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

 

 

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

Help Me! TV or No TV at the Cabin???

Can you find the TV in this cabin?

Do we need a TV at our cabin? 

If you have a TV at your cabin, how do you use it? If you don’t have a cabin, does your (G rated) cabin fantasy include a TV?

I need to know because……

After Janie Our Real-tore hands us the keys to our new cabin, Liam proclaims loudly “We are NOT getting a TV at our cabin!”

To say that this takes me by surprise is a huge understatement. There are so many things a mother longs to hear from her children….things like “Will you read to me?” and “I don’t mind being seen with you” and “Do you mind if I do my homework right now? I know it’s not due until next week but I really like to get a head start on things.”  But this one means more to me than all of those things combined. This one restores my faith in his potential to be a contributing member of society and removes every worry I’ve ever had about my inability to engage him in worthwhile, enriching childhood activities. Maybe he does like nature and maybe he can find something creative to do and maybe he even likes spending time with us! Really? Can I be this lucky?!

And I’m not saying this to brag, like “Oh Liam doesn’t really care for sweets…”

Okay, fine, I’m totally bragging. And I deserve it because I’ve spent the last twelve years trying to get him to do something, anything, that is not TV.  He will sit for hours and watch pretty much anything unless, of course, it’s something I would like to watch. God forbid you should spend just a few minutes watching “So You Think You Can Dance” with your mother. It would make her so happy.

After Liam spends all of third grade within three inches of our 54″ TV (goddamn that thing!), we finally pull the plug on cable. I launch a raging campaign to get rid of those snotty Disney Channel kids that moved in and metaphorically ate all the food in my fridge without asking and then skipped away without cleaning up. It’s not enough that they put a hex on my child so he can’t stop watching TV, they also kidnapped his brain and made him sound like a perpetually indignant asshole. So they are no longer invited into my house. I don’t care if they come with a big Ed McMahon-sized check, they can sit on the step all day long but I am NOT letting them in.

After pulling the plug, Liam complains that there is nothing to watch – but that doesn’t stop him from consuming. He is no quitter. Instead, he watches hours and hours of the new “Let’s Make a Deal” with Wayne Brady (let’s see what’s behind curtain number one!). Which really doesn’t bother me because I’m so overjoyed that the vile Disney urchins are gone. And because Wayne Brady is a totally underutilized talent. (Did you know that “Let’s Make a Deal” is an hour-long show? Every day? That just seems like a lot but, like I said, totally underutilized talent).

But you know what cracks me up? It takes a year of “Let’s Make a Deal” for Liam to figure out that we have Netflix…

Can you say Trojan Horse??? For a whole year, I hold my breath every time he turns on the TV, knowing that the icon pops up automatically. I wait for him to say “What’s Netflix?”  I practice saying “It’s all the best educational programming in one place, sweetheart.” When it finally occurs to him to click on the icon I feel smug enough to let him go for it; and because the characters he finds on Netflix aren’t Hollywood High vixens/he-idiots who put TV hexes on him and teach him new ways to be disdainful, I’m okay with it. At least the guys on “Storage Wars” are doing math.

So you can see why I actually get choked up when he says he doesn’t want a TV at the cabin. I get momentarily verklempt, knowing that maybe he will aspire to a future outside our basement after all. And, more importantly, that the cabin represents something for him that is real and true and completely divorced from popular culture and the disease of hyper connectivity – something that will put hair on his chest and immerse him in the natural world and the comforting embrace of his family.

No judgement at all to those of you who enjoy TV at your cabins. And, if you do, I would love to hear your Cabin TV philosophy. I would love to hear all of your Cabin TV philosophies, both pro and con, because if there’s a way to successfully watch an occasional scary movie after dark, that could be really fun. Please share!

In the meantime, I will rest well knowing that this simple statement – “We are NOT getting a TV at the cabin!” – has assured me that this impulsive decision to buy a cabin may not have been a huge mistake. And that perhaps I’m doing something right……

Photo credit: Interior Collective

Father-Son Bonding at the Cabin

I’m largely left out of a lot of activities at the cabin.

And I’m ok with that.

Much of what’s happening is in the proverbial father-son bonding arena: fishing and grilling and going really fast in boats.  I like fishing………for about twenty minutes. And I love boating as long as the speedometer remains below ten miles per hour. I don’t care for grilling.

When they’re out doing father son bonding (FSB), I stay back and weed because, as you know, I am a badass weeder. When I’m not weeding, I mostly read in the sun. Someday, our property will be tamed and I won’t be weeding’s bitch anymore and then there will be even more reading. Lots of it. Mostly magazines but also big fat books. That’s a lie, I don’t like fat books. It’s called editing, people. I like a greater number of well-edited books. I take them to the dock or our tiny pebbly beach and I wait for the fisherman to return home.

Is this the image I want to project to my son? Always passive, waiting for the menfolk? Is this how I want him to remember me? Maybe I should be Active Mom, breaking stereotypes and being all healthy. Would this better teach him about the power and unending abilities of women? Maybe. Well, yes. The answer is yes. But that’s not super authentic; I had a bout in the 90’s when I got a new mountain bike and I was really into rock climbing shoes. But I never actually WENT rock climbing. And my mountain bike was called “my new mountain bike” until I put a free sign on it twenty years later. I’m not Active Mom. I’m more like Reading Mom.

And, more importantly, this may not be about me. A boy needs his dad. He needs to feel accepted by his dad and liked by his dad and he needs to have happy memories with his dad — JUST his dad — or you could end up with one seriously effed up individual. It’s just that important.

I bond with Liam every day; I laugh with him and I take him on secret trips to Dairy Queen and I answer questions about masturbation and transgender lesbians while I chauffeur and make snacks. So I’m okay to bow out at the cabin and let them have this.

And when they come in off the boat, there will be some killer homemade cole slaw and two long tall glasses of Dr. Pepper waiting for them.

 


 

Homemade Cole Slaw Dressing

1 cup mayo

2 tbsp mustard

1 tbsp white vinegar

salt & pepper to taste

sugar to taste

How Cabin Architecture Relates to Shaun Cassidy

This is a story about a visit to the Lake Home & Cabin Show….

…..in which I meet Dale Mulfinger, the Cabinologist, and act like a Leif Garrett groupie.

If you are a cabin lover, a cabin owner, a cabin seeker or a cabin dreamer, you are probably familiar with the name Dale Mulfinger.  If not, consider this your introduction.

He is the Shaun Cassidy of the cabin world; Minnesota’s best known – NO! – the nation’s best-known cabin architect and author of five books including “The Cabin,” “Cabinology,” and “Back to the Cabin,” books that should come with a bib so you don’t drool on the pretty pages.

Until I was standing in front of him at the Lake Home and Cabin Show, I didn’t know that a 70 year old architect could summon the same feelings that I had for Shaun Cassidy…….

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…….but that is exactly how I acted. Dumb and stupid and twittery, trying not to fawn but failing, having nothing to say but not going away because I’m trying so hard to think of something, anything, to say besides what I’ve already said six times ( “I really love your books. Your books are great. I love all your books. You write books.”)  So I just stand there with my backpack on my back and my free tote bag made of recycled pop bottles full of brochures and flyers from all the booths I’ve visited. I stand there like I’m on the verge of saying something except that I’ve already used all of the words I know. So I’m just standing there in front of him swinging my recycled pop bottle bag and mumbling non sequitors.

“yeah….so……cabins…..” Just marking time while I try to decide if it’s a good idea or a stalker-y idea to mention that I’ve memorized parts of his books.

I was making a huge impression and I’m sure he will next ask me to marry him.

 

Long ago, when I was just a cabin baby, he captured my heart with the crushable cabins featured in his books.  There’s this one:

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And this one:

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And this one is actually his own cabin, held up by what he calls a “Minnesota Redwood.” He went out for a boat ride one day and came home to find that his wife had painted the supporting tree trunk tomato red.

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If you’d like to stay in a Dale Mulfinger designed cabin, there’s this one at Ludlow’s Resort in Cook, Minnesota:

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Dear Mr. Cabinologist, you have influenced me in so many ways.  In fact, the cabin I’m so lucky to have right now, the one that has become the subject of blog posts and the captain of hearts, is mine because of your words. Case in point……my cabin is not nearby. It’s two hours beyond the two hour limit we had agreed to during our cabin search. That’s not fudging, that’s blowing it out of the water. But when we saw our perfect little too-far-away-cabin in the snow, I remembered a passage you wrote about the drive to the cabin, about how the last 30 minutes is excruciating and you complain and ask each other “Why did we get a cabin so far away?!”  And then, the minute you arrive, the regrets fade away because it’s just so obvious why you’re willing to drive so far…….it’s worth it.

I shared this passage with Mike on our way home and there was very little doubt after that, as if Dale Mulfinger himself had just given us permission to buy this way-too-far-away cabin. It was Cabinologist-approved so it would be ok.

Perhaps the reason his designs and his books resonate so soundly with cabin people is because he is a cabin person himself, consumed with creating a cabin life rather than a cabin showplace. His design ethos is defined by how he lives at the cabin rather than the fancy amenities he can provide. Read this quote about how he spends a cabin day and tell me you don’t want a piece of this action:


 

“I go to the cabin to be outdoors, to bond with nature, to have quality time with family and friends, and to dabble in building things. I feed the deer and the birds and make crepes for my grandchildren. I repair my boats and occasionally can keep a motor running long enough to make my way down to the other end of our 23-mile lake for a beer and burger. Or I will putter out to a favorite nearby bay for some fishing, return with a dozen bluegills, and spend an hour cleaning them for dinner.

I may consume the better part of a morning teaching myself (again) how to replace the chain on my chainsaw. I will walk down the hill to the shore to cut up a basswood the beaver has felled only to find I have put the new chain on backward. By dusk I will be exhausted from 30 trips up and down the 28 steps to the lake with 40-pound pieces of tree trunk on my shoulder.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       ~Back to the Cabin, (page 3)


 

Just replace “building things” with “weeding things” and the chainsaw with a set of loppers and I think we may be cabin soul mates.

We putter and we daydream and we commune and we sit and we toil all in the name of beautiful places and time that is unclaimed. It is the antidote to the current American Dream in which the list is long and there’s always someone needing five things from you yesterday, five things that will burn down the house if not delivered immediately and in triplicate.

And the fact that this notion can influence architecture and drive an aesthetic movement sort of explains everything about me………..welcome, once again, to Cabin Crush.

 

 

All photos are from Dale Mulfinger’s books, available at virtually all Minnesota bookstores and online:

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I Was Wrong About Antlers

 

Here are some words that came out of my mouth recently:

“This is not an antler kind of cabin.  We are not antler people.”

And I say this despite my weird jubilation surrounding the waning trend of hanging faux deer heads on every empty wall.  It’s a totally overdone design fad that I just can’t give up.  AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!

But cabin antlers are different.  Cabin antlers are not ironic or tongue-in-cheek or made of surprising materials like fuchsia velvet (just saw that one yesterday – circled the store 3 times before I finally put it back because I couldn’t think of an empty, un-deer-headed wall in my house on which to hang it).  Cabin antlers are literal.  And that makes them not all that exciting to me.

When people buy cabins, they get super excited about going to the cabin store and getting some cabin stuff.  And the cabin stuff comes in various themes including Pinecone, Moose, Canoe/Paddle, Things From My Grandma’s Pantry, and Antler.  The choices can be really cute – or really predictable.  Like maybe you didn’t even go to the cabin store but you just ordered the Box-o-Cabin from Cabins R Us and set up shop without any thought at all.  It’s not very personal.  My cabin is far too personal to look like everybody else’s. Continue reading →

Early Winter Comes to Cabin Country

 

Winter has come early to Minnesota.  Which is kind of unfair because, if I recall correctly, winter LEFT LATE last season.  When we first looked at our cabin, it looked like the one above.  We tromped (seriously tromped) up the long-ass driveway in hip deep snow…….in the middle of April.  So by my calculation, that’s only 5 months without snow.  That’s messed up, y’all.

Ludlow’s Resort, in Cook, Minnesota, posted this video yesterday with the caption:  Commute to work:    The ice is setting up on Lake Vermilion. Travel to the job site is getting fun! In a few days we will be walking over.”

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(Click here to watch video…… )

Watching the wake of ice shards floating behind his boat as his bow shoves them aside is both freaky and freaky peaceful;  like an icy meditation or miniature glaciers parting the waters at boat speed.  This man’s boat ride is both beautiful and a dreadful sign of what’s to come. Continue reading →