good advice for creative types from Marge Piercy

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” ~ Ray Bradbury

“Young Woman Writing” by Pierre Bonnard (1908)

I have always believed writing chooses you, rather than the other way around.

You are either compelled to write, or not.

No sane person would willingly choose the loneliness, rejection, crippling self doubt and relative poverty that are part and parcel of the writing life. The rewards must come from the creative act itself, from having made sense out of chaos if even for a fleeting moment.

Given that you absolutely cannot help yourself — that you must write to feel alive  — you simply go about setting down one word after another after another every single day, while battling your inner demons and that pesky inner editor.

This is a challenge well met; there is nothing more satisfying than the feeling of “having written” — a page once blank now filled with “the beatings of your heart.”

While writing anything of value can give you a good run for your money, I find all the “other stuff”  — outside perception, judgment, dismissiveness — the most difficult to deal with. Yes, it comes with the territory, but it often gives me pause: How much do I really want this? What price am I willing to pay?


“Woman Writing” by Pierre Bonnard


by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re a certified dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

~ from Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

“Work Table” by Pierre Bonnard (1926/1937)


It is harder these days to concentrate, harder to justify practicing your art when seemingly larger, more urgent actions beckon. But writing, too, is an act of resistance, a way to peacefully protest the dark forces who would stifle free expression.

Let us remain drunk on words, filling every waking moment with attempts to fashion ideas into garments of truth. As vessels of beauty, inspiration, healing, compassion, inclusion, freedom, power, and above all, love, words do matter — now more than ever.

When it’s hard to write, write harder.

When it’s hard to love, love harder.

“The underlying reason for writing is to bridge the gulf between one person and another.” ~ W.H. Auden

“I believe that art saves. I believe that artists are the last line of defense.  I believe we speak the truth we believe, regardless of polls or economics.” ~ Janis Ian

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” ~ Albert Camus

🌼 🌸 Keep the Faith. Focus. Write On!  🌸🌼


poetry fridayThe lovely and talented Jone MacCulloch is hosting the Roundup at Check It Out. Scamper over for the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.

Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[review + recipe] I Heart You by Meg Fleming and Sarah Jane Wright

❤️ Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤️

So glad you’re here. You’re just in time for a cup of tea and a freshly baked brownie! Please help yourself. 🙂

I’ve got the perfect picture book to share with you today: I Heart You by Meg Fleming and Sarah Jane Wright (Beach Lane Books, 2016). Have you seen this one yet?

Debut author Meg Fleming celebrates the love between parent and child in a series of endearing animal vignettes. Her spare, lyrical text — just four 3-word sentences for each animal pair — captures different ways parents express love for their little ones.

We first see a young bunny snatching a carrot from a garden, then running back to a waiting parent with it — a cheerful reunion that ends with them snuggling in their burrow.

I see you.
I miss you.

I hug you.
I kiss you.

Foxes play a game of hide and seek; bears chase, frolic in the grass, then pick apples; ducks swim, hop and cuddle; birds “sway” and “swing” before returning to the nest for a song. The book ends with a doe watching over her fawn as it encounters a human child, who has just picked berries with her mother.

I hear you.
I let you.

I know you.
I get you.

Fleming’s simple words intimate emotions and behaviors ranging from affection to mischief, playfulness to caution, elation and comfort, to guidance and watchfulness — a sweet look at the tender moments characterizing life with a small child. Parents will recognize the instances of letting go, while children will view the first independent forays with mother and father close by as familiar and reassuring.

Sarah Jane Wright’s lovely pastel-colored pencil and gouache illustrations depict the animals in sunny meadows, green forests, flower-dotted hillsides, and a grassy pond. A red house seen in the distance in the first bunny scene turns out to be where the little girl and her mother live.

Wright’s last pictures show the sun gradually setting and the blue sky turning salmon with fireflies appearing — beautiful! The book ends with the little girl sitting on her mother’s lap eating berries on a backyard swing, happy and content.

Upon first reading, I was happy to see my favorite animals featured — rabbits, foxes, bears and deer. Though we don’t have any rabbits in our woods, we do love our foxes and deer, whom we see quite often (we feed the foxes every night). Just as well we don’t see any real bears outdoors; we’re happy to have them live inside with us. 🙂

I Heart You is quintessential one-on-one lap reading. Be sure to check it out for a good helping of heartwarming affirmation, guaranteed to make you want to hug, snuggle, or cuddle with the first person you see. 🙂



All of us here in the Alphabet Soup kitchen love HEARTS (this book pretty much had us at the cover). Since Valentine’s Day is about chocolate (the food of love!), we decided to make brownies in the shape of hearts using a King Arthur Flour recipe.

This is a dense fudgy brownie with chocolate chips — double the decadence. 🙂 The texture is perfect for cutting out heart shapes with a cookie cutter (the taller the cutter the better). There’s a chocolate ganache recipe to go with it — make a little for drizzling, or more if you want to completely coat the brownies. Of course these brownies are already quite rich so they’re good without anything on them at all.

Mr. Cornelius and the furry kitchen helpers had fun baking, cutting, drizzling and devouring these chocolate brownie hearts. There was a lot of paw licking and chocolaty stickiness all around, but nobody seemed to mind.

I see you.
I want you.

I eat you.
I love you.

Would you like another? 🙂

Chocolate Valentine Hearts

  • Servings: 3 dozen 2-inch hearts
  • Time: 20 minutes prep, 28-30 minutes bake
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print



  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/3 cups Dutch-process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder

Ganache Drizzle

  • 2/3 cup chocolate chips
  • 6 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup

Ganache Coating

  • 1-1/3 cups chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ pan. Line with parchment, then grease the parchment.
  2. To make the brownies: Melt the butter in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl, or in a saucepan set over low heat. Add the sugar and stir to combine.
  3. Return the mixture to the heat just until it’s hot but not bubbling. This will help dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on the brownies.
  4. Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.
  5. Whisk in the eggs, stirring until smooth; then add the flour, chips, and espresso powder, again stirring until smooth.
  6. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
  7. Bake the brownies for 28 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
  8. Remove the brownies from the oven and cool them on a rack for 20 minutes before turning them out of the pan.
  9. Loosen the edges; use a spatula or turner to loosen the bottom as much as possible; then flip the pan over onto another sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Peel the parchment off the bottom of the brownies. Let them cool completely.
  10. Use a 2″ heart cutter to cut 3 dozen hearts out of the brownies. Place the hearts on a rack set over a piece of parchment or waxed paper.
  11. To make the ganache, combine the chips, cream and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat until the cream is very hot, then stir the mixture until the chips melt.
  12. Drizzle over the brownie hearts, or spread to cover completely.

*If you’re allergic or wish to avoid corn syrup, you may substitute honey or maple syrup.

~ Adapted from Chocolate Valentine Hearts by King Arthur Flour. For nutrition information, please visit the KAF website.



written by Meg Fleming
illustrated by Sarah Jane Wright
published by Beach Lane Books, December 2016
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
**Starred Review** from Publishers Weekly

❤️ Art Prints from this book available at Sarah Jane Wright’s Studio Shop.



Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

friday feast: “Oatmeal Deluxe” by Stephen Dobyns (+ a recipe)

“Breakfast” by Alberto Morrocco

Hello, Snowy Winter Morning! What’s for breakfast?

I’ve been an oatmeal-for-breakfast girl for quite some time. Sure, I dallied with cold cereal and Pop-Tarts® in my reckless youth, and even went through a yogurt, fruit, and granola phase. But now, I look forward to starting each day with a warm, comforting bowl of quick cooking oats.

When you live with more than a few bears (300+ and counting), you can’t help but channel Goldilocks. You bask in the fairy tale dimension of porridge, by now having perfected cooking time, addition of milk, maple syrup, berries and nuts to an enviable “just right.”

L. Leslie Brooke (The Three Bears)
via Greg Abbott (Society 6)

Some consider oatmeal bland and boring, ooey gooey pablum for the unimaginative. Fie on them, I say! Obviously they haven’t considered oatmeal’s poetic possibilities. Think of Galway Kinnell, who eats his oatmeal with charming companions like John Keats. And then there’s the inimitable Stephen Dobyns, whose tragicomic oatmeal fantasy reads like the magic porridge pot meets roguish Rodin. While some may sow their wild oats, others sculpt them. No time for mushy romance.

Love me, love my oatmeal. How will you shape your destiny?


Barrel-aged Oatmeal via Serious Eats

by Stephen Dobyns

This morning, because the snow swirled deep
around my house, I made oatmeal for breakfast.
At first it was too runny so I added more oatmeal,
then it grew too thick so I added water.
Soon I had a lot of oatmeal. The radio
was playing Spanish music and I became
passionate: soon I had four pots of oatmeal.
I put them aside and started a new batch.
Soon I had eight pots. When the oatmeal cooled,
I began to roll it with my hands, making
small shapes: pigs and souvenir ashtrays. Then
I made a foot, then another, then a leg. Soon
I’d made a woman out of oatmeal with freckles
and a cute nose and hair made from brown sugar
and naked except for a necklace of raisins.
She was five feet long and when she grew harder
I could move her arms and legs without them
falling off. But I didn’t touch her much –
she lay on the table – sometimes I’d touch her
with a spoon, sometimes I’d lick her in places
it wouldn’t show. She looks like you, although
her hair is darker, but the smile is like yours,
and the eyes, although hers are closed. You say:
what has this to do with me? And I should say:
I want to make more women from Cream of Wheat.
But enough of such fantasy. You ask me
why I don’t love you, why you can’t
live with me. What can I tell you? If I
can make a woman out of oatmeal, my friend,
what trouble could I make for you, a woman?

~ from Heat Death: Poems (Atheneum, 1980)

Laura Walls Taylor



Much as we love our standard bowl of oatmeal each morning, there’s certainly nothing wrong with throwing caution to the wind now and again, and splurging on our own version of Oatmeal Deluxe.

Mr. Cornelius suggested oatmeal cake for breakfast. This sounded very respectable to him (not as naughty as eating oatmeal cookies for breakfast). He found just the recipe at For the Love of Cooking. Apparently the coconut pecan frosting cinched the deal.

The recipe starts out with combining 1/2 cup of oatmeal with 3/4 cup boiling water, then covering the mixture for a bit. Since this was the same thing he usually does every morning, it made him feel considerably less guilty. Oh, a “healthy” cake!

The little rascal didn’t even raise an eyebrow when combining the remaining ingredients (not even for the brown and granulated sugars). Then the cooked oatmeal was mixed in the batter before baking.

The coconut pecan “frosting” is actually a topping consisting of chopped nuts, shredded coconut, brown sugar, melted butter, and a little milk and vanilla. This was spread on the baked cake before putting it under the broiler for a few minutes until the coconut was nicely toasted.

I suppose one could categorize this as a coffee cake, and it would certainly be welcome at brunch or for a quick and easy dessert any time. Still, we enjoyed a piece for breakfast with a tall glass of milk, happy with the thought of giving ourselves a treat. The cake was nice and moist, the added oatmeal gave it a pleasant chewiness, and the topping reminded me of carrot cake without the cream cheese. We have a feeling Mr. Dobyns wouldn’t mind having oatmeal cake for breakfast either. Enjoy!

Oatmeal Cake with Coconut Pecan Frosting

  • Servings: 9
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print



  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oatmeal
  • 3/4 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup shortening (I used butter)

Coconut Pecan Frosting

  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla



Mix the oatmeal with the boiling water, stir and cover. Mix the remaining ingredients, then stir in the oatmeal mixture. Grease and flour an 8″x8″ pan. Pour batter into pan and bake at 350 for 23-25 minutes.


Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Carefully spread frosting over the top of the cake. Broil until coconut is just brown. Watch very closely — it doesn’t take long. Cool, slice and serve.


from Christmas Porridge by Sven Nordqvist



Thanks for all your good comments here and on Facebook! So nice to hear from so many Emily fans. Monsieur Random Integer Generator, who has been enamored of Ms. Dickinson for years and years (he can’t resist a woman who bakes good gingerbread), was honored to pick the winner for this giveaway, who is:



Please send your snail mail address to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com so we can get your prize out to you lickety split.

Thanks again to everyone for entering!


poetry fridayKatie is hosting the Roundup at The Logonauts. Scamper over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend!


wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs and come join the fun!


Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

ruby silvious’s exquisite tea bag art


When is a tea bag more than just a tea bag?

In January 2015, New York-based artist and graphic designer Ruby Silvious began a tea-licious new project: she would record impressions of the moment every day on used tea bags. Sharing her visual journal, “363 Days of Tea,” on Instagram allowed her to push her creative practice and “spark a different kind of inspiration.”

rubyreplacementWhile most of us discard our tea tags without a second thought, Ruby saw them as unique mini canvases. Once family and friends heard of her project, they started sending her a variety of tea bags, some with different shapes and interesting tags. Sometimes the tea bags were kept intact after being emptied of their leaves, while others were split open and laid flat. Stains and torn edges became part of the beauty.



I love the great range of subjects — whimsical everyday objects like mugs and umbrellas, shirts and pets, along with evocative glimpses of the natural world, interesting portraits and street scenes. Of course my heart quickened at the sight of soup cans, slices of pie, sushi, noodles, and teapots. 🙂


ruby23This past Fall, Ruby published 363 Days of Tea: A Visual Journal on Used Tea Bags as a beautiful coffee table book. It’s wonderful following her creative journey day by day, marveling at her pieces of drawn, painted, and collaged microart.


In 2016, Ruby also worked on “52 Weeks of Tea” and “26 Days of Tea in Japan,” created during her art residency at Studio Kura in Itoshima. This collection reflects a mix of ancient and contemporary style and inspiration.

More recently she created paintings based on art masterpieces such as Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” and “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter,” as submissions to the 2017 International Rijksstudio Award.


















rubyfourteenIsn’t this an amazing way to reimagine the familiar? Artists like Ruby inspire us to look again and embrace the art of the possible. And what better muse than tea? 🙂

Enjoy this slideshow:


☕️ Visit Ruby’s Official Website. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing projects and new pieces.

☕️ Check out this recent interview with Ruby at Cup Above Tea.

* All images posted by permission of the artist, copyright © 2017 Ruby Silvious. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup.