Saturday, March 26, 2016

Episode 17: Construction of the Outdoor Event Venue

In January 2014 we started work on the outdoor event venue.  We started pouring the concrete foundation that consisted of a dance floor, and stage with a shed on the back to store event equipment. There was also a restroom building that would hold the ladies restroom and men's restroom.  The plan was to rent a tent when we had an event and connect it to this new covered event space.

We had come to this decision by looking at rental tents that only had room for about 150 people and if space was taken up for food, dancing and music we would be unable to accommodate that amount of people.  So we decided to build this new building that we will refer to as the "Stage". A couple months into the job Wilkes County Inspectors grew dissatisfied with the construction crew and told us to replace them or they would stop construction. 

So we complied and started looking for another builder to finish the project which had to be done in time for our bridal show May 3, 2014.

After some research we found a new builder that Wilkes County Planning could support.  So construction started up again.  The new builder did not have a large crew so we had to hire quite a bit of workers anywhere we could find them, and JC from the cabin project stayed on to work on this project as well.

The builder was not on the job everyday, he had a framer Chuck that was in the role of construction supervisor in addition to his construction work assignment.  I would speak to him everyday and get an update on how things were going. We were also paying for the materials so I was in charge of purchasing it.  That is quite a job by the way. It had to be on site when needed to ensure no work disruptions would occur.  

The builder was going on mission work in Hungary every month.  He would just show up from time to time.  However, he would present us with a bill for his services on top of the other staff.  It just seemed like he was taking a cut for not doing very much in the process but his bills were pretty high.

We finished this project just in time for the May Bridal show.  The county allowed us to have it as long as we had restroom facilities available on site.  Since we had some in the rentals, we went through with the show.

After the show, the construction crew came back and finished building the restroom building which took another couple months to finish.

When construction was completed we received notice that the Serendipity cabin was too close to the stage citing that a commercial building needed to be 20" away from a residential building (Serendipity).  

I called my architect to find out what had happened, evidently he made a mistake, measuring the 20" -(wall to wall) instead of (end of roof to end of roof) from each building. Serendipity had a 5 ft covered porch, and the roof projected out about 14" beyond that.  I was short 4 feet from the required distance.

On a cold an rainy day in March my vineyard manager (Luis) and I had to empty the  cabin and put the rental system on hold indefinitely.  We had to carry all the stuff into my 2nd floor residence and filled the spare bedrooms with the cabin stuff.  I WAS NOT A HAPPY CAMPER! It was raining the day we were doing this, and there was a 10" of water in a little construction pond between the cabin and stage construction site.

After some months passed, I called Wilkes County Planning (WCP) and explained that although the stage was considered a commercial building, it did not have a kitchen, manufacturing, trucks coming in or out of the building, no gas or oxygen tanks.  In fact, the building would only be in use on certain weekends when we had an event. I requested a variance claiming the 80/20 rule. With most regulations things fall generally nicely in 80% of the cases, and in the other 20% one has to analyze the situation and make a determination.  WCP stated they would have to call Raleigh and discuss out case.  

Several weeks later I received a response.  I was told that if I cut a hole on the left side of the cabin and install a door - they would consider this the "new front" and change the current front to a "side". 

Now this may be confusing but it has to do with setbacks.  The setbacks requirements for a side are smaller than setbacks in front of a building.  So by doing this they reassigned the setbacks and now I could meet setback requirements.

Although the building did not move at all,  this little project cost us about $5,000 because we had to pay for the labor to cut out the wall to make room for the  new door, had to buy a new door, build a new deck to make this addition fit in with the rest of the cabin.  We had to paint this new addition and fix the inside trim.  I had to call the electrician twice to repair the wires that got cut in the process.  

Finally we were able to move all the furnishings back into the cabin freeing my bedrooms again from all this storage items.  I also lot the rental income during the six months it took to remedy this situation.  Yes, things are OK now. This cabin is rented almost every weekend during the "in" season.
But I got a few more gray hairs over this.  Pretty soon my entire hair will be gray at this going rate!

Episode: 16 Event Venue Construction

In early 2014 we finished the renovation of the Serendipity cabin.

We actually had to move it from its original location just further down the riverside to give it some privacy and to allow space for our event venue.

After the move, we elevated the cabin over a new foundation and added a bathroom.  Then renovated the interior by taking out some trusses and creating a cathedral ceiling that really opened up that room.

It took about six months to finish the renovation and lots of gray hairs.  It is very hard to find good builders in Wilkes County when you are new to the area. So you come across some bad ones in the process.  I will call this one the"Banana Buider" or BB for the short version of his name.

He was nice enough at the beginning, coming in his banana van that his construction worker was driving. We did wonder why he was never drove his van, or was driven by someone else on days his trusted worker was not with him.

Well, over the course of time we found out he had a DWI and lost his Driver's License...that probably should have been a clue but we did not find this out at the beginning of the project.  He billed us punctually every Friday at 4 pm like clockwork.

After a while we noticed that the job did not progress at the speed  my husband and I anticipated.

We decided to pay closer attention and I would stop by the job site every now and then during the work day.  We also noticed his trusted worker (JC) was doing the majority of the work, he kept busy at all times.

On a cold December day, I had not seen the workers as they worked inside the cabin so I decided to check on how they were doing.  When I entered the cabin, I saw JC working on the ceiling, and BB was seated at a make-shift table and on a 10 Gallon paint pail.  He obviously was working on paperwork, and not my own as it was not Friday billing time. He was working on his other jobs, by the reaction he had upon my entering the cabin and catching him at it.

I approached his worker and asked him some questions about work to establish if BB was actually doing any work. That is when I got an ear-full of dissatisfaction from JC. Apparently he had worked on his own until someone stole his van filled with all his tools. He could not afford to replace them all so he decided to work with BB. He was unhappy because he was doing most of the work and felt he was not being paid enough.

During the remodeling of the cabin, we also hired a two-person construction crew to build a retaining wall along the riverbank to secure it. They started work in January and on pay day they would make comments about how slowly the cabin remodel work was and realized we were not the only ones that had noticed it. After observing BB very closely we decided to let him go, and JC opted to stay on the job and finish it Which he did in March of 2014.

When the retaining wall project was completed we asked JC to join that work crew and start on the next project: the construction of our outdoor event venue. By then the architect had finished the design and we could get started.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Episode 15: The Electric connection

We have been waiting a long time to get the certificate of occupancy from Wilkes County.  When we got it we immediately called Duke Energy to get our electricity connected.  We had temporary service but now we needed to have the permanent lines installed.

The field engineer (who shall remain nameless) came over to discuss how we were going to connect the building.  He already knew we were not a fan of electrical poles and overhead lines since we paid an exhorbitant amount to have one pole moved from where it was (in the middle of our parking lot to a different location up further on the hill out of car traffic). It took six months to get to an agreement as to location, method and price.  We are two miles from Stone Mountain which is a massif granite dome, and we have some of the same terrain which does not make it easy but it is doable if you try hard enough. Emphasis on "try hard enough!".

The Field Engineer (FE) suggested running overhead lines from the electrical pole to the new building.  This was a non-negotiable as it would "ugly-up" our future wedding venue. So we opted running a new underground line from the electrical box, all the way around the back of the building, through the length of the lawn, across the driveway and connect it to an exiting underground line by the cabin that had been installed at the same time the electrical pole was moved in anticipation of installing power to the cabin.  There would be a connection box installed at the corner of the cabin connecting both underground lines.

The next day, Duke Energy came to install power, but they had the wrong work order, the work order was for the cabin which is not yet remodeled.  So we had to create a new work order for The Gathering Place.  This is an interesting process.

First of all, the Duke Energy machines were too large to fit behind our building so we had to manually dig the trench from the electrical box all the way around the building, install the electrical wires and encase them in PVC pipes up to the point where the machines could take over. Furthermore any pipes, water pipes, septic drain pipes, irrigation, or electric lines must be manually dug out and exposed before they dig with the machines.

The work order does not get processed until all the work is completed, then it is processed then you have to wait two weeks for the work to actually begin.  They do not call you to advise you when they are going to show up -- it is anywhere within that timeframe!

One day, I had a dental appointment in town, and whenever I go into town I try to run all my errands since it is an hour round trip.  Wouldn't you know this is the day they decide to show up and of course we run into some issues.

Upon my return, one of my workers informs me that when they dug the line they found one line that was not exposed and under which the power line could not be placed because it was not encased in PVC.  We offered to encase it in PVC but they would not accept this solution.

The FE proposed installing an electrical pole where the wedding tents where supposed to be erected & attached to the dance floor/stage we were planning to build. The FE had established his new proposal with my worker - not myself, and had not even thought of other alternatives.  This occurred on a Wednesday- the FE would not return to our site to discuss work-arounds until the following Monday losing precious time.

This was clearly a "non-negotiable".

The electrician and I started to discuss the specifics of the issue and how we could solve it. I fount a work-around and we walked through how we could do it. It involved moving the connection box down about 25 feet so that we stayed behind the pipe that was not encased, moving the junction box by the foot the the hill. When we moved 25 feet from the cabin all the pipes there were encased -  so it was no longer an issue, and all the wires could be installed underneath the pipes.

Our FE took the path of least resistance, not one that worked for the customer.  Furthermore, he did not want to hear this solution from an intelligent, non-engineer woman, so my husband had to make an appointment to have him revisit our site to go over the new proposal with our electrician. When presented by the electrician the proposal went over well.

We had to, once again, expose all the pipes, water lines, irrigation lines, dig 30" deep, and lay down the electrical wire they had left coiled up on a pole.  They were rerouted in the new ditch under the various pipes.

Of course, we had to process a "new request" not a "continuation" of the original request. You have to have the patience of a saint to get anything done right around here!

One of the things I failed to mention is that I paid a landscaping service to sow my new lawn.  We had waited all summer for the best time to sow which is the month of October, we had a 4 week window of opportunity.  We sowed our grass on September 22nd.

It had been growing fine until I realized Duke Energy would have to trench my new lawn, cut my irrigation lines in the process.  I did not mind that too much since there was no other choice but the germination window is getting pretty small.   They cut my irrigation lines in 3 different places.  I did not install the system so we did not know where some of them where.  So we had to fix 3 lines. Once you sow the grass you have to irrigate to get it to germinate.  I was fighting against the clock.

 My goal after all is to have weddings next spring.  I really need my lawn to look good. The entire month of october was spent waiting for Duke Energy To install my electrical lines. It has been five weeks and I am still waiting.  I am at least happy to have sown my grass again and hope it will germinate in November.

Update: The site of our future wine-tasting room has an electrical pole and lines going right through the space where the second floor of the building is expected to be.  I know we are going to have fun with the FE on that project as well!

The straw covered area is where the electrical lines were buried, see where it veers to the left and crosses the driveway at the edge of the large rocks way to the right.  All that was dug 30 " deep manually by our workers. 
In this picture, just below the horizontal white pipes resting on the rocks, you see a small wooden stake in the ground, this is where the junction box will be install ( before was at the corner of the cabin)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Episode:14 The Next Projects For Our Events Venue

We are moving right along to make 2014 the year when we launch our wedding events.  It takes a year to book those events and you have to have your site ready with all the required amenities.

We are building several things:

  1. the event stage and dance floor: we will be able to connect event tents of any size to this stage and not lose any space in the tent.
  2. the restroom building: across from the tent for the outdoor events

We will be able to use the stage for concerts, plays, orchestras and many other things.

We are also undertaking the remodeling of a small cabin we have on site.  This will be a two-person cabin, with kitchenette and bathroom, and a small porch overlooking the river.

This construction and remodeling will start this coming Monday and will take several months for all of these to be completed.  This will be done in time to participate in the 2014 wedding events.  We are also going to have a Wedding/Bridal Expo next May to showcase our vineyard as an excellent site for weddings, rehearsal dinners, engagement parties, engagement and bridal photo sessions.

Of course, our venue is open to business events and private parties as well.  We are open for those events right now as these do not require long term planning like a wedding event does.

We are also starting the design and development phase of our big project "The Wine-TastingRoom".
We are in the process of getting our financing in order and at the same time are looking at the physical site of the Brewer Gristmill as the base of our wine tasting room.  We had an architect and structural engineer look at the existing foundation to see if it could be used to rebuild upon it.  Unfortunately it will not meet code and will need to be reinforced but we can keep the hand-stacked stone wall for aesthetic purposes.  Next we have to hire a consultant for the future septic system to deal with the granite and the river and determine the best system to meet our business objectives.

Then comes the design work, selection of materials to preserve the historical nature of the site, and meet our wine tasting room requirements.

The wine tasting room is critical to driving the other businesses on site such as the events venue, and the lodgings as they are a complementary aspect of our business plan.

We welcome visitors to stop by and visit our site and spread the word about who we are and what we can do.  The outstanding feature of our site versus other vineyards is the beautiful setting by the river for all our buildings.  The river is lovely, makes a great rushing sound as it meanders by our place. Each building, reception lawn, ceremony site is on the river (we mean right over it) and offers a spectacular view.  The view changes with the seasons.  Now we are surrounded by the fall foliage and it does not get any better!

Next year we will be offering picnics amongst the vines.  For a fee and with a reservation you and your special someone will be handed a picnic basket loaded with food, a bottle of wine, dessert and a blanket.  You will be allowed to find a lovely picnic spot of your choosing amongst the grapevines, along the river or anywhere else you please.  We also have fishing, bow hunting, and other lawn games available for our guests.

Think about us for your next event or vacation!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Episode 13: The 2013 Harvest and Winemaking and other events

We have had the most unusual weather in 2013.  It rained almost every day since spring and throughout the summer months. We were not sure what it would do to the grapes.  The sugar level in the grapes were a concern but with a few good days of sun at the end we were able to achieve a respectable level of 19 compared to a desired level of 20.

You may think that you can leave the grapes on the vines a little bit longer but that is not the case; once they reach the optimum level of ripeness if not picked quickly they begin to rot.  All during the season you lose some to deer, birds and disease the last thing you want to do is to lose more due to late picking.  We thought we would pick on the 8th but the grapes were not ready.

In the meantime I had to travel to Atlanta (6 hour journey) to be at my daughter's side for the birth of her second child via C-section. She was born September 10, 2013. Mother and baby are doing fine.
 She was 7 lbs 3 oz. 20". She is a sweet little girl.

The following Saturday I had to leave Amelia and her big brother Greyson, another precious grand-child, to make my way home.

I made it home late that night.

The gator between Chambourcin rows

The very next morning we got up and got dressed to begin the harvest.  The pickers consisted of Luis Perez (who lives on our vineyard) and works for us part-time, his wife Mary Lou, Tom Silvey, Owner and myself Josephine Silvey, Owner.   Tom suggested that someone take a picture of me actually working because nobody will believe that I actually get my hands dirty. Everyone has the misconception that I am a diva. Like the old TV show "Green Acres" where Eva Gabor appears in a Negligee and says "give me 5th Avenue!" and he stands there in overalls holding a pitchfork in his hand! Now back to reality. I work, I get my hands dirty.  Here I am picking grapes without gloves,nipping my fingers with the clippers every once in a while, and yes I did not break a nail! 
The Traminette grapes were much harder picking because the clusters were smaller and the birds and deer had done some damage. The other varietals need several more years before we can harvest them so we did not have to do anything with them. No work was required but no harvest and no wine will come from those vines for another year or so. Now that we have done our homework and know what grows and where it grows well we will need to expand our vineyards to ensure we have enough grapes to create enough to supply our wine-tasting room needs as well as our needs for our events venue.

Tom Silvey and Luis Perez

Luis, Tony and Tom

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Episode 12: The flood in the Gathering Room

We were finalizing the checklist we got from Wilkes County to get the certificate of occupancy for The Gathering Place building that we noticed some water on the new hardwood floor. We quickly tried to pick up the water and thought it might be a leak from the newly installed sink and faucet.  Our workers looked for the possible source and checked out all the water connections and tested with some running water.  I was not there for the whole process but after a while they thought they had repaired it.

The next day we found some more water not just in the kitchen but on the other side of the wall in the bathroom. They now had to tear into the walls to find out if there was a pipe in the area.  They found the problem.  When the last wall cabinet was installed a screw punctured the water pipe. Water was originally trickling but then there was a sudden burst and water was flowing pretty freely everywhere. The water was turned off immediately and we began to look at out hardwood floors, only 5 weeks old.
The floor was curling up at the seams the entire length of the building.

I drove immediately to Elkin, NC to get a dehumidifier and two commercial blowers.  These were placed in the building and ran 7 nights and 7 days in an effort to mitigate the damage.  We were hoping we would not have to tear out the floor.  But after a week things did not look much better.  So we finally called the insurance company to report the claim.

After the adjuster came by to review the damage she put us in touch with Premier Restoration  out of N. Wilkesboro came out to quantify the damage.  The humidity meter registered still registered over 50 after our efforts to dry the room out.

Last Monday on July 22, they packed our furniture and moved it into two storage units on wheels that they parked nearby.  Our hardwood contractor came with two workers in tow and tore out the entire floor in one day.

The restoration team took a humidity level reading twice a day from Tuesday evening through Thursday morning when they declared the sub floor to have reached the required humidity reading. Thursday our hardwood contractor was supposed to travel to VA to pick-up the flooring materials from the manufacturer and return Friday morning to replace the water barrier and the flooring.

At 8am on Friday I was expecting my contractor.  No show. By 10 am I am trying to get a hold of him and finally got him on the phone.  I asked him where he was.  He stated he was on another job.  So I asked him why he was not here doing my job.  His excuse was that no one had called him to tell him the sub-floor was ready.  We did not need to do so because we were told it would be ready Friday morning and I myself made the arrangements with him. So I was pretty upset we had lost 5 weeks already.  Finally I got through to him, and he agreed to pick up the wood on Friday, deliver it the same day.  He had told me earlier that he had a job on Monday, so I was wondering when he would get to my job. He could tell from the way that I was asking the questions that I was not pleased at all with the state of affairs.  So I asked all the tough questions to get to the bottom of the situation. Questions such as:

  1. Why  was he was starting another job when mine was 1/2 completed and scheduled.
  2. He tried repeating the excuse that no one had called him to tell him the floor was dry
  3. I reiterated that there was no need for that since we had agreed between us he would bring the would on Thursday, and start installation on Friday. 
  4. Nothing had changed since that agreement, and I called him out on it, and told him he had better finish my job before starting that other one.
  5. He whined for a while then agreed to deliver the wood on Friday and do the job on Saturday.

On Saturday they started installing the hardwood floor.  At about 1 pm he informed us that his nail gun had broken down and that he needed a replacement part. If he was able to get it, he would be back on Sunday.  I had little hope he would keep his word but, lo and behold, he actually showed up Sunday morning to finish the job.  I think the fact that he had already sold me three hardwood floors before and the promise of six more in the future must have caused an attitude adjustment. It is standard practice for contractors to start multiple jobs and go from one job to another, string everyone along, so they do not lose a job.  I detest that practice and if I find someone doing that they will never be hired again!

I am out $1,000 for the insurance deductible.  I have a saying when there is nothing I can do anymore. I say: "It is what it is!".  To me it means accept the facts and move on.  So that is just what I did.

This coming Monday my cleaning lady is coming to clean the building. I have already contacted premier Restoration to move my furniture back in the building and return us to normal. Our appliances have to be reconnected as well.  Then final tidy-up and we are done!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Episode 11: The bobcat acquisition

Tom and I love to decorate with vignettes of nature.  Once while we were i Waynesville, we saw a fox, raccoon, a bobcat and some other animal shown in a canoe with one another.  It was so pretty - but they wanted a lot of money for it so we could not afford it.

Some time ago, Tom came home from work and said that he had traded a stuffed bobcat for 5 mason jars of moonshine that can be bought "in these here parts!" as they say down here. Seems like everyone knows somebody that makes it. Myself, I don't care for it. Well that was until I was introduced to Apple Pie moonshine.  Well, that's going to require an episode of its own!

A while had passed and I inquired about when we would get the bobcat and Tom said it would not be long.  Some time passed and I soon forgot about it.

One day, a few of the ladies invited me to join them for some "retail therapy" there was a sale in Talbots, Charlotte, NC so we decided to make the drive to get some good bargains.  We had an amazing time and a cart full of clothes.  We hit the mother lode! Thank you Olive and Mary for inviting me!

It was getting late, and Olive and her husband were going to meet another couple for dinner but there was not enough time to drop us off in Traphill, and back track back to Jonesville where they were suppose to eat.  So Olive asked us if we wanted to join them for dinner and call our husbands to join us, that would solve the problem. Arrangements were made and we found ourselves in Theo's restaurant in Jonesville.

When Tom arrived, he told me that he had a surprise for me.  I was pleasantly surprised and asked if I could have it right then.  He said: "No, let's wait after dinner!".  After dinner the ladies decided to go inside a couple of really nice boutiques that sells interesting stuff for the house and take a look around. After a little while we rejoined our husbands in the parking lot by our cars.

We were near our Toyota Avalon, Tom was opening the trunk of the car and while doing so asked me if I would hand him his raincoat from the backseat of our car. I assumed he was getting my surprise out of the trunk.  So I opened the car door and leaned into the back seat to reach fir his raincoat.  When I pulled it to me, I came face to face with a thing glaring at me.  I screamed and got out of there fast,  But my eyes and my brain were not in synch so I went back inside to take another look and screamed again realizing I had been face to face with a bobcat.  I screamed again than started laughing when I realized he had just pulled a trick on me! 

Tom is renowned for playing tricks on me.  He must have told the men beforehand because they were all looking at me to see my reaction would be. Well, I did not disappoint.  After the ladies inquired about what had happened I told them to look inside my car as well.  They took turns doing so, and more laughter ensued. 

Then some of the people that were leaving the restaurant overheard the commotion and came over to ask us what was going on since we were laughing so hard.  We had no choice but to invite them to look as well with another round of laughter as they reacted to the bobcat.  This happened a couple more times with one round of laughter after another! Finally the laughter died down and we left for home.
For you animal lovers - no bobcat was killed in the making of this prank! 

The bobcat was found by the side of the road as "road kill" and someone picked it up and had it stuffed.  He then gave it away to someone who happened to work with Tom. Somehow or other they got on the subject of the bobcat and an agreement was made. Apparentluy the guy's wife did not want it in her house anymore so she made him get rid of it.  

The following is a picture of the bobcat -- remember it was dark in the parking lot
Here is a picture of the stuffed bobcat.
Here it is in our new building, where it has found a new home.