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The Joy of Family Time

‘I listen to their joyous laughter, and watch them leap into the air off the dock into the lake with a mighty splash. Then they make a game of trying to be the last man standing on the tipsy raft. I listen and watch with them with a contented gratitude. It is joy to watch your kids experience the kind of summer fun you remember having at their age right at this very place so many years ago.’

Roasting Marshmallows over the fire pit.

If you are blessed with a vacation property as I have been, then you know how incredible it is to be able to savour and treasure the quality family time and unique summer traditions you make with your family. As a child I have so many wonderful memories at my cabin. It was a time and place where all the stresses and pressures of school and other life issues melted away in the sunshine and lapping waves. Anticipation on going to the cabin, or even taking a friend with me was so exciting.  As I got older there was the possibilities of meeting new friends on my own without my parents, as I got married and had children it was a time to create play and learning in the great outdoors, and in this time of my life the family cottage is a place that centers me, balances me, and gives me back times to spend with my kids.  It always was and still is a joy to be able to live and create those special times in an environment different than our regular family home. First, with my parents those special childhood memories over the years and now memories and happy times with my own children. Even now, as my kids have all grown up and don't live at home anymore, the times when they come back to the cabin with us are a chance to reconnect and renew our love and closeness to each other. In fact, today as I take a few moments and write this, it is my youngest son's Birthday and he is here with his girlfriend and a few other special friends. These are the life moments that make life worthwhile, these are the special moments of cabin life with my family. 

A Birthday Rock for one of my sons who liked Mustangs.

I started a fun and appreciated tradition here at the lake on Birthdays for my children I can share with you. Each Birthday is commemorated with a unique Birthday card. I paint rocks, and so I take one theme or item that the birthday child is fond of, or interested in in that time of their life and paint it on a rock. The Birthday rocks include cartoon characters, cars, hats, animated gaming characters, and graduation memories, to mention a few. I paint the picture or theme on the front, and the birthday wishes and date on the back. There is a whole series of these rocks at our cabin. Just taking out the paints and letting your kids paint anything on rocks is an enjoyable experience all round. We use washable paints for easy cleanup, and I clear coat them with a clear Varathane to preserve them. The times spent at the cottage can also be made into enjoyable life experiences incorporating learning opportunities for you and your children in a fun and enjoyable way. Let me share with you some of the wonderful life lessons, family traditions, and memories of my time at the cottage. My parents instilled in me a respect and bonding with the land, with the forest and the water, and an important understanding of the local wildlife and nature I was visiting. Being in the outdoors, living with the local nature and critters is a life-altering opportunity.  Firstly, my parents filled the shelves of the tiny bookcase with reference books on fish, reptiles, birds, squirrels, rodents and all manner of wildlife found locally on our West Coast. Then there were the books on trees, shrubs, grasses, and local flowers. There were books on the stars and constellations, and all manner of books on survival and fishing. Finally, for reference I added our children's Scouting books when they were done with Scouting. Many of these books are still on the shelves. We still use them this day for reference and painting projects, even though one year we had a terrible time with mice in the cabin and they ate all the bindings off some of the books because of the glue apparently!  Each time we spotted a critter such as a squirrel my father would have me read and learn about the animal. So, as youngsters we learned about the local birds, the fish, the animals and wildlife around us. I adored the loons and learned what each one of their calls meant. I studied about the crayfish we had so many of in our front pond.

My little Douglas Squirrel.

I learned from my parents that you never killed anything without good reason or to eat it. There was no catching a fish unless you not only caught it, but had to kill it, gut it and learn to cook it. Because I don't like to kill anything, fishing time is only to spend time with my family. Many an evening before dusk we would head out in the little row boat and row while trolling for fish. We rarely caught anything, just had a few bites here and there, it was just the fun of going fishing together in anticipation of catching anything. I must mention that my oldest son once saw a fish jump up out the water off our rock point. My son said, (very matter-of-factly), “I’m going to catch that fish.” Down he went with a rod, threw the line in, and he indeed catch the fish on his first try. We were all amazed!

At night, we had to learn the stars and constellations. The Milky Way and the Big Dipper are predominant from my night cabin view. There is nothing better than star gazing with your family. We used to lay on the dock and look up, or take out the boat and float down the lake at night watching and waiting for shooting stars. I still do this every night, take a few moments to gaze up and pray to see a shooting star. Even last night I had a midnight dip to cool off and I saw a shooting star while I was swimming!

My father used to take my brother and I out in the night in the boat, and have us 'navigate' our way home by the shape of the barely visible land around us. I was very grateful for that, as later in life I depended on that knowledge to safely navigate the lake journey by boat when we had to arrive late to the lake, we are boat access only, there is no road to our cottage. As a result of my lesson's I never feared getting lost or hitting dry land driving up to my cabin late at night in the dark. Thank you, Dad, for that! There is the joys and tribulations of learning all manner of water sports. In the old days of my childhood it was waterskiing and sailing, pretty much, as well as, of course, learning all the skills to operate a power boat. I learned at a very early age to drive a power boat safely. I remember wanting my own power boat over a car when I turned 16, hardly a practical wish.  Nowadays, there is so much more to still water skiing, but now wake boarding, "skurfing", and tubing. There is still sailing, and rowing, but now wind surfing as well. We used to float on inner tubes, blow up air mattresses and Styrofoam boards, now there are nylon lounge chairs and all manner of flotation devices. The kids like to go out on a bunch of windsurfing boards with paddles.

The kids off for a paddle.

We still throw out our giant blowup whale when our young adults of 20 something arrive with their friends, and to this day they still love the challenge of trying to stay on it. This year a large blow up dolphin arrived and the challenge was on to mount them, attack and de-seat your opponent. Puppy also likes to go along on the lounge chair, or the kayak or the sailboat. She wears her lifejacket, too.

The littlest sailor at the lake.

Dock time with your family is a time to share and enjoy the sun, all be it with hats, shirts and tons of sunscreen and a very large umbrella that we move around the dock for shade. Our family of ducks, loon couple and lone turtle often visit during the day, which our curious little puppy watches with her one eagle eye (she lost her sight as a young pup, she battled raccoons and lived to yap about it). A big favourite when there is no burning ban, the campfire. This year we have had a couple in our old cemented in tire rim. Last night was roasting marshmallow and S'mores. Have you ever had those? Find yourself a slightly green stick from the forest, whittle the end into a sharp point. When the embers of your fire are glowing add a marshmallow to your stick. Whether you slowly roast to golden brown, or flame up black and crispy, campfire marshmallows are yummy. For a s'more place a piece of chocolate on a Graham Cracker, top with chocolate, carefully pull off your hot sticky marshmallow by sandwiching another cracker on top. Squish, ooze and eat! Can't beat a S'more around the campfire!

Campfire fun!

Other great family times included hiking around the cabin. Sometimes it is just nice to hike around the immediate cabin, but my favourite hikes involved boating to other places on our lake and then hiking up to hidden lakes high up above ours. Ancient, overgrown logging paths and trails often lead to these hidden lakes. One such excursion we went on frequently involved sailing a short distance to a creek mouth, then heading up a rather steep trail, a good 45 minutes to an hour. It was a good hike, we expended lots of energy...but the goal of reaching this tiny lake was the exhilaration of seeing this calm, little cool lake, hidden from the world, it seemed. We never really swam in it, although others did, but we wadded in and threw sticks in for our dog. I have not been there for years, being too much of a hike for me, and now the property below it owned and settled by friends, so it is less accessible. But, none the less very dear in my childhood memories. There was another gentler walk into another lake, I haven't been there either for years. And last but not least, we still boat up to the end of our lake today, where we take a short gentle walk down a beautiful forest path following a gently moving creek and end up at the ocean. There you can enjoy the rocky beach, or, if you chose you can hike up the cliffs and enjoy the spectacular views up and down the West Coast. Often in the summer people are digging up oysters to take back to their cabin and have an oyster bake or BBQ with hot, melted butter.

The Salt Chuck beach. A great family afternoon excursion from the lake to the ocean.

And then there is fishing with your family, I don't like to catch anything, I just love to sit in the boat, usually the row boat with my kids and just enjoy the time talking and sharing, and watching the world around us. A little nibble now and then brings a little excitement, but, for me, I secretly don't want to catch anything anyway. Of course, nowadays you have to have your yearly fishing license to even throw a rod in the water.  And I would be remiss if I did not mention the times spent playing games! In my childhood, it was mostly card and board games, nowadays my kids, even as adults play interactive electronic games, where they pass the devices back and forth to make moves. However, the Monopoly board and Cribbage boards never gather dust here and are frequently played, Crib usually every morning after breakfast, that is one of our traditions here. As we sip tea and coffee, even without kids, we play Crib every day.

We love playing Cribbage out on the deck. Here's a funny round.

As we have no power at my cottage still, every night is game night, and without exception we play. Our favourites besides Crib are 31, 3 to Kings, Texas Holdem Poker, Blackjack, Hearts, Kings in a Corner, Cheat, Big 2, Rummy, Crazy 8's, and Spite and Malice. Of course, my kids are older now, but there were many, many games of Go Fish and Old Maid when they were little! Board games are good family entertainment, besides Monopoly, we have one called Around the World, then there is other games like Yahtzee, the old Pick Up Sticks game, Guess Who, and believe it or not, some friends actually painted the Twister coloured dots on their dock, so it could be played all the time there! It was so cool!  Other dock games included a sort of water volleyball, where the net and ring is floating and everyone is trying to toss the ball into the hoop ring. We also had diving darts, but that one I really monitored when the kids played. One son is a regular fish and was very adept at clearing the pressure in his ears. Every well stocked dock has noodles, those long skinny colored foam things. These are great for kids and adults alike. We once had a 3-cabin cocktail party with 8 people floating off shore on noodles with a cocktail in one hand, it was fun. The kids use them to play with, float with, sword fight with, and just stay in the water longer with. Noodles also work well for doing some water exercises with. There is nothing more fun than on a hot day spending the day on your dock frolicking with your kids. We have a diving board on our dock, but some cabins here have secondary floats and slides into the water. Such great times with your kids. And with the big umbrella, some watermelon, grapes, pineapple, chips and dips and cold drinks it is a great time had by all.  So, if you are blessed with a cabin, you know all about the great memories you make with your kids there. If you do not have a cabin, why not take the opportunity on your next vacation to rent one with your family, and make some wonderful memories you can have the rest of your life. Your family will thank you!

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