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 but I modified it to give it more of a lemon kick and to add more filling to each cookie.


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


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.


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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

So close...

Okay, so the cat is out of the bag, and for those who don't yet know at work, well, none of you actually read this anyway, so who cares.


Yep, I'll be moving to Houston in July and I'll be putting my house up for sale sometime in the next two weeks. Just getting all the little stuff finished now. Then I get to restart the project all over again with Jeremy's house. hehe. Just kidding.

Okay, maybe not. But at least I know what colors I want to repaint. He has these awful brown walls, that just have to go. Don't worry, the red kitchen is staying.

Speaking of getting stuff done. I'm hoping that I can convince my insurance agent to make me and my contractor his number one priority for the rest of the week. I really just want to be done with them. They still owe me blinds. Perhaps you read all about that debacle (see below if you haven't) and they need to repaint my front door (yea, lets just say they matched the step to a different color red than the front door). But otherwise we are done! Which means they just have to argue over supplements yet and we are home free. I think I'm going to get a procedure done where I permanently erase them from my memory.

Is that possible?

Besides spending my nights dealing with all their crap, I have managed to find some time to finalize wedding invitation proofs. The invite place sent me the final draft tonight and once I print them out tomorrow to make sure all the sizes are correct, then they will be sent off to the printer. Hopefully I'll get those back next week sometime. And with luck there will be no issues. I'm having them designed at The Paper Place in Austin. So far I've been happy with their work. Some little issues, but they seem to be pretty quick at fixing any mistakes they make or other things I want to try (different fonts etc.) At this stage, I'd recommend them to others.

Yesterday I got to do something VERY fun. I had my first dress fitting! Thanks Kristen and Christy for coming with me. Yep, that's all I'm gonna say about that!

Well Malachi is very disappointed that she hasn't gotten on my lap yet tonight and I need to pack for some Mt. Biking tomorrow. Good night everyone

Monday, June 6, 2011


I am exhausted. Every day I think I'm going to come home and work on something fun, secret, but fun. (yea yea, you won't get to find out until after October). Anyway. Everyday I come home to have 'me' time, and every day there's something the contractor has screwed up that I have to deal with.

We're down to three unresolved items yet. Garage floor - needs to be refinished, Kitchen blinds - that's a whole story in itself, Crawl Space Door.

The crawlspace door is finally fixed, but not yet fully painted. This isn't a big task, but something that should get done.

The garage floor was refinished Friday, but the constant 100+ temperatures here in Austin have made the drying a little weird, and they need to add a finishing coat to the top. That will be done tomorrow. Okay, I can't really blame them for this, except that it should have been handled weeks ago.

Then there are the kitchen blinds. ugh. For some reason in the last 6 months, PDR (paul davis restoration) failed to mention that the roller blinds were tarnished in the fire. Okay, makes sense, but would have been much less of a pain in the ass had I known about it 6 months ago. Instead I just found out two weeks ago. So David, my new supervisor on the job, told me he was going to replace them.

He couldn't find the roller shades, so he asked me if this other kind was okay. Sure, they looked fine. So he buys them and sends me a message while I'm in Houston that weekend.

David - "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 do you want me to do?"

Me - "Inside the window. Don't block the pine trim. You should have measured. ;)"

David - "I did. They didn't have the inside size in stock."

Okay, seriously, WTF? Fixing something wrong is not fixing it at all.

So he orders the size that will fit... or so I think.

Today he stops by with the new blinds and hangs one of them in the kitchen. An event that took him over 30 minutes. When I look at the blind I realize that it's too narrow. So I tell him. "David, these don't fit" At which point he tells me that my windows are 30" and they only make this blind in 29" and 31".

"It looks okay." He tells me.


At this point I tell him he needs to take them down, return them, and then leave. I'm uber frustrated. Seriously, why did you recommend a blind to me that didn't come in the size window that I had? Why would you pick a blind that will either be 1" too wide or 1" too narrow?

This is what I have to come home to. I'd rather be at work for 16 hours a day.

Don't even get me started about how the front door step and the front door are different shades of red, even though they were supposed to be the same color. It makes my head hurt.

Oh yes, then there's my insurance agent, who told me on Friday that he would review my landscaping bid Monday morning and get back to me ASAP. Yea, it's 9:48 monday evening. You think he'll still call sometime before midnight? So much for getting on the landscapers schedule this week.

Very sad face. :(

So yes, now I am exhausted. But tomorrow will be a big day (not contractor or house or work related). So I'm going to sleep now. Good night.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Gelatin Bow and Butterfly

A few weeks ago I took this awesome gelatin class from my wedding cake designer, Heidi, over at Envy Pastries. During the class she taught us how to make these beautiful, fully editable, gelatin bows with butterflies on top. Now, I wouldn't really recommend eating these little guys, but you COULD if you really desired. It kinda tastes like plastic.

This is the finished product

And here is a small one that I made using some leftover material

The awesome thing about these is that they are SO easy to make! There is a little prep time, but it's not too bad.

So the first step is to make the gelatin. This is your prep work. You'll want to mix 2 1/2 parts water to 1 part gelatin. If you want your product to be a little stiffer, add more gelatin, a little more flexible, use this ratio. VERY IMPORTANT: gelatin is NOT Jello. If you want to use the jello from the store, you MUST use sugar-free jello or buy the small packs of gelatin. The sugar in regular jello will not allow it to setup properly.

In a microwave safe bowl, mix the gelatin and water together and allow it to sit for a minute or two. Then in 10 second increments heat it up slowly in the microwave until it has a nice runny consistency. You want to heat the gelatin evenly and not burn it, so find some patience and do this in 10 second increments, stirring between each one.

Once you have a nice "clear" runny consistancy (it took me about 6-7 turns in the microwave), then you'll want to let it sit for 5-10 minutes and allow the scum to raise to the top. This is the part that you don't want. After it has formed you'll want to take a spoon and scrape as much of it off as possible.

At this point add in any food coloring and/or glitter that you want. Yep, glitter, looks really pretty in these. But if you are going to say this is editable, make sure you get editable glitter (disco dust works great).

At this point you are ready to make your sheets. Take a texture sheet and a cheap but decent soft paintbrush. I get mine from home depot, the kind that is white on the bristles.

Dip the brush into the gelatin, and working quickly and sloppy, just go lightly over the texture sheet (or butterfly sheet, or whatever). If you make it too thick, it will be hard to bend and work with. We're talking a very light coating here. And don't worry about getting it on the counter, if you do, just let it dry and it will peel right up.

Now pick up the sheet and move it somewhere it can lay flat. If you don't move it, it will stick to that spot on your counter.

And wait... and wait... and wait.

Don't touch it!

When the gelatin is setup, it will come completely off the texture sheet all by itself. If you have to peel it off, then its not ready. This could take 6-8 hours. So if you're planning on making a lot of these things, you better plan ahead.

If you only have 1 texture sheet, but you need to make several gelatin sheets, you can let your gelatin mixture settle on the counter, just cover it. (and this is true when you're working too, if you feel its getting too sticky and not runny enough). When you need it again, just pop it back in the microwave or 10 seconds at a time to make it runny again. You can skip the skimming step here because you've already done that. The gelatin mix should hold and be reheat-able for 1-2 days before you should toss it and make new stuff.

Once dry you can do pretty much anything with this stuff. It is very flexible, not really delicate, and lasts forever. You can cut it with a paper cutter, scissors, scrapbooking scissors, whatever you'd like.

For the bow, the strips were cut into 1/2" strips, and 1/2 the length of the sheet (about 1/2" x 6"). Each piece was then curled over and affixed with a small amount of liquid gelatin. Use a paperclip to hold the ends together until the gelatin drys.

Once the gelatin is dry (a few seconds) you can then decorate the edges with disco dust. Instead of using gelatin for this, use piping gel as your 'glue'. Spread a little out onto a plate then dip the edges of the bow into the gel and then into some glitter.

Once they've had a few moments to sit and dry, cut the bottom corners off each loop to form a point. Don't make your point too sharp, or you'll cut off all the 'glue' you used to hold the loop together.

To assemble the bow, put about a quarter size glob of liquid gelatin on a plate. Assemble the bottom row of loops using 6 or 8 to do this. Make sure each tip gets into the gelatin, so it all stays together. Next, add a bit more gelatin, if necessary, and do the next layer of loops. Remember, bows are random, so don't worry about making this perfect. Continue with layers until you fill it all out.


If you've made butterflies, cut them out of the gelatin (making sure not to separate the wings) and decorate them with piping gel and glitter or editable markers. You can make the body out of fondant that is colored black (or whatever your heart desires).

Finally, use some piping gel to affix the butterfly to the bow and hold there for a few seconds while it dries.

Congratulations, you've now made a bow and beautiful butterfly! See, wasn't that easy?

To find out more about making other gelatin items, check out a few other pages that I found.
Country Kitchen