Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Where Horses Come from

Have you ever heard the term 'catch colt'?
I'm sure you can figure out that it has something to do with horses.
And you'd be right.
Allow me to explain. And to do so, I'll have to tell you a story.
But first a little lesson in land surveying . . .
On the Stringam ranch, at its heyday, there was a lot of land.
A. Lot. Of. Land.
Two and a half townships.
Pastures were measured off in sections. 640 acres.
Sections were grouped into townships. 36 sections to a township.
With me so far?
Well, the ranch covered two and a half of those.
Not the largest ranch in Southern Alberta, but up there somewhere.
You've probably heard the term 'wide open spaces'?
That would apply here.
An animal let loose in one of those pastures had a lot of ground to cover.
And an endless selection of things to get into. Good. Or more frequently, bad.
It wasn't unusual for a cowboy out checking the terrain to come across animals in dire need of assistance. Animals that had been attacked by cougars or wolves. Cut by barbed wire. Foundered in a mud pit. Even lamed by an altercation with something as innocuous as a gopher hole.
In fact, with all the room out there for anything to happen, it's a wonder more 'anythings' didn't.
Happen, that is.
Also. When animals are out on the range, hijinks occur.
And that leads nicely into my story . . .
And the Catch Colt.
Our little herd of working mares and geldings (male horses with their 'male' bits removed) had been turned out to pasture.
They lost no time in heading for the nearest far-away place.
And you know just how far-away that could be. (See above.)
A few days later, those same horses were brought back into the ranch for their next work shift.
They came in as they went out.
No more. No less.
Or so we thought.
In fact for several months, we so thought.
Then one of the mares began to show signs of grass-belly.
I mean that girl could eat.
Ten months later, she surprised us by proving her belly wasn't full of grass.
Okay, I'm pretty sure that my dad, he of the veterinarian doctorate, figured it out long before I did.
But for me, it was a grand surprise to see, next to our newly-lean mare, a fine little roan foal.
A little girl whose parentage was very much in question. We didn't own a stallion. (Male horse with 'male' bits intact.) None of our neighbours ( I use this term lightly) owned a stallion.
No wandering stallion had been reported in the district.
Where did this little girl come from?
Her attentive mother hid her secrets behind quiet dark eyes and a far-away look.
I think it went something like this: Tall, dark stranger wanders into the campsite. Wows the ladies with stories of far-away lands and grand exploits. Invites the quiet one out for a stroll and enticing dip in the cool waters of the Milk River.
And . . .
Now you know where 'catch colts' come from.
You're welcome.

Friday, January 27, 2017


Oh, fish, you wet and slip’ry folk,
The butt of every smelly joke,
Of small or monolithic size,
You look so good . . . next to my fries.

And now, the jokes I spoke about,
Through all my grandkids, I did scout.
Some downright finny, some, so-so,
If you find better, let minnow.

A seahorse moves from cave to cave?
He scallops through the billowing wave! 
The Tsar’s best fish to eat at court?
Tsardines! They’d serve them by the quart!

A fish of large and ancient mein,
Makes threat’ning gestures at your spleen,
And gives an offer you can’t slight?
The Codfather. Look out tonight!

Where’s the sad and smelly lout,
The octopus that’s down and out?
Well, he’s (Oh, you must be aware),
On Squid Row. In a burrow there! 

What’s a fish that has no eyes?
A fsh! Now that should not surprise.
A nutella spread on salmon called?
Why salmonella. (Be appalled!)

One more, and then I’ll let you be . . .
There’s two fish swimming in the sea,
Into a wall, they headfirst ram,
One says unto the other, “Dam!”

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Moving On Up

A room of her own...
Our youngest daughter and her family live with us.
They have been saving for a house and it seemed a logical--and rather elegant--solution.
We have enjoyed these days together, probably more so because we knew they wouldn’t last forever.
But now the house-hunting has started.
Now you have to realize that Youngest Daughter (hereinafter known as Mama) has been here since her first marriage crumbled. Her little girl (LG) was just past a year old and Mama needed the support as she went back to work.
Grandma got to spend her days with LG and routines continued unabated. (Ooh. Good word.)
But now, with a wonderful new husband and a desire to ‘add to their family’ (whatever that means…) they are getting serious about finding a place of their own.
There are certain things they would like in their new home. A garage is important so Mama can continue with her theatre carpentry at her own home.
Things like a kitchen, living room, basement are a given.
And bedrooms.
And this is where other members of their family make their wishes known.
LG has some particular demands. For one, she wants the master bedroom to be big enough that her little bed can be parked beside her mother’s. None of this ‘separate rooms’ nonsense.
Also, there must be a room for Grandma.
Soooo . . . at least two bedrooms.
Now we know what a real estate agent goes through.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Lake Summer

More holiday memories . . .

Our family loved staying at our friends' cabin in Waterton Lakes Park.
So much so that my Dad finally felt we should have our own.
Cabin, I mean.
And the rest of us, picturing days happily spent on the lake, were very easily convinced.
He scouted around for a nice piece of property.
And finally found one on St. Mary Lake, just outside of Glacier National Park, Montana – across the border from the ranch.
It was truly beautiful. Clear, icy-cold, blue water.
And I do mean icy. Brrr.
Pure air. Lots of trees.
We fell in love.
The only thing missing was the . . . cabin.
No problem. Dad would build it.
He chose a design and ordered materials which were duly delivered.
And immediately stolen.
Our cabin plans were almost abandoned before they even got off the ground.
But, finally, Dad took a deep breath and ordered some more.
They came. And this time, they stayed.
He moved in a small travel trailer and we took up residence. Then began to prepare the land.
Work commences.
It was hot, hard work - cutting down a few of the trees and tearing out brush.
Sweat ran freely.
I know. Because I was watching carefully, can of black cherry pop in one hand and hot dog in the other.
But before you begin to think I was entirely useless, I must point out that I helped carry some of the rocks over to the lake to help construct our boat dock.
Okay. So...not entirely useless.
That's me in front. Hefting.
Small rocks.
Really small rocks.
Okay, I was useless.
Before too long, Dad and my brothers had cleared a spot large enough for our cabin.
I don't remember much of the building apart from the sounds of hammering and sawing and the wonderful smell of fresh-cut lumber.
Ha! My baby sister didn't help at all.
Mom kept me near her.
Across the road from the action.
My reputation for getting in the way was obviously well known.
Moving on . . .
The cabin went up magically.
In no time, we had a master bedroom where my oldest sister could sit and tell us scary stories.
Two smaller bedrooms with built-in bunk beds for the smaller kids to fall out of.
Which they did.
And a wonderful kitchen/dining/living room where Mom could make the food magic happen.
Mmm. Food.
Oh, and there was also a big, open fireplace . . . thing. I think that, technically, it was a wood stove. But it was screened on all sides. Wonderful for gathering around on a cool summer evening.
For visiting.
Something my family excelled at.
The cabin had huge windows facing the lake. And a large deck.
Another favourite place where we could sit and watch the water.
And dream.
Something else I excelled at.
We spent a few summers at the lake.
I remember evenings on the deck, looking out over the water and just breathing in the glorious air.
Splashing around in the frigid water.
Icy cold cans of pop out of the lake.
Games played beside a snapping fire.
Wiener/marshmallow roasts.
Hide and seek in the trees.
Ghost stories.
Visit with the neighbours. (Once, a for-real professional sheepherder drove his flock right past the cabin and we got to see the inside of his wagon.)
It was wonderful.
But it ended.
Several times, when we weren't in residence, the cabin was broken into and vandalized.
The last time, someone smashed the large picture window, leaving blood everywhere.
Dad replaced the window and promptly sold the cabin.
Too bad.
Because it was wonderful way to spend the summer.

There is a codicil.
A year or so after my Dad sold the cabin, a good friend of his stopped him on the street, shook a finger in his face and told him what a bad boy he was.
Bewildered, my Dad frowned at his friend. “What are you talking about?”
The man grinned. “We were boating on Duck Lake (Near St. Mary's) and decided to drop in and visit with you and Enes. Once we got there, we realized that you weren't home, but I remembered where you hid the key, so I opened the door and we went in to see if you had left any pop in the fridge.” The man shook his head. “I can't tell you how surprised I was to find it full of beer!”
My parents were well known for their tee-totalling habits.
Dad laughed. “I guess you didn't hear that I sold that cabin.”
The man's mouth dropped open.
“Yeah. A year or so ago.”
“So . . . it's not your cabin?”
“So . . . breaking and entering.”
Even when it no longer belonged to us, the cabin continued to entertain.
I miss it.
Squirrels on the deck of the Stringam cabin.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Not Forgotten. But Gone.

Because the days of being able to walk (or drive) right to a campsite or cabin and find a place to stay are long gone, we are already arranging our summer holidays.
This brings to mind holidays of the past.
Prince of Wales Hotel at Waterton Lakes Provincial Park.

I have always lived in the shadows of the Rockies.
And by doing so, have been in close proximity to one of many national parks.
Nowadays (real word, I looked it up), that means either the Banff or Jasper National Parks.
In my early years, it was Waterton Lakes.
How our family loved Waterton!
Every summer we spent at least a week there, staying in one of the tiny, rustic cabins perched on the very shore of Upper Waterton Lake or in the 'Madge' cabin, a beautiful old log cabin which belonged to some good friends.
We would swim in the gi-normous (my word) outdoor community swimming pool. Spend endless hours riding around the town on rented tandem bikes or surreys. Visit Cameron Falls or hike to Cameron Lake. Climb Bear's Hump. Explore Prince of Wales Hotel. Shop.
Then there were the lakes. One could fish there. Or boat or 'swim'. (I use this last term lightly because this was a mountain lake, and only a couple of degrees above freezing . . .)
The activities were many and varied.
Paradise for a little girl.
Especially since it was the fifties and crime hadn't been invented yet.
Mom could feed us breakfast and send us out the door, secure in the knowledge that we could play safely throughout the townsite.
Except that we had strict instructions not to go near any wildlife.
And Waterton certainly had that.
It wasn't unusual to open the front door and see a herd of deer lying around the front yard, placidly chewing their cud.
Or to have to retreat into a store because a bear was making its way slowly down main street.
That was especially okay, because ice cream was easily obtained and one could enjoy a treat and a show while one waited for the rangers, or for the bear to move on.
Whichever happened first.
It was no wonder that our annual pilgrimage to Waterton was our most anticipated tradition.
My family went back for a reunion.
I was amazed at what had changed in the years since my last trip.
Oh, there were some fondly remembered places still in existence.
Many of the stores and shops were the same, or at least similar.
The topographical sites were still there. Bear's Hump. Cameron Falls. The hiking paths I had enjoyed as a child.
And the Prince of Wales Hotel still majestically dominating the townsite.
But all else had changed.
We tried renting a tandem bike, but the only one left had a towel for a seat and was so rusted and stiff that riding it was more torture than pleasure.
The swimming pool had disappeared.
In its place stood a great hotel complex.
Our friends' cabin was gone, burned to the ground in a massive and heart-wrenching fire. It, too had been replaced by newer and more modern.
Our little cabins were also gone. The campground had been expanded to include the lot where they had stood.
We wandered around for most of a day, reminiscing.
It was still Waterton.
There was still a lot to see and do.
Watch the deer and other animals wander freely throughout the townsite.
Hike. Explore the great Hotel. Fish. Shop.
'Wade' in the lake. (We now called it for what it was . . .)
Swim in the new hotel's grand indoor pool.
Just not the things we most fondly remembered as children.
Who was it who said, 'You can never go back'?
They were wrong.
You can.
Just be prepared for some changes.
Where did you spend your summers?

Waterton Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park, and a Biosphere Reserve. The only park in the world that has these three designations.
Visit it!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Buttery Good

Fresh, Tasty, and good for the hands . . .?
We had manners in our family.
Bad manners are still manners, aren't they?
Let me restart.
We had good manners in our family.
And some bad dinnertime pranks.
Better . . .
The evening meal was always special at the Stringam Ranch. Mom was a terrific cook so the food was always good. The conversation, with two parents, six kids and assorted hired men would be endless and, if not brilliant, at least entertaining.
The day's ranchwork was done, so the men were happy and relaxed.
And the pranks and hijinks were ongoing.
There were several tricks that ocurred regularly.
But the favourite had to do with the butter.
With such a large group at mealtimes, much passing of dishes from hand to hand was expected.
And necessary.
Most of it was done politely. With a nod and a 'thanks'.
The meal proceeded smoothly.
But occassionally, someone would decide to 'liven things up a bit'.
And this usually accompanied the passing of the butter.
Now, the butter at the Stringam table was always freshly churned and delicious.
And went with everything.
So it was passed frequently.
Now, I should point out here that it was good manners to receive a passed dish directly, especially if one had asked to have it passed. Thus, if one requested the butter, one should then take the dish right from the passer's hand.
Common courtesy.
But the trick at the Stringam table was to pass it in just such a manner that the receiver's thumb would get stuck in the butter.
Okay I don't know what that's called.
Common dis-courtesy?
Or just plain funny.
Inevitably, nearly everyone at the table would end up, at one point or another, with their thumb in the butter.
Good thing Mom made everyone scrub up 'doctor style' before meals or we might have gotten more than nutrition served with our food.
But I digress . . .
With 'butter dipping' a common prank, it was inevitable that the receivers would get more and more creative with their receiving.
A nod and a simple gesture to set the butter down on the table was usually the first attempt.
One that was inevitably ignored as the passer waited patiently for a more polite method of transference.
Finally, the receiver would put out his or her hand, thumb tucked as far out of sight as possible.
It can be done.
It just isn't very comfortable.
Inevitably, no matter how hard the receiver would try to avoid, one digit or another would go in the butter.
And the passer would happily return to their meal, content in the knowledge that they had contributed to the evening's fun-filled mealtime.
While the receiver carefully wiped their fingers on their napkin.
Oh, I forgot to mention – napkins were also a necessary part of the every meal.
Moving on . . .
Finally, because the prank became such a common part of the meals, people stopped receiving.
The passer could sit there forever with the butter dish in their hand.
No one would reach out to take it.
In fact, people had been know to simply put out their knife and take a bit of butter while the passer was still holding it.
Unheard of!
But clever.
But one night, my brother forgot the new order of things. He asked my Dad for the butter and put out his hand to take it.
He did remember to tuck in his thumb.
Dad regarded the outstretched hand for a moment.
No visible thumb.
What to do?
Finally, he simply turned the entire dish over and set it, butter side down, on Jerry's hand.
Mission accomplished.
Dad went back to eating.
Jerry went to wash.
After that, no one went butter-dipping.
I mean, who could top that?

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