This is Janie, Your Real-Tor




Janie is our north woods realtor.  Every phone call begins with the phrase “Helloooo! This is Janie Your Realtor!”  Except she has her own way of pronouncing realtor, so every phone call actually begins with the phrase “Hellooooo! This is Janie Your Real-Tor!”  So that’s what we call her.  She is Janie Our Real-Tor.  Everything about her screams the Frances McDormand character in Fargo, minus the pregnant belly,  and when I don’t call her Janie Our Real-Tor, I affectionately call her Marge Gunderson because Marge rocks.  And so does Janie Our Real-Tor.   When we meet her at the driveway of the first cabin, she is wearing mukluks up to her knees, a classic touk with dangling pom pom, and she carries a snow shovel in one hand.

“I hope ya have good boots on,” she says.  “This could get deep.”  

It is almost mid April.

We journey toward the cabin like Pa Ingalls in a snow storm, at times balancing carefully on the hardened top layer of snow and at other times, sinking up to our hips.  When we reach the door, Marge says, “Ok now, that wasn’t so bad.”

She is a walking, talking, mukluk-wearing encyclopedia of cabin structure and maintenance, local ordinances, lake geography (“ya just go round behind this island here, Pine Island.  We call that “goin’ round back o’pine.”), commercial and retail establishments (“And if you wanna go get a pop, you can boat over round back o’pine and go here, here and here.”), lake people (“Just bring him a six of Michelob Golden Light and he’ll be super helpful.”) and fishing spots (“That’s my honey hole over there right off that dock.”).

Right away, Marge has got our number and quickly starts crossing cabins off our list like she knows I might get there and say “Umm……it’s ok, I’ll just stay out here.”  I imagine her getting home and scribbling notes like “north woods good, raccoon poop bad”.  I’m more than happy to wade Ingalls-style to the front door but I’m not so much into the haz-mat thing and she knows it.


After the first weekend of looking, she emails this photo:


Cabin photo


Out of hundreds of listings in this area, it’s the same one that Mike and I have sent to each other  10 maybe 20 times, usually with the reply  “You already sent this one to me.”   Each time we send it, we think we’ve happened upon an amazing discovery, a perfect specimen, only to delete it when we find out how far away it is.  Four plus, maybe five hours away.  Delete.  Start over.  Hey look at this one!  And the process starts all over again.  It just keeps finding us.

But this time, Marge Gunderson assures us it’s not too far away, just on the other side of town and up the crick road.   And then she utters the magic words:  PRICE REDUCTION.

We scramble up north again, wishing we had mukluks up to our knees.  This time the driveway is a quarter mile long; and Marge’s shovel isn’t going to help.  We look for deer hoof prints in the snow because they have a spooky sixth sense about where to step so you don’t fall through the crust.  Follow the hoof prints……

We arrive at the top of a hill overlooking the frozen lake.


Even though it is winter (yes, April, but still winter) and both the landscape and the lake are covered in the same white blanket, the view is literally breathtaking;  I know this because I hear the release of breath from each person as we take turns reaching the crest and seeing what is laid out before us.  When you stand there and look out, you have the urge to whisper “thank you.”

We make our way down to the dock, left in the water, frozen in place by neglect or distance or lives that have just gotten too busy.  The shore is rocky with big boulders for sunbathing and a tiny sliver of pebble beach, all tucked into a forest of birch and cedar.  I turn around and survey silently all the things on my wish list.

“So is this kinda what yer lookin’ for?” Marge says.

It’s almost like she’s mocking me.  Goading me.  But in a nice Marge Gunderson way.  I actually fight back tears – no lie – but I swallow it because I just think it’s a poor business decision to cry tears of joy in front of the person who’s trying to sell you a piece of property.


The inside is almost empty.  There’s a table and a stinky couch and some bunk beds and some other stuff ……..but they can’t hide the vaulted ceiling and the cedar log interior.  It’s the real deal.  And relatively un-ruined by well-intentioned cousins who want to “update” and find more ways to fit more cousins in.

When we leave, there’s another family waiting at the end of the driveway to see the property  –  that’s what happens when the words PRICE REDUCTION appear  –  and I call out to them, “I hope you have good boots on!  Super messy…..really, really deep……and long!  Good luck with that!”  Oh yeah, and you’re welcome for the trail I just made for you, bitches.

I’m jumpy when I see them, a little anxious, and strangely antagonistic.  And I feel the need to piss on this fire hydrant….just a little.


Because I’ve been slowly getting to know my husband since 1989, I know that I should not get in the car and say or display anything that resembles enthusiasm.  This will freak him out and force him to balance the scales by exhibiting an equal or greater amount of apathy.

So……I say very little.  And on the four hour drive home, I present a slow and insanely calm argument meted out in easily digestible morsels:

  1. I feel like we’ve been presented with an opportunity.
  2. Based on what we’ve seen so far, the cabins will get shittier and the prices will get higher as the search continues.
  3. If the search continues long enough, eventually we will be priced out.  Fantasy over.
  4. This may be the elusive sweet spot, the intersection of fantasy and price (see #1)).

At first he recoils and prepares for battle (fight or flight response).  But I don’t fight back.  I just let it percolate.  Mustn’t scare the baby bunny and make him run away.  Must save him from his own innate defense system.


(sound of clock ticking)


Later that night, I call and make an offer, playing good cop to Mike’s bad cop.

And it works.

Bitches didn’t like my trail, I guess.


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