2013: A Year in Pictures (And a Few Words, Too)

This week, a picture is definitely worth a 1,000 words (to me, anyway). As you read this, the rush of Christmas is over, but as I write this, I am in still in the midst of one week to go before the big day. If you know me, you might guess that I haven’t wrapped a single present, haven’t touched the pile of Christmas cards I ordered a few weeks ago (in order to get them done with plenty of time, of course), and probably have a messy house. Yes, yes, and yes.

With that holiday crunch pressing, it gives me a sense of perspective to look back at the year and see all of the things that we’ve done. Here are some of the big events of our life that I chronicled in this column this year:

-Acting in my very first play, “Leaving Iowa,” and then again later on in the locally produced “Cinderella” silent movie.

Photo by Pete Keith of Laneboro Community Theater.

Photo by Pete Keith of Laneboro Community Theater.

-Raising our first bottle lamb. Our kids held him like a puppy, and now he’s big enough to ride. He survived and thrived. Jarred wants to eat him for Christmas, I’m not so sure.

IMG_1905

-A mother-daughter run together at the Fools Five, where my seven-year-old ran her very first race.

first race

-Missing my brother Mike Kramer in so many ways, big and small. Even in a crowded house on holidays, there is a feeling of someone missing. Thank you all again for your continued kindness and support for our family.

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

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

-Making the best of a hard summer with a fun campout for our son’s birthday, we slept under the stars and ate a hearty breakfast on the porch.

Summer breakfast on porch

-Raising my first set of meat birds successfully. I hauled them to get processed on my 35th birthday, and felt like it was a great way to start my next year of life.

chickensinpickup-1

-Celebrating a wedding in the family, my nephew Mark Manemann married Sheila McNallan. My son was the ring bearer.

mark and isaac

-Four kids dressing up for Halloween and having the requisite trick or treating night out on the town. (Spot stayed home.)

halloween 2013

-Celebrating Thanksgiving in Montana with my husband’s side of the family. We took our Christmas picture with his ’64 pickup that hasn’t made the trip to MN yet.

family photo 2013

Thank you for following our adventures over the course of the last two years. It’s still quite surreal and humbling to think that part of every paper is devoted to the tales of my family’s life each week. I don’t see most of you face to face, but I hear bits and pieces from family or friends. Every once in a while there is an “Oh, you’re Kathy’s (insert relation)? I like her column.” It’s really very kind and nice to hear. I never really know whose lives I might touch.

If you miss a week, want to reread something later on, or share it with someone else, you can find me online at http://www.kathyschronicles.com. All of the articles are there, just a few weeks after they come out in the paper (I’ve never been known as punctual). You can also follow Kathy’s Chronicles on facebook, and get updates of the articles as I put them on my website.

if you ever have comments or ideas to share with me, feel free to send an email to the paper, just include my name, and it will get to me. Or write a letter. Or call. Or send me a message on facebook.

Thank you for being part of the wonderful small town community that makes SE MN such a great place to call home. I couldn’t be happier to raise my family among so many good people. Wishing you all many blessings in 2014.

~Kathy

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Trick or Treating with the Pig Farmer‏

Childhood Halloweens are pretty well etched into my memory, but the one that stands out in my mind is the year that my brother Mike dressed as a pig farmer and took us trick or treating. That was the infamous year of the Skeletor and Cactus Incident.

Normally, Mom drove us on a long winding loop “around the block,” about ten miles looping around to our neighbors out in the country. We spent most of the time in the car and made less stops in our night of trick or treating than kids living in town, but most neighbors loaded us with a treat bag, so we always hauled home heavy bags of candy by the end of the night. Just the same, every year we wondered if maybe kids in town were collecting more than us, and every year, Mom assured us that they indeed were not.

That particular year, I remember standing in the kitchen ready to go, probably waiting for Mom who was trying to get a few more things done. I’m guessing I was decked out in some combination of a costume and a winter coat, like most Minnesotan kids trick or treating.

Just off of the kitchen was our utility room, where everyone came in and out when doing chores. While I was impatiently waiting to go trick or treating, my brother Mike came in from doing chores in the hog barn. I think he was about a junior in high school at the time.

I don’t remember the particular conversation between Mike and Mom, but looking back, I’m guessing I was impatiently waiting in the kitchen to go trick or treating, and Mom had baby Victoria and about ten kids at home and a million things on her plate and didn’t know how to make it all happen. Mike offered to take us younger kids trick or treating.

I’m sure Mom was relieved, but to me, this immediately was a problem.

Mom ALWAYS took us trick or treating. How could Mike possibly do it the exact same right way that Mom did it? And what was his costume? Halloween only came once a year, this had to be done right.

Mike smiled and told me, “I’m going to be a pig farmer!”

He definitely looked every bit like a pig farmer. Mike, fresh from the hog barn, still had coveralls on and his olive green chore boots, commonly known as “shoot kickers,” well, something close to “shoot,” anyway. To keep warm, he might have thrown on top a green Pioneer Seed Corn hooded sweatshirt, full of holes and covered in grease.

Then he reached up above the cereal cupboard to the cabinet where we kept the garbage bags. He pulled out a gigantic black garbage sack, and said he was all ready to go and fill it up.

That’s when I began to protest. I was young, but old enough to know something embarrassing when I saw it.

“Oh no, Mike, you can’t wear that. It’s not a REAL costume. And you can’t take a garbage bag. That’s not a real trick or treating bag.” Halloween has to have a certain mystique, and that wasn’t what I had in mind.

Acceptable costumes came from our big cardboard box in the attic of musty-smelling costumes. Like the Gene Simmons Kiss mask that repeatedly tormented grandkids in later years (sorry, Jason). Or the homemade Indian costume made from a sheet. Or the stained ghost costume made from some other sheet. Or maybe one of Mom’s rumpled wigs from the era when wigs were the thing for a while.

Even one of those creepy masks that was supposed to look like a little kid or the disturbing red-nosed clown would be ok. Also acceptable was a vinyl store bought costume from Henry’s Variety, like my awesome Tweety Bird costume in kindergarten.

Now, those were REAL costumes. That’s how it was supposed to work.

My protests were fruitless. Mike knew he was a farmer, and that was that. Off we went, three young kids and our pig farmer big brother, off for a night of trick or treating in Mom’s Bonneville. In hindsight, my embarrassment about Mike’s chore clothes “costume” seems pretty pointless, considering almost every stop was at a neighboring farm.

Our first stop without exception was Grandma’s house, right next door. Grandma Kramer always had a beautiful yellow banana ready for every trick or treater that stopped by. Unfortunately, Grandma’s bananas often looked a little worse for the wear after getting banged around, scrunched, smushed during the night of trick or treating.

After Grandma’s, we made our way around the neighborhood. Mike stopped at all of our usual stops, and added in a few extras, too. Mike was a talker, and he was more than happy to spend an evening making little social calls at all the neighbors in the name of taking younger siblings trick or treating.

I remember being impressed by how easily he talked to everyone. As I kid I felt shy every time the door opened and I had to talk to a someone that I only saw a few times a year, but Mike loved every minute. Our routine that night became saying “trick or treat,” collecting candy, saying “thank you,” and then waiting, and waiting just a little bit more while Mike talked to the neighbors.

At Jerry and Mary Connelly’s house, we stopped in and collected our candy, said thanks, and then stood around and waited while Mike talked and talked. Which brings me, then, to the Skeletor and Cactus Incident.

That was the era when He-Man and Masters of the Universe were very cool, so my younger brother, Matthew, was dressed up as Skeletor, He Man’s evil nemesis. That Skeletor costume was one of those vinyl ones, the kind that made loud noises when you moved and often ripped by the end of the night.

This is just what the costume looked like.  Thank you, internet.

This is just what the costume looked like. Thank you, internet.

Matthew was maybe just four or five at the time, but he faithfully wore the cheap yellow Skeletor mask for hours. You can imagine the type of mask, it’s the kind that they now recommend you avoid because it impairs your vision.

Well, little Skeletor, standing there at Connellys and waiting quietly while Mike talked, shuffled and stumbled backwards, and landed right in Mary Connelly’s cactus plant collection. Real live fully intact cacti. Feeling shy and embarassed, he got up quickly and didn’t say a word about it, and probably worried that he wrecked one of the plants. And then we all waited a little longer while Mike talked a little more to our neighbors.

When we got back into Mom’s car and started to head back out onto the gravel road, Matthew finally shared his predicament: the poor kid had cactus spines stuck in his back side. He had stoically stood there the whole time, and never said a word about it.

I clearly remember sitting in the dark night on the gravel road with just the dome light of the Bonneville for light. With a cumbersome shuffling of costumes and candy bags and coats, Mike laid Matthew across his lap and opened up the Skeletor costume. He then plucked the cactus spines out of Matthew’s poor little “biscuits,” as Mike called them. I felt so bad for Matthew. Cactus spines are tricky things, tiny and hard to see in low light, so it took a bit of doing for Mike to make Skeletor ready for more trick or treating again.

Imagine a costume just like this, with a few cactus spines added in the back.

Imagine a costume just like this, with a few cactus spines added in the back.

Cactus free, we rounded out the night. Just before heading up the hill back to our house, we made a stop at our aunt and uncle’s house, where Donna always had the cutest little paper Halloween bags ready for us, and always made us feel special. The last stop of the Halloween night was always Elsadie Hansgen, then we headed home.

I’m sure we ran into the house and gave Mom the full report of the highlights of the evening, while dumping out our candy into cake pans so we could see it better and sort through it all. Then came a little giddy gorging followed by hiding the cake pans of candy in our bedrooms so nobody else would steal the precious loot.

All in all, it was a fine Halloween.

Lessons learned? Never under estimate the pain tolerance of a little boy dressed as an action figure. And sometimes, the real super heroes come dressed in s*** kickers.

No photo exists of my long ago Halloween night with a pig farmer and Skeletor, so you have to use your imagination.  As a substitute, here are my kids this year: Iron Man, a Witch, Elmo and a Skeleton, Spot the dog as himself.

No photo exists of my long ago Halloween night with a pig farmer and Skeletor, so you have to use your imagination. As a substitute, here are my kids this year: Iron Man, a Witch, Elmo and a Skeleton, Spot the dog as himself.

Your Friendly Local Wicked Stepsister

Written August 8, 2013.

Feather boa, fake mole, lace gloves, crazy hat, mismatched socks, blue eye shadow…all just part of my Tuesday morning this past week. Oh yes, and did I mention that I’m going to be a MOVIE STAR?

That’s right.  I’m going to be on the big screen.  Well, I’ll be on a big screen in a park in Lanesboro, anyway.

The stepsisters aghast at seeing the lovely Cinderella enter the ball. Emily Spende, Stela Burdt, Tom Flaig (not allowed to see Cinderella), and Kathy Mosdal. Photo courtesy of Lanesboro Community Theater.

The stepsisters aghast at seeing the lovely Cinderella enter the ball. Emily Spende, Stela Burdt, Tom Flaig (not allowed to see Cinderella), and Kathy Mosdal. Photo courtesy of Lanesboro Community Theater.

For the second year in a row, the Lanesboro Community Theater is creating a series of silent films for “Silent Movies in the Park After Dark.”  Local people with little to no acting experience (that’s me) get to be in a movie, with no pressure of rehearsals or memorizing lines.

For me, it all started with a simple email from Barb Benson Keith asking if I’d like to be one of Cinderella’s stepsisters.  My first acting gig was this spring as Jessie the waitress in the play “Leaving Iowa,” where Barb directed.  I have great respect for her optimistic, organized, energetic style, so getting an email invitation to be in a silent film that she’s directing put a big smile on my face in an otherwise rather “blah”day.

I showed up the morning of filming not quite sure what to expect.  When all was said and done, the whole experience felt like getting to play pretend in the dress up corner at preschool, except I played with adults who lead fairly ordinary lives most of the time.  We threw on some costumes, listened to a few quick stage directions, and started pretending…I mean acting, while Barb Keith filmed.

It was all fairly simple, with no rehearsals, two takes maximum, and then on to the next shot.  We completed all the necessary filming to be crazy stepsisters in just two hours before lunch, and that included a costume change to dress up for the ball.

As an added bonus for me, my two other fellow stepsisters are moms whose children attend the same ECFE class as my own kids.  We’ve become friends as we’ve spent two hours a week together over the school year.  That made spending a morning together as wicked, crazy stepsisters all the more fun.

Without a doubt, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time.  Picture absolute silliness on the order of things that you usually don’t do once you leave elementary school.  Truly.

I can’t think of the last time I got in a mock fight with two other lovely ladies who gave me a fake punch and tried to put me in some sort of wrestling move.

I certainly can’t remember the last time that happened while I wore a lovely floral print dress with shoulder pads.  It’s also been ages since I wore a feather boa and a leopard print hat and had instructions to paw at a prince.  Really, it’s been such a long time since I’ve done any of those things.

My oldest daughter also added to the fun in this whole movie experience.  My seven-year-old asked to come along and watch the festivities.  I happily brought her, knowing I could trust her to not be an intrusion.  On the way in that morning I joked, “You can tell the kids in your class that your mom is a movie star!”  But then even better, and much to my daughter’s delight, Barb Keith asked if she’d like to be a dancer at the ball.

You can probably imagine the answer.  On the way home I told her, “Well, now you can tell kids in your class that YOU are a movie star!” And then we both giggled.

Thank goodness Grandma Cheryl, who was visiting from Montana, styled my daughter’s hair into a fancy French braid before we left that morning.  She had just the perfect hair for the ball.  Thank goodness, also, for Grandma Cheryl’s willingness to babysit my other three kids at home while I was gone.  Her help made it possible for me to leave the house and do something completely out of the ordinary.

That morning filming “Cinderella” was a total change of pace from the entire summer and from my ordinary “be a resonsible adult” mode.  Everyone needs a chance to cut loose once in a while.  It really made my whole day, and probably my week.

More than anything, I can’t wait to see the final result.

With the filming complete, Barb Benson Keith will turn it all into what looks like a classic silent movie: black and white, complete with captions between scenes and old time music.

“Cinderella” will be part of “Silent Movies in the Park After Dark” in Lanesboro on September 14th and 15th.  They’ll be played at Sylvan Park, the city park on main street in Lanesboro.  If you are interested, just mark it on your calendar and bring some blankets and lawn chairs to cozy up for an evening outside watching locally made movies.

It’s a free, family-friendly event.  Maybe I’ll see some of you there!

A Chicken Birthday Update
On my 35th birthday, I got up at 5 AM and loaded up the whole flock of squawking birds.  My sister-in-law, Tricia, was nice enough to let us borrow Mike’s pickup which has a topper, making it perfect for hauling a load of chickens.  By 6:15, my daughter and I headed to KB Poultry just outside of Utica.  Sun shining, early morning dew…it was a fine birthday morning to be Kathy the Farmer, driving a load of chickens in a pickup.

Mission accomplished: Sixty-seven chickens loaded up on my birthday.

Mission accomplished: Sixty-seven chickens loaded up on my birthday.

Note to self for next time: Put down straw in the back of the pickup ahead of time.  In the short time it took to load them and then drive seven miles, 67 chickens made an absolutely terrible mess on the floor and all over themselves in the process.  Thank goodness for a pressure washer and a nice husband at home.

Mess aside, driving home after dropping off the chickens, I just had a smile plastered to my face.  Driving Mike’s faithful pickup that he’s had for about 20 years, listening to his cassette of twangy Australian classic country music, early morning and a job already done…it just felt like Mike was smiling at all of it.

As an unexpected surprise, we actually had 67 chickens!  I only ordered 60, but the hatchery throws in a few “bonus birds” just in case of loss in transit.  We never actually counted them until that day.  That many chickens completely fill our upright freezer and then some.

This weekend I fired up the grill and we had a little chicken barbecue after a day on the Mississippi.  Thank you chickens, you are delicious.

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.

“Chicken Day:” 110 Hot Chicks on the Farm

“Chicken Day” is now one of my favorite memories of the summer and my brother, Mike.  On June 6th, our chickens arrived.  I wrote the article below for the paper the following week.  Less than two weeks after Chicken Day, we lost Mike.  I’m so thankful and happy that we had this day together, where I got to “play farm” with my brother and learn some of his farming knowledge.  I wasn’t at all done learning from him, but I’m so grateful for the time we had together.  

We all had such a great time that we didn’t want the day to end.  Mike and Tricia and their kids, along with my sister, Karen, ending up staying for supper.  We made homemade pizza and popcorn and had a bonfire that lasted until we were too tired to stay up anymore.  A great day on the farm…

When we first moved in here a little over a year ago, a neighbor stopped by to visit. Looking at an empty barn, shed, and chicken coop, she said, “Why, you could have all sorts of animals here.”  I thought to myself, “Animals?  Nah, too much work.  Well, maybe I’d get a cat or two.”

At the time, we owned a dog.  That’s it.

By my count today, 144 animals reside on our little acreage:  the same old dog, along with goats, sheep, chickens, cats and kittens. Sometimes I’m still surprised that they’re here.  Did they just sneak in when I was doing laundry or something?

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Mike helping my two-year-old hold a new fluffy chick.

The biggest batch of little critters arrived here in our minivan just a few days ago.  We headed down to Rushford and picked up an order of 110 balls of fluff from the Farmers Co-op.  In the days leading up to the chicks’ arrival, the kids kept mentioning them, wondering, and asking if they could maybe name a few.  I said yes, you can each name 27 of your very own.  Is that enough?  Eyes got pretty big at that point.

When I walked into the Co-op, four kids beat me inside.  They made a bee line for the little stack of peeping cardboard boxes, and my kids had the lids popped off before I even got inside the door.

It was Chicken Christmas.

My two-year-old had absolutely no need for instructions about proper chick handling.  Sure, I mentioned phrases like “be gentle,” “don’t squeeze it’s neck,” and “that chick can’t breathe when you do that,”  but she was far too busy doling out intense chick affection to be bothered with my ramblings.

Currently, four days after the chicks’ arrival, all chicks are alive and well.  I do count that as a fairly major success considering the amount of loving attention they’ve received over the last few days.

My nephew and son each snuggle a pile of chicks on their laps.

My nephew and son each snuggle a pile of chicks on their laps.

Our kids do recognize, though, that life is fragile, especially for baby animals.  On the ride bringing the chicks home, my very practical seven-year-old instructed her siblings that sometimes a little chick might die, but it would be okay because we would still have plenty of other chicks.  I believe she might have been coaching herself, as well.

On Chicken Day (because such events get names when you have kids), we even picked up fried chicken from the grocery store for lunch.  Perhaps that is in poor taste considering we carried a load of baby chicks home at the same time, but the kids giggled with excitement over fried chicken AND baby chicks, all in one day.  One of them even said, “Someday some of you little chicks will be delicious chicken, too.”

When the chickens arrived home, we had a full entourage of family here to take part in the excitement.  My brother, Mike (our resident farming expert), along with his family, came out and helped set things up in the coop for the chicks.  Two of my sisters came out, too, and a slew of cousins all spent some time helping out with the new little chicks, holding them, and picking out favorites.

A flock of cousins play with the new chicks.

A flock of cousins play with the new chicks.

We set up feeders, waterers, and heat lamps (hence the title “Hot Chicks,” of course), and soon after lunch, 110 busy peeping chicks hopped around in their new home.  We now have 60 fluffy yellow broilers, 25 Production Reds that will someday give us brown eggs, and 25 Americana chicks that will lay the kids’ favorite: blue-green eggs.  The most-loved chick in the bunch is a mix-up: one rogue all-black chick that somehow arrived with our delivery.

And what, exactly, do we plan to do with that many chickens?  Our oldest two kids possess some grand ideas about eventually selling the eggs and making “lots of money.”  We did big math in simple terms, and told them if they kept selling eggs, they could earn enough to buy their very own car when they reached driving age in 9-10 years.

Again, they had wide eyes.

They’re pretty helpful little kids, but I’m fairly certain the person that will actually be heading out to check on chicken welfare, especially when the wind chill is -30, is someone who earned the money for her first car a long time ago.

As if the excitement of 110 fluff balls and future earnings wasn’t enough, the day after the chicks arrived our kids discovered yet another surprise.  In the corner of the shed, in the hay where Lamby likes to sleep, I heard the mewing sound of a new batch of kittens.

In awe of the brand new baby kitten.

In awe of the brand new baby kitten.

All of the kids left the chicks to go check out the new surprise.  We headed to the corner of the shed and found the mother cat with five kittens, a few still wet.  As we crouched around her, I noticed that one was being born at that very instant.

Number six was black with an orange star on its head, which is just what my red-haired boy wanted on a chick of his own, but none had those markings.  It turned out that his request was answered in a baby kitten instead, and one that he got to see be born.

And then, just to blow our kids’ minds completely, our other pregnant cat had kittens the following day.  We now have two mother cats who curl up in the same nest of hay and share nursing responsibilities of the two batches of kittens.   Looks like I’ll need to readjust the animal count that I mentioned earlier.

Article written June 10, 2013.

Bittersweet Summertime

Written July 8, 2013.

The new ordinary in our family seems to be living life fully, but with an empty space.

By a quick glance of social events that filled our calendar during the week of the Fourth of July, it looks like our life is back to normal.  In the past eight days, we had get-togethers on six of those days.   We swam at the pool, went to pot lucks, watched plenty of fireworks, had a bonfire, stayed out late with friends and family on several nights, and even made a trip to the Mississippi for the first time this season.

My daughter on the Mississippi river, taking in the sunset and breeze.

My daughter on the Mississippi river, taking in the sunset and breeze.

In the midst of enjoying summertime, though, is a sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken void that we all feel.  It’s negotiating life where my brother, Mike, isn’t around anymore.

It’s the void of a husband being gone, the void of a dad who isn’t there to guide and play with his two kids.

My nephew, Daniel, hanging out at a bonfire at our house. (photo taken by my 6 yr old)

My nephew, Daniel, Mike’s son, hanging out at a bonfire at our house. (photo taken by my 6 yr old)

It’s all the times Mike pops into our heads, all the times something happens and we think, “I wish Mike was here, he’d sure love this” or “I wish Mike was here to help with this.”  It happens over and over for me.

It happened on the third of July.  We headed to Rick and Gina Jones’s annual party, where many in my Kramer clan now happily gather each year.  On the way to the party, my husband showed me a jacket that he found in our van.  It was Mike’s jacket with the “Scenic Helicopter Tours” logo, from one of his former jobs.  The last time Mike hung out at our house, he forgot it.  I couldn’t believe that less than a month later, it was already too late to give him his coat back.

Later on that night, we piled into back end of the Joneses’ 1950 (or so) Studebaker truck.  Wind in our hair,  rumbling of engine and gravel below, we took a slow ride to Dover to watch fireworks.

A whole mess of kids piled under blankets along the back window.  It felt like a scene out of Charlotte’s Web, piling in the back of a the Zuckerman’s truck to take Wilbur to the county fair.  Little kids that normally ride in vehicles tightly strapped in law-abiding car seats simply plunked down on the wood floor and peeked through the board sides at the gravel road passing below.

Good food, a ride in the back of a big old truck, and the first fireworks display of the season?  It was grand.  All of it brought back memories of Mike as a high schooler and stories of hay rides on summer nights.

Bittersweet is the word that comes to my mind.  We are in the peak of summertime goodness, and in a way, I feel more of an urgency about life: a need to soak it up, live it fully, not miss out on an opportunity to see the people I care about and do the things that matter.

Throughout my day and in every activity, I have a very real and tangible reminder that life is precious and cannot be taken for granted.

So on Sunday, we had our usual family brunch at my mom’s, then a collection of adults and kids hit the pool for an afternoon of swimming and soaking up summer sun.  Even though we had plenty of water time the day before on the Mississippi, the cool blue of the pool still beckoned on a hot afternoon.

On the Mississippi: Our very proud two-year-old after her first tube ride with her dad. "I no fall off, Mom!"

On the Mississippi: Our very proud two-year-old after her first tube ride with her dad. “I no fall off, Mom!”

After the pool, we headed back to Mom’s for fried chicken and sweet corn.  She happily cut the corn off the ears in long smooth strips for anyone who asked, even for children over 40 and fully capable of doing it themselves.  It’s one of her hidden talents, shearing off the corn in long strips that are completely irresistible.    Pool and sweet corn felt like a little essence of summer on a Sunday afternoon.

And on Sunday evening after supper,  a bunch of us gathered around the table at Mom’s to read out loud some of the cards that came in the mail for Mike.

In the past when a friend had a loss of a loved one, I always felt like any condolences I might give would be totally inadequate.  Being on the other side this time, I fully understand and appreciate just how much a few kind words or a good memory means to a family who lost someone they loved.  Sometimes it’s hard to open up another card that says “In Sympathy,” but it’s so helpful to know that many people share in the loss.

It was amazing and touching to pick up cards from people that nobody had heard from in ages, and to hear that they were thinking of our family, had great memories of the person Mike was, and had been touched by all of this.   The ripple effect of his life very literally reaches across the whole country.

We began writing a few thank you notes, but barely made a dent in the stack.  Realistically, looking at the collection of cards and the list of food that came in following the accident, we very well will be working on thank you notes for a month of Sundays, even with 10 people helping.  It’s a little overwhelming, but hugely touching.

That’s life right now.  Splashing in the pool and corn on the cob intermixed with lumps in the throat and some teary eyes.  A bittersweet summer.

A Footnote:
Tricia later gave me Mike’s jacket, a very unexpected huge surprise and honor.

A few weeks later, we planted a tree in Mike’s honor in the backyard of their family’s new home.  As an unexpected surprise that evening, Tricia presented everyone in the family with a jackets from Scenic Helicopter Tours. When the owner had asked if there was anything he could do, she asked for a jacket for the members of the family. He made it happen. As Tricia put it, we now have “jacket hugs” from Mike whenever we want them.

Decked out in our new Scenic Helicopter Tours jackets...hugs from Mike.

Decked out in our new Scenic Helicopter Tours jackets…hugs from Mike.

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