Mower Maintenance, Making Supper

Mower Maintenance, Making Supper

“Should I service the lawnmower quickly in 20 minutes, or should I wait until Vince comes home and take an hour to show him how?”.

This was Joe’s question to me this afternoon. Of course, as a huge fan of hands-on learning, I told him to wait.

It’s a great idea to know how to grease a lawnmower, change the oil, change the air filter, and inflate the tires properly. I am so glad Joe is able to teach Vince how to do this as a 12-year-old, even if we are wishing Joe could be planting corn instead.

It’s a great lesson for me as a mom, too. I had told Liv, 10, at the beginning of the school year that I was going to coach her as cook for our family every Friday night. It has only happened a handful of times. There is always room for improvement as a mom, and this lack of coaching is something I am working on!

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15 things for our 15th

Today we celebrate fifteen years of marriage. My brother sent me a text at 5:00 so he can claim the first well wishes. This is the same brother that bothered me during our wedding photo shoot that Joe was looking for his slippers, claiming he had cold feet.

Joe and I have persevered through many circumstances, and we are so much stronger than 15 years ago. Here’s to another 50.

Fifteen things I love about Joe:

15. He appreciates my cooking.

14. He is a big-picture type person.

13. He is not afraid of hard work.

(You knew that one would be mentioned!)

12. He gets the biggest giggles out of our kids.

11. He knows me.

10. He enjoys my sense of humor. I think.

9. He provides.

8. He builds me up.

7. He agrees with me on the big stuff.

6. He trusts me.

5. He tolerates it when I put random goat emojis in my text messages.

4. He is so handy and can fix all the things I break.

3. He gives me breaks.

2. He loves our kids!

1. He loves me.

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!

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!

Happy Valentine’s Day

Joe and I both confessed (professed?) our love for each other for the first time on Valentine’s Day. Just 17 short years ago!

Every year since, he has bought a dozen roses for me without a vase. The thrift store has plenty of vases that they don’t need another one. I always make Joe a special meal.

Today, we ate lunch together at Arby’s. I LOVE catching up with Joe in the middle of the day. It was without much planning. I had a friend watching Violet while I attended a morning meeting and we just stretched that time a bit to include lunch. We chose Arby’s because that is one of few places in town that Joe could park his semi!

He has been hauling soybeans to a processing plant some this week. He claims he chose the red semi because of Valentine’s week. Sure.

With my Youth Group kids tonight, I wanted to spend some time talking about random acts of kindness because love is really an action word. And because I love to see high-schoolers squirm when they talk about love. Most though because I wanted to talk about kindness.

Anyway, we talked about something a parent might say to you, or do with you that helps you to know you are loved, and one kid blurted, “Saying I love you does NOT count.” So there you have it, even teenagers realize love is definitely an action word.

I sincerely hope you had a fantastic Valentine’s Day. This day, with such a focus on love, can be really tough for those who don’t feel loved or recently lost a loved one. Please deliberately shower random acts of kindness this week on those you know need it, because the world needs that way more than the local thrift store needs more flower vases.

2017 Christmas Letter

Every year, I pen a letter to help us remember our past year.  Here’s 2017.

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Lake Michigan, June 2017

Every year, I pen a letter to help us remember our past year.  Here’s 2017.

Attitude

A  – ATTITUDE.    As a family, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about attitude this year.  We’ve discussed having “an attitude of gratitude”, as well as using that positive outlook on each day to shape the way we react to what is happening.  Our children are ages 11,9,6,3, and it seems like we are spending an increasing amount of time coaching them in their life skills, as opposed to attending to their daily needs.

T – TRIPS.    We traveled more this year than normal.  Liv went to Florida with Joe’s sister’s family, while we cared for their 1-year-old.  Vince attended a special dairy event at the MN Viking’s US Bank Stadium, as well as a week camping in the Black Hills with church boys.  As a family, we travelled to Cincinnati Children’s hospital and did a ton of fun things like the zoo, an amusement park, Red’s game, downtown Chicago, Lake Michigan beach, and catching up with my college friend, Liz, and her family and farm.  What sticks out most in my mind from the trip was a lot of putting wet swimsuits on, but I think that kids enjoy pool time more than any other aspect of vacation.

T – TRIPS.      We did so much traveling, it requires two letters this year.  We attended a wedding in Baltimore, and our 3 oldest children spent extra time out there with Joe’s mom and cousins exploring D.C.  Just recently, Joe and I went on another Claas trip to see agricultural machining and do some sightseeing in Germany and France.  I would go back to Paris with Joe in a heartbeat, but really, we have done enough traveling to last me for quite a few years.

I – INCOGNITO.      Wonderful news we received at Ava’s doctor visit – she no longer needs to wear her brace during the day!  Now, people see her as just a regular girl, not a girl with a disability.  She was a flowergirl the very first weekend she didn’t wear her brace, and incredibly proud!  While her nerves are still making some connections, the changes aren’t as ‘reportable’ as last year.  She is simply getting better at using the function she has, and adapting to the world around her.  I recently talked to her brachial plexus team, and they said not to give up hope for more hand function for another couple of years.  Please keep praying!

T – THREE HUNDRED TEN.     310 extra cows made their way to us from Carlson Dairy in Pennock, Minnesota, in June.  The dairy had experienced a massive windstorm, destroying some of their barns.  Joe, acting as a general contractor, along with many employees, had just wrapped up an addition onto one of our barns so we had the space.   The amount of trust Carlsons placed in us and everyone at the dairy to care for their cows was humbling.  We loaded the cows back into trucks in September, but the friendship remains.

U – UNIQUE.    Our children are so different from each other!  Vince is the volume in our family.  (It should be noted that I finally allowed him to quit piano.)  Liv is the compassionate caretaker and super big sister.  Ava is the entertainer and is ridiculously set in her ways.  Violet is a charmer and has her way of melting hearts.

D – DAIRY FARMING.     I think we maybe should just stick to cows, because our chicken farming experience this year was a disaster.  Also, we had two baby goats born this year, but our calm and loving Momma Goat Tess died a few months later.  Joe has promised an upcoming Chicken Coop Construction “Family Experience”, so stay tuned.

E – EARLY.  Next year’s Christmas letter.  Maybe.

The Fall That Never Ends

Fussy.

Particular.

Detailed.

Perhaps you know somebody that exhibits these characteristics. If you throw in:

Won’t quit until the job is done.

Dislikes the randomness of potlucks…

Well, then you certainly have narrowed the field down considerably. If you consider all the people that work on our farm, you have just narrowed it down to one lone soul, my husband.

These qualities (well, 4 of the 5) are what makes my husband the ABSOLUTE PERFECT person to spearhead a huge project of installing field drainage tile for 6 of the past 7 weeks.

Joe took this photo with his drone, which is helpful to know the exact pattern if you might ever have to fix on it.

Just how huge? Here’s a number: 240,000 feet. Nearly a quarter million feet of plastic pipe laid according to Joe’s Stardard of Perfection so that the fields can drain excess water away from them. This results in less water runoff in a storm event, more oxygen in the soil, and better crop health.

There’s been a ton of joking around between Joe and others who work for the dairy, as to who “gets” to tile and who “gets” to combine soybeans and corn. Yet, the reality is that everybody know that Joe’s character traits make him the perfect person to get these fields drained properly.

My husband’s persistence has been key. There have been some really wickedly windy days in past weeks. Days when Joe came home with red stinging eyes and his body chilled to the core. Yet, the next day he would simply put his work boots back on and attack the project again. One of the neighbors came out this year to tell him he was a fool for tiling in such miserable weather. Good grief…that just fuels Joe to work harder!

This certainly has been the fall that never ends. Most autumns, the weather will turn rainy for a few days and it just never dries out to a point that allows one to get back in the field to finish the job. It hasn’t rained more than a tenth here or there for the past 7 weeks and the ground hasn’t frozen, so the tiling just kept going.

The weather is supposed to really change tomorrow. 50 mile per hour wind will do that! Joe has a big ceiling insulation replacement project on his mind for this winter, and he is ready to switch gears. Most farmers (Joe included) love the opportunity that winter projects bring, because you become inventive and learn as you go.

Have a great December celebrating Christmas with family and friends…think of Joe installing field drainage tile next time you attend a potluck.