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School Days Reminiscences of Darlene Foster

School Days, Reminiscences of Darlene Foster

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

This week, I am pleased to introduce Darlene Foster, world traveller and writer of travel adventure books for children and adventurers of all ages. Darlene joined in the conversations about school days from the beginning and was keen to share her own reminiscences with you.

Before we begin the interview, I’ll allow Darlene to tell you a little of herself:

Growing up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, Darlene Foster dreamt of writing, travelling the world, and meeting interesting people. She also believed in making her dreams come true. It’s no surprise she’s now the award-winning author of Amanda Travels, a children’s adventure series featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places.  Readers of all ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. When not travelling herself, Darlene divides her time between the west coast of Canada and the Costa Blanca, Spain with her husband and entertaining dog, Dot.

Darlene Foster and her books

Welcome, Darlene.

Let’s talk school. First, could you tell us where you attended school?

Until grade 4, I attended a small rural school in the Canadian prairies, Hilda, Alberta, in which one teacher taught two grades. Then we moved to another rural community, Irvine, Alberta, where I attended a much larger school with separate grades including high school for the rest of my school days.

Did you attend a government, private or independent school?

These were government schools, which we call public schools in Canada.

What is the highest level of education you achieved?

I left school in Grade 11 so did not graduate with my classmates. I did however complete high school via correspondence. I took many college courses over the years and when I turned fifty, I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Diploma in Teaching English as a Second Language, via distant learning. I also acquired a number of Certificates in Human Resource Management and Job Search Facilitation. I believe in lifelong learning and will continue taking courses for the rest of my life.

What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

I worked in retail management, recruitment, employment counselling and as an ESL Teacher, all as a result of courses I have taken. I have also taken many writing courses over the years, including university-level courses, which have been very beneficial to me now as a writer.

Darlene Fosters's earliest memory of school

What is your earliest memory of school? 

I remember the first day I walked into the classroom. I thought I was in heaven, all those books and so much to learn. I was like a sponge, thirsty for knowledge. I loved school from before I even started and could easily have been a professional student. Even now when I walk into a classroom for an author presentation, I get that same feeling of awe.

What memories do you have of learning to read?

I could read a bit before I started school. I recall my dad reading the comics, which we called the funny papers, in the weekly newspaper with me. That may have been how I started to read. I loved the Dick and Jane readers at school and being able to read a story on my own was so exciting.

What memories do you have of learning to write?

I recall that being able to print was great but when I learned cursive writing, I was delighted. My writing was very neat and tidy for the first couple of years and I even won prizes for it. Then I started to write stories of my own and my writing couldn’t keep up with my thoughts and ideas. It soon became very messy, but I just had to get it all down on paper. It is totally unreadable now. Thank heaven for computers.

What do you remember about math classes?

Math classes were OK but not my favourite. I always had to work harder on math but still got good marks. I do recall enjoying algebra though, while everyone else hated it. Proof that I am a letters person, not a numbers person.

What was your favourite subject? 

It was a tie between English Literature, Social Studies and Drama.

what Darlene Foster liked best about school

What did you like best about school?

Learning new things and the teachers. My grade three teacher, in particular, was amazing. She taught us about other countries by getting us involved. When we learned about Mexico she gave us Spanish names, cooked Mexican food for us and brought in colourful serapes and sombreros for us to wear. She instilled in me the desire to travel and see the world. She also encouraged me to write my stories down. I will be forever grateful to her.

I was an odd child and actually enjoyed taking tests. When we moved, the school season had already started by two months and I had started grade 5 at the old school. I was so excited about going to what I considered a much more modern school. It was a day the class was taking a provincial pre-packaged test and there wasn’t a package for me. I was devastated that I couldn’t take the test and actually cried. The other students thought I was crazy as they would have happily given up doing the test.

Darlene Foster reminiscences of school days

What did you like least about school? 

Physical Training. I was never good at sports and was always the last to be picked for a team. I came up with all kinds of excuses not to participate and was often sick on P.T. day. And those awful bloomers we had to wear! One wise teacher gave me the job of being the scorekeeper, which I enjoyed.

How do you think schools have changed since your school days?

Since it has been a long time since I went to school, they have obviously changed, a lot. They have changed since my own kids went to school. The biggest change is the use of technology of course. I love those whiteboards that act as a computer screen. They are like magic. There is much more positive reinforcement and focus on diversity and individuality today. I like the fact that school is less formal and more relaxed. We couldn’t even wear pants (trousers) to school and had to wear skirts even on -40C days. Now they even have pyjama days!

What do you think schools (in general) do well?

As a writer, I often visit schools to do readings and I am very impressed with schools today. The students are so eager to learn and proud of their accomplishments. There seems to be an emphasis on reading and creative activities which is so good to see. Children respond to learning if it is fun and there is no reason for it not to be. Personally, I would love to be a student in today’s schools.

Darlene Foster reminiscences of school days

How do you think schools could be improved?

I do think teachers are often overworked. It is a demanding job and one in which you have to be on all the time. Many get burned out which is too bad as it is often the most dedicated that do. Perhaps hiring more assistants or having smaller classes would help. It is such an important job as these kids are our future.

thank you for your participation

Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Darlene. It’s a pleasure to have you here. I especially love that you are excited about learning and particularly being a life-long learner. I enjoyed reading your positive views about schools today.

Find out more about Darlene Foster

On her website: http://www.darlenefoster.ca/

On her blog: https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/

Or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Darlene-Foster/e/B003XGQPHA/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3156908.Darlene_Foster

Connect with Darlene on social media

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarleneFosterWriter/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/supermegawoman

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darlene6490/

Books by Darlene Foster

Purchase your own copies of Darlene’s books from Amazon.

If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:

Charli Mills

Sally Cronin

Anne Goodwin

Geoff Le Pard

Hugh Roberts

Debby Gies

Pauline King


D. Avery

Christy Birmingham

Miriam Hurdle

Robbie Cheadle

Marsha Ingrao

Ritu Bhathal

Joy Lennick

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Susan Scott

Barbara Vitelli

Sherri Matthews

Mabel Kwong

Chelsea Owens

Pete Springer

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.



Travel with a Twist Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo results

Rodeo #3: Travel with a Twist Winners

The results of the Carrot Ranch Rodeo #3 Travel with a Twist are in. Congratulations to the winners! Well done to all the entrants and the judges!

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

By Sherri Matthews

Well, we asked for travel stories with a twist, and we got ‘em.  Thank you so much to all who entered, 29 in all. You’ve taken us around the world (twice), to Rome and through most of Europe, to Morocco, Lima, on sun-drenched holidays including the Caribbean and Hawaii, up mountains, along the coast, to a Harry Potter conference in San Francisco, a monastery, Lake Michigan, Key West, Rock Springs and the weird and wonderful Garbled Creese. We’ve walked, ran and hiked, and travelled by car, cruise ship, plane, bus, motorhome, and broomstick.

The high quality and enjoyment of every story, however, did not make it easy for the judges.  I don’t like this part of the job! First, I verified every story’s word count and sadly had to eliminate 2, one just under, one just below 99 words. Then we narrowed it down with each of…

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Travel with a twist Carrot Ranch flash fiction contest #3

Rodeo #3: Travel with a Twist

Saddle up and get ready to ride with Sherri Matthews for Contest #3 at the Carrot Ranch. Sherri’s looking for some twisty travel tales. Don’t tie yourself in a knot over this one. Just write. It’ll work itself out in the end.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

By Sherri Matthews

In July, I had the good fortune to spend a week’s holiday with my husband on the Italian Amalfi Coast. I say good fortune, because hubby won it, thanks to a random prize draw. We couldn’t believe it. Who wins those things anyway? Surely it’s a scam? But I can report back that it’s no scam because I’ve got the pics to prove it. [READ MORE…]

Welcome to Travel With A Twist, the third contest at Rodeo 2018.  Packed and ready for the off? Then let’s ride. But first, just like any essential safety demonstrations, a few simple rules before take-off:

  1. Entry must be 99 words, no more, no less (not including the title).
  2. Use the form below to enter, including your name (judging is blind).  All entries will receive a confirmation email. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email, contact us at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

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Welcome to the toy box

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A little while ago I wrote about my (small) collection of international toys and the fact that I wished to add to it when I visited Los Angeles and New York with my grandchildren. I received a few suggestions:

Sarah suggested anything I wouldn’t want to stare in the eye

Irene thought maybe a rattle snake, coyote or woodpecker

Charli wondered if a bison or grizzly bear would do, and

Geoff suggested a snake.

Many requested I share my choice.

I have now returned from that quick visit to the US, and did indeed bring back a small collection of toys to add to my toy box. (Four-year-old granddaughter informs me that 2 can be a collection, 3 is even better, and 100 is definitely a collection!) I have three to add to the toy box. A fourth got confiscated along the way.

When we visited Los Angeles, we went to the La Brea Tar Pits, a fossil site with an active excavation and museum. For a family fascinated with prehistoric creatures, the museum was a must visit. We were not disappointed.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Outside the museum we saw life-size sculptures of a mammoth family succumbing to the sticky entrapment of the tar pit. You may wonder why the sculptures are fenced. The mammoths may not be real, but the tar pit is! We saw much tar oozing up through cracks around the site as well as in the pond.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Inside the museum we saw skeletons and depictions of many of the animals trapped in the tar pits. These are skeletons of a mother and baby mastodon who fell victim of the tar:

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

We also viewed a 3D movie that provided information about the Titans of the Ice Age, including stories to explain the fate of animals whose fossils were found in the tar.

In this short of the movie, you may sight Smilodon, a sabre tooth cat.

I discovered that Smilodon is California’s State Fossil, so it was the first toy to add to my collection.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Unfortunately, Smilodon was confiscated by my grandchildren and didn’t make it home with me. I am assured it is very happy at their place with its competitor Dire Wolf, also seen in the movie trailer.

Of course, I couldn’t leave the store without some books as well.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In New York my choices turned to fiction. I discovered that an exhibition of works by Mo Willems was being held at New York’s oldest museum, the New York Historical Society Museum and Library, not far from where we were staying.  I have previously shared my delight in Willems’ books. His books are humorous, and his illustrations, with their seemingly simple line drawings, are very expressive. Of course, I had to go, and had to buy.

I came away with Pigeon and Duckling, and two of Willems’ books.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I thought I was done adding to my toy collection, but when we visited the American Museum of Natural History, granddaughter insisted that I purchase this T-Rex because it was my favourite colour. How could I resist?

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Now that I am home, I have introduced Pigeon, Duckling and T-Rex to the other toys in my toy box.

welcome to the toy box

© Norah Colvin

They are settling in quite well, though everyone is complaining that it is becoming a bit squishy. However, I think they are rather pleased that Smilodon got waylaid along the way!

So I didn’t end up with any of the suggested choices. I hope you don’t mind.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts. 


Home or away

Many people look forward to a holiday away from home; an opportunity to escape the routines of the everyday and enjoy new experiences.  Many people look forward just as much to the return home, to familiar comforts and routines.

During the past twelve months I have enjoyed a few escapes away.

I travelled overseas and far away for my first visit to London.

Whitehall, London © Norah Colvin

Whitehall, London
© Norah Colvin

My visit to the UK included a few days at Saxmundham to the north

Cottage at Saxmundham © Norah Colvin

Cottage at Saxmundham
© Norah Colvin

and a visit to Dinosaur Adventure at Norwich for Grandson’s fifth birthday.

Dinosaur Adventure, Norwich © NorahColvin

Dinosaur Adventure, Norwich
© NorahColvin

I travelled to Cairns and Port Douglas in northern Queensland,

Port Douglas © Norah Colvin

Port Douglas
© Norah Colvin

and from north to south through Tasmania from Hobart to Launceston.

Hobart © Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I visited Alice Springs and Uluru in Central Australia.

Uluru © Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I also visited some seaside locations closer to home, including Hervey Bay and Marcoola to the north and Coolangatta to the south.

Hervey Bay © Norah Colvin

Hervey Bay
© Norah Colvin

Just last week I enjoyed a few days at a farmstay celebrating Grandson’s sixth birthday.

Farm © Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Looking at that list, one might think I am never at home; but it doesn’t seem that way to me.

Visiting places away from home can be educational as well as enjoyable and fun; meeting new people, learning about different cultures and ways of life, experiencing new foods, activities and routines, and seeing different geographical features. This is true for adults and children alike. The learning is integral to the experience, not an add-on or a lesson.

However the experiences can be recorded by, with or for children to enhance learning opportunities; for example, but not restricted to:

  • Photo stories with accompanying text provide wonderful opportunities for reading and discussion and for keeping the memories alive over the years.
  • Diary or journal records that include dates, places and events provide opportunities for writing and reading. These entries can be supported with photographs, drawings, or “souvenirs” such as stickers, postcards, entry tickets and brochures.
  • Letters and postcards sent to family and friends provide further opportunities for sharing, writing and reading.
  • Emails can also be used to share highlights with family and friends and provide opportunities for using and learning about technology. I have found that including myself as a recipient for each email provides an effective alternative, or addition, to diary writing.
  • Marking routes and places visited on maps helps develop a sense of location and direction. Combining these with photographs or photo stories or diaries makes them even more meaningful.
  • Using a calendar to count down the weeks or days until departure, mark the days at each location, and the date of returning home helps to develop an understanding of the passage of time as well as the ability to read and use a calendar.
  • Discussion of departure and arrival times, the time until and the duration of journeys or events,  and relating these to time shown in both digital and analogue format helps develop an understanding of the use of time measurement and the passage of time. Use of printed and online timetables, as well as those displayed in airports, train stations and at bus stops provides opportunities for in-context and purposeful learning.
Example of a simple photo story for preschoolers

Example of a simple photo story for preschoolers © Norah Colvin

Books, including atlases and photo books, can be used to ignite interest in places to be visited during a planned holiday or generally to arouse interest in other places. Stories can also be used.


One such story is Letters from Felix by Annette Langen and Constanza Droop. It tells of Felix, a toy bunny who was lost at the airport, as he travels the world on his way home to Sophie. In my version Sophie lives in Hobart, Tasmania and she receives letters from Felix in London, Paris, Rome, Cairo, Kenya and New York. (If anyone owns a different version, I’d love to know the countries included.) In each letter, the information shared by Felix inspires Sophie to find out more about the location. When Felix finally arrives home he has a surprise gift for Sophie: a sticker from every location visited.

Letters from Felix is a great story to read at any time, but takes on extra meaning when one, or someone known, is travelling or returning from travels. It can be used to support or encourage an interest in geography in the classroom or at home. If children are not visiting locations as exotic as those visited by Felix, they may still be encouraged to record and share their experiences in the ways described above.

Of course, when children arrive home, they may be just as excited to rediscover their familiar comforts, toys and books and reconnect with friends and family left behind. As the song says, “There’s no place like home.”

What inspired me to think about holidays and home this week is the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a return to home. I have written about Marnie’s return to the place she had grown up but had never felt was “home”. It also provides a segue to the next post in my series celebrating Australian picture books which includes “Home” by Narelle Oliver. I hope you will join me for that post. In the meantime, here is my flash:

The return

Her eyes looked outward but her gaze was inward, trying to unravel the confusion of tumultuous emotions: anger for what had been, sadness for what wasn’t, regret she hadn’t escaped sooner, fear of her reaction, coldness at their passing. The bus carried her back; some things familiar, some as different now as she, returning “home” after so many years. Home? She’d called it home, back then, but now realised it hadn’t been home, not really; not safe and warm and loving as any home should be. She’d left vowing to never return. She returned now for finality and closure.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Sugar and Snails: On friendship, fact and fiction

sugar-and-snails cover

In this post I am very excited to introduce Anne Goodwin sharing tidbits from her debut novel Sugar and Snails, published just last week by Inspired Quill. It is already receiving rave reviews and I am happy to add my voice to those in praise of it.

Anne and I have been friends for the best part of two years. I can’t quite remember just how we met but I do remember it was on Twitter and that we hit it off almost immediately. I followed up one of our Twitter conversations with a post and we haven’t looked back. We have enjoyed many wonderful discussions on each of our blogs, and the blogs of others. With Anne’s background in psychology and mine in education there is considerable opportunity for a meeting, as well as divergence, of minds.  I learn from her, I think, as much as she learns from me. Or should that be the other way round?

On her blog Annecdotal Anne shares reviews of novels she has read and her thoughts about and understanding of the writing process. I have read some of Anne’s recommendations, including “The Examined Life” by Stephen Grosz, which stimulated a great discussion on my blog, including a first guest post by Anne.

Anne is also a fabulous teller of short stories with over sixty published either online or in print. I must confess I have not yet read all of Anne’s stories but have thoroughly enjoyed each I have read. I think she has a gift for a surprise ending, though she does not employ the technique in every story.  Her style is easy to read with a natural flow of language. Her portrayal of characters shows a depth of understanding that may be attributed to her background in psychology, but the variety of settings and topics displays a much broader understanding of the human condition in different environments and from different cultural backgrounds.

It is my great pleasure to hand this post over to Anne.


Anne Goodwin: On friendship, fact and fiction

The year I turned fifty, I wanted to do something special, but a party really wasn’t my thing. Instead, I celebrated with a long distance walk: 190 miles across northern England from the west coast to the east. As the route begins only a few miles from where I grew up, I took the opportunity to meet up with a bunch of old school friends the evening before I set off.

About a dozen of us got together for a meal in the pub we used to frequent after school. I’d kept in sporadic touch with a few of the women over the years, but some I hadn’t seen since I was fifteen. Although there was some lively conversation, I spent a lot of the time sitting staring, overwhelmed by how I could detect within these middle-aged faces the teenagers they’d once been, and the pleasure of being back among them.

After hiking across three national parks, meeting up with various friends and family along the way, I reached my destination at Robin Hood’s Bay, exhausted and exuberant. Back home, with a couple of days free before returning to work, I began writing the novel that was to become Sugar and Snails.

Like many writers, I’m an introvert. I relish my time alone. I need to be able to withdraw into the privacy of my own mind to reboot. But friendship is important to me as well. Those two and a bit weeks of reconnecting with old friends served as a reminder of that, and also that, in the right form, sociability can revitalise me too. It felt so important I dedicated my novel to the coast-to-coasters and old school friends.

Yet it wasn’t until very recently that I realised that my novel was itself a celebration of friendship. Of course I’d given my main character friends but, in my head, I didn’t distinguish them from other people who drive the plot forward: a troubled student; her difficult boss; the social worker who found her a place at boarding school at fifteen. Maybe, because Diana herself doesn’t fully trust her friends, I wasn’t able to appreciate them either.

Two of her friends are crucial to the story and, although they never meet, they are brought together strongly in Diana’s mind early on. Attending a dinner party to mark the forty-fifth birthday of her best friend, Venus Najibullah, Diana is asked to pop upstairs to tell Venus’s daughter a bedtime story. In response to the seven-year-old’s insistence on a story about “when you were a little girl going on adventures”, Diana finds herself lost in the memories of Geraldine Finch “the girl who ruled my childhood”.

As with many childhood friendships, Diana recalls an intense connection with Geraldine as the pair absorbed themselves in dressing up for role-play games. But as they approached their teens, Geraldine proved fickle, neglecting her playmate in favour of other friends, unless there was something she wanted. The friendship ends abruptly in what appears to be a betrayal, followed by Diana’s departure for boarding school a few months later. But it would be premature to regard this strand of the novel as about the dark side of female friendship. From the vantage point of adulthood, Diana might come to view this childhood friendship differently, just as the reader might gain a different perspective on learning more about the character of Diana.

Meeting for the first time aged eighteen, Diana is somewhat intimidated by Venus until she discovers they have something in common:

On my first Sunday night at university, I was en route from the bathroom to my study-bedroom in the student halls, clutching a damp towel and my quilted wash-bag to my chest like a shield. My gaze levelled at my fluffy primrose slippers peeping out from under the hem of my stripy galabeyah as I shuffled along the corridor. I didn’t notice the other girl until I’d almost bashed into her: tall, with a cascade of ebony hair and skin the colour of butterscotch.

I made to move on, but the girl blocked my path, looking down her long nose at me from beneath heavy eyebrows: “You do realise that’s a man’s galabeyah you’re wearing?” Her voice was as haughty as the girls’ at Dorothea Beale, with an exotic lilt that brought to mind the rhythms of Cairo.

No doubt I blushed. At boarding school I’d kept it hidden in my trunk. But university promised another chance and, besides, who was going to be able to tell the difference between a traditional Arab shift and an ordinary nightgown? Who, apart from this arrogant girl who was scrutinising me like I was an exhibit in the Egyptian Museum?

I glanced down at the loose cotton gown I’d picked out with my dad at the Khan el Khalili three years before. “That’s what I like about it,” I told the girl. “A dress that’s meant for a man.”

A wide smile softened her features. “Fair enough, although I prefer a dash of frill myself.” It was only then that I recognised her floor-length lilac robe as another galabeyah, trimmed with lace around the neckline, with pearl buttons where mine fastened with bobbles of cord. “I’m Venus Najibullah, by the way. Come back to my room and I’ll make you a coffee and you can tell me how an English girl came by such a thing already.”

Yet, although they become close friends, and remain so for years, Diana can’t tell Venus the full story of her trip to Cairo, fearing rejection if she does. She’s become so accustomed to presenting a false self to the world, she genuinely wouldn’t know how to share the secret of her past. Over the course of the novel, she has to take a risk to discover whether she can trust Venus with a more authentic version of who she is.

When Norah first offered me a guest slot on her blog, I thought I’d write something more closely tied in to the theme of learning. Yet when she showed me the draft of her lovely introduction, I knew this was the right way to go. To both give and receive friendship is something best learnt through experience but, to do so, we have to be prepared to take the risk of being rebuffed.

Norah is a prime example of the wonderful new friends I’ve found through writing, and I’ve been especially touched by the support I’ve received from friends, old and new, online and off-line, as I publish my debut novel. Tonight I’ll be at the second of my book launch parties along with a few blog/Twitter friends I’ll be meeting in person for the first time. Norah can’t be there, but I’ll be conscious of her presence in spirit, as well as that of other dear friends from across the continents. A few of those “old school friends” to whom I have dedicated my novel will be there, however, closing the circle of friendship that is a central theme both of my novel and my journey to write it.

Anne Goodwin author photo

Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last week by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

blog tour week2


Thank you, Anne, for sharing your thoughts. I am delighted  to join in the excitement of your publication celebrations. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Sugar and Snails and am happy to recommend it to others.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.