Scrapbooking is Cool. You Can't Know That Unless You Try it Though.

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. 20170908_101458

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!

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Last year when I was putting away my Christmas decorations, I posted a picture on Instagram of my swaddled-in-bubble-wrap nativity. I remember thinking as I wrapped the pieces, what will 2016 bring me?

2016 nativity boxed

This week, when I was putting away my Christmas decorations, I was struck by the colors of the pieces on my front-room floor. This nativity is the one that is called, by various people in my house, “the ugly nativity,” “the brown nativity,” Brown nativity
“the kitchen nativity” and “Leola’s nativity.” I don’t think it’s ugly, and to me it’s more golden than brown. It belonged to Kendell’s grandma Leola. About six months or so before she died in 1998, we drove up to Burley, Idaho, where she lived, and helped her clean out her house as she was moving to a care center. I inherited a few things from her that day—some canisters I still don’t have room to display in my kitchen, a handful of Christmas tree ornaments, and the nativity that no one else wanted. I love it, especially Mary’s face, which is beautiful and delicate, a Madonna done in plaster of Paris. I don’t know if Leola made the nativity or bought it—I don’t know if she loved it or thought it was ugly, too (I hope she loved it)—but I would like to think that it makes her happy that her granddaughter-in-law loves it and every year wraps in bubble wrap and boxes it in the same padded box as her other favorite nativity.

Just as in January of 2016, as I put away nativities I wondered what the new year would bring. I always have this feeling when I am putting away seasonal decorations. How will I have changed when I see these things again? How will my life be different? Will good or bad things happen?

I cannot say that 2016 was all difficult things. It held, in fact, some fairly awesome experiences. But it also held some really difficult experiences. And if I am honest, I face 2017 with trepidation. I feel like I have lost my ability to hope for good things to happen. Or even to at least hope that bad things don’t happen. When I packed away the nativities last January, I never would’ve imagined that Kendell would almost die that year, or that Kaleb’s heart would get much worse, or that Kendell would have to have another open-heart surgery.

I didn’t imagine, either, that in 2016 I would go to Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Brussels. That I would have a little European adventure with my daughter. If I had imagined it, I wouldn’t have been able to foresee how deeply moved I would be not just by finally seeing a long-anticipated painting (Brueghel’s “The Fall of Icarus”) but art by Degas and Monet and, most of all, Van Gogh (who I already loved but now am slightly obsessed with). And I certainly never could’ve foretold that the trip would end in near disaster, when Haley’s phone was stolen out of her bag not two hours before she needed to catch a train to Spain. Our little trip to Europe gave me some of my sweetest memories but also one of my least-favorite ever, of myself running through a metro station in the 18th arrondissement, shrieking for the police in Spanish (because that was all my head could find, the Spanish word for police in France) like an idiot or a crazy person. I hate that memory of myself; it fills me with shame because I went to Europe with Haley mostly to keep her safe, but I failed.

Some of my best memories mixed with one I wish I could forget, all in one week.

As I was wrapping the nativities in bubble wrap, the UPS man thumped on my front door, delivering a package from Amazon---the 2017 calendar for my kitchen. I took down the 2016 one and flipped through it, remembering: snow storms and rain storms. My first time snow shoeing. A well-traveled hike and a brand new one. Injuries, both mine and Nathan’s. Nathan’s basketball season. Jake’s high school graduation. The two quilts I made during the year. Holding my baby niece at one of my oldest niece’s weddings. Running. The night in Ohio with Kaleb when we ran barefoot through the amusement park so we could make it on his favorite roller coaster one more time. Climbing the stairs in the Statue of Liberty. Closing the door on my mom’s old house, the house I grew up in, for the last time, and the feeling the next day when I realized I’d forgotten to get my dad’s pink rock out of the front yard and now it was too late. Sewing Jake’s graduation quilt in the kitchen of my mom’s new house so Jake wouldn’t see it before I finished it. Soccer games. Getting a pedicure with Haley. Shoveling snow with Kaleb. Shoveling snow with Nathan. Running with Becky. The day an old friend surprised me by showing up at the library to say hello. Lunch with my oldest friend Chris. The night I read my first published essay to a small crowd in a small book store. Walking through the desert by Utah Lake with Nathan. Fighting with Kendell over politics and then laughing at ourselves for how passionate we each get about it. Lunch and a walk on the river trail with another old friend. Birthdays and our 24th anniversary and movies and shopping and laughing.

The old calendar reminded me that there were such hard days—but also such good days. The lows were terrifying this year—but the highs were pretty good as well.

So then I flipped through the new calendar, and my heart changed. I can’t explain it, but I am full of fear for the days 2017 will bring. How will I have changed when I turn the last page to December? Why am I filled with foreboding?

When Kendell had his cardiac arrest in April, many people told me that I was a hero. That I saved him. I usually joke that it is a pretty damn sucky thing that I saved his life and he still won’t let me get a cat. Mostly because I want a cat, but also to cover up what I really feel about that night. I want to say that I learned that things will turn out OK, and that no one leaves until it is their time. I want that to be what I take from it. But deeper down, what I feel is a sort of annihilation. I wasn’t really a hero. I just happened to wake up at the right time. There was such an impossibly tiny period of time when I could manage to do anything to help him, and that I was able to grab those seconds and use them feels like a fluke, not foreordination. Not heroics. It feels like I used up all of my luck in those seconds, so now I have none left to spend on other times when timing is crucial. What I learned is not hope, but terror. Anyone can die at any time, and what if next time I don’t wake up? What if next time—and not just for Kendell but for all or any of the people I love—I’m not even there?

Kendell not dying taught me that people die, a knowledge I thought I understood before but now know in a more intimate way than I could’ve imagined, that long-ago January day in 2016 when I put away the white nativity.

I am terrified of what will happen between now and when I see the nativities again.

So many days in a year. I am thinking about resolutions, of course, like most people do in January, and there are all the usual ones, write more (which really means submit, actually submit, instead of writing and hiding and never trying), lose weight, read more, love more. But what I would really like to accomplish is just to slow down time. All those days in boxes on the calendar—and they will fly by no matter what I do.

And they will hold what they hold, good or bad, predictable or not, and so many of the experiences I will be powerless to control.

I hung up the new calendar and went back to packaging up Christmas. I thought of Leola, who I didn’t know well but who was kind and good and whose daughter (Kendell’s mother) loved her. Whose hands had once touched the same camel and donkey and Mary and Jesus and wise men as I was. Who wasn’t here, but who had given me these objects and so, in a sense, is still here. I thought about the other people who are gone but who I still miss, my dad, my grandparents, Kendell’s parents. People who had their own days, their own happinesses and struggles, who all succeeded and failed in their own ways, who I didn’t ever tell enough that I loved them. Who are gone, except for I remember them, except for I can touch what they once touched. I finished wrapping all of the pieces, I put them in the padded box, I clicked the lid shut.

2017 is here. So many days. Even the shape of the numbers fills me with dread. But I have no choice. I can’t freeze time. I can’t even slow it down. All I can do is live it. All I can do is try to find joy, to savor, to survive what is difficult. To hope I am in the right place, always. To run if I can, to create, to write. To try.

The year will pass.

What will it bring?

Christmas 2016: a Record of Imperfect, Perfect Moments

I tried all day yesterday to write about our Christmas. Mostly because I wanted to get the details down, but also because I wanted to write a blog post with some new ideas for journaling about Christmas.

IMG_0429 family edit 4x6 with text

In my scrapbooks, I don’t only tell the happy stories. I am OK with documenting what was hard, or difficult, or even downright painful. Some scrapbookers see this as sort of…strange. Or even damaging—does the future really need my record of imperfections? But for me, I feel like only scrapbooking about the positive is inauthentic. I wish I knew how my grandmother or great grandmother struggled with her marriage or her mothering, what she learned from her disappointments, what dreams she didn’t achieve and how she dealt with it.  (I would like to read any of my ancestors’ thoughts but, alas, almost none of them were journal keepers.)

I tend to joke around Christmas about how I have offended the Gods of Christmas. (By which I don’t mean Christ, by the way.) We seem to always have something difficult or problematic happen right around Christmas: stitches, puking, step throat, a few really ugly arguments. One year I nearly burnt the house down; one year we couldn’t get out of the garage because the spring on the door broke. Kendell and I always have holiday tension because our ideas about Christmas (especially Christmas spending) are so different, so he’s usually mad at me because he thinks I spent too much and I’m mad at him because he can’t just leave it alone.

So I have stopped hoping for a “perfect” Christmas. One without any mishaps or sick kids or arguments. Instead, I try to celebrate what was good and fun and sweet. But when I sit down to write the stories of our holidays, it is impossible for me to only write the good stuff. Some years I can write the stories easily enough, but this year isn’t one of them.

Even though our Christmas disasters were mostly averted.

On Christmas Eve, for example, just as I was washing the last dish before I went to bed, I thought  wait a second…why is my foot wet? What is dripping on my sock? And then I realized I was standing in a puddle, because the garbage disposal sprung a leak. The cupboard under the sink was full of dirty water, all the way up to the lip, and it had started flowing out. So that was a giant mess, but at least I noticed before I went to bed—it would’ve been much worse if it sat all night.

(It did mean that, even though I thought this year would be the year that I managed to get to bed at a decent hour, I didn’t actually get to sleep until almost three.)

Nathan, Haley, and Jake have all been sick this month with colds; Jake actually had pneumonia. But they were all at least starting to feel better, so while there was coughing there wasn’t misery.

Until, at about 9:00 on Christmas morning (yes, I did sleep until he woke me up!), Kaleb came upstairs feeling like he was going to throw up. He spent a miserable hour lying in the bathroom…but then whatever it was finally passed; he didn’t actually throw up and he started feeling better. (If you knew our history of Christmas Stomach Flu you would realize what a miracle that was. I think that for at least half of our Christmases, someone has either been down with the rotavirus or just recuperating from it. It is the plague the Christmas Gods curse me with.)

So the Christmas disasters were manageable.

I think why I am having the hardest time writing about Christmas is because of how different this year felt. I just felt…sad. Sad all the time, in nearly undefinable ways. As if the fleeting quality of life had been drawn in sharp relief against my heart and that is all I could feel. It felt like a transition, somehow. Like next year will be different and so I needed to savor the end of what is usual for us. Even though Kaleb has joined the ranks of the unbelievers, and that’s already unusual. I decided to give myself a little break this year. Instead of putting most of the gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve (and spending an hour putting bows & ribbon on them, because you can’t put the bows on and then tuck everything into the various hiding places, right? The bows would be squished and squished bows make me sad.), I put them under as I finished wrapping them. I only kept one gift for each kid to be from Santa. I was sad about this non-believing state we are in this year, as playing Santa has been one of my favorite parenting responsibilities.

But I tried to remember to savor what this year brought, instead of focusing on memories, and that helped me notice how happy Kaleb was. He would take stacks of presents downstairs for me as I finished wrapping them, and kept everything arranged neatly as we added more. And in the end, after we’d opened presents (we didn’t even start opening till 11, mind you, because Kendell insisted on taking the disposal out that very morning), Kaleb told me “this is the best Christmas we’ve ever had.” And then he said “Thanks, mom, for working so hard to make it so nice” and then I managed to not cry when I hugged him because when you’re playing Santa, no one thanks you, but when you’re just the person who buys and wraps the gifts…someone thanks you.

I was worried about Jake, too. He’s had a harder first semester at college than he had anticipated, and is dealing with some depression and anxiety. I so wanted him to come home and have a really good, peaceful, happy experience. I watched him throughout the day (while trying to look like I was just Normal Mom instead of Worried Mom) and I noticed something: he has entered the phase of Christmas nostalgia. He said several times “remember the Christmas when…” and then, when we took a break from opening gifts to have some food, he took a dip sniff of the hot wassail in his cup, sipped it, and said “that. That is Christmas to me.” And then I had to try not to cry again because it felt like a message tossed back through time to all of the Christmas Amys I have been, exhausted from making Christmas: he noticed. The magic worked and he will be able to remember Christmas with happiness.

There were some other really good moments, like the joke they kept making about the paper that said “ho ho ho.” (Young adults make jokes like that despite my protests!) Or like when Haley (who’s “big” gift this year was new brakes for her car and so had fewer actual gifts under the tree) said “wait a second, I just realized that I won’t have something new to wear” and then the next present I handed her had a sweater in it—a sweater that she liked! And when I remembered that I’d also stuffed each of their little stockings (they have a small stocking that’s actually an ornament with their birth year on it) with one thing, and I had them find them on the tree. (That was Nathan’s idea, as a few years ago I’d put his much-coveted butterfly knife in his little stocking, and he wanted that to happen again; even though there wasn’t a knife in his this year he was happy I did it.) (Nathan loves knives. It’s one of his quirks.) Or when the kids sent me on a treasure hunt to find the gift that Kendell had got for me that they couldn’t figure out how to wrap. (New snowshoes!)

Writing this, I realized that maybe before I could write about my kids’ Christmas experiences, I needed to process my own. Christmas is joyful but it isn’t always perfect (wait! Is it ever perfect?), and working through whatever was difficult helps me to feel the joy more clearly. I can’t pretend it wasn’t there—but writing my way through it (instead of around it) feels the best for me.

So instead of giving you a list of Christmas journaling prompts, I only have one tip: just write something. Write the good details, the hard ones, the funny ones. Write about what felt real to you, even if it wasn’t perfect. This Christmas will never come again. It is in the living of it, good and bad, that we make the experiences we will remember but that are also so easy to forget, so it is in the writing of it that we get to keep them.

(But, this post HERE has a downloadable file with 31 Christmas journaling prompts if you want more suggestions!)

I Guess I Will Have to Forgive Him Or, the Continuing Trials of A Recuperating Husband

("In Which I Reveal Several Despicable Things About Myself" might also be a good title. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

I saw an old family friend at the library today, and we started talking about our families and how they’ve been since we last talked. When I told her about Kendell’s heart surgeries, she said “I bet you are taking great care of him.” She’s known me since I was three years old so perhaps she has some memory of me as a kind, nurturing, nurse-esque person.

I did not guffaw. At least out loud.

But I do have to tell you: this taking care of a post-surgical husband is hard work.

Don’t get me wrong. I love him, and I want to take care of him. But I am not, deep down in my nature, a natural caregiver. (There are many reasons I am not a nurse; poop is a pretty big one, but that lack I feel inside myself to want to rush to take care of someone’s physical needs is another.) I can fetch water and rub sore muscles and make sure the germy surfaces are de-germed, but I don’t intuitively know what to do. And during recuperation times, when I am needed much more than normal, I start to get a little bit resentful. Old arguments resurface, old frustrations reemerge.

Plus my natural need for solitude is interrupted.

(If you are still reading this after I’ve revealed my selfish coldness to you…thanks!)

Helping a spouse recuperate is not easy.

But do you know when it is especially hard? In December. (I know this for sure now, as we’ve done it for two Decembers in a row.) Because there’s so much other stuff that needs to get done. You know, like…buying gifts. Or at least a gift for my husband. My husband who wants to go everywhere that I go because he’s bored sitting at home. (Can you see me now? Purposefully not writing about how readers never get bored? Do I sound too proud of my ability to entertain myself? I’ll stop now.)

It’s hard to surprise a person who is always with you.



Goofy couple selfie
(In case you were wondering: this is what it looks like when I try to take a cute couple selfie just to celebrate the fact that we accomplished some Christmas shopping.)

And this year I didn’t want to get just any gift. I wanted to get him something awesome because holy *&*$#(@, this has been a rough year for him. A rough fifteen months. I wanted to find something that would be memorable and let him know he is loved and help him to feel that despite all the sucky medical experiences he’s had to go through, life is pretty awesome because look at that gift!

But not only have I been unable to go shopping without him…it hardly matters because I have had zero brilliant ideas as to what to give him. I mean, really. What kind of gift would make a person’s relationship with a rough stretch of life feel better? Is there any such gift?

Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself.

At any rate, I thought today would be my day to at least try to find something. I thought I had a window of Kendell-less shopping. We had a party today for work, which meant I went in at a different time than I usually do. And I might have just let him think that I was going back to work in the two hours after the party. And instead I would go shopping.

It would be the perfect time to find him a gift.

So I grabbed my opportunity.

And I totally failed. I didn’t find a damn thing to give him and I had no inspiration. But that’s not the worst part. Or maybe these are equally bad, but when I had about 45 minutes left before I needed to be back at work, I got a text.

From Kendell.

Asking me where I was.

Because he’d decided to come and visit me at the library. And the rest of the librarians who I work with were like, “ummm, we don’t know where Amy is, she’s not supposed to be here until 4:30” and yeah: totally busted.

And oh my gosh. I was so mad at him.

Which was probably more anger at the entire situation, at the fact that he’s had to do surgery recuperation for two Decembers in a row, and at myself for not being able to cope with a constant companion, and for my failure to find him the perfect gift.

But I was pretty pissed off.

And then I started feeling bad (but still angry and flustered), because I did just lie to my husband (even if it was for a good reason) and I really do want to find something that will remind him that life is fantastic. Or at least not entirely horrible.

So I started messaging him. I told him I was sorry for being tricky and that I hadn’t found him a gift, even though I really wanted to find something great.

And he texted me back and said “I have a new defibrillator and a new heart valve and a bitchin’ wife. What more could I want?”

So I guess I’ll have to forgive him.

Christmas Layers

(This post inspired by this one by my sister Becky.)

I have written more than once about how, for me, a large part of the pleasure of the holidays is memory. There is the remembering of childhood Christmases and, now that my kids have grown older, the remembering of their childhood Christmases which are, for me, memories of a different kind of mothering than I do now. It is a bittersweet remembering, these Christmas memories; each one reminds me of how much time is already gone and how fast an entire life can pass.

Memory is, in fact, my primary motivator for Christmas experiences. One of my greatest hopes is that my kids will all look back on their Christmas memories—when they are old enough to be nostalgic for them—with happiness. That some flavor or smell or texture will be a trigger and take them back to good memories. Thus wrapping all the gifts in coordinating paper, thus the prettiest bows I could find, thus Santa with his unique handwriting; thus baking and candles and traditions.

I hope their memories sustain them as mine do.

Last week, my sister-in-law came across some old photos, including this one of my little family in 1998:


I love that picture. Jake's wave, which was entirely spontaneous, and the way Haley is holding her hands, and the almost-pleasant expression on Kendell's face. I love that I can remember being that mom, with little kids, and how fun it was to shop for toys for them. I know I was also tired—I had just finished my next-to-last semester at BYU and was facing down 18 more credits the next semester; Jake had two ear infections and pneumonia that December and Haley had the stomach flu. But I was also happy in a different way from how I am happy now. I thought that the upcoming years (and years and years!) of having little kids at Christmas would last forever. 

It didn't, of course. Kids grow up and, one by one, mine have learned that Santa is helped out by their parents. (I haven't ever said "there isn't a Santa Claus" and I never will, because Santa is in our hearts as long as we keep him there.) Christmas started feeling stressful to me as my kids became teenagers, and while I hope I didn't ruin the magic...perhaps I did. I might have put too much pressure on everyone for the holidays to feel perfectly magical & memorable that I ruined the magic.

My relationship with Christmas is changing again. First Haley graduated from high school, so now she just comes home for Christmas, rather than always being here. This year, Jake will also need to "come home," even if he lives in the same town. For at least five years, Kaleb has been my only believer, but this year he, too, knows the truth about Santa. So I feel a little bit adrift: I have two adult kids and two still at home, and Kaleb still to make magic for even if he is 11 and knows everything.

As I looked at that picture from 1998, I had a realization: while we have traditions and while Christmas always feels like Christmas, no Christmas is ever the same. That long-ago Christmas when I bought Barbies for Haley and a Winnie-the-Pooh walker for Jake was never repeated; the next year Nathan had come along and we were on a different adventure. Every year is its own year, which means that never again will I have what I have this Christmas. Who knows? Maybe next year someone will decide to travel, or will be engaged or married. Or things could change in some way I can’t even imagine yet. I still have my mom down the street and my sisters and sisters-in-law down other streets (some longer than others) and nieces and nephews (and grands, too!) to visit with on Christmas day. Only this year will Kendell have survived this year, with his two new scars and an altered perception of mortality. (Please, God, may we get to next December with no more new scars!)

Sure: there are no believers anymore. There are no little ones bursting with irrepressible excitement. But this year will be good, too. This year will be so, so, sweet. Its pleasures and goodness will be unique to this year, it will add a new memory or two to all of the others, and I don’t want to be so caught up in remembering how it used to be that I miss what is right now.

So yes: memories. When I look at my tree, I remember the Christmases of my young motherhood; when I gaze at my white nativity I remember how it felt to be a child on Christmas eve again. When I look at my bowl of blue ornaments I remember Christmas Eves in my grandparents’ tiny, hot apartment and I miss them with an ache that has grown over the years rather than diminishing.

But joy in this year is the ultimate goal of right now. Savoring what is​, which is good, too.

And also, there is this. Over the past few years, whenever I decorate the banister in my kitchen, something new happens in my heart. I don’t remember, perhaps because I usually hang the snowmen and the snowflakes on my own;
A sorensen banister

I look forward. I can nearly feel a little spirit waiting to become my grandchild. I hesitate to even write that, as if putting the words into form will jinx it. And I am in no rush for my kids to become parents. But I do anticipate it. There will be children again, that little voice whispers. One day I’ll be there too. This has happened for the past three or four years and while, sure, you could argue it’s all in my head, I’m just imagining it, I don’t care. It has added another layer to Christmas: looking forward.

I love the remembering. I love the right now. I love the anticipation of how things might change. And even though I’m right now at the height of Christmas stress, I am also feeling joy and peace.

In Which A Grown Woman Weeps Over Pumpkins

I’m thinking about Kaleb this morning. Kaleb and Halloween and also another October morning, eleven years ago, when Kaleb was just a baby and I decided to put out the Halloween decorations.

Halloween baby 4x6

Obviously he didn’t really do much that year, but every year after that, he’s been my Halloween compatriot. He went through a phase when the scary decorations for sale at stores would terrify him, but he still wanted me to push the cart through them anyway. He loved looking at costumes, talking about what he’d be for the year and remembering what he was in previous years.

He always helped me put out the Halloween decorations.

This year, though, he’s pretty much over Halloween. He doesn’t want to wear a costume that is hot, has a mask or any props to carry, or is uncomfortable in any way. He hasn’t looked at costumes in stores. And when I asked him if he wanted to help me put out the Halloween decorations on Sunday, he shrugged and said “no…it’s too early anyway.”

And my Halloween-loving heart broke a little bit.

The next day, I had a conversation with my oldest niece, who recently turned thirty and decided that her recent baby—her seventh!—would be her last. She talked about how she’d watched me struggle with being “done,” but how she could see that I eventually made peace with it, and that helped her decide her family was complete. I smiled and nodded and hugged her, but really: what happened isn’t what she thinks happened.

People talk about that—about realizing that they felt “done” with the size of their family, knowing that they were finished with babies when their last baby was born.

Maybe from the outside it looked like I had that experience, too. But really, I didn’t. I never felt done. I have always felt like I was missing a child, in between Nathan and Kaleb. What I had to make peace with was the fact that I will always live with that feeling, that I missed someone along the way.

And yes: I do feel done with babies. I have for a long time. But I think that other feeling, the one of missing a person, of my family feeling incomplete (a gap that is impossible to fill) makes it harder for me at every phase of Kaleb’s life. Harder to let go and move on, because each time he moves on I remember that it really is over. My days of anticipating another new life coming to me. That missing child is entwined with Kaleb in ways that are hard for me to explain but still undeniable. Maybe because he was just one baby but had to take the place of two.

This morning I decided that I’d put out the Halloween decorations. It’s the first time in my life, since I became an adult with actual Halloween decorations to put out, that I did it myself. Each little object is wrapped with memories, visible only to me, of each of my kids, but they are strongest with Kaleb because he is the last, and he was the one who cared about it the longest. I set out the pumpkins, the ghosts, my Catrina witch from Mexico, the Halloween quilts, the Halloween cats. I washed the Halloween dishes and spread out the Halloween tablecloth. I remembered all of the little things I own an love that are imbued with Halloween memories. And I thought, and I remembered, and I tried to put into words what I was feeling.

Yes: I’m done with babies. And I am happy with the place I am at in my life. But sometimes that old sorrow grabs me, like it did this morning. How does a grown woman find herself weeping over a Halloween cat and a fleur-de-lis pumpkin? It’s to do with regret, with looking back and wishing I could have held on longer, somehow, to those fleeting days of having littles. They were hard days, but good ones, too, just like right now is also hard and also good. But what I wouldn’t give, even though I am done with babies, even though I have made peace with carrying the missing—even though, what I wouldn’t give to be able to scoop up that baby right out of the photo and hold him in my arms and smell his neck and hear his little sounds.

What my niece doesn’t know, what time will teach her, is that while you can come to a place where you are done with babies, there will always be things that remind you how much you loved babies. And then you will remember that there will never be any more for you, and even with the peace, even with the goodness, there is still, also, sadness. You might be done with babies…but you are never done with your babies.

Scrapbooking Christmas in January: When You Don't Do December Daily

Christmas in january 2016

Yes, I know: it’s February! But I’m so close to completing my scrapbooking-Christmas-in-January goal that I’m going to push on and finish.

Unlike the (seemingly) rest of the scrapbook world, I don’t do December Daily. The thought of it gives me hives. I am always so stressed and busy in December that the thought of trying to find something scrap-worthy every. single. day. just seems like a nightmare to me.  (Kudos to those of you who can do this. It’s just not me.) I just scrapbook Christmas and December like any other topic in my traditional albums. I always do a layout about Christmas day for each of my kids. Depending on how the pictures turn out, I’ll make one about Christmas Eve. This year I meant to make a layout about how much I love the week between Christmas and New Year, but I realized I took hardly zero pics during that week this year.

Next year!

In fact, that’s something I do: While I am scrapbooking Christmas photos, I keep a list of pictures I want to remember to take the following December. Mostly this list comes from that feeling when I’m scrapbooking and I think “I really wish I had a picture of ____________.” I set it up as an email that I delay delivery of until December 1. It is so helpful to be reminded of as the holiday season starts.

But I’m also a big believer that you don’t HAVE to have a photo to scrapbook a story. Take this layout:

Merry december by amy sorensen

The story I wanted to get down was the one I wrote in my journaling, about the snowy morning with Nathan when we bought blood oranges at the grocery store after his wart-removal appointment with the dermatologist. Not the most festive topic, maybe, but it really was one of my very most favorite mornings all December. I wish I would’ve taken a selfie of the two of us, but I didn’t. So I just gathered some other pictures from December and then told the story.

font tip: contrast. I really, really love script fonts. The more swooshes the better! But with mostly boys in my life, I don’t use them very often. If I’m making a layout that is about a boy and a girl, though (if it’s about one of my sons and me, for example, or a teacher, grandma, sister, aunt, or friend who is also a girl) I tend to get scripty. To keep it from feeling too feminine, however, I always pair a script font with a straightforward, simple, and bold sans serif font. Not only does it help the layout feel a little more masculine, it establishes some contrast. Use the script in small doses.

Silhouette tip: cutting thin fonts. Some fonts are constructed of really, really thin lines. The one I used for this layout—Bellweathers—is one of those. I liked the shape of the swooshes (especially that long on the “d” in “December”) but it was so thin it would’ve been nearly impossible to get off of the cutting mat and glued down onto my layout. To thicken up thin fonts before you cut them on your Silhouette, use the Offset button.

  1. Choose the font and type the word you want to use. Offset no1
  2. Select the word, then right click and choose Ungroup. This makes each letter into its own object. Spread the letters out so that they’re not touching each other and have some space. Offset no2 ungroup spaced

  3. Select all of the spaced-out letters by dragging a square around all of them.
  4. Right click, then choose Offset. This brings up the Offset menu on the left side of the screen. Offset no3 offset start
  5. Click on the Corner button. This keeps the closest shape to the original font, while the Round button curves the edges.
  6. Enter a small number in the Distance box. I usually put something like .025. If you put in a number that is too big or too small, click on the Cancel button and start again. Depending on the distance you Offset by, the inner parts of the letters might go away.
  7. Click on Apply. Each letter will now have a wider copy. Drag the thinner ones onto a spot on the screen and then delete them. (I put mine like this so you could see the difference in width.) Offset no5 thick and thin
  8. Arrange the thicker letters in the way you want them, and then weld them back together.

After you’ve done this a couple of times, you’ll find it’s a really quick process for making your words just a little bit thicker.

Are you a scrapbooker who does December daily? If not, how do you document—if you do at all—the other days in December?

Happy scrapbooking!

Scrapbooking Christmas in January: When You Make a Layout You Don't Love

Christmas in january 2016
It happens to everyone: you have an idea for a layout, you make the layout, you finish and look at it, and think….ehhhhh. Consider this layout:

Christmas in january amy sorensen never leave home

I like some things about it: the green, gold, and cream color combination. Those cute rub-on houses, which go so well with the layout’s theme. The photo itself. (Strike that. I actually sort of love this photo.)

But I don’t love how the title turned out. I should’ve just cut the whole thing out of cream instead of swapping out the colors. And I think the quote at the bottom looks like it’s crooked.

I don’t hate it. But I don’t love it. It’s just…ehhhhh.

Which brings up a question: should you redo a layout you don’t love? Or just leave it alone?

Part of me wants to ditch this layout and start all over. (Even though I’d have to buy a new package of the rub-ons and a new piece of that gold-striped vellum). It’s the part of me that thinks but this is an important story I wanted to tell, and since it’s important, the layout should be impeccable. I think that motivation is a strong one—to make sure an important (for whatever reason) story is presented in a remarkable way. It’s part of what drives us scrapbookers to scrapbook. There are easier, less visually intensive, ways to tell our stories, but we choose to also illustrate them. It’s what we do!

But there’s another part of me that has learned something: done is always preferable to perfect.

I don’t know how many layouts I’ve made in my twenty-something years of scrapbooking. Close to 1,000, I would guess. Most of those stories I’ve scrapped are important ones, experiences, ideas, memories, tales and everyday details that I am grateful to have put down on paper. I’m happy to have the pretty illustrations, too. But I’ve learned in those two decades something that’s also important:

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what your layouts look like.

Especially not one layout in the context of hundreds.

Because think about it: your style is always changing. Products are always changing. Your design skills get better the more you scrapbook. You buy new tools, you use them for awhile, you get tired of them and pass them on to someone else. The thing that stays consistent in scrapbooking is just this: stories + photos. If you tell a story, and there's a picture to go with it (or you don't even have to have a picture!), the rest of it is fun, yes. But the embellishments and everything else—what the layout looks like—is secondary to the story.

Done is always preferable to perfect.

I can immediately think of five or six layouts I’ve made in the past two or three years that I actually kind of hate. Something happened between the translation of idea and finished layout. It just didn’t turn out like I wanted or imagined. But I did with those layouts exactly what I’m going to do with this layout: put them into albums and then move on.

There’s always another story. There’s always more pictures to scrap. If I let myself get caught up in a perfection quest, I’m doomed. So I reject that idea—that “important” stories demand perfect layouts. No layout is perfect, there’s always a typo or a slightly-crooked embellishment or a photo you processed too red or yellow. The next layout is just another chance. To tell a story, to use something pretty.

To get that memory onto paper where it might not be lost.

product idea: don’t forget that your fonts are also products you can use. I’ve narrowed down my font selection in recent years, especially for the ones I use to print journaling text, but one of my favorite embellishments will always be an illustrated quote like I made for this layout. What are some fonts you’ve loved? Use one or two in a big way on your next layout.

photo challenge: get yourself into a photo! Yes, I know. This is hard, especially if you’re the main photographer in your family. Sometimes it requires handing your camera to someone else and asking them to take your picture. I also know the argument: I’m too ___________ right now for a picture. (Fat, wrinkly, old.) My hair needs to be colored and I’m not wearing anything very special. To which I say: BULL! I have a handful of photos of me and my mom from my childhood, and when I look at them I never think she’s heavy in that picture. (Even though she would likely think that.) I think I am so glad I have this picture of my mom. I think I wish I had more pictures of my mom. You are never going to be younger than you are right now. You might be skinnier. But: you might not. You are only going to get more wrinkles and more grey hair. So let go of thinking you have to be perfect before you get in front of the camera. Just get in front of the camera now and then. Your future self—grey and wrinkled and softer and chubbier—will thank you!

So tell me: what do you do about layouts that you just don’t love?

Happy scrapping!

Scrapbooking Christmas in January: What to Do when You Don't Know What to Do

Christmas in january 2016

When I sat down to scrapbook Kaleb’s Christmas 2015 photos, I found myself stumped. I had a bunch of cute photos, and a whole bunch of awesome supplies, but nothing was speaking to me.  I didn’t want to put them aside, however, and work on something else, because I have that goal of getting all of Christmas 2015 scrapped before February 1.

I think that “I don’t know what to do with these pictures” feeling is a common problem when you’re scrapping something like Christmas, something that repeats in your albums. In a certain sense, all of the supplies are the same, or at the very least, very similar, and maybe some of your photos are too, if you’re like me and tend to take traditional pictures every year.

So I used some of the techniques I always use when I’m feeling a little bit resistant to making a layout. I thumbed through my Christmas drawer (but nothing grabbed me). I thought about titles (but nothing jumped out). I looked at layouts on my Pinterest boards (but nothing inspired me). I reread my journal from Christmas…and then I started to get a sense of why I was resisting this particular layout.

I sort of feel like I failed this year, at making Christmas magical for Kaleb. The new church suit he wanted was too small (and too grey!), his coveted Chuck Taylors too big, and his secret hope for a remote-control car unfulfilled. (Not that he complained, really. He wasn’t bratty about it. I just sensed a sort of sadness.) Which makes me feel all sorts of complicated feels, because it is likely the last year he’ll be a believer. And because I take it seriously, my role as Santa. Even when my kids have found out the truth, I still like them to have some surprises, some wishes fulfilled that seemed impossible. So when I think about Kaleb and Christmas 2015, I feel sad for him and annoyed at myself.

I think for some scrapbookers, writing about only the positive aspects of things is part of their method. For me, though, I don't have a problem with writing about the imperfect things. In fact, it's fairly hard to put a glowy lens on something that wasn't entirely glowy. This is a personal choice and has every bit to do with a scrapbooker's personality, so I'm not judging at all. But for me to feel like I am making layouts with journaling that is authentic to me, I tend to write about what really happened, the good and the difficult.  

So instead of being glowy, I took a deep breath and I wrote what I was really feeling and what really happened. Christmas in january no3 journaling close up
And once I got those words down, I was past my scrapper’s block. The journaling gave me the title and a sense of what embellishments to use (because how could I not use a Santa of some sort, with such a story?) and also the colors (obviously very Santa-inspired!). Plus I gave myself permission to go just a little bit crazy with some glitter cardstock! 

This is why, for me, it’s always best if I start a layout by writing the journaling. I can’t see my way to what I want to do until I’ve written what needs to be said. Then I can imagine the layout. I know not everyone works that way, but my suggestion for today is this: if you’re feeling like you don’t know exactly what to do with a set of pictures (but still want to get them scrapbooked), try writing the journaling, and see where it leads you.

Christmas in january no4 never stop believing Amy Sorensen

Some other ideas for if you’re stumped (but still want to get those photos scrapped):

  1. Switch up your process. If you usually start by picking your supplies, write your journaling first. If you start with photos, try picking a supply first, and then find photos or stories that go with it.
  2. Make a layout supply kit for an entirely different layout. You don’t even have to have the photos printed for it. Just pick something else you want to scrap, then choose some supplies for that story. Try to pick something that doesn’t relate at all to the other pictures. Set those supplies aside, and go back to your stubborn photos. Just looking at something different sometimes helps your ideas start to flow!
  3. Challenge yourself to use a specific type of supply; bonus points if it’s something you haven’t used in a while. When was the last time you made a stamped background? used your Copic markers? dug out your die cut machine? Sometimes techniques can get you engaged with the process.
  4. Take a quick break. Give yourself ten minutes to do something physical: walk around your backyard to admire your rosebushes, throw in a load of laundry, go get the mail out of your mailbox. Ignore all thoughts of scrapbooking for those ten minutes. Then see what new energy you discover!
  5. Look through some of your older layouts. Sometimes what you need is a reminder: you can do this! Remind yourself of that by seeing that you already have, in fact, done it. Don’t just flip through layouts; look at them. Remember how much you loved that embellishment or patterned paper? What about that funny thing your kid said that you’d forgotten about till you read it on a layout? See. You can totally do this. Now get going!

What do you do when you find yourself stumped over a set of photos?

Happy scrapping!

What I Learned from Mary

Back in November, when I was trying to come to grips with the fact that Christmas would, indeed, come again, I started trying to think of what I could change within myself to help Christmas go more smoothly than it did last year. I made a list: let go of trying to make things perfect, enjoy the good moments as they come, get enough sleep, let go of what isn’t essential, live in the present instead of pining for the days of little ones, enjoy my memories from Christmas when I was a kid.

But even as I worked on these things, I continued to have a very specific prompting: study Mary.

Study Mary.


(My favorite painting of the birth of Christ, Brian Kershisnk's "Nativity.")

It never stopped tickling my conscious until I decided to do it. So, for the past six weeks or so, I have been studying Mary, the mother of Christ. This isn’t the first time I’ve pondered on Mary—remember my broken Mary? Every year when I pack her away with the rest of my Christmas things, I almost decide to leave her out all year because she reminds me that as mothers we continue to press on, to do our work, even when it is hard. Especially when it is hard.

But I haven’t ever thoroughly studied her.

This month, I have delved into the scriptures to learn about Mary, reading all of the parts of the New Testament (not just the Christmas story) that mention her. I went into my studies thinking of Mary with preconceived ideas, especially that she was meek and mild. But after reading so much about her, I have decided that while perhaps she was humble—certainly her socioeconomic level was—I don’t think she was either of those things.

Consider all of the difficult things she experienced:

  • Carrying a child which her society most likely believed was illegitimate.
  • Having to tell her betrothed of her experience with the angel.
  • Traveling to Juda to see Elizabeth, to Bethlehem to deliver her baby, to Egypt to save him, to Cana for the wedding, to Jerusalem when Christ was crucified. Traveling during her lifetime must have been an exhausting experience.
  • Hearing the prophecy of Simeon and knowing, for her entire experience of mothering Christ, that she would experience great sorrow.
  • Being poor. One of the proofs of Mary and Joseph not being wealthy is that, when they brought Christ to the temple for purification after his birth, they brought a pair of doves instead of a yearling lamb and a dove; this was a far less costly option.
  • Having to share her son with the world. “Who is my mother, or my brethren?”
  • Witnessing her son be crucified.

Meek suggests submissive, yielding, compliant, deferential. In my mind, Mary is none of these things. She is involved, actively, in the processes around her. For example, when the angel comes to her, Mary is not passive or silent. She first thinks about the angel’s words, and then she asks him a question. It’s only after the angel has explained things to her that she says “behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” To me, this means she didn’t just do whatever the angel told her to do. She listens to him, she asks questions, and then, in the gap between Luke 1:37 and 38, she chooses.

She wasn’t acted upon, but acted.

I think it’s an important distinction, her choosing. It says something about her character—that she was brave, thoughtful, and faithful, certainly, but also that she was confident and self-assured. It reminds me that we always have a choice, even when the decision feels impossible to make. Even when choosing what God wants you to do seems like the hardest thing you can imagine. And that her choice comes after the angel reminds her (and in my imagination, it is a gentle reminder) that with God all things are possible. I think she would need that knowledge throughout her entire life.

Mary is also unafraid to voice her testimony. Think of her in her cousin Elizabeth’s house, delivering her magnificat. She isn’t quiet and her words are not demure; they are full of praise and joy and exuberance. These aren’t words to be whispered, but shared with the world. She didn’t ask Zacharias for his testimony, didn’t defer to the priest in the house, but shared her own.

Those travels of hers, too, are inspiring to me. Difficult, yes, but I love that her world wasn’t as narrow as her own small town. I would like to know her stories, of what she saw in Egypt, of how she felt traveling to Bethlehem so very pregnant, of what she thought of the land and the landscapes. She went out into the world, she walked and ran and hiked mountains and crossed valleys. To me, a meek woman would rather stay at home.

Always the two words are paired: meek and mild. As if they are synonyms, almost, but they aren’t. Mild suggests gentle and tenderhearted, but also calm and good-hearted and easygoing. I wish we knew more stories about her raising Christ, about what it was really like. But I wonder (both with Mary and with my own mothering): where do children get their characteristics? Is it only nature, only nurture, or some of both? Those characteristics of mildness can also be used to describe Christ, and yet He was also (in my mind) passionate and unafraid to say the truth. I think Mary’s mildness comes in how she raised Christ, and while He was undoubtedly brimming with good qualities, he also learned them from His mother.  I doubt that mildness is the only quality her example provided. She was the mother of Christ. She taught him the things of this world, and I think to teach Him to be brave and outspoken and wise and kind and passionate and loving, she also embodied them.

I have learned so much from my study of Mary. Knowledge that helped me this Christmas—to remember what is important, to be both gentle and brave, to grasp the experiences that life brings me—but which will continue to help me. Mary might’ve been both meek and mild, but she was certainly other things. She was fierce, she was determined, she was brave. She spoke her mind, she experienced her world, she did everything she could to raise her son well. What she teaches me is twofold. One, what the true meaning of a blessed life is. (Because, remember: Gabriel says she is blessed, and then Elizabeth says she is blessed, and Mary herself acknowledges that she is blessed.)  It isn’t a life without trials and troubles, but one lived in the presence of the sacred. Mary’s example reminds me to find peace and joy in what is good in my life, no matter what is hard.

Second is what lingers from my favorite scripture about Mary: Luke 2:19.

Luke 2 19

To me, this means Mary continued to act. She continued to think about and find meaning in her experiences. She knew that what her life contained was larger than just herself, and that her choices influenced more than only her own life. This is true for my life, too. It reminds me that while I’ve been accused of overthinking and putting too much meaning into things, pondering and coming to understand “these things” in our lives is not a bad thing or a worthless use of time. It is essential—to ponder and to understand.

Studying Mary during the Christmas season helped me in many ways. It brought me a sense of peace that I have never felt. It helped me remember what is important. It guided me in seeking out the sacred in my own life. It helped me to be bold in stating what I felt passionate about. It kept me actively choosing—to be present, to be joyful or sorrowful as my experiences asked, to act swiftly upon promptings. And while (until I have a safe high shelf to display it on) I will still bubble wrap and pack away my broken Mary with the rest of Christmas, I will keep this new understanding of Mary with me all year.