Move Over Yellow Pages…this Book Has Everything from A-Z!

I recall spending the majority of my childhood summers in primarily two places.  Visiting my Grandma’s house in Edinburg, TX, and in the upstairs (children’s section) of the Bryan Public Library.  The two had one thing in common: both housed a copy of the greatest picture book of all time.  (Incidentally, it just happens to have had it’s 20th anniversary this year, and I maintain that it still holds this title…at least as far as I am concerned)

sweetI first discovered Animalia in the summer of 1989.  It was an uncharacteristically (for mid-summer in south Texas) rainy  afternoon.  My Grandmother had company over, and my siblings were sleeping off the adventures we’d had earlier that day, which left me tasked with entertaining myself.  My Grandparents’ home was NEVER lacking for literature, but for whatever reason,the shelves of classic novels and worn volumes of World Book Encyclopedia didn’t excite me on this particular day.  Instead, what piqued my interest was the glimmer of the ONE “modern” children’s picture book in the house!  I couldn’t believe I had never seen it before. (Maybe Gramps had purchased it for just such an emergency?)  The children’s library was my second home, and though I was an avid reader of chapter books, I still had a deep love for children’s books–especially those with really good illustrations…but this one was completely foreign to me.  At the time, I was OBSESSED with Chris Van Allsburg (I loved searching for his trademark hidden dog tucked within the pages of all of his books!), but this book blew all of his out of the water!


At first glance, I was immediately taken in by the intricate detail of of the cover.  Every square inch was covered.  And the illustrator had an uncanny ability to draw realistic animals, that had a fun, expressive, caricature-like quality, without making them feel kiddish or tacky.poem

Nestled into the title page I discovered an intriguing poem, which promised the pages to come would be spellbinding. There was also a dare of sorts, to discover what only the “keenest eyes” would find.  And, a challenge to find a boy in a striped shirt hidden amongst the pages! (Note: Although the boy’s attire bears a striking resemblance to another hidden book character’s, Animalia was actually published at least a year before the first “Where’s Waldo”, so it’s merely coincidental) I was hooked already.


I turned to the first page, eager to get started.  I was instantly captivated. I had never seen anything like it.  EVER.  Each and every page was completely saturated with vibrant color and whimsical scenes.  There was little text, but the depth of the illustrations more than made up for it.  I almost overlooked the text completely because I was staring so intently at the pictures…the detail was phenomenal, but the picture made no sense, so I looked to the words on the page to explain the scene before me, and that was when I discovered the best surprise of all.  It appeared to be an alliterative tongue twister, each word beginning with the letter “A”, at which point I realized that hidden throughout the illustrations on the page were GOBS of hidden depictions of animals and objects beginning with the letter A.  Some of these objects/animals even contained additional hidden pictures within THEIR details (like a picture within a picture, within a picture!  It was like standing in an elevator with glass walls where the reflection seems to just go on forever!)  I was mesmerized!  (If you don’t believe me, enlarge the picture and be amazed…see how many things you can find…atoms, antenna, autograph , accordion, and abacus only scratch the surface! Each page held a letter-specific tongue twister and corresponding illustrations, and they were so cleverly hidden and disguised (it also helped that he was English/Australian, so some of the pictures were of things that didn’t appear to begin with the letter until I considered alternate terms for words–such as the baby carriage on the “P” page, which I finally remembered was also known as a “pram”!).  I lost myself in first two pages for what had to have been close to half an hour.  And then I closed the book.  I felt as though a sugary-sweet, delicious, chocolate cake had been laid before me, but instead of gorging myself, I wanted to cut it into tiny slivers and savor every morsel, which meant rationing myself to only a page or two per sitting–so I could make it last.

readingI was so excited to share it with my siblings when they woke up from their naps.  And now, nearly 20 years later, I am equally (if not more) thrilled to share it with my kids.  (Honestly, Animalia was my go-to, favorite birthday gift for friends’ kids long before Norah and Eli were born!)

In addition to being an awesome gift idea, I’ve also used it to trick my kids into writing exercises.  First, I give each of us a piece of paper (yes, I play too because it is still so fun for me, PLUS, the prospect of the kids “taking down mom” together is always a good motivator in our house!). Next, I set a timer on my phone for 2 minutes, and we each list as many hidden objects beginning with the letters on a selected page.  (My son who hates to write LOVES this activity, and I’ve been surprised to see how many words with tricky spellings he is aware of–such as gnome and pheasant!)  At the end of 2 minutes, we go through our lists, Scattergories-style, crossing off duplicated answers, and see which of us came up with the most.  We have so much fun pointing out our finds to one another, and then usually spend another 5-10 minutes per page searching together for others we’ve missed (there are always tons more than we can get in 2 min) and, of course marveling aloud at what an incredible genius Graeme Base is.

Why have I dedicated an entire blog post to this one picture book?

  1. I think that EVERYONE should own a copy.  (Especially “grown-ups”…you never know when you’ll have a desperately bored child in your home on a rainy day, not to mention, you’d be surprised at how intriguing/what a great conversation piece this “children’s book” is for adults!)
  2. As amazing as this book is, I have heard VERY little buzz about it and have always been amazed that so few people are familiar with it, so I felt the need to spread some love.
  3. Christmas is coming, and Animalia would make a unique gift (read: unlikely to be duplicated by someone else)
  4. This blog is a space where I share some of my favorite things, and this book most certainly falls into that category. In addition my having some great childhood memories attached to it, I am now quite confident my children will have similar fond memories of the hours we’ve crowded around and poured over this book together.

Disclaimer: This is a completely unsolicited review.  I was not asked, nor am I being paid to share my opinions.  I only write about products that chose, truly love, and whole-heartedly recommend because I think they make the world a better place.  I am, however, an affiliate partner with, so if you’re interested in purchasing a copy of this book, I’d love it if you would do so through any of the links on this page, which will give me credit for recommending it! (Not to mention, Amazon usually beats most everyone’s prices, so it may be the cheapest way to buy–especially if you have free shipping/Prime!)




Your Wish is My Command (Center)

Several friends recently asked me for some tips on setting up an in-home “Command Center”, so since I already had the photos in my cameral roll, I thought I might as well blog about it in case anyone else was looking for inspiration/ideas.

I don’t mean to brag…but my chalkboard calendar may be my favorite thing in my entire house.  (I purchased mine from Hobby Lobby for $60–a hefty chunk of change for this bargain shopper, but it’s worth every penny.  You can get the magnetic chalkboard version from the Amazon link above for the same price.) The days of the week, calendar grid, and boxes for the individual dates are permanent, leaving me to fill in the month name, individual numbered dates, and of course our scheduled activities.  As you can tell from the month in the picture, it’s nearing the one-year mark since I set this little command center up in my kitchen, and I am pleased to report that (unlike some of my other organization undertakings), it has stood the test of time and is still used EVERY day.

Command Center

I won’t lie…I eagerly anticipate the changing of the month when I can wipe away everything from the last 30-ish days and start fresh.  I usually try to do this the day before the new month starts.  It’s a perfect chance for me to look ahead at all we have coming up. (I transfer the dates I have written down in my portable planner) I also try to be diligent about adding new commitments to the board as they come up (I try to remember to check my planner when I get home).

You might ask, “Why go to the trouble of writing things down twice?”  The short answer is: it works for my family.  But in case that’s not a good enough reason, here’s the rest of my argument.

  1.  Writing things down helps me remember (and not just me, it’s scientific).
  2. My family LOVES being able to see what we have coming up/going on.
  3. Even when I forget to tell my sweet husband I have plans, he usually already knows because he checks the calendar.
  4. We spend a LOT of time in the kitchen and it gives us something to read.
  5. I had a big space on my wall that “needed something” and this makes me happy.

Calendar Close

To the left of the calendar I have a dual wire basket system for my kids.  This I also purchased from Hobby Lobby (Sorry, don’t remember the exact price and I don’t think they have it anymore, but here is a link to a similar one).  The only change I made to it was to personalize each basket with a wooden letter so my kids could keep track of their basket. I bought .99 natural wood letters from Hobby Lobby (noticing a theme) then painted them, dry brushing over them with brown acrylic paint to give them a distressed look.

I use these baskets to hold the copious amounts of papers the kids bring home (because my mommy-brain isn’t always ready to cope with that paperwork the minute it walks through the door).  I also have been known to stash any library books I find lying around the house in them (because I have a major phobia about losing books/paying late fines)


To the right of the calendar I have another little chalkboard with some tiny clothespins underneath.  I mainly hung this for symmetric purposes, but have used it for various things in the year that it’s been there, so it has come in handy.  Most recently I have been writing the kids’ and/or my daily chores on the left side (so they can come home from school and start on them without my having to ask, or to help me assess if I have some free time before my next activity what I can squeeze in chore-wise).  To the right, I keep a running list of household projects that we have.  (It’s fun crossing those off!)

The clothespins below the board have held everything from photos, to post-it reminders, to memory verses.

Chores & Honey Dos

It made sense to me to keep all info regarding food on the fridge, so that’s what I did.  First, I purchased a weekly menu planner vinyl sticker.  It was ok…but didn’t hold enough info and I didn’t like that it was a sticker (I was wanting more of a vinyl cling), so I kept looking and found a roll of chalkboard vinyl  for just $10.  (I say “just” $10 because it came with WAY more than I needed…I used all I wanted and I have shared excess with multiple friends!  Had I found this first, I probably would have used it for my menu as well)

I like to write a focus Bible verse on the big board for our family to see.  (Like I said, we spend a LOT of time in the kitchen, so I’m banking on them reading this MANY times and hopefully learning it in the process…plus, it gives me a creative outlet!)

Underneath the verse, we keep a running grocery list.  Everyone in the family has been trained to add items to it if they use up the last of something, notice we are running low, or would like something specific from the store (not all requests are granted…the kids have tried to sneak a few good ones in there!).  I love that I can take a quick picture of this list on my phone on my way out the door if the list is long and I don’t want to take the time to rewrite it on paper.

Fridge 2

To the right of the Bible verse, I keep a running list of all meals I have ingredients for on-hand.  (I usually shop 1-2 weeks at a time, and without this list I would probably forget what I had bought to cook) I cross off each meal as we eat it (or sometimes I will write-in the number of servings remaining if we have left-overs so we can keep track of that too, then cross it off when it is completely gone).

Meals On Hand

To the left of the big board is my small, weekly menu.  Each week I try to look at the big calendar and figure out which days/nights of the week are busiest and plan our menu accordingly.  If I know I’m going to be busy during the day or have to pick the kids up/get home late in the afternoon, I may choose a crockpot meal or something that can be prepped quickly.  On days when I have more time, I pick meals with longer prep-times.  I also try to be mindful of what we have planned after dinner…on Wednesday nights we have church at 7pm, so I always plan a meal that is quick to eat (because some things are quicker to scarf than others!), or one that I know the kids like (so we don’t waste any time fighting the “How many bites do I have to eat before I can be excused?” stand-off battle.)


In case you haven’t picked up on it, I dig the chalkboard look.  While I really do like working with actual chalk on chalkboards (the texture is amazing!), for my command center purposes, I use a Bistro Chalk Marker (I prefer the fine tip).  This pen works very similarly to a paint pen.  Initially you press the tip to get it inked up, then it’s ready to go.  It writes evenly and dries relatively quickly (be careful not to drag your hand through it while it’s wet or it will smear…but once it dries, it’s not going anywhere!).  When you are ready to erase, simply use a damp paper towel to wipe the surface clean!

Bistro Chalk Marker

There are also a wide variety of fun fluorescent-colored bistro pens available if black and white is too drab for your walls.  My good friend, Jenny (who recently converted to being a chalkboard wall calendar-lover) uses fluorescents and her calendar always looks great! (This could also be a great way to keep track of different family member’s commitments by assigning a different color to each person!)


And, because my family is bad about losing things, I always attach a command velcro strip to my marker so it can be returned to the spot that it belongs.   (I can’t say enough about how much I LOVE command wall hanging strips…I have only used ONE nail in my entire house so far…everything else is held on by command strips!)

Sideview Command

Don’t let this post overwhelm or discourage you.  Just because this works for me doesn’t mean it is the only way to do it.  Do what works for you (even if that involves the more primitive writing-on-the-back-of-your-hand method!).  If you have any questions, feel free to ask away or share your own hacks in the comments below!

The Best Laid Plans…

Farm Girl JournalsChristmas came early… I picked up a brand new planner for myself yesterday!  Those  who know me well can attest to the fact that I am a planner.  I like to have a plan, I like to know the plan, and if I have anything to say about it, I’d just as soon not deviate from the plan.  I obsessively carry a planner with me everywhere I go.  Sure, I know I can keep  track of appointments and important dates on my iPhone (and I do that too), but for me, there is something cathartic about physically writing my commitments down on paper and seeing them in my own handwriting as pending dates approach.

Who gets a new planner in the eighth month of the year?  This girl!  After a three-year love affair with the pricey, but visually stunning Erin Condren, I decided we needed a break.  For one thing, my entire calendar revolves around the school year, which means about this time every year, I start getting nervous because my standard January-December calendar is running out of pages and I’m already scheduling things into February.  I needed a new calendar, and I needed one pronto.  I was frustrated as I realized this happens to me every year.  I pay $75 for my flashy EC planner with all the bells and whistles, but by August, I’m already wanting a new one so I can keep planning into the next year.  Not to mention, this year, I was sorely disappointed to discover that Erin Condren had changed one of my FAVORITE  features… exchanging its smooth-turning, chrome binding for a wider, scratchy, dull-silver binding of sub-par quality.)

A close, local friend of mine has made quite a name for herself designing and manufacturing custom planners under the label Farm Girl Journals on etsy, so I gave her a shout and asked if I could place an order. I love the idea of supporting local small businesses (not to mention, I tend to run a little on the picky side, so having the opportunity to fully customize my planner was too lucrative for me to pass up!).

I chose from Farm Girl’s wide variety of cover options (Love me some Roy G. Biv!), requested specific scriptures for the inside and back covers, and of course, asked for extra pages for taking notes (Erin never did have paper enough to contain all of my thoughts) Just one week later, it was ready and I can’t adequately express how much I love it!

Inside Cover

The first thing I noticed was how closely the cover resembled my EC planner.  (Which is good, because the ultra-sturdy, gorgeous covers were what drew me to Erin in the first place) The crystal-clear lamination will insure my cover will still maintain it’s pristine appearance even after all the lunches and coffees (and accidental spills) I subject it to over the course of the next year.  Plus, the spiral binding allowed for delightfully smooth page turns, so I was already a very happy girl!

I was equally impressed by the quality of  its paper (in fact, I liked it better than EC!).  I am a self-proclaimed pen snob.  Translation: I carry a black Pilot G-2 with me EVERYWHERE I go, and use it exclusively.  (Especially in my planner, where I absolutely can not tolerate the sight of mismatched ink) The fatal flaw of the G-2 is that it doesn’t work well on all paper types.  It’s terrible on slick-finished greeting cards, for example.  So, when I noticed how silky-smooth my new planner’s paper was, I was a little nervous they they may not play together nicely.  However, to my elation, the paper’s smooth surface felt amazing to write on and was equally porous enough to allow my G-2 ink to soak in. (No smearing and no bleed-through!) It was a match made in heaven!

TabsThe sturdy but adorable, color-coordinated , patterned tabs were the icing on the cake!  They make me happy just looking at them!

Month at a Glance  I was happy to find that the monthly calendar was spacious (individual squares were slightly larger than EC, which I liked), simplistic,  and pleasing the eye. I immediately went to work transferring over the remaining dates from my previous planner.  (It may or may not have been the highlight of my day) And I loved that there was a place in the right margin for notes/reminders to myself.  Oh!! And I did I mention that I was able to customize my calendar, so that it starts and finishes in August?  LOVE it!!

GoalsbyrolesPerhaps the most unexpected feature I fell in love with was the weekly calendar.  My Erin Condren planner had a weekly calendar section, but I seldom used it. (That is until I had used up the scant number of notes pages provided in back, at which point I resorted to using the weekly calendar for scratch paper).

What I love about my Farm Girl Planner’s weekly calendar is that it allows me to organize my weekly goals by role.  This was a total game-changer for me.  This is exactly how my brain works!  I need to keep my responsibilities/commitments for all of my different roles organized separately.  On the left-hand margin, I was able to list out the different hats I wear/things I keep track of on a weekly basis.  I wrote out some of the chores I’d like to tackle around the house, the deadlines I have coming up for my CBS role, upcoming social engagements, and even my menu plan for this week.  This will allow me to keep track of all the “little things” that I might not want to write on my monthly calendar, but that still help me stay organized.  I love to keep To Do lists and this format provides a great way for me to do just that, while seeing it all in the context of the whole week’s big picture.

Closeup Goals

(Close-up of Goals by Roles)

NotesPer my request, I received a generous section of lined pages for note-taking (you can request un-lined pages if you’re more the free-spirited doodling type).  She even included additional blank tabs for me to label sections within the notes pages in case I want to keep my notes for PTO separate from my sermon notes!

RearViewBottom line: I have found my new planner, and I’m not looking back.  Not to mention, in addition to feeling great for supporting a local small business owner and friend, I paid a FRACTION of what I usually do for a planner!  I strongly suggest you check out the Farm Girl Journals Shop on etsy.  You can also find her on PinterestFacebook, and Instagram.

PS–If planners aren’t your “thing”, she also has a gorgeous line of Bible Tabs, Bible and prayer journals, and even customized journaling Bibles!  (I know where I’ll be doing a lot of my Christmas shopping this year!)