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January 16, 2002
Six months: halfway there, halfway home (Gail)

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Joss and Russell play "The Lord of the Rings" trading card game

Some said we wouldn't last this long. My father said we would be home by Christmas. We were told that traveling is great but it gets to be work after a while. Well here we are six months later and still enjoying the traveling.

It is unbelievable to review these last few months, where we've been and what we've done. It's mind boggling actually. Keeping the Website has helped us be able to recall past experiences and to connect with everyone back home. Our original plan was to post to the site once a week but so much has happened, once a week just isn't enough. Knowing that our friends and family are keeping track of us and following our adventures has been a driving force for keeping the Website up to date. We love getting your email.

We are no longer surprised at grocery carts that require a deposit and then go off on their own down the aisles, electrical outlets that give you a hard time plugging anything in, traffic signals and signs set at odd angels so you can't decide if they are yours or for cross traffic, or the wide variety of toilet styles. Though the toilet at the roadside stop in Germany has to win for the most bizarre appearance. Inside the stall was something that looked like a space pod that you stepped down into. It had no seat and footpads, a variation on the squat theme.

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Road signs like this one in Germany helped us to get completely lost on a regular basis

Since we have been in Europe we have had better, but not great, access to the news. Russell goes into town everyday to pick up the International Herald Tribune and we had some access to CNN in Germany. News from around the world affects us more now than ever before. The fires in Australia in areas we drove through, the deportation of Mainland Chinese from Hong Kong, the introduction of the Euro, strikes in France (fairly often) and weather in Germany all are of greater importance to us than ever before. Picking up a USA-centered paper will never be the same, I will always wonder what is missing.

The side trip into Germany was very interesting. We had kitchen facilities so we went to the grocery stores. On the food boxes the instructions are in four languages, German, Italian, Dutch and French. Well I can't read any of the others and that is when I discovered, that by default, French is my second language. None of us could understand the German so that put Russell and the boys and me on equal footing for the first time in months. It was very nice. Something I noticed in the grocery store is that people stop in the middle of the aisles to chat. Not like at home, they were leaning over the frozen food bins to have nice long chats. We got to experience some of the Euro frenzy on the 31st of Dec. by standing in an extremely long line at the market. We assumed it was for New Year's Eve but later were told that people were getting rid of their old money.

We have eaten so many "exotic" foods since leaving the good old USA, like baboon, dik dik, clams, oysters, snails, rabbit, wild boar, guinea fowl, cheeses galore, deer, blue-footed chicken (Bressen chicken to the gourmet), beef and bananas. In Germany we had a very nice dinner out, our first in a long while.  With the help of the hostess Russell and I ordered the "hunters plate" a combination of many different wild game and noodles.  You know that saying tastes like chicken?  Well we have a new one, tastes like baboon.  One of the meats really did.  I was very surprised.  It was something I couldn't eat a lot of.  Russell seemed to enjoy it though.   Of course I would never had known had I never eaten baboon.  "Tastes like baboon" and "don't worry about the noise outside your door it's just the hyena," who would have ever thought these would be something I could relate to.

But our all-time favorite food is probably chocolate bread. Yeah we still find the junk food though it is very different. We have tried finding microwave popcorn, no luck and have resorted to the "old fashioned" method of the stovetop. Chips come in itty-bitty bags, two to our one. Fruit syrups are great and we can keep the boys supplied with liter bottles of lemonade for very little cost. Personally I have acquired a taste for the petit pain croquants; small, hard crunchy breads that are just perfect for the soft garlic cheese spread. Buying cereal is still a problem because I just do not like coconut and they all seem to have coconut.

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Cooking popcorn the old-fashioned way: on a stovetop

So far homesickness hasn't been much of a problem. However, one result of Russell's sister's visit is that the boys are now just a bit more homesick. They announced that they miss the garage (play area) and the backyard fort. Friends and family were also mentioned. They now refer to Cupertino as our "real home" and wherever we are staying as "home." It has been a real blessing every time we have been able to settle for more than a day or two or to return back to somewhere we have already been. We are now hearing statements like "when we get to our real home…" After returning once again to Crest, Cameron commented on how the trip away made him appreciate little things again, like a dishwasher, washer and dryer.

I have discovered that Joss goes through life with his own soundtrack. He is either whistling or humming constantly. It is usually just loud enough for himself, but there are times when he can no longer contain it and the sound explodes from him. It is really rather comforting as we always know where he is. Cameron is still happiest when reading. His story "Farm Wars" that he has been writing since we left home is now at 41 pages. He has a great sense of humor; we enjoy the times when he reads the newest installment to us as their bedtime story. Joss' story, "The Invasion of the Harries" is at five pages and packed with crazy plot twists and strange characters. He's trying to type it himself but Cameron often helps. They are both very good about the home schooling and their math is getting stronger everyday. Don't get me wrong there are still struggles but they are getting shorter.

Both boys really wanted to see snow. Well I believe we can check that off the list. When they are grown they will say, "Remember the year we spent the winter in Europe, remember how cold it was?" They are now the proud owners of boots and gloves. Now if we could only find the matching glove to each of their singles we would be all set. They have learned that it takes awhile for a car to warm up and that a credit card makes a great ice scraper. Cameron can almost reach across the windshield so he claimed that task. Joss does the side windows.

The cold hasn't kept them off their beloved swings outside however and everyday at school break time off they go to bash and crash against the tree and each other. Today Joss asked Cameron if they could just swing because he's real bruised.

On the 18th Russell will be leaving us to go up to Paris to be with his sister and brother-in-law. He will be spending their last four days in Europe with them before they return home. Joanne has very nicely agreed to take home our excess stuff. So Russell is going to load them down with all the DVDs, games, books and other stuff we will no longer need on the trip but just can't part with. We discussed the option of all of us going and I decided the cost was too great (just the train tickets for the three of us would be $300). So for the first time in six months we will be apart. He is busy packing and making sure everything is ready and easy for us. We have gone on trial runs to the supermarket (remember there always seems to be a problem when I try to pay) the Tabac to buy the paper, and just to get from house to town and back again. I believe I have him completely ill at ease with leaving us.

We have stocked up on food, filled the gas tank and have directions to the train station. If all goes well we will be picking Russell up in Valence on Monday. I believe with my handy dandy little Joss translator and Cameron navigator we will be just fine. Lonely, but fine.

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Gail with her "Joss translator" and "Cameron navigator"

 

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