Yesterday, I received the nicest surprise – a Halloween care package from my aunt and uncle. They've sent packages to us for Halloween in years past, but this one was filled with treats specifically for me: black cat kitchen towels, a cute decoration for my front entrance, and my favorite cocoa covered almonds from their neighborhood in Brooklyn. Okay fine, I'll share those with the kids.
I immediately texted to thank them. That's when my aunt replied about the spiders.
The spiders!! I'd forgotten all about them! It seems I have a thing for spiders, and I have no idea why. In case I haven't mentioned it, I have a book coming out next fall. What's that? I've mentioned it ten million times already? Well, just in case you need a reminder, it's called THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER, and I'm mentioning it again because here is the opening paragraph:
My older sister, Alice, told me my new piano teacher, Mr. Schneider, was part tarantula. At first, I didn’t believe her, but lately, I wasn’t so sure. Even his name rhymed with spider.
You'll have to wait to read the rest, but do you see where I'm going with this? Spiders.
Since my aunt brought up my beloved (and forgotten) growing Halloween spiders, I had to dig out my old blog post about them. I can't believe it's been ten years since I grew my spider friends...
November 2, 2010
I was hoping to have this blog post coincide with Halloween – but you know how spiders can be. In the midst of putting together Halloween costumes, working on novel #2, a sick child, and planning a Bar Mitzvah, the number one thing on my mind these days has been spiders..it's true!
Now I admit, I am not normally a huge fan of spiders, although I have gotten better. After all, they do keep other bugs from getting into the house. But generally speaking, the thought of spiders does not excite me.
So when I opened the annual Halloween package from my Aunt and Uncle to find three rubber spiders, my first response was “yuk”.
Upon further examination, I learned that these were no ordinary spiders. These were “growing” spiders – double yuk. Nevertheless, as any good mom would do, I decided to follow the directions and put the three spiders in a bowl of water where they would allegedly grow four times their size within seventy-two hours.
At this point, a strange transformation occurred. I actually became interested in these spiders – one may even say my interest bordered on obsession. While my children took a peek every morning when they woke up to check on the spider’s growth progress, I checked on the spiders every few hours. I made sure they had enough water, I turned them regularly so that the water touched them on all sides evenly as they grew, I took pictures, and I even moved them to a larger pan of water once they outgrew their original bowl.
Sure enough, after 72 hours of TLC, they reached their peak size. I was such a proud mama. But my job wasn’t done yet. According to the directions, once you remove the spiders, they are supposed to shrink back down to their original size.
Let me just interject that we are now five days into this little experiment, and my children have completely lost interest…but that doesn’t stop me. I lay out some paper towel on my counter and remove the spiders. The paper towel immediately becomes saturated, and I realize that these spiders would do much better on one of my plush towels. They sit nice and comfy for the next three days as they start to deflate. But then, I begin to think: Am I doing all I can do for them? Of course not! They need somewhere warm and cozy, where the water inside of them can properly evaporate. So I moved them to the best seat in the house:
And now, I continue to wait to see what my little big spiders will do next.
I'm sad to say I have absolutely no idea what's become of my spiders over the past ten years. Sorry little big spider friends!
I hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween!
Remember nearly four years ago when I FREAKED out over a mouse in my bedroom? How about last year when despite having SEVEN cats in my house another mouse dared to roam my bedroom? (**You can catch up here .. I'll wait**) FYI, last year's mouse smartly jumped into a bucket, and I let it loose outside <---True story.
Well, it's officially mouse season in my house again, way earlier than in any other year, and I'm already over it. It wouldn't be so bad if I had actual mousers for cats (sorry mouse lovers.) Instead, I've got Frick -n- Frack, aka Wolfie and Theo.
Wolfie( in front) is no help. He's old and spoiled, and I take full responsibility for his cattitude. He also goes to sleep promptly after dinner and doesn't want to be disturbed until 5am, at which time he goes through a well thought-out plan of attack to get me, his human, out of bed in order to feed him. Since the mice mostly seem to make their appearance after dark, he barely even knows they exist.
My only hope is Theo, his younger brother. Lucky for me, he's actually quite good at catching mice. Except he doesn't have a clue about what to do with them once he's got them in his clutches. I think he missed that Cat Academy lesson. What generally transpires is this: A lot of hissing and growling and a room-to-room parade so he can show off his prize, usually starting at around 3am. In my sleep-deprived state, I can't decide if I'm supposed to be terrified, or if I'm supposed to try to save it. At some point, Theo gets bored. So he lets it go. And he watches it run off. That's right … he watches it escape, leaving me to figure out where the poor mouse has gone. It's basically a really bad Tom and Jerry episode.
And it's only September.
I get it boys, I'd like a full night of sleep too...
In other news, I received a lovely email from a woman named Estefania at Money.com about my Foster Kitten Friday posts from last summer. (Here is the first in the series, if you want to check it out.) Estefania wanted to let me know about a thoroughly researched and thoughtful guide on pet insurance that the team at Money.com put together, and she asked if I'd like to share their article.
Two important things to note:
1. I'm not receiving any compensation, benefits, perks, etc... I just think pet insurance is a really good thing, and
2. This is Money Magazine! They know what they're talking about.
Also, number one on their list for best value is Healthy Paws Insurance, which is what I have for Theo. (Yes, that's three things.)
I love the article because they split out best options for many situations, such as best insurance for dental procedures, older pets (which I'm now looking into for Wolfie), multiple pets, exotic animals, reimbursement, etc. And they give a ton of useful supplemental information as well, talking about what pet insurance is, what certain terms mean, and whether or not insurance is worth it.
In addition, the article gives excellent and timely advice on topics such as:
It's a must read article for pet owners and rescuers/foster care-givers. I hope you'll take some time to read the full article here:
Last but not least, Wolfie and Theo have an important reminder for you...
When I wrote my blogpost titled “Baking My Way Through Quarantine” back in May, I never thought there’d be another Covid-related installment to that post. But here I am, still weary of venturing out and still baking – a lot! Thankfully, we are all healthy here. I hope you are too. Also thankfully, all my clothes still fit. Did I mention I've been baking a lot?
Speaking of clothes and baking, I bought my first ever baking apron partly because it makes me feel official and serious, but mostly because I'm hopelessly messy.
As before, I've linked recipes below to all of my baking. The only exception is the biscotti, which is a passed-down family recipe. Email me for that one! Also, the brownies and banana bread are from NY Times Cooking, which requires a subscription, but has a free trial. Totally worth it, in my opinion. One baking note, I ran out of the eggs when making the sugar cookies and learned that ¼ cup of plain Greek yogurt works great as a substitution. (Thank you Google!)
If you follow me on Instagram, most of these photos may look familiar. Also, thank you for following me on Instagram! And if you don’t, please come find me - @karenpokras_author -
especially if you want more baking pictures, the latest book news, and extra cute photos of my two black grumpy but lovable editorial assistant cats and adorable foster kittens.
Right – baking. Here we go…
There’s one more and honestly, it could get its own blog post, so I’ll try to give the short and sweet version: I received a request from my Englishman for a childhood favorite he’d been craving. Something this American never heard of called “Malt Loaf.”
After some research, I learned it’s a fruit cake held together with a sticky, yet apparently vitamin-packed ingredient called “malt extract,” which I needed to special order.
Another ingredient, molasses, also proved difficult to find for some odd reason, but I learned it’s easy to make from scratch.
The recipe for malt loaf wasn’t complicated, but I’m not going to lie, malt extract smells awful. And the smell carried through my entire kitchen. After baking, I had to wrap the malt loaf in paper to “mature” for 4-5 days.
Thankfully, the smell mellowed with the maturing process. And there actually was still another baked good, because I wound up making scones a few days later, both to cover the smell and because I wanted an edible British sweet in case the malt loaf was a complete disaster. I substituted dried figs and cherries for currants because that's what I had used in the malt loaf recipe.
In the end, the malt loaf got a thumbs up, although not from me. I was glad I had scones as a backup.
Happy baking and be well!
Hi there, me again!
I got so excited yesterday talking about my signed Maya Plisetskaya book, that I completely forgot to finish my post with the rest of my book news. So here we go with Book News, Part Deux (told you my Quarantine French lessons were going well!)
Last year, back in 2019 (remember 2019?), while working out the publishing contract for the book that’s coming out next summer – more on that below – my agent emailed to see what I had next in the works. I replied with a horribly written sentence (which I won't repeat here) to describe a story I hadn’t completely worked out in my head.
“I think (it) offers a lot of promise,” my agent replied.
“Great, I’ll keep plugging along on it,” I responded calmly. In reality, I was in a complete panic because the plugging along had stopped weeks before thanks to an awful case of writer’s block.
Being a visual writer, I like to put together collages as I generate ideas. So while I didn't actually have more than a few rough chapters written, I sort of, kind of thought it might turn out like this:
Here is the short and sweet version of what happened:
I turned to a recommended writing book called Save the Cat Writes A Novel (which I have mentioned before.) It not only saved the cat, it saved ME.
Now, months later and after many, many rounds of revisions, I’m excited to say that my story, titled DAISY DEELY KNOWS THE TRUTH is out on submission with publishers.
(Fingers and toes crossed!)
I don’t want to jinx anything, but two weeks before I got the news that my agent was happy with the revisions and wanted to send it out, a piece of my ceiling fell in. I know that’s not actually good news. BUT – in the mess that fell from my ceiling, there was an old empty juice box, presumably left by the original builders in the 1950s.
At first I was convinced it was a sign from my grandmother, whose nickname was Daisy (and the reason I named my main character Daisy in Daisy Deely.) But, my critique partner likes to remind me that I’m surrounded by weird coincidences when I write. Someday, there will be an entire blog post about all of them. It certainly seems to be the case with the Daisy Maid juice box that suddenly fell from my ceiling. Also interesting is that the occurrence of coincidences is an ongoing theme in my Daisy Deely story. Hmmm.
For those who may be curious, here are the deets on DAISY DEELY:
When science-loving Daisy’s mom announces yet another divorce, they find themselves moving to a house that’s rumored to be haunted. With Daisy’s world turned sideways, she navigates her feelings about having parents who each have two divorces under their belts, whether the strange coincidences in the new house have a basis in science, and the true meaning of friendship in her quest to distinguish illusion from truth.
I have announced this book news before, but I will announce it a million more times, because it’s just so exciting. My newest book, THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER comes out next summer. I hope to have a cover to show you soon, but until then, here is the collage I made and summary:
Certain a recent kidnapping is linked to an old Bermuda Triangle alien theory, 11 year old Danny, the only Jewish boy in his town in 1978, tries to prove his hairy-handed piano teacher is involved. But he not only has to fight UFOs, he also has to fight anti-Semitism.
Stay safe and healthy!
Hello friends! I hope you’re all healthy and safe! Like most of you, I’m still staying close to home, limiting my contacts, and wearing masks on the rare occasion that I'm out and about. But through all that, I’ve had a busy summer. I’ve been baking a lot (keep watch for another Baking Through Quarantine post coming soon), fostering kittens, and I’ve also been working on some exciting projects.
Yes, I’m talking about book projects!
You may remember back in 2013, I wrote and published a story called Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas about a young girl and her love of ballet. While that book received positive feedback, I decided to pull it from shelves shortly after publishing. It was a lovely story, but it wasn’t the exact story I wanted to write. And back then, I didn’t have the time or ability to write the exact story I wanted to write.
Fast forward to 2020.
I know, I’d rather skip right over it too, but here we are, and I’m feeling inspired.
More importantly, I’m feeling ready, and that means diving deep into research about all things related to training with Russian ballet academies during communist Soviet rule. After just a few weeks, I’ve got pages (and pages) of notes from my research. Much of the research has been fascinating. And while there's been some eye-opening moments, there's also been some amazing surprises. Like this one that came across my doorstep yesterday:
Maya Plisetskaya was not only one of the most celebrated and talented prima ballerinas to come out of the Soviet Union, but she was also a Jewish dancer, entering the Bolshoi Academy under Stalin’s rule. This book is her memoir, and according to the blurb, it tells it all. Everything. I had to have a copy and found one in an online used bookstore. Imagine my SURPRISE when I opened it to find this inscription:
It’s in Russian, and I don’t speak Russian (although my Quarantine French lessons are coming along nicely.) But I put out a call on social media and it turns out someone responded with help! Okay fine, it was my mother. She sent the inscription to a friend of hers who is Russian and this was her response:
I checked the credits on the book. Sure enough the translator’s first name is Antonina ... a formal possibility for Anna.
My first thought was why would the woman who translated the book give away or sell her copy? Her signed copy? Of course, in her defense, my own child did put his signed copy of NATE ROCKS THE WORLD on the top of his giveaway pile last summer. But I’m no Maya Plisetskaya.
Not. Even. Close.
Whatever the reason, it’s now in my hands. The hands of someone who loves both books and ballet. And I couldn’t be happier or feel more inspired.