Wednesday, September 4

New Release from Adam Blumer

A few years ago, I interviewed a friend from my Northland years, Adam Blumer, and featured a book he’d written. His newest book is out! If you enjoy suspense, you will want to check this out. 

Adam Blumer fixes other people’s books to pay the bills. He writes his own to explore creepy lighthouses and crime scenes. He is the author of three clean Christian thrillersFatal Illusions,The Tenth Plagueand Kill Order. A print journalism major in college, he works full-time from home as a book editor after serving in editorial roles for more than twenty years. He lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Kim, and his daughters, Laura and Julia. He works with literary agent Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.

Kill Order by Adam Blumer

Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinasrelease: August 15

Book Summary

When he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of the past come alive.

Grammy-winning pianist Landon Jeffers’s brain cancer has given him only a few years to live. But when he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of his past torment him. When he wakes, shameful memories come rushing back. Desperate for answers, Jeffers discovers that a brain implant intended to treat his cancer is really a device to control him, forcing him to commit terrible crimes. Now he’s being manipulated by an evil crime syndicate and a crooked cop. 

What if free will isn’t? What if your every move is predestined? If you kill, are you guilty of murder?

Adam is going to give away a copy of his book! He will select a winner from the comment sections of blog posts featuring his book this month! Leave a comment here to be entered to win. Just can’t wait? Here’s how you can get a copy:

How to Connect with Adam

Thursday, May 30

Operation Grocery Budget 2019: May Report

WOOHOOO! Made it! There were lots of things that contributed to this, but mostly it was us not being at home, me planning super easy meals we could make using one pan, and a lot more meatless meals simply due to time. Anyway, I’ll take it. I do have a stack of receipts to check through but I think I got almost everything.

One thing that helped immensely this month is that Walmart Grocery pickup opened in our area on the 7th. I buy produce myself, but a lot of the staple items are now being purchased at Walmart. That store is so overwhelming for me, in many ways, but if I don’t have to go in, big win. All the people Doug the shopping for me have done an amazing job and I couldn’t be happier with the fact that it is a free assertive! Yahoo!

OH and another thing that really helped is having Aaron retested for gluten issues and he has gotten past it! So one less person to feed expensive bread and snacks to is also helping the bottom line! 😂

Hopefully the rest of the summer will be more of the same - growing kids eating healthy food and me staying on top of the grocery budget! Feeling back in the groove is a good good feeling!

Tuesday, April 30

Operation Grocery Budget: April 2019 Report

It’s confession time - as of Monday, we are something close to $200 over budget in the grocery category. *peeks sheepishly out from behind my hiding spot* I know why...there are actually several reasons, but the chief one is that you can’t stick to a budget if you delay the “log receipts” step.

It snowballs.

So while we are over budget the second month in a row, I am learning things. I have learned that when life gets hectic, I don’t always cut out the right things. I chose to cut out entering receipts in the budget app, and it definitely got me! May is going to be pretty crazy for us, but I’m determined to do better at entering receipts in a timely manner. I’m still learning the lessons I’ve learned the past few months, too, about planning well and saying no and staying out of the stores as much as possible and I realize how *very* privileged we are to actually have flex at all in the budget.

I also really do need to keep my eye on the big picture. I’m still spending *significantly* less than I did last year on  groceries every month. That is something to be happy about! My $550 a month goal is pretty low for a family of six with food sensitivities and allergies...but I still want to get back on track and stick with it tenaciously!

I have to admit, this post is one I didn’t want to write! I succeeded in feeding my family’s healthy and varied diet, but I lost track of expenses. Failure to meet my goal is not my favorite thing! Solution? Very soon, we will be signing up for a link to bank account option for our budget app, which will alert us to categorize spending, and I really do think that will keep us on track much easier.

Another part of the big picture is saving for our future home renovation projects. And while I spent $200 extra in the grocery category this month, we were still able to put money in our project fund. I’m very excited about the interesting ways God is allowing us to continue doing the saving portion of this goal. He provided a giant order for our cutting board business, and we are very excited about the growth of the project fund. It was a bit of a sermon type lesson, actually,  that I got loud and clear! I am continually reminded that even when I am unfaithful in my tasks, it doesn’t change the faithfulness of God. I will keep failing, not only at little things like money managing steps, but at bigger things, too. There  is always grace. We fall down, God helps us back up.

So, May, I’ve got my eye on you! It’s going to be tricky, but I’ve got tricks up my sleeve too!

Wednesday, April 24

2019 Easter Update

Spring is full of fresh hope. The crocus, tulips, daffodils poke their green and red points through the earth, through last fall’s forgotten leaves, and delight us with their colors and soft, hopeful faces. We are reminded that although the winter can be long, hope and spring will rise up again. It is a physical representation of the hope we have in Jesus, who rose from the dead so that we might have eternal life. He will come again, and will bring justice and then peace. We long for that day, as we have longed for spring through the dark and cold winter! We hope you are celebrating His resurrection, too!

Our family has had a year of rejoicing in hope! God has been good and gracious to us!

Aaron is 12, and has recently (February) had some opportunities to grow in his faith through a medical crisis. He was diagnosed with MRAA septic arthritis of the hip which caused significant pain and required surgery and a 10 day hospital stay in Grand Rapids. We are so thankful to have been guided along each step of the way and are thankful God allowed us to find the proper care in appropriate time. He has been completely cleared to carry on normal activity and is back at volleyball! He is in 6th grade at Zion Lutheran School and has enjoyed soccer and basketball along with volleyball. This year he has also taken up the trombone to add another instrument to his brass skills. We are so amazed to watch him growing and maturing physically and spiritually.

Evan is 10, and Jenny is enjoying having him at home for school this year for 4th grade. He’s doing a mix of video classes and parent-guided classes and enjoys writing stories, reading books, learning about science and history, and creating pretty much anything he can dream up. He’s completed his state quarters collection, and is now working on the National Parks series. He keeps us laughing a LOT and is just a great guy to have around. We are often surprised with the depth of spiritual understanding he has been given.

Cadey, age 7, is a first grader at home and is really taking off in her reading skills. She enjoys informal art classes with a friend who lives nearby, nature class at the nature center, and she just finished her Sparks book in AWANA. She is an excellent organizer and wonderful sister, often leading the adventures for both of her fellow brother-pupils. We are delighted that she seems to be a good mix of sweetness and spunk, and pray that God will continue to grow her into His image.

Amos is already three, with a birthday around the corner this July. Time flies with all of our kids, but it really does not seem possible that this little person has been in our family this long. He keeps us in stitches with his antics and funny faces, and has completed all the necessary training to be considered a “big boy” which is a very happy ending to an era. He loves his older siblings and is quite content to be around them in any way he can. He’s also learning a lot at home, even though we haven’t formally started school. We pray for Amos that his heart will be captured by God at an early age.

We are thankful that we get to keep working with the junior high teens at our church, leading the youth group on Sunday nights and the 7th & 8th grade small group Bible studies on Wednesdays. We have a great group of youth staff serving with us and are excited to be a part of the teens’ lives. God is doing amazing things! Michael is a deacon this year as well, and while we need to do more of it, have enjoyed having our group over for some fellowship times. It’s really hard to express how deeply grateful we feel when we stop to consider all that God has done and all He allows us to do.

Michael marked fifteen years with Bright Construction this past October, and we had another successful year with Trivet + Board. We are planning to scale back on Trivet + Board shows a bit this year so that we can forge ahead on some home improvement projects.  We’d love to see our fixer upper make some substantial forward movement this summer! Jenny works very part time delivering groceries with Shipt, and the two of us continually celebrate the joy God has given us with a happy marriage – this December will be our sixteenth anniversary! What a gracious gift.

We are constantly amazed by God’s great love for us, His blessing us beyond what we deserve, walking with us through the hard times and guiding us when we don’t know exactly what is next. Please pray for us as we navigate uncertain waters of parenting, school choices, health, vocation, daily living…but most of all, pray that we will trust in the goodness of God and in His good plans for our family. This is how we are praying, trusting that He will continue to lead us! He is our HOPE, and we REJOICE!

Our love and God’s blessings to all of you!
Michael & Jenny, Aaron, Evan, Cadence & Amos Muth

Friday, March 29

Operation Grocery Budget: March 2019 Report

 A big wahhhhhh as March closes in the red. 

As of this posting, we are $50+ over budget. I think there might even be another receipt or maybe even two that I haven’t entered yet, but the truth is I just got careless in March in a lot of ways. We actually had a lot more food waste than I typically like to have. Throwing away perfectly good food that we just *didn’t get around to eating because I bought too much* is a shameful reminder of our privilege. I’m human, we make mistakes, so the food waste is giving me a firmer resolve to ask myself the hard questions and say no unless it is something we will use quickly.

Best purchase: a delicious bag of Cara Cara oranges.
Worst purchase: nasty tropical flavor fruit snacks
Fun find: gluten free General Tso’s chicken from ALDI. Not healthy, but fun for at home date night.
Old favorite: ALDI’s hummus - 5/6 Muths love. My favorite is pine nut.

Screen shot of shame:

And now, I’m moving on. Here’s to a healthy relationship with the grocery budget, the food we buy, our gratefulness, and our goals for perseverance! 

Thursday, February 28

Operation Grocery Budget: February 2019 Report

February was...unexpected. The very first day of February, we headed to Grand Rapids with Aaron. February 2nd, he had surgery, and we stayed at the hospital until February 10. He was diagnosed with MSSA septic arthritis of the hip and we had a long stay 2.5 hours from home for recovery and IV antibiotics. The latest update is that he's been cleared of bacteria in his blood, and if everything goes well, will be playing volleyball with his team this season. Blessings!!  Grandparents are AMAZING to drop everything to take care of our other three children, and we had lots of other support. What a blessing - support from family, church family, and friends is not something I take for granted. It 100% shocked me how willing people were to step in and do something practical to help us - SO humbling and thoughtful!!

SO...what you really came for - the grocery final totals. I just finished entering a few final receipts and couldn't help but laugh at our total. We spent a lot more money than we would have normally that first few weeks of the month, between groceries delivered to our kids and parents at home, to the hospital... you don't even want to see our "restaurant" budget category. YIKES. (we didn't find out until we'd already been there 5 days that we had a fridge in our room. Oh boy...) So I didn't really have high hopes for staying below budget in this category, but - I guess we did! Even though we weren't able to be quite as careful with our spending as we normally would be!

Meals, gift cards, money for gas, financial gifts, and Starbucks cards all made our burden lighter! Our kids also benefited by seeing the power, faithfulness AND PROVISION of God in times of difficulty - something that never would have been possible without the difficulty itself. We have all emerged *more grateful* people. His graciousness to us is astounding.

Also - where would we be without a budget? This month marks TWO years of using our budgeting app - I can't believe it's been so long or that I was so hesitant for so long. The thing about budgeting is that it isn't really meant to be set in stone tablets or anything crazy. It's meant to be flexible and meant to work for YOU. It's just a plan, not a prison sentence. It only benefits, it doesn't bite. We definitely took advantage of the need for flexibility this month!

I'm excited to keep going with the grocery budget challenge - maybe we won't meet the big goals that were the original catalyst for the challenge, but knowing we can comfortably and healthfully stay in this price range for now makes me excited for whatever the future holds, whether or not we get to realize our big goals or whether God has something else for us.

Thanks for following along on our operation grocery budget journey!

Wednesday, January 30

Operation Grocery Budget: January 2019 Report

We have made it to the end of January, and here's the screen shot from our budget app! We wound up under budget by $21.08, although I suppose the day isn't quite over yet. Ha!

Biggest help to me this month was this question: "Do we need this NOW?" More often than not, I realized I was buying for future need rather than immediate. It saved lots of money. I'm also noticing that instead of a jam-packed freezer and pantry, we have room to move things around and use them much more easily. Excess creates problems more than solutions. This lesson is effecting the rest of our home as well. 

I did notice some other things - 

1. We could have said no even more often than we did this month, especially that Kroger purchase last night - but to be quite honest, I didn't want to get out in the polar vortex that will be the rest of this week! So I picked up things like cereal, and cans of pantry items that are super basic but will allow me to make some of our favorite quick meals without "needing" to get creative.

Wondering about that $1.55 purchase? I chose not to say no to that purchase at ALDI. Mama needs her half and half for the winter storms and multiple snow days in a row necessitate proper caffienation. 

2. I have to decide what to do with the "excess" budget money.

I kind of vote for rolling it over - so that if I want to make a bulk purchase I can, or for those months when we run out of all the non food essentials at once...or maybe that is just our house? 

3. I still have far to much food in the house. I guess in some ways this is a good thing, and in some ways it probably means I still need to buy less. 

In fact, this whole exercise is teaching me that I am amazingly blessed with abundance - that I can be more creative than I think, and that my defaults need to be reset - instead of buying more, I can ask myself if there is a creative alternative. 

Yesterday, for example, I pulled some turkey tenderloins out of the freezer, a bag of gluten free stuffing from the pantry, and some frozen brussels sprouts and home canned green beans. It felt like thanksgiving, especially since I'd made broth the day before in the instant pot that could easily be made into gravy, but I had no potatoes for mashed potatoes that (most) of my kids love. So instead of going and buying potatoes, I grabbed a bag of diced frozen potatoes and cooked them up and what do you know, they made fluffy mashed potatoes! I probably wouldn't have tried that before. We had a nice time as a family, thanking God for all that He has done.

Operation Budget Cuts is going great so far! We will keep going until it stops working for us! 

Tuesday, January 22

Operation Grocery Budget: 2019

This year, I’m determined. My grocery budget will help us instead of cripple us.

We are a family of 6; two adults, four kids - 12,10, 7 & 3. Two out of four kids regularly eat like full grown adults. 4/6 of us need to avoid eating gluten and I try to follow the Trim Healthy Mama way of eating. We live in Michigan. Today, milk prices are just over $1/gallon and eggs are around $1/dozen. Other things vary, but I feel like as a whole, our food costs are generally lower than the national average. Our grocery budget has been steadily climbing over the last several years, but I knew we were eating healthy so I justified the cost.

However, we are a one main income family with a couple of side hustles to make ends meet - and we have some big goals. We just hit the five year mark on owning our second fixer upper, and the project list has some urgent items looming. We want to try to save this year to pay cash (or mostly cash) for a new roof (and possibly framing in an addition) so I am extra motivated to get our grocery spending down to a minimal number.

I’m shooting for around $550/month which will include paper products, laundry supplies, and everything household related. I don’t know if we can do it but I’m hoping to journal this year here to keep a record.

We use the Every Dollar app to plan and track our spending in every category. If you haven’t ever done a budget or a spending plan, let me encourage you to go for it! Such an awesome way to really get a handle on what is going on with the money God has provided for you to steward. If you’re not a fan of big name financial personalities, that is just fine, you’re with me, but this app is very easy to use and synchs easily between devices so it works great for us. ANY plan is better than what we were doing before - the “just don’t spend money” plan. Ha!

As anticipated, January has been pretty easy - we started with a HUGE food supply in our pantry and freezer - I mean absolutely embarrassing. This means this whole project may get harder and harder as we go and run out of things. Here are some steps I’m planning:

- eat more meatless meals.
- buy meat on sale and divide and freeze to keep our freezer stocked.
- use grocery pickup services to keep impulse buys to a minimum
- shop from what we have first.
- meal plan (for me, continue)
- buy less pre packaged stuff and only allow packaged snacks for on the go eating.
- simplify our eating - we don’t need countless choices.

So far in January we are doing great. The fridge and freezer are in great shape, the pantry has plenty of staples to keep us going, and the adjustment is going pretty well. Stay tuned for the month-end report!

Friday, January 18

On the weightiness of parenting.

I wrote this a year ago, and found it in my drafts today. 

Something I’ve been pondering: when someone accepts Christ “against all odds” and turns her life around, we don’t credit the parents. But when a child grows up in a Christian family and chooses to go his own way as he becomes an adult, suddenly all eyes seem to be on the parents. Judgy, condemning, “What did you do wrong” eyes. 

People. No. Stop it. 

Parenting is the scariest thing I have ever done. This is why: the work is pretty well laid out, at least in the basic format, (love them, guide them, point them to Jesus) but the “results” are largely out of my control. In other words, there’s no formula that guarantees that my kids will turn out how I intended. There’s no formula to guarantee success. As with everything else a Christian is called to do, we are required to remain faithful, obey God, work hard, and leave the results in God’s hands. As with almost nothing else in life, the stakes are higher, the investment more intense, and the emotional toll is at an all time high. 

Any good result is a direct result of the Holy Spirit’s power and the grace of God. So why, why, why do we as humans take the credit for ourselves (or assign it to another set of parents) when their adult (or adultish) children “turn out right”? 

And why do we judge when another child decides to take a path that leads them away from God and everything they were ever taught?! 

I understand there are principles here, faithfulness, sowing and reaping, and all of that. And we absolutely are called to be faithful to God’s Word and parent our children well. And we should wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to the weighty and serious task. 

But God writes the story. God. Not me. And part of this excruciating parenting journey is looking into the beautiful, trusting eyes of my precious children and know that someday the love and bond we are building could be my undoing. It is so hard to give them to God. To surrender my need for control over to Him. My oldest is 11, and I tremble for the future possibilities, until...

I remember my God. 

“My thoughts are not your thoughts...”

“My word...shall not return to me empty...”

“I have come to SEEK and to save...”

The lost sheep

The lost coin

The prodigal son

The God who relentlessly pursued me. Who saved me despite my thinking I could do a pretty good job of it on my own. Oh my pride, my pride. And yet He loved me. 

The record of His faithfulness. 

The devotion to His own glory. 

And these lessons that He continues to bring me back to - Surrender. Humility. Submission. Relaxing in His plan - they apply to my parenting, too. And maybe someday it won’t be so scary, because I will have learned the lesson or set aside my pride or whatever it is I need to learn. But I kind of think that won’t be until I am with Him, to be honest. Because every day, I still fight for control. I still hold my breath in uncertainty.

I’m gradually learning that not only must I surrender my will and plans for my own life, but I must offer my plans and dreams for their lives too, and entrust them to a Good Father who is more than capable of writing their stories, His way. And I get a front row seat. 

There will be joy. There already has been. There will be pain, because of a broken world. Because in spite of our efforts, we can’t choose, or control, or will, or formulate our children. 

Let’s stop taking the credit, and let’s stop assigning blame. Celebrate faithfulness. Encourage young parents to stay the course. Give them tips, if they want them, or need them. Be teachable. Accept the wisdom of others. Walk with each other in the trenches, pray for each other and our kids. Beg God to calm our anxious hearts. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. And at the end of the day, trust in the faithfulness of God. Without Him, we can do nothing.