Camp Mosdal

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Written July 15, 2013.

When summer was just around the corner, we picked up a 12-person tent.  We tucked it away safely in the attic, just waiting for that nice night when we’d set up that new portable house in the yard with the kids.

Then another snow storm came, and another.  And then came the rains.  If you live around here, you know the ones.  The tent sat untouched for about four months, nearly forgotten.

It might not have seen the light of day this summer if it hadn’t been for a sheet of paper tacked up in our kitchen, labelled “Summer of Fun 2013.”  It’s the list we made in about five minutes one morning in May before the school bus arrived, back when the kids wanted school to be done for the year.

When I see the list on the wall, it feels like it came from a lifetime ago, long before anybody could imagine that we’d lose my brother this summer.  I wouldn’t call this the Summer of Fun at this point.  The list is still up on the wall, though, and this week my seven-year-old noticed we really needed to get something checked off the list: Camping.

Last Thursday seemed like the night.  We celebrated a highly anticipated fourth birthday at our house.  With the weather forecast looking good, we decided to haul our two tents out of the attic and camp that night to celebrate.  Our brand new tent is a giant: a 10′ x 18′ two room behemoth.  It’s just shy of the square footage of our kids’ two bedrooms in the last house we owned.

The kids and I hauled our new treasure out under the shade of our walnut tree on a nice flat spot and began to assemble it.  While they excitedly helped, we managed to not lose any stakes in the high grass and nobody busted a zipper or tore a hole in the screens.  With four little kids running around, that seemed pretty successful.

To finally get it all set up, my husband and I exchanged a few short comments with each other, as per the requirement when assembling a new tent.  And when it finally stood complete, all was well.

Our kids immediately began hauling armloads of toys into the tent, to make it a little more “homey,” of course.

Our plans for the evening pretty much ended with “hey, let’s set up the tents,” but with short notice on a week night, a few of our kids’ cousins and my sister, Karen, came over and also spent the night.

In the midst of hauling out blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags, we almost forgot about my son’s birthday cake.  I sat it out on our porch table with candles ready to light, and then got busy doing other things.

Four!! Birthday supper celebration.

Four!! Birthday supper celebration.

Cats, however, love birthday celebrations and do not forget about such things like birthday cake.  I came out of the house with an armful of blankets to discover three cats circled around his highly anticipated angel food cake, busily gnawing away.

My biggest disappointment is that my arms were so full of blankets.  My gut instinct desired nothing more than to scoop them all up and launch them from the porch.  I believe they sensed that as well, and with my scream they called an end to their birthday party and instantly scattered.

Birthday cake issues aside, we had a great night.

My husband, Jarred, even installed our porch swing that evening.  We bought the swing on Craig’s List about a year ago, but just never got around to installing it.  Just when I’d grown accustomed to that porch swing sitting on the ground like a legless bench, all of a sudden, we had a swing!  My little boy sat on it and said, “It’s for my birthday!”  Just knowing I can now go out and sip iced tea on the porch swing makes me feel utterly content.

But, back to camping.  We had fireflies all around, a bonfire, kids giggling in the tent, and a beautiful summer night.  By midnight, the last holdout went to bed.  (Ironically, it was our two-year-old.)  We slept outside under a starry sky, in the peaceful silence of a night out in the country.

And despite our kids’ fears, nobody was eaten by coyotes, not even a little bit.

That peaceful night didn’t last very long.  Around 4 AM began the song bird wake-up call.  By 5 AM, the rooster and my birthday boy were both up.  They both share a love of making excessively loud noises every morning.  By six, pretty much everyone was awake.  Soon after, a groggy but happy load of kids swung on the porch swing.

I believe if you can’t get a good night of sleep, you better at least have a good breakfast.  I whipped up a batch of pancakes while my sister made bacon.  Jarred decided to cook rugged-camp style, and he made a bunch of bacon and eggs over the red coals of the bonfire from the night before.

And then we had a stroke of genius. Almost out of syrup, we mashed up a huge bowl of strawberries that came from the neighbors’ patch.  And then, we topped it all off with a big batch of whipped cream, made from a half gallon jug of cream we got from Kappers’ Dairy in Chatfield.   We ate outside at the porch table with our little crew of campers, eight kids and three adults.  Great food, fun kids and good coffee seemed like a great start to a day.

Enjoying a big breakfast on the porch after a night of camping.

Enjoying a big breakfast on the porch after a night of camping.

We didn’t have any plans, but after breakfast, we herded the kids out to help feed and water the chicks.  Our former fluff balls are rapidly growing into big, meaty birds and good looking little hens.

This happens to be the time of year when our windbreak is loaded with black raspberries.  Jarred had the inspiration to gather a bunch of bowls, and many of us headed out to pick berries.  (And pick, and pick, and pick.)  With a busy crew of helpers, we had 15 pounds of berries when we finished.   The berries are small, and many of the berry pickers were young, so we felt all the more impressed with our bounty.

A bounty of black raspberries harvested from our yard.

A bounty of black raspberries (black caps) harvested from our yard.

By then, it was time for lunch.  I fired up the grill and made burgers.  And for dessert, we finally got around to the birthday cake.  We sawed off all areas of possible cat-contamination on the cake.  Naughty cats. For the tail end of the longest impromptu birthday celebration ever, we sang happy birthday, had cat-free angel food cake, ice cream and berries.

 Cousins celebrating our four-year-old's birthday with some cat-free cake and ice cream.

Cousins celebrating our four-year-old’s birthday with some cat-free cake and ice cream.

Without really making any plans other than deciding to set up our tents, Camp Mosdal turned into a great day…and a half.  By late afternoon the campers went home, and we crashed, tired but happy.

And if you happen to drive by our house, you might still see the tent set up.  Four days later, it still is, anyway.  You can also still find a heap of blankets dumped in our living room from our festivities.  Tents and camping equipment, just like Christmas decorations, are much more exciting to set up than take down.

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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