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February 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

I feel like I’ve belly-crawled out of the frozen tundra, my jeans and flannel shirt shredded, my fingers stiff and calloused. Grilled cheese sandwiches and Girl Scout Cookies have sustained me. I left for the wilderness beyond the lights of friendly campfires and the warmth of humanity. I’ve been away on a long journey, herding 71,625 words into a publishable novel. I’ve had to ride alone.

Todavía estoy aquí. I am still here.

It began in seventh grade when Mr. Price encouraged me to write longer spelling stories, inviting me to read them weekly to my classmates. He gave me a purpose, a way to process the wealth of stories that filtered through my soul. He gave me connection, the opportunity to step out of my shyness. He gave me a glimpse of what it means to write for an audience.

Fast-forward through a life dancing with a love of writing. An undergrad degree in 1998. A dream to finish a novel started as an independent project. Twenty years waiting, waffling, denying until the decision to pursue an MFA. A career behind me. A career before me. Sinking into the minutiae of writing a novel that’s been a haggard WIP since conception in 2008 when I grieved a dog, before I lost my home, before his dementia, when I could still connect the dots to retirement when I would write novels.

Displacement. Homelessness. Cognitive malfunction. It may as well be mine the way it colors everything in my life. Even in the wilderness I have to answer its call, be the reminder, be the constant. I wanted a full hermitage but it’s not possible. I weep for what I have and I weep for what I’ve lost, and still I plow through, refusing to let circumstances freeze my dreams to ice.

I could have chosen an easier task. But Mr. Price lit the fires I had built. How can I be anybody else but me?

That’s the thing about writing. It is a Process. Capital P. No skimming the surface. And when you think you’ve plunged the depths of humanity, you have to go deeper within yourself. The minutiae. Always the details. In the details we are unique. We all have mothers and fathers. We all breathe. We all drink water and sleep. We have interests and dislikes. Oh, but the details, the perspectives, the actions, the words and the stories. So much color and diversity.

We process all those details when we write. We are filters as writers. Miners.

Let me explain Process as I’ve come to know it. It comes under different headings. There is Creative Process — the way we catch and express literary art (for words are our medium). There are Mental and Emotional Processes — how we use thoughts and feelings in our art. There’s Structural Process — the forms we give our writing (99-words stories or 28 chapter novels). There’s Craft Process — the elements we use to express literary art. There’s a Drafting Process (pants or no pants), a Revision Process, an Editing Process and each can be separated into layers that must come before others (you don’t proof words you will cut in revision, therefore you revise before you proof). There’s Personal Process — how we discover ourselves in the world through writing.

It’s no joke that writing a novel can be compared to brain surgery or rocket science. You can draft a novel-length work in a relatively short time. How long it takes you is relative to how much Processing you are willing to do. The more Processing, the deeper the work. Notice I did not say “better.” That’s a false comparison. Writing is not a competition, unless, well, you enter one. Then you must heed the Processes asked of you as an entrant.

My MFA Program at SNHU began Process on day one. It will continue until May 1. At least for me. It has challenged me to dig deep into all the Processes. I discovered weakness in my strengths, strengths in my weaknesses. I formalized Processes to be able to repeat them and write more novels. I blew my own mind with discoveries. For example — writing elements. Did you know you can apply them differently in different processes? “Show Don’t Tell” needs to be “Show or Tell But Know The Difference.” You can apply the Show/Tell element differently at the Structural Process, differently at Drafting Process, differently at the syntax level of the Revision Process.

I went into the frozen wilderness to sort it out into what they call our thesis — a publishable novel. That means we have to tick the boxes for industry standards. As of 5 am this morning (or “last night” to my perspective) I completed my novel according to industry standards. I fell behind my schedule. I worked earnestly at my thesis, not even taking a break. In September, I knew I would not make the deadline AND tick all the boxes. I chose to write to standards.

Early in January, I freaked out because I couldn’t execute the revision process to standard. It wasn’t until I realized the separation and integration of the Processes that I began to make sense of it all. I have, since seventh-grade, struggled most with the syntax level of literary art. I broke free. Free at last! When I saw how elements work different at each Process level, I began to understand how to use them

As of this afternoon, 18 days late, I officially had my thesis approved. My knees are wiggly, my head dizzy, and I’m tired of grilled cheese sandwiches. I looked yo from my crawling out of the wilderness to see an oasis. All of you at Carrot Ranch.

D. Avery, Kid, Pal, and Friends have managed the reins in my absence. H.R.R. Gorman has united us all in surrounding and celebrating a fellow among us. Hugh Roberts plunged into his column, as did Colleen Chesebro with a new poetry feature at the Saddle Up Saloon. This is an amazing community of people who happen to read, write and make literary art. You are water to my parched throat.

It is good to be back!

NOTE: This weeks photo is courtesy of 47th North Belly Dance on a frozen Lake Superior off the Keweenaw Peninsula 2021.

February 25 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the word frozen. It can be descriptive, character focused, action driven. Go out onto the ice and find a frozen story. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 2, 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.

I’m going to do something different just for this week. I’m going to share a 500-word excerpt from Miracle of Ducks. It’s a nod to what I’ve been working on in my absence and I wanted to share a small bite:

SNEAK PEAK: MOD by Charli Mills

Campbell left after he instructed Danni to retrieve their archaeological field camp beyond the safe zone the next morning. They expected the fire to move west. Despite borate bombers, the Cary Canyon Fire mushroomed.
Her cell phone buzzed, and she recognized the earlier unknown caller. “Hello, this is Dr. Danni Gordon.”
“Dr. Gordon, this is Sheila McLeod, public liaison for SandStorm Security.”
“Yes? Is this about my husband, Ike? He’s coming home.”
“There was an incident. In Iraq.”
Danni’s body tingled. The radio report. “I heard three servicemen were killed.”
“Yes, Ma’am. US Army. A joint operation with SandStorm. Your husband remains unaccountable. We’ve monitored communications. No ransoms, no forced statements, no recent… beheadings. His body has not turned up. We’ve listed him presumed dead.”
Danni sank to her knees. “Presumed?”
“We’ll follow protocol. If we have news, we’ll call.”
How long she sat on her knees, she didn’t know. Her deadened legs stumbled to rise. She staggered to the arena and horse stalls. Several Apache Hot Shots leaned on the fence. Their yellow fire retardant shirts clean. They hadn’t gone to the line. Everyone waited for the fire to explode.
“Yá’át’ééh,” one woman said.
Robotic, Danni returned the familiar greeting from undergrad summers among the Dine. Not Apache, she thought. “Yá’át’ééh.”
The group laughed. “So. The bilagaana speaks Navajo.”
Danni needed Blackjack. She ignored the women idled at his stall and climbed the fence.
Another said, “Hey. That horse is blind.”
Blackjack nickered and Danni opened his stall to the arena. Without tack, she guided him to the fence with sounds and firm touches. Using the wooden slats, she mounted her horse. He pranced.
Soft clods cushioned his steps. Freshly turned earth smelled like a womb. No gopher holes, rocks or blow downs impeded his stride. She wrapped her hands in his mane, guided his direction with her knees, and let Blackjack fly. The black and white pinto swooped, a magpie on hooves. Winter races with Ginnie and Cricket had restored his confidence. Throughout summer, Danni coached Ginnie to maneuver a cutting horse, and Ginnie taught Danni to barrel race a blind gelding. Two women waiting for husbands to return from a war zone. Blackjack knew the drill. Danni galloped and released her soul from the confines of panic. She fled beyond thoughts and emotions. Only her and a horse and the thunder of earth beneath them. They rode as one in figure eights. They spun. He reared, and they danced. Numb, she loped to the stall, startled to see a crowd of fire fighters gathered. She heard someone ask, “Who is that?”
The District Supervisor said, “She’s our archaeologist.”
“Dang,” one of the Apache Hotshots said, “That bone digger can ride.”
People chattered about the horse, the moves, the rider. A distraction from the grueling battle against flames. Danni rubbed Blackjack, checked his hooves.
Freya pushed through the gathering and scrambled over the fence. She said, “Rangers’ wives never quit.” Freya had heard the news.

February 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s Thursday again, time for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. Once again we will all fill in so that our friend Charli can focus on that thesis of hers. As I alluded to last week, Charli has set this community up to be successful and to manage even with her not directly at the helm. We know what to do to keep the Ranch running— read, write, comment. A foolproof formula!

All we need is a post and a prompt.

Who’s the fool now? I have nothing to say and a gazillion things I could say. Once upon a time… no. This time, maybe today’s date is a place to start.

Maybe today, February 18, isn’t a special day for you. But it could be. Today is the birth date of both my husband and my sister-in-law’s mother. Birthdays…

I never had children so have never hosted a children’s birthday party, never had to be the one either fulfilling wishes or causing disappointment. I remember many of my own birthdays as a child. One of the best was when I turned ten. First of all— ten! Double digits; a roll over number; a whole decade old; it was a big one. But I remember it for getting what I wanted as a gift from my parents— a hammer. Maybe after ten years I had simply worn my mother down, but my request was not ignored, it wasn’t replaced with a more “appropriate” gift, with what she felt I should really want or need. And it was a nice hammer, with a sleek red wooden shaft and a rubber grip. It was real and it was mine. More important, I had been heard and acknowledged. It was a good birthday, with even better days to follow as I dragged slabs into the woods and hammered together a fort.

As an adult I sometimes ignore my own birthday as best I can, other times I take the day into my own hands. When I was crazy busy during summers with my one-woman landscaping business I would give myself the day off to spend time making the cake I wanted, homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I’m not much of a baker, so this cake making took time and that time was my gift to myself, a time of meditation and reflection.

When I changed careers and had summers off I sometimes chose to spend my birthday making a nice meal for friends and family to enjoy together with me after their workday. Again, it was a meditative way to spend the day and was a way to show gratitude for those people who were going to acknowledge the day whether I wanted them to or not.

A memorable day that happens to have also been my birthday was the one when my sister-in-law took the day off from work just to hang out with me. With no planning we ended up kayaking four ponds, having to portage only small distances, needing no vehicle. We lunched on delicious sandwiches out on the water. We were joined by the local bald eagle for a bit as well as other wildlife. It was a fine adventure, our Four Pond Day.

I’ve had so many fine adventures and memorable days, some with friends and family, many spent all alone. I’m reminded of and just reread a picture book written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall, I’m In Charge of Celebrations.How could I be lonely?” the narrator asks. “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” The setting is the American Southwest, but the narrator’s outdoor wanderings and recognition of amazing sights and events to celebrate resonate with me here in my wooded northeast. With lyrical language, set upon the page as poetry instead of paragraphs, we are told about some of the narrator’s findings and reactions.

And then all day

you think

how

lucky

you were

to be there.

Some of my best

celebrations

are sudden surprises

like that.

If you weren’t outside

at that

exact

moment,

you’d miss them.”

Her New Year celebration has to be “a day that is exactly right…. Usually it’s a Saturday around the end of April.) … I spend the day admiring things…

I celebrate

with horned toads

and ravens

and lizards

and quail…

And Friend,

it’s not

a bad

party. ”

Celebrating New Year’s at the return of spring makes sense to me. I had always thought of the first day of a new school year to be New Year’s Day but this past September was different, as I had left that career for who-knows-what adventures. This year the first day of school away from school was a birth day, a new beginning. While my former colleagues did all that first day stuff I hiked the mountain with no agenda. The barred owl was as surprised to see me as I it. It is quite something to see an owl slipping silently through the trees. How lucky I was to be there.

Today is the birthday of at least two people that I know of and I will let them both know that I appreciate their being in the world. But today could be your special day too, for any number of reasons.

In Byrd Baylor’s book dust devils, rainbows (and the rabbit that also saw the rainbow), a green parrot-shaped cloud, a coyote, falling stars, and the new year are celebrated. The narrator says that she is very choosy about what goes into her celebration notebook.

It has to be something

I plan to remember

the rest of my life.

You can tell

what’s worth

 a celebration

because

your heart will

POUND

and

you’ll feel

like you’re standing

on top of a mountain

and you’ll

catch your breath

like you were

breathing

some new kind of air.

Otherwise,

I count it just

an average day.

(I told you

I was

choosy.)

Life is the present. And you are the one in charge of celebrations.

~D. Avery

February 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story where a character is in the right place at the right time. It may be cause for celebration! Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 23, 2021, to be included in the compilation. 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.

A Fish Story by D. Avery

“Luckiest fishing day ever!”

“Hope! You and Cousin Bobby caught enough for a meal?”

He groaned when the children showed him their sleds loaded with pails of fresh perch along with the ice-fishing gear. “That’s a lot of perch to dress.”

“We found a hotspot, Daddy!”

Laughing, Hope’s mother headed back inside.

“Hey! Help skin.”

“After some phone calls.”

Throughout the afternoon people started dropping by, some chatting while peeling perch out of their scaly skins, some cooking fish over an outside fire. Fish stories old and new were told.

Hope beamed.

“This is the best perch dinner ever!”

🥕🥕🥕

February 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Once upon a time…

No…. that’s not right for an essay… 

Sometimes when I am stuck for a response to a prompt I just put pen to paper with those words, once upon a time, and that gets something started. So you can tell that I am stuck. Some guest host! But I have learned from experience that those words might get me unstuck. I learned it through writing experiences here. I learned by doing.

Once upon a time I often gave attention to learning because once upon a time I was an educator, a teacher of children. I found that I was always studying teaching and learning, well after the formal training. The best opportunities to learn more about teaching and learning were those times when I was a student myself and reflected on the experience. Many of us have to (or choose to) take continuing course work for our careers, but we might also take courses for other interests. When you do, if you’re lucky, you’ll see that great teachers are everywhere.

The instructor for the motorcycle licensing course I took years ago was a natural born teacher. The course could have been used as an exemplar for primary school teachers. The men in the group seemed embarrassed at first to pretend to be applying brakes and clutch at our seats but I appreciated the development of muscle memory and safe supervised practice before hitting the track. On the track, skills were scaffolded, riders were coached, privately corrected, and openly encouraged and applauded by the instructor. People felt safe and successful. We all encouraged and applauded one another, even as we watched and learned from one another.

Once upon a time I sat right seat fairly often, beside my husband who pilots a Cessna Skyhawk. I didn’t presume that I could fly the plane but I learned enough about navigation and how the instruments worked that I became comfortable with flying, and helpful at times. I know enough to recognize good piloting. I recognized a good pilot and teacher when I had occasion to fly daily in a larger plane. I would always move to the front of the nine-passenger plane and sit in the co-pilot seat. The pilot recognized that I was familiar with flying. If there was no one else on board that morning I got to learn more about flying, by doing. The pilot met me where I was at, and my capability and confidence grew.

Both these teachers I mention had experience and expertise but not ego. They were calm and confident and loved what they did so much that they were eager to share and teach others.  They reveled in their students’ successes.

I don’t want to race motorcycles or do stunts. I don’t want to fly a plane, not as the pilot in command. And I certainly don’t want to do what Charli does here every week. But I’m sitting right seat this week with a hand on the controls so that our friend can focus on her thesis and other course work. Hang on. Let’s see if I can land this thing.

Once upon a time, before I became a teacher, I substituted in others’ classrooms. Some classrooms were a joy to be in. In those classrooms students followed known routines and were engaged in relevant, meaningful tasks. I was the nominal adult in charge but was learning more than anyone. I learned about the power of classroom community. I saw that the successful classes, the ones that gave energy rather than drained it, were communities of learners that respected and encouraged one another. Building a solid, safe classroom community is what I aspired to when I answered the call to teach, for it’s the foundation for learning. When I did become a teacher with my own classroom, I was rarely out. I didn’t want to miss anything! But there were times when I had to be away and have a guest teacher come in. And I was so proud of my students (and myself) when the guest teacher reported that they learned something, that they had fun, that the class seemed to run itself.

Once upon a time I found this place, Carrot Ranch, and as I tend to do, I watched and learned even while examining that process. I saw a community of writers that are at the same time a community of learners and teachers. I learned by doing, and I was bold enough to do, to write, because I was in a safe place. Besides, all the other kids were doing it! I was fortunate to have walked into one of those classrooms that hums with engagement and laughter; where the teacher models and encourages creativity; where she is also a learner, honing her craft as both writer and teacher.

This is what Charli is doing now. In addition to working on her novel for her MFA, she is also taking courses to become a teacher of writing. Mere certification! She is already a teacher. Charli has provided a safe space where a community of writers comes together to practice and to learn from one another. People of all levels leave their ego outside the gate but share their experience and experiments with writing. We know that learning requires risk and also that learning is fun and rewarding. In this classroom there is empathy and there is laughter. In this classroom all are welcome.

One level of learning is imitation, valid even when that imitation falls short of the example. This week at the Ranch things look the same but are not the same. But we know the routine and will follow the model as best we can. A prompt will be provided and I will even attempt to present the responses in collected form next Wednesday. This is a learning experience for me. I thank you in advance for your patience and indulgence and your participation.

Once upon a time” is a phrase that readies the reader/listener to be transported to a magical time and place. The phrase sparks anticipation and also soothes with its predictability. Carrot Ranch is a magical place. I look forward to Charli’s posts every week, like the child who finds refuge and resources for hope and growth within the classroom. Despite the happenings of the outside world, despite more immediate concerns in our lives, we can come here every week and be sustained and uplifted by this community, a community that we can count on and learn from.

And no, the photo has nothing to do with this post or prompt, but Ms. Mills is out for PD and that one from 2015 has the correct date so it’ll do.

~D. Avery

February 4, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a substitution. How might a character or situation be impacted by a stand-in? Bonus points for fairy tale elements. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 9, 2021, to be included in the compilation (published February 10). 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.

American Boarding School by D. Avery

My black hair flutters to the hard plank floor, dead crows windrowed around the stiff boots that bind my feet.

They point at me, repeat a sound.

I tell them my name. Pointing at myself I repeat my name. They beat me.

They point at me, call me that sound, make me say it. The sound is sand in my mouth.

I point at myself. I speak my name. They beat me again.

I say that other name. They smile.

I learn to keep my real name close. I will run with it, will leave their chafing boots behind.

🥕🥕🥕

January 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

The old cliche goes like this — there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. My response is, I hope it’s not a train! We all get the concept, which is why cliches are well-used like a favorite pair of driving gloves in winter. Whenever we hop into the car to drive we put them on, overlooking their frayed edges. They do their job.

So, why are writers encouraged to purge cliches from their writing? The well-worn phrases become mindless substitutions and fail to create imagery in the mind of the reader.

Take the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. If I tell you that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, most will understand that I see an end to a period of darkness. But what does that really mean? What is my period of darkness, or more to the point, what is your character experiencing?

Sally the tightrope walker suffers an illness that left her temporarily blind. Her light at the end of the tunnel could be the return of the spotlight on her rope. Beyond her emerging vision she could see hemp.

Betty Jo the Boston Terrier wandered off from her family on a camping trip. She walked 200 miles to get home. When the little dog turned down her street and saw an end to her arduous journey, she could see the kitchen light illuminating her dog door.

Miss Jernegon taught school on the alkali flats between ranches, wishing her life were more sophisticated. When she received a letter from a boarding school out east, she could hear the train that would carry her away from dust storms and starved cattle.

It’s late, and my examples aren’t stellar, but you get the idea. Instead of saying each character had come to the point in their story where they could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I looked for a way to express the idea of hopeful endings to difficult circumstances. You can search your characters’ setting or personality traits to inform a cliche.

Don’t worry about cliches in your first draft. They show up because they come to mind easily. When you revise, look for metaphors, similes, and familiar phrases in your work, and then think of how you can rebuild the concept.

At the crack of dawn becomes:

  • when the solar inferno crests the horizon
  • at the border between night and day
  • when robins summon the sun

Back-stabber becomes:

  • fake friend
  • the boss’s informant
  • cut worm

Flat as a pancake becomes:

  • flat as new iPhone
  • flat as a fat tire on a wilderness bike trail
  • flat as a dead heartbeat

When it comes to cliches, you can think outside the box…I mean, you can let your mind wander the fence-less prairie beyond the ranch. For fun and practice, we are going to tackle cliches periodically. Grab the bull by the…wait…grab the carrot by the top and pull. You know, roll up our sleeves…I mean, put on our work jeans and calf-poop encrusted boots and get to work on rewriting the light at the end of the tunnel in a story.

Quick update — the puppy is growing (teeth) and learning to beg for naps. I’m an easy target, willing to snuggle for naps on the couch. My thesis is in jeopardy. Time is flying…I mean time is slipping through…time is a back-stabber, a pizza parlor robber, a fickle cat at the back door.

January 21, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that rephrases “light at the end of the tunnel.” Think of how the cliche replacement communicates a hopeful ending and aligns with your character or story. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by January 26, 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.

The Promised Light by Charli Mills

Copper reminded Jess of Christmas caramels, all smooshed and clinging to the bedrock. After Pa died, the mine captain told Ma, “Send a son or get out of the company’s house.” Jess was built stronger than her brother with weak lungs. When she chopped her hair and changed clothes, no one said a word. Not even Ma.

Mostly, Jess fetched for the men or hauled buckets of copper caramels to the ore carts. Not much longer. Ma was cooking a plan to remarry another miner. Climbing nineteen stories of ladders, Jess thought the sun was the Star of Bethlehem.

🥕🥕🥕

January 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Enough snow covers the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan to hear the occasional whine of snow machines blasting through town on a trail 100 yards from our house. We’ve had more thaw and freeze cycles than we’ve had snow. Last year by this time we had 215 inches. The normal snowpack is 184 inches. We have barely 50 inches of snow. Vessels continue to ply the shipping lanes that ice usually shuts down in Lake Superior. Lady Lake has no taste for winter following a year that has disrupted the world.

And I have a puppy.

This is no COVID puppy. She’s a mock-therapy dog, not the real deal as far as a certificate is concerned, but a calming presence for a veteran suffering neurological impairment. She’s also a healing balm for my heart. The downside — besides trips outside every two hours to potty train and the wincing pain of puppy teeth — is that when I rest with this warm, pulsating bundle of pure love and trust, I feel all the emotions I’ve set aside to plow ahead with my MFA.

No one escapes grief or death in this life. We don’t linger on this reality because each day is too precious to waste on worry. However, a snuggling puppy melts my defenses leaving me bare like ground accustomed to the protective blanket of snow. I don’t remember what used to be normal. Does it matter? And then the warmth spreads, the puppy breath hovers, and I witness the perfection of life measured in a moment.

When she wakes, my laughter rises. Her eyes are deep and mesmerizing. So much soul in one so tiny. So much spunk. He round rump and stubby legs romp the hardwood floors. Her ears perk into a determined flop when she pounces on a toy. At first it was only a leather squirrel and a brightly colored canvas duck. Today, Amazon delivered her puppy chew-toy kit, including an orange rope carrot with green threads for a top. It’s her favorite.

This was not my preferred time to get a puppy. But the Hub was missing dogs in his life and struggling to find purpose. The pup has restored confidence — dogs are familiar territory for him. She’s a German Short-haired Pointer (GSP) which is his favorite breed. While she has his full attention and love, she also challenges his focus. It knocks him out most days. That leaves me puppy-parenting when I know he needs to reset and recharge. I’m not complaining. She’s amazing grace with paws.

If you want a proper introduction to the puppy, be sure to read Kid and Pal’s exclusive over at D. Avery’s Saddle Up Saloon.

My looming thesis deadline, capstone projects, graduate certification for teaching creative writing, and application to graduate with an MFA in May have me spread thinner than that snow we don’t have right now. I need someone to cook, brew coffee, and puppy sit for me until February 7. Even if that happened, I have serious doubts about finishing my thesis. I know I will pull through and get it completed but my brain continues to feel like mush.

During these unsettled times I want to be here with you all, believing in better days, writing into the stories we want to tell, the wordcraft we want to master, and the connections we want to make. I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned in my MFA program through different avenues. Let’s keep writing through it all. Be gentle and generous in these times. Everyone is struggling.

And let’s have some fun! Anne Goodwin asks readers in her recent newsletter if they enjoyed dressing up as children. It made me recall how much my own kids loved to play dress-up. We often looked for hats and high heels at garage sales to add to their costume box. In fact, my eldest has never fully grown out of dressing up because she gets to design and wear costumes for her dance troupe. I think a part of what my son and DIL enjoyed about their wedding was the chance to dress up, too.

Get out your costume box, put on your whimsy. We can rise above the doom and gloom and play like pampered puppies or imaginative children.

Thank you for your patience at the Ranch! It’s important we stay connected and keep writing each week.I may not be on target with my timing but I’m here with you!

January 14, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about dressing up. It can be a child or another character. Be playful or go where the prompt leads!

Respond by January 19, 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.

High-Desert Princesses by Charli Mills

Maggie stood patiently for the braiding, imagining how she’d look with ribbons of pink and sea-foam green. Jayda wore the same braids and ribbons, which made Maggie snort to think they’d be matchy-matchy. She cherished the days they played dress-up together in the barn. They’d go outside and parade up and down the dirt lane, the ranch hands pausing their dusty work to cheer like the two of them really were high-desert princesses. The magnificent act of play lingered. Later, after Jayda removed the ribbons and satin, Maggie tried to tell the other horses about the magic of make-believe.

January 7 Flash Fiction Challenge

A week into the new year, and I’m ready to “do” again. For the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring what it means to be a human being. The reflection was inward, and the parameters were mine. I was “being” like no one was watching. You know, like the saying — “dance like no one is watching.” What fulfills each of us is a design as unique as our thumbprints. I spent time to be with my self-design.

What I did was deep vision work. I didn’t just bounce from cloud-dream to cloud-dream. I distilled those vapors and thought about what elements give me purpose.

Vision work never ends. When we talk about evolving as a person, we are acknowledging how our vision shapes our understanding of who we are in the world. The more insights we often gain, the greater change it brings. The more we understand our vision, the better we get at defining our purpose. Visions don’t change; we get better clarity.

Think of it like this. Your vision is the landscape of the dream that drives your life. We can feel it in our gut and heart. We can see it in our mind’s eye. At first, it looks fuzzy. We have to define outlines of wispy clouds and name what we feel. When we first start playing with our visions, we imagine what our life looks like in five, ten, twenty years if we grow into who we want to be and what we do.

Then, as we continue to accomplish vision work each year, we get better at definition. These are the insights that come to us. A picture emerges from the clouds of dreams. We begin to recognize vision feelings in our every day lives. So, we push into that clarity and begin to see our vision’s thumbprint.

For example, many writers have a clear vision of a moment that defines success — they can imagine what they wear and say and how they feel when they sit on Oprah’s couch to discuss their book. Some writers include that moment in their vision. And why not? Vision work dreams big. Martin Luther King had a vision that drove his purpose, which was so strong it continues to inspire others today.

When we reflect on our vision, we realize that Oprah and her couch are symbolic. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen. But a vision is about purpose, about who we are as human beings as much as it is about what we do or accomplish. Go back to Oprah’s couch. Why are you there? What are you discussing? How are others around you feeling? How do you feel?

This is deep vision work.

I’ve had a dream of winning an Oscar from the time I was nine years old. I really don’t know what spawned the dream other than two things happened that year, and maybe that was enough. First, I got to go to the MGM Grand Hotel in Reno, Nevada, where I had my photo taken with a lion in a building that spared no detail on Hollywood glamor. Second, I had a bit role in the school play and discovered I love being a different person than the scared, awkward, and bullied kid I was.

That year, I watched the Oscars and noticed how the show looked like it was filmed at the MGM Grand Hotel, and the slick actors from films seemed as awkward in person as I felt despite their glamor.

I never told anyone about my fantasy or what I pretended any time I got to revisit the hotel in Reno and walk down the red-carpeted stairs. I discovered writing several years later and realized I could also become characters on the page. However, it popped up during vision work. And do you know what I did with that dream cloud? I blew it away because I thought it had nothing to do with my writing vision.

I was wrong.

Three years ago, I decided to not ignore the Oscar dream. I wrote it down in my ten-year vision. If I encouraged others to dream big, why not do it myself? Then I began to reflect on what it means to me. How it feels. How I feel in everyday life when I get that “Oscar” feeling. How winning an Oscar has anything to do with what I write.

A picture began to emerge. I live a rich inner life, and it is the source of my creativity. It’s not that I want to hide (on the stage or page); actually, I want to use bigger than life personas to express who I am on the inside. Surprisingly, my desire for Oscar recognition has to do with being seen for who I authentically am. It aligns with my top personal value of authenticity, which drives me to live the life I feel best expresses my purpose. That’s me, that’s my Oscar.

Also, I recognized a more practical application. My writing vision has to do with the kind of fiction I want to put out in the world — stories that express love in all its manifestations, characters who overcome adversity, books that uplift readers. I find myself looking for these stories in film to get quick fixes.

My writing Oscar is to write a story that would make a binge-worthy Netflix series.

Do I plan to set a goal to win an Oscar? No. That’s not the point. A vision might use accomplishments to express a person’s driving dreams, but a vision is all about living the fullest life available to you. Goals, the things we do, should take us to our vision. Every year, I will take this time to dive deeper into being. My vision balances who I am with what I do.

It’s not the arrival that satisfies me but the journey. I am a writer with an Oscar in her heart. I don’t need to get a statue; I need to express who I am on the page. Who is that? I’m still learning, but loving the transformative ride.

It’s good to be back to the Ranch and among writers. Look for Kid and Pal’s exclusive next Monday on the new baby critters headed tho the fictional ranch and the real ranch headquarters. Welcome to 2021!

Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Periwinkles on the Pack River by Charli Mills

Stones pulsed with a periwinkle heartbeat. Danni walked along the Pack River where the snow melt had retreated to expose banks of smooth stones. Her steps disturbed clouds of tiny blue butterflies that flew ahead to land, folding up wings to expose the buff color of granite underneath. As quickly as they fluttered, they disappeared into the camouflage of their coloring. G-Dog and Detlor burst past her, running to the creek with happy, floppy freedom ears. Blue periwinkles and brown dogs. The day would be perfect if Ike were here. She tossed a stone in his favorite fishing hole.

🥕🥕🥕

December 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

As much as I love the landscape and people of the American West, I’m content with my decision to leave the cradle of my family for seven generations. They came from the Pyrenees, Azores, Brazil, Denmark, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Most came directly to California and the rest from North Carolina. A few yet reside in Colorado and eastern Washington. Still, California and Nevada hold my family’s experience of America.

And then I met a veteran from Nevada and lived in almost every western state, thereafter. Sometimes I think it’s odd that we ended up in the Upper Midwest, of all places. But after struggling with the economic hardships of the rural west, we educated up and headed out. My husband grew up milking jerseys, and I worked ranches and logging camps.

Our grown children hardly know the difference between a heifer and a gelding. None of them ride horses. Yet, they matured among diversity, spent teen years swing dancing, going out to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and prancing at the Gay 90s. Some of the stories, like a mishap with a bubble machine at a drag show, I’m only now learning. They’ve supported transgender friends through transformations, traveled to other countries where they had to learn the language and customs, and embrace a changing world with mindfulness.

I miss my kids. It’s a parent-thing. Maybe, it’s simply human nature to be nostalgic for what we create and give back to the world, not ours to keep. Every Message from Svalbard, phone call from Wisconsin, or text from nine miles up the Keweenaw, and I light up like Venus on a cloudless night. Every tear, worry, and pain, I feel. Any close relationship can relate. I’ve felt this close to a horse, and I know people who feel this close to their faith. We feel what we feel, and sometimes, deeply.

This time of year tends to expose tender nerves, whether emotions, unresolved situations, or memories. The veil between the past and present and future thins, and we expect to wake up like Scrooge to frosty ghosts and rattling chains. Sometimes we sit down at the kitchen table and wonder why we are here. We feel losses keenest when it seems like everyone else has what we do not. It’s an illusion, not true. We all suffer losses. Some deal with it differently.

No wonder bells, bows, gifts, and trees delight us. We want the lights, the sweets, the full celebration. Anything and everything to chase away the chill and dark thought. We make merry to make it through.

A good friend texted me tonight saying, “There’s so much pain at the hem of the world. So much.” She should know; she’s our region’s grief counselor who sits at that hem. She’s the person who witnesses the loss others feel despite her father having terminal cancer and her 22-year-old daughter recently diagnosed with a rare and aggressive lymphoma. She left her daughter’s side to attend the grief group she leads.

I have another friend, who is my personal witness. She gets me even when I’m not sure I understand myself. She lets me be silly and serious in varying degrees. She sits at my six (military-speak for “got your back”). We should all be so blessed to have such friends and to be one in return. Sometimes, I think she sits at my six, so I can sit at my grieving friend’s six, so she can sit at her group’s hem so the world can watch out for one another.

But I also understand that some feel no one in the world is watching their back. Isolation is deadly. I mean the mental kind where we don’t feel connected. Drop extended COVID protocols, disagreements, and polarizing politics into the world, and physical isolation turns mental. Bitterness is the inability to remember love. Love begins within. Take care to guard your hearts.

Be merry. Be bright. Someone needs you. Maybe you need you. Maybe your neighbor needs a light in your window to connect. Maybe a friend needs a goofy text. Maybe you need to forgive someone — not for their sake, but for your peace.

Write. Seriously, write. Scream into the page. Wet the ink with tears. Write a love story, a horror story. Play with words and remember what it was like to play as a child. Let that child breathe. Write like grammarians aren’t watching. Write nonsense. Write a manifesto for your creativity. Write an artist’s statement. Write a poem that doesn’t rhyme. Write a syllabic dialog. Talk to yourself. Talk to someone you miss. Talk to God, the Goddess, the Divine. Write the unexpected. Write what is typical of you.

Your authentic voice is needed; wanted; deserves breath. Tell stories. Any story. Your story.

You all gather here, weekly, intermittently, bashfully, or boldly stating opinions. What a grand space you make this! What a community! I know we can’t all possibly agree and yet for nearly six years, we’ve focused on how creativity flourishes among differences. You’ve forgiven me for rants when my injustice quota fills up and pours out onto the post. You’ve looked the other way, or rolled your eyes, when someone else writes — literally — the opposite perspective from yours. I feel like this literary anthropologist every week, weaving stories that are not alike.

We are not alike. And yet we are all so very human. So up and down. So vulnerable. So resilient. Contradictions and contrast, trying to connect.

Regardless of where you are from or where you are at, I’m happy you are here.

My daughter assured me that this video will bring a smile to any Grinch. She is a dancer and her troupe is delighting in this Christmas number, texting each other 🔔🎀🎁🎄. They are choreographing their own version on Zoom. I admire that the dancers with Todrick pull it off in stilettos, thus the prompt this week. I hope “Bells, Bows, Gifts, and Trees” brightens your day!

December 17, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features stilettos. Who will wear them and why? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 22, 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 now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Gender Glitter by Charli Mills

Jace carefully dressed to costume up with the other college drag queens. He, she…no, he…set out on cross-country skis to the campus theater, stilettos tied with cord and slung across her back. His back. No one paid much attention to the petite contender for Frostiest Northern Queen until none could deny her presence (at last!). In a silver beehive wig to match nine-inch glittering stilettos, she won crowd and crown. Jace had to keep the victory secret. She (born that way) headed for the girl’s dorm no longer getting to express the person of a man becoming a woman.

🥕🥕🥕

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 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.

🥕🥕🥕

Family Traditions

December brings various holidays and family traditions. If ever there was a year to yearn for nostalgia or break away, 2020 would be it.

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.

From Biriyani to Paella by Saifun Hassam

Twins Nadia and Nilufar were toddlers when their parents emigrated in the 1980s from Kenya to the US, first to Pennsylvania and eventually to California. They were Muslims, their ethnic background Indian, with family roots in India.

Family tradition called for the sumptuous rice dish of biriyani and samosa pastries to celebrate everything from birthdays to Eid. As teenagers, Nadia and Nilufar included hamburgers, tacos, and ice cream sundaes.

Now they had families of their own. Nadia’s husband Juan introduced them to delectable seafood paella. Family members came from Canada to celebrate: Nadia and Nilufar’s restaurant: “Adventures in Food.”

🥕🥕🥕

Family Tradition by Kerry E.B. Black

Bob reached deep through the prickly branches to hang the shaped green glass ornament near the fragrant trunk of the pine tree propped in his living room. “Gotta make ‘em look for it, y’know.”

Pam smiled, charmed by the hospitality her new beau and his family had extended. Holidays could be lonely for a recently divorced ex-pat. “So, whoever finds the pickle first on Christmas morning wins an extra present?”

“Yep.” Bob tilted his head to test the ornament’s placement. “Dylan usually gets it. Like she has an affinity.”

“Maybe it’s because her nickname’s ‘Dill Pickles.’”

He chuckled. “Maybe.”

🥕🥕🥕

Christmas Conga Line by Donna Matthews

T’was the night before Christmas when all through my house, the kids are scattered, quiet as a mouse. Into that room and the next, their faces glued to phone screens…even my spouse. Not one cared about St. Nick.

That is until the ancient record player comes alive and starts blaring, “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and I begin to dance! Bouncing from one room to the next, grabbing hands and hips, forming a conga line throughout the house. As the song winds down, we sigh and laugh, and before they scatter again, I declare, “Now, a hot chocolate before bed!”

🥕🥕🥕

Family Traditions by Eliza Mimski

I come from a wacky family. Every Christmas the grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings are assigned a name to buy a silly present for. From near and far, we come together for a Christmas dinner of turkey and dressing, casseroles, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and apple pie. After dinner, the presents are heaped together near the Christmas tree. We search for our own and either keep it or exchange it with somebody else’s. There are pet rocks, wooden back scratchers with acrylic nails, a T-shirt that says I Strip for Chocolate Macaroons.

Best presents ever.

🥕🥕🥕

Virtual Turkey Trot by Ruchira Khanna

“Are you ready for tomorrow? What time should I wake you up?” inquired A.
“Do we have to?” asked P with a lone sigh.

“Of course! We ought to keep the tradition alive. So what if we can’t run the Turkey Trot with people. Let’s do it by ourselves.”

“And just like all the times, I’ll keep the pie, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, and lasagna ready.” I chipped in with a broad smile to encourage my son.

“Yum! So everything’s the same as old times.” He beamed with joy over it, “How does 7 am sound for our 10K?”

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Out with the Old, In with the New by Norah Colvin

Lizzie pressed her lips together and shook her head.

“Come on,” said Mum. “Just a little bit.”

“No!”

“Try it. You’ll like it.”

“I won’t.”

“You can’t have dessert, until you eat your veg.”

“Dessert first. Then veg.”

“We don’t do it that way, Lizzie. Veg first, then dessert.”

“No! Dessert first!”

“If you have dessert first, you won’t eat your veg.”

“Will so.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Lizzie ate her dessert. Then she ate her veg. A promise is a promise.

Now, when Lizzie’s children’s friends ask why they always eat dessert first, they shrug. “Dunno. Always have,” they say.

🥕🥕🥕

Topsy’s Turvy Christmas Eve by Sascha Darlington

“Your family’s three families,” Mrs. Crawford always told Topsy.

Topsy didn’t understand. Not until she turned nine and her older brothers spent Christmas elsewhere did she comprehend.

Slightly.

“Why aren’t they here for carols?” Topsy asked.

Mother who bit her lip—or her tongue—constantly these days said, “They’re starting their own families and traditions.”

“But carols are sacred,” Topsy whispered.

And even Joseph, her big brother-protector, remained in his room, unwilling to sing carols, which left Topsy, Mom, Dad, and Sandy.

As they sang Silent Night, a tear slid down Topsy’s cheek. This night was far too silent.

🥕🥕🥕

The Christmas Visitor by Anne Goodwin

She hung her stocking for Santa above the fireplace. She helped Gran lay the Jesus figurine in the cardboard-box crib. She joined us singing “Good King Wenceslas” at the piano. She gobbled up Dad’s stewed sprouts. So why did she refuse to play Cluedo, preferring to sit with a book? She wasn’t averse to whodunnits. She’d plucked Evelyn Hardcastle from the guest-room shelf.

But she taught me the meaning of Christmas. Whether Christian or secular, it’s not about believing in myths. It’s a time to renounce our own ego. When we merge with the group, reunite with our tribe.

🥕🥕🥕

(47) Damned Family (Jesse No Solid Bases, Yet) by JulesPaige

traditions hold limited
value when lacking
emotional attachments

Jesse thought about some of her family traditions. Like the one she had totally blown off this year. The mini-family reunion down by the shore. Which this year was cut short by finding the dead body of a man who she thought was her ex-husband in her rental unit. Usually she wasn’t big on any holiday traditions. With her family, someone was always out of town or working. She had hoped to start something new with Norman, but the divorce had ended that. Would this year be any different for her?

🥕🥕🥕

Christmas Family Tradition by Doug Jacquier

Dad would start drinking with the invited neighbours from around 11 a.m. Around 1pm we’d do the presents. His would never be satisfactory and his petty envy of the presents of others would not be disguised. When time for lunch came, as a matter of what little pride he had left, he would ceremoniously carve the roast. My brother and I would write our bets on when the explosion would happen on slips of paper we passed to each surreptitiously. And every year, like clockwork, some imagined slight would set off a stream of invective that would kill Christmas.

🥕🥕🥕

Festive Traditions by Geoff Le Pard

‘What did you do for Christmas, Logan?’

‘?’

‘You must have some family traditions?’

‘What? Like waking up with Santa dribbling into the hall carpet because he fell asleep there when he came back from the pub, having to be quiet all morning, watching the Queen and wondering what she was talking about, waiting for my gran’s bowels to move so we could eat lunch at 4pm and then having to eat sprouts – Devil’s turds btw – and mum’s stuffing that I’m sure was shredded underlay… that sort of thing?’

‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Hell, I loved it.’

‘Explains a lot…’

🥕🥕🥕

Childhood Christmas by Willow Willers

Nothing ever happened until Christmas Eve. Mum took us all shopping, on the bus. We’d buy all the food and tree, all six of us had a bag to carry. When we got home decorations were made and hung.

Then Mum started the baking and the boys would pinch it.

In the evening the Turkey and veg were prepared. At eleven pm they all went to Midnight Mass with Dad.
I was too young so mum and I stayed home and decorated the tree. I loved staying up late and when everyone got home the tree was magically ready.

🥕🥕🥕

A Tradition Begins – and Ends by Gordon Le Pard

The old singer watched as the happy crowd left the cathedral. The Bishop came over to him and shook his hand.

“I didn’t think it would be like this, it was just an old tradition.”

“Yes, but a wonderful one, you would go round the town singing carols and using them to tell the Christmas story. I just brought it inside.”

“But it was wonderful, will you do it next year?”

“And the next, and others will do it as well, soon there will be carol services everywhere. It was once your family tradition, now it will be everybody’s.”

🥕🥕🥕

Family Traditions by Colleen Chesebro

“Grandma, hurry up or we’ll miss the first song.” Kallie impatiently tugged at Grandma’s sleeve.

“I’m coming. Don’t rush me!” Grandma chided.

The church was packed. Typical for the Christmas Eve service.

“Kallie, I saved you seats,” whispered a voice. A few titters of laughter rumbled through the back row of pews.

“Thank you, James,” Grandma murmured as she heaved her body into the seat. Kallie blushed crimson.

James grinned. He only had eyes for Kallie. “Of course. Christmas Eve wouldn’t be the same without you both.”

The trio joined the congregation as they sang, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

🥕🥕🥕

New Family Traditions by Sue Spitulnik

The Monday after Thanksgiving Michael and Tessa received a beautiful Christmas arrangement from Tessa’s mother. They each raised their eyebrows, skeptical of Jenny’s intentions.
Inside the thank you card she had written, “I had no idea cooking for two days for other people could be gratifying. I hated eating leftovers on Thanksgiving, but gathering our family together with Michael’s on Saturday was the best celebration of thanks I have ever attended. Let this be our new tradition. Love, Mom.”
A tear ran down Tessa’s cheek. “She’s coming around isn’t she?”
Michael’s eyes watered. “Wait till I show my parents.”

Note: “cooking for two days for other people” refers to last week’s flash that mentioned the band members families preparing the dinner served at the No Thanks.

🥕🥕🥕

Our Ramadan by Douryeh (Hajar)

It may be four thirty and we all rise

I had made soup yesterday and warm it slowly

Husband and then children, get food on the table

Fruit, bread, yoghurt are usually part of our breakfast

Always someone cracks a joke or has yesterday’s story

Breakfast must end punctually, even when there’s no adhan

Prayers, sleep a while, then daily routine is done

The season decides at what time we’ll have dinner

Whatever is served, there’s always some milk and dates

🥕🥕🥕

Henry’s Traditional Christmas by Anne Goodwin

Some years he’d treat Christmas as an ordinary day, turn off the television and eat beans on toast for lunch. Some years he’d put up a tree, wrap presents and roast a chicken, set an extra place at the table for Tilly, and another for his dad. Yet however he began the day, tradition claimed the final hour: leaving him seated by the fire, with enough whisky to engender a headache but not enough to assuage his grief. Or his shame in spending the day in frenzied anticipation of the greatest gift imaginable: his sister’s knock upon the door.

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Apple Strudel by Frank Hubeny

I gave my brother peeled apple slices. He placed them one-by-one on the strudel dough that we older ones helped stretch across a cloth on our dinner table. He put some in his mouth. Then came the raisins to scatter on the dough. When it was finished I held him so he could watch our mother lift the cloth underneath the strudel, roll it into a long, thick pastry that fit on a cookie sheet and place it in the oven.

We made many strudels for Christmas and everyone helped.

I’ve never had a dessert that tasted so good.

🥕🥕🥕

Hunting Spot by D. Avery

Nothing, not women, jobs, not even a move, had ever interfered with their tradition. No matter what, he and his brother took the first week of deer season and spent it at camp, just the two of them. He was determined to see the whole week through this year too.

Now he paused instinctively. The large buck he’d been tracking stepped into view. He raised his rifle, took aim. Then he lowered the rifle, leaned it against a tree.

“It wasn’t really about the hunting was it?” he said aloud. The buck bounded away. He scattered his brother’s ashes.

🥕🥕🥕

Christmas Angel by Myrna Migala

The children were excited; tomorrow was Christmas!
The tradition, to catch their Christmas angel.

Imagine now the little ones jumping up and down, rolling all around, trying to catch their angel.
The tiniest of all jumped so high while clasping his hand and shouted, “I caught mine!”

Holding his hands together with a big smile, being careful not to let the angel escape.

Minutes passed by, and as he watched the other children leaping with joy, his big brown eyes widened; looking at his hand, still holding tight, he turned to his grandmother, “please, do you have a cage?”

🥕🥕🥕

Raksha Bandhan by Ritu Bhathal

Nalini scowled at Rakesh.
Stupid baby.
Her nine-year-old heart hadn’t quite come to terms with this mewling infant thrust upon her, when her mother’s expanding belly suddenly deflated.
He was taking up everyone’s time and attention.
Usually, the whole family doted upon her, but recently, it was all “The baby this, the baby that.”
“Come on Nalini, time to tie a rakhi on Rakesh. Lucky girl. You finally have a brother to bless.”
Sacred thread tied, she went to turn away, when her mother called her back. “Don’t forget your gift.”
A gift? He wasn’t so bad, after all.

🥕🥕🥕

Family Traditions by Anita Dawes

Each of us grows
Changing throughout the year
Come Christmas,
that would seem to be a lie
if my family don’t get Jaye’s mince pies.
When I say I am cancelling Christmas?
They turn into peasants and revolt
If you could see the looks, I get
Enough to kill the Bah Humbug in me
Can’t we just have Jaye’s mince pies?
No, I say. Cancelled means cancelled
I managed one year
Then a great granddaughter came along
Children to me mean Christmas
So here we go again, it’s game time
Charades, old tabletop games
Screams of you cheated, mum!

🥕🥕🥕

Fertile Northern Lights by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The stewpot was emptied of root vegetables, venison gratefully given, and thick brown gravy sweetened with brunost. Crumbs of spilled flatbread caught the flicker of resting embers, and a half-dozen children snored under heavy woolen blankets. The littlest, wrapped in rabbit’s fur, lay in his mother’s arms.

“Leave him. He’ll sleep well enough under the Northern Lights.”

She nodded, tucking him next to the oldest girl, and said a prayer for the children departed.

“The Lights shimmer tonight; propitious for calling another soul to our family,” he hefted their sleeping fur.

She followed her husband into the snowy night.

🥕🥕🥕

Family Tradition by Margaret G. Hanna

“A fence! Are you serious?”

“You mean, you don’t put a fence around your Christmas tree? Our tree isn’t complete until the fence goes up.”

“But a fence?”

“This isn’t any old fence, it has history!”

“Do tell.”

“My uncle made it when I was a toddler. I was told that I could not touch anything that was behind the fence.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Seventy years. The ‘posts’ are askew and the silver garland rope has seen better days, but it’s as essential as the angel on the tree top.”

“I suppose it has history, too.”

“Yep.”

🥕🥕🥕

Christmasque Treevia by Bill Engleson

One year, it appeared.
An artificial tree.
I can visualize my parents buying it, thinking, hell, the kids are gone, we don’t want to be traipsing out into the tulies to chop down some innocent sapling.
Gone: one of our few traditions.
Over the next fifteen, twenty years, I made it home pretty much every second Christmas.
Sometimes every third.
That fake tree took such a beating. On each visit, it had fewer plastic needles.
Somehow, its escalating emaciation didn’t matter.
For me, it encapsulated a simple withering truth about my family and how time had forever changed us.

🥕🥕🥕

Whose Traditions? by Reena Saxena

There is a distinct sense of unease around the oncoming festival. She knows that certain things can’t be done.

“But we aren’t having any visitors”, said her husband, \’just cook and eat and decorate the house as you like. Post some pictures with a wistful write-up on social media.”

“It’s all a joke for you”, she was cross.

“Do you remember how you defied my mother’s traditions?”

“These are mine, hence important.”

“So were hers..”

“Remember whom are you going to spend the rest of your life with.”

It was time for him to shut up and comply.

🥕🥕🥕

New Traditions by Charli Mills

That night, the sheepherder made room for two wayward cowboys. The snowstorm blinded their passage back to the Two Bar Ranch and their horses found refuge in the small enclave of Basque who herded sheep in the Sierras every summer. All herds hunkered down in the valley to survive winter. Jess and Roy knew they’d miss beans and card games for Christmas, but the smell of mutton stew raised hopes not all was lost. After tasting saffron bread for the first time, and learning new carols to a tabor pipe, the cowboys adapted their cattle family traditions to sheepherders.

🥕🥕🥕

This Christmas by Joanne Fisher

“So what did you do at Christmas?” Stacey asked.

“Mum would make us scrambled eggs with lots of butter and toasted homemade bread. Then we would open presents. One of us would hand them all out, and then we’d open them one at a time going round the room. In the evening we’d have dinner with the rest of the family, and of course, open more presents.” Hannah replied.

“Nice.”

“But I’m missing it this year since I’ve been kicked out for being lesbian.” Stacey hugged Hannah.

“We’ll just have to start our own traditions then.” Stacey told her.

🥕🥕🥕

Roots Crop (Part I) by D. Avery

“Purty sure we’re gonna have a Yule log this year.”

“Why’s thet, Kid? Thet ain’t our terdition.”

“Gonna be a holiday season like no other Pal.”

“Why’s thet, Kid?”

“Gonna be masked up.”

“Why’s thet, Kid? We’re fictional; exempt from all thet.”

“An’ we gotta snuff yer candles Pal.”

“Why’s thet, Kid? That’s my fav’rite terdition fer this time a year.”

“Thought ‘stead a roast beast we’d have baked beans.”

“Baked beans??? LeGume!”

“Yep, Pepe’s gonna join us.”

“Thet Pepe LeGume’s a rootin’ tootin’ ranch hand.”

“Yep. So we wear masks. No open flames.”

“Hmmf.”

🥕🥕🥕

Roots Crop (Part II) by D. Avery

“LeGume hangin’ out with us stinks, Kid. I ain’t likin’ it.”

“Pepe needs a place ta go.”

“Thet was last week’s prompt. Ain’t LeGume got his own folks?”

“Pepe is estranged from his wife.”

“He’s a-strange alright. Answer’s ‘No’.”

“Hate ta burst yer bubble, Pal. I already invited him.”

“An’ I said oui, merci. Pal, Keed, I weel keep my deestance.”

“Mmm… Thet date nut bread yer bakin’?”

“Dere was not so much available, so I am improvising.”

“Never thought I’d say this to ya, but thet smells good.”

“Eet’s all good, Pal. Ees sweet bread from raw carrots.”

🥕🥕🥕

December 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

Beans may not be a part of everyone’s family tradition, but they were in mine. We greeted company with a pot of beans, a pan of enchiladas, and a bowl of green salad. At various times, my kids have requested the recipe for their own households. As far back as I know, our pinto bean recipes went back to the vaquero ranch cooks in my family at least five generations. Today, the memory lingers while the tradition has changed.

The Hub can’t eat beans well. His family has an old-time recipe for baked beans at Christmas. I never mastered baking beans, and he was okay with that. We tried to replicate the taffy pulls he and his cousins did as kids, but I never mastered that either. Eventually, we created our own family traditions around food and activities.

Between now and the New Year, we will watch A Christmas Story. Writers might relate to this scene from the movie when Ralph daydreams about the accolades he anticipates receiving for a paper he wrote:

On or after Christmas Day, we will play The Lord of the Rings board game and have a marathon going with all three movies in the trilogy. We even load up Christmas stocking with favorite snacks (like smoked oysters and summer sausage with sweet hot mustard) in anticipation of a day filled with playing games and Tolkein battles replacing Christmas music.

Ah. Christmas music. Trans Siberian Orchestra is a family favorite.

Imagine the intensity with which the Mills family decked their halls to TSO. I have every album they’ve made and one year, the Hub and I went to one of their electrified concerts in St. Paul. Another tradition from when the kids were still kids and all under one roof, we would eat Christmas Eve dinner by candle light and the lights of the tree. We’d clean up, put on our pajamas, fill baggies with homemade fudge and cookies, and go for a drive to look at Christmas lights. It was fun to be in our PJs. We would sing carols and listen to our favorite comedian, Bill Engvall.

Those were the days that make me smile. I’d like to sat family traditions remain static, but they change as we do. This year, I think a lot of families are facing the realities of COVID-19 interfering with the holidays.

But it’s not all that bad. It’s a chance to refresh, to try something new, to set aside the beans. I’ve downloaded some new music.

I’ve talked to extended family about playing Bingo on Zoom Christmas week. I have friends who are hosting dance parties and cacao ceremonies. Zoom, Facetime, and Skype are digital ways to extend the fun of playing games. YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Netflix let you set up watch parties for holiday movies or even The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Think of the disruption to family traditions as a chance to make new ones. Some people might be grateful to shake lose of the old ways and reconnect differently, with more thought and meaning. Learn about the traditions of your friends and neighbors. Deepen your own faith. Take time for solitude and quiet if that is what you need.

We are going to kick off December with a nod to family traditions. Feel free to share or break them.

December 3, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes family traditions. It can be related to any holiday or situation. How does the tradition impact the story or change the character? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 8, 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.

New Traditions by Charli Mills

That night, the sheepherder made room for two wayward cowboys. The snowstorm blinded their passage back to the Two Bar Ranch and their horses found refuge in the small enclave of Basque who herded sheep in the Sierras every summer. All herds hunkered down in the valley to survive winter. Jess and Roy knew they’d miss beans and card games for Christmas, but the smell of mutton stew raised hopes not all was lost. After tasting saffron bread for the first time, and learning new carols to a tabor pipe, the cowboys adapted their cattle family traditions to sheepherders.

🥕🥕🥕