January 2: Story Challenge in 99-words

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.

January 2, 2023

I’m old enough to have a son who will be taking a sabbatical later this (new) year. How is it he gets one before I do? Oh, that’s right. He was impressionable when I went back to college for my undergrad degree and followed the academic trail on his own to a job that recognizes the need to rest after several intense years of travel and work. I’m happy for him.

In a way, I took my own sabbatical in 2022. It was less formalized and appeared in the guise of “letting go.” Surrendering and resting may not sound like top-shelf New Year’s resolutions, but life often calls us to do the unexpected. Last year was one of the most lost years I’ve lived.

I wondered and wandered. I had no North Star because I had too many clouds blocking my view. I made several choices I never thought I’d make.

First, I stopped writing. After ten years of dogged transformation to go from a marketing communicator to a literary artist, I didn’t set a single goal. I wasn’t concerned about my choice because I’ve been writing at a professional level for over 25 years and know what it takes to write when I don’t feel like it. I won that battle years ago (thank you deadlines). To me, writing is not what comes and goes; it’s the writer. The writer can find inroads. I don’t believe writing inspiration dries up beyond restoration. I quit writing because I had too much unsettled in my life.

So I quit my marriage. The hardest day was in March when I let go. Just let it go like a bird I’d held captive in my hands. I didn’t think I could help my husband any more than I had and I really wanted both of us to be happy. He had turned his veteran journey into a battlefield and I had no fight left. Despite my acceptance into the VA Caregiver Support Program, it had come too late. They prepared me for separation from my duties and I did my best to prepare Todd.

He didn’t leave, as he’d been wanting to do ever since we arrived at the Keweenaw. I found a place to live and secured as much work at the local university as I could, adding professional tutoring to my adjunct professor position. All I needed was my half of the sale of our house. I had carefully tried not to call it a home and I even let go of ever having one. I’d have an apartment and that would have to do.

Covid has changed much of the social landscape as we knew it. Covid also changed my marriage. I half-heartedly laughed when I left the house to shelter elsewhere after Todd got Covid and his last words to me were about life insurance. Maybe it jogged something in his unreliable brain. Maybe my leaving when he was sick made him question his independence. There were many other factors at play but what changed was that he decided not to leave. I didn’t agree to stay (my apartment is still not ready). But I didn’t leave, either.

Letting go didn’t mean giving up or withholding love. Like with writing, it was a break; a time to ponder what will this be like?

What struck me, though, when I realized I didn’t have to leave, I allowed myself to feel how deep my feelings ran for my husband, family, and home. I’m a writer and even at my best, I don’t think I can aptly explain the complexity of those emotions. I have a profound appreciation for my bedroom and Unicorn Room as sanctuaries. I enjoyed Mause more, knowing I could continue to be with her. And I let go of training her or trying to correct/fix/help Todd.

Caregiver Support quickly kicked in and I’m profoundly grateful to have access. My therapist helped me understand a lot of Todd’s brain trauma doesn’t mean he is not there anymore. He’s still Todd and I keep an eye out for glimpses of him daily even if I’m laughing at really awful jokes like him “scenting” my sanctuaries. It’s become a morning ritual. I’m deep into yoga or meditation and he walks in making airplane sounds for a round of “crop-dusting.” Unfortunately for me, the joke renews almost daily.

On my side though, is a strange peace I’ve found where I thought there’d only be chaos.

Chaos came to school. The one area I applied myself last year was Finlandia. It was going to be my second career. The University’s enrollment tanked and I got two new bosses with whom I’m not a good fit. Can you ever remember being yelled at while at work? Well, it happened twice and with the same person. As someone who used to manage people, I was surprised. I can’t recall being ill-treated like that and I will no longer be tutoring. With the low enrollments, it’s questionable as to whether or not I’ll have enough students for a single class. For now, I have the minimum of four.

Carrot Ranch was not on the letting go block, but I did pare down to the bare bones. I had to figure out how to let go of a life and rebuild it. You likely noticed I was barely on social media and did not promote or visit blogs. I let go of any marketing. If ever there was a good year, I picked it! So much has changed in the social media sphere and I’m reminded of why we assess marketing annually. Without writing, I had no meaning, no target audience, and no visual on my North Star.

It’s coming back. I let go of so much I now know what is important, what isn’t, and what I can handle. This year, my focus is two-fold: peace and follow-thru. When you let go, you find peace at the bottom of the rope. When you let go, you don’t follow thru; there’s no need because you’re at the bottom of your pit after having let go. Now comes what next.

This winter break, I socialized more. I stayed in more with Todd and played more with him and Mause at the dog park. I watched a lot of films and documentaries. I read. I listened. I planned. My vision plan is nearly finished and my business plan is restarted. My SBA rep gave my proposal a green light saying I had nothing to lose. He’s right. And he doesn’t know I spent the last year on a sabbatical of letting go.

So greetings, best wishes, and aanii to you all. I appreciate your patience with me. As I return from my sabbatical, I’ll be putting my life back together with care. I realize that my heavy-achieving days belong to my younger years. I’m not old by any means but as a woman, I’m in the second half of life and I mean to live it on my terms not the expectations of others. I don’t need to achieve. I want to connect, inspire, be inspired, practice peace, and find a path where I can follow thru on the doing part of being.

A simple note of housekeeping — technological issues are now known (as Hugh and Colleen thought, it was an outmoded theme in WP. Happiness Engineers found several other theme options, but I’m still contemplating a move to a WP site hosted by Site Ground. I’ll decide later this month. I appreciate all the suggestions, too. For now, I’ll use the clunky workaround because it’s the best solution for what I want to do. My intention for following thru is to visit and be more social. Carrot Ranch remains at its foundation a place to practice the art of creative writing. It’s accessible. Anyone can take the weekly challenge to create a commitment to their writing process. You are free to set any goals for yourself, using the challenges.

This is it. I’m back in the saddle. I might be a bit like a greenhorn, but I’ll catch the rhythm soon enough! A hearty thanks to those of you who kept the campfire going. I’m grateful for your presence at the Ranch! Let’s ride and write!

January 2, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a sabbatical. Who needs one or has had one? What kind of tension could a rest create? Where can a break take your story? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 7, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection will be published on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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  1. Ritu

    Huge hugs, Charli ????????

    • Charli Mills

      Huge hugs back to you, Ritu! <3

  2. ellenbest24

    I understand, I salute the bravery you have shown. We humans, are stronger than we look.
    2022 I began a sort of sabbatical, My head too full to write. Writing seems.too frivolous to contemplate. Keeping a front of positivity for the rest of the family, being the face of unshakable faith in the science, … it wears me down.

    • Charli Mills

      Ellen, I understand what you mean about a head too full to write. Keep your faith strong, your positivity grounded, and allow for grace whenever it falls apart. We can pick up the threads and carry on. May you find peace this year, friend.

  3. ellenbest24

    I am sending love, and you emerging (all be it differently) Gives me comfort. X

    • Charli Mills

      Know that I’m emerging with tatters in my hands but I get to decide what to reweave. You, too! Sending you love! <3

  4. Anne Goodwin

    Good to have you back, Charii, and hoping 2023 will be easier on you. I’m imagining the Ranchers standing together to block the yells of that incompetent manager. After being hit with a life-changing illness last year, I also need to learn to pace myself and be sure to focus on the writing I most enjoy. Hoping to learn from your wisdom.

    • Charli Mills

      Good to be back, Anne! Yes, I don’t think I ever thought I’d need to learn a different pace. Maybe it’s like learning a different dance or style of writing. Your blog is one I’ve missed sorely this past year. I’m looking forward to that reconnection. Life-changing illnesses can feel so overwhelming. Meditation has helped me surrender to whatever the moment is and later, when I’m back in the thick of the “changes” it somehow feels okay. Or maybe I’m kidding myself, which is fine because I’d call it a coping strategy. 😉 May we both find the grace to focus on the writing we most enjoy.

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Hey Kid. Pal. Where ya been?”
    “Well, we was managin the Cowsino when the storm commenced. We been holed up there at the Saloon, but a whole bunch a folks, real an imagined, stopped in an hunkered by the fireplace with us.”
    “Yep. Stories got told. Ended up bein a good time. By the way, Shorty, I sure am glad yer Yooper scooper brought ya this way.”
    “You two didn’t take a break?”
    “Sure felt like a break. Was restful an relaxin hangin out with everone at the Saloon.”
    “An now we’re back in the saddle!”
    “Write on!”

    • Charli Mills

      I love that Kid and Pal holed up on the Ranch and entertained folks during the break and throughout the unintended sabbatical. Good hands, those two. Time to ride(write) out the restlessness of restin’.

  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Limricks Pal?”

    maybe the idea is radical
    but sometimes lettin go is tactical
    then grab the end of yer rope
    and start pullin up hope
    bend an don’t break an call it sabbatical

    sometimes a rope’s all ya’ve got
    tangled and tied up in knots
    hard to know where ta begin
    when you cain’t find the ends
    and it always tugs at yer heart

    lettin go don’t mean free-fallin
    it’s action when things seem ta be stallin
    you’ll stop bouncing aroun
    an find yer feet on the groun
    tie off the end a thet rope an start haulin”

    • Charli Mills

      Mighty fine limricking, D. Is it a Vermont cowpoke skill? Ropes can have threads, knots, and hope. Sometimes all we ever needed was a rope. Thanks!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        (Psst… that was Pal. I know, it can get confusing. I am impressed that those two respond in 99 words though, limericks and all.)
        “Last year was one of the most lost years I’ve lived.” ???? That gets me, and I get it.
        And it explains some of a certain kayak/camping adventure where maps went blank and unmoored women drifted where the wind took them among the loons.
        Welcome back, Charli. You’ve never really lost your bearings, just had too much to bear at times.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s like herding cats, these characters, ha, ha! There was a brief moment that included water and campfire smoke and Scrabble tiles when I felt found. Uncharted among loons is medicine. Bearing found, bears in lines. Thank you, D. And tell Pal the limricking was good.

  7. Jennie

    Hi Charli, it is so good to hear from you. Thank you for the update. Life is certainly a journey. My very best to you in the new year.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jennie! May we all find our best in 2023 and be satisfied with what it is. Yes, life’s a journey.

      • Jennie

        You’re welcome, Charli! I echo your wish. I’m ready for the journey.

      • Charli Mills

        And so it begins…

  8. Rebecca Budd

    This is a most excellent post to read at the beginning of 2023! Life does call us to do the unexpected and our pathways are not as clear as once they were. Living in the middle of complexity is dealing with emergence. Yesterday, I was on a weekly family zoom callI to welcome 2023. We asked ourselves what we would do differently in 2023. Our answer was the same – to reflect, to pause, to let go of anxiety and rest is peace, all of which is a easier said than done. I have taken your “follow thru” insight with me as I embark on my 2023 journey. Happy New Year!!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for this lovely reflection, Rebecca: “Living in the middle of complexity is dealing with emergence.” You and your family found a good starting place for 2023. Happy New Year to you, too!

  9. restlessjo

    Love a happy ever after! I know it’s not that, Charli, but it feels good, where you’re at now. Wishing you luck on the journey and a healthy, happy life.

    • Charli Mills

      You know what, Jo? I’m going to take it as a happily ever after for right here, right now. Thank you! I wish the same for you.

      • restlessjo


  10. faithanncolburn

    Oh my God, Charlie. I’d hardly looked in on you throughout 2022. COVID threw me a loop and I’d barely left the house in two years. I’d just started writing (and playing my guitar) when i texted my baby sister and learned she’d just received a cancer diagnosis. We had a flurry of tests (i helped her daughter with the logistics because Sis was already desperately weak from COVID) and then the waiting because she was already too weak to survive treatment. She died in August and I’m gobsmacked. So . . . I’ve basically had a three year sabbatical and it’s going to take a ton of adjusting and just plain self-discipline to recover my life and my work. I guess that’s the long way if saying i think i understand a bit if where you’ve been this year just past and best wishes for going ahead now.

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, Faith, COVID threw us all loopy. I’m so heartbroken for your stunning loss. So many have died quickly and yet each and every death was someone’s beloved. I’m sorry you had to experience that loss. Take each moment with grace. It helps me to think daily of “practice.” That way, I’m not disappointed if I wasn’t as disciplined as I wanted to be. I can say, “I practiced.” Your life and work will be different. And it will be okay. You will find unexpected moments of beauty and unexplainable joy. Best wishes to you, too! <3

    • Norah

      Sending hugs. ????????????

  11. Colleen M. Chesebro

    What a year you’ve had, Charli. I can’t wait to discover what’s ahead… I know it will be exciting. I’m glad to see you back at the ranch. You’ve been sorely missed. Here’s to a new year of possibilities just waiting for us to write, create and experience. Many hugs to you! ??

    • Charli Mills

      The possibilities are as endless as the creativity is in each of our weekly stories, Colleen. It’s good to be back at the Ranch! Many hugs back to you! <3

  12. Hugh W. Roberts

    It’s so good to have you back in the saddle, Charli. There is one line in your posts that speaks volumes to me –

    ‘I realize that my heavy-achieving days belong to my younger years.’

    You have shared so much of your last year with us that I salute you for doing so. We may have never met in person, but the connection is still there, and we worry when we see a difference in somebody.

    And please don’t be afraid to call me up if you require any help with the Carrot Ranch site. I’m always happy to help.

    I wish you all the best for 2023.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s good to be back, Hugh! It’s something we all have to confront as we transform — we can’t recapture what was but we can still become. What…well, the fun is figuring it out and having friends to write with. We may not have (yet) met in person but you are in my head and my heart and the imaginal feels real to me. We have a connected community and in part, it’s because we are writers. We are connectors. We can conceptualize our relationships even if we can’t share a cuppa face-to-face. I am going to reach out to you next week. Thank you! And I wish you the best in 2023, too!

  13. Jules

    Dear Charli,

    Life has thrown you some heavy challenges. And you have shared many of them here. May you continue to find strength and know you have support of your ‘CR Peeps’. I remember when I had some hard choices to make when I was younger. We seem to grow into our own as time passes.

    Good to see that you have positive goals and that perhaps you can keep your creativity and sanity.
    Always wishing you and yours the best. May this New Year bring you peace. (((Hugs))) ~Jules

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, you are a precious CR Peep! You are right; we do grow into our own. We become. Creative, always. Sane? What is sanity, anyhow, ha, ha? I guess it means doing things differently to achieve different results from the last go. Peace be with you, too! Big hugs back! <3

      • Jules

        hmm… sanity? I think each individual can create their own definition 😉

        Glad to have you back at the ranch!! ????

  14. Jeanne Lombardo

    Charli! My god…what a year, what transformation in your life. It’s all good and I commend you for your courage and willingness to evolve. Change is hard but change is inevitable. These words struck me: “I don’t need to achieve. I want to connect, inspire, be inspired, practice peace, and find a path where I can follow thru on the doing part of being.” I’ll take this as my mantra. At the end of June, after waiting five years to have more time to write, I found that I didn’t know anymore what to write about! Maybe it’s my own sabbatical…or a Sabbath of sorts. Finding growth in my rose and herb gardens. So glad to have clicked on your post today. I wish you renewal in 2023.

    • Charli Mills

      We are constantly changing, aren’t we, Jeanne? Yes, I think you found your own sabbatical, too. It will become something new and roses and herbs will fill the gaps with scented beauty. I read something that Sharon Blackie quoted from Goethe: “As long as you have not grasped that you have to die to grow, you are a troubled guest on the dark earth.” She referred to the challenges of her past three years as “dying.” We die so we can grow. So good to see you! May we both experience renewal and be untroubled guests of this world in 2023!

  15. Nicole Horlings

    I can resonate with the need to take a step back, parring back things to the bare bones, and then seeing them from a broader perspective. Your lines “I had no North Star because I had too many clouds blocking my view.” and “To me, writing is not what comes and goes; it’s the writer. The writer can find inroads. I don’t believe writing inspiration dries up beyond restoration. I quit writing because I had too much unsettled in my life.” struck a chord with me. Whenever I have taken hiatuses from writing, it’s generally not because of a lack of inspiration, but rather periods of lower mental heath. As soon as my mood improves, my ability to write returns.
    I haven’t been a consistent contributor here at Carrot Ranch, but I always feel so much love for this community, even during my absences.
    My heart goes out to you, Charli, after reading this piece. I’m glad that you were able to do what you had to do and let go. I hope that 2023 is a fantastic year for you, with clarity, stability, and creativity. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Nicole, you understand the fluctuations of the writing life and that a lack of inspiration is not always the reason. It’s a flow, though, and we find our way back to the page and learn to welcome the sabbatical. I think every writer shows up when they need to and that is good. I’m pleased this is a welcoming community for all of us. May you have a fantastic year, too! <3

  16. Nicole Horlings

    Thank you, Charli

  17. Gary A Wilson

    Hi Charli,
    I still feel like the new kid at the ranch, but I missed you, our weekly prompts and the whole CR routine.
    I also didn’t realize what kind of year you were having and have again realized that while having such great friends we know only through our WW blogging is great, it is limited when things like this happen to one of us. If our community were more like a small town, we’d have a harder time hiding when we were having a hard time and those who care about us would find ways to peek past our laying low to collect clues on what we’re going through.
    It is what it is, wonderful but different than physically-present friends.
    Regardless you were missed and you can count me among those who care and wish only the best for you and that we had some physical means of giving you more than virtual hugs of support.
    Blessings and hopes for a much better 2023.

  18. suespitulnik

    You may not have been as involved with comments here at the Ranch, but the prompts kept coming, and until WordPress did you dirty, so did the collated stories. I would call that only half of a sabbatical. Because I had the privilege of your summer visit, I had some understanding of what your daily life was like. I salute you for figuring out a way to keep going and refocusing. I wonder if that apartment isn’t ready by design/fate/CD’sintentions??
    I’m sorry Finlandia tanked. It seems a University that would need a new dean and president at the same time is showing its underside. I wish you all the hours you want this semester and none of the said person’s attitude. They obviously don’t have the teachers’ and students’ needs in focus.
    May 2023 be an easier year with your new knowledge, and may it be full of laughter, love, and more goatses and vegetables at the farm.
    Take care, my friend and mentor.

  19. Elizabeth

    Hi Charli, I think this is the first time I’m joining this challenge, I saw the title and I couldn’t resist visiting your blog. Thanks for sharing your story, lots of up and downs, hope you find a balance and keep going. Happy 2023 to you!

  20. Norah

    Sending hugs, Charli, and wishes for a fulfilling and satisfying year. May the necessary threads materialise to complete your weaving. At the moment I’m at the bottom of a dark (writing) pit without a glimmer, hoping for eviction soon. Perhaps I’ll change my thinking and consider it a sabbatical too. ????????????

  21. pedometergeek

    I’m glad you’ve had some time away from the craziness here even as you dealt with more than your share of trials and tribulations. It’s good to see you back, and I hope you have had a little bit of a sabbatical in those weeks away. I sure it seemed like no time at all considering what all you have been through in the past year. Continue to take time for yourself; you deserve it.

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