As if Covid wasn’t enough, we were dealing with record-breaking heat, a wildfire and subsequent evacuations and smoke, and threats of power outages. So, let’s have a celebration!

Last week we had a birthday party for Bonnie – not a virtual birthday party, but a real birthday party with guests, cake, stories, and the mandatory singing of a somewhat out-of-key Happy Birthday song. After all, birthdays come but once a year and that one day is special – no matter what!

Audacious Plans

Well, if we were going to plan this thing, it had to be pretty flexible. With all the known and unknown threats looming closely, and the necessity for it to take place outside, in the shade, with proper social distancing, it would be a challenge at best. And who would come and how many? Since the wind direction could change the air quality at a moment’s notice, the guests couldn’t be coming from afar, in fact, they had to be close neighbors.

But we pressed on, preparing for the best and planning for the worst. We set up the chairs outside in 4 pairs for the neighboring couples with one for our single neighbor. There would be nine of us, if all went as planned. The seating was arranged in a circle so the couples who lived together were six feet apart. The guest were asked to bring their own beverages but a special homemade chocolate cake would be featured.

Using the Technology

We kept an eye on the fire, the smoke, and the wind using our favorite websites. Based on the weather from the past three days and the hourly projections, we discovered the time when the temperature would be comfortable, the wind would be mild, but moving, the air would be breathable, and the venue would be shaded – at least historically.

The opportunity was 10:30 AM on Bonnie’s actual birthday, a Monday! Now when was the last time you went to a birthday party at 10:30 AM on a Monday morning?!

Did we say iffy? Yes, it was iffy! So much could go awry and cause a cancellation at the last minute. The neighbors where great sports and when the time actually got close, we postponed the party half an hour to let the wind clear the air a bit more. But then it happened! The smoke cleared and at 11 AM on Monday, August 31st, the party was on!

But Wait! There’s More!

So, when Bonnie was a little girl, her mother, Mabel, a WWII Rosie the Riveter and an organic blueberry farmer, always baked her a chocolate cake made from a recipe from a Hershey’s cocoa box. For this unlikely birthday party, Bonnie wanted an encore. The cake part went quite well. But the fudge frosting was another story…

She’d been warning Michael for days that it was going to take some muscle (his) to beat that real fudge for up to seven minutes with a long wooden spoon. After all, Bonnie had not baked a cake or made fudge for, well, decades. But when it came down to it, after three minutes of brisk stirring, it got more and more sluggish and harder to beat. Michael thought, “Well that’s just how it goes.” Then, suddenly everything froze! The spoon, Michael’s arm, the frosting, it all got solid …very solid! “Uh, something’s terribly wrong over here,” he said.

Last Minute Scramble!

After they pried the spoon loose, they realized Bonnie had overcooked the fudge, and rather than getting a soft texture, it had turned into something more like a thick, dry, muddy mess. Now for a new last- minute challenge: Convert the hard fudge back into soft spreadable frosting for the birthday cake.

They didn’t have time to make it over and they had used up all the chocolate! So they went to work breaking up the hard fudge into little pieces smaller and smaller until they would melt with just the right amount of hot milk. It took a half an hour but it worked! The cake was a hit! …And nobody knew of its earlier disaster!

Whew! Happy Birthday!

We all took turns telling stories and enjoyed the brief but enjoyable respite in what has become a constant crisis lifestyle.  We all marveled at the unlikely set of circumstances that made it all possible, and as neighbors we shared our common destiny, and how our spirits and good humor could get us through!

Planning for the best in times like these and leaving room for last minute changes can at least allow for the best to happen. It takes a little work, a little planning, and a whole lot of faith, plus flexibility! But if and when the opportunity presents itself, you are ready! Even if you have to fudge it a little!

Best wishes to all our countrymen in these challenging times! And Happy Birthday, whenever it is!

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact