Charli Mills reminiscences about school days

School Days, Reminiscences of Charli Mills

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

First to share her reminiscences is Charli Mills, lead buckaroo at the Carrot Ranch where she challenges writers with a weekly flash fiction prompt and an annual flash fiction rodeo. She believes in the power of literary art to change lives and that it should be accessible to everyone. She encourages writers to find their voice in a supportive environment where everyone is welcome.

I have known Charli for almost as long as I have been blogging and was among the first to participate in her flash fiction challenges when they began five years ago this month. I have rarely missed a week since. Charli’s support and encouragement of my writing and my work has been unfaltering, even when she was experiencing her own tough times, and I am extremely grateful for it. I don’t know how well I may have maintained my yet mindset without her.

Before we begin the interview, I’ll allow Charli to tell you a little of herself:

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, is the award-winning goat-tying champion of a forgotten 1970s rodeo. Now she wrangles words. Married to a former US Army Ranger, Charli is “true grit” although shorter than John Wayne. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and gives voice to women and others marginalized in history, especially on frontiers. In 2014 she founded an imaginary place called Carrot Ranch where real literary artists could gather where she hosts a weekly 99-word challenge. She’s pursuing her MFA with SNHU, writing novels, and leading workshops to help writers with professional development.

Welcome, Charli.

Now let’s talk school. First of all, could you tell us where you attended school?

Sacred Heart Catholic School (Hollister, California), Sunnyside Elementary (Hollister, California), Diamond Valley School (Woodfords, California), Douglas High School (Minden, Nevada), and Carroll College (Helena, MT).

Did you attend a government, private or independent school?

Sacred Heart was a private Catholic school, and so was Carroll College. I achieved kindergarten at one and a BA at the other. The other three were public schools. Diamond Valley was located next to the Woodfords Community of the Washoe Tribe. Our county was too small in population to warrant its own high school and the mountains cut us off from the nearest California option at Lake Tahoe so we were bussed into Nevada to Douglas High School, which was a horrible experience as we faced much prejudice as the “Alpine kids” even though not all of us were Native American.

What is the highest level of education you achieved?

To date, I’ve earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English –Writing. However, I’m in the application process to pursue a Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing.

What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

At Diamond Valley, in 7th-grade, Mr. Price made us write a spelling story once a week using the “prompt” of words from our spelling list. My stories were long and he encouraged me to write them longer. Then he asked me to read my stories aloud to the class every week, and I have loved reading my writing ever since. In high school, I struggled unless writing was involved. Ms. Bateman hit me hard with editing, but also taught me how to improve. She invited me to be on the newspaper team and I was the youngest member. By my senior year, I was co-editor. After high school I waited tables, worked road construction, and wrote for a daily newspaper, dreaming of going to college to be an archeologist and an author. Ten years later, I enrolled in a writing degree when my three young children started school. I often joked that I went back to kindergarten with them. My freelance writing took off while I was still in college. I never did become an archeologist and I worked 20 years in marketing before pursuing my author dreams, but my first novel will feature a character who is an archeologist. It’s all connected to my days at Diamond Valley School, and the skills I honed at Carroll College.

What is your earliest memory of school?

My earliest memory of school is being in trouble. I was highly imaginative and evidently, the nuns did not appreciate my drawings in textbooks. We lived on a ranch outside of Hollister California and my mother worked in town. She’d drop me off at a sitter’s and I’d walk to school every morning with the daughter who was in kindergarten, too. She never got in trouble. I recall wondering why I was so different and why the nuns didn’t like my freedom of expression. At Carroll College, I took an art appreciation class and wrote a paper on my theory of Greek influences on modern pornography. I worried I was going to get in trouble again for expressing my ideas, but the Jesuits loved it. I thought about sending that paper to Sister Margaret at Sacred Heart, explaining that I turned out fine, using my imagination.  Not sure she would agree!

What memories do you have of learning to read?

Books captivated me! I wanted to crack the code and would sit and pretend read. The nuns said I couldn’t read so the next grade placed me in remedial reading until the teacher caught me “pretend” reading a chapter book. She realized I wasn’t pretending. How I learned to read mystifies me. I couldn’t grasp the components, but I could read. Math was similar. I had the answers but struggled to show the work. Spelling escapes me but writing flows. Learning was always a frustration in school, yet I was always curious and even now I love to learn.

What memories do you have of learning to write?

Again, learning the actual mechanics of writing was frustrating, but any time teachers let me be creative or pursue curiosity, I could write volumes. Like reading, I just wrote. It wasn’t until high school when Ms. Bateman got a hold of me and drilled grammar into my head, and explained editing as a process. But I also felt it shut down my creativity. I didn’t learn until later how creativity serves as a bridge between my right and left brain. Once I understood that, I’ve made it a point to allow creativity to thrive in my work and writing.

What do you remember about math classes?

Pain and suffering! I never found a saving grace in math because I never found a way to be creative with numbers. In fact, creativity with numbers is frowned upon.

What was your favourite subject?

I loved history because it was full of stories. I’ve been a natural born story-catcher and history seemed to be a part of that. Where I lived was part of the old Comstock Lode and emigrant trails, and I attended school with Washoe students, learning their lore and history. My aunt used to take me relic hunting, and I had a huge collection of arrowheads, trade beads and square nails. I could spot a relic from on top of my horse. I learned to read the human imprint on the land, and when I was 17, I met a state archeologist who legitimized my ability and he coached me to record 11 archeological sites in my hometown area. So, in school, I loved history most.

What did you like best about school?

Charli Mills like skiing best at school

Skiing. In the winter, we skied once a week at the ski resort near our school for winter PE. It was the best! I don’t know of any other school that ever had such a perk. I remember waking up so excited on ski days. The resort was huge and when we were young, six and seven years old, we were sent to the bunny hills and taught to alpine ski. By the time we were pre-teens we were skiing black diamond routes. I remember #4 best. I loved #4! We’d take the #1 chairlift up, and ski over to the #2 chairlift. At the top of #2, we’d ski down a long, steep and remote mountainside where chairlifts #3 and #4 sat perpendicular to each other. After we skied down #3, we’d take the longest lift at the resort, #4 all the way to the top of a mountain so isolated and remote, it boggles my mind today that we got to do this as school kids. Here’s a link to Kirkwood today: When we skied, there were only six chairlifts, but you can see how far away #4 was from the lodge. Funny story – by the time I was in 7th-grade and was writing spelling stories, my good friend Gerald shared his dad’s Ian Fleming novels with me. I went from Little House on the Prairie to James Bond! Gerald was my skiing buddy and we used to make the #4 loop together. We’d pretend we were British spies! Ah, it was good to have someone to share an imagination with. I doubt anyone else who answers this question will ever say skiing.

What did you like least about school?

Mean people. Kids and adults can be cruel and I don’t fully understand why – is it cultural? Is it human nature? The level of cruelty could be stunning at times. I think this is what taught me empathy. Bullies taught me to care about others. If I wasn’t the one being bullied, I found I couldn’t tolerate others being bullied either.

How do you think schools have changed since your school days?

For one thing, I don’t think students are turned loose on ski hills anymore! I think there’s more respect for cultural diversity than when I went to school. Obviously, technology has changed. Diamond Valley is still a small remote school, but it now has an alternative high school, which is a good change. I think bullying is better dealt with now and parents are more involved, perhaps too involved. In the US, the crisis of school shootings is unfathomable to me. Even with all my bad experiences of being bullied and witnessing it, no one was armed. But that mean spirit was always there and now it has access to guns and that is terrifying. Hopefully, education continues to be important as technology changes our societal landscapes, and through education, we can resolve this shameful American blight on our school system. Maybe we need to focus less on gun control and getting more to the heart of abuses of power in our nation. We need to heal from institutions of slavery and Native American genocide. We need less division and more dignity.

What do you think schools (in general) do well?

I think schools provide inroads to learning that are valuable to becoming productive and happy human beings. Schools are amazing, really. They have been a part of what is America at its worst and what is America at its best. Schools do well to create environments where real learning takes place.

How do you think schools could be improved?

Most importantly, schools need to be safe. Early on, we need to give children the gifts of education and not the burdens. I think citizens should be involved in their public schools even if they don’t have children. How can we be part of the improvement? I don’t have the answers, but I’m willing to be a part of solutions. I support EveryTown for Gun Safety, and until we deal with the hardest cultural issues in our nation, it doesn’t matter if our schools achieve awards or graduate students who score well on tests.

thank you for your participation

Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Charli. It’s been wonderful to have you here. I learned so much I didn’t already know about you.

Find out more about Charli Mills

at the Carrot Ranch:

and on her Amazon Author Page:

Connect with her on social media

Facebook Page:


The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol 1

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The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol 1

via the Carrot Ranch bookstore:

Participate in a

Carrot Ranch Writing Refuge (Keep updated at the Ranch)

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Sally Cronin

Anne Goodwin

Geoff LePard

Debby Gies

Hugh Roberts

D. Avery

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

140 thoughts on “School Days, Reminiscences of Charli Mills

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  25. Molly Stevens - Shallow Reflections

    Wonderful start to your series, Norah. I loved learning more about Charli – some surprises (Catholic schools, growing up in CA, skiing) and not surprised about her imagination and love of reading/writing at an early age. I’m happy she didn’t let getting in ‘trouble’ discourage her! I agree that safety in schools must be a priority – it breaks my heart to fear for my young grandsons. There are some private schools in western Maine that include skiing in the curriculum but parents have to dig deep in their pockets to pay for this privilege. Since studies show that more physical activity invites learning and creativity, how wonderful that Charli had that leg up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Charli Mills

      I’ve never let getting in trouble discourage me, Molly! 😉 Best part about our skiing program was that it was free to us because of mining and logging taxes. It’s hard to fathom the changes in school safety.

      Liked by 2 people

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  28. Christy B

    This promises to be a great interview series, Norah! You started it in fine style with Charli, and I really like that what she sees to improve about schools is safety. Her passion for writing is clear too in this interview! Well done, ladies.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Hugh's Views and News

    What a great start to this new series, Norah. And who better to answer the questions first than our very own Charli Mills. School seems to be so different in the U.S.A compared the UK. Having skiing lessons at school must have been fantastic. I would have much rather be doing that than running on a cold, muddy school playing field trying to get a ball into the back of a net.
    Like Charli, I wasn’t a lover of numbers. Picking up a pen and writing was far more appealing to me.

    Thanks for sharing those memories with us, Charli.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Hugh. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. I’m looking forward to sharing others in the series, including yours. Perhaps you’ll tell us more about the muddy school playing field in your responses. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  30. dgkaye

    So nice to learn some history on Charli Mills, the perfect way to start this series Norah. I had to chuckle at Charli saying she was an imaginative child that sometimes got her in trouble. So identifiable! Lol 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Jennie

    This was a very enjoyable read! Thank you for reminiscing, Charli. Your school stories, especially skiing, and going from Little House to James Bond in reading, were delightful. Thank you, Norah!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Chelsea Owens

    Thanks for sharing all this, Charli and Norah. 🙂
    What an interesting perspective; I love people’s stories.

    I think my favorite was reading about your attitude, Charli. Yes, you should have sent your essay back to the nuns to read. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Patricia Tilton

    I so enjoyed getting to know Charli. I love her comment about writing a paper about her theory of Greek influences on modern pornography — wish she had sent it back to the nuns. So many teachers stifle rather than encourage a kid’s imagination. I could relate to her school experience — I did not like math or science. But loved English and writing, history, music and the arts and foreign languages. I wonder how many creative children struggle with those subjects.This looks like it will be a lovely post. (Sorry I am behind as I have had other commitments and couldn’t keep up.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank your for your lovely response to Charli’s interview, Patricia. I’m pleased you enjoyed it. I agree. She should have sent her essay back to the nuns. Sometimes a little ‘I told you so’ goes a long way. 🙂
      No need to apologise. You are always welcome but visits are never expected. I think most of us tend to play the game of catch up and few of us ever win! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Charli Mills

      Patricia, I really have much to be grateful for that Mr. Price allowed me such freedom to write. Even if I had struggles elsewhere, it’s such a gift when a teacher can recognize and encourage the strengths of students. Sounds like we had similar experiences with subjects.

      Liked by 1 person

  34. TanGental

    Now that was an education. I guess I assumed it was only the Swiss who skied for PE so who knew. And a fascinating insight into how lives are shaped. Mind you I will never understand the mentality that says ‘and maybe we should focus less on gun control…’ Sorry, Charli. That’s errant nonsense from one so patently intelligent. Probably this isn’t the place to debate that issue, nor is a British opinion on America’s blindspot necessarily welcomed. I shan’t love you any less, Charli Mills!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Norah Post author

      I had never thought about anyone skiing for PE, Geoff, unless it was water skiing. 🙂 I think some enlightened schools did include water sports as alternatives, but not many. Swimming always though. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Charli Mills

      So the Swiss get to ski for PE, too! Well, our county was named Alpine for its resemblance to the Swiss Alps, so there is that connection. No need to be sorry. I told Norah I couldn’t answer that question without bringing up the topic of guns violence in school. We had guns in schools when I went. I had gun racks in the back of my pickup truck and it was common that most of us from Alpine County hunted and shot targets. No one ever shot fellow students, although bullying was rampant. The only lock-down my kids ever experienced in school was on 9/11. What has changed in a relatively short span? I’m not saying we don’t institute tighter controls and limiting access but we are missing the fuller picture by focusing on just that aspect. Take away guns in America and we’ll still have school violence. Why has that changed so much? It’s short-sighted to only blame a freedom that wasn’t perverted and abused until 1999. I’m glad any of my World friends don’t love me less for the state my nation is in, which is disheartening, frightening, and yet I still love my fellows Americans, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TanGental

        Thank you for that Charli and for the fuller explanation. We will have to agree to disagree on methodology i expect. Ill leave it there and not block up Norah’s blog with more of my witterings

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Norah Post author

          There is no harm in discussing differing points of view in respectful conversation, Geoff. I find it interesting to find out how others think and perceive the world. And that refers to both of you!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. TanGental

            I guess I’d point at NZs current turmoil and suggest QED but I know I’ll fail to convert even sensible people like Charli to the concept that their constitution is so out of date it would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous… But then I’d be the first to admit we have our own challenges here so maybe I should focus my efforts on sorting out my own backyard first! Thanks Norah…

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Norah Post author

              I just think there’s too much hate being too easily spread. They are doing their best to drown out the voices for love and peace. As John Lennon said, we need to ‘give peace a chance’. Bring back the flower people of our generation, eh?

              Liked by 1 person

              1. TanGental

                I went on a protest about climate change with my lad last Friday – 20,000 school kids and a fair few adults had bunked off for the day. The thing I felt most encouraged about was that fact these 18 and unders were engaged in a cause. I just love that they want to make a noise and not sit back. Made the old heart tick ab bot louder…

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Norah Post author

                  It is very encouraging, Geoff. We need a thinking population who care about our planet. Jumping in for a good cause is so much better than blindly hating.


  35. Jacqui Murray

    How nice to meet you, Charli. We have many of the same interests–archaeology, writing, military life (I have two children in the military–one in the Army!). I’ve seen your prompts around a lot but thought that’s all your blog was (and I’m not a prompt sort of gal). I’m going to check out the other pieces you mentioned.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    That was fun. Charli, you’re not the only one who got to ski. Downhill once a week and cross-country right out the door. I can also tell you that that institutional carpet in 1970s era high schools is best skied with a hard wax, the one usually used in very cold temperatures. Yes I skied in school.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Norah Post author

      You obviously grew up in a cold place too, D. Skiing right out the door sounds fun. Skiing in school – something else the two of you have in common. I miss out on that one.:)

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Charli Mills

      You skied in school! Those plasticized carpets of the ’70s could endure it! Well, that shatters my sassy statement that no one else skied in school — you and the Swiss!. And yes, we were forced to cross country ski on alternate days and before the snow we had to run long distance. Who won the hall slalom?

      Liked by 2 people


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