Family Christmas letters that arrive with Christmas cards are the best to read. Some are hilarious, some brag a little and even with social media as the new norm to keep up with distant friends and family, a written letter is hard to beat. Deb and I have been horrible at sending out cards and letters. I think we have only done it once in 44 years. This is my attempt at writing our Christmas letter via the Dairy Star.
    My first inclination was to use an acrostic version of a Christmas letter. You know where you line up the words Merry Christmas vertically on the left side of the page, then proceed to tell a brief happening of the year that matches that letter. Only my acrostic line was going to be “losing my shirt.”
    The L for lost, as in lost milk income and lost crop due to too much rain. Then I read Kia’s Christmas letter that had a theme about her kitchen window and all the things she could be thankful for that she sees out of that window every day, and I realized I had not lost anything. After reading, and trying to match catchy phrases to a letter just seemed undoable.
    Only the last letter T was usable and that was thankful. Thankful that I did not lose one family member this year and am gaining a new one in January. Thankful that I saw a video of granddaughter Ava swimming last night without a floating helper device. She is 7 and has a brachial plexus injury, limiting her to one good arm. Thankful that my three oldest grandsons helped me last Saturday, cleaning eave spouts, trimming bushes, sweeping the shop and washing trucks. Oh, what fun we had. I taught Eli how to ride a motorbike for the first time, and Coyer drove a pickup for the first time. I wanted to teach Vince how to drive a stick shift, but the old shop truck had a flat tire. I am thankful I can go watch Liv and Danika sing their hearts out at school and church programs, and how all the younger kids will ride with me in the combine.
    No, I have not lost, but this year makes a person really think about loss. I get calls daily from fellow dairy farmers about hard decisions we are all facing. Joe and I know we have invested so much in the dairy that we have to keep going, and by working together productively we can and will. Others who do not have updated facilities or younger people to keep it going are thinking why they are working for nothing. There can be real excitement and hope in taking on a new or different occupation. One thing I always mention to dairy farmers who are contemplating selling the cows is, before you make that final decision, remember the cows are what got you where you are today, good or bad.
    A prime example of true loss is my neighbor of 60 years. He has cancer and has been in the local hospice cottage for the last five weeks. Because of family and health issues, his land and machinery have been auctioned off, and a once very successful farming operation is finished. He is a good man, and yet he has rarely been able to see his grandkids who live 15 miles away.
    True thankfulness besides family can be found not only in things such as having cows, land and machinery, but also faithful hard working employees, good neighbors, church and school families, and true friends. We are amazed we have true friends left even though we do not send out Christmas letters.
    Be thankful when the heifers get out or the well floods. That means you are still active and in business. My wish for all of you is a healthy and maybe even a wealthy New Year.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at davevkooi@icloud.com. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.