Friday, May 1, 2015

Red Tape Diary Entry #4 (Benches and Urinals)

Chaz and I avoid the VA. Why?! Because it is always a headache unless we are dealing with our care team only. Our VA care team knows us. They know if we ask for something we need it. They aren't always able to help, but they are for sure on our side. And best of all our care team doesn't treat us like we are a hassle. Our care team treats us like family, which is why we love working with them.

Chaz uses a few medical supplies every single day. Due to the frequency of use, they wear out and need to be replaced. We do not ask for items to be replaced unless they actually need to be replaced. It truly bothers me that we have to go through OT to get these items and when we do we have to have to endure the Spanish Inquisition.

Why so many questions?! Well it turns out some of our veterans are abusing the system. They are obtaining medical supplies and selling them on them online. So apparently the answer to this problem is treat every veteran and caregiver as if they are going to do the same.

We needed a new shower bench. I am not sure if this is the first or second one we have asked for since January 2013, but I really don't care at this point. I threw away Chaz's old shower bench. Why? Because it was covered in rust and mold. He uses it every single day, sometimes more than once a day and it was time for it to be replaced. I know we have used it for quite sometime so I was more than happy to toss it for him.

Since beginning of this journey, we have always had two shower benches. One stays in the bathroom for daily use and one stays packed up for travel. When the one in the bathroom wears out, I toss it and replace it with the travel bench and then we ask for a new one. We get a new one about once a year, it's really not that often and we couldn't remember when we asked for the last one.

I take very good care of his shower benches. They are broken down and cleaned when I clean the bathroom and we wipe them off with disinfectant wipes everyday since that padding directly touches his skin. I was informed this week that his shower benches are supposed to last for 5 years and next time I shouldn't throw it away I should bring it in with me and they will decide if he needs a new one.

Um no, OT does not make the call on infectious diseases. Chaz is prone to collect all sorts of fun stuff. We are still rebuilding his immune system after three flesh eating bacterias, shingles and I can't even remember what else in the span of less than 4 years. This would be why we clean and dispose like we do. That bench needs to be cleaned daily and since we do it breaks down the padding cover. And seriously he and I will determine when he needs a new bench not people who see him for the first time and don't take the time to read the chart. FYI there is no way in Hell those benches will last 5 years with daily use and cleaning. That is just so not happening.

They let us know that the bench Chaz needed had to be ordered, we said ok, then they tried to give him a different bench because they had it. That bench would not work because Chaz needs the padding for his back injury. We tried the cheaper bench while at Walter Reed and it is not as supportive nor is it comfortable for him. We had to once again justify and argue for his needs.

Again new people, not reading the chart trying to decide what needs to happen versus people who deal with his needs everyday. Now take a second and think about our veterans who don't have caregivers advocating for them and insisting on the medical staff acknowledging their needs. 

Then I asked for more urinals. Chaz cannot reach any of the toilets here without transferring so he has to use urinals multiple times per day. Those things get disgusting quick. We bleach them and yuck they just have to go. I asked for three and I was returned with "Why so many?" I said because we have three bathrooms and I think he shouldn't have to wait for us to get him one, they should be right there. (Crazy, I know.)

It was at this point I was enlightened about veterans getting equipment and selling it. I informed them that I will sign something agreeing to not selling his equipment online or period. Which would not be a bad idea, just saying. Or actually keep up with the veteran's equipment requests and when you see repetitive requests, then make them bring in the equipment that the replacement request is for. (Yes I'll save the urinals for them and bring them in.) Everything is in the system, you can pull it up and look at it. I've seen Chaz's and I bet they can as well.

If I had it my way we would have three new urinals delivered at least once a month and the bench once a year, but no I have to go through the yards of red tape to get them from the VA. So I just buy them when we need them and request them from the VA when I think about it. Then when I think about it, I regret it.

Here's what I will never understand. If you are so bitter and complacent about your job, then quit. I understand working with people is hard. Working with our veterans can be very hard. Some of them are so angry and it is hard to deal with that anger. However 99.9% of them are amazing Americans. We should all focus on that. Don't let the rotten apples ruin the bunch to where you treat everyone as scammer. We are all so tired that we want to make our VA experience as delightful as possible. We really don't want to be there, so please don't make it any worse than it has to be. Most importantly remember that if it wasn't for our nation's heroes you would be unemployed. Be thankful for them, because they not only served and sacrificed for you, they are your entire reason for employment. And most importantly listen to the caregiver who is with them every single day and knows their needs way better than you do.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole


Many people have their own version of this dish. I agreed to start sharing recipes so here's another one, but I have to tell the story of how it was renamed in our home. It is no secret that Derek McConnell left a big hole in our hearts. Our family was so blessed to have him and his family in our lives and we think of him often. We always think about him when we have Tater Tot Casserole.

I remember the first time I met Siobhan and Krystina in the hallway of Walter Reed-Bethesda. Our family had just returned from Tennessee and I had been trying to meet them before we left, but things were just so crazy for both of our families. Finally we made it happen and offered to bring dinner to make up for my just now getting there.

Derek was not able to eat yet, but Siobhan and Krystina told him all about the casserole. When I finally met Derek he informed me that he would need for me to make the dish again and just for him. Of course I agreed. I cannot remember how many times I made it for him, but I know it was more than once. And he cracked me up with his comments every time I did.

My favorite time came when our friends, Jessie and Emily, joined us for dinner. And no kidding they decided wars could be ended if I would just make that casserole and pass it out. I was even able to snap a pic of the guys while they were chatting. This picture is definitely one of my favorites.


The last time I saw Derek I promised him the next time I visited I would cook him his own pan and I promised to not make him share. I still remember that promise as clearly as I remember his smile.

After Derek passed, I made the casserole one night and the girls dubbed it "Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole" and so it shall always remain. All great recipes deserve to be shared. This one is loved by so many and I hope your family enjoys it as well. I do ask that if you do make it, you share Derek's courageous story and pray for his family and all those his life touched just as we do when we have it here in our home.

Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole
1lb ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can cream of celery
1 can cream of mushroom
1 bag of tater tots (we use Ore-Ida's mini-tots)
1 bag of shredded cheese (I use a mixed blend that includes cheddar)

Preheat the over to 400 degrees. Spray a 13x9 pan with cooking spray, pour the tater tots in and place in the oven. Brown turkey and onion together. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Once it is thoroughly cooked, add soups. Let this simmer on low until your tots are slightly browned.

Once the tots are slightly browned, turn the oven to 375. Remove the tots and pour meat/soup mixture on top. Return to oven for 20 minutes. When either the 20 minutes is up or you can see it bubbling, remove it, sprinkle cheese all over the top and return it to the oven to melt the cheese. Once the cheese is melted, remove it from the oven, let it cool and enjoy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Boot

Sometimes you can make all the plans you want and then other things happen.....

Yesterday was April 15, Tax Day, the day I celebrate because I get to cut my work load back the next day. I should have been celebrating, right?! Well instead I am mad at the world...

This past weekend we traveled to Owensboro, KY for cutie #2's dance competition. She scored a Gold and here are my two favorites pics from her performance.

We are so proud of her for practicing so hard and rocking a solo on stage. We are constantly amazed at her 9 year old skills!! We truly hope she continues to dance. She is simply amazing to watch.

The night before the competition I was walking around the hotel room and the sofa bed attacked my left foot out of nowhere. I just don't understand why it would do that.....Ok truth, I am ridiculously clumsy and I was tired and I kicked that sofa bed with full force. I sucked it up and limped through it until I could see the doctor (I do not do ERs unless it is actually urgent).

The outcome....not broken, but severely inflamed and sprained. This guy and I will be really good friends for the next few weeks.We are already having issues in our relationship, but I am hoping to work things out in a positive way.
I am not one to complain, but damnit this sucks. I planned to start working on the house after tax season. I have so many little things that have to get done, but they all involve standing and/or walking and I cannot do that right now. There's just no way, my foot swells too quickly. And of course our delightful rainy weather isn't helping my attitude.

I know it is only temporary. I know this too will pass. I just hate being slowed down to slug pace, a limping slug pace at that. I operate at 100 miles per hour all the time and I have been placed in a school zone. It is hard for me to slow down especially when we have so much going on.

Yesterday I told Chaz (and myself) that everything else has worked out, this will too. I told a friend that apparently the good Lord decided I really needed to slow down. I am trying to acknowledge his plans are always better than mine and time always flies and this will be behind me soon. I am trying to focus on all the things I can accomplish while sitting. Looks like I'll finally get to read some more books. 

I think when you are a caregiver your anger triples when you are hurt or sick. I know mine has. I have already apologized to my family a few times for being snappy. You really do forget how much pain can control your attitude when you cannot control the pain. Luckily my hubby knows a lot about pain and totally understands where I am right now. He also knows I don't like to ask for help (one of the many things we have in common). It is extremely comforting to have a hubby that totally gets it. And yes my injury is extremely minor compared to his, but I appreciate him so much for letting me whine and complain.

I think this boot is here to teach me a lesson in humility and to just slow me down for a bit. We all know I, like my hubby, cannot be slowed down for too long.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Allen Family Taco Soup

I have too many friends out there asking me for my recipes. I just keep forgetting to share and send them. 

I decided that going forward when I am cooking one of my family's favorites I am going to try my best to post the recipe on here. I hope that our family favorites can also be your family favorites.

I love simple easy, at least somewhat healthy meals. And I LOVE my crock pot.

Here's one of the big hits in our home. 

Taco Soup
1lb ground turkey
1 chopped medium sized onion
1 package of taco seasoning (I like the low sodium Old El Paso.)
1 can of mild rotel
1 can of no salt added whole kernel yellow corn
1 can of no salt added black beans
1 can of no salt added kidney beans

Turn your crock-pot on high. Toss in ground turkey and chopped onion. (My ground turkey is usually frozen and I still toss it straight in.) Allow the turkey to brown. Add the taco seasoning and cans of rotel, beans and corn to your browned meat and onions. Stir and add water. I usually add two cans of water by using one of the bean cans. Turn crock-pot down to low and allow everything to cook for at least two hours.

We serve ours with shredded cheese and tortilla chips. We like to crush the chips up and add them to the soup and top it off with cheese. You could also add salsa, sour cream or even some guacamole.

Enjoy!!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Glass Ceiling and the Pat on the Head.....

I remember being very young when my Granddaddy told me that if I wanted to succeed in the South I had to be able to argue with a brick wall and make it want to fall down. Of course I had no idea what that meant. We all know we Southerners have some crazy sayings. Now as an adult I see exactly what he was saying. He was preparing me for my future.

We are all so judgmental by nature (and yes I am including myself in that statement). No matter how hard we try not to, we still judge people as the walk into our lives.

I find myself in rooms all the time now where I am the only woman. Sometimes I am the actual authority on the subject matter, but because I am a woman I have to prove myself 2-3 times more than the men would in that same room.

Nothing makes me more angry then when I have all sorts of facts and statistics and then I am given a pat on the head and disregarded. I can instantly tell my words are being discredited just because I am woman. I have had it happen again and again and again in my life.

I'll never forget the history professor who told me, "The only significant role women have had in history was giving birth to significant men." I kid you not, the guy actually said that and he has a Ph. D in history. Scary huh?!

Fast forward to today. I still have a glass ceiling to break through and constantly get those "good girl" pats on the head. Seriously my temper has ran out of patience.

Why does this frustrate me so much?
  • I am not a pet, you shouldn't pat me on the head. I didn't just play fetch.
  • I am very well educated both through formal education and life itself. 
  • I don't just talk to hear myself speak. I usually know what I am talking about and if I don't I'll be the first to admit it.
  • I may be young, but I have been through more Hell than most of America will ever see.
  • I married an Infantry soldier, that pretty much speaks for itself.
One would hope that in 2015 women could be valued as equals. I have found that I am the most valued through the military system. My opinion is not only heard but is sometimes even requested. I never enlisted into the service. However because I stayed by my husband's side and because I have helped so many other families, the military recognizes some value in my opinion. I wish I could translated this equality to the civilian sector. 

I feel like I am in an uphill battle on a slippery slope with civilians. I even feel that some think that because my husband was in the Army and because he was injured, then I am less intelligent and it even generates pity from them. I have found that I keep his injuries quiet at first because once civilians hear about the injuries and then can't hear anything else. I am looked at with total pity.

Let me be clear, I do not want your pity. I want you to listen to our families and join the team to help me help us. I can assure you that the TV shows and movies you have watched are no comparison to what is actually going on. You need to hear the actual stories from the people living it everyday.

I realize people don't want to hear the truth. They want to continue to believe that the government takes care of our veterans and their families. They would rather just pat us on the head and move on. That is the easier thing to do.

No one wants to believe that we have to jump through forty rounds of red tape and almost smash someone's head into a wall for a $10 piece of medical equipment that would make our veteran's life better. No, civilians want to remain blissfully ignorant to the needs of our veterans and their families. If they stay ignorant, then they won't get upset. If they don't get upset, then they don't have to do anything to help. After all, ignorance is bliss.

There are days I wish I could return to ignorance. I wish I didn't know a lot of the things I know. But if I returned to ignorance that would also mean I would not have learned about the true needs of our families and I wouldn't have ideas for solutions. I, like so many other women in my situation, have real solutions to the very real problems going on. We all deserve to be heard and I hope that together we can stop the pats on the head and break the damn glass ceiling.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Checking Off the Bucket List - Disney Style

Looking back now, I have realized more than once 2014 drown me in drama and chaos too many times. I found myself over scheduled and over committed way too many times. Throughout the year I kept making vows to myself that things would get better if I just got past this day or this week or this month. You know what?! That's gets old....

Late 2014, I decided 2015 was going to be different and I was going to find the time for my goals again. I realized that the only way to make it better was for me to put my foot down and say no to some things and say yes to me and my needs and to the needs of my family.

Like any dreamer, I have always had a bucket list. It's never been long, but it was mine. Chaz and I even shared a few of the items. After he was injured, the most amazing opportunities found us. Some of them also were on our list. It was pretty stinking cool to be able to check those off together. My favorite was the trip to Colorado to ski together. Thanks to his Physical Therapist and the Vail Veterans Program he achieved a goal and checked off an item on the shared bucket list.

On my list was "complete a half marathon before age 40." Well peer pressure sometimes makes you upgrade a bucket list item to a challenge. Demetria convinced me I could complete the Glass Slipper Challenge at Walt Disney World. This meant I had to complete a 10k (6.2 miles) on Saturday morning, then complete a half marathon (13.1 miles) on Sunday morning.

I began training late Summer of 2014 and I am pleased to report I not only accepted her challenge, but I completed it with her by my side!

I have learned races are about the bling so here's mine from those two days.

After I registered for the race in July, I received an email from Disney Cruise Line about a special race deal. Also on my bucket list was "Take the girls on a Disney Cruise."

I had yet to take a true vacation from my job, even though I have worked there for years. I decided we should go for it. Chaz agreed and the girls were ecstatic. When booking this cruise following the Princess racing series, you also earn the option to participate in the Castaway Cay Challenge. This was a 5k (3.1 miles) on Disney's Private Island, Castaway Cay. I accepted that challenge as well. Here's me with a two new friends I met on the course.
After hearing about all the races I was completing on our vacation, Cutie #1 informed me that she wanted to participate in a 5k. The cruise offered a separate 5k almost immediately following my Challenge 5k. Yes, I signed us up. Wednesday morning I completed my 5k, went back on the boat, found my family and then I went with her for another 5k. Here we are just past the finish line.
Yes I received two Castaway Cay 5k medals and the Challenge one. ;)

Cutie #2 wanted to join us as well, but she was not old enough.She has informed us that there will be a next time.

If you are keeping track that's 25.5 miles for me within 5 days and 6 medals total. And yes I am totally fine. No injuries, just tired feet to report, which have since recovered just fine. I actually feel pretty freaking awesome considering what I accomplished in 5 days. I love that I also sparked the cuties curiosity. I hope that this is the beginning of many 5k run/walks together.

For all of you non-athletes, like me, out there....I probably had the worst times in the races possible. I walk way more than I run. The important thing is I show up, I do my best and I complete them!! If I can do this with a busted knee and all sorts of crazy little medical problems, you can too! You just have to train like I did.

Always remember it's not about the time, it's about crossing the finish line! If I can do it, you can too!! Find a 5k in your area and get moving. I promise you'll love yourself for it.

Here's another idea, put "complete a 5k" on your bucket list so you can check it off and feel even more accomplished. ;)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Your Voicemail is Full!

My voicemail has been full for a quite a while now. Do you know why? Because as fast as I empty it, it fills back up. I am chasing my tail at this point. So I give up.

I kid you not, I sat down one day and got a chance to delete four voicemails while I was eating lunch. Within the course of that day I was right back to "voicemail full" flashing on my screen. 

My friends and co-workers are totally aware of the problem. We have all decided that since people send me an email or text right after they leave the voicemail that it is easier to just eliminate the voicemail option and let them go straight to email and text.

Apparently taking this option away upsets some people. It appears that I am supposed to have all communication options available to strangers I do not know and who do not pay our cell phone bill at all times.

People who know and/or work with me know I will get to them as soon as I can. But strangers, well they like to lay on the guilt. I find that quite comical. I have become immune to superficial guilt these days. I love the emails with the guilt trip of "Since you did not take my call...." and "I tried to leave you a voicemail but your voicemail was full. You should empty it." I am not sure what people think these statements will accomplish.

There is usually a very good reason I didn't take your call. Let me take you through my top ten reasons I didn't take your call. These are in no particular order.
  1. Shockingly my cell phone is not always glued to my hand. I do choose to set it down and walk away from it a few times a day.
  2. My family needed my attention at that time your call came in.
  3. Sometimes my phone is dead and needs to be charged. I try to avoid this, but it does happen.
  4. If I am out run/walking, chances are I am not answering because it will sound like an obscene phone call from my end.
  5. I am homeschooling our girls and they need my undivided attention. 
  6. I am on a conference call on the other line and cannot click over.
  7. If you call before 8am or after 6pm, chances are I am no where near my phone. Before 8am, I am not ready to deal with the world yet and after 6pm I am done dealing with the world for the day.
  8. I might be with a family, a tax client or in a meeting.
  9. I could be at the VA or a military base that kills my signal. 
  10. I am just worn out and cannot answer the phone at that moment. 
These are all pretty good reasons, right?! To me these are all reasons that we should be patient with each other and understand that those of us with full voicemails, might also have full lives. We might have days where we are so busy the sun rises and sets without us even noticing.

Leaving nasty emails about how we are not thinking about you and dropping everything to tend to your needs is just not what we need. And to be honest, the last thing the mean emails do is compel me to help you. Some of us are trying our absolute best to help everyone we can. Some of us are really tired because day in and day out we are taking care of everyone else before ourselves.

The only we can ask of each other is that we do our absolute best. I can tell you that I work really hard on the behalf of others everyday. I am doing my absolute best to help everyone I can, but I have to help them at my pace. I will not let the statements to the contrary take root in my mind, nor should anyone else.