Sunday, December 5, 2021

My Life in Paradise Begins…



Melinda Gray

The first time I visited Goodland was just a few short months ago. My mother moved here a year earlier, and insisted I visit soon. So I planned to fly down with my two children, stay with my mom for a month and then return to snow-covered Ohio. My plans went out the window from the moment I woke up on my first morning in Goodland. I knew I would move proverbial mountains to make this paradise my home.

Over the last few years, my mother would visit Goodland, post beautiful pictures online, and swear she was arranging a way to move here. It’s not that I didn’t believe her; we moved around a lot when I was a kid. Still, we never really left Ohio for long, and eventually we always went back. So I knew that if my mother could leave everything she’d known as home and move here, Goodland must be amazing, and I had to see it for myself.

As my month here started to fly by, I saw just how amazing Goodland is. It’s not just the weather that makes this little island paradise so wonderful. It’s the people, the culture and daily life here. The Goodland community is a family, and they welcomed me like a long-lost daughter — finally returned home. Where ever I would go, people would wave and ask how I was. If I needed anything, there was always someone offering to help. I felt like I truly belonged here, and I dreaded leaving.

I started to look for any feasible way I could move to Goodland. I put in a few applications at local businesses and hoped I would get a call before my flight home. It was a gut-wrenching race against the calendar, but the day I received an email from Coastal Breeze, I smiled so much my face hurt. I was set to interview on a Thursday morning and fly home that same evening. I’ve never been so nervous in my life! This 10 minute meeting would determine the course my life would take next. Being asked to write for this newspaper was the best thing I could have hoped for. I left the interview with a plan in place and a smile on my face; I even cried a little.

I studied journalism and political science at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, but had yet to write for any publication long-term. Any job offers I did get usually involved driving 60 miles to and from work, or relocating to another part of Ohio. Winter driving has never been something I enjoy, nor was I even remotely comfortable with it. So I put my college education on the back-burner and worked general labor jobs: the local convenience store, restaurants and even an auto detailing shop. While I enjoyed becoming a “jack of all trades,” I really just wanted to write. It’s what I went to school for; it’s what I love; it’s what I’m good at. So when I say this is my dream-job, I truly mean it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

I flew back to Ohio and immediately started to pack up what I could fit in my car, hoping I could come back for the rest later. Everyday, I was on the phone or on the road trying to transition our lives to Florida. I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, and moving children from what they know is never easy, but they weren’t doing well in Ohio. I expected an adjustment period, but I was also confident they would thrive here. I counted down the days impatiently, and then we made the 21-hour drive to our new home. I can honestly say I’ve never been so happy to spend that much time driving, but with every mile, we were closer to our new start.

My friends and family said things like, “Of course you want to move to Florida, we’re in the middle of winter,” and, “You won’t stay there long. Everything you’ve ever known is here in Ohio.” They were somewhat right on both counts, but I’ve had my fill of multiple feet of snow, frozen car doors and frigid wind chills. I did leave behind family and friends, and it was hard to do — scarier than anything I’ve ever done. I don’t give up easily, though, and I’m here, nonetheless.

I recently got a chance to meet Natalie Strom, and see what she means to Goodland and the people who live here. I have to admit I’m a little intimidated at the thought of trying to fill her shoes. My hope is to get to know everyone here, and represent Goodland as well as she has. I’m looking forward to meeting, and getting to know everyone here. My email address is and I can also be reached at 239-896-0426.


Melinda Gray studied journalism and political science at Youngstown State University in Ohio. Before relocating, she wrote for The Vindicator and The Jambar in Youngstown, and is currently a contributing writer for an emergency preparedness website. Melinda now lives in Goodland with her two children. She can be contacted at or 239-896-0426


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