Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

Giveaway ends April 08, 2017.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

PJ Update

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!
2011. Well, a small, but important sample.
2012. The year of the polka dot.

2013 The year of the Googly

2014 - also glowed in the dark.
And that brings you up to date.
Here is a tiny sample of this year's PJs.

They'll be worth the wait . . .
More pictures to follow . . .
How are your Christmas preparations coming?
I hope they are colourful and bright!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Wrapped in Christmas


Who loves Christmas more?
Where we live, in largely Christian Alberta, it’s a fairly popular holiday.
With a slow build-up in ads and TV spots through October and November until the air waves and print media offer almost exclusive rights to the season by the time December rolls around.
Oh, the TV/Newspaper moguls toss in a bit of news/entertainment as a sop to the die-hard ‘wanna know what’s going on in the world’ people . . .
But who loves Christmas most?
In the Stringam household, Christmas was a season on hold.
Right through August.
I am not making this up.
Little Sister would quite literally come home from her first day of school in September and drag out her Christmas records.
Which she played from then through to January.
This morning, the song, “Snoopy VS the Red Baron” came on the radio and I knew every word.
Every. Word.
Sigh.
And then she would start wrapping.
She wrapped everything. Beautifully and often . . . creatively.
Old toys.
Kitchen gadgets.
Books.
Games.
Clothing.
The spoon you had just used to stir your chocolate milk.
If you were slightly inattentive, your glass of chocolate milk.
And the cookie.
If it wasn’t nailed down, or too heavy for her to lift, it got wrapped.
And then, if one wanted to use said-item-that-one-had-just-laid-down-only-a-moment-ago, one had the joy of unwrapping it first.
One year, Mom came up with the startlingly clever idea of giving Little Sister a box of ‘wrapping stuff’.
Paper, tape, scissors, ribbons, bows, tags, etc.
Which was . . . how do I put this . . . well and totally used.
There was an ad on TV some years ago which showed a completely-wrapped dog with an equally wrapped ball.
It was hilarious.
It was shot at our house.
Not really, but you get the picture.
So, back to my question.
Who loves Christmas most?
I’m proposing the name of my Little Sister.
For all of the above . . .

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Being the Answer

A true story.

1981.
Carol’s big suburban slid into the parking lot of the Native Friendship Centre in Slave Lake.
Her boss met her in the foyer. “Can’t do it this year,” he said sadly.
Carol stared at him. “What?”
“The basket delivery to Trout Lake? Can’t do it. There’s a storm and our pilot says there’s no way he can land on the strip.”
Carol’s heart sank. There were people in Trout Lake who needed those hampers of food very much. Families who counted on them.
“I’m sorry,” her boss went on, starting to turn away.
“I’ll drive up there.”
He turned back. “What?”
“I’ll drive.”
“Carol, it’s three hours in good weather! And there’s a storm so bad we can’t land in it. Who knows what the roads will be like?”
“There’s someone who wants that food,” Carol said quietly. “I know it. I can feel it! Someone desperately needs their basket.”
He stared at her for a moment. “Well . . .”
“How many baskets have you got?”
“Twenty-nine.”
“Let’s load them in my truck. And I need one of your staff to come along. I don’t speak Cree.”
Soon, over her boss’ continued protests, the boxes of food were carefully loaded and she and young Theresa Cardinal seated in front.
They were off.
The trip went surprisingly well despite the near-white-out conditions in the blowing snow and the continuing cold. The only difficulty was one point when the two of them slid into a ‘T’ intersection with no idea of which way to turn.
Carol looked at her co-pilot. “Which way?”
Theresa shrugged. “We don’t use roads.”
Carol laughed. “I’m turning left.”
Her instincts were right. Four hours after they left the Centre in Slave Lake, they were pulling into the small hamlet of Trout Lake, Alberta.
On a usual year, there would be people and the horse-pulled school wagon available to help with deliveries.
This year, in the frigid temperatures and blowing snow, there was only Carol, Theresa, and Carol’s big suburban.
Still pressed by that sense of urgency, they started going from home to home where their offerings of food and gifts were received with smiles of gratitude.
Finally, they pulled up before a tiny, log cabin and Carol slid out of the truck.
The wind was blowing quite strongly, whistling around the little structure. For a community deep in the protection of the bush she knew that the storm around them must have grown mighty indeed.
Her long, fur-lined Cree coat kept out the worst of it and, grabbing the large box of food, she walked to the door.
Something was odd. The door, ice built up all along the edge, wasn't closed. Couldn't close.
And someone, in an effort to keep out the howling winds had stuffed an old quilt in the space.
Carol knocked. A soft voice inside, barely discernible over the sound of the wind, called out in Cree.
The two women entered.
The cabin consisted of one room. There was a tiny, elderly woman standing in the kitchen area to the left, looking unsure and frightened.
Across the room, seated on an old bus seat, were several children of various ages. They, too were staring at the two snow-covered, frost nipped women standing in the doorway.
Carol had a vague impression of a bed in the corner to her right and of someone in that bed.
Theresa began to talk to the woman as they deposited their burden on the table.
The woman stared at the box, then back at them.
“How many children live here?” Carol asked.
Her companion translated.
The woman held up six fingers.
Carol went back out to the truck to grab six brightly-wrapped packages.
When she got back, the woman was in conversation with Theresa.
Unable to understand them, Carol turned her attention to fixing the door. Picking up a hatchet, she began to carve away the icy build-up on the door until it could, once more, close.
As she was testing the door, the woman came over to her and tearfully thanked her. In Cree: "God will always remember you."
Carol and Theresa left the cabin and continued with their deliveries, but the dreadful sense of urgency that had been so much a part of their journey had melted away.
And that was when the story came out.
The elderly woman’s husband had been sick for over a week. The sole bread-winner for the household, he had been unable to get outside to find food.
The family, quite literally, had nothing to eat.
Nothing.
The woman had been praying for someone–anyone–to come to their aid.
In the nearly 35 years since that day, Carol can still see that small, Cree woman, huddled in almost complete despair with a sick husband, six hungry children and a door that wouldn't close in a Northern Alberta snowstorm.
And Carol is grateful to have been, for just an instant, the answer to someone’s prayer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cheap. But Expensive


That day.
Missing: The pants
My siblings and I loved to ski.
Our Dad had introduced us to it the winter I turned eight and it had become a . . . habit.
Well, actually more of a fixation, but we'll go with habit.
We went every chance we could get.
And scoured the catalogs for new and wonderful accessories for our grand passion.
I had just made my first official 'ski' purchase.
New ski pants.
They were expensive.
But gorgeous.
Dark brown.
Perfect fit.
I was going to wow everyone on that hill! I couldn't do it with my skiing. This was the next best thing.
I should explain, here, that ski pants in the 60s weren't the stretchable remarkable cloth that we have now.
In fact, they were distinctly . . . un-stretchable.
Something which will figure largely in my story later.
But they had little side zippers at the ankles and dark elastics that slid under your foot.
They were nifty (real word).
Happily, I donned them and my brother and I were off.
Now, I should explain, here, that Big Mountain in Whitefish Montana was a wonderful place to ski.
There were numerous slopes.
Each with its own particular brand of ski tow.
I always chose the expert slope.
Not that I could actually ski the expert slope.
For two other reasons.
  1. It had a ski trail that wound around behind and through the wonderful forest, and
  2. The trail came out at the top of the Intermediate slope, allowing the skier to then ski to the bottom. Oh. And . . .
  3. Comparatively unharmed.
It was the best of all worlds.
I made my first run to the top of the expert slope.
Disembarked. Well, slid off the chairlift into a heap. But to one side, away from the traffic.
An important point.
I got my limbs more-or-less together and headed for the mouth of the trail.
It was stunningly beautiful.
The sun was shining.
There had just been a fresh fall of snow - over a foot of sparkling, fluffy whiteness blanketed the landscape.
I took a deep, satisfying breath of the spicy air, slid onto the trail and for the next 20 minutes, was in heaven.
Finally, the trail ended.
I slid quickly out onto the slope only to discover that it hadn't yet been touched by . . . anything.
It was still in it's pristine, just-been-snowed-on condition.
Breathtakingly beautiful.
It took me a few moments to discover that this could also present a problem.
Let me explain . . .
The trail I had been on had been fairly packed and my skis were still on that level.
They hadn't yet adjusted to the extra foot of fluffy snow.
I was sliding along with everything below my knees hidden in the fresh stuff.
For a second, it was fun.
Then, it wasn't. 
I hit something.
I never discovered what it was. Rock. Lump of ice. Tree stump. Yesterday's skier.
Whatever.
It stopped me.
Instantly.
And I wasn't prepared.
My body, already bent forward in my best 'snowplow' position, bent further. In fact, I whacked my forehead painfully on my knees.
Something I wish I could do today.
But I digress . . .
My glasses popped off into the deep snow.
Oh, rats.
I rubbed my head and scrabbled around in the snow, finally, triumphantly, extracting my glasses.
Then I straightened. And felt a draft.
Oh-oh.
Remember what I had said about my ski pants being not stretchy?
This would be where that fact comes into play.
When my body had done its 'fold-in-half' trick, it proved to be something my new pants had been completely unprepared for.
They split from waistband to waistband, right along the crotch.
I was now effectively wearing two pant legs.
Held up with a narrow strip of cloth at the top.
I definitely needed a longer coat.
Or a loincloth.
And this was the first run of the day.
Sigh.
I made the run down the slope as carefully and unobtrusively as possible, then sneaked to the car and my suitcase.
The change from my new, albeit flimsy, ski pants to my usual jeans was accomplished in a minimum of time and a maximum of scrambling. In the wide rear seat.
I mean the wide rear seat.
Not the wide rear seat.
Never mind . . .
And I was back on the slope.
For the first few runs, I carefully peered at people to see if anyone recognized me as the almost-pantless girl who had been on the slope a short time earlier.
But, as no one seemed to be paying much attention to me, I finally relaxed.
I learned something that day.
Expensive can sometimes mean cheap.
It just costs more.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In His Footsteps

My Hero
December. My four-year-old mind was a haze,
I’d been locked in the house as it snowed for three days.
Then quite suddenly, magically, sunlight appeared,
And my Daddy was pulling on snow boots. And gear.

I just couldn’t stand the house one minute more.
I had to get out. I’d help Dad with the chores!
So I zippered and buttoned and pulled on and tied,
Then stood by my Daddy with little-girl pride.

“I’m ready,” I shouted. “Let’s go milk the cows!”
I was set for adventure, quite done with the house.
He smiled and then, turning, stepped into the snow.
And I walked alongside. It seemed quite apropos.

At first the bright sparkles and crisp winter air
Made our walking, adventure, and senses aware.
But then I discovered as most children do,
That snow, though quite pretty, was hard to get through.

I struggled and grunted, broke into a sweat,
Then looked for the barn that we hadn’t reached yet.
My Daddy smiled down at my efforts inept,
“It’d be easier if you tried to step where I step.”

So I did. And my progress was much better then,
Soon we two reached the barn, and the cozy cow pens.
I sat perched on a stool and watched Daddy do chores,
Then followed him home, just like I’d done before.

I learned something that day, as we walked through the yard,
If I stayed in his footsteps, then things weren’t as hard.
His skill and experience, and his guidance, too,
Would make everything easier my whole life through.

Now, to my own kids, when there’s woe to be had
I give bits of advice that I learned from my Dad.
When Life dishes out dollops of good or of ill,
I find that I’m walking in Dad’s footsteps still.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Winter Warmth

Ready to tour.
The Milk River 4H Beef Club was the brain-child of my Dad.
He lived in an agricultural area where most of the families earned their living either farming or ranching.
The training up of the next generation seemed like a good idea.
He approached the powers-that-be - convinced the powers-that-be.
And the club was formed.
With eleven new members.
Calves were purchased.
Things were underway.
A few months later, the man (power-that-be) who had given permission decided to make a visit to his newest club.
A tour was organized for his benefit.
But on a school day so the parents were delegated to show the official around.
Accompanied by my dad and Dad's two assistants.
It was a cold day in December.
They had visited several farms and were about to get into their vehicles after seeing one more.
The farmer, seeing that they were a bit chilled, reached behind the seat of his truck and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. "This'll warm you a bit!"
He handed the bottle, first, to Dad.
"Thanks, but I don't drink," Dad said, passing the bottle on to the next fellow.
Who happened to be the official.
"Well, we government officials aren't allowed to drink," the man said. "But since Mark doesn't drink, I'll drink his drink."
He took a swig.
Then handed the bottle to the next man.
Finally, the bottle made its way around the little group and back to the official.
"Oh. Does Mark take two?" the man asked, taking another sip. "Well, he is a glutton, isn't he?"
4-H.
Memorable, educational, satisfying,
And warming.
On so many levels.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Women's Night

On the night before Christmas, long hours ahead
The toddler still up, I’d just got her to bed.
The stockings were hung in a haphazard row,
While Mama assembled new toys just below.

The kids were asleep, well, except for the last,
Just waiting for morning to get downstairs fast.
I toiled on alone, ‘cause there wasn’t a dad.
I had broken a nail and my language was bad.

Then out on the lawn rose a terrible noise,
A talent that only my oldest employs.
I flew to the window, and thought as I ran,
‘What's he doing out there, my nine-year-old man?!’

It was bright (as can only the moon on snow be),
And I narrowed my eyes to be able to see.
And what did I glimpse, coming over the way?
But some deer, all in harness, and a stout little sleigh.

With someone in a coat that looked comfy and soft,
And clearly some magic to keep them aloft.
They flew like a Michael Schumacher on course,
While the driver attempted some will to enforce.

"Now Baby! Now, Jazzi! Now, Frolic and Jolly!
On, Cherub! On, Angel! On, Kitten and Folly!
I need you to get to the rooftop this time!
And a fine, gentle landing would be so sublime!"

To say that they flew like some leaves past the attic,
Would be perfectly true, it was quite that erratic.
I was holding my breath as they shot toward the sky,
And prayed that my windows and roof would survive.

Then finally, thankfully, up on the top
I heard stomping and - oh, dear - at least one small ‘plop’!
Then some noise in the chimney I’d not heard before,
And soon someone emerged, on their knees, on the floor.

The figure was dressed in a warm, sooty coat,
With some Uggs on their feet and scarf round their throat.
With toys, books and clothes in a gi-normous sack,
Which they dropped to the floor with the words, “Oh, my back!”.

And then sparkling eyes were directed at me!
From under a hat that was worn with esprit.
I surprisingly saw, not a man, but a miss,
With no  beard (though a tweezer would not go amiss).

In white teeth, she had clutched a short pencil end,
And a notebook, she held in one mittened hand.
Her round, wrinkled face shone with laughter and fun,
And I don’t think her happy laugh could be outdone!

She was joyful and glad, and just a bit plump,
Her smile made me smile, and her laugh made me jump!
She gave me a grin and then winked an eye,
All my fears passed away and I waved them goodbye.

She didn’t say much, simply nodded my way,
And I watched as she worked – like a pudgy ballet.
She finished her job, made a note in her book,
Then nodded and smiled and her exit she took!

I heard her footsteps as she ran to her sleigh,
Heard her call to her team as they all flew away.
Then this sweet woman shouted, as she flew o’er the town,
"Happy Christmas to all, don’t let life get you down!"

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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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