In person

“They” say a picture is worth a thousands words. I agree. I also think that meeting someone in person in way way more valuable than just communicating online. Our 3-year-old’s latest way of communicating a lot is “a google million”. So, meeting someone in person is worth a google million words.

We packed light! In true Vander Kooi fashion, we showed up just in time to grab one snack and then board the plane. No waiting around.

And, today, we get to do just that! Cincinnati Children’s brachial plexus center found sponsors and today, they offer a free day at YMCA Camp Kern for all current families. We flew direct from Minneapolis to Dayton, Ohio yesterday. Sometimes flights to Dayton are cheaper than Cincinnati and this time they were. The camp is equidistant. We spent last night in our first-ever Airbnb and it’s been great.

Liv making some morning tea. Dayton is just an hour north on Cincinnati and is home to the National Air Force, so lots of that aviator decor in our half a house that we are renting through Airbnb for a few days. So nice to have yesterday’s laundry done!

So, today, we will get to meet families from all over that have a child with an injury similar to Ava’s. The severity differs greatly among patients, but as families we can all relate. I am so excited to see how all these kids have adapted to this world as they eat, play, craft, and swim.

In the 3 years since Ava’s accident, I have spent hundreds of hours researching all things brachial plexus. I know more about these 5 nerves that give sensation and function to an arm than I could have ever imagined.

I feel very fortunate that my degree in animal science and my work on the farm have taught me so much about how to research an issue. Joe is the same. Very few people travel to 3 different hospitals specializing in this injury to compare surgeries, teams, nerve transfers and options but we did it, assuming that was the ONLY thing a parent would do. Because of this research, I have been able to offer guidance to hundreds of parents in online forums and support groups. There are so many good things that have happened since Ava’s injury and I am incredibly proud to be able to help other parents cope and make a plan. My goal is to make sure a parent or caregiver never leaves a doctor’s office visit until they have the correct questions asked. So many times, a parent doesn’t even know what they need to know, and I really try to help them build that bridge between their child and their medical team.

Here’s a snippet from today. This lady is in India and just had a orphaned 9-month-old come to her. He has lots of hand function but no shoulder movement.

After today, we will go into full-on vacation mode for a few days, and then we have Ava’s check-up on Tuesday. We fly home on Wednesday. There is never an easy time to get away from a farm, but I thought we just had to make today and this trip happen. It’s going to be a great day!


I’m expecting!

Joe and I enjoyed keeping our secret for the first trimester, but my belly has begun to grow at an exponential rate! It is time to announce. We are excited to share our news that we are expecting a baby — I am 15 weeks pregnant!!

Photography by my 10-year-old, Liv. Dress from my mother-in-law’s store, Main Street Kids.

Violet, who is now 3.5 years old, was born right in the middle of our busiest season of the year — corn silage. We are thankful this baby is not due until January 2. Our oldest, Vince, 12 years old, was born December 22, and that was a wonderful time of year to be snuggling a baby. Our two middle girls, Liv and Ava, were born in the spring.

But who am I kidding? I would take another child into our family at any time! Joe and I very much enjoy all the laughter, chaos, learning and love that comes with children and have always dreamed of having a houseful. It took us a bit to catch our breath after Ava’s accident (3 years ago) but God is always good and has provided another child for us, even though I am 37.

I have felt really wonderful! Very little nausea, but I always appreciate a nap. My first 3 pregnancies were really rough, but I made some changes (mostly lots of magnesium) and it has seemed to help a bunch. Watching our baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound was a very joyous moment for us.

We leave in 5 days for Ava’s check-up at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and then have just one week for getting ready for our county fair. Our church is hosting a Vacation Bible School that week, too, so the busyness never ends! Life is so good!

Independence Day Hay

Never before have we made hay on July 4th. Hopefully never again. We have had rainstorm after rainstorm for a month, and the weather has not allowed a window of time to get our second-cutting haylage in.

We started two nights ago, went all day yesterday, and then this morning until about 30 seconds before the rain hit. Everybody gets a little smarter every year and we have learned it is much better to get the semi trucks out of the field before it hits! Knowing that time was the enemy this morning, the idea was to take the easiest and best hay — leave the rest to be baled later. We got about 80% of it done before another inch of rain came rolling in.

I don’t drive semi (or even a tractor unless it is a short time in a desperate manner), but I do love my heifers. So, when 30 of them were prancing across my lawn instead of grazing peacefully in our pasture, I decided to run around like a crazy lady in the rain putting them back in our heifer yard. Liv and Violet met me at our door with a warm towel — such sweet girls!

Our family tradition is to take a picture in a corn field on July 4th. This year we thought we should find some underwater field and the search wasn’t too tough! While our situation is certainly wet, some of the surrounding communities are much worse.

In any case, we celebrate every day that everyone is healthy and nobody gets hurt. Thanks so much to our veterans and current military for serving our country.

By Myself

“By Myself” — In my 12.5 years of parenting, I have heard this phrase a million times as one of my toddlers has insisted on independence with picking out clothes or cracking eggs. Yet this phrase has taken on a WHOLE NEW meaning this week, as I (yes, just me!) have been all by myself. Well, other than some occasional time with Joe and cows.

Date night eating outdoors at Minerva’s in downtown Sioux Falls. It was lovely.

How did a week without kiddos come to be?? Well, we sent them all over Iowa!

It started with Vince wanting to go to Dordt Discovery Days. It’s a Monday-Friday experience on a Christian college campus one hour from home and he was finally old enough to go. So, that took care of the 12-year-old and gave me 5 days of being in charge of his chicken and goat chores.

I love this photo that Dordt put on their Facebook page!

Liv, our 10-year-old, went to Inspiration Hills camp about 15 miles down the road from Vince. It was all spurred on by her best friend/cousin, and it was the week that worked for their family.
Then, Ava and Violet got quite jealous to hear of these trips and so a plan was devised to ask great-uncle Bill and great-aunt Sue to allow a week at their home in Ames. Bill and Sue are a fantastic family with a big heart for little kids, and it fit into their schedules so they agreed! They have been having way too much fun, from the looks of the photo texts I have gotten! They are busy putting together a photo album right now.

Multiple trips to the pool, even more bike rides, downtown shopping, butterfly garden and so much much more!

At one point, I thought this would finally be the year I go with my Youth Group kids from church to their week-long service project. The week coincided. Most years, I have to beg and plead with at least 7 people to find 2 chaperones but this year, 2 parents came forth all on their own. I took it as a sign that God wanted me to have this week for staying at home.
It has been crazy quiet with not nearly the laughter and teasing this home is accustomed to! I have been overly productive. It is hard to believe the number of things I have been able to accomplish. My nights have been jam-packed with things ranging from receiving cows at our dairy to our agricultural bank’s women’s appreciation night, to a long walk with a great friend. Also, a date night with Joe! The busyness has kept the loneliness at bay.
I wouldn’t trade this past week for anything. I have a feeling that each member of our family, especially me, has experienced a lot of personal growth. Yet, I am so excited for the chaos of laundry everywhere (have you ever had kids return from camp??!?), little ones insisting on making their own breakfast and our home filled with laughter once again! Bring on the rest of my day; it is time to have our family back together again!!!

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

We are opening our barn doors for June Dairy Month! It took us a bit to get into the groove, but we hosted tours yesterday, today, and have another one scheduled for tomorrow.

Today, these kiddos arrived at Ocheda Dairy via a school bus. Very exciting for them! The main goal for me on tours like this is to make sure the children learn that milk comes from cows, and they should have 3 servings of milk, cheese or yogurt daily. This class is in session during the summer because they are kids that are identified as ones that could benefit with a bit more school time before starting kindergarten this fall. They were very well behaved.

One thing that struck me today is that opening up your farm for these tours is a lot like having other families come into your home. Nothing ever seems clean enough or ready but you just have to do it anyway!

If you would like a tour of our farm, or would like me to try to connect you with a farm that is local to you, please let me know. We hope to do a big open house maybe in the next year or so!

You can’t make this stuff up

How to find time to blog? Well, there is plenty of time when you are stuck on the side of the interstate, I guess.

So here’s the story. We are looking for some extra cows to fill some space at our dairy, and today worked out to be a good day. To go check some out. My mother-in-law took 9 grandkids (4 of which are mine) on an adventure in a school bus today. Probably not many people can say that. My son needed to be dropped off for a camp at South Dakota State University in Brookings. So, as a favor to me, my mother-in-law decided to load a bus with her grandkids, drive them all to Brookings, drop Vince off to learn about preparing a calf for a show-ring for a few days, and take the rest to the Children’s Museum in town. Joe recently finished planting and we needed some time to catch up with each other. So, naturally, we decide to take the truck and trailer and drive 3 hours east to look at some cows for sale.

As we are about to leave home, Joe remembers that the Claas Dealership in Alden will be right on our way. They had accidentally FedExed a huge barrel of bajillion dollar oil to our farm a few weeks back. (That is a whole story, in and of itself, as the FedEx driver called me 30 minutes before I had to pick up kids from school and rush to a speech therapy appointment, but I had to wait for him so Violet and I could use our skid loader and pallet forks to unload him. We didn’t even order the oil. I was just a wee bit late to pick up kiddos!). So, anyhow, we loaded the oil barrel into our livestock trailer and set up.

So, anyhow, Joe and I take off and head east. I must mention now, however, that this pickup has given us a share of problems in the past. Major problems. Joe has wanted to get rid of it but our farm’s mechanic, Corey, has always found a way to fix it or get it fixed. Boo.

We made it to Alden with the oil barrel no problem. They were so kind to us and even gave us a couple free jackets for their mistake. Wonderful spending time just driving down the interstate with my best friend. Started to notice just a little bit less power from truck. Joked around, texted mechanic Corey. Get off interstate and ate Dairy Queen in Chatfield outside on a picnic table. Joe checked under the hood but things looked okay.

Things seemed quite fine as we pulled up to the dairy to view these cows. We small-talked and found out that this farmer knows my uncle Tim quite well and this guy knew of my Dad and where he farms. Small world.

I picked out what I considered to be the best half of the cows for sale. Then, this farmer took us to another farm 15 miles away. (While having a conversation there, I learned that the two high schoolers there had toured our farm in April when I gave a bus of FFA kids a tour. It really is a small world. There, I picked out 10 cows and we loaded them onto our trailer.

As soon as we left, we noticed a vibration. Kinda nervously laughed. Jokingly texted our mechanic again. He told us we were fools for taking the old truck — we told him he was the fool for insisting to always fix it. We got to the interstate and the vibration just got worse and worse. We just passed a rest stop when we think probably the transmission blew!

So we drove down the shoulder of the interstate at 20 mph until it just quit. We put out the warning triangles, visited with the state patrolman that came to check, and hitchhiked to the local bar for supper with some random telephone repairman. We called our hometown towing service, and had them load Joe’s dad truck so we could have him switch it out and then haul the broken truck home.

After supper, we enjoyed our 3 mile walk back to the interstate.

Meanwhile, some of the other cattle we had chosen to buy from the first farm were also coming down the interstate. (So confusing, I know.) So, I decided to quick jump in one of the two trucks so I could help get them unload and get situated.

So, I kid you not, we are now 30 miles from home and this truck I am riding in is acting up. Hopefully just a fuel filter! It isn’t enjoying any uphill stretches.

Anyhow, just another crazy day. Every day on the farm is an adventure; today just proved to be more so!

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!