Diane’s Story: I wanted to be a paperboy in suburban Concord, California, but back then girls just couldn’t, so babysitting it was. My family bought a liquor store in Redding, California and I spent most of my non-high school time mini-skirted, waitressing at The Shack, famous for its enormous Shack-burgers. One fine day, at age 16, the world of plants went from black and white into glorious, eye-popping color. I became obsessed with identifying every wildflower I saw and I started a vegetable garden. Before, I’d wanted to be a bowling alley machine repair person after visiting a bowling alley back room and being entranced with the machinery, but I became certain that I must become a botany professor.
I’d saved my waitressing money and decided to go to Europe the summer after high school. I knew I could meet up with friends in Germany, so I bought my ticket. That day, I went to a hardware store and chatted with a cute sales clerk. I gushed that I’d just bought my plane ticket to London and I was so excited. He said he’d always wanted to go to Europe, and I told him he should come with me—and he did. It all worked out, especially when a Dutch couple with an tiny old Citroen picked us up, hitch-hiking in northern Spain and invited us to travel the rest of the way through Europe.
In 1976 I earned a botany degree from UC Santa Barbara. In a plant morphology class, I met Rob. He was a year ahead, studying environmental studies (one of the first programs in the US). He left for Seattle for graduate school in botany. A year later, I followed and moved in with him. To welcome me, he’d built a conestoga wagon style, plastic sheeted greenhouse for our orchid collection. For my master’s thesis I studied the pollination biology of four species of rare Delphiniums in the Wenatchee Mountains of Washington—a real page-turner. While finishing my degree, one day I looked around the department and realized how petty and small-minded the professors seemed. I decided academia wasn’t for me.
Rob and I married in 1978 in a cow pasture near Mt. Lassen in northern California. We had a lively and lovely wedding with a women’s blue grass band and square dancing. I wore a wreath of flowers and a ‘granny dress’ that I’d sewn. We had a carrot wedding cake with yellow sprays of Oncidium orchids crowning it. We crafted our vows—about how our relationship was symbiotic, just like they way lichens are a symbiotic combination of algae and fungi. A few days before the wedding we showed our vows to the local judge who was to officiate and he flat-out refused. Luckily, mom found a neighbor, an open-minded minister to take over. We spent our honeymoon driving around rural California and Oregon ‘looking for our land’ to build our homestead. Thankfully, we never found it and stayed in Seattle.
We bought our first house, a two bedroom bungalow, while graduate students. It cost $28,500 and our payments were $175/month. We rented our extra room to a friend for help with the payments. Rob built a big solar greenhouse in our backyard for our growing plant collection. My disaffection with academia spread to Rob and he quit his Ph.D. program. He started a solar greenhouse company called Northern Sun which doubled in sales every year and eventually had a factory with 65 out-of-control employees. I worked at in real estate, performing home energy checks for Seattle City Light, and eventually at Northern Sun. I managed customer service, purchasing, inventory management, and I learned to spin, weave, and dye fibers, knit, batik, make paper, bind books, and make quilts.
In 1987, after ten years at Northern Sun, we were booted out by an investor who eventually owned more than 50%. We went from work-a-holic yuppies to unemployed. We quickly decided to sell most everything and bought shiny red mountain bikes and one-way tickets to Australia via Fiji and New Zealand. As budget travelers, we rode our bikes around the world, covering more than 12,000 miles over twenty months, touring through some 20+ countries (including pedaling up and over seven 17,000+ ft. passes in the Himalayas from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal). The trip was one of the most challenging and best things I’ve ever done. We saw so many different ways to live and so many happy people who had next to nothing…
After the trip, we settled in Berkeley, quickly buying a house to avoid capital gains tax. Just before the trip, I’d shipped the manuscript for my book, Spinning Designer Yarns, off to the publisher. The book came out during our trip and I became a minor celebrity in the fiber arts world. I was invited to teach spinning workshops around the U.S. Our new house had little art so I taught myself watercolor painting using vivid colors. I’d always made utilitarian items, thinking that ‘art’ was beyond me since I couldn’t draw. With tracing paper and copy machines to change sizes of the objects I traced, I created original compositions and then painted them.
By 1990 I’d tired of the spinning workshop circuit and I got a real job, a corporate job, as Director of Store Operations for The Nature Company (a large, nature-oriented retail chain with ultimately 125 stores). I loved it at first, but after five years, I knew my soul would shrivel up and die if I didn't get out. Near the end, at night and on weekends I created jewelry and t-shirt art for the company. My products sold well enough to give me the confidence to quit and become a commercial illustrator. I created art for notecards, t-shirts, store displays, toys, posters, and I illustrated a cookbook for Chronicle Books called Zucchini, Pumpkins and Squash.
I wanted to be further out of the California rat race, and on a windsurfing camping trip in Baja we found and eventually bought a cactus-scrub lot in a wonderfully remote piece of paradise on the Sea of Cortez, called Cabo Pulmo, known for its famous coral reef. We didn’t know how we’d make the final lot payment, yet alone spring ourselves free to live there, but it all worked out perfectly over the next several years. After the bike trip Rob worked as a consultant for companies like Chevron, and he hated it. On our bike trip he’d invented a camping oven which sat on top of our backpacking stove burner. We baked endless batches of brownies, pizza and coffee cakes as we cycled across Europe. In 1991 he started Traveling Light, this time with only one employee and no investors and The Outback Oven was born. Later, he introduced the first non-stick cookware to the camping market, and most importantly, invented a line of collapsible water containers called Platypus. We sold the company in 1996 to Cascade Designs and we were liberated.
We moved to Mexico, driving our old, fire engine red Dodge van (Rojo the Wonder Van) down the Baja peninsula for the first of many trips. We bought two lots, mostly for the two water hookups we’d need for the thriving mini-organic farm we’d fantasized. We designed and built a small house and an art studio for me. Rob became a carpenter and made all of the arched windows and doors for the studio and house. I painted the studio periwinkle with red and orange trim—it was my playhouse. We drove down a ceramic kiln, an enameling kiln, clay, silver, enamel, a jewelry torch and lots of supplies. I taught myself to make cloisonné enamel jewelry and ceramics, and sold prints of my paintings out of my studio with my customers all coming to me. It was an artist's dream. I also created a gorgeous native and succulent garden.
Years later, the desert climate felt restrictive and the village too small, plus, Rob had became a surfer, so we explored the real tropics of Central America, planning to settle there. We sold our original Baja home, and while still planning to settle in Central America, we designed and built El Encanto de Cabo Pulmo, finishing it for our first guests in Christmas 2007. We visit a couple of times a year and operate it as a vacation rental—El Encanto de Cabo Pulmo.
After finishing El Encanto we headed to Costa Rica in our truck/camper and discovered the wild forests of the Osa Peninsula, living there for almost a year, then returning to Baja. When it was time to return to Costa Rica, I just couldn’t. I went to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, known for its colonial architecture and artsy community. I loved it, but Rob still loved the verdant and primitive Costa Rican jungles. We tried for a couple of years, but we couldn’t resolve the question of where to live so we went our separate ways, divorcing in 2011.
I settled for a few months in California, wanting to find a new partner and working hard at online dating. Based on a post titled, Come Walk with Me in France, I met someone who introduced me to long distance walking. In April 2011 we started in Le Puy, France and finished 1000 miles and two months later in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. But, I needed a home base so I decided to create a life in San Miguel. I screwed up my courage and bought a hovel to remodel. I was hooked on long distance walking so right after buying the hovel in 2012, I headed back to France and walked 600 miles from Arles, France to Pamplona, Spain.
I returned to San Miguel working on the design/construction of my new hovel/home (Casa Caramba). In the fall, Rob and I, missing each other and having learned a lot, tried yet another time to reunite, meeting in Cancun for a week’s experiment/vacation. It went well and three weeks later, he moved in with me in San Miguel and we’ve been together since :). We’re a great design/build team and Casa Caramba’s success is due to our combined effort and talents. It’s an urban compound with our home, my art studio and two gorgeous vacation rental apartments, plus many, green features. Rob heads down to Costa Rica often for surfing.
In 2014 I introduced Rob to long distance walking via the Tour de Mont Blanc, a two week walk around Mont Blanc, through France, Switzerland and Italy, and back to France. In 2015 we completed a two week trek on the Stevenson Trail in France, plus riding bikes in Provence. Current projects include developing a boutique hotel in San Miguel de Allende, and I am starting a new lifestyle blog. Stay tuned for our next adventures…..