Don’t let your baby grow up to be Mona Lisa: Tips for Journaling in your Scrapbook

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Journaling in your scrapbook isn’t just for you and it doesn’t have to be excruciating!

Example of writing or journaling in your scrapbook

“A picture tells a thousand words.” We have all heard this phrase and I tend to disagree. Let’s consider the Mona Lisa, notably the most famous and most talked-about painting of all time. Do you realize that to this day, we don’t even know who she is? Some say that perhaps it was Da Vinci’s mother. Others theorize it is was the portrait of the wife of someone else. And, still, others guess that perhaps it was Da Vinci himself, doing a self-portrait in some kind of artist trick! We don’t know “her” age, and we don’t even know when it was painted. Historians can only guess and it is a span of over ten years!!

I know, I know. You are thinking, “Here she goes. She is going to tell me how important it is to write captions on my pictures so they won’t be meaningless.”

Well, yes. I am going to tell you that. Sortof. Don’t check out on me now.

I KNOW that hardly anyone out there likes their handwriting.
I KNOW that sometimes, especially my more gifted creative peeps, don’t want to “ruin” a page by journaling and then making a spelling mistake – but hear me out!

My handwriting is distinctly mine – and yours is distinctly yours! It seldom happens these days but when I DO get a letter in the mail that is, not computer-generated, but handwritten, I can’t wait to open it! Sometimes I know exactly who sent it before opening, not because of the return address but, well, because of the HANDWRITING. Sometimes it is beautiful handwriting, and sometimes NOT but I know who the writing belonged to, nevertheless. And, I’ll tell you what I am NOT thinking… I am NOT thinking, “What a mess!” Instead, I am thankful that this person took the time to mail me an anniversary card or birthday wishes or a card of gratitude. I love the little notes my mom used to leave me on the kitchen table as a child, reminding me to do the laundry, and empty the trash with her cute smiley face afterward. She saved some of those notes and when I look at them it brings back special memories not a criticism of her simplistic style in writing.

Making mistakes is ok, too. If you look through my albums, you’ll be so busy looking at the pictures, you will not realize that I have scratched through something and kept on writing! My children will be so busy READING about their stories, they won’t notice either.

So, what about the time it takes? You may be thinking, “ I barely have time to do the page, must less put a caption on every photo!!”

Well, that’s just it. You don’t have to put a caption on every photo. In most cases, that would be silly. If you have an entire page of your toddler learning to walk, I would guess no one needs to identify the child 5 times! Instead, how about a short paragraph on the page in a journal box.

Another example of writing or journaling in your scrapbook

Pro Tip: For those of you that are a little picky about making mistakes, a journal box is a great solution because if you make a mistake you can throw it out and make another one!! Creative Memories has lots of these, and they are super pretty and can be found in Variety Mat packs at, or you can simply make your own in minutes!)

I like to journal about the things that aren’t obvious from looking at the picture. Please remember that the names of people are not that obvious when years have passed by. I speak to many people who have boxes and boxes of photos and their hearts are broken because they had several brothers and sisters and boxes with many baby pictures and they are so frustrated because they don’t know which baby picture belongs to them!

Babies all look alike especially if they are in little onesie hand-me-downs! So, though I am NOT saying to identify every picture on the same page as “Little Bobby” over and over, I AM saying that it is appropriate to include his name (his ENTIRE NAME) every once in a while in his baby book, as well as his age, and where he lived. These are fun, historic facts and very meaningful!

However, it isn not just about historical facts to me. Pictures and stories are one of the easiest ways to build self-esteem in children and adults alike. I know that when someone posts a picture on Facebook or Instagram and it’s a group pic with me tagged, I can’t wait to look at ME. I may not LIKE my picture but I am HOPING for a shot that makes me look super cute and skinny, LOL.

Our families feel the same way and they feel the same way about your stories. So, instead of a caption about how cute she looked in that get-up she chose to wear for her 8th-grade birthday party, can you also include how you feel about that 8th grader? What are the qualities about her that make her so special? What are her passions? She will look at the pictures, yes. But, you better believe that everyone wants to know that they are special.

If you are a super mom, you probably have many days when all you feel you are doing is yelling! GO FIND YOUR SHOES… GO MAKE YOUR BED… DID YOU BRUSH YOUR TEETH? …. DID YOU PUT YOUR DISH IN THE DISHWASHER? DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? DID YOU SAY, “THANK YOU”?

There are so many things we have to say and do as parents that aren’t fun but are required to help our children grow up to be independent, well-mannered, and successful adults. Sometimes our kids hear some things clearer than others. Sadly, the things some kids hear about themselves more LOUDLY is from their peers. I am not envious of the young moms out there these days. When my girls were younger and kids were mean to others, at least it was to their face. These days, kids can be horribly mean, will put it in writing forever, and even do it in a way that the reader has no idea who attacked them. It is more important than ever that we take the time to affirm our children, young and old. I have found that their scrapbooks are an excellent place to do this; a permanent place that they can revisit for years to come.

Journaling Tips

Here are some suggestions when you go to journal in your albums but my biggest reminder is to PLEASE just do it. Don’t let your handwriting, little mistakes, what tense you are writing in, or anything else matter.

Writing Prompts

When you look at a group of pictures….

  • What do you remember most?
  • Is there a learning lesson?
  • Is there something funny?
  • Something scary?
  • Something ELSE that happened that we didn’t photograph?

We tend to capture the GOOD things (and this is good), but sometimes the things we didn’t photograph is what we should be telling the story about! For instance, at my daddy’s 78th birthday party at Steve’s Steak House. We got great photos of my dad and family but, of course, we MISSED the photo of when my oldest child choked on a clam strip. I hadn’t even noticed, but my husband, thank goodness, DID. He acted fast and tossed our 8-year-old out of the booth (something that she is a bit indignant about still today) to grab my 11-year-old and do the Heimlich maneuver on her which literally saved her life.

Back in 2003, if you lived in Coastal Virginia, you remember Hurricane Isabel. At that time, I was almost 40 years old and, in Virginia, the typical routine for when we got a hurricane warning was that we would all buy staples, fill gas tanks, fill tubs with water, and more only to go to sleep and wake up with a few leaves in the yard. But Isabel was real for so many of us. It was at the age of 40 years old that I learned why having a tub full of water, extra cash on-hand, and full tanks of gas MATTERED. Though I had some amazing photos of the wrath of Isabel, it is my stories of warning to my future family about how to properly prepare that I think matter most. Remember to include EMOTION, SMELLS, FEARS, and LESSONS LEARNED.

Vacation scrapbook journaling example

Remember to point out things that are specific to our time. Sometimes people beat themselves up for being behind in their photo albums. But, honestly, being behind can sometimes make your journaling more interesting! For instance, styles in clothes, hair, and décor change over time. So do historic landmarks. If you are BEHIND and journaling, you are able to point out that this or that was a sign of the times which are long gone!

My mother in law, Joyce, once said that when she was doing a baby album for her son David, when he was 40 years old, that she had the luxury of knowing that the prom pictures she was scrapbooking were actually pictures of David and his future wife, Faith! If she had been caught up, Faith would have just been a prom date.

Share your Faith through Journaling

There is nothing like adding a favorite scripture to your page! What a great way to share your faith with your family and your favorite scriptures by including one here and there! I also like to include stories of what I believe to be miracles in my life. These days, people are moving farther and farther away from church and faith and it worries me. People can say all they want that they can be faithful without going to church or synagogue or mosque but what if NOBODY went? Unless everyone is instead studying the Word at home, our faith will be lost (and I somehow find it hard to believe that most that are making excuses to miss church are instead at home reading their Bibles). I have attended church my whole life and every year I feel I grow in what I believe only because I keep LEARNING. My albums are another avenue for me to keep sharing that faith with my family and it will live on for generations to come.

Also, remember, there doesn’t have to be writing on every photo or even on every page. Sometimes a quick caption will work for a series of pages, especially if there are no stories to tell but instead just groups of pictures that you loved with people already identified in the book. For instance, on prom day, I probably took 200 pictures! I only put the BEST in my book but it was still probably 60 of them. How many times do I need to say how beautiful my daughters and their friends are, for goodness sakes?

I know that writing, for most, is not that easy. Funny, when I was growing up my mom had to help me write every term paper! Now, I’m a blogger!

Being a good writer is as easy as DOING IT. Just write, write, write, and eventually, it will be easy. Don’t let YOUR babies be Mona Lisa. Just write.

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