Category: SFH Lessons Learned

SFH Journal: 2018-09-14 through 16

Highlight: Once upon a time, there was a hurricane, a pair of scissors, and an okra plant. Who would ever suspect how the accidental coexistence of those three things could lead to a Serendipity Farmhouse emergency and a very unexpected Lesson Learned?

Florence is coming! Florence is coming to Virginia! Batten down the hatches! Stow away everything that isn’t tied down!

And so it was a week ago. Tables, chairs, and garden tools were stowed away. My beautiful, forward thinking wife made sure everything was safe from tropical storm wind and rain – even her garden gloves.

While on our RV trip in Mr. Monte’s bug out buggy, Florence changed course and moved further south and west. The immediate danger was gone. We returned home and set about our normal routine – even in the garden – even though all that had been stowed away had not been returned to its rightful place. And, of course, that included dear wife’s garden gloves.

On the 16th, okra needed to be picked. The beautiful woman, whom I love so dearly, went cheerfully with scissors and bucket in hand. She had everything she needed to pick okra. Everything except her garden gloves.

A snip here, a snip there and soon seven okra pods were in her bucket. Number eight was waiting high atop an okra bush nearly seven feet up. She gently bent the push to where she could reach that eighth pod. Perhaps it was the awkward position; perhaps it was the unusual angle; no matter what it was, as the scissors snapped sharply shut, a small piece of her middle finger slid into the path of the blades. The blood followed soon afterwards

In her stoic way she called to me while heading towards the house. I saw the problem; I saw the blood; I saw this was no simple cut.

First one, then another, first aid kits, hydrogen peroxide, and other emergency items made their way to the kitchen where we attempted to stop the bleeding. There was no combination of bandages, gauze, or tape that would stem the flow. Within minutes, we were in the car heading 25 miles to the urgent care facility.

0916181213c (2)There was a wait, but not too long. There were experienced medical professionals that had just the right makings for a custom fit dressing. Finally, the bleeding was under control and the wound was properly cleaned.

Today, dear spouse is nursing her wound and she asked me to tell you about here Lesson Learned: Never take a shortcut, always use your garden gloves, and always, always look closely at what your are doing.

There is no doubt that the next batch of okra cooked at SFH will be accompanied by a remembrance of once upon a time, when there was a hurricane, a pair of scissors, and an okra plant.

Weather: The remnants of FLORENCE are heading our way and will dump heavy rains on the region on Monday. The level in the river is low enough to take 2-3 inches. Any more than that, however, may mean moving the cars to high ground and spending a night or two in El Camino Del Monte in the church parking lot.

2018-09-14: High – 77º, precipitation 0.06 (Details – click here.)

2018-09-15: High – 73º, precipitation 0.00 (Details – click here.)

2018-09-16: High – 71º, precipitation 0.02 (Details – click here.)

Plantings: Nothing to report


2018-09-14: Nothing to report

2018-09-15: Nothing to report

2018-09-16: 8 okra pods, 1 finger

El Camino Del Monte – Shakedown Cruise #2

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 pet-remedy-200ml-spray-750x750barking, 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.

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Blondie just made my lunch and I express my satisfaction

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.

(For a look at what happened on Shakedown Cruise #1, look here, here, here, here & here.)

How to Host a Tea Party – SFH Style

Three Generations – One Tradition

History & Tradition: You could fill a library with the many books on how to host a tea party. I know, I own several of them. But not one of those books taught me the important lesson I learned from my Mom and other inspiring  women who were part of my Southern upbringing. That is the lesson on how to be a “lady”.

No matter whether it’s a tea party, a dinner, or a church social, a “lady” is the woman who puts all others before herself, speaks kindly, and seeks to instill similar values in the next generation. In short, if you want to have a successful tea party, you invite daughters and granddaughters who want to become “ladies” and you share what you have learned from the “ladies” who were part of your upbringing.

And so it was on Saturday. The three generations of Serendipity Farmhouse “ladies” gathered and shared each other’s company, delighted in each other’s stories, and enjoyed fine teas and tasty treats.

Preparation: The Third Annual SFH Tea Party didn’t come about in a single day. It tookDSC_0323 three months of scheduling, menu planning, and shopping. There was a certain emotional tension in this process. Unlike my hubby who can live with things being “good enough”, I can’t handle the idea of a tea party that is only “good enough”. So, for the last three months hubby has been sleeping fine and I’ve had several sleepless nights.

Fortunately, I have been through this twice before. And even more fortunately I have my friend Nancy to call upon for advice and support. Needless to say, but it is worth saying anyway, Nancy is a “lady”.

DSC_0293Here’s one more essential item. It was also helpful that Mr. Monte was trained in place settings and table arrangement by service staff at Downton Abbey. You will notice his keen eye for measure and placement.

So, preparation for an SFH Tea Party requires only five important things:

  • A good plan,
  • A good menu,
  • A good friend,
  • A good hubby to run errands, and
  • A good Maine Coon cat with domestic service experience.

Food: So, just what does an SFH Tea Party menu look like? Take a look at the pictures to see just a few of the tasty treats that were offered.

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Now that I have your interest, here’s a list of what was served:

  • Assorted specialty teas (my favorite was the lavender)
  • Mints & chocolates (The 92% dark chocolate was gone in flash)
  • Cucumbers sandwiches (with organic butter or cream cheese)
  • Pimento cheese sandwiches
  • Scones (plain & cranberry lemon – provided by Happy Creek Eatery)
  • Lavender tea bread
  • Chocolate hazelnut wafer rolls
  • Banana blueberry mini-muffins
  • Lemon bars
  • Lemon and ginger cookies
  • Watermelon, cantaloupe, and grapes

Lesson Learned: It is the opinion of all the tea party guests and the soon to be world famous SFH test kitchen staff that the lemon lavender scone mix was a disaster and should be thrown into the garbage – which it was. The lesson is – never, ever, no not ever buy food mixes in the gift shop of any historical site. Why? The food mix may be only slightly younger than the historical site. Scone mixes from 1803 will never be used at an SFH tea party again.

Attire: Now this section is the most important and probably the most sensitive issue to be discussed in this post. I will use myself as an example. You will notice that my attire was comfortable and perfectly suited to the high expectations of an SFH tea party. Furthermore, Saturday was also the day of the running of the Belmont Stakes. My hat would have fit in that setting perfectly. Why? Because it was both traditional and stylish.

Now look at my hubby. He tried to persuade all at the tea party that his hat and other attire were both functional and sophisticated. Is there any doubt in your mind why he was summarily banished to his office upstairs with his son? I think the picture speaks for itself.






A Rainy Day – Pray, Prepare, Preserve

There’s no reason to dwell on the obvious. When you live in an old farmhouse next to a river you must be aware and take care. Serendipity Farmhouse is technically on the 100 year flood plain. Any given year, that gives us a 1% chance of flooding. Yes – We do have flood insurance.

Having said all that, when weather events such as the last three weeks of rain, come our way, we:

  • pray for safety and protection;
  • prepare to limit damage and make a graceful retreat; and
  • preserve our collective calm and peace.

The bug out bags shown here are one measure we take to be prepared.


Mr. Monte, however, was not pleased with today’s events for one very good reason. Although, we have a cat pan, litter, and some food ready to go, His Excellency was exceedingly perturbed because he does not have a personal bug out bag.

Lesson Learned: His Highness demands, deserves, and will get a personal bug out bag for rainy days and other SFH contingencies.

We at SFH hope you have given sufficient thought to the problem of how to keep your feline friends happy no matter what the circumstance.



SFH Journal: 2018-05-26

Highlight: The quest has begun in earnest. Today, we started the research phase of our plan to acquire a small Class C recreational vehicle (RV).

220px-Class-Super-C-Motorhomes-Diesel-Class-C-RVClass C RVs are somewhere between Class A and Class B. They are often built on a truck or van chassis that is specifically designed for a motorhome. They have an attached cab and most have an overhang that extends over the cab. This area is usually used as sleeping quarters but may also be used for storage.

This is, to say the least, a somewhat daunting task – more difficult than buying a car and perhaps as difficult as buying a house. Our visits to various dealerships presented us with two lessons learned:

Lesson Learned: This family cannot, in any manner, way, shape, or form, afford a new Class C RV.

Lesson Learned: The purchase of a used Class C RV is fraught with a frustratingly long list of unhappy and seemingly unacceptable tradeoffs.

Despite the sobering impact of the two lessons learned today, we shall press onward in our quest. As can be expected, Mr. Monte has been advising us on his requirements pertaining to creature comforts and freedom of movement. He has also suggested a name for the new RV – “El Camino del Monte”.

We shall give his requests and requirements the attention they deserve.

Weather:  It was a very warm day that cooled in the wake of an afternoon thunderstorm. (Detailed Summary – click here.)

Plantings: Nothing to report.

Harvest: Nothing to report.

SFH Food 2018-02: The Idaho Potato

Serendipity Farmhouse is a place for recalling, living, and making memories. Each memory has its proper place in our lives. Some are personal and private. Some are filled with sadness. Some, especially those about family and food , are joyous and need to be preserved, shared, and passed on to every generation.

Not surprisingly, our fondest memories of food are shaped by how we were raised and where we have been. My beautiful spouse is a girl raised in the South (GRITS) and yours truly is from the the mid-West. Together, we lived in Japan for over 10 years, in Hawaii for three years, as well as Texas, and California. Our two stays in Virginia amount to over 25 years. And tucked in between those two stays were six years in Idaho. – – Think of all the foods we encountered along the way.

Real Idaho Potatoes

There’s no way we’ll ever be able to talk about every food experience. So, we will have to be selective. Today, we will keep the discussion down to earth. In fact, our discussion will go a little bit deeper as we delve below the surface of things. – – We will talk about Idaho potatoes, real Idaho potatoes.

My Dad was the son of immigrants from the Azores Islands. It’s a little known fact, but potatoes are the third largest crop in the islands and the simple potato holds a place of prominence in Portuguese cuisine. Even though my father eventually went into engineering, he told me on more than one occasion that he had always wanted to have a potato farm in Maine. – – What would my life have been like if Dad had followed that path?

Dad chose his future and I, at an early age, chose mine. Never in my early years had I thought I would live in Idaho, nor did I ever consider researching potatoes. Yet, in 2006, I was drawn there for a short stay and, two years later, my wife and I resided in the foothills of eastern Idaho, overlooking some of the largest potato fields in the world. – – That’s when our Idaho potato education began.

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There’s no need to tell you all we learned during our six potato seasons in Idaho, but there is a lesson learned.

Lesson Learned 04: If you live at SFH, always use Idaho potatoes. Bad things happen to people who would attempt to smuggle in some other kind.

Much of what you need to know about Idaho potatoes can be found on the Idaho Potato Museum website. Let’s just say that there is a great deal of unexpectedly interesting information there. For example, one of the primary manufacturers of potato planting and harvesting equipment is called “Spudnik”.

If you ever make it out to eastern Idaho, make sure you stop in Blackfoot, the “Potato Capitol of the World”. If you check the pictures below very closely, you will find one with your two dedicated bloggers when they made their first pilgrimage to the potato museum.

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Spud-13About now, your interest is beginning to wane. Before I end this, let me just add two more items that go hand-in-hand with potatoes. The first is a unique item, local to Utah and Idaho – “Fry Sauce”. There are disputes about who invented it and when, but Utah seems to be the place and it came into being circa 1948. When you sit down for a hamburger and fries in Idaho, the waiter will always ask, “Catsup or fry sauce?” My advice, go with the fry sauce.

Lesson Learned 05: When in Rome do as … When in Idaho, go with the fry sauce.

Even less widely known is John’s Steak and Seasoning Spice. It can be used on a multitude of items with great satisfaction, including on meat for grilling and, of course, on Idaho spuds in the form of french fries. Whenever I get on the plane bound for Idaho, I have with me orders from family members for John’s Spice. A couple of retail outlets sell it, but John’s Spice is the pride and joy of Pickle’s Place, a “one-of-a-kind” restaurant in Arco, Idaho.

You will learn more about fry sauce and John’s Spice in future posts. So, prepare to take notes, cook the potatoes, and enjoy the flavors.

*Note: Dear Reader, although we have mentioned specific products here, these are not paid advertisements. Likewise, we love the State of Idaho and the potatoes that are grown there, but our discussion is based on entirely on our own personal experiences and preferences.

SFH Lessons Learned 2018-01: Coffee & Ribbons

We made it through Winter Storm Riley and we were prepared – but not completely. We Learned three big lessons from that storm. Needless to say, lessons learned are not really learned if one does not act upon them. So, let’s consider what we learned here at Serendipity Farmhouse and how we have acted upon what we learned: (See SFH PPP 2018-01: Living the Life of Riley for the whole story.)

What we learned:

Lesson Learned No. 1: Add a jar of instant coffee to our emergency supplies. We have a percolator coffee pot and a can of Bustelo, but instant coffee require less water.

Lesson Learned No. 2: Filling in my journal of events I, of course, longed for my laptop. Yet, upstairs we have this beautiful old Hermes manual typewriter. If I only had a ribbon for it, I would have greatly enjoyed typing out our experiences.

Lesson Learned No. 3: While hooking up extension cords, never make a mess on the kitchen counters. Wife is OCD and gets very upset.

What we’ve done:

LL-01AThis picture shows that we now have a supply of instant coffee. Power outage be hanged. The wood stove, the propane grill, and the brick barbecue are all there ready to heat the water.

The picture also shows that even when the batteries in the laptop and tablet die, posts for the SFH Blog will be composed, typed, edited, and ready for our readers when the lights come back on. (Notice the ribbon on the left is very hi-tech – it is both black and red.)

What we have yet to do:

As far as Lesson Learned No. 3 goes, this is a behavioral issue on my part. I am sadly and notoriously slow when it comes to mending my ways. Somewhere in my nature there is a neat and tidy person. But, when it comes to fast repairs in the house and reacting to perceived emergencies, I lose touch with that person.

I surely hope that I am not confronted with a Lesson Learned No. 3 type issue in the near future – at least not before I develop the required behavioral “skills”. Perhaps if I offer my beautiful spouse a freshly brewed cup of instant coffee and type out a love poem on my Hermes typewriter, she will extend her mercy.