” obsession into a new diet plan. Maybe I could see how long I could keep my stove grease free. This just might work if I lived alone and was not tasked with every once in a while providing a meal for my husband who provides everything for me, including the cleaning lady.


I think it is too late for me to turn into one of those wives who does not cook. I guess I need to just do better at planning my cooking on the days right before the cleaning lady comes. I certainly don’t want to do anything to jeopardize having a cleaning lady, because unlike the Pantene girl in the ad I really don’t care if you hate me because I have a cleaning lady.