Yesterday was Dan's 40th birthday (Dan is my husband). Dan is one of those guys who doesn't sit around and wait for his birthday for gifts. If he wants something, he will usually figure out a way to get it. This is great for him, but makes it really hard for the rest of us who like to give him gifts. We have a pile of papers from a few of his grandfather's businesses and I thought it would be really cool to incorporate them into a collage for Dan for his birthday. I knew he was going to love it!

Dan is a car guy, and his grandpa was too. Once I had the paperwork assembled, I searched for some vintage car ads online. Then I decided I needed some pictures. I didn't know where I was heading with this project, but I was having fun so I didn't think too much about the outcome.

Ready to roll...

An opportunity to be present in the moment and to not worry about the outcome - that is what I love about the kind of art I do. I spent most of my life worried about the outcome of EVERYTHING. I knew it would be lovely to live in the moment, but I didn't always allow myself that pleasure as I was worried about where the moment might lead. Or, not lead. What if the moment is leading nowhere? God forbid.

Honestly, when I'm cutting and arranging and gluing, and creating layers of color and texture and mixed media goodness, I don't think much at all. I am playing like my five year-old daughter plays make believe. She is IN THE MOMENT. Hours could pass her by and she probably wouldn't even notice. She. Plays. That. Is. All.

When I finished Dan's birthday gift it looked like this:



I loved it. And, I was mortified.

I loved this photo of Dan and his parents and the '55 Chevy that Dan adored when he was a kid.


I love this stamp - it is the word "celebrate" and the definition, but you would really have to be looking to see it. It's hidden.

I love this picture of our family on a beach in Maui. We took it on our last day in Hawaii this Spring. Actually, right before we headed to the airport to come home.


I was really excited when I found these vintage car ads online. These two dudes look so happy in their convertible.


I love Grandpa Joe's stationery and receipts in the background. I think this is such a neat way to enjoy a keepsake.


I love this little Spartan football guy playing the piano! This is from the cover of a football game program. Dan and I met at Michigan State and he is a die hard Spartan fan so it was only natural to include some Sparty love in his gift. This was perfect.


I could have gone nuts, trying to incorporate pictures of every significant person in Dan's life, but I was on a bit of a deadline, so I just made sure to include his grandparents. 40 is such a milestone birthday. It's kind of like a launching pad into real adulthood. Technically, we've been adults for a while, but I think the first 40 years were just a repeating pattern of being an infant, a toddler, a school-aged, child, and a young adult. As soon as you near the point of real adulthood, say around 18, you go back to being an infant again. You need to learn to talk, walk, and navigate life all over again, from an adult perspective, even though you're really still a baby! At 40 you can relax into adulthood. But you can never forget how you got there, or where you came from. Our grandparents are the links to that origin.

Grandma Mary

Grandpa Joe

Grandpa Jim and Grandma Pat

This is a piece of an old book. The start of Chapter IV to be exact. I thought it was fitting.


I love this little boy, investigating things, and I had an old date tag where I could stamp May 15 - Dan's birthday. I love assembling all these little pieces of Dan's heritage - where he came from, where he is, and where he might be headed... In creating this piece, I was having my own personal celebration of Dan.


One of the things I noticed right away about Dan when I met him was that he loved quotes - just like me! He also kept a journal. And, he was an artist. He was THE artist until recently, but that is a different story. I love how grounded Dan is in what he believes and in how he lives his life. One of my first favorite quotes, when I first started taking note of these things in my quote journal (I am a nerd and I am okay with that), was "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." -Henry David Thoreau. I remember being thrilled when I found out Dan loved that quote too. We came from very simple backgrounds. We didn't always have it easy, and so I love the image of us as young kids, living our separate lives, and both embracing the idea that our dreams were worth pursuing. 


So, of course I had to include this quote, and I think it is really the central theme of this birthday gift - the affirmation that in the course of pursuing his dreams with resolution, Dan has succeeded in ways he never could have imagined. I mean, look at the wife he scored! (only partially kidding) I never want to burden my children with the job of living the life I never had, or anything like that, but I do think there is something to be said for expanding your family's horizons. Dan has certainly done that, and I imagine his grandparents and parents are so proud of him for going beyond what he knew to pursue his dreams.

I love this picture of Dan looking out into the sky. I took it in Sedona, Arizona this winter. Nothing but red rocks and blue sky for miles. It was beautiful.


At this point, reflecting on all the love I poured into this baby, I can't even believe how mortified I was when it was finished. I couldn't breathe! It looked like a big, crazy mess to me! I was so afraid that after all that he wouldn't like it. I questioned my whole getting lost in the process approach and began to wonder if Grandma Mary was in the wrong place? Was that really Dan in that picture? Was Sophia going to grow up and be pissed that her face is covered? For the record, if she is, it's her own fault. And so on... 

I am a recovering perfectionist, you see, and sometimes those tendencies creep back into my head to torment me. Making art is my escape from all that though. Usually. I love the kind of art I do because there is no room for perfection. There is no right or wrong. It is all about the process. With all that in mind, how did I find myself in a place of true mortification?

As one of my friends mentioned, I'm sure it had something to do with feeling vulnerable. When I pour my whole heart into something I intend to share, I feel exposed. I really wanted Dan to love it, and I knew there was no way to know whether or not he loved it until he returned from a long day of meetings at work. It turns out, he did love it. I was so relieved. As he looked closely at it, I could sense his appreciation of where he stood in that moment, at 40, and where he had been, and where he was going. And as another friend said, it wasn't made in China. I know he appreciated that.

For me, gosh, what another great lesson about the importance of "trusting in the process." That will be something I say that I'm sure my kids will roll their eyes at eventually. The 11 year-old may already be rolling his eyes at that one. It's so true though, that I can spend a ridiculous amount of time worrying about something that will most likely never happen. I love that making art keeps me in the moment, or in the flow of my creation. There is no space for worry or fear or doubt. It's such a great way to practice that, so I can try to apply it in other areas of my life. The "messes" I see in my art mirror life in so many ways. The layers and textures are just like the joys and struggles I experience each day. They are all part of the great big, delicious whole. It's not always neat, and nowhere near perfect, but it is colorful and meaningful and real. 

With Dan, I look forward to seeing what life after 40 brings, and I do hope it won't be much longer before I can completely relax into it... 


Happy Birthday Dan O.!

xoxo