Coming Home by k.d. lang (click to play)

HOME just may be one of the most emotional words in the English language. This simple four-letter word evokes complex sentiments – misty-eyed memories, frustrated anger, adolescent angst, deep and utter contentment. Thousands of songs have been written on the subject; I know because I recently made a playlist of forty-eight songs about home, and those are just the ones that I like. Home is a structure, a place, a feeling, maybe even a person. Home is not just where your heart is – it is IN your heart. Home may not be a necessity for human survival, but it is vital for human happiness. And since we can’t always control the home we live in, we have to make happy homes in our hearts.

It seems like home should be a solid, unchanging entity, but in reality, homes are in a constant state of flux. I suppose the home I grew up in is the epitome of the word home. My parents have lived there for fifty-three years now, and aside from a few minor changes, it looks and feels relatively the same as it did for the eighteen years I spent my childhood in it. The great Mulberry Tree I loved to climb has been chopped down, the succulent fig tree we plucked warm juicy figs from on hot summer days bit the dust, and long gone is the zipline that spanned our backyard. But the playhouse my dad built still stands proud even though it’s filled with gardening junk, and my old bedspread still covers my little twin bed although my mother thankfully painted out those bright orange walls that illuminated my teen years. My childhood home was the simplest of homes – a humble structure filled with pure, quiet love. Perhaps that is the secret to its longevity.

Haus Wartenberg ~ January 1982

I left my childhood home to go to college in California and essentially never moved back. Since then I have lived in a variety of homes, as have most of us over-thirty-somethings. The fun and funky Haus Wartenberg that I resided in during my study abroad in Salzburg wins the prize for the most distinctive home of my life. This traditional European house was built in 1654 and is located in the heart of Salzburg, one of the coolest medieval towns in the world, no exaggeration. It was my home-away-from-home for five magical months, and I have nothing but the fondest of memories from this quirky old place. The Salzburg Semester has been a beloved program at the University of Redlands for over fifty years, and I was fortunate to be among the group of thirty-five students during the Fall of ’81. I lived up in the penthouse suite with four friends, where the bathroom ceiling was sloped so low that we could barely stand upright, which is probably why we washed our hair maybe once a week and shaved our legs even less frequently. I loved the skylight window in the slanted ceiling above my bed where I spent hours daydreaming and gazing at the amazing Austrian scenery when I should have been studying my paltry German and European History. We all lived, studied, and made a lot of mischief in Haus Wartenberg, but our home-away-from-this-home was the Augustiner Bräustübl, the legendary local beer hall famous for its beers, brats and bosnas. The biggest accomplishment that was a must for every merrymaker on the program was to become a member of the Fünf Liter Club, which entailed drinking five liters of beer in one sitting. Heck yes, I joined this illustrious club one murky night, securing my rightful place in the Aug family home.

Was it any wonder that I wanted to re-visit these sentimental old homes – both Haus Wartenberg and the Aug – on a recent family vacation to Austria? I hadn’t been back to Salzburg in over thirty years, but that woozy comfy feeling of home flooded my heart as we drove into town. We stepped it up a notch and stayed at the exquisite Hotel Schloss Mönchstein on top of the Mönchsberg, a place I never even dreamed of back in my college days. And although I needed a map to sniff out my way back to the Aug, the smell of beer and bosnas nearly took my breath away the second I walked in. Home. My dreams of re-visiting the Fünf Liter Club, however, were dashed immediately after I ordered einem liter of beer. Holy cow, how did one scrawny girl drink five of those things? You can definitely go back home, but it might be a good idea to temper your expectations of that mystical place.

Haus Wartenberg ~ July 2012

The next day, my expectations were firmly in check as I took my daughters to see Haus Wartenberg. I really had no idea what to expect. I knew that the U of R Salzburg Program stopped using the old house years ago and I knew that it was now a family-owned hotel, but that was the extent of my knowledge. It was surreal that I had to consult with my iphone to find the place that I used to find my way home to on the murkiest of nights, especially since the only phone available back then to call home was in the post office. But the second we stumbled upon my old Haus, the old feelings welled up all over again. It looked amazingly the same as it did thirty years ago, greeted as we were with the peaceful courtyard shaded by huge old trees. With the exception of the word “Hotel” written above Haus Wartenberg on the entrance sign and the Italian ristorante converted to a classic Austrian eatery, it was all just as I remembered it, down to the worn and musty antique furnishings. We wandered upstairs as if in a dream and were greeted warmly by the manager. He gave us the “grand tour” complete with a sneak peek at the penthouse suite that was my home. I could hardly breathe, feeling like I was twenty-one all over again. It was all so familiar in a faraway kind of way. My girls and I decided that we would have to step back down off the glitzy Mönchsberg and stay at Hotel Haus Wartenberg the next time we come home to Salzburg.

My thoughts have been strongly focused on home during this time of transition at 2377 Hagen Oaks. So many comings and goings. Our homeless son-for-a-year moving out as he heads off to college. Our middle child moving back home after her college graduation from her Boulder home. Our oldest child coming home from Chicago to visit, filling the house with all three children for one precious weekend. Our youngest child moving to her Shanghai home for the semester. All of this movement begs the question: where is home? Home is in your heart, and you can take it with you, wherever you may live. Make yours a happy home.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yasmine Austere
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 18:03:15

    Love it! Thanks so much

    Warm Regards,


  2. bldittmore
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 20:22:33

    What a timely blog for the Dittmores. After 2 months of Chris’ home being his bike, and 1 month of mine being the car we were in Westport CT last night with Sarah. We lived there while Sarah went to kindergarten and preschool. We had dinner at the little pizza place she and I would go to some days after school and drove by the beach, library and house where we had such good “best buddies” time. Today we dropped her off at her new home for the next 4 years….the dorm at NYU. All this while Eric makes a new home for himself at our cabin in Tahoe. So many memories of home have been made and are still to be made. Thanks for sharing Jana.


  3. Paul Mortensen
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 15:22:26

    One of your best young lady!!! I remember the Augustiner beer hall very well in Salzburg when I visited many years ago over New Years (1980). I also remember well, calling the Heartl home in Tacoma to find out what was going on in all the football bowl games (especially Notre Dame) that day. Love it!!!



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