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I Miss the Smell of Popcorn Paws

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“Now the dog all this while sheds not a tear nor speaks a word; but see how I lay the dust with my tears.” ~ William Shakespeare (Two Gentlemen of Verona II, iii)

This is a tough post for me to write, and warning: may be tough to read. There have been some walloping events in the past few years that each made up the individual cogs of my emotional tailspin machine from which I’m now slowly emerging. A painful separation and divorce started it all. Less than a year after that, I lost my rambunctious four year-old dog Teddy too soon. One month later I left the hometown I’d known all my life and moved everything to Austin.

But what really shook me to the core, the final straw, was losing my remaining dog Foxy. A miniature poodle with the official AKC fancy-pants name of “Kristi’s Foxy Sox,” she was my faithful companion for 15 long years. She had one white back foot (hence the Sox part of the name), a white chest, and soft curly light red hair – just like a little fox. She was one of three in her litter, the only female and the only redhead. I picked her out when she was only 3 weeks old, and brought her home two weeks after that, the day before Thanksgiving 1995.

The day I brought Foxy home, 1995.

The day I brought Foxy home, 1995.

I’d been divorced for less than a year from my first disastrous marriage when I brought Foxy home to an apartment with green carpet but no yard. I taught her to use a litter box instead, which was weird but effective. For the first few months, I drove home 25 minutes one-way from work each day at lunch to let her out of her crate and play with her for ten minutes before driving back. She became everything to me that I needed: a distraction, a friend, a companion, a shoulder to cry on sometimes…something to love, that loved me back.

And she was so smart! She knew each of her toys by name and could fetch them when called for. She aced her puppy obedience classes with flying colors. She traveled with me on the road when I was recruiting for the university, and knew to be quiet in her crate when I was giving talks to groups of students. I hung a bell from the front door knob and she learned to ring it with her nose when she wanted to go outside.

"I'm posing for you in my snazzy red sweater."

“I’m posing for you in my snazzy red sweater.”

When she was six months old, we moved into a house with (finally) a big yard space for her and a doggy door. She was my impetus for even buying a home in the first place, and I picked the house with her in mind. When, three years later, I left to go to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, leaving her behind was by far the most emotional part of the journey. I’ll always be grateful to my family members for keeping her and taking care of her while I was gone during that time. My Dad told me that in the first few days and weeks after I left, Foxy would sleep upstairs in “my” room on the sweatshirt I’d left for her, and during the day would wait watching at the front window and door for me to come home. (I cried like a baby when I read that in his letters he sent to me in Africa.)

Waiting patiently.

Waiting patiently.

I never had (human) children of my own. And yes, I was one of those pet-owners that doted on their dogs as if they were kids. Time passed, and when Foxy was ten, I decided to get her a companion; I’d read that adding a puppy to a household with an older dog could help prolong their lives. So we got Teddy, a chocolate-brown miniature poodle who was seriously obsessed with tennis balls and pretty much drove poor Foxy crazy with her frenetic energy.

Foxy & Teddy

Foxy & Teddy

But in a cruel twist of fate, Teddy was the first to go; unbeknownst to us, she’d been born with an auto-immune disease that led to eventual kidney failure. I had four great years with her, but much of that time was spent taking care of her illness and watching her go in and out of remission. She was the first dog I ever had to euthanize, and it was incredibly difficult. I found myself hoping that Foxy would just go peacefully one day in her old age, but that didn’t happen either.

Less than a year after moving to Austin, I noticed a weird brown growth in the corner of Foxy’s eye as I was grooming her one day. Her regular vet referred us to a canine ophthalmologist (yes those exist) and after a biopsy result, confirmed that it was a rare type of optic cancer, in the lining of the eye socket. Over the next eight months, she would have four eye surgeries to remove the tumor that kept growing back. She was a trooper through it all, taking it in stride and seeming content to just lay on my lap as much as possible and continue to be my little shadow.

Back Camera

She was 15 now; she walked slower, ate less, slept more. She needed steps to get up on the bed that she once leapt on with ease, and started losing weight. She also went almost completely deaf. After the fourth surgery, the vet said there was no other option left other than to just take the eye completely out, and even that was not a guarantee that the cancer would not return. I waffled, knowing full well I was doing most of this for my selfish benefit; I didn’t want to let her go. At first I agreed to do the eye-removal surgery. Then feeling guilty, I cancelled it.

Two days after my birthday, and in the middle of the Tour de France while I was on a three-week vacation from work, I watched as Foxy no longer could go outside through her doggy door; it was too painful to her sutured and bruised eye to use her head to push the door open. She turned and looked at me with such a sad look on her face as if to say “I’m so sorry,” and it was then that I knew. My heart broke into a million pieces as I picked her up and carried her outside. While she stood there looking at me, I called her vet and somehow formed the words to ask if he’d meet us the next day at his practice. He said yes.

Foxy slept that night as she had for much of the past 15 years – curled up next to me on the bed, in the crook of my arm, under the blanket. She didn’t know it was her last night, but I did, and it was agony. I watched her for most of the night, remembering everything we’d been through over the past decade and a half. I cried an ocean of tears over those next twelve hours. I took a hundred pictures of her. I held her as we lounged on the swing outside, sitting in her favorite swath of sunshine.

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At the vet’s office, I apologized to her and thanked her, and held her tight on my lap as I told her how much I loved her. She looked at me with quiet eyes and leaned into me. Her soft ears were wet with my tears and our faces were touching as she went to sleep for the last time, just me and her together as we’d been for so long. I held my dog child in my arms as she died. It was peaceful for her, and her pain was gone. It was the most gut-wrenching experience of my life.

I slept on the couch for the next month. I dreamed of her, a lot, and she would appear to me so real that I’d reach out to touch her. A few times I woke up swearing I’d heard her collar tags jingling in the hallway. Her dog bowls and daytime sleeping bed remained in their places, empty, but comforting somehow. But how I ached. Physically, emotionally, I was just drained completely of everything. How can that be, one might ask – she was just a dog. She wasn’t human.

And yet it broke me. Losing her felt like losing the rest of everything.

Now, all of a sudden, it’s been two years. Last year on that day, I was in rainy England, and found myself sitting on a park bench outside the church where Shakespeare is buried. I sat under a weeping willow tree and gazed out at the rising river, and remembered Foxy. Leaving the riverbank, I wandered along the deserted wet roads and eventually found myself in a cluttered antique store. As I was looking through a case at a tray of silver charms all jumbled together, something caught my eye. Down in the right hand corner, looking up at me through the glass, sitting just above a heart-shaped charm: a little silver perfect poodle. Yes, of course I bought it. You don’t ignore a sign like that.

My view that day.

My view that day.

I wore that charm on a chain around my neck almost every day for the past year. Until today – when I looked down at my chain and the charm was gone. Inexplicably, sadly, just gone. The other charms are still there, but not that one. Another sign? It’s what prompted me to write this post today. I’d been thinking of writing it for cathartic reasons, but couldn’t bring myself to do it until now.

Many have asked why I haven’t gotten another dog yet. Sometimes I think I am ready, especially now that I have this extra time on my hands and am not away from the house ten or eleven hours at a time. I remember how fun it is to have a dog who loves you no matter what and is so happy to see you when you get home, no matter how long you’ve been gone. I remember the joy of having something to take care of and be responsible for, the comfort and the companionship. It’s definitely one of life’s UNunhappy experiences, when it’s good.

But it’s a lot of responsibility, having a dog. Vet bills, grooming, walks, training – it’s a commitment that takes a lot of work and for me, a lot of worry. And, the memory of the nearly-unbearable pain when you lose something that you love so much is still pretty fresh. Especially when we as owners have to make that choice to humanely take their pain away, it’s an indescribable heartache – and one I’m not sure I want to or can go through again. I don’t know what to do. Is Foxy is giving me a little nudge from wherever she is, saying it’s time for a new start…a new charm?

I just don’t know. I miss Foxy like crazy, including the little things like her prancy walk and the butter popcorn smell of the pads on her feet. She was such a good dog, and no other one could ever take her place. But – I’ll keep you updated if and when any wet noses and furry feet make their way into my life again. I’m starting to think it’s possible. And maybe I’ll look for another charm too, when the time is right.

Thanks for listening and reading. À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Extreme Foxy close-up

Wanted: A Prescription for Patience

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“Out, dog! out, cur! Thou drivest me past the bounds of maiden’s patience.” ~William Shakespeare (Midsummer Night’s Dream III, ii)

For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve been a pretty impatient person. My Dad read this story at my first wedding: “Over the years, Kristi and I have remembered and recalled one small but very important event from her childhood. It was the time she wanted to learn to jump rope. It would seem that learning to jump rope would be simple, but Kristi, then as now, was impatient with herself and when she first tried it, she got tangled in the rope. She wanted to quit trying to learn how to jump that rope, but I encouraged her to try and try again, and in a short time she was the best rope jumping little girl on the block!”

What he didn’t say was that I think I threw a pretty big temper tantrum, throwing the rope on the ground, making a little fool out of myself with my little girl hysterics. The outcome however was a good memory for me and my Dad, and the moral of the story of course is to persist – to be patient, and with that patience will come success. So I guess I’m wondering though: why doesn’t it get any easier to be patient as we grow up? I still find myself getting impatient all the time – with people, with processes, with life in general. I wish someone could write me a prescription for patience (not that my new high-deductible health insurance would pay for it).

I guess it’s a part of who I am, and while I accept this, I don’t like it. My impatience is usually either accompanied by or results in stress, unhappiness, regret, and even rage (of the road variety). I wonder if impatience is a genetically inherited trait; I tend to think it is, but then maybe I’m just making excuses. And if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of my impatience-induced rudeness, I sincerely apologize. As someone who has said (and believed) in the past “Most people in the world are idiots,” patience with other humans is not my forté, and is definitely something I need to work on.

The one exception to the duration of this character flaw was when I lived in sub-Saharan Africa during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer. Over there, time stands still, literally. If you don’t slow down – both physically and mentally – to match the creeping crawl of life, your impatience will literally drive you insane or you’ll just keel over from stress-induced hysteria. I learned, and even appreciated eventually, how to become a more patient person while I was there. Hakuna matata is real, people.

Unfortunately, that acquired level of patience and “no worries” attitude seemed to shrivel up and die once I arrived back in America – land of the never-ending go-get-’em fast pace of life. Settle in, chase “the dream,” bypass vacations, battle the traffic, worry worry worry. And then before you know it, another decade has passed. Years full of wasted moments that you can never get back. And through all of it, being impatient for…something. Everything.

When I decided a few months ago to make changes and pursue meaning in my life again, I knew that impatience would continue to be a personal foe for me. I spoke to my therapist at the time about perceptions and reality, and giving myself TIME to adjust and pursue the new directions in my life. I expressed worries about how others would perceive me and my efforts – that they’d think I was a “slacker” for quitting my job without having another one lined up. People want to know what I’m doing with “all this time” on my hands. It’s not easy to explain, this transition phase.

I don’t blame others for wanting to know how I’m filling the hours in every day or what the next step of “the plan” is – but as I told someone the other day, sometimes there just isn’t that much to tell right now. It’s not that I mind the questioning so much, because I think that’s part of normal human nature to be curious, but I then start to feel guilty somehow that I don’t have a perfect outline to hand to them that will make them feel better about all this change (because from my end, I usually feel pretty fine about it). I’m learning to be comfortable with saying “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know.” It’s ok to not know how something is going to turn out!

Yes, it is very nice to not have to trudge back and forth from the miserable job I recently quit. I’m happier than I can say to not have to fight the long and stressful morning and afternoon commutes. But I do find myself getting impatient with the anticipation of “what’s next.” I’m impatient that I haven’t heard back yet about the internship I applied for a few weeks ago. I’m impatient that a part-time job I’ve been anxiously waiting for hasn’t been posted yet. I’m impatient for the 2014 Tour de France to get here, now that I’m in withdrawals from the Tour that just finished…

Each day I feel like I make a few more small strides towards an UNunhappy future, but I also don’t want to discount the here-and-now part of the journey. When I get too impatient with myself about where I or others think I should be at this stage, it inevitably leads to more stress and distress. I love to tick the “completed” boxes on my to-do lists, and those lists help guide me with goals and objectives, but letting my lists get too long and out-of-control is something I need to work on.

So instead, I’m trying to be patient with myself and my own expectations, which really are the ones that count the most after all. These new directions and desires I have for my life aren’t going to happen overnight, or in a few weeks, or even in a few months. Giving myself time is ok. The days fly by so quickly though don’t they? We get so caught up in the “down-the-road” goals that we sometimes gloss over what’s right in front of us, right now.

The favorite in-front part of my day today was a fromage sandwich on a fresh-baked baguette from a new-found French cafe and getting to know the owner, a nice lady from France. What was yours?

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

PS: The family klutz gene (which I know IS inherited) struck strong this past week, so I just wanted to pass along get-well wishes to my three ailing family members:

  • My Mom, for her hairline-fractured leg she was awarded after slipping on a watery sidewalk at an Oklahoma casino;
  • My nephew Truman for a river rock-induced gargantuan foot slice that took 9 stitches to close; and
  • My nephew Wyatt for a bad tongue laceration inflicted by a spectacular chin fall from the kitchen table.

At my brother’s prompting, the rest of us are considering rolling ourselves in bubble wrap just to be safe.

Lonely Bouquets to Brighten Days

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“It beckons you to go away with it, as if it some impartment did desire to you alone.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet (I, 4)

Sorry for the delay since my last post, the last week of the Tour de France has kept me glued to the TV and computer every day! I’ll be sad after the three-week race is finally over on Sunday, but what a spectacle it’s been! Today the riders climbed the mythic Alpe d’Huez TWICE in one stage! Never been done before, and a French rider fittingly won the stage (for the first time this Tour actually), so good for them. There will be even more empty wine bottles than usual in France tonight, I suspect.

Onto the topic of the day: I’ve been wanting to share a recent and very UNunhappy mission with you that took place a week ago. I’d seen comments on my Twitter feed recently regarding a campaign called “The Lonely Bouquet” that was launched out of Belgium. The amusing @LonelyBouquet Twitter profile states they are “A guerrilla campaign for flower fanatics meant to make people’s day brighter, one flower at a time!” I was intrigued.

From their website at LonelyBouquet.com (or Fleuropean.com), the gist of the Lonely Bouquet goes something like this: “1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face.”

(From the Lonely Bouquet website.)

(From the Lonely Bouquet website.)

The basic concept of the Lonely Bouquet goes a little something like this: 1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the homegrown arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face. – See more at: http://www.fleuropean.com/international_lonely_bouquet_day/#sthash.xGiap27P.dpuf
The basic concept of the Lonely Bouquet goes a little something like this: 1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the homegrown arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face. – See more at: http://www.fleuropean.com/international_lonely_bouquet_day/#sthash.xGiap27P.dpuf
The basic concept of the Lonely Bouquet goes a little something like this: 1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the homegrown arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face. – See more at: http://www.fleuropean.com/international_lonely_bouquet_day/#sthash.xGiap27P.dpuf
The basic concept of the Lonely Bouquet goes a little something like this: 1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the homegrown arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face. – See more at: http://www.fleuropean.com/international_lonely_bouquet_day/#sthash.xGiap27P.dpuf

Pretty great idea right?! June 30 was apparently “International Lonely Bouquet Day,” but I didn’t learn about it until after that. Even though I’m not an “official” florist yet, I wanted to be a part of this kind campaign. So last week I took the remnants of the arrangement I’d made in my last floral class and re-fashioned the still-fresh flowers into three small, separate Lonely Bouquets. I bought a pack of mason jars at the grocery store, and printed up the recommended “take me” tags to attach to each one.

Once the bouquets were ready, I stored them in my refrigerator and started thinking of where I could leave them around town. Where does one leave free bouquets? I needed a partner for this secret mission, so I enlisted the help of my nephew Truman. Once I explained the operation to him and showed him the bouquets, he helped me come up with ideas on the three locales for our Lonely Bouquets. Truman was my lookout guy as I placed each one, making sure no one was looking as I took a picture; then we’d scurry away in laughter back to the car.

Lonely Bouquet #1 we left at the local firehouse for the hero firefighters and EMS workers to find; we thought that either it would brighten up their living quarters or maybe they’d pass it along to a patient who would like it:

Lonely Bouquet 1

LB1a

Lonely Bouquet #2 we left at a park on a bench, near a crowded pool on a hot summer evening. We hoped that one of the summer fun-goers would adopt our flowers and take them home to a cool kitchen table:

LB2c

Lonely Bouquet 2

Lonely Bouquet #3 we left at a location of Truman’s choosing: the nearby Senior Citizen’s home down the street. We waited until the entryway was clear, and then placed our flowers on a bench by the front door. We hope they brightened the day of a resident at the home:

Lonely Bouquet 3

We had such fun placing the bouquets, and when I circled back around later than night, all three of them had been picked up and hopefully adopted! I went to the Lonely Bouquet website to put our flowers on their live interactive map and document our efforts as part of the worldwide campaign – and I couldn’t believe ours were the first Lonely Bouquets in Austin!

I haven’t heard back from any of the “adopters” through the contact links I left on the tags, but that’s ok. It was just great to make the arrangements and spend the time with my nephew doing something that hopefully made a few more people UNunhappy that day. We plan to place more bouquets out there again soon! Thank you LonelyBouquet.com!

My secret mission lookout man.

My secret mission lookout man.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

A Cuppa & A Croissant, Please.

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“There was a star danced, and under that was I born.” – William Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing II, i)

Yup, today’s my birthday, or for my Mom, the anniversary of “you-almost-killed-me-during-labor-with-your-huge-head-day.”  (Sorry Mom.)  I have some great UNunhappy birthday memories from the past few years that I’m reflecting on today.  I’m home this year, but I’ve been establishing a new birthday-abroad tradition that takes place every other year and that has provided me with some of my most joyful moments in recent memory.

As I mentioned in my recent Tour de France post, it was three years ago that I spent my 40th birthday on top of a mountain in the French Alps to be a part of the Tour, and it was breathtaking (figuratively and literally, the altitude made it hard to get adequate air).  Today’s stage of the Tour just happens to finish in Lyon, which is where I began my TdF adventure three years ago today in France, a nice birthday coincidence.

Then last year, I decided (on a whim, really) to pondhop to England during my summer vacation and spend my birthday at the World Shakespeare Festival 2012.  On my birthday I was in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace and hometown of William Shakespeare, and attended ‘The Tempest’ (one of my favorites) at the Royal Shakespeare Company theater.  It was simply brilliant, as the British say.

Shakespeare's Birthplace House Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

Shakespeare’s Birthplace House
Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

It’s difficult to explain how special this was to me – first of all, it was a realized dream born of a lifelong interest in Shakespeare and a desire to visit Stratford-upon-Avon since being inspired by my high school literature teacher Mrs. Clara Sanchez.  Secondly, I’m an admitted Anglophile, so this was another trip-of-a-lifetime for me.  To be walking along the banks of the river Avon, in the place where Shakespeare lived and loved and wrote and died over 400 years ago, and then to watch his iconic words play out on the stage performed by the best Shakespearean actors in the world…it was surreal, and emotional, and almost spiritual for me.

Royal Shakespeare Company theatre Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

Royal Shakespeare Company theatre
Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

I spent four full days in beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon and did not want to leave!  It was an iconic birthday vacation that filled me with happiness and gratitude.  I went by myself, but I don’t mind traveling alone (it feels empowering, actually); I took long walks in the town, ate whatever I wanted, rented a bike to ride along the river and canals, toured all the different Shakespeare houses and historical sites, saw all three “Shipwreck Trilogy” plays at the RSC, and savored every moment of back-in-time tranquility.  (I spent another week in London and a few other areas but more on that in another post.)

The River Avon from view of the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre. Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

The River Avon from view of the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre.
Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

(By the way, the header photo on this blog was also taken by me on one of those riverside walks in Stratford-upon-Avon; those are boats on the River Avon just down the path from the Royal Shakespeare Company and the church where Shakespeare is buried. You can see the names of famous female characters from his plays on the boats.)

It seems that for most of us, as we get older, our birthdays hold less and less importance.  “Birthdays are for kids,” we say, and we don’t want to make a big deal out of it.  After a certain age, we grumpily interpret the yearly event as simply another date on the calendar that tells us we’re getting closer to all the negatives that old age brings.  Why is getting older seen by so many as an embarrassment?

Actually, I think we might need to blame Shakespeare for this one.  In his famous “All the world’s a stage” monologue from ‘As You Like It,’ he outlines the “Seven Ages of Man” that have been quoted throughout time and history when referring to the life cycle of getting older.  Beginning with the “mewling/puking infant” and the whining schoolboy, growing into the sighing lover and the hotheaded soldier, maturing into the wise justice with a formal beard, and finally shifting into the bespectacled “pantaloon” and the last stage, “second childishness,” he ends with the fearful prognosis that all of us will eventually end in “mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Extremely poignant, brilliantly written, but yeesh…incredibly depressing.  I bet you they never celebrated birthdays in Shakespeare’s time (although they should have, especially if one survived the plague!).

View of Shakespearean actors from upstairs window of Shakespeare's Birthplace house. Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

View of Shakespearean actors from upstairs window of Shakespeare’s Birthplace house.
Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

I get it though, and I guess I also downplay birthdays sometimes to a degree, mostly because I’m still kind of a shy person at heart and a bit of a loner (which is not a bad thing, I’ve accepted).  But I think it’s ok to also make a pretty big deal out of your birthday if you want to.  I have friends who have overcome major illness, trauma, or other difficult challenges – why shouldn’t they celebrate each birthday as a major accomplishment, and we along with them?  Even for those that have been lucky enough to not have to go through extreme hardships, shouldn’t another year of simply surviving the stress and soldiering-on of everyday life deserve some kind of acknowledgement?  (YES.)

My favorite birthday message ever.

My favorite birthday message ever.

So do whatever you want on your birthday.  Do whatever you want every day.  Why the heck not??   I’ve started to look at my birthday as an impetus for organizing and taking the trips to places I’ve always wanted to see and visit, even if it is only every other year or so.  I hope to be back in England on my birthday next year, as the 2014 Tour de France will start in the Yorkshire region of the UK in early July.  It sounds like the perfect reason to get over there again and then stick around to visit some of the other places I didn’t get to see last time around (there’s so many on the list!) – or maybe even jaunt through the Chunnel to finally see Paris. 

My dessert on my birthday last year in Stratford-upon-Avon UK: Sticky Toffee Pudding of course!

My dessert on my birthday last year in Stratford-upon-Avon UK:
Sticky Toffee Pudding of course!

As for this year: I may not be in a quaint European café paying way too much for, well, everything, but I’m enjoying my extended self-imposed staycation on this birthday morning and appreciating what I do have.  I’m watching the Tour de France in all it’s beauty and loving it; I plan to buy myself some flowers and do some design practice later; I’ll be with family later on to eat some good food; and a simple “cuppa” English Breakfast tea and a French croissant with preserves is enough to remind me of amazing birthdays past and make it a pretty darn UNunhappy day. 

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Future is Blooming – Part 2

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“To strew thy green with flowers: the yellows, blues, the purple violets, and marigolds…” – William Shakespeare (Pericles IV, I)

A few days ago I related my historical and renewed interest in trying my hand in the floral design field (you can read about it here if you missed it).  It’s a pretty far cry from anything I’ve ever done before.  Most of my working life, I’ve been sitting in a cubicle and consoling myself with Dilbert cartoons.  My brother was always the artist in the family, and yet here I am wading into a field that requires an eye for the art elements of color, form, and perspective.

But – maybe some of his artisan ability also filtered into my genetic code and I just haven’t discovered it yet (one can hope)?  Maybe this is a path I should have taken a long time ago and life has just taken me down different roads so far?  I’m willing to gamble on the maybes.  Now that I have the opportunity, how could I not at least give it a try, after all this time?  If I don’t give it a shot, I think I’ll always regret it.

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Purpley-pink orchid at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

So slowly but surely, I’m exploring this new realm:

  • Earlier this summer, I enrolled in a beginner’s floral design class at the local community college and have learned some new techniques.
  • Over the past few weeks, I’ve been conducting informational interviews with several local floral designers who came recommended to me by a good friend (thank you Rachel!); I’ve been asking for their advice & recommendations, making future networking connections, and asking lots of questions about what it’s really like in the industry.
  • I’ve contacted and looked into a few career/intensive floral design programs around the country to figure out if I want or need to make that investment.
  • I’ve reached out to express interest for an upcoming summer internship with another local designer.
  • Every day I usually spend a few hours doing internet research and self-study on the floral industry, design techniques, and product details, as well as connecting with florists all over the world on Twitter – I love Twitter! (I think I’m a bit of a Twitter addict actually, help.)
  • I finally (!) signed up on Pinterest and started a board called “Fantastical Floral Designs!” for those beautiful, quirky, and memorable designs that catch my eye and inspire me.
  • I’ve toured some of the wholesale flower businesses in town to ask questions, view products, and buy my first floral tools (including a Swiss Army floral knife!!):

floral tools

I have no idea if I’m going about this the “right” way but I’m de-perfectionizing, remember, so it’s ok.  And although it might not be considered by everyone to be a “real” job, floristry is in fact a huge industry and a multi-billion dollar business around the world.  I hope enough of that profit eventually comes my way to be able to support myself in this endeavor, but in the meantime I’m probably going to have to take other non-floral-related jobs to help pay the bills, at least for a while, and I’m open to that.

It’s scary of course – for the first time in a long time, I have no set plan.  A few weeks ago I was volunteering for an Austin Shakespeare event and discovered that another volunteer there was also a freelance floral designer.  When I told her of my circumstances and aspirations, she said “I love when people say they quit their jobs because they didn’t like it or weren’t happy.  Trust that you will be provided for and taken care of now that you voluntarily released all that negativity.”  Wow – no one has ever said anything like that to me before, or at least not in that way.  It was just what I needed to hear (thank you Rachael).

I don’t know yet what my exact end-goal is, and that’s alright with me.  Right now I’m just wanting to learn as much as possible about design and really get into the creativity aspect of it all.  I’d like to develop my skills and work for several different designers to gain varied perspectives.  Many floral designers have their own business without ever having a retail store, and right now I’m leaning toward that option.  Although I must admit, the possibility of running one of those cute cottage-y flower shops in England or France where the locals stop by to purchase their daily or weekly flowers doesn’t sound too shabby either.  I’m putting it on the “someday” list.

Paris Fleuriste

When you boil it all down, flowers have an important job: to make people feel better.  No matter how simple or complex the design, flowers provide joy and beauty and meaning – during times of great happiness or deep sorrow, during times of celebration and revelation…they convey messages and speak volumes when people sometimes just can’t.  That appeals to me.  I’d like to try to help flowers do their job to make people UNunhappy.

Because who couldn’t use a little more joy and beauty and meaning in their lives? 

I’ll continue providing updates as my journey continues…and a big thanks to all of you who have supported me thus far and encouraged me to pursue this path.  It’s much appreciated!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Future is Blooming

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“…a bed of roses, with a thousand fragrant posies, a cap of flowers, and a kirtle embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle.” ~ William Shakespeare (from ‘Passionate Pilgrim’)

Georgia O'Keeffe "Iris 7"

Georgia O’Keeffe
“Iris 7”

Georgia O’Keeffe was perhaps one of the most well-known residents and devotees of my native New Mexico. Her larger-than-life paintings of flowers are world-famous. When asked why she chose flowers as one of her art subjects, she replied:

When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

Brilliant, no? Forced floral art appreciation.

Flowers have piqued my curiosity for a very long time now, and I’m not even sure I can explain exactly why. When I was about 16 years old, the very first real job that I applied for was at a flower shop around the corner from my house. It seemed like it would be a nice, relaxing place to work, surrounded by fresh floral smells and pretty flowers all the time. I didn’t get the job, and instead went to work for my uncle as a very glamorous property maintenance girl (read: picking cigarette butts out of rock beds and schlepping water hoses from building to building).

I didn’t think too much about flowers again for a while. As I grew older and finished college, I did what everyone else around me was doing: I got “real” jobs in the “real” professional workforce, and followed the traditional approach of doing whatever got the bills paid and securing the all-important medical/dental/vision. I strayed from that logical path when – to the shock of my family and friends – I joined the Peace Corps in 1999 for two years. I’d recently gone through a divorce, had finished grad school, and was looking for an experience that would shake up my life a little and provide some much-needed meaning and purpose (which it did).

When I returned to Albuquerque in 2001 – having been thoroughly shaken and stirred – I remember that one of the first places I applied for a workforce re-entry job was at another large flower shop in town. I’d seen their hiring ad in the paper and couldn’t resist for some reason. I didn’t get that flower shop job either. The job I did get was at a brand new Home Depot that opened up at that time just down the street from my neighborhood – working in the Garden Department, which I had requested.

I worked there for almost a year, learning valuable information about flowers, plants, and trees (and swimming pool chemicals). It wasn’t the same as working in a flower shop setting, but I still felt connected somehow, and I appreciated what I was learning. It was actually the only job from which I ever got fired – not because I killed the plants, but due to a work schedule mix-up and a misplaced sick leave excuse note. By that time however, I’d succumbed to the mounting pressures to go back to a “real-life” job, which I did when I was hired at a healthcare company that offered more legitimacy and paid more money.

flower shop painting

“Flower Shop” by Elaine Cory

I would stay at that professional-level cubicle job for the next 7+ years. Every once in a while, I’d daydream about escaping cube-land and go buy a “Flower Encyclopedia” or a floral design how-to book, poring over the photos and instructions. I took an evening course at the local garden center in beginning floral design, and I was good at it. One day as I was driving home from a friend’s house, I saw a cottage-y little flower shop with a “For Sale” sign out front, and entertained fantastical thoughts of buying it and running my own business. A family member told me – and accurately so at the time – “Kristi you don’t know the first thing about running a flower business. It’s not a good idea.”

I quit the job at the healthcare company when I moved to Austin, which just happened to be during the deepest point of the crippling recession in late 2009. It was the worst possible time in our country’s recent history to be hunting for a job. I felt intense pressure to get a “good” job, a “real” job, in the middle of those uncertain times – not a job that I necessarily wanted to do, but a job that would hire me based on all the education and experience I’d acquired. I sent 68 job applications out before I even got one single interview, which was the job I ended up taking – another professional corporate position, this time within City government.

It had taken me three months to get that job. In those three months, between “real” job hunting and applications, one of the things I did with my spare time was to research and find all of the flower shops within about a 15 mile radius of my neighborhood. I made a list and then visited every one. I didn’t inquire about a job at any of them; I would just go in and walk around as if I was a customer, studying their inventory and arrangements. I don’t even know really what I was looking for at the time. Comfort? Confirmation? Ideas?

Also during those first three months in Austin, I noticed that my brother’s business office was right next to a floral design business; through a mutual acquaintance, I made an appointment to sit down with the owner/designer to talk about a possible job or apprenticeship of some kind. It was the first time I’d expressed out loud to anyone that I was seriously interested in the industry. However, when she learned I had no real/past design experience, she ended the meeting pretty quickly. It was at that time that I learned I’d gotten the job with the City, and so once again, I back-burnered myself.

Fast-forward three more years and here we are: I quit my job after realizing it was zapping the life out of me. I’ve decided to try to do things that make me UNunhappy. I have the time and courage now to devote to those life choices that I feel are best for me. And one of those choices is: I’m finally going to give the field of floristry a fighting chance in my life!

It’s time.

I’ve already started taking steps toward this new reality, and I’ll elaborate more in following posts. Stay tuned to find out what happens next!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

BlueIrises

Life Letters to My Nephews #1: Being Your Aunt

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Author’s Note:  This post begins a series called “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN for short.  Each letter will focus on a different topic and contain observations, sentiments and advice about life that I hope my nephews may one day find useful or interesting.  Hudson, Truman, Andrew & Wyatt:  I write these letters to convey how much I value, admire, and love each one of you!

Dear Nephews:

As you know, I don’t have any kids of my own.  There was a time in my life when I wanted to have a child and be a mom, but it just didn’t work out that way.  But that’s ok, because now I think that one of my main purposes in life was to try to be a good aunt to you instead!

(By the way, if you’re wondering why my name is written “Ant” Kristi instead of “Aunt” Kristi, click here to find out the reason.  Hudson, you were probably too young to even remember the story, but you’re the one behind it all!)

I remember when each one of you was born like it was yesterday.  I was very happy to actually be there at the clinic when Wyatt was born, but for the rest of you I still lived in Albuquerque then, and had to wait anxiously for someone to call me on the phone to tell me that you were finally here.  I remember holding each of you for the first time when you were babies and smelling your “new baby” smell (until it turned to needs-a-diaper-change smell and then I handed you back off to your Mom or Dad, which is an aunt’s prerogative).

wyatt onesie

Wyatt at 1 day old!

I remember one time Hudson when you were about three and I was visiting for a weekend; you had a pretend kitchen set up by your room with a whole tub full of plastic fruits and vegetables and other foods.  You took me by the hand and said “Want to play restaurant with me?”  I said “Of course,” and for the next hour, you walked back and forth across the room between me and the play kitchen asking me what I wanted to order.  I’d say “a hamburger please” and you’d go pretend to cook it and then bring it to me: “Here you go.”  Then you’d take it back and ask me what else I wanted.  “A slice of tomato on a banana please,” and you’d bring them over.  We went through each piece of plastic food about 28 times.  You never got tired of it and you had such polite manners every time.  It’s one of my favorite aunt memories and I loved it

I also love that each one of you is so different.  And it’s good to be different – if everyone were all the same and did the same things as everyone else, the world would be a very boring place.  Always be your own person and be true to yourself.

When I finally made the decision to move from New Mexico to Texas a few years ago, the main reason was because my family is here and because I wanted to be an active part of your lives.  Now that I’m here, I love watching each of you grow up, although it’s going by way too fast!  It seems like it was just a few days ago that we were all sitting around a table on a beach in Florida discussing what the first baby’s name would be, and now all of a sudden Hudson is 9 years old as I write this.  It doesn’t seem possible. 

Sometimes I just watch each of you and think about what you’ll be when you grow up:  a teacher, a police officer, an artist, a songwriter, a baseball player…or maybe a professional wrestler, a pirate, a zombie, a lawyer, a rodeo clown…the possibilities are endless really.  I wish for each of you that you find things to do in life that make you full of joy and spirit and comfort and peace, whatever they may be. 

IMG_5524

Nephew Corner on my refrigerator
(The paper says “Happy Brithay to the bestes ant en the world.”)

I love being your aunt because you all make me laugh and make me think on my toes.  I love being your aunt because you challenge me in many ways.  I love being your aunt because you each add purpose to my life and that makes me UNunhappy.  And yes, I love being your aunt because I get to give you back to your parents after you’ve tired me out for the day.  🙂 

If I’m sometimes strict with you, it’s usually because I’m looking out for you and your safety.  Sometimes it’s because I see how much you have to offer and I want you to live up to your incredible potential.  But it’s always from a place of love and concern for you as a person and my nephew.  You are my family, the closest things to children of my own that I’ll ever have.  I may not know how to really be a parent, but I’ll always try to be a good aunt for you.  I might mess up sometimes, but I’m giving it my best shot.

So if you ever need anything, just let me know.  I love all of you and would do anything in the world for you.  Well almost anything….I won’t eat meat for you, even if you cook it yourself – I’ve been a vegetarian for 19 years now and it’s too late for that.  Also, I probably can’t kill any bugs for you, they freak me out too much (especially moths).  And I will never buy you a real motorcycle, they’re too dangerous. 

But most anything else, you can count on me.  Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

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