Monday, 18 July 2016

And I Darken: A Book Review

I was sold by the Amazon blurb description of Kiersten White's  And I Darken when I read the first sentence, "This vividly rendered novel reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire." I didn't need much more than that. I love books that read like movies. Stories that transport you. Where you see the action unfolding as you read, and feel the emotion as the characters experience it.

Since I didn't know any more than that when I started reading, I thought at first that I was reading a book about Vlad Dracula's daughter. And despite the vivid writing and compelling characters, I was mildly disappointed by what I thought was historical inaccuracy... because I was a generation off in my assumptions. Then I realized my mistake - the father of Vlad Dracula was in fact also named... Vlad Dracula. So then I thought I was reading a book about Vlad Dracula's sister.

But as I turned the pages and was nearing the end, I could not wrap my mind around how dramatically things would have to change in the final chapters for Lada's little brother, Radu, to become the legendary Vlad. It just wasn't working for me.

THEN I got there.

I wasn't reading a story about Dracula's daughter, or his sister - Ladislav (called Lada) is a female rendering of the legendary Vlad Dracula. And it's BRILLIANT!

Now, I experienced these revelations as plot twists when they aren't supposed to be. If you read the whole back cover apparently it is made clear that Lada is a young, female Vlad Dracula.

Lada and her little brother turn gender stereotypes on their heads. Lada is a keen strategist and fierce warrior, ruthless and calculating. Radu is a subtle eavesdropper, sly and charmingly manipulative. Each of the characters in the book are individuals, even minor characters, with relatable motives and fascinating agendas. This is a complex historically based political intrigue, while at the same time being highly accessible, as it is written for a young adult audience. In my mind, that is a winning combination for a great book - the depth and breadth of a rich story presented in the simplest language possible.

I was looking for an engaging and entertaining read and I can confidently say that And I Darken delivered, and while I am looking forward to the next book in the trilogy, And I Darken is also able to stand on it's own.

If you are ready for some Wallachian Romanian royalty, Vlad Dracula, Albanian hero Skanderberg, medieval battles, Ottoman court intrigue, and young conflicted love, And I Darken by Kiersten White is available at

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Plein Air Outdoor School

With our big move, comes our next big thing - the launch of our very own Forest Kindergarten! From the pictures of my life with James you may have noticed that we have been living our own private Outdoor School adventure up until this point. Outdoor exploration.. All day. Every day.
Rain or shine.

Now we are bringing the opportunity for that experience to the wider community... to their toddlers and preschoolers at least. The "doors" of Plein Air Outdoor School will open September 6th in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and I am sure it will be a spectacular adventure.

Visit our website at to see what we are up to!


Wagners on the Move: East Coast Bound!

I am off to be a grad school mommy. Next month we are moving our little three ring circus to Antigonish, Nova Scotia for me to begin an MA at St. Francis Xavier University.

I am beginning my Master's of Celtic Studies with a focus on Old Irish Mythology and Medieval Literature... for those of you who are wondering. I wanted to go back to school for marketable credentials that will help me get a good job... HA! Real reason: research for my books! Second real reason: I am about 75% ethnically Celtic and yet have very faint connections to that culture. I want to remedy that divide and reconnect with my family heritage.

So here we go... 2017km to the only MA in Celtic Studies program in the country.

Here's to new adventures!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

20 Months Old

The little boy is quite a chatterbox these days. His pronunciation is not quite up to the same level as his vocabulary so sometimes he will be saying a word that cannot be identified, which is frustrating for everyone, especially him. When he is too tired, this dissolves in anguish and the game is over. But most of the time he plays this word association game and tries to come up with enough related words that I will be able to guess the original one he was trying to say!

It goes like this:

We are eating breakfast.

"insert gibberish," he looks at me expectantly.

"What was that, baby?"

"same gibberish," he looks hopeful.

"More smoothie?" I ask.

Frowny face, wild headshaking and a general demeanor of grave disappointment in Mommy's intellect.

"repeat the gibberish. Outside. Trees. Neighbour house." He adds.

I glance behind me at the window.

"Outside you see trees and the neighbour's house." I repeat obediently.

"ouddarindu. Outside."

I wait.

"Indu. Indo. Indow!"

"OH! Window! The other window!" I strike gold.

He nods an affirmative with his whole body.

"usttairs oddar indow. All done."

"Ah, you want to upstairs to look out the other window in Grandma and Grandpa's room at the neighbour's house."

He shakes his head.

"Big trucks."

So he wanted to go back to his own room upstairs to watch the street traffic, but he described the view out the other side of the house because it was what I would see though the closest window to where we were in the kitchen - more likely to help me guess the word "window." I was impressed.

We play at lot of word association charades. It is cumbersome communication, but I will take it over crying any day. And he is still learning new words daily and incorporating them into his descriptions.

We spend almost every morning at the beach and sometimes again following his afternoon nap. Other times will we go to the park or into the woods to play. He loves the forest by our house: he calls it "path is hiding" aka "the path that is hiding" because the forest is full of official and unofficial footpaths that you cannot see from a distance. Thus, they are hiding.

The weather is always good at the beach. Or anywhere outside for that matter. We only go inside for thunder storms and even then, he doesn't understand why I am ruining his fun. We have been going swimming on hot days. He was very unsure of the whole swimming thing at first and was sure that I had fallen down and couldn't get back up. Now he is happy to hold on to my back while I swim the length of the waterfront. Although, he is generally distressed in the first moment he gets wet, insisting that we go back and get him some "fresh clothes" because "James all wet."

One of his favourite times of day is late afternoon when most families' beach days are over - because then he can play search and destroy with all of the abandoned sand castles.

We have started our own version of morning cartoon watching. While I am making breakfast he likes to sit in the living room and watch the first few scenes of the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. For those of you who don't know - it's a movie about a horse, from the perspective of the horse. I also loved it when it came out.

James really only loves the first few scenes, which is fine with me, breakfast only takes a few scenes to prepare anyway. But his reason is pretty funny. He enjoys the lead up - an eagle flying around.

"eagle-bird! eagle-bird!"

Then he loves the first scene where Spirit is born.

"mommy horsie! baby horsie!"

He even mimics the baby horsie neighing on cue.

Baby horse learns to walk ("kaboom!"). Baby horse runs to music ("horsie tunes! mommy horsie. snow"). Baby horse meets some buffalo ("buff-low. water"). Baby horse grows up.

And the spell is broken.

The minute that baby horse turns into a big horse... show's over. Time for breakfast.

I guess he only identifies with horses his own age?

Monday, 4 July 2016

A Tale of Two Proms

Little Critter and I went to prom last week. Accidentally.

Not as hard as it sounds when you live in Port Elgin...

Critter and I were playing at the beach. It was late afternoon and most beachgoers had left for the day, so he was going along and systematically destroying every. single. sand castle.

The usual.

And then I saw the first evening gown.

In Port Elgin the tradition is for every prom-going grade 12 kid to meet at the Main Beach boardwalk to take pictures before heading off to the dance.

So Critter and I stayed to watch the show...

Now, there is a reason I found Port Elgin pre-prom activities so striking. It wasn't that there were a bunch of teenagers on the beach in evening gowns. Although, I might have stayed just to watch that too. There were some pretty stunning dresses.

But no, the reason I enjoyed the exhibition so much was that although the teenagers came in evening gowns, their immediate families came in semi-formal attire, for the pictures, no doubt, but it also honoured the spirit of the event. The friends and other relations did not dress up, but they were standing there in a throng of onlookers waiting for the arrival of the celebrity-for-a-day graduating class.

When I went to prom it kind of felt like a big deal because of the dress and the hype, but while some friends came to my house beforehand and we took pictures, it felt much the same as every other school dance.
Me and friends at our "pre-prom" gathering in 2007.
Where I graduated high school, in a "town" of 180,000 people, there was nothing like this town-wide tradition of community gathering: published in the newspaper and widely attended by people every year regardless of their knowing someone in grade 12 or not. Here it is a right of passage. A proud and public coming of age acknowledgement. There were little boys running around on the beach wearing dress shirts and bowties. Little girls playing on the playground beside the boardwalk watching the teenagers in evening gowns arriving and cheering for the ones they knew. It is an event those same children will grow up envying and knowing that their day will come.

I am sure the prom dress parading teenagers got into their party bus and vintage pick-up trucks, drove to the banquet hall and more or less had a good time. But whether they realize it or not, the dance was just a dance, the real ceremony and event of the day happened at the boardwalk. The parents snapping pictures. The children's envious cheering. The grandparents' teary smiles. The townspeople bearing witness. The tourists stopping to gawk. The whole community acknowledging their grand exit from high school with pomp and ceremony and sandy feet.

"Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia."
Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

19 Months Old

19 months old looks a lot like 18 months old but we are now on the other side of the 18 month sleep regression. Little Critter slept his first 12+ hour night last week and nearly gave me a heart attack... you hit a certain point and your motherly imagination starts playing scenarios of suffocation and such and you have to go in and check on him... and he was just waking up... rubbing his sleepy little eyes blissfully unaware that anything abnormal had happened.

His now established favourite place to be is the beach, which he refers to as: beach! lake! sand! water! stairs! slide! and my personal favourite "biiiiggg dirt!" We go to the beach almost every morning for a few hours and I expect it will never get old... it will only get more exciting as the crowds start arriving after school gets out in a few weeks. He always expresses his disappointment when we show up and there aren't any other people around yet. "Kids all gone..." and "Where people?"

He has been learning about "Seagull-birds" as he calls them. And he can now do a semi-consistent seagull imitation that has earned him compliments from passers-by.

He is getting ever-more confident in the lake and today he was up to his waist... still in his sweatpants. I'm going to have to put that kid in a bathing suit soon, but the weather hasn't really been hot enough to warrant less clothing so swimming in sweatpants has been the norm.

He loves the park at the beach. It has the child-height-railing for the stairs so he can step right up them like a big person, and he has learned to do the slide by himself this month which is pretty exciting for everyone.

One last highlight: last weekend Grandpa put up his driftwood horse swing complete with saddle. Little Critter knew it was a horse the minute he saw it (even before the saddle went on) and he said, "Horsey! Horse!" Then made the clicking sound with his tongue that is a horse clip clopping. Then he was silent for a few seconds... looked thoughtful and added, "bird?" I guess a swinging horse is confusing that way. So Critter has a Pegasus swing. Just look at that determined little jockey's face.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Confessions of a Backyard Farmer: Year 1

Once upon a time there was a wannabe farmer...

...and I was browsing through online seed catalogues in March. (Which is already a bit late in the season any competent veggie grower will tell you.) And between The Cottage Gardener and West Coast Seeds I was able to find all the heirloom fruit and vegetable seeds I thought I could realistically fit into my 465 sq ft of garden beds.

In April I started my first bunch of tomato seeds in an egg carton, which worked surprisingly well. Followed by leeks, bunching onions, and carrots in an actual seed germinating tray... which didn't work at all. They didn't sprout. And so began a long summer of trial and error.

The last frost date here in Port Elgin, Ontario is May 11th, but come that date we were still working on building the garden beds. By the beginning of June I had planted:

June 2015
Heirloom Tomatoes

  • Orange Banana
  • Indigo Rose
  • Savignac
  • Black Plum
  • Cheeseman's
Corn (Bloody Butcher)
Potatoes (Black Russian)
  • British Wonder Peas
  • Dwarf Grey Sugar Peas
Vegetable Spaghetti Squash
Evergreen Bunching Onions
Cucumber (English Telegraph)
Parsley (Italian Large Leaf)
Oregano (Greek)
Carrots (Scarlet Nantes)
Beans (Golden of Bacau)

Not all of them succeeded. There was a period of aphid attacks (at least that's my best guess). I lost the cucumbers, many squash, and the Cheeseman's tomatoes. The bunching onions and carrots sprouted, but didn't grow very much beyond that. The parsley didn't sprout at all.

Everything else was well on it's way.

July 2015

I added compost around the plants then I watered and weeded and waited.

August 2015
The corn started to shoot up like magic bean stalks. It was reaching the second story of the house by the end of August.

September 2015

 And then it grew tassels on the tops. And cobs on the stalks.
The potatoes grew into small trees and then collapsed into a jungle of vines.
The tomatoes became massive viney bushes.
For much of August, the spaghetti squash vines grew 5+ feet per week, stretching out over the entire garden.

And then it was harvest time. The last frost date here is officially October 1st, but it is now the 16th and still no sign of frost. We have an amazingly long season here compared to the rest of our agricultural zone.

So the harvest of strange and multi-coloured heirloom fruits and vegetables has begun.

Confessions of a Backyard Farmer: Year 2