The Kruse family was back to their tradition Tuesday, decorating a slender, 12-foot Christmas tree.
Rays of sunlight sifted through the living room windows of their rental house where they have lived since the Black Forest fire destroyed their family home of 20 years.
Their home may not be back yet, but their family is.
And on this first Christmas since the wildfire, that's what is most important.
Three of the Kruse family's nine kids, young adults now, will get special Christmas presents.
This is a big family, verging, one quips, on creating its own dynasty.
The kids range from 5 to 25, said Tami Kruse, the brood's matriarch. Dad is Gary.
Taylor, 25; Cameron, 23; and Caleb, 21; after Christmas will get remade Best & Brightest plaques from The Gazette.
The plaques, acknowledging them as standout graduating high school seniors in the Pikes Peak region, were torched in the fire, which destroyed 488 homes and killed two residents in the tightknit community.
The awards are important to the trio because they "honor our parents," Taylor said.
They were "special gifts for the whole family, to honor our parents that way," she said. In the dining room, at a table surrounded by chairs, they take a break from decorating.
Losses for these three differ from the rest of the family. None were in Colorado when the fire hit.
Cameron was in Calcutta. Taylor and Caleb came home for a couple of weeks the day after the family home burned.
"We lost the least in terms of things you use day-to-day," Caleb said. "We had some of our stuff away from the home."
The family broke ground on their home on Taylor's 5th birthday. She remembers that still.
"To drive up to the property was so surreal," she said.
For Cameron, who returned later, the first thoughts were of family.
"The first thing that goes through my mind is my siblings," he said. "Thinking about everything that was ripped from them instantly."
That's the way it hit them, like a punch in the gut, when they came home to find the mailbox standing, some grass in the front yard, and the home they knew turned to rubble.
"It was the realization of seeing the house not there," Cameron recalls. "The memories are still there, but this symbol of our family was completely gone."
If there was any good, Caleb said, "it was that the whole community was pulling for us. Everyone just deeply cared."
The tree, for instance, was donated by X-IO, Gary said.
Lockheed Martin Corp., where he works, gave him several months off, and other Lockheed employees donated vacation time.
And Karen Jones, owner of All About Home, and 14-time Best Interior Design and People's Choice Winner of the Colorado Springs Parade of Homes, is helping Tami redesign their new home.
Jones, Gary said, has given them "some tingling of excitement and hope."
"She's the Florence Nightingale of the design business," he said. "She's basically just holding our hands and said 'I will walk through this with you' and she's going to make it a Parade of Homes."
With Jones' help, the Kruse family expects to be back in Black Forest by Labor Day.
Good news, but with all of their kids, the family will always come first.
"I think as a mom and dad, you just stay focused on what is going on emotionally for the kids," Gary said. "There are a lot of true and false fears and concerns running through their beautiful brains and bodies. We're just looking at them and walking together with them."