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 . . .


Cabin Porn: Inspiration For Your Quiet Place Somewhere


And this one . . .


Hide and Seek: The Architecture of Cabins and Hideouts


And this one . . .


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


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


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.


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…….

Unknown      images-3      Kind of the same, right?


…….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:




And this one:




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.




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




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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Cabin Reading: The Giver gives me a gift.


On one of our first visits to the cabin –  the one where Liam and I go there by ourselves to rescue it from “lost cause” status in order to prove to Mike that we haven’t made the most irresponsible decision of our shared life –  I pack into the back of the Jeep a 90’s era bedroom-sized TV with a built-in DVD player.  It’s a relic that keeps following us every time we move.  We just can’t shake it and maybe this is why…..it was destined to be a cabin TV.  The screen is only 10 inches but it’s overall footprint is about the size of Oklahoma.  It’s depth alone is like a canoe.

This will actually be the first time we sleep in our cabin and not at the casino (ch ching).  So I pack the TV as an experiment because I have no idea what being at the cabin with my 12 year old son will be like.  Will it be full of nature and laughter and scientific and/or spiritual discoveries?  Or will we get bored with each other?  Will we recite poetry lakeside or will it be a never-ending chorus of “Mom, can I have your phone?”

We get no reception, of course, but I pack movies just in case the night gets long once the sun goes down.  I go to the public library, one of the last places to “rent” movies anymore, and pick up what is left after the Friday afternoon rush:   House Sitter, starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn (people Liam has never heard of so that’s sure to be a hit) and a documentary about bog people in Denmark.  Google it.

What comes next is one of the best mistakes I’ve ever made.

I forgot the remote at home.

Which is fine if you just want to watch TV (for which there is no reception) but not so fine if you want to “eject” anything.  Or “open” or “close” the DVD tray.  First, I grab a knife and I try to trick the DVD tray into opening.  Maybe if I put just a little bit of pressure on it, it will get the hint and slide open.  I try this several times without success which leads to overt prying.  I come dangerously close to breaking it.  This is the darker side of optimism.

Just before the pressure of the knife cracks the tray, I stop….don’t be stupid, I think.  I don’t want to break the old-fashioned TV thing.

Then we look at each other like “What now?”

We’re stuck in our little box of a cabin with very little light and no place to sit.  Communing-with-nature-time is over because it’s pitch black outside –  so dark that navigating the path to the lake would actually be dangerous.  One wrong step could send us tumbling down the hill, bouncing off rocks and stumps until we end up in the lake. We have one lamp, one chair that is not a dining chair, and two beds.

I look down and see the book I’ve packed, hoping to squeeze in a re-read before the movie comes out.  “We could read this…..” I say as I pick up my copy of The Giver.

Liam, long past the age of reading with his mommy, shrugs his shoulders and climbs up into his bunk.  I get in my own bed, next to his, point the reading lamp over my shoulder, and open the book to page one.

“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened..…”

Two hours later, at 11pm, I close the book and hear the words every mother fantasizes about:  “NO!  Don’t stop!”

“Liam, it’s eleven o’clock.  We can’t read all night.”

“Please!  Just one more chapter!”

Seriously, I’m not making this up just to make you feel bad about your kid in the basement playing Super Mario Bros.  At almost twelve years old, years after our last read-aloud session together, he said the words “please” and “just one more chapter.”  To his mother.  I swear I almost cried.

I protest a little bit longer, secretly smiling in the dark the whole time  –  “Liam, this is ridiculous.  I’m losing my voice.  It’s the middle of the night.  Blah blah blah.”  But there was no way I was going to stop.  We plow through that book to the snowy ending.

And then we look at each other like we’d just witnessed something amazing.

He was changed.  And I was changed because he was changed.

I’m just so glad I got to him before the movie came out because no child reads a book when there’s a movie instead.  Okay, maybe your kid does but mine does not.

That means that if I hadn’t forgotten the remote to the Oklahoma-sized old fashioned TV thing, Liam would’ve missed out on one of the most important reading experiences of his life.  This book has stuck to me since it won the Newbery Medal in 1994 and there’s nothing better than looking someone in the eye after they read the last page – Jonas and the baby sledding down that hill toward the cabin in the woods with the twinkling lights of Christmas shining through the windows –  and asking “What did you think?”  

Now, finally, I get to do that with my one and only number one best child. And he’s so stunned and overcome that he tries to speak but he can’t.  We sit in that for while, not going to sleep, and I’m almost smug about what has just happened,  like “THIS!  Yes, THIS!  I did this!”

Later, we make a date to see the movie, just the two of us.  You know, just those of us who are privy to the world of The Giver.  I’m prepared for the inevitable changes so I know not to get my hopes up.  I will enjoy it for what it is, knowing that it’s rare for a 90 minute movie to create the same depth and nuance that 180 pages of words can create.  But he is incensed.  Liam is not forgiving.  The movie did not match what he experienced while tucked into his bunk at his new cabin in the woods.

And I’m kind of glad.


Gifts for the Cabin Lover (that’s CABIN Lover not Cabin LOVER).


It’s not too late!  The cabin lovers or cabin wannabes on your list love gifts that remind them of their happy place.  The Tivoli Audio Model One Radio from Forage Modern Workshop in Minneapolis is said to be “the best sounding table radio ever made” (MSNBC) and won’t muddy up your cabin vibe with a lot of slick-looking electronics. We listen to a steady stream of up north radio while at the cabin – a playlist of classic rock, north woods NPR and, I kid you not, a very special polka hour.

Here’s more from Forage Modern and some of my other cabin-friendly sources:

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Nature Print,  Dining Stool, Minnesota Bottle Opener, Lumberjackin’ Minnesota Print Continue reading →