February 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

February 7, 2019

My front window buzzes with thousands of white bees dropping from the heavy skies in search of clover in the grass. Except, there is no grass. There’s no clover. And the swarm outside is yet another snow storm. All signs point to winter in the Northern Hemisphere even if we did celebrate Imbolc last week, noting that the days are getting longer.

The Hub just popped in to grab his workout shoes. His red and black checkered flannel jacket is dusted white. He’s off to the local Crossfit Gym where he works out with one of his counselors and another veteran. It’s a pilot program to see if the Crossfit program can adapt to veterans with disabilities. The idea is to get these former soldiers to reconnect to their warrior mentality in healthy ways.

So far, all signs indicate Crossfit is working. It’s part of the bigger plan to integrate the Hub’s care so that every day he has something that helps with pain management (chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy), cognitive strategies (CBT, speech therapy, group), and health (medical care, fitness, and nutrition). Basically, with the guidance of our Vet Center therapist, we’ve built our own Poly Trauma program that addresses the Hub’s needs holistically.

Personally, I’ve been looking for signs, too. Not necessarily the tealeaf reading kind, but some sort of sign from the universe as to which direction to take. What next? I knew I had come to a fork in the road. At times like this, I thank my North Star for its guiding light. I know where I want to go, but the path has led to unfamiliar terrain, and I have choices.

Some decisions I’ve made and stand solid — I landed in the Keweenaw, and I intend to stay in the Keweenaw. Here, I have my Warrior Sisters, the Hub’s home-spun Poly Trauma program, a beautiful and remote outdoor setting, and proximity to two of my three children. Runner and his lovely bride-to-be, Runner2 live near Madison, five hours away. We live with Radio Geek and her Solar Man, and if our world-traveler, Climber and her Chef visit the States (they live on Svalbard in Norway), they’ll come here.

Place is settled.

Last June, I decided to end my 16 years of writing for Valley Natural Foods. I penned my final member profiles. After I left as marketing communications manager in 2012,  I stayed on as managing editor and writer for two of their key publications. Before I left Idaho in 2016, I decided to wind down all my freelancing. Last year I decided to pursue the workshops and retreats I wanted to do. My first one got canceled because the Father’s Day flood wiped out the retreat center and turned my new community upside down.

In July, Finlandia University hired me as an adjunct instructor to teach a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Marketing course. I read it as the strongest sign to let go all my freelancing and business consulting. I knew it would be tight between July and September, but I had a couple of local gigs. Then my class got canceled the first week of school and caught me off guard. I was gutted. It was at the same time that we were still trying to get help for the Hub and understand what he was facing.

Timing-wise, you can see that all this upheaval aligned with the Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. I can’t say enough good about Norah Colvin, Irene Waters, D. Avery, Sherri Matthews, Geoff Le Pard, and all our judges who led superbly. We carried on and had a good run and a few recording hiccups when I had to go to Minneapolis to accompany the Hubb into the VA Poly Trauma program. It was terrifying for me. I grieved for the husband I no longer had.

But as you know, through my writing and sharing, I pulled through that dark place and came to an understanding — I still have my husband. My family recommitted ourselves to loving-kindness, no matter what the future was going to bring. We have now. We have him. When I saw Welby Altidor, he connected the pursuit of creativity to caring, and to carving out safe space to take risks. Carrot Ranch always has been “safe space” for literary artists to explore their craft, stories, and characters. I just needed to adapt that model to my life and how to live with a veteran who has an altered brain.

Are any of you familiar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way? It’s because of her that I identify as a literary “artist.” Her book influenced me during my 20s when I dreamed of being a writer and wrote in lined journals. She dared me to be bold, to go to college at age 27 when I had three young children. I got my undergrad degree in creative writing. I wanted my MFA but chose to follow the Hub to the Midwest where I built a freelancing and marketing communications career. Julia Cameron (through her book) helped me when I dreamed up Carrot Ranch.

If you are familiar with The Artist’s Way, then you know she advises daily morning pages and weekly artist dates. The idea to write 99 words a week was a reduction of the morning pages. If we write every day, I figured we needed to share something of our writing, too. Alone, we are writers. Together, we experience the dynamic that is literary art — writing meant to be read. Collectively, writers and readers give meaning to literary art. When I arrange the writings of participants into a collection, well, that’s my weekly artist’s date.

So, no matter what I decided to do next, I knew that Carrot Ranch, with its torch to keep literary art alive and available, would be a part. An important part.

Finlandia University has employed me to develop the CTE course and help recruit for next fall. They intend for me to be the instructor. But next fall is a lot of meals away. I’m not paid to be an instructor-in-waiting. Back in October, when my world was all about flash fiction Rodeos and stressing over a husband in the hospital, a once-in-a-great-while kind of job came up at Michigan Technological University. It was a public relations position, responsible for curating and distilling the stories of the research university as it prepares to lead the world into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I was intrigued. I took the bait. I applied.

No job can ever replace my North Star with its glowing dreams to encourage world-wide literary art, publish historical novels, and build community. I had to think long and hard how a fulltime job would fit into my plans. What excited me beyond the work, was the opportunity to invest in Carrot Ranch monetarily. Oh, the thought of buying those turquoise cowgirl boots and a new wardrobe to replace the one I left behind in Idaho.

After I sprained my ankle, I sat on the couch and came up with a plan. I was at a crossroads and would have important decisions to make. One path was MTU, the second was FU; the third was to revitalize my freelancing, workshops, and retreat; and the fourth was if the world imploded, I’d leave and go find an MFA program to start anew. In January, I went on retreat to polish my vision and plan the first three paths. The fourth was like a Hail Mary football pass.

The reason I’m telling you all this now is to process and understand which path the Universe finally set a go-sign to. MTU selected one other candidate and me to go through final interviews (mind you, this was a three-month process, including writing assignments). After an all-day interview on campus, I felt proud I made it that far. I also felt awed and scared that my world was once again about to change drastically. The result? MTU rescinded the job. It no longer exists. There is no public relations position.

If that wasn’t one helluva sign…

Disappointed, I wasted no time in setting up a freelancing platform and will wait and see what happens with recruitment after the CTE open house last week. I also realized I felt hugely relieved. My writing time is sacred and I almost gave to an organization in exchange for shiny new clothes.

Then my world shifted yet again when a letter arrived yesterday from the VA. For once, a good shift. And the sign that appeared blew me away. The Hub’s benefits finally, finally, finally came through. Blessedly he can stop pulling his own teeth with pliers and get dental care. He will get his knee replaced. We can even get into a place of our own. But the unexpected — my name in the official document with the words, “education benefit.”

I still feel all atwitter. My stomach is still somersaulting. Education benefits. For me! Suddenly, the fourth path isn’t far-fetched. I can get my MFA! You betcha, I wasted no time in contacting an advisor, finding out what the benefit was and when I could use it and — it’s no longer 1998. Ha! It’s no longer 1998. There is an INTERNET. And I looked up online MFAs and found one! I applied, yes, I already applied. There’s more to the application (writing). Get this — my master’s thesis could be Miracle of Ducks. AND, I can earn an additional teaching certificate.

Do I need an MFA? No, I don’t. I still believe that writers live in a time of incredible publishing opportunity. But the question that I answered immediately before my brain could ask it was do I want an MFA. And yes, I still do.

Sometimes, we have to wait for our Sign to come in. I’ve waited 20 years for that one!

My daughter took me out last night. We both cried and laughed. She remembers me giving up my chance to get an MFA. She remembers me writing away to programs at different points in my life. She knew I never gave up the ghost of that dream. And it fits Carrot Ranch like a custom glove! I’ll get to learn how to teach craft, not just encouragement and marketing. I’ll also get to use Carrot Ranch as my platform for coursework.

For now, I’ll continue the application process, open up some freelancing gigs, and plan to start coursework August 12. I’m setting up some local workshops, and of course, we have the first Carrot Ranch Nature Retreat this July. I’ll continue working on MOD, and I’ll set a deadline to finish Vol. 2 before school starts. At last, a path.

And, be sure to check back on Monday because I finally met with the folks at The Continental to close out our Bonus Rodeo contest. We have three winners to announce (and pay). The radio spot won’t be developed until later. Some issues came up but had nothing to do with us or the contest. Thank you all for your patience, especially those who entered.

Thank you, also, for being my weekly artist’s date! Your writing of 99-word stories inspires the blazes within my writer’s soul. Must be a sign.

February 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a sign. It can be a posted sign, a universal sign, a wonder. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 12, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

A Drive Back in Time (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Ramona looked for the sign, the one that read Elmira. Snow pelted her windshield with a mesmerizing kaleidoscope that Vic called whiteout fever. She ignored it the way her husband said to, and instead followed the tracks in the snow. Ramona startled when her headlights caught the township sign. Why were the mill lights out? So dark! She slowed and pulled into her driveway where someone was plowing the easement. Vic, her husband. The power must be out. She waved and blew him a kiss. Silly man. What was he up to, calling a young thing like her, “Grandma”?

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  1. The Haunted Wordsmith

    Congrats! It certainly is an odd journey we take sometimes, but it always seems as though we are better off for the scenic route.

    • Charli Mills

      And I hope there’s more scenery to come, yet! Thanks, Teresa.

  2. Norah

    At last, when it seems all hope is lost and not even the white snow bees can find a hint of green, it’s there waiting ready to burst out into joyful life. I’m so happy for you, Hub and your family with these new developments, Charli. You hung in there when many lesser wouldn’t. Your growth mindset and a purposeful stride towards the future has got you there, where the future melds seamlessly with the past, just as it appears to have done for Ramona. How wonderful that she is now a sign that all is going well for MOD. A Masters indeed. Go for it!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m grateful to you that I even know what a growth mindset is, Norah! I think Ramona represents that if I give enough time to develop ideas into steps, that the road will appear. Good signs, finally! Thank you for your encouragement along the way.

      • Norah

        We need those good signs. Sometimes, without encouragement, even they are hard to see. I appreciate your constant guidance and support as I seek out my own writing journey. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        We’ll keep flashing each other signs, Norah!

      • Norah

        Hehehe. We do keep flashing each other signs, Charli. And here’s my flash about signs for this week. It’s called Ominous Signs and, sadly, is very much a BOTS (based on a true story). https://wp.me/p3O5Jj-1j9

        Ominous Signs

        Every day, the farmers scanned the skies for a sign, any sign, that a reprieve from the relentless drought was on its way. The dusty red soil yielded not a single blade of feed for the suffering stock. Bales of hay, donated by city folk, helped but soon it too would be gone. When the rains finally came, the farmers rejoiced. For four days it rained; beautiful, drenching, life-giving rains, soaked up by the thirsty soil. But it wouldn’t stop. It transformed their world into an enormous, red, muddy sea. Hopes drowned alongside precious stock leaving heartbreak and devastation.

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, Norah, the horror of watching livestock and ranchers suffer.

  3. susanzutautas

    Charli, I am so happy for both of you. I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason. Although sometimes it seems like nothing is ever going to get better and you question all the moves you’ve made to try and reach your dreams and then finally one day …… poof everything goes exactly the right way. You guys have been through so much but I think in the end you’ll look back and say it was worth it.

    • Charli Mills

      Spoken like the true champion for courage that you are, Susan! Such “easy slides” feel remarkable after all the boulder pushing uphill. It’s hard to explain, isn’t it, how small shifts matter so much? Yes, worth it. Thank you for your encouragement. May you have good news soon, too!

  4. susansleggs

    Hallelujah! Full benefits for Hub and you. Who saw that coming? Goes to show that persistence and belief pay off. I am so happy the light is shining on you and yours. I was angry when you told us the public relations position was rescinded, but it was for the best. A favorite quote of mine is, “There is always reason for delay.” Whether I ever know why doesn’t matter, but it has been a truth in my life. Seems it fits yours at the moment. I am so excited that I will be part of the first retreat in Vermont. It has me back to working on my family saga manuscript and believing it will one day be a published novel. Thanks you for sharing your dark path with us and the results. I’m sure it will give all your ranch hands more gumption to continue on their own path with the encouragement shining from your North Star.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, Sue, I didn’t see that coming, either, and the relief and validation that the VA does indeed acknowledge the Hub’s struggles in connection to his service is astounding. You are making my day to hear that the retreat is getting you revved up to see your family saga manuscript published. I can’t wait to work with you in person on a strategy to see that happen. The retreat will be full of writing, wonders, and breakthroughs. We can all cast more light with our North Stars!

  5. denmaniacs4

    You have been, and continue to be, on a powerful journey, Charli. It is always a privilege to learn from you.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for being a part of the journey, Bill. I feel we all get to learn and grow here at our own interest and pace, including me!

  6. robertawrites235681907

    I am glad to read that everything in your life is finally coming together, Charli. Not an easy thing when someone very close to you suffers an extreme mental illness. You feel very helpless.

    • Charli Mills

      You understand that helpless feeling, Robbie. And I hope you also get those shifts that bring hope and joy despite the difficulties.

  7. calmkate

    congrats Charli,
    you’ve rolled with each punch
    and come up trumps!

    Often doors close and a better one opens, so very glad for you <3

    • Charli Mills

      Got a handful of wildflowers this time, Kate! Thank you for standing witness to the doors. This was a good one. <3

      • calmkate

        and you so deserve it >3

    • Charli Mills

      Signs are looking up for Aalen!

  8. Kay Kingsley, The Memory Cellar

    Great news, Charli, on all fronts. I am glad you let us all sit along with you in the cabin and let us enjoy your journey with you. Life is all about journey and not necessarily about destination. So happy for you and very thankful the Ranch isn’t going anywhere 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Kay! A ranch is a place, but Carrot Ranch is definitely a journey, and one I’m happy to share with other literary pilgrims on the trail.

  9. Molly Stevens - Shallow Reflections

    What a lot of news you had to share in this week’s prompt post, Charli. You had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what ‘sign’ was going to lead you to a decision. I was a little worried (for selfish reasons) you would get the full time job and announce a shut down or drastic reduction in your interaction with the Carrot Ranch Community. But I didn’t see the VA benefits coming that also included education benefits for you! How fantastic is that? Also I thought you’d been a Keweenaw resident for a lot longer than since 2016. Didn’t realize you moved there from Idaho. It’s good to have a solid decision about where you’ll stay planted. I have Julia Cameron’s book entitled – It’s never too late to begin again – an artist’s way program for retirees. I was religious about doing morning pages, artist dates, and memoir writing for several months and now it’s fallen by the wayside. You’ve reminded me what a wonderful program it is. So excited for you as you pursue your dream of MFA.

    • Liz H

      How different is Cameron’s retirement book from her original “Artist’s Way?” Am currently taking a 12 week workshop on the Artist’s Way (first time was about 20 years ago, solo) with a small group of like-minded writers and visual artists..

      • Molly Stevens - Shallow Reflections

        I haven’t read the original Artist’s Way, so I’m not sure. I believe the basic principles are the same, but are geared toward someone who is older. How wonderful that you are taking a 12 week workshop. That must be very interesting and fulfilling!

      • Liz H

        My partial version of a personal Spring… 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Molly, I was determined that any return to full-time work would not impede the Ranch. In many ways, freelancing, consulting, writing and platform building is like having two full-time jobs. I would have missed my freedom to write and work at odd hours. It all worked out well. One of my Warrior Sisters pointed out that I now get health benefits, too. But the education benefits rocked my world! It was a winding road from Elmira, Idaho to Hancock, Michigan with 10 states wandered in between. The Artist’s Way is probably applied to Julia Cameron’s retirement plan. Good for her to do that! Like Liz points out, it is like a personal spring. A flurry of activity, but even after you stop, those seeds bloom in the future. Use her plan when you need to plant! Thank you!

      • Molly Stevens - Shallow Reflections

        So happy about the way things worked out for you, Charli. Interesting that you mentioned the word bloom in your response to me. ‘Bloom’ is my word for 2019!

      • Charli Mills

        Ah, bloom, Molly, bloom! ????

  10. Jules


    What a surprise and relief to be able to move forward with support and love.
    And to still inspire us all here at the Ranch. Your post with Ramona reminded me of a funny story. I had a set of Mugs that said MAMA and PAPA on them. And one day (long before children were even thought of…) My in-laws were visiting and my Mother-in-law took the words as a sign that she was going go be a ‘Grandmother’. I had to talk her down from her cloud. Turns out though out of her three children, her son, my hubby – was actually the first to give her that gift – even though it was a few years after she initially thought 😉

    My post though is more about labels and that sometimes educated people need to not be so quick to assign signs to students. The title is the link which also has some other info about the ‘Age of Reason’ – for children that is.

    The Unreasonable Age of Reasoning

    The young man was an excellent manipulator. He wanted to do things his way, when he wanted to. Normal inquisitiveness was rewarded. He liked that. When he had to do things he didn’t want to, there was trouble. The Elementary School inadvertently gave him a sign that allowed him to get the upper hand. The ‘sign’ he was labeled with was ‘anger management issues’. And he was going to use it to get his way, when ever he could.

    There were some adults who still possessed common sense. And he would have to learn to behave when around them.


    • Liz H

      This strikes a chord!

    • Charli Mills

      You all inspire me, too, Jules so the Ranch will be the center of my North Star. Ha! That’s a funny story! Your MIL must have been eagerly looking for a sign, though she did have a few years yet to wait. Your flash reminds me how children test boundaries and they are smart in finding potential loopholes they can exploit. I hadn’t thought of how a child could use a label, too, thinking labels often shut down potential. Though-provoking flash! And I wouldn’t miss these thoughts for anything!

  11. H.R.R. Gorman

    This is so exciting! I’m pumped for you to start pursuing that dream! I remember when you got the job at Michigan Tech and being super stoked for you, but this seems an even more long-sought life goal. You’ll have those turquoise boots before you know it – I’m sure!

    Anyway, I hope you like this historical flash. It’s very vague, but I hope it scratches that little historical itch you sometimes have.


    **Alabama Highway**

    Trees, killed and cut, lined both sides of the road. The road, as far as Stomping Beaver knew, hadn’t been there a week ago. The white army might as well have posted a sign mentioning their intent.

    “They move fast.” His teenage son tossed a few twigs.

    “Faster now they’ve built this road.” Stomping Beaver removed his shoulder bag and tucked it beneath one of the felled logs. “Stay here. Have my food – this bag will only slow me down.”

    He’d be too late. The road was several days old, and the fort was only two days march away.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      We went in a similar direction this week.

      • H.R.R. Gorman

        Yup – FOR freeDOOM!

  12. pensitivity101

    Hurrah! Things finally going your way! I’m so pleased for you and Hub Charli. It must be such a weight off your shoulders!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Di! Today was the first time we sat in a waiting room and I felt light-hearted.

      • pensitivity101

        That’s terrific!

    • Charli Mills

      Meg is back! Thanks for bringing her story forward, Susan. I think it’s a great sign for your writing, too!

  13. denmaniacs4

    A Sign: Off the Times

    “Did you hear that?” she asked.


    “What he just said?”


    “Trump. In that news clip from the Prayer breakfast.”

    “Seriously? No. I’ve stopped listening to him. I told you before, I’ve reached my gibberish quotient.”

    “This was new. Like it was there…flitting about in his brain…and then, whoosh, it came out. Like a popped pimple. Like it’s a sign of what’s coming.”

    “Okay. I’ll bite. What was it?”

    “He said ‘one of our greatest strides…the abolition of civil rights.’”

    “Nah! Even he…”

    “Even he…what?”


    “It’s Trump, remember.”

    “Well, when you put it that way. Holy moly!”


    • Liz H

      Oh my god…did he really?
      The blemish metaphor was very…erm…spot on!

      • denmaniacs4

        He did. He absolutely did.

      • Liz H

        ( face palm, sobbing softly)

    • Charli Mills

      Great title, Bill. I had to go look that up because I, too have a gibberish quotient. I’m sure he misspoke the speech, but it concerns me that he didn’t even notice. I’m horrifically fascinated that he can sound so impassioned while not even knowing what he’s actually saying. I feel like your dialogs give us a window into what our neighbors to the north are saying!

      • denmaniacs4

        Hi Charli, I agree he likely misspoke. In much the same way that he might likely begin the process of initiating a nuclear strike. Now, we are fortunate that it is a longer process than a “misspeak” but he is in my view capable (perhaps incapable is a better term) of beginning the process. The man does not like to be deterred.

      • Charli Mills

        He doesn’t want to be deterred the way a two-year-old doesn’t want to give up the keys they are trying to stick in the light socket.

  14. pensitivity101

    Hi Charli,

    Here’s my effort

    Title: Is this clear enough for you?

    All that was left were his boots and a bloodied foot.
    His family were up in arms and blamed the owner for their kin’s demise.
    ‘There are signs!’ he shouted. ‘They’re not there for show. They’re warnings. It’s not my fault if you lot don’t take any notice!’
    ‘They don’t explain the dangers when perhaps they should.’
    ‘You’re trespassing! I don’t have to give you the willy nilly and whys and wherefores why you’ve got to keep out!’
    ‘They’re inadequate!’
    He sighed.
    ‘OK. I’ll change them.’
    The following day, newly erected signs read
    “Warning: Bears. Trespassers will be eaten.”

    • Liz H

      <3 <3 !!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Too late for this fellow, he’s bear fare. Fun twist.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s some dark humor, Di and I can’t help but think every National Park ranger out west has wanted to make such signs when the tourists don’t heed the warnings of natural dangers.

    • Michele Jones

      Not the end I was expecting.

    • Charli Mills

      It worked, Di! I got it!

    • susanzutautas

      I just hate days that start out like that 🙂

      • Ritu

        Tell me about it!

    • susansleggs

      Welcome back. Hope those days don’t happen too often.

      • Ritu

        Thank you!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m following those positive signs, Ritu! Good to see a flash from you!

      • Ritu

        Thanks Charli ????
        You keep following!

    • Jules

      Yep… some days it just doesn’t pay.

      • Ritu

        True dat!

    • Liz H

      (From Disney’s Fantasia 2000)

    • Charli Mills

      There can yet be life after the ashes, Liz! I love that clip. Wonder where I can get my own personal elk…?

      • Liz H

        They’re all around us. Like Mr. Rogers (or his mother?) said, “Look for the helpers.”

      • Charli Mills

        His mother gave him the wisdom he passed on to us — yes, look for the helpers!

  15. noelleg44

    Congratulations on your new direction! Change is never accomplished without some angst – and you’ve been brilliant!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Noelle! Ready to see some flowers for the angst. 🙂

  16. Liz H

    Here is a Flash for last week and today’s. Cuz Friday night and there’s been too much snow and ice these past weeks:

    Cure for Cabin Fever

    Crystal bottles stood before her, hip shot in relaxed groups. Scented soldiers, they had no expectation they’d be called to order; Treena preferred sweatpants to skinny jeans, books to bodies grinding on a dance floor.
    [Continue ]

    • Charli Mills

      Liz, the snow is now getting packed up against windows. As beautiful as the whorls of white can be, it’s claustrophobic! I need a cure!

      • Liz H

        How a bout a spritz and gathering a posse of MI girlfriends for a night of no responsibility? Hike to the bar and skate home afterward!

      • Charli Mills

        Sounds good! We have a Warrior Wives lunch outing Friday and a day of Mindfulness on Sunday at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing. Ought to be a cure in some of that!

    • Jules

      I am in need of that personal spring…
      While not as snow bound as others – this winter has lived up to being bleak and cold.

      • Liz H

        We’ll get through!

  17. Colleen Chesebro

    Great news, Charli. When Ron received his 100% disability, I hunted everywhere to find a college where I could finally get my bachelors. It was no dice. I did obtain a second Associate degree but I was so disappointed. There just weren’t enough funds for me to get that degree. But, I never let it stop me and here I am writing and learning as I go. We all learn together and I’m thrilled that you are forging ahead in your studies. It’s about time the goddess sent you good news. March on toward the good fight. Huge hugs and congratulations. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Thank the Goddess for good news, Colleen! That education benefit is not much, but with the advent of online MFAs, it’s just enough. The program is developed for military families, too which I think is awesome. It’s Southern New Hampshire University. I compared some of the low-residency MFAs (where you only have to go to an intensive on campus once a year) but they are still so expensive. I only have the Chapter 35, so I’m over the moon that I found a program I can afford. You are marching forward and doing a magnificent job, Colleen. We are all learning together! <3

      • Colleen Chesebro

        Now that makes me happy! I’m glad to hear that! I was so disappointed but onward & upward. ??????

      • Charli Mills

        Maybe look again with new online programs? <3

  18. D. Avery @shiftnshake


    Massasoit keeps me close; he does not trust me who has been carried back and forth by the giant birds, which have been preying along the coast.
    I learned the words of the English in their country. The giant birds are ships. After five springs I followed the sun back to my country in ships, finally returning to Pawtuxet where chill winds rattled through empty fields littered with the untended bones of my people.
    Another ship has come. English families are building in Pawtuxet. Massasoit gathered the shamans in the swamp, looking for a sign.
    These are uncertain times.

    • Charli Mills

      D., I’m finding that the retelling of local stories in 99-words to be revitalizing. It’s like taking partnership with oral tradition, slipping into the myth to find the real experiences. I hope you create a seed packet of these stories!

    • Liz H

      I’m right there (bellies up to the bar)!

    • susansleggs

      Sounds like my kind of place.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Be careful, Susan… I’ve more fun facts and places coming to mind.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, TN, I do. It’s been a long time listening to Hank Williams croon those hard-luck songs. Time for some Texas swing! I like that you are using the 99-word challenge to rework previous material, too.

  19. Chelsea Owens

    Oh, Charli! Congratulations! You are amazing!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Chelsea! Snowflakes are amazing; grapes made into Sea Glass Sauvignon Blanc are amazing; BBQ ribs are amazing — I just like to get a taste when I can.

      • Chelsea Owens

        🙂 So which are you?

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! I’d like to think I’m sparkly little snowflake among all the other amazing sparkly snowflakes!

    • Charli Mills

      You’ve gone serial, Net! 😉

  20. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Signed On

    “Ow! Look where yer goin’.”
    “Sorry Pal.”
    “Kid, this prompt is perfect fer you.”
    “Thinkin’ more fer Aussie. A cautionary tale about playin’ with matches.”
    “Better singed than burnt.”
    “Kid, the word is sign, not singe, which is why it’s a good one fer you. Yer always misreadin’ an’ misspeakin’.”
    “I ain’t got no trouble readin’ signs, Pal. Shift, look where I ended up! Right where I’m meant ta be, here with ya’ll at this here Ranch.”
    “Fact, I’m a sinecurist!”
    “I git the little or no work part, but financial benefit?”
    “Yep. The Ranch enriches me.”

    • Charli Mills

      And we are all enriched by Kid and the Ranch Yarns!

  21. explorereikiworld

    I am thrilled to read the above, and I ask the Universe to keep it pouring out there for you and your lovely family! xoxo

    I have read Julia’s: The right to write. Equally inspirational and I love to go back to it now and then!

    Shall put up my offering for the prompt in a bit

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Poor Pam. We all gotta learn to listen by asking the right questions.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for that kind gesture, Ruchira! I’m pleased to know that you are familiar with Julia’s inspirational work as an artist. I like to go back to it now and then, too.

      Your BOTS flash is moving and expresses the shock and regret we often feel losing a loved one unexpectedly, missing the signs. Hugs!

  22. Miriam Hurdle

    Hi Charli, You were counting your milestones. It took many many mile posts for you to come this far. I can imagine that it wasn’t easy to go through the obstacles. The universities experience was hard, both times were getting so close and had you hopes up so high, yet they vanished as quickly as they came. You’re a real trooper, a great warrior fighting a winning battle.

    I’m so happy to hear the Hub got the knee replacement and dental benefit and you got the Education Benefit. Wow, what a wonderful surprise that makes your dream come true. Thank you so much for sharing. Hooray for you!!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for counting mileposts with me, Miriam. A long journey is best related to pilgrims on the path who can appreciate the long walk. The right signs cames through. I’m pleased for the Hub, too.

      • Miriam Hurdle

        I’m so glad for you, Charli. You really deserve it and you’ve worked so hard to rally for your hubby!

      • Miriam Hurdle

        I’m late to submit the post, Charli. I’ll send it anyway.

      • Charli Mills

        You are in time, Miriam!

    • susansleggs

      A sad story, but a bit of real life for some. Well done.

    • Charli Mills

      Tragic, and yet the beauty of the narrator to see as angelic what others disregarded is what makes us as readers feel the loss. A beautiful piece of literary art.

  23. TanGental

    That is fab news. You’ll have an alphabet after your name soon. And you’ll need a hat. Something with a star and an arc… looking forward to hearing more about it

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, looking forward to the future hat!

  24. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

    Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    Great news for Charli Mills and her family with unexpected opportunities and benefits arriving out of the blue.. Charli was looking for a sign and it arrived.. This week’s Flash Fiction prompt is on that very subject… Signs… and I am off to get my creative hat on….. I hope you will participate too in the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Sally!

  25. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

    So pleased that the way forward has become clearer and that you have received such a positive sign and assistance to make your dreams come true and the path easier to follow.. hugsx

    • Charli Mills

      It feels good to have a clear path for a spell, then, I’m sure, I figure out a way to be wandering the wilderness again, hearing calls of loons or looking for rock treasure. 😉 Thanks, Sally.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Shane! I’m glad the prompt could provide some distraction. Good to see you at the Ranch. Hope your writing is going well.

  26. reading journeys

    Hi Charli
    Congratulations! A time and season for all things. And thank you for sharing your journeys.

    Some years ago, I explored reading/writing/drawing as a way of looking at life & its challenges from different perspectives. The authors whose experiences and books (& exercises) that I found very helpful included:

    Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way;
    R. Keith Sawyer’s Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, 2013;
    Tony Buzan’s Mind Mapping books;
    and Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

    Thinking over ideas about “signs”.


    • Charli Mills

      Saifun, that’s a great short list of books and what a great idea to explore life and its challenges through the lens of creativity. I’m not familiar with Zig Zag, but I just looked it up. I love books that talk about the science of creativity and storytelling (that’s why I love the power of a constraint, 99-words). Thank you for sharing the literary pilgrim’s path with me!

  27. dgkaye

    How wonderful the stars are finally aligning for you Charli <3

    • Charli Mills

      I’m basking under those stars for the moment. Thank you, Debby!

      • dgkaye

        Take it in, you deserve it. <3

  28. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    The VA system sounds like it should be in a satirical movie, the way they make you crawl over obstacles without a glimmer of sympathy, and then they bestow you this gift (I know, you ARE entitled). But however it’s come about, great to hear where it’s taking you and I’m sure you’ll make that MFA work for you. Look forward to following this next stage of your journey.

    I hardly have a creative bone in my body right now but have delivered my sign:

    The universe isn’t interested


    • Charli Mills

      Maybe one day, I’ll take on the satire challenge and write about the VA in such a way. My mind often feels subject to whiplash with the organization, but for right now, I’ll savor getting the Hub’s entitlement as a victory. Now we’ll have to see what will come of an MFA. I’m hoping your creative bones replenish their marrow. You’re creative without them.

  29. Ann Edall-Robson

    By Ann Edall-Robson
    I need to keep moving. Safety is somewhere on the other side of the creek. The sound of running water tells me the ice is failing in the spring-like weather.

    Animal sign is everywhere along the creek bank. Elk, wolf, deer, bear, and coyote, their calling cards at my feet. Tracks disappear like ghosts into the willows. A constant reminder I am not alone here. I must be vigilant of my surroundings and the sounds unfitted by the wind.

    I hear them. Their voices put me on full alert. Will the ice hold? I have to chance it.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Tension! Well done. Just keep running on that spring ice, don’t pause long enough to sink in the mush. Got snowshoes?

      • Ann Edall-Robson

        The running I think I could handle. The snowshoes, maybe not so much. If one of those goes through the ice, big trouble, I’m thinking.

    • Charli Mills

      Ann, you took me right back to those Rocky Mountain streams that wake up too early and flood messily with ice dams from what breaks free. Great use of tension, too.

      • Ann Edall-Robson

        Thanks Charli. Happy to have taken you to the Rockies in this one. It would seem thin ice and wild animals are the right mix to create tension.

  30. pedometergeek

    Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

    Julie was frequently seen walking around town, which was one perk to living where she did. It could be hazardous because drivers didn’t pay much attention to pedestrians despite the recently changed street layout.

    Suddenly, there were three red octagonal markers where there had been none, demanding each car to stop before proceeding. Most drivers, however, just slid around the corner unless there was another car at the three-sided intersection.

    Julie experienced many close calls in that crosswalk as cars zipped by. Fed up, she made and put up three strategically placed signs: “IT’S NOT A SUGGESTION: STOP AHEAD.”

    Nancy Brady, 2019

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Red, octagonal signs? Those are Massachusetts’ yield signs. The yellow triangular signs? They mean go fastest.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Nan, I understand that pedestrian frustration. Great sign to give to the drivers! Fun take on the prompt.

  31. Sascha Darlington

    Congratulations, Charli, so exciting about the MFA! All the best with it.

    I love your story. The ending surprised. I also googled “whiteout fever” but only came up with stories about a Winnipeg sports team. Is it a real thing?

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, for sharing my excitement, Sascha! Ah-ha — you got me! Truckers often call nighttime highway hypnosis “white-line fever.” And there’s snow hypnosis which is similar. So I coined, whiteout fever. The phenomenon is real, but the word I borrowed from Shakespeare’s gameplan (make up one that sounds real).

      • Sascha Darlington

        That works for me! 🙂

    • susansleggs

      Sometimes animals are better saviors than humans. Glad the dog was persistent.

      • Sascha Darlington

        Yes, they can literally change a life. Thank you, Susan! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      And an awesome contribution it is, Sascha!

      • Sascha Darlington

        Thank you so much, Charli! 🙂

    • susansleggs

      I think we have all ignored red signs at the beginning of a friendship. Universal problem you hit on.

      • Michael

        Easy to be in denial isn’t it.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank, you, Michael!

  32. Colleen Chesebro

    I’ve been writing like a mad woman for months on my newest creation – The Sisters of the Fey – Genesis. I thought a sneak peek might be in order… This is the actual beginning of the book, plus or minus a few words. Are you intrigued? I had to cut some bits… but I think this flash actually helped me get rid of some useless words. 😀


    It began with a dream so real that I woke up on the hard floor beside my bed. My first thought was that the ancestors were trying to tell me something. They often spoke with signs, like the day I found a feather on the ground where no birds tarried or how the wind caressed my face a certain way.

    Sometimes, they spoke by invoking a change in the weather, such as when the clouds blocked out the sun leaving a coldness behind. Then, the ancestors spoke to me through the shadows. And, when the ancestors spoke, I listened.

    • susansleggs

      Yes, I am intrigued.

      • Colleen Chesebro

        Susan, thanks so much! I was hesitant with the beginning of my story but your words make me feel better about it. <3

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yes, it is an attention getter. Great use of flash fiction, Colleen! Your larger work probably is the better for this exercise.

      • Colleen Chesebro

        I’ll need to subject every 99 words to this test. ???? Thanks, D. I appreciate your support. ??

    • Charli Mills

      The ink is flowing through you, Colleen, and churning out the story from mind to page. Great opening and determined last line.

      • Colleen Chesebro

        Thanks, Charli. I needed to hear that today. LOL! <3

      • Charli Mills

        Keep going, keep listening, Colleen! <3

    • susansleggs

      So many kinds of signs. I think you will hit many chords with your two.

      • Nobbinmaug

        Thank you. That’s the point, right?

    • Charli Mills

      The Ranch has lots of space to get carried away! Glad to see you followed your muse, Nobbinmaug.

      • Nobbinmaug

        Thank you. I’m glad you approve.

  33. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Have a Great Fall

    “Mom, I’m going to Tommy’s.”
    “Destiny looks uncomfortable driving that Tonka bulldozer. And what’s that sign she’s holding? What are you two up to now?”
    “We’re gonna protest. Tommy and his GI Joe built a humpty-trumpty wall out of snow.”
    “Marlie, I’m sure GI Joe is just following Executive orders.”
    “That’s what Tommy said. But I don’t like walls like that.”
    “It’s cold out. Wear this hat.”
    “Tommy’s dad does not like this hat. At all.”
    “I know. Here. I made a little one just like it for Destiny. And here’s one for GI Joe too.”
    “Awesome! Thanks mom!”

    • calmkate

      no I don’t like walls either, bring them all down and embrace each other 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I snort-laughed, D.! Am I correct in thinking that Marli’s mom knitted those hats? That’s how I’m imagining the scene — Marlie and her Destiny doll in pink hats, bulldozing the “humpty-trumpty wall out of snow.”

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Your snort laugh makes my day. You know she knit the hats and you know what kind of hats they are. Hats are great but bulldozers have their place too.

      • Charli Mills

        I know those hats! Mine went to Norway on my 28-year old Marlie. Hats make a statement while we knock down walls. 😉

  34. susansleggs

    Not a Brag – a Reality

    On the Riverside Hotel lobby wall there was a big, bold sign; Our bartender Carlton is the best in the US. We took our luggage to the room, freshened up and went to the lounge; curious. With our first order Carlton asked our names and hometown and didn’t forget. He asked other guests the same, then introduced everyone to everyone else. We had a fun evening with what felt like old friends. We left an exorbitant tip, sad we couldn’t stay another night. We still talk about Carlton, wonder how much money he makes, and if he’s still there.

    • calmkate

      that personal touch makes a huge difference … doubt he’s left, heard he makes too much money 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Carlton had a gift and I hope it served him well. His employers appreciated him and that’s good!

    • susansleggs

      Good twist worth a chuckle at the end. Well done.

      • anuragbakhshi

        Thank you so much Susan.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Anurag. It gives relief to the waiting and some spark for the future.

  35. Pete

    The biggest news in Maycomb that summer was the giant STORE CLOSING banner out front at Sweeney’s. Mom nearly cried. She and Dad had gone to high school with the butcher and two of the cashiers. Dad shrugged it off, WalMart was cheaper anyhow.

    I didn’t get why Mom was so worked up. It was just a tiny grocery store. A few years back, the first S had gone out in the SWEENEY’S sign out front and I’d thought it was the funniest thing ever. It had been fixed, but the S still shined brighter than the other letters.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Some of these old local stores going under is a very big deal. A sign of the times, end of old times. And yes, the missing S is funny.

    • Charli Mills

      Such a warm glow to how small towns in America hang on, dimmer than the fixes that loom, yet more real. Love the name play from the kid’s perspective. Great story, Pete.

      • Pete

        Thank you, Charli. And thank you more for encouraging me to keep pressing on. I signed my book contract Monday. The Melvin Memoirs is going to happen!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Allison! If all goes through, I’ll start on August 12. Thanks for the humor!

    • Charli Mills

      I can understand the allure of that roadside sign, Kate!

  36. Molly Stevens - Shallow Reflections

    This week’s flash fiction should be a sign to Chester that he needs Ruth’s help. But will he ever learn?

    Chester needs a woman to tell him where to go

    “You want me to help navigate? I’ve got google maps open on my phone,” said Ruth.

    “Nope. I’ve driven to Worcester so many times, I know how to get there better than one of them apps,” said Chester.

    “But it’s been a long time since you’ve driven this route.”

    “Don’t worry. I can get us there without a woman tellin’ me where to go.”

    “Suit yourself,” said Ruth. “I guess I’ll take a nap.”

    “Woman, how’d you let me miss the exit sign for Worcester!”

    Startled awake, Ruth sputtered, “I’d be happy to tell you where to go now.”


    • Charli Mills

      Chester is a slow dog, Molly, but he comes around when he’s lost his way! Good on Ruth — take a breather. She probably knew she’d be needed.

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes the signs tempt us to action. Thanks, Kay!

    • Charli Mills

      I’ll keep reminding myself of that, Deborah! And I’ll keep slogging. Thanks! 🙂

  37. D. Wallace Peach

    What wonderful news and update, Charli. The universe works in such strange ways, doesn’t it? I believe it seeks balance, and we only need to be open to it and not too firmly invested in what that looks like. Blessings to you and your hubby. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Such wisdom, Di, thank you! <3

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad you found a sign to follow, Miriam! Time is a relative thing at the Ranch. 😉 We’ll call it Ranch Time when the inspiration strikes.

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Thank you, Charli. The other signs are too heavy, so I picked a lighter one. 🙂 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Sometimes we have to go with the ones we can carry! <3

  38. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Teresa!

  39. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Neel!

  40. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    You’re writing by the numbers this week. A good sign I’m sure.

  41. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Abhijit!

  42. Liz H

    i did not know this–most excellent history!

  43. Charli Mills

    I enjoy learning from you, Gordon! Your flashes are time capsules for historical stories.

  44. Jules

    Most excellent bit of history. I took a class once… too long ago.

  45. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Geoff!

  46. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Tracey!

  47. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Robbie!

  48. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Jo!

  49. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Chelsea!


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