Author: Serendipity

Back in the Saddle Again!

Yahoo!! The lawn tractor vet returned my mighty yellow steed to Serendipity Farmhouse on Monday. They fixed her up and gave her a good cleaning. Upon seeing her back in the driveway, my Case of Lawn Tractor Blues😒 was instantly cured.

Early on Tuesday morning, I saddled her up and we mowed the north 40. After lunch, my old Cub Cadet and I took on the south 40. She was in fit form and more than up to the job. Yup, I’m back in the saddle again!

What it Means to be in the Saddle

Many, many years ago, I learned that some work can be enjoyable. Back then, I had the privilege to work with not just one, but several horses and ponies. I first took riding lessons and then graduated to being an instructor myself. When a hard day of work with student riders was over, I would take one of my favorite horses out riding bareback for an hour or two. In the 50s and 60s that was every boy’s dream. For me, it was a cherished reality.

As we were approaching Labor Day one year, Mr. Brown, the owner of the horses, asked me to represent his riding school in the Great Geauga County Fair. His sons were now too old for the fair, and he would be greatly pleased if I rode one of his horses in competition.

The Great Geauga County Fair is Ohio’s oldest continuous county fair and one of the oldest existing agricultural fairs in the nation. It was established in 1823, and it is held annually in Burton, Ohio every Labor Day weekend. I would ride my Favorite horse Buckeye in three different events, and I wore the #4 proudly on my back. – It just doesn’t get any better than that.

I took home some ribbons that day. And those ribbons were accompanied by memories that have lasted a lifetime.

From Horse to Lawn Tractor and Other Big Changes

Nearly sixty years have passed since that Labor Day, and I’ll probably not have another chance to ride a horse again. So, forgive me for my bit of fantasy about my mighty yellow steed. The hour or two that I spend mowing this vast 1.203-acre estate, allows me the time to think and dream, just as I did back in the days when I was riding old Buckeye.

There’s been one big change since the days when I was a lone rider. Back in the early 70s, I found a partner to ride with me. We’ve been riding together ever since.

lawn tractor

A Case of Lawn Tractor Blues😒

They say you should prepare for nasty seasonal diseases, but how can you prepare for the most frightening of them all – a case of lawn tractor blues? And this year it hit me hard. The weakness and pain persist. I’m only beginning to recover. – So, let me tell you how it struck; what I did to ease the pain; and the nearly miraculous cure.

Onset of the Lawn Tractor Blues

I felt the blues coming on at the worst possible time. The National Weather Service predicted a sustained heat wave. At the same time, Serendipity Farmhouse was in the midst of a severe drought. I was hot and tired, but the farmhouse chores had to be done.

lawn tractor blues

There’s a lot of rugged terrain on the vast 1.203-acre SFH estate. Even the best-made lawn tractors would only have a limited lifetime here. The rocks, holes, and ridges make it a rough ride for driver and tractor alike. On the 2nd of September, my Cub Cadet and I were both very weary.

This is what happened.

We were clearing leaves, mowing weeds, all the usual things. The north 40 was done, and we were just finishing off the south 40. That’s when it happened. The old Cub Cadet just stopped moving. – The motor was running. The blades were spinning. But we just stopped.

I checked everything I could. It seemed that the drive belt was still in place. With the little I had to go on, I had to conclude that the worst possible thing had happened. – It appeared that I had just witnessed the death of the tractor’s transmission. And along with that, I foresaw the death of large portion of emergency funds. (Fortunately, we plan ahead and have some emergency funds.)

Of course, it was a holiday weekend. Nothing could be done until Tuesday. When I finally talked to the repair tech, he said we’ll pick it up later this week.

On the scheduled day, I singlehandedly pushed my beloved tractor to the front drive. Later that day, they took it away.

Meanwhile, because it’s that time of year, I ordered two cords of firewood. – Like everything else, it cost more than last year.

lawn tractor blues

The Pain of Lawn Tractor Blues

Yep, my case of the lawn tractor blues was setting in hard. Then, when I talked to the repair service, it only got worse. Let’s just say the estimate for repair was somewhere around $1,800.00. – That’s when my dear wife Blondie and my erstwhile companion Mr. Monte caught the lawn tractor blues from me. – It was over 100 degrees outside, and inside we were all moaning from financial pain.

The firewood was coming soon. The tractor wouldn’t be fixed for many weeks to come. That meant that the Cub Cadet wouldn’t be available to haul wood to the shed. Every cartload would have to be pulled by hand. – I felt very sick, indeed!

A Nearly Miraculous Cure

Yesterday, I received a call from the tractor service repair technician. He had already told me that he was preparing to order the replacement transmission from Cleveland. So, I figured he had called to give me the final estimate. I had some tissue sitting next to me to wipe away the tears. – – – – I waited for his words with the same feeling of agony as someone awaiting the sound of the blade sliding down the guillotine.

“Sir, the problem with your lawn tractor isn’t quite what we originally thought. I had my technician bring it in so we could check it again. That’s when we found the oil residue around the front drive pulley. We also found a lot of oil on the drive belt.”

“Sir, it’s not often that I get to give this kind of good news to a customer. There’s nothing wrong with your transmission. The oil filter was loose and dripping oil on the belt. We tightened up the oil filter and replaced the drive belt. We can return your tractor next week – Of course there will be a service charge, but it will be nearly $1,500 dollars less than our original estimate. – Is that okay with you?”

Suddenly, all the symptoms of my case of lawn tractor blues disappeared. And when I told Blondie and Mr. Monte, they were instantly cured as well.

The Moral of this Story

Blondie and I prayed that things would work out for us. But we didn’t see how they could. And, as I’ve said all these many years, “Serendipity is the answer to a prayer you should have prayed but didn’t. – The moral of this story is: The cure for a case of lawn tractor blues is prayer and a little bit of Serendipity.

lawn tractor blues

Local Orchards Complete the Picture

It’s a weekend in August. You live near our Nation’s capital, and you’ve decided to spend a day sightseeing near Shenandoah National Park. As you’re heading west on US 211, the road narrows down to two lanes and the display at Jenkins’ Fruit Stand catches your eye. You can’t resist the thought of taking home some fresh apples, or cider, jams, and jellies. So, you slow down, pull over, and park near the stand. After all, this is what your daytrip was all about. – And by doing so, you will also take home with you the memory of your welcome to Sperryville and the orchards of Rappahannock County.

Our Farmhouse in a Food Oasis series of posts has shown you where we get our vegetables, meat and dairy. Now we will show how local orchards complete the picture. But the story of our local orchards is bittersweet. Long in decline, Rappahannock County had gone from nearly 1,000 acres in apple production in 1992 to only about 300 acres in 2004. Ironically, a global pandemic has revived interest in this once fading local food resource.

(For background on the history, decline, and revival of our local orchards, read these two stories: The Sweet, Sad State of Cider & Rappahannock orchards bask in robust apple season — thanks to the pandemic!)

A farm store with more

From our daytrips starting in the late-1980s, we knew that Rappahannock County had wonderful apple and peach orchards. So, Serendipity Farmhouse wasn’t going to have a problem sourcing those products.

For example, Jenkins’ Fruit Stand is just across the road from us. Just a little further down the road, but still within walking distance is Roy’s Farm Market. While the Jenkins’ Fruit Stand is a seasonal attraction, Roy’s is available to us year-round. – And Roy’s place is a farm store with a little bit more.

Rather than write what’s already been written about Roy’s, we’ll just give you some pictures taken a week ago. What’s important to us is that, in addition to fresh fruit and vegetables, the store is stocked with an array of grocery items that you might find in an Aldi’s store. That became an invaluable asset during the pandemic. – If you want to read the history of Roy’s Farm Market, check out the Rappahannock News story Roy’s Orchard: A farm store with more.

What’s on the inside at Roy’s?

And if that isn’t enough for you, as you enter the small complex of buildings and sheds filled with food, you will also find freezers containing beef, pork, fresh baked pies, and ice cream. – It’s all there.

Farmhouse in a Food Oasis – Summary

So, there you have it. We thought we might have made a mistake by moving to a rural county, where travel to major stores would be inconvenient or even dangerous. But I think you can plainly see from this series of posts that we had actually been blessed with more food options than we could have hoped or prayed for.

That, dear Friends, is the nature of ‘serendipity’ – it is the answer to the prayer you should have prayed for but didn’t. And that is why ours is a farmhouse in a food oasis.

A view of peach trees and the Blue Ridge Mountains from Roy’s Farm Market

Natural Farm Products – the Reality

From the beginning, we wondered where in Rappahannock County we could find the best natural farm products. We needed a reliable source for quality dairy and meats, but we didn’t know where to look. True, we were slowly learning that Serendipity is a Farmhouse in a Food Oasis. Nevertheless, it was surprising to learn that some of the best natural farm products were just a stone’s throw away. Let’s take a look at how Blondie and I found Reality Farm.

The story begins with goats.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for goats. While still in Idaho, I developed a taste for goat milk cheese, and I wanted to learn how to make it myself. Unfortunately, goat milk is seldom available at local grocery stores. – One might say, I was a frustrated old goat.

It was in March of 2015 when dearest Blondie came to my rescue. Amazing internet researcher that she is, she soon found that a farm offering goat milk was located only 2.8 miles from us. – We made a call and scheduled a meeting. Within minutes after our arrival, I was the proud owner of half a goat (actually a half share).

Teri Guevremont then gave us a short tour of the farm. We learned that, in addition to goats, Reality raised dairy and beef cattle. It was an eye-opening tour, highlighted by a chance meet some of the new kids on the farm.

More than just a farm

Regular readers of this blog know well that Blondie and I have developed a great appreciation for Reality Farm and the collocated Quievremont Winery. There are many reasons for that. For example, the farm has become our primary source for grass-fed beef, eggs, raw milk.

But Reality is more than just a farm. It’s become a place where I can take my grandchildren and show them real farm life up close. For Blondie and me, the weekly trip to pick up our goat milk is a welcomed peace-filled moment. It’s a respite from the day’s routine. – Everybody should have moments like that.

What’s in the freezer? – What’s in the Fridge?

We’re reminded daily of our ties to Reality Farm. All we have to do is open up the freezer or the fridge.

High-quality, Economical Beef – How to keep the freezer full.

natural farm products

The SFH Test Kitchen has learned that buying a side of beef is much cheaper than buying individual cuts of meat. Buying in bulk saves money in the long run, but it requires a substantial up-front investment.

That’s why having a good friend like Tom is such a great blessing. Tom and I pool our purchasing power to buy an entire side of beef from Reality Farm. We then evenly divide the various cuts. – Here you can see a year’s worth of beef stored in our pantry freezer.

Fresh Dairy and Eggs for your fridge

On Monday mornings, Blondie and I make our weekly trip to Reality Farm. That’s when we pick up our half gallon of goat milk. – There it is on the bottom shelf, the second from the right. It was made just for us, and it has our name on it. – You can be 100% sure its fresh and wholesome!

By Wednesday, or Thursday morning at the latest, that half gallon will become tasty chèvre. – Check out this post to see how we make the cheese: Yes, now!

Who are your real friends? – The Reality

Just like the rest of you, Serendipity Farmhouse experienced hard times over the last three years. Here in Rappahannock County, friends and neighbors reached out to each other to give a helping hand. Blondie and I can’t think of one place that did more for the community than the combination of Reality Farm and Quievremont Winery. – Through the worst of times, their friends and neighbors always came first:

Reality Farm wants to assure all our friends and customers that we are continuing to operate and fulfill deliveries at this time. We are taking extra precautions at the farm and during our milk runs to ensure optimal safety of our employees and our patrons. … We are in this crisis together, but with hope, mutual support, and proper hygiene we’ll make it through. From all of us at Reality Farm: be safe and well!

It’s more than a food oasis.

Blondie and I left Idaho and the house of our dreams. We bought and old farmhouse “as is” and it became the house of our realities. The longer we live here the more we learn that ours is a farmhouse in a food oasis. But there is something more important here. These realities of our life here are blessings from God. – Reality Farm is one of those great blessings.

Reality Farm – The perfect backdrop for our 50th anniversary

Can Joining a CSA be a Good Deal?

Moving to Rappahannock County forced us to answer the question: “Can joining a CSA be a Good Deal?” We had to consider food cost and quality, travel time and expense, diet and menu changes, and a host of other significant factors. In the end, our answer to the question was, “Yes.” But that ‘yes’ comes with interesting qualifiers. Let’s talk about what a CSA is and how joining one has helped us.

In early 2014, Blondie made it quite clear that we (mostly I) had a problem. Grocery shopping and provisioning our pantry at Serendipity Farmhouse was, to say the least, ‘inconvenient.’ She ended our conversation with her oft used words – “Fix it!!!” (See post Farmhouse in a Food Oasis for details.)

Those were my marching orders. That’s when I set off to find convenient, food sources here in Rappahannock County. Little did I know at the time that would lead me to a CSA named Waterpenny Farm. Ironically, it was just across US211, within walking distance of our farmhouse.

What’s a CSA?

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a production and marketing model whereby consumers buy shares of a farm’s harvest in advance. In exchange for this, farmers commit to supplying sufficient quantity, quality, and variety of products. The consumers and farmers share the risks and benefits of food production.

If you’re interested in a how a CSA works, check out Waterpenny’s website here. Eric Plaksin and Rachel Bynum give a great rundown of how their CSA came to be and they highlight their service to the community. They also talk about pricing for shares and half shares, describing what products are available over the course of a season. – There’s a lot more to running a CSA than you might think, and Eric and Rachel provide many valuable insights.

SFH and Waterpenny – An Interesting Relationship

In a sense, CSA members support the CSA farm as if it were their own. And that means, through the lean years as well as through the good years. – And that’s been our relationship with Waterpenny Farm for the past 7-8 years. There are times when our half share overwhelms us, and we have to give away excess produce to our children and friends. There are other times when we wish the weather had been kinder to our CSA.

But here’s the secret to what makes the Serendipity Farmhouse – Waterpenny Farm relationship so worthwhile to us.

If you’ve read our posts, you know we grow our own herbs, and vegetables. We can or preserve most of what we grow.

We know we can’t grow everything we want or need. So, we stick to our favorites – tomatoes, okra, garlic, green beans, and hot peppers.

love your garden

Although our garden production overlaps with what Waterpenny provides us, Waterpenny grows a host of other products that are not within our capability to grow. – And when we’re one pound short of tomatoes for canning, Waterpenny always comes through.

The bottom line is, come canning season, we have everything we need. There are no trips to Walmart for veggies during the summer. – In essence, Waterpenny becomes a virtual extension of the vast 1.203-acre Serendipity Farmhouse Estate.

What does a half share look like?

I think you’ve got the picture now. By working with products from our CSA, we’ve managed to solve a large part of our original food procurement problem. In answer to the question “Can joining a CSA be a Good Deal?” The answer for us is ‘yes.’ As an illustration of that, here are two pictures showing our half shares from last week and the week before.

If there’s a downside to all this feast of plenty, it’s difficult to find. But when this much fresh food comes into our kitchen every Thursday, we have to plan meals to ensure nothing is wasted. It’s amazing how many innovative recipes we’ve developed to make the best use of this great bounty.

So, let me end with some pictures from our last visit to Waterpenny Farm. As we said in our last post, we live in a wonderful food oasis.

Farmhouse in a Food Oasis

It took her a long time to admit it, but now Blondie says, “We have a farmhouse in a food oasis.” No, she didn’t always hold that view. After all, from the kitchen window of the house of our dreams in Idaho, we literally could see the local Walmart from our kitchen window. In fact, we could also see Sam’s club, Albertsons, Winco Food, and Fred Meyer. We lived in a sea of nearby grocery stores. – Obtaining fresh food was no problem then.

What’s the Food Problem?

Here in Sperryville, life in the house of our realities is quite a different story. There are no nearby, conveniently located grocery stores. That’s the problem. Let’s talk about how we turned that problem upside down and came up with better ways to obtain, store, and use the food we enjoy here at Serendipity Farmhouse.

This map illustrates our problem. But it doesn’t reveal all the hidden details. For example, even though the Luray Walmart is only 19 miles away, we must negotiate Thornton Gap to get there. In the winter, it’s a treacherous drive.

And so it is with each of our four primary grocery store locations. There’s a long drive, and weather and traffic can make it a dangerous proposition. – Consequently, we can’t go food shopping like we used to in Idaho falls.

The extent of our problem became quite clear during our first winter in Serendipity Farmhouse. The winter of 2013-2014 brutally demonstrated that each of our four major grocery locations were not as accessible as we originally thought.

I tried to downplay the severity of the situation and explained to my dearest Blondie that things weren’t really as bad as she made them out to be. However, in January and February, I had to make multiple trips to Idaho and left her to fend for herself.

Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen

Upon my return, I was confronted by an always beautiful but ever so angry Miss Blondie. She had two things to say to me.

First, “Tell me again with a straight face, Fuzzy! Tell me how convenient grocery shopping is here!”

Second, “Fix it!!!!!”

What’s the Food Solution?

As with so many problems we’ve encountered in this, the house of our realties, we had to learn how to adapt to farmhouse living. In the 1920’s, how did the first residents of this house do things? Back then, there were no Walmart stores or big grocery chains. In fact, those folks probably didn’t even own a motor vehicle.

And that was the revelation. Instead of looking to Front Royal, Culpeper, Luray, or Warrenton, the first residents looked right here to Sperryville. How could we have missed the fact that we live in the midst of a wonderful agricultural area. Food of every type is bountiful. All we had to do was learn how to process, store, and use the food that’s all around.

That’s why we’re learning how to make food from scratch and plan meals using basic ingredients. The Serendipity Farmhouse blog is how we share with you what we’ve learned.

Now We Have a Farmhouse in a Food Oasis!

Over the next few weeks, we will introduce you to some of the local farms that provide a good portion of the food that makes it to our table. They provide fresh fruit and vegetables, beef, lamb, and dairy. Please join us and meet some of our neighbors.

The Most Important Food of All

Of course, we always keep in mind, “Man shall not live by bread alone …” And that is how we found that here in Rappahannock County we truly do live in a food oasis. That’s because here we also have the perfect place to be nourished by the Word of God.

food oasis

Serendipity Farmhouse Homemade Salsa – Pierre’s Challenge

Why settle for second best when you can have your very own homemade salsa? Chef Blondie has known the answer to that question for years. In her Test Kitchen, she demands that you never, ever settle for second best. And that is why I challenged her to show me that she could devise a homemade salsa mix recipe that would satisfy the palate and bring joy to a family gathering.

homemade salsa

As you may remember in the post How to Make Serendipity Farmhouse Salsa Mix, Chef Blondie accepted my challenge. She allowed me to observe the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH Test Kitchen Staff in action. I recorded how they assembled and combined the ingredients for the salsa mix. Then, I observed the preparation and canning of the salsa. Finally on July 30th, I participated in the debut family taste test. – In all respects, Chef Blondie surpassed my expectations!

Making this Salsa Recipe Your Own

Dear Reader, it is up to you to make this recipe your own. If you enjoy salsa with chips, use it in taco salad, or combine it with any number of Tex-Mex recipes, then you should print this recipe and start using it right away.

Remember, this recipe is based on a mix of ingredients. You can change ingredient measurements to suit your individual tastes. That is what Chef Blondie has done. – If it worked for her, it certainly can work for you.

Please note that the recipe provided here contains four separate sets of instructions. The first set is the most important. It describes how to prepare the salsa itself using the Farmhouse Salsa Mix and a few other ingredients.

The next three sets of instructions explain three different ways of storing the salsa: in the refrigerator, in the freezer, and long-term storage by processing and canning. – The choice of methods is yours.

1. Level of the homemade salsa challenge

Because the Farmhouse Salsa Mix is already prepared and ready to go, the challenge on preparation day is minimal. Yes, you must scald, skin, core, and chop the tomatoes. And yes, you may have to mince some garlic, but these are but minor tasks.

2. Selection of good-quality salsa ingredients

It’s up to you to source good tomatoes. They can be fresh, frozen, or canned. In fact, when the Test Kitchen conducted this test, Chef Blondie used both fresh and frozen tomatoes.

3. Use of cooking and canning techniques

The Test Kitchen Staff is renowned for their adherence to the best kitchen practices. Cleanliness and technique are the watchwords for all when they conduct a test. On this test day, the staff was doubly aware of their practices because they knew I, Persnickety Pierre, had my eye on them. – Their every move was the epitome of high culinary art.

4. Development of superior salsa taste and flavor

There is only one way to be sure that you have developed superior salsa taste and flavor – hold an open and honest taste test. And so, a taste test was held in the kitchen of Daughter #2. (You might recall that she received two Persnickety Pierre’s Paw of Excellence Awards – See the post here.) The official judges were Daughter #2 and Son-in-Law #2. I also tasted the salsa, but I recused myself because of my close association with the SFH Test Kitchen.

5. Presentation of homemade salsa & the judges’ decision

Immediately upon our arrival, Daughter #2 quickly set a tasting table. She was quite wise in using cup-shaped chips. They are perfect for getting just the right amount of salsa with each chip. – Then the kitchen went totally silent. The tasting had begun.

I dare not attempt to repeat the compliments or describe the sounds which happy tasting judges make when they encounter a salsa that truly matches their high expectations. Let me merely state two things. First neither official judge had anything but praise for the salsa. Next, when Chef Blondie said the she would take the salsa jar and remaining contents home with her, both of the judges quickly and quite adamantly said that the salsa would stay with them.

So, there you have it! Chef Blondie accepted my challenge. And because she did, two happy tasting judges, the entire SFH TK Staff, and I, Pierre LeChat, are much happier people now.

Serendipity Farmhouse Salsa

Why settle for second best when you can have your very own homemade salsa? In the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen, we never, ever settle for second best. This salsa shows what can be done when you follow that rule.
Cuisine American
Servings 5 pints


  • 6 lbs. fresh tomatoes (about 18 medium) - substitute frozen or canned tomatoes; 6 cans (14.5 oz each) petite diced regular or low sodium tomatoes, undrained
  • 3.8 oz Serendipity Farmhouse Salsa Mix mild, medium, or hot depending on which option was selected when preparing the salsa mix
  • ½ cup White Distilled Vinegar (5% acidity) or cider vinegar (5% acidity)


  • Wash tomatoes. Scald for 3 minutes in boiling water
  • Dip into cold water.
  • Cut out cores. Remove skins. Chop tomatoes coarsely. This should yield about 10 cups tomatoes. If using canned tomatoes, do not drain liquid.
  • Combine tomatoes, white distilled vinegar and Serendipity Farmhouse Salsa Mix in a large non-reactive saucepan. Do not use aluminum.
  • Bring mixture to a boil. Stir occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Your Serendipity Farmhouse Salsa is ready!

Immediate Use Instructions

  • Pour into containers and let cool. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving. Store covered in refrigerator up to 1 week.

Freezing Instructions

  • Pour into freeze-safe containers and let cool. Store covered in freezer up to 1 year. Store thawed product in refrigerator up to 1 week.

Canning Instructions

  • Prepare home canning jars and lids according to manufacturer's instructions for sterilized jars.
  • Pour hot salsa into clean hot pint canning jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rip and cap each jar as it is filled.
  • Process jars for 40 minutes* in boiling water bath canner. Turn off heat, carefully remove canner lid, and let jars stand for 5 minutes in canner.
    *Processing time listed is for altitudes less than 1000 feet. At altitudes of 1000 feet or more, increase processing time 1 minute for each 1000 feet of altitude.
  • Remove jars. Let jars sit undisturbed to cool at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
  • Test jars for airtight seals according to manufacturer's directions. If jars do not completely seal, refrigerate and consume within 1 week. Use shelf-stable product within 1 year.


SERVING SUGGESTION - Persnickety Pierre says: "Serendipity Farmhouse Salsa is not intended for the solitary soul. Rather, it is for that festive occasion when family and friends are gathered together. - That it was why it won my challenge!"
homemade salsa
Keyword Serendipity Farmhouse Salsa

Lifelines to Clotheslines – The Right Fix

From lifelines to clotheslines things can go wrong – strive to be prepared with the right fix. We here at Serendipity Farmhouse continue to learn that any day can be a bad day if you haven’t used forethought and built preparedness into your plans. – This week we had another example of why this is so true.

Hi! Ol’ Fuzz Face here – Let’s talk preparedness.

be prepared

In my post No Need for A Farmhouse Nightmare I waxed eloquently about ‘lifeline functions’. I made some good points, but I didn’t really get into practical solutions.

Likewise, in my post How to Prepare – Graceful Degradation I probably left you scratching your head with my use of terms like ‘upgradation’ and ‘graceful degradation‘.

The Right Fix – A Practical Example

Last Wednesday, our dryer died. My dearest Blondie could wash clothes as usual, but she needed a way to dry them. – No problem! – We had the right fix! We went into our graceful degradation mode. Just like the first residents of our nearly 100-year-old farmhouse, we merely had to hang the clothes out to dry on our clotheslines.

be prepared
Blondie hanging the wash out to dry.

The loss of our dryer is temporary, it should be repaired this coming week. But the ability to use our clothesline is permanent. Should the dryer fail again or if there is a major lifeline power outage, we just gracefully degrade to our backup mode.

Cost Factors – The Right Fix

You may have had better experiences than we have. Our recent experiences have caused us to reconsider our strategy for home repair preparedness. Here’s what we’ve observed.

  • Major appliance repair costs have risen greatly.
  • Home warranty and appliance warranty service companies have become far less responsive, especially since COVID.

Our home warranty service used to pay for itself almost every year. But service degraded so badly that we had to drop it. Other warranty plans are expensive. For example, Sears Appliance plan starts at $49.99 per month ($599.88 per year).

Now, we act as our own home warranty plan. We put away $50.00 each month and don’t touch it until a need arises. – This works well, and for us it is the right fix.

Clotheslines – Right Fix vs. Wrong Fix

Even when you have a good preparedness backup plan, there may be some bumps in the road. For example, on the second day of using the clothesline, it broke.

The Wrong Fix: A number of repair options were open to us. It was our job to determine which was the best. One option was to use a clothespin to hold the broken clothesline together. – This was obviously a wrong fix.

be prepared

The Right Fix: A square knot is not the best for joining two lines together. But, if you don’t have the needed length of line for a better knot, the square knot will do in a pinch. – In this case I used a square knot so my dear Blondie could dry the clothes. – It worked and it was the right fix.

My point is this. Use forethought and build preparedness into your plans. Be prepared to change your plans when conditions and circumstances dictate. Always be prepared to improvise and select the right fix.

May the Holy Cross be my light!

On this feast of Saint Benedict, we here at Serendipity Farmhouse are meditating on the Latin prayer that begins “Crux sacra sit mihi lux!” May the holy cross be my light! In so many ways it reflects our life as Oblates of St. Benedict. – If the Holy Cross is our light, we will never live in darkness.

Living by the Rule of Saint Benedict

When we founded this blog five years ago, we made our original Dedication to Our Patrons – St. Scholastica & St. Benedict. From time-to-time, we have provided excerpts from the Rule of St. Benedict to show how we apply the Rule in our daily lives at SFH. We provide one example in our post St. Benedict of Nursia – July 11.

A simple prayer for the feast of St. Bendict

You can carry this prayer with you always, if you wear the Medal of St. Benedict. The initial letters for the prayer are on the back of the medal. They are inscribed in the vertical (CSSML) and horizontal (NDSMD) members of the cross.

The full form of the prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux!May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!

A little background on our Benedictine way of life

The feast of St. Benedict is an important day at SFH. It reminds us of the peace and stability that can be found living according to the Rule of St. Benedict. We have been Oblates since 1980. Since then, we have been associated with the Oblates of Conception Abbey, located in Conception, MO.

We owe special thanks to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Peace in Rutherfordton, NC. They have supported us so many times with their prayers.

You can learn more about The Medal of Saint Benedict here.


Back Porch Baby Back BBQ

What could be better than baby back ribs for the 4th of July? Here at Serendipity Farmhouse, the answer is nothing could be better. For eight years, we’ve used our special back porch baby back rib recipe. We’ve enjoyed it, refined it, and perfected it.

Whether it be for honored guests, for close family, or just for Blondie and me, this recipe has never failed. And today, I’m going to share our family tradition with you.

Let’s Get Cooking!

Okay. I’ve donned my official SFH Test Kitchen Chef’s apron. I’m ready to go out onto the back porch. It’s hot and humid out there! (After all, this is Virginia in July.) But I’m not worried about that. Nope! – With the exception of little bit of up-front tender loving care, I won’t be out on that hot deck for long.

Allow me to lay out for you our baby back rib BBQ cooking secrets using Persnickety Pierre’s Criteria of Excellence.

1. Level of the challenge

We originally came across the basic recipe for Foolproof Baby Back Ribs at It worked well for us, but we soon realized tweaks and changes were in order. We had a good recipe in hand. Our challenge was to make it better.

A large part of our testing would be focused on documenting the proper cooking temperatures. That’s because the original recipe was not specific. – If the goal is to have a good recipe that’s repeatable, it’s necessary to eliminate as many variables as possible. Temperature is a tremendously important variable. So, our big challenge was determining and documenting the cooking temperatures that would bring about consistent results.

2. Selection of good-quality ingredients – It’s the Baby Back Ribs

Our Test Kitchen staff emphasizes that proper sourcing of the baby back ribs is critical. We’ve found that the ribs sold at Sam’s Club are consistently high in quality and they are affordable. – Make sure you shop around and get the best in quality and price.

3. Use of cooking techniques

Earlier, I talked about not being concerned about the heat on the deck. That’s because the first steps in cooking the ribs are minimal. The ribs will spend an hour cooking, and they should remain covered. All you need to do is check the temperature of your covered grill periodically (Every 10 to 15 minutes).

When you preheat the grill, try to get to 450℉. Once the ribs are on the upper rack of the grill and the cover is in place, let the temperature drop to about 350℉. That’s where the temperature should remain for the entire first hour.

Note 1: Suppose it’s a rainy day or a blizzard is heading your way. This recipe can be adapted for use in your kitchen oven.

Note 2: If you want to cook some corn on the cob like we did, feel free to open the cover and quickly place the corn on the lower rack. When you do the periodic temperature checks, quickly turn over the corn and close the lid immediately.

Except for a few temperature checks, you can vacate the hot deck and seek out a cool place to relax.

For sweet Wife and me, that means it’s time to enjoy the SFH signature drink – The Serendipity Cocktail! (See: French Cuisine & GRITS)

4. Development of superior taste and flavor

Pay attention to the spices you choose for the rub. For example, my dear, sweet Blondie has trouble with some types of garlic powder. To avoid this problem, we have substituted onion powder in the rub. – Voila! That solved Blondie’s problem and good flavor is retained.

Consider the personal tastes of your guests and their dietary preferences. Be prepared to modify the ingredients for the rub accordingly.

5. Presentation of the Baby Back Ribs

Remember, this is a 4th of July or other summer holiday meal. Presentation is not the primary concern. However, keep a large supply of paper napkins or paper towels nearby.

Happy cooking!

Back Porch Baby Back Ribs

What could be better than baby back ribs for the 4th of July? Here at Serendipity Farmhouse, the answer is nothing could be better. For eight years, we've used our special back porch baby back rib recipe. We've enjoyed it, refined it, and perfected it. - Whether it be for honored guests, for close family, or just for Blondie and me, this recipe has never failed.
Note: This recipe can be adapted for use in a kitchen oven.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people


  • 1 Gas grill or oven


  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp onion powder You can substitute garlic powder.
  • salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 3 lbs pork baby back ribs
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce Use your favorite or make your own.


  • Place aluminum foil on lower rack to capture drippings and prevent flare-ups.
  • Preheat gas grill for high heat. (Try to get to 450℉)
  • In a small bowl, combine cumin, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder and salt and pepper Mix well.
  • Trim off the membrane sheath from the back of each rack. You can do this by running a small, sharp knife between the membrane and snip or "shimmy" off the membrane as much as possible. (We prefer just to slit the membrane between the bones.)
  • Sprinkle or "throw" as much of the rub onto both sides of the ribs as desired. Do not rub the spices in, because the ribs will turn too dark and spicy. You may have some spices leftover, depending on your taste.
  • Brush grate with oil, and lay ribs on top rack of grill.
  • Reduce heat to 350℉, shut grill, and leave undisturbed for 1 hour. Try not to lift lid at all during this time period! Check temperature every 10 to 15 minutes.
  • After one hour check for doneness, depending on your grill you may need to continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes (our grill takes one hour exactly). Brush ribs with barbecue sauce and grill an additional 15 to 30 minutes until sauce is slightly absorbed and a little brown around the edges.
  • Serve ribs as whole rack or cut between bones and pile individual ribs on the platter or plate.
Keyword Baby Back Ribs