Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy 2006!

It was our first New Years Eve as full-time Celebration residents, and even though my husband had to work, we managed to have a wonderful time. Poor hubby was tied to his computer until 9 p.m., and then he had to stay close to the phone and keyboard for the rest of the night in case something went awry. That mean we were tied to Duloc Manor, but no matter...we can have plenty of fun around the old homestead.

Actually, we did manage to slip out for a couple of hours for dinner at The Melting Pot. It's a fondue restaurant over in Dr. Phillips, on Sand Lake Road, and it's one of my favorite places for holiday dining. They typically have a special menu for the holidays; for New Years Eve, it featured champagne/Swiss cheese fondue as an appetizer, a special apple/ranch salad, and chocolate chip/mint fondue for dessert. The main course consisted of lobster, jumbo prawns, steak, pot stickers, and chicken.

In honor of the holiday, we also received a gift bag containing a Melting Pot chocolate bar, their famous seasonsed salt, a candle, hand lotion, and a disposable camera. It was funny to see the flashes popping in various parts of the restaurant throughout our meal as people used their gift to record the moment. The meal package also included a champagne toast during dinner.

We arrived a little before 6 p.m., and the restaurant was nearly deserted. By the time we left, an hour and a half later, it was quickly reaching capacity with New Years revelers. The parking lot had turned downright predatory, with people swooping in like hawks to grab the few remaining vacant spots. There are several other eateries in the same strip mall as The Melting Pot, and a couple of them take over big gobs of asphalt real estate for valet parking, so on busy nights things can turn rather rough.

Fortunately, we had beaten the crowd. Now it was off to Celebration, where we'd ring in the New Year at our East Village home base. Even though we had to stay at home, we'd invited some friends to stop over. We ended up having a great time, welcoming 2006 with a champagne while soaking in the hot tub!

We all piled into the spa around 11 p.m., after chatting for a while and indulging in snacks and Kaluha Mudslides, courtesy of the Magic Bullet. It's so rare that an infomercial product lives up to its promises, but the Bullet is a whiz at whipping up frozen drinks. We adjourned out to the hot tub with one hour left to go till the dawn of 2006. We were having so much fun in the hot, bubbly water that we lost track of time and didn't even realize midnight was fast approaching. Fortunately, my husband glanced at his watch and yelled, "Quick! We've only got a few minutes! Run in and grab the champagne!"

I dashed into the house for the chilled bottle of Korbel and some plastic cups (the closest thing we had to flutes, since we tend to live like heathens). Even though none of our watches were in sync, we knew when it was midnight by the wild explosion of firecrackers and bottle rockets. Technically, any firework that leaves the ground or explodes is illegal in Florida, but just like Illinois, there are plenty of loopholes that people blatantly exploit.

When we lived in the Chicago suburbs, it was just a short ride over the Indiana border, where you could get virtually any explosives that you desired. In Florida, the more high-powered fireworks are legal for agricultural and commercial use. In order to buy them, you simply have to affirm in writing that you're going to use them for an allowable use (for example, if you run a fish hatchery, you might set them off to scare away birds). I'm sure that all the explosions going off around us at the stroke of 12 were coincidental...they weren't meant to celebrate, but merely to scare off the owls that like to destroy flower beds and St. Augustine grass.

Besides the local revelery, we could hear the explosion of simultaneous fireworks shows at the Disney theme parks, and we could even see their glow pulsing in the distant night sky. My husband has always wanted to go to Epcot some New Years Eve. Personally, I cringe at the thought of wall-to-wall bodies and of being stuck at the park from morning to midnight (you have to go early because it usually reaches capacity before noon). Someday maybe he'll talk me into it, but for now I was happy with our small-scale celebration. Our nephew and niece-in-law were over at Epcot, so we'll have to get their full report.

We hung out in the spa for another hour or so before breaking up the party. It was a great time, with only one minor panic when hubby dropped part of the champagne bottle top into the filter, but he managed to fish it out before any damage was done. He hadn't received any frantic phone calls, but his ordeal wasn't over yet. He had to start work at 7 a.m. the next morning; we didn't get to bed until 2 a.m., so that meant he'd have to drag his zombie corpse to some measure of consciousness in just five hours.

I was hoping that he'd be done with work in time to accompany me to church, but no such luck. When I woke up around 9:30, he'd already been toiling for two and a half hours, with no end in sight. I know that God set the seventh day aside for rest, but in today's 24/7 society I hope He cuts some slack for those who are stuck with unconventional schedules.

Before church, I made my ritual stop at Barnie's for a coffee cooler. I'm used to my husband's curbside service; I usually pull up near the front and wait in the car while he runs in. Today I had to find a parking spot and run in for my own morning treat. I parked midway between the coffee shop and Community Presbyterian, figuring that I could use the exercise. The weather was so gorgeous...sunny and warm, just the kind of day that reminded me why I live in Florida. It was a picture-perfect day to kick off 2006.

I had half-expected the church crowd to be lighter than usual, due to the previous night's partying. Amazingly, the sanctuary was packed with people. I wondered how many among them had made a New Years resolution to attend services more regularly. Of course, some might have been refugees from the 8:30 service who needed a bit of extra sleep.

Years ago, I used to see church as an obligation, not something to be enjoyed. Now, I look forward to it, and it's become an integral part of my week. We are blessed with gifted pastors who weave complicated Bible passages into understandable, relevant messages. Community Presbyterian was the first church we attended in Celebration, and we never felt the need to look any further.

As the service ended, I was pleased to see that we were closing with a verse of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." We do that pretty frequently, and I love it because it's the perfect note on which to head forth into the day. Here are the lyrics:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flow'rs before Thee
Op'ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day.

As I lifted my voice with my favorite closing hymn, I realized that it was even more appropriate...a perfect song for starting 2006. As I headed out of church, I couldn't imagine feeling any sadness and doubt. Here I was, living in Florida, right next door to Disney World, in good health, with a loving, supportive spouse, standing on the cusp of another 365 days of adventure. I indeed felt filled with the light of day.

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