Saturday, August 21, 2004

Happy Anniversary

We finally made it back home to Celebration, just in time to celebration our one year anniversary. Hard to believe that we've owned our house for twelve full months now. Seems like only a month or two ago that we were just getting ready to close and were in the whirlwind process of setting up furniture deliveries, juggling utility hook-ups, and praying that we could find a company willing to sell us home insurance. It felt strange to beg insurance companies to take our money.

Up north, the insurance companies fight to sell you a policy, but in the Land Of Hurricanes it can be a real challenge. Our problem was that we were honest about the fact that we'd be commuting back and forth from another home for a year or two. Once we revealed that, all of the companies wanted to classify us as a vacation rental, even though I'd rather walk over hot coals and broken glass barefoot, with bamboo shoots stuck under my fingernails and nails stuck in my nostrils, than rent out my home to hordes of destructive vacationers. That's not even allowed in Celebration; I know there are many other areas where people buy properties strictly to lease them out, but we bought our house to be our home. It makes no difference to us that we are stuck commuting 1500 miles every couple of weeks, but apparently it makes a lot of difference to insurers.

But we did finally find an insurer and get everything else sorted out. It all came together on August 21, 2004, and we became the proud owners of our modest but beloved Celebration home. And now, one year later, it had survived the seasonal onslaught of love bugs, nearly catching on fire from a screwed up connection at the electric meter, an endless parade of service personnel trying to fix our endlessly screwed up furniture, and, most frightening of all, the wrath of Hurricane Charley.

Celebration was actually spared the worst of Charley's fury. Sure, we lost a lot of trees, and many people had roof shingles and soffits blown off, but that's nothing compared to those who lost entire homes, and even their lives, in other parts of the state. As I type this blog entry, a news scroll on Fox 35 says that the hurricane's death toll has risen to 25.

When my husband and I landed at Orlando International Airport Friday night, we were stunned to see most of the ceiling tile missing in the A terminal. The seating areas were all roped off, and we could see that the repair effort is going to be massive.

We haven't bought a car in Florida yet, so we rent one while we are home. At Avis, there was a severe car shortage caused by the fact that many people who couldn't get flights last week simply drove their rentals home. That is compounded by the gasoline shortage in some areas. People can't find a station to fill up their car before returning it, so the onsite rental companies have to take them to be gassed up before they can go back out. Even though there was no line at the counter, we waited in the garage half an hour for a car to be brought from the gassing/servicing area.

By the time our car showed up and we got on the road, the witching hour had arrived and it was now officially our anniversary day. As we drove on 417 towards Celebration, we could see some of the tree damage even in the dark. It was more apparent when we arrived in town, although many of the fallen trees had been righted and propped up with stakes. I was heartbroken when we arrived at the street by our alley, where the new condominiums are being built. There was a park across the street from the condos, shaded with a canopy of green from many old, original trees that had been saved during the development process. Now, most of them had tumbled like a child's toys.

The next day we went biking around town, and we were amazed at the number of felled trees through every village. It wasn't just the small, recently planted trees that hadn't had a chance to root deeply yet. Many of the older giants had been pushed over or even snapped off like toothpicks. Later, we went driving down Celebration Boulevard toward World Drive, and the palm trees lining both sides of the street had tumbled quite literally like dominoes.

During our bike trip, we stopped downtown to enjoy some iced coffee from Barnies, and we decided to grab a quick lunch at Market Street Cafe. It wasn't too busy, but some sort of silent signal must have gone out over the airwaves. As we approached, so did literally five or six other groups of people. Four of them walked in literally right in front of us, and the rest behind. It was funny to see so many people apparently get the urge to eat at the cafe right at the same time. My husband had a hankering for a burger, but one of the daily specials tempted him away. It was spinach and mushroom quesadillas, and I'd admit they were wonderful! They tasted almost like spinach dip served up on flour tortillas. But I didn't suffer too badly with my usual chili cheese nachos.

For dessert, we headed over to the grand opening of Cold Stone Creamery at at the new Water Tower Place shopping center. They had passed out free coupons to Celebration residents, but we decided to save that until later. The store had pledged its first day profits to Give Kids the World, so we figured it would be best to pay cash (a free coupon is zero percent profit!). Cold Stone takes their home made ice cream and mixes in your selection of an array of delicious accompaniments, like candy, nuts, fruit, and/or marshmallows. Mmmmmmm!

Then, we took a drive down 192 to the old section of Kissimmee to see for ourselves all the destruction we'd heard about. The farther away from Celebration we got, the worse the damage seemed to be. First, we saw a lot of downed and destroyed signs. Then, we started seeing roofs partially destroyed. As we continued down the street, the partial damage turned into entire roofs covered by makeshift tarps. Eventually we turned into Kissimmee and headed to the old downtown area. Our mouths dropped open in horror as we saw boarded up stores and severely damaged buildings, many of which did not appear to be salvageable. The people still had a sense of humor; the old movie theater marquee proclaimed: "Now Playing: Gone With the Wind."

We went a little farther before finally turning around to head back home, and we saw homes that didn't appear to have their power back yet. Roofs and porches were destroyed and trees had toppled over onto buildings, where they still remained.

If someone had bet me last year that we would see a hurricane of this magnitude before we had even owned our home for a year, I would have taken them up on it. Now, I know just how vicious the storms can be, even this far inland. I'm just thanking God that we got off so easy. I wish we could be in town full-time to help with all the volunteer efforts that have sprung up in Celebration to help neighbors in other towns. At least we were able to help by sending donations. If you want to help a great cause, consider making a donation to "Give Kids the World" by clicking here. This resort, which helps grant the wishes of terminally ill children who want to visit Disney World, sustained heavy damage in the hurricane. They can use any assistance to get up and fully running again.

While we were driving home from our Field Trip of Horrors, the skies opened for a typical Florida summer monsoon. I still haven't gotten used to driving 90 percent blind in a solid wall of rain, but this time it wasn't so bad because traffic was barely moving. A combination of the storm and construction had slowed things down to a crawl, so I just stayed in the far right lane and focused on the taillights in front of me until the storm finally let up.

When we finally made it back to Celebration, we discovered that the accompanying wind had toppled many of the trees that had been righted so meticulously. Many were blocking the roads, including the one in front of our house. I am attached to our little tree, that has graced the front of our house ever since it was built, but I'm afraid that this second shock might have been too much for it. My husband and I managed to get it upright, but unfortunately it wouldn't stay in position. Finally we just gave up and moved it out of the street, lying it carefully in the grass.

Originally there was an outing planning for the night of Aug. 21, but Charley has disrupted the normal social flow of the town. Instead, my husband and I decided to celebrate our first anniversary by heading over to Disney World and dining at Jiko, one of my favorite Disney restaurants. There are two restaurants at the Animal Kingdom Lodge; Boma is a buffet, and Jiko is a very upscale sit-down eatery. I love the food, which has an African flair. I am in a rut and almost always order a selection of appetizers as my meal. My favorites are the beef rolls with banana sauce and the lamb rolls with mint sauce, although the tomato/cucumber salad with watermelon dressing is always a good, light option. After our meal, we traditionally walk out onto the savannah to see if any animals are around. On this night, we saw lots of hooved creatures, including giraffes, zebra, and wildebeests.

All in all, it was an excellent celebratory meal. Afterwards, we debated capping the night with a viewing of Fantasmic at Disney-MGM, Illuminations at Epcot, or the Wishes fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. But sloth won out, and we simply headed home to call it an early night. Now my husband is upstairs working, and I am downstairs blogging when I really should be working on my travel agency website. I have a part-time travel agent business that specializes in Disney cruises and Disney World/Orlando/Kissimmee vacations. You can view my business website at After almost 40 Disney cruises and too many trips to Disney World to count, I like to consider myself something of an expert.

It's been quite a year, but I can honestly say that no matter what, I've never once regretted our spontaneous decision to by a home in Celebration. Looking back, it's amazing to me that we made that decision with absolutely no pre-planning. No financial plan, no job plan...nothing more than love-at-first-site with a little town that we had just visited on a lark. Sounds crazy, I'll admit, but if it was some form of insanity, then neither my husband nor I have come to our senses yet.

I guess I do have one regret, and that is the fact that we are not in Celebration full time. Sure, we get home at least twice a month, but it's still not the same as having our primary roots in my beloved new hometown. My only wish as the day of our first anniversary draws to a close is that when we celebrate number two, we do it while living here full time.

You can visit my Celebration website at Email me with any questions or comments at

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