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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

What Does the Cabin Do to Mother’s Day?

It is Mother’s Day.

It is Prom Night.

It is also “Fishing Opener.”

Prom night doesn’t really affect me so much, I’ve just always thought it strange that two events that are so important to women collide with this event that is so important to men. And unless you are an avid mama angler, or your high school is called Lakeside High (home of the Warring Walleye), we can’t do them together at the same time.

I knew that I would be spending Mother’s Day at the cabin because my people are Fishing Opener people….and because I don’t want to miss out on our first cabin visit after a long winter absence. It is also the first anniversary of the day we took possession of the little cabin that made us cabin people, a new holiday that I’m going to write Hallmark about.

Normally, I would opt to stay home and spend the day BY MYSELF PRAISE GOD AND HALLELUJAH BEST MOTHER’S DAY EVER but, given the unique circumstances, I will be at the cabin while the Fishing Opener people tend to Fishing Opener business. Never one to squander a day that is all about me, however, I post a request on Facebook to solicit ideas on how I should celebrate this unusual Mother’s Day, by myself at the cabin while my people are away on the lake. Most responses involve books, wine and DIY spa treatments. There is also a suggestion to join the fisher people but I’ve learned that I’m a casual angler at best, like twenty minutes worth, maybe less. I don’t mind baiting my hook or slimy scales — I’ll even touch a fish eyeball on a dare — but I do have a new anxiety about getting hooked in the eye by a twelve year old.

So I make a trip to the bookstore and pack my favorite beverages. I picture myself on the dock in my robe with freshly scrubbed feet, a mask on my face and a good book in my lap while I close my eyes to feel the weak sunshine on my face. Maybe I could even take a leisurely boat ride to one of the many islands in our lake with a picnic packed in jars, just like you see on Pinterest.
But I don’t do any of that.
It is cold. Thirty seven degrees. Outside is beautiful, for a little while. But then I’m happy to experience outside through my window.

I do nothing.

I don’t even read.

My phone runs out of battery.

I sleep the sleep of a teenager. I wake up unwillingly at 9:00am only because I smell bacon and know I will miss it if I don’t get up. The men have already come back from fishing and I stumble to the table just before they finish their second breakfast of the day.

By noon, I am napping again.

I spend two days napping and staring out the window, allowing my brain to clear the clutter and rest and recharge by absorbing the vintage postcard that lies beyond the glass.

For a time, I venture outside to read on the dock, bundled in a hoodie and wrapped in a blanket. But even printed words are too noisy. And my eyes keep moving upward to see the lake. When I look down again to read, I feel like I’m missing something, like a parade going by, so I close my book and allow the lake to be my parade. Then I get cold and go inside to nap and look out the window some more.
I clearly needed this. Our brains are not meant to multitask. Study after study tells us that we are not more productive and that the quality of our work suffers when juggling more than one task at a time. And yet this is what the modern world requires of us. The cavemen generally had one thing to do each day — get food. Okay, they had to keep the children alive but that is all. There were no requests, no need for time management tools, no FYI’s to sift through, no email box to empty (ha! like that’s ever going to happen!), no junk mail to sort through and recycle, no modern junk mail to unsubscribe from, no pings, dings, chimes or chirps that make up the soundtrack of the day, each one representing another line item on the to-do list.

I am barraged by requests via the sound of a chime, a swoosh and an old phone. I change one alert to the sound of crickets thinking that the insinuation of nature will mitigate the pavlovian reach-for-the-calendar motion and accompanying chest tightening I get with each sound. But it is more like an insult to nature, a digital rendering that gives me anxiety instead of peace.

Until I lie there doing nothing, I have no idea how much I need a digital detox. I am not designed to handle so much information at once. My fractured thoughts clutter my brain and race around untethered, unable to close the loop while I attend to the thing that just interrupted me. I need to go deep, work it out, and then tie it up but the fractured thoughts never get to a satisfying close because the new input (pings, chimes, dings) keep me from harnessing them. Things continue to go in but nothing comes out….. and the clutter grows.

Mother’s Day at the cabin is meant to give me the pampering I know I deserve; who knew I would get exactly what I needed despite my best laid plans?

Oh and I play solitaire…..with real cards.

I am napping again by 5pm.

And tomorrow it will snow. One to three inches.