Happy Girls are the Prettiest Girls

There is a great Audrey Hepburn quote, which sticks in my mind as “Happy girls are the prettiest girls” though the entire quote is longer and more fabulous than that.

Happy girls are the prettiest girls

“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.”
― Audrey Hepburn

Yesterday I got to hug a friend with whom I’d stayed generally connected through social media networks. We used to do shows together. If I had to guess, I’d say it has been at least 3 years since I had seen her in the flesh, and DAMN did she ever look fabulous. She had always been pretty, but this was … MORE. “I’m Happy” she said … not with smugness, but with warmth. She was more beautiful in that moment than she had ever been.

This morning I was laying in bed, thinking about this phenomena of happiness as a beauty secret. It could be the answer to why folks can’t pin down our ages. I have a birthday next month, and Mr. Rocks is 14 years older than me. No one ever guesses our ages. They are often guessed at a decade or more too low … but we are happy people. We have created the perfect life for ourselves and it shows … in our energy, and in our faces.

However, as I lay there under my fluffy comforter (it was chilly this morning), I also thought about how and where we hear the phrase “I’m Happy”. Sometimes we hear it spoken defensively, as when people are having to push back against family and associates who disapprove of some action or choice. Or, we hear it delivered without conviction, by someone who has settled for a life they do not love.

These deliveries, defensive and without belief, do not translate into fabulous beauty secrets or age-defying smiles. No matter how many times you say a thing, it isn’t true until you believe it to be true.

Can I tell you again how nice it was to see my friend yesterday?

Homework from Festival Management

When the assignment came in, my husband called to make sure I had seen it. There were 5 days to complete it. All 5 of those days were already booked for him, as it was the Wednesday before opening weekend of OKRF, where we have 2 food shops.
The writing assignment came from the offices of the largest theme park in which we have businesses, and it went out to all of the festival foods vendors.
I will point out that writing assignments are not unheard of from this venue. That show keeps itself innovative by asking their participants to continue thinking about their businesses. In return, they bring us over half a million visitors over 19 days each fall.
The assignment was this:
A.) A two page report of your philosophy of Food and Entertainment and how they work together.
B.) Your goals for each of your areas for the next 10 years
C.) Who is your food advisor? Who or where do you get new food ideas from?

While two of those papers were data-centric (and thus easy), the focus of the assignment was the philosophy paper, which required some contemplation.

I assured Phil that I had the project under control with one caveat … I can be pretty ‘woo-woo’ about the honor it is to share food with people … Yet the request for the paper came in a business environment. Of course it was aso a Philosophy assignment. The Husband pointed out that if I took out all of the ‘woo-woo’ it wouldn’t sound like me, and I relaxed into the project.

What follows is the paper I turned in. I figure I either nailed it, or exposed myself as a wacko.

Tea with Mr & Mrs Rocks







Some thoughts on Food …

As James Beard said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

Food is at the heart of most social gatherings. There is a reason so many cultures have holidays and religious rites which center around a meal. Food brings people together in a way that other shared experiences do not. While alcohol may be a social lubricant, food is at the heart of how cultures define themselves. Shared meals bring people together on a level unparalleled by any other exchange.

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.” ~ Epicurus

Connecting with the festival audience around food is a remarkably powerful opportunity to influence their overall experience. As we speak of a desire to bring more “well heeled” guests to the Texas Renaissance Festival, we should expect to provide for them a food experience that rivals what they experience in the venues to which they are more accustomed. This is not a conversation about price, but about food quality and innovation. We as a group already hold that TRF is at the cutting edge of the outdoor entertainment field, but vendors are only beginning to bring that level of innovation into the food program.

TRF is host to hundreds of thousands of people, who are seeking an “experience.” They are looking to escape the commonplace nature of their regular worlds. The festival does a remarkable job of this by immersing guests in an environment unlike any other. To offer mundane food options in the park depreciates their overall experience of the venue.

Our opportunity, and our responsibility as food professionals, is to elevate the level of our guests’ food experience at TRF to one that inspires recollections and conversations, further building the reputation of the venue. Since the Texas Renaissance Festival defines what a Renaissance Festival is, it follows that we define what our guests’ culinary experience can be.


Our job is to take people out of their comfort zones … to challenge them to have an escape from their normal routines. If guests wanted “more of the same” they wouldn’t be attending a themed festival in the first place.


“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” ~ Cesar Chavez


Some thoughts on Entertainment …

Some of you know that the two of us were working at a Renaissance festival near NYC in September of 2001. The campground nestles in a tight valley. The mountains skirting the campground are crisscrossed with hiking trails. On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, groups of vendors hiked up to the peak, from which we could see the smoke of the ruined twin towers. Throughout the day, reports on the wellbeing of our city-dwelling cast members were delivered. The festival opened for business that following weekend, taking its cue from Broadway choosing to reopen. People came that weekend … by the thousands. The profound value of what we do for a living was made very clear that day. While I’m sure guests occasionally think it … that weekend, the comment we received the most was a heartfelt “Thank You”. The clarifiers were “I needed to get away.” “I needed to distract my kids.” “I needed to breathe before going back and figuring out the next step.”

Escape is probably a universal human need. It certainly is so in our stressed out Western culture. The immersive experience of a Renaissance festival provides that escape by completely uprooting the audience from their routine. Interacting with a guest around the already intimate act of eating brings the engagement to a level of friend-to-friend exchange. Here guests are relating at a level we all experience. While it is certainly possible to interact with a street character about a subject, the conversation that happens there tends to have an element of make-believe. Whereas a question about food connects people at the shared experience of flavors, preferences, and opinions about the foods they love.

“Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.” – Irish proverb

Food and Entertainment are interwoven. When you travel the world, the way that you are shown hospitality is by being fed by your hosts. When you buy any book on “Entertaining” you end up with something that is 50% recipes. Separation of the two elements is unnatural and counterproductive to a goal of creating a world-class experience. This goes beyond costumes and accents on counter staff, and requires a sincere wish to consider our customer to be our guest.

If we look up the global concepts of the word Hospitality, we find that Ancient Greeks considered it a divine right and in Greek society a person’s ability to abide the laws of Guest Rights and Hospitality determined their social standing and nobility. In India, the concept of hospitality is based upon a principle that translates as “The Guest is God.” More appropriate to our theme, Celtic societies held that guests were to be provided shelter and food, and protected from harm while in their care. We would all do well to remember that Theme Parks and Restaurants are part of the Hospitality Industry. As members of the village that is the Texas Renaissance Festival, we are in effect, inviting these guests into our home, and we should therefore be serving them the best we can offer.

The culture of festivals relies heavily upon Society’s need for communion and celebration. Our job as festival professionals is to facilitate a communally joyous gathering. The fact we make a living at this is simply a fringe benefit. One that can easily disappear if we take the magic of the exchange for granted.

September 13, 2013

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.

Learning to Love Absurdity

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.

The Western Hermit

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

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.

Pinterest and the Right Brain

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.

Shoulds and Pushback

We rebels, outsiders, and outcasts have benefited from our ability to make our alternative way in the world. We’ve managed to create lives outside the normative systems by challenging the rules.

But what about the rules we’ve written ourselves? What of the things we *want* to do? When we are wired to push back against the shoulds, we often push back against our own wishes.

photo by Estevam Romera via Flickr

We write these rules for a reason. They are meant to help shape our lives further into our own private ideals, but these things require work.  Successful work requires commitment.

Our habit is breaking rules, and any requirement ruffles our feathers. It is easy while the thing is new and shiny … at that point we still know it is our idea.  But in that space between it being a new idea and it becoming habit is the time when it is just work, and we push back because pushing back is habit.

We’ve been pushing back longer than we’ve been doing whatever the new skill set is, and so our commitment to practicing guitar, or eating healthy food, or getting more exercise is challenged by our innate rebel. The fact that the rule to “practice guitar 5x per week” was one I wrote because I want the joy of playing guitar easily gets lost in the face of habitual pushing against what others thought was the *right* thing to do.

Pushing back is a valuable skill. If we want to have a life outside the narrow expectations of our surrounding world we have to push the window open. Questioning authority is wise, but when we question our own wisdom we have no guidance system and we spin out of control like a lopsided paper airplane.

We set up those rules for ourselves from within our own wisdom. The trick is how to retain our recognition of self-imposed structures; and allow them integrity so that they do not appear to us as outside influences, but as our own intelligence.

So I’m playing with how I use the word “Should”. I know I have some a lot of push back with that word, so I’m watching where I use the word Should, and rephrasing it to see how I can affect behavioral changes in myself using semantics. You see, I *want to* play guitar, and I *want to* live a long and healthy life. However, when I let those items shift into shoulds; my instinctive response is “You can’t make me”.

Can this simple shift alter behavior? I can only tell you that I feel less internal resistance when I change the phrasing, and that I am once again building up the calluses necessary in learning to play guitar.