- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

One of the first things Jinjer Miller does when she moves to a new town is look up a local Creative Memories consultant.

"Being in the military, we move a lot, so I always try to find another Creative Memories person where we're going next, and it's an instant bond," says Mrs. Miller, whose husband, Chris, is an instructor at the Naval Academy. "You have an instant group of ladies you feel comfortable with, and you're pretty much in the same boat with moms with kids, stay-at-home moms."

Creative Memories, a national direct-sales company specializing in scrapbook and photo-album accessories, is one trendy option for women to enjoy a bit of female bonding. The Pampered Chef, a national direct-sales company like Creative Memories but focused on kitchen tools and cooking instead of scrapbook and album supplies, is another popular vehicle for women to get away from the family for a few hours.

Three-way serving tongs, lignin-free photo-mounting paper, Longaberger baskets and other new-fangled offerings aren't the only lures that get women out of the house, however. Quilting, a pastime many associate more with Martha Washington than Martha Stewart, is gaining in popularity daily, according to a survey taken last year by Quilts Inc., a trade organization.

For all the recent talk about male bonding and beating drums around the campfire, women find the need to get away from it all, too, and they're finding distinct ways to do it.

'Intelligent conversation'

Sarah Hyde is setting out the biscotti and scones on a chilly Tuesday night in her home in Annapolis. She and her friend Debbie Noble talk about their children and play groups and a little bit about the novel their book club is going to be discussing that night: "If on a Winter's Night a Stranger," by Italo Calvino.

There is a knock on the door, and in walk two more book-club members, Kathy Flynn of Arnold, Md., and Susan Gilbert of Churchton, Md. They have pictures from a recent wedding of one of the club members, and for 10 minutes, the four women go through snapshot after snapshot.

So it goes. The book discussion will come eventually, but so will plenty of talk about families and jobs and each other's lives.

"It's a way to have an interesting exchange of ideas," says Mrs. Gilbert, who works for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education. "It's intelligent conversation, and it makes you think in a totally different direction from what you're used to sometimes."

Mrs. Noble says she always has been interested in reading and talking about books, so book clubs were a natural for her after she graduated from college in 1985. She lived in Boston and San Diego before moving to Annapolis 2 1/2 years ago, and book clubs have been part of her life along the way. This particular book club started when several women whose children were in play groups together found they all shared a love of reading and decided to pursue it together.

"Some book clubs I've been in have been more serious, and some people in them just show up for the social aspect," she says. "The club I'm in now has about 10 people in it, but only five or six may show up on any given night. Each meeting, we might discuss a book we just read or a book we read in the past, or we might discuss the movies, or we might just discuss whatever is going on with everybody's life."

Whatever the topic, Mrs. Noble has noticed that the lure of adult conversation has proved to be a mighty attraction for many of the women in the group who, like herself, have young children at home (Emily, 7, and Sophie, 4)

"It's nice to have adult conversation where you don't have to talk about Barney and Batman," says Mrs. Noble, who also is a Creative Memories consultant. "I get a lot of [adult conversation] because as a consultant, I get out of the house a lot, like six to eight nights a month. But if I didn't have that, I'd go crazy. Even as it is, it's still very nice."

Recipe for success

In Creative Memories parlance, the gatherings are called workshops, a time for people to bring their photo albums and scrapbooks to a CM consultant's house and work on their individual projects together. Madelyn Sturgeon, a Creative Memories senior director who lives in Potomac, says there is seldom any "work" in the workshops, and sometimes there even is a little bit of therapy.

"Sometimes people come as friends, and sometimes there is a room full of strangers at these workshops," says Mrs. Sturgeon, who left a job in occupational therapy to go into Creative Memories full time 10 years ago. "But the volume level of talking is just as loud. People may start sharing a particular scrapbook technique, and the conversation starts on one level, but then the stories start to come, and before long, people are sharing their lives, too.

"Sometimes I feel myself slipping back into my therapist days when I see how some of these workshops and classes develop. You get the whole spectrum of life at these things, because that is what we're doing and talking about life. There is sadness and joy, and it's just fabulous to be away from the phone and away from the kids and distractions."

Mrs. Sturgeon says that's a guaranteed recipe for female bonding in a typical busy suburban woman's life, especially if she has children. Take an opportunity to get away from the family for one night, add the ability to create a minor work of art or in the case of Pampered Chef, see some new cooking utensils and bake a yummy dessert and add loads of chances to talk about everyone's lives and families.

"It's truly a time for people to make new friends and strengthen other friendships in a qualitative way," she says. "A lot of women in this area do so many things with their kids that they only know the other moms in the area superficially. They don't hang out together apart from the kids that much. You don't have the same type of friendship."

Jennifer Shanley, a part-time certified public accountant in Annapolis and regular Creative Memories workshop participant, says she enjoys catching up on what other people are doing when she attends.

"We talk about trips we've been on, things we've done, what's going on, situations we've encountered," says Mrs. Shanley, who has a 2-year-old son, Trent. "We all talk about our children and husbands."

Old-fashioned socializing

Allyn Humphreys, president of Quilters Unlimited of Northern Virginia, says her organization has 1,200 members in 11 chapters throughout the region. Her chapter in Arlington meets formally once a month and informally about once a week.

"People bring their quilting projects they're working on and other kinds of needlework, and we sit around and talk," Mrs. Humphreys says, adding that what she calls the "nesting syndrome" of many suburban families and neighborhoods makes quilting an attractive hobby.

"I think it's taken off the last five or 10 years because people are trying to make their homes more livable and cozy," she says. "Quilts became popular when people started hauling them out of the attic and pulling out Grandma's old quilt."

Unlike the members of some other bonding groups, quilters tend to come from more varied backgrounds. Mrs. Humphreys says her quilting chapter has women from 35 to 55 years old, some of them with young children at home and some with children who have grown up and left home.

"We've got every age group and every profession," Mrs. Humphreys says. "As with any group of people that get together, we build up a camaraderie. We're interested in each other's lives. Not only do we get together on a weekly basis, a couple of times a year we go away, maybe 20 to 25 of us, for a long weekend at the beach or Front Royal or somewhere."

Hilke Reid, a schoolteacher in Dunkirk, Md., says she got into quilting to help replace the friendships she had formed in various officers' wives clubs through the years. Her husband, Richard, is an Air Force instructor.

"I found in the D.C. area, with so many people living in such a wide geographical area, that officers' wives clubs are not as common or as strong as I was used to," Mrs. Reid says. "Quilting has really taken the place of something like that. We're away from our families but doing something for them, so you never feel guilty. That's kind of nice."

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