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!"

Little Red Charlie: Nov. 29

This perch serves two purposes. LRC is close enough to the playroom to listen to children playing nicely, never arguing over placement of Legos or battles between Legos or moments when a Littlest Pet Shop pet might get caught in the middle of a Lego battle. And he's nestled against one of his favorite words: Believe. Because LRC believes in Santa (of course) and the inherent goodness of people and the presence of a loving, gracious, forgiving God here on earth.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Nov. 28

LRC remembers well what Monday mornings mean at his Christmas workplace. Children return to school. Mom has a morning meeting and errands and work. Margie the dog tends to nap on the sofa.

So, this clever elf needs some daytime entertainment. Today he's reading a book (Christmas kind, of course) in the family room. The page he's reading? "E is for Elf." (Boosts his self-esteem.)

And come 3 p.m., he'll be perfectly positioned to watch children unpack backpacks and complete homework and listen to dinner being prepared. Around 7 p.m., he's hoping to listen to Mom read aloud Chapter 9 from Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. (He really is a silly old bear.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Nov. 27

After just a day at the house this season, our rascally elf dove headfirst into a jar of Christmas marshmallows. Little Red Charlie has a decided weakness for the sugary, pillowy sweet treats. In fact, if he's accidentally touched while on spy duty, the way to restore his magic is to offer him four marshmallows. In this case, he's just being greedy.

After church this morning

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Little Red Charlie: Nov. 26

Little Red Charlie must have been eager to return. He never comes to the house until it's decorated for Christmas. Until this year.

Katie woke around 5 a.m. and reports: "I was looking around the kitchen, like I always do, about to do some crafts, when I saw him!"

So far today LRC has seen most of the Amezcua family (Rob is helping fix lots of errant lights on the alleged pre-lit Christmas tree), the Tarun family (in town for lots of visiting), most of the Wheeley family (here to help decorate) and Shannon (another decorating friend).

He noticed that Cooper no longer has braces. Katie's wearing pretty purple glasses. Both have grown a few inches taller. (Which reminds LRC: Is he ever going to get taller?)

As families evolve, so do traditional holiday menus

From yesterday's Briefing:

Take a holiday built around a feast, sprinkle in folks from different families plus some changing dietary needs, and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster.
Thanksgiving is always at Aunt Ami’s house in Austin. Ami is the perpetual hostess, the cheerful gourmet, the keeper of tradition, the young matriarch of the family after her mother (my grandmother) died.
One of Gramma’s signature recipes was her cornbread stuffing and dressing. (Stuffing because some of the batch was stuffed into the turkey carcass; dressing because some was baked separately.)
Each year, Ami pulls out her Thanksgiving file and finds the handwritten dressing recipe. And we discuss notes from past years and possible alterations.

Friday, November 18, 2011

There are ways to win big without even keeping score

From today's Briefing:

Soccer season is over. Basketball hasn’t quite begun.
With that break in competition schedules, we spent a few hours this weekend playing games — without keeping score. It was a welcome respite from fields and courts on which some hypercompetitive parents are a little too invested.
A Saturday free of organized play allowed us to commit to a summer camp reunion at one of those all-in-one fun places — miniature golf, go-karts, bumper boats, video games.
While waiting for hamburgers on the griddle, my children joined others on the sand volleyball court.
Kids served, volleyed and spiked over and over, pausing only to chase an errant ball. No one counted how many touches it took to get that ball over (or sometimes under) the net.
If a teammate missed, his buddy didn’t grumble. Not a single dad hovered or paced the sideline. Not a single mom hollered for a child to move faster, to hit harder, to dive quicker.
Those kids played because they wanted to, and they didn’t keep score.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sleep with your head uphill (and other camping lessons)

From today's Briefing:

Family legend has it that sometime in toddlerhood, I went camping.
It didn’t go well, so the story goes. I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — fall asleep. I talked all night. I stumbled around the tent, much to the chagrin of my sleep-deprived parents.
It was the last time anyone took me camping.
Really, that was fine with me. Years later, when I could have taken myself, I chose not to. I’m not particularly fond of extreme temperatures. Or critters. Or the lack of control that comes from sleeping in natural surroundings, without a passel of pillows and layers of covers.
Cooper has been a Cub Scout for four years, and every time he’s gone camping, we’ve found an adult other than me to go with him.
Really, that was fine with him. He preferred an experienced camper at his side. Someone who wouldn’t squirm upon finding daddy longlegs in the latrine or a copperhead in a tent. Someone who embraced sleeping on the ground — or at least faked it well.
Now my son is just months away from bridging from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. The family-inclusive campouts are almost history. Moms don’t just tag along on Boy Scout excursions — they have to be fully trained and registered volunteers in the organization.
So last weekend’s Cub Scout family camping weekend was my best opportunity to see what Cooper has learned about life in the wild — and my best chance to redeem that awful camping night from so long ago.
You could argue that I didn’t really camp. I was onsite for maybe 14 hours. We were just six miles from home. I was able to go home to shower and brush my teeth with running water.
I would argue that it was a good first step.
Some lessons learned:
Choose a flat site for your tent. Cooper chose our patch of land by the lake and expertly pitched our tent with just a little assistance from me and little sister Katie.
What he didn’t notice was the slight incline on which the tent was assembled. After s’mores were eaten and sleeping bags beckoned, the three of us climbed into the tent and discovered the angle.
“Sleep with your head up, Mommy,” Cooper said with authority.
I did, but my sleeping bag kept sliding down the cot, carrying my body with it. All night long I wrestled with that slippery sleeping bag on a slope, silently wishing we had moved the tent to a flatter spot before taps had sounded.
Some habits run in the family. Katie wasn’t exactly the tiny version of me. She slept off and on throughout the night (often curled up in a protective, heat-conserving ball at the low end of the tent).
But she did talk a lot. She chattered while we all tried to fall asleep. Woke up talking when she needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Talked off and on after that until sunrise.
“Mommy, I want to go out and play!” she’d announce with surprising clarity for 3 a.m. My mumbled reply was always no.
“Mommy, this is the longest night ever,” she said once. I agreed as enthusiastically as possible for 4 a.m.
Camping isn’t as scary as I’d imagined. Yes, I was slightly uncomfortable. I shivered all morning, after escaping our cozy tent and braving bone-chilling winds. I narrowly avoided some mud. There was no method for drying hands in the (mercifully clean) bathroom.
But there were no bug bites, no scary wildlife encounters.
There were plenty of opportunities to enjoy the still lake and a few birds and the sounds of children running, chasing and laughing. And to watch my outdoorsy, nature-loving son in his element.
That alone makes me willing to try it again.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
UPDATE: Last week, I wrote about how my family planned to celebrate my late husband’s birthday. We were hoping that friends would help us perform at least 43 acts of kindness to honor Steve’s 43rd birthday. The response was overwhelming.
I received more than 200 reports of good deeds from Nov. 4; some are still trickling in. You can read about these kind acts on my personal blog: