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.
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.
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.
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.
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.