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The Gift of Unexpected Time

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

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

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Who Let the Daws Out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Frankenstein is Feeling Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

       

Falling Up For A Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me during my water-pumping Peace Corps days.

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

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

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

And all is right with the world…

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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.

IMG_5105

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

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