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.



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 ONE thing my cabin needed…

“Is your cabin done?”

This is a question I get almost daily. And I never answer it the same way twice. Some days, the answer is yes because we can eat, sleep and pee comfortably and I’m pretty sure the Finnish Carpenter is never coming back.

Some days, the answer is no because the shower water comes out as a gentle trickle and if you want to change the water temp, you have to go into the dirt basement with a flashlight and a wrench. And there’s a kitchen cabinet door that hasn’t been installed so, if we need something from under the sink, we just take the door out like a puzzle piece and set it on the floor. In the absence of kitchen drawer pulls, we peel the drawers away from the frames with our fingers. The Vintage Bare Bulb Flushmount remains our primary source of light in the kitchen. And, on the days I say no, I may have just spoken with the Finnish Carpenter who swears he’s coming back even though he’s just swamped because the weather has been pretty rough this year and every day it rains it sets him back two days but he’ll try to make it over there sometime this week (…sometime this week….sometime this week…..sometime this week….).

But he never does.

When we pack the car for each trip up north, it still feels like we’re moving in. We still worry that we won’t be able to fit everything into the back of our Jeep and I tread carefully as I put things on the driveway to be loaded, knowing that Mike is judging each item I parade out the door — because our definitions of “necessary” do not match.

When I take the deer head off the wall of my entry way at home and place it on the “to be loaded” stack, he puts his hands on his hips, clenches his jaw, and blows hard out his nose. Go ahead — try it. This is how you know you’re in trouble at my house.

In answer, I say “Why not?”

“Because,” he says. “I don’t want to take something away from here to put it up there. It makes no sense.” Mike likes things done. And if I remove the deer head from the entryway, our house will be undone.

“And then we’ll have a bare wall and you’re just going to have to buy something for here….why?”

Mike has forgotten about the closet full of art in the upstairs guest room that makes him so mad. And the canvases and framed pieces that lean against the stack of rubbermaid tubs in the basement. And for sure he’s forgotten about the two boxes I found tucked in a corner last week, unopened from our last move. And for sure FOR SURE he doesn’t know about my Pinterest board called “Art and Accessories” that’s just waiting to be tapped. Finding a replacement for the deer head won’t be difficult.

I assure him that I can make the deer head fit in the Jeep. I assure him several times. And the deer head goes to the cabin.


I spy with my little eye, a deer head.

But sometimes it’s just one single item, placed just so, that tips you over into the done category, even if you have a long punch list and a Jeep full of stuff that says otherwise. There’s something about that one single item that allows a space to officially claim its personality. And when this happens, you feel it and you relax because, finally, you are home. You are no longer striving to create something because, with this single item, “create” becomes “created.” You and your space have finally found each other, as if the house says “Oh THIS is what you wanted? That’s what I wanted, too.” And, this time, when you curl up on the couch, it’s soft and cozy and you don’t want to get up because the groove fits you perfectly.

For me and my cabin, it was a set of lighted marquee letters spelling the word LAKE, placed carefully on top of the game cupboard.

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When I got home from the cabin, people asked “Is your cabin done?” 

And I said, “Yes.” Even though I can’t take a real shower and I open kitchen doors by putting them on the floor. I tell them that, for the very first time, the cabin feels like ours, for real. because the moment I put those letters up, I stopped looking for what needed to be tweaked. Instead, I swam and I read and I went for boat rides without wondering what else we could do to make this place more comfortable and, magically, the soul of the place transferred hands for good.

In the end, the one thing my cabin needed was heart. The lake is the heart of this cabin. And just because the lake is outside doesn’t mean that we don’t need to feel it while we cozy up inside.

Before the LAKE letters, I had added a few other things that made me happy. None of them gave the cabin “done” status, but they were all rungs on the ladder to cabin perfection.




The Birches Pendant is an old discontinued item from Pottery Barn that we bought two houses ago. It goes with us to every house and I’m going to ask to be buried with it. What you can’t see is the big hole punched in the side during it’s last ride on a moving truck — but still, I refused to part with it. For three years, it’s been sitting on top of an office cabinet, homeless, just waiting for us to buy a cabin.



This is Bjorn and Gus. They sit on a table next to Mike’s side of the bed. Are they necessary? Yes, because they make me laugh. And I picture them talking about Mike while he sleeps.

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After unsuccessfully trolling Etsy for months, looking for kitchen art that I had dreamt up in my head, I finally opened a kitchen drawer and found something fast (“it’s in my hand right now”), cheap (“free – because I already own it”) and functional (always add bonus points for functional). A quick trip to Target provided the $24 shelf upon which my fast, cheap, functional items sit.

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The deer head is so happy here. It’s a cheeky nod to typical cabin design without becoming a complete cliché. And the white papier maché lightens and brightens the dark interior so I don’t feel like I’m living in a Hobbit hole.

I think it’s clear that I tend to nest pretty hard. I need my surroundings to be comfortable and beautiful and, frankly, borderline irresistible. I spend my life in these surroundings, each and every day, and I just think my eye should enjoy everything it lands on (can you say visual learner?). When I look at something, I don’t want my first thought to be “I hope that doesn’t give me cooties.”

This is why I work so hard on the insides. The outsides come next. But, for the time being, I think the outsides will take care of themselves.


A Cabin Rehab Re-cap with special feature: Adventures in Ikea Assembly

Our first visit to the cabin this season was both awesome and awkward, a warm welcome home to a place we didn’t yet know very well. It was like that summer camp crush analogy again — but more like seeing your summer camp crush at Target with his mom in the wintertime and he’s still sooooo cute and sooooo sweet but you’re not sure where you left off and if that even transfers over into winter. So you’re not exactly sure how to start a conversation. And even though he’s cute, he looks a little different with his mom. But, in the end, he tells you that he’s going to camp again this summer and you feel that spark ignite and you know it can be the same. You’ve just got to get away from Target.

We turned on the lights, the dropcloths came off the furniture, the rugs went on the floor, the beds got dressed in fresh sheets and then…. I stood back and assessed our progress.


FLOORS:  The Nixon-era Herpes Carpet is gone, replaced by warm almost-hardwood floors —  from the most stressful HoDe visit ever — and a flat weave cotton Blue Diamond rug from The Company Store. I don’t know that a rug has ever made anyone so happy. I might write a whole blog post about this rug and its ability to do a cabin right.

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KITCHEN: The camp kitchen that served as a wildlife refuge for Unknown Creatures from the Outdoors has been replaced by an 8′ x 8′ u-shaped culinary space that my true love Wesley might refer to as a KOUS — A Kitchen of Unusual Size. Or a “One Butt Kitchen,” a term coined by Mike’s almost 100 year old grandma.

Despite its size, the KOUS has a full-sized dishwasher for maximum rest and relaxation. We still need drawer pulls and a piece of art over the stove to transform our KOUS into a KOUC (A Kitchen of Unusual Cuteness).

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BATHROOM: The Bat Poo Tub and mouse traps full of mouse fur were ripped out of the bathroom and replaced by a still-not-quite-functioning shower (if you could sign my petition urging the Finnish Carpenter to come back and attend to the punch list items, that would be great. Thank you for your support. Actually, could you sign this other petition first – urging the Finnish Carpenter to acknowledge the existence of a punch list? Thanks once more for your support. Together, we can accomplish great things).

Even if we can’t shower in the shower, the river oak underfoot and the cedar sauna-like shower walls are nice to look at and a huge improvement over the guano tub. And the new cedar ceiling means that I don’t even look up before I pee anymore.

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FURNISHINGS: During Trash Out, Tammy of the Manly Voice and her wiry cohort Duane removed a dirty whorehouse couch and everything else that dead strangers ever sat on or laid upon. Given its mere 800 square feet, the furniture needs were limited. We have a Danish modern find from HomeGoods for $199 and a leather butterfly chair from Urban Outfitters (also $199). We still need art to make this room feel like our personal family refuge instead of a wooden box that we sleep in.

Many of our other furniture pieces came from Ikea via forged documents at a warehouse in a suburban industrial park — and they required assembly. This portion of our program is called Adventures in Ikea Assembly. I helped by taking photographs.

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Here is a really poor quality photo of Mike assembling our sectional couch with hidden storage that pulls out into a full-sized bed. I took this photo out of fear that the Ikea hinges wouldn’t hold and the whole top half of the couch would slam shut, slicing my husband’s body in two. I will use it for the trial.


The is the Brimnes platform bed, also with hidden storage. So much hidden storage at the cabin. I continue to help the assembly process by taking photos.


It is 2pm. I know this by looking at this pretend watch on my wrist. I bet this will only take a small commitment of my time.


Look! There are instructions. I bet they will be helpful.


This amorphous nonhuman is very nonthreatening. He makes me feel good. and even a little happy. I feel positive about my ability to build this bed.


This is a lot of pieces. I know what happened….they accidentally sent me pieces for two beds. I will donate one to a homeless shelter. I am a good person.


Uh oh.  


What the?


Quick! Show me the picture of the amorphous nonhuman again.  That’s better. I can do this. Goddammit!


Dad, let me try.


No! You are only a child and you can’t even read the language of the amorphous nonhumans in these very helpful instructions!   Oh.  Thank you.


K: Will you go check on Dad?  L: No. He very specifically said, “Don’t touch me.”

In the end, we can eat, sleep, sit and pee at the cabin. We cannot yet shower. But we do have a beautiful lake that will cleanse our bodies and our thoughts and our souls should it be necessary.

And we also have a new ritual. At the door of our cabin — the best door on any cabin that ever existed, IMHO — we hung a picture frame with hinged doors on it. Behind the doors lies a drawing of a little cabin with a plume of smoke curling out of its chimney. Above the drawing are the words “Up North.”

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Upon arriving at the cabin, we open the doors to welcome us, like the opening bell. And upon leaving, we close the doors, marking the end of our time at the cabin….

…. just one weekend of many to come, each one adding a page to our family history.

Enjoy your long weekend, everyone. Say hello to your cabins for me. 🙂