How to tell my family had a good time working on a puzzle after Thanksgiving dinner this year: three of us bought each other puzzles for Christmas gifts.

Normally, we’d settle down to watch a movie following the big turkey dinner, but my mother kept remarking on how nice it was to have the kitchen table fully cleared off for once. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste, so I broke out the 500-piece puzzle I bought her last year and we got to work.

The puzzle featured four icons from Minnesota: Paul Bunyan, the Minnesota Gopher, the Hamm’s Beer Bear and the Pillsbury Dough Boy. They were walking across a bridge over the Mississippi River in a single line, much in the style of The Beatles “Abbey Road” cover photo.

Fun, right?

“Why did we choose to do this?” A few of us asked this question throughout the process. I may have been the first to ask it as we struggled to put together the edge pieces, especially once we found that some were still missing, which would have to be added while we worked on other areas.

Each of us had to step back and take breaks throughout the process. Sometimes it helped to look at it with fresh eyes.

We’d get in each other’s way and have to switch seats to focus on a corner. Or we’d find the piece someone else had agonized over.

“You thief! You had that piece all along!” Mom accused, jokingly, after I put in a weirdly shaped piece.

“Yes, you caught me. That was my evil plan: to take away all of your pieces and put them in myself,” I replied.

“I knew it,” she said. “Take all my easy pieces and I’m stuck with all the hard ones.”

But we slowly managed to get the major characters put together and fill in the blue of the river. What remained was the green tree scenery. My brother-in-law and I sorted the pieces out into shapes and spent a good part of an hour filling in those last 50 pieces.

By the end of the night, the puzzle was complete and everyone was tired, but happy. It was cathartic to pull the pieces apart.

Come Christmas morning, my mother unwrapped her new quilt-themed puzzle, my brother-in-law his medieval castle puzzle and I happily dug into my new National Park puzzle. We’re even planning on entering a puzzle derby in Duluth later this spring. Of course, 30 minutes in, I fully expect more than one of us to ask "Why did we think this was a good idea?" We'll push through and do it anyway. Complaining is part of the fun.

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She can be reached at 218-830-2186 or