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I love tulips. They are by far my favourite flower. So you can imagine my delight when we arrived at Keukenhof, the famous tulip gardens in Holland. Greeted by a sea of tulips in the brightest colours imaginable, I was like a child at a candy store. Covering 32 hectares, over 7 million tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers are on display amongst well kept shrubs, trees and blossoms. Interesting sculptures and works of art are displayed throughout the gardens. I climbed to the top of a traditional windmill, or molen, to get an amazing view of the surrounding tulip fields. For all you flower lovers, here is a bit of what I saw during my unforgettable visit. The pictures do not do it justice so you need to go yourself one day! And if you have been there, perhaps this will bring back fond memories.

tulips

 

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Traditionally dressed young women add to the colour and flavour

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Art among the flowers

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Keukenhof, means “kitchen garden” in Dutch. The site goes back to the 15th century when fruits, vegetables and herbs were grown in this location. In the 19th century it became a castle garden. This world famous attraction has been a permanent exhibition of spring-flowering bulbs since 1949 and is open 8 weeks of every year. I am so glad we planned our visit to coincide with the flowers in bloom. Another dream come true!

“I love tulips better than any other spring flower; they are the embodiment of alert cheerfulness and tidy grace, and next to a hyacinth look like a wholesome, freshly tubbed young girl beside a stout lady whose every movement weighs down the air with patchouli. Their faint, delicate scent is refinement itself; and is there anything in the world more charming than the sprightly way they hold up their little faces to the sun. I have heard them called bold and flaunting, but to me they seem modest grace itself, only always on the alert to enjoy life as much as they can and not be afraid of looking the sun or anything else above them in the face.”
Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Our trip to Holland included two days in Amsterdam, arriving at noon and leaving mid-afternoon the next day. It was not nearly enough time to see everything this charming city has to offer but I loved every minute. The first thing we did was get on a hop-on hop-off canal tour. This was the very best way to see the city. And since the ticket was good for twenty-four hours, we travelled on the boat both days. This was my first visit to Holland, other than stops at the airport.

Amsterdam tulips

Tulips are my favourite flower and I was delighted to see them everywhere.

canal

canal2

The houses along the canal were striking. We passed museums, the home of Heineken Beer, diamond factories, markets, canal-side restaurants, historic churches, cute boat houses and so much more.

Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum

pancake house

houses along canal

on canal boat

Enjoying the canal boat ride

Since grade three, when my teacher told us about Anne Frank and her diary, I have wanted to visit the house the Frank family hid in. My dream of visiting this place came true as the boat stopped right in front of it. We had to wait in line for ninety minutes to get inside, but it was worth it. An incredibly moving experience that makes history real. We were not allowed to take pictures inside. The rooms of the secret annex are empty by request of Otto Frank. They symbolize the void left behind by the millions of people who were deported and never returned. The moveable bookcase is still there as are some original objects, the actual dairy and pages of Anne´s writing. “When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived!” Anne Frank, 5 April 1944

Anne Frank Haus

Anne Frank

Our hotel was across from Rembrandt Square where a statue of the artist stands surrounded by bronze figures from The Night Watch. Amazing! I also visited the church where Rembrandt was buried.

night watch

You can’t visit Holland without stopping at a cheese shop. I purchased some wonderful cheese to bring home at one such shop. The friendly young saleswoman, wearing a traditional Dutch hat, was only too happy to pose for a picture.

cheese shop

cheese

girl at cheeseshop

The young people in Amsterdam are incredibly friendly and service was exceptional everywhere we went. We enjoyed all our meals and found the city to be very clean. The only thing to watch for are the bikes. They are everywhere!

kids by canal

Young people enjoying the sun by the canal

I went for a walk in the evening and felt completely safe. It is a vibrant city at night and even a heron joined the fun as he sat on top of a car basking in the full moonlight!

heron at night

Amsterdam was everything I thought it would be and more. Even though it was a short stay, I did everything on my list. I hope to return one day and spend time in some of those museums we passed by.

More about Holland in the next post.

 

I have just returned from a fabulous visit to Holland and was delighted to find I am featured as a guest on Lisette´s Writers´Château. Pop over and read my chat with Lisette, where I reveal secrets about me and my writing. You may wish to leave a message.

CHAT WITH DARLENE FOSTER

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Amanda in Alberta – The Writing on the Stone

Amanda_AlbertaIs your recent book part of a series?

Yes, this is the fourth book in the Amanda travel adventure series. The first three books are, Amanda in Arabia – The Perfume Flask, Amanda in Spain – The Girl in The Painting, Amanda in England – The Missing Novel. In this recent book, Amanda entertains her visitor from England by showing her the fascinating sites of her home province of Alberta. The fifth book in the series, Amanda on the Danube – The Sounds of Music, will be published in the fall of 2016.

Can you share some of the feedback you’ve received from readers?

From a teacher librarian – Foster has captured a sense of place in this novel. I liked the action and adventure that keep readers entertained at the same time as it will educate them. Through Leah’s visit, Foster introduces readers to Alberta’s First Nations people. At the same time as they are revealed as an historic culture, she also shows them as modern people living modern lives.

From a young male reader – Amanda is a great middle-grade character. She is a friendly person, and a wonderful role model. Leah is a pretty cool Brit. The plot is fun and engaging as are all of the Amanda books. I love how Ms. Foster puts the reader right in the action and kids get to learn about the exciting places Amanda goes. The action and mystery in the book makes it a fun read for kids!

From an adult reader – This was one of the best Children’s adventure books I’ve read in a while. First of all the plot was tight and flowed. There was enough excitement to even keep me interested and would have been the kind of book I’d have loved as a kid. The plot wasn’t written down to readers and also didn’t feel impossible.

Enjoy the rest of the chat and discover some things you may not know about me

http://lisettebrodey.com/chat-with-darlene-foster/

More about Holland in the next post.

I am pleased to introduce you to my special guest today, award winning children’s author, Gina McMurchy-Barber. Gina is the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Canadian History and the author of the Peggy Henderson’s adventure series, bringing history to life. Enjoy reading about her author’s journey and how she combined her love of archaeology and story telling to create an amazing series of books enjoyed by all ages.

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1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born in Ontario and moved to BC when I was 9 years old. I am the
youngest child of four and led an active life on our little farm with
horses, ducks, geese, chickens and lots of barn cats. I married in my
early 20s and have two sons. My first degree I majored in archaeology
–which eventually gave rise to my four part archaeology adventure series.
I became a teacher when my boys were small and have now been teaching in
the Montessori Schools for over 20 years.

2. When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
While I was studying archaeology I also started my writing career by doing
short stories for my community paper. I enjoyed doing that so much I later
studied journalism and became a newspaper reporter. I wasn’t too
interested in covering late night city council meetings or the garbage
workers strike so I turned my attention to creative non-fiction. I worked
as a freelance writer for local magazines until my first child was born.
That’s when I entered the amazing world of children’s books. I was very
tentative when I started—not at all sure I had what it takes to write
fiction. Now I’m working on my seventh book.

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3. What motivates you to write?
Love of stories came from my Dad, who told us bedtime stories even after
we were grown. Then I started telling my own children stories. That’s what
led me to want to start writing them down.

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4. How do you make time to write?
It’s hard these days as I work 80% —but I manage to get writing done
during the holidays. It’s a difficult thing to dedicate yourself to
staying put each day for a certain amount of time—especially when it’s a
beautiful day and the family is urging you to join them.

5. What is your writing style, a plotter or a pantster?
I always start out with a plan, but it rarely works out the way I thought
it would. But it feels comforting to begin with a some kind of a road
map—and I always feel free to take detours.

6. Where do you get ideas for your books?
So far they’re all from some seed of experience in my own life—but on the
other hand I’ve also had to branch out and learn lots of new things. For
instance, I have an archaeology background, but knew nothing about
underwater archaeology or scuba diving. So when I wrote Bone Deep —an
underwater excavation of a two hundred year old fur trading ship—I had a
steep learning curve.

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7. What books did you read as a child?
Lots of books about animals. I loved Wind in the Willows. But we also got
the National Geographic and that was probably my greatest inspiration—it
led me to study orang-utans in Borneo and to study archaeology.

8. If you could have lunch with any writer, past or present, who would you
pick?
Since I’ve already had a nice lunch with Darlene Foster, I guess I’d pick
Lois Lowry. I’m a big fan of her books—The Giver being one of my
favourites.

9. For fun, if you could be any kitchen utensil, what would it be and why?
I’d be a ladle so I can take big scoops of life at once.

10. Tell us about your most recent book. Do you have a work in progress
and can you give us a hint as to what it will be about?
My fourth archaeology adventure book came out in November, 2015 and is
called A Bone to Pick. It’s about the arrival of the Viking to the shores
of North America at L’anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland a thousand years
ago. I’m also working on a new book called “What Other People Think” and
explores why we try so hard to look good in the eyes of others—especially
strangers.

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11. Any advice to other authors or aspiring authors.
It’s so valuable to have a writing community. If you can form an small
group of friends to critique each others work in a supportive way it can
be the best thing to motivate you and keep you on track.

Great advice. Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog Gina. Your books are fascinating!

I can’t believe you have included me in the same sentence as Lois Lowry!

You can find out more about Gina and her books on her website www.ginabooks.com

and on Amazon 

Have you ever been to Sicily? That island off Italy at the end of the boot. As a kid in school I was always fascinated by that part of the map. I was fortunate that our recent cruise made a stop at the port of Messina. We were greeted by a golden Madonna perched on top of a very tall column, as we entered the harbour. The words – “Vos et ipsam cictatem benedicimus” at the bottom made me curious. Although it rained heavily, I was not deterred and left the ship to explore. I was excited to be in Sicily.

Madonna of the Letter

My first stop was the Duomo de Capanile, the main cathedral in the city. It seemed like a good place to start, and to get out of the rain. The massive bronze front door embossed with biblical scenes was impressive. The vast central nave lined with marble pillars and archways, held alcoves with marble statues of the disciples and apostles. In an elaborate setting at the end was an image of the Madonna of the Letter, the patron saint of the city.

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Impressive front door of the Messina Cathedral

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Apostles in the nave

I stopped in the gift shop to buy postcards and ask questions. The friendly shop keeper was happy to oblige a curious Canadian. She explained to me that the words under the Madonna at the entrance of the port translates into – “We bless you and the city” This was supposed to have been written in a letter to the people of Messina by the Virgin Mary when they converted to Christianity in 42 AD, after a visit from the apostle Paul. This explained why she is called Madonna della Lettera or Madonna of the Letter. I purchased a ticket to visit the museum and attached clock tower.

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Cathedral with clock tower

After a quick look through the museum, I ventured next door to climb the 236 steps to the top of the bell tower.  It was worth every step. The belfry houses the largest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world. On the landings I viewed, from the inside, the amazing mechanically animated bronze images that rotate on the façade of the tower at the stroke of noon. At the top levels hang the massive bells that ring out the time. I was fortunate I timed my visit between the ringing of the bells. Once at the top, I was rewarded with a splendid view of the city from all four directions. The rain stopped and the sun shone for my benefit.

clock tower bells

view from the top

The view from the top of the bell tower

I took my time going down, in order to have a better look at the intricate figures, aided by explanations on boards in English as well as Italian. The carousel of life was composed of four golden life size figures representing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, with death in the form of a skeleton following behind. Biblical scenes depicted on other carousels are changed according to the liturgical calendar. One scene was dedicated to the Madonna of the Letter where an angel brings the letter to the Virgin Mary followed by St. Paul and the ambassadors who bow when passing in front of the virgin.

carousel of life

The Carousal of Life

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Madonna of the letter carousel

Madonna of the Letter Carousel

Once back down, I removed my raincoat and wandered the streets. I found an iron worker creating figures in front of his shop called Hollywood, interesting sculptures including an imposing conquistador, a quote from Shakespeare  and the picturesque Church of the Catalans built before Norman times on a pagan site. I stumbled upon an overgrown archaeological dig behind a municipal building which gave me a glimpse of life in Roman times.

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Church of the Catalans

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Amazing carvings and sculptures everywhere you look

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Shakespeare mentions Messina in Much Ado About Nothing

I purchased a bag of Italian pasta, a great reminder of my enjoyable time in this Sicilian city. The shop keeper told me that Messina doesn’t have anything old as there have been so many earthquakes over the centuries and much had to be rebuilt. The last major earthquake was in 1908. I guess age is subjective.

As the ship left port later that day, I waved goodbye to The Madonna of the Letter with her comforting message sent to the citizens of this city two thousand years ago. A day to remember.

The pictures can be made bigger by clicking on them if you want a better view of the details.

 

I love blogging for many reasons, but the best part is the wonderful people I have connected with in the blogging world. I am not sure how I met Paige, but I fell in love with her blog site immediately and have been following it for some time now. It is apply called, The Nice Thing About Strangers. Since I have always followed the philosophy of Will Rogers who said, “A stranger is just a friend you haven´t met yet,” the title grabbed my attention. Paige has the amazing ability to notice the smallest details of human interaction during her travels and record them in entertaining vignettes. Do yourself a favour and visit her blog, you will be so glad you did. She has recently collected some of these blog posts and published them in a book called, The Nice Thing About Strangers. In spite of the fact she is busy travelling again, she has agreed to be a guest on my blog.

Paige

Welcome Paige Erickson

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself

I am an American professor with a background in literature, philosophy, and playwriting. I’ve been working for several years on writing creative non-fiction from my travels on a blog called The Nice Thing About Strangers and recently collected about 150 of the stories into a book by the same name. I love reading, roaming, and long walks where I get a bit lost.

2. What made you want to travel?

This question made me pause. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I didn’t travel to Europe for the first time until I was 27, and there was something very freeing but also very intimidating about it. Now I want to travel because it always pushes my boundaries, opens my eyes, gives me gratitude, and connects me with people I meet.

3. What countries have you travelled to? Can you name a favourite and why.

I had the opportunity to live for a few months in Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Turkey. I’ve been to Bosnia-Herzegovina several times and loved it. I traveled with my brother to Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Then, I first came to Europe for an extended stay, I took a lot of four-to-five day trips to Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Iceland, Serbia, and Montenegro.

Turkey is a favorite for me. I’ve been toiling over the language (then going home and forgetting it all!) for several years. I find the people to be very warm and encouraging. I’ve enjoyed both the big cities and small towns, the grand adventures and the local supermarkets. Iris Murdoch wrote, “If you long and long for someone’s company, you love them.” This sums up how I feel when I am away from Turkey for a long time. I must be in love.

4. What made you decide to create your blog, The Nice Thing About Strangers?

I am a professor and my students were always interested in the fact that I traveled alone. Many were worried about my safety and wanted to hear if I had any horror stories to share. Originally, I wanted a place to share the good news from my travels, since almost all of my encounters abroad have been positive, full of helpful strangers, or moving to me in some way. Also, I wanted to give myself some writing deadlines to produce stories and share them with others. I’ve loved to write most of my life, but it can be intimidating to share one’s work. I thought if I could get into the habit of writing on a schedule, this could give me some confidence. Also, I opted to write very short, non-fiction stories because I had a lot of notes about my experiences, but if I wrote long pieces I would procrastinate and/or quit. By keeping it brief, I could discipline myself to let go a bit.

5. Tell us about your book

The book is a collection of about 150 stories from the blog. I have friends and relatives who were interested in my stories, but who weren’t really into blogs. My aunt encouraged me to publish my work, and it’s been nice to hear from readers of the blog and new readers as well. Since each story is about a page long, people seem to like to read a few stories at a time with breakfast or over coffee. I hope it will help them to be on the look out for opportunities to connect with the people around them throughout their day.

6. What do you like to read? Can you name some of your favourite books and/or authors.

I think I learn the most about myself when I read fiction. Since I was a child, I could really get caught up in stories and feel the rest of my day was a matter of walking around in those stories. I love the Hungarian author Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight. My best friend is reading it in Hungarian and, of course, I read it in translation, so we are anxious to see if we’ve loved the same passages. I love Iris Murdoch and Flannery O’Connor. I read Orhan Pamuk when I am “homesick” for Turkey. On this trip, I packed Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, which I am reading for the third time and I love it more and more on each read. I get caught up in lines that really stick with me, so I keep a “book book” with lines that I love. This way I can re-read those passages or lines and meditate on the story once more.

7. What inspires you?

Small moments that I get to observe inspire me and make me grateful to be able to wander as I do. Sometimes I will pause and imagine what my grandparents would think of my life. Surely, they couldn’t have imagined that I could go rent an apartment in Istanbul for a month and chit chat with the elderly ladies at the market. I also try to remember my childhood self, who was unafraid to make up stories, plays, and plans, but quite afraid. I want to be faithful to “young Paige” as I keep writing and remain optimistic.

8. What is next on the horizon for you?

I am hopeful that I can finish an often-abandoned novel this year. It is a sort of thank you note to the people who became my friends during my travels. As often happens when you want to thank someone, it can be hard to find just the right words. This is where I am stuck now.

Paige

Thank you so much Paige for sharing your thoughts. It was great getting to know more about you. My favourite line is, “I want to be faithful to “young Paige” as I keep writing and remain optimistic.” We all need to be faithful to our young selves.

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Check out the book http://www.amazon.com/The-Nice-Thing-About-Strangers/dp/0692590781

The blog http://thenicethingaboutstrangers.com/

The Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/thenicethingaboutstrangers/?rc=p

 

The week before and including Easter is called Semana Santa here in Spain and is the largest religious festival of the year. Elaborate processions take place throughout the week in most cities and towns. During Holy week religious sculptures are taken out of the churches and paraded through the town to the main cathedral. Some of these precious sculptures,created by well known Spanish artists, are hundreds of years old. They are mounted on floats called pasos, surrounded with flowers and candles. Portapasos (or float-carriers) wearing traditional costumes, carry the heavy floats through the streets lined with spectators. No large trucks transport these floats, only dedicated men and women. I was eager to see one of these parades so we took a bus to nearby Murcia city to witness the Good Friday procession.

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Paso carried through the streets of Murcia

Jesus Nazareno, 1797

Jesus Nazareno, 1797

San Juan Evangelista, 1952

San Juan Evangelista, 1952

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Descendimiento, 2001

Ahead of the floats, carrying lamps, candles or incense, are the Nazarenos, often called penitents. These are members of various religious brotherhoods known as cofradias, wearing robes, capes and capirotes, a type of conical hat that usually covers the face. These robes were once worn by individuals doing penance. As a sign of atoning their sins, they would walk barefoot through the town, their faces covered so as not to reveal the sinners. Although the hooded cloaks look similar to the Ku Klux Klan, they have nothing to do with them. Many of these brotherhoods date back to the Middle Ages and are recognized by the colours they wear. They are responsible for the parade, pasos and music and spend countless hours in preparation, ensuring everything runs smoothly. There were about a dozen floats in this parade, each represented by a different brotherhood.

Penitent with bare feet

Penitent with bare feet

green robes

Each brotherhood wears its own colour

red robes

Included in the procession are women wearing the traditional mantilla, a black lace veil worn high on the back of the head. Mantillas are meant to show morning and pain. Marching bands and drummers follow the floats providing stirring music. The entire scene is alive with colour and sound, and the air is filled with the sweet scent of incense and melted wax. As always in Spain, this is a family affair with all ages taking part in the spectacle.

Women wearing Mantillas

Solemn women wearing Mantillas

all ages

All ages take part in the procession

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Incredible embroideries of gold and silk on standards, cloaks and coats

Drummers are heard throughout the cities and towns

Drummers are heard throughout the cities and towns

Candies and pastries play an important role in the Easter festivities. The Nazarenos and other members of the procession carry candy around their waists and hand them out to children who wait patiently with outstretched hands. Occasionally they give a treat to an adult too. A small robed participant caught my eyes, ran over to me, and placed some sweets in my hand, with a huge grin. So sweet.

Handing out candy to the children

Handing out candy to the children

This person is not fat, he is carrying candy around his waist.

This person is not fat, he is carrying candy around his waist.

Easter candy in the bakery

Easter candy in the bakery.

I love the stockings of the float bearers

I love the stockings of the float bearers

It is difficult not to be moved no matter what your beliefs. A merging of art, culture and religion in a vital and poignant atmosphere, I found it to be emotional and exciting at the same time. I’m thankful I was able to witness the dedication and pageantry of this special event.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter, however you spent it.

The photographs are taken by me. Not easy to take pictures of a parade in the dark. If you click on them you will get a larger and better view.


Amanda in Alberta

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Amanda in Spain

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Amanda in England

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Amanda in Alberta

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Pig on Trial

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Darlene Foster Writer

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