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November 28: Story Challenge in 99-words

We gnawed the turkey bones clean after we soaked the twenty-pound bird in a Riesling and herbs brine, slid sage and butter beneath its skin, and roasted it for five hours. Turkey sandwiches with a slather of mayo and cranberry sauce consoled me after my children flew away. Once again, the nest is empty.

The visit was divine.

Bug and her partner, Josh, arrived from Montana the Sunday before Thanksgiving. They had flown to the states earlier to attend a good friend’s traditional Indian wedding in Washington, DC. Then, they returned to their properties and stuff in storage in Montana. It’s complicated living overseas on an arctic achipelago but they do well. It’s been five long years since I had seen my favorite middle daughter.

My favorite eldest daughter and I waited up until 1 am before their plane finally landed on the Keweenaw Peninsula. We were giddy! We hugged, hugged, and hugged some more. The couple stayed at the Ghost House Farm and I was there every day. Todd got to visit, too and by the grace of the brain gods, he handled the week well.

On Wednesday, my favorite son, Kyle, and his wife, Leah, drove over from Wisconsin. The siblings were like a reunited pack of pups. Mause was beside herself. She barked at first. She recognizes Allison, but the other two smelled of faraway places, one of polar bears, the other of cheese. Mause adjusted. We had everything from a 100-year-old recipe of enchiladas to cast-iron Brussels with bacon and Parmesan. Thanksgiving fit as the final meal unless you count pie and leftovers at breakfast the next day.

We puzzled. The kids brought me a gift on Wednesday as I was cooking all day — a puzzle with pieces that feel like velvet. The colors are matte so there is no glare. It’s a game-changer. Speaking of games, I lost every one I played but I could not be happier. It’s been so long since we all chased sheep as Settlers of Catan. We played Scrabble, and they all marveled over my kayaking/camping Scrabble board. And, of course, the Ghost House favorite — Wingspan.

The house is quiet and decorated for Solstice (when flights and cars depart, I turn to decorating and Trans Siberian Orchestra for solace). Mause whines. I tell her they will not be away for so long again. I tell her we can go visit the dog park or her farm cousins. I’m so blissed out and blessed to have had the time to be fully present to my grown children.

Alas, the transition back to teaching and tutoring at Finlandia has returned quickly. I have no idea why, but the silly phrase, “not my monkeys, not my circus” created an earworm. Not a song, but it gives me a funny visual as I attempt to re-enter the post-visit world.

November 28, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the saying, “not my monkeys, not my circus”. What is the situation that would spawn that aphorism? Have fun with setting and characters! Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by December 3, 2022. Please use the form if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines. Stories must be 99-words.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

November 21: Story Challenge in 99-words

The petunias and I were not ready for the return of Lake Superior’s great snow machine. The flowers had remained colorful longer than any other autumn I’ve experienced on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Then…suddenly…white stuff. Ah, that’s the way of it. Winter has arrived.

Soon, so does my Svalbard daughter. I’m beside myself with excitement. I cleaned all day, realizing I don’t do much house cleaning. Oh, my. Lots of grit made its way down the drain or out the door. I cleaned the refrigerator, oven, and all my rocks. Well, most of my rocks. I have a lot of rocks.

It’s been five years since all three of my grown kids — all in their thirties — have been home. Home has been a moving target. I decided home is where we gather. Maybe home is truly nothing more than a shared campfire, a gathering of warmth and stories. And turkey.

The turkeys from Minnesota have arrived in Michigan. I know the turkey farmers and their farm used to be a frequent stop back when I wrote about local food, farmers, and artisans. It’s the turkey I always prepared when the kids were teens and young adults and home was defined by house and place. We can still share a beautiful meal. And beautiful it will be.

My eldest is now buried in snow on her farm. She sends us this fun romp with her two farm dogs, Oberon and Uther. You can clearly see we are all adjusting to the snow and the annoying way it clings to furry rumps.

I’ll keep it short and sweet. The midnight flight is nearing and I’m going to go to the farm and wait with Allison. I’m wishing everyone a beautiful week whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not. Know that I’m grateful for each and every one of you at Carrot Ranch. Aanii!

November 21, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase, “Oh, my.” It can be used in storytelling or dialog. What is the cause for such a response? Have fun with this one! Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by November 26, 2022. Please use the form if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines. Stories must be 99-words.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

November 14: Story Challenge in 99-words

Ninety-six years ago on November 14, 1928, Nellie Edith Emmons married Emmett Wilbur Colescott in Grand Junction, Colorado. Nellie’s sister, Gladys stood in as a witness. The minister, Franklin Fenner, apparently did not know the couple. You see, they lied to obtain a marriage certificate.

Edith and Emmett are my great-grandparents, the parents of my dad’s mom. Like all my family lines, they are colorful. My dad has shared stories with me that his Grandpa Emmett wrote down in his later years (he died in 1980). My own memories of him are fuzzy; nothing distinct.

Emmett began his story with the marriage of his parents. He writes, “Well as you can see by the enclosed Marriage Certificate, Mr. Edward “Scolescott” and Miss Belle Morse were united in marriage December 14, 1898. Witnessed by Dads Father and Eugene Rountree, one of the biggest drunks in Desoto, Kansas. The name Colescott probably misspelled by a drunk justice of the Peace.”

I did say, the Colescotts were a colorful lineage. The drunken marriage occurred between two teens a week before Christmas. I wonder how the holidays were that year? The Morse family was not like the Colescotts (a theme that often plays out in my family tree). Some families have a wild branch. Mine is the wild tree with the occasional upstanding branch hastily grafted to no avail. We are survivors of our own shit.

Emmet further explains, “Dad’s father was a little Wiry Irishman and an onyeyer [ornrey] little Devil never lived from what I can remember. Not mean in disposition but one who would fight a Buzz Saw at the drop of a hat over Politics, Religion or most anything else you might want to mention. He was a drinker and when he got on a tear you had better look out.”

He continues, “Dad’s mother from what I could ever gather was a Red Headed Scotchwoman and very pretty. I think she died in childbirth. Dad had a sister Maude who was a few years younger than he. Also he had a Brother John.” From records I’ve uncovered, it’s plausible that Emmet’s grandmother Mary Colescott died in childbirth. She was 29 years old and left behind four children, although my great-grandfather fails to mention Anna Colescott. She married a Rountree and was dead within three years, five years before Emmett was born. She slipped into oblivion, childless and unremembered.

It’s those graves that call to me the most when I explore cemeteries for stories. The graves of young women who nowadays would be of college student age often get left behind. Families move. Young husbands remarry. Later nieces and nephews grow up unaware of the young aunts no one mentions. Graves sink. No one places flowers or flags. What would my second great-grandaunt have studied had she’d been given the chance? Would she have voted had she lived longer? Was she redheaded and ornery, too?

Back to Emmett, the Colescott chronicler. He mentions the Morse family as “entirely different.” They, too, were Welsh. I wonder if Emmett knew his Grandpa Stark Morse fought in the Civil War as a Kansas Jayhawker? Even though the Morses were different and Caroline Winklman was raised in the faith of the Pennsylvania Dutch, I see a bit of the wild woman in his Grandma Morse. After all, someone of her faith married a Union Soldier at the start of the Civil War. What did her parents think?

Emmet recalls Grandma Morse (Caroline) hunkered down outside along the sunny side of their house in De Soto. According to 1915 Kansas census records, Caroline was staying with her daughter Belle and SIL Ed Colescott. Emmett was five. Why was Grandma Morse hunkered down outside? One explanation from her obituary is that she was an avid gardener, and the day before her death she was planning her next one. However, Emmet writes, “With her old brown shawl over her head and shoulders, she smoked her little clay pipe and made a hole in the dirt with a little stick to spit in. I used to love and set and watch her.” I think I would have, too.

Keep in mind, in 1915, Kansas was a blue sky state, meaning alcohol and tobacco were illegal. Grandma Morse may not have been all that different from the rapscallions of the Colescott clan. Perhaps young Emmet understood. My great-grandfather sums it up like this: “Well, as you can see this combination makes me Scotch, Irish, Welsh and Pennsylvania Dutch…Just Better say plain old American.”

He writes, “My earliest recollections are of the combination Restaurant, Soda Fountain and grocery store Ma and Dad ran in Desoto…Ma made homemade bread and pies and sold them and did most of the cooking. Don’t remember how much help she had but not much…Dad was a Booze fighting, woman chasing ringtailed humdinger and he loved to hunt and fish. Well our side of the Colescotts were simply not strictly law abiding citizens…Dad bootlegged Cigs from Missouri and also Whiskey.”

I grew up hearing stories from my Grandma Jean about whiskey in the sasparilla. The soda fountain in the restaurant and grocery store that her grandmother ran was a bootlegging front that eventually led to that side of the Colescotts having to leave Kansas. Emmett followed his father’s and grandfather’s ways in Colorado. All three men welcomed the Prohibition for the chance to make money bootlegging. According to family lore, but omitted from Emmett’s writing and as of yet unverified, something happened after the family moved west.

All Emmett has to say is, “I don’t know if we left Kansas by desire or request but I know we left when I was seven. Things get a little mixed up for me for a time.” He writes of hard times, of cattle freezing to death in Nevada, of a cousin trying to shoot his mother, of jackrabbits so thick, of being broke and eating tamales. Eventually, they went to Colorado and Emmett’s Dad found work, property, and continued to bootleg. According to family lore, his dad’s father was shot and killed in a raid. In 1926 Emmett married Edith.

My granduncle George was born in 1927 in Delta, Colorado followed by my grandaunt JoAn the following year. The Colescotts continued to live on the fringes of law-abiding citizenry and Emmet was arrested along with his dad for running alcohol distribution in 1928. It’s not clear if he did jail time but my Grandma Jean was not born until 1930. And, she was born in the Sierra Nevada mountains where I grew up because they were hiding out from the law. By 1935 they returned to Delta. I remember my grandma telling me about her earliest memory of living in Colorado. Her mother had the girls sing to their daddy outside the county jail. Grandma Jean sang and cried. A theme she’d repeat throughout her life. Yet, no matter where her monster of a husband drug her and the kids off to, some hidden Nevada ranch to escape consequences, she gardened and whistled like a songbird.

Emmet and Edith came to California permanently during WWII. They settled in an obscure area that remains remote today despite its proximity to Silicon Valley. Paicines. The old store where Grandma Jean took me to buy penny candy when she picked up her mail reminded her Dad of the store his family once had in De Soto, Kansas. Emmett stayed out of trouble thereafter. Edith must have been creative with a desire to perform. Small snippets of news exist to say she was in a play or won a poetry contest. I wonder what my great-grandma’s dreams were? She died at the age of 52 from the toxins she encountered as a fruit picker when the family fled to California for the first time.

So, the lie?

Emmett Colescott was not 21, nor was Edith 20. Nellie Edith Emmons was 22 years old and two months pregnant. Emmett was barely 16. I always knew that she was older than him, but I had no idea how young my great-grandfather was. When I think about how his life turned traumatic after leaving Kansas, I wonder what it was he sought in a relationship with Edith. Their early years of marriage must have been tumultuous with the bootlegging, raids, and children. California became a sort of peace, I think, though he lost his wife young.

November 14, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a lie. What is the lie? It can be subtle or blatant. Who tells the lie and why? Is it an unreliable narrator? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by November 19, 2022. Please use the form if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines. Stories must be 99-words.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

November 7: Story Challenge in 99-words

Farms can be squeaky places. Fence posts squeak over time. Dust in the truck brakes or unoiled wheelbarrows creak. Wind rouses anything loose or unhinged. Various critters and humans encountering the unexpected can emit all kinds of high-pitched responses. Even fresh cheese curds made can squeak with each bite.

The mystery of daylight savings time has descended upon the Keweenaw and it’s now officially the dark of the year in this place. Driving to my daughter’s farm, I can see through the woods after all the leaves have dropped. Naked trees wait for their winter coats of snow, reminding me to get my wool coat to the cleaners.

At the farm, apple trees denuded of leaves still cling to fruit. Some globes are yellow, others red. A future farm project is cider but for now, the farmers have enough to do with goats and pigs. One herd has expanded while the other munches dropped apples during their last week before they go to the local butcher. The farm sold all their pork shares in a single day and gained six new goats over two weeks.

I’m here for goats, not bacon. I want to watch the babies and see the wonder of Pegus Sue’s triplets.

Nubian goats don’t squeak. They scream and bleat. The mamas vocalize, calling for their babies. Beast, the only remaining male goat from last year’s herd is the companion to the billy, Big Chip. His mama is Belle, a small half-Nubian and half-dwarf goat who is a bit off. She was a freebie when my daughter and her husband started their herd last year, and Beast was born at Ghost House Farm. She also gave birth this week to a buckling and when she calls for him, Beast responds outside. What, Mom? I’m right here, Mom! Mom? A new brother is confusing Beast.

Molly had two bucklings a week and a half ago, and Peggy gave birth two days ago to triplets — two bucklings and a doeling. The oldest two rascals thought Auntie Peggy sprawled in the hay to play with them. My daughter found Peggy in labor with Molly’s buckings jumping on and off the prone goat. Peggy accepted the play in stride, but when Belle pushed Molly out of the barn, chaos followed. While Allison and Drew helped Peggy, Belle attempted to kill her nephews.

It must have been a hot mess at the time. Molly bellering outside the barn, run off by Belle. Belle silently head-butting and stomping at Molly’s twins in a corner. The twins crying, terrified. Belle’s new baby bleating and Beast calling from the divide across the barn where he and Big Chip live temporarily.

My daughter told me how she stayed with Peggy who was struggling with her second birth because the amniotic sac hadn’t broken. She said Drew built a fast makeshift divide while he also attempted to keep Belle from killing Molly’s twins. When Allison couldn’t get the second-born goat to breathe, she said she hollered for Drew but he had fenced himself off from her and Peggy. All’s well that turns out well. The second goat (named Carrot, by the way) found his breath.

A calm followed the chaos. Goats were safe and less vocal. Everyone had access to the hay chute. When it seemed the craziness had ended, Peggy dropped a third baby. Triplets. No wonder she had been in such discomfort the past three weeks. She’s a good mama, though and she lets all three nurse. The doeling is Vidalia, and the third sibling is Cabbage. The bucklings are spotted like fawns but will keep their markings. The doeling is an exact copy of Peggy.

I did not get to experience the high drama of Peggy’s labor because I’ve been submerged in Film Fest as if it were an artesian well ready to fill mine. Film was the first tool I learned from my mentor and advisor when I was in an undergrad writing program. From my prof, I learned how to study story structure and scene transitions, as well as plot and characterization. I’ve used film to teach my English comp students, too.

41 North Film Fest arrives with the dark of the year. It is my light. The best movies are the ones that inspire me. The worst ones are the films that depress me and leave viewers without a resolution or hope. But nothing viewed goes wasted. Discussions expand my perspective. Listening to filmmakers describe their vision or reason for their films, enlightens me. Hearing panels of researchers respond to documentaries gives me a deeper understanding. While the farm turned, I snort-laughed, cried, and sparked an internal eternal fire of creativity we all share.

If you want to view a sample of films I watched over four days, I created a playlist of trailers for my students. I used these trailers to teach analysis.

My favorite film and why? “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Brilliant movie. Brilliant writing. Brilliant mastery of everything everywhere having to do with storytelling. You know how in the persona’s journey the first scene is to show the ordinary world? Well, this movie begins there but creates a brilliant hub. In part, the genre helps — it is sci-fi meets contemporary as the ordinary world swings in and out of the multi-verse. It’s the combination of how to tell a story that makes this film relevant and absurd all at once.

One of my favorite scenes follows a trippy fight between mother and daughter. As they battle, the two characters slip in and out of their many selves in different universes. Written, the scene is short sharp staccato sentences. On the screen, it’s a flashing disco ball of action. Then, suddenly the shot spans wide over a desert scene. The action stops. And this scene unfolds:

Leave it to me to think the best scene ever written this year involves the existential battle between two rocks. I snort-laughed out loud. Twice. And squealed. Rocks.

November 7, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes something squeaky. What is squeaky and why? How does it move the story or disrupt a character? Listen, write, and go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by November 12, 2022. Please use the form if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines. Stories must be 99-words.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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

October 31: Story Challenge in 99-words

Happy Holidays, Carrot Ranchers! Today is Nevada Day; it is Halloween to the rest of the US. Many have celebrated Diwali this past week, and others will honor the bones of ancestors, believing the veil that separates the living from the dead thins on the Día de los Muertos. Allhallowtide is a three-day observance of All Hollow’s Eve to All Hallow’s Day to All Soul’s Eve.

No matter what you do or don’t celebrate at this mid-equinox time, sweets will likely be involved. Do you have favorites?

As a young mom, I remember instructing my children to not eat any candy until I inspected their Halloween haul. Todd and I grew up in an era when disturbed people put razor blades and needles in apples, boxes of raisin, or candy bars. I grew up in the California mountains 100 miles south, and he grew up in Nevada 100 miles east of Nevada’s “Biggest Little City” where such things happened in the ’60s and ’70s.

The wheels in my mind spin, remembering the fear of tampered candy that has now become an urban myth. Weird, to remember newspaper headlines, police warnings on TV stations, and the rise of alternative parties in women’s magazines only to find the contemporary myth on Snopes and in the Urban Dictionary. The modern chroniclers do have one thing correct — no one ever died. But the fear was palpable and lingered into my children’s childhoods. Using my Newspapers account, I had to look up some of those old articles from the Nevada and California regions. No one needed to die for the rest of us to fear punctured lips and sliced gums. As parents, we acted accordingly.

What we celebrated, and what we feared leaves a lasting impression on who we become. Yet, we continue to evolve. We never stop becoming until our last breath. Yet, we tend to experience the cycle of years with their markers for seasons and holidays as unchangeable. I could easily believe that the Halloween of today is the same as the Halloween of yesterday. It takes a distance of years in decades to see the vast difference. It takes courage to examine the difference without trying to erase or make permanent earlier truths. Not everyone is willing to hop on the bus of becoming, though. Nostalgia has a deep pull on our heartstrings.

I grew up in a tiny town that celebrated Halloween like we were secret pagans. Oh, the glee of impending Halloween in its complete Celtic triad. I can still feel wiggles of anticipation; leftover whispers from childhood. I can slip easily into the skin of nostalgia. Waking up on the morning of our all-school Halloween party where the older grades created a haunted house for the younger ones. Our school closed on Nevada Day (October 31) because half our student population attended high school across the border. We partied on October 30 and 31. In town, the Forest Service held a party at their headquarters after all of us county kids paraded through town. I was known to bring a mule. November 1, the Day of the Dead, we recovered from our sugar highs.

Such nostalgia would lead me to believe that the trick-o-treaters at my door continue a tradition I knew and loved. Teaching young college students sets me straight. In their weekly reflections, they relate different experiences of Halloween. None mentioned fearing razor blades. Or stampeding a mule down Main Street because Pizanno didn’t want three witches on his back. Costumes have evolved. I love the simple ones as much as the clever creations. My kids still like to dress up and party with the real Wiccans. These days, I’m more interested in finding ancestral connections to tending stories, stones, and dreams as I become.

When I worked in marketing communication, I remember learning the adage, don’t reinvent the wheel. Original thought and creative content doesn’t mean you need a new conveyance. Apply that idea to storytelling. There are so few wheels to apply to story structure you can add them up with your fingers. According to Jungians, there are only seven different story plots in existence the world over. Academics and modern authors might deviate from that number (some say six, some claim 36) but all the stories we know have already been written.

Therefore, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, keep those wheels rolling in the stories will flow endlessly. That’s your thought to ponder, and your prompt to get you wheeling. Enjoy your holiday as the season shift and we continue to become.

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

~ Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

October 31, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about how the wheels keep turning. Are the wheels tangible or metaphorical? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by November 5, 2022. Please use the form if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines. Stories must be 99-words.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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

October 24: Story Challenge in 99-words

My fingers trace the nobby bones down Pegasus Sue’s back. Her vertebrae contrast with the fullness of her pregnancy. She’s a goat near term, carrying twins for five months. She leans her head into my hands and I cradle her jaw, massage her skull, and gently rub her back.

It’s a slow descent to winter on the Keweenaw Peninsula. We’ve had a few gales, some hard frosts, and even made national news with our shovable snow. But it has already melted and the lilac bushes cling to their green leaves as the maples shed their colorful canopies.

The sunny days we’ve had lift everyone’s spirits. We stay outside, hold bonfires, and prep the farm for winter. Well, the farmers do. I might cook a meal, or watch an episode of Bake with my daughter. It’s her birthday weekend and she wants to focus on her flower beds. She dug, separated, and replanted bulbs of irises, lilies, and hyacinths. I mostly hung out with goats, picking apples, and comforting an uncomfortable Pegasus Sue.

Molly, the younger doe of three at Ghost House Farm, already birthed her twins. Allison and Drew went out to the ghost-house-cum-goat-barn on Saturday and noticed a wee goat. I soon arrived — because my goat senses were tingling — to see twins still wet from birth.

Immediately, I swooned. I fell into full cuteness overload as this video demonstrates.

Fall seems an odd time to welcome babies to a farm in the Northern Hemisphere. Chip, the male goat, is also in rut which seems like even worse timing. The pregnant does want nothing to do with him. He hangs out with the herd of round-bellied kids from last fall in a separate pen and side of the Ghost House. The pigs are near time to go to market and the goats are birthing. Cycle of life and death plays out on a farm from day to day.

I wonder at the bones in this land. How many generations of humans and kin have fed the soil on this rocky spine? As Halloween approaches, I think of the different ways people around the world honor and bless bones. They say the veil thins at Samhain; a time for talking to the Ancestors.

As I comfort Peggy’s bones, I listen to messages on the wind. What stories lurk in the coming dark of the year? At least I know the light is somewhere. Thank you Australia and New Zealand for containing the light as the northern region of the world confronts the shadows. Day or night, North or South, the bones have a chance to speak their tales.

October 24, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about bones. It can be any genre or tone. Is it spooky, irreverant, poignant? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by October 29, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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

October 17: Story Challenge in 99-words

Aanii, my Friends of Carrot Ranch! I return to this place after walking Nibi for three days, transformed.

Transformation follows its own course. Linear time loses all meaning on a Water Walk, flowing like water does. I get it now. I understand the purpose of ceremony, the physical, emotional, and mental act of becoming one heart.

We all understand the concept of like-mindedness. We recognize the comfort or joy we feel when we encounter people who think like we do. It could be career related. I always relish talking to those who “get” the writing experience or understand the basics of marketing. For others, it might be the camaraderie of community or foodies out on the town. Sometimes, we find safety and comfort in hanging out with like minds. We don’t have to explain or debate.

Becoming one heart means joining un-like minds.

People of the Heart commit to the water walk for many reasons. Some people are indeed like-minded and others couldn’t be any more different. No one agrees on how to proceed yet none of us are leaders. Although I am a founding member who welcomed the Anishinaabe back to their Ceded Territory after the devastating Father’s Day floods of 2018, I joined to learn and experience the Anishinaabe protocols. I’ve held myself back, mindful not to appropriate a culture I respect but knew was not my own.

Each year, I’ve tried to organize the way I know how, and each year I learn to back off and let it be. This year, I stepped in it, so to speak, when I petitioned Finlandia University’s justice committee to hold the feast. A church in Houghton provided the space. I wanted to involve the students and faculty. Despite my fumbling, the church was glad to work in partnership with the university. It took me stepping out of the way and letting the water flow.

Each year, the Water Walk works. We show up at pre-dawn. We lift the water in ceremony, passing the copper bucket from woman to woman, looking straight ahead, trusting the Eagle Staff carrier to be our eyes. What is there to plan? We walk. We leapfrog walkers and support vehicles ahead. We welcome whoever shows up. We keep walking when no one else does. Nibi compels us forward.

This year I became more attuned to my desire to plan, organize, and expect. I let go at each moment of recognition. I also saw others frustrated in their own ways because of the human need to control events. What if like-mindedness is the attempt to control circumstances and outcomes to meet our expectations. Isn’t that what linear time is all about? But each time I let go, I marveled at how we continued to be in ceremony.

By our last leg of the journey, gathered for our final feast, I felt such agape love for everyone involved. I felt the support of others from afar. I felt a connection with those seated at the feast table, especially my elders. I felt love oozing from my ribbon skirt that embodied the spirit of the chickadees Sue Spitulnik crafted — friendship. I was on such a love high the day after, I hardly noticed my lack of sleep. I felt love for my students so strongly.

Then it collapsed. Or maybe I collapsed inside.

Needing to cry, and feeling disconnected, I went to Gichigammi and met her at my favorite beach (McLains). Her waves rolled furiously, yet the day was oddly warm. Turns out, my friend and fellow Water Walker was also there and for the same reason. She explained that we needed time to re-enter. She listened to my feeble complaints, and she spoke of her dying dad who has recently walked on. We both cried. Becoming one heart with a diverse group of people is an intense experience.

The next day, one of my students who is First Nations from Canada, shared how his Tribe has both Warrior Chiefs and Peace Chiefs. I realized that the ceremonies to bring people into one heart also prepare people to express and resolve grievances. In this sense, Water Walkers are the Peace Chiefs. But we need our leaders, our warriors, to join us.

While I have much to unpack and ponder, and so many stories I want to tell by the campfire (like when our Two-Spirited Beauty Maker lost both his soles, or the time I left my new Grandmother for dead convinced she was sleeping — and thankfully she was — and all the jokes we made about the va-jay-jay Aboriginal material in our teacher’s skirt) I will continue to process.

I want to share with you the beautiful Ojibwe greeting of “aanii.” It means, “I see the light in you.” Isn’t that a loving way to greet someone? What if we saw the light in one another instead of passing judgment, measuring people for how like-minded they might be? Let us do the work to become one-hearted.

Write and let your light shine.

October 17, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that references “I see the light in you.” You can use the phrase or demonstrate it in a story. Who is shining and why? Who is observing or reacting? What is the setting? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by October 22, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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

October 10: Story Challenge in 99-words

Monday, October 10, 2022, is the second Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the US. Social justice organizations around the world are recognizing the harm of colonization and cultural genocide on Indigenous populations. My classes are tasked with reflection on what it means to belong to a place. How do we overcome othering and welcome the contributions of groups, nations, and regions around the people?

Today, I walk in the company of my bone, spirit, and land ancestors. I think about belonging through kinship and presence. Today, I am present to the water. It is the third day of a 92-mile People of the Heart Water Walk.

Nga-zhichige Nibi onji. When I get tired, when I have less sleep and more responsibilities, when it’s my turn to carry the water, I say, “I will do it for the water.” My t-shirt speaks our petition and commitment. My skirt flows so the land of Turtle Island recognizes me as a woman, a vessel for water. Water is life and women are the water bearers.

This is my fourth Water Walk, although I did different work for the water in 2020 because of Covid. Actually, I seem to do different yet similar work each year. I’m learning to go with the flow. We are communal organizers, working as a collective of women under the sacred teachings of the Anishinaabekwe from Keweenaw Bay. We walk through their Ceded Territory. The Keweenaw. My Rocky Spine.

For the first time, I wear a traditional ribbon skirt. My friend, writer, and quilt artist, Sue Spitulnik, designed and created the skirt with material we found in a quilt shop in Ithica, New York. She appliqued two chickadees over colorful ribbons. The joyful birds represent kinship and friendship; they express joy in totality. I feel uplifted, wearing my skirt, Water Walker t-shirt, and hiking boots.

This year, Finlandia University took on the role of feast hosts our first night. I’ve been talking about the walk to my students as we read the Fire Keeper’s Daughter. When I was asked to write something about the Water Walk to our Finlandia community, this is what I wrote:

The People of the Heart came together after the devastation of the Father’s Day Floods to form community around the sacredness of water. We don’t really have organizers, but we look to the Anishinaabekwe to guide us collectively in their teachings. We all do the work for the water, and like water, we flow where needed. The Water Walk is a sacred ceremony open to all faiths and people. Women lift and carry the water in a copper vessel from one point on the journey to the next. A Water Walk is the only time an Eagle Staff walks behind (the water). Men or women can carry the Eagle Staff; only women can carry the Water. Women wear skirts so the land recognizes us in our work. Nga-zhidchige nibi onji (I will do it for the water). Finlandia holding a feast, anyone donating or preparing food, all of this is part of doing the work for the Water.

Many social injustices center around Water and we walk to speak for the Water, for those harmed by toxins in the Water, for our Land Ancestors, and for those not yet born. Water is life.

The People of the Heart Water Walk takes place over a three-day weekend aligned with Indigenous People’s Day. In the beginning, IPD did not yet exist. We chose fall because we walk narrow, busy, and scenic byways that cut across Anishinaabe Ceded Territory, and traffic is lighter. We educate people along the route with the images of the attached brochure. We walk 92 miles in three days, passing off the vessel from one woman to the next. We walk in relay but the Water never stops until we bring it to a ceremonial close of the day (or, reach our final destination). We feast and rest with the communities living where we walk. Typically, we gather pre-dawn and start walking as the sun rises.

Anyone can join the Water Walk at any time. Come for an hour, a day, all three days. We have a system of leapfrogging walkers in relay with vehicles and I can take walkers back to their vehicles. I commit to all three days, assigning my ENG 103 C and 104 B classes to attend Finlandia’s Indigenous Peoples Day event and using the Water Walk in writing and reflection lessons. We are reading Fire Keeper’s Daughter in ENG 103 and The Four Pivots in ENG 104 and the Water Walk is a way to deepen our understanding of culture, Ceded Territory, and social justice. I hope our students, faculty, staff, and trustees can join us as we feast and rest and share community. We welcome everyone’s prayers.

Chi Miigwech to Finlandia University!

C. Mills 2022

We are fortunate to learn from the Water Walkers who walked with Grandma Josephine. She was a grandmother who founded the water protectors movement along with other women from the four directions of Turtle Island (North America). We learn as we walk. Like writing. Practice makes progress, not perfection.

You can learn about our Water Walk and traditional protocol in this brochure we distribute along our route:

I invite you to ponder how precious water is today.

October 10, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that expresses the idea, “for the water.” You can find inspiration in water protection movements. Is it a celebration or a dark dystopian warning? Consider your place and the bodies of water that have shaped you. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by October 15, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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

October 3: Story Challenge in 99-words

Ideas flit like smelt in my head, but thoughts swim deep and slow. Ideas flash shiny bellies, distracting me with wonder. Thoughts evolve and grow. Sometimes they rest and other times they rise to the surface, tetrapods ready to breathe beyond the cognitive waters where they formed.

I savor the thought process.

Writers know to keep the well filled for inspiration, but we also want to keep the long forming thoughts swimming until they inform our writing. If we write what we know, we must do more than chase experiences. We need to let thoughts rise from the experiences we feed them. It takes time to be, to reflect, to connect.

In an overly digitized 24/7 world of convenience, thinking–also known to writers as window gazing–feels slow. It’s okay to let small thoughts swim a while, meet other circling thoughts, consume a school of flashy ideas, and then sink for later rumination. Thinking, like imagining and feeling, comes from our inner worlds. You can be thinking in a cafe, on a train, or perched on a rock where other hikers wave to you. No one knows the rich inner life you are living in the moment.

Writing our thoughts happens when the thoughts need to breathe and words on pages give them oxegyn. Here’s the fun part–we can write these thoughts in a sermon, a poem, a post, an essay, an article, a text, a memoir, a tweet, a novel. I tell my students, “Everyone is a writer; writing is thinking.” If you aren’t thinking, you aren’t breathing. And I’m beginning to suspect even ghosts and trees and snakeflies breathe. They don’t have pens or keyboards so they breathe their thoughts into ours.

If you have ever encountered anxiety, you know that thoughts can ravage your inner well. We can grow sharks–thought patterns that want to tear our flesh and eat us whole. Not all thoughts serve us and sometimes we have to go fishing and clear out the well we fill so deep. Some writers might even harvest those shadow thoughts and hard experiences, such as author, Kagan Goh. He’s a Singapore-Canadian spoken word poet, playwright, author, mental health advocate, and someone who lives with mental illness.

Kagan Goh is author of Surviving Samsara: A Memoir of Breakdowns, Breakthroughs, and Mental Illness. He is also an upcoming featured storyteller in Michignan and I’ve been asked to interview him for a Keweenaw Storytelling literary event. It will be a digital interview and e-tickets are free. I’m reading his memoir and letting it swim deep with my own thoughts.

This past Friday and Saturday proved a fulfilling multidisciplinary workshop, The Movement of Joy. I attended an online workshop last season for the Rozsa Center at Michigan Tech and have been captured by Naila Ansari’s graduate work in archiving black women’s joy. She has a crew of artists she works with and I was thrilled that spoken word poet, Ten Thousand, drove to the Keweenaw through Canada from Buffalo (I’ve been there!).

To watch thdancer and poet share artistic energy in collaboration is inspiring. They sparked a school of ideas and fed deep thoughts, too. As a writer of women’s fiction, I’m inspired by women’s stories missing from history. Both Naila and Marquis speak to the effort to archive stories for a fuller, richer record. Ten Thousand kindly exchange information with me and allowed me to record a message for my students. He’s willing to do a zoom class for them and expand their 99-word story practice.

I can’t help but think of all the fragments I chase as a writer and feed my deep thoughts. Women’s stories have come to me from ranches in Nevada, from elders in a mountain town in California, from slivers of information left on graves, Census records, and history books that focus on dominate culture men. I’m pondering how my work is that of an archivist. It’s akin to our weekly collection that is unfolds like story snapshots of literary anthropology.

We are archivists of the moment in a world unusually connected because of digital technology.

Last week, I wrote about my teapot. But after comments, I had to think deeper on how it was that I valued British teapots. A memory, a fragment, came to me. I was seven-years-old, new to Markleeville, shy, and without siblings. I met Mrs. Coyan when I delivered a bag of groceries to her. She asked me to stay for tea and stale cookies she’s called biscuits (this confused me for years as I thought bisquits were a type of cookie, not another name altogether). She must have said her beautiful round teapot was from England and I had a thing for tea and British teapots ever after.

When Mrs. Coyan’s son died this year–Gary was my bus driver and I babysat all his sons–my mom sent me his obituary. I realize it’s a story about Gary, but even in 2022 and written by a woman, the history unfolds through the male lens. There is no archive of his mother’s stories and her life was courageous and pioneering, too. My thoughts on all of this is renewed vigor for the value of archiving women’s lives in a genre specific to the gender.

Last week, a quick-witted smelt flashed, giving me the idea for rituals of tea from writers around the world as a prompt. That idea sparked from Doug in Australia. I went for it, hook, line, and sinker. The bigger, heavier thoughts I will leave for the depths for now.

Let’s write and have a spot of tea!

October 3, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about any ritual involving tea. It can be a daily afternoon tea prepared specifically or the reading of tea leaves in a cup. What do you know? What do you imagine? Is your story deep and ponderous or bright and flash? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. October 8, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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

September 26: Story Challenge in 99-words

The gray-sky season has returned to the Keweenaw. Lady Lake Superior broods with atmospheric moodiness while air and water temperatures collide. Cloudy tension hangs over our rocky spine. Those who know what will come next already want to hunker into snuggly flannel and mugs of hot tea.

I miss my white porcelain tea pot. Once, I had a cheerful yellow teapot from the UK; a graduation gift back in the ’90s. It was so precious to me, that when we moved from a temporary apartment to our house in Minnesota, I decided to carry it rather than pack it.

What was I thinking? My children treasured the teapot, too, remembering their Aunt Kate back in Montana who had gifted me the item. We used to have tea with her and for my eldest’s ninth birthday, she helped me organize a high tea party. Tea leaves, water, and memories lived in that yellow pot. It shattered on the driveway of our new Minnesota house.

Later, I bought another teapot but it was smaller and the spout dribbled. I found another pot with less dribble and more capacity but it was devoid of any commitment to color. It was white. It served the family well enough that I miss its absence. It exists, somewhere in Idaho with shoes I’ve not worn in over five years.

Yet, I hardly ever drink tea anymore. It must be the moodiness of the changing weather tricking me into thinking cozy tea thoughts. I was surprised to find a British porcelain teapot on clearance at the Hancock food co-op. After all, I had never seen teapots for sale there. Its periwinkle-blue side flaunted a garishly orange discount sticker. I couldn’t resist. Now I’m properly potted, and yes, I’m drinking more tea.

Have you even tackled a project because you were infused with tea? That’s how I came to organize the historical research that I’ve lugged around since leaving Idaho, which led to the discovery of a weird note. Evidently, I scribbled the disjointed ideas on a recycled piece of paper. It could have been from 2004 or 2012. I have no recollection of jotting the thoughts I didn’t want to “forget.”

Drafting is the part of writing that is a massive info dump. If you are a pantser, then you know the joy of dumping to the page like lake-effect snow (not here, yet). The act is glorious but rarely is the mess. The other part of writing, revision, seeks to clean up the mess. If you are a plotter, you relish planning every last detail. Regardless of where your writing joy resides, you must find beauty and balance in “plantsing,” which calls us to draft, plan, and revise.

Trying to make sense of my dump note is like trying to understand my brain. Here’s what I wrote on a quarter-page of recycled paper:

Would you fake a broken arm for me? (based on a robin protecting another from potential danger at the cat farm) -- birdsers vs. cat lovers -- robin humping for worms or insects
<line>
The Isolation of a Lone Gunman
<line>
Find Your Happy Place as a Beauty Regime -- thrift store top -- earrings

I’m intrigued by my question. But what was the cat farm? Back in the ’00s, I was freelancing and writing columns and stories about food cooperatives and the local food scene. I probably interviewed hundreds of farmers, chefs, food artisans, and co-op members during that time and visited six to eight farms a year for 16 years. I can’t recall a cat farm; many farms had feral cats, though.

Birdsers is a funny typo. I’m pretty sure I meant birders and I can see that I was contemplating an article about the impact of farm cats on wildlife. I hope I never used “robin humping for worms” in anything I wrote back then. The other two items, well, I can’t say. Was I inserting plot points? I know I longed to write fictional stories while I was working. I can’t imagine lone gunmen relevant to the natural food movement. The Happy Place note is vaguely familiar. I may have used the idea for a “recycled self-care” article.

That note is a snapshot of my mind dumping long ago. The lead question still intrigues me: would you fake a broken arm for me? I thought it might be difficult as a prompt, though, so I simplified it to a broken arm. But if you are up to answering the question in a story, I’ll sit back and enjoy a pot of tea beneath moody skies and read your intriguing responses.

September 26, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a broken arm. What happened? Is there a cause and effect because of the broken arm? Was the injury faked? Why? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by October 1, 2022. Please use the form if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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