I grew up in the orchard town of Sunnyvale in the 1960s. As a kid I played among the apricot orchards near my house and would sit in the cherry trees near Sunnyvale tennis Center eating my fill after Junior Whiteman Cup tennis. I grew up with a racquet in my hand as my parents were avid tennis fanatics, and would sometime get so frustrated trying to keep up with them that I’d bite the ball. I ended up playing on the team in high school and college.
I loved roaming the hills of Stevens Creek Canyon, walking in the creek and catching frogs and fish. Many a time I put my tadpoles in a bucket in the back yard, only to have them turn into frogs and end up in my neighbor’s swimming pool a week later. I was particularly in love with trees and felt a strong need to defend them. I participated in tree plantings, wrote letters to the editor about the disappearing orchards. I also was an avid cyclist and would regularly ride 50 miles, participating in centuries (100 mile rides) in high school. My bike was like a horse or car for me. It was my escape and my way to get to nature and solace quickly.
My parents were politically progressive and very concerned about issues of social and environmental justice. They were members of the UUFS church and I received an early education in politics and social justice issues. I would wear Shirely Chisholm buttons to school in 4th grade and remember my satisfaction when Nixon was impeached. I later spent long hours listening to KGO talk shows and reading the Christian Science Monitor and enjoyed extemporaneous and impromptus speaking in high school speech and debate tournaments.
The first time we traveled abroad was in 1968. I was 4 and my parents decided to take a 5 month trip to Europe. It was an epic journey and wet my appetite for later cultural exploration. We started in Luxembourg where we bought a new VW bus after driving our own car across the US and visiting relatives on the east coast. For the next 5 months we slept in the bus, cooked on a Coleman stove in the back, and visited Austria, Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
Some of the outstanding memories include being at a camp sight where torrential rains flooded all tent owners while we were high and dry in our bus. We were held at gunpoint in Yugoslavia for hours by the military (remember this was 1968) after my father unknowingly took a photo of a shepherd and his flock in an airfield. We didn’t see the sign of the camera with a line through it. Luckily a flexible police sergeant rescued us and took us to the stations where he simply exposed the film before givin my dad back the camera and biddin us farewell.
We were turned back from the Czech border a few weeks later. Russia had just taken over in what they called the “velvet revolution”. – remember that it was 1968 a very volatile time, got hit by a car Naples while crossing the street to get my dad who was busy buying oranges and unaware of the bus we were waiting to catch. I’d asked permission to cross from my Mom. Neither of us saw the car coming . I was taken in to a convent of nuns across the street from the accident who prayed for my recovery (I was unconscious after being thrown by the car).
A few weeks later in a a small town in Albania a woman asked to walk around town with me alone. My parents quickly learned that she had had kidnapped kids in the past and luckily found me in time before any damage was done. I slipped into a cement lined slimy-sided water filled canal and almost drowned. My mom came in after me and got pretty scratched up from my flailing. It’s a wonder that I wanted to travel again after the various traumas. I think I’m a wondering spirit by nature. There’s rumoured to be gypsy blood on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family’s from Bratislawa, in which case I come by it honestly.
I have several good memories as well. I remember camping on the roof in Greece on a balmy night and meetin Peter the Pelican on Patmos
In 1971 my family drove our trusty VW bus along the coast of Mexico to Guadalajara. back through the Sonoran range through Arizona. I was semi-fluent having taken Spanish for several years and it was the beginning of my love of cultural immersion. On both trips we drove and camped in our VW bus, cooking meals on a Coleman stove.
While in Italy on the 1968 Europe trip I got a crash course in Italian at a 2 week-long kid’s camp in Livorno (there was supposed to be an English speaker but they mysteriously disappeared). When we went to Mexico we gave rice and beans to people we met, and I got plenty of opportunities to practice my Spanish and meet the people.
I loved school and received an excellent public education. In high school I had the pleasureof studying journalism with Nick Fernetinos, Homestead’s illustrious journalism advisor. I covered the news beat and got the chance to meet professional reporters at John Anderson’s speech at Stanford when he ran as an independent presidential candidate in 1980. I was on various sports teams including track and field, cross country, soccer, field hockey, and tennis.
I loved languages and studied Spanish and French; took all the AP classes I could, including English, History, Calculus, and Physics; and was an avid cyclist, regularly riding in centuries (100 miles) including the Mt Hamilton Challenge (120 miles starting by climbing the road to Mt Hamilton). As a senior I applied to colleges that specialized in environmental sciences, including Humboldt, Reed, Evergreen, UCSC, UCB, Cornell, and Middlebury. Price was an important factor as I had to pay my own way through school. I was awarded a Regents scholarship (4 year all-tuition paid to any UC school) and chose UCSC as my university of choice.
I chose Physics as my major at UCSC and initially enrolled in the 3/2 program (3 years at UCSC in physics, 2 years at UCB in electrical engineering). My first boyfriend had been a Physics major at Princeton, which influenced my choice of major, as well as my love for challenges. After the first quarter, however, I found my lack of conceptual understanding frustrating. I asked my Physics TA when would I understand how to derive the formulas we used and he replied “your third or fourth year”. Not happy with that answer, and feeling boxed in by the narrowness of the subject matter, I took some fun classes (French, Values Studies, and Introduction to Feminism) and decided to go on pause and attend Cabrillo College for 2 years. I started Cabrillo the following fall, allowing myself to choose any class I wanted. I ended up taking swimming, African dance, improvisational theater, creative writing, and women’s literature. I had additional motivation to attend Cabrillo as I had lost the Regents scholarship, not due to any academic demerit but because of income tax filing status. I took up inorganic chemistry tutoring at Cabrillo to pay for my school fees and joined the school tennis team (the coach had been #1 at Stanford), learned Italian, and studied improvisational theater. I was a part-time nanny for children of a wonderful poet and author and had a great time playing imagination games and making up stories with the 5 year old girl.
An important turning point came when a career counselor helped me ascertain that I should study what I cared about. That’s when I went back to UCSC in environmental studies and then added biology as a double major. The professors in both fields were amazing – I had the luck to be in a class with 8 people in which we wrote the General Plan for Modoc County and then went there on a field trip. I was lucky enough to TA for Dick Cooley, who taught environmental policy and had worked in the Department of the Interior during Carter’s administration. As a writing tutor I worked with students taking the first year college writing program, environmental policy, natural history, and other environmental and biological courses, as well as with undergraduates writing their senior theses. I also tutored for a tough but amazing biochemistry course offered at Oaks College. The teacher was notorious for giving open book tests – he didn’t want memorization, he wanted understanding. I worked at the UCSC farm and garden as a docent, spent many hours hiking behind the campus, and was lucky enough to participate in Field Quarter, a 10 week program consisting of 7 different trips throughout California studying the natural history, geology, and flora and fauna of each region. During the summers, I volunteered on various field work projects including killer whale research in Johnstone Strait (B.C. north of Vancouver Island) and peregrine falcon reintroduction in Kings Canyon. I spent another summer in Alaska hiking and working in a cannery. For my senior thesis in environmental studies I wrote a 150 page document entitled Acid Rain: Biological, Political, and Social Implications. I took the GREs in Biology and received 99 percent. I graduated with highest honors in both majors and a Phi Beta Kappa.
After graduation I entered the workforce at EMCON Associates working for my mom, a civil engineer designing landfills and household hazardous waste facilities. She had me compile data for county hazardous waste management plans in Fresno and Monterey counties. After 1 1/2 years of working with the engineers, I was hired by the geologists to write reports summarizing their data. I later worked for an environmental consultant doing groundwater monitoring of large polluters in the Bay Area, then for Santa Clara County Planning Department in the Office of Toxics. I helped develop workshops for small businesses to reduce their hazardous waste generation, as well as designing pollution prevention strategies and helping set policy for county use of paper, plastic, or permanent dish ware. I worked at SLAC for a brief time developing a business services handbook, then took the plunge into the high-paced world of technology, getting hired at Apple Computer as a tech writer working on Inside Mac documentation. I learned C and C++, wrote compilable sample code, and spent a few years learning the ins and outs of tech pubs at Apple. I was then hired by a wonderful job shop of sorts, who offered me 2 1/2 times what I was making at Apple and shipped me out to Intel. At Intel I documented their newly-acquired networking technology, both hardware and software, for about a year, until I came down with a strange and serious affliction which forced me to stop working. After some months, I got the diagnoses of diffuse systemic scleroderma, Raynaud’s, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
I spent the next few years trying to get my feet on the ground and my energy back. The afflictions had affected various body parts and internal organs, and I could no longer use my hands to type, nor do many of the things I had previously been accustomed. In my search for cures, I became better acquainted with complementary medicine, herbs, Chinese medicine and acupuncture, and other healing modalities. I made a wonderful friend who helped me tremendously during that period, advising me on vitamins and supplements and suggesting various healing regimens. Slowly I gained strength, combatting the chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia-like symptoms which piggy-backed on the other health issues. As I was able, I started to get involved in environmental activism, and met Craig Breon while fighting the development of the golf course at Boulder Ridge. Craig subsequently invited me to join the environmental action committee (EAC) in 1995. I accepted his invitation, and have since participated as an EAC member. In 2011, I took over chairing the EAC and burrowing owl committees and have drafted agendas and occasionally minutes as well as facilitated meetings. Some of the projects I have been involved with during my 20 year tenure include: commenting on various EIRs; examining County-wide burrowing owl data; attending city council meetings; encouraging the City of Sunnyvale to adopt a bird-safe design policy; working with the City of Sunnyvale to come up with a plan to manage their burrowing owls in the Sunnyale Baylands, landfill, and RFW; and leading a volunteer to manage City of Sunnyvale burrowing owl habitat. Though I am stepping down from chairing the EAC and burrowing owl committees, I look forward to many more years of participation as a volunteer and committee member.
In 2010 I remodeled the house and landscaped the yard. I also renovated the garage into a private suite with walk-in closet, big bathroom, storage room, washer/dryer, and pantry, as well as a 13×12 bedroom with 4×6 picture window onto the garden.
Wow it is so cool to know all this neat stuff about you!
Thanks Geri for your interest! I need to write more ;>
Hey Lisa – Wow! You have had a great big life, and you continue to wander. I was so interested in everything you wrote about yourself. Thank you so much for sharing. Yvonne
Thanks Yvonne for your comment, and for reading my blog!