Highlight: Spring has given Serendipity Farmhouse a wake up call. It’s time to shift gears from the reflective and peaceful calm afforded by Winter to the active and physical preparation of SFH for yard and building maintenance, gardening, canning, and RV touring. So, here’s a day-by-day list of just a few of things we accomplished this past week. Continue reading “SFH Journal: 2019-04-01 through 06”
It will happen in 58 minutes – the Spring Equinox. It happens in an instant of time. It is defined by science, yet, it is the key that opens the artist’s mind to beautiful paintings and it is the muse of the playful poet. Most people, with the exception of meteorologists, will call this the first day of Spring. Religions use this event to fix their liturgical seasons. And, this year, there is the awe inspired by a “super moon”. But, for those of us at Serendipity Farmhouse, all of that is merely the backdrop to events that have even greater meaning.
There are two major cycles to life at SFH. The first is our motto, the way we approach each day – Pray, Prepare, Preserve. The second is the underpinning of our relationships – Faith, Family & Country. Following are some reflections of Spring that evoke those themes. Continue reading “Reflections on Spring at Serendipity Farmhouse”
Highlight: There’s no reason to make a big deal about our weather today. It wasn’t a blizzard. Tree limbs weren’t broken under the weight of accumulated ice. We weren’t caught off guard or unprepared. – It was just an unusually early snow with a wintry mix. And, although it may have been inconvenient, it didn’t stop dear sweet wife and I from making plans for purchasing a new washer and dryer. It didn’t keep the mail lady from delivering unwanted bills. The only reason why it stands out as a highlight is – it was the first snowfall of the year at Serendipity Farmhouse. And that, dear and gentle reader, is an important event in our quiet way of life.
The precipitation began before dawn. At first, it didn’t look like it would amount to much. But, as the day progressed, the snowfall increased and we ended up with between two and three inches. It was a sloppy, slushy, yucky kind of snow, but nice to see, nevertheless.
Seldom do the days of the first snow and the lighting of the first fire in the wood stove coincide, but this year they did. That makes today even more special. A few pieces of wood, a pile of tinder, a starter, and one match – Voila! Instant warmth. Now the noisy propane furnace can take a rest. The wood stove will be our primary source of heat for the remainder of the Winter. (Of course, this is still Autumn, and it will be for more than a month – but tell the weather that.)
The only new detail added to the beginning of this season at SFH is now we have to protect El Camino Del Monte (ECDM) from the elements. Fortunately we received the RV cover in time to protect our home-away-from-home. Mr. Monte, however, is not happy with this new feature. The reason is he loves to look out the window above the kitchen sink. Now that ECDM is there, all he gets to see is a big unsightly RV bag – he is not pleased.
Weather: You name it, we got it. Rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow all came our way today. (For details of Sperryville, VA weather in November 2018 – click here.)
2018-11-15: High/Low – 34º/31º
Plantings: Reporting suspended until the first planting of 2019.
Harvest: Reporting suspended until the first harvest of 2019.
Highlight 1: The change of seasons could be no more evident than what we have seen this last week. Autumn colors reached peak; passed peak; and now the leaves are gone. Daily highs have dropped to the mid-forties. The National Weather Service now promises us snow and a wintry mix tonight. The splendor of Autumn was far too short.
Highlight 2: Our featured picture, however, summons hope for the coming season. Our Christmas cactus has been with us since Idaho. Its brave parent plant was a gift to my Mother many years ago in Ohio. It made the trip to Virginia when she passed away. And then, in true pioneering spirit, it crossed plains and deserts to live with us in Idaho. The blossoms of today bring memories of my Mom and remind us that Christmas will soon be here.
Highlight 3: Yesterday, in what will surely become a yearly ritual, old Fuzz Face crawled up the ladder of our RV El Camino Del Monte. With wobbly legs and great fear of impending disaster, he unfurled the new RV cover. One tiny, cleverly hidden tag, was the only way to identify the front end of this monstrous and unwieldy mass of fabric. While foolhardily traversing the roof of the RV in a totally confused and befuddled state, the wind began to build and threatened to turn the RV cover into a parasail and to drag Fuzz Face to some far-flung corner of the county. As one might expect, Mr. Monte watched from the kitchen window with “glee” and “hopeful expectations” written on his face. Unfortunately, for Mr. Monte, old Fuzz Face was uncharacteristically successful and completed the job unharmed.
Weather: And finally it arrives. These are the words of the National Weather Service for tonight (14-15 November): “Snow, freezing rain, and sleet, mainly after 4am. Low around 28. Northeast wind around 6 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New ice accumulation of less than a 0.1 of an inch possible. New snow and sleet accumulation of less than a half inch possible.” (For details of Sperryville, VA weather in November 2018 – click here.)
2018-11-08: High/Low -55º/39º
2018-11-09: High/Low – 45º/41º
2018-11-10: High/Low – 45º/28º
2018-11-11: High/Low – 46º/25º
2018-11-12: High/Low – 46º/28º
2018-11-13: High/Low – 45º/37º
2018-11-14: High/Low – 41º/32º
Plantings: Reporting suspended until the first planting of 2019.
Harvest: Reporting suspended until the first harvest of 2019.
The good RV El Camino Del Monte (ECDM) embarked on its third official cruise on October 21st. Unlike the unofficial emergency evacuation adventure, Monte’s Bug Out Buggy to the Rescue, this two-day expedition was thoroughly planned and prepared well in advance. The crew was ready to check out ECDM’s heating system and experiment with some new RV-friendly menu items. (Did someone say “Boeuf Bourguignon”?)
With the exception of Mr. Monte, who displayed some displeasure in leaving his familiar surroundings, the crew was in fine form and good humor – it was time to disconnect from current events and the agitation of this world.
Uncharacteristically, ECDM was a bit hard to start. At one point, there was a three or four word message on the dashboard, but it vanished before yours truly could catch the words or meaning of the phrase.
With engine running smoothly, all crew members safely secured, and GPS showing the way, ECDM began the trek toward the main highway. We were on our way!
Unexpectedly, there it was, quietly, alarmingly, disturbingly, confusingly telling us that something was wrong – the dreaded “CHECK ENGINE” icon. No, it didn’t say what was wrong. No, it didn’t say whether it was serious. No, it merely laid out an omen of terror on our day, on our safety, perhaps even on our lives.
How should one interpret this masterpiece of information, misinformation, disinformation, designed solely to destroy one’s inner tranquility? Of course, the “experts” are in diametric disagreement.
If the check engine light comes on: Look for a serious problem that requires immediate attention. Check your dashboard gauges and lights for indications of low oil pressure or overheating. These conditions mean you should pull over and shut off the engine as soon as you can find a safe place to do so. (See full text here.)
Regardless, you’re safe to drive for now as long as the car isn’t performing strangely. Just have the Check Engine Light checked and the problem repaired. (See full text here.)
There you go, “imminent doom” or “no biggie”, the choice was mine to make. Beautiful, trusting spouse asked quietly, “Is this a problem, Sweetie?” I, with a great big, hardening ball of concern in my gut said, “No biggie, dear.”
ECDM made the steep climb through Shenandoah National Park up to Skyline Drive without a whimper, a sputter, or a gasp. Despite the weight of our heavily loaded coach, she made the climb seem like child’s play. That big ball of concern in my gut began to loosen. But, the “CHECK ENGINE” icon continued to glow threateningly.
With the steep ridge behind us now, we made our way to the RV camp thoroughly enjoying the glorious, albeit windy, Autumn day. Our assigned site was, however, somewhat disappointing. Very short and uneven, we found it difficult to level out ECDM. We had a distinct lean to the left that would cause water in the shower to flow away from the drain and attempt to flow over the side. I decided that first thing next morning I would correct that problem.
The RV camp was almost completely filled. There were virtually no empty sites. Dogs were barking, RVs were pulling in and parking, others were leaving, and the farmer next to the camp was target shooting. Each and every sound alarmed and frightened poor Mr. Monte. It took him a full six hours to come out from hiding.
Dear, wondrous, and capable wife made a simple but excellent supper consisting of soup and grilled cheese on ciabatta bread. She was saving the more challenging Boeuf Bourguignon for the second day of our trip. Later, with popcorn and tissues at the ready, lovely, sentimental spouse and I watched the timeless chick flick Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Mr. Monte, setting aside his normal macho, alpha male, Main Coon demeanor, watched with riveted attention.
Meanwhile, that little ball of concern in my gut began to grow slightly and tighten. I knew in the morning I would have to start the engine in order to re-level ECDM.
Mr. Monte, perhaps attempting to cover up his indiscreet show of emotion during the chick flick, ensured that a minimal amount of sleep was had by all. Dear wife, had the Monte watch duty from midnight to 4:00 AM. Outside, the temperature plummeted to a chilly 28 degrees, but the RV heater, much to Mr. Monte’s displeasure, came on, somewhat noisily, several times throughout the night.
Morning came, fresh coffee was brewed, breakfast was eaten, and showers were taken. It was now time for re-leveling. We unhooked, water, sewer, and electric. Wife took station in front of ECDM to guide me off and back onto leveling blocks. Mr. Monte quietly watched me as I made my way to the driver’s seat, placed my foot on the brake, and inserted the key and watched lights appear.
Another twist of the key. Another nothing!
Another twist of the key – sputter, gasp, whimper, wheeze, vibration. Engine started, but engine sick. The evil “CHECK ENGINE” icon appeared and laughed at me – “See! I told you so!”
Then the most ominous phrase appeared on the dash, “ENGINE POWER IS REDUCED”.
Drat! Double Drat!! Triple Drat!!! – – Formerly trusting, now confused wife looked at me, the guy who said “No biggie, dear.”
“Serendipity, we have a problem!”
Mr. Monte looked at me from inside his carrier and said, “Well, Fuzz Face, what are you going to do now? You’ve brought us to this forsaken refuge of dogs and cows and now we are stranded – perhaps forever.” (That cat has no mercy when it comes to me.)
I turned off the engine, then restarted it – same result. I turned off the engine again, then restarted it – same result. I turned off the engine and waited. Wife looked at me questioningly, but with love. Mr. Monte looked at me accusingly and without love.
The great big, hardening ball of concern in my gut had grown to planetoid proportions. Would I have to call for a repair service or towing and all the problems and expenses that go along with that?
One more twist of the key – the big engine inside ECDM started. It purred, it hummed, it idled gently – it was alive again! Everything was perfect except the “CHECK ENGINE” icon was still there.
Instantly, wife and I conferred while the engine continued idling. We packed up the sewer hose, the power cable, the water hose, and secured all doors and hatches. We made sure all things were fastened down inside and we drove out to the RV camp office. Amazingly and unexpectedly, the very cordial attendant gave us a full refund for our second day.
Then we were on our way back to SFH, or were we? There was still the steep, curving, treacherous road over the ridge between us and home. Should we dare make that drive? The “CHECK ENGINE” icon was still there. The great big, hardening ball of concern in my gut continued to grow and tighten.
ECDM made the steep climb through Shenandoah National Park up to Skyline Drive without a whimper, a sputter, or a gasp. Despite the weight of our heavily loaded coach, she made the climb seem like child’s play. That big ball of concern in my gut began to loosen.
We made it home safely!
We immediately called our local garage, and John said he thinks he knows what the problem is. Tomorrow or the next day, El Camino Del Monte will go in to be serviced. At the same time, it will be winterized then stored in our yard to await next year’s RV season.
El Camino Del Monte has made three shakedown cruises and one emergency evacuation trip this year. There was a story to be told every time. A wife, a husband, and a cantankerous Maine Coon cat living a strangely wonderful life together. This story is just one small part of the serendipity at our little farmhouse. We prayed, we prepared, and in this story we have preserved the memories.
Pray, Prepare, Preserve!
They say, “A man’s home is his castle.” And, in my mind, Serendipity Farmhouse is my castle. It is where I find my solitude. It is a safe haven for my family. It is our fortress. Having said that, I have never, ever requested that my castle have a moat. Last night, however, despite my strident objections, Florence blessed Serendipity Farmhouse with a quite impressive moat. A moat that effectively cut SFH off from the rest of the world with a terrifying mass of surging water.
It started with a series of intense downpours. A narrow band of storms moved north-north easterly up the Blue Ridge. When they passed Charlottesville, the grew in strength. By the time they reached SFH, they dumped rain in a concentrated deluge into our local watershed.
Water began to cascade down from the nearby golf course and road into our driveway and yard. Meanwhile, the North Fork of the Thornton River was rapidly reaching full capacity. The rush of water was nearing the edge of the banks. Prudence dictated that we take the two cars to higher ground. El Camino Del Monte (Monte’s Bug Out Buggy) remained in the driveway, ready if needed.
I had watched the situation on radar and saw that more rain was coming. My natural concern was now becoming an urgent worry. Sweet, adorable wife, on the other hand, was more concerned about what might be happening to our son and two daughters. Tornadoes were predicted in my Son’s area and both daughters had homes prone to flooding. Wife was intent on praying for them and was putting off the idea that we might need prayers ourselves.
The downpours continued to visit us, one after another, and each one brought new intensity and greater amounts of water. Beautiful wife and I needed to talk. And so we did. We encountered difficulty in deciding whether we should evacuate or remain ensconced in SFH.
Two events helped us make a rapid decision. First, wonderful spouse saw water lapping at the side of the house opposite from the river. She began to see that there was a chance for us being cut off from an escape route. The second thing was the true deciding factor, the tie-breaker. Mr. Monte entered the room wearing a pair of swimming goggles and a snorkel.
Wife immediately said she would gather some extra food and supplies. Mr. Monte, a bit indignantly, entered into his carrier. We turned off lights, secured the house, and made our way into Mr. Monte’s Bug Out Buggy. In just a few minutes, the driveway had become covered by two to six inches of water. It was filling from both the high ground runoff and from the river overflowing its banks. We had little time to spare.
All passengers were in place. The engine was started. It was getting dark and the rain was obscuring the view. Lights were turned on. Wipers were activated. I put the RV into drive. Slowly and carefully I began the journey out the flooding lane. Water splashed to both sides. Mr. Monte hunkered down in his carrier and released a worried mew. Wife was praying.
As a swipe of the wipers cleared the windshield for a brief moment, I saw it. It was just ahead of us on the right side of the drive. It was large, long, and dark. I had to veer sharply to the left. As we passed by the object, the next swipe of the wipers allowed me to see the large railroad tie that the water had pushed into our driveway.
Minutes later, we had made it to the high ground. The Bug Out Buggy was parked next to our two cars. We began to settle in. Mr. Monte emerged from his carrier and had some food. He reckoned rightly that we were out of harms way. Wife and I prayed a Rosary in thanksgiving and asked that our home might remain safe. There were a few more details that had to be handled, then we turned in for the night.
Mr. Monte, now a veteran RV cat, stood watch at the window while we slept. Assured in his mind that all was well, he jumped into the upper bunk and kept vigil while we slept.
Promptly at 3:55 AM, Mr. Monte called reveille. Get up Fuzz Face! Get up Blondie! First feed me, then let’s get back to Serendipity Farmhouse and assess the damage. We did precisely as he requested.
Though the water came to all sides of the house, it never rose high enough to do damage. But the force of the flowing water was evident. One large stone, perhaps weighing twenty pounds was rolled over 30 feet from it place in the garden. The grass around the house was flattened and matted, but all the damage was superficial.
We had prayed – our prayers were answered.
We had prepared – but we learned some new lessons.
We had preserved our loved ones – each other.
Having lived through this relatively minor emergency, we can only think about the folks in North Carolina and other places who had to suffer through so much more. Tonight, our prayers are with them. May God protect and preserve them.
Also it is necessary to say to Mr. Monte – thank you for letting us use your Bug Out Buggy.
Good day to all of my adoring fans throughout the world!
After a threat of terrible bloodshed and carnage, Old Fuzz Face relinquished the keyboard and allowed me my rightly due, that is, I shall be the one to relate the sequence of events that took place on the second Shakedown Cruise of the good RV El Camino Del Monte (ECDM).
As reported in SFH Journal: 2018-09-12 & 13 yesterday, I and my sometimes intrepid crew have returned to the safe harbor of Serendipity Farmhouse. Old Fuzz Face, Blondie, and I, Mr. Monte the Magnificent, once again, have braved the open road, steep hill climbs, perilous descents at excessive speed from high ridges, and the exhausting life of a luxury RV campground.
(Please note carefully: A “luxury RV campground” only refers to luxury for humans. The fact that canines (slobbering, yapping, flea-infested dogs) are allowed in an RV campground, seriously detracts from the “luxury” that any exalted feline might enjoy.)
I must commend Blondie for having the forethought to understand how stressful the barking, yapping, and generally distasteful sound of dogs might be to my royal sensitivities. She had sprayed ECDM with a preparation called “pet remedy”, a “natural de-stress and calming” spray.
Now, you must understand that, although the spray may have helped me some, there is more to this story. A close reading of the “pet remedy” box shows that this product works with all mammals. Let’s face it, Fuzz Face and Blondie are, in fact, mammals. It is my contention that one reason why this shakedown cruise went so well was because my two humans were even more influenced by this spray than was I.
This was a far, far better cruise than the first. It was highlighted by many successful undertakings. One might say that my two big cats (i.e. trainable humans) have almost gotten their act together. And, although not all things went perfectly, for example the large knot on Fuzz Face’s forehead and the severely scraped and bruised area on Blondie’s right shin, we return with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Join us over the next week or two as I, with feeble and faltering technical assistance from Fuzz Face, recount our shakedown cruise experiences.
Mr. Monte here. I’ve politely told old Fuzz Face to back off from the computer tonight so that I can tell you my side of the story. What story? Well, of course, what really happened on the shakedown cruise of El Camino Del Monte. It’s not at all like Fuzz Face would have you believe. Even his grandchildren will tell you that he wouldn’t recognize the truth even if he stumbled over it – he tends to embellish – if you know what I mean.
As you can see from the featured picture, this RV thing that Fuzz Face and Blondie call El Camino Del Monte was actually payment in tribute to me. It was supposed to be my summer palace. When it arrived at Serendipity Farmhouse, I performed all the required regal ceremonies. I sniffed. I rubbed up against things. I prowled into deep, dark corners and spaces. I even climbed to the highest places and left my scent for all to know – this RV thing was and still is mine.
I noted several deficiencies to old Fuzz Face. My primary concern was that the air conditioning wouldn’t work with anything less than a 30 Amp circuit. He promised me in his usual slavish manner that this would be corrected immediately. To date, no 30 Amp service and no air conditioning.
Despite all the needless problems caused by Fuzz Face and Blondie, I was prepared to spend a quiet and peaceful season in my summer palace. I was prepared, but Fuzz Face and Blondie had something else in mind – a blasted, infernal, ridiculous, and exceedingly dangerous shakedown cruise.
There it was, late morning on the 5th of August. The old guy coerced me to get into my carrier and said we were heading out to the RV. Why should I refuse? I knew that my servants had food, water, and a clean cat pan waiting in the RV. I also knew that the bed had been made and would provide the perfect place for a nap.
All was well with the world, my subjects were seeing to my needs and desires.
Vrroomm! The RV began to make noise and there was a sickening vibration from the floor, through my carrier, and into my very bones. Vrroomm, Vrroom! We were off with a lurch, with a shudder, with no warning, no soothing words, nothing except intense, excruciatingly unpleasant noise and motion.
My palace, my Summer hideaway, began to jerk up and down and sway nauseatingly from side to side. And, we weren’t even out of the driveway yet. Then, we rolled and bounced onto the highway. I heard old Fuzz Face say to Blondie, “Hey, let’s take the long way and drive over Chester Gap into Front Royal.” Traitor to the cat she claimed to adore, she said, “That’s a great idea!”
Friends, I can’t tell you, nor could I ever express completely how much stress was caused to my system over the next hour of driving. Old Fuzz Face was auditioning for a movie to be called “The Cabbie from Hell”. Weaving to and fro, nearly going airborne over small hills just to hear if I would complain. A true sadist was at the wheel and Blondie egged him on.
We pulled into the RV camp, and Fuzz Face shouted with glee that he had backed into a spot successfully. In truth, he almost ran over Blondie who was trying to give him directions. He was a madman, I tell you, a madman. Then came the final lurch as he stopped abruptly, but everything else in the RV kept moving.
Now, Blondie has told people that I hid under the passenger seat for six hours. She almost implies that I am not a catly cat. Let me just explain. Self preservation and survival of the fittest is rule number one in my kingdom. Who knows what other horrors Fuzz Face had planned for me.
So, I finally ventured out to see what damage had been done to my summer palace. It was then, when I crawled up into the driver’s seat that I saw the alien creatures in the mirror, roaming about us. Not only had Fuzz Face taken me far from Serendipity Farmhouse, I could tell by the looks of these creatures that he had taken all of us to a different planet. They ate grass, if you can imagine that. They had boxy bodies and ugly, bony backs, and were colored with ridiculous black and white patches.
Being smarter than Blondie and Fuzz Face, I headed to another hiding place.
And so it went for the first day and late into the second day. I would have stayed in my secure spot, but a cat has to eat. I ventured forth, but there was no longer trust in my heart for Blondie and Fuzz Face. I refused to purr for them. In fact, at one point, to cause them some of the stress that I had been feeling, I even played ‘possum.
Blondie nearly flipped out and began to cry. Fuzz Face, for once in his life, had a worried look on his grizzly face. I lay motionless and limp and let the whites of my eyes show in a sickening way. They freaked! So, rather than cause them all the indignity that I had been made to feel, I finally demonstrated that I was still with them.
I let them rest some during the second night. Blondie wanted to go home. She was worried about me. Fuzz Face, however, was not swayed by Blondie’s words nor did he seem to give a darn about my well being. He simply said, “We’re staying.”
Okay, I had my fun. I gave them back the distress they had given to me. It was time to return to my regal, catly behavior. At precisely 4:02 AM on the third day, I pounced on old Fuzz Face, just as I would do on any day. I nipped him on his forearm, almost drawing blood, and said, “Get up! Feed me! Make some coffee and say your morning prayers.
Being a good servant, He got up, fed me, made some coffee, and said his morning prayers.
No matter what they might try to tell you, that’s really the way it happened. I’m hoping they’ve learned a lesson. And to you, Fuzz Face, see what happens to your arm if you ever try to get me into that carrier again.
I speak English. I have a relatively large vocabulary. I am well aware that words mean something. I also know that, when we don’t agree on the meaning of words, there will be problems. – So it was on our third and final day of the shakedown cruise.
By 2:50 PM on the first day of the El Camino Del Monte shakedown cruise, electricity, water, and sewer were all hooked up and functioning normally. Earlier, at the dealership, we had tested out the propane heater and knew that worked. Now it was time to open the propane tank valve and test out the stove. As expected, the stove worked perfectly.
Although there were several more items to test, we felt that it was now time to start preparations for our first meal aboard our home away from home. We had cleared the water lines and knew that water would be needed, not only for cooking, but also for washing dishes. So, we turned on the hot water heater of very recent unhappy experience. (See El Camino Del Monte – Water Works? or Waterworks?) Our RV has both propane and electric hot water heaters, we opted for the electric, knowing that the propane heater was still quite soaked.
Our menu called for an old family standby – S&B Golden Curry with beef on Japanese-style sticky rice. Although the meal is based on a store-bought mix, over the years, we have adapted the meal with our own selection of spices and sides (e.g. cayenne, curry powder, corn chips, dill pickles, and cheddar cheese). Don’t expect to find this combination anywhere in India or Japan. The only place you will find it is at our house or in the homes of our clan.
Now the two master chefs of the soon to be famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen had moved to their new mobile facility. The show was now on the road and cooking with gas.
Beautiful Spouse did most of the meal prep with the stew beef, onion, and spices. I tackled the technical task of testing out another new piece of technology. Our regular rice cooker is too bulky for use in the RV. So, we purchased a miAroma mini digital rice cooker to save space.
I followed the simple directions closely – add rice, add water, push a button. Minutes later we had just enough sticky rice for two adult sized servings of curry rice. The product worked as described. What we didn’t know until we opened the box and pulled out the directions was that the rice cooker could also be used to prepare several other dishes including: cake, soup, pasta, omelettes and more – perfect for RV living.
Now remember, nothing goes perfectly on a shakedown cruise, especially for yours truly. Despite our best planning and preparation, we forgot a key ingredient for our curry. This oversight almost brought tears to my eyes.
Lesson Learned: Never, ever, not now, not ever forget the fresh garlic!