Chobani Hunt

For well over a year, I’ve enjoyed almost the same breakfast daily.  Strong black coffee. Six-ounces of Vanilla Chobani Greek Yogurt topped with a quarter cup of granola.  Mid-morning I eat two Clementine oranges, a banana, or maybe some grapes. The rest of the day I work to keep a respectable calorie count with other healthy foods.  I drink only non-caloric liquids, coffee, tea, and water – lots of water. I measure and count everything.  It’s a struggle, to be sure, but it’s paid off significantly in smaller clothing sizes, and a smaller, healthier me.  The struggle has been eased because of my morning vanilla Chobani.

A healthy lifestyle is essential for writers.  So much of our time is spent sitting at the computer, recording the voices we hear, telling their tales. While in our creative zone, it’s easy to nibble on one snack after another, to have the M & M’s, Snickers, and ice cream go straight through mouth and belly to our hips.  But somehow I’ve broken that cycle.  By eating better, by walking more, I feel and am healthier.

Enter conflict.  Over the past month I’ve seen a decrease in vanilla Chobani in the stores. Fruit versions are still on the shelves – blueberry, peach, raspberry, mango, strawberry, strawberry-banana, pineapple and more. They even have honey-flavored and plain Chobani. But vanilla, my staple, has dwindled away.  The store manager told me they’re having a shortage due to rising popularity.

On Friday, I searched Chobani’s website.  No mention of any shortage there, just the same silly-cute promos and much valued nutritional data.  In the Contact form, I emailed a message.  “Where’s my vanilla Chobani?” I asked.  Then, worrier that I am, the fears set in.  What if some marketing moron had decided to discontinue it?

I decided to go on a vanilla Chobani hunt.  List of stores in hand, I braved the cold spring drizzles and got into my car.  At each store, I found the same thing…lots of fruit-flavored, just NO VANILLA.  One store posted a sign. “Due to an exceptionally high demand, we are temporarily experiencing shortages of Chobani Greek Yogurt.”  But I saw no shortage of the fruit flavors…just NO VANILLA.

So, I did what any American consumer would do.  I improvised and switched brands.  Dannon has come out with a vanilla variety of Greek Yogurt.  So has Brown Cow, and Cabot.  Prices are comparable. I bought a few of each to try.

When I returned home, I found an annoyingly cheerful email message waiting for me from Chobani.  The young woman told me that business is booming and that their teams are working 24/7 to deliver Chobani.  (I’m truly glad…great product!)  To increase the amount produced, she continued, they’ve become “creative in managing the production of flavors.”  They’re placing greater emphasis on the fruit flavors, “and have limited production on vanilla.” WHAT?  I read on.  “We anticipate refocusing on vanilla at the end of April.”

Well, there’s hope, I guess.

This morning I’ll savor the last of my vanilla Chobani. Tomorrow I’ll begin sampling my non-Chobani vanilla Greek yogurt brands.  I bought enough to last the next two weeks.

Happy and Blessed Easter to all! 

UPDATE: May 1st, 2011 – Still no sign of Vanilla Chobani although the stores’ shelves are filled with every fruit flavor imaginable. Just no vanilla. 😦 I’m adjusting to Dannon & Cabot.  They’re different, but not bad. – DM

UPDATE #2: May 5th, 2011 – Vanilla Chobani returns to eastern Pennsylvania!  🙂

UPDATE #3: September 23rd, 2012 – Vanilla Chobani (and Honey, too) have once again disappeared from the stores.  Chobani – why don’t you listen? If you have to cut a flavor, why Vanilla?  Oikos has come down to a manageable price, and store brands are just as tasty.  At this point I have no problem switching brands.

NJRW Chapter Meeting & Why I Belong

The New Jersey Romance Writers met Saturday, March 19, at the Hilton Woodbridge in Iselin, NJ. At the General Meeting, President Shirley Hailstock and NJRW’s Board updated members on the group’s finances, the new website, upcoming events including April’s Special Event, planning for October’s Put Your Heart in a Book conference, and the status of NJRW’s writing contests.  Hospitality Chair Val Luna handed out Hershey’s Kisses for those who submitted manuscripts since last month, Hershey’s Hugs for rejections, and a sprig of flowers for recipients of good news.  The Heartline Herald editor, Joan Raleigh, asked for member volunteers to write articles for the newsletter.  Volunteers are always needed and it is a great way to network.

Author Terri Brisbin

Member Kathye Thornton shared information about CTRWA’s upcoming Connecticut Fiction Fest 2011 on May 14 in North Haven, CT.  Keynote Speaker is Eloisa James.  Those attending will have the opportunity to pitch their books to acquiring editors and agents.  Noted authors will present workshops on a variety of topics.  All for only $99. Side note: I’ve learned Kathye has two how-to e-books (pdf) of interest – MS Word 2007 for Writers and also a guide for earlier Word versions.  Useful!

Member Terri Brisbin provided an update on NJRW’s exhibit at the NAIBA tradeshow to be held September 21-22 in Atlantic City.  NJRW will invite our published authors to man booths to sign their current releases and network independent booksellers.  The goal of our involvement is to promote the romance genre and provide information about local authors to the booksellers.

After the General Meeting and a short break, this months’ three featured authors presented their latest books then held a short book signing.  Included were Authors Terri Brisbin –  HIS ENEMY’S DAUGHTER, Shirley HailstockSOME LIKE THEM RICH, and Renee RyanDANGEROUS ALLIES.

Guest Speaker Renee Ryan

The monthly program featured author Renee Ryan who spoke on The Art of Layering: From First Draft to Final Manuscript. She began by stating that she received 187 rejection letters before selling her first book.  She kept them all.  She entered multiple contests and studied the craft of writing. After her first sale it would be nearly seven years before her next.  During that time she went back to studying craft and discovered the art of layering.  She said if we take away only one thing from her talk, we should remember “the one thing you control is your craft.”

Ms. Ryan discussed her eight-step process in layering.  Step One is to write a first draft.  After that, using examples from her work, she showed how to layer each scene with movement, senses, dialogue, emotion, and so on.  Layering makes the scene come alive.  It allows an author to show, not tell.  It allows for deep point of view letting the reader feel she is deep in the mind of the character.

NJRW President Shirley Hailstock

She also provided helpful tips, answering questions such as “What do I do if a scene isn’t working?” (Use highlighters to color code dialogue, emotion, etc.) and “How can I write what a tornado feels like if I’ve never been in one?”  (Watch You Tube!).

Sensational workshop, dynamic speaker!

News Flash…Renee Ryan chaired the RWA Workshop committee for RWA National in NYC this year.  Click here for the amazing line-up of workshops to be presented.

Following a pleasant lunch with our fellow writers down in the hotel’s restaurant, we went back upstairs where we broke into two groups. NJRW’s published authors met for a monthly Published Authors session.  President Shirley Hailstock led a useful Hands-On session for those not yet published.  Writers brought the first 250 words of their manuscripts for a fascinating and very helpful discussion about opening lines.

Simply one meeting, free and available monthly to members of NJRW.  One hand reaching forward, one hand reaching back – writers helping writers. It’s what RWA is all about.

A Simple Christmas

Christmas is coming. To prepare, I hung this year’s evergreen wreath on our door and on my Facebook page.  🙂   Here it is for you to see, along with my greeting for the season.

Merry Christmas to All!

For us, the season will be simple.  Not just because we traveled overseas in October, or because we have repairs scheduled for our aging house.  It will be simple because we believe Christmas shines brightest when celebrated simply.

Oh, we honor our traditions.  Just after Thanksgiving, we drive north to a tree farm in the foothills of the Poconos.  Inside the barn-type shop we share a cup of hot cocoa then examine every wreath displayed before deciding.  Do we want large or small this year?  A gold ribbon?  Plaid?  Brilliant Red?  Pine cones or gold balls?  Silly perhaps, but it’s become a tradition to look, consider, contemplate, and discuss.

The wreath is important.  It’s one of the few outward displays of Christmas in our home.   We keep things simple — the wreath, a fake (but life-like) tree,  stockings hung by the chimney, and some background Christmas music while I bake.  That’s about it.  We do celebrate plenty on Christmas Day, but that’s for a later post.

This year, as I’m again immersed into a daily writing routine, I’m grateful to limit shopping time, and much of that online.  With our children grown, home is quieter than in years past.  (A bittersweet thought.  I do miss the bustle of three young boys.)  I’m limiting what is done to what must be done.  Simple.

My characters’ conversations now buzz in my mind.   For me keeping the season simple gives me more time to write it all down. 

Cooking Trout

When I first dreamed of writing a novel, in those early days before I understood the enormity of the task, I attended a small writers’ conference.   My first.  It was an all-day event at a local university.  The focus of workshops ran the spectrum from literary writing to genre, from non-fiction to poetry.  Topics, too, varied broadly but I only remember one with any degree of detail.

Our speaker on editing was a freelance writer who mainly sold articles to a highly popular food magazine.  troutAfter a brief introduction, she placed a transparency on the glass plate of the overhead and projected it on to the screen.  The typewritten article, one she had sold for a nice sum, was about cooking trout.

We sat in a large, sunny room in seats too far from the blurry screen.  Timidly, I sat in the last row, so far back that I couldn’t see the words.  But I saw the format.  It was the closest I’d been to a behind-the-scenes look at an article for publication and my blood raced.

The writer read a few lines aloud then talked about her opening.  I can still hear her jittery voice.  Obviously, she was more comfortable at her desk tapping typewriter keys than in front of fifty or so aspiring writers.  Still, with a great deal of grit, she guided us through the article.

She wasn’t happy with her preliminary opening, she said.  It didn’t have the strength, the power she wanted.  She put up another transparency.  I squinted.  Dark lines slashed through many of the words of her original version. “Weak words,’ she said, and replaced them.

Over the next hour, she dissected the first then the second draft of her article, showing just how she edited, explaining every change made, and why.

Perhaps, with all that article dissection, I should have learned how to cook trout. Instead, I learned to cook words and to understand the meaning of edit.

A well-written story, fiction or non, isn’t just written.  Words must often be hand-picked and their placement well-planned.  The writer must carefully craft the story so that it leads the reader on a journey.  The journey may lead to a place of happily ever after, or to a plate of succulent trout.

It was a strong realization for one aspiring writer.

RWA National – Friday, July 17

Saturated.  That’s how I feel.   RWA National has that effect. There was just so much happening, every hour.   Long drive home, and work today . . . and all I want to do now is write.   So here are some pictures and captions of a few Friday events.   Doesn’t the old cliché tell us that one picture is worth a thousand words?  (Please click photos for important links.)

Jennifer Bray-Weber at the Hearts Through History Breakfast on Friday.

Jennifer Bray-Weber at the Hearts Through History breakfast & the chapter's AGM on Friday.

Meagan Hatfield at Hearts Through History breakfast and AGM.  She just sold DRAGON FIRE to Harlequin Silhouette Nocturne.

Meagan Hatfield at Hearts Through History breakfast and AGM. Meagan just sold DRAGON FIRE to Harlequin Silhouette Nocturne.

Michele Young, w/a Ann Lethbridge at the Hearts Through History meeting.

Michele Young, also writing as Ann Lethbridge, at the Hearts Through History breakfast. It was a great morning. So nice to meet and celebrate successes!

One of many workshops I attended Friday.

One of many workshops I attended Friday.

Overview of the lobby bar, mid-day.

Overview of the lobby bar, mid-day.

The Chart House in Old Alexandria, along the river.  Great seafood!

The Chart House in Old Alexandria, along the river. Great seafood, and wonderful company!

More to come!

Twilight Zone

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into…the Twilight Zone.” ~ Rod Serling

From a young age, I was a fan. After bedtime, I’d sneak onto the top of the night stairs and sit in silence as Twilight Zoneolder family members watched the program below on our black and white TV.  Down the hall in our shared bedroom, my younger sister slept.  But in the darkness of that stairwell I sat entranced by Rod Serling’s hypnotic voice as he introduced the latest episode.

There was magic in the stories.  In later years I’d grow to appreciate the scripts with their social commentary.  But at age 8 or 9 there was only the wonder of ordinary people being thrown into extraordinary circumstances.   Along with the fairy tales Mom once read aloud, The Twilight Zone best revealed to my young mind the miraculous art of storytelling.

For years now, I’ve struggled with invisible demons.  What has kept me from publishing?  DoorI want my stories to be bound into books, to be read and enjoyed.  I believe I have it in me to succeed.  Yet, like an actor who fears the stage, just when I’m close I step away.  Is it fear?  Fear of the bogeymen that hide in the forest of publishing?  Am I afraid of the doorway I must enter?

Last month I flew home to visit family, and to attend a conference.  While there I talked in depth with my little sister, the one who once slept through The Twilight Zone.  (Just as well; she was only 3 or 4 at the time.  :wink:)  I also talked with a dear friend, a fellow writer who has gone forward, even as I’ve held back.  Both of them chewed me out and both, like others before them, encouraged.

Soon after my flight home, I saw that for a long while I’ve been unhappy with what I’ve been trying to write.  To publish I must change, wholeheartedly and without reservation.  To rediscover the excitement I once knew, I must cross into another dimension, one that calls to me.

My new work-in-progress is more than a new plot, new characters.  Though still technically a romance, it represents a genre change, one I read but have never attempted to write.   Revitalized, I am writing.   And, if my courage holds, if I maintain the perseverance a published author needs, then my journey into this new dimension may mean success. 

Common Craft

The world spins, ever faster. New uses for the computer pop up quicker than I can process.   What is podcasting?  RSS code?  I sort of understand Twitter, but is it useful?  What is a Wiki?  And, while we’re at it, how does the World Wide Web really work?

Enter Common Craft, a delightfully interesting company owned by Lee and Sachi LeFever in Seattle, Washington, USA. They explain things.  Lee founded Common Craft in 2003 as an online community consulting company.  They began making videos in 2007, their first – RSS in Plain English.  Using paper cut-outs, they teach the raw basics of technology, money, and society.  A most helpful source.

So, what is the World Wide Web?   Here’s Lee LeFever’s explanation.  (Click in center to start video. Be sure to turn up your volume.)

As writers, we research.  We need easy-to-understand sources that can quickly teach us a little bit about a lot of things.  To that end, we scour children’s reference books and search travel blogs.  We attend retreats and conferences, and interview detectives.  We peruse websites for valuable links.

But along with needed background information on specific topics, how can we learn a little about the technology available, without spending excessive hours of valuable writing time?   Common Craft’s technology videos give quick explanations about new tools.

Search Common Craft’s website or on You Tube for other simple videos.   And, if you need a laugh and don’t mind a bit of gore, blood not Al, check out their Zombies in Plain English.  It’s a hoot!