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December 26: Flash Fiction

The day after Christmas and some might be elated, some might be feeling battle-weary, and some might not recognize the day as any different. Across Roberts Street, the Christmas tree in my neighbor’s window went dark. No more dazzling LED  lights to keep me company into the long dark nights I write at my desk next to the window that gave me an unobstructed view of his. Some neighbors up the street still illuminate their old mining homes and likely will into the New Year.

On social media, I’ve witnessed Christmas joy, angst, and meh.

Joy goes to many who had sorrows last year. One close veteran friend battled agent orange-derived cancer, which shadowed the past two years, holidays included. This year, with surgeries and chemo complete, he showered his wife with thoughtful gifts, the kind that will be remembered — years ago she shattered an heirloom casserole from Poland. He finally found a replacement and surprised her with it. It’s understandable that this couple has savored every celebration in December this year from making cookies with the grandkids to the quiet after Christmas Day. Joy returned to them.

Another family I know from those long-ago days in Montana celebrated Christmas with purpose too — that family matters. They sprinkled gothic Halloween humor into traditional Christmas themes because one daughter created that infusion. Families often invent their own traditions, renewing those passed down. I remember this daughter as a girl who was best buddies with my eldest daughter. She and her sister were children, I loved dearly, and when I think about them, I think back to when my kids were little. It’s hard for me to fathom that she took her own life this year.

Grief comes at Christmastime.

Festive lights and remembered carols remind us of loss — death, divorce, and other unexpected changes. We humans like to pretend that change doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s a protective mechanism, a way to avoid contemplating our own mortality. Looks, circumstances, and vitality inevitably change. When I consider those dark Christmas tree lights across the street, I wonder how my neighbor is doing. He lost his wife this summer. Did he honor her memory by putting up the tree? Was he trying to maintain connectivity with their grown kids? Was it a relief to pull the plug on the lights? Let go?

So many of us try to hold onto what we think was the perfect Christmas memories. Others try to break free of the Christmas past. It’s easy to envy those who look like they have it all with gifts piled under a perfectly decorated tree, family in attendance, and intact traditions. The Mormon missionaries who visit talk about the Christmases back home where family was the focal point and Jesus the celebration.

This year, I tried Yule. It didn’t go as planned with my daughter’s friends feeling shy to celebrate a pagan holiday with others. In no way am I looking to replace one religion with another, I just want to cook and hold an open house. My ideal would be to have my children at home, playing games, eating mama’s cooking, and watching Lord of the Rings. But they have work, homes, and lives away from me. It’s unfair to tug them to my wishes.

It’s hard for married couples to navigate the traditions of their blended families. One mom wants this tradition honored, a step-mom wants to be with her kids alone, another mom just wants daughter time. Often, Christmas is the only time of year that families get extended work holidays. How do you decide where to spend that precious time? And it’s right smack in the middle of cold and flu season. It’s enough to make young couples implode.

My daughter and SIL have declared stay-at-home healing time. My son went with his fiance to spend the holiday with her small but close-knit family. And my other daughter encountered a polar bear that got into town on Svalbard Christmas Day. She was indoors, he was outside. How I long for our own close-knit days but honor the fledging of my children.

This is the most wonderful (complex) time of the year. Just scan your social media feed, and you’ll witness the full spectrum of joy, grief, and frustration. You’ll see faith renewed and lost. You’ll see cookies, jokes, and lashing out. What we all need, no matter our circumstances, state of mind, or expectations, is loving-kindness. Stand firm in your own truth, but don’t rob another of theirs. Find common ground, and don’t be afraid of change.

So why all the human commotion this time of year?

How can we not be impacted by the rhythms of our world? In the north, we celebrate the return of light. In the south, we look forward to relief from the peak of the sun. These transitions have occurred without fail for all our history. I think it is no coincidence that the world’s greatest concentration of annual celebrations lands this time of year.

For our modern calendar, no matter where we are in the world, this is year-end. And it carries an energy of closure and renewal. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe in the power of planning. Every great plan starts with a clear vision, and this is a good time to renew or articulate yours.

On January 8, 2020, at 9 pm EST, you can join me on Twitter at #BookMarketingChat for a full discussion of how to use vision questing as a book author. Even if you have not yet published a book, it’s never too early to build an author platform. Use the search feature to find the chat and follow along, selecting the Latest tab. If you respond or ask a question, be sure to use the hashtag #BookMarketingChat.

2020 will mark my second year of a workshop series I teach called, To Cultivate a Book. This year, I will be experimenting with online classroom components. But first, I’m taking time to create a plan and to renew my vision. Last year, I focused all my efforts and energies on gaining stability. Now that the Hub, Carrot Ranch, and I all have a home, this will be a building up year, laying down the next level on the stable foundation. The prior two years were sheer survival. However, through it all, I never lost sight of my North Star. That’s the power of having a vision.

Life by design.

Whether it is recreating holiday traditions to align with changes, self-care, and compassion or embracing the joy of the traditions you have and share, be the creator of your life’s story. I don’t mean go write a memoir or imagine a better life. Know what you want to do or how you want to be, and create that life one step at a time. Acknowledge where you are and what your circumstances are but then look for ways to invite what you want to be part of your life.

December 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the phrase by design. It can be used in any manner — a label, a mantra, a story. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 31, 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.


By Design by Charli Mills

By design, my garden impressed. Every steppingstone measured, every bulb, seed, and root planted for maximum impact. In life, I did as I was expected. Good grades, college, spouse, suburban split-level, and two sons. On Sundays, I went to church.

Then my husband left me. My sons chose to live with him and his new wife, one without dirt under her nails. I moved into an apartment alone. Devastated. This wasn’t part of the plan. Where was God in this? Then I remembered the mustard seed. By design, I started over with a single planter and found my joy.


  1. That’s a fine day after kind of flash, Charli Mills. I like how she remembered that mustard seed and was glad to be reminded of it myself. She’s going to be just fine, realizing the first design might have been the wrong fit for her after all.
    By the way, check your picture up there. I think you’d like to have the date and challenge tag on it.

  2. Happy post Christmas, Charli. It sure is a complex time, made worse, I think, by the fantasy we can make it perfect. So your flash is very fitting. Reminds me of the psychologist Dorothy Rowe who wrote excellent and accessible books based on her research showing women’s depression often stems from a need to be good. I’m glad your character found the mustard seed.

    • I’ve based my 99-word story on a classic novel I’ve only just discovered – and with my interest in mental health and fictional therapists it’s a surprising omission! If anyone has read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, I’m interested in your views:

      • denmaniacs4 says:

        Hi Anne, and while I have never read the book, I recall seeing the movie. It was powerful. It was nominated for an adaption Oscar but lost to Julia, and more to the point, the outrageous and possibly truth-exaggerating Lillian Hellman who by coincidence, I am reading at the moment, that is, Pentimento, her fine albeit suspicious collection of memoirish stories. That ramble aside, here is a link to the filmed version which some might enjoy on their device.

      • Thanks, I’ll check that out. I think it would work well in film.

      • Liz H says:

        Saw the movie and read the book several times (of course!) in my teens and twenties. That book, as well as “As the Legends Die” were real eye-openers to worlds I couldn’t access in any other way. So we read, and sometimes, we write.

      • What did you like about Rose Garden that you kept going back to it, Liz? And thanks for sharing Legend. I don’t think that one made it across the pond either.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Liz, do you mean the Ute cowboy movie, When the Legends Die?

      • Liz H says:

        Anne: was always interested in mental health concerns, just in general and then more later, when I witnessed a number of friends and their families implode with similar issues. The seeds were always there, I guess, just beyond my child’s perception, and later reading/study grew some scaffolding to navigate the thorny parts. Still learning.

        Charli: I believe so. Legends included rodeo bull-riding…

      • Anne: Enjoyed your reviews and follow up flash.
        Liz: I love that book about the Ute bronc buster.

      • Thanks, Bill. Just watched it. I’m glad I read the book first but I thought the madness was really well done.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Anne! I was also thinking today how the commercialization of that perfect fantasy keeps us penned in, driving down Main Street counting all the big businesses with huge light and tree displays. If personally you try to seek something else, you get bombarded stepping outside. But I see you went into the quiet of the natural landscape. A friend at the Vet Center said she and her sister knew Christmas was going to be painful having lost their dad and grandfather just a few months ago. So they opted to start a new tradition of going cross country skiing on Christmas Eve, wearing battery-operated Christmas lights for festivity and humor. It’s hard, though, to escape generations of messages.

      I looked up the book you reviewed and see it is from 1964. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of it, but don’t think I ever read it.

      • It is indeed hard to break out of someone else’s fantasy. On Christmas Day, there were a fair few people out on the hills, probably because it was the one forecast dry day amid rain and fog. But I met only one other person walking alone. There’s a message there!
        But I did meet a book buyer!! Someone who’d been at work till 7pm the precious day and 6am the next. Christmas is tough on those who work in retail.

      • This is why I started celebrating the Yule. It’s about remembering those no longer with us and honoring those that are. I don’t decorate the house or display a tree. There is so much more depth in the lighting of candles to drive away the darkness. In Arizona, we don’t change time. It really put me in touch with the darkness and how the ancients must have viewed the world. The light is precious just like our memories. Good food, drink, family, friends spent together in laughter… that’s what this is all about. <3

      • Charli Mills says:

        Anne, retail is brutal on workers who really don’t make enough money to justify the sacrifice.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Colleen, making celebrations meaningful — remembering those who have walked on and those still among us — is what it’s all about. I did not do a tree this year either, and I want to do more candles and lights, but it was about rest and being present this year. Ah, the rest of the states need to follow Arizona and Indiana.

      • Colleen: Yule does sound better but still too much joyfulness for this humbug!
        Charli: It’s drudgery. People need to stop shopping and give them a rest (some hope)!

  3. D. Avery says:

    “Kid, ya doin’ vision questin’ like Shorty talks about?”
    “That’s a good questin’ Pal, but I ain’t never been much of a planner. Fer me ma visionin’ is ta look out fer jars.”
    “Kid, this don’t seem the time or place fer ya ta be talkin’ ‘bout yer love a drink.”
    “Not them jars. I’m talkin’ ‘bout keepin’ ma eyes peeled fer doors ‘cause they’re most often ajar, an opportunity fer me ta slip through onta the next thing.”
    “Thet doesn’t seem ta be livin’ by design.”
    “Sure it is. I’m open to de signs leadin’ ta them doors.”

  4. […] Prompted from Carrot Ranch’s Flash Fiction Challenge at: […]

  5. Dam Design

    “So”, he began, “we designed the dam to help the irrigators.”
    “Irrigators that grow cotton and not food?”
    ‘Absolutely!” he replied warily.
    “Cotton to sell to Asia to be turned into T-shirts in sweat-shops?”
    “Well, we don’t dictate the market ….”
    “And the fact that the food farmers downstream have ended up as peasants in their own country is dictated by the market as well?”
    “We’re running workshops for them on how they can adjust their business model.”
    “To businesses that don’t rely on water?”
    “And you did all this by design.”
    “I’m sorry, where is this heading?”

  6. denmaniacs4 says:

    My attention, Charli and friends, as I wrote this 99 word epic was occasionally drawn to an international hockey game playing on the opposite wall. Germany and the US of A.

    Accidentally or by design, much of my fabrications enjoy the dubious benefit of external distraction.

    It is, no doubt, a self-imposed albeit luxurious curse.

    Designature Move

    He’d wake up in the morning and not know where he was.

    Nor care.

    All that mattered was that he had coffee.

    Sometimes he didn’t.

    Fortunately for him, a cup of java was always just around the corner.

    Which corner didn’t matter.

    Any corner would do.

    One Christmas Eve, he showed up at his sisters.

    “Surprise, surprise,” he said, smiling as she opened her festively decorated door.

    “Well, brother,” she exclaimed, “where’s the cat?”

    “Got me, Sis. What cat?”

    “The one that dragged you in.”

    “Arrives tomorrow.”

    “Then he’ll be welcome too, you sketchy transient.”

    “Love you too, Sis.”

  7. […] Carrot Ranch December 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the phrase by design. It can be used in any manner — a label, a mantra, a story. Go where the prompt leads! Respond by December 31, 2019. […]

  8. Jules says:


    I have to remember in my raised garden for next near to plant the tomatoes in the back! The overshadowed some of the plants that didn’t grow as tall.

    Starting over is always tricky. Each day we get to do that. Hopefully make it just a tad better… It is always tough though when there is a great loss around a holiday or an anniversary.

    A Weekend To Remember…

    A Weekend To Remember…
    (reverse haibun with a solo tanka in 99 words)

    t’was not by design
    that the hospice declared her
    a Christmas angel

    after some ninety plus years
    Baruch the Jew passed that night

    Was by design though, she did not flaunt her faith. Perhaps she thought ‘I don’t need an excuse to be different – being a minority can cut deeply. I have lived a long life full of humor and truth. My children have married good partners, that’s what matters.’

    Organized religion has benefits, distractions and derailments. Yearly celebrations should be time rededicated to family. For acceptance of differences was a primary lesson she taught throughout her life.


    Wishing all Warm Happy Lights and a wonderful new beginning for the New Year.

    Note: Taking a year end break. Might still work on a few prompts.
    I’ll have short daily observational pieces. “Banking will resume Jan 2, 2020.
    …Might be a tad slow on return visits as well…

    • Charli Mills says:

      A beautiful flash, Jules with its message of acceptance. It is fortunate that we can begin each day anew. Wishing you all the warmth of the season and a fresh start for the new year!

    • There’s a lot of consideration of “what matters” in your piece. Acceptance matters. May we all know it and share it. Happy new year, Jules.

  9. […] Author’s Notes: It’s a Friday. It’s a story. Call it Friday Fact or Fiction. Some stories will be 100% fact (or close to it) while others will be 100% fiction. Most will be a little bit of both. You, the reader, can delight in speculating where the story belongs. Today’s entry is in a category known as flash fiction. There are many other names (micro, mini, nano, etc) and a variety of different lengths (one-word stories, six-word stories, 12-word stories, 100 words, 500 words.)  Carrot Ranch is a dynamic online literary community for those practicing their craft, reading stories and discussing the process. Charlie Mills hosts the weekly Flash Fiction challenge which limits stories to 99 words – no more, no less. This week’s challenge is to write with the prompt of “Design.” […]

  10. […] The following is a Flash Fiction prompt by Carrot Ranch Literary Blog for the week of Dec. 26, 2019 to Dec. 31, 2019. […]

  11. I might have entered wrong! It’s my first try…anyhow..leaving it in the comments as well.

    By Design by Lisa R. Howeler

    She thought it had all been an accident. He’d run into her on his way into of the supermarket while she was walking out.
    “Oh, excuse me,” he’d said, bright blue eyes sparkling in the sunlight, dirty blond hair falling across his forehead and his hand warm against her arm as they collided. “I didn’t see you there.”
    She’d dropped one of her bags and oranges were rolling across the parking lot.

    Little did she know their encounter had been by design all along, and by his design, not by divine design. It wasn’t divine, was it? She wondered.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Lisa! Your entry is in the submission bucket and will be included in our next collection. When you post or link here, it also gives others in the community a chance to interact. You can follow other writers to their blogs to comment, too. Nice flash!

      • Thank you! I did notice after I posted I accidentally left a word in that I thought I had edited out so I think this was actually 98… wince. ☹️ I’ll have to try it again sometime because it was fun! I’m looking forward to checking out the other bloggers.

      • Charli Mills says:

        That happens until your brain learns the patteren. Sometimes it’s uncanny how a story will come to you in 99 words!

  12. We were dealing with some grief this year as we remembered relatives who passed. Christmas can be a hard time for sure, something I’m recognizing as I get older and more and more of our family passes on.

  13. […] This was written with the prompt by design provided by the Carrot Ranch December 26 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  14. I used to find Christmas time quite stressful, and ultimately disappointing. These days I don’t really celebrate it anymore. It would be nice to hang out with friends and watch movies or play board games, or something like that.

    Here’s my take on the prompt:

    • Liz H says:

      Marketing and Time Travel by design? Tricky way to build a market base…

    • Charli Mills says:

      Joanne, I’m glad you found a way past the stress of the holiday and I do hope you find friends who would enjoy spending the time playing games and watching movies. Last year, my daughter and her husband held a Lord of the Rings marathon and served LOTR-themed snacks and people could drop in throughout the day. It was fun.

  15. […] Carrot Ranch December 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the phrase by design. It can be used […]

  16. Marie’s back! It’s a double 99 at

    “Why do you still use those toilet-paper roll binoculars to watch Marlie?”

    Liz continued to focus on Marlie playing in the tree fort. “They help me remain objective. Keep my distance.”

    “And why do you need to do that?”

    Now she let the paper binoculars hang by their yarn strap around her neck as she answered her husband. “Because that unplanned offspring of ours couldn’t be more perfect by design. I don’t ever want to get in her way.”

    “She’s going places alright. Mars. She’s in her spaceship.”

    Marlie beckoned them. “Come to the launch! It’s time for take-off!”

  17. […] Weekend Writing Prompt #137, prompt word “complex”. The second part are 99 more words for the Carrot Ranch December 26 challenge “by […]

  18. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (12/26/2019): In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the phrase by design. It can be used in any manner — a label, a mantra, a story. […]

  19. Liz H says:

    Here’s my offering for this week’s challenge:

    Essential Element

    “The best-laid plans.”
    “The egg unhatched.”
    “The circle, its ends unmet.”
    “A triad missing its third…”
    “Thus only a dyad.”

    The nave is cold, cheerless,
    No sun to set stained glass windows afire with stories…
    [Continue ]

  20. […] December 26, 2019, Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the phrase by design. It can be used […]

  21. I’ve been doing some planning for the future. Happy New Year everyone! <3

    In preparation for the new year, I anointed the white candle with the ritual oil. By design, this spell would work to cleanse away the old energy from the past year. For this candle represented my intention – all the hopes, dreams, and successes I envisioned for myself in the new decade to come.

    I closed my eyes and centered my thoughts. I pictured myself writing in sunlight and in darkness. I didn’t give up or walk away. I kept reading and writing. I continued to learn.

    My goal loomed large. I lit the candle and let the energy flow.

  22. susansleggs says:

    Charli, Indeed the holidays can be great, or not so, according to traditions kept or lost. My son’s significant other ALWAYS has to go to her family on any holiday. Sometimes it gets to me we never celebrate on the day. Oh well, at least we still do it all together on another day, it’s the being united that means the most for me. I tend to be a pre-planner, but somehow it doesn’t carry over to future vision. I’ll have to work on that. Tony Hillerman is much more enjoyable to read now that I have visited the southwest and have seen the canyons and arroyos. And “A Rose in Winter” was all you said it would be. Now I want to read more Woodiwiss. I’ll send a private note about my editing experience. Not what I had hoped. On to the prompt…

    Many Reasons

    At breakfast, Tessa said to Michael, “Last night’s Home-front Warriors discussion was about how few “lifers” return to their home towns. What brought you back?”
    “That was by design. I knew my mother had chronicled my injuries and recuperation on Facebook so hometown friends wouldn’t need to ask me for the details. I wanted to feel useful and our church music program beckoned. Being involved with it helps keep the self-pity at bay.” He paused. “And if I were to get news about you, it would be here.”
    Her eyes and smile proved his answer was a pleasant surprise.

    Definition – lifers – those who make a career of serving in the military, at least 20 years. It’s true they often don’t return home perhaps because their life experiences and viewpoints have changed them enough they don’t feel they fit in among old friends anymore.

    • You make some good points. I am learning from this Michael and Tessa.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Sue, I’m pleased you found Kathleen Woodiwiss to your liking. Rose in Winter has long lingered with me. I recall the Wolf and the Dove being another good one. Yes! Tony Hillerman brings alive the Southwest and if you have been there, his books take you back. Shoot me an email. This is a good time to follow up and “recalculate.”

      Terrific flash that ticks all the boxes for what it’s like to be a lifer returning home. And good point that many are unable to do so and reconnect.

  23. […] This was written with the prompt by design provided by the Carrot Ranch December 26 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  24. Norah says:

    Hi Charli,
    I’ve been kept away from my usual routine for a bit. No real reason, just busy. I enjoyed your post, as I always do but haven’t had time to respond to the last couple of prompts. Design, I may have found interesting.
    Anyway, I just wanted to pop in before year’s end and say I’m still here. I haven’t forgotten you. And to wish you all the best for 2020. I have high expectations now that you’ve moved into comfort zone in your home rather than survival mode in unknown territory.
    I really enjoyed your flash. I must admit that the original mustard seed story escapes me at the moment (must look it up) but I do like your version.
    Here’s to following North Stars and achieving success through design in the new year! Best wishes, Norah xx

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Norah, good to see you! I’m wishing you all the best for 2020, as well. I hope it is a good busy, doing what you love (by design). I have high expectations with the stability and comfort of home, too. I continue to do well in school, learning gobs more than I could have figured out on my own. The great thing about learning what you knew you didn’t know is that you know it when you learn it and puzzle pieces fall into place.

      Yes! Here’s to following North Stars! May the burn ever so brightly! <3

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh — and the story of the mustard seed is a parable of Jesus about faith. I imagine this gardener remembering the ginormous plant that grew from the tiny mustard seed she once planted. It takes one tiny bit of belief in something bigger, better, and wholesome. The faith of a gardener. Life finds a way. My take! You might look up the passage or Wikipedia. That’s the beauty of fiction — we can find multiple meanings in writing and reading.

  25. […] prompt this week from Carrot Ranch is “By Design”. My goal was to paint as vivid a picture as I could of […]

  26. The Team
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Tal watched Hanna finish harnessing the team. She was good at what she did, and she loved working with the horses. This year It was her job to get them ready for the upcoming parade in town.

    “You’re doing a good job with them, Hanna. You’ve got the touch.”

    “How long do you think they’ve been together?”

    “The team?”

    “No! Mac and Liz?”

    Tal looked at Hanna with an odd expression.

    “Why are you asking?”


    “None of our business.”

    “You know, don’t you! Was it fate, or by design?

    “Hanna, just drop it!” He said, turning to go.

  27. […] came to mind for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt: to include the phrase “by […]

  28. Denny K says:

    Nicely written piece that highlights many of the conflicts of the season. I found a couple gems in your writing. “It’s unfair to tug them to my wishes.” and “Stand firm in your own truth without robbing others of theirs.” Meaty truths that will be with me for a while. Thanks for sharing from your heart.

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