The newest member of the family

As many of you know, we lost our beloved family dog of 10 years in January. It was such a difficult time for all of us, but particularly for our boys. They were being uprooted from their home for the second time in only a year, we were under several layers of ice and everything we owned was in boxes. Losing Daphne at that particular moment seemed like pretty cruel timing. No one ever wants to lose a family pet, but especially not under already strained conditions. The out-of-state move was such a whirlwind that the boys never really had time to process it all. I had been amazed at how well they handled the trip to the vets office the day we had to make our hard decision. It almost seemed worse to me at the time that they were so much stronger than I was about it all. I had imagined a full-on breakdown of the troops. But that didn’t happen.

At least not until last week.

Last week was the week the flood gates opened. I guess we’re settled enough now that Owen has had time to gather his thoughts about it all and, let me tell you, it was NOT pretty. He loved that dog more than all of us combined. Daphne was his girl. And he’s mentioned almost everyday since she’s been gone how much he misses her. But, one night, after a seemingly uneventful day, after baths and bedtime stories and lights out, he came into the living room sobbing. He was a pitiful puddle of sadness. He couldn’t sleep because he was sick with grief. Out of nowhere he was processing it all. He missed her. He wished it hadn’t happened. He was going through all the stages of grief all at one time. Anger, denial, bargaining. Oh, the bargaining. This kid has seen so many animals come and go in his lifetime. Chickens, goats, farm dogs, ducks, rabbits. He’s never mourned them. He’s never begged to keep any of them. He’s a very practical, stoic child. But that night, he wanted what he wanted. And I couldn’t blame him. I missed the companionship of a family dog, too. After lots of hugs and snuggles and kisses he was finally able to rest. Mr. Thistle and I decided the next morning that we needed to make a decision about a family dog and take the leap. It was time.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram might’ve seen our “puppy fund” picture. We had originally told the boys that they would need to save their money to buy our next dog. We thought it would delay the process a bit and ward off any impulse buys. We wanted to be very deliberate about the dog we brought into our family. But the meltdown jolted us ahead in the search for a dog. We would front the boys the money they needed and they would have to keep earning and saving to pay us back.

While we loved Daphne more and more as the years went on with her, those first years were rocky. She was hard to train, stubborn, didn’t know her own strength, and slow to mature. She eventually settled into her role and we all lived harmoniously those last years. But, our family has changed since the last time we had a puppy and we knew we wanted some very specific things in a dog:

  • a generally calm, level temperament
  • generally responsive to training
  • desire to please
  • good with kids
  • NOT high energy

It’s easy to get caught up in wanting a puppy…any puppy. They’re so cute and snuggly and puppy breath is the best smell ever, second only to the top of a newborn’s head, in my opinion. But, we talked at length about it and decided that we didn’t want a dog because it was cute. Cute did not equate to compatible. We decided we would set our criteria first and then look for breeds that met that criteria. We narrowed it down to beagles, bulldogs, basset hounds, and newfoundlands. Bulldogs, beagles, and newfoundlands consistently ranked in the top 10 best dogs for families and I had experience with basset hounds and already knew our personalities matched. The trouble with the hounds and the beagles, however, was their vocal nature. I’m not totally into that in our current stage of life and Oliver is still quite sensitive to loud, obnoxious noises. So, I knew this would be a mark in the cons column for those breeds. Daphne being a bulldog, I was a little hesitant to get a dog that might “replace” her since Owen was still quite sensitive to this. That left the Newfoundland in the top spot. But newfoundlands are a significant investment of money as well as time. And you don’t want to buy one from any old Joe on the street, nor could you. We’d fostered one in the past and knew that you want a newf from a reputable handler.

Our sweet girl’s dad: 

And you don’t just find a newf on craigslist or out of the back of a truck down at the Wal-Marts. Most of the reputable newf breeders have waiting lists and applications with strict requirements for purchasing one of their dogs. We knew only of one breeder we felt comfortable buying from and she only bred a couple times a year. It was a long shot.

I watched the rescues and the shelters and breeders pages for puppies and younger dogs in our 4 breed preferences daily. A few had potential but none jumped out at us as “the one.” And then, one day, I clicked over to the farm’s website and there was the announcement we had been waiting for! Newf pups had arrived at the farm we had researched. Four boys and four girls! And, with our deposit in, we had 2nd choice of the 4 females.


And here they all are, brand new:

That chubby little lump in the middle of all those hungry pups is our girl! Just get a look at those juicy ham hocks! She’s so squeezable! We’re all so excited to meet her and welcome her to the family. We’ll need lots of friends to come over to meet her when she gets here so she gets in as much socialization as possible in those first weeks. She’s going to get big, fast, so there’ll be no delay in training. She’ll start learning the ropes the minute she gets here, first from our home and then in formal obedience classes, so that she’ll be a well-mannered member of society and family member.  It’ll be like having a baby in the house again. Sleepless nights, crying (mostly me…over the sleepless nights), potty training. But there’ll be snuggles and kisses and a lot of love, too.

Though our life changed frequently in the last few years, Daphne was something that remained constant for the boys (aside from us of course) no matter what we had going on or where we were. She made us all feel safe and taught them how to behave around animals. She taught them how to really love and respect an animal.

This new girl has big shoes to fill but I’m confident she can do it.

Now to agree on a name…..

April 19, 2015 - 11:02 am

Jen Wilmoth - So glad your family will be blessed with another sweet dog. Congratulations! Our family has also been doing a lot of research for another dog that will be a blessing for our family and farm in progress and we just put a deposit down for a Great Pyrenees to be born around May 1st! We are super excited! Can’t wait to see pics of your’s on Insta!

Homeschool in the Woods

I have a confession to make that might make me a disgrace to the modern homeschool movement. I’ve fought it for a long time but I feel like it’s time to come clean. You might need to sit down for this:

I’m just not that into Classical Education.


It’s true. I tried it, forced it even. And, while some parts of the Classical Education model do work for us, the style as a whole just doesn’t fit into our day. I felt like I needed to point out this fact because it has been a huge issue for us where history is concerned.

My orderly self loved the idea of teaching the children history in a chronological order, beginning at the beginning, as books like The Story of the World are so popular for. But, that’s one of the hard parts of homeschool. Just because something seems logical and orderly to me does not mean that it will appeal to the learning styles of my children. “Beginning at the beginning” was just too heavy for them. In kindergarten and first grade we had relied on the holidays and the seasons to teach our history. You know, pilgrims and Native Americans and Christmas and such. But when we decided to get serious about a history curriculum we quickly realized we were in over our heads with the abstract concepts that came along with it. We rather quickly ditched the chronological approach and The Story of the World has been collecting dust ever since.

Now, don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. A lot of people like the classical approach to teaching history and it works for their family. It just didn’t work for us right now. And I found that I was just trying to make something work for us because it was popular instead of effective for us, which is an easy trap to fall into.


History Through the AgesI went searching for a curriculum that addressed our unique needs. In the meantime I was still struggling with my own desire to learn the “chronological” part of history. And I did want the boys to know which people came first and when events happened in relation to others. I wanted an orderly approach to teaching history but I wanted to teach it out of order.

Makes total sense, right?!

And I wanted a lot of living books to be sprinkled in. The wonderful and frustrating part of being a mixed-style homeschool is that I often can’t find just what we’re looking for. It would be so much less work to just order a box set and complete it exactly as the lesson plan book has mapped for us. But our days just fall flat when we do that. I get bored. They get bored. We feel trapped by “the box.” We need freedom to explore rabbit trails and nurture our interests for as long as necessary. But I don’t want to start from scratch and make my own study. As you can see, we like child-led learning with a bit of orderliness for mama. I’m too uptight for a full-on unschooled approach to things but too creative and emotional for a strict classical approach.

History Through the Ages

(Side note: I’m a member of the camp that believes you have to enjoy teaching it just as much as they enjoy learning it. So, yes, I shop for me, too when I shop for curriculum.)

I hit my all-time favorite homeschool resource for ideas: Instagram. If you homeschool and you don’t know about #hsteacherslounge on Instagram then you’re missing out. I’ll share my favorite homeschool Instagrammers another time.

It wasn’t long before I had a lead.

History Through the Ages

After a lot of research, stalking blogs, IG accounts, and various forums, I had pretty much found what I was looking for in a publishing company called Homeschool in the Woods and their product History Through the Ages. Homeschool in the Woods was created by a mom who was also looking for a specific way to teach history in her home school. She designed her history curriculum around the use of timelines. The timelines and their accompanying illustrations were so popular that the entire family joined in on the business and began creating more materials and and hands-on activities.

The timelines were just what I was looking for to satisfy the “orderly” portion of our history. It would allow me to teach the children “out of order” but still keep things organized and easy to follow if we jumped around in our studies. We could learn about vikings when we wanted and then jump back to Egyptians if the mood struck us and still be able to see when events happened in relation to each other along our timeline. I had seen the timelines in action so I thought that was all I needed. But after speaking with the author/marketing director/researcher over at Homeschool in the Woods we decided to start with one of the activity-based study sets in the History Through the Ages curriculum called Time Travelers. We’re working through the New World Explorers series now.

History Through the Ages

There are so many activities with each lesson that I’ve decided to take you guys on our journey with this product through several posts. The company’s website says that the set of 25 lessons can be completed in 5-10 weeks. In just the first week we’ve mapped the continents and oceans, made spice cookies, dried fruits, made lime juice, practiced tying knots, colored the Ptolemaic Map, and stained paper with tea and coffee for our homemade captain’s log. I’ll share more of the activities as we go along but, let me just tell you, there are a ton! And they’re fairly easy to execute, too.

All of my research ultimately led to the decision to use History Through the Ages alongside another curriculum. I found another supplement that pairs seamlessly with our Time Travelers lessons and compliments the curriculum quite nicely that I’ll tell you about in another post. It brings in more of the living books component that I was looking for while History Through the Ages fulfills my need for orderliness, flexibility, and hands-on instruction.

We’re gearing down for my lesson planning period right now so that I can refocus our goals for the summer. But, we’ll back in full swing on the 27th with our first official session of our 2015-2016 school year. I’ll take you through a more detailed look of what’s included in the Time Travelers set and how we’ve been using it along with our other product.




April 21, 2015 - 3:43 pm

Lindsay - Homeschool in the Woods looks awesome! I hadn’t come across them before. My little ones are 3 and 4, and I’m trying to figure out what sort of “homeschool philosophy” I fit closest. Some things about Classical education really appeal to me, but I get the feeling I would want more freedom and less rigidity. And I love the idea of unit studies. So I’m bookmarking Homeschool in the Woods for when my boys get a little older!

May 1, 2015 - 9:36 am

Becca G - I feel like you’re my kindred homeschool sister! I could have written the entire section regarding classical approach myself–my free-spirit could just not fit in the box of a classical education. On the other hand, unschooling is so appealing, but this momma needs some more structure. I’ve fallen in love with Carole Joy Seid’s approach to history and education as a whole. I will certainly check out Homeschool in the Woods! Thanks for the tips:)


While many students and teachers are winding down the school year and anticipating the end of a long year of hard work, for homeschoolers it’s curriculum shopping time! It’s homeschool expo and convention season all over the country. Home educators are reflecting on what worked this year and what didn’t and what they’d like to add for next year. Personally, I love this time of the school year. Planning and researching for the coming school year is so exciting to me. It’s a chance to evaluate how far we’ve come and where we want to be.  I might be a curriculum junkie with a day planner problem.

One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that, while it’s fun to try new things and mix it up to keep it interesting for myself as much as the kids, there are some products, techniques, and approaches that are tried and true.  I review a lot of products because I like to see how they work in practice and tell others about them. Of course, I have to abandon some to make room for others. Even if I wanted to use all of the curricula I’ve liked over the years there’s no way I could. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to use 3 science curricula no matter how much I like them. So I pick one and use it until the next time something piques our interest or someone asks my opinion of a product they’re interested in or until it just stops being perfect for our family.

There’s only been one product we’ve continued to use over the years without interruption. Math-U-See has been our math curriculum from the start so I thought I’d tell you more about it and how it works for us.

Why Math-U-See?

Math-U-See is a k-12 mastery based, multi-sensory math program.

Let’s address the “mastery” part first. Some curricula are “spiral” or “spaced” in nature, meaning that they address a few main concepts early on and come back around to them each year in increasing difficulty. We like to use a spiral approach in our history lessons but not so much in our math.  A “mastery” based approach starts at the beginning with the basic concepts and does not introduce more difficult concepts until the student has reached a higher level of comprehension. Basically, the concepts build on themselves in a systematic way.  I wish that I had learned math this way. I’m terrible at math and every time we do a lesson with Math-U-See I think to myself, “That makes so much sense!”

The “multi-sensory” part is what really sold us on Math-U-See. The lessons are taught using videos, manipulatives (blocks), worksheets, iPad, and even online co-ops for the older learners. This approach appeals to a variety of learning styles. One thing I’ve learned as a home educator is that a multi-sensory approach is invaluable when teaching multiple kids. Though one child might be an auditory learner and the other a tactile learner, I can still use the same curriculum for both kids.

The other great thing about the multi-sensory approach of Math-U-See is that it works for our kids’ special learning needs. I’ve mentioned before that our journey with Sensory Processing Disorder played a big part in our decision to homeschool. It has also played a big part in curriculum selection over the years. We learned pretty early on that there were some styles and approaches that just weren’t going to work for us no matter how hard we tried. Auditory learning simply does not appeal to my oldest son. When material is presented in a way that requires him to decipher information largely from what he hears, he struggles to interpret the information in a clear fashion. It just doesn’t process in his brain the way it might in others. There’s just no way I could get by with just telling him how to do it. He simply cannot learn this way. He needs to be shown and in a variety of ways.

How we use Math-U-See

We usually begin our math lesson by watching the short instructional video that goes along with the lesson. Sometimes we watch it a couple of times to really understand what Mr. Demme is trying to teach us. Then, depending on the lesson, we complete as many of the worksheets in that lesson as possible. Each lesson comes with worksheets A-F. A-C includes new material and D-F includes concepts from previous lessons mixed in for review. Each lesson ends with a test. I usually plan for us to complete at least two worksheets per day and the lesson test on the fourth day. If they’re breezing right on through with no trouble and can teach it back to me we continue right on through. However, if they’re struggling with a concept or I don’t think it’s really stuck with them, I’ll print off extra practice from the website and we’ll stretch the lesson out longer until they’ve mastered it. Each problem in the lesson encourages the student to “build it, write it, and say it.” That means that they use their manipulatives (blocks) to build the numbers in the problem, then write the answer and say it all once they’ve found their answer. I’ve found this to be so helpful in getting them to really think about what they’re working on rather than rote memorization alone. They’re essentially recognizing the problem and its components three times before they move on to the next problem. This helps them later when they teach it back to me to prove mastery of the concept.

What you need

Each level of Math-U-See requires:

There are also additional resources like online drills, printable worksheets, and e-learning through the iPad App.

Homeschool Styles

There are a lot of programs and curricula out there that simply don’t work for us, even if they’re great products, because of our particular “style” of homeschooling. For example, the classical approach to teaching history, no matter how many times I’ve tried, just doesn’t work for us. We have such a “blended” style that it’s often hard to find a curriculum that fits as-is into our daily routine. I often have to tweak it and repurpose it to work. Math-U-See recognizes this problem among homeschooling families and is part of the reason behind the multi-sensory approach. The program can be tailored to the individual learning style of the student as well as the overall teaching/learning style of the family. It works for Charlotte Mason styles by being “twaddle-free” and encouraging narration through the re-telling by the student of how to work the problems. It works for traditional homeschool by utilizing the lessons taught on DVD and through workbooks. Classical homeschools will find the memorization of facts at an early age appealing. It works for homeschoolers who prefer a relaxed/unschool style because the levels don’t correspond strictly with a grade level. They are organized by topic, making it easy for a student to explore a particular interest and work at their own pace. And the program is easily adopted by homeschoolers preferring the Unit Study approach to learning.

Lastly, Math-U-See addresses the age old question every math student has had since the beginning of time: “Yeah, but how will I ever use this?” I remember sitting in math class thinking that so many times! That single thought was followed by an extended period of tuning out the teacher because I hadn’t been told how I’d ever use it in real life. I wanted to be an artist! Aside from balancing a checkbook and making change at the store I didn’t rank math very high on my list of necessary life skills. At least not trigonometry anyway. I remember learning how to do all the problems but I have little recollection of learning how to apply the more advanced concepts I had learned. Mr. Demme (the creator of Math-U-See and the teacher on the instructional DVD) addresses that question right away in this demonstration video. If you are at all interested in Math-U-See please watch it. It is extremely thorough and informative.

The great news is that Math-U-See has been generous enough to allow me to host a giveaway of their product! One winner will receive one complete level of his/her choosing from Math-U-See! Enter to win in the form below. I’m so excited to share this with you guys! It’s been such a huge part of our homeschool for many years now and I’m thrilled that one of you will get the chance to try it out!

Math-U-See Giveaway



 Giveaway is sponsored by Demme Learning and is open to residents of the United States only. Participants must be 18 years or older. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary for entry. Odds are determined by the number of entries. Selected winners will have 48 hours to respond to email notification to claim their prizes or another winner will be drawn
Enter to win one complete level of Math-U-See // Blessed Little Thistle

A season of thankfulness

Life moves through seasons. Dry seasons. Learning seasons. Growing seasons. Seasons of blessing. Seasons of abundance. The seasons are easier to recognize sometimes than they are to appreciate while you’re in them. Growing seasons are often painful. Dry seasons are often lonely. And when you’re in the harder seasons it’s easy to get caught up in just wanting to be out of them. Kind of like the middle of winter. The snow was fun for about a week but then it’s just cold and you’re tired of shoveling snow and you’re ready for spring. Summer and winter are both like that for me. They’re my least favorite seasons but they’re the longest of the four. In our area spring and fall are short and we often skip right from freezing to sweating without a spring at all. It’s easy to miss my favorite seasons completely.

I’ve found that I get so used to hurrying along the tough seasons of life that I have a hard time slowing down to appreciate the good seasons when they finally roll around. So, tonight I’m documenting a rare “spring” I’m experiencing in life, lest I forget.


Tonight I sat around a table of artists at the home of my mentor. It was the second gathering of artists and creatives that I’d attended there since we moved back. There were people painting, drawing, crafting, and guitars being strummed. There was dinner on the grill and grown-up easter egg dyeing and egg hunting and a campfire with s’mores and more guitar strumming.



It was dreamy. And refreshing. And a blatant answer to a very specific prayer.

I wrote a while back about my dream hoarding problem. In that post I included this quote:

“You have to take the first step when you’re still afraid…Faith is experiential. That means we have to live it and not just think about it…You can’t kill fear instantly. You can only starve it by feeding your faith. All of those questions that begin with “What if…” are scraps you’re feeding your fear. Replace them instead with “What then…”  (Holley Gerth)

A few months later, a good friend encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and create Field Notes (which, incidentally, I forgot to formally post about on the blog…more on that in a separate post).

Then, the same friend put her faith in me for a big job. A real, bonified ART job creating graphics for her website.

And then this scripture popped up on my phone the very next morning.

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.

Galatians 5: 13-15

Only hours after reading that very timely “verse of the day” on my phone, my high school art teacher and mentor invited me to that first drawing party I attended. It was just what my dry soul needed.

The following morning I happened upon a post Jeanne Oliver had blogged about only a few days before that rocked my world. I mean, REALLY spoke to me. It’s as if the words were from my own mouth. Straight from my own heart. It was like reading a description of myself and it was DEAD ON. Do yourself a favor, read the post. But here are some highlights:

“I used to think that my interests, gifts and passions were random.

To be honest it has taken me many years to realize that my interests, gifts and passions are not an accident at all.

 I have cried over lost years and beat myself up over trying to fit into someone else’s mold.  What a waste of time, guys.

I have often wondered why my heart isn’t for some of the things my friends or family members have a heart for.  That is because the Lord has given me my own pulls of the heart.

There are so many things about who I am, the places I love, the people I am drawn to that I know have been placed in me for a purpose.

Look at your gifts, your interests and your passions.  Have you asked lately, “Lord, what do you want me to do with them?”.


Coincidence? No such thing, man.

I’ve felt dry and dusty for a long time. But a well has clearly sprung up the last few months, even in the midst of my dry place. Little wells keep springing up. They’re starting to become hard to ignore. I keep stepping right in them.

It’s exciting. And refreshing.

My perspective is turning from “I don’t know what to do with my one million, seemingly unrelated interests” to “I have these varied interests, they are clearly related in a way unique to me and not an accident, how am I supposed to use them?”.

I’m not sure this even makes sense to anyone else. But I felt like it needed documenting.

Friends (and a dear, loving husband) who encourage me to do instead of just think … a well in the desert.

Art with strangers and a treasured mentor … a spring to my winter.

Answered prayer … documented.

April 6, 2015 - 1:58 pm

Jenn - What a wonderful post, after being in a culture that did not value artistic expression, I am so excited to be newly aware of how important a variety of gifts are to the body of Christ. You are blessed to be finding local community which values the same things.

D i s c l o s u r e