What I Know About my Grandpa

My Grandpa, painting by Floyd Covert

My Grandpa, painting by Floyd Covert

Sadly I never got a chance to meet my Grandpa Covert, my Dad’s father and owner of the Home Farm in Lodi that we still have in the family today. He died a long time ago, when my Dad was 18. From what I’ve been told, he was a real character and I would have really liked him.

Because I never met him we have some collected stories that we tell and re-tell, questions that we ask and re-ask and lots of photos that we look at again and again.

Here’s what I know about my Grandpa Covert:
-he was a farmer and had several hired men that worked the farm with him
-he was in the First World War
-he walked with a crutch because of the lingering effects of an illness he had suffered as a young man
-he was named Floyd Darwin Covert, Darwin being his father’s first name: Darwin Claudius Covert (what a great name, eh?)
-my uncle Floyd, his first-born son, was named after him
-he was from Ovid originally which makes us Ovid Coverts, not Lodi Coverts (which makes perfect sense, right?)
-he and my Grandma built the cottage that my brother and now own on Lodi Point which contains materials (like windows) from the military base in Sampson that was decommissioned in the 1950s
-though my Grandma was firm in her commitment to the Temperance movement, my Grandpa… ahem.. well… didn’t have such strict beliefs, shall we say?
-he had a great sense of humour and was a real practical joker. There’s a story I remember about wrapping up a Christmas dinner guest’s scarf that she’d come in with and giving it back to her as a gift later in the evening without her realizing it.

Though I’ve never met him his presence is felt everywhere in our property in Lodi: in the house, the barns, the fields, the garage, the ancient Model A Ford in the back corner of the barn–everywhere. I wish I’d had a chance to meet him but in a way I feel like I do know him.

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A Family Business

Welcome to the cottage

Welcome to the cottage

Have you ever been involved in a family business? Well it’s still a new endeavour for my family and we’re negotiating our way through the business of renting our family cottage. Now this is no pickle factory, tailor shop or restaurant we’re talking about, we have a vacation rental business. We rent out the cottage that my grandparents built in the 1950s during the peak summer travel season, from roughly late May to late October.

We are incredibly lucky in my family in a wide variety of areas, but importantly, we all get along relatively well and we all are pretty easy going people. There are definitely times that discussions get serious, but it is extremely rare that we shout or say mean things to one another. These qualities make it it easier to go into business together as a family.

We also tend to play to our stengths, which is something that has grown organically once we started on this journey. Everyone has taken on different tasks in the running of this business, ones that we have developled as we have discovered what needs to be done and who is best to accomplish that task.

My parents take on the majority of the running of the day-to-day operation of the business because they are retired and have the most time of any of us. My brother and I both have full-time jobs and taking on this operation would be out of the question. My parents are responsible for booking the guests, liasing with them for all their arrangments and keeping track of the accounts. In addition they do the bulk of the weekly turnover house cleaning in between guest stays. I come down for weekeds to help whenever I can, but they definitely do most of this work–cleaning the cottage from top to bottom, inside and out and preparing everything in about a 3 hour timespan.

As I mentioned, we play to our strengths, so I’ve been employed in our family business on the marketing and communications side… kind of. This is my profession and so I do have some expertise in this area. Additionally I’ve been pulling my knowledge in the online world into practice. A large part of my afternoon today was spent improving our business website. I discovered a wonderful website called SythaSite that is a very user friendly build-your-own-free-website website. It was extremlely easy to use and I think our new website is going to look really great.

As I said, we are all extremely lucky, first to have this gorgeous property in the first place, and specifically my brother and I are very lucky that our parents are able to run most of the business without us having to do most of the day-to-day operations. We all contribute in our different ways and so I am particularly looking forward to sharing our redsigned website as soon as it’s ready!

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.