Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Washed and Red

In Canada, we have SEASONS.
I emphasize the word because some of them are extreme.
Particularly our winter.
But during the shoulder seasons (Spring and Fall), it isn’t unusual to see four different kinds of weather in one day.
We can go from sun to rain to snow to hail. All during one lunch hour.
There is a saying: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.
I have a reason for telling you this.
All this weather is hard on vehicles.
Those trusty steeds that must weather . . . the weather.
They get—for want of a better term—filthy.
Okay, yes, we have car washes.
A plethora (Ooh! Good word!) of them.
And, for the few minutes of every sunny day, they are CROWDED.
But one has to be ready and able to head to the nearest car wash at a moment’s notice.
People with children and schedules may wait months to get a place in line.
Enough background . . .
DIL had taken her children to the library to sled down the library hill with their father.
And, as the day was sunny, took the opportunity to get into line for the car wash.
She returned some time later to pick up her breathless and weary, but exhilarated family.
She bundled up her smallest daughter and packed her to the car.
As they approached, her daughter asked, loudly, “Where is our car?”
Her mother pointed to the shiny red beauty in front of them. “Here it is.”
Her daughter looked at it, then at her mother. “Our car is red?!”
Yeah. Wash your cars.
You may be surprised at what you find...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Past Speeding

I'm quite sure this flashed past.
And I do mean flashed.
We teenagers in Milk River lived an hour from the bright lights of Lethbridge.
Let me start again. 
Everybody in Milk River lived an hour from Lethbridge.
The teenagers . . . a little less.
Maybe I should explain . . .
It was Friday night.
The only theatre in Milk River was showing something that none of my group was interested in seeing.
It happened occasionally. 
Now that we were old enough to legally drive, we were becoming less and less enamoured with what our small town offered and more and more interested in what we could find in the big city.
Twice as many choices for movie-watching, for example.
The only problem on this particular evening was our timing.
We had decided, en masse, that the movie we were all assembled to see was far less interesting than one of the choices currently running in Lethbridge.
And we had decided this while we were standing on the sidewalk, waiting to get in.
Half an hour before either movie was set to start.
Could we make it?
Our driver of the evening gave a nonchalant shrug of shoulder and a flippant toss of head. “Of course!”
That was all we needed.
We, ten of us, piled – and I do mean piled – into his car. Four in front. Six in back.
Seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet.
And we were off.
We cleared the town limits, then our driver ‘buried the needle’.
And that’s when the reality of the situation hit me.
What we were doing went beyond speeding.
I’m quite sure we were flying.
At one point, I think we passed Mercury.
I should probably point out, here, that I don’t like travelling at high speeds. In fact, horse and cart is my usual form of transportation. And let’s face it, Old Bessy really wouldn’t make much of a showing on the Indianapolis circuit.
Back to my story . . .
I was so terrified that I spent the entire trip flat on my stomach on the back floor under everyone’s feet. It was the safest place I could think of.
Once I poked my head above the seat and stared in awe at the needle. 
Which was flat against the little pike at the bottom of the speedometer.
How do you say ‘yikes’?
Oh, right. 
We made it safely.
In twenty-four minutes.
The only casualty was my equilibrium.
I don’t even remember what the movie was.
Can anyone say ‘irony’? We took our lives in our hands for a movie that none of us can even remember. The very essence of being a teenager.
But if any of my kids try this . . .

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Morningtown Riding

Have you ever felt that if your life winked out tomorrow that would be all right with you?
Because you know that you would be remembered?
Well, that just happened to me.
To understand how I’ve arrived at this conclusion, you have to know two things:
One—that our family has its ROUTINES when it comes to bedtime.
Set in stone.
Don’t mess with this.
There will be cosmic significance.
And two—that our family has its yearly vacation at a time share here in beautiful Banff, Alberta.
Also immovable and fixed.
Now let me explain that winking-out-tomorrow part:
First the ROUTINE . . .
There are several steps beginning with the all-important choosing and donning of the PJs. Then the nearly as important bedtime snack (or three) followed by the brushing-of-the-biters. (Probably the least favourite part of the whole getting-ready-for-bed routine.) Once the teeth are shiny, we have prayers, story reading and lights out.
Then the song.
The culmination of the whole sequence.
This song, like the story and prayer, can vary, depending on the mood of the child.
It just doesn’t.
For this part, you need a bit of background . . .
When our oldest grandchild was two, she had her first sleep-over with Gramma and Grampa. Gramma sang her favourite ‘sleepy’ song, Morningtown Ride.
And, unwittingly created a legacy.
And now we get to the ‘die tomorrow’ part of the story.
Because every grandchild, whether going to sleep at Gramma’s or at home, has to have Morningtown Ride sung.
At least once.
How do I know this?
Back to Banff.
I was downstairs, writing.
Our DIL, Barb, was putting her two youngest to bed.
And suddenly, from their bedroom came the familiar words Train whistle blowing . . .
Later, DIL explained that every one of her children—and their cousins—have to have that song sung every night.
Yep. Gramma could die tomorrow.
And she’d be remembered.
Wanna hear the song?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Political Bananas

I've been reading about the politics being played out in some organizations in the modern world.
Even churches have their internal power struggles and vying for position.
It reminds me of our church suppers.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In the sixties, we had Church Socials.
Big pot luck dinners.
For any and all occasions.
New Years.
They were fun.
Everyone would show up with their large families and a huge dish – or dishes - of something delicious to share.
The food would be arranged on a long series of tables. Everyone would load a plate. And the visiting would begin.
Good food.
Good friends.
It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or evening.
Invariably, there would be someone’s Grandma’s recipe for home-fried chicken.
And many, many incarnations of potato/meat casseroles.
Salads by the creative and colourful dozens.
Home-made rolls just begging for a large dollop of freshly churned butter.
And desserts of enough variety and inevitable tastiness, to make decision-making difficult to impossible.
But there was one draw back.
As with all pot lucks, the first in line got the most choices.
Made quickly to avoid ‘pot luck crush’. 
What is ‘Pot Luck Crush’? Imagine a river, dammed by a small obstruction. Pressure builds. Finally, the obstruction is yelled at by some starving individual and threatened with oblivion.
Pot Luck Crush.
My cousin, Reed was usually the first in line.
He had made an art of choosing – and heaping - quickly.
His favourites were the salads.
I should mention here, that two of the most popular salad dishes were the green jello salad.
With shredded carrots.
And the yellow jello salad.
With sliced bananas.
The carrots in the carrot salad tended to be suspended throughout.
The bananas, however, inevitably rose to the top.
And that’s where Reed came in. He could deftly and expertly – and quickly - scrape the entire layer of bananas from the salad.
Then move happily on to the rest of the offered dishes.
His actions weren’t popular. Usually, from further back in the line, there would be a howl of protest.
Reed would just grin. The you-should-have-tried-harder-to-be-first-in-line grin.
The rest of the assembly would be stuck with banana-less salad.
Or what amounted to plain lemon jello.
But the sheer volume of other dishes soon silenced any further protest.
And before long, everyone was happily munching.
Until the next time.
When Reed would again slip deftly and expertly to the front of the line.
Yes. Even in the sixties, we had church politics.
The difference was that they were fought over bananas.
Hmm . . . 
Maybe not so different after all.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Add one brother and it's pretty close.

Not me, but you get the picture.
So to speak . . .

Eight years old.
In my children's day, that meant that they were allowed to dress themselves.
And bathe without three younger siblings in the tub.
In my day, it meant that I was now old enough to drive the tractor.
Pulling the baler.
My day had come!
My first lessons were a confused jumbled of clutch, steering wheel, gas pedal and 'Don't do that!'.
But I soon had it figured out and was able to drive a fairly straight path down the field.
Training over.
I was now ready for the real thing.
Dad directed me to the field where the rows of mown hay were nicely dried.
And ready to be baled.
I should point out here that we used a machine that popped out small, rectangular bales.
Depending on the type of grass, they weighed between 20 pounds (my favorite - made of prairie wool) and 90 pounds (my least favorite - made of something that resembled lead).
And were always moved by hand.
There were none of these gi-normous round or rectangular bales that you see in the fields now.
Bales that couldn't possibly be moved by anything other than a tractor.
Or Superman.
Who didn't live on our ranch.
Mmmm . . . Superman . . .
Where was I?
Oh, yes . . . baler.
The tractor person - me - was supposed to follow just to the left of the windrow (line of mown hay) and keep the pickup on the baler . . . umm . . . picking up.
Are we clear?
Let's start.
The hay was grabbed by little fingers rotating on the baler.
Then it was passed through the machine and tamped into a small, rectangular compartment.
Finally, the contraption managed to tie the bale with two pieces of hemp string, and the whole thing was pushed out the back.
To where my brother, Jerry was waiting.
Jerry was standing on a stooker (small trailer) being pulled behind the baler.
The bales slid out of a chute straight into his arms.
Which he then stacked on a rack at the back of the trailer.
Four or five on the bottom.
Then one less.
Then one less.
Until a single bale marked the top of the stook.
Jerry then hit a leaver, which tipped the trailer, dropping the neat stack off the back and launching him into the air.
I don't know about other stookers, but Jerry always used this upward motion to see how high he could jump.
It was very entertaining.
Or at least it would have been, if I weren't keeping my eyes trained on the windrow.
Ahem . . .
The only things I had to worry about were keeping true and not going too fast.
If one went too fast, the tamper couldn't keep up and hay would get clogged in the baler.
Which then resulted in a broken shear pin.
And your brother running alongside the tractor and banging on the side to get your attention so he could put in a new one.
Or so I'm guessing.
It was a wonderful way to spend a hot July day.
The smell of newly-mown hay.
The blue sky.
Fresh, clear Alberta air.
Mountains shimmering on the horizon.
Your brother singing at the top of his lungs on the stooker.
And your mind busily creating all sorts of adventures.
A perfect world.
Discovered when I was eight.
From atop a tractor.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Okay, I’m a farm girl!
I had never heard of things like this!
Sigh . . .
I learned to play the guitar when I was twelve.
After an afternoon spent with my big brother, Jerry.
He made it look like so much fun.
We were sitting downstairs on the piano bench.
With an opened ‘Reader’s Digest’ music book propped up on the piano.
We were singing, “When You Wore a Tulip”.
And happily.
With Jerry strumming the guitar enthusiastically.
Picture it: “When you wore a tulip, a sweet, yellow tulip, and I wore a big red rose” . . . whereupon (good word) he’d stop and say, just under his breath, but completely in rhythm, “I don’t know that chord!”
“When you caressed me . . .” And the song would continue.
We sang and laughed for hours.
After that, I insisted on learning to play.
Patiently, he handed me the guitar and then taught me.
Fortunately for him, I caught on quickly.
And went on playing.
I was never an expert, but I enjoyed myself and played for family and friends.
Moving ahead . . .
I was happily playing “Puff the Magic Dragon” for my two young sons.
Well, ‘playing’ would be largely a misnomer at this point, because the oldest one kept trying to ‘help’.
Resulting in the dull ‘thump’ of a muted string.
Finally, one of the strings broke.
I removed it and coiled it, then set it aside.
When my Husby returned home that evening, I handed him the string and asked if he could pick me up another.
He nodded. “Sure.” Then, “Do you know which string it is?”
“Yeah. G.”
“You want me to pick you up a new G-string?” He started to laugh.
I nodded. “Yeah. I need a new ‘G’ string.” I frowned at him. “Why are you laughing?”
“Because you just asked me to pick you up a new G-string.”
I stared. Was he getting goofy? Had marriage and fatherhood finally tipped him over the edge?
“Yeah. I broke my ‘G’ string and I need a new one.”
 “You broke . . .?” He laughed harder, bending over and holding his sides.
“Yeah. What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing.” He wiped his eyes.
“Well, can you get me a new ‘G’ string?”
Another paroxysm (ooh, another good word) of laughter.
Then, finally, “You don’t know what a G-string is, do you?”
Remember where I said the words, ‘farm girl’? That would apply here.
He explained.
“Oh.” I suddenly understood his laughter.
He got me the string.
After a laugh with the guy in the guitar shop.
But, in true Tolley fashion, never let me forget the lesson . . .

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cleanliness is Next to . . . Impossible

Okay. Let's see you do this without getting grimy . . .
Ranching doesn't encourage cleanliness.
You heard it here first.
In fact, ranching and cleanliness don't go together.
At all.
Let me tell you about it . . .
I had worked on the ranch all my life and had finally been promoted to 'herdsman' where I served for two glorious years.
This included such things as:
Riding herd.
Checking herd.
Feeding herd.
Treating herd.
Worrying over herd.
Hovering when herd was ready to calve.
Calving out herd.
Recording herd.
Eating and sleeping with herd.
Okay, maybe that last is a little extreme, but you get my point . . .
Sooo . . . cleanliness.
Cows aren't naturally clean.
I know this will come as a shock.
I'm sure you've seen the romantic pictures of mama cow licking her baby.
I have one thing to say about this.
Cow spit.
How clean can that be?
Cows also have other orifices that are . . . nasty.
And to which I have one response.
Cow pies.
Enough said.
On with my story . . .
I was ready to go to work.
Clean shirt.
Clean jeans.
Clean kerchief.
Clean socks.
Recently cleaned boots.
I headed out the door.
Bridle and riding pad on my horse and I was away.
We made good time reaching the calving field. And almost immediately spotted a cow.
But having difficulties.
I decided to take her back to the corrals. And restrain her. And help.
That's as far as my plans/actions went . . .
I grabbed the protruding calf feet.
And that's when the cow broke out of my hastily-built restraint.
Grimly, I hung onto those feet as the cow started across the corral.
Dropping me and baby in the middle of a puddle of - let me put it this way - it wasn't spring water.
I got up.
Carted the calf to safety.
And headed for the house.
My mother met me in the doorway. Her clean daughter had gone out the door only half an hour before.
Now, dripping from head to toe with--barn puddle, said daughter had returned.
Mom stopped me in the porch.
“You just left here. Perfectly clean!” she said. “What did you do out there?!”
“Well . . .”
“Never mind. Clothes off here!” she ordered.
I was divested of anything gooey.
Whereupon (good word) I sprinted for the shower.
In my underwear.
Not for the faint of heart.
Or the fanatically clean.
Okay, let's face it . . . not even for the somewhat clean.
Don't you wish you were here?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lego Home Security

We were visiting/staying with my husband’s sister.
Her home was in the country, surrounded by acres of Adventure.
Our kids loved it.
They had worn themselves out running outside.
Created worlds with Lego inside. 
And were finally tucked into their respective beds.
The visiting adults had followed their example and were peacefully snoring.
My Husby and I were on the hide-a-bed in the family room.
All was quiet.
I should explain, here, that the family room was situated at the top of the stairs.
That the master bedroom was down said stairs.
And that anyone wanting to use the bathroom would have to walk through our room, between our bed and the only source of light in the entire house, the glass patio doors.
Back to my story . . .
I heard a noise.
As the mother of six, I was instantly awake.
A floor was creaking.
Someone was coming up the stairs.
An adult-sized figure materialized out of the gloom beside me making their slow, careful way towards the bathroom.
For a moment, they were silhouetted against the patio door.
Then they disappeared.
I’m not making this up.
They disappeared.
One moment they were there.
A black cutout against the lighter door.
And the next . . . gone.
I sat up.
“Who’s there? What happened?”
My whisper sounded loud in the stillness.
My Sister-In-Law’s voice from the end of the bed, #$%&! Lego!”
The figure reappeared, rising up from the floor.
Its gait subtly altered, it continued towards the bathroom.
Lego is the best, most imaginative toy ever, but those who have had the misfortune of stepping on one of those little blocks with an unprotected foot know the pain.
Let’s wince together.

P.S. I've just had an amazing thought! Spread Lego blocks around the house for defense. As long as the enemy approaches barefoot, you've got them!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Show Your Teeth!

Today, I`m thinking about smiles.
I love smiles.
Smiles make you feel good.
They cross all language barriers.
And ages.
One of the first milestones we watch for in a newborn baby is that first smile.
 A smile from someone in nasty traffic is a sure-fire way to put the sun back in the sky and help you relax.
A smile is wonderful news.
A smile is friendship.
A smile is love.
But smiles are weird.
Can you think of any other species that shows its teeth (Or gums. Remember the baby…) as a sign of friendliness and/or encouragement?
Okay, I’ve seen a few dogs, cats and horses and even a couple of bears use their teeth in an ‘affectionate’ gesture of correction toward their young.
Well I assumed it was affectionate.
But seriously, who figured out that smiling was a sure fire way to say, “Hello! I’m so happy to know you! I hope you have a great day!”
It must have started somewhere.
At some point in time, someone said to themselves: I’m going to show my teeth to those people as a sign that I really like them.
See what I mean?

P.S. I did have a dog that smiled. Muffy. (She of the long, shaggy hair and the wiggly bum and the heart of sweet, sweet marshmallow.) She really smiled. But one day, when she was in the yard and I wasn’t, she smiled at the letter carrier, who then called her supervisor to report a vicious dog.
Yep. Smiles are weird.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Psycho! The Toddler Version

Oh, she only looks innocent...
The soft cascade of warm water and sweet-smelling soap caresses the aged body, following every curve.
And/or bulge.
Problems and irritations disappear down the drain with the water as total relaxation is, finally, achieved.
The warm water continues.
A state of near-bliss is achieved.
Ahhh . . .
Cue: Sharp strings played in a tight Eee! Eee! Eee! Eee!
The shower curtain is pulled back abruptly.
The shower-er spins about with a startled gasp.
A shadowy figure sticks its head into the cubicle.
“Hey! Gramma! What’cha doing?!”
And ‘Gramma’ collapses and dies of a heart attack.
Okay, it doesn’t quite have the punch of the original Psycho. But the death is just as real.
And permanent.
Death by Toddler!
Coming soon to a shower near you.
Rated: ‘T’ for Toddler. There is no stronger rating…
P.S. No skin was shown in the making of this experience.
Absolutely none.
The world simply isn’t ready for that.

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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