25°C weather and don't forget the gator at Christmas
THE Christmas tree is decked with decorations and twinkly fairy lights – but it's 25°C outside and, if they're lucky, the Harding family will get a glimpse of the alligator that swims up and down the lake at the bottom of their garden.
Christmas in Florida is quite a contrast from their former life in Bingham for Michelle and Ian Harding and their children Anne-Marie, 15, Erin, seven, and Lewis, three.
After emigrating in May, they will spend their first Christmas on their own as none of their family can make the trip to Florida and because the couple are so busy running their two businesses they didn't have the opportunity to return to the UK. However, they will be keeping their family traditions alive despite the vastly different surroundings.
Michelle, 33, says: "It's sunny and 25°C and this is the cool time of year! We have a lake view from our rear patio which is part of a nature preserve where 'our alligator' swims up and down most days and sometimes comes up the bankside to the screened cage that surrounds our area. We also enjoy watching deer, turtles, herons, cranes, kestrels, hawks, fireflies, warthogs and the occasional bobcat.
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"On Christmas Day we will be having roast turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas movies, walks along some of the 150 miles of trails that Lakewood Ranch boasts..."
For the children, the build-up to Christmas has been similar to the UK except for meeting Santa in the sunshine.
Ian, 43, "We have promised the children that they can spend Christmas Eve in the swimming pool, but on Christmas Day we want to retain the formality and tradition that we experienced growing up. There is no Boxing Day in the USA, but we are keeping the businesses closed to keep our UK traditions alive."
Back in Notts, the family used to visit Rufford Park for the Christmas trail, Aurora illuminations, Santa's grotto and warm up with hot chocolate. Or they'd go skating at the open-air ice rink in Nottingham city centre.
"Our typical Christmas would consist of our parents staying with us, presents, cooking dinner and an enjoyable walk along the linear walkway. On Boxing Day we would normally visit Sherwood Forest with the family and the children would ride their new bikes and scooters along the trails," says Ian, who was a management consultant when living in Bingham.
The family moved to Florida for the weather and amenities but mostly for the laid-back lifestyle on the Gulf Coast.
When the Florida housing market bottomed out in 2010-11, the Hardings sold their home in Bingham and made a down payment on a new build home in Lakewood Ranch near Sarasota. While the house was being built they received a call from Sky TV inviting them to appear on TV show Dream Lives For Sale.
"The show was about buying a business oversees and since we needed to make a business investment to acquire a US visa we thought it would be a good experience and research opportunity," explains Ian, 43.
The show was aired in January 2011 but none of the opportunities at that time ticked all their boxes so they spent the rest of the year searching for a suitable business. After years in the utility industry Ian yearned for a change.
Earlier this year they bought Children's Therapy Works, a business which treats children with special needs, which Michelle now oversees.
After getting their visa in mid-May they moved to Lakewood Ranch a couple of weeks later.
Ian has passed his real estate exam and has set up his own business, www.MyHomeOnTheGulf.com, helping people to find their dream home and business on the Gulf coast of Florida.
Despite their idyllic new lifestyle, the Hardings say they really miss their family and friends.
"We often look back with great memories of Bingham and Notts and the fantastic nine years we spent there. The friends we made there are never forgotten and we all have plans to visit each other in the coming months and years.
"However, we love this new chapter in our life, have already made some great friends and we are absolutely loving the family time that we are now able to have," says Ian.