Correction to This Article
A photo caption with a Jan. 30 article about scrapbooking misspelled the last name of Cheryl Mittelman.

Savoring Life's Memories, by the Book

Suzanne Frollini, left, and Sherry Townsend enjoy a Scrapaganza event in Manassas, one of many gatherings of people who enjoy creating scrapbooks.
Suzanne Frollini, left, and Sherry Townsend enjoy a Scrapaganza event in Manassas, one of many gatherings of people who enjoy creating scrapbooks. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 30, 2006

In a suburban living room in Fauquier County, Bonnie Schmidt pulled a thick scrapbook from a shelf full of thick scrapbooks -- she's finished about 40 so far, a number that translates conservatively into 9,000 photographs, most starring the life and times of her only son, Matthew, who is 5.

Here is Matthew in her belly, she said, flipping the pages. Matthew on his first day home and on his third, Matthew jaundiced, Matthew asleep, Matthew at Christmas, posed in a pile of ribbons. Here was Matthew in the sun, in the snow, waving goodbye -- page after page of her son, all cropped, narrated and embellished with color-coordinated borders and stickers, all enshrined on acid-free, lignin-free paper.

"It's become an integral part of our lives," said Schmidt, 37, explaining her passion for recording all the major and mundane events of her family's life. "What if he's 30 and he says, 'What was it like?' I think of it like ancient Egypt, so in 2,000 years we'll have this huge window into life because we saved it all."

In a way, legions of women have become amateur documentarians of 21st-century suburban life. With devotion, and, some say, obsession, they have fueled the thriving, $2.5 billion scrapbooking industry, an ever-expanding, ever-more-elaborate supply of photo-safe minutiae: corner lacing punches and circle cutters, rickrack and paisley paper and brads eyelets and packages of thematic word stickers -- on love, on vacation, on childhood -- the better to frame a life.

Lately, digital scrapbooking has taken off, as has a religious subgenre called faith-booking, in which spiritual journeys are chronicled. There are dozens of scrapbooking magazines, scrapbooking conventions and a multitude of scrapbooking cruises, luxury retreat weekends and social gatherings such as Scrappin' Friday nights in a living room in Gainesville, Scrapaganza in a Manassas library and Freaky Friday at Scrapbooks Plus, a store in Chantilly, where women work on their pages and talk about the lives they are trying to preserve forever.

"In the first three years of my daughter's life, I took, like, 8,000 pictures," said Christine Judd, 36, who was there on a recent Friday night along with a dozen or so other women who spent six hours cropping sons and daughters and pressing them onto pages.

"Well, maybe it was more like 7,000. I gave up on doing the books chronologically. So now I do categories, like, 'Here's playtime,' or 'Here's her being an artist.' "

"It's hard to find time to do it at home," said Cori Seiler, 34, a mother of two. "I can't find the time or the energy. Once I put the kids to bed, I just want to veg in front of the TV."

"And I work," said Judd, a programmer.

"I do, too," said Seiler, a part-time contracts administrator.

Then she happily announced: "I'm going on a paper hunt."

She put down the photos of her spaghetti-smeared son and headed into the store, a world of little flower stickers and cardboard shapes, glitter and ribbons and racks of patterned paper, all organized by theme. "With paper," Seiler said, "I tend to be impulsive."

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