architecture, books, historic preservation, Uncategorized

The Story of Buildings

School is back in session and that means I’m on a roll with our family’s routines. Nightly routine, morning routine, homework routine, exercise routine, meal planning, college football schedule, soccer practice….I could go on and on.

Perhaps my love of routine has something to do with my desire to be in control of my life, which I know is never truly possible nor do I actually want it to be, but I do like knowing that I have the ability, for the most part, to craft a schedule with a rhythm that suits our family. As much as we love travel and adventure, we also love being at home. There are a few elements of our routine that we’ve made a point to commit to this year. Perhaps the most rewarding has been nightly reading with our kids.


It’s relatively easy to send my 4th grader to his room to read for 30 minutes in the evening. It’s not that hard to put aside 10 minutes to help my Kindergartener work through an early reader. It is nearly impossible to to wrangle two boys, a hard-working hubby, and my never-slow-down-self to the front porch swing to read a book aloud and together each evening. Miraculously, we have a couple-evenings-a-week streak going for us. I even think we’re all enjoying it!

It’s no secret that I’ve hand-picked many books in my kids’ library specifically because they discuss my favorite subject: architecture. The more I study and work in the fields of preservation and design, I can’t shake my observation that we have so much room for improvement in the way we shape our built environment.  It’s really important to me to pass along to my boys a way of seeing our world that considers buildings old and new. Buildings can “tell” us about ourselves through their architecture, but we need eyes to see and an architectural language to translate their message. The Story of Buildings opens children’s eyes to all types of architecture, providing a thoughtful and design-focused perspective of our world.


When we disregard our historic built environment and are apathetic about new construction, we let quick, cheap, and easy rule the day. Whether we acknowlegde it or not, buildings contribute to the way a place makes us feel, and that sense of place is one of the most important factors in creating a vibrant, healthy community.

My kids probably haven’t picked all of this up from our recent nightly readings, but it’s my hope that their little brains absorb the fact that architecture matters. It’s powerful. It visually tells us what people value and what they do not.

People build buildings for purposes other than practical ones. They want them to show others what they care about and what they believe in. So they make them as beautiful as possible – or sometimes, if they’re making a fortress or prison, as scary as possible. And that’s why buildings change the way we feel. They can fill us with awe or calm, joy or dread. They can be so beautiful that we never want to leave or so ugly that we hurry out the door, vowing never to go back.

Buildings are far more than piles of brick or frames of steel, because every one, no matter how large or small, carries the dreams of the people who made it. When you look at a building, you wonder who lives or works there. When you visit a building, you ask yourself who built it and why. And as you stare at buildings and wonder about the people inside them, you understand that that’s what makes them so special.

Every building has a story to tell.

One of the reasons I believe historic preservation is important is because it allows buildings to continue to tell their stories – our stories – through architecture. I hope the passage above encourages you to give more thought to the built environment in which you live, work, and play, and if you need a book to guide you along the way, The Story of Buildings is a great one for the entire family.


The Dreams Within Those Pages

“I would be most content if my children would grow up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” –Anna Quindlen

As a teacher with an upcoming week-long break for Thanksgiving, the thing I am most looking forward to is reading. This may seem ironic, seeing that I am an English teacher and the majority of what I do at work is teach literature and poetry, most days reviewing the same piece five times a day with my five classes of junior English. Though I do utterly adore those days when I can discuss Atticus Finch to no end or repeatedly debate the mental state and motivation of J. Alfred Prufrock, there is something about picking up a book into which I have not yet dove; it is like getting on a plane to fly to a place never visited–the anticipation and excitement of the unknown leaves me in a state of complete bliss. Will this be one that I will read again and again and maybe even incorporate into my curriculum? Or will it be a doozie? Either way, following its end, I will have something to say, questions to ask and debate, and some poor soul that crosses my path soonest to my finishing will find themselves privy to the discussion of my most recent adventure. Besides my mother (and long before my infatuation with music), books were my first love. I am enamored by the way words can be put together to cause an emotion that goes beyond this world, whether it be the gut-wrenching pain of an unrequited love poem or the indescribable hope that comes from a novel which delves into the human existence in a way that reminds the heart of its original intention. I have been smitten with libraries from the time I first set foot into one and there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing my own children reading. 

My love for all things old began as a direct result of my love for the written word. I remember reading the Little House on the Prairie series as a young child and being utterly smitten with the old way of doing things and the way that simple things brought the family some of their happiest moments and memories. Blankets were warmer because of the love that went into stitching them. The big pot that lay over the fire symbolized survival. I lived there on that prairie with the Ingalls family–I would completely leave my own world and enter theirs each time I opened a volume. So it should come as no surprise that books are a major part of my decorating style. There are several books in every room, though I only own one bookcase, which I purchased a few years back in Canton, Texas. 


The books I use to decorate with are, of course, old and most of them are from the library at my school. One day our librarian approached me, saying she new I liked old books and asking if I would be interested in looking through several boxes filled with old books she was throwing out, which were no longer needed there. I told her I absolutely did not want to look through them because I would take them ALL. Two strong boys and several trips to my truck later, the grin on my face was a dead giveaway that I had struck gold. I couldn’t wait to get home that afternoon and sort through them, inhaling, in spades, that sweet scent which book pages emit. They found homes on the aforementioned bookcase, on a shelf above the shelf which hold our most-used dishes on my kitchen wall, on small shelves and desks in my childrens’ rooms, and a few here and there as place holders and pretties in the dining and living rooms: 




I especially covet old children’s books. Making me absolutely giddy, grandmother recently gave me her set of Childcraft children’s books, which I would enjoy each time I went to her house as a child. These remind me of my first love and I have always found the simple, vivid illustrations to be the embodiment of happiness. I buy these treasures almost every time I come across them. At the most recent estate sale Megan and I attended, I found these beauties. I especially love the pale blue one about language:


I am not sure if I will simply display these in my son’s room or use them as artwork, as I did in my bathroom a couple of years ago:


Finding some of your favorite pages and adding them to simple frames (most of these are from Goodwill and given a quick coat of spray paint) is a cheap, wondrous, and sometimes eclectic way to fill the walls of your home. I have also done this with a favorite poem or two, which adds a dramatic and romantic element to any wall space.

Making the most of the way your home FEELS is a simple matter of filling it with those things which take you back to a place of joy. My home is stuffed with artifacts that, for whatever reason, take me back to my childhood, which was a carefree time of wonderment and magic. These things, therefore, bring me a little piece of that time and make my present, which is often stressful and busy, encompass a little bit of that freedom I found all those years ago. They also remind me of my main purpose, which is to ensure that my children will some day look back on this time in their lives as magical, as well. We read and we wonder and we dream and we ask questions. We turn the dining room into a far away kingdom, filled with castles and dragons, using a few old sheets and our imaginations, which are extra BIG because of the stories we enjoy each night. I hope they will find hope and promise in times of trials when they think about characters like Laura Ingalls. I hope they will find warmth in a Frost poem and the memory of snuggling up in one of their great-grandmother’s old quilts some winter long ago. And, like Anna Quindlen, whose quote graced the start of this blog, I hope bookshelves are their main concern when they someday find a new home and that they will remember their first home and all of the books there and their crazy momma and her crazy love for reading. And I hope they smile a little when they think about the possibilities in those books–decorating possibilities, sure, but mostly the possibilities in the dreams held within those pages and, hopefully, their hearts.