It's great to be home. There's something so comforting about the familiar - like putting on your most comfortable pair of shoes. And that's just how I felt as the plane touched back down at O'Hare airport after our two-week trip back to the UK for Christmas.
No one is more surprised than me to discover that home is now definitely Chicago and not, as I had assumed, England. It took a full year - it took tears and frustration, fear and anxiety, but as wonderful as it was to be back in England's green and pleasant land, there's nothing like your own bed and belongings when you've been away to know that all is right with the world, and as I woke this morning to a fantastic Glenview sunrise, I felt the final piece of the puzzle fall gently into place.
Of course, after all the excitement and build up of our trip back to the UK, our holiday did not disappoint. To be with Son#1 and our parents and to catch up with much-missed family and friends was the best Christmas present we could have asked for and to be honest, I can't imagine ever wanting to be away from those who mean the most to us at this time of year. But when the last present has been unwrapped, the last cracker pulled and you've eaten your own body weight in selection boxes, you're ready to leap into the new year and get back to normality - whatever that looks like.
Speak to anyone who returns to the motherland after any length of time in America and they will tell you that the first thing they notice is how small and cramped everything feels, and it's true: roads are terrifyingly narrow, parking is haphazard and requires all the skill of a contortionist to exit your vehicle once parked in bay. Beds were also a bit of a shock - after a year of sleeping in a bed the size of a football pitch, Husband and I found ourselves in very close proximity again and spent two weeks re-negotiating duvet terms.
But these minor irks were nothing when compared to all the little joys of being back and within a couple of hours of landing at Heathrow, I'd scratched many of the itches that had built up after year away: Costa coffee, pickled onion flavoured Monster Munch, Cadbury's Dairy Milk. Other delights quickly followed: BBCiPlayer, three pin plugs, a hair dryer that actually dries your hair with gusto and baths that I could stretch out in.
But there were other things that struck me - most notable was the landscape: the clouds, the rolling hills and winding hedgerows and the dramatic view of the rugged, rust-coloured Jurassic coastline from our hotel window. Our time was spread over several counties: Devon, Somerset, Hampshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, and each offered its own selection of gems: pebbled beaches, red double-decker buses, post boxes, Marks and Spencers, Windsor Castle... these are the quintessentially British things that are intrinsically part of our culture, they were like old friends who greeted us and we were happy to see them again.
I was unprepared for how nervous I would feel about driving until I relaxed and trusted my brain to take over - I'd driven for almost 30 years on the left side of the road, I'd navigated a million roundabouts and sure enough, it came as naturally as breathing once I stopped fretting and remembered what a clutch is for. And we were strangely nervous about other things like going back to our home church - perhaps we were afraid we'd been forgotten or that things would have changed dramatically - thankfully neither seemed to be the case. Perhaps the most moving moment was seeing our friends' new baby boy for the first time - a whole new person is now part of our extended faith-family and serves as a reminder that time marches on, regardless.
There were many high points - but for me, being invited to sing on New Year's Eve with some members of my old band was particularly memorable. We would always close a gig with 'We Are Family' and as I sang the familiar lyrics in front of a crowd of familiar faces, I couldn't help but think that yes, we ARE family. Corny maybe, but a reminder of the joy that music brought to our lives and I resolved to find a new musical outlet.
On the subject of New Year's resolutions, I've decided that instead of giving up things or setting myself unachievable goals, I'm opting instead to just keep trying more new things. Last year was the year of saying yes to everything and seeing what stuck, this year I'm going to have a go at anything that takes my fancy... so far the short list includes adult ballet (make of that what you will!), aerial yoga (your guess is as good as mine) and guitar lessons (not strictly new, but new here). It's my way of ensuring that I have plenty of material for another year of blogging.
After a wonderful time spent in the bosom of our British family, we're home and looking forward to all that 2019 has to offer. Son#1 is busy applying for industrial placements but already has two Chicago visits planned, Son#2 is learning to drive and will spend a month in England over the summer, and Husband will no doubt invent more exciting confectionery and is keen to make use of the cheese making kit I bought him for Christmas (I'm hoping this doesn't lead to any cheese-flavoured Skittles; I'm not sure even America would be ready for that!).
One of my favourite Christmas gifts was a cushion cover embroidered with the coordinates of our home here in Chicago. I think it symbolizes everything about this last year - 42°N, 87°W - they're just numbers on a map, but to us, they finally mean home.