Thanksgiving puzzle

Preparing for Thanksgiving often feels like piecing together a puzzle: making the location fit with the friends and family, the menu fit with tastes and traditions, the green bean casserole fit in the oven with the turkey.

For me, Thanksgiving not only feels like the piecing together of a puzzle, it includes a puzzle.

Let me give you a little background.

When my girls were teens, it was hell -- as the mother of any teen girl will tell you -- to get them to verbalize why they were so frustrated, angry, stressed and hateful so much of the time. Being a girl myself, I know that the teen years just plain suck and the hormones and boys and friends and enemies do a number on an otherwise normal kid's psyche. But I wanted them to talk to me about it.

So I did things to try to encourage conversation. I continued the practice I'd started with them when they were elementary-school age of sharing a private blank book with each one, for filling with thoughts and concerns -- good and bad -- and placing under each other's pillow for reading and responding. Sometimes it's easier to write about things than to say them out loud. For both sides. (I still have -- and cherish -- those books.)

I also came up with the idea of having a puzzle set up on a card table and in the works, in hopes the girls would piece it together with me and spill tiny portions of their guts while we were engrossed in the task, heads down and not looking one another in the eye. I'd read that side-by-side activities (such as riding in the car) provide opportunities for honest conversation more so than flat out "We need to talk" interrogations. Plus, I remembered puzzle-work being the setting for many honest conversations -- and a saving grace regarding the working out of some intense teen feelings of my own -- while living with a friend's family during the second semester of my junior year of high school.

No earth-shattering revelations ever came from the girls during the times one or another would take a seat by me to find a piece or two in the puzzle. But I enjoyed the camaraderie of working on a common goal together at a time when they really didn't like their mom too much (which, as I now understand, is pretty typical of teen girls but was heartbreaking then).

The last puzzle I'd set up in hopes of clearing the air with one of my daughters was one called Catmania. Andrea loved cats and I thought it would be the perfect way to draw out my baby girl. As was the tradition, we each signed and dated the inside of the lid upon starting the puzzle. But it quickly proved to be too hard. We lost interest and I, in my perfect-mother tone, said "Screw it!" I rolled up the crazy cat puzzle (on one of those nifty green felt puzzle keeper thingees) and I bought a Christmas puzzle to do instead.

From that point on, it became a low-level tradition (truly not one of our "must-haves") to begin a holiday puzzle around Thanksgiving with the goal of completing it by Christmas. It was the only time we had a puzzle table set up, and everyone in the family took turns now and then, as schedules allowed, to fit in a piece here and there.

We did that for several years. Except in 2007, the year we moved into our new house, because we closed on the house the week before Thanksgiving and puzzle work was not even considered. And I didn't set up a puzzle in 2008. I was in the throes of being outsourced from my job and I didn't feel like working on a puzzle when I was having a heck of a time keeping the pieces of my life in place.

But this year, I decided we need to have a puzzle to work on. But I told myself I absolutely could not start a holiday puzzle until completing the Catmania one Andrea and I had left unfinished. So I unrolled the green puzzle keeper thingee and opened the box of remaining pieces. Sheesh! The lid was marked with my signature and Andie's and dated November 2002! How could I have left a puzzle sitting for SEVEN YEARS!?

So I've been working on it for a couple weeks now. Brianna's helped a bit here and there, and we're down to just DAYS before Thanksgiving. I gotta get it done so I can begin my Christmas puzzle! Here's what it looks like this morning:

Luckily Andie will be home for the holiday beginning tomorrow night ... and she'll be helping me put the last few pieces in place -- which is fitting, considering she and I started the darn thing together.

So despite the two million and sixteen things I need to be doing right now, I'm determined to get the Catmania creation done and out of here. I've had the holiday puzzle bought for a couple weeks now, and I'm pretty excited to get it started. Here's a glimpse of this year's puzzle venture:

(Those of you who have been to my house might agree that it bears a weird resemblance to my living room -- minus all the cozy, cloying charm in the picture-perfect puzzle setting, of course).

I can't wait to crack open the box. Wish me luck in getting rid of those #@%! cats!