Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Preserved

And yes, that is a jester costume . . .
When we were teenagers, my husby and I got involved in theatre.
And stayed involved.
This year marks 48 years for me.
And slightly more for him.
I know, I know. Do the math.
That makes us both . . . old.
But we love it.
We raised our children on the stage.
All six of them.
A recent production, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers closed recently.
To a standing ovation.
Our youngest son, Tristan was singing the role of Adam.
And as I watched him, I couldn't help but remember his first time on stage, at the age of 5.
We weren't sure if he would remember lines, so we made him a mute.
Big mistake.
He hasn't stopped talking since.
Then I thought about all of the roles he has had in his short lifetime.
And other experiences he has had on the stage.
Let me tell you about one.
We were setting up the stage for a production of “I Hate Hamlet”.
Look it up. It's funny.
We were trying different configurations with our set pieces.
One piece, a double glass door in it's own frame, was built by a home builder.
He hadn't understood that set pieces were supposed to drag around easily.
And be . . . light.
He had built it according to building code requirements.
So . . . definitely not light.
We had stood it up and were discussing where it should go in the grand scheme of things.
My son, Tristan was sitting innocently in a chair on stage, waiting for his parents to finish moving furniture around.
We stepped away from the door, intent on another piece of scenery.
And that's when it tipped.
The door, I mean.
Forward.
Towards my son.
It was one of those things that you could see happening.
But were powerless to stop.
For a moment, time slowed to a crawl.
The door dropped.
Down.
Down.
And smacked the back of our son's chair off.
Really.
A large, heavy, wooden chair.
Broke the back right off.
Our son turned and looked.
The door had missed him, quite literally, by a whisker.
I watched him singing that night.
And saw him with his little family later.
I thought about that wall falling towards him so many years ago.
Obviously preserved for greater things.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wire Art

Art isn't always found on display.
And real artists don't necessarily work in a studio.

A true work of art . . .
On a ranch, fences are rather important.
They mean the difference between control and chaos. 
With a good fence, one can dictate which animals live where.
And which of the bulls certain cows are exposed to.
It probably isn't obvious, but with purebred animals, control means the difference between a progressive herd.
And one that is headed only for the meat market.
It is an exacting science of reading pedigrees and understanding genetics.
I rode the horses and put cows where Dad told me.
You can see where I was on the 'ranching is science' scale.
So back to the control thing . . .
A good fence means that things are ordered.
Predictable.
Profitable.
Poor fences spell trouble.
And diminishing returns.
Thus, the most important task on the Stringam Ranch outside of actually . . . associating with the cattle, was building fences.
Something Dad did rather well.
Let me tell you about it.
Building a four-wire barbed wire fence takes many stages.
First, the building of the corners, a sturdy framework of posts and neatly twisted wire, capable of sustaining enormous pull.
Then stringing the wire between the corners. This is a tricky part. As my brother, George can attest.
Then, planting posts in a straight line along the wires.
Note: Hold post from the side 
Accomplished with a 'post pounder' mounted on a tractor. A useful, but potentially dangerous gizmo. (Side note: hold post from the side.)
Then tacking said wires to said posts.
This was my job.
All it took was a steady hand.
Or if you lacked that, stamina.
Which was what I had.
If the first whack or two didn't get the staple into the post, the next 14 whacks would.
Moving on . . .
This was at that point most of the fence-builders would pack up their tools and call the job finished.
And where the true artists shone.
Remember, we were talking about my Dad.
Once the fence was actually assembled, Dad would stand back and look at it.
I should point out here that the fields in Southern Alberta are seldom flat. They may not change much, but they do change.
And a fence has to run smoothly along them.
I emphasize the word 'smoothly'.
If a fence goes down into a dip, then up again, the tightly stretched wires can actually, over time, pull the lower posts up out of the ground.
True story.
And that is where Dad came in.
He would walk along the fence, find the places where the line would dip, and weight it.
Really.
He would find a large rock (not uncommon on the prairies), tote it over to the dip, fasten a wire around it firmly, then attach the rock to the fence, pulling the wires down so they followed the ground perfectly.
I had watched him do this so often that, to me, that's just how it was done.
I was wrong.
Once, an elderly rancher from west of us came looking for the county veterinarian.
Who happened to be out building fence.
The man drove up in his rusted old pick-up and stopped near where my Dad and brothers were working.
Climbing out of his truck, he greeted everyone, then stood and watched their activities.
Finally, Dad finished with his current wire and rock creation, and turned to speak to the old man.
Only to find him in tears.
Thinking the man had a real emergency, Dad quickly walked over.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Oh nothing," the old man said, blowing his nose. "It's just that I haven't seen that kind of fence-building in fifty years!"
True artists appreciate true art.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pew

Old Cowboy Joe was telling tales in Main Street yesterday,
Describing his adventures in the city far away,
But Joe, he didn’t know the terms or language he should use,
So Charlie helped him so his hearers wouldn’t be confused.

Now Joe said, “I arrived at church, t’was Sunday, ‘fore sunrise.
They had me park Ol’ Blue, my truck in their corral, sidewise.”
“It’s not ‘corral’, Old Joe,” said Charlie, in a quiet voice,
“It’s ‘parking lot’, please get it right. Just make the proper choice.”

Ol’ Joe just shrugged and nodded and continued with his tale,
“I left Ol’ Blue and moseyed to the door along the trail.”
Charlie rolled his eyes and leaned on in toward his friend,
“It’s called a ‘sidewalk’, Joe,” he said. “You’ll get it, in the end.”

Joe looked at him and made a face, then started in once more,
“I met this dude there in the church, he was just inside the door.”
“That ‘dude’ would be the ‘usher’, Joe,” said Charlie, with a grin.
“He’s the guy who meets you there, the instant you walk in.”

“He led me down the chute,” Joe said. “I followed where he led.”
“An ‘aisle’ not a ‘chute’,” Chuck said. “Come on, Joe, use your head!”
Joe rubbed his nose. “With Chuck’s consent, I’d like to end my tale.”
Then Charlie smiled, “It’d go so well if you, my friend, spoke ‘braille’!”

“I stood there, just inside the church and looked around a bit,
“The dude then led me to a stall and showed me where to sit.”
Chuck looked at him. “A ‘stall’?” he said. Then spat the word out, “Pew!”
Joe said, “That dame I sat beside? Well, that’s what she said, too!”

Monday's for POETRY!
Come on, it needs all the  help it can get!
Delores and Jenny agree with me.
Mosey on over and see what they've done...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Gates to...

Approach carefully. It's tricky
On a ranch, there are gates.
Many gates.
In the corrals, big gates made of long, wooden boards.
That are fun to swing on.
As long as your Dad doesn't catch you.
Ahem . . .
Along the hundreds of miles of barbed-wire fences in the pastures, the gates are made of . . . barbed wire.
Go figure.
Barbed wire gates are fashioned by four or five long pieces of wire stretched between two end posts. Then three or four lighter 'dancers' (smaller poles) are nailed to these wires to keep them from tangling when the gate is being opened or closed.
Barbed wire gates are a bit tricky, but easily used, once you get the knack. With practice (and a cooperative horse) one can even open and close these gates without ever having to get out of the saddle.
If one has an skittish (ie. stupid) horse, the mere thought of dragging a fence post and wires a few feet leads to Entertainment!
Notice the capital 'E'.
Okay, one doesn't have to look for excitement on a ranch.
Soooo . . . gates.
And using them.
My Mom, raised on a ranch and married to a rancher, never quite got the knack of the barbed wire gates.
I should point out here that, when we were riding, we took turns opening and closing. When we were driving, the person riding 'shotgun' was the designated gateman. Because Mom was so entertaining, she was always stuck in that seat. So the rest of us could watch.
Oh, Mom could open the gates, a trick in itself. And close them.
An even better trick.
But that is where her difficulty started.
Because somehow, she always closed them with herself on the wrong side. Whereupon (good word) she would have to either perform the entire operation again, or crawl through.
She always chose the latter.
And the rest of us had a good chuckle while she did so.
Okay, you're right, we did have to look for our entertainment.
But at least we didn't have to look far . . .

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blink

In happier times...

My Dad was in the blacksmith shop.
And wherever Dad went, we kids trailed after.
Because.
Why is it that everything Dad does is interesting?
For the first couple of minutes.
After that, one's short attention span rather gets in the way.
But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .
Two-year-old Blair had followed Dad to the shop. Mom was in hospital with newborn sister, Anita, and Gramma was babysitting.
But Dad did such interesting things . . .
For a short time, Blair had been fascinated with simply watching as Dad puttered.
Then, other interesting sights caught his attention.
Tools.
Horseshoes.
Old paint cans filled with stuff.
He began to explore.
Dad kept an eye on him as he toddled about.
Then, Dad turned on the air compressor.
Its roar filled the old, log-built room and drew every kid in the vicinity.
Blair.
He watched, fascinated as the wheel spun.
"Now you stay back, son," Dad told him firmly.
And he did. For a very, very long time. He was two. Thirty seconds is a very, very long time when you're two.
Dad turned his back for a moment.
Blair saw his chance. He moved forward and reached out to touch the spinning wheel. For a moment, he couldn't figure out what had happened.
Then the pain started.
He screamed.
Dad spun around to see Blair shaking his hand and spraying blood everywhere.
He grabbed him, pulled out his every-ready handkerchief to wrap around the wounded hand and headed for the house.
Dad made the trip to the hospital in record time.
And that is something when you are traveling on uncertain dirt roads.
Soon, Blair was home again, with a neat glove bandage around his pointer finger.
Which now was missing part of the first joint.
Dad figures that the spinning belt caught it and nipped it off against the flywheel.
A terrible wound.
Leaving a scar. And a story to impress girls with twenty years later.
Ahem . . .
But a fixable wound.
And a solemn reminder that turning your back for a second is all it takes.
Ranches can be dangerous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wings of Death

Does this scare you?

Debbie's family lived on a ranch not far from ours. Her father had worked for my parents as a young man, before he had married.
They had remained good friends.
As had Debbie and I, once we had made our respective appearances (ie. born).
In our senior year, I stayed with them for a semester. They were kind, wonderful people. Very clever and full of fun.
Debbie and I had a room in the basement. Lovely twin beds and assorted other furniture.
With the lamp hanging over her bed.
This is an important point.
She was also terrified of moths.
Another important point.
And I liked to read at night after climbing into bed.
These all tie together.
Let me explain . . .
It was late. Debbie had long been trying to sleep.
I was reading.
It never occurred to me that I was being inconsiderate, though I knew full well the room's only light hung directly over her.
She tossed and turned and finally huffed and, throwing back the covers, got out of bed.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Bathroom,” she mumbled.
Just then, a moth that had been fluttering around in the light for the past half-hour, made the mistake of appearing where Debbie could see him. “Screech!” In a blur, she headed towards the door.
For some inexplicable reason, the moth followed her out into the dark hall.
You never can tell with moths.
There was another horrendous screech and Debbie darted back into the room, jumped into her bed and pulled the covers over her head.
The moth fluttered in happily behind her and was soon once more dancing in the light.
“STUPID MOTH! SHUT OFF THAT STUPID LIGHT!” Debbie shouted, through the covers.
I stared at the quivering lump that was my friend. “How on earth did you know the moth followed you into the hall?”
“HE TOUCHED MY FACE! SHUT OFF THE LIGHT!”
I complied.
Imagine. Frightened of a silly moth.
Now if it had been something truly scary. Like a spider . . .

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Baby Words

Husby and I spent the last weekend in Provo, Utah.
He, walking, relaxing and catching-up-on-sleep in the Marriott.
Me, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ally Condie, Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner and Jennifer Nielsen at the Storymakers Conference.
Yep. Just me (and over 700 other writers) were all sharing with and learning from the best and brightest, including several New York Times bestselling authors.
What a weekend!
But, as with any good thing, it ended. And now I have the long months to wait until Storymakers 2018.
But, after we had packed up and checked out, something happened that made the joyous weekend of books and words last just a teensy bit longer . . .
Husby and I decided to attend Church a short distance from the hotel. We walked in as the congregation was singing a hymn. (Yes, we were late.)
We took a seat near the back, where many of the families with small children had taken up residence. (And yes, I was missing my grandchildren, so this was the perfect place for us.)
A tiny girl—just shy of actually walking—was in the pew just across the aisle from us. For the first few seconds, she stared steadily at Husby’s bearded face.
Yeah, he gets that a lot.
Then another couple walked in (We weren’t the latest arrivals. Whew!) with a tinier baby in a carrier. They took a seat a few rows back from us and set the carrier down on the floor in the aisle right next to their bench.
The little girl’s attention was immediately diverted. “OOOH!” she said, pointing to the baby. Getting down on her hands and knees, she quickly closed the distance between her and her soon-to-be-best-friend.
Her parents watched her go.
Did they jump up and retrieve their wandering daughter?
Nope.
Instead, her father quietly took out a board book and propped it up on the floor in the aisle beside their family’s pew where it would be in plain sight of their little explorer.
The tiny girl sat down beside the baby carrier, then spied the book.
“OOOH!” she said again. She started crawling back toward her family. And her book.
Halfway back, she again sat down, her head swiveling between the baby and the book. Hmmm . . . which to pursue?
Finally, decision made, she closed the distance between her and her reading material. Happily, she grabbed the book. Her dad grabbed her and the two of them proceeded to make their way through something brightly-coloured and catchy.
The baby in the carrier slept on, unaware that her friend had abandoned her for an adventure of the printed kind.
And I realized how important it is that we are readers. That we are raising future readers.
And the thought struck: If more children chose reading over hanging with friends, what kind of world would we live in?
Just wondering . . .


Monday, May 15, 2017

Honey Bun

My husby and I went to dinner today.
It’s something we both like to do.
(Let’s face it, I love it when someone else cooks,
Then tidies and does dishes, too.)

Talk drifted through topics both varied and wide,
Like politics, family and pain,
(With short bouts of silence to fork in some food,)
Then starting the talk once again.

We studied our fellow restaurant customers,
And yes. All our comments were nice.
(I know it was something you wondered about,
We were tempted at least once or twice.)

Then the dialogue turned, as it oftentimes does,
To topics light-hearted, amusing,
(I admit I prefer it when talk turns that way
I find it to be less confusing.)

We were talking of heroes and who we thought great,
Of qualities never found lacking,
And whom should be honored. Whom we should retain,
And which should just be sent packing.

My Husby’s my hero, I’ll freely admit.
Though, compared to the others, he’s…round.
His kindness and his generosity shine,
And with many good things, he abounds.

But Husby decided as the talking went on,
My Stud Muffin he just couldn’t be.
Instead he’d consider himself something more,
He’d be my Stud Bun now. To me.

So know as your reading this, Husby and me,
Are having some wonderful fun,
Exploring and wandering throughout the world,
Just me and my honey(stud)bun.

Monday needed help.
So Delores, Jenny and I decided that a little poetry would liven things up a bit.
This is my attempt. 
Hurry over to see what they’ve done!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Something Scary

“Norma, have you seen—?” I stopped in the doorway.
My sister was standing atop a chair.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Standing on a chair doesn’t seem so strange.
What makes it unique in this case is that the chair was atop a table. With that table perched rather precariously on the couch.
So my rather cumbersome and less-than-svelte sister was on a chair. On a table. On a couch. With her white head a mere inch from the very, very tall ceiling in our front room.
Yeah. That was my reaction, too.
I hurried over to her. “Norma, are you insane?!”
She peered down at me and grinned. “Ummm—probably.”
I gazed up at her. “Do you mind telling me what you’re doing?”
She looked around, still with that large grin on her face. “Just—seeing.”
I frowned at her. “Seeing?”
“Mmm-hmm.”
“Seeing—what?”
“What she sees. She must float around up here—our ghost—looking down on us.” She raised her eyebrows. “It’s quite a view!”
I stepped back. “You are insane!”
“I know it’s kind of a roundabout way of doing it.”
I made a face. “You think?”
“And I know what you’re going to say.”
“I’ve already said it.”
She laughed. “You’re going to say, ‘Back in my day, people didn’t hearken to insidious voices that told them to stand on chairs.”
I stared at her. “I’ve never talked that way in my life.”
“Oh. Well. Someone would say it.”
I rolled my eyes. “And we both know who that someone is.”
Norma suddenly squeaked loudly and quickly began to lower herself to her knees.
“What?” I looked around. “What did you see?”
“Oh, Sis! I saw—” She stopped talking as the pile upon which she perched rocked dangerously. Norma stopped moving. When it settled a moment later, she finished climbing down from the precarious stack.
“What?! What did you see?” I repeated.
“Oh, you simply wouldn’t believe it! It was the scariest—” she said over her shoulder as she disappeared through the doorway into the kitchen.
Whatever scary thing I wouldn’t believe was lost as the door swung shut between us, blocking all sound.
What had she seen? Was our friendly neighbourhood ghost back in residence? Had Elvis returned? Had they invited friends? I walked over to the couch and looked up at the ceiling but could see nothing. Maybe if I stood a little taller.
I stepped up onto the couch and looked up again. Still nothing. Maybe a bit higher?
In a moment, I was standing atop Norma’s chair. I probably don’t have to tell you it was still perched on the table. On the couch. And yes, I did feel a bit foolish.  I put my hands on the ceiling and peered around.
What on earth had Norma been looking at?
Just then she came back through the kitchen door. “What are you doing up there?”
I looked down at her. “Ummm—seeing?”
“Well, while you’re seeing, could you please get that cobweb?” She handed me the duster and pointed. “We can’t have that in the house. It’s downright scary!”

Once a month, Karen issues a challenge. A word challenge. Words from each of her followers are distributed among the rest of her followers.
It’s fun.
This month, my words were: Insidious ~ Hearken ~ Back in my day ~ Roundabout
And were submitted by: The Bergham Cronicles

Here are the rest of Karen’s writers:
Baking In A Tornado                        http://www.bakinginatornado.com
Spatulas on Parade                         http://spatulasonparade.blogspot.com/
The Blogging 911                         https://theblogging911.com/blog/
Bookworm in the Kitchen      http://www.bookwormkitchen.com/
The Bergham Chronicles                  http://berghamchronicles.blogspot.com
Simply Shannon                           http://shannonbutler.org  
Southern Belle Charm                    http://www.southernbellecharm.com  
Part-time Working Hockey Mom         http://thethreegerbers.blogspot.ch/
Climaxed                                       http://climaxedtheblog.blogspot.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Hood

My life has been spent in one gang or another.
My first was quite innocent: sisters and brothers.
From there, I moved up a bit: toddler who dared,
With my nursery gang, all of my exploits, I shared.
Later, my friends and I played in the street,
Our gang was the best and the fleetest of feet.
In school, I discovered a super new bunch,
We hung out together at recess and lunch.
In junior high, ‘cool’ was the group to be in.
And you’d do almost anything just to begin.
My friends in high school were the brightest and best,
Better, I thought, than were all of the rest.
And then finally, in college, the group I located
Was a gang who chased stories and issues debated.
But now I’ve discovered the best gang of all,
Yes, sometimes, they’re noisy and like to start brawls.
They messy, untidy. I do most of the work.
I feel like a cook, driver, cleaner. Or jerk.
But I love every one of them, I’ll not withdraw,
I’m in this gang forever, ‘cause they call me ‘Ma’!
I know in the world, there is stuff that is good,
But I’ll hang with my gang. We’ll be here in the ‘hood’.

Every month about this time, my good friend Karen of Baking in a Tornado give us a chance to contribute a poem on a theme.
May’s? Motherhood. My favourite topic!
See what the others have done!
Karen of Baking in a Tornado
Lydia of Cluttered Genius
Dawn of Spatulas on Parade
Sarah of Not That Sarah Michelle
Kristina Hammer, The Angrivated Mom

Monday, May 8, 2017

Cow Prophets

It's Poetry Monday again!
My favourite day of the week!
Ha! I KNEW it was going to snow!
“Look to the cows,” said Dad, the wise,
“And you will come to realize,
That by their actions, you can tell,
The weather patterns, fair or fell.”

And so I watched, and so I saw
That he was right, my smart ol' Pa.
And he knew what he talked about,
If you're predicting rain. Or drought.

The cows, they crowd together tight
And you know cold will be the night.
They seek the shed and shelter warm
If rain or snow will be the norm.

Then turn their tail and duck their head,
When wind is shrieking round the shed.
But stand out grazing peacefully,
If sun and warmth are meant to be.

But just today, I got a scare,
From cows around me everywhere,
For when I stepped outside my door
And glanced towards the purple moor . . .

(Oops, Alberta's where I live, you see,
And so I meant the wide prairie.)
My cows weren't where they're s'posed to be,
They sat on branches. In the trees.

So now I have to figure out,
Just what they're telling me about.

Delores and Jenny are the other participants in Poetry Monday.
Skip over and see what they're up to today!

P.S. I know I've been largely in absentia these past few weeks. Battling illness and/or travelling. I'm afraid it will continue. (The travelling. Hopefully not the illness!) I'll check in when I can! :)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Forty-One

What can I say of the sum: Forty-One?
How to describe it? Just what can be done?
That it follows Forty, well that is just true,
Though many things added together accrue,
You won’t find it contained in a times-table match,
Won’t cleanly divide, despite how hard you scratch.
So what can I say of that number? It’s fine?
It’s solid? It’s pretty? It’s stately? Divine?
Well, to Husby and me it’s the aforesaid,
‘Cause today, it’s the years that we two have been wed!

Happy Anniversary, my love!


It's poetry Monday!
Hop on over to Delores and Jenny and see how their day is going!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Another New View

The view from my window this morning.
What you can't see behind the cloud layer--mountains.
Yes, we are on the road again, Husby and me.
Jasper, Alberta this time.
Library conference/writing retreat.
I'll be swimming soaking hiking shopping working madly on my newest manuscript and thinking of you!
Back Monday for Poetry!
I love you all!
Diane

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Nail(ed) Clippers

This is a confession.
Yeah. It was me . . .
Mom had a pair of toenail clippers.
Large.
Effective.
Those suckers could cut through anything.
Well almost anything.
They had sat atop her dresser in lonely glory for all of my life.
I had watched Mom use them on numerous occasions. Seated on a chair, one ankle cross over the other knee for convenience and leverage.
Always with a garbage pail beneath in case of accidental drop-age/escape-age.
There would be the steady sound of clip-age.
Then mom would get to her feet, restoring the garbage to its rightful corner, and returning those great, heavy clippers back to their place.
Until next time.
And there they sat.
Now, I had borrowed these clippers from time to time.
Usually when I had misplaced my own.
Because mine didn't have a place of honour on my dresser.
Or anywhere, for that matter . . .
Now, that day:
 I was somewhere far out in the pasture. Doing the things I was supposed to be doing.
Not in my parents room snooping around for Christmas presents.
Or at least that's the story I always told my mom.
Ahem.
And it wasn't me who took a straight pin from the pincushion which also resided atop Mom's dresser and tried to clip it with her clippers.
Just to see what would happen.
Resulting in a gap in the very center of the smooth edge of said clippers.
Because--just FYI--in a contest between straight pins and clippers, straight pins win.
But now, I'm changing my story.
A little late, but there you are.
I'm telling you this so you don't have to watch your mom, to the end of her days, clip her toenails with a defective set of clippers.
Sigh.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Green Hand

It came out of the blue.
Or green, as you will soon see . . .
Mommy was working at her desk in her office.
Little Girl (hereinafter known as LG) was playing at her little craft table in the next room.
Now, I should probably mention, here, that LG is not one of those children who get into things. Nope. She is a 'rules' sort of person. She likes to know them.
And, on occasion, reinforce them.
Especially to any other children in the vicinity.
Also, as an only child, she entertains herself with admirable skill.
Sooo . . . back to my story.
Mommy: Desk.
LG: Standing in the doorway.
"Mommy?"
"Hmmm?"
"Mommy?"
"Hmmm?"
"Mommy?"
"What is it?"
Okay, now she's got mommy's attention. "Mommy, this happened."
Mommy turns around.
LG is holding up her left hand.
Which has been covered, wrist to fingertips, in green marker.
"LG (not her real name) what did you do?!"
"I'm sorry. It just happened."
"Your entire hand got coloured in green marker."
"Ummm . . . yeah."
"How did it happen?"
"I did it."
"Why?"
A shrug. "I just . . . wanted to."
"You wanted to colour your entire hand."
"Yeah."
Mommy was getting a little lost. "But . . . why?"
Another shrug.
"What has Mommy said about drawing on yourself?"
"Not to do it."
"So . . . why did you do it?"
A third shrug.
"Let's go and wash, shall we. Then I think we'll have to put the markers away for a while so we can think about this."
"Okay!"
And here's what we take away from this:
So you know--out in the world when people do seemingly inexplicable things. Things that make you stare at them and think to yourself: Really? You're going to go with that? Did you even think about this at all?!
Those things?
Yeah, it's still inexplicable.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Soggy, But Triumphant

Front to back: George, Me, Chris, Jerry, Dad and Blair.
Look closely. Can you pick out the intrepid swimmer?
I had never taken swimming lessons.
We simply lived too far from the city (Lethbridge) for it to be a priority. Or even possible.
But I loved to swim.
And, with the river in such close proximity, did it a lot.
In the summer.
In winter, for obvious reasons, we were pretty much shut out.
Then, someone of great intelligence from the town came up with a fantastic idea.
Why not hire a schoolbus and cart a load of kids to Lethbridge once a week?
It was genius!
Swimming lessons had become a reality.
I was going!
The bus ride was a treat. I wasn't confined to my usual fourth row back and Kathy had a portable record-player, which she kept going the entire trip.
Do you have any idea how many times you can listen to the Surfaris 'Wipe-Out' in a fifty-mile bus ride? Answer: A few.
The bus deposited us safely in front of the Civic Center and we scrambled madly for the door and the change rooms, then poured out into the main pool room.
We were ready.
The teachers began to sort us into groups, using a list of highly-specialized criteria.
How old are you? Are you afraid of the water? Have you ever taken swimming lessons before? What colour is your swimsuit?
Do you like boys?
Finally they had us, more or less, categorized.
I had never taken swimming lessons, so I was inserted into the beginners class.
“Okay, kids. See if you can put your face into the water.”
Woohoo! Compliance! I took off like a seal.
“Okay. You! Little girl in the blue swimsuit!” Sigh. “Would someone please fish her out?”
Have I mentioned that I like water?
“Are you sure you've never had lessons?”
Head shake.
“Well, I'm moving you up to the next level.”
Okay.
And so it went.
By the time we were finished our one-hour lesson, I had been . . . promoted . . . seven times.
It must have been some sort of record, to go from the beginner level to the 'Junior Lifeguard' level.
In one lesson.
Who could have known that all my flailing and thrashing around like a demented fish had actually been getting me somewhere.
Or that, in the still water of a pool, with no current to fight, I could actually make headway.
Really fast headway.
Jerry (the only member of my family who could fight the river's current and win), eat your heart out.
Because miracles do happen.
I was suddenly the soggy and triumphant queen of my little, watery world.
It didn't happen often.
But it was a very good feeling.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Something's Sprung

March bows. A wave good-bye, she earns, 
And April comes and hope returns,
That soon we'll see some warmth and sun
And know that springtime has begun.

When colour will return anew,
And leaves come back and flowers poke through.
The grass turn green. The song of bird
Throughout the warming air be heard.

When soft and pristine breezes blow,
And places, then, to see. And go.
The doors and windows, closed so long,
Are opened wide to catch Spring's song . . .

It's here, you know, that airy Spring,
When bells ring out and songbirds sing,
There's warmth and joy and sunlight's gleam
And spring has sprung--cause I can dream.

Sigh.
Ready to set sail . . .

Someday . . .

Monday is for Poetry.
It starts the week off right, you see.
Now go discover what my friends,
Have done when they two wield their pens!
Delores at Mumblings is having an Ordinary Day
Jenny at The Procrastinating Donkey experienced a true modern dilemma.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Suit-Able


The cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
 And I do mean Cover!
While we're on the topic of modesty . . .
Bit of a departure today, because of an experience.
I had a swimsuit.
I made it.
Long. Old-fashioned. Neck to knees type.
Yes, popular at the turn of the century.
The Twentieth century.
I loved it. It covered me.
It encased anything that might otherwise unexpectedly fall out.
And saved me the aggravation of having to shave my nether regions.
I hated shaving my nethers.
Moving on . . .
Swimming was the only exercise I could do that didn't hurt something.
I swam a lot.
This necessitated my going to the pool.
Usually, I swam in the morning with the other octogenarians.
I fit right in. And no one could see well enough to notice that my swimsuit was different from those found at the local Zellers.
All was well.
But I missed my morning swim one day.
And was forced to go at a later time.
With the younger set.
Who could see.
Sigh.
I strode confidently from the dressing room towards the pool.
And that's when the trouble started.
A group of kids, probably in the 10 to 12 age range was sitting on a large, foam raft not too far from the entrance/exit to the change room.
I entered.
One young girl pointed. And laughed.
I suddenly felt as though I was in junior high again.
It wasn't a pleasant feeling.
But that's not important.
What is important, was how this young girl was . . . dressed.
Her slender little pre-pubescent body was covered, barely (and I use this term deliberately) by two almost non-existent triangles of cloth on her upper half and only slightly larger triangles on her lower half.
She was as close to naked as one can get and still legally appear in public.
And she seemed completely heedless, sitting there amongst other boys and girls her own age, laughing at someone who was dressed in a far more modest, albeit fairly 'unique' swimsuit.
I remember when near-nudity was a source of embarrassment. When one's worst dreams were of appearing somewhere public . . . in a less than exemplary fashion.
Okay, I have to admit that, that day, one of us was embarrassed.
Me. For her.
My point is this: When has modestly become an opportunity to jeer?
When did society do a complete turn-around? When did the naked start laughing at the clothed? (Not that I'm promoting the idea of the clothed laughing at the naked . . .) But when?
I have to admit that I believe in modesty.
It promotes confidence and self-worth. It promotes respectful behavior, both to oneself and to others.
I still wear a similar bathing suit, and will continue to do so.
I'm comfortable.
And isn't that the point?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Clothes Down Under

It was a hot summer day.
The girl whose family owned the only swimming pool in the town was hosting an impromptu pool party with her friends.
One girl came without a swimsuit.
“No problem,” the hostess said, “I have a whole drawer full. Just find one you like!”
She then waved, vaguely, before turning back to her other guests.
The guest disappeared, returning a short time later dressed in a modest blue two-piece.
Tossing out greetings to the young men and women clustered around the pool, she sauntered around to where her hostess was sitting.
And struck a pose.
“What do you think?”
Her hostess looked up, then shrieked and jumped to her feet. “Where did you get that?!” she said.
The guest blinked and glanced around nervously.
All eyes were on her.
“F-from your drawer, like you said.”
“The top drawer?”
“Y-yes.”
“That's my underwear drawer!”
“Eeeeeeee!” the guest sprinted back into the house.
She had been covered.
In what could easily be mistaken for a swimsuit.
But just being told she was wearing underwear made her scramble madly for shelter.
I thought this story was hilarious.
Then, I saw it happen to my Mom.
Well . . . something similar, anyways . . .

Our family was getting ready for church.
My current boyfriend, coming to church with my family for the first time and dressed uncomfortably in a shirt and tie, was seated in the great room, waiting for the rest of us.
I was the next to be ready, so I sat beside him and started talking.
Something I did a lot.
A lot.
But I digress . . .
My mother scurried out of her bedroom and started puttering around in the kitchen, in plain sight of the two of us. She put a roast in the oven for dinner and then started tidying up from breakfast.
I kept talking.
But for some reason, my boyfirend woudn't look at me, but stared, instead, out the window.
I kept talking.
He kept staring fixedly (good word) at something outside.
Suddenly, my mother, still in the kitchen, said, “Oh, my! Look at me!”
I did.
As she was making a fast exit towards her bedroom.
At first I saw nothing wrong.
She was dressed in her usual fashion. Undershirt, bra, full slip.
Skirt. Stockings.
Oh. Wait. Something was missing.
Her blouse.
Suddenly my boyfriend's fixed gaze made sense.
He had noticed as soon as Mom had entered the room.
Huh. Funny that I didn't see it.
Okay, so observant, I'm not.
Mom went through the rest of the day rather pink-faced.
Which was funny.
She had been completely covered.
Modestly, even.
In at least three layers of cloth.
But because the material had been termed 'underwear', she was embarrassed.
As I would have been.
As anyone . . . you get the point.
Aren't we weird?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Early Spell-Checkers

Speller extraordinaire
Speller less extraordinaire

















Our second son is, in many ways, like his father.
It's a good thing.
One of the most notable is his ability to spell.
Anything. Any time.
It's a gift.
I should mention, here, that I don't have this gift.
Enough said . . .
It was the early 80's. My brother, Blair, was working on his Bachelor's degree in Engineering.
We had a computer.
Which he visited.
Often.
Our computer was in our eight-year-old second son, Erik's room.
Blair would work there by the light of a single lamp. We would hear the clicking of the keys late into the night.
Erik was supposed to be sleeping.
He wasn't.
Occasionally, the keyboard sounds would stop and I would hear the brief sound of voices.
Then the clicking would resume.
Finally, Erik came out of the room, needing a drink of water.
I was tidying the kitchen.
He moved close to me.
"Mom," he whispered. "Uncle Blair can't spell."
Ah. The occasional sound of voices was explained. Blair was consulting with his spell-checker.
It must have worked because he went on to achieve a doctorate in Engineering.
Okay, I admit that today's sophisticated spell-checker programs are probably more efficient and more easily accessible.
And don't need their sleep.
But none of those programs have personality. And certainly aren't as cute.
Yep. Progress isn't always progress.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Positivity

There were tears.
Cousins had been playing happily for some time.
They had ranged through the house: upstairs arranging the detailed and extensive Santa’s village; the basement with its vintage western village, playhouse, castle, train and Barbie dolls; the spare room and its Minecraft game.
The hours had passed peacefully as the parents visited.
Then, the tears.
Parent (and grandparent) ears perked up.
Said tears couldn’t be too serious. They were moving—coming up the stairs.
Granddaughter #6 appeared, cradling something. Her face the epitome of woe.
“Gramma?!” she wailed. “It’s broken!”
“What, Sweetheart?”
“This!”
‘This’ proved to be a small, pink bunny, approximately four inches high, made of super-stretchy silicone.
Designed to be overextended and available at the local dollar store four-for-a-dollar.
With all the toys they had at their disposal, the one she was crying over was this inexpensive little bit of—let’s face it—trash?
She handed it to me. “See? The foot broke off!”
It had indeed. Snapped off cleanly, leaving the stump of a leg.
“Were the kids too rough?” I asked, in my sympathetic ‘Gramma’ voice.
“No. I did it myself. I stretched it too ha-ard!” The last word came out as a wail.
“Well, I’m sorry, Sweetheart, but this can’t be fixed.” I handed it back. “You will have to play a bit more carefully.”
Yeah. No real solutions here. I prepared myself for the protest.
She looked down at the poor maimed little toy and sniffed. Then she brightened. “Hey! Now it’s a pirate!” She spun around and started back toward the stairs. “Arrrr—me hearties!” she said as she started down.
Turning stretchy bunnies into—pirates.
It’s true. The power of positive thinking can do anything.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mary's Story Part Four

(A short story of Fiction) Conclusion


We never got the chance to help Mary.
Two days after that visit, my husband's mother suffered a bad fall, breaking her hip and causing considerable extra damage.
For the next two weeks, when we weren't at Mother's bedside, we were running up and down the road at a frantic pace. Our visits to Mary were cursory and brief.
Through that time, she remained a beacon of light in a darkening world. Cheerful. Helpful. Always there with a smile and a story.
Ready sympathy.
And tea.
When complications set in, we were again by Mother's side, watching helplessly as she slipped quietly away from us.
Broken-hearted and feeling very much alone and vaguely as though we had failed somehow, we spent the next two weeks in a fog as we cleared out the family home and took care of the multitude of services that accompany letting go of someone so dearly loved.
It was a painful time for both of us.
Finally, feeling drained and ineffectual, we were once more in the car and on the road home.
Mary's house appeared in the front window.
"We can no longer be of help to my mother," Frank said softly. "But there's someone else we can help."
We didn't do anything for her during our visit with Mary that day, but it was exactly what the two of us needed.
She made us sit, served us tea and encouraged us to talk about Mother. Choice memories long buried were brought to light and, by the end of the visit, we were even laughing.
It was the beginning of healing.
With one thing and another, the next month passed far too quickly. Without the added incentive of returning to Mother's home, we found it difficult to make the time to visit Mary.
But finally, on a clear, bright Sunday, my husband made the familiar turn.
We found ourselves parked beside a strange vehicle.
Mary's car was nowhere to be seen.
We looked at each other and I shivered. We both knew it. Something was wrong.
We got out quickly and hurried toward the front door.
But the sight of two unfamiliar figures seated on the stone steps stopped us. "Hello?" one of them said.
We approached slowly.
"Hello. I'm Mary and this is my husband, Frank--" I began. I stopped. The couple, a young man and woman were staring at us strangely.
"We know who you are!" the young woman said softly, reaching out her hand. "We wondered if you'd come. We hoped we'd be here if you did."
I raised my hand doubtfully and felt it gripped tightly.
"What's the matter--?" Frank spoke up beside me.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Of course you don't know!" The woman dropped my hand and locked both of hers together. "I'm Mercy Edwards. This is my husband Jacob. We have quite a story to tell you."
"Yes?" Frank prompted.
"Well, she--the woman who lived here. She's--dead."
The words went through me like a bolt of electricity. "Oh, no!" I whispered.
Mercy turned to me. "I'm afraid it's true."
"But how? The last time we saw her, she was fine. Happy!"
Mercy smiled softly. "Yes. I'm quite sure she was." She took a deep breath. "And that's something we need to talk to you about." She turned towards the doorway. "Please, come in. I'm afraid this is going to come as a bit of a shock."
We followed her and Jacob up the steps toward the sweet, familiar home with dragging feet.
How could this be? My mind struggled to take it in.
They paused just outside the door.
Or the gaping hole where the door had been.
And that's when I began to notice the differences.
The front stoop that had been so neat and tidy was looking--neglected. Leaves and dirt had blown up and piled against the stone walls.
The tubs of flowers, so cheerful and bright had disappeared.
The sparkling clean windows were gone. I frowned and moved closer.
Gone. As though they had never been.
Everything seemed to slow down. I turned to Frank and clutched at his hand. He turned a pale face to me. "What's going on?" His voice was faint.
"Please," Jacob said.
Dazed, I looked at him. He and Mercy had moved through the doorway and paused there. He was beckoning to us.
Clutching Frank's hand, I followed them.
Mary's lovely, tidy home had been transformed.
Gone were the furniture and trappings. Curtains. Rugs.
The remaining bare, stone floors were heaped with dirt in little piles and eddies.
We walked through and into the kitchen.
The stove was gone. As were the table and chairs. The old sink, containing the remains of what looked like an ancient bird's nest was the only thing I recognized.
Frantically, Frank raced through into the bedroom. I followed slowly, stopping in the doorway.
The room was empty.
Completely empty.
The back door hung precariously on a single hinge.
The ragged shreds of the curtain that once covered it waved gently in a soft breeze that blew through the opening.
Frank came slowly back into the kitchen. "But this looks as though it has been deserted for--years.
Mercy nodded. "It has."
"But we were here--" he paused.
"Just a couple of weeks ago," I finished for him. "We saw Mary. Spoke to her. She was cheerful. Loving. Help-ful." My voice broke on the word.
Again Mercy nodded. "Not surprising. That sounds like Mary. That's what she is."
"Was," Jacob said.
She looked at him and smiled. "Is."
He shrugged, then nodded. "And this is the part I need you to prepare yourselves for. Mary died--" he paused.
"Yes?" I said. I shivered and moved closer to Frank. I suddenly felt cold.
"Mary died about ten years ago."
I had to sit down. I dropped abruptly to the dust on the cold, stone floor.
"But--how--? What--?"Frank was as confused as I.
The couple smiled. "Mary--comes back," Mercy said.
We stared at her.
"When people need her, when someone is alone, she comes back." She tipped her head to one side as she stared at us. "Have you been having some troubles?"
"Well--" Frank said slowly. "My mother just passed."
Mercy nodded.
"Mary helped us immeasurably. Especially in the last weeks."
"That's Mary. She just--knows. And cares." She straightened. "There's something else you need to see."
She and her companion moved through the kitchen and back into the front room.
Moving stiffly, I got to my feet and followed.
She was standing, staring at the fireplace.
Instinctively, my eyes followed hers.
There, framed neatly above the cold, long dead firebox was a large picture of Frank and me. The two of us were leaning towards each other and smiling broadly for the camera. Behind us, through clear glass windows, one could see the mountains, close up and falling away into the distance. The sun was just setting behind the furthest ones.
It was a beautiful picture.
Obviously the one taken by Mary with her ancient camera on our very first visit.
"Oh," I said, rather ineffectively.
Frank gripped my arm tightly.
"I think I need to sit down again," I said.
The two of us moved instinctively toward the spot where Mary's old, horsehair couch had stood.
And received yet another shock.
There on the window sills, exactly where they had been before, stood my row of plants. Healthy. Waving gently in the breeze blowing in through the gaping windows.
"We check in here periodically," the young man said. "And as soon as we walked through the front door, of course we saw the plants. And the picture. We figured that Angel Mary must be back."
"Angel Mary," I said.
"That is what she is. Our family angel." Mercy smiled and held out her hand. "Welcome to Angel Mary's forever family."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Mommy's Home With Me

In a word?
Delightful.
Never have I found a book that so perfectly describes the many different roles of being a mommy.
On every page is a mommy who does--or did--have a profession that is now either juggled around or has been sidelined for the 'Mommy years'.
A picture book full of heart and with which every mommy--and their children--will connect.
The bright, busy pictures and cheerful rhyme captivated my grandchildren at the first glance. And second. And third.
Okay, we read it a lot.
And this Gramma? Cried.
Every time.
Here is one example chapter:

My Mommy was a pilot,
And now she's home with me.
She lifts me high into the sky;
I feel like I have wings!
Then I put down my landing gear;
The runway is in sight.
I get a tickle-tune-up 
And a bedtime kiss goodnight.

Got kids or grandkids?
This is a great way to tell them what Mommies do!
P.S. Have tissues handy.

About the author and illustrator:
Alison Benson Moulton has run the early literacy program for babies at Caldwell Public Library for five years. She brings arts to her community as the executive director of Caldwell Fine Arts, where she manages a performing arts series and educational outreach programs. After graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in Family Science with a minor in English, Alison was a child abuse prevention specialist and grant writer, for the Family Support and Treatment Center in Orem, Utah. After moving to the Navajo Reservation, she was an adjunct instructor at Dine College. Another move brought her to Florida, where she worked at Girls and Boys Town as a foster parent to 20 teenage girls. Since settling in Idaho, she has written songs for two albums for the New York Times Bestselling author, Marla Cilley (The FlyLady) and two albums for country singer Eric Dodge. For two years, she was a guest blogger for a weekly family life post on the popular blog athriftymom.com.
Kinsey Beckett received a BFA in illustration from Brigham Young University. While at BYU, she took a variety of design classes and interned at the Chiodo Bros, an animation studio in Burbank, California. Kinsey works in traditional media, such as acrylic paints, but also is proficient at graphic design and stop-motion animation. Her professional work includes an animated short for Glenn Beck’s national TV show, and illustrations for clients such as Protection 1, Brite Energy, and LinkedIn.
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