Wake-up Call

With 20 days to go until the Nobles County Fair, I have 164 wrapped bars with dove’s eyes yet to complete on my latest hardanger embroidered doily. The goal is to have it finished this next weekend. By then, the dust will have built up even more on my furniture and the hardwood floors will be thirsting for some spray-on cleaning solution.

Certain things get neglected when I’m on deadline, and since much of my life revolves around deadlines, it seems there is always something being neglected.

I had good intentions going into last weekend to stitch until the doily was finished. However, there was laundry to do, dishes to wash, walks to fit in, stuff to pack up and naps to enjoy.

Well — try to enjoy, anyway.

The neighbor girl I mentor in 4-H spent half the day at my house on Saturday, hand-sewing on the constructed garment she will model at the 4-H Fashion Review this Friday night. As she sat on the couch sewing on her vest, I was sitting in my recliner, feet propped up and needlework in hand.

This is the Hardanger (Norwegian embroidery) doily I'm hoping to finish to take to the county fair's Open Class competition.

This is the Hardanger (Norwegian embroidery) doily I’m hoping to finish to take to the county fair’s Open Class competition. The wrapping on the upper left and upper right corners needs to be completed yet.

At some point, after little stitching had been accomplished, I must have dozed off.

Then, what sounded like a Viking’s game horn-blowing episode sounded at my ear. (I had changed the tone on my iPhone for incoming text messages earlier in the day. I’m starting to rethink my selection of Sherwood Forest.)

Anyway, I woke up to find a text message from Miss Alyssa — yes, the girl sitting about five feet in front of me.

“Wake up Julie!” she texted.

OK! So, I started stitching again, only to doze off a second time within a half-hour.

“Ba-rooom!” the horn sounded again. Another text message from the girl giggling uncontrollably from the couch!

“I’m tired too!” she texted.

“Leave me alone,” I whined, offering the excuse that I was up late the night before, enjoying the “Fragments of a Dream” pageant at Walnut Grove. I’m old and I need my afternoon nap!

The needlework resting in my lap reminded me there was no time for napping.

Sunday afternoon offered me a second chance to snooze — minus the teenage girl and her texting antics.

This time, I was out at the farm, the needlework within arm’s reach and the cell phone hidden in my purse by the kitchen counter. In other words, out of earshot!

I blissfully napped to the hum of the oscillating fan and distant sounds of, er, polka music. At least it wasn’t the blare of a blowhorn!

I suppose I could change the tone on my phone, but I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the horn now. It actually makes me smile.

Of fish and fairs

Spending four days last week on five different lakes in northern Minnesota had, in theory, sounded like a dream vacation. There were plans for a two-night stay at a rural Alexandria resort, a day and a half of fishing on my aunt and uncle’s pontoon, ample opportunities for fishing off the public piers around Alex and, last but certainly not least, time to relax in nature and listen to the call of the loons.

Lily pads on Lake Victoria in Alexandria, Minn.

Lily pads on Lake Victoria in Alexandria, Minn.

As it turned out, the loons were the saving grace in what was the worst fishing trip I’ve ever had.

Yes, four days on five lakes and all I had to show for it was one quarter-pound sunfish that didn’t even put up a fight; and an allergic reaction to a fly bite that nearly crippled me for the better half of a week.

My mom caught more fish than me. Nephew Zach caught more fish than me. Uncle Orv and Aunt Gayle each caught more fish than me. My reward — I got to clean their catch (with help from Uncle Orv on Day Two).

Needless to say, I’ve packed up all my fishing gear and put it away for a while. My one trip of the summer to catch panfish and I blew it — and I’m not interested in catching any more bullheads or catfish down here on our southern Minnesota watering holes.

First catch of the day by my mom -- a nice bluegill.

First catch of the day by my mom — a nice bluegill.

Besides, there are only 33 days until Open Class entry day at the Nobles County Fair and I have a project that requires my attention. For the next few weeks, I’ll be spending my spare time weaving threads and creating wrapped bars on the hardanger doily I started last Christmas.

Meanwhile, the 4-H’ers I mentor have their own projects to finish. So far, just six photography entries are ready. Alyssa has two outfits to finish sewing, needlework to stitch, arts and crafts to create, a song to rehearse and a poster display to make. Her older brother, as far as I know, hasn’t finished any of his projects; and Francisco, the neighbor boy who lives a little farther down the street from me, has one project left to complete.

It’s quite a change from last year, when they had to get their projects done before I left on my trip to Germany.

lake view

A view of Lake Mary from our cabin near Alexandria, Minn.

Oh well, they are each old enough to take responsibility for their projects, and I shouldn’t need to remind them to work on their fair entries.

While they still have a few weeks to get going, the first county fair in the area starts next week down in Osceola County. A quick glance at the calendar shows a continuous “fair week” pattern for each of the counties in our coverage area through mid-August.

Best wishes to all of our area 4-H’ers for a fun-filled county fair experience!

In the mail

Every once in a while, a package arrives on my desk at work — one of those big, yellow manilla envelopes that gets me excited about what I might find inside.

Several months ago, I opened a rather large package to find a 344-page paperback book titled, “Woman-Powered Farm.” It was touted as a “Manual for a Self-Sufficent (Yes, a typo on the cover of the book!) Lifestyle from Homestead to Field.”

Reporters are never supposed to accept free stuff (some might see it as bribery — a gift in exchange for some positive press), but hey, this package was unsolicited, so it was fine.

I paged through it quickly and found the book to be an essential how-to for someone who perhaps grew up in the city and knows nothing about agriculture. There are tips on how to purchase a tractor, pros and cons of electric fencing, options for animals to raise (they referred to goats as being wily as a coyote!) and ideas for mapping out a garden. There are even a few pages dedicated to instructions on how to start any engine or fix a flat tire.

I haven’t looked closely enough at the book to see if there is an explanation on the difference between a cow, a bull and a steer.

Last week, while the Minnesota Holstein Association’s dairy show was in Worthington, a cutline in our paper mistakenly included the word “utter” instead of “udder” in reference to a cow’s mammary system.

I was shocked to learn a couple of people in our own newsroom didn’t realize there were differing spellings for the very different meanings of the word.

Equally as shocking was the discovery that another one of my newsroom cohorts refers to all cattle as cows — and didn’t know what a steer was. I still think he was joking — at least I want to think he was joking.

The simple ag education lesson to my citified co-workers — all cows are cattle but not not all cattle are cows.

Keeping it simple is exactly what author Holly Dufek did in her latest children’s book, “Big Tractors,” which arrived on my desk earlier this week. The 32-page hardcover is part of the CaseIH for Kids library. As a fan of the red tractors, all I have to say is thank goodness CaseIH is finally featured in children’s books! The other side (aka John Deere) has long had the monopoly on children’s books, kids’ clothing and toys. The big green machines quickly claimed the admiration of my nephew, Reece, and now, sadly, my great-nephew Brody seems to think green is better than red — even though his grandpa Randy proudly displays a sign that reads, “If it ain’t red, leave it in the shed.” (This family controversy is really all in fun, though, so please don’t send me hate mail!)

“Big Tractors” was a delightful read, filled with interesting facts about CaseIH tractors “Big Red the Magnum” and “Sammy Steiger”. I’m hoping to share the book with my nephew when he comes to visit the farm next week. Who knows, maybe I’ll win him over to the right side … er, I mean red side!

The books, by the way, will be donated to the Nobles County Library in a few weeks, along with other agriculture-related books I received longer ago, “Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks” and “The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen.”

Babies, blooms and bullheads


Babies, blooms and bullheads … What do these three things have in common? Nothing, I suppose, except they bring a smile to my face.

Last weekend, our family celebrated the baptism of my newest little great-niece, Braylee Rose. She slept through her baptism, and other than a mere flutter of her eyes, slept through the entire church service.

She slept in the arms of the many baby admirers during the picnic at Centennial Park that followed, and she even slept through the loud and sudden burst of a balloon being popped by my great-nephew, Brody, inside the echoing shelter.

She sleeps a lot, I think.

I wish I could sleep like that — just for one long, rainy day. That’s all I’d need, honest!

By Christmas, I imagine Braylee will be trying to yank off my glasses. Maybe she’ll be crawling around, putting wrapping paper in her mouth and getting into things she shouldn’t be. Perhaps then, her parents will wish she’d sleep like she did when she was a month old.

Also by Christmas, Braylee will no longer be the baby of the family. A new little great-niece or great-nephew (Big Brother Brody is certain it’s a boy) is expected to arrive in mid-December. My mom is already worried the farmhouse won’t be large enough. It’s OK — we’ll send the kids to the basement, or the barn. And the babies, well, they’ll be passed around and adored — until they start to smell. Then, back to the parents they will go.

The Meadow Rose in bloom in the 4-H Prairie Garden on the Buntjer farm.

The Meadow Rose in bloom in the 4-H Prairie Garden on the Buntjer farm.

Speaking of smells — not the dirty diaper kind, but the enjoyable fragrances of summer kind — the flowers in my perennial garden at home, and in the prairie garden at the farm, are spectacular this year.

The fern leaf peony blooming in my backyard came from a portion of a plant my Grandma Kohls had grown on the Kohls family Century Farm.

The fern leaf peony blooming in my backyard came from a portion of a plant my Grandma Kohls had grown on the Kohls family Century Farm.


Prairie Smoke, blooming in the 4-H Prairie Garden out on the Buntjer family farm.

Thanks to the lovely rains, my lush lawn has even started to grow mushrooms. They, by the way, are certainly not as pretty as the bleeding heart, fern-leaf peonies, prairie smoke and meadow rose blooms in the gardens. One look at my backyard and you’d think I have a green thumb. The lack of any living plant inside my home reveals a completely different story! I’m thankful for timely rains to water the blooms — and two plastic tubs to serve as my rain barrels.

The rains, while great for the garden and the farmers’ fields, have also kept me away from the lake on many of the days I had set aside to fish. At least three times this season, I’ve had to pack up my gear as the clouds opened overhead.

Still, I’ve had enough time to land some fish, fish with friends and create some fish stories. If you read my coworker Robin’s latest “The Adventures of Power Femme” blog, “Casting out the (dare)devils,” you may have already enjoyed the latest fish tale involving yours truly. I’d just like to point out a couple of things — I did scream, once, at one of those nasty, blood-sucking leeches, as I tried to put it on coworker Roberta’s fish hook. And, if it makes either Robin or Roberta feel better about their casts getting caught in the wind and carried into the tree tops, all I need do is take them to Hawkinson Bridge. Standing there, facing west, they can look up to see fishing line and lures dangling from the power lines. Yep, some of that mess belongs to me, my brothers, and their fishing friends when we learned to fish about 35 years ago.

So it isn't as big as a river catfish, but my catch on Lake Okabena last Saturday was equally as disgusting! I was hoping for a lunker of a walleye!

So it isn’t as big as a river catfish, but my catch on Lake Okabena last Saturday was equally as disgusting! I was hoping for a lunker of a walleye!

The giddy goats

While I was in the cities for a couple of days last month, my dad decided he needed to buy a couple of goats “for the grandkids.”

I have a soft spot for the inquisitive animals, having raised them as 4-H and FFA projects for more than a decade in my youth. I couldn’t think of a better animal to raise and show — and of course, I’m biased.

I spent hours in the barn with my goats — if not because of chores, then because I just liked to sit with them and let them nibble on my shoe laces. When the new crop of kids was born each spring, I’d come up with names for each and delight in their new discoveries, such as going out to pasture for the first time. Oh, how they’d kick up their back legs, run and jump and knock each other over.

They brought much laughter and many smiles to my life.

I also remember how much work they were — milking twice a day by hand, pitching manure (yes, with a pitchfork), disbudding, deworming, vaccinating, bottlefeeding, hoof trimming and then clipping their hair when it came time for the county fair.

I learned responsibility and earned my muscles while raising those goats.

I was living in Redwood Falls, in the second stint of my journalism career, when the matriarch of the herd died. She’d lived a good, long life and, just as pet owners might mourn the loss of a dog or a cat, I mourned the loss of my great friend.

The new goats on the Buntjer farm.

The new goats on the Buntjer farm.

After her death, I told my dad it was time to sell the rest of the herd. By then, I was no longer the day-to-day caretaker. I had lost my attachment to the new kids on the block. I shed a few tears and hoped they’d be well cared for when they were sold, as a herd, to another farmer.

Now, there are a couple of new kids on the block, and it’s up to “the grandkids” — my nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephew — to befriend this pair of Nubians.

I’m not even sure of the goats’ names. One looks like my Princess, with her black body and white ears, and the other resembles my Tessa, brown-bodied with white ears. Unfortunately, the demeanor of these two is far from the Princess and Tessa who were a part of my herd some 30 years ago.

These two hop like rabbits and run like deer — and have no interest, whatsoever, in approaching a human. They are impossible to catch unless cornered inside the barn and then, when they finally are caught, they are so scared they shiver like they’re in shock.

It will take a lot of effort and work by “the grandkids,” to get this pair tame by the end of summer. I’m guessing both the kids — and the kids — will learn from this experience.