a la brava

I recently had my third visit with Mike, the woodworker who has taken me under his wing in a mentoring relationship. The plan of the day was for him to show me how to build cabinets. We planned out what dimensions would make sense in his shop and gathered the wood from his cache. Since this is a shop cabinet, we won’t be too worried about the beauty of it, but Mike’s expectation is to end up with a piece that is sturdy and built to perform its function for years to come.

The cabinet is actually two identical cabinets, each with double doors. The intention is that the two pieces will match each other and be attached together side by side. Mike made the first front piece with my assistance. He let me cut boards to size with his table saw and his miter saw and cut out notches for rabbet joints with his band saw, all with close supervision and instruction. Once that was done, he fit the pieces together, glued them and affixed them with brad nails as well as pegs into the holes we drilled into the wood. Mike uses very little metal in his woodshop.

Then he told me to make the matching front piece. The boards were already cut to length. All I needed to do was make the joining notches, measuring thrice, cutting once, and then put the front together, along with the cross board held in place by a peg into the drilled hole that had to be perfectly placed.

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

(Proverbs 15:32-33 ESV)

My cabinet front turned out better than anything I’ve made before, but was… imperfect. To say the least. One of my peg holes was off a little because of the way I was holding the drill. Some of my rabbet notches were a bit askew because I was pushing too hard on the band saw. Those were both easily fixed. I am not all that handy with tools, which is why I reached out to him in the first place. Then I put the front together, glued it and brad nailed it together. Rather than walk around the piece, I reached across it. And after I did that Mike checked that joint and one of the sides was off by about a 16th of an inch. If it’s held together by sticky glue, that’s no big deal. If the glue is dry you can break the bond and reapply. But this was brad nailed together.

“A la brava,” Mike said.

“What’s that?” I responded.

A la brava. It’s Spanish. It means to do something with haste, but not with skill or understanding. Much of what you do you do too quickly. You don’t slow down and make sure everything is perfect before you continue. You don’t think ahead to the next step. You over apply yourself on the tools rather than letting them do the work because you allow yourself to work out of position. That’s a la brava.”

I nodded in my understanding and he continued to tell me a few stories about when he was in some hot situations in Vietnam. These were stories of how American servicemen injured themselves and other servicemen because they didn’t think about their actions. They just reacted according to their fear or their bravado, but not according to their training or the council of those around them. Some of them did not return home.

We vacuumed the shop thoroughly as we do each week, then we agreed to meet next Saturday unless something comes up. With the holiday weekend,  I imagine a veteran like Mike would be fine having the Saturday off over the Independence Day weekend and I’m considering it since we have family coming into town.

It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:5 ESV)

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “a la brava.” Working in an environment of zero defects has been a goal in my career at various companies, but overall efficiency has really been the name of the game. If you can do a task 95% as well as the next guy, but can do it 30% faster you are likely to be praised. Of course you are instructed to improve the quality of your work. But if you do quality work but can’t keep up with the production expectations you may have to find another occupation before too long. It is an example of many companies rewarding a measure of “a la brava.”

When a car company discovers a flaw in their design, they typically don’t issue a recall right away. Before they do, they measure the financial cost of how much it would cost for them to fix the problem and weigh that against any class action lawsuit they might encounter as a result of the flaw. This is a regular occurrence and is an example of companies weighing the pros of “a la brava” against the financial consequences.

A la brava pervades our culture. Rather than understanding something, it is common to just Google the topic and skim through the first few results. If you really want to go in depth on the matter you check to see if there’s a Wikipedia article about it. We seek surface level knowledge, but wisdom seems to take a greater investment than we are willing to make in too many cases. There are exceptions, but everybody has an example of “a la brava” in their life. It is the human condition.

This doesn’t mean that people should aspire to be experts in every topic. It does mean that anything worth doing is worth doing well. It means that if you don’t have time to do something correctly the first time you won’t have time to fix it or redo it later. It means that you need to measure thrice and cut once. It means that you need to take care of your tools and your tools will take care of you. It means that you should be in a proper position when using your tools. It means that you should work over your project, not off to the side of it reaching across it when you can’t see what the result of your actions will be, even if they end up only a fraction of an inch off.

It’s time for this generation (defined as anyone reading this) to recognize areas of “a la brava” in our own lives and to demand better of ourselves. I have heard people not only blame their failures on their laziness, but they also seem proud of the fact. This should not be so! We were not created for “a la brava” and I will go so far as to say that this state of mind is only present in us as a result of the fall.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

Our mandate as Christians is to do all things to the glory of God. And one way to do just that is to seek out aspects of “a la brava” in our own lives and root them out. There is no place for “a la brava” to reside uncontested in lives that are meant to be lived to the glory of God. Working against these tendencies and to the glory of God, is an act of daily worship that anyone can do, whether they are woodworking, stuck in a cubicle somewhere, folding laundry, or faithfully checking the neighbor’s mail while they’re on vacation.

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:22-24 ESV)

Finding a Mentor Nextdoor

Screenshot_20160613-111536No, that post title isn’t misspelled. Or rather it is purposefully misspelled. I have this app called Nextdoor on my phone. You put your address in it and it shows a map of what it says your neighborhood is. Mine is a bit bigger than what I would think of, but that’s fine. Once your neighborhood is designated, you can post post anything there that matters to someone in your proximity. Garage sales, babysitter requests, items for sale, open houses, etc. And these posts will be seen by anyone who has the Nextdoor app and is in that area, and also in surrounding neighborhoods depending on your settings.

Someone in my area was selling a handmade dog bed frame a few weeks ago, and from the posting it was clear that they had built it themselves. It looked awesome, but we have no need for a nice frame like that. Nonetheless, I decided to take a shot in the dark and reply to the post. I commented that we don’t need the piece, but offered to help if they ever need a hand, in exchange for letting me observe and learn.

After a little interaction, I had a “play date” with Mike, a 2-tour Vietnam veteran. He is mostly self taught and has been building furniture and home improvement projects for 50 years. Using some, selling others. And he’s willing to let me informally apprentice. I believe mentor would be the more accurate description of the role. He’s 75 years old, but acts and moves like he’s much younger. And when he runs the sander over a piece of wood, his stance and movement is more like a dancer than as a clumsy knuckle dragger, which is my current style.

Our first meeting lasted four hours in his self-made workshop. The workshop is a shed in his back yard, complete with adequate power, a heater for the winter, windows and shade for the summer, and of course a radio set to the local country music station. The interior is about the size of a one car garage, and he remarked that his last address had a shop much bigger than the current one. The city would only let him build one this big, causing him to leave his planer and a few other tools behind. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

During this initial meeting we worked on a medicine cabinet that will go in his bathroom. We discussed lengths and angles of the wood and he let me make the cuts on the table saw and the miter saw. I learned about some safety tips for both, including the danger of a table saw launching a piece of wood back at you if you don’t push it all the way through. Thankfully the wood didn’t fly back at me, but Mike told me that impalement is a real risk you take if you don’t stand properly behind the wood and to the side, and then if you don’t finish the cut.

I also routered the joints for the door on this cabinet to fit them together. and cut the center piece of the door to size. We fit the pieces together with glue, used putty on all of the seams, clamped it and went inside for some cake. We got to know a little bit about each other and he and his wife showed me several of the previous projects they are using around the house. He has even made his own hinges out of wood, which is time consuming, but if his wife wants this for her recipe box, he will do it for her. “She gets whatever she wants” he said to me.

He has asked me to bring over some projects that I’d like to make and the first order of business is a laundry room insert to replace an unused “mud room” bench and locker combo. I have several other projects in my queue, but this is first. He’s already told me I can use his tools, and we’ll sort out what that looks like in the weeks and months ahead. Best of all, I haven’t had to talk my way into future visits. He speaks of me becoming a competant woodworker through regular visits and anticipates me working with him for the forseeable future.

I’ve already had some thoughts about how the lessons you learn working with your hands coorelate to lessons that will serve you well in life. Expect to hear more about this in the future, along with some pictures of my work.

 

Here’s a link to find out more about Nextdoor, the app that enabled this meetup: nextdoor.com

 

Don’t Follow Your Passion

Mike Rowe has been questioning the standard advice given to young adults for years and I’m glad to see it starting to gain traction. Heck, he makes me consider signing up for an apprenticeship after ten years working for my present employer!

Happy Gotcha Day!

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One year ago, we brought Ellie home. Life hasn’t been the same since, and for the better! She is the most loving dog I’ve ever known, and has absolutely no idea that other dogs don’t get carried around like a baby the way Ana carries her. She just accepts it like normal, and it’s hilarious to watch.

Congrats Graduates!

mikerowe3

There are more shovel ready jobs than there are people willing to push a shovel. There are jobs waiting for welders, electricians, plumbers, steam fitters, and more. Good paying jobs. GREAT paying jobs! Jobs that won’t leave you with crippling student loan debt. Jobs that will pay you to learn.

But only if you are willing to go for it.

What’s wrong with jobs that require a degree? Nothing! But only if that degree leads to a job in a field that is hiring. Even if you’re BA/BS doesn’t match your future occupation there is a benefit to earning that degree. But the concept that college is a requirement for a fulfilling life or a successful career is a myth that should be challenged at all levels.

http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/are-homeschoolers-overqualified