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.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Peyton and I Remember Eureka

A couple of weeks ago my dog Peyton got upset.

Early in the morning of December 30th, 2010 before going out to start my real day, I was sitting at the computer. It was a busy online experience as I divided my time between feeding my Webkinz and trying to convince folks in Farmville that they could afford to buy a $200,000+ combine from me because Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp would bail them out if they got in over their heads. Note: my pitch normally goes something like this, "Hey...are you just a farmer, or are you running a thriving AgriBusiness?!?!?"

Anyway, just as I was in the throws of my online used farm equipment banter, I felt a shudder and heard a strange settling of the house and immediately knew we had experienced an earthquake here in the middle of Indiana.

After running to the library at the front of the house to verify my Granny Ann's snow globe was intact, I went to find my dog.

As I rounded the corner by the front staircase I was greeted by the little blonde guy who was giving me the full-blown "Whatchu Talkin About, Willis?" look. Peyton was clearly rattled. I used my best gushy baby talk, and tried to calm him with hugs and an ear rub. However, he wanted no part of it. For the first time ever, my dog Peyton refused to be comforted by me. It was obvious this disturbance in the force would require at least a few Snausages® to set things aright in Peyton's world.

The first official word I heard was that a 4.2 magnitude quake centered about 20 miles northeast of us had provide the morning rouse for Peyton and me.

Only 4.2, huh? The energy from that roughly equates to about 30 metric tons of TNT. By comparison I think the biggest USA earthquake in 2010 was the magnitude 6.5 that occurred one year ago today 33 miles west of Eureka off the coast of Humboldt County. At about 2800 times stronger than what Peyton and I felt, it's a wonder the goats even offered up the milk for the legendary Humboldt Fog.

Ya know, I just realized that hardly anyone even knows that a 6.5 magnitude quake hit Eureka on January 9th of 2010 or that a 5.9M hit the same general area less than a month later, because it was all overshadowed by the 7.0 magnitude quake that rocked Haiti on January 12 of 2010.

Well, Peyton and I are not as easy going as the folks of Humboldt County!!!!! We will not let our three and a half seconds of hell (similar to driving over back to back speed bumps) be overshadowed by anyone else. I'm thinking since the folks here in Indianapolis donated thousands of dollars last year to Haiti at the request of Haitian-descendant Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Pierre Garçon, the only fitting thing is for Haiti to immediately provide some love back this way.

I still have some Rawlings baseballs from the 80's that were made in Haiti. Peyton and I have discussed it, and that's what we want. My 95 pound shortstop continues to have trouble sleeping. In the ten days since the quake he has only averaged 22 hours of sleep per day; down from his pre-quake average of 23.  We believe Haitian-made baseballs will help him get back to normal.

Having seen how quickly the Humboldt County victims were forgotten a year ago in the wake of Haiti... Peyton and I refuse to forget the people of Eureka.

Peyton and I are expecting a shipment of Haitian baseballs in the very near future.

God's Honest Truth:  That black smear on the ball on the right is where it hit the floor in the Right-Center Bleachers at Wrigley Field on the fly before being scooped up back in 1996.  Somebody on the Cardinals hit it, but since it was only batting practice it didn't get thrown back.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Missing My Friend

It's been over a year and a half since we lost Wayman. It still doesn't even seem possible that he's gone. Wayman Tisdale was one of those amazing people who could be great (and I mean TRULY GREAT) at two or more things.

While most of us spend our lives striving to rise above the level of mediocrity with just one gift, there are a rare few who can headline on more than one stage. Nike made sure we knew about Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson playing two professional sports. However, the average American doesn't know that the guy who won a gold medal in the '84 Olympics and was the number 2 overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft was arguably the greatest bass guitar player ever. I'll admit, I didn't know of his talent until 1996 when I picked up "In The Zone."

In addition to that Gold Medal with Coach Knight, in 12 NBA seasons Wayman averaged over 15 points a game; so his talent on the court is understood. The shocking thing is that Wayman was a better bass guitarist than basketball player.

Paul McCartney and Peter Cetera made a lot more money with the bass. Leland Sklar appears on a LOT MORE tracks than Wayman. Stanley Clarke, Mark King, and Marcus Miller... well, they're the reason I said "arguably" up above. Yeah. For real... Wayman truly was THAT good.

Wayman, I miss you. Although you and I never met, we shared at least one friend in common. Still, when I would listen to Channel 71 on Sirius and hear your immediately recognizable sound, I felt like we were friends, too. I'm sorry you're gone, Wayman. Nevertheless, I am just glad I was blessed to get to experience it when almost 15 years ago I heard you request, "Come and Watch Me Play."

(Note: The video below is included for any who have not yet
discovered Wayman's musical gift or his amazing smile.