Superwoman

Checking Out

The Top of the Hill Is in Sight

Don’t say this out loud, because we don’t want to jinx it, but it looks like we might be starting to, maybe, sort of, in a subtle way, approach the outer edge of the zone that’s right before the stage that leads eventually, circuitously, to the end of the tunnel.  Notice I didn’t say anything about seeing a light?  And also notice that I didn’t describe this status in any definitive or affirmative way?  Hey – I’m an engineer, after all.  They train us to manage expectations.

So, at the backs of our minds somewhere, behind the piles of toilet paper and the new recipes for sourdough bread, we’re toying with the idea that someday before the turn of the next century we might be emerging from our houses and apartments and barns or wherever we have been sequestered for the past 632 weeks.  Not all at once.  Certainly not.  If you think there will be a day on the calendar where all of a sudden everything will go back to normal, I’m afraid your biscuit isn’t quite done in the middle.  No, our release back into the wild will be slow and controlled and fraught with danger. We know that we’ll never, ever, ever be touching other human beings again, but we might actually get to see some.

The question here is: can we make some hay out of this possibility of sunshine?  As proactive professional women, we’re always looking for chances to get ahead, to make life better.  Are there any opportunities here?

When I was running cross-country, I had a coach who liked to run us through “check out” drills.  He theorized that the average runner would experience a slight moment of relief right when she would get to the top of a hill.  This slight pause, however small, would give a competitor a chance to capitalize on the situation and make up ground by doing the opposite and accelerating.  We spent endless hours running to the tops of hills and accelerating right as we got over the crest.

I give my old coach a lot of credit – the technique worked every time.  If I had runners in front of me or near me, I usually could pick off at least a couple of people as we all reached the top of a hill.

There is no doubt the world will be breathing a sigh of relief in staggered phases as countries reach conditions where some parts of society can be restarted.  Similarly, your co-workers, clients, and competition will be happily settling back into their (child free!) offices and jobsites. A short “honeymoon” period of a few weeks is to be expected while people see each other again and luxuriate in the routines they didn’t know they loved.

This is the top of the hill.  It doesn’t matter that we’re not physically there yet.  If you can see it, or even envision it, you need to be thinking about checking out.

So what does that mean for you?  It can mean a lot of different things, depending on your position.

If you are an employee, particularly an entry-level person, you need to do some investigating and observing to figure out what avenues you might have for advancement.  Your employer most probably has been tap dancing on an unfamiliar dance floor for the past six weeks, trying to figure out how to keep work going, keep paying employees, and keep clients happy.  What have been the biggest needs?  Not your biggest needs – your employer’s.  What has been the biggest stumbling block internally?  Has it been communication?  Have you had trouble getting feedback from clients who are also navigating seas inhabited by heretofore unknown monsters?  What can you do to help with this?  Remember, your goal is not to figure out how to make your life better.  Your goal is to figure out how you can be a valuable employee at a time when your employer likely is tearing out her hair.  Volunteer to do something you’ve never done before.  Offer to brainstorm about ways to solve problems.  As my dad used to say to us when something needed to be done around the house, make yourself useful.

A very smart lady once told me that you don’t understand someone’s character when life is good.  You get a sense for who someone really is when things are bad.  She was absolutely right, and the same philosophy applies to employees.  Don’t be the person whining about how the project you were excited about just got postponed and now you’re going to have to work on something boring.  Be the person who volunteers to call clients and ask what your company can do for them in this tough time.  Be the star who formulates a revolutionary new way to facilitate in-house communication and actually has the nerve to submit it to her boss.

The same can be said for people who own their own businesses.  This is the time to call clients and offer help…or a shoulder to commiserate on (socially distant, of course)…or just some time to listen to how completely screwed up their project has become during the pandemic.  Put yourself in front of people and let them know that your problems aren’t getting in the way of being an indispensable resource.  Check out.

I hope a number of you are getting excited as you read this.  We’ve had a lot of darkness for quite some time, and this might be a little bit of light in your life.  On the other hand, it’s critical that we acknowledge that another sector of our group might be reading this with the exact opposite reaction.  “Seriously?  Are you kidding me?  I am barely surviving right now, and you want me to be ambitious and proactive? I just did three conference calls with a toddler on my lap, and I have to feed five people in the next hour AND I’M EXHAUSTED. Do you really want me to do more?”

Actually, I don’t.  Let’s be honest – everyone has lived through this nightmare in different circumstances.  If you have been working at home while homeschooling your kids and taking groceries to at-risk relatives, you’re a hero.  Take a nap when this is done and think about your colleagues who are checking out as you drift off to sleep.  If you are exhausted from riding the subway with a mask on while trying to stay distant from idiots on your way to your jobsite every day, you need to appreciate the fact that you made it through this without getting sick and without killing anyone.  Applaud your friends who live in wide open spaces who are going to strategize on how to use this situation to take a step forward.  Despite the fact that some of us want to optimize every possible opportunity and participate in everything all the time, that’s not real life.  You are human. It’s time to take a break.  Don’t check out.

If you are sheltering in place with a bunch of little ones (or even medium ones), you have had the honor and sacred responsibility of keeping them safe during a disaster.  And you did it.  That’s as good as crushing a micropile design, trust me.  You might not see it that way from your perspective on the ground now, but 20 years in the future you’ll appreciate what you did.  (And you’ll be sure to tell your kids how easy they have it as parents).  In the meantime, you can cheer on your fellow female professionals who will be making progress for all of us.

So think about checking out, if circumstances apply.  If they don’t, please support those who can.  Sometimes we have to pass up opportunities, but we can be happy knowing that our sisters are out there, making phenomenal strides in our places.

 

No Action

Fighting by Doing Nothing

So.  Here we are.  How should I write an introduction for a post in a time when our situation changes every day?  And how do I know what you need when you read this?  Do you want humor to take your mind off the horror of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow?  Or do you want serious advice on how to handle this new environment?

Let’s start with the advice.  I have none.  One of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that every person and every household are dealing with a completely different set of circumstances.  You could be living in a house with six other people, including an infant and a toddler, but out West, situated far from others.  Your fears of getting sick are low, but your problems with getting baby wipes and groceries are high.  Or you could be living alone in a New York City apartment, scared to death of getting sick and having no available healthcare, but close to plenty of food in a nearby market.  Or you might have few supply and health issues, but you just got laid off from your job.  The issues and stresses in each of these situations are different and require unique solutions – no general advice will do.

I have lots of humor, which sometimes I need desperately, and sometimes seems horribly inappropriate.  My friend just gave me toilet paper for my birthday, and I WAS GRATEFUL.  My Depression-era grandparents no doubt are looking down and smiling smugly.  “Don’t you wish you had spent more time listening to our stories about how to make spaghetti and meatballs out of nuts and grass from the back yard?!”

I could tell you warm and fuzzy things about all of us being in this together.  But I’m sure you maxed out on inspirational sayings on Instagram some time last week. In all honesty, it would be something of a relief if someone weren’t in this with us.  Then someone could rescue us, right?

Perhaps it would be helpful to acknowledge the specific frustrations of our little skirts-in-dirt corner of the world.  Do we have our own set of issues?  Of course we do.

If you are a woman in our field, you are not passive.  You haven’t waded through low expectations and condescending looks to succeed as an engineer/contractor/etc.  by sitting by and waiting for other people to make decisions and act.  You’re a problem-solver by nature, and the barriers to our gender in the professional world mean that you are used to powering through ugly situations to make things happen.  But the constant in all of these statements is action. And taking action is the one thing you can’t do right now.

Right now, the sky is blue, and spring is here (at least in the U.S.).  There are no bombs dropping from the sky to threaten our homes.  Soldiers aren’t marching down our streets.  We are not underwater in a flood, and hurricane season isn’t here (yet).  If you drive down the street, you see families out playing and talking, people running, and spring flowers sprouting up in yards.  You would have to know what to look for to see that none of the kids are playing with other families, and people on the sidewalks give each other a wide berth. Parents are smiling but drinking heavily because they’re spending their days as unqualified home-school teachers who are hoping they don’t ruin (or kill) their kids.

So we’ve all been confined to our homes because there’s something awful and ugly out there and we have to make sure it doesn’t kill us.  But we can’t go out and fight it.  We can’t organize a supply chain to the front lines.  We can’t take up arms and wipe it out.  In short, we can’t do what we do well.

If you watch the HBO drama Game of Thrones, you probably saw the battle with the Night King’s army last spring.  In the episode before the battle, the story examined each character as they waited for the army’s arrival.  That was the entire episode.  In my opinion, it was one of the best installments in the show’s long run.  Every character waited and thought about what was to come and hoped that he or she was up to the challenge.  It was terrifying.  It really brought home the fear that we all feel when bracing ourselves for an attack we know is coming but with details and outcomes we can’t predict.

This quarantine that we’re all inhabiting reminds me of that episode, but without the battle.  We can’t take up a dagger of dragon glass and try to resist the advancing hoards.  Instead, we have to stay at home and wash our groceries.  We can’t board a dragon and wipe out enemy troops.  Our battle must be fought by NOT advancing and NOT collaborating and NOT trying to wipe out the enemy.  It’s not an approach that most of us adopt very often, and we’re uncomfortable.  We’re also tense and tired and scared.

I have likened the spread of the coronavirus to the problem you have when you spill glitter in your house or when someone breaks a glass in a crowded party.  “Everyone stand still and don’t move!”  You know that someone will get cut no matter how much you order them to stay put, and glitter always disperses as if by magic.  We are trying to stand still, to keep from spreading glitter to every surface and person we will encounter for all eternity.  If you have daughters, you know the futility of trying to contain the glitter.  No matter how much you clean, you find it on the undersides of your car floor mats 6 months after your toddler spilled it in her toy room inside the house.  Unfortunately, this is glitter that will kill your toddler’s aging grandparents.  We can clean and clean, but then our only course of action is to STAY STILL.  How on earth do we start doing that now after we’ve spent our entire lives trying to save the world through perpetual motion?

If nothing else, we have a solid community in our foundations world.  We can call each other and lament our feelings of powerlessness.  We can video chat with glasses of wine and hope that our home-schooling efforts aren’t producing a generation of bad spellers who can’t do math. We can reassure each other that this is just another challenge with unusual parameters.  If there is something we do well, it’s handle unusual challenges.

Most importantly, we can re-calibrate our view of the world to fit our current reality. I think every person’s survival in this crisis and afterwards will depend on resetting our expectations.  If we change our mindsets to look at this problem as a project instead of an inconvenient and scary departure from normal life, we are as qualified as any group of people to crush it. If nothing else, rearranging our perspective might at least give us some peace of mind. This is just another project challenge for another day.  And hey – it doesn’t discriminate by gender.  There’s a silver lining to get you started.

No Apologies

#notsorry

We’ve been a bit absent here at Underpinnings lately, and I was going to lead off this post by apologizing.  I’m so sorry that I am overloaded with work, that I’m in charge of various parts of three separate charity fundraisers in three months, that I’m trying to run a group of 25 community volunteers, and that I have ongoing chaos in my family right now.  But I’m not.  (And Superwoman Helen shouldn’t even dream of apologizing).

I’m not going to apologize.  All of these activities and situations are important to me, and it was my choice to prioritize them.  More importantly, I’m not going to try to ameliorate a failure or bad situation that exists only in my mind by offering an apology.

Studies and statistics and charts and graphs and barroom conversations all state that many women tend to apologize routinely in business and in life in general.  We use the apology as a means to do a number of things, none of which are good. (Some anomalous women don’t do this – you know who you are, so just sit there and be smug).

1)    We apologize to soften the blow of a difficult conversation.  We assume that if we explicitly take some of the blame for a bad situation, the other person or persons will be less likely to be confrontational and a resolution might be reached.

2)    We apologize to show that we are accountable, even if we had nothing to do with the problem at hand.  We want to show that we are willing to share the blame for a bad situation, thus showing our willingness to be a team player in effecting a solution.

3)    We apologize to keep another person from feeling badly.  We willingly take unwarranted blame so that another person won’t be upset, thus regulating the emotional barometer of the room.

4)    We apologize because we want people to know that we’re just lucky to be here and have a chance at a seat at the table. We’re willing to fall on our swords to express our humility.

5)    We apologize because the 4,000 demands of our everyday lives cannot be met and we feel inadequate.  See paragraph #1 of this post.

None of these reasons are okay.  Some, particularly #4, are downright upsetting.  Should I really still be trying to make nice after all these years?  Am I still worried that if I make trouble or if I don’t appear to be a martyr that someone will decide that I’m not worthy to have my job/family/life?

Unfortunately, apparently many of us still feel this way, even if it’s only subconsciously.  We apologize to create a buffer in our lives.  In effect, we apologize for who we are.

When was the last time you apologized?  Have you told a client this week that you’re so sorry the foundation cost turned out to be higher than he expected?  Have you messaged your best friend and said you’re terribly sorry you haven’t called her this week and you’re a bad friend? Have you apologized to a co-worker because you were already scheduled to be on a site in San Francisco and he needs help on a job in Miami?  Stop it.  None of these things are your fault.  You are not a bad person.  Falling on your sword will only ruin your outfit.

Just this week I found out that a manufacturer supplying products for a volunteer project of mine had neglected to tell me that he didn’t start producing the planters we ordered until about three weeks after he originally intended.  The delay meant that my volunteer organization would not be able to place the planters on the new city medians and fill them with flowers in time for a big fireworks show being held where I live.  Keep in mind, not only was the delay not my fault, but I’ve given hundreds of volunteer hours to this project.  But my first reaction was to contact city officials and apologize for the delay.  “I’m so very sorry that we will not have those flowers out for the tourists, and I feel very badly about it.”  Yes, I did feel badly about it, because I was looking forward to seeing the street planters spilling over with beautiful flowers.  But should I apologize?  Absolutely not.  It would send the wrong message – that my best wasn’t enough, and that any problems should be attributed to me.  In actuality, I worked my petunia off on that project, and everything but this one item worked out.  But we women rarely emphasize what we’ve done right.  Instead, we dwell on what we’ve done wrong, even if we didn’t do it!

It took all of my strength to contact the various city officials and never say the words “I’m sorry.”  After I was done, I had the horrible urge to call them all back and stress that I REALLY WAS SORRY.  But I resisted, and I have to say I’m pretty proud of myself.

For many of us, apologizing is a salve to the open wound that is our feeling of not being enough.  We have decided that the only way we can justify having the jobs we have and the family lives we want and the shoes we love is to acknowledge to the world that we somehow are falling short.  It must be perfect, or someone will come and tell me I’m fired.  What in the hell is perfect?  And who is making all of these impossible standards for us that no one could attain?  We are.  And we need to stop.  We need to go after the job and kiss the guy and have the kids and bake the cake and buy the shoes and not get to the end of it and decide that the cake was a little dry and the kiss should have been longer.

I do want to mention that I’m not speaking against compassion (“I’m so sorry that you’re not feeling well”), and I am a firm believer in accountability, a virtue that seems to be escaping many millennials (“I’m truly sorry that I was busy talking on my phone and knocked over your ladder and caused you to fall two stories to the pavement.  I’m also sorry that I stayed two extra days on my ayurvedic retreat, causing us to lose the contract for the project I was on”).  Always always be considerate and compassionate.  However, doing so doesn’t mean giving away situational power for no reason.  You are not doing a good thing by assuming blame for something out of your control or an error committed by others.  And if your life includes the things you want it to include, don’t second guess your choices and apologize.  The new hashtag to replace #sorrynotsorry is simply #notsorry.

Sharp as a Tack

We Have a Winner!

We women in the foundations industry may have lots of questions about how to forge ahead in our chosen positions: When do we draw the line with suggestive comments from co-workers? How do we reconcile ourselves with the sacrifices necessary for life balance? How do we know if our gender is affecting our advancement within a company? If we could never wear cute shoes again, would we give up this career?

What is not in question is the fact that we have a community of truly outstanding women.  They are smart, they are funny, they are creative, and they can tell a really good story. We so enjoyed reading the many exploits and adventures of our Underpinnings friends, and determining a winner for our contest required a long and politely contentious conversation among the Underpinnings staff. But our winner was clear, and we’re so pleased to announce ….

Lori Simpson, Vice President and Principal Engineer at Langan Engineering and Environmental, is many fabulous things but most notably a very interesting person.  She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Stanford and a Master of Science in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, so she’s earthy AND crunchy. Lori worked long and hard to move up the engineering ladder, along the way amassing a wide and variable catalogue of geotechnical experience.  Oh – and she successfully raised several human beings along the way.  (Note: Lori, of course, is only 27, so we felt it important to note that her kids matured VERY quickly and were fully raised by the age of 5. No one is suggesting that she’s over 30).  Currently, she slays seismic dragons and conquers soft clay demons in the San Francisco area.  In her free time, (which is between 2:12 AM and 2:23 AM every third Thursday of the month), she’s a mover and shaker on the DFI Codes and Standards Committee.  She also has devoted much of her life to an in-depth research project intended to provide proof that an engineer can be married to a geologist and not get bored.

This week, Lori’s most impressive accomplishment is that she made us laugh.  And she’ll make you laugh, too.  Enjoy her story.  She will be enjoying a fabulous basket of goodies right after Christmas.

Lori’s Story

After graduate school, I got married and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where my husband was going to attend graduate school. Things in the Land of Enchantment work a little differently than the San Francisco Bay Area, where I came from.  My first introduction was in my first interview for an engineering job:  I put on a dress and heels and all 5’ 1/4” of me showed up at the office of a small geotechnical firm.   The boss looked at my fancy resume, and with amusement on his face, said he wasn’t sure I could do the job. As he looked me up and down, he explained that dirt was involved.  I assured him that I was aware of the job description of a staff geotechnical engineer.  I am not sure what got into my head—I guess it has something to do with the fact that I could bench press 145 pounds and felt the need to prove myself—I offered to do push-ups in his office! He declined and offered me a temporary position (he was a 3-person operation and didn’t need a full-time staff engineer).

One of the projects I worked on with him included drilling borings outside of town.  Think hilly desert landscape with no facilities.  At one point I needed to pee, so I told my boss I would go up the hill and find a secluded place to go.  I am a backpacker, so no problem peeing “in the woods”…..er, well, actually peeing in the cacti.  Yes, as I squatted down I misjudged the distance of my behind to the nearby cholla cactus. YEEEOOOOWWW!  It was like the cactus saw my ass coming and, with glee, ejected as many spines as it could.  Did you know that they have barbs on them like fishhooks?  i.e. NOT easy to remove. I removed as many as I could, pulled up my pants, and gingerly walked back to let my boss know what happened.  Of course, he howled with laughter….but was also sympathetic. We wrapped up our work as quickly as possible, and headed back.  I could barely sit in the truck on the way back to the office.

P.S.  We’ll be giving you a belated Christmas present next week when we run the story of our first runner up, Lucky Nagarajan, of Skyline Steel.  Many thanks to all who entered!

Happy Holidays – Whatever That Means to You

Merry/Happy Something

It’s the end of December, and avoiding a holiday of some sort would be a difficult task.  This is the time of year that emotions and social activity seem to hit a crescendo, sounding a tone that provides a soundtrack for our lives for at least a few weeks, if not more.

As the activities increase, often so do the responsibilities…and the expectations…and the preconceptions…and the guilt.  We want to make sparkly shiny holidays to remember for our families, and we try either to overdevelop or hide these Martha Stewart-esque tendencies as we go about our professional lives.  We entertain fantasies of moments under the mistletoe based on Hallmark Channel movies, (you can admit it – this is a safe space), while trying to maintain a tough, no-nonsense attitude on the jobsite.  And we make donations to the Charleston Animal Protection Society by buying their annual Firefighter Calendar (FIREFIGHTERS WITH PUPPIES) while trying to pretend we’re really excited by the annual ASCE Bridges calendar (okay, maybe you are, but FIREFIGHTERS WITH PUPPIES).

The holidays don’t change the issues we deal with the rest of the year.  We’re multi-faceted, interesting women who can’t be pigeonholed.  The only way we can reinforce that idea is to share with each other all of our stories and special moments to affirm their importance.

We wish you a fabulous Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice/After-Christmas Shoe Sales, or whatever you’re celebrating.  Good luck making a papier mache lobster head, or baking 4,000 cookies, or finding the perfect gift, or even getting your hands on a signed copy of the ASCE Bridges calendar. Let us know what fabulous things you’re doing – here are our versions:

Helen- Christmas is a Checkbox

Right now a lot of things in my life are a blur and get finished “just in time” or are deemed noncritical and shuffled to another list.  If possible, this kicks into an even higher gear during the holidays.  Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year, and was one of the reasons I wanted to have my wedding in late December.  Now it is more than a little emotional since I got divorced last year.

At this time in my life I am in Mama Bear/Warrior Woman Mode, or MBWWM for short.  I typically sleep 4-5 hours a night and then charge about the rest of the time from one thing to another, juggling two demanding part-time jobs, involvement in professional societies, three young children, multiple sports and activities for the older two kids, one Brownie troop, and a partridge in a pear tree.  The days are long but the years are short, as they say.  My life exists in lists: grocery (of course); long-term professional endeavors such as technical paper topics; what is due this week in school: homework, quizzes, pretzel money, basketball sign-ups, contribution to a class party, or the book fair; clients to reach out to for business development; and what we are planning for the next scout meeting, outing, or camping trip.

There are also the worries: are my kids eating healthy enough, brushing their teeth sufficiently, getting enough exercise, doing okay with the divorce, making the right friends, learning enough in school?  Is it time to go through their clothes and sort things that don’t fit, give some toys away to charity or to younger cousins, or potty train the youngest?  Am I progressing quickly enough in my professional career, is the specification I wrote sufficient for that project, will the contractor change the schedule yet again, and am I getting exposure inside my company and beyond it? These worries don’t stop because of the holidays- if anything they intensify for me.

I am not just playing Negative Nancy to Peggy’s Suzie Sunshine.  The “before-children me” avidly followed Penn State football and Phillies baseball, loved having dinner parties and making breads and desserts, read books from numerous genres voraciously, loved hiking with my dogs on the weekends, binge-watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ER, and the X-files, and made plans to have drinks with friends bi-weekly.  But right now I am the “single-mom with young children me” and much of that has been pushed aside while I have fully taken on this role.

But I am very fortunate to have met women through professional societies who report that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Their children are grown and they are free to travel, work more, play hard, and rediscover themselves.  An overwhelming majority of them are divorced as well, which I thought was interesting enough to point out, but I won’t speculate on this point today.

So, if all that is part of my “normal” life, what does it mean for the holidays?  Aside from more lists: addresses for Christmas cards and gifts for the bus driver, teachers, the kids’ nanny, etc., it means instilling hope, love, and thankfulness in my children.  I carry on the traditions of lighting an advent wreath at family dinner, cutting down our own Christmas tree, going to Christmas Eve mass, and leaving cookies and milk out for Santa.  We have new traditions including making gingerbread houses, seeing a festive movie with the scouts, and doing good deeds with the help of our Kindness Elf (not Elf on the Shelf!).  It also means stopping to appreciate the wonder that a 7, 5, and 2 year old experience on Christmas morning and expressing the gratitude that I feel toward my family and friends, and especially my parents, for the support they give me.  Then I’ll cross Christmas off the list and move on to the next thing!

Peggy- It’s a Wonderful Life!

I grew up in a very close, Irish Catholic family, and we had more Christmas traditions than I could describe.  In addition, I am a hopeless romantic, and the sparkly happiness of the holidays feeds right into my rather ridiculous love of all things sappy and festive.

Every year I hear and read endless comments/articles/doctoral theses about how difficult the holidays are and how tragic it is that everything is so commercial.  But I tend to take the opposite stance.  I love the holidays because there is more optimism, more kindness, more love than during the rest of the year.  A pessimist would say it’s sad that people can’t be as kind and generous as they are during the holidays.  I say isn’t it wonderful that people are better versions of themselves for part of the year?  Doubters decry the commercialism of Christmas; I am happy that the holiday gives a number of people money to feed their families, and the constant commercials make some people take a moment to reach out to loved ones when they normally would not.  Yes, I am Suzie Sunshine, and I’m not sorry.  The guys on my construction sites get homemade cookies from me, and they’re not sorry either.

Many of my favorite things are holiday-related, because the season seems to act as an amplifier for emotions and reactions.  My favorite date scene in a movie is the shopping/dinner date in the 1994 version of “Miracle on 34th Street.”  My favorite dance scene in a movie is the Vera Ellen/Danny Kaye number at the club in Florida in “White Christmas.”  My favorite shopping day of the year is my annual day at the mall in December with my mom and my little brother.  And although it’s not my absolute favorite food, I absolutely love spending 5 or 6 hours making fruitcake in mid-November from my grandmother’s recipe and soaking the 12-pound cake in bourbon every week so the family can enjoy a little bit of family history at Christmas dinner.

It amazes me when clients ask for last minute drilling the week before Christmas, but I’m much less angry than I am when confronted with unreasonable requests the rest of the year.  And sexist remarks have much less sting when Harry Connick Jr. is singing about Christmas Dreaming in the background.  The happier I am, the stronger I am to take on those who don’t believe in me.

Even if you don’t live in my little glitter-filled, sugarplum-encrusted world, I hope you can find a way to experience some joy in the holidays (FIREFIGHTERS WITH PUPPIES).  Every little bit of happiness makes you stronger, and there’s a lot of stray bliss lying around during the season.

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