Thursday, July 24, 2014

M is for Mermaid

I started a new business last spring-- sewing mermaid tails! These tails for dress-up and swimming have been very popular. Our guest room has been turned into “sewing central”, and I’ve been busy busy busy all summer keeping up with orders. Emily helps by flipping the swim suit tops right side out, but hasn’t decided if she’s motivated yet to actually learn to sew. I’m hoping that by next year I’ll have a “sewing buddy!”







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Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms (Schoolhouse Review)

Flourish Book Review

Do you struggle with trying to “do it all?” And trying to do it all really well? Mary Jo Tate offers help for women in her new book, Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms, published by Apologia Educational Ministries.

Flourish Book Review


Homeschool mothers can be very busy. In addition to raising and educating our children, we try to maintain a home, nourish a marriage, and volunteer outside the home. Many of us have jobs or own small businesses. Some of us are single mothers on top of everything else. Our society seems to tell us that we should be able to juggle all of these roles flawlessly, but real life tells us otherwise.

Flourish, Balance for Homeschool Moms is loaded with encouragement for the tired woman as well as practical tips for organizing and prioritizing her life and commitments. Each chapter concludes with thought provoking questions and calls to action  that will help the reader apply each topic to real life.

One of the first points that the author makes is no one can do everything well. Choices always have to be made about which demands are most important, and which ones can be allowed to slide for a season. One of the chapter-end tasks was to place circumstances into three categories:

  • Irreducible facts—what you can’t change
  • Non-reducible facts--what you won’t change
  • Preferences—what you can and will change

I found this very helpful to think about. For example, having a family member with a chronic health problem, or being a single parent are irreducible facts. Homeschooling or the choice to work outside the home may (or may not) be non-reducible facts. Choice of curriculum, living in a particular location, and school scheduling may be preferences that are open to change if necessary.

We need to do the best we can with our personal circumstances in an effort find peace in our lives. Setting priorities and looking objectively at our commitments can help us accomplish this.

Subsequent chapters address setting goals and planning, beginning with the “Big Goal,” down to yearly, monthly, and weekly goals, and daily to-do lists. The book even includes time logs to help you track where your time is really going and various forms to help with goal setting and self-evaluation.

Some of the topics discussed are:

  • Setting boundaries
  • Adjusting attitudes (not just the kids’, but our own!)
  • Homeschooling
  • Making memories with your children
  • Managing your home
  • Single parenting (and how to reach out to single parents)
  • Starting and running a home business

Because the author is a single mother who homeschools her children and runs a home business, I really felt that she addressed all the main areas of my own life. I’ve read a lot of wonderful books about homeschooling, but few if any that addressed the issues of homeschooling, single parenting and working at the same time. I know I haven’t read a homeschooling book that even addresses the possibility that a husband isn’t part of the picture. After my husband left me a few years ago, I became painfully of how difficult it could be to do it all alone. It’s wonderful to read of success stories of others that were able to continue homeschooling and keep going, albeit not with an ideal scenario.

At the same time, I know this book would be very helpful to any mom who is struggling to balance her priorities and time and who is looking for organizational tips and encouragement. The chapter on home business is wonderful, providing ideas for the woman who is just looking for business ideas to one who has a business who needs help with marketing, setting prices, and keeping better records. The chapter on homeschooling didn’t provide me with much new information, but would be very helpful to a newer homeschooler, with ideas on scheduling, reasons to homeschool, and homeschooling methods. I loved her description of a “typical day,” complete with interruptions and failures. Those perfect days only happen in the magazines!

Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms sells for $15 and would be a great addition to any mom’s bookshelf.


Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

HomeSchoolPiano (Schoolhouse Review)

Homeschool Piano Review

Are you interested in piano lessons for your children, but the cost is prohibitive? Or is the time/travel for driving to lessons an inconvenience? HomeSchoolPiano offers online piano lessons for beginning to intermediate students. All you need is a computer to watch the lessons, a printer to print out the lesson books, and a keyboard or piano.  The program can be used with any age student.

We received HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books for review. This $299 program offers lifetime access for up to 5 students to all program components—Core Piano, and 3 “books.” Lessons can be viewed online or downloaded. Many lessons include online quizzes, and student progress is tracked.Homeschool Piano Review

Four levels of HomeSchoolPiano are available:

  • Core Piano
  • Book 1
  • Book 2
  • Book 3

Core Piano teaches all the basics—33 lessons worth, from finger numbers and how to sit at the piano to chords, key signatures, and major and minor 5-finger scales. Absolute beginners to the piano should start here before starting the Books. Students may access these individual lessons when needed to review concepts. (I went back and watched a couple of lessons when I had a question about a concept while working through Book 2.) Most lessons are 5-10 minutes long.

Homeschool Piano Review

Each book contains 6 units. Within each unit are 7 lessons—technique, rhythm, ear training, reading music, song, improvisation, and bonus. . A downloadable lesson book for each book is included. I printed all the books and put them in a binder before we began. Some lessons are video-only, but many make use of printed materials. P1040488

The early lessons teach fundamental skills that prepare the student for the actual piece of music taught in the “song” lesson. For example, the rhythm lessons have measures of music to be clapped, chanted, and or played.  Each improvisation section includes multiple pages of exercises that help the student make alterations in the song. Often, music scores are provided for the student to write out new melodies or rhythms.

Once the song is mastered, the improvisation lesson offers ideas for embellishing the song. An optional “bonus” lesson is also included. This lesson teaches more concepts or techniques, and is ideal for the more advanced learner.

Everything is presented in small, incremental steps that make the process easy.

The lesson screen shows the teacher in a box at the side, the keyboard that he is using (you can see his hands on the keyboard as he plays) and a virtual keyboard, just above the teacher’s keyboard that lights each note in red and labels the note name as he plays.


The program can be watched on tablets and iPads, as well as computers  This  makes it  convenient to sit at the piano for the lessons and play along with the instructor. It’s also not a problem to use a computer in a different room, watch the lesson, then move to the piano for practice time.

Homeschool Piano emphasizes that learning the piano takes effort and practice. Students usually take 18 months or more to progress through all the materials. Lessons can be viewed as many times as needed until a concept is mastered.

When I learned to play the piano, I was taught to read music. I learned the notes in the sheet music and on the piano. I learned timing, dynamic markings, key signatures, and other concepts that were needed to play the songs. That’s pretty much where my education ended. So, now, I can play written music, but I can’t play by ear (other than a simple melody line and trial and error to figure out what “sounds good.”) I don’t know how to improvise—to make up my own melodies or to alter other songs. For this reason, I was intrigued by the emphasis on improvisation in HomeSchool Piano and excited to try it out.

I started in Book 2. The actual music was very easy for me at this level. Some of the music concepts were very easy. But I learned about chord theory and different ways to dress up and change a song once I had learned it. This was a lot of fun! After seriously neglecting any kind of piano practice for years, I’m really enjoying my lessons and practicing new techniques.

Emily started in Book 1. Again, the music was a little easy for her, although she did need the review after having not played the piano for many months. She’s enjoying having a teacher that’s not Mom. She tells me that she finds it very helpful the way the teacher breaks everything down into small steps, shows her what to do, and has her do something physical (snap or clap) while she is learning.

We found the lessons very beneficial because this approach is so different from traditional piano lessons. In every lesson, Willie first teaches the basics. Then he encourages the student to play around with the concepts—to experiment with different notes as you practice the rhythm exercises, to “mash” two songs together, to alter the notes and rhythms of a song, and so on. If you or your child has had some piano experience, I think you will find this a wonderful way to take lessons or to supplement existing lessons. If you are totally new to piano lessons, it might be a bit harder to begin without the feedback of a live teacher. But go read more Crew Reviews for HomeSchoolPiano because many other families are trying the program out who don’t have prior experience, and they can give you a better idea than I can of how the program works for beginners.


HomeSchoolPiano’s “Success Package” which includes unlimited life-time access to HomeSchoolPiano, including downloads, jam tracks, and sheet music, for up to 5 students sells for $299.  (Payment plan of $99.97 for 3 months is also available.)

Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

L is for Lack of Motivation

L is for “lack of motivation.” Or maybe I should say, “lazy!”  Do you have any children that just don’t seem to really care about their schoolwork….or chores….or improving themselves in any way? 

I’m not this way at all. When I was in school, I worked for good grades. At home, I worked for my parents’ affirmation. I always wanted others to think well of me. Two of my girls are the same way. Frankly, they were easy to raise because they are like me. I understood them. I didn’t have to keep on their backs to get things done. Not that their rooms didn’t look like disaster areas much of the time or that we never had issues to deal with. But they were good students, and when we had a problem area, it was easy to provide some “external motivation” through rewards and punishments.

My son’s school or work performance wasn’t always great. He wasn’t as motivated by grades and is somewhat disorganized but he has always had many interests and had a lot of initiative in some areas. When he got a job outside the home, he was a very hard worker and was promoted quickly.

Child #4 has thrown me for a loop, though. She doesn’t care about grades. She doesn’t really even care if she passes to the next grade. Pleasing me? Eh. It’s hard to even find any external rewards that will motivate her toward excellence in her work. She’s inclined to do just the bare minimum (which in many cases doesn’t begin to meet the standards I expect.) She can be very pleasant, cheerful, and even enthusiastic, but when it comes to following through, she’s happy to just float along with half-finished chores and school assignments. Very frustrating!


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Saturday, July 12, 2014

K is for Kitchen Improvements

I have been looking at my dated florescent kitchen fixture for a while, thinking that it would be nice to have something a little prettier. It was just “blah,” plus the plastic cover was broken and cracked and held together with tape. When one of the florescent tubes burned out last week, necessitating a trip to the home improvement store anyway, my son volunteered to change out the  whole light fixture instead.

This is “before.” You can see the outline of the square fixture on the ceiling.


My new pretty chandelier out of the box.


The finished results. I loved the updated look.P1040486

But then the shiny brass chandelier over the table didn’t match. So I bought a replacement for it, too.


And here’s the second new fixture. I’m thankful that my son was willing to change out the fixtures for me and happy about the new look!


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Monday, July 7, 2014

Moving Beyond the Page (Schoolhouse Review)

Homeschool Curriculum for Creative, Hands-On, and Gifted Learners

Company: Moving Beyond the Page

Products Reviewed:

Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration

These units are designed for ages 12-14.

Moving Beyond the Page is a preschool through middle school curriculum geared for gifted learners. Each age level includes 10-12 individual units for the core subjects of language arts, science, and social studies. Each of these units is self-contained and can stand alone, although the program is designed so that the concepts the child will learn are sequential within an age level and are best studied in order. Additionally, many of the science, social studies, and language arts units coordinate with each other, reinforcing concepts across subject lines.

What makes Moving Beyond the Page different from other curricula?

Each unit includes a guide with reading assignments, web links, comprehension and application questions, hands-on activities, and research assignments.  Novels and fascinating science and history books form the meat of the program, rather than dry textbooks. Many units also include science kits or DVD’s that are beneficial for presenting information in different ways and appealing to children with different learning styles. Activities and questions that promote critical thinking and creativity are helpful for average children as well as those who are academically gifted.

Animal Farm Study

Each of the novels haves have different focuses. For Animal Farm, the emphasis was on grammar, particularly parts of speech and the proper use of pronouns and their antecedents. The concepts of writing friendly letters and business letters were taught and practiced. The literary elements of topic, plot, and theme were reviewed. Comprehension questions were included for each chapter, and the parallels between this plot and the Russian Revolution was discussed. The daily activities were always different, ranging from writing letters to grammar worksheets, to analysis of the various characters and their motivations. Most of this unit involved simple pencil and paper work, which is what Emily prefers. Emily enjoyed Animal Farm and loved doing this study. She completed it independently, with little oversight from me. All I had to do was check her work and engage her in some discussion about the book and concepts.

Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration Study

Emily loved the core texts for this course: America, The Story of US (DVD) and We Were There, Too: Young People in US History. These two resources are used throughout the 12-14 year old social studies curriculum and I recommend them to supplement any US history course. The DVD is a History Channel mini-series and is very interesting. We Were There, Too tells short stories about real boys and girls throughout history who were witnesses or participants in a large variety of historical events and walks of life—suffragists, mill workers, the Civil War burning of Atlanta, the Alamo, and so on. Emily didn’t just read the assigned chapters in this book-she disappeared for hours at a time reading the various stories!


During this study, Emily analyzed the reasons that many immigrants left their homes. She practiced note-taking with the DVD while learning about railroads, western settlement, native Americans, and cowboys. She wrote her opinions about whether industrialists like Carnegie were innovators or robber barons. She wrote slogans encouraging citizens to do their parts to support World War I. As her final project, she completed a scrapbook for a fictional immigrant, with ticket stubs, photos, captions, etc. that chronicled his life.

Each of the units required about an hour of time each day for 3-4 weeks to complete. We reviewed other units from Moving Beyond the Page last year (at the 11-13 year old level) that took significantly more time to complete, so it appears that the units do vary somewhat in their intensity. We found this to be just right. Emily maintained her enthusiasm throughout the studies and would like to do more.


Working on her Immigrant Scrapbook

Online Guides vs. Printed Guides

We used an online guide for Animal Farm and a physical guide for Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration, so I was able to compare the two. Each has its own unique advantages.

The online guide is a little cheaper to buy. Your purchase provides 3 months of access to the guide. There is a student view, which Emily used on her computer, and a parent/teacher view, which I displayed on my computer. (It’s easy to switch back and forth between the two.) The parent view gives answers, cues the parent into the concepts being taught, and suggests additional questions for discussion. There are many reading comprehension and activity pages that need to be printed, but the directions must be read online. I printed out all of the printable pages before Emily started and put them in a binder for her, but they could be printed as needed. Some lessons have several activity options for the student to choose between, so I did end up printing more pages than we actually used.  Both guides include a lot of online links to follow for additional information. In this area, the online guide had an advantage with its clickable links.

The physical guide is a spiral-bound book that includes teaching material, photographs and pictures, activity directions, workbook pages, and internet links. The parent material is all at the back of the book. Emily preferred this format even though she had to type in all the web links. I think it’s just easier to pick up a book rather than to log onto the computer. Because the activity pages are integrated into the book, and copying is not permissible, the book is consumable and cannot be used with a second child.


I think that Moving Beyond the Page curriculum is wonderful. I love that one can purchase individual units, making it easy to use as a full program or as a supplement to another curriculum. Also the complete program would be a little expensive for us, personally, but we can easily afford to purchase several units to supplement other studies.

I love that it uses “real” books, hands-on activities, and encourages creativity. I love that the planning is all done for me and that the upper levels can be done without a lot of parent involvement. At 14, that’s the way Emily prefers to work. The book asks the “hard” questions, so I don’t necessarily have to, but she still has to think critically instead of “going through the motions.” These particular units provided just the right amount of hands-on activity for Emily. She gets burned out with too much cutting and pasting or lengthy projects, but small amounts are fun for her.

My only small concern about these units is that they are not reusable for multiple children in the family. The online units expire after 3 months (although I believe you can reuse them for a fee) and the printed books are workbooks. Some of the levels offer separate worksheets packet that can be purchased, but these don’t seem to be available for the older age groups. It would be really nice if permission were granted to copy some of the pages for use within a family as is the case with many homeschool products, especially since the book is part text, part workbook.. Since Emily is my youngest child, this isn’t an issue for me, but I think this would be a drawback if I had several children and knew that my investment in the curriculum would not extend to the whole family.

All in all, I think this is a fun, creative, and easy-to-use curriculum and I recommend it for any homeschool family looking for a creative, non-textbook curriculum.


Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

High School Reading

I’m starting to compile a list of books that I’d like Emily to read for high school. We’ll be studying some of these using the Lightning Literature program, and I’ll use the Progeny Press guide for The Giver.

Last year, Emily read:

  • Jane Eyre
  • Treasure Island
  • Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • The Hunger Games
  • Animal Farm

Some of the novels that we plan to study in high school are:

  • 1984
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • The Giver
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Great Expectations (or other Dickens novels)

What’s on your list of essential high school reading?

Homeschool for Free

Thursday, July 3, 2014

J is for Juggling Jobs!

The past few months have been so busy for me! I’ve been making and selling mermaid tails. This is requiring about 6 hours a day of my time. I’m sure this time commitment is temporary, so I’m working hard now while I have the opportunity. Demand for swimmable mermaid tails will certainly drop when fall comes.


In addition to my new sewing venture, I’m continuing with my previous responsibilities:

As a counselor for our home school cover school, I meet with parents, help them choose curriculum and give advice, especially to new homeschoolers. I collect attendance forms and semester grades and keep transcripts. I attend admission committee meetings for new families and high school review meetings for students in our diploma program.

I haven’t done much writing lately, or marketing for that matter, but I’m selling my Super Star Speech books through my website and Amazon and answering occasional emails.

I’m reviewing homeschool materials. This isn’t a paying job, of course, but I try to treat it with the same priority as if it were. I spend quite a bit of time using curricula (or Emily does) and try to write quality reviews.

And of course, I’m homeschooling. Emily has finished up the school year, but is still working on some review items. I’m also trying to make the time to finish my planning for next year’s curriculum and to do more extensive planning for a biology class that I’ll be teaching.

I think what is most stressful is trying to balance each of these responsibilities and give each the time and attention it deserves without simply focusing on whatever seems most urgent at the moment. And of course, I’m trying to make time for family and personal time. With every new season of life, it’s time to reevaluate priorities and schedules to achieve a proper balance.

I’m reading a book called Flourish, by Mary Jo Tate, that I’m finding very helpful in organizing my life and balancing home, school, and work. (Review coming soon!)


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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Veritas Press Self-Paced Omnibus (Schoolhouse Review)

Veritas Press Review
Company: Veritas Press

Product: Veritas Press Self-Paced Omnibus I

Age Level:  7th through 9th grades

Price: $295 for 1-year access

Veritas Press Review

Veritas Press’s Self-paced Omnibus I Primary course is an all-inclusive course that combines history, literature, and theology. This online program includes video instruction, quizzes and other interactive exercises, and interviews with experts and with people on the street. Veritas Press uses a classical approach to education, with heavy emphasis on ancient Western civilizations and literature.

There are also reading assignments for most lessons. Some of these assignments are literature—in Omnibus 1, these include several books of the Bible, including Genesis, Exodus, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and Revelation. Other ancient works of literature are also studied, including Gilgamesh Tablets, Codes of Hammurabi, The Odyssey, and Herodotus. The only work used in this course that is not ancient literature is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which is, of course set in ancient times.

Other reading assignments are essays that discuss each of the works studied. These are found in the Omnibus Student Text (ebook $37.50). Other than reading, all the rest of the program is done at the computer.

According to Veritas Press, completing of this course equals a credit in:

  • English: World Ancient Literature 1

If the student also completes the Omnibus Secondary 1, which includes a variety of modern literature, including many of C.S. Lewis’s works, he will have earned 3 credits:

  • English: World Ancient Literature 1
  • World Ancient History 1
  • Religion: Doctrine and Theology

Emily has studied the first three books, Genesis, Exodus, and Gilgamesh. Each of these books was covered in just 5 lessons. The entire books of Genesis and Exodus were assigned, so it was quite a bit of reading. Emily actually didn’t complain, though, and since we worked on a more relaxed summer schedule of 3 lessons a week rather than 5, that gave her a little more time to keep up with the reading.

Each daily lesson took 30 to 60 minutes to complete, in addition to the assigned reading. I was a little surprised to find that Emily loved this course! Ancient literature can be difficult to read, but the online lectures were very interesting. The teacher explained the literature, always from a Christian worldview. For example, in Gilgamesh, the various gods of the culture were discussed, and it was pointed out how they, as well as “gods” from other times and cultures, were fallible and flawed, with human character qualities. Only the true God is characterized as sinless, perfect, and all-powerful in Judeo-Christian teachings.

In between the teaching video segments were games to reinforce the concepts, and lighter content, such as street interviews. Additional subject areas were incorporated as well, such as art studies of the Sistine Chapel painting and sculptures.  Emily found this to be an enjoyable way to learn.

Many lessons had a graded quiz. The cumulative grade is displayed on the student page, as well as the grades for each lesson. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to view Emily’s answers to see just what she missed. She often scored more poorly than she expected to, so it would have been good if she could have reviewed her mistakes. Also, once the grade is recorded, the student is free to revisit the lesson and retake the quiz, but the original grade cannot be changed. I am accustomed to having Emily correct her work, and even to redo a lesson if she hasn’t mastered it, so it was disappointing that this was not an option, at least not as far as I could figure out.

The course is designed so that is must be done sequentially. Each lesson is unlocked when the lesson before it is completed, so it is impossible to pick and choose among the various books or to study them in a different order.

Omnibus I is intended for 7th graders, but I thought that it was very meaty for a middle school student. Even I learned a LOT and feel that it would be very useable as a high school level course. It does come from a reformed theology perspective, which works well for us, but may not for everyone.  It is very heavy in doctrine, so I would be inclined to give a 1/2 credit in that as well as the literature. I found it to be a great supplement to what Emily studied in her confirmation class this past year!

PicMonkey Collage

What we liked:

  • Omnibus is self-paced and does all the teaching and grading. I had nothing to do (other than make sure Emily was doing the lessons and eavesdrop because I was interested, too!) I would not be able to teach this content myself!
  • It is a meaty, academic program.
  • Emily loved using it.

What we didn’t like:

  • We experienced frequent glitches with the program locking up that required Emily to back up and repeat video segments. By the third book, she didn’t have any more problems, though.
  • I’d like to be able to skip around. I like to use various resources for education and might prefer to pick certain units as a supplement rather than using Omnibus as a complete course.
  • Just as a personal preference, I wouldn’t choose to study so much of the ancients. Omnibus III Self-Paced, with more modern literature looks wonderful to me, though.

In conclusion, I feel that Omnibus Primary Self-Paced is an excellent course. If you are looking for a course on ancient literature that your student can use on his own and that incorporates Biblical principles, this is an excellent choice.   

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Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I is for Indians

In 2003, when Emily was only three years old, and Katie, John, and Allison were 11, 13, and 15, we took a big trip out west, from Alabama to Montana, and into Canada, visiting all sorts of interesting sites along the way. Surprisingly, Emily remembers quite a bit from that trip! It’s been fun to incorporate her 3-year-old memories into the history she is learning as a middle-schooler.

Here we visited the Manitou Cliff Dwellings in Colorado, where the kids had fun climbing up into the homes built into the cliffs.


Emily remembers being afraid to “dance with the Indians, so Katie had to go with her!”  (She’s the little bitty girl in the photo.)


In Canada, watched a Blackfeet parade.

Blackfeet Procession054

…and a Buffalo dance. There was a fascinating museum (the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump!) here where we learned all about how buffalo were hunted long ago.

'Buffalo Dancer057

There’s nothing like hands-one learning and live demonstrations to bring learning to life!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sin and Grace

If you’re like me, you struggle daily to live in a way that will please God. Yet we all fail. I look at others, including some of my own family members, and wonder why in the world they continue to make choices that hurt others and themselves. Some of us continually sin and repent and sin again. Other seem to have fallen captive to sin and show no desire to change.

John Piper, in his excellent book Future Grace, writes: “Sin is what you do when your heart  is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness.” When we swallow the lie that this life and its earthly experiences can provide greater enrichment and deeper happiness than following God, we’re headed for sloppy living. We know better, but most of us don’t live out of what we know; we live out of what we want. That sinful human characteristic makes God’s extravagant grace even more astounding when we fully embrace it.  (from Extravagant Grace, Women of Faith)

So true! I think I’ll be happy if I follow my own way.

Remembering this truth helps me feel compassion for those who seem to be trapped in sinful lives, knowing that their choices grow out of unhappiness, and a mistaken belief that earthly pleasures will lead to real happiness. A fear that “giving up” something pleasurable for the sake of obeying God or being kind to another person will lead to unhappiness.

I am so thankful for God’s grace in my life and I need to remember to, likewise, show grace to others with their shortcomings.