Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 9, 2013

To All the Cookies I've Loved Before

Cookie Monsters
The ultimate in snack foods. 
That perfect balance of sugars, grains, fats, and deliciousness.
And the most unique and perfect forum for getting small, semi-disguised chunks of chocolate into your mouth.
Chocolate that you can savor, but dismiss as insignificant when tallying your calorie count at day's end.
Or at least I can.
I love cookies.
And I make the mistake of baking them on a regular basis.
Call me a glutton for punishment.
Or just a glutton.
My six children have been raised on my cookies. Mostly with some form of chocolate as a noteworthy ingredient. 
They love those small handfuls of pure perfection as much as I do.Bliss.
But life, and reality, tend to sneak up on you and smack you soundly, just when you aren't paying attention. And so it was with my cookie consumption.
I was going merrily along, enjoying my cookie-filled life until, one day, I drug my favorite and freshly-washed jeans out of the drawer . . . and couldn't do them up.
Now I know this has happened to many of us, and certainly is nothing new, but it was a first time for me.
And it made me . . . unhappy.
To make matters worse, which we all try to do far too often, I decided to step on the scale.
I should note here, that the person who invented the scale, and non-stretchy clothes, was a nasty, evil individual. But I digress . . .
I had to make some changes.
Or buy a new wardrobe.
Finances won. Losing weight was in order. And the first thing to go was my mostly-cookie diet.
I baked one last batch . . . and started eating them as though they constituted my last meal on earth.
Finally, heroically, I put the lid on the still-half-full cookie jar and left the room.
But they . . . called to me.
Cookies do that.
Finally, I could stand it no longer. I answered that call.
I went back into the kitchen and discovered that my beloved cookie jar . . . was empty.
At first, dismay.
Then, relief.
"Who ate all the cookies?"
From somewhere in the house, my daughter, Tiana's voice, "Tristan!"
Then my son Tristan's voice, "Sorry!"
Me. "Thank you Tristan! I just couldn't leave the silly things alone!"
A pause, then my daughter's voice again, "Tiana!"
The cookie doesn't fall far from the tree.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pig Rodeo

Admit it . . . this looks like fun!

Okay, we weren't supposed to do it.
In fact we had been strictly forbidden.
But we were kids.
Is that an excuse?
On the Stringam Ranch, two things were understood.
Horses were for riding.
That's what they were there for.
Pigs were food.
They were to be fed and left alone so they could grow and . . . produce.
Stirring them up was something that kept them from achieving their purpose.
And riding them definitely . . . stirred them up.
But it was so much fun! One could walk into the pig pen and socialize.
Pigs are very social animals and they love to play. And after you have played 'pull the string' or 'follow the humans around the pen' or 'scratch me', the next logical step is 'ride the pig'.
Don't you agree?
Okay, Dad didn't see it, either.
He said that it might slow their growth.
Or injure their backs.
Pffff. What did he know?
I weighed all of 40 pounds and the pigs probably maxed out at 300.
No way I was going to hurt anyone's back.
And the pigs ran around all of the time. Riding them as they did so was a no-brainer.
And I had proven on countless occasions that the one thing I was naturally blessed with was the ability to function with no brain.
Moving forward many years . . .
My second son and I had just finished building our new corrals.
We had turned the cow and pig in together to mow down some of the weeds.
Nog, the pig, was huge.
And fat.
And slow moving.
What better time to introduce my youngest son to the wonderful world of 'pig riding'?
I suggested it.
"No, Mom," he said. "I'll fall off in the poop."
"It's a new pen and there haven't been any animals in there before." I pointed out logically. "There is no poop."
It took a bit of coaxing, but I finally convinced him.
I helped him straddle the broad, red back, then stood back.
"Isn't that fun?"
The pig stood for a moment, chewing. Then decided, in usual pig fashion, that where he really wanted to be was over . . . there!
He made a sharp left-hand turn.
Right out from under my son.
It was then that we discovered one of us had been right.
About the poop, I mean.
And it wasn't me.
Huh. Dad had been telling the truth all of those years ago.
Riding pigs is hazardous.
Just not to them. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013


My Dad is staying with us for a while.
It is a great comfort to have him here.
I’m not quite as worried about him when I can see him.
Not quite.
While he’s here, we’ve been going through an old box that my Mom left me when she passed away eleven years ago. I had given it a cursory glance at that time, and then put it away till ‘later’.
‘Later’ finally arrived.
Amongst her notes and papers, we found a large, brown envelope with the word, ‘Diane’ scrawled across it. I peeked inside. Then started pulling out pictures, old report cards, even the program for a play I was in over thirty years ago. It was a treasure trove from my life. Beginning - as was obvious by a picture of me taken soon after I was born - on the very first day.
Oh, the memories.
Near the bottom of the pile, I found three letters that I had sent to my family during the excruciatingly painful semester I attended college far from home.
In one of those letters was the very first article I ever had published. Written by a very homesick seventeen-year-old country girl, far from home and missing her family. And simply titled:
I feel as if, somehow, I’ve been wronged. Don’t ask how or why, because I’m not even sure I know. I can guess, and maybe to put it down and get it out will help.
Have you ever stood at the edge of some huge canyon and, despite peril to yourself, looked out over the sheer drop? Do you get a feeling of weighing a ton, then a pound? That’s me now; weighed down, then buoyed up. Draggy, then light and carefree.
It’s rough.
I can make a guess at what’s wrong with me, ‘cause I miss Mommy, Daddy, family, friends, horse, cats, dog; any home attachments. I wish for a picture, letter, anything.
If I were to see a doctor, he could take one look at me and say, “Homesickness!”
There. It’s out. I’ve said it and it wasn’t so bad. The feeling hasn’t diminished at all however. My roommates claim it will, because it’s caused by my first absence from home, but I wonder if they get (or got) the same great touch of emptiness, not belonging, sadness, even the border of melancholy.
I doubt we all react in the same way to situations. In fact I know we don’t, so no one really knows exactly how I feel.
It’s like being a great, empty bulk, like a ballroom (or a canyon); or as if I was growing to meet the new on the outside, but with my inner part still at home, where things are at a normal and easy size to allow me to cope.
Maybe a visit would help ease the loneliness. It stands to reason that a gradual cut-off would be a lot easier than a sudden break.
Wouldn’t it?
As time slips by on its well-greased wheel, perhaps the sense of solitary confinement in a crowd will also go. I don’t know. Maybe having said what I did and getting it all out will have helped. Perhaps half of conquering a problem is just facing up to it.
Diane Stringam
September, 1973
It didn’t work. Getting it written down, I mean.
At the end of my first semester, I high-tailed it back to my familiar places.
Back to my family where I was happy.
It is still home and family, and memories of the same, that keep me happy.
Back to the box.
I’ll let you know what else I find . . .

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


My brother, George. And see? That person behind him? That's me. Ol' Eagle Eyes.
Okay, I admit it, I’m not very good at it.
Finding things, I mean.
I can be looking right at them, too.
Case in point . . .
Just last week, when unpacking groceries, I had handed an apple to my Dad for him to put in his fridge.
Me: “Did you put my apple in the fridge?”
Dad: “I always do what I’m told.”
Me: “So that’s a ‘yes’?”
Dad: “Yes.”
Me: “Well, I can’t find it!”
Dad: “Why am I not surprised?”
Me, opening drawers and generally making searching noises: “Are you sure? It’s not here anywhere!”
Dad: “It’s right there, dear. I put it right where you would be sure to see it.”
Me, closing a drawer for the third time: “Well, I can’t.”
Dad, sighing as he puts down his newspaper and gets out of his chair: “I know I put it there.”
Me: “Well, I can’t see it!”
Dad, standing beside me at the fridge and pointing: “Ah-ha!”
And there it was. Right in front of me. Sitting in lonely glory on a container of sour cream like it was on display.
Literally front and center.
I don’t know why I can’t see things.
I’d like to say it’s genetic.
And it is.
Except that it only follows from me down to my kids.
For example, at a recent family get-together, my oldest son and father of four, had gone to the garage to get a can of soda from the case of soft drinks placed on the cool, cement floor to chill them.
Literally at the base of the garage stairs.
One had to step over them to actually enter said garage.
Son, shouting: “Where did you say the pop was?”
Me: “At the bottom of the stairs!”
Son: “The garage stairs?”
Me: “Yes!”
Son: “Well, I’m standing right here and someone must have moved them because I can’t see them!”
Me: “I just put them there!”
Son: “They’re not here!”
Me, getting out of my chair and going to the garage door: “What are those?”
Son, spinning around and looking at the case of pop he just stepped over. “Oh.”
Me: “Ah-ha!”
See? Genetic.
And this brings up another point.
Did you notice the ‘ah-ha’?
Well that started several years ago when I was looking for something.
Because I was always looking for something.
Dad had cheerfully gotten out of his easy chair and joined the search.
Peering at the floor near his chair, he had uttered the fateful words, “Ah-ha!”
Me, hope flaring, as I spun around: “Did you find the (magazine/book/sandwich/necklace/shirt/boots/shoes/toy/blanket/sister/horse/cow/calf)?!”
Dad: “Nope. Not here, either.”
And thus began a distinctly unhelpful family tradition.
When something is found/not found, the finder/non-finder always utters the fateful words: “Ah-ha!”
I have to go now.
I can’t find my glasses.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Gramma and Grampa Berg
It was a magical time. 
Gramma Berg was staying over. 
For days and days. 
And she could always be counted on for a snuggle, or a story, or a song, or a treat.
In that order.
Gramma moved slowly. The result of having a shattered kneecap. I only knew that she couldn't get away from me.
Oh, and that she had crutches.
I loved those crutches. It didn't occur to my four-year-old intellect that they were a necessary part of Gramma’s mobility. I saw only that they were just right for me. 
I would put the little bar (intended as a hand hold) under my arms and, with the top half of each crutch weaving far over my head, hop from one end of the house to the other. Then back. Then back again.
All day.
Sometimes I would mix it up a little and hold up the left leg instead of the right. Either was exciting. 
And daring.
Okay, I was four. My life to date hadn't been filled with momentous events. 
But I digress . . .
There was one problem with my fascination for Gramma’s crutches. She needed them. And I usually had them. Somewhere else.
Something had to be done.
My Dad, always excited at the prospect of a new engineering task, saw an opportunity. He would make new crutches. My size.
Happily, he spent many hours in the blacksmith shop, designing, measuring, cutting. Crafting. Finally, voila! Crutches. Perfect four-year-old size. 
Excited, he brought them to the house. 
Unfortunately, it was nap time and I was blotto on the couch, having passed out during Friendly Giant.
Not one to let such a minor thing as a sleeping child thwart him, Dad stood me up and thrust the crutches under my arms.
I can picture it now. Small, skinny white-haired child – literally - asleep on her feet. Head lolling to one side. A tiny snore. (Okay, my imagination’s good. I admit it.) Dad holds her up with one hand while trying to brace the crutches under her arms with the other. For this story, a Dad with three hands would probably be advisable. She folds like cooked spaghetti. He tries again. Same result. Finally, defeated, he lays her back on the couch and braces the crutches against it for her to find when she is a bit more . . . conscious.
Which she does.
From then on, my crutches and me were inseparable. They were even tied behind when I went riding. I almost forgot how to walk. Strangers to the ranch would shake their heads sadly at the little crippled child making her way across the barnyard. Then nod and acknowledge that she sure had learned how to move quickly, poor little mite. I feel guilty for the deception. 
Well, a little. 
A real little.
Okay, not at all.
I certainly learned to manoeuvre those little crutches. The only thing I never mastered was walking while lifting both feet at the same time. And, believe me, I tried.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, Gramma was delighted to have her crutches back. She could get around once more. She could be portable, helpful, useful. All the qualities she found so satisfying. 
Me. Age four. With some friends.
She could even challenge me to a race.
I won.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Depths of Winter

Based on a joke my Dad likes to tell . . .

He went out as the morning sun,
Made new snow glisten bright.
The world was still, the air was cold
The storm passed with the night.

He carefully prepared his mount
With blankets and with tack,
The snow had stopped, the wind had died
He had cattle now to check.

The two of them moved carefully
Into the world of white.
Their breath streamed out behind them
Making clouds in morning light.

But it wasn’t long before he stopped
And looked about him there.
Then pulled his ‘cell phone from his coat
And dialled his wife with care.

“Hi, Hon!” he said with chatt’ring teeth,
Just thought I’d give a call,
To let you know I’m heading back,
Things don’t look good at all.”

“The snow out here’s too deep,” he said.
“It’s cold and wet, I’ve found.
It’s reached the tops of both my boots
It’s hard to get around.”

His puzzled wife said to her man.
“Your boot tops aren’t tall.
“I don’t see how a drift that deep
Could hamper you at all.”

Her husband frowned, “They don’t,” he said.
“Well, they don’t bother me.
But this poor horse I’m sitting on.
He simply cannot see.”
Dad in winter . . .

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