The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

around the world in 60 years.

My dad turned 60 last year and my sister and I were determined to do something fantastic to celebrate. A party didn’t seem like quite the right thing this time. So we put on our thinking caps and I remembered something a group of my friends had put together when one of us turned 30 several years ago. It was a puzzle, made up of pieces from friends and family around the country. Each piece would arrive in the mail in the week leading up to the big birthday and in the case of the original recipient, the final image was a bright and colorful birthday message. For my Dad, I knew we could step it up a notch.

My Dad has had a life long love affair with Geography. That seems rather strange for his daughters who might not even be able to place all 50 states, but we went with it anyway. In addition to his affection for maps and the like, my Dad has also lived all over the world during his 20 years of Navy service. So I called up my Mom and asked for a list, with years, of all the place my Dad has lived. (Thank goodness for divorced parents who can actually get along.)

I spread that great big map on the floor and got to work. It was amazing for me to see how my Dad literally criss-crossed the globe in his younger years. I found myself with a new appreciation for what 60 years really means, and a new dedication to filling my life with all manner of travel and adventure.

After decorating the map just so, I set to work cutting it into 30 even pieces. Then my sister drafted a letter to be sent out to 30 friends and family members…

She explained what the project was all about, and the timeline in which we hoped our Dad would receive his puzzle pieces. Each piece was placed in manilla envelope, with a Dad-addressed, stamped envelope for forwarding the piece on to him. All the recipient had to do was turn their map piece over, write a message of encouragement, a fun memory, or a kind letter on the back and then send it on.

Needless to say, as those puzzle pieces started arriving at my Dad’s house the week before his birthday, he was thrilled! It took him a day or so to realize what was going on, which was part of the fun!

Now that the map has been completed my Dad plans to tape it together and laminate it so he can see both sides whenever he’d like. The front is a reminder of the places he’s been, and the back is a testament to the lives he’s touched.

And I’d say that’s pretty darn cool.


A few things we learned along the way that might make your own puzzle project a bit easier:

– Keep track of who you sent the pieces to. This way you’ll know who to hound if a piece doesn’t get returned. Someone in our group wasn’t careful about this (hanging head) and we ended up chasing our trails trying to figure out who had the two missing pieces.

– If there are people on your list who are (ahem) less than reliable, give them the edge pieces. There’s nothing worse than finding out you’re missing the Southeastern half of the United States when it’s all said and done. (Go ahead, make a joke about the South right here. This Alabama girl can take it.)

– If you’re worried about getting all the pieces back, be sure to create your puzzle using something that can be replaced. In our case, we bought a replacement map and cut new pieces when two people didn’t participate. (losers!) If you paint or draw your puzzle be sure to take a picture before you cut it so you know how to recreate the missing pieces.



About Erin

Erin has been a mama for six years, a blogger for five, and professional photographer for four. She hopes to be all of those things for at least another 50. She’s passionate about her family, her friends, bright colors and shooting jpeg (what?!). Erin is also the creative force behind the highly acclaimed Clean Color video editing tutorial. Those are the things that feed her soul but Erin says writing about them feels like the dessert. Erin makes her home and runs her business in Huntsville, Alabama.

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  • Tiffany Larson

    I love this idea Erin, I’m definitely stealing this for the future!

  • R Steed


  • Life in Eden {amy}

    Erin this is such a great idea! It must have been so fun for your dad! This is definitely something I’m going to keep in mind. It would be fun for a kids birthday too.

  • Melanie

    What an awesome idea!!!!