Opening the lakehouse is no small chore. Between the house, boathouse, big barn, canning barn, art barn, fire pits, vegetable garden, herb garden, flower boxes, orchard, chicken coop, and goat barn, I’ve decided it makes sense that I don’t work out all year and instead just do it all at once— every June when we open this place.
It’s crazy that we do all of this when we’re only here for a couple months, but when it’s all done, it’s so totally worth it.
My husband would be happy to tell you that this complexity is all my fault, because I’ve added all these things since we bought the property. Which is why he has not been invited to share any of his thoughts in this post.
First are the barns. At the end of every summer, they are filled with all the toys, boats, outdoor furniture, and things that I never remember we owned. When we arrive in the spring, they are a somewhat organized train wreck.
Step 1: everything gets loaded into trailers and pulled to its summer landing place.
Next, the barns get power washed. Because yuck. After a winter of housing wild animals that I don’t want to know about, the power washer is our best friend.
The Storage Barn & Frat House
The big storage barn is not really my responsibility, because the top floor is our sons’ “frat house.” When we built it, we added a big, open room as a 2nd floor, and the boys have filled it with beds, lounge-y furniture, games, and other forms of teenage creativity.
I make one trip up there at the beginning of every year, to help give them a fresh start. Then, it’s turned over to them to trash again.
Which is why I’m not writing a parenting blog.
The Canning Barn
The canning barn is supposed to be mine, but the kids are always trying to claim it for their own sports and other activities.
I’m not totally winning on this, but I can promise you that when it’s time to can the pickles, there are no kids to be found. (“Wow! That hot vinegar smells amazing!” said no one EVER.)
The Art Barn
The art barn started when the kids were little. We lost the boys at a pretty young age, but it was great for the girls.
Watercolor, leather stamping, painting rocks, flower pressing, jewelry making…anything art.
I still love this place.
Next are the 3 firepits (with a 4th in the planning, because no girl wants to sit in the same place every night).
These all get stocked with wood, and the heavy furniture get arranged. One of the reasons I had sons.
One of the first things we did when we bought this place was install a huge pit at the water’s edge. The location is perfect. We used big boulders to define the area and encircled it with Adirondack chairs made of recycled milk jugs. You’d never know it. They look perfect and wear like iron.
The only thing we didn’t really consider was that having the biggest firepit EVER means that we need roughly 16 pieces of wood just to get it going. Then it burns at lightning speed.
I am grateful every day that it isn’t my job to chop the wood.
The campfire is a nightly thing and the best way to end any day. So setting up the firepits brings me smiles of anticipation for the happy summer days ahead.
After that, we open the boathouse…which is a funny name since, this building has never had a boat in it. But it sounds cute.
When we bought the property, the boathouse was an old pump house down by the water. And for my husband’s birthday one year, I surprised him with a total renovation. It is now a bar/hangout that has become one of the most popular places on the property (and the lake, for that matter).
Opening the boathouse is a little more involved. It includes scrubbing out the appliances (which makes absolutely no sense, because they were immaculate when we shut the place down) and removing the spider sanctuary that has been created in our absence.
This year, we are adding a deck. I really wish my husband had another long business trip scheduled, so I could just have it built the way I want and he could come home to see how amazing it looks. But the calendar doesn’t look good for that. So we are going the discuss-it-without-swearing-at-each-other route.
I’ll have to keep you posted on that one.
Next, it is time to tackle the planting of the window boxes and planters, or we won’t be ready for the 4th of July, which would be unacceptable.
I’m not sure why I thought every window required a window box, and I’ve had some strongly worded conversations with myself on that very topic every year. But I have yet to tear any off the house.
There’s always next year.
Window boxes are actually fun, because you can redesign them every year—great for those of us with color mood swings.
I learned the hard way that the tall plants are not happy if you plant them right where the window knocks them out every time it opens. But in addition to height restrictions, I have a ton of shade around the house, so my choices are a little slim.
I love dahlias, coleus, begonias, angelonia, New Guinea impatiens, and sweet potato vine.
Herbs or lettuce go in the kitchen window box, as it is the only one that gets sun. Plus, it makes the whole kitchen smell good when the windows are open.
The Vegetable Garden
Next is the vegetable garden. This is 1 of my very favorite things about the lakehouse, but it requires almost a full day of hard labor to get it kicked off.
In the first years we had this place, I went all out: melons, corn, squash of every shape and color. It was amazing, but we never actually tasted a single thing we grew, because we were back downstate at school long before it was ready to pick. (The neighbors, however, ate like kings.)
I have gotten a titch smarter by now. This year, I’m pretty much sticking to lettuces, peppers, and tomatoes. We should have roughly enough to invite all of Northern Michigan for a salad party.
I highly recommend planting perennial fruits and vegetables whenever possible. They are givers. The best. After a couple of years, they just do their thing. Outside of a bit of pruning, they require little and will become your very best garden friends.
I have different breeds of blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, which make every morning better. I also have grapes and figs, both of which are super easy—just plant and say “thank you” every year. Rhubarb (which I pretty much just grow for looks and to give away) and asparagus are the only veggies that are kind enough to come back every year.
Weeding is a thing with vegetable gardens. But I have come to love my mornings out there with a strong cup of coffee and my French café music.
The Herb Garden
The herb garden is next. And it’s really one of the easiest of all the garden-type areas. This is where herbs really get the gold every year. Almost all of them are perennial and require literally zero attention. We love them for that.
I love all my perennial herbs, but I have to say that chives are my favorite—both for cooking and for making the herb garden more beautiful with their purple, not-quite-a-flower flowers.
The only annuals I add are basil, cilantro, dill, and sometimes parsley, because it can be a fair-weather friend depending on the winters.
Oregano, thyme, tarragon, stevia, and mint are all staples in my cooking—and to be totally honest, my cocktailing. But if you don’t want to see mint and stevia take over a portion of your garden that’s similar in size to an SUV, I recommend planting them in containers in the garden to keep them from spreading.
The orchard is in its toddler years. Very demanding, but I love it.
Every spring, we arrive up here to find that we have lost some of our baby trees to the harsh winter. So sad. But the first orchard I planted is finally looking like it’s going to make it.
We have all kinds of apples, peaches, plums, pears, and cherries, which makes us very popular with the birds. And they often beat us to the fruit. But as the trees get bigger, there should be enough for all of us.
I read that planting a mulberry tree really helps with the birds. Yeah, no. It doesn’t. What it helps with is the following:
- Inviting more birds than you would have had before
- Distributing dark-purple bird poop all over the property, which is impossible to get out of your outdoor cushions
But the deer, who descend most in the late fall and winter, are our biggest problem. We have to install deer fence around each orchard every year. My husband is consistently really excited about that.
Other than protecting the trees in winter, having an orchard is pretty easy once you have it planted. I just prune the suckers off each year, and that’s it.
And I’m always adding. The orchard we put in last year is definitely in its awkward stage. My scrawny and unattractive trees have a long way to go, but while they are nothing to brag about now, I know they will be amazing when they mature.
We have 44 trees now. (I got a little excited about orcharding…which is again why my husband was not invited to comment on this post.)
We may need to look into a fruit donation program in the next few years.
Chicken Coop & Goat Barn
Our chickens and miniature goats are probably one of my favorite things ever.
For one, fresh eggs shouldn’t even share any part of a name with supermarket eggs.
But regardless, I would rather sit out in the barnyard and watch those crazy chicken girls than watch a movie…well, depending on the movie. But still, they are so entertaining. With the bonus of EGGS!
Over the years, we have had
- Ducks (both named Aflac by our youngest son, who was the one who snuck them in the chicken box at the store…HARD NO on ever having ducks again)
- Heritage turkeys (named Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we wouldn’t forget why we were raising them)
- A rooster (again, the youngest son and his sneaky ways. You will want to avoid a rooster at all costs, unless you plan to breed chickens. They are nearly impossible to give away.)
- Bunnies (which we were told were all female…lying liars. All of a sudden, we had 28 baby bunnies. Cutest . Thing . Ever.)
This year, we are keeping it simple with our 26 chickens and 2 miniature Himalayan goats, Gertie and Flossie.
Literally everything Gertie and Flossie do is cute.
The plan was to breed Gertie and Flossie so I could make goat cheese, but traveling with goats has proven to be somewhat undesirable. My son’s truck will never be the same, and I’m pretty sure I still haven’t been forgiven.
I would breed them up here, but there isn’t exactly a purebred miniature Himalayan male goat on every corner.
Probably should have considered that when I started this adventure, but there ya go.
Opening the goat barn and chicken coop isn’t really a thing, because the animals are here year round. It’s more of a “make it pretty again” scenario.
The lakehouse is last. I procrastinate on that one, mostly because I hate grocery shopping, which is the #1 priority with the 6 of us. Of course, we can’t really ignore it for long—not that we don’t try on the first day, hoping the best husband ever will suggest we go out to dinner.
Houses that are locked up for 9 months do not have what I would call a fresh or pleasant aroma. At least, this old cottage doesn’t. But that’s what all these windows are for.
We open it up, air it out, and—except for the random, driving rainstorm—leave it that way until the end of August.
I get everything in order while the guys get the boats and toys going, which is an excellent trade, in my opinion. I am SO not mechanical (on purpose).
And that’s it! Easy peasy, right?
Despite the chores and work involved, this place has been amazing for our family. To be able to give this place and the experiences that come with it to our kids—it is such a blessing, and we are thankful for it every day.
Once all this is done, I’ll be experiencing that thankfulness from my chair by the fire, with the aforementioned herb-kissed cocktail close at hand.