The featured picture is a couple of years old, but it definitely conveys the sense of joy one feels when important, labor-saving equipment is operating as it should. Late this week, after a very long and painful absence, my cherished lawn tractor was returned to its rightful place here at Serendipity Farmhouse. While it was in the “hospital” suffering from an ailment that took over three weeks to diagnose, yours truly was mowing the somewhat less than verdant lawns of the vast SFH Estate with a push mower. To give you an idea of what that was like, consider that eight of the first fifteen days of August were in the 90’s and, during that same period, the average humidity was 82%.
Now that the lawn tractor has returned, I am a much happier man. You might well ask, what was it that caused the lawn tractor to cease functioning? Well, dear Readers, it turns out that the electronic control module, with its embedded computer chip, had its brains scrambled. Consequently, the lawn tractor was almost fatally infected with – Complete Operational loss of Vital and Indispensable Data – i.e., COVID.
If you recall, we listed a rash of problems that beset SFH almost like a plague of locusts in our post SFH Journal: 2021-07-05 through 07-25: Upson Downsof Life Re-Revisited. Now that the lawn tractor has returned, we have resolved almost all of our problems. One problem remains however as a distressing reminder of how we can feel the loss of a modern day convenience. Our 21-year-old dishwasher has neither been repaired nor replaced. The whole affair is a nasty mess reminiscent of the movie Catch-22. I will refrain from boring you with the details, but I will let you know that dear and wondrous Wife is not happy with her dishpan hands and she has discussed the matter with me on numerous occasions. Needless to say, I’ve been on the telephone attempting to untangle this mess.
Canning has been underway for a few weeks now. If you click here, you can see what we’ve put away thus far.
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:
This post will be short. That’s because there has been a lot going on over the last two weeks here at Serendipity Farmhouse. We will save that story for a post sometime in the future.
Two items are worthy of note – Rain and Grapes.
As you may or may not know, a large portion of the vast SFH estate lies on a flood plane. The North Fork of the Thornton River, while restful and pleasing to the eye most of the time, can quickly become a threat to our safety and property. (See the post Monte’s Bug Out Buggy to the Rescue.) So, it was with great concern we received the National Weather Service flash flood watch alerts on June 10th.
The heavy rain came as predicted. The three of us found it hard to sleep that night as we could hear the pounding of rain on our metal roof. It had been very dry recently ans we knew that the river was running low. We also knew that the ground was extremely dry. But, what we did not know was whether those factors would be enough to keep the river from suffering a flash flood and surrounding the house as it has done before.
At 4:00 AM on the 11th, I ventured outside in the rain with a flashlight. To my great relief there was no water flowing through the driveway. I approached the river cautiously and looked over the bank. To my surprise the river was at a much lower level than I had imagined it might be. – The earlier dry weather had indeed provided us an unusual margin of safety. – Prayers do get answered.
When it was all over we had received a total of 6.66 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. The house was safe and the overly dry garden beds were once again moist and happy.
As we have noted earlier, SFH is likely to have the largest grape harvest ever. To protect the mass of new grapes, I have set up a temporary fence around our extensive vineyard that contains our single vine. The job was labor intensive but I was compelled to do it with my own two hands. Now all we have to worry about is Japanese beetles.
SFH Gardens by the Numbers
The following links will catch you up with what has been planted and what has been harvested since our last Journal post:
In the midst of Winter, when the snows fall, when the ice hangs from the branches, this is when Serendipity Farmhouse surrenders to a quiet time and a type of mystical serenity all dictated by the season. Pantry shelves remain filled with the preserved foods from Summer and the woodshed shelters the fuel for many more warm fires. – Even though the temperature has just dipped to 13°F, there is no reason to fear February in the Blue Ridge.
This brief moment of relative silence and calm is the perfect time to reflect upon mysteries and truths extending beyond our valley, beyond our country, even beyond this present world. This last Wednesday began the season we call Lent. It is a season of reflection, prayer, and much more. It is for us the time when we replenish our spiritual foods and draw from them the fuel to rekindle our spiritual fire. – Even though there is turmoil throughout the world, there is no reason to fear Lent in the Blue Ridge.
Meal planning in Lent can be challenging, even for the master chefs at the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH Test Kitchen. Meatless meals, reduced portions, no snacks, and other modifications must all be considered when planning the weekly menu. Add to that the fact that getting out to buy groceries is harder than during other seasons.
This last week, we revisited a type of dish that is quite open to variations, modifications, and innovations – sheet pan meals. We learned about this style of meal quite a while back from an allrecipes recipe for Mediterranean Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner. Interestingly, this month, allrecipes featured an article by Caitlyn Diinig highlighting an array of sheet pan meals and dinner ideas. (See Use this Simple Formula for Your Best Sheet Pan Dinners.) Rather than sticking to any single recipe we made a Mediterranean Chicken dinner with the ingredients we had on hand. We added spices and other touches that are only known by SFH Test Kitchen staff members. The result was an enjoyable meal on Thursday, followed by a delightful encore last night. – Try it. You’ll like it.
Each day in February at SFH brings new lessons and new perspectives. For example, last week Mr. Monte showed you a picture of what happens when I make the trek in deep snow to the woodshed. The load is heavy and the wagon wheels sink down into the snow. Some days ago, we had a great deal of snow and ice. That type of wintry mix always bring concerns about power outages and other damage. Yet, with the bad sometimes comes a pleasing good. Yesterday, when I brought in wood from the shed, the ice was so hard and thick that the wagon wheels did not sink. It was as if I were pulling it across a smooth asphalt parking lot.
Sheet of ice
There was incident that threatened the calm and quiet of this past week in February. – I won’t say that Mr. Monte, SFH Chief of Security, was caught off guard. In fact, he was very much on guard. But, even for an experienced and globally acclaimed security chief like Mr. Monte, it is impossible to be fully prepared for all circumstances. Mr. Monte knows full well that opossums are nocturnal critters. They pose no major threat to the SFH estate. Mr. Monte has viewed security camera photos of the critters, but because he is primarily diurnal and opossums are primarily nocturnal, he had never had a real-life encounter with one.
During the late afternoon of Friday the 19th, Mr. Monte was on watch. I had just come out onto the porch where he was standing guard. It was then that we both noticed simultaneously that a strange, rather ugly looking creature was roaming near the east side of the porch. Mr. Monte immediately went into full alert status, jumping from table to benches, and benches to window sills. There was an unauthorized intruder approaching the SFH inner security perimeter and Mr. Monte was set to respond with full force.
Recognizing that there was no real threat. I quickly picked up Mr. Monte and rapidly explained that this was only a harmless opossum on an unusual daytime foray. Mr. Monte quickly grasped the situation and backed down from full alert. He did ask me, however, to take a picture of the creature as it was retreating to safety. Our Chief of Security had to have documentary evidence to support his official security log entry. And here is proof that Mr. Monte, as always, was on the job.
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:
To my 23,417 feline followers, especially my many cat cousins residing in Virginia, before we get into the boring “human interest” malarkey, here is this month’s lesson on how to wage a psychological influence campaign successfully. In this case, the objective of the campaign was to influence my two big cats to purchase a new comforter set suitable to my regal position at Serendipity Farmhouse.
First, it is necessary to understand that in waging such a campaign, the subjects must be worn down, tired, and mentally confused – sleep deficit tactics are most useful. For nearly a week, I would wake both of them, alternately purring, nuzzling, and sitting on their heads. Once they were suitably disoriented, I then pretended that something was in the comforter, perhaps bugs or gnats. I would paw at the comforter, sniff at the comforter, and then pounce on the comforter as if something were actually there. They finally couldn’t stand the notion that something might be crawling around, so they got up and turned on the lights to see what it was – they saw nothing.
I continued attacking the imaginary critters to the point that Fuzzy and Blondie brought in flashlights and minutely inspected every thread of the comforter. They couldn’t see a thing. – I resumed alternately stalking and attacking the imaginary critters.
Fast forward to the next morning. Blondie hit the Internet before the sun was up and looked for a comforter set worthy of yours truly – price was of no concern. – – My dear feline followers please observe the picture above. There you will see the spoils of psychological warfare – my new comforter set. Blondie and Fuzz Face never had a chance!
SFH Security Force Staff Award
On different note, it always gives me great pleasure to recognize our faithful and exceptionally talented SFH Security Force Staff members. While Bronto the bear and Rusty the Ratsnake take a little time out for their Winter naps, Lightning the broad-winged hawk continues to make his patrols in an effort to rid the SFH estate of unwanted rodents. No matter what the season or what the weather you can hear Lightning overhead, monitoring every corner of this vast estate, ever vigilant to seek out and deter unwanted intruders. – – Today stands as the most recent example of Lightning’s unusual dedication to service. Even now as Winter Storm Orlena is dumping many inches of snow on SFH and the surrounding regions, Lightning’s call can be heard echoing throughout our valley. – – As one proud predator to another: “I commend you, Lightning!”
Okay, the important information has been dutifully conveyed, I guess I can spend some time on that “human interest” stuff that so boars me. We’ll start off with the feature picture of a Great Blue Heron. We on the SFH Security Force call this guy “Benny the Blue.” He is a sporadic, but welcomed visitor. He’s colorful, has lots of good stories, and can show folks a few things about fishing in the North Fork of the Thornton River. He’s also quite welcome because of his eating habits. According to the Audubon Field Guide, his diet is “highly variable and adaptable.” In addition to all the aquatic and amphibian creatures you might expect, he’s quite capable of joining in with Lightning eating snakes and rodents.
I would be greatly remiss even I didn’t spend some time talking about our most recent and greatly cherished guest, Granddaughter #1. She’s no stranger to SFH. In fact she has been featured in several posts including Monticello & Granddaughter #1. Just like Benny the Blue, Granddaughter #1 has many endearing attributes. For example, she is a cat fancier. She knows how to talk to big guys like me without using one of those overly sweet voices. More importantly, however, she is a great cook. She has a natural talent for understanding taste, aroma, and the magical aspects of preparing a fine dish. So, it was with great pleasure that Blondie and I could sit back Friday evening and watch Granddaughter #1 and Ol’ Fuzz Face put together the most aromatic and enticing pizza I’ve ever seen. Our visitor needed no recipe or instructions. She selected the finest ingredients; mixed and matched a wonderful balance of spices and herbs; and ensured that Fuzzy didn’t mess up the crust.
Of course the result was a perfect example of the finest dishes ever produced at the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH Test Kitchen. But it didn’t end there. No, if you refer back to our post Hot Peppers Above & Beyond you will note that mere, ordinary crushed red peppers are not what one should put on a truly great pizza. The perfect topping is, of course, our very own SFH Spicy Hot Peppers.
Finally, although I might be one of the world’s finest felines, a truly exquisite blend of knowledge, cunning, and loving affection, Blondie and Fuzzy have something that I would envy. I would envy the fact that they have such wonderful grandchildren. But I don’t have to live in envy. That’s because my two big cats share their grandchildren with me. I guess that’s one of the reasons I like it so much here at SFH. Well, that and the fact that I now have a comfy new comforter set.
Oh, and one last thing. When I get on Fuzzy’s computer to write my exceedingly witty and insightful posts, I often take time to look at pictures of the grandchildren. Just today, I ran across this picture of Granddaughter #1 on a ‘great explore’ at Craters of the Moon National Park. I think Fuzzy captured a bit of her personality in this photo. She is someone who seeks and explores. – As a 21-pound Maine Coon cat, I can appreciate that kind of spirit.
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.:
Yesterday, Mr. Monte spent his time stretched out in front of the wood stove. Dear, sweet Wife quietly relaxed and looked forward to the year ahead. She also began compiling her 12-volume set of “Honey Do’s” for yours truly. I brought in some wood from the woodshed and then settled down to a small cup of hot espresso.
Now, I’m quickly dashing off some notes in planning for all the posts I will need to write to catch you up with the many amazing and sometimes frustrating events that led to Christmas – a Christmas which we didn’t really have a chance to celebrate fully until December 26th. – So, here is my list of events about which I hope to post over the next few weeks:
12-XX Annual Yard Trash Day: This year, beautiful and creative Wife was deeply saddened because, for reasons far beyond her control, she and her dearest friend Nancy were unable to hold their annual Yard Trash Day.
12-21 Birthday Celebration: Classically beautiful and amazingly charming Daughter #1 celebrated her birthday. Many in the family were able to join her and share in the celebration at Daughter #1’s favorite Japanese steak house.
12-22 Major Repairs: $3,800.00 for plumbing repairs is not a paltry sum, especially when the repairs had to be accomplished during the week before Christmas.
12-22 Christmas Cookies: Despite the unnerving presence of a Kubota compact excavator digging a trench just outside the kitchen window, dedicated Spouse prepared some of the best Christmas cookies ever.
12-24 Christmas Eve Ritual: As shown in the featured photo, a mysterious and exceedingly beautiful woman wearing a cat mask, puzzles over how to drink a cup of coffee while watching Christmas Eve shoppers at 6:15 AM. Somehow, her annual ritual will never be quite the same.
12-24 Christmas Eve Flooding: An unusually heavy rain storm dropped at least 3.25 inches of rain on Serendipity Farmhouse and the nearby area on Christmas Eve. The waters of the Thornton River North Fork rose to most dangerous levels.
12-24 Christmas Eve Power Outage: The massive amounts of rain and accompanying winds caused damage to a main power line from the nearby Sperryville substation. Consequently, most of Rappahannock County, including Serendipity Farmhouse, lost power and St. Peter Catholic Church held its 7:00 PM Christmas Vigil Mass by candle light. By the way, the sudden drop in the rain measurement in the above graphic was not because the rain had stopped, it was because the power went out and the SFH weather station couldn’t transmit its readings.
12-25 Christmas Day: Mr. Monte maintained security at SFH while Blondie and Fuzz Face spent an enjoyable Christmas Day with most wondrous Daughter #2 and her family.
12-26 Christmas Presents – Finally: There was no time on Christmas day for SFH staff and residents to open presents or empty their Christmas stockings. So, poor Mr. Monte, Blondie, and Ol’ Fuzz Face had to wait until the 26th. That’s not a real problem though. After all, Christmas is an Octave and there are eight beautiful days to celebrate Christmas, and I can still say Merry Christmas to one and all during the Octave and throughout the remaining Christmas Season.
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.:
The last two weeks have been filled with commotion, disruptions, minor catastrophes, tumult, anxieties – in short, all the usual, run-of-the-mill events that are common for life at Serendipity Farmhouse. There was, however, an oasis of quiet, warmth, and happiness. That day, that oasis of family joy, was, of course, Mother’s Day. All of the children and grandchildren joined together virtually and shared the sentiment of the day. My beautiful Spouse, daughters, daughter-in-law, all of them mothers, were honored.
The featured picture of an iris makes an interesting point. At a distance, a flower is beautiful and can be admired. When you come in closer, that is when you see that there are interesting details and remarkable individual patterns. Each of the “Moms” in my life are like that. They certainly deserve a day of their own, an oasis of warmth and love.
With those thoughts in our minds, Mr. Monte and I were on our best behavior throughout the day. In fact, we went a little further and made some buttery English scones for dear, sweet Wife. She was pleased and bestowed hugs and kisses upon the two chefs. It was a wonderful day – one that we all shall remember.
On the other side of that oasis, the harsh realities of life continued to prevail. Nightly, we would hear the prognosticators, the purveyors of weather lies, announce that frosts and hard freezes were on the way. Why is it that these highly paid, deceitful charlatans are only correct when they predict doom and disaster?
Cautiously, we took them at their word and did our best to prepare for the late freezes and extended cold spell.
Then came the polar vortex – chilly days and freezing nights. Each night grew colder. By the early morning of May 10th, we saw three hours steady of 28 degrees.
Although we had prepared, we had not done enough. Our extensive vineyard took it the hardest, though there are still some signs of life on the vine. We lost a cherry tomato plant. Three pepper plants are on the verge of passing into history. Three basil plants are barely holding their own. – – It was sad and mournful at SFH during the days that followed the “big freeze”. – – No happiness, no joy.
If ever there were a woman with the pioneering spirit, a strong-hearted woman with “true grit”, that woman would by my Wife. Mourning and worries set aside, that industrious Lady of mine has dedicated the past week to restoring life in the gardens. New plants were purchased; cow manure was obtained from a local farm; and all of SFH was mobilized in the effort. So, in addition to restoring the lost plants, Vegetable Garden #2 was filled with new tomato plants.
We will accept the setback, we will cut our losses, but you can be sure of this, we will never give up. Excellent Wife has decreed that it shall be so, and it shall be so here at Serendipity Farmhouse.
Dear Reader, please forgive me if this post is relatively short and devoid of humor and hope. As you will see in the weather graphic below, in the wake of a sizable rainfall, a great windstorm blew through the immense Serendipity Farmhouse estate on Friday, February 7th. Although the highest recorded gust was only 26.2 mph, you must understand that the SFH Weather Station is mounted on a pole only seven feet high and is blocked by trees. That means that wind gusts were actually much greater.
Whatever the wind speed was, it was sufficient to totally wipe out the infrastructure of our most fruitful vineyard. Only time will tell if we will be able to restore the vineyard to its once great glory.
After we celebrated our joyous harvest of grapes last August, we were looking forward with great expectations as a larger local winery offered to process our grapes and turn them into a great vintage wine. We found that our grapes would be mixed with grapes from other vineyards. The vintner said that he had come up with a rare and distinctive blend. To match the quality of the product, the winery created an equally rare and distinctive label.
The next time you visit Serendipity Farmhouse, we will be glad to invite you in for a quality tasting.
As we told you in our post First Snow – 2020-01-07, Tuesday the 7th we were blessed with a quiet Winter interlude. The days passed by and the snow slowly disappeared. Saturday the 11th and today the 12th were warm and balmy. The contrast between the 7th and the 12th reveal an amazing range of beauty and color. Serendipity Farmhouse is always ready to fascinate one with its charm and nearly infinite variations in personality.
The unexpectedly warm days provided a perfect opportunity to move some seasonal items to the shed for storage. Happily, there was also some spare time to mount a brand new cast iron rooster bell at the entrance to the back porch. This was a present from dear Daughter #1 and family, intended to provide a means to announce the arrival of welcomed guests. Well done, dear Daughter #1, and thank you.
Stop the presses!! News Bulletin!! – Beautiful Wife just came into the house and made the joyous announcement that several garlic sprouts have made their way to the surface in search of the sun. Yes, Friends, there are great prospects for fresh, homegrown garlic this year.
Describing the first real snowfall of the season here at Serendipity Farmhouse doesn’t require many words – just a few pictures, a fresh cup of coffee, and a fire in the wood stove. Here are the pictures, meanwhile, I’ll sit back in a cozy chair to enjoy my coffee and the warmth of the fire.
And, if you prefer an action shot, this is about the best I can do on short notice.
And, if you are a weather geek like me, the stats for the day are here.
My beautiful, highly supportive wife and loving Maine Coon Cat sometimes find it amusing to make sport of yours truly. The photos below illustrate that fact and they also show that my balding head is often the object of their labored attempts at humor. They can’t refrain from adorning the place where a luxuriant head of hair used to reside with various items calculated to raise a belly laugh or hardy guffaw from the huge audience following our adventures here at Serendipity Farmhouse.
Be that as it may, the year 2019 at SFH was filled with technological achievements and successes and I will have you know this balding, geeky object of their scurrilous humor was the mastermind behind them.
It was just over a year ago when Serendipity Farmhouse Weather Station KVAFLETC4 made its debut. (See SFH Journal: 2019-01-01 through 03 – SFH Weather Station Online for the details.) Each and every day since then the world has been able to monitor the meteorological events here at SFH. This knowledge has become useful to us during the planting, growing, and harvesting of our crops during this best gardening year ever at SFH.
Likewise, the introduction of new appliances for the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH Test Kitchen, such as our new Instant Pot, have markedly improved the way we get things done. Sure, there’s a learning curve, and plugs can become disconnected, but we here at SFH get the job done. And, yes, I’m the geek behind the scenes who eventually makes things work – sort of. (See SFH Test Kitchen – Hubby Under Pressure for the details.)
So, if you want to call me a Weather Geek from Outer Space or disseminate wildly falsified accounts of what I do to satisfy my vanity, feel free to take your best shot. After all, dear Blondie, you truly are my beautiful, highly supportive wife and, Mr. Monte, you certainly are my loving Maine Coon Cat. You make Serendipity Farmhouse what it was meant to be.