Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Table

Due to popular demand, today's post is about our table, hand made by my husby and finished for Christmas Eve, 1999. It's been the scene of many, many family get-togethers.
The Craftsman. Ummm . . . crafting.
And yes . . . he dresses like that all of the time.
You should see the looks he gets when he puts on his tie
and goes to work . . .
Building detritus (real word).
These things don't just build themselves, you know . . .
The almost finished product!
A single oak board forms the outer edge.
Grant steamed and bent it to fit.
That's a story in itself!
Legs were crafted from salvaged oak boards, laminated together and then carved.
Finished and ready to feast!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dining With Dogs: Spoiler/Ick Alert . . .

Now wouldn't you love to invite them over to dinner?


I know you've all had one.
Some of you might have had several.
You never forget them, no matter how hard you try . . .
My husband and I were hosting our very first, ever, dinner party.
We were starting small.
People we thought would be forgiving if things didn't go perfectly.
Okay, it was a few of my former college buddies.
Fellow journalists.
I probably should have given it more thought . . .
Things were going well.
We had served them their before-dinner drinks of chilled ginger ale.
And yes, that is as high-class as we get.
Moving on . . .
They had exclaimed loudly and satisfactorily over our new addition, a cute little Old English Sheepdog puppy named Skaya.
And greeted Skaya's companion and chewing toy, two-year-old Muffy.
Another OES.
Who, by the by, couldn't understand what any of us saw in this small, annoying ball of fuzz.
We chatted. 
That's a classy term for 'gabbed like crows'. 
Because we're classy.
Ahem . . .
Dinner was ready.
They took their places while I proudly carried in the tureen (a classy term for 'bowl' because we were being . . . I'll move on) of Beef Stroganoff.
Yes.
Really.
I made Beef Stroganoff.
Me, who can't even spell Beef Stroganoff.
Talk ceased as all eyes were on me.
It was my proudest moment.
And, just like that, it was over.
The side of the stupid bowl (okay, classy had definitely flown out the window) broke right out and the entire contents of hot deliciousness landed, unceremoniously, in the nearest girl's lap.
Did I mention hot?
Did I mention lap?
There was a breathless gasp of dismay.
And my friend was on her feet, scraping frenziedly at the formerly delicious-looking, now distinctly icky, main course.
But the story doesn't end there.
Too bad.
While my husby and I were frantically trying to clean up our sticky and uncomfortable guest, our  puppy, Skaya, was making quick work of everything that had hit the floor.
She was efficient.
And thorough.
We ignored her, foolishly thinking that we were taking care of the greater problem.
We were so wrong.
I hate it when that happens.
Skaya, having cleaned up the floor crawled under the table and proceeded to . . . umm . . . regurgitate everything she had just managed to swallow.
And managed to place it, quite effectively, on everyone else's shoes.
Something, I might mention, that wasn't lost on the aforementioned everyone else.
There was a mad scramble as people leaped to their feet in a vain attempt to avoid the . . . erm . . . mess.
My Husby grabbed the little pup's collar and dragged her towards the door.
Now, I should point out, here, that Skaya, when frightened, always performed what we later termed the 'submarine manoeuvre'.
Blow all tanks.
She left a (for want of a better term) 'trail' all the way across the floor and out the door.
For just a moment, there was silence in the dining room.
Picture the scene:
Beef Stroganoff, in its many incarnations, everywhere.
Guests liberally bedaubed (great word – I just found it).
Ichor (The long word for ick. Trust me.) in a glorious trail on top of everything else.
It wasn't a pretty sight.
Or appetizing.
Needless to say, most of the guests turned down our offer of 'something else to eat?'.
And left soon after.
Never to return.

Our first dinner party taught us three things:
  1. Never try to be classy.
  2. Never try.
  3. Beef Stroganoff – not just for eating anymore!
Now, when we invite people over, they are invariably handed a long, twisted wire and a hot dog and told to 'crowd into the fire and git started'.
It saves on mess.
And embarrassment.
And the dog is in its proper place.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Raising Heroes

A 'Cute' of puppies

For over 35 years, we have raised Old English Sheepdogs.
I love them.
To me, they are the perfect breed.
Happy, loyal, smart, easily trained, friendly, protective, gentle.
All of the best qualities of DOG writ large.
And hairy.
We have had many, many experiences with our puppies and dogs over the years, but one stands out . . .
A family came to look at our newest batch of puppies.
Now, I should explain here that a litter of OES puppies is called a 'cute' of puppies.
True story.
Moving on . . .
This family had a six-year-old boy and a fifteen-month-old girl.
The dog was for the boy, who was suffering from a severe illness.
A puppy was chosen.
By the very scientific method of sitting in the 'cute' and seeing which puppy climbed up into his lap.
Everyone was happy.
They left.
I thought of them from time to time, as I did all of my puppy families.
Then I got a phone call.
From the tearful, almost incoherent mother.
My heart stopped.
Until I realized that what she was crying were tears of joy.
Here is how she told it to me, with a little background added . . .
The family lived on the shore of one of the small lakes that are so plentiful here in northern Alberta. Their house was nestled in the thick trees surrounding the water.
Their yard opened directly out onto the beach.
A beautiful, picturesque spot.
But also dangerous to small children who might wander out into the cold (Canada has no other kind) water or become lost in the thick forest.
They were very careful.
Gates were kept locked at all times.
Back to the mother's story . . .
Originally purchased for their son, the little pup bonded, quickly and completely, with the little girl.
The two of them became inseparable.
Four months passed.
One summer day (we do get them in Canada, occasionally), the mother was in the front yard, filling the wading pool for her daughter who was playing in the back yard with the puppy, now six months old.
And already huge.
The puppy, that is.
Suddenly, the mother was startled by a loud scream.
She dropped the hose and broke records running to the back yard.
As she turned the corner, she skidded to a stop.
Someone had left the back gate, the entrance to all things dangerous, open.
And her baby was standing in that opening.
Or more accurately, struggling-to-move-forward, in that opening.
And screaming at the top of her lungs.
Directly behind her, teeth locked into her diaper and backside planted firmly on the ground, was the puppy.
Those teeth and that backside were all that was stopping her from heading where she wanted.
Into the great unknown.
She wasn't happy.
The mother quickly ran to her daughter and picked her up, relieving the puppy of his self-appointed task.
The dog wiggled happily (normal OES behaviour) and, when the mother set her baby down once more, the two of them trotted off to another corner of the yard to play.
Crisis over.
Everything forgotten.
By the two most active participants, anyways.
It took the mother a bit longer.
For some seconds, she stood there in the open gate, thinking about what she had just witnessed.
For one thing, how had the gate, so assiduously (real word) kept locked, been left open?
And, more importantly, how had that six-month-old puppy known that his friend should not, ever, leave the yard alone?
And how had he figured out what to do, just in time?
That's when the tears started.
Later, when she had calmed some and her baby was napping, she called me.
It was a wonderful story.
After we had stopped crying.
Needless to say, that puppy became the pride and joy of his family.
And ours.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Our Vicious Attack Dog named Muffy!?


Muffy. Okay, she got bigger . . .
We only lived in Winnipeg for eight months.
It was a beautiful city.
It just wasn't home.
But, in support of the breadwinner and student in our family, we had packed up our household and moved.
Dogs and everything.
Now anyone who knows our family, knows that we are completely enamoured (good word) with Old English Sheepdogs.
Hair and all.
So when I say that we moved bag and baggage to Winnipeg, that includes our dogs.
Plural.
Because what's one dog without another dog, right?
And both of them need a dog . . .
Okay, my husband didn't get it , either.
I should point out, here, that OES (see above) are extremely gentle and friendly.
Though they can be protective.
But that is another story . . .
We lived in a townhouse.
Having moved from a mobile home in Alberta, we were overjoyed with all of the extra room.
But that townhouse had a miniscule yard.
Or, in other words, tiny.
That's where the whole 'missing the great stretches of prairie' came in.
I would let my dogs outside, and they would turn to me, doggy faces frozen (another common Winnipeg expression) in shock, as though to say, “What? You expect us to run in here?!”
I would point and tell them to 'go run!'
They would sigh and trot to the far (I use this term lightly) fence.
And back.
In about 3 seconds.
I would shake my head and close the door, leaving them outside for a little while to get some 'exercise'.
Yeah, it didn't make much sense to me, either.
One morning, I had put Muffy outside by herself.
She wanted to go.
And no one else did.
This isn't rocket science.
A few minutes after I put her out, my phone rang.
Cool. Someone wanted to talk to me!
I answered.
It turned out to be my letter carrier, calling from the nearest phone booth. (Cell phones existed only in the minds of Science Fiction writers at this time.)
She couldn't get into my yard because of the vicious dog guarding the gate.
There was a vicious dog in my yard?
How did it get in?
And where was Muffy?
I dropped the phone and hurried to the door.
Swinging it wide, I peered outside cautiously.
Muffy, standing beside the gate, turned and looked at me.
And then I realized that the vicious dog spoken of was my 35 pound stick. With hair.
It's true. An OES, shaved, looks like a toothpick.
On toothpicks.
Yep, the dog world equivalent of a 98 pound weakling.
While I'm in information mode, I should also tell you that OES don't have tails. They are nipped off soon after birth.
Thus, when the dog is happy, or excited, or hungry, or tired, or worried, or . . . you get the picture . . . they wiggle.
Their whole back end.
It's quite a sight.
And that was what Muffy was doing.
So this pile of hair, back end shaking like a hula skirt was what had frightened the letter carrier.
Okay, I guess I can understand.
Someone who isn't used to dogs could certainly be intimidated by the sheer size.
And the motion.
But, to me, it was funny.
That anyone would be frightened of Muffy . . .
I grabbed my dog, apologizing profusely and dragged her away so the carrier could complete her mission.
Then I explained that she was extremely gentle, and even introduced the two of them so Muffy would know that the woman was a friend.
And vice-versa.
All was well.
Until I received a notice from the postal company that no more deliveries would be made to our house if our vicious dog was in the vicinity.
Okay, this had gone a little far.
I looked down at my 'vicious' dog, currently the bottom of a game of 'dog pile' with my boys and sighed.
But we complied.
Yard time was moved to the afternoon.
To avoid any conflict.
And wussie letter carriers.

P.S. I completely understand that not everyone likes dogs, and that some of them even have an irrational fear of dogs that they really can't control, so I apologize to them for this story. I'm the same way with guard-chickens. But that is another story.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Carving Angels is Here!

There it is! In my little hands!
Photo Credit



My book, Carving Angels, was delivered today from the publisher, Cedar Fort.
It is exactly the way I wanted it.
Hardcover, red book.
Green, Christmas-y dust jacket.
It's perfect! (I'm not prejudiced)
I'm so excited, I can hardly see straight.
I actually got to hold it for the very first time!
EEEEEE!

Lessons Learned . . . Part 2

Kids and food and . . . the Table

When we moved to Winnipeg, we brought everything we owned.
In one of my Dad's cattle trailers.
He cleaned it first.
Sort of.
Moving on . . .
But there were one or two things that we didn't bring.
One of them was a decent kitchen table and chairs.
Oh, we had had a table. And chairs.
Just not . . . decent.
Or safe.
We had to dip into our savings and buy something.
I should point out here that Kijiji didn't exist in 1979.
Or personal home computers.
At least in our home.
So we were stuck with the local paper.
And the classifieds.
But the tables we found listed were worse than the one we had left behind.
We had to go to a furniture store . . .
We had done this once before.
Gone to a furniture store, I mean.
It was fun.
And expensive.
But exciting.
We were experts.
We pulled up outside in our little wheezy van and sauntered (expertly) inside.
 And were met by a nice young man with a big grin.
A really big grin.
Looking back, we should have suspected something.
We didn't.
We told him what we were looking for and he led us to the 'kitchen' section of the store.
Wow.
Okay, we weren't expecting that much of a selection.
We divided our options into two categories. 'Those we could afford'. And 'those which were really nice'.
The choices suddenly became easy.
We were down to two.
The one we finally decided on was a faux-wood topped, tubular-chrome-legged marvel.
With four chairs of genuine fake-leather.
We had hit the big time.
The only problem was that we were already a family of four.
And family member number five was definitely on the way.
We needed more chairs.
No problem, the young man said. The company who made the chairs was right here in Winnipeg. They could easily be ordered and at a very special price.
It was meant to be.
We handed him our savings and he filled out the paperwork, promising to send in the order for our four extra chairs as soon as we left the store.
Then he helped us tote our new table and existing chairs out to our little van.
We were kings!
Happily, we set up our new acquisitions (good word) in our little kitchen.
Perfect!
Then we waited for our four extra chairs.
Waited.
And waited.
Finally, we tried to phone.
Huh. Line out of service.
Strange.
We drove over to the store.
And found it closed.
Weird, for a Tuesday.
A large piece of yellow paper, fastened to the front door, fluttered in the slight breeze.
We got out of the van and moved closer.
It was a notice from the police.
Something about signing the paper if we were owed anything by the young men who had absconded (Great word, eh?) with all available cash and left the country.
We stared at the paper.
Then at each other.
Did this mean what we thought it meant?
Had we just been ripped off?
I suddenly wanted my chairs!
We had paid for them!
Jerks!
Grant signed the paper and we were duly contacted by the police and able to place our claim.
The problem was that we were owed a mere $200.00.
We were far down the list of claimants.
And the likelihood of recouping (I'm just full of neat words today) our losses was slim to nil.
I should mention here that the people at the top of the list were a newlywed couple, furnishing a new apartment. They had paid for their furniture, but were having it delivered.
I guess $10,000.00 (a boatload of money in 1979) was just too much for the store owners to resist.
They had taken the money and anything else not fastened down and left the city.
The young couple's furniture had not left the store.
They were furniture-less and out their $10,000.00.
Suddenly our little $200.00 seemed very paltry.
But I still wanted my chairs.
Okay, I a bit OCD.
We went to the furniture manufacturer and explained the situation.
They were very nice and gave us our chairs at their cost.
So, when we worked it out, taking into account the money we had paid Crooked Smiler Guy and what the manufacturer charged, we had actually gotten the chairs for the normal retail price.
We really hadn't lost anything.
And we finally had our chairs.
Oh, they were a slightly different Colour from the first four, but why quibble over details?

That table and chairs lasted us through six children and twenty five years.
As it was nearing the end of its life, my husband decided to realize a dream and build a new one.
Table, I mean.
He did it.
A large, round, solid oak table, capable of seating 12 comfortably and 14 if you want to be really friendly.
He finished it just in time.
I tried to set a casserole on our old table and the poor thing collapsed, casserole and all.
And no, that isn't a statement on my cooking . . .
It was given an undignified farewell at the city dump.
And Grant moved in his great oak wonder.
With twelve chairs.
That matched.
And that we didn't have to chase down and beg for.
Lesson learned.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lessons Learned . . . Elsewhere

Mark, right and Erik, with Grampa Tolley in the background

To complete his master's degree, my husband had moved our (then) little family to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Also know as Winter-peg or Windy-peg.
Either one is apt.
And I found myself, for the first time, living in a large city.
There was the usual adjustment period.
Okay, I'm lying, there was no adjustment period.
I never did adjust.
For eight months, my (then) two sons and I hardly left the apartment, unless accompanied by my husband.
Funny how grocery shopping can start looking like a 'date'.
I was homesick for my prairies and open spaces.
I did get a lot of reading and sewing and cleaning done.
And my boys discovered the wonder of 'cable TV'.
I soon learned just how much they watched.
Grant had taken us for a drive. He had an errand to run and his family was suffering from 'cabin-fever'.
A common enough ailment in Canada in the winter.
You can look it up . . .
He was making a quick dash into the mall.
Now those of you who know my husband know that a quick dash anywhere . . . isn't.
Quick, I mean.
The boys and I were sitting in the fire lane in front of the Zellers store long enough to celebrate birthdays.
Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture.
It was quite a while.
Erik was buckled into his car seat directly behind me, happily blowing bubbles and Mark, his older brother by eighteen months was opposite him, with the clearest view of the storefront.
I was reading.
Again.
Blush.
Mark was chanting something, just loud enough to be heard.
It took a couple of repetitions before I noticed.
I put down my book.
"Mark, what are you saying?"
He repeated it.
"What?" Sometimes, deciphering almost-three-year-old speech takes a Master's degree.
And where was the one person in our family with such a degree???!
"Say it once more."
"Zed. E. Eleven. E. R. S."
What on earth was he talking about?
I looked where he was looking.
The front of the Zellers store.
Suddenly, it hit me.
He was reading the letters over the front doors.
Zed. E. Eleven. E. R. S.
Well, almost.
It made perfect sense!
If you were two.
What a clever boy!
Genius.
And I had raised him.
Okay, for a very few seconds, I did a bit of back patting.
Very few.
Then reality set in.
The only reason he knew all of those letters was because of his copious amounts of time spent watching Sesame Street.
On a good day, he could catch the program twice!
Funny that my son's showing me how advanced he was, showed me, at the same time, what a neglectful parent I had been.
I'd like to say that things changed.
And they did.
Afterwards, when Sesame Street came on, I was watching with him.
Before long, we were nearly on the same reading level.
A few more months in Winnipeg and I might have caught up to him!

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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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