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New Normals and Flower Firsts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers in the Flower Lab.

Flowers in the Flower Lab

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

I made this!

I made this!

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

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

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

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

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Second compote for book table, on porch outside.

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

Bridal and Bridesmaids Bouquets (pre-delivery)

Bridal and Bridesmaids Bouquets (pre-delivery)

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

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

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

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À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Future is Blooming

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

Georgia O'Keeffe "Iris 7"

Georgia O’Keeffe
“Iris 7”

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

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

Brilliant, no? Forced floral art appreciation.

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

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

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

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

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

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