Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Santa's First Report Card

Santa and I are in the midst of 'Santa and Mrs.' season.
So I've decided to re-share Santa's reports from past years. Just because these experiences are soooo precious! 

Santa's Report Card 2013

A guest post by my Husby.
Or 'Santa' as he is so affectionately known . . .

Being married to a writer like my Beloved Diane is a fascinating, fun experience.  We never are bored: there is always a plethora of pedantic words to explore; a new phrase (noun) to, well, phrase (verb); a new bit of Grammar to enforce (especially on Grampar); or a new pun to at which to giggle, like the groaner just inflicted upon you.
One of the fun bits of language-exploration in which we engage every so often is exploring Collective Nouns – those words that describe a group of something or other, usually animals.
A Pride of lions.  A Pod of whales.  A Flock of sheep.  And a Flock of birds.  A Herd of cattle.
One of the most interesting collective nouns is a Murder of Crows.  Now who is it that gets to decide these things, hmmm?  I’m not objecting to calling a bunch of crows a “murder” (because that’s usually what I want to do to them when they sit in the tree outside my bedroom window at four in the morning on what is potentially a beautiful summer day and awaken me to the cacophonous symphony of collective cawing, but in this instance “murder” becomes a very active verb rather than a collective noun) – but why not a Caw of Crows?
Over the years we have invented a few collective nouns of our own.  They haven’t made it into the Oxford English Dictionary yet, but we’re working on it.
A group of two or more five-year-old boys is known as a Chaos of Boys.
A group of more than one teenager of either gender should definitely be known as an Idiot of Teens.
A group of mature women becomes, justifiably, a Flash of Ladies.
Any two men trying to fix something mechanical about which they know nothing is called a Mistake of Men.  (When they can’t fix it, they turn into a Grump of Men).
A bunch of bearded old white-haired guys that should, once again justifiably, be called a Santa of Grandpas.
And so it is, unilaterally claiming the privilege of creating collective nouns, that I offer you my final report card of the special experiences of one Santa and Mrs. Santa for the year 2013.
My Beloved Mrs. Santa and I had the privilege this Christmas season of visiting some thirteen different Christmas functions.  Each of the thirteen was a special experience – you read about some of the more tender ones here.
Since that time, one stuck out in our minds as being especially fun and moving.
We had been invited to a day-care facility containing about 120 children – what we would have called, collectively, a Crown of Children.  Early in the proceedings Santa placed, in turn, each of five five-year-old girls on his knee and had his special visit with them.  Two were named Jenna, then a Katie, a Courtney, and a McKenna, and they were all in the same class and obviously close friends.  Santa inquired of each if she was a Princess, and they all acknowledged that status without hesitation.  Here was Santa, in the midst of a Slipper of Princesses.  (He wasn’t complaining, then or now).  The Princesses didn’t want to leave, not any of the Slipper of them, and the teachers were trying very hard to get individual pictures with each of the other children with Santa and Mrs. Santa, without being picture-bombed by one of the Princesses.  They kept coming back, as often as they could get away with it – and each return brought more hugs and snuggles and words of love and appreciation.
And questions about reindeer.
As is Santa’s wont, he likes to joke and gently tease the kids, and the Princesses became so familiar with it that this became the game every time the Slipper returned – growing and growing with each return.  Each smile and laugh seemed to make them want to stay, more and longer, square in the picture frame, despite the entreaties of the Exasperation of Teachers. And the laughing and the joking and the jolly good time and the countless hugs, the loving and the smiling with the Slipper of Princesses, touched our hearts, deeply.
What a wonderful Christmas gift!
But when does a Slipper of Princesses grow too big to fit the glass slipper?
When they become a Giggle of Girls.
Merry Christmas, everyone.  May you all enjoy the Giggles of joy and happiness and the Chaos of the season.
See you again next year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

An Ending?

“There was a time, dear Mom,” said he.
“When I no longer fit your knee.
And one day, when you picked me up.
You set me down, said, ‘That’s enough!’
You never picked me up again.”
His statement filled my heart with pain.
Cause he was right, that son of mine,
(Who, in his socks, stands six-foot nine.)
There was a time I set him down,
I groaned, and then, perhaps, I frowned.
Said, “Son you’re getting way too big,
And you don’t qual'fy as a ‘twig’.
Your poor old Momma just can’t lift,
For it will give my back short shrift.”
An era ended on that day,
The day I sent my son to play
Without his ‘pickmeup’ cuddle time,
That, for us both, was so sublime.
Instead he got a kiss and hug.
And on my heart, a little tug,
Then, I looked back into the past,
And thought of things that just don’t last,
How precious are your memories,
When kids grow too big for your knee.
But know, before you shed a tear,
For my son’s young and baby years,
That though we had an ‘ending’ there,
‘Twas nothing that I could not bear.
For as an era waves. Departs.
Another era’s set to start.
And then he gave us grandkids . . .

Karen, whom we all hold dear,
Issues a task 12 times a year,
A poem based upon a theme.
We beat our brains, we cry and scream,
But nothing can be done about,
Cause Karen has a lot of clout!
(The truth about the poems thereof?
We really do it out of love!)

And who has joined me here today?
Why, all my friends! Join us and play!

Karen of Baking In A Tornado: From the End to the Beginning
Dawn of Cognitive Script: TheMeaning of the End
Jules of The Bergham Chronicles Name of Poem: La Fin
Lydia of Cluttered Genius Name of Poem: The End is Here
Jenn Sparkly Poetic Weirdo Name of Poem: Endings, The NewBeginnings

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Architect

One of the most beautiful Christmas presents I've ever seen.
Created by my son, Mark, for his wife, Barb . . .
First, the poem:

The Builder
If you’ll ask any builder what
It takes to raise a wall –
They’ll say, “A firm foundation
Will help them to stand tall.

“Some days the effort seems in vain,
Stones crack, or break, or fall,
Some days it might seem there's been
No progress made at all.

“But nothing great was ever built
Within a single day,
Press on, endure, and what is built
Will never fade away.

“And bit by bit the building grows
From one stone to the next,
And many things might come about
That you did not expect.

“It takes so many years to build
A house of wood and stone,
The daily toil and strife and hurt
Seems worth it when it’s done.

“Though 50 years to build, and then
500 it may stand,
The building is a monument
To the builder’s blessed hand.”

Note: They're not finished yet,
But someday they'll be masterpieces!

Then, the pictures:
Architect: Barb Tolley
Structures: Megan: Erected 2003
Kyra: Erected 2005
Jarom: Erected 2009
Leah : Erected 2012
Emma: Erected 2017 (To be added)

Describe the most touching gift you've ever seen!

This is the BIG ONE!
And I need your help . . .
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I need your vote!
It's simple and REALLY effective.
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Monday, December 11, 2017

Family Favourites

Drawn by my sweet DIL. In about 30 seconds . . .
I cannot blame another soul, I did it on my own,
The po’try Monday theme, I mean. (My fate, I do bemoan.)
My ‘Happiest Family Memory’ shouldn’t be a task complex,
But how to choose a single one, now that, did me, perplex.

Was it Mom and Bobby Cow and me? I barely did survive!
Or climbing up the TV mast? I’m glad to be alive!
Or times spent eating Mama’s food, I was in Heaven then.
And when I travelled with my dad. I’d like to go again!

My brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and days spent on the ranch,
Too numerous to just sort through! It’s like an avalanche!
Sunk in mud up to my knees? There’s nothing I would change!

And here there is another group, my kids and their kids, too.
Now how am I supposed to choose? There really aren’t a few!
With special days and holidays and every day between,
And all of our activities, from crazy to serene.

You know what I am going to do? I won’t decide this now,
I’m sure you would not want to read a book now anyhow.
So, I’ll say this, I love these tales! And they, I will recount,
Though taken all in all my friends, to a lot, they do amount.

Past or present, future, too. You’ll find them all right here.
In city or in country and in places far or near.
Each one a little slice of life, each one a story, too,
My favourite family memories are each one I share with you!

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.

And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

And next week, from my friends, and me, 
A Christmas (or holiday) Memory!

This is the BIG ONE!
And I need your help . . .
Daughter of Ishmael is up for the big award: Book of the year!
I need your vote!
It's simple and REALLY effective.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Light of Family

A repost. It just seems apropos today...

In our corner of the world, in winter, the nights are very long.

For a period of time, the street lights are coming on when the school children are just getting home.
And don't shut off until said children are safely back in class the next morning.
One does everything in the dark.
Early morning walks.
Paper routes.
Extra curricular activities.
You might think that it would be aggravating; having so few hours of sunlight during our 'waking' part of the day.
But I love it.
For a few months, Life seems to slow down.
Family comes home earlier.
And stays longer.
But I have one memory that makes the darkness . . . special.
Let me tell you about it . . .
On the ranch, meals were served like clockwork.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner appeared with amazing regularity.
And an equal amount of delicious-ness.
During winter, at least two of those meals were prepared and served with stars in the sky.
With the modern conveniences of electricity, this was not a handicap.
Mom worked with every imaginable electronic gadget.
In a brilliantly lit kitchen.
As the rest of the house darkened with the fading sunlight, the kitchen remained a beacon.
Calling to all of us.
As suppertime neared, I would shut off the lamp in my bedroom and, without stopping to turn on any more lights, walk quickly along the dark hallway.
And that's the part I remember most clearly.
Seeing the light flooding out of every doorway leading into the kitchen.
Moving from the dark into a world of light, fragrance, warmth.
And family.
Mom orchestrating and/or supervising numerous pots and kettles and children.
The rest of the kids gathering or already seated.
An evening of great food and wonderful company ahead of me.
Mom is gone, now.
My siblings scattered throughout North America.
But whenever I come from a darkened hallway into a lighted kitchen, I feel that same anticipation.
That same joy I first felt over fifty years ago - and that time and life experiences cannot fade.
Stepping from darkness into light.
The light that is family.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Swedish Christmas Day

Mother’s parents emigrated from Sweden in the early part of the 20th century.
These are the Swedish/Canadian Christmas customs passed on to their family . . .
From my uncles’ journals . . .

Grandma, grands and aunties.

Grandma and the grands.
Uncle Roy: After unwrapping our presents, we stayed up late with our new toys or board games (Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, Chinese Checkers) and snacked on nuts (Brazil nuts, hazel, nuts, walnuts and peanuts), Japanese oranges, chocolates and Mama’s delicious cookies. Late to bed, tired and happy, there was no desire to rise early on Christmas morning. Perhaps the Scandinavian Christmas Eve tradition had its origin from the desire of parents to sleep a little later on Christmas morning!
Uncle Don: One Christmas, we received a Monopoly game. We began to play without reading the rules beforehand.
When we lit on an opponent’s property and couldn’t pay the rent, we would offer one of our properties for sale which would be enthusiastically bid on by the other players in the game.
By the rules we should have mortgaged our property to the bank at half its value.
Anyway, as I recall, no one was able to gain an upper hand so the game went on until 4 am when we were too tired to play.
Everyone went to bed with the game still unfinished and all participants still in!
Uncle Leif: However, there were chores to be done so we couldn’t sleep in for too long. Mother was always up bright and early, preparing Christmas Day breakfast, including lots of cold fish (herring and anchovies), hard boiled eggs and, of course, cinnamon buns. Mother had filleted and pickled the herring a few weeks prior to Christmas. Anchovies were small fish (4 inches long), pickled whole. Probably to shock visitors, some of the boys ate the head and all!
The hosting of Christmas and New Year’s Day dinners (served mid-afternoon) rotated among the Berg families of Pete and Ellen [my parents], Sigvard and Erna [My uncle and his wife] and Henrik and Anna [Another uncle and his wife]. It was a joyous time spent visiting, playing card games, checkers, etc.
The only time liquor was served in the home was if guests were present, as on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Adults would take their whiskey straight from a shot glass, prior to the main meal.
Uncle Roy: Two enormous meals were served, one at noon and another at about 7 pm. Featured were roast turkey or goose with dressing, vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings, finished off with mince pie, fruitcake and cookies.
I remember being stuffed so full that I could hardly move, but I couldn’t compete with Bern and Leonard Rasmussen [a family friend] who were the easy winners of the big eaters’ contest.
Fortunately, between dinner and supper, we had a few outdoor chores (milking cows and feeding animals) which relieved some of the pressure on our stomachs before returning for more food (GROAN! GROAN!)

Pickled Herring (Grandma Berg’s recipe)
Jar of pickled herring fillets without the cucumber pickles [They can be purchased at your local grocery store]
Cut the herring into bite-sized pieces and place a layer in a glass bowl.
Cover with thinly-sliced red onions.
Follow with alternate layers of herring and red onions until the herring have all been used.
Brine: ½ cup water
½ cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 Teaspoon mixed spices
Boil brine for 5 minutes. Allow to cool. Strain to remove spices.
Pour over herring and onion layers.
Let marinate for several days before eating. Note—do not sample early!

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Swedish Christmas Eve

Mother’s parents emigrated from Sweden in the early part of the 20th century.
These are the Swedish/Canadian Christmas customs passed on to their family . . .

My mom and Dad with her parents and three of her brothers.
From Uncle Leif’s journal (Mother’s youngest brother):
Christmas on our farm was a very special occasion, and was celebrated according to Swedish traditions. The preparations were a lot of work for Mother, but she often said that Christmas was the happiest time of the year. She was always pleased to have all the family home for Christmas.
Mother would bring out the fine china and silverware for the festive season from Christmas eve through New Year’s Day. Great care was taken as she carefully transferred these exquisite dishes from the glass china cabinet to the dining room table. Only during these special occasions were meals served in the dining room.
The round dining room table was expanded with extra leaves, then covered with a special white linen tablecloth which her mother had woven back in Sweden. Two white candles complemented the tablecloth.
Traditionally, the Christmas Eve meal was to be all white (Lutefisk, mashed potatoes, canned peas in white sauce, turnip or boiled carrots, white bread, milk and rice pudding), but Mother included some colorful home grown vegetables. The main dish, of course, was the scrumptious lutefisk (Pickled cod fish) served with melted butter and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper.
I’m not sure how the lutefisk was prepared other than being wrapped in a dish towel and steamed to the right ‘texture’. If it turned jellylike, it was not right! Would you believe there are actually some family members who do not appreciate the delicacy of lutefisk?
The meal was not complete without dessert, a large bowl of rice pudding covered with fresh, thick cream. An almond nut was always mixed into the pudding. By tradition, the person who ate the almond would be the next to marry. Fortunately, one was not compelled to marry, otherwise I would have been married several times before I was sixteen years old!
Another custom we followed was to be formally dressed for meals served in the dining room, with shirts and ties for Dad and the boys and best dresses for Mother and Enes.

After supper, everyone pitched in with washing the dishes, putting the leftover food away, and getting prepared for the arrival of Santa Claus. The youngest members of the family checked periodically to see if Santa had dropped off the gifts in the sleigh near the front steps. Finally, presents arrived and were passed out and enjoyed late into the evening. Of all the many joys experienced in childhood, none can compare to the joy of receiving Christmas presents from Santa!

This is the BIG ONE!
And I need your help . . .
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I need your vote!
It's simple and REALLY effective.
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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas: Swedish Style!

Mother’s parents emigrated from Sweden in the early part of the 20th century.
These are the Swedish/Canadian Christmas customs passed on to their family . . .

From Uncle Roy:
Preparation for Christmas began quite some time before the day.
Lutfisk and herring were ordered early. Lutefisk—cod cured in a lye (sodium hydroxide) solution—was bought tightly packed in a wooden box. It did not require refrigeration, though detractors felt that its smell and texture might have been improved by this practice.
Whole herring (Sill in Swedish) was cured in brine and was available in wooden pails about a half-gallon in size.
Several weeks before Christmas, Mama would fillet the herring, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and store them in vinegar with chopped onions, cucumber pickles, dill and cloves—delicious!
Roll mops of today, approximate Sill but do not equal its favour.
Mama also prepared large quantities of several kinds of Swedish cookies, fruit cake, special breads and cinnamon buns.
About a week before Christmas, Papa bought a spruce tree in Duchess or Brooks. There were no native evergreens on the prairie where we lived. We set the tree up in the living room and decorated it with ornaments, ribbons and real candles (although they were never lit for fear of fire).
Of course, Santa Claus brought the presents. We began to suspect that Santa had some help when large parcels arrived from Eaton’s via the mail train. After school, we brought these parcels home but we never saw them opened. They were whisked into the parlor which was out of bounds with the doors closed for a month of more before Christmas. Papa would sequester himself in the parlor for a day or two before Christmas, engaged in some mysterious activity.

Tomorrow Christmas Eve, Swedish style.

This is the BIG ONE!
And I need your help . . .
Daughter of Ishmael is up for the big award: Book of the year!
I need your vote!
It's simple and REALLY effective.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas in a One-Room Schoolhouse

Photo Credit
Christmas in a One-Room Schoolhouse.
From the journal of Uncle Leif (Mother’s youngest brother)

Preparations for the Christmas concert often started the first week of November. It was a big undertaking for the teacher to maintain the regular school classes plus organize the rehearsals for the concert.
I remember one teacher who broke down and cried because of the lack of progress made by students in learning their parts.
A temporary stage was erected out of railroad ties and box-car, grain-bin panels. One of the area farmers hauled the ties and panels from the local grain elevator with a team and hay rack.
On the day of the concert, students’ desks were placed at the back of the one-room school. Next the old wooden benches stored in the basement were brought up, dusted off and placed in rows. Gas lamps were filled with fuel and the mantles checked. A large spruce tree was set up and decorated.
Finally, everything was ready for the big event.
The old schoolhouse was packed to overflowing.
With all the students on the stage, the concert opened with O Canada and a selection of Christmas Carols. Then followed plays, even some years, Dicken’s Christmas Carol. The student with the best memory would have the part of Scrooge.
Interspersed throughout were individual recitations, singing and the playing of musical instruments.
Even though the parts were often delivered in a monologue with little expression, the audience, sprinkled with adoring parents, applauded with enthusiasm.
The highlight of the evening was the visit from Santa Claus carrying a large bag of toys for all the students and pre-school children. Each student, as well as many visiting children, received a bag of candy and nuts, as well as an apple, and a Japan-grown orange available only at Christmas. What a treat!
Following the concert, the adults removed the stage and most of the benches in preparation for the dance.
Music was supplied by any locals who played an instrument. Everyone, including the children, had a great time dancing or just bouncing around to the beat of the music.
At midnight or later, lunch brought by the ladies, was served.
Finally, babies who had been sleeping on piles of clothes were dressed.
Families gathered themselves together for the trip home—tired by happy.
Nothing could compare to Christmas time in a one-room school!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Welcome Christmas!

Five years ago, we welcomed Christmas . . .

Last night, we invited a bunch of the grandkids over to help Gramma and Grampa bring in Christmas.
It was . . . fun.
Though many of said grandkids suffer from an extremely short attention span.
We did manage to get the tree up, largely due to the efforts of one daughter-in-law.
And decorated.
Gramma was over digging through the boxes.
Alternately exclaiming and wiping tears.
As always, getting out the decorations is a trip down memory lane.
Old and fragile works of art made by little fingers from as long as thirty-five years ago.
Many no longer able to be safely hung on the tree, but enjoyed only from their places of refuge.
For example, popcorn on a string doesn't last.
Just FYI.
I love Christmas!
This is what we finally managed to accomplish . . .
Gramma's Village

You can't see them all, but there are 22 stockings there. And more on the way . . .

What's Christmas without a mantel . . .

. . . or Santa's laundry?
Christmas Buddies                      
And just because we're Tolleys (Yeah, I don't get it either . . .)

And the main event!

And then I got to sleep with Santa!

Don't you just love Christmas?!
Gearing up to do the same tonight.
Wish us luck . . .

Monday, December 4, 2017

South 'Escher'ton Common

In Edmonton, there is a place
That used to be a field.
Where once stood crops, now people race
And stores have been revealed.

It saves us from the ‘Downtown’ crowd;
            The spinning, seething mob.
The commute long, the sirens loud,
            Where people weave and bob.

‘South Edmonton Common’ is its name,
            And it can cure your ills,
‘S for buying things of every fame,
            From basic through to ‘frills’.

But though it has a lot of stores
            In its quarter-section size,
It’s also known for something more -
            Its streets. I will apprise:

Straight streets? A few, I will admit,
            But mostly curved, you’ll find.
The unfamiliar driver sits,
            Or drives like one is blind.

With curves and twists to stupefy,
            And blocks and blocks contrived,
You’ll wish you were a bird, that flies,
            So you can sight. Then dive.

Though there’s beauty - bright, serene,
            With tons of treasures hid,
What truly needles me is this:
What’s wrong with a grid?!

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.

And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

And next week, from my friends, and me, 
Our Happiest Family Memory!

All of My Friends

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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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