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.”
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.
What can happen in a 13.50 x 11.25 foot room in the course of 95 years? Of course, the possibilities are endless. In the case of what is now the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen, let’s consider what the realities might have been:
1927 (or thereabouts) – The kitchen was a barebones cooking space. There were few cupboards. There was no electricity. The only known water well was in the front yard, so water had to be carried to the kitchen. A probable wood cookstove dominated the southern end of the room which vented to a chimney that remains standing to this day.
The hidden period – The Millers owned the house and several relatives and/or apple orchard workers moved in and out. Electricity finally arrived, an electric pump for the well brought water into the kitchen. The woodstove was replaced, likely with an electric range.
1978-1987 – The Millers sold the house to the Settles. During the next nine years, the kitchen was ‘modernized’, cabinets and storage space was increased dramatically.
1987-2000 – The Wyants bought the house and probably added some of their own touches.
2000-2009 – The Crosleys owned the house during this period. They were responsible for a number of innovations and improvements in the kitchen. The refrigerator was moved from its rather awkward position at the northwest corner of the kitchen to the northeast corner of the kitchen. This was a good move for several reasons, but it caused the loss of quite a bit of cabinet and counter space. Big improvements included, using paint to make the room brighter, installing black granite countertops, the introduction of a beautiful farm sink, and adding hardwood floors.
2009-2013 – The Grainers made relatively few changes to the kitchen, but they were responsible for many major projects throughout the house and the addition of two new sheds.
2013- Present – Keeping the best of what had come before and looking forward to the arrival of the next occupants, we, the staff of the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH TK have renovated the kitchen, bringing it into the 21st Century while maintaining a memory or two from 1927.
And my dear Friends, I Pierre LeChat, working under the inspiration and guidance of SFH TK Executive Chef Blondie, have now brought you to a level of historical knowledge that will enable you to understand the importance of each and every feature of the renovation as I presented it to you in my post Oh Yes, it is!. And for the first feature to be discussed, I have chosen the one that is perhaps closest to Chef Blondie’s heart: The Custom Corner Cabinet.
You now know that cabinet storage space and counter space were sacrificed when the refrigerator was moved from its very awkward and inefficient location in the northwest corner. The SFH TK had placed a movable cabinet there with a microwave on top. Storage was minimal to say the least. The picture below will give you an idea of how much storage space has been recovered with the advent of the new cabinet.
Great attention was paid to the design and construction of the new cabinet. Mr. Monte inspected every facet of the cabinet to ensure that it met the highest SFH TK standards. Every step along the way, he consulted with me and with the contractors, pointing out minor imperfections and never allowing work to resume until all discrepancies were corrected.
Then came the day when the paint was dry. All that was left was for Chef Blondie to add the finishing touches. Not a single piece of kitchenware or any item was put in place until she gave her go-ahead.
It took a while. Factually, it took over eight years of planning, saving, and waiting for the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen renovation to be complete. And finally, we are just about there. The unofficial reopening for the SFH TK was on Monday when the final piece of decor, a red utensil cannister arrived. Now, all that remains is a blessing of the kitchen by our pastor. From that point forward, the SFH TK will once again be ready to welcome children, grandchildren, and friends for adventures in the culinary arts and the world of fine cuisine.
At my urging (notice the rolling pin in my hands), Hubby has prepared a few pictures of the newly renovated SFH TK. Also, at my urging (once again, note the rolling pin), Hubby is working on a series of posts to provide a detailed description of the renovation process. I’ve assigned Mr. Monte to oversee that process. He was last seen at his scratching post sharpening his claws in anticipation of any problems that might arise from dearest Hubby.
The first picture below shows a general view of the main working area. It features the new subway tile, new stove (lovingly called ‘Mr. Clyde’), and the all-so-useful under cabinet lighting. Also shown is a new schoolhouse light fixture installed by Hubby.
This final picture illustrates how important it is to us to personalize the SFH TK and ensure that all can see how important family and our shared experiences are to us. It highlights the new yellow paint, which accentuates the beauty of the antique shelf and all the memory-filled items on it.
Oui, after over a year of waiting, after endless staff meetings, after adjusting plans and schedules, after resigning ourselves to the fact that it just would never happen, and finally, after living part time in El Camino Del Monte and part time in a house in utter upheaval, the contractors have completed their work. Now it is up to the weary and ragged SFH Test Kitchen staff members to organize a renovated kitchen, removing all construction debris, dust, and dirt, and bringing the soon-to-be-world famous test SFH Test Kitchen to a new level of excellence. – – Truly, it is a task most formidable!
To tell what had to be done and what remains to do is a story far too long for a single post. So, I will give you just the first taste here and then follow up with more detail in subsequent posts.
Here a just a few pictures of how the kitchen looked the morning after the contractors completed their work.
Below, I have painstakingly listed the major changes to the kitchen and have provided the purpose for the change or the upgrade. It will demonstrate that this renovation was not founded on a plan without a purpose.
C’est pas possible! Non! It just can’t be! After over a year of waiting, after endless staff meetings, after adjusting plans and schedules, after resigning ourselves to the fact that it just would never happen, then the contractor called just a few days ago saying he will be here on Monday the 13th. He and his crew will be ready to start just after 9:00 AM.
Oui! The long-awaited renovation of the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen (SFH TK) will begin tomorrow morning. And, because the highly motivated and, with one obvious exception, the highly capable SFH TK staff members have been working feverishly, night and day, since the contractor’s call to make all things ready for the work to be done. Here is some of what’s been going on:
Mr. Monte, the SFH Chief of Security, has drawn up a comprehensive work site security plan. This is to ensure that the work crew observes all protocols for safety in accordance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules and, more importantly, to adhere to Mr. Monte’s special protocols for non-disturbance of feline activities and non-introduction of intolerable noise or odors.
Blondie, the SFH TK Senior Executive Chef, has taken direct charge for clearing of cabinets, countertops, kitchen appliances, and utensils. She is also taking advantage of this renovation period to discard all non-essential items that have accumulated in the kitchen over the past eight years.
At the direct request of Blondie (in acknowledgement of my vast experience in the art of kitchen crafting, especially in the areas of efficiency and utility), I have assumed the role of project manager and scheduler. Using both traditional planning techniques and computer aids, I fashioned a faultless plan for completing all necessary preparations. As of this morning, I can confidently say that we are on schedule and will be 100% ready when the workers arrive tomorrow morning.
Ol’ Fuzz Face has been of some help in this task. He occasionally follows directions correctly and he has broken nothing of great value. He is most useful for lifting and carrying heavy objects. We try not complicating his work by requiring actions that involve serious thought.
As the renovation project proceeds, I will try to update you and explain why we have made various choices relating to the changes we are making. I must stress that we are not remodeling the kitchen. Our intent is to maintain the best of what previous owners have done since the late-1970s, while at the same time, adding touches that recall the early history of the house extending back to the 1920s.
The earliest picture we have of the kitchen was taken circa 2000. It reflects features commonly found in kitchens going back to the 1970s. Note the stainless-steel sink, Formica countertops, and wallpaper. Not quite as visible is the linoleum tile flooring.
The following set of photos show the kitchen just prior to when Blondie and Fuzzy acquired the house – “as is”. Note that by that time there was an authentic farm sink, black granite counters, and quality wooden flooring. However, cabinet space was lost when the refrigerator was moved to the corner of the eastern side of the kitchen.
If you view the cabinet and vent over the stove, you will notice that they are sagging and breaking away from the wall. There are many other things going on that are part of the “as is” quality of the kitchen. Time has a way bringing about undesirable changes in people and kitchens. Fortunately, renovation can restore a kitchen. (Prayer does the same for people.)
We are now less than 24 hours from the beginning of the project. I, your most caring and capable host, will keep you informed of the progress.
Eight years ago today, Serendipity Farmhouse became the house of our realities. That was when the papers that finalized the purchase were signed.
The day was sunny and clear just as you see in the picture of the title office, but there were no leaves on the trees then and the official temperature at Fanning Field in Idaho Falls (IF) only reached 21°F. Of course, that was a relative heat wave. Several days earlier, when we packed out our belongings, the temperature was below -20°F not counting the wind chill factor. In less than three hours after the signing, Blondie and Ol’ Fuzz Face would be on the road making the nearly three-day trek to Virginia through snow, ice, and dangerously high winds.
It was a trip well worth making. The risks were well worth taking. We were on our way to a rendezvous with Serendipity.
Since early in 2018, this blog has chronicled the important, the serious, the sad, and sometimes the hilarious events that have taken place at SFH. Today, there is one report to make that brings great joy to these two grandparents that reside here at SFH. Granddaughter #3 is celebrating a very important birthday. We pray that Our Lady of Guadalupe will intercede and have her Son make this a most happy day for her and her family.
Professional and amateur photographers alike avoid publishing pictures that contain reflections of themselves. For them, the lens must capture what is meant to be seen, not the one who is behind the lens. It is a silent way to control perceived reality. On the other hand, painters often do self portraits to chronicle changes to themselves over the course of time, especially in the Autumn of their years. – It is a necessary surrender to reality.
The featured picture at the top of today’s post crosses the line separating the photographer and artist who reside within me. The reason is quite clear. I am a part of the picture. What is happening in the picture is happening to me and to Serendipity Farmhouse. – This is an unavoidable reality.
Older houses and older people deteriorate over time. SFH is an older house and it was bought “as is”. Blondie and I have done our best to restore SFH and conduct preventive maintenance, but we are well aware that new problems will emerge when and where least expected. If you recall, last December we spent $3,800.00 for plumbing repairs due to leaks in the water line from the pump house to the main house. (See SFH Journal: 2020-12-17 through 12-28 – Whew!.)
The picture above shows water bubbling up from under our front walkway. The sand around and beneath the bricks is being washed away. This has been going on for almost a week. Due to the nature of the current economy and supply chain problems, a plumber won’t be available to assess the problem until this coming Tuesday. Our guess is that the water is coming from the water line that runs from the well pump to the well house. We still have running water in the house to serve our needs, but the damage to the walkway mounts daily. – This is an unavoidable reality.
I must confess that this and a number of other “unavoidable realities” caused the author to have a relatively serious meltdown earlier this week. I have since collected myself, apologized to Blondie and Mr. Monte, and worked at restoring “peace” within myself.
It is poor form to blame one’s problems on others. For example, there is no way I can blame the SFH water leak on any one individual. This is an old farmhouse, it was bound to happen someday. There are some things, however, that we would like to blame on certain individuals, and perhaps rightly so. But I believe that there is really nothing to be gained by doing that. Nevertheless, these days we are experiencing a global pandemic of what I call “COVidiocy”. It is spreading rapidly and has many variants. One of its more serious variants manifested itself on September 9th. (See for yourself here.) Over the last month, I have developed several symptoms inflicted by that particular form of COVidiocy. If no treatment becomes available soon, it appears that I may suffer permanently from the effects of this disease. – This is an unavoidable reality.
We here at SFH have hidden strength and resilience that enables us to weather any storm. We know that we will always come through the problems that beset us – there is always a sunny day after the storm. For example, it rained yesterday and the wind from the storm knocked down hundreds of black walnuts. They will have to be cleared away. But that’s no problem for Blondie and me. Isn’t that why we invented the game of Walnut Whacking?
And surely, life can’t be quite so bad and the future can’t be quite so dark, when during the midst of the storm, a truck pulls up and delivers a cord of firewood. This wood will keep us warm during the cold of the coming Winter. – And so it is with God’s grace, it will always be there, even when we are lost in Dark Autumn Reflections. – There’s always a sunny day after the storm when you surrender to the realities of the life God gives you.
SFH Gardens – By the Numbers
The following links will catch you up with what has been planted, harvested, and preserved since our last Journal post:
SFH History: Cleanup after the great Christmas plumbing project continues. (See Plumbing the Depths of History.) The yard and driveway are still a mess. That mess, however, has provided a great opportunity for the official Serendipity Farmhouse Historian & Archeologist to uncover important historical materials and artifacts. For example, our Historian can now say with some confidence that one or more of the original four SFH heating stoves and perhaps even the kitchen cookstove were fueled with either anthracite or bituminous coal.
Due to the amount of coal that was unearthed on the eastern side of our farmhouse, it appears that the coal was stored near there in a pile, perhaps in some type of enclosure. The use of coal for heating and cooking would have been consistent with common practice when the house was built. Having coal delivered by wagon or truck would have been far more convenient than gathering the large amount of wood necessary for wood burning heating and cookstoves.
As our SFH Official Historian was working the SFH archeological digs, a serious question nagged and bothered him intensely – Is that coal anthracite or bituminous? – Dang! He should be able to remember. After all, he had an international expert explain it all to him years ago.
A Little Family History & Birthdays
In the very early part of the 20th Century, the grandparents of our Historian passed through the Portas da Cidade and entered the old quay of Ponta Delgada on the Azorian island of São Maguel. That would be the last time they would see sites like the one in our featured picture. They boarded a craft bound for Bristol, Massachusetts and eventually would make a home near Fall River. On March 21st, 1907, a son was born to them.
There is neither time nor room here to dwell on details. Suffice it to say, the son, whose first language was Portuguese, grew and prospered, eventually becoming a Field Service Engineer for McDowell-Wellman Engineering in Cleveland, Ohio. His primary technical concentration was in the field of Coal Gasification. During the 1950s and 1960s, he would travel to far-off places, showing chemical engineers in Peru, Taiwan, Spain, Canada, and throughout the U.S. how to make an inexpensive, clean gas fuel from coal.
But it was more than just making a gas fuel. That gas could also be used in chemical processing to produce fertilizers for agriculture. That was the reason for his travel to Taiwan. The Taiwan Fertilizer Company he assisted in the 1950s in developing some of its processes is now a major producer of fertilizer and industrial chemicals. – – I guess the bottom line is – the SFH Official Historian’s father knew coal – he knew it just about as well as anyone could. – – Below you can see how he saw a lump of coal as compared to how most people see coal.
How you see coal
How he saw coal
That son of the Azorian immigrants yearned to travel and he had an abiding love for the sea and ships that sail the seas. Below, you can see him in 1932 as the “Captain” of the the “Charles W. Morgan” – the last wooden whaleship in the world. He passed on that love of the sea to his son, the SFH Official Historian, by taking him to see ports and ships on the eastern seacoast, including the Mayflower II when it first arrived at Plimoth Plantation in the 1950s.
Our then young SFH Historian was able to accompany his father to several nearby worksites on a number of occasions. He was even able to join his dad on a two-week, work-vacation adventure in Woodstock, Ontario. On those trips, our Historian was able to tour the inside of large steel plants and view the world-renowned Wellman-Galusha gas producer in operation. Yes, our very own Official SFH Historian had received an education in chemical engineering and coal at a very young age.
In retrospect, it is no surprise that our Historian’s childhood house on Rob Roy Road had the best-working, most efficiently-run, coal-fired furnace to heat water for the radiators found in every room. – Our Historian’s father was definitely not like Ralphie’s dad in the movie A Christmas Story.
Now, there was one detail about the carbon that makes up coal that always interested our young Historian whenever his dad would talk about it. – That was the process by which carbon can be transformed into that beautiful, useful, and valuable substance known as a diamond. Just like coal, a diamond is composed of carbon. But, unlike coal which is formed by an entirely different and more recent process, pure carbon, through the influence of time and pressure, can become the beautiful, shining, crystalline object that captures our imagination.
As noted earlier, our Historian’s father was born on March 21st, 1907. That would make today the anniversary of his birth. But there is someone else in our Historian’s family who shares that same date of birth. And she carries on in at least one important family tradition. Like her great grandfather and her grandfather, she yearns to travel to distant places. That is why she is studying Japanese language and culture.
At this point, there are only three more things to say:
First, our SFH Historian’s Granddaughter #1 is a most beautiful, shining, and adventuresome member of the family. If her great grandfather were to describe her today, he might compare her personality to the radiance of a diamond.
Second, from our Historian and all here at SFH, Happy Birthday, Dad and Granddaughter #1!!!
Third, our Historian has finally determined, after long and serious consideration, that it was anthracite coal that was used in the stoves at SFH, not bituminous coal. So, this should be an Anthracite Birthday not a ?Bituminous? Birthday. – – – Am I right, Dad?
With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, Mr. Monte is anxiously preparing a card, presents, and many other signs of sincere affection for his dearest Miss Fleur. So, on this very snowy Sunday, I have been able to regain access to the official Serendipity Farmhouse blogging computer. There’s a warm fire in the wood stove, and I look forward to a delicious lunch because my most beautiful and capable Wife will be making pastrami sandwiches with a perfect loaf of her exquisite homemade bread. – Indeed, all is well here at SFH!
For some, including Mr. Monte’s claimed 23,417 feline followers, the following story may be too long and tedious. Too bad for them. This story isn’t meant for those folks. It is meant for lovers of history and those who will follow us as residents here at our cherished Serendipity Farmhouse.
Sometimes you do the right thing and you don’t even know it. Or, you don’t know it until many years later. For example, in late-2016, dearest Wife and I commissioned the Rappahannock Historical Society to compile a detailed history of what is now the vast 1.203 acre estate known as Serendipity Farmhouse.
We were both impressed and overwhelmed by the more than 200-page document we received in early-2017. It was filled with maps, charts, photocopies of deeds, contracts, and other official documents. Even the cover page gave us pause to think about the historical significance of the land upon which our little farmhouse is built – “Formerly part of 1731 Colonial Land Grant from King George II and a 1751 land grant from Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax.”
Wondrous Spouse and I are students of history. We enjoy finding the puzzle pieces of the past and making a picture out of them. That explains why we have paged through the huge binder many times, trying our best to sort out the different names, persons, and relationships, creating a small “who’s who” in the SFH historical timeline. – Our reading of the history provided entertainment.
It wasn’t until December 22nd, during the week before last Christmas, that we found how fortuitous was our decision made in 2016. It was on that day that we found a practical application of historical documentation that saved us many hundreds of dollars that week and perhaps thousands of dollars over the next several years.
In 2013, our home inspector’s report noted that SFH had very low water pressure. In February 2014, our water pump died and had to be replaced. We thought the new pump would improve the water pressure. It did not.
For several years we lived with the problem. Various plumbers suggested that we might need a new pressure tank, but they weren’t sure. In July of 2020, our well went almost completely dry. We thought that several weeks without rain caused the problem. (See SFH Journal: 2020-07-06 through 07-12 and SFH Journal: 2020-07-13 through 07-26.) When we did have water, the pressure was very low. By December, almost nothing was coming out of the tap. So, we called in the professionals.
After testing this and that, that and this, a plumber, wiser than his years might suggest, stated without hesitation it wasn’t our pump or our pressure tank. No, we were the proud owners of an underground water line with an ever-growing leak. “We can fix it for about $3,800.00 – if you’re lucky.”
Left with no alternatives, we accepted the bid and waited for digging day. After one weather-related postponement, the day finally came. The two workmen arrived, looked at the colored lines painted on the grass by Miss Utility, and immediately started digging directly in front of the pump house. Their plan was to find the leak and simply repair the leak at its source. Within an hour they found the source of the leak. It was an old, worn out galvanized steel 90° angle fitting. – That was the good news.
The plumbers immediately replaced the fitting; turned on the system; breathlessly waited for signs of success; and soon found out there was probably another leak somewhere else along the line. – That was the bad news.
The workers casually mentioned to me that when they tried to trace the path of the existing line, it went away from the farmhouse rather than towards it. That didn’t make much sense to them. – But … But … It suddenly made all the sense in the world to me.
Quickly, I ran into the house pulled out the history binder and started looking for old survey documents. No, the survey made in 2013 wasn’t the right one. The survey made in February of 1978 was the one. Years ago, I had wondered why that survey showed a dashed line running from the original water pump down our lane. But there it was on the survey.
Below is a comparison of the 1978 and 2013 surveys. The answer was all in a simple dashed line – – – – – – – – –
Next I looked at a deed from the same year stating the following: “The right to use the water from the well located on Lot D for the benefit of Lots A, B and C, as set forth on the plat herein.” – Serendipity Farmhouse was Lot D, and the other three lots on our lane were Lots A, B and C. That was the answer – the water line did not go directly from the well to our house. No, instead it headed westward down the lane. The line to our house branched off of it further down the lane.
I informed the workmen of my finding and showed them the survey. It was at that point they decided there was no need wasting time looking for a second leak. Instead, they would run an entirely new line from the pump house directly to Serendipity Farmhouse. – Once the new line was in place, they turned on the water system and behold – there we no leaks and our water pressure was greatly increased.
The work was done for the originally estimated $3,800.00. It could have been more. The life of our water pump was increased because it was no longer continuously pumping water back into the ground. Finally, my neighbor across the way now had an answer to a question he had for years: “Why is it always so wet and soggy on the east side of my house?” – – Now the answer was clear, we at SFH had been giving him free water to keep his grass green through the longest droughts.
Lesson Learned 2021-01: Read your history – it will save you money and heartache.
SFH by the Numbers
The following links will catch you up with what’s come out of our gardens and what has gone into mason jars and the freezer since our last Journal post: