November 15, 2004 4:41 PM   Subscribe

My partner has been offered a new position and we've decided to move to Florida. I'm looking for tips, tricks, and warnings from those who have uprooted and moved the whole family. What did you do to survive the move and thrive in your new community?

We have a three year-old and no animals. I don't expect the trip down will be a hassle. They're picking up the cost of moving the furniture. I'm more concerned with finding the right place to live and learning how to socialize in a community of 77,000.
posted by ?! to Travel & Transportation around Florida (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was regularly uprooted growing up due to my father being in the service. Although your child is probably too young to be terribly affected by it yet, my parents always tried to find something consistently available everywhere we lived to get my sister and I involved in (Girls Scouts, gymnastics, Montessori school), so we'd have somewhere to "familiar" to start in each new place.

I would say this could be applied to you and your partner as well. Do you take classes at the Y? Participate in book clubs? Have play-dates with the parents from your child's pre-school? There might be lots of similar activities for you in Florida as there are where you are now, I would seek them out as a way to build a new foundation.

One thing I know my mother always did was set aside a couple afternoons to purposely get herself lost, and try to find her way back home based on increasingly familair landmarks, going farther afield each time. Knowing your surroundings goes a long way to making yourself feel at home!
posted by nelleish at 5:21 PM on November 15, 2004

I regularlly uprooted as a kid too, but I think it helped me more than it hurt me. I got good at meeting and talking to new people, although I did kind of develop an 'alternative' personality through most of grade school.

Make sure you get your child involved in stuff right away, and that you meet the parents of the friends they make through whatever groups you're in. Meet your neighbors, too. It doesn't matter if what you or the kids do is consistent, because even the consistant things vary by region (In PA my Cub Scouts den leader was pretty cool, in CT he was a pedophile) ... but just get him or her doing SOME sort of organized play groups. For yourself, get involved with some sort of community group that's likely to have other transplantees. My mom joined something called "Welcome Wagon" here in Oregon, before that she was always in the PTA. She also formed a Womens Investment club, and when she was older and could stand all of the old biddies, the Garden Club. Your best friends in your new place will likely come from others who've made at least one other big move. These are just examples and may or may not apply based upon gender, of you and your partner, etc.

As far as moving the house and feeling comfortable in the new place ... plan your move so that you get there a few days before your stuff does, and make sure the company pays for a hotel or whatever for those few days. It's a legitamate moving expense. This will allow you time to handle any 'oopsies' with the closing of the house and, more importantly, clean the house and paint yours and the kid's bedrooms and bathrooms without trying to play shell games with the furniture. You will *need* an area that's already "done" to retreat to as you unpack and make the rest of the house your own. And even if you're not the type to paint ... at least slap a fresh coat of white on the walls. It's much better to have a manufactured smell like paint in the house than it is to have someone else's scent.

I agree on the "get lost" thing ... buy a Thomas or ABC guide, whichever is the most available in your area, and get to know your surroundings. It's much easier when a trip to Home Depot doesn't involve hunting for it... and a traffic jam means you can just dart down a side street to your home.
posted by SpecialK at 7:24 PM on November 15, 2004

where in FL?
posted by taumeson at 7:43 PM on November 15, 2004

Response by poster: Lakeland

And thanks for the ideas so far. Who would have thought "getting lost" would be such a good idea?
posted by ?! at 8:01 PM on November 15, 2004

Get a copy of the local newspaper asap and see what's interesting. (I think that's the right paper - I'm from Seminole, not Polk county.)

Figure out how far you're willing to drive for day trips - Orlando, Tampa, beaches, etc. The trick is figuring out what's entertaining for a resident - when attractions like Disney are no longer, um, attractive.
posted by Sangre Azul at 8:38 PM on November 15, 2004

My family and I uprooted a few years ago. We found the library to be a wonderful resource both for us (yum, books) and for our 2 year old (children's area, storytime, etc.) The Lakeland library offers something you might want to look into.
posted by ashbury at 10:29 PM on November 15, 2004

oh god. Lakeland sucks.

move as close to Tampa or Orlando as you can. it's about 30 miles from Tampa, 40 miles from Orlando.

try not to live somewhere where you have to commute on I4. if you have to commute, live on the Orlando side of I4 from lakeland. Lakeland->Tampa on I4 is unbearable.

on the flip side, Lakeland, being stationed between ORL and TPA, is really booming. try your damnedest to live in a new section as the old sections are quite....floridian. nothing like eating at Karl's Kountry Korner to let you know you're in florida. especially as it's frequented by the local law enforcement.
posted by taumeson at 11:08 AM on November 16, 2004

Best answer: This is right up my alley. My family moved to Lakeland when I was 10. My parents still live there so I visit on a frequent basis.

Have you had a chance to visit the town yet?

The south side of town is a nice area to live in. Especially around Lake Hollingsworth, but that's a pretty pricey area. There are good school zones and nice neighborhoods from just south of downtown, around Lake Morton and Lake Hollingsworth and down Cleveland Heights into the Lakeland Highlands area. There are a ton of really nice 20's bungalow houses near the downtown area if you are looking to buy.

Florida Southern College, on the north side of Lake Hollingsworth, boasts the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Definitely worth a visit. You could also pick up a schedule of school music and theater performances if you like that sort of thing. The collage also has an annual "Child of the Sun" jazz festival which is nice to attend. You sit outdoors on blankets, picnic and listen to some awesome music.

I'd agree that the library is also a good resource. Not to sound too geeky, but when I was in jr. high, my friend and I used to go and hang out there and read magazines. Probably because it was the only place her mom allowed her to go. There is a little museum right by the library which I think has youth programs. Once a year (May) there's a big art festival around the Lake Morton, where the library is located. Also right next to the library is this little dinky walk-up food joint named Mr Fish. They have the best damn tater-tots in the whole world.

Shopping: Lakeland is the home of Publix Supermarkets, so no matter where you live there will be a huge super mondo Publix nearby. There's a ton of shopping on the north end of town, including a fair-sized mall, Target, Sam's Club, Barnes & Noble, etc. There is a new mall being built in the southwest part of town (near Harden and the Polk County Parkway) and that's across form the other Target. They are supposedly finally going to build a stadium seat theater there.

Speaking of movies, Lakeland has one of the few remaining Drive-in movie theaters. I highly recommend checking it out just for kicks. I warn you there will be a large redneck contingent there though. And if you like a little movie trivia: a couple scenes from Edward Scissorhands were filmed at the South Gate Shopping center.

Re: Lakeland sucks. Let's face it, Lakeland is a small town and doesn't have the big nightlife scene of Orlando or Tampa. I know for my parents that was a bonus: less opportunities for the kids to get into trouble. I do agree with taumeson that the I-4 commute can be painful, but I've had the worst experience going between Orlando and Lakeland. The plus side is that traffic in Lakeland is no big whoop.

Anyway, there's my brain dump on Lakeland. I hope it helps.
posted by LoraT at 3:12 PM on November 16, 2004

Best answer: I can see that most of the help here has been community-building-centered. Which is good, since that's what you asked for. But I've got some general practical advice about Florida.

My wife and I moved to Fort Lauderdale two and a half years ago from Portland, Oregon. (Corner to corner!) While Lakeland and Fort Lauderdale are about as similar as Paducah and Philly, there are some very common things that all Floridians have to deal with, and I'll try to cover those for you.

1. Humidity: life in Florida, even that far "North," is wet. Every house, every car, every business--literally every inside place--is air conditioned. On the hottest days, even the walk from the house to the car will end with you wet from sweat. Coming from Portland, this was quite a shock. Since it appears that you're moving from Louisville (correct me if I'm wrong), you already have a good frame of reference; imagine the hottest day of the year in Kentucky. Now imagine that hottest day lasting 9 months. There you go.

2. Bugs: because it never gets cold enough to kill off the critters, Florida is an entomologist's wet dream. No matter how nice your house is, no matter how well sealed, don't leave stuff out on the counter for very long. Clean up food messes right away. Etc. Etc. Also, get your house sprayed at least once a year. Maybe twice.

3. Hurricanes: since hurricanes have recently been on everyone's mind for obvious reasons, you probably won't fall into the same trap as my family, but here's a simple tip: find out what the most basic hurricane kit is and make sure you've got said kit put together and ready-to-go ASAP. If it happens to be off-season, even better. Everything will most likely cost you a lot less. In terms of the house, you'll need either pre-fit shutters on the windows (every window), hurricane-rated windows, or plywood that fits every window. Whatever kind of protection you've got, have it put together and ready-to-hang on a moment's notice. The very last thing you want to be doing when a hurricane is on the way is sitting in some line (for hours) at a lumber yard, paying out the nose for wood because the plywood is sold out.

4. Snowbirds: even in a town as small as Lakeland, you'll meet your share of this not-so-rare subset of the human species. Older, generally wealthy, traffic-clogging, and often rude, these folks are also frequently cultured and they boost local economies, even if it's only for a season. There are a lot of pros and cons to having these folks running around in the winter, but whatever you end up thinking of them, they'll be there.

5. East, West, Central, South, DisneyWorld, panhandle, keys: it's a little simplistic for me to define Florida in this way, but the state basically has seven main subsections. You're looking at a West/DisneyWorld location, which means that you'll be balancing a slightly-less-developed-but-still-urban-coastline experience with an everything-is-pink-and-sparkly-clean-and-FUN-FUN-(barf)-FUN experience. The rest of the state you'll discover in your regular "get lost" sessions.

I can best describe my part of the state (South, obviously) in these two ways: first, it's a nice place to visit, but a terrible place to live (if you're me); and second, when someone asked me what I though was South Florida's major cultural contribution to the country, I answered with these two very simple words: "plastic surgery."

One of the best things about the West coast of Florida is the sunset, which happens over the ocean, which is the right way of things. Where we live, the sun rises over the ocean, which is backwards and upside down and I'm still getting used to it.

6. Landscaping: even though the soil is basically a thin layer of decaying leaves on top of sand on top of a slab of rock, stuff grows in Florida like you wouldn't believe. If you buy a house with a lot of plant life in the area, seriously consider hiring a landscaper to tend it. Or prepare yourself for a second full-time job. On the positive side of things, there are a lot of landscapers in Florida, and the heavy competition drives prices down.

7. Landscape: as in, "there is none." Florida is gorgeously lush, but you wouldn't know it by looking right, left, front, or back. If you go over a bridge or end up working on the 2nd floor (or higher) of a building, you'll see how pretty it can be. But don't expect to go up or down any hills for a long while. The area around Lakeland is better than SoFla (it's 45 miles from my house to Miami: the "rise" from here to there is roughly 8 feet) but it's still, in the relative nature of things, a vast flatland. If you're a mountain-lover like me, it's a rough existence. But you're going to be far enough North that it would be easy enough to take a quick trip up to TN or even parts of GA where you can get your elevation fix.

On a trivial side-note, the highest point in Florida is 345 feet, and it's located somewhere in the panhandle. You may want to make a trip of it on your way down!

And one more thing: make sure, in your planning of trips, that you make time for St. Augustine. It's a shining gem of a place, both historical and hip.

There's a whole lot more I could share, but those are the biggies, from my perspective. Enjoy the move!
posted by jeremy at 1:33 PM on November 17, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. When I move you'll see the results of your help.
posted by ?! at 4:01 PM on November 18, 2004

Response by poster: Update!

Well, LoraT, we moved to a place about a block from Florida Southern. We walk and bike the lake almost every day and love it. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

We haven't had any problems with bugs, and the little lizards tickle my daughter every time we go outside.

We head to Tampa every now and then and have even been to Disney once. We haven't made any new close friends, but we don't do a lot of socializing.

nellish: I have my daughter in swimming and tumbling classes and a pre-kindergarden. She loves the socializing. We don't get "lost" often but I do load her in the trailer I pull with my bike and we do some street exploring.

(As an aside: When I took my bike in for new tires the clerk tried to sell me a new bike. He mentioned how useful the gears would be for the "hills." I actually laughed.)

The two biggest changes: the clouds! Living in a river valley I never saw clouds as something to the horizion and 360 degrees around me. And weather comes from all directions..instead of always from the west following the river.

Right now I'm glad we moved. Ask me again when it is time for me to find a job.

Thanks to all for your help.
posted by ?! at 10:47 AM on October 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

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