I never would have thought one simple word would have such an impact on me personally this year. Home. We are back at our Lower School Home after three months of being displaced due to the tragic mudflow in Montecito in the early morning hours of January 9. We are back home. Below is a blog post I was working on before I left school on Friday, January 5.


(Originally written on January 5, 2018.) Ironically, it all started back in August when the Lower School teachers had a professional development workshop on an inquiry-based reading comprehension program called Junior Great Books. “Junior Great Books is a program that through Shared Inquiry™ discussions of enduring literature, we advance social and civic engagement and help people of all ages think critically about their own lives and the world we share. We inspire students to explore essential ideas in literature, past and present, worth talking about. We teach students how to think critically, igniting a passion for ideas that establish a foundation for learning and growth.”

Exciting, right?! Each unit begins with students exploring the topic about which the story or poem relates. For our training purposes, we were reading the story Gaston by William Saroyan. The question we were set to answer was “What makes a place a home?” (During this process, all students are encouraged to share their ideas. All students are asked to respectfully listen to the ideas shared.) Our training group came up with many answers, but we all agreed that home is more than just a physical place, it is a place where we are with our family, and it can be anywhere, as long as we are with those family members.

Ahhhh. Home.

Fast forward to the night of December 5….the Thomas Fire had been burning less than 24 hours and was heading towards my family’s home, the place where I have lived with my husband and four children for more than 13 years.

The view of the Thomas Fire from our backyard on December 5, 2017.

As a precaution, I told the children to pack a bag with their most special items while I grabbed them three days worth of clothes. My oldest daughter took a photo of her and her friend at graduation and her favorite stuffed bear. My middle daughter took her dress from her first birthday and a bag of her stuffed animals. My youngest daughter took her landscape painting that she made in third grade and her framed pictures with her grandparents from Grandfriends’ Day. We loaded the car and headed to my parents’ house five miles away. Two days later we moved to a friends house in Santa Barbara where we spent three days watching the smoke get denser and denser. I received daily updates from my husband who had stayed behind to protect the ranch. The fire had burned down the backside of Rincon Mountain and slowly approached my mother-in-law’s avocado orchard. With the help of the orchard irrigation and the firebreak my husband had bulldozed, only two avocado trees (and a lot of brush) were burned. My husband then turned his attention to the backside of the property where our house and avocado orchards are.

In the early morning hours of December 10, my husband called to say that our house was now in danger.

The view out our bedroom window around 2am on December 10 as the fire burned over the Chismahoo Mountain. My husband said the flames were “a mile wide and 100 feet high.”

Meanwhile, I had escaped the smoke and taken the children to Big Bear. On our seventh night away from home, my middle daughter burst into tears. “Mom, this just isn’t home.  I want to be home!” I thought back to my Junior Great Books training and our definition of the word home….being with family.  My husband was still back on the ranch working tirelessly to protect it from burning. There was no way he would be joining us anytime soon. How could I make this house home without him? This was when my definition of home began to change. Not only did the girls miss their dad, but they missed the familiarity of our home and our routines. I began to realize that while we want home to be our family members together, to my family, home is so much more.  I ordered family pictures to add to picture frames. I brought in the holiday quilt I had made 15 years ago. We purchased a Christmas tree and decorated it. But it still wasn’t home. I couldn’t shake the thoughts from our Junior Great Books training!

Thanks to the hard work of the firefighters, my husband, and a group of our friends, our house was spared. They worked to save the some of orchard around us. We were finally reunited as a family after two weeks but still were not able to go home. Back in August during the Junior Great Book training, I was adamant that a home can be anywhere, as long as I am with my family. While that remains true, for my family, home is also the place where we have made memories. It is our photo albums, our dishes, our own beds, and our routines. I was really surprised to realize in the wake of this disaster, that material items do matter my family and me. I am so thankful that our home is intact.

So on Monday, when I finally arrived home after being away for most of December, I started to take down our Christmas tree. It was this ornament that I received from my mother more than 20 years ago that suddenly has more meaning. Thankfully, we still have our home.

The kindergarten class will begin their first unit using Jr. Great Books next month. I will be sure to keep you posted!