Darlene Foster's Blog

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I have been honoured to take part in Ari Meghlen’s Advent Calendar Story Train. What is the story train about? Basically, a set of authors have been given the prompt ‘The Gift’ and have one thousand words to write a story. Each day of advent, one story is released. When Christmas 2022 arrives, there will be twenty-four flash fiction stories of different genres and different styles that represent the phrase ‘The Gift.’ Links to all of the stores can be found here (some have not been released at the time of posting!). Today is my turn and here is my contribution to the Advent Calendar Story Train.

The Gift by Darlene Foster

Cory Henderson dropped to his knees and studied the pile of parcels under the tree.


“Just a few more minutes, please Mom,” he begged. Like most nine-year-olds on Christmas Eve,
he didn’t want to go to bed.


He counted the packages. One from Uncle Bob; usually something to do with sports. Two from
Grandma and Grandpa; always the best because they knew exactly what he wanted. One from Mom and
one from Dad. If they paid attention to his hints, a PlayStation was sure to be in one of those packages.
Something from his older brother, away studying in China. The old couple across the street, who he did
errands for, dropped off a small package. One from Aunt Margaret and Uncle Joe, another from his
cousins Jim and Jeff and an odd-shaped one from his best friend, Jerry. Yup, ten presents for him to
open on Christmas morning.


A bright light in his window woke him up from a dream of opening hundreds of presents. At
first, he thought it was the light from Santa’s sleigh. Then, he thought perhaps a spaceship had landed
nearby. He got out of bed and tiptoed to the window where he could see it was not Santa’s sleigh or a
spaceship causing the brilliant light. Mesmerized, Cory stared at the flames leaping out of the roof of the
house next door.


He suddenly remembered that two boys lived in that house. The family moved in two months
ago from another country. They spoke with an accent and kept to themselves. The boys were younger
than him, about five and seven. He felt a knot in his stomach


What if the people were still in the house?


Just as he heard the wail of fire trucks, two hooded figures ran out of the front door. Each adult,
covered with a blanket, carried a child. The blankets appeared to be wet when they dropped to the
ground. The family stood shivering in their pajamas, staring at their home ablaze.


Cory ran out of his room calling, “Mom! Dad!”

His parents, already up, frantically pulled coats out of the closet.


His dad threw a jacket his way. “Hurry, put this on and go outside. And stay well away from the
fire.”


The fire department arrived. In no time, long hoses sprayed water into the flames. Cory’s mom
handed out warm coats. He noticed that even wearing his parkas from last year and the year before, the
boys still shivered.


Heavy smoke filled the air. It smelt weird. Kind of like the time his mom burnt the chicken and
the smoke alarm went off. The fire was under control just as it started to snow. All that was left was a
burnt-out shell.


Corey’s mom motioned everyone to follow her back to their place.


She served hot chocolate and homemade gingerbread cookies. The neighbours, Mr. and Mrs.
Zafrani, spoke quietly. The boys, Omar and Jamal, didn’t say anything. Their large brown eyes starred at
the Christmas tree covered with twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments. Beds were made up, the little
boys in his brother’s room and their parents in the spare room. As the boys were about to go to bed, they
started to cry.


“There, there,” said their mother as she hugged them. “Don’t cry. At least we are all safe and
warm.” She thanked Cory and his parents and they all went to bed.


Cory felt sick. It was Christmas Eve and they had lost everything. They would have no presents
to open in the morning. How would he feel if it happened to him? He tossed and turned and no longer
looked forward to the morning. How could he open all those gifts when they had nothing?


He had an idea, jumped out of bed and put on the light. He pulled out coloured paper, a pair of
scissors and some Christmas stickers from his desk drawer. Two gift tags made, he wrote Omar on one
and Jamal on the other. He stopped for a minute and then made two more. Tiptoeing into the dark living
room, he pulled out four of his gifts from under the tree. He replaced the tags with new ones. Corey
went back to bed and fell asleep with a smile on his face.


The next thing he heard was his mom saying, “Wake up. It’s Christmas morning. Omar and
Jamal are up already.”


Corey never slept in on Christmas morning.


He raced into the cosy living room where his dad had started a fire in the fireplace. Jamal and
Omar stared at the tree as if they had never seen one before. Cory reached under the tree.


His mom gasped and said, “Maybe we should wait to open the gifts.”


Corey ignored her and handed a gift to each of the spellbound boys.


The oldest boy read out his tag. “To Jamal. From Santa.” His eyes grew wide.


“Open it,” said Cory, hardly able to contain his excitement.


Jamal carefully removed the wrapping from his gift as if he were undressing a baby. His round
face beamed when he discovered a PlayStation.


His dad looked at Corey with raised eyebrows. He turned to Omar holding onto his gift like it
would disappear if he loosened his grip. “Don’t you want to see what’s in your package?”


The young boy ripped the package open and smiled with glee as he pulled out a baseball glove.
“I love to play baseball!” He slid his left hand in and punched his right fist into the mitt.


Cory’s mom looked over at her son with tears in her eyes. “I think you deserve to open one of
your presents, dear.”


Fun and laughter filled the rest of the morning. Cory loved all six of his gifts, but the look on the
faces of those boys as they discovered gifts under the tree for them was the best gift of all.

Welcome to the Advent Calendar Story Train, where you can read through 24 stories under the theme The Gift. Thank you for reading today’s story. The next one will be available to read on December 9th, titled “The Annual Giving“.  The link will be active tomorrow when the post goes live.

If you missed yesterday’s you can go and read it here.

I am being featured today on Bernadette’s New Classic Recipe blog where I share a Christmas dinner disaster story and a favourite recipe. Enjoy! If you wish to share a Christmas dinner disaster in the comments below, that would be fun.

A number of my writer friends have joined this wonderful site, https://shepherd.com/ This is a way to promote books with a similar theme as well as your own. Also, a perfect way to look for good books to read. So it is great for readers and writers!

This is my page. I’m delighted with how it turned out. Please check it out and let me know what you think.

https://shepherd.com/best-books/childrens-adventures-on-strong-female-protagonist

I am very impressed with this site. This is what they have to say:

When it comes to books, human recommendations are always better than algorithms. 

6,000+ authors have shared five of their favorite books around a topic, theme, or mood. And we make it easy to find the books they recommend through a book you already love, an author you adore, or a Wikipedia topic that interests you. For example adventure, https://shepherd.com/bookshelf/adventure

Here’s more info from the site:

Authors pick their 5 favourite books around a topic, theme, or mood they are passionate about, along with why they recommend each of those books. Then, we feature the author and one of their books alongside that list forever. And we promote the author, their book, and their book list throughout our website and marketing channels.

The topic, theme, or mood you pick should be in the same area as your book. Then the readers who visit your book list will be equally interested in your book. And, by making book recommendations, you are showing them your voice/personality, which gets them more interested in you and your book.

It’s a fairly new site, since April 2021, and they are improving it all the time. I found them to be very professional and easy to work with.

Did I mention, it’s free for a writer to list their book? https://forauthors.shepherd.com/

As much as I love to travel and visit my family and friends, I always miss my two doggies Dot and Lia. Fortunately, there are pets at many of the places I visit. Here are a few pictures of the pets I spent time with while in Canada in September.

Brandy, a Golden Labrador/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. A real sweetheart.

Brandy in her yard playing ball.

Come on, throw the ball.

Grandpuppy Petite on Mudge Island

Grandkitty, Bimbay on Mudge Island

Lexi, the oldest of my Granddaughter’s pets, enjoying a sunny day.

Mandy the Newfoundland dog. A big cuddly teddy bear.

Mandy, the guard dog.

Roni, another of my granddaughter’s pets. Those eyes!

Me and my buddy Roni

And there are many cats as well. This is Earl Grey. The coolest cat ever and I love his name.

We can’t forget the goats. Did I mention my granddaughter loves animals? I didn’t get pictures of all of them either.

Beelzebub, my grandson’s newly acquired pet who seems very happy with his new home.

Lola, my son’s family pug. Another cutie.

Willow, an Australian Shepherd. A special dog for a special girl in Vancouver.

Well, not really a pet, but my great granddaughter’s badger Halloween costume.

How about an awesome cake that looks like a pet?

So you can see I had many pets to keep me company until I came home to these two.

Many of you know that Anne of Green Gables is my favourite children’s book. The opportunity to see the house in Prince Edward Island that inspired the author, Lucy Maude Montgomery, was indeed a dream come true!

Green Gables House, was originally a farmhouse that belonged to the Macneill family, cousins of L.M. Montgomery. The author spent a lot of time there as a child and later used it as the inspiration for the setting of her popular novel, Anne of Green Gables. It is now a heritage museum, done up as it is depicted in the book as the home of her characters, siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, Anne’s adoptive parents in the story. You can imagine my delight as I looked through the house. It was like stepping into the much-loved story.

The sitting room, as described in the book.

Anne Shirley’s room with her favourite dress hanging on the back of the closet door.

Marilla’s room with her shawl and the famous broach. (Sorry you can’t see it in the picture)

The property consists of a lovely garden that backs onto a wooded area, also depicted in the story.

The Haunted Wood where many of Anne’s adventures with Diana played out.

A cart similar to the one Matthew would have used to pick up Anne at the train station and take her to Green Gables to start her new life.

Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

On the site is also The Green Gables Visitor Centre with many interesting displays and information about PEI’s famous author.

Lucy Maude Montgomery, as a young writer.

The typewriter LM Montgomery most likely typed her famous novel.

Anne of Green Gables has been translated into 36 different languages. I loved this wall of some of the different covers.

The home of Lucy Maude Montgomery is situated close by. The house she lived in with her grandparents, who raised her, is no longer standing but the foundation is there. In her memories, the author mentions she lived a very happy life there as a girl.

On the old farm site is a cosy bookstore, which is very fitting. I bought a wonderful book there which I treasure.

“Were it not for those Cavendish years, I do not think Anne of Green Gables would ever have been written.” L.M. Montgomery, The Alpine Path.

My review of this book is here https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/5069965399

LM Montgomery is buried in the nearby Cavendish Community Cemetery. I was able to visit her grave and pay my respects to an author I have long admired and who inspired me to write.

A visit I will never forget.

If you would like to listen to me read from Amanda in France: Fire in the Cathedral check out Rebecca Bud’s Tea Toast & Trivia blog. https://teatoasttrivia.com/2022/09/08/season-4-episode-38-darlene-foster-reading-amanda-in-france-fire-in-the-cathedral/

While there check out some of her other podcasts. They are all great!

I am pleased to be part of Jacqui Murray’s Book Blast for her third and final book in the Dawn of Humanity series, Natural Selection. Once again Jacqui has penned an exciting story about our prehistoric ancestors. She will also share with us how early humans told time. The research Jacqui does for these books is phenomenal.

Summary
In this conclusion to Lucy’s journey, she and her tribe leave their good home to rescue former-tribe members captured by the enemy. Lucy’s tribe includes a mix of species–a Canis, a Homotherium, and different iterations of early man. In this book, more join and some die, but that is the nature of prehistoric life, where survival depends on a combination of our developing intellect and our inexhaustible will to live. Each species brings unique skills to this task. Based on true events. Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!

Book information:
Title and author: Natural Selection by Jacqui Murray
Series: Book 3 in the Dawn of Humanity series
Genre: Prehistoric fiction
Editor: Anneli Purchase
Available print or digital) at: http://a-fwd.com/asin=B0B9KPM5BW

Author bio:
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to the United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics.

Social Media contacts:

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/
Blog: https://worddreams.wordpress.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher
Twitter: http://twitter.com/worddreams
Website: https://jacquimurray.net

How Did Early Man Tell Time?

Like today’s most primitive communities and survivalists, both living without the technology that ticked off hours and minutes, earliest man had no concept of quantifiable time. He didn’t need it when the most important metric was how much daylight remained to finish hunting and gathering and find a safe place to sleep. He told tribe members when he would return–or they
should–well, I’ll tell you how that happened later in this article. When the sun slept, our primeval ancestors slept, leaving whatever chores remained for the next day and the sun’s return.

In Natural Selection, that usually sufficed, but if a character needed more than that, say to indicate more definitively when s/he would return:

– s/he could point to a place in the sky along the sun’s forward path, the inference being when sun reached that position, s/he would be back.
– s/he could place a finger–or a hand–overhead, next to the sun, inferring that when the sun moved the width of a finger or a hand, s/he would return.
– at night, the Moon’s progression across the night sky could be used to indicate how long before the sun reappeared.

For longer periods of time, beyond a stretch of daylight, early man used the Moon’s face. It changed nightly and with regularity. The disappearance and reappearance of the Moon, the size of the orb, made it a reliable marker of how long something took or the period before something happened, like herds returning or hunters arriving from a long trip.

How long is a hand or finger? So how much time is inferred by a finger or a hand placed next to the sun? A finger is roughly
fifteen minutes and four fingers—a hand—an hour. Test it yourself. Place a finger next to the sun. The sun will take approximately fifteen minutes to reach the far side of your finger. If there is one hand between the sun and the earth, it means there is one hour until the sun sinks below the horizon. 

Early man knew that the sun moved at the same speed across the sky which meant a hand or both hands always meant the passage of the same amount of time. What he didn’t know was why. Here’s the reasoning he wouldn’t learn for thousands of years, but will be clear to you:
Take your height, for early man about 5 feet.
Multiply it by 1.5 = 7.5
Find the square root = 2.7
That means 2.7 miles to the horizon, or about two hours of walking on their bandy legs.

Do you have any tips for telling time without a watch or phone?

What readers are saying about Natural Selection

“In the third book of the series, Lucy is again beset with challenges.
Besides Lucy struggling to keep her tribe safe, and free the tribe members that were stolen by an enemy tribe—plenty to grab and hold a reader’s attention—there were substories hurtling through the book with characters I grew to care about. A Canis tracking another Canis to be her mate. A Homotherium kit looking for a pack. And Lucy’s former pack members that have been enslaved and are looking for a way to survive and escape their bonds.

Once again, Ms. Murray has woven prehistory into a lovely, understandable story. One of her signature themes is the blending of different cultures into one tribe. Proving that in spite of our differences we can get along.
On a personal note, I loved that Boah said goodbye. (You’ll know what I’m referring to when you read it.) And last but not least my favorite quote: “If Night Sun knew, it wasn’t telling.”

NATURAL SELECTION is a must-read for all Murray fans, of which I am one, prehistory buffs AND for folks that just like a well-told tale.” Sandra Cox

“The final book of the Dawn of Humanity series ends on a positive note though I suspect that Lucy’s story of survival in the prehistoric world will continue to be riddled with danger and challenges. As the title suggests, not all the branches of primitive mankind will survive and those who do will depend on their ability to develop new skills and think strategically.

The plot is straightforward with two main threads. The first is Lucy and her group’s continuing search for a sustainable home base. The second is their plan to rescue past members of her tribe from Man-who-preys before they become so weak from hunger that they’re killed. Lucy is the main character, but not the only point of view, and other characters are frequently brought to the forefront. These include her two-legged group members as well as those with four.

Murray’s research continues to add depth and realism to the read, and I found it as fascinating as I did in the first book. Our ancestors had it tough, and their lives were intricately entwined with the world around them. I appreciated that Murray didn’t spare our modern sensibilities. Grooming bugs from each other’s skin, eating rotten meat, and “fear poop” aren’t very glamorous, but they added to the authenticity of the story. Her word choices—to describe the harsh environment, its rhythms and wild creatures, and the nature and skill of each member of her diverse group—bring life on Earth 1.8 million years ago into vivid relief.

For readers who enjoy a meticulously researched primitive world and the remarkable challenges faced by our evolutionary ancestors, I highly recommend this series. It’s fascinating.”
D.W. Peach

“We Prince Edward Islanders are a loyal race. In our secret soul, we believe that there is no place like the little Province that gave us birth.” – Lucy Maude Montgomery, The Alpine Path

On my recent trip to Canada, I fulfilled another long-time dream – to visit the province of Prince Edward Island. Ever since reading Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, I have longed to visit this island on the east coast of Canada. It was as charming and picturesque as I envisioned, with a rugged coastline, rich red earth, pastoral landscapes, alluring fishing villages and friendly down-to-earth folks.

Prince Edward Island was named after the son of King George III, Edward Duke of Kent, the commander of the British forces in North America.  It is the smallest and most densely populated of Canada’s 10 provinces with a population of one hundred and sixty-four thousand. It covers 5,683.91 square kilometres (2,194.57 square miles).

As the plane descended, I had a clear view of Confederation Bridge. Built in 1997, the 8-mile (12.9-km) long bridge is the world’s longest bridge over waters that freeze over in winter and connects the island to the neighbouring province of New Brunswick.

The 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles) of shoreline, features fantastic red sandstone cliffs and red sand beaches.

And of course, lighthouses!

Cape Bear Lighthouse and Marconi Station, built in 1881, is still operational. On April 14,1912 it received the first distress signal in Canada from the sinking Titanic.

I love lighthouses!!

A common site on the island is lobster traps piled up. PEI is well known for its delicious lobsters.

I was intrigued by the lobster trap and lobster buoy Christmas trees.

And the huge apple trees laden with fruit.

We came upon an errant Blue Heron who posed politely for us.

I loved the charming houses; this one belonged to a friend.

And the colourful sheds

Interesting sculptures depicting marine life.

The Garden of the Gulf Museum, the oldest museum on the island, is housed in the former post office in the town of Montague and is full of interesting things from the past.

The island’s capital, Charlottetown, was named after the wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte. It is known as the Birthplace of Confederation after the historic 1864 Charlottetown Conference which led to the Confederation of Canada in 1867.

Rich in history and culture, it’s a perfect place to wander the streets lined with Victorian buildings still intact, and take in the ambience of a former time. There are many places to enjoy a delicious seafood meal as well.

There are amazing old churches in downtown Charlottetown including St. Dunstan’s Basilica, built in 1916, and designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.

Parliamentarians debating the state of the world in front of a cathedral. It could be 1867 instead of 2022.

I loved my trip to this remarkable maritime province. Next time I’ll tell you about my visit to Green Gables House.

Have you been to Prince Edward Island?

In case you haven’t seen this, I’m a guest on Teri Polen’s terrific Bad Moon Rising series. Check out the spookiest ghost story I’ve heard. Read some of the other guest’s interviews as well. Happy Halloween!!

Books and Such

I’m a big fan of this author’s Amanda series. I haven’t traveled to all the places Amanda has, but after reading the book I feel like I have. They’re so well-researched they could double as travel guides. I follow this author on social media and get to see adorable pics of her fur babies, but if you haven’t met them yet, today is your chance. Welcome Darlene Foster!

Would you rather visit a haunted house or a haunted graveyard?

A haunted graveyard. (Aren’t they all haunted? I mean, they are full of dead people, right?) I love graveyards and spend a lot of time in them. They are outside and easy to escape if things get tense. You can get locked inside a haunted house. Yikes!

What is the spookiest ghost story you’ve ever heard?

The story about a young couple who are making out in a car when they…

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Canada in the fall is gorgeous with such a variety of landscapes. I started my recent trip on the east coast, in Prince Edward Island, travelled to British Columbia on the west coast, and ended my journey in Alberta, one of the prairie provinces. I want to share with you some of the fabulous scenery I encountered.

Taken as I was landing on PEI. The rich farmland is depicted with its famous red soil.
Even the beaches of PEI are red.
There are many wonderful rugged beaches on Prince Edward Island.
Typical countryside scene on Prince Edward Island
An amazing natural arch
The view from the deck of my favourite place to have lunch in Ladner, BC
On the way to Gabriola Island by ferry. Nanaimo, BC is in the background.
Overlooking the islands from Gabriola Island
Rowing to Mudge Island
A peaceful walk on Mudge Island, BC
The view from my daughter’s house on Mudge Island
Wouldn’t you love to live on Halibut Hill in the forest?
On Vancouver Island near Comox
Goose Spit Regional Park on Vancouver Island
Amazing sunrise in White Rock, BC, seen from my bedroom window!
A typical fall prairie scene in southern Alberta has its own beauty.
There is nothing like a prairie sunset.
Trees turning colour in Calgary, Alberta
One of many beautiful gardens in Calgary, Alberta

I was only in three of the ten provinces of Canada, but you can get an idea of the diversity in the landscape from one coast to another.

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© Darlene Foster and darlenefoster.wordpress.com, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Darlene Foster and darlenefoster.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.