Confessions of a Burnt-Out Scrapbooker

Hope everyone had a nice MLK holiday weekend.  I spent part of mine trying to catch up in “preserving memories”- a.k.a. keeping up with family photos, and what a daunting task it has been!  It used to be so simple when my kids were little.  I’d snap pictures on my camera, get them developed at the drug store, and put them in a “magnetic” album—you know, one of those with sticky pages and clear plastic to go on top. Sometimes I’d even write captions on paper to label the photos, or if I felt really creative, I’d stick on a used airplane ticket or baggage tag.  It was a no-brainer.  When the photo album filled up, I’d get another. I never got too behind, because the album stayed close at hand, and it was easy to put the photos in the album as soon as they came back from the drug store.  But of course, in our over-the-top world, someone had to take things a step further. 

I don’t remember exactly when I first got wind of “scrapbooking” but I know it was sometime in the late 90’s. I was in charge of programming for a local women’s organization and I lined up a speaker from a craft store to tell us more about it. Soon my sticky pages had more than just photos and captions on them.  The craft store had a whole aisle filled with “embellishments” to add to the pages: stickers, stencils, “journaling boxes”… Not too long after, I got an invitation to my first “crop”– a scrapbooking party where each guest “crops” or cuts photos and arranges them on scrapbook pages. No, (horrors!) not sticky photo album pages. In the world of scrapbooking, lesson #1 is learning all about “lignin” and “acid-free” and “photo-safe”. I’d been doing everything wrong—someday, those sticky photo albums pages will turn yellow and so will your photos if you don’t protect them properly, I was told. So us “newbies” got a basic how-to class while everyone else at the party was sitting all over my friend’s house with stacks of photos and colored paper and cutting tools, working feverishly.  Though some of these gals seemed a little too fanatical for me (“I save every piece of artwork my child has ever done!” exclaimed one proudly) and some dolled up their pages so much I had a hard time seeing the original photos, my interest was piqued.  When a mom of one of Allison’s friends brought her scrapbooks by the house to show me one day, I got even more interested.  Soon I had my own album and was making my own pages, going to neighborhood crops and weekend scrapbooking “retreats”. It was a lot of fun, and I likened the gatherings to the quilting bees of yesteryear: a bunch of women working on a craft project to pass down to future generations, and gossiping a whole bunch in the process (although I doubt that the quilters drank margaritas while working, like we did! ) Not only that, but scrapbooking was a way to get in touch with my inner child—who wouldn’t with all that coloring, cutting and pasting?! Except, for me, it came with one big drawback: keeping up-to-date with my photos became harder. 

No longer could I say I was “caught up”—photos that would have taken 15 minutes to plop in the sticky photo album were now elaborately cut, matted and laid out on two-page, acid-free “spreads” that I’d be lucky to finish, even one, at a four-hour crop (well, you see, there were the drinks, and lots of food, and um, well, yeah, I did create a two-dimensional tiki hut out of brown paper to surround two pages of vacation photos as a border, and, um, yes, I did hand-cut a whole bunch of tiny one-inch strips of tan paper and painstakingly glue each one along the top of both pages to make a thatched roof for the hut…but hey—that “spread” looked great and still does 12 years later, while my sticky photo albums really did turn yellow and are falling apart!). So in the early days of my scrapbooking hobby, I was proud of myself if I was only a year or two behind on my photos. 

Today I’m five years behind, so that’s why I decided this past weekend that it was time to delve into the world of digital scrapbooking. I’d heard good things about it (“You can knock out a whole album in a couple hours!”) but hadn’t spent much time with it even though Andy had given me the software as a gift over a year ago. You lay out pages on your computer, dragging and dropping photos wherever you need them, cropping photos with the touch of a button, adding digital “stickers”, writing captions using a zillion different fonts and colors at your fingertips. You print the pages on your own printer or have various companies print them out. And I must say that, while a lot of things about it were convenient, it wasn’t the miracle time saver I thought it would be.  I mean, I worked for about 13 hours on the “Year 2006” album this weekend and it’s still not finished. Granted, as my husband says, there is a learning curve to factor in with something new, but I think I had the hang of the process after about an hour.  Also, I sit at my computer for work almost all day, M-F.  Do I really want to spend my leisure time there also? With traditional scrapbooking, I usually stand, at a table.  Surely that means more calories burnt (bonus!).  And of course the tactile hands-on, kindergarten crafts aspect is gone when all you’re touching is a keyboard and a mouse.

So, what to do now?  I can’t go back to tiki huts, hand-drawn “Route 66” signs, and Easter photos cut into egg shapes and glued into a flat “basket”.  But I can’t bring myself to just put all my family’s photos into a generic photo album, either. Besides– if the goal is to help my kids recall fun times, value extended family and boost their self esteem by commemorating important events in their lives, shouldn’t the photos be out where they can be seen? Maybe I should just load all my photos into a digital photo frame, for a constant, rotating slide show. Only this would require the time-consuming job of deleting all the “teen cell-phone generated” photos now crowding my computer (gee, will they ever get tired of taking “mid-air jump” photos or close-up “nostril” shots?). Or, I could look through all my photos and print out just a few, only the very best, and put them in individual frames.  Or maybe I should just better utilize what is probably the best display surface around, the most looked-at place in the whole house: our refrigerator.

I wonder if magnets are acid-free…


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