Ah, Wisconsin — where the lakes are plenty, the summer nights long, and delicious, rich dairy products seem to find their way into nearly every meal and dessert.
Last time I chimed in here, we were just finishing our Chicago adventure celebrating my Dad’s 80th.
After Chicago, my brother and sister (and their families) joined mine as we made the long drive to my mom and stepfather’s cabin in Northern Wisconsin.
We just returned late Sunday night from a trip that had us all happily romping through the North Woods for over a week, and the highlights are too numerous to mention.
Mostly it was just about letting the adults sitting back and watching the eight cousins just enjoy one another.
It’s funny; our time in Wisconsin lacked the big moments of our urban adventure in Chicago (seeing Hamilton, renting Segways, large meals out) but somehow the cluster of small, happy moments strung together
amounted to a much greater sum than the individual parts.
We are so blessed in that we all get along.
This time, there were seven adults (my hubby had to go home for work) and eight kids ranging from 10 to 18, and we all made the most of our time together.
I get asked a lot about what it’s like to have a Midwestern lake cabin in the family, so here’s my visual round-up of what it’s like.
One. First and foremost, it’s all about being on the water.
My parents’ cabin sits on a small hill above Black Oak Lake in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin.
It’s a rustic, sweet place built in the 20’s
and the best thing about it is that it’s located right on this gorgeous lake (“cleanest water in the state!”crow the locals) and if you go down these steps
you’ll see that we have a screened in boat house right on the water’s edge.
The boat house is such a lovely place to sit, regardless the weather, be it bright with placid waters
or moody and choppy with a thunderstorm on its way (this pic was taken at the same time of the day as the above pic the following day).
Being on the lake is all about grabbing the vessel or equipment that most speaks to you, and there were a lot of toys at our disposal.
This vintage rowboat kept taking on water so it sat mostly benched
but there were lots of other options.
There’s the perennial favorite, the electric boat that seats ten.
There’s also a kayak
and borrowed paddle boards, too.
The Chris Craft was acting up
but we put the speed boat to good use.
Tubing is always a hit,
both for those enjoying skimming on the wake
and for those who were spotting at the front of the boat.
And sometimes just taking a dip
or hanging out on an available inner tube is the way to go.
Look at my sister’s dog Riley playing lifeguard.
He dutifully watched anyone out on the water and would on occasion jump in and swim alongside those in the water and accompany them back to the dog.
What a good boy (and he looked heartbroken when it came time to leave).
Two. Lake time means relinquishing your constant electronic tether of Internet connectivity (no wi-fi and only limited and costly access) and taking things slow.
It’s hard to quit the reflex to constantly check email and social media and apps but I found taking rides in the electric boat was a terrific antidote to an overstimulated mind and an addiction to my Iphone.
Almost every night we took out the electric boat for a slow cruise around and all of us used our phones only for cameras.
The lake is so beautiful and tranquil, and occasionally a loon would pop its head out of the water to say hello.
On our last morning, we toured nearly the entire lake in the e-boat and my stepdad pointed out each house and told us about the history and the owners.
There’s so much history here; Fritz has been coming here since he was about a month old, and he knows this lake (and its inhabitants over the years) like the back of his hand.
It was so fun to see each different dock and the various toys people have at their disposal.
Another way to enjoy this slower pace here is to take a ride in Fritz’s vintage Jeep.
His Willys Jeep was built in 1946 and it’s been at this cabin since the 50’s, and I love it when he takes us for a spin in it.
We ramble through the heavily forested area around the lake and it’s like being transported back in time — and I never tire of hearing the stories of all the action this vehicle has seen over the years.
And spying new friends.
Three. Lake time is all about tasty, straightforward meals — both eating in and out. Nothing fancy — just yummy basic foods.
A great, well-stocked grocery store is now almost 45 minutes away from our cabin so one has to improvise sometimes, and it’s always a little hard to cook for 15 in someone else’s kitchen (especially with limited counter and oven space) but I think we did okay.
When we’re all together, each family takes a turn preparing dinner and cleaning up afterwards. This a beautiful thing; two nights you relax while someone else pulls off dinner
and then the third night you’re on duty.
On one of my nights to cook I roasted four chickens and a slew of Yukon gold potatoes, which turned out to be plenty for 15 people with enough leftovers to make a big soup lunch the next day.
On another night I made chicken simmered in apricot jam, ginger and homemade chicken stock and served alongside a Caesar salad and a home-style potato mash.
Another time I made grilled chops with an olive tapenade, hash browns, steamed corn.
And when we ate out, it usually involved brats, burgers, or pizza.
Or in some cases, a combination of the above, as in this Cheeseburger Pizza we got one lunch.
All this goodness doesn’t even take into consideration the ritual of going out for ice cream.
We ate nearly our weight in ice cream, be it for flurry-like shakes at the Dari-Maid just down the street from our cabin
or frozen custards at Midwest fave Culver’s after playing miniature golf and Go-Karts in Minoqua.
So many happy meals together — so many calories consumed!
Four. Lake time is for enjoying socializing with families and friends of my folks that I only see there.
During our week together we got invited to our neighbor’s (and Fritz’s cousin) for a party at their beautiful cabin.
Walking over took less than ten seconds.
Look at their view.
There were about thirty people at the cocktail party — and everyone is so kind and welcoming, even if it’s been a couple years since you’ve seen each other last.
Another night we were invited to join others for a pontoon party on the lake — a floating appetizer party in the middle of the lake.
We started off walking back over to the dock of these same neighbors
and we jumped on their big pontoon.
We then headed out to one section of the lake.
The way it worked was anyone who showed up tied their boat to the existing group, and everyone shared booze and foods.
Set up like this, you can walk back and forth between the boats.
I’ve attended this Pontoon Party when there was a dozen boats but this year there were just four boats, making it really chill and relaxed.
One golden retriever sat on one boat and waited for new company to arrive.
When a puppy showed up, a new friendship was formed.
It was a kick to talk to people I’d never met before, and the night was gorgeous.
Our hosts Jim and his daughter Deb couldn’t have been more hospitable; she’s a hugely talented West Coast interior designer and she was so kind to Charlotte during our trip.
This was another great night, even if goodbyes are hard to say (Lucy almost jumped onto our boat when they pulled away).
Pontoon time rocks.
5. Lake Time is about fun 24/7.
So that meant watching a scary movie rented from the library on a rare drizzly day and on another cold afternoon setting up a temporary tattoo station and allowing everyone to tat up.
It meant making S’mores with marshmallows brought from Portland
and another my sister presenting the kids with a specially wrapped ball of gifts and allowing the kids to unravel alongside a timer, bestowing all the kids with unexpected treasures.
It meant all of us football freaks had the time to set up and strategize our fantasy league
and the rest of us pulling out games to play in the big living room from morning to night.
We are such a competitive family and it’s about games, games, games when we’re together.
What fun we all had!
And the lake is such a perfect place for a big family gathering.
So thanks to everyone in my family for making these past two weeks so special.
And I’m so glad these cousins had all this time together to play, compete, frolic and just laugh.
Family, now that I’m back in Portland, I miss you all so so much.
Letting go is hard.
Feeling blue, I try to remember this valuable life lesson spied on a neighbor on Pontoon Night.
(Ain’t that the living truth?).
And Land O’Lakes, this shirt sums up my feelings about you perfectly.
Home — and my happy– indeed.