Sunday, November 29, 2015

After church this (cold and rainy) morning

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holiday memories shine brighter than any tree

From today's Briefing:

Red and green boxes tower, cluttering the entryway and dining room. A ladder stands at the ready. The three of us step back and stare at the re-assembled artificial tree.
“It looks great!” Katie gushes.
“It’s ready to go,” Cooper agrees.
I shake my head. At least two sections of attached lights refuse to glow.
I ask Cooper to unplug and replug the lights. We jiggle strands. We examine tiny white bulbs.
No change. Sections of the tree remain dark.
I remember that a few of years ago I bought one of those “As Seen on TV” devices — a plastic tool that promises to fix most Christmas lights. Katie finds it in a kitchen drawer.
The printed instructions are long since gone, but we find a link online and reacquaint ourselves with the questionable process.
Then we discover that the tool runs on teeny-tiny batteries, and the batteries are corroded.
So we abandon the partially lit, undecorated tree. We leave Christmas carols playing in the family room and dash to the grocery store.
Cooper hunts down the specialty batteries. Katie selects her favorite flavor of eggnog. I choose some hot cocoa.
In no time we’re back at home. Seasonal beverages will have to wait. I want those lights to shine.
We replace the batteries. We follow every single step of the magical light fixer-upper.
Nothing but darkness remains in the middle.
My shoulders sag. We can’t move forward with beads and ornaments and ribbon until the lights work. I start running through scenarios in my head.
Cooper gently touches my arm.
“It’s OK, Momma, without those lights,” he says. “That’s not what the season is about.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to discern sincere Cooper from sarcastic Cooper, but today there was no question.
I hand the light fixer back to Katie to return to the drawer. I pour cups of eggnog and cocoa for the kids. I drape strands of pearl and crystal beads on the tree, moving the stepladder around, asking for advice on placement, doing my best to ignore the darkened bulbs.
I open the first box of ornaments, and one at a time we begin to hang them on the tree. We share stories and memories about most of them.
The cowboy and cowgirl from the summer we spent a week at a dude ranch. The tin robot from the year that tiny Cooper wore robot pajamas almost every night. The purple narwhal from an art fair in Boston the year that Katie dressed as a narwhal for Halloween.
The cross from Katie’s baptism. The angel my mom made years before she died. The ceramic plaque that says “Believe.”
One by one we unpack symbols of the reason for the season in our house — hope, love, joy, peace and belief in a child sent from heaven to save humanity.
When I admire our finished tree, I no longer see dim sections. Instead, I’m reminded of my son’s sweet words and the memories stored up in that tree and the hope that my family relies on every day. My eyes and heart are drawn to the light that dispels darkness.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, November 16, 2015

Many reasons to give thanks

From Saturday's Briefing:

We’re nestled in that tiny space in the calendar that allows us time to express gratitude before the rush of Christmas sweeps us into a frenzy.

Sure, we might occasionally purchase a gift or two, RSVP for a couple of parties and start mentally decorating the mantle, but for right now, we’re officially in Thanksgiving mode. It’s the briefest season of the year.

I love ornament exchanges and secret Santas, Nutcracker performances and gaudy light displays. I watch my share of Christmas specials and listen to holiday tunes nonstop in December. Yet I always feel rushed getting there.

This year feels slightly different. At the beginning of 2015, I challenged myself to make every day a sort of thanksgiving. I committed to posting on Instagram one image a day that would illustrate what I’m thankful for. Unlike my past attempts at gratitude journals, which I would earnestly start and then unceremoniously ditch, this project actually stuck.

For 317 days so far, I have posted a photo plus a note of thanks for all the social media world (or at least my small circle of friends) to see.

What am I thankful for? According to my posts:

Good news from the doctor. Plumbing leak repair. An old collection of recipes.

My job. Good books. Sunrises.

Free Slurpees in July. A bouquet of flowers from a student. Our public library.

Even more than good news, food, gifts and special places, though, I am thankful for people.

More than 100 posts of 317 have reflected thankfulness for family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, a barista, even a backpack salesman.

On the last day of spring break, I wrote about Cooper and Katie: “Thankful for these two intrepid travelers. The three of us have forged many adventures together, and with each trip, they show strength, flexibility, resourcefulness and resiliency.”

At the end of the school year, I wrote: “Thankful for the chance to hug Beverly, one of the most important people in my family's life. She has nurtured all three of us, through Steve’s illness and death and through our grief. She believed in my dream to become a teacher and took a chance on hiring me. When I think of her impact on just the three of us and then multiply it by thousands of families, well, I get overwhelmed. She’s nearing retirement, and no educator I know has earned it more.”

This fall: “Thankful for Erin, who has cut my hair for six years, who listens to my stories, who offers a well of empathy, who always makes me laugh and who makes me feel beautiful.”

Not far behind all those people is a pile of thanks for experiences. Movie nights at home, a day on the beach, evening walks on the greenbelt, track meets, band concerts.

From a weekend when Cooper was away camping: “Thankful for small adventures. After church and Sunday school I asked Katie, ‘Should we go home or go on an adventure?’ She leaped at the latter, so we headed to the Dallas Museum of Art for some creating and analyzing. Then I introduced my vegetarian daughter to the Old East Dallas standby Kalachandji's, a veggie buffet in the Hare Krishna temple.”

From a recent day trip to Arlington: “Thankful for short lines, cool breezes, fun friends, mushroom hats and a Pink Thing at Six Flags.”

From our recent Six Flags trip
On even the crummiest of days, I’ve found reasons to give thanks.

A full pantry. A friend who comes to the rescue. A bubble bath.

My list of blessings is longer than I can count. I’ve got everything I need and a whole lot of what I want.

I plan to keep stretching out Thanksgiving, sprinkling it on every day of the year. Perhaps it will prove to be the perfect antidote to the joyful yet manic Christmas season.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Before church this morning

This was taken about 30 minutes before Katie fled the sanctuary and threw up all over the bathroom floor. Twice. Some days don't work out as you'd like or as you'd planned.