~{Abandoned…}~* A Flair for the Dramatic and A False Interpretation of Our Architecture. 

In Uncategorized on July 18, 2016 at 11:50 pm

I work at a house museum. So, when work is slow, I have a little down time to play on my phone–I mean, tweak yet another job application and read intellectual stimulating books. Okay, when I need to take a break from that, I go on Pinterest. There, I can browse through hundreds of pictures of everything I’m interested in–home decor, places to travel, clothes I like, tips and tricks for living in the real world  (I need extra help with that).

Recently, I’ve been on a kick where I am pinning pretty much all Italianate houses in any condition. Though the Queen Anne style has been my favorite for years, I’ve grown to appreciate the long, angular, and austere architecture style of the mid-19th century. You can get a huge range of design within the Italianate style. Some are embellished with brackets over every aperture. Some have impressive and imposing eaves that would make some of the Greek Revivals look like vernacular cottages. Others, though, are simpler–though not plainer. These are the ones that I believe best represent the architectural bones of the Italianate style across the country. The ones that are built with white-painted clapboards, the ones that possess tall windows with thin muntins that almost disappear into the glass, leaving facades with large expanses of windows to let in light (and for architectural voyeurs like myself to peek in).


This one is for sale! Who wouldn’t want to live in an Italianate in Vermont? I’m having heart palpitations.


This is my dream right here. The tower’s mansard roof, rounded hood molds–it’s perfect.

In the last few days I noticed a trend on Pinterest that disturbed me for several reasons. Pinterest will bring up recommended pins on your homepage that they think you will like based on your other pins (that disturbs me, though that’s for a different day). So, since I’ve been pinning pictures of Italianate houses, my homepage is now filled with recommended pins of other houses with the style. And I noticed something. Nearly every board title on these recommended pins had the title “Abandoned,” or some variation.

This made me pause and narrow my eyes. Abandoned? How did they know? I typed into the searchbar, “Abandoned.” Board after board popped up under the architecture category. They were filled with “old houses” in the most basic sense. Numerous photographs depicting historic churches and houses filled my screen. I noticed the things they had in common–stripped paint, frame, all or nearly all windows intact, (the appearance of being) structurally sound, in a field. They’re all in a field. Guess you can’t have “abandoned” houses in cities? (Tell that to Detroit!) I clicked on a few of the links that took me to the source. Some were from Flickr, the photo sharing site. Others were from blogs. The overhwhelming majority, though, did not identify the structure, its history, its location, why it was photographed, and, most importantly, why it is labeled as “abandoned.” defines the word “abandoned” as forsaken or deserted. Now, this is the problem I have–so many of these houses would not be considered abandoned by historic preservationists today. In fact, that word really isn’t in our vocabulary. And I think that is a good thing. I like to think of houses as possessing anthropomorphic characteristics, such as pride, loyalty, and a soul. I try not to think ill of any structure. Even the Brutalist hospital building three blocks from my house–I don’t understand the style, I do not like it, but I can appreciate its role in American history and aesthetics and respect that. All structures demand as much respect as we’d give each other–houses especially so, because houses give shelter to people, families, roommates, pets, and everything else people give meaning to. That includes furnishings that have been passed down, portraits of loved ones, and the intangible parts of making a “house”–a structure meant to be lived in– into a “home”–a retreat, a palpable though not physical definition that ascribes being comfortable. I have arrived.  My classmates and I were banned from using the word “home” when describing a structure. It is not a structure, it is an adjective given to a structure that is derived from personal attachment and meaning. I think people have a hard time accepting that, preservationists and laymen alike. It’s asking us to think critically and sometimes brutally but not emotionally, when at its heart, preservation of historic and culturally significant structures is one of the most emotionally-wrought jobs to embrace. I would not be a preservationist if I did not love buildings. If I didn’t want to see another 19th century farm knocked down for a high-density neighborhood in my once-rural hometown. If I didn’t want to cry anymore whenever I learned of a structure that had nobody to fight for it, so it lost its battle without even raising a sword. This brings me back to my problem with people labeling boards full of historic structures as “abandoned.” It implies a human factor, a complex emotional component no one can begin to understand without having experienced it themselves.


The Problem With Country

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2016 at 7:59 pm

The past week I had the family dog, Quincy, with me in Charleston. He needed a little vacation from his puppy sister. She has so much energy and personality that I feel especially confident Quincy could be elevated to sainthood for only occasionally placing a well-placed paw on Sophie’s back to push her away from him. I dropped him back home on Sunday and drove back to Charleston on Monday. The Sunday drive was lovely. Bright, sunny, clear, with drivers confidently speeding down the highway in all lanes. Monday, however, was less enjoyable. 45 minutes into my journey the skies opened and poured down rain for 5 and a half hours of my journey. The stress of passing serious car wrecks caused by the weather and every lane clogged with people driving no more than 58 miles an hour made me irritable and not very excited to arrive back in the Charleston heat, sans Quincy. When I am stuck, like how I felt driving solo down a wet, gray highway, I turn to the one thing that pushes me through–country music from the 1990s and early 2000s.

20 year old country music? Really? If that’s what you first thought, you have likely been affected by the results of country music today on us. I’ll get to that in a minute. Right now, let me explain to you why old country music is the best country music.

The likelihood is very strong that the very first song to ever reach my ears was probably a country song, played on the radio of my parents’ black Nissan Maxima as they drove me home from the hospital in a snowstorm four days after my birth. Though my mother usually has controls over the radio, regardless of who is driving, I’m guessing my father already had the radio tuned into a country music station when they turned on the car. My mother, whose family has Mississippi roots extending before the Civil War, is no fan of the genre. She makes fun of the Rascal Flatts and their drippy emotional songs and Shania Twain’s energetic yelps in her songs that, according to my mom, sounds like a seal, with her usual amount of vigor when criticizing something that displeases her. My father, on the other hand, has listened to country at least as long as I can remember. His family hails from the northeast so I can’t say it was his environment growing up in the 60s and 70s involved any country singers on the radio. It remains a mystery to me why country is his favorite genre. As with pretty much anything else he explains, his reasons are vague and confusing enough that I can’t even recall them.

As soon as I put on Google Play’s “90s Gone Country” playlist, the warm, easy melody of Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria” played through my car’s speakers. This is promising! I told myself. My favorite country song of my childhood. I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but as a kid I didn’t know or care about song lyrics. It was the melodies of the guitars and violins, the harmonies of the singing voices, and the tempos of the songs that appealed to me. Put on any 80s song and ask me to sing along, I won’t get any of the lyrics right, but I will get the title and the name of the artist (“There’s a bad moose on the right” is a great one–such a classic!).

I still remember my British friend telling me the first country song she ever heard. Before she even mentioned the artist, I said “OH NO, DON’T tell me it was–” “WHISKEY LULLABY” we said simultaneously. Obviously, she never wanted to hear another country song as long as she lived. I don’t blame her! It’s beautiful, but that’s a good one to ease into once you’ve heard the happy songs by Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins. You made her cry, Brad Paisley!

Anyway, here’s a list of my favorite country songs. You really can’t expect me to limit this list to one Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, or George Strait song, so they’ve got several listed here.

Trisha Yearwood–She’s in Love with the Boy

Alabama–I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)

John Anderson–Seminole Wind

John Michael Montgomery–Sold

Alan Jackson–Drive

Patty Loveless–I’m That Kind of Girl

Hal Ketchum–Small Town Saturday Night

Diamond Rio–Meet Me in the Middle

Tim McGraw–Something Like That

Mary Chapin Carpenter–Passionate Kisses

Kenny Chesney–How Forever Feels


Garth Brooks–The Thunder Rolls

Tim McGraw–Down on the Farm

Faith Hill–This Kiss

Martina McBride–Wild Angels

Travis Tritt–It’s a Great Day to Be Alive

Brooks & Dunn–My Maria


Joe Nichols–Brokenheartsville

Garth Brooks–Friends in Low Places

Trisha Yearwood–XXX’s and OOO’s

Toby Keith–Should’ve Been a Cowboy

Tim McGraw–Just to See You Smile

Dwight Yoakam–Fast As You

Brooks & Dunn–Play Something Country

Jo Dee Messina–Heads Carolina, Tails California

Brad Paisley–We Danced

Tim McGraw–I like It, I Love It

George Strait–Check Yes or No

Sammy Kershaw–She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful

Garth Brooks–That Summer

Lonestar–Front Porch Looking In

Tim McGraw–Where the Green Grass Grows

Alan Jackson–Gone Country

Dixie Chicks–Wide Open Spaces

Shania Twain–Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?


I have such distinct memories for these songs. Alabama’s “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” resurrects an image of my father mowing the bottom of the front lawn on a a summer day, his usual Saturday afternoon routine. Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That” played on the speakers in our family room every weekend–it was a sign that my family would take things easy, of t-ball and soccer games I’d watch my brother play, and a break from school.

I still don’t know the lyrics to Diamond Rio’s “Meet Me in the Middle.” I just liked the beat. It was fun, happy, and it sounded good when played in the car. People getting along! Yay!

A major problem with country music today (and music in general) is that the image of the artist is more important than their voice. That’s disappointing.

toby keith

Oh gosh. This wouldn’t fly today. But it didn’t matter then, because his songs were really great.

I look at the pictures of people I went to school with who went to college at very southern schools. They shed our school uniforms for another, less creative, more socially acceptable one. Country culture today requires girls wearing cut off jean shorts with fake cowboy boots because real ones are way too expensive and functional to dance in beer-soaked mud at frat parties and country music festivals at their schools. They curl their hair out to here and wear plaid, like plaid is really the only uniform of “country people.” The guys basically wear t-shirts and jeans with boots too, and a baseball cap turned backwards. Everyone looks the same. The. Same. I turned away from country music around 2004, when my best friend who previously made fun of the genre incessantly, preferring hip-hop and “Now 10,005” albums, enthusiastically began listening to our local country stations. She and all of her friends agreed it was great music to listen to at parties and sleepovers. That was when I knew country had migrated into the music that appealed to teenage girls because everyone else listened to it. So I stopped. Sugarland gave me headaches anyway.

Country music today lacks sophistication, cleverness, truth, relatableness, and nostalgia. Instead it encompassed everything I didn’t experience, agree with, believe in, or understand. Yeah, I can get that feeling of complete love and pride when I hear Lonestar’s “My Front Porch Looking In,” even though I’m not a father and I don’t have a red-headed child (or a house I own). No, I don’t want anything memorable to have started with a beer, thanks though, Frankie Ballard. I also don’t think it’s cool to key my ex’s car. And No! I don’t have long tanned legs and I don’t want to be a song to somebody! Don’t roll your windows down and cruise because of me! What does that even mean? It’s not relatable! Like 2% of the population may have popped out of the Georgia water with a bikini on and made a guy roll down his window. Ugh. I’d rather have wished somebody would have sent me a love note in elementary school with the directions “check yes or no” and not have it happened (lol, boys didn’t know who I was in third grade), than wishing to lie “nekked” in a bed with Luke Bryan (him saying that line gives me shivers, and not in a good way). And you know, my extreme un-impulsive nature growing up didn’t keep me from finding “Heads California, Tails Carolina” a thrilling idea (to maybe try in the far off future). I LIVED for the day when “She’s in Love with the Boy” would be applicable in my own life. Still hasn’t happened, but at least it was something I could think might happen! Country songs today don’t do that. My friends who have sworn off country feel that way because the songs they’ve heard are the songs today. It’s just a disappointment.

If you’re still unconvinced, listen to county artists active from the 1990s to now–I’d suggest Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley.

Maybe I’ve just grown old. Maybe the songs today don’t resonate with me because I didn’t hear them for the first time as a kid, who, for all intents and purposes, was still a relatively blank slate. Regardless, I’ll keep listening to the old country songs that resurrect some of the best days of my life.


Living in the Past

In history, Reading on June 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm

First off, I must apologize for my sporadic posts. I really don’t follow a set schedule or topic pattern, which means that I write when an idea hits me. I’ll be sitting in the living room and suddenly think of a topic, or I’ll be reading a book and a thought will cross my mind, and I’ll think “that would make an interesting post.” So since my last post nothing’s really hit me. My week has been really uneventful….as usual. I think it’s important to point out that I am so bored that even my brain can’t think of a blog post topic I could write to take up my time. (Okay, so this post has been in my drafts for four years. I’m not quite sure exactly when I began it. But I thought I’d finish it now!)

Tonight, however, I read 300 something pages of An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, finally finishing it after starting it August of last year. Yes, a year ago. I’m never like that, I assure you. It’s just that it’s really hard to read in college! I don’t have any time for it, and so I had three books (One Day and two Gabaldon books) sitting on my adorable yellow Martha Stewart bookshelf in my dorm room all year long. For an avid reader, it made me very sad. But I finally finished it! Even though it’s really hard sometimes to start up on page 457 and expect to remember every little detail, character, and plot written in the previous pages.

This post will simply be a reflection of myself and my tastes in books and history (because I just thought of it and felt like writing about it).

Did any of you read Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction novels when you were a teenager? I believe she published the majority of them in the 80’s and/0r 90’s, but I found the re-printed Harcourt collection at Barnes and Noble when I was in middle school. She wrote stories that centered on the Salem trials, the American Revolution, and the Civil War, among others. Young females were always the protagonist. Her books made a huge impression on me as a young person. She didn’t start my obsession with history; I’m convinced I was born with that. But she wrote about the topics I was totally in love with. I wrote an essay about Rinaldi’s novels for an English class and had it posted on the hall bulletin board for everyone to see (I felt awkward).

I believe every reader has an experience like that– where you you find an author or book and it either transforms you or enhances a specific characteristic in yourself. For my mother, it was Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. For me, it was Ann Rinaldi (and I say it was her and not Jane Austen because early 19th century literature just didn’t affect me as a 14 year old as a contemporary Rinaldi book did…I’ll say it did later, and does, but not when I was 12, 13, 14).  In fact, her novels so made an impression on me that I found myself using antiquated terms spoken by the protagonists in her novels (I didn’t do it on purpose, I promise! At least my friends found it amusing and not creepy….thank goodness for small favors). I’ve never once looked up Rinaldi. I’m not quite sure if she’s still alive or not (is it odd I don’t want to know?). I did, however, print out nearly 100 pages of my mother’s nice printing paper with transcripts of the Salem witch trials for me to read through… I also kept a college-ruled notebook in which I painstakingly copied quotes or passages I found meaningful from Rinaldi’s books. Some of them, if they offered advice, I tried to apply in my own life (that’s sort of difficult for a young teenager, btw).

Anyway. As I was wrapping up An Echo in the Bone and verbally mourning the fact that I don’t have the next book in the series yet, I discovered just how acutely I was feeling for the characters and their present roles in the American Revolution. It’s one of my absolute favorite wars to study and so I naturally flock to any literature which takes place during that time (Rinaldi’s The Fifth of March was my favorite of hers. It takes place in Boston just before the official start of the Revolution). Picking up the Outlander series is like a veritable treasure chest of history since it spans the ’45 Jacobite Rising to the French Revolution to the American Revolution. Whoo!

But I realized tonight (and, sadly, not for the first time) that I longed for the chance to time travel backwards to those times I loved to study about in the present. I would think it’s every history major’s/lover’s dream to experience first hand the events or locations they study. I will be the first to admit it– I live in the past. I hold people accountable based on historic standards. A lot of my sense of morality comes from long established ways. I am in many ways a complete traditionalist, and that is because I live in the past.

It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Wishing so fervently for a chance to live in Charleston during the Revolution or Civil War will only break my heart in the end. I romanticize the past sometimes, and I know that is silly. I nearly attended graduate school to study the 18th-century British-Atlantic world so that I could force myself to fully understand the realities people lived through 300 years ago. Romanticizing and idealizing how people (strangers) lived is not only unfair to their realities but unfair to ourselves. No one should want to live in Charleston in the 18th and 19th centuries. The weather was hideous, life sucked if you weren’t wealthy and accepted in society, and there weren’t many opportunities for women (duh). Wearing pretty dresses would get old after the third day of forcing my stomach into a corset and placing the fourth layering of clothing on my sweating body before stepping out into Charleston’s sweltering, miserable heat (I live here, so I can say that).

Understanding the past allows us to place our own lives and experiences on a continuum. Once we grasp the economic forces that enabled 17th century Holland and its artists like Johannes Vermeer to establish the Dutch Golden Age of painting and trade; once we accept the sociology of post-war American architects who created new and startling architectural styles in houses and high rises as a way of coping with the effects of WWII; once we acknowledge the enormity of the decision for our great-great-grandparents to leave Ireland in the middle of the night with a note to their parents, jump on a ship, and travel the Atlantic to make a new life in New York City (my great-great-grandparents, if you haven’t picked up on that)–only then, do we appreciate our own place in time.

So, I loved Ann Rinaldi’s books as a teenager because I could fantasize living on a plantation in the midst of the Revolutionary War in Camden, South Carolina. Her books pushed me to study the war on my own time, reading chapters of textbooks we never got to in class and secreting away my mother’s research books to my room to memorize. Now, though, about a decade after first picking up one of her stories, I’ve graduated to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Her books are so detailed, descriptive, real, that they served as the perfect outlet for me to both fantasize and realize “life back then.” Until time travel really exists, it is only through extensive research and immersion into history that we can feel the past as tangible as the reality in front of us.

Have any of you had a meaningful experience with a book/author, whether you were young or old? What or who was it?