Snow Day for a Farm Kid

Snow Day for a Farm Kid

When our home phone rings at 9:00 at night, there’s a pretty good chance that it is the school district’s automated lady declaring either a late start or a school closing.

Of course, this call means different things for different families. I suppose it is a nightmare for working parents of young school-aged kids as they are suddenly in need of childcare. For Victor, 3 weeks old, it just means more arms available to hold him throughout the day. However, if you are an older kid on a farm, it likely translates into a day of physical labor caring for animals.

Victor, 3 weeks old.

Due to extreme cold and blowing snow, our family got “the call” last night announcing a 2 hour late start. At 8:00 this morning, the call came in that school was closed for the day. All of a sudden, Joe had gained a couple of extra farmhands for sorting cows this morning.

Vince (13 years old) is good with a lot of things on the farm, but reading a cow’s ear tags and then seeing if she is on his list of cows on the clipboard –yikes! So, I imagine Liv (10) will be the clipboard gal this morning and Vince will be opening gates and walking cows to their new pens. We had our veterinarian out last Friday to ultrasounds cows to check for pregnancies. (We do that every 2 weeks.) Joe is switching around some of the pens at the dairy to try to improve some efficiencies and so he will be making the lists for them.

That is if everything goes as planned — which isn’t likely with this extreme cold! I suppose they will find lots of things that need a little coaxing to make work today. Please pray for all those who are caring for livestock this week. The extreme temperatures affect so many people, from linemen to city employees to snow plow drivers to farmers, and sometimes it is hard to remember “safety first”. Bundle up and remember that it is only 50 days until spring!


Birth Story of Victor Albrecht Vander Kooi

I have often thought, that if God hadn’t called me to motherhood and a farming life, He would have led me to work in obstetrics or pediatrics.  So, for that reason, I think that writing a birthing story is very important for me, and a way to preserve a memory that is very dear to my heart.  My sister-in-law started the tradition 14 years ago with a journal to try to document all the birthing stories of what is now 16 cousins.  The journal is, of course, now lost in the shuffle of life, but writing continues to be therapeutic to me.  I have somewhat pushed off writing this story for 9 days, because there is a finality to it and a closing of this chapter of my life.

5 days past my due date, I woke up at 3:00 a.m. with contractions.  Although this wasn’t unusual within the last few weeks, I was pretty hopeful that this time, it was the real thing.  I had taken 1000 milligrams of evening primrose oil before bedtime because I had read online it was a good way to induce labor so I had my sister-in-law walk across the street from where she works to pick some up at the local health food store.  I was so ready to meet this baby!

I got out of bed and started tidying up the house for a few hours.  At 6:00, I rested on the couch until the kids woke up for Sunday morning church.  Joe asked me if I was sure it would be wise to go to church, and I assured him I would be fine.  From 9:30-10:30, I had 4 or 5 contractions, but only one of them was when we were sitting while at church, so it was very tolerable.  I continued having contractions as the kids attended Sunday school and we enjoyed our traditional Sunday lunch made by Joe’s mom and enjoyed by 20 people each week.

I had a few major contractions while there.  One of them was while Joe was relating a story about customer service at a local store, and it was hilarious but very difficult to laugh at while having a contraction.  One of Joe’s sister offered to watch some of our kids so I could go walk laps at the YMCA….I said I would way rather rest on the couch.

We went home and got Ava and Violet ready to play outside and I was helping Vince with his math homework.  He was being unusually cooperative.  When we finished, I laid down on the couch.  Joe came into the living room a few minutes later and said that he was planning to take Liv with him and attend our church’s 2:00 service.  I was kind of surprised that he was going to leave but I was so settled in for a nap that I didn’t react much and he left with Liv a few minutes later.  He had given Vince instructions to help Ava and Violet when they came in from playing outside and that he should try to keep them quiet so I could rest.

I napped for a while but had the urge to pick up stuff around the house.  Vince was being really bossy with Ava and Violet.  At 3:30, Joe came home from church apologizing that his deacon duties took him a really long time after church had finished.  He asked me what was the plan.  I told him that he should take the kids to his parent’s house.  He seemed surprised.  I think it was because a pretty similar scenario had played out on my due date, and then by about this time my contractions had just stopped completely.  So, we got the kids packed for an overnight and school the next morning.  I was planning to get in the tub as soon as they left, but I packed for myself and then when Joe came home 30 minutes later, I finally got in the tub.  He came to check on me after 20 minutes, but I told him that my contractions, while strong, were not that close together.  He came back 10 minutes later and asked me how many contractions I had, and informed me that I was a poor time keeper.  He went back downstairs and I labored a little while longer in the tub.  All at once, I decided I definitely wanted to get out, and I remember then looking out the window to see that Joe had started the car for it to warm up.  So, we were both on the same page and decided to head to the hospital.  As we pulled on to the road, we both looked at the clock – 5:15.  We arrived at the hospital parking lot at 5:30.  Joe is very picky about where and how he parks.  After deciding not to use the emergency parking lot, and then not very pleased about the positioning of the car in the other lot – I finally told him “Just park the car!” (which I regret saying now) and I got out and had a contraction and then started walking to the ER where we had to check in.  I had a contraction while in the entryway, and Joe was just catching up to me with the bags I had packed.  Somebody came out to ask me if I wanted a wheelchair and Joe waved him away.  I began the check-in process by telling them that Dr. Lyon said he would come in just for me.  Then, the lady decided Joe could do the rest of the checking in, and some male employee and I headed toward the elevator.  I had a contraction just as I was about to get in the elevator and it was really long, so by the time I was ready to get in the elevator, Joe had caught up.

The employee on the women’s health floor checked me into my room.  I changed into the gown and she checked me – I was dilated to a 6 or 7.  I was thankful that I wasn’t a 3, but somewhat surprised that I wasn’t further as I felt I had certainly been transitioning.  It was about 5:45 or 5:50.   They hooked me up to some baby heartbeat monitors.  I was standing on the side of the bed because I very much dislike being in bed while in labor.  For our previous children, I have always faced Joe and leaned on him during contractions, but this time I was having back labor and really just wanted him to push on my lower back during each one.  I remember having one contraction that seemed longer and thinking to myself that it was a very good one – I felt like I could feel my body opening.  The next contraction, I was still standing by the side of the bed, and I reached down and could feel that my bag of water was slipping down into my hand.  I informed the nurse and asked, “What do I do on the next contraction?”.  She said, “Right now get on the bed on all fours.”  So, I did and when I rested to a sitting position, my water bag burst on my foot.  I remember asking her again, “What do I do on the next contraction?”.  She checked, said I was pretty much fully dilated and just to breathe through it.  The lady from the lab was trying to draw blood from my left arm as I was resting my arms on the front of the bed that was propped up.  I was trying to wave her away and the nurse insisted that I allow her to draw blood, that I wouldn’t even feel it if she stuck me during a contraction.  She got her blood at 6:08.  The nurse said I should try as hard as I can, not to push with the next contraction.  The doctor made his grand entrance into the room and began to take off his coat.  I had a contraction, and it was impossible not to push, and I could feel baby’s head slide out.  Joe couldn’t believe it, and asked if he should help, and a nurse said, “Go ahead and catch.”  At that, the baby’s shoulders passed through and as the rest of its body slithered though, Joe caught our new baby.  The doctor was just finishing putting on his gloves and congratulated Joe.  The nurses said they had tears in their eyes and it was so strange for me because I couldn’t see as I was still on my hands and knees facing the other way.  Joe asked me if I wanted to know boy or girl.  I said “Yes!” and he told me our new baby was a boy!  Joe and Dr. Lyon worked to clamp the umbilical cord, and then I was able to turn around and hold our new baby.  He was crying and I was in complete shock that it had gone so fast.  It was 6:10, only 20 or 25 minutes from when we had arrived in the room.  Joe and I both laughed that perhaps we had cut it a little too close.  Joe was standing with his hands in the air in front of him, perplexed and amazed and really needing to go wash them in the sink.  The nurses said since that was so easy and simple, we should have at least one more child in the future and Joe and I both laughed and said we were too old.

The lady from the lab finally gave up on getting an IV in me and left.  They allowed me to hold our new baby for a nice long time.  I was really surprised to have a boy and just in awe of how quickly babies can arrive.  I received an intramuscular shot of Pitocin just to stimulate my uterus to contract and prevent large clots.   Joe took a lot of pictures and I just couldn’t get enough of looking at him to make sure this was really real.

It brings tears to my eyes to think I will never feel a baby move and kick inside me again.  This fifth and final pregnancy was much harder for my body, but certainly just a small sacrifice for having a new baby to love.  I am so very thankful God has allowed me to have children and to be a mom.  It is my greatest calling and one that I am so very grateful for.

Still No Baby

Of the many, many things I have learned from Ava’s accident 3.5 years ago, one of the most important is this — you might as well be patient because God’s timing is just how it is going to be anyway.

In the case of this pregnancy, God figures we’ve got lots of time. I am 4 days overdue and can’t call anyone without beginning the conversation with “I am not in labor and I have not yet had a baby”. Random people at sporting events and grocery stores divulge their best secrets for inducing labor because I must apparently look “fully cooked”.

I had an ultrasound 5 days ago that showed baby has plenty of fluid and is not huge. I also had a non-stress test yesterday that looked good and my blood pressure is fine. So more and more waiting. I honestly don’t feel a whole lot differently than I did a month ago and other than New Year’s Day bringing a bunch of contractions, things seem pretty stable.

I was not at all concerned today that my basketball-shaped belly would change today so we traveled an hour away to watch our daughter play in a basketball tournament. It was fun to watch them play. It was also a beautiful day for a walk in between games with so much sunshine here in Southwest Minnesota.

In the meantime, nesting is in full force and our closets have never been cleaner! I am bringing items to our thrift store pretty much every other day. I never run out of projects and honestly feel way more prepared than I have the last 3 pregnancies.

I am off to stretch my back soon, and of course, do a YouTube search for labor-inducing exercises! We have tried some side-lying hip press suggestion, lots of walking, lots of positive thinking, but no — I am not interested in a bumpy four-wheeler ride or anything of the sort. I’ll just keep waiting for a few days and figure God has a good plan.

Fifth and Final


F – Fifth & Final.  We are expecting our fifth and final baby on January 2.  Some people enjoy joking with me that I am just getting started on having a dozen babies, but it is pretty tough to talk a lady in her third trimester into considering more children.  I am a fifth-born child, so the idea is that Joe is really just wanting another person in his life just like me.



I – In Search Of.  We are still in search of great baby names.  The kids provide quite a bit of “valuable” input on this.  All of our children have the letter “V” in their names so it does narrow things down quite a bit.  If you think you have a real winner of a name, let us know. 

F – Family Vacation.  Our family once again traveled to Ohio to attend Ava’s annual summer brachial plexus clinic visit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.  It was neat that the hospital organized a get-together for a day with all the families that currently have a child who is being seen for this injury.  It was eye-opening for Ava and great networking for us.  We also visited an agro-tourism Jersey farm, Noah’s Ark, Coney’s Island Amusement Park, Underground Railroad Museum, National Air Force Museum, and Dayton’s Children’s Museum. 

T – Three Goats.  Much to Vince’s dismay, this fall we pared our goat herd from 7 down to 3.  We hope for 4 new goat kids in the spring, and I maintain that is plenty.  Vince had the opportunity to show a goat at the MN State Fair in August.

H – High School.  While Vince isn’t yet in high school (whew!), he has been spending time there most days after school for sports practice.  He ran cross country this fall and is now in wrestling.  It is an adjustment for our whole family to add in these activities, but it was so much fun to watch him run last fall.

F – Five Breeds.  We have a new puppy that is a mix of five different breeds.  Her name is Pepper and we hope to train her in the 4-H dog program next summer.  Violet loves all animals and is especially delighted to have a dog on our farm.

I – Inches and Inches of Rain.  We experienced an incredible amount of rain this past year that made spring planting, hay harvesting, and just everything in general, more difficult.  Joe wasn’t as concerned as I was that my garden was a huge failure this year.  Joe installed a lot more field drainage tile again this fall and his hard work helps a little more each year.

N – Nerve Update.  Ava is still experiencing nerve growth.  Her medical team tells us that 4 years is the expected window for continued improvement and that will be next August.  We were really hopeful for more hand function by now but certainly haven’t given up hope. 

A – A Week Away.  Our kids each left home for almost a week this summer.  Ava and Violet went to visit their Great Uncle Bill and Great Aunt Sue in Ames, Liv attended Inspiration Hills Bible Camp, and Vince attended Dordt Discovery Days.  I feel so blessed that our children can experience so much fun and learning away from home too.

L – Laying Hens.  I have an update on the Vander Kooi Chicken Coop Building Experience.  We cheated a little bit and bought a dog kennel instead.  We assembled it inside of an outbuilding, added a roof and called it a chicken coop.  So, yes, we have a dog kennel but it isn’t for our dog. 

Wishing you a very Merry (Dairy) Christmas!

To All Our Prayer Warriors

We could use your help tonight. Please join us in praying for Ava. She is having some extreme nerve pain.

Typically, Ava does not have pain that interferes with her daily living. However, yesterday I noticed she was chewing on her unaffected hand some. I would describe it kinda like a teething toddler trying to cope. Today, I noticed she had chewed her nails down and then switched mouthing her affected hand.

Photo courtesy of Ava’s aunt, Tae, with Main Street Kids.

Lots of Sunday afternoons, we will take her swimming to our YMCA pool. It is an incredibly nice place and we often even have the whole pool to ourselves. As I was helping her in the locker room when we arrived, it occurred to me that all these things could be nerve pain. She hasn’t experienced jolting nerve reconnections for months, so I think that is why it took me a while to piece it together.

Since her surgery 3 years ago, she will have certain stretches where she feels the nerve reconnections happening. When it first started in her upper arm 4 or 5 months after surgery, it was like somebody was shocking her shoulder and she was trying to jump away from it or shake it off. It has happened since then every now and then, usually lasting for a few days or a week.

However, this pain today is the most INTENSE yet. The pool (perhaps because of its conductivity?) intensified it. Made for a quick swim for all of us. At home, she writhed on the couch bicycling her legs, holding her arm behind her back. The particular area of pain is in her palm. She couldn’t eat supper and is in bed sleeping now. It took Joe a very long time to calm her down, and he is a pro.

So, two things: pray for her comfort. Also, we PRAISE God because this is ironically such wonderful, wonderful news! New connections. Ava has essentially no hand function at this point but the team at Cincinnati Children’s insist that this healing after surgery takes 4 years and that the hand is last. It is hard not to give up hope but this pain is encouraging that perhaps more healing is happening!!! So we praise God even in the midst of pain and ask you to pray for our sweet little 7-year-old.

No load of silage is worth that

As the sun sets of 2018 corn silage season for us, I am incredibly thankful for the safety of everyone on our crew and well, anybody on the roads.

Corn silage should be all done by midnight tonight. We have some earlage to make yet, but it is a little more low-key. Photography by my son, Vince.

My husband always reminds his crew every year:

Don’t EVER roll through a stop sign…no load of silage is worth that.

Don’t EVER drive 60 miles per hour on a gravel road…no load of silage is worth that.

My husband bears the burden of Ava’s accident every day. He tries very hard to have one extra semi on a crew all the time so that people don’t have to feel rushed. Whenever something breaks on his chopper (forage harvester), a tractor or a semi, he always says, “At least nobody got hurt.”

I urge you to be extremely cautious as a person on the road this harvest season. Farmers will bring out their combines very soon.

Put your phone down.

Never pass if there is any possibility a farm vehicle may be making a left turn.

Forget about the time clock you want to punch.

We were terrified when we had heifers out all over the highway last month. There were so many cars that blew by cops with their lights on, heifers running across the road….none of us could believe the incredible hurry that cars were in. I honestly think some people were so engrossed with their phones that they didn’t even see that they were incredibly close to an accident. Or in such a hurry to get to work on time that they weren’t willing to slow down or stop for a minute.

Please be patient this fall harvest season. Your safety is worth so much more than a text message or a time clock.

4 tons of salt, no pepper

On Tuesday, we were in the middle of making our corn silage pile which we feed to our cows for the entire next year. That day, we received two inches of rain. There is no way a silage semi can drive in fields that were already wet beforehand, for at least 3 days. That left us with a few options:

1. Leave it sit, knowing that all the exposed silage starts to lose a lot of value while in the presence of oxygen.

2. Cover it with a plastic tarp and old tires, wait for fields to dry, uncover it, finish adding more silage to it, and then splice plastic pieces together when covering again. Expensive (lots of man hours) and not fun.


3. Salt it. Well, maybe it’s not a brand new idea because it makes me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder times and how they use to salt stuff to preserve it. This idea came as a brainstorm when Joe called our nutritionist. I’m not sure if it was Joe’s idea or the nutritionist or some other dairy farmer’s, but my father-in-law thought it to be smart, so a LOT of salt was ordered.

I love how creative people can be at coming up with ideas to spread 4 tons of salt, at a rate of 2 pounds per square foot. My father-in-law used a fertilizer spreader. He even took a picture for me and came up with a title for this post. Lots of creative juices flowing! Typically, corn silage is a yellowish green and very bright. It really does look differently with all the salt.

Our nutritionist is always pulling feed samples throughout the year to send to the lab, so he will just have to adjust the mineral package our cows receive to account for this extra salt. I always feed my family lots of real salt (and pepper!) and encouraging adding as much as they want to what they eat. I know most people think salt is terrible for you, but a lot of the latest research shows how good it is for you to use as much as you crave. I certainly am on board with this, and some of it is probably from watching how much our animals appreciate a good salt block lick.

Anyhow, food is on my mind because well, I’m pregnant. And also, because the big item on my to-do list this time of year is to provide food for our crews making corn silage. I use a lot of salt in everything to encourage them to stay hydrated, and they even get some pepper to go with it.