Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, January 3, 2015

For Bread Dough Days

A poem.

Because . . .

The water's there. The yeast is, too.
The sugar, eggs and oil.
A pinch of salt. Some scoops of flour.
A spot of manual toil.
Then there it sits. A work of art.
A dough that's fine and ready.
Just waiting for the final touch.
The hand that's firm and steady.
It starts to rise. Increase and grow.
Progressing, moving on.
Then nears the top. Success so close,
Then, suddenly, it's gone.
That hand so sure that works with care
Deflates all it's achieved.
And in a blink all progress seems
Impossible to believe.
Again it tries.Again it grows.
E'en lighter than before.
Again that hand, again the push,
The dough is flat once more.
A third time tries. A third time grows.
Now tasty and perfected.
Achieves at last it's sought-for goal,
No flaws or faults detected.
At times I feel much like this dough.
My progress interrupted.
When wiser hands press me to my knees,
All dreams and goals disrupted.
But praying hard, I realize
Though setbacks are in store,
I rise each time, a better me
Than e're I was before.

Friday, January 2, 2015

(Car Trouble) Friends

Okay. Do you have one of these . . .?
Or these?
My Husby and I drive vintage cars.
'Vintage' is a classy name for 'old'.
Just FYI.
Moving on . . .
Wonderful vintage cars.
They are affordable.
I can sympathize with their creaking joints and less-than-stellar performance.
And they have real engines.
Or at least engines where the components are recognizable.
But they do have their drawbacks.
They really are old.
And their parts are equally old.
At times, like me, they get . . . balky.
Allow me to illustrate . . .
We were driving a Buick.
Station wagon.
It had developed some internal problems.
Gall bladder, I think.
Or, in car talk, an stubborn solenoid.
While we waited for the funds to actually fix said solenoid, we were reduced to a two-person starting method.
One to crawl under the car and whack the balky part with a hammer and the other to actually turn the key.
It worked.
Sort of.
We were visiting with friends.
It was a warm summer evening.
The sky had been threatening rain all day.
Sometime during our visit, the threat became reality.
The sky opened up and dumped everything it had on us.
At the exact time we decided we should be heading home.
I took up my position in the driver's seat, key inserted and ready to turn.
My Husby quickly slipped underneath the car, hammer in hand.
*Tink*. *Tink*.
“Okay! Try it!”
I turned the key and the engine roared to live.
My Husby crawled out – remember, it was pouring rain at this time – and started towards the driver's door.
He paused.
Someone was laughing.
We both looked toward our friends' front door.
The two of them were silhouetted in the light from their front room.
They had watched the whole procedure.
We laughed with them.
Then my Husby shrugged and jumped into the car and we drove off.
We learned an important lesson from this.
Always choose your friends with care.
They should be fun.
And be able to laugh you through your car troubles.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

FIRE! Works

Happy first day of 2015!
Due to last night's revelry (We welcomed in the New Year by drinking root beer, eating chips, working on a puzzle and watching Horatio Hornblower.) I am giving you a warmed-over post. My favourite New Year story.
I hope you enjoy it!
Happy New Year!

The holiday season that year started like any other . . .
My husband, Grant, loves fire.
When we lived on the farm, our neighbours always knew when he was home. Inevitably, his presence was betrayed by the large column of smoke emanating from our property. And his tall figure silhouetted against the flames, happily poking whatever garbage he had been able to find.
Our farm was amazingly trash-free.
After our move to the city, his love of fire had, of necessity, to be squelched. For the good of the neighbourhood and our own personal safety.
Neighbours can be notoriously crabby when it comes to garbage fires in their back yards.
Just FYI.
For these reasons, he commuted his love of fire to a love of fire . . . works. They sizzled. They sparked. They exploded. They were a budding ‘pyro’s’ citified dream. They filled the void left by his unfortunate, but necessary, separation from fire.
He began a tradition. Fireworks on New Year’s Day. It was a relatively safe time. The world heavily coated in fire retardant – commonly called snow. Everyone in a festive mood, ready to celebrate.
Permits and regulations were disregarded. One merely had to invite the mayor and his family over for dinner and a show to get around those. I mean, who’s going to ticket the mayor?
We won’t go there . . .
There was a large snow bank in a field just outside of the town limits. Perfect for the display. An array of fireworks, chosen specifically from the abundant possibilities, were thrust carefully but firmly into this bank to hold them steady before their spectacular flight.
Grant had everything organized. Our second son and his friend were on hand to light things up. Strictly in order.
Chaos controlled.
Explosions only on his command.
The stage was set.
The first sparklers went off without a hitch. Starlight exploded in the sky. Red, Green, White, Blue. The display was dazzling. We oohed and aahed on cue. Everything was proceeding well.
Then the event.
One candle had ideas of its own. Not a good thing when you’re a firework. It went up, but before it could fulfill the measure of its creation, its trajectory . . . changed somewhat. 180 degrees, in fact. Straight into the box of remaining fireworks.
For a moment, Grant stared at it, perhaps too shocked and surprised to really take in what had just happened. The firework spluttered warningly.
He screamed.
Not a good sound in the middle of a fireworks display. In an amazingly graceful leap, he cleared the snow bank, taking the two boys with him. The three of them landed in an ungainly heap.
Then, totally abandoning dignity, they scrambled frantically for the snow bank the rest of us hid behind as the real fireworks display began behind them.
It was like a scene out of a movie. For several minutes, the crackers fizzed and shot everywhere, sending up showers of sparks from wherever they happened to land. A few even made their way skyward. It was spectacular. Amazing. Fun. Everyone screamed and laughed . . . and ducked.
Then . . . silence.
After waiting several minutes, Grant finally figured it was safe to move. He crawled behind the snow bank, using knees and elbows. Sort of like a soldier approaching a bunker. A very cold, snowy bunker. With exploding things inside it.
Yes, just like a bunker.
He emerged some time later holding the still-smoking box, with the remnants of his collection and a very chagrined face.
Fortunately, no one was injured. But Grant never again held a fireworks display. For one thing, he was out of fireworks.
For another - how could he ever top that?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Santa's Report Card 2014

Santa’s life is not an easy one.  Oh, there is plenty of the joy and happiness and ho-ho-ho laughter, all those things that Santa stands for in the world.  But in today’s enlightened, social-media-friendly world where information can be passed seemingly faster than the speed of light, Santa faces several conundrums that are not easily dealt with.
Case in point: Santa’s 3-year old granddaughter, Linnea, whom we most affectionately call Linnie, she of the firm mind and undaunted spirit.  Linnie, along with her 12 cousins of the Santa and Mrs. Santa lineage, had observed in our Claus career last year that Grandma and Grandpa would occasionally put on the red velvet suits and go out and about as the happy couple.  The questions were inevitable, so Grandma Claus and I decided to be proactive and tell them all the truth before the questions started – that Grandma and Grandpa were only some of Santa’s ‘helpers’, because the real Santa needed lots of helpers to visit all the little boys and girls in the world.  The plan worked well – last year.
So this year, little Linnie was present when Santa emerged from his ‘dressing room’ – and Linnie’s face lit up like the star on top of the Christmas tree.
“Grandpa, you’re Santa Claus, aren’t you.”  No question – more of a declaration.
I started in with my pre-arranged explanation.  “Well, Linnie, Grandpa is not Santa, I’m only one of his . . . “
Linnie interrupted, fists on hips and with a stern look on her face which said that she wasn’t putting up with any more of Grandpa’s stories.  “NO, Grandpa!”  She said, with a look that would put any man to cringing in his fur-topped boots.  “You ARE Santa!” 
And she stormed away, having put both Grandpa and Santa Claus in their rightful place.
I guess I’ll just have to live with it.
Santa survived that encounter with a sure-minded 3-year old to enjoy something in the neighbourhood of about seven hundred children on his knee this Christmas season.  I am pleased to report that my knees survived, along with the rest of me.  (It was only due to the TLC that Mrs. Santa brings along on every visit). 
I have spent my life studying people, and the Santa believers are the most interesting people I have ever encountered.  About 75% of the under 2 crowd will NOT go anywhere near Santa, suffering from what social scientists call ‘coulrophobia’: fear of clowns.  I understand this affliction perfectly.  Whenever I look in the mirror, I wonder that anyone would want to come near.  We always reassure the parents of the coulrophobic little ones that “s/he’ll feel better about Santa next year.”
At the other end of the spectrum are the late pre-teen crowd, who have discovered the truth about Santa and who are reluctant to sit on my knee and participate in what they feel is an elaborate deception, somehow meant to make them seem silly.  Many of them will still come, reluctantly, and I try to reassure them that they are not silly, rather that they are only helping to bring some happiness into a world that desperately needs more of it.

The middle grouping, from about age 3-10, are the smiling, happy crowd for whom Santa exists fully and benevolently.  And this is my report card for 2014:  the world of my future will be in good hands, because today there are THOUSANDS of young ones who have a smile that will not stop.  From 5-year old Arrabella whose smile was so infectious I still smile to myself, filled with the love of happy child, when I think of it; to 10-year old Jake, afflicted with Down’s, whose smile told me that even with his challenges in life he was as happy a young man as he could be.
This smile phenomenon tells Santa much, without a word being spoken.  It tells me that today’s parents are in fact bringing their children up in happiness, teaching them, raising them with love and a hope for a better future.  It tells me that in a world that appears on all fronts to be going to pot, that there are still plenty of smiles out there amongst what I can only conclude to be the quiet – and happy – majority.  Yes, of course there is much to be done, much sadness to banish – but there are plenty of smiles out there with which to fight the good fight.
It tells me there is hope for the future.  And that any time now, when my daughter puts me in a seniors’ rest home as she often threatens to do when I tell groaner jokes or silly stories, that there will be plenty of smiling people around to look after me, when I need it the most.
I’m glad to have had every one of those 700-odd smiles this year.  I hereby dub 2014 the Year of the Smile!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a very merry 2015!

Keep Smiling!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eau de Skunk

Yeah. Don't let him fool you.
He only looks like a college student. Studying.
Dad was a veterinarian student in Guelph, Ontario.
That fact, alone shouldn't strike terror into anyone's heart . . .
Christmas 1946 was a special time.
The veterinarian students (hereinafter known as the Vets) had pooled their resources and bought some decorations and a small tree.
These, they had used to decorate their balcony.
It looked quite festive and they were rather pleased with themselves.
Something that happened often.
But I digress . . .
Other students also noticed their efforts.
Students who were either too broke or too lazy to decorate their own area.
Not a good situation.
The Vets came back from class a couple of days before Christmas to discover that their tree was . . . missing.
Investigation was indicated.
After a short, very short search, they discovered that the thief or thieves had left a trail of decorations down the hall.
Obviously the work of amateurs.
The Vets followed the telltale trail into their neighbour's corridor and, further, into one of the dorm rooms there. (Oh, if only NCIS could have it this easy!)
They knocked.
Actually, they probably hammered violently, but my way sounds better.
Several young men answered the door, then vehemently (good word) protested their innocence.
And as strongly denied that they had access to the closet to which the trail subsequently led.
Undaunted, the Vets demanded that they open the door or it would be pulled from its hinges.
At that point a key was quickly produced, the door opened, and the disclosed tree retrieved.
The Vets wasted no time in restoring it to its rightful place of honour on their balcony.
All was well.
Or almost well.
Remember. These were young men.
In college.
Payback was indicated.
Two of these young men had recently uncovered a den of skunks.
As part of their training, and because they were bored, they de-scented those skunks.
But saved the glands.
One of them suddenly came up with a brilliant plan.
They would chop up the glands, add a little water, then carefully fill a syringe with the resulting goo.
No sooner imagined than accomplished.
Now, I should point out here that, in the late 40s, each door in the dorms at Guelph, and indeed, everywhere, opened with a large, old-fashioned key.
The keyhole was big enough to peek through.
And certainly large enough to accommodate a syringe needle.
While everyone else was at class, the two vet students took their syringe and squirted a little of their prized 'essence' through the keyhole of every door in that corridor.
The smell was immediate . . . and indescribable.
Hmm. Maybe they had been a little precipitate? (another good word!)
But the damage was done.
For the last day before vacation, everyone who had anything to do with that building, did it in as brief a time as possible.
Sleeping was out of the question.
Most of the young men simply left town as soon as their last class was over.
Perhaps distance would lessen the smell.
Dad didn't give the prank much thought during his Christmas vacation back in Alberta.
Some things are best forgotten.
And, astonishingly enough, by the time they got back to the campus, the smell was all but gone.
Good thing carpets hadn't been invented yet.
But everyone learned something from the experience.
            1. Leave skunks alone.
            2. Never, ever play tricks on veterinarian students.
Guelph - 24 years later - the smell is almost gone . . .

Monday, December 29, 2014

Eye (to the) Max

If you think the outside is fantastic . . .
Edmonton, Alberta is a good-sized city.
Not distressingly large, by the world's standards.
But a nice, comfortable million or so people.
It has many, many attractions.
Our family's favourite is the Telus World of Science.
When the kids were small, it was called the Space and Science Centre.
And we were there almost every week.
The kids would wander through their favourite displays.
Interact with their favourite activities.
And go with us to see an Imax show.
If you've never seen Imax presentation, you should.
It consists of a huge screen.
And crystal-clear photography.
And you feel as though you were part of the action.
When our Caitlin was three, we went to see a show - simply titled, Speed.
For forty minutes, we were part of car racing, flights, train rides, roller coasters, and anything in this world that went fast.
To say we enjoyed it would be a vast understatement.
Our sons in particular were quite literally hanging onto the edge of their seats.
Finally, the show ended, as shows do.
The lights came up.
Caitlin, who had spent the entire time in the seat next to her father, looked up.
“Daddy? Is it done?”
Her father nodded.
“Can I put my feet down now?”
It was then we realized that, when the action started, she had pulled her feet up to keep them from catching on anything as it 'flew' past.
And held them up.
For forty minutes.
Now that's movie realism.
Edmonton is a wonderful place.
There are tons of things to do.
But when you tire.
Stop at the Imax.
It's all about seeing.
Keep your feet up.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Out in the Blizzard

On the prairies, winter storms can blow up very fast.
Obliterating the countryside and bringing visibility to zero.
One can lose one’s way walking between the house and the barn.
The best thing to do is to get inside where it’s warm and stay put.
If one has warning, one can get to the nearest safe place.
If one doesn’t . . .
A storm was coming. The local school had been emptied of children, sent home with strict instructions to get there as quickly as possible.
Most of them made it.
One little girl did not.
As the storm closed over the area, frantic searchers were sent out, fanning the countryside for one tiny figure in the vast, freezing blizzard.
A hopeless search.
It was many hours before my Uncle Owen found her, nearly frozen solid.
He hefted her on his back and began to make his way toward the Stringam home. Partway there, he met his father and the two of them managed to carry the poor, frozen figure the rest of the way.
My Dad remembers the scene well as they carried the still and silent girl into the house. As he told us, her feet ‘clopped together like two wooden blocks’.
She was handed over to my Grandma Stringam, who was largely accepted as the ‘doctor’ in the area.
Grandma took the little frozen body and laid her on the bed. Then, throughout the night, she tended her, rubbing her extremities with coal oil.
By the next morning, the girl was awake and improving.
She survived - her only damage the loss of the nail from one little finger - largely due to the knowledge and care of my grandma.
Pictures of the prairies show a soft, gently-folded landscape. Largely treeless, but covered in waving grass and sagebrush. The occasional stream or river flows through and the sky is clear and endless.
A perfect world.
But, in winter, it is a place to be respected.
Anything can happen.
And when it does, thank goodness for people like my Grandma.

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