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Whose Influence is Thine and Born of Thee

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“Surprise me to the very brink of tears…” ~William Shakespeare (Timon of Athens, V, i)

As I sit here writing today I’m feeling a bit off – maybe a touch of stomach virus or something – but the blog must go on, as they say (helped along with a pot of ginger tea).  Plus, I have a really good story to tell you!  A story of true surprise, which is so rarely experienced as an adult isn’t it?

This story took root 27 years ago, in a barrack classroom at Manzano High School in Albuquerque NM.  I was a senior and for some unremembered reason, signed up to take a Shakespeare class as an elective in my final year.  Yes, all Shakespeare all the time, and no, I wasn’t the only student in the class…I think there were about 25 of us or so who took that brave plunge into the world of the Bard.  And I’m so glad I was part of that class, as it would open up new doors that I’m still walking through today.

Our teacher that year for that class was a woman named Clara Sanchez – Mrs. Sanchez to us.  And I’ll just apologize right now for not being able to adequately surmise or praise her teaching abilities…which were astounding, by the way.  It was obvious to me that she not only loved Shakespeare, but loved teaching it to us, and that made all the difference in the brain of a 17-year old struggling to understand what was basically a foreign language to us all.  Yes we did the typical high school classroom thing of taking turns reading different parts of different plays, trudging through the themes and trying to grasp why this character wanted revenge on that other character…  But the highlights for me were always when Mrs. Sanchez would then translate the scenes for us and reveal the hidden meanings behind the words – it was like a whole other world was there in those words if you just looked and worked hard enough to find and understand it.  A literary puzzle with meaningful rewards of learning and understanding.

I remember very well working on our year-end research project – I chose the topic of “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.”  Which I absolutely cannot believe when I go back and read that research paper now – let’s just say the subject of The Dark Lady is more than a bit risqué and is one of Shakespeare’s most revealing pieces of work, both literally and figuratively.  But I remember at the time having tons of research and papers spread out all over my bedroom floor, pouring over every sonnet and reading everything I could get my hands on to help me understand why this character of his poetry was so intriguing.  Who was she, what was her purpose, why was Shakespeare writing about her?  (She was based on a real person, most literary scholars believe.)  It was my teacher who inspired me to go to these depths, to find the missing pieces of the puzzle.

At the end of that year, Mrs. Sanchez came to my high school graduation celebration at our house, and gave me a wonderful little book called ‘Shakespeare Soliloquies,’ with a lovely personal inscription inside.  I had a sonnet engraved on a thank-you plaque that I gave her as a token of my deep appreciation for her guidance and dedication.  I continued my Shakespeare education at my university that next year, getting special permission to take two senior-level Shakespeare courses as an incoming freshman.  A few years later, Mrs. Sanchez attended my first wedding as a guest.  A year or two after that, I paid her a surprise visit to her classroom when I was at the high school as part of my university recruiting job.  It’s ironic that this surprise visit was the last time we saw or talked to each other for the next 20 or so years.

My interest in Shakespeare came and went over the next few decades but it was always there in the background, like an old friend (you can read about my other blog posts on Shakespeare here if you’d like).  Life happened; I packed and unpacked several times in those next decades, moving into different apartments, houses, cities and countries.  But the little gray book of Shakespeare’s soliloquies always had a place on my bookshelf.  And when I decided on a whim during the summer of 2012 to fly to England for the World Shakespeare Festival that July, I took that little gray book with me.  It seemed only fitting to take with me a tangible reminder of the teacher who inspired me as I made my pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s birthplace.

I carried the book with me as I visited all of the sights in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Below you can see some pictures of me holding the book of Soliloquies at some of the town sights (and those of you who read this blog will know how extremely RARE it is for me to put pictures of myself in the blog, but this was one exception I’m glad to make) – one tourist who took my picture asked about the book, and I willingly told them the story of my inspirational high school Shakespeare teacher.  I’ve been back to Stratford since that time, but that initial visit will always stand out in my mind as a dream fulfilled, with one awestruck moment after another – seeing the room where Shakespeare was born, visiting his grave site, walking the cobblestones he used to walk.

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Me & my soliloquies in front of the famous Gower Shakespeare Memorial on a rainy day in Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012.

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Me & my soliloquies with a sculpture representing The Tempest, found in the beautiful New Place Gardens, Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012.

Ok, now for the rest of the story…after that 2012 visit to Stratford, I decided to try to find and re-establish communication with Mrs. Sanchez.  I wanted to tell her about my pilgrimage and show her the pictures with the book she gave me, and to thank her again for setting me on this journey that started so long ago but that was taking me to such wonderful places.  I had moved to Austin in 2009, and figured she was probably still in Albuquerque, but a thorough internet search didn’t turn up any location or contact info for her.

I called my old high school as well as the other high school after that where she taught (where I’d paid her the surprise classroom visit), but staff at both schools didn’t know how to find her.  I put a search query out on Twitter, and in a Facebook group called “Remember in Albuquerque When…”  No one came forward.  I messaged Mrs. Sanchez’s son Joseph through a high school reunion website (we had graduated together) but I knew it was a long shot that he would get the message and I never heard anything back (I looked for him too through other avenues but couldn’t find him either).  I began hesitantly checking obituary listings going back several years, but thankfully didn’t find anything through that route either.

In December 2012 I made a short trip back to Albuquerque for a few days to visit old haunts and eat the good food I miss so much, and I even went by Mrs. Sanchez’s old house; with my little gray book and printed England photos in hand, I knocked on the door, thinking it would be too good to be true if the door swung open with her standing there.  I knocked again and waited for a long time.  No one answered.  It was a cold snowy day, and as I got back into my car, a neighbor walked out of his house and flagged me down, offering to help – I told him who I was looking for, and he said yes he remembered them living there, but that they had moved away and no longer lived there.  As I drove away, I felt like that was my last shot at finding her.

Meanwhile, my horrible job got more horrible and as all of my energy and attention were sucked up by the negative environment in which I worked, I let my search for Mrs. Sanchez fall by the wayside.  I was sad but resigned to the fact that I probably would just not see or talk to her again.   I thought she probably moved away to another state. Every once in a while my parents would ask me if I’d every found Mrs. Sanchez and I’d say “still no.”

Fast forward another two years.  Life is happier, I’d quit that miserable job (the impetus for this blog by the way), the holidays were approaching.  I didn’t get the pots and pans I wanted for Christmas, but a Lego Shakespeare book set, a Star Trek hoody and new brakes for my car quite made up for that, thank you.  Then on Christmas morning, my mom gets all dramatic and says there is one more present I have to open – and then brings out THREE packages (my mom likes to go overboard at Christmas).  And then she says she has to videotape me opening them and tells me to not get annoyed – at which of course I immediately get annoyed.  (I’m one of those people who has always hated their voice and hearing mine on tape makes me cringe.)

I open the first one – and it’s a copy of the Albuquerque Journal newspaper from November 19th.  Huh?  It had a picture of boys sledding on the front with their Husky dog and a bunch of other random articles.  “Read it carefully, the clue is in the paper,” she says.  My annoyance level starts to go up – I’ve never been good at riddles and they make me feel stupid most of the time because I can never get them – but I scour and skim the articles for a clue.  I still have no idea what’s going on.  “I can’t believe you can’t get it from that,” she says and I finally get to move on to the second gift.

It’s two essays I wrote in my university Shakespeare class.  One of them was really bad; I got a B- and it was so marked up I could barely read it (the other received an A I’m proud to say, on the topic of Prince Hal’s SOLILOQUY no less [how’s that for foreshadowing]).  Hmmm.  I start to have an inkling of what’s going on, mostly because of Mom’s not-so-subtle Cheshire grin behind the rolling camera, but also from her card that she made me read out loud that talked about a “labor of love” and a surprise to equal the Paul McCartney tickets I gave her for Mother’s Day a year ago.  Mom was saying something as I start to open the third package but I don’t really remember what she was saying, as I was then starting to notice details – an Albuquerque return address on the box and an unfamiliar name of “C. Castillo.”  Castillo, I thought, what?  I had a sudden fear that it was someone related to Mrs. Sanchez that was sending me a memento in her memory, meaning the worst had happened.

I opened the card first that came with the third package.  “Read it out loud!” my mom directed.  I refused, asking for a little privacy.  I don’t think I could have read it out loud anyway; I was already on the verge of some pretty severe emotion (for me anyway) – because I had seen the name at the bottom of the before I saw anything else:

Clara.

It was her!  Little did I know that over the past year, someone else had also started looking for Mrs. Sanchez.  A very sneaky someone who goes by the name of Mom.  Yup, my mom had begun her own search when she learned that I couldn’t find Mrs. Sanchez.  My mom, who has a pretty hard time keeping a secret, kept a pretty monumental secret for many months as she did the impossible (ok, not impossible, just very difficult) and FOUND Mrs. Sanchez!  Except she’s been Clara Castillo for a while now, which is probably why I couldn’t ever find her.  A new name for a newfound old friend, it fits!

The card was written with love, and I read it several times before then opening the package that came with it.  Now let me say that I am not easily overwhelmed; I’m not overtly sentimental, I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person, and I don’t really show a lot of emotion.  I wish sometimes that I were more openly emotional, but I’ve just learned over many years that that is not who I am, and I’ve come to accept it for better or worse; maybe it stems from being so shy as a young girl, I’m not sure, but it’s just the way it is.  But what was in that box floored me emotionally and is one of the most meaningful, touching true gifts I’ve ever received (and yes I cried).

I opened the box and unwrapped Clara’s teaching copy of her Complete Works of Shakespeare.  A 34-year old treasure that she used during her entire teaching career in multiple schools and for affecting untold numbers of young lives.  It’s taped heavily to hold the well-worn bindings together, which I love, and page after page is filled with her handwritten teaching notes, research findings, and personal observations; for example, on the first page of Twelfth Night and the Duke’s famous “If music be the food of love” speech, she wrote “Violets = emblematic of: faithfulness” – a floriography note in a Shakespeare text, it’s a true melding of my worlds.

My new (old) favorite book

My new (old) favorite book

TwelfthNight

A wealth of info for Twelfth Night

And most meaningful:  on the title page of the book, a handwritten letter to me from my mentor, titled “Shakespeare: The Mirror Up to Nature” (from the mastery lines of Hamlet), recounting our meeting twenty-six years ago and bequeathing this marvel to me with love and affection. 

I know that I’ll use this as my main Shakespeare source for the rest of my life, and plan to spend the time it deserves to go through each play and sonnet again – only this time with the words of my teacher literally in my hands and mind, and perhaps daring to add my own notes here and there as I continue to learn.  It’s worth more to me than if I’d been given an actual First Folio, and I will keep it and guard it forever.  Thank you Clara.  You were the best teacher I ever had, and I value you.  I look forward to our in-person reunion this year!

I was apparently the only person in my family (and in central Texas) who had no idea what my mom was planning (she told a few people).  She didn’t give up on the search for Clara and when she finally did make contact (through an administrative assistant at third Albuquerque high school), she and Clara plotted this Christmas surprise for quite a while.  Thank you Mom.  I think you topped Sir Paul with this one.  What a special memory and friendship you’ve given back to me, and that’s beyond any value.

In closing, I’d like to encourage all of you reading this, if possible, to reach out to a former teacher.  If they inspired you, if they took extra time to help you, if they made you feel special and capable – let them know.  I could never be a teacher – I don’t have the patience or the guts or the germ-resistant immune system, quite frankly.  But those that do have those qualities can have a lifelong influence, as you’ve read here, and they deserve to know what an impact they had on your life.  Thank you to all the teachers out there that have made a difference!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Tour de England 2014 – Week 3: Shakespeare Country and The Cotswolds

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“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank” ~William Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice, V, i)

At the end of the last post detailing my recent trip to England, I’d overcome several days of unfortunate GI distress just in time to board a train back to the midlands region of the country.  I traveled from York through Birmingham to land in familiar territory and my personal favorite, Stratford-upon-Avon.  I’d visited the birthplace town of the Bard back in 2012 for the World Shakespeare Festival (just prior to the London Olympics) and really loved it, so I carved out three and half more days on this return trip to relax and enjoy this pretty little town on the river once again.

By the way, do you know why some towns in England have “on” in their name (like Bourton-on-the-Water) while others have “upon,” such as Stratford-upon-Avon?  Those with “on” find the towns built mostly or entirely on one side of the river, while those with “upon” are built on both sides of the river…or so I’m told…and there’s your English geography and name-origin lesson for the day.

For this trip to Stratford I chose to stay at Moss Cottage B&B, which I can highly recommend if you ever find yourself in that corner of the world.  I’d gotten to know the proprietor (hi Bill!) via Twitter over the past year prior to my trip, so it felt a little like meeting an old friend, and the accommodations were very lovely. The B&B was located a healthy 1-mile walk from the center of town, so I got in plenty of exercise during my stay – which simply meant I could indulge in daily cream teas and/or a wonderful sticky toffee pudding at The Opposition, another one of my favorites I discovered on my last time there.

My first afternoon back in Stratford, I strolled up to town via Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried.  There is a bench on the church grounds that I like to sit on – it faces the river and is situated on a gravel pathway, with a huge weeping willow overhanging the short stone wall in-between, and the church just behind.  Sitting there, I can watch people strolling along the riverwalk on the opposite side and rowers making their way down the water.  It’s shady and peaceful and feels like “my spot.”  It’s especially nice with a light drizzly rain coming down and dripping off all the trees.

My Stratford-upon-Avon Spot

My Stratford-upon-Avon Spot

After a nice decompression session on that bench, I continued on the walkway up the river, past the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre and into the adjoining gardens, with all the canal boats and swans and Bard-inspired flower features.  It really is the loveliest town I’ve come across so far during my England travels; I know I’m a little biased (I’ve been a Shakespeare fan since the age of 16) but the town council & local businesses really do a good job of keeping everything in beautiful condition.  I stopped by a grocery store to buy a sandwich for dinner and a discounted bag of day-old bread, and found a spot to feed the Queen’s swans.  Then I was able to catch a small theatre production of “Sense & Sensibility” at the Lazy Cow, walking back by moonlight to the B&B later that night.

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Stratford’s Swans

Flower gardens inspired by Shakespeare's words

Flower gardens inspired by Shakespeare’s words

Boats on the Avon at dusk (Anyone recognize these??? :)

Boats on the Avon at dusk – Anyone recognize these??? 🙂

Moonlight on the Avon

Moonlight on the Avon

After an immense breakfast the next morning (complete with vegetarian sausage!), I set out on a walk to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the home where Shakespeare’s wife was born & raised.  They have really beautiful sweet pea exhibits there during the summer that I’d seen last time, and so I wanted to return to visit them again.  From there I headed back into town (I did a LOT of walking that day) to visit some of the other Shakespeare houses.  I especially like New Place, which is the site where Shakespeare returned to live at the end of his life, after he’d finished writing and acting in London for many years (the house no longer exists but they know this is where it was, and it was also where he drew his last breath).  When I was here in 2012, there was an interesting and extensive archeological dig happening onsite at New Place, with labyrinths and pits and dirt everywhere; but this time, it had been filled completely in and was covered with a perfectly level green lawn.  I enjoyed standing on the site where his house had once stood and looking out at the exact view across the street that Shakespeare would’ve looked upon: the Guild Chapel, the schoolhouse where he attended classes as a boy, and the timber-framed Falcon Hotel.  I also especially like the gardens at New Place, with the old mulberry trees and the view through the flowers of the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre just down the street.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage under brilliant blue skies

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage under brilliant blue skies

View of the theatre peeking through the flowers in the New Place garden

View of the theatre peeking through the flowers in the New Place garden

Looking toward Guild Chapel through the sculptures in New Place garden

Looking toward Guild Chapel through the sculptures in New Place garden

The room where Shakespeare was born, at Shakespeare's Birthplace House

The room where Shakespeare was born, at Shakespeare’s Birthplace House

The view Shakespeare himself would have had from his final home site.

The view Shakespeare himself would have had from his final home site.

From there I headed back down a side street to the antiques store where I’d found a special silver charm there two years ago; I lost the charm after coming home, but after sifting through a few trays this time, I was able to find a replacement…not quite the same, but similar, and it felt nice to have it with me again.  I migrated towards Shakespeare’s Birthplace House and decided to go through it again; I’m glad I did, as there were new exhibits to see and new people to meet.  I spent the rest of the day just wandering and relaxing, buying some souvenir gifts, and visiting old haunts.  I admit to looking at more than a few real estate office window postings as I walked along that day, of apartments and businesses and country homes…ah, “perchance to dream.”

ONLY $827,580.00 - a bargain!

ONLY $827,580, a bargain!

The following day was Friday and I’d booked a trip ahead of time with a brand spanking new company called “Go Cotswolds,” for a day tour out southwest of Stratford to see this designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  During my trip here two years ago I’d actually mapped out a route to bike from Stratford to the Cotswolds, but it rained so much then and many roads were flooded so I played it safe and didn’t go.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find this new company (again, on Twitter), and as it turned out I was their very first official (paying) customer!  When the owner Tom picked me up at the B&B that morning about 9:45, I learned I was to be the sole client that day, so I felt pretty special getting a personal tour on their first day out.

The Cotswolds are quite famous throughout the UK, and the towns throughout the region, all their houses built of the same honey-colored stone and many with storybook thatched roofs, do get their fair share of tourists.  It’s the region itself that is the draw rather than one specific attraction – the rolling hills dotted with sheep, the tranquil streams flowing through the quaint villages filled with lovely tea rooms, and the untouched-by-time sense of peacefulness that pervades the countryside. We made about 10 stops during our 8-hour day, getting out of the mini-bus to walk around some of the towns and see some of the sights (rookie mistake: I wore new shoes I hadn’t broken in completely, without any socks, so I had a few unwelcome souvenir blisters by the end of the day).  I was surprised at the end by the ring of Rollright Stones, like a worn-down mini-Stonehenge that I’d never heard of but enjoyed seeing.  I’m glad I took the whole day to explore the famous Cotswolds, even if it was a bit of a whirlwind outing.

Good view of the honey stone buildings that make up the Cotswolds - here, in Chipping Campden

Good view of the honey stone buildings that make up the Cotswolds – here, in Chipping Campden

The most perfect "chocolate box house"

The most perfect “chocolate box house” – can actual humans really live here?

Lavender is everywhere in the Cotswolds

Lavender is everywhere in the Cotswolds

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones

Saturday was my last day in Stratford, and I made the most of it with a peaceful river cruise up and down the Avon, which I wasn’t able to do in 2012 due to the flooded waterway.  As I waited for the boat to show up at the mooring, I had a nice conversation with a very elderly German woman, despite the fact she didn’t speak any English at all; she did have an electronic translation device and through gestures and smiles and a lot of typing on her part, I learned she was there with a group from Germany for the whole week.  She was 84 years old and it was her first time to Stratford, but she too had been a Shakespeare fan her whole life – another testimonial to his worldwide reach and influence.  I sat next to a couple from Wales on the boat and treated them to free drinks with some coupons I had.  We even got to witness some boat races on the river that day as we sailed gently past the theatre, church, and butterfly farm.  (If it all sounds incredibly quaint, it is, it’s like a fairytale town in many ways…)

River cruise past the RSC theatre

River cruise past the RSC theatre

River cruise down the Avon

River cruise down the Avon

You simply can’t go to Stratford without attending at least one show at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre (or at least I can’t), and I’d purchased my ticket for Two Gentleman of Verona months in advance as the main birthday gift to myself.  I was lucky actually because this was the opening preview night of the play and was my last night in Stratford, the only chance I’d have to see a production this trip.  I’d read the play a few months prior in my weekly Shakespeare reading group in Austin, and was eager to see the RSC version since this was the first time in 45 years that The Two Gentlemen of Verona had been performed in full production on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage.  (It’s not one of the more popular Shakespeare plays, has the smallest cast of any of the plays, and is generally recognized by many as perhaps his first-written work.)

View out upon the town centre from balcony of RSC theatre

View out upon the town centre from balcony of RSC theatre

A light rain began to fall just as I made my way from a pre-show dinner into the theatre and found my seat high up on the first row of the second balcony.  It was really a perfectly-located seat with a prime vantage point, and as I turned around I glanced down at the seat and drew a sharp breath at what I saw:

What?????!!!

What?????!!!

I was sitting in the seat of SIR PATRICK STEWART!!  Yes that Patrick Stewart – the one I share a birthday with, the one who makes it so, the one who is without question one of the preeminent Shakespearean actors of all time.  I’ve been an uber-fan of Patrick Stewart for over twenty years now – I’ve seen every movie, TV episode and play he’s ever done, I’m pretty sure.  This random seat selection bestowed upon me by the RSC ticket office was completely unplanned, but it felt like a sign, and I stood there for a good two minutes just staring at it.  Yes it may have just been a tribute seat given to him by the RSC in honor of his magnificentness (and probably generous theatre support on his part), OR – and I choose to believe this option – this is his actual designated seat that he sits in when he takes in a show.  I pointed at it while I gaped at the couple sitting behind me, explaining my awe: “Do you see what seat I’m sitting in??  Do you see that?  I can’t believe this.  Look, his name is right on it!  I can’t believe this.  I didn’t plan this.  Do you see that?” 

It may have been the best single moment of my entire three-week trip.  And after that, how could it not be a great last night in Stratford?  The set decoration of the play was fantastic and the real dog who played the canine character of Crab was a huge hit.  I continued the birthday tradition I set during my first visit two years ago by treating myself after the play to a heavenly sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream, my self-proclaimed birthday cake without the candles.  It was a little bittersweet – both the pudding cake and the fact that I was celebrating alone, but I know how lucky I was to even be there and so I was grateful.

Set of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" inside the RSC

Set of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” inside the RSC

The world's best sticky toffee pudding.

The world’s best sticky toffee pudding.

The next morning – Sunday and my actual birthday – I set out early to catch the train to London for my last three days in England.  I was sad to leave Stratford-upon-Avon but I will be back again someday, of that I’m sure.  I’d actually really love to be there during Christmas one year, I hear it’s even more beautiful during the holidays, if that’s possible.  London is only a two-hour train ride south of Stratford, but it’s a whole other world unto itself, which is why I’ll save the details of those days for my last Tour de England post.  Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Tour de England 2014 – Week 1: Windsor, Surrey, Bath

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 “I dare meet Surrey in a wilderness…” ~William Shakespeare (Richard II, IV, i)

I’m in tea-and-scone withdrawal as I write this, having recently returned from a wonderful, exhausting, memorable three-week solo vacation to England.  I organized my trip around another fantastic opportunity to see the Tour de France, with the rare occasion of the three-week race kicking off in the beautiful Yorkshire region of the UK (before then heading back to France).  Before too much time passes, I wanted to write down the details of my trip in an anglophile account of my own personal Tour de England.

Tour de England 2014

Tour de England 2014

(Disclaimer: Tour de England posts shall be longer than my usual rantings, there’s a lot to cover!)

This is post 1 of 3, and the series will cover my itinerary as follows:  Week 1- Windsor, Surrey & Bath; Week 2 – Leeds, York & the Tour de France; Week 3 – Shakespeare Country & London.

When I went to England last time in 2012 for the World Shakespeare Festival, just prior to the 2012 London Olympics, I stayed for 9 nights/10 days, which sped by in the blink of an eye.  I told myself then that I wanted to go back to England for a longer amount of time, to see more of the country than I had before, and to go at a time when the rest of the entire world wasn’t there at the same time (like they were for the very-crowded Olympics).

Because I was able to use my frequent flier miles to get a free airline ticket this time (well, $192 in taxes & fees which is pretty much a free ticket to London in peak July), I was able to budget to stay a little more than double the time of my last trip.  Three weeks is a very long vacation, I discovered, both in terms of time and expense.  I think it may be longest “real” vacation I’ve ever taken, and if I had to do it over I’d probably decrease it by just a few days – maybe.  But I realize how lucky I was to be able to even go on this trip at all, so I’m not complaining!

(The price I paid for that “free” ticket was unfortunately the smallest, most cramped economy seat I’ve ever been in, on a Virgin Atlantic flight, setting very close to a brand-new college graduate on a celebration trip to Europe who was on his ways to run with the bulls in Spain but who smelled like he’d already done so.  The service on Virgin was also unfortunately really bad, so I won’t be flying that airline again unless by some miracle I have a first-class fold-down.)

I wasn’t able to sleep at all on the flight over, so by the time I got to London Heathrow I was already pretty tired.  I’ve always heard though that the best way to combat jet lag is to not go to bed when you get there from an overnight flight – that you should stay up the rest of the day and then go to bed at the new-country time.  Trouble is that means you’ve been up about 36 hours straight by that time.  That didn’t work out for me too well on my 2012 trip when I spent my first day on a blurry trip to Stonehenge, and it didn’t work out this time either so I didn’t learn my lesson apparently.

My plan this trip was to head directly from the airport to Windsor via bus, drop my bags at my B&B, then head to Windsor Castle to walk off the jet lag on a transitional day.  The first part of that plan went well, and after a short 30-minute bus trip west of Heathrow, I was at the Castle by 10:00 AM.  Because I was traveling alone and not part of one of the huge bus groups snaking around the block, I was told to bypass the lines & go right in.  I immediately caught a warder-led tour of the grounds and I was the only one to show up to the meeting point, so I got my own personal tour which was very nice.

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However, by this time as I wandered around the rest of the castle grounds on my own, I started to feel not-great.  I hadn’t had anything to eat in a while, I know I was dehydrated, but mostly I was just sleep-deprived.  As I walked through an archives exhibit in one of the castle towers, I started to feel very lightheaded and fuzzy, spacey.  I sat down for a while, but after only two hours I decided to go back to the B&B.  It was unfortunate, since it cost $32 to get into the Castle (which I think it pretty pricey for what you actually have access to , which is not much, including a very underwhelming Henry VIII tomb), but jet lag seemed to be hitting me much worse this trip than the past few times over the ocean.

I succumbed to the sleepiness, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better nap than I did that afternoon at that B&B – in a second floor room with the window open, a cool British breeze blowing in, overlooking the sights and sounds of a cricket practice field session.  I felt much better a few hours later, good enough to venture out to a pub down the street for some dinner and then a walk around the neighborhood, including down by the riverside.  I followed that same river walking path the next morning as I ventured back into the town; Windsor is actually a nice little town, overshadowed by the Castle of course but with some other quaint aspects too.

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A floating flower/plant canal boat shop! (In Windsor)

After a relaxing river cruise through the waters of Windsor and a stop at a coffee shop with a castle view, I got on the train for my next destination: Surrey.  Surrey is a county in southern England, just slightly southwest of the greater London area.  It’s very popular with London commuters for its proximity, and is said to have the highest percentage of millionaires who live there over any other county in England (and therefore the highest property values outside of London proper).  It’s also the most wooded county in the country, with almost a quarter of its land covered by forests, heaths & woodlands, which make it a very beautiful place.

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Surrey County, England

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Surrey County map – my base was Godalming

Many of you reading this may have never heard of Surrey, or the town of Godalming, which was my base for 3 days while visiting the county.  When looking at the map above, you won’t see any world-famous tourist towns within those county lines (although true fans of ‘The Office’ will notice Slough, hometown of the original British series).  So why was this region on my itinerary?  It was actually perhaps the part of my trip I was looking forward to the most, as I was on a genealogical quest to explore the part of England from where my family surname originated.

Through some web research several months earlier,  I’d found a man who is a genealogical and historical researcher in his spare time and maintains the British website for that research pertaining to our common family name.  I reached out to Martin to let him know I’d like to visit the area during my trip to see the land of my ancestors, and he graciously offered to be my tour guide for a day.

And what a day!  Martin drove down from Woking to pick me up from my B&B and we set off as new-found long-lost cousins; over the next several hours we drove through lush Surrey countryside and impossibly perfect English towns.  We stopped in six different locations to view some of the earliest existing tombs and graves of our family ancestors (at incredibly ancient churches in Thursley & Lynchmere that date back to Saxon times, that’s 450-800 AD people), peek through fences at some of the original property sites and homes of the earliest family members, and my favorite: visiting the actual site of the spring well pond after which our family is named.  The pond (located next to the petite hamlet of Bowlhead Green) only fills during the winter, so I was actually able to stand in the middle of the dry spring well bed and think of what it was like to live there almost 800 years ago (yes you read that right – the first recorded mention of our family name was in the year 1235!).  I like to imagine a hardworking agricultural laborer taking a break from his work for a nearby estate owner, relaxing by the welcoming banks of this still, clear, well-spring in the shady glade, and deciding to make a fresh start with his family by forming a new name for all of them.

(By the way, my Marvel-crazy nephews will love finding out that the small village of our ancestors, Thursley, draws its name from Old English Þunres lēah meaning lea of the god Thunor or Thor [in his northern guise], and was probably a site where he was worshipped).

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Saxon-era church in Thursley & tombs of some of our earliest family ancestors

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It was a fantastic memory-making day with my walking-history-book guide Martin, and I was very appreciative that he was willing to share his research with me and drive me around his beautiful Surrey lands.  After our visit Martin began a new quest to enlist the help of nearby residents in restoring and rebuilding the pond to its former glory days, which gives me a great reason to return one day and sit by the banks of our namesake’s nature retreat.  I feel as if I’ve made a very real connection to England now, both in terms of existing family members (distant though they may be) and historical links to the land to which I’ve always felt drawn.

I spent the other two days of my time in Surrey exploring the towns of Godalming and Guildford.  I walked the town streets, perused the street market stalls, and strolled along the river paths and through castle gardens.  I talked to locals about what it was like to live in this area (and learned what a Scotch Egg is).  I attended a play in Guildford called “The Other Shakespeare,” about the Bard’s wife Anne Hathaway and her reaction to being left by him for much of their married life.  My gracious B&B owners invited me to accompany them one night to a special exhibit at the Watts Gallery, which was amazing; before this trip I’m embarrassed to say I’d never even heard of the artist George Frederick Watts, but I’m definitely a fan now of his gargantuan sculptures and evocative paintings. (The exhibit by the way was about his young wife Ellen Terry, one of the earliest Shakespearean star actresses in silent films.)

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The town church of Godalming; perhaps my favorite picture of my whole trip that I took peeking through the garden roses.

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Guildford castle grounds

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Godalming’s famous “Pepper Pot.” (By the way, Godalming was the first city in the world to install a municipal electricity supply!)

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My time in Surrey was definitely the most meaningful segment of my entire journey.  I’m so glad I got off the beaten path and chose to take the non-tourist road less traveled.  I was sad to leave Surrey for my next stop of Bath, but…I LOVED BATH!

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  • That wasn’t my first reaction.  In fact, the afternoon I arrived in Bath and walked around the city to gain my bearings, I thought “Ugh, every building looks EXACTLY the same, how boring.”  But then I saw the gothic Bath Abbey, and Pultney Bridge over the river, and the buildings of the Roman Baths…and then on a fantastic free walking tour the next day, the famous Circus and Royal Crescent buildings, the Assembly Rooms where Jane Austen danced & socialized…and the beauty of the city really began to grow on me.  Every building (by law) is indeed built out of the same famous Bath sand-colored stone, but the uniformity and symmetry and Georgian architecture is actually quite mesmerizing after a while.

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I really enjoyed the tour of Bath Abbey, where I climbed the 200+ steps to the windy rooftop and peered out at the sand-colored city below.  I chose to explore the Roman Baths by torchlight at dusk, once the crowds had died down, and was struck by the history and significance of the structures surrounding the waters (and yes I drank some of the sulfuric pump water, you have to try it at least once).  I regularly exercised my Bath-given right to daily afternoon tea and scones, the best of which were at the Jane Austen Centre Regency Tea Room.  I popped in to the Tallulah Rose Flower School to introduce myself as a longtime Twitter follower.  And after exploring the stately Holburn Museum and adjoining garden grounds at one end of the city, I walked the long way back to my B&B through real (non-tourist area) neighborhoods, which I like to do whenever possible in order to see what’s on the other side of the curtain.

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Oh and I practically brushed shoulders with actual royalty in Bath: Prince Edward was at Bath Abbey the same day I was to oversee the university graduation there in his role as chancellor, I saw him walk out at the front of the procession; and then he was apparently just a few minutes behind me at the Baths that evening (I was told when I bought my ticket not to mind the police dogs and bodyguards inspecting the site in advance).

I would definitely go back to Bath, and would like to see some of the surrounding countryside next time, which is supposed to be breathtaking.  I’m really glad I budgeted three days there and that I gave it a good chance – next time I may even splurge to swim in the healing bath waters.

Stay tuned for the next post when I cover Leeds, York & the Tour de France kickoff in England!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

UNunhappy Moments Update (UMU)

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“Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio. ” ~William Shakespeare (Love’s Labour’s Lost, I, ii)

Welcome to a new feature of the operation UNunhappy blog, called the “UNunhappy Moments Update,” or UMU.  Every so often I’ll be doing a brief & bulleted UMU post to encapsulate three recent moments, happenings or events that have made me appreciate life just a little more than usual lately. 

I encourage you to list your own UMU revelations in the Comments section of these posts as well.  Evading those negative crap dodgeballs that life throws at us on a pretty regular basis isn’t easy, so it’s good to take a few moments every once in a while to think about and focus on the positive and actually put it into writing!  (Need a refresher on the definition of UNunhappyClick here.)

So without further ado: (or with much ado?):

  • UMU #1:  By far the best UMU event recently for me happened on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday a few weeks ago, April 23rd; I’m still in awe when I think about it.  I was sitting at work reading about the festivities and fireworks happening in England to celebrate the Bard’s big day, when I suddenly remembered that there was a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio literally minutes down the street from me at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin.  So off I sprinted during my lunch hour to go check it out, looking forward to peering at it through the glass case as I’ve done with other rare copies before (in England, both at Shakespeare’s Birthplace and in London at the British Museum).  I’d never seen a First Folio here in America though.  If you’re not familiar with the First Folio, it was printed in 1623 (a few years after Shakespeare’s death) as the first complete compilation of 36 of his plays – about half of which we would never have even known about if this Folio had not been printed by men who had the foresight to document the Bard’s words for all time.  Only 228 known copies of the originally-printed First Folio are in existence today, and they are widely known to be some of the most valuable books in the world; First Folios in the last decade that have been auctioned or sold go for between $6-$22 MILLION (!) depending on their condition and completeness.  So you can imagine my complete shock when I arrived at the archive center and was told that yes, not only could I see one of their two First Folio editions, but that I was permitted to – I still can’t believe this happened – check one out, hold it in my own hands, peruse the pages, and read the words at my own leisure.  WHAT?!?  I went through the steps of setting up an account, watching a training video on rare-book care & handling, requesting the items I wanted, watching as a staff member disappeared into the bowels of the archives to retrieve my request, and then waiting at a table in a pin-drop-quiet and heavily-guarded room.  As the attendant approached me with a wheeled cart, I held my breath in disbelief – and then he opened a protective case that housed the First Folio and showed me how to place it on a velvet reader stand.  I lifted history out of the box, and closed my eyes briefly, thinking of the many different hands that must’ve handled this treasure over the past 400 years.  I leaned down to inhale the smell of it – an ancient, earthy, weighty scent.  And then for the next hour, I carefully turned through page after delicate yellowed page, looking for my favorite passages and plays, and straining to read the Elizabethan-English introductions to the Folio and tributes to Shakespeare himself.  I had also checked out a very small 1600 copy of ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ upon the inside cover of which was scrawled in an ancient owner’s handwriting “The folio of 1623 was probably printed from this edition.”  When I told my family later about this experience, my 9-year old nephew Hudson said “Wow, did you freak out of your pants when you picked up that old book?” “No,” I answered, leaning in to whisper in his ear, “but I have to tell you, I did almost cry.”  He looked at me strangely, then announced loudly to the entire dinner table “That book meant so much to you that you almost CRIED??”  Hard to explain to a 9-year old…  I had to get a special permit to take pictures of the books, which I did, but was told in no uncertain terms I wasn’t allowed to publish or print those photos anywhere.  So, the few pictures below are from a public domain site (Wikimedia Commons) of another First Folio (these are not the picture I took), but I wanted to give you an idea of what I was seeing…  What a momentous honor that experience was for me and a very memorable way to mark the occasion of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in my little corner of the world.  (UMUs #2 & #3 after the pictures below.)
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Portrait Page of the First Folio

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Title page of ‘The Tempest’ from the First Folio

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Catalogue Page of the First Folio, listing the plays contained within.

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“To the memory of my beloved, The AUTHOR, Mr. William Shakespeare: AND what he hath left us.” – First Folio

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“FINIS” page of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – The First Folio

  • UMU #2:  For some reason I got great pleasure out of hearing about the new Star Wars VII announcement a few days ago that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill would be reprising their original roles in the next movie (due out in 2015).  Apparently it wasn’t a surprise for those true sci-fi aficionados who’d been following the trail, but it was a surprise for me!  I like those kinds of surprises (which are so rare in this spoiler-heavy online world we live in now) – like when Michael Scott showed up in the series finale of The Office…I literally yelled at my TV when that happened.  For those of us that grew up during the first epic Star Wars era (in a time that now feels very far, far away), saw each movie at the theatre multiple times, dreamed of being Mrs. Han Solo (or Mr. Princess Leia), and played with all the original action figures and toys for hours on end, it brings waves of nostalgia over us to realize those movie heroes from days gone by are still capable of bringing it!  Kudos to the producers of the movie for roping all of us 70’s and 80’s kids back into the franchise with this move.  It takes a LOT for me to willingly shell out the insane ticket price at the movies these days, but this is definitely one that I’ll be lining up for. 

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  • UMU #3:  Some members of my family try to meet up for a family dinner one night a week.  This past week we met at a nearby restaurant, and when my 3-year old nephew slid into the corner booth and saw me sitting across the table, his eyes lit up, he flashed a big smile, and yelled out “KRISTI!!”  I said “Hey that’s Ant Kristi to you mister,” but my insides went all mushy that he was so happy to see me and so unabashed in his reaction – I love how little kids don’t know how to filter their actions yet and how they pretty much just go with their first-gut feeling.  It’s nice to know that someone is genuinely happen to see you!  And it doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty much the cutest kid on the planet right now…
Nephew Wyatt, 3 years old. Cute & he knows it.

Nephew Wyatt, 3 years old. Cute & he knows it.

Well there you go, this week’s 3 moments of UNunhappy.  Helping to balance the positive and negative scales between the realms of dark and light…and using the force for good instead of evil.  Until next time, may the UNunhappy force be with you too.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

Thou Dost Not Looketh a Day Over 449

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“I say the earth did shake when I was born.” ~William Shakespeare (Henry IV Part I; III, i)

The Bard is having a birthday this week!  And not just any birthday, the BIG 450!  Now before you roll your eyes and think “Oh no, not a post about Shakespeare, BOOOOORING” and click the back button, WAIT!  I can promise you lots of really cute Lego Shakespeare pictures!  In fact, here’s one now:

Happy Birthday Dear Bard!

Happy Birthday Dear Bard!

I wish I was in Stratford-upon-Avon this week for the huge 450th birthday party they’re throwing for the original WillIAm.  Mostly because of this awesomeness: “The Royal Shakespeare Company is kick-starting the festivities with a spectacular firework display from the rooftop of its theatre, which will follow Wednesday evening’s performance of Henry IV Part I. The display, which is being coordinated by leading pyrotechnic experts Emergency Exit Arts will also include an epic eight-metre-high fire drawing depicting Shakespeare’s face” (source: theguardian.com).  Those Bardophiles know how to do it up right!

I may be Lego Will but I can be dangerous too, look!

I may just be Lego Will but I can be bold & dangerous too, look!

Shakespeare was born during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign on April 23, 1564.  In true dramatist form, he died on the very same day, his birthday, 52 young years later in 1616.  Two years ago I had the privilege of visiting his birthplace in the house (and actual bedroom) where he born, as well as his grave at Holy Trinity Church, both in Stratford-upon-Avon (England).  I was there for the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival, which was part of the country’s nationwide fête to celebrate the 2012 London Olympics.  I made it a point to visit as many Shakespeare-related sites as I could in the short 10 days I was there – like the postcard-esque Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, where Shakespeare’s wife grew up.

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Wasn’t my wife’s cottage lovely?

I’m very excited to be going back this summer!  I’ll be there two months or so after the Bard’s actual birthday, but I’m hoping there will be some leftover cake in a quaint little tea room somewhere.  I’m looking forward to wandering through the immaculate gardens and along the banks of the River Avon once again, where huge willow trees drape out the sun and the Queen’s swans shadow you in the water below.  It’s a serene step back in time, with much of the town unchanged since Shakespeare himself might have wandered and daydreamed among the flowers and waterscapes.

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“But then there was a star danced, and under that was I born…”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe or explain my affinity for Shakespeare.  I was very lucky to have an inspirational teacher in high school that took the time to help me understand the depth of the meaning behind some of his words, and that’s when it began.  I then took several senior-level Shakespeare courses as a freshman at college and became slightly obsessed with analyzing the why and the how of each play and sonnet that we read.  His works were like tantalizing puzzles to me – words and stories that were written 400 years ago and seemingly impossible to decipher on the modern surface, but that with work and patience, revealed an entertaining and colorful world-gone-by.

A gift from my first Shakespeare teacher. (Watch out for that frog Bill!)

A gift from my first Shakespeare teacher. (The book, not the scary lurking frog.)

I really appreciate how pertinent and timeless and funny (yes, funny) Shakespeare can be once you really get to know him.  Over the past year or so I’ve been attending a weekly Shakespeare reading group when possible, called ShakesAloud.  We have a wonderful facilitator (the unparalleled Jill Swanson) who brings the lines to life and whose insights about the time Shakespeare lived in are simply amazing – she’s like a walking human footnote.  It’s nice to feel part of a like-minded group and know that I’m not alone in my Shakespearean nerdiness.

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“All the world’s a stage…”

I was alerted recently to one of the funniest websites I’ve seen in a long time, called “Peace, Good Tickle-Brain.” It’s the home of a brilliant comic artist who draws hilarious 3-panel summaries of Shakespeare plays, as well as scene summaries for many of the plays.  Let’s face it, Shakespeare isn’t exactly light summer beach reading – it takes work and examination and research and footnotes…lots and lots of footnotes.  And funny comics can’t hurt either.  Anything to get us all on the same page!

Watch out Will, it's another frog!

Watch out Will, it’s another frog!

Most Shakespeare fans will say this same thing, but I guess what I really identify with most about Shakespeare’s work is how relevant many of the stories and lessons still are today, 450 years after he was born.  No, he wasn’t the only poet to write about love and loss and jealousy and greed and happiness.  But his words resonate for a reason, and I think it’s because of the way he wrote them.  During his short 52-year life, he himself faced great tragedy and sadness and love and guilt – just like all of us.  I often see many aspects of my own life and experiences jumping out of his words, and it continually surprises me.  The world’s most famous Elizabethan storyteller from Warwickshire and a fumbling unknown middle-aged woman just trying to find her way – who would’ve thought they could possibly have anything in common?

So Happy Bard-Day everyone, and let’s all raise a glass to the poet’s parents John & Mary Arden Shakespeare, for bringing a lasting icon into this world that continues to inspire, entertain and educate multitudes and generations.  Hey Nonny Nonny, Cheers!

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Until next time lads & ladies!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

(PS: A very hearty thanks to my nephews for bequeathing upon me their Lego Shakespeare!)

Forays and Flowers in Fourteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Easing Up On The Brakes

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

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

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

And he was being totally, completely serious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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