ScrapMoir How To #5: Life in Ordinary Time

by Matilda Butler on December 31, 2009

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #20 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Guest Blog by Bettyann Schmidt

A Life Full of Ordinary Moments

“Ordinary Time” is a liturgical term used by some churches, primarily the Catholic Church to define part of the yearly calendar. It’s translated from the Latin Tempus per annum, meaning “time through the year.” Ordinary Time is the period following the Epiphany (January 6, visit of the Magi) and again the period following Pentecost (seventh Sunday after Easter, signifying descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples). The major seasons during the church year are Advent including Christmas and Lent including Easter. Therefore, the numbered weeks in Ordinary Time don’t hold any major feasts or holy days.

Likewise, in my life, not all photos, writing, and scrapbook page layouts need to be about the celebrations of life, the birthdays, graduations, weddings, holiday gatherings. Life is more than that, and when you scrapbook and write and take pictures, suddenly you realize what life is in its truest sense of the word. Life is “more.” We just don’t realize that life is going on around us when it is happening most of the time.

I think children realize it more than we do. They get so engrossed in a simple game. A snow day is a wonder lighting their eyes and exciting their souls. A child sees a beautiful flower and his first thought is it needs to be for his mother. He sees a grassy hill and instantly knows it is there to roll down. Just like a puddle after a heavy rain is to splash in.

And then children grow up and the ordinary stays ordinary. We wait for something special to celebrate.

Artists know this is not so. They can go out into a lovely field of flowers and paint just because the flowers are there and their creative spirit calls.

And so it is with camera lovers and scrapbook creators. We’re open to almost any small thing in life from which to create a memory. Writing memoir, if you go through your photos, especially newer ones, take the opportunity to use them to inspire your work. Begin taking new ones now. For no reason. Just because. You see a gorgeous sunset one evening. Grab your camera and capture it and then put it on a page and remember another sunset from your past. Maybe it was a simple thing, no huge, grand happening.

Hidden among my own memories, there was a sunset at the fishing camp our family went to for a week in the summer. In the early evening, oranges and pinks mixed together and reflected their colors in the blackish lake water. I wondered why I hadn’t ever seen anything so spectacular before. Of course, when you live in the crowded inner city in a row house amid tall steel and concrete buildings, you don’t notice nature as much as in the wild. Of the many photos of sunsets I have at present, I could use one to tell that story. I could tell how that one particular sunset at the fishing camp long ago contrasted with our normal life back in the city. I could describe the fresh, cool night air lulled you to sleep, wrapped in a quilt on the screened-in porch. Just one picture could bring that whole experience to back life. This is why I write my memories. This is why I scrapbook. Life is too precious not to record it.

My Ordinary Life

I often tell people that if they are not going to get any pictures or stories in a scrapbook to at least get their children’s in. It is so very important. Children need to know their “roots,” their heritage. You can tell it to them, but I feel a written legacy is more important than anything else. Of course this can be done now with voice recordings, DVDs. Electronics has just begun to name the ways. But for me, I love the big old book, the beautiful album I’ve created by hand with the photos along with the stories. Even digital doesn’t inspire me as much as it does others. For one thing, the media keeps changing, and the CDs or flash drives we keep albums on now will probably not be able to be read by a computer in the future. Keeping them on your hard drive of course is always a bad idea, unless they are backed up properly.

I use digital along with paper, so I’m considered a “hybrid” scrapper. If I’m going to create a whole album in digital, I will have it printed as a bound book, or print the pages and put them in an album. The hands-on of using and touching the papers and other products is what I like most.

If you have no stories of your children along with their pictures, now’s a good time to get started. I didn’t do it until after my children were grown, but that did give me a different view of their childhoods, and I enjoyed it maybe even more.

What Your Scrapbook Can Say

The layout below, “Who We Are” depicts me in the ‘70s and all four of the older children. The words I wrote are for the kids. In later years, and at the present time, I want them to know what I really felt about them, so I wrote a little note on the page, “Who I Want Them to Be.” It’s about opening up your heart and writing from your deep feelings. This was just an ordinary day working outside in the yard. No one’s birthday or big celebration. I gathered the photos together when I first started scrapbooking and decided that I wanted my scrapbooks to “say” something, not just be albums full of pictures.

Who we are

Spontaneity is Key

To capture the small but wondrous minutes for safekeeping, one must learn to be spontaneous. That’s why I like to have a small camera that goes everywhere with me. Even if you have to buy one of those disposables to carry in your bag or purse, you’ll find the need for it as you work on life in Ordinary Time.

Below is a page with a few of those kinds of photos, taken while we were staying with my sister when she was dying with cancer. Daily things like cleaning the house, doing laundry (when the dryer broke down) raising our youngest child, all of those things continued to take place. But the small collection of photos on this page holds much greater significance now, years after my sister has passed away. We have these memories of life with her at the end of her own life. This page is valuable to me.


A whimsical shot of a little boy finding the perfect toy in an empty laundry basket while his dad sat outside reading, waiting for the many sheets and bed pads, towels and washcloths we used daily to dry. Watching my younger sister Nancy clean our sister’s house with more energy than I’ve ever seen out of her, helping me roll Phyllis back and forth to change yet another set of soiled bed linens, and remembering Nancy was the one with the “weak” stomach. Who knew this small collection of photos made into a “story” from my life would someday recall a bittersweet mixture of feelings. Don’t let the sad moments or difficult times scare you away. Capture them too. Their meanings change over the years.

After returning home to the farm for a respite break, my family put Phyllis in the hospice, something she’d made me promise I would not do. Gary had taken a picture of me and Jeff just “because,” and I used it to document my feelings about this time. How I felt about letting my sister down and also how good it felt to be home for a small break..


Another rather ordinary event I called “A Good Day,” because this time, years later, our son Jeff was going through chemo for a brain tumor, and he just happened to wake up that morning feeling good. I knew I wanted a photo of that memory.

A good day

Nature has Its Moments

If you’re in tune with nature, you will find more opportunities than any sane person needs to document ordinary days. Except, to you, they won’t really be ordinary. Nothing in your viewfinder will ever just be a plain picture again when you’re living in Ordinary Time.

This story is about the “Button Bush.” My husband had spied some plants one day growing in middle of the field he was plowing. He got up close and studied them. He watched them for a time through the season. They appeared to be weeds, but Gary believed they were special. When they bloomed finally, he identified them as Cephalanthus occidentalis, or common name “button bush.” I remember the day he drug everyone to the field to look the large one in full bloom. In his mind, he’d made a significant discovery right in his ordinary field, and he transplanted several, one for our yard and also for other family members. While the transplants did not thrive in any of the other yards, ours flourished—I believe just to reward my faithful husband. It also attracts butterflies like nobody’s business.

Button bush

Winter 1994 brought a monstrous ice storm. Power outages spread in a huge arc, and we were included. I learned some lessons from the storm, having never lived without electricity for close to a week. First, when nature shows off her powers, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop her. Second, you can appreciate the miraculous sights that emerge, sort of like a scientist, and study the results. Third, creativity is the mother of invention, meaning you suddenly appreciate that wood stove you once thought ugly and the Aladdin lamps on your mantles mean you can still read at night.

Me? As soon as I woke up that morning, I grabbed my camera. I wanted to capture the most beautiful, destructive force I’d ever seen. Of course, we mourned the loss of trees on the farm, some of which were old.

Ice storm

A New Year Ordinary Challenge

In 2010, I hope you find living in the Ordinary gives you opportunities to create beautiful memories. At the beginning of 2011, you will have a documented history of a year in your life. It’s so worth it. I have shelves now of albums full of Ordinary Time, and together with the celebrations of life, they create my memoir.

I leave you with my very favorite nature layout, taken after Christmas 2004. Just when a lot of people were feeling the let-down from the holiday, I saw outside my window a miracle of glasslike, shimmering trees, the bright morning sun highlighting the icy bare branches. I felt empowered, creative. I hoped that scene guided my year ahead and kept me inspired.

A New Year

Bettyann Schmidt

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