Category Archives: Helping People

You’ll Cheer for the Baseball Whisperer, by Michael Tackett

I don’t know what exactly made me pick it up, but something drew me to The Baseball Whisperer: The Small-Town Coach Who Inspired Big Dreams, by Michael Tackett. The author is the Washington bureau chief for the New York Times. All I knew was that it was a brand new book about a baseball coach, and that interested me.

The book most likely intrigued me because of an interest in baseball, a love for the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox (although you don’t talk about the Yankees in Boston, and vice versa), and seeing two professional games at Camden Yards and Fenway Park. One of my uncles watched baseball on TV a lot. My aunt and I have enjoyed a lot of baseball biographies over the years–mostly about Yankees players. Damn Yankees is also a favorite musical. My grandfather always told her never to count the Yankees out until the the very last, because they come from behind and win. They always used to listen to the games on the radio. When I think of baseball, I remember that I was just lucky to hit the ball a couple of times–and that was just Wiffleball. Alas, eye-hand coordination will never be mine. Still, a girl can dream about being a champion player.  And don’t forget the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, the inspiration for the movie Field of Dreams. There are also the films For Love of the Game, A League of Their Own, Angels in the Outfield, and The Natural.

Nothing on film compares to real life. The baseball whisperer is Merl Eberly, coach of the Clarinda A’s until his death in 2011. This summer professional baseball team won the 1981 National Baseball Congress championship (edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting moments in the book). The team has also launched the careers of several major-league players–most notably shortstop Ozzie Smith, who comes back for special events, and Von Hayes. Even if players did not have professional sports careers, they learned a lot from their summers in Clarinda, a small Iowa town of 5,000 people. Some even decided to settle there. And all of them keep in touch with the Eberly family–Merl’s widow, Pat, their six  children, their extended families, and the town’s host families.  Everyone involved with the program volunteers–receiving no payment. Merl seemed to have a knack for picking players with talent, and he networked a lot with local businesses, college coaches and players–anyone interested in baseball. Many players had never lived in a rural area before and were amazed by the friendliness of the people. Even the taste of sweet Iowa corn, which was almost like dessert, was a revelation for those who had never tasted it. Merl instituted strict rules, discipline, and a code of conduct. When players weren’t on the field, they worked in local jobs. Though Merl was fair, if a player didn’t do what was expected, he was out of the program.

As I read, I wished that I knew Merl personally. He sounds like he was a real keeper, and a mensch. His early life was difficult and he traveled the wrong path for a while. He quit high school for a time, but then decided to go back when his life wasn’t heading anywhere. Caring teachers and coaches saw something special in him and gave him a second chance. He did the same later on for his players. He was a pro baseball player for a while, but when that ended, he sold advertising for the local newspaper. Pat Eberly was always  grateful that her father taught her a lot about baseball; otherwise, her marriage to Merl would not have worked.

Merl was a beloved husband, dad, grandpa, and great-grandpa. Many times, he was a surrogate dad to players who had no father around. For others who had great relationships with their parents, Merl and Pat were a second set of parents. To his own children, he was a loving but strict father. Julie, one of his daughters, recalled that she would miss her dad’s bear hugs. All six kids, participated in sports. As he did for those on the Clarinda A’s, he urged his kids to give it all they had–whatever they undertook. Another daughter recalled making a mistake during a piano recital. As she had been taught all her life, she kept going and did not give up.

Michael Tackett has done a wonderful job researching and interviewing people for this story. He only met Merl once, unfortunately, but so many others were around to tell his story.

It’s Pat’s Eberly’s wish to leap the Clarinda A’s going for as long as possible. I hope it continues to succeed.














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Filed under Biographies, Helping People, Sports

Let’s Hear It for Librarians!

I like this recent story about a Washington, DC librarian in the WashingtonPost Magazine. The MLK branch is also very cool. Alas, I have not been there in quite a while.

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Filed under Helping People, Libraries, Love of Reading, Uncategorized

It’s Not About the Cat….And It’s Okay to Cry

I always avoided Dr. David Dosa’s 2010 memoir Making the Rounds with Oscar, because I knew the third-floor cat living at Steere House could predict residents’ deaths. Don’t be fooled by the lovely picture of Oscar on the cover. This is a very difficult book. I’m not sure why I forced myself to get through it now, but I did. It has gotten very favorable reviews since its publication, but have at least two boxes of tissues handy. Do not read it aloud to anyone or listen to the audio! You won’t get through it. I read the eBook, but did not share with anyone why I was sobbing. There’s nothing anyone can say or do, anyway. It’s hard to leave the sadness.

Dosa is a geriatrician. His patients on the third floor of Steere House are in the end stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Somehow, Oscar can sense when patients are near death. He stays with the patients and the family members–often bringing the caregivers comfort as their loved ones die. In many cases, before, many residents had always loved cats. Myself, I would keep this cat AWAY!!!!!

Dementia sucks! I wish doctors could find some way to get rid of it. I saw myself in many of the caregivers in the book. I learned things, and I respect Dosa’s knowledge. But it made me sadder, more frightened, and worried. I have one go-to book and organization. I started reading about dementia to try to help my aunt–to convince her to go to the doctor, which we finally did. But I have to do it in small doses. It’s just too depressing, It’s crucial to live in the “now” as much as possible.

Here’s a YouTube video about Oscar, featuring David Dosa, M.D.:

Dosa also writes about a longtime resident of Steere House who is very disabled by arthritis. In one of their chats, she laments that she can’t do the things she once did. “All I have is time,” she said, which made me feel more gloomy. I want to have options for my future–not empty time.


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Filed under Alzheimer's, Animals, Cats, Dementia, Disability, Helping People, Nonfiction, nursing homes

The King’s Speech–A Wonderful Movie, and an Even Better Read

Wow. Just wow. I finished the audiobook version of The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy. The authors are Peter J. Conradi and Mark Logue. Logue is the grandson of Lionel Logue, the speech therapist of King George VI. Logue was able to help the King where many other specialists had failed.

As in the 2011 Oscar-winning film for Best Picture, the book accurately and movingly shows what it feels like to have a stammer, stutter, or any kind of difficulty speaking. This challenge really affects self-esteem and confidence at times, but most of us have to go on and do what needs to be done. Even so, facing a huge audience or an intimidating microphone can really be scary.

Even more, this biography details the strong friendship between two men: one royalty, the other a commoner originally from Australia who eventually became a British subject. That friendship would always have certain limits, but they always kept in touch and supported one another. Each man’s life is explored in depth. In many ways, Logue was a substitute father to the King. While the movie concentrates on the speech to galvanize the British people against the Nazis, Logue helped the king with many more speeches and voice training, which included frequent deep breathing exercises and other tips. Logue would often edit the words, choosing vocabulary that was easier for the king to pronounce. Though photographed sitting down, George VI preferred to walk around while giving a radio address. These efforts increased the King’s confidence. Eventually, he was able to deliver speeches without Logue being by his side, but he always called Logue afterward to hear his feedback. Although no non-royal could touch the monarch, Logue would congratulate the king by giving his arm a warm clasp for a job well done.

In addition, many other students were very appreciative of Logue’s teaching methods and support. They felt they got their voices back, and were able to succeed.

The book gives excellent background about the events leading up to and during World War II and the aftermath. Day-t0-day life in wartime Britain is richly detailed. Listeners are treated to two recitations of the real “King’s speech”–making it all the more powerful. Here it is again:

Here are two examples of the correspondence between George VI and Logue.

Finally, it’s also exciting to share in Mark Logue’s learning more of his family’s history by looking through existing records in his possession and this shared by other family members. Some documents, however, he is still searching for.

An amazing and touching read.


keep calm




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Filed under Disability, Film, Helping People, History, inspiration, Nonfiction, World War II

Walk to Beautiful–The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way

READ THIS BOOK!!  I found it through my library’s Wowbrary newsletter. I was attracted to the inspiring story by its summary and the title, reproduced above. It was lying on my dining room table, so I decided it should be my next read. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down! Jimmy Wayne’s life story shows us that anyone can get through anything–surviving no matter what your challenges are.

Working with a co-writer, Wayne looks back unflinchingly on his difficult childhood, which was often spent moving around a lot. That kind of life was more than a little unstable–even dangerous–for him and his sister, Patricia, as their mom tried to build a life that she’d be happy with. Many times, they were hungry, and he’s never forgotten the feeling of an empty stomach for days on end. It took him years to fully realize that his mom had been hurt a lot, and that she had bipolar disorder, which played a significant role in a lot of her bad choices. Forgiving her and letting go of pain took a long time, too. But she never lost the title of “Mama.”

By the time he was 14, his mom and stepfather left him at a bus station to fend for himself. On his fifteenth birthday–which he almost forgot about–he spent the night in jail. When he couldn’t find his way to friends and relatives, he spent time in various foster homes. Eventually he told his caseworker he wasn’t going back. So he became homeless.

Many times when telling his story, Wayne talks about an inner voice guiding him. Early on, he learned to always trust that voice. One of those times was during his wanderings. He came upon an elderly couple who operated a woodworking shop. The voice told him to ask if they had any work to do. He offered to cut their grass. They accepted his offer and gave him something to eat. Over several weeks, they formed a friendship. Eventually, the couple felt comfortable enough to invite him to live with them. He stayed for six years. Bea and Russell Costner became the parents he never had. With their expectations–that he would go to church, school, and cut his hair–their love and support, he completed high school and college, eventually earning an associates degree in criminal justice, and a job in his field.

Jimmy Wayne’s other love is music. For many years he played the guitar and sang. Bea encouraged these gifts as well, with her love of gospel music. He found a professional voice teacher, and Bea attended all of his gigs. Sadly, she didn’t live to see his country music success, both in songwriting and performing.

And there were other “angels unawares” in his life–a sixth grade teacher who taught him for two years. Even though she was a strict disciplinarian, she was firmly in his corner. She encouraged his writing ability and taught him the habit of daily journaling, which he still does. And they are friends to this day. The parents of some of his friends were supportive. An art teacher praised his painting and drawing. A guidance counselor never gave up on him. Even the police officer who took him to the jail that night tried to help him. They too have remained friends. The police officer is now a professional counselor and pastor.

I didn’t know who Jimmy Wayne was before this book. I enjoyed learning about his career and his songs. I’m not sure if he records much these days, but he’s probably still writing songs. He has become an advocate and speaker for foster kids who automatically age out of the system at age 18–often with no place to go and no resources. He has pushed for legislation to help them in Tennessee and elsewhere. He also felt like he wasn’t giving back in the way that he wanted–one reason for the walk he completed to raise awareness about foster kids and how to help. Here is a TED Talk he gave on the subject:

Here are two songs he recorded. Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” earned him a record deal.

The song “Paper Angels” (now a book and TV movie) was inspired by the Salvation Army Angel Tree.

I hope this book inspires and moves you.

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Filed under Helping, Helping People, Hope, inspiration, journeys, Nonfiction

A Long-Awaited Return to Mitford

September 14th isn’t a particularly significant date, but in 2014 I put it on the calendar:  “DON’T forget! New Jan Karon book out!” If memory serves, it was still the dead of winter, 2013. Anyway, there was still some wait time. I counted the days…

Since the release of In the Company of Others and Home to Holly Springs, there had not been a full-length novel about Mitford, the fictional North Carolina town where Tim Kavanagh, retired Episcopalian priest, his wife, Cynthia, and their friends and neighbors live. My aunt, other family members, and friends were probably so tired of me saying, “I wish Jan Karon would write another book!” It had been a while since I’d seen anything new. I would check the website as well every now and then. Of course, there was lots to read in the meantime, but still…

Finally, it was my turn at the library. I was delighted to see how long it is–over 400 pages. Don’t be intimidated; the story moves fast. Since my aunt and I had read all the others to each other, I wanted us to read Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good together. Since my aunt doesn’t enjoy reading aloud anymore, I would be reading to her. Once we got started, she remembered the major characters. The first chapter moved along at a leisurely, down-home pace. All readers can get reacquainted with the townspeople they know and love, and meet those new to town. If you’ve read other titles in this series. you know the background on many of the characters, and you want things to work out for them.

The only problem? Somewhere along in Chapter 2, I was laughing so hard I could barely get the words out. My aunt laughed a lot, too. She was pleased that I had gotten so tickled, and she laughed at the situation.

Well, we made it through about a third of the book when I had to return it. By the time I got it back, we had moved on to mysteries, and she didn’t want to start again, so I finished alone. I started from the beginning, and enjoyed it just as much. The plot isn’t straightforward. In fact, it meanders through several story threads. Then it occurred to me: Isn’t that how everyday life is? You have your ups, downs, times when everything sucks big time, and everyday activities. You try to help people along the way if you can, cheering them on. You may be very concerned about what will happen, but you can’t always predict the outcome accurately. Faith is important to help you through challenges.

The main theme of Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good centers on the fact that Father Tim doesn’t know what to do with himself in retirement. He’s grateful for his family and friends, that he’s been able to travel, and that he has a brother he never knew he had. Countless blessings abound. But what to do now? Eventually, he is offered the chance to serve as a priest again. But does he really want it? So begins his journey. Another big mystery is the identity of the person driving through town in a limo. And, where has one of the neighbors gone? It’s a joy seeing how everything develops.

I have loved these novels ever since I discovered the first one in the series, A Light in the Window. I was hooked when a big, black dog followed Fr. Tim home. He eventually named him Barnabas. The dog would only mind him when he recited scripture at the top of his lungs. I eventually read all the books, though not in order. And that’s okay. I own many of them now.

Jan Karon gave readers a wonderful gift, when, as someone who worked in the advertising field, created on her down time the character of Father Tim. In her mind, she saw a priest walking down the road, and she wanted to know his story. And the people and the town grew from there. In 2005, my aunt and I went to her book signing at The Falls Church. Every seat was filled. She is a warm and engaging speaker. I bought a signed copy of In This Mountain, a book we were both touched by. An added bonus was meeting her as we all entered the church at the same time. She introduced herself, and we introduced ourselves. I’m so glad we got the chance to tell her how much we love all of her books.

So, once I finished the new book, I reread In the Company of Others. It’s really great on audio, too. It’s the one where Father tim and Cynthia travel yo Ireland.

Everybody needs a Mitford. By that I mean a real or imagined place where everybody’s got your back, and where there’s still hope and possibility

Ms. Karon, please don’t wait too long to write the next in the series!



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Filed under Christian fiction, Fiction, Helping People, inspiration

Only This Once, I Judged a Book by Its Cover….and Loved It!

When I choose a book, the cover is usually the very last thing that draws me to it. Nine times out of ten, I always have a specific title in mind. I almost never care what the cover looks like.

But one day recently, I was browsing a local library’s EBook collection when I ran across a holiday book called The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson. Though it sounded predictable, the story was also promising because it was about a cat. I didn’t care that I would be reading it in late January, either.

But the photograph of the Maine Coon cat on the front grabbed me at first glance. Miranda, also a Maine Coon, was our “bestest and prettiest”cat for eighteen years. Common traits of all Maine Coons are keen intelligence, shyness, and a loving and playful nature. But each has specific personalities. I was thinking about Miranda and missing the days when we had a pet–and wishing I could have a cat–or a dog–again. And then I found the book. Turns out that the author has a Maine Coon named Harry. She named one of the cats in the story after him. Isn’t the cover cute? Hr’s such a sweetie-pie!

The Christmas Cat

All together, now: Awwww!!  I showed the picture above to my aunt, and she liked it also. Both the eReader version (black and white) and the color version (Adobe Digital Editions). I think she was getting sick of my excitement over this, but she was patient.

Now, on to the story. Garrison Brown has just returned to the U.S. from six years in Uganda, where he’s been an international aid worker. Sadly, just before Thanksgiving, he learns that his grandmother has passed away. Her lawyer has asked Garrison to come settle her estate. This includes caring for and finding neighborhood homes for her six rescue cats: Muzzy, Rusty, Harry, Oreo, Viola, and Sadie (I think that’s her name), a calico. This is not as easy as it sounds. The adoptions have specific requirements. Worse, Garrison has allergies–and a deep fear of cats.

Along the way, Garrison recalls a lot about his life and his grandmother’s. She was well thought of in the community, and she had taken Garrison in when he was twelve, after his parents died in a car accident. He meets her neighbors–some of whom were her close friends.

Garrison also thinks about his life goals. Like all of us, he doesn’t get everything right the first time. His journey makes a very pleasant Christmas read.
Maine Coon Cat

I also couldn’t resist Phillip Martin’s free clipart image of a Maine Coon….very cute!

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Filed under Animals, Cats, Fiction, Helping People, inspiration

Poppies–In Remembrance

Today is Veterans Day. The news had a lot of coverage about Britain marking the centenary of WWI through the poppies art exhibition at the Tower of London. Here is an early August skip from the BBC:

And of course, it brings to mind the poem by John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.”

Today, many programs and nonprofits exist to serve vets and their families, including those who have disabilities. Employment is a major issue, as well as many others. If you have time, find a vets’ organization in your area and help out in some way.

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Filed under Helping People, History, Hope, Poetry

What Reading Means to People

I’ve always been a reader. My family read to me, and they made sure I had lots of books. As a kid, a trip to the mall wasn’t complete unless I stopped by Brentano’s bookstore. My uncle used to get tired of me browsing so long sometimes.My school library was my hangout when not in class. Public libraries came later in my first year of high school, although I did have some visits to a few branches as a young child.

There was no “light bulb moment” when I realized I could read; it was just natural that the black marks on the pages made sense, and I had fun. However, sometimes my pronunciation left a lot to be desired. I remember being required in school not to follow the lines with my index finger. I had to use an index card so my eyes wouldn’t  wander. I hated the index card! I wish they had reading dog programs in school back then. I would have loved that.

My grandmother only went as far as the first grade in school, so she never learned how to read or write well. She was one of the smartest people I know. For years I kept the birthday and other cards she’d give me, especially valuing the ones with her own in her own printed  name, with x’s and o’s for hugs and kisses. She did not like her writing, but it was hers.

Many times, she would read to me, slowly sounding the words out. As much as I loved the stories about animals, it was the sound of her voice that meant the most. We would sit on the living room couch under the reading lamp. When I grew older, I would help her read the paper and the mail. Any time she got stuck, I would help with the new word. At various times, she expressed concern that I would get wall=eyed (her word for nearsighted) from so much reading. I am nearsighted, but that’s okay.

Since high school, I have wanted to be a literacy tutor, but have never felt I was a good teacher. So I have yet to do that. When I saw this “On the Road with Steve Hartman” on CBS News Sunday Morning a while back  I was very moved. And it brought so much back to me.,

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Filed under Helping People, Love of Reading