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My Million-Dollar Donkey: The Price I Paid for Wanting to Live Simply Paperback – June 28, 2016
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About the Author
Award-winning author Ginny East has an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, as well as a BA from Eckerd College. A nationally recognized dance teacher, she left her hectic dance-driven life to try her hand at country living. Lessons learned, Ginny is now an E-RYT-500 yoga teacher and Reiki master and the owner and director of Heartwood Retreat Center, a 7-acre holistic learning center in Florida with classes in yoga, writing, and sustainable living.
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So they buy a run-down cabin in Georgia and land for a farm (her dream) and a development of up-scale houses (his dream). Ginny’s first purchase is a donkey, the one purchase that never disappoints her. She plants vegetables, buys chickens, a peacock, a llama which then needs a partner, a horse then two, a dog, and various other animals to complete the farm. Her husband begins building the spec house that will be theirs, a small, simple place that eventually becomes 7,000 sq. ft. Neither one is truly skilled in their new roles—coyotes kill, fertilized eggs that were to be the start of the chicken brood get baked in the incubator, his budget gets blown.
Worse, Ginny’s dream of more time for family finds that “farming” is no less stressful or time-consuming than running a business, and she and her husband become more and more disconnected.
If this sounds like a sad story, it is but it isn’t. East has a strong voice and a sense of humor that makes this book a highly enjoyable read. Her optimism, her willingness to compromise and sacrifice, is apparent throughout her memoir. She truly loves her husband and is willing to overlook his short-comings with the hope that all will be well in the end.
The book is well written and I am pleased to recommend it!
After buying the donkey, a pregnant horse is later added as a buddy, despite having basically no knowledge about how to keep equines. There is no shelter for any of them. No barn, not even a lean-to. The barn is last on a never-ending list of projects, “if the budget permits”. The only water source is a creek. Hubby has no interest in caring for the animals and hubby doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do. A more reasonable person might conclude that this is a good cue to go slowly in the animal acquisition department. Instead, she goes in the other direction. A barn is built some months later, but her animal-raising “hobby” is used as a distraction from a marriage that is seething with unresolved issues.
Two more horses are added as the “adults” can’t agree on one. One of the new horses is kicked in the leg by the original mare soon after arrival, resulting in a bloody, swollen wound and a horse in pain. A vet says x-rays are needed, but they go instead with the homegrown elixir brought by the horse seller. A $50,000 tractor? No problem. X-rays for an injured horse? Too expensive. Three or so chapters later, we learn that the horse is still injured and has lost so much weight that ribs are showing. And that is the last word in the book on the welfare of this horse. Uugh.
The family dog is lost to the woods after several injuries from tangling with the donkey, and while they make efforts to find him, his disappearance is seen as “merciful fate”, because the new puppy turns out to be a perfect country dog, unlike the former suburban Schnauzer.
There’s a goat, rabbits, chickens, ducks, bees and peacocks. Dismayed and surprised by all the work required to care for these animals on her own, what does she do? Hey, how about a llama? Wouldn’t that be fun? How about a second, pregnant llama? What could go wrong?
The author is a good writer and knows how to tell a story (thus the one star). Quotes from Thoreau, who she emulates, are sprinkled throughout. She has a real effect on an illiterate woman in town, and her kids get some good out of the move along with the bad. But in addition to the animal fiascos, the progression of other events and emotions is frustrating. She indulges her husband’s flights of fancy, irrational decisions and reckless spending to such an excruciating degree that you want to shake her and say, “Snap out of it!” A nest egg that the average person could only dream of withers due to hubby’s compulsion to build a near-mansion on their 50 acres, despite no experience in the trade. He comes off as little more than a spoiled child with multiple personalities and a serious case of narcissism. Her hope he will magically become a standup, loving partner inspires empathy, but is repeated endlessly.
So many animals are lost to nature, negligence and/or ineptitude, that the read became alternately depressing and infuriating. By the time the baby llama is found half-eaten by coyotes(the second llama to perish this way) and allowed to drown, it was really too much.
Yes, the author paid a high price for this experiment. The animals paid a higher one.
A memoir about a move towards simplicity ultimately becomes a tale of different forms of self-indulgence run amok. Thoreau would be aghast, as am I.
Embarking on their new life in the country, Mark, always peevish, demanded that he become the man of the house and take over the finances. Ginny was tired of that responsibility and gladly signed everything over to him. Mark’s true levels of selfishness were free to come out and play, backed by a huge bankroll. The more Mark spent on himself, the more Ginny hoped that her marriage to a younger gigolo would somehow work out. Whenever it was time to revisit this fantasy, Ginny developed another farming hobby or bought a different species of animal to tend. The family’s ignorance about farm life was terrifying.
Ginny East tells her own story, documenting her twenty-year marriage and its eventual train wreck, in her memoir My Million Dollar Donkey: The Price I Paid to Live Simply. The book is a sad story, but like every other train wreck, I couldn’t look away. Ginny East’s desperate loves for her children, her animals, Mother Earth, and above all, her husband, were the driving forces of My Million Dollar Donkey. Ginny’s story is unforgettable.
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P.S. Never, ever let her move next door to you.
"Ginny honestly recounts the four years she and her family gave to their complex attempt to...Read more