We spent the last two days in Melbourne, Florida, staying with Fran and Dave and visiting Harriet, Buddy and Stacey – all members of my extended family, relocated from New Jersey down to Florida.  For those of you who do not know, I was an exchange student for a year with a family in West Orange, New Jersey when I was 16.  It was a year that changed my life in so many ways and most of all I was so very lucky to be hosted by a family where the matching process was incredibly successful.  We have stayed in very close touch down the 46 years since then, going back and forth across the Atlantic, through happy and tragic times.  I very much count them as family, more than friends and indeed, seeing them is a big part of why we are here in Florida this autumn.  Harriet, my “mom”, the matriarch of the family is now 87 and a frailer shadow of the incredible, vibrant tour de force I have known all these years.

So, yesterday we drove the hour’s trip from Orlando to Melbourne, on the coast near Cape Canaveral, to Fran and Dave’s house.  They are still recovering a bit from the hurricane, waiting for their roof to be repaired and the screens around their lanai pool.  But no matter, their hospitality is legendary and we were immediately swept up into their social whirl of fellow New Jersians who have migrated south to the sun in Florida now that they are retired.

First, we visited Harriet in her assisted living community, which was very, very nice and rather like the Barchester home that my own mum lived in for the last 6 years of her life.  We scooped her up and brought her back to Fran’s and then had a great bbq party, with other friends joining us for the evening.  It was a good night.  I tried to be good but there was red wine and cheese.  Good cheese as opposed to the normal plastic American cheese.  So… I did eat some….

This morning I had tours of various homes down here and was amazed at what you can buy for the price in Florida.  So much cheaper than the UK, and much more supply of homes of all sorts too.  Then, Fran and I went off shopping and Bob went to play golf with Dave and his friend, Randy.

I have to confess now, a lifetime amusement at the American name, Randy.  I simply can’t help it when I hear Bob say things like “Are you Randy?”  or “You must be Randy”.  I have to crease up.  It’s very immature I know…..  but made all the more delicious by the fact that no one here has the slightest inkling that there’s anything untoward in the saying.

So, Bob really enjoyed his golf and Fran and I had a good fuddle around various discount stores like TJ Maxx… I bought a few more Xmas presents.  Then we met up with the chaps at a tiki bar on the water’s edge.  It was Randy’s birthday today and he was definitely on the wrong side of a few cocktails by the time we arrived!!!!  We had a good time in the bar and then headed off to another waterside restaurant called On the Rocks for dinner.  By then, we had gathered more friends and we were 11 for dinner.  I had a blackened shrimp dinner and Fran had crab cakes and we shared.  Delicious!  A very delightful evening and lots of laughs.

We headed back to Orlando at about 10, after a false start due to my leaving my laptop at Fran’s and having to return for it.  Look forward to seeing the gang again soon.