Monday, August 31, 2015

Ya Know You Only Get One

People are always talking.  Make no mistake, though, an effervescing flow of words is not an indication of factual accuracy or any connection to reality.  Normally, when someone babbles on about something, spewing inaccurate information gleaned off of Pinterest or a half-remembered Mental Floss blurb, I simply nod my head and smile with my eyes.  On the inside, I am clearly laying out reminders that I do NOT want to get involved in a discussion with this misguided scholar.  Yet, publicly declared inaccuracies can serve as catalysts for useful thought.

Saturday I was out in the woods with a group.  We were neither a Druid Cult nor mushroom hunters, but we were in the forest.  A violet colored butterfly landed on the shoulder of a woman in our group, and the guy next to her transferred it to his index finger.  He held out the butterfly to our pack, and we gawked and cooed.  The man looked at his little, winged friend hitchhiking on his finger and said, “How’s your day goin’?  Ya know you only get one.”  Having not anticipated or planned for this moment, I had not brought anything remotely close to my poker face, and looking back I’m sure my face screwed into a pointed cone of confusion.  The man looked around the group, and said, “Isn’t that right?  Don’t butterflies only live for one day?” 

For the sake of maintaining good group dynamics and with a commitment to achieving the greater good of the day’s group mission, I released the incredulous look on my face.  I kept my Google-soaked, Wikipedia-dripping phone in my pocket and looked around as everyone murmured non-committed agreement.  I made the decision to resist looking up the truth until after I separated from the group later that evening.  Those eight hours of not knowing the pure truth were torture to me, but they opened by eyes and my mind to a better thought.

Later that night I confirmed the truth that nearly all butterflies live at least one week following their exit from the cocoon, and many species of butterflies live for months.  I’m glad I didn’t pull out my smart phone to immediately eradicate the group ignorance.  I’m glad I allowed myself to consider the possibility that I was wrong.  I spent that afternoon and evening pondering the idea that perhaps butterflies really do go through the whole thing just for ONE DAY with the wings.  

The Left Brain Lesson:  apparently there is misinformation among humans about the lifespan of butterflies.  

The Real Lesson:  the lifespan of a winged butterfly is not one day; butterfly lives range from 5 days to 365 days.  Similarly, there appears to be zero information among butterflies about their own life spans.  Butterflies must not understand death.  If butterflies understood death, then one species would spend all 5 of their winged days cursing the fact they weren’t born into the crowd that gets 365 days.  

I don’t think that Galapagos tortoises realize they get more than 100 years to hang out here.  We humans are the rare breed to be cursed with understanding the cold reality of our finite existence.  Yet, we cannot be sure whether our life will be one of 22 years, 68 years, or more than 120 years.  Still, we seem to saddle ourselves with trappings that wouldn’t be necessary if we stuck around this place for a thousand years.  

We humans would make horrible butterflies.  After everything we have done to survive our time as an egg, caterpillar, and pupa, when we finally emerge with our wings we seem to develop countless reasons for staying in the safety of our cocoon.  

I think it’s the misinformation about us human butterflies that lead to our self-induced failure.  We are led to believe that we always have more time.  So, rather than reaching for the brass ring today, we organize our closets.  Rather than striking out to capture our dream, we wait until after our degree is complete.  Worst of all, we sometimes compare our wings to the wings of different butterfly humans around us and say that perhaps, we were wrong to even think that our dream was meant for us.  So, we compromise our dreams.

The great philosopher, racing driver, and furniture maker Jeff Skiver once said, “The moment you compromise a dream, it ceases to be one.”

It doesn’t matter how or why you landed on my page today, but as I look at you here, balanced on my finger and I see your beautiful wings, I have a question for you:  ”How’s Your Life Goin’?  Ya Know You Only Get One.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Patiently Waiting

Racing restarts in America today.  Well, a form of racing restarts.  To the NASCAR crowd this week is their birthday, Christmas, the Opening of Wild Boar season all rolled together.  For me, it's just another day waiting for the return of the one I love.

I suppose I prefer my racing a little more lean and athletic.  I prefer my racing more chiseled and German.  The great love of my racing life is Formula 1.

To 95% of the world, my distinction is likely lost, but to me the differences between NASCAR and F1 are enough that this afternoon Peyton and I will skip the Daytona 500 and watch old episodes of The Sopranos on the big TV through Amazon Prime Fire Stick.  (Peyton prefers Sex in the City, but without thumbs he cannot gain control of the remote.)

We furniture makers well understand the concept that details that are significant enough to drive our actions, direct our purchases, and steer our creative art are overlooked by 95% of the world.  Still, the choice between the dovetail bit and the saw & chisel can be be very personal.  My preference for Formula 1 seems to be rooted as deep in my soul as my preference for a dovetail saw and the feel of my hands on my chisel.

I have no ill will toward the folks celebrating the return of NASCAR today.  I just know that I need both left and right turns.  I need the mental strain of the chess match around fuel and tire strategies.  I need NEED racing in the rain.

So, Peyton and I will wait three more weeks for the start of the F1 Season.  And as always, we will be up in the middle of the night as that season kicks off in Australia.  In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that HOW Peyton chooses to watch the race with me is not always comfortable.

Peyton and I will wait three more weeks.  We will be up after midnight without hesitation to start another year with our German Silver Arrow.  We've waited this long, what is another three weeks.  Immer, wir bleiben.

Postscript: The German Silver Arrow is so beautiful and so photogenic that regardless of its age, it still quickens the pulse and sets off a wave of endorphin that reminds everyone why the credo is: The Best or Nothing.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Cutting Through The Myth of Chris Schwarz

 Back in 2009, Chris Schwarz spent blog space babbling about his striking knife.

3 Things I Like About My Striking Knife

Suddenly, 5 years later....

Cue the Marty Stouffer voice-over discussing "circle of life" while we watch the video of the wolf eating the baby rabbit.

Yep.  Today at the Lie-Nielsen tool even at PopWood in Cincinnati I purchased this very striking knife from Chris for $15.  It is the same one shown above that says "London" on one side and "1876" on the other. 

Like a 17 year old girl who has been dumped two days after prom, this little knife is right now sobbing, "Chris Schwarz liked THREE things about me back in 2009!!!!!!!!  Why was this not enough to keep us together forever?!?!?!"

With that said it should also be noted that today Chris also GAVE me a complete set of turning tools to give to a 14 year old kid/guy I know who is just now learning the craft.

Our cut-throat world has no way to really understand Chris Schwarz, because Chris is a guy who does not make money the #1 priority in every decision he makes.  Chris just won't milk out the last dollar (or two dollar bill) at the cost of the craft or the relationship.

Since the moment Chris and I met about 8 years ago, my life has been GENUINELY improved because of Chris Schwarz and his selfless desire to promote  woodworking, craftsmanship, and writing.

Thank you, Chris... not just for the deal on the striking knife or the turning tools for Jared, but thanks for everything you've done for me over the last 8 years..

I will cherish this striking knife, and I will take very good care of it.  (Camellia... Jojoba... whatever it takes.)

Monday, February 24, 2014

I Got My Mind On My Chisels And My Chisels On My Mind

I have no problem admitting that I love Chisels.  They are clearly my favorite woodworking tools.  While some look at simple chisels and label them as “un-photogenic” compared to complexity of a Stanley 45, I am opposite.  The simplicity of the chisel hides an elegance that outshines everything else on the bench.  Chisels are well-rounded athletes, and at times they are called upon to be large brutes who hog out mortises, and at other times they are needed for their finesse that can pare away the last wispy shaving of endgrain to perfect the fit of a dovetail.

Last week I completed a simple chisel rack to hold my chisels on the wall behind my bench.  It’s just a couple pieces of purpleheart to hold two rows of chisels.  I showed this picture to my coworker as  a way to prove that I am once again active in woodworking.

I expected her to have questions about the chisels, but instead, she mentioned the color combination.  She said she thought I was a Colts fan, and then asked why I had chosen the Purple wood and Gold screws. 

She told me of being a girl growing up in Minnesota at a time when both the Vikings and the Lakers still played there, and both teams wore purple and gold.  I smiled, and went on to explain that the purple wood was not dyed but happens to grow that color in South America.  (On the inside I thought how wonderful it would be if there was a tree that had wood the color of Indianapolis Colts Blue.  Hmmmmm….)

The only shocking part about the chisel rack I made last week is that it is too small to hold my entire collection of chisels.  It has room for eight feet of side-by-side chisels, yet I still have others that stay boxed up and sitting on shelves.  I don’t apologize for that.  I just truly LOVE chisels.  I always have.  I always will.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Remembering Roselle

I just received word of the passing of Roselle, the Yellow Lab Guide Dog who led Michael Hingson out of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Roselle was an alumna of Guide Dogs for the Blind. (

I first made a donation to Guide Dogs for the Blind in 2007, when I lost my dog Simon. I needed to do something to ensure Simon's name was remembered, and I thought perhaps a donation to GDB in his name would send his spirit on. Little did I know that a year later I would be able to secure an entire page in a national magazine to tell my story of how much I loved that goofy dog (Popular Woodworking, April 2008).

But my acquaintance with Guide Dogs for the Blind has continued, and today I received my my monthly GDB eNewsletter ("Chew On This!") and it told of the loss of Roselle on June 26th.

Roselle's story is told here: Saying “Goodbye” to a Hero

I cannot add anything to what Michael Hingson wrote. It is a touching memory he shares, "She kissed firefighters in the World Trade Center as we descended the stairs, a memory that moves me to this day. She inspired us all and will continue to do so."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nights Are Forever Without You

Last weekend I noticed that one of my favorite bands, America, was performing at a casino here in Central Indiana. Ultimately, I decided to not make the trip to see them because I worried the Doo Doo Naa Naa harmonies might not be the same as they were in the studio 40 years ago, and I also thought that a 2 man America may fall short of the harmonies recorded by the original 3 man band.

Then, today it hit me, that if Journey can grab a Philippino guy in place of Steve Perry, then perhaps America is ok putting the audience on the power play while they play shorthanded without Dan Peek who took the self-imposed Match Misconduct penalty back in 1977. That is especially true considering at least one of their hits (You Can Do Magic) came in their post-Peek period.

I suppose for every band like The Beatles that can call it quits and stay apart, the almighty dollar can manage to pull together others like Journey and INXS who will attempt to bust it out without the one guy that people really want to hear. Nevertheless, that same dollar is calling to me, so today I left a voicemail on the answering machine of John Ford Coley and asked if he wanted to get together and hit the State Fair circuit with me this summer.

I can honestly say that John Ford Coley and I have NOT spoken in the time since "England" Dan Seals passed away, but perhaps it is time for us to give America (the nation.... not the band) what it really wants:

A revival of the hottest adult contemporary sound of the mid to late 70's.... 

England Dan & John Ford Coley featuring Little Jeffy Skiver

After Michael Jackson and Donnie Osmond dominated the early Seventies, there was an awful void of Micro-sized front men that went unfilled until the arrival of me: Little Jeffy Skiver. However, when Dan and John added me to the group, it all came together, even if it did look a little weird.  

I still remember going on the Mike Douglas Show and addressing the hard questions of how a 6 year old kid could have enough life experience to sing along with Dan Seals and John Colley.

However, it only takes one look at that picture above to realize that the baby blues on that apparent "little kid" hide a lifetime of pain. Beneath that silk shirt and orange leisure suit was the broken heart of a young man who knew all too well what it was like to "Really Want To See Someone Tonight", but would instead have to endure a "Night that was Forever Without Her", because "She Belonged to Another When the Right One Came Along." Nevertheless, the sly smile also shows that Little Jeffy Skiver was one who held onto hope. He realized that since "Love Was The Answer", perhaps there would come a time when "They'd Never have to Say Goodbye Again."

Well, it may be about 30 years since we split, but I still love "us"... the way we were... when we were together.

So, John Colley, hit me up, Brother. Maybe it's time for us to kick it up old school and give America (again, the nation... not the band) the $12 per seat concert series it wants:

England Dan & John Ford Coley featuring Little Jeffy Skiver on the Dan Seals Memorial, Last Hurrah Concert Series.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Galoot Card Has Expired

My friend Ethan hit me up this morning to see if I had purchased another Panther Saw recently, and it got me thinking about the woeful state of my tool collecting.

I'm not sure if the Panther Saw I mentioned in February ever got relisted on Ebay. There have been a couple of others on Ebay in the last few weeks. One was in a similarly rough condition like the February sample, and the other was a very, very nice one.

Sadly, my tool purchasing is in hibernation at the moment. What have I been reduced to? Wisner Planes and Panther Saws are showing up on Ebay without a single bid from me. Full wooden boxed sets of Campagnolo tools are whizzing past without my ever raising a finger or screaming out a Dave Hester "YEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!" to piss on the tree and mark my spot in the bidding frenzy. I haven't even stopped into any antique stores to scour the corners for heavy, steel farm wrenches presented in large, flip-top jewelry boxes.

Patrick Leach's email arrived this week, and I didn't even want to open it. I sat there wondering what I would do if I saw something I had to have yet had no liquid cash available for its purchase. My mind raced to thoughts of emailing Patrick and asking about a tax season layaway plan.... Then, I finally just sucked it up and decided I was man enough to scan the tool list in a pure window shopping mode.  Reading Patrick's email I now know what it's like for Wayne Gretzky to sit in the crowd and watch a hockey game.

Ultimately, I decided that, at the very least, I am still the Commander McBragg of Tool Collecting.

So, Ethan, did I ever tell you about the time I purchased all of the Mason's Tools used to build the Great Pyramid at Giza.............

Friday, March 25, 2011

Recommending Ronnie Lott

I jumped onto LinkedIn today to track down someone's email address when I happened to see something interesting there in the People You May Know area... Ronnie Lott.

It appears I am now connected within one or two people of much of the NFL. Who knew?  (It's probably related to that half time speech I referenced yesterday.)

Naturally, I pulled up Ronnie's page and there were two things that struck me.

First, I loved the understatement next to Honors and Awards. "Class of 2000 Hall of Fame." That could be the Delta Skymiles Hall of Fame, but I suppose if you are working with Ronnie Lott then it's sort of implied it's the National Football League Hall of Fame he was inducted into in 2000.

The other thing I noticed is that Ronnie has only two recommendations. I thought about adding Ronnie to my network just so I could provide a third recommendation.

His two current recommendations are as Managing Member of Lott Auto Ventures, so I would put my recommendation under one of his other positions, like the one that says Safety, San Francisco 49ers.

In recommending Ronnie, I'm not sure if I would use corporate buzz words or not.  Ronnie Lott is not the type that needs flowery embellishment about creating synergy.  Not to mention that during his time in the NFL, Ronnie was certainly NEVER looking for Win-Win situations.  Obviously, corporate-Speak isn't the right tack so I would just keep it straight. My LinkedIn recommendation for Ronnie Lott would probably look like this:

"Ronnie's impact to a team stretches far beyond the white lines. His crushing tackles that cause trepidation for opponents are the clear reason why if I needed one guy to put an open field beat down on the enemy, my first choice is Ronnie Lott. And there is no greater leader in NFL history than Ronnie. That is a big statement, but if you have one inkling of doubt just shake hands with him using your left hand and remember why the tip of his pinky is missing. When you combine God-given ability, hard work, and passion for what you do, you can move the world. Ronnie Lott is a true warrior who exemplifies that recipe of success: Ability, Effort, and Passion."
Jeff Skiver recommends Ronnie Lott. 

(This ESPN video is a strong recommendation, too.)

Ya know... now that I think about it, I doubt a recommendation from me on LinkedIn is going to really add much to Ronnie Lott's resume. It's pretty strong on its own.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pick Me Out A Winner, Bobby

I've gotten a few emails over the last couple of weeks about my motivational speech about hawks.  Granted, most have asked me to stick to curmudgeonly observations.  However, at least a couple of folks wanted to know what my Corporate Rate is.  Rather than jump right into the quote for bringing Jeff Skiver to your next benefit, let me seed my Motivational Speaker resume with another example of my work..... and a VERY high profile example at that.

Below is the text of the speech I gave at halftime of the 2007 AFC Championship Game when my Indianapolis Colts were losing 21-6 to the evil New England Patriots.  As many Skiving Off readers know I had lost my beloved dog Simon six days before this game was played, and most people listening to my speech were expecting an exhortation to "Win One for Simon."  Instead, I went with the version below, and I believe it was quite effective.  As Wikipedia now documents, the Colts "18-point comeback was the largest ever in an NFL conference championship game, and tied the record for the fourth largest NFL postseason comeback."  (The Colts scored 3 points at the close of the 2nd quarter to cut the lead from 18 to 15 at halftime.)

Gentlemen, today I'm going to share with you a prize.  A true prize.  Today I am going to give you the greatest bar bet/trivia question known to the sports kingdom.

In the movie version of The Natural, what is the name of the bat Roy Hobbs uses to hit the Pennant Winning home run? 

When you ask this trivia question to someone you will get one of three possible responses:
a)  80% of the people will stare blankly with no clue
b)  18% will confidently blurt out the incorrect answer "WONDERBOY!!!!!"
c)  2% will smile and tell you that is a trick question and then correctly answer, "Savoy Special"

Throughout the movie, Roy Hobbs' hitting exploits are done with Wonderboy, the bat he hand made when he was still a boy living on his family's farm.  At the height of his heroic single season in the Majors, Roy even takes the time to help chubby bat boy, Bobby Savoy, carve a bat of his own that Bobby names "Savoy Special." 

Every man in the Colts locker room knows what it means to be worshipped as a hero by fat little kids.  But that's not what is important right now.  In the closing moments of that film, Roy Hobbs stood at home plate representing the winning run in a game that would send his team to the championship.  And in his hands he held his trusted bat, WONDERBOY, who had been with him for 25 years.  And when he lashed out at the ball with Wonderboy, he sent the ball over the fence.... but just foul. Then, when he turned around to go back and take another cut, he saw that Wonderboy had split in two.

Gentlemen, that is my question for you today:  What do you do, when Wonderboy is gone?  It is a touching moment in the movie when fat little Bobby Savoy runs out onto the field to take the broken bat away.  Roy hands his mortally wounded friend and partner, Wonderboy, over to the portly bat boy and says, "Go pick me out a winner, Bobby."  Bobby returns with Savoy Special, the bat he and the heroic Mr. Hobbs made together, and Roy returns to the batter's box to take another swing.

There is a life lesson here about handling fame and good fortune.  It adds flavor to the movie's plot that the relationship the Hero kindled with the lowly, seemingly unimportant boy can pay dividends when the hero most needed a friend.

It's easier to be a hero when you're healthy.  It's easier to be a hero when you hold a commanding lead.  It's easier to be a hero, when you're holding Wonderboy, the biggest gun in the arsenal.  But the measure of a Champion... indeed, the measure of a Man is what he does when Wonderboy breaks.

Out on that field the score shows the Patriots with 21 points and the Colts with 6.  I think it is clear to all of us that at this point in our season of destiny we are looking at the shattered pieces of Wonderboy.  But Wonderboy was only a tool.  And regardless of whether he held Wonderboy or Savoy Special, Roy Hobbs had the heart of a champion.  And if we X-rayed every person in this locker room we would see that same Champion's Heart beating.  We are down 15 points.  We are looking at the shattered dreams of Wonderboy lying in the dirt.  But our destiny doesn't lay in the dirt..... it courses through our veins, propelled by the Champion's Heart. 

Today's victory is NOT for our owner, Mr. Irsay.  Today's victory is NOT for our parents and families who sacrificed to help us.  Today's victory is NOT for the people of Indianapolis.  Today's victory is for harmony in the universe.  Gentlemen, it is your DESTINY to win today; anything less will create a divine disturbance in the universe.  See that victory in your mind, and go back to that field and fulfill your destiny. 

(Clicking above will play the scene from the film.)

It should be noted that at halftime of the AFC Championship Game on January 21st of 2007, I gave the above speech to my wife, Gail, and our surviving dog, Abby, in the living room of our home in Holland, Michigan.  I have no idea what speech Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy provided to the team down at the RCA dome in Indianapolis.  But it doesn't matter.  I've always known that it was MY speech and the spirit of the movie version of Roy Hobbs that propelled the Colts to their second half comeback and carried them through to their destiny of being Super Bowl XLI Champions.

That's what I do.... I motivate Champions.  Also, sometimes I take credit for Championships that I really had nothing to do with.  It's up to the readers to decide just how important my role really was.  However, my mom says I was key to the Colts winning the Super Bowl.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interview With an Eagle

(Warning...  The following issue of Skiving Off contains a Motivational Speech.  If you are overly cynical or jaded, it may be best to wait for the next update.)

Sometimes life is like Robot Chicken, where you see something that is truly wrong, but you struggle to quantify exactly what the issue is.

Last night Gail and I were driving home from dinner.  Actually Gail was driving and I was staring out the passenger side window.  Sometimes just for fun Gail drives while speaking French like Rallying legend Sebastien Loeb and I scream out co-driver navigation commands in a fake Finnish accent, "Haaaard Left Fiiiiife Huudeeeeert metters oooofer da Ridddge!!!!!!!!!!!!"   (There's a reason Mika Hakkinen asks me to race with him every year... I'm that good.)

Nevertheless, last night I was just staring out at the muddy fields of Central Indiana when I yelled (in my own personal middle American accent), "Look at that hawk!!!!"  I pointed to the field off to the right where there was a giant hawk poking at something on the ground.  Then, it started running and flapping it's wings, and I said, "Well, that aint a hawk.  It must be a huge...crow."  My voice trailed off. 

I did NOT see it, but I imagine if we had been there 5 seconds earlier we would have seen little sparrows in green and yellow jackets & helmets running around before a yellow-clad Robin (the Shooter) saluted then started Vogue'ing.  Or as the Central Indiana Avian Catapult Procedures Manual describes, "extending his arm (wing) overhead and sweeping upraised hand (wing tip) downward in the direction of the launch, touching the deck and returning the hand (wing tip) to horizontal in the direction of the launch."

My brain was reeling.  The bird ran, flapped, and took flight; and it was NOT a crow.  It flew westward and crossed over Oak Ridge Road just as Gail piloted our TDi Jetta under it.  Kids, it was a MASSIVE hawk, and he was beautiful.  Still, I felt like I was five years old and reading Highlights because I was dealing with a "What is wrong with this picture?" situation.  Something seemed grossly wrong with the hawk's take-off.  Then, it hit me.  It was the flapping.

Hawks and eagles can be big, heavy birds.  However, they are beautiful.  They are birds that soar.  They dive.  They swoop.  That's how we humans like to envision our birds of prey.  Motivational posters show eagles soaring above majestic mountains, not running across muddy fields flapping their wings madly.  We like to see raptors swoop down and do a touch and go on a lake while pulling out a wriggling fish to serve as a carryout dinner for the chicks at home.  It is not as attractive to watch a hawk pecking at a dead rodent as its talons sink into the mud.
Yet the lesson is that even eagles hit bottom. 

Intrigued by what I saw with the hawk last night I called an eagle friend this morning and asked him about it.  His words were eye opening:

"Life is pretty sweet when you're soaring.  It's effortless.  It's both an adrenaline rush and an ego trip.  'Cause while  you're up there riding the thermals and taking your pick of the hot meals 500 feet below you, the humans just stare in awe.  What the opposable thumb crowd doesn't realize though, is that life happens, and sometimes we have to land and walk among them in order to get by.  However, we don't stay on the ground for long.  And as we run and flap and struggle for altitude, it isn't always pretty, but we do whatever we have to do to survive.  I'm an eagle, Jeff, and just because I occasionally have to get my talons muddy does not change who I truly am or what I was born to do.  Just because hunger can bring me to a place 'below' the humans does NOT mean I have to stay there.  I am an eagle, and regardless of the reading on the altimeter, you can rest assured that I am ALWAYS soaring on the inside."

Don't ever be embarrassed to flap. The soaring dreams we keep stored on the inside only come true through our tenacious efforts and our willingness to flap our way out of the mud.  (That last line is mine... not the eagle's).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Happy 3-0!!!!! Here's your Jeep.

I've been busy for the last few days.  I've been working furiously to finish up a major birthday present (A JEEP) for someone who turns 30 years old TODAY!!!!!

NFL Safety Bob Sanders hits the big 3-0 today.

I've been a fan for a long time.  Here is the license plate from one of the cars when I was still in Michigan.

However, Bob has a well known problem; he's injured a lot.  During his seven seasons in the NFL, the Colts have played 112 Regular Season games and 13 Playoff games.  Of those 125 games, Bob has only played in 48.  It's been really bad the last 3 seasons where of the 53 Regular and Playoff games, Bob Sanders has only played in NINE games.  Bob's style is extremely aggressive; and his bones, muscles, and tendons are apparently made of fine crystal.

So as a fan who wants to help Bob improve his robustness, I decided to give him Cool Hand Luke.  Cool Hand Luke (or Luke for short) is my Jeep.  Similar to Bob Sanders, my Jeep has not seen a lot of action lately.  In 2010, I only put 11 miles on it.  Ferrari 250GTOs get more miles just being pushed around museums than my Jeep got in 2010.  

My 1995 Wrangler has just under 61,000 miles, but they have been HARDCORE miles.  Yet, nothing has EVER stopped it.  Regardless of the smackdown that the trails of the US and Canada apply to my little Cool Hand Luke, it has always found a way to "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome" as Gunny Highway would say.

Here is a quick PARTIAL list of smacks, little Cool Hand Luke has gotten off of the deck from:

1)  Snapped a front U Joint/Axle in Sault Ste Marie --  We just hack sawed off the carnage at the knuckle, zip-tied the inner axle up for additional support and drove out of the trail in 2WD.  We used 3WD as needed (courtesy of our front AirLocker).  Then, we drove the 300 miles home where I put a new (pre-owned) driver side axle in.

2)  Ripped a front spring mount off of the frame in Tellico, NC.  It happened late on a Saturday night, and rather than try to find someone to weld it up on Sunday, I went to Wal-Mart and bought 2 feet of chain and an adjustable link.  I wrapped the chain around it and drove it home to Michigan where I welded the spring perch back to the frame.

3)  In 1996, I buried it in Fall Creek in Indianapolis when I hit an unexpected DEEP hole.  The water level was over the airbox (no snorkel, you know), so the engine died right away.  After standing for a moment in the icy cold April water, I tried something I never expected to work:  the winch.  Guess what....the winch works under water!!!!  Who knew?  I pulled out about a hundred feet of cable and winched across the creek.  I pulled the drain plugs to empty the cabin.  I sprayed the distributor cap down with WD40, verified there was no water in the engine, and fired that little four cylinder up.   VROOM!!!!  I drove the 10 miles home and replaced all of the milky fluids.

4)  A few years ago when a rear differential grenaded at highway speed the dissipated energy shredded the driveshaft and ripped a shock mount off of the rear end.  

 Being only a few miles from home, I rolled under the Jeep on the side of the road and disconnected the rear driveshaft from the Transfer Case.  I Then I jumped back in, threw the driveshaft in the passenger seat, pulled the Tcase lever to High4, and drove home with Front Wheel Drive.

See, my Jeep is unstoppable.  It gets hurt every now and then, but he NEVER leaves the game.  Somehow Cool Hand Luke goes all out, yet lives to drive me home and see another day.  THAT'S the lesson Bob Sanders needs to learn.  Run Fast, Hit Hard, Crush The Opposition.... but hold back just enough to not kill yourself.   I believe Luke can be Bob's mentor.  Having Luke around can help Bob, by Raising Hope when he feels down.  

So a couple of weeks ago I decided to do the Dirty Job of replacing the rusty fuel tank skid plate and present Luke to Bob today, on his 30th birthday.  

Then, over this past weekend, the Colts made the very sound business decision to release Bob Sanders.  Hell, the guy has only played 9 games the last three seasons... who can afford that?!?!?  Let's move on.  Having Bob Sanders on the team is like owning an amazing Ferrari that needs its gearbox replaced every time you back out of the driveway. 

So since Bob Sanders is no longer an Indianapolis Colt, I am NOT giving Cool Hand Luke away to him... even if today IS his 30th birthday.  I suppose I could offer it up to anyone else with a birthday, but what if it was a girl and she wanted to paint it pink and purple????  Pink Jeep Tours may be a big deal in Sedona, but who ever heard of a Pink Birthday Jeep named Cool Hand Luke???? 

No, even during the years like 2010 where he spent more time landscaping (winching bushes out of the back yard) than he spent on the road, Luke is much like my dog... he's all mine.  I bet if I gave him away, I would find him in my driveway the next day after he ran away and came home in the middle of the night.

Bob Sanders, I hope you have the best birthday ever.  I still think a mentoring Jeep could help, so if you want I can help you shop for one of your own.  It's your birthday, so pick out whatever color you want.  It's all yours, so you can even choose an automatic.  WOW, an automatic???  Well, let's not go crazy...      

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!!!!

Between "Storage Wars" and "American Pickers," America's TV junkies have been getting broadcast proof that folks do hang onto all kinds of worthless junk. And it has made me give more respect to the OCD folks that seasonally "snap" and clean out the closets, throwing away everything they find that isn't nailed down.

Yet, even the most hardcore possession-purging, dumpster-filling non-hoarder alive today would surely hang on to a few things from their past. Most would at least keep their Tinker Toys, Cabbage Patch doll, or their Calico Kitties.

We Galoots hope that old tools make the short list of items that even the "Clean & Purge" crowd would keep.

Followers of Skiving Off realize that I have a thing for Panther Saws, and a few days ago another showed up on Ebay.   (The auction ends tomorrow).

I sent off an email to the seller asking for some additional information, and I was delighted to get a response from Wanda in Alabama, telling me the story of how this saw arrived on the open market. Apparently, a few years back Wanda purchased the saw along with a box of hammers at an estate sale because her father collects hammers. Wanda's dad didn't want the saw, so she decided to keep it, simply because it was intriguing. She and her family called it "The Mad Monkey Saw" because without the preconceived notion of a big cat, the carving does look as much like Lyman F. Baum's Flying Monkeys as it does a panther.

Now a quick statement about Wanda's Ebay listing. I think she did a really good job of listing the saw, considering that she is not a tool collector. She describes all of the defects that she sees along with lots of pictures. She did not attempt to disassemble the handle from the blade or do any chemical treatment to bring out the etch, which likely would have done more harm than good. Instead, Wanda described what she sees and provides enough photos for anyone to realize with 99% certainty it is a genuine Panther Saw.  I think this is a good thing.

Panther Saws are rare, but it's hard to quantify.  We still don't have accurate census data on Panther Saws. For the last three years I have talked about starting a Panther Saw Registry, just to finally get an idea of how many of these kitties are out there, but alas, I have still not done it yet. I just haven't had a chance given most of my free time is spent building a 3 bedroom ranch home out of Tinker Toys to house my "crazy cat lady" Cabbage Patch doll and her hoards of Calico Kitties.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Has Anyone Seen The Lambs?

I have been pondering the ultimate woodworking project, the building of an ARK to carry a boatload of critters.

I realize Noah and his boys accomplished this task in a little over a hundred years, but I was originally thinking that with my shop full of power tools I could knock it out in a couple of weekends. However, as I fired up a little background music (James Taylor's "Handy Man") and initiated my plan (a logical start for a Project Management Professional), I realized this exercise is more than I can take on.

In an attempt to offer pragmatic help to any other power tool-wielding Noah's out there, I am providing the following thought seeds for the compilation and analysis of possible project risks.

Let's begin.

Material is a major challenge in building a real ark. As any woodworker will tell you, we just don't have access to the wide, old growth Gopher wood like Noah had. One trip to Woodcraft will show you that the only Gopher wood available is in tiny planks with interlocking grain and far too many knots. Ask any sawyer or arborist and they will confirm that any straight and clear Gopher trees that come available are instantly swiped up by the veneer mills. So there is just no way to get enough Gopher wood to build an entire 350 cubits x 50 cubits ark. Even if you have unlimited funds to buy the S4S Gopher shorts at Woodcraft, it would take millions of Festool Dominoes just to join them together. (One final caution: on the off chance someone finds a Lumber Widow whose late husband had barns full of air dried Gopher Wood, please use a forced air ventilator during any milling or machining operations. Kids, Gopher Wood is as toxic as any species known to man; which is why Noah lived 600 years before the flood and only 350 years after emerging from the ark.)

The other great challenge in building an ark is the lack of established designs available for benchmarking. Oh sure, there are tons of old paintings of animals walking the plank two by two, but they offer very little useful information about construction. Most artists were far more interested in "making statements" by showing the lions and the lambs walking along together, when what the modern ark builder needs are views showing the internal structure. One assumes there is a lot of timber framing going on inside the hull, but there just isn't any remaining visual record to confirm that.

One final area of caution for building an ark is also the primary challenge on nearly any project, whether it be the construction of a bridge or the design of a minivan lamp/coathook module: CONTROL SCOPE CREEP. Throughout the entire project the project leader must not lose sight of the primary objectives: cost, timing, seaworthiness, and cargo capabilities. However, it is so easy for additional "Wants" to get added to the list that pretty soon the basic, animal-hauling ark looks more like a Carnival Cruise Ship. I highly doubt Noah's original arc included a climbing wall and a top deck where Mrs. Noah could lay while sunning herself and drinking Riesling provided by Isaac, her friendly bartender. Then again, who's to say that is all bad? It might be nice to include some comforts on a voyage of unknown length.

Hmmmm.... I just thought of something. If we include a Helipad, then we don't have to worry about sending doves out to find dry land. COOL!!!!! I'm back on the project!!! I'm sure we can bury the cost of a helicopter in the initial budget, and if not we just wrap it up in the first big design change. Can't you just hear the opening chords of the Magnum, P.I. theme song as I pilot my helicopter toward the helipad on my ark?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Buy What You Like

I've never owned a minivan. I've never owned a pair of Vans either for that matter. Why would I? I was never a skater. I mean, I was never a skateboarder. I've previously (and quite believably) blogged about being one of the best roller disco skaters in the world, but I was never a skateboarder. I will date myself by confirming I did own a molded plastic FREEFORMER that was the same width as an Olympic balance beam. However, I never joined up with Leif Garrett to sneak into the abandoned swimming pools of Southern California or avenged the death of a sibling by Gleaming the Cube along with Christian Slater.

Many folks know that my friend, furniture maker Chris Gochnour, began his career as a kid making skateboards and eventually some of earliest snowboards. This summer Chris is teaching a weekend class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking on building a skateboard. It could even be a good way to introduce a young person to our craft in a way that will absorb their attention.

(Note: In an effort to make this return to blogging quite complete for my buddy Ed, I am hitting on all of the old standby's.... I'm calling out Gochnour, MASW, bad movies from the 70s and 80s... Holy cow, if I could just do some gushing over modern hand tool makers or make a poignant reference to Steve Perry of Journey, we could call it a year, and I wouldn't have to make another blog update until just before the world ends in 2012.)

My friend Erin recently graduated from Art School. On December 22, 2010 she commented on MyFace about working with skateboards. She wrote, " I think I just realized how much I love designing do I make this into my job?"  Someone then suggested she call Tony Hawke.

Ever the capitalist and marketing whiz, I responded with, "Then call Burton or Sean White and jump into Snowboards, too... there's more market there. If you're looking for information on the woodworking aspect of MAKING skateboards, Chris Gochnour is teaching a weekend class next summer at Marc Adams' School of Woodworking in Whiteland. (Erin, always find a way to do what makes you happy.)"

I didn't think too much more about Artist Erin making skateboards until January 9th. Again through FaceSpace I saw that Erin had updated her profile picture with this:

I then realized what Erin meant about designing skateboards. I also realized that I wanted that skateboard. Art is like that with me. Sometimes the things I want hearken back to childhood and gentler days. A few years ago Gail and I bought a piece from our friends Mike and Wally that had been painted by Patrick Rapai, an artist in Zimbabwe. 

It is called Bicycle and for me it reaches back to a time when my greatness and all my accolades were received from piloting a two wheeled machine with no brakes around 333 meters of high-banked concrete. (That picture of me wearing Eddy Merckx's Molteni Trainer in the June 2008 issue of Popular Woodworking was not a random choice; it was a shout out to my cycling buddies.)  That is why Bicycle is the first painting I ever purchased.

In 2007, I visited my friend Randy at a craft show where he was selling his turnings.  At the back of his booth I saw something else that was for sale... this walking stick carved by his mother-in-law.

At first glance I knew I wanted it. By comparison the stick does NOT hearken back to my youth. I was never a gnome, and I never lived near a waterfall. 

However, it struck a chord with me. We could analyze whether it is modern folk art. Perhaps it was just my recognizing how many hours of work went into the carving even before the paint went on. I don't know why I had to have that walking stick, but I did.

Similarly, Erin's skateboard touched me. I love card games. I can pass the time playing spider solitaire just as easily as I could explain the finer points of playing Omaha Hi-Low. I don't know if that's why I wanted that skate board or if it was something else.

I just know that on Monday, I emailed Erin and asked if she would consider selling it. Erin and I agreed upon a price, and she informed me that not only is it the first skateboard she has done, but this is the first thing she has sold since graduating from Herron School of Art and Design.

I am not an accomplished art collector. Perhaps I have eclectic tastes. Then again, some of you may believe that I have an eye for greatness. Although I still fall victim to the need to be liked by everyone, the reality of my tiny little art collection is that I do not care what anybody thinks. The art I buy is not about artists names or perceived collectability; it's about what touches me.

I realize that if Gail and I lived with my parents and saved every dime we made for two years we could purchase a Sam Maloof rocker that is truly beautiful and almost universally loved by everyone who has the opportunity to gaze upon one. However, I am thrilled to be the owner of an O'Brien.

Perhaps in the future someone will look upon my skateboard and say, "Oh my God, is that an O'Brien?!?!" And I can say, "That is the very first piece that Erin O'Brien ever sold, and the reason I have it is because I always had the wisdom (and the courage) to buy what I liked."

Erin O'Brien has not yet established her permanent studio. However, if you are interested in her work you can email me and I forward it along to Erin.  Don't try to sneak into my house and steal this one.  As you can see it is being closely guarded by the Attack Lab.

Erin, may you  be greatly blessed in your career.  May you find an audience that fully appreciates your efforts as you create the work that rises up from your soul.  Thank you for letting me have the chance to be your friend and patron.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Chef is THE CHEFF!!!!!!!

I don't know which is more shocking: my doing four blog updates in a single calendar year or my updating the blog two days in a row?????

Yesterday, I promised to divulge a secret about my friend Brunetto. So today I am following through with that.

Yesterday I told you that Brunetto is the greatest gaucho chef I have ever heard of. He cooks the best tasting barbecue on the western hemisphere and can then cut it perfectly. I have seen him shave off full slices of Picanha that were the thickness of a playing card.

However, Brunetto's secret takes me back to my blog from last Friday. On that day I commented about the rare achievement of Wayman Tisdale having world class talent at two different things: basketball and bass guitar. As I wrote that I was also thinking about Brunetto. You see, the best Gaucho chef I have ever encountered is also Cheff Brunetto, an amazing pastry chef. I realize both of these areas involve food, but they really are not that similar. For the woodworkers who still read my blog it would be like saying the most amazing wood turner you have ever met is also the most gifted person you have ever heard of at Marquetry. Sure, they both involve an area of the craft called woodworking. However, it is understood these areas use different tools, materials, muscles, etc.

Cheff Brunetto recently started a blog where he shares some of his recipes. I encourage you to check out his blog and try these recipes.

Despite my quirky eating habits I mentioned yesterday, one area where I have unlimited appetite is chocolate. I have always agreed with the old saying, "The worst brownie I ever had was delicious." As a brownie expert, I can give two full thumbs up to the creation of my dear friend, Cheff Brunetto.

Brownie Royal

Brunetto, please hurry home from your much needed holiday so we can talk about it over steak, wine, and dessert. Also, while you have been away, the student (me) has done some private study, and I have learned to barbecue shrimp. Imagine fresh shrimp wrapped in prosciutto grilling over natural lump charcoal as we sip wine and talk about the beauty of Porto Alegre and Florianopolis.

To those people who have either stuck with or rediscovered Skiving Off, it appears that in the coming days, I may return to my old (original) ways. I have some woodworking projects to do, and I have some interesting (sometimes irreverent) insights into the world around me. I cannot guarantee the updates of 2011 will be quite as interesting as those from 2008, but perhaps I am finally in a position to put the hecklers behind me and start writing again.  

And if Skiving Off fails to measure up to your expectations, just compare it to the price of the admission.  (That was said with love.... tough love..... whatever.)  Welcome back.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Leaving the Quacks Behind

Sometimes swans swim around with ducks for a long time before they figure out who they really are. I was part of the duck crowd until May of 2009.

Insert dramatic pause....

I don't eat vegetables. I never have. I likely never will. It's mainly a texture thing. Also, I'm a primal carnivore. I've always said if George Burns could smoke and drink and live to be 307 years old, I believe I can live to at least half of than number by just eating meat, cheese, rice, potatoes, and bread.

For years I have been told I was a finicky eater. I have spent measurable hours of my life at social gatherings picking crap off of otherwise great pizza. I am the king of soup broth eating, where prior to bringing the main course, the waiter takes away a bowl half-filled with dried celery and carrots yet completely devoid of all meat, broth, and noodles. If you have a stubborn four year old carnivore, then you have experience with how I get my sustenance.

During the first of my 15+ trips to Brazil (in May '09), just outside Sao Paulo, my friend Sundeep took me to my first Churrascaria, a Brazilian Steakhouse. Immediately, I found what I had been searching for my entire life. Endless supplies of delicious steak (sizzling hot and fresh) delivered continuously to my plate. There were comments about how much food I consumed, but no one had any concern about the lack of vegetables on my plate.

Late in the summer of 2009, I was informed by a friend in Brazil that the greatest of all Churrascarias (Fogo de Chao) has one of their restaurants in my home village of Indianapolis. Upon my return to the United States, I told Gail that I was going to show her the taste of Brazil, the steak-on-a-stick of true Churrasco, and we made our first visit to Fogo in August of 2009.

After convincing Gail to go easy on the most amazing salad bar she had ever seen, we began the dinner portion of our meal. We flipped our cards to green. The first Gaucho Chef who came by was carrying a large chunk of roasted meat. He approached Gail and said, "Lower Sirloin?" I gushed, "Oh, Gail, this is Fraldinha (frau-JEEEEEN-ya)... and it has an amazing flavor!!! This is one of the cuts of meat I have told you about." He cut a long, narrow piece and Gail guided it to her plate with the small silver tongs. Then, he came over to my side of the table, and he smiled at the gleam in my eyes as I said, "Fraldinha, Sim. Por Favor." And once the prize was on my plate I gave him a sincere thumbs up and said, "Obrigato."

The next few moments were some of those that happen every now and then that we never expect or plan for. It was that moment that I first encountered a man who has become a very dear friend to me. It was that day at the end of August that I met the man we will call "Brunetto." He was the Gaucho serving Picanha, and he approached our table likely expecting we would be the typical Americans who agreed to try a little of what he offered as we awaited the guy with the Filet Migneon. However, he was instead greeted by me, an expressive babbler who cried out just a little too loudly, "Oh Gail! This is it! Behold... (hands waving like Doug Henning) Let there be Picanha!!!!!!" Brunetto's smile clearly showed I had made his day. As he began to slice the steak for Gail, I explained that Picanha is the best part of the Alcatra (the top sirloin). I summarized by saying this (one of my best quotes of 2009):

"In Heaven, the Entire cow is Picanha."

As Brunetto moved to serve me, I immediately saw greatness. He shaved off a perfect, wispy thin slice of Picanha that was unlike anything I had ever seen in Brazil. Although there would be little compulsion for a Gaucho chef in Brazil to make perfect cuts for a visiting Gringo American like me, the reality is that there is no Gaucho in Brazil who is capable of cooking and cutting the way my friend does. Like Rob Cosman cutting dovetails, Brunetto has a gift. Mere mortals can try to recreate what Brunetto seems to effortlessly do, but just like woodworkers who watch Cosman's dovetail videos the results just never measure up to those produced by the gifted master.

Now for my confession. Brunetto is not his real name. It is a family name that helps to provide some privacy. I'm really not kidding or exaggerating. There's a reason why Batman doesn't tell anyone where the Bat Cave is....because if he did, there would be people there all the time. And if I told you Brunetto's true name you would find him and bang on his door and make him cook for you. And just like Batman, it is Brunetto's place to decide when to reveal his true identity to the world. However, tomorrow I will write a short (I promise) blog entry that gives away a huge secret but also gives great insight into the talents of Brunetto.

Since we met, Brunetto and I have become true friends. Gail and I have been to his home many times.

He has often been to my home, where he has attempted to teach me the ways of the Barbecue Jedi. The day that his lovely wife gave birth to his younger daughter, I smuggled a bottle of wine into the hospital and we toasted little Bianca, with no concern that the styrofoam cups did nothing to enhance the bouquet or color of the wine. But Brunetto's story must wait until tomorrow; today's entry is about ducks and swans.

367 days ago, Gail and I visited Fogo on the day after my birthday. (We were a day late because I had been on a plane on the real day my age increased.) And as we ate, all of our Gaucho friends (Edson, the Rafael's, Luciano, Thales, Ronaldo, Carlos, JoseRobeto, Victor, and the others) took such good care of us, even though I told no one it was my birthday. As we left Fogo that day, my friend Joelcir (the General Manager) asked how our dinner was. I responded with, "Well, I've been a little down, because yesterday was my birthday, but it always makes me happy to be here." Joelcir comforted me that I was still so young that my life was just beginning, and I felt better as Gail and I walked toward the door. As we were putting our coats on our friend Sean came up and asked us to wait for a moment, and we then saw Joelcir sprinting from the back of the restaurant with the legs of his Gaucho pants fluttering. He pulled up next to me, handed me the black box shown below, and said, "Normally, we give a free dessert on someone's birthday."

He paused and smiled. As I opened the box, Joelcir said, "But let's face it.... YOU'RE JEFF!!! Happy Birthday, my friend."

The gift overwhelmed me. It showed me that Joelcir recognized the same thing Brunetto had always seen. They recognized that a Gringo from middle America really could understand the Gaucho culture of Brazil.

And as I left Fogo that day and returned to world of ducks that surround me, I finally realized I am neither a duck nor a swan. I am Jeff, and I am Gaucho.