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

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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.

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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.

A little staycation

A little fishing, a little reading, a little stitching, a little shopping, a little family time and a whole lot of unscheduled, deadline-free, stress-free me time.

Oh, how I enjoy a staycation!

Sure, I wouldn’t have minded a week-long road-tripping adventure, but to be honest, it’s just kind of nice to stay home sometimes — so, on my recent 11-day, work-free vacation, I mostly did just that.

Aside from attending a day-long leadership retreat northwest of the Twin Cities, my staycation days were essentially unplanned. The alarm clock wasn’t set (a good thing considering I’d stayed up well past midnight several times with my nose stuck in a book!) and the weather, more than anything else, dictated the top item on my to-do list — to go fishing!

Fishing  on Lake Okabena when the darkened skies led to a beautiful double rainbow.

Fishing on Lake Okabena when the darkened skies led to a beautiful double rainbow.

Taking time off the week after the fishing opener is always risky. More often than not, the weather for the opener is windy, rainy or downright cold, and the days that follow seem to be about as variable as springtime weather can be.

Unfortunately, the weather cooperated enough for fishing just three days out of the 11. It was enough time for my nephew and life-long fishing buddy, Matt, to develop a new phrase to poke fun at me that pertains to the way I set the hook. I’ll be teased relentlessly, I fear! Oh well, at least I earned bragging rights by catching the first fish — an annual competition between us since he was just a few years old.

On the windy day and rainy days I stitched — finishing a Hardanger doily I started three months ago — and read a couple of books, including “Still Alice.” I followed that up by renting the movie.

This is the hardanger doily I finished while on my staycation. :)

This is the hardanger doily I finished while on my staycation. :)

The completed doily and the finished books made no noticeable improvement in downsizing my stash of needlework fabrics and fully-lined bookshelf. Fortunately, both stashes are tucked away upstairs, so I don’t have to daydream about them daily.

I know they will still be there, waiting, for my next scheduled staycation.

Time to make memories

Today marks the start of Screen-Free Week, a week that encourages people to spend their free time unplugged from digital entertainment – TV, computer, smart phone and video games — and anything else that keeps us from enjoying the real world.

I’m just as guilty as a lot of other people when it comes to wasting away hours on a digital device that connects to social networks and games, allows me to check emails away from the office and easily communicate through text messages. It’s no wonder that what used to be National TV Turnoff Week has evolved to Screen-Free Week. I probably spend more of my free time on my smart phone or computer during the week than I do in front of the TV.

It was extremely apparent last week, when I wrapped up a 7-day Nielsen TV Diary in which I had to document everything I watched in 15-minute increments. Aside from watching a couple of Hallmark Channel movies, finding some interesting episodes of “Alaska State Troopers” on the National Geographic channel and being glued to the screen for my weekly dose of “Survivor”, my TV was mostly turned off. It makes me depressed about the cost of my cable bill, considering how little I watch TV.

Instead of watching TV in my spare time, I was going out for walks with friends, taking my dad fishing, visiting with my neighbors and making rather non-strategic moves on Words with Friends, an online Scrabble-like game I play with several coworkers and former coworkers. Suffice it to say, copy editors are ruthless!

I think I can survive a week without watching television, but it will be far more challenging to unplug from digital entertainment entirely. I’m making no promises!

Here’s hoping you find some time to unplug, unwind and get out and enjoy nature. Go for a walk, have a picnic at the lake, play in the garden, read a good book or load up the car with your fishing gear and bait. It’s time to make some memories!