Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Children of newly-weds.
I have a theory.
Holidays make you younger.
Let me explain . . .
My Husby and I were married early.
I was 20. He was 21.
We had our first baby just before our first anniversary.
Our second followed eighteen months later.
And our third two years after our second.
We were . . . busy.
It wasn't until our third son was eleven months old that we were able to take our first vacation.
Okay, it wasn't a real vacation.
It was a conference.
But it was in beautiful Halifax. One of the jewels of Canada's East coast.
And my Husby's ticket was paid for.
All we had to cover were my expenses.
That was as close to a vacation as we were going to get.
For three days, while Husby was at his various meetings, my baby and I spent our time in the comfortable hotel room.
Exploring the many sites of old Halifax.
Or eating.
On the final day of the conference, a gala banquet and ball had been planned.
The hotel supplied us with a baby-sitter.
And I was free to join my Husby for wonderful food and a table full of scintillating (Oooh! Good word!) company.
We ate and talked and laughed.
Partway through the evening, my Husby leaned close and said something to me.
I giggled and kissed his nose.
Then one of the women at the table sighed and said, “I just love newlyweds!”
I smiled at her.
And thought of my almost-one-year-old upstairs with the babysitter.
And my four and three-year-olds at home with gramma.
I had been married five years.
And spent much of that time either pregnant or nursing.
I felt ancient.
And this woman thought I was a newly-wed.
I could draw only one conclusion.
It was because I was on holiday.
It must have been.
Who needs surgery and/or creams to erase the years?
I know of something infinitely more fun.
Here's to holidays!

P.S. Red Skelton (Google it) agrees with me. He once said, when asked his age, "I'm 67 years old. I would be 68 but I lived for a year on Maui!"

Friday, March 6, 2015


The morning sun shone through the great cage with the brightly-plumaged macaw perched alertly inside.
Norma was on her knees beneath, scraping with a long-handled shoehorn.
And muttering unintelligibly to herself.
I turned the page of my magazine as she emerged, still talking, “. . . fluff!”
 “And feathers!” I turned another page and glanced at her over my magazine. “Need I remind you that it was your idea to get the smelly old bird in the first place?”
She snorted as she straightened her glasses and glared at me.
I looked at her again. “Was that a snort?”
She suddenly found something very interesting in the pattern of the dining room wallpaper. “No.”
“It was! It was a snort!”
“Well, you called Reginald a smelly old bird!”
“Well, he is!” I dove back into my magazine.
She got to her feet and pushed her glasses up on her nose once more. “Of all the rude, inconsiderate . . .” Whatever else she had to say became muffled as she disappeared into the next room.
I sighed and turned another page. I had long since stopped seeing what was there. I was too interested in baiting my sister.
Soon, Norma was back, still talking. “. . . and you know that I thought he would be some nice cheerful company. And still, you . . .” She stopped and frowned. “Why did I go into the kitchen?”
I looked at her and raised my eyebrows.
She glanced down at her mass of seeds and shredded papers on the otherwise spotless floor. “Oh.” She disappeared once again. “I don’t understand . . .” Once more, her words became a mere thread of sound, muffled by the thick walls. This time, when she emerged, she was carrying the trash can. “. . . know that a bit of cheerful company is always pleasant. Especially when one’s only roommate is one’s little sister. One’s snarky little sister.”
Little sister. The phrase always conjured up the picture of a small child in pigtails. Not the octogenarian of reality. I grinned. “But that’s what makes me so nice,” I said.
She pushed her glasses up and glared at me again, then knelt and started scraping bits of paper and seeds into the garbage. “Nice? Well, I don’t know if I could use the term in describing you.” She got up again and, carrying the trash can, started toward the kitchen once more. “I always thought people who are nice were . . .” What she thought nice people were was again lost through the thick lath and plaster between us.
I turned another page and saw the brightly coloured picture of a woman afloat on a cloud with visions of cars, appliances and tropical locales floating in the air about her. A caption, written boldly below questioned: ‘What are your dreams?’
“. . . and dusters. Don’t forget that we need to take a pile of them with us when we go over to help clean!” Norma was back, still clutching the garbage can. And, inexplicably, a fork. She stopped in the doorway. “Oh. I forgot.” She turned and left, but was back a moment later without the trash can and fork, but carrying a large rag and a bucket of warm, soapy water. “Here, Reginald!” she cooed. “Let’s get things all nice and clean!”
The great bird moved to the side of his cage and looked down on her as she dropped to her knees, dipped the rag in the water, wrung it out carefully and started scrubbing. “Get you - all comfy - and nice . . .” her words took on a rhythm as she cleaned. Finally, satisfied, she dropped the rag into the water and stood up. “There.” She nodded in satisfaction. Leaning close to the bars, she made clicking noises with her tongue. “Who’s the pretty bird? Who’s my little gentleman?”
Reginald tipped his head to one side and regarded her. “Gentleman!” he repeated.
Norma smiled. “That’s right. It’s you!” She bustled off through the doorway.
Reginald looked over at me, then turned slightly, fluffed his feathers, and let go a large, wet glob of something disgusting.
It made a great splat on the still-damp floor.
I smiled and hid behind my magazine.

Each week, Delores of Under the Porch Light concocts a delightful challenge.
Words (or phrases) that her followers then have to weave into  . . . something.
This week's challenge: Dreams and dustersFluff and feathers.
What on earth to do with that?!
Slip on over to Delores' and see what the others have created . . .

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Paradise Quashed

Ahh, Holidays. some are good. Some are . . .
Everyone has one.
At least once.
The trip from hell . . . umm . . . the terrible trip.
Ours began innocently enough. Organized, even.
We were going to repeat last year's dream trip to the west coast to visit my parents in Abbotsford, BC. But this year, we would continue out to Vancouver Island to go deep sea fishing with Uncle Bub.
We were . . . excited.
I had bought special toys and games for the kids to play on the way to keep them entertained.
Because the view of the Rocky Mountains out the window wouldn't be enough . . .
The car was packed with food and yummy things.
Our valiant little trailer was hooked on behind.
We were ready.
The trouble started about five hours in.
With a leaky hose.
Cars don't run well if they have a leaky hose.
We stopped in Prince George, BC, to try to get it fixed.
And found out that it was a strange-sized hose.
Of course.
A little duct tape later, we were back on the road. Sort of.
Grant kept having to stop to add water.
Oh, and let out whichever child was next in line in the 'upchuck olympics'.
I should point out here that my Mom was right. Looking out the window during a trip was infinately better than playing toys or games.
Little stomachs obviously don't like toys and games.
An important point.
Moving on . . .
We were able to make it another four hours.
More car trouble.
We decided to take a break in Hope, BC.
A beautiful spot. Actually where the movie 'Rambo – First Blood' was filmed.
We pulled into the campground and carefully looked over the map, choosing a little spot back in the trees.
Isolated and quiet.
Until the trains started coming through.
The first blew its whistle at midnight.
For a few unforgettable moments, we thought we had somehow, inadvertantly, set up our tent trailer right on the tracks.
We hadn't.
We had missed them by about six feet.
Trains in Canada are amazingly regular.
One sleepless night later, we were back on the road.
We limped into Abbotsford. And enjoyed a couple of days of much-needed bliss with my parents.
Then . . . that road again.
The ferry-ride was a little more expensive than we had anticipated.
But then, so was everything else.
We made it to the island.
For about half an hour.
Halfway to Uncle Bub's, the entire undercarriage of our faithful tent trailer gave way, skidding our little marvel along on its belly.
Grant pulled over and we surveyed the damage.
We had two choices.
Abandonment and despair and certain death.
My choice.
Or unhooking the trailer, driving to the nearest town and securing repairs.
My husband's.
Fortunately, we went with his.
One of the kids stayed with me guarding the trailer (because, someone might steal it . . . with no wheels . . . okay, it seemed to make sense at the time . . .) while Husby drove off with everyone else.
We managed to get our trailer fixed, but we were stuck there for two days while the shop made the needed parts to repair it.
And used up every dime of our vacation savings to do it.
Finally, two days late and several dollars short, we limped (remember the car) into Uncle Bub's.
Only to find that the ocean was too rough to go out.
We waited a further two days, scanning the water eagerly each morning.
But the ocean had plans of it's own.
And they didn't include us.
Finally, defeated, we headed home.
The trip back was more of the same. Balky car. Sick kids.
The weather was good.
I have never been so glad to see the lights of home in my life.
We were taught several things on that ill-fated trip.
1. Don't buy toys and games for your kids to play on a trip if everyone is prone to car-sickness.
2. Beautiful scenery doesn't make a cranky car drive better.
3. Always check the campground map carefully and ask the attendant if there are any 'un-noted' features one should be aware of.
4. Your trip will always cost at least 2.74 times what you have saved for it.
5. Stay home.
Fortunately, we learned none of them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What the Hail?

The day had begun like any other that summer.
Cloudless blue skies.
Soaring temperatures.
Plans to spend a few hours near or in the river.
Dad had taken my brothers, Jerry and George out to the field, haying.
Chris and I were helping Mom do'Mom' things in the kitchen.
Well, Chris helped.
I tasted.
Hey, it's an important job!
Shortly after lunch, Chris and I got decked out in our fancy swimwear, ready to head to the river.
Mom walked with us as far as the lawn. She glanced up at the sky.
"Oh, my!"
I tilted my head back.
Much of my blue sky was no longer blue.
Instead it was rapidly being obscured by really ominous-looking clouds.
Black clouds.
A storm!
I loved storms.
And we certainly hadn't seen enough of them in Milk River in the early 60's.
Our trip to the river was forgotten as Chris and I followed Mom back into the house and took up positions in the living room.
One window each.
Then we waited.
The clouds boiled up, obscuring the sun. The rest of the sky.
The lightning started.
I should point out here that I had learned to count by timing the interval between the flash and crash of lightning.
One. Two. Three.
With each flash, there was a shorter and shorter interval.
The excitement level increased. 
Well, my excitement level increased.
Mom was darting back and forth from one window to another, anxiously watching for her husband and sons return from the hay field.
I was little. I lived in a 'never worried, always happy' world.
Occasionally, I glanced at my worried mother curiously.
But that was the extent of my sympathy.
Moving on . . .
Finally, we heard a weird sound from outside.
A rising wind howling across the chimney.
And then we saw the wall of . . . something come towards us across the yard.
Some really white-looking rain.
I moved to the couch beside my sister.
Her window had the better view.
Mom scurried into her bedroom and emerged with several pillows.
"Here, girls," she instructed, "hold these up against the windows!"
I stared at her. But if I held the pillow up against the window, I wouldn't be able to see the storm!
We all heard the shattering of glass from the kitchen.
Instantly, Chris pressed her pillow against the window.
Sighing, I copied her example.
I don't know how long the storm lasted.
Too long, according to my mother.
Not long enough, according to me.
After it passed, we stepped outside to see the damage/amazing-ness.
It all depended on your point of view. 
The yard was four inches deep in snow.
Not bad for the middle of July.
I stepped out into it.
It was funny snow. Crunchy. More like pebbles than soft, white fluffiness.
I stomped around in it. Gathered a handful. Carried it back to my Mom.
She was standing where I had left her, just staring.
"Look, Mom. This snow is weird!" I tried to hand it to her.
"It's not snow, darling," she said. "It's hail."
"Huh." Yep. I was always on top of things.
As we were standing there, Dad's truck pulled into the yard and skidded to a stop on the slippery road.
He and my two older brothers got out.
At least I think it was Dad and my brothers.
Certainly they had the right size and shape.
But there, all resemblance ended.
They were caked with mud. Straws of hay and grass sprouted all over them.
They really looked like . . . monsters.
I was prepared to run.
Before I could react, however, Mom moved forward and wrapped her arms around the taller one, mud and all. Then she moved on to the shorter pair.
Okay. Not monsters.
We all moved back into the house.
While Mom swept up the glass from a broken window in the kitchen, she and Dad told their stories.
His was far more exciting.
He and my brothers had been baling hay, with Dad and Jerry on the stooker behind George driving tractor.
When Dad had seen the clouds, he had tried to signal George to stop.
But George couldn't hear him over the noise of the tractor.
Finally, in his best Superman style, Dad leaped off the stooker, ran forward, scaled the tractor and turned off the key. Then he grabbed George, made another heroic leap, and shoved him and Jerry under the tractor.
Okay, it's always so much better in my imagination . . .
The three of them had gotten a very close up and personal view of the storm from beneath this rather sketchy shelter.
Fortunately, though the hail had splashed them with mud and debris, it hadn't caused them any permanent damage.
Not so the rest of the ranch.
Chickens and other birds, not quick enough to get under shelter lay in small heaps in the barnyard.
Fences had been smashed to the ground and the entire garden lay in ruins.
Appendages had been hammered off vehicles and other machines standing unprotected in the barnyard and many windows were broken.
And the grand new house being constructed behind the old ranch house where we currently lived was especially hard hit.
Besides other damage, the newly-installed siding had been hammered to bits.
Pock marks had been knocked clean through the painted boards.
And we hadn't even moved in yet.
There were two hail storms that summer.
The second just as nasty as the first.
Mom finally gave up all hope of getting any peas out of her garden.
Or much else, either.
And the hay crop had been ruined.
And there was a lot of repairing and clean up.
Most of which I . . . umm . . . supervised.
But we survived.
To tell the stories.
My favorite thing.
And, by the way, I still love storms.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Good News

My Dad loved to read the newspaper at the breakfast table, after we had finished eating.
Let me rephrase that.
My Dad loved to read the newspaper at the breakfast table . . . you get the picture.
Oh, he absorbed the important news stories.
And took note of local and international events and even sales.
But after he had digested the headlines, he would continue to read.
And . . . umm . . . put his own twist upon what he found there.
“Huh. Look at that. Jeffrey James died.”
There would be a pause as everyone in the room tried to decide if they had ever heard that name before.
Finally, some curious soul would ask the question, “Oh? Who was Jeffrey James?”
“Haven't got the slightest idea.”
There would be a general groan and much head shaking.
But that's my Dad.
Sometimes he would embroider a story, improving it for our benefit.
And it wasn't until the story got too outlandish that we would realize it.
“Well, it says here that they're planning a new bridge across the Old Man River near Fort Macleod.”
Again, someone would take the bait. “Really?”
“Yeah. Four lane. The works.”
“Well, it is the Alaska Highway. They probably need the improvement.”
“Well, that'll be nice.”
“Yep. It's just going to hang there. Suspended. Be hard to get on and off of.”
At which time, he would get a smack on the arm.
Or a platter of scrambled eggs upended over his head.
Sometimes, Dad would cut the story out of whole cloth.
“Our taxes are going up.”
“Oh, no!”
“Yep. They need the money for a new fund.”
“Yep, the Town Council Mexico fund.”
“What sort of fund is that?”
“It's the fund where all of the town council get to go to Mexico.”
“What for?”
“Well, to hold their meetings.”
Or . . .
“Well, look at that. The President of the United States is going up with the next Moon Mission.”
“Well, that sounds dangerous. Why?”
“I guess he wants to see for himself what all of the excitement is about.”
And, for some time we would think that the story was true.
In fact, we were even known to spread the rumour.
With embarrassing, but amusing, results.
You'd think we would learn.
But Dad wouldn't limit himself to making up stories.
Oh, no.
Sometimes, he would improve the staid old news in other ways.
By inserting his favourite poems.
Have I mentioned that he loves to recite?
Little Johnny took a drink,
But he shall drink no more.
'Cause what he thought was H2O,
Was H2SO4!”
We would nod and smile.
That part, we had gotten used to.
Anyone new to the family, however, would be understandably confused.
Once, my nearly sister-in-law was seated at the breakfast table with us.
Dad was hidden behind the newspaper, filling us in on the day's happenings.
Suddenly, his tone changed.
The boy stood on the burning deck.
His feet were in the fire.
The Captain said, You're burning up!”
The boy said, “You're a liar!”
She peered timidly around the paper, trying to see where he was reading.
Finally, “Where does it say that?”
Mom rolled her eyes. “No where, dear. It's in his head!”
To this day, I can't simply read the paper.
I especially have great fun with the classifieds.
I guess I just had too good an example.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Paris Rentals

During the two years my Husby lived in Paris, France, he and his companions stayed in many and varied dwellings.
Some nice.
Some . . .
But the best of the best was the time they lived in a guest house on an estate in the Paris suburbs.
A real, four bedroom deluxe guest house.
On a real French estate.
The estate, itself, covered ten acres and included said guest house, as well as the main mansion and assorted outbuildings, all owned by an aristocratic octogenarian. A woman whose actions belied her age.
And athletic ability.
Let me explain . . .
Husby and his companions had been living in this, to-eight-young-men-in-their-early-twenties-who-had-lived-in-some-rather-unpleasant-places, remarkable abode, for about four months.
In all that time, owing to the fact that their rental had been handled by the man who directed them, none of them had met, or even laid eyes on, their landlord.
One afternoon, several of them were out in the beautiful grounds, enjoying an unexpected few hours of relaxation. Suddenly a slender, erect person carrying a cane appeared and moved slowly toward them across the yard, chattering in French as she came.
As the figure drew closer, they could see that it was a very well and expensively-dressed woman. She stopped next to them, and they deduced that they were, for the first time, addressing their landlord landlady. They also noted that she had the bearing of someone who was accustomed to being in charge.
For a few moments, they discussed the beautiful weather, and the day in particular.
Suddenly, the woman noticed a sizable bug, crawling up the trunk of the large, mature tree standing next to her.
“Ah!” she shrieked, making the young men jump. She turned and, wielding her cane with intent and purpose, preceded to pound the hapless bug until even the memory of it had disappeared. “C’est mauvais, ca! (That’s bad, that!)” she said.
Then she smiled and nodded at the speechless boys and, turning, continued across the yard.
I will add one more thing . . .
Their rent was always paid on time.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

When In France...

The skills he learned in France . . .

And cooking.

In his early twenties, my Husby spent two years living in Paris, France.
For a farm boy from southern Alberta, it was quite a culture shock.
But he loved it, and grew to love the French people.
During his years there, he discovered that the French love their food.
Love. Their. Food.
And he found out first hand . . .
During his stay there, Husby became acquainted with a wealthy U.S. national and his family who made their home in Paris.
Wonderful people.
One evening, the father decided to take his family out to dine.
He invited Husby and his companions.
Remember the place where I said ‘wealthy’?
That would become important here.
They went to a five-star, French restaurant.
And when the French say five-star, they definitely mean it.
Our little farm boy found himself in the very heart and soul of Haute Cuisine.
He nervously sank into a chair at one of the luxurious tables and accepted the expertly-flourished menu.
Fortunately, his French was good, so ordering didn’t cause any complications.
The meal came out in courses.
Slow courses.
When I say that the French love their food, I mean it.
And they take time to worship every. Single. Bite.
Finally, the main course appeared.
Husby’s American friend had ordered steak.
Steak was delivered. Smothered in onions and other good things.
Said steak was also very, very rare.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that would have been just fine with me. (Rancher’s daughter.)
But for Husby’s friend, it was simply unacceptable. “Could you please take this back and cook it?” he asked.
The waiter’s impeccable manners did not allow for any outward show of surprise or even opinion. He simply said, “Oui, M’sieur,” and whisked the offending plate away.
A few minutes later, he reappeared, with the same steak on a fresh plate.
Still beautifully displayed.
Still rare.
The friend stared at it, then at the waiter. “Could you please take it back again?”
Now it’s no crime to like your meat well-done.
Most of my family members actually prefer it that way.
It’s just not acceptable when you are in a very fancy French restaurant.
A short time later, the steak re-appeared.
This time carried in with tongs.
By the chef, himself.
“M’sieur,” he said, slapping the steak down in disgust on a nearby plate, “you have murdered that steak!” The man then spun about and marched back to the kitchen, outrage and repugnance (good word) in every step.
For those of you planning on visiting France . . .
The people are wonderful.
The food divine.
The meat, rare.
That is all.

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