Category Archives: masonry oven

On manual labor

Until the weather turned “normal” late last week, I’ve been obsessively building something outside.  It’s something that will bring a lot of my efforts together, not necessarily effortlessly, but certainly enjoyably.  We should all aim to get a lot of enjoyment out of life.

But I wanted to talk about the process of building.  I have mostly LOVED getting extremely sore:  I enjoy this about gardening, too.  Certainly, I haven’t strained myself into a hospital visit, but solid hours of lifting anything is not part of my normal day:  at most, I lift my laptop and piles of drawings, sometimes a book…my normal work is not exactly physically demanding.  But construction!

I am trying to puzzle out what it is about manual labor that is so immediately appealing to me.  We discussed something similar to this over the Thanksgiving table.  My father in law seriously believes I should go into pie-baking as a sideline.  “But once you do it for a living, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it,” he said, taking another bite.  So:  is it the novelty of construction?  I build things all the time for a living, and though the same kind of thought process goes into it, doing architecture on the computer isn’t the same as constructing architecture with my hands.  But I think I have figured it out, why I enjoy it so much:  it’s the time required.

I believe I get more accomplished in 3 hours of laying bricks than I do in 3 hours of computer time.  It’s actually productive time, well-spent, with progress observed and felt.

Don’t get me wrong:  if it wasn’t for computers, I wouldn’t be able to work from home.  I wouldn’t have all of you in my life, and life would be a lot less easy in so many respects.  But computers are A HUGE TIME-SUCK.  Really!  This is not a unique observation, nor certainly is it new to me, but this contrast between outdoor work and computer work has been very jarring.  Computers steal time from our lives, minute by uploading minute, autosave by refresh by page load.  Somehow, we’ve acquiesced to this, we’ve agreed to spend a large portion of our lives allowing our asses to grow ever larger, sitting in front of a screen, all because we think these tools are indispensable, and helpful.  And so muscles atrophy, brain synapses misfire.  I’ve always thought the television was bad but now I am reconsidering this damned internet connection, seeing it as the black hole of time that it is.

All the more reason to pick up a hammer.

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On the death of summer

I spent the autumnal equinox in my car, driving home from Wisconsin.  I thought mostly about changing seasons and death.

Funny:  most of the weekend was spent wildly reveling in the strength of my body and embracing life.  And food.  Glorious food, the fuel of life itself.  But death has a way of sticking its nose in.  Fortunately, I was able to spend some time at the bedside of a dying friend.  I was able to at least say goodbye.  The rest of the weekend was living the life of the living, and living it with those who remain alive, without him now.  He died Friday morning, at home.

Ostensibly, the reason for my journey was to configure a large screened enclosure to house this thing.  This wood-fired oven has been a labor of love for my friend C on her farm.  It’s been wonderful, helping shape this dream with her:  lots of sweat, edible payoff.  The oven needs to be stuccoed yet, and the concrete legs on the side are to hold up plank tables for easy pizza assembly.  But as you can see it is functional.  I spent much of the weekend playing with its functions.

Here are the tomatoes I brought for her (with some gnocchi I made): we threw these in for an overnight roast in the cooling oven (300* down to 125*).

I adored the quick hot pizzas we would wolf down for lunch, but the oven’s greater wonders for me were in its long-term cooking abilities.  Seeing what it could do with the tomatoes, I threw in unshucked corn cobs, some glut sauce hastily made from what I could find in C’s garden, and sliced apples and pears from two neighbors’ trees.  In different pans, we let them cook all day while we labored…except the corn was just on the oven floor. The glut sauce is now frozen and the apples/pears are now butter with ginger, allspice and sugar.

Sweaty dirty working girly arms, and one should always drink out of canning jars, don’t you think?

And then after digging and hammering, wine would come out, and a walk through the cornfield, then hot outdoor showers in the cool dark in this lovely space.  Then dinner.  Repeat the next day.

Ah.  Life.