Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016


I'm so excited!
My bestselling ebook has become my newest print book!
ESSENCE, hits the shelves today!!!
"Todd's dad, a famous scientist specializing in Animal Behaviour and Genetics has perfected an Essence that changes anyone who ingests it. Which animal would you choose?
 And what could possibly go wrong?"
A perfect read for the teenagers in your world!
Order today! You know you want to . . .

Friday, March 18, 2016

Prodded Into Obedience

Shop class was for learning.
Woodcrafting, metal work, welding, automotive.
These were the things that should occupy the young men’s minds.
Was food mentioned in there anywhere?
No. Because (as in the library), in the Fort Macleod high school shop class, food was forbidden.
Did that stop them from trying to sneak food in?
Pfff. These were young men.
The mere fact that they weren’t supposed to, simply made it a challenge.
Some of them were good at it.
Some weren’t.
Monty was in the latter group . . .
The boys had just come in from their ten-minute break between classes.
Monty had bought himself a fudgecicle during said break.
And he wasn’t finished with it yet.
Deftly, sneakily, he ducked down behind one of the workbenches to continue enjoying.
The teacher came in and looked around. “Where’s Monty?” he mouthed silently to the assembled lads.
No one answered, but enough eyes turned toward the boy’s hiding spot that the teacher spotted him easily. He leaned down.
The bench Monty was hiding behind stood up on legs that held it several inches off the floor.
Teacher smiled a slow smile.
Now, I should mention here that this teacher moonlighted in the evenings and on weekends as a rancher.
He drove a pickup truck.
Equipped with the modern conveniences of ranching.
And that truck was parked directly outside the shop-room door.
Silently, he went out, quickly returning with what we ranchers affectionately call a ‘stock prod’.
It is a long, metal stick, filled with batteries, and equipped with two metal prongs on one end. The whole contraption is specifically designed to give a jolt to notoriously thick-skinned cows when working with them in tight spaces.
The boys watched, a little uncertainly, as their teacher carried it in.
A stock prod gives a harmless zap to heavy-hided cattle.
Thin-skinned humans don’t fare as well.
But Teacher didn’t, as they feared, simply jab their chum in the rear.
He slid the prod under the bench next to his student and waved it slowly back and forth.
Monty looked down.
Huh. What was that? The rod moved away. Then closer.
And Monty, ever vigilant, grabbed it.
With a yelp, he sprang to his feet, fudgecicle forgotten.
“Monty,” teacher said.
The boy looked at him.
“No eating during shop class.”
Lesson learned.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Orange You Glad She Missed Us?

Mervin stared at the tell-tale pile of orange peels.
Then, at the  large, strictly-forbidden, freshly-peeled, plump and juicy orange in his hand.
He and his friends could all hear the sound of the approaching librarian.
Their nemesis was only two book stacks away.
Death was certain.
What to do?
What to do . . .?
In Fort Macleod in the early seventies, the new library of the equally-new local high school was under the watchful gaze of Mrs. (Eagle Eyes) Mason.
A crack-a-jack librarian who could, quite literally, spot evil-doing across the room and through twenty stacks of books.
Watching her in action was a thing of beauty . . . erm . . . if one wasn’t the culprit.
Something would trigger her radar.
The glasses would be whipped from her face.
And she would peer, narrow-eyed, around the room – inevitably zeroing in on the virtually invisible culprit.
Call it a gift.
Her cardinal rule?
Never, ever bring food into the library.
Food attracts silver fish. (Google it – I had to . . .)
And silver fish eat the glue in books.
And soon, every book would be destroyed.
And children would then grow-up in complete and utter ignorance.
Yes, her rules were simple.
Her logic? Unerring.
Her reach? Vast.
And still, the students tried to, in her words, ‘get away with it’.
Case in point . . . Mervin.
And the telltale orange.
Though he and his friends were literally at the very furthest point from the librarian that the library afforded, the instant he had cracked the outside of his handful of citrus deliciousness, the fragrance had wafted straight to those sensitive nostrils.
The glasses had come off. “Who’s eating an orange in the library?!”
And the footsteps of doom had started.
And drawn ever closer.
Mervin’s friends stared at him.
Mervin stared at the evidence.
Finally, desperately, he shoved the peels in his pocket.
Then, opening his mouth, shoved in the large, juicy orange.
I am not making this up.
Not only did he get that entire fruit inside.
He then  . . . closed his mouth.
Just as Mrs. Mason rounded the corner.
“Who here is eating an orange?” she demanded.
His friends had been staring at Mervin in amazement. They turned to the librarian.
There was a chorus of ‘Not me’s!’ From everyone except, of course, Mervin.
Mrs. Mason peered at them suspiciously, then turning, continued her hunt.
The boys looked back at their friend.
Who had spit his orange into his hand and was calmly starting to eat it.
Looking for somewhere to hide things?
A place you know will be safe and secure?
If you really don’t care of its inevitably moist condition.
Call your big-mouthed friend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rolling Ball of Death

Warning: Use with caution...
“Gramma! Can we make some popcorn?”
Words so innocently uttered.
So casually agreed to . . .
Some of our grandchildren were over for the evening.
A movie was indicated. And what’s a movie without popcorn?
We are a popcorn family. We have a large, ‘theatre’ popper.
Fully capable of keeping up with the masses.
Gramma enjoys making it.
The kids enjoy watching.
Everyone enjoys eating.
It’s a perfect world.
But, sometimes, even perfection has its drawbacks . . .
The machine was in full pop. Kernels sizzling and swelling in the ‘cooker’.
Spilling out in a fluffy, white, delicious tide over the side and into the ‘hopper’.
Then . . . a tiny problem.
The twin lids over the cooker are merely metal flaps. Designed to hold in the hot, rocketing little explosive devices that are popcorn kernels. And to flip up as needed to let the deliciousness out.
One of these flaps got jammed open.
Little molten balls of death were spewing everywhere.
I had quickly ushered the assembled grandkids away.
And was approaching the machine, set on repairing the problem.
And that’s when it got me.
A sneaky little smoking-hot kernel.
And the term, ‘smoking hot’ is, in this case . . . not good.
It hit me above the collarbone, then proceeded to roll into my collar and from there, down under my shirt and into my bra.
Where it stayed as I tried, madly, to reach it.
The dance I performed is classic.
The blisters I have are noteworthy.
After things had calmed down, and noting my woebegone (Ooh! Good word!) expression, Husby decided to cheer me up with a story of someone who had it far worse than me . . .
It was in high school shop class.
Husby and his fellow classmates were being taken, carefully, through the basics of welding.
“Remember, boys,” the teacher said in. “Never, ever, weld over your head!”
Now the consequences of such an action should have been obvious. 
And they were obvious. Except to Monty.
A few days later, he was happily welding.
Directly over his head.
Now I probably don’t have to explain that the temperatures of metal and binding substances used during welding reach temperatures of over 2500 (F) degrees. 1371 (C)
Ummm . . . hot. Really, really hot.
A piece of slag dripped from his project and down the open collar of his shirt.
Where it formed a small ball of death and proceeded to roll - consuming skin, hair and anything else it encountered - down the boy’s body.
Lodging somewhere way too near his groin.
Screaming, dancing and frantically shedding clothes, Monty finally retrieved the little purveyor-of-death and spilled it out onto the floor.
While his classmates, teen-aged boys all, laughed at his discomfort.
He and his appendages survived.
Though they sported some rather impressive scars.
Husby was right.
Suddenly my little popcorn kernel took on a whole diminished perspective.
I have seven little blisters.
I’m glad I wasn’t around to count Monty’s.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Mom was Frugal.
Notice the capital ‘F’.
She was raised during the Great Depression and squeezed every nickel till the Queen’s eyes bugged out.
She knew how to ‘make do’.
‘Make it last’.
‘Make it over’.
Or simply not buy it in the first place.
I’m not complaining.
Well, maybe I am. Just a bit. Because sometimes, her frugal ways were just . . . annoying.
Earth-conscious, but annoying.
Case in point:
When contemplating a large party-type event, (ie. Auction-Day BBQs, Extended-family dinners, entire community group let’s-do-lunches, etc.) she would purchase ‘disposable’ plates, glasses and cutlery.
For convenience.
Then, being Mom, she would then wash every single stick of cutlery and every glass. If she could have figured out how to clean those paper plates, she would have.
And, when I say, ‘she’, I mean us kids—the actual dish-washers.
For minutes hours after a party, we could be found, elbow-deep in hot, soapy water, washing thin, plastic cups and various and sundry knives, forks and spoons. Along with the also-theoretically-disposable foil serving ware.
The one would be stored in the other in one of Mom’s crowded cupboards, ready for the next party.
Dad would watch our industry with a sceptical eye. “Why are you washing the disposable stuff?” he would ask.
“Because there’s plenty of wear left,” Mom would reply.
“But it’s disposable. To save you work after a party. Why buy disposable if you never intend to . . . umm . . . dispose?”
“If it gets broken or lost, I don’t worry.”
“Okay . . .” Dad would look at us.
And we would look at him.
And the conversation would end.
The reason I bring this up is that yesterday was Pi(e) night.
Probably one of the biggest of the Tolley holidays.
Sixty-six pies were made.
Sixty of them consumed by friends and family in a great, two-hour-long gorge.
Mmmmm . . .
I was cleaning up.
Sorting disposable paper plates into one recyclable bin.
And plastic cutlery and cups into another.
I picked up a stray fork.
And carried to it the bin.
Then, just for a moment, I was struck by the almost uncontrollable urge to fill a sink with hot, soapy water.
Mom lives on . . .
Pies under construction.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sidewalk (Un)Safety

Occasionally, when Mom got tired of driving twenty miles of dirt roads for everything, my parents would move the family to our town house.
The one . . . umm . . . in town.
It was a whole different lifestyle for me.
I had a tricycle. A hand-me-down from three siblings before me.
With a little plastic tassel hanging from one handle grip that waved in the breeze when I went really, really fast.
Which I did.
I was the master of the universe!
I could go anywhere!
As long as I stayed on the sidewalk.
The streets around our block were 'dangerous'.
There were dragons there.
Okay, so Mom described the dangers as speeding cars that would flatten me into a pancake, but I put my own spin on it.
It was so much better.
So, back on the tricycle.
I rode it endlessly.
Doing laps of our block.
The different homes there were categorized according to points of interest and/or what foodstuffs could be procured on the premises.
Lodemier's house, where the baloney sandwich ruled supreme at snack time, and where best friend, Laurie, lived. Reese's house, where good cookies could be found at any time. Madge's house, another food emporium. Winter's house, with the cute, fuzzy Pomeranians. And so on.
It was paradise.
For me, anyway.
I'm not sure what they thought when Diane pulled onto their driveway on her trusty steed.
At least they were kind.
And polite.
All of this is just my long-winded way of saying there was nothing more interesting than the homes on our block.
Why would anyone venture out onto dragon-infested gravel street in search of anything else?
It just didn't make sense.
So I stayed on my sidewalk.
And was safe . . .
There was an alley running the length of our block. The back yard of every home opened onto it. It was a hive of activity every day as dozens of children ran and played.
Occasionally, it was used for vehicles. Our neighbour, especially, was known to park his huge grain truck there during harvest, to keep the behemoth (real word) off the street.
And that simple act diminished the safety margin by a factor of 100.
I don't know what that means, but it sounds . . . unsafe.
On this particular afternoon, our neighbour had come into town from his farm for lunch.
Having finished said lunch, he had strolled back out to his truck to return to work.
I had also recently finished my lunch. And was on my way to his house for a much-needed cookie fix.
For a short while, the two of us occupied the same general space.
But his vehicle was vastly superior to mine.
Okay, well, it was bigger.
I was just crossing the entrance to the alley, safely staying on my sidewalk as he was backing his truck up.
I should mention here that trucks in those days didn't have warning beepers or rear-view cameras.
In fact, they barely had mirrors.
Needless to say, my neighbour didn't see me.
Or my tricycle.
It could have been a disaster.
I pulled into the alley entrance,
And stared, transfixed at the enormous blue box of the truck backing, slowly but steadily, towards me.
Closer. Closer.
Huh. Something whispered that maybe I should get off my tricycle and move to the side.
I did so.
The truck kept backing.
There was a tiny crunching sound as it ran over my tricycle, folding it in two.
Huh. There's something you don't see every day.
The driver kept backing, oblivious to what had just happened.
He waved at me cheerfully as he went past. Then, reaching the street, he reversed direction and headed out.
I watched him go.
Then looked at my tricycle.
Or the little mashed-together bits of metal that used to be my tricycle.
Dad would fix it.
I ran home.
Dad did fix it. And it looked even better when he was through.
Brighter red.
And two little tassells instead of one.
And I think he made it a little bigger.
Dads could do anything.
Soon I was back on the sidewalk again.
Conquering worlds.
Staying safe.
My rocketship.

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Read it! You know you want to!

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Essence: A Second Dose

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Looking for a Great Read?

E-Books by Diane Stringam Tolley
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