When you buy a new car, or a used car that is new to you, the salesman will usually take at least some time running through the features of the car. You bought that car because you liked the engine and the transmission and the stereo and the MPG, but you really bought the car because it was pretty and you liked the color. The salesman knows this, and so he goes about showing you some of the functions of the car. This button does this and that one does that, and if you touch this button while touching the other button there’s a good chance the car will do something like this. You don’t know what he’s telling you, because you just bought a car and your excitement cannot be tempered by the tedious truths about how the car actually works.
This is why we leave the dealership and have no idea how to turn the radio on. We figure the car out, but only after a period of trial and error. We learn, but slowly. And so it goes with vacation homes as well. We search and we search, and when we find the model we like, we buy. At closing there is some remorse, because any good decision comes with at least some of that, and there is excitement. For all of those who think a vacation home is the purchase of some life changing asset, you would be correct in your thoughts. This is in practice, but in reality a vacation home, even a lakefront one on Geneva, is simple the acquisition of yet another toy. But this is a toy with all sorts of buttons and knobs and levers, and after the closing table is cleared there is generally no one left to tell you, the purchaser, what comes next.
That’s why I’m here, and that’s why there is a list that I can share with you. The list comprises the 10 Commandments Of Lake Geneva Vacation Home Ownership, but it might as well be an operators manual as well. Follow these commandments and you’ll experience vacation home bliss. Ignore these, and you’ll be lost in a sea of confusion, and you’re likely to make bad decisions as a result. Without further ado, The Commandments:
1. Thou Shall Commit To A Minimum Of 26 Weeks Annually
This should be easy, though I realize sometimes it is not. If you purchased the home with the intention of using it 6 weekends a year, that’s fine, I’ll gladly sell you a home that you may or may not use. However, this isn’t about making ownership a passable experience, this is about making the vacation home a living and breathing part of your life. If this is to be the case, as with any relationship, there must be commitment. Keep in mind, 26 weekends is the absolute minimum, with a preferable tally registering around 40 weekends a year spent at the lake. This will be heavily weighted towards summer and fall, though to miss winter and indeed spring at the lake, this would be a cardinal sin.
2. Thou Shall Drive Thy Boat To The Middle Of The Lake And Sit There For At Least One Hour.
Again, another task that is super easy, but the intended result is profound. Vacation homes can be hectic creatures, that which we run to on Fridays and from on Sundays, and in the process we can totally miss the point- to relax here. This is a form of forced relaxation, but it is necessary. To complete this commandment efficiently and properly, the day should be an ideal one. Perfect temperatures, moderate breeze. You should sit in the boat, with or without your family, though I admittedly find the without a more leisurely event. You must sit, idle, with possibly a magazine or a book, and you can play the radio if you wish. You may lean against the seat or lie across the bow cushions, but you must be passive. This is not to be an hour spent cleaning and arranging the boat. The result of this passive boat time is that you’ll experience the lake in a different way, and you’ll get to know it just a bit better.
3. Thou Shall Cook Dinner Sourced From Entirely Local Ingredients.
This does not mean to cook dinner from locally sourced ingredients that came to you by way of Whole Foods. This is to travel on a weekend, or a weekday, to the butcher, to the farmer’s market, to the cheese shop, and to arrange those ingredients into a complete dish. This dish is best served lakeside, on a patio or a deck or in a porch, but it can also be served inside, if the weather dictates. The purpose of this is to open your eyes to the bounty that exists here, at the lake. You can source these items from Sentry, but I’d rather you not. Sorg’s, Lake Geneva Country Meats, Pinn Oak Farm, Hometown Sausage Kitchen, and others will provide you the meat you need. Brick Street Market will provide the Wisconsin cheese, which is so much better than California cheese it isn’t even funny. One of our many small farm stands will fill in the fiber. This should be done, and it should be done within the first four months of vacation home ownership.
4. Thou Shall Learn To Sail
Or at least sail aboard someone’s sailboat. Sailing is different from regular boating, and until you experience a full sail, with the moments of tension and the moments of boredom, you can only speculate as to the truth of that statement. There are boats all around, and after spending a few minutes mingling at the Lake Geneva Yacht Club, you’ll likely have found a boat to crew aboard. You needn’t crew during a race, but if you can, this is an especially exciting time. Just do what I do, ask to sit where you don’t need to do anything. That’s the best. Otherwise, buy a small Laser or a Hobie or a scow, and teach yourself to sail it. It isn’t hard, and it’s worth it.
5. Thou Shall Walk The Shore Path At Least Six Miles In Either Direction From Home
To go further is better, but six miles is a minimum. You can think you know the lake, that you know the shore, that you know the homes. Keep thinking that. Or, you can actually know these things and this knowledge is best accumulated by a shore path walk. You can see things that you cannot see from the lake, and you can get some moderate exercise in the process. The shore path is a treasure and if you haven’t explored it then you are missing out. This walk is pleasurable during all seasons, but it might be the most fantastic in the fall.
6. Thou Shall Not Judge Thy Vacation Home Until At Least 24 Months Past The Closing Date
This isn’t as obvious as you’d think. I see it all the time. People buy homes, hurray! And then people fail to use them or they fail to consider a list like this and actually try to enjoy their experience. They let the lake house become all work, all bills, and no pleasure. They are likely people that are destined to be forever left wanting, but even so. This is common, and it happens because of a failure to commit to the scene. If you find yourself, three months into a Lake Geneva vacation home experience, wondering if you’ve made a big mistake, just let that feeling pass. Unless economic deficiencies dictate a premature sale, hang on to the lake house for at least 24 months. This is very important. A home cannot become part of an established, comfortable routine until at least that amount of time has passed.
7. Thou Shall Swim From Thy Boat
This is not to be confused with commandment #2. That’s entirely different. This commandment is exactly as it sounds. Drive the boat to the middle of the lake, kill the engine, and swim. If you are over the age of 15 and you must swim with a life vest on, please do not do this. However, if you are a proficient swimmer, or at least an adept floater, you must do this. Pick a calm day so the boat doesn’t blow away from you, which is how people die in Lake Michigan, forever chasing a boat that never is caught. You may enter the water slowly, but a dive off the bow is preferred. You’ll marvel at the quality of the water, you’ll drip dry in the sun, and you’ll wonder why you don’t do it more often.
8. Thou Shall Make Fire and Keep It Burning All Day
This is a winter commandment, obviously. If you have a wood burning fireplace, this is the pure form of this exercise. Gas is okay, though the romance of the idea is lost on you. To be done right, you must start this fire on a snowy winter day upon waking. You must then keep this fire crackling all day, through breakfast and lunch, past your afternoon nap, and beyond dinner time. If you haven’t done this before, then you’re using your fireplace wrong. It wants to be burned, to consume deciduous bits. Use it.
9. Thou Shall Buy And Read At Least One Lake Geneva Coffee Table Book
Note the “And Read” part. To be connected to our surroundings, understanding history is important. Lake Geneva is rife with such history, and what better way to spend a few moments than catching up on that history. A side benefit of this commandment is that you’ll be more proficient when giving lake tours to your friends. You won’t tell people that the Schwinn’s owned such and such a house when it was actually the Wrigley’s. You also won’t mistake Judge Sears for the Sears and Roebuck Sears, either. The lake has amazing stories to tell, read them.
10. Thou Shall Fish From Thy Pier One Morning At 5 AM
My entire childhood, and presumably all of the days since, there has been a gentleman who has fished from the Loch Vista pier at 5 am from early spring until early summer. This man knows the lake better than we do, because he has done this. I have done it too, and fishing with the hopes of catching something as the sun pushes over the eastern horizon is quite enjoyable. You needn’t have a private pier to do this, as an association pier will serve this purpose just fine. The goal of this, and of all of these exercises is to get to know the lake better. To feel it, to live it, to understand it better than we currently do. If you catch a beautiful fish, this is a lucky benefit of this fishing, though as with all fishing it isn’t really the catching that matters.