Whatever totes your goat

So there’s this thing called the Big Library Read. It’s a global book club run through libraries. Three times a year books are selected that will be available through your library’s e-book services (assuming your library does e-books) as well as links to the forums where the book and various topics surrounding the book can be discussed. It’s a pretty cool program in general, though this round was the first time I actually participated. I blame it on the book title: Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha. I think I’ve mentioned, but I’m an absolute sucker for homesteading/farming memoirs and that hasn’t changed and this title just seemed so intriguing.

The book falls into the homesteader category because of location and some history with Appalachian farmers, but it’s really more about dealing with HUGE financial fallout and the effects these things have on a marriage, career, and aspects of someone’s life. The basic premise is that a married boomer couple gets in over their head over the years and make bad financial decisions that finally come home to roost during the 2008 Housing Crisis. They lose their house, some friends, and for Jennifer nearly the marriage as she contemplates if she should stay with her husband (I don’t blame her, considering his role in their financial crisis). A major downsize results in them living in a remote, rented cabin in the Appalachian mountains on some fifty acres they’re basically allowed to have free reign over. I’ll admit that when I read that I was a bit jealous until I realized the cabin was in terrible condition in general with a tin roof, a wood boiler (you have to add water and then heat it with a wood fire to have hot water), and no standard indoor plumbing. In fact, the only source of water is the nearby waterfall/creek and really that’s not even listing the half of it.

Most of the book is about Jennifer’s resistance to these changes, her husband adapts to their new reality fairly quickly finding that aspects really suit him, but she takes a good deal more time and soul searching to come around to it. That and the magic of goats. In completely questionable series of decisions the couple decide to homestead on the property, starting with chickens (makes sense, they’re pretty cheap and easy to care for, especially because Jennifer’s husband is handy at building a shelter out of scrap readily available on the property). Then, because of a love of goat cheese, they also decide to get goats, which is as you’d expect a much larger expense.

There are parts of the book that can be frustrating as some of the troubles they have, they definitely invite, but then again who can claim they’ve never made questionable decisions? Also I imagine when you’re as deep in the hole as they get (trust me when I say it’s not as simple as they were foreclosed on), you kind of have to wonder if the few hundred here or there will really make much difference if this thing will help make you happy. (Though I seriously question their decision to keep a goat out of sentiment, that’s just not a good precedent to set yourself if your goal is to have productive animals.)

The book is mostly memoir and therefore not heavy on the how-tos of raising goats, I do like that each chapter ends with a recipe that has some tie either emotional or thematic to the chapter in question. There were several that have looked simple and promising, though I haven’t tried any yet.

I also have a warning for those who are looking to enjoy the book: a chapter is devoted to an abusive prior marriage and it is a hard read, especially for those who have suffered from similar situations I imagine. Please take care if domestic/partner abuse are difficult or trigger you.

Overall I really enjoyed the book and even when it was frustrating the journey was so fascinating that I had to keep reading to find out how things worked out. Jennifer McGaha writes in a compelling and approachable manner from an age and position that’s interesting because it’s very far removed from my own. I would recommend it to lovers of memoirs, homesteading, and those who are looking for something just a bit different than usual.



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