Surviving a Scrapbooking Retreat Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Surviving a Scrapbooking Retreat

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Maybe you see this title and are thinking to yourself, 'I'm not entirely sure what a scrapbook retreat is, but I am quite sure that I wouldn't be found there in a million years.' If so, you should know that many remarkably sane and normal people have thought the exact same thing - and then, to their surprise, ended up at a scrapbook retreat, often for what seemed like inescapable reasons at the time.

... I just needed a few days away from my kids and husband - and I needed to do it without looking like I was diving for an escape hatch.
... I went with my new sister-in-law - it was the first time she'd ever invited me to do anything with her, and I really want us to get along.
... I went for a friend of mine - she desperately needed to get away, and wouldn't go alone.

On the other hand, maybe you're a dedicated scrapper, and are eagerly looking forward to your first retreat. If that's the case, you probably don't need the tips and tricks below, but it might be a good idea to read just in case.

What are Scrapbook Retreats?

Scrapbook retreats are essentially expensive pyjama parties for adult women1. Groups of girlfriends gather together in one spot for a time - often at a hotel or resort for a weekend. And around and over all the chatting and chocolate, the women work on their scrapbooks - elaborate albums with far more than just photographs and the odd ticket stub. Women may attend a scrapbook retreat to attend workshops on new techniques, or to be able to use specialised and expensive equipment. More often than not, however, the word 'retreat' is one the prime factors - it is not uncommon for spa services to be involved, and at the very least, no childcare or housework is happening. A scrapbook retreat can be organised by a local group of friends, but often they are much larger affairs run by private companies, and attracting anywhere from 20 to 200 scrapbookers.

Who Will I Meet?

By and large, the people who you will meet at a scrapbook retreat will be mothers and grandmothers, with the very occasional maiden aunt thrown in the bunch. If scrapbooking has a reputation for being the forte of stay-at-home suburban Christian soccer moms - well, it's a stereotype, but not without a strong foundation.

In general, the women at a scrapbook retreat can be divided into one of several categories:

  • Scrappers - people who've paid money to come and work on their scrapbooks. These will range from the raw beginners to those who've made scrapping their entire life.

  • Vendors - people who may or may not have paid money for the privilege of coming to the retreat to sell things to you. Just like there are Tupperware ladies and Avon ladies, there are also women who are 'independent scrapbook consultants' and are at the retreat to sell you products from their particular line.

  • Instructors - people who are there to teach workshops on new scrapbooking techniques.

  • Organisers - people who are there to run around and make sure that no one escapes having a perky time. Perky scrappers are usually either productive, having a good time, or both - any of which make them more likely to come back for another retreat.

In any given scrapbook retreat, an individual person may fill all of these roles at one point or another - for example, a vendor will often be an instructor as well, and then work on her own scrapbooks with the group.

What Should I Be Mentally Prepared to Witness?

Chances are, you will see some things on your scrapbook retreat that you would have been happier not having imprinted on your brain, or even which simply just boggle the mind.

Scrapbook retreats will often have contests, and not only scrapbooking contests! Your scrapbook retreat might have a 'sexy pajama pageant', a 'patriotic talent show', and an 'Elvis karaoke tournament' all in one evening. Luckily, you are in an environment where people will assume that you are laughing with them, even if really, you are simply laughing hysterically at them.

Women at scrapbook retreats are encouraged to dress comfortably, and are also encouraged to pull all-nighters. At some point or another, these goals eventually cross paths and the organisers may point out to the scrappers that bras aren't required. Women who would never run out for milk without fixing their hair will actually be seen in their jammies, sans bra, hanging out in the hotel lobby.

While many avid scrappers will claim that they've turned to scrapbooking for the creative release, that doesn't necessarily mean that they will feel comfortable with the idea of actually creating. You will see women who are trying to reconstruct, down to the detail, the exact scrapbook page they see in the magazine or book on the table - same layout, close to identical papers and embellishments, even searching through their collections for similar photos. Should your fellow scrappers discover that you are new to scrapping, they may be distressed to see you plunging forward without such an aid to copy from.

And while the concept of scrapbooking may be fundamentally cutesy to begin with, you will see women take the cute factor to dangerously saccharin extremes. Women have been spotted 'journaling' letters addressed to themselves, but written in the 'voice' of their newborn child:

Dear Mommy - You are the absolute bestest Mommy any baby could ever have in the whole world. I'm so lucky to have you as my Mommy, and I don't ever want to share you at all. Can I stay with you forever and ever?
-- Love and sloppy kisses, Baby Janie

What Supplies Should I Bring?

There are two basic types of supplies you need to bring along on your retreat - scrapbook supplies and survival supplies. Some of the basics you will have on hand already, and some you may need to buy.

While the vendors at the retreat will probably sell every type of supply you could ever need, it will be pricy - and do you really need to spend $10 on the materials for each page when you could make do with 10-20% of that by doing some quick shopping beforehand? Scrapbook supplies are sold today at most craft stores and stationery stores, and many towns also have special shops solely for scrapbooking. While the supplies at a craft or discount store will probably be less fancy than those at a specialty store, they will usually be less expensive. The basic supplies you should probably arrive with include:

  • a scrapbook - the expandable 12x12 inch ones will give you the most flexibility

  • a stack of scrapbook paper - you can often buy a package at a discount rate

  • scissors - ideally the tiny type that is good for detail work

  • some sort of adhesive - dispensers of small squares of double-sided archival tape work quite well

  • the photos and mementos you want to scrapbook

When you arrive at the retreat you will realise that some of the women are unloading crate after crate of scrapbooking supplies from their minivans. Don't let this intimidate you - not even if they have specially embroidered denim crates that let everyone know that these are Mary Sue's Scrapbook Supplies.

Your first inclination may be to pack munchies, but you will likely be surrounded by snacks, chocolate, and caffeine throughout the retreat. Instead, think of bringing a few good novels, a portable music player, and some comfortable clothes. As with many retreats, it's a good idea to bring clothing that can be layered.

The Art of Survival

Surviving your first scrapbook retreat will come down to a few basic concepts - blending in without being assimilated, watching your wallet, and letting your sense of fun and creativity shine through, no matter how out of place you might feel.

Choosing a Different Path

By and large, you will be surrounded by people creating scrapbook pages about their children - the odd wedding or reunion may creep in, but in the end, it really is all about families. While there's nothing wrong with scrapbooking family photos, don't feel constrained by consensus here - feel free to head down a different path!

... I guess my page was kind of family-oriented... It was a full-page layout about my grandfather's incontinent turtle. I had a lot of fun putting it together, and loved watching the other scrappers try to think of something to say about it.
... Me, I went full-out subversive. Surrounded by soccer moms, I plunged ahead with creating a political scrapbook - juxtaposed news photographs and quotes about gay marriage, the lies behind the war, and financial corruption. It was amazing how often I would come across paper and embellishments that struck just the right tone for this.

Hiding Your Wallet

Be forewarned that it's not uncommon for a woman to return home from a scrapbooking retreat having dropped well over $1000 on the experience, between registration, hotel fees, spa services, meals, and shopping with the retreat's vendors. Don't be afraid to set a budget and stick to it.

On the other hand, under no circumstances should you mention to any of the vendors that you're trying to save money. That's a standard cue to vendors, letting them know that you'd really like to hear about this fabulous business opportunity they'd like to share with you - after all, not only could you make a profit from selling scrapbook supplies, they could make a profit from referring you to the company.

Wisely Scheduled Breaks

Two days can be an incredibly long time to be around nobody but avid scrappers. Sooner or later, you'll probably need to take a break, and this is where planning ahead can pay off. Look at the schedule for the weekend, and see where the longest chunks of unstructured 'work' time are - right in there is the best time for a break. There will be plenty of people moving in and out of the work room, so your absence won't be noticeable and you won't feel pressured to return too quickly. If possible, leave the premises entirely - while the hotel bar may seem like a good idea, are cocktailing scrappers really more appealing to you right now than the busy bees in the work room? If you've brought a novel or two with you, this is the perfect time to grab one and head over to a nearby restaurant for some 'alone time'.

Back to Civilisation

The need to survive your scrapbook retreat experience won't suddenly end once you return home. There will undoubtedly be some loose ends to tidy up.

Your first task upon coming home will be to hide the evidence - chances are good that there are people in your life (coworkers, friends, family) who would have far too much fun with the idea of your having been to a scrapbook retreat. This means stashing all of the scrapbook paraphernalia you've brought home in a closet somewhere, and coming up with a suitable story to explain where you've been all weekend, and checking for random bits and pieces of scrapping adhesive stuck to your clothes, handbag and shoes.

Your next task is a little trickier to handle. You probably came home with a partially finished scrapbook and all sorts of leftover paper and embellishments. Are you the sort of person who can just stash all of that in the closet and forget about it? Or will you feel the need to finish what you started, even if it means working in secret and hiding the evidence?

1While male scrappers do theoretically exist, they are rare enough to be considered nonexistent for all intents and purposes.

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