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February 25, 2002
Seven months: When in Rome (Gail)

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At home in Rome

Well it's finally happened. Somewhere between France and Italy I realized we no longer feel completely out of place changing countries and "homes". Things that would have sent us reeling a few months ago now seem commonplace.

I guess it happened when I realized I am able to find the light switches in any room, figure out the flush on the toilets, and cook under any circumstances. I can make it to the bathroom, at night, in the dark and not trip over anything or hurt myself in the process. This may seem trivial, but think about it. We have changed "homes" more times than I can recall in these last seven months and it is amazing that somewhere along the line I haven't crashed into a wall in the dark. Okay, I did do that in Rarotonga, but that was under unusual circumstances and I haven't done it since.

Months ago, finding the grocery store in the basement of a clothing store would have seemed very strange, but yesterday there we were taking it in stride. Not only that, but now we are the experts. Yesterday, Russell helped an American woman who was trying to figure out the meat department. She had been in Italy for one month and still could not figure out the grocery system. Just three short months ago we were baffled by the produce department, now we confidently select and weigh our produce just like Europeans.

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In Europe, you bag and weigh your own produce

In keeping with our determination to be "travelers and not tourists" we follow the adage "when in Rome do as the Romans do". Everywhere we have been we have used the local post offices, grocery stores, pharmacies, ATM machines, gas stations, libraries, Internet cafes, toll roads, washing machines, and money, all with some degree of expertise and success. We have eaten local foods and drank local water (some we enjoyed more than others). We have experienced local weather, local festivals and local history. We have driven in city traffic, on both sides of the road, reading the road signage as we go, trying to make it match to our maps (again, with some degree of expertise and success). We now know the pleasures of radiators and shutters, roundabouts and raclette. We have communicated in the local language (one of us has much more expertise and success at this and it's not me). We have made friends.

To be sure we have had our mishaps. Up until today, the largest two were leaving the non-functioning water tap open when we left the lodge at the Ngorongoro Crater and coming back to find water all over the floor, and knocking the satellite dish off the motor home in Australia. That was until today. During Russell's shower this morning I went down the hallway and stepped in water. It seems one bathroom has a shower curtain that just doesn't do the job, and the floor drains in the room were covered. The water had nowhere to go except out onto (and under) the hardwood floor. We wanted to leave for the Vatican early but had to delay while we tried to sop up the water without using the few towels. We succeeded with some degree of success (expertise was not needed, just our dirty laundry and speed). The floor still makes squishy sounds hours later.

We then went on to spend a wonderful day wandering around St. Peter's Basilica. At one point we noticed a group of women from Chicago who looked a bit lost. They did not have a guidebook, so we helped them out, explaining where things were and how to get there. We gave them a quick overview of the sights inside St. Peter's and sent them happily on their way. We couldn't help but hear all the American voices and different American accents. We cringed at the family who tried to get past the Vatican guards. We now better understand what it is the Europeans see when Americans visit.

After a nice walk home just avoiding the coming rain, we settled in for a quiet afternoon. Well the best laid plans as the saying goes.

We had our second tragedy of the day this evening. Good tenants that we are we had moved out of the way everything we thought the boys could possibly break. We also made it very clear what they were allowed to do. Because we live with Joss the climber we thought it best to be extra careful here in this apartment.

The apartment is decorated with many framed works of art and theater memorabilia. The dining room has a beautiful wall mural painted around the entire room. There are bars attached to the walls to simulate a railing at a park. Now, I realize some of you may have figured this out already. Yep, Joss decided he would try to climb that railing on that beautiful wall. I was out minding dinner and enjoying the quiet time. I hear crash and "Joss!" He was sprawled on the floor, in the rubble that was once the rail and the wall. He was fine but crying. The wall now has two large holes and we are certain to lose our entire security deposit of two hundred dollars, if not more. Discipline has been decided in the form of doing dishes for the rest of his life, plus writing "I will not climb anything on the walls" (you would think that would be a given) to fill a sheet of notebook paper. As Cameron says, this has not been our best day.

Even with these mishaps this trip has been worth everything we have put into it. We have grown closer as a family. I realize that we have spent more time together than most parents and children, and we still do enjoy each others' company. Though we could use a break now and again. Cameron and Joss both enjoy looking at the World and European maps to find places we've been and places we will soon go. Cameron made the comment that "now Africa is not just a spot on the map, it is a place." They mention things we have experienced and compare them to the current location wherever we are. They are learning about the world in the best possible way.

I know when we get home, we will look back fondly on our adventures. We will marvel at what we were able to do on our "trip of a lifetime." As time passes we will then be able to laugh at mishap moments like today's. Maybe.

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The dining room now has one less railing than it used to

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