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January 14, 2002
Impressions (from Russell's sister Joanne)

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Enjoying a nice home-cooked meal of French raclette

We arrived in Crest only three days ago and I am sad to say we are leaving tomorrow. In a short time we have become quite comfortable and would love to stay longer, however Chamonix, Florence, and Paris beckon us onward. Russell greeted us at the Valence train station with a camera in front of his face, wanting to capture our expressions as we arrived! We drove back to their "home" and immediately felt the warmth they have developed in their French home. The house is massive, with many doors and rooms. It reminds me of a small version of the Winchester Mystery House. While it is cold (32 degrees) outside, the inside is warm with us all gathered around the wood-burning stove. Gail once again whipped up a fabulous meal of raclette (melted cheese over meats, broccoli and potatoes in its simplest terms). It is so wonderful to see Russell, Gail, Cameron, and Joss in the flesh, rather than in pictures.

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Joss introduces Matt to all of his stuffed animals
Cameron shows Joanne his "Farm Wars" story -- all 41 pages

The boys have both grown taller and seem very content. I am very impressed with their organization in home schooling. Also, what better education than learning in the "real world." Russell and Gail have not grown (I imagined by now they would have each gained 50 pounds with all the good meals). In fact, Russell and Gail look about the same, yet less stressed. They have made such a great home in Valence that I wonder if it will be hard for them to return home.

Highlights of our visit include venturing into the town center to drink coffee and eat breakfast "pain au chocolat" (bread with chocolate baked inside), visiting the nearby castles and châteaux, and walking around the forest near their home. This morning Cameron and Joss gave Matt and me a tour around the forest. Matt and I both agreed this would be a beautiful place to retire. It is peaceful, slow paced and absolutely beautiful. The things I can do without include the roundabouts (intersections where you drive around in a circle until you find your exit), and the lack of a speed limit, or any obvious knowledge of its presence (French people drive quite fast and recklessly).

I could stay here another month or two, however I doubt Russell and Gail would approve. We are grateful for their hospitality and as it was six months ago, I know it will again be hard to say good-bye.

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Perusing the "pain au chocolat" at the local supermarché


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