35: The Chicken Birthday

Written July 29, 2013.

This Friday is a momentous day at our house.  It’s my 35th birthday and Chicken Day.

Eight weeks ago, 110 peeping balls of fluff arrived at our place, 60 meat bird chicks and 50 laying hen chicks.  When I ordered that many, I probably was in a bit over my head: no experience raising that quantity of chickens, no experience raising meat birds.  I knew I’d be fine, though, because just 15 miles away I had the seasoned resources of Mike, my brother, and his wife, Tricia.

Back In June I excitedly wrote about the day the chicks arrived. I now count the day as one of my favorites.

When I pulled in the driveway with my load of chicks and excited kids, lots of helpers were ready and waiting.  Mike and his family came out to help, along with my sister, Karen.  Later in the day my sister, Sue, and her kids came out to see the chicks, too. Mike helped get our little chicks off to a good start, putting up tin around their little pen, adjusting the heat lamps, and mixing molasses in their water to give them a little boost.

As my niece, Katie, helped dip each chick’s beak in water to give them a first drink, I snapped some pictures of baby chicks cuddled by kids.  With a flock of kids, a few adults, and 110 chicks all squeezed into the small pen for the occasion, we were teeming with life and activity.

If I could go back in time, I would take more pictures of that day.  The only pictures I have of Mike from that day are his hands helping my daughter hold a chick.  It’s a reminder to me to take pictures not just of the kids in the family, but the adults, too.

Mike reaching out his hands to help my excited daughter hold a broiler chick.

Mike reaching out his hands to help my excited daughter hold a broiler chick.

One morning a few weeks after our chicks arrived, my two-year-old helped me with the morning chores.  We fed the chicks and then moved on to the sheep.  Instead of my usual “on to the next thing” mode, we stood there for a while that morning just hanging out in the barn.  I leaned on the fence while my daughter stood in the feed trough to peek over the fence and watch the sheep getting a drink.

We stood there, quiet and peaceful, until my daughter was done watching.  That was one of those moments where I stood still long enough to feel overwhelmingly grateful…grateful to have a sweet little girl who made me stop and appreciate what I have.

Later that morning while I was upstairs doing laundry, I got a call from my mom telling me there’d been an accident with Mike’s helicopter.

In the weeks that followed, I continued making treks out to the chicken house to take care of the chicks.  Some days, my eyes got too blurry to scoop the chicken feed.  Every single time I go there, I think of my brother.  I see the work of his hands on the pen.  And all the time in my mind, when I look at those chickens,  I do what I think Mike would do.  Through his years of education, years of farming, he did so many things the right way.  He took care of animals the same way he took care of people.

And so, every morning in the last eight weeks I headed out to the chicken house to feed and water the chicks.  Now that they’re bigger, I’m out there three times a day.  In the chicken world, broilers (chickens grown for meat) are what Mike described as race cars.  Their growth is fast, reaching full size in just 6-8 weeks.  Like a high performance vehicle, meat birds need optimal conditions for a peak performance.

I’ve been working hard on my race car birds: feed, clean water, dry bedding, access to outside.  In eight weeks, we only lost one broiler, very early on.  I’ll call that a success for a first timer.  As they grow, I keep wishing Mike could see my chickens.  The kid in me wants my big brother to see them and be proud.

Eight weeks later, my daughter feeds the now full-grown broiler chickens.

Eight weeks later, my daughter feeds the now full-grown broiler chickens.

My broilers hit the finish line on Friday, Chicken Day (and my birthday).  We’ll load them up and make the short drive to Utica to have them butchered.  And soon after, I’ll have a year’s worth of chicken in my freezer for my family.

I grew up on a farm with beef cattle and pigs, but I never really involved myself in any of the farming.  This summer, then, is my first time raising meat for my family.  I have to say, there’s a certain amount of pride in raising food to feed your family.

I also have a very real and genuine appreciation for the effort and care involved in raising an animal for food.  It’s easy to give very little thought to picking up a package of skinless, boneless chicken breasts at the grocery store.  As a package of frozen food from the store, the image of a chicken on a farm seems awfully distant and disconnected.

This year, though, “farm to table” is very clear to me.  I know that every single time I pull a whole chicken out of the freezer to cook for my family, I’ll think about how I raised that chicken this summer.  I’ll know just where that chicken spent it’s days, and I’ll know just how much effort it took to raise that little fluff ball into a big meaty bird.  I took care of them, so they could feed us.

And while raising a few chickens isn’t anything momentous in and of itself, in the bigger picture it’s just a part of how I want to live.  I want my kids to grow up in the country where they know where food comes from, they know how to work, and they know how to appreciate the simple joys of life.

So on my 35th birthday, I’ll celebrate the accomplishment of raising my first set of meat birds, and celebrate getting to live a life full of blessings.  I’ll celebrate getting the chance to spend time with my brother this year, and learn some of his farming wisdom.

While I certainly intend to live to about 100 like my grandmas, the reality that my brother’s entire life was only nine years longer than my current age is a real reminder of the preciousness of every day.  I don’t know what exactly it is that I’m supposed to do in life, and I don’t know if what I do is “enough.” I do know, though, that I’m thankful to be alive and 35.

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Remembering my Brother: A Few Mike Stories

Written July 1, 2013.

If I could rewind time back to two weeks ago, I would. Two weeks ago, the family gathered for our typical Sunday brunch at my mom’s house. My brother, Mike, made a comment about how nice it was that we all get together every week, and how generally speaking, Republican or Democrat, we all get along, even if we don’t all agree on politics. I joked, “Yep, we still all like to eat bacon together.”

That Sunday, Father’s Day, I asked for Mike’s advice about our 110 new chicks, the ones that he and his family helped with when the chicks arrived earlier in the month. Later that day, Mike and his daughter, Katie, went out to our place where they sorted through some things that they had stored in our shed, getting ready for a garage sale. It was just an ordinary day.

Since the 19th of June when we lost Mike, life has been anything but ordinary.

Last Sunday after brunch, instead of hanging out at Grandma’s, we all spent the evening at Mike’s visitation. Our family met with an amazing gathering of friends, neighbors, and extended family. Mike’s longtime friends from his AGR fraternity at the U of M showed up, neighbors from growing up on the farm, first cousins that we hadn’t seen in years, former teachers…

While we stood there at the funeral home, I kept wishing that gathering of friends and family happened under different circumstances. It would have been one of Mike’s favorite days. Mike loved getting together, talking and telling stories.

Mike at work: a talented pilot, doing a job he loved.

Mike at work: a talented pilot, doing a job he loved.

In honor of Mike’s love of a good story, I’d like to share a couple of stories about Mike himself. These are just a few of the many stories that my brother, David, and I shared during Mike’s eulogy last week.

This first story is one that Mike told just a few weeks ago over Sunday brunch.

The Bee on the Bus
One day when Mike was in kindergarten, he brought a special bag of rocks to school for show and tell. He collected the rocks from a visit to Lucy and Tom’s cabin (our aunt and uncle). That day on the kindergarten bus, there was a bee, and the little girls on the bus were all screaming.

Mike sprang into action. He grabbed the only thing he had, his bag of rocks for show and tell. Swinging the bag of rocks with all his kindergarten might, he busted the window on the bus.

He also killed the bee. And in the end, he never did get in trouble about the window.

Rosewood
In 2001, during my summer break from college, my brother, Mike, offered me a job that turned into one of my most valuable learning experiences.

I spent that summer working at Rosewood, a family-style home for adults with disabilities that Mike and his wife, Tricia, founded in Clear Lake, WI. Tricia’s older sister, Rose, has Down’s Syndrome, and Tricia has always been passionate about caring for people with disabilities. At the time, Mike and Tricia did not yet have Rose in their care (as they do now), but they named the home they created in her honor, Rosewood.

Mike with Rose.

Mike with his sister-in-law, Rose.

My summer job working at Rosewood was a gift for me in several ways. At the time I was a single college student, with no one to worry about but myself. While I was at Rosewood, though, I felt like the house mom, even though all the ladies I cared for were quite a bit older than me. I spent my days planning and cooking nutritious meals, making sure everyone was clean and well cared for, helped provide lots of hands-on activities for the ladies, all the while trying to care for them in a way that was respectful.

Summed up, what I learned was the basis for selfless giving that I needed later on as a mother.

On Sundays while I worked at Rosewood, I always brought the ladies to church. I usually sat just behind Mike and Tricia and their new baby, Katie. Mike often was the reader, standing in front of the church. One of my favorite parts of that summer was being “on the job” and getting to hold my sweet, smiley little niece during church.

That summer also gave me the opportunity to see my brother, Mike, from an adult perspective.

When Mike and Tricia moved to Clear Lake, WI to farm, they knew no one in that area and were looked at as a bit of a curiosity, being a young couple just starting to farm and completely unknown to anyone in the community. During the summer I worked at Rosewood, just a few years after they moved to that area, I was impressed to see that Mike and Tricia were obviously well-liked and respected people in the community.

In my brother, Mike, I saw a capable man who got things done. In the short span of a few years in Wisconsin, Mike and Tricia established both a farm and a home for adults with disabilities, and also provided foster care. I also got to see my brother as a dad, one with a burp cloth over his shoulder who could work out tummy bubbles and get a fussy baby to sleep.

Mike was that same capable boy who killed the bee on the bus with his bag of rocks, all grown up, and still taking care of people and getting amazing things done.

And now, he is missed.

To be honest, I really didn’t feel like writing anything today. It’s hard to sort through the multitude of thoughts and emotions in my head and heart, let alone put anything down on paper. I’m writing today, though, for Mike. He always liked to read the stories in my weekly column. I can’t bring him back; the best I can do is simply share a small part of why he meant so much to so many people.

In the last week, the phrase “it takes a village” came to my mind. I know that the expression usually ends with “to raise a child,” but I’m seeing over and over that it also takes a village to get through a loss like this.

While much of the news reports negativity, I would like to report that I see a world full of kind, loving people in the midst of this sadness. Friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers have come forward with helping hands and kind words. Thank you so much.

Mike leaves behind his wife, Tricia, his daughter, Katie (12), his son, Daniel (9), and Rose, Tricia’s sister with disabilities who is a part of their family.

Mike Kramer's family: Daniel (9), wife, Tricia, Rose, Katie (12), Mike.  Mike passed away in a helicopter accident on June 19. (photo from Tricia Kramer)

Mike Kramer’s family: Daniel (9), wife, Tricia, Rose, Katie (12), Mike. Mike passed away in a helicopter accident on June 19. (photo from Tricia Kramer)

Many people ask if there is a way they can help. One way you can help is by donating to the benefit that we (the siblings) set up to help pay for future college costs for Katie and Daniel and for Rose’s ongoing care:

Katie and Daniel Kramer and Rose Benefit
Merchants Bank
1130 Whitewater Ave
St. Charles, MN 55972

Donations can also be made online:
http://www.youcaring.com/mikekramer

Thank you again for all of your support.

Thank you‏

Written on June 23, 2013 for my weekly column in the local paper

To all my readers,

Many of you know that we lost my brother, Mike Kramer, in a helicopter accident this past week.  We are all working through the unexpected loss.  Instead of writing an article for the paper this week, I’m helping my family compile “Mike  Stories” for his eulogy.  We all have great memories of Mike as a kid, a young man, and we are so proud of the man he became as a husband and father.  I could fill a full newspaper with great stories, and still it wouldn’t be enough.

Through all of this I’m once again reminded that we live in a great community.  Thank you for the outpouring of kindness and support that you shared with my family: visits, kind words and hugs while running errands, gifts of food, and so much more.  I know that Mike felt blessed to have his family in the community of St. Charles.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Kathy Kramer Mosdal

A Life Interrupted.

Sometimes big life makes everything petty and small like blogs seem like a waste of time. The last time I posted was June 18th.  At the time, I was a few weeks behind on posting my newspaper articles to this blog, but had plans to get everything updated and current that week.

On the 19th, we lost my brother unexpectedly in a helicopter crash.  Everything else screeched to a halt.

My brother was an amazing man.  Please read his life story posted on the Hoff Funeral Home website.  Husband, dad, pilot, farmer, believer.  He accomplished so much in 44 years.

My brother, Mike Kramer.

My brother, Mike Kramer.

In the weeks since, I’ve written about him many times.  I’m back to my blog again because I want to share those things on the website where many people have access to them.

My dilemma is, though, that I was behind before that.  I have about four articles to post from beforehand, which now seem weird to post with all that’s happened since.

It’s a good reminder to me to just keep things current on here, and not have this sort of problem of posting articles a month (or more) after their written.

Anyway, I’m back to posting on the blog again.  I plan to post many of my already-published articles in the next few weeks.  I’d love it if you read them, especially the ones about my brother.

Kathy