Minecraft, Soap Opera Mod.

“You know, I bet you and the kids would really love Minecraft, as much as y’all are into Lego.”

This sentence, spoken by a very naïve version of myself sometime last year, solely goes to prove that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a LIE.

Since that day, my children have been continuously and absolutely obsessed with Minecraft. I put it on their iPads, and they were infinitely sucked into the vortex of Creepers and Item Frames and spawning Sheep. Noah wakes up asking to play Minecraft. He goes to bed telling me about the over-underworld (whatever that is.) They check out Minecraft library books to hone their skills. And all this is despite the fact that they only get an hour of screen time a day.

(On most days. Unless I need them to have more.)

I wanted to understand – I really did – so I put it on my iPhone as well and attempted to learn. But it was just mindless building for me, as is Lego.

(Apparently all of the structural genes are passed down through their structural engineer father.)

I watched them play, I watched them build, I watched them explore their worlds. I knew there was a way for them to interact with others through the game, but I made sure that option was turned off. To them, it was simply a free-play building game. And a game that you could hit a sheep a few times and watch him die. And burn villages down. And put villagers in a box in a hole. Their deviant side definitely showed through in their Minecrafting.

“Look Mom! I just burned an entire village up with lava!”

If a child’s inherent goodness can be determined by how they treat their Minecraft Villagers, it might be safe to go ahead and lock my kids up for life.

Every night at bedtime, they wanted a few minutes of quality snuggling time – with us and Minecraft. I typically cuddle with Noah, and Chris with Ali. Sometimes we even watch Minecraft YouTube videos – because there’s nothing more exciting than watching videos of other people playing a game I don’t get.

But I love my children. So whatever.

One night last week, Noah, Chris and I were laying in bed doing the Minecraft-before-bed routine. Chris was about to get up and go in Ali’s room when some words popped up on Noah’s screen that we had never seen before.

“Stella has entered the game.”

“Whoa whoa whoa! Who’s Stella??”

Noah said, “I don’t know. Oh look! There’s Stella!!”

A Minecraft girl walked up and got right in his face, with the name “Stella” floating above her head. This was no ordinary villager.

Chris and I looked at each other, wide-eyed.

“I thought you said they couldn’t interact with other people!”

“I didn’t think they could! I have all that disabled!”

“Oh look! Stella built me that item frame! Isn’t that nice??”

Okay who is this creepy girl named Stella and how did she get in my son’s iPad.

“Have you ever seen Stella before?”

“I don’t think so…”

“Lemme see your settings.”

Multiplayer was off…LAN was off…WHO. WAS. STELLA.

“Baby I know you love Minecraft but until we can figure out how Stella is getting into your game, we need to quit playing.”

I closed him out of Minecraft and Chris and I sat there, confused.

At that moment, Ali walked into the bedroom, her iPad in hand, looking confused herself.

“Hey Mommy I was just playing Minecraft and I got this weird world option that said ‘Steve’ and then I got kicked out.”

“Wait a minute.”

“Do you have a different Minecraft name?”

“Yeah…it’s Stella…”

Stella was not some extremely creepy old lady hacking into our son’s iPad. Stella was our daughter.

Chris and I breathed again, and I remembered reading something about sharing worlds if you’re on the same wi-fi. I was surprised that it had taken this long for this happy accident to occur, but the children, as it dawned on them what had happened, were elated.

Ali jumped in bed with us and went back to Steve’s world and they began giggling like Junior High girls at 2am at a sleepover.

They hit each other on the head.

They went into each other’s heads.

They built things.

They killed things.

They screamed with glee.

Noah, in a high-pitched loving voice, began referring to Ali as “Miss Stella.”

“Where’d you go, Miss Stella? What are you doing, Miss Stella? You look so silly with a Creeper Head on, Miss Stella!!”

And Ali referred to Noah as Steve.

Chris and I listened to their adorable bonding and jubilance at their game gaining a whole new dimension. It was one of those moments as parents – the kind that you truly, actually savor and treasure.

(Not just the ones that the little old ladies at the mall tell you to treasure when your toddler is pitching a fit and your kid is asking twenty questions a minute. That kind is not treasured at all. You’d just like to treasure the moment of hitting the little old lady over the head with your fifty pound diaper bag.)

The next day was a rain-all-day kind of day, and it was Spring Break, so I decided to forego the hour-of-iPad a day rule and allow my children to fully enjoy their new bonding experience. It was just as adorable as I’d imagined – more “Miss Stella”s and “Steve why are you wearing a pumpkin??”s and them sitting squeezed up against each other on the couch giggling at their hilarious game.


Of course, this only added to their addiction issues and the beggings for extra iPad time intensified.

And, by the fourth day, I walked into the room to Noah saying,

“Stella’s burning my house down!!”

“Well Steve killed my Ocelot kittens!!!”

And I knew we were back to normal sibling behavior.

But the budding friendship of Stella and Steve is a memory I’ll treasure forever – because they grow up way too fast, you know.

The Grand Bug Hunt.

“Do you need me to babysit this week? I need your kid’s help catching insects.”

“Ummm, no…but you’re welcome to come over and we’ll help you catch bugs.”

This conversation took place with my least in-tune-with-nature babysitter, Giann. Her idea of “outdoors” is going to an outlet mall, or perhaps eating outside – if the weather is ideal. The thought of her catching anything, much less a collection of creepy crawly insects, made me giggle. I DEFINITELY wanted to be a part of this.

But the odd part was, she’s in college. And apparently, in college, you have to make a bug collection. Who knew? College is basically fourth grade these days. But at least that made it easy to count “Helping Giann with her college project” as Science for Ali and Noah.

Giann arrived at our house, Ziploc bags and assignment papers in hand. She had collected seven bugs and needed fifteen. Fifteen specific bugs.

…But she possessed no bug catching gear.

“Where’s your net?”

“I don’t have one. And I didn’t want to spend the money to buy one. But I figured you’d have one. You’re a homeschool mom.”

“Yeah, I’m a BAD homeschool mom! You know this. I don’t have a net.”

“Well, let’s try without a net.”

I was excited to see where this would go. It could only turn out to be the most entertaining thing that would happen to me.

I took Giann around to the back of our house where we have a colony of Carpenter Bees slowly eating our deck for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I pointed two of them out to her. She put her hands up and backed up slowly, as if a SWAT team had just surrounded her.

“This is going to go so well.”

We gave up on the Carpenter bees and went in the garage to catch a ladybug. There are dozens on the inside of our garage door this time of year, so that was easy. I pointed them out to her, and she held out her baggy, being careful to never get too close to the wretched creatures, and I suppose, she attempted to WILL them into her bag.

I grabbed her bag, picked up a couple ladybugs, dropped them in, and zipped it up.

We went into the house and began looking in the windowsills for unfortunately trapped bugs. We found a dead one that would fit under one of the criteria. We put him in a bag, but his head accidentally broke off.

“It’s okay. Our teacher said we could reassemble any insects with clear fingernail polish.”


One of the required catches was a Dragonfly, something you can’t find just anywhere. Fortunately for her, though, I’d just seen dozens at Ruffner Mountain a couple of days prior, so I finally had a reason to drag Giann on a hike with us. And, since another babysitter, Sarah, is living with us right now, we grabbed her as well.

But first, a net. We stopped by Wal-Mart on the way.

“But I don’t want to spend money on a net!!”

“Fine. Take my credit card. Then I’ll have a net and I’ll be a better homeschool mom.”

Because I’m the best babysitting client there ever was.

Giann and Sarah went in, then came back out of Wal-Mart with a net and garden gloves.

“WHAT are the gloves for??”

“So I don’t have to touch any bugs!!”

We arrived at Ruffner Mountain and began the ascent to the quarry. Amazingly, right in the center of the trail, was a giant, gorgeous, green beetle – upside down, legs wiggling frantically in the air, completely stuck on his back.

“LOOK!! It’s as if he had mercy on you and knew you needed him!!”

We scooped up the unlucky beetle and kept walking.

Giann tip-toed around the trails, carefully avoiding puddles and water. We made it to the quarry, which is a gorgeous valley with flowers and butterflies and dragonflies and sheer rock cliffs.

Giann looked around, desperately trying to be impressed. I felt like we were making progress. At least she was trying! She spotted something interesting on the ground.

“Look! Is that a Cocoon???”

She was so excited. Nature was grabbing ahold of her soul. I went over and examined what she found.

“Nope. That’s Poop. It’s just growing a little white mold.”


Poor Giann. She tried so hard. For three whole seconds of her life.

Ali started climbing, and Noah, who had been carrying the net, spotted a butterfly.


He chased it for a minute, then Giann grabbed the net and went after it. She looked so natural. So one with nature. Like she was about to move to Australia and live in a hammock in the outback.

160323kAll the insectophile magazines recommend jeans and a cardigan as proper bug-catching gear.

She kept lunging and woefully missing. I tried to encourage her in a language that she could understand.

“Swipe that butterfly, Giann! Swipe it like a credit card!”

It totally worked. She bagged herself a butterfly. Then kinda panicked when considering how to get the butterfly from the net to the bag. I explained the technical skill of pinching the butterfly in the top of the net, putting the baggy over the pinched part, then releasing the butterfly into the baggy.

…Except that I wanted to disgust her just a bit more, so after she got her baggy in place, I said, “Okay. Now loosen your net’s sphincter and let the butterfly through.”

“Do NOT use that word with me ever again!!”

I’m seriously the BEST employer in the world.

After locking down our butterfly (which was probably a moth), we headed up the trail to bag a dragonfly. News Flash: Dragonflies are freaking hard to catch. Giann realized this after her first attempt and threw me the net. This needed a professional homeschool Mom for this job.

After tracking five different ones like a Discovery Channel specialist, I finally was able to sneak up on a naïve one and trap him.

Giann started squealing. “YOU GOT ONE! YOU GOT ONE! OH MY GOSH YOU GOT ONE!!!”

She got a bag out of the professional hiking backpack I had supplied her with,


(Because Noah refused to be a gentleman and tote her bug-catching gear,)

And brought it over to the net.

Her frenzy continued. “How are we going to get him in the bag? Don’t let him get away! OH HE’S NOT GOING IN THE BAG!!”

I said “Calm down. Quit freaking out. There is nothing to freak out ab—-WHAT’S ON MY HEAD?!?!”

I had just felt a nasty creepy crawly feeling on the top of my head and jumped a bit. Then realized that Noah had snuck up on me and was walking his fingers lightly across my head.

I growled at my son and gently shoved the Dragonfly into the baggy. And I felt fairly awesome. I had just caught a Dragonfly. For my babysitter. Because I’m the most spectacular employer of all time.

Then I told her, “Okay. Your reward, or punishment, whatever you want to call it, for getting me to catch your bugs for you is that you get to, or have to, go to the top of the mountain with me and see the most remarkable view of all time. It will make you so in love with the outdoors that you will move into a yurt in the mountains. Oh – watch your step – there’s a dead mouse.”

She shrieked and jumped to the other side of the trail, but regained composure and continued to try to try to try to try to like the outdoors.

We made it to the top, and both Giann and Sarah were mildly impressed with my idea of fun.


…but were both much happier when we were back safely in civilization sipping Chick-Fil-A frozen coffees.

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A few days later, Giann sent me a picture of her final insect collection.

Insect Collection 2alt

As I studied all of our hard work on a pin, I felt a roller coaster of emotions. Pride, envy, sadness, admiration.


But these are the sacrifices that nature must make for us to gain college degrees.

The Fight Against Clutter.

Editor’s Note: I acknowledge that this post is way too long. I apologize profusely for my inability to break it into smaller posts. However, as a token of my sorrow, I offer you loads of pictures of the mess that my life was/is. May you take comfort in that.

I could never put “Homemaker” on my resume.

At an extended family Dirty Santa party this past Christmas, I opened up a gift that contained canning jars, a “Pickles and Jams” recipe book, and various other jelly and jam making accoutrements.

My dad started laughing.


“I’m just laughing because you’re so domesticated and all.”

I defended my level of domesticity vehemently, but to some degree, he’s right.

I can cook (maybe even quite well), but don’t very often.

I can organize my house, but choose not to make that a priority.

I CANNOT garden.

I CANNOT decorate.

And those canning jars and books are still in the gift bag piled in an extremely messy closet.

(They’ll be really useful in about nine months. When it’s time to find new Dirty Santa gifts.)

With regards to my lack of home organization, though, it bugs me. Things pile up VERY badly around here. I’m not a hoarder – I just struggle to make time to throw away. And when I get busy, decluttering is the first thing to get left behind.

(And I’ve been busy for about…nine years.)

The two areas that annoyed me the most were the kid’s (okay Noah’s) play area in the living room (I despised looking at the mountains of chaotically stacked toys every night after they went to bed),


and my office.


I know. My office is horrendous. From it, I run all the books/HR for a small business, plus I run Picture Birmingham, blog, homeschool, do all of our personal finances, and it was the home for all my shoes and crafting stuff.

IMG_5873 2

But besides that, I actually hadn’t even used my office for anything but storage since the wreck – I’d moved the work necessities to our bedroom so I could work from bed since I couldn’t sit with my legs not elevated. So really, the office had just become a dumping ground.


Although these two areas were by far not the only and possibly not the worst areas in our house (I’m looking at you, basement), they were the ones for which I desperately needed a plan.

Around the time these two areas started to annoy me the most, my dear friend Jamie posted on Facebook that she was having home organization help from a mutual internet friend, Tara. I had no idea Tara had such a magical occupation, and immediately began stalking her business. Within a week, I had her out to my house, and she literally opened every drawer, every cabinet, and every closet in my house, then took pictures of the worst of them.

(But only after I made her sign an affidavit stating that she wasn’t one of those neat freaks that assigns moral judgment to the non-neat. Because I’ve met those people. And they make me feel like Refried Roadkill.)

(Tara told me that she believed that everyone had different strengths, and just because organization and neatness weren’t mine, I had plenty of other strengths, and then she made a long list of said strengths.)

(Then I virtually kissed her.)

A week after her intimate encounter with my house, I texted Tara and said, “Um, by the way…I have a bonus question for you. You know my office? The crazy messy one with all the different stuff going on in it? Yeah. So we’re adding a person to our household and I need you to turn it into a bedroom.”

…Because one of our dearest friends, travel companion, and babysitter, Sarah, needed a place to live for a while, and we were absolutely delighted with the opportunity to add her to our family.

IMG_6640Those extra two kids are AJ and Tessa because this picture is from last summer’s beach trip. We’re not adding AJ and Tessa to our family, but if we could, my children’s lives would be complete.

A day later, Tara sent me a report, including a plan to turn my dumping ground into a bedroom.



Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 2.24.12 PM

…With links to what she wanted me to buy. And descriptions of how to rearrange my rooms. And promises to help me do all of this.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 2.24.30 PM

And her pricing was about 10% of what I thought this sort of Fairy Housemother Magic would cost.

I devoured her report, clicked through those links so many times, and began feverishly trying to accomplish some the things she had suggested before she came out to *really* help me get things done.

Step One: First pass-through cleaning out the office – trash and sell as much as possible.

This represents $200 worth of random crap I found in my office and sold on eBay. Textbooks, Diaper Genie Refills, and more.


After Day One of working by myself, my office went from this:


To this:


A lot still to go, but the progress felt good.

Step Two: Move living room furniture and PURGE KID’S TOYS.

The kid’s loved this part, because they found all sorts of lost treasures under where the couch had been.


…Such as that half-eaten Ring Pop for which they’d been looking for so long.


The decluttering of their toys took a bit longer.


Tara had been very specific about what type of organization containers she wanted me to use, and OF COURSE the only place you could buy them in town was my favorite (nightmare) – Wal-Mart.

So the children and I had spent a harrowing 45 minutes in Wal-Mart matching lids to bins and I swore that I’d find them online – higher prices who cares – from then on.

The benefit of using all of these new containers, though, is that I got all my kitchen bowls back. The kids and their father had been stealing them for various Lego projects for years.


My pile of now-emptied containers only grew, as did my pile of garbage bags.



Oh, the shelves.

These were specific shelving/storage units that Tara wanted in my living room (she recommends them for most people because they’re fantastic.) The idea is that all of our books would be in one place, and ALL children’s downstairs toys must end up in the closed cabinets at the end of each day – or they go to Mommy Jail.

(The toys, not the children.)


I decided I would be a nice wife and attempt to build the shelves during the day so that my poor husband didn’t have to come home from work to build three giant shelving units.

I began the first shelf at 9am and I sent my first SOS text to my dad at 9:02am after opening up the boxes and seeing these bags of hardware.



(That’s all for ONE of the three shelves.)

My Dad said he would stop by in a while, but in the meantime I gathered my feminine courage and set out on my own. Despite the 50,678 screws, the instruction novel specifically said no power tools. So I found a screwdriver and began sorting and attaching all the things.


I made it all the way to step five before making my one and only mistake, but made it all the way to step seven before I realized I had assembled step five backwards.

It also took me ten minutes of staring at it to figure out exactly where I’d gone wrong. And then I dropped the heaviest piece on my leg, giving me a gorgeous knot and bruise that I still possess.

The next step had this note on it, which I believe was supposed to be encouraging but at the moment was quite the opposite.

IMG_7113A DAY?! I have two more units to build!!

By the time my Dad arrived at noon, I had the basic structure assembled, and needed a big strong man to turn the whole shelving unit over so I could assemble the back, then turn it back over so I could finish the front. Which is exactly the services he offered me – that and asking me WHY I WASN’T USING AN ELECTRIC SCREWDRIVER and pointing out that I really needed him to take a few pictures of me BUILDING THINGS.


(Maybe his opinion of my domestication grew seven times that day.)

Dad left and I continued assembling.

After four hours and fifty minutes, I had completed the first unit.


My fingertips were purple and my hands were bright pink, and although pride coursed through my soul, I swore I’d never put together another shelf in my life.


I had to leave the house to go to my last(!!!) Physical Therapy appointment (visit #44, in case you’re wondering), and by the time I graduated from PT (yes, they sang the graduation song as I marched out of the clinic), I was empowered to build more shelves.

Because it’s MANIC 2016.

So I went straight home and began shelf #2.


I had a little help this time…


For approximately two turns of the screwdriver before he declared it too hard.


But because my shelving timing was apparently perfect, Chris walked in the door from work at the exact moment that I needed unit #2 flipped over.



Shelf number two only took two hours and forty-five minutes – I was thinking I should go pro at that point.

For shelf three, I told Chris my hands couldn’t take any more pain. I would be the brains – after all I knew how ALL this should go – and he could be my muscle.

So he went and got the electric screwdriver. Of course.

And I told him what to do and how.

This lasted for about half of the shelf, and lemme tell you it was fun to tell my structural-steel-drawing engineer husband how to construct something, but then it was time for the kids to get to bed and so I took back the shelves so he could read bedtime stories.

Coming in at two hours and twenty-five minutes, the third shelves were built. Tallying up to a grand total of nine hours and fifty minutes, and spanning from 9am to 10:30pm (with PT and a couple breaks built in.)



Step Four: Build Smaller Entertainment Center.

We’ve had our lovely television armoire for about fourteen years, and although we adored it, it was crowding our living room. Tara suggested a much smaller unit. After building three shelving units, this was a yawn for me. Because I’m a professional.

TV Before After

Step Five: Giant Work Day with Tara.

Tara brought a helper and our goal for the morning was to get my office completely ready for Sarah to move in. And we did just that.

This included lots of shredding and throwing crap away,


lots of donations,


Hanging pictures while standing on safe and steady furniture,


And busying children with putting books in rainbow order.



(I enjoyed adding special touch shelves, such as this one, featuring Twitter signs from my sweet friend Katherine and a special purchase from Moist,)


(And this one, featuring our favorite band and handwritten lyrics from them to our favorite song.)


By the end of the day, my office was no longer an office.

Office Before After 1Office Before After 2Office Before After 3

AND my living room was a beautiful, cozy new space.

Living Room Before After

So. Sarah has moved in a week ago (my children are gleefully happy, as are Chris and I, to add her to our family for a while), I’m LOVING the progress in my house, the kids are doing fairly well keeping their toys out of Mommy Jail, and I’m trying to not screw it all up by allowing things to stack up.

I still have about 60% of Tara’s report to put into place, and I and hope to have her out about once a month for a while to force me to get it all done.

…But I still don’t plan on making any pickles or jams.