by the number: musings and milestones (+ a giveaway!)

Hello, my pretties, We’re back!

Hope you had a terrific summer. You’re still adorable, I see. Did you have some work done, or is that just your inner radiance shining through? πŸ™‚

Let’s play the numbers game.



🍸40 πŸŽ‰

Forty years ago our families traveled to London from Hawai’i and New Hampshire for our wedding. An Elizabethan banquet with syllabub and boar’s head patΓ©, “Greensleeves” on the lute, a cake with royal icing impossible to cut.

With each passing year we grow more into our essential selves: a practical, handy, scruffy-round-the-edges people-person engineer and a book-bear-truth-loving tea fanatic hopeless dreamer and writer. It was fate — two people from opposite ends of the country meeting and marrying in England. What are the chances? Once restless wanderers adrift, we found a true home in each other. Ruby: symbol of romance, friendship, deep and profound love. A good anniversary for Len and me (of course I was a child bride). πŸ™‚



Β  πŸ₯„Β πŸ² 25 πŸ₯’

My first published picture book, Dumpling Soup, winner of Little, Brown’s New Voices, New World Multicultural Fiction Contest, celebrates its 25th year in print this month. For a writer, there is only one first book, and it will always be special.

Long before the current diversity movement, there was a brief window of time when publishers sought “multicultural stories” for the children’s market. Though that got my foot in the door, it proved to be a passing fad, and writers of color like me largely remained at the bottom of the totem pole. Fast forward a couple of decades: today, “diversity” is the new buzz word in publishing — it encompasses not only ethnicity, but religious and cultural diversity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical disabilities. It’s taking some time, but progress is being made. Every child should be able to see him or herself in a book. All children should be given the opportunity to widen their perspectives, which will in turn help them understand how people everywhere are basically more alike than different.


Do you see the green potted plant to the right of the blue door?


Some Dumpling Soup trivia: During the revision stage, not one, but three editors provided written feedback on the manuscript; all the characters in the book are based on real people, some of whom have died since the book came out (Aunty Elsie, Aunty Ruth, Uncle Myung Ho, my mother); I named the main character after my cousin Marisa, who is now a mom with 2 kids; I was once contacted by an indie filmmaker about a possible DS movie (sadly, it didn’t pan out).


Here is dumpling me standing on the real front step where the plant is in the illustration.


A heartfelt thank you to all the teachers, librarians, parents, booksellers and readers who’ve helped keep the book in print all this time.

Happy 25th Anniversary to Dumpling Soup!



Β πŸ₯£ 11 πŸ₯£

Thanks for the cool kitchen towel, Sylvia Vardell!


Eleven random bits and bobs for Alphabet Soup’s 11th birthday:

1. I almost named the blog “A Word in Edgewise,” but decided on “Alphabet Soup” because at the time I was writing a chapter book about an alphabet collector, and because FOOD.

2. The part I like best about doing a post is inserting the images after I’ve finished writing the text (still hardest for me). I usually don’t begin writing until I have all the pictures lined up.

3. I’m happy to report that last year’s Photobucket fiasco is finally behind me. It took me 4 solid months, working every single day, to recover most of the linked images. This involved saving every image from 1800+ posts one by one to my computer, re-uploading them to my WordPress Media Library, then re-inserting them into their respective posts. Thousands of images. Extremely tedious. The good part was discovering old posts I completely forgot about, deleting deadwood, and fixing the screwy formatting on some old Livejournal posts.

4. The post that got the most hits this past year is the one featuring UK-based ceramicist Katrin Moye. In fact, it’s the most popular post of all time. Hooray for Pinterest users! The most popular interview is still the one I did with Little House actor Sidney Greenbush back in 2009 (she and her twin sister played Carrie on the TV series). Most popular recipe: Hawaiian Sweet Bread Pudding.

5. The most frustrating thing about doing this blog is when an interview falls through. I approach an author or artist about an interview, they agree, I invest considerable time researching or reading their work, send them questions, and then they blow me off.

Please, if you’re an author or artist and 1) don’t have time to do an interview, 2) don’t want to do an interview, or 3) something comes up and you can’t follow through after you’ve received my questions, PLEASE say no up front, or have the courtesy to tell me you’ve changed your mind for any reason (I’m an understanding and patient person, but cannot abide rudeness).

Fortunately this is a rare occurrence, mostly with indie artists rather than children’s book authors, but still. There is a picture book author who did this to me a few years ago after I sent two polite reminders (which I hate to do), and I will NEVER feature her books here ever.

6. This goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: I have the BEST blog readers on the planet — smart, literate, polite, generous, funny, candid, loyal. You’re not bad looking, either. The thing is, if I let myself think, even for a minute, about how much more you probably know about the subjects I’m writing about than I do — I would totally freeze up and not be able to write a single word. So thanks for letting me pretend. πŸ™‚

7. I haven’t been doing Soup of the Day posts recently because all of the alphabet pastas I formerly used are no longer available. The ones out there now are either too thin and delicate or too small. Sigh.

8. Secret husband Colin Firth seems to have reconciled with his wife Livia after a rough patch (they were separated for awhile and Livia had an affair with an Italian journalist who then stalked her). We wish Colin an extra Happy 58th Birthday on September 10. My, but he ages well . . .


Colin and Livia (Venice, 2017)


9. One of the perils (actually most fun part) of doing this blog is acquiring more books, bears, china and other miscellaneous props. A few things I now own thanks to blogging: three miniature violins, several 19th century pink luster teacups and saucers (thanks to Tasha Tudor), magnetic Shakespeare play set, loads of finger puppets, Beatrix Potter figurines, green army men, mini soccer balls, a teensy wheel of Camembear cheese, a custom knitted scarf and winter hat for Mr Cornelius, Wonder Woman and Hillary Clinton action figures. Ebay is my second home. I am now poor. But all this is so educational. πŸ™‚


from the Props Department


10. One of the funniest things to happen while taking a picture was having the pink exercise bear’s arms go flying across the room. She’s ceramic, and her arms are spring loaded. I tried to position her arms a little and something snapped. BOING. Luckily Len is handy. It was a bear to fix. πŸ˜€

11. I’ve been lucky at not having had many recipe disasters — they’re more like disappointment at some things not turning out as photogenic as I had hoped. I did have to make Prince Harry’s favorite Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins twice, though. First time I added too much peanut butter, which didn’t sink to the middle of the muffins as the recipe promised. They were a mess but the squirrels liked them.

Happy Blog Birthday, Alphabet Soup!



 🐻 30 🐻

Guess how old Mr Cornelius is? At heart, he will always be about six years old, just like Paddington. But he actually turned 30 in August. Did you know “Cornelius” is his screen name? He’s a handmade artist bear I purchased back in 1988 at a teddy bear show in Timonium, Maryland. The artist is still making and selling bears, and I must say, she does exceptional work; Cornelius has held up so well despite being tossed in suitcases and traveling hither and yon and made to pose in countless photos for the blog.

When I first started blogging here at WordPress in 2011, I contacted the artist about an interview, explaining that one of her “Bitsy Bears” was my blog mascot. I thought it would be a nice way to find out more about how she created Cornelius and plug her cottage business at the same time. She agreed without hesitation, I sent her some questions, then waited 2 years for her to get back to me.

Finally, I sent a polite follow-up email, mentioning that I knew she was probably very busy, but I’d still be interested in receiving her answers. Nothing. I do think the ease of using the delete button allows some to forget there’s a REAL PERSON with good intentions waiting on the other end. I don’t get angry, but I’m an elephant. I don’t forget.


I haven’t told Cornelius about any of this. He would be very disappointed. Anyway, since it’s his 30th birthday, I will reveal his given name: TUCKER. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. You heard it here first. πŸ™‚


Among his many talents, Cornelius is a master of 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles.



Β πŸ’Ό 60 πŸ₯ͺ

Sixty years ago this October, Michael Bond published the very first book about the beloved bear from darkest Peru, A Bear Called Paddington. Paddington’s easily my favorite literary bear (can you tell?), and my favorite children’s book character of all time.

I didn’t read any of the Paddington books growing up; I was introduced to him by one of my 9th grade students in London. She gave me a Paddington ruler, which made me anxious to read all the stories. Seems Paddington was more a UK thing than an American thing (Pooh is more well known here because of Disney). Thanks to two crackerjack movies, Paddington’s popularity has recently widened in America.

I guess I like and appreciate Paddington because he is a bear for the times — an immigrant/stowaway who maintains a positive attitude no matter what. He’s accepting of others and has a way of bringing out the best in people. He’s also unfailingly kind and polite — traits we could certainly use more of these days.

Paddington was very “real” to Michael Bond, like a member of the family. So much more than a character in a book. We live with 70+ Paddingtons, and I feel the same. He’s a constant source of comfort, solace and amusement; we don’t mind the sticky marmalade pawprints one bit.

Very happy to tell you that Paddington illustrator R.W. Alley will be visiting Alphabet Soup next month. He will be talking about the last Paddington picture book he illustrated, Paddington at St Paul’s (released in June), as well as sharing general thoughts about drawing Paddington since 1997. Can’t wait!




To celebrate Dumpling Soup’s 25th Anniversary, we’re giving away a signedΒ  hardcover of the book + a $50 Amazon gift card. The hardcover is the original trade edition published by Little, Brown, a copy from my personal stash (only the paperback is still in print). This is different from the Library Edition being published by Perfection Learning (don’t like how they reproduced the cover).

For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, September 18, 2018. You may also enter by sending an email with DUMPLINGS in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!


Looking forward to a great Fall (my favorite season). Thanks for your continued support!







Copyright Β© 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

72 thoughts on “by the number: musings and milestones (+ a giveaway!)

  1. Welcome back and happy 40th! Joe and I will celebrate 44 in January, and I wore a very similar wedding gown. I love it!! I too love Paddington, and I made sure I visited Harrod’s when I went to London. Thank you so much for this beautiful blog. Happy Fall if it ever gets cooler. It is still hot and humid reaching the 90 degree and above here in the NE! It was a terrible summer for my garden! Ciao!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, 44 years! You must have been a child bride too. πŸ™‚ Good to hear you love Paddington and visited Harrods. I’m anxious for cooler Fall weather too.


  2. I really enjoyed this post.. I’ve been following you for just a short while so it was great to get a better idea of who you are. I live in Tennessee and have loved Paddington since I was a child. That is what drew me to your blog. Well, him and a few posts you wrote about Susan Branch!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Melody!! So glad you’re following the blog and that you love Paddington too! That already speaks so well of your taste πŸ™‚ And hooray for Susan Branch — she is my go-to person whenever I need a lift. She indeed was born with a happy gene.


  3. Jama, welcome back! Happy 40th anniversary to you and Len! (Did you get married when you were two? This is the only possible explanation.)

    Happy 25th to Dumpling Soup! That’s an amazing accomplishment, and I’m so happy for you. I’m going to go pull out my copy right now and revisit it. Loved the picture of tiny dumpling Jama.

    Happy 11th to Alphabet Soup, too! So much fun trivia about the blog. Love it.

    And finally, happy 30th to Mr. Cornelius. He doesn’t look a bit older than the day he was stuffed. (And happy 60th to Paddington — so many birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate!)

    Welcome back, Resisting, Persisting sister.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Karen! So good to hear from you again — we go back quite a ways, don’t we? I still remember when you shared Atticus’s bread recipe for Poetry Potluck. You are so perceptive — yes, I was just around two when we got married — had to use a sippy cup at the reception.


  4. When I’m on my computer, I’m mostly hard at work either writing or editing … but your blog is like a little piece of chocolate that I allow myself to stop and savor! It’s unique, colorful, informative, fun, and altogether splendidly scrumptious. Thank you! Love the personal history in this post too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Jama, what a boost for my Tuesday morning to see you here & celebrating, celebrating every milestone. Although I’ve followed you for a long time, I didn’t know some of this and enjoyed hearing every bit. I have the paperback of your book, love that you’re offering a hardback! Happy Anniversary to you and Len! I have ruby earrings from my husband on our 40th. Happy 11th blogiversary. It’s hard to imagine a Tuesday or Friday without your sweet stories, and harder to imagine someone refusing to visit! Enjoy your autumn as many of us will. It is a season to “celebrate”. Thanks for all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My stats page says you are among my top commenters, so thank you SO much for that. I am looking forward to autumn — cooler weather, changing leaves, and the midterms when the blue wave rolls in. The news is infuriating and depressing, so celebrating whenever possible is what keeps me halfway sane.


  6. Jama! What a joy to have you back and celebrating so many momentous events! On a personal note, happy anniversary! ❀ On a blogger's note, chasing people up is my least favorite part too (and I don't forget either!) On a writerly note, 25 years in print is amazing… so happy for you! On a parental note, that photo of young Jama seriously makes me want to scrunch you and plant a huge smooch on both cheeks. On a collectors note, well… wow. just wow. And finally, on bear-loving note, I'll take Cornelius (nΓ©e Tucker) over Colin Firth any day… not that there's anything wrong with Colin Firth, mind you, I'm just partial to sweetheart growlers. Welcome back! xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mr Cornelius now has an enormous crush on you, Michelle. He’s never been liked more than Colin Firth! Thanks for all the good wishes. We’re beary happy to be here in such good company. Dumpling is my middle name. Make that Big Dumpling. πŸ™‚


  7. Jama, I’ve missed you! Welcome back!

    So much to celebrate here. Happy 40th to you and Len, Happy 25th to your fabulous Dumpling Soup (may it live forever!), Happy 11th to your beautiful blog, and Happy 30th to Cornelius/Tucker! And happy relief from the Photobucket nightmare–sounds horrendous. Jack and I will be celebrating our 25th tomorrow in Santa Fe, and will raise a glass to you and Len! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy 25th to you and Jack, Linda!! I’ve never been to Santa Fe — have a fabulous time! Thanks for continuing to read this blog, means a lot.


      1. I think you’d like it, Jama. All that art and wonderful food, plus gorgeous landscape, charming adobes, etc. etc.. Btw, I can relate to the blog stander-uppers. Frustrating! But it’s clear that the vast majority of your visitors love the opportunity to chat with you. Can’t wait till Colin visits.


  8. I have missed your postings. I read Pooh as an adult and had heard of the Paddington books but not read any until after the first movie. I bought one signed by Bob when we were at the Warrensburg Festival.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you’re getting into Paddington, Brenda. Nothing against Pooh — I know he came before Paddington — but I’m partial to those marmalade sandwiches.


  9. What a wonderful thing to start the first day after the long labor day weekend with, Jama! Totally cured my “after the long weekend blues.” Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations, on many, many, many amazing things we are celebrating here. So happy you are doing this blog and sharing all these wonderful stories and beauties. ❀ ❀ ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Welcome back!!!

    There is no way you’ve been married for 40 years, or you really must have been a child bride!!
    And Happy Anniversary to Dumpling Soup! It’s a delectable book!!

    A friend of mine is friends with a French artist who paints teddy bears that you might like. Here’s a link to her website:

    So looking forward to more of your blue and beautiful posts!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jama,
    I love your blog! it is the only one I read regularly, and I recommend it often. What can be better than children’s books and food? You are an inspiration. Happy 40th wedding anniversary.
    Nancy in CO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. Toddler weddings is a thing over there. And the magic is that if you get married in London, you stay the same age as you were on your wedding day forever.


  12. It’s wonderful to have you back!! You put so much effort into each post—it’s like reading a new book each time. I would like if if you did write a book, for sure! Just a story/illustrations of your time in England would be great. Did you live in a house with a hedgehog in your garden? See, so many possible pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Welcome back! I always finish your blog posts with a happy sigh. Happy 40th to you and your sweetie, happy 25th to you and your masterpiece, happy 11th to you and your soup, happy 30th to you and your Tucker…er Cornelius (who doesn’t look a day over 6!) and happy always to you and your crush Colin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for all the happy happy wishes, Buffy! Cornelius sends his regards (he loves people who think he looks young). πŸ˜€


  14. welcome back – i have missed your writing and sharing. and Cornelius of course. and i think that is a much finer name than tucker

    Liked by 1 person

  15. As the lucky lucky winner of a previous “Dumpling Soup” giveaway, I do not need to be entered again. *g* I still treasure our copy, and am delighted that my current elementary library carries it, as well. Happy anniversary to the book – and a very special Happy Anniversary to you and your husband. I don’t think I realized you’d met and married in England! (You’ve been married almost twice as long as we have – we celebrated our 20th last year.)

    I hope you had a restful, delightful summer, and that nobody you know was affected by Hurricane Lane.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Debbie. It’s amazing Len and I have been married twice as long as you have, since I’m at least ten years younger than you are. :). Still remember “meeting” you via LJ all those years ago and your enthusiasm about DS back then thank you!). Luckily Oahu dodged a bullet with Hurricane Lane, so no property damage suffered by those I know.


  16. What a wonderful post, I just loved reading about the history of your blog. Since I’m a huge Little House fan, I jumped over to read your interview with Sidney Greenbush which was wonderful, and since my kids are huge bread pudding fans, I copied your Hawaiian sweet bread pudding recipe although I’m probably going to have to order that bread online, as I’ve never seen it before here in the NE. Happy anniversary for everything! Congrats. on Dumpling Soup’s big 25!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed Sidney’s interview and hope you’re able to obtain the sweet bread, which is available at some stores in the NE (e.g., Giant in VA, maybe even Safeway too). Thanks for the good wishes!


  17. I love every bit of this post…let me COUNT the ways! (heh. heh.)

    Glad you’re in this world and sharing your talents via this blog. You’re a treasure.

    Blue forever.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Always good to read you, Jama. Love the “bits” and “bobs”. Happy Anniversary to you and Len and Alphabet Soup. You’re such a young soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Simply marvelous post Jama, I was smiling all the way through, well except for the couple of (we won’t mention names) individuals who never responded to your hosting invitation. Happy 11th Blog Birthday, Happy Anniversary! What fun to see the pics and you at two–hope I get to Hawaii one day. And a special 25th in Print Happy Birthday to “Dumpling Soup!” thanks for all the wonderful images here. I’m looking forward to your interview with R. W. Alley!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. *Congratulations* to you and Len, and *Happy Birthday* to your wonderful DUMPLING SOUP and to Cornelius (aka Tucker). Since I’m in England, I won’t enter the contest, but I wanted to say it’s lovely to see you back up and running again. (And boy, do I admire your patience with those photos.)

    Liked by 1 person

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