I'm still basking in the afterglow of another wonderful week spent with the very best of friends. A week of making memories, laughing, eating and exploring. We feel truly blessed to have spent quality time with all those who have been able to visit us here since we moved to America in January. It's been humbling that our friends and family have chosen to spend their precious holiday time (and hard-earned cash!) here in Chicago. It's a big deal, and we appreciate and sincerely thank each and every one who has made that trip. There have been times when those visits have really lifted us and got us through genuine heartache and homesickness. Next year, our door will remain open to anyone who wants to visit.
The best thing about having visitors is that it encourages us to explore and try new things and to continually see this amazing city through the eyes of those who are seeing it for the first time. This most recent visit by two of our dearest friends was no exception. Highlights for me included The John Hancock building and its amazing tilting platform that lowers you to a terrifying 45-degree angle over the city below. Not for the fainthearted! We also sampled crazy, candy-themed cocktails at Carnivale and drinks and dinner at a 1920's Speakeasy (all hidden behind a bookcase) for some live jazz. Then there was the relaxing stroll around the Botanical Gardens - blazing in its autumn splendour, and an amazing 10K hike through Starved Rock's dramatic canyons and waterfalls. And we'll never stop laughing about gate-crashing the family karaoke night at the local coffee house that finally gave me the chance to get behind the mic again and belt out a couple of classics to an audience of bemused Dutch people and a dozen little kids in Halloween costume!
There are, of course, downsides to visitors. Not least the awful drive home from the airport when we've waved another sad goodbye. It's getting easier, and I'm less focused on how empty and quiet the house will seem, and more able to enjoy time to myself to potter about at a slower pace and catch up on Eastenders! Now I'm working a little, the weeks no longer seem so long and I can finally appreciate guilt-free 'me time' again.
And so, after a steady stream of visits by friends and family, we're now heading into month eleven of life in Chicago and we have one more set of visitors before we head back to the UK for Christmas. We're on the 'home' straight. We have fifty or so days until we fly to London and it's getting harder not to say and think of it as 'going home', not least because it will have been five whole months since we last saw Son#1 and my maternal instincts are in overdrive.
In just seven weeks, we'll face possibly the biggest test of our relocation, and I'm both excited and a little anxious about how we'll feel to be back on British soil. Of course, we know that things will have changed - they will look different and feel different, I'm sure. The roads and houses will look smaller than we remember, the rolling hills of England will look more beautiful after the flat landscape of Illinois. We'll drive on the left and revert to carefully using only UK vocabulary - no 'trash', no 'candy', no 'elevators' and definitely no 'reaching out'. But there will also be the things that don't change - the precious time we spend with close family and friends, fish and chips eaten on the seafront, opening presents on Christmas morning, singing Auld Lang Syne on New Year's Eve - the latter will no doubt have more poignancy this year for its message of times gone by. And indeed time has gone by, in fact, it's flown. I am both amazed and grateful that we got through those first mad, scary weeks of knowing nothing and no-one and marvel at how we've made that all that nothing into a home.
But until we go, there's Thanksgiving to prepare for and a whole host of Christmas events to enjoy, so I'll do my best not to count the days until we go back to England, and instead, I'll be sure to make the days count.