Same time, next Christmas: Jigsaw puzzles turn into pieceful pastime for college chums

ARLINGTON – Suzie Nelson of Arlington and Sonya Shipley of Chimacum built an “out of the box” friendship that grew piece by piece 35 years ago and began an annual holiday tradition.

It started in 1985 when the two met in college in Sacramento, Calif. Nelson was putting together a 500-piece Christmas-themed puzzle titled “Heavenly Glass,” depicting a stainglass window in the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco. Her friend, Sonya, took a seat at the table and stayed until it was done.

“Little did we know then that we were establishing a holiday tradition of working jigsaw puzzles,” Nelson said.

Both women moved away, but they got together again to work on another holiday puzzle. Christmas puzzle-building became an annual excuse to get together, and before they knew it, 35 years passed.

Other than the year the friends met, they never lived in the same city at the same time. For a time, they were separated between Washington and California, but closed the distance gap once Shipley moved to Chimicum on the Olympic Peninsula.

In that time, they assembled over 110 puzzles featuring Christmas scenes, wintery landscapes and iconic images of the holiday, usually in boxes of between 500 and 2,000 pieces.

Nelson said with so many puzzles, it was time reclaim space in her home.

“Storing them was becoming overwhelming,” she said. “We decided, let’s show off our puzzles.”

This year they’re celebrating their 35th annual with a “Pieceful Pastime” presentation of their treasured puzzles at City Hall during Hometown Holidays Nov. 30 from 4–7 p.m.

Nelson said they’re taking that idea a step further. Visitors can buy the puzzles for a suggested donation of $10 or more, with all proceeds being donated to Arlington Kids Closet. If unable to attend, people can prepay online on a Facebook page under “Pieceful Pastime benefitting Arlington Kids’ Kloset.” Indicate the puzzle number from the images on the page, and it will be reserved.

Every puzzle comes fully assembled. It can be taken home on the cardboard as displayed or completely disassembled to go into its original box, Nelson said.

The puzzle builders are hoping to raise at least $2,000.00 for Arlington Kids’ Kloset.

“Almost every puzzle has its own story – who gave it to us, why they chose it or something memorable that happened while they were together,” Nelson said.

She called Shipley “the border queen” because after they have sorted out the border pieces, she’s quick and efficient.

That’s unlike Nelson, who takes on the easiest parts of the puzzle. “I go for what’s shiny or easy.”

Both said building the puzzles is still as fun and social as it was the first time they did it. They plan to piece their way to a 50th anniversary.

“We get some really good chuckles just being next to each other,” Nelson said.

Their family members’ reaction to the “crazy puzzle ladies” is mixed.

“My daughter used to think it was weird, and she wanted nothing to do with the puzzles,” Nelson said.

What do the spouses think of their hobby?

“We joke that when our husbands said ‘I do,’ they also take Suzie and Sonya during the holiday.”

Puzzle image of a stainglass window in the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco, in a Christmas-themed puzzle titled, “Heavenly Glass.”

Puzzle image of a stainglass window in the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco, in a Christmas-themed puzzle titled, “Heavenly Glass.”

More in News

Inslee: Stay home for 2 weeks

By Jerry Cornfield and Zachariah Bryan The Herald OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay… Continue reading

Fences have been put up around Marysville playgrounds to keep kids off. (Steve Powell/Staff Photos)
Marysville leaders concerned as (almost) everything’s closing

By Steve Powell MARYSVILLE – Within hours of Gov. Jay Inslee’s… Continue reading


Beware of coronavirus scams SEATTLE – U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran is… Continue reading

Jennifer Thompson, left, and her father Ron Thompson secure a new remembrance plaque to the Oso slide site gate on Sunday, near Oso. Ron Thompson handcrafts a new plaque for the gate every year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Community remembers Oso slide victims, survivors

By Ben Watanabe The Herald OSO — The power of remembering the… Continue reading

People gather to pick up special allergy meals before leaving Lakewood High School on Wednesday in Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Districts taking meals to students since schools are closed

By Stephanie Davey The Herald LAKEWOOD — Children wearing pajamas stood outside… Continue reading

Jon Nehring
Letter about coronavirus from Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring

This is an edited version of a letter Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring… Continue reading

DOUGLAS BUell/Staff Photos
                                Lead cook Keina Gowins with Presidents Elementary hands out free grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches to students and parents outside the school Wednesday. Presidents and AHS serve as central kitchen sites for preparing meals, which starting next week will expand to 12 delivery sites from Silvana to Oso. Right, Arlington Food Bank executive director Carla Gastineau and Mike Simpson, food bank board president and owner of Arlington Grocery Outlet, partnered with the district with their Meals Til Monday program, and gave a woman a box of donated food while at Presidents.
Arlington students won’t go hungry during the COVID-19 school closures

ARLINGTON – Arlington schools are closed through April 24 to help fight… Continue reading

Scott Beebe hands out Chromebooks to people in their cars. (Steve Powell/Staff Photos)
Marysville parents anxious to pick up school materials for kids

By Steve Powell MARYSVILLE – A few days ago Marysville schools… Continue reading

Jon Nehring
Marysville leaders’ trip to D.C. productive

MARYSVILLE – City leaders recently obtained advice on how to get more… Continue reading

Crews will blow garbage into the street and sweep it up over the next few weeks. The city is asking people to move their cars, trash cans and recycle bins when they come around to help them do a thorough job. (Courtesy Photo)
Marysville shuffles workers due to virus, seeks public’s help for sweepers next week

By Steve Powell spowell@marysvilleglobe. MARYSVILLE – From working from home to teleconferencing… Continue reading

City of Arlington carries out operational changes to encourage social distancing

ARLINGTON – The city has made a series of operational changes in… Continue reading