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December 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

Beans may not be a part of everyone’s family tradition, but they were in mine. We greeted company with a pot of beans, a pan of enchiladas, and a bowl of green salad. At various times, my kids have requested the recipe for their own households. As far back as I know, our pinto bean recipes went back to the vaquero ranch cooks in my family at least five generations. Today, the memory lingers while the tradition has changed.

The Hub can’t eat beans well. His family has an old-time recipe for baked beans at Christmas. I never mastered baking beans, and he was okay with that. We tried to replicate the taffy pulls he and his cousins did as kids, but I never mastered that either. Eventually, we created our own family traditions around food and activities.

Between now and the New Year, we will watch A Christmas Story. Writers might relate to this scene from the movie when Ralph daydreams about the accolades he anticipates receiving for a paper he wrote:

On or after Christmas Day, we will play The Lord of the Rings board game and have a marathon going with all three movies in the trilogy. We even load up Christmas stocking with favorite snacks (like smoked oysters and summer sausage with sweet hot mustard) in anticipation of a day filled with playing games and Tolkein battles replacing Christmas music.

Ah. Christmas music. Trans Siberian Orchestra is a family favorite.

Imagine the intensity with which the Mills family decked their halls to TSO. I have every album they’ve made and one year, the Hub and I went to one of their electrified concerts in St. Paul. Another tradition from when the kids were still kids and all under one roof, we would eat Christmas Eve dinner by candle light and the lights of the tree. We’d clean up, put on our pajamas, fill baggies with homemade fudge and cookies, and go for a drive to look at Christmas lights. It was fun to be in our PJs. We would sing carols and listen to our favorite comedian, Bill Engvall.

Those were the days that make me smile. I’d like to sat family traditions remain static, but they change as we do. This year, I think a lot of families are facing the realities of COVID-19 interfering with the holidays.

But it’s not all that bad. It’s a chance to refresh, to try something new, to set aside the beans. I’ve downloaded some new music.

I’ve talked to extended family about playing Bingo on Zoom Christmas week. I have friends who are hosting dance parties and cacao ceremonies. Zoom, Facetime, and Skype are digital ways to extend the fun of playing games. YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Netflix let you set up watch parties for holiday movies or even The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Think of the disruption to family traditions as a chance to make new ones. Some people might be grateful to shake lose of the old ways and reconnect differently, with more thought and meaning. Learn about the traditions of your friends and neighbors. Deepen your own faith. Take time for solitude and quiet if that is what you need.

We are going to kick off December with a nod to family traditions. Feel free to share or break them.

December 3, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes family traditions. It can be related to any holiday or situation. How does the tradition impact the story or change the character? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 8, 2020. 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.

New Traditions by Charli Mills

That night, the sheepherder made room for two wayward cowboys. The snowstorm blinded their passage back to the Two Bar Ranch and their horses found refuge in the small enclave of Basque who herded sheep in the Sierras every summer. All herds hunkered down in the valley to survive winter. Jess and Roy knew they’d miss beans and card games for Christmas, but the smell of mutton stew raised hopes not all was lost. After tasting saffron bread for the first time, and learning new carols to a tabor pipe, the cowboys adapted their cattle family traditions to sheepherders.



  1. Those wayward cowboys in your flash will never forget that particular Christmas; and they’re safe and trying new things. Hmmm. Let’s all hunker down and be safe this holiday season.
    I look forward to the responses, to reading about other traditions and celebrations.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I think I might work on that particular Christmas for the 5 at the Mic reading. A fun diversion. I’m looking forward to these responses, too!

  2. floridaborne says:

    Ah, the memories.

    • Charli Mills says:

      They seep through at the sound of a song or scent of vanilla. 😉

      • floridaborne says:

        Mom used to cook duck for Christmas, with oyster dressing. She liked the lack of leftovers. 🙂 She’d go to the Royal Castle bakery and buy a lemon meringue pie (the best!)

        Isn’t it amazing the little things we remember about our childhood?

      • Charli Mills says:

        Yes, it’s in those little details that big connections reside for each of us. What a combination of flavors. I’ve always wanted to try oyster stuffing, having seen recipes for it.

  3. […] If you want to participate, here’s the link:  CARROT RANCH […]

  4. […] December 3: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  5. Fun peek into your family traditions, Charli!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Becky. I think I simply wanted to have fun. It’s such a pressure cooker time of year, so full of emotions and expectations. We found that simple traditions made us all happiest.

  6. suespitulnik says:

    I’m glad you had a good break Charli. While you were relaxing I was stressing because my routine was upended. I don’t know if others noticed, but the weekly challenge has given me a consistent objective and carried me through this isolation “crap.” So a BIG THANK YOU for giving me something to look forward to each week and then accomplish. Your North Star is my gift.
    Your traditions sound wonderful. Back later with some of my own.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Sue, I have felt like you are in the zone each week with your characters as their stories unfold to you. It’s what first drafts (novels) are all about. I’m glad you have something to look forward to each week here! Yeah, I’m weary as all get out over extensive isolation. I miss hugs. Friend hugs. See you later hugs. Get better hugs. Laughing so hard you have to hold onto each other hugs. Hmm, maybe a future prompt! Thank you for being here.

    • I think I’d be quite unravelled if not for Carrot Ranch remaining consistent throughout all the stuff that’s going on out there.

    • Isn’t it great to see that the Carrot Ranch has helped so many people during these uncertain times? We may not be able to socialise with other people in person, but we can still do it online. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for people during the Spanish flu pandemic 100 years ago.

  7. Sorry to go dark but you said go where the prompt leads you.

    Christmas family tradition
    Dad would start drinking with the invited neighbours from around 11 a.m. Around 1pm we’d do the presents. His would never be satisfactory and his petty envy of the presents of others would not be disguised. When time for lunch came, as a matter of what little pride he had left, he would ceremoniously carve the roast. My brother and I would write our bets on when the explosion would happen on slips of paper we passed to each surreptitiously. And every year, like clockwork, some imagined slight would set off a stream of invective that would kill Christmas.

    • floridaborne says:

      Sometimes, it’s better to raise a child with one parent instead of 2. My dad had a father who was a mean drunk, too. Some of his stories were horrifying.

      • I too have many Christmas memories like this. I’m sending hugs and much understanding of what you went through. My Dad and step-mother… I won’t go there, but one year, there was no Christmas. I went back to school and pretended that everything was fine. I never understood their issues. They were in the fifties raising an almost teen then. I’m just now starting to let those old hurts go… it took many years.

      • floridaborne says:

        Thank you for sharing a part of your life. I understand what it’s like having parents in their 50’s when you’re a teen. My mom turned 37 the year I was born, and my father was 40 — they were 50 and 53 when I turned 13.

        It’s hard on a child when parents are having issues. As an adult they may gain understanding as to why, but the child inside never forgets how it affected them.

      • Yes, my parents were 36 when I was born. My mom passed when I was 3, so that created another set of problems. I had grandparents so that helped. Depression area parents were very different and hard on their kids. I get all that now, but growing up it was difficult. Thanks for your kind comments. ❤️

      • floridaborne says:

        Mine were depression era, too. I know what that’s like.

      • My stepmother never had her own children and didn’t like them. At 16 they gave me up to the State of Wisconsin and I became a Ward of the State. At 18, I graduated and joined the Air Force. I even went to college! LOL! I’ve always said I’m self made. I don’t define myself by my childhood. We always have to keep moving forward. <3

      • floridaborne says:

        That is an amazing way to look at it. ❤

      • Thank you. We’re survivors. 😍

      • Charli Mills says:

        I appreciate that you both can use creative writing to express parts of the experience in ways that readers can relate to and you can find cathartic. Hugs to you both.

      • floridaborne says:

        Thanks. 😍

      • denmaniacs4 says:

        Some powerful real life stories here. I don’t think I have made it a secret that for much of my career I was a child protection social worker. For more than a quarter of a century, in varying positions but always on the front lines, I was intimately involved in the lives of children and families whose worlds were exploding, imploding, occasionally coalescing, revising. Often bits and pieces of others lives find their way into my writing. My first (and only) novel so far tries to pay homage to some of those youth, parents, the system even with its warts and other extraneous growths, policy shifts, staffing shortages, red tape that often strangled what might have been good planning…anyways, I appreciate and honour the stories, here, wherever they appear…

      • floridaborne says:

        That is the beauty of writing: It is the best therapy. It helps to look at problems from the vantage points of your characters and sometimes there is an epiphany.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Another writer once wrote that we either write light, or we write dark so the light can be found. Your flash is dark but raw and real. I’m glad you went where the prompt led.

    • Oof, that holiday element. Yours sounds predictable, clockwork. Landmines are scary too, the ones that just go off and you didn’t see it coming, though you knew it was around.
      Here’s a song your flash made me think of:

    • Norah says:

      Too true for too many.

    • Jules says:

      Doug, my (childhood) family was similar. Holidays always had adult friends over so the adults could drink. I usually made a disappearing act to my room. But once I heard some family information that would not have been ‘spilled’ if it were not for a ‘drunk tongue’.

  8. […] This was written with the prompt to write a story that includes family traditions provided by the Carrot Ranch December 3 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  9. […] 99 Word Challenge from Carrot Ranch, Dec 3rd – Traditions […]

  10. Roots Crop

    “Purty sure we’re gonna have a Yule log this year.”
    “Why’s thet, Kid? Thet ain’t our terdition.”
    “Gonna be a holiday season like no other Pal.”
    “Why’s thet, Kid?”
    “Gonna be masked up.”
    “Why’s thet, Kid? We’re fictional; exempt from all thet.”
    “An’ we gotta snuff yer candles Pal.”
    “Why’s thet, Kid? That’s my fav’rite terdition fer this time a year.”
    “Thought ‘stead a roast beast we’d have baked beans.”
    “Baked beans??? LeGume!”
    “Yep, Pepe’s gonna join us.”
    “Thet Pepe LeGume’s a rootin’ tootin’ ranch hand.”
    “Yep. So we wear masks. No open flames.”
    “Be the light, Pal.”


    “LeGume hangin’ out with us stinks, Kid. I ain’t likin’ it.”
    “Pepe needs a place ta go.”
    “Thet was last week’s prompt. Ain’t LeGume got his own folks?”
    “Pepe is estranged from his wife.”
    “He’s a-strange alright. Answer’s ‘No’.”
    “Hate ta burst yer bubble, Pal. I already invited him.”
    “An’ I said oui, merci. Pal, Keed, I weel keep my deestance.”
    “Mmm… Thet date nut bread yer bakin’?”
    “Dere was not so much available, so I am improvising.”
    “Never thought I’d say this to ya, but thet smells good.”
    “Eet’s all good, Pal. Ees sweet bread from raw carrots.”

  11. […] December 3: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  12. denmaniacs4 says:

    This may not be an uplifting flash tale Charli but one has to, needs to go where the prompt leads…as Doug said as well..(and yours was certainly was uplifting and so worthy)

    Christmasque Treevia

    One year, it appeared.

    An artificial tree.

    I can visualize my parents buying it, thinking, hell, the kids are gone, we don’t want to be traipsing out into the tulies to chop down some innocent sapling.

    Gone: one of our few traditions.

    Over the next fifteen, twenty years, I made it home pretty much every second Christmas.

    Sometimes every third.

    That fake tree took such a beating. On each visit, it had fewer plastic needles.

    Somehow, its escalating emaciation didn’t matter.

    For me, it encapsulated a simple withering truth about my family and how time had forever changed us.

    • Watched the same thing happen, with the same thoughts. Great piece of writing; loved ‘escalating emaciation’.

    • Now, that got me emotional.

    • The tree. So much can be said about the tree. And the tree says so much, even the plastic one. Especially this plastic one.

    • Norah says:

      That’s so sad.

    • Charli Mills says:

      When we go where the prompt leads, we round out the collection with a variety of possibilities, tones, and stories. Not all can be uplifting. I appreciate the depressing truth found between your lines of a thinning fake tree and dissipating grown children.

    • Such wonderful writing of how all traditions slowly fade away. It reminds me of visiting my childhood home at Christmas time and being able to see and hear the sounds of Christmases that have passed. They may have gone, but somehow it’s comforting that they remain with me.

    • The tree… such an integral part of Christmas. You know, after my kids grew up Christmas was never the same. Maybe your folks felt that too, I don’t know. Nice that you came home that often. That says a lot to me. <3

  13. […] Carrot Ranch 99-word Fiction […]

  14. […] Carrot Ranch December 3, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes family traditions. It can be related to any holiday or situation. How does the tradition impact the story or change the character? Go where the prompt leads! Respond by December 8, 2020. […]

  15. Jules says:


    I had different traditions when I was growing up, then with my own family and now that we are ’empty nesters’. Traditions evolve and sometimes dissolve or maybe never were to begin with. All we can do most of the time is adapt 😀
    …Which is how I incorporated this prompt in with my story:

    (47) Damned Family (Jesse No Solid Bases, Yet)

    traditions hold limited
    value when lacking
    emotional attachments

    Jesse thought about some of her family traditions. Like the one she had totally blown off this year. The mini-family reunion down by the shore. Which this year was cut short by finding the dead body of a man who she thought was her ex-husband in her rental unit. Usually she wasn’t big on any holiday traditions. With her family, someone was always out of town or working. She had hoped to start something new with Norman, but the divorce had ended that. Would this year be any different for her?


  16. […] Author’s Notes: It’s a Friday. Christmas Conga Line 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 “traditions.” […]

  17. Ruchira Khanna says:

    I agree given the pandemic. It’s up to us to keep this virus at bay. Traditions can continue but with caution. My family did a virtual turkey trot but I made sure to cook the same as all the years…

    • Charli Mills says:

      Like you, Ruchira, I felt the need to cook some favorite Thanksgiving dishes. This month, though, I’m shaking up the menu! I love the idea of a virtual turkey trot.

  18. […] to Carrot Ranch where Charli Mills offers the theme of family […]

  19. Hunting Spot

    Nothing, not women, jobs, not even a move, had ever interfered with their tradition. No matter what, he and his brother took the first week of deer season and spent it at camp, just the two of them. He was determined to see the whole week through this year too.
    Now he paused instinctively. The large buck he’d been tracking stepped into view. He raised his rifle, took aim. Then he lowered the rifle, leaned it against a tree.
    “It wasn’t really about the hunting was it?” he said aloud. The buck bounded away. He scattered his brother’s ashes.

  20. […] is this week’s UnOLWG prompts: prosaic; laborious; boresome. The second prompt comes from this week’s Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge: In exactly 99 words, write about family holiday […]

  21. Norah says:

    Thanks for sharing your Christmas traditions, Charli, and for the video links. I wasn’t familiar with any of them, but totally love the Lindsay Stirling clip. I think it might be a new favourite. I think it’s a great idea to see this year’s Christmas as a disrupter and a way to begin new traditions. I guess our traditions have changed over the years as our family has grown and changed, and my grandchildren have requested that this year’s Christmas be like last year’s so I think they may be initiating a new tradition for our family too. I hope so. It’s fun.
    Imagine cowboys Christmassing with shepherders. Who would have thought? You! Well done.

    • Norah says:

      I back with my story, a tradition that I think many children may like to initiate.

      Out with the Old. In with the New.

      Lizzie pressed her lips together and shook her head.
      “Come on,” said Mum. “Just a little bit.”
      “Try it. You’ll like it.”
      “I won’t.”
      “You can’t have dessert, until you eat your veg.”
      “Dessert first. Then veg.”
      “We don’t do it that way, Lizzie. Veg first, then dessert.”
      “No! Dessert first!”
      “If you have dessert first, you won’t eat your veg.”
      “Will so.”
      Lizzie ate her dessert. Then she ate her veg. A promise is a promise.
      Now, when Lizzie’s children’s friends ask why they always eat dessert first, they shrug. “Dunno. Always have,” they say.

    • Charli Mills says:

      My daughter introduced me to Lindsay Stirling and she also has a great western-themed video she made. She brings her instrument to life! I like that your grandchildren are requesting Christmas outcomes. It’s like seeing a new tradition born.

      I like the battle Lizzie fought and won. The ending works well because it’s ironic! The kids don’t have to fight for that tradition.

      • Norah says:

        That is a great description of the way Lindsay plays, Charli.
        Yes, I like seeing the birth of a new tradition. It is even more special when the children invent it.
        Thanks for noticing the irony in my story. Perhaps I should turn it into a picture book. 🙂 It reminds me of a book I used in my teaching years ago, called ‘Neat and Scruffy’. The parents both had neat hair and wanted their child to be the same, but no matter how they tried, the child’s hair was always scruffy. When the child grew up, his partner also had scruffy hair and they wanted a child with scruffy hair, but no matter what they did, it was always neat. 🙂 A neat story, eh?

  22. Jennie says:

    Beautiful traditions in the Mills family!

  23. What wonderful clips of videos and music in this post, Charli. I truly loved the different types of Christmas music you introduced us too.
    I love how Christmas traditions are so different all over the world. From when gifts are opened to what we eat and drink, it’s lovely to see a lot of diversity when it comes to Christmas.
    Christmas seems to be the one time of the year when memories not only come alive, but they linger through the holiday season and often fade away as the Christmas lights do in January.
    For many of us, this Christmas is going to be very different. But we should all see this change as a positive thing and grab the chance to try out new things.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the music, Hugh. You can get in some serious cookie baking to Trans Siberian Orchestra. Yes, Christmas does seem to be full of memories. I like your analogy of them fading in January with Christmas lights. I hope we can all embrace new traditions this year with hope and grace.

  24. I’m not one for family traditions so this year’s alternative Christmas is business as usual to me. Nevertheless I’ve got two Christmassy flash fictions for you, both inspired by Matilda Windsor (squeezing just before a Skype with my editor), one of which has beans:

  25. TanGental says:

    Here’s how Logan got to be Logan…
    Festive Traditions

    ‘What did you do for Christmas, Logan?’
    ‘You must have some family traditions?’
    ‘What? Like waking up with Santa dribbling into the hall carpet because he fell asleep there when he came back from the pub, having to be quiet all morning, watching the Queen and wondering what she was talking about, waiting for my gran’s bowels to move so we could eat lunch at 4pm and then having to eat sprouts – Devil’s turds btw – and mum’s stuffing that I’m sure was shredded underlay… that sort of thing?’
    ‘I’m so sorry.’
    ‘Hell, I loved it.’
    ‘Explains a lot…’

  26. I’d have to try and think about my family traditions. We don’t have much that isn’t excruciatingly normal! The enchiladas and baked beans you have is unique, and that’s what makes for good stories. 😉

  27. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (12/03/2020):  In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes family traditions. It can be related to any holiday or situation. How does the tradition impact the story or change the character? Go where the prompt leads! […]

  28. Liz H says:

    There are those that believe there’s magic to be found under the Northern Lights….hearken to a tradition from long early days, and wish the couple well!

    Fertile Northern Lights

    The stewpot was emptied of root vegetables, venison gratefully given, and thick brown gravy sweetened with brunost. Crumbs of spilled flatbread caught the flicker of resting embers, and a half-dozen children snored under heavy woolen blankets. The littlest, wrapped in rabbit’s fur, lay in his mother’s arms.

    “Leave him. He’ll sleep well enough under the Northern Lights.”

    She nodded, tucking him next to the oldest girl, and said a prayer for the children departed.

    “The Lights shimmer tonight; propitious for calling another soul to our family,” he hefted their sleeping fur.

    She followed her husband into the snowy night.

  29. […] for the 99-word flash fiction challenge hosted by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. Click here to join […]

  30. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Charli,

    Your family had/has so many more and well-defined traditions than mine did as a youngster and as an adult. Thanks for sharing them, and the music.

    New Family Traditions

    The Monday after Thanksgiving Michael and Tessa received a beautiful Christmas arrangement from Tessa’s mother. They each raised their eyebrows, skeptical of Jenny’s intentions.
    Inside the thank you card she had written, “I had no idea cooking for two days for other people could be gratifying. I hated eating leftovers on Thanksgiving, but gathering our family together with Michael’s on Saturday was the best celebration of thanks I have ever attended. Let this be our new tradition. Love, Mom.”
    A tear ran down Tessa’s cheek. “She’s coming around isn’t she?”
    Michael’s eyes watered. “Wait till I show my parents.”

    Note: “cooking for two days for other people” refers to last week’s flash that mentioned the band members’ families preparing the dinner served at the No Thanks.

  31. willowdot21 says:

    I have entered this week because I was thinking if my childhood. My entry is true, I hope that’s okay 💜 I have enjoyed reading the other entries.

  32. Myrna Migala says:

    I entered mine; fiction with some truth that happened. My grandson was pretending to catch a bird. The fiction part is I switched the bird into an angel. Read all about it here

  33. […] December 3, 2020, Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes family traditions. It can be related […]

  34. Whew! I made it:

    “Family Traditions”

    “Grandma, hurry up or we’ll miss the first song.” Kallie impatiently tugged at Grandma’s sleeve.

    “I’m coming. Don’t rush me!” Grandma chided.

    The church was packed. Typical for the Christmas Eve service.

    “Kallie, I saved you seats,” whispered a voice. A few titters of laughter rumbled through the back row of pews.

    “Thank you, James,” Grandma murmured as she heaved her body into the seat. Kallie blushed crimson.

    James grinned. He only had eyes for Kallie. “Of course. Christmas Eve wouldn’t be the same without you both.”

    The trio joined the congregation as they sang, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

  35. […] I’m back to visit the Ranch. Wish I visited more often but, well, it’s been one of those years for all of us, hasn’t it? Thank you to Charli for keeping the Ranch running! […]

  36. Howdy, All. It’s been awhile!
    Charli, I loved the hope I felt in reading your story. A tradition ending is the opportunity for a new one to begin.
    I’m a big fan of beans. They are my main protein source so I’ve learned to cook them many, many ways. 🙂

    Here is a link to my story: Topsy’s Turvy Christmas Eve:

  37. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes family traditions. It can be related to … […]

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