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A Week In The Life

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“Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains, let me remember thee what thou hast promised, which is not yet perform’d me.” ~William Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part I – II, iii)

Seven weeks into my nine-week internship, I thought it might be interesting to document a week in the life of a floral design company intern…give you a glimpse into the daily toils that take place behind the scenes in order to make the magic happen, as it were.  And as I begin to write this post, it serves another purpose – to prop my eyelids open and keep me awake until I have to report back to work for a late-night cleanup at 10:45 PM tonight. 

(Work schedule background: usually we work 9:00-6:00, but some days are shorter, some longer, for reasons described below. Most days that I work at the floral company, I start the day by waking at 5:45 AM and doing an hour on the treadmill before getting ready for the day; the only days I don’t do this are when I know I’ll be doing a late-night cleanup and need all the sleep I can get to prepare.)

Alright, so here’s the Sunday-to-Sunday lowdown on the inside scoop of working for a high-end floral design company (specifically, this past week, which has been pretty challenging)…including what it looks like when a bride spends $15,000 just on her wedding flowers.  Yes, $15,000 – that’s not a typo. 

SundaySundays are anything but relaxing in the floral world; they are usually heavy-duty clean-up & prep days.  On this day, I:

  • Traveled back to Saturday’s venue site in one of the company vans with coworkers;
  • Unloaded dozens of empty boxes and crates and carried them back into the venue;
  • Loaded and re-packed the dozens of vases (and the flowers), candles, candlesticks, candle pillar vases and all other materials back into their boxes/crates and into the van;
  • Unscrewed hundreds of mini-light bulbs from the bistro-style string light cords and placed them back in their cases (I only broke one);
  • Upon arrival back at the studio, unloaded everything to bring it back inside;
  • Threw away used candles, stored away the votive containers;
  • Sorted through all the leftover flowers to pick out the good ones to arrange for a wedding planner’s photo-shoot request and threw away most of the rest;
  • Cleaned and packed up the vases and candlesticks for pick-up post-honeymoon by the bride (they were her containers that she provided, which is not common as we usually use our own containers);
  • Windexed dozens of candle pillar vases and other glassware for next use and stored away;
  • Swept the floral studio at least twice and took out several full garbage cans;
  • “Pulled” (got out of storage and set aside for use) materials for upcoming weddings, which can include vases, containers, ribbon, candles, etc.;
  • Cut flower foam (“oasis”) to fit vases/compotes for the next weekend’s arrangements;
  • Helped to label and set out over 100 buckets (in a small work space which used to be a two-car garage) for the next delivery of flowers, put powdered flower food in each one, and filled with water from the hose outside (this takes FOREVER by the way);
  • Made several paper flowers to use for wall decor in the newly-renovated “bridal bathroom” at company HQ;
  • Participated in company brainstorming/planning meeting for a styled professional photo shoot the following week using leftover flowers from one of the weddings.
  • I worked the full 9:00-6:00 day this day.

Monday & Tuesday – OFF! (But not really, I work at my other job on my days off, so…)

Wednesday – Wednesdays are flower-shipment receiving/prep days. On this day I:

  • Opened & unpacked many cartons of flowers that were shipped to the studio (which by the way are usually NOT packed in water; rather they are dry-packed with sealed bags of ice and water just tucked in around the stems, and remain this way for sometimes up to two weeks from the time they’re cut by the grower to the time they finally arrive at the designer’s or shop – it’s amazing isn’t it?!);
  • Removed (by hand) all foliage/leaves from the lower parts of stems (the part that will be underwater) and then cut the stems from many dozens of flower bunches before putting them (still bundled) in the water buckets; this can take a very long time for each bunch, especially for the very thorny roses;
  • Swept the floral studio at least three times and took out several full garbage cans.
  • Worked 9:00-12:00 this day and then left to work at my other job for the second half of the day (ate lunch in the car on the way).

Thursday

  • Removed all remaining leaves and foliage from all the flowers (by hand) and unbundled the packages of roses and other flowers for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday weddings.  This is extremely tedious and took several hours even with many of us working on the task.  (You will rarely see any leaves on any roses or other flowers used in wedding floral arrangements unless requested – otherwise those stems are as naked as we can get them…)
  • Made two bridesmaid’s bouquets for Friday’s wedding: 

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    One of the bouquets I made.

  • Wrapped all the bouquets in ribbon and attached with pins;
  • Attached “bling” (clip on crystal earrings that remind me of my grandmother) to tall stemmed votive cups wrapped in champagne-colored chiffon ribbon;
  • Made 15 boutonnieres for one of the Saturday weddings; this involves putting together very small pieces of foliage and small flower buds (in this case we used astilbe, silver brunia and scabiosa buds), wrapping them with floral tape, and then wrapping them with ribbon; 

    This is silver brunia - it's a weird but textural foliage with silver gray buds and alien-like tentacles.

    This is silver brunia – it’s a weird but textural foliage with silver gray buds and alien-like tentacles.

  • Continued to “pull” and prep materials for the weekend’s weddings;
  • Swept the floral studio at least four times and took out several full garbage cans.
  • I worked the full 9:00-6:00 day this day.

Friday

  • Made several large “drape-y” centerpieces for one of the Saturday weddings; making each one of these can take 30 minutes or more each.  You have to check the list of what goes in each one, pull those flowers & foliage from the buckets, cut each flower & foliage piece to size, then arrange it in the foam and container accordingly.
  • Made more centerpieces for the other Saturday wedding, this time in trios of gold-leafed compote vases;
  • Wrapped more bouquets in more ribbon, attached with more pins;
  • Accompanied small team to the Friday wedding venue to deliver those flowers & set up; for me this involved delivering the bouquets and boutonnieres/corsages, placing centerpieces and candles on all the tables, etc.  It was an easy set-up, compared to most.
  • Returned to floral studio and began making centerpieces for one of the Saturday weddings; each of the 15 or so centerpieces was a trio of mint julep containers, and each was to get a certain number of different flowers and foliage.  The easiest way to do this is to assembly-line it: foliage first, then hydrangea, then we each take a flower type and start placing them: cherry brandy roses, pink spray roses, rococo tulips, mango calla lilies.  When there are a lot of these, it can take quite a while – and takes a lot of space for all those containers.  Which we don’t have.  We are literally tripping over each other, floral buckets, already-made arrangements, boxes of materials, and trash cans all day long.
  • As arrangements get made and flowers get used up, I consolidate the remaining flowers into fewer buckets and haul heavy buckets outside to empty the water; I can do this a dozen times a day, easily.  I keep waiting for my back to go out as I’m in the process of dumping a bucket in the rosemary for the 500th time.
  • Swept the floral studio at least five times and took out several full garbage cans (on a day like today when we are prepping for three more weddings, the floor of the studio quickly becomes a mish-mosh carpet of stems, leaves, petals and trash as we just rapidly cut and discard, cut and discard…the trash cans fill up within minutes sometimes and the rest of it goes on the floor…);
  • Examined multiple boxes of crystal candelabra parts to make sure intact and ready for Saturday wedding, load into van;
  • This day we all worked an hour later than scheduled to try to finish most of Saturday’s arranging, so I worked 9:00-7:00.

Saturday (I’m tired just remembering this one. I make it a point on Saturdays to caffeine up at Starbucks, wear moisture-wicking material and apply extra deodorant, but it seems to be a losing battle.)

  • Allowed myself to sleep in until 7:00 because I estimated I wouldn’t get home until 2:00 AM this day; two big weddings today, both downtown, and flowers still need to be made for Sunday’s wedding.  I’m on duty for the biggest one – the one where the bride has spent $15,000 on her flowers.  Extra help is called in today from two ex-staffers to manage the madness, bringing the total team number to eight.
  • Helped load two vans for each of the two weddings with supplies, materials and rental equipment.  Flowers won’t go until later, closer to the wedding start times.  Headed downtown for Trip #1 to wedding site to begin set up:
    • Unloaded all items from vans to carry up to third floor wedding site, either by narrow, un-air-conditioned staircase or in tiny, slow service elevator (which we use only when have heavy items on a dolly/hand truck).  I’m guessing that between five of us at this site, we make approximately 8 trips each up/down.  The sound of my crunching knees up and down the stairs provides a consistent and cheery soundtrack to the team’s manual labor marathon. 
    • Assembled ten lead crystal candelabras, which come in 12 pieces per carton and cost over $400 apiece.  Then you have to attach votive cups to the arms and place the candles in each cup.  This takes quite a while for each one, as you have to work extremely carefully and gingerly (or least you do if you’re a clutz like me). 

      Crystal candelabra in process of being assembled.

      Crystal candelabra in process of being assembled.

    • Placed dozens of votive cups with candles around the ballroom and ceremony site;
    • Headed back to floral studio, scarfed lunch down in a brief 15-minute break;
  • Loaded both vans up with all flowers and remaining materials for Trip #2 to wedding site:
    • On the trip down, in the van, wrote out all the corsage and boutonniere ID tags (this makes me slightly carsick);
    • Couldn’t use dollies this time to transport crushable flowers, which means carrying all the heavy crates and bins full of arrangements up the three flights of stairs.  Did I mention the stairs are un-air-conditioned?  (It should be a crime in Austin for ANY publicly used space to not be air-conditioned.)
    • Filled up huge four-foot tall hurricane vases with water up to the brim, for centerpieces (this means filling up the watering can about twenty times in the ladies bathroom and going back and forth to fill the vases on tables, as the vases are too big and would be too heavy to carry if you filled them up in the kitchen first);
    • Placed all those centerpiece trios of mint juleps and gold compotes on all the reception tables and other areas; refill with water to make sure flowers thrive and survive (my only real mistake of the night came at this point, when I accidentally tipped over a vase and all the water spilled out and completely soaked an entire cocktail table’s rented linen…I tried to soak some of it up but then left it to evaporative nature and the wedding planner to deal with);
    • Affixed all the ID tags to corsages and boutonnieres to give to wedding planner; the most uncomfortable moment of the afternoon comes when I have to walk my odoriferous bedraggled self into the room of perfectly manicured groomsmen and ushers to deliver them to her.  Eye-contact is avoided at all costs as I scurry out.
    • Tucked the “blinged” stemmed votive cups and regular candles amongst draping liquid money (otherwise known as Phalaenopsis orchids) on the fireplace mantle in the ceremony ballroom and light them just before the “First Look” photo moment (don’t get me started on that).
    • Loaded all empty boxes/containers to take back down the stairs to vans, head back to floral studio.  It’s 5:30 PM – we get to go home now for a few hours before late night cleanup.  I take a shower (the best shower of the whole week), eat dinner, watch an episode of The Office to decompress, and start this blog.
  • Left my house in a torrential rainstorm, arrived at floral HQ at 10:45 PM call time to find one of the vans has gotten stuck in the mud and we can’t get it out.  We unload the van of some of the heavier items in hopes that will help, but it doesn’t.  We try to pull it out using a truck, but the tow strap snaps from the force.  It’s for the other team, and they leave it behind, taking a personal car instead.  Our team heads down to our site for Trip #3:
    • The rain gratefully seems to abate as we arrive at the hotel.  We unload and carry up all those empty cartons, crates and boxes to load everything up.  The wedding reception is still going in full force, but the ceremony room has been emptied and we use this as a staging area to start bringing things in to pack up.
    • This is one of the most bizarre parts of cleanups to me; we try to dart inconspicuously between guests to gather up candles and flowers and vases, gently pushing the sea of empty beer bottles and drink glasses aside as we go and skirting around wobbly-heeled dancing women.  No one ever acknowledges us or says anything to us; it’s as if we’re this weirdly invisible force of hunters and gatherers, and our camouflage is the spirits-induced blurry vision of the patrons.  We’re not the only ones; hotel staff is stacking chairs and pulling linens, musicians are packing up instruments, but the hangers-on are determined to look through us in order to party past their allotted time.
    • I spend almost an hour disassembling all those lead crystal candelabras, packing them back up, and wrapping each votive cup in packing material to protect them. 
    • As we take the first loads back down to the vans, it starts raining again – pouring, actually.  And the service alley that we’re parked in has become a river, for this is where the roofs of the hotel and neighboring buildings drain: we sludge through several inches of water on the ground and walk under waterfalls pouring off the roof to get the materials to the vans.  We quickly all look as if we just crawled out of a swimming pool.  We have to carry and load dozens of cartons, huge wooden risers, crates of flowers, and everything we took in the previous two trips back into the vehicles.
    • We head back to the floral studio to unload all of the flowers in the van – we’re using them for a styled photo shoot on Monday and we have to save them.  The heavier huge centerpieces that were setting on top of the hurricane vases weigh about 50 pounds each and there are seven of them to carry inside, plus all the other smaller centerpieces we brought back.
    • We finish unloading at 1:30 AM.  I get home at 1:45 AM.  I fall into bed at 2:00 AM.  And then by some cruel joke of the “clean-up second wind” phenomenon, I lie there awake for another hour, unable to sleep even though I’m exhausted, and every muscle aches, and my head pounds from dehydration.

Sunday  – Oh Sunday, how I used to relish thee…now I just dread you and your clean-up requirements.  We arrived back at floral HQ just a few short hours later at 11:00 AM as required.  The van is finally unstuck from the mud.  We take all the vans back to the floral studio where I:

  • Unload several trips worth of flowers from the other Saturday wedding, vases, greenery, supplies, buckets, and rental equipment;
  • Toss used candles and store votive cups;
  • Throw away leftover flowers from the other Saturday wedding;
  • Windex many glass vases tall and small;
  • Scraped wax out of the candelabra votive cups with a kitchen knife and loaded them into the dishwasher;
  • Begin disassembling the 50-pound centerpieces to sort them into flower-specific containers for use in Monday’s photo shoot;
  • Delivered all flowers and rental materials for the Sunday wedding to the venue site and along with a coworker, set everything up; I did not make any of these flower arrangements, they were made on Saturday by one of the extra staffers that was brought in to help while the other teams were setting up.  It was thankfully a smaller job with not many arrangements or materials.
  • Swept the floral studio at least twice and took out several full garbage cans;
  • Hobbled home at 6:15 PM to collapse on the couch.

Whew – so there you go.  I’m afraid 95% of it isn’t very glamorous at all, despite the outward flowery appearance of the wedding industry.  Most of it is dirty, sweaty, manual labor.  It’s crawling in and out of vans over and over, it’s lifting and carrying and packing and unpacking (and this wedding described above was the first one in seven weeks where we used the dollies/hand trucks, prior to this weekend we carried every single thing by hand no matter how heavy).  And I only get to actually “make” flowers (arrangements) one day a week usually, although I understand this is the nature of the floral work week that revolves around a wedding.  There is much more to the floral industry that does not revolve around weddings, and I also hope to experience and learn about some of those other opportunities as well as time goes on.

There are also a LOT of flower items that have been made by the more experienced staffers during my internship that I’ve wished I could observe and try my hand at – like those 50-pound massive centerpieces, floral head wreaths, huge foliage tree-type arrangements that are built on-site, floral cake decorations, garlands, and bridal bouquets, to name a few.  Most of the time however, it was just so crazy-busy with me assigned to do so many other duties that I didn’t get to observe how those items are made or have the chance to try them myself.  The learning aspect was unfortunately and significantly overshadowed by the sheer labor requirements, at least during this experience.  Maybe it will be different in the future with other outlets…we’ll see.

I haven’t forgotten that I promised you pictures of the wedding I worked on and described above, so here you go.  Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like when the client spends $15,000 on their wedding flowers & table designs:

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What do you think?  It looked beautiful, but it sure was a ton of work. 

And with that I’m off to work again – most of those flowers you see above are being used again today in our styled publicity photo shoot.  It’s rare for wedding flowers to get to serve a dual purpose; usually it’s just a sad toss into the trash bin, so I’m glad we got to save these ones.  Eleven more work days left in this internship – I’m taking wagers on how many more times I get to sweep the studio floor and empty the trash cans in that time.  Winner may just get a free bouquet of flowers, on me.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Gift of Unexpected Time

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Pleasure and action make the hours seem short.” ~ William Shakespeare (Othello, II, iii)

As I write this, I am relishing in a rare treat:  my first real day off from both jobs in the past three weeks!  I didn’t think I’d get a day off for another three weeks from now, as part of my 42 days-without-a-day-off dual jobathon, but due to working too many hours in the past few weeks at my university job I was “forced” to take today off.  I almost don’t know what to do with my time, it’s so unexpected!  Actually that’s not true – I’ve got an overloaded to-do list and the day is almost half over already, but it’s still so nice to have the time to catch up on things undone. 

So in that spirit, and in honor of the best speech ever by Sunday’s Emmy-award winning actress Merritt Wever:  I gotta go, bye.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Who Let the Daws Out?

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“But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at. I am not what I am.” ~William Shakespeare (Othello, I, i)

It’s hard work sometimes this, trying to be UNunhappy most of the time. And probably not very realistic, although I’m giving it my best shot. I definitely feel that I’m in a better place than I was a year ago, and I don’t regret any of the recent changes I’ve made. What’s frustrating to me though is that I still find myself in some of the same old emotional sand pits that I’ve dug my way out of in the past.

To be more specific: I seem to have a problem getting along with people. Not all people. Not even most people. But definitely some people. Idiots, for example. I definitely have a problem getting along with idiotic morons who have no sense of right, wrong, or personal responsibility. One of my uncles put it very eloquently once when he told me “Kristi, most people in this world are idiots.” Pessimistic? Maybe. But a lot of the time I think he was probably right.

I also cannot get along with people who patronize me and others, or people who exhibit no class or boundaries or manners, or people who micromanage me and talk down to me. In pretty much every single job that I can remember, there’s been at least one person with whom I’ve worked that seems to be able to push every single one of my buttons and grates on my last nerve until I emotionally implode. One of my friends said the other day, after I described the latest and yet another thorn in my side, “But isn’t that sort of ‘your thing,’ you know, having that problem at every job?” Oof. The truth does hurt sometimes.

While others seem to be able to take these fairly normal (and unfortunately all-too-common) encounters in stride and either just ignore them, laugh it off, or assertively confront the person who is making their life miserable, I have a hard time doing any of those things. I wish I knew why. Instead, my internalized turmoil and frustration eventually bubble to the surface in some weird passive-aggressive display of bothered disdain (and do a pretty good job of eating holes in my stomach lining). This intense annoyance is of course apparent to those around me, even though I do my best to disguise it most of the time, and then leads to even more tension.

One of my faults that bothers me the most (and impacts my ability to deal with life’s daily disturbances) is my severely-underdeveloped funny bone. For better or worse, I’ve always just been a serious-natured person. I sometimes feel that I was born without a sense of humor, which has necessitated a lifelong scavenger hunt to patch together tiny pieces of one here and there. I’m also usually the one that doesn’t get the joke, but am too embarrassed to admit it. People with a great sense of humor usually seem so much happier in general to me, and I’m always very envious of those who are lucky enough to be that kind of person.

So when I made my conscious decisions a few months ago to pursue my true interests and follow paths that I thought would lead to satisfaction and contentment, I guess I thought I’d be leaving all of life’s proverbial idiots behind me. I know, I know – what was I thinking?! They’re still out there, and always will be.  They pick up on my discomfort and annoyance and malnourished sense of humor and purposely decide to run with it; they twist the knife a little bit more with constant snide remarks and thinly-veiled insults because they can tell how uncomfortable it makes me.

And now that I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve in more evident fashion by taking these very deliberate (dare I say serious) steps towards a life fulfilled, I feel that I’m making myself even more vulnerable to emotional injuries inflicted by the pecking daws. A daw, by the way, “is a common black-and-grey Eurasian bird noted for thievery.” How appropriate. With every cheap shot and class-less commotion, the bullies of this world will try their hardest to steal away bits and pieces of your self-confidence and spirit.

Daw

I know I have the power to not let this happen. I just need to not let it happen more effectively. More calmly. More patiently. I purposefully held off on writing this week’s post because I was too angry and upset at the time I normally write, and I knew that if I penned this right after an emotional hijacking, I’d end up regretting it later.

So when I arrived home in the middle of a mini-meltdown, I focused on acting purposefully: to do what makes me feel better, what makes me feel more present. First, I imbibed of some green chile queso and chips (one has to stay nourished to be purposeful). I watched an episode of The Office to just laugh. And then, I created. Arranged. Designed. I surrounded myself with no less than five new outlets of color and calm.

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And it worked.

Therapy in a vase. Or in this case, five vases.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Frankenstein is Feeling Old

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“This is a strange repose, to be asleep with eyes wide open; standing, speaking, moving, and yet so fast asleep.” – William Shakespeare (The Tempest II, i)

This is going to be a short post this week, due to the simple fact that I can barely keep my eyes open (I usually write these posts on Sunday nights for publish on Monday mornings).  Today is day 7 of 42 in my six-weeks-without-a-day-off marathon.  And today I’m working a crazy Peace Corps recruitment blitz from 9:00 AM to 11:00 PM at the university, part of a regional effort that the Dallas team organized.  Between the two jobs, I’m working around 55 hours/week.

No, I don’t know what I was thinking.  If I was twenty years younger, I could deal with the fatigue, pain, and change that my recent life transitions have brought without much effort.  But my older self is rebelling against my new busybody work schedule in pretty spectacular fashion right now.

Some of the hours I’m working are late-night floral design clean-ups at wedding venues, where we don’t get home until after 1:00 or 2:00 AM.  And on the days when we’re not actually doing the floral designs (which is most of the time), the work is pretty tough; I’m the oldest person on the team by at least a few years if not more, and my body makes sure to remind me.  It’s a lot of lifting and carrying of very heavy buckets full of water and flowers, huge vases and sculptures, and crates full of materials.  It’s jumping in and out of the transport van dozens of times during event set-ups and take-downs.  And all this in Austin’s infamous summer heat (I still don’t know what these brides are thinking, getting married outside in Austin in summer).  It’s draining and exhausting, but you feel like you’ve done an honest shift’s work at the end of the day.

Last Saturday we were wrapping endless vines around a hand railing at an outdoor wedding site at 2:00 in the afternoon, and sweat was literally pouring off me.  I looked over at a much younger counterpart standing in the same hot sun as I was, and she was dry as a bone, I couldn’t believe it.  Either she was severely dehydrated or I just can’t handle the heat as well in my “older” age.  For some reason I thought your sweat glands started to deteriorate or something as you got older, but mine seem to be doing the opposite and are now working overtime.  I’ve seen some magnificent sweat stains of late on my clothes at the end of day lately, it’s quite impressive really.

That same venue had steep hills full of stone stairs; the younger counterpart ran up and down them like she was being propelled by some invisible pulley-system, but the crunching cartilage in my forty-something knees sheepishly slowed me down.  And ever since last summer when I took a tumble right outside the Tower of London and injured both legs and feet, I’ve had a horrible and painful plantar fasciitis issue that makes me walk a little like Frankenstein if I don’t have the right heel and shoe support.  (On that day I mistakenly wore sport sandals instead of my runners and by the end of the day, I was limping worse than a three-legged mule.)

Frankenstein

I also have a wonky left shoulder joint that’s never been quite right since my spectacular fall into an African sewage ditch all those years ago, and lately all the lifting and schlepping has given it a true run for its money and has led to some renewed bouts of challenging pain.  My right eye is going for the weird-twitch world record this past week.  And if all that weren’t enough, the middle joint on my left thumb has been torturing me for the past month now.  Which ordinarily wouldn’t be much of anything to worry about, except that I kind of need that thumb to make all these bouquets and arrangements on a weekly basis.  I keep putting off going to the doctor about it, because I suspect he’s going to tell me it’s arthritis, which would just be depressing.  Or even worse, he tells me it’s gout, in which case I might have to die of embarrassment. 

So the gist of it is: I’m feeling my age lately.  I know that aches and pains are just a normal part of getting older, but lately they seem to be getting the better of me.  I feel too young to be falling apart, but too old to fool myself into thinking I’m capable of what I used to be able to do.  Am I crazy to be trying this “starting over” journey at my age?  I don’t mind the process of getting older and I definitely feel wiser as a result, but I don’t like feeling weak or unable to do what I’d like to do (I guess no one does).

I’m trying to be kind to myself during this overloaded time by allowing extra sleep whenever possible, hoping for some kind of midnight miracle rejuvenation to take place each night.  I’m loading up on the vitamins and trying to maintain some sort of exercise schedule in an attempt to stay somewhat healthy.  Because even though all of this is “good” stress – I chose this road and want to be on it – it’s still stress, which adds up over time.

Starting my second job last week was very positive, and surrounded by the multitudes of students milling around campus with their backpacks and blank slates in front of them gave me a metaphorical shot in the arm – a dose of optimism that brought me back to my own college days that were so happy and fulfilled.  I hit the ground running (if with a bit of a limp) and look forward to all this new job has to offer.

And now – to sleep, perchance to dream.  And here’s dreaming and hoping that I can endure, survive and thrive during these next few weeks of self-induced mayhem.  Wish me luck!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

       

Falling Up For A Change

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“Be cheerful, wipe thine eyes – some falls are means the happier to arise.” ~William Shakespeare (Cymbeline, IV ii)

You know how you feel sometimes when everything seems to be going TOO right – like it’s all a little too perfect, which then leads to a weird backfire process of thinking that something really bad’s about to happen?  Well that’s where I am right now.  I guess I was so used to feeling stress and negativity that it’s tough for me to feel “right” and accepting when positive things do happen.  It’s now making me nervous when things line up too perfectly, since I’m on a self-proclaimed mission to “de-perfectionize.”

I’m almost three weeks into my eight-week floral design internship and feel that I’m settling into the routine.  I hear we’re about to get crazy busy with the fall wedding season and as of (literally) a few hours ago, I’ve now been introduced to the “late night cleanup” segment of the business – when we go back after the reception is over to take down all the flowers, usually between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM.  Yes, it’s everyone’s least-favorite part of the industry but a necessary evil I guess (I’m told the floral designers are usually some of the first vendors to arrive at a wedding set-up and usually the last ones to leave).

Despite my dream-big mentality recently, I’ve always felt that I’m a realist at heart.  And one reality right now is that I needed to find additional work to help pay the real life bills.  A few posts ago, I discussed how I was willing to accept other non-floral employment to meet my responsibilities – BUT, I also made a focused decision as part of my UNunhappy journey that I still wanted to that job to have meaning and significance to me if at all possible. 

So I couldn’t believe it when I found out back in July that the local university Peace Corps recruiter position was opening up.  I served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1999-2001 in the remote and landlocked developing country of Burkina Faso in west Africa (some of you may remember when it used to be called Upper Volta before the country changed names in 1984).  I’m not sure I can encapsulate in just a few words a summary of my Peace Corps experience, but if I had to, I guess I’d choose: life-changing, perseverance, challenging, connections, change, strength, mangoes, peanuts, and growth.  Oh and HOT.  Very, very, always, inescapably, hot.

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This recruiting job would not just be a job; it would be a chance for me to guide and help others to find out if Peace Corps is the right choice for them.  It would be a chance for me to share my real-life experience and be back in a university atmosphere, where the undercurrents of possibilities and choices and learning all contribute to an attractive work setting.  It would mean the chance to meet lots of great new people and be part of something positive.

It was a part-time position, which was actually preferable for me so that I would still have time to pursue my floral design interests.  But being interested in a University of Texas job and getting hired for one are two completely different things; the hiring process is extremely competitive, even for part-time positions.  I’d actually applied for twenty UT jobs in the past four years, starting before I even moved to Austin; this was my 21st application.

I’ve never put more thought and honest introspection into a cover letter than I did for this one, and I was ready the moment the job was posted online.  I think I may quite possibly have been the first one to apply.  It also probably didn’t hurt that I’d interviewed for another job a few weeks earlier in the same International Office that was to house this one, and some of the staff was already familiar with me as a result. 

(By the way, I was so sure that I’d gotten that earlier UT job that I turned down another outside also-very-good job offer, but then didn’t get the job – read about the “oh crap” reaction here from a past post.  What’s that saying about things happening for a reason?)

I’ve always considered 13 to be my lucky number (!), but maybe now I should change it to 21…because I got the recruiter job!  After the interview, I wasn’t sure they’d want to hire someone who had been returned from their Peace Corps service for (gasp) twelve whole years now, but chalk one up for the “mature” voice-of-experience I guess.  And in a crazy coincidence, the previous campus recruiter also served in Burkina Faso – a country that most people in the world have never heard of, and yet now two of us in a row are serving in this role!

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Now I know there are a few people out there who know me, and who know what happened to me during and after my time in Burkina, who may be a little surprised that I wanted to do this job.  You see, I suffered a few falls through my involvement in Peace Corps: physical falls that resulted in severe injuries, and emotional falls that led to wounds of another kind.  The recovery process from both has been long and has left me with lasting scars both inside and out (not to mention some nice metal hardware that’s now literally fused into my bones).

But I think that maybe this new job is part of my continual healing process from the falls of the past.  Sometimes I feel like I’m still crawling my way up and out of the ditches of days gone by.  We all wish we could go back and change some decisions in our past, but once again the words of Shakespeare fit perfectly when I think of how my past has affected where I am right now:  “Some falls are means the happier to arise.” 

Most Peace Corps volunteers will tell you that it lives up to its historical slogan; the difficulty of surviving the service term justifies our pride and knowing smiles when we start to tell our stories.  I’ll never forget the tough times, and I know I’ll carry the consequences of some of my decisions for the rest of my days; but I want to also remember and focus on the positive parts of my Peace Corps experience.  Selective memory?  Maybe.  Or maybe it’s just a survival strategy which I hope will also help me to be a good advisor to the next generation of future possible volunteers.  I look at this job as a chance to give back. 

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Me during my water-pumping Peace Corps days.

So – I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed at the moment, but in a good way.  I almost feel that I’m falling UP instead of down – complete with the lurching butterfly feeling in the stomach, but without the resulting scraped skin. 

And fittingly, today, Labor Day, is the last work-free day I’ll have for a while.  Starting tomorrow, I’ll continue with my internship 5 days a week, and work at the new UT recruiter job on my two days off plus another afternoon.  It looks like I won’t have a day off for the next six weeks.  But it’s a good problem to have, I keep telling myself.  And six weeks goes by in the blink of an eye, right?  Once the internship is over, I’ll re-group on the flower front and hopefully line up some other part-time work with other designers in town to continue to gain experience.

It’s important to me to try and allow time and space in my life for my varied interests, be they floral design or Peace Corps, Shakespeare or cycling, family and friends.  If my life were represented in a Pinterest or mood board right now, I realize that it would appear pretty eclectic – but eclectic is good.  I’m still scared and unsure of what the next months will bring…and, I may even fall down again instead of up…but it’s ok, because I just discovered FLOWER POWER BAND AIDS!  

And all is right with the world…

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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