Last Day at the Cottage

20110807-114342.jpgAll good things must come to an end and alas, today is the last day of my summer vacation here in Lodi.

It’s been a funny summer weather-wise with weeks of drought followed by some grey rainy days with a wicked heat wave thrown in for good measure. Enough perfect hot, hazy lake days to make my summer just right, however.

Another funny thing about this summer is the fact that we never did get our vegetable garden in. We weren’t in Lodi for the May long weekend and kind of lost our chance to get the plants in at the right time. Instead we concentrated on filling in the perennial garden which is looking better than ever. Lillies and coreopsis will not make for good canning, however so unless we pick up veg at the market we’ll have no fall canning projects.

Though I’m sad to leave today I can rejoice in the fact that I’ll be back in 2 short weeks, then again a few weeks later and a few weeks after that. More Lodi in my future–yay!

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Seneca Sunset

We interrupt the regularly scheduled garden pic to bring you this spectacular Seneca sunset.

Getting Ready for the Season

Sitting on the dock

Sitting on the dock

Spring has definitely arrived and you know that means only one thing: summer is right around the corner. Lazy afternoons reading on the porch, thunderstorms rolling across the lake, corn on the cob, floating endlessly in the lake are all right around the corner.

But we’re not there quite yet and there’s work to do until we can enjoy the spoils of summer. Now is definitely the time to put in the hard work so that we can rest easy for the summer months.

Mum and Dad are heading down for the season shortly and will be living large in Lodi for the next six months or so. So when I say “we” in the above paragraph the majority of the work will be done by Mum and Dad until the next long weekend when us kids will be down to help out.

In the meantime though the first cottage rental coming up in a few weeks and so “we” have got to get the cottage opened up, aired out and spiffed up a bit. We’ll find out in the next week or so if there are any major repairs needed but usually all that’s required is some serious cleaning and the occasional spot of fresh paint.

So it’s time to start dreaming about what the summer will bring! New wineries to visit! New restaurants to try! New puzzles to master! New recipes for fresh tomatoes to try! New sunburns to nurse! New marshmallows to incinerate! New friends to introduce to the joys of life in Lodi!

Want to come and visit? Let me know when you’ll be arriving! Oh, and can you pick up a 12-pack of Yuengling and rolls from the Ovid Big M on your way?

Plotting the Garden

One possible garden location

One possible garden location

This weekend my brother is visiting from Montreal as it’s my dad’s and my birthday. Gardening literature featured prominently in the gift-giving this year, which was perfect for focusing us all on the task at hand as we were all in the same place at the same time. It’s almost April, we really need to start figuring out this garden stuff if we’re going to get to it this spring.

One of our first jobs is deciding where the garden will be. This quite possibly will be one of our toughest decisions as a lot of the success of the garden will depend on the qualities of the spot that we decide to pick.

Currently there are 4 different spots in the running to be our main garden plot:
1. the space between the two cottages
PROS: lots of sun, closest to where we will be for most of the summer therefore the most convenient to manage; CONS: pretty crummy soil, as grass doesn’t even grow there

2. grassy area to the north of the home farm house
PROS: lots of sun, location of previous garden, so soil must be pretty good; CONS: might be too shady, fronts on the street so lacks privacy

3. grassy area back in behind the barn
PROS: the most sunny spot, the best soil, as it abuts a field of corn; CONS: a bit far from any buildings so that we’d have easy access to tools, water etc. (in the photo above, this plot would be to the left after the tall red tree)

4. small plot at the Golding Farm house grounds
PROS: used to be a garden, so it must have good soil and sun; CONS: the most inconvenient place to have the garden, furthest from the cottage, so would be a logistical challenge

Just a word about the Golding Farm. It’s a farm and farm house that my father purchased many years ago. We rent out the farmland and have rented out the house in the past. We have been working really hard to improve this house in the last few years as we all just love it. It’s a beautiful house that dates back to before 1850 and has had very few major renovations, which is part of the reason we keep working on it, but also partly why we love it–it has so much history in its walls and grounds.

We are planning a visit to Lodi in April and will spend some time analyzing the sun patterns and soil quality in each of these areas in order to determine which would be the best place for our garden to thrive.

All of this has made me think I’d really like to have a little city balcony garden this year too. It’ll give me a taste of the joys of a garden, and I’ll get to hone my skills at the same time. I’m thinking of pots of juicy tomatoes, maybe a small herb garden with basil, thyme, parsley… ooh lavender… how about sage…

Renting the Cottage

The Porch at the Cottage

The Porch at the Cottage

It’s a kind of a strange thing, having a cottage rental property. It’s something that my family was thrust into and we’ve had an interesting time of adapting to this new aspect of our lives and watching it grow into a small family business.

In February of 2006 my uncle, Floyd Covert, passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. He owned several pieces of property in the Lodi area that he had inherited from various relatives over the years and these properties came to my immediate family, as we were his closest relatives. Floyd had had no children of his own, so he left his cottage to my brother and I. Floyd had inherited this cottage from his mother (my grandmother) when she passed away in 1994.

So much to my surprise, and possibly my brother’s even greater surprise, we were now property owners. Neither of us owned property before this (we still don’t) and so this was a pretty big adjustment in our lives. I mean, it’s incredibly cool–I co-own a cottage! How awesome is that?! But on the other hand, it’s a little nerve-wracking, with the myriad things that need fixing in a 60-year-old property, paying property taxes for the first time and the inherent sense of responsibility that comes with such a thing.

Let me just point out here that many people my brother’s and my age do, in fact, own property and so it’s not such a shocking proposition, it’s just that we had avoided this life milestone, that many others pass at our age or before, quite successfully until it was thrust upon us in this way.

So here we were, faced, all of a sudden, with the very real property tax bills, repair and maintenance bills that came along with this incredible gift. Without the means to afford these new expenses we decided that the only way to be able to keep the cottage would be to turn it into a vacation rental property. Did we know what we were getting into? Not remotely. But we learned and adapted as we went along and ultimately have been able to make better improvements to the cottage than we ever could have without the income the rental brings.

Family Dinner at the Green Cottage

Family Dinner at the Green Cottage

The first summer we were barely up and running in July, what with neccessary improvements to the water and well system and some cosmetic changes to the look and usability of the cottage. We redecorated, outfitted the place with sensible and useful items and got rid of an overabundance of chotchkes and pickle dishes in order to make the place ready for guests. We hosted several couples and families that first year, enough to get our feet wet and make some notes on how to proceed for following years.

This is a serious undertaking, renting out the property on a weekly basis, but luckily my parents, who are retired and living at an adjacent cottage 6 months of the year, are able to manage the day-to-day operation of the business. My brother and I are peripherally involved, though we are all contribute to the management of the business in the larger sense.

It sounds strange, but we love the cottage so much that we actually kind of enjoy sharing it with others, even though they’re relative strangers and staying in this precious family cottage that was built by my grandparents long ago. We are so lucky to have this incredible treasure in our family and the more people that can enjoy it the better.

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.