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!

cover

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.

ab-pages

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 Amazon.com, 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!)

 

 

Crock-Pot Pesto Chicken & Green Beans Over Couscous

 

cooked-gbchicken

Fall is coming and I can smell it in the air!  This is hands-down my favorite season.  The drop in temperature, the changing of the leaves (Yes, even we Texans have a few select trees whose colors change with the seasons), Aggie Football, Thanksgiving, and the anticipation of Christmas (oh, how I LOVE the hunt for the perfect gift for each of my family members!).  In the Robinson house, Fall also signifies the un-official start of Crock-pot cooking season!

I use my Crock-Pot year-round, but our love affair really heats up from about September-February when the temperature is cooler and the days are shorter.  (There is something about making dinner after dark that just seems a little wrong…even when it’s only 5:30pm.)  So, in case there are others out there, just like me who love their Crock-pots and are always on the look out for a good slow cooker recipe, I thought I’d post a few of mine over the next few weeks/months as I make them.

ingredients

Crock-Pot Pesto Chicken & Green Beans (with Couscous)

Ingredients:

Fresh or Frozen Chicken Breasts (enough to feed your family)

4.5 oz jar or Pesto (I like HEB Specialty Series Basil Pesto)

1-2 lbs. French Cut Fresh or Frozen Green Beans (HEB has a great pre-packed bag of fresh french green beans in their refrigerated produce section)

1 box of Couscous (I like HEB Herb Chicken)

 

fresh-greenbeans

Rinse and drain green beans.  Place several spoonfuls of pesto into a 2 gallon ziplock bag.  Add green beans and top with a couple more spoonfuls of pesto.  Seal bag and toss until beans are thoroughly coated.  (I find that about 1lb. of green beans mixes well in a 2 gallon bag at a time…so if you are doing 2 lbs.–which I highly recommend because the green beans are my favorite part of this dish, you may want to break it up or use a bigger bag)

 

pesto-gb

Place pesto-coated green beans into the slow cooker.pesto-chicken

Top green beans with fresh or frozen chicken pieces (I usually use frozen).  Then spoon remaining pesto over chicken.  Unless you are a huge pesto fan, this won’t exactly look appetizing, but trust me, it will taste great.  Cover with lid and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. (I usually cook on low–I love that I can start the crock-pot in the morning, leave the house for the day, and come home to a delicious meal!)

Note: If you’d prefer to just make Pesto Green Beans, follow the same directions, omitting the chicken and add 1 chicken bouillon cube and 1 cup of water)

cooked-gbchicken

When ready to serve, shred chicken into smaller pieces with a fork and stir around to evenly distribute peso.

boxed-couscous

Boil water, add couscous, remove from heat and cover for 5 minutes.  Toss with fork.  In case you’ve never tried couscous, don’t be scared.  It’s just TINY bits of pasta and tastes great!

couscous

Spoon a bed of couscous onto each bowl (I prefer bowls to plates for this meal because it helps wrangle renegade couscous and is better for holding in juices from the green beans). Top couscous with green bean and chicken mixture, being SURE to ladle some of the juices on top (they MAKE this dish!)

gbchickencouscousSalt and pepper to taste. (Note: I don’t always add salt and pepper to my food, but I do for this dish…it completely changes the flavor.  Eli went from not liking it at all, to loving it with just a little bit of S&P.)

I usually store leftovers all together (couscous on bottom, beans, chicken and juices on top) in a rubbermaid container.  This is one of my favorite meals to have as a leftover lunch!  Enjoy, and happy Crock-Potting!

If you give this recipe a try, let me know what your family thought.  And please feel free to share your favorite crock-pot recipes in the comments below and if I try them and like them, I just might post about them too!

Blog Launch

cropped-dvwordpresstitle.jpgIt’s been five years since I’ve blogged regularly at robinsoncountypost.blogspot.com and so much has changed in that time.  The kids are in school and I’ve kept busy with various ministries and commitments.  In the back of my mind, I’ve always had an itch to open an etsy shop with random, unique, hand-crafted treasures…I hope to make that a reality some day.  In the mean time, this new blog will be a place to share a variety of “domestic” (of or relating to the running of a home or to family relations)”virtuosities”  (skillfulness in artistic pursuits).

I hope it will be a space to share everything from family memories, to crafting exploits, to devotional thoughts, and hopefully much more.  I hope you’ll join me on this new adventure, and feel free to ask questions/comment on any of my posts…it’s always encouraging to know there’s someone out there!