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LLTMN #2: Bullying – Don’t Do It, Don’t Take It

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Dear Nephews:

Today is the first day of school for all of you except Wyatt; Hudson you’re starting 4th grade (which is everyone’s favorite in elementary school), Truman 2nd grade, and Andrew is beginning kindergarten!  Wyatt we celebrated your 3rd birthday yesterday at the pool with friends and family and your little girlfriend Ella.  You’re all growing up so fast!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people treat each other, and now that you’re starting a new school year, you’ll be dealing with this a lot too.  New friends, new classmates, new schools for some of you, new sports teams.  I think that most of the time, most people are decent, and nice, and respectful of the other people around them.  But not always.  It’s kind of a scary world out there right now, and sometimes people are not going to treat you the way that they should.

Sometimes, you’re going to run into bullies.  Or they’re going to run into you – on purpose, with a jab to the ribs.  And they’re not always who you expect them to be.  But all bullies do have some things in common:  they’re going to be mean to you, they’re going to try to intimidate you, and they’re going to try to make you feel bad.

Don’t let them!

First:  If someone is bullying you at school, or at practice, or anywhere else, please tell someone! Talk to a grown-up who loves you, who is supposed to protect you and that you trust: a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a teacher.  But tell someone so they can know what’s happening and can help you make it better.  It may take a while for the situation to improve while things get worked out – but if you never tell anyone, it might never get better.

Second:  Bullies LIKE to see you upset.  If you can ignore them and be the better person, sometimes that’s enough to make them just stop and go away.  It’s not easy!  Sometimes bullies can be so mean to you that you might want to cry or yell or say something you wouldn’t normally say.  And I’m not saying that there aren’t times when you would need to defend yourself and fight back if necessary to protect yourself.  But most of the time, bullies just want a reaction out of you – and if they don’t get one, then in a sense, YOU’VE WON!

Third:  This one is really hard  – but sometimes being nice to bullies can also make them nicer people.  You have to use your judgment on this one – again, sometimes it’s just best to ignore the bullies and avoid them – but, it’s my experience that bullies usually do what they do because they’re sad, lonely, miserable people.  They haven’t been treated very well in the past, and so they tend to treat other people bad too.  They think that’s going to make them feel better (to be mean to others), but actually it just makes them feel worse, and then the cycle starts all over again.  If you have the chance to be nice to someone like that, they’re usually not expecting it, and sometimes it’s just what they need to “shock” them into also being nice to someone for a change.  They then get to experience how THAT makes them feel, which is very different from their usual. 

Just be careful with that one – you don’t want the bully to think that you want to be a “bully friend” and also bully people along with them – don’t ever let them talk you into also being a bully!  Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that the bullies are the “cool crowd” and that you want to join them – they’re not, and you don’t want to be a part of that!  No one – and I mean no one – likes a bully.  Instead, be a part of the really cool crowd that helps the other kids and people who are being bullied – stick up for them, say something to someone to help them out.  Never just stand by while someone else is being treated badly.  Stand up for GOOD – be the superhero!

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I also think bullies are mean to people because they are jealous of something you have, or something you are…they treat you badly because you have something they want, or they think you’re smarter or better-looking than they are, or you get to do something that they can’t do, like play a certain sport or travel to places they want to go.  This isn’t your fault – you are who you are, and if a bully doesn’t like it, that’s their problem, not yours.  But be humble – don’t flaunt what you have or be arrogant about it.

I guess I was pretty lucky that I was not bullied at school very much when I was little like you guys are now.  But I have run into plenty of bullies at other times in my life – surprisingly, mostly as an grown-up!  Yup, that’s right boys – you have to watch out for the bad guys (and girls) even when you get older.  I wish all little kid bullies grew out of their meanness, but some people are unlucky and unhappy enough to grow up into big adult bullies as well.

I remember being bullied sometimes by a girl who lived in the same sorority house with me in college.  I won’t say who she was, but I’m sure some of my friends will remember exactly who I’m talking about – she was icy and harsh and would get right in my face to try to intimidate me if she was upset about something (which seemed to be most of the time).  I hadn’t encountered that kind of meanness very much in my life before, and I was scared of her!  I usually just tried to avoid crossing paths with her.  I hope she is a happier person now!

I’ve been bullied by a few bosses at some of my jobs.  One of those bosses lived in California, so our stormy relationship was conducted mostly over the phone.  But bullies can bully even over phone lines; he would yell at me, and he was unreasonable and uncaring.  Most bullies are their own worse enemies however, and this was the case with him; I only had to wait him out (although it was a stressful wait), as he made many bad choices and eventually got fired for using drugs at work.  (NEVER DO THAT KIDS!  NEVER DO DRUGS PERIOD!)

Another boss I had here in Austin actually threatened me; she would try to intimidate me because she was worried that my work would make her look bad.  This woman had something very terrible happen to her a long time ago which I suspect made her a very sad and unhappy person.  But boys, just because you’ve gone through something really bad doesn’t mean you then get to treat other people badly for the rest of your life.  Life is very unfair sometimes, yes – but to let it make you into a mean person who then bullies others is not the answer.

I’m being bullied right now in my job.  There is a person there who has decided, for whatever reason, that they don’t like me, and so they decided to bully me because of it.  I’ve been nothing but nice to that person since day one, but we are also very different people and I think they feel threatened by this for some reason.  So this person insults me, and intimidates me, and does things to make things more difficult for me while at the job.  This makes me very sad; I took the job to explore my interests and be UNunhappy and now I have to deal with this bullying barrier.

So far, I’ve tried to ignore that person’s meanness and just continue to be civil to them while trying to do the best I can at my work.  Remember how I said that bullies usually just want to see you upset and get a reaction out of you?  I can tell they are waiting for a reaction, so by refusing to give them one, I’m actually taking away some of their power that they think they have.  Your PaPa has told me many times that in this situation, you must “be the better person, take the higher road.”  That’s good advice boys, remember it.  

Getting along with people is one of the great skills that you’ll need all your life.  It’s been one of my own personal challenges for a long while now, but I’m working at it.  I’m so grateful to have all of you in my life to help me out with it too – being your aunt is both a challenge and a blessing!  If you’re ever having trouble getting along with someone or especially if you’re being bullied, I hope you know you can also come to me as one of your safe people anytime.  I’ll help you.  I’ll protect you.  Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

New Normals and Flower Firsts

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“Ay marry, now my soul hath elbow-room; it would not out at windows nor at doors.” – William Shakespeare (King John, V, vii)

It was a week of “new normals” for me! Last Wednesday I started work at my new internship with a local floral design studio. The internship will last for the next two months and has put me back in the world of wage earners after the past few months of reset time. More importantly: while I’m only making 40% (yes you read that right) of my previous earning level, it feels good to be pursuing my interests and giving my soul some elbow-room to grow and learn.

(I’m thinking I may have to eventually write a book about this whole new learning experience – my working title right now is “The 40 (Something) Year Old Intern.” I may also have to negotiate with Steve Carrell regarding trademark issues.)

Let me just say (for the first time in my life I’m pretty sure) that I LOVE my commute drive to work! I never have to get on any of the congested highways that Austin is famous for; instead, I take a few back neighborhood roads and then a winding country road bordered by wooden fences and multiple creek crossings. In a short and relaxed fifteen minutes later, I’m there. It’s unheard of in Austin to have a short, stress-free commute, it’s like a bizarro alternate universe. I still can’t quite believe it.

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The floral studio is set on an isolated, woodsy country lot with huge oak trees and rocky cliff faces overhanging the old house in which it’s set. The studio houses the business offices and elaborate mock table set-ups that brides can look at while they’re meeting with the designers to plan their floral wishes. Upstairs, they are in the process of converting two rooms into a photography salon where brides can rent the space for their pre-wedding portraits.

During my first week I painted hallways, installed doorknobs, went on multiple home improvement store supply runs, planted butterfly bushes in huge pots outside, organized storage spaces, windexed countless vases, tested crates full of LED votive candles, and even fixed a toilet (I’m my Dad’s daughter apparently). I worked a full day on Sunday for the first time in eleven years (haven’t done that since my Home Depot days). And in-between the good old-fashioned manual labor intern tasks, I asked lots and lots of questions all week about the various business aspects of running a floral design company. Oh, and yes there were actual flowers involved too.

Even though I worked all weekend, I still fit in a bike ride on Saturday.

Even though I worked all weekend (a new normal for me), I still fit in a bike ride on Saturday.

We prepped and cut all the flower shipments that arrived at the “flower lab,” which is the manager’s garage at her nearby house that has been converted into a cool room and design/storage space. It’s dark and has two powerful A/C units installed, to make the flowers very UNunhappy while they’re waiting to be designed. And while it wasn’t all flowers all the time this past week, I did get to make my first actual professional arrangements!

After observing examples and with plenty of guidance, I made a hand-tied bridesmaid’s bouquet, an aisle runner piece, some corsages, a table centerpiece, and a “compote” arrangement (a low piece in a shallow bowl/urn). It was so interesting to see how all the hundreds of flowers in their separated buckets were transformed over the space of a few hours into elegant pieces of art. We worked with a classic white/ivory/green color scheme in the form of large Avalanche Roses, fluffy hydrangeas, double tulips, spray roses, waxflower, seeded eucalyptus, magnolia leaves and seasonal greenery.

Flowers in the Flower Lab.

Flowers in the Flower Lab

Because the bridal and bridesmaids bouquets are the most “on stage” flowers during the ceremony and in photos, they need to be especially pristine. My first attempt at the bridesmaid’s bouquet actually had to be taken apart and re-done from scratch, but I did much better the second time. I didn’t even feel that cheesy when I asked a fellow worker to take a picture of me with my first real professional bouquet.

I made this!

I made this!

The small wedding was held in an 1886 Victorian-era house north of Austin, and I felt proud to be part of the floral team that was delivering the arrangements. The creaking floorboards and the wrap-around porch of the old home were abuzz with wedding planners, caterers, photographers, equipment rental staffers, wobbling grandmothers in sequined dresses…and us, the florists!

Using lace and ribbon that complemented the antique curtains, we tied the aisle runners to mahogany wooden chairs set up in the living room for the ceremony; then we placed the compotes on the piano and the book table, and the centerpieces on outdoor tables covered with flowing linens. (By the way, outdoor activities in Austin in August = not a good idea, and that’s an understatement.)

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An aisle-runner piece creation.
Beautiful with the lace!

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First compote piece creation.
Love the antique look of it on the piano.

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Second compote for book table, on porch outside.

I placed the boutonnieres, corsages, and flower girl petals on the dining room table for family members, and then I followed our team leader up a winding spiral wooden staircase to deliver the bouquets. In the loft at the top of the stairs, in front of a large gilded mirror, sat the young dark-haired bride; she was surrounded by bustling, busy females with makeup brushes and curling irons. We’d been instructed to leave the bouquets on a small table across the room, and we did so quietly without disturbing the bride or her companions. I wanted to take a picture of the bouquets but it felt like we were intruding and so we hurried away before I could do so.

Bridal and Bridesmaids Bouquets (pre-delivery)

Bridal and Bridesmaids Bouquets (pre-delivery)

I’m pretty much the last person anyone would describe as a sentimental romantic, but I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that the bride or bridesmaids did not acknowledge the flowers in any way to us; they didn’t even look at us, and never said anything about their floral accessories that we’d just delivered. I know they were busy and in their wedding “bubble” – I’ve been there myself. But one of the sequined grandmothers made up for it a little as we retreated down the stairs; she leaned over the railing and whispered to me “Is the larger bouquet for the bride?” When I said yes, she smiled down through her bifocals and said “They’re all so beautiful!”

And Sunday morning, when we went back to the venue, the groom’s mother thanked us over and over again, saying how pretty all the flowers were and asking if she could keep a few centerpieces to give to her neighbors (as thank you gifts for putting up with the disco dancing all night long). We transferred them to her own personal vases and waved to the rest of the relatives having brunch on the porch as we were leaving. And just like that, the Victorian dollhouse and my first event as part of a professional floral design team disappeared into the rear-view mirror of the van.

As an added benefit, I got to bring some of the flowers home with me to practice my arranging skills. But before I tear them apart and re-create other pieces, I plan to enjoy them on my mantle for a while. Pretty nice perk of the job, if I do say so myself. Can’t you almost smell them through the photo?

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À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Fine Line Between Lovely and Lonely

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“Alone she was, and did communicate to herself her own words to her own ears…” ~William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, I, iii)

Last Saturday, I made the 25-mile trip into downtown Austin by way of the Metro Rail train to grab some dinner and support a local improv theatre called The Hideout.  Their show that night was called “Fakespeare,” in which the troupe created a never-before seen, completely improvised Shakespeare-ish play, along with some very funny improv skits and games along the way.  The train was a new experience for me (and brought back fond memories of riding trains in England and France), and I had a great meal at the 1886 Bakery & Cafe inside the historic Driskill hotel before the show. 

The Metro Rail station in downtown Austin.

The Metro Rail station in downtown Austin.

Austin's landmark Driskill Hotel, built in 1886.

Austin’s landmark Driskill Hotel, built in 1886.

A scene from "Fakespeare," in which the troupe performs in the audience-named "Thou Shalt Do It Again."

“Fakespeare,” in which the troupe performs a scene in the audience-named play “Thou Shalt Do It Again.”

This was a solo venture, which is not new for me; it’s the norm actually for most of my outings.  It’s not that I’m completely anti-social – after all, I sat in the theatre as part of a group of similar-minded Shakespeare fans to watch the show – but more often than not, it’s just more convenient for me to do things I want to do by myself.  I’m sensitive to the fact that most (if not all) of my friends and family don’t share a lot of my interests, and it doesn’t feel right to force the issue just so I won’t be alone.

I had a perfectly lovely UNunhappy time.  It was a lovely stroll around downtown, a nice dinner, an entertaining show. Which was why I was surprised on the train ride home to find myself feeling lonely.  I don’t get lonely very often, but I found myself thinking it would have been nice to have shared those activities with someone else.  Surely I’m not the first person to notice there’s only one letter’s difference between lovely and lonely?

I’m mostly used to being alone by now.  You see, I must somewhat-sheepishly admit that I’m the Ross Geller of my social circle of friends and family, in that I’ve been divorced more than anyone else in the group (twice now).  Some questionable decisions in the past and a well-meaning (but misguided) save-him complex led to two failed marriages and some very wealthy therapists out there.  (But seriously, those therapists are also heroes in my eyes who helped save me on many occasions, so thank you.)

Despite me being used to being alone, it still seems to be an anomaly in other peoples’ eyes.  As I arrived to the cafe for dinner and asked to be seated, the host asked “Only for one?  No one else is joining you?”  Bravely staring him down in a non-threatening but assertive manner, I replied “Nope, just me” as I was then escorted to an enormous booth that could have seated six people.  Why not give the single girl the most conspicuous table?  (Whenever I eat out alone, I always think of that great scene from ‘Hope Floats‘ where Harry Connick Jr consoles Sandra Bullock by saying It’s not for sissies you know, dining alone. Gotta be made of some pretty stern stuff to do that.”)

"It's not for sissies you know, dining alone."

“It’s not for sissies you know, dining alone.”

But I needn’t have worried.  The entire time I was there, not only was I alone at my gargantuan booth, I was the only person in the entire restaurant.  At 7:15 PM.  On a Saturday.  I began to think I’d missed a health department report or something.

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

My soup and salad tasted fine though, and finally as the waiter brought the check I asked “why am I the only one in here?”  He laughed and said “It’s August in Austin, no one wants to come to the city when it’s 105 degrees outside.  Plus, we don’t really get hopping until later when they rope off the streets for the revelers.”  Hmm.  Still thought that was weird.

The suspicion of my solo-ivity didn’t stop there.  The rows in the theatre consisted of four seats each.  I sat in an aisle seat, and a few minutes later a man and his party of three asked me if the rest of the seats in the row were free.  When I said yes, the woman with him said “Really, all of them? You aren’t saving the one next to you?”  Sigh.  “Nope, they’re all free for your big butts” I said (in my mind).

On the train ride back home, all around me were couples and groups of people riding together.  I seemed to be the only solo traveler.  Even the police officers serving as our Metro marshals traveled in pairs.  Then bizarrely, everyone exited the train before my station (which was the last one).  During the last leg, I was the only one left on the entire train.  And for the second time that night, I found myself surrounded by empty seats.

It's like a scene from the Twilight Zone.

It’s like a scene from The Twilight Zone.

I felt mocked somehow.  Venture out alone, we’ll show you alone!  (Insert evil laugh here.)

Of course I’m not alone in being alone; I see Twitter tweetmates who also document their solo journeys, getting on with their lives.  Whether by choice or not, we march on, making the best of our solo situations.  It’s not our fault that people in general don’t like “lone” anything; heck, even Johnny Depp couldn’t save ‘The Lone Ranger’ from an unexpected demise this summer.  Our society looks down on singles for some reason as it caters to couples, but the joke’s on them.  Being alone and single has its definite perks, such as: 

  • I can eat cereal for dinner EVERY SINGLE NIGHT if I want to.  Ha!
  • The only person scared by my troll-doll hair first thing in the morning is me.
  • I can ignore that razor in my shower for umpteen days if I feel like it.  A little stubble never killed anybody.

I could go on, but let’s be honest, there’s too many to list.  (But if you want to add your own in the comments section below, I’d love to see them).

I’ve talked before about how I’m a bit of a loner, and about how I’ve traveled alone to faraway places.  And while there’s a degree of pride in that self-sufficiency, I’m only human – I know and remember well that there are certain things in life that are best shared with another by your side.  I’ve been lucky enough to have many of those experiences in my past, and they were great.  I can’t help but think that a little loneliness in my life now is the price I pay for decisions made in the past, and I get that.  I don’t mind paying the toll – the journey was expensive, but educational.

No one knows what the future holds, and I’m a believer in good things happening when you least expect them.  Risk is fraught with both reward and (sometimes-harsh) reality.  I’m more open to the possibilities of change now than I have been in quite some time.  But for the time being, I accept both lovely and lonely into my life. 

And maybe I’ll even go shave.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Start and Re-Start

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“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit…” ~William Shakespeare (Henry V, III, i)

This is a time of starts and re-starts in my life, which is great! Next week I start a new internship with a high-end floral design studio that specializes mostly in weddings. I applied a few weeks ago and found out recently that I’m one of two interns they chose for their program. For two months, I’ll be learning the ins and outs of what it takes to design intricate floral creations for elaborate events and I can’t wait! It’s going to be hard work – this company does a lot of building and installation of many of the surrounding elements of design, such as lighting, sets, art treatments, and signage, so that means a lot of manual labor, but I’m good with that (she says now, naively). It will mean late nights as we set up and then take down the creations at the wedding and event sites, but it’s all part of a new learning experience for me and I welcome it.

I’m really looking forward to observing and learning how the floral designs come to life – from the time the flowers arrive at the studio, through the processing and handling stages to make sure they last as long as possible, and then into the actual creation of the floral pieces themselves. Bouquets, centerpieces, art pieces, headdresses, arches, urns, bowls, jars, runways…the list of possibilities goes on and on.

Beautiful "Message" & "Ilios" roses

Beautiful “Message” & “Ilios” roses

I’ve never been an intern; as long as I can remember, I just always jumped right into the jobs I was hired for. And when I moved to Austin and started my first job here, I actually supervised several different college interns over a few semesters. I created their schedules, assigned their workloads, supervised their projects – and found it very enjoyable. There was something about helping them learn and explore their interests, and guiding them without fully directing them, that I found very fulfilling. And now I’m on the other side of that coin! I’ll be the wide-eyed intern, learning and exploring and being guided. Funny how things really do go around that big circle sometimes.

On the re-start front and a completely different subject, I kicked myself in the pants (with a little help from my friend Sheila, thank you!) and finally got back on my bike. The poor neglected creature had sat abandoned and forlorn in the garage for the past many (MANY) months without nary a ride to speak of. It’s weird right, that I’m such a big cycling fan but haven’t been logging any miles myself? It felt strange to me too, so I’m glad to report I’ll be riding again.

Within the first few months of moving to Austin, I realized that this was a big bike city. Not just because you-know-who lives here and, according to many, put American cycling on the map in general – but Austin is a fitness-crazed conglomeration of runners, cyclists, and all other things health-related. We have the world headquarters of Whole Foods here; we have umpteen miles of running trails around the city; and we basically (and unfortunately IMO) have no winter to speak of, so outdoor activities get a lot of screen time.

So, even though “fit” was not a word anyone (including myself) would use to describe me at that time (or now), I caved to the pressure of the panting exercisers in the city and bought a bike. Nothing too serious mind you – just a mid-range hybrid Trek with not-too-skinny tires and flat handlebars that would let me sit a bit more upright than a traditional road bike. I love my bike actually – it’s a cool purple-y color and actually has a flower design on it (of course). And, it has the all-important “granny gear” that someone like me needs to hike themselves up the never-ending namesakes of Austin Hill Country.

My Bloomin' Bike

My Bloomin’ Bike

I started doing road rides by myself, first 10, then 20, then 30 miles or more. Then I started doing group rides each Saturday, carting my bike the 25 miles to downtown to meet at a bike shop and then ride 25 miles. The farthest I’ve ever ridden in one day was 45 miles for the Livestrong Challenge a few years ago. I’m pretty slow (except on the downslope, that extra weight comes in handy then), and I’m a turtle on the uphills, but I have the endurance for some reason to ride far, even though it may take me forever.

Before my longest ride of 45 miles.

Before my longest ride of 45 miles.

My previous job position had involved biking on a very regular basis, and it was great. We’d go out for rides with kids on the way to school, or we’d conduct bike safety rodeos and safety seminars – there was always something bike-related to look forward to. I even became certified as a League Certified Instructor (LCI) with the League of American Bicyclists to be able to teach bike safety to the kids and parents we were working with. Biking had become a consistent part of my life.

But when I was transferred into my last job position about a year ago, all of that stopped. The biking aspect was completely eliminated from our restructured jobs; our experience and qualifications sadly counted for nothing anymore. I got so depressed about it that I just pushed my poor bike aside, literally. First I stopped going on group rides; I was commuting so far downtown five days a week anyway, that driving down there again on the weekends was the last thing I wanted to do. Plus, I was so slow that I felt I held up the group and it was embarrassing. I still went on some solo rides around my neighborhood on the weekends, but eventually that stopped too. Add to that the constant ill health I seemed to be suffering, and I just couldn’t get into it anymore.

But I’ve actually always liked riding a bike, so I did miss it. I have wonderful memories of my Dad teaching me to ride my bike in the park for the first time when I was about 7 years old – a pink banana-seater called “The Strawberry Sizzler.” I rode that thing to pieces all over our neighborhood. When I was about 12, he revamped my mom’s old Schwinn, painted it red, put a new seat on it, and gave it to me for my birthday; I loved it. When I was 16, I bought a sleek black road bike with my own allowance money and the very first time I took it out, I did a 20-mile ride through the canyon outside the city limits; it was stolen out of our garage one weekend about a year later, unfortunately. My sole means of transportation during Peace Corps was a green Trek mountain bike; it became an extension of me, taking me down the unpaved red dusty roads to the market, neighboring villages, and to get life-sustaining water at the pump well.

Leaving at end of Peace Corps service, faithful Trek in the foreground.

Leaving at end of Peace Corps service, faithful Trek in the foreground.

So when my friend Sheila proposed last week that we go for a bike ride, it was the welcome impetus I needed to get back on the saddle. I gave my bike a good wash, a tune up and chain lube, aired up the tires, and hooked up the bike rack to the back of my car again. After an interesting time of squeezing back into my dusty bike shorts, we took our bikes down to the Veloway in south Austin and pedaled a couple of loops. It felt great! (Well, to be honest, my bottom was pretty sore the next day, but I didn’t even care.)

I guess the lesson is that it’s never too late to start or re-start something you’re interested in, especially if it makes you UNunhappy. Expect a few posts about the intricacies of the upcoming internship, and if anyone out there wants to go for a bike ride, I’m game. Let’s just stay away from the big hills please.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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