Superior Reads

Lost in the Woods: Building a Life Up North

by Richard Hill

Richard Hill’s new book, Lost in the Woods, details his and his wife Judy’s building a log cabin in the U.P. For years, they had operated a business in Traverse City, but they missed their family in the U.P. so they purchased land on Lake Superior near Sault Ste. Marie in 1989 and began building their dream home.

Neither had any idea how much work building a log cabin would be. They began by researching the different types of log cabins. They decided they did not want just a custom-made log home but that they would rather build it themselves. Then they created blueprints, determined costs and eventually downsized from their original plans.

Building any house is a huge undertaking, but as Hill details, extra work and special circumstances go into building a log cabin. Because the Hills decided to do it themselves, they spent many long hours on weekends, in the evenings and whenever they had free time working on their house. Hill had help from his brother and other family members and friends, but work often had to be delayed to suit everyone’s schedules. As a result, the Hills would not be able to move into their dream home for many years, and as of the book’s publication, there is still work that needs to be done on the cabin—it’s become a seemingly lifelong project.

Hill walks readers through every aspect of the building project, beginning with clearing the land, while also sharing the thoughts and opinions of his helpers. I really enjoyed these sections that offered up the viewpoints of his brother, Fred, his wife Judy and some nameless people such as a carpenter, electrician and plumber. Sometimes the people Hill hired to help were frustrated with him because he was trying to cut costs and others were irritated with how they continually had to wait around for someone else to finish a step before they could do their work. Sometimes, this led to conflict and delays, but ultimately, it benefits the reader in learning about the ups and downs of the building process.

One example of a problem Hill had that I found amusing but which had to be extremely frustrating at the time concerned the staircase. The Hills ordered a custom-made staircase for the house that arrived months before they were ready to put it in place. And when they finally did, it didn’t fit. The company had to remake it, but it still didn’t fit. Finally, the company got it right on the third try. The faulty staircase ended up being cut down and used for steps to the front and back decks.

Interspersed with the story of building the cabin, Hill shares his own life story. He describes growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, running a store with his wife in the Cherryland Mall in Traverse City, raising his family, and his experiences working on the ore boats. (He has previously published the book Lake Effect about his deckhand experiences.) Also included are a Building Terms Glossary and a list of Building Resources for those who want to tackle building their own log cabin. Nearly 30 pages of color photos illustrate the entire process the Hills went through, including the blueprints for the cabin. Anyone interested in log cabins will find much amusement and even more eye-opening information in Lost in the Woods.

For more information, visit the website

Growing Berries for Food and Fun: Notes from the Northwoods

by Sue Robishaw

Spring is just around the corner, and I know farmers and gardeners are getting anxious for it, so now is the perfect time to start thinking about what you will plant, grow, and hopefully eat and enjoy this summer. Sue Robishaw can help with that for those interested in growing their own berries.

Robishaw’s new book Growing Berries for Food and Fun begins with the statement, “This book is dedicated to all who throw in their hat to dance in the world of berries, with their own hands, to discover the finest taste to be had.” Who doesn’t want that? Robishaw has spent 40 years growing fruit on her homestead, and she hopes her book will encourage others to get involved with berries in whatever way works for them and makes them happy.

The book is filled with explicit details on everything you need to know about berry growing, especially strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and even grapes. There are sections on mulch, moving plants to new beds, solutions to dealing with birds and animals that want to steal your berry crop, and using a trellis, pruning, and harvesting.

Throughout, Robishaw explains her various processes, adding in stories that add a little humor to the situations. An additional advantage is that she includes numerous photographs to help illustrate what she talks about. For example, when she talks about how she has protected her strawberries, she includes photographs of the strawberry cages she and her husband built. These look like large wooden planters for the berries to grow in with walls that allow her to run chicken wire over the roofs. The wire prevents birds and animals from getting in, but the covers are easily lifted off or opened—some are hinged like doors—so the gardener can get to the berries. These cages also make it easy to cover the berries to protect them from frost.

Robishaw continually gives detailed instructions based on what has and hasn’t worked for her. She talks about how to create better soil for your garden before you plant a bed. She gives instructions on dimensions for beds and how far apart to space your plants. She discusses choosing and planting different varieties of the same berry, and she recommends experimenting with different varieties until you find the ones you like best.

Robishaw isn’t big on giving recipes, but she does offer a few, including how to make wine from raspberries. And why stop there? Robishaw also enjoys making raspberry vinegar and then using that vinegar to make raspberry-flavored pickles.

And then come the blueberries. Robishaw admits she lives in wild blueberry country, but even so, she decided to plant her own, and today the bulk of her blueberry harvest comes from her own plants. She spent many years planning and cultivating her blueberry patches, and she shares the entire process with readers.

I should conclude by saying that Robishaw and her husband own a homestead in Cooks right here in the U.P., so what has worked for her with our challenging growing season can also work for you. You may not want to plant acres worth of berries like Robishaw, but you’ll find many tips in these pages to get started or to rethink or expand your own berry operations. And in the end, your taste buds will thank you.

For more information about Sue Robishaw and Growing Berries for Food and Fun, visit her website

— Tyler Tichelaar

Editor’s note: Tichelaar is the author of My Marquette and Willpower. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit

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