“Wherever you go, there you are.” – The Peoples’ Guide to Mexico.
I was born in Minnesota, but got out of there as fast as I could! Oh, despite the gray skies, there were wonderful things about growing up in a place where everyone either has or knows someone who has a cabin on a lake. You learn to love the outdoors even when it is ice cold, because if you stay inside all winter you get cabin fever. I learned to skate, swim, snow ski, water ski, and fish. My grandparents owned a resort in Wisconsin, so when the family with all the aunts and uncles and cousins wanted to all get together we would take up all the cabins and have dozens of us all staying together. Some of my most wonderful memories are of waking up in the little cabins they rented out. They would let the cousins all stay in the same one, and we would feel like it was our very own little house.
As the oldest of four girls, I was always the boss. I was the ringleader, the organizer of clubs where everyone had to follow me around and “walk this way.” Most of my childhood was spent near Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. We would take a walk or bike ride around the lake every day in the summer. I would lead my sisters on walks through “the woods.” Walking our neighbor’s dogs (we couldn’t have our own dog since I had severe asthma). Climbing as high as we could in our apple tree. My other best childhood memories are at the beach on Lake Calhoun. I remember swimming around and under the diving dock with my sister and coming up from under the water to hear “Summer in the City” or “Crimson & Clover” and laying in the sunshine on the dock. I was sick a lot, despite (or perhaps because of) my love for the out of doors, and I read voraciously. I used to stop into the library every day on my way home and pick up a book, read it that night, and get another one the next day. I wanted to read every book in my library.
My parents were divorced when I was six, so I remember my dad better than any of my sisters. I remember the good times: riding on the seat of his bike clutching firmly to his waist, I remember when he brought home a beautiful new car and my mom made him take it back, and I remember taking hot, hot soapy baths with him with steam rising and him wearing a washcloth like a bathing suit. My dad worked at a bread factory, and sometimes we would go and pick him up after work. When I saw him coming out from the loading dock it was so exciting to me. I remember my parents playing croquet in our backyard with the neighbors, and me watching the clock on the windowsill to hit the time that I could get up from my nap. I remember when my sister Carmen was born and me and my sister were looking out our bedroom window and I said, “I wish it was just me and you still.” My mom tried being a good Catholic, but after having four kids in six years she couldn’t take it anymore and ended up getting divorced. She fell in love with our neighbor, John. I remember John and his then-wife Delores would invite me to dinner, and we would eat macaroni and cheese at the same table my parents still own today. John was an alcoholic but he went into treatment after I was grown. I never made it easy for John when I was growing up, but now I admire the fact that he married a woman with four kids and raised them the best way he knew how. Four kids not his own. My own dad gave me a sense of adventure, and my stepdad gave me a sense of solidarity. I appreciate both.
We moved to the suburbs when I was in ninth grade. I was intimidated by my new classmates, who seemed to be so cool. My sisters and I became closer than ever. I never felt like I fit in, although in retrospect I was lucky enough to make friends with people from all groups rather than being stuck in just one. The first day in our new house I looked out the window and fell in love with the boy who lived across the street, Greg. It may have been a year or two until we actually dated, but we then went steady for two years. He was very smart, the first of my “brilliant” boyfriends (intelligence has always been the greatest aphrodisiac for me). Being with Greg was some of the happiest days of my childhood. I love words and verbal wit, and we used to spar and be so sarcastic that we would have to declare a moratorium on sarcasm.
A highlight of my high school days was my trip to Spain with my high school Spanish class. We started in Madrid, and wended our way to Segovia and then down South through Toledo and the Costa del Sol. Part of the trip was a home stay with a family, and I lived with an old lady in a cold-water flat and she treated me like her own granddaughter. At night I would meet my girlfriend, Jan, and we would go to the discoteca where there was no minimum age and the spanish boys would woo us rubias (blondies). It was so wonderful to be treated like a grown-up there, and so hard to go back to being a child when I returned to the States.
I managed to graduate in the top 5% of my high school class without feeling particularly smart. I just thought I liked hanging around smart people, and my good grades were just lucky accidents. My mother had not believed in telling us our IQ’s, and I always thought it must have been because mine was abysmally low. Plus my stepfather was a perfectionist and if I would bring home a report card with all A’s and a B, all he would focus on was the B. Only after I had finished graduate school did I realize that that was an unusual accomplishment and perhaps I did have some smarts of my own. After all, smart people like being around me, too. I had clues all along, but never picked up on them.
I signed up for the Air Force after acing a language ability test in the top two percentile (still no clues there) and getting them to guarantee that I would be a translator. Before I left, though, I was able to squeeze in part of a semester of junior college and get credit for the whole thing before I left on that fateful day, December 2, 1975. I still remember that anniversary every year. That day I was sworn in at the Federal Building and stood at the top of the steps watching my mom walk away. It was one of the loneliest days of my life. But it was very important for me to go; I wanted to pull my fair share of the load because I believed that women wouldn’t get equal rights until they took equal responsibility and that meant Serving Your Time in the military. I had also read many biographies of famous people, and had noticed that virtually all of them had been in the military. It never occurred to me that they were all men, and anyway that didn’t matter to me.
Being in the Air Force was fun in many ways, and awful in others. I was no longer the outsider; everyone had been yanked from their hometown at the same time and was experiencing the same thing as me. I was a fair Minnesotan with long blonde hair in an Air Force with more than 90% men, and that was great. The Air Force was quite civil to its recruits and very glad to have women there. But I was still shocked when they announced to me after basic training that I would be learning either Chinese or Russian, my choice, until I learned that my recruiter had not guaranteed me to be a Spanish translator, merely a translator. It was clear that I was not going to fulfill my goal of getting to Spain, and I was shipped off to Monterey, California for a year of intensive Mandarin Chinese.
The military treated its language students with kid gloves, since it was so intense, and we only had to look military – polished shoes, creased shirts – once a week for a brief inspection. We formed very close friendships too: I was “one of the boys” to everyone perhaps because I always tended to have a boyfriend, changing whenever a better one came along or a while after my boyfriend would be transferred to another base or post, and I was always “off limits” to everyone else. So we were all buddies. We would make a bonfire on Asilomar beach and talk until far into the night. Sometimes we would all go up to San Francisco or someone’s house in Santa Cruz or San Jose.
Classes were tough and ten hours a day, six days a week, and I was having migraine headaches with increasing frequency. I had had them occasionally since I was twelve, but when they started to plague me daily I was living in constant agony. They had never been frequent nor severe. The military doctors were stumped and could find nothing wrong with me; no brain tumors, no cancer, nothing. They spent thousands of dollars on CAT scans and every kind of testing known to man. Finally they finally decided to give me an honorable discharge with full benefits. I went back home to Minnesota and to my regular doctor, and he told me in horror that the birth control pills the military doctors had given me were strong enough to kill a horse and to stop taking them immediately. Instantly my headaches went away, to return only once every few years after that. The military just didn’t have much experience with women, being 90% men at the time. I’ve always felt bitter towards military medicine that my military career was over because of their stupidity. They had put me through a lot of hell where they blamed me and said that I was psychosomatically causing my own headaches. But I had also learned that if you’re in the top 2% of a group, that doesn’t mean you are all that smart, it just means you are hanging out with the wrong crowd. So I didn’t try to get back in, I decided to go to back to college instead.
My travels and experience in the military had matured me a lot, and that gave me an edge over the other college freshmen at my school. I had always been the youngest and smallest in my class before, and correspondingly immature. This time I easily excelled in my classes. I worked in the Veterans’ Affairs Office and had my own apartment. I was buddies with all the other Vets who worked in the office, and we took many ski trips over the winter to the better hills in Wisconsin. I had fallen love with the director of the office the moment I had laid eyes on him, Michael, and after a tumultuous beginning we ended up moving in together that spring. He taught Sociology classes, with which I also fell in love as it helped me to explain all the things that had happened in my life. We lived on a lake about thirty miles north of Minneapolis and swore we would never get married. But eventually we decided we weren’t afraid of marriage and we could do it our own way, that we didn’t have to do it to suit anyone else but ourselves, so we got married in 1977. I didn’t change my name, and we didn’t ever act like we were married. We didn’t take a honeymoon for two years, until we had saved up enough to go to Europe where we romantically thought we might stay forever. My dream of living in Spain was becoming a reality at last.
We took a Laker Airways’ $100 flight to London, where we hung out for a while, then took the “midnight express” boat/train to France, ending up in Paris. We met lots of people in our travels, some of whom we traveled with and all of whom we learned from. We picked up a rental car in San Sebastian, Spain, just across the French border, and where we both decided to change our names to Sebastian. Then we drove through France, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, and Italy. Italy struck me as the a wonderful country, with Venice and Florence cultural shrines. We stayed in a castle in Florence, or Firenza as they call it. Ate exquisite meals there and in France too. We jogged everywhere we went–Hyde Park in London, in the mountains, and through the streets and stairways of Venice and Rome and Paris. I still remember hearing, “mira la tattoo!” as I jogged through Hyde Park. Jogging was rather unusual in those days, but it was a great way to see the country. We slowly headed back for Spain since winter was coming on and that was the warmest place in Europe.
On the Costa del Sol we rented an apartment where we lived for six months. It was an international community of people just like us, expatriates or expatriate-wanna-be’s. We had wonderful dinners almost every evening where each person brought a dish from their home country. I informally taught English lessons, and we would trade a lot for things we needed. But alas, we learned that getting a job in Europe is so difficult — many jobs are handed from father to son, never job-hopping like Americans — that our ancestors probably left because of this very problem. Unless your family has worked there for 500 years you could write it off. No green card for you! We decided that we would move back to the U.S. and open our own business.
My dad had given me an older Fiat when I got out of the Air Force, which I had fixed up, painted bright red with the help of a neighbor who was a Vo-Tech instructor, and sold for twice what I had paid for it. We realized there could be a lucrative business there which wouldn’t require a lot of customer contact and serve us well while we learned how to run a small business. We moved back to Minnesota and rented a 100-year old farmhouse in Chaska that had a large workshop, barn, and pasture for horses. We called our company “Car of a Different Color!” and painted friends and relatives’ cars until we were good enough to deal with the public. I began to specialize at the bodywork, and Michael specialized at painting. We did that for two years, but the chemicals eventually began getting to us and began to worry about getting them out of our system. The grey, grey winters were starting to get to us and after forty-five days in a row without sun, we decided it was time to leave for warmer climates. We bought a van and made it into a custom motor home, courtesy of Car of a Different Color!, closed up the shop, and took off for Mexico with our legendary dog, Lobo.
With a copy of the “Peoples’ Guide to Mexico” (motto: “where ever you go, there you are”) we meandered through Mexico until we got to the little international community of San Blas. There we again ran into the same kind of kindred spirits we had met in Europe and we decided to stay there. We rented a tiny island in the nearby town of Las Islitas (the “Little Islands”) for $28 US a month, and lived in a palapa hut and the van. It’s never been clear whether our payments ever got to the actual owner of the island. Oh well, nobody bothered us while we were there. We jogged on the beach with Lobo, cooked huge feasts with our friends, and got very tan. We read books from the book exchange (always bring books to exchange when you travel), meditated and did yoga. The harsh winters and hard work slowly receded from our memories and we were fully relaxed after about three months. I sewed American-style bathing suits (read: not black and covering neck to knees) to keep me occupied and to make a little money. It took me about three more months to go from fully relaxed to feeling like my brain was rotting and had to go back to the States to do something productive. I was also having a great urge to settle down that could not be met in Mexico, since you couldn’t legally work there just like in Europe. We had to find the ultimate place to live, where we could stay forever.
We ended up in Austin. Michael got a job like his old one in the Veterans’ Affairs Office of one of the colleges, and teaching Sociology. I got into some computer classes and almost immediately was making good pay as a word processor, a skill that only about 5% of the population had at the time. We shifted to car and furniture upholstery rather than car painting so we weren’t involved with dangerous chemicals anymore. And my settling down urge was fulfilled when I got pregnant with Jessica. We had Jessie at home with a midwife on September 20, 1982. Her godmother was Chris Muller, a singer-comedian-actress that I had met on one of our assignments who had a big spirit and who I thought was a good role model for our baby.
I never wanted to raise Jessica in a conventional way, just as our marriage had never been conventional, but I quickly learned that they have their own personality despite what you may want, and society is also involved in raising your child. So even though I had declared that she would never wear pink and would be a tomboy, relatives and friends gave it to her anyway and she decided she really liked pink frilly things. I decided that it was better to let her express all sides of herself rather than to stifle something that would have to come out later. So other than encouraging her to be independent as soon as she was able, I didn’t interfere much with the things she wanted to explore. And she always did things on her own schedule, and did them perfectly, that was her way.
But Jessica was allergic to disposable diapers, and her doctor said she had to wear cloth ones. I immediately went out to the store looking for cloth diapers with velcro tabs, but when I couldn’t find them I invented some. I was amazed to learn that they didn’t exist except on my baby and my friends and midwives were really excited about them. So I perfected their design and named them “Cottontails” and we started up a small shop and distributed them locally in Austin for a couple of years. But the world wasn’t ready for them yet — the environmental movement hadn’t begun its groundswell yet — and after a supplier closed with our goods and money we closed the company down.
I went back to college to finish my undergraduate degree in Sociology, then took a breather for a couple of years and started in on a master’s in business administration. I took a job at a river authority (big dens of political power in a place like Texas, where water equals power and err- authority) and quickly ended up working for the #2 executive in the place. Since I have a high threshold for stimulation, we added building a house to the list of things we were doing simultaneously. I mean building the entire house with our hands. We learned how to do every part of a house. It was a good time to build, with a downturn in the local economy so master craftsmen were willing to teach and help us who would not have talked to us a few years earlier. It took five long years with much sacrifice and soul searching, but it was eventually done. I was always inspired by the fact that my grandparents had built their own houses, and my grandmothers still live in those houses today.
When the house was just about done the environmental movement started kicking up again so at the urging of some of our former investors we restarted Cottontails with much better success. Our first customer was the U.S. Army so we went international before we ever had national sales. I got publicity in People Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, and the article was picked up on the Associated Press so had hundreds of articles written about me, a darling of the environmental movement. But there was strife with my major venture capitalist over different goals and vision and how to get there. He wanted a company he could run for himself, and was willing to keep it regional rather than national as we had envisioned it. I ended up leaving to complete my master’s degree. My marriage ended a short time later, a casualty of both our hard work and frustration, and my changing as I went through graduate school.
While I was finishing graduate school I got a contract job working at AMD. After graduation I was hired by AMD running their inventors’ incentive program. While I was there I met an inventor whom at first I thought was obnoxious, only to fall in love with him several years later after corresponding by e-mail. When distilling the thought down to the written word I discovered that he was super-intelligent and had a wry way with words that I very much admired. To this day I chide myself for having been so superficial as to react to his surface demeanor and to not have delved deeper into who he really was. A year later we were married.
Richard and I built a dream house together in Austin, but before it was even finished a job opportunity came up and brought him to Silicon Valley. We thought long and hard about it, and when I visited his home (he was a San Jose boy, born and raised there) I fell in love with it too. Before I moved there to join him I got a job working for a small enterprise consulting company that segued into a startup software development company, ending up in marketing and public relations and then taking responsibility for developing two generations of their websites. Soon we had a beautiful new home in Santa Clara.
Almost as soon as I got to California, my great boss -a woman CEO- got me involved with conscious networking group then called Women, Leadership and the Future. It was comprised of the most incredible and talented women on this planet. Wow! What a dangerous philosophy to get me involved with! I already believed that, so since then my dreams have been coming true as fast as I can dream them up. Every day was an adventure in “what can I dream up today to make happen?” I set the outrageous goal of becoming a Vice President and earning over $100,000 in two years, but in reality it took less than a year from the time I set the goals. It was like a miracle.
I also wanted to get involved in our community and to get on some boards, so I started by joining the YWCA Board, a $4 million a year organization. I was the head of the Finance Committee, and sat on Public Relations and the Executive Committees. I was also Treasurer of the Board. It was exciting to be involved with more powerful women who also care about their community. And I wanted to get my “go for your dreams” philosophy everywhere I can.
The Internet has had me hooked since 1992 at AMD, when there were no browsers and you had to learn UNIX to even log on. Besides using it for patent research, I discovered that it was the best way to communicate with the engineers. I never dreamed that it would mushroom the way it did, and that it would become easy to use for anyone who can slip an AOL disk into their PC. But soon I was designing and managing the implementation of websites at a rapid rate. I’ve always been fascinated by the way that people interact with their computers, the human interface element. I love creating sites that all people feel comfortable using – whether they think linearly, graphically, in text or in pictures. I was hired as director of marketing at a small ecommerce startup, then rapidly promoted to vice president. Then on to Netscape and my own consulting company. But you can read more about that in my “work” site — my hobby has become my work, again I am one of the lucky ones who gets to live their dreams.
Richard had led a very sheltered life before I met him, had been a Mormon most of his adult life, and he was beginning to change more and more rapidly as he became free. It was wonderful introducing him to the world he had never experienced. But he continued to change and he decided to become a politician or work in politics, and go to law school. I had never wanted to be married to a student, or a lawyer, or a politician. We didn’t agree about how to raise Jessie. After five years together I was suddenly living alone in Texas with Jessica and he was in Washington, D.C. He decided he liked living alone, so filed for divorce. We’re still friends.
I bought a pretty little condo in a small town outside of Austin, Texas for Jessie’s 11th grade year by myself, and then bought a brand new house less than a mile away when she was a senior. Jessica finished high school with the friends she has known since kindergarten, which was so important to me since I had been uprooted repeatedly during my childhood and always felt like the outsider.
Jessie is now halfway through college and I’m struggling to give her the best education I can. It’s like the last gift you give your children, a good start to the world. Jessie visits frequently and I remember how topsy-turvy life was with a teenager in the house. The house is always full of her friends when she is here, they sleep on the couches all curled up like big little kids.
I’m an instructor at the local racetracks. I’m just trying to enjoy life on my own. I had a solid year to myself with no serious relationships, a year to learn about myself and what I like when nobody else is there to influence me. I dated over the past few years on Match.com (see my column Sex and the Country), but not serious. Then what happens? I meet a wonderful man at a wedding.
Today I’m raising goats and creating a bucolic little hobby farm in Texas. I love animals, my wonderful man loves them too but doesn’t want any more dogs, but farm animals seem to be a big loophole for him. So I got a few chickens last year, discovered that they are just as fun and intelligent as any bird like parrots or peacocks, and so this year I am raising 60 of them.
We were married a year and a half ago, and for our first anniversary present my wonderful man, okay Patrick, gave me an amazing gaited horse, a Paso Fino named Pico. Pico and I are learning how to ride dressage, the fancy way the Lippizaner Stallions dance and prance – not that I’ll ever get up to their level. My whole life I cried each time I saw the Lippizaners. Now I cry if I just execute a fraction of what they do.
The best time of my week is when Patrick and I saddle up our horses for a long, ambling ride around our neighborhood. The big loop takes 2 hours to ride, the smaller loop about an hour. The best time of my day is when I am in the barn milking my goat Cressie, and the sun comes up over the trees and touches my face. This, this is a wonderful life.
This is such a brief summary of my life and there are so many things I have had to leave out for the sake of brevity. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I have realized while writing this that I could write forever and still not finish examining different times of my life or even understand myself completely. How can we presuppose to understand others, when our own selves are so mysterious? So please, don’t assume that because you have read about things I have done that you know who I am. But life is such a journey, and I learn about myself from every person I meet.