Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha

Guest post by Laura

This book title, Flat Broke with Two Goats, is one of the catchiest I’ve seen in a while. In this memoir, MaGaha finds herself in foreclosure due to self-admitted willful ignorance of the family finances, which her accountant husband oversaw. My favorite part of the book was the author’s move to Macomb, Illinois to teach at “the University”. I had visited a college friend at Western Illinois University in Macomb decades ago, and more recently spent the day there attending a business meeting for a different job so I was a bit familiar with the place. This section of the book was a bit like a mild version of Eat Pray Love, only with cornfields, a boxcar, and sweltering Midwest heat.

At times I found the author annoying in her unwillingness to take responsibility for her actions and for not thoroughly researching the care and feeding of her animals. I also would have found the cabin less disappointing and more potentially exciting. All of those acres of natural timber and a beautiful waterfall view? Sign me up! Sure, the house was a dump and there were poisonous snakes and wolf spiders, but the couple made the house hospitable with some improvements. As for the critters, I admit I would be treading carefully and somewhat anxiously because of the snakes, but I already deal with wolf spiders in my neck of the woods.

The couple went on to raise chickens and goats and slowly transformed from people who lived beyond their means into rural farm people living a simpler life. I liked how she found making yogurt and soap fulfilling. She realized she’s gone back to some of the practices of her ancestors on these same lands, minus the constant backbreaking work and potential to go hungry with a crop failure. I give MaGaha props for bravery in being brutally honest about her life, which must have been difficult. She’s an accomplished freelancer but in looking at her website it appears this was her first published book. I think she will continue to find maturity in her novel-writing voice with subsequent books.

audio version available through Overdrive

Shepherd: a Memoir by Richard Gilbert

shepherdUpon moving to Appalachian Ohio with their two small children, Richard Gilbert and his wife are thrilled to learn there still are places in America that haven’t been homogenized in Shepherd: a Memoir.

The Gilberts excitement over the region’s beauty and quirky character turns to culture shock as they try to put down roots far from their busy professional jobs in town. They struggle to rebuild a farmhouse, and Gilbert gets conned buying equipment and sheep – a ewe with an “outie” belly button turns out to be a neutered male – and mysterious illnesses plague the flock. Haunted by his father’s loss of his boyhood farm, Gilbert likewise struggles to earn money in agriculture. Finally an unlikely teacher shows him how to raise hardy sheep – a remarkable ewe named Freckles whose mothering ability epitomizes her species’ hidden beauty.

Discovering as much about himself as he does these gentle animals, Gilbert becomes a seasoned agrarian and a respected livestock breeder. He makes peace with his romantic dream, his father, and himself. Shepherd, a story both personal and emblematic, captures the mythic pull and the practical difficulty of family scale sustainable farming. (description from publisher)