Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'm Back!!!

Sorry for the wait, blogging friends.
 Finally, here are some pictures of this year's pajamas!
As modeled by our eldest son and his family, and our youngest son and his family.
Both families are expecting new additions in the New Year!
Eldest Son and family
Youngest son and family

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Pajama Game


We have a tradition in our home.
Well, several, actually.
But I'm only going to talk about this one . . .
Pajamas.
On Christmas eve.
And spaghetti, but that is another story.
So . . . pajamas.
Every year, Mom hunts up the most distinctive pattern she can find and everyone is forced excited to wear it.
So, in honour of this very special time, here are a few examples from the past.
Enjoy!
 Christmas, 2002.  And no, that isn't a cow print couch . . .

Christmas 2003. And yes, we do look like escaped prisoners.


2007.  Little jump, here.

2008 and our numbers are increasing.
You can't see the striped socks, but they're there!
2009. Things are changing radically . . .
2010. What a mob!

And that brings you up to date.
You'll have to wait until tomorrow to see 2011's PJs.
They'll be worth the wait . . .

Merry Christmas to all of you, my blog friends!
I'm so happy to have gotten to know you this year.
You've made the year special!
Thank you!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Skiing Conundrum

Future skiers/blessed people

I love winter.
I just don't like cold.
I love snow.
But not on roads which then become icy and slippery.
And I have a hard time with high places.
Being born and raised on the prairies as I was.
So explain to me why I would drive, weekend after weekend, on slippery, snowy roads, up into the mountains, to slide repeatedly down high slopes.
I know. It makes no sense to me, either.
But I loved it.
My brother, George, and I would rise at the unbelievable hour of 4:00 AM on a Saturday, drive to West Castle, and spend the day going up and down.
Then drive home again.
Yup. 'Nuts' pretty much describes it.
Most of the time, the roads were fairly passable. Plowed and sanded.
But occasionally, they weren't.
And therein hangs a tale.
So to speak.
George and I had happily spent the day on the slopes.
We were starting the drive home in a pleasantly exhausted state.
All was well.
I don't quite remember what happened next.
It pretty much a blur.
Perhaps I should describe the scene.
The road to West Castle is narrow.
Occasionally, the road twists and turns amongst a heavy growth of trees.
But in many places, a sheer drop to the bottom of a rather tall mountain is the only thing awaiting anyone who ventures out onto the non-existent shoulder.
And I do mean sheer.
Remember what I said about heights?
That would be here.
Someone lost control of their vehicle.
George reacted with his usual skill, twisting and correcting all in one smooth movement.
But our little blue Toyota truck decided, arbitrarily, to go for a spin.
And not in a good way.
Not a good thing on a narrow winter road, high up in the mountains.
I closed my eyes as we slid towards the edge.
Then, miraculously, we felt the crunch of gravel under the tires.
Gravel.
Not air.
Strange.
The vehicle stopped abruptly, facing the wrong way and definitely on the scary open-space side of the road.
I opened my eyes.
George was staring straight ahead, his hands still in a white-knuckle grip of the steering wheel.
I looked to the left.
We were definitely off the road.
So what could we possibly be sitting on?
I cautiously turned to the right.
 Nothing but open space.
Okay, that didn't look good.
George looked at me. "Did you know there was a little pull-out here?"
I stared at him. "Pull-out?"
His question was answered.
He opened his door and . . . stepped out.
I watched him.
Then he indicated that I should open my door.
I stared at him like he was a lunatic.
He indicated again.
Cautiously, I opened my door and . . . stepped out onto solid earth.
Huh.
I hurried around to the safer side of the scene.
And glanced back.
Sure enough, there was a little jut of shoulder, just big enough for our little truck.
And we had slid onto it sideways.
With perfect precision.
We collected our thoughts and calmed ourselves a bit, then climbed back into our truck and continued the drive home.
A bit more slowly and with a great deal of gratitude.
Yep.
Skiing requires snow.
And high places.
And driving.
We do our best to stay safe.
But it's nice when Someone Else is in charge.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm a Winner!!!

Isn't he cute?!
Look what my good friend, Delores of thefeatherednest sent me!
He sits proudly on my Dad's handmade clock in my front hall.
I'm so excited!
I think I'll call him Earnest.
I love owls!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Funnier Than a Sack of Hammers

Grandma and Grandpa Stringam. Where the humour comes from . . .

My Dad has a great sense of humour.
He came by it rightly.
Let me explain . . .
Dad was in Lethbridge, running errands, shopping.
He stopped by the local hardware store.
There, in a bin just inside the door, was a pile of hammers.
Ordinary, wooden-handled hammers.
He stopped.
He was a rancher.
Hammers were in constant use.
Building.
Repairing.
And they were just as constantly disappearing.
He could always use another one.
He reached out, picking up the one on top.
And made an important discovery.
These weren't normal hammers.
They were light rubber.
But painted so perfectly that they could easily fool even the most scrutinizing (real word) glance.
The only way to tell was to actually pick one up.
Dad picked up several.
In fact everything the store had.
On his way home, he stopped off at his parent's comfortable house near the center of the city.
His father, George, a man past eighty, was seated in his recliner in the front room.
Sounds and delicious aromas were emanating tantalizingly from the kitchen.
Obviously, Dad had come at a good time.
He walked in, tossing a greeting to everyone in general, then entered the front room.
And whacked his father on the knee with one of the hammers.
Grandpa jumped.
"Oh!" Then he chuckled. "I thought you had lost your mind!"
Dad laughed.
Grandpa reached for the hammer. "Well. Isn't that remarkable!" He turned it over and over in his hands.
Then he leaned back in his chair. "Vina!" he called.
My Grandmother bustled in from the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel. "What is it, George? Dinner's almost . . ."
That's as far as she got.
As soon as she came around the corner, Grandpa threw the hammer at her.
"Oh!" she said as the soft rubber bounced off her chest. She put one hand to her chest. "I thought you'd lost your mind!" she gasped, unconsciously repeating Grandpa's words.
Grandpa chuckled as Grandma picked up the trick hammer and threw it back at him.
Yep. Humour is inherited.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Best Childhood Christmas

Christmas Elf: Caught in the Act . . .

It started out ordinarily enough.
Dad waving from the driveway as he started the long drive to Lethbridge to begin his Christmas shopping.
I should point out, here, that Dad always began and ended his shopping on the same day.
Christmas Eve.
He had a thing about children sneaking into his closet to peek at presents.
Not that I ever did.
Personally, I think it had something to do with his own childhood and his own childhood foibles and tendencies.
Ahem.
We waved happily to him, then went back to helping Mom with the Christmas baking.
Our duties were carefully delineated.
She mixed.
We watched.
She finished mixing and dug out cookie sheets and baking pans.
We tasted.
She shooed us away and began to spoon/scrape.
We waited.
She turned to put pans into the oven.
We tasted.
She shooed us away and finished spooning/scraping.
She turned to put pans into the oven.
We licked the bowl.
Literally.
She shooed us away and started again.
She mixed.
We watched . . .
You get the picture.
But when pans started coming out of the oven, yet another duty was added to the roster.
Tasting the now-baked deliciousness.
And so it went.
Everyone had their responsibilities clearly outlined.
And we did them whole-heartedly.
No slackers in this bunch.
Sometimes, though, baked goodies actually made their way past the ravening hordes children to the fancy Christmas platters set out to receive them.
Not often, I will admit, but frequently enough that we realized what those platters were for.
But I digress . . .
Other duties included:
  1. Hiding when the baking was finished and clean up was indicated.
  2. Giggling loudly during hide-age.
  3. Sitting under the tree and periodically shaking/squeezing packages.
  4. Teasing younger siblings that Santa Claus would never be able to find our ranch.
  5. Re-arranging Christmas ornaments.
  6. Breaking said ornaments.
  7. Hiding again . . . because.
It was a busy day.
Mostly for my Mom, but why haggle over details?
Finally, just as we were getting ready to climb into bed for the long, sleepless night, we would hear Dad's car pull into the driveway.
And then would begin another whole round of excited children doing the dance of joy.
Sleep was further away than ever.
But, finally, we were herded into our beds and the doors firmly shut against peekage/sneakiness.
The wait was on.
I shared a room with my younger brother, Blair and my younger sister, Anita.
Somehow, I managed to keep them bottled up until some of us (not me) were ready to fizz over.
About 5 AM.
We could wait no longer.
Now the rule in the Stringam household was 'Look, but don't touch until Mom and Dad's feet hit the living room floor'.
On this particular Christmas, looking was especially exciting.
Because Dad had strewn his gifts over the living room floor.
The entire living room floor.
From the soft light of the Christmas tree, we were able to make out strange, long objects arranged at intervals from the doorway all the way to the tree itself.
What could they be?
We knelt down, trying to get a better view.
Weird.
Had he opened a crate of something and left the boards flung about like flotsam?
Normally such behavior was reserved for the younger set.
Double weird.
Just when we were ready to burst with the excitement and curiosity, we heard our parents make their way up the hall towards us.
Finally!
Dad reached around the corner and snapped on the light.
Our eyes were glued to the newly-revealed treasures.
Skis!
The entire floor was littered with skis!
Beside each carefully arranged set of skis were a pair of poles and leather ski boots.
We hopped and skipped carefully around the room, checking name tags and finally settling beside the set that bore ours.
Mine were blue.
With long, silver poles.
And black leather ski boots.
I don't remember what else I got that year (sorry, Family).
Nothing could compare with my shiny new and wondrous skis.
Then I discovered that the excitement didn't end there.
The rest of Dad's gift included a week-long family skiing trip to The Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana.
The first of many such trips.
And the beginning of a whole new chapter for the Stringams.
Yup. The best Christmas ever.

Now, it's your turn. What was your best childhood Christmas ever?

Monday, December 19, 2011

What Am I Bid . . .?

Tall. Long. Exceptional Herd Sire Prospect. 

And you thought a Cattle Sale merely meant selling cattle!

My brother, Blair and I were getting cattle ready for the annual Stringam Production sale.
Which was held . . . ummm . . . annually.
This was quite a process.
The sale was held in the fall.
And was the culmination of many, many months of work.
All of which was accomplished by the family slaves . . .
Dad!
Moving on.
The first sign of the approaching sale was always the appearance of our Father figure with 'The List'.
Let me point out here that this was usually only a couple of months after the last sale.
Sigh.
But I digress . . .
Dad would plunk down 'The List', a stack (and I do mean stack) of envelopes, and a row of new pens.
"Okay, kids, time to get started!"
Which was our cue to pull ourselves away from whatever hot pastime we were currently engaged in (from the two channels on the TV, to this week's current riveting novel) and drag ourselves to the kitchen table.
Whereupon (love that word) we would each be handed a pen and a part of 'The List'.
And told to get busy.
While Dad found something else to do.
Hmmmm.
I should explain that 'The List' consisted of the names and addresses of people who had bought cattle in the past. People who might buy cattle in the future. And people who had once seen cattle.
It was endless.
I'm sure you were on it.
I should also explain that computers hadn't been invented yet.
Every envelope had to be painstakingly (the word 'pain' is in there for a reason) lettered by hand.
Double-checked by our editorial department (Mom).
And stuffed with an assortment of pamphlets and catalogues.
Have you ever seen a cattle sale catalogue?
It's riveting reading.
Pictures of . . . cows.
With catchy, informative descriptions: Long. Tall. Beefy. Impressive. Good producer. Great mother. Exceptional herd sire prospect.
Oh there were other pictures as well.
Mostly of us humans, standing behind the aforementioned long, tall, beefy, impressive, good producing, motherly herd sire prospects.
The bigger they were, the less of us you could see.
Probably a good thing.
Back to my story.
Once we had finished addressing and stuffing and stamping the envelopes, they were left in a pile for the shipping department (Mom) to take care of.
Then we were free to start on the real work.
Preparing the stock for the sale.
This consisted of feeding, cleaning up after, shuffling, and tucking them in with their jammies and teddy.
This went on for months.
As the time for the actual sale grew closer, we got even more proactive.
Checking the sale barn to make sure it was properly cleaned and that the bleacher seats were dusted and in good repair.
Because one couldn't have one's customers guests receive a splinter or a dusty bottom.
Pregnancy testing. (The cows, not us.)
Semen testing (I won't even touch this one.)
And finally, washing and/or air-grooming the stock.
Washing is pretty self-explanatory.
Air grooming consisted of running the animals into a head squeeze (Actually, it clamped shut on their neck just behind the head and held the animal in a standing position) while we moved freely around them, using a high-powered blower (think leaf-blower, but stronger) to redistribute any dust, dirt, or small animals that may have been making a home in the red and white hair.
It was a fun job, if one remembered to stay away from the business end of the blower.
If one forgot, and we frequently did, one ended up as the new home for all of the dislodged dust, dirt and small animals.
Thus, a day spent with the blower was inevitably ended with a trip to the showers.
Blair and I had reached the dirt-blowing stage of the whole production.
We had rigged a series of panels to move the animals from point 'A' to point 'B' as effortlessly as possible.
All was going well.
Dad had purchased a bull at another production sale a couple of years earlier.
Ranchers did that.
Bought cattle from each other on occasion.
Ostensibly (real word) to 'improve their line'.
But actually to encourage the other ranchers to return the favour.
The bull's name was Victor. He was tall. And long. And beefy. And an 'Exceptional Herd Sire Prospect'.
He was also stupid.
Notably stupid.
And when an animal stands out in a cow herd as 'stupid', you have to know that he is remarkable.
And not in a good way.
We got Victor into the squeeze.
We blew all of his little tenants away.
As well as a couple of pounds of dirt.
And some of his precious few brain cells.
We opened the squeeze.
Now, up until this point, all of the cattle had obediently made their way along the corridor we had created (by wiring some sheets of plywood together), happily returning to their familiar paddock and lunch.
Victor was . . . different..
Remember? Victor was . . . stupid.
Victor wanted to go . . . somewhere else.
Did I mention he was tall?
He simply lifted his head and went through our carefully erected barrier.
Four sheets of it.
Oh, he didn't hurry.
None of this running wild stuff.
No.
He walked.
Forward.
Crushing solid wood panels as he went.
We shouted and waved and finally resorted to beating on him with our hands.
We might as well have been something small and gnat-ty.
Because that's all the notice he took of us.
When he had pushed through the final barrier, he simply turned and looked at us.
Then wandered out into the corral and the sunshine.
The wrong corral, I might point out.
Stupid bull.
We did manage to get him back to where he belonged.
Some time later.
And when he felt like it.
Two days later, Blair and I were both present when he was sold, loaded into a trailer, and taken from our lives.
Sometimes, good comes from bad.
It was a satisfying lesson.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Join the Army. Get an Education (3rd and Final)

A guest post by Erik Tolley

There are also some other trades that you could join, like the Military Police, Intelligence (I still can't get any answers as to why they call it that . . .), Logistics (nobody will tell me what they do, either . . .), Medics, Marching Band, Cook, etc.
Unfortunately, I've never seen anybody from these trades, so I can't elaborate on what they do.
Not that anyone in the Combat Arms does much, either.
After selecting your preferred trade, you will be given several pounds of forms to fill out, a medical examination (thank goodness the doctor didn't need a rubber glove), and an aptitude test.
This all finds out if you are in good health, or if  you need to come back when you look less like an overstuffed sofa, or if you can at least remove the overstuffed sofa from your fat butt so the doctor can finish the examination.
Now, when that's all over and done with, you will be told whether you qualify for your preferred trade or not.
If you do, you will be given another annoying pamphlet with an attractive picture and a catchy slogan, which will describe in detail what you will learn to do in Basic Training.
Here is a list of some of the things that it will tell you:
Marksmanship
Fieldcraft
Discipline
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence
Rifle Drill
Navigation
First Aid
Rank Structure
Battlecraft
Communications
Everything Else

Strangely, this annoying pamphlet doesn't list many of the other things that you will learn while on your Basic Training course.
These other things are just as important to military life as the things listed above.
To correct this, I have added a few of my own ideas of what should be placed on future annoying pamphlets:
Swearing
Dirty Jokes
More Swearing
Female Anatomy
Male Anatomy
Alcohol Abuse
Vomiting
Washing Vomit Out of Your Clothing
Dragging Drunken Comrades Back to Base
Standing At Attention When You Blood Alcohol Content is 0.25
Scaring Civilians

Who says the Army isn't educational?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Join the Army. Get an Education (Part Two)

A guest Post by Erik Tolley

Infantry
In the infantry, you will be subject to many different forms of violent death, such as getting shot, stabbed, burned, shredded and eating field rations more than twice a day.
The sad thing is, these will all be inflicted by your own troops.
I won't even mention what the enemy will do to you.
Basically, you will be a moving target, which is a lot more fun than a paper target, but a lot harder to patch up afterwards.
You will also get to freeze, starve, sweat, stink, roast, and stay up long enough that you will begin to hallucinate about giant pink bunnies running circles around you singing songs from 'Lion King'.

Engineers
In the Engineers, you will get to do almost all the same things as in the Infantry, but you will also get to play with explosives.
EXPLOSIVES.
Powerful explosives.
At least your targets are made out of something stronger than paper.
Unfortunately, the pink bunnies now hum the tune to 'Star Wars'.

Armoured
In the Armoured trade, you will be able to drive and service large, cool-looking vehicles, often fitted with big guns that make loud noises and wake up the Infantry and the Engineers, if they happen to be asleep, which seems unlikely.
You will also be able to go places that no other vehicle can go, and get stuck in places that no other vehicle could even reach.
Then you send for the Infantry and the Engineers, who are conveniently awake, to come and dig you out, while you sit and play cards.

Artillery
In the Artillery, you will get to shoot big guns.
If anyone in the Artillery is reading this, please call me and let me know what else you guys do, because there are a lot of people who really want to know.

These are the trades known as the Combat Arms trades. I don't know why they are called this, because practically everyone's arms can be used as weapons.
Oh, well.
I guess that's why I'm in the Army.
If I knew, I'd probably be smart enough to still be a civilian.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Join the Army. Get an Education

Superik to the rescue
Drawn by Erik in Grade Nine
During Math class.
Don't ask.
Guest Post by Erik Tolley

Upon first sight, the army looks real cool.
The recruiting posters depict big, brawny, attractive soldiers (and strong, beautiful women soldiers, too) all dressed up in their warpaint and carrying automatic weapons and squelching about in the mud as if they're doing something constructive and enjoying it, too.
The posters usually include some sort of catch phrase like "Join the Army  - See the World" and "Be a Part of the Armed Forces, and You Could Look Like One of These Attractive Young Soldiers, Instead of the Lumpy, Greasy, Smelly, Disgusting Couch Potato You Are", which usually makes you want to improve your lifestyle by joining the army and squelching about in the mud, wearing warpaint and carrying an automatic weapon.
Unfortunately, the thought that mud, grease, and gunpowder don't necessarily improve you lifestyle all that much usually doesn't occur to people until after they're actually in the army.
This is why most civilians think that soldiers are idiots.
They are.
I can speak from experience on this one.
I'm an idiot and I'm in the army.
Enough said.
I first decided to join when I saw an ad in the newspaper. If I hadn't seen it, I might have gone on to lead a normal productive life. I might even have been a manager at an A & W restaurant by now. (A management position at McDonald's being too ambitious for me).
But such was not my destiny.
Oh, well.
When you first go into the recruiting center, they ask you what trade you were thinking of.
At this point, you blurt out whatever first comes into your head, because the only part of the army that you've ever heard of is the Infantry, and you don't want to stand there looking like an indecisive idiot while the paperwork-person stares at you.
So, you say Infantry.
Fortunately, the paperwork-person has seen dozens of morons like you every day since he or she joined the army, and he or she will give you a cute little pamphlet with another attractive picture and catchy slogan on the front, which outlines the basics of all the different trades in the army.
This will help you to decide better what you want to be, otherwise the army would be made up thousands of Infantry soldiers, and one clerk named Homer.
Strangely, this little pamphlet doesn't point out the actual tasks that you would be forced to carry out in an actual war zone, such as getting shot and tortured.
For clarity, I have provided you with a little more information that will be invaluable in determining which trade to choose, or rather, which trades to avoid.
To be Continued . . .

Monday, December 12, 2011

Texting Through Time by Christy Monson

Looking for a good sci-fi story for your tween?
You've found it.
Texting Through Time by Christy Monson.

"When 12-year-old Micah “borrows” his father’s experimental time-travel phone, his hopes for seeing the future are dashed as he and his sister, Alicia, end up trapped in the past at Brigham Young’s boyhood home. This book is a fun way to discover Church history and learn that no matter what time period you are in, God is still aware of you."

I love a good time travel story!
There is something exciting, intriguing and mysterious about exploring the past.
Living the stories of history.
Seeing them become reality.
And that is what happens in Texting Through Time.
Micah and Alicia are trapped in the past with a time-travel device they don't know how to control. As they struggle to understand, they pop through important times in Brigham Young's life, beginning when he was a boy.
Through prayer and faith (and a lot of texting) they discover that their way back home wasn't as impossible as they imagined.
That one can learn a lot when one is trapped in the past.
And sometimes, being in the past isn't as frightening as it first appears.
I loved that the story begins with the need to research Brigham Young and discover just why he became known as the Lion of the Lord.
Research in my past consisted of dragging out heavy, dusty tomes. Then it progressed (happily) to 'Google'.
Maybe time travel is the next logical step?
Thank you, Christy. I will be recommending this to all of my friends seeking 'middle grade' readers!

Hands on Spirituality

We were listening!
Hands on Spiritual training.
Really.
On Sundays our family regularly attended church.
For three hours.
It was divided into three sections.
Sacrament meeting, the most sacred.
Sunday School.
The 'classroom' portion.
And Relief Society.
The Women class.
The men also had their class, but who paid attention?
Moving on . . .
The class portions of our meetings were usually quite lively.
Sleep was impossible.
But the Sacrament portion, the most sacred meeting, featured speakers taken from the congregation.
Some were fantastic.
Some . . . weren't.
On those occasions, sleep was not only possible, but inevitable.
Distraction was needed.
Oh , nothing that would detract from the sacred spirit or nature of the meeting. Just something that would keep the hands busy, while freeing the mind to concentrate on the speaker.
At least that was the theory.
Some kids looked at picture books featuring the Saviour.
Some had picture books featuring other things, like animals.
Some had dry cereal fed to them.
One cheerio at a time.
Some played quietly with toys.
The operative word there, was 'quietly'.
My brother and I drew.
Pictures.
We took turns.
I would draw something silly.
He would reciprocate.
We kept our giggles to a minimum. Mom had been known to snatch and stash our drawing equipment without warning.
But as long as we were quiet, she was satisfied that we were soaking in what needed to be soaked.
So to speak.
It got us through many a dry meeting.
And I think we still learned a few things . . .
Forward several years.
To my own children.
Who entertained themselves hugely with pencil and paper.
In Sacrament meeting.
They were a bit more creative than my brother and I had been . . .
Caitlin drew fantasy pictures of dragons and unicorns.
Tiana drew episodes of Intiana Jones, a tiny stick figure with a hat and whip.
And Erik reciprocated with installments of Superik.
Supposedly called sup-ERIK, but which his sister-in-law titled SUPER-ik.
I will admit, here, that the stories they created were not as spiritually uplifting as what was being said at the pulpit.
But often more entertaining.
What did they get from those meetings?
Well . . . they still attend.
With pad and pencil in one hand and their child's hand in the other.
But they are attending.
Spiritual training and umm . . . tradition, all in one package.
It's a good thing.

Superik to the rescue!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Memories of My Home Town

My home town!

Southern Alberta small town life in the 50s.
Crime hadn't been invented yet.
It was, literally, an entirely different world.
Our doors were never, ever locked.
Every house contained numerous children, who ran hither and yon (good term) all day long. In and out of each-others' yards and homes and refrigerators.
Mom, like all of the other moms, worked in her home, cooking, polishing and cleaning.
She would come to the door at meal times and call out into the street, whereupon (another good word) her various offspring would head home for home-cooked food.
Canned soup was something new and wonderful.
At some point during the day, one of us kids would be sent downtown with a pillowcase to the local post office to retrieve the mail.
Shopping inevitably meant going to one of the two (yes, we had two) grocery stores, or, if clothing or dry goods were required, Robinson's.
The drug store ran a tab (a sheet of paper with our names written on it) for chocolate bars purchased.
At ten cents each.
Freshly-roasted nuts could be procured from the display in the centre of the store.
Trips with Dad to see the insurance agent inevitably meant a Hershey chocolate bar, because the bottom drawer of Mr. Hofer's desk was full of them.
We had our own cobbler, and I loved to go with Dad to his shop because it was fascinating to watch him fashion greats hunks of leather into real shoes.
A trip to one of the two local car dealers turned into an adventure when he showed us his brand new Polaroid camera.
That magically developed its own pictures while you waited.
Every Saturday, Dad would send us to the movies with fifty cents. Twenty-five for the movie. Ten for popcorn and ten for a bottle of Grape Crush with a straw.
With five cents left over.
Until I discovered that the five cents could be spent on a package of licorice. Whereupon (that word again), I started coming home empty-handed.
But happy.
The theatre also had 'cuddle seats'. Double sized seats at both ends of every other row.
Perfect for two sweethearts to cuddle in together while they watched 'Santa and the Martians' or 'Sinbad' or 'Lassie'.
All candy contained sugar and natural flavours.
Most of it was made on this continent.
Our clothes were mostly cotton.
Easily wrinkled, but pressed into shape by Mom's ever-present iron.
Easter Sunday was an opportunity to wear one's new spring hat and matching outfit.
And absolutely everyone attended church.
Thanksgiving was a chance to gather, not only one's own enormous family, but any and all extended family members. Somehow, the entire mob was shoe-horned into any available space.
At Christmas, an enormous, real tree was erected in the centre of the intersection of Main and First streets.
The traffic happily drove around it for the entire season.
The arrival of Santa, a much anticipated event.
And, once again, everyone went to church.
Midnight mass with one's Catholic friends was a special treat.
We rode our bikes down dirt - then gravel – roads.
One always held one's breath when a car went past until the dust cloud following it settled down.
Cars always drove slowly because the streets were inevitably teeming with children (or better known by their technical name - 'small fry').
There was only one channel on the black and white TV set, so if the program airing didn't appeal, there was literally nothing on TV.
In the evenings, when one wasn't involved in cubs, scouts, or CGIT, one was home with the family, watching the one TV channel or playing games together.
Mom always made treats.
Yummy ones.
We had whole neighbourhoods of Hungarians, Germans and Japanese.
And all of them were terrific cooks.
Funny how so many memories revolve around food . . .
Sports events were exactly that.
Events.
Ball games were played in a dirt lot and the crowd sat on the ground or brought their own chairs to enjoy the fun.
Basketball was huge.
The whole town would pack the high-school gym to cheer on our teams.
Winter sports were limited to home-style rinks, or the town rink, and only when it was cold enough to support ice.
The curling rink, with its refrigeration unit, was always popular.
'Bonspiel-ing' was a sport in itself.
The town was founded on and supported by, farming and ranching.
Most of the vehicles that rumbled down the streets were dusty farm trucks, many containing a farm animal or two.
And everyone knew everyone else.
Their address, phone number, family members.
Even pets.
It was a wonderful way to grow up.
Like an enormous, caring family.
I loved growing up in Milk River.
It was a perfect life.
And it's largely vanished now.
Oh, one can catch glimpses of it.
Friendly neighbourhoods.
Caring neighbours.
But the absolute freedom of those days is gone.
Replaced by something . . . darker.
More suspicious.
It's a great pity.
What are your memories of growing up?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Things That Go Bump in the Night

You see misfortune. We saw 'scary'!

There was a haunted house in Milk River.
Haunted.
Really.
Demons lived there.
Witches.
Hags.
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 coming from it.
And no, they didn't come from me.
Sheesh.
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.
Often.
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.
I didn't know what that was, but it sounded dangerous.
And why a vat of it would be sitting in someone's basement, I wouldn't know either.
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.
Ooooooooo!
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 cloth and decorated with a bowl of blackened fake 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 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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Food 'Allergies'

The Bean Man . . . and family.

My Dad always claimed to be allergic to onions.
Whenever he ordered any burger, he always asked them to 'hold the onions'.
We just assumed that he really was allergic to onions.
Later in life, we discovered that his reticence was due, not to allergies, but to aversions.
There's a difference.
But what a scheme!
My kids tried to use it, too.
Our eldest, Mark, became quite expert.
His particular nemesis?
Beans.
Harmless, deep-browned, baked beans.
My personal favourite.
And one of the major ingredients in my award-winning chili.
Something that appeared with amazing regularity on the family dinner table.
Mmmmm.
From his very earliest years, Mark exhibited an unparallelled reluctance to put those nasty, evil beans anywhere near his mouth.
Regardless of how many times they might appear on his table.
Once, when he was just learning to say the blessing on the food, his father tried to trick him into 'bean acceptance'.
“Father in Heaven.” Grant.
“Father in Heaven.” Mark. (But imagine it in a little 20 month-old voice.)
“We thank thee for this food.” Grant.
“We thank thee for this food.” Mark.
“Because it's so yum.” Grant.
“Because it's so not yum.” Mark.
Laughter (Grant).
More laughter (Mom).
Grin (Mark).
And so it went.
For 19 years.
At the age of 19, Mark received a mission call for our church to Boston, Massachusetts.
He excitedly prepared to go.
I took him aside. “Mark, you know what they call Boston, don't you?”
“What?”
“Bean Town.”
His face whitened a little. “Bean Town?”
“Yep. Where do you think the term 'Boston Baked Beans' comes from?”
He had to sit down for that one. “Boston Baked Beans,” he said, faintly.
“Yep. So you'd better get used to eating them, because you will probably be getting them morning, noon and night.”
“Oh.”
He went anyways, brave boy that he was.
And returned two years later.
We met him at the airport.
We had sent our little boy.
We brought back an adult.
The first thing I asked him was how he felt about beans now that he had spent two years in the midst of the world's best bean eaters.
His response?
“I just got served beans for the first time yesterday.”
Even the 'Bean Towners' catered to my son . . .
Mark eats beans today.
Mostly to show his children it can be done.
But he doesn't wage much of a battle.
His oldest daughter, Megan's favourite food is Grandma's chili.
Okay, maybe the acorn skipped a generation, but it still landed near the tree.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Apologies . . .

The Culprit
I am so sorry that I haven't been able to post regularly these past few days.
I'm really missing it, too.
And visiting all of your blogs . . .
But this book-signing tour has kept me so busy that I just haven't had any time.
Plus I've been spending all of my days smiling and being nice to people.
Tough work!
I use up all of my 'nice' before I get back to the apartment . . . :)
But, the end is in sight.
I am going to be on TV tomorrow morning. ABC4, Good Things Utah, sometime between nine and ten AM.
Then I have a signing.
Then another signing on Wednesday.
Then I'm done.
For now.
Wish me luck!!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Part Two: They Call the Wind . . .

I know how it feels.
Wind is hell awful.
In Southern Alberta, farmers and ranchers plant three rows of trees.
The first row, furthest outside, is a row of caragana bushes.
They grow the fastest and protect the other, slower-growing trees.
Next come the poplars.
Not quite as fast-growing, but faster than the pines, which form the third row.
The three rows together form an effective, natural wind break.
But they take a while to mature.
Sigh.
My brother, Jerry had a dream.
He wanted to raise hydroponic tomatoes.
He had done his research.
Tested the water.
Literally.
I guess hydroponics have certain water requirements.
Besides 'wet'.
He was ready.
He built two large buildings. Frames really, which, when covered with heavy-gauge plastic, became hydroponic barns.
Perfect for growing wonderful, delicious tomatoes.
He set up his equipment.
Rows and rows of it.
And planted.
And tended.
And watched as his crop grew, flowered and produced little tomatoes.
Which continued to grow.
And were nearly ready to pick.
Remember at the beginning of the story, when I mentioned wind?
This is where that comes in.
Jerry's barns were at the top of a small hill.
His windbreak was in its infancy.
So a plank wall had been built.
Surely that would protect his precious crop.
The wind began to build.
The heavy plastic was billowing in and out.
A great gust went over, kicked up into the air over the barns by the impermeable wooden wall.
It sucked the plastic up with it.
Jerry was standing in his barn when it happened.
In a split second, he saw the walls of plastic lift six inches from the ground.
He had only a moment to consider what he could do to save his barns and his precious crop.
Nothing.
The next gust took the great plastic covers with it.
His crop was destroyed in seconds.
What was it I said about wind?
The Southern Alberta winds yearly cause a lot of damage.
I have lived away from them for over three decades.
I still can't sleep when the wind blows.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Wind: Part One

 . . . like a tumbling tumbleweed!

Wherein We Prove That Wind and Little Kids Aren't A Good Mix . . .

The wind blows in Southern Alberta.
And I don't mean blows in the modern 'that really stinks' way.
Although it's true.
No, I mean blows in the old-fashioned 'wind is really strong' way.
Because it blows.
Hard.
From the West.
And constantly.
One never quite gets used to it.
Even when one is raised with it.
It's . . . irritating.
People try to cope.
They make jokes about it.
Like the farmer getting out of bed hours earlier than usual, telling his wife that he needs the extra time to drive to the next province because that's where his land has drifted to.
Or being able to tell how old a person is by the direction and angle of their leaning.
Wind is a part of living on the prairies.
You just do the best you can.
When my husby and I lived in our first home, a mobile one, we were careful to park it East to West, instead of North to South.
That gave our home a marginally better chance of not being rolled.
But our bedroom was in the West end of our trailer. Where the wind was the strongest.
All day, the trailer would buck in the wind.
And all night.
We never slept.
One time, the wind was so strong that Grant came home from work, put a hand under our little, built-on entryway, and lifted.
The little four by four room took off like a box kite.
Or Dorothy's house.
But there, all similarities end.
It didn't quite make it to Kansas.
And, though it might have taken out a gopher or two, there were no red slippers sticking out from beneath it when we found it later, about a mile away, happily sitting in the middle of the field.
Yes. The wind is strong.
Case in point . . .
I had been to town with my four kids, ages 6, 5, 2 and 0.
We pulled up to our little home.
I should point out, here, that our little home stood at the top of a small hill, clearly exposed to the prevailing breezes.
Which were . . . prevailing.
We got out of the car.
The older two boys made a bee-line for the house.
No sense in standing out in the open to be pummelled by God's natural sand-blaster.
I unbuckled my two-year-old, Duffy, and lifted him from the car, then turned and unclasped the baby's car seat.
Then I turned back and reached for Duffy's hand.
I missed.
He was eager to get to the house and was already following his two big brothers.
He got to the front of the car when a big gust of wind knocked him flat.
But it didn't stop with that.
Instead, it continued to blow, rolling him over and over, across the yard.
“Mommy!” he shrieked.
I didn't dare set the baby down for fear of the same thing happening to her, so I ran after him as fast as I could, still lugging the car seat.
It was like a scene out of a movie.
Little boy doing a tumbleweed impression while his mother, hampered by yet another child (with carrier), runs after him.
I'm sure I saw Charlie Chaplin do something similar.
I managed to catch my son.
Sometime before he reached Saskatchewan.
He was shaken up and dusty, but otherwise unharmed.
We grow them tough in the prairies.
Now we'll just have to work on growing them heavier.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Baby Swears

She of the foul mouth . . .

There are ways of making one's anger and frustration known.
Even when one is . . . little.
My friends two eldest children were having 'one of those days'.
When arguments erupted at regular intervals.
And no one was happy.
Periodically, one of them would go to their mother and say, “Sister said the 'S' word!”
Now their mother was an adult.
I probably don't need to point that out.
She knew what the 'S' word was.
But had no idea how her children had learned it.
Appropriate punishment was carried out.
A few minutes later, the other child was at her side. “Brother said the 'S' word!”
This went on for some time.
Finally, totally exasperated, their mother pulled both of them aside and asked them where they had learned the 'S' word.
“Well you and Dad say it!”
Now my friend lived in a non-cursing home.
Expletives were kept strictly within certain bounds.
She knew she had never, in her entire life, said the 'S' word.
She shook her head. “When did I say it?”
“Mom, you say it all of the time!”
“Really?”
“All the time!”
Finally, she realized that there was one question she had not asked.
“Kids, what is the 'S' word?”
Together they chorused, “Stupid!”
Ah. Okay.
Not a desirable word, but not quite what she was thinking, either.
Now everyone was on the same page.
We, too had our forbidden family curse words.
Mom and Dad had a problem with children abusing each other verbally.
Stupid was a no-no.
But we were raised on a ranch.
With hired men.
Whose language was, how shall I say it . . . colourful.
And it was inevitable that we should pick some of it up.
I remember the first time we heard our little sister curse.
It shocked my younger brother and I to our toes.
We stared at our tiny sister in disbelief.
Had we heard what we had just heard?
Mom was gonna have something to say about this!
We ran to tell her.
Let's face it, getting each other into trouble was the thing we liked doing the most.
Because.
“Mom! Mom! Anita said something bad!”
Mom stopped what she was doing and followed us to where the guilty party stood.
Feet planted.
Chin out.
Bristling with anger and defiance.
Mom knelt next to her.
“Anita, what did you say?”
“Nothing.”
“Anita, Diane and Blair told me you said a bad word. What was it?”
“I didn't say anything!”
“Anita!”
“Okay.” She sighed. “I said 'Stupid Poop'.”
Her three-year-old ears had heard what the hired men had spouted and processed it to this?
There was hope for the world after all.

'Stupid poop' remained our most formidable curse for many, many years.
Until it was replaced by something more worldly, as recounted here.
Ah, the price of living in the world . . .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gratitude Giveaways Winner!

Congratulations to Martha of Martha's Bookshelf.
She is the fantastically lucky winner of a copy of Carving Angels!
Yay!
And a very big thank you to everyone who entered the contest!
I write for you!

Of Tables, Wind and Making an Ash of Oneself

Grant build our family a picnic table.
Cedar.
Nice.
It was the scene of many, many family meals and celebrations.
And occasionally the scene of . . . adventures.
Let me explain.
First, a little background.
Grant built a little home for us.
Okay. Originally, it was built as a dog kennel.
Then converted to a chicken coop.
Then we cleaned it up, insulated and panelled the interior.
Put down new flooring.
And we moved in.
Snug and cozy.
It was heated with a wood stove.
That is an important point.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
When I was expecting our fourth child, we decided that we needed more than 300 square feet to live in.
Grant built a basement and we moved our little house onto it.
Wow! Double the space!
We could now have such luxuries as . . . bedrooms!
A bathroom!
Luxury indeed.
But still heated with a wood stove.
Now comes the part where the picnic table and the wood stove come together.
It was winter.
Not much call for meals outdoors on our picnic table.
It had been shoved close to the house.
One day, just as we were preparing to head into town, Grant decided to clean out the little stove.
He carefully collected the ashes into a paper sack and carried them outside to put in the ash can.
Yes, we really had an ash can.
Don't ask.
Moving on . . .
One of the kids had a minor emergency just as my husby reached the front door.
He set his bag of 'mostly dead' ashes on the picnic table and scrambled to take care of the problem.
Done.
Then we packed up and left.
The bag of ashes sat, forgotten, in the centre of the picnic table.
I should explain, here, that the wind always blows in Southern Alberta.
This is important.
We were gone for some hours.
The wind blew on the little paper sack full of ashes.
And finally, ignited some of them.
They consumed the bag.
Then started on the nearest combustible object.
You guessed it.
Our picnic table.
Pushed up tight against the house.
When we returned from town, my husby stopped the car and turned it off,
Then hollered something unintelligible and ran for the house.
I was busy unbuckling children and pulling the baby out of her car seat.
I turned around just as Grant appeared with a bucket of water.
Which he threw on the picnic table.
It was then that I noticed the plume of smoke.
And heard the hissing of unhappy flames meeting . . . something extinguishing.
I moved closer.
Grant stood, surveying our picnic table.
Or, through the smoke, what was left of our picnic table.
An expression of relief and chagrin on his face.
“What on earth happened?” Me.
“I think I must have left the bag of ashes on the table.” He.
“Huh.” Me.
I herded the kids into the house while Grant poured more water on the picnic table.
Later, we took stock.
The table, miraculously, was mostly intact.
The bag of ashes had burned a large (12”) hole in the very centre.
The rest of it was still usable.
The miraculous part was the fact that the fire had confined itself to the centre of the table.
With the brisk wind, it could easily have burned the entire thing.
Not to mention our house.
Miracles, indeed.

There is a codicil.
My brother, Jerry, and his family were over to our little house for dinner.
As they were leaving, Jerry spotted the hole in the middle of our picnic table.
He laughed, sat down and said, “This porridge is too hot! said Papa Bear.”
Miracles aside, it was pretty funny.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mrs. Santa's Panties By Grant Tolley

In recent months I have taken to walking during my lunch hour. 
Walking is my favourite form of just plain old exercise. A holdover, I guess, from my Boy Scout days when I always enjoyed hiking in the mountains and following a long trail through the forests and the trees.
But I digress already.
My noon-hour constitutionals take me most days to a shopping plaza that is about 2 ½ kilometres away from my office – I'm glad to say that I quite enjoy walking 5 kilometres or so most every day. 
For me it is the most natural thing in the world to do, and the most healthy.
When I get to the shopping plaza, I often visit the bank there.
I usually have to put some money into the bank so that they can keep operating.
Ahem! 
When I am not paying penance to the bankers, I sometimes wander through one or more of the commercial establishments. 
Now I should say that I am not much of a shopper-for-the-sake-of-shopping. But in recent years – since the marriages of my children and the arrival of an increasing gaggle of grand-kids – that I have taken to just wandering through stores, casually watching for a bargain on something that one or the other of them would like or could put to good use. 
So I buy it, and salt it away in my joint-occupancy-with-my-Beloved closet, which holds most everything except what a closet is normally supposed to hold.
So the other day, I had found a small item or two, which I had cradled in my arms (having being either too short-sighted or just plain stupid enough not to have picked up a shopping basket) – and I headed to the cash register. 
Now you must understand that this was the first really cold day of our winter, so I had on my bulky winter jacket, accompanied by dis-en-handed gloves which I held in one hand, holding the several items I needed to pay for, and then trying to fish my wallet out of a pants pocket that just happened to be underneath all of the above, and encumbered further by a set of keys and a blackberry, all not-so-neatly crammed into the same pocket. 
I don’t have a clue who the idiot was who put all that stuff there.
Needless to say, standing at the cash register, I was delayed somewhat on my wallet-fishing expedition, which held up the line of people behind me. 
One of my own pet peeves! 
People who wait in line for 20 minutes to pay for their purchases, then wait until the cashier says “Twenty-eight dollars and two cents, please”, before they even start looking for their wallet or opening their purse.
And then inevitably not finding it.
Especially in a purse – in my Beloved’s purse, her cheque-book usually ends up hiding right underneath the kitchen sink.
But I digress again . . . . 
I am sometimes annoyed by those persons – and now I find that I are one! 
Begorrah!
A woman behind me starts talking. 
To me. 
I keep fishing, more hurriedly, figuring that she is like me, and I am annoying her by delaying the line. I drop my gloves. 
I stoop to pick them up – and drop one of my purchases out of my arms. 
The woman laughs. 
Laughs! 
At me! 
And keeps talking. 
I’m not hearing much of what she says, because my eyes are on the floor – not literally, but almost -- and my ears can’t seem to work at the same time that my eyes do under duress. 
I toss my gloves onto the counter, stoop to pick up the dropped item – oops, make that now “items” -- which I quickly scoop up and throw onto the counter.
Whereupon one skids to the other side of the counter and falls, again, at the feet of the cashier.
“I’m sorry,” I say generally, hoping to include both the cashier and chattering Mom-like lady behind me.
And then I notice: Chattering Mom-Lady is smiling -- and still laughing! 
And then, with my eyes back in their sockets, I stop to listen.
Amidst chuckles, Mom-Lady is saying to me, “Don’t you just hate it when that happens! Every time I get into a rush, that happens! Why it happened to me just the other day, and I bent over to pick up the new underwear . . . . “
My mind starts racing . . . . Is this going to be one of those way-too-much-information-from-a-total-stranger type of stories?
“. . . and when I finally bent my back upright again – that floor is a loooong ways down there, these days . . . ." – she points to her rumpled grey hair doing a good job of escaping from underneath a too-small-for-so-much-hair, Canadian-flag touque -- “I turned to the guy behind me and tried to give him the panties that I had just picked up off the floor, and I told him, “You dropped your boxers, Sonny!” And he just about fell over laughing!”
I smile, as a jolly guffaw that reminds me of one of Santa Claus’ rolling belly-laughs rises up through Mom-Lady and shines out through her face.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” I mutter in an attempt at an apology.
“Oh my heavens!” says Mom-Lady, to me and the world in general. “I'm not in any hurry, Son! You just take your time.”
Fifty-six years old, and she calls me “son”.
“Thanks,” I mutter again. “You’re very patient.”
By this time I have successfully completed my fishing expedition, the cashier has completed the transaction, and I am attempting to put on my gloves and retrieve all my shopping bags. There is one left on the cashier’s counter that I don’t quite know how I'm going to retrieve.
“Can I help you there?” Mom-Lady queries.
Having only two fingers left on which a shopping bag could be hung, I turn to Mom-Lady and, pointing with my last two fingers at the last bag on the counter, say to her, “Would you mind handing me my panties there?”
Mom-Lady guffaws, long and loud. I'm afraid we might have to call 9-1-1. 
The cashier is laughing. As are two or three people in the line-up behind us.
Between rumbles of laughter, Mom-Lady hooks the last bag on my last two fingers, and says: “You have a great Christmas, son.”
“And you too, Mom” I reply through my smile.
Son. She called me “son”, and she couldn’t have been more than 5 years older than me. My hair was just as grey as hers. And even more rumpled.
As I think about Mom-Lady on my walk back to my office – arms loaded with shopping bags, for 2 ½ kilometres – I think, what a genuine human being! What a wonderful person! 
Where so many others might have been consumed by Queue Rage – or Road Rage – or Airplane Rage, or so many other of the non-existent syndromes that we have invented as an excuse to be rude and impolite and impatient and unkind – how very nice it is to encounter whom and what I regard as a genuine, true, Gentle-Woman.
Might Santa Claus bring us many more – this year and every year.



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