Analysis Paralysis

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If you’re reading this blog, there’s no doubt that you’ve suffered from analysis paralysis. You’ve got to build that chicken coop, but you’re spending hours pouring over books, Pinterest boards and how-to websites. Add endless debates with your spouse and you’ve got a recipe for inaction. “Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” is the way Shakespeare describes this condition in Hamlet.

The re-design of our backyard lead to the worst analysis paralysis I’ve ever experienced. Weeks went by with no progress. Ideas came and went. The internet made it worse by providing way too many possibilities.

A quote in a book finally broke my analysis paralysis spell. The gist of that quote was that we are all called by a higher power to build. I realized that I needed to set a deadline, get off my ass and construct the raised beds that I had spend endless hours researching, planning and discussing. I told Mrs. Homegrown that this Saturday I was buying lumber and cutting wood. I quickly drew up plans in SketchUp and started working.

The first hexagonal raised bed attempt came out a bit too small so I went back to SketchUp and re-sized the plans.  My self imposed deadline worked. Within a few hours I had the beds that I wanted and was very pleased with the results. The analysis paralysis spell was broken. What had been a concept on a computer screen become reality in short order. It felt good.

Sometimes life is a struggle, but increasingly I feel the need to build more and struggle less. No more neighborhood council meetings. I’m fatigued reading about the latest political outrage, petitions and pleas in Facebook. At this point in my life I just want to build.

What was your worst case of analysis paralysis? How do you deal with it?

Garden Design: Working With Pre-existing Conditions

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Behold my abominable raised bed design that evolved out of a misguided Sketchup session. Yes, that is Princess Leia standing in for Mrs. Homegrown. I guess that makes me Jabba the Hut, which I resemble while blogging on the couch. But I digress. I emailed this rendering to our architect pal John Zapf for review. He responded in two words, “April Fools?”

I didn’t admit that I was kinda serious.

I called Mrs. Homegrown in to look at my rendering and to her credit she didn’t dismiss it immediately (she knows that I’m crazy). But we both realized that my hexagonal raised bed fantasy would be better off never leaving its conceptual stage. Sometimes Sketchup is a handy tool for figuring out what not to do.

The problem with this bed design? It has no relation to what’s around it. It would look as out of place as a UFO on the White House lawn.

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Let’s take a look at one of the plans Zapf doodled out last week. He worked with what’s there already: a square house, square shed and square yard. Wouldn’t it make sense to work with that squareness, to not try and put a round peg in a square hole? What I like about Zapf’s plans is that he extends the lines of the house and shed. Maybe that puts the kibosh on the geodesic Princess Leia Biodome folly, but that’s probably a good thing. Sometimes jarring contrast works, but in the case of our fuddy-duddy old house I think it’s best to go with what’s there already.

On Shoddy Workmanship

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An engraving by William Morris. Note the skunk proofing.

You’re in a hurry. You’re frustrated and impatient. You say to yourself, “I don’t really need to secure this skunk proofing, my vegetables will be fine.” You might call it shoddy workmanship. I call it half-ass-itis. I’d say it’s the number one sin of the DIYer and I always know when I’m doing it.

There are those whose personality tends towards careful and elegant craftsmanship. You’ve probably met such a person. They craft their own musical instruments and win the blue ribbon at the county fair for their perfectly textured quince jam. I’m not that person (I’m more like this NSFW video). But we have freedom of choice. That’s what makes us human. We can change.

I had a rude reminder of my shoddy workmanship the other night when skunks breached poorly secured bird netting that protected a newly planted bed of vegetables. But at least I can do a better job of securing my skunk proofing as a start. Step by step, I vow to pay more attention to details. Otherwise they’ll be no home grown vegetables this winter.

Craftsmanship is not to be confused with perfectionism. A craftsperson is not afraid to make mistakes, to fail and to learn from setbacks. But to cut corners and know you’re taking an easy shortcut is to fall into halfassitis mode.

William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Morris’ craftsmanship was a reaction to the newly industrialized world. I can’t think of a better role model for countering halfassitis thinking.

Do you suffer from halfassitis or are you a detail person? Comments!

Closed vs. Open Floor Plans

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One of the things that attracted us to our house is that it had been neglected for most of the 20th century. With the exception of the bathroom, there was no horrendous 70s or 80s era “remodeling.” Our home’s most unfashionable characteristic is a closed floor plan. Even the kitchen still has an almost 100 year old swinging door.

I’m nearly certain that the next owners of this house will knock out the kitchen wall and put in one of those bar stool counter thingies. Before they do that they may want to read these arguments against the open floor plan from a mom’s perspective. Summary: sometimes what goes on in the kitchen should stay in the kitchen.

Coincidentally I just visited three historic early 20th century mansions. All, of course, had completely separate servant/kitchen quarters with their own entrances. One even had a room just for preparing flowers and a kitchen devoted entirely to cleaning game shot from a balcony off the second story (the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills!). The “out of sight, out of mind” servant is one of the chief arguments used for the open floor plan: that is, that an open floor plan liberates the cook (often the woman of the house) from the servant role.

But I’m not so sure. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to hide the mess and noise of the kitchen from the rest of the house. Likewise I appreciate that the back bedroom that serves as my office and a guest room has a door to hide my chaos. If Dwell Magazine ruled the world, our homes would be one big open warehouse, and then I’d have to be tidy.

What do you think? Are you pro-open house plan or do you like doors? Why?

A Homemade Mattress?

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The Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac

This is the story of my life. I read about some old domestic technology or product that makes a lot of sense. Perhaps it is obsolete. Or perhaps it is only done/made in more enlightened countries. Nonetheless, I want it. So I have to make from scratch.

Yesterday we met a great couple, Renae and Dimitri. Renae mentioned she was thinking about making her own mattress. I was intrigued because just that morning I’d woken up with low back pain. Our mattress is worn out. We need a new one, but I’ve been dreading buying a new one. I don’t like the waste of it all: The ignoble dragging of the old mattress to the curb. The prospect of sleeping on a brand new construct of toxic foam and fire retardants–or opting for a less toxic but less comfortable futon.

So, when Renae said this, I was fascinated. I’d never considered making my own mattress.

Continue reading…

Garden Design: Quantity vs. Quality

There’s an old saw, probably apocryphal, about a ceramics teacher who divided her class in two, made one half spin as many pots as possible while the other struggled to create one perfect pot. The students who were graded by quantity rather than quality made the best pots. I’ve noticed, from the years I used to be in the art world, that he most talented creative folks I’ve met crank out lots of material.

So how do we apply the quantity over quality principle to laying out a garden–especially since you often get only one chance a year to get it right? Above you see some of Kelly’s ideas for the parkway garden we planted in the fall. I think it is at this first point in the process–when you’re just sketching out ideas–when it’s best to generate as many drawings a possible, stick them on a wall and see which ones pop out. I think Kelly made more than the three drawings we saved, but we certainly could have done more–I’d say 20 minimum.

Part of what we learn by focusing on quantity is about making mistakes and learning from them. But I think there’s more to it than that. A gifted high school English teacher of mined likened our creativity to a tank of water. Sometimes you have to drain off the not so great ideas at the top in order to get to the good stuff that lies deep in our unconscious. Letting go of stifling perfectionism also forces us to try out ideas that might not have come to us otherwise.

I wish you all a quantitative 2013. Best of luck with your gardens!