Friday, March 31, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project: Preconstruction Phase

I am happy to write that we are finally ready to say that our preconstruction phase of our house lift is just about finished. But before I jump into explaining what is next, let me regress...

Our property does flood!

About three years ago, we received our yearly flood insurance statement in the mail. I read over the information and didn't see anything unusual or different and went on to read through the enclosed pamphlet since I had a little extra time while I ate my lunch. The pamphlet was an explanation of the FEMA programs available for homeowners required to buy flood insurance.

Our old river birch shade tree had to come down.
Our home is in a floodplain. We have known this first hand as most years we have a couple of floods that bring water up to our back door. We have a stream just about ten feet from our backdoor and when there is heavy rain it fills up to the top of the banks. To complicate our situation, our stream dumps into the top of the Chesapeake Bay which is tidal. Whenever we have a high tide that coincides with heavy rain, our home is in jeopardy. 

Cecil Tree Service did an excellent job of carefully bringing down our sycamore.

More wood for next year's heat.

On a whim of courageous curiosity, I emailed MEMA and asked if we might be eligible for assistance. Quite to my surprise, almost immediately I was answered back and told that there were several programs that I could look into, one of which was the Flood Mitigation Grant for folks who were forced to pay higher insurance premiums since they lived in a floodplain.

We were thrilled and jumped into the application. About six months later, all the information was in place and we submitted our application in October. Silence. So much silence. Winter came and went, spring and then summer and back into fall. Persistence kept us asking only to find out that our contact person was out of contact with our application and that we had been approved several months previous! 

Eric is removing the roof from the back porch which was not going to be lifted.
Our focus went from the state level to the county since they were the dispensers of our grant money. One slight problem was that our county had no experience with handling a citizen's grant. Legislation had to be written, lawyers consulted, and agencies assigned to work the project. None of which happens overnight and so we persisted and learned. 

We lost our general contractor that was going to run the project and so we looked for another. Several contractors were super excited to join us in the project but their costs were just too high. We realized that our initial contractor whose bid was the basis for our grant application did not give us a true number for the cost of our project. For us to go back and reapply with new numbers would have taken us another year at best and even then, the funds might have dried up.

Here's the stream that runs just a few feet from our house.
Two years of negotiating with the state, county, town and several agencies and learning the legalities of our project slipped by and finally, we were able to get a workable plan. We as the homeowners were considered the general contractor (who didn't need to get paid) and the primary vendor for the county. We had to submit three quotes for each part of the work and the best quote won the bid. But our numbers were tight - very tight! 

Fast forward to today. We are one week away from the official start of the Braley House Elevation Project, but really we have been working on it for three years! The Building Permit is taped onto the front of the house, we have our blueprints approved and stamped. Our landscaping is removed. The back porch is gutted and the front breezeway deframed. Massive trees have been either cut down or trimmed back to make room. What's left? I have to empty the refrigerator, pack our clothes and anything we might need for the next two months and move into our sailboat, docked at the end of our driveway.

Stay tuned for my next update!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Road Trip to Harrisonburg Virginia

Like most folks, I love traveling. Seeing new landscapes, new businesses, new plants and of course new foods gives me great inspiration. However, I am not free to travel for vacation purposes except for once or twice a year. This means I would miss out on seeing so much on our limited schedule. 

Instead, Eric and I have decided that we would try to travel as many short trips every year that we can manage responsibly in addition to a couple complete vacation times. Since he works for a company that requires him to travel to a large area of the Eastern Seaboard, his business travel is a company expense. We use this to our advantage since his passenger seat is usually available and once his workday is finished, evenings are a great time to check out small towns.

Last week, he needed to check out several universities in and around Harrisonburg, Virginia and invited me to join him for the trip. I was happy to join him.

I was dumbfounded by the beauty of the area. For whatever reason, I don't think I have ever driven through the Shenandoah Valley Region.The Blue Ridge Mountain ranges dropping down to the valleys filled with beautifully prosperous farms and homes, sprinkled with small towns. Even though we visited in February and there were no leaves on the trees, the views were spectacular.

The actual town of Harrisonburg is definitely a college town. James Madison University has permeated through so much of the area and in a good way. The enthusiasm and creativity of the young folks brings life into the history of the area. Beautiful old architecture is alive with creative artists making new foods, showing off their artistry, using the old spaces in preference to building new construction. The character of the area is clearly visible and quite delightful. Folks had a politeness and charm that reminded me of the south but we were only a couple hours from Washington DC.

We visited an old mechanic's shop where the garage doors opened to reveal a brand new business, Wolfe Street Brewery. Bright shiny tanks and computerized panels show that a serious investor had helped the creative brewer find a niche spot to sell his tasty brews. Instead of painting over old concrete block walls, they decorated it with various sections of pallet wood.  

From there, another brewery stop was in an old warehouse with thirty foot high ceilings and plain concrete walls, Three Notch'd Brewing Company

Their craft beers were really good, although we didn't try all of them. I loved their natural wood tables formed of slabs of untrimmed wood. Again, pallet wood was a popular decoration and hand crafted hanging lights added their color and sparkle to the room. Although they didn't serve food, a bag of chips and sealed container of spicy salsa was available for sale. We loved the games set out for fun and played a couple rounds of Gin Rummy.

We investigated a restaurant, Clementine Cafe, for dinner after seeing some good reviews on Yelp. Again, the building was ancient, but the fresh new creativity was just abounding here. Instead of scrubbing off layers of paint, they painted them bright colors. The height of the old warehouse space was broken with various levels of lighting and the rough floors were covered in old Oriental carpets. The mix of brand new technology with the wisdom of the old construction was thoroughly inspiring. Of course, I will admit to trying a fig infused whiskey manhattan which only enhanced my enjoyment of the place.

Before heading out of town, we stopped at a little hole in the wall next to a town parking garage that opened up to be a wide open, fresh timber decorated, wood-fired pizza spot, Bella Luna.

The weather was balmy for February so we sat at a sunny table just in the doorway. We each ordered different thin crusted pizzas, mine a spicy marinara, red onion, kalamata olives, capers, parsley and fresh mozzarella combination and Eric's a peppery arugula, prosciutto, tomato puree and mozzarella pie.  So delectable! The crust was thin with bubbles that had charred in the wood-fired oven. we ate our fill and washed it down with their local beers.

We continued our way home, freshly inspired by an area filled with history, educated and creative people, bounded with mountain ridges decorated with handsome productive farms.