And that's exactly what we did. We flew back to Atlanta on June 29th and were blessed with six full weeks in the homeland. Instead of giving you way too much detail about our visit, I'll break it down to the highlight reel (with pictures of course):
Marisa spent the first two weeks up in Lynchburg, VA to complete two intensive courses for her Masters in School Counseling at Liberty University. On the weekends she was able to visit her old college teammate, Lauren, up at James Madison in Harrisonburg, VA as well as other college friends, the Tisons, over in Charlottesville, VA.
The first stop in the Ranger was to see Grandma Shirer up in Blairsville, GA. It was pleasant in the mountains and I was greeted with a Stouffer's lasagna and yellow cake! I also kicked off a summer of seeing tons of wildlife by seeing a group of six deer in her front yard.
After Marisa's classes we met back up in Charlottesville and were greeted by friends and good ol' American microbrew!
In order to maintain a certain degree of sophistication, we also participated in a wine-tasting. We loved Charlottesville and it was nice getting 3/4 of the Ocho together again.
One of my goals since starting school at Tech in 2000 was to visit all of the ACC school campuses. One of the prettiest had evaded me until now, when we spent a couple of hours walking through UVA. Here's the founder - Thomas Jefferson.
Marisa and I drove back to Atlanta via Richmond, VA to see my cousin, Jack, and Asheville, NC to see my cousin, Jennifer. We also spent a romantic evening at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.
Embarrassingly, I hadn't seen my cousin Jack since his wedding back in 2009. It was great seeing him and Ashley at their place in Richmond where he's finishing his residency. I barely stomached through a video of one of his cataract surgeries - mad props to him for being able to do what he does.
Next stop was to see Jennifer at her well-manicured house in Asheville. It had been just as long since we last saw her and I missed her wedding while in Germany, but she took us in anyways and walked us around the downtown area. It's a great place to live and has a lot of microbrew pubs to sample.
Marisa and I at the "Thirsty Monk" in Asheville.
The Biltmore Estate - pretty amazing place for a weekend getaway. It's about as close as you can get to an old mansion or palace in Europe.
The remainder of July was spent together in Atlanta, seeing some friends and mostly running around taking care of logistical things like storage, bank accounts, insurance, etc.
We kicked off Atlanta by dropping by to see Mel and Chris, have a few beers, play catch-up, and sample some of Chris' culinary concoctions.
Reuniting with the Dukes' - old volleyball/CCF intern buddies.
We were also able to see Courtney (left), our friend currently serving as a missionary in Puebla, Mexico.
It's always a treat when you're able to stop by and have lunch at Carver's in ATL, but it's even better when you can share it with Mr. E.
Every time I come back my little brother, Jake, keeps gaining on me in height. If this is how tall he is at 12, I'm afraid he'll be taller than me the next time we're in town. We got to play some board games at the house, spend 4th of July together, and see about 2 innings of a Rome Braves game before it was rained out.
We had a great time reuniting with old GTVB friends: Bird, Nicole, and Scott.
We got together at the Brazell's for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics with the other 1/4 of the Ocho.
In August we took two memorable trips: one to Boston/Newburyport, MA to visit Marisa's sister & family, and one to Port Orange, FL to visit my mom & family. On the way to Hong Kong we stopped for a few days in Huntington Beach, CA to see Marisa's mom and other friends, which was a nice stop before jumping across the other pond to our new home.
Within an hour of arriving in Newburyport sisters were reunited and we had a blast at the "Yankee Homecoming Beer Fest"
At some point we realized that we dressed either in rasta or traffic light colors, depending on how you see it. Here's our interpretive picture of the occasion.
Kendra and Nolan. It was nice having a glimpse of family life in New England.
Although we frequently skype, we hadn't seen his guy since he was 6-months old. Needless to say he's grown up so much and was a lot of fun to play with.
In order to prevent "Re-Patriation Syndrome" caused by overeating all of the delicious, yet unhealthy, foods that you've missed while overseas, we signed up to run the Yankee Homecoming 5K. I ran as hard as I could, nearly quit, and finished with an unimpressive time of 24 minutes. Kendra finished just under 40 minutes, but she was pushing a toddler, so I really can't brag.
Yankee Homecoming Parade
Yankee Homecoming Kid's Day - it was entertaining watching all of the kids do gymnastics, especially since we'd been watching the Olympics literally every day while in Newburyport.
Marisa's cousin Kelly stopped by with Dave and Sierra.
We even had a fireworks extravaganza to end the Yankee Homecoming festival.
This just screams "New England" to me.
"Ridin' on a dolphin, doing flips and sh**, the dolphin's splashing, getting everybody all wet..."
We went into Boston one day with two goals in mind: to visit Boston College (to reach my goal of visiting all ACC campuses) and to take the Sam Adams Brewery tour. Being a huge Atlanta Falcons fan, I had to see the Matt Ryan shrine at the athletic office. Here's me and the first-rounder. Matty ICE!!!
I have to recommend the Sam Adams tour over just about every other brewery tour I've been on....mainly because it's free, but it was actually very informative and tons of fun. Not to mention you get a free tasting glass and a sample of at least three beers.
Fenway Park - we finally were able to come and see a Red Sox game in one of America's oldest stadiums.
Port Orange, FL
It was great spending more than a couple of days with Jason, Candace and Arden. Of course it was also nice having a pool nearby.
As a bonus, a large portion of my mom's family came down from Blairsville, Savannah, and Jacksonville for a Saturday at the pool. My uncle Jackie can't be happier with his new black Lab "Charlie".
The Shirer-Jackson-Grant-Kenney Family: Candace, me, Grandma, Jackie, Sheila, Mom, Ed, Charlotte, Marisa, Arden, Jason, and Chris.
My Savannah family
Like Nolan, I hadn't seen my niece Arden in over a year and they change so much. It's amazing how much personality she has and she cracks me up with all of the stuff she picks up on and says. "Crab People!"
Ate at this restaurant in Port Orange on the recommendation of many. Pretty darn good, and they even throw in a cinnamon roll with practically every entree. This was one of the last places I ate at before going to the hospital with blurry vision. While I thought that my blood pressure medicine was causing it, it turns out that I was way off. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and hospitalized for two days in order to get my equilibrium back. Needless to say, that was a huge freakin' bummer to end the trip and it's been quite an adjustment getting used to giving myself insulin shots. It's also frustrating hearing that "I'm too young to have hypertension" and I'm "in too good of shape and too old to have type 1 diabetes with no family history".
Jason, Arden, and Candace
Arden and "Ga-Ga"
Mom and I the day after I was discharged. It was a blessing getting the news of diabetes with her around with her medical background. She's been a stud using her resources to help us find endocrinologists in Hong Kong and to sift through various insurance plans to help us cover my "pre-existing condition".
Huntington Beach, CA
While we didn't come away with many pictures from California, we had a great time trying to relax before catching a flight to Hong Kong. We saw a few high school friends, one of our college friends, and of course Marisa's mom, step-dad, and grandpa. We got to ride bikes on the beach, take a few walks, play some v-ball, and have some real Mexican food.
Spending time in your home country is good for the soul. For me, it had been about a year and a half since I'd had a decent visit and it was just nice to be there for such a long time. The only downside was living out of a bag/suitcase and bouncing around to so many places over the course of the summer. However, that's the only way to see the number of friends and family that we were able to (seven States in six weeks!). I'd like to give a shout out to all of the people who allowed us to crash at their place this summer, in order of appearance:
Buck and Mae
Jason & Candace
Chris and Liz
Jack and Ashley
Andrew and Meredith
Jeff and Kendra
Melonie and Ed
Susan and Terry
Y'all were a huge help with hosting us this summer and we are very thankful for you.
and "Thank You" America for being so awesome!!