The Thomas Fire: My Thoughts One Month Later

One month later. It’s January 5th and it’s a new year. But this year, it’s so much more than that for so many reasons. A month ago, my hometown of Ventura was hit hard by the Thomas Fire. On this day, last month, December 5th, life changed not only for me but for those I love dearly—and unfortunately, to a much greater degree.

I woke up in Concord, Massachusetts that Tuesday and it was 4:30 am on the east coast. I had been speaking the evening prior and was enjoying my stay at the “haunted” Colonial Inn. As I got ready for my flight, it was 1:30 am in California and I figured all my family and friends were fast asleep, getting ready for the Tuesday ahead. I turned on CNN to try and help me wake up and they began reporting on a fire in Santa Paula—my dad’s hometown. Santa Paula is about 20 minutes from Ventura so naturally, I was worried, but I was not gravely concerned at this point.

Not really expecting a response, I texted my dad to say that I heard about the fire. What happened from there was when it all took a turn. My dad responded with a picture of the backyard and said that actually, they were being told to evacuate. WHAT? I started to panic as I was in the Uber ride on the way to the Boston airport. My dad calmed me down (it probably should have been the other way around) and he told me it would be okay. But would it? I also texted my best friend, Lauren, to find out if she was impacted by the recent news. Indeed, her parents were being told to evacuate as well. To top it off, Tuesday was Lauren and my mom’s birthday. Unbelievable.

It killed me to get on that plane from Boston to Chicago. It was horrible not knowing what would happen. Before I boarded the flight to Chicago, we knew the fire was bad but homes were okay at that point. I landed in Chicago finally and made desperate calls as soon as I hit the runway. My parents were officially evacuated and they grabbed everything that they could; documents, our cat, my wedding dress, among other things. At that point, we did not know if our home was okay or not. We all waited minute by minute. I called Lauren and I’ll never forget her saying how unimaginable it would be if her family’s home burned down on her birthday. I remember us saying that it would be impossible. That couldn’t happen. No way.

But it did. The next leg of my flight was from Chicago to LAX and I sat on the plane visibly praying for much of the flight. Social graces were out the window that day. I felt jarred as I could see the giant plume of smoke, even from the air landing into LAX. As soon as we landed, I texted Lauren for an update.

She called me and told me the news, “My parents’ house burned down.”

There are no words to describe the immediate sadness and terror that I felt in that moment. “No, no, no” was all that I could say. I was gripped with an unbearable sadness and I sobbed on the plane (sorry I’m not sorry seat partners). Lauren and I felt angry, shocked, unbelievably sad—how could this happen?? So much was lost; her diplomas, her wedding dress, her pictures, her dolls, (her childhood)—so, so much.

I talked to my parents to find out that miraculously, our home was spared. Every time I drive home, I still feel shocked that it stands, as does our neighborhood. You look across the street from us and the mountain is charred down to the road. The trees now black poles, the birds of paradise are messy stumps, the hillside—a row of chimneys. In many ways, I feel undeserving of having my home still; seeing the Christmas tree, using the Christmas dishes, sleeping in my own bed at home—all of these things that I so very often appreciate but never truly sit with the solidness of it all; until you think about how all of these things have become ashes for so many. I think about how my family was fortunate enough to drive up to a place that stands intact while so many pulled up to nothingness. And like an evil bag of popcorn, the loss feels so random yet realized. It’s hard to sit with.

This month was one of the longest but I know that for those that lost their homes, it felt much longer. Life “goes back to normal” for so many who were nearly impacted but narrowly escaped. Yet for those that lost everything, it has been a tireless effort to find housing, clothing, peace. Essentially, homeless.

I’ve had many emotional reactions during this process. Sadness, depression, angst, fear, numbness. I must say, one of my gripes is when people say, “At least you’re alive. A house is just full of things that can be replaced.” I am thankful to be alive. I am TREMENDOUSLY thankful for the first responders (especially my Uncle Chris who helped my family and so many others in numerous ways). And sure, a fork can be replaced. But those forks that were used around a precious meal that was held every year? That is not so easy to replace. Or what about a coffee mug? Sure, replaceable. But that mug meant many mornings, waking up early while feeding the dog. These “things” held countless memories and even though some may say they don’t matter, they hold so many stories behind them and losing it all feels like a thousand little deaths. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, I’m just mourning the loss of so many “things” that had lives of their own. The Lumieres, Cogsworths, and Mrs. Potts of the world will understand that I hope.

I have this feeling of sadness because losing Lauren’s home felt like losing my own home in a way. Lauren and I have been best friends, like sisters, since we were babies. I grew up in that house. I remember the backyard where we built the fort and where we played on the swing. I remember playing with Barbie dolls in her playroom and stealing Lauren’s mom’s Barbie wedding doll dress (don’t worry, I gave it back when we were 21). I remember stacking pillows in her parents’ bed, building a “ship” and watching the scary Snow Queen movies. Watching Shrek for the first time in the den and laughing hysterically. Playing piano together and learning “Heart and Soul.” Baking cookies in the kitchen. I know that house is well memorialized in my heart and mind but it hurts to know that I can’t go back and see it, feel it, in person anymore.

I suppose it’s taken me a month to get to this place where I can write about the Thomas fire. I don’t think it’s coincidental that I’ve been procrastinating writing and then it dawned on me that I needed to write TODAY. There is still so much healing that needs to be done. This rebuilding is going to take years. I have learned through this tragedy that gratitude and memories are everything. Savoring special moments with people matters. Telling them you love them is everything. When someone asks, “What can I do to help?” it’s better to simply do what you can than ask.

With this new year, I am reminded of how we will always rise up. Ventura is strong and just as our cross still stands, I know our community will, too. I see stories of survivorship everywhere. It’s in the little bunnies (and rats!) that made it and find ways to eat my mom’s succulents (she loves that). It’s people who have been so generous with their time, money, and hearts to help where they can. One story comes to mind particularly, especially being the cat lady that I am.

A group of cats down by Carpentaria used to come to our family friend’s neighborhood every day for food and they would oblige. Sadly, only one cat survived the fire. His paws were charred, his fur burnt, and his little cat face looked sullen. But our family friend scooped him up, took him to the vet, and helped rescue him. They named him Phoenix.

And like Phoenix, we will rise through these ashes and rebuild our hearts and homes. Our homes may have been shaken to the core, but my I know my faith stands stronger than ever. Because for as much devastation as I have seen, I have seen so much more love, compassion, and courage and that, among many other reasons, is why I love Ventura.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Hello friends! I love featuring different speakers and authors on my page when I’ve been inspired. I did a talk in Santa Ynez and I met the wonderful Shannon Horn. Immediately when you meet her she has a lightness about her that makes you smile. She was generous enough to write a post on my page and she is addressing it to all the Sunny Girls out there. I hope you enjoy her post.

Here is her blog to read more:

How Does Your Garden Grow?

 I am happier now than I’ve ever been, but I can remember as a teenager crying in the shower because I was so sad.  And the saddest part?  I didn’t even know why the gut wrenching tears had me curled in on myself on the shower floor.

I now know ‘why’.  It was because I was missing me.  The me that was my potential, the joyous, loving, kind person I could be.  The smart me, the me that actually followed through, the me that didn’t hold back because I was so afraid.  Afraid, of what exactly, I didn’t know.

Have you ever felt that way?  Afraid and sad and angry, sometimes all at the same time, and not really knowing why?

Many of my girlfriends felt the same way I did, but back then, we didn’t know how to talk about it, let alone how to deal with such a quagmire of ick.  If I knew then, what I know now, maybe I wouldn’t have lived so long with despair and the idea that I wasn’t smart enough, or good enough.

In case no one has told you lately, my dear Sunny Girl, YOU are good enough just the way you are.  You are a miracle.  After all, you are the only YOU there is.  You are a precious being with untold gifts waiting to be unwrapped by you, for you.

But how do you move from feeling so sad and confused and angry to finding joy in the everyday?  You become a gardener, the kind that tends to your heart and mind and body and soul.

Try these 4 steps to become the cultivator of good enough-ness and joy in your life.

Step 1:  Make a Decision

Step 2:  Create Some Space to Grow

Step 3:  Plant the seeds of Gratitude and Joy

Step 4:  Tend with Great Care

Step 1:  Make a Decision:

Every day, people are telling you what to do.  Your parents, your teachers, even your friends have an opinion on who you should be, how you should act, feel, dress….  But what if YOU decided you want things to be different?  That YOU are tired of being sad, or angry, or quiet.  The first step is acknowledging you want things to be different and then making room in your mind and heart and body and soul for things to be different.

Step 2:  Create Some Space to Grow

To plant a garden, you need a sacred space.  That sacred space is YOU, my dear Sunny Girl.  But if you are full of anger, and sorrow, and shame, or blame, or the dis-ease of not good enough-ness, some serious weeding is in order.  It’s hard to bloom, when you’re suffocating from weeds of negativity.

The best way I know to weed out negativity is to write it out.  Grab some paper and a pen, and write for 3 whole pages without stopping.  This is not a grammar or spelling test.  There is no censor here.  Think of this as yanking free the weeds of ick and letting them land on the page.  Write whatever comes up and spills out.  By putting your feelings on the page, you’re preparing the soil for a new crop of seeds ~ of ideas and feelings ~ to prosper and grow.

Step 3:  Plant seeds of Gratitude and Joy

What are the seeds you want to plant in your newly tilled soil?  This is your garden.  Perhaps you want to nurture more forgiveness in your life, or the willingness to try new things.  Maybe laughter is what you want to see bloom, or the knowledge that you are good enough, smart enough, strong enough….  There is no limit to what you can grow in the garden of your mind and heart and body and soul.

Planting seeds of gratitude and joy are game changers.  Nothing has shifted my attitude from feeling not good enough to loving who I am faster or with more grace.  Start by keeping a Gratitude Journal.  A simple list at the end of the day about what you are thankful for shifts your focus from lack to abundance.  And suddenly your whole world is about what is working, instead of what isn’t.  Know that some days will be full of sunshine and your gratitude list will pour out of you.  Other days will be stormy and grey, and all you might be able to come up with is being grateful the day is finally over.

A Joy Journal is like a Gratitude Journal, only its focus is on what makes you feel good.  Before I go to bed, I write down a list of the things from the day that made me smile, made me laugh, made me feel better.  Anything that brings me joy, from a hummingbird whizzing by my ear, to the comfort of my own bed, gets written down.

I am a true believer in what you focus on blossoms in your life.  I don’t know about you, but I got tired of my angst growing stronger and stronger every day.  Of feeling like I did everything wrong.  Of not trusting myself and thus, not being able to say ‘no’ to what I no longer wanted in my life, or even ‘yes’ to those things I did.  Whether you decide to keep a Gratitude Journal or a Joy Journal each will help put in perspective that your garden needs both the rain and the sun to flourish.

Step 4:  Tend with Great Care

Remember, a gardener must not only prepare the soil, plant the seed, water it, but pull the weeds that persistently keep popping up for the days and weeks and months it takes while waiting for the crop to come to fruition.  This is a gardener’s tender loving care.

My Sunny Girl, remember YOU are the gardener AND the garden.  Tend to yourself with great care while you are growing.  Drink plenty of water, eat good food, sleep more, be creative, exercise, laugh often and laugh hard.  Surround yourself with people who tend to YOU with great care.  It’s hard to nurture the precious seedlings of I am good enough, I am thankful, I am full of joy, when those around you keep stomping all over your precious seedlings.

Gardening is not an easy undertaking.  Neither is shifting your head and heart and body and soul from the darkness into the light.  Be gentle.  Be kind.  Ask for help when you need it.  Wake up each morning ready to pull the weeds of negativity and dump them on the page so you don’t carry them around with you.  Read your Gratitude Journal or your Joy Journal as a reminder of why you are tending to YOU.  Listen to that still small voice within that whispers, “YES, you CAN.”

It is my greatest wish for you that your garden, your LIFE, be bursting forth with the flowers of good enough-ness, and joy and gratitude, and anything else YOU choose to plant in your body and mind and heart and soul.  And may the occasional weed help you pause and take the time to re-evaluate where you are, what you are doing, and why you are doing it.  After all, a weed is a kind of flower.  And YOU get to decide if it stays or if it goes.

Happy Cultivating!



The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Real Talk for the Day

My, it has been a rough couple of weeks. Not only has my heart felt heavy with recent events (the hurricanes, the Las Vegas shooting, and the Sonoma fires), my own life has felt flooded lately. With all the going, going, going, it has left me feeling utterly…gone. I talk so much about self-care and putting on our own oxygen mask first. I have been so busy running around that somewhere along the way I completely forgot to take care of myself. Can I get some oxygen, please?

I am reminded today of how important it is to protect our boundaries and our hearts. I have had to take a close look lately at my intense desire to please everyone else. In my process of saying “yes” all the time to others, I have said “no” to myself as a result. And while it can be so easy in the moment to people please and do what everyone asks, the wear and tear on my body and spirit is a slow and subtle change that has now become prominent.

I realized this on Friday. I had just flown back from speaking at Syracuse University and I as I went to unlock my car, I realized that my keys were not in my purse. With no idea what happened to them, I knew the rest of the day would be a challenge. It was. I have struggled to share my own experience with anxiety, but here it is. I had a full blown panic attack in that Uber ride back to my apartment. I emptied my purse because I thought I was going to throw up. Thankfully I didn’t but it was in that Uber ride that I realized, I need to take better care of myself.

Losing keys happens. There are so many worse things that occur each and every day. But we all reach that breaking point when enough is enough. It’s time to practice what I preach. It’s time to start respecting my heart, my body, and my future. I want to be mindful about what I chose to say yes to, and not live in fear when I need to say no. Even though I worry that I may disappoint others by saying no, I have to remember that respecting myself needs to come as a top priority. When I don’t keep myself healthy, it makes it so much harder to give back graciously and openly. This is the mindset I am take with me in the coming months.

My values are shifting. As I prepare to get married next year, I am reminded of how much I value my relationship with my fiancé and building a home together. I am happiest when I am spending time with those I love. I want to start living with more balance so that I can live in alignment with these values. #priorities

There is my heart dump for the day. So often I keep these things to myself but I am trying this whole humanness thing. This is about becoming a human being, rather than a human doing.

Sending love to you wherever you are at. I know it’s not easy, but I hope you’re able to live in alignment with your values as well. One day at a time, right?

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
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