Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2 months later, I feel like its over

Wow, I can't believe its been two months already. There is so much 'after wedding' stuff to be done, I just now feel like the whirl wind is over. Photos are printed and hung, the album is done, and we got some of the videos from the videographer last week. With the help of this awesome website called MisstoMrs.com I officially changed my last name to Rea, and I also finished laying out both photo books from our honeymoon to Hawaii and just ordered them through Shutterfly. Heck, at this point I almost feel bored. Well, except that there are like 20+ more boxes to unpack from the move to Houston.

Before I take this time to start blogging about recipes again (like the from-scratch puff pastry I made last weekend, or the homemade macarons), I'm going to first share with you the two albums that I made in Shutterfly. If you're thinking about taking a trip to Hawaii I hope my posts and these pictures help you plan your vacation. If you come across this blog and have any questions about anything that we did, feel free to ask!

Link to Book I - Ohau & The Big Island

Link to Book II - Kauai & Maui

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hawaii Part 4 - Maui

Our last week of our honeymoon we spent in Maui. It was beautiful.

We stayed at Lokelani Condominiums in A205. We weren't too impressed with the room, it was pretty outdated and the bed was rock hard, but the view was awesome. The management was really nice about getting us a memory foam mattress topper which made the bed okay, so I would recommend the Lokelani just not A205.

Our first night in Maui we went down to Ka'anapali beach and Black Rock to watch the torch lighting ceremony. We also had some drinks at the Hula Grill.
Our first day in Maui we slept in and spent the late morning walking around Old Lahania Town. Front street is lined with lots of little shops, although we were a bit disappointed to realize most of them are chain stores at this point. It also has this HUGE Banyan Tree that covers an entire park. It takes you a while to realize it's one big tree. For lunch we walked down the street and grabbed a bite at Aloha Mixed Plate. You can guess what we had to eat. :) It was pretty tasty, but the coolest part was that Jeremy had been waiting to take me here ever since he was here 3 years ago. It was nice that we finally got to eat here together. The rest of the day we spent in the water somewhere and just relaxing on the beach. We also did some grocery shopping for our week here and spent $7 on a half gallon of milk. Yep $7, insane! That night we ate dinner at the Maui Brewing Company. We sampled almost all their beers, but none were that spectacular.

Over the next few days we did so many awesome things on Maui. One day we took a SNUBA trip with Friendly Charters. We were supposed to go out to Molokai, but the winds were really bad and the waves pretty rough, so instead they took us to a different location. We were pretty bummed that we couldn't go to Molokai, but at our new location we did see lots of turtles. SNUBA is kinda like SCUBA but without having the tank on your back and without having to be certified. The take floats on a raft above your head, and you get to go down about 15 to 20 feet. Jeremy and I did really well and it was a pretty cool experience that I would recommend. Though I don't think I'm likely to SCUBA anytime soon.

That afternoon we spent some time at Big Beach. It really is a huge beautiful beach on the south side of Maui. Because we were staying on the west coast, the drive back to the condo was about an hour or more, but it was worth the drive over there to check out a different part of the island. If there is one thing I realized about Maui, it's that Maui is big, and it takes a while to drive anywhere. We also realized that it is not as warm as everyone says. In general the weather was beautiful, but not so hot that it made you want to jump into the fairly chilly water.

On Tuesday night we went to the Westin Luau. It was a tough choice but we chose this one because they had table service instead of a buffet and they had 5 fire dancers. The show did not disappoint. The food was good, drinks plenty, and we had front row seats. Jeremy called way in advance and booked reserved seating for us. He also told them it was our honeymoon and that we wanted front row seats. It must have worked because we had the best seats in the house! The most awkward part of the luau was when they did the wedding dance. They told everyone in the audience who was newly married or celebrating an anniversary to get up and dance. Jeremy really really wanted to dance, so we did, but we were the only ones! I know people say some luau's are cheezy and touristy, but we had such a good time. After the show we walked along the beach. It was perfect.
Our next day on Maui we woke up early and did the Road to Hana. It took us about 9 hours round trip. This may horrify some, but we stopped a lot along the way and really enjoyed ourselves. If you are going to do this drive, make sure you have a whole day, or more! The first hike we tried to do was the Mile 6 hike to the four waterfalls. However, the water was raging so much that we couldn't even make it across the first creek. The hike down that way was nice though, and we are looking forward to doing the hike next time we go to Maui. Along the road we followed the sights listed in the Maui Revealed guidebook starting on page 80. As you read how many stops there are, you can understand why the drive took us so long. We saw some awesome waterfalls and took some great hikes. The first one we did was up the Punalau stream to Punalau falls (page 83). The rocks were pretty slippery because the water was flowing a bit, but the hike was fun and the waterfall at the end was beautiful.

We continued along the way and stopped for the most amazing banana bread at the "Halfway to Hana" roadside stand. I know the book says there is better banana bread on the west coast, but it is wrong! This banana bread is the best. Do not miss it. Between mile 22 and 23 we stopped at Pua'a Ka'a State Park. On the advice of the guide book we took the small awkward trail on the right side of the falls. It was super muddy but really really cool. After walking up and around the first falls, we walked along the water diversion ditch (which was pretty high off the ground) and along what looked like it could be a log flume ride at disneyland. We finally came to the upper falls. It was really pretty and a short careful walk down you could get right to the pond that lead to the diversion ditch system. The reason this falls is so nice is because the water hasn't yet been diverted. At this point I was feeling a little bummed that we hadn't swam in a waterfall, like we had done when we were in costa rica. I felt the water with my toe, freezing. But I looked at Jeremy and said, hold the camera. I stripped down to my bathing suit and dove it. It was exhilarating. We both jumped in a few more times before heading back down the trail. Along the way back down it started to pour. We took cover under a tunneled section of the trail and waited out the rain. By the time we got back to the car we were covered in mud, but it was well worth it. And we were able to wash off at the lower pond.

We continued along the drive stopping for lunch at one of the road side areas. After lunch we decided to check out Maui Cave Adventures and take a walk through a lava tube. This tube was much bigger and longer than the Thurston Lava Tube on Hawaii and is very cool. The owner had known about the lava tube for some time and as soon as the property came up for sale, he jumped on the opportunity to buy the property and open up the cave to visitors. It's a $12 self guided tour and they provide the flashlights. Not only is the cave very interesting, but the information along the cave is very informative. The pictures I have don't do it justice but if you are in the area, I highly recommend stopping here. And yes, they do take credit card.

At this point we were pretty much to Hana and decided that next time we come back we want to spend at least one night here. There are so many things to do in the area. Around now it was close to 3pm and we made the decision to visit the Maui Winery and skip the Seven Sacred Pools. We also had to skip the black and red sand beaches, and lots more waterfalls. Like I said, lots to do up here. So we continued our drive around the other side of the island. The rental car company tells you that they are not responsible if you drive over here, but the roads really aren't that bad at all and we had a standard compact car. In fact, the roads we were on in costa rica were much worse. We did arrive at the Maui Winery just before it closed, but it was so packed with tour buses that it really wasn't that exciting. Visit the one on Hawaii, skip this one.

The next day we had scheduled a bike tour with Haleakela Bike Company. Because it is a sunrise tour at the top of Haleakela we had to be at the bike company at 3am. Yes am. And it was on the east side of the island, where we currently were. So that night we made the decision to get a hotel room in Wailuku which is north center of the island. If we would have gone back to our condo we would have spent an addition al 3 hours driving back and forth. Just didn't seem worth it to us. So we grabbed a room and ate dinner at this cute italian restaurant across the street.

The next morning we woke up early, so early that I'm pretty sure it was still considered the night before. We drove over to Pa'ia and met up with the Haleakela Bike Company. They fitted us with bikes, helmets, backpacks, and rain gear and we started the drive up the volcano. It's about and hour up to the top. Because the moon was just right we were fortunate enough to see a moonbow. Yes a moonbow, and no, before this trip too hadn't heard of such a thing. But they are real and pretty neat. We got up to the top around 5am, about 45 minutes before sunrise. It was freezing! Fortunately we had carried around our winter coats with us the entire trip just for this moment. We took the small trail to the right off the parking lot and found a great spot to watch sunrise. As the sun started to illuminate the sky, it was really awesome to watch the island unfold below us.


The most beautiful sight was just as the disk of the sun pierced through the clouds. The most beautiful sunrise ever. I was so memorized I tried convincing Jeremy that we should go back the next day. It was really a perfect moment that I will forever remember.


After watching sunrise we hopped back into the truck and started down the mountain just until we were outside the park gates. The park won't allow the companies to ride bikes inside the park, so they drop you off just below the 7,000 foot mark. They gave us a map and we were off. I really like this bike company because it is a self guided tour and you just have to be back by 4pm. Considering it was only 6am, we had a lot of time on the bikes. Turns out even with stopping for breakfast we still were back to the shop by 11am, but it was an awesome ride. I highly highly recommend doing the sunrise bike combo.

Before we headed back to the condo we stopped at a lavendar farm and the surfing goat cheese farm. Both were pretty interesting little side trips.

That night we went back to Old Lahania Town and had dinner at a small hole in the wall place called Mala. The inside wasn't much but the outside tables were nice and the food was delicious! I don't know if it would have been worth the price if we were sitting inside, but the outside atmosphere and the amazing food made the cost doable. Plus, we just used the excuse "well, we are on our honeymoon." That night we walked back down Front Street for a while and came across these wood carvers. We watched them for a few moments and then we decided to pick out something for ourselves. They had these little unfinished turtles that you could choose from and then they would finish carving them in front of you. It was really special to watch this guy carve this turtleish shaped piece of wood into a turtle. If we wouldn't have watched him with our own eyes, we would have swore it was made in China.

Our final full day in Maui we took a drive around the west coast. We followed the guide book again and stopped at a few interesting sites, but by far the most interesting was the Nakalele Blowhole. To get to the blowhole we stopped about 1/2 a mile before the main parking lot and walked there along the "Acid Warzone Hike." (p. 192) This was very cool. Because the ocean spray is so dramatic here the volcanic landscape has been literally pulverized and blown away. Everything looks like it is covered in a gray ash and you can clearly see the toll the sea has taken on the boulders. After walking through the war zone we came to the Nakalele Blowhole. The path through this way drops you off right next to the blowhole. As we found out, sometimes it doesn't blow much, and other times it can blow up to 50 feet in the air. But it's not the spray from the blowhole that will get you soaked, it's the waves lingering off the coast waiting until you aren't paying attention to surprise you with their power. We were soaked by the time we left. Here is a video I made of the blowhole. The sudden darkness is me quickly covering the camera to protect it from the sea spray coming from the left of us.

video

After the blowhole we continued around the coast stopping for some banana bread at Julia's. It was pretty good, but nowhere near as good as "half way to hana" bread. Though they do have this oddly addicting candied coconut and this lilikoi butter which we brought back with us.

On our way back to our condo, we stopped at the Iao Valley. What is so neat about Hawaii is that all of the islands exhibit so many different climates all within minutes of each other. The Iao Valley is so lush and green and yet just on the other side of Hana it looks like a desert. Crazy.

As we woke on our last day in Maui, and the last day of our honeymoon, we spent some time to reflect on the wonderful time we had here. We packed up our stuff and headed out to do one last hike before we left. Unfortunately the hike we wanted to do, the Waihe'e Valley Trail (hanging bridges hike), was closed and it had been for the last few months (since September 2011) due to a disagreement between land owners. The hike looks beautiful and I hope that they all resolve their differences soon so it can be reopened. Instead we did part of the Waihe'e Ridge Trail where there are some beautiful views about 1/2 a mile in. Since we were about to catch our flight home we could only do about 1.5 miles, but next time we will finish the 4 mile loop.

What an amazing honeymoon. We are so lucky that we were able to take a full 3 weeks off work to experience this wonderful place and spend the first weeks of our marriage in Hawaii. We will be back!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hawaii Part 3 - Kauai

It's a hard choice between Maui and Kauai, but I think Kauai was our favorite island. So green, so lush, so beautiful.

We flew into Kauai in the afternoon and checked into our condo at Kuhio Shores #314 in Poipu. The condo was amazing. I know, I'm using that word a lot, but it had a huge lani (balcony) and it was right on the ocean. We fell asleep each night to the sound of the waves crashing into the shore and the windows wide open. If you're going to Kauai, you should definitely stay here.

Our first day in Kauai we went up to Waimea Canyon. They call it the Grand Canyon of Hawaii and it's pretty spectacular. Not quite as massive as the real Grand Canyon, but still pretty awesome. Everyday we were on Kauai it rained for some period of time then the sun came out; today was no different. We slowly took the long road up to the top, stopping every few miles for some photos. Jeremy picked out a 4 mile hike for us to do through the rain forest on the ocean side of the canyon. It is only in the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook "Kauai Revealed" and it's called the Honopu Ridge Trail on page 196. You'll definitely want to wear long pants that you can roll up into shorts or zip off. We went to the end of the marked trail, and then a bit more, but while we were out there we saw some serious hikers hike all the way to the end of the cliff. It's a gorgeous hike through a forest, dense with ferns and bamboo and culminates with some awe inspiring views of the Napali coast. I highly recommend this hike. That night we went to dinner at a restaurant right next to our condo called The Beach House. It was very romantic and the best part was that we could walk home. Okay, the best part was the food and Mai Tai's but the walk home was a nice bonus.

Our second day we spent the morning going on an ATV tour with Kauai ATV. My parents did this when they were in Hawaii a few years ago and they highly recommended it. The best part about the tour is that they encourage you to hit every mud puddle. We were covered in mud by the end of the adventure; it was so much fun! Though I don't think it would be as much fun during the dry season without any mud puddles. We took turns driving the mud buggie (you have a choice between mud buggie and ATV), to the right is a picture of Jeremy driving while I hold on tight.

After getting all cleaned up, we spent the afternoon snorkeling at Poipu Beach Park and boggie boarding at Brennecke Beach. The waves at Brennecke Beach were huge and we got beat up pretty badly. We were exhausted when we got back to the room, so we stayed in and made some pasta.

Because we were in Hawaii for so long, all the days are starting to blur together, so I'll just tell you about some of the other stuff we did on Kauai, in no particular order.

One day we spent doing the first half of the Napali Coast hike on the Kalalau Trail. This is also a 4 mile round trip hike, well the first part, and it is very popular. The day we did the hike it was again raining on and off, so the trail was very muddy, and the stream crossing at the 2 mile mark was raging. We couldn't cross to get to the beach, and if one were to hike the full trail, I don't know how they would have continued on this day. The full trail is 22 miles round trip, with a camp ground at the far end at mile 11. I've been told by friends that it is a beautiful hike. We enjoyed the first part and hope to do the full hike next time we go back.

A few days later we went for a hike on the east shore on a trail called "Sleeping Giant" (Nounou Mountain). The trail is called this because it traverses up the mountain that is said to look like a giant sleeping on its back. Legend says that in the case of an impending attack, the Kauai people would light fires behind the giant to illuminate his profile. If you squint hard and really really pretent, you can kind of see a giant... maybe.

There are three trails up the mountain; we took the east trail which is about 4 miles long and rises 1000 feet. This is a beautiful hike and one that we will always remember. There are so many amazing views of the Wailua Valley. Once you get past the picnic tables there is a trail that continues out to the chin and forehead of the giant. The hike is well worth it as you can see vast amounts of the island from up here. We spent a good hour at the top hanging out and having lunch. Jeremy also surprised me up there with a necklace that I had been looking at for a while. It was very special.

Besides hiking, we spent a lot of time snorkeling outside our condo, walking around Poipu, and just relaxing. It was so nice.

Our last day on Kauai we went for a doors off (of course) helicopter tour with Jack Harter. The tour was amazing and our pilot was very informative. Of the two helicopter tours we did, this one had the best views, though I did quite enjoy seeing the lava from the sky on the big island. We were mesmerized at how many waterfalls there were on Kauai. Every direction there is a waterfall, and because it had been raining the day before, the sights were even better. Our pilot took us around the whole island, darted in and out of the canyon walls in Waimea Canyon, got up close to the waterfalls, and even spotted a wild hog from the air. If you'd like to do a helicopter tour on Kauai, I would recommend this one for sure.

With so much fun stuff to do on Kauai, it was hard to leave. But we were so excited to get to Maui.

Hawaii Part 2 - The Big Island

After Ohau we jetted off to Hawaii, aka The Big Island. Because the island is so big, we flew into Hilo, drove across to Kona and flew out of Kona. This time we tried to rent an SUV, but much to our surprise rental SUV's don't seem to come with a trunk cover! Not that we were storing lots of stuff in the trunk, but it's nice to have somewhere to keep your snorkel gear and towels or an extra change of clothes. Fortunately we were able to switch into a ford mustang convertible again. Sweet!

In Hilo we stayed at the Volcano Village Lodge on the recommendation of my parents. This place was awesome! Truly beautiful. We spent one night in the Hale Kilauea room and one night in the Haleakala Lodge. Both rooms were so beautiful. I photos and descriptions don't do them justice, but I'll try with a photo. First Hale Kilauea second Haleakala Lodge.


After checking in we headed to Kiawe Kitchen for lunch and then off to Volcano National Park. Kiawe Kitchen was pretty good. We stopped there one day for lunch and then for dinner. Lunch was some pretty good pizzas with amazing homemade pesto, but dinner was pretty slow and terrible. Go for lunch, skip dinner.

When we arrived at the park I was so excited to see lava. I wanted to view it from anywhere and everywhere I could. Unfortunately, since the new eruption in August of 2011 there isn't much lava flowing on the surface anymore. The normal viewing points are mostly cooled off and the only thing you can really see from those is a faint glow. Also because of the latest eruption in August, 2011, over half of the crater rim drive and all of the extension off the Thurston lava tube are closed due to toxic gasses and unstable rock. So we decided to first start by walking the Thurston lava tube. Even though the part we really wanted to do was closed, we were still amazed by it. We even walked it twice. Right across the street from the lava tube is a trail that wanders around a rain forest and then down through the Kilauea Iki crater and back up. It's about 3 miles and took us around 2.5 hours. Really an awesome hike, highly recommended. The details are on page 194 "Kilauea Iki Hike" in the Big Island Revealed book. We spent a lot of time on the floor of the crater walking around and feeling the heat coming out of the steam vents. Around 4:30 we headed up to the Jagger Museum to watch the sun set over the Halema'uma'u Crater and catch one of our very few changes to see lava coming out of the Pu'u'O'o vent. It was pretty cold up there, but we came prepared. As the sun set you could slowly start to see the glow from the lava light up the area around the crater. It wasn't the flowing lava that I had hoped for, but it was still beautiful.

The next morning we woke early and drove up to Hilo to take a helicopter ride over Hilo and the Volcano National Park. We flew with Paradise (aka Tropical) Helicopters and flew with no doors! It was awesome. Only 4 people plus the pilot and everyone gets a great seat. The only person in the middle is in the front. We loved it so much that we took a second, no doors, flight on Kauai, but more on that later. Our helicopter pilot flew right over the Pu'u'O'o vent and over the huge lava field. We got to see some lava flowing on the surface and then some waterfalls over near Hilo. It's pretty amazing to see the lava destruction from the air; where the flow stops and the tree line begins.

After the helicopter tour we drove around to some waterfalls and took a drive on a 4 mile scenic route on the old highway. We headed to Akaka Falls, a 400 foot waterfall, and spent about and hour walking around the small park. After grabbing some ice cream in the small town near the falls, we drove back toward Hilo and stopped at the Hawai'i Tropical Botanical Garden. I'm really glad that we picked this one, because it was beautiful. So many different flowers and plants and orchids, plus it meets right up with the ocean. Also interesting is the story of how it became a botanical garden. There is too much to tell here, but lets just say you should read about it HERE. That night we had dinner back in Volcano (yes, it's the name of the town) at the Kilauea Lodge & Restaurant. It was so good, I wish I was there right now eating. Highly recommended, but you better go early or make reservations.

On Saturday, I think, we headed out of Volcano and over to the drier side of the island: Kona. Along the way we stopped at the Volcano Winery. Although Hawaii isn't exactly a wine producing mecca, they had some pretty decent wines. We bought a bottle of their macadamia nut wine and some other little goodies. We also stopped at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on the way. This beach is very accessible and pretty awesome. The sand is really really black, and genuine. That is to say, it is created when the chunky 'a'a lava flow meets the ocean and shatters into small pieces. Overtime those pieces are tossed by the ocean so much that they form sand. And guess what else we saw there... a turtle! Just chillin on the beach, getting slightly annoyed every time the water came in to soak him. Guess he should have moved up beach a little more.

After passing several "farmers markets" that were more like crap markets, we arrived in Kona. The next two nights we stayed at the Sea Village #3214. The view was nice, but we weren't too impressed with the rest of the place. It seemed really dirty and just dingy. Fortunately we were there for only 2 nights. Oh yea, and the other guests were weird. Every morning we woke up to a new sign in the parking lot claiming one of the parking spots for a particular unit. I think there was a little infighting between some of the units while we were there. There was also a coffee shop just outside the complex called Green Flash Coffee. The first two days I couldn't figure out why I never saw this place open. The last day I got my answer. When we drove back to the condo to get our stuff to leave, we saw the coffee shop wrapped in plastic being fumigated! Not just sprayed, I mean the whole thing was covered in plastic wrap. I'm so glad we never went there.

After checking in we decided to do some snorkeling and relaxing on the beach. But first, food. We stopped at this place Jeremy found on Yelp called 'Da Poke Shack'. AMAZING. So so good. If you don't know what poke is, well look at the picture to the right. Think tuna tar tar but with bigger cube like pieces and different types of sauce. I liked the simple sesame myself. They also serve it as a plate with rice and a side, or you can get ahi tacos which were also pretty good. We stopped here every day we were in Kona.

After lunch we headed to Kahalu'u Beach Park for some snorkeling and then over to White Sands Beach (aka La'aloa Bay, Magic Sands, etc.) for some relaxation. The snorkeling was pretty good, but the waves at White Sands were awesome. We didn't bring boogie boards this day, but we did come back the next day with them in hand. We had so much fun boogie boarding on this beach. It was also our first experience swimming with a turtle! The "little" guy just floated up right behind us and nearly made us jump. How cool is that, swimming with turtles! That night we headed to the first place Jeremy wanted to eat dinner, Kona Brewery of course. They have so many brews on tap, probably 20 or more, and I think we sampled over half of them. I wish they bottled more of their brews so we could enjoy them in the states. BTW, did you know that Kona beer that you get in the states isn't made in or by Kona at all? They are apparently part of a coop with Craft Brewers Alliance and have all their beer bottled, packaged, and distributed in California; though they claim that it is still their beer since it is their recipe.

The next day we took a kayak trip out to the Captain Cook Monument and had some of the best snorkeling that we did all trip. The waters are so blue and so pristine around the monument. It really is some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. However, it gets really really crowded by big boats, so get there early if you go. Also, it's protected land, so if you want to go you'll have to get a permit from Hilo to land your kayak, or go with a large boat, or pick one of the two or three companies out of kona that have a permit to land there. We went with Adventures in Paradise. Our kayak guide was really fun and we got there super early so we had the place to ourselves for a while. They also supplied us a nice snack. After kayaking we were craving a burger, bad. So we stopped at Annie's Island Fresh Burgers. Amazing! You have to go here if you are in kona.

The rest of our time in Kona we spent walking around, relaxing, and boogie boarding, of course. We had dinner at Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill one night, which was pretty tasty, and also stopped by Island Lava Java for breakfast, though the food is good, the servers weren't the nicest, or maybe it was just ours. We also took the brewery tour at the Kona Brewery, limited to 15 so go early if it's the weekend. That tour was very informative, and I appreciated that they limited the tour to 15 to make it easier to walk around and listen. While in Kona we bought some clay orchids from CC Whisper Gallery. We had them shipped back to the US and they should be here Tuesday! While the hours on the shop aren't very reliable and the shipping slow, the products are so beautiful and realistic it makes up for the hassle.

After 3 days in Hilo and 2 1/2 in Kona we jetted off to Kauai!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hawaii Part 1 - Ohau

Our honeymoon was a blast! I can't wait to go back already. We spent 3 weeks in paradise and hit all four major islands: Ohau, Hawaii, Kauai, Maui. Since there is so much to write about I'll split it up into four different blogs. I should also note that for each island we had the Revealed books by Andrew Doughty. You can find them on Amazon, and if you decide to take a trip to Hawaii I definitely recommend getting them. Now, all about Ohau.

From Houston we got a direct flight into Honolulu, Hawaii. My mom and Jeremy arranged for someone to be waiting at the airport for us with beautiful fresh flower leis. They were made of pink bom orchids and were gorgeous (and huge!). I tried to dry them and bring them home with us, but about half way into our time on Kauai they really started to smell bad. On Ohau we rented a Ford Mustang convertible and stayed at the Outrigger Reef Hotel on Waikiki. It was a nice hotel and I would recommended staying here for anyone traveling to Ohau. Because our room wasn't ready when we arrived, we dropped our luggage with the bellman and headed to the bar for some Mai Tai's. Happy hour special, $3.50 each. How can you go wrong. It was the perfect way to start our honeymoon; mai tai's on the beach. After we checked into the room we walked around Waikiki. We checked out the Duke Hahanamoku statue and watched sunset on the beach. We then headed back to the hotel and had dinner at their fancy restaurant, The Ocean House. The fish was amazing and the entries were heavy, but well crafted.

The next day we got up early, which wasn't hard to do because of the time change, and went to Pearl Harbor. If you decide to visit Pearl Harbor, I recommend getting there by 8am to get reasonable tickets out to the USS Arizona Memorial. We got there around 7:45am and our tickets were for 8:30am. While at Pearl Harbor we toured the USS Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri (where the second World War officially ended with the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945), and the USS Bowfin submarine. I learned I would not do well on a submarine, those things are tiny! We also spent an hour or so walking around the grounds and looking at the other memorials. I would leave yourself a good 4 hours to do Pearl Harbor, and more if you wanted to visit the museums.

After Pearl Harbor we headed back to the hotel for some lunch at their third restaurant, the Kani Ka Pila Grill. This is the one that is right out front by the pool, and we liked it the best. The portions are large and the Mai Tai's delicious. The coconut shrimp is very tasty. After staying here for 3 nights we started to understand why people opt to stay in resorts so often. The convenience is just so nice. That evening we took a drive around the island and along Tantalus and Round Top Road (see directions in Ohau Revealed). The 10 mile curvy road is lined with beautiful lush trees and plants and gives you some great vantage points of Honolulu. On our way up the 1600 foot climb we saw some long boarders flying down the road. Along the way you'll come to Pu'u Ualaka'a State Wayside Park. We watched sunset over Honolulu from here. It was beautiful.

Wednesday was our last full day in Ohau. We woke up early and had breakfast at Bogart's Cafe. Then we headed to Hanauma Bay for some snorkeling. The parking lot fills up quick, so get there early. We arrived around 8am and were down to the beach by 8:45. When you first get there, you have to watch a 10 minute presentation about the marine life and not harming the bay. I think this is a really good idea, though I'm not sure how effective it is. I guess it must be somewhat because the bay still looks beautiful and pristine. I just love looking at the beautiful blue waters off Hawaii, I never once got tired of it. The water was pretty cold, but we spent about 2 hours in the bay and a little more time just relaxing. We forgot how much further south we were than Texas, because in Texas you don't burn at 10am, but in Hawaii, you do. We spent the next two days with a bottle of Aloe close by.

That afternoon we took a drive around the north shore. Stopping every once in a while to check out the scenery, we decided to eat lunch at a small BBQ joint called Uncle BoBo's. They had plate lunches, which was perfect for Jeremy because he couldn't wait to get one. What is a plate lunch you ask? Well it's a traditional Hawaiian meal consisting of a meat, a side of macaroni salad, and a side of rice. Meat and starch, my favorite. This place is terrific and if you are in the area you should stop by. I highly recommend the pulled pork, and the people working here are super friendly. After lunch we continued our treck around the island until we came up to Turtle Bay. It had been 3 days and I still had not seen a turtle, so we had to stop. As we walked toward the beach, there were a bunch of people crowded around the water. Much to my delight... a turtle! I was so excited and enamored with this turtle swimming in the water that I failed to see the other huge one beached just 30 feet from me. Jeremy looked at me and pointed over to the left saying "hey, what's that rock over there?" Oh man, I thought my head was going to explode. 300 pictures later, Jeremy finally pulled me away and back to the car.

Our last stop in Ohau was the Dole Pineapple Plantation. We didn't take a tour or anything, but it was pretty neat to see the pineapples growing out of the ground and the different stages of the growth. Do you know each plant lasts for two harvesting cycles before being replaced. While there we had to get some pineapple dole whip with fresh pineapples... of course! Okay, maybe it was a little too much pineapple, or so my stomach was trying to convince me. I should note one important thing, if you leave the Dole plantation at 5pm when they close, you will hit rush hour traffic on the way back to Waikiki. With my stomach full of pineapple and Jeremy driving, there was nothing left for me to do but sleep the whole way home.

The next morning we jetted off to Hawaii, aka The Big Island.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wedding Vendor Review - Austin, TX

I promised that I would write up a summary of all my vendors that I used for my wedding which was in Austin, TX, so here you go. I hope you find it useful. If you have used some of these vendors before, feel free to leave your own comments too!

Hair - Jennifer with A'Salon on Jollyville Road - Jennifer is my regular hair stylist, but when I was looking to get my hair done for the wedding I had this weird preconceived notion that I needed to use a "wedding" specialist. I did two trials with different girls, and eventually decided on Bella's Ball. However after she arrived late to my bridal shoot, and my curls fell out an hour into the shoot, I knew I needed someone else. One day Jennifer finished off my hair cut by giving me a curly look using just a straitening iron. It was amazing and it held all day. I immediately booked her to do my hair and my moms and my girls. Oh yea, and because she doesn't bill out just as a "wedding" specialist, her prices are ridiculously reasonable. My dad was shocked when he saw the bill, he said it was too low! Jennifer is amazing and I would highly recommend her to anyone. My curls stayed in all night and my hair usually never holds a curl.

Makeup - Rhea McCarter - Rhea is wonderful. I did a trial makeup session with two girls and Rhea was by far the best. I would highly recommend doing a trial because she really needs to get a feeling for what you want and you need to decide what you like too. We did my trial and we did a trial for my mom. I was really glad because it meant that my bridal shoot makeup and especially my day of makeup was perfect! I was really happy with the natural look that she gave me. And she's so much fun to work with. Really sweet and really talented.

Limo - Cynthia's Manhattan Limo - Clean and on time. What else can you say. The driver was good and picked everyone up either early or on time and when we left something in the limo, he came back to give it to us. I used them to take us from the house to the salon and then to the ceremony/reception.

Getaway Car - Enchanted Antique Limos - My husband didn't want to use a limo as our getaway car, so we rented a Rolls Royce from Enchanted Antique Limos. The car was beautiful and clean and the driver was very nice. He took us from south Austin up to the Driskill and took all back roads to make the drive nicer. He also drove us straight up congress toward the capitol and asked if we wanted to drive up to the capitol to take some more shots. We were too tired at that point, but it was a nice offer.

Venue - The Hummingbird House - Oh my god this place is amazing. I must have looked at 30+ venues before I found this place. The grounds are perfect and in the middle of a drought you would never expect for a place like this to exist. The reason why it is so beautiful is because the owner also owns The Great Outdoors nursery on South Congress. The ceremony is outside and the reception is held under a beautiful white fabric draped tent. All the trees are wrapped in LED lights to make for an enchanted evening. The grooms suite is a little small, but the bridal suite is in the main house and is 3 rooms. They also went out of their way to help my mom out who is handicapped. Guest bathrooms will surprise you.

Day of Coordinator - Lauren & Danny @ The Hummingbird House - I wasn't sure if I should put this above or give it its own section. Lauren and Danny run The Hummingbird House, but if you ask, they will act as your day of coordinator for a small up-charge. I paid this and it was sooooo worth it. First of all, at the time that I got married the fee for their day of services was very very affordable, especially compare to other day-of coordinators. Lauren is amazing. This girl is just as organized as I am, and that's saying something. She truly will go out of her way to make your day exactly as you want it. And she will email you back in a timely fashion, which is so important. I was very grateful to have her and Danny coordinating everything on my big day. If you get married at The Hummingbird House, use them!

Flowers - Trisha from Visual Lyrics Floral Art in Cedar Park, TX - This is a hard one to review. First the end product - The flowers were amazing. Just beautiful. I did a large bouquet of roses for my bouquet (40-50), and I used roses, white calla lilies, and pink bom orchids for the girls and the mothers bracelets, pink bom orchids for the guys, white roses for the dads, a long greenery piece with small spray roses for the front of my moms electric scooter, 4-5 roses for the toss bouquet, 1 orchid and 1 rose floating in tall vases with lights and black beads for the cocktails, and roses, lilies and orchids for the big tables. She also put together a huge red rose display for the center of the food tables. She was on time dropping everything off and she picked up the vases afterward. The reason I say it is hard to review her is because she is terrible at getting back to you. At one point I must have called and left 3 messages and 3 emails for her. I couldn't even get a hold of her to pay my balance until it was like a week late. I guess you could say she is laid back, but as a bride, I would have liked a little more interaction and response. Her prices are reasonable compare to others. In the end I would probably recommend her because the work was flawless, just be prepared to have some communication issues.

Cakes - Heidi at Envy Pastries - These cakes were amazing. Heidi made two cakes for my big day, one traditional and one grooms cake. The traditional cake was covered in white fondant and decorated in white lace icing. It was huge! The 5 layers from top to bottom were: 6" White Godiva Chocolate with strawberries and cream filling, 9" Carrot Cake, 12" Vanilla Bean with lemon mascarpone filling, 15" Chocolate with peanut butter moose filling and mini Reeses peanut butter cups, 18" White Godiva Chocolate with strawberries and cream filling. The cake was gorgeous! The grooms cake was a 1:1 replica of my husbands guitar and it was chocolate cake with raspberry filling. Again, just amazing. Each layer was 4 layers of cake an 3 layers of filling. While the vanilla cake was a bit dry, I loved the chocolate and I highly recommend working with Heidi. But get on her schedule early, because she only does one cake a day.

String Quartet - Musical Discovery Chamber Players - These four musicians are wonderful. They played from 30 minutes before the wedding through the cocktail hour. You can find many of their pieces on you tube and I highly highly recommend them if you are looking for a quartet to play during your ceremony. The only thing I wish was that we would have put them closer to the ceremony site or hooked them up with a microphone. Probably just putting them 5-8 feet closer would have been nice. They did a very nice job with Canon in D as well as our exit song, The Wedding March. Jill, the coordinator of the group, is very nice and so easy to work with. The first time she played Canon in D for my parents was when we met them at a bridal show, and I knew right away that we were about to hand them a check to guarantee our spot on their calendar.

Band - The Matchmaker Band - These guys are awesome. They are a 10 piece band and they really made our night excellent. They are so much fun and do a great job getting people onto the dance floor. Two weeks before the wedding we sent them a list of songs that were sorted into tiers: must play, 1st choices, 2nd choices, and a 'do not play' list. This really helped them put together a set list that we would like and that we felt our guests would enjoy. Their sound guy, Alex, is great. He really worked with us and the Hummingbird House to keep the music at a perfect level for dancing while not being too loud. I highly recommend these guys. Also, they tend to play at the Highball in Austin on Monday nights if you want to check them out.

Photographer - Beverly Demafiles - Beverly and her husband, David, are awesome. I've used her three times now, to do my engagement photos, my bridal shots, and my wedding photography. Her style is journalistic, in that she works to tell the story of the day through her shots. I love that her photos are full of color (or some black and white) and aren't overly artistic or styled with Photoshop. They are what I think of as true photos. Both her and David do a really great job of capturing the moment. There were so many great action shots from the wedding that we are having trouble narrowing them down. I love that they both come ready to do whatever is necessary to get the shot. There were several times that I saw Bev on the ground shooting up just to capture the moment. She's not afraid to get right into the action and her eye for great unique shots is unmatched. The other thing that struck me was this. The week before the wedding I sent her a list of my "must have shots." Right after the ceremony when we were taking pictures, I saw David standing there with the list in his hand making sure we got all the shots that I wanted, and they did! It made me feel instantly at ease because I knew nothing would get overlooked. They captured so many details from the day, I love them!

Videographer - Wes Shepard of New Road Productions - We met Wes at a bridal show the January before our October wedding. We hadn't thought much about having a videographer at the wedding, but when I saw his videos, I knew we had to hire him right away. Him and his assistant worked great with Beverly and David to make sure no one was in each others way the day of the wedding. And they both came out to the Hummingbird House the weekend before to plan out the day, which was nice. I didn't even notice Wes was around videoing until the last few dances when the night got really dark and the light on his camera started to be ever-so-slightly annoying. But it was so dark he had to have a light on somewhere if he wanted to capture the moment, and it wasn't that bright. For the ceremony he hooked Jeremy up with a lapel mic to record the vows and the pastor, but you could hardly see it as he placed it right behind the flower. He also worked with me to create a video package that was just what I wanted. I highly recommend that you try to get a videographer if you can afford it, and I recommend Wes.

Linens - Premiere Party Central, Manchaca Road. - They have a great selection of linens and other necessities for your day, especially helpful if you need to provide these things for your event. If you go here just make sure you work with Kelly and only Kelly. I found most of the other staff to be less than helpful and often making my life a headache. They have a huge sale in January/February where you can get linens half off if you reserve them during their sale period. (note, my wedding was in October, but I was able to take advantage of this sale)

Caterer - An Affair to Remember Catering (AATR) - This one is also hard for me to review. Let me start with the good. The food is amazing. Hands down better than Pink Avocado or Sterling (of these two I'd pick Sterling for food). The other reason why I initially chose these guys was because they seemed like a smaller operation than Sterling. That is to say, they seemed a bit more local and not quite so much of a large corporation. I worked mainly with Matthew, and this is really where my impression of the company started to go downhill. Matthew likes to talk, a lot. But that also means that he is not listening to you and what you want. He spends more time explaining why he hasn't gotten something done than just doing it, and more likely than not you will have to hound him down the weeks before your wedding. AATR does some of their glass and plate rentals through Premiere (above) and then they send you the inventory list for you to double check, even though you always go through AATR. Matthew kept blaming Premiere for why the order was wrong, but it took me 10 minutes and one phone call to Kelly to get it all straightened out. In my mind, I shouldn't have to do my caterers job. Matthew kept telling me what he wanted to do for the table arrangement on the day of my wedding, and it took me more than 3 occasions to finally explain to him that it was my wedding and we were doing what I wanted. I should have known then to fire him. Oh and two weeks before the wedding I sent him a text message asking why I didn't have my final invoice yet. His response was "which bride is this?" To which I replied "Oh, I see I'm not the only one waiting for you to get back to them." This is consistently Matthew. The day of the wedding the food was great, but there wasn't enough! Not because I didn't order enough, but because they couldn't produce it fast enough. My dad went back to the kitchen when the food ran out and the response he got was "people are eating too fast" Are you kidding me! You know 100 people are going to rush a tent, you need that food ready, or you need to bring more help. At one point the water station was empty and my dad again had to go back and find someone to fill it. Horrible! And then I found out through a guest that they ran out of lime juice. Why? Because the bartenders were making the wrong ratio of lime juice to tequila for the margarita drinks so they ran out of juice. But Matthew didn't come tell me this, so I, the bride, had to go to the kitchen and bitch him out. I *think* they eventually got more. My parents and I are now in the process of trying to get the company to refund the money that we are due because of all these disasters. Oh yea, and the pasta bar was to have 4 burner stations, but one didn't work and they didn't bring any backups, so they only had 3. Why would a reputable caterer not bring backups? Oh and although we went over the wine/margarita glass order about 20 times, they were still wrong. Which means I paid for something I didn't get. Unless this company shapes up and fires Matthew, for all the headaches that I had, I can't recommend them. Yes, their food is the best, but I can't imagine telling any other bride to go through what I went through with Matthew. Oh and their "chef's station" is a joke, avoid that. I'm happy that my guests got food and didn't realize too much what a disaster this caterer was. If you're set on using this company just make sure that you get a different planner than Matthew, and perhaps you'll be okay.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some wedding hints, for all you brides

Since the wedding a few of my friends have asked me what I learned and what pointers I could give them for their weddings. Here are a few things that I realized at the wedding that I didn't think too much about before hand. If you're getting married soon, you may want to take notes.

1. flip flops are a must! I had 4 water blisters on my feet from my shoes. Of course I didn't realize it that night, but the next morning they hurt. And if you do get water blisters, just pop them with a pin and squeeze out the water, it's painless cause the skin is dead already. Then put on a bandaid. That should take most of the pain away.

2. make sure your emergency kit is well stocked with large and small safety pins (large ones were key for me), bandaids, straws, razor, straight pins, powder, lipstick, crochet hooks, etc. I won't go fully into mine right now, but take a look at the many examples online.

3. make sure they put plenty of tacks in your dress for bustling. The seamstress will tell you only "x" number are needed, but that's for a typical wedding, where people aren't dancing their ass off. Granted, my dress was lace, but the first time someone stepped on the dress the lace got pulled out of the buttons and the bustle fell out in no time. I would ask for at least 3 more than what she recommends and/or make sure she really really re-enforces the tacks. When all else fails use large safety pins (see point 2)

4. also regarding the bustle, make sure none of is dragging on the ground. when she did mine, she left some dragging so it still looked like a mini-train. This looks nice but is terrible for dancing. I tripped on my own dress a few times and the bottom was completely black by the end of the night. You want it all off the ground if you plan on dancing a lot.

5. something will go wrong, and it will be okay. the two big things that went wrong on my wedding day were, 1 - the caterer didn't get all the food out fast enough. and 2 - they ran out of lime juice. This was the most problematic because they started serving straight tequila. Even though I went and yelled at the caterer, there was nothing that could be done until more juice got there. Oh yea, and I also lost a side diamond out of my engagement ring 2 hours before the wedding. But my dad got it fixed! Like I said, something will go wrong. Try to laugh it off.... Try.

6. make sure there is one person who is responsible for getting the groom to the wedding and that person is not responsible for anyone else. Because my soon-to-be husbands family was sharing cars, his brother had to take him and his cousin and one of his other groomsmen to the wedding. Of course running around and getting everyone coordinated meant that he got there later than he wanted and missed having the photographer get more than like one or two pictures of him getting ready. Plus, you don't need that stress!

7. if you think your dress may fall down in the front, use Curvana tape. it may leave a slight rash on your skin by the end of the night, but my rash went away in like 2 days. That stuff is sticky! If you do use it, put it on the dress the night before and create yourself a peel tab to quickly pull the back off to stick it to yourself. In fact, just try it before hand and you'll see its kinda a pain to use, but it works really well. You can get it at Michaels and yes they have it, so don't let them tell you that they don't, because I found that the people there just didn't know what it was. It's in a red tape dispenser.

8. make sure you eat! I went to the grocery store the day before and got a finger sandwiches plate and a fruit plate to take in the limo and to the hair stylist. Just before I got my makeup done I brushed my teeth and stopped eating (though I did have some cucumbers and water at the venue). Also, bring a straw for once your lipstick is done and you want some water. You can bring touchup makeup if you want, but I found that I just forgot to us it! And the lipstick really stayed well the whole time I cared about. Really after pictures you stop caring anyway. The only thing that I used a few time was this white powder to take the sweat glare away. I had my dad hold that for me since he had pockets. I also used it on him! :)

9. Relax! I think we started about 15 minutes late, and it was okay! I was even ready before that. Take your time to really take it all in. I took some time to peer out the window and watch people sign the guest book. It was fun.

10. Even though I had a copy of the photos that I wanted, I was instantly relaxed to see my photographers assistant holding his copy that I had emailed them earlier in the week. Make sure your photographer has a "must take" list and give it to a friend if you don't see them carrying it around. It was nice to have all the pictures that I wanted written down, because you will forget. And at some point you'll just be so pre occupied that you'll say "oh I don't care." I did that once and the photographer looked at me and said "really?!?!?" and then I was like "yea, you're right, lets take that one."

11. speaking of photos, take the time to take the ones that you want. at the end of the night the photographer grabbed us and said "lets do some tree shots" We didn't want to leave the party but we did and they are some of the best shots of the night. We were really happy that we took them. When we got back to the dance floor, my friend who is recently married said to me "I wish we would have taken more pictures, you'll be happy you did that" And I am! I think it took us about 1 hour after the ceremony for pictures and then maybe another 20 minutes during the reception. You won't miss much but you'll be happy to have that time just the two of you (well and the photographer/videographer). We missed the cocktail hour, but I think most brides do.

12. have a list of everything that needs to leave and possible people who can take it. it's hard to have a list of exactly who should have what, so I would just be simple. Here are the 20 things that have to leave, here are 5 people who can take them.

13. have a good 'day of person' who can make sure everything is running smoothly. Lauren, my coordinator, was great. She didn't interrupt anything but she found lulls to make sure we did the cake and the bouquet toss. We also did the toasts first to get them out of the way. Even though I'm sure 1/2 the people didn't even hear, but that's okay.

14. Have fun. Make sure to say quick "hello" to people but then let them come to you on the dance floor, they will! Everyone says "oh you wont get to eat, you won't get to dance." Well I ate, and I danced and I let people come to me. I remember the whole night because I was on my schedule and didn't feel like I was under pressure to say "hi" to everyone right away. People understand that it is your wedding. Also, having a sweetheart table to put your food and drinks and purse and bouquet on is nice.

Hope this helps you brides out there have the most awesome wedding ever... just like I did!

Monday, November 14, 2011

You can call me Mrs. Rea

10.22.11 - What a day!

photo credit: Merrick Ales

I was planning on using this post to tell you all about my fabulous day, but I don't even know where to begin. First, the days before...

Actually first a disclaimer: There is only one picture in this post. It is above. The rest will come later when I can narrow down the 624 that my photographer took into something more manageable. The one above is from a friend who has his own other photography business.

Now, about the wedding...

The days before the wedding were spent hanging out with family and cousins and friends. It was nice to spend time with family before the festivities really got started.

Important Note #1 - If you are getting married, try to spend time with your family BEFORE the wedding, as the day before, of, and after are CRAZY!

The day before the wedding we did the rehearsal at The Hummingbird House and then I took my bridesmaids for lunch and my mom treated us all to 90 minute massages! And boy did I need it! Then we got all dressed up and went to the rehearsal dinner at Sullivans in Austin. It was fabulous and they did a great job. Jeremy's dad did the first toast HERE and my dad followed up with the second HERE. Sullivans was even nice enough to make up unique menu's for us with our name and occasion on them. I would highly recommend using Sullivans in Austin for any private party you may be having. Pictures are HERE.

Important Note #2: If your camera does video, set it up on a wine glass (I literally did this) to record the parents toasts if they aren't doing them in front of your videographer. You'll be happy you did!

The morning of the wedding I was totally anxious. I went for a run and then took a walk with my flower girls. At 10:30 am the limo arrived to pick us up and take us to the salon to get our hair ready. It was great seeing the look on Kylea's (one of my flower girls) face when the limo showed up. She kept asking if we would ride in a limo and I told her "no." hehe, tricky :)

Side note: Because there are so many vendors, I'll use a different post to tell you about the vendors and such that I used for the wedding and give you a little review about each of them.

It was nice to have my girls at the salon with me and to have my mom and dad there. My mom looked wonderful and my dad was even treated to a hairdo complements of my hairstylist. Just as we were about to leave, I put on my engagement ring and found one of the stones to be missing! Yes gone! I quickly called the jewelry store and told them the situation. Fortunately they were right up the road and my parents, along with my wonderful bridesmaid Kristen Tan, were able to get it fixed in under 5 minutes. Thank you to all of you for dealing with this situation... 2 hours before the wedding!

We arrived down at the Hummingbird House around 3:30 and started to get ready. I organized a few things while my girls got ready, then my bridesmaid Kristen Shehab, helped me into my dress. I was standing there completely naked with my mom watching, my photographer watching (but not snapping pictures of course) and the videographer with his back turned, and in walks Jeremy's mom. I freaked out a little, but only because it was just unfortunate timing and I was naked! Sorry Sue, if the timing was just 2 minutes later that would have gone better!

Important Note #3: If you have a dress with buttons in the back, go to a craft store and buy a crochet hook. Actually buy two. One for your bridesmaids to put it on you, and one for your groom to take it off! It makes life go MUCH easier.

After doing the "first look" with my dad, not Jeremy, we snapped a few pictures and went back inside to relax a minute. Throughout the day I made sure to have food and water everywhere, so that I wouldn't forget to eat. I had veggies in the bridal suite and mini sandwiches from HEB at the salon. This helped a lot.

Pretty soon it was time. I wasn't nervous, in fact I was most nervous about my hair! I had to pull back some of the front ones because the wind picked up a little and I didn't want them blowing in my face. After all we were having an outdoor wedding. As we walked outside to get in position I remember telling my dad "it's just a walk, it's just a walk, don't make me cry my makeup will run!" haha. Of course it wasn't just a walk, it was one of the biggest days of my life! (I say one of, because I think there are many big moments in our lives).

My dad and I walked down the isle arm in arm to "Canon in D". I remember wanting to look at the crowd, but all I could focus on was Jeremy's eyes. My dad gave me away beautifully. During the ceremony I do remember taking a moment to "remember" it all and just be happy. We composed our own vows out of three that my Pastor had given us to look over. I'm not sure how much the microphone that Jeremy was wearing picked up, because I do distinctly remember choking up while repeating them. I'm also sure everyone in the back row didn't hear what we were saying, but that's okay. I mean really, you know the guests only show up for the cake anyway. :)

Karen and Tim did a great job with the readings and Pastor Lyn was excellent! I'm so happy he made it down from Pennsylvania to officiate our big day. It really meant a lot to me. After our first (and second) kiss, we exited to "The Wedding March". It was awesome.

After many pictures, the details of which I won't bore you with, we started the PARTY! My dad rode in on the back of my moms scooter which was pretty amusing. The parents and the bridal party were introduced to DC3 - "Saturday Night" and Jeremy and I were introduced to Mingo Fishtrap - "Bitta Honey," one of our favorite songs.

After the Best Man, Jeremy's brother Matt, and the Matron of Honor, my best friend Karen, did their toasts (on video, but I do not yet have), Jeremy and I did our first dance. We danced to a song called "I do" written by Jeremy and recorded by our friend, Alvero. It was so sweet. We even choreographed the dance. And although my dress bustle was too long (note about that in another post), it went great. The photographer got an awesome dip picture that you will just have to wait to see :) Okay okay, I give, here is a sneak peak. After our dance, my dad and I danced to Ray Allure's "My Daughter is a Bride." HERE is the slideshow that we played during our dance. Then Jeremy and his mom, Sue, danced to Elvis's "Loving You." HERE is their slideshow. There was some panic that the sound guy couldn't hook up to the computer, but we worked it out quickly by downloading the songs from iTunes and having someone hit play on the sound and the computer together. Isn't technology great.

The rest of the night we partied to the Matchmaker Band, a 10 piece band that did an awesome job. Our cake was amazing and the food tasted great. We had so much fun with our friends, and thank you to those who had to deal with some of the caterer issues (ahem, slow food & lack of lime juice for a few hours - though I didn't hear too many complaining about the straight tequila during that time). We are so happy that you all were able to join us and you made our evening spectacular! At the end of the night we did a sparkler exit and it was so much fun! Thank you to the Hummingbird House for letting us. Interestingly enough I had people come up to me the next day and tell me that drunks with sparklers isn't the *best* idea. Though they never told me it was the worst! We left the wedding in a Rolls Royce that Jeremy picked out and our photographer got an awesome 'Robin Hood' picture of us (see above sneak peek). After the wedding Jeremy and I went to the Driskill Downtown to spend our first night as husband and wife. (Apparently we left in just enough time to avoid some of the shenanigans afterwards, ahem Jake & Brandon).

Sunday morning we met about 30 people for brunch at The Salt Lick (and more cake!) and then we jetted off Monday to Hawaii... for 3 weeks! Man it's hard to be back, but I sure enjoy being Jeremy's Wife!

Monday, October 17, 2011

What to do when you're selling a house and the buyers inspector is an idiot

So we are selling the Austin house. It just doesn't seem like much sense to keep it at this point, considering we could spend every night at the Driskill for the amount we are paying for a "weekend house."

After some time on the market, and finding a good selling price (at first we were way too high), we found a buyer. Negotiations took longer than I'd hope, but we finally settled on a price that we could both live with. Then the fun started.

We signed the contract on a Friday and by Saturday she had her inspector out there. Excellent. Let me first start by telling you it was Jerry Schmidt with SunView Inspections. That's important to know, as I don't want any of you all to fall into this trap with him.

So guy shows up Saturday morning and starts the inspection. I get a call shortly after from my realtor. He's locked himself out of the garage and can't get in, so he is leaving without completing the inspection. What genius did was short the GFCI outlets on the outside of the house to "test" them. This caused all the breakers to trip including the garage door. Since the breaker was tripped the remote didn't work. Now, I only have one access into the garage, and it's from the outside of the house. Therefore, if you cannot use the remote to get in the house, you need a key, which he did not have. My puzzlement came when he 1) did not make sure he could get into the garage after tripping said breakers and 2) what he said to me next. Which was, "well there is usually a latch that you can flip to get into the garage, and you don't have that." Well of course I don't! If I did, that means that anyone could get into the garage simply by shorting the outlets. Why would that make sense?!?!

So I was in DC and told my realtor that I had said garage keys but if he wanted in before the week was out he would have to get a locksmith out there. And that's just what he did. Now, if the inspector wanted to do this test, he should have told me in advance that he would need the keys. Or 2, and probably smarter, would have been to realize that he couldn't do the test because he didn't have keys to get into the garage. Ugh. Idiot.

So a few days later her gets back into the garage and the house and submits the report to the buyer.
Apparently he found a "live" wire under the house that was "spliced" and "missing plate covers." This was odd considering the wiring in the house was completely redone and there were no active wires left. But I called the electrician and had him go out there. He saw some wires and said "no, they are not active." So now we have a he said, she said. The buyer believes her inspector even though I have a real electrician and a city inspector (from when the fire occurred) saying that these wires are not live. Keep in mind, said inspector provides no pictures or locations as to where this wire is. Just a short 2 sentence note to make my life hell.

So my realtor meets with her inspector this morning and they both look at the "live" wire. The inspector says that he gets a "weird" reading when he measures it one way, but then no reading when it is measured the other way. He's "not sure." So now he's created a firestorm with his "I'm not sure" measuring.

5 hours later my realtor meets with the electrician... again. They find the wire and measure it. Yep, NOT active. They decide to remove it just to appease the inspector who appeases the buyer. The electrician says "your inspector either has an old tool, the batteries are dying, or he doesn't know what he is doing" I'm going with the third.

Oh, and one final note. When I showed up on Friday the two back doors were completely unlocked. Yep, the inspector didn't lock them! If you are in my house, I expect a level of professionalism and respect. You did not respect my house or my stuff enough to lock up after you left. And to that, I am most appalled.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I just finished my second Army Ten Miler... And I'm getting married in 13 days!

This was a rough year, with the wedding only 13 days away, I haven't trained that much at all. In fact I've only done one 5 mile run all season. So I knew this was going to be a difficult run.

We started off by getting dropped off 2 miles from the start. We wanted to get closer, obviousy, but the roads closed at 7 instead of 7:30 like they told us. Plus, we were running late so we had to "jog" part of the way there. I say "jog," because the boys were jogging, but I was at my running pace. We got to the start at 7:45 and took a quick bathroom break before getting in line by 7:50. This year Jeremy and I were able to start together, but that only lasted for about 1/100th of a mile. He took off quickly, while I just tried to catch my breath.

Here is a breakdown of my miles. The first two were awesome for me, but then I started to hurt. Around mile 4 I started to hurt bad. My left hip and knee started to hurt and I didn't want push it. Even so I was pretty happy just to finish.

Mile 1 : 9:02 (8:06 max)
Mile 2 : 9:22
Mile 3 : 10:45
Mile 4 : 11:02
Mile 5 : 12:32
Mile 6 : 14:18
Mile 7 : 12:53
Mile 8 : 13:34
Mile 9 : 13:21
Mile 10 : 13:15

Overall : 10.18 miles in 2:02:19

Last year I did 1:45, but I also trained a LOT more. So I'm proud that I can still walk!

Now just 13 more days and it's wedding day!

Monday, September 5, 2011

47 days and counting...

Well the wedding is almost here and there is still LOTS to be done. The programs were finished up today with some help from Ami and Jeremy (thank you both), and the 'out-of-state' bags are being filled. Yep, you special people get a little treat when you arrive... IF you send me your hotel information, that is. I'm also finalizing the dinner menu, cake design, and tons of other little details. I've chosen to upgrade some of the flowers, but we'll see what the final cost comes out to on that. I *might* have gone a little overboard. I'm also looking into something fun for the morning of my wedding, but that's a secret until I figure out if I can afford it or not.

Besides the wedding plans, our Hawaii honeymoon is shaping up nicely. Jeremy is narrowing down the last hotel in Kauai (oceanfront), and we booked all the rental cars this morning. While Jeremy is okay with getting a convertible on Ohau I haven't convinced him into a convertible on Maui yet. Someone help me! Bombard him with texts telling him how awesome it will be to have a convertible on Maui! Has anyone done the road to Hana in a convertible before?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Something Old

Today we got a package from Jeremy's mom, and in it was a nice little surprise for our wedding.

When Jeremy was a baby, his Aunt Gracie sewed him this bonnet...















And along with the bonnet came this note...

I'm just a little handkerchief,
Quite square as you can see.
But with a stitch or two,
They made a bonnet out of me.

I'll be worn home from the hospital,
Or on the Christening day.
Then neatly pressed and folded,
I'll be carefully packed away.

On her wedding day, a bride must have.
Traditionally something old.
Good luck, good health, and happiness,
It brings her, so its told.

Then what could be more pleasant,
Than to unpack little me.
To snip a stitch or two and find,
Her handkerchief I'll be.

And if I'm first word by a boy,
He'll surely someday wed.
Then he can give his lovely bride,
The hankey once wore on his head.


Now I have my something old, something new (earrings my parents bought me (along with many other things)), and something blue (my garter). I still have to find my something borrowed. I'll have to think about that for a while.

Wedding plans are now in full swing. Last weekend I took my bridal portraits with my photographer, Bev, and my friend, Kristen. We had a lot of fun, and I can't wait to see them. But don't ask to see them yourself, cause I'm keeping them under lock and key until after the wedding. We are also starting to get some RSVP's back from the invitations that went out a few weeks ago. It's really exciting to come home every day and find 3-4 more in the mailbox. We like to look at the postage stamp to see what city it came from and then try to guess who sent it.

Now it's all about doing programs, gifts, songs, and finalizing menues... oh yea, and picking hotels for our 19 day honeymoon in Hawaii!!!

Just 65 more days!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ohio Wedding Shower

Last weekend Jeremy and I traveled up to Ohio for a Wedding shower thrown by his parents, Paul and Sue. However, since I was about to start my new job at NASA (side note: I got a new job), I decided to spend some time with my parents and Matron of Honor, Karen.

After spending a day with my two flower girls and Karen, my parents and I got on the road. A 7 hour drive to Ohio soon turned into a 13 hour road trip. Including a stop at Roadside America and a 4 hour jaunt to Penn State. I miss college. Wouldn’t it be great to go back? Well, except for the classes part.

Sunday was our wedding shower. Jeremy and I had a awesome time. His mom did a great job preparing everything and there were about 80 people that showed up. Yes 80! Not only did Sue take over Paul’s garage and have the event catered, but she even had an Elvis impersonator come and sing. Oh yea, and not only did he sing, but Sue and Angela, Jeremy’s cousin, made us do a mock rehearsal in front of Elvis. Complete with a veil hat and bride/groom shirts. Angela also made this wonderful bow bouquet for me from the bows from my wedding shower gifts. Thanks Angela and Sue! And Paul too! I was so glad that my parents, Bonnie and Jeff, were able to make it out for the event.

Now it’s just about finishing the actual wedding planning and I’ll be all set! I really need to clean up this house so I can start working on the invitations.

Here are some pictures showing the full event and the road trip over to Ohio.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lemon Cream Pie Cookies

I realize I've spent a lot of time talking about the house and not posting recipes, so today I'm going to talk about these Lemon Cream Pie Cookies that I made on Wednesday. They were a big hit at work and people on Facebook seems to enjoy the picture so much, I just had to share it with ya'll. Plus, they are soooooo tasty! Each batch only makes about 20 cookies (or less) so make sure you double or triple the recipe! I will definitely be making these again soon.


A lemon shortbread cookie with cream cheese base filling in the center. YUM!

I first found this recipe on foodnetwork.com but I modified it to give it more of a lemon kick and to add more filling to each cookie.

Ingredients

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided (1 cup and 1 1/2 cups), plus more for garnish
3 lemons for zesting and juicing
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

Directions

Beat the butter and 1 cup of the powdered sugar until smooth. Add 2 lemons worth of juice and 1 and 1/2 lemons worth of zest. On a low speed, add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until just incorporated. Turn the cookie dough out onto a board and roll it into a log. Will be very sticky. Try to wrap in plastic wrap and mold from there, or use wax paper to mold it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. I left it in the fridge for 2 days and it was fine (and easier to cut)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove log from the refrigerator and cut it into thin 1/4-inch thick discs. (I used a bread knife to do this). Arrange the discs on baking sheets, 1-inch apart, and bake until the edges are just golden, about 20 minutes. You may have to rotate them in the oven. Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, using stand mixer or hand mixer, mix cream cheese with the remaining 1 and 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and 1/2 a lemon worth of juice and 1 lemon worth of zest.

Top half of the cookies with the cream cheese mixture and cover with another cookie to make a sandwich. Dust the top of the cookie sandwiches with confectioners' sugar and serve.

ENJOY!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Contractors are DONE

Yesterday the contractor dropped off the last of my contents once the garage floor was finished. They spent the last two days fixing cracks and then finally just deciding to cover it with an epoxy coating. If they would have done that from the start it would have gone a lot quicker, but whatever, it's done now and I don't care.

I am just so glad to have them out of my house and hopefully soon, out of my life. Man, who takes 8 months to refurbish a house? I seriously question their logic of hiring on this new guy from Houston. There were some things that he did, even up to the end, which made me question if he was even able to function in normal life by himself. I just imagine that his wife has to remind him to put on pants in the morning before he leaves the house.

But, instead of going into another rant filled with tons of examples, I am just gonna finish this here and move on with my life.

Speaking of moving on with my life, I just put the house up for sale! YAY. It's very exciting. Anyone want a 2/1 in South Austin right near Zilker park and minutes from downtown? If so, let me know, and I'll hook you up with the listing. Here's hoping it sells in a reasonable amount of time.

Oh and for those of you who are interested in checking out the final pictures, here is the house, all redone.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

One woman’s story of what its like to go through a house fire by yourself.

Some of you may have heard bits of this story or have kept up with my blog over the months, but for those who haven’t, here’s the whole thing. I’m writing this partly as a remembrance and partly to give those who are in the industry an idea of what I went through. It’s just a free thought letter written to anyone who wants to read it. Yes, it’s long. But hey, I lived it, you just are reading it, cut me some slack. I encourage you to laugh, cry, aww, and smack your head against the table from time to time. It’s pretty much what got me through this ordeal.

On October 28th, 2011 around 8pm my dryer vent hose got so hot from being clogged with lint that it combusted. Within minutes the garage was engulfed in flames. What started at the back of the garage was now spewing flames half way out the driveway. I was fortunate enough to have noticed the fire early, having been watching TV on the couch, so I was able to get the car out of the driveway and the cat out of the house in time. I count my blessings that I didn’t fall asleep on the couch and that Malachi didn’t run and hide under a bed somewhere. I’m also grateful the fire department got there quickly and was kind enough to bring my Wedding binder out to me before spraying down the house with water. Oh man, could you imagine if I would have lost that. They were even nice enough to remove pictures from the walls, move the couch, and cover everything up with plastic before hitting the wall with water. Thank you Austin Fire Department.

The next day was filled with contractors and insurance agents. Nationwide was very responsive and a specialist was on the phone with me most of the morning. They arranged for a cleaning crew, CRDN, and a restoration crew, Benjamin Moore, to come out to the house. But here’s where it gets interesting.

When I arrived at the house on Friday morning I found CRDN and John from Paul Davis Restoration (PDR) waiting for me. CRDN quickly started taking my clothing out of the house and getting all “fabric” stuff into boxes, bags, and hangers. I had set aside an “I need tomorrow” pile for them and the rest they would keep until I moved back into the house. (yea, more on that later). The crew at Paul Davis introduced themselves and talked to me about the work that they would do. I was impressed that they brought a full crew with them and they were ready to work.

Perhaps you caught that I mentioned Paul Davis Restoration (PDR) showed up but Nationwide was sending Benjamin Moore (BM). Yea. So about an hour into the morning this guy from BM shows up. He says he was sent by Nationwide to do restoration. Huh?

Apparently in all my confusion, I failed to realize that PDR was not the contractors sent by Nationwide. Turns out they were fire chasers. So I thought and contemplated this for a little while. On one hand I felt dooped because they never told me that was how they were there. They made me believe that Nationwide had sent them. On the other hand, they were still part of Nationwide’s Blue Ribbon Claim service, so I knew they were guaranteed, and they showed up with a full crew, ready to work. The BM guy just showed up by himself. Thinking on it for a while, I decided to stick with PDR, mostly because I was impressed that they had a full crew just ready to go. Who knows how this would have turned out had I gone with BM. I’ll never know.

After the weekend, and one bad hotel, I finally settled into my new home for 6 months: The Homewood Suites in north Austin. Nationwide had given me the option of staying in an apartment, but I worked out a deal with the staff at Homewood and got a good rate for the room, and I just preferred to stay there. I didn’t like the idea of schlepping my stuff between an apartment and the house, and I knew if I stayed in a hotel (suite) then I would be less likely to acquire a bunch of crap that I would then have to move again. Plus I was told that I should be back into the house by Christmas and once the contract with Nationwide was worked out the job would go quickly. (Hah). Anyway, I liked the hotel, it was convenient, but there were definitely times that I was ready to get out. You can’t really just relax anywhere and cooking on a small two range burner is hard. I looked at it as a challenge. Before I move off the hotel thing, I will say, the people at the Homewood were very nice and always helpful. I would recommend staying here.

By Monday all my stuff had been packed out by Garrett and Rich at PDR. They had sent me a list by the end of that week with all the contents except for my fridge contents. For some reason it took from 11.7.10 to 1.18.11 and about 6 emails/phone calls of asking to finally get those pictures. I don’t know why. The only other real interaction with the contents people over at PDR over the next 6 months was when I needed to grab something that was in the storage vault. Garret was pretty good about getting stuff pulled for me in a timely manner.

Also, Josh, from Restoration Cleaners did a great job taking out all my electronics and getting those cleaned. He even met me a few weeks later to return my small DVD player and TV so I could use them. Take note, these Restoration Cleaners people seem to know what’s going on. I really wish they had been the ones dealing with my clothes.

And now a bit of advice. If you ever have to leave your contents for someone else to do restoration, take pictures. LOTS of pictures. Take pictures of the house, take measurements, and document everything. This day, this time, just after the fire, was the right time to do this. As far as I could tell PDR took very little pictures, so when it came time to putting everything back, well, that was a bit of a problem. You’ll see.

About a week into the fire, I got my “emergency” clothing back from CRDN. This was the stuff that I requested they clean right away so I could have clothes to wear. I got the boxes from them and quickly noticed, “hey, some of these are not my clothes.” And it was done. They had lost all my confidence. If you can give me something that belongs to someone else, then what of mine did you give to them? Not only that, but I noticed some of my clothes seemed not right. My jeans were starched! Isn’t that weird to anyone else? I decided at that point there was no way I was letting them hang onto the rest of my stuff for months. I wanted it back, now. That would take about another week, and I’ll get to that more later.

By now it was 11.11.10 and Bill, my adjuster from Nationwide, and John, from PDR, are trying to hammer out an agreement for the scope of the work. It would take them until 12.21.10 to come to an agreement; 54 days after the fire occurred, not that I was counting or anything. Seriously, why did it take this long? Yep, I got the emails to prove it, so don’t try denying. So much for that “We should be done by Christmas” line. During this time, the only work being done on the house was some cleanup and floor drying. Thankfully my wonderful neighbor let me borrow her electricity for a few days to power the fans that ran 24/7 trying to dry out the hardwood floors so they could be saved. Thank you Lara!

About two weeks after the fire I told CRDN that I wanted all my stuff back. There was no way that I trusted them to keep everything. It took about 3 trips to get everything back. Not because there was so much clothing, but because they kept forgetting to give me stuff or they “lost” something, only to find it after I enquired about it several times. Even after all that they still managed to damage several items. The worst part was that they wouldn’t initially fess up to it.

For instance, they damaged the rubber on my climbing shoes. This is most likely because they didn’t know how to clean hard rubber and used too much ozone on them. Then they had the nerve to mark them “damaged before cleaning.” Oh no no no. I have been climbing for over 10 years, I can tell you for a fact that climbing rubber does not just magically split like this. It was cracked all over the soles. But it wasn’t only the climbing shoes, it was my leather jacket (reeked of cleaning fluid), my pea coat (shrunk, yes shrunk), oh and my thermarest. You know, that inflatable air pad you use when camping, yea, they stuck a number tag right through it. What do you think happens to an air mattress when you stick a hole in it? Useless. Then of course there was the belts that they lost, the hand made wool hat they shrunk, a pair of boots and sandals they damaged, a few missing pillows, a tent (yea, a $400 tent) that they “lost,” and other shirts that they either lost or damaged.

Okay, I understand that mistakes happen, but when there are 22 issues, those are no longer mistakes. Something fishy is going on. You don’t just loose a $400 tent. Someone steals it. And if you are a cleaning company, then you should know that you can’t dry wool or it will shrink. And you should know how to handle rubbers soled shoes, and if you don’t then you should fess up to it. I will NEVER recommend CRDN to anyone, ever.

Moving on.

On 12.6.10 I mailed Bill my first contents list. It included everything that I could remember from the garage and the totaled list from PDR. It also included a whole list of clothes that CRDN messed up. It took him about 2 weeks to get me my first check for the contents minus depreciation. It took a few phone calls to his supervisor and my insurance agent, but he finally got on it. I’m a bit upset that it took over 50 days to finally get a contract and a contents check. In fairness, Nationwide does offer to give you a initial supplement check to cover expenses, but at the time I said “no thanks” because I did not think it would take almost 2 months to get this stuff hashed out.

A point about insurance and contents and deprecation; the way insurance works is interesting. If an item costs $100 and has an expected life of 10 years (ie – tools) and you’ve had that item for 3 years, then you get .7*100 = $70 initially. If you have a replacement cost policy, like I do, that means that you will eventually get the full value of the replacement item. But only after you buy the item and submit the receipt, do you get the difference (or depreciation) back. So Nationwide sends a check for $70. You purchase it for $100. Submit the receipt. Wait two weeks or more. Then get $30 back.

Okay, I get why they do this. However, do we really need to be doing depreciation on items that are less than, say, $50? I mean come on, I have items on my list that are $3.00 and there is $0.40 of depreciation on there. So if I want that 40 cents back, I have submit a receipt and wait 2 weeks. I know what you’re thinking, why would you do that for only 40 cents, why not just let it go? Well I’ll tell you why. Because there are about 800 items on the list, and that 40 cents adds up quick. For my contents alone, there is over $6,000 of depreciation. But the thing I don’t get is, why an insurance company thinks they are saving money by taking such little amounts out of depreciation. Maybe it’s because most people won’t sit and save their receipts for the next year, so insurance makes out in the end? But what about the people like me that want their money back? I can just imagine how long it takes him to enter this stuff into the computer system and I can guess at what he is paid. I’m thinking that for him to enter 30 minutes worth of contents that only add up to $15 or less in deprecation, they are probably loosing money. But that’s just my thought.

So where was I? Oh yes, PDR and the restoration to the house. After Bill and John finalized their contracts, John and I sat down and negotiated our contract. I had PDR do a little extra work for me, some stainable pine trim instead of standard trim, and upgrade all the plumbing supply lines in the house to copper. It took a while, but we finally worked out an estimate for $70,000 for all the work. (this was actually fairly close to the $69,000 that Nationwide had specked. The hardest part about this was that John kept giving me a 20 page document outlining each thing they had to do and how much it cost. For example, one line item might say “detach and remove blinds $x” There are like 1000 of these things. This is the part of the process that I hated and the part that screwed me a little in the end.

Personally, I like to ask a contractor how much something costs and be done with it. If I’m doing landscaping, I don’t care how much each plant costs, I just want to know the total cost. I assumed, maybe foolishly, that when I agreed with John at PDR to a $70,000 price it was for everything. Little did I know, he had left things off his estimate that Bill had put on his, so he then charged me for these in the end. Perhaps I could have made a case that I never contracted them to do those things since it wasn’t on the signed contract, but more on that later. The point is you have to be very careful working with a contractor. You have to read every line item and make sure their items correspond to what the insurance says. When I was hashing out my upgrades with John at PDR there were so many mistakes that I found where they were overcharging me. And yet, in the end there were still mistakes that slipped through the cracks. Ugh.

As the weeks went on, work went on… slowly. I got so many emails that I can’t count, that went something like this “Another delay” “Hopefully done by this week” “I think this is the last problem.” I stopped reading them after a while. On March 18th we were still dealing with framing and gas lines and HVAC systems. No drywall was even started yet. That was also the day I noticed huge divots out of my concrete floor in the garage. Apparently the heat from the fire made the top coat brittle. Now I’m not saying who is at fault here, but I am saying that floor was in one piece just after the fire, and then not in one piece after the contractors put the new stack in. Just sayin. That was March 18th, today is June 9th. Today they finally finished the concrete floor after telling me on the 18th that they would check on the garage floor issue. But at this point, it doesn’t surprise me much. Why? Because way back before March, I learned that the PDR contractors cannot multitask. If they are working on the garage framing and it rains, they won’t move to the inside. If I give them a list, they will do 1 thing and call it done, and I have to hold their hand through it. Do you know I told PDR about 15 times to fix the front door, because it was coming off the hinges, and the contractors weren’t fixing it, so it was getting worse and worse. It took over a dozen phone calls and months, literally months, to get that front door fixed to where it would open and close properly. And don’t be giving me warping excuses. Sure, maybe there was some of that, but this started right after those hinges got loose and no one would fix them.

Each week, and then each day, I would go home and find what they were supposed to do, then find what they didn’t do, and then find what they didn’t do right. During all of April and May it was a constant battle telling them what they had to redo because they didn’t do it right in the beginning. From day 1 there was a complete lack of supervision on this project. Then, when they fired the first supervisor, Gary, and brought on a new guy, David, things didn’t get better. (btw – for those confused, John, is the office manager and Gary and David were the site supervisors. Mark, is the Austin manager, from what I can tell). Why have a supervisor if I’m the one that’s doing the supervising? I should have gotten paid for that.

Before I get too ahead of myself, I must go back a few months and tell you about the kitchen debacle. Yes, this one is quite funny and although it happened over a few months time, I’m going to just group it here into one mini story.

Because the fire was directly behind the kitchen wall they had to pull out all the kitchen cabinets. Fortunately, when I redid the kitchen 3 years ago, I had that exact same wall pulled down and re-drywalled. What’s fortunate is at that time I decided it would be a good idea to put insulation in the wall before I put the drywall back up. It was that insulation that saved the kitchen and my cabinets. Phew. None-the-less they had to come down. So PDR took out the cabinets and the granite and the oven and dishwasher and put them all in the center of the living room. Then the plumber came and took out the plumbing and the electrician took out all the electrical. The kitchen was now gutted. Oh wait, remember how I mentioned earlier that no one ever bothered to take pictures or measurements? Yep, here’s where the problems started. The electrician put back the outlets but in completely different places. Annoying, but not a huge deal. Though some did have to be moved because there was one right behind the faucet of the sink. Speaking of the sink. The plumber came back to re-pipe the kitchen and decided that I didn’t need my sink where it was before, instead he moved the plumbing 2 feet to the right! Yea, it wasn’t even in the same cabinet anymore. I walked in and instantly was like WTF?!? Why would you feel that it was okay to just move someone’s sink connections? It’s not like I can move the sink! So I told the plumber and he moved them back… or did he? Again I come home from work and I look at the new plumbing and say to David, from PDR, this still isn’t right. These are not in the same place as they were before. At least they were in the same cabinet, but still not right. This became very obvious when they put the cabinets back in and the holes in the back of the sink cabinet did not match up to the pipes. (I knew they wouldn’t). So what did the contractors do? They just cut new holes. So the back of my cabinet looked like swiss cheese. Ugh! This is not okay. First you don’t take pictures, then you don’t measure, then you have the cabinets right in the living room and you still don’t measure. Yea, they had to fix that one. Oh and then they installed the garbage disposal on the wrong side of the sink, and had the nerve to ask me “are you sure it was on the left?” Oh no, I’ve just been living here for over 3 years, all this time I must have been confused. Jerk. Then he tried to tell me that my garbage disposal was leaking into its casing and that I would have to replace it. Funny considering they didn’t say anything about this problem when they pulled it out, and if this problem did in fact exist before they touched it, then they would have found water in it at that time. And it’s funny that they mentioned this to me just after they got finished saying that it was very difficult for them to remove from the sink and they had to yank on it pretty hard to get it off. Hum, that doesn’t sound fishy at all. Then there was the matter of the wall cabinets. When they reattached them (with no picture reference) they attached them to the ceiling. I encourage you to go home and measure your cabinets from countertop to bottom, and you’ll notice they are probably 18”. No, these geniuses put them on the ceiling so now my cabinets were 3 feet over my countertops and I couldn’t reach the handles. Again WTF? Oh yea, and then there is the island issue. They had no idea how to put this back together. In the end I just gave up on that one because it was close enough. But they had boards sticking out 3” on one side, other areas not lined up, it was a disaster. And then there’s the issue of the granite next to the oven. Here they centered the granite over the little cabinet and didn’t even fix it to the floor, so the whole thing was wobbly. It should have been flush on the oven side, just like the other side of the oven. When I asked PDR why they didn’t hire a cabinet person to reinstall the kitchen they assured me that they did. Well then that guy needs to be fired. Oh, one more thing, they never installed the water line to the refrigerator (which was there before), so that had to be drilled into the cabinets to get it over there from the sink.

So that was the great kitchen saga, but there were other issues with PDR. And some of these are little issues, but they add up. The plumber was paid to remove all the galvanized supply line in the house, but I had to ask 3 times for him to do the shower line, which he kept forgetting to do. The construction crew kept using my toilet and then not flushing (because the water to the house was turned off), even after being asked to stop, ew. They constantly wore black-soled shoes on the floor, so there were always scuff marks. Oh yea, in the kitchen, they lost half the shoe molding and had to make it from scratch. The painters did a decent job on the walls, but when they stained the trim they only did one coat of stain, so it wasn’t as dark as it should have been. I called him out on it that day and he said “yea, we only do one coat” but then when the guys at PDR asked he said “oh, we did 2-3 coats.” Liar. When they put the new A/C box outside the house they didn’t use a pilot hole first, so when they drilled into the siding, it split. I’m not a contractor and I know enough that brittle things need pilot holes. They put a cracked piece of siding up on the front of the house and took months to finally replace it. The roofing guys, hired through PDR, broke my skylight then didn’t tell me about it until I walked in to see the damage. It took 6 weeks to get the new one in and even then it was installed wrong. Then PDR tried to tell me that’s just the way it was done (with 1” of flashing overhanging the glass that you could see when you looked up). When I proved to him that was incorrect it took another 2 tries to fix it right. They lost all the bedroom curtain hardware and the bathroom hardware, then asked me if I knew where they put it. It took them 3 tries to get the crawlspace door correct. Yes, they made me a door that had ½” gap and then after painting it, they pained the lock in the open position so you couldn’t even close it. They scuffed up the sink and the toilet. They clogged the toilet so it wouldn’t flush (see above). After the drywall guys were done, the contractors who put the range hood back in, put a hole in the wall next that then had to be patched. And these are just the things that I can think of off hand.

By the end of April work still was not finished on the house. Heck there were walls but no paint and no trim. My parents were coming down in the beginning of May, which I assumed would be far enough away from the fire (in October) that the house would be done, but of course it wasn’t and we had to stay in a hotel. My dad was pissed. Every week I would still get an email saying “were almost done” or “we should be done this week” or “this should be the last problem.” Ugh, I was so tired of hearing those words.

When I moved back into the house, I was surprised to see the pack-in crew did a good job at putting everything back in place. They did unpack my kitchen for me, but that’s the one part I wish they wouldn’t have done. I truly have no idea where half my dishes are and I need to go back and do a full inventory. They did manage to loose the small pieces to my statue that I bought in Mexico, but at the time, that was the only pack-in problem that I found. Since that date (now 6.10.11), I have discovered that they scratched up my dining room table and nicked divots into the sides. I am currently with holding the rest of their money until they agree to replace the table or fix it. But really, how do you fix divots? You can’t just add material. The funny thing was they said to me “we will look at our “before” pictures and determine when the scratches happened.” Okay, you do that. First of all, I know you did it, so I’m not worried. And second, the only picture that I’m accepting is one of the table in the house before you moved it. And third, I’ll be checking that picture for photoshop touches; so don’t try to fool me. But again, I’m not concerned, because I know these scratches came from moving and I know they did it.

The first night back in the house, May 13th (yes, that would be 166 days since the fire), I discovered something very interesting. Besides a whole list of wrongs, I noticed that 1) the shower didn’t work and 2) the toilet didn’t work! Are you kidding me! First of all, what city inspector passed the plumbing inspection with the only toilet and shower in the house not working. Someone wasn’t doing their job. And secondly, what contractor tells you that it is okay to move back into your house without making sure the plumbing, toilet, and shower work! I was so beyond pissed at this point. Although I’m sure the shower not working didn’t matter that much, because they took down my shower rod and never put it back up, so taking a shower without getting the whole bathroom wet would have been difficult. And to top it off, the guy didn’t show up to fix the plumbing until 5pm the next evening. When in the process of fixing it he scraped up the toilet and the bathtub more.

Since moving back into the house about a month ago, it has been a constant battle with PDR getting things fixed. I would leave for the weekend and give David, the ‘supervisor’ a list of things that still needed to be addressed, then I would come back only to find about ¼ of the list done and of what had been done ½ was done incorrectly. The most annoying part was that David would call me and say “okay, I only have one thing left to do.” Seriously, how can you be more explicit with someone. I gave you a list, just follow it! At this point we were in the middle of May and some of the things on the list included the garage floor (still not even addressed even though they knew about it since March 18th ), there were still no blinds in the house, kitchen blinds were missing, curtain rods were missing, siding and paint issues outside, floor was scuffed up, pieces of glass were missing from the bathroom cabinet, hardware was missing from the bathroom, and the list goes on and on. Oh yea, and the pine trim they had put around the windows were separating from the wall. Apparently they decided to caulk between the window and the trim and then paint the caulk. The only problem was they didn’t do a great job, so when it dried it cracked the paint and the board started to separate from the wall. It looked really ugly and like a child had done the work. Even though it was on the list, I had to tell David over 3 times to fix it and I had to mark all the spots with blue tape, because apparently he was too lazy to go around and look with his own eyes. Then there was the matter that in some spots the painters actually got the paint ½ way onto the wood trim. There are spots where the line isn’t even close, and yet there are other spots that are perfect. This told me that either there were two guys doing the job, and one guy needs to be fired, or there was one guy who just got sloppy at the end. If I wanted it sloppy I would have done it myself, not paid someone else to do it. Then there was the issue of the back window. The window had been opened, then not closed all the way, then painted shut. So the window was painted shut and instead of the lock being locked, it was painted with the lock in the open position. Again, it took 3+ requests to get that fixed. Then there was the great kitchen blind debacle. Let me enlighten you.

When I moved back into the house, there were no blinds in the kitchen windows. After asking a few times, the contractor finally found them and determined that they smelled like smoke (duh). So he cleaned them, or tried to clean them. But they still smelled like smoke and they were stained. Okay, so we need to replace them. That would have been nice to know 166 days ago, as there would have been plenty of time to do this, but now I’m living in my house, and my neighbor can just look through the windows and see me walking around. I told David that I needed new ones ASAP. So he went to Bed Bath and Beyond (BBB) and looked for some. He texted me some different options and said that they had no roller shades, but would I mind getting Roman shades instead. Okay, no problem. I picked a color and he purchased them. Later that weekend he texted me “The blinds for the kitchen cannot be cut down to fit inside the window. I can put the larger size on the face of the window or special order the size to fit inside the window. Which would you want me to do?” To which I replied “Inside the window. Don’t block the pine trim. You should have measured.” And he said “I did. They didn’t have the inside size in stock.” Ugh. Why would you buy blinds that you know don’t fit, just because they don’t have the ones that you need. I learned that the ones he bought were 31,” and my windows are 30” wide. So he orders new ones and tells me that they should be in within 3 days. A week later (a week!) he brings the blinds over and puts one up. It’s too narrow! There is ½” gap on either side and it looks terrible. Imagine an adult wearing a child size t-shirt. That’s what it looked like. I was so mad. I’m like “David, these don’t fit.” To which he said “well, this was the only size they had. It was either 29” or 31” and you didn’t want the 31” blinds.” Well I don’t want blinds that are too small either! Why would you even suggest that I get these blinds if you know that they do not come in the 30” size that I need for my window!?! He told me “well, I don’t know, I don’t really do blinds.” Ugh, then ask! Ask someone who does know if you don’t. I was so beyond mad I told him to take down his blinds and get out, now. I assumed when he was ordering a custom size that he was getting the correct custom size. I was wrong. To this day new blinds have supposedly been ordered but have not yet arrived.

And you know what’s funny. About ½ way through May, John asked me if I would sign the certificate of completion so they could start the process of the mortgage company paying out the rest of the project because it would take them a few weeks and “they were almost done” at the house. After all there were just “a few quick fixes” left to do, and they didn’t want to have to wait a few more weeks for their money. What nerve! No way am I saying this house is complete before it is actually done. And no way am I giving you money when, at that time, you hadn’t even started fixing the garage yet. How stupid do they think that I am? Maybe they can bully around most of their clients, but not this girl, no way. I told him “maybe if you would have had this project done 2 months ago, you would have your money by now.” Yes, I really did say that.

So now we are at June 10, 2011 and I’ve been living in the house almost a month now. I’d like to say that everything is completed, but it isn’t. SweetWater Landscaping did do the landscaping yesterday, and they did a beautiful job. It really looks amazing. For those wondering, the half the front yard had to be redone because the heat from the fire and the flames and then all the debris killed the front yard and the flower beds. Only the parsley survived, somehow. Oh and as an interesting side note, the only thing in the garage that survived was the silicon bakeware that my parents got me for Christmas a few years back. My garage fire should be a commercial for that company. It was in perfect shape. Amazing.

What are not done yet are the kitchen blinds, the front door, and now the dining room table. The front door has to be repainted because they matched the front door step to a different shade of red than the front door and it would be really nice if they actually matched. Don’t ask me how that happened. The kitchen blinds are supposedly on order, but who knows. At least I still have about $40,000 that I’m holding back from PDR until they take care of these last issues.

194 days later and I’m exhausted.

As this process finishes up, I can only hope that I can get PDR out of my life by the end of the month. Lately it’s been a pain working with them and also working with my insurance adjuster, Bill, who apparently only responds to one email a day and usually with a one or two word answer. Today I got a long email from him but it only answered one of the 4 that I had sent him yesterday. I think I need to call him now.

PDR has been trying to slip in additional charges onto my bill for work that they said they did but they forgot to put into our contract. For example, reinstall of the appliances. When PDR made their contract, they copied Nationwides scope of work. Only they did it by hand and left off some items “by accident.” Now they say that I owe them $300 for reinstalling the appliances. I accused them of shady practices because they “accidently” left several things off their contract. But they said that since they did the work I should pay them. Both of us have points and if I really wanted to be an ass I could, and probably should after all this grief, tell them that the install of appliances wasn’t in the original contract that we had together, their fault, so technically I didn’t approve them to do that and they shouldn’t have done it. Since it wasn’t in what I approved then I’m not responsible. Of course, that being said, I’m really trying not to be an ass and I know that karma is a b*tch. So I will pay them what I see is fair… only after they fix my front door, kitchen blinds, and dining room table of course.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little story and I hope that perhaps you’ve gained some insight into the world of restoration and insurance.

All in all, Nationwide was good about helping me out, helping with PDR claims, allowing me to live where I wanted, and paying back my claims. Bill, although it takes him what I would consider too long to get back to emails and such, is very fair. He has only questioned PDR stuff that I would have questioned myself, and he has never once questioned my claims for my personal contents. That is probably because I have always been up front and honest with him and I deliver stuff to him in a nice excel spreadsheet with all receipts in order and number coordinated. I wish Nationwide would have a better depreciation policy, but that’s more of a pain in the butt thing than anything else. They have also been understanding that I can’t possibly remember everything that was lost in the fire and there will be “oh yea, what happened to that” moments where I remember something else that I was lost or I had stored in the garage. Or when I finally move in only to realize that my bed sheets where destroyed by CRDN and no longer fit the bed.

Paul Davis Restoration has gone through quite the changes over the last 8 months. There have been several people to be let go and several more to be hired new onto my project. I think they have a long way to go. I believe they need to fire most of their crew and get new workers (okay, keep the electrician, he seemed to be the only good contractor). With unemployment so high, there are plenty of people who are looking for work and who would surely jump at the chance to have a job. There were way too many mistakes on this project and a complete lack of supervision. Even the “supervisor” needed a better supervisor and unfortunately then fell on me. At this point, I would have to say that I would NOT recommend them to anyone. As nice as they seem in person, they are just too sloppy and unorganized to be a good company.