Monthly Archives: August 2014


This is what happens when you take the blue pills and play with matches. (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

This is what happens when you take the blue pills and play with matches.
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

In the midst of an exhaustive and ongoing tween & teen bedroom clean out this summer, I thought I was well placed to offer you, dear reader, some organizational advice on busting clutter for good. I’d gathered lists from ‘Uncluttering Your Space’, culled suggestions from ‘The Organized Home’ and collected every clear out tip from Martha Stewart and her team of experts. I was ready to be a fountain of wisdom. To help each and every one of you start the school year with hard-working, well-organized spaces.

I anticipated some battles with the kids: me wanting to purge, baby, purge and the girls, EO in particular, wanting to keep everything. I was prepared for budding hoarders and collectors.

I told you to go before we left Reno! (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

I told you to go before we left Reno!
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

But then YO wanted to throw out these really great toys (all of her Legos! Seriously!), and my heart shrank. I’m not a sentimental person by any means – more prone to minimalism and insensitivity actually – but the clean out started to evoke strange sensations and reflections in me. I think you know what I’m talking about. All those bittersweet, strangled emotions unique to parenthood; feelings that continually surprise, beguile, frustrate and shadow us on our journeys as moms and dads.

What helped me through, and what I want to share with you now, is the idea of a clutter clear out as a great, big festival in the desert. An experiential project of togetherness, celebration and mind expansion, but without the sand storms, port-a-potties and painted, naked people.

Thus, in the spirit of the Burning Man festival, which kicks off in Nevada this Monday (25 August – 1 Sept), I give you:





1. Radical Inclusion

Burning Man states: we welcome and respect the stranger.

Yes, you might think this applies to the smells emanating from underneath your son’s bed. But what I’m saying is: during this emotional time of purging, if your child’s dolls or toy animals start talking to you, don’t be afraid. You might want to take pictures of them, as I’ve done. Maybe even keep them. In brightly colored storage boxes or pretty baskets if possible.

2. Gifting

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving.

As is Grandma, whose favorite saying while visiting Stanley Market is known to be: ‘You can’t not buy it.’ This well-meaning shopaholic, often cursed but always loved, can be very tricky to deal with. After wading through EO’s 50 different purses and sleepover bags plus innumerable souvenir t-shirts, soft toys and pieces of costume jewelry, I say, as only a Hong Kong mom can: I’m sure our helper’s church will be happy to take them off our hands.

3. Decommodification

Burning Man is unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions or advertising.

Translated simply as: do not let those Rugby Sevens corporate freebies even leave the damn stadium.

4. Radical Self-Reliance

Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

But you can take that as: If you choose the loft bed, that’s going to be you up there making the bed and changing the sheets. Just sayin’.

Embarrassed child realizes Mom has raided the dress-up box for Tutu Tuesday. (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

Embarrassed child realizes Mom has raided the dress-up box for Tutu Tuesday.
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

5. Radical Self-Expression

At the festival, radical self-expression (Burning Man code for public nudity) arises from the unique gifts (= body parts) of the individual.

But for our purposes, I like to think it means: I am down with that uber-creative Austin & Ally poster montage blue-tacked to your wall, if that’s your thing.

6. Communal Effort

The Burning Man community values creative cooperation and collaboration.

Use, as needed, while cleaning:

  1. Stop making your sister do all the work.
  2. Put the device down, now.
  3. I said now.
  4. Clean out your &*#@)+% closet or there’s going to be no trampoline park!
  5. Okay, I’ll just get rid of everything.

7. Civic Responsibility

We value civil society.

Mommy will stop yelling now. You can keep the American Girl accessories, all 1,001 of them, and I’ll open this bottle of wine.

8. Leaving No Trace

We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather.

Ha ha ha. Okay, that’s not gonna happen. Next.

9. Participation

Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic.

Crazy, I know, but EVERYONE has to help tidy up. This ain’t no free ride.

Say you'll remember. (photo by therockmom)

Say you’ll remember.
(photo by therockmom)

10. Immediacy

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture.

This I get. The time is always now. You dig? Because as much as we love the fun, young people our children are now and wish with all of our hearts that they could stay 11 or 13 for a few more years, we can’t stop them from growing up, and giving away their entire Finding Nemo toy collection (still struggling with that one).

We will never get these years back. Ever. So don’t stress the clutter. Keep what’s important, donate and recycle the rest. Tell your daughter you have no idea what happened to that crossbow-and-arrow set that Gran brought back from Papua New Guinea. And, if you need a cleansing, cathartic bonfire, please make sure you’re about 50 miles out in the American desert. Upwind.

Now go, be with your kids.

And trust me when I say: save the wombats for your grandchildren.

Please don't forsake us. (photo by therockmom)

Please don’t forsake us.
(photo by therockmom)



*San Francisco-based photographer Patrick Roddie has been documenting Burning Man for over 15 years, and he very kindly let me use a few of his wonderful photos.

You can find all of his work at


’80s Week Continues: A Rock Playlist

So I set two small goals for myself this summer: to read Middlemarch and to watch the FOUR-hour, Peter Bogdanovich-directed Tom Petty documentary: Running Down A Dream. It’s slow going on both fronts, but I am loving each one. Friends had warned me that George Eliot’s writing wasn’t quite as ‘readable’ as say Jane Austen, but the novel doesn’t feel like a chore by any means. It’s got all the hallmarks of a classic English novel: a will is read, feelings are restrained, money’s a problem, love is unrequited and a young man finds out there is a fortune waiting for him. Great stuff.


I’ve just gotten past the mid ’80s and have reached the Dylan years with the TP and the HBs doc. Fantastic archival footage, performances and loads of interviews, as you would imagine in such an exhaustive documentary. I really enjoyed hearing about their work with Stevie Nicks and how influential their music videos were in the early years of MTV. I mean, seriously, when you look at Tom Petty’s body of work, the sheer number of incredible songs he’s written, he is right up there with the greats.

The doc inspired me to check out his latest release, Hypnotic Eye, as well as all that great early stuff. Just stop to consider his output in the 1980s: Hard Promises (’81), Long After Dark (’82), Southern Accents (’85), Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough (’87), closing out the decade with Full Moon Fever (’89). Come on! The man is a huge talent.

Funny how when we think of ’80s music, we tend to think of every genre – New Wave, Heavy (Hair) Metal, Rap, Punk and Pop –  except Rock. (Not including Bruce Springsteen of course, who was kind of a genre unto himself in the ’80s.) But plenty of rock musicians who’d gotten started in the ’70s were still releasing albums, touring and making interesting music videos that sustained rock radio through the decade. You could call this music kind of boring, MOR stuff but a lot of it is pretty darn good – a blend of blues, rock, jazz, New Wave. And I think these ‘oldies’ acts mix in well with college-radio rock bands such as REM and The Pretenders that went on to huge careers themselves.

So here’s a playlist of ’80s rock to start your weekend. Let me know what you think!

Monday Morning Music: ’80s ALL WEEK

Hi all, how’s your summer going? It’s EIGHTIES WEEK at therockmom as I revisit and revise one of my most popular posts: Can It Really Be Summer Without ’80s Music? New! Improved! Now with Spotify playlists!

maneaterIt’s a funny thing, nostalgia. Recently, I found myself sitting in the way back of my stepmom’s minivan listening to her Best of Hall & Oates CD as we drove to dinner. Now if that’s not a recipe for summertime teen regression I don’t know what is. But there I was, YO sitting next to me, both of us enjoying ‘Maneater’. See a cover version of that track (by Grace Mitchell) was used in the recent Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. YO’s good pal likes the new, cover song while YO is partial to the original. Me too. That groovy rhythm section to begin, then the sneaky guitar line, a hint of sax and… oh oh here she comes. We sang the chorus together – a small but sweet mother-daughter bonding moment – and I wondered: is it weird to be proud of my child’s taste in music?

On a slightly more musi-cophical note, I don’t know why bands/singers/artists insist on covering ’80s songs because it’s extremely difficult to improve on the original. I’m talking specifically about Moby’s recent ‘Rio’ cover as well as London Grammar’s take on the INXS tune, ‘Devil Inside’ – used for a Game of Thrones trailer. While I’m a big fan of both acts, I have to say these cover tunes were overly serious, dreary and well, just plain boring.

Eighties music is supposed to be fun!* So don’t forget the lightness, the slinky-ness, the insouciance. Guys in deconstructed linen blazers on the bow of a sailboat in the tropics!

I’ll leave you with that image as well as the first of FIVE ’80s playlists – all killer, no filler – to get you through the week. Enjoy!

*Unless of course you’re Morrissey.



There was a time when I thought ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was an H&O original.

We grow, we learn…