Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Join the Army. Get an Education. Part One.

Visiting with my Daddy for a few days.
We have lots of visiting to do.
So, a repost from a couple of years ago . . .
SupErik to the rescue
Drawn by Erik in Grade Nine
During Math class.
Don't ask.
Guest Post by Erik Tolley

Upon first sight, the army looks real cool.
The recruiting posters depict big, brawny, attractive soldiers (and strong, beautiful women soldiers, too) all dressed up in their warpaint and carrying automatic weapons and squelching about in the mud as if they're doing something constructive and enjoying it, too.
The posters usually include some sort of catch phrase like "Join the Army  - See the World" and "Be a Part of the Armed Forces, and You Could Look Like One of These Attractive Young Soldiers, Instead of the Lumpy, Greasy, Smelly, Disgusting Couch Potato You Are", which usually makes you want to improve your lifestyle by joining the army and squelching about in the mud, wearing warpaint and carrying an automatic weapon.
Unfortunately, the thought that mud, grease, and gunpowder don't necessarily improve you lifestyle all that much usually doesn't occur to people until after they're actually in the army.
This is why most civilians think that soldiers are idiots.
They are.
I can speak from experience on this one.
I'm an idiot and I'm in the army.
Enough said.
I first decided to join when I saw an ad in the newspaper. If I hadn't seen it, I might have gone on to lead a normal productive life. I might even have been a manager at an A & W restaurant by now. (A management position at McDonald's being too ambitious for me).
But such was not my destiny.
Oh, well.
When you first go into the recruiting center, they ask you what trade you were thinking of.
At this point, you blurt out whatever first comes into your head, because the only part of the army that you've ever heard of is the Infantry, and you don't want to stand there looking like an indecisive idiot while the paperwork-person stares at you.
So, you say Infantry.
Fortunately, the paperwork-person has seen dozens of morons like you every day since he or she joined the army, and he or she will give you a cute little pamphlet with another attractive picture and catchy slogan on the front, which outlines the basics of all the different trades in the army.
This will help you to decide better what you want to be, otherwise the army would be made up thousands of Infantry soldiers.
And one clerk named Homer.
Strangely, this little pamphlet doesn't point out the actual tasks that you would be forced to carry out in an actual war zone, such as getting shot and tortured.
For clarity, I have provided you with a little more information that will be invaluable in determining which trade to choose, or rather, which trades to avoid.
To be Continued . . .

Friday, June 7, 2013

Let Them Have Cake

I love hearing about people.
Where they came from.
Who their families were.
Their stories . . .

I have a good friend who was raised in a bakery.
Her family lived on the third floor of the building. The bakery was on the second, and the ‘workings’ (ovens and things) on the first.
I think it sounds like a small slice of heaven.
Or maybe a large slice. Pun intended.
This is a part of her story . . .
Her father immigrated to their small Alberta town as a young man, intent on finding his way.
He took a job at the local bakery and, using skills brought with him from the old country, quickly made himself useful.
There was a girl at that bakery.
A pretty girl.
Daughter of the owner.
Much to the owner’s dismay, the two quickly became an item. I expect it was all right for him to be a baker, but he wanted more for his daughter.
But she had other plans.
The two made arrangements to be married.
And the father/boss gave grudging permission, both for the ceremony, and for the time away from the shop. But he only gave them enough of said time to perform the actual ceremony. Then both of them were to be back at the store to work.
Yes, it sounds odd to me as well.
Moving on . . .
The two slipped away to be married.
An hour later, they were back, aprons donned and ready to work.
Now the young new husband was very handy at decorating cakes.
Very handy.
In fact, he had been doing most of the decorating in the shop almost since his arrival.
As a gift for his young bride, he had created something really special. A many-tiered cake, astoundingly decorated. With angels and trumpets and flowers painstakingly fashioned out of icing.
It had taken him some time.
Upon their return to the shop, he presented his gift.
It was . . . well received.
It was at that moment that another young groom came into the shop, intent on picking up the cake he had ordered for his celebration.
The cake, another decorated by our young husband, was duly handed over and paid for. Then, as the second groom carried his precious cargo out of the shop, he slipped.
And he and a mound of perfectly-arranged, meticulously-bedecked cake and frosting both hit the floor with a resounding splat.
He emerged unscathed.
The cake . . . didn’t.
The young man scrambled to his feet and stared down at the ruin of what had been a work of art.
And his gift to his new bride.
Dismay writ large, he looked over at the young baker.
Who, in turn, looked at his bride.
Who nodded silently.
Our young groom went into the back of the shop and emerged with his own gift. The one he had spent hours decorating for his beloved. The one she had enjoyed so briefly.
The two of them handed it silently over to the unhappy groom.
The story ends there.
I have to imagine the joy on the young man’s face.
The pain in the heart of the creator.
And that of his darling . . .
The two of them celebrated many, many years together. Took over the bakery and raised several children there.
There were other cakes.
Just as meticulously decorated.
Just as beautiful.
But none more appreciated than the first.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

To a Man's Heart . . .

This week's Wednesday words from Our Feathered Nest
Incline, recline, divine, bovine, ravine, machine 
valentine, engine, pine, enshrine, leonine, clandestine
Delores, your so devious . . .
Which to choose. Which to choose. Ah, scrap it, I'll take 'em all!

How can one not see poetry in these words?

Oh, Valentine, my Valentine,
Toward your kitchen, I incline.
What ecstasy again is mine,
Your bread is great, your cakes, divine.
At night upon my bed, recline,
For gastronomic Heaven pine
And toss my head, all leonine,
And think of trips so clandestine.
I’m lost in hunger’s great ravine,
Until I hear the bread machine.
And know perfection will be mine,
My engine fueled by food sublime.
Though my figure trends toward ‘bovine’.
Your name upon the stove enshrine.
And write in letters nine-by-nine,

My heart is yours, my Valentine.

Teach 'Em While They're Young!

My good friend and fellow writer, Christina Dymock has created something remarkable.
Okay, yes, there are other children's cook books out there.
But none of them are like this one . . .

Families! Start your ovens!
Or toasters . . . or can openers . . . or waffle irons . . . or blenders . . . or microwaves . . .
Finally a cook book that clearly explains the how, when, where, and why of cooking and baking to the smallest and most inexperienced of cooks, the children. With little tips, pictures and notes of interest to captivate short attention spans. And even a section on each recipe that explains just what adult supervision may be necessary.
From the first page explaining clearly and simply the techniques and processes used in today’s cooking, through the first recipe for super yummy Pink Smoothies and right up to the final recipe for Little Twinkie Trifle these recipes are fun.
Astoundingly (real word) detailed.
And so complete that I (even I), would be able to use this book to learn how to cook. Something that has been despaired of since the dawn of time . . .
Am I buying a copy of this book for each of my children for the use of their children?
You bet I am!
Am I keeping a copy for myself?
Oh, the gastronomical (another real word) adventures that await!

Order from the publisher: Cedar Fort Publishing
Order from Amazon: Young Chefs
Or Barnes and Noble: Young Chefs

About the Author:
Christina Dymock was once at a dinner party where her husband was teasing her about the frosting-to-cupcake ratio on her dessert. The woman sitting across from them sniffed her delicate nose and said, "If my husband gave me a hard time about my frosting I'd quit baking. That'd show him." To which Christina's husband replied while pointing at his speechless wife, "Try to stop her!"
Christina divides her time between the kitchen and her computer and books and her family of six. (Naturally, the family gets the biggest share.) Because she reads everything, she also feels compelled to write in several genres.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


The ranch
Production sale day.

The highlight of the Stringam Ranch year.
The catalogs have been printed, painstakingly addressed (ugh!) and mailed out.
All over the world.
The cattle have been groomed, trimmed, tucked in and kissed good night.
The ranch site has been mowed, scoured, repaired and painted.
Now it sparkles like a new penny in the morning sun as the crew slowly climbs out of bed.
Some (my parents) might not have seen their bed.
Arrivals start
Breakfast is on the table and Mom is a blur of motion as she tries to do three things at once.

A shout from the barnyard. “They’re here!”
A glance out the window. Sure enough, the first of a long line of vehicles is moving slowly up the ranch drive.
From then on, the day is a series of impressions.
Greeting and handshaking.
Parking cars and the trickier trucks and trailers.
Handing out catalogues.
Tending the coffee and the all-important donuts.
Making sure the auctioneer staff are comfortable and cared for.
Dusting the bleachers, ready for customer bottoms.
Hearing the shouts and movement from the pens behind the sale barn.
The warm up pitter-patter from the auctioneer on the stand as he gathers the chatting, laughing, gesticulating crowd.
An open gate and the first animal, an outstanding heifer, in the ring.
The auctioneer assistant, armed with a cane, moving her about.
Oohs and aahs from the crowd as they thumb their catalogues, looking for this entry.
More chatter from the man with the mike.
The smack of the gavel.
Another open gate and the now-nervous heifer gladly disappearing.
Gates open.
Gates close.
Shouts from the pens as stock is shuffled into catalogue order.
Animals in.
Animals out.
Pounding of the gavel.
Talk and laughter as the auctioneer plays with the crowd.
The final animal, a 2000 pound bull, in the pen.
Final strike of the mallet.
“Mark and Enes Stringam would like to thank all of you for making this day special!” the auctioneer says. “And to invite you to come and enjoy a nice home-grown beef dinner on them!” A grin. “It should be good, it’s out of the neighbour’s bull!”
Much laughter. The crowd is well aware of the almost fanatic fence maintenance required by the ranch owner.
And the unlikely possibility of anything four-legged crawling through with mischief/romance in mind.
Everyone moving down the hill toward the long tables set out in front of the ranch house.
Tables groaning with mountains of Stringam beef
, salads, rolls, and every other good thing.
A buzz of contented ‘people noise’ as food is consumed.
Sounds of vehicles as buyers take turns backing up to the loading chutes.
Visiting. Laughter.
The crowd slowly dwindling.
Finally, peace.

The setting sun on the faces of a family of exhausted people, collapsed in chairs in front of the house.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Twisted Talk

Coy-Bow. Sans guns . . . 

My Dad had a speech impediment.
Sometimes, he said things backwards.
Oh, he could control it.
He just chose not to.
An odd trait for someone who was such a stickler for proper pronunciation at all other times.
And don't try to tell me that doesn't have any effect on a young child learning to talk.
For years, I thought the song, Rock-a-Bye Baby went like this:
Rock a bay bybee
On the tee trop.
When the blind woes,
The radle will crock.
When the brough bakes,
The fadle will crawl.
And down will bum caby
Adle and crawl.

You're right. That's not even English. But that's how I thought it went.
I heard some kids singing it the right way and totally confronted them. It happened something like this:
Me: What are you singing?
Them: Rock a Bye Baby.
Me: That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
Them: Let's play somewhere else.

As years went by, I realized that we really didn't put the dirty dishes in the washdisher.
Or that salt didn't come out of a shakesalter.
And that my favourite ice cream wasn't scutterbotch.
Others had to find out for themselves.
My nephew, two-year-old Michael was staying with us while his parents prepared to receive his little brother. The imminent arrival scheduled for, at most two weeks, stretched to six.
Leaving little, impressionable, just-learning-to-speak Michael at the mercy of his grandfather.
It was a happy six weeks . . .
Michael was playing cowboys. And had dressed accordingly.
He had his gun and holster.
His boots.
His overlarge hat.
And his training pants.
He was ready.
Grandpa had just come in from outside and was sitting in his easy chair, waiting for lunch.
Michael stalked up to him in his best 'gunman' style. "Stick 'em up!"
Oh, he was good.
Dad looked at him. "What are you? A coy-bow?"
Okay, for years, I thought that was how it was said . . .
"No, Crumpa, gow-boy!"
"Gow-boy!" He stuck to his guns, so to speak. And his pronunciation.
Dad, one last time. "Coy-bow."
Michael was starting to get a little confused, however. "Gow-pot!"
That's when I broke in. "Michael, do you have to go potty?"
"No! No! Gow-boy!"
Dad laughed. "You're right, Michael, Gow-boy."
Michael had outlasted his grandfather.
A noble feat.
I don't want you to think that my Dad bombarded us with twisted talk all of the time. It was the exception rather than the rule.
And he always correct us afterwards.
But it was fun while it lasted.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Lessons Learned

Mark, right and Erik, with Grampa Tolley in the background

To complete his master's degree, my husband moved our (then) little family to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Also know as Winter-peg or Windy-peg.
Either one is apt.
And I found myself, for the first time, living in a large city.
There was the usual adjustment period.
Okay, I'm lying, there was no adjustment 'period'.
I never did adjust.
For eight months, my (then) two sons and I hardly left the apartment, unless accompanied by my husband.
Funny how grocery shopping can start looking like a 'date'.
I was homesick for my prairies and open spaces.
I did get a lot of reading and sewing and cleaning done. And my boys discovered the wonder of 'cable TV'. I soon learned just how much they watched . . .
Grant had taken us for a drive. He had an errand to run and his family was suffering from 'cabin-fever', a common enough ailment in Canada in the winter.
You can look it up . . .
He was making a quick dash into the mall.
Now those of you who know my husband know that a quick dash anywhere . . . isn't.
Quick, I mean.
The boys and I were sitting in the fire lane in front of the Zellers store long enough to celebrate birthdays.
Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture. It was quite a while.
Erik was buckled into his car seat directly behind me, happily blowing bubbles and Mark, his older brother by eighteen months was opposite him, with the clearest view of the storefront.
I was reading.
Mark was chanting something, just loud enough to be heard.
It took a couple of repetitions before I noticed.
I put down my book.
"Mark, what are you saying?"
He repeated it.
"What?" Sometimes, deciphering almost-three-year-old speech takes a Master's degree. And where was the one person in our family with such a degree???!
"Say it once more."
What on earth was he talking about?
I looked where he was looking.
The front of the Zellers store.
Suddenly, it hit me.
He was reading the letters over the front doors.
Zed. E. Eleven. E. R. S.
Well, almost.
It made perfect sense! If you were two.
What a clever boy!
And I had raised him.
Okay, for a very few seconds, I did a bit of back patting.
Very few.
Then reality set in.
The only reason he knew all of those letters was because of his copious amounts of time spent watching Sesame Street. On a good day, he could catch the program twice!
Funny that my son's showing me how advanced he was, showed me, at the same time, what a neglectful parent I had been.
I'd like to say that things changed.
And they did.
Afterwards, when Sesame Street came on, I was watching with him.
Before long, we were nearly on the same reading level.
A few more months in Winnipeg and I might have caught up to him!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Twenty Students Went to School

Cute. Or slimy. You decide.

Twenty Froggies

Twenty froggies went to school
Down beside a rushy pool,
Twenty little coats of green,
Twenty vests all white and clean.

"We must be in time," said they.
"First we study, then we play.
That is how we keep the rule,
When we froggies go to school."

Master Bull-frog, brave and stern,
Called his classes in their turn,
Taught them how to nobly strive,
Also how to leap and dive.

Taught them how to dodge a blow,
From the sticks that bad boys throw.
Twenty froggies grew up fas
tBull-frogs they became at last.

Polished in a high degree,
As each froggie ought to be.
Now they sit on other logs, 
Teaching other little frogs.                               
                                  by George Cooper

I realize that this sounds like a children's poem.
Because it is.
But I didn't learn it until grade twelve . . .
Biology class.
The real one.
Not the one the boys all talk about.
Moving on . . .
We were in the 'dissection' part of our school year. The part that I, the daughter of a veterinarian, found most fascinating.
But that many of the other girls . . . didn't.
We were scheduled, as part of the class, to walk down to the 'Fish Pond' and catch our own frogs.
Great! Field trip!
But first, our teacher, Mr. Meldrum, handed each of us a copy of the aforementioned (good word, right?) poem.
We thought it was cute.
And clever.
And easily folded into paper planes. Okay, not everyone thought it was as cute as I did.
Then we set out.
The walk down was enjoyable. Beautiful late-spring day. Warm sun.Cute boys.Okay, I know what I said about biology class.
And boys.
But let's face it. We were all thinking about 'Biology'.
So . . . walking . . . and boys. 
It didn't take long for us to reach the pond. We spread out and began to pounce on the dozens of frogs who made the peaceful waters their home.
Well, most of us did. There were the inevitable few who couldn't bear to touch the 'slimy' (their word) little things. Those of us who were less squeamish filled in.
So to speak.
In no time, we had collected enough of the little squirming bodies to have a frog each.
One strong lad (yes, I meant to use the word 'lad') was elected to carry the precious bucket. The rest of us enjoyed the short walk back.
Then, to work.
We spent the rest of the morning performing various operations on our hapless little victims.
Fortunately, our teacher knew very well what he was doing and instructed us in the proper methods of 'painless' observation.
It was an interesting morning. And far too short.
When it was done, I was the only student who took the poem home.
Or so I thought.
Some months later, when our school yearbook was handed out, I realized that other students in my class were actually paying attention. Closer attention, even, than I was.
There, in the 'Last Will and Testament' page, beside one young man's name, were the words: "Being of sound mind and beautiful body, leaves said body to be dissected by twenty froggies who go to school."
And a fitting tribute.

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