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backyard-chickens

City Girl, Country Girl

backyard-chickensAs a kid I dreamed of living in the Big City. On weekends my mom and I drove into Boston from the suburbs to shop at the iconic Filene’s Basement. I got such a thrill out of walking through the scary “Combat Zone,” past shops and restaurants in Chinatown, and arriving at “The Basement,” where we shielded each other and tried on clothes in the aisles, and I learned math by figuring out the “automatic markdowns.” The variety of different people in the city fascinated me and I longed to live among them some day.

Indeed, after college I moved to Boston where I lived for the next 20 years or so- in a cockroach-infested apartment in Brighton, in three different makeshift artist lofts downtown, and then in a duplex I owned with a friend in Jamaica Plain. I got married, my husband and I consolidated our two households of “stuff” into one apartment, my friend got married and had two children, they moved out, and we decided to follow suit. We felt cramped and had become homebodies taking little advantage of the convenience of nearby restaurants and amenities or our proximity to the T. We also got sick of the occasional sounds of gunshots and all-night parties of nearby neighbors.

In 2015 we took the plunge and moved to Holliston, to a home we fell in love with- a house on a two and a half acre lot with a garden, a swimming pool, a brook, lovely landscaping, and lots of privacy. Oh, and a chicken coop. We went from one extreme to the other, and while I had dabbled in container gardening and watched my parents manicuring their lawn and planting shrubs and annuals, I needed a crash course in country living!

I set a goal, to at least avoid killing all the beautiful plants during the first year. With books like Pruning Basics by David Squire I did teach myself “the basics” of pruning rhododendrons, roses of Sharon, and lilacs. I kept a log book of what came up when: hellebore and daffodils first, followed by irises and poppies, and at this time of year various lilies, daisies and roses. Martha Stewart’s recent Martha’s Flowers provided great ideas for arranging and displaying cut flowers to bring the beauty of the yard inside the house.

Facing a daunting fenced-in garden, I set to work watching YouTube videos and scouring Improving Your Soil by Keith Reid. I learned about prepping soil, rented a rototiller, bought seeds, and planned the layout. Companion planting (see Louise Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes) became a passion. I ended up with too many zucchinis and cucumbers, and relied on Bittman’s trusty How to Cook Everything Vegetarian to make use of it all. Imagine my pride serving guests garden-fresh salads and arugula walnut pesto, followed by cucumber mint sorbet.

The property did not come with chickens, and I insisted on waiting for a year before acquiring any. We had enough to learn during the first year. On the anniversary of moving in, I brought 6 tiny chicks home and delved into the study of keeping them happy and alive. For anyone with the capacity and will to venture into chicken parenting, the library has Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, and A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, if the children want to help. To get a feel for the way chicken-owners become attached to their flocks, watch the hilarious documentary Chicken People.

Of course, with chickens come abundant eggs. We didn’t realize just how many eggs! Fortunately I received Rachel Khong’s All About Eggs, and Eggs, by Michel Roux, as gifts. For the library’s volunteer appreciation get-together I made “Green Goddess Deviled Eggs” from the library’s D’lish Deviled Eggs cookbook, and they got rave reviews.

Our country oasis surprised us over and over. I discovered Concord grapes growing along a fence and into the trees, and learned a bit about canning and preserving (see DIY Canning). I posted a photo of a weird brain-like mushroom and found out we had precious morels! This prompted the purchase of Foraging New England. Although strange mushrooms frighten me, I delight in harvesting wild berries, chard, and rogue tomato plants that manage to self-seed in the woods.

Home ownership is not all fun and games though. Having never maintained a pool before, I discovered What Color is Your Swimming Pool. With so much space to fill with more and more stuff, I finally read Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and learned to de-clutter. Just because you have room for it doesn’t mean you need to keep it and crowd your living space with junk.

Sometimes I miss the variety of restaurants in Boston, and I don’t like the long ride to and from the city when visiting friends or attending events, but at this stage in life, I definitely prefer being a country girl. A Zen-like calm comes over me while gardening, and after reading my grandmother’s memoir about farm life in Lithuania, I wonder whether this knack is in my DNA. As I listen to songbirds, “peeper” frogs, and even the silence of winter- when I smile watching the silly chickens or discovering that the peonies have bloomed, I have no regrets about moving.

Lydia Sampson is the Head of the Technical Services Dept. at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Lydia’s column in the July 12, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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