Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Wednesday, December 30, 2015

West Edmonton Mall Miracle

Go here. Have fun.
My SIL is a good, hard worker—steady and dependable.
He provides for his family.
All the necessities of life.
The only thing missing is extra money for . . . extras.
Trips to West Edmonton Mall for a day at Galaxyland aren’t within the scope of their usual budget. Thus it was with great joy that their family received, as a gift, passes for just that. A day ‘doing the rides’ and enjoying the fun at the world-famous park.
They packed up snacks and kids and made the twenty-minute trip to The Mall.
They rode, laughed, screamed and loved everything from the Carousel to the Mindbender. Finally, happily exhausted, they took a break—sitting on a set of steps and enjoying some of the treats they had brought.
Directly across from them was a bank of coin-operated video games. Presented, perhaps, as an alternative to riding/rushing/screaming. Or maybe as a little diversion to someone who is waiting for those who are riding/rushing/screaming. These games offer, as a reward, coupons to be used for the purchase of ‘Galaxyland stuff’.
As their family sat eating and recounting their experiences thus far, a middle-aged man (waiting for kids and/or grandkids) was playing one of the games.
‘Hat Trick.’
He was doing well.
Really well.
The machine lit up. And paid out.
2600+ coupons poured forth.
2600. Plus.
SIL laughed. “Wow! If you’re wondering what to do with those, we can take them off your hands!”
The man turned, smiled . . .
And dropped the entire pile into SIL’s lap.
2600+ coupons.
I needn’t tell you about the astonished faces or the hastily gasped out thanks as the man nodded, smiled again, and left.
Or the normally out-of-reach gifts chosen by several little girls who had just received their first glimpse of Heaven.
I would like to ask one thing of you, the reader, though.
Please pass this story around.
I want this man to know the joy he brought to those little girls.
Maybe, somehow, we can thank him.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Booger Man

The boy.
No, that isn't the right finger, either...
In our house, over the holidays, love and good will abound.
And so does the food.
And the treats.
Especially the chocolate.
With, sometimes, amusing results . . .
A group of us adults were sitting around the table, intent on a game of cards.
Members of the younger set were dashing in and out, equally intent on activities.
Games.
And treats.
We had just opened a new box of exotic chocolates.
A gift from our dear next-door neighbours.
Five different kinds of luscious, melt-able deliciousness, each in a different (intriguing) shape.
Chocolate mousse.
Crunchy.
Espresso.
Crème Broulee.
And pistachio.
Each more mouth-watering than the last.
Our five-year-old discovered the box and immediately seized it.
“What’s this?!” he said, holding it up.
“Chocolates!” I said. “Really yummy ones!”
“Oooh! What’s this one?!” He jabbed a finger into the chocolate mousse.
“That’s dark chocolate.”
“And this?” Another jab.
“Hey!” his dad said, taking the box. “Don’t touch all of the chocolates with your booger-covered finger!”
Da-ad!” he said, disgusted. “That’s not my booger finger!” He held up his other hand, pointer finger erect. “That one is!”
At least he was honest . . .

Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa's Report Card 2015

A guest post by Kris Kringle

I told you last year that I thought Kris Kringle had a great thing going, and that I fully intended on encroaching on his territory.  And I have to admit that I do it willfully and intentionally, and, to some degree, selfishly.  I find that I get soooo much out of being Santa Claus, I often feel like I am taking more out than I am putting into the real purpose of Christmas.  Notwithstanding my own misgivings, I still maintain it is the best job going.
My Beloved and I have been recreating Santa and Mrs. Rebecca Claus (there – you heard her first name here first!) for some years now, and each year it is a special treat. We sincerely hope it also is for the people with whom we have the pleasure of visiting.
This year, for about the last five or six weeks, we have visited some 25 organized events and several spontaneous ones (disorganized events?), and they have each and every one been special to us.  We have sat over 1000 little ones on our collective knee this year, over 200 not-so-little ones, and we have had the great pleasure of visiting with some 450 seniors (who were not able to sit on our knees, so we bent ours to them.  As it should be.  And our knees are still working!  That in itself is a great Christmas blessing!).
During Christmas-time 2015, my beloved Rebecca and I have been fêted by young Irish Dancers, world-class Figure Skaters, Madrigal Singers, Farmers’ Marketers, school children galore, hockey players, patients in the Sick Kids’ hospital, and many dental patients–all of whom knew the song “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (and most of whom asked me ‘Please, PLEASE don’t sing it to me, Santa, you sound like my Dad!’.)
Amongst the middle-aged crowd were a myriad of parents who, without exception, wished only the best for their children and families.  It was good for Santa to see and hear that.
One very special young man, in his mid-20s, had never before encountered our western incarnation of the Santa Claus legend.  He was a large fellow, who asked if he could hug me; of course I replied it was expected!  He put his burly arms around me and literally lifted me off the floor – not an easy task in itself when you think of Santa’s size–all the while giving me the best bear-hug I have ever had!  After I regained my ability to breathe and speak, I asked a bit about himself.  Turns out he had only been in Canada two weeks, a Syrian refugee who after many months had found a new home with some wonderful caring people.  When I asked him what he would like for Christmas, he wished for peace and a new home for all of his family and friends still enmeshed in the war and strife in his homeland.  He wished me a Merry Christmas before I could even mutter the words to him.
On the campus of the local University, we had been invited to the home of a professor and his family who were hosting a Christmas party for his family and about 20 or so international graduate students studying with the professor–students from Iran, Turkey, India, Syria, Japan, Israel, China, and a couple of other far-flung lands.  To my knowledge none were Christian, but each insisted on visiting with Santa and Rebecca to learn more about what must have been strange western Christmas customs.  We spent more time that we probably should have with these bright young people. Each of them sported a huge smile and returned wishes of peace and success and prosperity–for us, for their hosts in a new country, and for their families and friends back home.  Not one of them hesitated wishing me a Merry Christmas, and I received with great gladness many wishes for a happy Hannukah, a good Ramadan, and several other upcoming holy-day festivals that I am still studying up on.  I will celebrate each of them with glee and gladness for new-found friends.
The most moving experience for Santa this year was a delightful young 9-year-old Irish dancer–Natalie.  She came to my knee with a little less than her usual smile or her usual brightness for the season.  When I got around to asking what she would like for Christmas, I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear: “I would like the bombing to stop.”  This was just a couple of days after the terrible events in Paris, and I could tell little Natalie was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders that night.  “Yes, Natalie, I would like the bombing to stop too. [Long pause].  I will see what I can do about that, okay? In the meantime, is there something that you would like for Christmas, something just for you?”
Natalie was not to be deterred.  “No, Santa, I just want the bombing to stop.  Is there something I can do to make it stop?”
Another long pause.  But then the words came into Santa’s mind.
“Yes, Natalie, there is something you can do to make the bombing stop.  In fact, there are two things you can do.  First, you can keep smiling!  You have such a beautiful smile!  Share your smile with everyone in the world, because that tells everyone that you love them—and the bombing will stop.  And second, dear Natalie, just keep on dancing!  I promise you that if you keep on dancing, and show the world that you love everyone like I know you do, the bombing will stop, one day.”
I had a great Christmas in 2015, my friends, thanks mostly to the Natalies of the world.  I hope and wish that yours has been a wonderful one too.
Peace on Earth, Good Will to Women, Men and Children, Always!
With much love,
Santa and Rebecca Claus
From all of us to all of you:
a very Merry Christmas!






Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!


Resting up for the night ahead . . .
Christmas Eve and the family is gathering.


May all of your moments be bright this Christmas!
From all of us at the Tolley house . . .









Wishing you and yours the very best and brightest Christmas ever!
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Opening the Ski Chapter

Christmas Elf: Caught in the Act . . .
It started out ordinarily enough.
Dad waving from the driveway as he started the long drive to Lethbridge to begin his Christmas shopping.
I should point out, here, that Dad always began and ended his shopping on the same day.
Christmas Eve.
He had a thing about children sneaking into his closet to peek at presents.
Not that I ever did. Personally, I think it had something to do with his own childhood and his own childhood foibles and tendencies.
Let's not talk about this any more . . .
We waved happily to him, then went back to helping Mom with the Christmas baking.
Our duties were carefully delineated.
She mixed.
We watched/hovered.
She finished mixing and dug out cookie sheets and baking pans.
We tasted.
She shooed us away and began to spoon/scrape.
We watched/hovered.
She turned to put pans into the oven.
We tasted.
She shooed us away and finished spooning/scraping.
She turned to put pans into the oven.
We licked the bowl.
Literally.
She shooed us away and started again.
She mixed.
We watched/hovered . . .
You get the picture.
But when pans started coming out of the oven, yet another duty was added to the roster.
Eating the now-baked deliciousness.
And so it went.
Everyone had their responsibilities clearly outlined and we did them whole-heartedly.
No slackers in this bunch.
Sometimes, though, baked goodies actually made their way past the ravening hordes children to the fancy Christmas platters set out to receive them.
Not often, I will admit, but frequently enough that we realized what those platters were for.
But I digress . . .
Other duties included:
  1. Hiding when the baking was finished and clean up was indicated.
  2. Giggling loudly during hide-age.
  3. Sitting under the tree and periodically shaking/squeezing packages.
  4. Teasing younger siblings that Santa Claus would never be able to find our ranch.
  5. Re-arranging Christmas ornaments.
  6. Breaking said ornaments.
  7. Hiding again.
It was a busy day.
Mostly for my Mom, but why haggle over details?
Finally, just as we were getting ready to climb into bed for the long, sleepless night, we heard Dad's car pull into the driveway.
And then began another whole round of children milling about excitedly.
Sleep was further away than ever.
But, finally, we were herded into our beds and the doors firmly shut against peekage/sneakiness.
The wait was on.
I shared a room with my younger brother, Blair and my younger sister, Anita.
Somehow, I managed to keep them bottled up until some of us (not me) were ready to fizz over.
About 5 AM.
We could wait no longer.
Now the rule in the Stringam household was 'Look, but don't touch until Mom and Dad's feet hit the living room floor'.
On this particular Christmas, looking was especially exciting.
Because Dad had strewn his gifts over the living room floor.
The entire living room floor.
From the soft light of the Christmas tree, we were able to make out strange, long objects arranged at intervals from the doorway all the way to the tree itself.
What could they be?
We knelt down in the doorway, trying to get a better view.
Weird.
Had he opened a crate of something and left the boards flung about like flotsam?
Normally such behavior was reserved for the younger set.
Double weird.
Just when we were ready to burst with the excitement and curiosity, we heard our parents make their way up the hall towards us.
Finally!
Dad reached around the corner and snapped on the light.
Our eyes were glued to the newly-revealed treasures.
Skis!
The entire floor was littered with skis!
Beside each carefully arranged set of skis were a pair of poles and leather ski boots.
We hopped and skipped carefully around the room, checking name tags and finally settling beside the set that bore ours.
Mine were blue.
With long, silver poles.
And black leather ski boots.
I don't remember what else I got that year (sorry, Family).
Nothing could compare with my shiny new and wondrous skis.
Then I discovered that the excitement didn't end there.
The rest of Dad's gift included a week-long family skiing trip to The Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana.
The first of many such trips.
And the beginning of a whole new chapter for the Stringams.
Yup. The best Christmas ever.
Now, it's your turn. What was your best childhood Christmas ever?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Un-Chained

Oh sure. He's looks innocent here . . .
Christmas morning, the exciting, present-opening part, was inevitably on hold until the kids could get their father out of his bed.
It wasn't as easy as it sounds.
What began as a mainly physical feat when they were younger, soon progressed into a different sort of challenge as they grew older.
Their Dad got sneaky.
Case in point . . .
I was heading out to do the milking.
I turned to my Husby, who was still in bed and said, “Don't start till I get back.”
He grinned. Something I have learned to treat with respect over the years.
“Oh, I imagine I'll still be here when you get back!” He reached under the bed and pulled out the end of a long, heavy chain. “Could you please hand me the other end?”
Puzzled, I reached under my side of the bed.
Sure enough, there was the rest.
This man plans ahead . . .
I handed it to him and he lapped the two ends over himself and snapped a large combination lock shut through them.
He was right.
He would probably still be there when I got back.
Shaking my head, I left.
Milking was quickly accomplished and I was soon back at the house, pails brimming.
Just as I opened the door, I heard a cheer go up.
'Wow, everyone's sure happy that I'm home!' I thought.
It wasn't me.
They had just finished finding the final number for their father's combination lock.
And had succeeded in freeing him from his chains.
Quite literally.
I set the milk in the milk room and came upstairs just as everyone poured, happily, from our bedroom.
“Mom! We got Dad out of his chains and we're ready to open presents!”
Now there's something you don't hear every day.
“Wow! You kids are good!” Thoughts of future bank robbers and safe-crackers suddenly came to mind.
“Naw! He gave us the first two numbers. Then all we had to do was figure out the last one.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah. We did it by the process of elimination.”
“Oh. Well . . . good.”
“It was fun!”
You have to know that these kids have been exposed to many different challenges over the years.
Duct tape.
Zippers.
Bandages.
Mustard. (Don't ask.)
Air horns.
And Speedos. (Told here.) If you want to read it, we'll wait . . .
I guess a small matter of freeing their father from some pesky heavy chains is child's play.
Well, at least for our child(s).

Saturday, December 19, 2015

PJ Update

We have a tradition in our home.


Well, several, actually.
But I'm only going to talk about this one . . .
Pajamas. On Christmas eve.
And spaghetti, but that is another story.
So . . . pajamas.
Every year, Mom hunts up the most distinctive pattern she can find and everyone is forced excited to wear it.
So, in honour of this very special time, here are a few examples from the past.
Enjoy!
 Christmas, 2002.  And no, that isn't a cow print couch . . .
Christmas 2003. And yes, we do look like escaped prisoners.

2007.  Little jump, here.

2008 and our numbers are increasing.
You can't see the striped socks, but they're there!
2009. Things are changing radically . . .
2010. What a mob!
2011. Well, a small, but important sample.
2012. The year of the polka dot.

2013 The year of the Googly

2014 - also glowed in the dark.
And that brings you up to date.
Here is a tiny sample of this year's PJs.

They'll be worth the wait . . .
More pictures to follow . . .
How are your Christmas preparations coming?
I hope they are colourful and bright!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Wrapped in Christmas


Who loves Christmas more?
Where we live, in largely Christian Alberta, it’s a fairly popular holiday.
With a slow build-up in ads and TV spots through October and November until the air waves and print media offer almost exclusive rights to the season by the time December rolls around.
Oh, the TV/Newspaper moguls toss in a bit of news/entertainment as a sop to the die-hard ‘wanna know what’s going on in the world’ people . . .
But who loves Christmas most?
In the Stringam household, Christmas was a season on hold.
Right through August.
I am not making this up.
Little Sister would quite literally come home from her first day of school in September and drag out her Christmas records.
Which she played from then through to January.
This morning, the song, “Snoopy VS the Red Baron” came on the radio and I knew every word.
Every. Word.
Sigh.
And then she would start wrapping.
She wrapped everything. Beautifully and often . . . creatively.
Old toys.
Kitchen gadgets.
Books.
Games.
Clothing.
The spoon you had just used to stir your chocolate milk.
If you were slightly inattentive, your glass of chocolate milk.
And the cookie.
If it wasn’t nailed down, or too heavy for her to lift, it got wrapped.
And then, if one wanted to use said-item-that-one-had-just-laid-down-only-a-moment-ago, one had the joy of unwrapping it first.
One year, Mom came up with the startlingly clever idea of giving Little Sister a box of ‘wrapping stuff’.
Paper, tape, scissors, ribbons, bows, tags, etc.
Which was . . . how do I put this . . . well and totally used.
There was an ad on TV some years ago which showed a completely-wrapped dog with an equally wrapped ball.
It was hilarious.
It was shot at our house.
Not really, but you get the picture.
So, back to my question.
Who loves Christmas most?
I’m proposing the name of my Little Sister.
For all of the above . . .

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Being the Answer

A true story.

1981.
Carol’s big suburban slid into the parking lot of the Native Friendship Centre in Slave Lake.
Her boss met her in the foyer. “Can’t do it this year,” he said sadly.
Carol stared at him. “What?”
“The basket delivery to Trout Lake? Can’t do it. There’s a storm and our pilot says there’s no way he can land on the strip.”
Carol’s heart sank. There were people in Trout Lake who needed those hampers of food very much. Families who counted on them.
“I’m sorry,” her boss went on, starting to turn away.
“I’ll drive up there.”
He turned back. “What?”
“I’ll drive.”
“Carol, it’s three hours in good weather! And there’s a storm so bad we can’t land in it. Who knows what the roads will be like?”
“There’s someone who wants that food,” Carol said quietly. “I know it. I can feel it! Someone desperately needs their basket.”
He stared at her for a moment. “Well . . .”
“How many baskets have you got?”
“Twenty-nine.”
“Let’s load them in my truck. And I need one of your staff to come along. I don’t speak Cree.”
Soon, over her boss’ continued protests, the boxes of food were carefully loaded and she and young Theresa Cardinal seated in front.
They were off.
The trip went surprisingly well despite the near-white-out conditions in the blowing snow and the continuing cold. The only difficulty was one point when the two of them slid into a ‘T’ intersection with no idea of which way to turn.
Carol looked at her co-pilot. “Which way?”
Theresa shrugged. “We don’t use roads.”
Carol laughed. “I’m turning left.”
Her instincts were right. Four hours after they left the Centre in Slave Lake, they were pulling into the small hamlet of Trout Lake, Alberta.
On a usual year, there would be people and the horse-pulled school wagon available to help with deliveries.
This year, in the frigid temperatures and blowing snow, there was only Carol, Theresa, and Carol’s big suburban.
Still pressed by that sense of urgency, they started going from home to home where their offerings of food and gifts were received with smiles of gratitude.
Finally, they pulled up before a tiny, log cabin and Carol slid out of the truck.
The wind was blowing quite strongly, whistling around the little structure. For a community deep in the protection of the bush she knew that the storm around them must have grown mighty indeed.
Her long, fur-lined Cree coat kept out the worst of it and, grabbing the large box of food, she walked to the door.
Something was odd. The door, ice built up all along the edge, wasn't closed. Couldn't close.
And someone, in an effort to keep out the howling winds had stuffed an old quilt in the space.
Carol knocked. A soft voice inside, barely discernible over the sound of the wind, called out in Cree.
The two women entered.
The cabin consisted of one room. There was a tiny, elderly woman standing in the kitchen area to the left, looking unsure and frightened.
Across the room, seated on an old bus seat, were several children of various ages. They, too were staring at the two snow-covered, frost nipped women standing in the doorway.
Carol had a vague impression of a bed in the corner to her right and of someone in that bed.
Theresa began to talk to the woman as they deposited their burden on the table.
The woman stared at the box, then back at them.
“How many children live here?” Carol asked.
Her companion translated.
The woman held up six fingers.
Carol went back out to the truck to grab six brightly-wrapped packages.
When she got back, the woman was in conversation with Theresa.
Unable to understand them, Carol turned her attention to fixing the door. Picking up a hatchet, she began to carve away the icy build-up on the door until it could, once more, close.
As she was testing the door, the woman came over to her and tearfully thanked her. In Cree: "God will always remember you."
Carol and Theresa left the cabin and continued with their deliveries, but the dreadful sense of urgency that had been so much a part of their journey had melted away.
And that was when the story came out.
The elderly woman’s husband had been sick for over a week. The sole bread-winner for the household, he had been unable to get outside to find food.
The family, quite literally, had nothing to eat.
Nothing.
The woman had been praying for someone–anyone–to come to their aid.
In the nearly 35 years since that day, Carol can still see that small, Cree woman, huddled in almost complete despair with a sick husband, six hungry children and a door that wouldn't close in a Northern Alberta snowstorm.
And Carol is grateful to have been, for just an instant, the answer to someone’s prayer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cheap. But Expensive


That day.
Missing: The pants
My siblings and I loved to ski.
Our Dad had introduced us to it the winter I turned eight and it had become a . . . habit.
Well, actually more of a fixation, but we'll go with habit.
We went every chance we could get.
And scoured the catalogs for new and wonderful accessories for our grand passion.
I had just made my first official 'ski' purchase.
New ski pants.
They were expensive.
But gorgeous.
Dark brown.
Perfect fit.
I was going to wow everyone on that hill! I couldn't do it with my skiing. This was the next best thing.
I should explain, here, that ski pants in the 60s weren't the stretchable remarkable cloth that we have now.
In fact, they were distinctly . . . un-stretchable.
Something which will figure largely in my story later.
But they had little side zippers at the ankles and dark elastics that slid under your foot.
They were nifty (real word).
Happily, I donned them and my brother and I were off.
Now, I should explain, here, that Big Mountain in Whitefish Montana was a wonderful place to ski.
There were numerous slopes.
Each with its own particular brand of ski tow.
I always chose the expert slope.
Not that I could actually ski the expert slope.
For two other reasons.
  1. It had a ski trail that wound around behind and through the wonderful forest, and
  2. The trail came out at the top of the Intermediate slope, allowing the skier to then ski to the bottom. Oh. And . . .
  3. Comparatively unharmed.
It was the best of all worlds.
I made my first run to the top of the expert slope.
Disembarked. Well, slid off the chairlift into a heap. But to one side, away from the traffic.
An important point.
I got my limbs more-or-less together and headed for the mouth of the trail.
It was stunningly beautiful.
The sun was shining.
There had just been a fresh fall of snow - over a foot of sparkling, fluffy whiteness blanketed the landscape.
I took a deep, satisfying breath of the spicy air, slid onto the trail and for the next 20 minutes, was in heaven.
Finally, the trail ended.
I slid quickly out onto the slope only to discover that it hadn't yet been touched by . . . anything.
It was still in it's pristine, just-been-snowed-on condition.
Breathtakingly beautiful.
It took me a few moments to discover that this could also present a problem.
Let me explain . . .
The trail I had been on had been fairly packed and my skis were still on that level.
They hadn't yet adjusted to the extra foot of fluffy snow.
I was sliding along with everything below my knees hidden in the fresh stuff.
For a second, it was fun.
Then, it wasn't. 
I hit something.
I never discovered what it was. Rock. Lump of ice. Tree stump. Yesterday's skier.
Whatever.
It stopped me.
Instantly.
And I wasn't prepared.
My body, already bent forward in my best 'snowplow' position, bent further. In fact, I whacked my forehead painfully on my knees.
Something I wish I could do today.
But I digress . . .
My glasses popped off into the deep snow.
Oh, rats.
I rubbed my head and scrabbled around in the snow, finally, triumphantly, extracting my glasses.
Then I straightened. And felt a draft.
Oh-oh.
Remember what I had said about my ski pants being not stretchy?
This would be where that fact comes into play.
When my body had done its 'fold-in-half' trick, it proved to be something my new pants had been completely unprepared for.
They split from waistband to waistband, right along the crotch.
I was now effectively wearing two pant legs.
Held up with a narrow strip of cloth at the top.
I definitely needed a longer coat.
Or a loincloth.
And this was the first run of the day.
Sigh.
I made the run down the slope as carefully and unobtrusively as possible, then sneaked to the car and my suitcase.
The change from my new, albeit flimsy, ski pants to my usual jeans was accomplished in a minimum of time and a maximum of scrambling. In the wide rear seat.
I mean the wide rear seat.
Not the wide rear seat.
Never mind . . .
And I was back on the slope.
For the first few runs, I carefully peered at people to see if anyone recognized me as the almost-pantless girl who had been on the slope a short time earlier.
But, as no one seemed to be paying much attention to me, I finally relaxed.
I learned something that day.
Expensive can sometimes mean cheap.
It just costs more.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In His Footsteps

My Hero
December. My four-year-old mind was a haze,
I’d been locked in the house as it snowed for three days.
Then quite suddenly, magically, sunlight appeared,
And my Daddy was pulling on snow boots. And gear.

I just couldn’t stand the house one minute more.
I had to get out. I’d help Dad with the chores!
So I zippered and buttoned and pulled on and tied,
Then stood by my Daddy with little-girl pride.

“I’m ready,” I shouted. “Let’s go milk the cows!”
I was set for adventure, quite done with the house.
He smiled and then, turning, stepped into the snow.
And I walked alongside. It seemed quite apropos.

At first the bright sparkles and crisp winter air
Made our walking, adventure, and senses aware.
But then I discovered as most children do,
That snow, though quite pretty, was hard to get through.

I struggled and grunted, broke into a sweat,
Then looked for the barn that we hadn’t reached yet.
My Daddy smiled down at my efforts inept,
“It’d be easier if you tried to step where I step.”

So I did. And my progress was much better then,
Soon we two reached the barn, and the cozy cow pens.
I sat perched on a stool and watched Daddy do chores,
Then followed him home, just like I’d done before.

I learned something that day, as we walked through the yard,
If I stayed in his footsteps, then things weren’t as hard.
His skill and experience, and his guidance, too,
Would make everything easier my whole life through.

Now, to my own kids, when there’s woe to be had
I give bits of advice that I learned from my Dad.
When Life dishes out dollops of good or of ill,
I find that I’m walking in Dad’s footsteps still.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Winter Warmth

Ready to tour.
The Milk River 4H Beef Club was the brain-child of my Dad.
He lived in an agricultural area where most of the families earned their living either farming or ranching.
The training up of the next generation seemed like a good idea.
He approached the powers-that-be - convinced the powers-that-be.
And the club was formed.
With eleven new members.
Calves were purchased.
Things were underway.
A few months later, the man (power-that-be) who had given permission decided to make a visit to his newest club.
A tour was organized for his benefit.
But on a school day so the parents were delegated to show the official around.
Accompanied by my dad and Dad's two assistants.
It was a cold day in December.
They had visited several farms and were about to get into their vehicles after seeing one more.
The farmer, seeing that they were a bit chilled, reached behind the seat of his truck and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. "This'll warm you a bit!"
He handed the bottle, first, to Dad.
"Thanks, but I don't drink," Dad said, passing the bottle on to the next fellow.
Who happened to be the official.
"Well, we government officials aren't allowed to drink," the man said. "But since Mark doesn't drink, I'll drink his drink."
He took a swig.
Then handed the bottle to the next man.
Finally, the bottle made its way around the little group and back to the official.
"Oh. Does Mark take two?" the man asked, taking another sip. "Well, he is a glutton, isn't he?"
4-H.
Memorable, educational, satisfying,
And warming.
On so many levels.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Women's Night

On the night before Christmas, long hours ahead
The toddler still up, I’d just got her to bed.
The stockings were hung in a haphazard row,
While Mama assembled new toys just below.

The kids were asleep, well, except for the last,
Just waiting for morning to get downstairs fast.
I toiled on alone, ‘cause there wasn’t a dad.
I had broken a nail and my language was bad.

Then out on the lawn rose a terrible noise,
A talent that only my oldest employs.
I flew to the window, and thought as I ran,
‘What's he doing out there, my nine-year-old man?!’

It was bright (as can only the moon on snow be),
And I narrowed my eyes to be able to see.
And what did I glimpse, coming over the way?
But some deer, all in harness, and a stout little sleigh.

With someone in a coat that looked comfy and soft,
And clearly some magic to keep them aloft.
They flew like a Michael Schumacher on course,
While the driver attempted some will to enforce.

"Now Baby! Now, Jazzi! Now, Frolic and Jolly!
On, Cherub! On, Angel! On, Kitten and Folly!
I need you to get to the rooftop this time!
And a fine, gentle landing would be so sublime!"

To say that they flew like some leaves past the attic,
Would be perfectly true, it was quite that erratic.
I was holding my breath as they shot toward the sky,
And prayed that my windows and roof would survive.

Then finally, thankfully, up on the top
I heard stomping and - oh, dear - at least one small ‘plop’!
Then some noise in the chimney I’d not heard before,
And soon someone emerged, on their knees, on the floor.

The figure was dressed in a warm, sooty coat,
With some Uggs on their feet and scarf round their throat.
With toys, books and clothes in a gi-normous sack,
Which they dropped to the floor with the words, “Oh, my back!”.

And then sparkling eyes were directed at me!
From under a hat that was worn with esprit.
I surprisingly saw, not a man, but a miss,
With no  beard (though a tweezer would not go amiss).

In white teeth, she had clutched a short pencil end,
And a notebook, she held in one mittened hand.
Her round, wrinkled face shone with laughter and fun,
And I don’t think her happy laugh could be outdone!

She was joyful and glad, and just a bit plump,
Her smile made me smile, and her laugh made me jump!
She gave me a grin and then winked an eye,
All my fears passed away and I waved them goodbye.

She didn’t say much, simply nodded my way,
And I watched as she worked – like a pudgy ballet.
She finished her job, made a note in her book,
Then nodded and smiled and her exit she took!

I heard her footsteps as she ran to her sleigh,
Heard her call to her team as they all flew away.
Then this sweet woman shouted, as she flew o’er the town,
"Happy Christmas to all, don’t let life get you down!"

Friday, December 11, 2015

Mom Shopping

Terrifying.
I was five. Going Christmas shopping with my Mom in the great city of Lethbridge.
And it was the most exciting time ever . . .
First, there was the anticipation heightened by each of the long seventy miles from the ranch.
And by older brothers and sister who were talking about all of the exciting stores we would visit and the amazing/stupendous/astounding things they would buy.
Then, there was the first spotting of the crèche, a sure sign Lethbridge was just around the corner.
And, finally, the Christmas lights.
I think the car window was permanently marked by my nose pressed against the glass.
True story.
Mom carefully navigated the crowded streets and found a parking space.
Everyone piled happily from the car.
All right so far.
My older siblings immediately separated and disappeared into the seething masses that churned up the snow on the sidewalks.
I stood, frozen beside my Mom, and stared.
In the anticipation of ‘Christmas Shopping’, I hadn't anticipated this part.
The sheer number of people.
Let’s face it. I lived on a ranch waaay out in the country.
Population less-than-twenty.
For a big-eyed five-year-old, this was like being on the set of a Cecil B. DeMille movie.
With no Cecil B. DeMille.
Mom picked up my baby brother, then turned back to me.
“Okay, Diane,” she said. “Now you hang onto my pocket.”
I immediately (and gratefully) reached for the large pocket of her thick, wool car coat and did what I was told.
In point of fact, I don’t think anything could have loosened my grip from that warm, comforting strip of fabric.
There may be crowds around. Big, scary, unknown people intent on their own errands, but I had hold of my Mom’s pocket. And by transference, my Mom.
Nothing could harm me.
Moving ahead several years . . .
I was Christmas shopping with my kids. The older three had disappeared on their own missions.
The younger three were with me.
I was holding my three-year-old’s hand and walking down the crowded mall.
Suddenly, I felt a tug on my coat.
My five-year old had grabbed my pocket.
I smiled as the memories flooded in.
I know she felt instantly safer.
And so did I.

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