Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Pie a la Mud


I've used many, many recipes in my life.

Starting with simple: crackers and cheese.
And, believe me, you have to get that one just right . . .
To more complicated: hot dogs.
And I'm sure I don't have to explain the vital importance of the meat to bun ratio. And I won’t even go into the selection and/or serving size of condiments.
But my very first recipe was not nutritious.
Or even edible.
In fact, though it smelled rather good, I wouldn't have fed it to the dog.
Well, actually I did try.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
I was staying with my friend/cousin, Jean.
It was summer.
We had been playing in Aunt Grace's kitchen. Under Aunt Grace's feet.
Till Aunt Grace finally had enough and kicked us outside to play.
Dutifully, we had played.
Then we started looking for something a little more . . . constructive.
“Let’s make mud pies!” Jean suggested.
Mmm. I like pie. “Okay.”
She found an old pot and we started adding ingredients.
I should mention here that, as we didn't have all of the ingredients for pie, and really weren't completely sure what those ingredients were, we . . . erm . . . substituted.
Back to my story . . .
Dirt. (For flour)
Water. (For water) And I should tell you that you have to get this ingredient just right. Too much and your mud pies are sloppy. Not enough and you can’t do a thing with them.  Just FYI.
Rocks. (Those were the raisins)
Two eggs that we stole from the hen house. (For eggs)
Grass. (For coconut)
We didn't mix any awful things into it, though I did find some dog doo that I was tempted to add.
For flavour.
Jean stopped me. “Diane! If you put that in, no one could eat it!”
Important point.
Finally, we mixed our wondrous concoction and formed it carefully into little blobs on the wall of her mother’s flower garden. Right in the sunlight where our pies could cook and get nice and toasty.
Mmmm. They even smelled good.
I never got to taste our pies.
We were called in to dinner and my Mom picked me up just after that.
But I remember them. And how they would have tasted . . .
Our good friend, Shirley was over visiting.
She told us her ‘mud pie’ story.
How she and her sister found an old pail.
Added their ingredients.
Stirred well.
When it comes to the ‘cooking’ part, Shirley’s story takes a different turn from mine.
Her family had a chicken coop.
With a little wood stove inside to keep their feathered friends warm in the cooler months of the year.
Why bother to set their mud concoction into the sun, where the actual ‘baking’ would be iffy, at best.
They would set their creation on the little wood stove.
And boil it.
No sooner said than . . .
I probably don’t have to tell you that the flaws in their technique were almost immediately apparent.
In Shirley’s words . . . “It really stank!”
So, a note to all mud-pie enthusiasts out there.
Don’t boil.
You heard it here first.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


My Laundress.
It’s laundry day.
That sounds so odd, considering for a large part of my life, when all the kids were still at home, laundry day was every day. If at least two loads didn’t make it through the washing-drying-folding-parking cycle on a daily basis, the mountain would overtake the house.
Ahem . . .
This morning, I was snapping some pillowcases to get them to behave so they could be properly—and seamlessly—folded.
It brought back a memory . . .
For many years, I ran a day home. During that time, I was entrusted with the care of two adorable little blonde girls—ages three and five when they first appeared.
Their mother, single at the time, was doing her best to raise and train and love her girls, even while faced with the doubly momentous task of feeding them and providing shelter.
She had a good job which paid well.
And would have been totally justified in working full time and leaving her girls in my care during those days and weeks and months.
But instead, she worked as much as she needed to to pay the bills and keep the ‘wolf from the door’. The rest of the time, she spent as a mother. Going on field trips. Baking. Cooking. Loving.
And training.
I admired her greatly. (And still do.)
One day, I had descended into the basement to do laundry. Her three-year-old and my own followed.
The two of them immediately spun off into the playroom.
A short time later, I carried in a basket of clothes warm from the drier and proceeded to fold.
My daughter continued with her toys.
Hers came over to me and, to my surprise, grabbed a pillowcase, gave it an expert snap, then proceeded to fold.
Now, I should probably point out that this particular item was taller than she was.
It didn’t deter her. She finished with it and reached for something else, staying until the entire basket was sitting in a neatly-folded pile.
I think often of that single mother, struggling to provide a home—and training—to her two little daughters.
She succeeded.
P.S. Today, there are classes being offered to grown children who haven’t been taught basic life skills at home.
I know a three-year-old who could teach them.

Monday, October 15, 2018


Daddy's Favourite!
And who better to put the topic of DOORS to rhyme than Spike Jones and his City Slickers!
I can still hear Daddy singing along...

Also for your enjoyment: The best article about doors I've ever read!

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin
With pleasant thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Have posted poems for you to see.
And now you've seen what we have brought . . .
Did we help?
Or did we not?

Though some of us have just signed up,
Next week's about The Grandma Club!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Other Boy

Shiny Black (Waterproof) Magic

It started out well.
But magical doesn’t always remain magical.
Maybe I should explain . . .
When Dad was three, his Mom and Dad came home from their monthly Lethbridge shopping trip with something special.
A pair of rubber boots just his size.
Boots that came without any pesky laces.
Overjoyed at being able to don them himself, he quickly did so. Then marched triumphantly around the house.
“Those are for walking in water,” his mother pointed out. Then she pointed out. “Outside.”
Excited at the prospect of being able to step in water without worrying about spoiling precious shoes, Dad hurried to comply.
He stood in the yard for a moment, glancing quickly about, looking for a currently boy-less puddle of water.
In the garden where his mother had been running the sprinkler, he found exactly what he sought. A shiny pool of water just the right size.
Eagerly, he made a dash for it.
For a second, he paused at the edge, letting the anticipation of the moment . . . erm . . . wash over him. Then he stepped into the water.
He moved further. The water came a little higher on his new rubber boots.
For a time, he kept his eyes on the magical, world-altering foot gear as he splashed around. Then he stopped and watched the ripples slowly still. The pool became calm.
And it was then he noticed that there was a small, blond-haired boy staring back at him out of the water.
He shrieked and spun around, intent on finding either his mother or the nearest far-away place as quickly as possible.
But toddler feet, new boots, mud and water in combination don’t make for graceful, gazelle-like moves.
Hopelessly tangled up, Dad landed backside-first in the puddle. Where his amazing, magical, life-changing boots promptly filled with water.
A few minutes later a nearly hysterical, decidedly soggy, mud and tear-streaked boy appeared at the back door of the house – boots sloshing with water.
I don’t know what his Mom said. I expect something soothing – over the chuckles – as her small son poured out his story.
And his boots.

Sundays are for ancestors.
Tell me about yours!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Getting 'Real'

It started as a normal day.
Okay, yes. You’re right. We don’t have those in our house.
Consider it satire.
Let me start again.
The day began . . .
Mom had made her usual breakfast of champions. My favourite: hotcakes, sausages, eggs . . . and onions. Okay, it’s a personal ‘haute cuisine’ thing.
Cause I’m such a classy person.
Ahem . . .
Sally had been mostly absent during the meal; staring into space. Not an unusual thing. For her.
I’m pretty sure she had a good reason today, though. Mom doesn’t allow electronics at the table and Sally had just gotten a new Roller Coaster game for her DS. I’m pretty sure she was playing it in her head.
Okay, let’s not talk about Sally’s head.
Moving on . . .
Mom and I were actually enjoying the peace and quiet. Sally had been razzing Mom all week because she wanted a ‘Playstation VR’, which was, to her, the greatest virtual-reality/life-changing system ever! But, to quote Mom, was: “So far out of the realm of possibility that it wasn’t even a faint blip on the Hubble Telescope.”
But you who know Sally, also know that she doesn’t take such a frivolous word as ‘no’ seriously. In fact, the introduction of that one tiny word had been known to morph into discussions that encompassed topics from the dawn of creation to the end of days.
Mom had finally relented so far as to buy Sally the aforementioned Roller Coaster game.
For a short time, she'd been appeased.
Breakfast ended. I’d drawn the short straw, so Mom and I started the clean-up.
Sally drifted off.
As I was wiping the table a few minutes later, I saw my sister head out the front door. She had her bike helmet on. And a roll of duct tape in one hand and her DS in the other.
I really didn’t think anything of it. It is Sally we’re talking about.
Silly me.
I was putting the last of the dishes away. Mom turned, our glass milk jug in her hands. “Honey, you’re taller than me. Could you put this up there?” She nodded her head toward the upper cupboard over the fridge. “Then I don’t have to get the stool.”
Such normal, natural talk.
Just as Mom reached out to pass me the jug, something in the window caught her eye.
I spun around and our passing/reaching ended in the shattering of said jug on the linoleum.
Neither of us noticed because I had glimpsed what so distracted Mom.
A body falling past the window.
Large body.
Roughly ‘Sally’ sized.
We jumped over the shattered mess that had formerly been our sparkling-clean source of all things milky and headed for the door.
Mom is older than me, but her aged limbs . . . okay, she’s thirty-six . . . passed me like a shot.
By the time I’d cleared the door and joined her at the prostrate figure lying in our formerly pristine flower bed, Mom had already knelt down.
Of course, it was Sally. I mean, who else would it be?
Still wearing her bike helmet, but with something added to the front.
With the duct tape.
Mom reached out and grabbed the ‘something’ and pulled it off with one great jerk; handing it to me.
I looked down. Sally’s DS. With roller coaster game still running.
Sally’s blue eyes looked up at us. “You’ve got to try this!” she gasped out. She raised herself up on one elbow. “My own virtual reality! I think I’m on to something!”
Mom shook her head and she and I stood up. I dropped Sally’s DS beside her and the two of us headed for the door.
“Hey! Don’t you want to hear about it?! I mean, leaping from the rooftop in reality as well as in the . . .”
I closed the door. Hard.
And considered locking it.
“She’ll only find some other way in,” Mom said. 

This story is fiction, although I'm sure most of you have a for-real 'Sally' in your life!
Today is a word challenge.
Karen of Baking in a Tornado takes from the repository of words supplied by her slaves good friends, shuffles them, and then gives back to those same . . . erm . . . people.
To do with as they see fit.
The result is the Use Your Words challenge!
This month, my words, satire ~ breakfast of champions ~ morph ~ haute ~ tape ~ virtual reality, came from my friend, Jenniy of Climaxed. What fun! Thank you, Jenniy.

Now go and see what the others have done with the challenge!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Phone Less Thrifty

Call me!
One of Dad’s elder brothers, Alonzo (hereinafter known as Uncle Lonnie), became a wealthy man by the simple practices of thrift, caution and wise investment.
Besides being brothers, he and Dad were good friends and often ranched together.
Which necessitated good communication.
Living fifty miles apart, this meant telephoning.
I should explain here that, in the late sixties, phone plans had not yet been invented.
To avoid the high costs of calling long distance, people resorted to many individual 'tricks'.
But, officially, you had only two options.
You dialed a number directly and paid.
Or, if you weren't certain the person you wanted was home, you dialed ‘person-to-person’ and had an operator facilitate the call. This was more expensive if your party turned out to be there, but cost you nothing if they weren't.
Moving on . . .
Uncle Lonnie, he of the sound mind and thrifty practices, needed to talk to Dad.
But it was the middle of the day, a time when phone calls were at their most expensive. Uncertain if he would find Dad at home, he opted to have an operator place the call.
Dad answered the phone. The call went something like this . . .
Dad: “Hello?”
Operator: “I have a person-to-person call for Dr. Mark Stringam.”
Dad: “This is Dr. Stringam.”
Operator: “Go ahead, sir!”
Uncle Lonnie: “If I’d known you were actually there, I’d have dialed directly!”
Dad: “Well, I'm here!” And he hung up the phone.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Pumpkin Time

I love pumpkin. Quite a lot.
Love it cold. And love it hot.
Made in soups or cakes or pies,
I even like my pumpkin fries!
And so in honor of this treat,
I have some jokes that can’t be beat,
My grandkids found them, it is true,
And so I’ll share them, now, with you!

What waddles; is orange, white and black?
A penguin with a pumpkin pack.

How are you? What did pumpkin say?
‘I’m feeling very vine today.’

Why sits the gourd on the porch floor?
He has no hands to thump the door.

How do you fix a gourd that’s broke?
A pumpkin patch! (My favorite joke!)

What is the pumpkin’s favorite sport?
It’s squash! (They don’t play on a court…)

A pretty pumpkin. What’s it called?
It’s Gourdgeous. Please don’t be appalled…

What kind of gourd grows up in trees?
A plumkin. If you look, you’ll see.

Who helps the small gourds cross the street?
The crossing gourd. It’s quite a feat!

What’s a pumpkin that is fit?
A jock o’ lantern. They don’t quit.

An overweight-y pumpkin is?
A Plumpkin. Hey! I love this quiz!

How is a pumpkin’s family known?
They are his Pump-kin. E’en when grown.

Who is the leader of the gourds?
The Pumpking. They all call him ‘Lord’.

Best thing to put in pumpkin pie?
Your teeth. Come on now, don’t be shy.

Post-Thanksgiving, what’d gourd say?
Good-pie, All! Hope you had a nice day!

The Grands and I had lots of fun,
Just telling jokes till we were done,
D’you like them? Did we strike a cord?
I guess it’s back to the drawing board…

Each month our ‘boss’ finds something new,
And then we cogitate and stew,
Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes ‘ewww!’
The fun is sending it to you!

This month’s theme was PUMPKIN (time).
And we all got it down in rhyme!

Karen of Baking In A Tornado: Team Pumpkin
Dawn of Cognitive Script: Pumpkins
Lydia of Cluttered Genius: 4 Little Pumpkins

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Added In

I was helping out in my grandson’s first-grade class.
An active bunch. (If any of you have seen the movie, The Lion King, you will recognize the row of monkeys in the ‘future-king-presentation scene’. They were modeled after any first-grade class you find.)
Ahem . . .
The activity I was there to help with was an exercise in caring for animals. Each student chose an animal, then was given materials to build a little compound specifically suited for said animal’s needs. Food, water, sleeping arrangements, toys, entertainment.
Because what animal doesn't need its big-screen TV, right?
Moving on . . .
As coordinator of my little group of four boys, I was entrusted with the big bag ‘o treats. The feathers, popsicle sticks, foam sheets, paper cups, string, sticks, tape, glue and scores of other building materials.
It was a large bag.
And everyone was having a large time.
One of them asked for sticks and I dove into the mass of materials and dug out a small container of bundles of sticks. Colorful little bundles of sticks.
And just like that, I was transported back fifty-five years to my grade one class.
And no, it wasn't held in a cave . . .
Our teacher, Miss Woronoski had laid out multi-colored sticks. Some singles. Some in bundles of five and ten.
And with a combination of those singles and bundles, we were learning to count and add.
I loved it.
I especially loved saying the word ‘bundles’.
I would manipulate little packs of sticks, laying them out in regimental order, and add them. Then re-arrange and add again.
Sometimes I would concentrate so hard, I would completely miss what was going on around me . . .
“Your Gramma isn’t listening to me!”
“Gramma! Gramma!”
Like now.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Giving Thanks

‘Please bow your head and all give thanks for blessings you’ve been given,’
I did as I was told, then thought of this old life I’m live-n.
I’ve fam-i-ly, that’s number one and a modicum of wealth,
And food to eat and clothes to wear and yes, I’ve got my health.
There’s things that I can do that make each day diverse and fun,
And friends and family to help (that keep me on the run).
I’ve tales and articles to write and some to read as well,
And always there’s a grandchild near and stories I can tell.
I’ve got my job, I’ve got my faith, I’m grateful for them both,
And even problems when they come, assuring spiritual growth.
I’m grateful for my childhood, and parents I hold dear,
And all my precious memories that still remain so clear.
My friends both near and far I simply could not do without,
I’m grateful for their caring, even when they bawl me out!
I’m grateful for my country and the freedoms I enjoy,
And happy, too, that I can choose just how I’ll be employed.
My list goes on and on and, yes, it truly humbles me,
When I think of all I have and all that I can be,
And so, today, you’ll find me, folding arms, with eyes shut tight,
For blessings I’ve been given I thank Him with all my might!

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin
With pleasant thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Have posted poems for you to see.
And now you've seen what we have brought . . .
Did we help?
Or did we not?

Inspired by Delores, next week,
We'll talk of DOORS--it will be sweet!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Other Side

The two of them watched as the family picked its way reverently through the cemetery, stopping to exclaim over one headstone or another.
Look at this one!” the mother exclaimed. “This man served as a soldier in the First World War!”
Her three kids gathered around her and stared down at the marker.
“Ooh!” the oldest boy said. “A soldier!”
The three-year-old looked at his brother. Ooh!” he echoed.
Their sister simply stared, then reached for her mother’s hand.
“Come over here and look at this one!” The father had worked his way to the oldest part of the cemetery.
The family moved toward him . . .
The man snorted. “Look at them! Ooh-ing and ah-ing over the epitaphs!”
His companion smiled gently. “I think it’s charming!”
He looked at her. “Charming?! To wander among the dead, exclaiming over what their relatives thought appropriate to carve on their expensive headstones?”
“In a word? Yes.”
“Pfff.” He turned back to the family. “Look at them, wandering around in their hideously mundane existence! Just look!” He pointed to the youngest son. “He’s picking his nose. How charming is that?”
His companion laughed. “He’s a child!”
“Oh, and now he’s . . .!” The man shuddered. “You know what the difference is between broccoli and snot, don’t you?”
She shook her head. “Maybe I don’t want to . . .”
“Kids won’t eat broccoli!”
“James! That’s revolting!” She made a face.
“Yes. Revolting!” He turned a slightly nasty smile toward the wandering family.
“Well I, in probably what is a lone opinion, think they are precious! I hope they enjoy their time here today. And I dispense with any formalities and give them franchise to make a thorough and enlightening tour of the entire grounds!”
“Hmph! Like they need your permission!”
“Nevertheless, they have it!” She nodded decisively. Her face softened. “We who sleep, dream; wait 'neath marble slabs and blowing grass . . .”
James stared at her. “What are you talking about, Anne?! You didn’t wait fifteen seconds ‘neath marble slabs and waving grass!”
She laughed, rather self-consciously. “Well, I am a bit claustrophobic.”
“Claustrophobic?! How can you be claustrophobic when you’re dead?!”
“Well, you're dead too!” Anne shot back.
“Yes, I am!” James glanced at the family once more. “And here are these awful people stomping around without the least respect for the people they are tramping heedlessly over!”
“They’re not awful!” Anne said. “They’re . . .” She paused, then pointed. “Look!”
James spun around.
The little family had reached the furthest corner of the grounds. A small, slightly overgrown area, rough with tree roots from the encroaching forest growth. The father had knelt down and was pulling carefully at some grass and weeds. “Look at this!” he said softly.
“What is it dear?” The mother and her children crowded close.
“These must be the oldest graves in the cemetery! See this one?!” The man leaned closer. “Sixteen . . . something.”
The mother knelt beside him and bent over, pulling her glasses to her nose and peering over them. “I think it’s a seventy-four.” She nodded. “Yes. I’m sure it is. 1674.”
The father traced the faded carving gently. “James Marion. . . Coville? Goville?”
“I think it’s Coville. See, there has been a part chipped off to make it look like a ‘G’.”
He nodded, then pulled out a small, obviously well-used notebook and scribbled something. “James Coville.” He said. “1674.” He touched the small slab gently. “Well, that’s as good a place to start as any!”
“Wait, Dad!” The oldest boy had moved to one side. “Look! Here’s another beside it, but it has tipped over and is almost covered.”
The man got to his feet and joined him. “Huh. You’re right, son.” He knelt again and pulled away the overgrowth, then brushed off the stone. “This one has been more exposed and is more worn.”
“I can’t make out a date,” the mother said. She traced the stone with reverent fingers. “It looks like . . . Anne?”
“That’s about all I can see, too,” the father said. He stood up and studied the two stones. “They are the only two over here, so I’m going to assume that they are connected somehow and go from there.” Again, he made a note in his book.
The mother nodded. “Good idea.”
The father pocketed his notebook and reached for his smallest son’s hand. “Well, shall we go? I have a feeling that there is a lot of work to do.”
The mother nodded. “Come on kids.”
The family began to pick their way to the entrance.
Anne watched them go, then turned and elbowed her companion. “A penny for your thoughts?”
For the first time in over 400 years, James was silent.

Sundays are for ancestors. 
Today was for someone else's.
Tell me about yours!

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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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