A few years ago in a small town just a state away….

Well, maybe just a bit more than a few years ago, but on that cool, crisp fall day in 1937 a little girl was born to first time parents.  Stanley and Norval Schumacher welcomed their first of four children that October 8th.  They raised her on the family dairy farm, teaching her how to care for the livestock and the home.  She ended up falling in love with the boy next door…..literally, next door.  Those two have lived and farmed in 3 states.  Janice has loving raised her family and worshiped her Savior at every stop.  


Life hasn’t been a bed of roses for Janice.  But the many challenges she has faced have always been handled with much grace and dignity and faith.  There have been ample opportunities in her life to question her faith, her loving God.  She may ask Him why but never turns her back on Him.  She is a prayer WARRIOR.  Watching her prayer list ebb and flow shows an amazing amount of love and compassion for all.  Serving her church has always been a priority in her life, as is evidenced by her still working in the church nursery on a regular basis.  

Janice loves her family.  She is always there for all generations of her family.  She lovingly cared for her mother in her later years.  She loving cared for her grandchildren when her daughter passed away unexpectedly.  And even now, she enjoys caring for her great grand children.  Watch Janice work in the garden with her great granddaughter, Avery, brings a smile to my face.  And a snapshot is stored in my memory.  The kids (both young and adults) know Grandma will always have a treat of some sort baked for them, a meal ready at the drop of a hat and a kind word and warm hug for them.  


Janice is more than “just a farm wife”.   She’s always lived and worked on the farm.  Yes, she’s held some other jobs over the years, but her heart has always been on the farm. She worked alongside Paul during lambing season, pigging season, calving season, planting season and harvest.  She mourned the loss of every animal and wondered what could have been done differently.  She cooked meals and hauled them, along with any number of children, to the field so the guys could continue working.  She maintained the books and did all she could to help keep the family afloat during the farm crisis in the 80’s.  Janice is, quite simply, a major part of the farm.


Janice is an amazing mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother and mentor.  I have learned much from her over the years.  She’s always willing to share the latest bits of wisdom she has garnered – from cooking to Bible study to house keeping to emergency preparedness.  


So, today, on her 80th birthday, I want to say thank you, Janice.  You have always provided the example of what a Christian woman should be.  Thank you and happy birthday!

 

Sale Preparation

I was just scrolling back though some of the older posts on here and realized, I’ve never shared with you just what it is we do to prepare for our annual club calf sale.  I thought this might just be a good time as starting tomorrow night, things will likely begin getting very hectic for all of us.  

Go back to the beginning of August with me.  That’s when we brought the calves up to begin the slow weaning process.  At first, this may seem like a lot more work than just completely weaning the calves from day 1.  And at first it is more work.  We’re blessed that some of our cows have calves in the sale every year and so they know what’s going on.  Slow weaning lasted a little longer than anticipated this year because we were also working on improving the calf lots on the front of the barn.  The guys have built 4 pens off the barn with pipe fence and have gates installed so we’ll be able to turn them out on grass lots for you.  


Calves starting on feed after nursing.   Shoes after the first wash day.      Avery helping to water the calves.

Here’s the before of the pens.  Lots of lime.  Lots of work to be done.


So, after getting the lots built we decided to put halters on the calves.  Then Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.  Mike’s nephews live near Houston and had to evacuate.  And so, Mike headed to Texas to help them lay some new flooring in the middle of this breaking process.  I’m glad he went.  I’m glad we were able to bless them in some small way.  Being away during the process has consequences and we’re still catching up.  I thought we were just going to tie the calves for the first time on the 17th.  Turns out they tied them on the 16th and we washed several on the 17th.  This is where we reap the benefits of slow weaning.  When we’re slow weaning, the calves learn that they can trust us.  We walk calmly amongst them.  We try to not get upset around them and make it as good an experience as possible.  We have NEVER tied calves one day and washed the next.  We usually give them a 3 day tie period then start washing the tamest ones.  But, we were in catch up mode.  And guess what?  They all responded better than we anticipated! We got everyone washed for a first time then went back and washed a few a second time ending with their clipping being done.  Then we rinse, blow out, touch up and picture and video.    Mike, Chris and Jesse are the clipping team.  I think everyone has helped in some part of this process.  Even Wyatt came for picture day last weekend and watched and learned.  


This weekend we’ll finish clipping, picturing, videoing, editing the video footage, uploading to YouTube and then finally finishing the website and online catalog.  Oh, and I really need to finish some informational flyers for you guys coming to see the calves in person.  So you see, there really is a bit more to it than just snapping a couple of pictures and putting them on Facebook……at least there is if you expect the best out of yourself.  

Time to get off here and take care of the town job, come home and do some more work getting ready for the long weekend and maybe getting to spend a little time with family.  Catch up with you soon.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Friday morning I had my alarm set extra early so I could talk to Mike before he left for work.  You see, he’s been going in to work early so he can get off early to help Chris with the calves that will be in our sale in mid October.  What I didn’t know is he wasn’t going in early on Friday.  I got through my check list of morning chores before he got up.  Then he told me our plans for the weekend weren’t what I thought they were going to be.  The forecast was for 90+ degree days for the weekend and we just weren’t going to be able to picture calves in that heat.  I understood it, but wasn’t happy about it.  You see, picture taking is just the beginning of my work with the calf sale.  I still have to edit pictures and videos, update the website, upload the videos and build an online sale catalog…..oh, and sale flyers need to be designed and printed.  Just days prior to this conversation I had publicly announced that our sale would be up and calves available for viewing on October 1st.  This announcement from my husband at 5:15 am on a Friday morning made me stressed.  I began running calendars through my head, along with numbers and design ideas.  And I let that stress dictate my attitude with my husband.  I know, I know……I allowed circumstances beyond anyone’s control to dictate my mood…..to steal my joy.  

Later in the afternoon, Mike called and said we’d picture what we could before noon on Saturday and by the way, did I want to go to my high school’s homecoming game that night?  While he was a little late getting in the house, we still went to the game.  We got there at halftime and therefore didn’t even have to pay to get in.  Bonus points for a free date night.  And a little bit of irony in that our 2nd date was to a homecoming football game at this school and Mike didn’t get there until halftime due to corn harvest.  It was certainly a lot cooler 30 years ago.  And as I looked around, there are few there who’s relationships have lasted like ours has.  I am so very thankful that God blessed and continues to bless me with this man, even if some things never change.

Things that 30 years hasn’t changed….

1.  Schedules must be flexible when dating or being married to a farmer/rancher.

2.  Spontaneous and regimental people can fall in love and make that love a beautiful life IF they both learn to compromise a little bit.

3.  I love calendars and checklists.

4.  My husband got his first calendar this year and never makes a checklist.

5.  I sometimes wish I were more like him.

6.  Visiting with old friends quickly reminds me of all our blessings.

7.  No, I don’t wish I could re-live those days.

8.  Yes, I am enjoying being a grandma before I’m 50.

9.  Some of the best dates are free.  We got into the game free, came home and ate some leftovers.  And yet we had a good time just being us.

10.  Small town life is something I like, but mostly like from the outside looking in.  I’ve never lived in town and actually much of my life I was at least 15 minutes to any town.  I think I learned a lot of self-sufficiency from this and maybe a few anti-social skills.  But I also know it draws family members closer to one another.
By the way, we did take pictures on Saturday and even got through 8 calves in about 3 hours.  It was a very productive morning followed by lunch out and some time to work on editing pictures.  So you see, we had spontaneity and we had a schedule.  All in one day.  All on one farm.  And all of us were happy in spite of the fact that no one really got their way, but we all compromised a bit.  

The Misadventures of a Ranch Wife

Today was a day off from the town job, which meant, to my husband and son, it was a good day to work some cows before we put up sweet corn. I agreed to their plans as long as we could get an early start.

At 4:40 I was awake. It was dark out so I went back to bed. At 5 am my alarm went off. It was still dark out. About 5:30 we were finally getting everything lined up to do chores and get the first group of cows up. Please note here that we have been in an extreme heat warning for much of this past week. That’s why we were adamant about starting early. Also note that this is the latest Mike and I have slept this week due to town job schedules. 

Gates opened that needed opened and closed that needed closed for pasture #1. We name our pastures based on their locations. Pasture 1 today was “The West Pasture”.  We headed out and quickly and easily got that entire group up with no trouble. I brought the 4-wheeler out of the pasture while the guys got the gates closed and met me at the end of the barn. This was looking to be a promising day. Let me stop right here.  NEVER let such a thought cross your mind in working cattle. It’s almost as if God and the cattle laugh together at that statement. 

So we headed out to pasture #2 (The North Pasture). Mike nearly dumped Chris off the side of the 4-wheeler when trying to get out of a winter rut that’s never been bladed yet. We managed to avoid that accident. Whew. But, when we got out to the creek that runs through this pasture (and much of our farm) we found a dead cow. She had laid down in a bit of a ditch and gotten where her feet were higher than her body and couldn’t get back upright. It’s frustrating to lose a cow to something like that.  You have no control, no chance to prevent it or treat it.  While this put a bit of a damper on the optimistic attitude, we kept on moving trying desperately to beat the heat of the day. 

Chris crossed the creek and Mike and I took the 4-wheeler to the far northeast corner of our farm to gather the rest of the cows walking in the creek and staying cool in the trees. We were cruising right along and it seemed like we were going to get this pasture with no problems as well. UNTIL. UGH, I really don’t like that word here. A former show heifer who has always had a bit of a diva complex today became our until. Until Tasha decided she wanted to stay in the creek.  Until Tasha decided she could climb out of the steepest part of the embankment. Until she fell back in the creek and decided she was done.  Until we convinced her she was not. Until Tasha decided she would not go the same path every cow before her had gone. At this point I’m beginning to think I need the tee shirt that says, “God doesn’t judge a woman who cusses at cattle.”  I know I should’ve been praying for forgiveness right about now, but it was quickly heating up and what little patience I had was disappearing. And then.  Tasha decided to go a whole new route to where I wanted needed her to go and in the process she and I seem to have disturbed a nest of hornets. Apparently,they were NOT amused. Once caught me in my backside and suddenly had my full attention. Another started swarming around my head and I believe I told the diva Tasha I was personally going to hang her on a meat hook if I got stung once more. Then two hornets teamed up on my hand and finger. NOW I was “as mad as a ……..hornet”. I now know what that means. They are some angry little critters. And hornet #4 was back and tangled in my hair. I’m pretty sure Mike was wondering if I’d finally lost my mind as I was beating my head profusely trying to kill the hornet before he could sting my head. I was pretty sure I had killed him and still had him tangled in my hair. I was now trying to carefully pick him out just in case he wasn’t fully dead. Once I got him out I threw him to the ground and stomped him just for good measure. Now I wasn’t just standing there while all this was going on. I had gotten off the 4-wheeler and was still trying to convince Tasha she should go to the house. She was lame (likely foot rot) and had busted open the back of her foot while trying the vertical bank climb earlier. 


This was one of the many times I’ve been thankful our pastors don’t live nearby. They likely would have had to politely asked me to step down from any and all positions at the church and enter therapy. 

I was “having a discussion” with Tasha explaining exactly what she needed to do.  Did you know divas don’t take instructions well?  She looked at me, looked at the gateway where she was supposed to go and then looked at the electric fence that was low enough for her to get over. I believe I warned her against such actions. I believe she laughed. Can cows laugh?  I think she did as she was crossing over to the “Rotational Pasture”. I stopped everything except my mouth. She was happily munching the freshly mown hay and we still had several more cows to get up. Mike encouraged me to get moving. The rest of the herd came up without incident. 

We treated the calves that had pneumonia, lameness and foot rot and kicked them back out. We drove out and got Tasha and another pair in the rotational pasture and they came right in. It was 8 am by now. We were supposed to be at Jesse & Brittany’s to put up sweet corn by then. We quickly switched gears and got moving. And spent the next 8 hours husking, cooking, cooling, cutting, bagging and freezing corn.   My hand is nearly twice it’s normal size. My butt hurts. And my mother-in-law looked at me and said, “Good thing you’re not allergic.”  And it is. How in the world would we have gotten everything done if I had been allergic to hornet stings?

A New Trick for This Old Dog

“You can’t teach an old dog a new trick.”  We’ve all heard this saying and quite often we use it as an excuse to not implement change in our lives.  I’ll admit that I have in the past.

This April as my 46th birthday came and went and we were looking forward to Avery’s first birthday, I found myself unhappy with some areas of my life, some habits that I was allowing controls over my time and money and, yes, even my attitude at times.  When I stepped on my scale at the end of April, the number shocked me.  It was 5 pounds heavier than I anticipated.  Then I took a good hard look at myself.  Did I want to be healthy enough to enjoy Avery and her little brother who’s on the way?  I thought of Mike and I getting to take them to cattle shows and helping them.  And I knew if I wanted to actively participate in their lives, I HAD to make a change.

About this same time, a young woman who grew up with our boys, posted her weight loss story on Facebook.  After God and I had a talk about the future, I sent her an email.  She sent me some information on the supplements she was using from the Xyangular company.  I read some more and thought this might just be the path that could work for me.  Oh, but here’s the deal – I had to cut back on carbs.  NO soda, NO bread, NO pizza and NO chips.  I ordered some of the supplements and thought may it would help me to drop 10 or 15 pounds.  I really didn’t think this would be much different than any other diet I’d tried before but figured I’d try it just to say I did.

And that brings us to today, 30 some days later and……drumroll please, 23 pounds lighter and have lost 8 inches from my hips, stomach and chest.  No, it’s not water weight.  I’ve gone from drinking 4 Mt. Dews a day to drinking a gallon or more of water a day.  My carb intake was well over 300 a day – now I max out at 25.  The best thing about the Xyangular products that I’ve used is that they boost my energy and keep me from craving the carbs and the caffeine.  I haven’t had a soda since April 30th.  I’ve had “crustless pizza”.  I’ve had a lot of meats and found that foods taste better to me.  I had a couple of strawberries the other night and marveled at how sweet they tasted.  Before I would’ve added sugar to all strawberries, but these were just sliced and savored.    

I still have a ways to go, but at least this month or so got me started down a path to healthier eating and living.  I bought a bike and am planning on riding it more and more as we go through the summer.  I’m finding I have more energy (who wouldn’t with 23 fewer pounds packing around with them daily?) and have been off my daily dose of Priolesec since giving up Mt. Dew.  My next goal is to lose another 25 pounds before little Grandson Bastian gets here in August.  I need accountability and Mike and Chris have been great supporters of me.  I don’t need to not see people eating carbs, I actually need to see you enjoying them and know that I don’t need them.  There will be a day that I can enjoy a few more carbs once in a while, but that day is not now.  This day, this old dog needs to keep working on her new trick.

By the way, if you’re interested in the products I’ve used, just message me or email me.  I’d be happy to share what I know and have some people who are much more knowledgeable share some facts with you.  If you’re not interested, please just encourage me.  Remind me how many carbs is in that bag of chips.  I’m a bit of a slow learner at times, but I’m learning.

Animal Ag Alliance Stakeholders Summit Session 1 – Discussion Panel – Animal Welfare on the Restaurant Menu

How often do you eat out each month?  What affects your choice of where to eat?  Who do you eat with?  Why eat out as opposed to eating at home?  Who do you eat with when you eat out?   These were the first questions posed to eight Kansas City area food consumers ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s or early 60s.  A variety of occupations were represented (community college worker, financial planner, home remodeler, NICU nurse, college students, realtor, activist).  And yes, there were a variety of responses to the questions posed.  

Q1 – How many times per week or month do you eat out?

A1 – EVERYONE responded that they eat out AT LEAST 3 to 4 times a week.  One participant stated that he likely eats out 75 times or more a month.  I could not imagine that.  I have read many reports about the lack of family time around the dining room table.  I was having a bit of trouble connecting with the participants here.  Eating out is not a common occurance for us.  We take our lunches to the town jobs and I fix supper when I get home.  Everyone’s on their own for breakfast because we all get up at different times.  Last weekend it felt like we splurged by going out for supper on Friday and lunch on Sunday.  The beef producer in me had several thoughts running rampantly through my head.  If most Americans are eating out this often, what are the cuts of beef they’re eating?  How can we make those less expensive cuts more palatable on a restaurant menu so we’re not just marketing the high dollar steaks and hamburger.  How often do people go out and order a slice or two of roast?  What about an arm steak? I know cooking at home I can utilize most of the cuts of beef, but does a restaurant owner even consider using some of these cuts? 

Q2 – How many of you eat breakfast out and how often?

A2 – Two said they eat breakfast out regularly. One said 12 times a month and one was about 10 times a month.  The more the one who said 10 times a month talked, it seemed like he really low balled that number.  He meets clients for breakfast several mornings a week.  The other one who eats out regularly for breakfast works overnights and so it’s a convenience matter for her.  Speed of service and not wanting to clean up because “breakfast is messy”.  When asked what gets their breakfast business, speed, consistency of quality food, good bacon and locally sourced food were the answers.  The only time any beef was mentioned in the breakfast conversation was when the panelists discussed a “premium breakfast”.  Special occasions lend themselves to a brunch that might include Prime Rib, seafood and made to order omelets.  We, as beef producers, are missing the breakfast target.  No mention was made of steak and eggs, omelets with beef, etc.  So 1/3 of the meals are not being capitalized by the beef industry.  A breakfast recipe campaign might just be in order.   

Q3 – How many eat out for lunch and how often?

A3 – Five-eighths of the panelists eat out for lunch 8 to 31 days a month.  This one wasn’t as surprising to me.  The reasons for eating lunch out were:  no plans made ahead of time to take leftovers, meet family for lunch, meet friends for social time, meet clients for lunch and “I get to eat what I want”.  The panelists decide where to go based on Groupon coupons, Facebook coupons, close to work, on campus.  Most of those who eat out eat a varied menu based on whatever strikes their fancy that day.  Lunch is usually budget friendly unless they’re using it as a write off.  Lots of burgers, deli sandwiches, and tacos.  Meat still seems to be the driving choice as far as food.

Q4 – How many eat out for dinner and how often?

A4 – ALL eat out for dinner.  It varies from 17 times a month down to 12.  The reasons why they eat:  to avoid work, socialize with friends, didn’t meal plan, home late from work, time with spouse and kids, social time, meetings with work.  Answers to where they choose to eat were greatly varied:  kid friendly, fast service, relaxed atmosphere, in and out in less than an hour, menu that includes items that are difficult to make at home, burgers, bulk food (feeding teen boys), and one Googled menu choices on his way home based on when his kids text him saying they’re hungry.  Many mentioned food based “Happy Hours”.  I noticed that this dinner time food happy hour is in direct contrast to the “unhappy hour” many experience when they’re getting home from work, the kids are home from school and tackling homework all while trying to fix supper and unwind from a stressful day that comes when making a meal at home.  Here comes the beef producer – how can we do a better job of packaging our meat to be easier to prepare?  Can we promote a “Happy Hour” line of products?  One of the panelists went so far as to say it was important for her to have family time around the table as an expression of her love.  Another panelist said you know exactly what you’re eating when you’re home and can have more interaction with your family – just need a maid to clean up the mess.

Everyone said they loved meat, which made me a happy cattlewoman.  Amongst their favorite meats were:  steak, ribs, rib eyes, tender beef, chicken pork, Delmonico steak, a well prepared KC Strip, lamb, chicken and any BBQ’d meat.   While only 3 people said they order eggs when out, they all made eggs at home because they were easy and versatile.  When asked about consuming dairy while out one replied that her son drinks milk out and three said they eat ice cream out.  When asked what kind of dairy they consume, one panelist gave a name brand, one said chocolate, one said yogurt and then everyone realized cheese and ice cream could fit in that category.  Cheese was easily a favorite with cheddar and mozzarella being named.

Q5 – Do you feel like food is safe?

A5 – One panelist has a son with ADHD.  She stated that coloring added to foods is an issue for her.  The panelists felt that organic, locally grown foods are safer and not tainted and possibly  better nutritionally.  One panelist grew up on a farm and felt that grocery store food is inferior.  All liked that they could support local farmers/businesses.

Q6 – What are your concerns about animal welfare?

A6 – “It’s not right how animals are treated but I push it to the back of my mind.”  “Locally grown is treated better.”  How do you feel about farmers and ranchers?  Five to six of the panelists said they feel very positive toward farmers.  The younger panelists stated they had learned about GMO’s in middle school and how they are injected with different bacteria by watching a documentary.  Only three panelists knew a farmer personally.  Their concerns about animal treatment came from a video they had seen on Facebook with live poultry crammed into cages for transport.  “It’s like they were on a conveyor belt.”  “We should just let them live until they die.” “They were plucking them alive.”  “The only way to provide enough food is to mass produce it here for consumption.”  I’m concerned with hormones.”

Q7 – What are your opinions of farmers and ranchers?  They’re providers, grateful for them, it’s a hard job, not for everyone, a lot of work, much more than 40 hour work week.  In the process of farm to table which segment is most favorable to you?  Farmers.  After they leave the farm, I feel less favorable for them.   And the bigger the animal the worse I feel for them.  The only one unaffected by any of the process was the one raised on a farm.  The perceptions were based upon the documentary “Food, Inc.” which was shown in their middle school class.

Q8 – How do you feel about hormones and antibiotics?

A8 –  “The science is positive with regulation but I don’t think they’re regulated enough.”  “Antibiotics have helped increase human life span and I’m grateful.”  “Science saves us.” “Poultry says hormone free, and I seek out antibiotic free labels.”  “If it says free, I don’t want it – I want the whole deal.”  Do you trust labels? “Yes, I think people will do right things.”  Is it better for you?   “Could be so I’ll go that way.”   “Advertisement leads to higher price for it.”

I have to say this panel was eye opening to me from the first minute through the end.    I have always lived in a rural area with people very much like me – parents who farmed, grandparents who farmed, working hard to just make a living.  It never crossed our minds that a farmer would be trying to harm us.  I grew up with a trust of those who produced my food.  Like I said above only two of the panelists even knew a farmer.  Most are 2 or more generations removed from production agriculture and therefore really don’t understand modern production methods.  Just as I, as a cattlewoman, don’t understand all there is to being a NICU nurse or a financial investor.  If I want to know more about either of those, I have to make the choice to learn about them.  I hope that we, as producers can find a way to provide educational resources to the rest of the population.

May – A Month of Blessings and Tears

May has certainly become a month of challenges and tears for our family over the last 10 years.  10 years ago, we received the call that Mike’s sister, Liz, had died from an aneurysm.  I remember the details of the morning we got the call that she had been unresponsive that morning.  We had been planning on working cattle at Mike’s parents house.  We were loading up and getting ready to head over when the house phone rang.  Mike’s dad said he didn’t know what was going on yet, but maybe she’d had a stroke.  We decided we’d go ahead and go over to work the calves while Mike’s parents headed to the hospital in the St. Louis area.  By the time we arrived at their house, they had received another call saying the doctors felt it was likely an aneurysm.  I remember Mike’s mom saying “Not again, we can’t be losing another child.”  You see, Mike had lost a brother soon after moving to Missouri in an accident on his way back to Iowa.  We came home and activated EVERY prayer chain we could.  We hoped that with enough prayers, God would allow us more time with Liz and allow her more time with her children.   But, for reasons we likely won’t know until we get to Heaven, God felt it was time to take her home.  And that He did, on May 1, 2007.

Later that month we nearly lost Chris during what should have been a routine appendectomy.  When the surgeon placed the trocar, he hit a main artery and had to quickly open him up before he bled out.  He spent 2 days in the ICU and then another 3 days in the pediatric ward.  Healing took forever and was complicated by the fact he healed faster on the outside, meaning they had to reopen his incision so it could heal properly.  I’m sure it terrified his cousins who had just lost their mom to come see him in the hospital.  I spent a lot of time sitting in his room reading the book of Job.

Last year, in late January and early February, Brittany landed in the very same room where Chris was.  At that point, she was fighting with all she had to save her pregnancy with Avery and Skylar.  It was in that room that she got the news that there were some significant issues for Skylar.  And we prayed against all odds, that God would cover and protect both the girls and Brittany and allow a successful pregnancy.  And here’s where it gets to the blessings and tears.  You all know He allowed Avery to remain healthy.  And while Avery and Skylar were identical, their genetic stories seemed to be very different.  There’s not a medical explanation.  Dr. V at Cardinal Glennon reminded us at every meeting that both girls were medical miracles.  He allowed them to progress until Brittany went into labor on May 8th, 2016 on Mother’s Day.  And in doing so, He allowed Jesse and Brittany a few brief moments on earth with Skylar.  He also showed all of us what grace looks like. Grace looks like a little 3 pound baby girl who fought with all she had to make it long enough that her sister might survive – even thrive.  Grace looks like God giving everyone safety on their way to the hospital so that we could surround Jesse, Brittany and the girls with love and prayers.

We’re closing in on Avery and Skylar’s first birthday.  Today marked the 10th anniversary of Liz’s death.  It is a rough 8 days.  BUT, I continue to have faith that God has a plan for all of this – a plan to refine us, maybe even define us.  We have seen Liz’s kids grow up so very much in 10 years.  We’ve witnessed 4 of the kids get married, 2 of them have 5 children, 4 (5th will be this year) graduate high school and the little boy who was a preschooler at the time will begin high school this fall.  We have watch Avery this past year, looking for the symptoms of Trisomy 9 and seeing absolutely none.  She jabbers like most 1 year olds do.  She’s trying to walk.  She loves to play and laugh and is socially interactive.  God has provided blessings through the tears.  So this month, if you notice our eyes tend to leak  a little more often, please know we’re ok.  There’s just a lot of blessings that sometimes spill out.  If you feel lead to pray, that be awesome.  Pray for Liz’s husband, Rick and his wife, Susan.  Pray for her kids, Rachael, Daniel, Lara, Nick, Gretchen, Sven, Natalie and Pete and their spouses and kiddos.  Pray for Mike’s mom and dad.  Pray for Jesse, Brittany and Avery.  And pray for us.  We’re all always up for more prayers – prayers that our lives may be a living testimony to God’s love, grace and mercy.