Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (part 6)

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know that in October I have a series called Witchy Weekends, and this year I’m continuing writing a fairy tale. You can read parts 1-4 here. And here is the link for part 5. Part 6 follows now:

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The Frog Wish (continued)

Eleanor’s stomach grumbled again, and she rubbed it gently with an anxious hand. “Why can’t I hear them?” she asked Reginald. “Why can’t I hear anything?”

Ribbit. You can hear me, can’t you?”

“Well, yes.”

The frog swung his eyes toward the market. “Maybe if you get closer to them, you’ll be able to hear them, too.”

Did he know this for a fact? “Can you hear them?” He croaked his response; it sounded both affirmative and exasperated. “How often have you come to this market? Has it ever seemed silent to you?”

“You ask a lot of questions.” He jumped off the stump and onto the path leading to the middle of the market. “Come on.”

She hesitated, worried the scene would recede away from her, that she’d be stuck on the path between the mirror forest and the silent stalls forever.

Reginald stopped before he sprang again and turned around to look at her. “You’re not very trusting, are you?” He seemed then to shake his head, an uncanny movement on a frog’s body. “I smell food.”

Eleanor didn’t, but her stomach quivered anyway. “Fine.” She took one small step onto the packed gray dirt. Nothing shifted away from her. She took another step. Still nothing weird––well, more weird––happened. A third.

“At this rate you will starve before you make it across the clearing. Ribbit.

“Shut up.” But Eleanor stepped it up and reached the frog.

“Finally.”

“I could kick you like a soccer ball across the clearing.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I might accidentally drop this heavy book on you, though. You might hop away before it crushed your little webbed footsies.”

“Only aquatic frogs have webbed feet. Pay attention.”

Eleanor waggled the book over Reginald’s green body. He didn’t flinch.

“Low blood sugar? Ribbit.

“Yes.” She didn’t even care to think up something clever to say. The smells of the market were reaching her now, in the clearing, and she thought she could detect the far-off ambient noise it was making. It seemed proximity to the stalls activated their impact on her senses.

“You’d do better to actually read that book than threaten me with it.”

As Eleanor stepped into the middle of the rough ring of stalls, her perception awoke with sounds and smells, and the closer she came to each stall, the less silver it appeared. Color began leaching into the landscape in small doses, suffusing the other people as if from the inside. “Food first.”

She kept just enough distance from the market activity to not be part of it while still observing all that she could. The wares on display seemed to have been lifted out of a stereotype. Baskets of colorful spices, the occasional live chicken or goat, formless textiles draped here and there awaiting the purpose of nimble hands. But the inhabitants of this landscape––people and animals and some creatures who seemed perhaps to be both, conversing with each other as naturally as any shoppers and sellers at any farmer’s market in Eleanor’s world.

She was still looking for food––of the cooked and ready-to-eat variety––when a flurry of activity shifted her eyes to the right. There stood a booth she hadn’t seen before, this one piled high with fruits. Melons, grapes, berries in every color. Bananas by the bunches. A rainbow of apples cascading along one entire side. Figs, stones fruits. Spiky and fingerlike things––jackfruit and citron and dragonstar––she had only ever seen at specialty grocery stores but had never tried. And the squat, bulbous creatures hawking them looked both familiar and completely unreal. One of them, swaddled in layers of clothing of indeterminate shape and color, beckoned her over. His face reminded Eleanor of Reginald’s, writ large, its wide straight mouth and bulging eyes dwarfing its smooth double slit of a nose.

“Hungry?” it asked her.

“I am.” She thought her stomach might actually turn inside-out with fervor and took a few quick steps toward a bunch of fat, shiny grapes. She could devour them on the way to a booth with something roasted and meaty.

“Stop!” Reginald hopped in front of her before she could grab anything.

“What, why?” Her stomach roared in despair.

“Not up on your Rosetti?” He gestured to the book under her arm, then jerked his head toward the proprietor’s grimacing figure. “Goblins?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I take it back.” Reginald kept hopping toward her until she had to step back, out of the immediate fresh aroma of all the sweet fruits piled up before her, just begging to be eaten. “You are too trusting.”

The anger in her belly faded somewhat.

“You can read it later, I guess, but just stay away from the fruits here.” He gave the goblin behind him a stern glance; the goblin stuck its floppy tongue out at him. Reginald croaked fiercely and licked his own eyeball in response, then when the goblin turned around, Reginald did too.

Eleanor stared at him. “That was weird.”

“Thank me later. There’s some roasted partridge on a stick with currant sauce a little farther on.”

She was hungry enough that didn’t even sound strange to her. “Food first,” she repeated and followed him toward the back of the clearing, a little closer than before.

#

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Please join us for my online book launch of Homecoming, the second book in the Animal Affinities series! It will be next Saturday afternoon, October 24th, at 4:00 central time, wherever you have an internet connection. Click here for the details.

Want to read more of my writing that’s already published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books at Blue Willow Bookshop and my books and poetry art cards at Ella’s Apothecary, and I hope you will!

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know that in October I have a series called Witchy Weekends, and this year I’m continuing writing a fairy tale. You can read parts 1-4 here. Read on for part 5.

***

The Frog Wish (continued)

“Do you know if there’s any food here?” Eleanor asked after she’d been jogging after Reginald’s hopping form for at least fifteen minutes. At least this activity had taken the edge off the cold. He stopped and turned to look at her.

“I’ve been eating this whole time,” he said, “but my guess is you don’t like mosquitoes.”

“Clever of you.” She just barely prevented herself from snarking about frogs’ legs. “You said sometimes people come here? Humans? How long do they usually stay?”

And did they bring food with them? And did they come of their own volition? And were they trapped here? She had so many questions but didn’t think Reginald would bother answering if they come at him in a volley.

“There’s a market road about two clicks ahead.”

“Market of what? Is there a village around here somewhere?”

“All kinds of things. And maybe? I’ve never seen any settlements in these woods.”

Eleanor looked around at the silvery landscape. Trees as far as the eye could see, and only shadows between them. The trail they’d been traveling wasn’t even well established: she’d had to stop several times to extract pebbles or leafy twigs from her shoes. At least she’d put on sneakers when she started moving the bedroom furniture. Furniture she’d really love to get back to right this very minute. “How many times have you come here?”

“Ribbit.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Ribbit.

“Fine, don’t answer me. But I really need food, and so far I haven’t seen anything Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)”

Bonus Earworm: Van Halen

You’ve probably, by now, seen or heard the new that guitar legend Eddie Van Halen has died. Here’s a piece about him in the LA Times that’s worth reading.

And here’s a bonus earworm for you, too: one of his more iconic pieces, “Eruption,” followed by the excellent “You Really Got Me.” Rumor has it that “Eruption” was just a warm-up that got recorded and included on the album. I don’t know if that’s true, but I love the idea that it might be. They’re played together regularly.

What’s your favorite Van Halen track, if you have one? Drop us a link in the comments and let us enjoy it, too.

 

Monday Earworm: School of Rock Kids (Sing The Mamas and the Papas)

One of my colleagues whose classroom is across the hall from mine plays music at the start of his classes just about every day. Really loudly. And it’s often good music. I started the day with Beck’s “Qué Onda Guero” in my head, but then this song started up across the hall, and now this one has been stuck in my head all day.

But rather than show a clip of the original, I’m using this cover by a School of Rock Camp group, because it is actually, in my opinion, better. (And yes, I know people will argue with me about that, and I even know who will be the first to register a complaint in the comments. And who will want to, but then refrain from doing so just because I’ve pre-emptively called it out.)

Enjoy.  😉

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns

So for the last however-many years, I’ve been doing an October series called Witchy Weekends. Some years I reviewed books or movies, presented songs, that sort of thing. Then in 2019 I began posting consecutive scenes from a story I was writing; one of the characters is a witch. It seemed like a fun experiment, and…well…the story got some really good attention!

But I was also in the middle of finishing up my (at the time) next book — which is out now, by the way. It’s called Homecoming, Book 2 in the Animal Affinities Series. (Click on this link to find out information about the online launch event in a few weeks!) So I put this new story aside.

Well, some of my blog readers have been asking me about that story and have encouraged me to resume it. (Thank you!) So I have agreed! Today’s post is a slightly edited version of the scenes I posted last year, so you don’t have to go look them up. As for the story’s progress, I do have a rough outline of what’s coming next, but also, I am writing this story as we go along. So if you want to leave feedback or speculate on what’s coming next in the comments of each post, feel free. I make no promises about whether your ideas will make it into the future scenes — as I said, I’ve already kind of figured some of that out — but this story is also a fun exercise in plontsing, so.

That said, let us commence with…

 

THE FROG WISH

Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him. 

The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.

All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.

“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.” 

The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”

“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”

“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.

Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”

Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.

“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.

“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”

Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”

“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.

Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.

“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”

Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.

The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.

Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.

Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.

Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.

“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said. Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns”

Forbidden Cookbook: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Welcome to pumpkin season!

Some years back, Starbucks began carrying these absolutely delicious pumpkin cream cheese muffins during their pumpkin spice latte season. It was kind of hard to get them, frankly, because they usually sold out early in the day.

Well, there’s a whole movement of copycat recipes out there for menu items that are very popular at well-known chains. My cousin once gave me the recipe for Chuy’s creamy jalapeño dip, which was spot on, and I’ve also seen various copycat versions of the brown bread at Outback Steakhouse — although the jury is definitely out on those recipes, which are all quite different and have garnered very mixed reviews on their faithfulness to the original. (And if you have a source for a good one of those, please do share it with me!)

One copycat recipe which is not only authentic to the original but actually, if possible, even yummier, is Starbucks’ pumpkin cream cheese muffins. I wish I could tell you where I found it a number of years ago, but “online somewhere” is about the best I can give you.

And now I’m sharing it with you here. These pictures are from the batch my kid and I made this past weekend, and they were probably the best iterations of these muffins we’ve made to date! So delicious. And it has always, for us at least, been a two-person job. Before you attempt these, read over the recipe carefully for the process. There are a lot of steps. It’s not hard, there’s just a lot going on.

But so worth it!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Cream Cheese Mixture:
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Candied Pumpkin Seeds:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pepitas (raw shelled pumpkin seeds)

Muffin Batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Cream Cheese: Using an electric mixer combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Cover and chill until firm. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin pan with paper muffin cups.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds: Spray large baking sheet with cooking spray. Heat seeds in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, 5 minutes or until the seeds begin to pop. Add sugar, and stir constantly about 1 minute or until sugar begins to liquefy and caramelize; add cinnamon and salt. Spread seeds on prepared baking sheet, and cool. Break apart the seeds that are stuck together, once they have cooled.

 

 

Muffin Batter: Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, combine eggs, sugar, and vanilla; mix on low speed just to combine ingredients. Add pumpkin and oil, and continue to mix about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and mix until batter is smoother, about 30-60 seconds.

 

The Final Steps: Spoon batter into paper muffin cups, making batter level with top of the muffin cup. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of cream cheese mixture to the top of each muffin and press cream cheese down into the middle of each muffin cup of batter. Sprinkle muffins with candied pumpkin seeds.

Baking: Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly browned on top. (If you’re using a convection oven, go with the lower end of that time range.) To test for doneness insert a toothpick into center of muffin (not cream cheese), will come out clean.

Monday Earworm: Neil Patrick Harris and Felicia Day (DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG)

This one is on repeat in my head. It’s also probably the best song in the whole trilogy.

Also, if you haven’t watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, please do so. There are three episodes, about fourteen minutes each, and it’s a triumph as well as a cult classic. Joss Whedon and friends came up with it way back during the last really big writers’ strike in Hollywood, and people needed to work. So this was created, and it has endured far better than anything else that came out of that strike, including our collective memories of what all that stuff was about in the first place.

And speaking of writers, you know I am one. I write (among other things) books, and a new one has just come out. Wheee! It’s Homecoming, the second book in the Animal Affinities series (You’re welcome, Finis. fans, and sorry it took so long), and you can get it here, as well as find out about the fabulous launch party — which will be online, so you can attend! There’s also a little giveaway happening on my socials, which you can learn about in my newsletter that just came out this weekend. (Let me know if you want to be on that list, by the way. It’s different from the blog and comes out less often.)

Just A Little Video With Something Nifty And An Invitation

Self-promotion is the least wonderful part of being an author. (Actually, waiting on various aspects of the publishing industry beyond one’s control is the least wonderful part, but self-promotion is a noteworthy second.)

But I made this video, so I hope you’ll watch it and take heed of the excellent developments therein.

And here’s the link you’ll be wanting after you watch it.