Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, June 13, 2015

My Newest Book

I am way beyond excited!
My newest book, SnowMan, has been published!
The third volume in my Christmas series.
The sweetest story of all:


Driving a busload of happy, young scouters on rain-slick roads John Benjamin Frosst is faced suddenly with the unimaginable. In a fraction of a moment, he makes a decision, selflessly offering his life in exchange for the lives of innocents.
Now confronted with the knowledge that the comfortable existence he had expected is in tatters, Ben realizes that, instead of doing the serving he loves, he must now humbly receive it from others.
Hampered by this new reality, the fine man that is still Ben Frosst discovers the term ‘handicapped’ is only a starting point from which to find new ways to give and to help.
That service comes in many forms.
And, with enough love and support, anything is possible.

Diane Stringam Tolley’s newest Christmas novel is a charming, heart-warming story of sacrifice, love and the strength of family and community.                                                                                                                                     

Sometimes, life simply doesn’t turn out the way you plan.And that’s just fine.



You can order SnowMan now.
In plenty of time for Christmas! :)
Buy several. They'll make great gifts!
Order here!
Or, if you want to start reading immediately, here is the Kindle edition:
Snowman
And please pass the word . . .

Friday, June 12, 2015

Food Foraging


Admit it, they would fool anyone!
First, a little insight into the 'Diane' thought process . . .
But they look like peas!
They open, like peas.
And they have little pea-type things in them.
And if they look like peas, and open like peas and have little pea things in them, they must be peas.
I'm eating them . . .

The Anderson family lived in a great barn of a house at the very top of the hill in Milk River. It was my favourite place to visit. And to play.
Not only did my best friend, Kathy, live there, but there were lots of other kids to play with (12 in all) and they had this amazing house with an infinite number of rooms and hallways and balconies and little, hidden cupboards. We could play pretend for an entire day and never run out of spaces or scenarios.
And to make things even better, across the road on the north and east, was farmland. With barley crops taller than we were, ripening in the sun.
I should probably mention here that Milk River has produced at least three Barley Kings. An award given for producing the best that the barley world had to offer.
But to me, barley simply made an excellent hiding place.
Moving on . . .
Along the road, on the East, screening the Ellert farm from the Anderson's back yard, was a high hedge of caragana.
That, in late summer, was hung with thousands of . . . peas.
Well, it made sense to me.
We had been playing hard most of the day and it was nearly time to go home for supper.
We were hungry.
Kathy did the smart thing. She ran to her house to find food.
Her sister, Laurie, and I decided to forage for ourselves. After all, there were all of these peas that no one else was picking. We simply couldn't let them go to waste.
Have I mentioned that I love peas?
I grabbed a big one and opened it.
Huh. Well, they weren't quite the right colour, but they were approximately the right shape and size.
I ate one.
Yuck. Not great. Well, the next one will be better.
Okay, it wasn't.
Maybe the next one.
Okay, all of those were pretty much awful.
The next pod will be sweet and tasty.
Nope.
Well, maybe the next one.
And so it went.
I can't tell you how many of the awful things Laurie and I ate. It must have been quite a few. Because we certainly got sick.
I don't remember much about that part. Mostly because I was unconscious at the time.
Who knew that peas could do that?
But I learned my lesson which I would like to share with you.
Don't eat peas that grow, temptingly, on trees.
Stick to things like . . . buffalo beans.
Adult aspirin.
Dust bunnies.
Tried and tested by me!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Full House

By request.
Because the nest is still full . . .
The nest was clean
            And tidy, too.
There wasn’t much
            I had to do.
It stayed that way
            From dawn to dawn.
Had been like that
            Since the chicks had gone.

But it hadn’t always
            Been just so,
When chicks would come
            And chicks would go,
When clutter ruled
            When ‘mess’ was norm,
When noise began
            With the dewy morn.

I found myself,
            Each day, awash
In dirty dishes,
            Stinky socks.
Up to my knees
            In diapers, too
When days were full
            And the nest was, too.

When every evening
            Prayers were said,
And kisses, hugs
As they went to bed.
Then flopped, exhausted,
            In the chair,
And contemplated
            Life from there.

And though it seemed
            It’d never end.
Somehow it did,
As all things tend.
And the nest that never
            Took a bow,
Echoed with
            The silence now.

But then, one day
            The door swung wide,
And chicks and chicklets
            Stepped inside.
“We’re here to stay,
            If that’s okay.”
Once more, there’s action
            every day.

Once more I live
            With clutter, there,
And no bare spaces
            Anywhere.
And noise? Whoo-boy!
            You have to know,
That lungs’re the very first
            Things to grow.

The toys are spread
            From here to there.
And chicklets playing
            Everywhere.
And meals to make
            And clothes to mend
And schedules to
Draw and blend.

And, still, with all
            The noise and strain
And problems bouncing
            In my brain,
With things to do,
            And time to share,
And chicklets falling
            Down the stair.

That I would never
            Want at all,
The spotless house,
The quiet halls.
Exchange the action
            That resides
Or change the love
            That dwells inside.

I’ve learned you don’t need
            Silence, no.
When people come
            And people go.
There’s peace in every
            Busy day.
When chicks and chicklets
            Come your way.

With hugs and kisses
            You abound
And love is shining
            All around.
And never can your
            Life be dull,
‘Cause, once again
            The nest is full.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bittermilk

Yummy deliciousness. Not.
Milk. That commodity touted as one of the world’s most perfect foods. So important to growing bones and teeth. Or so it was described in the 50’s.
Like other ranching families, the Stringams had their own milk production system.
Bossy.
Not an original name, but at least it gave her a slight distinctive edge over 53. And 175. And 92. And . . . you get the picture.
Bossy was gentle. Quiet. Dependable. Everything a milk cow should be. Her milk production was high. Higher than most dairy cows. For that reason, she had been a family fixture for many years.
She also had a problem. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Every morning Dad, or one of the hired men, would carry home a galvanized steel pail filled with warm, rich, frothy milk, compliments of Bossy. This milk was then poured through a straining cloth into another pail and ‘purified’, then poured into sterilized jars.
The jars of still-warm milk were distributed to the various households on the ranch. Bossy was truly a remarkable cow to fill the needs of so many.
In the evening, the same procedure was repeated, only the captured milk was poured through the separator and the resultant thick, rich cream used for such remarkable things as ice cream, cream puffs, pastries, and many other treats aptly designed to satisfy the sweet tooth of every child - and most of the adults - living there.
The milk from which the cream had been removed, or ‘blue’ (skim) milk was given to the pigs, who thought they were in heaven.
It was a prefect system. Not a drop wasted.
Then the milk . . . changed.
At first, Dad thought the cow had gotten into a patch of weeds. Not an unknown thing on any ranch. The result of such a change in diet usually reflected, quickly but briefly, in the milk.
Onions make for a really . . . interesting . . . milk flavour. But I digress . . .
For some time, the milk continued to taste strange. But the processes remained the same. The milk was distributed. Separated. Consumed.
Then the rebellions started. Small at first.
“Mom, this milk tastes icky (real word)!”
“You’re imagining things, dear. Drink it.”
“Mom, it stinks!”
“Drink!”
Then larger.
“Mom if I have to drink one more glass of that milk, I’m going to be sick!”
“You need the calcium! Now drink!”
Mom was not unaware that the milk was distinctly off. But she was very concerned about giving her growing family the nutrition they needed.
Occasionally, she would bring home a container of milk from the store.
Which disappeared. Magically.
And also coined another phrase. “I’m going to stop buying this milk! You kids just drink it!”
Ummmm . . .
Finally, Mom got to the point where, if anyone complained about the milk, she would taste it, smack her lips appreciatively and say, “What’s wrong with that milk? There’s nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!”
As time passed, she got more and more creative in trying to get the horrible stuff past our pre-adolescent taste buds. She put it into puddings. Soups. Desserts.
And still we whined.
Then that glorious day. Dad went out to milk . . . and found the cow dead.
Really dead.
Hardware disease. Not uncommon and distinctly nasty.
Poor Bossy.
Our celebrations could be heard in Lethbridge.
An autopsy revealed what the rest of us had suspected for three long years. That the cow had something seriously wrong.
She had, sometime while grazing, ingested a piece of metal and it had become lodged in her system, affecting her milk production. Eventually, it had worked its way through something important internally, and had been the cause of her death.
There was no grieving.
Dad bought a new cow. A healthy, young one. And the ‘milk distribution system’ resumed as though it had never been interrupted.
With one important change. Whenever any of us was given a glass of milk, we would sniff it suspiciously. Even forty-five years after the described events.
Old habits die hard.
Kind of like our cow.

There is a codicil.
Years later, when my family and I were attending my parents 40th wedding anniversary, my children and I performed a skit. They were seated around a picnic table and I poured each of them an imaginary glass of milk, which they then ‘drank’.
Clutching their throats, each then succumbed to the terrible poison that had been ingested. Gasping out their last breaths, one by one, they collapsed onto the grass beneath the table, twitched a few times, then lay still. I picked up one of the imaginary glasses, pretended to take a drink, smacked my lips and said, “What’s wrong with that milk? There’s nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!”
At which point my eldest brother leaped to his feet and shouted, “IT DID! IT TASTED THAT BAD!!!”
Spill this milk. Please.




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SnowMan

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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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