Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Only the Nose Knows

Caution: Disgusting nose action
Markie: He of the cute little nose . . .

I'm a good mother.
I am.
Or I thought I was.
It was a normal day in our world.
Husby off to school.
Baby fed and napping.
Toddler in his chair, eating breakfast.
I would add sunshine streaming in through the freshly-cleaned and gleaming windows.
And a canary singing cheerfully in the background, but that would stretch reality.
And we want this to be believable.
Moving on . . .
I turned to get another spoonful of cream-of-wheat.
Just as Markie sneezed.
I turned back.
Something was sticking out of his little nose.
Something long and . . . squarish.
A french fry.
How on earth did he get a french fry up his nose.
And without either his father or I seeing it?!
And, even more importantly . . .
I suddenly felt like the world's worst mom.
My little boy had somehow shoved a french fry up his nose, in plain view of both his father and I and we had missed it.
How do you spell 'inattentive'?
I pulled it out.
My boy survived the operation.
And cheerfully continued with his breakfast.
Little monkey.
But I've never quite been able to look a french fry in the face since.
So to speak.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Stress and Soffit - or - Is There Such a Thing as Sleep-Carpentry?


Shortly after we were married, Grant took a job as foreman at a housing plant.
Where they built pre-fabricated homes.
He was good at his job.
And it was two minutes from where we lived.
He was home for lunch every day.
As well as for breakfast and dinner.
For his new bride, life was perfect.
For the man actually going out to work . . .
It wasn't.
The job was very stressful.
Many bosses.
Several without any knowledge of building.
Any knowledge.
He carried on.
For two years.
He had a family to feed.
But the stress started to tell.
He developed health issues.
And stopped sleeping.
That's when he started making noises about going to school.
Grant had been in school when we started dating, but had quit to take a job after we were married.
Now, he realized that he had made a mistake and wanted to correct it.
I was unconvinced.
How would we provide for ourselves if we had no income?
So he continued on.
Growing more and more unhappy.
And sleeping less and less.
One time, he suddenly snorted, sat up on the edge of the bed and started getting dressed.
“Honey, where are you going?” I asked. “It's 4 AM.”
He jumped and looked around. “Oh,” he said. “Oh.”
He pulled off his shirt, lay back down, and was instantly snoring.
Is there a term for sleep-dressing?
Probably . . . sleep-dressing.
Moving on . . .
One night, around 3 AM, I was sleeping quietly.
Suddenly, Grant shot up in bed, grabbed me by the collar of my pyjamas, pulled me to a sitting position in the bed and shouted, “You hold the ladder! I'll nail the soffit!”
My sleep-fogged brain vaguely discerned that these were 'house-building' terms.
“Honey, you're dreaming,” I said, rather shakily. “Go back to sleep.”
He wasn't to be deterred.
He shook me slightly. “Okay?!”
“Okay!” I said.
“Good.” He dropped me and flopped back onto the bed.
Seconds later, I could hear his soft snore.
He had been asleep the whole time.
I, however, would probably never sleep again.
I was finally convinced.
Grant went back to school.
He studied History, Arts and Anthropology.
Finally achieving a doctorate.
His health instantly improved.
As did his sleeping habits.
He no longer sleep-dressed.
Or roughed up his wife.
And you can bet that the installation of any soffit was in broad daylight.
With real hammers.
And real soffit, for that matter.
Going back to school was a good decision.
Though with two tiny babies and a wife to feed, it had seemed anything but.
It just took some convincing of said wife.
Fortunately, he was a good convince-er.
Sometimes, I wonder if he was really asleep . . .

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Angels Among Us

There are angels around us.
And they appear in the unlikeliest places.
When they are most needed . . .
Our family had fallen on hard times.
It happens to everyone.
It was our turn.
My Husby had been out of work for some time.
And it looked as though he would remain out of work for some time more.
We were 'economizing'.
We had given up everything that was not strictly necessary.
And we were living off our food storage.
The last thing I wanted to give up . . . and indeed the last thing I did give up was our milk deliveries.
The thought of living on skim milk powder from our storage was . . . how can I say this tactfully . . . horrifying.
But we were about to do it.
Our milkman, John, was a very nice man.
And no, none of our kids look like him.
Just FYI.
Moving on . . .
I dreaded telling him that this next delivery would be our last.
But our precious store of capital was rapidly dwindling, despite our best efforts.
And the job had to be done.
He arrived, carrying our order of milk, cheese and cream.
And I told him, tearfully, that we couldn't afford deliveries any longer.
He just grinned and handed me a note.
It read: “Happy birthday . . . or something . . . for the next four months.”
I stared at it.
Then at John.
What on earth did it mean?
“Someone has paid for your milk deliveries for the next four months,” he said, finally.
Okay, so quick, I'm not.
“Someone has taken over paying your milk bill for the next four months.”
His grin widened. “I can't tell you.”
Sigh. Some people are slow.
“I can't tell you,” he repeated patiently. “Someone, who wishes to remain anonymous, has asked that your bill be forwarded to them for the next four months.”
“It was you, wasn't it, John.”
It was more a statement than a question.
He laughed. “I can absolutely guarantee that it was not me,” he said. “Cross my heart.”
I stared at him suspiciously for a few minutes.
Then finally took the carton of dairy products from him and allowed him to carry on with his route.
And that's when the tears started.
Who knew that we were having such difficulties?
And, more importantly, who cared enough to do this for us?
Moving ahead four months . . .
My Husby once more happily employed and a steady trickle of money flowing into the family coffers, I took my last free delivery of milk.
And was happy to tell John that deliveries could continue.
On our nickle.
I never did find out who our Good Samaritan was.
They had swooped in and helped.
Just when they were needed.
Then swooped out again.
But definitely not heartless.
To my Angel, and you know who you are . . . THANK YOU!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

War and Chocolate for Dessert

How do you relax after dinner?

Okay, I admit it.
Our family is weird.
We like theatrics.
And things medieval.
Case in point:
My husband has a collection of catapults.
Yes, you read that correctly.
He loves them.
Oh, they're not large enough to cause havoc.
And certainly not of a size to terrorize the neighbourhood.
Although I wouldn't mention that to him.
It might give him ideas.
Moving on . . .
No. His catapults are small.
Suitable for launching little, foil-wrapped chocolates.
Which he does.
Usually after family meals.
Our family is large.
And we have two tables in our dining room.
One round table, built by my Husby and seen here.
And one smaller table, also built by my Husby, which seats all of the grandchildren.
It is to this smaller table that he retreats after the meal is done.
With his grandkids, his catapults and his stockpile of chocolate balls.
Which he and his little army then proceed to fire at anyone left sitting at the main table.
Remember when I mentioned 'weird'?
That would apply here.
I should point out that the balls of chocolate don't hurt.
The little catapults barely throw them with sufficient force to get them to the other table.
Back to my story . . .
The usual targets of the invading hoards are their wife and/or mothers and/or grandmother.
Who have all learned to duck when needed.
I should also mention that, perhaps fortunately, their aim isn't great.
One day, we had just finished one of Grandpa's sumptuous feasts and he and assorted grandchildren had set up a siege at the kid's table.
Several of the moms were still sitting at the main table.
One of our granddaughters, five-year-old Kyra, came to tell her mother something.
Her timing was . . . unfortunate.
She had placed herself right in the line of fire.
So to speak.
A chocolate ball whizzed towards her.
With unusual, but deadly precision.
Right in the forehead.
She gasped and clapped one hand over the spot.
Everyone burst out laughing.
She wavered between laughter and tears for a few seconds.
Then her mother told her that she got to eat the offending chocolate ball.
And any thought of tears was forgotten.
She hunted for, and ate, the treat.
Then disappeared.
A few minutes later, she was back.
“Mom, can I have another chocolate ball?”
Her mother looked at her. “You have to let Grampa shoot one at you first.”
She thought about that for a moment.
Then she put both hands, palms out, over her forehead and stood up tall. “Okay, Grampa! I'm ready!”
It comes in all shapes and sizes.
And ages.
But never more noticeable than in a weird family.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Warming Up Winter

One of the 4-H'ers. With calf.
The 4-H'er is holding the halter. It's the calf who's wearing it.
Just FYI.
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.
Then convinced the powers that be.
And the club was formed.
With eleven new members.
Calves were purchased.
Things were underway.
Then the man 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.
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?"
Warming, memorable, educational and satisfying.
On so many levels.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Sing it, Sam"

Oh, please! Not that song again!

I grew up on a large old Southern Alberta ranch.
Among cattle, horses and hired men.
I loved it.
I spent many happy hours riding (or sleeping) on the horses.
Chasing the barn cats.
Catching mice.
Wandering through the corrals and feed lots.
Or my favourite, watching the hired men.
It was while doing the last, that I received both my nickname and my signature song.
Let me tell you about it . . .
The Stringam Ranch generally employed six or more hired men.
They worked hard.
Wrangling cattle.
Breaking horses.
Doing one of the myriad tasks that were ranching.
But, inevitably, each job included one extra task.
Watching over Diane.
I don't want to say that I was always under foot but . . .
Okay. I was always under foot.
When they were in the corral with the horses, I was perched on the fence.
When they were milking the cows, I was sitting on one of the empty stools.
When they were hauling hay, I was in the cab of the truck, nose pressed against the back window.
Yep. If anything was happening, you can bet Diane was in the middle of it.
I should point out, here, that these men were good men.
Hard working.
A bit rough around the edges.
But that I never heard one curse word from any of them.
Looking back, I'm sure they knew these words.
They just never used them around me.
Believe me, I would have repeated anything I heard.
Moving on . . .
It must have been a trifle . . . inconvenient . . . having the boss' four-year-old daughter always under foot.
They never complained.
In fact, they even had a nickname for me.
Which I loved.
And gave me my very own song, “Danny Boy”.
Which I didn't.
I'm not sure who was the first to discover this song.
Or my aversion to it.
But the word quickly spread.
Soon, whenever I would appear, someone would begin singing, “Oh, Danny boy! The pipes, the pipes are calling . . .”
Whereupon (good word) I would cover both of my ears and scream, “Noooooo!”
Then run away.
It was magical.
Not one word need be said.
And they could continue their work in peace.
Moving forward thirty years.
When my youngest son, Tristan was born, he was our 'Little Warty Boy'.
I'm not sure who came up with this.
Or why.
He didn't have warts or anything.
It just seemed to fit.
He even got a song. (Sung to the tune of 'Surfer Girl')
“Little tiny warty boy,
Fills my heart with so much joy.
Do you love me,
Little Warty Boy?”
We sang this for years.
Until he was about four and abruptly developed an aversion to it.
Suddenly, he began covering his ears and screaming, “Noooooo!” whenever someone started singing.
I felt his pain.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


My Dad was born 87 years ago today.
This post is for him . . .
Daddy, Me and an interloper my brother, George

Dad and Mom had decided to move our family into our town house.
To save Mom some of the driving duties.
But my Dad was the lone veterinarian in the Milk River area.
His practice covered may hundreds of square miles.
A lot of ground.
Add to that, his own ranching duties and the requirements of a husband and father.
'Busy' would have been a vast understatement.
He did it all.
But sacrifice was required.
Usually in the form of early and late hours spent away from his family.
And now, with his family ensconced in the house in town, Dad had even more time away from us.
Oh, we saw him occasionally.
Just not often enough.
I missed him.
He was the centre of my four-year-old world.
Town life was also difficult in other ways.
When we were living on the ranch, we had no neighbours.
Other than those employed there.
Living in town, we did.
Have neighbours.
And we discovered that those neighbours observed eachother's actions.
They noticed when Dad left the house at 4 AM.
And returned sometime after midnight.
On occasion, they commented . . .
It was a beautiful, sunny summer day.
Early afternoon.
I should have been napping.
But had escaped as soon as Mom had dozed off.
I was playing happily in the yard with other kids from the neighbourhood.
I'm not sure what we were doing.
Probably something we shouldn't.
A truck came down the street.
A familiar truck.
I stared at it.
Then squealed happily and ran towards the drive way.
“Daddy! Daddy!”
As soon as he stepped from the vehicle, I launched myself at him.
Still screaming happily.
He scooped me up for a big hug.
Then, carrying me, started to walk towards the house.
Our neighbour was standing on his driveway.
Dad looked at him. “You'd think she was happy to see me,” he said.
“I'm surprised she knows you!” came the response.
Town life.
With neighbours.
Who can be counted on for anything.
Especially pointing out our shortcomings.

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