Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Don't Sign Anything Without Reviewing It With Your Attorney

I am sure this is some kind of crime, and I know I shouldn’t admit to it. However, it is such a classic Skiver moment, that it seems like a good way to close out the year, here on the blog.

Last Saturday, we looked at 13 different houses in our attempt to finally move out of my parents’ house here in Indianapolis. (Luckily we have an empty house in Michigan, so we are not missing out on the thrill of sending in a mortgage check each month… we just long to send in two mortgage checks per month.)

Anyway, one of the first houses we visited on Saturday appeared to be owned by someone with similar interests to me. I first noticed the artwork in the entryway that highlighted famous spots in Dublin. When I went to the garage, I found he was a Formula 1 fan, but it looks like he is a Ferrari fan as compared to my McLaren/Mercedes loyalty. Also, in the garage I saw a radial arm saw and a table saw.

From there the story gets Skiver’ish. On the way to visit this house, Gail and I were talking dogs with our realtor. We told her about seeing Marley and Me on Christmas and then I quickly told her about Peyton and Simon, before arriving at this Ireland/Ferrari/Woodworking home.

Minutes later, in the closet of one of the upstairs bedrooms, I looked down and saw a scattered pile of woodworking magazines. I wasn’t too shocked, since my trip to the garage had shown me he was a woodworker. What I found intriguing was a particular issue of Popular Woodworking that I immediately recognized.

I called for my realtor who came in from the other room, and I flipped the April 2008 issue of PopWood open to the back page. Then, I showed off the photos of the two dogs I had been talking about in the car just 10 minutes earlier.

To fully Skiver-ize this event, there was one last thing I did. When Gail and the realtor left me and the magazines to continue looking at the rest of the house, I whipped out my official Mobil 1 Carbon Fiber Formula 1 pen, and decided to autograph the story of My New Apprentice.

In the words of Al Parrish, "This shot is a little soft..."

(That's how he describes EVERY photo I shoot.)

Then, I stuck the magazine back in the stack and continued searching for houses.

Although it would make a great story to say that house was the home of our dreams, the reality is that a different house was the one that struck a chord.

Did I mention that the home we have ultimately put an offer on has 1800 square feet of basement to serve as my new wood shop? It has 1800 square feet of unfinished basement with a 9 foot high ceiling. That is a little bit larger than the 325 square foot space I had in the basement in Michigan.

Hopefully it isn’t a crime to have autographed my article without permission. If you currently have a home for sale in Carmel, Indiana and you find that a stranger has “defaced” one of your issues of Popular Woodworking, perhaps you could sue me. The odds are you could win in court and be awarded a cute little house in Holland, Michigan with a 13’ x 25’ woodshop in the basement.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Running Puppies

I didn't really mean for yesterday's entry to be such a downer.

Then again, for about 50% of the folks who celebrate Christmas, the holiday tends to stir up more sadness over those missing than happiness over Santa's visit.

So, as a way to help get the blog back onto the Pollyanna way... let me tell with 100% certainty, that yesterday I saw the cutest thing I have ever seen in my entire life.

Drumroll, please......... it was a scene from Marley and Me. Yes, kids, the same movie that made me cry also contained a vision of cuteness unlike anything I can recall ever seeing. It showed a puppy (around 10 weeks old) running down the beach.

It was a truly brilliant piece of movie making. It was filmed at puppy level, which gave us the ability to see the the puppy's spirit. The look on the puppy's face seems to indicate that he thinks he is the fastest creature who has ever lived. One can just see his thoughts as he says to himself, "Gee.... I'm like a frickin' Greyhound here. Oh yeah, look at me go. Holy crap, I bet my ears are straight back. If I didn't know better I would think I was actually flying. In fact I am sure that I am getting air. I don't even feel the sand under my right rear paw anymore. I am the fastest dog in the world....."

I was so impressed with the running puppy that yesterday afternoon I went looking for the video (on YouTube, of course) to share with my mother. However, all of the bootleg video clips appear to have been taken down. Then, I suddenly found a copy of the sprinting pup in a very obvious spot. There is a trailer for the movie on the official website that shows the little yellow fuzzball haulin' ass down the beach.

If you go to the website, and click on HOME MOVIES, it is the second trailer. Just click on the thumbnail of the little running puppy, and prepare yourself for an overdose of adorable cuteness. (Sorry, folks, there is no direct link to the video, but if you take the time to visit the website and find the movie trailer that plays "Chariots of Fire", you will be rewarded. Also, the vision of Jennifer Aniston in a tank top chasing the running puppy is not completely horrible either....)

So, I have a thing for puppies running on the beach. Then again, it could be that it just reminds me of when Peyton was a puppy and we would take him to the beaches of Lake Michigan so he could run and swim.

Of course, Peyton was cute, even when he was just swimming in his little pool in the backyard.

and notice the running technique when he finished his swim...

But when it was all said and done, 18 months later he has grown up to be a good runner/diver/swimmer.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Simon and Me

Dogs are a big part of my life. Unless this is your first time reading this blog, you would have to know that. Also, there are at least four (or four hundred) regular readers who are dog people too, based upon how the hits increased after my dog story was published in the April 2008 issue of Popular Woodworking.

Well, this morning at 10:20 am, Gail and I were at the opening of the movie Marley and Me here in Indianapolis. It was a little weird to realize that on Christmas Day while little kids in California were still in bed, I was at a theater watching a movie. Somehow…good or bad… that is a testament to our country.

I read Marley and Me years ago. I think I was at looking for the biography of Marco Pantani when the scary, scary computer deep within Amazon said, “Here is a new book (Marley and Me) that we think is right up your alley, Jeff Skiver…” The next thing you know I was reading the first edition and relating to life as the owner of yellow Labrador Retrievers.

Both of the dogs we owned when I first read Marley have since gone. Abby and Simon have been replaced by Peyton, and he is a beautiful, wonderful, and very loving dog.

When we lost Abby earlier this year, I recorded it here in the blog. And I know my words affected some of you. There was one new reader who later told me, “You had me at Three Carries.”

The loss of Simon almost two years ago was a great tragedy in my life. He was what I describe as, “The Dog of a Lifetime.” As I mentioned in the blog back in September, the PopWood article was the tribute to Simon that I had struggled with for a long time. It still serves as one of my great personal trophies that I found a fitting way to pay tribute to my lost buddy. Let’s face it, I could only have dreamed of buying the back page of a national magazine as a memorial, but instead, I got paid to do it. Somehow… good or bad… that is a testament to our country.

Today is Christmas. It’s the day chosen to represent God sending His Son from Heaven to Earth. So I am going to give you all the text I used to send my boy from Earth to Heaven. Below is the mass email I sent to all of my family and friends back on Monday, January 15, 2007. I was sitting at my desk at work and I had just made the decision to let Simon go. Before I drove to the vet, I opened my heart and shared the pain of my situation with everyone in my life who either loved Simon or knew how much I loved him.

I believe that when it is time for us to let our dogs go, we owe it to them to be with them. You can choose to disagree with me, but if you do… then you are wrong. Below is the unedited text of the email you received two years ago if you were a friend of Simon. I now think of all of you as Friends of Simon. So in honor of Marley, Simon, and Abby… here is the rawest thing I have ever written.

DATE: January 15, 2007 11:25 am
SUBJECT: Simon Skiver

Simon has been at the Animal Hospital since Friday. Gail took him in Friday morning. She and I visited him Friday afternoon, Saturday, and yesterday (Sunday).

Gail and I ran by the Animal Hospital this morning when they opened at 7:30 to visit Simon. He made it through the night, and I decided that rather than waiting around for 45 minutes for the vet to arrive at 8:30, we would just go onto work and decide tonight what we should do with Simon's treatment. Well, after I got to work I called the vet and talked to her about the boy.

His liver is starting to shut down, so there is almost no way he is going to make it.

They are giving him a cortisone injection today, which is the only chance he has (1 in a million). And I am going to go by there after work and be with him as we put him down. He is about two weeks short of being 6 1/2 years old, so it is completely baffling that something so horrible can so quickly take down a dog that is the picture of health and vitality. 7 days ago he was perfect. However, my limited research shows that Acute Pancreatitis is one of the most mysterious, yet deadly things that can befall an otherwise healthy dog. There are two kinds of Pancreatitis…one is a bad little nagging ailment…the other is more of a rapid and sure death sentence, he has the latter.

I can honestly say there is no dog I have ever heard of who is as loved as my boy, Simon. We have given him a wonderful home and a wonderful life. Still, he is a very special dog. At times he can be brilliant. At times he can be crazy. However, he is always loving and lovable….100% of the time. We originally went to the West Michigan Chocolate Lab Rescue (they handle black and yellow labs, too) to look into being foster parents to another dog for a few weeks. The first moment I saw Simon, he strolled right up to me, sat his butt down on my feet (with his back up against my shins), and he looked straight up at me and basically said, "If you take me home, I will love you completely and unconditionally until the day I die."

For four and a half years, that has been the case. Everything that I have worked on around the house since the day he arrived in the late summer of 2002 has been under the sleepy supervision of my boy.

In February 2003, when he and I had only been together for 6 months, I left Donnelly and started staying home with him and Abby all day long. Abby didn't really care. Simon let me know that he thought this was how it should always be; I should spend every minute of every day with him. Digging sprinklers in the back yard... he would be right there with me. For the front yard sprinklers I had to leave the door open so he could watch me out the screen door.

Whenever Gail and I go somewhere, as we back out of the driveway we can look up at the front window and see his face pressed against the glass verifying that we really had decided to go somewhere without him. Then, when we come home he is at the front window looking out to see our return. Sometimes it was scary how he would do that. I have seen him stir out of a sleep and run to the front window and sit looking out, only to see Gail pull into the driveway about 45 seconds later. I don't know how he manages that little piece of magic, but I have seen it so many times, I cannot call it a coincidence.

Whenever one of us gets into the shower, "Safety Dog Simon" parks himself right outside the shower curtain, and even occasionally pops his head in…just to make sure we are ok. There have been only a few times, where he was too lazy to get out of bed to do his Safety Dog job for me while I was showering. And on at least one of those occasions, I grabbed tight to the shower rail and intentionally made slip-sliding noises, and he came FLYING into the bathroom, stuck his head through the curtain, and gave me a look like, "HOLY CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!!! One time I try to sleep in and you can't even take a shower without me?!?!?!?!?" Likewise, every night when Gail and I get into the sauna, Simon sits there watching us through the glass to make sure we are ok.

Three weeks ago when I was home for 15 days over the holiday shutdown, he and I got to again share our "full time" buddy relationship…just like after I left Donnelly. Well, during that time I was staying up into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes I didn't even go to bed until about 6 or 7 am. Even then, I would only sleep for a couple of hours before I would get up and get back to work on all of my projects. One of the great things about officially "going to bed" at weird times, is that Simon will spoon with you. So on one of those days between Christmas and New Year's Day when I was home and Gail had to work, I stayed up all night and then went to bed at about 7:30 am. From 7:30am to 10:00am I lay there in bed with my 105 pound buddy Simon snuggled up against me. His head was on my bicep and his whiskers were right in my face. And he would grunt and snore and without saying a word, he would make his thoughts 0bvious…. "You know, Dad….it doesn't get any better than this." And you know what…given Simon never slobbered one time in his life…his dry mouth did make face to face snuggling one of life's greatest pleasures.

My mistake is that I assigned one role to Simon that he isn't going to be able to follow through on. Simon was supposed to be the key to my getting through Abby's eventual death. Abby turned 10 last September, and I realize with her lessening mobility that she probably only has 3 more years with us, at best. Thinking of that crushes me heart. However, I have always known that Abby's death will also destroy Simon. So, my plan for grief with Abby is to snuggle up with Simon and talk to him about all of the great things we used to do with Abby. I was planning to hold him close and tell him how fun it was to take him and Abby to the beach and watch them race each other as they swam out to fetch the retrieval duck that I would throw out into the waves. I planned to get over the loss of Abby by letting him know that even though I was going to miss her, at least I still have him…my black hole of emotional need that requires constant attention: MY Dog…Simon.

I would still have the dog that would lay at my feet in my woodshop while the noisy dust collector and table saw blared eardrum shattering decibels. It is neat that the same noise that would send Abby running upstairs for cover would signal Simon to come strolling into the woodshop….plop down at my feet with his HUGE, exhaling sigh….and look up at me and use his beautiful brown eyes to ask, "What ya gonna work on today? If you need anything, just let me know…otherwise, I am just going to lay here on the floor at your feet because it is a tough job lying around the house 20 hours a day, and I am tired. However, I will do my best to be in your way as often as possible."

Everybody who loves animals may be blessed during their life to get one pet that takes on a role that transcends the normal human/animal relationship. Timmy had Lassie. Grizzly Adams had Ben. Roy Rogers had Trigger. I have Simon. He knows me, and he loves me with every fiber of his being. He can never get enough of me. If we are in the same building, he wants to be next to me. If I have a free hand, he wants it to be stroking his soft ears. And whenever my day is over and I finally decide to go to bed, he wants to root himself in between Gail and me so that he can get snuggled from both sides and be reassured that we love him too.

So today, I am going to watch Simon go to sleep for the last time. And since he tried his best to make sure I was never alone whenever I fell asleep…I owe it to him to make sure he isn't alone either.

I am going to rub his soft ears, and tell him how blessed I was to have him in my life for four and half years. I am going to softly tell him how much I love him and how thankful I am that he loved me so truly and so strongly. I will stay with him until the end, and I will forever know that I suffered a little bit (watching him go) in order be assured that the last thing he sees and the last thing he feels will be his buddy, his "Dad", his snuggle buddy. I will be there for him, because I know that he would have done ANYTHING for me.

Jeff Skiver

Monday, December 22, 2008

Removing the Scales From My Eyes

Growth is a funny thing…outside of time-lapse photography and the rare biological process (Pupil dilation, of course…), there are few things in our world where we humans can “see” growth.

Most of the time we recognize growth after it has happened.

SHAZAMMMMMMMM!!!!!!! When did our River Birch get to be taller than the Power Lines?

HEY!!!!!!!!!! Who the hell has been shrinking the waistband on my pants?????

I think something similar has happened in my woodworking education. I base this upon the 2009 classes I signed up for at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

As many of you know, I first discovered and attended Marc’s school back in 2006 because I wanted to spend a week studying with my “TV Mentor” David Marks. Everything about that initial class was based upon personality: David’s personality. I wanted to study with David Marks, and I found that David is a great communicator and an amazing artist.

2007 was the Joinery year. I spent two weeks at MASW learning Joinery and Advanced Joinery, and I came away with a rock solid foundation of furniture construction.

2008 was the year I studied Hand Tool Techniques with Chris Gochnour. I knew how to make joints, but I wanted to meet Chris and have an opportunity to make a project using just hand tools.

2009 is another leap for me. I just realized I have signed up for a series of classes that will focus on “the little things.” I am moving past construction and looking at embellishment. During the 2009 season at MASW, I am scheduled to learn Marquetry. In addition to that week-long class, I am signed up for weekend classes on Inlaying with Steve Latta and “Finishes that Pop”with Glen Huey.

I have spent years trying to learn design through osmosis as I leveraged the talents of coworkers who were graduates of places like Art Center in Pasadena, College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Kendall College of Art and Design, University of Cincinnati’s Industrial Design program, etc. However, I finally decided I should take a weekend to ease into my own study of design. So I am also taking a Design class with Garrett Hack.

I am happy with my joinery. I like my dovetails, and I especially like how well I can fix (hide) my mistakes. I suppose once we master the pins and tails, the next step is to try to be like Rob Cosman or Frank Klausz and see how fast we can cut them. But I don’t have the time to dedicate to creating the muscle memory necessary to dovetail an entire drawer in less than 20 minutes. Also, I don’t have a need for that kind of production speed.

A year from now my furniture projects will probably look exactly the same as they do now… if we compare them in the bottom of a cave where the blind fish swim. However, the classes I am taking in 2009 will hopefully take me from furniture of solid construction to well made furniture that also catches the eye.

I am not the same woodworker I was in 2006. I am still on the heavily sloped section of the learning curve, where the new techniques are presented often and learned fairly quickly. (Note I said LEARNED… not MASTERED). In 2009, I plan to continue with my woodworking education, and I am looking forward to this valuable growth opportunity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Stress Can Be Hell

It's the most wonderful time of the year….

It is????

I mean, it is SUPPOSED to be the most wonderful time of the year, but in reality, that area of the calendar immediately following the Northern Hemishpere's Winter Solstice can be a tense, high pressure time. It can be hell.

However, rest assured Christmas is a lot worse in hell. If you don't believe me, then just take a moment to look at the some of the stressful situations currently faced by our former life neighbors who have since relocated to hell.

Whose Christmas Party to go to this Saturday...Idi Amin's or Josef Stalin's?

Should your gift for Satan be politically motivated (try to score a cooler homesite) or based purely on the spirit of the holidays?

Will you get caught if you try to re-gift that lava lamp you got from Pol Pot?

If you give Mohammad Atta a Prayer Rug, will he get the joke?

Should you let people know that it creeps you out that Gacey is still dressing up as Santa at the party?

What do you do with that fruitcake you received from Jeff Dahmer?

How do get out of going caroling with John Gotti and Vlad the Impaler?

Where in the hell do you get a Christmas Tree around here….literally?

What do you do if Mary Ann Cotton offers you a Christmas cookie?

Should you say a big "Screw You!!!!" to your neighborhood's Home Owners Association and their stupid "White Lights Only Rule" and just put up the multi-color strands anyway. I mean...what are they gonna do? Throw you out of hell?????

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human Rights Must Be Stopped

Will we ever escape prejudice?

A couple of days ago I happened to notice that a friend of mine had signed The Universal Declaration for Human Rights. I was floored. I honestly felt like someone punched me in the stomach. You think you know some people. This woman had always appeared to be a peace-lovin’, left wing votin’, rainbow flag wavin’, gun hatin’ soul. Then, I find out she’s one of them. So, I wrote her a note. I have copied it below in the hopes that the readers of this blog will see that hate mongers are among us. They may disguise themselves, but eventually the hate comes out.

Wanda, I saw where you signed the Universal Declaration for Human Rights on Facebook. What are you thinking? This isn’t you. I wish I could just look the other way, but I have to let you know this makes me sick. How can you jump up on a soapbox and start waving a flag of superiority just because you are predisposed to do things with your right hand?

This is ponderous, and it is wrong. Don’t give me any of your crap or spout any of your dogma about it either. I’ve heard all of the tired old lines. “It’s not about hatin’ on the Lefties…this is just celebrating those of us who are right handed.” That’s BUNK, and you know it. Why should it matter whether a person is right handed or left handed? What is so sick and twisted in your world that you can judge people like that? Do you hate the little Left Handed kids, too? Where do the ambidextrous fall on your hate list?

Despite what you right handed Nazis think, all human beings are equal and deserve the same access and opportunity to achieve love, success, and happiness….regardless of which hand they use.

So as you take the pen in your hand to sign this Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I want you to understand that I am taking my pen in hand to fight you and the people like you. I will not stand by and watch as you try to suppress left handed people.

Finally, let me say one thing. If anyone questions my motives or feels I am fighting this particular hatred with too much zeal, let me confirm one fact… I (Jeff Skiver) am Right Handed. However, I will NEVER be like you and your kind.

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ebony...With a Cream Colored Accent

Well, this has only happened at most once or twice before.

I started responding to someone’s comments from a previous post and instead decided to turn it into a standalone blog post of its own. So here goes…

The discussion of the Rocky Top post has jumped to a subject I didn't ever really plan to address in this blog.

See, I have made the mistake in the past of showing off too many of my prize tools and creating a spirit of jealousy (among a small minority of readers) that was not good for the overall "friendliness" of the blog.

So I didn't want to come right out and let everyone know that my obsession with hand tools really started just about the time that I bought Gail that new stainless French Door refrigerator back in 2005. I had to get her a new fridge because I took the old one down to the basement, cut a couple of holes in the side of it and became the only boy I know with his own Guinness keg system at home.

Yes, I have the huge Nitrogen tank. Yes, I have the special "u" tap that fits Irish kegs. Do I bypass the chance to buy a 15 gallon barrel of Bud for $45 in order to spend $150+ for a mere 13.5 gallons of keg-wrapped Guinness???? You bet.

And just so you know, more than once I have ruled out using a photo on the blog because I didn't want to offend anyone. I worried someone could be offended at the sight of a workbench that looked like mine...where right next to the shavings on the bench was a previously room temperature, beer clean Imperial Pint tulip glass full of a two part pour of the black stuff with a perfectly domed creamy top showing off a custom Skiver shamrock.

My favorite picture from the Ireland vacation...Matthew (my best friend in the world) and me posing with "our van" near Galway.

And all of this helps answer the question, "Jeff, why is it Wood Magazine says Americans LOVE their routers and you hate them with every fiber of your soul?" Well, mainly I hate the noise. But it's also because I prefer the full sensory experience of hand tools...the feel of the plane in your hands, the smell of the wood shavings, the sound of the "SWOOOOOK" as the perfectly honed blade slices through the fibers, and the lingering taste of the bitterness of the Guinness hops that you get from combining a pint of Guinness with hand tool woodworking.

Coincidently, it is interesting how much those beloved ebony boards of mine look just like Guinness (see the "Et Tu, Brute" article in PopWood's October 2008 Out of the Woodwork or just look in the background of my profile photo over at the right side of this webpage). The heartwood is as black as can be, and the sapwood is the perfect shade of creamy tan. It’s no wonder those ebony planks speak to me on a primal level.