Friday, August 2, 2013

Cleaning Out a Kid's Room~ Is my kid a hoarder?

“Memories of childhood were the dreams that stayed with you after you woke.”
―Julian Barnes England, England

This evening I read The Elves and the Shoemaker to my younger daughter before bed.  I'm very much taken with fairy tales, something I've passed on to both my daughters. Meghan (Dear Daughter Number One) and I buy each other copies of collections.  Meghan and I have individually been collecting the DVDs of the current re-told fairy tale movies that have recently come out (and a few older ones like Snow White: Tale of Terror--NOT for kids).  Mirror, Mirror and Jack the Giant Killer (both absolutely kid friendly!!) and movies like Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (also NOT for kids), etc...  We love fairy tales. We love to read them. We love to watch them.  If Meghan, at 21 years old, asked me to sit down and read a fairy tale to her I would.

Maddie asked to read from a fairy tale compilation that my grandparents gave to her sister, and subsequently her sister passed on to her. Tonight I wanted to read the original Jack the Giant Slayer.  She didn't want to hear that story and insisted on The Elves and the Shoemaker.  Something extraordinary happened as I read the story: a cherished memory of a cherished book swept into me.  I could almost remember the illustrations. I could almost see the cover.  What I could remember was how much I adored that book.  It occurred once the story was refreshed in my mind that I have thought about that particular book many times over the last 35 years or so, but never really consciously enough to look for it.  Tonight I looked for it online.  Tonight I found it.  It will be in my hands again, after some 35 years, by Wednesday afternoon at the latest. 

I wish that book hadn't disappeared when I was a kid. Heck, there are a lot of things I wished hadn't disappeared; however, it's impossible to keep everything, so picking and choosing is important.  There are two schools of thought on cleaning and purging your child's room: involve your child, or do it while they are away.  Which one?
Pretty much, yeah.
The Toss it Method

"Toss it when they aren't there." This is the route taken by most parents.  Wait until the kids are at school, at a parent or grandparent's house, away on vacation.  It seems like the best solution to that messy, overstuffed room. A simple solution.  But is it the best solution?  What happens when the kids come home and find that book they love gone because you think they've outgrown it?  They might not ask you to read it to them any more, but they might love to look at it before bed, unbeknownst to you.
I just can't advocate throwing things or giving things away without your child present.

A Special Note

If at any time your child becomes unusually distressed or agitated (beyond what would be considered normal kid behavior), consider contacting a professional for an assessment.  I am not a licensed anything. These are simply tips that work for me.

The Inclusive Method

Making good decisions involve having your child in the room with you when you clean.  It probably will take three times as long as if you were to blow through like a tornado and toss almost indiscriminately.  Kids move slow, are ambivalent, and lollygag.  That's a fact.  But you are the parent. It's your job to keep your kid on task but keep up a pace. Remember, if you are starting to use more and more space for storage, you need to get rid of stuff. 

"Potential" value

The first thing you need to teach your child is what is garbage and what is not. It seems like a reasonably easy choice for the average person. "I've finished that bottle of soda. Toss the bottle into the recycling bin."  No fuss, no muss.  But sometimes you might have a creative kid who can see "potential" in all things.  They see the spinny wind chime out of the 2 liter soda bottle.  They see the motion ocean of oil and water out of the soda bottle.  They see a mosaic out of bits of torn up construction paper bits.  They see candles in old crayons.  And THIS IS GOOD.  Never extinguish that creativity. But you have to teach your child to consider just how many projects they can do at once or over a short period of time such as a week or a month. I think the best solution to this is to make a chart of the things your child wants to do.  No time table. Just a list.  Your child might want to hold on to that soda bottle.  Say, "well, we can get a soda bottle any time you're ready so we don't have to keep this one. Let's throw this one away because this one is garbage right now."


Teach your child to throw out unusable items.  One half of a pair of flip flops is broken, or one is missing. Throw it out.  It can't be fixed.  One sock is good, one has a hole. Throw the pair out...even if it's a loved pair of socks. They are unusable.  If your child seems attached to them, let them put them on and take a picture of your child in the socks (or a close up of the socks).  A full digital camera is a lot better than a full drawer.


Teach your child to recognize things that are unhealthy or unsanitary.  Let your child help you clean out the refrigerator.  Point out expiration dates and explain that after an expiration date the food is unsafe and can't be eaten without the possibility of making someone sick. Hand it out and let them throw it out for you. When a child drops a toothbrush on the bathroom floor, tell them to throw it out and use a new one.  While I'm sure you could boil the toothbrush to kill the germs (I'd just a soon throw it out personally), don't let your child get into the habit of rationalizing incorrect decisions.  "I can just boil it and it will be good as new."  "No, honey. It's really dirty now. It goes into your mouth and germs from the bathroom that go into your body can hurt you. We need to get a new clean one." 


There comes a time when you think it might be time to make some donations.  Instead of throwing things away (that are clearly not garbage and might confuse your child after you explain what garbage is), consider explaining donation. Many kids have too much stuff and many kids don't have enough.  This is a wonderful opportunity to instill some social responsibility in your child. When they no longer play with a toy but still seem reluctant to let it go, ask your child if they think another child that doesn't have toys might play with it more than he does now.

The Box Method

What if the toy or object truly is something your child wants to keep, but she isn't sure.  This is a great tip that even I use when I'm trying to decide if I'm on the fence about giving or throwing something away.  It's the box method.

Find a cardboard box and fill it with the objects.  Make sure your child fills it herself and looks at everything inside.  Make sure what goes in the box is an "on the fence" object.  Seal up the box, designate it "throw away" or "give away,"  put a date on it, and put it somewhere out of the way, a closet, the basement, the attic...a place where it will be forgotten. Start slow.  Go back to the box in six months.  IF and only IF the box has not been opened during that time to find something, toss it out if it is designated garbage or put it right in the car for Goodwill.  Do NOT open the box and look.  If in six months you really don't remember what was in the box, the objects weren't that important. Eventually, you might feel comfortable enough to put it away for a month, or a week.  Use your discretion for your child. Give her a wide berth to start.

This is not a perfect technique. My copy of The Elves and the Shoemaker was in a box in our storage room. I don't know how long it was there.  My step father threw the box away without consulting anyone. Other than that one book, I don't remember any other book that was in that box. This was an almost perfect application, accidentally of course, of the box method.  Yet there was a mistake.  And this will happen.  Be patient and understanding if after the box is removed and given/thrown away, your child looks for something that was inside the box.  I have used the box method for my daughter's room and she's never asked for anything that was put in the box, thrown or given away.

Who exactly is attached?

Oh dear. This happens a lot.  I encourage Maddie to keep things that I'm attached to emotionally.  She wants to throw away a ratty bunny that she hasn't touched in two years. "But that's Honey Bunny! You loved her when you were a baby!"  "But mom...I don't play with it anymore. I haven't in a long time. And it's yucky now."  So...who is hoarding?  You are.  Be choosey what you yourself keep.  It is tempting to keep every single thing that reminds you of your child.  You can't keep everything.  Maybe Honey Bunny is the best thing to keep because it was beloved, but the outfit you loved that no longer fits might not be a good choice. Do not use your child's space to hoard your things by using them as an excuse.  It's hers, not mine, so it belongs in here.

Always remember to listen to your child. If she says she wants something and is adamant, let her keep it.  Better to be safe than sorry.  If you give your child the tools to make good decisions about possessions, she will begin to be able to make her own choices and recognize which are good and which are bad.  The next clean up might result in an easier time letting go, and less time trying to hold on to things that don't really matter in the long run.  (And yeah, Honey Bunny shouldn't go in the garbage box.)

Some additional suggestions
Here are some additional tools and techniques.  These are designed for people who are having serious difficulty with clutter behavior, but also work well if you keep those questions in mind when you clean with your child.
Tools & Techniques

Questions to ask yourself while de-cluttering:

By: Elaine Birchall, MSW RSW, Social Worker, Ottawa Public Health; Coordinator :Ottawa Community Response to Hoarding Coalition, March 2006

Questions About Acquiring

• Do I have an immediate use for it?
• Do I need it? How many do I already have?
• Can I get by without it?
• Do I feel compelled to have it?
• Can I afford it comfortably?
• Do I have time to deal with it appropriately i.e? maintain it?

Questions About Discarding

• Do I need it?
• Do I have a plan to use this?
• Have I used this in the last year?
• Can I get it elsewhere i.e.. the library?
• Do I have enough space for it already clear and available?
• Do I love it?

Questions About How to Organize & Let Go

• Start with one area; spend as many future work periods as needed to complete your goal for this area.

• If entrances, exits or areas near heat and ignition sources for example, (furnaces, stoves, portable heaters, baseboard heaters, water heaters or uncovered light bulbs, are a cluttered, start with them first for safety reasons and continue working in that area until clear. The 1st fire safety priority is clear routes into and out of the residence. The 2nd priority is entrance and exits from each room.
caution: Extension cords should not be used for permanent wiring purposes i.e.. instead of adequate electrical outlets connected to the electrical panel. Make sure smoke detectors are functioning.

• Begin by creating categories for possessions

• Sort into discard, recycle/giveaway & keep piles

• Use questions provided in “Acquiring & Discarding” Sections to decide.

• Continue until chosen area is clear

• Imagine and plan and a more pleasing use for the cleared area

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ridiculously Easy Tomato and Basil Pizza

This is so easy even I can do it...and that's saying a lot.  Cooking is not my forte.

Ingredient List:

1 tube of Pillsbury (or equivalent) pizza dough
3 leaves of fresh basil OR dried basil
1 bag of mozerella cheese
3-4 tomatoes (Roma are nice but any will do)
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees

Step One: Cut up basil if fresh.  For those without knife skills or kids, a pizza cutter is the best option.  Cut it as fine as possible.

Step Two: Roll out the dough. It's going to look horrible, I assure you.  Unless you have mad pizza skillz, the dough will roll out square.  Do your best to make it flat and turn up the edges for a crust.  A rolling pin helps to flatten it if you need help.  Fingers work great too.  Imagine all those pizza makers and try to channel them.  Don't throw your dough in the air and try to spin it.  Square doesn't spin well (I speak from experience).

You will never be able to do this with square dough. Never.

Step Three: Slice up your tomatoes and place as many on the dough as you'd like.  These are fresh mini-Roma tomatoes from our garden.  The fact that I can grow tomatoes is a complete fluke.  If I couldn't fresh tomatoes from a grocery store or farmer's market work.

Step Four: Spread all that basil your cut.  Basil is a strong herb when fresh.  Use sparingly if you are concerned about a heavy flavor.  You can dry your fresh basil (or use pre-dried basil) and the flavor won't be as strong.

Step Five: Spread the moz.

Step Six: Bake for about six to ten minutes. Keep watch.  Oven pizzas can go from underdone to brown and burnt in 11.4 seconds flat.

Step Seven: Cool, cut, and eat!  That's it!

Seriously easy.
Bon appetite!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why the Museum is Important

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. ~Thomas Merton

Shhh...I took a picture of Maddie and John Schoenherr's Sandworms of Dune, 1977

Our first adventure for the 2013 summer Camp Mommy extravaganza is our local museum. Our museum does its best to get the best exhibits it can and over the last few years has exceeded expectations.  Last year Maddie and I spent our time viewing some of the most incredible science fiction/fantasy paintings ever created.  Included in the exhibit were images and sculptures by H.R. Geiger, one of the paintings upon which the original cover of Dune was based, at least five Tolkien inspired works, and many Boris Viejo pieces.  There was concept art, costumes, and other tremendously large sculptures. Some of them were so life-like I had to stop Maddie (and myself) from touching  (and I’ll tell you a little secret..I snapped a few pictures.  Shhhhh). Though not a part of the science fiction exhibit, the Allentown Art Museum also had a Victorian Mourning exhibit around that time.  Though small in size, the pieces included historic mourning garb, mourning jewelry, hair art, and modern jewelry interpretations of Victorian mourning culture.

This summer The Allentown Art Museum is hosting a collection of the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  Not only is this Maddie’s first exposure to the historic fine art of Europe, it’s one of mine as well. I’m glad her first exposure is so early and a painter I love and understand and can translate to Maddie.  The only other major art exhibit I ever saw was Marcel Duchamp when I was about 5 or 6.  I had no idea why there was a toilet inside a museum, and I couldn’t figure out how a big piece of broken glass with bunch of triangles, circles, and lines could be a bride (and I had no idea what bachelors were and why they were making her naked).  I kind of still don’t…and I took a fine arts class in college. 

Wait, what? Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917)
 My step-father was an artist who, unfortunately, never took the time to explain to me the art he loved, or help me appreciate what I saw. Perhaps I would have loved Duchamp. All these years later I believe he felt one should simply instinctively understand and be Zen about viewing a piece of art, and while I agree with that fundamentally and am a firm believer that the first emotion you feel in regard to any piece of art is the one you take with you forever, I also believe guidance is necessary, especially for a small child.  Duchamp confused and frustrated me, and though I have learned about him since, and come to appreciate his talent and vision, I will never truly love him, taking those initial feelings of frustration with me as well as the internal “ugh” I hear myself say when someone mentions him. Had my step-father taken the time to crouch down next to me and explain the toilet in the museum (or simply the vision of the conceptual/Dadaism movements) I might have had a very different first experience.

So what does Duchamp mean to me all these years later?  What does it mean for my daughter? I think my younger child’s first exposure to art should be something I can explain. I don’t mean interpret, as that is up to the individual and you must encourage that, but give background information on, and help her understand the vision behind the piece itself.  Either that, or find artwork that we can learn about together.  I have a passion for the Belle Époque and the Fin de siècle so this Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit has me giddy with excitement.  I took a book on Toulouse-Lautrec out from the library and we sat together and looked at his paintings.  She saw a picture of him and asked about his legs. When I told her what happened to him she said, "well, I guess it didn't hurt his painting."  Even there we see a lesson in tolerance and understanding.

You have one activity to do before you go to the museum.  You have to give your child a basic understanding of the idea of different styles.  Several years ago my boyfriend's son came home with a project he did in art class.  Most schools are doing away with art classes unfortunately, so it falls to you to teach appreciation.  Below is a copy of his project.  The best way to do this is to choose eight different painters.  Fold a regular piece of unlined drawing paper so you have eight boxes.  Put the name of one painter in each box.  Show your child one piece of work by that painter, discuss what it looks like, and have your child do a small scale, simple reproduction.  If you discuss Jackson Pollack, have your child use markers of many colors and draw dots all over the inside of the box.  Below is a list of 10 artists and one piece of representative art. You can look up all these pieces on the internet.  Don't worry if your child can't draw a real person if you talk about Rafael...stick figures with wings works!

Aidan B. School art project (about 2010 or so)

Definitions of Artistic Movements
The best online dictionary of artistic movements is found at Art History on  Most of the definitions here are amalgamates of and Wiki entries.

Impressionism: 19th century art movement centralized in Paris. Characteristics include relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles.
Post-impressionism: Originated in the early 20th century. Post-Impressionists extended Impressionism while rejecting its limitations: they continued using vivid colours, thick application of paint, distinctive brush strokes, and real-life subject matter, but they were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary colour. 
Pre-Rafaelite: Middle to late 19th century British movement that rejected the mechanical religious works of the Renaissance. These painters returned to the subjects of myth and legend, and rejected art that was seemingly done by rote and convention.

Dadaism: (Ahhh! Marcel Duchamp!)  An artistic moment in the early 20th century that valued nihilism, nonsense, and travesty.  It rejected conventional art.

Cubism: A movement of art that originated in 1907 and is still practiced today. Cubism has several key components: geometricity, a simplication of figures and objects into geometrical components and planes that may or may not add up to the whole figure or object known in the natural world, conceptual reality instead of perceptional reality, distortion of reality, the overlapping of planes, multiple views of the subject matter.  Seems like a difficult concept, but when you view a Picasso,  you'll get it.

Futurism:  From Italy around the same time Cubism was developing. A style of art that embraced mechanism and industrialsim.

Surrealism: Also an early 20th century movement. Surrealism valued the insights and subconscious realities highlighted by Freud.  It included ideas of strong emotions, emotional repression, mystical ideas, ambiguity, and the ideas of chance and spontaneity.

Contemporary: Art from the 1960's or 70's up until this very minute. Contemporary art can involve all previous art styles and most often addresses contemporary issues such as AIDS, poverty, multiculturalism, globalization, and gender issues.  Contemporary art has often been attacked as pointless scribbles that could  have been made by someone's 3 year olds; however, this is not the case.  This kind of art is planned and constructed with vision and the desire to share feelings, images, and ideas just like any other piece of art.

10 Artists and Their Most Famous Works (my opinion anyway!)
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1509 (Renaissance)

Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889 (Post-impressionism)

Number 8, Jackson Pollack, 1949 (Abstract Impressionsim)

The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893 (Expressionist)
Water Lilies Clouds, Claude Monet, one of 250 Water Lily paintings (Impressionsim)
The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931 (Surrealism)
The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1908 (Symbolist)
Two Dancers On the Stage, Edgar Degas, 1874 (Impressionism and Realism)
Girl With a Pearl Earring, Jan Vermeer, 1665 (Baroque)
Woman in a Hat with Pompoms and a Printed Shirt, Pablo Picasso, 1962 (Cubism)

Should I go into "why art is important" or do you know that already?  I think you know that already.  If you believe art is important you must do what you can to make it interesting and fun.  You must do what you can to prevent the eye rolls and sighs when your child has a school trip or is going with you to the museum.  The only way to achieve this is to be excited right along with them, even if you don't like the museum very much yourself.  There are a lot of questions you can ask your child while viewing paintings or sculptures that will increase your child's interaction and instinctual understanding of art.  It might help you as well.  There is nothing more wasteful than going to a museum, viewing works of art, and leaving with no more enlightenment within you than there was when you walked in. The only way to combat that is to TALK about what you see (quietly of course...proper manners in museums is another important lesson). Talk, talk, talk.  Talk at the museum, talk on the way home, talk when you get home.  

Ten Questions to Ask Your Kids About Art
(courtesy of Project Muse)

1. Look carefully at the work of art in front of you. What colors do you see in it? Take turns listing the specific colors that y ou see (for example: "I see red." "I see purple.") 
2. What do you see in the work of art in front of you? Take turns listing the objects that
you see (for example: "I see an apple." "I see a triangle.") 
3. What is going on in this work of art? Take turns mentioning whatever you see happening, no matter how small. 
4. Does anything you have noticed in this work of art so far (for example: colors, objects, or events) remind you of something in your own life? Take turns answering. 
5. Is this work of art true to life? Ho w real has the artist made things look?
6. What ideas and emotions do you think this work of art expresses? 
7. Do you have a sense of how the artist mi ght have felt when he or she made this work of art? Does it make you feel one way or another? 
8. Take a look at the other works of art displayed around this one. Do they look alike? What is similar about the way they look (for example: objects,events, feelings, the way they are made)?
What is different? 
9. What would you have called this work of art if you had made it yourself? Does the title of the work, if there is one, make sense to you? 
10. Think back on your previous observations. What have you discovered from looking at this work of art? Have you learned anything about yourself or others? Now that the game is over, ask your kids again: Do you like this work of art? Why or why not? Has your reaction to the work changed? Do you like it more or less than you did in the beginning? Why?