Let Them Eat Cake — Conveniently!

I’ve written on here just a little about my experiences selling Pampered Chef, but it hadn’t occurred to me to actually write about Pampered Chef products until I saw in my search stats that people were coming to my blog looking for that sort of info.

So I hope you’ll pardon me if I indulge myself slightly writing about what is almost certainly my favorite Pampered Chef product so far — the Round Covered Baker.

The Round Covered Baker is a new product, a smaller (and cheaper) version of a Pampered Chef classic, the Deep Covered Baker, which was one of the first PC products I ever heard about. The person who was showing it to me called it “the magic pot.” You can use it in the microwave, freezer and oven, and in the microwave, the results are basically like oven baking at microwave speeds, which is sort of awesome. With it, you can microwave casseroles, cakes, chicken breasts, and on and on.

The Deep Covered Baker is a little on the pricier end of the Pampered Chef spectrum, and a little large for my needs, so while it was definitely on my eventual “to get” list, it wasn’t at the top.

And then, earlier this year, I went to the Pampered Chef Spring Launch event in Atlanta, where they revealed the new products being released for spring. And, yeah, there was some cool stuff — I will be obtaining the french fry cutter and the brownie pan post haste. But, for me, the highlight was, without question, the Round Covered Baker. And, better yet, because I’d hosted two shows in December, I was going to be getting one for free. I’ll be honest with you — as much as I’m enjoying Pampered Chef, I had no idea how excited I could get about a PC conference, but, yeah, at that point, I was a happy happy man.

Around the same time, I came across a recipe that I’d seen before, but was much more interested in this time. The recipe was for a “Soda Can Cake,” and it goes like this — you take a box of cake mix. You take a can of soda. You pour the soda into the cake mix. You beat them together, and then bake it. No eggs, no anything. Just cake mix and soda. And you get to pick what kind of cake mix and soda you want to use, with any number of fun variations possible. Just playing with orange soda, I’ve made tasty combinations with chocolate and vanilla cake mixes.

Mix that recipe with the round covered baker, and making a cake becomes crazy easy. I can go from start to finish making a cake in 10 minutes. I’ve finished supper, decided that I wanted dessert, and in no time at all, been eating a freshly baked cake. And that’s just kind of cool.

It’s not the only reason to buy one of the covered bakers, and probably not even the best. But, for me, it’s plenty of reason enough.

Better Than A Bad Book

Quite a while back, in one of the more-read posts on my blog, I wrote about my conflicted thoughts about e-book readers.

Since then, I’ve drifted, if a bit ironically, even further into the anti-eReader camp. I fear the consequences of a diminishment of printed reading matter.

But …

Even more recently, I’ve come into use of a Kindle. I was dubious when it was first loaned to me. What am I going to do with it? I’m not going to buy books for it; I’d sooner buy them in print. It came pre-loaded with some books, but, again, I think I’d prefer to read from my waiting collection of to-read books.

However, the initial answer quickly presented itself. Another friend had loaned me  a couple of books to read. They were older, public domain books, and had apparently been out of print before a company decided to make them available in print again. And, to be gracious, they were ugly. The page layout was sloppy, and as a result, the books were unpleasant to read to the point that it was affecting my enjoyment of the actual content.

So I looked on the Kindle store, and there they were. Since they were public domain, there they were for free. So, yeah, sure, I’ll give that a shot.

And the formatting options on the Kindle, disconnected from the limitations and advantages of the printed page, meant that I could make the text agreeable to read. Which was a real step up from the printed versions that I had been reading.

So, the war is far from over, but the Kindle won its first battle for my approval.

I’m not ready yet to say that the Kindle is great, but I will at least grant at this point that it is better than a bad book.

The Other Side Of The Window

If, a couple of weeks ago, you had asked me to list activities I enjoy, I’m not sure that I would have thought to put “breathing” on the list.

But, you know, I do enjoy breathing. Like, a lot.

A couple of weeks ago, I went scuba diving. This was another of my Living Social adventures; I got a half-price deal on an introductory scuba class, complete with a brief dive. The class was uneventful. The dive was … interesting.

The class and dive were through Better Diver in Madison, Ala., and I cannot speak highly enough of how professionally everything was handled.

The dive was at the tank at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, where it’s used for Space Camp. NASA uses large water tanks for astronaut training — the underwater buoyancy simulates the weightless conditions of space. I’ve seen the tank many a time, peeking in through the side window at divers inside. It was a neat experience actually going into one of the few Space Camp facilities I’d seen many times but never used first-hand.

So, like I said, the big take-away of the experience for me — I like breathing.

It was amazing how complex the process of breathing was for me. Remembering how to breathe in, how to breathe out, how to exhale into the mask to clear out water. For quite a while, I didn’t think I would be able to do it. We had a brief orientation on a platform at the top of the tank before the dive proper, and I kept having to surface. For quite a while, I thought I would be unable to actually get to the point where I would have the confidence to go all the way under. (In my defense, I have mild issues with breathing. Like many things I do, I do it fine, just a bit off-nominally.) Even after I finally got it relatively mastered, I was still aware of breathing the whole time I was under. For the last part of the time, my attention was largely focused on how much I was looking forward to surfacing and breathing real fresh air that wasn’t out of a can.

Beyond that — I still stink at non-Earth-standard gravitational regimes. The high-bouyancy environment was interesting. I slam-dunked a bowling ball, which I can’t usually do. I tend to demonstrate fairly two-dimensional thinking. My head usually stayed pretty much vertically above my feet.

It was cool that it was in the Space Camp tank, since it meant that there was a space connection and flavor to the dive. I got to try out the spacecraft equipment simulator, which was fun.

I don’t know that it’s something that I’m in any great hurry to do again, but it’s definitely something that I’m glad that I did, definitely an experience that I’m glad that I have.

And, if nothing else, it was worth every time to look through that window, finally, from the other side.

Radio Song

(From a Plinky.com prompt: “Do you ever listen to the radio anymore?”

Car Radio

Ah, radio. My old friend. We do have our moments, don’t we?

I tend to go through phases with radio. At times, I listen relatively frequently. Other times, I don’t listen at all.

My relationship with radio at this point is centered entirely around my car. I do not remember the last time I turned on the radio in my house. If the radio’s on, I’m driving. That’s all there is to it.

But even then, it varies from time to time. For the longest time, I had two or three radio stations that I listened to regularly. If I was in the mood for country or contemporary Christian, I was probably listening to the radio. If I wasn’t, I wasn’t.

In cars past, a lot of my driving time was spent listening to the iPod. My current car, unfortunately, was made in an unfortunate point for iPod-listening — too new to have a tape deck for an adapter, too old to have an audio input line to hook up to. I can listen to my iPod, but I have to do so through a radio transmitter, and that requires enough set-up time to be a commitment.

Which means, in this car, the choices are radio or CD, and that gets into a mood thing. The CDs are a known quantity. If I’m in the mood for one, I listen to it. If I’m not, I don’t.

The latest development in my love/apathy relationship with radio is the launch of Journey 93.3.

Back when I was in high school, 93.3 was one of the two leading rock/pop stations, and I listened to it frequently. Then it became the Possum, and at the time I had no interest in country, so it dropped off the dial as far as I was concerned. By a few years ago, it had changed a time or two since, and was a different country station, the Wolf. I was listening to country then, so I listened to 93.3.

And then, one day, I turned on the radio, and they were playing songs that had no place on the Wolf. The first one I thought was a fluke, but after the third one, I realized 93.3 had changed formats yet again.

Now, it’s what once would have been called a classic rock or oldies station, playing stuff that’s 10-30 years old.

Meaning that 93.3 is once again playing a lot of the same music it did when I was in high school. And, embracing the fact that I’m apparently officially old, I’m listening to it now just as happily as I did then.

Powered by Plinky

Regular Richie Feature

My friend Richie enjoys seeing the search strings that led people to my blog, so every so often I post them for him. Here are some of the highlights from searches from the last month or so:

  • my 1st prom qoutes
  • my first day at the piggly wiggly
  • we were having a wonderful time suddenly there was an earth_shaking crach
  • falling cameraman
  • texting and driving
  • worst high school photos ever
  • children river baptism
  • turtles in space with soyuz 20
  • humorous story about nurture
  • sometimes he does lori mckenna on a cd?
  • my blogs on drug trafficking intext about me

Signals From Tranquility Base

In my defense, I have been blogging.

Oh, sure, up until Sunday, I hadn’t written on here in over two months, which is shameful, and I’m trying to do better.

But even thought I hadn’t been blogging here, I was still writing regular blog posts. You should read them. (And, hey, if I disappear again, you’ll know where to go to get that fix I know you’ll be wanting.)

Back before the beginning of the year, the social media manager at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center asked me if I would consider including in my volunteer work writing posts for the official USSRC blog. For the time being, that’s evolved from me being a blogger for the center to being the blogger for the center.

The results are online at Signals From Tranquility Base.

I was tasked with writing about artifacts in the museum’s collection, and I decided to write it using a “This Week In Space History” approach. Each week, I pick an event marking an anniversary, and tie it to an artifact in at the museum.

The fun part, though, is the stories. I try and find a different angle each time for the posts, making it a little bit more than just-the-facts.

I’m enjoying it. It’s been too long since I’ve written space stories on a regular basis, and I’ve missed it. After nine years at NASA, there are a lot of stories stuck in my head, and it makes me very happy to be able to share them again, to be able to tell them for such a good purpose.

And, you know, they really are some good stories.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Never The Same Song Twice

I knew Lori McKenna was going to be playing Nashville.

And, in case I haven’t mentioned it recently enough, I like the Lori McKenna. (And so should you.)

She played three dates there not that long ago, and I hated that I couldn’t go. There was a Friday night show at the Bluebird Cafe, much like the one I went to last year, but I was volunteering at the Space & Rocket Center. A little later, she was doing two more dates, but they were in the middle of the week.

But some things are worth doing. The latter of the two shows wasn’t going to work, but tickets to the other were only $5, so Rebecca and I headed up to Nashville.

The concert was actually a benefit event featuring several songwriters. Like, a lot of songwriters. I think we listened to like 15 other artists before Lori took the stage, each performing maybe three songs. Some of them, I plan to follow up on.

Lori wrapped up the show with two other songwriters, and it was an interesting performance. I’ve seen her live twice before, and each time it was what you would expect from an artist in concert — a mix of material from her latest album, some better known songs and some new unreleased songs.

This show, however, was nothing like that.

Lori was in Nashville because she’d been writing songs with the other two women, and they just showed off the songs they’d been writing. Lori sang only one song that had existed a week earlier, and even that was new since her last album.

While she’s a brilliant songwriter in her own right, she’s probably better “known” by the general public for songs she’s written for artists like Faith Hill, Sara Evans and Mandy Moore, among others. Some of those were very much Lori McKenna songs, others were songs that were very much written to sell.

From the comments made that night, these songs were very much the latter. And, barring her next album being very different from its predecessors, that would make since. Even though Lori was involved in their inception, these weren’t what I traditionally think of as Lori McKenna songs.

But, you know, that’s OK. Frankly, I would be first in line to buy an album of Lori doing this material. She’s a brilliant songwriter, but she also has an amazing voice. It was all kinds of awesome hearing her perform the songs.

It was also delightfully random. I hadn’t planned on going to the show, and, when I decided to at the last minute, I thought I was going to see the sort of Lori McKenna show I’d seen twice before. Instead, I saw her doing songs that she may never sing again. If I’d not gotten on the road, I may never have heard them in her amazing voice. I was glad I went, and I was glad I got to be there for them.

Which isn’t to say I don’t hope I get to hear her sing them again.

Cooking Is My Business

I’m official.

I mentioned, briefly, in one of the last blog posts I wrote on here before dropping off the face of the Earth, that I’d started selling Pampered Chef.

My mom suggested it. I’ve been trying to find any and all opportunities to make money, so I was talking to my mom one day, and the conversation went something like this:

“I don’t know if you would consider this, but …”
“Yes, yes, I would.” I don’t need to know what it is, I’ll at least consider it.

She told me a friend of hers was a Pampered Chef director, and had thought I might be interested. As it happened, a friend of mine the next day was holding a direct-sales marketing event, with representatives from several companies. I went to talk to people to see if there was a company that would be a good fit. Avon, for example, was ruled out pretty quickly.

I’ll skip the story of how I ended up with Pampered Chef, since that’s part of the spiel I give at parties. If you’d like to hear it, I’d love to help you host a show.

I was a bit nervous going into it. Just a little. I am traditionally so not a salesperson. Back in my newspaper days, I had to sell ads, and it was my least favorite part of the job. But this, this isn’t sales. This is just hanging out with people talking about fun toys. I never give a hard sales pitch, and thankfully I never have to.

I held my open house event in December, and then had a dry spell during the holidays before hitting my stride a bit more at the end of January. Last month, I submitted the highest sales of anyone on my team, which kind of surprised me.

I also last month qualified as an official Pampered Chef consultant.

Which means, among other things, that my Pampered Chef website is now online, for all of your Pampered Chef needs.

And, you know, I’m having fun.

I signed up as a way to make money, and, to be sure, I am, and it’s a much more enjoyable way of earning it per dollar than, say, the substitute teaching I’m also doing. But I’ve been surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. To be honest, the mental health benefits of getting to do shows is as valuable to me as the money.

I’ve also been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the toys. There are people who sign up purely as a way to get Pampered Chef items on the cheap, but that was pretty low on my list of priorities. The longer I do it, though, and the more toys I get to play with, the more it climbs on my list of benefits. I surprised myself at how excited I was to get my Round Covered Baker, and how much fun I’ve had with it since I got it.

And, for the record, I’d love to help you have fun with your own Round Covered Baker. You’ll love it, trust me.

Got Ink?

So this month, the shared topic for the Rocket City Bloggers’ “carnival” is “your favorite tool.”

It’s proven to be a challenging topic. What to write about?

Certainly, a leading contender would be my iPhone. I’ve written before about how life-changing it is — how, with it, I’m basically a cyborg.

There’s a good case to be made that I should write about one of the amazing Pampered Chef tools I sell, and, to be sure, they are pretty awesome. Or, along a similar vein, my Foreman grill, with which I produce much tastiness.

But the truth is, as hard as it is to imagine now, I’ve lived without those things.

I couldn’t imagine living without a pen.

I have at least one with me always, and have for as long as I can remember. Back when I was starting my newspaper career, not only was my iPhone unimaginable, even a cell phone was years away. But I always carried a pen.

Today, I carry three. I’ve always carried at least two, in case one died, and now added a third one for when I need a different color. The exact type has changed over the years — for a while, one was a disposable fountain pen, and another was purely dedicated to signing books. In general, I like my pens cheap enough to lose, but not too cheap to write with comfortably. A smooth rollerball is vital.

Over the years, some of my pens’ duties have been usurped. When I started college, I would compose in ink. Now, that’s almost unheard of, as the way I’ve written has changed. Today, even just simple note-taking is done on my phone far more often than scratch paper.

But ink still has a power that a digital device doesn’t. When I write a check or sign a credit card receipt, ink gives the paper the authority of my name. I could write the most moving letter I could come up with in e-mail, but there’s still something intimate and meaningful about conveying the same message in handwriting, particularly as the written word becomes more and more rare.

As a writer, it’s easy to see the pen as a totem for myself, a physical representation of my identity. But it’s more than just a symbol — whether it’s a signature on a check or a heartfelt note, ink still captures and embodies “me” in a way few things can.