"I couldn't help but question how I'd gotten to this strange spot in my life, so far from what I'd expected for myself. Yes, there had been a heady romance a few years back. Then a slew of subsequent decisions, fueled by love and yearnings I didn't even know I had. But I never, ever would have suspected that this was where the sum total of them would bring me. That afternoon a new doubt dripped into my mind. When do you know, I wondered, whether the choices you've made were the right ones?"
In 1990, Jeannie Ralston was a successful magazine writer and bona fide city girl--the type of woman who couldn't imagine living on soil not shaded by skyscrapers. By 1994, she had called off an engagement, married Robb, a National Geographic photographer, and was living in Blanco Texas, population 1600.
THE UNLIKELY LAVENDER QUEEN is the intimate story of a woman who gives up a lot for the man she loves - her beloved blue state, bagels and all-night bodegas--only to have to wonder: Was it too much? Ralston offers a lively chronicle of her life as a wife, new mother and an urban settler in rural Texas. As she labors to convert a dilapidated barn into a livable home, deal with scorpions and unbearably hot summers, raise two young children while Robb is frequently away on assignment, she realizes her ultimate struggle is to reconcile her life plans and goals with her husband's without coming out the proverbial loser. And just when it seems like she might be losing that fight--and herself-- a little purple bloom changes her life.
For centuries lavender has been a mystical herb, so valuable to ancient Romans that a bushel would cost nearly a month's wages. But when Robb returns from a trip to Provence with a plan for growing lavender on their land, Ralston is not convinced--in fact the last thing she needed or wanted was to take up farming on top of everything else. Then, much to her surprise, she slowly but surely falls in love with lavender, and in the course of growing and selling blooms, hosting the public at the farm, and creating lavender products, she discovers a new side of herself. A few short years later, Ralston had built Hill Country Lavender, a thriving commercial enterprise that transforms both her little corner of Texas and her life.
THE UNLIKELY LAVENDER QUEEN will resonate with all women who have faced the tough choices that come with "having it all" and secretly (or not so secretly) hoped for great adventure to come along and surprise them. Ralston's honest, funny, and poignant memoir is a testament to the fact that such adventures await us around every bend in life.
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 fiance. 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 2008 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 26, 2008
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Excerpt from The Unlikely Lavender Queen by Jeannie Ralston
I couldn't have missed Mortimer's that night. From two blocks away I saw that the rarefied air surrounding this famous haunt of stupendous somebodies on the Upper East Side was shuddering with flashes of light. I was reminded of the view of thunderheads from an airplane--the convulsions of lightning inside always appeared to me as if the gods were battling within the clouds, and here in the loftiest neighborhood of Manhattan, gods of another kind were waging their own type of battle. For attention. The paparazzi were out in force, focused at the moment, I could see, on Ronald Perelman, the chairman of Revlon, and his wife Claudia Cohen, a gossip columnist. The two were standing perfectly still inside a wreath of photographers, his arm was draped around her shoulders. Their faces were frozen in a grin-gnash that barely hid the contempt for the hands that fed their celebrity.
Through the front windows, I saw swaying silhouettes in various party postures--drinks to mouths, hand on someone's shoulder, heads cocked back in an exaggeration of ecstatic laughter. Right before I crossed Lexington Avenue, into the arc of Mortimer's halo, I checked myself. Over a black camisole and a short black lace skirt, I wore a sheer black blouse with a gold shimmer that I'd bought at a SoHo boutique. On my feet were a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps borrowed from a friend who worked for Anne Klein. I counted my blessings that I had a fashion industry friend who was my exact size.
Once I made my way through the door and into the bright light, I grabbed a glass of wine and began to circulate. I saw socialite Anne Slater, sitting at the bar in her famous -blue--tinted glasses, and thought that she must have been Anna Wintour's role model for sunglass ubiquity. I noticed Martha Stewart and publishing executives I could identify from Page Six. Two women whose skin was pulled tightly over their yesterday's-deb bone structure were gushing over the man who was the reason for this gathering, Dominick Dunne, who I noted was much shorter than I expected. It was May 1990 and the party was to celebrate the publication of his novel, An Inconvenient Woman.
As much as I enjoyed star watching, I was actually there to work--eavesdrop really. I was profiling the woman behind the event--a distinguished party planner named Nancy Kahan who had a track record of pulling off the most over-the-top publishing events in the city. I caught up with her and watched her in full schmooze for a while, then I had to race off to a French restaurant called Pierre's in Greenwich Village, around the corner from where I'd once lived.
This article I was writing--commissioned by a friend at Manhattan Inc. magazine--had caused a serious rift with my fiance, Ben. The magazine needed the story in a week's time to fill in a hole in the lineup of their next issue, and the seven-day deadline happened to coincide with my fiance's graduation from New York University Film School. Ben's father had come in from overseas and his mother was up from Nashville with her second husband. A man who loved good theatrics and high living, Ben had wanted to mark the occasion as if it were the Oscars. There was a week's worth of parties and dinners in his honor. He hadn't wanted me to take the assignment, but I refused to give up the opportunity to write something for Clay Felker, who had recently taken over as the editor of the magazine. Felker was a journalism legend, one of the original proponents of the New Journalism (nonfiction that reads more like a novel) I'd studied in my magazine writing class at the University of South Carolina. I had assured Ben I would sacrifice sleep to make all his events and my deadline.
That night I thought I would join Ben, his mom, and stepfather by the time they were ready to order their meal. But in the end, I didn't make it until dessert. Ben didn't even look at me as I slipped into a chair beside him and made my apologies.
When we got back to our Chelsea apartment, Ben finally deigned to talk to me. Well, talk isn't the right word. He was furious that I had missed dinner and cursed the story I was working on. "You're just not there for me," he said at the end of his rant.