November Brings the Blast

Dull November brings the blast, 
Then the leaves are whirling fast. 

 “Dull November” is exactly right. It’s a long slog from Witch Week to Thanksgiving, with just a fleeting interlude of political excitement, here in the U.S., on Election Day. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I rarely regret the passing of this month, with autumn’s glorious colors disappearing and the days growing noticeably shorter. Not even that extra hour of sleep over the first full weekend of the month, as the clocks in the northern hemisphere fall back, can atone for the bleakness ahead. But at least it isn’t February!

Not just because I’m in recovery after #WitchWeek2022 will this be a short post. The three authors discussed here have done me a favor in keeping their November chapters calm and quiet.

Dark-eyed junco, Connecticut Audubon Society, photo by Scott Kruitbosch,

In Connecticut, Gladys Taber sets the mood for us:

Now in November, the leaves spread cloth of gold and red on the ground. The open fields take on a cinnamon tone and the wild blackberry canes in the swamp are frosted purple The colors fade slowly to sober hues. The rain falls with a determination in long leaden lines, and when it stops water drips from the eaves.

Winter birds arrive, such as the junco in the photograph, which Taber considers her “weather forecast for they appear suddenly when it will be bitter.” Chickadees, bluejays and woodpeckers are other winter arrivals, and Taber’s descriptions make me want to walk the woods of Washington Heights and Inwood (there are at least three) with binoculars and see what avian residents I can spot before the trails become too muddy to hike.

Down in Provence, Peter Mayle and his neighbors prepare for the cold months of late autumn and winter, blown in on the wild Mistral that surprises visitors with its sudden icy gusts. One important task throughout wine country is trimming back the vines and clearing the cuttings before the worst of the rough weather arrives. This practice offers Mayle an opportunity to admire the ingenuity of the French “peasant”, who

is reluctant to discard anything, because he knows that one day the bald tractor tire, the chipped scythe, the broken hoe, and the transmission salvaged from the 1949 Renault van will serve him well and save him from disturbing the contents of that deep, dark pocket where he keeps his money.

When the Mistral comes, the best one can do is hunker down and hope that damage is kept to a just a few tree limbs brought down, or a tile or two blown off the roof.

Lastly, Dorothy Hartley spends much of her November chapter discussing medieval drovers, for November was the month when anyone with too many animals to overwinter would begin sending them to market. This involved a long trek, one more complicated than this city gal would have thought, for several reasons. First, and most obviously, the herds couldn’t comprise mixed animals, because cows, sheep, pigs, and geese all travel at different speeds. The animals also required different routes, and started at different times of the day. Cows, for instance, couldn’t start to move before early afternoon, after they’ve fed and then chewed their cud for a good long while. “Low feeders” had to follow “high feeders.” There might be delays, such as the need to shoe lamed cattle, and the best speed anyone could hope for was about 10 miles per day.

A borkel marks the holes for stitching leather

Along the various routes, and especially at the end points (not just in London, but any town or city with a large market), one could find various tradesmen offering services as needed: smiths, butchers, tanners, leather-workers, and saddlers. You can imagine the stink around the abattoirs and tanneries, which were usually located down river from the wealthiest landowners and city dwellers.

As an aside, Hartley points out how a smith could remove styes from children’s eyes.

The little ones were sent to ask him to do it, and he’d say, ‘Just wait till I’ve done this horseshoe”, and the child would push close to watch, close to the heat and the steam, and blink hard, every time the great hammer came down with a bang — till in half an hour the smith would wipe his hands, and look, and smile (for the stye had burst and wept itself away).

I wish there were magical smiths who could so easily cure other problems with no loss to anyone. I suppose I’ll just have to write that story myself.

That’s it for November. December will be here soon. Happy reading, everyone!

Posted in Am reading, History, Memoir, Reading the Year | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

#WitchWeek2022 Wrap Up

NYC Mural by Magda Love. Photo by Lizzie Ross.

Another successful #WitchWeek2022.

Before I send you along to Calmgrove’s blog, to read his wrap-up and learn the theme for #WitchWeek2023, I just want to give my own bit of thanks to all who contributed: guest bloggers, our readers, not to forget the fantasy authors who keep writing such wonderful books.

Also, to Lory Hess, for starting this whole thing to begin with, and to Chris for being such a wonderful co-host.

Keep reading, everyone!

Now you may head over to Calmgrove.

(PS: Learn more about Magda Love at her website.)

Posted in Diversity, Fantasy, Witch Week | Tagged | 5 Comments

#WitchWeek2022 Day 6

“Pimp My Piragua”, by Miguel Luciano. Museum of the City of New York. Food in New York exhibit, October 2022. Photo by Lizzie Ross.

The season for the piragua (syrup flavored shaved ice) has ended, but I couldn’t resist using this photo today, because my second guest post for #WitchWeek2022 includes a tip-of-the-hat to piraguas (sold from carts similar to but not as fancy as this one).

You may be wondering what piraguas have to do with Witch Week. I can only send you to Calmgrove’s blog, where my post takes you around the world of fantasy in, well, about 8 minutes, depending on your reading speed. The piraguas come in at the end.

Armchair travel is not so bad, right?

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 5

“Ancestor”, by Bharti Kher, Central Park, NYC, 2022.
Photo by Lizzie Ross.

I shouldn’t be astonished by the confluence of events in my life in NYC, but here’s the latest surprise.

“Ancestor,” Bharti Kher’s magical statue, recently installed at the southern end of Central Park in NYC, awaited me as I walked across Manhattan, planning these Witch Week posts and wondering how I’d illustrate them. Finding this was my reward for walking instead of taking the cross-town bus.

And so, what better image to tempt you to visit Calmgrove’s blog, where Mallika Ramachandra (one of the participants in the discussion yesterday of Black Water Sister) takes a turn as guest blogger. She reviews a 19th century classic of Indian literature, Chandrakanta, by Devaki Nandan Khatri.

And a huge thank you to the New York Council on the Arts/Public Art Fund and to other foundations for their commitment to making art available to all.

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 4

Te Ahi Kā, by Riki Manual. Christchurch, NZ.
Photo by Lizzie Ross

Ah! It’s the middle of Witch Week. That generally means it’s time for the Witch Week Read-Along Discussion.

This year, Chris and I found ourselves in a sea of interested participants, and so we have a small crowd sharing their ideas about Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister.

Two of the six participants are first-timers, and it’s doubly exciting that one (Daphne Lee, our guest blogger on 31 October) is from Malaysia, and the other (Mallika Ramachandran, our guest blogger for tomorrow) is from India.

Other participants you’ll know from past Witch Week celebrations: Jean Leek (from Howling Frog Books), and Lory Hess, the creator and former host of Witch Week, who now blogs at Entering the Enchanted Castle.

If you’ve read Cho’s novel, please come and join the discussion with your own comments at the end. If you haven’t read it, perhaps our discussion will inspire you to do so.

The edited discussion waits for you at Calmgrove, so what’s holding you back? You’re just one click away.

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 3

“Thunderbirds”, by Norval Morrisseau (Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabe), Black Sheep Gallery, Nova Scotia.
Photo by Lizzie Ross (White).

Another day, another invitation to join #WitchWeek2022.

Today, my own post at Calmgrove introduces you to four books by Native American and First Nation authors from the US and Canada, none like any of the others. Humor and horror stand side-by-side in these worlds, which should surprise no reader.

But before you head to my Witch Week post, please take a few minutes to read Joy Harjo’s short poem, “American Sunrise“, which the Poetry Foundation has made available online. If you don’t know Harjo’s work, this poem gets you off to a good start.

Poetry first, and then fantasy. Not a bad combo.


Posted in Diversity, Fantasy, Witch Week | Tagged , | 1 Comment

#WitchWeek2022 Day 2

Spirit Returned from the World of the Dead Mask, Fang (Gabon), Seattle Art Museum. Photo by Lizzie Ross.

November already!

Well, at least you have this week to enjoy an international tour of fantasy books and authors, thanks to #WitchWeek2022. Then a few days to recover. Then the speedy tumble through various holidays to the end of the year.

Let’s just focus on today, then, shall we?

For this second day of Witch Week, Chris starts his post with a quote from Dracula. He goes on to give us an in-depth review of Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Deathless Girls, about Romani (or Traveller) twin sisters caught up in a world similar to the almost medieval Transylvania depicted by Bram Stoker in 1897.

It’s a perfect book to feature today, the Day of the Dead.

So, find your way over to Calmgrove, where you can learn more about Hargrave’s novel.

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 1

“Sound Suit”, by Nick Cave, Whitney Museum, NYC. Photo by Lizzie Ross.


It’s Halloween at last, and I hope you all are ready for whatever tricks (and treats) are in store for you. For starters, check out APOD’s Cosmic Bat Nebula, LD N43.

Over at Calmgrove, #WitchWeek2022 has officially begun, and we have a bagful of book treats for you, which we’ll dole out over the next few days.

Today’s post introduces you to Joel Donato Ching Jacob, a Filipino fantasy writer. Our guest blogger, Daphne Lee, is a fantasy author in her own right, as well as a consulting editor for Scholastic Asia. Later in the week, Daphne will be back to join our discussion of this year’s read-along book, Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister.

As for this photo, I’d love it if someone came to my door tonight dressed in something like this suit designed by Nick Cave (the African American artist, not the British musician). If you’d like to see more of Cave’s work, check out the various videos on YouTube of Nick Cave’s Heard NY at Grand Central Station. Gorgeous art in motion. And gorgeous Grand Central Station! Thank you, MTA Arts for Transit!!!

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#WitchWeek2022 starts tomorrow

Mural by Eduardo Kobra. Photo by Lizzie Ross.

Just a quick reminder that today marks Witch Week Eve, the day before that wonderful week-long celebration of fantasy fiction in honor of Diana Wynne Jones. Chris at Calmgrove is hosting this year’s event, which will feature books by BIPOC authors from around the world.

In honor of this year’s theme, I’ll be posting my photos of art work by BIPOC artists, ancient and modern, from around the world. Today, the artist is a Brazilian muralist, Eduardo Kobra, with this recent four-story-high artwork honoring NYC’s Ellis Island, through which more than two million immigrants passed between 1924 and 1954.

Over at Calmgrove, you’ll find a calendar of events for the week, so check it out, and join us as we celebrate the wide world of fantasy.

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Soup & Salad, October

Quite busy lately, what with WITCHWEEK2022 starting in just a couple of days, so I’ll keep this one short.


Hot soups are back on the menu! Ones with lots of vegetables and colors are best, with thick ones running a close second. I’d already tried a few from this month’s recipes (Saint Seraphim Soup, with peppers and saffron; Soup au Pistou, a lovely vegetable soup flavored with pesto sauce; Leek and Potato Soup; and Southern-Style Vegetable Soup), so my options were few. I went with Ossobuco Soup and Corn Soup.

Ossobuco Soup on the left, Corn Soup on the right

Ossobuco Soup, made with neither meat nor bones, is an odd concoction of onions, celery and carrots, flavored with a dry-ish paste of sage, rosemary, thymes, garlic, and green olives, and thickened with rice. Simmer in wine and vegetable broth, add a few capers, and garnish as you see. I’m wondering if that mixture of herbs and olives is meant to approach the taste of actual Ossobuco. This recipe was good, but not one I’m tempted to make again. The Corn Soup, however, was a winner: onions, garlic, red and green peppers, tomatoes, and corn. Lots of corn, cut fresh from the cob. Instead of using the frozen corn called for in the recipe, I substituted two ears of corn, fresh from the farmer’s market. Simmer them with the soup for just 2-3 minutes, pull them out with tongs, slice off the corn, and put that back in the pot for a final hotting-up. I’ll be making this one again.


Of the twenty recipes Brother Victor-Antoine includes for October, eight were similar to salads I’ve made before. I had tried a ninth recipe and not liked it, and two others just did not appeal. But two looked interesting, and one of them was a hit. Carrot and Black Olive Salad is just as it sounds: grated carrots, minced shallot, chopped kalamata olives, and chopped parsley, in a citrusy mayonnaise-yogurt dressing. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my carrot salad with raisins rather than olives. The Green Bean and Tomato Salad, on the other hand, was wonderful. Visually gorgeous, and just the right combination of fresh farm produce: green beans, tomatoes, red onion and parsley, with a light lemon-olive oil dressing. The next day I added pasta and feta cheese to the leftover salad for a perfect lunch. Versatile recipes are great.

The year nears its end, and I near the end of this project. However, this is not yet the time for reflection: two months to go, both with big holidays. We’ll see what the rest of the year brings. Happy eating!

Medieval Coffee Klatch?
Posted in Am reading, NOT a food blog, Reading the Year, Soup and salad | Tagged | 2 Comments