We went to Texas for our Spring break. It proved quite a task, persuading my three insubordinate companions to pose sensibly for the obligatory photo record, but some of the results weren't bad. Later I'll post some of the results that WERE bad.
It wasn't long after our arrival in England that Anouk hit upon a splendid wheeze. Instead of sticking out her tongue whenever I aimed my camera at her - so babyish - she would attempt to leap in front of said camera whenever it WASN'T pointed at her. And that's how I came to amass a unique collection of scenic shots of the English countryside featuring the top of Anouk's head, and occasionally a bit of her face. It also kept her quite fit, all that jumping up and down after stuffing herself with so many sausage rolls.
Here's a small selection from my files.
And at Sissinghurst :
Oh, in case some of you are wondering what she really looks like, I actually managed to catch her not jumping at the Royal Academy exhibition on architecture:
So the biggest challenge of our impending move back to England was to find a school for daughter #3, who is at that awkward age when primary is turning to secondary, educationally speaking. If we'd known what lay ahead, I might never have accepted that posting back to London.
Expatriates in my position, it turns out, are faced with a perfect Catch-22. Most state-run British schools, especially the good ones, will not accept an application unless you have a local address. But you can't know where to live until you know what school your child will attend. The demand for the better schools is so frenzied, and the competition so over-heated, that late arrivals risk being consigned to the local equivalent of juvenile detention centres where they will be lucky if they are provided with a chair and a pencil.
The easiest way round this conundrum, of course, is a private fee-paying school. Easiest, that is, if you happen to be able to afford $50,000 a year, just so little Jimmy or Janet can learn Greek or Latin with the offspring of the stockbroking class.
Somewhere between these two extremes lurks a more manageable hybrid: a state-run school that also accepts fee-paying boarders at a not quite so exorbitant rate. There are very few of them, but they are often very good and one or two of them specialise in multilingual pupils with an international background. Anouk is bilingual, holds three passports, has crossed the Atlantic more than 35 times, and kids don't get much more international, background-wise.
So we applied to Hockerill Anglo-European College in Hertfordshire and received the forbidding news: we were well past all the application deadlines, and they already had something like 870 applicants for 75 places.
Somehow, mercifully, the Gods smiled on my pitiful pleading, and a surprise email duly arrived. If I could bring Anouk for an interview immediately, Hockerill might be able to offer her a place as a weekly boarder - (ie allowed to go home at weekends).
I could, they did, and she starts in September. I will have more to add about this later, but here's the happy child, imagining her English boarding school future:
So here was a very rare treat. Daughter #2 is a busy girl these days, with the usual high school obligations and an ever-present young man. She's rarely got time for Dad's camera. So when, the other day, she asked me if I could take a couple of portraits of her and her beau, I nearly fell off my chair.
As it turned out, we didn't have much time for a proper portrait session before smaller sisters got in on the act and ended all hope of an Annie Leibowitz type set-up. I still ended up with a couple of usable shots, though. Not to mention the unusable shot at the end....
With a little help from a mountain full of snow-making machines, we managed a Christmas afternoon on the ski slopes at Whitetail, Pennsylvania. As luck would have it, we had driven out on Christmas Eve in the hope of visiting Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece near Pittsburgh, but were foiled by a sudden blizzard that swept the Laurel Highlands and closed the house and grounds. A three hour journey for nothing, though the countryside was quite pretty. We got back to our West Virginia log cabin to find that not a single snowflake had fallen.
It was plenty cold enough for the ski slope snow-blowers, though, and the girls had a great couple of days sliding up and down mountains, or whatever it is you do with those silly sticks strapped to your feet. I restricted myself to my bike, of course, but hung around long enough to snap them having what they insisted was fun.
First, here's a shot of real snow from our abortive trip to Fallingwater (someone lost her front tooth just in time for Xmas):
Now here's the fake stuff at Whitetail. They did a pretty good job of looking like a real ski resort:
It's the time of year when owners of huge, fluffy white dogs march through the streets of American cities, demanding better fluff-removers.
Last weekend it was the Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade, and Belle joined a small but handsome group of her breedmates for a Great Pyrenean rumble. My smallest girls were very proud to be part of the parade, and took turns holding the banner of the excellent local rescue group.
Soon we'll be in Middleburg, Virginia, whose Christmas parade is the Mt Everest of mountain dog marching. The last time we went, there were something like 60 dogs. That's an awful lot of white fluff.
But while we wait for Middleburg, here are a couple of snaps from Silver Spring. Better get your fluff-removers ready.