Carefree Life at the Cottage

by Julie Harrison

If your normally busy neighbourhood street suddenly no longer has the sounds of bicycle bells and gleeful kids shouting, then you know cottage season has officially hit. On Friday evenings, you’ll often find Ottawa families vacating the city and heading out to their lakeside cottages for weekends filled with the magic of campfires, fireflies, waffle breakfasts and boat rides.

This is the weekend life Brendan Harrison has chosen. The local entrepreneur is also a father of two children under the age of 10. Four years ago, he and his wife bought their Perth-area cottage. “We just love the cottage life and having something to do every weekend in the summer. It has eliminated our annual spring obsession of wondering what to do during summer vacation. We know the answer every year!”

For Jody Chantler, a communications manager in high-tech, getting a cottage in Calabogie was a way to recreate the great childhood memories both she and her husband share of living lakeside during the summers and skiing in the winters. “We wanted our kids to grow up with similar experiences to ours. Plus, our jobs can be hectic at times, so escaping to a quiet lake-side retreat was alluring.”

Heather Strachan echoes this sentiment: “I have such fond memories of camping and spending time at my grandmother’s cottage,” says the elementary school teacher and mother of three. “In fact, as kids we used to camp at a campground not far from where our current cottage is.” The Strachan family shares a cottage on the Big Rideau with her mother and her brother and his family – a total of five adults, five kids and two dogs. “We share lots of laughs and fun times together and it truly is the place where we gather most as an extended family.”

While Steve Hutchings happily agrees the sunsets at his Mississippi Lake cottage are spectacular, he says the cottage helps him reflect on what is important in life, and gives him time to fulfill his passion for building and doing cottage renovations. This technical client services manager is a father of two teenagers and notes that his driving reason for embracing cottage life was to keep the family close as the kids get older. “It’s a way of extending our time with our kids as they go into their teen years because even as they get older, they will still want to go to the cottage.”

Cottage life, it would seem, is about creating family memories. But is that all there is to it? “Somehow when you think of a cottage, you imagine spending your mornings sipping coffee on the dock, afternoons dabbling in the water or reading a book on the hammock. You don’t envision leaky roofs, decks that need repainting and frozen pipes,” says Chantler.

So how does one keep cottage life as carefree as possible? These veteran cottage owners have generously shared all of their tried and true tips, often learned from trial and error. If you’re a cottage newbie, you’ll definitely want to take some notes.

 Safety First

• As early as your first visit, you’ll want to make sure you have a well-stocked cottage first-aid kit. In addition to the usual fare, our cottage owners recommend Benadryl for reactions to bug bites/stings, Polysporin for cuts and scrapes, aloe vera gel in case of sunburn and truckloads of After-bite for calming the itch from mosquitoes.

• Get to know the routes to the nearest medical facilities. You don’t want to be getting lost during an emergency and a GPS is not always a reliable source in cottage land.
• Establish clear safety rules for the cottage, especially when it comes to water safety, and make sure your children and guests understand what’s expected of them.

 Eat and Be Merry!

• BBQ is the name of the game up at the cottage, so invest in a spare tank you always keep full. A tank will empty quicker than you think, and a fill-up might be a good 30 minutes away, depending on the location of your cottage.
• Ask your guests to take home leftovers of whatever food they brought. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an army of salsa jars by the end of summer!
• A stash of meats, breads and pasta in the freezer limits how much you will need to bring up to the cottage each visit. However, if there’s been a power outage you’ll want to know. You can buy devices for this or use a single ice pop in a cup in the freezer. If the ice pop looks like it’s been thawed and refrozen, then you’ll know the temperature was warm enough to defrost your food and you’ll want to dispose of the meats.
• Last but not least, always remember to empty out the fridge between cottage visits or you might have new “growth” to deal with when you arrive the next time.

Loads of Fun

• Keep a laundry basket, earmarked for the cottage, in which you put all freshly washed towels, sheets and old, spare clothes. Then, when it’s time to hit your cottage, all you need to do is grab and go.
• At the cottage, keep extra towels, pillows and linens dry and bug-free by storing them in zip-up plastic linen bags. If you’re short on space, you can slide these bags under the bed.

Putting out the Welcome Mat

• Create a clear set of directions with a map and keep the document on file. That way, you’ve got it handy and ready to send any time you have guests.
• Don’t be ashamed to ask guests to bring something when they visit. Guests are always happy to help out, but may not know how. Consider asking them to bring their own clean linens and towels and any particularly popular snacks or drinks.
• On their way out, ask guests to take back a bag of trash to the city for you. Since there is no garbage collection at most cottages, it will lighten your family’s trip to the local depot.

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