Work and Leisure

Matt is reading a new book by Michael Pollan called Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.  I haven't read it yet, but plan to eventually.  I've enjoyed every thing I've ever read by him and I fail to see why a book about cooking--something so dear to our household--would be any different.
Already though its got me thinking.

Matt read me a passage that was discussing work and leisure in a section analyzing our relationship to cooking.
Pollan posits that by definition leisure is about consumption whereas work is about production.

This notion sort of blew us away.  So much of what we consider our leisure activities are certainly considered "work" by the vast majority of people I know.  Some have outright told me so.  Beyond that, if that weren't the case I would see all my friends and family out digging in the garden, yielding carpentry tools, stirring the bubbling canning pot, behind the sewing machine, and so on.
In our modern perspective it just "makes more sense" to hire out those tasks to someone else thereby leaving one more personal time for leisure activities.
I was working on some of the finishing touches of the dress I started at the sewing retreat and I realized there was "no point" to my behavior.  Economically it makes no sense.  I could go to the thrift shop and get a dress in under five minutes for under five dollars.   I could take that time and read a book, play board games, go to a play, etc.  Or I guess I could watch some of the four hours of television that the average American watches each day, according to the A.C. Nielsen Co.

Yet, there I was at my sewing machine because it makes me happy.  That is the point, for me.  All this work makes me happy--happier than just buying it would.  Its about the satisfaction and pride and accomplishment of it all.  The doing-it-myselfness.  I admit that I am pleased whenever someone says "Oh, I really like that skirt/dress/jam," and I can reply, "Thanks!  I made it myself."
By a more standard western attitude it would make more sense to just get a better paying job and pay someone else to do all the "dirty work" behind my canned goods, dresses, dish cloths, etc.  Beans at the store are pretty cheap, after all.   The thrift stores abound with dresses and dish cloths and curtains.  With the time and effort it takes to keep ourselves supplied with bread, chapstick, applesauce, juice, and pie, tomato sauce, dried herbs, etc. we could work more outside the homemake more money, and simply buy ourselves everything.  Frozen pizza, a new computer, hair conditioner, every book on my wishlist, bakery bread, a TV that isn't decades old, Frank's Red Hot.

But, that isn't the point.  Even if I could have "more" I think it would feel like less.
Our "work" enriches our lives in untold ways that could never be compensated for with store-bought equivalents.  Never.

I would never see the delicate purple flowers on the mint and pick them to enjoy in my tiny table vase.  I would never see our friendly neighborhood squirrel gorging on the "bad" apples we'd picked, but not used for canning, and left on the porch with the intention of throwing them in the compost bin.  I would never know about the crazy ways that slugs can expand and contract themselves.  I wouldn't be allowed to experience strange, exotic varieties of food like Hutterite soup beans, French fingerling potatoes, Cherokee purple tomatoes, etc.  I would never know how much planning and skill goes into the making of my clothing.  I would never appreciate things like I do now.
And we have fun doing it all, for the most part.  I guess we're strange for making "work" our "leisure" activities of choice.  But, we then again, we knew that we were strange enough already.   I've never forgotten two of my favorite Amish sayings,  "Work makes life sweet," and "Pride in your work puts joy in your day."

Matt and I made a list last Friday night of all the things we hoped to get done over the weekend.  There was an awful lot of production in there, under the "guise" of leisure, and little consumption.  I won't lie.  A couple things on the list did seem like work, but once we got started we found ourselves enjoying it.  But, even still, I don't think work can be avoided in life, really.  Work at home to produce the things you need yourself while enjoying the radio, the sun through the windows, the birds at the feeder, at your own pace and direction... or work away from home under someone else's direction and orders to pay for all those thing.
I, for one, find the home work much more affirming, sustaining, and pleasing.  It is a satisfaction based in self-reliance and having the skills that slowly are becoming lost arts.  I am glad we're striving towards more of the former and less of the latter.  Regardless of economics and social norms I can see the point.

This weekend we:
Prepared and processed tomatillo salsa.
Picked three varieties of mint, washed it, and put it into ice cube trays to freeze.
Reorganized the freezer since the one upstairs was bursting with bags of spinach, corn, zucchini, pesto, and the like while the chest freezer downstairs was half empty.
Washed the bed sheets and another load of laundry and hung them out on the line.
Listened to music.
Sliced apples, made syrup, and canned apple pie filling.
Walked around the neighborhood-- twice.
Harvested all our potatoes, washed them, and put them into storage.
Watched a Ken Burns documentary called The Dust Bowl.
Put sage we'd been drying into quart jars.
Harvested more sage and hung it to dry.
Hemmed a new dress.
Sorted and weighed the beans we'd had spread out to dry.
Soaked and cooked a big pot of our Red Mexican Beans.
Practiced yoga with a new DVD from the library.
Cooked and ate some fabulous meals like stuffed quesadillas, eggplant-peanut soup, biscuits and gravy, and potato-leek soup.
Mended a pair of pants.
Sketched the garden.
Planted 120+ bulbs of garlic.
Thawed frozen tomatoes and processed into tomato sauce.
Made hot sauce.
Checked out books at the public library.
Filled a few bulk jars at the co-op.
Read books.
Watched birds, squirrels, and other small wildlife.
Baked focaccia bread.
Made sourdough starter.
Work and leisure all wonderfully mixed up together.


  1. I loved your weekend list! A lovely and thought provoking post, thanks for sharing.

    San x

    1. Thanks, San! It was a busy, but fun-filled weekend. That seems to be how most of them are...and I wouldn't have it any other way!

  2. What a great post! Maybe I should print it, to keep by me, so I can remember just why it is I do these things, and why I enjoy them so much. (I loved the Pollan books I have read, too, but haven't read Cooked yet.)

    Have you read The Story of Stuff? It is kind of a scary book. It impacted me pretty heavily after reading No Impact Man (which I know we have discussed.) :)

    1. Well, whether you do print it or not I am honored by the thought. Thanks, Cristy. I watched the little video for The Story of Stuff and Matt read the whole book (so I got snippets of it read to me), but I've not yet cracked that one. I must say part of me is resistant. I am sure it will break my heart. But, I should...even if I know it will be a painful read.

  3. I love that so many of you young folks are embracing the old ways. I wish my generation hadn't got so caught up in consumerism and had taught the old ways to our kids. I think this youngest generation will tire of all the technological advances and yearn for a more natural lifestyle.

    1. I think we can see that happening already. And yeah, its a shame we moved away from it as a culture, but I can totally see how it happened--how people made the choices that lead to convenience and consumerism. Its so easy to live in the now without thinking of how things will affect the future. But, now, I do think we're getting it. Slowly, yes, but we are waking back up. Or at least I sure like to hope so.


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