August 15: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

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

August 15, 2023

Flowers and cattle call me to a home where I have never been. I miss the smell of the sea, the slope of steep mountains, the tremors of the earth. I miss how companionable a herd can be. I miss the home where I have never been.

Fial is called the Blue Island of the Azores because my people planted hydrangeas that spread and bloom among the cattle paddocks. My people? Two Fernandes brothers married two Pivia sisters in the 1870s and landed in San Fransico Bay.

Growing up, I embraced my Portuguese heritage — linguica, pinto beans with cumino, sopas, tending cattle, and growing flowers. Old timers who still spoke the language taught me to swear and called me “Portagee Red” because of my auburn hair coloring. The hair, it turns out, was not an anomaly. Years later I’d discover I’m only 4 percent Portuguese by DNA.

Mostly, I’m Scots, Irish, and English with a smattering of Basque, Danish, Portuguese, Norwegian, German, and 1 percent unexplained Russian and 1 percent Balkin. I don’t even know what a Balkin is. Clearly, I’m your typical Heinz 57 mutt of an American. But as a child and teenager, I identified strongly as an Azorean buckaroo. That was my heritage; the Azores my homeland.

And that’s not all. Throughout my life, I’ve known suadade — what Brazilians often refer to as the melancholy of the Portuguese, the wayfarers who often grew homesick and passed down that feeling to descendants. I was taught that suadade was specifically homesickness for the mountains. The Azores are a volcanic archipelago thus the entire nine islands rise as sea mountains. Along with cattle and flowers, it was home.

Where is home? What makes a home? Is it a place or a relationship?

I’ve often encountered this question, having moved 22 times in 35 years of marriage. I’ve been without a home, welcomed into the homes of others, and watched my children create homes in different ways. One lives on a mountainous arctic island (how very cold and Azorean); another farms and tends flowers; another is following a more traditional path making home with a baby on the way. There is no one way to “home.”

Yet, we humans have so much heart and brain-space dedicated to home-space.

My eldest, is going back to the homeland. She’s the first De Abreau to return to the Azores since my mother’s mother’s mother left. No one on my father’s side has returned, either. In a lovely twist of serendipity, a local restaurant is so happy with my daughter’s farm-fresh triple-washed salad and edible flowers for fancy cocktails that she and her husband are invited to spend a foodie week abroad with the owners. It just so happens to be in the Azores. Allison is going home to see where her ancestors once grew flowers.

This week, over at the Dream Tending Institute, Dr. Stephen Aizenstat discussed the collective psyche of home. Home is like a call, a journey. What if what we call the hero’s journey is really a path to find home, or to give us meaning? I think of the Portuguese melancholy, suadade, as a similar call to find home. A call to journey. A call to find something more than past flowers, cattle, and mountains — to find something meaningful about our lives.

You can tend a story the way dreamers tend dreams. Start by making associations. Allow your imagination to create an image of home then allow someone (a character) to step into that place. Ask if you have permission to work with them (yeah, dream tenders ask permission and it seems foreign to us creative writers who apparently kidnap characters who show up to use them in stories). If you want to learn more about dream tending, anyone can join the Tending Tuesdays sessions. Dreams, like stories, appreciate community.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the chickadees. They’ve returned home to Roberts Street.

August 15, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the journey home. Who is going home? Or are they in search of a future home or ancestral roots? Think of home as a life lived — adventures, relationships, accumulations. What makes home worth the journey? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 21, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday 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.

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  1. Sarah Brentyn

    Wonderful, Charli. I hope Allison has an amazing time. ???????? So interesting about the dream tenders. I have always said (with some people scoffing) that I work with my characters or let them lead the way. I don’t like kidnapping them and making them do whatever needs to be done to move a story along. It’s quite easy to spot when an author “uses characters like chess pieces”. (That’s how I explained it to my son when he asked why certain stories felt off. Have a good week!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yes. Almost always a character steps forward and drives the story. Sometimes a story appears and births a character. I count on my characters but they have to lead, voluntarily. Of course, there are those who maybe should be reined in…

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Haha! Indeed. And rein them in we must.

    • Charli Mills

      She’s so excited, Sarah, and I plan to have an amazing time vicariously! To use “characters like chess pieces” is a great analogy for plot-driven authors. Authors like Michael Crichton are master chess players in that sense, focusing on plot over character development. And it makes me wonder — whose story are we telling, character- or plot-driven? Can we tend a plot, I wonder? I think what feels off to a reader is when characters are contrived to move between plot points. I think that’s where writers can lose a story. I’m so interested in learning more about dream tending and deep imagination because it gives writers (poets, artists, creative) an understanding of the psyche and language to describe what can feel like a strange experience. We all laugh about “hearing voices” and yet encourage “let your characters speak.” With story tending we can develop dream tending tools of depth psychology into practical tools of creativity. Most writers who hear or see or sense their characters are already accessing the imaginal. You have a good week, too!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Contrived. Yes. Also… There’s just… When an author uses characters as chess pieces, it’s annoying but you either read it or you don’t. You know that’s what you signed up for. But when an author does a good job of developing a character then halfway through the story has them do something “off”, it’s like, “What?! She would *never* do that!” That’s the most annoying thing for me.

        My characters speak, alright, and it’s not always a good thing. 😉 But I love the idea of accessing the imagination through dream tending.

      • Charli Mills

        That is annoying to be halfway through reading a novel only to discover the author knows less about the character than we do and worse is when the character then jumps into our hearts to complain! Dream tending opens up so much and explains the doors we knew were there.

  2. denmaniacs4

    Dream Tending is new to me…so I probably will have nightmares about it. Still, a lovely post and I foraged on and produced a lyric…a Tuesday night song…

    • Charli Mills

      How lovely, Bill — the foraging of a song, not the potential for nightmares. 😉 Dream tending includes “intolerable” images, too. Nightmares become way more fascinating than scary.

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Already There

    “What’re ya doin Kid?”
    “Workin on a song, Pal.

    *Home, home on the Ranch
    where ever one’s got somethin ta say
    as long as it’s in zactly 99 words
    writers from roun the world are welcome ta play*
    “What d’ya think?”
    “Thinkin thet tune souns strangely familiar. Or least ways, strange.”
    “Says you. It’s where the prompt led. I’m already home, might’s well sing bout it.

    *A great place ta be, with it’s own Poet Tree
    an a saloon always open ta all
    we read here an write, both heavy an light
    in collections make me say, Yippee Y’all!*

    • Charli Mills

      Home is where the Ranch is. Here, there, everywhere a writer is inspired to chase down the prompt in 99-words. We bring our sense of home with us, climb the Poet Tree with Kid, and let the collections be a community. I like how Kid and Pal think. Yippee!

  4. Jules


    I haven’t done any DNA testing. Hubby and I sort of know where most of our family is from. Though why they left, well some stories we know and others we don’t. This prompt worked well with Moonwashed Musings;

    La sua casa rifugio
    (la loro casa rifugio (Italian) = their hideaway home)

    Grandpa had two homes. One was a hideaway up in the mountains. Or so it seemed. I don’t think he built the city home, but I know he built the hideaway home with the son from his first wife. I’m not sure what happened to her. My Grandma (mom’s mother) was his second wife.

    The home had to be sold to care for my Grandma after Grandpa passed. His son wasn’t happy about that. My step-uncle wanted to keep that home for his own children to enjoy. Some dreams fade away.

    that retreat
    built by their hands; a

    © JP/dh

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, do you think you’d feel less Italian if your DNA showed differently? I think cultural roots are bound to place, rituals, and stories. Sometimes, we can have the blood in our DNA but not the connections or passions from the past. That hideaway house was a home to some, property to others. Yet, same family. I suppose dreams fade when we disconnect from their origins. Then again, the next generations have curious ways of reconnecting. Love the Italian title!

      • Jules

        I can go back at least three gen one side, possibly four on the other in regards to the Italians… though as with any peoples there is more to be found (as well as conflicts of origin). For example the Northern and Southern Italians are not fond of each other. Big difference in foods.

        Interesting about the red hair… As both hubby and I had some relatives nicknamed ‘Red’. We are all related, somehow, somewhere, someway.

        When you move around quite a bit (as you and I have) you learn that it is the people that make a house a home. Origin stories can make life interesting, but some folks are inclined to live in the present and some even disregard the past.

        The bit about reconnecting – reminds me of a comic about a bride looking for a wedding dress. She wanted to pass on to her own daughter one day. Her companion asked her why she didn’t want to wear her own mother’s gown. The bride to be said…;”What? That old thing?”

        Google translate helps me with titles. 🙂 the mother tongue -as it were- wasn’t wasn’t passed down. As the immigrant grands believed that New Country you learn the new language.

        Have a great week! (((Hugs))) ~Jules

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! Just like the bride joke, Jules, I think we can get that same idea about “old things,” including our origins. But our ancestors (recent or ancient) hold clues to who we are. Good stuff to ponder for insights, but on with the new, too. Yes, absolutely — people make a house a home. I think restless roots syndrome happens when children grow up and leave home, people change and we lose relationship anchors. Yet, it can be comforting to realize sets of grands before us experienced similar struggles — loss of language and familiar foods are huge anchors to people and the past and can be gift to the people in our future lines, too. Reds show up everywhere, eh! You have a great week, too! Hugs!

      • Jules

        Our city has a large immigrant population from some poor country that was being overtaken by nasties… Through a service org, we helped one family move. They invited us to a holiday celebration dinner. They even had a video – but oddly enough they parent said they were not going to teach their children their language. Now safe, they wanted their family to be (perhaps) untraceable? I think they were still going to celebrate holidays and have traditional foods. But that would also depend on what families their children married into. I’m not sure if the same heritage had to be a prerequisite for marriage.

  5. explorereikiworld

    Home is such a pot of treasures because it holds memories of growing up with all the mischief that happens as a child. I have had many homes while growing up, and those places hold special memories.
    I am including my take on my recent journey home.

    • Charli Mills

      Ruchira, I appreciate how you can place all your childhood homes into a pot of treasure. That’s a beautiful approach. I’m going to think of all my homes as “in the pot” and see how that reframing works for me. It is a journey!

  6. Michael B. Fishman

    Thank you for this: “anyone can join the Tending Tuesdays sessions.”

    • Charli Mills

      I hope you find deep inspiration with Tending Tuesdays, Michael!

  7. E.A. Colquitt

    Another fascinating post, Charli. I only know my family history up to a few great-grandparents, but the furthest they get outside my own country is Ireland (and I don’t even know where on the island of Ireland) 🙂

    I’ve been away organising my creative endeavours, but always wanting to come back – I’m determined to join in with this week’s challenge! It’s my journey home to the Ranch lol

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome home to the Ranch, Eleanor!

      • E.A. Colquitt

        Thanks – it’s good to be back 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Eleanor, this is a great time to organize our creative endeavors according to the alignment of the planets. I’d love to walk where my ancestors once did. They still have meaningful stories for us. May the organization free up your creativity. Always great to have stories from you!

      • E.A. Colquitt

        Well, I don’t know a lot about planetary alignments, but it is Virgo season! I hope you get to go to your ancestors places – that sounds cool.

        Thanks – I’ve been writing a lot on Medium… but I feel like I’m getting a rhythm going there, now, getting a feel for the platform. So, I should be able to schedule everything else a lot better, going forward 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I don’t know much about planetary alignments but I do follow a couple of interesting modern astrologists who can read the stars with a practical frame of reference. Hey, that’s awesome about Medium. It’s a solid platform. What’s your username. I’d like to follow you there.

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