Friday, December 28, 2012

Focus on the first steps to get to the big picture

From today's Briefing:

More than 11 years of parenting on my résumé, and I still make rookie mistakes.

Katie recently lost her two front bottom teeth, revealing two adult teeth that could hardly wait for their big debut. One night, just as she was tucked in and minutes from slumber, I peered into her mouth and realized the awkward angles of those new teeth.

“Oh, you’re definitely going to need braces, sister,” I said carelessly.

“What?” she half cried, half wailed. “Braces hurt!” (She’s been a keen observer of big brother’s orthodontia since 2010.)

I had ruined bedtime.

I spent the next five minutes consoling and backpedaling (“I’m not actually an orthodontist. What do I know?”), trying to reverse the damage.

I had broken a key rule of parenting: no distressing news after 7 p.m. I had also ignored a key rule of life: Take little steps on the big journey.

If my mom filter had been fully functional, I would have spied Katie’s crowded teeth and said, “Your teeth are coming in strong!” Then, I would have let Katie see the crookedness over time, let her draw her own conclusions for dental work that is at least a year away, and let her dentist describe the lack of room for her adult teeth.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture.

One of our sitters is a semester away from graduation. She’s slightly panicked over the idea of adulthood and the nonacademic “real world.”

My observation: She’s fully prepared for the next step in her life, which will lead her to the next. She might not be ready for mid-May today, but she’s ready for today.

I’m working on adopting that attitude for 2013. As I’m making plans for my family and the new year, I’m continuing to balance focusing on the big picture and the first steps.

My goals for the year include organizing the upstairs bonus room, currently a haphazard collection of stuff that overwhelms me.

I can picture the end result — a cozy reading nook, a table for Lego projects, the closet neatly filled with art supplies. What I can’t imagine is how I’ll get there, which could lead to project paralysis, which means I won’t even begin.

Instead, I’m trying to focus only on the first step. Maybe I’ll sort through piles for 30 minutes?

Another goal: reintroduce exercise into my routine. Since returning to full-time work outside the house in March, I’ve been unable to fit regular exercise into my schedule.

I don’t exactly miss running, but I do miss how healthy I feel after running. I can picture the end result of my goal — three 30-minute runs a week. What I can’t imagine is how I’ll get there. What will I give up — sleep, chores, time with the kids?

Instead, I need to focus on the first step. Maybe lace up my running shoes and run for 10 minutes?

I may not be ready today to host company in the upstairs room or to run a 5K, but I’m ready to take the first steps.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, December 27, 2012


We had a rare free Sunday afternoon. I didn't want to waste it. So we met up with Uncle Jim and headed south.

We had lunch at Bolsa, one of my favorite Dallas restaurants.

Cooper and Katie climbed through the whimsical Christmas tunnels at the downtown Neiman's.

We spent some time at the Nasher Sculpture Center, one of our favorite all-time museums.

We explored Klyde Warren Park, the new overpass park that bridges the Arts District and Uptown.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tragedy demands change in thinking on many levels

From today's Briefing:

On the drive home from dance class this week, Katie, seemingly apropos of nothing, said, “If you’re afraid of making mistakes, all you’ll do is pretty much stand still.”
My daughter’s words have been needling me ever since, for reasons she doesn’t begin to understand.
Katie’s been sheltered as much as possible from news of the violence in Newtown, Conn. She doesn’t know that children her own age were murdered in their classrooms one week ago. She doesn’t know that teachers sacrificed their lives for their young charges. She doesn’t know that a 20-year-old is responsible for a breathtaking, logic-defying amount of destruction.
You and I know, of course, and we’re still grappling to find the words to describe the pit in our stomachs and the dull pain in our chests. Our eyes still well with tears when we read the names of the murdered and imagine the emptiness in their homes.
So what are we going to do about it?
I fear that so many of us are afraid of making mistakes that we’re going to just stand still. I also fear that standing still means we’ll be discussing — and shielding our young children from — something similarly horrifying in the coming months or years.
What kind of change do we need?
We need a shift away from a culture that encourages children, teens and adults to shoot virtual people and aliens. The top-selling video games of the year so far, according to Amazon’s sales, are Just Dance 4,Halo 4Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Assassin’s Creed III. Thank goodness for those kids who want to dance.
Can we imagine a future in which most of the top games don’t simulate violence? And can we imagine a future in which parents heed ratings on the boxes?
Halo is rated M for Mature because the Entertainment Software Rating Board has determined that the “content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up” because it “may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”
Yet many families allow their kids to play it. I’ve often heard that it’s OK because the virtual killing targets aliens, not humans.
There’s at least one student in Katie’s class who brags about playing Halo. That second-grader is rewarded for multiple “kills” on a game designed for someone a decade older.
Video games are hardly the only symptom of a culture in need of repair. The top three grossing movies of 2012: Marvel’s The AvengersThe Dark Knight Rises and The Hunger Games. Violent, violent, violent.
Does watching a bunch of violent movies make the average American a raging killer? Absolutely not. But what does it say about us that the most popular movies of the year are destructive, that we find death and explosions and mayhem entertaining?
We also need a shift in attitude toward mental illness and its treatment. By all accounts, the Newtown murderer was an emotionally and mentally ill young man. We’ve been robbed of the ability to interview him, study him, try to make sense of his deranged actions. No amount of speculation will appease us.
We don’t need to talk to him, though, to know that consistent access to mental health care is inadequate. We don’t need to talk to his murdered mom to know that mental illness is often misunderstood, that it’s difficult to manage, that it’s unpredictable and frightening and has a way of trapping, injuring and mutating the people we love.
Finally, we need a shift in the way we discuss guns in this country. We need measured, thoughtful, educated, civil talks about how many guns and what kind of guns. Our children deserve reasoned discussion about the scope of the Second Amendment.
The time has expired on kneejerk reactions from either side — not just because of the 27 victims in Sandy Hook but because of the estimated 85 people who died yesterday because of gun violence and the 85 who will die today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We can’t be so afraid of making mistakes that we choose instead to stand still, waiting for the 85 who will die tomorrow.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fundraising machine

Last week I wrote about Katie's plan to sell hot chocolate mix in an effort to raise money to buy Plumpy'Nut for hungry children.

Today she sold her final packets of the mix (thanks, Heather!), bringing her grand total to $314.

That represents lots of generous friends and family members who bought the mix and/or made a donation for Katie's cause.

What's even more amazing is how far those dollars will stretch. We learned Saturday night that World Vision is multiplying our church's donations by five. That means that Katie's fundraising efforts equate to $1,570.

That money will buy seven-week treatments for 31 children!

Big thanks to everyone who purchased mix and donated money!

Katie on Sunday, after she'd turned in $217

Friday, December 14, 2012

I'm learning to teach kids to rescue themselves

From today's Briefing:

Parenting is the toughest job I’ve ever had.
I’m reminded of this daily, often hourly, depending on the circumstances.
A recurring theme in my mom struggles: How often I rescue vs. how often I let my children learn about life the hard way.
Last week, I rescued.
Katie’s second-grade class has had some unexpected transitions, and last Thursday was the first day for the room’s new teacher.
Katie was circumspect about the change, and she’d pinned huge expectations on the new teacher and how the first day would go.
She also had big plans for recess that day. She and some friends have been playing an intricate game that involves searching for fairies, and she’d promised her friends that she’d bring a book on fairy houses to school.
I was already late leaving the house for work when I noticed that Katie had forgotten the fairy book.
Most days I would have left the book behind, but this day was already so emotionally iffy.
I ignored my usual rule — “if you leave it at home you’ll have to live without it” — in light of Katie’s vulnerable condition, and I delivered the book to school on my way to work.
This week, I refused to rescue.
I was pulling in to my workplace parking space when I received a text from Cooper, still on the school bus: “Forgot my clarinet.”
He didn’t ask me to deliver his instrument, though that was my first instinct.
I looked at the clock and figured that I could turn around, drive home, pick up the clarinet and his music and get it to school just as the first-period bell was ringing.
Or I could ask one of my stay-at-home mom friends to swoop in to rescue on my behalf.
Or I could write back “So sorry!” and let him learn from the small mistake.
That’s exactly what I did, though I felt a little crummy about it. I worried over how embarrassed he might feel or how frustrated his teacher might be.
I even started to compose an email to his teacher, with the intent of apologizing on his behalf.
Halfway through the note, I stopped and hit delete. Cooper can speak for himself, and he can take responsibility for accidentally leaving his clarinet at home.
His tiny lapse wasn’t a reflection on my character or his.
As soon as Cooper got home that afternoon, I asked about band. His teacher wasn’t the least bit angry, he said.
During class, he went through the motions of playing an invisible clarinet. And he’d already developed a strategy to make sure he didn’t forget again.
I can’t guarantee that he’ll always remember his instrument — or his binders or lunchbox or jacket. In fact, I’m certain that he’ll forget something again soon. (Don’t we all?)
But I take solace in knowing that nothing awful happened because I refused to step in.
In fact, if I keep stepping out of the way — no matter how difficult for a worrying mom like me — something really wonderful might happen.
My kids might learn how to rescue themselves, and that will make everyone’s life a little easier.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hot chocolate to help the hungry

For many years now, our church has participated in the Advent Conspiracy. We are encouraged to spend less on gifts that people don't really need and more on necessities for people who live without.

For the second year, we are donating money to purchase Plumpy'Nut, a dense peanut butter paste that is designed to treat severe acute malnutrition. Two days of Plumpy'Nut can save a child's life.

Katie was deeply moved by the concept last year, and she decided to sell her stock of jingle bells and puff balls to raise money. She ultimately raised about $60 for the cause.

Katie's raising money again, this time with homemade hot chocolate mix. She measures the ingredients and stirs them together. I package the mix, and she decorates labels.

So far she's raised $7, with the promise of $3 more later today.

If you're in our general vicinity and would like to purchase some of Katie's homemade hot chocolate mix, let me know!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

After church this morning

You may notice that Katie's missing another tooth. She lost her second tooth around 4 a.m. today. She woke up, wiggled it a little, and then it came out. She appeared in my room just after to show me. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

While juggling activities, schedule some downtime

From today's Briefing:

Parents know all about juggling. And December, with added layers of planning, shopping, cooking, driving and decorating, calls for master juggling.

The performance isn’t always smooth.

Take one day last week. I had run out of time to pack my own lunch at home. (I never run out of time for the kids’ lunches. That’s a process I could improve.)

At noon, I walked across my building to buy lunch from the cafeteria. I walked back with a cup of iced tea and straw in one hand, chicken tortilla soup, napkin and spoon in the other.

As I neared the giant, heavy door of my office suite, I decided to balance the tea atop the soup and use my empty hand to pull on the door handle. I could have placed both containers on a nearby desk before opening the door, but that would have slowed me down.

I managed to open the door, but I didn’t control the closing very well. The door swung back on my left hand, knocking hot soup to the carpeted floor.

My hasty effort to conserve a few seconds — and my inability to carve out a couple of minutes at home — created a big ol’ soupy mess. A juggling failure.

Two days later was the kind of Saturday that wears you out before it begins — multiple events, some overlapping, that require lots of driving and costume changes.

This kind of juggling act (outdoor workshop, indoor soccer game, Christmas festivities) requires a plan before the day even begins.

Uniforms and layers of clothing were laid out the night before. Lunches were packed just after breakfast.
By 8:15 a.m. we were in the minivan with all appropriate accessories — including but not limited to binoculars, camera, water bottles, shin guards and books.

The first stop was the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area for a three-hour bird-watching merit badge workshop.

We learned how to focus binoculars and read a field guide. We spied birds in trees and on water, in brush and in the sky. We learned the call of the Carolina chickadee, the distinctive swoop of the woodpecker and the eating habits of the belted kingfisher.

We were back in the van just after noon. The soccer game would begin in 10 minutes. Only a helicopter could get us there in time. We planned for Cooper to play only the second half.

While I navigated back toward Frisco, Cooper and Katie ate lunch. Then Cooper wiggled out of hiking clothes and into soccer clothes.

He’d just finished tying his cleats when we pulled into the arena lot. He ran into the building. Katie and I jogged behind.

The arena was packed. But there wasn’t a single teammate of Cooper’s on the fields or sidelines. No familiar parents in the bleachers.

I quickly called two soccer mom friends. Neither answered.

Then I checked the coach’s most recent email. Subject line: Game SUNDAY @ 12:10.

We weren’t late to the game. We were almost 24 hours early.

I shook my head. I apologized. The kids shook their heads. They laughed.

We drove home with no sense of urgency, and we enjoyed a few stolen moments of free time before the next activity.

I choose to consider the episode not as a juggling failure but as a reminder to slow down, pay attention to details and bask in downtime — whatever way it’s found.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Before church this morning

(Katie's glasses are held together with medical tape after an unfortunate collision in Jogging Club on Thursday. New glasses should be in before the next bench photo.)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tiny treasures adorn Christmas trees with memories

Some Christmas trees are themed. Like candy or the color pink or dogs.
At our house, the theme is memories. Our Christmas tree — smack-dab in the middle of the entryway — is a giant family scrapbook.
Over the years, we’ve weeded out the random ornaments, the ones with no memories attached, so that decorating the tree is a sweetly sentimental labor of love.
After artificial branches are fluffed, I drape the tree with strings of clear beads and fake pearls. Cooper and Katie then hover as I open the giant storage box filled with ornaments.
They’re eager to help. As they’ve gotten older — and as I’ve perhaps mellowed just a little — I’ve allowed them to handle more fragile ornaments each year.
I make little piles: some for Cooper, some for Katie, some for me. And we talk about each one.
When Cooper was a baby, Steve and I decided to buy an ornament for him each Christmas, with the idea that when he has his own home and tree one day, he’ll have a small, ready-made collection.
So far, there are 12 special Cooper ornaments and eight for Katie. Each has a story.
The stuffed teddy bear is because we called our firstborn infant “Cooper bear.”
Buzz Lightyear represents 2004, when our preschooler had a major obsession with Buzz and all things Toy Story.
A year later, our collection grew to include Harry Potter in flight, representing the first two novels that Steve read to Cooper over many months of bedtimes.
On our branches you’ll also spy a cowboy — a reminder of our dude ranch week in 2010 — and a bicycle symbolizing Cooper’s completion of two triathlons in 2011.
Katie’s collection includes Elmo with a stack of blocks, a stuffed giraffe to represent her devotion to animals, and a cowgirl that matches big brother’s cowboy. And there’s an angel for 2009, when Steve died and Katie first started describing her vision of angels and heaven in greater detail.
That Christmas season, I was tempted to keep the tree and all its ornaments in the attic. I couldn’t bear to unpack so many memories.
My sister and her family rescued us. They volunteered to set up the tree and decorate it, providing our little family instant joy while shielding me from grief-riddled pain.
Since then, I’ve rebounded. I’m capable of hanging the White House ornament from our pre-children vacation to Washington, D.C., the Santa band from Steve’s childhood and the pewter horse and buggy from the last pre-cancer vacation we took as a family.
Instead of cursing my sentimental nature (as I sometimes do), I’m thankful that we spent so many years collecting tiny treasures.
This year, as I walk around our three- dimensional scrapbook, I’m reminded of the importance of moving forward even when you’re feeling pulled back by grief.
Our ornament collection didn’t stop growing when Steve died. Cooper, Katie and I continue to pursue new interests. We continue to travel when time and budgets allow.
There’s a Tower of London ornament and a lighthouse from Halifax, Nova Scotia, along with a tiny version of the Alamo.
Plus, there’s room for whatever adventures and passions await us.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm
(Follow me on Instagram at tyradamm to see ornaments throughout the season.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Find Little Red Charlie

Longtime Damm Spot readers will remember Little Red Charlie, our family's Elf on the Shelf. I've blogged about him in this space the past few years.

This year, LRC gets his own blog! You can follow his adventures at Stop by daily between now and Dec. 24 to see where our friendly elf is hiding!

Friends share their essentials for holiday magic

From last week's Briefing:

The most wonderful time of the year has officially begun. All the decorating and partying, baking and eating, shopping and giving starts in full force today.
I must admit that I’m feeling a little intimidated. This year, I’m working outside my cozy house for the first time since 2005, and I haven’t quite figured out how to create Christmas magic with a limited amount of free time.
In evaluating what kind of Christmas cheer I can deliver for my little family, I’ve been thinking about what makes Christmastime so special. Which traditions are nonnegotiable?
While considering our plans for the next four weeks, I asked a few friends to share their own favorite traditions.
Liz and her mom exchange ornaments every year:
“We each purchase one ornament for each other at Christmas. We try to find one that reminds us of a special memory we shared that year. I love decorating my tree and hanging the ornaments my mom gave me. It’s like a walk down memory lane.”
Zita, her husband and their two daughters hop in the backyard hot tub in the afternoon on Dec. 24:
“Andy and I have a glass of Champagne, and the girls make cranberry sparklers (cranberry juice and Sprite). We talk about the best and worst parts of the past year. Where we want to go on vacation the next year. It’s a great way to catch up after all of the holiday rush. And, we get to spend some time just the four of us before all of our assorted family arrive for Christmas Eve dinner.”
Angie’s most treasured tradition is attending her church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service:
“Being surrounded by my family, friends and the very strong presence of Christ is the best part of the season for me! I love the music, the familiar message, the beauty of the sanctuary decorated with poinsettias, candles and nativities. All of it is very spiritual and uplifting. Definitely that one hour is the best time of the holiday season for me.”
Kerith chooses a special ornament for each family member:
“Each person receives an ornament that represents an activity or event in his or her life that year. The ornament is wrapped, and the receiver has to guess what is inside based on three clues taken from Bible verses. Our tree is graced with a gymnast, a basketball player, the Eiffel Tower representing a trip to France, a dump truck for Josh’s second Christmas when he loved trucks, a tooth fairy sitting on a big resin tooth representing one of the girls’ first teeth falling out, and many others.”

Heather and her son kick off the season with a movie:
“On Dec. 1, Greyson and I make hot chocolate, snuggle on the couch and watch the movie Elf.”
Janet keeps alive traditions from her own childhood. She and her family attend Christmas Eve service, eat cold shrimp as the main course for dinner that night and open gifts one at a time on Christmas morning:
“We all get to see the look of joy on each recipient’s face as they open their presents.”
Jeanne, a transplanted Yankee, insists on a live Christmas tree:
“Every year since about 1996, the family has headed over to East Texas or up to Denison to chop down our tree. We ride in a hay wagon out to the field of trees. We laugh and giggle as we discuss and argue about which tree is the best for us. Meagan helps Joe saw the tree at the base and then tip it over, saying, ‘Timber!’ Our family tells hilarious stories of prior 60-mile drives home with trees that were way too large for our car. The togetherness means so much to us all.”
At the center of Susan’s beloved traditions is family. She takes “a tour of West Texas” to spend a couple of days with each of her three brothers and their families. She spends a few days with her dad’s only living sister. And she remembers the love of her parents, who have both passed away:
“I remember once that Mama told me that she and Dad worried some years that we kids would be jealous of our cousins’ gifts since Mama and Daddy could only afford to get us each one gift those years. Through tears, I told her that I wished they hadn’t worried. We never knew that we were poor. We had love and family.”
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, November 16, 2012

Musical dream takes a slightly different path

From today's Briefing:

When Cooper was 4, he declared his intention to play trumpet, just like his daddy.

His daddy had played trumpet for years — middle school, high school, college and, long past classroom years, sometimes even at church.

Steve stopped playing when he was diagnosed with cancer. Cooper, whose resolve was perhaps strengthened by his dad’s illness, continued to insist that he would play trumpet when he got older.

When Steve died, Cooper was even more determined to carry on his father’s musical legacy.

What Cooper didn’t consider was the innate ability related to instruments. You know how the wand chooses the wizard in Harry Potter? Apparently in music, the instrument sort of chooses the player.

On instrument tryout day back in February, Cooper showed great promise with the trombone, euphonium, clarinet, oboe and bassoon.

The percussion test tripped him up. (Me, too. I seriously lack rhythm. And musical ability in general.) The flute wouldn’t yield to his will.

And the trumpet? Well, he could barely coax out a single sound.

After intense discussion (“no one will be disappointed if you choose a different instrument”), debate (“you could work extra hard and make the trumpet work”) and a few tears (a six-year dream doesn’t dissolve easily), Cooper decided to sign up for clarinet.

It’s been relatively smooth sailing ever since.

Cooper has taken ownership of being the family’s clarinetist. Every afternoon, he sets up shop in the family room. He places his music stand in front of his practice chair, then he arranges his sheet music and metronome just so.

He reverently pieces together the instrument, taking care to precisely follow his teacher’s instructions. He will not be rushed. He will not take shortcuts.

And finally, after a good five minutes of preparation, he begins to tap his foot and make music.

Practice usually includes a little high-pitched squeaking that causes involuntary twitching on my part. But Cooper plays through the squeaks and ekes out recognizable songs.

Sometimes the music is so catchy that little sister Katie breaks out into interpretive dance.

On Tuesday night, Cooper and about 90 other beginning band students assembled on the cafeteria stage to share their skills with a gaggle of parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. It was their first concert and only the second time they were all together in the same room.

The whole band performed “Ode to Joy.” The gathered crowd politely applauded.

The band director gently scolded our efforts.

These kids didn’t know how to hold their instruments three months ago, she reminded us, and now they’re performing real songs, recognizable songs, together as a group. Applaud bigger!

And so we did.

We clapped enthusiastically for each group — the saxophonists playing “Frere Jacques,” the flautists playing “Aura Lee,” three brave bassoonists playing “Camptown Races.”

The clarinetists played “Jingle Bells” — once through at normal speed, a second time super fast. The music was lovely, with not a single discernible squeak.

The crowd applauded generously. I clapped wildly — enough for me and enough for Steve.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, November 09, 2012

Holidays are sneaking up too fast again

From today's Briefing:

If we can agree on nothing else this week, can we agree on this?

Thanksgiving is creeping up on us too fast.

My favorite holiday of the entire year is less than two weeks away. We need more time. Because as soon as Thanksgiving is over, all things Christmas take over. Then Christmas Day rushes by in a blur of ribbons and paper and then — bam! — it’s a new year.

Actually, Christmas seems to have taken over already. Stores jumped straight from Halloween candy to Christmas trees. Last weekend, Katie and I searched all over Target for some Thanksgiving decorations. There were none.

“There’s only Christmas stuff,” my 7-year-old said. “Are we too late for Thanksgiving?”

I’m not going to let retailers rush me past the one day of the year that’s devoted to counting our blessings and eating more pie than is socially acceptable. At the same time, with the Christmas season creeping in, I realize I have some decisions to make. Such as:

Will we get a new tree this year? We don’t do live — rather, cut down and dying — trees in this house. I’m severely allergic to evergreens. So, every few years we invest in an artificial tree, a Damm tradition since 1994.

In the meantime, though, the industry has revolutionized the fake tree market — and made them much more frustrating.

Pre-lit trees seem like such a great idea, until year three, when half of the strands don’t light and you spend two hours trying to locate the faulty bulb and then give up and just string extra lights on the tree. Lights, by the way, that never exactly match the other lights on the tree.

Will I send Christmas cards? The 2005 version of me wouldn’t even recognize this as a question. Of course you will send Christmas cards, woman. You live in a society, don’t you?

But the single mom version of me is less likely to follow the unwritten suburban rules that mandate a perfect photo on the highest quality cardstock with the most charming mix of fonts and cheerful words.

Here’s what will most likely happen: As soon as our tree is up and decorated, I will occasionally ask Cooper and Katie to stand in front of it. They will just happen to be wearing coordinating colors or patterns. I will take about 50 photos, hoping that all four eyes are open and looking in the same direction in just one photo.

If I’m successful in that quest, I’ll consider the rest of the Christmas card hurdles involved — not the least of which is developing a mailing list, which is a much easier task if you actually send cards annually instead of sporadically. The 2005 version of me is saying, “I told you so.”

When will our Elf on the Shelf make his first appearance?

A warning to the uninitiated: Once you become an Elf-on-the-Shelf family, there’s no going back. You can’t have an elf for three years then say, “Huh, I guess our elf decided to go elsewhere.”

We’re a committed Elf-on-the-Shelf family, so the big question is how soon he will arrive. Some families say the elf arrives when the tree does. Or on the first of December.

Our elf has always appeared the weekend after Thanksgiving. Of course, he doesn’t just arrive and settle in one spot for a month. He moves nightly, always finding a new sneaky perch for spying on behalf of Santa. That magic requires dedication and some behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

Am I ready for that magic to begin in two weeks? Not yet. But give me a little time to breathe between Election Day and Thanksgiving, plus plenty of pie, and I’ll be there with bells on.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Remember my Madonna night?

Liz, Holly, Tyra, Melinda, Katrina, Kristi, Julianne and Michelle
Awesome friend Julianne, who is (1) my sounding board on all kinds of matters, (2) accepts random texts and notes from me at all hours of the day and night and (3) always knows how to make me laugh, wrote about it on her blog.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The mystery of the manatee

In 1999 or thereabouts, Steve and I met Snooty, the oldest living manatee in captivity.

He was living at the Parker Manatee Aquarium in Bradenton, Fla. He had recently celebrated his 50th birthday.

That's a long time for a manatee to live, so when we left the aquarium, we bid Snooty solemn farewell. We were certain Snooty wouldn't live much longer.

Earlier this year, I took Cooper and Katie to the same aquarium. And, wouldn't you know it, Snooty was still there, swimming in a big pool, eating obscene amounts of romaine lettuce, showing off to curious visitors.

Snooty on his 63rd birthday
(Photograph: Tiffany Tompkins-Condie)
Snooty is now 64 years old. You can read more about him here. And during daytime hours you can watch him here.

Cooper and Katie admire Snooty in March

Snooty, left, goes in for some fresh food.

Big (pretend) hugs for Snooty

A couple of weeks ago at church, I was talking about our blubbery friend Snooty. (Katie insists he's not fat but rather plump.)

This morning at church I put my purse down, made sure Katie was settled then returned to the Narthex to help Cooper get ready for his role as acolyte.

When I returned to my seat, I saw this.

I opened the bag to find this.

Inside the bag:

I love it!

It wasn't signed. The giver remains a mystery. Thank you!

Before church this morning

Today was Children's Sabbath, with a teamwork theme. Katie led the call to worship, and Cooper served as acolyte and read the offertory prayer.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Concert brings sense of community connection

From today's Briefing:

On Sunday night, eight Frisco moms piled into a slightly sketchy cab outfitted with a karaoke machine and flashy lights, heading to dinner and an appointment with Madonna.
We’re united by neighborhood, children, soccer teams, volunteer commitments — and the opportunity to relive our youth for a night.
Back when we actually were young, the eight of us were flung all over the globe. One in Hawaii, one in Norway. One in Saudi Arabia, one in Southern California. Four Texas girls came from suburbs, big cities and small towns.
When we were teens bebopping to “Holiday” and “Lucky Star,” none of us imagined that in the year 2012 we’d gather in Dallas with other friends-to-be to watch Madonna sing and dance.
And we certainly couldn’t have imagined the thousands of other fans who would congregate.
Under one arena roof was a great sea of sequined, glittered, pierced humanity. Sure, there were plenty of understated outfits — dark skinny jeans, black flowy blouses, tasteful black boots, tame costume jewelry. Who really stood out? The guys in animal print hot pants. The middle-aged women in lacy tutus and platform heels and fingerless gloves. The group of men in matching, revealing, fluorescent pink tank tops.
The scene was nothing like our typical suburban mom haunts — our kids’ elementary school, Kroger, the Y, mild-mannered office spaces. And that’s part of what made the night so special. Disparate groups of people who rarely run in the same circles found common ground for one night. That’s pretty remarkable these days, given our current state of affairs.
Look no further than my Facebook news feed — and probably yours, too — for evidence of the great divide. In these final days before the election, I can read dire warnings of the inevitable breakdown of everything this country stands for if (fill in the blank) is elected. I have access to conspiracy theories and name-calling and extreme pontificating.
We’re no longer a country that watches the same prime-time shows at the same time. We have the luxury of scheduling our viewing when it’s convenient, and we have so many options that there’s little overlap in anyone’s repertoire. (My recent rotation: retreads of Downton Abbey and Arrested Development.)
Our playlists are über-personalized. We have access to satellite radio and Pandora and Spotify and whatever whims we’ve fulfilled on iTunes.
All this division and sequestration worries me. There’s great value in big community experiences, even when they’re superficial.
I’m heartened when there’s a collective something that most everyone can agree on. Like the tragedy of Big Tex bursting into flames — and the goodhearted acceptance of all the jokes that followed. Like the acknowledgment that “Call Me Maybe” isn’t a great song, but it sure is catchy. And if it comes on in a public place, it is perfectly acceptable to sing along and perhaps emulate the original video or one of many subsequent viral videos.
That sense of community is why my favorite moment from the Madonna concert was the superstar’s rendition of “Like a Prayer.” She encouraged the whole crowd to join her.
Thousands of us sang along. We were straight, gay, buttoned up, tattooed, introverted, extroverted, urban, suburban. Maybe we felt a deep connection to the lyrics. Maybe we were just blissfully reliving 1989.
We knew the melody. We knew all the words. We were connected, if only for a moment.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at