Friday, December 30, 2011

A week without planning before the calendar fills up

From today's Briefing:

I’m a native Texan who has often coveted four distinct seasons, the kind from storybooks. Where spring means daffodils and quiet rain, summer means pleasant backyard dinners, fall means brilliantly colored leaves that drop into piles perfect for leaping, and winter means soft snow for building snowmen and forts.
Instead, we get tornado warnings and suffocating heat and difficult-to-predict conditions for Halloween costumes and the occasional ice storm that shuts down a five-county area.
As long as I’m in Texas, I’ll miss out on idyllic, picture-perfect seasons — and continue to seek contentment with what we do have.
Besides, it’s not the weather that dictates the rhythm of the year in our house. Rather, the rhythm is decided by calendars related to school and Scouts, soccer and basketball, church and PTA.
For example, we’re about to enter the season of standardized testing. This year Cooper will take math on March 27, reading on March 28 and science on April 27. It’s never advisable to miss school unless you’re actually ill, but from now until tests (this year called STAAR) are over, classroom time is especially crucial.
At the same time, we’re entering an intense Cub Scout season: winter campout, Pinewood Derby (and all the prep that comes with it), food drive, race to complete advancements and finally the Blue and Gold Banquet in mid-February, at which Cooper will bridge to Boy Scouts.
Earlier that same day, he’ll play his first soccer game of the spring season. (Calling it “spring season” is cruel for those first few weeks, when the last of winter’s winds howl across elevated, treeless fields.)
Before all of those seasons begin, though, we’ve been enjoying the gift of this week — the quiet lull after the nonstop activity of Thanksgiving giving way to four weeks of Christmas.
In years past, I didn’t fully embrace the laziness that this week can offer. We usually fit in a museum visit or two. We might head to Fort Worth for some Cowtown culture. Rarely is there a day without a plan, without a reason to wake up with an alarm clock.
This year, though, I was worn out before the first Sunday in Advent. I didn’t want to deny Cooper and Katie the social fun of the season; I also didn’t want to collapse before Santa could visit.
My compromise: a plan to be free from plans for one week, to keep the days between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 free from obligation (except work). This week we’ve stayed up late, slept late, read books, put together Lego sets, played with American Girl dolls, watched movies at home.
When a friend called to ask if we could meet for lunch, I was able to say yes. Our calendar was wide open.
When another friend emailed with an invitation to bring the kids over to play with new toys, I was able to say yes.
I don’t feel ragged or rushed. I may even start 2012 feeling refreshed.
This season of leisure may be short-lived, but the week is a welcome respite after a full holiday season and before a whole bunch of new seasons.
You might even call it idyllic.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sensitive soul

On Christmas Eve, we attended the 7 p.m. candlelight service then drove to Jim and Betty's for dinner and stockings.

As we drove west on Frankford Road through Carrollton and Far North Dallas to get to the Tollway, Cooper spotted someone walking in the cold, damp night.

Cooper's small voice from the backseat: "Mommy, I just saw a homeless man walking down the road. He was wearing a Santa hat."

And then Cooper began to cry.

I offered to turn around to find the man so that we could give him money. Cooper said no as he continued to cry.

I tried to assure him that most likely the man in the Santa hat wasn't homeless. He was probably without a car and walking to a nearby store.

"Oh, I hope so," Cooper said.

Me, too.

"And the king will answer them, 
'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these 
who are members of my family, you did it to me.' " 
(Matthew 25:40)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Apples to Apples

Cooper and Katie received the game Apples to Apples from Aunt Ginny. After lunch and dessert (including traditional British Christmas crackers, encasing fortune-telling fish, candy and paper crowns) today, all six Damms gathered at the kitchen table to play.

It was a fight to the finish; Papa won, with Uncle Jim, Cooper and Grandma all close behind.

The victor during play
Katie and I formed a formidable team.
Grandma suggests that future games allow for some card-culling on account of some not-exactly-family-friendly phrases.
Uncle Jim was one card away from beating his dad.

O Christmas Tree

Cooper and Katie have had a surprise in the works for a few days. I was instructed not to go in Cooper's closet. And to not wake up too early Christmas morning.

All was revealed this morning: They had designed and built a Christmas tree using pieces from their Straws and Connectors set (one of the most-used toys ever purchased in the Damm house -- off and on for five years).

The idea was Katie's. The design required a lot of trial and error. Cooper developed the final design, based on Katie's requirements that it be tall and green and shaped like a Christmas tree. And that it have yellow lights (the connectors) and a yellow star on top.

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 25

Little Red was gone this morning. We found this note, next to a half-eaten cookie left for Santa. (We also left three marshmallows for LRC. There was no trace of them this morning.)

The text, in case you can't read the photo:

Dear Cooper & Katie,

Merry Christmas!

I sure love you both. Let me tell you, I hear a lot of stories from other elves, and it is totally true that you two are at the top of the list for kind and compassionate behavior.

I am proud of how much you help your mommy around the house! I am impressed by your hard work on homework and reading! Cooper, your piano playing gets better every week. Katie, your practice on cartwheels and dribbling is really paying off.

Thank you for giving me a good home for the third year in a row. It’s tough to say goodbye after such a fun month with your family. I’m thankful that I get to return next year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Before church tonight (special Christmas Eve photo at Steve's bench)

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 24

Can you spy Little Red Charlie? He's spending Christmas Eve in Steve's stocking. (Steve and Little Red never met. Little Red came to the Damm family just after Steve died. No doubt, though, that Steve would have appreciated LRC's spirit and humor and slightly mischievous ways.)

Little Red is perfectly positioned to greet Santa tonight and then hitch a ride on his sleigh for an adventurous journey back to the North Pole.

He's already curious about what next year will bring, when he's visiting the Damm house with a middle-school Cooper and second-grade Katie. He's certain they'll each be a couple of inches taller and a little wiser and filled with even more love and laughter.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Constant surprise is the best gift of parenting

From today's Briefing:

When you’re little and it’s a couple of days from Christmas, the anticipation of what’s to come after Santa visits is almost too much to bear.
You’ve studied the catalogs and circled options. You’ve compared notes with friends. You’ve written a list. You’ve counted the number of sleeps until the big day.
Then you wake up Dec. 25 and rush out of your room to discover the gifts.
And then it’s over.
If it’s the right gift, it’s not really over, of course. You can build with it or play with it or create with it over and over. But you get only that one shot to be surprised.
I’m learning that one of the best gifts of parenting is the constant factor of surprise. Admittedly, not all of the surprises are as welcome as Christmas morning, but the joyful surprises definitely outnumber the lousy ones.
Parenting surprises are often truly unanticipated, stunning even. There’s no countdown to the exact moment your child takes unassisted steps. Or says “thank you” without being prompted. Or independently sounds out and reads a road sign from the backseat of the car.
My 10-year-old son has had his share of school-related struggles. Cooper’s a big-picture, big-idea kind of guy, so he has to work extra hard on tasks requiring precise attention to detail.
He has dysgraphia, making writing a particularly laborious and frustrating chore. On top of that, we learned a year ago that despite his love for reading, he had been obliviously coping with and compensating for dyslexia.
Cooper doesn’t let these challenges define him, though. He’s learning to break big tasks into manageable chunks. He misses regular class work every day to meet with our public school’s excellent dyslexia specialist. He has to study spelling words with more tenacity than many of his peers, and yet he hasn’t made less than an A on a spelling test in months.
Cooper, like fifth-graders all over the country, is learning American history this school year. Every few weeks, he’s tested on a group of states, their capitals and their location.
For his first test, we studied at home every night for a week. I quizzed him randomly (“Coop, it’s time to wash up for dinner. But first, what’s the capital of Delaware?”) and gave him blank maps to be filled in.
By the Thursday before the test, Cooper was, without question, ready. I wasn’t surprised when he came home with a big ol’ 100.
A few weeks passed. Then Cooper’s social studies teacher sent an email with a list of reminders, including notice of a cumulative states test the very next day. Somehow I overlooked previous notes about the test, this one on the first 11 states he studied, plus an additional 12 southeastern states.
I admit that I panicked.
When Cooper came home that day, I asked why he hadn’t told me about the upcoming test.
“I’ve been studying in class,” he said with casual confidence. “I’m ready.”
I was skeptical but reluctantly let it go. I didn’t mention Kentucky or Arkansas or any other U.S. state the rest of the night.
When Cooper came home the next day, his first words were, “I made a 100.” He earned that perfect score all by himself. He proved that he’s managing his time better, that he’s more capable of knowing when he does and doesn’t need help.
What a welcome gift for this momma who worries more than she should — and looks forward to the next random surprise worth celebrating.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 23

Little Red is starting to feel nostalgic. In a couple of days he'll be gone, back to the North Pole for 11 months (though he's angling for a beach vacation sometime in there). He's going to miss the Damm house and all its activity. Today he's nestled next to Santa photos: 3-and-half-year-old Katie from 2008 and 3-and-a-half-year-old Cooper from 2004. And he's perfectly positioned to see all the cooking that's going on today. Mom's already made a batch of cranberry sauce (the kind that glops out of the can is icky). LRC is hoping that one of today's recipes calls for marshmallows.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 22

This morning we found LRC at the base of our tabletop Christmas tree. He's surrounded by special ornaments -- including a carriage from Mackinac Island (2007 visit), macaroni angel handmade by Tyra's mom, a photo of Steve, Tyra, Cooper & baby Katie, the White House (2000 visit), an angel in remembrance of Steve. They are all sweet reminders of special moments and the love that binds us and makes us strong.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 21

Little Red Charlie has donned a scarf for his stay today in the freezer, where he keeps watch over a pint of limited edition peppermint mocha ice cream. He's holding a spoon, but without opposable thumbs, I'm not sure he'll have much luck digging into this delicious treat.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 20

Sometime overnight, Little Red removed Sibley (Katie's American Girl doll) from her luxurious bubble bath and dove in for his own soak. Don't be fooled, though, by his state of relaxation. While he's getting squeaky clean today, he can also observe life in Katie's room (will she make her bed? put away her shoes?) and overhear interaction in Cooper's room and the playroom (where some serious Lego-building is underway).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 19

LRC can't contain his excitiement. It's Monday morning and his charges are still here! Winter break has begun, and Little Red gets much more time with Cooper and Katie. He chose a spot in the middle of the action -- perched atop a family photo on the mantle in the family room. (Also, he loves the photo frame and reminder to "Be joyful always," courtesy of Thessalonians 5:16.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Katie and her wares 
Our church is participating in the Advent Conspiracy again. The idea is that you spend less on gifts for people who don't really need them and more on folks who do.

In the past years we've helped buy mosquito nets in the effort to prevent malaria and clean water wells in underdeveloped countries.

This year, money donated will buy Plumpy'nut, a peanut butter-based food that helps reverse severe malnutrition in children. It's a nutrient-rich, shelf-stable product that requires no additional ingredients or cooking.

On Wednesday, Pastor Andy was visiting us at the house. Katie came into the family room with two tubs from her arts-and-crafts supplies -- jingle bells and puff balls.

She said that she wanted to raise money to buy Plumpy'nut by selling a handful of the bells and balls for $1. And she wanted to raise $10 by Sunday.

By the end of the night, she had $4.47.

Fellow first-grader Jason buys $2 worth of puff balls and jingle bells from the family room store.
On Thursday afternoon, she set up shop in the family room, and I posted a FaceBook invitation to neighbors to stop by. She sold a few more handfuls, often for more than the $1 she requested.

I delivered orders to a PTA board cookie exchange that night. And again the next day at school.

The last of Katie's inventory
By Friday afternoon, she was out of inventory. And she'd raised $49.47.

Pastor Andy spoke about Katie and her fundraising efforts at the 8:30 service this morning. Then he donated a dollar to her total, to push her over $50. Pastor Georgia did the same.

After the service, a few more church members approached Katie with dollar bills.

She walked out of the sanctuary, through the Narthex and into the hallway, where she handed over $59.47 to members of our church missions committee -- almost six times her goal.

Thank you to everyone who supported Katie's cause!

A packet of Plumpy'nut

Is it possible to get bigger in less than 48 hours?

Cooper on Friday afternoon, before leaving for a Webelos campout

Cooper on Sunday morning, home from camp (wearing five shirts to keep warm)

Before piano lessons today

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 18

Little Red Charlie is spending today surrounded by love and warm wishes sent from friends near and far. He's tucked into the Christmas card holder that hangs by the garage door. From here he can see his charges come and go (lots of both on Sundays). And while they're gone, he can focus on the beautiful faces and sweet words captured on each card that has made its way to the Damm house this season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 17

Little Red isn't afraid of heights, of course. He flies to and from the North Pole nightly. (How exactly is one of the current big questions in the Damm house.) So it's not surprising that he's spying from a top spot in the kitchen.

Today he missed Cooper, who is camping with Webelos from the mighty Cub Scout Pack 946. LRC was able to watch Katie create origami animals (a parakeet and a tiger) and watch her make a surprise breakfast for Mom: bread with honey and marshmallows. (Seriously.) LRC is proud of Katie's initiative and applauds her love for marshmallows.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Through Katie's eyes

Cooper left for a Webelos winter campout today. He and his group were supposed to leave Mr. Brian's house at 3:30 p.m.

But Mr. Brian's SUV, the one that pulls the big trailer full of tents and coolers and assorted gear, had a tire with a slow leak. (I am thankful the leak was discovered before the trip rather than during.)

So another dad, Mr. Rodney, offered his SUV. For reasons I don't understand, the keys to his SUV were at his Plano office. While he drove south and back to fetch his keys, Katie and I waited with Cooper and a few other boys and some dads.

(photo by Tyra/all others by Katie)
For some of the time, the boys played touch football. Katie watched as long as she could, and then she grew bored and asked for my camera. Here are some of her images. You can see more here.

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 16

Big news in the Damm house: Yesterday we received a cheerful cookie jar filled with homemade cookies as a Christmas gift. The happy snowman has sidled up next to the wise owl (which contains leftover Halloween candy). Little Red Charlie's loyalties are split between the two, and honestly, the contents of each jar. Is LRC here to spy on folks who might sneak too many treats? Or here to sneak a few sweets for himself?

Some kids need more holiday cheer than others

From today's Briefing:

Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel challenged parents this fall to (1) lie to their children about eating all of their Halloween candy and (2) record the conversation.
The resulting four-minute clip, complete with crying and yelling, has been viewed on YouTube almost 24 million times.
Kimmel recycled the idea for Christmas. This time, he asked parents to (1) wrap a terrible gift, (2) give it to their children as an early Christmas offering and (3) record the conversation.
No doubt the newest clip, complete with youthful disgust and superfluous use of the word “stupid,” will be one of the runaway viral video hits of the season.
Both videos are slightly funny and seriously painful — and not just because we’re watching parents deceive children.
What’s most disturbing is the raw reminder of how spoiled we’ve become, of how we’ve enabled our children to expect much more than they need. (Of course, we expect much more than we need.)
In the Halloween video, children fall to the ground, whine, throw empty wrappers, punch a wall, declare angrily, “Daddy, you’re ugly!”
Their parents can’t disguise laughter behind the camera. And maybe you laugh, too, but uncomfortably so, worried that your own children would fall apart under similar deceit. Or maybe you laugh without regret, fed up with spoiled kids and a society that seems to unnecessarily cater to young people.
The fake Christmas gifts are, admittedly, stinky. Half-eaten sandwich. Old banana. Single hot dog. Beat-up hammer. Gender-specific gifts purposefully given to the opposite sex.
And yet the dramatic reactions are still a little shocking.
“Take this back! I want a refund!” screams one boy. He eventually devolves into the classic “I hate you!” Another wails, “I asked for a toy!” and chunks his gift across the room.
These are some seriously dejected kids.
Of course they are. We have trained our kids that Christmas is the most magical, wonderful, joyful, sugar-eating, gift-giving extravaganza of the year. Give a boy a Hello Kitty shirt or a girl an onion, and you’re guaranteed some disrespectful drama.
We’ve taught them that if you make a list and you’re really good (and honestly, even if you’re not), you’ll get all or most of what you ask for.
I’ve convinced my kids that you can ask Santa for only one or two or at most three gifts. In my role as a Santa helper, that seems reasonable to me.
When we visited our Santa last week, Cooper and Katie were given a postcard to write a wish list. There were 10 lines.
There are certainly children in our community and all over the country and the world who actually need at least 10 gifts from Santa, but they’re not the ones standing in line in a suburban bookstore, wearing coordinating outfits and playing on smartphones to pass the time.
While Kimmel’s videos portray one kind of American kid — the one with too much already, the one who appears more greedy than grateful, the one who’s quick to complain — there’s a different kind of American kid that isn’t funny even in a painful way.
A 2011 report on quality of life by Children’s Medical Center reveals that 30 percent of Dallas County children live in poverty. The North Texas Food Bank estimates that more than 25 percent of Dallas-area kids are food insecure.
We’re not catering to those kids. We barely notice that they exist.
If you’re looking for a way to fulfill some true needs for a child — not another of a long list of wants — you’ve got plenty of local options. The food bank, Salvation Army, Metrocrest Service Center, Voice of Hope, Big Brothers Big Sisters.
A little money goes a long way with these nonprofits. And the recipients aren’t likely to stomp their feet or crumple to the floor. They’ll be grateful.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 15

LRC is a big fan of the Big Guy -- Pere Noel, Babbo Natale, Julenissen, Father Christmas. Santa Claus to you and me. Little Red finds comfort spending the day with this year's photo of Cooper, Katie and good ol' SC.

Little Red would also like to address the brewing Mommy War over the Elf on the Shelf. (For background, you can read a recent blog entry by clicking here.)

LRC believes that each family gets the kind of elf that it needs. (Not everyone even needs or wants an elf, and that's OK.) What each elf chooses to do in his or her own home shouldn't be judged by others. And no one should punch anyone else in the throat, virtual or otherwise. Peace to all elves and their families!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 14

Little Red has heard reports that Katie is really improving on her bed-making skills. Today he's hiding on top of a pink purse that hangs from a hook on her wall near her bed. It's the perfect spot for observing Katie as she pulls up sheets and blankets and arranges pillows and stuffed animals just so. And tonight he'll stare at her as she falls asleep -- not in a creepy way at all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 13

Little Red is reading Calvin & Hobbes. What's unclear is his motive. Is he brushing up on the art of mischief for his own purposes? Or is he familiarizing himself with the kind of kids who earn their way on to the naughty list?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 12

All good elves and friends of elves have seen the movie Elf. Remember how much sugar Buddy the Elf devours? In fact, he says, "We elves like to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup."

No doubt, then, that elves are experts in proper dental hygiene. And that's why our own Little Red has squeezed himself into a plastic bin, eager to see children reaching for toothpaste morning and night. The shelf just above him includes dental floss. Nearby cabinet contains mouthwash.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 11

Little Red feels right at home on the kitchen breakfront -- cozy red flannel, Santa helicopter (an antique toy from Grandma Betty), wooden Santa, Advent calendar. He's perfectly positioned to observe afternoon homework (Cooper likes to finish as much as he can before the school week begins) and crafting sessions (Katie likes to create as much as she can every day of the week).

After church this morning

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 10

It may appear that LRC is interested in beads and pearls and glittery things. His true interest, though, is guarding the nearby closet door. Beyond that door lies some hidden Christmas gifts. And from here he's perfectly positioned to spot prying children. They've never snooped before, but Little Red is a vigilant elf. (A day surrounded by jewelry is just a bonus.)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 9

Sometimes it's lonely being an elf. Silent all day. Always watching others have fun. Sure, there are other elves to visit with at the North Pole each night, but some of them just brag about their own adventures and locales. (Some of the smuggest elves are those that get to hang out in beachfront houses every day of December.)

Anyway, LRC today sought the comforting company of some other plush creatures. This gang lives in Katie's room, in a big rolling bin. They've got some stories to tell.

As we grow, our souls need nourishment, too

From today's Briefing:

We parents are the keepers of growing bodies and souls. We are charged with nourishing both.
It’s monumental, really, being responsible for the physical and emotional and spiritual well-being of humans, with the goal of developing healthy and independent and well-adjusted adults.
Of all the advice I’ve read on how to do that exactly, one quote, courtesy of C.S. Lewis, has offered the most guidance:
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
It’s a powerful message when discussing self-worth. How we fix our hair, whether or not we have glasses or braces or freckles, how our clothes and shoes compare with a peer’s wardrobe — none of these qualities define who we are.
As Martin Luther King Jr. told us almost 50 years ago, we are defined by the content of our character. How we show dignity and respect to others, how we value relationships over things, how we express love to our neighbors (and whom we even recognize as our neighbors) — these qualities define who we are.
When my husband was dying and I needed a way to prepare our children for what that would mean physically and spiritually, I relied on Lewis’ words.
I explained to our then-4-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son that the body is a temporary (and important) home for an eternal soul. That when Daddy’s body eventually stopped working, his soul would be free from cancer. That while the physical heart stops beating, the emotional heart never stops loving.
When Katie or Cooper have increasingly intense questions now about how Steve died, I think of that quote before I answer. I emphasize the importance of caring for these temporary bodies the best we can while never ignoring our spirits.
Lewis’ words have been especially meaningful to me the past few days.
A young girl we know started chemotherapy for leukemia last Friday.
The drugs designed to kill her cancer cells will most likely steal her beautiful hair. As I explained to Katie and Cooper why this happens — and how the hair eventually grows back — I also reminded them that appearance means nothing.
What matters is what’s happening on the inside. What matters is how health will be restored in that child’s body. What matters is the condition of her spirit, her soul, while she’s undergoing treatment and in recovery and on the road to remission.
I’ve also been thinking of Lewis’ words in the wake of the tragic propeller accident in McKinney last weekend. Fashion writer Lauren Scruggs, 23, accidentally walked into the path of a spinning airplane propeller after a sightseeing flight.
Her left hand was severed. Her young face slashed. Her skull injured. She surely has a long road to recovery.
Scruggs has built a career around sharing beautiful clothing, shoes, accessories, people and locales with others. Her story is an international story because of her undeniable beauty.
What really matters, though, is what’s happening on the inside. How her body heals, how she regains function. What really matters is the condition of her spirit, by all accounts joyful and beautiful before the accident.
No matter how her body heals, how her appearance may have changed, it’s the soul that really counts.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 8

Little Red is snuggled inside a burlap stocking that hangs from the television cabinet in the family room. I believe this means (1) he's warming up from yesterday's hideout in the refrigerator and (2) he's wanting to make sure that no one watches television today. (A certain family member has been known to watch a syndicated rerun of The Big Bang Theory during lunch, which sort of derails the work momentum that should be taking place with a certain family member.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

2005 and 2011

Oh, my heart.

I know that children are supposed to grow. For goodness sake, I've written a dozen columns (like this one) on the bittersweetness of our babies growing into the independent people we want them to be.

And yet my heart still aches to stare at these photos, separated by six years filled with intermingled joy and sorrow that was inconceivable way back in 2005.

(Check out 2008 here. And visit the Damm house for the complete collection, dating to 2001, all with the same wonderful Santa.) 
Cooper, age 4; Santa, timeless; Katie, 6 months
Cooper, 11; Santa, just the same; Katie, 6

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 7

There are few things as startling as opening the refrigerator at 6:30 a.m. to begin breakfast and lunch preparation only to find an elf staring at you.

Little Red holds a tangerine while seated atop a chair of blackberries. No doubt he's emphasizing the importance of at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And he'll be the first to know if there's too much snacking between meals.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 6

Little Red must be hankering for some downtime. He's spending today in Cooper's room, where there's not a whole lot of activity. LRC will be able to spy Coop reading tonight before bedtime. And maybe catch Margie the dog settling in for a long almost-winter's nap.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 5

LRC seems to be seeking shelter from the ongoing storms. He's tucked himself inside a lantern on the family room mantel. When all the people are gone today, he can stealthily read some spiritual guidance (Merton's classic "No Man Is an Island" -- really, no elf is, either) and cautionary tales on letting consumerism spoil the spirit of Christmas (Hank Stuever's "Tinsel," set right here in Frisco, Texas).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Before today's piano lesson

(It's been raining almost nonstop today. We got a lucky break after church and Sunday school, before piano, to take a photo.)

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 4

Little Red is precariously perched atop a 2009 drawing of a prairie chicken by Cooper. From this station in the front entryway, he can keep an eye on the Christmas tree and the gifts underneath (no shaking!). He can watch children walking to and from bedrooms and the playroom. He can also keep watch over furry Margie, whose lifelong goal is to sprint out the front door without a leash.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Dec. 3: Little Red Charlie

If you ask me, LRC looks like he's sleeping on the job today, lounging in the cozy arc of a wreath hanging on the door that leads to the garage. I told Katie that he looks lazy today. Her response? "No, Mommy, he's teaching us that it's not OK to slam doors." (Because if we did, he'd surely tumble.)

Katie is almost a shoo-in for a good report to Santa tonight. Me, not so much.

Friday, December 02, 2011

A mom's best holiday gift: deep breaths and patience

From today's Briefing:

At the top of my December to-do list, the list with no end: Take lots of deep breaths.
Those breaths help me draw patience from what I hope is a never-ceasing well, help remind me that we can’t possibly do everything, help me focus on the whole point of the 24 days leading up to Christmas.
My holiday-related patience has already been tested by an alleged pre-lit Christmas tree.
The first two years of the tree, all 850 lights shone bright. The past two years revealed a steady decline in the quality of those lights. And this year, when the tree was plugged in, a lonely grouping of about 50 bulbs shone.
I enlisted help from a friend, who coaxed about half the additional branches to light. The rest of the tree required extra strands and lots of wrapping — reminding me of why we all embraced pre-lit trees in the first place.
After days of wrangling, short bursts of decorating and lots of deep breaths, our tree is bright and covered in ornaments representing special moments, interests and adventures in our family.

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 2

LRC is an elf of mystery. He spends one-twelfth of the year in our home and yet we know so little about him. Does he eat anything other than marshmallows? Does he tire of his red and white uniform? Does he tire of the Christmas music playing seemingly nonstop in the Damm house? And how exactly does he get to and from the North Pole every single night? Perhaps on the wings of a tin chicken?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Dec. 1

From this spot, nestled in garland at the top of the staircase, Little Red can sneakily observe activities in the kitchen and family room. (He's tiny, but he's not afraid of heights. He flies to and from the North Pole nightly, for goodness sake.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Nov. 30

Our tree-hugging spy is looking forward to this afternoon, when Cooper comes home from school (Katie will be at chess club) and will surely practice his music. This piano perch is the perfect spot for listening and feeling Cooper's music (currently a collection of Christmas hymns and carols and a jazzy number called "Deep Down Blues"). LRC also has a panoramic view of the family room and kitchen -- the most happening spots in the Damm house.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dear Santa

Every Christmas season, Katie frets over what Santa will bring Margie. (Santa has a spotty track record remembering our furry friend. He means well, but other details sometimes get in the way.)

This year she's leaving nothing to chance. She penned a letter to Santa on behalf of Margie.
As soon as Katie began the note Sunday, Margie hopped up on the kitchen chair to join her and perhaps influence Katie's request.
"Santa Claus please give Margie a toy squirrel! Love Kathryn Damm!"