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10 Days of Beans and Rice

Earlier this month, I shared some of my favorite cheap meals, and mentioned off-hand that it was totally possible to eat beans and rice for a week without getting bored of it. And then I thought, “can you really?” So I looked at the recipes we regularly ate, found some super cool new ones and decided that I was going to challenge myself to cook up 10 nights of beans and rice dinners, and document how we felt about our experiment. I made a pinterest board full of beans and rice recipes, some of which we tried during this experiment, and you can look at it right here. I tried to include recipes when possible, but some of them are just kind of “wing it” recipes. 

Some notes About the Beans and Rice challenge

  • We made a different beans and rice dish every night, which normally you wouldn’t do. For this particular challenge, I wanted to show several different types of meals that could be made with beans and rice, so we did 10 different dishes.
  • Because we cooked ten different dishes, we didn’t save as much money as we normally would. In the end, our experiment was about the same price as it would be if we had cooked normally, but we made a lot more food. Because of that, we were able to put lots of these dishes into single serving bags and freeze them for Dustin to take to work. This will save us money and time in the evenings when he needs to pack a lunch for work. In the end, this will save us money later on, but this month it was a break even.
  • Not every dish contains both beans AND rice. To make sure things didn’t get too similar, some nights we focused on rice exclusive dishes, some nights we didn’t include rice at all. This was to help keep the texture of rice and beans from becoming too much, not so much a flavor issue.
  • Some of these dishes contain meat. I tried to use meat I purchased on sale or deeply discounted, and wanted to keep costs down by not using meat in every dish. I wasn’t worried about needing protein in our diet, but because meat provides great flavor and texture, I didn’t want to leave it out completely.
  • We didn’t always eat the leftovers for lunch. I’ve got two kiddos at home, and didn’t want THEM to experience burnout, so occasionally we had things like chicken nuggets and fresh veggies. I also packed these things for Dustin, because I like him and didn’t want him to hate me. 
  • There is one day where we forgot we would be out of town for work, and that dinner was provided. If it hadn’t been provided, we probably would have continued the challenge with a packed meal, but instead we had roast beef (it was the BOMB), and then the next day got back on our meal plan. 

Here’s what we had!

Day 1:

We decided to start off simply with bean and cheese burritos at the house. The kids loved this, because we added cheese, salsa, sour cream, and more cheese (my kids inherited my cheese infatuation). And it came in a tortilla. Which meant it was a good day. We used a can of ranch style beans we had in our pantry, and I used this day to soak a pound of some red beans for the next day.

Day 2: 

My husband was so happy about this day, because we had red beans and rice, cajun style. I found a great deal on some smoked sausage from the ag department at the college we live next to (jalapeño sausage.. yum!) and so we added that in there. It was really good and super filling. Having the snap of the sausage added texture.. While mommy, daddy, and our one year old loved the spiciness of this dish, my three year old wasn’t having it. But she also ate an apple before dinner, so I wasn’t too surprised that she didn’t eat much of her dinner. I pre-soaked two pounds of dry black beans overnight so that the next day I could cook all of them in our slow cooker.

Day 3:

One of my favorite ways to save money on meals is to cook a huge batch of beans in the crockpot, and then bag them up individually and freeze them. Even though canned beans aren’t super expensive (about $.75-$1.00 a can, depending on the type of beans you use), cooking your own dry beans means we take that cost down to less than $.10 a can. And I can feel confident that there’s no added salt or other stuff in my recipe, so I can have more control of the flavor of our meal. Today, because the weather was gloomy and gross, I made a soup that contained both beans and rice. It took way longer than the twenty minutes it was supposed to, so by the time it was done, someone had fallen asleep. But the people who were awake really enjoyed it. 

It was around this time when I asked Dustin if he was getting tired of this beans and rice challenge. “It doesn’t even feel like a challenge,” he told me. We’ll see.

Day 4:

My sweet husband took over making dinner tonight, so we had stuffed bell peppers. He used the leftover red beans and rice to stuff them, and topped it with cheese. This was a great way to use some of the leftovers. When I made the soup, I saved just enough for us to have lunch today, and then bagged the rest of it up into single serving bags. 

If I can brag for just a second, Dustin made a fabulous dinner. Because we already had the stuffing fully cooked, Dustin diced the bell pepper he cut off the top, and set it in the fridge for me to use later this week.  

Day 5: 

Today I made southwest chicken and rice, which was delicious, but had kind of a mushy texture. This is the first time I felt less confident that we could make it through the entire 10 day menu plan. I also remembered around here that we would accidentally be skipping a day, since Dustin and I would be working out of town and dinner would be provided. But we decided to stick to the meal plan, and just get a small break from beans and rice. As delicious as dinner was, the texture of was beginning to wear me down. But! This meal is also freezer friendly, so it got bagged up, also. I decided that in the morning I’d be soaking some chickpeas for a curry, one of our favorite bean and rice dishes. I also forgot to take a picture of the chicken and rice, but we definitely ate it. And we definitely have enough in our freezer to feed chicken and rice to a small army now.

Day 6: 

Because the rice texture yesterday was SO soft (it was over cooked, but I made it all in the slow cooker, so I shouldn’t be too surprised), I decided this day to go to one of my families all time favorite meals. Pizza. But instead of making a normal pizza, I was going to make a bbq chicken pizza. And then I learned we had half a pound of ground beef hiding in the back of our freezer, so instead I made up a quick recipe for a taco pizza. I whipped up a quick batch of red enchilada sauce (and then put most of it back in the fridge for bean and cheese enchiladas), seasoned the ground beef with taco seasoning, and then used pepper jack cheese and black beans to finish it off. It was a gorgeous pizza, and it tasted so good. So good, in fact, that my husband ate the leftover beef and beans with a biscuit for breakfast the next morning, and THEN had the leftover pizza for lunch. I asked him again how he was feeling about this challenge. He replied “I love it.”

As for me? I was noticing a difference too. I don’t think we eat a ton of meat anyway, but this whole week we’d eaten one sausage link, about 1 1/2 lbs of chicken, and that 1/2 lb of beef. But we’d still had a ton of good protein, and a lot of veggies. And after we finish dinner, I don’t feel super full. Partly because we’re eating smaller portions, and maybe partly because we’re eating really good food. At this point, adding beans to every meal seems pretty sustainable. We haven’t done *as much* rice, but that’s partly because a lot of the rice dishes are coming the last half of this challenge. And also it’s partly because Dustin is the rice making champion, and I’m still learning about rice dishes. Since he hasn’t been home to help with dinner most nights we’ve done this challenge, I’ve been focusing on meals I know how to make! But rice hasn’t been off the menu. In fact, four of the past six dinners we’ve made have contained both beans AND rice. So there. 

Day 7: 

I made “refried” beans in the crockpot by cooking 2 lbs of pinto beans overnight. When we wake up the morning of day 7, I text Dustin (who is working) and ask what he thinks the house smells like. “It smells like bacon. Is that what you used to flavor the beans?” But I have put nothing in the beans except water and time. They just smell so good. I’m tempted to eat a bowl of them with rice for lunch, also, but instead I decide we will have pinto beans and rice for dinner, and I will use the leftover beans for my “refried” beans. It’s kind of a repeat meal from day two, but the beans smell so good I doubt anyone really minds. Plus there’s no meat, which makes it *totally* different. And different beans! I decide to use brown rice to *really* switch things up. I divide the beans into refried beans and dinner beans, mash up half of them, and then quickly clean out the crockpot to make some chickpeas. I was supposed to do this yesterday, and then I didn’t. Whoops!

Day 8: 

Because I’d made enchilada sauce and refried beans, tonight’s dinner practically made itself (especially since Dustin put it together for me while I took a shower ALONE). Weeknight enchiladas, for the win. Also, today I finally looked at my favorite website for food, Budget Bytes, and saw the beans and grains section. Can we do this forever? It’s entirely possible.

Day 9:

Dustin was home for less than ten minutes this day. I had no patience for the stove. The kids wanted “apples” for dinner. I wanted to make curried chickpeas with spinach, which is normally one of our favorite meals. We compromised with bean burritos that I didn’t take a picture of because everyone was crying. Not because of the food, just because we’d had a hard few days. The burritos were good. Mine had avocado in it also. We used beans from a can.

Day 10: 

We had friends come over for dinner tonight, which was a very appropriate way to end our beans and rice experiment. So we celebrated by making a more expensive dish (we used shrimp!), jambalaya. To stretch the cost, I added extra bell peppers, sausage that Dustin’s parents had given us, and chicken on the bone, that I shredded and deboned after cooking. The whole package of chicken was a dollar (for five bone-in thighs), and the sausage was free. The shrimp was a treat, and my oldest daughter loves shrimp, so it was worth it. I had never made jambalaya without using a box, and I was so impressed by how easy it was (except I should have stirred the rice more often to prevent the stuff on top from getting too crunchy). It was still really good. And still fairly inexpensive. 

So there you have it. I guess I should add that the next night we had black bean lettuce wraps, even though the challenge was over. And I should also mention that there are a TON of meals I added to my meal plan that we ended up not eating, AND there are a ton of meals still on my Pinterest board that I’m itching to try. We didn’t make chili! Or fried rice! Or the curry I kept talking about (and even cooked chickpeas for)! What?? It really caused us to look at our meal plan, and I see a lot less meat on our dinner table in the future. 

I also couldn’t believe how many freezer bags we used during this challenge (almost 70 quart sized bags), but I was pretty happy with how much of the leftovers we ended up eating also. Most of the things that went in the freezer were beans from the crockpot, as well as the stock I made today from the chicken bones and veggie scraps we generated during the challenge. 

I see this as a semi-permanent change in our eating habits. While we won’t be exclusively planning beans and rice dishes, I see us sticking with most of the meals we made during the past ten days. They were good for our budget, we felt great eating like this, and I even lost a pound and a half, which really surprised me because I thought we were still eating pretty hearty! 

If you made it through all of this, you deserve a cookie. Or at least, a big ol’ bowl of chili!


Cheap Meals for When Times are Tight

Sometimes, it’s because you’ve been hit with an unexpected expense. Sometimes, it’s a month after Christmas and you got caught up in the “and one more thing” of the season. Other times, you’re putting your budget on lockdown so you can pay off debt, go out of town, or buy a mixer. Whatever you’re some time is, here’s a list of cheap meals for when times are tight. Because you can only have cuppa noodles so many times.

  • Veggie and Marinara Pasta- Pasta is super filling, and by using vegetables instead of meat in your sauce, you keep costs down while still being super nutritious. My favorite veggies for adding into pasta? Carrot, onion, mushroom, broccoli, and zucchini. Bummed about lack of protein here? Add some beans. Want to stretch it even further? Add a handful of oatmeal to the veggies while you’re sautéing them. It’s tasty, filling, makes a ton of food (love those leftovers!) and completely customizable to what’s on sale that week. You could also add eggplant, bell peppers, cauliflower, dark leafy greens… the options are just a sales page away. 
  • Baked Potato Bar- I love doing this for a cheap easy meal. Baked potatoes are filling, and they’re a completely blank canvas so you can add whatever you want to it. One of my favorite flavor combinations to add to a baked potato? Cooked chicken, green chilies, mozzarella, and sour cream. But you can also do chili, roasted veggies, some of that leftover marinara and veggies from your pasta. You can even add a tiny bit of meat to this, so your pickier palates are satisfied. The bulk of the potato will have you not even missing the meat.
  • Breakfast for Dinner- Pancakes, french toast, eggs, waffles, a small side of sausage or bacon (or not) and you’ve got enough food for an army. I like picking either pancakes or toast or waffles, but sometimes we go two out of three (Meatloaf tells me that ain’t bad)
  • Egg ANYTHING- Speaking of breakfast, egg as a cheap healthy protein are an excellent idea. Beyond scrambled and omelette, we’ve done, fried egg sandwiches, quiche, and fried rice (with extra egg and veggies instead of adding meat). Pinterest has tons of great recipes using egg as the main protein… we just haven’t tried them all yet! 
  • Beans and Rice- You knew this was going to be on the list, right? I like to make a ton of the stuff using a really basic recipe, and then one night add some sausage, the next night add some taco seasoning, another night cover it in cilantro and melty cheese, and then make burritos out of whatever is left. Beans and rice are so versitile, and there’s a recipe from almost every part of the globe… and all of them are inexpensive and delicious. Use more than one type of bean, white or brown rice, long or short grain, and then play with the spices and flavors. You could probably have beans and rice for dinner every night one week and never get tired of it. In fact… I think we just might try that this month. *wink* 
  • Soup– Soup is as close to magical as I think I’ll ever get. Take a bunch of cheap ingredients, some spices and some time, and then boom, a delicious healthy meal that can stretch out for a long time. Want it to be more filling? Add noodles. Soup is a great way to use up those veggies you bought earlier in the month that you were totally definitely going to eat, but then forgot about. I don’t know if I’ve found a veggie I don’t like in soup. And if you’re really feeling fancy, add a sandwich next to it. Boom. Speaking of…
  • Sandwiches- I can’t begin to tell you how many times I forget that the sandwich exists. Then, one day I remember and for a little while that’s all I want to eat. From nut butter and jelly, to tuna, to ham and cheese, there’s a sandwich for all tastes, and all budgets. You can grill them, or not. Dip them in something, or not. Eat them plain or dress them up. The sandwich is a fabulous budget meal and I forget about them 90% of the time I’m in the kitchen. Sorry, sandwiches. I don’t deserve you.

What are your favorite budget meals. I have so many more, but felt like I’d already waxed poetic about sandwiches long enough, and no one wants to listen to me talk about my love of weird cuts of meat, right? Probably not. But if YOU want to talk about your love of weird cuts of meat, do so in the comments! I love having a large arsenal of inexpensive meals for the family, and I’m sure you will, too.


5 Sneaky Ways Your Grocery Budget is Wasted 

It’s 2017, and lots of people are focusing on eating better and budgeting stuff, so I thought I’d share a few ways where you might be wasting your grocery budget, and will be sharing posts about food and budgeting for most of January. Yay!

I love grocery shopping. Even when I have to take the kids out and it’s freezing or raining or a quarter past nap time, grocery day is my favorite day of the week. I get dressed in real clothes (mostly), put my makeup on, grab my list and a beverage, and then wander the aisles grabbing what we need (and hopefully nothing else!). For our family of four, our grocery budget is about $350. It used to be $300 when there were three of us, but we increased it by $50 when Melody started eating solids. And we eat really well (if I do say so myself). But $350 means we have to do lots of meal planning. I wrote a little about this over a year ago, how we use less meat and more fruits and veggies to keep costs down, how we meal plan, and how we use apps and coupons to save on those few processed items we need. 

But a year later, I’ve found a few more easy ways to keep from wasting my grocery money, and thought I’d share them here with anyone else who feels like they’re eating their paycheck every week. 

Buy the chicken when it’s on sale, and save money on soup all year long.

1) You’re buying the same things every week. I would argue that if you’ve never done meal planning at all, this works for a while. Having a limited menu of food you know you like is a good start. But as the seasons change, what goes on sale changes, too. Sweet potatoes at my favorite grocery store were $.25 a pound recently. That’s a *huge* difference from their regular price of just over a dollar a pound. Over the summer, blueberries and strawberries were a dollar a carton. Now their easily $4-5 a carton, and they’re not even very good berries! And I’ve noticed the best prices for chicken happen at my grocery store in the summer, and beef is much cheaper this time of year (as is turkey). By adjusting your menu to take advantage of the seasonal foods that are steeply discounted helps your budget considerably, and gets you out of your food comfort zone. Many of our new favorite recipes were discovered this year because we saw there was a huge discount on seasonal foods. If you have to have these out of season items, buy extra when they’re in season, and use your freezer (I wasn’t going to mention my freezer because I know I club you over the head with how much I love it all the time but here we are. My freezer is my friend.)

2) You’re buying too much food. This is my biggest problem. I love to serve side dishes. I love trying new foods. Dustin has had friends come over a few evenings this month, and every time they come by I decide to make food after food after food. Part of it is I’m a nervous wreck around people, and making food for them makes me more comfortable. The other part is that I’m ALWAYS like this. But I know that I could easily nix two dishes from my menu every evening, and we’d still be plenty fed. I also will occasionally overestimate how much food my family is capable of eating, so I will occasionally buy broccoli and then run out of time to use it. Whoops. Making sure you’re meal planning for your own family and not a large army is a good way to cut costs. Also making sure you keep your meals simple is smart, too. Simple can still be delicious.

3) You’re not measuring out your ingredients. I know, I know. Ree doesn’t like to measure things out and most TV chefs eyeball their ingredients. But they also waste a ton of food making cooking shows, and no one is actually going to eat the meal she’s haphazardly throwing ingredients into. Can you eyeball a tsp of salt? Can you? What about a cup of cheese? Be honest, you added more cheese didn’t you? Me too. And if it was just cheese it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. But if you’re eyeballing all your ingredients, and adding extra of each ingredient, it probably costs you as much as $1-3 per meal. We have a digital scale and lots of measuring cups, and as much as Ree and I agree on washing fewer dishes being a good thing, she is a wealthy cattle farmer’s wife. 

Another bulk item that disappears too quickly at our house… which is why we stopped buying them.

4) You buy in bulk. Surprise! You thought that bulk buying was a good thing, right? And it can be! We love our Costco dearly, and sometimes go in there just to look around (wide aisles, places for both kids to sit in the cart, free food samples!). But buying things in bulk can sometimes trick you into using more. I have to be really careful when we buy chocolate chips and peanut butter in bulk, because when you have a bunch of something, it’s easy to use more than you usually would. If you buy three pounds of cheese (at our house, at least) you will go through that three pounds of cheese just as fast as you go through the one pound block you buy at the store, because that extra two pounds goes into your cheesy dishes (you can never have too much cheese, right?) or (I mean, at least at our house) it becomes snack cheese. Snack cheese that we don’t even need to eat. It’s just there, so it gets eaten. If you have a ton of extra food in your house, you will eat it. 

5) When was the last time you used marjoram? Look, I’m all for trying new recipes. We try new foods all the time at our house. But we learned very quickly that buying special spices every time we wanted to make a new recipe made our food cost skyrocket. Same with fancy cheese, weird shaped pasta, specialty ingredients (like sun-dried tomato pesto), or any other ingredient that you don’t use in more than one recipe. My rule of thumb when picking out new recipes for us to try is that they can only include two ingredients that we don’t normally keep in our house. And then we have to find other recipes that use those ingredients. Don’t buy food you aren’t going to eat. 

No one needs this many pumpkins… right?

So, are you guilty of any of these things? I am or have been guilty of all of them at some point. I’m so excited to be blogging again. I’m excited for a new year, I have big plans for the next twelve months, and I can’t wait to see how they unfold.

What are your big plans for this year? Tell me about them in the comments. 

photo by:

Lessons from Our Budget Slash

We’ve been doing this budget slash for about two weeks now, and so far, we’re doing okay. Even with Holly’s birthday party, we’ve managed to stay on budget pretty well. But I won’t pretend it’s been easy, and that we haven’t stumbled a few times. I’m glad Dustin has been such a good sport about all the craziness I put us through since May. Since starting the 101 in 1001 days, we’ve started living differently. Some of the changes have been simple, and some have been a little more extreme, and without Dustin’s support and encouragement, we wouldn’t be checking those things off nearly as quickly. He’s the best.

Anyway, here are a few things we’ve learned at the halfway mark. 

  1. Half of staying on target is preparation. Maybe more than half. Maybe 90% of staying on target is preparation. Because when we were reviewing our budget from last month, I noticed that a TON of our “Eating out/entertainment” fund went towards Sonic’s Happy Hour, which should shock NO ONE who knows us really well. But this month, we are  making our own tea at home. That means we have to make it several hours before we thing we will need it (and Dustin has been a Saint about helping with this), we need to make ice the night before, and we need to have clean glasses to put our tea in. And that’s just for tea! Making sure I definitely have meals planned out in advance, that I’ve got snacks pre-bagged and ready to grab for the days when we’re running errands, and planning our errands out so that we don’t drive the car more than we have to… Planning ahead like this has been a huge part of being (mostly) successful this month.
  2. Know your shopping triggers and AVOID AVOID AVOID. For me that is: craft stores, any store that sells children’s clothes, stationary sections of any and all stores, and Target. These are the places I have the hardest time walking in without talking myself into the necessity of purchasing something. So this month we’ve tried to stay away from Hobby Lobby. It’s mostly working. 😛
  3. Sometimes you save money by spending money. Spoken like a true lady, right? But seriously. We ran out of goldfish this month, and instead of spending $7 for the CostCo sized box of Goldfish, we spent $9 for a big box of popcorn. We spent a few dollars more, but there’s much more popcorn in that big box than there are fish in that cheaper box. And I like popcorn better anyway!
  4. Most of the things we purchase are due to laziness (usually mine). There aren’t enough hours in a day to make all the things I know would save us money, and I would rather read a book with my kids than spend hours in the kitchen. I try to make as much as I can (or so I thought), but this month I’ve realized that there are so many things that take very little extra work on my part that I have stopped doing for one reason or another. I will definitely be bringing some of these things back when September rolls around.
  5. We have way more than we need. Halfway through the month, and our pantry is STILL full. Really REALLY full. Our freezer is still pretty well stocked. We’ve run out of a few basics, but mostly we’ve still got quite a bit of food left. What this tells me is that a) the months of nesting we had over a year ago maybe created a bad habit in me to over prepare, and b) there’s a fine line between being prepared and being ridiculous, and I have crossed that line

I think we may do this every couple months. So far, it has helped us clean out our house (because not walking around all those trigger stores means I’ve had time to clean out closets, organize drawers, and fix up our garage), make bigger payments on our debt, begin rebuilding our emergency fund, and more. I can’t recommend a month like this enough. So far it has been awesome. 

Anyone else doing this challenge this month? How is it working out for you? Any lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to share?


My Husband Made a Maple Latte, and I’m in love

My husband is a coffee guy. He drinks it black, he has more than one way of preparing it, and he grinds his own beans while talking about the subtle nuances of flavor each roast has. He keeps a French press on his desk at work, and he’s adorable. 

I have always been more of a tea drinker. Sweet tea, green tea, and chai. Oh my, chai lattes are my very favorite. But I don’t get to have them very often, because our budget says three a day at five dollars a cup just won’t do. I’d tried to make them at home before, but they just felt flat. 

But my husband is a creative genius, and a frugal foodie to boot. After watching dozens of YouTube videos and scouring the Internet for recipes, he made me a homemade, foamy latte. 

We had looked on Amazon, and gone to a few stores, looking for a good steamer/foamer for the milk, just like they have in a real coffee shop. But there’s a reason you’ve only seen those things inside coffee shops. They are crazy expensive, or cheap (in all senses of the word). We wanted steamed, foamy milk for those lattes. That is what makes the difference between a latte and just pouring milk into your tea. So, we looked around our kitchen, and came up with a couple different ways to get that froth in there. 

I thought I would share them with you, just in case Starbucks is too expensive for your taste.

  • French Press- This (aff link) is what we first tried using because we happen to have a couple of them. Dustin poured the warm milk (from our microwave, because that’s as close to steamed as our budget would get us) into the French press, and then pumped it up and down for about 15 seconds. The milk doubled in volume, making these big bubbles. You’re not going to get pretty latte art out of milk frothed with a French press, but you are going to get a fantastic tasting latte.
  • Blender- If you don’t have a French press, this is a good way to aerate your hot milk to make a latte also. I didn’t like it, because I don’t love cleaning our blender. But if you have a blender and no French press and you want that latte, GO FOR IT. The blender is quick and easy and won’t let you down (just don’t forget to “vent your blender” so the steam can escape. It would be bad if your blender exploded. 
  • Whisk- Yes. I definitely tried this and it worked. My arm was sore afterwards, but I definitely felt like I earned that latte.   

I know summer months are coming up and that some people don’t drink hot drinks, but I am a latte drinker year round, and I know this is going to save us quite a bit. I have a loose leaf tea diffuser like this (aff link), and because of that I can go get different flavors of tea in bulk and make ALL the lattes. I’ve been using a black tea that tastes like maple, and when you make a latte with it you don’t have to add extra sugar, it’s that tasty. 
To make the latte, make some tea or coffee (Dustin says he makes it a little on the strong side, and to add the sweetener now if you’re using any), and warm your milk either in the microwave or in a saucepan. Don’t let it boil, just make it hot. Then use your method of choice to froth that milk. Fill your mug a little over halfway with tea, and then add the warm frothy milk in. Voila! A latte that tastes just as good as a coffee shop cuppa. 
I am psyched to share this with you. Inexpensive, tasty drinks for the win. Do you have any coffee/tea drinking wisdom? Please share it! I am loving having a warm tasty beverage first thing in the morning, but I am anxious to learn about cold ones, too. When we figure it out, I’ll share our tips for that also! 

Have a good, caffeinated morning!