Tag Archives: Authors

Having Faith

On Thanksgiving morning, six years ago, my father passed away. Ironically, his father was born on Thanksgiving day so it seemed appropriate that a day of significance bore another milestone within my family’s history.

It was a morning like any other. As the day began, my sister was at her home busily preparing a wonderful Thanksgiving meal to provide us all with a sense of normalcy. My father was at home on Hospice care and I had spent the night before in my childhood bedroom to help my mother out. As my mother sat at the kitchen counter, I sat by my father’s bedside in the living room, holding his hand, and thinking about how thankful I was for him – especially on that day. I stroked his hair and told him everything was going to be alright, as he had done for me so many times before.

Then came a simple act. An act I knew not of the consequences, for I had no medical background. He appeared to be sleeping soundly, so I asked my mother if I should remove his oxygen for a while. She simply said, ok. As I shut off the machine, there was a calm and long-awaited silence that blanketed the room in a sacred stillness. My father was gone.

While sorrow bore its well-timed way into my heart, oddly enough, on that Thanksgiving morning, I was more thankful than ever. Thankful that I was blessed with amazing parents; that I was blessed with a sister who was holding up the world for the rest of us on a difficult day; and blessed with the unmistakeable knowledge that my father now had a quieted body that no longer needed to fight the good fight – for though he had lost a few battles, he had finally won the war of everlasting grace.

About a month prior to my father’s passing, we were discussing how I wanted to have a third child and he said that I should; that I would regret it if I didn’t; and that there was plenty of love in me for another. I thought that ship had sailed and was at peace with having my two beautiful boys. A week after my father passed, I became, quite unexpectedly, pregnant with my daughter, Faith.

My father has given me so many gifts over the course of my life: he taught me how to love the written word, how to mow the lawn, how to be an independent woman, and has given me an abundance of skills and knowledge that have served me well over the years. But his parting gift to me was a gift that is rarely able to be given twice – the gift of life. My birth was his first present, my daughter was his second.

So as I sit here on the eve of another Thanksgiving, the phrase “having faith” has manifested itself in so many miraculous ways. I asked the question, “Why do you believe in God?” on Facebook the other day. Among many of the wonderful answers was this one, “I can just feel Him…” And today, having faith allows me to feel God and my father as ever-present spirits working to guide me on my journey. Faith allows me to feel blessed in so many ways. It allows me to feel a never-ending joy that mitigates any and all sadness, especially as I look to the heavens and feel nothing but the radiant sun of souls on my face.

Tomorrow, on Thanksgiving day and every day, remember those who have passed on before you. Those who remain as a special tenant within your heart. It is ok to cry for them, for you honor what they meant to you with every tear. But also rejoice in all that they have given you, and continue to give you, with each breath you take. They gave your life meaning and defined you in a special way. By having faith, you can now live for them by carrying on their life, within yours. Make them proud.

Happy Thanksgiving and love to all.

Peace.

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A Short Story – The New Writer

Natalie wondered if she would ever make it as a writer. In a way, she had arrived late to the game. While she’d always loved the written word and was quite good at expressing herself with a pen and paper, it still didn’t equate to the volumes of work successful writers had amassed by her age.

Many of her writing projects to this point revolved around corporate affairs. A press release here, a company statement there, and even the solemn task of a writing a recall notice for a product that had taken lives. All of which was done just on the other side of receiving her weekly paycheck.

So when she decided on a creative writing path – leaving the doldrums of describing the features and benefits of the latest must-have product behind her – had she veered too far off course? Life changes come in many forms, and she wondered if she was redefining herself a bit too dramatically, a bit too late, and for a bit of what? Were the company mission statements really all that bad?

These are the thoughts Natalie was having as she was sitting in her local library. Today was her first book signing and the turnout had been mediocre at best. Of course, the family and friend well-wishers were there, for which she was most thankful, but her core audience was missing. There was not a single child in sight.

So while she packed up and courteously smiled, thanking everyone for coming, she was startled by the little voice behind her saying, “Am I too late?” Natalie turned around to see a raven haired boy about 10 years of age, clutching a tattered and well-read copy of her book.

All he asked was, “Can you please sign this?”

All she heard was, “You’ve made it.”

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To a Child: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I am a artist at heart. I majored in it in college (along with marketing) and ended up on a non-fine arts career path. How? Who knows. Life takes over and that’s that. I regret it often, but I love soaking up everything I can from others who chose the path I didn’t. I am especially mesmerized by children’s book illustrators as they have the daunting task of taking a childlike view of the world and translating simple subjects into pieces of art a two-year old can understand. It is truly amazing. Like magic.

So one thing I stress when reading to my children are the emotions, colors, and actions conveyed by the pictures in each book I’m reading. When the words and illustrations blend flawlessly, a masterpiece is created for all to enjoy. Here are some of my favorite children’s illustrators and the reasons why:

Mark Teague is a genius. Anyone who can make a dinosaur so emotive is brilliant. You just want to hug each and every one of them; despite their size, scales, and claws. Felicia Bond uses white like a pro, by pulling her subjects front and center. A giant moose in a teeny tiny sweater is priceless. Sandra Boynton is the queen of simplistic charm. Placing pupils on eyeballs may seem like a mundane task, but those two black dots speak volumes when illustrating a hippo staring quite uncomfortably at his rabbit friend’s broccoli stew – “ew”. Jan Brett has cornered the market on texture. You can actually feel the finely weaved wool of the mitten scratch your eyes. Dr. Seuss is just plain ol’ fun. Not only are his verses rhythmically light and full of dance, his characters are too. Unrealistically curling furry toes to masterful lengths makes all the difference in the world. David Shannon is a nut, and I love it (so does my daughter who makes me read Alice the Fairy every night), and so are his characters. His wild and crazy offline pen marks and self-styled font superbly matches the storyline of each of his books. Last but no least is Eric Carle. With colors and texture, he boils down creatures of all sizes (not literally – ew) to be palatable (double ew) to a toddler who craves predictability.

A great children’s book can convey the story through pictures alone as well. A superb example of this is the book Hug, by Jez Alborough. He says it all via his emotion filled pictures and by only writing the words, “Hug”, “Bobo”, and “Mommy”. Books like these allow the readers – big and small – to become the writers of the storyline. Another good one along this vein is Good Night Gorilla, by Peggy Rathmann. It is a great accomplishment to say so much without saying much at all.

Add to the “life imitating art” file, when my daughter was 2 1/2 years old, she only spoke gibberish. Speech therapy ensued. But she was able to get her intentions across by illustrating them with her body movements. So the pictures in her books were teaching her how to get along in the world, even more so than the words. These wonderfully talented illustrators provided her with valuable tools when everything else seemed to be failing, including myself. She eventually learned to speak, although pronouns are still kicking her butt, but I’ll always delight in the imprint Sandra Boyton’s hippo illustration made on her from day one. That being, she can make her pupils go “hippo sideways” at any given moment to express disgust and annoyance at anything – even broccoli stew.

Peace.

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Happenstance

“Not this time. As soon as she forced the vision out of her head, all of the surrounding air, time, light, and sound bent in space at once, forming a celestial wormhole that encased the DarkDwellers in one massive eruption of her mind.” – Theo’s Mythic

This is one of my favorite quotes from the book. Why? Because it shows how one previously-believed-to-be-flawed character, a Happenstance, has amazing potential. The Happenstances in my book are loosely based on my two nieces; profoundly disabled from birth, yet profoundly spectacular in redefining what it is to live a life.

Happenstance means: a circumstance especially that is due to chance. My nieces are undiagnosed and perceived to be “flawed” by many narrow-minded individuals. They cannot walk or talk. But to me, a life is not defined by what you cannot do, rather, it is the potential within – whether it be latent or obvious. It isn’t packaged in a form you are used to seeing, but make no mistake about it – the spark is there.

Here are a few examples of the life my nieces have lived and what they have breathed into my “normal” world. Essences I would have never inhaled had I not been blessed with all that they are.

  1. Love comes in many forms. We have never heard either one of them say, “I love you”.  And yet, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the love that emanates from their souls is felt deeper than any three words uttered by mouth could ever communicate.
  2. Beauty abounds. Beauty is not defined by perfect makeup, hair swept into undulating waves, or the must-have designer label meant to elevate and transcend the ordinary. True beauty can be found in their smiles. Wholly uplifting – and sometimes mischievous – grins, that are equal to all the joy in the world captured in two magnificient faces.
  3. They are strong. Looking at them all you might see are two weak bodies relegated to wheelchairs; robbed of the potential of perfectly developed muscles, skin, and bone. Yet they have survived grueling therapies, a near-death experience (still classified to this day as “a miracle” by all doctors), and multiple surgeries – one of which left them in body casts from the chest down for two months. So to look at them as weak is to say that the ocean has no greater purpose than to lick the shore. The mighty ocean and my mighty girls have much more strength in them than that.

While the Happenstances in my book are created by lightning, we don’t know by what “chance” my beautiful nieces came to be. They were created out of love, that much I know.  The Happenstances in Theo’s Mythic speak in a manner not in keeping with an adult, but they speak volumes with the warmth, love, and care of a thousand mothers. They are not air-brushed, modified, or reshaped into the perfect ideal of beauty, they are naturally glorious. And although they were created by chance, they bear strength and fortitude to become an extraordinary part of their world – of our world.

So the next time you see a disabled person, look to their core, their gifts…to the happenstance that brought them to us. Don’t spit them out, breathe them in. Their life will teach you more about living than any amount of years or experience ever will. While chance was the catalyst, they happened for a reason.

Peace.

7-16-15 UPDATE

Last week, my amazingly soulful and giggly niece, Abby, was called away to Heaven. Why? There is never an adequate answer, is there? My heart breaks for her incredible parents and all who loved her. However, it is with full conviction that my heart does not break for her.

To know Abby was to learn that “different” meant extraordinary; that a disability only meant out of the norm and not disabled. My heart is full knowing that she is finally able to realize what it is to walk amongst friends and loved ones, respond to a kind word with her own words, and feel unrestricted movement in every facet of her being. To be free.

We often say that about someone we have lost – that they are at peace and are now free. To Abby, these sentiments carry much more weight than we boringly normal people could ever know. Her transition means so much more than we could ever understand. And her life means so much more to those of us left behind because of who and what she was – special.

Special needs often defines children like Abby. Sure, she needed certain alternative accommodations, but the special needs definition was for us as well – because she was special and we needed her in our lives. In fact, there should be more Abbys in the world. Too often we get focused on the negative; we make mountains out of our of minuscule problems; and we see the good in a cursory manner, but actually pay attention to the bad. I needed Abby and all of her specialness – which I could eat with a spoon – to teach me about what is right in the world and where the priorities ought to be, not where society tells us they should be. Simply put, she set me free.

We will never be the same. Some days I just want to punch something at the unfairness of it all – and some days I thank God for making the right choice for her, even though it was the difficult one for us. Her life and death were altogether amazing and heartbreaking – and one day I pray I get to hear her giggle again. Just one little laugh to know that all is right in this world. Until then, we’ll smile for her as we remember not what we have lost, but what we have gained, an angel.

Peace.

096


Living Under a Rock

ImageWhen you’ve lost your father, Father’s Day takes on a whole new meaning.  It is not about celebrating the presence of someone special in your life anymore; it is about treasuring the special presents they gave you.  It is not about seeing them in person; it is about celebrating them as a person.  On this day, instead of driving to see them to pay tribute to their fabulous “dadness”, you make your own personal journey to pay homage to their memory.  I like to combine the two by driving to visit him where my last memory of him exists – to where he is buried.

As we do every year on Father’s Day weekend since my dad passed in 2007, my husband and children made our annual trek to the cemetery to simply say, “Hi, Dad.”  While some think it is a ridiculous notion to think you are actually visiting someone in a cemetery, somehow it brings me comfort to know that the destination holds a marker stone that bears his name.  Seeing that familiar, strong, and memorable name permanently etched into the granite makes me feel well grounded.  That was always one of the tenants of his parenting style – that my sister and I were part of a bigger picture.  We were special, but belonged to a greater good.  Everyone and everything had its rightful purpose and place.  He truly set the example by befriending every chipmunk in the yard with daily meals of sunflower seeds, and by making sure every bird had a well-crafted birdhouse and plenty to eat as well.  Yes, my father personified kindness and opened himself up to everything around him.  From his insatiable desire to read and understand any word he laid his eyes on, to making friends wherever he went.  Whether he was hunkered down in the Korean War or traipsing around the golf course back here in America to play a few rounds with is buddies, he experienced it all.  He lived life.

I think that was the thing that troubled him the most at the end of his life.  He was diagnosed with cancer on August 22nd and died on Thanksgiving morning – exactly three months later.  I believe the swiftness of his death is what caught him off guard the most.  Never did he think his “end” would be so rapid.  No bucket list.  No sewing up loose ends.  No second chances.  But what he didn’t realize is that he didn’t need any more time.  During the 74 years my father inhabited this earth his impact was impressive.  His wake and funeral were packed.  His wife, my mom, still loved him more than anything else in the world.  His daughters worshipped him.  And his grandchildren reeled with joy at the very mention of his name.  My father loved life and it loved him right back.  We loved him.  No, he didn’t need any more time – he had accomplished it all.

So on the day before Father’s Day a few years ago, my husband, my three small children, and I took the 30-minute drive to read his name.  To lay my eyes upon the words etched in that headstone.  We were coming off a wonderful morning that included the boys’ yearend baseball picnic.  Each one of them busily comparing trophies while their baby sister happily babbled alongside them.  You see, I became pregnant with my daughter just one week after my father died.  She is named after him because we truly believe my father sent her down to us.  Thanks, Dad.

As our car turned from the roadway to meet the winding path of the cemetery drive, the boys perked up seeing that we had reached our destination.  My middle son was so excited, he said to his big brother, “E!  E!  This where Grandpa lives!  Remember?  Do you remember he lives here?  Oh!  Right there, right there!  Grandpa lives under that rock!

Yes, the “rock” that displayed his name.  The rock I was so desperate to reach.  The rock that bore witness to a person I had known for all of my life.  But no, he did not live under that rock.  Never a day in his life was he isolated, ignorant or obtuse.  My wonderful little boy had summed it up so beautifully for me – so innocently.  My father lived life to its fullest, never under a rock.  It was that simple.  He wasn’t there under that rock.  He lived in the lawn that surrounded his headstone, in the tree above his grave that provided blessed shade on a hot day, the wind that whispered in my ear as I stood there.  He was everywhere.

So live while you are living, learn everything you can, aspire to accomplish greatness, respect every moment, and perpetuate love.  My father’s life taught me this and his death made it real.  Do what you can now, because there is plenty of time when you are done breathing, to live under a rock.

Peace.


Hello? Kids?

ImageI have to say, I am quite social media savvy. That is, if I’m talking to adults. It is a primary part of my day job and I [stupidly] thought it would translate seamlessly to my night job as an author. An author who has penned a book for kids. For kids. One more time…for kids. Who are ten to twelve years old. Do you see my problem? If not, let me explain…

Sure, I’ve been working the social media channels whenever I get the chance; specifically to attract moms and dads – those with influence over my target market. I’ve blessedly made some inroads in rallying the cause of trying to help another mom realize her dream. However, 9 times out of 10, they aren’t the folks reading the book, their child is. So if their child LOVES it, that’s nice, but it more often than not ends there. No word of mouth, no Facebook posting, no Twitter shout-out, no messages blowing up their peeps phones, and no five star reviews on Amazon. Nada, nothing, bupkis.

And the sad part is…I’m DYING to talk to them. Which characters did they like? What did they think of the Monstrosities? Do they think Theo was asleep or awake the whole time? Did they see the twist coming? On and on. Oh sure, I’ve pressed my sons, niece and nephews ad nauseam, but they KNOW me. Don’t get me wrong, their feedback has been invaluable, but I’d love an unbiased chat with a bunch of kids. So much so, I’m going straight to the big guy and have officially put it on my Christmas list. In fact, here is my letter to Santa:

Dear Santa,

Growing up with the last name Rudolph has certainly had its pluses and minuses. Being part Irish, the red nose thing was inevitable (and unfortunate at times.) I powered through, though, and have come to love my name and all that it represents. In fact, it is very deer to my heart.

However, I digress. I am writing because I am now a full fledged adult per my driver’s license and I only want one thing for Christmas – to hear the voices of children who have read my book. To hear their gleeful songs rise up like the Whos in Whoville to a crescendo atop Mt. Crumpit. To see a sparkle in their eyes, their jumpy squirrel bouncing as they retell their favorite part, and their imaginations catch on fire as they play act each and every scene.

Rudolph has seen you through many a storm to brighter skies. I only hope you have it in your big velvet bag to repay the favor to his humble namesake. Please, let me hear the children.

Sincerely,

Cindy Rudolph Barlow

P.S. If you have time to throw world peace in there as well, that would be awesome.

As I sit here staring at my Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Amazon listing, I do so all the while refreshing my browser like a lifelong gambler pulling on a slot machine handle. No triple cherries and no coins pouring forth onto the floor like an endless stream of validation.

So kids, if you are looking for me, please tell me how to play hide and seek. Until I can find my way out of the “ain’t got no feedback” paper bag, know that I’m just sitting here waiting on Santa, hoping that he REALly is all that and a bag of presents. And that he’ll deliver your thoughts to me with a big red bow.

That, or your parents see this blog post and decide to get you a Facebook account based on my plight. For that you can thank me later with a “hey, girl!” direct message and a page like. But only after I’ve asked you a billion questions about the book. And possibly five more questions after that.

Peace.


So Much to Say

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With all that has happened this past week, I feel as though a lot of people are compelled to write down their feelings; to be heard. Everyone has so much to say. We used to talk to one another at the local diner, or on our way through the grocery store aisles, or even via a quick chat with the neighbor as we went out to get the mail. Nowadays, it seems as though the bulk of the talking is done in writing via blogs, social media posts, feed updates, comment sections, and the like. Much like I am doing right now. I have a lot to say, so I write while you read. Then I’ll read what you write. And so it goes as huge amounts of information enter our brains unfiltered, going around and around until we process how we feel about any given subject…or get overwhelmed.

Last week, two bombs tore a rift in a 117 year old tradition, compelling people to run in to help those who could not run away; a fertilizer plant explosion shook Mother Earth in Richter scale proportions a few days before Earth Day; a man formerly known as an Elvis-impersonator sent ricin-laced letters to elected officials, while elected officials chose not to listen to the majority of the people who elected them and instead chose to vote down background checks for gun applicants.

On these subjects and more, everyone has something to say. Including me, it seems. Why do we crave so much information? Why do some type for hours until their fingers are numb, while others read every word until their eyes are bloodshot? I think we have so much to say simply because we can. It is the beauty of our liberty here in America to be able to speak and read freely. Open dialogue is a gift not to be taken lightly because it connects us. Language is what elevates us as humans. It is what forms everything from marriage proposals to ideologies. Words can be painful, happy, drive one to kill, save a life, or command a dog to sit. They are in one word – impressive.

It is when words are used in a technological vacuum that they lose their true meaning and become distorted – to the point where we have nothing important to say or have any value to add anymore. Similarly, when we are no longer able to speak face-to-face with our neighbor and learn about them – truly hear what they have to say through their accompanying facial expressions and mannerisms, that the personal connection language makes is relegated to lines of type preceded by a blinking cursor.

The irony of me typing this is not lost on me. However, I do invite you to now go out and talk to a human being face-to-face about the events of this past week. Listen to what they have to say, impart your thoughts upon them, and walk away knowing you made a made a connection because you not only heard their words, but you saw their tears.

Many in-person bonds were made through the tragedies of last week. A runner who stopped to comfort a wounded stranger, a nurse who held the hand of a dying women whose name he did not know, or a couple who stopped to bequeath a well-deserved medal on a young woman who was robbed of her personal victory. Few words were spoken, yet they had so much to say. It was their actions that spoke volumes.

In closing, I invite you to always follow this golden rule whether online or in person, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Peace.