Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

World's Best Mother

The only surviving picture of Andrew
Ranching is wonderful.
Most of the time.
You get to spend your days outdoors, working in the pure, sage-stuffed air.
See the heat shimmer on the tops of hills.
Watch the prairie grass bend in the breeze.
You witness births and new life. See groups of calves, and sometimes their mothers, cavort and snort and play.
And see the milk cow try to run with the deer.
You can bury your face in your pony's thick, warm winter coat and just breathe in his 'horsey' smell.
You have long, wonderful talks with family members as you ride to or from.
And while you're working together.
It's a peaceful and serene existence.
And the scenery breath-taking.
But occasionally, it gets pretty gritty.
There are disasters.
But even these can result in something beautiful.
Let me explain . . .
As occasionally happens, a young heifer (cow that hasn't yet produced a calf) was inadvertantly 'exposed' to a bull.
She caught. (Became pregnant)
But something went wrong.
Perhaps because she was so young. Perhaps because she had some physical and undetected abnormality.
Whatever the reason, she was dying and there was nothing that could be done to save her.
And her calf was just days away from being born.
My Dad had to make a quick decision.
He decided to take the calf early and then put the suffering mother out of her misery.
Fortunately, in times like these, a trained veterinarian can work very, very quickly.
One life saved.
Another let go.
And we had a new little bull calf.
An extremely healthy and active little bull calf.
I called him Andrew.
But Andrew didn't have a mama.
Normally, this doesn't present too much of a problem.
You simply adopt the calf onto another mama.
It isn't easy, but it's worth the effort.
Unfortunately, there were no 'mamas' available.
Bottle feeding was indicated.
Now any of you who have bottle fed a puppy or kitten or other young animal know that it's a time-consuming and constant thing.
Not so with calves.
They only need to be fed three or four times a day.
Fairly simple to work around.
And fun for the kids.
So we dug out our bottle and formula and gave our little man his first feeding.
He sucked strongly. A good sign.
On to the next hurdle.
Finding him a place to bunk.
Firmly rejecting our son's offer of his room, we decided on the corral.
There was only one problem.
The corral already had an occupant.
Old Bluey.
Bluey was an older appaloosa mare, gentle and slow.
Her mottled black and grey hair gave her a distinct 'blue' colour.
Thus the name.
Okay, so creative, we weren't.
Back to the problem . . .
We decided that Bluey probably didn't propose much of a threat to our little Andrew.
We carried the calf into the pen and set him down.
He stood there for a moment.
Then he spied Bluey.
Bawling loudly, he headed towards her.
She stared at this little apparition.
And moved away.
He kept on coming.
Again she moved.
This went on for some time.
Finally, deciding that Andrew would be all right, we left them together.
A few hours later, I took a new bottle of formula to our little orphan.
And received the surprise of my life.
There stood Bluey, with the calf beside her nursing loudly.
I should point out here that a horse is generally considerably taller than a cow.
Certainly, Bluey was taller than Andrew's mother had been.
In fact, to simply reach the mare's udder Andrew had to stretch as far as he possibly could.
But he was doing it.
And Bluey was letting him.
It was a miracle.
Another thing I should mention is that a calf is a lot rougher while nursing than a colt. Calves get very 'enthusiastic'. And if the milk slows down, they butt their head into the cow's udder.
Not so with colts. They are quite gentle. Even mannerly about their feeding.
I probably needn't point out that Andrew was a calf.
And an extremely enthusiastic one.
I watched as he butted his head into Bluey's udder. I could almost feel her wince.
She raised her leg and closed her eyes for a moment.
Then she lowered her leg and let him nurse again.
It truly was an amazing sight.
Throughout the summer, between bottle feedings, Bluey nursed Andrew.
Once, we left the calf in the corral and took Bluey out to bring in the herd, intending to capture them in that same corral.
As we drew close with the herd, someone opened the gate.
Little Andrew came running out, searching for his 'mother'.
And bawling loudly.
Bluey nickered back at him anxiously and he quickly found her and took up a position at her side, following along happily.
Eventually, in the fall, all the calves were weaned, taken from their mothers and put into the feedlot together.
For a day or two, there was a lot of bawling and angst.
Then they discovered the feed troughs.
And discovered, too that they had very short memories.
Peace was restored.
Bluey, too, resumed her peaceful life as though it had never been interrupted.
There is an addendum . . .
I checked Bluey's udder once while she was with her little adopted boy.
She had no milk.
She had done all of that 'Mothering' with an empty udder.
The pain must have been exquisite.
But she did it.
Yep. Definitely a gold medal performance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Hazards of Work

Which is more hazardous to your health?
Or this?

Two little ten-year-old girls had been given an assignment.
Then left alone to do it.
Mischief happens . . .
My family was raised on a large cattle ranch.
Dealing with cows (and the myriad tasks that follow them) was our daily life.
And when our annual sale/production day approached, work increased as not only the cattle, but the entire ranch must be presented in their best light.
My little sister, hereinafter called ‘Anita’, and her friend, 'Jo Ellen', had been given the assignment to sweep out the sale barn - a large building built for the sole purpose of exhibiting cattle, one-by-one, to scores of people seated in the bleachers.
Said people were then expected to ‘bid’ on said animals.
On sale day, that building was the hub of all activity.
And, incidentally, sale day was the most exciting day of our entire year.
Moving on . . .
These two little girls had already had a busy morning. You have to know that we were a family of firm non-smokers. The only cigarettes and/or other smoking paraphernalia that ever came onto the ranch, came in visitor’s vehicles. These two little girls had spotted a packet of cigars in a prospective buyer’s car.  They had stolen borrowed liberated two cigars from it.
I know. What were they thinking?
And now, in sole possession of the sale barn, they neglected their duties to take turns pretending to be either ‘auctioneer’ or ‘buyer’. The one would take a seat at the high auctioneer’s booth while the other would light her cigar, sit on the bleachers, and ‘bid’.
Anita was the first ‘buyer’. She puffed at her cigar in her best ‘I’ve-watched-them-and-I-know-how-it’s-done’ manner, and nodded at the auctioneer at salient times. Then they switched places and Jo-Ellen assumed the buyer’s duties, cigar and all.
After a while, the two of them decided they had better get to work. Sweeping.
They pushed a load of straw and dirt out into the barnyard.
And that’s when Anita lost what little remained of her breakfast.
Oh, man she was sick.
And then the same thing happened to Jo-Ellen.
The two of them crawled up into the bleachers and collapsed. For several minutes, they sat there, wondering what on earth had happened that both of them became so sick.
So suddenly.
They concluded, finally, that it must have something to do with sweeping.
And/or buying/selling.
Either activity is obviously hazardous to one’s health.
Just FYI.
The ring-leader . . .

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Baked Snake

It'll get you!
I like snakes.
And it's because of my Mom's cooking.
Hmmm. Maybe I'd better explain . . .
I loved to watch my Mom when she was in the kitchen.
I would sit on the cupboard, more or less out of the way.
And follow her movements closely.
She peeled potatoes so fast that I thought every potato had two skins.
I had watched.
Two skins.
Because there was always a skin where she had just peeled.
At other times, she could take her large ceramic bowl and dump in this and that and come out with something delicious.
Every time.
I once told her she was a 'dump cook'.
"I'm a good cook!" she protested.
I tried to explain that that was what I meant, but I don't know if I got through.
But I digress . . .
Sometimes, she would start her trusty Sunbeam mixer.
A sure Diane magnet.
Within seconds, I was standing beside her.
"Mom! Can I have a taste?"
"Honey, it's just butter and sugar."
"But it looks so good!"
"Well, if you want . . ."
Did you know that butter and sugar can actually taste really good?
Well, if dispensed by Mom on a large cake spoon.
But the best of all was when Mom would bake buns.
Or rolls, for anyone who doesn't feel comfortable calling them 'buns'.
She would dump in (see above) bits of this and that and make a large, sticky mass.
Then she would start punching with her hands, adding little bits of flour.
I should point out, here, that if you see a great tub of something powdery and white in Mom's kitchen, icing sugar tastes infinitely better on the end of a wet finger than flour.
Just sayin' . . .
She would punch and punch until she had her dough to just the right consistency.
And yes, I did know what consistency meant.
For a four-year-old, I was a brainiac.
Mom would pinch off a portion of the larger mass and work it into a long roll, ready to cut into smaller pieces.
Then would come the exciting part.
She would chase me around the kitchen, wiggling this long roll of dough, and saying, "Sssssss!"
That was my cue to run around and shriek loudly.
I was good at it.
The dough snake was going to get me!
The dough snake was going to get me!
Finally, when Mom had had enough, she would set the 'snake' back on the counter and proceed to chop it into bits.
One of which she gave to me.
Snake really tastes delicious.
Remember the part when I said 'brainiac'?
I lied.

Monday, April 20, 2020


The year that they all turned fifteen—went out to get some snacks,
Thought they would go to that new place so simply titled: Jack’s.
They only had 6 dollars and they all could ride their bikes,
Plus, Jennie Webster lived nearby. (The girl that they all liked!)

Then ten years on, now twenty-five, they met at Jack’s once more,
The beer was cheap. They had a band for tearing up the floor.
They had no cover charge (it’s key when paying student loans),
And lots of cute girls to encourage raging male hormones.

At thirty-five, just ten years later met, again, at Jack’s,
Because the booze was always good and free were all the snacks,
And it was right there, near their gym, the host would ne’er forbid,
And if they gathered late, there weren’t too many whiney kids! 

Ten years later, forty-five, the group did meet again,
At Jack’s so they could sit a while and ‘talk of days back then’,
And Jack’s served big martinis, too, and kept snack prices low,
And all the servers wore tight pants as they dashed to and fro.

Now fifty-five, they met once more at Jack’s. (You knew they would.)
Cause Jack was sensible and kept the prices where he should,
And plus they had a wine list, nice (and certainly) not small,
And lots of fish. That’s very good for one’s cholesterol.

A decade more and they decided, now, at sixty-five,
That they would eat at Jack’s—at least those who were still alive,
The lighting there was good, they said, unlike so many more,
And happ’ly served the early birds, who gathered there at four.

At seven decades and a half—the years just slipped on by,
Again the friends all gathered, (now were) Jack’s own a-lum-ni,
Because the food was not too spicy, easy to digest,
Accessible for handicapped—e’en better than the rest.

Finally, at eighty-five, the group all met once more.
Decided they would eat at Jack’s. They’d not been there before.

Cause Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With Poetry, we all besought,
To try to make the week begin
With pleasant thoughts.
Perhaps a grin?
So all of us, together, we
Have crafted poems for you to see.
And now you’ve read what we have wrought . . .
Did we help?
Or did we not?


Next week from gorgeous to absurd,
Our topic will be 'bout the birds!

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