It's a beautiful summer day, with the perfect light breeze lazily moving low-humidity air through the screened windows of your lake cottage. The kids are swimming or boating or tanning or whatever else they do when they aren't indoors. And you're out there with them, basking in the rays and the day. There's plenty to do and not enough time to do it all. This is summer lake life at its best.
Now, let's fiddle with the weather dials a bit and tweak that scenario. First, let's crank the humidity to 90% or so -- you know, a respectable summertime setting. The temperature should move with it to, oh, about 94 or so. And just for fun, there's a pop-up thunderstorm overhead that came out of nowhere, but seems determined to stick around.
With everybody indoors, the cottage got a lot smaller than you remember. Worse, time slowed to a crawl. There's nothing to do, except make bets on who's going to get on whose nerves first.
Funny, they don't talk about days like these in any of those “joys of summer life on the lake” magazines.
Lake life offers plenty of distractions to keep you occupied most of the time, but when bad weather sets in, you need help right away. That's when you reach for your handy lake cottage entertainment kit. Let's take a look inside.
Small, fast and easy to learn
A great lake cottage entertainment kit contains several types of games that share some basic traits. First, they don't take much room. Lake cottages aren't usually renowned for their spacious living quarters, so packing your kit with small items that do multiple jobs makes a ton of sense.
Next, the games in your kit should be easy to learn. You never know who might be there when you get blown indoors by inclement weather. If you pull out something that nobody knows how to play, you'll want to keep the explanation short so you can skip straight to the fun. Humidity and lightning can shorten patience and increase general crabbiness, so you want the fun to get going quickly.
Finally, of course, the games should be fun for a broad group of people. This seems like an obvious thought, but sometimes it isn't. It's easy for hard-core game lovers (myself included) to pack some of their obscure favorites while forgetting that nobody else was interested the last time the game hit the table.
Packing plastic cards
Start your kit with at least two decks of plastic playing cards. Note that I said “plastic,” not “plastic coated.” Standard card decks are plastic coated paper. Over time, the cards crease, their corners wear, and the whole deck gets generally cruddy. They're also wickedly susceptible to humidity, which is abundant in a lake environment. Plastic playing cards, on the other hand, are virtually indestructible. They last for years. You can even wash them with the dishes if they get dirty.
You can find cheap plastic playing cards in some department store toy aisles, but I recommend investing in decks from Kem, Gemaco, or Copag. Expect to pay from $15 to $30 for a pair of these plastic decks, but they're well worth the money. Pay attention to the size of the deck when you buy them. For euchre, cribbage, gin rummy, and most card games, you want poker size cards. They're the size most people think of when they imagine a deck of cards. Bridge decks are slightly narrower, with smaller printing on the face of the cards.
Adding some dominoes
Next, pick up a good set of dominoes. They're amazingly versatile things, with entertaining options for both solo play and up to six (or more) people. Steer clear of the basic double six domino sets you see everywhere. You want either a double nine or double twelve set.
The numbers in the name refer to the highest number shown on a domino in the set. A double six set -- the most common and cheapest option out there -- only goes up to six pips on each end of a domino, while a double twelve has twelve on each end. The higher the number, the more dominoes in the set and the more games you can play with them. Domino sets almost always include instructions for multiple games, and you can find plenty more online at sites like www.dominorules.com. Some of the most popular games include Chicken Foot, Mexican Train, and 42.
And if all else fails, you can always stand them up in a line and knock them down, which is guaranteed to keep the kids (and maybe dad, too) busy for hours.
Quality sets of cards and dominoes will get you started in fine style, but there's plenty of room to grow beyond them. Next week, we'll look at party games, dice games, and more that will fill weather-challenged days with memorable laughter and fun.