blog moved to new location! (upcoming book too!)

Please visit the new location for this blog:

The original blog ( has been moved to a new location, with a new title to reflect my upcoming book on our first year of farming. 

OK, I confess: I’m not just a farmer. I’m a writer, too. And I officially have a book being published this Spring that details our first year as greenhorn farmers. The book–titled The Wisdom of the Radish–will be published by Sasquatch Books, a Seattle-based publishing house that specializes in West Coast authors and has a focus on food and farming topics.

I hope you will continue regularly visiting the new blog site, and also hope you’ll pick up a copy of the book when it hits the stores in February or March!

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CSA first week

Last Wednesday was the first CSA pick-up for the year. We rolled out our new farm-stand pick up layout in the barn on the farm, and it was a success! As you can see on the chalk-board, the shares are very GREEN for these first couple weeks. A cool, rainy spring (almost summer now!) has meant more greens for us to enjoy. And really, we ought to feel lucky, because they’re jam packed with nutrients and antioxidants and–speaking for myself–they make me feel so fresh and energized when I eat them.

The first week’s share:

Bok Choi (Mei Qing Choi) — 1/2 lb

Spinach — 6 oz.

Arugula (Astro) — 6 oz.

Green Garlic — 2 stalks

Spring Mix — 6 oz.

Butternut Squash (Waltham) — 1 squash

Parsley — 1 bunch

Chard (Bright Lights) or Kale (Red Russian) — 1 bunch

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Photo journal of May in the veggie fields

About a week ago I snapped some photos of the little plants that are sneakily growing into big plants in rows and fields around the farm. If you’re in the mood for a scavenger hunt, you can sift through the photos and see if you can identify the various vegetables in their teenage phases. Below you’ll find: cabbage; broccoli; beets; kohlrabi; fennel; baby salad greens; head lettuce; peas; tomatoes; eggplant; garlic; onions.

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A Birth Story!

Emily and Family

Emily watches over her new brood; everyone's tired after the difficult business of being born!

After a week’s worth of partially sleepless nights — waking at midnight, 2 a.m., and 5 a.m. to check on pregnant Emily — we pulled an all-nighter.  There’s nothing like staying awake all night with a laboring goat to make you feel like a true farmer — especially if you trade off with other farmers to steal catnaps on hay bales, wrapped in a sleeping bag, shivering in a half-awake delirium and listening intently to every noise and breath sound the goat makes.

Starting at about 10 o’clock on Friday night, Emily began to show classic impending labor signs.  She started pawing the ground, trying to make a nest.  Amber-colored goo — amniotic fluid — began streaming out of her vagina.  Emily is normally a sedate, quiet goat, but she became very affectionate and vocal, talking to us and to her stomach, and crying loudly when we left the barn.  She flehmened — which is a sexual response found in sheep and goats where they curl back their lips to better smell pheromones.  She sniffed the ground.  She yawned.  She couldn’t get comfortable, standing, lying down, and constantly readjusting herself.  She chewed on her back, hoofs, and stomach, as though everything in the world was irritating her.  She licked her stomach like a cat.  She seemed to experience occasional mild contractions, her back arching ever so  slightly and her tailhead raising.

But she still wasn’t pushing, and she wasn’t in what goat owners call “heavy labor.”  Until 5:41 a.m., when quite suddenly she got serious.  Inbetween contractions (which were happening every minute or two) she stood up.  But when the contractions hit, she lay down, stretched out her legs, stiffened her body, and heaved.  Her breathing was also really heavy, almost to the point of grunting.

I was in the kidding stall with her, bracing her legs and watching her vagina for progress–she was opening up a bit, but no sign of a bubble or kid yet.  I called to Emmett, fast asleep on the hay bales.  He continued to be fast asleep, no matter how loudly I said the word “Emmett.”

After a few pushes I climbed out of the kidding stall and tapped him.  He was very confused by the whole situation, having been deep in dreams, but leapt out of his sleeping bag and came over to watch.  I climbed back in the pen, and could see she was making progress — so I asked Emmett to get Susannah and Austin, our wwoofers who were going to assist with the birth.  No sooner had they arrived (also a little groggy and confused), when a bubble appeared… first pulsing in and out with the pushes, then out to stay.  Emily screamed a couple of times, the labor at its most intense.  And then, just a couple of pushes after the bubble stayed out, a baby jettisoned out into my hands, butt-first.

I immediately started to pull off the mucus and clear off his face with the towel, but he wasn’t moving.  He was limp, and sort of stretchy feeling.  We used the aspirator — that little plastic snot-sucking bulb — to clear out his mouth (grey, lifeless tongue hanging out the side) and nostrils.  I kept rubbing him vigorously, just in case, but Emmett grabbed the stethoscope and confirmed that he had no heartbeat.  We continued trying to resuscitate him for a bit but it was pretty clear he was already long gone by the time he made his entrance in the world.

After so much waiting, our hearts were broken… Would there be any more kids?  Was that it?  I reached around Emily’s belly, about to “bounce” her to see if there were any more babies inside.  But no sooner had I done so when, barely two minutes after the birth of the first one, Susannah shouted, “The next one’s coming!”  Her words were somewhat of a premonition.  (It wasn’t “the other one,” just the next one.)

The next one came out kicking to try and break out of the thick red sac enveloping it.  We were thrilled to see signs of life, and immediately set about trying to get the baby cleaned off.  We grabbed the aspirator again and cleared out the baby’s mouth and nostrils.  That was literally all we had time to do before Susannah announced the birth of the next kid.  We were shocked — she had three in there?!  Austin took care of getting the second kid rubbed down, cleaned and dried off, and showed him to Emily so she could help with the process.  (Emily, sadly, was trying her hardest to wake up the stillborn, who was on a towel on the floor of the kidding stall — so Emmett moved him away.)  Then Emmett, Susannah and I set to work clearing the third baby’s lungs, and getting her cleaned off.  She had a bit more mucus in her mouth than the first and was coughing and sneezing, so I gently but firmly held her by her back legs and swung her upside down to drain all of the fluid out of her longs.

At this point, I should mention why getting the kids cleaned off is so important, and so much of a challenge.  The thing is, babies don’t come out like babies.  They come out like a package wrapped in red plastic wrap, inside which is an ocean of water and goo, beneath which is a tiny scrawny creature that is trying desperately to breathe and doesn’t quite look ready for the world.  It’s amazing that, within half an hour, these fetus-things turn into real goat babies… fluffy, trying for their first steps, and suckling with a bit of human help on mama’s teat.

Emily passed her afterbirth and immediately began chowing down on the large bloody organ-looking thing.  (This seemed to be the one job more important than licking the babies — and licking babies is a job she’s been taking very seriously ever since they were born 36 hours ago.)   We snipped & dipped the kids’ umbilical cords (in iodine), got them started nursing, and lifted their tails to check their genders:  1 boy and 1 girl.  The boy is named “Emilio” since he is a debonair, gregarious mini-Emily. His coat patterns look just like mom.  Middy, aka Midnight Oil for our long night of midwifing, is a fine-boned black doeling with a white cap and possibly a couple of moonspots.  She was a bit weaker at first and took longer to find the teat on her own, but with a bit of patience (and goat Nutridrench) she’s now capering all around the kidding pen.

But that’s not the end of the story.  Once we were sufficiently recovered to have the chance to look more closely at the stillborn, we realized that the stillborn kid was HUGE.  Like nearly twice the size of the other kids.  And overdeveloped — he had a full set of teeth, and his (ahem) “male parts” were unusually large.   I remembered something very odd that Emily’s previous owner had mentioned to me; she’d taken Emily in for an ultrasound to confirm her pregnancy before selling her, and the vet had said that the fetuses weren’t the same size, so he didn’t think the fetuses were the same age.  In other words, Emily had become pregnant but cycled again, and was impregnated a second time since she was in a pen with a buck.  The vet also had written on the ultrasound sheet that Emily had “1+” babies inside her, which I had assumed meant that he confirmed sighting of one baby and thought that there may be others — but in retrospect I think meant that probably 1 would make it, and there may be another underdeveloped one that wouldn’t.

So while we’re sad for the big brother who never made it, we’re grateful that super-mom Emily kept all three babies in her belly until the two littler ones were ready for the world.  Because right now, snuggled together under a heat lamp in the barn, are a handsome buckling who is the spitting image of his mom and a beautiful black doeling:  siblings who are already the best of friends.  Given Emily’s capacious udder and great mothering & birthing ability — to be able to birth a breach baby unassisted is impressive, to be able to birth an oversized lifeless breach baby in time to get the other kids out alive is pretty amazing — we’re thinking of keeping Emilio as a possible herd sire.  (In other words, letting him keep his male parts intact so he can eventually make more babies.)

The stillborn is buried up under the alpaca tree, just behind the barn, where our guardian alpacas sleep and where he’ll be close to his family.  Emily, Emilio, and Middy are happy as can be, snuggling and nursing, sleeping and cavorting, trying to jump up on top of mom and competing for the best teat (which is apparently the right one, much to the chagrin of Emily’s overfull left udder).  And we human farmers are grateful that we can finally get a good night’s sleep — at least until April, when 3 more goats are due!

Middy, sleepy on her feet after a nursing session with Emily's coveted right teat.

Emily smothering Emilio with goat-kisses.

Emilio takes a brief break from his other missions in life, which are to nurse and pester his little sister. He also loves curling up in laps and peeing on people's pants.

Middy, a bit unsteady on her feet and with a milk mustache and sideburn (we were trying to make sure she got enough milk in her and maybe went a little overboard). Today, she's totally straightened out and bouncing around like the nimble goat she was born to be!


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The Waiting Game

Em with Visitor

Emily in her kidding stall with one of her daily visitors.

Did you ever play the Waiting Game as a kid?  It was one of those games generally forced upon children by short-tempered parents, like the Quiet Game or the Use Your Restaurant Voice Game, and in the same class as the Clean Plate Club (a club which typically required your membership only when your plate sported broccoli or spinach). In other words, not very fun.

Unfortunately, it turns out the Waiting Game isn’t just for kids.  It’s also for goat owners awaiting kids.

We moved expecting mama Emily into a comfy, plush kidding stall inside the barn on Friday morning, thinking she was due on Valentine’s Day (Sunday).  We pulled out all the stops for our mother-to-be:  put down soft, fresh straw for her to lie on, rigged up a pen out of hog panels (perfect for goat back-scratching), gave her her own personal alfalfa feeder, grass hay feeder, mineral feeder, water bucket.  We threw open the windows and doors when it was sunny to let in light and fresh air and shut them as soon as it cooled down to keep the barn as warm as possible. I checked on her constantly, waking in the middle of the night and trudging to the barn to check on her, to try and make sure that we’d be there to help her out no matter what time the kids decided to arrive.

Well, it’s Tuesday, I haven’t slept more than a few hours straight in 5 nights, and Emily has shown exactly zero signs of imminent labor.

Her ligaments (the ones that run from her pinbones to her tailhead and disappear before labor) seem to soften and then firm up and then soften again, teasing me.*  Her udder is continuing to fill slowly, but isn’t anywhere near full, and hasn’t shown the sudden 24-hour ballooning that typically precedes labor.  Her teats seem to be starting to swell… but then again, no.  Her hips seem a bit hollowed out, her belly seems to be sitting lower (indicating the kids are moving into place to make their entry into the world)… but then again, maybe that’s just wishful thinking.   She has a very tiny bit of mucus discharge but nothing like the large amounts that indicate the loss of the mucus plug and the onset of labor.

Emily Ligament Test

Feeling for Emily's ligaments. They've softened a bit, and I can reach partway down her spine.

Emily's Udder

Emily's udder is filling up, but isn't yet tight and shiny. Her teats aren't filled with colostrum, either.

In other words, we have no idea when she’s going to kid!  We bought her bred from Brandywine Farms (a wonderful family farm in the foothills of the Sierra), but the breeding date wasn’t known precisely, and when Emily was ultrasounded, the vet wasn’t exactly sure how far along she was.  They gave a window of 15 days, the first possible due date being Valentine’s day.

So for now, back to the waiting game.  And hoping that Emily will let me get some sleep before March!


*FYI, signs that a goat is close to labor are:

  • Loss of ligaments — specifically the ligaments along the back end of her spine, past the pin bones but before the tailhead — to the point where you can almost reach around the spine.
  • “Hollowing out” of hips and a “mushy” hind end as babies drop into place and all other muscles relax to let the birth canal open up and the uterus get to work.
  • Udder is tight and shiny, filled with fresh colostrum.
  • Teats are swollen, taut, and full of colostrum, ready for babies to suckle.
  • Mucus discharge… aka “string of goo” from the goat’s vulva.
  • Goat may start to talk to babies (arching head backwards and nickering to stomach). Goat may paw the ground to try and make a nest for kidding.
  • Some more subtle signs are “going posty,” which is when the doe starts to walk sort of funny and the back legs look stiff and post-like.  Also, the tail will arch in a funny way.
  • And of course, the biggest signs that a goat is going into labor are… contractions!  And then, of course, the appearance of two little hooves, and the kid.

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Foggy River update!

Emily, or "Auntie Em," is due in one week.

It’s been a while since we’ve blogged.  This has been a very busy off-season… so I thought I’d at least let you know why we’ve been so silent lately.

Reason number one would probably be that I’m in the process of writing a book, and the manuscript is due to the publisher in April.  So that’s taking the majority of my writing energy — and I’m also freelancing for the local paper (currently have 5 articles on the docket for this month) and that’s taking the rest!

Reason number two — our new website, Foggy River Farm. Emmett’s been working on it whenever he’s not working on the barns (which are, respectively, reasons three and four).  We’ve built one barn for the goats — hay storage, milking parlor, kidding room — and we’re about to start one for the veggies, so we can have a nice shaded place to process our produce down by the field.  It’s been a lot of work, but in the process Emmett has become quite the handyman/carpenter/architect.  There are still some things to be done — like, it would be really nice to have a water faucet nearby, not to mention a source of light for late-night kiddings — but in the meantime we’ll carry buckets from the house for water and bring a lantern if any of the goats decide to give birth in the middle of the night.

Other reasons for our silence — we’re getting married!  Which is exciting, but the process of planning a wedding is a part-time job unto itself, and as you can tell we each have several part-time jobs already… which explains why we’re just finally getting around to sending out invitations, and haven’t yet dealt with details like, oh, rings.

Finally, some exciting news:  we’re expecting several kids.  Four of our goats are pregnant, and one of them is due in exactly one week (yup, on Valentine’s Day).  Which means…  adorable Nigerian Dwarf goat kids, and fresh goat milk… which means… fresh goat milk cheese!  Yummm.  We’re also expecting lambs in a few weeks, so we’ve been busy giving “birthing haircuts” to all the pregnant animals.  This is about as fun as it sounds: trying to control a hormonal pregnant sheep or goat while buzzing her butt with an electric shaver.  We also trimmed their udder area so that when the kids and lambs are born, the little ones will have an easier time finding their food source.  (You can imagine that trimming the udder area isn’t particularly popular with the mom-to-be, either, especially with the sheep, who had to be flipped onto their backs for the task.)  We’ve made sure that all the pregnant gals are up to date on vaccinations and mineral supplements, and our nearly-due goat Emily has been receiving daily pinches of raspberry leaf and nettles, two good pre-natal herbs that are said to tone the uterus and speed post-natal healing.  We’ll let you know how our first experience as “goat midwives” goes as soon as Emily gets down to business!  Her udder is already filling up and we’re monitoring her each day for signs of impending birth (more on this later).

That’s all for now.  Hope you’re having a restful winter — and enjoying this fabulous weather we’ve been having!  I loved yesterday’s sudden downpours which vanished just as suddenly as they started, and later on in the day, the brilliant sunlight breaking through the towering clouds.  And today, not a cloud in the sky — just good, old-fashioned, California sunshine and that crisp, cool, after-storm air.

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Our new website is up now. We’re still tinkering with the layout a little bit, and adding new information every week…but the basics are there. 

From now on, please visit for the most up-to-date information about the farm, CSA, and goats!

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On Thanksgiving

As we’re once again bombarded by new traditional recipes on morning shows, in newspaper columns, and magazines, I feel compelled to say a little something about that most American of all holidays, Thanksgiving.

It’s Emmett’s favorite holiday, mostly because he likes to eat.  My favorite holiday is Christmas, because I like giving people presents.  Specifically, I like thinking about people and waiting for that inspiration to strike — the mental flash of the gift that the person most wants (as opposed to the gift that I most want to give them).  Christmas always has a little of that tension, doesn’t it?  There’s always that choice between what I want to give you (which is often what I want given to myself) versus what you’d actually want.  Too often we go with the former instead of the latter, but to me Christmas is still about that spirit of providing for another person.

But back to Thanksgiving which, everyone knows, is about food and family.  And food first.  It’s the only holiday that is defined by a meal, as opposed to a religious observance or a greater cause or commemoration.  And since I’m now in the business of growing food, I find Thanksgiving a bit more important than I once did.  This year, we saved the last of the Yukon Gold potatoes so that I can make my mom’s famous mashed potatoes (which involve potatoes, butter, Lactaid, salt, and at least a dozen tastings to determine whether the appropriate proportions have been reached for optimal creaminess).  We’ll decorate the table with squash and gourds we grew, and we’ll roast our beets and carrots as another side dish.  We’ll know the work and time and effort that went into these parts of the meal — because we tended them and processed them, from seed to finished dish.

And in the process, I’ll realize that Christmas isn’t the only holiday about gifts.  That each item on the table represents the sweat and toil of another human being (or, in the case of the turkey, its life).  So even if you weren’t the person who grew your potatoes or carrots, your cranberries or yams, your turkey or wheat for the stuffing, say a little thank you for your food.  Because someone did grow them for you, and the gift of a meal goes beyond a simple economic transaction.  Because tomorrow, in houses across America, families will combine a bunch of different foods, have some people over, sit down at a table, and instead of dinner they’ll have Thanksgiving.  And without the people growing the food, whether they’re driving combines or hoeing by hand, none of that would happen.

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Life, Death, Hatching


Splash and Sparky: love at first sight.


I’d like to share a story with you that took place a few months ago.  It tells an interesting tale of chicken mothering behavior — a story of three mamas, two chicks, life, and death.

One of my Splash Orpington hens — a big gorgeous gal, silvery white and flecked with different shades of grey — decided to go broody.  (“Going broody” is when a chicken, who usually just lays an egg and forgets about it, is suddenly overtaken by maternal instinct.  When she’s broody, her only desire is  to sit on the eggs and hatch them — not pass the egg and go on with her day.)  

Unfortunately, Splash was a teenage mom — she’d barely started laying eggs herself — and a very confused one at that.  

Specifically, she couldn’t decide which nest was the proper one to sit on.  In the morning, she’d be sitting on one nest, fiercely defending it from any birds or humans who dared venture near.  By the evening, she would have forgotten all about her original choice and switched to whatever nest had the most eggs in it.  Talk about a fair-weather mom.

Since I’m a sucker for letting chickens behave naturally (and also a sucker for cute baby critters), I decided to place an “X” on a few eggs and let her try to hatch them.  I mostly placed guinea eggs under her, but also a few chicken eggs.  Of course, since I frequently found the eggs cold and abandoned and Splash sitting on another nest entirely, I didn’t think the odds of the eggs actually hatching were very good.  (Whenever I found her on the wrong nest, I put her back on the proper eggs, trying to teach her how to be a better mom.)  

At some point during the incubation period — which is typically 21 days long from initial heat to hatch day — Joy Luck, my Light Brahma, decided to go broody as well.  Let me tell you, Orpingtons are big birds, but Brahmas are bigger.

Giant Joy — if she were human, she’d be a jolly overweight lady wearing curlers and fuzzy slippers with a propensity for watching soap operas — quickly out-mama’d Splash.  She decided that the “X”-marked eggs were hers, and hers alone.  Since she’s bigger, she used her size to her advantage.  Basically, Joy would sit on top of Splash until Splash was tired of suffocating and moved on to another nest.  

So soon Joy took over incubation duty, although Splash kept trying, and moved onto the nest whenever Joy got up to eat or poop.

Okay, are you still with me?  One nest, two mother hens.  It’s about to get even more complicated.

I have a White Leghorn named Mama.  Three days before the eggs were about to hatch, Mama went broody on the nest under the porch.  Mama had been broody before and she was an absolutely top-notch mother.  For her last clutch, I’d put her in a plastic crate in the garage; she didn’t need much space since after all she was sitting on her nest all day and all night.  Once a day I’d go visit her, bring her fresh food and water (which she hardly touched), and open the door.  She’d hop out, run outside, deposit the nastiest smelliest largest chicken poop you’ve ever seen in your life, and race back to her nest.  She sat on her nest stalwartly and when her baby chicks hatched, she took wonderful care of them.  She showed them how to eat and drink, defended them fiercely against all invaders, and always used the “outside toilet” so she wouldn’t soil their surroundings.  

Meanwhile, Splash pooped on her eggs.  She abandoned them when another nest looked better.  She did not seem to have the makings of a good first-time mom.  

Then, just over three weeks into this broody insanity, I checked on the nest at nighttime and one of the chicks inside one of the eggs had miraculously tapped out a tiny hole in the shell.  I was thrilled — a pip!  Now, what to do?  Should I leave undeserving Joy on the nest?  Put Splash on it?  Or place the eggs under a known veteran mother?

I decided to put Mama on the nest, since she knew what to do.

The next morning, I tip-toed down to the basement and peered in the nest, ready to see a cute little chick fluffed out under Mama’s white feathers.  Instead, I found a dead chick tossed in the corner of the nestbox.  It had a bloody wound on its head.  Mama, instead of taking care of the chick, had killed it.  I felt terrible — this tiny little thing should have been enveloped by soft down feathers and gentle cooing noises.  Instead it had been stabbed to death.

To make matters worse, another shell had pipped:  another baby was trying to make its way out into the cruel world.  I had to act, and act quickly.  Realizing my mistake — chickens must have their own internal clocks and Mama had realized that this chick was hatching out too early and wasn’t “hers” — I decided to take a gamble.  Joy hadn’t been sitting on the nest for three weeks either; she could kill the next baby just as easily as Mama had.

So I ran out to the coop and grabbed the ineffective teenage mom, Splash.  I brought her down to the basement and as quick as I could I snatched Mama off the nest and stuffed Splash into it.  

Then I crossed my fingers, and waited.

Judging by the picture above, you know the end of the story.  An itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny guinea keet popped out of that egg, much to the surprise of both Splash and me.  And that’s just the beginning of the many adventures of Splash and Sparky (as the guinea keet came to be called, for reasons I’ll explain later.)  

For now, let me just say that there is nothing more beautiful than the love of two creatures who don’t speak the same language.  And that’s really a roundabout way of saying there’s nothing more beautiful than love.  After all, no one — mother/newborn baby, husband/wife, brother/sister — really speaks the same language as anyone else.  

But a baby guinea and a confused teenage chicken?  Now there’s a pair whose languages aren’t even close.  (But somehow, they managed to translate just fine.)

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Peg-Leg Pippi: Part II

Pippi Longstocking

A more flattering picture of Pippi to make up for the unflattering photo posted earlier. It's her wide-eyed wonder and sweet personality that make people gaga over this goat!

This morning, I took Pippi out of the large multipurpose dog crate, put Pippi in a smaller plastic crate (actually a giant tupperware type thing that I drilled breathing holes into and have been using as a kid transport crate ever since), stashed the crate in my Subaru and took off to the vet.

This, perhaps, is the best part of the story.  Dr. Jessica, who has a way with caprines, places Pippi on the table.  She watches her stand, watches her walk, feels the leg up and down.  It’s warm to the touch — which isn’t bad, Dr. Jessica notes, in fact it’s a sign of healing.  She also notices some stiffness in Pippi’s shoulder.

And then she arrives at her diagnosis.  The final word:  Pippi’s a wuss.  Yes, the vet actually diagnoses Pippi as being a wuss.

As in, she freaked out after having her leg stuck in the trough, and overreacted by not wanting to walk on it.  Much the same way that, when I felt a nail slide easily into the flesh of my palm, I refused to do anything but press my other hand tightly against it until Emmett looked at it and determined the extent of the damage.

I still have a sweet scar from ‘getting nailed.’  As for Pippi, her leg was bruised, with probably some damage to the ligament, but absolutely nothing to be worried about.

Except, of course, for the fact that she will be eternally known as Pippi, AKA Peg-Leg, AKA Misfit, AKA The Wuss.

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