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To Cultivate a Book

ON HOLD DUE TO COVID-19

Meet local writers and dreamers who are making space for a creative life!

Do you have a dream to write a book? This is the time and place to have tea with your dream. Squeeze a lime, pour some San Pelligrino Water in a glass, and gather with a group of others called to write and declare a book.

This is a retreat where your seed of an idea is planted, nourished, and encouraged to grow. Practice creative courage and share the words you have written, the plans you are devising to bring a book into the world.

Like soil, water, and sun, every book requires a writer to nurture its growth: creation, platform, and publication. Many writers tackle each set of tasks in a linear fashion. But to grow a garden we understand we need to combine the efforts of sun, soil, and water. Same with writing a book. Learn to develop a personal strategy that feels actionable and joyful to work. All attendees will get space to share, reflect, and the tools to make progress.

This retreat is also about hygge, about finding a comfortable place to access when the work of writing gets frustrating. And it will. Art, like life, is a tug and pull between distractions and emotions. It takes perseverance to push through. We must weed before we harvest. We need to honor the feeling of getting cozy with a book when it is our own book.

Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” And that is what your book is. It’s a story you need to tell. This retreat will create a safe space of hygge for you to start telling it. To craft and draft. To strategically plan for platforms and publication. You will have a guide at this retreat, the next, and for what time it takes to grow your book from seed to harvest.

2021 DATES ANNOUNCED IN MAY. Open to all dreamers, writers, and authors who have books in their heads or manuscripts in process. Three retreats a year are open to previous attendees and new exploring book writers. A vegan lunch is provided, and Cynthia Drake of Openings Life Coaching will host in her beautiful home and retreat center below Ripley Falls.

Bring a notebook or laptop, a five-minute reading from your idea, notes, or manuscript, and prepare to give space to your book.

AGENDA TBA from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

10:00-12:00 Partner updates and shared readings from works in progress
Noon-1:00 Lunch discussion: serendipity
1:00-3:00 Constructing Storyboards (and putting them to use with variations)
3:00-4:00 Platform Bricks (collecting the right ones for your author platform)

Every writer who attends gets a follow-up consultation on their personalized Author Action Plan. If this is your first retreat, we’ll work together to create your AAC. Returning writers will get advice on what next and how. If the weather is pleasant and you are so inclined, we can hike to Ripley Falls after the retreat.

Bring your computer or journal, a print out of up to 8 pages to read, and any writing implements (unless you like colored pens). Storyboard construction materials provided. Updates to your Book Toolkit provided (or starter toolkit if this is your first book cultivation retreat).

$79 payable at PayPal.me/CarrotRanch or bring check or cash to retreat.

RSVP at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

An expert in brand management, Charli draws upon 20 years of marketing for publications and cooperative businesses. She understands the strategies required to fulfill the individual visions authors have for their books. To Cultivate a Book combines personal and professional development for authors. Open to all dreamers, writers, and authors who have books in their heads or manuscripts in process. Published authors can benefit, too. Come to one or all book cultivation retreats.

December 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

Somewhere in Nevada between an active gold mine and a desert reservoir the size of a pond where wild horses drink sits a dilapidated ranch house. The summer sun mummifies the boards and magpies nest in the rafters. From a distance, the brown boards blend into the tawny landscape like camouflage. In 2010, my dad drove me in his old Willy’s Jeep to this site. He stopped and said, “This was someone’s dream.”

It wasn’t the first time I heard him utter that phrase. He logged in in the back-country where prospectors and pioneers searched for promises of a better life. They all carried apple seed. At the Nevada ranch house, the husks of mountain cabins, and countless remnants of cellars apple trees grow wild. The ones who planted have disappeared, leaving spring blossoms and fall fruit to bear witness.

I’ve always been curious about these dreamers. I think about my dad’s regard for their lost dreams, or the stories I heard as a child from the old-timers. I think about the evidence of people who lived and dream long before the homesteaders came.

Yet, history doesn’t record the trickery that led people west to attempt to make a dream work. It benefited the government and then the railroads and then the company mines to lure people west to settle or work. Ads circulated in city and rural papers back east and overseas, attracting immigrants with promises of land and livelihood. Railroad companies often provided land, jobs, and one-way tickets.

My favorite buckaroo sings the story in the first-person point of view account that blows a hard wind into the listener’s soul. I shiver when I hear the refrain, “I never knew, I never dreamed.” Dave Stamey sings Montana Homestead 1915.

Ten years earlier, the railroad brought Italians to Elmira Idaho where I lived for four years next to the schoolhouse built in 1910. It was the dream of those immigrants to educate their children. It is the setting of my novel in progress. Whatever the Italians dreamed, they abandoned in Elmira and moved on after the railroad ended their work. My character Ramona Gordon is the descendant of one of these immigrant families.

The house my dad showed me in Nevada is one I gave to Danni as a ranch where her father worked. I picture Danni riding out along the small creek lined with cottonwoods, of her dad showing her the Paiute sheep camp that had existed for centuries before the Bureau of Land Management moved them out in the 1950s. Danni’s dad and my dad witnessed the loss of such dreams as boys who grew up in the hard migrant work-life of buckaroo ranches.

Despite this melancholy, I still believe in dreams. I know that my own have fed rivers of hope and resiliency. If you know me, you are not going to be surprised that I get excited this time of year to renew my dreams in a visioning activity. Not to be confused with resolutions, vision planting guides those apple seeds to fruition. It take dreams and puts them into action.

One of my dreams has been to teach creative writing. While working on my MFA, I’ve simultaneously worked on earning a master’s level certification to teach creative writing online. And thanks to COVID-19 and my online courses, I’ve learned new tools and techniques to bring in-person workshops to the virtual world. I have a break between Christmas and New Year, thus I decided to bring one of my favorite courses online — Writers Vision Planting. It’s one of the four parts of To Cultivate a Book series that has been COVID-disrupted.

If you have a dream, consider signing up either live or for the digital download. It will be a fun and creative way to plan your 2021 year as a writer.

But for our prompt, we are going to go back to what it’s like to experience something we didn’t dream. I never dreamed that a year after my last GSP died, I’d be chasing a puppy. I never dreamed that a pandemic would keep my daughter in the arctic so long. I never dreamed I’d own such a beautiful old home with a hand-carved staircase. I never dreamed that I’d get to live on a peninsula in Lake Superior. I never dreamed the northern lights would be so breathtaking (and evidently fertile, so be careful). I never dreamed I’d be 54 and expecting…a puppy, people, a puppy!

December 10, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a character never dreamed would happen. The situation can be fortuitous, funny, or disappointing. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 15, 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.

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

Hot Pepper Takes a Chance by Charli Mills

Carlotta rode a mustang named Hot Pepper. Her gelding was a small but snorty horse belonging to the Two Bar Ranch. She taught school at the one-room cabin on a desolate hill of sagebrush central to the ranches in the valley. Hot Pepper trotted the full three miles to school and back where Carlotta passed a ranch house half-built. She often wondered why the rancher never finished what looked like a beautiful design with promise. She never dreamed the horse would throw her in front of the house, meeting the young widower who never dreamed he’d find love again.

🥕🥕🥕

December 26: Flash Fiction

The day after Christmas and some might be elated, some might be feeling battle-weary, and some might not recognize the day as any different. Across Roberts Street, the Christmas tree in my neighbor’s window went dark. No more dazzling LED  lights to keep me company into the long dark nights I write at my desk next to the window that gave me an unobstructed view of his. Some neighbors up the street still illuminate their old mining homes and likely will into the New Year.

On social media, I’ve witnessed Christmas joy, angst, and meh.

Joy goes to many who had sorrows last year. One close veteran friend battled agent orange-derived cancer, which shadowed the past two years, holidays included. This year, with surgeries and chemo complete, he showered his wife with thoughtful gifts, the kind that will be remembered — years ago she shattered an heirloom casserole from Poland. He finally found a replacement and surprised her with it. It’s understandable that this couple has savored every celebration in December this year from making cookies with the grandkids to the quiet after Christmas Day. Joy returned to them.

Another family I know from those long-ago days in Montana celebrated Christmas with purpose too — that family matters. They sprinkled gothic Halloween humor into traditional Christmas themes because one daughter created that infusion. Families often invent their own traditions, renewing those passed down. I remember this daughter as a girl who was best buddies with my eldest daughter. She and her sister were children, I loved dearly, and when I think about them, I think back to when my kids were little. It’s hard for me to fathom that she took her own life this year.

Grief comes at Christmastime.

Festive lights and remembered carols remind us of loss — death, divorce, and other unexpected changes. We humans like to pretend that change doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s a protective mechanism, a way to avoid contemplating our own mortality. Looks, circumstances, and vitality inevitably change. When I consider those dark Christmas tree lights across the street, I wonder how my neighbor is doing. He lost his wife this summer. Did he honor her memory by putting up the tree? Was he trying to maintain connectivity with their grown kids? Was it a relief to pull the plug on the lights? Let go?

So many of us try to hold onto what we think was the perfect Christmas memories. Others try to break free of the Christmas past. It’s easy to envy those who look like they have it all with gifts piled under a perfectly decorated tree, family in attendance, and intact traditions. The Mormon missionaries who visit talk about the Christmases back home where family was the focal point and Jesus the celebration.

This year, I tried Yule. It didn’t go as planned with my daughter’s friends feeling shy to celebrate a pagan holiday with others. In no way am I looking to replace one religion with another, I just want to cook and hold an open house. My ideal would be to have my children at home, playing games, eating mama’s cooking, and watching Lord of the Rings. But they have work, homes, and lives away from me. It’s unfair to tug them to my wishes.

It’s hard for married couples to navigate the traditions of their blended families. One mom wants this tradition honored, a step-mom wants to be with her kids alone, another mom just wants daughter time. Often, Christmas is the only time of year that families get extended work holidays. How do you decide where to spend that precious time? And it’s right smack in the middle of cold and flu season. It’s enough to make young couples implode.

My daughter and SIL have declared stay-at-home healing time. My son went with his fiance to spend the holiday with her small but close-knit family. And my other daughter encountered a polar bear that got into town on Svalbard Christmas Day. She was indoors, he was outside. How I long for our own close-knit days but honor the fledging of my children.

This is the most wonderful (complex) time of the year. Just scan your social media feed, and you’ll witness the full spectrum of joy, grief, and frustration. You’ll see faith renewed and lost. You’ll see cookies, jokes, and lashing out. What we all need, no matter our circumstances, state of mind, or expectations, is loving-kindness. Stand firm in your own truth, but don’t rob another of theirs. Find common ground, and don’t be afraid of change.

So why all the human commotion this time of year?

How can we not be impacted by the rhythms of our world? In the north, we celebrate the return of light. In the south, we look forward to relief from the peak of the sun. These transitions have occurred without fail for all our history. I think it is no coincidence that the world’s greatest concentration of annual celebrations lands this time of year.

For our modern calendar, no matter where we are in the world, this is year-end. And it carries an energy of closure and renewal. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe in the power of planning. Every great plan starts with a clear vision, and this is a good time to renew or articulate yours.

On January 8, 2020, at 9 pm EST, you can join me on Twitter at #BookMarketingChat for a full discussion of how to use vision questing as a book author. Even if you have not yet published a book, it’s never too early to build an author platform. Use the search feature to find the chat and follow along, selecting the Latest tab. If you respond or ask a question, be sure to use the hashtag #BookMarketingChat.

2020 will mark my second year of a workshop series I teach called, To Cultivate a Book. This year, I will be experimenting with online classroom components. But first, I’m taking time to create a plan and to renew my vision. Last year, I focused all my efforts and energies on gaining stability. Now that the Hub, Carrot Ranch, and I all have a home, this will be a building up year, laying down the next level on the stable foundation. The prior two years were sheer survival. However, through it all, I never lost sight of my North Star. That’s the power of having a vision.

Life by design.

Whether it is recreating holiday traditions to align with changes, self-care, and compassion or embracing the joy of the traditions you have and share, be the creator of your life’s story. I don’t mean go write a memoir or imagine a better life. Know what you want to do or how you want to be, and create that life one step at a time. Acknowledge where you are and what your circumstances are but then look for ways to invite what you want to be part of your life.

December 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the phrase by design. It can be used in any manner — a label, a mantra, a story. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 31, 2019. 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.

 

By Design by Charli Mills

By design, my garden impressed. Every steppingstone measured, every bulb, seed, and root planted for maximum impact. In life, I did as I was expected. Good grades, college, spouse, suburban split-level, and two sons. On Sundays, I went to church.

Then my husband left me. My sons chose to live with him and his new wife, one without dirt under her nails. I moved into an apartment alone. Devastated. This wasn’t part of the plan. Where was God in this? Then I remembered the mustard seed. By design, I started over with a single planter and found my joy.

April 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

On March 29, Northern Lights flamed orange and gold over the Keweenaw. The sky colors raged like solar flares. These were no gentle green and blue sheets of shimmering arctic lights, but full expressions of Copper Country fusion. It came as no coincidence that 47 North raised the roof of the Continental Fire Company earlier that night.

Awakening began at 8 p.m. to a full house. The dance performances have grown in popularity, and the management had to open the upstairs bar and create a theater in the round perspective from above. My son-in-law opens every show as a theatric MC, grabbing attention with his voice and humor. The dancers opened with a remix of Wicked Game, a slow smoldering beat-heavy song that begins, “The world is on fire, and no one can save me but you.”

Each beat, the dancers popped in unison.

Pops are an under-appreciated element of belly dance. When most people hear the style, they think Mediterranean restaurants and women in sheer costumes swiveling hips and smiling for men. Not this troupe. 47 North Belly Dance is raq sharqi, Egyptian-style cabaret, ballet, hip-hop, and modern. They are fusion. And pops come from the ability to isolate muscles and control movement. They include the shape-shifting choreography of modern dance where dancers meld in and out of shapes with contrast and flow. Balletic grace infuses fiery strength. 47 North is a warrior tribe of strong female dancers.

After Wicked Game, I stepped onto the stage and read:

Welcome to the dark side: The black loamy soil from which crocus bulbs must break the surface. Before there can be spring, there must be winter. Life germinates in the dark, undulating to a restless energy, the manifestation of what comes next, a stirring felt by birds and bees and rising maple sap. On the stage dancers cast long shadows in the bright lights. They embrace the ancient rhythms, become the crocus spears beneath the surface. This too is part of life. The dance with darkness, the dance within shadows, the pre-emergence, incubation, propagation of winter absorbed by spring.

Two stories of bar chatter, clanking glasses and shaking ice creates a buzz I project over the top of like some Beat Generation poet, hustling literary art on the crowd. It’s not a typical reading venue, nor is it friendly. People don’t listen politely. It’s Friday night, and the party is underway. But I love this fusion of art, this opportunity to attend dance rehearsals, discuss meanings with choreographers and share a bit of their stage to read 99-word stories. I retreat to the shadows in the wings and two succubi, one short, one tall, dominates the stage, filling the space between their differences with an energy of seductive strength. This is not come-hither-boys seduction; it’s the dance of women owning their own sexuality.

The crowd roars and the fires are lit.

Throughout the evening the troupe dances from dark, sultry pieces that include bats to the in between stage we know so well on the Keweenaw  — before there is the daffodil spring we must endure the long melt of grit and snow-husks. We must crack the thinning ice. In Between, I read:

They chiseled their way into deep shafts, miners drilling through the basalt of a peninsula rich in copper. Men searching for copper. Women carve deep into the pits of their own souls to discover treasure within – the power to create, the power to renew. Spring awakens the miners. Tommy Knockers never stop searching in between dark and light. Fortune glistens in the returning light of spring to illuminate hidden veins held in the dark. Smell the musty earth and search for copper in your own blood. Plant a seed, pluck a stone. Spring has returned to Copper Country.

As MC, Solar Man entertains the crowd. He makes jokes: “Why did the belly dancer cross the road? She heard there were costumes on the other side.” We all laugh, but I’m not sure the crowd fully understands the troupe’s obsession with costumes which, like their dance style, is an eclectic mix to create vibrant visuals on stage. Hip belts are often the product of ripped leather coats resewn with cheap baubles and dime-store rhinestones. Tops are enhanced bras studded with costume jewelry, satin, and lace. Skirts are often scarves. Dancers use fans, veils, swords and golden canes to accent their costumes.

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The light dawns. The dances and costumes become more golden and glittery, the dances more joyous. This performance has been a full awakening. Before the finale, I have a point to make. One I want every artist to understand. We can strive to do our best, but no one is ever “the best” at art. You can tell the dancers, like my daughter in her high-and-tight buzz cut, that have trained for years in ballet. Grace imbues the way they hold their arms and necks. You can spot the dancers that flow with the music. You can compare ages, heights, and other numbers that hold no real meaning but are easy descriptors.

But you ‘d be hard pressed to agree on who is best.

I bring this up because writers often compare themselves to perceptions of best. Discipline doesn’t shape art, but play does. You can’t draft from the editor’s chair. You have to write first. After you write you can certainly improve. The trick is, you have to keep writing.  When you’ve amassed, then you can take a scalpel and practice precision. But keep writing. It becomes a dance. Pay too much attention to the other birds, and you can lose your will to chirp. Sing alongside the birds and add your unique voice, practicing the best you can do, not concerned about being the best bird.

Before the dancers took to the stage where they would  flow and  merge as small groups into one big group  with each dancer creating different movements, I read:

The Greatest Show on Earth returns in spring with birdsong. It has been said by ornithologists wiser than me that if only the best birds sang, the woods would be silent. How can we possibly define the best bird song anyhow? How can we say that the golden-wing warblers out-sing the piping plovers?  How can we deny the soul-stirring refrains of our favorite songs on the radio though yours and mine will differ? How can we not leave a live performance unchanged? The light has returned, and the birds have brought you out of the dark. Own your transformation.

47 North took to the stage and owned the transformation. The first time I saw them rehearse The Greatest Show, I cried. This troupe expressed how each dancer was different, but together they were stronger in their expression of art. They danced the way I feel when I arrange the collection of 99-word stories each week. I say this over an over, but it is true — art requires interaction. I might feel awesome writing my best, but it’s nothing if I don’t connect with others who read or hear it. Connecting when I’ve not written my best still feels more awesome than unacknowledged work. Unread, that’s what it is — my work. Shared, it becomes art.

The Continental Fire Company likes flash fiction. It’s because of my small readings they sponsored our Rodeo. The club manager always comes over to my chair in the shadows and explains how he likes the dances better with my stories, he feels drawn in to better understand what the performance means. Several people listen. Most talk. I don’t mind because the few who plug in, connect like a spark to fuel the flames.

But that night — March 29, 2019, those dancers took to the stage knowing one of their members was retiring to take a job out of town, and they all danced for her, with her, and for the mutual love of their shared art. The fire roared! The crowd caught it, ignited, and they roared back, feet pounding, hands clapping, hoots and hollers, whistles and trills. When the audience gave back the energy to the dancers, it was like a vortex opened up. It was a  rock-star moment, and the performance ended with a thundering standing ovation.

I don’t want to be “the best” writer. I just want to write the way those women danced!

Sunday followed the performance, and I had my first To Cultivate a Book retreat at the Ripley Falls Home of Hygge (or Healing). It’s a safe space to explore the creative life. I’m not here to tell someone the magic way to get published, the traditional way, the indie way. I’m here to listen. I meet writers where they are at, and I help them see what the terrain looks like. I help them plant and grow the book they envision. That’s the retreat part. Interspersed, I offered practical knowledge. Each attendee is working on an Author Action Plan that is cultivated to fit their book on their terms, knowing their options in the greater industry.

This is something I’ve felt called to do for a long time. Like all writers who face doubt, I wondered if it would be of value. Sunday I had my answer. Six women came together. Three had previously unshared works. Three felt called but had not figured out what their books were. I listened. I let my story-catcher out, and I caught nuggets to reveal as gems to each person. Seeing the fire light up in their eyes made my day!

Three of the women have serious books that each blew me away. I couldn’t believe they had not shared them, but then I understood. Our seedlings are fragile, and we must share with care lest someone stomp out the flames too soon. I felt like a book farmer, helping people grow the books they want, not necessarily the books they “should” write (unless of course, what they want is a book dictated by markets and readership).

Literary art is meant to be accessible, not put on a top  shelf for “the best.” Literary art has the power to move people just as dance can.

Keep your flame burning.

April 4, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fire. It can be a flame that burns or a light that inspires. Follow the flames and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 9, 2019. 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.

 

Hard to Take a Break (from Miracle  of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Fire spun a halo in the night sky. Danni’s stomach churned. Nothing more she could do tonight. She leaned against her Forest Service truck, away from the camp chatter. Some recruits buzzed from the adrenaline, fighting wildland fires for the first time. Nearby, the Canadian Bombardier pilot regaled his earlier flight to the crew of Australians newly arrived. Danni scanned the distant flames, feeling impatient. In 1910 they didn’t luxuriate in rest and strategy in shifts. Is this what Ike felt before he left –restless while others fought a war he had to watch burn from the sidelines?

March 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

Wolfric III has terrorized me all day. It began while soaping the breakfast dishes, rinsing a cup and spying a slight eminence below the drying rack in the second sink. A small hump of gray darker than the stainless steel about the size of a cast-off peel of avocado caught my eye. When I focused, I realized it was a massive wolf spider. Wolfric denotes the name we give the eight-legged beasts of the basement, adding the suffix for annual lineage. In other words, this is the third wolf spider I’ve seen since relocating to the Keweenaw. Well, third one in this house on Roberts Street.

Last October, while sequestered away with my friend and seafarer historian at a lightkeeper’s cottage on Eagle Harbor, I stirred up a resident wolf spider in the bathroom. When they move, they hustle like arachnid lightning. Without my glasses, the world blurs. Nothing is distinct, but I can catch movement. I was about to step into the shower when I thought a mouse was scurrying toward me. I screamed, scrambled backward, hitting the bathroom door which obliged my force of contact and opened, launching me naked into the dining room. My friend, around the corner in the kitchen, asked, “What’s that you say, Charli?”

Mumbling all was well, I bravely, and vulnerably stepped back into the bathroom, grabbed my glasses and faced the biggest wolf spider I had ever seen. They are poisonous, though hardly aggressive. Living up to their name, wolf spiders are hunters. I’m actually curious about them because they often seem calculating and keen. Reputedly they have far better eyesight than I do. My shower was quick that day, and later my friend and I laughed about her missing Charli Verses Spider Show.

Mona, my daughter and son-in-law’s cat, is tiny but mighty. She’s the most loving critter on our block, possibly in the whole universe. She greets every person who comes to our home on Roberts Street with purrs and snuggles. Mona cuddles the dogs, runs to greet the kids at night, and brushes against Sgt Mills to gain affection. Sometimes, her love runs over. Like when I’m trying to write, and she decides it’s the loving hour. Often she escapes to the basement to hunt the hunter. But being the lovable Mona she is, she’s never hurt Wolfric I, II, or III. I’ve found her with all four paws tucked beneath her, staring at Wolfric staring at her as if she’s keeping the beast company.

It’s not Wolfric’s fault he’s terrorized me. I’m not adverse to spiders, and I understand that his emergence is a cheerful omen of spring on the Keweenaw. I’d prefer he stay in the basement, however. My issue with wolf spiders, in particular, is their size and speed. It triggers one dandy of a panic attack deep in my amygdala. I took caution with WIII and finished loading the dishwasher. Any I washed by hand I carefully avoided dripping water over him. Throughout the day, as I drank water, sliced cheese for an afternoon snack, rotated our baby flower seedlings to sunny spots, and prepped dinner, my mind never released the presence of the spider trapped in the sink.

At last, Radio Geek and Solar Man arrived home. Sgt Mills has a long day of therapies on Thursdays, so he won’t be back until later. And he’d only tease me, calling me his “Cowardly Cowgirl” so I’d prefer asking our kids to help rescue Wolfric.

We’re in the kitchen, Radio Geek and me. I’m tentatively searching for Wolfric as she’s making a snack of popcorn. She has dance rehearsal for the big show at The Continental Fire Company on Friday, and my dinner of roast chicken and cauliflower won’t be done until after. She’s feeling peckish for a snack, and we are chatting. I’m getting nervous because I can’t see Wolfric and I don’t want him to startle me. He’s had me on edge all day. It’s hard to polish my flash fiction for the dance show with spiders on the brain.

Bravely, I bend over the sink, searching. I hear my daughter say in cautious tones, “Mom…Mom…”

All hell breaks loose in my mind. I think she’s spotted the spider and is trying to calmly warn me. This does not calm my heart which is now ready to burst from my sternum. The next instant slams me with unexpected pain. I distinctly feel a whump to my back, claws in my neck. My logical mind goes on instant hiatus. It’s wonderful to be an imaginative person except in instances like this. Without the backup of logic, I interpret that I’m under attack. The hunter has me, and I scream, and scream, and scream.

Through the fog of sheer terror, I hear my daughter howling in laughter. This grounds me, and I realize  I’m bucking and pitching around the kitchen, screaming my lungs out with Mona dug into my back. She figured since I was bent over the sink, it might be a good time to jump from the kitchen table to my shoulders,  She does this sometimes when I do dishes or cook. My feline parrot who nestles into my shoulders and purrs in my ear.

Mona is a cowgirl. That cat can ride.

When I realized what was happening, I slumped across the counter, the cat dropped to the floor, and I joined my daughter’s mirth, and we both laughed until we cried. When she had seen Mona perched, wobbling on her toes to make the leap, Radio Geek tried to warn me. I thought the spider had me. Wolfric had actually crawled into Solar Man’s coffee mug, and my daughter rescued him, releasing him on the kitchen floor.

I thought we agreed to set him outside. There’s only five feet of crumbling snow left. Ah, well, I step firmly into spring. If something emergent doesn’t frighten the life in me, it doesn’t seem like a transition. Spring roars in like a wolf spider or a bronc-riding cat.

Last Friday I coaxed Sgt Mills to go with me up the peninsula. We drove along the shoreline of Lake Superior, looking for signs.  No open water, but the ice is changing color, promising ice-off soon.

An artist couple who live on the lake announced the passage of three freighters, meaning the Coast Guard has cut the ice from the shipping lanes. A small group of friends celebrated Ostara, and we planted seeds together. Last Sunday, I attended the local Iranian community’s Norooz celebration and next month I’ll celebrate Easter. I feel like my candy basket is full of special treats. Hopefully, not spiders.

Once again, I’ll be adding 99-word literary art to a 47 North Dance Show (Awakening). That’s this Friday. Tomorrow! It’s about the transition from dark to light and the fusion of accepting both within ourselves.

On Sunday, I’m leading a writing retreat called To Cultivate a Book. It’s based on other workshops I’ve developed, but allows for continual growth both personally and professionally.

We have room for four more writers at the Carrot Ranch Writer’s Refuge in Vermont at D. Avery’s A-frame cabin in the woods near the Northeastern Kingdom. I’m excited to be living a life-long dream of working with writers in natural settings, experiencing literary art and nature as one. I’ll be adding more details and photos to the Refuge tab.

Let this encourage you to plant, grow, nurture, weed and harvest. No matter if your world is upside down because you live in the southern hemisphere or life sends you unexpected spiders, you can always plant what it is you want to grow.

Here are some photos I wanted to share  with you from last  Friday’s jaunt up the peninsula. Pressure ridges from freezing  waves and erupting sand have formed what look like ice-encased dunes, eminences that will crumble with warmer days, and persistent waves. It’s stunning, gritty and transformative:

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March 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that uses the word eminence. It’s a rich word full of different meanings. Explore how it sounds or how you might play with it. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 2, 2019. 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.

Find What Glints  (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Eminence of sand rolled across flats, forming dunes. Danni recalled following an old pioneer trail across the Forty Mile Desert of Nevada in her dad’s Jeep, top down, spring sun beating warmly. What was that he said? Turn around and look for the glints among the dunes. Every time he pulled over, Danni scrambled among the hollows of sand, sun to her back. She trotted toward the glints – a purple glass nob from a dresser, a marble, an obsidian arrowhead. Even today, trained as an archeologist, she heard her dad’s voice coaxing her to find the discards of history.

January 30: Story Challenge in 99-words

I was asked to mark this day on the calendar — Todd did the dishes. It’s his little joke and we are rolling in the jokes big, small, and best not repeated. When you are a brain-challenged former Army Ranger with PTSD, debilitating body pain, and comorbidities, you can have a questionable sense of humor. As the spouse who decided to stay on this sinking battleship, I’m allowed to laugh inappropriately, too.

Sometimes Todd does the dishes. Remarkably, he gathers all the garbage every week as the self-appointed trash czar. I’m not sure why he remembers the garbage every week but can’t remember the shipwreck YouTube video we watched last night. But there is something to be said for rhythm and patterns. If he has garbage collection imprinted on a solid spot in his brain, he can go for it.

I was serious when I told him that my one and only concern is to be happy.

When his mood slips or his triggered brain needs a reset, I remind him of the happiness threshold. It’s enough to get through to him. The simplicity works. I just want to be happy, I say. No longer do I track episodes or worriedly watch for signs of escalation. I grab the happiness sheers and nip the negativity in a way he understands and (gratefully) agrees to. I note if he’s hurting, tired, hungry, or Mause-frazzled.

My caregiver skills have grown since I was accepted into the VA program at the end of 2021. And, I’ve added new tools to my mental health toolkit that align with my ambition to be happy — positive psychology (not to be confused with Pollyanna or toxic positivity because neither are authentic cultivations of a positive mindset). It aligns with the appreciative inquiry I’ve cultivated in my career. Let me explain both because the latter is vital to understanding the mission at Carrot Ranch, and the former has become a tool to nourish my writer’s life.

In the 1990s, I discovered appreciative inquiry, and it changed how I approached my college education and resulting career as a marketing communicator and successful freelance writer. Until my mid-20s, I sucked as a student. I didn’t know how to study. I didn’t understand why my writing was considered “good” and I hid inside books, dreaming of discoveries I felt I couldn’t make because schooling was a barrier to me. Back then, I was committed to cognitive behavioral therapy, how to heal as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and break generational cycles. I knew I had c-PTSD. I also had three incredible children and a hero for a husband. They were my incentive to be well. Appreciative inquiry became my ladder out of what I called pit-thinking.

The pit might be filled with all my hardships, weaknesses, and human flaws but the ladder was built from my strengths. Each rung taught me to appreciate who I am. As the saying goes, “Energy flows where the focus goes.” When I learned to appreciate my strengths, a foundation emerged. I built a solid education, career, and writing life from that base. In the workplace, I used appreciative inquiry to build strengths-based teams and projects. From the start, I saw the possibility of play and collaboration at Carrot Ranch. Each week, the Collections prove to me the magic of collaborative creativity (even when the collecting goes awry).

Positive psychology popped up on my radar when I sought support to continue with the veteran spouse group after the regional Vet Center abandoned our remote outpost in the Keweenaw. Our fearless combat leader moved on to a justice job within the VA hospital south of here and we were promised by her superiors that her position would be filled. They lied, which is immensely harmful to a veteran population suffering from moral injury. We have a high number of Vietnam veterans and their families living in our area who helped start the Vet Centers across America because they distrusted the US government so deeply. Thus, it damaged many when their legacy organization left them and lied about replacement.

“It’s happened so many times before in the past 24 years, I lost count,” says one Vietnam veteran spouse. I only meant to stand in the gap until we could get another group going. But the Vet Center remains closed down, their flags, posters, and brochures about their promise to vets abandoned in a mostly empty shopping mall. Over winter break, I created a syllabus of sorts for my Warrior Sisters. We are back to meeting weekly every Friday. One every other week we lunch and write letters to our shut-ins. On alternate weeks we Zoom to allow greater access for those who can’t go out. The VA Caregiver Support Program is great but far away. We need closer interaction.

That’s when I found and purchased an online positive psychology workbook to incorporate videos, worksheets, and practical tools to cultivate a positive mindset. The definitions help us recognize and honor our resiliency, too. If you are interested in this path for yourself, you can start with this in-depth article and a list of references (mostly books). It helps me stay centered in my quest to be happy in this grand adventure I call my writing life (where lots of unintentional non-writing things happen).

I needed deep breathing and a positivity exercise after last week’s collecting, that’s for sure. The stories stirred, surprised, and inspired me but the snafus with collecting chomped me like a coyote on a ski slope. The situation is what it is for now, and I’m doing my best, staying close to the happy side of life. What was lost was restored. The new website is out for at least another month, so be patient with me, and don’t hesitate to speak up if your story is missing.

A new path slowly emerges. I see familiar faces and places, but the flow has changed. Do you feel it, too? I wonder what future historians will call this period in time? I wonder what will shift in our writing? Refind the path if you’ve awoken in the weeds. Roll over and remember the joy of finding shapes in clouds or peering into the blue eye of the sky. A writer’s life is made up of cyclical seasons anyhow. If the writing calls to you, then write. If not, read, dream, and readjust the vision. It’ll come back.

And, mark this day in your calendar. Todd did the dishes.

January 30, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the dishes. It can be the every-single-day activity, a precious collection, or any other interpretation of dishes as objects or activities. Who is stuck with the dishes and why? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 4, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes 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.

January 23: Story Challenge in 99-words

Optimism needs care and feeding. It’s as fragile and mighty as a chickadee faced with enduring heaps of winter snow. They dart from one bare tree to another in search of the seeds they need to sustain them. Where they go on snowy days, I do not know. Optimism can slip away like that, too. A seed here, a seed there, and then hard times force me to shelter, forgetting the hunt for sustenance.

Is optimism necessary?

My answer is yes. Optimism gives me hope for the future despite the past. Optimism gives me roots in the here and now; a practice of mindfulness. When I think of possibilities, I can overcome problems. Like where to find seeds in sparse times. Optimism is why I believe in unicorns.

I created a Unicorn Room because I needed space for optimism. I craved a sanctuary where I could breathe, stretch, talk to the Ancestors, and map novels. If unicorns exist they exist in the form of possibilities worth seeking. First I painted the room pale pink, then I filled it with things to brighten the shine of optimism.

Magic unfolded in the way of synchronicity. Unicorns emerged. The first miracle of the room was completing my MFA. The second came when I overcame a spinal injury to cultivate yoga again. During dark times when optimism flitted dim like a hunkered chickadee, I learned to breathe through it and sit with my fears. When optimism rose, so did synchronicity. My room now houses treasure like a magic wand from my dad who is a mountain man (apparently he’s discovered Amazon from his remote high desert ranges). And a glass globe from Africa to ward off the evil eye. Not that I had been thinking about such things, but the gift is from an octogenarian whom I admire greatly. She once danced with Katherine Dunham and in a voodoo troupe with a python. My unicorns are highly protected.

When I think of the magic of unicorns, I consider the words of an American author an activist:

“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”

Helen Keller

I want to explore and discover and never stop learning. My over-arching goal in life is to be happy. Optimism can be cultivated and shared. Though the Vet Center has abandoned our local veteran community, I made sure my Warrior Sisters stayed connected. This year, while no offers to help us have emerged, I’ve purchased materials to spend the year focusing our veteran spouses’ group on developing an optimistic mindset. It’s something these long-haulers of caregiving to Vietnam veterans know about naturally. They are resilient. But they also deserve to be lifelong learners, too.

It’s a long and rich article, but you too can join us in our journey to optimism by learning more about positive psychology. I’ve never been interested in the Pollyanna kind of fake optimism because the authentic mindset is real. It’s work to cultivate, but worth the effort. After all, there are unicorns of possibility at the end of the mindfully constructed rainbow.

Even the earth holds onto hope. If Greta Thurnberg demanded of me an answer to what I’m doing about climate change, I’d take her to meet my Anishinaabe friend, Kathy Smith (holding the Water Walkers’ Eagle STaff). To witness a tribe regain their teachings is like watching a buckaroo saddle up a horned horse. It seems like magic but it is really the hard work of optimism to follow the path of caring for earth like kin.

We need to find our way back to center as humanity, seed by seed. In a brilliant book that reminds us of the power of hope, Celeste Ng (pronounced “ing”) has released her latest novel, Our Missing Hearts. Recommended by my mentor, Sharon Blackie, I didn’t hesitate to select the novel for my current ENG 103 class at Finlandia University. Listening to Celeste’s beautiful writing on audiobook has become an optimism tonic for me weekly. I’m also blessed with some deep thinking and feeling students this semester.

I’m buoyant with possibility in the uncertainty of right now.

A note that might bring relief or joy to some who blog — I’m lifting the no-links ban on the Challenge posts. It fizzled as an experiment. Please keep in mind, not all writers at Carrot Ranch are bloggers and I do not consider this space to be a blog but rather a literary community. There are intersections between the Ranch, the Keweenaw, and the publishing industry at large that remain unseen but give us all possibilities for connecting through literary art.

If you are going to share your links, please add meaning through thoughtful discourse. This is not a blog hop. Do not get your pants in a bunch if others do not go to your blog (this is not a blog hop). We have a strong and loyal readership at the Ranch who genuinely enjoy the stories and many have indeed found their way to your blogs and books. You are well-served to promote outside this community to find new readers (especially your specific target readers) through your participation here. For example, if you are published in the collection, add that to your author credibility and use it to bring new readers to your blogs or websites.

Keep our community space accessible and optimistic for all literary enthusiasts. Our weekly challenges are meant to cultivate a weekly creative writing practice and our collections remain fascinating curations of endless creative expression. It is a simple but optimistic premise for writers. We make literary art accessible in 99 words. Go write, read, and shine!

January 23, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that is optimistic. Feel free to explore optimism in all its forms from a positive mindset to toxic positivity. Is it a heartfelt story or a devious one? So much wiggle room for the optimistic writer. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 28, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes 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.

Naked Gardening

Gardening in the buff has led to unexpected stories.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

The Other Edward Carpenter by Anne Goodwin

In another life, he’d freed his feet from the tyranny of shoe leather. Liberated his limbs from linen’s law. He’d felt a lightning flash of revelation, commanding him to shed convention’s carapace with his clothes.

In that life, Edward was a naturist, a socialist, a feminist, an environmentalist and vegetarian. Rambler, recycler, smallholder, author, philosopher and openly gay man. Alas, his current life shrinks him to a single label, distorts his passions with its disapproving prism. His psychiatrist, arriving unannounced to find him gardening naked, observes a symptom of his schizophrenia diagnosis and feels compelled to up his meds.

🥕🥕🥕

Pages by Reena Saxena

I’m so sure she has written about me in her book – all those secrets I wouldn’t want the world to know. I’ll find a way to sue her. My lawyer has been sounded off…

I retreat to the farm house to read it – almost afraid the secrets will spill out of pages in the public eye.

I look hard for myself in the pages, with a magnifying glass. All I find is bits and parts of her I’d never seen before.

I wonder how a shy person like her can expose her soul. I’d never seen it, and now.

🥕🥕🥕

Pieces by Rebecca Glaessner

Motes danced in the morning’s first sweltering rays. Hektor savoured two plain, poached eggs, resolving to take some home one day.

His mind’s eye showed his home’s rituals, worlds away, mrul-filled bowls steaming. He smelled its comforting decadence.

Soon.

Outside, planting seedlings, Hektor trained his mind toward his Earthen students, out too, exploring, growing.

He smiled. Like sprouts, humans also need their sunlight.

Then, his mind darkened.

Something distant, unseen, entered the atmosphere.

His pot crashed on pavement.

Blind, disconnected.

Utterly naked.

Stranded among a world of human sprouts, Hektor gathered the broken pot and got to work.

🥕🥕🥕

Without a Hat by Norah Colvin

The farmer was out standing in the field when, one day, a wind whipped up and snatched his hat, tossing it into the air. It swooped over the garden beds as if playfully daring, ‘Come catch me.’ But the farmer couldn’t catch the hat which had been a fixture on his head for countless years. Everyone said he looked naked without it, but no other hat would do. Without it, he wilted in sun’s heat and sagged in rain. As the parading seasons took their toll, he disintegrated and decomposed, continuing to nourish the garden in a new way.

🥕🥕🥕

Naked Gardening by Liz Husebye Hartmann

It was Mabel’s favorite roadside stand, with unbeatable seasonal produce. Lettuce, firm and delicate, and tomatoes glowing with morning dew and midday sun were so flavorful, a scanty splash of vinegar and virgin olive oil defined perfection. The berries were bright with cool moonlight and damp lake winds dancing over pine and shrub.

Then Elsie, the source garden’s matriarch, had died of COVID from an unmasked customer. Some said the heirs started using chemicals to boost yield.

Mabel checked the rumors with her extra-sensitive skin. Under a moonless sky, she stripped down and lay amongst the lettuces.

And smiled.

🥕🥕🥕

Sherlock by C E Ayr

I am tending my marrows, feeling more confident than ever of capturing the Vegetable of the Year Trophy at the Helton-on-Clyde Garden Festival.
My wife always laughed at me when I said I’d do anything to win.
But this new fertiliser, a secret to all except myself, has made such a difference.
A quiet cough makes me turn my head.
Sherlock Holmes, accompanied by Dr Watson, is studying me.
The Great Detective’s first question strips me naked, and tells me that I’m heading for the gallows.
Do you think that your produce is quite suitable for vegetarians, he asks.

🥕🥕🥕

Defended the Defenseless by JulesPaige

Lone
Fallen
Lettuce seed
Nestled in the
Driveways’ edge, last year, caught a break and grew

Naked little leaves unfolded in spring
After a rain,
Glistened, called
“See me!”
There

Cute!
Of course
Saving this
Plant became a
Priority – in the garden it went

Just today with the grandchildren helping
We added some
New lettuce
Little
Seeds

Looking at my raised garden, folks might actually think I knew what I was doing. I’m winging it. I’ve got some Bok Choy, rainbow and yellow peppers, some herbs, and of course the lettuce. Watching these plants grow makes my heart sing.

🥕🥕🥕

A Brush with Passion by Doug Jacquier

She was so provocative that she put new meaning into garden hoe. Draped across the trellis, she flaunted her nascent fecundity, exposing her femininity to his blushing gaze. Her rampant, unfettered, unproductive growth bore witness to his failure to fulfil his most earnest desire, which was to sup on the nectar of the gods.
He knew what he must do but his hand trembled at the very thought of such intimacy. Nonetheless. he steeled himself to the task and dipped his paintbrush into her stamen and coated her beckoning pistil and imagined the future ecstasy of his passion fruit.

🥕🥕🥕

New Neighbor by Anita Dawes

I admit I don’t like gardening, but
I like walking through other people’s gardens,
Admiring all their hard work.
I believe gardeners are a breed apart
Like the sudden sight of a rainbow,
Their joy is palpable.
Today, I am sitting on my porch
Overlooking my neighbours garden
He is new to the neighbourhood
In his mid-twenties, built like a Greek God.
The day was hot, I sat there praying
For a coco-cola advert to appear before my eyes.
He stripped down to his shorts
I reached out for a glass of cold water
Which made my eyes steam…

🥕🥕🥕

Morning View by Joanne Fisher

In the morning Cindy quickly got out of bed and went outside to check her new herb garden. Yesterday she had planted some basil, mint, sage, and parsley by the homestead, and that was only the beginning of her plans for it.

“Whatcha doing my love?” Jess asked as she came outside onto the porch drinking some coffee. Cindy looked up at her.

“I’m just checking to see how the herbs I planted yesterday are doing.” Cindy told her.

“It’s not that I don’t admire the view, but don’t you think you should have put some clothes on first?”

🥕🥕🥕

Barely Cultivated by Bill Engleson

“He really knows his stuff, Harry. Has a feel for soil, for showing newbies the ropes.”

“But, Walt, he’s also been showing his STUFF. Some of the guys don’t mind, not that they’d say anything, but we’ve got some fairly prim and proper…ladies…can I say ladies?”

“Of course, you can say ladies. I don’t mind.”

“Fine! Ladies. Women. And even some of the guys. People bring their kids. Their Grandkids. It’s not right.”

“Okay, it’s just, you know, Sunshine in The Buff Acres, the local Nudist Club…it got sold. After forty-five years. Our Community Garden was his only option.”

🥕🥕🥕

Gardening Naked by Susan Joy Clark

Kendra handed her neighbor, Irene, a pair of gardening shears, handles first, over the garden fence, then screamed.

“What are you screaming about?”

“You … you’re naked! I can not unsee that.” Kendra covered her eyes.

“It’s World Naked Gardening Day, and I’m in my own private yard. It’s liberating. You should try it.”

There’s a day on the calendar for everything! “Uh … no, no thanks. I’m good over here. Carry on.”

Before long, Kendra hears a kerfuffle, then a scream.

“Why are you screaming?”

“Bees! Bees! The whole hive is after me!”

🥕🥕🥕

Slip Up by Charli Mills

An early summer scorcher in the Great Basin robbed the buckaroos of their appetite. Bev wasn’t about to see her gang shrivel in the sun unfed. She sliced cold cuts and tomatoes and packed almonds and dried apricots for the trail. Wilfred, the ranch foreman raised a wooly eyebrow but kept silent. He advised everyone to tank up on water and required they carried canteens. After Bev cleaned the cookshack she headed for the garden, feeling sluggish. Later she’d claim she slipped in a pile of fresh horse apples when the crew returned early to find her gardening naked.

🥕🥕🥕

Naked Gardening by FloridaBorne

Such a silly concept; naked gardening. Not a fan of squatting that close to soil without something between my derriere and the dirt.

Yes, I know vegetables aren’t grown in grocery stores, and meat doesn’t show up in the butcher shop already sliced, wrapped and priced. Someone has to tend the farms. But(t)… naked?

What’s next… people attending church naked? I don’t want to sit on any public seating where someone else’s squishy bodily fluids await.

With good fortune, nudity, corsets, and stiletto’s will be thrown on the garbage dump of ridiculous fashion ideas — while comfortable clothing prevails.

🥕🥕🥕

Lunch and Munch Garden Club by Saifun Hassam

Hi fellow gardeners!

Time for our weekly weedin’ and diggin’ and pickin’!

And for planting tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.

We’ll be meeting in the Veggie Patch as per our normal Saturday time, from 10 am to 2 pm.

Lunch will consist of salami and cheese sandwiches, veggie pizza.

Our very fresh garden salad.

Also Stella’s special “Barely Barley Soup.”

Choice of cherry torte, chocolate cake, coffee, tea, orange juice & bottled water.

Bring spades and veggie peelers.

For our very fresh salad, we’ll be digging up carrots and radishes,
picking zucchini and peapods.

Lettuce looks ready.

No dressing required.

🥕🥕🥕

Selective Forgetfulness by Sue Spitulnik

When Tessa and her mother arrived at Lexi’s country home, they found her and Emma outside, sitting in the baby’s wading pool, sans clothing.
Lexi said, “Hi. I got some garden planted, but then Emma woke up. When I brought her out here, she kept crawling toward the pool. I was sweaty, so we both got in.”
Tessa smiled. “I can see that.”
Jenny was shocked. “I heard them talking about Gardening Naked Day on the radio this morning, but I didn’t think anyone would do it.”
Tessa responded. “Mom, should I bring up Woodstock stories.”
“That was different!”

🥕🥕🥕

Hank’s Tomatoes by Michael Fishman

Every year folks waited for some of Hank’s Brandywines. Don’t know how he does it, some said. Best tomato ever, said others.

When August rolled around and no one had seen Hank or his tomatoes folks worried. It’s the virus, some said. He’ll be around soon, said others.

Then Mrs. Murphy looked out her window one moon-filled evening and saw Hank weeding her flowerbed in the nude and that was that.

After Hank’s mind twisted the town fell quiet. Everyone offered sad, tight-lipped smiles.

Life happens, they all said while saying a prayer for Hank.

And one for themselves.

🥕🥕🥕

Drinking While Pruning by Pete Fanning

You hear about Lewis?

No. What now?

Awful.

Yeah?

He was trying to prune back the cherry tree. The one by his house?

Doesn’t seem odd.

Gladys said he’d been drinking. He was hot, so he stripped down.

Like, naked?

Naked as he came.

Wow.

He’s going on about the limbs, said they were messing with his satellite reception.

I don’t think it was the tree.

He’s got the shears, but then, no ladder. So he drags out the neighbor’s trampoline—

Wait, what?

–and he’s jumping, trying to, you know…

Don’t tell me.

Pruned his own cherries.

Ouch.

🥕🥕🥕

Garden Club Party by Kerry E.B. Black

Fiona covered her eyes. “What are you doing?”

Her brother, Ian, lifted weights. “Getting ready for the party.”

“What party?”

“You know the hot chick across the street?”

Fiona crossed her arms. “The woman who just moved in?”

“Yeah, her. She’s started a garden club.”

“You don’t garden.”

Ian leapt to the chin-up bar. “Thought…” pulled himself up, “I’d try…” chin-up, “Something new.”

“But where’re your clothes?”

“Read the invitation. Printed right there, ‘Come to the Buff Garden Club Party.’ Now, I’ve got to shower.”

Fiona wondered when he’d notice the name on the mailbox. It read, “The Buffs.”

🥕🥕🥕

Bare by Matt Wester

We are not your typical gardening group. When the last applicant joked that he was layered like an onion, we told him to get out. We don’t do layers here. We know you have nothing unless you get to the heart of the artichoke. Hear me? Raw vegetables only. We only want you if you know that everything but the root is decoration. We bare it all to bear it all and that’s why we call it naked gardening. So if you’re not willing to get dirty and tell the truth then get gloved and find some other group.

🥕🥕🥕

Under the Full Moon by Colleen M. Chesebro

The moon’s glow washed over my garden, lighting up the angelica, feverfew, and mugwort shimmering with healing energy. I gathered my tools and prepared for my early summer gardening ritual. I stripped naked and danced under the full moon.

My garden produced an amazing number of herbs from this tradition. I sold these herbs for sacred baths, teas, and tinctures, and even sewed them into spell bags.

Naked gardening imbued my herbs with strong magick. For years, I’d kept this secret under wraps—literally! Until today when a camera flash exploded in front of me! My secret was out!

🥕🥕🥕

Exposed by D. Avery

“I’m too fat!”

She didn’t think so, though it was hard to tell through Amanda’s bulky clothes.

“Amanda, it’s your choice, but remember, part of World Naked Gardening Day for us has always been about being comfortable with our own bodies, of celebrating the naturalness of them.”

Maybe Amanda also craved the normalcy that the unusual family tradition offered because she eventually did join them.

How had she not noticed?

Keeping a brave face through the planting, trying not to stare at the sharp collarbone and raised ribs, she determined to call their physician regarding anorexia that very day.

🥕🥕🥕

Naked and Afraid by Donna

once, long, long ago
a man and a woman
ate fruit from the tree of knowledge
and what was this knowing they ate?
nakedness, vulnerability
sharp thorns cutting their feet
sun burning their eyes
shame at their sexual differences

soon, they left this garden
into the world, they went
naked and afraid

and a battle ensued
they covered themselves
animal skin over human skin
eyes averting the nakedness
words deflecting kinship
the man and woman
barriers between them

until, at last
some began to see
with new eyes, new understanding
it is only by our exposure
we can connect

🥕🥕🥕

Kid and Pal Hangin’ Out by D. Avery

“Aaahhhggg! Ain’t never wanted ta see this side a ya Kid.”
“Hey Pal.”
“Not thet side neither! Kid, why’re ya gardenin’ in yer birthday suit?”
“Almanac says plant by a full moon. Mmm, feel that loam ‘twixt yer bare toes.”
“I’ll jist take ma boots off.”
“Sunbeams sure feel good on yer belly.”
“Mebbe ma shirt.”
“Ahh, breeze in my hair.”
“Yer hair? Yer wearin’ yer hat. Oh. I see. Jeez Kid. Feels good though?”
“Yep.”
“Mebbe this is whut them writers mean ‘bout pantsin’. Ok, they’re off. Mmmm. I feel powerfully vulnerable.”
“Own it, Pal. Cultivate yer power.”

🥕🥕🥕

March 11 Flash Fiction Challenge

Since Mause came to live with us, I keep the Unicorn Room closed. She likes to beleaguer the unicorns. When I open the door, the smell of smoked herbs releases endorphins; my mind readies to meditate. I’ve learned to establish daily rituals around my creativity, writing, and self-care. Ritual can be anything from sitting with a devotional and mug of hot coffee to smudging the four directions to walking with the rising sun. It’s simply any process you repeat to connect inward before going outward into your day. The seasons change our rituals, as do the days of the week.

We writers are multidimensional beings.

The Unicorn Room is sacred space. The kind any seven-year-old girl would love and feel safe. When I was a child and didn’t feel safe, I often hid in closets. Even today, I love to hunker into a down sleeping bag and tuck my head inside. As an adult, I’ve craved my own space which I carved out in strange ways, sharing space with family and critters — my end of the couch next to a bookshelf where I could set a cup of tea and store my writing journals; my side of the bedroom kept neat and tidy with inspirational art; the kitchen where food becomes art and love.

My home on Roberts Street has a room for me. The walls are shell-pink, a lavender shag rug covers the hardwood floor, purple script encourages me to “Read, Dream, Write, Breathe, and Play,” and a bookshelf holds my collection of rocks. One wall is dedicated to planning novels, and tapestries and a unicorn quilt decorate the remainder. I like to smudge, play meditative music, and sit on my purple meditation pillow. I use the Calm app to meditate. From where I sit and breathe, I can contemplate my W-story board with goals and progress and my giant vision board that shows character arc and plot. A single tall window with a gauze turquoise curtain allows light and air. Best of all, I can close the door.

Mause joins me in meditating. Every morning, when I rise I set the kettle to boil. I prepare a cup of hot lemon water with a pinch of chipotle, a dab of honey, and a teaspoon of dried elderberry. It’s my morning anti-Covid cocktail based on an anti-viral health tonic. I have no proof it works, but it cleans my kidneys and offers a dose of immunity support. Not to mention, it’s tasty. At the same time, I brew a press pot of coffee and let it steep while I go to the Unicorn Room with a puppy fast on my heels.

Usually, said puppy barks at me when I smudge. When I last walked with the People of the Heart Water Walkers, we took turns smudging each other. If someone felt frustrated, another would say, “Burn the sage!” The smell reminds me of the West where I rode my horse as a kid. Sagebrush is a part of me. But I’m also aware that the popularity of sage smudging raises ethical issues of use. I only burn that which is gifted to me from those who grow it or traditionally harvest it as medicine. This year I will grow my own smudge sticks from garden herbs. No matter the smoke, Mause barks. She’d be a pain if I chain-smoked!

My latest meditation essentials include a jar of chewy puppy treats, a clicker, a small puppy chew, and a rope carrot. If you want to test your ability to relax under any conditions, meditate with a puppy. With the treats and clicker, I’ve taught Mause, “Downward Dog.” She collapses across my legs or lap. I make her “Wait… wait… wait…,” taking deep breaths each command. Eventually, she settles down and by the time I get to my Daily Calm, she’s either out like a light or out the door.

My writing rituals include clearing my desk, filling my water bottle with cold tap, and looking at my weekly calendar with tasks, goals, and small steps. By the time I turn on my computer, I’m sucked into a vortex like a portal to another world. Mause is my anchor to the real world. Puppies don’t let you venture far without them. But she does like to curl up on my chest — a difficult feat as she now weighs 25 pounds and stretches out three feet — and listen to my heart. In a Covid world, I’m grateful for the warm snuggle.

A friend of mine makes ritual of coffee every morning. Another sits with her prayer list. My next door neighbor used to be a postal carrier, and he follows the ritual of a morning walk. Rituals can form habits. And writers need habits to create, process, draft and revise. It’s too easy to put off writing when our brains feel like pea soup. We cultivate small increments and squirrel away safe spaces so that we can come to it every day. We make it a ritual so we easily fall into the pattern of use.

On my way out of the Unicorn Room this morning, I tinkered with my poetry board, words on magnets. One phrase caught me — “deep wishes.” I an instant I followed a storm of dandelion seeds and swooshed below the earth’s crust in an ore cart to a crystalline cave. I thought I’d see where writers would dive with the phrase.

March 11, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about deep wishes. Where is the deep — in the sky, the ground, or outer space? What kind of wishes reside there for whom and why? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 16, 2021. 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.

Waiting to Rise by Charli Mills

Lake Superior doesn’t freeze flat like a pond. She’s a non-conformist to the ways of domesticated bodies of water. Into the night, she goes screaming, waves punching with each yell. She thrashes, her hips undulating with deep wishes unfulfilled. When they force her into cold compliance, she fights back. The shock of winter marriage doesn’t smooth her wild edges. Ice grabs hold, insistent, freezing her shoreline, paralyzing her economy. She plunges deep and draws her strength, cracking the façade they give her. Ice fractures over and over. Wishes caught and released, shared among women waiting their turn to rise.

🥕🥕🥕

Saddle Up Saloon; Carrot Cartin’ Characters Ain’t No Caricatures

Saddle Up Saloon

“Well Howdy. Welcome ta the Saddle Up Saloon. This here’s Kid, I’m Pal.”

“Hello. Jess.”

“Cindy.”

“Jess. Cindy. Yer lookin’ a might lost. Ya’ll on walkabout, from last week?”

“Walkabout? No, we’re not from Australia, we’re from New Zealand. We’re looking for Carrot Ranch.”

“Ya ranchers, are ya?”

“Not exactly. Our writer ranches, you know, responds regularly. We’re farmers.”

“Oh. What d’ya grow?”

“Corn mostly, but we’re interested in diversifying, heard the ranch was open to that.”

“Corn’s all ya need ta be growin’!”

“Shush, Ernie, yer jist thinkin’ a yer corn liquor. Farmers an’ folks should cultivate an’ celebrate diversity.”

“Dees ees true, Keed. I suggest a legume to fortify de soil after de corn.”

“Figgers, Pepe LeGume. Yer always advercatin’ fer beans.”

“Dere are other legumes. You could geev peas a chance.”

“Yes! I like the sounds of that! What do you think Cindy?”

“I think you won’t want to hear this, Jess, but I’m seeing faeries scampering along the bar.”

“Cindy. Not here.”

“Umm, them’s our chapfaeries. We got kinda a infestation ya might say. They mostly hang out out back by the Poet-tree.”

“Is that where the portal is?”

“Ya could say so, Cindy. It’s a portal ta poetry, buckaroo-ku an’ the like. Don’t mind ‘em, they’s harmless.”

“Oh, I know. Jess, this seems like a good place. Ask them what they think of your carrot crop.”

“Ya got a crop a carrots do ya?”

“Well, yes, like I said, we want to diversify at our farm.”

“Shorty’s the expert on carrots aroun’ here, but seems ta me ya gotta think ‘bout marketin’.”

“Shorty’s the expert on thet too. Kid’s right though, an’ they sure is plenny a carrots aroun’ these parts. But ya’ve come a long way. Whyn’t ya show us what ya got.”

“Whoaaaa! Look’t ‘em Pal! Why them carrots is ever’ color a the rainbow!”

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“By gosh, ya’ll got diverse carrots! Bet yer husbands is mighty impressed with yer farmin’ abilities.”

“Ha! Husbands?”

“I see ya each gotta band on yer ring finger.”

“And you assumed. Not all carrots are orange, Pal.”

“And not all marriages are either.”

“Reckon yer right, both a ya. Sorry ‘bout my ‘sumptions.”

“Hey, mebbe we kin git Shorty ta feature more’n the typical orange carrot ‘roun the ranch.”

“Good idea, Kid. Jess, what other ideas ya got fer diversifyin’ yer farm?”

“I’d really like to raise alpaca.”

“I’ll pack a cooler!”

“Shush Ernie! You were sayin’?”

“Alpaca. A herd of them.”

“I’ve heard a them. Little llama like things.”

“Woolly? That’s be anuther fine addition ta the ranch! Reckon Shorty’d ‘dentify more with alpaca than llamas, too, ‘cause they’re, you know… shorter.”

“Jess, Cindy, don’t you sell yersefs short. Seems like yer already doin’ right by thet farm a yers. Ya do an’ it’ll do right by you. D’versifyin’ yer crops an’ sech will make yer farm more resourceful an’ resilient. Agri-Culture— culture of the field. Wish folks could see thet cultivatin’ d’versity an’ weedin’ out intolerance is good fer ever’one.”

“Thank you Pal, well said. Right Cindy? Cindy? Pal, where’d Cindy and Kid go off to?”

“There they are, out back at the Poet-tree, with them chapfaeries flittin’ about. It’s been real good gittin’ ta know both you an’ yer wife better, Jess. Yer colorful carrots has given me somethin’ ta chomp on.”

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“Yep, folks, if’n yer lookin’ fer a extra prompt, write some verse ’bout d’versity. Any kinda verse’ll do, jist leave it or a link in the comments. Oh, here’s Kid back from the Poet-tree.”

 

Communities should be like ecosystems

Knit together to carry weights might be shiftin’

When one has ta set back

another picks up the slack

All pullin t’gether, never jist one does the liftin’.

 

It ain’t a weakness or wrong

Ta see d’frences as d’frent ways ta be strong

We’re each part of a Whole

The breath of Earth’s Soul

Each singin’ a verse in a single shared Song

 

So don’t matter d’ya ‘dentify farmer or rancher

Or ‘dentify as plodder or prancer

Jist be yer best you

Good things will ensue

Sometimes we’re all both question and answer.

 

Jess and Cindy hang out in Joanne the Geek’s blog: https://jedigirlblog.wordpress.com/ which is run by Joanne Fisher who lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She writes fiction, flash fiction, poetry, and the occasional article. Last year she completed writing two novels, and is currently looking for a publisher. In the past she had a collection of poetry published under a slightly different name. She tries to make her blog a fun creative space where she can experiment with different styles and formats. Her Facebook page for her blog is https://www.facebook.com/Joanne-the-Geek-137136437008772.

 

If asked, Pal & Kid will deny that they spill from the pen of D. Avery. They claim to be free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch and now serve up something fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon. If you or your characters are interested in saddling up for a wild ride as a saloon guest, contact them via averydede.1@gmail.com.