Hobby Envy: Wordle vs. Marquetry

Geum, Ann’s favorite flower – (you’ll have to wait to see why I included this photo)

So, now that you are retired what do you do with your leisure time? 

That’s what my dentist recently asked me while my mouth was wide open to accommodate a gurgling suction hose and high-pitched whining drill. Although I had no way to respond verbally, the question momentarily took my mind off my fear that the Novocaine (or whatever I was injected with) had not yet numbed the nerve that I was certain her drill was headed for.

It was just as well that I wasn’t able to say anything.   Asking about one’s leisure time may seem like harmless small talk, but – not to be too melodramatic – it’s a loaded question and raises some thorny issues about life choices and cultural values. 

I wonder what kind of reaction I would have gotten if I had answered with something like

What do I do in my leisure time? Well, I play Wordle first thing every morning before I tackle the NY Times Spelling Bee, then I play scrabble on my smart phone after which, if I have time, I take the dogs to the dog park.

Just some of my surreptitious leisure time activities

Of course, even if all of that were true I would be reluctant to tell anyone. To understand why I would be reluctant refer to Julie Beck’s recent article in The Atlantic entitled How Hobbies Infiltrated American Life.

Although her focus is on the pandemic’s hobby boom (when an estimated 59 percent of Americans picked up a new hobby), her insights go beyond pandemic issues. She reminds us that in the pandemic’s early days people baked so much that all of the flour was gone from the shelves and that the surge in DIY home projects dramatically escalated the cost of lumber. There were other “popular” ways to spend time such as playing Animal Crossing, organizing Zoom happy hours, or watching Tiger King (Wordle wasn’t around yet!). Then she adds a big however:

we all kind of knew that picking up a hobby was somehow better than those things. The Protestant work ethic that is foundational to American culture positions labor as morally good in and of itself, whether you’re working hard at a desk, on a farm, or teaching yourself the guitar tabs to “Wonderwall.” Conversely, any time not spent productively is wasted. …The message that a hobby is the best way to spend one’s free time is also a message about what you should value most in life: hard work, achievement, productivity.

Our son Travis’ early pandemic-motivated sour dough bread (pictured here) was an inspiration for my own dabble into bread making (and frantic search for bread flour) – baking became a hobby for neither of us.

A hobby, according to sociologist Robert Stebbins, can be labeled “serious leisure” or an activity that requires special “knowledge, training, or skill, and where people often try to make progress and get better at it over time.” I doubt that my struggle with Wordle qualifies in that regard, but I am absolutely sure that our good friend and neighbor, Stacey, can easily lay claim to “serious leisure” status with her woodworking pastime.

Stacey and her serious leisure workshop.

I knew that Stacey liked to work with wood and had even admired some of the amazing decorative boxes she has displayed in her home. They certainly are a step or two above my high school wood shop tour de force (which I blogged about earlier).

My high school wood shop tour de force – a doorstop that took me the whole semester to make.

But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to watch her in action in her workshop that I came to appreciate the amount of time, meticulous attention to detail, and creative talent that went into each box she created. Nor had I appreciated the artistic eye that it takes to select the right combination of wood varieties and design details to end up with a beautiful (and functional) piece of art. Furthermore, I had never heard of marquetry, the official name for Stacey’s serious leisure activity.

Marquetry, I learned, is an artistic wood decorating technique that dates back to the early 16th century and involves precise craftsmanship for assembling pieces of veneer to create decorative designs on furniture and other objects (here is a good source to learn more about marquetry). The below photos from Stacey’s workshop give you an inkling of just how much is involved in the process.


The outcome of all of this is marvelous. You can see why I consider this a step or two above my doorstop.

But the most exciting outcome of Stacey’s serious leisure activity (for us at least) is that she custom made a box especially for Ann and gave it to her as a gift. It is even more special because Ann’s favorite flower is Geum, which Stacey used for the design.

Stacey’s written description: Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ for Ann, Thin veneer – Walnut burl background, dyed veneer flower and leaves Walnut trim and box.

While my preoccupation with Wordle may not stand up to Stacey’s serious leisure pursuit of marquetry, I should report that this morning I solved Wordle on my third try (it took Ann four tries!). That should be worth something, although I still wouldn’t mention that to my dentist.


  1. Evangeline Buell says:

    I’m amazed and awed by my daughter’s incredible, creative talent, I’m very proud of her..a loving, compassionate caring beautiful daughter…
    Vangie Buell


    • theRaggedys says:

      You realize that I was kidding about my hobbies. Actually I use my leisure time quite productively, if you count cycling as productive. But I have to admit that I am still enjoying Wordle (got it in 2 this morning). I wish I could take siestas but I just can’t bring myself to do that. Thanks for the link.


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