September 13, 2013

September 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

American Gothic Lemonade … Me & The Hubby

I think that I write apologies for not writing, more often than I write. I also have a strong suspicion that while I think you would find my life interesting during the times of year when it is more challenging for me to find the time to write … I think you’d find the other, more leisurely 8 months of my year quite boring.

Catch-22 … When I have a lot of interesting things to write about, I don’t have time to write, and when I have time to write, I think the things I’d write about are only of interest to myself. Also, I know now that I’m not a food blogger. I’m a blogger that owns and runs food businesses, amongst other endeavors. I still love reading about food, and food plays prominently in the things I think and write about … but I’ll make a confession. I think that writing down a recipe is tortuous. No, really. I make employees do it, and then double check them … rather than write them out myself. I also still attend TechMunch conferences, even though I’m not a Food Blogger. There is simply too much good information there, packaged for easy assimilation.

I have wonderful and marvelously capable employees, even though my big show is only open for 2 months of the year. They are an intense 2 months. The Texas Renaissance Festival was open for 19 days last year (2012), and we had over 609,000 guests. That is spread over 8 weekends, including Black Friday, and 2 days that combine High School Performance competitions, and field trip days for students.

In my off season, many of my employees work for other vendors who have bakeries and food shops in parks and at shows in which I don’t have an investment. It works out well. I don’t want or need to add to my schedule, even though I’d like to keep these good people employed. These other vendors with whom I share employees have a tendency to make me look really good to my employees. I don’t know exactly what they do to make our common employees feel so put-upon, but I hear stories, and I get great piles of appreciation from my employees during the months we get to work together.

I also have about a 5% turnover rate, which is pretty damned amazing considering that the majority of my workers are nomadic. Apparently my reputation as a boss and the environment I create is such that I still turn away applicants … often. While I’m turning some of them away simply because I don’t have a position available … it is also my responsibility to create a workspace and a team that can crank out high-quality foods in an incredibly high-volume situation. I look for personalities that will suit. TRF gets over 30,000 visitors every day it is open, and I’m staffing and managing the first food shop on the right, once a guest enters the park. I need to maintain an environment where 14 hour days serving thousands of meals is entertaining, challenging, and fun. We have ongoing Earworm Battles, a Twist-Tie Art Gallery, and a squirrel-cage exhaust fan above the oven, entitled the “Smell-O-Vision”, which exhausts onto the sidewalk in front of our shop.

I do a summer show in NY as well. There my husband runs the food shops, and I manage food personnel, hairbraiders and henna artists. My workload is lighter there, because I have to be able to spend the second half of the NY show, opening the TX show. I love living in the Northeast in June, July, and August … but Texas calls to me. In September I work weekdays in Todd Mission, Texas, and weekends in Tuxedo, NY. I know my way around the airport pretty good.

These crazy few months allow us several months where we are free to attend other outdoor events, looking for new ideas, I attend SxSWi, to keep up on innovations in marketing and technology, and this year I’ve been talked into attending the New Media Expo. I like to stay in a consistent path of learning, even if it seems to be completely unrelated to my career. But my career path is all over the place anyway, so who is to say it is unrelated?  I used to design buildings and theme parks. I still edit articles for Festival Prose. I studied Sustainable Agriculture, and my superpower seems to be connecting other people with pertinent ideas. I suppose this blog would be an efficient way to do more of that … if I wrote more often.

A little transparency here … I’m really swamped this week.This should in no way be considered a gripe … I’m excited about everything that I have going on right now.

I’m in Oklahoma, helping my husband open our two new food shops at a sweet little Renaissance Festival in Muskogee, OK; which opens on May 4th. Meanwhile I have two shops open at the Georgia Renaissance Festival; which is having a Student Day on Wednesday of this week. I’m also in the final weeks of Marie Forleo’s B-School, which has been an altogether marvelous eight-week experience … and the regular amount of magical network connections I always seem to be making for the people in my world (some of which are on top-secret projects, so Shhh!)

No trip to Oklahoma can happen without my catching up with members of my old crew from my days as a teenager and young adult hooligan in OKC. So three days ago, rather than fly in to Tulsa, I flew in to The 405 and spent an evening with one of the greatest Realtors on earth, and my Senior Prom date, Monty Milburn. We went to the grand opening of the deadCENTER Film Festival offices, and then an after party and late dinner. I have to thank my hosts for insisting I see the Oklahoma City National Memorial by night no matter that I was whining about the cold. It’s a very powerful work of landscape architecture and sculpture, and I’m glad we went.

So there are no philosophical insights this week, other than a reminder to keep putting yourself out there, because every connection counts.

Now I’m getting to sleep … because I have signs to hang and spreadsheets to design tomorrow. I’m hoping to have all of the office-type stuff designed for Phil before I fly back to Georgia next week to work that festival for Mother’s Day weekend.

Be Well,




I’ve learned to love the absurd. Not in a “oh that’s interesting” sort of way, but in a way that is deeply appreciative of its value. You see, no true innovations occur without absurdity. In the past, when asked the question “What do you do?” … I would shrug in a “Nothing important” fashion, and say I make a living in a completely absurd manner … completely dismissing the possibility that there was value in what I was doing.

The thing I was missing was that simply the act of finding an absurd manner in which to make a living had huge value. I found people were attracted to me because I was doing things differently. It was inspirational to them. This blew my mind. Some days it still blows my mind.

But then I started hanging out with innovators, and learned that absurdity is a completely necessary element for Game Changers. If you are not willing to consider the things considered absurd in the current paradigm of whatever you are working on, be it business, a specific industry or technology, or your personal well-being … you are going to continue to get more of the same. There might be some tiny tweaks along the way, but nothing for which the term “Game Changing” might be uttered.

Me … inside the 3M lounge at SxSWi 2013

I spent a minute at the Visual Thesaurus with the word Absurd. Its relatives do not look flattering when speaking of serious issues. Ludicrous, laughable … but who thinks there is too much laughter in our world? Nonsensical, idiotic, ridiculous and preposterous … but all of these adjectives are from the position of comparing the absurd to the existing norms. At some point in the development of any extraordinary idea, the ridiculous is referred to as innovative; the ludicrous becomes ground-breaking.

In order to live an extraordinary life, you have to be willing to be ridiculous. The folks that sling those judgments are most often the folks living the smallest lives. I’ve learned over time that a great deal of criticism for my “failures” came from folks who never tried anything at which they could fail. Show me a person with a string of failures and I’ll show you a person willing to make an attempt. I give that more kudos than playing it safe.

I’m not saying one should quit their job and hike off into the wilderness to launch your next business idea. I’m actually frighteningly practical in my own attempts at new businesses; more likely to take on another job when I’m building a business idea than to quit something. (I love taking jobs that train me toward future projects. There is a great Jim Rohn quote: “Don’t ask what you get from a job, ask what you become in that job.”)

But a large number of people get stuck not in the “how-to” of a project, but in the “will I look like an idiot” part of an idea … and they never get started. Those of us that have started and succeeded at several things have one great understanding in common: “Failure is Feedback”.  Without some level of failure, a project will never be fine-tuned into its best articulation or formulation. Sure you could hit it out of the park with your first try … but how likely is that when you hesitate to try?? Really, think about it. Those people who keep trying things are living a more creative existence amongst their failures than you will ever find in a reliable 9 to 5.

What is keeping you from embracing your own absurdities? Is that what stands between you and your experience of an extraordinary life?

Do you have some failures you can tally on your way to creating something magnificent? If you don’t; it’s very possible that you are not really trying.

In looking at the “things” in my life with an eye to Minimalism, I find that I have a real attachment to my car. Not *this* car specifically. The attachment is to being a car owner. Having grown up in the Midwest, firmly within the car culture; I find that my definitions of adulthood are tied to car ownership more than to any other *thing*. I mean … I have a hard time seeing myself as an adult without the responsibility of self-locomotion having been attended to. I find it is very easy to assign these attitudes to others as well. I try not to judge myself or others harshly. It is not always an easy assignment.

I point out the Midwest upbringing, because I find I do not have these prejudices when dealing with folks who live with good mass transit options. My friend Wendy flew from her home in Manhattan to our wedding on the Mexican border, only to learn that her Driver’s License had been expired for three years when she tried picking up the rental car she had reserved. Wendy’s non-driving existence in no way registers as irresponsibility for me. She’d managed to make life choices that put her in a place where owning a car is possibly the *less* responsible choice.

That’s really where the judgment springs from I think. It’s a responsibility issue that I have managed to attach to a *thing*. We are at all times making judgments. They help us function in our world. Words like “judicious” and “judgment” do not have as much baggage as “prejudice” … but we do quite a bit of pre-judging as well as we make our way through the world. Sometimes these early guesses about someone’s personality and motivations are the keystones in self-preservation.

I know I’ve got it tied to responsibility; because I find I am different about folks who are intending to get a car, or working towards it. I think part of the issue is that I have a hard time envisioning a “fair exchange” between the person who owns that car, and the person borrowing. This because when there *is* a fair exchange, I find I have none of these titles overlaid onto the participants. Or extenuating circumstances … we all know about those, the partner needs the vehicle, and for some random reason is working somewhere else. Someone’s car is in the shop … but I circle back to the fact that I still see those individuals as “car owners” and thus they have the “responsible adult” title floating over their heads in my interactions with them.

But there are fair exchanges. I know a man who has been a street performer in New York City’s Central Park for decades. If we were working in a similar part of the country, I’d make a point of offering him a ride if heading to town, because the entertainment value of an afternoon with Mitch was worth far more that the accumulated expenses of wear & tear on my auto, insurance, fuel, maintenance … Far. More.

But in the Minimalism conversation, where we are looking at the things we own, and deciding whether they may in fact own us … automobile ownership can be a big consideration. If my career were one where I could live someplace small, I’d happily shop locally and bicycle for my groceries. But it’s not. I have chosen to live in the nomadic business community of festival professionals. I happily live in 4 different little spaces annually. I might be able to own a smaller car. (We’ll see after this season of minimalizing my belongings.) But the truth is that my nondescript minivan does all of the things I need a vehicle to do. It’s not sexy, but it’s functional and well maintained.

That last paragraph implies that no one in my work-world is carless. This would NOT be true. There are several people who manage to travel from festival to festival hitching rides, or buying bus or plane tickets. But then some festivals last 2 months. Most festivals are far enough from a town to have made a large land purchase easily affordable by the owners. In other words, most festivals are not in pedestrian friendly locations. My employees who fit this carless category have thus far been smart enough not to ask me for a ride. I happen to LOVE working. So I do it a lot. When I do make a run into town for supplies, it is usually just that. No touring around, no multiple stops. There are exceptions, which are social outings with my friends that may include some shopping, but my friends are responsible people.

In glancing back at what I’ve typed this morning, I see the word carless and I’m afraid I’ve mistyped my opinion of careless in a spot or two. I haven’t. But I know that this is the underlying opinion I have of people who haven’t accepted responsibility for their own mobility.

I won’t be giving up my car in my working towards minimalism. But I may try and temper my assumptions about other people who are somehow making a fair exchange with their friends who own cars, and managing their locomotion through the world by bartering something of value for the ride.

Banksy’s “Hitchhiker to Anywhere”

Why is it that I get the overwhelming desire to thin my belongings precisely at a point in my schedule when it is utterly impossible?

I like to think that I live pretty simply. The spaces in which I reside are relatively small, even if I do change locations seasonally. But I am at that place where the “stuff” inside my places seems to be edging me out into the middle of the room.

Today I packed my car for the seasonal relocation to my whimsical apartment near Atlanta. 4 days a year, I need a minivan, and the rest of the time I’m sure I could get by with something half its size. But I own businesses, and I *have* been known to take that minivan to several different suppliers and fill it with hundreds of frozen cheesecakes to be sold the following weekend at a festival. The profit on that item more than covered any fuel inefficiencies I’m experiencing over a year’s time.

I think it’s the fact that I was exposed to the Minimalism conversation during SxSWi. In so many places I’m really living this, and it gives me the freedom with my time and money to build businesses and travel the country. However, that cute phrase, “A woman never has too many clothes, she just has too little closet”? … I have 4 closets. That’s 4 little black dresses, 8 red shirts, untold numbers of pairs of socks … you can probably see where I am going with this.

One of my closets.

So today, as I am filling a suitcase to take to the next place, I think about the fact that I only have to pack for the couple of days on the road, then I have clothes at my destination for the next 2 months. But I still pack my favorite things, because I won’t get to wear them again for 6 months if I leave them here. I look at racks of clothing that I haven’t worn in a couple of years, and I want to make a giant pile to donate … when I have to be on the road in a matter of hours.

Maybe I should send notes to a couple of gal-pals who I would expect to help hold me accountable (especially since one of them wears my size), and tell them I want to purge this closet when we all return to this festival in the fall. I have 2 other closets I’ll interact with before I return here. Perhaps the easier thing is to purge the closets as I arrive, rather than as I am leaving. Wish me luck!

There is real value in laughter. My friend Julia has an infectious laugh, and has the uncanny ability to get the people around her excited about something. She’s the ultimate salesperson. I’m so incredibly pleased to see her utilizing her talent for her own project.

On that note, today’s post is the best Parody of the song Thrift Shop in the known world. I know just about everyone in this video, and even knowing how clever they are, I am speechless at how fun this is, and how much teamwork it took to make it happen. (PG-13)

I know some truly awesome people.

The Western Hermit

March 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’ve long held this theory: Since Western Culture does not have a respectful attitude toward Hermits or Contemplatives; folks whose nature lends them to these types of endeavors hide out in their workaholism. Our culture values productivity so much, it is the safest haven for folks who are wired to be introverts and or contemplatives. How many party or dinner invitations can be avoided with “I’m too busy, thanks.”? Using my own life experience for reference I can say the answer is “many” or perhaps more truthfully, “more than I can count”.

Yet I wonder if the workaholism is sometimes fueled not only as an avoidance technique for social requirements, but also a drive fueled by the feeling of not being finished. The thing never started can never be finished. That feeling of incompletion is due to the fact that the hermit nature underlying the workaholism has never been expressed … never been fed.

Photo by И. Максим

If the food for this Hermit nature is time spent in contemplation, then how do we justify that time, when we have been trained to manage the profits and losses in all of our endeavors? Where is the value? What are the risks?

In a society which reveres productivity, how to begin the contemplative path? And can one begin a contemplative path while maintaining the professional benefits of being a workaholic? Can contemplation be scheduled into a day-planner or checked off a To Do List?

Because we must admit, workaholics succeed. I don’t want to lose that edge, but I also want to live my fullest expression. So if my theory that a workaholic is a frustrated contemplative has merit, then it could be I am missing out on something that might just be wonderful.
Do you hide in work? Do you wear your “busy-ness” with pride? Talk to me about it in the comment section. I’d love to hear your take on this theory.

5 year planning

March 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

Old skills revisited

It felt really good to run a jigsaw for a while today. I’ve been passing along information gleaned from years of building wacky buildings at Renaissance Faires, and I still do a bit of design, but I hadn’t done much actual production in years. It was good. I had some thinking to do for a couple of assignments in Marie Forleo’s B-School, and repetitive physical work is so good for the thinking process. It was a beautiful and warm spring day, and I was able to get a little vitamin D while I was out there working in the sunshine.

These days, Phil and I only have time to do construction and design work on our own buildings. We planned it that way. Years ago, when we realized that construction was over 80% of our income, we set to change that, and started buying service businesses at festivals, sometimes trading our labor instead of dollars. I say we set 5 year plans, but I find that a 5 year plan never takes that long in reality. But 5 years is an easy thing for me to wrap my brain around.

Here are things to know about how I do 5 year planning for business improvements:

  1. I rarely look for *More* as part of my plan, because I live with complete confidence that I will always have “Enough”. I may look to replace one thing with another, but the 5 year shifts are always more about quality of life than about money.
  2. I start at analyzing what brings me the most stress, and set an intention to lessen that.  (This is possibly the biggest element of the process.)
  3. I’m totally ok with Phil having a different plan to reduce the same stress. Sometimes we agree on method, sometimes we do not; but I am convinced that our agreement of intention to alter that stressor has huge impact in making it happen.
  4. I don’t write it down. I know that runs counter to so much of what we are told about goal-setting, but these changes are given 5-year windows specifically because they are about life shifts rather than stair-steps to another place. Not writing down steps for these has allowed space in which magic happens, and we often find ourselves looking back from a place we hadn’t even imagined, piecing together what steps we took to get here.
  5. This has only failed me when I got incredibly specific about “the big step that was going to fix XYZ”. Little steps in a general direction often lead me to fascinating places I have not imagined. Setting plans around a “When X, then Y” format don’t seem to pay out. I am back to the drawing board, but not picking up the pencil this time.  This time I’m saying “I have some stress around ____. I’m looking for ways to either replace ____ in my financial portfolio, hire middle management so that I don’t have to manage ____ myself, or whatever comes up that lets me simply let go of it. Maybe I’ll miraculously stop feeling stress about the thing. It’s possible!
  6. We maintain forward momentum. We have been and always will love to work. So we keep working, including working at those elements of our lives around which we have stress. We are not wishfully thinking that the intention is set and therefore we don’t have to continue working forward. A goal without action is a wish. There is something about forward momentum that pulls magic in behind you … allowing it to then help propel you forward.


Gizzies, ready for sanding and painting. They are part of the facelift plan for my bakery at the Texas Renaissance Festival.

So that very non-scientific system is my answer when other entrepreneurs ask me how I grew my business from a 2 person construction and design firm to our multiple-holdings and 40 person staff. I don’t know the “How”, and the system only fails if I try to micro-manage it. We work forward from the “Why”, keep working, and the pieces fall into place.

Every door you open is a new opportunity.

I entered a contest last week, trying to win a scholarship to Marie Forleo’s B-school … also known as the Rich, Happy, and Hot B-School. I didn’t win. It wasn’t a make-or-break on my taking the course, but I wanted to challenge myself, and I wanted to see if the tasks she set forth were things that would bring value to my world.

The competition required a 90 second or less video, with specific points you had to cover about your business, or new project. Basically, if you nailed all of these points in 90 seconds or less, you also nailed your elevator pitch. <–  Hello Value!

So while I am not going to the school for free, I have confirmation (for myself) that the course will be worth my time, money, and effort. Smart girl that Marie Forleo. She also gave serious incentive to sharing the video with one’s community, as having the largest number of positive comments was one of the ways to win. I joined the competition late, so it didn’t accomplish the high number of comments necessary to beat folks who had started weeks before me. However there was incredible value in sharing my new project with my community; as my new project is especially by and for my community. I based my entry on the website I’m building at and it was a very constructive process to share that with the festival community, even though it is not ready for launch. In fact, today it is still in its awkward Siamese twin separation surgery from this site.

Marie Forleo’s course won’t begin until March 11, which is also the last day of South by Southwest Interactive (which I am attending). I’m looking at a particularly wired month of March. I am also spending March remodeling my bakery at the Texas Renaissance Festival. I need to fit more servers (people, not technology) on my counter in order to deal with the volume of attendance; and it will require an infrastructure change in order to make it happen.

April first is the date I drive to Georgia to start opening that festival (Opening date is April 13th, 2013). I had a carpenter replace the wood shingle roof on the larger of my two booths, so I expect there is some post-construction cleanup to do in addition to my normal opening chores. I was about to say that I’m really looking forward to seeing my Georgia crew and my brainstorm group there, but instead I’ll let myself be excited *after* I get over the excitement of what I am doing right now.

Pinterest appears to be a soothing way to kill several hours of otherwise productive time until you look at how you’ve used the data you collected as images. Dare I suggest it has real value?

I find Pinterest to be a right-brain filing system. In general, I collect images that appeal to me. I find the action profoundly soothing after crunching numbers or brainstorming a business element.

Sometimes I use the system as designed, and go to the article from which the image was pulled, but often I just want to look at pretty pictures. I recently cut myself off from Pinterest wanderings, because I thought I was stealing productive time from myself. I couldn’t justify it when I had so many other things to do.

Pinterest wasn’t a waste of time after all.

So I pulled away, and finished my list of the physical things I needed to get done … only to realize that the time I’d spent on Pinterest helped me hone my plan. By simply grabbing every image that appealed to me, I let my right-brain have ready input on the projects that I was piling up. Consequently, when I was ready to get a hall tree, I knew the elements I wanted to incorporate, and I knew of my love of doors and doorways.

I’ve got a bit of construction and building design experience. I designed and built small buildings (to code) at Renaissance Festivals for several years. So I’m not at all surprised that I like to look at small buildings. Will I use this information? Maybe … I still consult on building design, and I might build a guest room or two on my property. If my collection is any guide, the guest rooms will not be nearly as whimsical as the buildings I designed for faires.

So I’m back to letting myself have some Pinterest time. Maybe my right-brain can tell my left-brain what the next project will be.