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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

New Normals and Flower Firsts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers in the Flower Lab.

Flowers in the Flower Lab

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

I made this!

I made this!

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

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

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

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

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Second compote for book table, on porch outside.

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

Bridal and Bridesmaids Bouquets (pre-delivery)

Bridal and Bridesmaids Bouquets (pre-delivery)

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

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

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

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À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Start and Re-Start

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

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

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

Beautiful "Message" & "Ilios" roses

Beautiful “Message” & “Ilios” roses

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

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

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

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

My Bloomin' Bike

My Bloomin’ Bike

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

Before my longest ride of 45 miles.

Before my longest ride of 45 miles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Future is Blooming – Part 2

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

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

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

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Purpley-pink orchid at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

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

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

floral tools

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

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

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

Paris Fleuriste

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

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

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Future is Blooming

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

Georgia O'Keeffe "Iris 7"

Georgia O’Keeffe
“Iris 7”

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

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

Brilliant, no? Forced floral art appreciation.

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

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

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

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

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“Flower Shop” by Elaine Cory

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time.

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

BlueIrises

Wormhole Take Me Away…

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“Too well, too well I feel the different plague of each calamity….”  ~ William Shakespeare (King John)

Part of the reason that I quit my job a few weeks ago was that it made me sick – literally and figuratively – and I simply felt bad almost all the time.  The job required that I be in elementary schools all day, every day; after three days in one school, we’d move on to another.  From the very first week on the job, my immune system was overwhelmed with a constant barrage of viral and bacterial assaults launched by the in-your-face sneezing and coughing of all those adorable little germ warriors (kids).  I salute the teachers out there who have hardened immune systems of steel from years of battlefield exposure, I don’t know how you do it!

I would get over one cold and be well for about a week or two before the next one would start.  I started lugging around several liters of my own water from home each day after a coworker pointed out to me that the kids were putting their mouths directly on the water spouts of the water fountains I was using to refill my bottles.  (Why is this still happening and why hasn’t someone invented a water fountain that won’t allow this?  Scientists, get on that please.)   Another coworker told me she stopped tying kids’ shoelaces after she knew someone who got a nasty fungal infection from doing the same thing. 

We should be paying our teachers and school staff in bars of gold, by the way.

My close friends and family that really know me also know that I’m a bit of a germophobe, although I’ve gotten better about it in recent years (yes I have!).  Still, this was a pretty tough aspect of the job for me to handle.   When the flu started spreading like wildfire last fall I began reminding the kids to cover their coughs and sneezes vampire-style, but was told by my supervisor to stop doing this (it wasn’t part of our rote 45-minute memorized lesson, so epidemic prevention be damned).  Despite my best measures (I really need to buy stock in hand sanitizer companies), it always seemed to be a losing battle for me. 

I spent Christmas Day morning in Urgent Care with a bad case of bronchitis and strep.  I caught a nasty norovirus one time that sucker-punched me out of the ring for a while (intestinal woes that you do NOT want to hear about, trust me).  And then at the end of March, I came down with a particularly nasty bug that caused me to do something I’ve never done before:  I called 911 in the middle of the night because I’d woken up feeling as though my throat was closing up and I couldn’t get enough air.

The very nice and handsome EMT and ambulance workers who showed up at my house were there all of five minutes before they deemed me to simply have a bad case of – wait for it – laryngitis.  Caused by the upper respiratory infection I’d come down with, but still just plain ol’ laryngitis.  Was I embarrassed?  If I’d had a lever I could have pulled to open up a wormhole to another galaxy in my living room, I would have dived in all Greg Louganis-style.  Especially after the guy taking my pulse ox rate remarked “cute candy cane pajamas.”

Wait for me, Picard.

Wait for me, Picard.

My Dad – who had practiced his Indy 500 speed skills getting to my house after I’d called him to croak out in a weird froggy-sounding voice that I was calling an ambulance – then took me to a 24-hour clinic where another cute medical professional gave me a cortisone shot and a Rx for steroids and sent me on my merry groggy way.  Luckily it was nothing too serious, but it was one of the final straws in my decision to finally quit a job that was making me miserable in more ways than one.  It’s hard to be UNunhappy when you’re sick all the time.

By the way and a heads up:  I was told that most emergency services (ambulance, EMT) are almost always considered out-of-network for insurance purposes.  I don’t know if it’s true everywhere or not, but I didn’t know that before I picked up the phone and called that night.  I imagine it’s the last thing on people’s mind when they need true emergency help – as it should be.  But I was in shock many weeks later as I opened two bills totaling $725.00 – the portion my insurance would refuse to cover.  For 5 minutes of evaluation EMS provided at my home that night and no transport.  That my insurance wouldn’t cover because the responders were out-of-network.

But here’s the restore-your-faith-in-humanity part of the story:  When I called the EMS billing service to inquire about the bill breakdown and payment plans, a nice man named Bruce asked me if I had secondary insurance that could cover my part of the bill.  I said no, and told him that actually, I was about to be unemployed.  He then told me he was going to waive the remaining part of the EMS bill, because that was their policy if people didn’t have enough insurance coverage to pay the balance.  He said “We don’t ever want anyone to NOT pick up the phone and call 911 in the middle of the night when they feel they need it – like you did – because they’re worried they can’t pay for it.  We’re here to help you.”

I think my very intelligent-sounding response was along the lines of “Wha?!?”  I was incredulous, and told him so, and then thanked him profusely.  I actually asked him, was this an American company and policy, in the land of healthcare-induced bankruptcies that we hear so much about all the time (Yes it was.)  It was a very welcome glimmer of humanity and decency in the shadowy underground that is the U.S. healthcare industry, and I was extremely grateful for it.

Now that I quit my job, I’m having to wage another battle: not on germs this time (well, ok, that’s ongoing), but on convincing healthcare insurance companies that I’m worthy of being insured as an individual.  Companies that will increase your monthly premium by $64 per month if you went to the chiropractor one time for one episode of minor back muscle pain.  Companies that penalize you instead of rewarding you for wanting to improve your mental and physical health.  The mere act of applying for individual coverage suddenly launches you into a world of criminal-like suspicion, it’s crazy.

After I applied to several different health insurance vendors, many of them called me for underwriter investigations.  One company actually wanted to know the day of my last period and if it was a “normal” one…how did this ever become any of their damn business??  And Mr. Underwriter, when it comes to describing that painful part of every woman’s existence – you simply can’t handle the truth.  Evidence: this hilarious video by UK company BodyForm in response to a pseudo-frustrated boyfriend’s Facebook post (it’s well worth your time!):

Another underwriter suspiciously questioned the fact that I said I’d lowered my cholesterol by losing nearly 50 pounds, implying that they thought the only reason I could’ve lost that much weight was by being sick, not because of individual hard effort and just wanting to be healthier.  I was glad it wasn’t a Skype call so they couldn’t see the gesture I made to them during our conversation.

It’s all pretty discouraging and frustrating, but I’m not letting it get me too down.  I knew this would be one of the consequences of quitting my job, and short of moving to England or France’s land-of-socialized-medicine tomorrow, it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with.

I feel really lucky in my life that I’ve never had very serious health problems, knock on wood.  (Well, there was that one time I nearly died after a mugger pushed me over a bridge, but that’s a story for another post.)  I usually always made them out to be more serious in my mind than they were in real life, but I’m getting better at that too.  I’ve already survived some pretty tough times in my life, so I know I’m a strong person that is hopefully capable of handling whatever may come. 

With or without a wormhole.

pooh1

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

Oh Crap…and Is The Universe Really Talking to Me?

4 Comments

“O God! that one might read the book of fate.” ~ William Shakespeare (King Henry IV, Part II)

I revealed in my last post that I recently quit my soul-sucking job.  A few weeks before I gave my notice, I applied for two high-level professional positions that fortune seemed to point in my direction.  One was with a local nonprofit group that does great things in the community, the other with the University of Texas.  I was extremely interested in both positions, and I’d been trying to get a job with UT ever since I moved to Austin over three years ago (the hiring process at UT is extremely competitive).

Both jobs paid significantly less than the salary I was making at the time, but I was so ready to get out of my toxic work situation that I didn’t even care.  I think I would have accepted being paid in chocolate coins if it meant less stress and more meaningful work.

The nonprofit group was the first to reach out, and called me in for an interview.  I ACED it.  I have to admit, I love the feeling you get from a well-oiled job interview!  (My secret tip that I don’t mind passing along to you:  sing “I Have Confidence” from the Sound of Music in your best Maria impersonation at the top of your lungs right before you go into the interview.  Preferably in the privacy of your car.  You’re welcome.)

SoMIHC

Click photo to hear “I Have Confidence” sung by the great Julie Andrews!

It was shortly after that interview that I gave my notice at my then-current job (a very UNunhappy moment by the way).  A day or two later, the UT office at which I’d applied called me to schedule a phone interview.  I was ecstatic!  It was the first UT job I’d applied for (of many) which had reached the interview stage.  And, the job seemed to be literally written just for me: they wanted someone who had lived and worked in sub-Saharan Africa (thank you Peace Corps), spoke a foreign language (oui, moi), and had experience advising students (I used to work as an advisor at the University of NM).

Keep Calm and Speak French

The UT phone interview went great, and they then scheduled a second interview for a few days later, to be conducted via Skype.  Everything meshed and it went swimmingly well.  I made funny quips and asked well-researched questions.  I’d done my homework and I was prepared – as I have been my whole life.  Organized, detailed, prepared – that’s me.

I was feeling great!  I was in the running for two jobs in what seemed to be a perfect timing situation!  I’d finally quit my miserable job that was driving me into the ground, and I was headed for happier times!  I drove by the UT office near campus and it was in a beautiful setting; I was already imagining working there and figuring out where I’d park.

The day of the Skype interview with UT, the nonprofit group called me to offer me their job.  However, they told me that between the time of my interview and now, they’d decided to change the job title and some of the duties of the position I’d applied for; it was still a good job, but it was no longer what I thought it was going to be.  It now wasn’t as attractive to me as the UT job – which by this time I was 99% sure I was going to get.

Notice those words “perfect” and “sure” above?  Not-so-subtle foreshadowing.  By now you can probably guess what happened.

I declined the nonprofit job offer.  And then UT emailed me a few days later to say they decided to hire someone else.

What have I done!?

I think I stared at that email for about ten minutes in pure disbelief.  “Oh Crap” is a tame version of my reaction.  My perfect interviews and my perfect preparation and my perfect planning all crumbled away into nothingness as I sat there.  I started to feel the fear rise up from a pit deep inside me – what had I done?

In the following days, I searched for the bigger message in this ego-busting development.  I looked for the answer in many different forms of chocolate, but nothing materialized (except lots of calories).  I even blamed the huge Texas flag hanging on my wall that was visible in the background of my Skype interview camera view; I took that flag to the 2010 Tour de France and Lance Armstrong autographed it for me right in the middle of the white star…maybe they saw that and held it against me, another casualty of the cycling doping controversy?

This wasn’t the way things were supposed to happen.  Or was it?  Where was Shakespeare’s quoted book of fate when you needed it?  Of course I wanted to know why this detour had forced me to take another direction, but then I started to think that maybe what I needed to focus on was not the “why,” but the new direction in and of itself. 

You see, before I’d applied to either of those jobs or quit my current job, I’d been thinking of and toying with the idea of doing something completely different with my life.  Ditching the traditional 40-hour office landscape for a much different one that I’d been thinking of for many, many years.  One that is vastly more colorful and joyful and meaningful.  I applied for those two jobs out of interest, yes, but also out of fear.  Fear that my other visions and hopes and ideas weren’t good enough somehow. 

Bleeding Hearts

But now here I was at the literal crossroads of fear and fortitude.  Inextricably intertwined.  Giving into one could mean sacrificing the other.  And even though I would have been very good in either of those jobs that I applied for had I gotten them, I feel somehow that the universe was, just maybe (even though it’s pretty busy with all the supernovas and collapsing stars and whatnot) whispering in my ear,  “It’s not the right time for that.”   And so I decided to listen.  And I’m ok with the way things turned out.

As I finished the last few days at my job, I felt strangely calm – this, despite not having a perfect plan in place for my next steps.  Or maybe because of the lack of a perfect plan.  Or maybe it was just blissfully-ignorant shock, but it was nice.  And I felt a sense of freedom – not just from the weight of the job stress being lifted off my shoulders, but also from the blank slate being presented to me.  (But I hate the feeling of chalk on my hands, so I’m going to think of it as a blank whiteboard.)

Yes, I’ve had a few moments of self-doubt…I think it would be strange if I hadn’t.  I have to keep reminding myself that we get this one life, this one chance in a fleetingly short blip on the universal timeline of history to do what makes us feel alive and worthy and content – to do what makes us UNunhappy

Is the universe talking to you?  What is it saying?  And does it have an accent? Enquiring minds want to know.   

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Hate your job? QUIT ALREADY!!! I did.

6 Comments

“Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” ~William Shakespeare (Macbeth)

I’m an über fan of the show “The Office”  (both versions – British and American).  I’ve seen every episode multiple times, and I was sad to see it end when the series finale aired on May 16th.  Whenever I’m feeling down, watching an episode or two never fails to make me laugh out loud.  (And, I have a major crush on John Krasinski and his perfect hair.)

JKpic

(Thanks Jenna Fischer for tweeting this perfect John pic!)

One of my all-time favorite scenes from The Office was the one where Michael Scott quit his job at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company:

Oh Michael, I love you and your resolute, childlike narcissism.

Like most of you I imagine, I’ve spent most of my working life in an office; only a few of my working years have NOT been in an office setting (Peace Corps & Home Depot spring to mind).  I’ve dealt with my fair share of office politics, drama queen co-workers, bipolar bosses, pervasive PowerPoints, and mind-numbing boredom.  I’ve stared into enough filthy food-splattered office microwaves to last me a lifetime.  At one office – not exaggerating – I endured a musical-chairs-rotation of 8 different bosses in the 7 years I worked there (and none of them were Michael Scott, unfortunately). 

Looking back on all my office work experiences together, it resembles a schizophrenic reality-show combination of Survivor, Punk’d, and The Joe Schmo Show all rolled into one (“What is going ooooonnnnnn??!!!” = Best reveal moment ever by the way on Joe Schmo).  The cumulative effect of all these experiences was disturbing yet manageable, or so it felt that way at the time. 

It was almost like a badge of honor to outwit, outplay and outlast other coworkers that would fall by the wayside – but at an expense I couldn’t yet recognize.

So what happened that prompted my current journey?  Almost a year ago, I found out I was being transferred into a new position by my employer; funding for our prior positions had run out, and they scrambled to plop a few of us into ill-fitting new jobs at a different office where we were underutilized and undervalued.  I had no choice in the matter, and I knew within a nanosecond of the announcement that it would be a job that I was going to hate.  Not dislike.  Hate

But did I listen to the voice in my head that was screaming “GET OUT NOW!”  Of course not; being the responsible workforce professional that I was, I trudged ahead in sensible pay-the-bills fashion.

That daily trudging left much of my sanity and health lying battered and bleeding on the side of Austin’s congested roadways that I wrestled each day on my 50-mile round-trip commute.  It was a hell of a ride (TWSS).

I lasted nine months.  And then I finally made the decision to give my bundle of frayed nerves up for adoption.

About a month ago, I finally took back my life and JUST QUIT.  I wanted so badly to boldly march into my boss’s office and quote Michael Scott from the video above as I turned in my notice, inspiring shock and awe in the process. 

Turns out I’m not quite the brave thespian I’d envisioned…and the boring reality is that I walked (normal-style) into HR and turned in my notice in a perfectly-civilized non-histrionic meeting.   I never could have delivered the line as good as Michael did anyway…it should remain his.

michaelscott-truffled-650x365

I was taught growing up that you never give up, never quit, so this was a hard decision for me.  But there are times when we just don’t win the battles we choose (or are thrown into) and simply must walk away.  Sometimes knowing when to make that decision and following through can be a victory in itself.

I read a quote by Confucius the other day that said “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”  Staying in such a soul-sucking job for as long as I did was me making my own life complicated; quitting it was me getting back to basics.  I’m ready for simplicity again!

And before you ask: no, I didn’t have another job lined up at the time that I quit, despite my father’s voice on a repeat loop in my head saying “Don’t quit a job before you have a job.  Don’t quit a job before you have a job.”  I feel a little like Baby in Dirty Dancing, rebelling with the bad boy despite what others think she “should” do – only my Johnny is joblessness, and way less sexy.

Yes, I’m terrified. But I’m FREE!  But definitely terrified. My last day on the payroll was two weeks ago, and I don’t have another job yet.  Those real-life bills aren’t going to pay themselves.  But I do have a vision that I’m working toward – one that started when I was only 16 years old actually (stay tuned for future posts to learn all about it).  

The line from The Office series finale that struck me the most – and validated 100% my decision to try my hand at life decisions that would hopefully lead to a state of UNunhappy – was this one by Pam:

“Be strong.  Trust yourself.  Conquer your fears.  Just go after what you want, & act fast, because life just isn’t that long.”

It doesn’t really get much clearer than that. 

John Wayne once said “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.”  So I guess this is me saddling up (yippee-ki-yay blog readers)!  Let’s see where this trail ride leads.

So to sum up:  You have no idea how high I can fly…on an uncomplicated horse…that dances dirty….  Or something like that.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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