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April 19, 2002
Nine months (Gail)

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Springtime arrives in France: Gail amid the mustard fields

Sitting at breakfast this morning it happened again. I realized "Hey, this is fun. Hey, I'm going to miss this." We sit down to a variety of things to eat, some we have never experienced before and the guessing begins. Do we put the fruit compote onto the bread or into the yogurt? What kind of cheese is this? What about the meat? Is this real sugar or a substitute? What is erdbeer (strawberry) or miele (honey); it's always an adventure. But then that is what these last few months have been right along. Russell suggested that when we get home we give the boys five dollars and send them to the store and we eat what they bring home. Joss asked, "What could we get for five dollars"? Cam said "Not much".

To feed ourselves at meals other than breakfast we have put together a complete and portable kitchen in a suitcase. We have a hot pot, electric burner, cooking and eating utensils, plates, bowls (that work as cups) a towel, spices and various quick-cook foods. Even when we have had a kitchen to cook in the utensils and bowls have come in handy as not every place has a full complement (Prague comes to mind: only two real glasses, no bowls, no spoons). In the car we have a snack/lunch box with whatever we will need for our drive times. There is bread, peanut butter (you must know this by now) honey/ jam, chips, snack crackers, fresh fruit, drinks, utensils and most importantly (for Joss) candy. The usual routine is for Joss to sort of eat his breakfast then about half an hour after we leave he will announce that he is hungry. The "box" saves us from pulling over for food (and from losing our temper with him). Once we leave the Continent we will be giving up our boxes until we can find just the perfect replacements in London. I hope to find a cooler, so once again we can carry perishables like we did in New Zealand and Australia.

Usually when we drag in our suitcases to our rooms we have to explain to the landlord why so many for just a few days. We probably have more than the usual two-week tourist. They are usually surprised and interested in our plans and amazed we don't have more luggage. When we tell travelers from the USA about our trip there are always the usual questions. School, how are we getting around, that kind of stuff. People are either curious or glad it's not them. Someone asked us the other day about our clothes. Well, we do wash them and mostly they are holding up. We have enough to get by on. I currently have two pairs of pants, one long-sleeved turtleneck, two cardigans, two t-shirts, one tank top, two dresses and the usual amount of underwear. All of my clothing and the boys stuff plus all our medicines fit into one suitcase. My biggest concern about the clothes is not that they will wear out or be outgrown. It's much more basic than that. When we finally get home and have more to choose from how will we recognize each other?

We looked at the picture of us taken on the day we left back in July. Cameron now comes to Russell's shoulder and Joss is higher than the fanny pack! We'll need to take another just like it when we get home again. And we have other proof that the boys are growing, physically as well as emotionally. There is no easy way for me to say this, Cam's feet are getting huge! He has inherited one pair of my white socks and they fit just great. Scary. For the last couple of months I had been asking them if they needed new shoes but they insisted they still fit just fine. But finally their shoes started to show signs of fatigue (actually, they were tearing out at the seams) and we knew we had to buy them new ones. Cam was a bit sad because his shoes had taken him through the sinking mud in Tanzania. Joss was thrilled to finally get Velcro. Joss's pants that just about swept the floor when we left home now fit him perfectly. We gave away his fleece vest and he is now wearing Cam's (it's too big but he loves it). He has also pretty much outgrown his "he-man" t-shirts we got for him back in the fall. Cameron has outgrown the sleeves on just about all his long sleeved shirts. I had to let down the hem on his sweat pants so they would fit for just a bit longer. I am holding out for the warmer weather and those t-shirts and shorts I have stashed away. It is funny though how little things can become so important. The boys carry refillable water bottles with them everywhere and it was time to get new ones. I tossed the old into the trash and Joss was very quiet. He asked if he could keep his for a memory, we had these since Christmas in Paris. We are now carrying two empty water bottles.

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A last farewell to some old friends who've brought us this far

Having the bathroom and shower down the hall is no big deal anymore. We have even taken timed (five minutes), coin-operated showers and came out clean with no bubbles still attached. Though we did discover that not every place in the world supplies washcloths or soap, so we always carry our own. We are now so much more comfortable leaving Cameron and Joss while we go shopping or having them sleep in a separate room from ours. When we do go out, we leave them with "parents aren't here" rules and so far so good. However we do still have some work to do. Yesterday in Normandy we let them go down to the beach to play while we finished up some tasks. About a half an hour later Joss came in looking for Cam. He wasn't in their room so off we went to take another look at the beach. Well, there was Cameron's' "Farm Wars" drawing in the sand, but no Cam to be seen anywhere. We went back to get Russell to help search (I was feeling, uh, mildly concerned by this point) and we headed back out. As we came down the street, there was Cameron crying. He had lost sight of Joss and had walked about 1 km down the beach side road looking for him. When it was apparent that Joss was lost he came back to get us. He was so worried about Joss; it was very touching to see. We now have a new rule that they must always check in with each other before wandering off. They can now go down to breakfast without us if they wish (and they do). Our next step toward independence is to have them navigate us through the maze of the airports in Paris and London, just to see how they do.

Because we are together all day, everyday we are learning a lot about each other. I love to watch the boys take off to play at the various parks we have found all over. From Australia to the coast of Italy to Prague to roadside parks, they are immediately at home. Joss is always hanging or climbing, Cameron plays in the sand (if there is sand) or sits up top. Getting Cam to do school work is usually a cinch but with Joss it can be major struggle. Often he has to do the assignment over just to get it done, though he usually gets it right. But Joss can be so funny with his back-seat announcements. The other day he wanted a chocolate but would not eat a chick from Easter. He says it's because they have faces and feet. However, the bunnies are okay with him, they have just the shape of the head but no real face. I guess I will make that ultimate Mom sacrifice and eat the chicks. He has also discovered that French cocoa is nowhere near as good and Belgian or Dutch. He actually has refused cocoa in the morning after tasting the French cocoa again! Cameron on his own, took time to go through the "room guide" and write down everything he thought we needed to know, where the bancomat is, when breakfast is served, when the museums are open, country codes for phone calls, etc. He is very much interested in helping, (we'd let him drive if he knew how, that would help). Our friend Jayne made the comment that she has noticed a change in the boys' writing. She says their writing has developed. Reading their letters can be eye-opening for us. We can see how much they have absorbed from our travels and it's very satisfying. Sometimes we read a letter and aren't sure we have been to the same place as them, but it's what they remember and that's okay.

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Gail, in the process of reading one of Joss' Web page letters

A year ago I was worried about how this trip would go, would we survive intact, would we make it past the first couple of months. Leaving home with out any European plans was a bit unnerving but we had no choice. Now we travel with no itinerary and making reservations just a day or two ahead, if we make them at all. We have slept in all possible type of accommodation from tents to four stars. In some places we have hesitated to get into the beds considering the patched sheets or condition of the bed itself. In some it has been so hard to get out of them in the morning (I would love to know where I can buy those comfy mattresses). I am nightly very happy I still have my pillow with me. We can schlep our suitcases up and down steep narrow steps, pack them into impossibly small spaces, drag them over cobblestones or paved streets. It's a cinch. Okay, it's not a cinch but it is our routine and we do have it down to a science. With about five or six more months we could whittle our current possessions down even more and really travel light.

We have been told so many times how quiet the boys are, how good they are and how we are not the normal American travelers. We see how it's true only when we hear other Americans talking and in some cases just getting it "wrong." Like the lady in Salzburg who didn't understand why the organic restaurant didn't serve Coke. We are now the seasoned travelers who can help others locate and operate the light switches. Sounds like a small thing until you've tried. We also have that unusual feeling of "oh yeah I remember that feeling" when we hear people talk about navigating the road ways, experiencing local foods for the first time or the different WCs. Russell and I have wondered how we have changed because of this trip. Will we now walk down to the Safeway instead of using the car; will we cut back on our possessions even more? Will we have wanderlust more once we get home or will we become the ultimate couch potatoes who once a week go through another hundred of our photos, reliving our glory days?

I am also glad that we have the luxury of time. We can plan or change plans, spending as much or as little time as we wish. We can take the back roads and really see the countryside. Our AAA travel guide talks about France by focusing on Paris. I am so glad we have seen so much more of all the countries we have visited. And the great thing is we still have two and one half months to go!

Something we have noticed in the past few months is how we seem to be just missing the disasters in countries we visit. The fires in Australia, China's immigration shutdown to Hong Kong, the hurricane in Mauritius, strikes in France and demonstrations in Italy, the flooding of the Danube and the news headline just after we left that Venice is sinking. Watching the news and the weather we feel more connected to the rest of the world than ever before. Even the boys watch CNN weather, locating our current home on the map. Between this and our map work their geography skills are pretty good. Joss still has trouble with "Are we in Paris?" questions when he means "Are we in France?" but he knows the capital of Tanzania.

It is a bit weird getting email from home talking about reunion plans, parties, who is picking us up, where do we want to spend our first few nights (in our home if we can get to the mattresses). But just like a year ago at this time when I was stressed about China and Tanzania, we don't know what to expect when we get home but we're sure we'll do just fine.

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April 19, 2002: the odometer on our leased Renault reaches "20,000" kilometres


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