Last Saturday, Miss Blondie visited an antique store in Front Royal. She’s made that same trip so many times since 2003. For her, “Ole Timers” has been the place to find the perfect piece of furniture, China, or whatever to capture the essence of farmhouse living.
Saturday’s trip was just a bit different though. Miss Blondie went to honor Barbara, the owner of Ole Timers. She went there to give Barbara a loving birthday hug – because that is what good friends do.
Miss Blondie, Barbara & Farmhouse Living
Over the years, Miss Blondie has worked with Barbara in selecting furniture and decor for virtually every room in our house. Among the first items we purchased was a beautiful farm table with matching bench. That table has been the main table for dining in our homes in Front Royal, Idaho Falls, and now in Serendipity Farmhouse. Though we use it every day as a simple farm table, it has been the silent host for many romantic dinners. And, as our girls well know, it been there to serve them with an elegant setting for a High Tea.
A piece from Ole Timers has become literally the center of the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen. We have featured our kitchen island in many pictures. It combines salvaged antique items including an old door and a retired church pew. We use it as a convenient workspace and as a serving area for all our festive gatherings.
Why it will all continue on
Large items or small, functional or decorative, Ole Timers has supplied them all. Yet, for Miss Blondie, that’s not the most important thing. What is most important is that, for over twenty years, Barbara has been there. She’s been there with her smile, with her hugs, and with her great faith – there is so much to share.
Our farmhouse is a little place tucked well out of sight. It’s nestled up along a quiet river and guarded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has become the place where we can “Pray, Prepare, and Preserve”. – – It’s just a little place where “ole timers” can enjoy life with “ole friends.”
On Valentine’s Day 2019, I baked a most delicious cat-themed pie to surprise my two humans, Blondie and Fuzzy. To this day, they recall the joy my gesture of affection brought to their hearts. They loved my Valentine Pie and they loved me for what I did.
I must confess, the original inspiration came from Samantha Meyers and her recipe in my favorite magazine, Catster. As one might suspect, I made my own changes to the recipe. Today, I will share my revised recipe with you.
After five full years of blogging, it’s time to return to the beginning and consider what was our original intent for starting the Serendipity Farmhouse Blog. So, today we went back in time and took a look at our About page – About Serendipity Farmhouse. It’s clear from reading that page that our original motivation was to tell a story, a story about a family, an old farmhouse, and the many events and happenings that make Serendipity Farmhouse such a wonderful place.
The final paragraph on our About page reads: “We are just the caretakers. We will be here for a while and then it will be passed on to others in our family. So, for you, and mostly for our family, here is the story of Serendipity Farmhouse.”
Unlike many blogs, our goal has never been about making money. Rather, it has always been about providing our recollections and perspective about life here in our little old farmhouse. These stories and insights are intended primarily for our family, especially for those who someday will reside here. Of course, we are happy that extended family and friends occasionally peek at our site to see what’s new. They have been very supportive and their words of encouragement provide great incentive to keep the site active.
If you were to look at our bottom line, you would see that we have invested well over $1,500.00 in this site and have earned exactly $0.00 in return on investment. By the standards and norms used for evaluating the success of other blogs, you would have to conclude SFH blog is an abysmal failure. For example, discounting Mr. Monte’s alleged 23,417 feline followers, we have a grand total of 31 followers and 16 email subscribers. And don’t think that I delude myself concerning my abilities as an author. After all, the statistics speak for themselves. Even Mr. Monte scores consistently higher view counts than I do.
However, statistics can be deceiving. Despite the numbers, Blondie and I know that this blog is not a failure. How can it be a failure, if our children and grandchildren have a living record of what we have done together as a family? How can it be a failure, if our Faith and values are shared with our family and friends? How can it be a failure, if Blondie and I have so much fun writing these stories?
There it is. After five full years of blogging, my beautiful Spouse and I are having fun, we are living a fulfilling life together, and our family remains close. And all of that is the answer to a prayer we should have prayed – a prayer that was answered here at Serendipity Farmhouse.
It’s been over three years since my girls have joined me for tea at Serendipity Farmhouse – three very long and trying years that need to be put far behind us. (See our posts here, here, and here.) After many recent texts, emails, and phone calls, it became clear that the time to restore our family tradition was finally here. The girls missed me, they missed each other, and they missed chatting over a hot cup of tea.
No, we weren’t ready for the formality and lengthy preparations needed for a high tea such as we had in August 2019. After all, we have grown to be more mature. For some, that means there has been growth in knowledge and confidence, and for me, that means perhaps a growth in the wisdom of age. – There is now a new SFH reality: no longer was I to be the only host and provider, my daughters and granddaughters now wanted to prepare the treats and take a more active part in planning – it was time for Granny to have more time to sit with the girls and share in all that makes our tea time a golden time for making memories.
To be sure, I still had to put on my apron and make sure the grand SFH dining room was clean and ready. Likewise, the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH Test Kitchen had to be immaculate. Usually, my dearest friend Nancy would have been here to help with these tasks, but unavoidable circumstances made that impossible this year. So, Hubby voluntarily came out of his “tea time hiding place” and did a great job cleaning and arranging cups, pots, and kettles. Despite all his efforts, Nancy was sorely missed.
Mr. Monte is no longer a young cat. Rather, he has gotten much older and set in his ways over the last three years. The sudden, unannounced arrival of nine happy, chatty young ladies was not necessarily to his liking. In fact, he took the whole event rather poorly. Let’s just say Mr. Monte’s actions were not how you would describe a cat overflowing with hospitality and a welcoming spirit. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, Mr. Monte was asked to retire to the upstairs office for the duration of the tea.
Daughters and granddaughters outdid themselves preparing the finest of foods to accompany our tea. None of their masterpieces were from box mixes. No, I say it quite proudly, my girls did it all from scratch, with great creativity and delightfully tasting results. See below some of their creations.
Beyond the excellent teas and the finest of edible treats, there was the joy of being together again.
It was so very wonderful to see my daughters, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters all together again. How everyone has grown and become so much more in every way. It reminds me of two verses from Ecclesiastes:  All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. …  That which hath been made, the same continueth: the things that shall be, have already been: and God restoreth that which is past.
And this past week saw the restoration of a beautiful family tradition – Saturday, January 7th, was “A Time for Tea.”
Girls, thank you for coming to Serendipity Farmhouse and sharing a cup of tea with me!
It’s happening all around us. Innocent, unsuspecting trees are being robbed of their rightful destiny. Already, they are laying at the side of road, waiting to be carried off to oblivion. This is the sad case of the Tannenbaum Evictions. What’s worse is that in the process of evicting these poor trees, parents are depriving their children and themselves of the fullness of the Christmas Season. It is an abuse. It is a poverty.
“The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord [this year celebrated on January 8th]. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him, including the fact that he was born to die for us.” – USCCB
Here at Serendipity Farmhouse, our tree is still up, the Nativity scene remains in place on the front porch, and my sweet and wonderful Spouse and I continue to exchange Christmas greetings. If something is worth celebrating, it is worth hanging on to it as long as possible – and so we do.
Advent this year was filled with prayer and preparations. Just as we said we would in our post The Wake-up Call, we took the time “to pray to cast off the works of darkness; to prepare for our salvation; and to preserve in the heart of our family all that sustains the armor of light.”
Unfortunately, this Advent was filled with sickness. The families of our three children were each burdened with one or the other of the many diseases now in our region. Beautiful Wife and I likewise came down with some nasty ailments, the effects of which linger to this day. Even worse, a chronic condition had already weakened my dear Wife. Consequently, she was bedridden for several days by the flu.
Despite all of the sickness. Advent was a wonderful time. We had planned ahead, and our shopping and sending of Christmas greetings was completed a full week earlier than usual. So, when we arrived at our church on Christmas Eve, we were fully ready to partake in the joy of the Mass and the beautiful music from the choir. It was a Mass to remember.
Much of the country was dealt a harsh blow by Winter Storm Elliot on Christmas. Although our county did not receive heavy snow or ice, it did feel the winter chill – a low of 5.7 F° on Christmas morning. Three days earlier, SFH was inundated with nearly three inches of rain. So, the river was running high and cold on Christmas day.
Winter weather, sickness, Christmas preparations, all the things that can make for distress and worry – they were all there ready to assault your peace of mind, unless you reminded yourself constantly that there is indeed a reason for this season. The Christ Child was coming. Even Mr. Monte knew that he should ready himself for what was to come. We had the Advent wreath and cranberry scones to remind us and Monte had the warmth of the wood stove to remind him.
We here at SFH are hoping you are having the very best Christmas ever.
Merry Christmas, God bless! & Don’t evict your tannenbaum!!
As always, the alarm went off at 4 AM today. But this was not just any day, and the wake-up call was filled with more than the simple expectations of other days. This was the wake-up call that comes from the readings of the 1st Sunday of Advent:
Brethren, knowing that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is past and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)
For us here at Serendipity Farmhouse and for millions throughout the world, this day marks the beginning of a new year; a year that renews a cycle of the divine promise and its fulfillment. With knowledge that the promise will be and is fulfilled, it is essential to take the time and to make the time in this season of Advent to pray to cast off the works of darkness; to prepare for our salvation; and to preserve in the heart of our family all that sustains the armor of light.
During Advent, our posts will be much as they usually are. There will be the practicality that is a happy part of our rural life. And of course, there will be humor wherever it can be found. To be sure, Mr. Monte will have a word or two to put Fuzzy in his proper place and to correct all of our human failings. But at the same time, we will attempt to reflect some of our Benedictine understanding of life as proclaimed in the Rule of St. Benedict, 43,3:
Ergo nihil operi Dei præponatur. Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.
Hi! Blondie here with a mix of garden and food talk.
In this post we will discuss how the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen (SFH-TK) is mastering herb skills. So, come join me on the back porch and let’s talk about what’s going on.
Although Mr. Monte would probably disagree, my dear Hubby is greatly underrated when it comes to practical skills and long-range planning. – – Well, come to think of it, sometimes Monte’s low opinion concerning Fuzzy’s skills is spot-on. – – Whatever. This year, Hubby did have some good ideas relating to herbs and spices that have led to improvements for the SFH-TK.
I guess his long-range plan began to come into focus this time last year when he decided to give me a set of herb and spice bottles for Christmas. When I opened the rather large box containing the 48 little bottles, all I managed to say was, “Just what am I supposed to do with these?” He merely answered, “You’ll see.” – – And so I did in early March when Hubby installed two sets of herb and spice storage racks, one set for the kitchen and one for the pantry. (See the item Bringing Order to a Real Mess in the post Spring is Here! (Meteorologically speaking))
The next step in his plan was to improve our ability to grow herbs by preparing an entirely new herb garden in SFH Vegetable Garden #2. (See the item Part I – The Herb Garden Gardens in the post Feast Day Garden Talk)
Throughout the growing season, Hubby could be found gazing into his crystal ball (his computer and the Internet) looking for the best information sources needed to complete his master plan. That’s when he started collecting articles, items, and notes from places like the National Center for Home Food Preservation. From these resources he learned how to dry herbs. A big part of his master plan was to dehydrate some of our new crops of Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, and Tarragon and to become self-sufficient in these frequently used herbs. He thought this would be possible because all four herbs are perennials and we won’t have plant any new ones for some time. His newfound knowledge highlighted distinctions between the various types of herbs that would help him in selecting the best combinations of dehydrating times and temperatures. For example, he learned:
Less Tender Herbs — Include rosemary, sage, thyme, summer savory and parsley – these are easier to dry
Tender-Leaf Herbs — Include basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm and the mints – these have a high moisture content and will mold if not dried quickly
When the pressure from the main growing season subsided, Hubby had the time to pursue the task of perfecting his SFH-TK herb dehydrating skills. For a period of two weeks, every day was filled with either picking, dehydrating, or storing our herbs. Although he learned that it is better to store some herbs whole, that is not ground, he did experiment with grinding herbs using a make-do mortar and pestle. Here are pictures of the process and the results. Sometime in the future, I’ll let Hubby go into more detail. – – For now, however, let’s just say Hubby actually had a plan that worked.
Don’t Rest on Your Laurels, Hubby
Hubby was a bit overly proud of his new dehydrating skills. Consequently, Mr. Monte and I had to bring him down a peg or two. So, I took the opportunity to tell him that it was time to replace my special flashing light display on the back porch. Reluctantly, he set up the step ladder, climbed to dizzying and dangerous heights (for him) and proceeded to install the new lights. — Fortunately, there were no accidents and surprisingly the lights worked the first night.
First Fire of the Season
Now it’s getting a bit cold out here on the porch. It’s time to go back inside and warm up. I’ve asked Hubby to light a fire in our trusty old wood stove. While he’s doing that I’ll make some hot chocolate for the two of us.
Once again, it was the best harvest ever! – No, we’re not preppers; we’re not homesteaders; and we’re not farmers. We’re just a happily married couple living rural life in a practical way. – It’s all a great blessing.
SFH Gardens – By the Numbers
The extensive and highly productive vegetable gardens here at SFH have been blessed with a most abundant harvest. For now, the following links will catch you up with what has been planted, harvested, and preserved since our last report:
Autumn surrounds us now. It’s only natural to pause and reflect during this time of year. What is Autumn’s meaning and message? We all seek after the ‘truth’ in this season, but all too often it seems to be hidden or distorted. We hear some say they have ‘their truth’ and you have ‘your truth’. Because words mean something, we here at Serendipity Farmhouse reject that notion. Truth cannot be two different things at one time. Instead, we seek after truth by way of perspective – the proper perspective. And what might that proper perspective be?
The Last Four Things are death, judgment, heaven, hell. On November 2nd each year, this point is made abundantly clear on the Feast of All Souls. The sequence “Dies Irae” reminds us of the “Day of wrath and doom impending.” – This is not only truth, this is inescapable truth. This is the proper perspective that leads us here at SFH to say “Pray, Prepare, Preserve.” That is because, as have gone the souls before us, so too shall we go.
Off to Fetch the Mail
For dearest Wife and me these days, a walk to the mailbox is not just a walk. It is an Autumn adventure. There’s so much to see and enjoy along the way.
The Harvest Blessings Continue
Another first for Serendipity Farmhouse this year will be preserving our own Tarragon. We will use it in a variety of recipes, including salad dressings, sauces, and fish and chicken dishes. This herb is commonly used in French cooking. So, we will have to consult with Julia Child when making our next menu.
SFH is under attack!
Recently, my beautiful Spouse declared to the Facebook world:
SFH is under attack!
We have a nasty racoon that keeps leaving his scat on our front porch by the door. –
We have cleaned and it keeps coming back.
Anyone have some solutions?
Guided by the nearly infallible words of wisdom offered by Mr. Monte, the SFH Chief of Security, the porch was cleared, cleaned, and sanitized – twice. Every square inch was sprayed with Repels-All liquid; the entire perimeter was covered with Repels-All granules; packets of mothballs were strategically fastened to porch furniture; and mothballs were also wedged under the door jam. A close viewing of this photo will reveal some of our countermeasures.
We Continue …
Although the “Day of wrath and doom impending” is ever foremost in our thoughts, we must continue. We must continue to mark the passage of time with hopeful prayer; continue to prepare for whatever may come; and preserve all that is good.
Most of our readers know that May 15th is your feast day. With that in mind, I submitted my Spring planting report to you in our postFeast Day Garden Talk. I suspect, however, that few of our readers know that, at one time, your feast was also celebrated on October 25th. The two dates are both appropriate, each in its own way, as being representative of the gentle cycle of life we live here at Serendipity Farmhouse. May 15th can readily be seen as the beginning of our farming year, and October 25th coincides so well with the end of the harvest.
So, Hubby and I have decided that it is quite fitting to submit our harvest and food preserving report to you as soon as possible after the 25th. We ask that you please accept this report, which highlights the successes of our stewardship and humbly records some of our dismal failures.
Bottom Line Up Front:
The harvest for 2022 will go down in history as the best year yet for the vegetable and herb gardens proudly cultivated here on the vast 1.203 acres of the Serendipity Farmhouse estate. As you will see in the tables at the end of this post, the totals for our two specialty crops, okra and tomatoes, far exceeded all expectations. This is the first time that we have ever been able to have extra produce to use in experiments testing out different methods of preserving.
Big Okra Plants & Big Okra Totals: As you know Hubby added two new boxes to Vegetable Garden #2. He filled each with new garden soil and prepared half of one box specifically for okra. Over the years, we’ve come to agree with this statement made on the Southern States website: “Okra can grow from three to six feet tall.” One of the plants we bought from our local CSA, Waterpenny Farm, however, decided to reach a little higher than the average plant. That magnificent plant measured in at a fantastic 10 feet 3 inches from its base. It’s easy to see why our final okra totals were so high.
Varieties are the Spice of Life: The two new boxes finally gave us the room to compete twelve different varieties of tomatoes in a single season. For the first time, we were able compare quality and quantity to assist us in deciding the best varieties for cooking, salad making, canning, and freezing. In our table of harvest totals you will see which varieties we’ve decided will make a return appearance in the SFH gardens next year.
Experiments in Food Preserving: With extra produce and array of new fresh herbs on hand, we were free to try a number experiments. All but one went quite well. Three of the more interesting experiments gave us: Dehydrated Okra, a most tasty snack; Pickled Dilly Beans, a great side for a light meal; and Tomato Jam, excellent on top of a toasted bagel with cream cheese.
Not all that is planned well works out well: We planted quite a few beet seeds. But whatever we did in the planting and soil preparation obviously was not the right thing. For all of our effort all we received in turn was a single scrawny beet.
Likewise, we were really hot on the idea of fermenting. Our big mistake, however, was thinking that we should start with okra. After buying special equipment for fermenting and reading tens of articles, we decided to go ahead with a full quart jar of some of our finest okra. Now the world knows that if okra is not prepared properly, it can be quite slimy. Take it from us, fermenting okra increases the slime factor by several orders of magnitude. The best way to describe the results of this experiment gone wrong is to watch the 1958 American science fiction horror film “The Blob”.
That concludes the narrative part of our our report, St. Isidore. It was the best year ever. We’ve learned from our successes. We’ve learned from our failures. We’ve tried to be good stewards of what God has bestowed on Serendipity. The fruits of these labors constantly bring us joy.
The following two sections summarize the SFH 2022 Planting and Preserving season. You will find the full reports here and here.
To my 23,417 feline followers, especially my many cat cousins residing in Virginia and Ohio, at 3:49 AM this morning I plopped myself down precisely at the center of Ol’ Fuzz Face’s chest. After ensuring that I had elicited a suitable groan from Fuzzy, I began to purr loudly in a most endearing fashion. Because he had not yet awakened fully, I then stroked his bearded chin with my left paw. Acknowledging my loving attention, Fuzzy pulled his left hand from under the covers and patted me on the head but showed no sign that he was ready get up and feed me. Alas, at that point my patience had waned and I was forced to gently but convincingly bite his left wrist. Recognizing that there was no alternative, Fuzzy surrendered to my will and crawled out of bed.
As the old guy and I ate breakfast together, I reminded him that he and I had to draft a post highlighting the visit by the Big Admiral and her jovial, guitar-pickin’ husband. (See: Oh, Drat! More Turmoil for the Cat!) As usual, Fuzzy had been slow in editing pictures for the post. As usual, his tardiness was due to late-life mind fog and essential laziness. As usual, Blondie and I have had to kick-start him to get the job done. So, after a long delay, here is Ol’ Fuzz Face with the post you have been eagerly anticipating.
—- Ol’ Fuzz Face Tells the Tale —-
There are rumors that these two lovely sisters were originally from a cabbage patch somewhere in northeastern Georgia. After visiting the BabyLand General Hospital in Cleveland, GA, I am inclined to believe the rumors are true.
Needless to say, though I will say it anyway, the beautiful lady on the left is my most dear and lovable spouse Blondie, who is also known as ‘the Admiral’. To her right, is her equally dear and lovable sister, whom we know as ‘Aunt Pat’ or ‘the Big Admiral’. – – Let there be no mistake, both of them are impressive and formidable forces in the family, demanding great respect. When the two of them are together, every one in the family knows that they must toe the line; to do otherwise would be a grave mistake. – – Even Mr. Monte acknowledges that fact.
Early on, a third person came into the picture. That would be ‘Uncle Larry’ who used his innate charm, clever wit, and guitar-pickin’ skill to win the heart of Aunt Pat. Although it took Blondie a while to warm up to this erstwhile interloper, eventually she too recognized that he would be a good fit into the family. Some years later, I came along to make this a family foursome. Now, after all these years, it’s easy to see that this was all as it was meant to be.
Thus, this October reunion at Serendipity Farmhouse was a time of great joy and merriment. Old times and current family events were discussed. Fine food was shared. And there was music, lots and lots of music and foot-thumping entertainment. – – Son #1, Daughter-in-Law #1, and eight grandchildren came to SFH and spent most of a Saturday visiting with Aunt Pat & Uncle Larry. Uncle Larry’s music rocked the house. Everyone joined in the fun and sang along. Grandson #1 was even invited perform his interpretation of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s ‘Sixteen Tons.”
On Sunday, Daughter #2 entertained Aunt Pat and Uncle Larry with a fine meal and enthusiastic conversation. Son-in-Law #2 and the grandchildren talked over old times and listened intently as Uncle Larry told stories about heart-stopping visits by SWAT teams and other such unusual events. Yes, it was another day to remember.
A most unusual friendship developed over the course of the several-day visit. In a totally unexpected and uncharacteristic manner, Mr. Monte decided that Aunt Pat was to be his new found friend. He would stay as close to her as he normally would with Blondie. To the surprise and astonishment of all, Mr. Monte even made time to teach Aunt Pat how to shake his paw and give him tasty treats. – – We had all expected that Mr. Monte would retire to the bedroom for the entire visit. Instead, He decided to make this 50+ year foursome into a brand new family ‘quintet’.
So, the moral of the story certainly must be: Where there is love, there’s always room for one more in the family.
Now, Mr. Monte thinks of his dear Aunt Pat, and never more will he think ‘Oh, Drat!’.