A few weeks ago in the scrapbooking Facebook group I belong to, we were talking about style and how it evolves. (That discussion sparked this post.) The discussion made me think about a lot of things, not just my style but also what has influenced it.
I’ve been scrapbooking for a long time—since 1996. I started because I had a baby, and all of my friends were scrapbooking, and several of them were also selling Creative Memories supplies. I resisted Creative Memories because it seemed both slightly bossy (all those rules about acid free!) and entirely too expensive (which makes me laugh now, as I confess: I’ve spent a bit of money on scrapbooking supplies in the past two decades). Eventually I succumbed and started using Creative Memories albums, but they always felt restrictive to me. My next switch was to Close to My Heart albums, which I even sold for a while.
(Kendell was horrified that I'd post this photo with my room so messy. I say a messy scrappy space is the sign of a scrapbooker who actually makes scrapbook layouts! Also: in that MOMA bag are 300 half-square triangles for a quilt I'm making, and you can just see the corner of the desk I just set up with my laptop.)
In more than two decades of scrapbooking, I’ve witnessed just about every single trend and style that’s happened. The glory days of Creating Keepsakes, Simple Scrapbooks, Scrapbooks Etc, and a few more I’ve likely forgotten—getting a new magazine in my mailbox was cause for celebration. Two Peas in a Bucket, DMarie, and many other websites where scrapbookers gathered to “talk” about scrapbooking. I remember when the only line of scrapbooking paper was Paper Patch and how revolutionary KMA seemed because the background of the pattern was off-white instead of white. The drama of the Scrapooking Hall of Fame contests (I applied twice); the way I pined to be noticed by CK (and never was) and the absolute thrill of writing for Simple (O, how I miss those days).
And that’s just the industry stuff—if I stop to think about all of the trends in supplies and techniques it’s almost overwhelming.
As I thought about this history, I started to understand why it is difficult for people to become scrapbookers. You have to have a sort of dedication to your craft, the type that infiltrates most parts of your life. I literally can’t imagine how people enjoy life without scrapbooking. It brings me so much happiness to put stories together with pictures and a few little scrappy bits. But I also can see how this hobby isn’t for everyone, and how finding your way in might seem a little bit too intense.
But I’m glad I found scrapbooking and grateful I’ve stuck with it. The very first layout I ever made was done at a scrapbook crop at Pebbles in My Pocket. I put the photos down, and found some cute puppy stickers to match, and stuck those down, and then the crop leader told me I needed to write something about the pictures. “Write” is always a magic word (it might’ve been that exact moment that I fell in love with scrapbooking), so this seemed pretty miraculous to me. Not just putting my photos somewhere other than a box, but writing about them? I asked her if it would be OK if I wrote about the photos when I got home, because I didn’t love my handwriting and I knew I had a lot to say. I wanted to print the journaling, and she said “well, I’ve never heard of someone doing that, but I guess you could.”
That’s been my approach ever since: write big stories.
But just like the industry has changed in multiple ways as different people have influenced it, my style changed, too. It took me a long, long time to understand that what I want to do with my layouts might not be what everyone else thinks should be done, and that that is OK. There really isn’t any scrapbooking police, and I can do what I want.
One of the things that helped me figure that out was this book by Becky Higgins, Scrapbooking Secrets. There’s a clear line in my albums: pre- and post-Secrets. The book helped me to understand design in a way that I hadn’t before, and taught me that my simpler approach was ok (even though my style is not very much like Becky Higgins’s style). I talked at length on the Scrap Gals podcast recently about just how it changed me, and you can listen to that podcast HERE. The experience of re-reading the book, almost twenty years later, was just that: an experience that changed me. It reminded me of just how many layouts I have made, and how many stories I’ve told. It showed me how my confidence has grown and how freeing it has been to let go of wanting to be noticed as An Important Scrapbooker and just being the scrapbooker that I am. And how glad I am that while I was influenced by the changing trends, I stayed committed to telling stories.
A few days after I re-read Becky’s book, I decided to look through my older albums. I ended up spending more than two hours flipping through pages. I’m not sure, as scrapbookers, we can experience scrapbooks like “normal” people do, because we’re always going to notice the scrapbooking itself. Some of those older layouts are visually painful to look at, but I still loved seeing the pictures, reading what I’d written, and remembering making the layouts. (Metascrapbooking at its finest!) I don’t know if these albums will matter to anyone else when I’m gone (I hope they do), but that time looking through layouts reminded me of just how much they matter to me.
And my memory was right: there is a pretty clear divide in my style. Here’s an idea what I mean by how Scrapbooking Secrets changed my approach. Two layouts about spring, made about a year apart, the first one pre-Secrets, the second one post.
(Not the best photo of a layout because A--it's a CM album and B--I didn't want to take the sheet protectors off as I always tear them when I do that and I don't have any more replacements.)
(A baffling thing to me about this layout: Why didn't I put the date anywhere? I know it's from spring 2002...but I almost always date my layouts. Not sure why I didn't on this one!)
It’s not that the first layout is bad, really. It’s just so busy. It feels cluttered to me. (But I still want to gush at those photos. Little Jakey! O my gosh, he was so sweet and cute!) The second one is the opposite of cluttered; I might’ve taken “simple” to the extreme here. (Also need to gush at those photos of little Nafe. Why must they grow up???) The first one is more about the process of scrapbooking—it’s hard to imagine fussy cutting all of those bumble bees, but I did it! The second one is only about the photos and the story (which I wrote as a poem, in couplets because he was two, get it?).
Yesterday I finished another scrapbook layout. All of this looking back I’ve been doing made me stop and think, while I made my newest layout: what matters? Why am I doing this? Does it even matter at all? And I think it does. Yes, you can lose your focus in all of the pretty stuff, you can prioritize the making of the layout over the layout itself (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you can spend hours painting or embossing or fussy cutting tiny bumble bees. Or you can just stick down some photos with some journaling. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that these items exist. The photos are out of boxes; they’re paired with stories. They exist as objects in this world (as opposed to something digital on your phone or computer hard drive) and therefore they can be looked at, read, admired or mocked, touched, flipped through.
They are memories made tangible.
When Haley was a teenager and we'd go shopping together, something magical (to me) would sometimes happen. Actually, it happened quite a lot: She'd come across a skirt, or a shirt, or a book cover, or a pretty dish, and she'd say "Mom! This looks exactly like you." She was almost always right; she could discern my style almost immediately. She could also do this with my mom's style, especially clothes. In fact, one day at the mall, we wandered through Macy's for a good half hour or so, just picking out clothes for her grandma.
(I should make a scrapbook layout about that story!)
In one of the latest Scrap Gals podcasts, the topic was style: how you develop your style, how you recognize it, how you use it as a place to start from and sometimes deviate away from; how know what your style is helps make buying supplies easier and certainly makes scrapbooking itself simpler. At least, once you embrace your style.
My scrappy style is fairly word intensive. My layouts always have a lot of journaling, and making the written story feel like a cohesive part of the design (instead of an added-on afterthought) is one of my major design goals. It took me a while to be comfortable with that aspect of my style, however, because in the Scrapbook World (TM), it's sort of an anomaly. The point of Scrapbook World is to sell product, and some of those products help you tell a story, but that isn't as important as using the product. I felt, for many years, like that essential part of my approach was somehow faulty because an emphasis on story wasn't something I saw very often.
Once I decided I didn't care what the Industry thought, I embraced that part of my process and never looked back.
Which made it much easier to buy scrapbook supplies, because if my focus (telling stories) wasn't problematic or weird (because I decided it wasn't), then my other scrappy quirks also didn't have to be problematic or weird.
So, in addition to my focus on stories, I realized I do have a style when it comes to the supplies I use. I'm not sure what to name this. An old scrapbooking friend once said my style is "Edwardian," which I am OK with, as long as there are flowers in the Edwardian world. And script fonts, but not the cutesty sort.
Anyway, whatever I might label my style, here are its elements:
While I was thinking about my scrapbooking style and working on this post, I’ve also been deep into several sewing projects. (Five quilts at once, but who’s counting?) I realized that my design aesthetic for scrapbooking is really similar to my quilting aesthetic. Those five quilts? They each have several fleur-de-lis patterns, for example, and black-and-white florals, and some non frou-frou florals too. Which made me look around my house, and suddenly I was seeing my scrapbooking style expressed in several places.
I decided to challenge myself: I found a home item that reflects my design style and used it as an inspiration for a scrapbook layout. I picked this bowl, which I recently bought at Target because when I saw it I thought “if Haley were with me right now, she’s recognize that as something I would love.” I’ve been using it as a garbage can during my quilting process—I put all the little scraps in it as I’m cutting, so they’re not spread all over my cutting mat and counter. I might not ever use it for food…I think it will find a place in my scrappy space.
Anyway, here’s the layout I made that was inspired by that bowl:
And I think it’s a fairly true representation of my style. That aqua patterned paper on the bottom is exactly the type of thing that I love; there’s the cluster of words and a camera, puffy sans serif title stickers, and a good chunk of journaling. (The font is called Karu and it’s a recent addition; I think I will use it quite a bit.)
Maybe it’s the fact that I am smack in the middle of my 40s and I’m getting too old to care about what anyone else thinks. Maybe I am just growing more comfortable with myself. But I am glad I have a style that’s unique to me—and I’m glad I can find scrapbook products (and clothes, and fabrics, and pretty dishes) that reflect it.
Have you ever pondered on your scrapbooking or crafty style?
I’ve always tried to keep a record of some sort of the scrapbook layouts I make. This started back when I used Creative Memories albums, which have a strap-hinge binding and front-to-back pages. I made a table to keep track of what came next, chronologically, so I didn’t accidentally skip something or make a layout on the wrong side of a page.
When I switched to post-bound albums in 2002, I stopped scrapbooking chronologically. Now I do some layouts seasonally: Christmas layouts in January, at least a handful of Halloween layouts in October, birthday layouts in the summer (which is either weird or makes total sense, considering we don’t have any summer birthdays in my family), vacation layouts in August. Mostly, though, I make layouts by which stories I’m feeling inspired to tell. Then I (eventually) organize them chronologically into albums. (I have a HUGE pile of layouts right now, and I need to reorganize my albums, but when I have scrappy time I want to make scrapbook layouts, not put layouts into albums, even though that pile is driving me nuts AND I still haven’t moved the albums from my old scrappy space to my new one.) This change in my process has been very freeing for me, but sometimes it creates a problem: Scrapbooking the same stories or photos more than once.
So for the past few years, I’ve made sure to photograph or scan every layout I make, and I created a spreadsheet to keep track of what I’ve made. I call this spreadsheet “scrapbook maps”; there is a workbook for each of my kids and one for me (I confess: I have never made a scrapbook layout explicitly for my husband), and the entries are sorted chronologically. So if I’m not sure if I’ve scrapbooked, say, Christmas 2005, I can look it up in my spreadsheet. (I don’t have scans/photos of all the layouts I’ve ever made, because I only started photographing layouts, except for the ones I made for my Big Picture classes, in 2014.)
In 2017, I set a goal of also keeping a yearly spreadsheet (it’s called “yearly scrappy stats”). Is this overkill? Probably. Is it nerdy? Absolutely! Does the data make me happy? Yes! The scrapbook maps spreadsheet is just about layout details, but the yearly one is more about numbers. This year I kept track of a lot of number-based data (you can see a breakdown below), and this morning I did some calculations so I could see what I might learn. Here’s what I discovered:
Total layouts: 95. I’m not sure if this is a lot or not very many, as I haven’t ever kept really detailed yearly records.
One page layouts: 77% of my layouts (74/95) are one-page layouts. Of those, 32% have one photo; 28% have two and 26% have three. The most photos I fit onto one single-page layout was seven.
Two page layouts: 23% of my layouts (21/95) are two-page layouts. Of those, 42% have seven photos; 33% have eight and 14% have ten. The most photos I fit onto one double-page layout was eleven.
I scrapbooked a total of 339 photos.
I try to make about the same amount of layouts for each of my kids every year. I failed at that pretty dismally. I’m not going to share those stats, but that did make me think about why I feel inspired to scrap about certain topics. It is more than just about wanting to use a specific supply, but about how connected I am feeling to the person. In some ways, the less connected I feel, the more I want to scrapbook about that person, because through telling that person’s stories I feel less distance. This is one of my goals, then, for 2018: to catch up on the person I scrapbooked about the least in 2017, and keep it even for everyone else.
I made ten layouts about myself, which is the most I’ve ever done. I am trying to tell more of my own stories, both about current experiences and older memories. I’m the only person who’s going to do this, and maybe no one will care if these layouts exist, but it brings me a certain type of happiness to get my own stories matched up with photos.
I did a lot of holiday scrapbooking in 2017: 13 Christmas layouts and 14 Easter layouts. I always scrapbook Christmas layouts, but I realized one day early last spring that I’ve done very few layouts about Easter. So I rectified that! I used a lot of older supplies I’ve been hanging on to for spring-ish layouts and rediscovered some photos I just love. I only made three birthday layouts and one vacation layout.
Most of my layouts were made in the first third of the year. I made 50 layouts before May 1, but spread out the rest through the year. I make the fewest layouts in the summer. The thing that influences how many layouts I’m making? Vacations. During the month before our two big vacations I made almost no layouts, as I was busy planning trips instead.
A surprise from the data: I tend to think of myself as a 50/50 scrapbooker: that my layouts are half single-page, half double-page. Or at most 66/33. So I was surprised to see that only 25% were double pages. I’m not opposed to single-photo layouts; I think they are an opportunity to really dig deeply into a story as well as giving space to a lovely image. I also tend to think of myself as someone who almost always uses more than one photo, and while most of my pages do have more than one, 25% are one-photo layouts.
I’m still thinking about how this record-keeping experience might change my scrapbooking. It has helped me see my approach more clearly, but I think I need a few years of data before a bigger picture can start to be seen. So I intended on continuing on with my scrapbooking data gathering in 2018 and beyond.
Influence by my spreadsheets, here are my scrapbooking goals for 2018:
Here’s to telling many more stories in 2018! If you are a scrapbooker, do you keep track of your layouts?
I have a confession to make: I haven't made a scrapbook layout since October. I know. Fall came and I was overwhelmed with the desire to sew. So, I sewed instead of scrapbooking. Or let's blame it on It, which I decided to re-read in October and holy cow it's a huge novel. I finished It (and still haven't written about it, but I must!) and then I planned our trip to New York, and then we went to New York, and then we came home for Nathan's birthday, and then Thanksgiving, and then I was sick, and then I sewed an insane amount of Christmas Things, and then my mom got sick and had to go to the hospital, and then I finally got around to decorating my house for Christmas, and then my scrapbook room was full of Christmas wrapping and yeah:
I haven't scrapbooked for awhile.
But I still want to put together my annual list of my 10 favorite scrapbook layouts. Because it's almost January, and while I have ideas for three new quilting projects, and my mom is still in the hospital, my scrapbook room is finally clean and has been de-Christmased and I'll have some time to myself here in a few days, and then I'll start making layouts again. Until then, I need to put 2017 to bed! (I actually am planning one more blog post about my 2017 scrapbooking year, but it's not really a list. Try to curb your anticipation.)
1. The Frolic Architecture of the Snow
Why it's a fave: The colors, that title (a bit of Emerson's poem "The Snow-Storm"), those photos! They are some of my favorite pics I've ever taken of Haley.
2. Nathan's Skiing Adventure
Why it's a fave: I like the color combo on this one...the minty aqua hues are unexpected. Plus I love that our friend who took my sons skiing (I am a fan of snowshoes not skis, even though I live in Utah!) got them to pose for a pic under the "Amy's Ridge" sign. And I used a bunch of snowflakes that were just sitting around on the bottom of my "winter and snow" drawer.
3. The Present Cracks Open the Aftermath of Itself
Why it's a fave: I like it when one photograph inspires another. I was looking for some different 2012 pics, and I found this one of me that Haley had taken after I'd had a fresh haircut. It really made me stop and gasp, as I feel like I have changed so much in five years. The photo from 2012 prompted this whole layout; I asked Kaleb to take the pic of me one morning before school and then I wrote about some of the experiences and emotions I'm trying to process. I've made a layout about myself on my birthday every year since I turned 40, and this ended up being my 45th-birthday layout.
4. Share your Light
Why it's a fave: we are not big partiers on New Year's Eve. By the time December 31st rolls around I'm feeling partied out, and somehow we've just never really established any NYE traditions. So this is actually the first layout about New Year's Eve I've ever made. (I have, however, spent not a few New Year's Eves making other scrapbook layouts, while everyone else slept.) Mostly, though, I love this because I love the big photo of Jake, even if it is a little bit soft. I'm also fairly proud of myself that I managed to take these pictures with my DSLR; I think it's so much easier to take low-light photos with my cell phone.
5. Cola Wars: A History of our Beverage Affections
Why it's a fave: because this is one of my very favorite pics of Kaleb and me. Especially now, when he's entered his very young adolescent years and thinks getting his photo taken is quite possibly the worst thing ever. Because the journaling went in a totally different direction than I thought it would when I printed the photo and I like that I wrote a little bit of both our histories. And because I wasn't sure how the color combo would actually work, but I like it. And because of puffy stickers!
6. Still My Baby
Why it's a fave: I scrapbooked quite a few pics from 2002 in 2017. I can't believe I never made a layout with this sweet one! I dug through my journaling files and found an entry that I could modify for the journaling, and then I just had fun with some scraps that I scrunched up and then flattened out, to make them feel softer. Actually, I'm really glad I didn't scrap this photo until this year, because it meant I got to scrap a baby photo of Nathan. There's not a lot of those left to scrap! (And yes...at age 2 he's hardly a baby, but when you consider he's now 6'5" he still seems pretty little here.)
7. The Beach Day is the Best Day
Why it's a fave: This is one of my all-time favorite pictures...but I've never made a layout with it. Sometimes you have to wait until just the right supply comes along, and this sheet of patterned paper (it was one sheet that I cut apart) was it. I love how it turned out! My only objection: The cardstock I printed the journaling on is not really that strange mauvey-pink color it seems to be. It's actually grey but I can't seem to correct that color without making all the other ones look weird. Shrug.
8. This Sweet Moment
Why it's a fave: Another confession: I haven't made very many layouts about Kaleb's baby year. This is, ironically, because I love making layouts with baby photos. But if I work on his baby photos, I will have no more baby layouts to make. So I keep not making them because the thought of not having any more baby layouts to make makes me sad. (Perhaps once I have a grandchild I'll be able to get over this!) Somehow, though, it feels ok to make layouts for the other kids with Kaleb's baby photos and I have, in fact, made more of those than I have for his books. This one was fun to make because the line of embellishments I used (Home Made by Jen Hadfield) was one of my favorites this year.
9. In the Picture I Didn't Take of You This December
Why it's a fave: sometimes you don't have a picture but you still want to tell a story. One of my favorite ways to do this is to describe a picture I wish I had taken but didn't (for whatever reason). I don't do this very often—maybe twice in any given year. But I'm always happy with how it turns out.
10. Thoughts on Daughterhood, Sisterhood, and Time
Why it's a fave: I love this photo of me, my mom, and my sister Becky, from Easter. I love the floral patterned paper I used and the foam "love" accent. Mostly, though, this is a favorite because writing the journaling was therapeutic for me. It helped me figure out some things I had been feeling but hadn't been able to put into words yet. Sometimes (quite often, actually), scrapbooking isn't really about the final product but the process of making something.
Did you put together a top-ten list of scrapbook layouts this year? I'd love to see it if you did! Here's to another year of storytelling, pretty paper, and scripty fonts!
It’s funny how one decision or experience can lead you somewhere you didn’t intend to go.
Last week, I was in Target and the Halloween decorations made me cry. Seriously: I was crying (albeit silently) in Target. Over Halloween decorations. The skeletons and pumpkins and black, glittery skulls were like physical representations of how quickly time goes, how fleeting this life is. All of my Halloweens with little kids are gone. I don’t even know what this year’s Halloween will look like. And while I want to try to embrace right now and find the joy in what is here, I can’t help it: I loved my days of having little kids at Halloween and I am sad they are gone.
So I decided, right then and there while I was standing in the Halloween aisle in Target, to make a Halloween scrapbook album. Nothing complicated: One group photo from each year since Haley was a baby, with a few list-style notes and the year. I started working on it the next day. Gathering pictures from 2003 and onward was fairly easy, as my digital pictures are pretty well organized (thanks to a husband who likes things neat and tidy on the computer!).
To get the photos from 1995-2002, however, I had to dig into my negatives. They are also well organized, but you know how sometimes a task that should take about 20 minutes ends up taking all afternoon because you get sidetracked? Yep—that happened to me as I flipped through the negatives. I found myself ooooohing over pictures I’d forgotten, and then I had to delve into my older scrapbooks to remind myself how (or if) I’d scrapbooked them. And then I just spent the rest of the afternoon looking at layouts. Reading the journaling, studying pictures, remembering experiences. Laughing at stories I’d entirely forgotten, or sniffing at some tender moments that the layouts made clearer for me.
When the kids came home from school that day, I was surrounded by photo albums, scrapbooks, negatives, and not a few crumpled Kleenex.
My heart was full. And soothed.
Later that night, lying in bed while waiting to fall asleep, I found myself thinking about how happy my scrapbooks make me. It makes me happy to be in the process of making a layout. And it makes me happy to revisit the memories. I always love my kids and am aware of my gratitude at being their mom. But looking through our photos and reading about our experiences reminded me of just how…layered, I guess, life is. We have had all of these years together, loving each other, disappointing each other, getting frustrated, having fun. Doing things together, big experiences like Disneyland vacations, and also small moments like chocolate chip cookie baking and skinned-knee bandaging. All of it, the good, the painful, the sweet, the difficult: it all works together to form our lives and our relationships.
It isn’t only about right now. Memory matters too.
And I am so grateful I have all of those stories down in words. I’m grateful I can revisit them. I’m grateful I can leave my own memories here, on paper, in case someone wants them when I’m gone.
As much as I love & adore & am obsessed with scrapbooking, I’m keenly aware of how other people think of it. To some people, it’s “cute,” with all of the negative connotations that word suggests. To some people it’s a waste of time and/or money. To others it’s just baffling.
Amy’s weird little hobby.
Even though I think about scrapbooking a lot, and I spend a lot of time scrapbooking, I don’t talk about it much to people who aren’t scrapbookers. Even on social media, where I follow a lot of other scrapbookers, I almost never post about scrapbooking. (Especially on Facebook. For some reason it’s easier on Instagram.) It’s almost like it’s a thing that causes shame—my dirty little secret, as I’ve written before.
So there I was, curled up in bed in the dark, listening to my husband snore and thinking about how much I love my hobby. How much happiness it brings me. And how much I want to share that happiness with the people in my life who don’t scrapbook—and how, right there, I bump into resistance. Into embarrassment.
And I decided: forget that. (Actually, I used more colorful language in my head!)
Scrapbooking is cool. Sure, it can be kitschy and more than a little bit twee. But it’s also just cool. Patterns and colors and textures. Fonts and typesetting. Design elements. Large textual treatments and tiny little details. It’s artsy and beautiful and important.
And all of those people—friends and family members and coworkers and social-media strangers—who think my hobby is silly?
I decided I don’t care.
It brings me happiness. It brings me a sense of peace. It scratches my creative need. It gives me a space for writing our stories. It reminds me that my life has been full of meaningful experiences. It reminds me, over and over, of how much I love this family and this life I have been given.
Go ahead. You can think I’m silly. But while you’re thinking that, I’m feeling a little bit sad for you. Because you don’t get to revisit memory in these many different ways. You don’t get to feel this particular sort of happiness that scrapbooking makes me feel.
And you have no justification for owning twelve exacto knives.
And that, sweet friends, is how I went from weeping in Target over a plastic cat skeleton to rejoicing in my hobby of choice.
You just never know where life is headed!
Before Haley and Jake graduated from high school and went off to college, I had a reoccurring dream. I’d be doing laundry and look up and realize there was a door hidden behind the spot where I hang clothes to dry. I’d part the damp clothes (a little bit Narnian, yes?), open the door, and discover a previously-unknown bedroom. A rush of relief would come over me: this new bedroom would mean no one would have to share a room, and that there’d be an easing in the space everyone used in our house, so fewer sibling tensions.
I always laughed a bit when I woke up from the dream, because it was such an obvious message from my psyche about the things I was worrying about—my kids being happy and having the space they need to explore their identities, as well as my frustration that I couldn’t find the answers I needed through the normal routes. Only magic or secret bedrooms would help, and as I didn’t have those, I continued being frustrated, wishing I could fix things but never finding the unknown door to answers.
I had that dream a few times after Haley moved out, but I haven’t had it at all since Jake moved out. We have plenty of space now, and while it is painful and diminishing in a very specific way, having your kids leave—I miss them quite a bit—it is also sort of…rewarding, I guess. To see them move forward and begin to figure out their lives on their own. To watch them form their own spaces, as it were.
Last night I had a sort-of similar dream that helped me recognize something I am feeling right now in my life.
In this dream, I was again standing by the just-remembered door in the laundry room. When I opened it, I discovered that the hidden room held a bunch of boxed-up treasures. All of the clothes I wore as a young mother, favorite sweaters that had been lost or worn out, my pink flowery capris I wore until they fell apart. My kids’ baby clothes, the tiny newborn gowns, their favorite toddler outfits and first-day-of-school T-shirts; Jakey’s “basket shoes,” a tiny pair of Michael Jordan’s that he loved more than anything, Nathan’s favorite belt, all of Haley’s spinny dresses, Kaleb’s beloved white blankey. Boxes of all the crafts I’ve ever intended to make but haven’t gotten around to, Christmas gifts and Mother’s Day gifts and birthday gifts now crafted and stacked next to appropriately-sized and themed gift bags. Quilts that I have imagined in my real life but never finished, entirely finished and obviously bound by me (I always have one wonky corner). Photo albums, with pictures neatly arranged in plastic sleeves—beautiful photos of all of my kids, alone and together, photos of them with their parents and friends and siblings and cousins, each one perfectly composed and crisply focused, with depth of field that made me weep. These were all photos I had never seen and didn’t remember taking, but they brought me to memories I cherish (in my waking world, I mean, not my dream one). I also found a box with scrapbooks I had forgotten I had made, and these were all about how I felt through all of my various stages of motherhood, from my first pregnancy to our most recent vacation. There were kids in the layouts, but the pages themselves were about me, my joys and frustrations and treasured moments, a record not of their lives but of mine as their mother.
My own little Cave of Wonders, except not jewels and gold, but wealth of a different sort. A gathering of objects that, when touched or looked at, could remind me more clearly how it felt to be that person I used to be, when I wore or made the object, or when it was loved by the people I love.
I did laugh, a little, when I woke up. Those photos were so beautiful. But it was a teary sort of laughter, informed by self-realization. I remember once, when I was in the thick of mothering little kids, my mother told me that the happiest time in her life was when we were all little. Her comment both reminded me to savor those days, instead of complaining my way through them, and made me a little bit sad: is that really the only happiness we get? The sweetness of little children? Isn’t there sweetness as they grow and become adults?
I am discovering that yes, there is sweetness. But it is a complicated, layered sweetness, like an extra-dark chocolate filled with a rich salted caramel. It is delicious, but it is not simple anymore. I love my children so much, all of them. I love seeing them find their way in the world. But this phase of my life isn’t easy. Of our lives; life isn’t simple—for me, but especially for them. There have been injuries and bruises and lingering scars and we have all been changed. We will all continue to change.
So I curled in bed this morning, remembering my dream. Thinking about how clearly my psyche was saying take me back. And how hard I wish my waking self could remember exactly how that felt, to have the simple, uncomplicated love of young children surround me every day. I am not wishing away my right now, yearning for what used to be. There is only forward. But clearly, my dream told me, clearly I miss it. And I am afraid of losing those memories, afraid I haven’t written enough down, snapped enough photographs, saved enough used-up objects.
Clearly I would like to revisit it somehow, even though I know that room doesn’t exist. It’s just empty wall behind the drying laundry.
I can’t believe my mother was right—that all of my happiest days are behind me. I know there is joy in the future, too. There is joy right now. But, as we face yet another new school year starting, Nathan’s senior year and Kaleb’s first in junior high, I am feeling nostalgia for what-used-to-be. I am wishing I could revisit and maybe revise, maybe somehow get things right, ensure fewer bruises, fewer scars. Or even just scoop one of my children up again, in their chubby baby selves, and hold them close, and know that simple love again.
Even though I know that is a locked door that is lost forever.
Every once in a while, I log in to my Family Search account and follow my family line down one descendant or another. There are so many resources available there, including personal and family histories that people have typed and submitted, so other relatives can read them. Seeing photos, birth and death certificates, and gravestone portraits and reading stories about my ancestors makes me feel a complicated sort of joy. I look at their faces in grainy photographs, searching for a hint of my own; I savor the few details that are there but I wish desperately for more.
Last week, when I was writing this blog post, I wanted to make sure I had the genealogy correct, so I started clicking around on my family tree. I came across a link to a document I hadn’t ever read, called “The History of Charles Simmons and Mary Elizabeth Hughes,” who were my great-great grandparents. Usually it seems that most of the life histories are about men, and while I do enjoy those stories, too, I am much more interested in reading about my female ancestors. So I was fairly excited to click on the link and learn something of my great-great grandmother, who was my namesake’s mother-in-law. From this combined life sketch, I learned that my great-great grandfather came from an old Southern family which, according to county records, owned slaves. Most of his brothers died in the Civil War. He left Virginia to move west with his wife Mary, but they stopped in Salt Lake City and liked the Mormons enough to join the church and stay in Utah. The document also has a paragraph about the freed slave they brought with them to Utah, who, although he was free, didn’t want to leave them but also refused to live in the house with them.
About Mary Elizabeth Hughes, there are absolutely no details.
This frustrates me to no end.
I came to feminism partly by way of my English degree. (Also by way of my mother, who’s been a feminist for as long as I can remember.) For me, feminism is about equal rights and equal access to freedoms; it is about the right to be able to choose what to do with your life based on what you need and want, not based on stereotypical gender roles. But it is also about women’s stories, both in literature and in history. The woman in the text, if you will.
And so many of those stories are lost.
You discover this so quickly when you start digging in to family history. There are many, many of my female ancestors who are noted only as someone’s wife, without a name, and daughters listed just like that: daughter. Yet most of the sons’ names are noted. Women’s stories—all the way down to their names—are invisible.
I want to know: what did Mary Elizabeth Hughes love about her childhood in Virginia? What experiences did she have during the Civil War? What experiences did she have traveling west? What did she think the first time she saw the mountains? Did she love or hate to cook? What was her favorite season? What were her daily struggles? What did she think about her son Nathan’s choice of a wife (my great-grandma Amy)? Did her Nathan have any similarities to my Nathan?
Unless some previously-unknown document was discovered, I will never know any of those details, about her or about any of my female ancestors.
And, sure: you could argue that if I did know those stories, my life wouldn’t change much. I would still live this life that I have. And I can’t really explain why I want to know these stories so badly—but I do. I can almost feel them, hovering around me, the women whose choices created my life. Like the angels in the Brian Kershisnik painting, except people with real experiences. If I just knew something more about them, something real, something unique—maybe if I knew I could see them in some way.
And this is one of the reasons that scrapbooking is so important to me.
Without a doubt, it’s a craft that can be viewed as kitschy. As something silly and childlike, as colored pencils and cut-out flowers, paint and frippery.
But it is so much more than it seems.
There is a long history (as long as human history, really) of women’s crafts being seen as less-than or secondary. There are artists, and there are female artists. There are writers, and then there are women writers. Poets, but poetesses. So part of feminism is claiming (not even reclaiming, as we haven’t ever been allowed to own) our art forms as being equally as important as men’s. Artists, writers, photographers, sculptors: creative people who happen to also be women are taking the stance that what they create is good not despite their gender, but because it is good.
Scrapbooking can have that same claim.
It is, in fact, a radical form of feminism: women telling their own stories. Women knowing that their stories matter (not only their children’s, not only their husband’s). Women ensuring that their voices—expressed in stories, yes, but also in the products we chose to use, and in the art we make—have a chance at being heard by future generations.
We lived. We breathed. We walked on this earth. Not all of us have extraordinary, history-changing lives. But all of us have been a part of human history. Almost exactly half of it. And the only way our voices, our stories will be remembered is if we tell them.
Tell them, somehow. In a blog or a journal or a blank screen in the word processor of your choice. Say them out loud while you record yourself. Or, yes, even: make a scrapbook. A layout or two or five or an entire album or ten albums. Your stories are important and no one else can tell them.
And this will never stop being important to me.
Last month, I went to a scrapbooking retreat.
Now, I know that to the majority of the world, that’s a pretty strange idea. It’s maybe akin to someone going to a furry convention?
(Scrapbookers aren’t that strange!)
But really, there are conventions and retreats for everything, and I’d love to go to more, especially writing conventions. And I’d totally go to a running retreat.
A scrapbooking retreat was pretty awesome though.
It was hosted by the people who make a scrapbooking podcast, called The Scrap Gals. I’ve spoken on the podcast a few times, and become friends with many of the other listeners, and, perfectly, the retreat was in Salt Lake City.
So I went!
I confess to being slightly terrified as I was driving to the hotel. It’s one thing to “talk” with people online, and it’s entirely another to meet them in person. I’m not naturally a mingler; I’m introverted and a little bit socially awkward and my default assumption is that other people would rather hang out with someone else. So walking into that hotel lobby, which I knew would be full of other scrapbookers, was fairly intimidating for me. (Especially since I realized, as I was walking in, that I didn’t put any make up on that morning!)
But I took a deep breath and reminded myself that other people were likely feeling exactly the same way I was, and I walked over and said hello.
And then it was just two and a half days of scrapbooking and new friends and putting real-life faces to people I previously only knew through photographs.
I’ve never been to another scrapbooking retreat, so I can’t compare it to anything else, but I can say that it was pretty fantastic. There were tons of product give-aways, a darling goodie bag with my favorite kind of cup and a t-shirt, a few classes (just the right amount, I thought), and time and space to scrap. I got to hang out with some of my scrappy friends from Utah, Jen, Jana, and Kim.
I got to talk to the owners of two scrapbook companies I love, Freckled Fawn and Felicity Jane. (It’s a special sort of awesome to be sitting next to the person who designed the supply you’re using on your layout.) The first day, we drove down to Utah County to shop at some scrapbooking stores and then had a lovely dinner at Cantina Grill in Sandy. The rest of the days were spent on scrapbooking. Or talking about scrapbooking. Or talking about life in general. I had a great conversation with Tiffany, one of the podcast hosts, about our favorite books (our taste is nearly identical!) and I got to go running with some people I had only known from Instagram. (Friends who scrapbook and run? Seriously, I can’t even!)
As a local, I was also there to help out. So I drove around picking up food and other supplies as necessary. There was an urgent need to run to Costco for more chocolate cinnamon bears! I didn’t get many pages finished, but that was mostly because I left my printed journaling at home.
But making layouts—actually scrapbooking—was almost not the point of the scrapbooking retreat. Instead, the point was being surrounded by people who understand you. Sometimes scrapbooking feels like my dirty little secret, like it’s this quirky thing I do that I don’t talk about much because most people don’t get it. Even friends who used to scrapbook with me think it’s strange that I still do it. So to hang out for a weekend with people who I didn’t have to hide my hobby from, people who feel the same as me—well. That, for me, was the best part of the retreat. Being with my tribe.
(My tribe who has now been introduced to chocolate cinnamon bears!)
Near the end of the retreat, we had the opportunity to talk for a few moments about why we continue to scrapbook. I told the story of the day my dad sat and read an entire scrapbook, literally every single word, even though at that point in his Alzheimer’s progression reading was becoming hard for him. He told me I was smart for writing it all down, because maybe one day I would be like him and not be able to remember, but with the scrapbooks I still could. My focus shifted a bit that day; it became less about products and about fitting in with the industry and more about telling my and my family’s stories. It became about being authentic with myself.
In fact, scrapbooking is so ingrained with who I am that I wouldn’t feel like myself if I stopped doing it.
That’s not a facet of myself that anyone in my everyday life relates to, though. So the scrapbook retreat? And hanging out with people who do related? It was worth the initial heart-pounding anxiety of walking into that hotel. It was validating and joyful and just downright fun.
I’m so glad I went.
All day yesterday, I found myself thinking about this post I read on Cathy Zielske’s blog that morning. (I admire Cathy quite a bit, partly because I think if we met in real life she would understand my need to avoid titchy fonts, widows, and bad rags, and I wouldn’t even have to explain what those words meant. So this isn’t me criticizing her ideas; more, it is me exploring my response.) In her post, she writes about how, as the middle-aged mother of two older kids, she is finding that she makes more cards and fewer layouts.
It took me all day to figure out why this made me bristle a little bit.
It’s not that I disagree with anything she said, especially about scrapbooking your adult children. As my kids have gotten older and started leaving home, I do scrap less about their current experiences. This is because I am less involved with their daily lives, which means I have fewer stories to tell and fewer pictures
of them. And, the fact is, I’ve made very few scrapbook layouts about experiences my kids have had without me. This isn’t because I make their layouts about me (I try not to), but because I only feel…well, I first wanted to write “capable,” but really, the right word is “responsible”: I feel responsible to tell the stories I know. So even when I have photos of trips they’ve gone on without me, it’s rare that I make a layout with them, because what would I write? So as they go out into the world, I make fewer layouts about them, and what I do make is mostly about holidays, because they are (sometimes) here for them.
But more important is this fact: I’m finding this part of parenting to be far more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. Much of what I am now capable of is telling my reactions to their experiences, which I “witness” mostly through social media and texting. These feel more appropriate in a journal than a scrapbook. Their stories are becoming their stories. Their choices are not really influenced much by me anymore, nor their consequences. I feel less of a responsibility to record their stories for them. Plus, it would just feel sort of…weird, somehow. To try to record things I didn’t experience. Like I was invading their space or controlling their experiences.
All of which Cathy says in her blog post.
I think what made me bristle is the suggestion that once our kids are of a certain age, the need to create scrapbook layouts diminishes and can be replaced by other crafts.
Don’t get me wrong; I do make things besides scrapbook layouts. I made quilts! And sometimes I make cards.
But there is a certain type of satisfaction that scrapbooking gives me. It is something I’ve written about before, the way that it gives me a space to pair a photograph with words; it gives me a chance to write. That matters most to me, more than pretty paper or alphabet stamps or even my current obsession, which is puffy stickers. (Even though those matter, too.)
But there is also something else I get from scrapbooking, and it has something to do with that word: responsibility.
And it also has to do with me and my own quirks, even when I am making layouts for and about my kids, so I know this is my response and not necessarily universal.
One of my clearest memories from my childhood is the day I found an old check register. It was one kept by my dad, so it was in his squared-off handwriting. And it happened to be the register from the months before and after my birth. I don’t remember what checks they actually wrote during that time, but I will never forget the feeling I had, sitting in the basement by the record player looking at that check register. It felt both mysterious and enlightening—that so much had happened not just in the world at large but in my family members’ lives that I didn’t know about or remember. Or that I didn’t exist yet to witness. Maybe it was the first time I realized how small my place in the universe is. (Maybe I was just a weird kid.) But it ignited something within me, a need to know about the things that happened to people I knew before I knew them.
Flash forward roughly twenty years later, to a day not long after my grandma Elsie died. She was a reader, and my dad took on the responsibility of going through her massive collection of books, looking for valuable editions or rare titles. As I am also a reader, I helped him with this task. But I didn’t really care about the books themselves (which were mostly paperback mysteries anyway). What I was looking for was a diary, or a journal, or a date book. Or even a check register. Something written in my grandma’s hand about her life. I assumed that since she was a reader, like me, she’d also be a writer (like me). But if she ever wrote any journals, or any stories about her life, we didn't find them that day.
Now flash forward another almost-twenty years, to the morning my dad died. His brother Roe brought some photo albums to us, photo albums my grandma Elsie had put together. And then, on that morning which was already swimming in tears, I wept other, sweeter ones. Because there they were: her words in her handwriting, telling her story. And telling my dad’s story. Not all of it—barely even anything. But she wrote “beautiful Bryce Canyon” next to some photos of Bryce Canyon, and so I learned that my grandma, like me, loved Bryce Canyon. On the back of a photo of my dad standing next to a tree in her yard when he was middle-aged—perhaps even my age right now—she wrote “Don planted this tree when he was a little boy.” And so I learned that my grandma, like me, looked for patterns and relationships between objects and time and people.
(It’s really a shame she died before she learned about scrapbooking. She would’ve scrapbooked the hell out of stuff, I think.)
That is also why I scrapbook: because it raises a sort of desolation in me that none of the people who came before me left a record of their lives. Maybe this is a thing my children will never care about—maybe that desolation is just my quirk. But by making scrapbook layouts I can lessen the possibility of any of them ever feeling that same desolation. So in that sense it is for them—but it’s also for me. Time is circular, remember, or it is somehow, and it feels like I am assuaging that ache in my own heart by making layouts about other people. Which makes no logical sense—but it still makes sense. Heart sense.
Or maybe it’s just that when we are parents, what we try to give our children isn’t necessarily always what they need, but what we needed that no one gave us.
So yes: I can see as my kids get older, I will make fewer layouts. About them. At least, about their current lives. But I still have so many stories to tell. And not just about them, but about me, too.
Sometimes I worry that, when I’m the one who’s passed away, and someone is cleaning out my house, the scrapbooks will feel like a burden. Like my kids will see them as stuff they have to figure out what to do with. I hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s a possibility.
There are a lot of layouts.
But the other side of that fear is hope. Hope that they’ll be glad that some part of their story is recorded. Hope that they’ll be glad that a little part of their mother is put down on paper. Hope, even, in a day sometime past my own death, when a grandchild or a great grandchild discovers their parent’s scrapbook, and then they discover something about me, too. Some similarity, some likeness.
And that is one of the reasons that even as a middle-aged mother, and even when I am actually and literally old, I will still be scrapbooking. Yes, it’s about fulfilling that creative need. But it’s also, for me, about feeling responsible, for whatever reason, for the stories, and for making sure that if someone in the future needs their parent’s story, or their grandma Amy’s, they will have it.