Much to my family and friends' annoyance I have spent the past five years developing an appetite for adventure: for seeing new places, meeting new people and finding new stories to tell. Unfortunately, the pretty but tiny village that I call home does very little to satisfy that appetite- meaning that I am very rarely at home for any length of time.
This is not a need for being away from home, but instead a need for the excitement that can only be brought about by living in new circumstances, with people I otherwise would never have met. Being away from home is simply an unfortunate side effect of that.
Each time that I return home I get those natural post-adventure blues: you know how you do when you get back from holiday? Especially a holiday that nobody else in the house experienced: there's no way anyone in the house could possibly understand how miserable you feel because they weren't there to see how amazing it was. My first experience of that was returning home from Girls' Brigade camp when I was nine years old, and it still feels the same aged twenty-three.
Imagine those post-holiday blues, except you have four months of memories and in-jokes that nobody in the house will understand.
These feelings are, of course, always mixed with delight at seeing my favourite people again, being in my own bed and, this time (having lived in a tent for 8 weeks), being right next door to the bathroom.
Despite the joys of being home, I woke up on Saturday morning- almost four weeks since I left France, with post-adventure blues. I had Stacy's Mom stuck in my head (if you don't know the relevance of this song: read my last blog), the hoody that had been part of my uniform keeping me warm (I'm sure we were allowed to take them...) and the remnants of a dream about Lumiere and Peter Pan (my colleagues) floating around my head...
I pulled myself out of bed and padded down the stairs.
The first to greet me was Pluto: my parents' affectionate, excitable puppy. Jumping up and down in excitement at seeing me, the whole back half of him swinging from side to side in happiness, he reveled in the fuss that I made and immediately made me smile.
Following him into the kitchen, I was then met by my equally excited mum; who squealed good morning before making me a hot drink and squeezing me until I couldn't breathe. My youngest brother Chip then wandered in: hair still ruffled and eyes tired, and he too got a hot drink before making the kind of family in-joke that makes you laugh hysterically and feel cosy: like you're part of something lovely. The last to greet me was Tarzan. Over-excited by his cup of tea he put his hand on my head and then slapped it (something that only my brother would ever get away with doing to me), rubbed it better, sat himself on the counter and proceeded to juggle three apples (something I had taught him to do when I was particularly missing the Circus Skills session from France).
In this moment I wasn't totally sure that leaving home for my adventures was ever worth it.
And as the weekend went on this doubt only increased.
I spent Saturday with my three best friends- squealing a lot and talking of nothing but weddings because-wait for it- Minnie's getting married! That's right, Minnie and Mickey are engaged and have asked me to be their bridesmaid. Which means that once again I have an excuse to spend my spare time wandering around wedding fairs, googling bridesmaid dresses and watching hopelessly girly wedding films as 'research'.
Saturday involved talking, laughing, gasping, crying, oohing and aah-ing with my best friends as we rifled through endless rails of wedding dresses, met photographers, videographers and decorators; chatted to planners, singers and cake makers; and gushed at the beautiful fashion show.
And as I sat with my three best friends, laughing at the comments made by Jessie, smiling as I watched Pumba take notes on the best dresses in the fashion show, and crying when Minnie stepped out in her stunning Princess-style wedding dress, I felt it again. That stab of doubt about whether being away from home is the right thing for me.
The following day was one that had been anticipated for a long time.
My beautiful, very glamorous grandma was turning 70, and had requested six weeks in advance that we keep the date free for a family meal.
My mum and I arrived at the restaurant twenty minutes early (an absolute first when we are together which- I think- marks the importance of the occasion) so that the staff could hide the stunning surprise cake that Cowgirl Jessie made for me, and we could decorate the birthday girl's place with helium balloons.
Fourteen members of my family gathered around a huge rectangle table for a big roast dinner in celebration of this wonderful lady. We ate, drank, sang, laughed, told in-jokes, took the mick, reminisced and teased in the way that only a family can.
And as thirteen of the most important people in my life sang Happy Birthday to my gorgeous, smiling Grandma, I wondered again....why do I ever leave?
The perfect weekend was then rounded off with an evening of The X Factor and Chinese with my mum, dad, Tarzan, Tigger and Pluto. By the time I went to bed on Sunday night my mind was filled with my favourite things about coming home...
1. Being warm. My parents have no limitations when it comes to heating the house and I love them for it. Home is the only place I am always fully warm and is something I look forward to whether I'm in sunny Greece or freezing Ireland.
2. My brothers. I recently watched a video of all three of us in the bath when we were six, four, and one. Tarzan took a cup of bubbly water and poured it over my lovely dry hair. My reaction was 'Aw Tarzan!' paired with a giggle. Seventeen years later: nothing's changed. My brothers are the only people that can make me laugh via cruelty: I know it's their way of telling me how much they love me. Right?
3. Clapping at the television. I don't know whether it's standard in every other house to react to a twenty-two year old from Preston getting through to the next round of a reality TV programme as though he has solved world hunger- but in my house it's expected and I love it.
4. My mum's enthusiasm for everything. If you think I'm a positive person you should meet my mum. Her happy demeanor always makes me smile. Even when she wakes me up on a Sunday morning squealing in excitement because Neil Sedaka (the cooler among you may need to Google him) is on the radio. (Please don't tell her that though.)
5. Westfield Shopping Centre. My new favourite place. Grab a coffee. Browse the shops. Frozen yogurt. Train home again. FAB day out. I once went there so many times in one week that one of the shop managers offered me a job. Genuinely.
6. Lemon squash. You can't get squash abroad like you can at home. It's the number one trivial thing that I miss when I'm away.
7. Watching my dad watch The X Factor. The seriousness in his comments is more entertaining than the programme itself.
8. Being reunited with my three best friends. Whether I bump into them for five minutes at the tube station or spend a whole week with them on holiday: time spent with Pumba, Jessie and Minnie always makes me feel happier and lighter than ever.
Following my weekend of doubting whether ever leaving home and everyone I love was ever worth it, I sat down to watch An Idiot Abroad: the one programme that I watched religiously when I was in France. It reminded me of the amazing people that I met there, and the wonderful memories that I gained. I then received an email from the mum that I worked for in Ireland, a Facebook message from the girl that I worked with in Greece, and heard the song that I taught the children in Italy.
It was then that I remembered: of course it's worth it.
As much as I love being at home and being around the people from home, there is no job that would make me as happy at home as the jobs abroad do. And for every day that I am away from home I am stronger, smarter, more fun and happier for everyone when I am at home.
So for the next four months I am going to make the most of being in Essex, being with my favourite people and celebrating the exciting things going on in their lives: knowing that when I leave for Florida in February I am the luckiest girl in the world to have all of this to come back to.
Here's to a winter of celebrating engagements, weddings, new jobs, birthdays and reunions....
I can't wait :)