Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Just Born – Favorite Newborn Photos and Stories of 2017

There's something abidingly special about newborn calves. Even after 30 years, every new calf still fills me with excitement, awe, and appreciation.
Darcie and Darla
Darcie and Darla

There's something abidingly special about newborn calves. I've been doing this for almost 30 years now. Checking for new calves, fetching new calves from pasture, assisting with the delivery of calves, etc. Every new calf still fills me with excitement, awe, and appreciation.

I could write a blog post about each calf and the story of her birth, the story of her family in our herd, what makes her special, and on and on. Perhaps this year I will. I didn't write much last year, but I'd still like to remember these newborns and their stories.

Plus, I find the challenge of taking newborn photos thrilling. There's nothing more rewarding than capturing a perfect moment in a picture. Cow and calf both looking, eyes open, ears up. Lots of times it all comes down to good timing and good luck, but I have developed a few tricks for getting the picture I want. The photo above of Darcie and her calf Darla from this summer is one of the best newborn photos I've ever taken. However, Glen thinks the photo, just below, of Agape and her calf, Ree, from 2014 is my best photo ever. Which one would you vote for?

Agape and Ree
Agape and Ree

Anyway, in addition to the photo of Darcie and Darla, here are the rest of my Favorite Newborn Photos and Stories of 2017.

Double delight

This story has multiple levels of incredible.

The story involves twin sisters Agape and Amore (pronounced Uh-gah-pay and Uh-more-ay; Greek and Italian words for love). Both Agape and Amore were due to have their calves a day apart: August 13 and 14. The odds of them both becoming pregnant at essentially the same time are incomprehensible. Especially considering that they're seven years old now and cows' fertility tends to decline as they age.

Their so-close due dates meant Apape and Amore got to spend their dry period together in the dry cow pasture. (We don't milk cows during the last two months of their gestations; this dry period, as we call it, allows them to rest before their next lactation and devote their energy to growing their unborn calf.)

Agape (right) and Amore

As their due dates approached, it started to look like Agape would calve early and Amore would calve late. With dairy cows, early calves tend to be girls and late calves tend to be boys. We kept our fingers crossed that both Agape and Amore would have heifer calves.

Agape did calve early, on August 9, with a heifer calf. This heifer calf is Agape's fifth heifer calf out of five pregnancies. It's rare for a cow to deliver 100% heifer calves. We named Agape's calf Agatha.

Agape and Agatha
Agape and Agatha

Four days later, and right on time, Amore had her calf. It's also uncommon for cows to calve exactly on their due dates. Joy of joys, the calf was a girl!

Unlike her twin sister, though, this was Amore's first heifer calf out of five pregnancies. The stars must have aligned just right for Agape and Amore to both deliver heifer calves at (almost) the same time.

Amore and Athena
Amore and Athena

No photos, please

Not every cow and calf pair agree with my ideas about newborn photos. Case in point: Georgia and her new heifer calf, Germany. It still turned out to be a pretty neat picture.

Georgia and Germany
Georgia and Germany

Three for you, three for me

Sisters Georgia (above) and Geisha (below) both gave birth to their third heifer calves this year. I didn't get a picture of Geisha with her calf, Glamour.

On our farm, cows achieve a special status when they have three daughters in the herd. Georgia and Geisha's mom, Gyspie, gave us five daughters in the 8½ years she was with us: Geisha, Georgia, Ghana, Gypsum, and Gambler. All of the cows in this family are redefining what it means to never age. Georgia is six years old now and starting to show her age a little, but Geisha, at 7½ years old, looks half her age.

Geisha
Geisha

Like mother, like daughter

Sometimes calves come out looking just like their mothers. Sometimes they look like their fathers. And sometimes we just scratch our heads and wonder how exactly their chromosomes combined.

Glee came out almost a spitting image of her mother, Gloriana. Her arrival was met with many hoots, hollers, hips, and hoorays. Milking Shorthorn heifer calves are always exciting – especially roans.

Gloriana and Glee
Gloriana and Glee

Just, just born...

I don't often take pictures of seconds-old calves. Mostly, because during the summer our cows calve on pasture and we're rarely right there when they calve. And in the winter, we rush newborn calves to the incubator to warm them up, so there's no time to dally around snapping pictures. Plus, brand spankin' new calves are wet and slimy, which makes them considerably less photogenic than their dry, fluffy versions.

But, this year I got a couple photos of calves with their mothers immediately after their arrival.

Garnet's heifer calf, Glow, was much hoped for. Garnet is one of our Milking Shorthorns and the kids really wanted a spring Milking Shorthorn calf to show at the fair. Glow did end up going to the fair, with Monika at the halter, and did very well for a baby calf.

Garnet and Glow
Garnet and Glow

We said goodbye to Wink this fall. She will forever be one of Glen's favorite cows. This is the last picture I took of her. I'm glad it was a good one.

Wink and her bull calf
Wink and her bull calf

My niece actually took this picture of Stephanie and her calf, Sky, this spring; I was out of town with the kids when Stephanie calved and my niece knew that Monika would want to see a picture right away. (Stephanie is Monika's Jersey cow.)

One thing I love about this picture is that, if you look close, you can still see the soft white pads covering Sky's little hooves. These soft pads cover a calf's hooves in utero to make sure his/her sharp hooves don't puncture the placenta or the cow's uterus.

Stephanie and Sky
Stephanie and Sky

Last, but certainly not least...

One of the best newborn calf stories of the year is the story of Wonder and Whoops. The story is so good it has it's own separate post. (With even more photos of this adorable cutie!)

Whoops ended up going to the fair this summer, too, with Dan at the halter. She, too, did pretty darn well.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf
Whoops



Friday, December 29, 2017

Secret surgery

I've been struggling for the past week with whether to write about my recent surgery or continue to keep it hush-hush. I mostly kept the surgery a secret beforehand – telling only family and a few close friends.

But, I've decided that...

1. Writing is how I process the events of our lives.

2. I'm bored out of my freaking mind and writing gives me something to do.

3. If I try to explain everything here, fewer people will speculate about why I'm shuffling around with a belly pooch that looks suspiciously like I just had another baby.

4. If I continue to succumb to my fears of sharing, surgeries like mine will continue to be discussed only in hushed voices. [i.e. It seems perfectly normal and acceptable to talk about having heart surgery or an appendectomy; why does it seem awkward to discuss female-only surgeries?]

5. Perhaps my story will help another woman decide to seek solutions to her own health issues.


One week ago, I underwent a series of surgical procedures – the most familiar of which was a partial hysterectomy – to correct a series of anatomical problems.

To put it another way, my uterus and several other pelvic and digestive organs weren't where they were supposed to be and my team of surgeons put them back in their proper places – and in some cases, removed them.

If you're a dairy farmer reading this, you know that when organs don't stay where they're supposed to, cows have serious, life-threatening problems.

I wasn't having any serious, life-threatening problems.

However, at one point after diagnosis, while trying to help our kids understand what was wrong with me, I did compare my condition to a DA. (For you non-farmers, DA stands for displaced abomasum – a condition in which one of a cow's stomachs slips out of place. A DA requires emergency surgery for correction.) Our kids have seen our vets do surgery on cows in the past.

My situation included a half-dozen conditions that were painful at times, caused digestive problems, and interrupted my ability to do my farm work.

For several years, I dealt with the issues by trying to improve them myself: I tried a physical therapy program and special exercises; I changed the way I ate and exercised; I lost 40 pounds. All of those changes were supposed to help, but they didn't – my problems just kept getting worse.

Finally, this summer, I decided enough was enough and asked for a referral to see a specialist. The specialist said no amount of exercise or therapy was going to improve my conditions. He recommended surgery and sent me to see a second specialist for additional confirmation.

The second specialist agreed with the plan for surgical correction. He added extra surgical reinforcement to the plan since I have a physically-demanding job.

In the end, a half-dozen organs were involved in my conditions. The list of procedures included in the surgery is so long and hard to say (medically speaking) that we've just been referring to the surgery as a pelvic overhaul.

And just like there were multiple conditions, there were likely multiple causes: carrying and delivering three 9-pound babies; 20+ years of hard, physical labor, including a lot of heavy lifting and squatting down to milk cows; and my own genetics. The result was weakened ligaments and other supportive tissues that allowed organs to slip out of place, much the same way hernias happen.

Today, I can say that I think the worst is behind me.

The procedures went well. Part of the surgery was done laparoscopically with a robot and part of the surgery was done the old fashioned way – by hand. My surgeons were great and the nurses who took care of me during my hospital stay were exceptional.

My post-surgical pain has subsided considerably. So has the abdominal swelling. I'm not nearly as exhausted as I was the first couple days.

The timing wasn't the best – surgery right before Christmas was no fun. And we really didn't need another surgery in the family right after Daphne's appendectomy and abscess surgery. But we had met our health insurance deductible and I knew we couldn't afford not to have the surgery this year, so I pushed to get it scheduled.

The most challenging part now is the activity restrictions during recovery: bed rest for the first two weeks and then another four to six weeks of next to nothing with a 10-pound lifting restriction. Which means no farm work at all. Dan and Monika have been helping a lot outside in my absence – and in the house, too.

But I'm trying not to complain about the recovery process, because I chose this solution and can already tell that my previous symptoms are gone.

I'm looking forward to feeling a whole lot better in the new year.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Dairy Christmas and Happy Moo Year!


Dear Friends,

Whether you're near or far...

Whether you're a new friend or an old friend...

Whether we've shared a laugh together recently or not...

Know that we're thinking of you this holiday season.


Dan is 11 years old now and in 5th grade.


Monika is 8 years and in 3rd grade.


Daphne is 5 years and in pre-school. She will start Kindergarten in the fall.


Glen and I celebrated 15 years of marriage in September and can't believe how fast these years have gone by.

We will remember 2017 for several reasons – both rewarding and challenging. But through it all, we are incredibly thankful for the gifts of family, love, and health.

From our family to yours, we wish you a joyous Christmas and all the best in the new year.

Love,

The Frerickses



Monday, December 18, 2017

Auntie Konnie's Peanut Butter Krispy Bars


Running short on time this holiday season? Need a quick, festive treat for your Christmas gathering? My Auntie Konnie's Peanut Butter Krispy Bars – drizzled with chocolate and dressed up with sprinkles – are perfect. These rich, chewy bars are not your average krispy bars. Made with a full stick of Land O Lakes® Butter and lots of peanut butter, they're more fudge than they are cereal.

There are few holiday traditions I love more than creating and decorating Christmas cookies and candies. Each year I develop a list of treats I plan to make. Most often, that list includes more than a dozen different treats – many of them recipes I've created myself, others heirloom recipes that have been passed down from beloved family members and friends, and usually a new recipe or two that I've stumbled upon.

This year, though, life had other plans for me. With Daphne's recent surgeries and hospitalizations, the only things I've been measuring are medications. I've accepted that my long list of Christmas cookies will wait until next year.


But I still wanted to bring something sweet along to Glen's family's Christmas gathering this past weekend. During chores one morning last week, I pondered what I could whip up quickly. Usually, when I need a hurry-up pan of something sweet, I make my Cocoa Crispy Bars, but, tasty as they are, I decided they weren't festive enough.

Then I thought of my Auntie Konnie's Peanut Butter Krispy Bars.

One day this fall, when I was still daydreaming about Christmas cookies and candies, I took inventory of my baking cupboard. I was shocked to find six bags of marshmallows. Who needs six bags of marshmallows? Who bought them all?

(We won't talk about how many pounds of butter we have in inventory. That's never an issue. *wink* )

Determined to reduce our inventory, I decided to make marshmallow krispy bars. The only problem was that marshmallow krispy bars were my culinary nemesis for a long time. I almost always make krispy bars with corn syrup and sugar. Whenever I tried to make krispy bars with marshmallows, they turned out un-chewable.

My Auntie Konnie always made the best peanut butter krispy bars. She died this fall and I will forever regret not asking her for her recipe – although I suspected she never followed one.

I asked my sisters if they had her recipe. They confirmed my suspicion. Auntie Konnie didn't follow a recipe. Just use lots of butter and peanut butter, they said.

Well, I had six bags of marshmallows to experiment with, so I gave it my best shot.


Three bags of marshmallows later, I had both the ingredients and technique perfected. My peanut butter krispy bars now taste just as good as Auntie Konnie's. The secret really is lots of butter and peanut butter. Isn't everything better with lots of butter?

Anyway, back to my need for a quick Christmas treat...

It seemed fitting to remember Konnie by turning her signature dessert into festive, Christmas bars.

I whipped up pan of peanut butter krispy bars and decorated them with white and dark chocolate drizzles and lots of Christmas sprinkles.

Dan, Monika, and Daphne were super impressed. And, I have to say, they disappeared pretty quickly from the dessert table at Christmas.

I'm thinking Auntie Konnie's Peanut Butter Krispy Bars will have a regular spot on my list of Christmas treats.


And just in case you’re still wondering about whether to put them on your list, here are all the reasons Auntie Konnie’s Peanut Butter Krispy Bars are perfect Christmas treats:

✔ Delicious!
✔ Quick and easy to make
✔ Ingredients you probably have on hand
✔ Kid-friendly – to make and to eat
✔ No advance prep or chilling required
✔ No baking
✔ No refrigeration required (save space in the fridge!)
✔ Infinitely customizable – sprinkle with crushed candy, toffee bits, or whatever your heart desires!


Auntie Konnie’s Peanut Butter Krispy Bars

Make time: 30 minutes
Yield: 24 bars

Ingredients

½ cup (1 stick) Land O Lakes® Butter
16-ounce bag of marshmallows
1½ cups peanut butter (chunky or creamy)
6 cups crisp rice cereal

2 ounces chocolate chips (⅓ cup)
½ teaspoon solid coconut oil or shortening
2 ounces white almond bark or white chocolate chips (1 cube or ⅓ cup)
Green and red nonpareil sprinkles

Directions

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray and wipe out excess.

Melt butter in a large pot or dutch oven over low heat. (Save the butter wrapper – you’ll use it later!)

Once butter is melted, add marshmallows to pot. Keep heat low and stir frequently until marshmallows are completely melted. (If the heat is too high, the finished krispie bars will be too hard.)

Remove butter-marshmallow mixture from heat and stir in peanut butter, then cereal.

Spoon cereal mixture into prepared pan. Use butter wrapper to press down evenly.

To decorate:

Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil (or shortening) together, then drizzle over bars. (I melt the chocolate chips and shortening in the microwave, transfer the melted chocolate to a plastic sandwich bag, snip off a corner of the bag, and drizzle.)

Repeat with white almond bark or white chocolate.

Top with sprinkles.

Let bars cool before cutting into 24 squares.

Store in airtight container.


I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. All opinions are my own.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Another A-word in Daphne's story


Another surgery.

Another hospitalization.

Another A-word added to Daphne's life story.

When I published the story about Daphne's emergency appendectomy, I thought the story was over. But it wasn't.

On Tuesday, November 28, Daphne woke up tired. She went potty, said she wasn't hungry, and asked me to cover her up with a blanket on the couch. Warning bells went off inside my head. I took her temperature – as I had every morning since we had returned home. Her temperature was 100°F – well below a true fever. But Daphne's discharge instructions said to notify her doctor if she had a fever greater than 101°F or a temperature of 100°F or greater for over 24 hours. I recorded her temperature and the time and got her some ibuprofen to help her feel better.

Eight hours later, Daphne's temperature was again 100°F. When she woke up from her second nap of the day at 7:00 p.m., I could tell right away her situation had worsened. She was yelling at the cat and felt considerably warmer when I wrapped her up in a hug to settle her down. The thermometer confirmed my observation: 101.5°F.

I called the hospital. The surgeon on call explained my options: if I felt her condition was serious, I should bring her in right away; if she was comfortable, I could wait until morning. He said there was a probable chance that an abscess had formed from bacteria left over from her ruptured appendix. In that case, they would likely need to drain the abscess using an ultrasound-guided procedure.

I gave Daphne another dose of ibuprofen and she went right back to sleep. An hour later, her temp was normal and she was still sleeping soundly. So I decided to wait until morning to go in. I tucked Dan and Monika into bed and tried to sleep myself.

The next morning, I wouldn't have guessed anything was wrong with Daphne.

Her initial lab work at the clinic, however, indicated that something was going on inside of her. Her white blood cell count was elevated and so was her temperature. Dr. Lundeen, the surgeon who examined Daphne, ordered another CT scan to check for an abscess.

Shortly after the three-hour wait for the CT scan began, Daphne began crying softly; she said her stomach hurt and that she wanted to lay down. We found a bench seat in a waiting room so Daphne could lay down. Thankfully, while I was on the phone with the imaging department trying to find some pain relief for Daphne, they said there had been a cancellation and her CT scan appointment was moved up.

Our friends in the pediatric unit – where we checked in first so that an IV could be started – welcomed us with smiles, hugs, and Daphne's blanket. Her blanket was in the laundry when we discharged after her appendectomy and I didn't remember it until a couple days later.

The nurses started an IV in Daphne's hand and then escorted us down to the imaging department. After the CT scan, we returned to a holding room in the pediatric unit to wait for the results. Daphne slept, which I've now decided is her default response to pain.

It wasn't long before Dr. Lundeen arrived with the results of the CT scan. There was, indeed, at least one large abscess – a little bigger than a golf ball – deep in Daphne's lower abdomen. There could be a couple smaller ones, as well, he said, or they might just be parts of the large abscess. Unfortunately, he said, because of the location of the abscesses, it would not be possible to use an ultrasound-guided procedure to drain the abscesses. Surgical removal was the only option.

Dr. Schmidt, the surgeon who did Daphne's appendectomy and who would also be doing this second surgery, came by a little later to explain the procedure. The plan included starting Daphne on IV antibiotics and pain medicine right away and doing surgery first thing the next morning. Most likely, the procedure could be done laparoscopically; Dr. Schmidt would collect a sample of the abscess fluid for culturing (if possible), drain the abscesses, remove any abscess walls, irrigate her abdominal cavity, and install another abdominal drain.

Daphne spent the rest of the day sleeping, eating popsicles, and watching Disney princess movies. (Before her hospital stay was over, we watched every Disney princess movie in the pediatric unit's extensive movie collection.) She told me that night, "Don't tell Dan and Monika that I got to watch two movies and eat two popsicles in one night!" Life is truly all about perspective.

Daphne's surgery the next morning (Thursday) went as planned. It was not nearly as frightening this time to send her into the operating room. Either because I wasn't sleep deprived or because I had a full night to let the reality of the situation sink in. My dad came down to sit with me during surgery and stayed with us at the hospital to help.

Daphne woke up in recovery a lot sooner after this procedure and was much more active the day of her surgery. Glen, Dan, Monika, and Glen's mom came down to visit that night; it was good for them to see her up and active.

I suspect that one of the pain medications she got actually caused excessive excitability, because she hardly slept after surgery and was still asking to go for a walk at 9 p.m. that night.


We switched pain medications and the next day (Friday) she took a 5-hour nap – which was much-needed for both of us.

Daphne also started eating right away, which kept us on the fast-track to going home.

On Saturday morning, lab tests confirmed that Daphne was recovering well. After the lab tech drew Daphne's blood for the tests, Daphne told her, "Thank you. That was very gentle." Then she asked the lab tech for a hug. From the surprised look on Sophie's face, I wonder how often lab techs get hugs from patients.

The abscess-fluid cultures and pathogen sensitivities finished that morning, as well. Prescriptions were ordered for continued treatment at home and Daphne was given the all-clear to go home.

My freak out moment for this hospitalization came when our nurse told me that Daphne would be going home with her abdominal drain in place. Daphne's first JP drain had been removed just before we left the hospital. The doctors wanted to leave this one in for another week, to make doubly sure all of the extra fluid in her abdomen had a chance to drain out. I balked at the idea – partly because there was next to nothing draining out at this point; partly because the idea of abdominal drains and Daphne playing in the barn didn't sit well in my head. And I knew better than to believe that I could keep Daphne out of the barn.

But, I agreed to let caution prevail.

When we got home, I strapped the drain tubing to Daphne's stomach with vet wrap. Daphne didn't let the drain slow her down. She did rest a lot for the first couple days, but it wasn't long before she showed up in the barn one morning and told me, "I laid on the couch for a while after I woke up and made a plan. I figured I could come out to the barn if I just tucked my drain inside my snowpants."

This past Thursday, I took Daphne back to the clinic for her follow up. Dr. Schmidt said she looked great and removed the abdominal drain.

Daphne got on the bus this morning to go to preschool – for the first time in over three weeks. I'm taking that as a sign that our lives are returning to normal (whatever normal is  ). I sincerely hope that this is the end of this chapter in our story.

And that leaves me with another group of doctors, nurses, and medical professionals from the St. Cloud Hospital to thank:

• Surgical Team: Dr. Schmidt, Dr. Lundeen, Dr. Singh, Dr. Martinson (after hours phone support), Dr. Fauske (anesthesia), Yen (post-surgery PA), Nicole, Denise, a few whose names I can't remember and more we never met
• Recovery: Jessica and Sam
• Pediatric Unit Doctors, Nurses, PCAs, and Staff: Dr. Peitso, Dr. Campbell, Dr. Newman, Kelsey, Deb, Toshie, Angie, Michelle, Katie, Trina, Kenzie, Kristina, Jon, Scott, Jess, Marcella, Laura, Claire (nursing student), Stephanie (the lady with the paints and all the toys), and a few more whose names escape me
• Lab Techs: Sophie and the techs from the clinic lab

Thank you, as well, to everyone who, again, visited Daphne, sent cards and gifts, brought food over, helped with chores, and provided long-distance emotional support.


Our perspective this Christmas season is much different than it has been in years prior.

More than anything else this year, what matters is celebrating the gifts of family, love, and health. We really don't need anything else.

The past three weeks were challenging for us, but we recognize that they could have been much worse. We know that other families will be spending Christmas in the hospital or without their loved ones. (In the midst of everything going on with Daphne, we buried Dan's beloved teacher after she lost her six-year battle with cancer.) We know that grief for our loved ones, regardless of when we lost them, is often strongest during the holidays.

We pray for those families especially. We pray for love and health for all families.

This Christmas, hold tight to those you love.