What a strange title for an article. Those three words, there, tree and three, have pretty much summed up what has been occupying my very limited downtime during this busy harvest season. I have this wonderful 6-year-old granddaughter who is in first grade, and she missed the last three months of kindergarten because of COVID-19, and when she started first grade this fall, she was a little behind on reading skills. When I heard that, I said to her mom that no grandkid of mine is going to fall behind on reading skills because reading is a life skill. So, I put my money literally where my mouth is and decided to tutor Cort.
    The first book off the shelf to help Cort with reading skills was a book I detest because I do not like the thought of eating green eggs and ham. Yet I knew that “Green Eggs and Ham” was the perfect book to gauge where Cort was in her reading skills. First, I read it to her slowly, clearly and with a lot of expression. Then I had her read it back to me, and it was obvious she could easily read words like green, eggs, ham and Sam, but struggled terribly with words that are not easy to sound out like there, three, said, tree and that. Cort’s aunt, Sarah, who teaches teachers how to teach, told me some words just have to be memorized by the student when they cannot sound them out.
    We struggled through “Green Eggs and Ham,” and I made a list of 10 words she continually struggled with. Then I put those 10 words on flash cards so we could really work on memorizing them. She was not too excited about that until the second night of tutoring when I said I would give her a quarter for each word she mastered. I knew Cort wanted to buy a Barbie ambulance, and I also knew Cort likes money. After that, she calls me up at night to ask when I am coming over to work on reading, and she snuggles right up to me on the couch as we go to work. I think my $10-$25 investment in her education will pay back many times, and even if I have to dish out quarters, the snuggles are worth every penny.
    Since that second night, we are on to new books like “Hop on Pop,” which is a progressive book, meaning every few pages the words get a little harder. Tonight, we are going to master her three toughest words: there, three and tree. And, we are going to find a harder book and make a new list of flash card words so Cort can make some more money.
    The second part of the tree of three l have worked on a little is my 96-year-old mother. She lives very independently yet in her own impeccably clean home. Last week she fell in between a table and a wall and was unable to get up. Fortunately, it happened shortly before the time when my wife stops to check on her every day. She did not break anything and only received a back bruise, but sitting there an hour really scared her. She immediately told us to bring her to a nursing home because she said she was done. We told her no; that we can get her a medical alert device to wear on her wrist, and if she is in trouble, she can push the button and one of us will be automatically notified and will come. The smile on my mom’s face when I installed that phone device yesterday was priceless to see. She needed that peace of mind knowing she would not be helpless if she fell again.
    The third part of the tree of three is teaching myself how to slow down from 50-plus years of hard farm work. On Oct. 1, I started teaching Guillermo, our Spanish herd health specialist, how to take over my early morning work with the fresh cows and calves. I am also trying to spend extra time teaching my older grandsons how to maintain and safely operate farm equipment. That time spent with them can also be used to explain the value of the life cycle of crops feeding livestock and livestock manure feeding the crops. Hopefully by teaching others, my physical workload will be decreased and new opportunities will arise.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minnesota. Send him feedback at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.