Two massive tundra swans rest upon the dark waters of Boston Pond near my daughter’s farm. The nesting parties of the northern hemisphere have ended for 2023 and migrators are leaving their breeding grounds to overwinter elsewhere.

The merlins, falcons, and osprey have left the Northwoods of Michigan and Wisconsin. The sandhill cranes, dabblers, and divers are gathering to take their leave, too. Everyone with feathers has either fledged or molted. With the birds sporting their duller non-breeding colors, it’s time for the leaves to stand out.

And celebrate. It’s festa time!

When I was a child in Old Californio — okay, I’m not that old, but I did grow up in one of the last holdouts of vaquero culture — the Azorean Portagees practiced celebrations called “festas.” They were religious festivals associated with the Cult of the Holy Spirit, a sect of Catholicism going back to the fourteenth century and linked to Franciscan monks. Today, the Azores and small pockets of buckaroo country in the western US (parts of California, Nevada, and southern Idaho), continue the tradition.

Festa foods are among my favorites, a tradition my coming grandchild will one day know. Originally, the communities gathered all their soup, sausage, bread, and milk. Cattle were butchered and the sopas prepared. In my family, the beef chunks were cooked in a vat of red wine with onions, garlic, and spices then served over chunks of San Francisco sourdough bread with fresh mint. When we lived in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I used to harvest wild mint for festa soup we called sopas.

My kids grew up on festa foods, and we all lamented when we moved to Minnesota where there is no linguica. That’s the sausage. It, too, is made with red wine and spices. While the pinnacle of best food ever has been linguisa and eggs, Vermont introduced me to linguisa and lobster. Oh…my… Another festa sausage remains rarer — we called it marcella, but I don’t know if I’m spelling it correctly. It could be called marsala for (you guessed it) red wine. I recall my grandmother putting red wine in every Azorean recipe from rabbit marinade to jerky. My grandparents made marcella, using fresh pig blood. It’s blood sausage made with wine, garlic, and spices. My eldest daughter, Allison, will get to try it when she visits the Azores in November.

November will be the month of festas for my family and we kicked it off in August.

Allison and I drove to southern Wisconsin this past weekend for a baby shower my son, Kyle, and his wife, Leah, hosted. It was an elegant affair and they were the fashionable couple, the mother-to-be in a Grecian seafoam green dress and the father-to-be in a buff linen suit with matching green gingham shirt. It was a luncheon with an open bar (my son bartender through six years of college) and neither parent had anything alcoholic. Which might be why we didn’t have festa foods.

What a joy to be in my son’s life as he’s embarking on fatherhood. I’m excited, but I’m more excited to watch my son grow with his child. It feels like a gift. Driving back, I realized it was also a gift to have travel time with Allison. We did arrive home to the Keweenaw late and she was expecting to harvest her flowers for markets. I told her I’d help her if she delayed. The next day we harvest flowers together. Her husband, Drew, who had been in the fields or pack-shack all day took a break by grilling and reading. I was invited to feast, or festa, with them afterward.

And yes, there was red wine served with zucchini, poblanos, mojo peppers, tomatillos, and local beef sausage.

I’m wondering what you dreamers and writers will catch from “festa”? What celebratory foods or rituals do you still find comfort or delight? What are the origins of festivals you’ve attended? Go tend your stories and if you chase a white calf down a rabbit hole, remember, it’s all about connecting to your creativity as literary artists.

August 29, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a festa. It can be any festival, celebration, or use of the word. Is it food-related or an event? Is it an object or a shout-out? Who is involved and why? What happens? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 5, 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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