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Reflections while chicken sitting

My sister Kate – The Single Expat – is back this week with musings on growing up as a TCK and how that still influences her today. All inspired by chicken sitting for a friend in Scotland and living off the land for a few weeks. She reflects on experiences growing up and how they impact her today and in the future. After decades in cities she is feeling drawn back to the countryside for various reason and she is completely unafraid about it because, in her own words “I know how to do things.” 

Life is a patchwork quilt

When I was growing up, it was always pretty obvious that we weren’t really “normal”. An American family living in a small German village with goats and chickens is not the norm. Later, when I left Germany to go to university in the States, I quickly learned that I was not really “normal” there either. Yes, I was American but I grew up in a village in Germany. With goats and chickens.

I have always referred to the oddly non-linear trajectory of my life as a patchwork quilt of experiences only connected by the fact that I lived them, with very little cohesion or connection between the segments of my life themselves. American. Grew up in a tiny farming village in Germany. A bachelor’s degree in classical music. A juris doctor. Criminal defense attorney. Labor union activist. Mediator. PhD candidate in climate change law. My background is different, non-linear, curious. Growing up with adventurous parents and being a relatively adventurous adult myself means I have a lot of stories.

It also means I have experiences and know how to do things.

Country vs city life

I’m currently chicken sitting for a friend. Let me explain: a friend of mine who lives outside of the city has a lovely garden and adopts rescue chickens (like from breeding or egg farms). She and her husband finally went on a much needed 2-week holiday and I offered to stay in their beautiful home by the sea and watch the chickens. So I’m chicken sitting. But I’m also preparing and eating food fresh from the garden, enjoying the stormy weather and venturing out for an evening stroll when the rain subsides and it’s just deliciously blustery by the sea.

Being here, getting up to let the chickens out of their hutch in the early morning, unearthing beautiful ripe beetroots and fresh garlic, picking purple kale and fresh lettuce for dinner has made me realize that, since I left the village in Germany in the early 1990’s to move to the States, I have lived exclusively in cities. That makes sense of course, given the work I’ve done and the globally mobile life I love. But I have been thinking about how nice it would be to grow my own food and have some animals and be closer to nature. I love the city. Every city I’ve lived in. I love the life of it, the access to different cultures and foods and people.

But it is 2020. February was the last month of normalcy and since then, for the last seven months (and counting) the city has essentially been shut down. While there is a slow and careful resurgence of life in the city, it brings with it new anxiety, the worry about being too close, waiting in line to get into the grocery store, being careful to keep your distance while inside. And while some restaurants and pubs are open (new temporary localized closings notwithstanding) pubs are terrifying with the sheer number of people and restaurants aren’t the same with their plastic barriers and everyone separated from each other and temperature checks when you enter into any establishment. . .

So country life is appealing again.

Growing things

More than anything I have been thinking about growing up in the country on a little farm, not fully self sufficient but more so than life in the city is and I have become nostalgic.

As a family we grew lots of things: potatoes, corn, all manner of squash, tomatoes, horseradish, beetroot. I don’t remember the moment I tasted my first pickled beetroot but I do know I was immediately smitten. You see, every year my sister and I were each given our own little section of the garden to grow whatever we wanted to. And after that first experience of pickled beetroot that’s all I ever wanted to grow. I remember learning to boil the beets and then peeling them so easily, just slipping them out of their peel, placing them in a giant pickling jar, being impatient and excited to finally get to eat them. It’s one of my most vivid memories of being in the kitchen with my mother. It was that kitchen, that house, our little farm where I learned how to cook, to appreciate fresh ingredients, to have a deep understanding of what it takes to grow food, tend animals, make things, be unafraid of hard work and of learning new things.

And, of course, I learned how to pickle things. I still love pickled things. I have pickled a lot of things this year, Covid boredom and all . . . pickled onions, pickled rhubarb, picked fennel.

Pickled beetroots are the best thing in the world

I have been chicken sitting for nearly a week now and I am already almost through the second batch of quick pickled beetroot. This morning as I stepped out into the chilly early morning, the drizzle on my head breaking through the early wake-up fog and slowly gaining consciousness, my mind’s eye settled on the yellow beetroot I quick-pickled yesterday and I was immediately excited to start my day with a delicious pot of coffee and a breakfast of toast with cream cheese and pickled beetroot.

Then, later when the day gets going, I’ll collect whatever eggs the chickens leave me, and maybe go for another stroll if the rain ever lets up.

And I’ll daydream about the possibility of living in the country again some day, growing my own food, tending chickens, maybe some goats . . . it might be hard but I’m sure I can figure it out. I know how to do things.

This is a realization I’ve been having more and more as I live this globally mobile life. A realization that has comes with time, having lived, learned and loved in multiple countries and cultures. There’s something special about realizing that, even though I might not be familiar with or expert at anything – especially in a new setting – I know I can figure it out. I can rely on my patchwork quilt of a life, draw on those experiences and be unafraid to give it a go. Because in the end, I do know how to do things. And one of the most important and empowering of those is that I know how to trust myself to figure it out. So when life gives me beetroots, I pickle them. I definitely know how to do that.

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