Cottage Improvements: The Steps

The Green Cottage

The Green Cottage

Last week we started talking about what kind of improvements we should consider to the Green Cottage for the coming rental season. Last year we installed a fireplace, which was a wonderful addition and I can tell you from experience that in October that fireplace really comes in handy.

We rent out the Green Cottage throughout the summer months, even extending into fall and late spring. The people who rent the cottage seem to have a lovely time, as witnessed by the comments in our guest book. We get all sorts of visitors–families, couples, dog-lovers, outdoors-people and those just looking for a rest and a break from city life. The Green Cottage provides that in spades, with the its location up on the bank, away from the road below. Many cottages in our little stretch of Seneca Lake are right down on the road, which gives them great water access, but not as much privacy as being up on the bank, away from the cars driving past, the neighbours and the lake activity.

Which brings me to our current thought process around this year’s cottage improvement project: the steps. Because of our location on the bank, steps or a path or a roadway of some sort is necessary to get down to the lake. There’s, of course, a road up to the cottage for cars, but it’s not as person-friendly as a set of steps would be.

Now, there is a set of stairs leading down the bank from the Green Cottage, don’t get me wrong… it’s just that a) it’s made out of cinder blocks b) it dates back to the 1950s c) it’s almost 100% overgrown with plants and weeds. So it’s neither person-friendly or all that safe at this point. We don’t even tell the renters that they exist.

My dad was the one who built the steps from cinder blocks in the 1950s, and those steps were just fine for us to use for many years. I remember thinking that it was so impressive that my dad built those steps. What an accomplishment, even if it was more or less a series of descending cinder blocks pressed firmly into the ground. Over the decades the ground has shifted so much around the blocks that they are no longer upright, stable or step-like, really. Which is why we need to seriously consider replacing them.

The New and Improved Steps

The New and Improved Steps

Last year we had great success with step replacement which makes us giddy with step-replacement fever. My uncle and my dad replaced the steps at the other cottage and the results were fantastic. Seeing the successful end product of that project makes us think that we can definitely accomplish something similar this summer at the Green Cottage.

January is the perfect time to start planning improvements we’ll be able to make in the spring when the ground thaws. The new and improved set of steps will be the perfect link between cottage and lake for our renters and visitors to the Green Cottage. Just thinking of all the hours spent in the water, the bonfires and the lucky-stone-searching significantly warms a person up in the midst of another Ottawa deep freeze.

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The Bay Window

The Bay Window, Home Farm

The Bay Window, Home Farm

Last week we discovered that the furnace in the Home Farm wasn’t working. Our friend went to check on the house and realized that it was freezing cold and thus that the furnace was temporarily not being furnace-like. Apparently a relatively easy fix, thank goodness.

It’s strange to think about keeping a house heated that nobody lives in, but we need to maintain a basic amount of heat so that the pipes don’t freeze and related troubles occur.

The cold doesn’t seem to bother the plants that have been thriving in the big bay window in the dining room of the Home Farm for years. As long as I can remember there have been plants filling up this window, soaking in the light that beams down regardless of the season. The Christmas Cactus is constantly flowering, the African violets are chugging along and the tropical palms love it. My grandmother tended to these plants, then my uncle took over the mantle, and now we do the honours. Of course we need help from our friends when we’re not around, but the plants don’t seem to mind the change of management.

Painting of the Bay Window by Floyd Covert

Painting of the Bay Window by Floyd Covert

My uncle, Floyd Covert, was an artist and art teacher. Often he found artistic inspiration in landscape scenes around Lodi as well as historical portraits of family members, many taken from photographs, both archival and contemporary. He created art in diverse media, ranging from abstract paintings to meticulous and precise line drawings. He often painted scenes of the Home Farm or the farms and grounds around the property. The painting  here is a remarkably realistic representation of  the big bay window packed with thriving, happy plants. The way he captures the light coming the window is  incredibly true-to-life and a bit magical.

Dreams of a Garden

Swiss chard from the Ithaca Farmers Market

Swiss chard from the Ithaca Farmers Market

It’s very freezing in Ottawa this week. The snow is sparkling and the canal is open for skating. So why am I thinking about fresh lettuce, gorgeous orange carrots and delicious, juicy tomatoes?

This year for Christmas, my brother and I gave my dad a week of our time in the spring of 2009 to plant a garden on the grounds of the Home Farm in Lodi. We decided that we would both dedicate a week to being in Lodi at the same time to generally be useful, but specifically to work at converting the old sheep pen into a home garden.

When my dad was growing up his family always had a garden and the land around the farm is good, though there hasn’t been a working garden there for many years. There still is a commercial farm operation on that land, it’s just run by a local farmer who rents the land, not us.

Last summer we had the bright idea to hop aboard the local food bandwagon and plant a garden for ourselves. Instead of paying others in the area for their amazing produce why not grow it ourselves and save the money and driving time. Everyone else is doing it, why can’t we? We decided the area that used to house the sheep many years ago (I still remember the sheep, but not very well, so we’ll say 30 years ago?) would be perfect. The soil would be rich from years of sheep manure, the area is slightly protected on two sides by adjoining barns but it still gets lots of sun.

Local produce stands and small farm stands are ubiquitous in the summertime in the area around Lodi. There’s a lot of commercial farming around here and in recent years a huge influx of Amish and Mennonite families. You can’t drive along the two-lane country roads without being tempted by peaches, sweet corn, tomatoes and strawberries when in season. So the land is good. This much we know.

Do I know how to make a garden? No… I can barely keep my houseplants alive. But I come from farming stock… I must be able to figure it out… it must be in our genes… right? I guess we’ll see about that. Between the 4 of us we should be able to figure out how to plant some decent vegetables. If nothing else, now when there’s hardly greenery to be seen in the landscape is a nice time to dream about it.

The Wallpaper Store

The old sign from the Wallpaper Store

The old sign from the Wallpaper Store

I remember when my grandmother had a business selling wallpaper from the building across the street from her house on Main St. in Lodi. It wasn’t a store as much as it was a place where ancient wallpaper was stored with a sign on the door that said something along the lines of “If you want to buy some wallpaper, come across the street and knock on the door and if I’m there I’ll sell you some wallpaper.” I do remember someone arriving at the door once with such an intention. It was probably in the 80s sometime.

My grandmother’s wallpaper business was something she inherited from her father. He ran a bigger operation out of that building back when wallpaper was more ubiquitous in home decor. She also ran a millinery business in the same building before the wallpaper business. Why someone would give up fashioning stylish headpieces for boring old wallpaper I’ll never know. Maybe it was at the end of the hat era. Last summer we found some ancient records from the wallpaper business among the piles of artifacts and other stuff.

Before the building’s incarnation as a wallpaper store it was accommodation for hired men who worked on my family’s farm. This is going back to the early part of the 20th century when my grandfather had a large commercial farm with crops and livestock. This building was given some cosmetic upgrades by my uncle in the 90s, but still has no indoor plumbing, as it dates back to the outhouse era.

In most recent history, the Wallpaper Store was my uncle’s art studio. He was an artist and art teacher at the Massachusetts College of Art and Designin Boston for 40 years and retired to Lodi in the mid-90s. Since my uncle’s passing about 3 years ago, the studio has become storage for his artwork as well as accumulated furniture and stuff from the various properties.

This weekend we needed to ask a friend in Lodi to go in and turn on the heat in the studio because we don’t want the cold to ruin all of my uncle’s artwork or anything else that’s stored in there. The items stored in here now may not be valuable in the monetary sense, but precious in terms of our family legacy.