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My little girls turn 6 today and this year we had the best and most meaningful party of all the  6 parties we’ve held for them.

Winter birthdays are complicated. First, the weather is often a major issue. In fact, as a February baby myself, I remember waching foot after foot of snow fall on the days of my parties. And, because you can’t plan to be outside for a winter party, they have to be indoors, which defines the birthday as either being a huge blow out at a special — and expensive — venue or a small home party, which these days is just not done that often.

Long live the home party! After 6 parties, I finally got it right this time around. I wanted this birthday to be special for them. It wasn’t about the friends or the gifts or even the theme. It was about them. Well, it was always about them but it was also always about me and who I wanted to attend and who I was trying to impress. Sometimes the birthday party is about the PARTY and not the special people having the birthday. I admit that I kind of got sucked into that societal pressure for a few birthdays. But, at the last party, when gifts couldn’t be opened because of too much chaos at the venue, I decided enough was enough.

Birthdays are about human beings being born into this world. There is no greater gift.

That said, friends who attended our party on Sunday told me that I should go into business planning parties. I guess I made it look that easy and magical. It was really all about the girls, though, and I do believe that is what made this party so special.

Here’s my 10 tips for creating magical AND MEANINGFUL winter birthdays — kid style!

  1. Hold a countdown: Much like an advent calendar before the Christmas season, it’s easy to have a birthday countdown to make each day leading up to the Big Day special. Do a small About Me activity and do that same one each year. Or, do one of these interviews each year. Such a great idea. We are doing the interview and tucking it into their school binder but this box would be neat to do.
  2. Keep it small. Those packs of invitation often come with 8 or 10. Buy only one pack and that’s the invite list. If half the list cannot attend, all the better. Make those few people feel special.
  3. Skip the party. We are actually doing this next year. Instead of a party, we’re letting the birthday girls choose a destination and for about the same price as presents and three parties we will spend the night in a hotel and visit a fun (indoor) museum or attraction and grab a few meals out. Spending time together is always the best gift. {I’m sure we’ll still get them a present for their birthday.}
  4. Make it colorful. Use balloons and pretty colors. The more colorful you can make a winter party, the more special it will feel. We went with pink and black and the gray screaming through the windows didn’t even matter. It was glorious inside.
  5. Rid your home of clutter. All clutter must be put away in order to have the most effective party. It’s a hassle, but it’s necessary so that children and adults can’t make much of a mess. The end result is very much worth it. Besides, with less clutter there’s nothing but time to focus on each other and celebrate rather than picking up all week.
  6. Celebrate the whole week. That’s right. Have the party on the weekend with friends. The actual party at school or preschool during the week. And a family party the following weekend. Winter can be long enough between sunny days — birthday weeks just make it all worthwhile.
  7. Create a treasure hunt. I cannot stress enough how awesome treasure hunts are for children. I’m not sure what age this gets old for but I will continue to do these as often as possible because they. are. that. awesome. The treasure hunt and the treasures themselves can vary. We did one at the party just for the cake. We’ll do another today for the presents. It’s a simple thing to create with the most amazing Fun impact.
  8. Feast on the finest: By finest, I mean do not go to yet another chain-store-like restaurant where the noise permeates your brains. Nor should you go to a fine dining restaurant where the only move you can make is to the bathroom and back. Eat at home — on the foods your special loved ones love the most. At our house that is macaroni and cheese (for one) and hamburgers (for the other). Maybe it’s pickles and spaghetti. Whatever it is, combine the birthday boy’s or girl’s two or three favorite foods and eat that … make it memorable! Make it fun! Make it special!
  9. Drink hot chocolate. Our favorite, favorite ritual this year has been to create a hot chocolate bar for special days. We do it up right, too, with whipped cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, candy canes, and chocolate chips. There is no greater joy than a steaming cup of cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles. I assure you. Make sure you make it for your special someone first thing in the morning so they get their winter birthday off to the best possible start. And, you can make them these pancakes (topped with candles, of course) as well! We don’t do any of the special containers or fancy printables — we just set it all out with a lot of spoons!
  10. Build a banner: By far, the coolest thing I did this winter birthday season was create a birthday banner. This banner was the highlight of my week and my children’s week. It’s winter but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at photos from the summer and many summers ago. I highly recommend taking a walk down memory lane with this special birthday banner.


Photo by Dimitri Caceaune (original upload from Pinterest

It’s hardly even a real winter here and yet I am craving warmth. I am not such a fan of cold weather but I do love winter because

Winter is peaceful.

Quaint. Slow-down. Rest.

Recover. Remember. Relish.

Commune. Fellowship. Conversations.

Winter is warmth.

Warm bodies.

Blankets piled high, and lush fabrics.

Fuzzy socks, fleece jackets.

Cozy slippers. Thick socks.

Knitted hats, intricate and colorful scarves, thick gloves help us snuggle up.

Hot cocoa. Soup. Gooey casseroles. Flaky pies nurture our souls.

Soothing teas, hot coffee, comfort foods, that warm us from the inside, out.

Winter is Family.

Raging fires. Game nights. Movies under layers of blankets.

Simple days. Nature walks. Sneaking out for fresh air.

Rushing back inside to warm up. Gathering together.

Creative dates. Sacred moments.

Winter is Discovery.

Be still. Dig deeper.

Inward facing. Looking into each others’ eyes.

Being enough.

Knowing them. Knowing you.

Winter is Light.

Lamps. Candles. Pink Skies. Full moons. Eye-blinding sunshine.

Sparkles in their eyes. Glimmers of hope. Shimmery renewal.

A fresh start. A new page. A guiding season.

Winter is …



Manifesto: A written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer (Merriam-Webster)

As 2012 gets off to a start, I’ve already promised myself not to have any resolutions — especially those that may not happen all year as I’d like. However, I do have a bit of something to say and create in 2012 for our family.

Independence. Imagination. Healthy bodies. Courageousness. Sacred moments. Connection.

We’ve done all of these things but I feel now is the time to focus on doing them differently now that the girls are older. It’s not easy to push away the brain that is used to parent a baby and toddler. Our children are not babies or toddlers anymore. They turn 6 next week. And yet I want to protect them, give them the answers, help them — as I have always done.

I’ve been inspired this week by Patti Digh’s new Web site launch party for 37 Days when she confessed — and became quite emotional — to needing to be home more with her daughter and wanting to create a different way to be with family in 2012. She also encouraged viewers to focus on what’s yearning inside of them rather than the obstacle even though, she said, the obstacle is often what drives the story.

For us, I’d say, the yearning is to follow our dreams. The obstacle is fear and self-doubt. This came up when my husband and I both burned the words self-doubt at our church’s burning ceremony. We didn’t plan that.

I’ve also been inspired this week by Amanda and Stephen Soule’s book, “The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder through the Seasons,” a lovely little book that gives you things to make and do for each month of the year. The Rhythm of Family has one section dedicated to writing a manifesto for the seasons, which is a great idea. However, I really wanted our manifesto to be something that we can use in all seasons, all year and no matter what happens. It will probably change next year and again the year after that. This manifesto compliments our family mission statement that we have written in a little tiny book that sits on our dresser that just professes our values and reminds us of what is most important to us.

To write a Family Manifesto — and I’ve written others for my writing and myself before — it’s important to include these three things:

  1. Honor each other: Promote love in your manifesto if you do nothing else. Love to each other. Love to the earth. Love to the rest of your family. Love for just being here, where you are. Love for yourself. Or find some other way to say it but spread love because these connections to each other are valuable and irreplaceable. A manifesto needs to remember the most important ingredients. There may be more, but Start with Love.
  2. Absolutely Positively Upbeat: Your manifesto should include positive statements, happy statements — things that make you go, “Yeah!” This isn’t about losing weight, it’s about honoring our bodies and staying healthy so we can run and play together more as a family. This isn’t about spending less, it’s about using what we have in the most creative, useful ways. This isn’t about ridding ourselves of self-doubt, it’s about being brave and trying new things.
  3. Happy, Happy, Happy: What makes you happy as a family? What are those moments that you look back upon and laugh, smile, cry with joy? Yes, those! They are the ones you want more of this year or this month or this season. More ways to connect. Find the laughter in all the moments, even the difficult ones. Discover new things or new places. Take more adventures. Whatever it is, include it!

With that, here is the Fink Manifesto for 2012.

This Year, we will encourage questions and the answers — and yet be OK if the answers remain unknown.

This year, we will do more together even when it requires going off schedule or staying up late or rising early.

This year, we will show more love to each other, our earth and this world by doing random acts of kindness.

This year, we will be brave, courageous and try new things, including new foods.

This year, we will be creative in new ways that stretch our boundaries including the arts, doing more projects together and how we reuse, repurpose and recycle.

This year, we will promote playing together, teamwork and cooperation at all levels.

This year, we will celebrate any and all effort because TRYING YOUR BEST is enough.

This year, we will honor the sacred moments within our family and our intimate relationships.

This year, we will appreciate our strong, healthy bodies and work hard to maintain them.

How about you? What’s in your manifesto for this year? I’d love to read them and get to know your family better.

There isn’t anything much better than the feeling of a clean slate. That’s what the New Year provides.

I have long given up on resolutions — mostly because I write and create “goals” all year long. I’m someone who is always trying to change myself, my intentions, my situation. I’m someone who spends life searching for the next greatest XY and Z.

This year, I’m hoping to take all of that information, all of that knowledge that I’ve acquired over the years and APPLY IT. Here. There. Everywhere. I even have a little — well, huge — project that I”m working on that is related.

That’s it … whether it be meditation, yoga, writing, quality time with the kids, house projects … I’m done (sort of)  researching and planning and this year it’s just going to happen without drama, without reservation, without doubt, without insecurities. I will do it all with intention and so long as I do it with intention, it will be right for me.

In the meantime, I found this lovely little meditation to take into this lovely little New Year:

Sit quietly — be still.


Breathe in I have Arrived.

Breathe out I am Home.

I have Arrived.

I am home.

For once, I feel like it may be true.

Happy 2012!




Let this year end with a vision of pink skies in our heads.

Let this year end with a feeling of awe that a sky can be so beautiful.

Let this year end looking up, Up, UP.

Let this year end with giggles as we sneak out in our barefeet to snap a photo as proof.

Let this year end with smiles so big.

Let this year end with amazement flashing on our faces.

Let this year end in gratitude of winter’s forceful quiet.

Let this year end with beauty in our hearts.

Let this year end with memories — good and bad — floating up to the clouds.

Let this year end with us chasing pink skies.

Chasing beauty. And more beauty. And more.

We all want to have good days. We all strive for happy days, not sad ones. We all desire pleasure and smiles and goodness. We all just want to be seen and honored and respected.

And yet.

And yet we find ourselves wading neck deep in stacks and stacks of to-dos. Just one more thing and I’ll feel as if I’ve accomplished everything! Just one more. Just one more.

We never stop at just one. A lot like potato chips. Or, in my case, truffles.

But the way to stay happy is just to stay awake. Awake to the goodness. Awake, even, to the chaos.

Today could have been a rough morning. I swear my little girls called my name Mommy — for that is one of my names — every 5 seconds over the course of two hours. It was abnormally chaotic. Not a bad day, which we also have from time to time — just one of those days when you try to sweep the crumbs up from breakfast and every two sweeps, someone was tapping your shoulder saying, “Mommy …”

Surrender. Give in. Wake up. Tear up the lists. Throw the broom. Step over the crumbs. Quit trying so hard to be perfect. Give up aiming for perfection. Smile. Breathe. Laugh at the crazy. Be the crazy. Dance. Wiggle. Wear silly glasses.

Remember that these moments are just that, momentary. They are fleeting like thin, sparkling bubbles. They change shape at the blink of an eye. They disappear into thin air like a cloud of dust.

Awake at home, which I strive to be, means saying enough is enough of what I want to do or need to do and forces me to step away and live life to the fullest. Like building really terrible, falling down marble runs. Or being a terrible marshmallow sculpture builder. Motherhood isn’t perfect and neither am I.

Of course, I can say this because I’m writing for the second day in a row on winter break. I have time to stay awake, tackle the to-do list and also do a few things for just me. Most days I have zero minutes for anything other than what has to be done for others, including my boss, my staff at work, my husband and children and my community. Usually, my needs and desires are last on the list.

But, what I’ve learned is that the only real thing I have to do for myself is just Stay Awake.

I’m pretty sure that I have time for that. It’s not always the easiest thing to do. Or the sexiest — like writing a book. Or the most relaxing, like a bath.

But it’s always possible at every moment of every single day of my life. Even as a Mama.

The crumbs did get picked up. The rest of the house, however, is an utter mess.

Think Like A Tree

Soak up the sun

Affirm life’s magic

Be graceful in the wind

Stand tall after a storm

Feel refreshed after it rains

Grow strong without notice

Be prepared for each season

Provide shelter to strangers

Hang tough through a cold spell

Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring

Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky

Be still long enough to

hear your own leaves rustling.

~Karen I. Shragg

My gratitude journal began on January 1st as the first of many life changing techniques I discovered while reading that amazing book “Simple Abundance.” In the beginning, I truly struggled what to write, and often felt that I was writing the same things day after day. I berated myself for never having enough to be grateful for in life.

I kept writing, hoping that what the author said would be true: It would pay off in the end. More would come back to me if I was more grateful.

And then in mid May when my husband lost his job as a result of a merger I could have easily given up completely. It would have been easy to close it up, toss it to the back of the night stand and never fill it out again. I was that angry. It could have easily seemed as if there was no grace to find, no gratitude to offer.

I was angry at so many people at that time. We lost our security — as if the earth moved and the dirt crumbled beneath our feet, leaving us feeling unstable, uncertain. Never a good place to be. Never a good feeling. Never something I’d want anyone I love to deal with in their lifetime.

I could have given up that gratitude practice. At that point, to be honest, I wasn’t sure the gratitude concept was working.  We were spinning with devastation and worry about our place in our town, our place in our friendship circle, our place in the world.

Over the course of five months, we rewrote who our friends really were (they were the ones that checked in on us periodically, sent us job leads and asked how we were holding up). We rewrote what we wanted in life. We rewrote what it means to feel safe, secure and at peace in our hearts. We rewrote what living is about.

And, for me, I kept writing at least five things that I was thankful for in my life. Every day. Five more things. Then five more. Five and then five and then five.

Here’s what I learned from this gratitude practice:

  • When you experience such a loss, it might seem easier to just hate on everything. What came from the daily gratitude, however, was immense clarity. Life became about the ones who cared about us. I have released myself from those who I barely heard from, not even once.
  • While I did skip days here and there during that time, I kept writing each and every Grace into that little book with a little tree on the front that keeps me grounded. That keeps me still and centered. It’s almost like that little book has become a source of peace, a source of comfort.
  • What also happened during the past year is that I realized that I needed to reach out to others as I wished them to reach out to me. I loved Elissa Elliott’s post on this concept. In fact, I have now made it my mission to do simple acts of grace for others.
  • Now, nearly a year after it all began, some things have clearly started coming back to us.Gifts from strangers. Kindness in rare forms. A job. New friends. Perhaps we’re just more aware now of the little things that mean so much. Perhaps it’s a bit of karma. Perhaps giving is the one gift we all need in our lives.
  • And I can barely stop at 5 things now each night. I usually go beyond five. Maybe I’m just more aware. Maybe these gifts of gratitude were always here. Maybe they are new. Each one, though, is like a tiny snowflake — unique, different and precious.
  • That we do really have to think like a tree and listen to our own leaves rustling. And, perhaps more importantly, we have to listen carefully to the leaves of others rustling as well.


In gratitude.

And Love.

Today I want to honor the darkness that haunts my soul now and then as well as the lightness that floats to the top most hours of the day.

Today I want to honor the shadows that appear on certain days and the rays of sunshine that sparkle in the skies.

Today I surrender to the peace that flutters inside my heart as well as the eclipse of my emotions that takes over at times.

Today I gently hold my scared, nervous hands. And, at the same time, caress them for they are bold and fearless and reach for the goodness this world has to offer.

Today I lift my gaze to the sky, breathing in its shimmery wonder. And I bow my head in awe of the groundedness of the earth below me.

Today I weep for the many sadnesses that have come before me. And I laugh at the joy of what is yet to become me.

Today I close my eyes to the silent, black sky and go inward, deeper to a place of meaning and sacredness.

Today I open my soul to the amazing brightness that holds me in safety and in love. And lie down at the thought of my fears and worries and anxieties that keep me up at night.

Today I want for nothing for nothing more than already is can come out of the shortest, coldest day. And yet I want for everything, all the sure things in life before me like silly giggles, glowing candles, bare branches, twinkling red and green lights, magical, unexpected snow flakes, glowing embers in the fire, soft, fuzzy blankets, steaming hot cocoa with fluffy marshmallows and chocolate chips melting, cookies freshly baked from the oven, holding hands with the ones I love, warm hugs, sloppy kisses, believing in hope, visions of peace, honoring myself, gifts to give, and all the gratitude that can fill my heart.

This is my ode to winter, to 2011, to this time in my life. This is how I want to remember this year, a year of heartbreaks and let downs but also love, growth, strength, gifts of love and kindness of unsizable proportions. And remembering that it is perfectly fine to let go, to let go of people who do us wrong, to smile and nod and pretend that you don’t know someone that did you wrong, to give up people who you thought were friends and were not. It’s OK. And to put focus where it belongs. On family — the ones that show up all the time and never judge. On friends — new and old — that just support you. On dreams — making them, creating them, and helping them birth into the world in big, gigantic ways.

There’s too much goodness, too much sadness to hold it all in all the time. Life it is too short; we must feel every single moment as if it is our last — just as we must enjoy every moment, every breath, every fit of laughter rising up inside of us. This one precious moment is but ours to take hold and toss into the wind.

And just see what becomes of it.

 “Imagination is the divine body in every being.” William Blake

The following are some of the questions I’ve asked myself over the past few years. For some, there are answers. For others, I’m still seeking. Seeking and seeking.

What scares you?

How can you outsmart your fears?

What makes me different?

How do you wish to bloom?

What turns you off?

What turns you on?

What energizes you?

What inspires you?

What makes you smile?

Who do you admire?

Who in your life is living their dreams?

What is begging to take action.

What would you do right this minute if you knew you couldn’t fail?

What is a village to you?

How can I change this situation?

How can I accept this situation?

How can I Own my creative soul?

What is my purpose?

What am I good at?

What do I love to do?

How am I beautiful?

What do I have to say in this world?

These questions have helped me understand my true self, my authentic self. I have written pages and pages — hundreds, really — of pages trying to understand myself, to tap into that nagging presence inside me.

In a startling inspiring moment, I started sifting through all of those pages. I’ve kept them all. I’m in the process of unearthing them and putting them into one spiral bound binder — the start of something Big. Perhaps it will become my business plan. Perhaps it will become a Source for writing. Perhaps it will unveil something I do not yet know could even imagine right now, at this very moment in time.

The end result, though a mystery, is already proving a good exercise in authenticity. I see common threads of things written five, four, three, two years ago. It’s all been there, all in my mind. It’s my job to wake to what has been calling my Name — my real name — and let it be so.

 What questions help you dig deep and uncover your truest self? What are you asking yourself over and over to unearth the goodness inside of your soul?

Have you ever just woke up one day and realized you’ve been caring about all the wrong things in life?

This year, when my husband was put out of his job in a “downsizing” I had a wakeup call of the most higher power.

What am I doing?

I had been leading a life that was not authentic to me. It’s hard to explain here, nor could I ever really explain it well. Everything, all day, felt inconsequential. I wasn’t happy. And then our financial security shattered.

There were a lot of questions unanswered all summer long. I kept seeking.

Over the years, I have found solace in the meaningless life I had been living – the life outside of my family, of course — I finished my book, started teaching writing classes, and began coaching creative types — all things that make me feel alive inside, like what it should feel like as a human being, to be real.

Now, I’m full of Joy and it’s because I have finally fallen awake.  I’ve fallen awake to my life, the one that is going to read on my obituary some day.

She was Awake to This life.

I’m awake to my power. I’m awake to who I am. I’m awake to what moves me and fills me up. I”m awake to the higher good that is inside of me. I’m awake to what gets me up every morning, what drives me through my day and my passions. I’m awake to all that matters in This life.

This. I”m awake to This.

I’ve retreated back to the Internet as a result. When I was most lonely in my life — when my daughters were so very young — I had a blog and I met so many wonderful people around the world. I loved all of them and they made me who I am today.

I am here to declare that I am so very wide awake. Noticing. Reflecting. Paying attention to what matters most — to me.

This.  All this.

And you.

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