A lifelong writer finds joy in her next phase through Next Tribe
When she was in her twenties, living the metropolitan life of a freelance writer in New York City, Jeannie Ralston never could have predicted she would one day start the first lavender farm in Texas, publish a book about it, raise her children all over the world, or create a web magazine for women, her most recent accomplishment.
However, by the time her kids left for college, Jeannie recognized her empty nest as an invitation to life’s next great opportunity: a chance to charge into midlife with vigor. Today, she is intent on continuing her fun and exciting journey and sharing it with like-minded women through her web magazine, Next Tribe.
Jeannie loved writing even as a little girl. She went from jotting down poems about grasshoppers in her yard in east Tennessee to editing her junior high school yearbook and high school newspaper and then on to journalism school at the University of South Carolina.
Right out of college, Jeannie got an internship with McCall’s Magazine in Manhattan that led to a job as an editor, and she adored every minute. While there may have been the occasional disappointment of an unaccepted story, she thrived as a writer. “I was very confident at the time,” she laughs. “Ignorance is empowering in many ways. I was intimidated at first, but I realized I had something many others didn’t have in that I was just so happy to be there! I was game.”
Jeannie freelanced for various publications, including Time and Life. She also served as editor-in-chief of Teenage magazine and as contributing editor at Allure, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Parenting magazines.
From Big City to Small Town Lavender Farm
Jeannie met Texas native Robb Kendrick, an internationally recognized photographer who had a long career with National Geographic, when they worked together on a story for Life called “Mr. Miss Texas.” In more than 30 years of writing, this remains her favorite story. Her research led through unexpected twists to a story that was important to tell. Plus, she met the man who would become her husband.
Robb convinced Jeannie to move to his home state in 1991. As a self-proclaimed “New York snob,” Jeannie needed a little time to adjust to the modest Austin skyline. When the couple moved to 200 acres in Blanco and started a family soon afterward, the adaptation was even more prolonged, but she embraced the challenge.
Building a life in a small town taught her that “if you want something, you’ve got to do it!” she says. “I started a film society, brought in speakers, and started a Montessori school. I never would have gotten to do all that if I’d stayed in Austin.”
On a trip to Provence, France, for one of Robb’s National Geographic stories, they noticed how similar the climate and landscape were to the Texas Hill Country. Robb figured if lavender grew well in Provence, it would back home, too. They planted some on their land, and the first lavender farm in Texas was born.
Jeannie jokes that initially she didn’t get it. “Visitors to our home were fascinated by the lavender plants growing in fields along the road, but I saw it as extra work, especially after our second son arrived,” she recalls. “Once it bloomed, though, it was so gorgeous I thought, ‘We have to do something with this. It’s too good to keep to ourselves.’”
Hill Country Lavender became a thriving business and a partner in starting the Blanco Lavender Festival. The farm continues to flourish under the ownership of their first employee, Tasha Brieger.
Family Journey Around the World
On what was meant to be a vacation to San Miguel De Allende, Jeannie and Robb fell in love with the colonial town in Central Mexico and stayed for four magical years, excited to raise their children, Gus and Jeb, bilingually. During this time, she worked on her first book, about her experiences with the lavender farm. The publication of The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming in 2008 was a major career highlight.
When their time in Mexico came to end, they moved their home base to Dripping Springs, but the whole family shared a passion for learning through travel and experience. Their classroom became the world—Africa, France, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and beyond. Jeannie would ultimately write an e-book about the subsequent years: The Mother of All Field Trips: Homeschooling two kids in 14 countries.
After three years of travel homeschooling, the family put down roots back home, where the boys finished high school at AESA Prep Academy in Dripping Springs. They’re both now students at Texas A&M, the older studying engineering, the younger a kinesiology major.
When her children left for college, life was suddenly quiet. Jeannie wondered, “What are we about now? What’s next?” She and Austin friend Lori Seekatz commiserated about the lack of media focus on “women of a certain age who are still very active, engaged, and funny.”
In their desire to fill this hole, she and Lori conceived the web magazine Next Tribe, launched in February and geared toward women embracing midlife. Jeannie describes her priorities for Next Tribe as “good, professional writing, representing a wide variety of voices and stories. We want to be reinforcing, inspiring, and informative.”
For instance, in a recent article, an author struggles with a pair of vegan leather leggings. “At a certain age, you wonder—can I still wear this? Is it too young for me? And I was just laughing as I read,” Jeannie says. She hopes others react with similar amusement and recognition of themselves in the stories.
Reader comments on pieces like “My Husband/My Rival: The Benefits of a Competitive Marriage” and “Help! I’m Trapped in a Wrinkled Body” suggest readers are successfully achieving that camaraderie.
“My mom always said if you grow old and have no sense of humor, there’s no hope for you! She’s 87, and she and my dad have a healthy life and a great attitude. I want that attitude reflected in the magazine. You’ve got to laugh at yourself,” says Jeannie.
Next Tribe publishes three stories per week, covering everything from fitness and relationships to arts and culture. Contributing writers, some who have also written for magazines such as Ms. and Newsweek, live all over the country. Through Next Tribe, they are creating a conversation among women about living vibrantly, laughing, giving back, and getting the most out of each phase of life.