Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tips for Creating Your Own Flower Arrangements

Flowers... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

Spring has been slow to really present itself this year, and the peonies I was hoping to have bursting in my home are still the size of golf balls and incredibly expensive. For now, calla lilies, ranunculus and hyacinths are taking center stage, and so I have a vase of gently curved stems sitting by my computer compelling me to talk them up a bit.

Through my work, I've been lucky to have come in contact with some incredible florists and purveyors of flowers. At 19, I worked for a remarkable woman named Krislyn Meyer now Krislyn Komarov who saw flowers more as art supplies to be molded and manipulated into art pieces, and the flowers she bought from Holland, New Zealand, various parts of Asia and South America seemed like other worldly species that had traversed into our solar system. I started to learn about their needs, their quirks, which were sturdy and which would falter and which would start growing roots and creating offspring if you left them in water long enough. It was a bit of a science lab and art studio and the appreciation for flowers and plants as more than clear vase fillers began.

Shopping for Flowers

There really is no simpler way to add a burst of color to your home than incorporating the vibrant blooms of spring flowers. With access to one of the largest flower districts in America, I'm fortunate to be able to go to the Los Angeles Flower Mart, where I can create arrangements with both aesthetic and aromatic appeal. When selecting flowers, allow its beauty to consist not only of its petals, but also of its stem and leaves. Although a bit of dew on a rose in the morning is lovely, getting the heads of cut roses wet will cause them to begin to rot and turn brown. This a good time to mention that when you are looking at purchasing flowers, be mindful of lifting them and allowing the wet stems to drip on the tops of other flowers. You could upset the seller and ruin someone else's arrangement.

Prepping Your Flowers

To insure the longevity of your flowers, remove all leaves that will fall below the waterline and insure that the vases are clean and free of debris. Cut the bottom inch off the stems at an angle under water, preventing an air bubble from rising up the stem, blocking water, and causing the flower head to fall over. Place immediately in water and away from heat and sunlight. Although cool temperatures preserve flowers, do not keep your arrangement in the refrigerator as the food, along with a very arid environment, will cause them to wilt. Flower Food will help your arrangement last longer and can be purchased wherever flowers are sold.

Creating a Flower Arrangement

There are a few items that you should have handy when you're creating an arrangement that will give you more ways to display your flowers than plunking them in a vase.

* Floral Foam which can be cut to fit in your vase or container, and should be fully immersed in water for at least an hour before arranging

* Floral tape (To create a visual grid and add security to vase arrangements or to secure floral foam onto containers)

* Floral shears or hand snips

* A stem stripper (Although, if you have the patience to cut off the leaves and thorns by hand, it's advisable as stem strippers can damage the cane and cause the flower to wilt sooner)

* Wired 3" wood picks to give un-insertable branches and twigs an insertable-ness and lengthen or strengthen weak stems and bundle items such as bows or ornaments together

* An array of vases from clear, ceramic, mint julep cups and wood (although you must line the bottom of porous vases with cellophane wrap)

* Banana leaves or flax to line the inner part of a clear vase for a unique look and to hide the stems. (Above is an arrangement I did for a luncheon using floral foam inside and a banana leaf to hide it.)

* Additional leaves, greenery, feathers, etc. to fill out the arrangement and add some personal touches

Play up the shape of the stem, molding them and allowing elements of form to enhance your arrangement. Let their shape tell a story. When cutting the flowers, it's best to cut them at an angle, underwater, if placing in floral foam or a vase as the angle allows for more water absorption and allows the flower to be inserted easier. Look at your arrangement from all angles (high, low, front, back) to make it three dimensional and eye-catching no matter where you are in the room. Experiment with different techniques such as bending branches around from one side of the arrangement to the other, creating clusters of similar textures and colors, monochromatic arrangements of all different flowers and have fun!

From a recent event, a monochromatic arrangement of white tulips, roses, hydrangeas and orchids created by Yvonne Van Pelt of Empty Vase.

Place flowers throughout your home, such as a small arrangement in the powder room, and another to set the tone for guests right in your entryway. Keep dining table arrangements low to allow the conversation to flow freely, or if you're having guests over, consider creating smaller arrangements before each guests’ place setting that they can take with them as a memento of their wonderful time with you.

You can also find great sources of information and courses at your art supply, your local gardens, nurseries and adult education courses which can show you some tricks of the trade and help you create beautiful floral creations in your own home. Get a group of friends together and have a floral arranging session with rose or jasmine infused tea and cupcakes with edible flowers on top. It's a great way to tap into your creativity and add beauty to your world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

To Blame or Not to Blame...

"If you make it a habit not to blame others, you will feel the growth of the ability to love in your soul, and you will see the growth of goodness in your life."
— Leo Tolstoy

I read this quote first thing in the morning and wanted to share it with you. There are two sides to this quote that I think are worth looking in to.

First, in regards to most blame, it is much like complaining and when we lend ourselves to that behavior, we find ourselves participating in negative talk and thought patterns that can lead us away from being the kind of women (and men) we want to be. In many ways, when we blame others, we give ourselves the option for inaction, because we declare that the circumstances are beyond our control and thus we have little or no impact on how things will turn out. This is a good time to look at issues in your relationships, job, living situation and determine whether blaming your partner, boss or whomever is keeping you from taking action and whether you could improve the situation for both yourself and others. If you want more romance, rather than blaming your partner, make plans that will give both of you a loving and memorable evening. If your home isn't as clean as you would like it, rather than thinking you need a bigger house, a maid or a tidier roommate, perhaps it's time to pare down your belongings so you have less to clean and more room to keep things. Opt out of blame and into solutions.

Conversely, many of us opt to be "kind" to others by taking all of the blame upon ourselves. This is no better. There is scientific backing that suggests that a bit of outward blame is good for our well-being in that it can help us see that bad circumstances are temporary and circumstantial, letting the space for improvement still exist. If you get laid off, for example, by feeling like you are a bad worker and that if this company didn't want you, no one will, you are telling yourself that these circumstances are permanent and will be true no matter where you work. This way of thinking is very hard to overcome if you don't let some, if not all, of the blame shift. Instead, you should consider that the opposite is just as true. Play the blame game: the company that laid you off is a bad fit, is perhaps suffering, and their decision will be another company's blessing when they hire you. Framing it this way makes the circumstances temporary and only true of the previous company, not all companies.

Think about what we say to children when they face hardships from classmates: "She just does that because she likes you," (turning bad into good) or "He just says that because he's jealous," (turning the negative description on to the bully.) And we say "You're going to be okay," when they scrape their knee. We let them know that things will get better.

Today, look at something in your life that is troubling you and ask yourself: Am I taking all the blame for this and making it impossible to grow and improve? Could it be true that I'm not wholly responsible for these circumstances and can move beyond them? Or, am I placing all the blame on others and negating my chance to personally improve the situation? When things are down, or you feel like the world is against you, re-frame the situation in a less self-deprecating manner to see if the opposite could be true, and thus reveal a place to grow from.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fate Favors The Bold

A dear friend of mine told me this short parable a while back, and I wanted to share it with you.

If everyone in the world could go to one place, and put all of their problems into a gigantic bowl, but they had to take another problem out, everyone would choose their own problems again, because they have the ability to handle that particular struggle.

In life, there are times when what we are facing seems bigger than who we are, and trying to muster the fortitude to deal with it seems impossible. While so much of what we perceive in grace is being demure, gentle and compassionate, it is also true that grace embodies strength, fearlessness and assertion. When you envision a dancer, she can not turn, leap, or hold such an elegant form without having an inner power that allows her to do so. It's the same for each of us.

A few years ago, I was at a job that was causing me constant stress. I was so unhappy, had little patience for anything and felt absolutely lost. I woke up dreading the day, and at night I was so tired that I had little left to give to my loved ones. The stress got to the point where, on brushing my hair one day, I found that a one inch section of hair had fallen out, leaving a bald spot on top of my head. For the stress to come outward like that, I can only imagine what it was doing internally!

With no more hours in the day than I had before, I began to take steps to change my circumstances, and called on my friends for insight and encouragement. I knew I wanted to be an event planner, that I would practically do it for free as I had whenever a little celebration was being planned. But the reality was, I had absolutely zero background in the industry aside from hosting or helping with parties for friends and family. I didn't have a hospitality degree or a resume full of successful events that I had single-handedly pulled together, but I knew that given the chance, I could do everything that the task required. The nay-sayers who proclaimed that having any job was better than no job came left and right, but feeling so miserable everyday was making me question such logic.

I turned to bloggers such as Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity and Jonathan Mead at Illuminated Mind for examples of others who were living and working on their own terms. I figured out a budget for myself and saved every nickel and dime so I could quit my job, giving myself $10 or less per day for all of my food, gas and expenses. I calculated that, without a job, I could stretch the little savings I had for nearly eight months if that's what I had to do. And again and again, I told myself "Fate favors the bold."

And so, in early September of 2009, in the middle of the financial crisis, with the highest paying job I'd had, health benefits, retirement, you name it, I printed the letter of resignation I had saved on my computer months before, and set it in front of my boss.

I immediately began checking out library books about event planning, catering, starting a business, anything I could get my hands on, and I sat at a coffee shop (my $10 dwindling with that first tea purchase) and took endless notes on what I would need to be successful. At my second interview (the first turned out to be a pyramid scheme, ha!!) I was taken on as an intern for a Luxury Event Planning, Design and Catering company. A week later, I was lugging 20 lb. bags of ice up to the front door of Versace on Rodeo Drive, waiting for the company's event coordinator to arrive to tell me what to do. She never showed. In fact, she quit to return to dental school and suddenly I was working (still unpaid as an intern) for what would become a job that no longer felt like a job. I worked 70 hours per week for free for those first two months, and was offered the full time position in December.

One and a half years later, I work longer hours, have more responsibility, and most likely more eustress than I have ever had. But my hair looks good!! Job is no longer a bad word, but something I take pride in. I still have tough days, but my goodness, they still beat the best days at that "other" place.

I believe each of us have talents, strengths and wisdom that we can tap into and that we should live boldly so as to see what we are truly made of. Where, in your life, are you doing OK rather than remarkable? Take steps today to prove to yourself that you have the CouRAGE to overcome those obstacles and put yourself on a path to living exuberantly.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Petra Nemcova, Grace Abounds

I've recently been watching Dancing With The Stars, and one of my favorite people is on it, exuding grace, beauty, charm, you name it. I'm speaking of Petra Němcová, the Czech model who was nearly killed and saw her fiance swept away by the powerful waves of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Over the years I've wondered about her. In her initial interviews she spoke with so much hope and resilience that I truly wished for her a beautiful life. In the last few years, she started the Happy Hearts Fund which helped to rebuild the communities destroyed by the tsunami and went on to assist with recovery efforts in Hurricane Katrina. She continues to return again and again to areas that are ravaged by natural disasters, such as Haiti and Peru, in an effort to ease the suffering of those that are in the midst of what she herself went through.

On top of all this, she's absolutely gorgeous!! In the latest performance on Dancing With The Stars, the contestants were asked to choose a song that had an emotional meaning to them. Petra chose "You Lift Me Up," a song she heard upon her first return to Thailand, and when she was overcome with how much there was to do, how many were still suffering, she heard the song, and knew she should keep her chin lifted and push forward to make a difference. Here is her performance from this week:

She makes me want to dance, smile, volunteer, moisturize and wear lavender. What a wonderful example of feminine grace!

Monday, April 4, 2011


Warning!! This isn't as much a graceful post as a recommendation of an incredible life experience:

I think one of my favorite parts of being a woman is my bottomless capacity for romance. Perhaps it's wanting to live out some of the more romantic scenes from movies, but I'm always trying to turn my rather plebeian tasks into something a bit more whimsical, from walking in the rain, to listening to jazz standards on a flight so it feels like I'm going somewhere in a Classic film. Anything for that heightened sense of existence.

This past weekend was no exception. Celebrating our three year anniversary, I secretly planned an adventure to take place while out of town for my sister's awards banquet in San Diego. Not far away is the town of Temecula, a city covered in beautiful vineyards and sweeping farm lands that boast picturesque landscapes and the perfect location for... hot air ballooning!!

We started at sunrise at Monte de Oro Winery, enjoying a warm cup of coffee and pastries, slowly waking up and greeting the other passengers. Soon, we climbed into an SUV with six other passengers and headed to a nearby open field where three colorful balloons were slowly being set-up and filled.

When everything was ready, we climbed into the basket and away we went, floating over the lush green vineyards, above animal sanctuaries where startled horses and rabbits went prancing about, and residents emerged to wave at us. It was incredible until...

The gray fog came rolling in. What had looked to be a bright, clear morning suddenly had us enshrouded in a blanket of soupy clouds, making visibility nearly impossible. Our wonderful pilot tried to guide us up to see if we could get above it, but to no avail. We set gently down in a field, and took some last minute pictures before heading back to the winery.

And the good news is that we get to go back again for free. A re-do, and another day of romance with my honey.

I leave you with this, the Balloonist's Prayer. I hope you will have reason to say it soon too.

The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well
that God joined you in laughter
and set you gently back into
the loving arms of Mother Earth.