Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, November 12, 2011

We Have a Winner!

We have a winner!!!
Judy at Judy has won a copy of Carving Angels, a sweet little Christmas book!
A big, BIG thank you to everyone who entered my draw!
You made this draw the best one yet.
I hope you will stay around and continue to read my blogs. 
I write them for you . . .
The next contest starts in only a few days.
Hope to see you there!
Thank you again, everyone!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Through the Eyes of Our Soldier

Erik, right and a colleague, Larry.
 On the back of the picture, it says: 'I'm the one in green'.
Remembrance Day.
A day set aside to think about all of the people who have served us by laying down their lives.
And who are risking their lives today.
The ultimate sacrifice.
My thoughts are turned to the times when my husband and I have toured memorials around the world.
The military cemetery in Cambridge, England, where we had to leave because I was crying.
The Vietnam memorial in Washington. DC, when we watched a worker do a 'rubbing' for the brother of a fallen soldier, before we had to leave because I was crying.
The bunkers on the beach in Normandy, before we had to leave because I was crying.
The tiny military museum in the English countryside that we had to leave because . . . I think I'm beginning to see a pattern.
My second son served for eight years as an engineer/mine specialist in the Canadian army.
Including a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. (When he returned home, he walked over to the lawn and just stood there. When asked why, he said, "I haven't been able to simply walk over and stand on grass for 10 months. This feels wonderful!)
I thought it particularly appropriate to include excerpts from some of his letters home . . .
Be warned, he was a soldier and had a wicked sense of humor and . . . opinions . . .

14 June
Greeting, Earth Dwellers,
The average temperature is currently hovering around +34C, which it has been all week. My secretary, Aida, was translating the radio for me and told me that these temperatures are the hottest in 68 years. Boy, are we lucky. The humidity is about 10000000% on top of that, so as you towel off from your freezing shower, the water droplets are replaced by sweat droplets as fast as you can wipe them off. I'm drinking 10 liters of water a day. 4 of them during my workout alone. Just crazy.
*  *  *
I forget what the date is, July something.
Hi, everybody!
I hope you all had fun at camp this last week, You'd better have. I had a lot of fun diving on the island of Vis. Even without the diving, the scenery was unbelievable. Except for the old ladies on the beach without tops on. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!! That sort of thing could scar me for life. It should be illegal. Fortunately, I spent lots of time under water. I even held an octopus. He wasn't impressed. His suction cups felt really neat, though. The laser vision burns, though. Who knew octopus could cook their own food? National Geographic had taught me nothing!
NOTHING!
Calm now.
*  *  *
I'm doing well, since you asked. I just drove here for the first time yesterday, and I had a lot of fun. The road signs are just a vague suggestion to the motorists here, so I had to adjust my driving doctrine to suit the conditions. Basically, we speed everywhere, and pass when we want to. Even driving like a maniac, my boss, Major Thelwell, says that I'm the safest driver she's seen here. I can't wait to drive around with her at the helm. Apparently I'm in for an exciting trip.
Later this week, I get to drive to Banja Luka on Tuesday, Zgon on Wednesday (it's right beside Kluc on the map, if you're looking for it), and then we go to Sarajevo by way of Tuzla on Thursday, returning on Friday by going through Kakanj. Basically, I get to see the whole country in a week. Sarajevo will be fun, I think.
Please send pictures of the dogs. I told my assistant, Aida about them and she wants to see them. There are a lot of dogs around here, but most are the end result of decades of hasty, unplanned dog sex. There was a cute little puppy who lives in the entrance bunker at the camp in Zgon, though. He was there with all the guards who were dressed in their fighting gear, and he was inspecting our vehicle while we talked to the guards. What a little cutie. I think he was a little Doberman without a docked tail, and no doubt he gets away with murder at the guard bunker. Fortunately, everyone seems to like Canadians.
*  *  *
The Book of Bosnia
Chapter One
1. And it came to pass that the soldiers of the Queen did go forth into the land of Bosnia, to bring a lasting peace unto the land.
2. And the soldiers did look about them and did see many peoples throughout the land, and behold, the land was bountiful, and beautiful to be seen.
3. And it came to pass that there was a spirit of contention throughout the land, causing much death and destruction.
4. And the soldiers dwelt in a tent.
5. Now the soldiers went forth unto the people, saying:
6. What is wrong with you people?
7. Lo, these words were heard by many, and the people did listen. But the people did not speak English, so they did continue to fight, and ignored the Queen's soldiers.
8. And there was no air-conditioning to be had.
9. Now the soldiers were angry, because the people were fighting among themselves, and many people had died. Plus one leg had fallen off their foosball table, which did enrage them.
10. Therefore, the soldiers did cry out to their Lord:
11. "Oh, Lord, why hast thou forsaken this land?"
12. And the Lord did hear the cry of the soldiers, and did pity them, and did say unto them:
13. "Quit whining! For crying out loud. You sound like a bunch of little girls!"
14. And many great and glorious things did the Lord speak unto the disgruntled soldiers in this manner, until the soldier's hearts were softened and they did fall to the earth in amazement.
15. Lo, their parachutes had not opened.
16. Now the soldiers were of the mind that the Lord had played a rotten trick on them, what with the parachutes and all, so therefore the soldiers did decide to bring peace unto the land of Bosnia by circumventing Him.
12. And it came to pass that the soldiers did cry unto a false god.
18. And this false god was called Chrétien, the father of lies, the ancient enemy of all men.
19. And Chrétien did speak words unto the soldiers, but the soldiers were deceived, and did misunderstand his words, since Chrétien cannot speak any mortal language.
20. And it came to pass that the soldiers began to wander aimlessly throughout the land, and their faith did diminish, and they forsook the false god Chrétien, and did end their days as wanderers, eating berries and kittens and other nasty stuff.
21. And peace was brought by Superman, and there was much rejoicing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Calling All Animals

Our Steed. I'll explain . . .

Our oldest daughter believed that there was something called the 'Universal Animal Call'.
It was a simple whistle. A single note rising in pitch at the end.
Tweee-eet!
She swore it worked on all animals.
We all thought she was hilarious.
Enough background.
My husband, for our 25th anniversary, surprised me with a trip to Greece.
And a cruise around the Mediterranean on a tall ship.
My dream of a lifetime.
And the vacation of a lifetime.
Ten days of unbelievable bliss.
I should probably mention, here, that I enjoyed it.
Immensely.
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . .
Where was I?
Oh, yes.
Greece.
Mediterranean.
During the cruise, we discovered the joy of laying in the nets beneath the spritsail at the bow of the ship.
Watching the Mediterranean slip past far beneath us.
It was the most relaxing experience of my life.
On the second last evening of our cruise, we introduced several new friends to this delicious experience.
Let me describe the scene . . .
The sun was setting. It glowed orange and red on the clots of cloud floating far above us in the darkening sky. There was just enough breeze to fill every rosy sail and push us forward through gentle, perfect waves on the impossibly blue water.
The air was a caress. Soft. Fragrant.
The only sounds were the occasional call of the sea birds as they floated on still wings alongside us.
Rocked gently, we hovered at the edges of complete peace.
Conversation lagged as, one by one, the members of our party flirted with the idea of succumbing to the call of Morpheus.
Drowsily, I turned to my husband and said, "What a perfect evening."
He laughed. "No, we need one more thing to make it truly perfect."
"What is that?"
"Dolphins."
He was right.
The last perfect touch would be dolphins, chittering and giggling as they leaped and played in the water beside us.
"We could always try the Universal Animal Call."
We had explained the UAC to our new friends.
And had a good laugh.
Then I whistled.
Tweee-eet! Tweee-eet.
And we laughed again.
Silence settled over us once more.
Silence broken, suddenly, by . . . chittering and giggling.
We looked down.
Several dolphins were leaping and playing alongside us.
I blinked and stared, open-mouthed.
Then rubbed my eyes and stared again.
Yes. There really were dolphins.
And yes, they really were playing beside the ship.
My husband and I looked at each other.
And laughed.
Happily, this time.
Maybe the UAC actually worked.
Maybe it was just an amazing coincidence.
Or maybe a trick by some gifted and very 'on the spot' magician.
Whatever.
It had made the evening truly perfect.
And I'll never, ever forget it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More Music

Our Engineer - far right.

Our son, an army engineer, was on his Combat Leadership course.
It was gruelling.
Months of training.
An adrenaline rush of enacting scenarios.
Strategizing.
Analyzing situations.
Digging in and getting dirty.
Gruelling.
And added to the daily duty roster, morning inspections.
Not only must they learn how to survive, even thrive in battle situations, they had to look good while they did it.
So each evening, after dinner, was spent in cleaning oneself and one's gear in preparation for inspection directly after breakfast the next morning.
For the most part, the soldiers enjoyed it.
It was a chance to unwind.
Kibitz around a bit.
Laugh and joke.
And keep their adrenalin up with pounding, exhilarating music.
At least that was what they called it.
Loud. Fast. Heavy.
Followed immediately by bed.
Needless to say, it took some time to wind down.
Except for our son.
Whose choice of music was a little more . . . conservative.
He would drift away almost immediately to the soft, soothing strains of Loreena McKennitt.
Or Enya.
One evening some time after lights out, the men were restless.
Knowing that their morning would come fast, not to mention early, they were anxious to get some needed sleep.
And it was proving elusive.
Again, except for our son, who had his stereo by his ear and had already drifted away.
To Enya.
One of the soldiers noticed.
And commented.
It had given him an idea.
The next evening, the group completed their usual day-end tasks.
To their usual music.
Then crawled into their bunks.
Lights were doused.
Then, out of the darkness, a voice.
“Hey, Tolley. Play us some of your music.”
Our son turned up the song he was currently listening to.
Only Time.
Enya.
Within seconds the sounds of snoring filled the dorm.
After that, immediately following lights-out, the strains of choice were something soft.
Soothing.
And sleepy.
The magic of music.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jam Wars

Mmmmm. 

Sweet, tasty stickiness.
It categorizes you.
Marks your place in the family.
Even decides if you will be granted admission to the family.
It provides delicious accompaniment to your breakfast, and, at times, other meals during the day. (Members of my family eat it the Swedish way, with grilled cheese. Ick!)
It is yummy, and, if not eaten in copious (Ooo, good word!) quantities, is even very good for you.
I'm talking about jam.
Tasty, sticky, always lands toast-side-up. Jam.
More particularly, strawberry vs. raspberry.
It is the family 'Maginot Line'.
You can be on one side or the other.
Both of which are tasty.
Or so I'm made to understand.
But wander over to the other side in times of dire necessity, like when your server has run out of packets.
My Husby and I realized very early in our marriage that we needed to have a jar of each on the breakfast table.
His - strawberry. Mine - delicious.
Oops.
I mean - raspberry.
And, as our kids grew, they learned to take sides.
Mine.
Except for our second son, who is Switzerland.
And prefers apple jelly.
We don't talk about him.
Moving on . . .
Once the lines were duly drawn in the family nucleus, it was time to start challenging prospective additions [i.e. fiancé(e)s] to declare their preference.
I should point out here that it is a grueling test.
The nervous neophyte is seated at the breakfast table. The two jars are brought forward. The family waits, breathlessly.
And I do mean breathlessly.
If anyone takes their time making a choice, family members have been know to pass out cold.
I won't tell you what we do to them while unconscious.
Teeheehee.
But I digress . . .
The prospective member of the family makes a choice.
And my side cheers.
It's true.
Every single one has chosen raspberry.
Until our last son-in-law.
Who chose . . . poorly.
I maintain that he was coached.
Money might even have changed hands.
So the score now stands at : strawberry - two, raspberry - 10.
And one son who will not be mentioned.
Now for the next generation.
Our eldest granddaughter is eight.
Time to make a choice . . .


November Giveaway Hop

This giveaway is huge! 
Co-hosted by Tristi Pinkston and I'm a Reader Not a Writer, it is a chance to win wonderful prizes. Many, many wonderful prizes. Here is what you have to do . . .

On either of the two hosts blogs, you'll see a huge, giant, amazing list of blogs that are also participating. Each blog is offering a prize, and all you have to do is click the link and enter their contest. There will be winners! There will be madness! There will be mayhem! And you'll have a lot to be thankful for!

My prize is a copy of my wonderful, fabulous book, Carving Angels, a Christmas story of love, family and magic.


To enter:

1. Become a follower in the box labeled "Smart People" on my sidebar. If you already are a follower, awesome!

2. Leave me a comment and tell me if you are a new follower or existing follower. 

That's it! Once you've done that, you are entered. 

The winner will be notified by e-mail after the end of the hop. If your e-mail isn't visible through your Blogger profile, please include it in your comment so I know how to reach you.

Now go see what my bloggy friends are offering - you could win a prize on every single blog! Okay, not terribly likely, but possible . . . 




Monday, November 7, 2011

Restaurant Manners

Notice the cute little boys.
One with hair. One with . . . cheeks.
Ignore the glasses.

When I was expecting my second son, I craved anything 'tomato'.
Pizza, spaghetti, anything I could put tomatoes in or on.
But especially tacos.
Mmmmm. Tacos.
There was only one problem.
I couldn't get them hot enough.
I would buy the hottest salsa I could find.
Not enough.
Add a couple of drops of Tabasco.
Still not enough.
A few more drops. (I admit it. My spice world was limited to salsa and Tabasco.)
Almost there.
Seven drops.
Perfect.
And that's the way I ate them.
The entire nine months.
My baby boy was born without any hair on his head.
I think I burned it off.
This is relevant.
Moving on . . .
After the baby arrived, my husband took his little family out for fish and chips.
Mmmmm. More food.
I had our newest baby in a snuggly on my chest.
Toasty and comfortable.
Just the top of his little, bald head peeking above the dark green corduroy of the carrier.
My dinner arrived.
I looked at the loaded plate.
Then at my baby.
I could take the carrier off and lay it on the table, I suppose.
But that would take effort.
And the food was there, waiting to be devoured.
Hunger decided.
I would just eat.
Over the baby.
It was just like being pregnant again.
Sort of.
All went well.
The mushy peas went first.
That was easy. I just held the bowl close and spooned.
Then the fresh, deep-fried, perfectly cooked fish.
Mmmm.
And finally, to top everything off, the thick, golden brown chips.
With ketchup.
Paradise.
Dip.
Munch.
Dip.
Munch.
And so it went.
Then, that fateful dip.
Splat.
Oops.
Right on the top of my baby's bald head.
What to do?
I could get a wipe and clean it off politely.
Pfff. One swipe of my tongue would take care of it much, much better.
Done.
I happily went back to eating my chips.
That's when I noticed the woman sitting at the next table.
Looking at me.
A frozen expression of horror on her face.
Clucking in disgust, she stood up and marched huffily from the restaurant.
I remember being a trifle embarrassed.
And briefly uncomfortable.
Then I shrugged.
In the days before wipes, Mom used to clean entire faces with mom spit and a Kleenex.
It's all a matter of perspective.
And food.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mark . . . and Doors

Mark, tricycle fiend. Or just fiend.

Mark was angry.
And no one could get angry like our little three-year-old.
Anyplace would be better than this one.
Grandma's was infinitely superior.
She never made him clean up his toys or eat his meals.
He was leaving.
He had his pyjamas and Kermit the Frog.
He was packed.
And out of here.
I sat, nursing the baby, and watched him walk down the hallway, one leg of his sleeper hanging out through the improperly closed zipper of his backpack.
My little independent man.
“I'm going, Mom!” he said loudly, without looking back.
His 'declaration of independence' continued as he moved along the hall . . .
“I'm going!”
“Here I go!”
“Yup. I'm going!”
“Going to Gramma's”
“You won't see me!”
Yup. Living with Gramma now!”
“Bye!”
By this point he had made it the entire length of the hall and was out of my sight.
There was a short pause and I could hear the sounds of movement and a tiny grunt.
Then, “Mom! Can you come and open the door?”
Yup. My independent little man.
Walking to his Grandmother's ten miles away.
If he could make it out of the house.
* * *
Mark was outside, riding his tricycle.
His favourite pastime.
He would navigate over the rough terrain surrounding our farmhouse with ease, little legs pumping happily.
I frequently went to the window to check on him.
But he was a safe driver.
He never went near the road, and would happily drive back and forth between the house and the root cellar/pumphouse.
Doing laps.
Totally safe.
Okay, so adventurous, he wasn't.
Or so I thought.
One afternoon, his grandfather drove in.
With the family travel trailer hitched to his truck.
I watched him wave at Mark.
Mark waved enthusiastically back.
Not only did Mark love his grandfather, but he loved that trailer.
It had the one door in the world he could open.
Whenever he was at Grandma's, it was his playground.
His grandfather parked beside the pumphouse and got out to do something.
I watched my son ride his tricycle towards the pumphouse.
And really didn't consider the trailer.
I went back to my laundry.
A short time later, the truck and trailer pulled out and disappeared towards town.
I went to the window to look for my boy.
And couldn't see him.
A feathering of alarm.
I quickly dashed out of the house.
He wasn't on his normal tricycle route.
I ran towards the pumphouse.
And found his trusty tricycle, laying on its side.
But no Mark.
I looked towards the settling cloud of dust that indicated the path of Grandpa's truck and trailer.
I knew where Mark had gone.
He had gotten into the trailer.
Would he stay there?
Or would he get scared and try to get out when the trailer was moving?
Okay, full blown panic.
Praying frantically, I ran for the phone.
“Mom! Has Dad come in with the trailer yet?”
“Not yet, Diane. Oh, wait, yes, here he is.”
“Could you please see if Mark is in the trailer?”
“What?!”
“Could you just look please?” I was crying by this time.
My little boy.
My little boy.
In a moment, she was back on the phone.
“Diane? He's safe! He's here! He was hiding under the table!”
Some prayers are well and truly answered.


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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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