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Tour de Doldrums

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“Alas, you know, ’tis far from hence to France…” ~William Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part III, IV, i)

I haven’t felt like writing anything lately.  Every year around this time I, along with countless others around the world, enter a real phase of melancholy brought on by le fin of the Tour de France.  For 23 days each July, cycling fans are glued to all types of media to garner every possible detail about the 22 teams racing around France.  We watch 198 professional riders roll off the start line on Day 1, perched on the edges of our seats and waiting for the inevitable stories of human drama that will unfold over the next three weeks.  We count down each kilometer as they make their way on winding French roads through unimaginable and literal mountainous obstacles. We hold our breath with every crash, suffer through unending commercials from revenue-hungry networks, and cheer on our fan favorites as they turn themselves inside out for historical glory.

And then all of a sudden we blink and we’re watching the weary and wounded roll into Paris three weeks later, on the last day of the race.  The contingent is usually around 160 riders by that time, depending on the number and severity of the crashes, the amount of sidelining sickness within the peloton, and the number of stupid mistakes yet made by some (yes there are still, incredibly, unbelievably, riders who still get thrown out for doping in this day and age [thankfully it was only one guy this year], but this year’s “DUH” award goes to the rookie rider who though it would be ok to hitch a short ride in a team car in order to get a flat tire fixed.  Jumped in the backseat right in front of the race referee…they should’ve given him a bobble head trophy which continually shakes its head in disbelief.)

map_route

For me, my typical Tour day here at home would involve getting up early to catch the live broadcast each morning (both on TV and via online links to European stations), which would begin anywhere between 5:00-7:00 AM and would usually last around 4 hours.  (I always feel bad for the Australia fans during the Tour, coverage for them is in the middle of the night, from about 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM.)  Then there was an evening recap broadcast from 7:00-10:00 each night but I would usually only watch the last hour or so of that one to catch any new interviews or analysis.  (I would walk 3.5 miles on the treadmill each day while watching the morning live race so that I wouldn’t feel quite so couch potato-ish.) 

During the in-between hours, I would catch up on Twitter for race and rider commentary, team videos, and news stories, which probably took another 2-3 hours each day.  Then there were online podcasts to listen to from journalists at the Tour, another hour or so daily.  (The Tour is the most reported-on sporting event in the world each year, so there is a copious amount of information available each day.)  I was on vacation from work this entire time, so the Tour became my stand-in occupation.  Would that I could only be paid for the vast amount of Tour de France knowledge absorbed by my brain during the month of July…I’d be a rich woman.

Signs seen in Leeds storefronts for the 2014 TdF,

Signs seen in Leeds storefronts for the 2014 TdF, “Yellow is the New Black; Proud Supporters of the World’s Greatest Cycle Race.”

A supporting storefront in Harrogate, Stage 1 of 2014 TdF.

A supporting storefront in Harrogate, Stage 1 of 2014 TdF.

I can’t really explain my obsession (although I did try in this past post).  It’s tough to be a cycling fan after the revealing history of the past several years.  Part of it comes from the two Tours I’ve had the privilege of seeing in person – in France 2010 (in the Alps) and in England in 2014 (for the Grand Depart).  Once you’ve felt the electric current of the race up close and personal, once you’ve experienced the biggest sporting event in the world in person, you watch with a certain loyalty and nostalgia of one who remembers the awe.  It does take a lot of loyal fan commitment to stick with the race through three entire weeks.  But when you really take time to learn the race and see what it takes for one man, let alone 160 of them, to finish this massive accomplishment, often limping through the final stages with broken ribs and bandaged limbs but surviving on hope of riding into Paris on that last day – well, it just kind of hooks you I guess.  

Mark Cavendish before the Grand Depart on Stage 1 in Leeds, 2014 TdF.

Mark Cavendish before the Grand Depart on Stage 1 in Leeds, 2014 TdF.

Press Commentary boxes on the finish line in Harrogate for Stage 1, 2014 TdF.

Press Commentary boxes on the finish line in Harrogate for Stage 1, 2014 TdF.

And after that last Sunday, when the final rider has rolled across the finish line on the famous Champs-Élysées and the volume of Twitter chat takes a sudden plunge a few hours later, fans are left to face the following days in an empty vacuum.  The romanticism of the race has ended for another year.  We wonder what to do with empty hours that used to be filled with fantastical images of French scenery (we miss you, polka-dot cows).  We manage a small smile in wistful remembrance when overplayed commercials we used to hate now populate other programs.  We flip the calendar to August and hobble back into work (a few pounds heavier for all the croissants we’ve consumed), wondering which races the riders will do next (and how can we secretly watch them while at the office).

But mostly, we just start counting down to next July.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Lay ee Odl Lay ee Odl Lay Hee Hoo

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“Sound, music!” ~William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV, i)

Today I’m going to write about something that might not appeal to some people, but it certainly makes me UNunhappy so we’re going to go with it.  Many of us have movies from our childhood that we remember and that make us feel nostalgic: a few blockbusters that stick out for me were ‘The Black Stallion’ (I was a typical horse-crazy little girl), ‘Star Wars’ (my brother and I had every single action figure), ‘E.T.’ (which I want to believe started me on the track to future X-Files super-fandom), and of course ‘Grease’ (I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John).

Other lesser-known film gems that I saw as a kid also bring back fond memories, like:

  • ‘The Cat from Outer Space’
  • ‘Escape from Witch Mountain’
  • ‘The Shaggy D.A.’
  • ‘The Rescuers’
  • Any of the ‘Benji’ or ‘Herbie the Love Bug’ movies
  • (I’d include Wizard of Oz but I firmly blame it for my phobia of tornadoes, sorry Lisa.)

But there’s one movie above all the rest that made a life-long impression upon me, and I wasn’t even born yet when it was released in 1965.  The first time I remember seeing it, I was 8 years old and in the third grade, when our teacher Mrs. Martin asked us to watch it at home because we were going to be putting on a play in class using goat puppets made out of milk cartons and popsicle sticks.  She also taught us how to yodel for our singing parts in the play, which we all thought was great fun.  Yes, the movie is of course ‘The Sound of Music.’

You may think it’s sappy or cheesy, with all those singing nuns and curtain-clad kids running around Salzburg.  I just think it’s pure happiness.  It’s one of those movies that if I see it while flipping the channels, I’m stuck for the next few hours singing every word to every song – which I, along with millions of others, know by heart since I’ve seen the movie an estimated 42 times now.  (Other movies I’m obligated to watch if I catch them while channel surfing:  ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ ‘Love Actually,’ ‘The Holiday,’ ‘A Christmas Story,’ ‘About a Boy,’ and yes, I admit it, ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’)

I really have Mrs. Martin to thank for my love of the movie and its songs, as a good portion of that third grade year was spent rehearsing “The Lonely Goatherd,” which is definitely the funnest song in the entire movie.  But it’s not my favorite song of the film – that honor goes to “I Have Confidence.”  I relate to the words in that song – I’ve been known to sing it as I’m sitting in my car about to go into a big job interview, or to boost my morale before major meetings or speeches or projects.  Just listen, how can you not love this, especially when sung by the indelible Julie Andrews?

I also love her outfit in that scene and I wish I could pull off Maria’s simple but chic hairstyle that was unmussed by that fantastic hat.  She was confident, despite being faced with an overwhelming and uncertain challenge.  Everyone in this movie is facing challenges of one kind or another, which is the main draw of its appeal for many fans (and that all of those challenges get resolved in neat packages by the end, tied up with string) – that, and the fact that it’s based on a true story of course.  Though the screenwriters took a few liberties with the storyline, the basic tenets are all there, and I’ve read in-depth accounts of the actual Von Trapp family (it’s an extremely interesting history).  This past fall my father and stepmom visited the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont and brought me back a family anthology book signed by one of the actual grandchildren of the real Maria Von Trapp.  It’s a treasure and I enjoyed reading every word of it, and hope to eventually visit the Lodge myself sometime.

I also have thought of visiting Austria one day to go on a Sound of Music tour, and yes of course those really exist.  A few years ago, right before I moved to Austin, I bought tickets to the now-famous yearly Sound of Music Sing-a-Long at the Hollywood Bowl outdoor amphitheatre in Los Angeles.  (By the way, the best ‘Will & Grace’ episode ever was “Von Trapped,” where all the characters get stuck at a Sound of Music Sing-a-Long, it’s hilarious & well worth a watch!)  But, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go with me, and I didn’t want to travel there by myself, so I ended up selling the tickets; maybe I’ll try again this year, the 50th Anniversary year of the movie’s release, what better year to go?  Everyone dresses up for the Sing-a-Long in their favorite SOM-inspired costume and it’s hosted by actress and comedienne Melissa Peterman – what it must sound like for 18,000 fans to be singing all the songs together at the same time!  It seems to me that must be what pure joy sounds like.  (I wish they would also do one for ‘Mary Poppins,’ another one of my favorites; Julie Andrews can do no wrong.)

I have many favorite scenes in the movie: when Maria and the Captain are dancing on the patio outside the ball; when she comes back (after leaving) to face her feelings and is reunited with the children, only to find out the Captain is engaged; the scene at the end of Do Re Mi when Julie Andrews hits the highest note in the history of the world; and of course the wedding scene – that train!  As a young girl watching both The Sound of Music and Princess Diana’s wedding, it’s what I wanted my future wedding to be like: in a grand cathedral with a wedding gown train the length of the aisle and a handsomely-uniformed man at the end of the aisle (some dreams are meant to remain dreams I guess).

MariaDress

SOMwedding

I read a Vanity Fair interview last week with Dame Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer – she’s 79 now and he’s 85, it’s hard to believe.  They have very different memories and opinions of the movie these 50 years later, but it’s still a thrill to see them together in photos and tributes after all this time.  It’s truly heartbreaking that she can no longer sing due to throat surgery gone wrong many years ago; I told my mom as we were watching the Oscars last week that I would have given anything in the world to see Julie Andrews walk out on that stage and sing those songs herself (during a tribute to the movie during the show).  They must both know by now the love that fans the world over have for the film and for them – watching ‘The Sound of Music’ takes me right back to third grade and the goatherd milk carton puppet I made for our class play, and reminds me of happy times.

And I can still do a pretty mean yodel.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

The Power of Flowers (and more Lonely Bouquets)

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“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

Lonely Bouquets to Brighten Days

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“It beckons you to go away with it, as if it some impartment did desire to you alone.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet (I, 4)

Sorry for the delay since my last post, the last week of the Tour de France has kept me glued to the TV and computer every day! I’ll be sad after the three-week race is finally over on Sunday, but what a spectacle it’s been! Today the riders climbed the mythic Alpe d’Huez TWICE in one stage! Never been done before, and a French rider fittingly won the stage (for the first time this Tour actually), so good for them. There will be even more empty wine bottles than usual in France tonight, I suspect.

Onto the topic of the day: I’ve been wanting to share a recent and very UNunhappy mission with you that took place a week ago. I’d seen comments on my Twitter feed recently regarding a campaign called “The Lonely Bouquet” that was launched out of Belgium. The amusing @LonelyBouquet Twitter profile states they are “A guerrilla campaign for flower fanatics meant to make people’s day brighter, one flower at a time!” I was intrigued.

From their website at LonelyBouquet.com (or Fleuropean.com), the gist of the Lonely Bouquet goes something like this: “1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face.”

(From the Lonely Bouquet website.)

(From the Lonely Bouquet website.)

The basic concept of the Lonely Bouquet goes a little something like this: 1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the homegrown arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face. – See more at: http://www.fleuropean.com/international_lonely_bouquet_day/#sthash.xGiap27P.dpuf
The basic concept of the Lonely Bouquet goes a little something like this: 1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the homegrown arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face. – See more at: http://www.fleuropean.com/international_lonely_bouquet_day/#sthash.xGiap27P.dpuf
The basic concept of the Lonely Bouquet goes a little something like this: 1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the homegrown arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face. – See more at: http://www.fleuropean.com/international_lonely_bouquet_day/#sthash.xGiap27P.dpuf
The basic concept of the Lonely Bouquet goes a little something like this: 1) pick flowers fresh from the garden or forage straight from nature, 2) arrange the flowers in a small, recycled jar, 3) add a signature “take me!” tag, and 4) leave the homegrown arrangement behind for a lucky local to take home. Voila! You have just delivered a handful of flowers that will surely put a smile on a stranger’s face. – See more at: http://www.fleuropean.com/international_lonely_bouquet_day/#sthash.xGiap27P.dpuf

Pretty great idea right?! June 30 was apparently “International Lonely Bouquet Day,” but I didn’t learn about it until after that. Even though I’m not an “official” florist yet, I wanted to be a part of this kind campaign. So last week I took the remnants of the arrangement I’d made in my last floral class and re-fashioned the still-fresh flowers into three small, separate Lonely Bouquets. I bought a pack of mason jars at the grocery store, and printed up the recommended “take me” tags to attach to each one.

Once the bouquets were ready, I stored them in my refrigerator and started thinking of where I could leave them around town. Where does one leave free bouquets? I needed a partner for this secret mission, so I enlisted the help of my nephew Truman. Once I explained the operation to him and showed him the bouquets, he helped me come up with ideas on the three locales for our Lonely Bouquets. Truman was my lookout guy as I placed each one, making sure no one was looking as I took a picture; then we’d scurry away in laughter back to the car.

Lonely Bouquet #1 we left at the local firehouse for the hero firefighters and EMS workers to find; we thought that either it would brighten up their living quarters or maybe they’d pass it along to a patient who would like it:

Lonely Bouquet 1

LB1a

Lonely Bouquet #2 we left at a park on a bench, near a crowded pool on a hot summer evening. We hoped that one of the summer fun-goers would adopt our flowers and take them home to a cool kitchen table:

LB2c

Lonely Bouquet 2

Lonely Bouquet #3 we left at a location of Truman’s choosing: the nearby Senior Citizen’s home down the street. We waited until the entryway was clear, and then placed our flowers on a bench by the front door. We hope they brightened the day of a resident at the home:

Lonely Bouquet 3

We had such fun placing the bouquets, and when I circled back around later than night, all three of them had been picked up and hopefully adopted! I went to the Lonely Bouquet website to put our flowers on their live interactive map and document our efforts as part of the worldwide campaign – and I couldn’t believe ours were the first Lonely Bouquets in Austin!

I haven’t heard back from any of the “adopters” through the contact links I left on the tags, but that’s ok. It was just great to make the arrangements and spend the time with my nephew doing something that hopefully made a few more people UNunhappy that day. We plan to place more bouquets out there again soon! Thank you LonelyBouquet.com!

My secret mission lookout man.

My secret mission lookout man.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

The Future is Blooming – Part 2

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“To strew thy green with flowers: the yellows, blues, the purple violets, and marigolds…” – William Shakespeare (Pericles IV, I)

A few days ago I related my historical and renewed interest in trying my hand in the floral design field (you can read about it here if you missed it).  It’s a pretty far cry from anything I’ve ever done before.  Most of my working life, I’ve been sitting in a cubicle and consoling myself with Dilbert cartoons.  My brother was always the artist in the family, and yet here I am wading into a field that requires an eye for the art elements of color, form, and perspective.

But – maybe some of his artisan ability also filtered into my genetic code and I just haven’t discovered it yet (one can hope)?  Maybe this is a path I should have taken a long time ago and life has just taken me down different roads so far?  I’m willing to gamble on the maybes.  Now that I have the opportunity, how could I not at least give it a try, after all this time?  If I don’t give it a shot, I think I’ll always regret it.

IMG_5105

Purpley-pink orchid at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

So slowly but surely, I’m exploring this new realm:

  • Earlier this summer, I enrolled in a beginner’s floral design class at the local community college and have learned some new techniques.
  • Over the past few weeks, I’ve been conducting informational interviews with several local floral designers who came recommended to me by a good friend (thank you Rachel!); I’ve been asking for their advice & recommendations, making future networking connections, and asking lots of questions about what it’s really like in the industry.
  • I’ve contacted and looked into a few career/intensive floral design programs around the country to figure out if I want or need to make that investment.
  • I’ve reached out to express interest for an upcoming summer internship with another local designer.
  • Every day I usually spend a few hours doing internet research and self-study on the floral industry, design techniques, and product details, as well as connecting with florists all over the world on Twitter – I love Twitter! (I think I’m a bit of a Twitter addict actually, help.)
  • I finally (!) signed up on Pinterest and started a board called “Fantastical Floral Designs!” for those beautiful, quirky, and memorable designs that catch my eye and inspire me.
  • I’ve toured some of the wholesale flower businesses in town to ask questions, view products, and buy my first floral tools (including a Swiss Army floral knife!!):

floral tools

I have no idea if I’m going about this the “right” way but I’m de-perfectionizing, remember, so it’s ok.  And although it might not be considered by everyone to be a “real” job, floristry is in fact a huge industry and a multi-billion dollar business around the world.  I hope enough of that profit eventually comes my way to be able to support myself in this endeavor, but in the meantime I’m probably going to have to take other non-floral-related jobs to help pay the bills, at least for a while, and I’m open to that.

It’s scary of course – for the first time in a long time, I have no set plan.  A few weeks ago I was volunteering for an Austin Shakespeare event and discovered that another volunteer there was also a freelance floral designer.  When I told her of my circumstances and aspirations, she said “I love when people say they quit their jobs because they didn’t like it or weren’t happy.  Trust that you will be provided for and taken care of now that you voluntarily released all that negativity.”  Wow – no one has ever said anything like that to me before, or at least not in that way.  It was just what I needed to hear (thank you Rachael).

I don’t know yet what my exact end-goal is, and that’s alright with me.  Right now I’m just wanting to learn as much as possible about design and really get into the creativity aspect of it all.  I’d like to develop my skills and work for several different designers to gain varied perspectives.  Many floral designers have their own business without ever having a retail store, and right now I’m leaning toward that option.  Although I must admit, the possibility of running one of those cute cottage-y flower shops in England or France where the locals stop by to purchase their daily or weekly flowers doesn’t sound too shabby either.  I’m putting it on the “someday” list.

Paris Fleuriste

When you boil it all down, flowers have an important job: to make people feel better.  No matter how simple or complex the design, flowers provide joy and beauty and meaning – during times of great happiness or deep sorrow, during times of celebration and revelation…they convey messages and speak volumes when people sometimes just can’t.  That appeals to me.  I’d like to try to help flowers do their job to make people UNunhappy.

Because who couldn’t use a little more joy and beauty and meaning in their lives? 

I’ll continue providing updates as my journey continues…and a big thanks to all of you who have supported me thus far and encouraged me to pursue this path.  It’s much appreciated!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Why I’m Still In Love With The Tour de France

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“Now for our mountain sport: up to yond hill; Your legs are young; I’ll tread these flats.” ~ William Shakespeare (Cymbeline III, 3)

One of the things that makes me the most UNunhappiest in the world is the Tour de France. Yes, the sport and race that is now most famous for cheating and doping and controversy is (still) my most favorite sport.  Over the past few years, the revelations, accusations and conflagrations within the cycling world have certainly been depressing and disappointing, but I can’t help it – I’m still in love with the Tour de France.

This Saturday June 29th, the 100th edition of the Tour kicks off on the island of Corsica before heading to mainland France.  Cycling fans around the world are converging on the roads of France, in front of their televisions and computers, and on social media sites like Twitter to bond over their common love and obsession for “la grande boucle” (“the big loop).  The world’s best riders from 22 teams will battle each other and an extremely unforgiving course of over 2,100 miles for three weeks during the world’s most difficult race, all in pursuit of a yellow piece of lycra (and legend).  It’s dangerous and incredible and dramatic and unbelievable and electric and beautiful.  There’s nothing else quite like it.  Count me among the obsessed.

2013 Tour De France route map

2013 Tour De France route map

For many years now, I’ve saved up all my vacation hours each year to take three weeks off in July to watch the Tour.  In 2010, after a year of organizing and saving and planning, I lived a dream and went to France to follow the race around the French Alps for 10 days and to celebrate my 40th birthday.  It was one of the most amazing and incredible experiences of my life!  I will never forget standing on top of the world, the famous Col de la Madeleine in the French Alps, on my birthday, watching the riders snake up the mountain road below our vantage point and then watching them labor by us towards the summit, threading the needle of the massive crowds.  There were thousands of people on that mountain, fans from all over the world, all out in the middle of nowhere screaming at the top of their lungs and having the times of their lives.  I still get emotional when I think about it.  It was pure joy for me.

Col de la Madeleine, 2010 Tour de France

Col de la Madeleine, 2010 Tour de France

Col de la Madeleine, 2010 Tour de France

Col de la Madeleine, 2010 Tour de France

I went with a French-organized official tour group and it was great;  we lodged near each day’s stage in beautiful areas, and transportation was provided from one day’s route to the next.  (The only downside was the lack of hotel air conditioning during one of France’s worst heat waves in history.)  I was the only non-native person in the tour group who was fluent in French, and most of the French guys running our tour didn’t speak English, so I ended up being an unofficial group translator between some of the clients and the French-speaking staff.  Sometimes they put me in one of the support cars instead of the bus and I was able to help the French staff provide assistance to those in our group who were cycling the routes ahead of the pro riders each day.  I loved it!  I felt at home and useful and just so happy to be in one of the most pristine, beautiful corners of the world I’d ever seen. 

Morzine, site of Stage 8 finish, 2010 Tour de France

Avoriaz, site of Stage 8 finish
2010 Tour de France

Morzine, site of Stage 9 depart, 2010 Tour de France

Morzine, site of Stage 9 depart
2010 Tour de France

Postcard-perfect town of Morzine, 2010 Tour de France

Postcard-perfect town of Morzine
2010 Tour de France

We had unrestricted access to behind-the-scenes start and finish areas, and it was amazing to see the massive sets, broadcast trucks and media areas up close.  It’s a traveling logistics miracle which boggles the mind.  An entire mini-city is set up and dismantled every single day of the race.  I’d love to actually work for the Tour one day, what a dream job that would be!

At the finish line of Stage 8 in Station des Rousses, 2010 Tour de France

At the finish line of Stage 7 in Station des Rousses, 2010 Tour de France

Waiting for the winners at the award podium at finish of Stage 8 in Avoriaz, 2010 Tour de France.

Waiting for the winners at the award podium at finish of Stage 8 in Avoriaz, 2010 Tour de France.

We got to see lots of crazy sights and even crazier people (the Dutch fans are literally insane).  People line the roads of each stage’s route hours (or sometimes even days) ahead of time to stake out the best spots.  A nice little old German lady cooking a pot of potatoes even let me use her RV bathroom in an intestinal emergency.  The Tour’s publicity caravan passes through on the road an hour or two ahead of the riders and hurls out free swag to the waiting throngs.  Blaring music, girls on roller blades who throw candy at you, and huge dancing yeti monsters all add to the carnival atmosphere.

The Pink Wig Guys - we saw them everywhere we went.  2010 Tour de France

The Pink Wig Guys – we saw them everywhere we went. 2010 Tour de France

Friendly families in their camper vans are on the side of every road. 2010 Tour de France

Friendly families in their camper vans are on the side of every road. 2010 Tour de France

Publicity Caravan - here, the yellow jersey sponsor. 2010 Tour de France

Publicity Caravan – here, the yellow jersey sponsor. 2010 Tour de France

Publicity Caravan - still not sure what this product is. 2010 Tour de France

Publicity Caravan – still not sure what this product is. 2010 Tour de France

I guiltily confess to being somewhat of a stalker during the 2010 Tour de France.  I was on a mission to get up close and personal with one of the most impressive specimens of athletic prowess (and just plain hotness) in all of sport:  the one, the only –  Spartacus.  For you non-cycling readers, that’s World Champion Fabian Cancellara, a Swiss rider of awe-inspiring talent with a jaw of steel and ham hocks for thighs (and pretty nice hair too).  On the rest day in Morzine, I found him (ok, tracked him down) at his team hotel just as he returned from a training ride:

Fabian Cancellara on Rest Day in Morzine, 2010 Tour de France.

Fabian Cancellara on Rest Day in Morzine, 2010 Tour de France.

I was just a few feet away from cycling brilliance, and as he walked inside the hotel, I summoned the courage to follow him and ask him to sign the Texas flag I’d brought with me.  He did and I fainted Just kidding, but my heart was pounding pretty hard. He was all sweaty and when I asked him if he’d take a picture with me, he leaned in and I swear I could smell just a whiff of Swiss chocolate.  🙂

As if that weren’t enough, when I went back outside to the hotel patio, Jens Voigt and Andy Schleck had also just returned from their rides, and they also talked to me and signed my flag!  Tour-tough-man Jens is also one of my all-time favorite riders (as he is for most cycling fans), such a funny and all-around nice guy, and Andy Schleck from Luxembourg – well, if you don’t know who he is, he only ended up winning the Tour that year.  Yup, I hung out with the champion for a while.  No big deal.

When I approached Jens, he jokingly asked “Is it even legal to sign a flag?  And before I do, do you even know who I am?”  I was so flustered the only thing I could think to say in response was “Of course, you almost died last year in that horrible crash!”  Oof.  He laughed and said, “Well, next to my signature I’m going to print my name so you can tell which one it is later.”  Which he did. 

Jens Voigt signs my flag. 2010 Tour de France

Jens Voigt signs my flag.
2010 Tour de France

Andy Schleck took a picture with me and asked me a few questions, then signed the flag as well. He was a very nice guy.  I wanted to feed him a double grilled cheese sandwich.

Andy Schleck on rest day in Morzine, 2010 Tour de France Winner

Andy Schleck on rest day in Morzine, 2010 Tour de France Winner

I also was able to talk to and get signatures from Sylvain Chavanel (France), also one of my favorites, as well as American sprinter Tyler Farrar, Kiwi lead-out man Julian Dean, and up-and-coming USA hopeful Taylor Phinney.  I didn’t set out to be an autograph hound, honest; but it ended up being a convenient vehicle to use to start talking to them.  That’s one of the great things about cycling events – they’re FREE (as long as you can get yourself there), and you can walk right up to your biggest crushes idols and just have a conversation with them!  It’s amazing and I hope it stays that way forever. 

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the helmeted gorilla in the room: the 2010 Tour was Lance Armstrong‘s last.  He’d made his much-touted comeback the year before, and the rumor was this would be his final attempt.  Sharing a hometown with the guy, and listening to many wax nostalgic about this being his last hurrah, I did feel a strange pull toward him at this Tour; heck, he was kind of the reason I’d even become a cycling fan in the first place.

Lance during the 2010 Tour de France. Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Europe

Lance during the 2010 Tour de France.
Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Europe

When I returned from the Peace Corps in 2001 and stopped in Austin on my way home to Albuquerque, I went to the huge outdoor celebration that the city threw for him on the lakeshores of downtown.  He’d just won his third Tour, and I attended more out of curiosity than true fandom.  I’d been in Africa for his first two victories; what I knew of him so far was just what I’d read in our agency-provided Newsweek magazines.  But, like so many others, I got caught up in the story, and from that point on I started following cycling much more closely. When I moved to Austin in 2009, the frenzy over his professional comeback ushered me into this city.

Everyone has their own opinion on Lance.  This story isn’t about him, although he is part of my memories of my trip to the Tour…

While we toured the area around the team buses prior to the stage start in Chambéry, one of the publicity guys from the RadioShack team noticed my Texas flag.  He interviewed me for a team video that they watched at the end of each day, just a few seconds of who I was, where I was from and why had I come to the Tour.  He then told me that if I stuck around, he’d talk to Lance about signing my flag.  A few minutes later, Lance descended the bus stairs, talked to the media for a few minutes (actually he got into a heated argument with a woman reporter who questioned him about doping), and then proceeded down a line of fans.  When he got to the end where I was, we talked for a minute about Austin, he thanked me for traveling all that way, and then he signed my Texas flag in the middle of the white star.

Lance signs my Texas flag. 2010 Tour de France

Lance signs my Texas flag.
2010 Tour de France

My 2010 Tour de France Texas flag.

My 2010 Tour de France Texas flag.

Stars burn out, as we’ve seen.  But memories last forever (hopefully).  Despite all the disappointments of recent past, I still love the Tour for the memories I have of it, and for the dogged determination of the human spirit that personifies the competition within the race.  I believe cycling is reinventing itself for the better, one pedal-stroke at a time.  If you are a fan of cycling and especially the Tour, you MUST get yourself to France one day to be a part of it.  It’s really impossible to accurately describe the atmosphere and the dedication that goes into every part of the Tour; you must see and experience it for yourself.  France is a spectacularly beautiful country, and I can see why they are so proud of their Tour; it shows off the best of what they have to offer.  

Back Camera

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I plan to go back – next year, in fact.  The 2014 Tour de France’s “Grand Depart” is going to be in England, the other place of my dreams and UNunhappiness – there’s no way I can pass up that opportunity.  I hope to see you there!

For now, I’m off to stock up on croissants and Camembert.  Vive le Tour!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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