Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Just Spray Your Bears Away!

Hold your breath and shake!

It was a hot summer afternoon.
And my Husby kept a small can of bear/pepper spray in his night table.
These two statements are connected.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In Edmonton, Alberta, we have beautiful summers.
We wait all year for them.
And they are worth it.
For about three weeks of said summers, the thermometer actually reaches 'uncomfortable'.
Edmontonians head for the pools or hide in their cool, dim basements.
The latter is where our family was.
Happily watching a movie. Minding our own business.
Okay, most of us.
Our middle son, sixteen-year-old Duff, was upstairs.
Raiding the kitchen.
Our second son, Erik was also upstairs.
In the front room.
Working on a model.
Duff finished eating and started wandering around. We heard his footsteps go into our bedroom.
Then we heard the front door close as he headed outside.
Shortly afterwards, Erik, still hard at work on his model, started sneezing.
Finally, he came downstairs. “I' don't know what kind of aftershave Duffy uses,” he gasped, “but I think I'm allergic!”
And then our youngest son started to sneeze.
I turned and stared at him.
Suddenly, my Husby gasped, “My bear spray!” He looked at the rest of us. “Everybody out!” he bellowed.
Yes. Bellowed.
We held our breath and charged in a disorganized scramble for the stairs.
Once outside, we huddled in a group on the lawn and stared at the house.
“So what do we do now? I asked.
Husby shrugged. “Open all of the doors and windows and let the place air out.”
“How long will that take?”
He shrugged again. Then bravely went back inside to open what doors and windows he could.
“There – achoo! – I think – achoo! - that's got them – achoo! - for now,” he said, rejoining us.
We looked at each other.
“Who wants to go up to the store for a doughnut?” Husby asked.
A chorus of positive responses.
Ten minutes later, we were wandering around in the grocery, munching fresh doughnuts.
I will state here that nothing can make bad experiences go away faster than fresh doughnuts.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Moving on . . .
After about an hour, Husby suggested that we head home.
“Is it safe?” I asked.
“We'll see.”
Once more, we were huddled on our front lawn.
Once more, he bravely approached the front door.
He moved inside.
More nothing.
“I think it's all right,” he said.
The rest of us cautiously joined him.
I could still smell pepper.
But it was no longer overpowering.
A thorough vacuuming and dusting soon eliminated it completely.
Later that evening, Duff told us what had happened. “I was looking through Dad's night table for some tweezers,” he said. “And I saw the can of bear spray. I picked it up and, out of curiosity, pressed the button.”
He grinned. “That's all I remember. I was blind, deaf and dumb for about five minutes. All I could think of was getting outside as quickly as possible.”
“You could have hollered or something!” Husby said.
“I couldn't do anything!” Duff said.
Please note: Bear/pepper spray is effective.
Really, really effective.

There is a codicil.
Several years later, we installed hardwood in the entire upper floor of our house.
As Husby was removing the carpet in our bedroom, I could suddenly smell of pepper.
“I smell pepper!” I observed brilliantly.
Husby stopped and sniffed. “I do, too,” he said. He looked at me. “Huh. Must still be left from Duff's pepper attack.”
“But that was six years ago.”
He shrugged. “Pepper obviously lasts.”
The final lesson here?
Bear/pepper spray is effective and lasts a long time.
One application and bears and/or family members will stay away for years!
Now you know.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Making Do

Even on holidays . . .

A friend told me a story.
A true one.
About his grandfather during the food rationing days of the Second World War.
The friend's grandmother had been to the grocery store and purchased, among other things, a new tin of pepper.
Which she set on the table.
Her husband picked it up and studied it for a moment. He looked at her and said, “This pepper is half peas!”
“Oh, for heaven's sake!” she said. “I thought I looked at it!”
I should explain, here, that, during the war, creative ways of extending food were discovered and explored. They called it ersatz. I'm not sure where the name came from, but it was expressive. Many different readily available foodstuffs were dried and powdered and added to other foods not so easily come by. Corn meal, for example, was widely used.
The use of dried peas, though not as usual, was not unheard of.
Another can of pepper was procured the next day.
Again, the grandfather picked up the little tin.
“Huh,” he said. “This one is half peas, too.”
His wife snorted in disgust. “Well, there's only one kind left,” she said. “I'll try that one tomorrow.”
She did.
She proudly set the third little tin on the table in front of her husband and proceeded to get his dinner.
He picked up the tin and peered at it closely. “Yep,” he said. “Half peas.”
“What?! I looked at it! Where does it say . . .” her voice trailed off.
Her husband was pointing at the 'Pepper' part of the label. “Here,” he said. “See? P-E-P-P-E-R. Half of the letters are p's.”
Oh. P's. Not peas.
She didn't upend the tin over him or anything drastic like that.
But I'm sure they had pepper to last until the turn of the century.
This story reminded me of my Mom.
She was raised during the Depression years and knew very well the days of rationing and going without.
She learned very early to 'make do”.
And to purchase things quickly, when they became available.
Her parents bought a large, twenty-five pound tin of peanut butter, for example. Oil on peanut butter rises. The first two-thirds of the container were edible. The last third had to be run through a meat grinder to make it spreadable.
But they ate it.
Several large cans of cherry jam appeared at the local grocery.
Her Dad quickly snapped one up.
At first, cherry jam was a treat.
Served at every meal, it became a bit tiresome.
Still, it disappeared.
In her own home, Mom tried to practise what she had been taught throughout her life.
Waste not want not, she often told us.
Some of her attempts were successful.
Others . . . not so much.
When there was no milk cow on the place, she tried to extend the life of the milk container in the fridge by added powdered milk to it.
Fooling no one.
She tried purchasing the cheapest brand of peanut butter.
Unfortunately, her children hadn't been raised during the Depression and were finer-mouthed than their parents.
The cheaper peanut butter languished on the shelf.
Finally, in desperation, she bought the favourite kind. Which disappeared in a flash.
Coining the phrase, “I'm going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!”
She made her own roast beef sandwich spread by running cold roast beef through the meat grinder, along with some pickles. Then mixing in some mayonnaise.
That one was a hit. We kids loved sandwiches spread with beef and pickle hash.
I'm sure that, through the years, Mom saved our family a boatload of money with her careful ways.
Unfortunately, my children were even finer-mouthed than we had been.
One day, one of my kids saw her adding water to the ketchup.
I had seen her do that before. It made the ketchup a bit runnier, but still tasted okay.
The child was horrified and told all of his siblings.
And she became, forever, the grandma who put water in the ketchup.
The lesson in frugality and making do was completely lost.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Taking Time

I have a thing about time.
I am a clock-watcher.
I have to know the time at any given moment.
Day or night.
I didn't realize just how bad I was until I was in hospital after the birth of our third son.
He was born at 9:30 in the evening and I was so keyed up that I couldn't sleep.
All night long.
I'm sure you've heard people say, “It was the longest night of my life.”
Well, that night was.
I kept listening for stirrings that would indicate the coming of day.
But in a hospital, in a maternity ward, there are constant stirrings.
From that day to this, I have made sure that I have some sort of time-keeper handy.
Moving on . . .
For all of his life, Dad was a rancher.
He was good at it.
Now 87, he pours his energy and meticulous nature into the making of clocks.
Beautiful, inlaid, hand-crafted, gently-chiming clocks.
Which he then sells.
Usually to me.
I now have five of them.
With one more on the way.
They, together with my tall grandfather's clock, adorn various parts of my living room.
Even their ticking is noticeable.
When they collectively chime the quarter hours and then the hours, it's pretty nearly deafening.
I love it.
And have gotten so accustomed to it that I often don't even notice.
Sort of like living next to a set of very busy train tracks.
Sort of.
Oh, I have comments.
“It sounds like a clock shop in here!”
“I feel like I'm in some sort of creepy movie!”
Okay, I'm not sure that the person who made that last statement was totally talking about the clocks.
Ahem . . .
And my favourite, “Could someone please tell me the correct time. I think it just chimed forty-two in here!”
Hey. Love me, love my clocks.
Get over it.
My first purchase in walnut and purple heart
One of the newest in walnut and maple
More details in Rocky Mountain Juniper

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sharing a Treasure

A guest post at the behest of my Husby.  :)

Please excuse my intrusion into your life today — I do it only because I wanted to share a great treasure with you, a treasure with which you are already familiar.  Allow me to explain.  Diane is too modest to do this herself.

About a year ago, I was not feeling very well.  Things got progressively worse until, on New Year’s Day 2012, I checked into the hospital via a zoo-like emergency room. Over the next several days I discovered what it was like to be a blood recipient rather than a 100+donor — and I had many long hours, betwixt and between several dozen poking-and-prodding-and-traipsing-around-inside-of-me medical tests, to contemplate where I was heading.

Some time before this I had begun writing a quirky little book that had been based on a birthday gift some years previous that I had written for my beloved Diane — yes, she whose wonderful and mostly-true blog posts you come here to read every day.  I realized that, given my new physical circumstances, I needed to finish my tribute to her, as quickly as possible.  So I spent many hours, among the poking and prodding and the sleepless nights, putting some of my thoughts down.

I would like to share those thoughts with you, only so that you too may come to know my Beloved Diane a little better.  She is worth getting to know.

Thanks to Diane’s great writing and editorial and journalistic skills, she has just put my scribblings up online as an e-book.  Please go to Smashwords at, and check out the title How to Live With A Woman of the Opposite Sex — or, All the Secrets of the Universe Unveiled in One Little Book.  I regret that it will cost you five bucks to have a peek at it, but I guarantee that you will find a greater treasure therein: the love story that is my Diane.

Thank you for your indulgence of my intrusion today. May each of you continue to enjoy my Diane, wherever and however you may find her.  She is a Treasure that I want to share with the world, whether I am in it or not.

Grant Tolley

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sharp and Pointy

He sees a work of art. I see a cutting  . . . thing.

My Husby plays with knives.
I guess you could call him a genuine aficionado.
When he sees a knife, he has to examine it.
Check out what steel it's made of.
Feel its balance.
Grade the overall quality of its construction.
Yep. Aficionado.
Several years ago, he and our second son, who inherited all of his father's love of knives, took a knife-making course.
This merely served to up the ante, so to speak.
Now the two of them are constantly examining and purchasing bits of steel that could be used in the creation process.
We have a forge in our back yard.
My garage is stacked with pieces of specialized woods and animal horns that would be 'absolutely perfect' for a particular knife handle.
And all the tools used in the cutting, grinding and polishing of fine steel sit where a normal person would park their car.
It keeps him happy.
And did I mention that we have very fine knives in our kitchen?
Well, we do.
Every shape and size imaginable.
They are S.H.A.R.P.
A little background here: Husby's grandmother was fond of saying that she could 'ride to Ovid on that knife' if she picked up a dull blade. Ovid was the next town from where she was born and raised. Husby's father listened. And passed along.
Back to my story . . .
Each knife in my kitchen has a specific purpose.
My Husby would be happy to elucidate.
At great length.
I wouldn't be listening.
Because I use only two.
A small, paring knife that he purchased for me in Corsica . . .
I should point out, here, that most people buy souvenirs when they travel. My Husby is the same. Except that said souvenirs invariably consist of something sharp and pointy.
With excellent steel, good balance and a really, really interesting handle.
He bought the first on our honeymoon. 
And continued.
Moving on . . .
My second knife is an ordinary-looking blade.
Just the right size for me.
Both are wrong.
Oh, they are good knives.
Do an excellent job.
Look nice.
But as my Husby is so fond of pointing out, they are not the right knife for whatever job I am requiring of them.
Invariably, when he comes into the kitchen when I am cooking, the first words out of his mouth are, “You're using the wrong knife.”
To which he is rewarded with a heated glare.
Let's face it, he's a brave man to say such things when his wife has something razor sharp and very pointy in one hand.
I have often told him so.
He just laughs.
But I will have the last laugh.
And I tell him that on his gravestone, it will read, “She used the wrong knife!”
Just FYI. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Demon Cleaner

First, let me apologize for my seeming inattention this past few days. Husby and I were in Mexico with friends and the Internet was virtually non existant. So to speak. More about that later . . .
Now for today's post:

See? Don't you wish you had one?

Mom’s kitchen and dining room floors were amazing.
Gleaming, shining clean.
Perfect for sliding about in one’s socks.
And the most exciting thing about her clean floors was the little demon that came out to clean them.
Let me tell you about it.
Once a week, Mom would move all of the kitchen and dining room chairs into the living room.
Which was an adventure itself. (See here. Go ahead. We’ll wait . . .)
And while my brother and I were thus engaged, she would get down on her hands and knees and scrub the floors.
And I do mean scrub.
Never, in the history of the world, were there cleaner floors.
I know, because I spent a lot of time down on them.
Ahem . . .
Following the scrubbing, Mom would bring out the wax.
And this was about the time that my brother and I would abandon our chair play and lay at the edge of the floor to watch.
Because after the wax was applied, the ‘demon’ came out.
It was green.
And had a rounded, wide head and a long, stiff tail.
And, if you looked carefully, little white eyes.
That stared at you.
It also had two sets of interchangeable little pads that snapped on and off.
Dark and ‘bristly’ or white, soft and ‘puffy’.
It was the latter that created the longed-for shine.
Mom would turn the demon over, snap on the soft pads and then flip it back and hit the switch.
Instantly the wide, white pads would begin to spin.
This was the best part.
As she polished, Mom would move the demon closer and closer to George and I.
Bravely, we would hold our ground. Daring each other to be the last to head, shrieking, for the nearest couch.
I should point out, here, that I never won.
George has nerves of steel.

There is a codicil:
Years later, when I was newly married with waxable floors, and my Mom had graduated to kitchen carpeting, I inherited the ‘demon’.
It still had the interchangeable pads.
And still achieved an amazing shine.
And still terrorized small children.
Full circle.

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