Home

Forays and Flowers in Fourteen

3 Comments

“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.

Untitled

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:

IMG_0181

IMG_0198

IMG_0284

IMG_0214

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.

Tour-de-France-2014-map

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

A Week In The Life

4 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday

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

    photo-6 (2)

    One of the bouquets I made.

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

      Crystal candelabra in process of being assembled.

      Crystal candelabra in process of being assembled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 2-13 (2)

photo 4-4 (2)

photo 1-15 (2)

photo 5-2 (2)

photo 5-3 (2)

photo 5-4 (2)

photo 4-6 (2)

photo 4-5 (2)

photo 3-9 (2)

photo 1-14 (2)

photo 2-14 (2)

photo 2-15 (2)

photo 5-5 (2)

photo 3-8 (2)

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

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

New Normals and Flower Firsts

4 Comments

“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.

photo 2-5 (2)

photo 4-2 (2)

photo 2-6 (2)

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.)

photo 1-6 (2)

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

photo 2-7 (2)

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

photo 3-3 (2)

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?

photo 1-10 (2)

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Start and Re-Start

Leave a comment

“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

Leave a comment

“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

The Future is Blooming

Leave a comment

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

Georgia O'Keeffe "Iris 7"

Georgia O’Keeffe
“Iris 7”

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

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

Brilliant, no? Forced floral art appreciation.

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

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

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

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

flower shop painting

“Flower Shop” by Elaine Cory

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time.

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

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

BlueIrises

%d bloggers like this: