Cottage Outfitters Hosts Flannel Fest

February 11-12, this Friday and Saturday, is the annual Shanty Days celebration in Caseville, Michigan. If you love winter activities, you’ll love Shanty Days. This weekend is also Flannel Fest at Cottage Outfitters in Caseville!

Jonathon Bibby, owner of Cottage Outfitters, has been working diligently to prepare for Flannel Fest. The cabin room is amazing, and everyone who visits will be immediately captured by the need to stay for a while and enjoy the “up north” comfort.

Flannel Fest is about enjoying the winter weather while wearing a comfortable and warm flannel shirt. Jonathon has a great stock of Up North Flannels from which to choose. Just about any color combination, with many variations of plaid is ready and waiting for you.

New this year for Flannel Fest is a line of comfortable and warm hats called, “Trappers.” There are several colors available, like the one in the photo with buffalo plaid and fur.

Cottage Outfitters continues to be the place where folks love to shop for items for their home and cottage. Jonathon is a master at creating spaces that evoke feelings of comfort and peace. Not only is he a great designer, he’s one of those special people who will make you feel at home, no matter who you are.

During our visit today, I was really excited to see a big display of Sander’s Fudge Topping! Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? Everyone knows Sander’s ice cream toppings. I have to admit, fudge is my favorite, but the caramel is fabulous!

If you have never owned a flannel shirt, which, I think, is almost impossible to believe, you are in for a real treat. If you can imagine wrapping yourself in something that gives a sense of comfort, warmth, home, and “up north,” then you’ve just found a flannel shirt. The only problem will be you won’t want to take it off.

If you head for Caseville for Shanty Days, or just to get away for a while, make sure to stop at Cottage Outfitters and enjoy Flannel Fest. Say hello to Jonathon. But then again, he’ll say hello to you first, I’m sure.

Wednesday Whys: Up North Camping and Stuff

Camping is a conundrum, isn’t it? I mean, think about the conversations before a camping trip. Especially for those who have never done it before. That conversation might go something like this.

“Honey, I have a great idea!”

“Oh? What is it?”

“Well, I thought we should pack enough clothes for the kids to last for seven days. We’ll pack up clothes for ourselves, but maybe we won’t need as much.”

“Alright, but why would we do that?”

“Well, I thought maybe we would pack up the kids, the dogs, the lizard, and the chinchillas, and go away for a week.”

“Where are we going to go?”

“Well, I thought we would go camping.”

“Go what?”


“Why would we do that when we have perfectly good beds to sleep in and a house to stay in?”

“Well, I just thought it would be good for us to get away.”

“Where are we going to sleep? What are we going to eat? What are we going to stay in?”

“I have it all planned.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of. You haven’t answered my questions.”

“We’re going to sleep in bags in a tent.”

“What? What kind of bags?!”

“Sleeping bags!”

“We don’t have sleeping bags, do we?”

“No, but we’ll get some.”

“And what about eating? What are we going to eat? And how are we going to cook food?”

“Honey, we’re going to eat the same food we eat here. We’re going to cook on a stove. We’ll keep the food in a cooler with ice in it. We’ll use a screen tent with a picnic table in it to keep us out of the rain…”

“Wait. Keep us out of what?”

“The rain. Not that it’s going to rain, but just in case it does, we won’t get wet.”

“What kind of a stove are you talking about? We don’t have a stove that works outside.”

“It’s a gas stove that sits on top of the picnic table.”

“I’ve never heard of a gas stove that sits on top of a picnic table. Do we have one of those?”

“No, but we’ll get one.”

“What are we going to sleep in?”

“A tent.”

“What kind of tent? Why a tent? Why can’t we sleep at a hotel? Then we wouldn’t have to cook outside, eat outside, and probably get soaked in the rain. Do we have a tent?”

“No, but we’ll get one.”

“Ok, wait. Let me get this straight. We’re going to buy a tent because we don’t have one. We’re going to buy sleeping bags and a stove that works outside. Do we have a cooler?”


“But we’ll get one, right? We’re going to pack up everything we own, including the animals, leave our comfortable home with our beds, refrigerator, stove, table, couch, chairs, carpet, lights, bathroom… Wait! Wait just a minute!! What about bathrooms?!!”

“Well, that depends on where we go. But what I want to do is bushwhack.”

“Bush what?!”

“Bushwhack. It means we go somewhere in the woods where there isn’t anything but nature. No electricity, no running water, nothing.”

“What about bathrooms?! How do we go to the bathroom?!”

“Well, we dig a hole…”

“That’s it! Nope! Not doing it! If you want to go bushwhack, you buy yourself a bag and a tent and go bushwhack all you want. We’ll be right here when you get back!”

I love camping, don’t you?

Up North Life

I wonder how many times the words “up north” are spoken by people who live in Michigan.

“Are we going up north this weekend?”
“We’re taking a vacation up north.”
“We have a cottage up north.”
“I wish we had a cottage up north.”
“How much would it cost to get a cottage up north?”
“We’re going canoeing up north.”
“We’re hunting up north this season.”
“Why can’t we live up north?”
“The fishing is better up north.”
“Remember that little restaurant where we ate up north?
“Do we have to go to Florida? Can’t we go up north? It’s closer!”
“The trees are so pretty up north?”
“Where is up north?”
“We’re going where? Saginaw? That’s not up north! Gaylord is up north! Why can’t go to Gaylord?”
“You’re not up north until you get to Mackinaw City.”
“You’re not up north until you get to St. Ignace.”
“Marquette is up north.”

I wonder how many people in Michigan don’t care about up north. I guess not many. Probably everyone who has lived in Michigan most of their life can tell a story about being up north. I sure can.

I think my parents were born up north. Actually, my mom was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My dad in Detroit. But my dad must have had enough up north experiences growing up that he tried to pass them on to us.

Several years ago, I learned my dad would have been raised in Amherst, Nova Scotia, if my grandmother hadn’t refused to go. My grandfather left Detroit to go back to Amherst because his mother was dying. When he returned he told my grandmother he was moving the family to Amherst. She said, “I’m not going. My children are not going to grow up in Canada.” He went back. Amherst, Nova Scotia is way, way up north. I never met my grandfather, even though he lived twelve years longer than my dad.

Most of our family vacations were up north. Traverse City, Grayling, Cadillac, Hartwick Pines, Marquette. There was one memorable fishing vacation to Canada that remains high on the all-time-best-memories list.

My brother and I went fishing with our dad to Wawa, Ontario, for a week. I never caught anything. I don’t remember whether my dad did or not. We went in June, so the black flies nearly carried my older brother and I away. It was close. If it hadn’t been for the boat anchor, I think the flies would have taken me to the woods for dinner. Instead, they had to chew on my ankles. When we returned home I looked like I had golf balls in my socks.

Since we had such a terrific time, the next summer my dad decided to take us back to the little cabin in the Wawa woods, but this time included my mom and three-year-old sister. My mom was a pretty good sport on other up north trips. She slept in a tent, cooked on a kerosene stove, sat by the fire, and always looked pretty. So, my dad convinced himself taking my mom and sister to black fly heaven would be wonderful.

The cold rain soaked us as the 15 hp Johnson pushed the small row-boat to the cabin. My dad took as much luggage as he could with my brother and I on the first trip. The second trip was more stuff. On the third trip he brought my mom and sister. Mom was crying, dad was quiet, neither of which was a good sign.

The next morning my parents packed up. After three boat trips to the car we drove all the way back home, a silent trip of 390 miles and seven hours. My dad gave the boat he borrowed back to the neighbor. We never went fishing again. Never talked about it, either. As I recall, all of the family vacations after that summer included hotels.

We have carried on the up north tradition with our own family. Unlike my mother, my wife loves camping, and so do I. The draw of sleeping in a tent is not as strong as it once was, especially since we owned a camper. Why do I say “owned?” Well, that’s another story.

Our first camper was a 15 foot Nomad we purchased from my wife’s mother. The little trailer sat in her yard at her cottage for eighteen years. We loved that little camper. We used it frequently over several years. Finally, lacking a vehicle to tow the trailer, we sold it.

Our second camper was much nicer. It was a twenty-five foot Rockwood Pioneer, double-axle trailer. What a beauty! We used it right away and I discovered all the things I didn’t know about owning a camper. The first time I emptied the waste tanks, black water spewed from a crack in the hose. I quickly closed the valve and we went to find a new waste hose.

Over several years, we only used the trailer about five times. We could no longer pull the camper with my old pick-up. The vehicle we purchased, just to pull the camper, turned out to be a lemon. A very large, juicy, yellow, over-ripe lemon.

On a warm day last spring, I decided it was time to pull the cover off the camper. Standing at the top of the aluminum ladder, as I was rolling the cover back, the main legs of the ladder folded in and I fell. Luckily, I missed the ladder when I landed on my side. I thought I broke my wrist, and I definitely cracked ribs. My wife heard me yell and came running. We laughed a little bit after I was able to stand up. I said, “That’s it! We’re selling the camper, and tomorrow we’re going to look for a new car. We were successful with both.

Up north is a feeling that’s hard to explain. But everyone who knows up north knows that feeling and will do anything they can to get it back. I know I will.

Wednesday Wonders

Last weekend was the annual Zehnder’s Snowfest in Frankenmuth, Michigan. For thirty-one years, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth has been the host to snow and ice carvers from far and wide. We weren’t able to be in Frankenmuth for the actual event, but the snow and ice sculptures last for several days, as long as the temperatures remain low.

As luck would have it, temperatures rose to the mid-forties today, so the snow creations were melting rapidly. However, they were still fascinating.

We happened to be in Frankenmuth during the week before Snowfest, and I watched with amazement as crews prepared the blocks of snow in the parking lot of the Bavarian Inn.

Truck loads of snow are brought into the parking lot and dumped. A loader drops snow into the top of the box, then two workers climb in and pack the snow with shovels and their own weight. They continue the process until the block frame is completely full. A large crane lifts the frame away, leaving a perfectly formed square of snow, ready for the professional carvers.

The detail of this sculpture is really incredible. You can see how the ice is beginning to melt, and some pieces have dropped away due to the rising temperature.

How the carvers are able to complete these sculptures in the amount of time allowed is amazing.

It was a beautiful day to see the ice and snow sculptures in Frankenmuth. Michigan is in the path of a huge snowstorm over the next thirty-six hours. I’m pretty sure these creations will be hard to recognize after the storm passes. But, there’s always next year.

I call this one, “You’re gonna need a bigger shovel.”

Saturday Snackin’ and Sippin’

I’m convinced coffee is as much feeling as it is taste. Coffee is an experience. Some coffee experiences are better than others. I can’t remember having a cup of coffee that was so bad I couldn’t drink it. There have been lots of cups that were less than hot, making the coffee more difficult to drink, but there is something wrong with wasting coffee. Cold coffee is better than no coffee.

When I was young, after arriving at home from school I went around the house to find the coffee cups my mom left during the day and finished the cold coffee she left.

For a short time when I was in high school, I stayed with an older couple who lived in the town to which my parents were preparing to move. They were kind and loving folks and they made sure I felt right at home. With an in-ground heated pool in the back yard and a pool table in the basement, it was difficult to feel anything less. Because of their religious beliefs, they did not drink coffee. They drank Postum, which is made of roasted grain. It was actually very good and many years later I bought a jar just to try it again.

I obviously prefer real coffee, as opposed to instant. You might argue that instant coffee is real coffee, and I can’t offer a convincing rebuttal. But instant coffee doesn’t provide the aroma that fills the room when coffee is being brewed. Even Keurig coffee cups release a wonderful fragrance. I have, however, had some memorable experiences with instant coffee.

On a vacation, I used instant to fill a thermos with hot coffee every morning before I went fishing on beautiful Houghton Lake, Michigan. That was nearly forty years ago and the memories are still vivid in my mind. Not so much for the fish we caught, but for the thoughts and feelings about the experience I still enjoy. Instant coffee was right in the middle of it.

The company I worked for in my first job supplied instant coffee for employees. I was the janitor, so it was not only my job to set up the coffee stand, but to drink some as well, then clean up at the end of the day. There were also times the boss provided donuts, although not many.

I was privileged to have my grandparents living in the same city where I grew up. Many times after church on Sunday, I went home with them for Sunday dinner. The main entrance to their house was in the kitchen. Every Sunday, rather than changing clothes and returning to the kitchen, my grandparents put the coffee pot on the stove to reheat the breakfast coffee, sat down at the kitchen table, and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee before preparing dinner. I will never forget the sound of them gently stirring cream and sugar into their coffee. It was some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. The Pyrex coffee pot in the photos is exactly like the one my grandparents owned.

Here’s a question for you. Have you ever noticed that when you eat a York Peppermint with coffee it tastes like cigarette ashes smell? No kidding!

The snacks enjoyed with coffee are important, but not as much as the coffee. Good coffee doesn’t need help. I have to admit, drinking coffee makes eating snacks more likely, as in, “I don’t really need this but I’m going to eat it anyway, to go with my coffee.”

Biscotti is wonderful. Although, successfully eating biscotti is an art form. If you dip biscotti in your coffee and do not withdraw it at the right moment, it will disintegrate into mush, floating on top of your coffee like debris from a boating accident.

Have you ever heard of Tim Tams? “Tim Tam is a brand of chocolate biscuit introduced by the Austalian biscuit company Arnott’s in 1964.” (Wikipedia) They’re little chocolate covered cookies about one inch by two inches. You first bite both ends off, then hold the biscuit in your coffee and use the Tim Tam like a straw. As soon as coffee hits your lips, pop the biscuit in your mouth. Some people love them. To me, the experience was a little like eating a warm piece of chocolate covered Melba Toast. No offense to Tim Tam lovers.

Honey roasted peanuts are a great snack to eat with coffee. You have to keep an eye on the peanut jar or it will be empty before you finish your coffee.

Chocolate chip cookies. Nothing else needs to be said.

The number one snack to enjoy with coffee has to be Peanut M&Ms. Done. Peanut M&Ms and coffee carried me through an entire master’s degree program which took three years.

Well, there it is. Saturday sippin’ and snackin’.

What kind of snacks do you enjoy with coffee?

Cottage Outfitters Expands!

In Caseville, Michigan, there is a shop that is the place to go when you’re in town. Caseville is a popular vacation spot drawing people from all over the Midwest for camping, boating, fishing, swimming and doing all the other things that define a great summer.

Just like many other lakeside towns, Caseville has a few stores that have all of the things you would expect, like Caseville shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, shot glasses, coasters and painted driftwood, all manufactured in foreign countries. There are several good restaurants. My favorite is Walt’s Restaurant where we often go. Their breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toast made with homemade bread is unbeatable. Walt’s happens to be right next door to the special place I’m bringing to your attention.

Cottage Outfitters, in my opinion, is the one destination you have to include in your trip to Caseville, no matter how many times you’ve been here before. There is always something new to see.

Owner, Jonathan Bibby, is incredibly gifted at staging in such a way that your attention is captured many times as you walk through the store. Cottage Outfitters offers some beautiful antique furniture pieces, decorative items that will be perfect for your home or cottage, and even has some kitchen items. Homemade edibles like jams and pastries are also available.

Included among the displays at Cottage Outfitters are many items offered on consignment. You will not, however, have the feeling as you walk through the store that you have entered another booth operated by different vendor. Jonathan arranges the entire store masterfully so that all items flow together and make it easy for you to find just the items you’re looking for.

If you’re one of those people who use the term “cozy,” than you will immediately understand what it’s like to visit Cottage Outfitters. Many times I have walked through the store and thought, “I would just like to sit here with a cup of coffee and enjoy the surroundings.” It’s that kind of place.

Especially exciting for fans of Cottage Outfitters is the store has doubled in size. Jonathan Bibby acquired the storefront next to the original store and expanded his floorspace. There is much more to see and a much wider space to enjoy.

Be sure to visit Cottage Outfitters in Caseville, Michigan, during your summer travels. Oh, and be sure to have a cup of coffee in your hand so you can stop and sit for a while.

The Up North Experience

People who live in the great state of Michigan actually argue over what it means to be up north. Most particularly, where up north actually begins. To some, it begins after travelers cross the beautiful Mackinac Bridge and begin to explore St. Ignace, Escanaba, and all points in the Upper Peninsula.

To many, up north means the beautiful region of Houghton and Higgins Lake. The fishing at Houghton Lake is unsurpassed. The beautiful blue water of Higgins Lake is known around the world. But still, there are many who say this very popular area is not truly up north.

Oddly enough, there are many who live in the southern areas of Michigan who consider the middle “thumb” region of the state to be up north. There are small lake areas south of where we live in the lower thumb that are favorite destinations of those seeking to go up north.

Up north is a state of mind. It involves a million different experiences all inspiring their own memories, each with a special feeling folks try to recreate by returning up north, wherever that may be. And that is the beautiful thing about going up north. You can have it wherever you are. Up north is yours to enjoy, whether it is in Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Otter Lake, Bay City, Mio, East Tawas, Clare, Gaylord, Ossineke, East Jordan, Brutus, Onaway, Rudyard, Brimley, Eckerman, or Au Train.

My wife has captured a little bit of up north with her Up North Flannels. A few years ago, while we enjoyed a trip to visit family in Tennessee, she purchased a flannel shirt that had been re-purposed and re-tagged. An idea was born. Why not do the same thing in our area and call the shirts Up North Flannels? She began by designing her own label, then started searching for used plaid flannel shirts.

Over the last three years her hobby has continued. Although two shops where she had a display of shirts have closed, she has two other stores specializing in home decor that also sell Up North Flannels.

We visit community thrift and other stores that sell used items. My wife has become very good at hunting and knows just where to find the shirts. Sometimes she finds just one or two, sometimes a bag full. We bring the shirts home where she washes and irons them. She then uses the iron to place her special Up North label. I get to help by sewing the label to the shirt. We have quite a production line going and we make a good team.

We recently have had great fun participating in a local Farmer’s Market. Our tent is surrounded by those who actually farm the items they sell but they have graciously allowed us to join them. Last week we decided to include home made cinnamon rolls which my wife named “Dale’s Delicious Delectable 3D” cinnamon rolls.

An Up North state of mind is a lot like A Coffee State of Mind. I don’t have to be enjoying a cup of coffee to have that state of mind. I can think about a delicious cup of steaming hot coffee and have the mind to enjoy the thought. I can think about the wonderful experience of being up north without actually being there and enjoy the state of mind all the same.

We all need to find that kind of thinking. Whether it’s enjoying traveling, spending time with family and friends, taking a walk, or listening to birds singing, our thoughts can take us there. If we stop for a moment and purposely think about the things we enjoy, we return to that state of mind.

It’s definitely time for more coffee. Literal coffee, not thought coffee.