35 diptychs from Santa Barbara

Jeff and I moved to Santa Barbara in 1994 to attend UCSB the summer after I graduated from high school. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, we decided to move into our first apartment together instead of living on campus separately. We were on our own and couldn’t afford on campus housing. At the end of my first year of college we were surprised with a pregnancy (Mckenna, who is now 15), and so we chose to drop out of school temporarily and move back to southern California. That first year on our own was full of fear, excitement, and many life lessons as we tried to make a life together.

We haven’t been back in almost ten years.

Taking our children back to visit and show them where we started was very bittersweet. All of the “might have beens” and memories from our time there flooded back to me the second I rolled down the windows and smelled Santa Barbara for the first time again. I had forgotten how it smells there. Like ocean and tar. I felt alternately 18 and angsty, and 34 and content. I was thankful for large sunglasses that first day, because I spontaneously burst into tears several times. Overwhelmed in good and bad ways. It was emotional for me.

We drove the kids around to see our first apartment, spent time on campus, ate at all of our favorites, shopped, and spent a relaxing week together. Mckenna, the one who started it all, was not with us as you can see. She has decided not to join us on most of our outings and adventures, and there is nothing we can do to change her mind. For the foreseeable future, Mckenna will be staying with caregivers anytime we go out.

We were so very young when we started our life together. I can hardly believe we have made it almost 20 years. I’ll just pretend the confetti was for us.

I love you Santa Barbara.


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  1. freebirds! state street! wow, so many memories come flooding back, just frm this post. scott & i also started, in many ways, in santa barbara, beginning to date long-distance at the start of my last year at ucsb.

    when i left, i was ready. ready to leave. ready to leave the college lifestyle i had grown out of months, maybe even years prior. ready to start the life i had been waiting to begin. ready to get out. i left the morning of graduation, driving out of isla vista as others were walking in cap and gown to the graduation ceremony that i skipped.

    thinking i may be ready to finally go back for a visit.

  2. I am glad you did this for yourself. What a gift. So much history, so many memories, and not just memories, but that small feeling inside, when you become your 18 year old self again just for a moment. Fleeting, but real. My heart is bursting for you.

  3. I always love your photos from your adventures. Everyone so very in the moment and enjoying each other’s company. Lovely!

    I appreciate the pull at your heart having one of your “chicks” not with you on these trips. I have a son with special needs who has such a hard time when he is out of his routine, and our family vacation this summer was so difficult (for all of us) because of it. I have considered leaving him at home, where he is most comfortable/happy…Thank you for sharing your story about McKenna. It helps me more than you can possibly know.

  4. The pictures of you and your husband are always my favorites. And I love the pic of all of you. Beautiful. And here’s to many more years and tons of confetti. Santa Barbara just made it on my list of places to visit.

  5. I love this post. I love that you went back to where you started with your kids. I love that I can relate to so many of the pictures you captured….the beach, freebirds, state street. I was at UCSB at the very same time. Started Fall of 1993 and graduated Spring of 1997. SB has such a special, special place in my heart and is my ultimate “if I could live anywhere in the world” place…..I would live in SB. So glad you had a fabulous time and thanks for sharing this. :)

  6. Was it fiesta time there? That was when I got my tattoo – in Santa Barbara during summer break from UCSB. GO GAUCHOS!!!!! When I saw Jefe holding Drew’s feet my first thought was “tar.” ha ha Love the pics. Glad it was great for you.

  7. oh….I love to read your blog….it always makes me feel good to see your family together….to see that your children still like you…mine are 5 and 1….I often wonder if I can possibly convince my son to still love me in a few years….you give me hope that it’s all going to be alright! thank you

  8. oh dear – i have tears in my eyes – that is so bittersweet – I know how it feels to go back to where it all began and wonder what if…..but you only have to look at your family now and that photo of jeff breathing you in – to know that you are exactly where you belong, exactly where you are supposed to be.

    beautiful post – thank you. xx

  9. oh tara. oh tara. i very seriously considered writing you a personal message, but i’ll put it here. first things first, i have that same bag. from target. so, soulmates? cool. second…many many times when i have read your entries i have breathed heavy, knowing and having felt many of the same things as you. when i was 19 i got pregnant with my first child, Jack, who is now almost 6 and about to lose his first tooth. for the last 6 years…well…i think you probably have a good idea how the story goes. more and more i relate to you and more and more i am grateful that you share your story and journey with all of us. i really really hope i’m one of the lucky ones who gets to meet you someday. really really. xo

  10. Oh wow, Tara. I am AMAZED by all you have accomplished. Don’t regret not being able to go back–because it’s incredible how far forward you’ve gone.

    BTW, I’ve been following your blog for several years and never have gotten tired of it. It always seems fresh and new.

  11. Tara… I LOVE your blog and Photography…the pictures of your beautiful family make me melt!!!!! Your pictures always make me smile and are so amazing!

  12. did you get tar on your feet? ;) we used to have to use turpentine to get it off… so, oddly enough i like that smell now. happy memories of summer i guess. we were 20 and 21 when we found out that we were having d. we were surprised, but committed. and maybe a little crazy and a lot naive… but you kind of have to be right? she turned 7 in july. when i read your blog, it reminds me that even though it takes so.much.work, it’s worth it. we can be some of the lucky ones that make it and grow old together with our beautiful babes. thank you.

  13. Oh Tara I love this post. Now I need to sit at my computer with MY big sunglasses on. My husband and I set out to college together as well and for lack of funds ended up in a small loft apartment together…we were not surprised with a pregnancy but many other surprises popped up and my husband left school to work full time. We now live a few hours away and visit our old college town a few times each year and the emotions are always stirred in me as well…so your story really struck a chord with me. Your family is beautiful and I can feel how special Santa Barbara is to you in this post. Thanks for sharing your words and stories with us. You always amaze and inspire me:)

  14. Do you realize Tara that when we see you have posted something new it is like a little gift for us? Maybe I am speaking for myself, but I bet everyone else feels that way too…Thank you so much for sharing :)

  15. Love this! Wonder if you would be up for an interview? I am going to be a sophomore at Renassiance High School for the Arts in Long Beach and I believe you have a lot to offer. We can do it on camera or for the school paper, also, no pressing deadline, so feel free to mull it over. Thank you.

  16. Seeing your trip to SB makes me love it even more. I moved to SB 2. years ago to date my (now) husband in the same town before we got married. We now have a little one, and not knowing how long we’ll be able to live here, I can see us taking the same trip several years from now to show him where our family began too. xoxo

  17. Hi Tara!

    I always love reading your blog but I especially enjoyed this post! We recently went on vacation and we took our 4 children to the house in FL that I moved to right after I went through a horribly painful divorce. I moved 2,000 miles away from all my family and friends with 2 babies. I didn’t know a soul, had no job and at 27 was starting from scratch. It was the best decision I’ve made in my life. I broke the cycle of abuse we were living and my kids have grown up happy and safe. I have since remarried and had 2 more beautiful children. Going back to that house was so emotional. I had not anticipated how overwhelmed I would be seeing it again..and the neighbors, just being there again..wow. So….I’ve probably shared more then I should and I really just wanted to say thanks for the awesome post. You rock!



  18. your description of how you felt when you went back to santa barbara….? how i felt looking at these photos. how i feel when i see photos and the love that you and jeff share. it’s bittersweet for me, because i miss what i had with james. you know i’m not saying this to make you feel uncomfortable, or to make it harder for you to post what you want on your own blog. i love that you post beautiful photos of you and jeff (and your family). it makes me happy, too, that there is still awesome all encompassing love out there between two people. that it overflows to their children. i was thinking today, as i drove home from portland, i spend a great deal of time with the ‘james’ portion of my life completely shut down and tucked away, rarely to be savored and remembered. because it hurts too much.to be able to function, and give the boys what they deserve, i consciously put that all away. but there are times, like now, when i am alone (momentarily), that i can remember without fear of upsetting the boys, making them worry. so i thank you for that. because if that didn’t happen i would at some point, probably explode. ;-) i feel like i’ve come a long way, but there are times when i miss james and the life we shared so much it still takes my breath away. i *heart* you, my friend.

  19. Oh my. This post made me tear up. Just after we were married in 2003, my new husband and I (lifelong east coasters) moved out to Santa Barbara for his graduate program. We lived above a Hot Tub shop in Old Town Goleta for our first home, and ate at Freebirds many nights. We were so out of our element for many months, and now these pictures remind me of a vivid time in our life where we learned to be us and to learned to be on our own. Thanks for being a reminder.

  20. Love this set of photos! Especially the one of you and your husband with him in the crook of your neck. I can almost hear him breathing you in, its one of those moments. Love it!

  21. Oh it does have a very specific smell doesn’t it. You said that as I was thinking it….

    I was born here…oddly enough my parents were in a similar situation as you. However my dad, took me in as a 6 week old, to sway for family housing.

    Anyway…lovely images! Sorry your oldest wasn’t with you….but I gotta say I am so glad you let her make these decisions for herself and honor them!

  22. Thank you for posting this. I am also a young mum and it is so nice to have someone to ‘look up to’, to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I long for that content with life feeling and hope it will come in the near future. I love seeing photos of your family together, you seem so close. I also love your clothing style! Where do you buy your clothes?

    Great post. xx

  23. Ahhh, beautiful pictures. I went to uni once…in York, a beautiful historical olde world city about 200 miles from my parents and friends. I lasted a year and never went back due to homesickness. I still regret that to this day… But then I might never have met Arron! I love your posts, keep them coming :) xxx

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