Profile photo of Julie Buntjer

About Julie Buntjer

Hi, I'm a farm reporter for the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. I grew up on a 96-acre hobby farm raising goats, chickens, turkeys and barn cats. I also had sheep as an FFA and 4-H project. The farm is rather quiet now - just a few cattle which, by the way, scare the dickens out of me (one too many bad childhood memories!) I have three brothers, 10 nieces and nephews, four great-nieces, one great-nephew and a black and beautiful lovable pooch named Molly. Molly now keeps my parents entertained down on the farm.

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!

The best history lessons

I imagine that somewhere, stashed in one of Mom’s many boxes in storage, are my elementary, junior and senior high school report cards. I’m pretty sure she saved them, just as she had saved the handmade yarn “Gods Eye” and matchstick cross I made in Bible School. Moms save those sorts of things.

I’m not really interested in the report cards, except to prove that I likely wasn’t the best student when it came to history. History was one of those boring subjects that required me to read chapter after chapter of some long-ago event that I didn’t care about at the time.

It wasn’t until after high school when, on a 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus trip, I visited the Gettysburg battlefield and historic site in Pennsylvania. Seeing history come alive before my eyes through reenactors, story boards and interactive displays, well, that was far better than reading about our nation’s Civil War in a book.

I was a poor student on the history of World War II as well, and then — through my work as a newspaper reporter — I met many amazing men and women who served our country abroad and at home. I’ve done one-on-one interviews with more than 50 World War II veterans — a majority of them sharing their stories with me just in the past five years — and I can say without a doubt they taught me more about war, perseverance and the American spirit than I could have ever possibly learned in a history book.

For the past few months, we at the Daily Globe have been working on a new project. It will appear in your newspaper in little more than a week, on April 30. The date marks the fall of Saigon and the official end of the Vietnam War.

I was born in the era of the Vietnam War. Other than reading about it in textbooks or the occasional book store find — “The Things They Carried” and “Grunts: The American Combat Soldier in  Vietnam” are two such books I’ve read — I hadn’t really explored the specifics of this war.

Then again, based on my own experience, until I know someone who has personally been affected by the war, it tends not to mean as much.

As part of our special “Vietnam Remembered” edition, reporters at the Globe interviewed five Vietnam veterans with ties to the area. All but one still call southwest Minnesota or northwest Iowa home. Their stories are amazing — at least I think so and I hope you will think so as well.

Talking about the war — about going on humps through the jungle, about sniper fire and shrapnel wounds, about Agent Orange and PTSD — can be an experience most veterans wouldn’t want to relive. Some of our Vietnam veterans are realizing that talking about their experiences, however, can also be good for their health.

I want to thank each and every one of the veterans who were willing to share their story with us and with readers of the Daily Globe. We know there are many stories, similar to theirs, among us. Vietnam may not have been a popular war — at least that’s what I learned in history textbooks — but it was a war just the same.

It was a war in which sacrifices were made, and we can all be grateful to the men and women who gave of themselves and who gave all that they had.

All Gave Some. Some Gave All.

Slimy versus slithering

As I rushed out the back door Wednesday morning for a trip to Luverne, I discovered a worm at the bottom of the steps. Another one was stretched out near my car, and I’m sure there were several more that I may have driven over as I backed out of my driveway.

The worms made me think of my great-nephew Brody. On Sunday, the little boy proudly carried around a worm he’d dug up while playing in the dirt down on the Buntjer farm.

Oh, how he cared for that half-dried-up critter — a worm hardly worthy of being used as fish bait. When one of his girl cousins swiped it out of his hands and tossed it over the barn door, he pleaded through tears that someone might help him get his worm back.

Brody loves his animals — frogs, worms, bugs, butterflies and probably everything else that moves.

Had I not already been running a few minutes late for my interview Wednesday morning, I would have saved the worms — carrying them to the greening-up lawn to live another day. Brody would have been proud, if only I’d taken a little extra time.

As I headed west on I-90, I thought about worms. I wonder how Brody will react when we go fishing this year? Will he try to save the worms from being threaded on a fish hook?

If so, we might have a problem.

He and my great-niece Kiera — both age 4 — are complete opposites, as far as I can see. She wants to go fishing just so she can kill a worm. She thinks all frogs and toads should be killed and if she’d felt the same way about snakes, I’d tend to agree with her.

With spring on the family farm come the snakes … and the screams. It doesn’t matter if the snake has been dead for days or if it is still slithering around. I’ll scream if it startles me, starts to move my direction or is trying to move away from me as fast as it can. I even scream if my wonderful dog Molly, “the snake killer”, gets a little too close as she proudly shows off her excellent skills.

I was probably Brody and Kiera’s age when I had my first awful, memorable encounter with a garter snake. I can still picture my mom hanging clothes out on the line and me standing there watching her. All of a sudden I noticed a snake slithering through the grass and I let out a scream.

I begged, screamed and cried for mom to come and pick me up and save me from the awful critter, but she was too busy. She probably had her hands full of wet laundry.

Mom told me to climb into the egg basket, but even at that young age, I knew the snake could easily join me by slithering through the holes. The experience was so traumatic, I don’t remember how it ended — but I’m guessing the snake lived another day to scare again, and generations of its offspring continue to haunt me to this day.

I wish they haunted great-niece Adrianna as much as they haunt me. She was the one on Sunday walking around holding a snake by the tail and then letting it wrap itself around her arm.

Where was I? Hiding on the other side of the house!

Searching for something

Have you ever thought about how much time you spend in a day searching for something?

I’m always searching — searching for my car keys, searching for a dropped stitching needle, searching for story ideas or lead paragraphs — or searching for little slips of paper that contain important things like phone numbers or email addresses.

Sometimes I go searching just for fun.

My first find ... a three-point deer antler.

My first find … a three-point deer antler.

A couple of weeks ago — two days before my Grandma died — I went searching for sheds. It was a beautiful Monday afternoon and I’d taken the day off work to get my dad to a doctor’s appointment. We returned home earlier than expected, and I took full advantage of the 70-plus degree afternoon. Time spent out in nature is never wasted. Time spent looking for deer sheds and having no luck is disappointing — but still not wasted.

These past two weeks I’ve had several hours of disappointing walks looking for sheds, but back on that Monday afternoon — my first time out looking for sheds this year — I found two.

I was so excited! One was a three-point antler, the other a five-point. I took pictures and sent them to my nephew, and then I was chastised for going without him.

The five-point deer antler I found.

The five-point deer antler I found.

 

In all honesty, if I’d waited for Matt to go searching for sheds with me, he would have found both of them and they wouldn’t be proudly displayed on top of my curio cabinet — alongside the three other antlers (one of which I found, two of which were gifts from Farm Bleat readers).

Searching for sheds not only gets me outdoors, it gets me walking many miles as I follow deer paths, duck under tree branches and step over gopher mounds and downed tree limbs. At the end of the journey, I’m not sure who is more tired, me or my dog, Molly. The poor girl logs many more steps as she follows critter scents hither and yon.

I guess you could say she’s searching, too.

Last Saturday, it wasn’t me that was doing the searching so much as it was my parents and their 9-year-old and 7-year-old grandkids. The kids were guilty of misplacing the television remote during their Friday night sleepover at the farm, and my folks couldn’t figure out how to turn the TV on without it.

They tore the entire living room apart, pulling cushions out of chairs and couches, looking under blankets and behind furniture, pulling everything out of the toy bin and going through the drawers of VHS tapes and DVDs.

There was no sign of the Hershey bar-sized remote control.

Just before two of the three grandkids left for home Saturday night, Reece had made a comment about eating potato chips while they were up late Friday night.

Mom asked, “Do you suppose the remote is in the potato chip bag?”

Well, Reece darted to the kitchen, grabbed the bag and opened it up.

There, among the collection of smashed sour cream and onion Lay’s, was a greasy remote control.

The TV is back to blaring on Sunday afternoon. My parents have their feet up and their ears tuned to some polka dancing show on RFD-TV. That’s their subtle hint to tell me to go home — at least that’s what I tell them.

All is well. The search is over … at least until Dad misplaces his eyeglasses again.