APRIL WINNER- AMBER’S PICK Sunday Afternoon By Rachel Oberg

Throwback Thursday! Let’s Throwback to last Friday, when I should have been posting this amazing story. It’s a great short story worth waiting for, though, so I think that’ll make up for it.

I present to you my pick for winner of the April submission period – Sunday Afternoon by Rachel Oberg. I dare you to read this and not be immediately a) compelled by the story and b) hungry! It’s such a descriptive and captivating piece. Like most good short stories, it’s a complete tale of its own but it’ll leave you wanting more.

 

Sunday Afternoon

By Rachel Oberg

The smell of garlic burning brought her out of her daydream. She swore and clicked off the flame. She dumped the scorched garliac into the compost, wiped out the cast iron skillet and set it back on the stove. She minced a few more cloves, setting aside their papery skins to use in veggie stock. The carrots were in the oven already, soon to be browned at the edges, sweetened by honey, with a touch of salt and pepper and a sprinkle of cayenne. The bread had come out just before the carrots had gone in. When she leaned in close she could hear it crackling as it cooled. She inhaled and closed her eyes.

Freshly baked bread took her back to childhood. Mom pulling out the fresh loaves of her signature bread, ready to be slathered with butter (or margarine, it was the 90’s). It took her to early memories, hazy enough that they could have been a dream. Oma’s hands showing how to shape the Zwiebach buns, her little hands trying to mimic the motion. Praise from Oma, her gentle voice encouraging her young granddaughter as she learned a generations old recipe. Her eyes flitted over to the framed recipe on the wall. Written by Oma’s hand. She would make them again soon aided only by memories this time. She couldn’t call Oma to help over the phone. She missed that.

She turned the stove back on and added a bit more oil. She loved the way it rippled when it got hot. She added a big pat of butter and then another and watched as they sizzled and began to brown. She threw in the garlic and the smell wafted up to her nose. She breathed deeply. The garlic just needed thirty seconds. This time it wouldn’t burn. She added some white wine and turned the heat down to low. It would reduce into a simple sauce, perfect to coat the homemade pasta she’d spent the afternoon rolling and cutting. She didn’t mind. That kind of work was good for the soul.

She opened the screen door and the dog shot past her. Hopping and barking at the tree where he’d seen a squirrel earlier. Then running over to her husband at the barbecue. She smiled. She bent over her garden box to see what was growing. The beans had popped up, some squash plants were flowering, and the tomatoes were getting tall. She snipped off some garlic chives and plucked a big handful of basil leaves. The smell was intoxicating. No wonder the bees wouldn’t leave the basil flowers alone. She walked over to the barbecue. Her husband pulled her over and hugged her tight. He smelled like campfire. “Chicken’s almost ready” he said. She smiled and called the dog to come back inside and keep her company.

She washed and dried the herbs, chopping them with her sharpest knife. They’d be passed around the table for people to sprinkle on the pasta as they wished. The salted water was boiling. Huge rolling bubbles, sometimes jumping over the edge of the pot and making the flame sizzle. She added the pasta, stirring so it wouldn’t stick. It would only need a minute. She tasted the browned butter sauce. It had reduced nicely, but still needed to be seasoned. Just salt and pepper this time. She added a bit of the starchy pasta water to the sauce before draining the pasta, then added the pasta to the skillet. She stirred it gently then tasted it. She sighed. It was good. She took the carrots out of the oven. They needed a pinch more salt. The best way to bring out the flavors of a dish.

She pulled the parmesan cheese out of the fridge and scraped it along the grater, transparent curls falling and melting over the hot pasta. The dog ran over, eyes begging for a taste. She laughed and tossed a chunk of the rind that bounced off his nose and fell to the floor. Her smile widened as she shook her head. As she sliced the bread she heard children laughing outside. Not hers. Maybe someday. Her heart ached a little at the thought. For now, this was enough. She walked to the stove and took another taste of pasta. The cool breeze through the open window mingled with the smell of the sauce. They were like refreshment to her soul. She heard voices outside. These she recognized. Their family away from family. The doorbell rang. She took a breath and walked over to open the door.

 

Rachel grew up in Ontario, Canada, but now resides in Southern California with her husband and dog. She loves everything to do with food (except doing the dishes), could spend all day reading Lee Child novels, and is obsessed with eating French baguettes and croissants.

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THE SECOND FEBRUARY SUBMISSION WINNER: A Christmas Star Wish by Vanessa Martin

 

 

 

 

Below is our second published piece from reader submissions! This week (and only a day late) is Amber’s Pick. It is a fictional children’s short story written by Vanessa Martin.

The reason I picked this piece is ultimately because of the sweet message. Even though it may be hard to get into a Christmas mindset in springtime, once you read the story you’ll be able to feel the chill in the air and the lure of hot chocolate and twinkling lights. I also liked the originality of the two main characters. So here it is. Enjoy!

A CHRISTMAS STAR WISH

By Vanessa Martin

Franklin the Ferret sat all alone in his cage, watching the people walk by. No one ever stopped to hold him or even to talk to him. And if they did look at him, they sometimes would make a weird scrunched nose face. He didn’t understand what was wrong with him. He was friendly, he never bit anyone, and he enjoyed being cuddled. Most ferrets never wanted anything to do with people and some would even nip at their fingers, and those ferrets were always adopted and taken home. But not him!!

Franklin didn’t know why the people were afraid of him. What was so wrong with him that everyone just ignored him?

Well, you see….when Franklin was born, he was born with half a right back leg and he was also blind in his left eye. All the people wanted the animals that were perfect and since he had a handicap, per se, no one wanted him. As the Thanksgiving holiday went by and Christmas grew very near, Franklin would sit all alone looking out the window beside his cage. He started making wishes on the brightest star in the sky, for a family who would love him and want to take him home with them. He wished and wished and wished, and nothing ever happened. No family came and all the people would still walk on by without a glance.

What Franklin didn’t know was that his wishes were heard. They were heard loud and clear at the North Pole by a few of the elves, so they went and told Santa. Santa Claus could see everything happening in the store where Franklin lived and knew that he had to make Franklin’s wish come true. Santa wanted to make sure that Franklin knew and felt the miracle of Christmas. But with Christmas only two days away, he knew he would have to act fast.

***

On the other side of the city, an eight-year-old little boy named Justin sat watching his brother and parents decorate the tree for Christmas. Justin couldn’t participate or get too close because of his wheelchair.

There were only two days left before Christmas and he just wished it was already over. He didn’t believe in Santa anymore-not that he ever had. Getting tired of watching his family do something he couldn’t do made him more depressed. So he turned his chair around to face the window where he could see the snow falling. Glancing up toward the sky, he noticed that the brightest star in the sky was sparkling very intense that night. He just stared at it, too scared to make a wish. Because all the other wishes he had asked for in the past, had never came true.

He always wished that he could walk and play like all the other children, but those wishes never came true. And since he couldn’t walk or see very well, the other kids just made fun of him.

Justin was still hesitant, but he went ahead and made one last wish. Justin wished that he would find someone who could understand what he was going through. Someone who would be there with him through everything that came his way. After making his wish, he turned around and told his parents he was going to go watch one of the Christmas specials that was playing on the television that evening. As he rolled his chair to the next room, he started feeling mad at himself, but also sad at the same time. He didn’t know why he even made a wish; it wasn’t as if anyone would hear it.

What Justin didn’t know was that his wish had made it all the way to the North Pole where a pair of little ears heard it. The elf knew he had to bring this to Santa’s attention. Because no child should ever feel sad at Christmastime.

***

The little elf ran all the way to the woodshop, where Santa was doing inventory for his trip the next night.

The elf spoke so fast that Santa had to tell him to slow down. Once Santa heard about the wish, he looked through his magical snow globe into Justin’s house and could see the tiny little boy with real thick glasses and braces on his legs, sitting in his wheelchair. He could hear the sniffling sounds that were coming from the little boy as he sat watching television, trying not to let any tears fall.

Santa knew right then and there exactly what he was going to do. He could make two wishes come true that holiday season, one for a brave little boy and the other for a furry little animal. He was going to bring Franklin and Justin together.

***

The day before Christmas, Santa walked into the pet shop and went directly to Franklin’s cage, who was watching the people walk by. Santa asked Franklin if he would like to be part of a real family for Christmas. Franklin told Santa that was what he wanted more than anything in the world, and Santa told him that he had heard his wish the night before. Franklin couldn’t believe what was happening. He jumping up and down in his cage with joy. He was finally going to have a family.

Later that evening, Franklin sat beside Santa in his sleigh, all set to meet his new family. He could barely contain his excitement. He watched as Santa made his rounds; all the while Franklin didn’t make a peep. They were almost finished when Santa told him to get prepared.

Santa landed his sleigh on top of a shingled roof and held open his bag. He looked at Franklin and said, “This is your new home. A little boy named Justin lives here. Like you, he has trouble seeing and walking. And I know you will become great pals.” Franklin jumped into Santa’s bag, ready for the trip down the chimney.

Santa filled the stockings with care then ate a few nibbles of cookie and drank a bit of milk, before turning to Franklin and telling him it was time to go under the tree. Franklin jumped out of the bag and into a small cage that had magically appeared when Santa nodded his head. He said good-bye, put his finger to his nose then disappeared back up the chimney.

***

The next morning, Justin made his way to the family room and saw all the presents under the tree. But the one present that caught his eye was a little cage with a bow on it. He rolled his chair over and looked down into it. Looking back at him was Franklin, with his one good eye and his one blind eye. Justin also noticed that the animal only had half a right back leg. Justin yelled out to his mom and dad to come see what was under the tree. They both stood there, shocked, because they knew that the present had not been there last night when they went to bed. The father plucked a card off the top of the cage, while the mother opened it up and took Franklin out. She gently laid him in Justin’s arms and the little boy sat petting him, listening while his father read aloud.

Dear Justin,

I wanted to let you know that your wish was heard loud and clear—all the way to the North Pole. I knew that I had to do something to restore your belief in Santa and show you the Miracle of Christmas, and I hope I have. I would like to introduce you to Franklin. He needs a special friend and I thought of you and how good of a friend you would be. I wish you and Franklin a lifetime of fun and love for one another. Oh and by the way, Franklin really likes apples and to snuggle up on your lap while you pet him.

Love,

Santa Claus – the big guy in the red suit

His parents couldn’t believe what they were hearing or seeing. They both looked over at Justin petting the ferret lying on his lap. And for the first time, in a long time, he was smiling more than he ever had and when they looked down at Franklin, they didn’t know what to think because it looked like Franklin was smiling, too.

From then on, both Justin and Franklin never stopped believing in Santa or that wishes come true.

***

So remember, if you ever have a doubt, that Santa Claus is real and the Miracle of Christmas is very powerful. And if you ever make a wish around Christmastime, on the brightest star in the sky, you can believe…it was heard.

 

 

This is Vanessa Martin’s first children’s story, but will not be her last. She’s working on her first mystery/suspense novel as you read this. Vanessa Martin is 42 years old and lives in Ohio. She loves to read, cook, and write. This story was written for her seven nieces and nephews.

THE FIRST FEBRUARY SUBMISSION WINNER: The Problem With Preachers by Rachel

Below is our first published piece from a submission by a reader! This week is Sarah’s Pick. It is a non-fiction, opinion piece by Rachel. Please note that the opinions and views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or views of UpWriteLadies.

The reason I picked this piece is because it is a well-written, well-reasoned, passionate argument. From it’s opening paragraph to the closing, it’s a griping read whether you agree with the view or not. It’s a strong view, for sure, but strong opinions make for good discussion, and I’m sure this piece will lead to lots of discussion!

THE PROBLEM WITH PREACHERS

By Rachel

I’ve got a confession to get off my chest. Few people know this about me, and I am afraid I will fall out of favor in many Christian circles if they knew the truth. I don’t like Joel Osteen. Or pretty much any Christian preacher who is rich and famous for being a Christian preacher. I know, I know, I’m just a close-minded simpleton who must be jealous of their success, and if I could just get on their bandwagon surely I would feel better about myself (the power of I am!?) and I would be able to harness all of the blessings God is obviously waiting to bestow upon my life.

But the problem is, I already have blessings from God. Even though I’m poor, and living in debt, and recognize that I am actually not that awesome of a person. Even though I think frequently about how bad of a sinner I am and recognize that I am a selfish, arrogant person. God still has blessed me with the greatest gift of all – His Son who died to forgive my sins. He has not said to wait until I feel good about myself, or really to think about myself much at all. The most important thing is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) which has nothing to do with loving yourself. Granted, the “love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 39) is vaguely about loving yourself, but more in a “you already know you love yourself so love others just as much” kind of way.

I know I struggle with a dichotomy of judgment – am I just judging these people, which I am not supposed to do? Or am I being wary of a potential false prophet? How is it that Jesus, the prophets, the apostles, they all were allowed to call people out on sin but we are now in a day and age that even mentioning sin means we are judging people and are personally subjected to God’s judgment for this? I recently heard a sermon at my church discussing the idea of judgment and how we should NOT be judging non-Christians to a Christian standard, but we should be looking at ourselves within the church and keeping each other accountable. So go ahead and call me judgmental, but I think we should hold pastors of mega churches to a Biblical standard.

I must admit, I feel a little bit like a heretic when I tell someone I’m not a huge fan of a famous, popular Christian. I see the look of confusion, or is it disgust, contort their face subconsciously. Is it because I am too much of a cynic to believe someone rich and famous could really be living right? Surely Jesus did not say that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (oh wait, that is His exact words – Matthew 19:24).

Joel Osteen is not someone I have given much thought to, because I just write-off anyone who preaches a “feel good” message as an inspirational speaker, not a pastor. But then I realized he is actually supposed to be a pastor and when he’s on TV it’s probably a broadcast of him preaching his Sunday sermon at his church. Except he is not preaching. At least, not how I understand the job of a pastor. He will not call people sinners, he will not talk about the importance of recognizing our depravity and the need to turn to our Savior for forgiveness and change. To be a pastor there is no requirement to do the visual illustration showing how repentance means turning 180 degrees away from sin and watching a pastor walk in one direction then literally turn completely around and walk in a different direction. No, you can be a pastor without the illustration. But has Joel Osteen ever done a single illustration relating to our sins and need for a Savior? Does he explain to people that in order to get these supposed blessings from God you probably have to be “on the team” so to speak, and explain how to become a Christian?

The best I can tell, Joel Osteen’s sermons are nothing more than uplifting language, making us feel like we can accomplish ANYTHING if we just believe. Which is nice sentiment. But believe in what? In ourselves? In an all-powerful genie god that will give us whatever we desire? It is hard to dislike someone when their words are sweet honey telling you that despite past failures something good is on your horizon. But alas, I do dislike him. I can’t stand listening to him talk. I can’t stand looking at his books that do little more than make people feel good about themselves and line his pockets with cash. Lots of cash.

God calls us to something greater than ourselves. One verse that inspirational preachers like Joel Osteen and other “feel-good-ers” like to turn to is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” Yes, God did say that, but when is the last time you’ve heard someone uplifting with that verse explain the context? Do they mention that God was actually talking to an ENTIRE NATION and not a single person, much less talking to YOU? Do they mention that this promise was given before a SEVENTY YEAR stint in exile? Most, if not all, of the people alive when the words were written were not alive when the exile ended. Jeremiah 29:11 is about looking forward to God’s redemption not about your personal selfish journey through life. It is about the bigger picture of furthering God’s kingdom, not advancing your career. When will we stop living so firmly in this present life, being coddled by “pastors” like Joel Osteen telling us that we are great, we are amazing, we just need to change our views of ourselves and we can reach a better life.

None of this bothered me so much until I looked a little more into Joel Osteen. I discovered his newest best-selling book is called “The power of I AM: Two words that will change your life today.” Joel Osteen, I did not dislike you so much until you had the nerve, the gall, to take the name of God Moses was given in the desert “I AM” and turned it into a book title which in no way represents this God. This book is about changing how you think not recognizing the great I AM that I AM. You have lost any lingering respect I could have, and I hope that you can realize your own depravity and sin in time to change your message to one of repentance followed by truly seeking after the life God wants. It is good to want to become better, to want to live your best life. But that should not a pastor’s complete message week after week, book after book. Joel Osteen is like the sweet talking door-to-door salesman who makes you feel good about yourself, convinces you how smart you are, then somehow that convinces you to purchase his product and make him rich. I’ve never liked sweet talking door-to-door salesmen.

So there, I have let out my secret. I hope I haven’t offended anyone and made them think less of me. Oh wait, except if being concerned that people are preaching a false message instead of the true message of God’s love and salvation means you dislike me, then go ahead. I’d rather you hate my message than try to milk things down to the point none of us know the truth.

Peace.

 

Rachel was born and raised in the small town of Bennington, VT. She then moved with her husband and three children a stone’s throw south to the even smaller town of Pownal. Rachel studies nutrition policy at Tufts University and it especially interested in maternal and children’ nutrition. She enjoys cooking, and has a strange desire to cook every time the kitchen is finally clean.