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A Valentine’s Gone Sour at $1.20 per Hour

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“Prepared I was not for such a business; therefore am I found so much unsettled…” ~William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, II, v)  

I’ve traveled the earth and survived for long periods in very remote places few people have ever heard of.  I worked hard over many years to earn multiple university degrees.  I’ve endured my share of bad bosses, bad jobs and bad relationships and learned many life lessons from all of them.

So it makes me very frustrated, after all that worldly learning over all those years, to end up in a situation where I find myself taken advantage of because of my own naivety.

But that’s what happened, and I blame mostly myself.  Two months ago, I had the thought of doing a Valentine’s Day pop-up shop for my floral business.  I don’t have a shop of my own, and just work out of my home for the most part, so I thought I’d hold temporary shop inside another existing business.  I started brainstorming possible locations, and reached out to a coffee shop that I’d visited a few times in the past few years to ask if they’d be interested in hosting my pop-up.  (I won’t name them here in this post but many of you already know who they are.)  They replied yes, they’d be very interested, and we set up an initial meeting for a few days later.

Mistake #1: I waited too late to start all of this.  Valentine’s Day is of course the biggest holiday of the year for florists, which means that we have to place our flower orders with our wholesalers several weeks ahead of time in order to get “pre-book” (lower) prices.  We had the initial planning meeting at the coffee shop on a Thursday, and my floral wholesale order was due the next day.  I therefore felt a lot of pressure to come to an agreement so I could get my order in.  I was so worried about booking a host location that I didn’t listen to my internal voice of concern when the owner proposed they take a 25% cut of the sale price of each floral arrangement in exchange for providing me a corner of space to sell.  I didn’t figure out until after I said “yes” that 25% of the sale price worked out to be almost 60% of the actual profit, once I factored in my costs of making everything.

I placed my wholesale order the next day for over $1,000 in flowers, but couldn’t stop thinking about that profit margin.  It seemed exorbitant to me, so I suggested in an email that we work on making the split more fair to me, since I’d be putting in most of the labor for the pop-up shop to make over 60 arrangements and to prep/de-thorn/wrap 150 single long-stemmed roses (that the shop had ordered).  I proposed sale price points that I thought were extremely reasonable for Valentine’s Day, that would help to sell the arrangements, and that would still leave us both with some reasonable profit.  The coffee shop countered with a payout offer that, based on the sale prices I had suggested, would decrease their share of the profits on the arrangements to 47%, but would still give them 64% of the profits on the single-stemmed roses.  I accepted their offer.

I’ve always considered myself to be relatively book-smart; I did well in school, placed high in my classes, and enjoyed learning.  But I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never had much of what they call “street smarts” – it’s hard for me to tell sometimes when someone’s taking advantage of me, or not giving me the whole story.  I don’t “get the joke” until it’s too late usually.

So I accepted their offer even though I still didn’t feel good about it.  I felt like I had to, I guess – I’d already ordered the flowers, and they had made what appeared to be at least somewhat of a good faith offer in reducing their profit margin to be more fair to me.  They were providing the space, and some marketing, and staff time to ring up sales (they made a specific point of telling me that they would make the sales at their registers, and then the customer would show me a ticket stub they’d been given – not their receipt – in order to pick up their flowers at my table).  But I still felt like I was going to be doing, by far, most of the work, for barely over half the profits.  I began to get upset and dejected, but I also tried to be positive, telling myself that if we sold everything, we’d both still end up with a tidy sum and that it was good exposure for my business – and so I began investing time and flowers into creating sample floral arrangements for their publicity efforts and to take into the coffee shop to display to customers two weeks before the holiday.

My flower studio at full capacity.

My flower studio at full capacity for the pop-up shop.

(Mistake #2 – all of these business arrangements were made via email and not, as I now know I should have done, in a signed contract by both parties with all the terms explicitly spelled out.)

I had agreed to make even more samples to try to sell during a six-hour pre-order time block at the coffee shop one week ahead, on the Saturday before Valentine’s.  I had also printed up some price signs to put on the table so it would be clear to customers how much to pay for the different arrangements (we had two different sizes).  This is when things really took a turn for the worse:  I had set up my table upon arriving that morning and had just put out the price signs, when the manager came over and seemed very surprised I had made my own signs, saying “Oh, that’s wrong – those aren’t the correct prices,” and took the sign out of the plastic holder.

I was confused and surprised – “What do you mean? Those are the prices we agreed to in our email,” I said.  She then told me that they had decided to raise the prices of the arrangements – of my product – in order to give themselves a “more even share of the profits.”  They had decided – without consulting, asking, or telling me – to raise the prices of the arrangements by 33% and 20% each, essentially giving them a much higher percentage of the profit margin than me.  She said she would re-print the signs with the correct prices, and disappeared into the back workroom, leaving me standing there in shock.  What had just happened?

I quickly did some math, figured out they were going to be taking well over 60% of the overall profits on everything, and my head pretty much exploded.  I stepped outside the shop and made some very heated phone calls to some family members to vent my frustration; the manager came back after quite a lengthy absence, and I noticed she had just slightly reduced the prices of the arrangements from what she had told me earlier (perhaps she had seen me through the window in head-explosion mode on my calls outside), but they were still higher than our originally agreed-upon prices (and still gave them over half the profits). Furthermore, I suspect they intended their price increase and higher profits to remain undiscovered by me – perhaps that was the reason for the ticket system (rather than me seeing customer receipts), and they hadn’t counted on me bringing my own price signs.

I was angry at what they’d done, but I was also suddenly very worried that this price increase would mean unsold stock for me; their new increased price points were not customer-friendly in my opinion for the arrangements we were offering.  I was now stressed that this pop-up shop would not only not be profitable, but that it would end up costing me money, perhaps a considerable amount.  I made no secret of the fact that I was very upset at this unexpected turn of events.  Someone that day told me “now Kristi, don’t have a bad attitude about this.”  That just made me even more angry – don’t have a bad attitude about someone raising the price of my product without consulting me, disrespecting me and my business, and putting my earning potential into possible jeopardy?  They were already going to make a huge percentage of the profits, but that wasn’t enough for them, they had to have more and potentially cost us both business?  I didn’t want to overreact, but yes, I felt I was allowed to have at least a little bit of a bad attitude about this.

That day, a week before Valentine’s, I took 20 arrangements to the shop and only five sold (that was Mistake #3 on my part, they had asked me to bring “several samples” and I ordered too many flowers, so ended up making 20…which no one wanted to buy a week ahead of Valentine’s & it cost me).  Only two people placed a pre-order for the following week, which also really concerned me.  The manager later agreed that perhaps we should have seen if they would sell at the lower original prices, especially since it wasn’t Valentine’s yet, but she never did lower the prices.

So what happened next?  I’d already agreed to exclusivity and that I wouldn’t have any other pop-ups for Valentine’s in any other competing establishments (so no coffee shops or restaurants), so I felt I couldn’t start approaching other venues to sell there instead.  And despite their (in my eyes) very dishonorable actions, I felt like I had to do the honorable thing on my part and follow-through with doing the shop on Fri 2/13 and Sat 2/14 as we’d agreed.  I spent 83 hours in total labor on doing all the arrangements and flower work, and my mom graciously also put in many hours to help me.  I made 63 arrangements in total, and we spent hours prepping all those single long-stemmed roses.

Roses getting ready for their big day.

Roses getting ready for their big day.

(Mistake #4: I ordered pre-book lots with the wholesaler, which means that for a reduced price, you get the types of flowers you want but you don’t get to pick your colors.  You do get to specify a “wish list” and I stated all Valentine’s colors, but that’s not what I got – the wholesaler sent me a lot of yellows and oranges and whites, more so than reds, pinks and purples…very spring-like but not very Valentine’s-y.  Mistake #5:  I should have used at least half of those long-stemmed roses to make all-rose arrangements instead of mixed-flower arrangements [which did include roses but also four other types of flowers]; people want roses on Valentine’s, and I messed up by not having all roses all the time, but I was trying to keep prices low.  Mistake #6: It’s WAY too hot inside a coffee shop for flowers, they immediately lost days of vase life in just a few hours.)

What I should have made for every arrangement (that I made for a family member's order).

What I should have made for every arrangement (that I made for a family member’s order).

Thank goodness I was rescued by family, friends, and coworkers who ordered and bought arrangements in advance of the coffee shop sales.  I took 41 arrangements (and all the single roses) to the coffee shop on Valentine’s Day.  Only 19 of them sold, so I left with 22 unsold arrangements.  And I think they probably only sold about 20 long-stemmed roses the entire weekend from behind the register.  About halfway through my 8-hour stint at the coffee shop, I discussed with the manager reducing the prices on the arrangements to try to sell more; she said she’d consider it but then disappeared and never came back (and never reduced the prices).

I think there were many factors for why so many of the arrangements went unsold: the price points, the rose and color factors, the weather and very low customer turnout (75 degrees in February probably lured people to go outside instead of hole up in a coffee shop), and lack of signage and marketing.  (My brother and nephew even showed up with a sign to hold out on the sidewalk to tell people Valentine’s flowers were for sale there, I really appreciated that; I also was very touched by all the friends and family that stopped by the shop to show their support.)  I didn’t lose money on the whole thing as I’d feared, but for the entire venture, I only made about $100 profit – which comes out to a whopping $1.20 per hour for my 83 hours of labor.  Which is so sad it’s actually funny.

Thinking back on the whole experience, I’m mostly angry with myself; right after I’d found out the coffee shop increased the prices, a friend of mine and I were talking about it and she told me “Just stand up for yourself!”  I guess I don’t feel like I did that, and I’m not sure why, but it makes me feel ashamed; I felt intimidated for some reason, and scared by the financial risk factor.  I was disappointed that something I really should have been able to enjoy and look forward to, instead turned out to be something I dreaded and didn’t enjoy at all.  I began to doubt my abilities.  I was cranky and pretty much intolerable that entire week, which I’m also not proud of.  And I was unsettled by how much greed comes into play for some people when it comes to business.  This was my first time doing a shop like this, and I certainly learned many – MANY – lessons for the future if I do one again. 

So…it wasn’t the greatest Valentine’s Day, but I’m sure other people had days worse than mine, so I try to keep that in perspective.  (And at least there were no overwrapped bricks of cheese this year, read that story here.)  I was pretty discouraged after I came home that day; I didn’t think I even wanted to look at another flower for a while after that.  And yet the next morning, the first thing I thought of when I woke up was the bucket of leftover withering flowers sitting in my workroom, and I felt bad that I’d neglected them.  Out came the clippers and I found myself working those stragglers into vases and their own arrangements before I’d even had breakfast.  

I have a lot of thinking to do now about future directions and next steps.  Stay tuned.

 À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Tour de England 2014 – Week 3: London Baby!

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“Sound drums and trumpets, and to London all: And more such days as these to us befall! ” ~William Shakespeare (II Henry IV, V, iii)

At the end of the last post, I was getting on yet another train during my recent Tour de England 2014, this time leaving Stratford-upon-Avon to spend the last three days of my trip in London.  During my last trip to the UK in 2012, I also spent a few days in London and was able to see many of the sights I’d always wanted to see: the Tower of London, a play at The Globe theatre, Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, the London Eye…among many others.  But let’s face it, once could spend a lifetime in London and probably still not see everything there is to be seen, so the key to spending just a few days there is making it manageable and enjoyable – and affordable, which is not an easy feat in the most expensive city in the world.

The day I got on that train to London was my birthday, and for some reason when I mapped out my trip I thought it would be a good plan to make my birthday a transition day.  I kind of wish now in hindsight I’d just stayed in Stratford and relaxed, but there’s another lesson learned.  The day started off good with a few very nice birthday cards from my family that I’d toted around England with me (including some of the world’s cutest handwritten messages by my nephews), and then a generous ride to the train station from my B&B owners.  It’s only two hours from Stratford to London, and once I arrived at Marylebone station I purchased a familiar Oyster tube card from the machines there and assumed my London vigilant travel persona.

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From nephew Hudson, that’s me next to Big Ben! (Juggling knives, apparently…)

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A very royal birthday declaration from nephew Truman

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And from 3-yr old nephew Wyatt, that’s a birthday cake!

I went a different route this time for London accommodations, and instead of a hotel, booked a spot in a guesthouse run by a private service.  It’s like a B&B but usually these houses only host one guest at a time.  My guesthouse was located in the very (apparently) trendy Holland Park area, just adjacent to Notting Hill and pretty close to a tube stop, just a few minutes walk. 

A street in the stylish Holland Park neighborhood

A street in the stylish Holland Park neighborhood

My guesthouse in Holland Park (the yellow one)

My guesthouse in Holland Park (the yellow one)

After depositing my bags I headed back out to my next destination: a Chocolate Tour of London.  I thought this sounded good – it does, doesn’t it?  I’d booked it a few months in advance and after a few lost moments around the Tottenham Court tube stop, found our meet-up spot a few streets away in front of an Arabic coffee shop.  It was hot, hot, hot this day in London, much warmer than at any other point on my trip so far, so that made the prospect of wandering around crowded London streets in a very large tour group to un-air-conditioned tiny chocolate shops much less appealing (even with the looming reward of free chocolate).

But wander around we did, about 30 of us (way too many people for this type of tour), through high-end shopping neighborhoods and Sunday street festivals filled with what seemed like every other vacationer in London that day.  Half of the chocolate samples offered to us contained rum or tequila, so I avoided those, and the other half contained coffee beans, so out of luck there too…  But I did enjoy our short jaunt through Fortnum & Mason, which I’m told is the grocery supplier of the royal family, and savored a raspberry-and-peanut-butter truffle at the last shop that packed a cute little powerful punch of cocoa-y goodness.  I wouldn’t do the tour again, but it was interesting to see a part of London I didn’t see last time and wouldn’t have gone to on my own.

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After the tour ended I took the tube to the St. Paul’s Cathedral stop, with a few hours to kill between then and my birthday finalé planned for later that night.  I’d seen the Cathedral on my last visit so didn’t go back inside, but instead sat on a bench right outside it and Skyped with my mom for a quick birthday call, red double decker buses whizzing by every few minutes. 

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

I then walked south of the Cathedral, past the College of Arms (must make it in there for my next trip), and out onto the Millennium Pedestrian Bridge to make my way to the south bank across the Thames.  I love the view from both sides of this bridge: from the south side, you look straight down and can see St. Pauls…and then from the other side, you look across and you see the unmistakeable half-timbered brown and white sides of The Globe theatre.  I made my way over to The Globe and stood outside for a few minutes to listen to the sounds of “Antony & Cleopatra” that was beginning right at that time – swords clashing and Roman soldiers screaming to the cheers of the audience, it was great.  I highly recommend you see one of Shakespeare’s plays here if you get the chance; I’d seen “The Taming of the Shrew” here in 2012 and it was thoroughly enjoyable, but those authentic wooden bleachers do wreak havoc on one’s back after a while, so definitely buy a seat cushion.

South bank view from Millenium Bridge (can you see The Globe?)

South bank view from Millennium Bridge (can you see The Globe?)

View across the River Thames from the south bank (with view of St. Paul's)

View across the River Thames from the south bank (with view of St. Paul’s)

The Globe.  Iconic.

The Globe.  Iconic.

A play wasn’t on my itinerary this time – instead, I grabbed a quick and ho-hum Pizza Cafe dinner next to The Globe and then walked along the south bank of the river,  passing through back alleys alongside the Southwark Cathedral (where Shakespeare frequented when he lived in London), and crossed back over the river on the London Bridge.  I was headed back to one of the greatest sights in London (and really in all the world): the Tower of London.  I’d sent an actual snail mail request many, many months earlier to the Tower for a ticket on this night to see the ancient Ceremony of the Keys This ceremony is where they let a few visitors inside the Tower each night at 9:30 PM to watch the Yeoman Warders and sentry guards lock up the gates of this ancient fortress.

In 2012 I visited the Tower during the daytime and hobbled through the Bloody Tower with bloody shins (story here) for one of the best sightseeing tours I’ve ever been on (led by Yeoman Warder Bill Callaghan, follow him on Twitter @BillyBeefeater), but didn’t really even know about the Ceremony of the Keys that time.  I’m so glad I got a ticket for this trip – there’s a lot of pomp and yelling and actual bayonets involved, along with a huge ring of iron keys and several tall furry bear hats, and it’s really quite a spectacle to watch; the visitors even have to play a part with a verbal response at one point in the ceremony.  So if they lock the gates, how do we get out?  There’s one more side door just for this purpose through which they shuffle us at the end, with one of the Yeoman Warders gruffly barking at us “hurry up, get out!”  It was a very memorable end to my birthday and the best part of the day!

The exact point where I bit the dust in 2012...

The exact point by the Tower of London where I bit the dust in 2012…

Our Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) leading us out of the Tower of London after the Ceremony of the Keys

Our Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) leading us out of the Tower of London after the Ceremony of the Keys

The next morning I headed right back near the Tower to meet an American college friend for breakfast (she’s lived just outside of London for many years now) and then we went on a really great walking tour by London Walks called “Hidden London.”  (Their tours do cost about $15/person but the company offers a huge array of different walking tours all over the city and they’re well worth it.)  It was so great to see a familiar face after almost three weeks on the road, I nearly burst into tears when we sat down to breakfast at the relief of spending some time with someone who actually knows me.  I don’t mind traveling alone most of the time, but that feeling of comfort you get from being around someone who knows and cares about you adds a special aspect to the trip, and I was really grateful to her for making the trip and the time to hang out with me that day.

I’d heard about a special Shakespeare exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum and so after our walking tour I made my way there via the Tube.  What a massive place that museum is, I’ve never seen so much stuff-of-a-general-nature in one place – sculptures and artifacts and jewelry and paintings and china and silver and…well, just lots of stuff.  After asking three different museum docents, someone was finally able to direct me to the hidden Shakespeare corner on one of the floors.  It was very dark and somber and the exhibit items were in these shadowboxes, it was all a little macabre and not a large display at all, but I’m glad I went.  The museum also had the most striking and vibrant purple-ly blue hydrangea in their courtyard, unreal colors I never see where I live.

Part of the Shakespeare exhibit at the V&A Museum

Part of the Shakespeare exhibit at the V&A Museum

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After exiting the museum I decided to walk down the street to the famous (infamous?) Harrods Department Store.  Everyone’s heard of Harrods, and I didn’t have a chance on my last trip to visit, so I popped in for a quick look at what all the fuss is about.  What a dizzying maze of floors and departments; I especially liked the bakery and fromagerie sections, and even decided to take a break for some tea and scones in their tea room.  (I kind of wish I hadn’t, it ended up being both the most expensive and least tasty of all the cream teas I had during this trip…but now I can say I’ve had tea at Harrods I guess.)  I’m kicking myself for not remembering to visit the Princess Diana memorial in the store…maybe next time.

Larger-than-life Beefeater Bears at Harrods

Larger-than-life Beefeater Bears at Harrods

Taking tea at Harrods

Taking tea at Harrods

The next morning was the start of the last day of my 3-week trip.  I saved one of the things I’d most wanted to do for that last day: a trip to London’s New Covent Garden Flower Market – where all of London’s top florists and designers get their flowers and foliage.  After a Tube trip across the Thames to Vauxhall station, it was just a short walk to the warehouse district and the flower market.  The small sign that said “Visitor Entrance” over one of the unassuming doors belied what I saw once I entered the chilled warehouse:  flowers as far as the eye could see!  Every color, every variety, different heights and smells, with vendor after vendor filling every corner of the huge room.  And this was even after most of the day’s business had been done – I’d gotten there about 8:30 AM, but they open at 4:00 AM (!) and so I was really seeing the leftovers that day…but they were still pretty impressive leftovers!

New Covent Garden Flower Market

New Covent Garden Flower Market

Every color of anthuriums imaginable

Every color of anthuriums imaginable

There are 20 flower vendors at the Market, six plant vendors, and a few more that specialize in just foliage.  I explored for about an hour, taking a LOT of pictures of all the different offerings, and then had some tea at the little café inside the warehouse.  I saw flowers I’d never seen before, in colors I didn’t even know that existed for certain varieties, and in the midst of it all, I was surprised that I actually started to feel a little depressed; this Market is a mecca for anyone in the floral industry, and the tiny (by comparison) coolers of the few wholesalers at home now seemed woefully inadequate and just…sad.  I’ll never see this kind of variety and quality and lower prices where I live; I’d have to move one of only about four cities in the US with major flower markets, most of which are in California or on the east coast (and there’s no way I’m living in earthquake country), and even then they’d be dwarfed by this market.  And so I left with wistful feelings, glancing back over my shoulder as I walked out and thinking how lucky the local florists were to have this amazing resource at their fingertips.

Clouds of hydrangea

Clouds of hydrangea

Gobs of gerberas

Gobs of gerberas

Midnight purple callas

Midnight purple callas, a Georgia O’Keefe painting come to life

I wanted to relax on my last day in London, so after leaving the flower market I then headed back across the river to the area around Buckingham Palace.  No Changing of the Guard for me this time (one of the most overrated sights in the city, in my opinion, and I’d seen it last time); instead, I walked the length of the very peaceful St. James’ Park, which runs between the palace and the river.  Leaving the park, I strolled past Big Ben to take a few pics for my nephews, and then took the Tube up to the Kensington area, where I got pretty lost looking for a hidden city gem called the Roof Gardens.  I’d read about this oasis-on-a-rooftop some time earlier, and after walking around in circles for a while, was finally able to find it down a quiet side street.  It was worth the journey: seven floors up and through a black door, one enters into sculpted gardens with water features, shaded sitting areas, and even real flamingos!  There are actually three different gardens, in the styles of Spanish, Tudor, and English Woodlands.  I was the only one in the entire place for quite some time; eventually a few other visitors showed up but I was amazed how isolated and quiet the gardens were.  It was a great break from the bustle of the city and I’m glad I took time to find it.

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From there I walked a mile or so up to the middle of Holland Park, another really nice green space just south of my guesthouse.  On the way there I stopped to buy a sandwich, and had a nice picnic on a stone bench under huge shade trees.  It was then I noticed I was missing my rain jacket, a new one my mom had bought me just for this trip.  I suddenly remembered I’d put it down on a chair at the Roof Gardens, so I went into a restaurant in Holland Park and a nice hostess called the gardens for me; sure enough they found it and would hold it for me.  So, back another mile I walked to get my jacket, then another mile back to the park and through the rest of it to get back to my guesthouse – but not without stopping at a gelateria for a scoop to help beat the heat (did I mention how crazy HOT it was in London this time).  After resting and packing for my journey home the next day, I walked back down the street later that evening for what turned out to be a pretty decent veggie burger.  It was a good last day in London.

I’m actually not too fond of London, although I think it has its highlights.  As I mentioned before, it’s very expensive, always crowded, and I feel I have to be on even more of a heightened alert as a solo female traveler when I’m there.  The Tube is very convenient but it’s un-air-conditioned staleness gets pretty weary pretty fast in the heat of the summer.  And as nice as the area was where my B&B was located, I unfortunately had a somewhat negative experience there with the overbearing owner.  The city is iconic, and I’m glad I spent a few days there this trip, especially since I took a less-traveled route to explore some areas that most tourists probably don’t see.  But I find more with each trip that I prefer to get out of London, into the rest of England’s green hills and diverse countrysides.  Which, with any luck, I hope to do again very soon.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Forays and Flowers in Fourteen

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“How joyful I am made by this contract!” ~William Shakespeare (Henry VI Part 1, III, i)

I hope this post finds each of you at least a little recovered from the whirlwind holiday season, with all of its chocolatey temptations, superfun family time, and shocking credit card statements.  Back to reality we go now in the new year – a depressing letdown for some, but a chance at new starts and a fresh slate – a blank contract – for others. I don’t make resolutions anymore, but I do make plans – and I have a brainful of blueprints that are itching to be put into action.

I actually really enjoy taking down all the Christmas decorations each year and getting back to the minimalistic, uncluttered normalcy of things again.  It feels refreshing, like when you have a big garage sale and get rid of some of the extemporaneous stuff that seemed nice at the time but now you can’t figure out why you hung onto it for so long.

For me, 2014 will bring some big changes and exciting voyages that I’m really looking forward to.  Things are so different for me now than they were a year ago at this time; a year ago, I was sick as a dog (in urgent care on Christmas morning actually) from my germ-laden job and saw no hope in anything that the immediate future held, professionally or personally.  The new year brought no joy, only more resentment and desperation at having to return to a workplace I despised and job duties that were literally sucking the life out of me.

I started this blog six months ago at the end of June as a way to document my journey towards a less miserable (UNunhappy) existence.  And one month before that, I finally quite that horrible job as the first concrete step on that path.  Since then, I feel a little like I’ve been speedwalking in slow motion – I have so many ideas and so much I want to do (and write), but I’m purposefully taking it slow so that I don’t get overwhelmed and burned out before I even really begin.  I have pages and pages of to-do lists, but instead of burning through them at record speed, I’m allowing myself the time to appreciate each accomplishment as it happens.

I have two main focuses (foci?) this coming year: one will be the launch of my new floral design business, which I have aptly named (drum roll please) “Much Ado About Flowers.” Its namesake play (Much Ado About Nothing) is one of my Bard favorites and considered by many one of his best, and it just felt right to name my business after something I’ve also held dear for so many years. I filed all the necessary contract and business/license/permit fees with the city, county and state a few months ago and finally have it all in working order to be able to officially do actual business. I’ve established accounts with all of the floral wholesalers in town and am establishing networking contacts.  Yes it’s terrifying and I feel like I’m stepping off a cliff sometimes, but I’ve decided it’s better than feeling dead inside.

I will still keep my part-time job at the university, but will spend a good amount of my remaining time on building up my supply and workspace inventory, developing online and social media resources, learning about how to run a small business, and expanding my knowledge of all things flower-related.  I do have some ideas in mind for how I would like to see things develop, but I’m also open to new and different opportunities along the way. I’m leaving the definition of “success” for this business open for now, and not boxing myself into any pre-set expectations or obligations.

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Click on the photo to be taken to the Facebook page for
Much Ado About Flowers.  Please “Like” if so inclined!

For about a month between November and December, I watched in awe as my handyman (also known by the clever alias of Dad) gutted and converted the small storage shed in my backyard into a walk-in flower cool room.  The boardwalk was put into place first so that feet won’t be muddied as trips are traipsed back and forth:

IMG_0081IMG_0236Then he basically turned the inside of the shed into a super-sized foam-insulated cooler (literally, there are huge sheets of Styrofoam between the insulation and the finished walls), complete with electricity, A/C unit, work bench and sink with running water:

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One step, board, and floor tile at a time, I’m getting closer to another realization.  (My handyman got paid by the way in many thank yous and several loaves of pumpkin bread, and I hope he knows how grateful I am for his help).  I’m pretty intimidated by how much I still don’t know, and by how long of a road I have ahead of me, but at least I feel that I’m on the right road for a change.

And speaking of roads, the other focus of 2014 for me will be getting back out on the road and across the pond to take England by storm again.  I was there in 2012 (right before the Olympics) for the World Shakespeare Festival, and had a great experience.  This time, I’ll be volunteering for the organizing group of the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France!  This is a huge deal for the UK & Yorkshire, with 3 days of racing in England before they head back to France to continue the Tour.  I’ll be in Leeds and York for the first two stages, but that’s just one part of my trip. I’m hoping to also get to several other corners of the country that I missed last time.

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I love planning a trip like this, and I’m in the thick of it right now; for me it’s half the fun.  The challenge and satisfaction of finding just the right little B&B within my budget; the process of mapping out my itinerary along the maze of train tracks and bus routes that crisscross the countryside; and the anticipation of real life forays into the places I’ve read about and seen in my favorite legends, movies and TV shows.

Although I have big aspirations of ogling a whole slew of sights during this trip, I’m also determined to try to enjoy it more than the crazed pace I set for myself last time.  I want to slow down, spend more than one night in most places, and really let myself relax into the English way of life if possible (while still hitting the highlights, of course). 

In addition to travels to new towns, I look forward to going back to Shakespeare country for the historic 450th anniversary celebrations of his birth this year, as well as hopefully meeting a few new Twitter friends I’ve made since my last trip there.  I’ll be avoiding London during the pricey time of Wimbledon, but will manage to spend some time there before I leave.  I will no doubt rack up a pretty penny of debt with this adventure, but what’s that saying about not being able to take it with you once you’re gone…

So those are my blueprints for now.  No big deal.  Just completely changing course in life and taking leaps that may or may not work out.  Thanks for continuing to read along as the path winds through it all.  Here’s to a great Fourteen for all of us.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Power of Flowers (and more Lonely Bouquets)

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“It is to be all made of fantasy, all made of passion and all made of wishes…” ~William Shakespeare (As You Like It, V, ii)

In July I introduced you to the worldwide movement of The Lonely Bouquet and showed you in that past post how my nephew Truman and I delivered a few of them around town.  Last week I had the good fortune to inherit some leftover event flowers (thanks to my generous current employer) and fashioned a few more jam jars for adoption:

A Lonely Bouquet waiting for adoption.

A Lonely Bouquet waiting for adoption.

This time I left each bouquet at a local animal hospital or emergency vet clinic, hoping that they would bring just a small touch of comfort to someone who either had a sick pet or perhaps had to make a very tough and sad decision about a pet’s future.  I know what that’s like, and while nothing can take away the immediate sadness, I thought that a free and pretty posey might at least take their mind off it for a few minutes.

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That last picture is where I took my dog Foxy for many visits with her canine ophthalmologist when she had optical cancer, but in addition to it being an eye clinic, it’s also an after-hours emergency clinic.  And it’s where I finally had to take her on that last day when she was in pain and I made the impossible decision to ease her suffering.  It was hard for me to approach the door of that place once again, but this time it was for a good reason, and I hope that either a pet parent or one of the kind staff members were the recipients of the gift.

It’s been proven scientifically that flowers have the power to make us feel better – they have an actual mood-improving effect on our brain waves and emotional functions when we are around them, isn’t that amazing?  Take a look at this picture I snapped of a carton full of wedding flowers from a few weeks ago:

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What is your gut reaction upon first seeing the amazing mix of pinks and lavenders and corals and textures?  For me it’s awe and amazement – it’s like looking at nature’s cotton candy.  And what’s even more amazing to me is that the planner at that wedding actually had us DISCARD and not use these flowers because she said the bride would think them too “pink-y” to go with the rest of the flowers (which were equally as beautiful).  This carton of flowers went directly into a dumpster without any wedding guests (or the bride) having seen them, which is shocking to me.  But at least they’ll live on through this blog!

I’ve been grappling lately with the fate and purpose of wedding flowers.  I know they’ve served their purpose, but it’s still sad to see them go immediately into trash bags and dumpsters either there at the venue right after the event, or the next day when the van is unloaded; it’s still a shock to me as I toss thousands of dollars worth of floral arrangements into a big black Hefty bag as the last lingering guests are still milling about.  Yes sometimes there are a few guests here and there who will take a centerpiece or two home with them, but it’s not common.  Even sadder is when the bride’s bouquet is left behind on some random table next to empty beer bottles…why wouldn’t they want to keep that and take it with them?

From what I’ve witnessed over the last few months, weddings have become such staged, scripted, over-the-top spectacles that unfortunately, significance and meaning can sometimes get lost in the shuffle.  Everything is about getting the perfect photo op, or fretting over whether something is “vintage” or “modern” enough, or fitting into the trends of the day even if it has no ties or significance to the two people getting married.  And this includes the flowers.

I get that weddings are BIG business – always have been and always will be – but it seems to me that very few if any brides actually consider the meaning and significance of flowers they pick for their weddings.  Instead of considering the language of flowers and what each variety represents, or picking flowers that mean something to them for personal or family reasons, it seems most brides these days pick their flowers based on how many pins it got on a Pinterest board.  The flowers are just an accessory, albeit usually a very pricey one, but not one that has any true meaning for most people at the ceremony. (I’m generalizing here of course, but this is just what I’ve noticed is true for most weddings; I’m sure there are those brides out there that do pick their flowers based on personal reasons, I just haven’t seen it that often so far.)

(I’ve read that there was literal outrage when William and Kate got married a few years ago that her bridal bouquet was not big or “royal” enough and that she was slammed by fashion critics for her bouquet being too small for the scale of the event.  Little did they know that every single flower in that bouquet was appropriately picked based on historical significance and family tradition – read about it here in one of my favorite flower blogs by Flowerona.)

Here’s an example: one of the most in-demand wedding flowers is the peony.  Many brides want a lush bouquet full of them, but they’re also one of the most expensive flowers (at least where we are), so not many can afford them.  But how many brides stop to consider that in the Language of Flowers, mischievous and brazen nymphs are said to hide in the petals of the peony, giving it the meaning of shame.  And in China, the peony has become a masculine motif, associated with a devil-may-care attitude and a disregard for consequence.  Yes peonies are breathtaking but one must admit those aren’t the most romantic character traits…

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Peony close-up

One of the meanings of ranunculus, another very popular wedding flower, is ingratitude.  A yellow rose in the Victorian ages could signify infidelity and jealousy.  And the most commonly-cited meanings of the ever-popular hydrangea: “A boaster, Heartlessness, You are cold.” 

Now I get that these originally-prescribed meanings don’t necessarily have to hold true today; a beautiful flower can be just a beautiful flower.  But back in the day, people everywhere knew what it meant to give a certain flower to a certain person.  Why and when did we lose that purpose, that significance?

Maybe I’m just being a flower nerd, but I find this kind of stuff fascinating.  Flowers have their own language, contain their own messages and meanings, can alter our brain waves, and many edible varieties can even provide sustenance in addition to beauty.  They have the ability to soothe, calm, excite, incite, cheer and transport to a state of UNunhappy.  They can speak volumes to recipients even when the sender can’t find any words of their own.  That’s power.

So you can make any bouquet or garden of flowers as you like it; you can have it say what you want to say.  There’s a flower for every meaning.  If it is to be all made of fantasy: the poppy.  If it is to be all made of passion: the orange rose.  And if it is to all be made of wishes: holly. 

By the way: one non-profit charity in England is changing the landscape of wasted/discarded wedding flowers.  Floral Angels recycles and re-purposes leftover event flowers into beautiful bouquets which they then deliver to women’s shelters, senior centers, hospitals and other sites in need of cheer.  Check out their Facebook page here and a big kudos to them for all the work that they do in the name of bringing joy and well-being to others.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Easing Up On The Brakes

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“Frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.” ~William Shakespeare (The Taming of The Shrew, Introduction, ii)

Last week, I took my car into a small local brake shop to have some squealing noises looked at (the car, not me).  The owner of the shop was a nice guy and seemed thrilled that I’d chosen his shop instead of one of his competitors, who I told him had treated me badly in the past.  While I usually hate taking my car into any shop for any kind of work because I feel (as I imagine most women do) that they’re taking advantage of me (and I hate admitting that I’m actually pretty hard on my brakes when I drive), this guy actually seemed honest and dare I say genuine, and didn’t try to sell me any unnecessary services.

In fact, he almost seemed to be one of those too-chipper people that I was complaining about in a past post.  He seemed way too happy about a new granite countertop that they’d just had installed in the waiting room.  And then he said something that made my jaw drop:  he was talking about working there at the shop and helping people with their car problems, and he said “This is the best job IN THE WORLD.  I’d do it for free if I could!” 

And he was being totally, completely serious.

This guy works in a hole-in-the-wall greasy mechanic’s shop next to a busy, noisy freeway, with six meager seats in the waiting room and frustrated customers who are having to sometimes spend a lot of money on costly auto repairs.  And yet he is HAPPY to work there.  Joyous, even.  What is going on??  How is this possible??

Is it because he’s the owner of the shop and feels pride in something that is his, to run under his own tutelage and direction?  Could be.  Is it because he actually really enjoys working on cars and now has a shop where he gets to do just that all day, every day?  Hopefully. Does he live for the days when cars break down just so he’ll have a chance to fix them and help people out? 

It’s still such a shock to me when I meet people who are genuinely happy doing the jobs that they’re doing, I guess because the grand majority of people I’ve known are in the opposite camp and are miserable in their jobs.  In any case, that guy’s statement and genuineness around it made an impact on me.  Maybe because I’m more UNunhappy lately, I’ve been able to notice it more in others?

When I look back at the past few years, it feels like my life was being driven in emergency-brake mode. Grating, pressured, dragged down by resistance.  Unable to move forward with any real progress or meaning.  Stuck.

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It’s nice to finally feel – sometimes, not all the time – that I’m able to ease up on the brakes and just breathe, reflect, ponder.  Move more freely and with more purpose.  I’m trying not to pressure myself with time constraints when possible, although in our hurry-up society, that’s not always easy.  But slowing down naturally without slamming on the brakes, recharging, allowing – we should all make time for these life-charging aspects.

Many people I see when at my new university job ask me “So how are you liking it here so far?”  I’ve had the surprising pleasure so far to be able to say “I really like it” and actually MEAN it!  I was also pleasantly surprised when I started another new job last week and the company owner exhibited concern and gratitude for my contentment and labor.  Why are we so surprised when people are nice and kind to us?  What does it say about our society when we are sometimes more suspicious than thankful of people who demonstrate consideration towards us?  Because that’s the temptation, isn’t it?

(There’s a great moment that embodies this tendency in one of my favorite movies, “Sense & Sensibility,” where Elinor states to Edward “The unkindness of your family has made you astonished to find friendship elsewhere.”  Like a tragic sucker-punch to the gut, that line.  One of the best movies ever made, period, based upon the masterpiece by Jane Austen.)

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I had another moment of pure joy yesterday when I booked my plane tickets to go back to the UK next summer.  I’d signed up a while ago to volunteer for the organizing group of the 2014 Tour de France kickoff in Yorkshire, England (yes the French race is starting in England, then they’ll fly back over to France after the first three days of racing).  Buying the tickets for actual dates has made it real!  There’s a wave of anglophile happiness that rushes over me when I think of going back to England, but it’s also because I feel good about making something happen that’s important to me and that I want to do.

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(The other reason why I was so stoked at the moment of booking: because I “beat the system” of maddening frequent flier reservation sites that give you the worst flight choices and mandate eleven-hour layovers in Detroit…  I was able to use a combination of miles from two different credit cards/airlines to get exactly the flights I wanted on the dates I wanted, reasonable layovers, and with all of the cost covered except for those darn fees and taxes. It took a week of searching and finagling but when I finally did it, I had saved $1,200 and felt like I could conquer Kilimanjaro at that point.)

I’ll be staying three weeks this trip, which should give me plenty of time to explore some corners of England I didn’t even get close to when I was last there in 2012: Cornwall, Bath, the Cotswalds…and I’ll definitely be going back to Shakespeare country and hopefully ticking off a few more London boxes.  And of course the Tour kickoff in Leeds and York should be amazing.  I’m giddy about planning the itinerary, even though I’ve told myself I’m going to be more relaxed about the trip this time and less over-scheduled. I want to truly relax and rest while on the sceptered isle, take in the tea and the scones, and relish in the wonderful rain-soaked afternoons.

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So while it hasn’t been all good things in the past week or so – I got TWO tickets from an overzealous sheriff’s deputy, I’m still getting over a case of shingles, and I have yet to conquer my chips and queso addiction – focusing on what IS good is indeed good work if you can get it.  The good things act as tonics against the not-so-good, don’t they?

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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

Who Let the Daws Out?

5 Comments

“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.

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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

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