For many years I’ve enjoyed puzzles as a way to spend time with my family and friends,  as well as a quiet way to think things through and chill. It started more than fifteen years ago, always in summer. I’d put a big puzzle out on our dining room table, knowing the kids were home and we’d have hours to fill, and that there were no big holidays, so we wouldn’t need the larger table. Anyone who visited, or was here, could join in.

It’s a surprisingly great way to connect with people. Puzzles require that you sit (or stand) in one general place and concentrate, yet it’s easy to talk and as you search for pieces, as well. People tend to chat more with each other, and really listen, without outside distractions; with a puzzle, there’s no TV or screen to get lost in. It’s also a nice way to just sit with someone and be quiet. People can sink into their own thoughts, while working side by side with others. When my kids were teenagers, they didn’t particularly like doing puzzles, but occasionally I could lure them in. It often was a pathway into their world, when I most wanted and needed to connect with them. We’d sit quietly looking for missing pieces, and if I was patient and listened, I’d get to hear about their lives and what was happening in them.

I’ve generally invested in large puzzles (one was 5,000 pieces! A one-time thing; don’t try it at home!) which tended to last all summer, and sometimes into the holiday season. I never choose a puzzle that’s less than 1,000 pieces. Sometimes the whole family picked out our next project; other times I picked up a new puzzle on my own. Over time, I bought a few large pieces of Styrofoam to build them on. Styrofoam keeps pieces from moving around too much, and you can lift a puzzle and move it, if needed. In those rare years when summer puzzles became Thanksgiving puzzles, this solution was perfect.

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This is supposed to be one of “the hardest puzzles… in the world.” There’s a special hell for people who give this as a gift.

Forever an ocean person, many of the original puzzles I picked were underwater scenes, almost always by Ravensberger. Over time, however, I’ve branched out and chosen planets and galaxy, world maps, and now subjects vary completely. People know I enjoy them, so over the nearly eight weeks that I’ve been sick and healing, folks have delivered puzzles as get well gifts, and general items of torture. There’s a stack of puzzles waiting for me, including one that my nephew and his girlfriend nefariously sent for Christmas. He researched “hardest puzzles in the world,” and thought that would make my foggy-meningitis-brain feel better. Or, he was getting back at me for some horrible thing I must have done when he was little. Hardest puzzles in the world, really? I put it aside until I feel better, and then got blindsided by a seemingly sweet puzzle–– with the image of Harlequin dancers–– delivered by a friend, right after I got out of the hospital.

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This is what puzzle hell looks like. Each time I think I’ve figured something out, a piece goes somewhere else. Puzzle. Hell.

I’ve never spent so long on one puzzle, but this one is hell; I’ve been working on it since just before Christmas! Individual pieces work in more than one place, much of it is a dark blackish-blue color, and depending on the light, it’s hard to see the variations in tones–– but those shades and tones matter. I’ve never had a puzzle before, where the edge is one of the hardest parts to do. Though I finally thought I’d worked out the edge  (after completing large “easier” sections), we’re convinced that much of at least one side,  is all wrong. Serious mind-fuck. I can only wonder about the friend who gave it to me and her real intentions; she knows who she is.

Over the years so many people have joined me for puzzle time. My kids have joined in; my husband drops by intermittently–– usually to drop in pieces that I’ve carefully collected, and am waiting to connect. My three exchange student-kids (China, Denmark, and Germany) all joined in, for the year each of them was living here. At times they and my son, Man-Cub, would spend hours laughing, teasing, and arguing about life at school, things at home, and their own private issues. Some of my happiest times were listening to them debate issues over a puzzle in the other room. Friends and family visiting for summer vacations, sat at the table on rainy days, or over weekends. They all joined us in our dining room to do puzzles. Today, at Hospice House, where I regularly volunteer, puzzles are left out on a table in the “family room.” We have learned that families who are grieving find peaceful distraction in puzzles. They are able to step away from feeling overwhelmed, and quietly work on a puzzle, or process feelings and thoughts. All of those tiny pieces can provide peace.


This past Thanksgiving, we did two puzzles. They were not “the hardest in the world,” but we had fun together! That might be the evil nephew.

People tend to find one area of the puzzle that resonates with them, and they work to solve that section. Side by side, you can work and visit. I started asking summer guests to sign a part of a puzzle, so I could remember who shared in the fun. I got it in my head that I’d glue the finished puzzles, have them framed and hang them in our game room; they’d be reminders of fun times, as well as decorative art for bare walls. Over time, however, that became a misadventure. Large puzzles don’t stay glued very well; frames that work for puzzles are hard to find, and over time, finished-mostly-glued puzzles began to pile up under beds and sofas, collecting dust and adding to my list of long-delayed projects.

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Puzzles from the past

The collection of dusty puzzles hidden under spaces, collectively forced me to accept that I’d probably never get them framed or hung. They became silent reminders of so many undone things, and I felt guilty about not following through in one more area of my life. Then recently, I pulled one out and found myself running my fingers over the uniquely finished-puzzle surface that I love so much. I traced the names of people I love, people who have shared special time with me and my family, and realized I’m not ready to give up entirely on this project. There are several that have no signatures, and no real meaning–– other than the hours spent on them. Those can go back into their boxes, and on to other homes. But the ones with with love and memories, evident by the names written in corners and on sea turtles and jellyfish, still matter to me. They are a time capsule of happy times; they can be dusted and rescued.

These three are next in line

The kids are gone; our house is generally very quiet now. I’ve spent nearly eight weeks in this quiet house getting my strength back, processing hard things, thinking about goals and the next phase of my life, and doing puzzles. I do them on our kitchen table now; we only need two seats, so there’s lots of extra space. This time has been challenging; it’s been hopeful, sad, scary, and peaceful, depending on the day. And as I come out of this phase, and my healing is finally progressing in ways that allow me to jump back into my life, I find that I’m grateful to puzzles. I needed to focus, as well as spend time quiet and distracted. I needed to spend time to let go of things that don’t fill me anymore, and to grab on to new things. These have been hard weeks, and they’ve been weeks of deeper meaning. This time has been sacred. I’m coming into a new place in my life, and while I can’t wait for the next puzzle, I’m no longer puzzled.

Sweet puzzle memories remain

Are puzzles your thing, or do they make you crazy? Or, do you figure they’re something only grandparents do? (Well, I got that one covered too). Leave a comment and share your thoughts! 

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©2011-2018  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
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20 Responses to Puzzled

  1. Those are impressive puzzles. I love doing them but end up staying up all night. As the the puzzle metaphor of life… keep on solving!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    I love working on jigsaw puzzles, but it’s been years since I’ve done it. It seems any downtime I have now, downtime that might have been spent working on my puzzle for a bit, is devoted to getting caught up on social media or some other electronic thing that needs my attention. I’d love to get back into it. As you mention, it’s a great way for family to connect.

    I hope your health is continuing to improve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie, it’s another reason I like puzzles. They pull me away from tech stuff. I lose hours, just lost in my thoughts or enjoying the solitude, or–– when I’m lucky, reconnecting with others. Give it a try, you might find yourself hooked on something new’ish!

      Health is improving overall, but infusions have been a disaster, and that is a weekly complication for now. Ugh! :-/


  3. I love that you keep a puzzle going. I do love puzzles, but haven’t done one in a long while. They were very challenging for my son, so he’s never gravitated towards them. And they were never a part of my husband’s life. When I was a kid, during our summer vacation we’d always go to our cottage on the coast of Maine, where there was no TV. Most of the time, we were outside playing. But on rainy days, we’d visit a grandmotherly neighbor and build puzzles. She had several boxes of the little ones that ended up about ten inches square or less. Small enough that a child could put them together without too much trouble. She’s let us borrow them, like a local puzzle library. Such a fond memory.

    Glad to hear your healing is progressing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cathy Ulrich says:

    This was such a beautiful post, both visually and energetically. Your voice feels much stronger to me and I see you continuing to get better and better on your healing journey. I’ve rarely done puzzles, but I love the idea. And they do challenge the brain in so many ways. I so wish we lived closer – as I’d love to come over and help you solve that Harlequin dancers one. we could laugh and talk for hours.
    Hugs, dear friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, if only! I’d love that Cathy!! We always laugh, and share so authentically, and I miss it terribly. My son graduates in June, so I will be in CO. Hope you will too, as I plan to stay a couple extra days and visit. 🙂 I’ll keep you posted, when I know full details. Remember, my guest room is always here for the two of you… great skiing, whales, diving, deep forests (very different than yours) and dinner with me, on the deck. Dreaming… xox

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My grandmother got me into puzzles. Even before Multiple Sclerosis limited her mobility, she would set up a card table and spread out a puzzle. It was a family event or a solitary event, however it might unfold. When I was a kid, I had my own puzzles, and when I was bored or sad, I could soothe myself by working one of them. I was always impressed with myself when I could work a 100 piece puzzle in a short amount of time. I can still picture two of them. One was a mushroom with cartoony insects, the other was a cartoon puppy. I haven’t thought about them in years! Thanks for the beautiful memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it amazing how these memories pull us back in time, and can be so visceral? I remember watching my great uncle, out on his farm, sitting with his puzzles–– seems everyone used a card table then, now, few of us have them! I find it so soothing, as much as a time to process stuff I’m working out in the gray room. Thanks for sharing Heather! Love these personal memories of puzzle times. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dale says:

    Wonderful post, Dawn.
    My sister and her family are puzzle-crazy. They’ve started doing the ones with no image to follow – seriously? It’s not hard enough? But, for the same reason as you, they, all five, participate here and there and it gives them family time – though I seriously doubt the TV is ever off at THAT house!


  7. I can respect the puzzle and the puzzlers… but I totally do not have the patience for the darn things at all. I tried this summer as I had some “home” time as well. My husband and daughter enjoyed it alot. It was fun to watch them work together. Me? It aggravated the hell out of me ( ha ha)
    Nice to read that your writing, Dawn. I am pleased to get an update 🙂 Keep going on the positive side. –Audra

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My dear Dawn!
    I miss you and I know that sounds a bit crazy. I read what is hidden between the lines and I recognise bits and pieces of my life story there. But we are not in a deep hole, I rather imagine we are surfing on huge waves, going up and down. And although it is scary knowing we will fall, the strenght must lie in the knowledge we will be up again.
    I too have some finished puzzles that are waiting to be fraimed. Maybe it is time to do it!
    Hope to read more new things from you.


    • Loré, it doesn’t sound strange at all; I miss you too! … but you can see how lame I’ve become, that it’s taken this long to even check my blog!! There are bloggers, like you, that I think of so often (so, we are both crazy, then) and feel as if I know. I miss them, and think DAILY of getting back in here and working on my blog, and connecting again.

      I love your metaphor and the way you think so creatively, so artistically–– just one of many things I’ve missed! Your comment here inspires me. I hope to get back in there soon. Very soon. Thanks for the virtual hug. xxo

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: The 2018 Annual Attitude of Gratitude: Bloggers Flood The Internet With Happiness & Positivity! | TALES FROM THE MOTHERLAND


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