Monday, May 19, 2008

(some of) what i did this weekend, or, why i won't ever eat cupcakes again

this weekend i was part of a "celebrity" judging panel at the first ever LA Cupcake Challenge. it was part of an event hosted by the CozmoDeck folks, held in Hollywood at the Montmartre Lounge. with me on the panel were some great folks, including Pat Saperstein of EatingLA, Tara de Lis from Citysearch, Tara from When Tara Met Blog, Sophie Gayot, and Sam Rubin of KTLA (my morning news channel, sweet!). i went to the event with Elise from LAist (and her own foodie blog, Kiki Maraschino) and Caroline on Crack (who was also a judge).

so you'd think getting to eat a whole bunch of cupcakes and pick which one was the best would be fun, and kind of easy, right?


there were about 30 varieties of cupcakes for us to try, and we had to try all of them (i'll confess i think i turned down two of them because they arrived at our table just as sugary bile was rising in my throat--gross but true). unfortunately we were stuck at a low table in the midst of the festivities, which was hard on us (hard to write notes, hard to keep leaning over, etc) and hard on the event attendees, because they couldn't figure out why they couldn't sit down on a corner of a couch or a chair in our seating area. we wished we were at a regular height table, in a more secluded and well-lit spot, and we wished that instead of plopping down trays of full-sized and uncut cupcakes that they'd pre-cut a sample for us individually. this is not to sound princessy, but, seriously, our table was by far, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the filthiest, messiest, grossest spot in the place. we were given about 4 knives to cut our own, only the plates the cupcakes came on, and no forks. that meant by the time we left (oh, close to 3 hours after we began) i could say with ease: "lick me. i'm covered in frosting." it was all kind of unsanitary and contributed to the overwhelming "too much"-ness of the whole thing.

tasting 30 cupcakes is a lot harder than you'd imagine. i'm a girl who likes to eat, but halfway through i was looking at the servers kind of slanty-eyed and weary. "more?" we groaned. i wished maybe each vendor could submit only one kind, not however many they had (there were only 13 vendors). one category, "traditional," was for vanilla, chocolate, and red velvet, and yet... no one submitted a vanilla cupcake. honestly, by the last few, a lot of it just tasted like sugar, unless yours was one that was particularly chemical or dry, then i could at least make a face and say "!" (my frosting covered notes are pretty funny, like "#18: GROSS! NO!") i totally stole sam rubin's judging style (and borrowed a page out of my other job's notebook) and just gave each cupcake a grade, like a, b+, c-, and so on.

in the end we had individual ballots (yellow for the "official" judges, white ballots for the every day folk, who were mostly pretty people who got to eat what they wanted when they wanted and who got to wander around and interact with the event) and who knows who will come out on top.

needless to say, i have taken what i consider the cupcake "cure." i just want to eat protein and veggies indefinitely. i brought some cupcakes home (some out of the gazillion elise hijacked to take to the LAist BBQ that we three cupcake gals went to afterwards) but suspect i'll foist them onto the housemates and the darling boy. that key lime one--the one i couldn't bear to taste as a judge because i thought i might barf up frosting on the spot--might have to go in the freezer and not come out for a good six to eight months.

for my co-judge Caroline on Crack's take on the event (plus an amazing set of photos) check out her blog. Pat's write up is here.


Friday, May 16, 2008

good night and good luck

this was on the teevee the other night whilst the darling boy and i were napping (he works more than anyone should; i work short but uber-early days and get no proper day off) and over the dulcet sounds of snoring i caught olbermann's amazing commentary about bush's recent revelation that he'd given up golfing because of the war in iraq. i can't say it anywhere near the way olbermann does, which is why i'm glad i found the video of this. because we tivo countdown on the downstairs teevee i ended up catching it again with lqt and hearing it a second time brought tears to my eyes, and reconfirmed that towards the end it seems obvious olbermann wanted to say "SHUT THE FUCK UP" but went with "SHUT THE...HELL UP" instead. i'm surprised more people aren't talking about this (although besides at my house, i don't often run into anything countdown related).


a coupla things you might not already know about me...

  • i have this incredible fondness for the genre of music best categorized as "standards." yeah, i mean big-bandy vocalist stuff from the 30s-50s that had people swinging and swooning. but in particular i love frank sinatra the most. it's probably because i have this specific association with him and my grandfather, and remember with absolute happiness the summer days and nights when he would play these songs in the car or on the old radio that he'd set up outside while i swam and he fussed in the garden. these are the songs that typify romance to me--no wailing, screeching, synth-beat, mtv video darling's ballad will in a million years strike me as such (not even close--triple underline bold type all caps). it's pretty cheesy of me, i know. but i love sinatra, and these songs (cole porter! gershwin! carmichael!) more than i love classic rock, motown, or 80s flashbacks combined.

  • it occurred to me today that i could say with the utmost confidence that seafood might well be one of my favorite food categories, but specifically shellfish and (no surprise here) sushi. i am, however, wholly unlikely to ever order a cooked piece of fish when dining out. i'm not sure why. maybe because a cooked piece of fish seems unspecial to me, seems so simply prepared by a home cook with no fanfare. i will cook a piece of fish at home (i'm a vancouver girl, so salmon, of course!) happily, eagerly, perfectly, for me or for company, but damn if i don't ever order it. but seafood linguine? cioppino? lobster bisque? clam chowder? fried clams? raw oysters? crab? sushi? oh yesssssss... i'm glad i am not the kind of girl who turns her nose up at fish.

  • i get a ridiculous quantity of email on any given day. i get the most for LAist, the next most for my "day" job, and mostly crap from and in my personal email. but seriously, my inbox runneth over. it's so weird, and fun-annoying. i am astonished some days at the sheer volume (and redundancy/uselessness) of it.

  • my facebook status is *almost* always a song lyric. and i am not ashamed to say i stole that idea from my cousin munchkin, whom i love more than there are quite possibly words for and i'm pretty sure at this point that's something i don't think anyone doesn't know.

  • i'm pretty private about this, but i dabble in art (painting w/acrylics & mixed media). i am very self-conscious (and deprecating) about it, and don't feel like i have much of a talent (oh, please) except for when i worked at ye olde retailer of low-fire ceramics, but i really, really, really, really enjoy painting and have absolutely no patience for it, but turn to it when i have the time and focus and when i'm feeling a little out of sorts and need to get something creative going. right now i'm dabbling with adhering dried flower petals to painted canvasses but repositioned as whole flowers. i have all sorts of books on color making and matching, techniques, etc, but seem to be unteachable. this is funny because i come from an artist family who are patient and talented to an unbelievable degree and i admire them tremendously for it, but have yet to really cultivate it within myself.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

who i am, according to how others see me (aka my last quarter student opinion surveys have been returned to me) which leaves me to ask: when do i get to tell them what i think of them?

i get a lot of happy faces, exclamation marks, thank yous, etc:

  • "a very good teacher :)"
  • "great!!:)"
  • "she is a great teacher, and she makes the class interesting :)"
  • "I also adore the way the teacher cared about our problems and had time to answer our questions. I had fun and wish we had more teachers like her."
  • "She helped me develop better writting [sic] skills."
  • "I learned valuable skills of analyisis in which I have never been exposed to. These skills are definately going to help me in the future. :)"
  • "Great strategies of teaching! I would definately take [her] as a teacher again."
  • "Teacher was one of the best instructors I've had since I have been here at [name of school]. Really down to earth & is quick to answer any questions I had."

...i'm also "not boring" and get frequently accused of being horrible things like "fun" and "supportive" and "the best" and a "favorite," and my class is "one of the best english classes" for many and i "make [people] enjoy english" when they haven't before. and the happy faces...oh, the happy faces! makes me so happy!

however, some (and i know exactly who they are) didn't like me because i asked them to not talk while i was talking. i know, the nerve, right?! the errors in the grammar of their responses is hilarious, and also very telling, as well as their pleas to be "treated like adults." i guess my comment to them would be: "then ACT like adults!":

  • "great teacher but somewhat strict & childish classroom rules; other than that great experience."
  • "Need to treat your teacher [sic] like adults and not be so strict. Great teaching method."
  • "Don't be so strick [sic]! Let students talk!"
  • "teaches very good but classroom rules are too strict. we should be treated like adults."
  • "You should let the students talk amongst each other because we need to sociolize [sic]."

all of this is pretty humbling. i'm not perfect and neither are my classes, and i have made some adjustments this quarter in response to the frequent pleas of "it's too much work!" (or, how they often spell it, "to" much work.) last summer i got really hung up on a negative review from a student, and from then on i have tried to not see myself exclusively through others, because then i dwell on the negative and forget all the really kick ass things i do for my students, and the fact that at the end of the day it's a college composition class and not a popularity contest. i read through that stack of "she's too strict!" comments and i could picture exactly who wrote that, and they were bitter because, gee, they had to put away their phones and not bullshit with each other while i was lecturing. they're all nice kids, though, and i'm not mad at them--i just kind of think they're funny. and the number of students who take me again for their next english class and/or keep in touch with me means a lot to me. i have eight students this quarter who took me in previous quarters--considering how many sections of comp ii are offered, that's a respectable number, i'd say.

all in all i know i am doing a good job, and can always improve. i teach because of the students, and the reality is i can't please them all. and at the end of the day (or the quarter!) that's okay.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

the mac@work saga

last wednesday the computer in my office on campus decided it had enough of connecting to the internet--the way i put it is that the little gerbil who rides the wheel that powered the old pc decided he had enough of spinning and said "screw you, i'm old and tired, deal with it."

so in comes the IT dude to diagnose my "workstation" and lo and behold, he can't get it to run scripts, blah blah blah.  me, i'm sitting there itching to make some snide remark about the absolute inefficiency of pcs, but since he's the computer guy i think twice and hold my tongue.  i do, however, manage to say with a shoulder shrug, "well, i'm a mac person anyhow, so..."

IT guy:  "well, i'm the campus mac guy!"
me:  "ah ha!  so you understand!"
IT guy: "yes."
me:  "out of curiosity, i see that lots of other professors in my department use macs.  do they bring their own, or does the university provide them with them?"
IT guy:  "oh, we have macs.  in fact, i know we have a few old macs lying around, and i can maybe see if i can get you one, because i can't fix this computer so we'll just replace it.  would you like that?"
me: "UH, YEAH!!!!"
IT guy: "now, they're old macs, you know.  G4s...old."
me:  "that's okay!'
IT guy: "are you full-time here?"
me:  "no, but i am a contract lecturer.  i have a full-time schedule but am not tenured."
IT guy:  "well, i have to ask if it's okay, but i will try to get you one.  meanwhile, i can't do anything about this computer."
me:  (sigh).  "ok."

of course, i spend the next 45 minutes alternating between fantasizing about my possible mac and feeling like i'm in that ep of south park where the internet done goes and dries up and they all  have to go to cali-fornie to find them some internet.  curses!

next morning i walk into my office, and almost drop my coffee...

...on the keyboard of the old mac that's sitting there!

hooray!  glee!  

but what has become of all my files from the old pc that disappeared in the night?  i get the IT guy's info from the department secretary, and let slip that i now have a superior computing machine, albeit an old one.  the "oh, realllllllllly?" that was her response was oh-so-telling.  i realized i probably took a step out of my place.  i mean, contract lecturers are lucky we get to make photocopies (sorry, use the risograph) and use the bathrooms here, let alone get a computer that is "different" from everyone else's.

IT guy comes, gives me my old files, i am happy.  happy, happy, happy.

until the next day when i get an email from the department saying basically my getting the mac had "come before the department" and that it was being recommended by the chair that it be removed right away and re-replaced with a pc.  oh, and "sorry."

what the...?

yeah, so if you're like me this probably made you think "THAT'S ABSURD!" or "cursed bureaucracy!"  or "someone tattled!"

fine, so i wrote back saying basically do what you have to do, i didn't mean to cause trouble, i just wanted a working computer, i prefer macs, and please save my files.

monday morning i get to work... mac is still there.  hmm...

it doesn't help that an old classmate of mine stops in my doorway and exclaims "HEY! HOW'D YOU GET A MAC??!!"  to which i replied "SHHHHHHH!  you have no idea the drama it's causing."

in the halls i run into the chair, and she is all apologies about the scenario.  seems all this went on without her knowledge and she was just told by a higher up that the mac had to go, that someone else needed it and that i'd have to get another pc.  she said she told them in essence, what's the big deal--the faculty member needed a computer and this old mac was apparently available.  she, too, thought the situation was absurd.  well, what a relief it was to know the reason behind all this fuss, and that i wasn't getting thrown under the bus by my own department.

i asked her when they'd take away the dusty old mac, since someone "needed it."

"as soon as possible," she said.

it is tuesday afternoon.  i am typing this on the mac that is allegedly needed so much by someone else that i can't have it.  they could get it to me within a couple of hours last week, can raise a fuss about it the following day, then...not come and get it at all.  what the hell, people?

but i swear, if this goes back to some shelf in some room to gather dust i'll be really sad, and know that somehow at some level some ridiculous arm of bureaucratic superiority was in full operation.  who the hell "needs" an old mac?  i don't need it, but i'm certainly more than happy to use it.  whee, look at me use it!  we'll see how long it lasts.


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