I love the cool, foggy Bay Area weather, but I lose track of the seasons. Rain means fall or winter, but chilly and overcast could be any day of the year. I wilt in real heat, but sometimes I miss signs of summer.

So I was thrilled when my friend Mark insisted we get going building a long-discussed tree house for the kids. Best friends since our teens, Mark and I have done quite a few projects together. He came all the way from Chicago in 2000 to help me build the office I ran my business from for many years. Our last project, a small hothouse where he hoped to grow tomatoes, was less enduring, blowing down in a windstorm. It wasn’t much to look at anyway.

Mark knew that I’d never get going on a big project like this without prodding, so he insisted on a start date: June 14. The night before, I was googling tree house designs and ideas, trying to figure out how we could attach the thing, how to keep it up. Part of the delight of this kind of project is that, given the whimsy and rush they’re carried out in, the outcome can be surprisingly decent. “Just use that board, no need to go back to the store!” could be my motto. But I suspect I wing it in part to hedge my bets. In case of disaster I can abandon the whole thing. (There are 8 foot  spider legs made from aluminum pipe in the garage which have tragically never come together as a big Halloween yard spider, despite several engineering attempts over the years.)

Anyway, on day one we got a pretty good structure going:


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I was psyched, though Mark is a perfectionist and a hurrier, and he couldn’t believe we didn’t do the whole thing. Sometime after 3pm he finally admitted he had a dinner party to cook, and we called it a day.

A week or so later, I got some help from my 13-year-old godson, who’s awesome in shop class.


Here and there summer weekends, I managed to get just about all of a treehouse built. The final touches were the ladders, both a wiggly fun rope ladder, and a more-solid ladder of 2x4s. I got those done just before picking up the kids from day camp, and was thrilled to show them. Up until now, they’ve been able to get on the platform only with my help and supervision, so it was sweet to lay in the hammock and enjoy them climbing up, doodling around, climbing down. It was just about perfect.

Today I was overcome with the need to wrap it all up. Last stop: stain the wood. Painting is one of those things you can’t start lightly; once the cans are open and the brushes are wet, I don’t want to stop. It’s both terrifying and boring. As my painting arm gets more tired, my mind wanders further and further.

I see an apartment bathroom I painted in college, blue gray and bright white. A disastrous burlap decoration project. A gorgeous stone shower that was the last project in my San Francisco cottage.

My mother’s been gone for 26 years, and I’ve done plenty of painting in that time, but the smell always brings her to mind. There she is, wearing her paint pants and “little old lady tennis shoes,” doing a series of remodel projects with my dad. In my teens she seemed to always have paint specs on her glasses, color coded to the most recent project. I feel her happy let’s-do-it work ethic, feel glad to have some of the DIY spirit of my parents. I wonder if my kids will get any of that.

The wood’s all gray brown, the treehouse is done. The dog, sleeping underneath, has a few new brown spots.

When the kids come home, the stain is dry, and they try it out. Shayla loses her balance and falls off the open side, knocks the wind out of herself. Jaden cries and cries, scared by her fall, but soon she’s laughing on the couch, OK this time. We’ve broken in the tree house, with nothing broken. So far.

Here’s to summer!

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