Teaching writing

December 13, 2011 Categories: Homeschooling | Comments Off  

As a homeschool mom, one of the most difficult subjects for me to teach has been writing. It’s strange to me, as I love to write, and write all the time, but none of my kids have enjoyed it. They all complete their writing assignments with reluctance, and editing can often be a chore. I wish they enjoyed it more – and that it came more naturally to them.

Since Natalie is a freshman, Noah is in 7th grade, Jonathan is in 6th grade, and Josiah is in 4th grade, writing is something they’re going to be doing for several years. As my oldest gets closer to college age, and the writing assignments become more difficult – and hold higher stakes, I may consider hiring a writing tutor to help her prepare. I am sure this will become more of an issue as she begins to work on essays for scholarships and college applications. I don’t think I can necessarily teach her everything she’s going to need to know about higher level writing.

This is a sponsored post.

Our 2010 Christmas letter

December 18, 2010 Categories: Kid Stuff | 4 Comments  

I know I’ve severely neglected Mommy Brain. Our year was the craziest and hardest we’ve experienced in a long time, and I simply couldn’t find time to process and then write about what was going on. I’m not sure what the future of Mommy Brain will be – I am blogging at Books and Movies on an an almost daily basis, and I don’t know if I have the time or energy to maintain two blogs. In the meantime, though, here is the letter that is going out with our Christmas cards this week. Hopefully it will explain my length absence.

December 13, 2010

Dear family and friends,

I am writing to you on Natalie’s 14th birthday. I can hardly believe that time has gone by so quickly, and am very grateful that Natalie is doing so well after a particularly difficult year.

Our “hospital year” began with a trip to the emergency room in April when Natalie fell and cut her shin to the bone on our cat’s water dish. (The addition of Sam the Cat to our family is definitely one of the high points of our year!) After X-rays to make sure that she hadn’t damaged her growth plate, she was given eight stitches and we went home, having no idea that we would be back in the same place two months later for something much more serious.

On the last day of school, I took Nan back to the ER for what Kevin and I thought was appendicitis. A C/T scan revealed that a section of her intestines was inflamed. After an ambulance ride to Spokane and some more tests, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Over the course of the summer, Natalie and I spent a total of 25 nights at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, culminating in bowel resection surgery in September. Fortunately, the surgery seems to have completely eradicated the inflammation and she is now in remission – a remission we hope will last as long as Kevin’s has (years). God is good and faithful – He gave us the strength to get through the summer, provided her healing through the surgeon’s hands, and provided encouragement, prayer, meals, childcare for the boys, and groceries through the grace of dear friends and family. Kevin and I are so proud of how Natalie handled the ordeal, including four weeks of eating nothing but clear liquids, getting her nutrition through an IV at night. She showed amazing grace beyond her age, and has decided that she will pursue a nursing degree after high school.

The boys were also wonderful throughout the summer, being patient with each other and understanding why I had to be away so much and why both Kevin and I were often worried, stressed, and cranky. And we did have one fantastic event in June – all three of my sisters, their husbands, and kids came to stay in Chewelah. It was the first time in years that we were all in the same place, and our time together was much too short.

Speaking of the boys, Noah is 12 now. He is taking Tae Kwon Do lessons again and has started guitar lessons, which he enjoys. He is changing so quickly, growing into a responsible and helpful young man with a kind heart.

Jonathan is 11, and all boy. He’s affectionate, active, and goofy, in the best possible way. He is taking a geography class and an astronomy class and doing well in his studies at home. And, of course, video games are very important!

Josiah is 9. Our baby is nine! He likes to play with the neighbor, build with his K’Nex and Legos and play video games with his brothers. And, in spite of his “advancing” age, he’ll still curl up on my lap and snuggle.

Kevin is doing well and – thank God – still working full time for R-Garden. He telecommutes from home most days. He has also built up a nice side business designing web sites for various businesses and acquaintances. In spite of the fact that much of our summer was taken up with Nan’s illness, he still managed to take the boys on some fun fishing trips. Lately, he’s been enjoying the snow, sledding and tubing with the boys.

Earlier this year, Kevin and his family suffered a loss as his older sister, Carol, lost her fight with cancer. It has especially been difficult for Kevin’s mom, and we are continuing to pray for her healing and comfort in her grief.

My days are busy as ever with homeschooling, homekeeping, and driving the kids to and from their various classes and extra-curricular activities. For a homeschooling family, we sure spend a lot of time in the van! I also continue to feed my book habit, with my book blog providing an outlet for writing and talking about books – and lots of free review copies.

The past few weeks have been difficult ones for me. I lost a close friend, who died suddenly, leaving behind three boys, ages 15, 12, and 9. It is times like this that it can be hard for me to see God’s plan, and I have to simply hold on to the hope we have in Him.

As we get ready to begin another year, Kevin and I are hoping that it will hold less – preferably NO – time in the hospital and more time camping and having fun with the kids. I’m hoping we can kick it off by using some of our tax refund to take a weekend away just the two of us – we need it!

I hope that this letter finds you all well and holding on to hope in spite of any challenges you’ve experienced in the past year. Here’s to 2011!

Love always,

The Kitzmillers
Kevin, Carrie, Natalie, Noah, Jonathan, and Josiah

Halloween – one Christian’s perspective

October 27, 2010 Categories: Holidays | 2 Comments  

On the way to drop the kids off at church for a Harvest Party tonight, my daughter’s friend said something about the roots of Halloween being pagan, and that’s why many Christians don’t celebrate. After talking to the kids about that statement and how true/not true it is, I was reminded of this:

This link is a pdf of Mars Hill Church‘s October newsletter from a few years back. There’s a great article on Halloween by Pastor James Harleman. He explains that everything we’ve been told about the satanic origins of the holiday isn’t necessarily true. Not that he finds much good about Halloween in general, either, but as Christians we should be making our decision regarding whether to celebrate or not as informed people, not just because we’ve heard “this-and-that” from “so-and-so”.

“One of the most interesting anecdotes I found in researching the history of Halloween is that the one activity many churches do engage in at replacement events like church “Harvest Festivals” is perhaps the one most easily linked to paganism. Bobbing or “Ducking” for apples was actually a divination ritual related to love and fertility.”

“As Christmas and Easter have overrun and co-opted various trappings, however, there is for Christians a clear, central focus on Jesus’ incarnation. Halloween may not be inherently evil, but it also has no central, specific focus on the Lord we love. Whether we see Halloween as pagan practices, Catholic traditions, or good old American, candy-coated commercialism, none of these offers great inspiration
to participate.

At Mars Hill Church, we don’t believe in the deities worshipped by the Celts or the rituals used to appease or
summon them. We do, however, recognize that there are evil spirits that confuse and lead people astray from relationship with the one true God. We recognize that the Bible calls all Christians “saints” and don’t believe in the Catholic extra-biblical concepts of sainthood or purgatory. Many of the ideas and rituals that have contributed to the Halloween mish-mash aren’t congruent with our beliefs. However, setting aside times to remember or honor those we love that have passed away (hopefully to be with our Savior Jesus) is
not a bad idea. On a less somber level, wearing Spider-man costumes, making funny faces on vegetables, and engaging in neighborhood activities where one can both give and receive hospitality is not something we oppose. Fictional fantasy tales of monsters and elves – even scary ones – are not wholly inappropriate either, whether punctuated on this particular weekend or sprinkled throughout the year in classic tales from authors including Tolkien and Lewis.

We regard Halloween as a second-hand issue and ask that every Christian examine their response to the modern-day Halloween celebration in our culture.”

“For those who have shunned Halloween because they were simply told it was evil, or for those who have participated and never bothered to weigh its appropriateness, your pastors would encourage the employment of godly wisdom, discernment, and a sense of our shared mission as Christians. Our abstinence
or participation in regard to Halloween should not be derived from fear, misinformation, or pressure but rather from a sincere love of Jesus; every response to our culture and its festivals is a way to point to the God we love and serve.

Lastly, for parents, don’t forget that gluttony is a sin. Careful not to force your kids to learn the hard way: lying on an altar of plastic wrap and tin-foil, holding their bulbous stomachs. If you participate in Halloween, it might be the perfect time to introduce the concept of moderation.”

The Halloween article is on page 14, and there’s also more great reading if you’ve got the time.

Book and movie links

June 3, 2010 Categories: Books , Movies | Comments Off  

I don’t know if any of you out there are still reading, but if you are, I really owe you a huge catch-up post. I am working on it, I promise! Here’s a few links to keep you busy in the meantime.

Book links:

~ My summer reading list
~ Book Review: Janeology by Karen Harrington
~ Book Review: Far From the Land: An Irish Memoir by Thomas J. Rice
~ Mini-Reviews: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy, and My Husband’s Sweethearts by Bridget Asher
~ Book Review: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
~ Book Review: On Folly Beach by Karen White
~ Book Review: Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop
~ Book Review: Friendship Cake by Lynne Hinton
~ Book Review: Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie, & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood by Jane Yolen
~ Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin
~ Book Review: The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
~ Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, Washington
~ Book Review: Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby
~ Mini-Reviews: Hunger by Michael Grant, An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, and When Forgiveness Doesn’t Make Sense by Robert Jeffress
~ Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
~ Book Review: Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
~ Book Review: Guernica by Dave Boling
~ Book Review: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
~ Book Review: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
~ Book Review: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
~ Book Review: The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden
~ Book Review: Undercover by Beth Kephart
~ Mini-Reviews: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen; Burning for Revenge and The Night is for Hunting by John Marsden
~ Spotlight: Poet Billy Collins
~ Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
~ Book Review: Fallen by Lauren Kate
~ Book Review: Get Lucky by Katherine Center
~ Book Review: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
~ Book Review: The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephart
~ Mini-reviews: The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan, The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin, Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
~ Book Review: Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
~ How does your mood affect your reading?
~ Book Review: The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
~ Book Review: A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King
~ Book Review: Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon
~ Book Review: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

Movie links:

~ Morelli and Ranger casting for the Stephanie Plum movie
~ If I were casting the Stephanie Plum movie
~ Movie Review: Avatar
~ Summer movie preview: which ones are you dying to see?
~ Movie Review: Saving Grace
~ Movie Review: Invictus

from When Forgiveness Doesn’t Make Sense by Robert Jeffress

April 25, 2010 Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment  

If a perfect God finds it impossible to summarily dismiss sin against Him, why do we think we could ever overlook the serious hurts inflicted by others? Sin creates an obligation and someone has to pay. Whatever forgiveness is, it should not be confused with glossing over the seriousness of a wrong. ~p. 42-43

Frederick Beuchner has written:

“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. ~p. 56-57

Forgiveness isn’t a one-time action of the heart, but a continual choice of the will. As someone said, “Forgiveness is surrendering the right to hurt you for hurting me.” ~p. 177

The Bible promises that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Unfortunately, some people – to echo [C.S.] Lewis – attach a trivial meaning to the word “good.” Those who translate that word as “happiness,” “prosperity,” or “freedom from adversity” are doomed to disappointment. Instead, Paul identifies the “good” that God’s plan is designed to accomplish in the next verse:

‘For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.’ (8:29)

God has designed a unique plan for your life with one purpose in mind: to mold you into the likeness of His Son. ~p. 191-192

I realize you may well be struggling with the issue of forgiveness. Someone or something has caused great pain in your life. You want to forgive. You’re ready to be free from the bitterness that is destroying your life. You’ve spent hours reading about why and how to forgive. But if you release that person who has wronged you, you need something to grab hold of to maintain balance in life.

God is saying to you, “Release your bitterness and grab hold of Me. Allow Me to take responsibility for what has happened to you. Know that I have a plan I’m working out in your life, even if you can’t see it now. Faith means something when it is exercised in the darkness.” ~p. 195

All of the above quotes are from When Forgiveness Doesn’t Make Sense by Robert Jeffress

Book Review: Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter’s Uncommon Year by Laura Brodie

April 16, 2010 Categories: Books , Contests | Comments Off  


Title: Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter’s Uncommon Year
Author: Laura Brodie
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir
Publisher: Harper Collins
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the author
First line: On a cold October morning my ten-year-old daughter, Julia, sat at our kitchen table and contemplated the Earth’s layers.

Last year, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Laura Brodie’s novel The Widow’s Season. While communicating with Ms. Brodie about her novel, I mentioned that I am a homeschooling mom. She told me that her next book would be a memoir of the year she spent homeschooling her daughter, Julia. When she e-mailed me earlier this year about reviewing it, I didn’t hesitate.

I have to admit, as a full-time, long-term homeschooler, I wondered if my philosophy of homeschooling would be so different from Ms. Brodie, who decided to homeschool her daughter for 5th grade only, that it would be an awkward read and review. I needn’t have worried. Ms. Brodie has a beautiful writing voice, and her love for her daughter and desire to tell about her homeschooling experience with honesty came through on every page.

In Love in a Time of Homeschooling, Ms. Brodie decides to consider short-term homeschooling after she loses her 4th grade daughter Julia for an hour one afternoon. She discovers her hiding in a closet – hiding because she had heard her mother say it was almost time to do homework. Julia is a bright girl who loves to read, draw, and experience nature – and she is going crazy in a traditional classroom setting. Brodie is a college professor and author, and knows that long-term homeschooling won’t fit for their family, but decides to take Julia out of school for 5th grade. This memoir tells the story of that decision and the resulting year.

I loved how honest Brodie was about the gap between her expectations for her year of homeschooling and the reality of it. Very few homeschooling books are honest about the fact that while some days are nestled in a rosy haze of delightful learning, most days are full of routine and plugging ahead at work that is not always enjoyable. And there are days when the idea of putting all four of my kids on a big yellow school is immensely tempting, and evenings when I end the day ashamed of the way I lost my temper over having to explain some math concept yet one more time.

This book has a much wider appeal than simply homeschoolers, though. Readers of memoir will recognize a talented author and enjoy reading about a year in which she decided to take a different path than she had expected, and how that year turned out. Parents will be in agreement with the difficulty in assuring a good education for our children in today’s public school system, the struggle to balance enriching extra-curricular activities with mountains of homework and the need to simply let our kids be kids while they can.

The thing I most appreciated about this book is that Brodie came away from her experience with the conviction that all good parents are homeschoolers, whether they are doing the day to day teaching themselves or entrusting their children to others. She realizes that as parents we bear the ultimate responsibility for our children’s education – and she didn’t hesitate to try something different when it was needed.

Some favorite passages:

As I thought back on my mom, it occurred to me that all good parents are homeschoolers. Homeschooling is what happens when families turn off their TVs, cell phones, and iPods. It occurs in long, thoughtful conversations at the dinner table, as well as at baseball games and ballet recitals, and in the planning of a vegetable garden. Parents who enrich their children’s lives with art and sports and multiple trips to the library provide the backbone of American education. Unfortunately, in our busy lives, parents and children have less and less time for hours of thoughtful interaction, which is one reason why homeschooling has been on the rise. Homeschooling provides family with the quality time that used to occur after school. ~ p. 52-53

Most homeschooling books don’t mention these troubles; they don’t dwell on shouting matches and slammed doors. Perhaps other homeschooling households are more placid than mine, or perhaps the first foray into homeschooling is always rocky, and years of practice are required to smooth the path. But I suspect that even the best homeschooling families have their ugly moments, from minor annoyances to major fights… ~ p. 145

Above all, homeschooling enabled Julia and me to understand one another more deeply – to witness each other’s flaws and strengths and practice the art of patience. I wish I could claim that my angry outbursts have disappeared, and that I am now a model of meditative calm. But who would believe it, especially in a house with four opinionated females? Truth is, the emotional weather in our family alternates between sunshine and storm, with the occasional hurricane looming (never more than a category two). Homeschooling taught Julia and me to comprehend each other’s tempests, and to appreciate all chances to bask in warm, cloudless love. ~ p. 237

I have an ARC copy and a hardcover copy of Love in a Time of Homeschooling to give away to two of my readers. Click over to Books and Movies to enter.

(Disclosure: Love in a Time of Homeschooling was provided to me by the author for the purpose of review. The above link is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage in commission.)

Movie Review: The Great Mouse Detective

April 10, 2010 Categories: Movies | 3 Comments  

From the creators of The Princess and the Frog and The Little Mermaid comes the story of a clever little hero on a great big adventure. Join the Sherlock Holmes of Mousedom on a heroic journey unraveling clues through London. If you like Sherlock Holmes, you’ll love The Great Mouse Detective.

When the diabolical Professor Ratigan kidnaps the city’s master toymaker, the brilliant Basil of Baker Street and his trusted sidekick Dawson set off to track down Basil’s lifelong nemesis. Little do they know that the evil rat’s trail leads all the way to The Queen at Buckingham Palace!

Get on the case with Basil, the master of disguise, as he tries to elude the ultimate rattrap and foil the perfect crime. Now digitally remastered, fully restored and complete with exclusive bonus features, The Great Mouse Detective is better than ever in The Mystery in the Mist Edition!

My kids were so excited to get The Great Mouse Detective on DVD to review – we’ve checked out the VHS tape from the library enough times that we’ve pretty much worn it out. :) They love the idea of a mastermind detective – and the clever way he solves problems. Jonathan still remembers when he was much younger, Professor Ratigan scared the living daylights out of him.

The quality of the DVD is much higher than the VHS version, obviously, and I love the hand-drawn animation. This is definitely a must-have for families and Disney collectors alike.

(Disclosure: The Great Mouse Detective was provided to me by Click Communications for the purpose of review. The above link is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage in commission.)

Hi – I’m still here

March 27, 2010 Categories: All About Me | Comments Off  

So, let’s see, what’s going on?

~ Still going to the “new” church – and enjoying it. The kids like it, and I like being in a women’s group again – a small women’s group that includes real, authentic women who love God – no fake “everything’s peachy because we have Jesus” types.

~ My grandma is here visiting from Vancouver, staying with my folks. We’re hoping she will stay, as it doesn’t seem she’s getting the best of care with the relatives she’s currently staying with. It’s hard to see how much she has aged since the last time I saw her.

~ We’re on spring break from homeschooling for the next week – a break that is greatly needed by all of us, but mostly me.

~ The Extreme Health Makeover I embarked on last fall turned out to be major on the extreme, minor on the makeover – but still had a major effect on me, mostly on my mental health and helping to dig up the reasons why I eat compulsively. I’m in counseling with a lady at church. I’ll write a longer post about this later when things are more sorted in my head.

Lots going on at Books and Movies, as usual:

~ Movie meme
~ Book Review: The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen
~ Book Review: Stealing Athena by Karen Essex
~ Book Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
~ Help me prioritize my “I have to read this now!” books
~ Deep bookish questions meme
~ Book Review: An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor
~ March Shelf-Cleaning Giveaway
~ Book Review: We Are the Children: Keepers of the School, Book 1 by Andrew Clements
~ Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog

If you’re on Facebook, I have set up a page for Books and Movies – feel free to “become a fan.” :)

Books and Movies link

March 11, 2010 Categories: Books , Movies | Comments Off  

~ Guest post: Lynn Cullen, author of The Creation of Eve
~ Book Review: The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen
~ Book Review: Beastly by Alex Flinn
~ Mini-review: Going Bovine by Libba Bray, Down the Long Hills by Louis L’Amour, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, and The Game by Laurie R. King
~ Movie Review: Old Dogs
~ Movie Review: Amelia
~ Bedtime reading rituals
~ Mini-reviews: Nine Horses: Poems by Billy Collins and The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Adlington
~ Book Review: The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
~ Blogsplash: Thaw by Fiona Robyn
~ Cover issues: plus-sized characters
~ Faith ‘n’ Fiction Saturday: Round table discussion of Claudia Mair Burney’s Wounded
~ Found in the pages of Bookmarks Magazine, March/April 2010 issue
~ Book Review: Life Studies: Short Stories by Susan Vreeland
~ Whatcha Watchin’? Wednesday: FlashForward, Part One, Season One
~ Book Review: At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman
~ Movie Review: Everybody’s Fine

Featured DVD: Ponyo

March 8, 2010 Categories: Movies | Comments Off  

Welcome to a world where anything is possible! Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (2002, Best Animated Feature, Spirited Away), and legendary filmmaker John Lasseter together with Disney bring to life a heartwarming and imaginative telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid. And now it’s even more thrilling through the magic of Blu-ray with never-before-seen bonus features that take you on a journey deep into the film’s enchanted world!

A young boy named Sosuke rescues a goldfish named Ponyo, and they embark on a fantastic journey of friendship and discovery before Ponyo’s father, a powerful sorcerer, forces her to return to her home in the sea. In her quest to become human and reunite with Sosuke, Ponyo stumbles upon and releases her father’s magical Water of Life and triggers a gigantic storm. Now balance must be restored to the world they all cherish.

Ponyo will delight your family with its timeless story, and on Blu-ray it will dazzle your senses with its enhanced high definition picture and sound.

Noah’s review: This was more aimed at younger children than Miyazaki’s other movies. It wasn’t one of his best. 3 and a half stars.

Jonathan’s review: I think it’s the best movie about a fish I’ve ever seen. I liked it a bunch. 5 stars.

Ponyo is available now on DVD. The DVD special features include a story board feature and a behind the scenes feature.

(Disclosure: Ponyo was provided to me by Click Communications for the purpose of review. The above link is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small commission.)