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. dang, we must have driven up the same day to start school at UCSB in the fall of ’94. How crazy is that? I started the whole family thing a few years later but I experience a lot of the same emotions. I always say, I started adult life there, and I’d like to get back before it’s all said and done. A little piece of heaven on earth…

  2. Incredibly wonderful post, Tara. So powerfully said and photgraphed. Makes me feel even closer to you, and to admire you and Jeff even more. Especially appreciate your comments about McKenna and allowing her to be herself and yet to somehow find the balance in that. To share your life story in such a way is remarkable. Love you and Jeff and the kids. Hope you’ll be back up here sooooooon! oxoxoxox

  3. Isn’t it funny how photos and words can evoke quite different reactions? I think the whole came together when I looked at the photos again after reading your story. Thanks for sharing your amazing talent, hisory and present.

  4. I felt the emotion in the pics of you and your husband, then read your post and it made them a thousand times more meaningful. Didn’t expect to come here and cry today, but it was a good cry. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Wow, I came to SB to go to UCSB — smelled the ocean, the tar, and the eucalyptus trees — then moved away like everyone else, but ended up coming back more than 10 years ago. I’ll be here forever now, and I’m grateful. You captured my town beautifully – I recognize every shot. And I love your story – it’s always bittersweet, isn’t it? It’s rare to ever have all of the parts of our heart in one place, even if it’s a beautiful place, and maybe it’s the feelings of pain and loss that come and go in waves — and sometimes bring us to our knees — that teach us to savor the joy and beauty that we do find.

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