Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Friday, December 22, 2017

Meat Mystery

Mmmmmm . . .

Every family has traditions at Christmas.
Some are fun.
Some funny.
Some weird.
Our family has several that fit into this last category.
One is Christmas stockings.
Okay, yes, I know that many, many families enjoy the custom of stuffing a stocking for each family member.
It's what goes into said stockings that sets our family apart.
Maybe I should explain . . .
On Christmas, after the kids have been shuttled off to bed, Mom and Dad (Spoiler Alert: Alias Santa) bring out the loot.
Erm . . . gifts.
Each stocking is laid out and stuffed full.
I look after the common, everyday, run-of-the-mill gifts:
1.Toothbrushes.
2. Socks.
3. Underwear.
4. The orange in the toe.
My Husby looks after the strange and bizarre:
1. Various styles of catapults.
2. Magnets.
3. Quirky -- ie. strange – books, puzzles and games.
4. Expanding T-shirts. Just add water.
5. And little tins of meat.
I know what you're thinking.
Why on earth would someone give his kids catapults?
You weren't?
My mistake.
Sooo . . . tinned meats.
Every year, each of our children finds a tin of . . . something . . . stuffed into the inner reaches of his or her stocking.
And I'm not talking tuna fish here.
These are tins of something fancifully called: Vienna sausage.
In various flavours.
All neatly and brightly and attractively packaged.
And yes, I realize that there may be people around the world who love Vienna sausage.
My kids were raised on the prairie.
And served beef three meals a day.
With the occasional foray into the world of chicken or pork.
If the animal didn't originally bellow, oink or cluck, they regarded it with deep suspicion.
Or outright revulsion.
Okay, the ingredients listed on the Vienna sausage tins said: beef and/or chicken and/or pork and/or meat.
But it was mechanically de-boned and mixed with . . . other stuff.
So in the words of my kids, mystery meat.
Need I say that my Husby's gifts weren't received with gladness?
Probably not.
Oh, they tried it.
The very first year.
It . . . wasn't popular.
No tin was every willingly opened again.
And when the detritus had been cleared from the front room after the all-important opening of the gifts, the only things remaining were several tins of meat.
Left where they had been dropped upon being discovered.
Husby immediately scooped them up and stowed them carefully away.
Only to bring them out and drop them into another stocking the next year.
One particular tin of sausage re-appeared six years in a row. The last a few years ago. In Argentina (where our youngest son was living at the time).
His roommate ate it.
Something we didn't think was possible.
One of our kids asked their father why he kept putting those little tins of -to them- inedible meat in the stockings.
His answer surprised all of us. “Because I want you to appreciate that we live in a place where we have plenty. That tiny tins of mystery meat can be laughed over and disregarded. We are very blessed.”
We truly are.

Over the next few days, I'm reprising my Favourite stories of Christmas. Some you may remember. All are true! :)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Holding the Reindeer

He came!!!
The Stringam ranch was far out in the country.
Far out.
But Santa still managed to find it.
In fact, it was probably one of his first stops because he showed up even before the kids had gone to bed.
All of this happened several years BD (Before Diane), but fortunately my Dad still remembers it . . .
Christmas Eve. The sun had long since set and a sparkling winter evening had closed over the old two-storey farmhouse.
Two big-eyed children, ages four and two were listening to stories about the magical Santa and his gift-bearing sleigh and reindeer.
Suddenly, mid-story, their father stood up, apparently hearing noises outside.
“Oh! I think he’s here!” He grinned at the kids, then put on his coat and headed outside, into the blackness.
Both children crowded close to the kitchen door, trying hard to peer into the night and catch a glimpse of this mysterious ‘Santa’.
They didn’t have long to wait.
Or far to peer.
Because the door swung open and Santa stepped right into their kitchen.
Following some general ‘ho-ho-hos’ and some pats on the head, he carried his sack of toys into the front room and proceeded to arrange brightly-coloured packages under the Christmas tree.
The two wide-eyed children drifted dazedly in his wake, observing everything closely.
Finally, the little girl could stand it no longer. “Santa? Did you see Daddy out there?” She glanced toward the kitchen door.
Some general affirmative grunting from the man in red.
“Oh.” A long pause. Then, “Is he holding your reindeer?”
Myth comes up smack against the practical four-year-old brain.
Myth wins.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

TeeTOTALed

The truth behind the beard...
Husby and I come from a long line of designated drivers.
Generations of teetotalers.
It works for us . . .
Husby also spends the month leading up to Christmas dressed in red and sounding jolly.
These two facts go together.
Perhaps I should explain . . .
Santa lives at the North Pole.
Where it’s cold.
His wearing of red velvet and fur is out of necessity.
Here in Edmonton, Alberta, though it gets bone-snappingly cold outside, Santa’s helpers – like my husby - inevitably end up sitting in a warm room. Surrounded by hundreds of overheated people. And in very close contact with those people’s kiddies.
Let’s put it this way: The red suit absorbs more than ambiance.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Simply throw it into the nearest washing machine!
And that would be a great idea.
Except for the fur.
Fur and/or water and/or detergent don’t do well together. Just FYI.
And sometimes there is a long drought between dry-cleanings.
Sigh.
Now the need for some sort of odor-eater is most apparent just after Santa finishes a ‘gig’, when Santa and Mrs. are stuck in a warm car together for the entire ride home.
Sometimes it is a long ride.
On one such ride, our daughter (also closely closeted with us) mentioned a solution that the theatre costume authorities here in Edmonton use. They call it ‘French Dry-Cleaning’.
1 part Vodka and 1 part Water. Mix the two and spray all nasty odours away. "And it works!" she said, holding her nose. "It de-scents the unwashable!"
There was only one problem.
Our household did not have any vodka. (See above.)
Being people of the moment, we stopped in to the nearest liquor store and Santa girded up his suspenders and headed inside.
A quick question to the proprietor and he was walking down an aisle and procuring the cheapest bottle of vodka in the store.
Happily, he joined the queue at the checkout.
Let me describe: Man in an overcoat, paying for two bottles of whiskey.
Another, younger man, buying a couple of cases of beer.
A woman purchasing wine.
And Santa, clutching his bottle of vodka.
He looked up.
And realized that all eyes were on him.
Smiling, rather self-consciously, he said, “I know how this looks . . .”
The man at the front of the queue promptly responded, “No. Looks pretty natural to me!”
And another, "Hey, Mister, I've got no problem with it!"
Ha! Ever wondered how Santa makes it through the holidays?
You heard it here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Santa's Fourth Report Card

Santa and I are in the midst of 'Santa and Mrs.' season.
So I've decided to re-share Santa's reports from past years. Just because these experiences are soooo precious! 

Last year...

Santa's Report Card: 2016

Guest Post by Santa Claus (aka: Kris Kringle)
Kris and Rebecca Kringle
Photo by: Kimberley Laaksa Photography.
As has become our tradition, Mrs. Santa and I would like to share with you the joys and delights we receive from visiting the world when it is at its cheeriest and most positive. There truly is a wonderful Spirit which accompanies the Christmas season.
My Beloved and I have been recreating Santa and Mrs. Rebecca Claus (there – you heard her first name here first!) for some years now, and each year it is a special treat. We sincerely hope it also is for the people with whom we have the pleasure of visiting.
This year, for about the last five or six weeks, we have visited some 25 organized events and several spontaneous ones (disorganized events?), and they have each and every one been special to us.  We have sat over 1000 little ones on our collective knees this year, over 200 not-so-little ones, and we have had the great pleasure of visiting with some 450 seniors, some of whom were not able to sit on our knees, so we bent ours to them.  As it should be.  And our knees are still working!  That in itself is a great Christmas blessing!
We were privileged to visit a Seniors Lodge to which we have been invited for several years.  My failing memory notwithstanding (as my Beloved would say, ‘ooh, good word!) many faces are familiar – though I still struggle to put a name to most faces. I enjoy the smiles elicited when I flatter the ladies with the thought that they have seen what, now? 29 or 30 Christmases?? And the men always seem to enjoy my un-pretended envy of their beautiful white hair (mine still takes a little dye and paint to remove the last of the colour).  After visiting with these dear folks for a moment or two, we ask them not what they would like for Christmas but rather “what is your Christmas wish – for you, for your loved ones, or for the world?”
Many—having endured the ravages of war themselves—many wish for the proverbial Peace on Earth; the Christmas-time phrase that many of us toss off without really thinking about its meaning. These folks are sincere.  In their age and disability and declining health caused by a lifetime of caring and struggle, they truly are burdened with the weight of war and strife in the world. 
We assure them we will do what we can to end the strife. We assure them that the secret to doing so is in working with the children of our little corner of the world. Chidlren who will need to know joy in their life, that they may be armed to stand up to the evils they will inevitably encounter.
Amongst the senior crowd this year was a dear little old woman, 93 years old, assisted by a wheelchair due to an aged, bent body that could no longer keep up with her sharp mind.  I knelt down to greet her, took her hand in mine and asked, “What would you wish for this Christmas, Estelle? (We love the beautiful ‘old-fashioned’ names that we encounter!). Estelle looked up at me as best she could, caught my eye and said: “A kiss from Santa Claus”.
I know that I hesitated, noticeably, with this request, as the possible implications of fulfilling her request ran through my mind. I must add here that I am most grateful to have Mrs. Santa at my side, who does a magnificent job of monitoring ‘players’ of all ages, even the 93-year-old ones. (A tangent to follow, if you will indulge me for a moment: I have, over the years, received some, shall we say, ‘interesting requests’ to intervene in the love-lives of teens and twenty-somethings. The most interesting and strident one this year was a request from Jackie, who asked me to stop off at Dave’s house in San Diego to let him know that Jackie was expecting him to bring back a ring – ‘a big one’ -- this Christmas.  “Have you taken this up with Dave yet, or will this be a surprise when I tell him?” “Oh, Santa,” said Jackie, “He knows who he is! And he knows alllllllabout the rock I want!” I assured Jackie that I would deliver a reminder to Dave. ‘Nuff said. Merry Christmas to Jackie and best wishes to Dave!)
Estelle was still waiting for her kiss from Santa, and while my mind was still on pause with the request I asked her “Why would you want a kiss from this whiskered old face?” Estelle paused a moment also, and with a tear forming in the corner of her eye she breathed quietly, “I have not had a kiss from anyone for over 25 years . . . . “.   Estelle’s grip on my gloved hand tightened, but this was not the cause of a tear welling in my own eye.  As I returned the firmness of the hand grip, Santa and Mrs. Santa both granted a Christmas wish that, in the grand scheme of things, was easily granted and that cost nothing but a bit of the ‘milk of human kindness’, as Dickens so succinctly summarized it in the words of Jacob Marley. While delighted to grant so simple and meaningful a request, we were saddened by the tale of neglect that had sparked Estelle’s Christmas wish.
I will end this 2016 Report Card with the story of Isabella, a gangly and quiet-spoken 10-year-old who had been on Santa’s knee, in turn with some 30 other children at a lively community-league Christmas event. Once all of the children had had their turn and had gone off to unwrap their gifts, two young ladies hovered nearby. One was a delightful 5-year-old who, with the full approval of her mother, had suspended a dozen or so candy canes in the neck of her crimson Christmas dress, delivering them to various and sundry at will.  Mrs. Santa and I were the grateful recipients of, I think, more than half of her deliveries.  Isabella hovered nearby until the candy deliveries were mostly completed, and until I noticed her there, again.  I waved my hand for her to ‘come over’, which she did, slowly.  “Would you like to sit on my knee again, Isabella?” (I actually remembered her name this time!).  She nodded, and I hoisted her up onto my lap, feeling that maybe she had forgotten to tell me something during her first visit. I tried to strike up a conversation with her.
“What grade are you in at school, Isabella?”
“Five.”
“Do you like school?”
“Yeah.”
“What’s your favourite subject?”
A shrug of the shoulders.
“Do you like sports?”
“No.”
“Do you like to draw, make art?”
“Yeah.”
With each question, Isabella had snuggled closer and more closely into Santa’s warm furry suit.  After several more attempts at eliciting some information, I finally figured out that Isabella was sending me the only message that she needed to hear back from me.
“Would you like Santa to be quiet now?”
She snuggled right in close and leaned her head on my shoulder. “Yeah.”
I wrapped my arms around her and granted two wishes, one of which was unspoken. I realized that Santa’s blathering on, trying to learn something about this lovely little lady, was masking the unspoken request she was making, which was simply to be loved.
Isabella spent some twenty minutes on my lap that night, encircled by my arms.  A priceless moment in time we shall never forget and shall always cherish.
My Christmas wish for 2017?  That each and every one of you will experience the milk of human kindness in the coming weeks and months and years.  God bless, and Merry Christmas to all!
With our love to you at Christmas 2016,
Santa and Rebecca Claus

Monday, December 18, 2017

My Shopping Pocket

Not exactly. But close...
‘Twas Christmas. My Mom had us all in the car.
It was time for the shopping. We had to go far,
To Lethbridge ‘most seventy miles away.
We talked and we laughed—just enjoying the day.

My brothers and sister had done this before,
Gone shopping for Christmas with Mom at the stores.
But for four-year-old me, this time was the first,
I was way beyond eager, nigh ready to burst.

But when she had parked and I looked from the car,
From the ranch to the city was more than just far,
I had somehow moved on to a whole other sphere,
And I stared at the thousands of folks that were here.

I was used to my world, I’ll admit it. It’s true.
I was here, I must shop. What else could I do?
All my siblings had spread—in the crowd, disappeared,
I slowly climbed out, tried to swallow my fear.

Mother picked up my brother and gave me a grin,
As I stood there so anxious on trembling limbs.
“Let’s go shop for Christmas, Diane,” to me, said.
And I nodded and shivered and wished I was dead.

But then she said something that filled me with hope,
As she showed me the pocket attached to her coat,
“Now you hold on tight and we’ll wander along,
And no one can hurt you and nothing go wrong.”

So I did and I found that my mother was right,
Holding tight to her pocket, I let go of my fright.
I discovered that shopping for Christmas was fun!
If I held Mother’s pocket till the shopping was done.

Years have passed, I forgot ‘pocket shopping’ with Mom,
Till one day, with my kids, we had errands to run,
And with my arms full with the baby and all,
We started our tour of the stores in the mall.

A tug on my coat and I looked down to see,
A toddler’s hand clutch my pocket. And me.
I knew how she felt—the security. Calm.
I’d felt it myself with a pocket. And Mom. 

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.

And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

And next week, from my friends, and me, 
Our 'Christmas Wish' for all to see!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Santa's Third Report Card

Santa and I are in the midst of 'Santa and Mrs.' season.
So I've decided to re-share Santa's reports from past years. Just because these experiences are soooo precious! 

Santa's Report Card 2015

A guest post by Kris Kringle

I told you last year that I thought Kris Kringle had a great thing going, and that I fully intended on encroaching on his territory.  And I have to admit that I do it willfully and intentionally, and, to some degree, selfishly.  I find that I get soooo much out of being Santa Claus, I often feel like I am taking more out than I am putting into the real purpose of Christmas.  Notwithstanding my own misgivings, I still maintain it is the best job going.
My Beloved and I have been recreating Santa and Mrs. Rebecca Claus (there – you heard her first name here first!) for some years now, and each year it is a special treat. We sincerely hope it also is for the people with whom we have the pleasure of visiting.
This year, for about the last five or six weeks, we have visited some 25 organized events and several spontaneous ones (disorganized events?), and they have each and every one been special to us.  We have sat over 1000 little ones on our collective knee this year, over 200 not-so-little ones, and we have had the great pleasure of visiting with some 450 seniors (who were not able to sit on our knees, so we bent ours to them.  As it should be.  And our knees are still working!  That in itself is a great Christmas blessing!).
During Christmas-time 2015, my beloved Rebecca and I have been fĂȘted by young Irish Dancers, world-class Figure Skaters, Madrigal Singers, Farmers’ Marketers, school children galore, hockey players, patients in the Sick Kids’ hospital, and many dental patients–all of whom knew the song “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (and most of whom asked me ‘Please, PLEASE don’t sing it to me, Santa, you sound like my Dad!’.)
Amongst the middle-aged crowd were a myriad of parents who, without exception, wished only the best for their children and families.  It was good for Santa to see and hear that.
One very special young man, in his mid-20s, had never before encountered our western incarnation of the Santa Claus legend.  He was a large fellow, who asked if he could hug me; of course I replied it was expected!  He put his burly arms around me and literally lifted me off the floor – not an easy task in itself when you think of Santa’s size–all the while giving me the best bear-hug I have ever had!  After I regained my ability to breathe and speak, I asked a bit about himself.  Turns out he had only been in Canada two weeks, a Syrian refugee who after many months had found a new home with some wonderful caring people.  When I asked him what he would like for Christmas, he wished for peace and a new home for all of his family and friends still enmeshed in the war and strife in his homeland.  He wished me a Merry Christmas before I could even mutter the words to him.
On the campus of the local University, we had been invited to the home of a professor and his family who were hosting a Christmas party for his family and about 20 or so international graduate students studying with the professor–students from Iran, Turkey, India, Syria, Japan, Israel, China, and a couple of other far-flung lands.  To my knowledge none were Christian, but each insisted on visiting with Santa and Rebecca to learn more about what must have been strange western Christmas customs.  We spent more time that we probably should have with these bright young people. Each of them sported a huge smile and returned wishes of peace and success and prosperity–for us, for their hosts in a new country, and for their families and friends back home.  Not one of them hesitated wishing me a Merry Christmas, and I received with great gladness many wishes for a happy Hannukah, a good Ramadan, and several other upcoming holy-day festivals that I am still studying up on.  I will celebrate each of them with glee and gladness for new-found friends.
The most moving experience for Santa this year was a delightful young 9-year-old Irish dancer–Natalie.  She came to my knee with a little less than her usual smile or her usual brightness for the season.  When I got around to asking what she would like for Christmas, I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear: “I would like the bombing to stop.”  This was just a couple of days after the terrible events in Paris, and I could tell little Natalie was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders that night.  “Yes, Natalie, I would like the bombing to stop too. [Long pause].  I will see what I can do about that, okay? In the meantime, is there something that you would like for Christmas, something just for you?”
Natalie was not to be deterred.  “No, Santa, I just want the bombing to stop.  Is there something I can do to make it stop?”
Another long pause.  But then the words came into Santa’s mind.
“Yes, Natalie, there is something you can do to make the bombing stop.  In fact, there are two things you can do.  First, you can keep smiling!  You have such a beautiful smile!  Share your smile with everyone in the world, because that tells everyone that you lovethem—and the bombing will stop.  And second, dear Natalie, just keep on dancing!  I promise you that if you keep on dancing, and show the world that you love everyone like I know you do, the bombing will stop, one day.”
I had a great Christmas in 2015, my friends, thanks mostly to the Natalies of the world.  I hope and wish that yours has been a wonderful one too.
Peace on Earth, Good Will to Women, Men and Children, Always!
With much love,
Santa and Rebecca Claus
From all of us to all of you:
a very Merry Christmas!

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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