Thursday, December 25, 2008

An Unseasonably Warm Christmas

This year was the sort of Christmas that reminded me why we moved to Florida. Here in Celebration the days have been unseasonably warm, with temperatures flirting around in the 80s. Back in Chicago, where most of my family is stuck, the weather is bitter and vicious and the streets are coated with ice. For the last few days, the news has been full of horror stories about stranded holiday travelers. Granted, northern winters are never a treat, but this year seems to be much worse than usual.

In Celebration, the only thing I can complain about is a nasty cold that overtook me just in time for the holiday. It struck me down with a head stuffed with snot and a nasty, ragged cough. We didn't have major plans anyway. For Christmas Eve, we just planned to have a nice dinner at the Columbia Restaurant downtown, then pop over to the 7:30 p.m. church service. We usually go at 11 p.m. because there's something so magical about ending the service at midnight with everyone holding candles and singing "Silent Night," but this year, in my peaked condition, the earlier service sounded more appealing. There were 3 and 5 p.m. services too, but by 7:30 I figured it would be dark enough for the candles to have their full effect.

I thought that the Columbia was going to have a special holiday menu, but it turned out to be the regular fare. That was fine with me, as I always enjoy their Spanish/Cuban-style food. Hubby and I ended up splitting a salad, and I had mahi-mahi for dinner. The restaurant was packed to the gills, and the streets were crowded elbow-to-elbow with tourists waiting for the soapy snowfall. Every hour, from 6 to 9 p.m., "snoap" falls on Market Street from Thanksgiving weekend through New Years Eve. Even though I've seen it a million times, it's still fascinating to watch the people dance in bubbly flurries that smell like Ivory Soap.

Since we got done eating fairly quickly, we walked down Front Street to see if we had time for a horse-drawn carriage ride. Unfortunately the wait was long, so we hiked back to the church. As we walked down Celebration Avenue, we noticed a stocking dangling down onto the sidewalk. A family in the condos above were handing out candy canes to the passers-by. Hubby chucked and said, "Only in Celebration!"

It's a good thing we got to church early, as the service was so packed that the people spilled over into the expansion room. Even though there was no communion at 7:30, I was pleased because it featured the handbell choir during the offeratory. I just love bells, so even with my ears feeling like they were stuffed with cotton due to the congestion, I still reveled in the tinkling tones.

I was worried about hacking through the service, but I soon discovered that I wasn't alone. I was merely one small part of a cacophony of coughs that cropped up throughout the sanctuary.

After the service, we stopped at Starbucks so I could sooth my raw throat with a nice, cold iced gingerbread latte. The line stretched back almost to the door, but thankfully it moved quickly. By this time, it was nearly 9 p.m. and people were waiting for the very last snoap-fall of Christmas Eve. We skipped the revelry and headed back home; I'd had enough of the crowd to last me for the evening.

The next day we had booked hot rock massages at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. we figured we'd have a nice spa treatment, then gamble for a bit, returning to Celebration for a 4 p.m. dinner at the Mona Lisa hotel restaurant. It sounded like a good plan...but it wasn't to be. We found the casino easily, thanks to the wonders of Onstar. In Illinois, when you're nearing a casino there are signs every ten feet till you get there. In Tampa, you'd never even know that the Hard Rock is there because there is no sign at the I-4 exit and no directional signs as you approach. We got lost last time we visited, but this time Onstar guided us right up to the parking garage.

We trudged through the casino and over to the spa, where the receptionist said, "Oh, we wanted to call you but we couldn't find your number." (Duh! I have it to them when I booked the treatments, plus we're listed in the phone book.) "We only have one therapist, so we can only give one of you a massage." Hubby offered to let me take it, but that just didn't seem like a nice, Christmasy thing to do. Besides, I figured that my nose would be dripped and distract me from the relaxation. We opted for neither one of us to have a treatment and figured we'd just start our gambling early.

We both played "Jackpot Party," our favorite slot machine. At one point I would have been up by $60 if I'd simply cashed out, but I ended up giving it back and spending my whole allotment. Hubby quit before he spent all of his, opting to use the rest for lottery tickets. When we first arrived, the casino was sparsely populated, but by the time we left the crowds had arrived. Everybody must have been running over with the money Santa left in their stockings.

Gambling is okay, but I never get too overly excited about it because it was legal in Illinois for years before we came to Florida. It's a novelty when you can't readily do it, but when you live near a casino it's just another expensive activity. Also, because the Hard Rock is owned by the Seminole tribe, it's exempt from Florida's no-smoking laws so I can only stand it in small doses. Fortunately my coughing, hacking and horking of snot kept most of the smokers at bay until it got really crowded. Whenever someone would approach the machine next to me with a cigarette dangling from their lips, I'd work up the grossest, wettest hork I could muster, punctuated with some deep, rattling coughs. That tended to send them in search of safer, less germy climates.

After our minor financial scalping, we returned to Celebration for our Christmas meal. We were running early, so we decided to stop at Walgreens to pick up some pseudoephedrine. I had bought some phenylephrine the day before at Publix, and it didn't work nearly as well. I did some internet research after take some with no noticable effects and found that it's essentially worthless. Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine is kept behind the pharmacy counter at Walgreen's because it can be used to manufacture meth, and when we arrived at the closest Walgreen's we discovered that the pharmacy was closed for Christmas. We headed off to a 24 hour Walgreen's...same thing. Ugh! We stopped at a rinky-dink tourist supermarket, and my hopes soared when I saw that they had the sinus drugs stored behind the counter. Turns out they were just being overaly paranoid and were protecting the worthless phenylephrine-based products. I resigned myself to an evening of dealing with a faucet nose.

We returned to Celebration and popped into the Mona Lisa, where we were seated at a table with a lovely view of the pool. The holiday meal choices were turkey or prime rib, and we both opted for tradition. The stuffing was so wonderfully spiced, and the turkey was stuffed with some sort of cheese (I think...whatever it was was delicious). There was a salad with poached pears and Boursin cheese as a started and creme brulee and a yule log for dessert. The desserts where such a lovely work of art that I almost hated to dig in my spoon.

After dinner we headed home, where I fielded phone greetings from our poor, freezing Chicago relatives and caught the last part of the last showing of "24 Hours of A Christmas Story." Another Christmas was drawing to a close, and it had been a good one despite my annoying cold. Next up: New Years Eve. Hopefully my disease will be gone by then, and if not, I'll make sure that I keep a healthy supply of pseudoephedrine on hand.

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