I use Jekyll—a ‘staticgen’ like Hugo. I absolutely agree that it gives me flexibility. I don’t think I even realized how much until you mentioned it! I have been kind of hard on it lately, because my customizations are starting to cause me a lot of pain. And it’s just not a good way to do Indieweb things right now. I keep shopping for a new program; I think it’ll just have to do.
In a way I feel similarly about CSS—it’s pretty expressive and flexible, but it really strains when I try to do something complex with it. Actually, I just struggle to speak its language. So what you’re saying about handmade sites being ‘laborious’ is dead on. It’s rewarding when it’s done.
Oh and I really like Codepen. Here’s a prototype I built before diving in. Thank you for asking—I appreciate that.