Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Start of Cottage Season

I still can't quite believe we own my grandmother's cottage.  When she passed away my uncles and mother prepared to sell it, but then my husband (always my hero) said he thought we could find a way to afford it.  And now it's ours.  I love it more than I can say.

On the glass half empty side of things, it's hard maintaining a second house from a distance.  We arrived to discover the downstairs toilet cracked and leaking, but luckily my husband (did I mention he's my hero?) somehow knows how to fix such things.  He's had to replace the sump pump.  We need to replace (or maybe clean?) the couch because it makes Ian sneeze.  There are taxes and expenses that at times seem a high price for the amount of vacation we may actually be able to spend there, and it's quite a drive from Milwaukee that includes the frustration of Chicago traffic.

But the half of the glass that's full is so rich and wonderful that it's the only half that really matters.  The cottage was my grandmother's other home, where she spent every June and sometimes a week in July or a Labor Day weekend every year since she and my grandfather built the place until she became too weak to travel anymore.  Her needlepoint work is on the wall, the table grandpa built where she fed me many pancakes is there, her dishes are in the cupboards, her tea kettle on the stove, and one of her jackets still hangs in the closet.  The greatest treasure we found when we first began assessing the contents of the cottage after we signed the mortgage papers was a box of recipes on index cards all written in her own distinctive hand.  She is everywhere at the cottage from the wood trim she helped stain to the plants out front.  I feel like I could come back from a walk in the woods and see her reading in her chair.  It's worth whatever price we're paying for that alone.

And yet there is so much more.  My children love it at the cottage, and I love who they are when they are there.  Mona in particular is so inspired and excited by nature that she revels at the chance to spend time in the country.  Quinn, who I sometimes think of as delicate back home, toughens up and runs barefoot all the way down to the lake.  My kids spent our vacation building sand structures even though it was too cold still to go in the water.  They listened to me read the novel Hatchet.  Aden crocheted, we made tie dye shirts, they collected rocks, they planted a sapling that they named 'Pinwheel' (after the bakery near Detroit that gave it to them), played Battleship, stacked pennies just to see how high they could go, serenaded deer on their violins, and made cookie dough unassisted and without a mixer.  We let them bring their laptop but they never even took it out of the bag.

We had the added fun of getting to introduce my niece to the cottage.  My brother hadn't been there since before she was born, and it was lovely to have time with both of them there.  It's not like spending time almost anywhere else because there is such a blend of fond memories and a lack of urgency that it's peaceful in a way family time other places can't always be.  The internet connection is just spotty enough to keep us from attempting to be productive online, and there are relatively few chores because the space is small.  The big decisions tend to be about what to make for meals.  I'm not normally good at doing nothing, so to have the chance to truly relax and do simple things like read for as long as I like, is not only pleasant, but fun to share.  My brother and I had time to talk, and sit, and skip rocks on the lake.  I wish moments like that weren't so rare, because they are among the few that matter to me.

The only odd part about our recent trip was that Ian had Army obligations in the second half of the week that made for some weird logistics.  On Easter he and Mona and the dog went straight to the cottage to open it up and stock it with food, etc.  Quinn and Aden and I headed to Detroit to visit my parents and pick up my brother and niece from the airport so we could drive them to the cottage.  Ian and I only overlapped for two nights there before he had to head back to Wisconsin, and I had to close down the cottage alone which I'd never done before (so I'm hoping I didn't screw it up and we return this summer to a family of raccoons playing next to another broken toilet or something special along those lines).

But you know you are a lucky person when your biggest complaints are about not having more time with what you already have instead of wishing for something else.  My vacation could only have been improved by more nights with Ian, more talks with Arno, more chances to read stories to Ellora, more games with my kids, and more walks with the dog in the woods where we got to take him off the leash and see him blast away like a furry bullet along the horse trails happy as can be.

There were some less than ideal moments on our trip, but they just don't have the weight they do at home.  There is space to turn problems into teaching moments instead of just reacting too quickly.  But that's for the next post.

In the meantime, here are some pictures from our trip:

                          This is my niece with our dog, Chipper:

All the children at some point or another with binoculars:

 Mona with a cattail gone to seed like some kind of whole grain cotton candy treat:

All the kids by the swamp (where we went looking for turtles) making a cattail seed blizzard:

Kids on the beach, where hours were spent digging deep holes:

We experimented with a tie dye kit that came with a tube to put the shirts into while applying the different colors in order to keep the process from getting messy.  I still ended up with hands stained as if had been berry picking all day, but the kids did stay clean.

Aden with her beloved Pinwheel the sapling.  I'm still not sure why a bakery was giving out saplings, but Aden has quite the green thumb and could not turn it down.  (Her ability to keep plants alive is something that skipped a generation because she gets that from her grandmother and not from me.)

Quinn, Aden, Mona, my brother Arno with Pinwheel freshly planted between his feet, and my mom:

It was good to be there and it's good to be home.  I suppose what that really means is it's just good to be.


  1. I am so glad that you have started a blog of your own. I've been reading your column on Babble since it began, and it's one of my favorites. As a reader, I really appreciate that you are so open and thoughtful.

  2. I love that you bought the cottage. I don't think you'll regret it.

    I can't keep plants alive either. My mom has no less than 134 (or so) plants in her house. A time of high anxiety for me is taking care of them when she's out of town.

    1. @Tess: Thank you so much! I'm really glad you followed me here.

      @Rosstwinmom: 134!? My daughter would be in heaven, but I don't think I could take it.

  3. I think it is so wonderful that you can have a place like that. My childhood home was in a very tiny Alaskan village, only 150 people! I go home to my parents house every year for 4th of July, no cell phones, no internet, just nature and it is the most relaxing, special week of my year, hands down.

    1. A tiny Alaskan village of only 150 people? I want to read your blog.

    2. If only I could keep up with it! I update so infrequently I can't manage to hold my own interest :)

  4. Hope I didn't kill off any of Aden's plants! I was afraid one morning that I lost Rainbow but he was just sleeping. I'm glad that it's "just good to be", you and the family are very deserving of that!!