Skip to content

Time, Machines, and Handwork

December 21, 2014

I used to dread the shortest day of the year, now I don’t, it’s just another benchmark to reach on the calendar.  I’m looking forward to putting seeds in the ground again already.  So much in fact that I ordered some seeds before Thanksgiving.  I just couldn’t wait.  Impatience is a farmer’s virtue right along with patience.  My husbands co-workers wonder about us to themselves and a little to him.  You know the walking with dinosaurs thing.  Or worse yet, they fear we’re a little bit prepper.  They were flabbergasted we didn’t have a generator.  The dark days?  We take them in stride and get some rest from outside work and long days.

“How do you pump your water?”

How do you explain a hydraulic ram that uses no electricity to people who don’t know they’re out of water until the last drop out of the faucet?  It’s sad really, since they are all bona fide water operators guaranteed to know their shit by the State of Oregon.  Using water to pump water and then letting said water flow downhill is a foreign concept.

“How do you stay warm?”

For sure everyone has heard the axiom, heating with wood warms you twice or maybe three times.  They got that one.  But it’s too much work for most to consider, unless you’re just after the ambiance factor.

Trip Around the World x 2

Trip Around the World x 2

“How do you cook?”

Same wood story applies there.  Of course it helps to have a cookstove and the correct wood to cook with too.  But that takes time and machines.  The chainsaw, axe, maul and hatchet.  We’re not Luddites, we love modern conveniences like everyone else, but I find more and more that the mix of  convenience and simplicity of handwork is the sweet spot.  Sometimes you enjoy the tasks at a slower pace, sometimes you want to multitask.  That butter in the bowl?  I “churned” that in the food processor.  Milked by hand, skimmed by hand, churned by machine and then reduced a bowl of butter to ghee on the electric stove.  A mix.  The machine makes lets me multi-task, and believe it or not, the food processor takes longer to churn the same amount of cream into butter than the hand churn.  Except, while machine is churning, I’m usually cooking dinner, and washing dishes.  Multitasking.  Frantic it is.  Churning by hand.  Hard work, fast, and not frantic.  Pros and cons all around.  The churn is fast and it’s easy to clean too, the food processor is fast in its own way, but it’s hard to clean.  Mox nix.  Some days I feel like churning and working the butter, and some days I just want to get it over with.  Nuances of cream temperature be damned.  I just want the cream out of my hair because it never stops coming.  Guilt works its way in here too, I take the cream from the calves basically, so I better not waste it by being lazy, it’s their perfect food not mine.  I’m just greedy.

Maybe it’s just laziness to use a machine, or maybe it’s smart.  Machines?  I know they take the skill out of many farm tasks.  You are a slave to the machine and it’s needs and wants.  I’ll never burn up my hand cranked churn, my epicondyle won’t let me.  But that food processor?  You betcha that can happen.  Same with the cow, I could hardly milk Jane too hard, but a machine sure could.


Haying works the crap out of us for sure, but I would sure hate to put up loose hay, unless I was keeping a herd of rabbits.  Cows, ugh, can’t. even. imagine.

Winter begins

Winter begins

I am sure today on the shortest day of the year, the cows were glad we toiled with machines last summer to harvest them some sunlight in the form of dried grass.  I’m equally glad I had a machine to deliver that hay to them today.  These days you can live a life with a perfect blend of convenience and handwork of your choosing, it’s a choice our ancestors did not have.  Electricity and machinery let us burn the candle at both ends so to speak, and if the lights do go out, it makes us all the more grateful when they come back on.  A jolt is what we need sometimes, a reality check if you will to remind us we are human and have only human capabilities.  A generator would keep that jolt from happening.

Happy Solstice!  I hope everyone is finding the right blend of handwork and convenience on this first day of winter.




32 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2014 3:49 pm

    Us too… feet in both worlds! Happy Solstice to you as well.

  2. December 21, 2014 3:51 pm

    I totally respect your lifestyle and could not be more impressed with all that you do and produce! Happy New Year (my husband has already started looking at seed catalogs too, but has not ordered anything).

  3. December 21, 2014 4:05 pm

    Sitting by my fire, after having cooked the soup on it.. wish I had your water delivery contraption though, it is the ONLY thing I have trouble with during power cuts. c

    • December 21, 2014 4:45 pm

      C., you need some hills for it to work, I am envious of your flat pasture land :p

      Thought of you last week, I found a fire hydrant tree ornament for my hubby. It would fit right in at your place!

  4. Anita Watson permalink
    December 21, 2014 6:32 pm

    I admire you and all you do!!! Your quilt is beautiful.

  5. CassieOz permalink
    December 21, 2014 8:42 pm

    Happy Summer Solstice from the land of Oz! May we always have the luxury of choosing our handiwork/convenience balance. 🙂

  6. Chris permalink
    December 21, 2014 8:45 pm

    I too am so impressed and inspired by your amazing, incredibly hardworking but oh so meaningful lifestyle! You must be so proud of what you do everyday and the difference you are making even with the little, simple things and maybe it’s just because of all those simple things among the very difficult that you do everyday that makes you stand apart!
    You get it and graciously share your immense wealth of knowledge with the rest of us with the hope that we might all get it too! 🙂
    You are a good (great) steward to your land your animals and everything else in your care!
    You amaze me!
    Happy Winter Solstice!

  7. December 21, 2014 9:29 pm

    Have you ever written a post about what types of wood it takes to cook with?

    • December 21, 2014 9:53 pm

      No, I don’t think so, but the short answer is small and dry. But depending on what you’re cooking, various sizes are needed. We burn mostly Douglas fir with a few hardwoods here and there. When I’m splitting wood, I set aside any “kitchen wood” candidates.

  8. December 21, 2014 10:07 pm

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I agree, I love the mix of handwork and machine work. Mind you, I did wake up in the middle of the night with an idea to make a powered wool tumbler that runs on bike power instead of an engine. Might reduced the hours I spent sorting through the wool to remove the bits because our alpacas love to roll in the hay. 😀

  9. Nic permalink
    December 22, 2014 5:28 am

    Do you hand piece your quilts? Love those colors 🙂 Quilts can keep you warm too!

    • December 22, 2014 6:45 am

      Nic, heavens no, actually those two tops are “vintage” class sample tops for a rotary cutter/machine piecing class I taught at the community college back in the day. I’m just going to make them into comforters (wool batting) and tie them. I’m addicted to smaller squares though, those are 1 1/2″ finished and I’m liking challenge of 1″ squares.

  10. Bee permalink
    December 22, 2014 6:25 am

    I understand perfectly! Butter in the food processor might be quick, but I can make a lot more of it in the old hand-cranked butter churn, and it won’t ever overheat. On the other hand, after hubby’s neck surgery, we got a milker, and I discovered my carpal tunnel problems settled down despite still pounding a keyboard several hours a day. There’s no way I want to hand-shovel the small corral outside the milking shed after a long, wet winter, but the backhoe won’t fit in the sheep’s night-time abode, so it’s a job for manure forks and shovels. We do have a generator for the well pump and the freezers, but otherwise I could get by. My sewing machine makes short work of mending heavy stuff like jeans, and I would rather not do those by hand. No dishwasher except for the human variety. I turn to my herbal tincture and syrups for most ailments rather than modern medicine. But I’d a thousand times rather do my writing on a computer than a typewriter or with a quill and iron gall ink! We aren’t crazy, we’re just making the best of both old and new.

  11. Fid permalink
    December 22, 2014 6:30 am

    Beautiful post, as always. Grateful too, as always. Gorgeous quilt! Happy Solstice to you and yours from all of us.

  12. Beth in Ky permalink
    December 22, 2014 6:34 am

    Is the fabric on that couch original??!! My granny had one, I rubbed it so much they had to threaten to spank me. Merry Christmas!

    • December 22, 2014 6:37 am

      Beth, yeah but it’s on it’s last legs 😦 We had a brown one when I was little, and I didn’t get spanked for playing with that nap, but I should have!

  13. Bev permalink
    December 22, 2014 10:24 am

    Yes, we have had people comment through the years just why we work so hard. Why would you do that. Wy not. It is so nice using the tried and true. It is also nice using the new, like machines. My husband is 77 years old. How nice that the neighbor used his loader to fill our truck twice with manure for our garden. Saved so much hard work Sometimes I like cooking wth smaller gadgets and I don’t have to clean a big one. It is hard work through the year to have a woodpile. We love our wood heat, it seeps into every nook and cranny. When the power goes off it is an extra bonus. The quilts are beautiful, many stitches and all by hand. As always enjoy your sharing. Thank you.

  14. barefootfarmflower permalink
    December 22, 2014 4:58 pm

    I actually claim the winter solstice as my favorite day of the year. It took a long time to look at it this way, but it’s actually the beginning of lighter days ahead. Once the darkest day of the year is past, it gets better and better a few seconds at time. And when you’re working outside, tending animals and keeping home- every little second counts.

  15. December 23, 2014 3:18 pm

    I like the dark and the rain; it’s restful and beautiful. Although the mud is not…
    Love your take on handwork versus convenience. I used to love kneading bread by hand, but had to stop after developing carpal tunnel. Sulked for a year, before resigning myself to the Kitchen Aid — but it allows me to still have homemade bread. The dishes are done by hand, and I like making tofu instead of buying it in plastic tubs — but also really love the magic little pitcher into which I put soybeans and water, and remove finished, creamy soymilk that’s much better than any I was able to make myself. Now, if I can just learn to grow the soybeans, it will really be great.

  16. leavergirl permalink
    December 29, 2014 3:41 pm

    Putting up loose hay is wonderful. And you can sleep in it too! No compare to the stuff in bales. If you only have a cow, a goat, and some rabbits, very doable. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: