What was my first impression coming back to the US? Diversity. I never realized how much I appreciated the U.S. for its diverse population. It was neat to go through customs and see white, black and hispanic, male and female customs officers, all stamping passports. That really makes up a lot of what the U.S. is, and it was fun to jump back into the "melting pot" after being away for a year.
I also enjoyed stepping back into Christmas. It finally felt like December when I got home and saw the lights on the house, the trees, pointsettias, garlands, stockings, etc. You don't realize how many little traditions there are in Christmas until you have none of them. In Beijing I found myself wanting to make and frost sugar cookies, or go Christmas tree shopping, or drink eggnog, or light a fire in the fireplace. I certainly got to experience all of that when I got home, so it was worth the trip :)
Most important of all, is the flocks of family members that made it down to Beaufort, SC. From Mom and Dad's side of the family, I saw about 35 folks all somehow related to me. Here is one of my favorite pics, with my Grandfather Ned and every one of his grandchildren:
Beaufort was also so warm that we spend many-a-night around a little fire chatting, eating and just spending time together.
One fun event that occured over Christmas week was the "1st Annual Ned Brown Family Photography Competition and Exhibition." With three professional photographers from the family as judges, everyone else competed over a 7 day period to take the best picture in the categories of Family, Beaufort, or the Christmas Spirit. I won the "Beaufort" category with this shot...don't we live in a beautiful place?
I have a few days left here before I go back to Beijing, and a few more friends to see, but I've done a lot over the couple of weeks and am glad I got the chance to spend Christmas here. As long as I live out of the country, I will probably always make the trek back for this time of year...it's my favorite.