Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Losing the Thumb (War)

Oh, sure. It looks harmless enough now . . .
Washing and scrubbing and blow-drying and trimming.
And brushing and brushing and brushing.
And clipping.
And trimming again.
And no, this isn't the local hairdressing salon on Prom day.
It's the local barn, as the local ranchers get their local cattle ready for show.
Oh, there are a few differences. The cattle have hair in more places, for one thing. They are a fair amount larger. They seldom cooperate.
And said grooming is sometimes dangerous.
Not things the average hairdresser worries about.
Moving on . . .
The first thing that must be accomplished before grooming can begin, is restraint.
Not us. Them.
Oddly enough, most cattle don't like the idea of getting wet.
And soapy.
And they like, even less, the sound of electrical gadgets in their vicinity.
They tend to head for the nearest far-away place.
With enthusiasm.
On the Stringam Ranch, restraint was accomplished by running them into a 'head-gate'.
A contraption designed to snap shut just behind the head and hold the animal, in an upright position, ready for grooming.
Picture a hairdresser, when she has tilted her patient back over the sink to wash . . .
Okay. Know what? Don't think of a hairdresser at all.
Because none of that applies here.
Back to my story . . .
With the animal thus confined, grooming can begin.
But the fact is that when one gets up close and personal with something that outweighs one by 15 times, things can sometimes get . . . interesting.
Case in point:
We were grooming the two-year-old bulls.
For those who might not know, they are the male cattle.
Don't be mislead but their age.
Toddlers, they aren't.
Most of them weigh anywhere from 1500 to 2000 pounds.
Most of that muscle.
And bone.
With just a touch of aggression.
And a bit of stupidity.
I should explain, here, that a head gate works because the animal coming towards it can see daylight through it.
They lunge for what they see as freedom.
Now I'd like you to imagine the force 2000 pounds of solid muscle and bone can create when it is properly motivated.
Force which is brought to a crushing, bruising halt by the solid head gate as it snaps shut.
I know what you're thinking.
Probably best to keep one's hands and feet and appendages out of the way.
I didn't.
Remember the 'dangerous' part?
It comes in here.
Unthinkingly, I had rested my right hand on one of the uprights of the head gate.
And was watching as the next victim customer approached.
With alacrity. (Oooh. Good word!)
The bull hit the gate.
Then, realizing that he couldn't get out that way, immediately pulled back.
It was the pulling back that saved my hand.
Which had been caught between the upright and the metal plate that it snapped against.
Absorbing the entire force from 2000 pounds of mass.
On the run.
If the bull hadn't reacted as he had, my thumb would have been neatly and completely removed.
With surgical precision.
By the sharp, metal plate.
As he reared back, I gasped and jerked my hand away.
Then slumped against the fence as blackness threatened.
Dad looked at me curiously.
Everything had happened so fast that he hadn't seen it.
Wordlessly, I held out my hand.
The imprint of the plate could be plainly seen in the heavy, leather glove that I wore.
Which glove was also instrumental in saving my thumb.
Gently, Dad removed the glove.
As I gasped and swore breathed heavily.
The skin hadn't been broken, though there was a lively line of red where the plate had hit.
I was rushed to emergency, but subsequent x-rays showed that the bones hadn't even been broken.
A miracle.
When the pain and swelling subsided several weeks later, I was left with a numb thumb (something that continued for the next two years), and though the skin hadn't broken, a scar, which I carry to this day.
I learned some valuable things.
  1. When a piece of equipment carries the warning: Please keeps hands clear, there's a reason for the warning.
  2. Inattention begets injury.
  1. Two-year-old bulls look just fine the way they are.
  2. Fussing not required.
  3. Or appreciated
Mom always told me, and I quote, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”
She never pointed out that I would suffer.
And something else would be beautiful.
I probably should have paid attention.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Barbeque With Spirits

I have to admit that I really never know what my sister is going to do next.
There are probably those of you who would label her ‘Cuckoo’.
And I’m not disagreeing.
But I prefer the term: interesting. And since I moved in with her a couple of years ago, life has never been dull . . .
Reggie and I were sitting, enjoying the first sunshine in four days as it poured like warm honey through the picture window and across the hardwood. For once in what seemed like forever, my feet were warm.
I was absorbed in my latest mystery thriller and Reggie? well he was just absorbed, slowly swaying back and forth as he stared at the wall.
You never know with Reggie . . .
Norma bustled into the room.
I glanced up at her, then dropped my book and stared.
She was wearing a helmet. Old fashioned. Leather. Hockey, I think. Or football. It was obviously too large and had slid down until it almost covered her eyes.
Oh, and did I mention she was clutching a jar of relish? I probably should have.
I felt my eyebrows go up. Likely the most exercise I get in this household.
She was talking to herself. “Now if I just dispense it properly—” Her voice dwindled to a mutter.
Okay, those of you who know Norma are thinking this really isn’t unusual behavior. You’re probably right. But I simply couldn’t leave it alone. “Norma.”
“Hmmm?” She shoved her helmet up and looked at me.
“Ummm—what are you doing?”
“We’re having a barbeque!”
“We are.” Okay, yes, it probably should have sounded like a question, because this was the first I had heard of it, but with Norma, everything ends up a statement of fact.
“Oh, yes! She’s coming and I’ve told her to invite her friends!”
“A barbeque.”
I wasn't even going  to ask about the guests. “Okay, the relish is explained. But why the helmet?”
She pushed up on her headgear. “Well, you know we need to be cautious when dealing with open flames and a helmet will certainly decrease—” Her voice faded again.
I propped my head on one hand and stared at her. “You’re—planning on sticking your head in the barbeque?”
“Pfff! That would just be silly!” She waved one hand and started forward once more. Then she stopped. “What do you suppose ghosts like on their hot dogs?”
And she was worried about looking silly? Yeah, this was a conversation I never saw me having.
She held up the jar. “I was thinking ketchup and relish.”
She propped the backs of her hands on her hips. “A little mindfulness will make any party a success!”
I smiled. I had wondered if the word ‘mind’ would come into this conversation. As in ‘someone’s lost theirs’.
She lifted the jar and stared at it, shoving her helmet up once more. “Perhaps if I—”
Again her voice faded away.
Suddenly something flew out of the open kitchen door. Something distinctly jar-like and yellow.
It hit the floor just in front of Norma, shattering and spattering my sister’s legs as it spread its contents over a four-foot radius.
Both of us stared down at it.
I looked at Norma. “Well, I guess we can rule out mustard.” 

Use Your Words
Each month Karen of Baking in a Tornado give her groupies an exercise. A collection of words from their co-groupies. Everyone submits words. And Karen re-submits. 
My words this month were: dispense ~ decrease ~ mindfulness ~ helmet ~ relish
And were submitted by my friend Rena at:

 Admit it. This is fun.

Care to see what the others have done?
Head on over!
Baking In A Tornado
Spatulas on Parade
Part-time Working Hockey Mom
The Blogging 911                   
The Bergham Chronicles                  
Simply Shannon                            
Southern Belle Charm                       
The Global Dig                                  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Breakfast Carbon

Daddy at 5.
Background: his brother, Bryce.
Ignore the gun . . .
Dad was the youngest in a family of 11 children.
He had never been anywhere.
When Dad was five, his father decided he was old enough, finally, to go along when he took supplies to one of the family cow camps - about 35 miles away over roads that were mostly trails across the prairie.
The two of them started out.
Though the day had started out beautiful, the weather quickly turned sour.
As often happens in Southern Alberta.
And before they could start for home, a blizzard had blown in.
Travel quickly went from difficult to impossible.
Granddad decided that he and his youngest son would have to bunk with the rotund keeper (who also served as cook, bottle washer, chore boy, range rider and chief spinner of horrendous tales) of the camp.
Dad was beyond excited.
It was his very first time sleeping away from home.
The next morning dawned bright and clear.
Something else that often happens in Southern Alberta . . .
And Granddad decided that travel home would be attempt-able.
Before the two of them left, however, they were offered breakfast by the keeper.
He made bacon and eggs and, because the old, wood-burning, camp stove was rather unpredictable, biscuits that were burned black.
At first, Dad turned up his nose at the sight of the large, black lumps, but, after seeing his father eat a couple, he decided to try.
They weren't too bad.
He even got through a second.
Safely back at home a few hours later, as they were sitting down to lunch, his mother asked how he had liked it at the camp.
Dad was quite excited about the whole experience and talked about it enthusiastically.
He wished he could have stayed.
His Mom asked what he had eaten for breakfast.
It had been great, he enthused.
And he had eaten all of it!
"What did you have?" his mother asked.
"Bacon 'n eggs 'n coal!" Dad said proudly.
No wonder people were hardier back then.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Putting the 'Father' in Fatherhood

It starts out with a snuffle--a voice he's never heard before,
And suddenly, he's a Father with a whole new world in store.
The time goes by, he's changed a thousand diapers, maybe more,
His hair's grown grey along the sides, his back is bent and sore,
He knows feeding, changing--s'expert on most everything that's sold,
Imagine how much more he'll know when his child is two days old . . .

The years fly past, his baby's reached the great old age of three,
That wondrous time when head and hands reach *ouch* above the knee,
The scars have healed from babe's first tooth, the child can even talk,
The tiny hard hat's put away--his little one can walk.
The child is toilet-trained, survived each illness, scratch and sore,
Dad knows it all. Good thing because his wife just had two more.

His babes grow tall--or he grows small--there's quite a shift in size,
He's not as smart as he once was, through his adolescent's eyes.
He's older now and he can see both sides of any fight,
But it matters not 'cause like his child, he knows that he is right.
And as he watches, painfully, the sometimes good and bad,
There's one thing that will never change--the fact that he's their dad.

And so it goes, he does his best, survives on little rest,
He goes to work each day, comes home and simply does his best.
There is little recognition for the work he does each day,
A baby hug, a chocolate kiss may be his only pay.
But he strangles his impatience as he watches tiny hands,
And he gently speaks when teenage heads just do not understand.

His prods and pushes--anger, too, he tempers, 'cause he cares,
His one reward, his children's love, he treasures through the years.

Each month, Karen of Baking in a Tornado gathers the poets in her circle and gives us a challenge.
The theme for this month is Fatherhood.
Zip over to the others and see what they've created!
Karen of Baking In A Tornado: Fatherhood
Dawn of Spatulas On Parade: My Boys Are Dads
Lydia of Cluttered Genius: “Daddy Wins”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Times Tabled

Second row: Me
Bottom row: My nemesis.
I tried.
I really did.
I just wasn't . . . quite/ever . . . good enough.
Maybe I should explain.
Our grade five teacher, Mrs. Herbst, she of the blue hair, was a stickler for math.
And math facts.
Actually, she was a stickler for most school work, but especially for anything to do with numbers.
She devised many and various methods for teaching said facts.
Quizzes. (Not to be confused with tests. Quizzes were shorter in length and supposedly carried less weight. And were jumped on you without notice. Yikes!)
Games . . .
And this is where our story starts . . .
Our class sat in desks in several long rows.
Mrs. Herbst would call the names of the front students in the two outside rows.
“Kathy and Margaret, please pay attention.”
Actually, I must confess that I don't know if those two girls were ever actually pitted against each other in Mrs. Herbst's devious little exercise, but they were two of the smartest girls in the class and I thought this sounded good.
Moving on . . .
The girls would take a deep breath and sit up, ready for what was coming.
“Seven times six!” Mrs. Herbst would bark out crisply.
“Forty-two!” Both girls would shout out together, nearly in unison.
The teacher would nod and smile.
And call out the names of the students seated just behind the first two.
“Five times nine!”
Slowly, she would work her way around the room.
Getting closer and closer to me.
And Kenny.
“Six times eight!”
“Four times nine!”
“Five times six!”
Finally, she would be looking at the students seated directly in front of her in the two center rows.
One of whom was almost purple with anticipation.
Okay. Me. I was almost purple with  . . . you get the picture.
The other was Kenny. Calm. Collected. Cool.
Mrs. Herbst would inhale.
My heart would stop.
“Nine times nine!”
“Eighty one!” Kenny would say, softly, before she had even finished the last word.
And just as I was drawing a breath, ready to shout.
“Rats!” I would say.
I knew the answer! I did!
That rotten Kenny beat me again!
I would sit back in my chair and glare, narrow-eyed, at the tall young man seated just opposite.
Next time, Kenny. Next time.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dislike Mike

Old Mike, he’s quite the ornery guy,
But if you ever ask him why,
Rather than his ways decry,
‘Tis likely he’d just not reply.

Mike’s wife, upon the other hand,
Is someone who is really grand,
Tries very hard to understand,
And to placate his demands.

One day, she thought the time had come,
She’d try to please her crabby chum.
To make him happy, up, she’d drum,
The perfect breakfast. Every crumb.

His least demands, she would regard,
She’d maybe catch the man off guard.
Some notes, she made upon a card,
When he said, “Eggs. One soft, One hard.”

She cooked and stirred, then did present,
The food for which her spouse had sent,
Thereby, so hoping to prevent,
Their usual morning argument.

So carefully, she did array
His lovely breakfast on a tray,
He frowned, then nodded. Happy day!
She finally had got her way!

But all her efforts, he’d discard,
When he spoke, the old blowhard,
And said (With verve. And disregard),
“Dear wife, you boiled the wrong one hard!”

With me, Old Mike’d face no backlash
O’er his head, no dishes smash,
No screaming and no teeth to gnash.
I’d just firmly place him in the trash!

Here, Monday's are for poetry,
If, like Delores and Jen-ny,
And me. You find that you agree,
Then go to visit them and see.

And you have till midnight to vote for my book cover, Daughter of Ishmael!
Please, please go and cast your vote. I'll be soooo grateful!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Neighbourhood Haunt

You see misfortune. We saw 'scaaaary'!
There was a haunted house in Milk River.
Demons lived there.
You name it. If it was slimy and scary, it had a residence in that house.
We children in the town skipped past on the far side of the street.
Even in broad daylight.
With our ears plugged and talking volubly, so as to drown out any and all noises that might escape that house.
Even so, I'm sure that, on two occasions, I heard screams.
And no, they didn't come from me.
At one time, Milk River's haunted house had been just another normal, ordinary, rather elderly little home.
Situated about half-way down the block.
A family had lived there.
Mother. Father. Children.
But that was where the 'normal' part ended. At least that is what my friends had informed me.
One night, the mother had asked her little boy to go down into the cellar to look for the family cat.
It was dark in the cellar. He had lighted a match to see more clearly.
And dropped it into a vat of kerosene.
What that was and why a vat of it would be sitting in someone's basement, I didn't know, but it sounded dangerous.
Suffice it to say that my facts really didn't hold well under scrutiny.
But I was four.
Who was scrutinizing?
I was too busy shivering in delight.
Moving on . . .
So the little boy dropped his match into the vat of kerosene.
It lit up like a huge torch.
The kerosene, that is.
He and his family barely got out alive.
No one knows what happened to the cat.
The family then disappeared.
Never to be heard from again.
Actually, none of us really knew what happened to start the fire.
It was just one of those terribly unfortunate things.
The family moved away, maybe to a family member's house to regroup.
But reality wasn't as interesting to us kids as the stories we made up.
Once, a group of us actually sneaked into the house and got as far as the kitchen.
Standing in the center of the room was a partially-charred table, still covered with an equally-burned oilcloth and decorated with a bowl of blackened fruit.
We were horrified.
And ran from the house screaming.
I know, I know, intrepid explorers we weren't.
The house was eventually demolished.
Mainly to keep us kids from scrambling through it like some sort of ride in a carnival.
But even after another house had been erected and another family moved in, it remained the haunted house.
Where the family lived.
Before the fire.
And maybe they're there still.
Making noises and screaming at odd hours.
The four-year-olds in the neighbourhood would know.

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Please go to and vote for my cover, Daughter of Ishmael! Then share! Share! Share!
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