2017 Christmas Letter

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


Lake Michigan, June 2017

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


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




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.

All about the conversations

Joe and I are just returning from a trip to Germany and France. We went with 125 people from the US and Canada. It was organized by Claas, which is a company that sells machines to farmers (kinda like John Deere). My apologies for the explanation to all Claas employees who just read that and cringed.

Joe enjoyed the factory tours and Agritechnica, which is a trade show that had over 25 buildings full of machines and such. We both saw some really neat things, including Paris! Yet, as we drive home tonight, we are mostly struck by the conversations we had.

It’s bound to be a crazy mix of people when you throw that many farmers and machinery company reps into 3 tour buses. And here’s the wonderful thing: because you know it is highly unlikely you will ever see these people again in your life, the conversations you have are at a whole different level. Way deeper.

Guys talk about tips and tricks and frustrations with their machines and employees. Wives share their stories (their really real ones!) about coping through harvest without a father figure in the home for months on end. People talk business strategy and family struggles.

Nobody talks about the weather. Nobody talks about just boring “scratch the surface” type things. I definitely want to focus on more of this within my friendships when I get home.

The whole experience was so fantastic I just have to make a top 10 Random Things from our trip.

10. I found a farmer wearing a one-piece sweatshirt sweatpants thing at Agritechnica. Then I turned around to track him down for a photo. And I found him leaning. I smiled for at least an hour.

9. I bought Vince a pocket knife at the gift shop in LeMans, France, following a tractor factory tour. The security guards at the Eiffel Tower were not impressed when it showed up on their screens at security. People started yelling in French and I was so flustered it took me 5 minutes to find the thing. It is now in a glass box at the checkpoint with other random knives and scissors. I hope Vince is okay with an empty knife box as a souvenir.

8. The couple eating next to Joe and I in Paris ate clams, oysters, and bore marrow still inside this huge bone. A complete meal.

7. The Louvre has the ickiest lavs ever. Ever.

6. The Mona Lisa is really pretty small.

5. Our new long-haired hippie-looking friend from Oregon had a super bad head cold and sinus infection. He paid 25 Euro to have a walk-in clinic visit and 35 Euro for a slew of prescription medicine. He felt better in no time. One of the things was powdered amoxicillin.

4. Our whole group dined at a German beer house that bears my maiden name, Albrecht. Our new friend from Oregon (his name was honestly Forrest) took it upon himself to steal a stein for me. If you look closely at the bottom of the photo, you can see Albrecht.

3. Joe missed the big group photo. He had gotten distracted looking at machinery and I couldn’t find him in time.

2. The premier of Nova Scotia took the photo below. Joe and I came upon this beautiful street so I told Joe that I would take his picture. We had just passed the Canadian embassy. This guy walking by asks if he could take one, so I could be in it too. I said “no”, 2 seconds later Joe said “yes”. While posing, four people behind him told us who he was. We googled it and it’s for real! We should have taken a selfie with him.

1. I’m pretty sure we found Joe’s third cousin at the trade show. The guy’s co-worker pointed out the similarity between our last name of Vander Kooi and his name of Kooi. Their company was based out of Holland. He said it was the region of Groningen, which Joe and I visited 13 years ago to check out his roots. I asked if it was close to Leeuwarden, which is a pretty small town. The guy said, “Um, yeah, I live there.” Can you see the resemblance??!?

All in all, we had so much fun. Many of us agreed last night on how you can tell you had a great vacation. It’s this: feel smarter, refreshed and most importantly, 100% ready to go home. That’s us for sure.

Finding a Needle

Yesterday, I found a needle in a haystack. Literally. I was vaccinating some of our heifers against a type of disease that is incredibly tough to treat, but simple to try to prevent. I was switching needles and my fingers were cold. Also, of course, I was in a hurry.

It is much easier to find in this photo than it was in real life. I couldn’t have a heifer eat it, and I didn’t want to throw out a pile of feed that had a needle in it. I used my flashlight on my phone and stood patiently looking at this pile of feed until I could make it out. My co-worker gave up after a few minutes because he has poor vision and didn’t think there was any way he could find it. I took my time, was patient, and I found it.

And it was just what I needed yesterday. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by all the tough disadvantages that Ava has. Poor vision, poor hearing, poor muscle tone in and around her mouth, and only one functional hand. Seems like a lot to bear for one little girl. In a few hours, I had to meet at school for parent-teacher conferences and the next day, a special extra speech therapist because her current one is stuck with how to help her. Joe and I are leaving for a trip to Agritechnica next week and I wasn’t sure if I lined up enough people with enough sessions to help her. Would her kindergarten teacher recommend needing to seek out additional helpers for Ava?

Enter in the needle in the haystack. As I picked it up, I immediately thought that it was a sign from God. Wow, if little old me can somehow find a needle in a haystack, God (our all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful God) can certainly care for our children and our farm while we are gone for a week. Ava will be fine and we will start looking for small victories when we return refreshed.

Parent teacher conferences went fine. I gleaned a few tips from Vince and Liv’s teachers, and was told by Ava’s teacher that we should stay the course. We celebrated our successes and now today is a new day. Make it a great one and watch for small signs from God.

Super Salesman

When Brett from our local John Deere Dealership calls, it doesn’t show up on Caller ID with his name. It reads Super Salesman. My husband coined that term.

How did Brett earn this distinction? He NEVER gives up. Each new month or whatever promotion they are running, he is always trying to drop off something that we need, but just don’t realize it yet.

Last July, he dropped off a new skid loader, pictured above. I thought it was identical to our current one (I took this photo to prove it to Joe), maybe was a bit cleaner. There were some differences that Joe pointed out to me, I guess. The back-up camera was pretty nice.

Well, bottom line is that Super Salesman won and we had the new skid loader delivered last week. When I was 16, I don’t remember learning this in Driver’s Training, but in bus training I learned to NEVER back up unless you absolutely must. With operating a skid loader, it is tough to avoid backing up, so the back-up camera is a very welcome safety addition.

So, that Super Salesman is just a persuasive, persistent guy. He even persuaded his boss to buy Vince’s purple ribbon from his goat project at the fair. Generosity to helping youth goes a long way.

Now is the time to start editing a phone contact of yours to read “Super Salesman”. It makes me smile every time.

A wedding and some Amish farming

We traveled to the east coast this weekend for a wedding. 23 of us from Worthington, Minnesota!

Joe’s grandma, age 93, endured the weekend with relative ease! So many cousins!

We were very thrilled to be invited and the ceremony was truly a blessing to attend. It was so refreshing to hear again the importance of marriage.

Of course, we managed to fit in a farming adventure earlier in the day on Saturday. After a short stint on the beach at Chesapeake Bay, we headed north toward Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I tried to google a driving tour of covered bridges but threw that idea out the window when I saw this.


And it looks Amish?

“Turn here, Joe! I mean it!”

We pulled up and, since it was a Saturday, there were kids running all over the place. The dad and the uncle were trying to fix on a steel-wheeled “corn binder”.

We asked if we could get out and they said “sure”. They had great English and not-so-great teeth. Very nice and interested in our way of life. Joe visited with the men, and a bunch of kids took me on a tour of their farm. They had 6 huge horses for working the ground, 45 milk cows, 5 dogs, and of course chickens and goats.

This is a picture looking from their farm up to their schoolhouse (on the right). One room for 30 kids, with a teacher and helper. Kids come from up to 2 miles away. On the left, it is the grandparent’s home.

It is so hard to imagine that they live just 2 hours from New York City, 90 minutes from D.C., an hour from the beach — and they’ve never seen any of it! They looked at us like we were crazy to be looking for covered bridges when they had never even seen the one 2 miles from their home.

They don’t like photos of themselves so I didn’t get one. However, they proudly grabbed a photo book from the house to show us a deer fawn they brought into their house once upon a time, as well as landscape photos on their farm.

They grew 11 acres of tobacco as a cash crop. Seeded and harvested it all by hand and each plant split on the stalk and hanging upside-down in a shed.

I didn’t get a photo of their tobacco but we saw lots of other Amish farms as we tried to make our way back to the hotel and wedding.

Every Amish farm had their laundry hanging on a line that stretched on a pulley from their porch up to a very high point of their barn. And they each had at least one shed for drying tobacco. Much not be a very mechanized crop to grow, so fitting for Amish farmers.

I snapped a photo of their mailbox and took a screen-shot of our location. I hope to mail them some photos from our farm when we get home!

Violet has been bringing dozens (at least!) of travelers smiles with her airport antics, rolling a bag twice as big as her. She is sunshine! We are excited to get home. It is raining there, so harvest will be delayed for a few days. So I have a good excuse to do laundry without hanging it on a line. And send our new Amish friends some mail.

A useful U-gate and Carlson cow update

Some people never part ways with “stuff”, but usually on our farm –if it isn’t used — it doesn’t stay. If you start to keep everything you just might use, maybe someday, you’ll soon have so much stuff on the farm that you’ll never find what you are searching for. It is a rule my husband has learned from his father.


However, we just broke the rule. Do you know what a U-gate is? It is when an employee (because, you know, we never make mistakes, ahem) is backing up a skid loader and forgets that they are nearing the end of a pen and whammo…the skid loader meets the gate. The gate is no longer a straight line and usually so much shorter that it isn’t useful.

We used a u-gate today. (It had been somehow saved.) To do something we have never done before — load cattle on to a double-decker style trailer. Why?

Well today, after exactly 3 months of housing Carlson Dairy cows following that terrible storm near Pennock, Minnesota, we sent some of them back home! I hope they are enjoying their newly renovated barn!

Carlson’s poured the final needed piece of concrete on Labor Day, let the cement cure for a week, lined up some semis yesterday, and welcomed 90 cows back to their farm today.

As I have a very flexible schedule with my main objectives being more to care for my family, I was able to help out. Our herdsman, Bryan, is fantastic at this type of thing so we worked together. At this point, we think we may do this same thing the next 2 Mondays, because it is convenient for the trucking company.

I hope you will not be troubled next time you try to de-clutter your home or farm. Most of the time things like U-gates aren’t useful. There are just exceptions to every rule.