Life has given me a shiny new pie pan. For years, I’ve watched my pie decrease until all the wedges were gone, and only crumbs remained. Like a grumpy old kitchen maven with high expectations for the perfect dessert, I’ve poked at those crumbs, willing them into formation. I even planned toppings and serving dishes. Ordered new linens.

But will is not the spark of dreams.

With flour on my face, aching feet, and a calloused poking finger, I finally gave up. As I lay on the ground crying over uncooperative crumbs, others began to gently remind me I could bake another pie. I look around my kitchen and feel it’s impossible. Impossible Pie.

It took so much energy to get from Point A to Point B. What am I to do about the linens, the guests, the desired outcome of the Perfectly Fulfilling Pie? Some things, I need to send back to the store. Some things I need to pass on. Letting go is not easy, and yet…it’s surprisingly easier than pushing crumbs around with a careworn finger. It’s been so long since I’ve had a full pie, I don’t remember what I had expected to bake by this time in my life. Where did my pie image go?

My therapist suggested I stop messing with the crumbs and clean my pie tin. What purpose are the crumbs serving? Some crumbs, I’m attached to. Had hopes for. I don’t want to lose the whole pie. But it’s a was-pie. A has-been. There is both sorrow and relief in the art of letting go and surrendering. Wasn’t I just telling my husband the other day, There is what you want, and what-is?

Like a story constraint (99-words, no more, no less) what-is defines how we get to what we want. Sometimes, we want to submit a 356-word story. It’s perfect — the characters slip in and out of the action; the dialog is sharp; the setting is a third character; the imagery sings. How could this perfect story so full of expression and craft possibly be reduced to 99-words? What-is says, well, that’s the way it is — no more, no less. That’s when we get to choose between pushing around crumbs or cleaning the pie tin.

Our Ranch Yarnist got me hop-skipping about all the things we can do with a shiny new pie pan. That’s the first step to any creative endeavor be it dream tending, story-wrangling, or poetry catching in a butterfly net sized for words. It’s also the first step of recovery — recovery of dreams, self, and pie. You know, expansion.

We practiced expanding “red” last week. I’ve also practiced going to bed and expanding other colors, too. There’s something soothing about the step of expansion, like seeing all the possibilities. What can a pie pan be? It can be tin and make a protective hat. It can be glass and make a fine display of agates in water. A pie pan is round. The world goes round, seasons turn, races track in circles. We can recover an image of a full pie and go about making it. We can recover what we lost, or sit in a circle and hold each other’s sorrows, leaving them in the shared container.

This week, I invite you to expand the idea of recovery. Toss out your own crumbs and start something fresh. What did the crumbling gift to you? What are the possibilities? What happens next? Just for today…what can the pie be?

Things are a bit rocky on Roberts Street at Ranch Headquarters. I’ve done my best and need to accept some difficult points of what-is. We always knew that Todd’s condition was complex. I have the hard-earned realization that even if it’s not suspected CTE, the complexities of the “trifecta” of chronic pain, PTSD, and TBI produce similar symptoms. CTE is cutting-edge, meaning we know little about the disease beyond how it progresses and how its current diagnosis is only at death.

We also know the VA is underprepared for this disease. Our fight won’t be futile if we can expand access to rehabilitation services and designate a “diagnosis” to get access to rehabilitation even when the patient is technically unable to experience rehabilitation. It will be a win when future veteran caregivers are heard and given access to support in this scary, progressive condition, when our veterans are treated as whole and human within the VA system, when our children are cared for, too.

After all, isn’t it the VA’s mission based on President Lincoln’s promise? To care for those “who shall have borne the battle” and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.

The battles are not yet over. I think this is going to be a difficult year for the global human family, not just mine. More than ever, we need to come together in circles — in pie pans — not lined up behind divisions. One aspect of Carrot Ranch I’m most proud of is all of you and how every one of you shows up to write with authenticity to your literary art and writing journey. We have no expectations of genre, generation, gender, or geeky pursuits. Come as you are, follow the lead of where the prompt takes you, and write from your heart (the organ of the imagination).

Let’s find our way, our recoveries of all kinds. Toss out the remaining pie and its crumbs. Time for something new. And if that sounds daunting, don’t let it be. I’m adopting the 5-minute constraint to recovery what I need to. Kinda like 99-words.

January 9, 2024, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a recovery story. What instigated the recovery? What is being recovered? Data, athletes, illness — expand the idea of recovery and find your story. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 15, 2024. 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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