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.


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


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


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.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Daphne's appendectomy

Daphne and Nurse Mary

Every Thanksgiving, we give thanks for all of the good things in our lives. This year, we're especially thankful for doctors and nurses and Daphne's health...

[Before you continue reading, consider yourself warned. There are some graphic details and a gory photo ahead.]

On Saturday, November 18, I drove Daphne to the Melrose Hospital emergency room at 11:50 p.m.

Daphne had been sick all day Saturday, first vomiting several times during the wee hours of the morning and then developing a fever. She slept on the couch all day, uninterested in eating and only wanting ice cold water to drink. By early evening, her temperature was 103°F. When I got her up to take some ibuprofen, she said it hurt her tummy to sit up. Afterward, she went right back to sleep and her fever came down.

All day long, I went through possible diagnoses in my head – and on the phone with my sister, a nurse. Her fever seemed high for just a stomach bug. I knew strep throat was going around and that illness could explain her vomiting, fever, and lethargy, but not necessarily her stomach pain. Perhaps her stomach hurt from dry heaving at the end of her vomiting spell. By suppertime, I was debating taking Daphne to urgent care, but the hospital and clinic in our town don't have urgent care, making the closest urgent care a 45-minute drive away. I didn't think strep throat warranted a visit to the emergency room and I didn't think Daphne could sit long enough for a 45-minute drive.

By bedtime, her temperature was coming back up and she asked to be carried up to bed. I asked Daphne where her tummy hurt and she said, "Where my legs attach to my tummy." I asked her to point to the place and she touched her lower right abdomen. My thoughts turned to appendicitis, mostly because my cousin's 5-year-old son had been hospitalized for an appendectomy just a month ago. But Daphne wasn't crying or complaining – she actually seemed pretty comfortable as long as she was laying down.

During the night, I woke up to the sound of Daphne calling for me. I got up and went to her, but by the time I got there, she was sleeping again. I laid down next to her anyway. As I laid there, I listened to her interrupted breathing and thought, "Something's not right." As she slept, she was taking a breath in, holding it, and then letting it back out. I listened for a couple more minutes before letting my practicality give into my gut instinct. I got up, shook Glen awake, and told him I was taking Daphne to the emergency room. I called the hospital and told them I was bringing my 4-year-old in; she'd been vomiting, had a fever, complaining of abdominal pain, and was now breathing funny.

I started the van to warm it up. I wrapped Daphne up in her blanket and carried her downstairs. She asked about her winter boots, so I decided it wouldn't be the worst idea to at least somewhat dress for the frigid weather. I set her down on a kitchen chair to put her boots on and she promptly vomited clear yellow liquid all over her blanket and boots. I ran upstairs for a new blanket, wrapped her up again, and carried her to the van.

The monitors in the ER showed that her heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature were elevated, but the only number I can remember is that her temp was 104.2°F. The nurses started an IV and swabbed her nose for influenza. A lab tech drew blood. The doctor's exam ruled out strep throat, pneumonia, and ear infections. When the doctor pressed on her tummy, she said it hurt everywhere.

The lab work came back: no influenza, she was quite dehydrated, her WBC (white blood cell) count was below normal, but her CRP (c-reactive protein, a test that measures inflammation) was elevated. The doctor agreed that something was going on and we started talking about imaging to check her appendix. He wanted to rule out a bladder infection first, so we decided to collect a urine sample through a catheter, since it was probably going to be a long time before Daphne had any urge to go.

The urine sample was negative for infection. The doctor then said we had two choices: admit Daphne to the hospital, continue the IV fluids, and recheck her WBC and CRP in six hours – or do a CT scan right away to check her abdomen for the source of pain. Because her WBC count was low and her pain wasn't more intense during the "rebound test", he wasn't certain it was her appendix.

I went with Option B: do the scan right away so that we could either know for sure it was her appendix or rule it out. The scan only took a couple minutes, but since it was now 2-something in the morning, the radiology tech said the images would be sent to a doctor in Australia for interpretation, so it could be an hour before we had results.

I settled in to wait, but ten minutes later Daphne's ER doctor walked in with the CT scan report and said, "It looks like her appendix is the problem and it looks like it's ruptured."

The doctor ordered IV antibiotics and called the on-call surgeon in St. Cloud. At first he thought the surgeon would come to Melrose to do the appendectomy, but after the phone call he said that, because of Daphne's young age and the rupture, the surgery would be done at the St. Cloud Hospital. The next call was to the Melrose Ambulance for transfer to St. Cloud.

At this point, it was around 4 a.m. We usually get up for morning chores at 4:30 a.m., so I waited until 4:25 to call Glen and let him know what was going on and make a plan. Glen would do morning chores with our employee and I would go with Daphne. Glen then called his parents; his dad would come out to the farm to help with chores and his mom would pick up a few things for me from home and then meet us at the hospital.

Daphne heading to the ambulance

Sometime after 5 a.m., Daphne and I left in the ambulance for St. Cloud. Daphne continued to be quiet and sleepy.

The ambulance crew brought us to Daphne's room in the pediatric unit. We waited there until it was time to go to pre-op. We got to pre-op and found out that the surgery ahead of us had become complicated, so our wait in pre-op ended up being an hour and a half. Daphne continued to sleep and ask for water; she couldn't have water, so that made her pretty ornery.

Finally, the surgical team came to take Daphne to the OR. I walked with her up to the OR unit doors and gave her a kiss and a hug. She asked me, "Why aren't you coming with, Mom?" Using every ounce of composure I had, I told her that moms can't go into the surgery room. They rolled Daphne's bed through the big double doors and I let all of the worry I had held back for the past 12 hours spill out.

The surgeon had told us he expected the procedure to take 30 minutes. He would remove her appendix and, depending upon what he found inside, probably flush her abdominal cavity. I went with Glen's mom to the family waiting room. A little later, the waiting room hostess came to tell us that surgery had started. I closed my eyes, figuring sleep would be the best way to wait. I'm not accustomed to pulling all-nighters anymore, so my foggy brain dozed right off. I woke with a start 40 minutes later and realized nobody had come to tell us the procedure was over.

Another 20 minutes passed – the slowest of my life – before the call came from the OR that Daphne's surgery was over. The surgeon would come talk to us shortly and then we could go see Daphne in recovery.

The surgeon came and reported that the diagnosis of ruptured appendix was 100% accurate. (There had been some questions before surgery about what exactly was going on. Daphne's lack of intraperitoneal fat made it hard to see her appendix on the CT scan.) He gave us a picture from the laporscopic camera he used during the procedure and the picture below of Daphne's ruptured appendix after it was removed.

Daphne's ruptured appendix

He said that there was so much purulence (aka pus) inside her abdominal cavity that he used 4 liters of saline solution to clean out her insides, which made the surgery take longer than expected. A JP drain was inserted into one of Daphne's incisions to continue draining the fluid after surgery.

He also explained that the reason why Daphne's WBC count was so low in the ER was that her WBC had already peaked and fell, likely because she was in early sepsis.

Daphne in recovery

An hour later, Daphne finally started to wake up in recovery. Just as we rolled back into the pediatric unit, Glen, Dan, and Monika arrived to see Daphne.

Glen and Dan were pretty quiet, but Monika kept saying, "I can't believe my little sister went from being OK to needing surgery in less than a day!" I guess our kids are more familiar with the need for scheduled surgeries and less familiar with the need for emergency and urgent surgeries.

Daphne slept through the rest of Sunday.

Daphne sleeping in hospital

She slept a lot on Monday, too, and was downright ornery when she was awake – and rightly so. Her tummy hurt a lot. She didn't want to talk or eat or walk. I made her walk back from the bathroom during the middle of the night and she vomited again as soon as she got back in bed.

Tuesday started out with Daphne in a better mood. She ate a little and went for a walk to the playroom. Her good mood dissolved into ornery and tired by the afternoon.

My mood went from good to worse, too. The results from Daphne's Tuesday morning lab work showed that her CRP and WBC had gone up instead of going down. Our nurses said we would likely be spending Thanksgiving in the hospital. Daphne's surgery PA (physician's assistant) said they'd do more blood tests on Wednesday and make a decision regarding discharge then.

It looked like Wednesday would be more of the same. The morning started with another blood draw that made Daphne hysterical. Daphne cried every time we made her walk and pouted when I asked her to eat and drink. She refused to take her oral meds, insisting they just give her medicine through her IV. She told me she didn't want to go home.

Then, Nurse Kelsey said the magic words that turned everything around. "If you eat and drink enough, we can take the IV out of your arm, Daphne," Kelsey told her. Daphne literally started gulping down milk and Gatorade.

The next time we asked her to walk back from the bathroom, Daphne said she only wanted to walk in the hallway. Nurse Kelsey told Daphne, "I need to see if you can walk back from the bathroom before I can let you walk in the hallway." With that, Daphne almost trotted back to her bed and climbed up into it herself. (Prior this, I had been carrying her to and from the bathroom.)

In a matter of minutes, Daphne returned to being the silly, spunky girl we know. She had her nurses nearly rolling with laughter.

Daphne and Takoda, the therapy dog

Shortly after, the surgery PA came and said that since her CRP and WBC count were down, Daphne could go home.

Daphne's brave nurses – Cass and Kelsey – came to remove her JP drain and IV. Neither process was anything close to comfortable – mostly because the tape they used to hold those things in was the strongest ever. It was the first time we had to hold Daphne down. Daphne got so worked up that she got a bloody nose. Thank goodness Glen was there by then, because he's the bloody nose expert in our family. Daphne eventually settled down and we got her cleaned up.

Daphne with Nurse Cass and Nurse Kelsey

Daphne gave her nurses each a big hug and we headed for home.

Looking back on the past couple days, I am so incredibly thankful for many people: family and friends, who helped us out at home, came to visit Daphne, and lent long-distance support over the phone; our employees, whose help with farm chores made the week a lot more manageable; and all of the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, who gave Daphne the very best medical care.

To all of the folks from the Melrose and St. Cloud Hospitals – most of whom are listed below – thank you from the bottom of my heart!

• Melrose ER Team: Dr. Wendlandt, Jolene, and Amanda
• Melrose Lab Tech: Nikki
• Melrose Radiology Tech: Hannah
• Ambulance Crew: April and Clay
• Surgical and Pre-Op Team: Dr. Schmidt, Dr. Lang (anesthesia), Yen (post-surgery PA), Eileen, a few whose names I can't remember and more we never met
• Recovery: her wonderful nurse whose name I can't remember Marie
• Pediatric Unit Nurses, PCAs, and Staff: Mary, Cass, Kelsey, Deb, Kristy, Janet, Kenzie, Marcella, Toshie, Jeannie, Jess, Michelle, Anna, Jon, Natasha and Emily (nursing students), Brittany (the lady with all the toys), and a few more whose names escape me
• St. Cloud Lab Techs: Erik and Judy

And, lastly, a huge thank you to Nurse Mary, pictured in the first photo above, for going above and beyond. Mary is an old dairy friend of mine, who I hadn't seen in a long time. (For you dairy readers, you might recognize her as a former Princess Kay of the Milky Way.) When Mary walked in for her shift as our night nurse on Sunday night, we were equally shocked to see each other. Her instant hug meant so much at that moment. Mary came back throughout our stay to visit, to sit with Daphne so I could shower, and to bring me lunch. She stopped in one last time as we were leaving for one last hug.

Seeing Mary this week reminded me that friends are friends forever, regardless of the interval between visits.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, there's more to this story... Read the rest here.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A new lease on life

sunrise over dairy farm

Like the sun rising on a new day, a big change here on our farm has given us a new lease on life.

A couple weeks ago, we hired our first full-time employee.

This might not seem like a big deal to some, but it's a big change for us. For the past 12 years, Glen and I have done most of the work here. We get extra help as needed from family and friends, including a good friend who has done relief milking for us for over 10 years now.

But that was no longer enough.

To put it simply, our herd size has grown considerably over the past year. We’re now milking 100 cows. The reasons for this growth could fill another post with a complicated explanation of dairy markets and economics. What’s not complicated to understand, though, is that milking more cows means more work for us – more work than we could handle ourselves.

We trudged through the spring and summer with a workload that left us completely exhausted. Most days, it felt like we were barely getting through the day, or worse, falling behind.

I can’t even remember when we started talking about hiring full-time help. It came up during milking one morning. We’ve talked about hiring in the past, but never gave it serious consideration. This time, it was clear: We really need another person here.

We found that person a couple weeks ago. The young man we hired is a quick-learner, has a great sense of humor, and is fun to work with. In the short time we’ve been working with him, we already feel like he’s part of the family.

We also feel like we can breathe again. Instead of feeling constantly behind, it now feels like we’re moving forward. The exhaustion and frustration we felt before have been replaced with energy and satisfaction. Dairy farming is fun again.

I am so incredibly thankful we made this decision when we did. I'm thankful, too, for this young man's interest in working with us.

What's more, and just as important, is that we're once again finding time for the other things we enjoy. We took the kids out to eat. Glen got to go deer hunting. I've actually been cooking supper. Glen and I went to an auction – together! That counts as a date in my book.

Thank goodness for changes for the better and for more good things to come.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Time to mourn

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

My Auntie Konnie’s time to die came on Friday, October 13.

In several ways, the past two weeks have been some of the hardest of my life.

One of the hardest parts has been the need to explain who Auntie Konnie was and why saying goodbye to her hurts so much. Apparently, at least from the countless quizzical looks, most people don’t think losing an aunt should bring so much grief.

But Konnie was more than an aunt.

My mother worked a full-time job an hour’s drive away from our farm. When my sisters and I were little, Mom dropped us off at Konnie’s house for the day. When we were a couple years older, Konnie started coming to our house instead. We spent as many of our growing-up hours with Konnie as we did with anyone else. And her willingness to run her daycare business out of our home meant my sisters and I had an incredible world: a houseful of kids to play with, a dairy farm to roam over, and being close enough to Dad and Grandpa that we saw them everyday, too, and were there to pitch in with farm chores as we grew old enough to help.

Konnie was the one who taught us how to cook and clean; that barn language belonged in the barn, not the house; and that lying about your misbehavior was far worse than misbehaving itself.

We knew Konnie’s time with us was limited. Three years ago, almost to the day of her death, we almost lost her to septicemia following a cortisol injection. The recovery from that ordeal was long and complicated, but Konnie came out of it with a renewed appreciation for life. The sadness that had filled her when her only son (and only child) died in 2013 seemed to lift away.

Konnie’s long recovery gave us our turn to take care of her. Then, a bout with pneumonia this spring led to the discovery of a suspected tumor in her lungs. Konnie never smoked a cigarette in her life, but cancer doesn’t follow the rules.

Konnie was too frail for surgery or chemotherapy, so we worked to accept the inevitable. But knowing death is coming doesn’t it make it any easier to accept. The grieving is still just as hard.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t stop spinning – even for a moment – to allow time for grief. There is no time to mourn. The grieving just keeps on while you go through the motions of living. Numb to the core, but still moving. The kids need supper and help with their homework and clean clothes for school tomorrow. The cows need to be milked. There are no mental health days for dairy farmers – or moms.

At the same time I lament these relentless demands I am thankful for both my family and my farm. Thankful I’m not grieving alone. Thankful for the joyful moments our children create – smiles that pierce through the sadness. Thankful for a job that allows me to keep working while my mind remembers, grieves, and heals. Cows don’t care if I cry while I milk.

This post first appeared as a column in the October 28, 2017 issue of the Dairy Star.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A wonderful whoops

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

Forget flowers and chocolates and jewelry. I got the best Valentine’s Day gift ever – even if it was by accident and it arrived a little early.

It all started nine months ago on May 10, 2016.

“Do you think maybe there were a few things going on that day?” Glen asked cheekily, looking back.

I don’t remember exactly what was on our to-do list that day, probably fieldwork and planting. But I do remember standing in the barn office with Glen, talking about the heifers that were caught in the headlocks for work that morning.

“Your Milking Shorthorn heifer needs to be preg checked,” Glen said.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

Most of our pregnancy checks are done via blood samples, so we simply needed to collect a vial of blood from Dallas to bring to the lab.

“And Wonder is in heat,” Glen said.

Wonder is a stylish Holstein heifer out of our W family. She carries a polled gene, so Glen selected a red-and-white polled bull for her first service, but she didn’t settle. Glen decided to try the same bull again for her second service.

Later that day, when Glen and I stopped to discuss the day’s progress, he made a confession.

“I made a mistake,” he said.

He went on to explain that when he pulled the thawed straw of semen out of the thaw unit, he double checked the straw before loading it into the gun. But the straw wasn’t the Holstein bull he had in mind – it was one of the Milking Shorthorn sires we had in the tank.

“I think I still had Milking Shorthorns on my mind after talking about Dallas,” Glen tried to explain.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

You’ve heard of distracted driving; well, this is what I’d call distracted breeding.

Instead of discarding the Milking Shorthorn straw and thawing a Holstein, Glen put the Milking Shorthorn in Wonder. I know some dairy farmers would have chalked it up as a loss and thawed another straw. I think it is proof of how much Glen really loves me – or he’s just that frugal.

Upon hearing his admission, I jumped for joy.

“Maybe she won’t settle,” Glen said, half hoping.

But Wonder did settle. And I jumped for joy again when we got the pregnancy report 30 days later.

We already had several roan calves out of the Milking Shorthorn bull that Glen accidentally thawed, so I knew there was a really good chance Wonder’s calf would be blue roan. The prospect almost made me cry.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

My last blue roan, Glory, passed away unexpectedly in April of 2015, leaving me heartbroken. She passed so quickly, I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. She was, undoubtedly, my favorite cow. For eight years, she was my reminder of and connection back to the beautiful blue roans I grew up with.

Glory: blue roan dairy cow

Some of Glory’s descendants are red roan, but I knew deep down she was my last blue roan.

We decided several years ago that we were done crossbreeding. The Jersey crosses would all be bred continuously to Jersey; the Milking Shorthorn crosses would all be bred to Milking Shorthorn. All Holsteins would be bred to Holstein – no new crosses. Without a Holstein x Milking Shorthorn mating, it would be next to impossible for another blue roan to be born on our farm.

But miracles do happen. Sometimes in the form of accidents.

“Please let it be a heifer!” I cheered every time I saw Wonder’s mating in our record system.

Then, Wonder showed up on the Heifers To Calve list with a due date of February 14, 2017 and my excitement tripled. It would be hard to top a Valentine’s Day blue roan heifer calf.

When Wonder started showing signs of calving early, my hopes intensified. An early calf was more likely to be a heifer.

All of my hoping and cheering paid off.

On February 2, Wonder delivered a beautiful little blue roan heifer calf.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

I was so ecstatic I could hardly sleep that night. I’m still excited. Wonder herself calved in looking just as stylish as she did as a heifer. This little blue roan calf could turn out to be pretty spectacular.

All because of a wonderful whoops.

P.S. After much discussion, my little blue beauty's name will be Whoops.

This post originally appeared as a column in the Dairy Star.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Farming with the one you love

My husband, Glen, and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage later this year. For 12 of those 15 years, we have been dairy farming together.

We’ve learned a thing or two (or three) about taking care of our marriage while also taking care of our cows and crops.

1. Compromise

Every marriage requires blending two different sets of values. Couples who farm together often have to combine two different philosophies on farming, as well.

I take a lot of pride in the fact that, in many ways, our dairy farm represents the best of the very different dairy farming systems Glen and I grew up with.

This hybrid system required a lot of compromise. Compromise is often associated with accepting lower standards . . . for us, compromise meant accepting something different than what we were accustomed to.

I can remember sitting in the haymow, bawling my eyes out, the first winter day we kept the cows in the barn overnight. I was accustomed to housing cows outside, but that wasn’t an option on our new farm. We needed the cows’ body heat to keep the waterlines in the barn from freezing.

I didn’t need to be concerned, though. Glen had a lifetime of experience with housing cows inside. We used his experience to create the best environment possible for keeping our cows comfortable.

On the flip side, Glen had relatively little experience grazing dairy cattle before we started farming. Now, grazing is an integral part of our farming system.

2. Communication

I know this sounds cliché, but clear communication really is essential for married couples. Yet, it’s so easy to slip into subpar communication habits.

Part of the issue is that farming couples spend a lot of time together — far more than our married counterparts with nonfarming jobs. After awhile, we tend to assume our partner should automatically understand what we mean when we speak (or gesture), but we all know what happens when we assume.

Planning is another area where communication is essential. A quick conversation in the morning about the day’s plans can prevent a lot of issues.

We had a hiccup right after I upgraded from an old school phone to a smartphone. Not because I was spending more time with my phone than my hubby . . . that’s a real issue for some couples . . . but because I started using the calendar on my phone instead of the paper calendar in our kitchen. Glen said not being able to see the week’s activities . . . everything from the kids’ activities to my meetings . . . made him feel like he was out of the loop. Now I keep track of activities and events in both places.

3. Compassion

There are three little words that, when used appropriately, can make all the difference in a marriage.

The words aren’t “I love you.” They’re even easier to say than that.

When your partner gets kicked by a cow or a gate falls on their foot or they smash their thumb with a post maul, show a little compassion and ask, “Are you OK?”

Yes, it might be clear that they’re OK because they’re still standing, but save the tough love for somebody other than your spouse. “Are you OK?” sends the message that “I care about you and your well-being.”

Ninety-nine times out of 100, the incident victim will feel just fine physically within minutes, but a little compassion will leave them feeling loved for the rest of the day.

And nothing beats feeling loved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This post originally appeared in the Hoard's Dairyman Notebook.