What it is really like 

Truthfully, I haven’t been swinging hammers or welding gates in our new barn construction.  My involvement has been financial consent (!), being a good listener, and an occasional home-cooked lunch for the crew. 

There has, however, been a dedicated crew putting in tons of hours this winter. We are so thankful. 

This construction has stretched Joe in so many ways.  It’s been way more complicated than a new build could be, with so many working systems.  Reworking all the manure stuff, completely redoing all the electrical, lots of unexpected problems. He has been stressed a bunch for this time of year, but it will all be worth it as soon as NEXT WEEK  — cows are moving in!!

It’s going to be awesome.   The crew has done an excellent job.  There are a ton of neat features that I could write about but it would be all “dairy-speak”. 

Violet was sprinting around like crazy tonight.

What I can tell you is that, like at farms all across the nation, cows are going to be very comfortable.  

He actually doesn’t even like being on his phone as much as he has been.

Lots of people on social media today are talking about knowing an  #ActualLivingFarmer, and if you want to know what the inside of a barn looks like, just ask me, because I am one!


Fine-tuned hearing and super clean cows 

Ava was making a shopping list for me over Christmas break and so I was spelling out lots of words for her one letter at a time.  She was making mistake after mistake, and it was surprising because she knows her letters very well.  When it dawned on me that she wasn’t hearing me well enough to tell the difference between an “e” and a “d”, I figured I was opening another chapter in Ava’s medical story.  

I first conferred with her speech therapist, then went to her primary doctor to get a referral to an ENT.   At the local clinic visit to get the referral, the lady checking us in took her height, weight and blood pressure and then quickly left so I went searching down the hall for someone to give Ava a hearing test (I think sometimes doctors and nurses cringe when they see a mom with lots of medical experience…she will never leave until all her questions are answered, and she will certainly get what she came for!).  

Ava failed her hearing test on both sides, had a bunch of earwax flushed out (she is a professional Ear Wax Maker), failed the tests again, flushed even more ear wax out and then failed a final time.  So, today (12 days later) we went to Sioux Falls for our visit with Dr. Kashnica. 

It started with audiology and fancier equipment with the the same results…neither eardrum vibrating like it needs to in order to have her hear at a normal decibel level. 

Then, we met with Dr. Kashnica and he told us before even examining her that she needs ear tubes and her adenoids removed.  One thing I have learned as Ava’s mom is that specialists are very opinionated and very confident. They just are. 

He explained that her adenoids must be blocking her natural drainage system so he needs to poke a tiny hole in her eardrum, and put a little stent in (called a tube) to keep it draining.  That takes him about 5 minutes.  Then, he needs to remove her adenoids which aren’t thought to have much function anyway past the age of 6 or 7.  That takes another 5 minutes.  That’s the entire surgery.  Then, he checks on the tubes every 3 months until they fall out, at which point her eardrum should be back to draining itself because the adenoids aren’t in the way anymore.  It’s a super common procedure. 

It is a dream to me that Ava’s speech may improve bunches by having this simple surgery.  I’m not getting my hopes up too much because a lot of her issues seem to be more in motor planning and getting her tongue where it needs to be. 

It makes me feel kinda rotten wondering how long this fluid has been there, but it is what it is. In any case, I think we are headed down a good road. I had read some about never damage and needing hearing aids and I’m so thankful that isn’t the route we are on. 

Our new barn will have at least one “cow brush”. They are supposed to help a ton with removing their fluffy winter hair as well as just a good way to scratch an itch. Cows have it made. We picked up this brush on our way home today.

I am so appreciative  for your prayers and support.  Thankfully, Joe took the day away from the farm so he could help wrestle Violet and get the information first-hand about Ava’s hearing.  Surgery is hopefully scheduled in 3 weeks if I can get everything lined up. 

Ava’s progress with her arm has been HUGE.   We have noticed her coming up with adaptations on her own and finding ways to make it work.  That’s what it is going to be all about!  She thought we all needed straws at supper the other night, so she placed the box between her forearm and tummy and held it tightly, so she could pick straws out one at a time with her other hand. 

In general, her nerves are definitely still growing and making new connections.  If we remove her brace, she can bend her wrist inward and that motion gets stronger every time we work on it.  We are waiting and waiting on her fingers but we haven’t given up. 

A few days ago, I was using a vibrating tool we had gotten from occupational therapy.  Rubbing it around on her affected hand. The idea is to provide sensation so the brain is remembering that her hand is still there.  When I asked her how it feels, she said it tickles ON THE OTHER SIDE.   That’s just weird and we laughed and laughed about it with her. Hopefully, her brain can soon sort out the difference between what her C7 nerve used to operate and what it does now, post-surgery. 

I think sometimes I get to be Ava’s mom because God knows I love to learn, love to research, and love to encourage.  Life is always two steps forward and one step back.  Enjoy the dance!

Up for the challenge?

My father-in-law, Dave, writes a monthly article for the Dairy Star, a magazine started here in Minnesota but has since grown to be nearly a national magazine. I, little me, write a blog post whenever I think of something that I think folks would read. 

Today we had a conversation about upcoming obligations and discussed the huge difference between writing and speaking.  He is slated next week  for a panel talking about taking care of your employees and I am the keynote speaker at a prayer breakfast in a few months. 

People often talk about the passage of “being kind to the least of these” in Matthew, and what keeps running through my head is that I am “poor” in the sense of public speaking and I feel like God is really truly in my care, using  the least of these. 

Sometimes people can be rude and a little mean on social media because there is a screen that stands between person A and person B. The screen can be a bad thing in that sense.  I, however, benefit tremendously from having a screen because nobody can see me cry as I pour my heart out about happenings in our family.  That’s the difference for me between writing and speaking.  I am determined not to cry while I speak.  What a strange goal. 

Joe wanted to show Liv a bit of what welding was like.

On the subject of pushing oneself beyond what is normal or easy, Joe has been spearheading a building project.  We are adding onto a barn and the project is way behind schedule and our cows could really use the space. He feels like many days he would rather just work by himself (big-time introvert), but instead is giving instructions and trying to stay a step ahead of all the people helping out.  Joe is doing an awesome job, though, (as is the whole crew) and I think the barn is going to be so nice for our cows when it is ready.  Our two oldest have gotten to help out on some Saturdays, and have learned lots. 

The green is part of a stall divider. The huge roll in the background is belting from a coal mine that will be unrolled and tacked down for cows to stand on while they eat.

Somehow it is much easier for kids to try new things and adapt so much easier.  I have lots of new things about Ava to share but I think I had better save it for another time.  I have written an entire blog post without tears in my eyes, and I think I will count it as progress toward my goal.  Thanks for reading. 

In God’s Time:  Christmas Card letter

In God’s Time: Christmas Card letter

Joe and Rita Vander Kooi Family, 2016

(This is the letter I included with the Christmas cards I sent out.  I always keep 1 copy per kid and save it in their “memory box”.  All photos taken by Joe’s sister, Tae.)


I –  In God’s time, things will happen.  That is something that I have tried to keep in mind throughout this past year.  It was definitely a year for us to grow in patience.

N –  Never have we had this wet of a spring to try to get the crops planted.  Joe replanted some fields TWICE!  It seemed like as soon as conditions were fit to get in the field, it would rain a few more inches.  It was mid-June by the time the planter was put away for the year.  Surprisingly, the yields this fall were average as the crops were phenomenal in the areas that weren’t so wet.


G –  Goats are good stress-relievers so we got a few of those again.  My fantastic friend from college sold us a mama goat named Tess, and her two babies, Tickle and Trouble.  I think Joe secretly pets them when I am not looking.  They did not have a lot of respect for my fencing for the first couple months but are doing well under Vince’s care now.  More baby goats expected next spring!

O –  Ohio is a popular place for a family vacation, right?  We all traveled to Cincinnati for Ava’s January check-up.  She will go every 5-6 months for at least another 3 years and then once a year until skeletal maturity.  Ava’s nerves continue to grow.  Her sensation has nearly fully returned (we are still hopeful for the outside of her hand and pinky finger).  Functionally, she can put her arm on a table, use her forearm to hold paper in place while coloring, and bend her elbow and raise her arm enough to touch her fingers to her mouth.  We pray for continued improvement and believe that she will gain more in God’s timing.

D –  Downtown Chicago and the Wisconsin Dells were also included in our trip.  Lots of good memories!

S –  Somehow Joe convinced a salesman from Claas (forage harvester for cow corn silage) to throw in a free trip to Germany as part of our last purchase.  It is like moving mountains to prepare for a week away from little ones and the farm, but the trip was worth it.  Our kids enjoyed spending time with both sets of grandparents and Joe’s Aunt Sue. For us, it was a time to focus on each other and chew our food over adult conversation.  It was a bus trip with other Claas owners and quite the mix of people.


T –  Toddlers say the cutest things and Violet is no exception.  My favorites are “I wanna show you shomshing” and “Yeah, sure”.  She brings so much joy to our days and she knows it.

I – Impossible.  I am hopeful that it is just a phase with nerve regeneration, but it takes absolutely everything I have to get Ava ready to go in the morning.  She can’t take her shirt off herself, but everything else that I put on her, comes right back off.  She especially dislikes coats and I get a lot of dirty looks around town.

M –  Musically, Liv added the violin this year and really enjoys that.   Another new activity for Liv is swimming with the local YMCA’s team.  She somehow went from having the least activities on her schedule, to the most.  In case you were wondering, Vince still doesn’t like piano.  He does enjoy wrestling as well as baseball, as long as it doesn’t interrupt a cutting of hay.

E – Extra guests are always welcome in our home and around our table.  Please stop by and we will love to spend time with you.  Developing hospitality is a goal for 2017.  Have a great year!


The Kiss

I’m not talking about the kind of kiss that would make our 11-year-old son embarrassed to witness.  Nope, I’m talking about a quick “Welcome home”.  

That is my New Year’s resolution.  It is simple enough: Any time that I hear Joe come in the door, to stop what I am doing and welcome him home. I know that when we were first married, I always greeted him with a kiss. I suppose somewhere along the craziness of life and little kids it got lost. 

The work that Joe does on our farm can be really stressful for him (that could be a whole blog post by itself).  When he comes home, I want him to feel like our home is a place where all his worries can fade away. 

So, rather than thinking that laundry, meal prep, piano practice or whatever is more important, Joe knows that we treasure having him come home.  

May your home be filled with love!   Blessings on your 2017. 


Cincinnati bullet-points

My brain is a bit fried from all the travel today and really, just from Ava coming into our bedroom at 1:30 this morning to see if it was time to go to Cincinnati.  So, I am going to stick to just a list of things. 

Nurse, Ava, surgeon, therapist

1. People at airports can be so distant.  Nobody minds waiting in lines anymore because they simply look at the phone in hand. 

2.   The brachial plexus team at Cincinnati is so genuine in its care for Ava. 

3.  Ava has tons more potential — it will take hard dedicated work and still more time. 
4.  No predicted surgeries for the next year.  Yippee!  I made sure to ask because we, like most self-employed families in Minnesota, are still unsure of our insurance plan for 2017. 

5.  The team finds Ava’s case to be fascinating.  For instance, she has finger flexion (like making a fist) but in order to use it, she pushes down on her lap with her other hand.  When they watched her do that, they said they hadn’t seen that before in a patient but realized she was kicking in her triceps on her unaffected arm because that is where they “stole” the nerve from to give her finger flexion.  If that makes sense. 

6.  We had them adjust on her “tickle machine” a bit so hopefully she tolerates it bette tomorrow than she has been.  As her sensation returns with more strength, the shock is just too much anymore and needed to be toned down. 

7.  A new place to target is her wrist.  I’m so glad we didn’t choose Washington University because they said you don’t get that motion ever, you just fuse it every time. 

8.  We return back for a checkup in June. 

9.  It is absolutely the world’s best gift to have just  one child to plug into, for an entire day.  We had a grand day full of giggles.  Ava re-styled my hair 30 times for me.  When we entered into a small children’s playroom at the Cincinnati airport, she immediately remembered our pretend play there from 6 months ago when I pretended an area under a slide was an oven.  She asked me to make her cookies again while we waited. 

10.   I am so excited to get home tonight after this last flight, and appreciate all your prayers for safe travels and amazing healing. 

Date Night Drought

Last weekend, Joe and I snuck away to a town 30 miles from home for a DATE NIGHT!!  The excitement was so high that all caps are needed. 

Sterling’s in Luverne

We had been in a drought — well, as far as dates go.  We had been to a local vineyard the week before silage harvesting started in August…but nothing since then.  All told, Joe hasn’t eaten lunch or dinner at home (other than on Sunday’s) maybe 10 times in the last 3 months!  

When we remodeled our kitchen 13 years ago, our cabinet-maker informed me that he goes on a date absolutely every Friday night with his wife.  Their tradition has upheld for decades — she balances the checkbook in the time when she would normally be preparing food, and then they go out to eat and catch up on things.  His story has always stuck with me. 

While we don’t go that often, it is SO important to take time to remember the reasons why dating was such fun when we were first getting to know each other.  Last weekend, we laughed, had meaningful conversations and, most noteworthy, didn’t cut up anybody’s food for them.  

I always appreciate my kiddos much more after some time away.  When I tried to quietly go down the steps the next morning for some peaceful reading time alone, Violet heard me. She jumped up in her crib and shouted, “I wanna hold you.” I couldn’t turn that down!

So, go on a date!  Pour some kindness into your relationships!  Have a great weekend.