On a fall vacation over a year ago, my husband and I started looking for a weekend lake home.

Our first visits to homes within the price range originally set, were a sort of weird experience in finding total wrecks or a pristine cabin tucked in deep woods after endless winding miles. I imagined families arriving with children who'd become ill before arriving from the weaving, bobbling road.

Some had questionable lake frontage or driveway access seeming to be in the neighbor's yard. Some were set so high above the water that several flights of stairs wound back and forth to a dock positioned far below. One even had a two-seater tram that would give granny a quick descent accompanied by a grandchild.

My husband's favorite joke was that Kylie and I would be riding down when suddenly the cable would break. OK, I don't really see anything funny about that, but in any case the cabin had only two bedrooms. However, it had the most charming fire ring and rock patio outside just above the sheer drop to the lake.

We found the oddest collection of home handyman disasters and weirdnesses that we wondered if there was anyone who did anything right. It seemed as if anything goes at the vacation cabin.

During one of our visits we found a house that I'd found charming, but Dale felt was frightening close to a busy highway. This could prove disastrous to visiting grandkids wandering away from the house.

A house across the road was on a different lake and wasn't on our list, but had a for sale sign. We scoped it out and my husband was ecstatic, this was just what he wanted, he declared. Later he found the listing price and was shocked - so off our list it went.

I suggested we might need to spend a bit more and that perhaps that "diamond in the rough" he was looking for was really a tear down or an empty lot.

It was actually his brother-in-law who found "the place" first. He arranged a visit for us on a weekend we went and stayed at their home on the same lake. We also had another house in mind and were planning a visit there after checking the first place out.

I was not impressed - it felt like it needed a good cleaning and it had its own set of weirdnesses. One thing I didn't do was walk to the lake, but when the others returned, they raved about the nice gentle slope to the cove below. The really big deal about the place was that it had a separate garage on an adjoining acreage across the road from the house. The men literally drooled when they looked in the door. Wow, what they might do with a space like that!

Next, we went to a place that had looked promising in photos, but as we reached the door, the realtor confided, "this is a tear-down." It had a modern look from the outside, but that was because the old original two-story had been encased in add-ons. There was endless charm in many rooms, which were connected to each other in odd ways leading to lots of bedrooms, living areas and glass looking out to a very nice lake.

There was even a spacious garage outside and wonder-of-wonders, a sauna. A big bathroom had recently been remodeled and the bedrooms were spacious. But outside we found the originally extensive lot had been subdivided creating a strange lot line chopping lake frontage off near the corner of the house.

In my mind I was thinking of the family gatherings that must have taken place here and the many happy times spent together. But no, it was a 'tear-down' and we would need to keep looking.

There was something about the small rambler set on the nice lot with the garage across the road that had captured my husband's imagination. He kept talking about the addition we could put on the back after tearing off the useless addition that was there. Some odd "improvements" in the house had kept buyers at bay for the two years it had been on the market. The price was lowered and Dale kept talking about the possibilities.

I thought about the grungy kitchen with cheap dark colored cabinets, the narrow hallway to the bedrooms, the strangely out of place stained glass in a bay window, and the really steep little stairway going to the walkout basement.

The house was a kind of puzzle because it was a raised rambler, but it appeared that it should actually have a split-level entrance. Over Labor Day we decided on another visit to northwestern Wisconsin to a house on a different lake that had been on the market a long time and would be a "short sale" (a situation where more was owed than they could sell it for, but the bank had agreed to a sale taking place). It was set in woods and had lots of charm, but right before we left, suddenly it was no longer on the market.

We looked at several places and drove by "the place" again. Was this a bust and something that would never happen?

Back home we talked about it again and by now Dale had full-blown ideas of how to fix up "the place." He was determined this was it and I was warming to the idea. It was a beautiful lot with a nice woods setting; I could live in the house on an occasional weekend. I'd always wanted to live someplace "in the woods."

We arranged to visit the home again and this time when we opened the door scents of what seemed to be cleaning fluid residues met my nose. (Later, we discovered it was actually scented room fresheners.) I looked at it anew with a different set of glasses and realized that Dale had indeed found his "diamond in the rough." We would definitely be making an offer sometime soon.

Just before Christmas we did and our offer was low, so low we wondered if the guy would accept. He was shocked, but wanted to sell - this was the first offer he had had. His listing realtor told him to take it, but he countered and we came back halfway.

He accepted. We closed on Feb. 17, my sister Beth's birthday. We plan to use it 'as is' for this summer, and hope to start the process of undoing the weird changes, adding a two-story addition, re-doing the kitchen and finishing the basement into a family room, bathroom and a master bedroom. The split entry will return.

The upstairs has three bedrooms and, OK, the kitchen isn't so bad, it just needs a good cleaning for now. The biggest plus of all is that I will get my own room on the lower level of the addition where I can set up my spinning wheel and table for a sewing machine and crafts with a view out into the woods. This will be MY shop! And Dale will have his across the road.

I've thought about what I might be cooking up there and I would like to keep cooking simple at the lake. Here is a simple recipe for another soup from my Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cook Book (1975). When making this recipe I didn't have celery, so added chopped parsley instead just before serving. I added cooked cottage bacon to the soup when it was cooking and never put the butter on top, I guess I missed that small detail in reading the recipe.

Corn-Potato Chowder

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings (or chopped, if preferred)

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 to 1 cup water (for cooking)

1 teaspoon salt

1 16-ounce can whole kernel corn

1 1/2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon marjoram, crushed

5 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled

A handful of chopped fresh parsley (optional)


In a saucepan combine potatoes, onion, celery, water and salt. Cover, cook until the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. (You may need to add extra water.) Stir in undrained corn, milk, marjoram and a dash of pepper. Heat through. Use the bacon as a garnish or add it to the soup. Stir in the chopped parsley before serving. The original recipe suggests putting a pat of butter on top of each bowl of soup. (This is a "heritage" recipe.)