My Low-Budget March Grocery Challenge

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There have been some extremely interesting grocery challenges going around on the internet lately.  I love reading what others do and how they experiment.  For instance, Terri, at The Blue House Journal, did a challenge where she bought $20 worth of groceries and cooked with them for a week, on certain days, sometimes skipping a day here and there, but managing to keep within her budget for an entire 7 days.  Then, she did another slightly different challenge.  Jane, at Hope and Thrift, bought $20 worth of groceries and ONLY ate from them for 7 days in a row, without skipping any days in-between.  Brandy, at The Prudent Homemaker, went for the entire month of January without buying any groceries, and ate entirely from her stockpile. She used her menus that she has developed using stored food, for this purpose, and has these menus listed on her website.

So,  of course, I wanted to join in on the fun, but knew none of these options would be exactly right for my family.  I have given quite a bit of thought to what would work for us.

  1.  I want to use up things I already have. I have a huge pantry full of ingredients, home-canned food and frozen food that is getting older each day since I did not preserve last summer, and space needs to be made for fresh garden produce this coming summer.  I have quite a bit of meat as well.  This is my main motivation for this challenge.
  2. I don’t want my family to feel deprived.  Some of my kids suffered greatly when they were little, due to lack of food or whatever, and the “game” is not fun for them, if I don’t be sensitive to their needs. In fact, I may not even tell some of them I’m doing it.  No need for anxiety here.
  3. I want to eat healthy, including lots of fruits and vegetables and staying lo-carb for myself.  It also needs to taste good.  I want meals to stay joyful for the most part, and a time when we can focus on each other, and not be wondering “what is it?” as we watch a few beans swim in a mystery broth with no flavor.  So, I am glad I have a lot of spices, etc. to perk things up with.  I won’t be able to please everyone all the time, but plan to please all of us part of the time, as usual.
  4. It needs to be gluten-free. I cannot tolerate any gluten at all, and so don’t even have regular flour in the house as I get sick when they let the flour puff out onto things and it gets into my food.  After one child cooked a few years back, and I was very sick for 3 days, I threw away the wheat flour.  I do, however, buy wheat bread, etc., and have trained the family to not leave crumbs around that would cross contaminate my food.
  5. I want to be able to take the kids (mine and nieces and nephew) for an ice cream, Coke, etc. on occasion, if I am in the mood.
  6. I want to be able to go to the store and replentish items if I run out, such as milk, eggs, etc.     Although I greatly admire people who can run out of things and creatively manage, our family is pretty stuck in our rut.  For instance, I eat an egg or some other protein almost every day for breakfast and so does Rob.  Patsy eats a peanut butter sandwich every single school day for lunch.  EVERY SINGLE DAY!  So, we don’t want to run out of peanut butter!  Ever!    Also, if I see a really good sale for one of our “items” I will buy more than one so I don’t have to buy at full price later.                                                                           img_4067 I was able to manage nicely during my challenge last summer on $50 per week.  The garden was in full force, though, and that helped a lot.  So, I’m going to put $50 in an envelope each week, and see how it goes.  When I looked through my food items, I was able to find many, many meals that could be made from what I had on hand and many more that would only need 1-2 small items to finish the recipe.  So, I anticipate that my end total will be much less than the $50, at least some weeks.  I will then save the rest of the $50 at the end of each week.  That savings will go towards re-stocking staple items, if I run out, or be saved as cash for summer grocery shopping.  Although we have poured over Rob’s pay stubs, looked at the internet, and he has asked people, no one can tell him exactly how much money he will be paid for summer, so we are preparing now in case it is less than he gets each month now.  Because he works for the school district, they save out some each month now and give it to him in the summer.  We don’t think it’s going to be an issue if we get more than expected.  We can probably figure out a way to spend any extra within the first 5 minutes, should that happen:)

I started this challenge last Tuesday.  I will probably go for 1 month, so through the 3rd week of March, but I’ll see how it goes–I may go longer.

This past week, I made a good start.  I made a gallon can of diced tomatoes into marinara sauce and chili.  I made shell pasta (like lasagna) with meatballs for our family dinner Sunday and Rob packed the leftovers for his lunch today.  I used more poppy seeds in the muffins. I have a bulk bag that is almost gone now.  The poppy seeds are getting old and need to go.  I boiled a frozen mystery bag of meat.  It ended up being a turkey drumstick and thigh and a few bits.  I made soup for dinner last night and will grind the remainder of meat bits in the food processor with some relish to make sandwich filling. I made chocolate chip cookies and used a small handful of pecans I found in them.

In the last week, we have purchased some 1/2 and 1/2.  That’s all we’ve needed so far.  I feel like we are off to a great start.

If you are doing any kind of grocery challenge, feel free to leave a link about it in the comment section so we can all read about it!   Or, just tell us about it.  It’s always encouraging to hear about what others are doing in the fight to make the best of our resources in a joyful, happy way.

Saving Money–February 26, 2017

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This week was a busy, productive one.  I had time to do a few more things around the house than normal, which felt good to me.  There was one day where the sun was trying to peek out between raindrops and I decided to make Rob some sun tea.  You might call it “shower tea,” but it worked despite the rain drops that fell.

I went to the shop and dug through boxes (AND unpacked and put away 3 more bins of stuff-yea!) looking for fabric.  I found several pieces and Ja’Ana immediately started sewing one of them into a skirt.  I started a sundress for Patsy.

Ja’Ana also got an opportunity to work through the “rent-a-teen” program at church.  They match teens with people who need jobs done and the money is put into an account at church and helps pay for things like camp, retreats, and the summer mission trip.  She hopes to get many more opportunities, because she has lots of events she’d like to attend! I’m delighted she can earn some money towards them.  The retreat she attended in January was over 1/2 paid for by the wood-chopping/stacking job the teens did last fall.  This job was house cleaning for 2 hours.  She felt she could do that, as she’s had plenty of practice:)

We went to a yard sale and found clothing items for $1.  I got the girls some more skirts.  I am gathering several below-the-knee skirts because of our summer plans.

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The sun came out yesterday and I weeded the small winter garden I planted last fall.  It was too muddy to do much, other than pull out chickweed from around the surviving plants, but I did what I could.  There is more to do, but it was a good start.  I am hoping that the spinach will go ahead and make some leaves and the onions will start to grow into bulbs with the longer days.  Notice that red lettuce on the right hand side.  It lived through snow, ice, hail, etc.  I’m going to let it go to seed if it survives to that point.  It’s got to win some kind of prize for hardy lettuce!

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I had “the boy” overnight on Friday-Saturday again.  His family was busy with his sister, Michaela, who was participating in the Special Olympics.  It was sunny and we had a great time.  We took him, Patsy and Alissa swimming at the YMCA on Friday night while Ja’Ana was in her dance class, then out and about Saturday morning while we did errands.   Then he and Patsy played in the yard while I weeded and Rob did work in the shop with the door wide open to let that fresh air in.  They even earned money for doing jobs for Rob!  I think Jake got a whole dollar for his efforts and he was very pleased!

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Our taxes are done.  Yesterday, we drove over to the tax office and signed so they could be electronically filed.  We are getting a nice refund.  That is exciting!

I cooked some mystery meat from the freezer.  It turned out to be a thigh and drumstick from a turkey.  I made turkey-noodle casserole, broth and bits which I will made into soup soon, and ate some.  I used a gallon can of crushed tomatoes I was given years ago to make a mega-batch of spaghetti sauce.  I made shell pasta (like lasagna) and meatballs for the Sunday family lunch.  I have about 4 cups of sauce left for another time.  I used some of them in chili as well.  I decided not to go to the store this weekend, as I usually do, because I want to force myself to use up some of these kind of items, plus use up all of the produce before it goes bad.  Next weekend, I can replenish it, but hope to stick to my regular budget, and save this week’s grocery money for another purpose.

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The train set got a good workout.  I have several classic toys I saved from when my boys were little.  I love it when they get used.

 

Gluten-Free Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

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A reader asked me to post a good muffin recipe. Of the muffins we have made lately, we liked this one the best.  I started with a recipe I used to use frequently before I needed to go gluten-free.  Ja’Ana made it as it was, substituting gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour.  It was quite dry.  Today, we tweaked that recipe quite a bit, and are much happier with the results.  Here’s what we did:

Dry ingredients (mix together in a large bowl):

1-3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill 1-1 gluten-free flour blend

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons poppy seeds

grated lemon peel from 1 lemon

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients (mix together in a small bowl):

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup oil

1 container (6 oz) lemon yogurt (about 2/3 cup)

2 eggs

Stir the dry ingredients together until mixed.  Make a small well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Beat the wet ingredients together and then pour them into the well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Mix together.  Put into 12 muffin cups that have been lined with cupcake wrappers or sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 16-20 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove muffins from pans and place on a cooling wrack.  Make lemon glaze and drizzle on top of warm muffins if desired.  We have eaten them many times without glaze. Let them continue to cool until completely cooled.  Freeze any muffins you are not going to use immediately, then remove from freezer, thaw on counter or in microwave,  and enjoy.  Makes 12 muffins.

Lemon Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2-3 teaspoons lemon juice (I just squeezed juice out of the lemon I used for the lemon peeling until a nice consistency was reached)

Stir powdered sugar and lemon juice together until the glaze is able to be drizzled on to the muffins.  Start with a small amount of juice and add more until desired consistency is reached.  If you put in too much juice and it is so runny and just slides off the muffins, add a little more powdered sugar until it thickens up slightly.  If you have to spread it like frosting, it is too thick and you need to add more juice.

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Saving Money February 19, 2017

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We went to a few garage/estate sales yesterday.  One of our finds was this box of Yahtzee score cards for 50c.  They were from the 1950’s, if the copyright was any indication.  They didn’t even have extra boxes to give a person 100 extra points for extra Yahtzees rolled.  We just marked the bottom when that happened.  (When you play with my niece, Michaela, if happens more than you would think!)  It made her very happy when I  brought them to her today.  She loves that game and often has me play 5 or more rounds with her in an afternoon when I’m spending time with her.  Lately, on Sundays, when we go back to her house with her and work on the noon meal, while her parents help with the high school class, she’s been roping Rob in for games.

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She’s very persuasive and got him to play 4 or 5 games with her today.  I played part of them, but not all.  Seriously, she will play for hours with those score cards–worth 50 cents, for sure.

I also got a Tupperware container for a quarter for Rob’s lunches, another lunch pail for when his bites the dust, some knitting needles for Ja’Ana for 10c/set, a game for Patsy and a few books.  Jake was with us, and scored some toys from the free box at one sale.  He was happy.  I got a few skeins of floss, and an already hand-embroidered set of pillowcases for just a few dollars.   Since the entire pile we got was $6, and my pillowcases were only part of the haul, I’ll say $3 or $4 for the set.  I got a very new-looking air popper for the camper for only $3.

I went to Costco and bought bulk items, including  ziplock bags (3 sizes), 25 lbs of sugar (for $12 something), t.p., shredded cheese, lemon juice, a rice/quinoa blend, butter, 1/2 and 1/2, and some more groceries.  I like buying in bulk.  Then, I finished up at Winco with things like a bag of potatoes, some produce, etc.  I could have bought large bags of produce at Costco, but I no longer have room in my fridge and camper fridge for the huge bags of lettuce when I add that to the other items I purchased.

We made lots of good meals at home, including tuna/hard-boiled egg salad sandwiches, Teriyaki chicken for Sunday dinner (using up all the frozen odds and ends of chicken pieces in various bags together with 1 pack of hindquarters I bought at Wince), roast beef, and muffins.

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The girls planted this lovely pot for Alissa’s Mom’s birthday gift from the family.  We used a pot we had and the girls chose the plants from a local farm store.

Tonight, as I type this post, I have 3 teenage girls sleeping in the living room.  Ja’Ana, Alissa, and friend Kim are all going on a hike with the youth group in the morning, and decided to start the fun tonight.  We had Jake all afternoon, but got the added girls after church tonight.  Jake is asleep in Lovana and Ja’Ana’s room, and Patsy in her own. Michaela wanted to stay home.  She likes her home, own bed, etc. very much.  We got some of the $5 Little Cesar pizzas and they were all delighted and acted like we’d sprung for steak and lobster (in fact I think they were more pleased with pizza than they would be with the lobster, anyway!).  I love activity in the house, and we love kids, so…… (I also love to cook for a crowd, but this was quite impromptu, so hence, the pizza)  It makes me happy that it takes so little to make a kid happy.

Lovana has a new job and it involves staying 5 nights a week there, and 2 night a week here.  She is helping with in-home care for an elderly woman.  She is trying it out for 1 month to see if it is too much, or not.  We will all know in a few weeks.

I took Jake and Patsy to the library.  I checked out books for myself and returned some so as to not incur fines. (Let’s just say fines are something I happily pay when I forget–it’s a good cause, and sometimes I get busy and forgetful–but I’d rather be prompt and turn things in).

Rob got a set of sheets for our bed at Bi-Mart for only $15.  We don’t expect them to last very long at that price, but it’s been difficult with only one pair.  It’s lovely to have a set in the washer at this moment, while Rob is asleep in the bed.  We know we have at least one more set, but it’s still nowhere to be found.  I’ve not done well with my goal of unpacking one bin every weekend.  I want to get back on track with that, as there will be a rummage sale at the church in June, and I can donate extras to a good cause, or have a garage sale in the spring if I get to it–I probably can do both.

I started putting some items in the camper for future camping trips.  If I freeze a few items, or put non-perishables in there now and then, it’s not such a sticker shock when we get ready to go camping.  Often when we camp, we don’t shop while we are there.  Occasionally we do, and it’s usually to replace a often-used item if we use up the last bit.

Rob got the bulk of the tax information gathered and will drop that pile at the accountants after his dr. appointment, several errands, etc.  When he gets a day off, he fills it with all those things he never gets to.  He also is taking the small car, and combining several errands to save gas.

I hope you have a great President’s Day.  We plan to!

 

 

Valentine’s Day and a Birthday

Yesterday, we did Home Economics. 2 cakes were made.  First, as a group, we mixed up a double batch of Gluten-free sour cream chocolate cake batter.  The girls cut out waxed paper to fit into the bottom of the pans and then sprayed them with non-stick spray.  The cake layers were baked.  They came out of the pans easily with the waxed paper liner.

After they were cooled, they frosted them with chocolate buttercream frosting and decorated them however they wanted with the supplies they could find in the garage.  They did great!

Ja’Ana’s cake was for her dad, for Valentine’s Day.

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Alissa’s cake was for her mom (the G is for Gail) for her birthday, which is the day after Valentine’s Day.

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I was amazed at how nice they looked!  Of course, we are all helping Rob eat his, and it tastes great!  We even got about 6 or 8 cupcakes as well from the leftover batter.  It made a lot.

We went down to the farm store and bought some flowers and some potting soil.  We used a pot I had, and the girls planted flowers in it as a birthday gift from all of us.  They chose the colors carefully and it turned out great.  They also got a flower for my aunt (their great aunt), and some chocolates for Grandma.  Last evening, Alissa babysat her siblings so her parents could go out for dinner for Valentine’s and got up super early to give her mom breakfast in bed for her birthday.

It was a gorgeous day, and I love how we spent it.

Where Do I Purchase My Seeds?

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I ordered my seeds yesterday, using a gift certificate I received for Christmas from Territorial.  It is my favorite place to buy seeds, and I have been happy with their products for many, many years.  I have some other seed companies I like very well, and have successfully ordered from in the past, but decided to keep it simple this year, and also save postage by purchasing it all from Territorial, along with the Dollar Store.  I also may pick up a few packets from local stores if I find I’ve forgotten something or have a hard time with germination or slugs eat my seedlings.

I was asked by a reader how I decided which place to buy each kind of seeds from–what made a “good” seed?  What I am looking for in a seed is one that will grow vigorously in my climate, produce well, and have the qualities I am looking for.  Some of those qualities include:  The ability to fruit in a short season here in the Pacific Northwest, the ability to give me a lot of high quality produce in a short amount of time to can or freeze on vegetables such as beans and/or the ability to stretch the season out without bolting quickly in something like spinich or boc choi,  and a variety that will grow in the space I have.  Also, the vegetable needs to taste good.

I grow many open-pollinated varieties.  I also grow hybrid seeds if they have a quality I especially want.  Some of those include:  Shorter time until harvest, larger plant with more vigor and disease resistance, and a large crop.  One year I lost my entire crop of tomatoes to a blight.  After that, I searched for blight-resistant varieties. I do understand that if I tried to save seeds from those hybrids, they would not come out the same as the parent plant I saved the seeds from, as a hybrid is a cross of 2 plants.  I do not save many seeds, so that is not an issue for me.  If I do save seeds, it’s often marigolds, squash, dill and a few other things, and I only save the ones that have not crossed with any other plant.  I do not choose to grow GMO’s.  I grow my garden organically, so I don’t worry about  whether or not the seeds are organic.  I know that what I serve on my table is not covered in sprays, in fact, sometimes it has a few more critters on it than I like, so I am careful when I wash my lettuce, especially.

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Seeds from seed companies are expensive.  Seeds from the Dollar Store are cheap.  Seeds purchased from the garden store, Bi-Mart, Fred Meyers, etc. are often somewhere in the middle, especially when you get a sale.  So, how do I decide where to buy mine?  I’ve done some experiments in the past and will continue exploring that question.

I have had great success with Dollar Store cucumbers.  I have made jars and jars of pickles from Straight 8 and Homemade Pickles varieties.  Because they are old, open-pollinated varieties, and are 4 packs for $1, I make a big hill and plant tons of seeds all over it.  They may not have hybrid vigor, or the highest production per bush. Since I plant several packages in one huge hill (around 4-5 feet long), I’m planting enough bushes to get lots of cukes.  We will see if I want to continue that practice in my much-smaller garden after this summer, or if I want to switch over to a more compact variety.

I also get great results from their zinnias.  Again, I just plant tons and tons, and enjoy.

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These are from my old house, and are all from Dollar Store seeds.  At most, I used $2 worth of seeds for a huge flowerbed full.  It’s a lot of bang for my buck.

This year, I am growing Raven zucchini, and Easypick yellow zucchini from Territorial.  When I did side-by-side zucchini trials (Territorial vs. Dollar Store), 2 years ago, I found the more compact bushes from Territorial yielded more and had a more open growing habit, enabling easier picking. The Dollar Store ones were more gangly, yielded less, and succumbed to powdery mildew sooner.  Raven is a new one for me this year, and promises a more compact bush.  I could not keep up with the Easypick when I grew it, but I like to share.  You may be perfectly satisfied with the amount you get from the Dollar Store seeds, and in fact, may be rejoicing when they die from powdery mildew.  No matter where I buy my seeds, zucchini tends to out-produce my need every year.

I also ordered Bush Delicata squash for the same reason–compact growing habit.  I ordered a lettuce blend, spinach that is not supposed to bolt easily and Joi Choi boc choi that they say grows bigger, faster. I know it does because I’ve tried several kinds from different places over the years.  The kind I planted last fall never grew larger than about 6 inches.  Hmmm.  I also have successfully grown lettuce from the Dollar Store.  Last year, we ate romaine from the same kind for weeks and weeks. It’s a lot of lettuce for a quarter.  Again, I just plant lots and have no trouble having more than I can eat.  I happen to love Buttercrunch lettuce–it’s my favorite–and I ordered a large packet of that kind.  I also ordered red-spotted butter crunch lettuce.  It is a slow-bolting kind and I will grow it in the summer.

Green and yellow beans (I like to mix them when I can them), are something I don’t mess with. Because I need a large amount, I won’t gamble on seeds that may not produce as well.  I’ve grown Venture beans from Territorial for years, but they don’t have them this year and recommended Speedy.  I will try them.  I like Carson beans for the yellow ones.  We use so many beans that I want lots and lots of beans at the same time to preserve. It is not uncommon for us to use 50-75 quarts in one winter, depending on if we have them 1 or 2 times per week, and how many weeks the fresh ones held out.   Carson strings the season out a little longer, but I’m hoping this new kind (Speedy) performs the same as the old ones I used to grow–oodles of beans in 8 weeks. I also grow a few pole beans for fresh eating.  I got 2 packages of Blue Lake pole beans from the Dollar Store.  Blue Lake is a great kind, and the pole beans will produce until frost.  I also got purple pole beans, a small pack, to eat fresh as well, from Territorial.  Those are the kind of things the Dollar Store doesn’t sell here–they just sell the most basic varieties.

When I start things like tomatoes and peppers, I am looking for certain varieties that mature early, have disease resistance, and produce well.  I bought my starts last year, and will again this year, and could not find the varieties I wanted. So, I took what they had.   Still, they grew fine, and I’m sure I’ll find varieties I can live with again this year, and every year until I get set up for seed starting again.  I will also buy cabbage, onion, and broccoli plants.  When I start plants from seed, I like to order the Territorial broccoli blend and it comes out as a mixture of kinds that mature over time and I freeze and eat for weeks.

To sum it up–I have tried a lot of varieties in the past, and will continue to do so.  We rely on our garden for year-round eating, so I feel it is worth it to put some money into seeds to get varieties that meet my needs.  Everyone’s needs are different, so different solutions will be needed.  I am exploring space-saving options because the garden is much, much smaller than my old one, and also pole varieties for the same reason.  This year, I will not be doing much experimenting with new or unusual vegetables.  Instead, I will be getting used to the new garden space, seeing what grows here in this slightly different climate (lower elevation), and figuring out how much produce we really need with our ever-shrinking family size.

 

 

Saving Money–February 12, 2017

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I got some seeds at the $ Store for 4/$1.  I also made out my order for Territorial Seed Company.  I love the Territorial seeds for my main crops, and things I care about certain varieties for.  I love the inexpensive seeds for tucking in corners, planting early, and food I don’t like very much, like kale.  (I think Lovana likes kale now, so I’m growing it for her, but she won’t eat much–Rob won’t eat any)  This huge pile cost a little over $10.  You don’t get very many seeds in each packet, but I’m not thinking that’s going to be a huge problem with things like kale.  With zinnias, I’ve used these seeds many times and just plant several packets wherever I want the flowers.

I cleaned my fridge.  It was awful.  Then, I made a menu plan for the upcoming week based on what I found inside, freezer items, home-canning, and the small grocery list I formed.

Rob was given several items from a friend who is cleaning out some large sheds/shops.  He accepted napkins, tissues, craft supplies (not sure exactly what), some t.p. to donate and some seltzer water.  There may be more, I haven’t looked at it all, yet.

He went and got wood from my sister’s farm.  He figures we have enough stored up there for another year, but we will need to chop some wood this summer to dry for the future.

I cooked quite a few items for meals, but mostly used the rest of the food from last week.  This coming week, I will need to cook more, but I have a good plan.

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Thankfully the ice has melted and it’s been pretty springlike the past few days.

Most of my week was full of homeschool, work, and some extra cleaning I got done.  It was a very productive week.