Hello, Mökki

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last three cabin seasons about what to name our cabin. But at the end of the day, no one cares to commit to anything. And that’s because you can’t choose a cabin name — the name has to emerge organically, as if it was there the whole time and you just stumbled upon it.

But I tried. Hard. I really wanted to stumble upon something. A recent Facebook post told me that people do, indeed, name their cabins and even refer to them that way. I learned about Lupine Hus and Windsong and Cedar Cove and Spruce Lodge. And David Sedaris famously named his beach house The Sea Section.

And suggestions for me from other people included:

  • Island View Cabin
  • and it’s Swedish equivalent Ö Vy Hus
  • Nilnoo Woods, borrowing a nickname that combines both Mike’s and my last names.
  • Kaleside Cabin, a smart ass nod to Mike messing with my carefully chosen lake-themed accessories and turning them into kale-themed accessories.
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  • And my favorite suggestion:  FRED

 

The one that emerged most naturally and even got some use was Camp Nilnoo. I loved it. I mean LOVED it. I made artwork in my head that would be the sign at the end of our long-ass driveway, welcoming people to Camp Nilnoo. I made up songs about going to Camp Nilnoo and sang them softly to myself in the car on the way up north. But I was the only one to get excited about Camp Nilnoo — and that’s because, of all the Nilnoos in my house, I’m really the only one who is called Nilnoo. As if no one else cares to combine their name with mine. It only works in one patriarchal direction. Sigh.

So I stopped trying. It would just be the cabin. Like everybody else.

 

But this summer, quite organically, I started uttering this phrase as I approached the steps to the cabin upon arrival:

 

“Hello, Mökki.”

 

And sometimes I’ll talk to the cabin; if I find a broken handrail dislodging from the cedar logs, I’ll say “Poor little mökki.” If we walk in the front door and find no bat poop, I’ll say “Good little mökki!” And if I sit on her top step and stare out over the islands while the sun sets, I might say “Thank you, Mökki.”

I have no idea if I’m using this word properly. Someone gave me the word and I never consulted any sources to verify it’s meaning or usage. The person who gave me the word was a salesperson at FinnStyle, a Minneapolis mecca for all things Finnish, including the most complete collection of Marimekko designs in the nation. You may know Marimekko by its iconic Poppies design:

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When you walked into FinnStyle, you were welcomed by three things; a riot of color and pattern, a cup of hot coffee, and an actual Finn. The Finn approached me because I was drunk on Marimekko, unfocused and overly excited and likely to break things.

 

“What are you shopping for?” she asks.

“My cabin,” I say.

“Oh…” she says, “your mökki.”

 

When she says it, she purses her lips into a strange pucker so the little word can tumble out. It sounds a little like “murky” . . . if you had marbles in your mouth.

 

“My what?” I say.

“Your mökki.”

“My mlrrkkee? What’s a mlrrkkee?” 

 

She won’t say the word “cabin,” as if that is a word that does not apply to her. She describes it as  “the small home that Finns go to in the summertime for rest and relaxation.” That’s a long explanation when you could’ve just said “cabin.” But the word mökki clearly means something to her; it’s a concept, not a thing. And it appears to me like a form of national pride:  The Small Homes That Finns Go To in the Summertime for Rest and Relaxation. Something they all do, not just the privileged few.

And perhaps she wants to draw a line of differentiation between a mökki and some American cabins which are really just houses and may or may not be small and may or may not be purely restful  — with their jet skis and their double ovens and their satellite Tv’s.

But I am there, at FinnStyle, drooling over Finnish textiles, so she must’ve known that I have a mökki. And she took extra care wrapping up my Yellow Poppies tablecloth, on its way to the small home that I go to in the summertime for rest and relaxation.

 

When “Hello, Mökki” comes out of my mouth the first time, I don’t worry about how it’s pronounced. For me, mökki rhymes with hokey pokey. And I don’t worry about the nonsense of calling your cabin “Cabin”  —  which is sort of like naming your dog Perro. But I’m not doing that, I’m not naming it. I’m just greeting it. And thanking it. And sometimes, when no one is looking, petting it.

I don’t care if it’s officially named. I don’t care if there’s no sign at the end of my long-ass driveway. And I don’t care if no one else uses it. This might be something personal between my Mökki and me.

 

But I’m totally getting a little sign by the front door that says “Hello, Mökki.”

 

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CABIN SEASON, DAY 1: a story in pictures.

Opening day comes just once a year — usually a cold, rainy day in May. It’s a holiday for people like us; not just the beginning of summer but also like visiting a friend you haven’t seen for a really long time. You can’t wait to see her. And you wonder what she looks like. Does she look the same? Did she change her hair over the winter? You just don’t know because The North is deserted in winter and there’s no one to tell you what she’s been doing.

This is both surreal and stressful. This cabin exists on its own in the eight months between September and May. Animal families, squatters or fugitives could’ve found an open door and moved in, living there comfortably and playing gin with the cards they found in the drawer. Storms could’ve felled trees or damaged windows. Nature could’ve rearranged the landscape in that way that she does. All of this could’ve been happening while we obliviously went to work and drove the kid  and made dinner and watched Netflix just four hours to the south. How would we know? We might as well be on another planet.

As we drive north, we go backwards in time through temperatures you thought you had left behind in March. Sometimes it’s the fishing opener. Sometimes it’s Mother’s Day. But never is it warm. I dig out sweatshirts and sweaters that are too ugly to wear in civilization  — and I wear them all at once, layered one on top of the other, because the mindset of May made me forget to pack a jacket.

When we arrive, it is both surprising and comforting. She is still here. She did not burn down. There is just one small tree fallen across the driveway, easily cleared by hand. And there are things growing and blooming that I swear I have never seen before. It’s like she continued to live even though no one was here to witness it.

Here is the very mundane story, in pictures, of getting acquainted with the cabin we last saw in September of 2016:

As we drive up the long-ass driveway for the first time, I look in the woods and I see this little house. “What’s that?” I ask Mike.

“It’s an outhouse,” he says.

“Are you serious?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says.

“Is it ours?!” I ask.

“No,” he says.

And I’m kind of bummed. Not that I want an outhouse — I’m more of an inside toilet girl — but it would be kind of fun to discover an abandoned outhouse that was once used by the ghosts of your cabin. How is it that it took me three years to notice the ghost outhouse? All I can figure out is that the leaves of the trees have rendered it invisible in the past; but this year, I caught them unawares.

 

 

Further up the driveway, I also see a colony of yellow flowers, a whole carpet of them, winding in and around the birch trees. This is sort of like when your kindergartner comes home and uses a new, impressive word. It’s exciting but also unsettling. “Where did you hear that? I never taught you that!” But you forget that there are things happening even when you’re not around. How can these flowers exist in this space without my knowledge? I didn’t plant them — how did they get here? How does the world revolve without me?

 

 

We find Liam’s rowboat in place against the cabin, undisturbed by winter. Last year, we found it tipped over and full of a winter’s worth of melted snow. We (and by “we,” I mean “Mike”) take the canoe out of the crawl space and put it back in its summer spot.

When Mike goes to open the crawl space, he finds it open. Not just unlocked — but open. The padlock is taken off and the door is ajar. For how long, we have no idea. Could it have stood open all winter? If Mike left it open by accident, then the answer is yes. Or is it the fugitives, looking for buried treasure and life jackets? These are both very real possibilities. Either way, nothing is missing. So — you know what happens when your crawl space is open all winter? Nothing.

 

 

Inside the cabin, there is no bat poop. I repeat: THERE IS NO BAT POOP. This means we won. The bats have moved out permanently and found a more hospitable neighborhood. After checking for bat poop, I light a citrus-scented candle and spray copious amounts of Juniper Ridge Cabin Spray. Cabin spray — this is a real thing. Apparently, I am not the only one who can’t sit down when it smells like funk. Juniper Ridge Cabin Spray still smells like cabin but more like clean cabin. I love it. Liam holds his nose but that just makes me spray more.

 

 

I check on the groundcovers I planted last summer and they all came back, bright and limey and ready to choke out the weeds. I find what I think is deer poop down by the fire pit but Mike informs me that it’s actually moose poop. When a moose poops by your fire pit, you know you are in the real North. I almost feel privileged that he chose our fire pit to desecrate.

 

 

I go for a walk to see if anything has changed. I find this cabin that I don’t think I’ve seen before. I must have walked by it dozens of times. But it doesn’t speak very loudly; it looks like it could’ve been sitting there, unused, unvisited, for decades. This happens sometimes. Families grow and move away but no one wants to sell. So they just keep it and not go. And it just waits, patiently, while its paint slowly peels.

 

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I pass my favorite outhouse, sitting at the top of handmade stone stairs.

 

 

The floating sauna is pulled out of the lake, waiting for repairs. Someday, I will make friends with these people so I can use their floating sauna.

 

 

Walking further, I see an unsightly septic tank and it reminds me of the difficulty of living so far from town. We have no city sewer system. We are responsible for the disposal of our own excrement. Some people have outhouses and some people have septic tanks. With a septic tank, there’s more talk about poop and toilet paper in your daily conversation than there would be at home. Bat poop, moose poop, people poop — these are all acceptable conversations at the cabin.

 

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I cut through the fishing resort; some boats are in the water. Some look like they, too, are waiting for someone to arrive and give them a purpose again.

 

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I take a photo of this boat because of the paddle; a paddle makes everything more picturesque.

 

 

I find the remains of a crawfish down by the water.

 

 

We play cards and Monopoly. And in the Monopoly game, I find this handwritten replacement for Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s not my writing. It’s not Mike’s writing. It’s not grandma’s writing. We go through the list of everyone who has ever played that game of Monopoly. Not one of them matches the writing of the handmade deed. Where did this come from? What happened to the deed for Pennsylvania Avenue? And all I can figure out is that fugitives really did live in our cabin over the winter, and they played Monopoly, and they accidentally misplaced Pennsylvania Avenue. But they were good fugitives because they were conscientious enough to make us a new one.

 

 

Before I go, I take a video of the waves lapping at the rocks on the beach. I must have a hundred videos like this from shores all over the world. But it never it gets old.

And I’m always trying to take it home with me.

Cabin Reno Goes Outside: Frank Ford the Northwoods Plant Man Sends Me Before and After Pix via Snail Mail

My relationship with nature is complicated. When I moved from the city to a rural neighborhood in New Hampshire, I feared for my life. Seriously. I cowered in my house, more afraid of the sounds coming from the forest than I was of the drunk guy at the bus stop. There is such a thing as too much nature — and if you’d like to laugh at me and my insecurities, I will re-post my feelings about too much nature next time, in a frantic missive I wrote during my time there, probably scrawled from the inside of my closet.

I thought Frank Ford the Northwoods Plant Man could rescue me from too much nature at my cabin. Mike was the general in charge of bat insurgency and I was the secretary of weed defense; but I had no army to lead the campaign while I was away. I don’t know if you know this, but weeds grow. Like constantly. It threatens my need for order and has the potential to render my sweet little cabin . . . oh god . . . I can barely even say it . . . ugly.

Other examples of too much nature that I hoped Frank could manage include the charming but lethal “steps” leading from our cabin down to the dock.

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The “Steps”

 

Crumbling and haggard from years of shifting earth and encroaching vegetation, it was probably safer to just rappel down the hill than to use the “steps.” We found ourselves going around the steps instead of using the steps because, in addition to being un-usable, they looked like some archeological find we could be desecrating.

 

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The “steps” going up.

 

 

The path to the beach was no better; steep, narrow and riddled with tree roots and raspberry thorns, I often pictured myself tumbling down the path instead of walking. If I were more childlike, I’d just get in forward roll position at the top of the path and somersault to the bottom.

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You can’t see the path to the beach because it’s buried in GD weeds.

 

So we never invite anyone to our cabin. It’s a total liability. Plus there’s nowhere for you to sleep unless you bring your own tent.

I also found that I went from the cabin to the dock, the cabin to the dock. I never stopped in between. Get on the boat, get out of the boat. When you get out of the boat, you go in the cabin. Something was wrong here. And we figured out that the weedy, dusty shitshow at the bottom of the “steps” just didn’t invite us to sit down and relax.

This is our weedy, dusty shitshow . . .

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It was time to take the cabin renovation outside. You learned about Frank Ford earlier; how he doesn’t have a computer. Or an email address. And how he went to London to see how the British celebrate the 4th of July.  I called him to tame my wilderness and to create more pleasant traffic lanes on my property. And he did. He truly did. With the aid of a little flagstone, cedar, and a merry band of Finns, he transformed an inhospitable place into an outdoor room. It’s like we put an addition on our house — an addition with no walls — the impact is just that great.

But just to be clear: it doesn’t take much. I’m not talking about waterfalls and pizza ovens. I’m just talking about a steady place to put your foot. A weed-free place to sit down. Delineated spaces that invite you to stop and take in the view.

But more importantly, he takes the edges off my need to weed, to conquer nature. And instead, place a little more trust in Mother Nature.

He’s very convincing that way. When he arrives the first time, before I know that we will be communicating via US Mail, I offer him a cup of coffee.

“I don’t drink coffee,” he says. “I tried it once when I was 63. Not for me.”

And I am impressed. Not because coffee is so bad for you but because it’s rare to meet a person who wants to do it on their own. No crutches.

“Oh I still get sleepy,” he adds. “Sometimes I buy a triple espresso and put it in my fridge. When I need a little charge, I just . . ”

. . . he pantomimes opening the fridge, taking the cup, throwing back one sip, putting it back in the fridge and closing the door.

And even though he just contradicted what I thought about him, I am still impressed. He’s still a man who understands the nature of things but refuses to follow the herd. I think he’s man who can help me with my rocks and weeds without making my paradise look like it sits on a cul-de-sac.

“What do I do about them?” I ask. “The weeds? How do I keep this under control?” I’m looking for permission to nuke things. Maybe some insider tips from a pro. But, instead, he looks at me and pantomimes pulling weeds. He reaches out with his right hand, grabs an invisible bundle and throws it over his shoulder. Then he repeats with his left hand.

“Oh . . okay.” I say, a little ashamed.

“What is this?” I ask, pointing to the thorny sticks that grab and poke and scratch me in the ankles.

“That’s a wild rose,” he says.

“They are everywhere! I tried to kill them last year but they keep coming back!”

“They’re beautiful when they bloom,” he says.

“Yeah, but they’re in all the paths and the thorns scratch me as I walk by. What can I do about that?”

And, very calmly, he says “Wear long pants.”

I’m beginning to feel like Veruca Salt, screeching for her own golden goose. If Veruca Salt had realized the error of her ways and felt remorse.

It appears that Frank Ford is more about adding instead of taking away. Enhancing instead of annihilating. Working with instead of against. He sees room for real steps and paths and sitting areas so that I can enjoy my weeds instead of battle them.

And now that he is almost done, I can walk safely here . . .

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And here . . .

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This little walkway gets me halfway to the beach without somersaulting. And it’s also a pretty good place to stand and watch boats.

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And I can sit here . . .

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As we plan, we discuss a small outcropping that could be tamed into a sitting area for one, a mini patio. He writes it down on his yellow legal pad. “We’ll call it your mini pad,” he says.

Here’s my lakeside perch for one, my mini pad.

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And I take a chill pill. I sit down on my flagstone resting places and look around me. I stop freaking out at the notion of every errant seedling poking up through the soil. In return, I get these little orange flowers that open up while I am away.

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I get these yellow ones that pop up in front of my mini pad.

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And white ones and purple ones sprinkled around the bottoms of birch trees. What looks like a weed one day could turn out to be a flower the next. But how would I have known that without Frank?

 

 

Frank is finishing up this weekend. I haven’t seen the final FINAL result; there’s still more to be done. And, because cabin season is over, I won’t see it until May.

“Can you send me some pictures when you’re done?” I ask. As soon as it leaves my mouth, I realize what I’m asking. He will have to take some photos with his camera, bring them to the Target an hour away to get them developed, and then send them to me in the mail.

“Sure!” he says. This is how he lives. It won’t be a problem. “But I have one more thing to tell you,” he adds.

“Yeah?”

“Yes . . . it’s my birthday today.”

There’s really only one thing to say, isn’t there? But I pause because I’m both surprised and honored that he shared this with me. “That’s great!” I say.  “Happy Birthday!”

“Well thank you for that. I don’t talk to many people so I have to say something if I want to get some happy birthdays.”

“Happy Birthday,” I say again.

Because he totally deserves two.

 

 

Let’s Read About Cabins and Win A Free Book

Boston Mills Press and Firefly Books have recently released a new edition of their quasi-classic The Cottage Bible. And they’ve graciously gifted me a copy to give away to a lucky Cabin Crush reader.

There are a lot of great cabin books in my house. Like this one . . .

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Cabin Porn: Inspiration For Your Quiet Place Somewhere

 

And this one . . .

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Hide and Seek: The Architecture of Cabins and Hideouts

 

And this one . . .

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Back to the Cabin: More Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway

 

And, of course, there’s this one . . .

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The Cabin: Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway

(if you want to read about how I geeked out all over myself when I met the author of the last two books, aka how cabin architecture relates to Shaun Cassidy, you can click here.)

 

But The Cottage Bible is different. This is a nuts and bolts manual for the pragmatic cabin owner who doesn’t shop for the perfect salt and pepper shakers or cry every time they hear a loon. This is for people like Mike, who has a new part-time job at Let’s-Worry-About-The-Cabin-R-Us. When I’m wrestling with throw pillows to find out which ones are squishiest, he’s daydreaming about the Home Depot bucket he’s going to MacGyver into a mousetrap. Tomayto, Tomahto. The point is that there’s stuff you can do to avert and/or deal with cabin calamities and thus maximize the enjoyment of your cabin time.

According to the blurb, it’s “an all-in-one compendium of vacation-home knowledge . . . an essential collection of troubleshooting and problem-solving tips, a reliable guide to all manner of flora and fauna, and an indispensable manual for getting the most out of your home-away-from-home.”

Topics include Boating, Maintaining Canoes and Kayaks, Winterizing Your Boat and Motor, Swimming Safety, The ins and outs of Fishing, Campfires and Campfire Foods, Building a Birdhouse or a DIY Sauna. There’s an elaborate section on critters but, strangely, not much info on how to get rid of critters which is really how I approach critters and please don’t send me hate mail, PETA. You can read about the various snakes at your cabin – which I did not do. Instead, I closed my eyes and turned those pages super fast.

I learned that worrying about a monster living at the bottom of the lake who will rise up and terrorize you is a common phobia (note to self: cancel therapy appointment). And even better, they provide an explanation of lake anatomy that proves that monsters can’t survive at the bottom of the lake. And science would never lie to me. So I feel better about that.

Most helpful are the checklists for opening and closing the cabin because, dang, that is a huge job for Mike and I just show up with the chips. That probably isn’t fair.

 

To win a copy of The Cottage Bible, just tell me in the comments section where you you’d like your dream cabin to be. Lake Superior? The Pacific Northwest? An island in the Baltic Sea? This is for dreaming big so don’t be shy. I’ll randomly choose one comment and pop your prize in the mail.

 

Cabin Crush Rehab Updates: The Finnish Carpenter Flees the Interview and Kristin Conquers Nature

Cabin season #3 is well under way and we are still wallowing in the dregs of the Finnish Carpenter’s good intentions. To this day, two years after our cabin rehab project began, I still can’t shower at my cabin. Consider the kinds of activities that take place at a cabin, outside, in the heat, with fish. Add in one teenage boy and there just aren’t enough baby wipes in the world to take care of that kind of stink.

I have a shower – a beautiful one, tiled in river rock – but, unlike useful showers, my shower spits out a trickle of scalding hot water from the spout. It would take me two weeks  just to get my hair wet in there. And adjusting the scalding temp isn’t possible because we’re missing a vital organ in the body of plumbing called a “mixer.”

The funny thing is, there’s a “mixer” at the Finnish Carpenter’s house that I ordered from HoDe for him to install. But, just like that Cure tape you left at your old boyfriend’s house, you’re just going to have to forget about it.

Because the Finnish Carpenter’s isn’t coming back. He says he is but he’s not. I now know that when he says he’s “gonna try and make it over there” he really means “see ya later fuckers.”

I’ve learned a lot from the Finnish Carpenter, a man who promised so many things and then just stopped showing up, leaving us to stink up our new cabin when things got complicated. Or boring. Whenever we discussed needs or wants for our cabin reno, the Finnish Carpenter would nod and go “Oh sher.” He said oh sher to everything, long strings of requests and questions, nodding his head the whole time. And I would always be like “Don’t you want to write any of this down?”

Oh Kristin, that’s just your obsessive need to control everything, I’d tell myself. I tried to let go and trust his ability to maintain lists in his head; my way isn’t always the right way, amiright?

Well, that was foolish. Just like the kid who gets bored with math because he can’t find his planner, the Finnish Carpenter doesn’t have my cabin in his head anymore  – so it turns out that my way IS the right way! You DO need to write that stuff down or you might forget that you have people right across the lake from you who can’t take a shower. Can’t you smell that?

The next character to enter our cabin drama puts a salve on this wound. He is the antidote to the Finnish Carpenter. He shows me that I am right about just about everything and that my way is always the right way.

He is Frank Ford the Northwoods Plant Man, called in to tame my wild, rocky, weed-infested frontier. Don’t forget about my relationship with weeding; yes, this is supposed to be a wild place but it’s MY wild place and I will determine how wild is too wild.

And THIS wall of weeds is blocking my paradise. Frank Ford is going to help me.

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The first thing I notice about Frank Ford the Northw00ds Plant Man, besides the sweatpants hiked up around his middle, is that he writes stuff down. Even interrupting me to do so, saying to himself “Just a minute now, Frank,” holding his forefinger to the sky, trying to remember what he was going to write down.

He takes copious notes and makes meticulous plans – ON PAPER! And he shares these plans either in person or . . . via the US Mail.

Because Frank Ford the Northwoods Plant Man doesn’t have an email account. He doesn’t have an email account because he doesn’t have a computer.

At first, I am horrified. And then, I am jealous.

The look on his face is always happy. He is never in a hurry. Everything he needs is on his clipboard. And his work is always impeccably done. DONE being the operative word. It is DONE in accordance with his meticulous notes, in an extremely timely manner. He finishes what he starts because he writes it down on paper with a pen. Maybe a pencil. End of story.

And I think he’s the happiest man alive.

“I gave my assistant $5000 to go to the cities, to that Apple store, and buy me all the doo dads and the goo gaws I would need, ” he tells me. “She said she’d set it up for me. But it’s still sitting there. In the boxes. I just don’t want it.” He waves his hand dismissively.

I warn him that equipment becomes obsolete quickly.

“It’s been sitting there for three years,” he says. “Is that too long?”

“It’s been sitting in the boxes, unopened, for three years?!”

“Yep,” he says. “She’s a little miffed with me.”

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “I’ll just email it to you. . . ”

Or  “I saw it on Pinterest . . .”

Or  “Can you send me some photos?”

He can’t do any of those things. But he can and does call me. We have lovely but brief conversations where we exchange pleasantries and pertinent information, just like in the olden days. Maybe he tells me how he once drove his car in reverse for 7 miles back in ’76 or ’77. Or maybe he tells me about his trip to London to see how they celebrate the Fourth of July. And then he reads from the notes he’s carefully written down so as not to forget anything.

And, if he has the time, he will definitely send me some photos of his progress. First he drives to my cabin with his Canon Sure Shot and he takes photos and then he drives an hour to the nearest Target to have them developed and then he puts the photos in an envelope with my name and my home address and a good old fashioned STAMP . . . and he will send me some photos.

And he is the happiest man alive.

 

As Frank’s work comes to a close, I will post before and after pix. I might post them right from my phone. Or I might draw them. We’ll see which way makes me happiest.

 

Yes, You Definitely Need a Gnome For Your Cabin. Here’s Why:

Whenever I arrive at the cabin, before unloading our duffel bags and the cold-chest out of the back of the Jeep, I walk the barely-there path to the screen door and simultaneously reach for its handle and bend down to pat Woody on his little pointy head. Woody sits outside the porch, just to the right of the screen door, and his head is smooth and welcoming like he has happily weathered storms while keeping watch over our happy place.

Mike will tell you that gnomes are a decorative accessory and I should stop buying them. But every time I pat that pointy head, I feel safe and happy and very, very welcomed. And history tells me I’m right.

I recently bought this little guy:

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. . . and he’s been waiting for cabin season, perched on top of book mountain. When he goes to the cabin, he will be welcomed by Woody, Yellow Gnome, Gus and Bjorn —

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— a little family of watchers.

 

When we were little cabin dreamers, we called a gnome a Tomten because of this book.

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The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren came out at Christmas time and it scared me because it was dark and ghostly and the Tomten secretly visited sleeping farm animals in the middle of the night. He was a little grumpy and disheveled but he took good care of the cows and the farm cats and even the children so, even though he scared me, I liked him.

According to tradition, the tomten lives in the houses and barns of the farmstead, and secretly acts as a guardian. If treated well, he will protect the family and the animals from evil and misfortune. He might even help out with some chores (dear gnome, clean mouse traps, please). However, they are also known to be short tempered, especially when offended.They are easily put off by lazy farmers and a careless lack of proper respect  — much like the native Minnesotans, don’t ya know. They will not under any circumstances tolerate rudeness, like swearing or urinating in the barn or mistreating your animals; this could result in a hard strike to the ear.

So, seriously, don’t mess with your gnome. And if you spill something on the floor, it is considered good manners to shout a warning to the gnome below. As in, “watch out, Woody!” If you don’t, you might spend half the day looking for your glasses when you just saw them RIGHT THERE! That, friends, is your gnome talking. Just be a good person, and your gnome will take care of you. I promise.


 

Some gnome words for your enjoyment:

 

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In Swedish, gårdbo, or “farmyard dweller.”

 

 

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In Norwegian, gardvord, meaning “yard warden.”

 

 

 

 

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In Finland, he is mostly known as joulupukki, or “Yule Goat.”

 

Don’t you think you need a Yule Goat this Christmas? Giving you the finger? I know I do.

 

My shiny gold yule goat, sitting atop book mountain, has not yet been named. If you have any suggestions for this newest member of our cabin-watching team, give me a holler, y’all.

 

 

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“Troll Wondering How Old He Is” by Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen

 

 

Things I Bought For My Cabin Because I Miss It: 2016 Edition

January is over and that’s a good thing. I had a little meltdown recently because my post-holiday slump was dragging me down the rabbit hole and it lasted a whole freakin’ month. My urge to leave and go somewhere, anywhere, was so strong but I was held hostage by my nemesis — the calendar (shakes fist in air). My life is not so complicated but when I added the plans and activities of two other people, there just wasn’t a single opening that was big enough to allow for a relaxing getaway; if you have to smash it in, it just feels like another obligation on the calendar. Gah!

I settled for an overnight at a hotel three miles from my house on what was to be the coldest cold snap of the year — the kind that makes your forehead sting. The kind that makes young women in tiny dresses and open toed shoes feel actual pain, especially when I walk by in my Sorel boots and dog-walking coat (she says from experience). And on this coldest of cold nights, we had tickets to (dot dot dot) a hockey game. And after the hockey game, we came back to find that the heat in our very nice, upscale hotel room couldn’t keep up, so we slept under layers of bathroom towels strategically placed over the standard, and normally adequate, bedding. There was a lot of survival cuddling that night but not even a skilled archeologist could have excavated my actual body from the many layers of clothing I wore that night.

It was a getaway . . . but not quite far enough away.

This is when I start missing the cabin. It’s a guaranteed change of scenery that never ever asks anything of me except to enjoy my surroundings. Even a cold cabin can be a respite — cold can be beautiful — it’s the GET part and the AWAY part that are important.

But my cabin is seasonal. There is no heat source. And it’s location up the long-ass driveway would mean I’d have to call the National Guard for a ride to my door. It’s a completely uninhabited locale; what few neighbors there are abandon that stretch of road long before the snow flies, leaving our cabin to weather the winter alone, with only the trees and the foxes for companionship. I don’t even know what it looks like right now; how deep is the snow? Up to her windows? Higher? Is there anyone living under her eaves? Have there been any visitors, wild or otherwise? There’s no way for us to know. Mike is probably experiencing small bouts of angina as he reads this, an unmonitored cabin being one of his greatest anxieties. So many things to go wrong without his supervision. Maybe a collapsed roof or a frozen pipe. Or a destructive band of hibernating bears denning in our kitchen cabinets (sorry, Mike. Those things AREN’T happening. I PROMISE!).

It’s a good thing that I miss my cabin. This forced separation keeps the romance alive. And I keep her in my heart by buying her gifts. Not as many as last year, our first year apart, but just a few baubles to show how much I care.

 

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Vintage Orange Carafe: When you put a pitcher of water on the table, everyone drinks more water. And if that means that I can have this vintage orange carafe, then I will drink lots and lots of water. Lots.

 

 

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Paint by Numbers Tray: At the cabin, you often find yourself bringing food outside. But when you have your drink in one hand and your snack in the other, how do you carry your  People magazine? That’s why this small Paint by Numbers Tray is a necessity (yes, Mike, I said necessity), just big enough for a tall glass of Mr. Pibb and a small bowl of Cheetos. Because you can have junk food at the cabin. The close-up on the right shows that this paint-by-number is left strategically undone for your enjoyment. If you’d like one of your own, you can find it online or in-store at Fishs Eddy.

 

 

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Linen Alphabet Wall Hanging: Most vintage-esque cabin finds are clutter-y and rough around the edges. If you have too many of them, your eye gets overstimulated and your mind manufactures a smell like wet basement. This linen alphabet is spare and minimalist but still has a whiff of happy days gone by. And textiles are perfect for the bathroom; it’s basically like hanging a towel on the wall.

 

So the missing has begun. And so has the dreaming and the planning and the continual nesting. Are you wondering about the little gnome in the top photo? Sorry, you’ll have to wait until next time. . .

 

How to Stay Happy in the Dark of Winter

As we edge closer to December 22, each day gets darker and darker. I begin my day in the dark — and my day isn’t even close to ending when darkness falls again; I often have a compulsion to put my jammies on before I’ve even figured out what we’re having for dinner.

In some parts of the world, they get only a few hours of precious daylight this time of year. And some get none at all.  Despite the darkness, Denmark and the Scandinavian countries routinely top the surveys of the world’s happiest people. Last year, Denmark was #1 followed by Norway at #2, Sweden at #5 and Finland at #7.

Not coincidentally, these countries also lead the world in the strength of their collective cabin culture. In Sweden alone there are nearly 600,000 summer/winter houses and more than 50% of the population has access to one through family or friends. Scandinavian cabins aren’t symbols of privilege;  the dwellings are simple and cozy,  helping people connect with nature, connect with people, and shed the clutter and noise of the city.

Sometimes the cabin is known as smultronställer , meaning “wild strawberry spot,” a Swedish expression for a place special to your heart.

 

I don’t think anyone would deny that being at the cabin makes people happy. And the feelings of happiness generally come from a cozy comfort shared with people you love; it’s like we feel swaddled in physical, emotional and ambient warmth.

The Danes call this feeling “hygge” (sounds like hyoo-gah). And some theorize that hygge is the reason that Danes are among the happiest people in the world, even in the dark of winter. Because they don’t just save hygge for the cabin . . . they bring it home and live it every day. For them, hygge is a way of life.

This funny word has no direct English translation but NPR’s Claire O’Neill describes it like this:  “fireplace warmth with candles and family and friends and food and tucked under blankets on a snowy day, cup-of-coffee conversation, scarf-snuggle, squiggly, baby love.” Doesn’t that make you happy?

As the days get darker and the stress of the holiday season looms, grab some hygge and cabin it up at home. Don’t shortchange yourself! You deserve this! And here’s a place for you to start:

 

 “Hygge-at-Home” Tips from Cabin Crush:

 

 Candles  At breakfast, at dinner, at coffee time, at reading time, at TV time. Candles aren’t just for ambience; they become a ritual of slowing down and savoring the moment. Benita Larsson of Swedish blog Chez Larsson (instagram @benitalarsson) says Swedes use candles not just on special occasions but on most days during the darker months of the year: “Sitting at the breakfast table at candlelight is the best thing. Swedish households are known to use up bags of votives and boxes of tapers in no time at all.”

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Winter Home Scent Collection from Restoration Hardware

 

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I just bought these yesterday at CB2


Blankets Not just one, but many. Layer them. Share them. We have three people in our house and two of us fight over the three blankets in the room. And not just for the family room couch, either, but on just about every sitting place in your house; when you go to an outdoor cafe in Sweden, each chair will have a lap throw draped over the back and you routinely see coffee drinkers wrapped in blankets as they sip. When people in America get cold, they either put  on a jacket or go inside. In Sweden, they wrap up in a blanket. Have a basket nearby so you don’t have to scream at  people to fold their blankets at the end of the night. Here are some faves:

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Faribault Woolens for Target       Faribault Woolens Recycled Wool Throw     Pendleton Yakima Camp Throw

 


 

A Seasonal House Drink  

Many people would die without their coffee in the morning. For some, it’s a reason to get out of bed. And much of that is due to the warm, comforting ritual it provides. Why don’t we have an evening drink ritual? A hot chocolate or a decaf macchiato to enjoy together by the fire (or, if you’re at my house, by The Simpsons)? My son loves the privilege of sipping a decaf sugared-up creamy cream “coffee” with the adults. It  feels special. Here’s a drink I relish. I’m totally serious, I relish it:

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Freeze leftover coffee in ice cube trays. Pour cream (yes, just do it) or almond milk (if you must) over the top. Sip slowly while the coffee cubes melt and mix with the cream. It’s like forced relaxation.

Photo credit: stylecraze.com

 

Lower Your Dining Room Light Fixture  I once got a comment from a Danish woman that Americans hang their dining room fixtures to high: “It’s not hyggeligt,” she said, hyggeligt being the way we describe things that encourage hygge.

A lower-hanging fixture casts a more delineated glow around the people at the table; it’s cozier, glowy-er, it makes people lean in and feel a part of the circle while everything else fades into the background.

Plus, it just looks better. Don’t think of your dining room light as a ceiling fixture; it’s really more of a table decoration. Try hanging your light 24- 30 inches above the surface of the table. Trust me on this.

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Too high!!!

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     So much better.


 

Games or Puzzles on the Coffee Table

After owning the cabin for more than a year, Liam opened a never-before-opened drawer and found a collection of playing cards that spoke volumes to me. It was like an anthropological relic — this is what these unknown people who came before us did together! If you want more cozy family time, you have to have a reason to occupy the same space while interfacing with each other. Having a game or a jigsaw puzzle at the ready, calling out to you as you pass by, will do the trick. Click here to read a piece that I wrote for Momfilter.com about playing cards with my son in restaurants.

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And there are plenty of beautifully packaged games available today that would be worthy of space on your coffee table (hmmm…not a bad holiday gift).
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Ridley’s Games Room Dominoes 

 

Good luck with your hygge . . .

. . . may this season of darkness be the brightest ever.


Sources:  visitdenmark.co.uk, sweden.se, thelocal.se, npr.org

The Social Media Introvert’s Guide to Instagram (plus Cabin Crush’s Top 9 Instagrammers)

Of all the social media outlets, Instagram is my favorite. Despite carving out my own little corner of the inter webs, I’m sort of a social media dum dum when it comes to the rest. On Instagram, I can walk around by myself and look at all the pretty pictures but I’m not required to go the after party and discuss each piece with people I barely know. Nor do I feel the need to consider how the artists would feel if I failed to give them a marker of approval.

In truth, I’m a social  media introvert. I don’t enjoy surface-level exchanges with large groups of people. But I also don’t deal well with lengthy personal blogifestos — I’m much too lazy for that. But I do like pretty pictures that I can observe in secret from my own corner of the party.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like to call attention to myself; I love a good post that makes people go “It’s Kristin! She came out of the corner! Let’s listen!”

That is the way of the rare and recently discovered gregarious introvert. It is the equivalent of finding my spot at the party and making everyone come to my corner if they want to talk to me — which is what I totally do in real life. No mingling for me. This is my spot and I’m having my own little party right here and you are all invited but I’m not moving.

Unless, of course, you have Guitar Hero in which case I will totally come out of the corner but you will have to whisper in my ear when it’s someone else’s turn to play the drums. And if someone else has the microphone then I’ll just grab a hair brush and stand next to them.

So Instagram is my jam. And cabin lovers abound there; visual stimuli goes in, drool comes out. It’s awesome. If you are an introverted outdoorsy nature loving cabin dreamer, you should join us.

If you’d like to follow me and my cabin-leaning feed, you can find me here. Here are some of my latest:

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And here are 9 of my favorites to follow. I’d love to tell you that there’s some secret internet algorithm that makes 9 the most attractive number to use in your listicles — but the truth is that my threshold for technical frustration is exceedingly low so I decided that 9 is the new 10 and then I quit. Explore and enjoy…


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Stuganiskogen, stuganiskogen

“Trying to create a cosy house in the Swedish woods.”

I don’t know what’s happening here because I don’t read Swedish. But I do know that I would definitely sleep better under a reindeer hide.


 

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Lotta Jansdotter, lottajansdotter

Textile designer Lotta Jansdotter posts pix of her fresh, crisp, Scandinavian designs. But in July, she hosts the Lotta Jansdotter Aland Workshop and Nature Retreat at her childhood summer home on an island in the middle of the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Finland. This is where the magic happens.


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Pines and Cones, pinesandcones

“Off grid cabin life on Äleby Gård, Selaön in Sweden.”

Again with the Sweden. These people just know how to cabin. And how to light candles at the breakfast table.


 

 

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Cabin Love, cabinlove

“Cabin candy for somewhere far, far away. Let’s be cabineers together!”

I really, really want to be a cabineer.


 

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Cabin Porn, cabinporn

“Inspiration for your quiet place somewhere.”

The elicit name that started the beardie-hipster-off-th-grid cabin movement. The Cabin Porn book is now available at cabinporn.com/book.


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Camp Brand Goods, campbrandgoods

This outdoor adventure apparel from the Canadian Rockies features photos of beautiful outdoorsy people in beautiful outdoorsy settings.


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 Askov Finlayson, askovfinlayson

“Inspired by our region’s history of adventure and culture of creativity. Products of lasting quality and timeless design. Welcome to the North.”

Minneapolis’ own Askov Finlayson is named after a road sign on the highway heading north. Their feed features not just their north-loving products but also images of the north-loving lifestyle that inspires their brand.


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Our Camp Life, ourcamplife

More beautiful people in beautiful settings who are constantly on vacation.

 


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#1 Camp Wandawega, campwandawega,

“A little Wisconsin getaway with a big history. This feed is co-created by the growing creative community who share this place with us.”

And by creative community, we mean people like Land of Nod and other makers of give-it-to-me-I-really-need-that-thing-now design. Plus, Camp Wandawega is an actual camp — restored and operated by aesthetes who are also lovers of all things campy and camp-y. In addition to their cute as a button cabins, you can also stay in a restored airstream trailer known as the Canned Ham.

That makes Camp Wandawega my number one Instagrammer by a landslide.