Magazine journalist tells of rough transition to life on lavender farm
Jeannie Ralston spent a miserable three years in rural Texas before deciding to make the best of the situation, she told her audience Friday afternoon.
Ralston has worked in the magazine world for 23 years at publications like Life, Time and National Geographic. She spoke about her book, ‘The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming,’ in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications’ Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium.
After more than two decades in New York City, Ralston’s husband, a photojournalist, decided the family should move from their home in Austin to rural Texas to start a lavender farm. Ralston’s husband, whom she described as ‘restless,’ wanted to do something with their 200 acres of field.
The big move from the hip, chaotic city to the country with hunters and confederate flags was a difficult change for Ralston, she said. But after what she described as ‘three painful years of a complaining, low simmer discontent,’ she ran into a decision. ‘I thought to myself, I can either be happy, or I can be miserable,’ she said.
Ralston chose the former and threw herself into farming lavender, taking over her husband’s business. The writer battled scorpions, floods and plagues of grasshoppers as she transformed her farm into a successful business.
The San Antonio Express News named her the ‘leading expert of lavender’ in the area, and, when she opened up the farm to the public in 2005, she had more than 17,000 visitors in just seven weeks.
In ‘The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming,’ Ralston uses her experience as a lavender farmer to teach readers that there are no wrong decisions in life.
‘I learned an important message that I wish I had learned earlier,’ Ralston told the audience. ‘I went from being really unhappy to changing my mindset, and I learned that when the attitude changes, the possibilities change.’ Ralston said.
Laura Ponticello, a national book reviewer and creator of ‘Laura’s List of Books for Women,’ said that the book personally inspired her and other readers.
‘Jeannie was the last person to do what she did,’ Ponticello said. ‘She proved that life takes twists and turns, and that it really is what you make of it.’
But Ralston wasn’t able to just stop with the book.
‘I wanted the book to be more than just words on the page,’ she said as she explained her Seeds initiative. ‘I wanted the actual act of buying it to help others.’
The Seeds campaign gives a percentage of each sold book to different organizations each month. This month’s portions go to the John Dau Sudan Foundation.
Barbara Connor, the medical director for the Foundation, attended the speech.
‘I loved her book,’ Connor said. ‘The same way she talks is the way she writes.’
Ralston said she is beyond thankful for the lavender farm, because it gave her a chance to have her own experience, not just learn about other great things the subjects in her articles were doing.
‘If I had stayed in the city, sure I’d had interesting stories, but I never would have learned the other side of me.’
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