Epic Backyard Playhouse: How I spent my summer, and what it taught me about food

Looking back, this project just seems crazy. But if parenthood doesn’t drive you at least a little bit nuts, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Epic Backyard Playhouse

What will it be after the kids are grown: Art studio? Poker room? Lawnmower storage?

Wanting nothing but the best for our kids, we aspired to build them a truly epic backyard playhouse, with our own hands. Not a play structure, but a real “mini-house”, and while we were at it, why not two stories…and a pop-out bay window…and a cross-gable roof?

Four months later it’s still not fully complete, but they’re thrilled, and we feel pretty satisfied. I must sincerely apologize to you all for putting my blogging on hold, and I promise more recipes soon. For now, here are the big lessons of this project, as I relate them to the world of food:

You Can’t Measure Ridiculousness

Our imperial measurement system is so bad. How much time is spent adjusting decimal results into sixteenths of inches, compensating for 2x4s being actually 1.5×3.5, or converting feet to inches? Similarly, most baking recipe developers long for the US to adopt measure-by-weight conventions for more precision and easier kitchen workflow. When will we be ready to bake a change?

Plan Ahead

You know I care about meal planning, otherwise I wouldn’t have developed the Spinning Meals app. Ever counted the per-project trips to Home Depot or Lowe’s? As our chief architect and organizer, my wife burned through a stack of graph paper with great plans and cut lists which saved our butts day after day, and kept those butts at the job site more than on the road. Plan ahead!

Epic Backyard Playhouse First Story Framing

First we built a box, then we built another box on top. Like a layer cake, but without the creamy middle.

Precision (Usually) Matters

An eighth of an inch gap may lead to a quarter, to a half…and eventually nothing fits. Time spent on precision pays well later. But an experienced carpenter knows which cuts can be made in haste and which require perfection. In kitchen work, baking is generally more precise than cooking, but not always. The good news is, food forgives a lot more than framing, and since you aren’t risking building collapse, go ahead and try something different, and if it fails just do it again more conservatively.

Practice is Confidence is Fun

The kitchen can be a scary place when you’re starting out, just as serious framing work once made me feel out of my league. But it’s amazing how quickly repetition breeds skill, and skill, confidence. Eventually my mistakes became rare, and churning out perfect compound miter cuts made this a workplace from which I drew strength and enthusiasm, not fear. Can the kitchen become a place of real joy, if you challenge yourself beyond the mundane and really master it?

Try Something Big

To energize your kitchen, maybe you don’t need to learn to make a slightly better pork chop. Maybe you need to make something that’s the ultimate, something as stupidly ambitious as this playhouse. Like a recipe with 30 ingredients, or 15 steps, or a name you can’t pronounce… Cook or bake your heart out, let your loved ones swing a hammer, I mean a whisk alongside you, and make something worth remembering, whether it succeeds or fails. Hammer on, friends.

What do you think? Any questions about it?

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Posted in Family, Food Articles, Philosophies
5 comments on “Epic Backyard Playhouse: How I spent my summer, and what it taught me about food
  1. You are the best Dad EVER!!! 😉

    • Avatar photo Ryan says:

      Aw, thanks Pam! To be fair, my wife is the real hero here, as the visionary, architect, researcher, and primary builder. But it has been a big group effort with countless hours from all of us, help from the grandparents on both sides, and some help from the kids which is fun to see. More than anything, I just can’t wait to see the kids really enjoy it when it is done.

  2. So fun to see it coming together, my friend! Thank for sharing the experience and what you’ve learned from it. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

    • Avatar photo Ryan says:

      Thanks Kristy! More pics to come, as it already looks different from this picture just days later. Give us the weekend, and there may be PAINT! Krista’s thinking pistachio, but I’m leaning towards a dark raspberry, hmm…

  3. Jovalynn Castillo says:

    That is really cool.

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