Avatar 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.

The universal language

Back when I was in the eighth grade at then-Worthington Area Junior High School, I faced my biggest decision ever about class offerings.

I could enroll in one full-year elective as a freshman.

It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, until you hear the options.

For me, the decision waivered between enrolling in Agriculture 9 and following in the FFA footsteps of my two older brothers (yes, back then it was still called Future Farmers of America); or continuing on in the German language. As an eighth-grader, I had a one-trimester taste of Deutsch thanks to Herr Pearson.

The farm girl and 4-H’er in me sided with my family’s agricultural roots — instead of with my family’s German heritage.

Oh, how I wish I could have taken both electives in place of other classes I had to take — like shop and sewing. (I don’t trust my fingers will ever be safe around saw blades or sewing machines. My apologies to the shop and home ec teachers!)

Having recently connected with a distant cousin on the Aeilts (Aielts or Ailts — there were 12 kids and three different spellings among them!) side of the family tree, I think it’s safe to say we’re both a bit frustrated with our communication efforts.

Matthias and I frequently send email messages and Facebook Messenger notes back and forth. On Christmas day, he shared a video of the children’s choir singing in the beautifully ornate, 800-year-old church in his hometown of Ostfriesland. Last weekend, I photographed obituary cards and old photographs and emailed them to him. He was thrilled to have more information to add to his genealogy research.

In one such photo, the only identification is “Grandpa and Grandma Aeilts.” We didn’t know how many generations back it went, but Matthias recognized the man in the photo as being my great-grandfather — and the brother to his great-grandfather.

Music and pictures can be understood in any language. Actual words, however, cannot.

Last summer, when I traveled to the Crailsheim area of Germany and stayed with a host family, dear Inge and Silke exclaimed, after several challenging days of verbal communication, that “we talk with our hands and our feet!”

And it struck me. You know, my Hispanic neighbors might not understand me sometimes either, but at least we can nod and smile and move our hands and our feet and find our universal language.

Well, the hands and feet do no good through Internet communication!

And so, Matthias will ask someone to help translate my English-only emails and messages, or he tries to run words through a German-English translation program. Sometimes, when he just can’t find the English word for what he wants to say, he writes it in German.

I find myself turning to Google Translate to decipher words like angekommen and arbeite and “Das wünsche ich auch.”

Slowly, I’m finding the words in German to say what I want to say.

We are learning from each other.

Yeah, I wish I could speak German fluently — and Matthias probably wishes he could speak English as he traces back our family tree. But it’s OK. Life is good.

Some day, when he comes to America, Matthias says he will buy me a beer and we will share laughs. Now that is a gesture understood in any language!

Birthday Girl

For the past year I’ve been looking forward to this day, my 44th birthday. Four is my favorite number, and there are two of them in my age for the next 365 days. How awesome is that?

But now that the day is here, well, I’m not quite as excited. In fact, this will be the last year I share my age with pride.

When I was a kid, I thought 44 was old. In fact, I thought if I lived to be 44 that would be good enough. What good can come of living to be, say, 45?

Well, of course we all know that as we age, the point at which we determine someone has reached “old age” is ever-changing. And then, when we really do reach that age, we call ourselves antiques.

I like the use of that word – antique. It means treasured, doesn’t it? (Insert smiley face!) Still, I’m far from being one – an antique, that is! (I can’t say the same about some of my childhood toys, like the Little People Barnyard and Playhouse that are now overpriced relics at flea markets.)

After reading co-worker Robin’s blog in Friday’s paper about her upcoming birthday (we are 10 years, one month and one day apart in age) and learning that her worst birthday was at age 25, I began to get depressed.

Shoot, I’ve been out of high school for 25 years. I don’t even remember my 25th birthday, and it isn’t because I indulged in too much alcohol.

Oh well, age is a fact of life, and we must make the most of life, right?

Like everybody else, my life has been one of ups and downs. I’ve been on Cloud 9, I’ve been in the fetal position on the couch muttering, “Kill me now!”

I’ve learned a lot. I have a whole lot more to learn … like how to use the jumper cables my dad makes me transport in my car, and how to make my mom’s homemade bread and strawberry jam.

I have to read every single page of every single book filling the five-shelf bookcase in my house. I have to finish the stitching projects I’ve started and find the time to make more projects from my stash.

I have to make time for evening walks, fishing trips and lazy days. I have to learn to relax – enjoy life a little more and stress a little less.

These are my goals in this, my 44th year.

Christmas chaos

For the past several years, my mom has toyed with the idea of having our family gatherings somewhere other than the farm. Her reason: the house isn’t big enough for everyone.

She is right, to an extent. After all, there are 26 of us when we all get together.

Last Sunday – the day my brothers and sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces agreed to gather – family members piled shoes at one end of the house and coats at the other. In between, there was a counter overflowing with egg bakes, French toast dishes and homemade caramel rolls (replaced later in the day with oyster stew, soups, meatballs and an assortment of other foods). As if that wasn’t enough, there was an entire table dedicated to Christmas goodies.

Add in 24 people (my oldest brother was sick and my oldest nephew was gallivanting around Atlanta, Georgia) and it was a little crowded.

A cozy kind of crowded.

We sent the little kids to the basement to play, and the older boys went out to play one-on-one basketball in the haymow of the barn. A couple of the nephews even went hunting through the grove.

All in all, things were going pretty well.

Then, minutes after the kids went to the basement, the nearly-9-year-old niece bounded back upstairs to exclaim she lost a tooth.

“Where is it?”

“It’s in the couch!” she said with pride. (She did go back in search of the tooth, thank goodness!)

A short while later, we heard chanting coming from the basement.

“We’re not kids! We’re not kids!”

I can only imagine this stemmed from the adult orders for the kids to go play in the basement.

The chant was soon replaced with what we adults considered to be some sort of screaming contest between all of the girls, ages four to almost 9. I exclude Elsie, the one-and-a-half-year-old, only because she wasn’t downstairs when this so-called contest was taking place. I’m pretty sure the girls were competing for the loudest and the longest scream possible. Elsie could have been a strong contender, though, considering she was battling teething pain for part of the day.

There was one timeout issued against one of the three four-year-olds (apparently she hit a fellow four-year-old in the face); a meltdown over gift distribution from the 7-year-old; and a Christmas present – a plastic toy – broken within a minute or two of being pulled from its box by the 9-year-old.

All in all, I’d say it was a normal family Christmas!

I can hardly wait until next year when we’ll add a new baby to the family. I can already envision it now – the great-aunts, me included, will be jockeying for position to hold the baby and it will be the kids telling us to stop it and, um, start acting like adults.

Hopefully we’ll still be celebrating in the cozy farmhouse.

The things we do for love

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other night when I noticed a #wifeoftheyear hashtag linked with a picture of my nephew’s wife.

“Hmm, what’s this?” I wondered as I clicked on the photo and saw my niece-in-law giving the thumb’s up sign with her left hand, while something dark and creepy dangled from her right hand — at least that’s what it looked like on my iPhone.

I had to take another look on the computer monitor the next day to actually see what it was, and by then I had learned more of the story.

The photo was taken in the dark, but it clearly shows Kaitlin with an expression I can only imagine is a mixture of pride and “I can’t believe I’m doing this!”

In her hand was a dead raccoon.

Yes, my niece-in-law dared to pick up roadkill.

It’s not entirely as bad as it sounds.

Well, alright, maybe it is.

When I texted her for approval to write a column about it, she replied with, “Haha, yes, that is just fine!” and filled me in on the details.

Kaitlin holds up the raccoon she picked up off a road and brought home to her husband.

Kaitlin, who leads the youth group with her husband (my nephew Matt), at a rural church south of Ellsworth, was taking her brother-in-law (my nephew Zach), home after youth group last Sunday night when she saw a dead raccoon in the middle of the road.

She dropped Zach off and, upon driving past the dead critter a second time, she realized she could earn the admiration of her hunting-trapping-fishing enthusiast of a husband if only she’d stop and scoop it up off the road. Since trapping season began, Matt has been skinning out coons and other critters he’s captured to earn a little extra cash from the hides.

So, rather than return home with just a story about a dead raccoon, Kaitlin turned the minivan around and went back to check it out. Yep, the roadkill looked to be in good shape, all things considered.

She lined the back of her minivan with paper and proceeded to take the dead coon home to her hubby.

Oh, how proud Matt was of his wife … the same woman who won’t eat the fish he catches, the same woman who won’t eat the goose, the duck or the deer he shoots. On the other hand, she is the mother of their two beautiful children … and she wouldn’t mind having a camouflage recliner in their living room to go along with the deer head on the wall and the fox and pheasant mount in the corner.

As the saying goes, “Love is blind.” But there’s another saying I’ve heard as well: “Blinded by love.”

It’s that kind of love that makes a woman stop and pick up roadkill.

Observations on a holiday weekend

It seems rather ironic that on a day set aside for Americans to give thanks for all they have, we can now view YouTube videos of fist fights, all-out brawls, tramplings and tazings thanks to the big box stores’ Thanksgiving night sales.

My brother told me about the videos when he stopped at my house over the lunch hour Friday to assemble my own Thanksgiving night purchase. The purchase, thankfully, involved no brawls, no heavy lifting and was made locally — more than an hour after the sale started!

As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing offered on a Thanksgiving night/Black Friday sale that is worth pushing, shoving, punching or shouting over.

Fighting over merchandise defies the entire spirit of Thanksgiving and the quickly approaching Christmas season — a time when, I thought, we are supposed to give from the heart.

Speaking of giving, our family gathered on Saturday to celebrate my great-nephew’s fourth birthday. Having spent time with him on Thanksgiving Day, I had the perfect opportunity to ask him what he’d like for his birthday.

“A bow and arrow,” was his quick reply.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“No, I want a bow and arrow,” he exclaimed, seemingly angered that I would question his choice of birthday gift.

“No tractors, no clothes, no other games?” (Yes, I knew I was pushing it! It’s an aunt’s prerogative, right?)

“NO!! I want a bow and arrow,” he shouted.

OK.

I bought him clothes. Not just any clothes, however. I found him a pair of shirts in his favorite color — camouflage.

He beamed a big smile when he opened the package, and pointed to the big deer on the front of each shirt. Yes, he’ll some day be a hunter like his daddy and grandpa.

It wasn’t just the camo shirts that brought a smile to the birthday boy’s face.

Every single gift, upon being opened, elicited a beam from Brody. He liked everything he received. The opened packages revealed movies, a bug catching set and a giant fire truck complete with bells and whistles.

There wasn’t a single gift that resembled a bow and arrow set, and yet he expressed thanks for everything in his shy little 4-year-old voice.

His smile, his thanks, was proof that it truly is better to give than to receive.

Perhaps we all need a little reminding this time of year to be thankful for all that we have and realize we don’t need it all to be happy.