Super Bowl and Breakfast

Super Bowl and Breakfast

Most Minnesotans know Super Bowl LII will be at the US Bank Stadium in 2018, but what has that got to do with breakfasts in the school?

Fuel Up to Play 60 is a partnership with the NFL and dairy farmers to get kids fueled up (healthy eating) to play 60 minutes of active exercise! Esther Dykstra and I are on-hand as local dairy farmers.

Earlier this week, Worthington (my hometown) High School was host to a grant dedication ceremony to thank a whole host of groups (Midwest Dairy Council, Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, Fuel Up To Play 60, and General Mills) for supporting this great cause, Super School Breakfast grants. 

Here’s the deal:  the school will receive some snazzy stainless steel breakfast carts that will make it much faster and easier for the students to “grab and go” breakfast.  Also, local dairy farmers sponsored some additional milk coolers.  The idea is that if a school breakfast is convenient and tasty, they will eat it — and it will help them to perform better in school.  Makes a lot of sense to me. 

We are each holding milk cartons for a “milk toast”. The two kids standing on the left are a part of the church Youth Group that I lead, and also a part of the FFA Dairy Cattle Evaluation team that is practicing now. These kids have probably had a little overload of me lately, but we still had fun.

This is one of the first of weekly celebrations like this throughout Minnesota. All told, about 140,000 school-age students will benefit from this partnership, and I definitely think that it will leave a lasting legacy!

The No-no plate

At our local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group today, we listened to a speech language therapist that loves to focus on mealtimes and feeding.   Her name is Andrea, but she runs on social media as “thespeechmom”.  She had tons of real-life scenarios.   Our local moms were engaged and I could just see the wheels turning in many minds. 

So I listened to all her suggestions and thought I’d try some out tonight!  Joe is still in “full-on construction mode” at the dairy so he wasn’t home when we ate at 6:00 and that made it is a bit easier to give it a go. 

First change — After we prayed, I EXPLAINED the foods to them.  Really made me feel strange and we all started giggling. Roast beef that was going to require a bit of chewing, piping hot mashed potatoes that had milk and butter added to them,  cucumber sticks, and cooked carrots that had both the sweetness of brown sugar and the zing of ginger.  Yep, my kids were listening to the descriptions and thinking I was from the moon. Violet was so interested that she wanted to be buckled in. 

Second change — they each got to dish up their own food.  Ava was most delighted with the way that she had to hit the spoon on the plate to get the mashed potatoes to come off. 

Third — I allowed a no-no plate.  What is this?  I had never heard of such a thing either.  It is a small plate next to the regular plate that a kiddo can use to park the food they don’t want to eat.  So, when Ava fussed about not wanting any carrots, I told her she could simply put them on her no-no plate (that I quickly grabbed from the kitchen).    She was so distraught by these carrots on her plate but I insisted she needed to move them.  She barely survived the step of getting them to her no-no plate.  

Here’s the thing:   3 minutes later, Ava took the carrots off her no-no plate, ate them, and asked for more.  I nearly fell off my chair (somebody had to have a close call since Violet was actually buckled in and not dancing in her chair for once). 

Andrea, the speech therapist, had assured us that this would happen!   That a kid would be so thrilled by being able to get foods off her plate, she would experience the plop of food moving onto a new plate, and decide she would just maybe need to try it. 

Honestly, I was sitting in the meeting saying “no way”.  This is a crazy professional talking and she doesn’t get what it is actually like.  Yet, the no-no plate, her expert advise was right on!  

How many times at our farm do experts tell us ideas to try and we just dismiss them?  How many times has our pastor insisted on reading a certain chapter of the Bible and we just think…he has no idea how busy I am. 

So…consider trusting an expert.  They sometimes know their stuff. 

If you are interested in learning more, follow her page on Facebook, thespeechmom.  Website is She also uses this little thing called Instagram that I want to start using more. 

There is just one more neat thing…she has this side business of renting out “Bloomboxes”, an interactive grouping of toys that come with a little sheet explaining what is in there and why.   They would make an awesome gift for the kid who loves in a house where the parents can’t stand clutter — just play with the things for one month and send it back!

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.