Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 7, 2009

A working vacation

For the past 16 summers, our family has packed up and gone to Wisconsin's North Woods for our annual two-week summer vacation.

Here's how it usually goes. Husband Art goes trout fishing. We eat trout. We swim in Maple Lake. We pick raspberries. We eat raspberries on ice cream. We read and do crossword puzzles. We take a boat trip along the chain of lakes. We have picnics with relatives and friends. I take photos of chipmunks, deer, loons, wildflowers and sunsets on the lake.

But this year, we did few of those things. In past years, we rented our cottage out to vacationers in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter. Now it needed some serious work. So we rolled up our sleeves and dug in. Art did most of the plumbing, gas, electrical and carpentry work, but daughter Katie and I made pretty good "go-fers." And I was a whirling dervish when it came time to clean.

First on tap - pun intended - was dealing with the water situation. Art had winterized last fall to make sure we wouldn't have frozen pipes. But restarting the system wasn't a simple matter of turning a valve. Our cottage is one of several on Maple Lake and the water supply is "daisy-chained." Some of the owners hadn't winterized so Art spent the better part of two days sliding along crawl spaces to diagnose and repair burst pipes in those cottages. The job required several trips to Menard's, a hardware and do-it-yourself store about 22 miles away, to buy PEX tubing and various valves and "elbows." But finally, we had water again.

Art then turned his attention to moving one of the gas heaters about five feet to clear the wall for a new cabinet unit. He had to cut a new hole in the inside wall through to the outside siding to provide a vent. Then he used the wood removed from the siding to fashion a plug for the old hole. Then he had to crawl underneath the cottage to put a new gas pipe in. At the last minute, he realized he was missing a 90-degree elbow, so we had to run to the hardware store about 10 miles away to get one.

Next was the testing-for-leaks phase. Katie went outside to turn on the gas. Art checked the burners on the stove and they seemed to be OK. Then he went back into the crawl space to run a lit-match test on each joint. I stayed in the cottage to relay messages from Art to Katie. Art said there was little risk, but I prayed anyway that we wouldn't be blown sky high.

Everything checked out fine so Art lit the water heater and soon we were back in business.

Katie and I thought we were done for the day, but Art wanted to get at the cabinet unit. That involved disassembling the "island" - a six-foot counter top mounted on kitchen cabinets - that separated the kitchen area from the living area. He took the counter top off and moved the cabinets to the wall between the two windows where the gas heater used to be. Then he screwed plywood pieces to the top of the cabinets to stabilize them and give more support to the new counter top he placed on top of them.

Another day, Art thought he'd do a quick leak fix on the kitchen sink. It turned out the problem was far bigger than he had anticipated and before it was over, the sink drain and faucets had been completely replaced, a project that required the removal and reinstallation of the sink.

During still another day, we jettisoned an old sofa sleeper that smelled like dog and cigarette smoke. Rather than haul the huge monster out as a unit, we disassembled it - first the pillows and mattress, then the springs and finally the sofa. Katie and I carried it out and Art knocked it apart with a hammer. We then took it, piece by piece, to a nearby dumpster.

In between all the big jobs, Katie and I cleaned. We wiped down walls, cleaned inside and outside cabinets and dressers, vacuumed and scrubbed the toilet, tub and sinks. Older daughter Mariya joined us during our last week so she didn't escape. We recruited her to help wash windows and shampoo the carpets.

Then, before we knew it, our vacation was over . . . and we really needed a vacation from our vacation!

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