This is really the only picture I need for today (but don't worry: the Sunday desserts are at the bottom of the post!) - it sums up the beautiful spring day, its lush green possibilities, and its insistent and welcome weirdness (you can't tell me that isn't a fez on the dinosaur's head!). The kids had a rough go of it most of the day - they are so wiped from the past two days of megalithic mayhem that we endured many a meltdown (over things not being just so), and fight (the accordion was an especially desired item today), and pleas for Things That Cannot Be Had (why I won't get Eleanor a bird, I just don't know). Everything got better (remarkably so) when we got outside (love outside) and decided to just walk and gather sticks and such for a plasticine megalith diorama (the diorama never happened - sigh - the one time I tell them to bring home sticks and acorns!)
It was only after the third or fourth curious look that I asked Mac to turn Eleanor around and it was then, of course, that I realized how much her little stroller get-up made her look like a polio victim. It wasn't even that cold, but she wanted to be bundled up. Iris's somber face and hand-on-head gesture helps make the scene that much more pitiable. But she stayed bundled up like that until we stopped to run around. Are we really that comfortable here that I would let my kid get strolled in a pink and brown leopard print blanket? Why, yes!
People are out boating on the Oust now. The man who operates the écluse (the lock) was working quite a bit this afternoon. It's a hand-cranked lock, so no picnic. I've actually spent an alarming amount of time trying to understand how locks work, and I just can't. I know that there's something really cool and controlled about rising and falling water levels and buoying up boats and keeping flow even - but I still can't think my way through how it works. Iris, on the other hand, was not only fascinated but seemed to totally get it. Machine mind, that one.
Ok, so none of that is weird, and neither is this picture. But this is an image I don't ever want to forget, because it's how Iris and Eleanor truly are to each other. They fight over the occasional accordion, they both want the world just so, but when they join up and unite their efforts of play, the world is a golden place indeed. Here they were sharing the last of the honey candy and discussing their forthcoming dinosaur hospital on one of these fantastic embankments that are a good 5' above the level of the water (add 20' or 30' for the trees on the embankment). Once they start talking to each other, there's no stopping them, and the scenario gets more and more action-filled (Eleanor) and more and more rule-bound (Iris). I think very much of Alice in Wonderland, of course, and of the photography of Julia Margaret Cameron.
Here's Oliver and his fez dinosaur again. Now - I don't know if this story will translate to writing, but I just have to try because what Oliver said, to my mind, just so perfectly captures the essence of who he is, and how he looks at the world. So we decided to walk farther than we'd ever walked before, beyond the usual bend in the path that marks the last view of the house of our friends on the island, and for some reason this thoroughly freaked Oliver out. He wanted to turn back, not "go on another stupid journey" (have these kids had it, or what?), and "stay near the island for the love of God." This awakened my stubborn streak and I insisted that we walk on. And back and forth like this until Oliver exploded and was good and mad. It's funny (or bad parenting), but my children's anger immediately deflates my own. "What on earth is worth making them this mad?" I always find myself asking. 9 times out of 10, not this, whatever this is. I have no fight in me when I see little necks stretched out in anger, or mouths twisted in fury. And so I relent, with much tedious explanation, and we reach some sort of compromise. This time, it simply meant turning back. But Oliver lagged behind, and I was sad that he wasn't with us. To make a peace offering, I started telling him about the Top Ten Quirky Local Festivals I'd been reading about on CNN.com (oh the vicissitudes of the web!) and (I love this kid), he was immediately interested. I could actually only remember one festival, but it was totally vivid, and this was the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival (which - weird! - just occurred this past week-end, May 14-15). Everybody perked up at this point, and so I told the whole story, as best as I could remember: about a farmer who, as he did so often, went out of chop a chicken's head off for dinner, and was stunned to see the bird walk around animatedly for quite a while afterwards; about how, believing that this chicken was definitely meant to be alive, having lost its head, the farmer fed it down its neck through a dropper; about how, upon taking the bird to the nearby university, the farmer discovered that, in chopping the chicken's head off, he had missed the jugular vein and that a blood clot had stopped all blood flow; about how the chicken went on tour and amazed hundreds of people. "And so," I ended, "Mike the Headless Chicken lived without a head for another 18 months." We had stopped walking by then, and I looked down at three open-mouthed children and across at a bemused husband. There was a pause, and then Oliver asked: "Was he happy?"
That's my little guy, looking to know if a headless chicken was happy being headless. I love you, Oliver.
The other big event of this week-end just has to do with my being weird, as all medievalists sooner or later are. Kalamazoo, the big medieval congress hosting 3000 (that's right, 3000) medievalists in Michigan every year, was the site of the Big Reveal of the author of the blog "Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog"!!! Turns out it's an up and coming assistant professor of English out of Sonoma State University named Brantley Bryant who (this might be my favorite part) publishes on medieval English poetry's negotiations of economics. He started the blog the year before he received his PhD, and has been going ever since. Now it's a book and I absolutely positively can't wait to read read read it. For a taste of his wit and madness, you can enjoy his Mother's Day contribution (Grendel to his Mother!) - don't fear the "oldish" English, just read it all out loud and it will make sense. And then tell me how I can use the phrase "cake-lured" with greater frequency.
And now the moment you've all been waiting for: the Sunday night desserts! The kids will be back at school tomorrow with dreams fed by (starting with the little round chocolate number) a "Trois Chocolat" dessert (white, milk and dark chocolate), a millefeuille which had powdered instead of combed glazing (ah-ha!), a tarte au citron which Oliver raved about (really tangy), and a tarte aux pommes which provided comfort to all. Merci, Mac! We had the kids in bed by 8 p.m. tonight, and so I went to see Les Invités de Mon Père, a comedy of generations and revelation that was funny and "boulversante" (troubling) and touching (of course). Tomorrow, we plunge back into work with megaliths and millefeuilles urging us on!
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