Monday, March 3, 2014

Yesterday (March 2) marked one month since the flood in our home.  I owe you an update!  It has been a most harrowing and frustrating month!  We finally started ripping out a bit more of the cabinets in the kitchen.  The insurance adjuster (independent contractor) has told us that he feels the cabinets can be pulled out, the walls, floor etc dried and the replaced.  This is what we found:
 Moldy boards.  This is what happens when wood is left wet for several weeks in Houston.
I don't know how you feel about it - but rest assured this stuff is NOT going back in a home I plan to live in!  That's just nasty right there! The boards are not intact but I am not surprised.  Our home was built in 1985 so they are nearly 30 years old!  
Our beautiful Santa Cecelia Dark granite broke when they pulled it.  Our contractor warned us that it was a strong possibility.  He was careful but it is the thicker granite (good stuff) and the weight was just too much for the thinner pieces.  I am hoping some of the larger pieces can be re-purposed to use in one of the bathrooms.
This is what our kitchen looks like now. The water meter that Service Master uses to tell them how wet the walls and floors are underneath, still pegs out when placed on the travertine tile in the kitchen, and the ceramic tile in both the master bath and the boys bathroom upstairs (the scene of the broken pipe).  Insurance assures us a good cleaning is all that is needed!  Ummm....NO!!!  I don't want to deal with the mold growing under there in a few months!  This is what the crown molding looked like before they tore it out of the formal dining room.  That finished molding consists of  FIVE pieces of hardwood that have been hand milled on site to make the finished piece  - our contractor has told me this - I'm not really that savvy on building design!  I can count though and I know that five individual pieces came down not counting the corner columns.  The insurance has allowed .87 per linear foot to put MDF back up there.  Needless to say, I saw red when I read that!
This is what the same room looks like now.  All that beautiful molding came down and then the walls, ceilings and insulation came down.  You can see straight through into the kitchen. 
 This is what I was referring to on the moldings.  This piece is the chair rail that came out of the formal dining room.  No MDF here!
This is the master bedroom.  The floor is out and you can see the shoe shelves from the master closets laying on the floor.  
I could show you other photos of large, empty, echoey rooms but I think you get the idea.  The rooms that were effected are: formal dining room, kitchen (with attached pantry), breakfast area, great room (with attached wet bar), master bedroom, master bath, two master closets, office, two upstairs bedrooms and the bath that lies between them.  The unaffected rooms are: guest 1/2 bath, one upstairs bedroom, upstairs hallway and game/media room upstairs.  Insurance is completely stalled out.  They say things that should be ripped out could be simply scrubbed down and kept in place.  They say we can replace hardwoods with MDF.  We are not interested in their way of doing our repairs.  So this is how the house has looked for nearly two weeks.  

Tomorrow we have another walkthrough with the insurance adjuster.  He is not happy to have to come back out.  I do not care!  He needs to do his job correctly!  Our home is our largest investment and we are not interested in a patched together mess of a home.  We have several people coming to assist us in protecting our interests;  our realtor (Karen Cline) is coming to speak up about the fact that if the kitchen cabinets or the ceilings are simply patched it will decrease our home value, a different building contractor is coming to let the adjuster know that the work cannot be done for the $38k that they are offering, Chris - the awesome guy from ServiceMaster is coming with his amazing water meter to prove that there are still wet boards behind the bits that the insurance guy wouldn't let us rip out.  We have hopes that things may go a bit better tomorrow than they have in the past but they aren't very high.  We fear that our next step will be to contact an attorney and the Texas Insurance Commission.  Any prayers you could send our way would be greatly appreciated!

We are plugging along okay in the tiny little apartment.  It is a tight fit and I am most eager to go home but it works for now.  I think I  will be able to cope much better once they start rebuilding.  While it just sits there in this state, it is very hard for me to deal.  As I mentioned, prayers are greatly appreciated!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Yes, it's very atypical for me to put two posts up on one day but I wanted you to see some of what I am seeing as we start tearing out the wet materials...

 This is the baseboard in Jamison's room.  This is the opposite side of the house from the leak.  This will give you an idea of how far the water travelled.  Wow!  I just started three sentences in a row with the same word!  I'm just that tired...

Close up of the water damaged baseboards in Jamison's room.  The other side of this wall is Randy's closet in the south end of the master bathroom.

This shows the baseboards in the pantry.  We had hoped to save the travertine marble tiles on the floor of the kitchen but whatever the stuff is that had them stuck to the concrete has already released all around the edges - they have popped up.  You can see the water damage on the back wall - all of the sheetrock is saturated in here.

Around the corner from the pantry - this is what the baseboards look like in the kitchen.  They are all warping and pulled away from the wall.  This area is directly beneath the water leak.

As hard as he tried to preserve the tiles, they come popping up.

All of the woodwork in the kitchen is custom made.  This is the spice rack on the inside of the pantry door.  You can see where the seams are all separating.  This wood is warping from the water.

More of the seams on the pantry spice rack.

More water shows up as the shelves in the pantry come down.

All of the sheetrock on the inside is still wet.  This is after almost a week of water extraction equipment going constantly!

This is the wood in the bar area of the family room.  The crown molding is separating and warping as it dries and pulls away from the ceiling.

Water damaged baseboards as we pull up the carpet in the bar area. 

This is around the corner from the bar inside the living area.  You can see the corner of the grandfather clock in the right side of the picture.  The water was up pretty high in this area.

You can see the water line on the grandfather clock.  This clock is almost 21 years old - it was our first anniversary gift to each other!  Not an antique - but a treasure to us!  They tell us they can repair it.  I certainly hope that is true!

The cabinets in the kitchen are framed out in plywood.  They layers of wood are separating and fanning out as the wood dries.  You can see where the water streamed down on the inside of that cabinet door.

The sheetrock in the ceiling of the kitchen just crumbles to a doughy mess when Larry pulls it out.

This is just the beginning.  We have stopped all work until Monday.  That day will be absolutely crazy for us!  The furniture specialists are supposed to come to pick up the rest of the furniture that was damaged.  The furniture rental people and the internet people are coming to the apartment that morning.  The packing crew will be back to finish up the last bit of packing.  To give you an idea of what is going on:  with the exception of my sewing/craft studio and Melissa's bedroom and bathroom, the contents of our ENTIRE house is now either in storage or at one repair shop or the other for damage assessment and restoration.  Now that's the way to do spring cleaning!!
In the meantime, my classes are continuing and I am dragging back to the hotel to study and take exams or write papers.  I am hoping things will settle a bit in the coming days so we can gain some semblance of normal...thank you all for your well-wishes, thoughts and prayers.  They are all so needed and appreciated right now.
Please excuse what will likely turn out to be a long rant.  The rant of a frustrated woman!  It has been a very long week.  I think maybe the weeks I was on bed rest before child #3 (about 16 weeks) and child #4 (26 weeks) were longer but those weeks were a different kind of long.  And I will spare you the details of those weeks!  You are thanking me, trust me!  You will however, get details of this week.  Maybe more than you like, but this is my decompression chamber so I have to share with someone!  Thank you for reading!  
Still with me? asked for it!  This is my kitchen.  Okay, NOT my kitchen literally - those boxes contain the contents of my kitchen!  A crew arrived to pack up everything on Wednesday morning.
 They have very carefully taken a meticulous inventory of every item in each box.  While this looks very nice, I am worried about two things:  1.  Are any of the items in those boxes wet?  2.  WHO is going to put all this stuff BACK?!
 This is a ceramic pie dish that came out from under the BOTTOM cabinet.  Most things in this half of the kitchen are soaked and at least half full of water.  I may never use this food processor again.  I shudder to think what is in that water...

 This is what I get for leaving my Commanders Commendation laying on top of the fridge!  I you have a commander's commendation, please take it today to get it framed!  That's my public service announcement for the day.  You are welcome.
 Much of my music library is soaked.  Don't you just love what paper does when it's wet.  Every piece of this has to be documented on a personal property form.  I have music from the early part of last century here.  We are talking antiques, people!  How in the world will I ever sort out what is cost?  The front of the books say anywhere from $.54 to $1.25 but they are worth far more to me than that and I'm thinking it won't be that cheap to replace - if I can even find replacements!
This is a photo peeking into the cabinet above the fridge.  That box holds my "good silverware".  It is gold plated to hold my china...
 And the box will certainly never be the same!  Wonder where the rust came from?  This cabinet only contained glass vases and this box...weird!

This is just a small tip of the huge iceberg we have had sail into our home.  I won't bore you with more details or photos.  The contractors are still a constant stream in here.  They almost have the entire first floor packed up.  The first floor includes the kitchen, breakfast area, great room (I'm not kidding on that one - that room is 24 feel long and 18 or 20 feet wide!) wet bar,  (this is one thing I have hated since we moved in - it looks very "80s") master bedroom, master bath, Randy's closet, my closet, Jamison's bedroom (really the office but we needed it for a bedroom so it has had bedroom furniture in it pretty much since we moved in) and the formal dining room (we use this for a den).

The adjuster came back out yesterday to take more photos and assess more damage as we dig deeper. The contractor is supposed to come out today to start ripping out walls and cabinets.  This will be very tedious.  The insurance company has only given permission for us to tear out so far and then we have to document damage at that point and go back to get permission to go farther.  I understand this is a necessary process but it slows down the whole deal and it is VERY frustrating.  One issue we have had is the tear-out deal.  The contractor is reluctant to tear out until he gets permission from the insurance company.  The insurance company won't give permission to tear out until they know how much damage there is.  We won't know how much damage there is until we tear stuff out.  The contractor is reluctant to tear out until he gets permission from the insurance company.   It's a vicious cycle!!

I am past the shocked, numb, this-isn't-really happening stage and am in a very weepy stage.  Everything makes me cry.  A dear friend from Spring, Texas (about an hour away) drove all the way to Katy on Wednesday evening to bring dinner to us.  It was delicious and we were so grateful - it made me cry.  Thank you, Debbie!  One of the band mom's texted me to see what the band kids could do.  That made me cry.  Our church family has supported us beyond belief - rides to church events for the kids, offer of food and assistance.  Yep, you got it!  It made me cry!

Hopefully the weepy stage will be over soon.  I will update you again as I know more.  Prayers are greatly appreciated as we head into the next day.  Please pray particularly for the committee at the insurance adjuster's office in Omaha as they sit down to crunch numbers.  We want all of them to have a great day and be merciful!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

No, my front "den" (really the formal dining room but we use it as a game room/second living area) is not typically under water!  Randy heard water running around 6 am on Sunday, February 2nd.  He thought it was likely Jamison (our 13-year-old) up taking a shower before church.  This is not necessarily atypical behavior for him.  He seems to need very little sleep.  He has learned to be quiet about his nocturnal wanderings though!  Randy says he drifted back off to sleep but woke up again around 6:50 and then thought it was not typical for Jamison to take a 50 minute shower!  He is a clean kid...but he is  still a kid.  Enough said.  Randy thought he would give Jamison five more minutes and if he wasn't out of the shower by that time, he would go check on him.  Five minutes later, Randy walked out the door of our bedroom and realized immediately that something terrible was wrong!  He sloshed through water out our door, across the great room and into the kitchen...all covered in water.  When he got to the front den, he saw...
 water raining down from the ceiling.  Really.  It looked like a rainforest indoors!  You can see this chair is thoroughly saturated and if you see the silk lampshade peeking in to the photo on the right, it is also soaking wet.

This is the door leading from our kitchen into the "den".  Water was pouring from this area.  Randy ran upstairs to see if he could figure out the problem.  His first thought was someone left the tub water running and it had overflowed.  (His first thought is always that the kids done it somehow...wonder why?)  When he got to the boys bathroom (which is directly over the doorway you see in this picture, he realized that there was a hefty spray coming from the pipe leading from the wall to the toilet.  He shut off the water at the source and this is what we finally figured out was wrong...

It cost around $5 to replace this with a much better quality product.  Now the insurance company is telling us that we will need to replace all of them in the house with a type that monitors the flow of water and if a large amount suddenly starts rushing out, it will shut off.  Happy to do it.

We called the insurance company immediately.  Whoops!  Immediately after he came bursting into our room sounding more panicked than a new father in labor saying something along the lines of "the house is flooding, get up quick!"  THAT'S the way to wake someone up, folks!  You go from dreamy, sleepy to slap-you-with-a-cold-skillet awake in .4 seconds.  The words weren't so bad as the panic I heard in my very-stoic husband's voice.  I hate remembering that part.

As the hours and days have passed, we are starting to realize that the damage is far worse than we ever could have imagined.  When I was growing up, if we had home insurance, I wasn't aware of it.  If something like this had happened, we would have rolled up our sleeves, grabbed a bucket and gotten to work!  I keep looking at the huge mess and feeling like I need to start ripping out walls and mopping up the mess.  Then Randy reminds me that we need to do things in the proper order and the insurance company drives that - not us!  

Since every room in the lower floor was wet, we will be pretty much gutting out first floor.  This means, some walls (not all - some of them they will simply replace the bottom part of the sheetrock and repair), all flooring, kitchen cabinets, and the ceilings in the kitchen and the den will all come down and be redone.  

Yesterday we spent many, many hours with our wonderful friend Larry Schwing - he's what I call a "Grandaddy Contractor".  See, my grandfather (and subsequently my uncles and my brothers) are master carpenters.  I mean The. Best. In. The. Business!  If my Grandfather or one of his progeny made it, you can rest assured it was done right and it will last for centuries - or until the termites come!  Larry is that kind of carpenter.  I have seen his work and wished we could afford a makeover so I could have him fix some of our "issues".  We are thankful now to know him and to have him drop everything (he is very busy) and come help us.  

We also spent even more hours with the insurance adjuster.  Our insurance company is based out of Omaha, Nebraska.  They hired an independent adjuster to come assess our damage.  He specializes in water damage and so far has been extremely helpful.  He said he hopes to have his report of all of our damage in to the Nebraska office today so we can move forward.

Water extraction experts have been here and left behind a flock of very noisy fans and dehumidifiers.  They are noisy. And big. Did I mention noisy?  I mean, you have to shout to be heard in all but two rooms of our house (my sewing room/jewelry making studio/craft room and Melissa's bedroom and bath are unaffected - except by the noise and smell.  Did I mention the smell yet?  I am seriously worried that we will start to effect the neighbors!  The smell is BAD and getting worse!  It smells like old gym socks...and a boys locker room and something else gone bad.  Truly wretched!  They say it will get worse until they get all of the carpet and wet sheet rock out.  

For now we are housed at the Comfort Inn.  When they told us last night that it will be several months before we are back in our home.  We were told they will likely move us to a furnished home for that length of time.  My head is spinning.  So many things all need to be done at once.  We need to get kitchen cabinets ordered ASAP - we are told they take 4-6 weeks to come in once ordered.  For today, demolition will start this afternoon.  That will be rather hard to see but if the smell starts getting better, I will be good with that.

This has been hard.  It is absolutely devastating.  There have been God-sightings though!  When I was picking up a stack of paintings (Painting 101 in college many years ago for me!), I found both our wedding photo album and an album of professional portraits of the children as babies.  The were all standing on the floor leaning against the wall.  The paintings in front and behind the albums were wet.  The water was several inches deep in that spot - and the albums are totally dry!  God shows Himself in the unexplainable!  I know that might not mean much to you - but those albums were priceless to me!  

So many friends have supported us beyond our imagination.  Theresa McLellan lives a block or so down our street.  She saw my post on Facebook Sunday morning and came immediately with hot coffee and donuts.  Our dear friends from church Tim and Teresa Griffin offered their home for us to stay in.  Rosie Lynch came right over and let me cry on her shoulder - and then took our dogs to her house to get them out of the chaos.  My BFF Sandie McCurdy has taken Timothy the chinchilla in so he doesn't have to breathe construction dust.  Friends and acquaintances have been wonderful.  Please know that if you left a word of encouragement or called, we appreciate it.  We feel loved and supported in this very trying time!  I will try my best to keep you updated and current.  For now - I must open the door and face the stink to get some packing done!

Monday, February 4, 2013

It has been just over a year since I posted anything and it's probably appropriate that I bring my blog up to date just a bit...

The year has been very busy.  Due to many circumstances out of anyone's control, we managed to make it through the last school year and brought Brendan home to Katy the day after school was out in May.  It wasn't ideal and none of us were (or are) very happy with the decision to put him back into Katy ISD but we really were left with that as our only choice.

Summer started out wonderful for the family.  We had an Ezell family (my side of the family) reunion at our house.  We were sad that Karla, Lyle, Laura, Rebecca, Tim and Margaret couldn't come, but it was great fun to spend several days with Allen, LaRona, 'Rena, Allyn, Dori, Gary, Garrett, Elizabeth and Elena....and of course Grammy and Papa!!  We swam, cooked out, went to SeaWorld and talked and laughed until our sides hurt!  It was just great to be with family.

I was dreading the end of summer and school starting back up and my "dreads" were realized!  I had contacted the school back in June to let them know that Brendan would be coming back and to offer to bring them his paperwork from the school in Alma.  See, Alma had worked VERY hard to get a game plan in place to assist Brendan and he seemed to be thriving in their Special Education department.  When a child already has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) in place, by law the new school has to accommodate the child at the same level.  Seems easy enough, right?  WRONG!!!  We were first told that he would not be allowed to enroll in school until August 15th.  So I enrolled him on August 15 and plunked down the huge file of documentation on what his needs were.

Lawlis Peavey had provided us with a firm diagnosis back in January (can't remember if I wrote that earlier) of PDD (Pervasive Development Disorder) on the Autism Spectrum.  This was an extremely difficult thing to swallow...which is one reason I haven't written much.  Please realize here that this diagnosis drained our bank accounts and took a team of like...17 or so doctors to compile!  And they took over 120 days to get all the data in, analyze it and burp up the diagnosis.  We have had three doctors now confirm that Brendan does NOT have ADHD.  Keep that in mind.

Shortly after school started, we had the required ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) meeting to put into place a temporary IEP until the school district had time to do their own tests and make their own recommendations.  By law they have 30 days to do this.  I can't remember the exact date but the 30th day would have been a Monday.  On Thursday, I felt very uneasy about the situation.  My dear friend Sandie had been telling me for a year now that I NEEDED a child advocate and after calling her for a chat, I decided now was the time.  I called the woman she recommended, Robin Rettie from Lighthouse Learning.  I had to leave a message and after about 36 hours I had heard nothing.

In the meantime, the school assigned psychologist had met with Randy and I for couple of hours on Tuesday.  He also pulled Brendan out of school for an unknown amount of time on Wednesday.  Dr. Crawford called us on Thursday night to go over his report.  He was absolutely refusing to accept ANY of the diagnosis OR recommendations from Lawlis Peavey!  He said he believed that Brendan was severely ADHD and that was his only diagnosis.  He felt that with appropriate "pharmaceutical intervention" Brendan would be fine.  AAARRRRGGGGHHH!!!!  We were furious!

Robin Rettie called me back just in time and I called the school to let them know we would have a child advocate at our ARD meeting.  Robin wasn't available that day but told us exactly what to do and we had a friend that had done this type of thing before that could sit in on the meeting in her stead.  I guess they weren't too thrilled with this turn of events because about an hour before the meeting was to start, we got a call that went something like this:
SCHOOL: Mrs. Hays?  This is McMeans Junior High calling.  You have an ARD meeting scheduled this morning and I'm afraid we will need to cancel it and reschedule.  Our district diagnostician is out ill today.
ME:  Okay, my child advocate can be available on the 23rd to attend that meeting. (It was like the 9th)
SCHOOL: Oh!  That won't be acceptable at all!  We only have 30 days to get this meeting taken care of and Monday is the 30th day.
ME:  That, ma'am is not my problem.  I have a child advocate scheduled to attend a meeting TODAY.  She is not available until the 23rd.  Forgive me, but I am not the one attempting to reschedule the meeting, YOU are. (See, this is one of my "things"...A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part!)
SCHOOL:  But we can't have a meeting without a diagnostician...
ME:  Again not my problem.  I am available to come at the time I agreed to.  I cannot come at the time you wish to reschedule. (Figure something out, Lady!)
SCHOOL:  (reluctantly) Well...I guess I can call the district office and see if they can send a substitute diagnostician out...
ME:  Okay, that will be fine.  Please let us know as soon as you have that arranged.
Please note:  I didn't raise my voice the entire time!  I was proud of me!  I stayed calm and cool - at least on the outside!

We finally arrived at the school and the meeting started.  It started very late but it happened!  OUR goal was to get the stupid thing postponed until Robin could attend.  When the meeting started out with Dr. Crawford giving his ADHD report, the perfect time was upon us!  In an ARD meeting when someone gives a report, the ARD committee must agree to the report before the meeting can continue.  When they asked Randy and I if we agreed, the room became a vacuum when we stated that we did NOT agree!  The lady running the meeting explained very patiently to us that "the meeting cannot go on if you don't agree".  Okay.  We are cool with that!  We can reconvene on the 23rd!

We did spend a bit more time in that room.  The Assistant Principal has been incredible and he wanted to see if we could figure out some strategies to help Brendan in the meantime...

To Be Continued...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Redneck Roller Coaster and Brendan in January

This has been a roller-coaster ride couple of months. It seems appropriate that I show you some pics of what I called a "redneck roller coaster"! We left Houston on December 20th making our way north to Enid, Oklahoma. We picked Brendan up from my parents in Oklahoma City. He was glad to see us and seemed very happy to get in our van and make the trek to Grandpa's house in Enid. We arrived in the dark and cold but Gammy and Grandpa had the house nice and warm and beautifully decorated for Christmas! We all slept well that night after a long trip north. The kids were hoping for snow. That didn't happen. Boredom is always lurking around the corner because we only have two hours "screen time" per day...this includes television, video games...pretty much anything electronic and entertaining. Two hours may seem like a long time, but let me tell you it flies by in a hurry and then we are left with 10 to 14 more to fill with...something. In our city, this can be really hard. Extreme heat/humidity are going to make the coming summer miserable to play out doors in spite of the swimming pool right outside our back door! But I digress. At Grandpa's house it was much easier to fill the hours...not easy, mind you, but easier!

Randy and his dad took the kids out to practice shooting selections from Grandpa's impressive arsenal. I don't have a problem with them doing target practice. Randy is exceptionally careful and I tell myself they are doing it for sport...and I personally qualified as an NRA Pro Marksman this past summer so I know it's a lot of fun. And we live in Texas. That's just how it is folks, we like our guns down here! The kids loved the shooting thing.

Grandpa has a tiny little four-wheeler thing. Andrew got to drive it first. He looked like an elephant riding on a Matchbox car! They all loved that too. But with all the cousins, there were six boys waiting for their turn on the 4-wheeler so we must find something to do to make the time go faster. I'm not sure who's idea it was to perch the children in the bucket of the tractor...I doubt Randy would admit to it but I do have my suspicions! At any rate, the brand-spankin'-new tractor was pulled into the driveway and the kids loaded up! I'm not sure who had more fun, the men operating the equipment or the kids piled up in the scoop! I ran out with my camera and then got so tickled when it hit me..."my kids are in a Redneck Roller Coaster"!
See? Raise your hands and scream everyone! This is fun! I doubt Grandpa intended his new $20k tractor be used as a roller coaster. It might have been cheaper to put in the real deal back there on the back pasture. But we ran out of time and the tractor has dual purpose...could you mow your lawn with the last roller coaster you rode? I didn't think so! And I had the comfort of knowing back and neck injuries were much less likely. I kind of worry that way. Not sure if that is the nurse or the mom in me.

We left Christmas morning to head over to my parents and spend the rest of our time away with them. Brendan loved showing his siblings all the discoveries he had made since he moved here in October. It was fun for me to hear him talk about playing at the creek. This was a favorite activity when I was his age and we would come visit my grandparents at the same property. I wonder why we never named "the creek"? I was only a couple of years old when my grandparents bought this property and "the creek" has always been there and been a favorite spot for all the grandkids (and now the great-grands) but we never named it! Hmmm...suggestions anyone? I think after nearly 40 years of service the thing deserves the honor of being named!

Brendan seems to be doing fairly well. He still has moments where he is struggling but we spent nearly two weeks with him and he did not need medication at all! His sense of humor seems very keen and he is a joy to be around so much of the time. It was wonderful to see that wonderful personality of his has been suppressed by drugs for so many years.

On New Year's Eve, Daddy wasn't feeling well and the evening ended with Mom and I taking him to the small hospital in Van Buren. He was transferred from there to the bigger hospital in Ft. Smith. The doctors all thought he was having a heart,'s an intestinal, hang on...a virus? Without telling all the hair-pulling details, lets just say that he was very sick for many days and spent four or five in the hospital the culmination of which we knew precisely very little! He seems to be fine now and all is well but we did have a very frightening several days. My personal opinion? He was likely suffering from a strangulated hiatal hernia and thanks to many prayers, he was healed before the doctors got to that part of the testing.

This was very difficult with us with our situation with Brendan. I wanted to bring him back home with us. But was this what was best for Brendan? I felt for a bit like I was making a choice between the health of our son and the health of my dad and neither choice was acceptable to me. It was frankly agonizing! By the time we got to the day we needed to leave to get the other three kids back in school on time, Dad was feeling well enough to offer his opinion and Randy and I sat down in his hospital room with he and Mom and Brendan and had a pow-wow on how to proceed. I asked Brendan what he wanted to do. My heart was racing as I waited for his answer because I didn't know what we would do if he said he wanted to come home...since he has already changed schools once this year, I am not certain how it would work for him to change again! He stated immediately that he wanted to stay in Arkansas. That was good, right? Yes. That is good. He is vested in this process and is eager for it to be successful. We talked about how much more responsibility he would need to assume to help Papa. We talked about his attitude and respect and he seemed eager to try hard to stay and continue on.

Back in December after much hounding and harassing, I finally got the blood and urine test results from the Lawlis-Peavey center and we had a protocol for chelation therapy that we are needing to get started on. The first roadblock was the expense. The drugs totaled over $700 out-of-pocket! One of my sisters-in-law gave me one of his meds as my Christmas gift the rest of it I put on a credit card and ordered online. In the therapy guidelines, the doctor wanted blood work done before we began the chelation process. He said the blood work would need to be ordered through Brendan's primary care physician. The vision therapist had wanted Brendan to get occupational therapy at school and we needed a physician prescription for that too so Mom called around and found a pediatrician for him.

When she finally got him into the pediatrician, the gentleman refused to order either! He didn't believe the vision therapy was necessary and didn't feel OT was required and he had no reason to order the blood work! Grrr! Mom called their family physician and he was happy to help. We called insurance and fired the pediatrician as Brendan's primary care physician and replaced him with the family practice guy and mom got the blood work done.

Sooooo...chelation therapy that should have happened back in December finally started this week! In the meantime Bren has been struggling at school. He can't seem to remember to bring his homework home. When he does bring it home, it is difficult to get him to get it done. Then to the frustration of his parents and grandparents, it remains in his backpack day after day while he forgets to turn it in! In the meantime, his grades are dropping. Dismally. The teachers report it is sometimes difficult to get him to do his classwork or to focus. I understand their frustration totally. There is no way they can micromanage each child and make certain they do it right.

Chelation started on Monday. Twelve pills total in the morning and another twelve at bedtime! Brendan is good at taking pills but has had stomach cramps and vomiting with them so I am not sure how well it is going to work out. I have written the doctors at Lawlis-Peavey center last week to request advice on his grades/school work/focus issues and again two days ago to report the intestinal symptoms with the chelation therapy. I did receive a very brief note 11 days ago from our "point of contact" doctor there stating that he wanted to discuss the case with Dr. Lawlis as Dr. Lawlis was very interested in Brendan's particular case and had asked to remain "in the loop" regarding him. He indicated that he would be getting back with me. I have heard nothing.

I won't lie to you. I am frustrated and angry. We drained every penny we have to pay for what we thought would give us answers for our son. We were told we would receive a report with diagnosis and prognosis as well as detailed recommendations within in 90 days. It has been 94 days now and we have heard nothing other than the preliminary report we were given the last day of testing back in October and the medical information that I had to beg and plead for for several weeks back in December. Now he is having a reaction to the medication protocol they prescribed and they are remaining silent when I frantically email our "point-of-contact" doctor. I don't know what to do or who to call.

Brendan, in the meantime is trying his hardest to soldier through. I told Mom not to give him the meds Wednesday night but he came back downstairs later on and told her he wanted to take them. He is hoping as hard as we are that it will help. I'll be frank. I am so tired of hoping against hope that this will be the answer. The next test, medication, therapy or parlor trick will do the job. Our son will get better and we will be able to bring him home. I hear the exhaustion in my Mother's voice every day when I call. I hear the frustration in my Dad's voice when he talks to Brendan or one of us. I know how hard this journey is - I've been trudging this road for almost 14 years. It is harder to be here and hear the pain, frustration and anger of all parties involved and be unable to give my parents a break or hold my son for a few minutes and remind him of what a great kid he is and how much I love to kiss his freckles and hear his laughter bubbling up from his toenails. I can't tell you how many times this past week I have wanted to climb in our blue minivan and head north to get my son. The only thing restraining me from doing that very thing is the belief that it would do greater harm than good for him to be taken out of school again.

We got a call yesterday from the assistant principal. Brendan was fighting after school with another child. We don't have all the details. When I asked Brendan about it, he told me that the other child started throwing wet leaves on him and calling him names. I do know the AP told us that both kids were receiving punishment so I doubt either of them is blameless. This is hard. It seems that impulse control is very difficult for Brendan and when others know how to push his buttons, it is a very volatile situation. He must learn these skills but I have no idea how.

For now, he remains in Arkansas. Mom has said (and I agree) that we need to find another option for next year. Due to our finances that means we will be back at the same junior high next year here in Katy. I have no idea how that will work out. I'm trying hard to trust that God has Brendan's best interest close to His heart and He will work it all out for the best. I know that in the end, one way or another, God's will will be done...I am just frightened about the road between here and there. From here it looks pretty rough...For now, I'm just gonna remember what it feels like to hold him tight!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oreo Cookie Balls - A Tutorial

I have made these little balls of deliciousness many times and I always get asked how they are made. They are deceptively simple, really. Especially when you consider the taste! To quote my cousin Nathan: "that has to be the best thang I ever wrapped my tongue around"! (He was talking about my dad's baked beans at the time but still...) Nathan makes me laugh. I might quote him again on my blog someday... Really! He has Larry the Cable Guy beat all to holler. I digress. Back to the Oreo balls...

Here we have the actors in the play: The actual ingredients are pretty basic. One package of Oreo cookies. One normal-size block of cream cheese. One package of candy wafers. I get a little creative with things but you can just use this basic recipe to start with. A side note before we begin: when I took these photos I was getting ready for a big church event in which a large number of people were anticipated to come by our home. I made a big-ole batch of this stuff. Can you say "FIVE package of Oreo's and FIVE blocks of yummy cream cheese"? Just wanted to be clear. The gi-hugic bowl of cookie gloop did not go on my own personal thighs. Though I will admit to snarfing down my fair share!
Then you can add some Just-For-Fun items. I chose these sprinkles. You'll see a rhyme to my reason directly. I also like to put the little balls in candy papers when I serve them. This is because I'm a "presentation" kind of girl and I like things all tied up with a bow! You don't have to do them this way. I'm sure they taste the same straight out of your hand without the little papers hugging their bottoms. Pretty sure anyway...
Rip open the package of Oreo cookies and...
...toss 'em in the blender. I can put one full row at a time in my blender. You might live dangerously and try more but I found if I tried to get my blender too full, I ended up with some cookie chunks and not the finer texture I wanted.
Almost there. You want these puppies almost the consistency of coarsely ground coffee. The cream part (arguably the best part of the Oreo) will mostly just disappear right into the whole blended powdery stuff.
Did I mention you should have your cream cheese at room temperature? You should. Take it out of the 'fridge an hour or so before hand (a day or so if you live in the north in the winter) and let it soften. You can soften it in the microwave but I don't recommend you do that if you can avoid it. The heating tends to separate the cream cheese and your dough turns kind of greasy. They firm up okay in the final steps and taste just as wonderful so go ahead if you forgot or the cat got into the first batch you laid out to soften or something...
Just plop the cream cheese in on top of the Oreo powder and wash your hands really, really, REALLY good with antibacterial soap. Then go wash them again just because I'm a nurse and it makes me feel better to say that. I can't stand the thoughts of grody hands in food I'm expected to eat... If your aren't sure about your hand hygiene, feel free pull on some sterile gloves. I was very certain my hands were very clean so I just started squishing the cream cheese into the Oreo mixture. Just keep smushing until all of the powdery bits incorporate into the cream bits. It only takes a few minutes for it to all stick together into a dough.
I have never placed the Oreo dough wad out on a plate before, but because the bowl was so big, I found it easier to work from a plate than leaning over a cavernous bowl spelunking for my next blop of dough. Do that if you want to.
I make my balls on the smallish side. Smaller than a ping-pong ball but bigger than a shooter-marble. You want them about the size of a typical chocolate candy so they are a good mouthful but not so big that you go into a sugar coma before you finish one. Line the little balls up on a piece of waxed paper or parchment - I have used both and they both work well - put over a cookie sheet. My favorite cookie sheets to use for this task are the stone ones because when they come out of the 'fridge after the cool down cycle, the stone stays cold longer and in Houston that is a good thing!
Now bear with me while I chase a rabbit for a minute. One of the batches I did I used mint Oreo's. I wanted to try some different flavors. I think the green Oreo filling looked so cool in the blender so I had to show you...
This is what the mint looks like all chopped up. You can almost see green in there if you look hard enough.
Then pop everybody in the fridge for a cool-down. Even dough that is very soft will firm right up when you get them in the cold for a bit. I normally clean up everything at this point and go check my email, make my bed and paint my toenails...whatever I can find to do to let time pass. I try to allow at least an hour.
Then you pull them out and baptize them in melted chocolate wafers. I'll did the white color first and I forgot to take a picture of the melting process so you'll have to wait a minute for that. Going in...
...and coming out. The chocolate stays soft for only a little while before it hardens back up and it doesn't appreciate being re-melted very much so you want to work quickly.
Then have you seven-year-old daughter sprinkle the still melty tops with the "Cookies and Cream" sprinkles you have sitting right handy in a ramekin. Yes, she washed her hands very well too!
Now I'm gonna do the chocolate ones. I put the wafers in a Pyrex measuring cup. Mine can hold the entire bag of wafers. I have had so many people tell me this is where the process fails! So I guess this is important! Melt the wafers exactly like this: Pop them in the microwave for one minute. Take them out. Give them a stir. Notice that they are looking a little soft around the edges but don't get concerned - because, well, because I told you not to! Put them back in the microwave for 30 seconds. Give them a stir. One more 30 second zap and you should be starting to get quite melty. Many people don't realize that when you cook with a microwave you are changing the molecular structure of food by exciting the molecules and they will continue to move for a short period of time after you take them out of the microwave. You can really see this work when melting chocolate. So if you pull the wafers out after one full minute and two half-minute cycles and you are almost smooth chocolate but still a little lumpy, just give it a stir for a few minutes and make sure you really need more time in the microwave before you put them back in for another go-round. So if you have had the experience of your chocolate getting hard and crumbly, you have over-cooked it and now you know...
See? Almost there. This will stir out to very smooth. Mmmmm...chocolate!
For the plain chocolate coated ones, we used toffee crumbles.
And now for the mint...these sprinkles aren't mint flavored but they look minty so we'll just use those so folks know which ones are mint. Okay? (BTW, that hand is chocolatey NOT dirty! She washed! Promise. I watched her do it.)
Lovely, rich mint chocolate melts make the mint cookies even yummier.
And the green sprinkles look really pretty on them.
Sittin' pretty in their little paper dresses all ready for someone to snatch them up and dive into chocolate heaven. We did have a few left over so I sent a small box to Melissa and Jamison's teachers. They loved me. They sent me notes of rapture. I was the favorite parent that week! I think I'm gonna do it again next week with a bigger box for their Christmas presents. I have done these with the golden Oreos and they are quite divine. I found some berry flavored Oreo's the other day and bought a couple of packages but I'm not sure they are going to make it to the project. Think chocolate-covered strawberries. Yes. That good. I hope the grocery store has more. I'm not sure I have enough left for even one batch...
Let me know if you try these. I'd love to hear about your own personal combinations. I saw some peanut butter Oreos the other day. I refrained from purchasing them though. If you did, tell me how they turned out.