Impact

Every once in awhile, I think about the job I have and get a little melancholy.

Does what I do make a difference?

I’m not a doctor working to save lives. I’m not a teacher working to inspire our youths. I’m just a reporter, covering meetings and channeling conversations into local news stories for people who care enough to read them.

I once told a group of peers I’m too busy writing about the lives of others to focus on my own life, and to a smaller extent today, it still rings true. I tend to get wrapped up in issues that surround me. I attribute it to my growing-up years on the farm.

There’s a saying: If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

I think back to my years on the farm, tending to the goat herd, the sheep herd and the flock of chickens and turkeys. It was hard, manual labor. There was a time I could carry four 5-gallon buckets filled with feed from the feed shed to the barn; I could carry a hay bale in each hand. I milked the goats until the tendons in my hands ached … and I kept going because there were a few more does with full udders.

What I did back then made a difference for the animals, and having them around made me happy. As hard as the work was, there was also the reward. The rewards came in adorable little goat kids romping through the straw in the spring, of bronze turkeys following me around the yard, of purple ribbons at the county fair and exciting trips to the state fair.

My life today seems so different, even though the farm is just a quick drive down the road.

Without a doubt, the animal-loving, hard-working farm girl is still inside me … but now there’s more. The people I’ve met and the stories I’ve helped share these past 22 years have opened my eyes to life beyond the farmyard. I have shared smiles and laughter, pain and tears with some of the people I’ve met.

On Thursday, I interviewed a local man whose hometown is halfway around the world. His people — friends, family, acquaintances — are being killed in ethnic clashes, and he’s safe in America, feeling helpless and fearing for his family.

I knew when his eyes began to tear up, mine would tear up also. When he shared graphic images of death, I had to look — knowing they’d flash before my eyes countless times in the days ahead. At the end of our conversation, he thanked me for listening, and I thanked him for sharing his story.

I went home after that, and as I sat down for lunch, I thought about those people in Ethiopia without food, without clean water, without a home … without a weapon to protect themselves from those who are out to kill them. And I wondered…

How do I tell this story? How can this story make an impact?

I don’t have the answers yet, but you will be able to read the story in Saturday’s Daily Globe. Until then, the Anuak people of Ethiopia are surely in need of prayers.

Rookie Driver

I had to stop to take this picture of Reece getting pulled behind the ATV.

I had to stop to take this picture of Reece getting pulled behind the ATV.

If one of those planes flew over the Buntjer farm today to take an aerial photo like they sometimes do, the photographer would capture the remnants of the race track that weaves across the front lawn, along the lane of pine trees, between the apple tree and the wash house and around the curve in the driveway.

The path with its deep ruts and occasional areas of black dirt and brown grass is what remains of a Sunday filled with laughter — lots of laughter. It is also a reminder that I’m not as young as I used to be.

It all started when 10-year-old nephew Reece begged me to pull the inflated inner tube behind the 4-wheeler, following tracks already established by his dad (my younger brother Jason) and Grandpa Don.

Reece. Does he look like he's having fun?

Reece. Does he look like he’s having fun?

It took a couple of rounds for me to build up my courage and speed, and my guess is Reece was getting bored as he hung onto the rope that connected the ATV and inflatable donut.

You get what you get with a rookie driver.

Little did he know I’d managed to bury the 4-wheeler in a snow drift earlier in the day. My confidence with the machine is far greater on summer dirt paths than over winter’s snow banks and slippery spots.

Somewhere between Lap 2 and Lap 12, I learned to relax. I learned to hit the gas at just the right time and make sharp turns to send the tube — and Reece — off the beaten path. I learned to keep my eyes on the path in front of me, though I really wished for eyes in the back of my head.

Somewhere around Lap 15 I finally managed what I’d attempted on numerous laps before. I rounded the curve of the driveway, spun the 4-wheeler to the right and sent the inner tube flying to the left. I turned back to see Reece and the donut take the incline. The boy went airborne briefly and landed in a mound of fluffy snow in a fit of laughter. And, since his mouth was wide open, he filled it up with — hopefully — mostly white snow!

Just some pretty frost on the weeds across the road from the Buntjer farm.

Just some pretty frost on the weeds across the road from the Buntjer farm.

I laughed so hard I cried, and then I laughed some more. After a few moments, I wondered if Reece was still laughing about his face plant, or if he was laughing at me for laughing so hard.

A few rounds later, with laughter’s tears making my face cold, I said it was time to go in the house. Not only was I cold from driving the ATV, but I was wet from the early afternoon snowball fight.

It wasn’t until Sunday evening that I was reminded of my age by certain muscles. My right wrist and thumb still hurts from operating the ATV’s gas lever, and my elbow is producing a steady ache (likely from hurling snow balls) … but, I’m still laughing.

Reece should be thankful I’m a rookie driver who still drives slow and with some semblance of care. I will never forget being on the inner tube as a kid with one of my brothers (I don’t recall which one) driving the 3-wheeler. He deliberately swerved in just the right place to send the tube over a bank along the driveway. I went airborne and landed with a belly flop on the hard-crusted driveway — without the tube to cushion my fall. The collision knocked the wind out of me. I couldn’t breathe, much less scream out in pain. For a brief moment, the boys thought they’d finally succeeded in killing their sister. It was a traumatic experience!

There were no broken bones, but I can assure you there was broken trust. I’m not sure I ever went for a ride on an inner tube again.

You certainly won’t get me on one now. I’ll stick to being the rookie driver. After all, the laughter outweighs the pain.

Another pretty frost photo from the farm. :)

Another pretty frost photo from the farm. :)

Take some responsibility!

My mom called me from the farm one day last week, asking if I wanted a house cat.
“No,” was my quick reply. “Why?”
Well, it appears someone got tired of caring for and feeding their orange tabby, declawed house cat and decided to drop it off along a country road. It showed up at my parents’ farm 12 days ago.
It isn’t the first time strays have come calling for food, water and a warm place to stay — and as much as I’d like to think otherwise, it probably won’t be the last.
It really grates on me to know people are so willing to take their pets out in the country and dump them off.
I suppose in their dream world, these pets will become treasured by farm families and feast on warm milk and a never-ending supply of canned cat chow.
I’m sorry, but that is not the reality.
Strays of any sort, whether dogs or cats, are more likely to be shot and killed by people protecting their livestock from the potential spread of disease. And if a bullet doesn’t get these strays, chances are, the local coyote population will dine on them — cats especially — for their evening meal.
What kind of a pet owner wants their beloved kitty or rambunctious puppy to experience such a fate? I hope no one that I know.
What kind of person drops a declawed cat — one who has lost the ability to hunt for its own food — out on a country road in the middle of winter? Again, not the type of person I’d want to associate with.
If people can’t afford their pet — or can’t handle their pet — there are options.
Yes, it may cost you some money to take it to an animal shelter or humane society, but at least your pet will be cared for until a new home can be found for it. And yes, those who aren’t eventually placed may end up being euthanized, but what’s worse — having a pet euthanized or chased around and eaten alive by a coyote?
The problem doesn’t just exist in the rural areas. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven through town and spotted a stray cat running across the street, seeking shelter in a parking lot or, as happened just a few days ago, sitting on the sidewalk outside my house, enduring one of the coldest nights this month. (By the way, I tried to call that cat toward me, but it ran in the opposite direction. After tossing a couple of slices of bread out the door, I was part happy, part incredibly sad the next morning to find both the bread and the cat gone.)
These animals are lost, hungry, cold and afraid. Perhaps the pet owners who dump them off should experience those feelings as well.

Brody and the bears

The girls were playing in the basement, the adults had filled nearly every available seat in the living and dining rooms, and five-year-old Brody found the only peace and quiet available in the house on Christmas Day.

He’d shut the door to a bedroom, dumped out the container of Lincoln Logs and was playing just fine all by himself until another five-year-old found him and wanted to play too.

The scene that followed was, well, Brody being Brody. Until the week before Christmas when he became a big brother to little Daniel, Brody was the only boy in the newest generation of the Buntjer family. He has a sister and four girl cousins. That’s five girls, between the ages of 7 months and 7 years.

He just wanted — needed — to get away from them all and do his own thing.

About the time of Brody’s meltdown, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. A whole lot of people in the house, squeals of excited little girls and a lack of space to just, well, just breathe, had me looking for an escape.

“Hey Brody, wanna go outside?” I asked.

Boom. Magic.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly a kid can go from whining to instant joy?

Brody escaped the back room about as quickly as he ripped into his Christmas gifts later that afternoon. He’d go outside — on one condition. No girls allowed!

What about me? Apparently I was OK. Mommy or Grandma would have been OK too — just not one of those girl cousins.

We put on our coats, mittens, hats and boots and headed for the great outdoors, trying not to draw attention from any of “those girls” who might want to join us. Brody was grinning from ear to ear when we successfully escaped the house.

We spent nearly an hour outside, visiting the barn (we heard a critter upstairs and wondered aloud if it was a raccoon or, even worse, an opossum), and then sauntering off to the grove. As we chatted about coons and critters, I suggested we check out the old car frame nestled in the old grove.

Apparently Brody, whom I figured had walked every square inch of that grove with his Daddy, had no idea an old car was hidden in the trees. And so, we stepped over tree branches, ducked under tree limbs and sidestepped deer droppings to make our way to the rusted out car frame.

When we finally reached our destination, Brody asked one question after another and, when he was done asking questions, I showed him a nearby critter hole and asked a question of my own. Brody goes hunting and trapping with his Daddy all the time, so I thought perhaps he would know what had made its home in the sandy soil. He didn’t even venture a guess.

But during our entire walk back through the grove, Brody kept a step or two ahead of me. He’d taken on the role of protector, holding his arm out to stop me anytime he thought he saw something in the distance.

As we neared the middle of our return trek, Brody pointed out some red berries clustered around the base of a tree.

“Do you suppose those are to feed the critters?” I asked.

“No,” Brody replied. “Those are for the bears!”

Bears?

“Oh Brody, we don’t have bears around here, but thanks for protecting me from them and all the little critters on our walk,” I said with a grin. “Now, stay away from that cocklebur patch before we both get in trouble!”

Peace, Love, Joy and Hope

Daniel Alan Buntjer

The Buntjer family welcomed a new little baby this week when 10-pound, 3-ounce Daniel Alan arrived in the early morning hours on Wednesday. Daniel is my great-nephew, son of my nephew, Matt, and his wife, Kaitlin.

I escaped the office Thursday morning to join my parents in meeting their newest great-grandson, and just happened to be there when Daniel’s big brother, Brody, and big sister, Elsie, met him for the first time.

What a JOY it was to see the introduction! It reminded me of the first time Matt met his baby sister, Jessica, nearly 22 years ago. Elsie’s eyes were filled with wonder, just as Matt’s were back then. Brody, on the other hand, quickly bored with the baby placed in his arms.

“So Brody, are you going to call him Daniel, Danny or Dan?” I asked.

“I want to call him Hunter!” he said with a serious face.

By the look on Kaitlin’s face, I’m guessing she’d heard his suggestion before. She figures by the time little Daniel is talking, he’ll know more hunting and trapping lingo than most people — thanks to his big brother, Brody.

Daniel is the second Buntjer baby of 2015, joining little Braylee Rose, who was born in May to my nephew Jake and his wife, Ashlee. Now seven months old, she’s a petite, fine-featured little beauty with a big smile.

Braylee Rose Buntjer

I’m guessing with the two of them at the Buntjer farm for Christmas next week, along with a 2-year-old, three 5-year-olds and other kiddos, there will be little PEACE to be found. In fact, I’ve come to call this family gathering Christmas Chaos. It’s really quite a shock to my system, as my introverted self enjoys evenings of silence and solitude after work most days.

As much as I look forward to the family gathering, I also look forward to going home at the end of the day and processing the day’s activities. More often than not, I grow melancholy for how quiet my house really is.

How much different life would be without our growing family — the nephews and nieces ages 8 to 28, and the great-nieces and great-nephews ages newborn to 7. Each one has taken up space in my heart — unconditional LOVE abounds. Sure, that love is tested from time to time, but we’re family, and if you can’t find it in your heart to get along with family, who can you get along with?

That brings me to HOPE. Hope for the future and hope for these two little babies that have joined our family this year.

It’s easy to be caught up in the negative news in our world today. Terrorism, gun violence, politics, bullying … the list goes on and on. It makes me sad to see the state of the world today and what may come for our future generations.

Life was tough growing up — it still is; it’s going to be tougher for them, I fear.

But, it’s Christmas. It’s a time when we Christians celebrate the birth of our Lord — a new beginning, the promise of something special.

I wish you, our readers, a sense of new beginning, the promise of something special and a Merry Christmas.