Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

More Peas, Please



Admit it, they would fool anyone!
First, a little insight into the 'Diane' thought process . . .
But they look like peas!
They open, like peas.
And they have little pea-type things in them.
And if they look like peas, and open like peas and have little pea things in them, they must be peas.
I love peas.
I'm eating them . . .

The Anderson family lived in a geat barn of a house at the very top of the hill in Milk River. It was my favourite place to visit. And to play.
Not only did my best friend, Kathy, live there, but there were lots of other kids to play with (12 in all) and they had this amazing house with an infinite number of rooms and hallways and balconies and little, hidden cupboards. We could play pretend for an entire day and never run out of spaces or scenarios.
And to make things even better, across the road on the north and east, was farmland. With barley crops taller than we were, ripening in the sun.
I should mention here that Milk River has produced at least three Barley Kings. An award given for producing the best that the barley world had to offer.
To me, barley simply made an excellent hiding place.
Moving on . . .
And along the road, on the East, screening the Ellert farm from the Anderson's back yard, was a high hedge of caragana.
That, in late summer, was hung with thousands of . . . peas.
We had been playing hard most of the day and it was nearly time to go home for supper.
We were hungry.
Kathy did the smart thing. She ran to her house to find food.
Her sister, Laurie and I decided to forage for ourselves.
After all, there were all of these peas that no one else was picking.
We simply couldn't let them go to waste.
Have I mentioned that I love peas?
I grabbed a big one and opened it.
Huh. Well, they weren't quite the right colour, but they were approximately the right shape and size.
I ate one.
Yuck. Not great. Well, the next one will be better.
Okay, it wasn't.
Maybe the next one.
Okay, all of those were pretty much awful.
The next pod will be sweet and tasty.
Nope.
Well, maybe the next one.
And so it went.
I can't tell you how many of the awful things Laurie and I ate. It must have been quite a few. Because we certainly got sick.
I don't remember much about that part.
Mostly because I was unconscious at the time.
Who knew that peas could do that?
But I learned my lesson.
Which I would like to share with you.
Don't eat peas that grow, temptingly, on trees.
Stick to things like . . . buffalo beans.
Adult aspirin.
Dust bunnies.
Then you can be like me!

Friday, April 12, 2013

No Empty Nest


Our two youngest, with their families, have moved back in for a while.
I'm cherishing this moment in time . . .

All of this, plus four . . .
The nest was clean
            And tidy, too.
There wasn’t much
            I had to do.
It stayed that way
            From dawn to dawn.
Had been like that
            Since the chicks had gone.

But it hadn’t always
            Been just so,
When chicks would come
            And chicks would go,
When clutter ruled
            When ‘mess’ was norm,
When noise began
            With the dewy morn.

I found myself,
            Each day, awash
In dirty dishes,
            Stinky socks.
Up to my knees
            In diapers, too
When days were full
            And the nest was, too.

When every evening
            Prayers were said,
And kisses, hugs
As they went to bed.
Then flopped, exhausted,
            In the chair,
And contemplated
            Life from there.

And though it seemed
            It’d never end.
Somehow it did,
As all things tend.
And the nest that never
            Took a bow,
Echoed with
            The silence now.

But then, one day
            The door swung wide,
And chicks and chicklets
            Stepped inside.
“We’re here to stay,
            If that’s okay.”
Once more, there’s action
            every day.

Once more I live
            With clutter, there,
And no bare spaces
            Anywhere.
And noise? Whoo-boy!
            You have to know,
That lungs’re the very first
            Things to grow.

The toys are spread
            From here to there.
And chicklets playing
            Everywhere.
And meals to make
            And clothes to mend
And schedules to
Draw and blend.

And, still, with all
            The noise and strain
And problems bouncing
            In my brain,
With things to do,
            And time to share,
And chicklets falling
            Down the stair.

That I would never
            Want at all,
The spotless house,
The quiet halls.
Exchange the action
            That resides
Or change the love
            That dwells inside.

I’ve learned you don’t need
            Silence, no.
When people come
            And people go.
There’s peace in every
            Busy day.
When chicks and chicklets
            Come your way.

With hugs and kisses
            You abound
And love is shining
            All around.
And never can your
            Life be dull,
‘Cause, once again
            The nest is full.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Crying Over Un-spilt Milk


Yummy deliciousness. Not.
Milk. That commodity touted as one of the world’s most perfect foods. So important to growing bones and teeth. Or so it was described in the 50’s.
Like other ranching families, the Stringams had their own milk production system.
Bossy.
Not an original name, but at least it gave her a slight distinctive edge over 53. And 175. And 92. And . . . you get the picture.
Bossy was gentle. Quiet. Dependable. Everything a milk cow should be. Her milk production was high. Higher than most dairy cows. For that reason, she had been a family fixture for many years.
She also had a problem. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Every morning Dad, or one of the hired men, would carry home a galvanized steel pail filled with warm, rich, frothy milk, compliments of Bossy. This milk was then poured through a straining cloth into another pail and ‘purified’, then poured into sterilized jars.
The jars of still-warm milk were distributed to the various households on the ranch. Bossy was truly a remarkable cow to fill the needs of so many.
In the evening, the same procedure was repeated, only the captured milk was poured through the separator and the resultant thick, rich cream used for such remarkable things as ice cream, cream puffs, pastries, and many other treats aptly designed to satisfy the sweet tooth of every child - and most of the adults - living there.
The milk from which the cream had been removed, or ‘blue’ milk was given to the pigs, who thought they were in heaven.
It was a prefect system. Not a drop wasted.
Then the milk . . . changed.
At first, Dad thought the cow had gotten into a patch of weeds. Not an unknown thing on any ranch. The result of such a change in diet usually reflected, quickly but briefly, in the milk.
Onions make for a really . . . interesting . . . milk flavour. But I digress . . .
For some time, the milk continued to taste strange. But the processes remained the same. The milk was distributed. Separated. Consumed.
Then the rebellions started. Small at first.
“Mom, this milk tastes icky (real word)!”
“You’re imagining things, dear. Drink it.”
“Mom, it stinks!”
“Drink!”
Then larger.
“Mom if I have to drink one more glass of that milk, I’m going to be sick!”
“You need the calcium! Now drink!”
Mom was not unaware that the milk was distinctly off. But she was very concerned about giving her growing family the nutrition they needed.
Occasionally, she would bring home a container of milk from the store.
Which disappeared. Magically.
And also coined another phrase. “I’m going to stop buying this milk! You kids just drink it!”
Ummmm . . .
Finally, Mom got to the point where, if anyone complained about the milk, she would taste it, smack her lips appreciatively and say, “What’s wrong with that milk? There’s nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!”
As time passed, she got more and more creative in trying to get the horrible stuff past our pre-adolescent taste buds. She put it into puddings. Soups. Desserts.
And still we whined.
Then that glorious day. Dad went out to milk . . . and found the cow dead.
Our celebrations could be heard in Lethbridge.
An autopsy revealed what the rest of us had suspected for three long years. That the cow had something seriously wrong.
She had, sometime while grazing, ingested a piece of metal and it had become lodged in her system, affecting her milk production. Eventually, it had worked its way through something important internally, and had been the cause of her death.
There was no grieving.
Dad bought a new cow. A healthy, young one. And the ‘milk distribution system’ resumed as though it had never been interrupted.
With one important change. Whenever any of us was given a glass of milk, we would sniff it suspiciously. Even forty-five years after the described events.
Old habits die hard.
Kind of like our cow.

There is a codicil.
Years later, when my family and I were attending my parents 40th wedding anniversary, my children and I performed a skit. They were seated around a picnic table and I poured each of them an imaginary glass of milk, which they then ‘drank’.
Clutching their throats, each then succumbed to the terrible poison that had been ingested. Gasping out their last breaths, one by one, they collapsed onto the grass beneath the table, twitched a few times, then lay still. I picked up one of the imaginary glasses, pretended to take a drink, smacked my lips and said, “What’s wrong with that milk? There’s nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!”
At which point my eldest brother leaped to his feet and shouted, “IT DID! IT TASTED THAT BAD!!!”
Spill this milk. Please.

Really dead.
Hardware disease. Not uncommon and distinctly nasty.
Poor Bossy.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unplanned Trip



Big Daddy - where everything started

Early summer.
The grass is green.
The birds are singing.
The earth smells sweet.
And the irrigation canal is empty.

It was time to bring the heifers, and their attendant ‘boyfriend’, home.
This was a relatively painless job considering that the youngest of the breeding stock were always wintered in the fields closest to the ranch buildings.
One simply had to walk out, circle the small field once, and start the herd moving.
They would find the corrals, and feed, without being directed.
But between their pasture and our destination was . . . THE IRRIGATION CANAL.
A vast expanse some forty feet wide and twenty feet deep which snaked across the countryside and our ranch.It was spanned by a sturdy little bridge.
A sturdy little . . . sideless bridge.
At high summer, this canal was full - sparkling clear water nearly reaching to the supports of the bridge. At this time of year, the floodgates had not yet been opened and it wasn't.
Full, that is.
Except for the large rocks at the bottom.
That was a problem. But I am getting ahead of myself . . .
To head from the pasture to the corral, one had to make a slight right turn immediately after crossing the bridge.
A left turn took one to the house and its attendant outbuildings and, eventually, the main road.
Right was what we wanted.
Left was what we got.
In an effort to turn our mis-directed herd, I started threading myself between large, warm hairy bodies, working my way as quickly as I could through the herd.
By this time, we were on the bridge.
I had worked my way almost to the leaders.
I noticed a vacant spot at the extreme left of the bridge. I made for it.
At the same time as the 2000 pound bull.
We collided.
He won.
Suddenly, I was teetering at the extreme edge of the bridge, staring down at the large . . . hungry . . . rocks. They beckoned to me.
And they had a willing partner – gravity.
Oh, this is going to hurt! I told myself.
Then, the author of my misfortune stalked past me.
2000 pounds of perfect, red-blooded, oblivious muscle.
With a tail.
A tail.
Before he could take the fatal step that moved him forever out of my reach, my hand shot out and nabbed that . . . appendage. That glorious, wonderful, life-preserving . . . really smelly tail.
Then I turned to stare down at those rocks.
Which slowly lost their hypnotic grip as each step my rescuer took pulled me further . . . and further.
Away.
I clung to that tail until I was safely across the bridge.
By this time, the cattle had organized themselves and were heading in the correct direction.
Success was within our sight.
There was only one other problem to be solved.
Someone had to peel Dad off the ground.
He had laughed himself unconscious.
Again.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Uh-Oh! Mom! I'm Car . . .!



Ready for town . . .
We lived 70 miles from the nearest city. Thus, a 'trip to town' was more of an event.
Inevitably, I got car sick. Not a pleasant thing for anyone stuck in the vehicle with me.
And, being four, I sometimes confused being excited with being sick.
Let me explain . . .
On the ranch, the most exciting thing our Dad could say was, “Everyone get in the car, we've got to go to the town!”
It was equivalent to being told we were going to Disneyland.
All right, I admit it, sophisticated world travellers, we weren't.
We would then pile into the car (and I do mean 'pile', seatbelts hadn't been invented yet) and head up the gravel road towards the great white lights of Lethbridge. The trip took an hour and a half. Usually more, when Diane was one of the passengers.
Invariably, at some point between the ranch and the first town, Milk River, a small voice would pipe up from the back seat, “I'm sick!”
The car would slide quickly to the side of the road. Mom's door would fly open. Diane would pop magically to the top of the heap of humanity in the back seat and . . .
I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Every trip.
Every time.
But then . . . something changed.
The little voice would speak up sooner.
And sooner.
Until the car wouldn't even have made it out of the driveway before the fateful words were heard.
Mom and Dad tried to puzzle it out. Why was Diane getting sick so quickly after getting into the car?
They must have figured something because they certainly came up with an effective solution.
On that fateful day, Dad announced that he had to make a trip into town.
Just before he was trampled by his entire enthusiastic family.
With much talk and laughter, we kids piled (that word again) into the car.
Dad got in. His door closed.
A pause while he found the key and jammed it into the starter.
He turned the key.
The motor roared to life.
He reached for the gear shift.
“I'm sick!”
His hand hovered there for a split second. Then dropped down and shut off the key.
“Then, you'd better stay at home with your Mom.”
What?! No! I stared at him, horrified.
“Go on. Get out.”
The tears started.
I should mention here that my Dad is a real push-over for tears.
Any tears.
Except, obviously when his small daughter needs to be taught a lesson.
“Diane. Get out.”
“Daaaadddyyy!”
Suddenly, Mom was there, opening the car door.
“Nooooo!”
She carried me, by now crying bitterly into the house and set me down on a kitchen chair.
Over my sobs, I heard the car start up and pull out of the driveway.
They were really going to leave me! It was more than my little four-year-old heart could handle.
I lept off the chair, ran to my parent's room and crawled under the bed.
Now, I should point out here that, never before or since have I crawled under my parent's bed. Maybe because, never before or since has anything been that traumatic. But I digress . . .
I lay under there, sobbing for hours. (Or more probably five minutes – it's all the same when you're four.)
Suddenly, a banana appeared at the side of the bed. A fresh banana, with the peel still on, but just slightly opened to reveal the yumminess underneath.
It stayed there, just temptingly out of reach.
I looked at it.
I love bananas.
And it really looked good.
I slid towards it. Just a little.
It stayed there.
A little more.
I could almost reach it.
More.
There! I could touch it.
And I was out from under the bed.
“Are you feeling better?”
I looked up. Mom was sitting there on the floor, holding the banana.
I nodded and crawled into her lap. She held the banana for me to take a bite, then handed the rest to me and snuggled me tightly.
I munched my way through the treat, still sniffing occassionally.
Mom waited until I was done.
“Was it good?”
Nod. Sniff.
“Would you like something else?”
Nod.
She stood up, taking me with her and carried me into the kitchen.
Where she fed me a cookie.
Then another.
Why does everything look better on a full tummy?
Then she sat down. “Diane, in the car, were you really sick?”
I stopped chewing and looked at my cookie. Then I stared at her, wide-eyed.
“I don't think you were, were you?”
Slowly, I shook my head.
“So why did you say you were?”
I looked at the cookie again, my mind working frantically.
“Were you excited about going to town?”
I nodded.
“Okay, I want you to think about this . . .”
Great. Thinking. The one thing I was good at. Not
“When we go in the car, I don't want you to say that you're sick. Unless you really are sick.”
I turned that over in my mind. I nodded.
“Can you remember that?”
Another nod. I started chewing again.
Mom smiled and stood up. “Good.”
And, oddly enough, that was all it took.
Never again did I pipe up from the back seat for anything less than genuine illness.
Or the potty, which Mom kept under her car seat.
But that is a whole other story.

Monday, April 8, 2013

No Shirt, No Shoes . . .



Ready to ride
I had been Dad's herdsman for two months. I knew everything about cattle. Their needs. Their peculiarities. Not.
But I loved the job.
Every morning, I would drag out whatever goofball horse I was currently riding, tack up, and be off to check the herd.
This is a bit more complex than the statement suggests.
Yes, I would ride around the field. (I'd like to point out here that the aforementioned 'field' was roughly the size of a good-sized town.) And yes, riding around it was pure joy to anyone as horse-crazy as I. But I also had to be on the look-out for any cows getting ready to calve.
Having trouble calving.
Already calved.
And anything else remotely resembling cows, calves and all their antecedent and potentially fatal problems.
Thus, the most important of my duties was watching alertly for signs of a cow having trouble.
This wasn't always easy to spot. For one thing, a cow preparing to give birth will hide herself so completely that she cannot be found.
Even with GPS.
Cows are funny that way.
Any other bodily function, they are happy to share with anyone and everyone. If they can do it, you are welcome to watch.
But when they are in labor (yes, they do experience labor) they head for nearest secret spot. Very, very secret. So secret that . . . well, let me put it this way. If bin Laden had been hidden by a cow preparing to calve, he never would have been found.
I must confess, I missed some of them in my travels.
Most of them were fine and I would ride out the next day and spot yet another little red and white baby 'hidden' in the tall grass.
Some weren't, and those either required immediate help.
Or burial.
Ranching can be a brutal business.
On this particular bright and sunny spring day, I had just started my sweep. I was feeling particularly cheerful because the days were getting noticeably warmer and most of the snow was gone.
I directed my horse along the north side of the pasture, heading east. There were less trees there and movement was easy. Then I swung back, just inside the tree line.
There! A suspicious patch of red! I slid off my horse and investigated. Sure enough, a cow. An almost completely exhausted cow.
I circled her quietly, trying to see the business end of things.
Yes, definitely calving. As I watched, she strained.
But something was wrong. She had obviously been at this a while, but was making no visible progress.
I finally got a clear view of her back end. I could see a pink calf's nose.
And one little white hoof.
I must point out here that a calf normally presents with a little pink nose and two little white hooves. It's two front feet and head enter the world together, followed immediately by the rest of the body, a stubby white-tipped tail and two little rear hooves.
The appearance of one hoof means that the little guy is trying to come through with one foot and leg tucked behind him, forcing the shoulder to bulge.
Making him entirely the wrong shape to come via the normal entrance.
There are only two solutions: Push the calf back inside and quickly, very quickly, get your hand around that recalcitrant hoof and pull it forward.
Or find a vet for an immediate caesarian.
My dad was a vet and could easily have performed the needed surgery. But there was over a mile between him and my patient.
I considered my options for a very brief time, then decided on option two.
I jumped on my horse and proceeded to herd my uncomfortable mother-to-be towards the ranch buildings.
We made it halfway across the field.
She wasn't making any detours and the straightest route to the gate was over the last remaining snow bank. She tried to push through. She didn't get very far.
She sank into the drift with a groan and . . . stayed there.
I immediately slid off my horse again and approached.
By this point, the poor thing was oblivious to my presence. I had a very short time to do something and very few tools at my disposal to do it with.
I looked down at my shirt, a long-sleeved, button-up variety. It would have to do.
Placing a gentle hand on that little nose, I shoved the calf back inside it's mother.
Then I slid my hand in beside it and felt for that wayward hoof.
There it was! I cupped it in my hand and pulled it forward.
It slid easily.
I released my hold on the wet nose and it slid towards light and life once more. But this time, it was accompanied by two hooves.
I stripped off my shirt, tied the sleeves around each of those little feet and, bracing a boot against the mamma's backside, heaved.
The little, shivering, wet calf slid out.
Into my lap.
Ewww.
But any disgust or outright repugnance was immediately dispelled when the little guy (yes, it was a boy) shook his head and I heard those wet ears slap weakly against his head.
He was alive!
Belying the manner in which she had entered the snow bank, the mother immediately struggled to her feet and turned around to see her new baby.
Ignoring me completely, she started licking him.
He bleated softly and she 'mmmmm-ed' at him.
I was no longer needed. I took myself off for home.
And a bath.

There is a codicil.
My father raised only purebred Polled Hereford cattle. And each animal was required to have its own registration papers. I can still picture him seated at his desk, trying to come up with imaginative names that not only identified the animal, but also connected it in some way to its parents.
And also identified the animal as coming from the Stringam Ranch.
The last part was easy. All names began with SSS.
The naming of my little calf posed no additional difficulty, either.
Daddy named him SSS Shirttail.
No explanations needed.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Hot Time in the Old Town



A whole new meaning to 'roasted grains'.


6:45 am.
When most of the world still sleeps, or is just beginning to stir, the ranching families of Southern Alberta are already up and out.
Stock to feed, cows to milk.
Diving into the day’s first chores with unfettered enthusiasm. A smile - brought by the pure joy of work most satisfying - firmly fixed on weather-beaten faces.
Not.
“Spring!” Dad’s first words of the day, spoken with that ‘unfettered enthusiasm’ previously mentioned.
There he would be, the light from the hall behind him making him into the shadowy cut-out of some avenging God of Mischief, dressed in a white terry-cloth bathrobe and sent to ruin the final minutes of a good night’s sleep.
“Spring!” he would say again, in case we didn’t hear it the first time.
Then, in a puff of smoke, he would disappear. Evil summons completed.
Actually, I just made up that ‘puff of smoke bit’.
The evil summons?
Truth.
This morning began like any other.
A new spring sun just peeping over the horizon filling the clear, blue sky with breathtaking slices of pink and orange.
We humans blissfully ignorant.
Dad’s unfailingly cheerful, completely irritating voice calling happily down the stairs.
The summoned moaning and complaining and beginning to twitch in their beds.
The call came again.
The summoned were throwing off the heavy bonds of sleep by degrees.
Some were actually finding their voices. “Yeah, yeah.”
And yet a third time.
The responses growing equally louder and more understandable, “Yeah, yeah!”
And then the final call. The one sure to either freeze the faithful in their beds, or galvanize them into movement.
“The elevators are on fire!”
I should mention here that the town of Milk River’s elevators stood directly behind us, across our pasture. A short few hundred yards away.
Within toasting distance.
The mere thought of them engulfed in flames struck terror into the hearts of every member of the Stringam family.
Certainly it did that day.
“Yeah, Dad, good one!” A pause. Then, “Dad’ll say anything to get us up!” Laughter.
Perhaps I was a bit more trusting than my brothers.
Perhaps the idea of something exciting happening in our sleepy little town was enough to draw me from my bed.
Whichever.
I scurried into my parent’s room, bounded across their bed and joined my mother at the window.
The entire horizon was a blaze of light.
Two of the six elevators were already burning and, as we watched, a third began to smoke.
Dad was out on the deck, his face a mixture of disbelief, excitement and dismay.
It was an interesting face.
By this time, our cries of . . . disbelief, excitement and dismay . . . had finally drawn my brothers to their window.
“Holy Smoke!”
Truer words were never spoken.
For a moment, fear washed over me.
Were we in any danger from the flames? Those elevators were awfully close.
Dad was quick to reassure.
The wind was favourable for us, pushing the fire, and its attendant sparks to the South, away from the Stringams.
Towards the Garbers, actually. And their barn.
But that is another story.
Chores were given a lick and a promise.
School was . . . poorly attended.
The time was spent watching the fire.
And the fire-fighters.
The entire population of town stood across the street, eyes locked on the incredible sight.
I found my Mom there and went to stand beside her.
“Good thing it’s spring,” I told her. “Harvest hasn’t started.”
My ignorance of the whole ‘grain storage’ thing was woeful.
“They’re right full of grain!” my Mom exclaimed.
As though to prove her statement, a long split appeared in one corner of the elevator nearest us. Followed immediately by a golden stream.
Then pieces of flaming elevator began to rain down.
The crowd gasped and stepped backwards.
Our Sherriff tried his best to keep us away.
To keep us safe.
Even going so far as to order all of the kids back to school.
We scampered to obey.
Not.
He couldn’t have driven us away with a stick. Maybe if he had pulled his gun . . . no not even then.
The elevators burned for days.
When the glow was finally out, the ruined grain was raked into piles and sold for a pittance, for cattle feed or whatever.
But to those of us who witnessed it, the fire would never be extinguished.
Even after the smell of roasting wood and grain finally washed away.
Even after new, modern elevators were built.
All one would have to say was, “Remember the elevator fire?”.
It was the most excitement our town has ever had. Before or since.
Okay, so ‘Thrill Central’ wasn't our town’s middle name.
And the Stringams were back to hearing, “Spring!” every morning.
Once in a while, Dad would try to inject a little excitement by shouting, “The elevators are on fire!”
But he was never believed.
Kind of like that first time.

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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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Pearl, Why You Little...
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The Marketing Mentress

The Marketing Mentress
Building solid relationships with podcast and LinkedIn marketing

Coffee Row

Coffee Row
My Big Brother's Stories

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Semper Fidelis

Semper Fidelis
I've been given an award!!!

The Liebster Award

The Liebster Award
My good friend and Amazing Blogger, Marcia of Menopausal Mother awarded me . . .

Irresistibly Sweet Award

Irresistibly Sweet Award
Delores, my good friend from The Feathered Nest, has nominated me!

Sunshine Award!!!

Sunshine Award!!!
My good friend Red from Oz has nominated me!!!

My very own Humorous Blogger Award From Delores at The Feathered Nest!

Be Courageous!


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Ghost of the Overlook

Ghost of the Overlook
Need a fright?