Tis a Gift to Live Simply

Submitted into Contest #179 in response to: Start your story with someone making a vision board.... view prompt


Fiction Inspirational Contemporary

           Stepping back from the colorful display, Caroline Winters surveyed her work. Pictures, quotes, inspirational messages, a poem clipped out of a magazine; it reminded her vaguely of a collage she had made in the fifth grade for career day. 

           Eyes drawn toward the center of the arrangement, she whispered the words, 

                             “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

                              I took the one less traveled by,

                              And that has made all the difference.”

           It was true she thought, she had never been like her friends, and had often taken less conventional paths in her life. Her journey, however, hadn’t been any less hectic or stressful and it seemed she was always chasing the next deadline, or running against the clock to ensure her kids were where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there.

           The new year was sliding past at an alarming rate, and here she was, looking at the last week in February feeling as though she hadn’t accomplished a thing. It was clear, she had to do something different.

           Caroline had never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. From her point of view, it was little more than virtue signaling, since few people ever followed through with those good intentions for more than a week or two.

The idea of a vision board, however, appealed to her. It would keep her goals in front of her: not as a chastisement for what she hadn’t done, but rather to remind herself of where she was and what she had yet to accomplish.

It was to the mixed reactions of her friends and family that she made the decision to go back to school three years ago. Yes, it was going to be challenging, and not many in her age group had the interest or desire for it, but she loved to learn and was determined to see it through, even if it took until her retirement to do it— and, realistically, as a single mother who had neither the energy nor the financial means to return to school full time, she knew it might.

The most recent addition to her board infused her with a deep sense of accomplishment, and she was savoring the inner glow it had produced. There were three levels of certification she needed before receiving her degree, and she had placed a small copy of each on her board to supply encouragement whenever she felt overwhelmed.

She had recently finished the first one, and had just glued a paper picture frame around it, distinguishing it from the other two. It had received no outward fanfare to speak of, but it bore testimony to the hard work and self-denial required to earn it.

“What do you think, Mr. Toby,” she asked the sleek brown and white tabby cat that had jumped lightly up onto her desk, as if to examine her work. “should I add anything else?”

Merrowing, he wound himself around her while she scratched his ears, contemplating the areas of development she had laid out for herself. Improving her mind, with continuing education so she could fulfill her desire to become a parenting coach, improving her physical stamina, now that her post injury recovery was complete, and getting back in touch with nature.

These were all goals depicted on the board, and as Toby gently head butted against her arm her eyes came to rest on the magazine clipping of a backpack for pets.

It was slightly deeper than the standard student backpack and it made her think of a space capsule with its clear plastic front punctuated with several air vents. Smiling, she lifted her furry companion up and cuddled him to her shoulder.

“You’re right Mr. Toby,” she told him as she crossed the room, “it’s time for us to try out your new carrier”

Having decided that she wanted to spend more time outdoors Caroline had ordered the device from the advertisement, hoping Toby would also enjoy the outings. Putting the carrier on the floor she opened it, placing a small warm blanket inside.

Lacing up her hiking boots, she left him to check out the new equipment, and when he hopped inside to see what it contained she zipped it shut.

“Okay buddy, time to do this.”

Shrugging her shoulders carefully into the straps, Caroline balanced Toby’s weight towards the center of her back. Walking out the door and down the street, she veered off toward a well-worn path near the river.

Slow and steady she told herself, as she began to puff a bit.

Once an active person, who seldom slowed down, Caroline had been sidelined with an injury from a fall she had taken the year before, and was only just getting back to a normal schedule. Her stamina, which had been greatly diminished, and the extra weight she put on, due to her forced inactivity, made everyday tasks more difficult and the need to take frequent rests was a source of frustration she was having difficulty coping with.

Inspired by the copy of Robert Frost’s poem on her vision board, Caroline set off for the closest thing to the woods that was available to her. The river walk was popular with runners, but had originally been created as a walking path by a local ornithology club, with benches and bird feeders placed among the small trees and shrubs that lined the wood chip path.

This proved to be a wise choice as she soon grew tired and a little light-headed. She chose a bench near the water to sit on until the feeling passed. Then, getting up she pressed on. Taking advantage of the numerous seats available along the path, she enjoyed the quiet as she rested between walks.

After several stops she became more aware of her surroundings and spent a little more time at each one watching and listening. The twittering of birds in the shrubs, and flashes of color held her attention as one or more birds darted between the feeders and the cover of bare winter branches.

Sitting very still, she was rewarded by the arrival of a downy woodpecker perching on the bars of a suet feeder, blissfully pecking away at the savory food provided, while every so often pausing to tilt its head back and forth, checking her out with it's shiny jet black eyes.

Caroline realized she was smiling, the tensions of the week fading as she absorbed the simplicity of her surroundings. Carefully, she slipped off the straps of her backpack so she could check on Toby. Snuggled up in the blanket he was calmly looking about, mewing softly to her as she turned it toward herself.

“So, you’re enjoying this too,” she observed, as she pulled her phone from her pocket, taking a picture of herself with her little fur baby.

Sighing, she checked her watch. It was time to return home. She had assignments waiting for her, but she was glad she had come. This would be her go to place she decided, to regain her health both physically and emotionally.

The bustle of the world would always be there, and she would need to meet it’s demands, but she was beginning to understand that there was nothing wrong with living a simple life.

Arriving back at her house she went inside, let Toby out of his space capsule, and walked into her office. Tapping her phone, she printed the picture of herself with Toby, sitting together on the bench.

Trimming it to a size more appropriate for the space, she added it to her vision board as a reminder to make time for the important things in her life. Then, sitting down at her computer, she went back to work.

January 07, 2023 04:49

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Mary Lehnert
04:46 Jan 16, 2023

I liked this story as much as the rest but the thing that struck me was the excellent use of English. the lovely peaceful atmosphere created. The piece read like a dreamy, late summer afternoon. Wonderfully done


05:30 Jan 16, 2023

Thank you so much. Such compliments really mean a lot when coming from other authors. I appreciate you taking the time to both read and respond, feedback is always helpful.


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02:20 Jan 12, 2023

Dear Denise, I found this a very pleasant and peaceful story. I enjoyed reading it. Towards the end, I found myself hoping that nothing bad would happen that could unexpectedly sadden the moment. I might suggest reviewing the use of its versus it's. For example, from your story, "she would need to meet it’s demands..." and the use of commas, as in, “You’re right Mr. Toby,” she told him... and “Okay buddy, time to do this.” But, overall, the story is really enjoyable.


06:27 Jan 12, 2023

Hi Bruce, Thanks for the feedback. Normally I would let a story sit for a day or two and then edit it before submitting it, but I was working against the clock to get this in before the deadline and must have missed those copy editing issues. I am glad you enjoyed it though : )


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Wendy Kaminski
04:36 Jan 11, 2023

This was a sweet story, Denise: some stories just make you want to go out and do exactly what the protagonist did. This story was like that, for me - it sounds lovely, and I think I will treat myself to the woods, this week. :) Thank you!


06:29 Jan 12, 2023

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it : )


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Delbert Griffith
13:34 Jan 10, 2023

This was a wonderful story because it reminds us all that we need to take a break every now and then. Getting into nature is so calming; we all should do more of this. I find that my blood pressure goes down every time I'm in a wooded area. There's some magic there, right? Nice story, Denise. And good advice.


04:24 Jan 11, 2023

Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it!


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