Minnesotans love their cabins. But sometimes, not all family members love them equally.
As a teen, Diane Page wasn’t crazy about spending summer weekends at her family’s cabin in north central Minnesota. “I wanted to be in the city, with my friends,” she recalled.
But the cabin eventually cast its lure.
She came to love being on the water and spending downtime with her family, away from the busy routines of city life and her work as a focus-group moderator. Diane and her brother inherited the cabin after her grandfather died, then she bought out her brother after he built a retirement retreat down the road. “I felt more ownership then,” she said.
Her husband of 40 years, Alan, the Minnesota Supreme Court justice and former Vikings football player, was slower to embrace the cabin lifestyle.
“He’s from Canton, Ohio,” said Diane. “He didn’t understand the cabin thing.”
“I wasn’t enchanted,” Alan admitted. He hated the mosquitoes and deerflies, and preferred to spend summer weekends in town, where he could take his runs around the city lakes. “I’d say, ‘I’ve got one of the best lakes in the world three blocks away. Why are we going up there?’ ”
Then something happened.
Actually, three things happened, according to Diane. The couple discovered the joys of kayaking and pizza-making — and they became grandparents. That made Alan a cabin convert. “I’ve evolved,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been up there more this summer than the past five.”
Now Diane enjoys trips to the cabin even more. “We’re spending time up there more than ever,” she said, “Now that we’ve added value to the lake.”
Here’s how they did so:
Kayaks a deux
Diane had never cared for kayaking because she found it uncomfortable. “I’m long-legged,” she said. Then she discovered Hobie kayaks, which can be paddled or pedaled while sitting upright. She bought one for herself, and it soon became the family’s favorite watercraft at the cabin. Then, Alan got a kayak, so the two could go out together.
Kayaking allows them to escape the bugs Alan hates, but to get close to other wildlife, including loons. They both love the peace and quiet of gliding through the water without a motor.
“Silence is such a wonderful sound,” Alan said. “You can’t get it here, in the city. Even in the early morning, there’s a lot of background noise. But up there, there’s no noise except the leaves in the trees and the paddle on the water. Pedaling is even more quiet.”
At home in the city, the Pages became fans of oven-baked treats created by Craig Schulz of Phalen Oven Works in St. Paul. “His breads are to die for,” Diane said. Then the couple were smitten with the stone fireplace that Schulz, a stonemason, built in his back yard. Diane asked him if he would build a fireplace like it at their cabin.
To her surprise, Schulz told her his family had a cabin not far from hers, and that he’d be happy to build an oven for her sometime when he was in the area.
The Pages’ new oven is made of local rocks that Schulz hand-cut on their property, then placed, one by one, to form a tall drystack stone fireplace. “It’s a work of art,” Diane said.
So are the pizzas they now create. When their kids and grandkids are at the cabin, the Pages put out an array of toppings — from fresh-picked produce from Diane’s cabin garden as well as exotic fixings, such as green curry chicken, a recent contribution from their son-in-law. “Sometimes we make dough from scratch; sometimes we cheat and buy Trader Joe’s dough,” Diane said.
And Alan has become head chef, the family expert at baking the pizzas until the crust is just right.
“He even makes breakfast in the pizza oven,” Diane said.
Of all the new inducements to spending time at the cabin, the strongest is the Pages’ four grandchildren: ages 5, 4 and two 2-year-olds.
Being a grandfather is “like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” Alan said. “They’re so innocent, full of life and curious. To watch them, to hear them, to see how their minds work — their presence changes everything.”
The Pages’ grown children and their kids live nearby in Minneapolis, so they’re able to get together often. But spending time with them is even better at the cabin, Diane said. “For me, it’s really different. I plan projects I wouldn’t think of in the city.”
She’s buried seashells on the sandy beach for the kids to find, and is looking forward to making apple cider with them this fall, using an old cider press she found on eBay. She also loves being in the garden with the grandkids.
Each child has his or her own row, planted with crops they picked at a “focus group” Diane staged for them, complete with a flip chart. In the garden are veggies of many kinds, flowers and a variety of berries. “I can hardly wait for jam- and jelly-making time,” she said.
She also bought the kids toy fishing rods so they can pull sunnies and bass off the dock. That’s one activity Alan opts out of — “the fish are safe when I’m around,” he said.
The Pages have even turned their boathouse into a play space for the kids, complete with a tepee.
“They love playing in it,” Alan said. “They have rules: No adults in the tepee.”
‘Just a cabin’
One thing the Pages won’t change is the cabin itself, a cozy 1950s structure with two bedrooms, an enclosed porch and an open living room/kitchen that still boasts its original red and yellow Formica.
“It’s nothing fancy,” Diane said. “I’m not going to change any of the ’50s things. I’m just working on the motif,” switching out some of her grandfather’s accessories and artwork with a few American Indian pieces — “to be more compatible with the environment up there, of being in the North Woods.”
“What I love about the cabin is it is just a cabin,” she added. “I don’t want a second house up there. We don’t go up there to mow the lawn.”
Alan, too, now appreciates the simplicity of cabin life. “Life is full of excess. We don’t need that up there. We can get away from that, and be closer to nature.”