I love Christmas. I love presents. I love the whole month. Also, my birthday is in December, so that’s an added bonus. My husband starts to panic around mid-November and for good reason. After I spent a couple years with him as “the perfect girlfriend” I decided it was time to let crazy out of the bottle and show him who I really was. No more, “Oh my gosh! I love them,” when he gave me doohickeys to hang Christmas stockings on, or a mixed CD of his favorite music, or weird hats from Urban Outfitters. I had a “come to Jesus meeting” with him and gently but directly… laid it all out. I didn’t want what he wanted to give me. I wanted him to give me what I wanted. Do you feel me?

I told him I needed quality stuff: not the gift-giving equivalent of last minute homework when you stuff your term paper full of nonsense just to get your word count up. I wanted quality not quantity. (I mean, if quantities of quality happened under the tree, I wouldn’t complain.)

I wanted him to give me lovely presents because he loves my presence.

Yes, I am equating “things” with worth. Yes, I think this might prove I have the depth of a wading pool, but when I get a pair of boxer shorts wrapped up crappy, I feel crappy and like I don’t count.

This decision to tell him what I needed from the whole present giving experience was liberating. It felt just like the time I decided that I wasn’t going to have sex in cars anymore. Nope, if I was worth taking out, then I was worth a mattress. I had my boundaries.

But back to Christmas; so my husband, GOT IT. He still panics but he is not trying to avoid gift giving. He wants to do it proud, and he KICKS ASS. On my end I have also improved (since it’s not a test anymore of how much he values me). I can come out and say, “Hey, you know what I want for my birthday?”

But this holiday season, since my children are older and I am not working as much, I thought it’s time to clean up my own behavior and adjust my motivation.

As I said, I love the hedonistic thrill of it all, which can be pretty far removed from the true spirit of Christmas. To be honest, in past years I have gone so overboard that my kids GET BORED opening presents and wander off to play. To help me refocus and (hopefully) balance out my approach I asked myself, “What is the meaning behind the gifts I give to my loved ones?” Here is what I came up with:

1. Joy = in their delight
2. Thanks = for their presence in my life
3. Acknowledgment = I want them to feel valued and appreciated by me.

If I dig a little deeper, I find the real impetus for meaningful gift giving is a desire to give them a part of myself; it’s essentially a manifestation of my love for them. So that is what I want to ground myself in this holiday season as I make, gather, and yes … buy.

I want to remember, as a world-renowned doctor once wrote:

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.”

What do you think motivates you in your gift giving? Do you feel loved and appreciated by what you receive? Do you love the holidays or dread them? I want to know how you are handling all this. But most of all… I want to wish you…
Happy Holidays!

If February is the month of love, November is the month of gratitude. It even ends with Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite national holidays (along with my birthday). But I want to write about thanksgiving with a small “t.” The practice of giving thanks: gratitude.

I believe I heard Oprah say that gratitude is like “Miracle Gro” for all the good in a person’s life. When I take the time to acknowledge the good around me, however small to human comprehension, I’m accepting that good into my life and even magnifying it. See? Miracle Gro.

But since gratitude needs action and not just declaration, I, like many, started a gratitude journal. I had hopes of writing in it every day. I envisioned a quiet, spiritual, 20-minute oasis before my family woke up. Well…sometimes I do it every day, sometimes I miss days and even weeks, and sometimes I use that oasis to read trashy novels, BUT I DO IT.

I write down five to ten things that I am grateful for. They can be mundane (this blissful cup of coffee) or profound (the gift of Motherhood). The only rule I have is that they have to resonate in my body. I have to feel the gratitude before I write it down.

On Oprah.com (I love all things Oprah), Michael Losier says, “By acknowledging what you are grateful for in your journal, you’ll become a deliberate attractor of positive vibrations. You can only have one vibration at a time, and if you are noticing what you appreciate and noticing what you are grateful for, you can’t be noticing what you don’t like.”

That was powerful to me. I read it over and over again, because I spent A LOT of time thinking about things that I don’t like, or that need fixing, or that make me mad, or upset me…you get the picture.

But writing down a few things that I feel deep down grateful for, changes my orientation for the day. It sets my internal compass.

My sister, Jane, sent me a wonderful hymn when I was going through a particularly dark 4 years (the universe was trying to teach me a lesson and I was a slow learner). The whole hymn is about gratitude, but the first verse is particularly apt:

“A grateful heart a garden is,
Where there is always room
For every lovely, Godlike grace
To come to perfect bloom.”

So, here’s an idea, how about we take this time to practice gratitude and see how we bloom? I am practicing moving into my day with expectations of good, getting out of bed ready to meet and see God’s many blessings.

I want to invite you to start a gratitude journal with your own family for the month of November—and maybe even share it over Thanksgiving dinner. If you already keep a journal, tell me when you write, and how it has or hasn’t impacted your outlook on life. What are you grateful for this holiday season? Here are 5 things for me:

1. I am grateful I am in love with and admire my husband.
2. I am grateful that my daughters still like me!
3. I am grateful that my arms don’t look like my legs (think; bag of doorknobs).
4. I am grateful my good friend moved next door and became my neighbor.
5. I’ve said it before, but I can feel it in my body so I am going to write it; I am grateful for the WTF family. Thank you for being a part of it and have a Happy Thanksgiving (with a big T).

Love,
Flicka

We don’t throw the neighborhood Halloween party anymore, which is sad because I love to be scared and I love scaring people. At NYU, my roommate and I spent two years in an all out “scare war”…until we mistakenly jumped out at an elderly woman getting off an elevator at 1am, who burst into tears and wobbled down the hall, ignoring our apologies and saying over and over again, “Why would you do that? Why would you do that?”

I have sat beside my friend, Sarah Paulson, on many plane rides and sporadically clutched her arm muttering, “Oh my God did you feel that?” or “That’s a weird noise, never heard that before.” Sarah is pathologically scared of flying.

Conversely, I am a scaredy cat. Up until my 30’s I would take a running leap to get into bed so nothing could grab my ankles. I can’t sleep without covers, no matter how hot it is, because I am sure some dark and unnatural thing will eat me. My husband always has to take the “monster watch”—which is (as we all know) the spot closest to the door. I guess my friend, Clark Gregg, was right when he told me, “You can dish it out but you can’t take it.”

I have passed both things on to my children, who are forever jumping out to scare people or lying in wait in the back of cars to grab us around the neck as we pull out of the driveway. Last week, I brought an early cup of tea to my office and my youngest grabbed me from behind, shouting “Rahhhhh!” I spilled the tea everywhere and was furious. Again, I can dish it out but I can’t take it.

When our children were young, I thought, “Oh goody, it’s my JOB to make Halloween spooky and fun.” For their first real Halloween we had some families over and the adults were stationed behind doors in the house: the bedroom door, the office, the guest room, etc. And the kids would traipse around the house, knocking on doors, getting candy and feeling safe, but festive.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations For October: You Can Dish It Out But You Can't Take It
(Going door to door)

How wholesome. How age appropriate. How boring.

So the next year my friend dressed up as Sleeping Beauty and I was the Wicked Witch. When the children opened the guest room door we acted out the poisoned apple scene. (I have to admit I was brilliant.) We even had a smoking caldron. Their frozen expressions were just proof that 3 and 4-year-olds lack discernment as an audience.

The next year, we abandoned the fairy tale reenactment and instead, at dusk, we hid in the bushes. When the children walked by we leaped out, screaming, and attacked them with silly string. Again, not that receptive—you would expect more from 5 and 6-year-olds.

The following year we hosted the neighborhood Halloween party. Everyone gathered for pizza before heading out. It was sweet, getting to know your neighbors (or at least what they looked like in a Darth Vader costume). It was so successful that the neighborhood association asked us to do it again the next year. So to spice things up we made the whole lawn into a graveyard—with tombstones, smoke machines and spider webs. I thought it looked a little lame, but everyone loved it and we were chosen to host again. Score!

That’s when I decided to throw my professional resources behind it. Matthew Mungel, THE special effects artist in Hollywood, let Bill and I rummage around in his storage shed. So we packed up the car with severed limbs, horrifying monsters and dead bodies. It was like the carnage of Zombie Wars in the back of our minivan.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations For October: You Can Dish It Out But You Can't Take It
(Friends getting ready to scare the kiddies)

We recruited a bunch of actor friends, spent the day building up the sets, and by the time the first guests arrived, we were ready. Small groups were forced down a dark hallway into a bathroom where a young woman lay in a tub of blood with her throat slit. A closet door was opened to reveal a ghoul gnawing on human limbs. Hairy monster arms would grab you from behind curtains. A dead bride was twisting in the air from a noose. Bill (in a top hat and covered in blood) lay in the bed and sat up, screaming as people got close, at which point I would grab their ankles from my hiding place under the bed. Oh, oh, I forgot to mention the soundtrack—it was awesome.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations For October: You Can Dish It Out But You Can't Take It
(Bill and I after silly string attack)

But several things happened: the majority of the neighborhood kids started their trick-or-treating in hysteria with furious parents, and I now have a room in my house that my two girls won’t go into AT ALL. I have apologized to the neighbors over and over, and it has been agreed that I won’t throw the Halloween party anymore.

I have turned over a new leaf; scaring people is infantile. It’s a frat boy hobby and not an occupation for a grown woman.

I have to go, there is a huge empty cardboard box on my porch that I can fit into nicely…and my kids are due home any minute. I am sure the elderly woman whom my roommate and I scared coming out of the elevator would shake her head in disgust.

Happy Halloween,

Flicka

Okay, the summer is over. The kids have had a looong vacation. They are full to bursting with ideas for the classic, stupid essay, “What I Did This Summer.” Maybe they have new backpacks and new lunchboxes. They are locked, cocked and ready for a new school year.

Now what about you?

Do you feel that sigh of relief that the kids will be gone and gainfully occupied for at least 6 hours? Damn straight. So I ask again, now what about you?

My family does a thing when we can’t quite find the right words to express what is going on. We “dance how we feel.” It’s really silly and stupid, but that is what I want to do right now. I wish you could see me “dancing how I feel” because mere words can’t express the thrill I get sharing this with you:

I took off and spent a week alone.

You heard me right. I took a week alone.

It started as a whispered desire: “Maybe I will just take a couple days to myself.” This was over a year ago, when Desperate Housewives ended. But I was scared to be alone with my brain. “Maybe I should go to one of those health spas. I think I deserve a treat.” But I couldn’t justify the expense. “Maybe I’ll just take off with a couple of my sisters?” But I never got it together to send out the email.

Anyway, the point is I had been thinking about it for almost a year and a half. Kids get holidays throughout the year; why can’t mothers? So, I finally did it.

I wasn’t sure what would happen if I were so unfettered. Maybe I would wander around aimlessly eating birthday cake and drinking margaritas all day. Maybe my internal predators would go all Jurassic-Park-on-my-ass, and I would be running for my life for seven days. But I just kept thinking, “My girls get time off; why can’t I get some too?”

Full disclosure: I went home to Colorado where my brother and two of my sisters live, so I could—and did—have lovely company almost daily. But there was no driving kids around, no making meals, and no scheduling. I woke up when I wanted. I ate toast with chocolate every morning. I went hiking. I watched seasons 2-4 of Nurse Jackie. I started meditating, (which is another blog). I took a whole day with my two sisters to cruise different thrift shops looking for deals. I bought a bitchin’ ten dollar dress.

But the kernel of the experience was not being responsible FOR ANYONE BUT MYSELF. I wasn’t stealing an hour or an afternoon away. My kids weren’t waiting for me to come home; I didn’t get back to the house with a million things to do and the feeling that I had to make up for taking time to myself. Time was given to me by the bushels—just time and time and time spilling out in front of me endlessly—to do just what I wanted.

Of course this time alone would not have been as sweet had it not been against the back drop of having a wonderful family to come home to. I mean, days off would not be fun if you didn’t have something to take off from.

I know this luxury isn’t possible for many people—that being an out-of-work actor has an element of playing hooky from the real world. But I had to share this with you because I wish I could give it to every mother (or primary care giver); because it is magical; because I forgot that kind of experience could exist, and because it is the ultimate luxury.

Okay, so I am done with my little dance. I hope you enjoyed it. But what I really hope is that during this school year you get to experience a day (or two or three) that is just yours. I know an afternoon or a morning off is a huge treat, but I want you to experience the abundance of more than two or three hours.

If this is already in your repertoire of self care, brava. If it is not something that is possible to do right now, I totally understand. But we try so hard to make sure our kids have wonderful holidays, maybe we could start dreaming of a small retreat for ourselves.

Happy School Year,

Flicka

Back in June, the summer stretched out in front of me luxuriously. Vacation! No more waking up at 6am to make lunches, no more homework battles at the end of the day. I was going to create golden memories that my children would treasure forever! …Yech!

I seem to have many friends who have the best time AS A FAMILY on their summer vacations—no difficulties, no anxieties, no fighting…only fun, adventure and foreign lands. And their children even freaking write journals about it to add a dash of enrichment to the whole thing…Yech!

But I can’t seem to do it, and I fear it must be because I am not trying hard enough, or because I am not being sufficiently adventurous. We have to go where no one speaks English! Where no one has cars, television, underpants or shoes! Where they put butter in their tea and eat termites picked off the bark of trees.

I do think I have created wonderful memories in the past, but I am ashamed to admit that I have nearly killed myself doing it, and 80% of it was an anxiety-provoking pain in the ass.

So as this summer approached, I felt the dread and anxiety descend. Here we go again: create the world of fun and enrichment, and EVERYONE HAS TO HAVE A NICE TIME! Kill me now.

Then I went to see a wonderful wise woman, who is imminently practical. I feel Wendy Mogel was put on Earth to even out the balance sheet of parenting difficulties. If you haven’t read her books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus, I suggest you rush out and buy them or download them now.

I sat down in her office and poured out my plans, objectives and fears for the summer, and also my inadequacies as the person in charge. She listened attentively and then said what I have been longing to hear:

“Vacations are hard—especially for the person in charge.”

Music to my ears! Yes!

“The schedule is erratic and there is no normal family rhythm.”

Louder music! Yes, yes!

“In fact, vacations can be a nightmare, nightmare, nightmare for the mother.”

Ecstatic internal dance to this music! Yes, yes, yes!

She gave me two tasks for the summer:
1. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS!
and
2. DON’T MAKE MEMORIES

She gave me two goals for the summer:
1. YOUR CHILDREN ARE STILL ALIVE
and
2. YOUR MARRIAGE IS STILL INTACT
…you have done a great job.

So now it is the beginning of August. So far I have survived, both my kids are alive, and my marriage is intact. (Okay, I had one night where I couldn’t sleep; polished my resentments until they shined, and almost woke my husband up to yell at him…but it passed.) I have not planned too many things, and I am not trying to create memories. Hopefully a few were made along the way…but definitely not the 3-day trip to the beach where everyone got sick and fought. The kids have watched too much TV. (They love Frasier, while my husband and I are addicted to House of Cards.) They haven’t been learning a language or practicing their math facts. We have taken some wonderful hikes, and some hikes where I yelled a lot. We made some cakes. We stayed in our pajamas until noon.

We have space and time that doesn’t have an objective—not even the objective to “have fun.” But I think my daughters have exhaled, and then they have been allowed to inhale what they choose.

I don’t know if this kind of goal setting just invites raising “no-good-nicks” (as my grandfather would say) or precludes an Ivy League school, but I do know that trying to create memories and fabulous vacations was a crushing weight—one that I felt I was always failing at, and being a grump to boot.

On the other hand, I am pretty sure I can keep my kids alive and stay married till September.

Wish me luck,

Flicka

Ps—I would love to hear your vacation experience—even if you are one of the blessed that floats through family vacations leaving a trail of golden memories in your wake. I want to hear, because I want to learn.

My husband just finished a movie called RUDDERLESS, filmed in Oklahoma City. I happened to have a small but lovely part in this movie, which proves the casting couch is alive and well in Hollywood, because I happen to be sleeping with the director.

But first let me say, happy summer. I am in love with the long days, the slow mornings and the seemingly endless evenings.

Now back to working with my husband, which turned out to be wonderful and sticky at the same time. Bill and I have acted together quite a few times, and he has even directed me in a play or two, so this project was not new territory. But it had a few new twists that worried me.

A sneak hug on set.
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

I knew it was going to be tricky because making an independent film is always tough. It feels like playing a game of baseball, only your nine players have to share 3 mitts. There is not enough time or money. Everyone is exhausted, pulled tight, and maxed out. Crew members can get fed up and suddenly jump in their 1997 Hyundai and leave…for good. This means something wacky happens, like the gopher is suddenly promoted to costume designer. And then something wonderful happens, like the gopher is a fucking genius at it. Daily the film is snatched from the jaws of death and narrowly escapes being shut down. On one indie I did, a crew member got so drunk, he took off to Mexico in the middle of the night with the keys to the camera truck in his pocket. We had to use a tire iron to break into the truck and it cost us a day of shooting.

On an indie movie, losing a day of shooting is like a doctor losing an hour for surgery. There is time to get the appendix out, but not time to sew the patient up. Yet, on top of all this chaos and ridiculousness, filming an indie movie is one of the most exhilarating things I’ve known. On a great set, everyone is pulling together working for a common goal. It’s like camp for grown ups where you really want your team to win.

So, my husband was tense to say the least. We only had 2 or 3 takes to get it right and as “The Wife” I felt I couldn’t take up precious time with “actor” questions. But asking questions is what I do! I want to talk about it! I want to understand it! I call this being a diligent, assiduous actor. I suspect directors call this being a pain in the ass…and the director was my husband.

Me listening respectfully to the director.
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

But here was the trickiest part of all, and it goes back to the very beginning. Should I do the movie at all? Because…the leading man was incredibly handsome, incredibly talented and younger than I am! What’s the problem, you ask? Well, I was ashamed of being older! I knew intellectually that what would really count was my acting ability and the chemistry between us. But that voice in my head that said I needed to look “good on his arm” was so loud it made me beg my husband NOT TO CAST ME! “No” I said, “I can’t do your movie! I will be ridiculed, your leading man will hate it and people will be grossed out!” I was operating under the assumption that female characters are more decorative than human and I wasn’t shiny enough.

Me listening not so respectfully to the director.
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

The director crying “uncle.”
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

And here’s the thing, I have always hated and cried bullshit on the Hollywood standard that Liam Neeson, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford can age, but their love interests can’t! This is a problem because we place expiration dates on female actors and by extension female humans. I have always shouted that we need a revolution!*
*This idea is from Lindy West, who writes for Jezebel

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Naked Ping-PongA friend of mine, after watching Lena Dunham in GIRLS play ping-pong topless, said it made her want to go out and start a revolution with her belly fat. “Yeah!” I said. “Let’s break the rules, who cares what ‘they’ think!”

But the minute I am put to the test—the minute it comes down to me to challenge the stereotype—I buckle. What’s stopping me is not pressures from without, but pressures from within—my internal barriers. In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, I need to “internalize the revolution.”

While writing this, I realized I have buckled many times before. I once turned down a romantic comedy because the “twist” was the guy was going to be 32 to my (then) 42. “Ugh, who’s going to want to see that!” I thought. But, eight years later, I am taking a lesson in courage and passion from Lena and Sheryl and will never throw myself under that bus again.

Well, I did the part in RUDDERLESS. Did it work? I don’t know, but it felt pretty darn good to work with such a great (young!) actor and such a wonderful director. Hopefully you will see the movie and you can decide for yourself.

My last night shooting. Love this director.
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

So happy summer to us all, may we be bold this July, internalize the revolution, and play some naked ping-pong of our own.

Love,

Flicka