April 24, 2011

No Crocs in Public.

Photo from www.crocs.com
In Tokyo, the fashion-foward capital of the world, the last thing I expected to see were Crocs. I was prepared for the Little Bo Peep fashions of Harijuku and the awesomely expensive designer clothing everywhere else; but much to my chagrin, not only were Croc-wearing Japanese on the train, in the shops and on the streets, but there was also a Crocs Store in the middle of an expensive shopping district. Out of place in the formal and image-conscious Japan, Crocs were designed to be a comfortable, clean and lightweight alternative for those with weary feet. Because of their disregard for fashion, they look like two neon platypus beaks with swiss cheese holes. Theyare made in 160 colors and they are unfortunately available, as I have witnessed, around the globe. While I support the notion of comfortable footwear, the public use of Crocs in place of normal shoes should be prohibited.

Functionality is important, but at what cost? Crocs compromise the aesthetic of every outfit. The simplicity of jeans and a t-shirt is overwhelmed by the lime green duck bills on your feet. Imagine a cute dress with a pair of Crocs—it's like a fine steak with ketchup. Sweatpants are the only acceptable compliment to Crocs, but if you're wearing that, just stay home. Don't even go to the grocery store like that. You may feel comfortable, but your look won't comfort others.

Crocs do have a purpose. While gardening, you are sure to get dirt and mud on your shoes. With Crocs, you can just give them a quick spray with the garden hose. They will still be ugly, but they will be clean as the day you bought them. Nurses can wear Crocs with scrubs because they work long shifts on their feet (in a place where people have access to morphine). The last acceptable time for Crocs is private, in-home use. If you want to walk around your house looking schlumpy, that's on you. Just leave them at home.

The Croc Company has tried to improve the Croc image by making Croc add-on straps and buttons. The Hello Kitty adornments seem cute enough until you snap them into one of the holes of your Croc. Then your Croc becomes a black hole of terrible, sucking all cute from the universe. If you live in a cold climate and your plastic shoes with holes aren't cutting it behind the snowblower, you can order fur-lined Crocs. It's a nightmare. Speaking of night-mare, if you want to dress up your evening Croc wardrobe, snag a pair of Croc heels or flats. They have something (unattractive) for every occasion.

My hatred of the Croc is related to my personal inability to wear cute shoes. Due partly to genetics and partly to years of volleyball shoes, flip-flops, and high-heel attempts, my feet are a minefield of pain. I've got bunions, tight tendons and even some neuromas. When I wear heels or cheap flats, it feels like I'm walking on nails. Since I like to walk without crying, I've been sentenced to a life of Birkenstocks and athletic shoes. Subsequently, all of my cute outfits have already been sabotaged. Unappealing as both of my footwear options are, they are better than the look-at-me hideousness of Crocs. At least I look like I've done a lot of walking in the athletic shoes, or like I'm a neo-hippy (minus the pot) in the Birks. Once I don the Crocs, I tell the world “I give up.”

If Crocs were the last shoes on Earth, I would rather go barefoot. Of course, with my foot problems, going barefoot is not an option, so I'd be forced to wear the Crocs. Or cut off my feet.

April 19, 2011

My First Garden

All that's left to do now is wait.

I've got the seeds planted in my raised bed garden, and I've got the application filed for an apartment in Flagstaff.

I've never gardened before. It's ironic, if you consider my job in The Home Depot Garden Center where I spend 30-40 hours per week instructing customers about soils, plants and lawn equipment (this discrepancy in experience only annoys customers who can see through my facade of pretend knowledge and label reading abilities). Nevertheless, as I am in charge of an upcoming workshop at The Home Depot which focuses on eco-gardening and my lack of productive free time activities, I took this opportunity to try a garden of my own.

Gardens, like moving to a new place, take lots of physical strength, digging through crap, and wait-time. I have sewn the seeds of cool-season veggies into my 4x4 garden, but only time will tell if my haphazard technique and the  Nebraska weather will be fruitful. I hope to be on the road to Flagstaff by July 1, so I won't get to see much of a summer harvest. I will reap a different sort of crop in Arizona--namely, a graduate assistantship and lots of intellectually stimulating material (cue the buzzer sound for a predictable, terrible metaphor).

I live for trying new things, but I still get frustrated when I don't get it right the first time. I like the dirt under my fingernails and the idea of growing my own food, but I'm glad that I won't go hungry if my seeds don't sprout this time. And as for the graduate assistantship, I'm glad I'm getting a stipend--Incidentally, also so I don't go hungry.

April 18, 2011

April 15, 2011

I'd rather start the year in April anyway.

Last year at this time, I was celebrating Khmer New Year in Mondolkiri Province, Cambodia. Much has changed since then. My self-esteem has been through the wringer and I've been in crisis with my identity since I returned to my hometown. I've worked two very different jobs, volunteered locally and made a few new friends--not to mention rekindling a few old ones. I've taken a Spanish class and learned to crochet and how to make cheesecake. I've applied and been accepted to graduate school--an achievement I attribute to my experiences good and bad in Cambodia.

I've gotten to know Lincoln better than ever. I've spent more time with my family and my grandparents. I've gotten in better shape. I've started eating more healthfully. I feel better than I used to.

I'm still writing. I'm still learning new languages. I'm still teaching. I'm still struggling. I'm still worrying about what's next. I still double check that my straightening iron is turned off, even if I haven't used it.

I may not be exploring the jungles of Cambodia by elephant, but my adventure continues. By the Lunar calendar, this is the year of the rabbit--that's my sign. Must be a lucky year for me.

April 13, 2011

A cat's life

If you know me well, you know that I love cats. I have pictures of my cats on my cell phone, I talk about the dead mice they leave near my car, and I often do impressions of their unique cat-voices. That is, I meow.

I have two cats at home. Twilight, an elderly Maine Coon with real cattitude; and Berlin, an excitable young "Tuxedo" cat. They are the lights of my life, even though they ignore me unless they want food or petting...or a drink from the sink. Twilight, that's you. You are annoying in the morning.

As I watched Berlin leap to the top of a tall dresser loaded with tip-able objects. I predicted the tumbling outcome as she soared toward a bad decision. Four clunks, a crash and one de-clawed slip later, she hit the ground in a full sprint, terrified of the hazardous falling stuff and the consequential noise.

It takes a leap of faith to get to a higher perch. Kitty inspiration. She didn't know what awaited her atop the dresser. Sharpened knives? A pool of water? Curious as a cat, she jumped anyway. Her good faith didn't pay off that time, but I'm always proud of her for trying.

Grad school (and all the tough decisions!) is a leap of faith to get to a figurative higher perch. One day, I will leap high enough to sit upon the refrigerator of life and revel in my achievements. Then I'll take a nap.

April 6, 2011

Was that a voiced postalveolar fricative or a glottal stop?

Already twice in my lifetime, I've had to cram the International Phonetic Alphabet into my brain long enough to pass the quiz. First, in Austria during Sprache und Sprechen, a 100-level linguistics course for native German speakers. Besides the lunacy of learning about a difficult subject in another language, this class was held only once a week, late in the afternoon and in a room full of windows. Most of the students were asleep, or texting friends, or even talking on the phone. During the lecture. Even my studiousness took a nosedive in that class. My notebook is full of partial notes taken halfway between German and English, and intricate drawings of eyeballs, evening gowns or potential tattoo designs. It was hard to pay attention and very easy to tune out the foreign language. The worst part was when I went home to look up the German words I didn't know, I didn't even know what the English word meant.

For anyone who lives in a world without the IPA, it is a universal alphabet for writing and pronouncing any language. The IPA symbols are organized by place and method of articulation. If you make the sound at the beginning of "dog," it is [d], a voiced alveolar plosive. Every sound has a description that either makes me think of an unethical medical experiment or a lewd joke for nerdy people.

As the end of the semester in Austria neared, I realized that even though no one else in the class understood the topics (I was actually providing correct answers to the teacher's questions from time to time to break up the silence), at some point, there would be a test or a Klausur as we called it. I summoned the courage to meet with the professor. She was so happy that I cared about her class, she gave me a special study guide that mirrored the final test. I got a good grade.

 Not even a year later, I was back at UNK trying my hand at an upper-level German course in Linguistics. The class was taught in English, which would have been more useful to me before doing the entire class with native German speakers, but it wasn't to be. I struggled with the IPA in the second class, too.

This time, I'm learning the IPA on my own as part of my preparation for grad school in TESL. I need to know how to talk about language objectively and with linguistic terms. The hard part is that I have to do this on my own with no guidance from a syllabus or professor. Self-motivation.

I understand the merit of the IPA system. Had I been more in tune with my voiced retroflex consonants, learning Khmer might have been a little easier. Well, probably not, but I might have been able to pretend to hear the difference between the four "ng" sounds.

I found this book at the library: A Practical Introduction to Phonetics by J.C. Catford. The author guides you and your speech organs through the IPA. He has exercises to trick you into pronouncing almost anything. For example, start by saying the "ee" of "see". Then stop using your voice but keep the air going. You end up with the elusive German "ch". I love that stuff. Heck, I have even learned how to close my glottis and make a cool windpipe xylophone. You can imagine how much fun I have with this book on my days off from The Home Depot.

I hope the IPA is good to me this time. More to follow.

April 4, 2011

Who needs the gym when you've got The Home Depot?

The Home Depot is exhausting me. In a good way. I've logged 5 consecutive days over 12,000 steps on my pedometer. Two of those days crested at 19,500 steps. To compare, my record while working at Licorice International was only 10,000. And I only got that one day when I put in a full work out before work.

There are three distinct areas of the "Garden Department". In total, they account for at least one-third of the store. I bust my behind to help customers in each of these areas, and I rack up the miles in the process. Now that the weather has warmed up, I've added a new skill: hauling and loading mulch. I've been assisting customers with these 50-pound sacks of sopping wet wood chunks. "Did you say 25 or 28 bags?" Sorry, lower back, I'm still working on that lifting technique.

Working at The Home Depot is the absolute last thing I expected to be doing a year out of college. Funny how that works, isn't it? But here I am, apron and all. I water plants, I help customers choose a lawnmower or grill, and I do my best with the multiple communication technologies that are supposed to help me broadcast my unending stream of questions. When I come home at night, my feet are warped to my shoes, my jeans smell like rotting mulch, and my ears ring with the sounds of our store phones, the walkies, and other devices that go "ding." Ding ding Ding Ding DING!!!

I feel much better after I eat dinner and recount the most annoying customer or my best use of Spanish vocabulary. I am grateful that I finally got a job with plenty of available hours and friendly coworkers. However, I am also grateful that I only have a few months of this job. It's hard!