In gratitude to mentors

I have built this blog, and my writing in general, around three action verbs: encourage, enlighten, entertain. If I have done at least one of those three things in a piece, mission accomplished. Today I’d like to share some of what has encouraged, enlightened and entertained me this year.

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You can do it

You can do it. That much is certain.

I am one of the blessed ones whose mom told me constantly, “I believe you are capable of doing anything you set your mind to.” That encouragement helped make me what I am today and kept me going when times were tough.

“I can do this,” you tell yourself, “because I can do anything I set my mind to.”

Here’s the secret: You really can do it. It’s helpful to have a mom to remind you, but it’s a simple fact of life: Whatever “it” is, you can do it.

That’s actually the easy part, knowing you can do it. You really can do anything.

The hard part? the rest of the moms’ affirmation of faith: You set your mind to do.

Setting your mind to do something is the most important part of the equation, because it might take years and all your strength to train your mind and body to get it done, so setting your mind for the task is the key.

But!

If you ARE willing to invest your time and energy into the learning how to do it, the awkward trying to do it and falling short, and the steadily getting better and better until you’re good enough —

Then:

You can do it. You can do anything you set your mind to.

Go ahead. Set your mind. Get started. Take the first step, then the next, and keep going. Eventually you will do it. You’ll see.

In the Attic: Christmas Hymns & Carols

In 1946 Robert Shaw and his RCA Victor Chorale released a Christmas album. In those days an album was really an album, like a photo album with pages that you mounted photos on: You could only fit three or four minutes of sound on one side of a 78 rpm record, so they packaged a bound volume of three to six heavy envelopes with records inside.

By the time I came along, the long-playing record had changed all that, and Christmas Hymns and Carols had been converted to a 33.3 rpm LP. That was what Mom hauled out on the day after Thanksgiving every year, and we knew the Christmas season had begun as soon as the Chorale belted out, “Joy to the World, the Lord has come …!”

It’s a remarkable performance, completely a capella. Shaw’s vocal arrangements are absolutely transcendental, and as soon as I hear the familiar recording again, I can smell the pine needles from the tree and the warm sugar cookies fresh from the oven, and I feel the comfort of artificial heat fending off the wintry weather outside, and I see the small but cozy living room and the bubble lights sparkling away.

Robert Shaw and Christmas go together in my mind, sure as “Joy to the World” is followed by “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and then “Angels We Have Heard On High,” etc. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Christmas albums out there, but this — and Christmas Hymns and Carols Volume II a few years later — is the greatest of all time, in my humble opinion.

As much as I love the LP, my most cherished Christmas possessions are the Shaw albums in their original format, which I found (and transferred to digital) a few years back in such great condition that a casual listener might not realize the disc was rotating at 78 rpm. At least once a year I carefully take the fragile albums off the shelf and give the heavy old records a spin on the turntable.

A few days ago a friend asked on social media whether we think it’s OK to play Christmas music “early” — he had broken his tradition and listened to a couple versions of “Mary Did You Know” — and my mind immediately went to the Robert Shaw Chorale. My reply was:

“Personally, I would prefer a world where you can sing ‘Joy to the world, the savior lives … let heaven and nature sing’ all year-round. I’d love an oldies station where “Mary Did You Know” is folded into the mix from time to time.”

Moose, Gnome and Cow meet Squirrel

One day the Moose, the Gnome and the Cow went for a walk. Little white flurries flew, and the waves roared in the bay at the bottom of the hill.

“It’s not a fit night out for man nor beast,” said the Gnome.

“It’s not nighttime, but I agree,” said the Moose.

“Moo,” said the Cow.

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What we become

You have heard it said, “We become what we think about.” The great inspirational speaker Earl Nightingale called it The Greatest Secret, it’s the basis of the book The Secret, and writer James Allen wrote a brilliant little book more than 100 years ago along those lines: As A Man Thinketh.

I want to drag one sentence out of Seth Godin’s new book, The Practice, and suggest a corrolary.

“We become what we do.”

One follows the other.