Wednesday, September 26, 2012

That Awkward Moment When You Realize You're a Strange Cookie

I spend more time thinking about my image than I probably should. Pinterest boards dedicated to the perfect hair color or cut.

I am on a personal mission to correct a lifetime of scoliosis-induced bad posture. Every time I walk by a reflective surface, I look at myself and realign my spine.

I take the nonverbal communication of fashion and style very seriously.

I hope to come across as smart, sophisticated, approachable, and fun.

But then, there are moments that shove a mirror in front of my face and say, "Seriously, think you're sophisticated? Bwahahahaha!!!"

Like yesterday when I got my birthday card from work. (For reference my birthday isn't for another 26 days, but my company doles out all the October birthday cards at once.)

Reading through my coworkers' birthday wishes, I saw myself they way they see me.

I'm the girl with the ghost cat. The girl who has to be reminded to drink water once every four days. The girl who ate cat treats for a dollar. The girl who plays online role-playing video games, and even played Dungeons and Dragons (once!!). The girl who learned how to write Elvish. The girl with Celtic instrumental music and Paris Hilton in my iTunes library. The girl who is lucky to get through a meal with only spilling twice.

Yeah...that's me.

I am kind of a weirdo. At least I know it, right?

Ever have a moment like that?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Give-Away Winners

The winner's from last week's give-away are....{drumroll}....

The Amazon gift card goes to Jamie Boyd.

The Muppets Treasure Island DVD goes to Dust & Kam.

The Princess Bride e-book goes to Shawn and Teresa Nilsson. 

And the free copy of Oceanswept goes to Melanie Cruz. 

Congrats to the winners and thank you to everyone who participated. Winners, I'll email you today or tomorrow - check your junk mail.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

4 Month Old Noelle

24 inches tall - 20th percentile
14 lbs 2 oz - just under 50th percentile
43 cm head - 90th percentile

She is laughing, kicking, reaching for toys, and cooing like crazy. She has rolled over twice. Eating 5-6 ounces at a time - sleeping about 6 hours straight. Maybe someday we will get a solid night's rest again. We love this dolly!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yo, Ho, Ho! Thar Be Treasure Here! Giveaways and Freebies!

Avast! 'Tis the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day. In fact, 'tis the ten year anniversary. That be worth celebratin', me thinks.

First, educate yerself on how to talk like a pirate. This video be quite the rib tickler!

Then enter me give-away for a chance to win your share of this booty!

$10 Amazon gift card

Muppets Treasure Island DVD

The Princess Bride by William Goldman [Kindle Edition] 
(This is an ebook from Amazon. You will need a Kindle or a Kindle app on a smart phone, tablet, etc. to enjoy this gift.)

Free copy of Oceanswept by yours truly. It is an e-book and I will distribute it as a PDF which can be read on an e-reader or any ol' computer. 

How do ye enter? 

Leave a comment on this here blog with yer pirate name and email address so I can contact the winner. Use this link for help generating yer name if you'd rather not make up your own. And don't be shy about which gift you be wanting and yer name will be entered once for that piece of booty.

For additional entries, do any or all of the following and leave me an ADDITIONAL comment for each lettin' me know ye be enterin' again.

* Follow this blog
* Follow me on Twitter @LaraHaysZierke
* Tweet about this give-away and link this post (can be done once a day for multiple entries)
* Like the page Lara Hays on Facebook (different than being my FB friend - it is me author page)
* Share the link to this blog post on Facebook (can be done once a day for multiple entries)

Entries be accepted through Sunday, September 23. Winners be selected at random and posted here come Monday.

So may ways to plunder the goods! Drink up, me mateys, yo ho!!!

Sincerely signed,
Carol the Cannon Grogmaster

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pirate Day Give Away!

Is it giveaway or give away? Or give-away? a writer, you'd think I would know. Alas, I'm too lazy to research. ;) Any way you look at it, I've got some freebies up for grabs!

Tomorrow is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. And since my debut novel Oceanswept has a lot to do with pirates, it's only appropriate for me to do something fun for the festivities.

I'm still coming up with a plan. Check back tomorrow for the official contest announcement.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

10 Types of Friends Everyone Needs

Friends are great. They're fun, supportive, and help you when you need them. But some are more helpful than others. Emotional support aside, here are ten people to welcome into your inner circle. 

1. The mechanic

Brakes, rotors, spark plugs, flats, this guy knows how to fix them all. His expertise (and his tool shed) can save you oodles of money. Whether a professional mechanic or an abled hobbyist, the mechanic has been the Holy Grail of friends for generations.

2. The computer guy

This friend is the mechanic of our generation. They know the best machines and the best programs - they'll help you know what to buy and where to get it for the best price. They'll install all the stuff for you so you don't have to pay the retail sales guy extra for pushing a couple buttons. If you have a virus or a speed issue, they can find that trojan and do a system defrag while watching an episode of Dr. Who with you. Keep this friend close!

3. The designer

The designer has proven to be a very helpful ally for me. Maybe not so essential for everyone else, but I wouldn't want to be without one. Baby announcements, Christmas cards, photography, family event programs, invitations, blog skins, cool wall art, and, of course, a book cover. The hourly rate of artistic services like these aren't cheap. But with the designer friend, everything you mail out or hang up will look fantastic. Plus, the designer will make you a little more stylish and fashionable by osmosis.

4. The crafter

That friend that can make anything out of anything and can do it for under $3. The Pinterest incarnate. Birthday parties will make Martha Stewart jealous. You can tackle cute, super original Halloween costumes while watching the latest Kate Hudson chick flick and for dessert, make some single serving brownies and then knock out 30 gifts for teacher appreciation at your kids' school.

5. The one who always has cash

Debit cards are pretty much all you need now days. Pretty much. But there's still that random local restaurant that only accepts cash. Luckily, you have that one random friend that always has cash. You can write her a check later after she spots you for a burger.

6. The babysitter

This friend loves kids. She is always available to watch your kids. In fact, she loves to take them. She asks to take them. For free. Score!

7. The in-law

Now, this one is dkind of rare. It doesn't happen for everyone, but when it does, it's magical. Having that in-law who just as a best friend. Someone you didn't grow up with, but is now part of the family and you couldn't be happier. And if you're an in-law too, it's nice to have another "outsider" who will sit back and laugh at family drama with you.

8. The jack-of-all trades

This guy is versatile. He can snake a drain for you or help you set up your new swing set. He's always willing to help and knows enough about everything to be useful for whatever project you have going on. He's usually the guy who sticks with you through a project's end, after everyone else has flaked out.

My brother Jordan falls into a lot of these descriptions, but I will list him as a jack-of-all trades because he is so helpful with so many things. He's willing to help us out at the drop of a hat and does way more than his share. 

9. The toy junkie

You need a new smart phone, but you're overwhelmed by the choices. Do you want a Kindle Touch or a Kindle Fire? Are Apple products really worth the premium price? Should you get a small laptop or will a cool tablet suffice? Which brand of GPS is best? This friend is an early adopter of technology. He has the latest version of every gadget and knows the pros and cons of all the options. Not only will you get great advice from the toy junkie, you'll also get to try out the gadgets before buying.

10. The shopper

Who has time to clip coupons and compare the sales fliers of seven different stores? The shopper does. And she is more than happy to share her treasures with you. Give her a few bucks and she'll buy an extra Sunday paper for you and clip all the coupons. She'll tell you when something is a really good price - and usually offer to pick it up for you because she's already going to the store. You get all the benefits of the crazy coupon lady without turning into one yourself.

What other types of friends make life easier?

We have to add an 11th friend. How could I miss this one?

11. Truck Guy

A new washing machine? Buying lumber to repair your fence? Gotta make a dump run? You need truck guy! Takes a good friend to be truck guy because he gets exploited all the time. He gets hit up for driving and hauling crap all the time, so if he's willing to do it for you, count yourself very lucky.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

From Surviving to Thriving

I don't believe there is any life on this planet that hasn't been touched by tragedy.

The kind of tragedy that threatens to destroy you. That makes you feel like you're bleeding out emotionally. You're not sure how you'll ever get to the other side of tomorrow.

Can someone recover from that kind of pain?

This Callery pear tree was planted at the original World Trade Center plaza in New York City in the 1970s. While clearing the rubble away after the attacks on 9-11, workers found this tree. It had been "decapitated" by the falling towers. All of its limbs had been severed off, leaving it as an 8 foot tall charred and smoking stump. It wasn't discovered until weeks after the attacks. During those dark days, any sign for life was a miracle. This crushed, charred, broken tree was viewed as a survivor. 

Botanists weren't sure whether it would live or die. They needed to replant it and nurture it to give it a fighting chance. The pear tree was relocated to a specially selected nursery in the Bronx. Why there? There were probably better nurseries out there. But this tree was "born and raised" in New York City; a true New Yorker. No way was it leaving the Big Apple. So it was transplanted to that special nursery on the very edge of the city where it could get fresh air, sunshine, and the TLC it needed, but still be within city limits. 

Six months later, green shoots appeared on the trunk. The tree was fighting.

In nine years, the tree grew from a charred 8 foot stub to a 30 foot giant. 

And then Hurricane Irene hit New York. 

The pear tree was completely uprooted. 

Another devastating setback to a fragile tree. 

In 2009, the pear tree, dubbed the Survivor Tree, returned to its home in lower Manhattan where it now stands at the 9-11 Memorial.

It stands amidst a sea of white oak trees. There's no plaque. No story. Only a few supports tied to the trunk and a guardrail set this tree apart from the dozens of other trees.

The tree doesn't brag. It doesn't show off. It's story isn't etched in a stone. It's simply a quiet survivor.

The tree overlooks the memorials. The names of thousands of victims. The symbolic void at the bottom of the pools. It overlooks the millions who walk in sacred sadness, a lump in their throat and tears welling in their eyes. This is the environment the pear tree lives in every day. This is the environment the pear tree thrives in every day.

It's still growing.

It survived.

It's scarred. It's gnarled. It's ugly. The bark doesn't look quite right. Odd knobs mark the "decapitation" marks of the limbs. New limbs have grown since, disproportionately small and with obviously different textured bark.

Surviving isn't easy. Enduring isn't easy. The scars remain with us, always. But despite the tragedy, the destruction, we--as survivors--do what we have always done. We press on. And before you know it, a green shoot appears. And then another.

And tragedy will likely strike again.

And probably again. And again. And again.

We break. We bend. We survive.

We're supported by those who love us. We accept the nurturing. We grow. And we blossom.

I didn't know the story of this tree until I visited the memorial last October. I saw this ugly, supported tree with flowers at its base (placed by Scandinavian royalty earlier that day). That tree has a story, I thought. I asked an employee - a grizzled old New Yorker who looked just like the hobo who lived on top of the Polar Express. We spoke with that man for probably an hour. And we heard the story of the Survivor Tree from someone who knew it and loved it.

It is what I think of now when I think about 9-11.

It's a living symbol of the capacity to endure, overcome, and thrive.

I have been in places in my life when I feel like I've been attacked, been crushed by an incomprehensible amount of destruction, been broken and uprooted, lost in darkness I thought would consume me, and damaged beyond repair.

It's part of the human experience.

And yet I've endured. One day at a time. It didn't feel like anything heroic at the time, but I look back now and see something remarkable...

I am a survivor. 

I am a thriver. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Careful the Things You Say; Children Will Listen

Last week we went to the fair.

During our quest for the greasiest, most expensive food on the planet, we were walking down the crowded midway and a young girl behind us noticed Justin carrying baby Noelle.

She innocently asked, "Daddy, am I adopted?"

He acted like the question was some kind of affront. "No! Of course not! Why in the world would you ask that?!" His words weren't necessarily harsh, but his tone was.

I had to talk Justin out of turning around and giving the man a lecture. The man didn't mean to be rude. The question took him by surprise. But he sure seemed upset that his child would ask that. The man's tone of voice clearly said I'm offended that you asked that. The between-the-lines message was Something is wrong with adoption.

His daughter is smart enough to pick up on this. After all, our nonverbal communication is far more impacting than our words. Perhaps they have a nuclear family with a biological mother, father and children. But I guarantee that the little girl has a classmate (or several) whose family looks a little bit different. Single parents, step parents, adopted by step parents, raised by grandparents, homosexual parents, cohabitating parents, step parent adoption, step siblings, traditional adoption, you name it. That little girl knows someone with a family that is different than hers.

And she was just told that something is wrong with that.

Plus my daughter--who is very proud of the fact that she is adopted--was exposed to the derision in this man's voice. Joci didn't look at me with confusion and hurt in her eyes and ask, "Mommy, is it bad to be adopted?" I hope that the reason she didn't say anything was because she didn't hear the man, not because she felt shamed into silence.

I am not sure why the man didn't respond to his daughter a little more diplomatically. "No, honey, you weren't adopted. Why do you ask?"

Careful the things you say; children will listen.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ship Naming, Round 2

Thank you to everyone who voted in round 1.

I still can't decide so I need a round 2! :)

I've taken the top results from round 1 and added a few new options.

One concern I have---one of my word nerd friends pointed out that a couple of my favorite name options weren't actually words in the early 1700s. Since this is a historical novel, shouldn't I try to be generally historically accurate? Should I disqualify words that didn't exist in the 1700s? Does it matter? Most readers probably don't have an etymology book open as they read. Will people care?


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Am I Vain, Courageous, or Stupid?

(This is kind of a therapeutic, rambling, gratuitous, justification-ridden diatribe. Feel free to ignore this post.)

Remember how I wrote a book?

Remember how I decided to e-publish it directly without a traditional print publisher?

Remember how I had daily panic attics about it?

What? You don't remember that third thing?

Let me tell you about it.

Five years ago, I wrote a novel. It's been shelved and dusted off and shelved again numerous times. Last spring, I decided that with the market growth in e-publishing, that I would go that route and give my book a chance to live. Who knows - maybe it will die a swift and painful death. Maybe it will hobble along like a knobby kneed grandmother with Alzheimer's who doesn't really know her purpose. Maybe it will find a tribe of followers and soar.

I figure my book deserves that Darwinian opportunity.

I have always wanted to be a novelist. Blame Jo March/Louisa May Alcott. So I wrote Oceanswept. I am biased, I know, but I think it's decent.

But after five years, I got tired of someone else...someone who hasn't even read my book...someone who hasn't even read more than a three paragraph letter describing by book telling me, "No." Telling me, "You can't." Telling me, "It's not good enough. You're not good enough."

And, dammit, I got tired of that. One person. One paragraph. One rejection. All of it holding me back. It didn't seem fair. How many geniuses turned away J.K. Rowling before someone took a chance? (I am NO J.K. Rowling). And grammy-winning music artists - many of those artists were turned away by numerous recording companies before making it big. Just because a scout (or thirty) say you're not good enough does not make it so.

I was tired of someone else holding me back. If I am going to be held back, if I am going to fail, I want it to be of my own doing.

So I have decided to e-publish.

Does that make me courageous?

I think so. It would be so much easier to hide behind my rejection letters. Heck, it would be so much easier to have never even written the book. At my thirty year high school reunion, someone would ask me, "Hey! Didn't you always want to write a book?" And then I would say, "Oh, yeah. The dreams of youth. I had kids and a successful career as a copywriter, though. Things are good! What have you been up to?"

So I feel courageous because I am courting failure. You know that saying about how you miss 100% of the shots you don't take? It's true...but somehow the idea of never taking a shot is less nauseating than taking those shots and never sinking a single one.

Does e-publishing make me vain?

I worry about that. Why do I believe in my characters, my book, and my own abilities so much? If no literary agents could see potential, then maybe it's not there. Am I too self-involved to take a hint?

As a professional copywriter, I work with other great writers every day. They are following my e-publishing adventures with interest. In some ways, I think they are seeing if it's a path they could follow. In other ways, they probably think I am trying too hard. I don't know. They are supportive though. But I don't want them to read my book. Is that crazy? As friends, I am sure they would purchase the book out of support. But I am more terrified of their rejection than some strangers. The idea of colleagues I know and respect (who are NOT the intended target audience) reading my book and judging me terrifies me.

When I write something at work that doesn't go over well, I can blame it on the business. The strategic team told me to write this. This is the product we're selling, I can't help it if it's lame. Whatever. I can pass the blame. But this novel is all me. So scary.

Ugh. These thoughts plague me daily. They make me want to retract all my efforts and pretend this never happened. They make me want to sit on the sidelines and not take any shots at all than risk looking like an idiot with zero game.

I am pushing forward though. I have a couple of powerful cheerleaders who are in my corner, rooting for me to win. I couldn't do it without you. You know who you are.

A few quotes have really sung to me lately, given me the gumption (stupidity?) to see this through. (Sorry for lack of attrition. Most of these are from Pinterest and we know how that goes.)

Stop Wishing. Start Doing. 

Yes. I am done wishing and I am doing. Sink or swim, it's now up to me.

The more you love your decisions, the less you need others to love them. 

It's taken me five years to get to this point, but I finally think that's why I am able to risk the embarrassment, risk the failure, and push forward.

Some succeed because they are destined to. Most succeed because they are determined to.
 - Henry Van Doyle 

So true. The past five years has not only seen me honing my craft, but also my determination. I am proud of that. I am a fairly weak person. A pushover. I am actually quite proud of where I am right now with this. 

There are only two questions in life: what do you want and how bad do you want it?
- Keith Akre

I want to be a novelist. I want it badly enough to have spent countless hours writing a book. I have given up watching television at night. I have given up precious time with my family. I have given up on sleep and let Nighttime Lara take over my life. I want it bad enough to risk a total face flop and make my dream come true any way I know how. 

At any given moment, you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.

And that's what I am doing right now. I am ignoring that folder of rejection emails. I am ignoring the haters and the doubters. My story ends not with a shelved manuscript and dust-encrusted dreams. 

It ends with a novel.


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