Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's Snowing in Celebration!

Celebration had their official tree-lighting ceremony last night. The town was absolutely packed!


The kids (and dogs!) went nuts in the 'snow'...OK so it was soap...


Santa came in to light the tree riding a horse and carriage...


The ice skating was a big hit - OK so it was plastic...good job too since it's still in the high seventies in Florida!


Now we just need to get the decs out at home and Christmas can officially begin...my favorite time of the year :)

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Jen and Rich hosted another perfect Thanksgiving again this year :)


The girls had a blast playing with Declan who is already running around everwhere!


Rita loved her birthday gift - a framed picture from her confirmation day :)


Jen and Rich relaxing - I love this picture of them...


Mya did a fine job of the place settings...


With so much food to put out it seems like forever until you can dive in and fill your plate. Some people just couldn't wait any longer apparently and tried to hide the evidence....so busted Mike...


The whole family!!!


Now it's time for a cuddle and a snooze...


Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

Urban Exploring in Orlando...

There are more than a few curious places to visit in the Orlando area! We found some great websites full of information about local abandoned and offbeat tourist attractions, like: Roadside America, Weird U.S., and Florida's Lost Tourist Attractions. Just down the road a few miles from Celebration we found the now closed and very creepy 'Jungleland Zoo' which still has the world's second largest alligator statue in the parking lot...


And we couldn't resist a drive over to downtown Kissimmee to find the 'Monument of States.' This creation was the vision of Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis, who wanted a physical symbol of American unity in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack on the United States. He wrote letters to every governor and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to send him local rocks to feature in his monument. The donations arrived in a variety of formats - blocks of native granite, chunks of quartz, small boulders, fossils, hunks of old buildings. One contributor even sent a human skull! We thought it was pretty cool...


Fun stuff for a Sunday afternoon :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Big News from the Earlys!!!

Big news!! We have moved! For the first time in 11 years! After 8 blissful months as a 'domestic goddess' I have been offered a phenomenal job working for Disney - ironic since that's where Mike and I met :). Mike had been looking for a new location to add a new branch for his company anyway so we decided to find a house in a nice neighborhood close to Orlando where: I could get to work easily, Mike could continue to work with his Tampa team while he is building his new office, and Maddy had a great school within walking distance of home. Since we had only a weekend to find a house (!), we decided to rent one for a year which would give us chance to get to know the Orlando area better and sell our old home in Tampa until we decide where exactly we want to live more permanently. We knew of the town of Celebration from a vacation a couple of years ago (old blog link here!) and we thought that would be a fun place to live for a while so we found a fantastic townhome just minutes from downtown and Maddy's school and here we are!

Celebration (website here) is a master planned community about 7 miles from the Magic Kingdom. It was originally built by Disney and now has a population of about 10,000 residents. It looks like a bit like a movie set, is often compared with the Stepford Wives and was voted one of America's prettiest neighborhoods by Forbes Magazine (link here!). I always saw the sign on I-4 and didn't realise that it was actually a town!


There really is a Wisteria Lane in Celebration...;)


We moved the weekend after Halloween. It was really difficult leaving Tampa after we have been so happy there for so long and we will particularly miss having Jen, Rich and Mya just around the corner :(. To make matters worse, the timing of the move all went a bit pear-shaped and the movers arrived before the painters were done and the new carpets were in. After 48 hrs of virtually no sleep and Mike losing a fingernail (ouch), the dust was finally starting to settle just as Maddy started her new school on the Monday. She was very nervous during her first walk to her new school :)...


She met a new BFF also called Maddy (and who happens to be English!) on her first day. I stayed home for the first week and attended to important matters like spray painting porch chairs...porches are very important in Celebration...


One of the great things about living close to O-Town is that it will be much easier to meet up with friends who are here on vacation. On our first week here I was able to meet up after 20 years with my old college buddy, Mike and meet his gorgeous family! By Thursday I was ready for our first house guest - the lovely Linda from Salamanca, Spain. We had a gorgeous tapas lunch at Celebration's Columbia restaurant and took pictures of the neighborhood.


Even the bank is cute!


Friday was Veteran's Day so Maddy was happy to have the day off after a very tiring first week at school. We decided to spend the day finding out where the local shopping action is and making sure that my debit card works at all of our favorite places. Thankfully it did - I know Mike will be as relieved as we were;). After a lovely shop we went for a walk into town where they were setting up for Founder's Weekend - Celebration's 15 year birthday party!

Here's Maddy outside our new house where a horse and carriage actually passes by and you can see the Disney fireworks from the bridge!


Some guy with a plane was writing religious messages in the sky...


Lake Rianhart is in the middle of town so we decided to walk the 1/2 mile around to get a view of the town from the other side...


We saw that they were setting up a lot of really big fireworks for the Founder's Weekend party :)


On Friday night there were booths from all of the local organizations so it was a great way to meet some locals and find out about what goes on in the town...


In Mike's world, you can't beat a party with a spinny wheel and prizes...


We discovered Kilwin's icecream which is totally deadly...


And Mike found the Town Tavern...roh roh...


In the morning we had an old fashioned family breakfast...


And even joined in on the annual town photo!


Maddy was not amused by Mike's "bunny ears" antics...


The plane guy did his thing again...


There are over 26 miles of trail throughout the neighborhood  so we went for another walk to check out some of the fancy houses...

 

Look at their pool!!


There's only so much perfection that the Early family can handle so we decided to get off the beaten track and do some urban exploring for a bit. We had heard rumors of a local theme park that had been abandoned for the last ten years so we headed out to Kissimmee for a Saturday afternoon adventure...

Splendid China was a $100,000,000 theme park which opened in 1993 on 76 acres just West of the main entrance to Disney World. It was filled with accurate scale models of China's landmarks, and also offered acrobatic, culinary and dance entertainment. The miniatures included replicas of The Great Wall of China (this version was half of a mile long and built brick by brick), and The Leshan Grand Buddha Statue (in 1/8th scale), and more than 50 others representing the diversity of cultures within the region.

The park ran into trouble when protestors claimed that Florida's Splendid China was a tool for propaganda rather than entertainment (the owners allegedly had financial ties to the Chinese government). Park critics charged that depictions of Tibet's Potala Palace, Mongolian Yurts, and other landmarks from other cultures as being within China were attempts to legitimize Chinese Communist occupation of formerly independent areas, and that the multiplicity of religious sites gave a false impression of religious and cultural tolerance within China when those religions were being oppressed. To make matters even worse, many of the park's performers fled to seek political asylum in the States once they arrived in Florida.

As the park deteriorated in the Florida sun, the once President of the attraction, attempted to negotiate a sale of the park in 2000, but was recalled to China and placed under house arrest, in part because of allegations of financial mismanagement from his handling of the attraction. In 2002 the Orlando Business Journal called Splendid China "the theme park equivalent of a ghost town" and in 2003, the park closed for good. For several years vandals and trespassers ran rampant in Splendid China, many of whom posted videos of their exploits on youtube.

This was once the main entrance...


There are heavy fines for trespassing but you can see some cool stuff through the gaps in the wall around the park...


We managed to resist the urge to jump the fence but in case you're as curious as we are, here's a link to one of the many videos of what's behind that wall...

Video of Splendid China back in the day...




Fascinating stuff...
 
In the evening we went to the 'Taste of Celebration' party and enjoyed the food and fireworks. They were absolutely spectatular and lasted for over 20 minutes! I'm pretty sure we're going to hear this tune more than a few times over the next year...
 
video

Again, already? Really??!!

video

We ended the weekend with a 10K in the morning (running stuff here) and some more urban exploration in the afternoon...but I'll save that for next time...For now, we need some rest if we are going to be able to keep up with this town and I have work tomorrow!