Here we go again….

Buckle up blog buddies, I’ve got a lot to tell you. No need for lengthy intros. Let’s just get right to it.

Remember that amazing job that pulled us from Georgia to Tennessee? Well, without warning a few weeks ago Mr. Thistle’s position was eliminated. It was like a punch in the gut. No indication that it was coming, no warning at all. No complaints about his job performance. Just a simple, “we’ve got to make more room in the budget” kind of explanation for why he was now jobless just over a year after moving 400 miles.

The good news is Mr. Thistle is a networking guru. I mean, people love him. And he’s built up a network of people rooting for him in his industry over the years. Which is extremely valuable in any situation but absolutely necessary for job hunting these days. Minutes after packing up his belongings and carrying them to the car he was on the phone with several contacts and had interviews lined up for the very next day!

Sidenote: the great part about me waiting to tell you all of this is that you don’t have to go through the excruciating pain of waiting to hear how it’s going to play out. But let me tell you this: every minute was a struggle for one Mrs. Thistle Panties-in-a-wad Mandin. I hate waiting. I already want to skip telling you all the details and jump right to the end but that would make for a terribly boring blog post…..and a dull life, too, I suspect.

Back to it then.

Mr. Thistle had interviews lined up every day for the next three days, some with two interviews in a single day. The weekend came and went and no reasonable offers had been made. Industry contacts were buzzing his phone left and right with leads here, leads there. It was a breath of fresh air really to see how his peers propped him up. He even had a meeting with his old employer back in our home state of Georgia. Which was hilarious considering the events of the last year or so. But they had been sad to see him go and he had left on good terms so it was very reasonable to expect a job offer to come from his meeting with them. He fielded leads all over the country, here in Nashville, and a couple others in Atlanta. But as the days passed, his old job seemed to be the one that we were leaning towards. In the meantime I should note that we discovered that our previously thriving bees had all died from a varroa mite infestation and american foulbrood disease. Not only were all the bees dead, the hive had to be burned to prevent contaminating any other bees in our area. It was a rather ominous ceremony for an already stressful time.

Mr. Thistle was called back in for another meeting at his former employer and would have to make a second trip to Georgia, leaving me in Tennessee with all my nerves and anxiety, two kids, and a menagerie of animals to tend to. To add insult to injury, our dear, beloved family dog of 10 years, who had been rapidly declining for the last year, took a terrible turn for the worse the night before Mr. Thistle was scheduled to leave again. She couldn’t eat, stand, walk, she was totally helpless and struggling to perform basic life tasks like going outside to potty. She was suffering. It was a Thursday night. Mr. Thistle would leave on Friday and drive to GA and back in the same day but we knew she would not make it that long without suffering terribly. So, the next morning I loaded her up, along with the kids, in the 12 degree, now intolerable, weather and headed to the vet. It was heartbreaking to have to make that call at all. But on the heels of a job loss and with kids in tow and the husband gone it seemed like terribly cruel timing. Anyone who’s had to make the decision to have their beloved pet put down knows it’s hard to reconcile the feeling that what you are doing is what’s best to ease her suffering with the feeling of betraying her in the same moment. It definitely wasn’t ideal to take the kids either. I begged them to wait outside the door. But they didn’t want her to be alone and scared. They knew what was happening and wanted to be with their loyal protector. She had been with them their whole lives. I’m not sure it was the best parenting decision I’ve ever made but I honored their request. Owen held her sweet head in his lap and she left this world from the comforts of her favorite place to be, in the arms of her favorite little person. The veterinarian, a sweet country gentleman that acted as if he loved her as much as we did, told Owen he was very proud of him for doing such a selfless thing for his dog. He told Owen that he was a very brave 7 year old and that he was so proud of him for loving his dog so well. It was painful to see my boy do such a responsible and hard thing at such a tender age. So hard.

It was too much. I had kept my wits about me when I got the call from Mr. Thistle about the job loss the previous week. I had held it together when I had no idea what we were going to do. But that day, my emotions grabbed hold of me. I wept uncontrollably at the gas station after leaving her with the veterinarian, making many people pumping their gas extremely uncomfortable. But it was the only time I would be able to steal a moment until bedtime when Mr. Thistle returned and I didn’t want the kids to see me lose it. They were handling it so well and I knew I would make it worse. But the waiting to hear from Mr. Thistle about the meeting that day, losing our sweet Daphne, and the bitter cold were just too much. So I let out the ugly cry while pumping gas and didn’t care one bit what anyone else thought.

Within hours of arriving home from the vet’s office, our 4 year old came down with a fever and got hit hard with a sickness out of nowhere. My mama soul was weary. 24 hours later it was confirmed….


Also confirmed….a new job. 400 miles back to Georgia. Back at the old job but in a new position. And we needed to move in three weeks. No big deal.

So there we were. Heartbroken and hopeful all at the same time. And tired. So tired. Two trips out of state already for Mr. Thistle, grieving the loss of our pet, flu, the Tennessee winter. It was madness. But there was no time to sit on our haunches. We had to find a place to live, fast.

We loaded up the kiddos a few days later when the flu fog cleared and made the trip to Georgia. In a whirlwind we viewed over 20 houses in 48 hours. With children in tow. All the while, a winter storm was moving in back in Tennessee and we had the jerk cat (I’m not as fond of him as I was of Daphne) and our chickens to tend to. Whether we found a place or not we would have to return to Tennessee to make sure everyone was taken care of. We could only be gone for 48 hours max. We found one prospect out of 20 something places. And it was just out of our budget. It would leave us scraping by every month. We put in an application on it anyway and headed back home.

For the next 5 days we mulled it over and Mr. Thistle and I decided that neither one of us felt totally settled about it. With one week left before he had to start his new job we had little time to find a place and the house hunt had been dismal, to say the least. We decided we would make one more whirlwind trip to Georgia and look at apartments this time. We would leave the next morning, put in an application on an apartment (because surely they would be more predictable than the house hunt had proven to be) and return in the same day. Turns out Tennessee had other plans.

When we left the next morning we were hit with a major ice storm. The roads were treacherous and it took us 2 hours to drive what normally takes 30 minutes. The windshield was freezing over and it was dark and my anxiety was through the roof. We stopped for breakfast and Mr. Thistle accidentally spilled orange juice all over me. It was shaping up to be a crappy morning. We finally made it far enough that it looked like we were through the worst of it. It even started to clear up a bit. But a 2 mile patch of black ice derailed us. Literally. Going a whopping 8ish miles an hour, a true crawl of a pace, we started to slide. And we slid right into the car beside us. It was just a tap. No damage done to persons or vehicles. But we had to pull over. Up and down the highway people were in ditches and medians. Tractor trailers had peeled back guard rails. And the poor state troopers were hopping from one accident to the other. As we exchanged information on the shoulder of the highway the state trooper yelled for me to get the kids out of the car just as a car slid sideways down the highway past us. I wasn’t sure we would even make it to Georgia at this point.

It took forever, I had one major panic attack from the passenger seat, but we made it. The apartment hunt didn’t go as bad as the house hunt. We looked at 3 or 4 complexes but it was the very last one that ended up being the right one. We hadn’t anticipated the weather situation and we would not be able to return to Tennessee that night. Tennessee was under a state of emergency and most of the roads we would take home were now impassable. The animals would have to make it through the night without us. Never a dull moment for us Mandins. When we do life-change we do it up fancy with all the dramatic bells and whistles or we don’t do it at all, man. But we had a job and a place to live now so the dramatic tide was starting to turn.

We made the drive back to Tennessee the next morning, taking the long way which made it a 6 hour drive instead of 5. The roads had been well salted by that point so the journey back was way better. But you know what hadn’t been salted? Our driveway. So rude, TDOT! Just kidding. But seriously, we weren’t able to get in our driveway at all. It was covered in a thick sheet of ice. So was anything and everything else that hadn’t been salted like our porch steps, the walkway to the house, the entire yard! So Mr. Thistle had to chip away at the ice little by little with a pick axe before we could park in the driveway.Tennessee was starting to get annoying. That was 5 days ago. Tennessee is now under a level 2 state of emergency and 22 people have died here as a result of this storm. It’s just a mess. And I have no problem leaving it at this point.

So, where do we stand now? Well, we were scheduled to move three days ago so Mr. Thistle could start work on the 23rd. But that didn’t happen because a.) no moving truck could get near my house even if it wanted to because of the ice and b.) businesses have been closed anyways and there’s no one at the truck rental place to rent me a truck even if I could get it in my driveway. So, Mr. Thistle went BACK to Georgia this weekend without us and started work. He’ll come back in a week and we’ll move BACK to Georgia.

We will once again leave our garden plot, bless a sweet family with the most wonderful set of hens we’ve ever had to date, and pack up the punk cat along with all of our stuff and start a new adventure. For a half a second there I got pretty discouraged. But I’ve decided God must be doing something in all of this “undoing”. It’s easy to look at the events of the past 10 years and think that we’ve been set back at the starting line. And there are moments in the day when I really feel like we are starting over and haven’t gotten anywhere. But I am starting to see that there have been some very specific, necessary “setbacks” to give us the tools to do some very specific things with our life. That’s extremely vague but, hey, I’m giving you as much as I’ve got figured out. Which isn’t much these days.

Shauna Niequist writes in her book, Cold Tangerines, that she is learning to write her goals and plans in pencil. She still plans and dreams and sets very real goals that she wants to accomplish. But instead of writing them in stone, she is learning to write them in pencil. Even the plans that seem small. Sounds like something I should probably consider doing at this point.

So, here I am, wielding a giant eraser and embracing my pencil.

There won’t be much blogging for the next week or so while we finish moving. But get ready for a whole lot of new life stuff coming up!






Getting started with nature study

An instagram follower asked me to elaborate on how I get the family interested in nature study and nature journaling. Nature study is something that’s really important for me to incorporate in our education at home. I think studying nature has so many positive implications. It teaches us to slow down, observe the environment around us, and understand our impact on our world. It’s more than just setting up a bird feeder and filling it each month when it’s empty. Nature is all around us, all the time. The potential for exploration is great. But I have to actively engage the children or they’ll pass right by it. It’s something that can definitely be foreign in our world of devices and screens if we’re not careful.

So, I thought I’d start a short series to share how we incorporate nature study into our week and some tricks I’ve learned along the way.


I have found that a successful nature study starts with preparation. That is not to say that you must “lesson plan” your nature study in the formal sense, but a little preparation in a few areas has helped engage our family in a thoughtful and exciting study of nature.

The first thing to prepare is the environment. Whether you live in an apartment on the third floor or a sprawling farm, there are a few things you can do to help bring nature into focus and make it enjoyable. Before you even begin to think about sketching in your journal and breaking out the watercolors you should begin to engage your family in observing nature. I think this is where people imagine bird watching in funny hats with binoculars, perched in one spot for hours waiting on something exciting to happen, bored out of their mind. Nature observation only requires that you slow your pace from the mad rush and look around. Even in the city there is plenty of nature to observe. From roadkill (observed at a safe distance…as in never leaving the car in our case) to birds at a feeder to lambs being born on the farm, we are always intersecting with nature.

If you live in an apartment and lack a yard you can still invite nature to your balcony. Setting up a hummingbird feeder and a few potted plants that are useful in attracting butterflies or bees is the gateway to nature study. Keeping houseplants and a variety of colorful field guides is another way to bring the outdoors in.

If you have a yard, look around at what you’ve got to work with. You might be surprised at what even the tiniest patch of land can provide. For instance, if you have a yard with trees you likely have limbs and twigs. Collect them up and bundle them tight with some twine. Place them in a box turned on it’s side and, boom, instant insect hotel. Tap into your inner child and create toad houses in shady areas for your hopping friends. You might be surprised at what comes along. Hang a few handmade bird feeders to attract birds. They can be made from fruit strung up in a tree, peanut butter slathered toilet paper rolls covered in seeds or anything else you can dream up that looks tasty to birds.

Adding extra food, water, and shelter to your yard increases the chances you’ll be able to observe some wildlife first hand. Even on farms where food, water, and shelter are abundant and you’re surrounded by nature happenings all the time, there’s always more to see and explore. For instance, you might keep chickens and find the excitement of an egg falling out of a bird’s behind every day has worn off for your littles. (Ask me how I know). But show them a book about the different shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns of eggs from other birds and egg-laying animals and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a nature study.

The key to getting my family excited about nature study is to bait the hook and then take their interests and follow them as far as they go. Once I see that I’ve sparked an interest in a particular subject I allow the lessons to journey down as many rabbit trails as necessary to accomplish the goal.

As the teacher/parent I make sure that there are plenty of resources freely accessible to them in order to discover their interests. For me that means a carefully curated library of diverse nature-related books. I’ll elaborate on some of my favorites in the next post in this series. But until then try to set the tone for your nature study by preparing your environment in whatever way best suits your family.

Next up:

  1. Building a Nature Study Library (or books to borrow from your local library)
  2. Materials for Nature Journaling
  3. Nature Study in Your Backyard
  4. Nature Study for City Dwellers

Digging dinosaurs … and a giveaway!

Although I haven’t blogged about it, preschool has been in full force in our home. Blog life might not always be happening but thank goodness real life is, amen?!

We’ve been on a Dinosaur Dig with Mother Goose Time this month and Oliver is loving it. We’ve made fossils and dino hats and even excavated our own Tyrannosaurus Rex. Dad was home during some of our lessons last week so he even got in on the fun. I’ll compile our dinosaur library finds into a post for next week so I can share the books we added in this month. It’s been a pretty fun month of preschool. But I say that about every Mother Goose Time theme, really.

Mother Goose Time Dinosaur DigMother Goose Time Dinosaur DigMother Goose Time Dinosaur DigMother Goose Time Dinosaur DigMother Goose Time Dinosaur DigMother Goose Time Dinosaur DigMother Goose Time Dinosaur DigMother Goose Time Dinosaur Dig

In other exciting news, I’m giving away a little something today. Each month’s box from Mother Goose Time includes a book. They’re always super great quality and I always rant and rave about how cute they are. The sad part for you guys is that, in the past, you couldn’t get your hands on these books unless you bought the entire box. Well, Mother Goose Time has decided to start offering the books by Leslie Falconer on Amazon! Now you can snag the cute little books I share with you each month!

Mother Goose Time Book Giveaway

The contest has ended! Bethany N. you are the lucky winner! Please check your email inbox for details on receiving your books! 

So, to celebrate, I’m giving away the 4 Mother Goose Time books pictured here. These are 4 of my favorites so far. I hand picked these based on how well the kids interacted and responded to these stories. Does a Bear Wear a Hat in Winter? is still our all-time favorite.

Just follow the directions in the rafflecopter widget and you’re entered to win. The contest ends Monday Feb 2nd. One winner will receive all three books. Books are provided courtesy of Mother Goose Time. Contest open to residents of the U.S. only.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


**This post may contain affiliate links that help support our farm, family, and homeschool**

**As an official Mother Goose Time Blogger I receive curriculum in exchange for honest and authentic stories resulting from our experiences with the product. I have partnered with Mother Goose Time to share our experiences throughout the 2014/2015 school year**

January 26, 2015 - 7:47 am

Mother Goose Monday: Finishing Up Our Dino Unit - - […] The Blue Elephant Blessed Little Thistle Hip Homeschooling Dandelion in Her Hair Only Passionate Curiosity Book Wishes Things to Share and Remember […]

January 26, 2015 - 7:49 am

Learning about Ovals - […] Blue Elephant Blessed Little Thistle Hip Homeschooling Dandelion in Her Hair Only Passionate Curiosity Book […]

January 26, 2015 - 10:58 am

Rebecca Xavier - Thank you for the giveaway.

January 26, 2015 - 1:33 pm

Jaclyn Hodnett - Thank you for the giveaway.

January 26, 2015 - 4:18 pm

Michelle Lafayette - Looks like they had lots of fun with this unit.

January 27, 2015 - 6:44 am

Erin Z - These books look great, my girls would love them.

January 27, 2015 - 10:17 am

Wehaf - It’s great that these books are now available individually!

January 27, 2015 - 10:59 am

beth - These books look adorable and I would love to win.

January 27, 2015 - 12:51 pm

Katrina - These are really cute books!

January 27, 2015 - 4:39 pm

Kristen - I love giving kids books as gifts.

January 28, 2015 - 5:41 pm

Fiona N - Awesome giveaway! I would love to win this for my son!
Thank You for the chance

January 28, 2015 - 11:05 pm

Sarah Blake - Thank you so much

January 30, 2015 - 12:58 pm

Amanda Whitley - these books are so cute, my boys would love them

January 30, 2015 - 3:50 pm

Emily Leeds - I have enjoyed reading your posts on homeschooling. I have been contemplating public vs homeschool lately. Thank you for the giveaway

January 31, 2015 - 12:41 am

Robin - My girls would love these books.

February 23, 2015 - 9:26 pm

4 Free Children’s Books! | My Blog - […] Blue Elephant Blessed Little Thistle Hip Homeschooling Dandelion in Her Hair Only Passionate Curiosity Book Wishes Things to Share and […]

February 24, 2015 - 9:42 am

4 Free Children’s Books! | My Free Blog - […] Blue Elephant Blessed Little Thistle Hip Homeschooling Dandelion in Her Hair Only Passionate Curiosity Book Wishes Things to Share and […]

All about trees with Nancy Larson Science

We’ve wrapped our unit on trees with Nancy Larson Science so I thought I’d take you on a little photo tour of our studies over the last couple of months. We’ve explored what trees need to grow, the parts of a tree, differences in leaves and seeds from trees, how deciduous trees change throughout the year, and even what trees are used for. We’ve diagrammed and collected and explored to find out everything we could about trees. The lesson on seeds hidden inside Jack Pine cones might’ve been Owen’s favorite. And mine too. The tiny little pinecones were closed up so tightly. Then we baked them and they opened right up and revealed their delicate seeds. The hands-on stuff is always our favorite.

NLS-trees-collage-1DSC_0103leaves-NL-2-749NLS-trees-collage-2DSC_0095NLS-seeds-4-749Next up: Exploring Sunlight, Water, and Soil. We’ll be trading in our Botanist hat for our Environmental Scientist hat for the next month or so. We love all things worms and soil so this should be right up our alley. The new garden beds were just dug so we’ve already got a head start on soil life. Owen likes to try to find worms to feed the chickens while Oliver pleads their case and relocates them safely back under a bit of soil somewhere. Science is pretty easy to incorporate into busy farm life.


**This post may contain affiliate links that help support our farm, family, and homeschool**

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