Home

A Valentine’s Gone Sour at $1.20 per Hour

4 Comments

“Prepared I was not for such a business; therefore am I found so much unsettled…” ~William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, II, v)  

I’ve traveled the earth and survived for long periods in very remote places few people have ever heard of.  I worked hard over many years to earn multiple university degrees.  I’ve endured my share of bad bosses, bad jobs and bad relationships and learned many life lessons from all of them.

So it makes me very frustrated, after all that worldly learning over all those years, to end up in a situation where I find myself taken advantage of because of my own naivety.

But that’s what happened, and I blame mostly myself.  Two months ago, I had the thought of doing a Valentine’s Day pop-up shop for my floral business.  I don’t have a shop of my own, and just work out of my home for the most part, so I thought I’d hold temporary shop inside another existing business.  I started brainstorming possible locations, and reached out to a coffee shop that I’d visited a few times in the past few years to ask if they’d be interested in hosting my pop-up.  (I won’t name them here in this post but many of you already know who they are.)  They replied yes, they’d be very interested, and we set up an initial meeting for a few days later.

Mistake #1: I waited too late to start all of this.  Valentine’s Day is of course the biggest holiday of the year for florists, which means that we have to place our flower orders with our wholesalers several weeks ahead of time in order to get “pre-book” (lower) prices.  We had the initial planning meeting at the coffee shop on a Thursday, and my floral wholesale order was due the next day.  I therefore felt a lot of pressure to come to an agreement so I could get my order in.  I was so worried about booking a host location that I didn’t listen to my internal voice of concern when the owner proposed they take a 25% cut of the sale price of each floral arrangement in exchange for providing me a corner of space to sell.  I didn’t figure out until after I said “yes” that 25% of the sale price worked out to be almost 60% of the actual profit, once I factored in my costs of making everything.

I placed my wholesale order the next day for over $1,000 in flowers, but couldn’t stop thinking about that profit margin.  It seemed exorbitant to me, so I suggested in an email that we work on making the split more fair to me, since I’d be putting in most of the labor for the pop-up shop to make over 60 arrangements and to prep/de-thorn/wrap 150 single long-stemmed roses (that the shop had ordered).  I proposed sale price points that I thought were extremely reasonable for Valentine’s Day, that would help to sell the arrangements, and that would still leave us both with some reasonable profit.  The coffee shop countered with a payout offer that, based on the sale prices I had suggested, would decrease their share of the profits on the arrangements to 47%, but would still give them 64% of the profits on the single-stemmed roses.  I accepted their offer.

I’ve always considered myself to be relatively book-smart; I did well in school, placed high in my classes, and enjoyed learning.  But I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never had much of what they call “street smarts” – it’s hard for me to tell sometimes when someone’s taking advantage of me, or not giving me the whole story.  I don’t “get the joke” until it’s too late usually.

So I accepted their offer even though I still didn’t feel good about it.  I felt like I had to, I guess – I’d already ordered the flowers, and they had made what appeared to be at least somewhat of a good faith offer in reducing their profit margin to be more fair to me.  They were providing the space, and some marketing, and staff time to ring up sales (they made a specific point of telling me that they would make the sales at their registers, and then the customer would show me a ticket stub they’d been given – not their receipt – in order to pick up their flowers at my table).  But I still felt like I was going to be doing, by far, most of the work, for barely over half the profits.  I began to get upset and dejected, but I also tried to be positive, telling myself that if we sold everything, we’d both still end up with a tidy sum and that it was good exposure for my business – and so I began investing time and flowers into creating sample floral arrangements for their publicity efforts and to take into the coffee shop to display to customers two weeks before the holiday.

My flower studio at full capacity.

My flower studio at full capacity for the pop-up shop.

(Mistake #2 – all of these business arrangements were made via email and not, as I now know I should have done, in a signed contract by both parties with all the terms explicitly spelled out.)

I had agreed to make even more samples to try to sell during a six-hour pre-order time block at the coffee shop one week ahead, on the Saturday before Valentine’s.  I had also printed up some price signs to put on the table so it would be clear to customers how much to pay for the different arrangements (we had two different sizes).  This is when things really took a turn for the worse:  I had set up my table upon arriving that morning and had just put out the price signs, when the manager came over and seemed very surprised I had made my own signs, saying “Oh, that’s wrong – those aren’t the correct prices,” and took the sign out of the plastic holder.

I was confused and surprised – “What do you mean? Those are the prices we agreed to in our email,” I said.  She then told me that they had decided to raise the prices of the arrangements – of my product – in order to give themselves a “more even share of the profits.”  They had decided – without consulting, asking, or telling me – to raise the prices of the arrangements by 33% and 20% each, essentially giving them a much higher percentage of the profit margin than me.  She said she would re-print the signs with the correct prices, and disappeared into the back workroom, leaving me standing there in shock.  What had just happened?

I quickly did some math, figured out they were going to be taking well over 60% of the overall profits on everything, and my head pretty much exploded.  I stepped outside the shop and made some very heated phone calls to some family members to vent my frustration; the manager came back after quite a lengthy absence, and I noticed she had just slightly reduced the prices of the arrangements from what she had told me earlier (perhaps she had seen me through the window in head-explosion mode on my calls outside), but they were still higher than our originally agreed-upon prices (and still gave them over half the profits). Furthermore, I suspect they intended their price increase and higher profits to remain undiscovered by me – perhaps that was the reason for the ticket system (rather than me seeing customer receipts), and they hadn’t counted on me bringing my own price signs.

I was angry at what they’d done, but I was also suddenly very worried that this price increase would mean unsold stock for me; their new increased price points were not customer-friendly in my opinion for the arrangements we were offering.  I was now stressed that this pop-up shop would not only not be profitable, but that it would end up costing me money, perhaps a considerable amount.  I made no secret of the fact that I was very upset at this unexpected turn of events.  Someone that day told me “now Kristi, don’t have a bad attitude about this.”  That just made me even more angry – don’t have a bad attitude about someone raising the price of my product without consulting me, disrespecting me and my business, and putting my earning potential into possible jeopardy?  They were already going to make a huge percentage of the profits, but that wasn’t enough for them, they had to have more and potentially cost us both business?  I didn’t want to overreact, but yes, I felt I was allowed to have at least a little bit of a bad attitude about this.

That day, a week before Valentine’s, I took 20 arrangements to the shop and only five sold (that was Mistake #3 on my part, they had asked me to bring “several samples” and I ordered too many flowers, so ended up making 20…which no one wanted to buy a week ahead of Valentine’s & it cost me).  Only two people placed a pre-order for the following week, which also really concerned me.  The manager later agreed that perhaps we should have seen if they would sell at the lower original prices, especially since it wasn’t Valentine’s yet, but she never did lower the prices.

So what happened next?  I’d already agreed to exclusivity and that I wouldn’t have any other pop-ups for Valentine’s in any other competing establishments (so no coffee shops or restaurants), so I felt I couldn’t start approaching other venues to sell there instead.  And despite their (in my eyes) very dishonorable actions, I felt like I had to do the honorable thing on my part and follow-through with doing the shop on Fri 2/13 and Sat 2/14 as we’d agreed.  I spent 83 hours in total labor on doing all the arrangements and flower work, and my mom graciously also put in many hours to help me.  I made 63 arrangements in total, and we spent hours prepping all those single long-stemmed roses.

Roses getting ready for their big day.

Roses getting ready for their big day.

(Mistake #4: I ordered pre-book lots with the wholesaler, which means that for a reduced price, you get the types of flowers you want but you don’t get to pick your colors.  You do get to specify a “wish list” and I stated all Valentine’s colors, but that’s not what I got – the wholesaler sent me a lot of yellows and oranges and whites, more so than reds, pinks and purples…very spring-like but not very Valentine’s-y.  Mistake #5:  I should have used at least half of those long-stemmed roses to make all-rose arrangements instead of mixed-flower arrangements [which did include roses but also four other types of flowers]; people want roses on Valentine’s, and I messed up by not having all roses all the time, but I was trying to keep prices low.  Mistake #6: It’s WAY too hot inside a coffee shop for flowers, they immediately lost days of vase life in just a few hours.)

What I should have made for every arrangement (that I made for a family member's order).

What I should have made for every arrangement (that I made for a family member’s order).

Thank goodness I was rescued by family, friends, and coworkers who ordered and bought arrangements in advance of the coffee shop sales.  I took 41 arrangements (and all the single roses) to the coffee shop on Valentine’s Day.  Only 19 of them sold, so I left with 22 unsold arrangements.  And I think they probably only sold about 20 long-stemmed roses the entire weekend from behind the register.  About halfway through my 8-hour stint at the coffee shop, I discussed with the manager reducing the prices on the arrangements to try to sell more; she said she’d consider it but then disappeared and never came back (and never reduced the prices).

I think there were many factors for why so many of the arrangements went unsold: the price points, the rose and color factors, the weather and very low customer turnout (75 degrees in February probably lured people to go outside instead of hole up in a coffee shop), and lack of signage and marketing.  (My brother and nephew even showed up with a sign to hold out on the sidewalk to tell people Valentine’s flowers were for sale there, I really appreciated that; I also was very touched by all the friends and family that stopped by the shop to show their support.)  I didn’t lose money on the whole thing as I’d feared, but for the entire venture, I only made about $100 profit – which comes out to a whopping $1.20 per hour for my 83 hours of labor.  Which is so sad it’s actually funny.

Thinking back on the whole experience, I’m mostly angry with myself; right after I’d found out the coffee shop increased the prices, a friend of mine and I were talking about it and she told me “Just stand up for yourself!”  I guess I don’t feel like I did that, and I’m not sure why, but it makes me feel ashamed; I felt intimidated for some reason, and scared by the financial risk factor.  I was disappointed that something I really should have been able to enjoy and look forward to, instead turned out to be something I dreaded and didn’t enjoy at all.  I began to doubt my abilities.  I was cranky and pretty much intolerable that entire week, which I’m also not proud of.  And I was unsettled by how much greed comes into play for some people when it comes to business.  This was my first time doing a shop like this, and I certainly learned many – MANY – lessons for the future if I do one again. 

So…it wasn’t the greatest Valentine’s Day, but I’m sure other people had days worse than mine, so I try to keep that in perspective.  (And at least there were no overwrapped bricks of cheese this year, read that story here.)  I was pretty discouraged after I came home that day; I didn’t think I even wanted to look at another flower for a while after that.  And yet the next morning, the first thing I thought of when I woke up was the bucket of leftover withering flowers sitting in my workroom, and I felt bad that I’d neglected them.  Out came the clippers and I found myself working those stragglers into vases and their own arrangements before I’d even had breakfast.  

I have a lot of thinking to do now about future directions and next steps.  Stay tuned.

 À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Let Them Eat Marshmallows

1 Comment

“To be young again, if we could…” ~ William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, II, ii)

Yesterday I took my two oldest nephews and their father (my brother) to a kid’s improv show at a local comedy theatre.  Both of the boys had a good time, although the almost-8-year old was much less inhibited while the 9-year old is starting to exhibit signs of a brooding pre-teen and was a little more embarrassed about getting on the stage in front of everyone.  On the way home in the car, I told them they should act silly for as long as they can while they’re still young and have a good time doing it.

The 9-year old said (who was also upset at a no-electronics ban for the day) grumbled from the backseat “what’s so great about being young, why can’t I just become a grown-up as fast as possible?”  I glanced at his trademark furrowed brow in the rear-view mirror and wished I could make him understand.  I guess we all thought that way when we were little and wanted to be big.  They made a whole movie around that yearning premise, after all.  I answered him by saying something to the effect of it’s nice being carefree when you’re young and not having to worry about things like money and houses and cars. 

When we’re little we never know how good we actually have it, right? (Even after we’re official adults, sometimes we still don’t realize it, something about always wanting that greener grass…and no, not the kind you can find in Colorado or Oregon.)  Or as Andy Bernard said in the finale of the ‘The Office’ this past May: “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.”

And there is no better reminder of how good the young have it than around the holidays.  This past week I looked into the pure, innocent eyes of my 3-year old nephew as he recited what he wants Santa to bring him and nodded seriously that yes, he’s been a good boy (I’ll vouch for him, Santa), and marveled at how completely happy he seems to be almost all of the time.  I listened to the almost-8-year old sing every word to Feliz Navidad along with the radio while in the backseat – no holding back or second thoughts, just his joy at singing a favorite Christmas song (in perfect pitch and Spanish accent I might add).  I watched as a friend’s twin toddlers ripped tissue paper to tiny shreds that had accompanied their present and laughed at their cute baby giggles as they played peekaboo with the gift bag (holiday tip: just give the 1-year olds in your life some bags full of wadded up tissue paper and they’ll be perfectly content for hours).

Oh to be young again, if we could…  To not have to worry about paying the nonstop bills, or enrolling in the new government healthcare plan, or trying to figure out why you have a new ache or pain every other day.  To not have to stop buying bread and cheese to shed those stubborn extra pounds, or deal with the dynamics of intricate family politics, or calculate the least-damaging tax structures for your financial situation.

Oh to be young again, if we could…  To fly down the stairs each morning looking for the newest spying spot of their Shelf Elf.  To sing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs and dance like a lightning bug with your hands in the air.  To dream about that new toy or game that you just have to have, that will just totally make your life complete.  To eat handfuls of Christmas cookies and drink endless cups of hot cocoa (with mounds of marshmallows of course). To eat more handfuls of more marshmallows even after you’ve run out of hot cocoa…

cocoa

The growing-up part will come soon enough; in the blink of an eye actually.  And I think we expect kids to be more than just kids these days – we expect them to be young grown-ups, perhaps because they have more in terms of resources and technology and opportunities than any generation before them.  But at this time of the year, we should remind ourselves that it’s fun to just watch them be excited, hopeful, wide-eyed kids.  Let’s help them, as much as possible, realize that they’re in the good old days right now.  I  know, easier said than done when they’re screaming and shrieking and running around the house like sugar-whacked banshees…(deep breaths).

Life moves on despite the holidays, and sometimes brings hardship instead of happiness.  My father’s aunt passed away a few days ago, some friends and family members are having some health struggles, and a close friend of mine is mourning the recent loss of her beloved dog, so my thoughts and condolences are with them.  If someone around you is having a hard time this holiday, be sure to try to bring them a little extra cheer if possible (flowers are always nice, if I do say so myself).

schnauzer flowers

And if you do celebrate Christmas, I hope you are with family or friends this week and experience a relaxing, UNunhappy holiday.  I recognize that not everyone is fortunate enough to be in that situation or that we don’t all celebrate the same occasions, and so I wish peace for you too, in whatever form that may come. If you yourself need some cheering up, then this video about super-cute penguins in Santa suits is for YOU:

March of the Santa Penguins (Click to view)

March of the Santa Penguins (Click picture to view)

Mele Kalikimaka! (I think that’s my favorite Christmas song by the way and I’ve never even been to Hawaii…)

hohoho

Joyeux Noël et À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Power of Flowers (and more Lonely Bouquets)

3 Comments

“It is to be all made of fantasy, all made of passion and all made of wishes…” ~William Shakespeare (As You Like It, V, ii)

In July I introduced you to the worldwide movement of The Lonely Bouquet and showed you in that past post how my nephew Truman and I delivered a few of them around town.  Last week I had the good fortune to inherit some leftover event flowers (thanks to my generous current employer) and fashioned a few more jam jars for adoption:

A Lonely Bouquet waiting for adoption.

A Lonely Bouquet waiting for adoption.

This time I left each bouquet at a local animal hospital or emergency vet clinic, hoping that they would bring just a small touch of comfort to someone who either had a sick pet or perhaps had to make a very tough and sad decision about a pet’s future.  I know what that’s like, and while nothing can take away the immediate sadness, I thought that a free and pretty posey might at least take their mind off it for a few minutes.

photo-7 (2)

photo 1-15 (2)

photo 3-6 (2)

That last picture is where I took my dog Foxy for many visits with her canine ophthalmologist when she had optical cancer, but in addition to it being an eye clinic, it’s also an after-hours emergency clinic.  And it’s where I finally had to take her on that last day when she was in pain and I made the impossible decision to ease her suffering.  It was hard for me to approach the door of that place once again, but this time it was for a good reason, and I hope that either a pet parent or one of the kind staff members were the recipients of the gift.

It’s been proven scientifically that flowers have the power to make us feel better – they have an actual mood-improving effect on our brain waves and emotional functions when we are around them, isn’t that amazing?  Take a look at this picture I snapped of a carton full of wedding flowers from a few weeks ago:

pinkflowers

What is your gut reaction upon first seeing the amazing mix of pinks and lavenders and corals and textures?  For me it’s awe and amazement – it’s like looking at nature’s cotton candy.  And what’s even more amazing to me is that the planner at that wedding actually had us DISCARD and not use these flowers because she said the bride would think them too “pink-y” to go with the rest of the flowers (which were equally as beautiful).  This carton of flowers went directly into a dumpster without any wedding guests (or the bride) having seen them, which is shocking to me.  But at least they’ll live on through this blog!

I’ve been grappling lately with the fate and purpose of wedding flowers.  I know they’ve served their purpose, but it’s still sad to see them go immediately into trash bags and dumpsters either there at the venue right after the event, or the next day when the van is unloaded; it’s still a shock to me as I toss thousands of dollars worth of floral arrangements into a big black Hefty bag as the last lingering guests are still milling about.  Yes sometimes there are a few guests here and there who will take a centerpiece or two home with them, but it’s not common.  Even sadder is when the bride’s bouquet is left behind on some random table next to empty beer bottles…why wouldn’t they want to keep that and take it with them?

From what I’ve witnessed over the last few months, weddings have become such staged, scripted, over-the-top spectacles that unfortunately, significance and meaning can sometimes get lost in the shuffle.  Everything is about getting the perfect photo op, or fretting over whether something is “vintage” or “modern” enough, or fitting into the trends of the day even if it has no ties or significance to the two people getting married.  And this includes the flowers.

I get that weddings are BIG business – always have been and always will be – but it seems to me that very few if any brides actually consider the meaning and significance of flowers they pick for their weddings.  Instead of considering the language of flowers and what each variety represents, or picking flowers that mean something to them for personal or family reasons, it seems most brides these days pick their flowers based on how many pins it got on a Pinterest board.  The flowers are just an accessory, albeit usually a very pricey one, but not one that has any true meaning for most people at the ceremony. (I’m generalizing here of course, but this is just what I’ve noticed is true for most weddings; I’m sure there are those brides out there that do pick their flowers based on personal reasons, I just haven’t seen it that often so far.)

(I’ve read that there was literal outrage when William and Kate got married a few years ago that her bridal bouquet was not big or “royal” enough and that she was slammed by fashion critics for her bouquet being too small for the scale of the event.  Little did they know that every single flower in that bouquet was appropriately picked based on historical significance and family tradition – read about it here in one of my favorite flower blogs by Flowerona.)

Here’s an example: one of the most in-demand wedding flowers is the peony.  Many brides want a lush bouquet full of them, but they’re also one of the most expensive flowers (at least where we are), so not many can afford them.  But how many brides stop to consider that in the Language of Flowers, mischievous and brazen nymphs are said to hide in the petals of the peony, giving it the meaning of shame.  And in China, the peony has become a masculine motif, associated with a devil-may-care attitude and a disregard for consequence.  Yes peonies are breathtaking but one must admit those aren’t the most romantic character traits…

800px-Peony_closeup

Peony close-up

One of the meanings of ranunculus, another very popular wedding flower, is ingratitude.  A yellow rose in the Victorian ages could signify infidelity and jealousy.  And the most commonly-cited meanings of the ever-popular hydrangea: “A boaster, Heartlessness, You are cold.” 

Now I get that these originally-prescribed meanings don’t necessarily have to hold true today; a beautiful flower can be just a beautiful flower.  But back in the day, people everywhere knew what it meant to give a certain flower to a certain person.  Why and when did we lose that purpose, that significance?

Maybe I’m just being a flower nerd, but I find this kind of stuff fascinating.  Flowers have their own language, contain their own messages and meanings, can alter our brain waves, and many edible varieties can even provide sustenance in addition to beauty.  They have the ability to soothe, calm, excite, incite, cheer and transport to a state of UNunhappy.  They can speak volumes to recipients even when the sender can’t find any words of their own.  That’s power.

So you can make any bouquet or garden of flowers as you like it; you can have it say what you want to say.  There’s a flower for every meaning.  If it is to be all made of fantasy: the poppy.  If it is to be all made of passion: the orange rose.  And if it is to all be made of wishes: holly. 

By the way: one non-profit charity in England is changing the landscape of wasted/discarded wedding flowers.  Floral Angels recycles and re-purposes leftover event flowers into beautiful bouquets which they then deliver to women’s shelters, senior centers, hospitals and other sites in need of cheer.  Check out their Facebook page here and a big kudos to them for all the work that they do in the name of bringing joy and well-being to others.

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

Who Let the Daws Out?

5 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daw

I know I have the power to not let this happen. I just need to not let it happen more effectively. More calmly. More patiently. I purposefully held off on writing this week’s post because I was too angry and upset at the time I normally write, and I knew that if I penned this right after an emotional hijacking, I’d end up regretting it later.

So when I arrived home in the middle of a mini-meltdown, I focused on acting purposefully: to do what makes me feel better, what makes me feel more present. First, I imbibed of some green chile queso and chips (one has to stay nourished to be purposeful). I watched an episode of The Office to just laugh. And then, I created. Arranged. Designed. I surrounded myself with no less than five new outlets of color and calm.

photo 3-5 (2)

photo 4-3 (2)

photo 1-13 (2)

photo 2-12 (2)

photo 5-1 (2)

And it worked.

Therapy in a vase. Or in this case, five vases.

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

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: