Super 7th birthday!

Ava’s 7th birthday was a big deal today. She had so much fun and even got to skip some school!

I also want to take a minute to update you on the best ways to pray for Ava and let you know of her progress. Thanks so much to the local people who ask about her when we meet in town…it means a lot.

But first, she had a wonderful birthday. We celebrated yesterday with extended family complete with her much-anticipated strawberry cupcakes after Sunday lunch. She received, as gifts from us, a weighted blanket (her anxiety struggles have returned and hopefully this helps a bit), as well as a new bicycle seat. This morning, Grandma Vander Kooi picked the kids up for a donut breakfast before school. After Ava finished her couple of hours of standardized school testing and recess, we pulled her out of school for a hearing test and ear doctor visit in Sioux Falls.

Her hearing is okay, but not great. She has had ear tubes for a full year so we have realized all the gains from that surgery. The next step would be to have a specific type of nerve study that might indicate exactly what’s missing in her hearing BUT it requires sedation. I’m not excited about that, especially since it only yields information at this point but nothing that leads to a solution. I would definitely get it done if she was undergoing a surgery in Cincinnati for her arm injury though.

The peanut shells are still pretty elusive to her.

We talked to a salesman about trampolines and then he gave the girls a free round of bowling at Scheels. She also took a $1 turn on the Ferris wheel and had free ice cream. I am sure I never had that much attention for a birthday!

I remember last year at this time I was asking for prayers that Ava would have the ability to open her right hand. In short, God has just not granted that to her. It brings tears to my eyes to admit that. I haven’t given up. We see teeny tiny improvements in using her wrist and a few nights ago her pinky finger wasn’t clenched closed as tightly as the other ones. Yet, it was discouraging tonight when it was time to shower and I found a pea from supper that had somehow gotten into her closed hand and she hadn’t even noticed, so there is definitely not much sensation there either. We meet with her brachial plexus team in June and I anticipate there will be some tough discussions. I love our team there but if somebody else can offer something else for Ava (I have a ton of research to do on this subject), I am sure willing to pursue it. I booked her June appointment to be in conjunction with a one-day camp the hospital is offering for kids with brachial plexus injuries, and we are really looking forward to that!

Please pray for peace and wisdom for both Joe and me. I would never have thought that it would take us this long to heal, but we are still working on it. It is still difficult for me to talk about it, and I honestly wonder if it ever will be a less emotional thing.

Please pray for Ava’s healing. Is anything within the medical world ever a closed, done deal? I don’t think so; I believe in miracles. Pray for more of those very fine nerve connections within her hand, as well as new advances in medical technology.

Ava’s ability to be understood when she speaks is improving. Every now and then she can really surprise us with good eye contact. Yet, the most exciting thing is that she is learning to READ. So, if you love sending cards or chatting with little kids, she is ready for it. If you are still reading this, you are certainly a blessing to our family and I thank you!

Enjoy this warmer weather and the mud. Spring planting is just around the corner!

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50 cows

When Joe and I started dating in college, I made it pretty clear to him that

1. 50 cows and

2. Our family together for all our meals

was all I ever wanted.

We currently milk 1400 cows in partnership with Joe’s dad, and the long-running joke from Joe is that “I’ve given you so much more!”.

Right now, the state of dairy farming is absolutely no joke. Dairy farmers are being forced to quit farming at a scary pace, because the milk price has been low for quite a while and banks only give so much leeway before they force the sell-outs. Some of these farms have been in the family for 4 or 5 generations and it is heart-breaking. Can you even imagine what it would be like to open your milk check (basically like a salary) and see a suicide prevention flyer tucked into the envelope?

These are scary times. The reality is that a 50-cow dairy is rarely capable of providing enough income for a family anymore. The exception to this would be if the farm is somehow benefitting from selling fancy cows/bulls, from having the farm given to them by parents, or perhaps direct marketing their milk as cheese. One last option would be selling milk organically. Yet all of these ways take years and a bit of God’s grace to come to fruition.

I have seen posts on social media begging people to buy more milk and eat more cheese. The milk market is subject to supply and demand; there is simply too much milk on the market. The thought is that if we increase demand, milk price will go up to where it was 3-4 years ago. I am an optimistic person but I just don’t think that will work for very long, or that profit margins will ever go that high again. As soon as milk price goes up, lots of dairymen who can, will start building more barns and adding more cows to try to stay ahead of others in terms of efficiency. (That’s a big part of why we have 1400 cows.). And the market will be flooded again.

What can we do? If you are a dairy farmer, long-term, the consumer is telling you they want to know where their food comes from. How can you change to take advantage of that? If you are a consumer, please buy dairy products not only because they are so good for you, but because dairy farmers need a few years to readjust, refocus, and change our game plan.

Today, while Joe (my husband) and Violet (our 3-year-old) hauled cows in the trailer, I worked beside one of our employees, Robert, to sort out 50 heifers that will have their first calf 3-4 months from today. That’s a far cry from having 50 cows total like I envisioned when I first met Joe. Making meals all through September for 15-20 employees wasn’t exactly what I had imagined for family meal time either.

I am so proud to be a stay-at-home mom and raise my family on a dairy farm. It doesn’t look much like I had envisioned but I’ll take it. Enjoy the sunshine that today provides and look to make adjustments for whatever tomorrow brings!