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Summer Jobs Faculty sweat the details even off duty


Summer Jobs:
Faculty sweat the details even off duty
Photos by Phil Scalia

For most Skidmore faculty, summer is their only chance to tackle household chores and projects. (Those doing summer collaborative research don’t even have that window.) When September nears, off-duty academics hustle to finish up their domestic work before plunging into another school year packed with classes and meetings, lectures and performances.

Barbara Black - English

Clocking in:
I spend at least a half hour every day tending my gardens. I confess to
a particular satisfaction in weeding because the sense of order, of restored beauty, is immediately gratifying. And I love dirt.

Tricky project: I switched to an entirely organic approach to grass, an idea that soothes my conscience. But I still fall
prey to that American fixation with the manicured, weed-free lawn. So I spend futile hours on my knees, extracting crab grass and clover, cursing my weakness for
true turf perfection.

Love it: Gardening takes me back to my childhood; I did it with my father. We loved fairly basic things—tomatoes, mint, beans, zinnias—but it was magical work to me. I’ve transplanted several plants from those days (including an offshoot of a 200-year-old lilac bush from my family’s ancestral farm near the Mason-Dixon line). They give me some promise of continuity and a
certain precious connection to family.

Can’t bear it: I don’t do windows. But I love them sparkling clean, so I hire a crew for that. Frankly, I don’t much like any housecleaning chores which I owe to the fact that growing up we always had a housekeeper.

Tim Harper - Management and Business

Clocking in:
I spend about a month tackling several projects at home—including office remodeling, basement repair, and landscaping, plus building a shelter for the woodpile in the backyard. My wife and daughter assist me on smaller jobs, but I hire four
young men from our church to work on the larger ones. They usually come over on Sundays after service. My purpose is to
provide them with some spending money while teaching them that “hard work pays off.”

Love it (or not): I enjoy yard and lawn maintenance because it’s done outside in fantastic
weather and usually involves the entire family. But I try to avoid trimming the tree limbs
hanging over the roof. The bees, hornets, and wasps have convinced me to hire a professional
for that.

Disaster work: Whenever I build anything (bookcases, entertainment systems, dressers) it
always involves a construct and reconstruct stage, because at least one component will be upside down, backwards, and/or bolted to an incorrect component.

Roy Rotheim - Economics

Tricky Project:
We’ve been moving stuff from the basement to the garage attic, and then moving stuff from the house attic to the basement, so that we can finish off the attic into a study for me to use during my sabbatical, so I can complete the book I’ve been writing. Gayle (my wife) and I have been working on the project together. Our progress? Snails have been known to move faster!

Love it: I enjoy weeding the flower gardens. I do it slowly and methodically, for the sake of doing it as opposed to just getting it done. What spoils it is that the mosquitoes don’t have the same Zenlike philosophy; they do their job much too quickly and effectively for my peace of mind.

Can’t bear it: The drainpipe in the basement clogs all too often, causing the pipes to burst under
the kitchen sink. So I must undo the pipe overhead with a big wrench, making sure a bucket is handy so the drain doesn’t occur on my head. Then I send in an oversized auger to unblock the muck. I’d rather be grading midterms, to be honest.

Gordon Thompson - Music

Clocking in:
I spend about five hours a week on miscellaneous yardwork. Tending to the trees, bushes, and grass is relaxing. I don’t have a perfect lawn (it consists of clover and the inevitable plethora of grasses, mosses, and unknown low-lying organic growth). I aim for diversity in the trees and bushes too.

Tricky project: I thought my biggest problem this summer was going to be refinishing some furniture. But the water leaking into the kitchen changed my plans.

Love it (or not): Believe it or not, I enjoy cutting the grass. Repetitive tasks of that sort provide good times to think as well as decent exercise. But I find painting (especially trim) to be tedious. Driveway sealing is also something I dread.

Disaster work: Once we paid to have some very large pine trees removed from around the house. The workers left behind piles of wood chips, which I thought would be great to use as mulch around the outside of the house. What I didn’t consider is that carpenter ants are also very fond of these chips. We had more of them invading our home than I care to remember.


Bill Standish - Physics

Clocking in:
Last summer my wife and I painted almost every day in July. This year the weather was terrible, but I’m still hoping to do some scraping and painting. The house and yard are big enough that we could never get to all of the projects without help from my father-in-law, Bill; my son Bill ’08; and my son-in-law, also named Bill.

Love it (or not): I enjoy cleaning out the weeds and grass that grow in the cracks in the walkways. I guess it’s because it looks so clean and neat when it’s done. I hate trimming trees. I’m always afraid I’ll make a mess of them and they’ll look terrible. And I’m not fond of heights, which doesn’t help.

Disaster work: One year I installed gutters to keep rainwater from seeping into the basement of
our very old house. The soffits and fascia boards on that side of the roof are ornamental, so I had
to work really hard to hang the gutters properly. That winter’s ice dams bent them so badly that
I had to rehang them the following spring. When it happened again I gave up, and now we just
live with the water in the basement.

Mao Chen - Chinese; Asian Studies

Clocking in: I spend one or two hours a day gardening. I’m pretty new to it, but I’m learning how to design a flowerbed that will bloom most of the time. I’ve also planted some vegetables and lots of herbs (you probably can’t see them, with all the weeds). The summer is way, way too short. I never get done all that I want to.

Tricky project: Weeding in the yard on a humid day…the bugs! I just attract them, all different ones. The mosquitoes bite, and then I have an allergic reaction and get blisters—thirteen or fourteen at a time. My place is so shady; they love that. And bug repellent doesn’t help much.

Love it (or not): My favorite thing is working in the garden when the flowers are in blossom. I like seeing the seeds come to fruition. Teaching is very much like that. Seeing the fruits of your labor is very rewarding; but you need patience and care. The worst project is washing and painting the deck on a hot day. We skipped it this year.