Me and my graph paper


When I was a child, I would spend hours at the library (Sometimes with my friend Beth–not every friend likes to hang out at the library. Sometimes with my sister.*) My mother would drop us off at the really large three-story library in town and arrange to pick us up a few hours later.

In my earliest days of library freedom I hung out on the third floor where the childrens books were. I was particularly fond of tiny books. Beatrix Potter’s were the smallest, but I found the illustrations to be dull and there were too many boring words. As I got older I discovered the kids non-fiction section. There was a book about making dollhouse furniture from things around the house–again I loved small things (nearly every project involved matchbooks, which we never had on hand. I should have asked my friends whose parents smoked, but at the time I wasn’t clever enough to think of that). I must have checked that dollhouse book out a hundred times. Second on my list of favorites was a book about making really dreadful-looking Halloween make-up: mummies, monsters, that sort of thing. I tried a few ideas, but there are not very many occasions that call for wearing monster make-up. And it turns out that a face coated in dried oatmeal is extremely itchy.

When I hit the double digits I found the main floor of the library to be more my speed. This was the floor of magazines (always a huge weakness of mine) and fiction. What budding adolescent girl doesn’t love to get lost in novels? Many girls don’t move past novels, but after a while I got tired of reading about people who didn’t exist. I still find it a little frustrating to invest so much time and emotion in a fake person. Some fiction is so good that it doesn’t matter, but most fiction has never really floated my boat.

Thus I ended up on the first floor (technically the basement.)

Nonfiction. Mon amour.

I’m quite sure I read every book on that floor. I fell in love with Biographies and Memoirs (still my favorite genre).

I also discovered a whole section of floor plans. As in houses. I was charmed. Twitterpated. Hooked.

You see, I had been clipping house plans out of magazines since I saw my very first one in a Southern Living at my Grandma’s house back in fifth grade. I had accumulated a tidy little stack of them. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined whole books full of floor plans.

I would stare at them for hours, imagining what the rooms would be like; picturing myself walking through them; pondering the wisdom of putting a door here instead of there. It was my secret little passion. Most teenage girls dream of boys. I dreamed of those too, but mostly I dreamed of Dutch Colonials and Gothic Revivals.

It was only a matter of time until I started designing houses. I spent hours–hours!–thinking of rooms and façades and window placement and built-in closets. Strangely it never occurred to me that I might like to design houses for a living. I mentioned something of the sort to my father when I was in high school. He told me that architects must be very good at math. My fate was sealed. Math killed me. I have never understood it. Numbers in general just swim around my head and make no sense at all. I can barely even remember a phone number. So I crossed off “architect” from the list the guidance counselor gave me of possible future careers.

But I have continued to design houses. I can’t help it. It just happens. Me with my piles of graph paper. Designing houses requires lots of time walking through houses. Which I also adore. I love to tsk, tsk over a poorly-designed kitchen or absurdly-placed bathroom. Fortunately my sister spent many years as a realtor and all the houses in our city were open wide for our thorough inspection. Those were some good times.

Now I am getting to the point where my children will soon be gone all day and I am thinking of going back to school to become an architect. If it means I have to become good at math, then I will. But hopefully the computer will take care of all that nastiness. Don’t get me wrong; I like to write and I love to bake, but the thing that gets my engines firing is drawing up a house plan.**

I hope they have scholarships for housewives who are ready to wake their brains up again. If not, I guess you’ll be able to find me in the house plan section of the library.

*The only time I remember for sure that my sister was there was one day when I was about eleven and Arianne got a really awful bloody nose. The librarian came and got me. I don’t know what for. Was I supposed to provide bloody-nose expertise? Comfort my sister (ha!)? I just looked at my sister lying on a bench with tissues up her nose and shrugged. Then I went back to my stack of novels about the Holocaust, which was my favorite subject at the time.

**I have a firm belief that nobody except a stay-at-home mom should be designing houses. We understand them. We know what works and what doesn’t. We live in a house like nobody else.

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14 thoughts on “Me and my graph paper

  1. Oh Jennie, I also spent hours upon hours at the library as a kid. Almost every weekend my mom would drop my brother and I off. He hated it, he hated to read, I was in heaven! My favorites were the resource books. The ones I could never check out. Encyclopedias especially. I loved to read the dictionary too.

    I too have had a hard time investing my emotions and energy into "imaginary" characters, but when it's good, really good, and the characters are with you having conversations with you through out the day…I may be revealing too much! haha I just remember how some of my best friends growing up were in books!

    Memoirs are still my favorites as well, female explorers especially.

    Have you read Journey to the Heart of the Nile? You will love it!

  2. What a fun memory! I drew pages and pages of house plans as a teenager too. And I definitely agree that only stay-at-home moms should design houses. So, go for it!!!

  3. Oh, Jennie! You would be a FABULOUS architect. Of houses, most likely, since I doubt you would want to design theaters, sports centers, or giant skyscrapers.

    But you are also an exceedingly talented writer. Where's that book you have planned as an expose on your totally crazy mother?

    Of course, if you went to architectural school, you could write a very funny book about your misadventures there.

  4. Have you picked up any of that "Not So Big House" series yet? She is a really good writer, as well as architect, and she's from MN! Really, you MUST. Go to the library TODAY!

  5. I loved this post! One of my favorite past times is to walk model homes. I had the kids out to the new section of Crystal Falls just last week walking the models. 🙂 I steal design ideas and love to critique the floor plans. I think this secret passion of yours is awesome! And Amen to no one knowing a home like a stay at home Mom!

  6. Oh, and P.S., every single time I've ever listened to people's discouraging or encouraging remarks about educational areas, I've regretted it. Like the time I delayed taking pottery because people said it was hard to get an A. I ended up loving it and did just fine. Or the time someone said to take Earthquakes and Volcanoes because it was such an easy class. It was horrible. I wish now that I had just taken something that interested me, no matter what, because you will always do better at things that interest you. You're just more motivated that way. No matter the math issue, you will be fine, because you love it. So, I say again, "Go for it!"

  7. I'm planning on returning to school when all my kids are in, too. I haven't decided on a major yet, though, so you are ahead of me.

  8. I have always secretly collected, analyzed, pondered, and adored house plans since I was in middle school. I have never met anyone else who has this strange fetish. Don't worry, Jenny – you're still one in a million (I know you like not being like everyone else) 😉 I even designed our perfect family house when I was 14. It had a jack and jill bath for me and my sister (before they were called that – it was '87) and a turret. I still want a house with a turret – I think they are beautiful. Now I have added other things to my list. We'll have to compare notes sometime. I considered architecture, too, but alas I lack the CREATIVITY of a good architect. If we could combine my math skills and your creativity, we would be one awesome home designer!!! Not that you can't be one – most math is done on computers these days anyway. You just have to understand cad probably. Unfortunately computers cannot compensate for a lack of creativity so you've got what really counts. Good luck!!! I'll be jealous of you when you become a celebrated architect.

  9. It is SO true that stay-home-moms understand how houses do (and don't) work. In fact, although I love the not-so-big house books Tiffany mentioned (in fact I own one or two of them) I do think that one weakness is that she assumes that people don't really live in their homes during the day anymore, and she doesn't really consider what works well with more than one or *maybe* two children.

    I used to think I'd be good at designing a custom home, but now I'm not so sure. (So I guess it's just as well that's not an option for me in ny near, foreseeable future.) But I sure do know what *doesn't* work.

  10. This post has made me realize that I am not even in the same realm of bookishness as you. I mean, I've always known you were way more of a reader than me, but I had no idea how much until I read this post. I never spent a single minute on the main floor of the library. Never. I have never liked magazines, for one thing. I spent as much time as I can remember upstairs in the children's area, but I did venture to the basement to look at large picture books of foreign places and artifacts a few times, though.

    On a side note, yes, those days of wandering through houses were seriously the best EVER. I do hope you go back to school for architecture. then you can design my dream house.

  11. Loved this post! I needed a friend like you to go to the library with! I was (and still am, actually) a total library nerd. I would ride my bike to the library all summer long so I could hang out in it, reading books and magazines. I'll never forget the excitement of going to my first big college library with several floors and wings you could get lost in. I was in heaven!

    I also totally agree with you about SAHMs designing houses. Just think how much more practical they would be to live in! I've been house-hunting with a friend of mine and we've been very discouraged by the floor plans we're seeing. For one thing, we haven't found a single house with a decent mudroom in it. A must-have in my book! So I hope you follow your dream of designing houses, because I know you could do a lot better than the ones we've been seeing. 🙂

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