Three Lakes, WI + Medicine Lake

27 years ago, Dad had an itch to buy a little lake home in Northern Wisconsin. “That’s an irresponsible investment.” “How often will you really get up there? You’ll dread that four hour drive.” “The girls will hate it.” Against the advice of many, the Gramanns bought the little cottage out on a point at the end of what seemed like hundreds of miles of switchback, densely wooded roads.  While I’m sure Dad thought this would be more of a hunting lodge and barely-decorated space for hosting the annual guy’s fishing trip, the cottage became all of those things and more. A home full of coloring books and beach towels and cribbage and roaring fires and loon-call-filled nights.

How do you consolidate 27 years of memories into one blog post? You really can’t. But here the Gramann family (my two parents Bob & Kathy and older sister, Laura) will attempt our highlight reel. I’m sure that as long as Lake Effect Co. lives on, you’ll be hearing plenty more about our time at our beloved cottage on the water...

Our cottage sits on Medicine Lake in Oneida County, WI. This 396 acres of heaven is situated in the middle of the Three Lakes Chain of Lakes - the largest chain of inland freshwater lakes in the WORLD. Medicine Lake knows its powers.

Closest major city & airport?

We’re not sure if Eagle River can be considered a major city, though it does host the world championship of snowmobiling each year, so when people ask where our cottage is “up north,” I usually start orienting them from Eagle River to gauge how familiar they are with the area. Some know Minocqua because they vacationed there with their families as a kid. Don’t know Minocqua? How about Wausau? If Wausau doesn’t ring a bell for you either, then the closest major city would likely be Green Bay.  Go Pack! I digress...

Three Lakes Airport is just a two-lake boat ride away. Our grandpa (Bob’s dad) was a pilot and would circle the cottage a time or two in the plane to let us know he and Grandma had arrived Up North. We’d hop in the boat, race to the airport and have them back on the pier for cocktails in a matter of moments. We felt like the coolest kids around when we got to tell that story growing up.

Distance to nearest grocery store?

While Baker’s Foods has been the go-to all this time, at just about 15 minutes from the cottage, little Three Lakes now has a second grocer option.  Tree Huggers is your typical hippie spot, and if you know this family, our need for strange supplements, free-range, grass-fed, organic, local, etc., is usually in that category, and Tree Huggers has come to the rescue many times. If you’re making a big haul, Trig’s in Eagle River is only about 15 minutes from downtown Three Lakes. We often stop at Copps or Natural Living in Antigo along the way. Copps has a huge selection of beer...and garnishings for our mandatory Bloody Mary Salads (bloody marys or marias with cheese, sausage, and pickled brussel sprouts, asparagus, onions, beets, etc.) Bob is known for his bloody mary recipe. Sometime ask him to sing the bloody mary song for you...

Reason lake is important to you?

From Katherine: We’re a family of go-getters and entrepreneurs, which like most people these days, means that much of our lives are working long hours and living in a general state of stress. Having access to the cottage means a chance to truly unwind and finally have long-postponed conversations with each other. It means a chance to work before the sun hits the pier, which happens promptly at noon, as the tall trees on our property shade the pier otherwise. I used to hate this fact, but now it’s a total blessing as it allows me that focused time. Cell service is spotty, so it’s an easy excuse out of conference calls and endless texts. Dad is a small business owner, and that doesn’t come without a price; he was often home late from the office or working even when at home. We’d be busy with homework or social lives, and sometimes it felt like we existed under the same roof without really investing in conversation or one another. That was not the case at the cottage. We were each other’s only distraction for days on end, and it was sweet relief to see my parents truly unwound, at ease, and at their happiest. It STILL is. Laura and I both spent time living in CA for work, and even during that period, we easily found time to spend at least a week at the cottage each summer. I remember not being able to sleep as this week approached. I love holidays, I love football season, I love a lot of things with obnoxious enthusiasm, but nothing really compared to knowing I was cottage-bound. Upon my return to CA, each time, there was always something changed about me that coworkers would pick up on. Sporting a new tan was the obvious change but, there was a glow that came from within and they’d often remark, “What happens at this mystical lake place? When are you taking me?”

From Laura: I often tell people that my cottage is my favorite place on earth. It is magical for many reasons, but it wouldn’t be anything more than “just a family cabin” if it didn’t include the lake. The chain of lakes. Sure it has it’s share of bugs and vermin, but there really isn’t anywhere I’d rather be. We have fresh air, exciting wildlife, calming water sounds, endless trees, bottomless bloodies, a sunny pier, radio stations playing only country music, and too many memories to count. The pace of life couldn’t be slower. Sometimes in the summer we won’t eat dinner until 9pm because we don’t want to miss any sunlit festivity on the water. In the winter we get to enjoy a slower pace of life too, when we focus on roaring fires, practicing guitar, unlimited snowshoeing miles on the frozen lakes, continuous cups of hot coffee, and lazy cat naps. It’s a very special place near and dear to my heart that maintains its magical qualities every year, in every season.

From Kathy:  Whether we’re inside or out, focus is on the people we are with.  We sit close to each other and really listen in conversations!  The phone doesn’t ring, distractions are simply not there.  The cottage is small so we are near to each other.  The pier is rather small so even there we are close. It’s so easy to have endless chats.  Even our boat is on the small side so again, we are up close and personal with those we love.  Funny thing is we never tire of being together.  On summer evenings we have one of the most beautiful spots to dine - near the deck rail high above the lake amongst the tall pines.  Stunning, peaceful beauty.  God’s country.

From Bob: From the moment I hop in the car knowing my destination is our cottage, I begin to feel the load lift.   As the miles pass by enroute, the feeling builds.   Upon arrival, the feeling is quite literally realized when I take in the view of our road through the woods, the lakes, walk onto the deck, and the ultimate peaceful feeling.  

At a moment’s notice we can go to the pier, jump in the boat and be off to explore any number of the continuous lakes on the chain and likely view sights and nature we haven’t seen before or revisit the beautiful sights from the past. It’s always an enjoyable proposition to have the free time to take on side projects both indoors and outdoors around the cottage -- the normal deadline looming for completion doesn’t exist, and without the pressure a simple maintenance task around the cottage is enjoyable, not dreaded. Daytime or night, sitting around and staring into the campfire is mesmerizing and thought provoking, a good time for problem-solving, making plans.   Whether they’re biting or not, fishing is one enjoyable experience - if not in the quest for the big catch, simply the quiet tranquility when the line never straightens from a bite. All’s good! The challenge each year of climbing out of the water behind the boat to slalom ski again confirms “I’ve still got it.”   Refreshing, invigorating, tiring, thirst-building! Life is great at the cottage!

Favorite lake activities/foods/traditions?

  • The 4th of July parade is not to be missed. Like any small-town parade, the Three Lakes parade has local bands and emotional tributes and sirens and alllll the candy you’d need. It does also have a few items that may not be typical in other parades. This includes a Leinenkugel's “boat” where the fisherman cast out beers to the adult parade-goers. Our neighbor just so happens to work for Leine’s and ride that float, so the minute he locks eyes on our crew, that beer lands in dad’s hands.
  • The Aqua Devil Ski show, best viewed from an anchored boat on the other side of the safety buoys. Pack a cooler.
  • Splitting/stacking wood. One of dad’s favorite quotes is Henry Ford’s “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice” and when the winter is as cold as it is up here (and occasional unseasonably cool summer nights), the demand for firewood is high. Our two sheds and one outdoor stack do the trick in keeping us warm, twice.  
  • It’s been discussed multiple times now, but that’s because it’s the most important libation of the day: bloody mary salads.
  • Air mattress olympics. In short, how can you hurl yourself off the end of the pier, while clearing a queen size air mattress, most creatively. Judged on difficulty, artistry, and splash size.
  • Not to be forgotten are evening campfires. Includes guitar playing and singing (“The other day I saw a bear…”), gourmet s’mores, hot dogs over the open flames, whittling fresh roasting sticks, and mosquito-slapping.
  • Observing & avoiding dragonflies. Ever since the summer of 1996 when I developed an irrational fear of dragonflies that love to land on our sun-bathing bodies, dragonfly fascination has been at an all-time high. They find dad’s bald head to be simply THE place to be, and he seems to fully embrace this dragonfly-whisperer status. And if you’ve never seen dragonfly nymph (which we’ve incorrectly called hellgrammites since day one and will continue to forever), you’re up for something quite terrifying. Until you realize these are just shells and not actually small creatures ready to attack, our property may seem a little bit like a danger zone. I think the only pranks we’ve ever successfully executed (aside from firecrackers in the boathouse) revolve around these nymph shells. But in all seriousness, major credit goes out to these dragonflies, our true partners in mosquito-murder.
  • BNBN Club initiation and member meetings. This is our secret society of skinny dipping, which isn’t so secret now, is it? You’ll have to earn your right to learn what the acronym stands for though...
  • And while boats are very critical for the skiing and tubing that takes place, the most important time of day is booze cruise time. Grab your suit, a full cooler or two, a charcuterie platter, plus your shades, and we’ll see you back at the boathouse at around 10 PM.

What do you do when it rains?

Cribbage or Kings’ Corners from the top of our screened-in, a little rickety, very crooked boathouse, bundled up boat rides under the boat’s bimini top, puzzles, Precious Moments coloring books, catching up on never-ending reading lists, and the best naps you’ve ever experienced.

Local joints to check out?

  • Pine Isle - Accessible by boat or road, this bar & grill on Medicine Lake has a large, grassy yard with plenty of lake frontage. Yard games, picnic tables, live music, etc.
  • Sunset Grill - restaurant & bar on the water. Accessible by boat or road. Also has an on-water gas station. Bob raves over the Corned Beef Hash. Kathy gets the Sunset omelette -  basil, sun-dried tomato, spinach & swiss cheese goodness.
  • Northland Clothing Co
  • Deja Brew - While it’s the only coffee shop in town, it features locally roasted beans and they’re delightful.
  • Three Lakes Mercantile & General Store offers an awesome selection of local gifts, mocassins, kitchen accessories, etc.
  • Lickadee Splitz - ICE CREAM! And the fudge is delicious, too. 
  • Three Lakes Winery - Tasty gift ideas and plenty of samples! Cranberry blush, anyone?

Best fish fry?

Bonnie’s Lakeside. And while their fish, potato salad and slaw are quite delicious (and no one in our crew is complaining about family-style), the broasted chicken is also available on Fridays. On warm nights, the front lawn overlooking glassy Spirit Lake is crawling with kiddos and adults alike, playing lawn games and enjoying the happy atmosphere.

Fish prominent in the lake?

APPARENTLY musky, but we’re going with mini walleye, crappie, perch, “Scarface” the Northern Pike we’ve all caught 7 times & more little rock bass than seems necessary.

Lessons learned at the lake?

Stress management & finding your happy.  We know many people who use the cottage for their visual happy place.  Come visit, and you’ll likely do the same. We’ve come to realize that one of the key components to this happy place is its total freedom. The distance from “civilization” and lack of structure, schedule, and obligation enables us to access feelings of freedom in their purest form. We get all cheesy on the Fourth of July because we’re so blessed to live in a place that allows us these liberties. It might also have something to do with the never-ending happy hour. I digress...

Slowing down OR moving your body can be healing - choose accordingly. During times of high stress, we can all attest to the therapeutic qualities of the cottage. The options are endless, but some favorite therapies include splitting wood, swimming, paddling, and walking. Our family starts every morning with a walk before breakfast. In summer, we wear our suits under our clothes so we can head directly to the pier afterwards for a dip, starting the day energized and refreshed. This is also prime eagle-spotting time, so it’s an incredible, and somewhat terrifying, win-win when they fly low over the channel our pier sits on as we’re out in the water. Just this summer our property had a resident eagle who we named Eduardo, and he could not stop delighting us with his flyovers. That’s freedom in its purest form, eh? #AMERICA

Did we mention sleep? With all seriousness, it’s easy to catch up on zzz’s at the cottage, as we often feel like we enter a black hole of deep sleep, the kind you can probably only get from truly fresh air. And the nap game here is so strong - whether pier-side or on one of the cozy cottage couches, you’re bound to fall fast & deep, awakening refreshed and ready for the next round of fun.

Other things we’ve taught guests through their time at the lake:

  • How to wash dishes by hand - no electric dishwasher.
  • Beebee gun target practice.
  • Bear deterrent strategies.
  • How to lose when playing “spoons” around the kitchen table.
  • Shooting-star gazing at night on the boat in the middle of the lake.

Those who have been to our little home on the water will certainly attest to the happy, peaceful, blissed-out version of the Gramann family that you see when you’re lakeside. Come see for yourself! But keep in mind that guests, like fish, start to smell after three days...