Author, Blogger, Lavender Farmer and Humanitarian, Jeannie Ralston
Jeannie Ralston's first book, The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming, is the story of growth and maturation, both the personal and botanical variety. After a stimulating former life as a magazine writer in Manhattan and Austin, Ralston reluctantly moves to rural Texas as part of a bargain with her husband. Eventually, she takes over the lavender farm he has started and builds it into a successful business-in the process transforming herself, her community, and the agricultural industry of her area.
The book follows the development of Hill Country Lavender with its 4 1/2 acres of flowers, through droughts, grasshopper plagues and other agricultural set backs, and details Ralston's parallel evolution. The book is about love, commitment and learning to let go. Ralston comes to realize that sometimes you don't get everything you want out of life. Sometimes you get lavender.
For more than 23 years, Ralston has been writing for magazines, both on-staff and as a freelancer. Her work has been published in Life, Time, National Geographic, The New York Times, Smithsonian, Audubon, Texas Monthly, Glamour, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Real Simple and This Old House. She was a contributing editor for Allure for eight years, for Ladies Home Journal for three years and has held that position at Parenting magazine for the past eight years.
A native of Kingsport, Tennessee and a graduate of the University of South Carolina, Ralston now lives with her husband-photographer Robb Kendrick-and two sons in the charming colonial town of San Miguel de Allende in the central mountains of Mexico.
After talking to Jeannie I was tempted to run out and buy a big fat lavender bouquet. I think that the reason that I love Jeannie Ralston’s story of becoming a lavender farmer so much is because it encourages me to relax and to trust. Her story reminds me to believe in happy endings.
Jeannie offers priceless wisdom – easily. Her words continue to challenge and inspire me.
DR: Tell me about your life and your work.
JR: I have this new book out called The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming.
I have been a writer since I was twenty one years old. My first job was with a magazine in New York City. I spent ten years in New York City running around being the journalist in Manolo Blahniks, doing some fashion reporting and also some really serious reporting on war and social issues. Then I met my husband who is a National Geographic photographer and a Texan. He wanted to move back to Texas because he didn't like the city.
So, we ended up out in the middle of nowhere on a two hundred acre ranch where you couldn't even see another house or any sign of another human being from our window. I thought my career was over and that my life had gone terribly astray.
My husband has incredible ideas and he wanted to start a lavender farm because he shot a story in Provence for National Geographic about the lavender harvest and he thought we could grow lavender in Texas. At that time I had two little babies and I said,
"I don't want to. You're always traveling and I'm out here all by myself and I don't need to take care of a lavender farm! I'm sure it would be beautiful but I can't do it!"
Well he went ahead with it anyway and within two years of planting we had two acres of lavender rows...
SHARING THE LUCK AND THE LOVE
We're into the 4th month of my give-back program called The Seed Campaign, and in December the goal is to raise money to cure childhood cancer!
What Could be a Better Gift for Kids than a Cancer Cure?
When you buy a copy of my book through my website, www.jeannieralston.com, the commission Amazon gives back will be donated to CureSearch, in the name of my nephew Jacob Ralston (that's him at age 3 in this adorable photo).
In August 2007, at the heartbreakingly young age of 2, Jacob was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. As you can imagine his parents and his whole extended family were devastated.
For 9 months Jacob kept his spirits up while undergoing chemo and proton therapy, and thankfully today his scans are all clear. We all know how lucky he is and we pray that the luck holds. (Please join in the prayers that on Dec. 3rd his scans come back with "no evidence of disease.")
In the meantime, much needs to be done to find a cure. My sister-in-law and brother think CureSearch is doing amazing work to this end, and that's why in December all funds raised through The Seed Campaign will be donated to CureSearch in honor of Jacob and the fight that he's been waging.
Here's How You Do It
You can help Jacob and others like him by remembering to go to my website first for any Christmas shopping you do on Amazon. If you click on "Buy the Book" on my website, that will take you to Amazon and then you can shop for anything from that point and the Seed Campaign will get a commission for your purchases.
You Can Also Give Directly
If you're not going to be shopping on Amazon this season, but want to help out, you can make a direct donation to CureSearch. Send a check made out to CureSearch to:
Jim and Susan Ralston
P.O. Box 55267
Virginia Beach, VA 23471
In the memo, please write: In honor of Jacob Ralston. Jacob will make the presentation of the checks to CureSearch. THANK YOU!
JR: So gorgeous. It conquered all of my doubts about all of this because it was just so beautiful.
Because my husband traveled so much, I ended up taking care of the day to day running of the farm and it brought me into this new phase of my life. It was so amazing. All of a sudden I became this entrepreneur when I had always thought of myself as a journalist. I thought a journalist is what I would always be. Suddenly I saw this other opportunity. It wasn't instant, however. I had to stop being mad at my husband for not being around when the lavender was blooming first, but then I saw so many great opportunities.
The lavender field was too beautiful for us to keep to ourselves so I opened the lavender field up so that the public could come and cut the lavender and experience it - see it and feel it and smell it. It's so sensual. So many of your senses are activated in a lavender field.
From there we sold flowers to florist in Austin and San Antonio and every year I built the business more. We added products like soaps and sachets and lavender oil and bubble bath and lotion. We just kept adding products and we kept getting more publicity and more marketing and finally we had to build a store on our property. By the last season that we were managing the field we had a bout 17,000 people, in a seven week period, out to our house.
DR: That is incredible.
JR: It is.
One of the reasons I loved the lavender so much is because I wasn't lonely anymore in the middle of nowhere. All of these people were coming and it was like having a great big party every week.
Another great thing is that I found out that I am well suited to be an entrepreneur. That was a delightful thing to discover. Here I thought I was going down the wrong path and "woe is me" and all of that stuff, and then in the most unexpected way, I find the right place for myself and I really got to - pun intended - blossom in this new way. That is the message of the book and the reason I wanted to write it.
Life never goes in a straight line and it never goes as we plan and if it did it would be boring. Sometimes life, taking you off in a different direction, can be so interesting and we can either look at the twists and turns as something bad or we can look at them as opportunities to ask "What can I do with this"?
DR: Well that's what I find so striking about your story, I mean the thing -- no pun intended - that jumps off the page for me is that here you were in a place where you didn't expect to be and in a position that you didn't necessarily want to be in and yet, it turned out to be something incredible. So many people find themselves in places where they don't want to be or get something that they don't think they want to have and the challenge becomes "Now what"? Sometimes though, the thing that you are sure that you don't want will end up being the thing that you are so glad you have.
JR: What I have heard from readers is that is what really appeals to them. I am so happy when people get that.
Life is how you look at it. I had to learn that for myself. At one point I was regretting that I wasn't in New York anymore and I wasn't a journalist anymore and blah blah blah. Then there was this shift and I realized that this had the potential for something amazing that I never planned for. It ended up being the greatest adventure of my life and it was right outside my front door.
DR: What have you been surprised to learn about yourself recently?
JR: I have been surprised to learn that I am much more resilient than I thought I was.
I thought I was tough. I did a lot of stuff as a journalist up in bad parts of New York City and it was pretty dangerous. I was down in a mine in West Virginia covering a story for National Geographic and there was an emergency and we had to be evacuated. I thought, with all of that, that I was a pretty tough cookie but being out in rural Texas, away from my close friends and having to look to myself, I learned a lot. I had to pull stuff out of myself more than I ever had to before. I had to tell myself that I could do it and that I could make "it' work.
When the lavender farm came up I discovered that I had some talents and some other skills that might have forever remained hidden if I hadn't been placed in this situation. I've got some resources inside that I didn't know I had which is very comforting to find out because, as I face the future and I don't know what's going to happen, I can trust that I have developed something inside that will help me get through.
We have to take life as it comes and tell ourselves that we can deal with whatever it is even if it is hard. There is a reward at the end of finding out exactly what you are made of.
DR: Is there anything that you would change about how things have happened.
JR: I would have had a better attitude earlier.
I wish that I had seen the possibilities before me earlier rather than having an identity crisis. I wish I had been a little quicker to shape up.
DR: I have been in that situation many times, where I have resented something and then somewhere down the line after it worked out great, what I ended up resenting was the time that I didn't enjoy, while I was busy resenting.
Now, looking back, I wonder what my problem was.
DR: What is it that "gets you up in the morning" and on the flip side, what is it that "keeps you up at night"?
JR: I decided at the end of the summer to institute this new project.
I was doing a lot of book events, meetings and signings and so forth. I live now in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. How I got here is another twist in life. I have been an adviser for this lavender farm down here and there is a pueblo in San Miguel. Down here they grow lavender as a cash crop because so many of the men are off working in the United States and they may or may not send money back. The Pueblo was hardly getting by but this group from the states called Saint Anthony's Alliance came in and set up a lavender field. They found me at about the same time they were setting up the field. I have been helping to find them sources for their plants and giving seminars, in Spanish I am proud to say, about growing and marketing lavender. I did a book signing in San Miguel in June and I gave a third of the money from every book sold to this lavender farm. I realized that that was my absolute favorite event and the reason for that was because it was not all about me.
After that wonderful benefit where we sold a lot of books and we made a lot of money, I started thinking about other ways that I could give back and make the book about more than just me. So, I started what is called the Seed Campaign. The way that came about was that I realized on my website I have a place where people can click to buy the book and it takes you to the Amazon page and Amazon gives a commission back to me. I saw that there was money sitting there, found money that I wasn't even counting on. I discovered that I had a fund there that I could do something with - seed for others to grow.
The theme of the book is about making the most out of the twists and turns in life so I want to give back to organizations that help people make the most out of their lives.
This month I'm giving to Cure Search.
DR: That is fantastic!
JR: I feel regenerated. I was excited about writing the book and about going on tour but trying to turn what I have created into something that can help other people really energizes me.
DR: So then what is it that "keeps you up at night"?
JR: Trying to figure out what is next.
I love to write and I have many ideas for my next book but I just haven't focused on the next thing. Maybe it's because the story of my life in Mexico is still playing out and the story of working with these organizations that I am involved with through my seed campaign is still playing out. I have a lot of questions about where I am going next but it will all come at the right time.
DR: In the spirit of the work that you do and in the spirit of our conversation, what would you say to someone who is certain that they are in control of their own destiny?
JR: So many of us are very focused on our careers and the way that we think things should happen. I was just like that. The move to the country helped me to let go and accept that I am not in control. Here I was a farmer, completely dependent on weather and soil conditions and things that you have absolutely no control over. I remember asking other farmers how they do it - how did they manage to give up control?
What I would say to someone is that, while you may not be in control of events, you are in control of your attitude about the events. That is what I learned as a farmer. I can control my attitude.
DR: Listening to you reminds me of the profound opportunity that exists in just surrendering. And that is so hard. You are a living example of what is on the other side of just surrendering...
JR: Going along more for the ride, and maybe some people think that means that you have to let go of your dreams and desires when you're really just opening your self up to what wonderful things that can come into your life instead of so single mindedly seeing only one goal at the top. I don't think surrender is about weakness or giving up it's about opening your arms and welcoming what comes into your life and then making something out of it.
DR: You know I can't let you go without finding out about that twist in life that took you to Mexico...
JR: Well, I have a very restless husband and he always has a hundred ideas. I think part of the book is about that modern marriage with two people who are very strong about what they want, where each one has to make sure that they get what they need without cutting the other person off. The book is a love story too and a story about marriage.
One other thing that I have learned is to trust my husband more because his ideas do turn out to be good things. He had a desire to go to Mexico and I decided not to fight moving to Mexico and its been a wonderful adventure. We sold enough property in Texas that allowed me to lighten my load and have the time to write my book.
DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
JR: A minister of mine said once, at the end of a service, one of the most important things that I've heard in my life:
"Go out and be the answer to someone else's prayers"
I would be happy if people thought I succeeded in living that way.
The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming
Arriving in Manhattan for a McCall's magazine summer internship when she was 21, Ralston was smitten with big-city life. Soon she had the career of her dreams, a Chelsea apartment, even a film student fiancé. Then, on a feature assignment for Life, she met Robb, a photographer for National Geographic, and her life was up-ended. Before long, Ralston was leaving her boyfriend and New York City, to move with Robb to his home state of Texas. They settled first in Austin, but Robb wanted a less urban lifestyle, so they bought land with a creek and an old stone barn in the Texas Hill Country. Robb's busy schedule of international photo shoots left Ralston in charge of house renovations, hardly her forte. Then Robb had his next idea—they'd raise lavender on their limestone-rich land, which was similar to the soil of Provence. Ralston agreed, provided they start having children. Together, they began a successful niche-industry, growing and processing lavender into a variety of marketable products. In this satisfying and enjoyable story, the reluctant Ralston eventually falls in love with their fields of lavender. (May)
-- Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.