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Carlee Erickson sits with the family's new puppy, Diesel. In the background are window frames that still need to be hung at the family home destroyed by the July 11 tornado. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Ericksons: Together for the hoilidays, and that's all that matters

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- In the corner of Monica and Eric Ericksons' living room, a fresh-cut Christmas tree stands without a single ornament on it, even though Christmas is just days away.

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The family purchased a few boxes of glass ornaments that daughter, Karlee, 7, opens and gingerly attaches to the prickly pine branches.

The family has no idea where their old Christmas tree ornaments are.

They could be strewn across acres of a neighbor's soybean field or hanging in cottonwood trees in a farm grove miles away. It's possible they could be somewhere in the basement, where remnants of family possessions have been stowed while repairs continue on their home.

Ever since a powerful EF-3 tornado struck July 11, the Ericksons have been trying to find or replace many of their possessions -- everything from vehicles to winter jackets -- and put their lives back together.

"We're still recuperating from it," Monica said.

What the family didn't lose, however, is each other and their deep appreciation for being safe.

"We're all here and we're all fine," Monica said of her husband and three children: Nick, 19, Kelsey, 14 and Karlee.

Considering the experience of hovering together in the basement while winds ravaged their home and the renovations that followed, trimming for the holidays isn't a high priority.

"Well, we've got a tree," Monica said with a grin and a shrug to the fragrant pine. "It's naked."

For more than three months after the tornado, the family lived in a camper in the yard while renovations began in the house, which belongs to Eric's employer, Orsten Turkey Inc.

Even though they're now living in the house, there's still work to be done and adjustments to be made to losses.

New living room furniture was destroyed by broken glass. They're using a donated couch and recliner and getting used to a new dog -- a boxer named Diesel. One of their other dogs ran away during a thunderstorm a week after the tornado. The dog never returned.

The toughest loss has been the long bank of mature trees that were sheared off. The north wind is a "killer" now, Monica said. She added that the light pollution from Willmar has jarred their sense of living in the country.

But no one was injured in the tornado, she said, and the family will celebrate Christmas together. That's all they need.

"We're all together," she said.

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