Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Thursday, April 24, 2014

In Your Face Hockey

It was my first ‘live’ hockey game.
Okay, I know that all of them are live.
And quite lively.
Let me re-word . . .
It was the first game I attended where I was actually sitting in the bleachers.
It’s a lot more exciting when one is surrounded by fans.
And can feel the cold air on one’s cheeks.
Just FYI.
My friend, Colleen, rabid hockey brat whose boyfriend was minding the net for our team, was explaining things to me.
I glanced at her occasionally as she spouted such foreign terms as ‘face-off’ and ‘icing’ and ‘high-sticking’ and ‘penalty’. But mostly, I just sat and merrily watched the game.
Not knowing – or caring – who was winning.
Colleen was not as . . . indifferent as me.
She wasn’t very tall, but she could sure make her presence felt, bobbing periodically to her feet to launch ‘criticisms’ at whichever aggravating party was . . . aggravating. As in: “What’d’ya call that, Ref?! Are you blind?!!!”
But as loud as she was, her behaviour had nothing on the woman sitting in front of us, next to the boards.
Now that woman was vocal.
She used words I’d never even heard of, expertly launching them at the ref with practiced ease.
I tried mentally editing out the more profane. But if I’d been successful, the woman would have been sitting there with her mouth open and nothing emerging.
Halfway through the game, she became a little more pro-active.
And that’s when things really got interesting.
After flinging a particularly incendiary little ball of nastiness at the long-suffering ref, she leaned on the boards and waited for the man to skate past.
She didn’t have to wait for long.
If you know hockey, you know that this game goes back and forth . . . a lot.
The ref skated by, intent on the next play, whistle in his mouth and hands and feet working frantically.
The woman leaned over and swung her purse at him, knocking him clear into tomorrow. I say that because it was ‘tomorrow’ before he woke up.
He was carried from the ice with reverence and care.
The woman was escorted to the hoosegow with neither of the above.
When officers opened her purse, they discovered a bottle of whisky.
The ref made a complete recovery, living to ref again.
Never saw that woman again, though. At least not at any hockey games.
But the lesson was learned.
Alcohol, in the right purse, can kill you.

P.S. I think the refs should be pulling in the big salaries, they’ve got the tougher jobs . . 

Delores of Under the Porch Light, gives us six words each week. And issues an ultimatum. "Use these! Or don't. I'll love you anyway."
Okay, maybe not so much of an ultimatum.
This week's words?
glancedmerrilypurseindifferentbrat and blind
How did I do?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ceremonial Tucking

Routines are important.
Especially when one has many small bodies that one is trying to shuffle into bed.
The bedtime ritual in the Tolley household was probably one of the most adhered-to in the entire day.
Little, wiggling bodies were scrubbed clean.
Teeth brushed.
Hair combed.
Jammies donned.
Stories read.
Family prayer said.
And lastly, the all-important Ceremony of the Tucking In.
The grand and glorious final scene in the whole bedtime scenario.
I won't mention here that the tucking in was usually immediately followed by the "I can't sleep" or "I wanna drink of water" or the all important "I have to go pee".
Okay, maybe I will.
Moving on . . .
One of our children, particularly, looked forward to being tucked in each night.
Our daughter, Tiana.
She would emerge happily from the bathroom, sparkling clean and dressed for bed and announce to her Dad, "I'm ready!"
Whereupon (good word) he would drop the evening paper and follow her to the bedroom she shared with her sister.
Then would follow the boosting into bed.
The careful molding of the blankets around the warm little body.
And the ever important good-night kiss.
Then lights were doused, doors closed and Mom and Dad could relax.
At least until the post-tucking parade began.
One evening, Tiana announced to her father that she was ready to be tucked in.
Then realized that she had forgotten something and disappeared.
But notice had been given.
Dad was already on the move.
He went to her room, performed his usual ceremony.
Then resumed his chair and his reading.
Tiana re-appeared.
"I'm ready now," she said.
Her father looked at her. "I already tucked you in," he said.
"What? I'm right here! You didn't tuck me in!"
"Well, I tucked somebody in."
Tiana ran to her room.
"You tucked in my teddy bear!" she said loudly.
Her father grinned into his newspaper. "Well, he was there!" he said.
After that, it was a race to see who could get to Tiana's room first.
She, grinning as her father was forced to perform the usual ceremony.
Or her father, who would then tuck in whatever was close at hand.
I repeat. Routines are important.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Paddy Craig O'Connor

He’s not a  mean or nasty lout,
In fact, were you to ask about
Our Paddy Craig O’Connor boy,
You’d find he’s just a hoi polloi.

He’ll shoulder in, with work to do
He loves his wife, and kiddies too,
He’s loyal, almost to a fault,
A fisherman – a seasoned salt.

But after a long day at sea
He’ll meet the boys occasionally,
And, of the good stuff, have a dram,
Then get himself into a jam.

‘Cause Paddy, when he’s had a few,
Well, there’s nothing he won’t do,
Though he draws the line at lawless stuff,
He doesn’t quit till he’s had enough.

He’s mixed the pigs in with the sheep,
And upset everybody’s sleep,
Howled with the dogs, sang with the cats,
Joined Ladies Aid with a box of bats.

Dropped a pig in the local pub,
Took chickens to the senior’s club.
Yes, Paddy really had a bent.
For mischief everywhere he went.

Until that time e’en Paddy knew
He’d knocked the Universe askew.
He had to make a major change.
Frivolities, he’d rearrange . . .

It’d started harmlessly enough,
With Paddy swimming ‘in the buff’.
Just floating out there in the bay
Till the Archbishop came his way.

I must admit, how could he know?
An august visitor would show,
But there He was upon the sand,
With formal robes and raise-ed hands.

Well, Paddy rose out of the waves
Wearing just what God had ‘gave’,
Advanced to ask Him “What's the craic?”
And give His Grace’s hand a shake.

And right there on the sea levee,
And in his frank and simple way,
Beseeched His Excellence to leave.
A blessing for one who believed.

The blunt request no sooner said,
His Grace’s face turned slightly red,
T’was only then Pad realized
They were the mark of many eyes.

The village, all, was there to see.
Pad sobered up immediately,
And in the mayhem that ensued,
Vowed he would be more subdued.

So if you’re staying there to sleep,
Hear pigs and chickens and some sheep,
Know, with those feats of fun and brawn,
That Paddy’s clothes are staying on.

Each week, Delores of Under the Porch Light gives her followers a 6-word challenge.
Last week's words were: leveemayhemblessingarchbishopfrank, and blunt.
Okay, yes, I'm behind. But these words were too good to miss!
Hop over to Delores' and see what her other followers have concocted!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Elementary Horse Trading

Me and Zee.
Now that's a little more like it!
At sixteen, I made my first foray into the wide, exciting world of horse trading.
Let's just say it was a learning experience.
Let me explain . . .
I had been saving my money for months to purchase my first horse.
Okay, yes, we had dozens of horses on the ranch, but none of them had been purchased by me.
See the difference?
Okay, my Dad didn't, either.
Moving on . . .
Some friends of ours knew of a rancher near Waterton Park who had some horses to sell.
Beautiful scenery and a chance to buy my own horse.
It was a perfect world.
We drove into the mountains and left the main road, winding down the mountainside and into the prettiest little ranch I had ever seen.
I was filled with anticipation.
Only the best in horseflesh could come from such a place.
I was wrong.
Just FYI.
The owner introduced us to several horses, but one little bay mare immediately caught my eye.
The rancher noticed.
Perhaps my glassy-eyed stare and drool was a give-away.
He went into his spiel.
Yes. Ranchers have a spiel.
He told me I would love her. Her gait, conformation and performance were perfection.
Here. Let's saddle up and you can take her for a spin.
He did.
I did.
Everything he had said was true.
Money exchanged hands.
We loaded the sedate little mare into our handy-dandy trailer and headed home.
Before we had gotten back to the main road, I had a name for my new best friend.
It suited.
Back at home, my Dad got his first look. He examined her carefully, then shrugged. I don't know, he said. She looks pretty enough, but I don't know.
Horse sense. Some of them have it . . .
Some of us don't . . .
The next morning, I went out to saddle up my new little beauty.
And got a distinct shock.
During the night, someone had come and switched my sweet tempered little Fancy with a roaring, man-killing beast.
And I do mean man-killing.
The drugs had obviously worn off.
No sooner had I bridled her, then she reared up and struck out at me with her front hooves.
I should point out, here, that hooves are hard and can easily be used to cause 'blunt force trauma'.
I watch C.S.I. so I know about B.F.T.
Her first unexpected attack caught me, fortunately on the very top of my head where my skull is the thickest.
She knocked me to my knees, but did no permanent damage.
I struggled quickly to my feet and moved to the nearest far-away place.
Where I watched in wonder as she began her second attack.
Yep. The first attack had been no accident.
But I was ready and she posed no danger at that point.
My decision was made, however.
This horse had to go.
I talked to my friend, the one who had taken me to buy my little whirlwind of terror.
He was very interested.
He should be, he had gotten me into this mess . . .
He dealt with difficult horses and offered, on the spot, to trade me for a horse of my choosing.
This time, I took my Dad with me.
I may be dumb, but I do learn quickly.
We agreed on a nice, black gelding.
Tall. Lively.
But without one important aspect.
He wasn't out for my blood.
An important aspect as it turns out.
'Zee' and I became instant friends.
Something Fancy and I could never be.
Sorry, Fancy.
But it is your fault.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cheap But Plentiful

The Tolley Easter turkey.
Well. One of them . . .
Ours is a Christian family.
Easter is important to us.
We spend time in worship service.
Offering many prayers of gratitude for our Saviour.
For His sacrifice for us.
But Easter is also a time of fun.
Easter chocolate will be hidden.
And consumed.
By children and adults alike.
But here is where our family differs from many others out there.
Our chocolate is not brought by the Easter bunny.
As my Husby says, why do things like everyone else?
Why, indeed . . .
In the Tolley house, our chocolate is brought a day late.
By Peter the Frugal Easter Pig.
Who shops – and has always shopped – for cheap chocolate.
The day after the official Easter morning.
I know. I know.
It smacks of treason.
But at least it smacks.
And who’s complaining when one is gorging on chocolate?
And I do mean gorging because, at 75% off, we can buy so much more!
Mmmmm . . .
Happy Easter, everyone!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Once and Only

I come from a long line of non-smokers.
Generations of puff-nots.
But my best friend had a cousin staying over for the summer.
A cousin from the big city who had seen it all.
And done most of it.
I was about to get an education . . .
My family lived on a ranch twenty miles from Milk River, in southern Alberta.
Life out there was bliss.
And, because of a lack of outside influences, completely under the control of my parents.
I had seen people smoking.
Certainly I had.
But I had never considered the possibility of being one of them.
Not even for an instant.
Moving on . . .
My parents owned a house in town.
When Mom got tired of driving the twenty miles to take us kids to school and activities, we would move into town.
Until Dad got tired of driving out to the ranch every day to do ranching stuff.
Then we would move back.
It was a fun and exciting way to live.
The benefits of town living.
The joys of the ranch.
But one or the other of our houses often sat empty in the interim.
That summer, we were firmly ensconced on the ranch.
So the town house was sitting vacant.
A perfect place for 10-year-old girls to get an education from the 11-year-old-far-more-experienced-and-world-weary-cousin-from-the-big-city.
My parents had dropped me off at my best friend's house for a - gasp - three day sleep over while they went out of town.
We: my BFF, her younger sister and the Cousin (notice the capital letter) had been knocking around town for most of two days.
It had been an education.
It was about to become more so.
The Cousin bought a packet of cigarettes.
She was going to show us country hicks how to smoke.
Okay, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Our biggest problem lay in finding a secret place in which to do our teaching/learning. I mean, there were twelve kids in my BFF's family. Plus the Cousin. Plus me. Her house was out . . .
My family's empty town house.
I found the key and let us in.
The place echoed emptily.
We went into the main bathroom and dug out the cigarettes.
Cousin proceeded to light up.
Oooh! She looked so cool!
The rest of us were excited to try.
In no time, we each had a cigarette.
She helped us light them.
Soon, my BFF and her sister were blowing smoke in the most approved manner.
It took me a bit longer.
But I got it, once Cousin pointed out that one need to suck.
Not blow.
I should point out, here that my parents weren't due to pick me up from my BFF's until the following day.
And, even then, they had no reason to come to this house.
Our smoking education could continue apace.
Without threat of interruption.
But parents never do what they say they are going to.
My BFF's little sister went out to the front room.
And immediately returned, wide-eyed.
"Your parents are here!"
"Sure, sure," I said, taking another puff. "Nice try!"
We all laughed.
A sound that broke off instantly when my Mom appeared at the door.
"Oh," I said. "Ummm . . . hi, Mom."
She looked at me. Looked at the cigarette I held in my hand.
Then turned and left.
Without saying a word.
We quickly cleaned up our mess and headed for the front door.
My parents were waiting in the car.
I said some quick good-byes and climbed in.
For several minutes, my parents said nothing.
Finally, Mom turned to Dad and sighed.
Then Dad turned to me and said, "I'm very disappointed, Diane."
I was completely crushed.
He didn't know it, but those four words had just killed my cigarette habit.
Parenting done right.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Little Cleaner

Mark. In cleaner times.
Family reunions.
The renewing of ties.
An opportunity to get re-acquainted.
Catch up on family accomplishments.
Nestle once more in the warm embrace of kin.
Our eldest son Mark's first reunion occurred when he was eighteen months old.
He was getting around under his own steam very well.
And this outdoor wiener roast/party was a perfect time for him to practice his skills.
For several hours, he wandered around the site.
Getting filthy.
All the things that make a little boy so very happy.
He played with the host family's spaniel, Frodo.
Gorged on hot dogs.
Sampled all of the pot luck dishes.
Spit out the baked beans (another story).
Slurped up watermelon.
And laid sole claim to the marshmallows.
He was a happy, filthy little boy.
He toddled over to me, all smiles and dirt.
I dusted him off for the hundredth time and set him on my knee.
Only to discover that his fingers were stuck together.
I think it was the marshmallows.
Might have been helped along by the watermelon.
I'm sure there was at least one form of chocolate.
But those little, busy fingers were all fused together.
And Mark was happily making his rounds using paddles.
Or flippers.
I will admit they were still effective.
He was managing to accomplish a fair bit of eating and playing.
But I thought that, as a concerned mom, I should probably do something.
I went for a wipe.
But I hadn't counted on his ingenuity.
While I was digging through the diaper bag, he went for the nearest water source.
Frodo's bowl.
I wish I could say that this was shortly after the bowl had been filled.
And was still pristine and untouched by anything 'canine'.
I can't.
By the time I had returned with the antiseptically clean towelette, he had already taken care of business.
In the decidedly unhygienic dog bowl.
And was back on his rounds, little fingers freed for business.
He was happy.
And Frodo loved the watermelon/marshmallow/chocolate/hot dog flavoured water. So he was happy.
In fact, everyone was happy.
Except me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pill Ills

Does this look delicious to you? Yeah, me either . . .
My Mom had a magic cupboard in her bathroom.
It was full of wonderful little bottles.
Intriguing little bottles with funny shapes and beautiful colours.
And with all sorts of interesting contents.
Most of them defied my little three-year-old fingers.
But one twisted off easily.
Disclosing little, white pills.
Okay they didn't taste very good, but they were little.
And melted on my tongue in a fun way.
I had another.
And another.
This was fun!
Mom came in just as I was finishing the bottle.
For some reason, she got quite upset.
She grabbed me and ran to the phone.
For a few seconds, she chattered excitedly.
Then she carried me to the kitchen and set me on the cupboard and hugged me tight.
I didn’t know what I had done that had gotten her so excited, but this was living!
Or not . . .
A few minutes later, a man came into the house carrying a black bag.
He put a tube down my throat.
And Mom let him!
And traumatic.
I cried.
For several minutes, the two of them fought to keep the tube where they wanted it.
With minimal/non-existent results.
Finally, Mom stuck her fingers down my throat and made me gag.
And I lost all of my wonderful little pills.
Um. Ick.
The doctor packed away his horrible tube and left.
I wasn't sad to see him go.
Mom cuddled me for most of the afternoon.
A few days later, I was again exploring Mom's treasure cupboard.
Well, look at that.
A new bottle of my little pills.
I wonder if they will taste any better.
Mom came in a bit earlier this time, but I had still ingested over half of the bottle.
She didn't bother calling the doctor, just used her patented new method to make me bring the pills back up.
This time, I got a scolding.
Moms can be so inconsistent.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


If you are ever in Denver . . .
Somewhere in or near Denver, Colorado, is my wonderful, stupendous, long-awaited, much-anticipated, beloved, toy of the century.
The one that was mine too briefly.
Maybe I should explain . . .
When I was growing up, my rancher father often took his family on holidays.
Said holidays often included some form of cattle show.
Or cattle ranch visit.
Or driving down the highway slowly because someone’s herd was just there.
In the field.
Waiting to be observed and categorized.
I know you’re wondering what this has to do with my toy.
It’s coming . . .
This particular family trip had been planned with the National Western Stock Show - annually held in Denver - in mind.
And that was okay with me.
Because said stock show also included horse classes.
And I had a new toy.
Now it comes out . . .
The Wham-o company had just released the most amazing gadget.
A solid rubber ball that would bounce higher and do more tricks than anything that had ever been invented.
Aptly named the ‘Superball’, it was a thing of beauty.
An amazing little ball of rubber that promised hours and hours of entertainment.
I had wanted one forever.
Well, since I had first seen an ad a couple of months before.
Dad had stopped at a store before heading over to the stock show.
They had them! A whole display!
The planets had aligned.
I was at a store that actually had the magical little balls for sale.
And my Dad was there.
With his wallet.
The day was mine!
And so, incidentally, was my little, dark blue miracle.
I pried open the package and, for the first time, felt the cool, smooth surface of the greatest high-bouncing ball of all time.
I sat there in the truck and held it.
Staring at it.
Smelling it.
I couldn’t wait to give it a good bounce.
Dad pulled into the stock section of the fair grounds and we all got out and went into the nearest pavilion.
I found myself standing in the lane of a long, concrete-floored, stall-lined, barn of a building.
I lifted the hand holding the ball . . .
And smashed it down onto the pavement as hard as I could.
All of the ads never really paid it full justice.
That little ball hit that hard surface and shot like a missile toward the ceiling.
I stared at it; eyes wide and mouth open in a foolish grin of pleasure.
Then my magical toy came down.
Finally landing somewhere in the endless mounds of straw that filled the building.
Okay, that, I never anticipated.
I searched for that ball for hours.
I’d be searching still if my Dad hadn’t dragged me away for some frivolous ‘have-to-eat-and-sleep-and-for-heaven’s-sake-it’s-only-a-ball’ reason.
My one and only Superball.
You know, the ads claimed that it would keep on bouncing, almost forever. 
The ads were wrong.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Song Allergies

Oh, please! Not that song again!

I grew up on a large old Southern Alberta ranch.
Among cattle, horses and hired men.
I loved it.
I spent many happy hours riding (or sleeping) on the horses.
Chasing the barn cats.
Catching mice.
Wandering through the corrals and feed lots.
Or my favourite, watching the hired men.
It was while doing the last, that I received both my nickname and my signature song.
Let me tell you about it . . .
The Stringam Ranch generally employed six or more hired men.
They worked hard.
Wrangling cattle.
Breaking horses.
Doing one of the myriad tasks that were ranching.
But, inevitably, each job included one extra chore.
Watching over Diane.
I don't want to say that I was always under foot but . . .
Okay. I was always under foot.
When they were in the corral with the horses, I was perched on the fence.
When they were milking the cows, I was sitting on one of the empty stools nearby.
When they were hauling hay, I was in the cab of the truck, nose pressed against the back window.
Yep. If anything was happening, you can bet Diane was in the middle of it.
I should point out, here, that these men were good men.
Hard working.
A bit rough around the edges.
But that I never heard one curse word from any of them.
Looking back, I'm sure they knew these words.
They just never used them around me.
Believe me, I would have repeated anything I heard.
Back to my story . . .
It must have been a trifle . . . inconvenient . . . having the boss' four-year-old daughter always under foot.
They never complained.
In fact, they even had a nickname for me.
Which I loved.
And gave me my very own song, “Danny Boy”.
Which I didn't.
I'm not sure who was the first to discover this song.
Or my aversion to it.
But the word quickly spread.
Soon, whenever I would appear, someone would begin singing, “Oh, Danny boy . . .”
Whereupon (good word) I would cover both of my ears and scream, “Noooooo!”
Then run away.
It was magical.
Not one word need be said.
And they could continue their work in peace.
Moving forward thirty years . . .
When my youngest son Tristan was born, he was our 'Little Warty Boy'.
I'm not sure who came up with this.
Or why.
He didn't have warts or anything.
It just seemed to fit.
He even got a song. (Sung to the tune of 'Surfer Girl')
“Little tiny warty boy,
Fills my heart with so much joy.
Do you love me,
Little Warty Boy?”

We sang this for years.
Until he was about four and abruptly developed an aversion to it.
Suddenly, he began covering his ears and screaming, “Noooooo!” whenever someone started singing.
I felt his pain.

Coming Soon!!!

My novel, Carving Angels

My novel, Carving Angels
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My Second Novel: Kris Kringle's Magic

My Second Novel: Kris Kringle's Magic
What could be better than a second Christmas story?!

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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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