THE BLOG

Life as a Barometer

12/13/2010 11:47 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This weekend, my husband and I went upstate to belatedly, take our rowboat out of the lake. This is same submerged rowboat that inspired thoughts about the Obama Bailout last year, so naturally, it was not only trapped in a frozen lake (in ice over 3" thick), but was filled with frozen water in addition to being halfway sunk. We were negligent - too many distractions and fun things to do on the weekend - that we forgot about our obligations to take care of the boat before winter.

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How to free the boat? Carefully climb in over the side from an stone outcropping, steadily stand in place with ice pick in hand and crack the interior layer of ice into smaller pieces, gingerly shovel the ice (yes) over the side, quickly bail out the remaining water and dead leaves before leaping back out onto dry land, all the while never losing one's balance or getting too wet.

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The lightened boat rose in the frozen water and was no longer trapped. The next step was to haul it over to the dock to which it was still moored and hoist it up, heave it over onto its side to drain the remaining water and drag it onto land, which we did. It was hard and a good workout as we sweated and peeled off our layers of scarves, hats and coats. In the end, the lake remained frozen, but for the small spot the boat had occupied. The boat, slightly worse for the wear, was stowed safely on land, where it will wait out the winter. The leaky spots will remain untouched until spring - and if we remember, we will have to patch them up. If we forget, we will have to bail ourselves out again.

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Naturally, this escapade reminds me of life in the catering business circa 2010. "You are a leading indicator" - I have been told repeatedly, as the willingness to spend money on entertaining and special events is construed by many as an economic litmus test. No parties would signal a lack of investment on the part of businesses; fear of spending beyond ones means for social clients; concern with optics for those for whom public opinion is a sensitive issue regardless of financial abilities; and overall, a lack of optimism - a boat frozen in the water. (And the leaks, who is thinking about how they will be fixed?)

Such was the case in the fall of 2008 and throughout 2009. This year, there has been a slow and steady creep out of the shadows of secretive and self-conscious (if any at all) entertaining. The ice isn't melting completely, but there are the brave few who are chipping away at it. And occasionally, someone comes along, takes a whack at the frozen landscape and has a really great big party.

It is peak holiday entertaining time - last week and for the next 4 days. What is our observation? Holiday parties have not made a strong return, though they are happening. The universal feature is attention to budget and an innate sense of appropriateness and self-restraint. Companies that have done well recognize the importance and appropriateness of celebrating their employees. Hallelujah for them and for us. Let's break the ice and return to meaningful practice of gathering together with food and drink to thank each other.

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This is also the last call for annual business recognition events and for holiday wedding engagements. All these were packed into our pleasantly hectic calendar this month.

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And between the hundreds of daily meals we cooked, delivered and served, we found time to celebrate amongst ourselves, surprising Dean on his 40th birthday (at long last) and decorating our Hudson Square Connection holiday tree (my first tree ever).

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Our holiday party will be in January - after we have helped everyone else party and after we catch up on our sleep and feel like being a guest again.

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At the end of the day, we share the metaphor of being in the same boat. Stuck in place with fear, fueled by inevitable optimism, the willingness to break the ice and venture into the new landscape in spite of the danger is the trend we are seeing this fourth quarter. Lets keep the balance between the hard lessons we have learned and the need to keep moving forward, investing in better, compassionate and innovative futures. It's a balancing act, like walking on thin ice.

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