All the Feels
Shining a light on the good stuff
I just spent a weekend with friends who have know me since I was barely a woman. We met at that incredibly vulnerable time in our lives when we were leaving our families of origin and leaping into the abyss of adult life. We had very little idea who we were or what we wanted from life, but we did know that we wanted people we could count on to have our backs. We saw each other and grabbed on for dear life. Twenty-five years later we are still those people for each other.
I recently got to spend a few days with these amazing women I call my “Mountain Movers”. This early March weekend, and others like it, fill my bucket more than anything else I know how to do. We didn’t have big plans or events to attend. We just sat and talked, drank good wine or coffee and talked, and did I mention talked? It would have been amazing to have seven or ten uninterrupted days to fill each other in on the details of our lives, speak about our plans for the future, reminisce about years gone by, and speak loudly the things that worry us most. That would have been a luxury, but when you know people as deeply and for as long as my mountain movers and I have know each other, you don’t need seven or ten days, you just need a few hours.
We just needed to look into each other eyes. So much sits right there in the eyes of the people who have know me at so many stages of my life. Those eyes contain multitudes. So many of versions of me. Sometimes sloppy and mean, other times graceful and kind, and most of times in the gray space in between. Those eyes tell me, “I don’t care how you show up, I am just so glad you are here”. Knowing that there are at least two people in this world that hold all of those parts of me is a life line. They have seen the movie of my life and gave it an academy award, so there is no need to start from the beginning. I can just jump off and get started showing them the new tender places that need attending to. We can start right in and see the imperceptible changes in each other. “I see that you worry, I have known you when you haven’t, and I know you will get back to that place.” Or when those eyes who have seen the movie say, “I see how healthy you look inside and out. I always knew you would be here, even when you were not too sure yourself.” The three of us have mastered the fine art of seeing each other and being seen.
Just above the need for food and shelter, in the hierarchy of needs, is our need to belong. Brene Brown defines belonging as, “…true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Reaching self acceptance is a process that requires practice with people who will reinforce the amazing experience of showing up authentically. We need people who will cheer us on when we show up vulnerably and give them a peak at our authentic selves. We need people who will call bullshit, when we are faking it or pretending to be someone we are not. We need cheerleaders who can see when we are trying our best and falling short, because we need people who can believe in us when we are having a hard time believing in ourselves.
When we are little babies we learn about ourselves through the eyes of our loving care takers. If all goes well we learn that the world is a safe place, and that we are loved and belong to our families. Having a strong sense of love and belonging needs to keep evolving over the course of our lives, and our friends are an important part of that process. My mountain movers have been that for me over the past twenty-five years. I can show them all of my messy places and they say, “ok, we love you.” I can show them my spectacular places and they say, “ok, great!, we love you.” Best of all they give me the side eye when they can tell I am showing them a version of myself that I think the world wants to see.
These weekends, although never long enough, are the vaccination I need to keep going on this path of life. When I am in that dark place of, “I am not good enough.” I call on their faces, their words, and their hugs to tell me I am good enough and I should keep going. I know they would move mountains for me, but most of all I know they are there to remind me that I can move the mountains myself.
For more than 15 years, Sarah has been helping teachers, administrators, children and families experience empathic connections and her professional mission is to support the people who are on the front lines with vulnerable populations. She is currently the School Counselor at the Montessori School in Northampton, Massachusetts and RH Conwell grammar school in Worthington, MA, where she works closely with students, teachers and families on a daily basis. She also facilitates monthly support groups for medical practitioners and adolescent girls. She attend Mount Holyoke College (where she met her Mountain Movers) and Smith College from where she received her MSW. You can find out more about Sarah and her work at www.sarahcarlan.com.
One of our holiday traditions is making homemade rolls from my mom's recipe. Years ago, when I hosted my first Thanksgiving as a young woman, she made a copy of the recipe and sent it to me. I pull it out every year on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Her scrawled notes in the margins, along with her voice in my head explaining the nuances of the recipe, are my favorite part of making the rolls.
Ella is the baker in our family. She says it relaxes her. Cliff buys her the giant bag of flour at Costco, and at least twice a week she makes cookies or biscuits. I taught her how to make the holiday rolls years ago. Although, in my frantic and exhausted brain, I sometimes want to say, "skip it this year and buy some at that awesome bakery down the street." I don't, because I know she loves to make them. And eat them.
She wasn't always roll-maker. When she was about twenty months old, she was the roll-destroyer. That Thanksgiving, I'd gotten up early to make the complicated recipe that requires two risings. I'd shaped the rolls and they were on their second rising with great success by the fireplace. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ella march over and rip the towel from the pan. With what can only be described as glee, she systematically punched them all into flat disks. I let out a shocked scream. She looked up, burst into tears, and then hid her face in the cushion of the easy chair. I couldn't help but laugh as I scooped her into my arms and kissed her fat cheek.
The young woman in my kitchen right now still has the same eyes, but the rest of her has changed. She can no longer be scooped into my arms. She no longer has fat cheeks. The one constant of raising children? They change and change and change. Because we only make them twice a year, Ella and I always have to familiarize ourselves with the complex recipe.
This morning, after she had the yeast portion under control, I slipped away to get dressed. A few minutes later, I got a text from her.
I rushed back to kitchen to supervise, catching the milk at just the right moment. However, it made me curious about why this old recipe called for scalded milk when modern yeast bread instructions do not. I looked it up and found a cooking blog with the answer.
Basically, it was needed before pasteurization to destroy bacteria. Old recipes have this as a must, whereas now it's not needed. Truthfully, it's always been the step of the recipe that worries me. The milk has to cool to room temperature before you pour it into the other wet ingredients or the eggs will curdle. Curdling is bad, unless you're making egg flower soup. (I just made that up. I have no idea how to make egg flower soup.) But I digress...
Being me, this prompted thoughts about the bigger picture.
Traditions. Family. Legacy.
What we keep and what we leave behind.
Ella and I could choose to eliminate this step. According to the food blog I just read, she makes her old yeast bread recipes with cold milk with no discernible difference to the end product. Regardless, on this day of thanksgiving, I choose to keep the tradition alive. I choose to pass it on to my girls. Why? Because there are no guarantees in life other than constant change. What is today will not be tomorrow. There is comfort in the known, the familiar. Family traditions, as outdated as they may be, matter.
They are our connection to the past, the thread that cradles families through constant change and uncertainty. So, twice a year, I pull out the battered recipe with my mother's handwritten notes and the remnants of melted butter spatters in the margins, and we scald some milk. And, twice a year, my heart fills with all that recipe represents.
There, between the instructions to combine yeast and sugar, scald milk and beat eggs, and the kneading and punching of dough, is the love between my mother and me. The love between my daughters and me. No matter what changes, I will have the memories of that love.
I will have my mother's voice in my head. I will have the image of my little Ella punching the rolls with her tiny fists. Each time I make the recipe, or take a bite of the crusty, buttery roll, I will remember.
For all of us who rose from bed to put turkeys in the oven, or answered calls from our children with frantic questions on how to roll out a pie crust, or passed the torch to the younger generation, this day is not about the food, or being perfect, or God forbid, an argument over politics at our table. It's about love. It's about thankfulness for our past and our present and all that came between.
Happy Thanksgiving. Many blessings to you and your families.
I've been thinking a lot about my brand and my intention. Why do I write fiction? Why do I feel this urge to share my soul on the page?
Years ago I heard Oprah speak about intention. She said she sets her intention clearly in her mind before any action, meeting, whatever. Simply put, what do you want the outcome of any given situation to be? What do you want? Down deep.
Not to sound too Oprah like, but intention is everything.
What is your intention for today, for your work, for your life? What do you want?
When I first started writing seriously, I wasn't sure what I was trying to do, other than express myself in an artistic way. But now, at the ripe old age of closer to 50 than 40, it is quite clear.
I want to spread love in an active war against hate. Cheesy as it may sound, it's what I'm about. I do it with my stories, my words of kindness instead of derision, with my smile at a stranger in the grocery store, and with how I care for my family. It's what Heather and I wanted when we started this group: a safe place where women want to be loved and to love.
When I narrowed it down for myself and my brand...my story...it was simple. Spread love in an active war against hate.
So, if you feel comfortable, share with me your intention. It doesn't even have to be beyond today, but it's worth thinking about. What do you want your life to mean? What do you want your story to be?
When I wrote my novel Throwaway, it opened my eyes to an entire world beyond my own, a dark and scary world. The more I learned about human trafficking, the more involved I became in the fight against it. The more involved I became, the more I had to remind myself of the starfish story, that it wasn’t on me to save everyone or solve all of the world’s problems. All I needed to do was use the gifts I’d been given to make a difference in my own corner of the world.
I grew as an author, and my platform was built on the idea that we all have a mark to leave on this world - if we all do a little, we can accomplish a lot.
My Twitter handle is @heathers_mark because my words are the mark I have to leave on this world. Instead of book signings, I had graffiti parties where people would leave their own mark and walk away from the event encouraged to make their world better, brighter.
Then life happened, as it often does, and I got tired, as I’m prone to do, and Leave Your Mark faded away.
But every day, the news grows darker. I read interactions on social media and am saddened by the way we treat each other. As I was working with Tess, Tamsen, and Carolyn to build this site, it occurred to me that now more than ever, the world needs each of us to use the gifts we’ve been given to make it a brighter place.
So this corner of Hummingbird Charm is dedicated to all that’s good in humanity, to shining a light on all of you who are leaving your mark on the world, to generating ideas for those who want to get involved, and to forging the connections needed to make a difference.
Alone, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Together, we can lift each other up. Together, we can change the world.
About the author: Heather Huffman lives in a small town on the border of the Missouri Ozarks that she likes to think of as her very own Midwestern Stars Hollow. In addition to being the author of twelve contemporary romance novels, Heather is a public speaker, animal lover, and mom to three teenage sons.
When not writing, Huffman loves having adventures with her three teenage boys or spending time with their dogs and horses.