Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas at HOME

After living abroad for 6 months, our only wish for Christmas was to be at home.

Upon arriving home on Monday late afternoon after a splendid belated birthday dinner at Outback, we FINALLY drove up the drive way to our house.

Our home stood in its beautiful 2 story yellow vinyl splendor welcoming us back to Indiana.
Each of us expressed our excitement in our own way - Rob opened the fridge and with sheer joy announced, "COKE; BACON!" I walked around the house ready to hug the furniture while taking in all of our decorations. Madison raced up the stairs straight for her room and with a shout of excitement exclaim, "My Bed! My Lion King Sheets!" Meanwhile, Lillian gazed around the rooms as if in a strange world with perplexed look on her face, as if say, "We're not in Kansas anymore."

The first thing on The List (of course there had to be a list) was to put up the Christmas trees (yes, plural) and prepare the house for Christmas. Maybe it is a girl thing or maybe it is living where there is potential for snow but Christmas is not Christmas for me without a tree and decorations.

That evening and the following day was filled with decorating, unpacking and settling in to our life back home.

Rob was even able to go to the airport and release our boxes from Customs and bring them home with help from Pa and Joe. Of course, our life would not be normal without something breaking and we discovered our dishwasher was completely shattered. So, a quick trip to Lowe's gave us a new dishwasher that was delivered in an hour! With more help from Pa an Joe, our house was fully functional before the holidays.

Christmas Eve came quickly and we enjoyed attending the 7:30 family service at John Knox with my parents. The girls looked beautiful in their matching Christmas dresses from Grammie and Grampie.

That night we slept in our own beds and enjoyed our first Christmas morning EVER in our own
home. The girls were greeted with by their new chairs and stockings of gifts as we came down the stairs Christmas morning.

Madison was thrilled to receive her two requests: Rainbow Fairy books and a new Belle!

She was also excited to have her very own movie chair with her name on it to watch DVD's and a Minnie Mouse from Disneyland Paris.

Lillian seemed to enjoy unwrapping her gifts- at least until she freed her first scrap of paper, at which point she would cease trying to unwrap the gift and simply eat the paper she freed.

She also seems to enjoy her chair and especially loves her new cuddle Lion. (P.S. on the hat... We have found out Lillian's head is at the 90th percentile, so her clothes are too big for her and her hats are too small!)

After a breakfast of homemade waffles, we drove to Nana & Pa's house to spend Christmas with Nana, Pa, Omi, Opi, Aunt Beffie, and Uncle Sean. We enjoyed a lovely lunch of prime rib, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, red cabbage and waldorf salad.

While we each received several smaller gifts, our family gift this year was tickets to see the Broadway musical Lion King on the 26th. It was a great show and it was wonderful to see it all together as a family.

Happy Holiday's to everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in Florida

We arrived in Florida (safely) at 6:15 Wednesday evening. It had been a long day of travel- leaving for the airport at 8am English time and traveling back to our home country.

We met friends for dinner in Miami and then caravan back to Naples, FL with Rob's mom (we followed her home). The car trip took a little over two hours.

Our heads hit the pillow some time around 12:15 am only to awaken at 7am! (In England it would have been Noon- gotta love the time difference).

Thursday was spent running errands and re-acquainting ourselves with life in the US. Lunch of course was Wendys chicken snack wraps- not nearly as good as I remembered.

We were all excited to see the family and spend time with Grammie Ellie, Grampie Bob and Aunt Abby.

Boy can you see the family resemblance!

Friday was a leisurely day around the house, including an afternoon in the pool (at least for Madison). It was the perfect way to fill the time before the rest of the family arrived for dinner.
Of course, no swimming is complete without Daddy chucking Madison into the water (usually against her will)

Are you ready?

Here you go!

In the water with a splash!

Smiling when it was all done!

Even Lillian enjoyed watching her sister swim.

It was decided as a family that we would celebrate Christmas a bit differently this year.. Instead of the traditionally exchanged gifts, large meal, and endless visiting with extended family.
We went back to the basics and celebrated the first annual THANKSMUS!
It was a time not about expensive gifts, or any gifts really but rather a time to gather with loved ones and share a delicious meal together.

The girls received matching Christmas dresses, jammies, bears, and games to play from Grammie Ellie and Grampie Bob and Uncle Caleb of course got new matching Gator t-shirts for the girls to wear. It was a simple but perfect Christmas.

Dinner was a delicious smoked turkey and included sides of green bean casserole, corn casserole, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and lots of cookies and sweets for pudding.
Everyone helped make the meal special and yummy.

We were joined by Grandpa, Grammie Ellie and Grampie Bob, Aunt Abby, Eric, Uncle Caleb, Susanne, Cousins- Margaret and her husband James and their 3 daughters. It was a delicious meal and a perfect way to celebrate together.

Even Lillian enjoyed the smoked turkey- she prefers a wing!

After dinner we enjoyed cookies and coffee while visiting with our loved ones.

Saturday came all too soon and we load our suitcases, gifts, and dirty laundry into our rental car to make our trek toward Tampa. (Rob thoroughly enjoyed showing off the all new loaded Chevy Malibu)

No visit to Naples would be complete without stopping in to see Grandpa and having home-made ice cream from Royal Scoop in Bonita.

Our 2 and a half hour trip to Tampa was uneventful and had us rolling into Pop's house just in time for dinner.

Steaks on the grill have never tasted better. Served with a baked potato and Caesar salad it was fabulous.

Uncle Caleb joined us for dinner.

With our stomachs full we piled into the car again for the short trip to Kohls. We were on a hunt for Pops Christmas present- new clothes.
Shopping with 3 men is rather entertaining but if nothing else they were quick and efficient.

Then back home to watch Get Smart while the girls headed to bed.
Sunday we attended Pops new church where we enjoyed a childrens program about Christmas and cheered as Pops officially became a Lutheran. We were warmly greeted by all and enjoyed being there to support Pops on his newest adventure.

Lunch was with Uncle Caleb and Susanne at their condo were we enjoyed a home-made Italian feast made by Susanne- kudos to a fabulous meal. Then it was time for an afternoon of Guitar Hero.

With Caleb and Susanne safely on their way to North Carolina, the 3 Sparkman's enjoyed a quiet evening of packing and relaxing to prepare for our final trip HOME. Rob got to escape for a couple hours by sharing a few pints of Guinness with Uncle Al.

An uneventful morning and an on time flight delivered us safely back to Indiana. Pa picked us up from the airport and we joined Nana, Omi, and Opi for a belated birthday dinner at Outback before finally arriving at our house (Mmm... Bloomin' Onion!). It is just as big and wonderful as I remembered.

Our 6th month journey abroad had officially come to an end but it only leaves room for new journeys to begin.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Beach Fun

Christmas in Florida would not be complete without spending time at the beach.

After the dreary overcast weather across the pond, the sunny, blue skies were a piece of heaven.

It was amazing to be back on SANDY beaches, feeling the warm breezes of the Gulf and experiencing Lillian's first waves, just as I had taken Madison when she was 8 months old.

We ended our beach visit by pausing to create our footprints in the sand- a favorite thing of mine that Rob grudgingly accommodates.
This time as I admired our individual and unique imprints it gave me pause to reflect on how many people in England have left a "footprint" in our life and memories. Oh the blessings we received these past 6 months- some expected and some not. We were truly lucky to have the experiences and adventures that we had and to have so many wonderful people to share in our journey.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Homeward Bound

Today is our last night in jolly England.

It has been an amazing 6 months for our family.

Thanks for sharing in our escapades.

We have a weeks holiday in Florida and then home again to Indiana in time for Christmas.

Keep checking the blog... you never know what adventures are in store for the Sparkmans!

Love to all!

Merry Christmas.

Farncombe Farewell

It was sad to leave our Farncombe friends to head back home.

To ease the separation, we had one last get together- Mums and daughters.

The girls enjoyed painting friendship mugs- each girl painted a small picture on all of the mugs and then each girl took a mug home to remember their friends.

For tea the girls topped their own pizzas and enjoyed lovely biscuits and squash juice.

And a final picture together to remember the time they shared!

The mums (Becky, Lorraine, Julia, Lisa, and Siobhan) chatted and reminisced over the months with their American friends.

With tearful hugs, we returned to the flat for our final evening in our flat.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Born in a Barn- Christmas Program

Farncombe Church of England Infant and Nursery School
"Born in a Barn"

Featuring: Madison Sparkman as the Donkey

Born in the Barn is the story of the events of the first Christmas told through the eyes of the animal residents of a very special stable.

The animal residents (the cows, pigs, cat, birds, dogs) are surprised by the arrival of a donkey and wonder why SHE is in their barn.

Through her own little solo- Donkey explains that she carried the baby to the barn with Mary and Joseph and that he is the Savior.

All of the animals along with the shepherds, wise men, inn keepers, angels, and musicians share in the excitement of a new king and share their joy through 8 fun filled songs.

It was a great performance!
Congratulations Donkey Madison. Well Done!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Second to Last Weekend in England

It was our second to last weekend in England and we decided to spend it with friends.
Both girls had been sick since the previous weekend with ear infections and chest colds, but after a round of antibiotics for them both, they were ready for a weekend of fun.

Madison spent Saturday with her friend Roni. They baked cakes and prepared Roni's house for a pajama party with a few other friends. Madison enjoyed making Christmas crafts and dancing in her jammies with Roni, Freya, Emily, and Ellie. The day was filled with laughter and happy memories.

With Madison tucked away at a friends, Rob, Lillian and I drove the 2 hour trip to Bristol to visit our friend Stewie. We had hoped to see other friends from Rolls Royce but scheduling conflicts had them pre-engaged else where.

Lunch was at a pub over looking the Clifton Suspension Bridge and then a walk around the shops of Bristol.

It was a great day!

Rob and I enjoyed a fancy dinner of Pizza Hut on our way to pick Madison up.

Other highlights of the weekend:
  • Rob "listened" to the Florida Gators win the SEC Championship game
  • Madison lost her second tooth- right next to the first one she lost. This time she negotiated 30p for the tooth (it is quite amusing to listen to her and Rob battle for a tooth price)

9 days until Florida!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Special Daddy Kisses

Madison and Rob share their special WET SMACKER kisses (the name explains it all) so it was only a matter of time for Rob and Lillian to have their special kiss.

Here is what they have come up with...

1. They smile at each other

2. Rob asks Lillian for a kiss, she responds by kissing his nose.

3. In return for her kiss, Rob kisses her.

Ahhh, the love of a father and his daughters.