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February 6: Story Challenge in 99-words

Three dark-eyed juncos flutter in a small maple tree stripped to bare branches. A veil of softly falling snow obscures the sharp details of their feathers from my view. The birds seek food as I wash dishes after breakfast. I feel a hopeful sensation beat time with bird wings.

Maybe I’m hopeful of spring and the return of birds; a cycle so ingrained in me that I know with every cell it’s coming. Later than sooner. In the Keweenaw, February and March are full of false springs.

What is this connection I feel to nature all around me? Birds never cease to stir wonder no matter how common they might be. Chickadees speak to me no matter the season. Crows strike up conversations from the oak across Roberts Street. Pigeons ignore me.

What they say (or don’t, as with the pigeons) feels fleeting. Like almost understanding another language or remembering a dream in the morning. If I could understand what a bird has to say to me, how would I respond?

It’s not far-fetched to think that birds speak to me. After all, birds speak in mythology as messengers of the divine. The poet, Poe, quothed a raven. Scientists even agree, pointing out collaborative efforts to communicate between birds and humans; birds and wolves.

The calls of birds are symbolic. The screech of an eagle becomes a cry for freedom while the song of the robin signals spring. I think about the juncos outside and resiliency comes to mind. Their presence symbolizes the ability to face hard times — bare trees, banks of snow, and fierce winds. The juncos are thriving and so can we. We are interconnected. I recognize the truth that humans exist because nature exists. It’s never been the other way around.

As a founding member of People of the Heart Water Walkers, I’ve learned to offer petitions to the water and acknowledge all our kin. Anishinaabe teachings hold that all life is soveirgn. Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, writes, “The land knows you, even when you are lost.” Dr. Suzanne Simmard’s work to understand how trees grow, discovered that trees are sentient beings. Pat McCabe, Weyakpa Najin Win, is a Dine activists, speaker, and cultural laison. She calls us to connect with nature to thrive:

Since “learning to kiss the hag” with the reknown psychologist and mythologist, Sharon Blackie, I’ve begun to reflect more deeply on the psyche through mythology and dreams. Nature plays an ever present role. When I joined the Water Walkers, I longed for a way to retrieve my own lost lineage. The Anishinaabe talk about blood memory (collective memories of one’s ancestors) and I’ve wondered if I could tap into my own through deep inward explorations.

As if to answer my thoughts, Sharon Blackie recently posted this:

Both mentors are going to present at This Animate Earth to “Remember a world that is alive and ensouled, an animate earth where everything has place, purpose and meaning and all life is sacred.”

With Valentine’s Day coming up next week, my thoughts turn from birds to love. What would it be to write a love letter to nature? And if you are in the romantic frame of mind, be sure to catch up with the Cowsino story slots and spine now playing at the Saddle Up Saloon. Lots of characters are already over there playing with ranch mythology and more.

February 6, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story as a love letter to nature. You could reach back to more pastoral times of writing or enter into the future. Who is writing the letter — an ant or an aunt? Is it a lifetime of love or eons? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 11, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

January 30: Story Challenge in 99-words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Submit by February 4, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

January 23: Story Challenge in 99-words

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

Is optimism necessary?

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

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

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

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

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

Helen Keller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Submit by January 28, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

January 16: Story Challenge in 99-words

Over the weekend I met a lady in the shadows. She was a small silhouette set upon murky material. She was simply known as, “The Lady;” a restorative work of textile art.

Artist and creative adventurer, Beth Jukuri, displayed her collection of story textile panels at the Gallery on 5th in Calumet, the historic center of the Keweenaw Peninsula (island) of Upper Michigan. I met a kindred spirit who creates and kayaks.

Beth’s collection is called Art Therapy. She explains in her artist purpose that she can’t share her pain in art but she can reveal her recovery. As a fellow survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it’s not often I get to meet another woman who refused to be silenced by her childhood experience. We connected immediately in a deep way.

Perhaps that’s true of any strangers who become close within minutes because both are equally willing to be authentic.

Meeting Beth boosted my inspiration and she reminded me why I started Carrot Ranch in the first place. To connect with other writers sharing the writing journey; to play and practice a creative craft that captivates us. She renewed my vigor to make the Ranch a place where anyone can access literary art and forge a weekly practice of creative writing. Beth reminded me how much I appreciate the weekly Collection for its endless expression of creativity.

In Beth’s collection, The Lady emerges brighter, bigger, and more dynamic as the panels progress. In one story panel, The Lady is joined by another and both have empty heads. Beth explains how that initially bothered her as if nothing was in their minds until she realized nothing was influencing their thoughts. These ladies were open-minded.

You can learn more about Beth Jukuri at her blog and read about the adventures of her local group of women who hike, bike, ski, snowshoe, and kayak. Don’t be surprised if I show up among them!

I was thinking of ladies in the shadows and what more we could draw from the idea in the way of stories. Also in the art gallery was a portrait of Big Annie who led the miners’ strikes of 1913. The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russel tells the story of Calumet’s Joan of Arc. The portrait also shows how she bore the burden of immigrants and the men who descended into the dark shafts. I was further delighted to find out that one of my new favorite artists was the mastermind behind Annie’s portrait.

Art inspires art inspires art.

I’m glad I got to go on an artist’s date before returning to school at Finlandia University. While I anticipate a tamer schedule and less stress this semester, I also dove into my syllabus and restructured the flow of my course. I felt creative in how I will teach college students to write. I’m also working on courses for an online writing school in the works. Encouraging others to find their place in the writing life and grow as writers is as vital to my soul’s purpose as is my writing.

Tonight is morning already and while I can’t afford to revert to my night owl ways, I’m full up on the richness of inspiration and impending possibilities. My syllabus is uploaded, my week’s lessons are in place, and my creative work unfolds. Week One of the semester begins.

Go chase Lady Shadows and bring back your stories!

January 16, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a lady shadow. Who is this person and why do they lurk in the shadows. What is the tone and setting for your story? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 21, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

January 9: Story Challenge in 99-words

The wind swings overhead electric cables, casting shadows across the white snow. The movement catches my attention until I finally see the first rabbit appear. Like shadows, four more bunnies hop down Roberts Street. Mause and I are buried beneath the Blanket of Joy on the couch and she sleeps through the emerging rabbits.

To my embarrassment, I genuinely forgot yesterday was Sunday, the day reserved for writing a challenge post. Monday dawned with an important client meeting to prepare for, a veteran snafu, an unexpected call from a fellow prof regarding classes that start next week, and a movie out with a Warrior Sister.

Now, Mause is sleeping alone on the couch and I’m feeling like one of my students cramming to finish an essay.

The veteran snafu involved license plates. As a caregiver, I had to first understand the upheaval a notice in the mail created. Once we were understanding the issue, I armed Todd with the proper paperwork and sent him to the local state office. One mission accomplished.

The movie could have been one I shared with you with an eye for film writing. Alas, my friend and I both forgot the movie theater was closed on Mondays. We went to Applebees instead (nothing to write home about there). Coming home late, I crossed paths with the rabbits.

I wonder where they sleep and what feels like a Blanket of Joy to them? I know they nibble raspberry canes. A burrow must be nearby and I suspect my neighbor’s old carriage house. In the morning, I will likely see their distinct prints in the fresh dusting of snow.

Snow. Don’t get me started. It’s been an icy winter and the snow is greasy. During the blizzard a few weeks back, the snow blew so hard that our garage collected drifts. Mause was the only one in our household who found the mid-blizzard snow-shoveling fun. She barked with excitement, the sound carried by the wind. My friend told me tonight they got 50 inches of snow in that storm. It’s fizzled since then; the snow.

We are left to ponder the lives of rabbits.

January 9, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes rabbits. Is it a family? A strange planet? Some crazy bunny person’s pets? Who are they and what are they doing? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 14, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

January 2: Story Challenge in 99-words

I’m old enough to have a son who will be taking a sabbatical later this (new) year. How is it he gets one before I do? Oh, that’s right. He was impressionable when I went back to college for my undergrad degree and followed the academic trail on his own to a job that recognizes the need to rest after several intense years of travel and work. I’m happy for him.

In a way, I took my own sabbatical in 2022. It was less formalized and appeared in the guise of “letting go.” Surrendering and resting may not sound like top-shelf New Year’s resolutions, but life often calls us to do the unexpected. Last year was one of the most lost years I’ve lived.

I wondered and wandered. I had no North Star because I had too many clouds blocking my view. I made several choices I never thought I’d make.

First, I stopped writing. After ten years of dogged transformation to go from a marketing communicator to a literary artist, I didn’t set a single goal. I wasn’t concerned about my choice because I’ve been writing at a professional level for over 25 years and know what it takes to write when I don’t feel like it. I won that battle years ago (thank you deadlines). To me, writing is not what comes and goes; it’s the writer. The writer can find inroads. I don’t believe writing inspiration dries up beyond restoration. I quit writing because I had too much unsettled in my life.

So I quit my marriage. The hardest day was in March when I let go. Just let it go like a bird I’d held captive in my hands. I didn’t think I could help my husband any more than I had and I really wanted both of us to be happy. He had turned his veteran journey into a battlefield and I had no fight left. Despite my acceptance into the VA Caregiver Support Program, it had come too late. They prepared me for separation from my duties and I did my best to prepare Todd.

He didn’t leave, as he’d been wanting to do ever since we arrived at the Keweenaw. I found a place to live and secured as much work at the local university as I could, adding professional tutoring to my adjunct professor position. All I needed was my half of the sale of our house. I had carefully tried not to call it a home and I even let go of ever having one. I’d have an apartment and that would have to do.

Covid has changed much of the social landscape as we knew it. Covid also changed my marriage. I half-heartedly laughed when I left the house to shelter elsewhere after Todd got Covid and his last words to me were about life insurance. Maybe it jogged something in his unreliable brain. Maybe my leaving when he was sick made him question his independence. There were many other factors at play but what changed was that he decided not to leave. I didn’t agree to stay (my apartment is still not ready). But I didn’t leave, either.

Letting go didn’t mean giving up or withholding love. Like with writing, it was a break; a time to ponder what will this be like?

What struck me, though, when I realized I didn’t have to leave, I allowed myself to feel how deep my feelings ran for my husband, family, and home. I’m a writer and even at my best, I don’t think I can aptly explain the complexity of those emotions. I have a profound appreciation for my bedroom and Unicorn Room as sanctuaries. I enjoyed Mause more, knowing I could continue to be with her. And I let go of training her or trying to correct/fix/help Todd.

Caregiver Support quickly kicked in and I’m profoundly grateful to have access. My therapist helped me understand a lot of Todd’s brain trauma doesn’t mean he is not there anymore. He’s still Todd and I keep an eye out for glimpses of him daily even if I’m laughing at really awful jokes like him “scenting” my sanctuaries. It’s become a morning ritual. I’m deep into yoga or meditation and he walks in making airplane sounds for a round of “crop-dusting.” Unfortunately for me, the joke renews almost daily.

On my side though, is a strange peace I’ve found where I thought there’d only be chaos.

Chaos came to school. The one area I applied myself last year was Finlandia. It was going to be my second career. The University’s enrollment tanked and I got two new bosses with whom I’m not a good fit. Can you ever remember being yelled at while at work? Well, it happened twice and with the same person. As someone who used to manage people, I was surprised. I can’t recall being ill-treated like that and I will no longer be tutoring. With the low enrollments, it’s questionable as to whether or not I’ll have enough students for a single class. For now, I have the minimum of four.

Carrot Ranch was not on the letting go block, but I did pare down to the bare bones. I had to figure out how to let go of a life and rebuild it. You likely noticed I was barely on social media and did not promote or visit blogs. I let go of any marketing. If ever there was a good year, I picked it! So much has changed in the social media sphere and I’m reminded of why we assess marketing annually. Without writing, I had no meaning, no target audience, and no visual on my North Star.

It’s coming back. I let go of so much I now know what is important, what isn’t, and what I can handle. This year, my focus is two-fold: peace and follow-thru. When you let go, you find peace at the bottom of the rope. When you let go, you don’t follow thru; there’s no need because you’re at the bottom of your pit after having let go. Now comes what next.

This winter break, I socialized more. I stayed in more with Todd and played more with him and Mause at the dog park. I watched a lot of films and documentaries. I read. I listened. I planned. My vision plan is nearly finished and my business plan is restarted. My SBA rep gave my proposal a green light saying I had nothing to lose. He’s right. And he doesn’t know I spent the last year on a sabbatical of letting go.

So greetings, best wishes, and aanii to you all. I appreciate your patience with me. As I return from my sabbatical, I’ll be putting my life back together with care. I realize that my heavy-achieving days belong to my younger years. I’m not old by any means but as a woman, I’m in the second half of life and I mean to live it on my terms not the expectations of others. I don’t need to achieve. I want to connect, inspire, be inspired, practice peace, and find a path where I can follow thru on the doing part of being.

A simple note of housekeeping — technological issues are now known (as Hugh and Colleen thought, it was an outmoded theme in WP. Happiness Engineers found several other theme options, but I’m still contemplating a move to a WP site hosted by Site Ground. I’ll decide later this month. I appreciate all the suggestions, too. For now, I’ll use the clunky workaround because it’s the best solution for what I want to do. My intention for following thru is to visit and be more social. Carrot Ranch remains at its foundation a place to practice the art of creative writing. It’s accessible. Anyone can take the weekly challenge to create a commitment to their writing process. You are free to set any goals for yourself, using the challenges.

This is it. I’m back in the saddle. I might be a bit like a greenhorn, but I’ll catch the rhythm soon enough! A hearty thanks to those of you who kept the campfire going. I’m grateful for your presence at the Ranch! Let’s ride and write!

January 2, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a sabbatical. Who needs one or has had one? What kind of tension could a rest create? Where can a break take your story? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 7, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection will be published on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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.

How Not To Allow A Blank Screen To Defeat You When The Words Go Missing

Some believe writer’s block is a myth, while others claim it has ruined their writing career. It can last a few days or many years. How do you deal with writer’s block?

Fortunately, I discovered writing challenges early in my blogging journey. I found them beneficial when staring at a blank screen and words failing to travel from my brain to my fingertips.

But there have been times when I have faced writer’s block when taking up a writing challenge. For whatever reason, the prompt does not motivate me to write. My creative cogs refused to budge, and even walking away from the screen and going on a walk failed to get them turning.

Has this ever happened to you?

Last week, I had one of those blank-screen moments while trying to write something for the weekly 99-word flash fiction challenge here at the Carrot Ranch.

After coming back from a long walk, I thought I’d be able to knock down the writer’s block wall, but it would not budge.

As the blank screen became a nightmare, I started panicking and thinking I would fail. Then I had one of those bright spark moments when I thought, write anything.

As the words began their journey to the screen, a story in my head began to form. I saw a woman sitting in a comfy chair, staring at her husband, who she thought was ignoring her again.

Why was he ignoring her? I asked myself. The words began to flow.

Then another question popped into my mind. ‘Why did the wife think her husband was ignoring her?

It wasn’t long before I had a story from two perspectives.

After writing both stories, I set them aside for 24 hours and allowed them to rest. The next day, I read both stories and began editing them.

I don’t know about you, but I never publish the first draft of anything or write and publish something on the same day. Didn’t I read somewhere from a well-known author that the first draft is always, umm, shall we say, something that attracts flies?

But although writer’s block seemed defeated, I now had another dilemma. Which of the two stories was I going to cut down to 99 words and publish?

I could have asked for feedback on which one, but I had a gut feeling about one of the stories and went with it.

Do you always go with your gut feeling when making a decision?

Given all the many pieces of flash fiction I’d written for the 99-word flash fiction challenge, I knew which of the two stories my readers would like the most. Another gut-feeling? Yes, but I saw a dark edge to one of the stories, something I always hope readers will pick up.

I cut the story to 99 words and weaved in the dark edge, trying to make it slightly more obvious.

You can read my piece of flash fiction, The Squeaky Husband, here.

A couple of days after staring at a blank screen with failure sitting at my side, I was having fun rewriting and editing a story born from writing a Christmas wish list.

Yes, that piece of flash came from writing my Christmas wish list. Any words help. It doesn’t matter what they are.

Writer’s block? What is writer’s block? Did it exist on that day, or was it something I’d made up because other writers believed in it?

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you conquer it?

Copyright © 2022 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

About the Author

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues, including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping, and walking his dogs. Although he was born in Wales, he has lived in various parts of the United Kingdom, including London, where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is, “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

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.