Pretty frequently these days, Jorge and I look around with wonder and think, How the hell did we end up here? Three months is all it takes to change hemispheres, get married, rent an empty house, and fill it with love and random crap you forgot was hiding in your dad’s spare bedroom.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time we’ve attempted such a feat. We did something pretty similar in Valparaiso, where we found an empty, four-bedroom house, bought a couple things to put in it, and set to work really making it our space, full of love, friends, and random crap I forgot I had been carrying in my backpack.

That is, after all, what it’s about. To cultivate home, wherever we are. Because this house will not be the last. Our lease will expire, our desire to be in OH might expire as well. Who knows where we will be in a year, or a couple years, or ten of them?

Nobody can say. But home comes with us, inside our hearts, inside our backpacks, inside the special touches that we add to make any space really ours, for whatever length of time.

But there’s something to be said for actual home. The place where my family and friends reside, that little place called northern Ohio. Unfortunately, those people don’t pack up as easily into my backpack, though I might be guilty of having tried once.

Cultivating home on the road is a special feat; one that is equal parts gratifying and difficult. By the same token, being back home, away from the road, is its own mixture of gratifying and difficult. And here are some of the top things I totally, completely, freaking forgot about since living pseudo-permanently abroad.

1.  DEAR GOD, THE ALLERGIES. Late summer is one of my favorite times of year. The cicadas crackle their special song, the evening sun hovers on that cusp of fall-time and July-time. Heat waves are delirious yet appreciated, because we all know winter is slinking up on us like a poison viper. And then, somewhere in late August, just when you thought life couldn’t get any more beautiful or spectacular…the allergies begin. FALL ALLERGIES, the bane of countless millions’ people’s existences. I tried to hold off as long as I could this year—first using nothing, then just the regular-grade Claritin, and then by early September, I broke. The pollen count exploded, and all those little allergen assassins reached up into my face and strangled my sinuses. I bought the Claritin that you can use to manufacture really illegal drugs, because that’s the only shit that works.

2.  EFFING CARS. I don’t mean the mere existence of cars on the road; no, no, the USA is a breeze when it comes to traffic and general rule-abiding on the road. Jorge has had a wonderful time driving around here, because not only do we use our blinkers, 95% of the cars are automatic transmission, so like, what are we really even doing behind the wheel? Basically just fiddling with the radios. Anyway, the point is this: being back here means I need a car, and having a car again SUCKS. As in sucks GAS, sucks TIME, and sucks MONEY. Jorge also bought a cute little truck (The Danger Ranger), and between our two cars, they’ve already both been in the shop at least once in three months. Here, body shops. Let me just give you a $5,000 advance right now, because surely you’ll be bleeding it out of me over the next few months as my car finds new and creative ways to completely foil my savings plan.

3.  Fall is coming! Yeah, yeah, pumpkin latte whatever-the-crap, but seriously, you guys. FALL. IS COMING. (Actually…hang on…*checks calendar* FALL IS HERE.) WHY IS FALL SO EXCITING AND INVIGORATING? The same reason why spring approaching is so invigorating, and summer approaching is so invigorating, and winter approaching is, well…an inevitable and soul-sucking portion of the year through which we all must struggle to survive. What I love about this region, and what was sorely lacking down there *nods discreetly at Chile and Peru* is the fact that we have four marked seasons, and they all are wonderful and special and distinct (yes, even winter), and that is so rare, and so lovely, and some people in the world don’t even know the crippling joy of transitioning from snow piles into the first blossoms of spring, and isn’t that sort of sad?

4.  The Corner Store is DEAD. This has a lot to do with all those newfangled automobiles roaming around the paved areas, and our general abuse of spatial organization when it comes to suburbia planning. Corner stores are, I dare say it, the backbone of Latin America. Are you in the middle of baking a freaking cake and have realized halfway through that what you thought was baking powder was actually salt? What about getting home after a hard day’s work, tired to the bone, just collapsed in your favorite chair, and you realize, Oh, shit! Nothing for dinner!

These are the times when the neighborhood corner store saves your ass. You walk 20 feet out your front door, and BAM—baking powder, bread, eggs, a small selection of vegetables, even some over-priced beers for dessert. (Just don’t get the deli meats out of that refrigerator that looks like it hasn’t been turned on in 20 years.) I miss this, deeply. Now, when I realize I forgot something, I’m looking at a minimum 45-minute endeavor between driving the car (which will probably find a way to cost me more money on the way) to Kroger, parking, perusing a billion different brands of the same product, navigating the traffic once more, and then finally making it home. Sometimes, the thing I need doesn’t even warrant the money or time spent in going back out to the store. This is a product of our far-flung lifestyles, especially in smaller cities or regions.  When everything is densely packed together, like in most Latin American cities, and even larger USA cities, getting what you need on foot is much more feasible.

5.  Nobody is touching. I still feel incredibly awkward when people enter my home or a general social gathering, and I am socially required to NOT hug them or physically acknowledge them. I hug my friends when I see them, so there’s no issue there. But what I love about the Latin American Social Warmth Policy is that this extends to EVERYONE—people you’ve never met, that random acquaintance you feel lukewarm about, your third-cousins-twice-removed, even your brother-in-law’s cousin’s wife who you maybe met once but can’t remember. EVERYBODY is embraced or politely kissed when entering or leaving a social space.

If this sounds uncomfortable or time-consuming to you, well, you know what? It is, at first. But after a while, benefits are reaped. And what it fosters is a greater space of acknowledgement—I see you, I recognize you, and you are part of this environment. I miss this when participating in social spheres here, because I feel like we Americans have a tendency to overlook people we ‘don’t know very well’, or pretend like we haven’t seen them/don’t care. Which, whatever, is fine. But this is why a lot of cultures describe us as ‘cold’. Acknowledging people around you, despite how well you know them, really makes you feel good—both for the acknowledger, and the acknowledged.

There are good parts and hard parts to every chapter, every place, every transition in life. The important part is that things feel and fit right–and here, back home among my loved ones and my community, things feel so right. 

IT’S GOOD TO BE HOME! Just expect a lot of bitching about maintaining a car again…