Memories, Memorial Day and Stuff – Including One Very Used Pasta Pot

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder

Dan and I are both in transit this week. Dan is setting up a new home in Portland, Ore., where his wife will begin another temporary assignment as a traveling speech therapist and I’m in Miami where I’m helping my daughter create a new home from scratch after being accepted two weeks ago from a wait list into the physical therapy program of her dreams – with the provision that she be ready to start class five days later. If you look at a map of the U.S. and put one finger on Miami, Fla., and the other on Ferndale, Wash., – well, you’ll see that creates quite the adventure.

TOM C WALSH

Uncle Tom

But given it’s Memorial Day – and Houstory is a company created to honor and preserve memories and home – I thought I’d share just a few words about the powerful memories created by stuff.

My uncle, Thomas Walsh, is one of those we will be remembering this Memorial Day. He was killed in Vietnam in September 1966 when the plane he was piloting was shot down. He had just arrived in Vietnam a month or so before. He was my mom’s older brother and her only sibling. In addition to my mom and her family, my Uncle Tom left behind four of my cousins and my aunt, who was pregnant with my fifth cousin. My uncle was 27.

I was 2 ½ when died and have no real memory of him. But I’ve heard lots of stories, of course, and seen lots of photos. He loved baseball and golf. He was a great big brother to my mom growing up in Bellingham, Washington.

Stories are important and photos are great, but there is one thing in particular that helps me regularly remember my uncle (and also his mom and dad, my grandparents, who are also now both gone): their pasta pot.

IMG_0948

This is Dan: I don’t know why the picture shows up sideways but you get the point. 🙂

They had a metal pot – which includes a fitted inner strainer – made specifically for cooking pasta. My mom tells me it was in their family kitchen for as far back as she can remember. My grandma used it pretty much every week, my mom says, to prepare dinner for my grandpa, her and her brother. It’s nothing fancy and — if you saw it in garage sale you’d probably feel taken if you didn’t barter the price down to less than a couple bucks. After my grandma quit cooking, I received the pot. I’ve now had it for well over a decade and — like my grandma — I’ve used it almost once a week to create meals for my family. And while I certainly don’t get all mushy every time I pull it out (unlike my pasta sometimes when I get distracted), I love that banged up pot and the memories that it holds.

My grandma filled that pot and my uncle washed and my mom dried that pot — it was pre-dishswasher days — over and over and over. I’m sure they weren’t thinking they were holding a family heirloom at the time, they were just scrubbing a dirty pot. Nevertheless, that’s what it is today. It is an irreplaceable piece of our family’s history that will one day be passed on — and used (because it really works well) — by my daughters. Stories are wonderful and photos are great. But it’s also hard to beat holding that one very used pasta pot.

Happy Memorial Day.

Our New Project: ‘Corner Houstories’

‘Corner Houstories’ is our attempt to reach you, The Houstory Nation, on the street and communicate your stories of home. With your help, we can also inspire others to save their stories and remind them why it’s important to do so. Oh—and I think we can also have some fun!

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

Houstory (pronounced “House Story”) was founded with the idea of telling and sharing the stories of home.

antiques roadshow, texas, houstory, heirloom registry

Yours truly at Antiques Roadshow,when the PBS TV program visited Corpus Christie, Texas, in 2012. Man, look how excited I was to be there!

When we say, “the stories of home,” we mean it. What makes a house a home? When was it built? Who has lived in it? What has happened within its walls? What do you know about the precious belongings—the family heirlooms—within its walls?

Unlike single-dimensional, statistical information such as dates of birth and census information, these physical elements—the places we live, the walls we build and the objects we touch—have clear and powerful connections to our past.

In other words, to know grandma was born in Pittsburgh in 1911 is important.

To flip through the kitchen-stained pages of grandma’s favorite cookbook with her handwritten notes is transcendental.

The object, whether it’s a house or a family heirloom, is a connection point.

 

With that in mind, our new project, “Corner Houstories,” is about as simple as it gets: We are going to randomly ask people on the street—maybe even on street corners—about the stories of their homes. Everyone has them, no matter how boring they think their lives may be. You just need to ask the right questions

Q: What is something now in your home that your mother gave you?

Q: In which room do you spend most of your time in your home? Why?

Q: What’s one item you no longer have that you wish you still had?

Q: What three things would you grab from your home in case of a fire?

Q: Do you own a chair in your home that someone famous sat in?

Q: What’s an item you would like to get rid of but can’t or won’t because of guilt?

These questions will spawn more questions and more answers. These are the stories of home.

It never ceases to amaze us how often we hear people say that their stories are either nonexistent or not worth sharing. We beg to differ.

To kick things off, I’m posting a video I took when Antiques Roadshow visited Corpus Christie, Texas. It was 2012 and I was living in Austin at the time. What you’ll see are some of the stories of home that people shared with me about the family heirlooms they brought to the event.

antiques, guns, Texas, corner houstories

We were in Texas, right?

World War II memorabilia, carved monkeys, antique tables, china sets, swords…it was all there. And so were the stories. Stayed tuned for more Corner Houstories.

Let us know what you think. After that, fax your aunt and uncle and tell them how the Houstory Hearth changed your life and helped you lose more than 30 pounds in just six months. Or you can just leave a comment. 

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4 Easy Steps to Prepare for Your Death, Family History Style

Someday—I hate to break it to you—that “loved one” who passes away will be you. Family history prep starts now.

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

I’m guessing there are probably more than four steps that you can take to prepare for your death. In fact, the list is pretty much endless. For example, unless you die naked, who is going to clean the clothes you are wearing? What about the enormous pile of dishes you may have left in the sink? Do you have someone lined up to destroy your gutty attempt at a novel? In reality, none of us can fully prepare to die, right? But what about preparing to die when it comes to passing down family history?

Unique Obit

Luckily, there is some pretty low-hanging fruit out there that you may want to consider if you have a little time on your hands. And by “a little,” I mean a few hours.

I can hear you already: “But Dan, I don’t have time. I mean there is some much going on with the kids and work. Plus I need to take out the trash.”

I hear you. Don’t worry: what I’m proposing will not get you in trouble with Child Protective Services, your boss or the local sanitation department. As you’ll see below, following these steps take less than a sliver of time. The best part is that once you finish these tasks, you’re done for the most part. And trust me, you family will be really, really grateful that they don’t have to go searching for your legacy when you’re no longer around.

As a point of reference, I’m going to throw out this number:

8,760.

That’s the number of hours in a normal year. Each task will take time off this total. So, let’s do this thang. No better way to kick off the new year then to write about death, dying and all that jazz!

(1) Write you own obituary (2 hours)

This is perhaps the lowest hanging fruit of all. Creepy? Maybe. Important for passing on your family history? Definitely! Who better to write your story then… you? Hopefully, if this finds you in good health and you’re not risking your life on the job, this obituary will be very incomplete. In other words, you’ll have a lot left to write and you’ll likely need to update it in many, many moons.With that said, even if you were to take two dinky little hours this year to write down just a few basic details, such as where you had lived and what work you had done during your life, imagine the value that would provide for your loved ones. Not everyone knows your story, and don’t assume they do. Once you are finished, store it with your other estate-planning documents (life insurance, will, advanced directives, etc.). As someone who knows, having to scramble for obituary information about a recently departed loved one in the hours, days and weeks after they die is rough. Someday that “loved one” will be you.

Extra creditAnd if you get swept up in the idea of telling your own story, record a video/audio file talking about your life: How do you want people to remember you? Do you have life lessons, advice and stories you would like to pass on to family and friends? Doing this well takes time, so plan it out. Much of the time allotted for this task is pre-planning: decide what you want to say and what order you want to say it in. Keep it clean and simple. Otherwise—like a friend returning from an overseas trip in which they decide to share 1,700 photos of their trip to Turkey with you— this might be painful for people to watch. Make sure you designate where this personal history is stored and who is in charge of presenting it to family members and friends. You can also hire someone, too, like these guys.

(2) Gather your vital records (birth & death certificates; wedding & divorce records) (1 hour)

Just good practice, people. And easy peasy. Store them in a safe place and make sure your loved ones know where they are.

(3) Register 5 family heirlooms (1 hour)

Yes, this is a direct call for you to buy our stuff. But it’s only because we believe in the service and there is no one else out there doing it. There is a reason we’ve been around for nearly a decade. We’re serious. When you mark heirlooms with physical ID numbers, the story and the family heirloom stay together so that anyone can understand the item’s significance and look it up at any time, now or in the future. Don’t you want your kids to appreciate the items in your house as much as you did while you were not dead (i.e. alive)? Hint: It’s not as overwhelming if you start one room at a time. Make it your modest goal to take a walk through your house and pull aside five items that matter to you. 

(4) Make a favorites/dislikes/hobbies/day-in-the-life list (1 hour)

It may seem boring to you, but imagine if you recorded in writing or audio just one day in your life. Sure it may seem dull that you spent the first half of a Saturday in your boxer shorts making breakfast while listening to This American Life on NPR, then went to the grocery store to pick up groceries for the week that cost $53 (including $4.89 for a gallon of milk) and then came home to take a walk around the neighborhood before eating a dinner. But imagine how gold these details will be to your great-great grandkids.

Or, if you don’t like angle, make a Top 10 list of your favorite books, movies or food. For those with darker dispositions, you can do the same thing with dislike lists.

It’s all about hidden insight that people can’t derive from genealogical records alone. Time capsules baby!

Extra credit: Write some Love Letters. Death, I believe, is much, much harder on the living than on the dearly departed. Hopefully, all of your significant others already know how much they mean to you. But that’s not always the case. And certainly, putting those thoughts down in writing now—and tucking them away—would make for a beautiful, comforting and lasting gift right when they need it the most and for years to follow.

That’s it! In just 5 hours (.0006 percent of the year’s total) you’ve now prepared a SUBSTANTIAL gift to the future.

And great news! You still have 8,755 hours remaining that you can waste or use in whatever way you’d like. The nice thing is you can spread it out. There will be plenty of rainy weekends or times when you don’t want to deal with other humans. By going through this list, you’ll have a little fun traveling down memory lane; you’ll make life easier for your family who have to clean up after you (it doesn’t matter how great you think you are, it’s a pain); and you’ll effectively be able to share and save a family history that will live on well after someone has cleaned your last load of laundry.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

“The Hearth Herd” is a roundup (or “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will generally focus on three things: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Environmental sustainability. If you see something that you think belongs in The Herd, we’d love to hear from you!

Family History

Author: MyHeritage blog

Title: Create a Family Memory Jar for 2016

Herd-Worthy Because: “What is a family memory jar? It’s a glass jar or any container in which you can store family memories. It can be filled with short messages, everyday moments, photos or just about anything you want to preserve.” What a wonderful idea! Essentially, this is “Houstories” in a jar and an instant family heirloom. The day-to-day things are what makes a house a home.

 

Family Heirlooms

Author: Ancestry.com, The Family Curator

Title: Plan Ahead: Protect Your Genealogy from Disaster

Herd-Worthy Because: Our good friend Denise Levenick wrote this last spring, but it’s still pertinent. Also, we appreciate her mentioning a certain service that we happen to be big fans of. “Digital images of photographs, family letters, and treasured heirlooms will never fully replace a lost keepsake, but pictures and stories can preserve the memories of a special piece of furniture, a quilt, or a framed photograph… After you’ve assembled your heirloom history, share it widely with family, friends, and other researchers. Consider uploading images and stories to genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com or to the online heirloom history site The Heirloom Registry.”

Let us know what you think. If not us, then let that guy next to you in bus know what you think. After that, call your mom and tell her how great the Houstory Hearth is. Or you can just leave a comment. 

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Houstory Herd: Place and Family History

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

So I belong to a local Toastmasters group in Eugene, Oregon. I joined the club to work on my communication skills (giving speeches, making presentations, producing podcasts, etc.).

The meeting allows members a chance to speak on a variety of topics in an effort to improve, and one subject that was recently presented to me was this biggie: “What is your favorite place in the world.” Well, I could list off a lot of places I love, but the one that came to mind was a location that held an important place in my family history called Granite Creek Campgroundnear Anchorage, Alaska. It was an oasis for me growing up, a campground that brings back memories of catching my first fish and action-packed getaways with my family.

houstory, heirloom registry, home history book, houstories, podcast, family heirloom, house history, family history, Klamath Falls, Oregon,

Dan and Dad in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

To me, I remember Granite Creek felt like home. If you want to know more about me and my life path, you need to know about Granite Creek and its importance in my personal history.

The second episode of our new Houstories podcast examines a similar concept: What places do you connect with family history? For this episode, we travel to Klamath Falls, Oregon., to delve deeper into the topic. That’s where I have a chance find out a little bit more about what makes my dad tick. How? He lived there 60-plus years ago as a little kid, and I recently joined him and his brother (my Uncle John) on a journey to learn a little bit more about their connection to the area.

In this episode, my brother Mike and I also chat about one woman’s unique and humorous approach to preserving her legacy in the face of battling a terminal illness.

Finally, we ask Allison Dolan of Family Tree Magazine penetrating questions about life outside of genealogy, including the longest she has gone without bathing. (Thank you for being a good sport, Allison!)

Allison Dolan, family tree magazine, houstory

Allison Dolan

Yes, it is mostly fun and games at Houstory. Speaking of games, Allison has graciously offered to give away Denise Levenick’s new book, “How to Archive Family Photos.” If it is anything like her outstanding book, “How to Archive Family Keepsakes,” you will learn much from The Family Curator.

To enter the drawing for a chance to win her book, send us an email at info (at) houstory.com telling us who taught Dan’s dad to play basketball. [Hint 1: The answer is in the podcast!] [Hint 2: It’s between the 12:12 — 15:15 minute mark.] Winner will be randomly selected from among the correct entries. One entry per person, please. Final entries due May 31.

And for those of you who want to start saving your stories of home, send us your obituary. Yes, you heard that correctly.

Give us one paragraph telling us what you liked to do while you were alive (hobbies, interests, etc.). Yes, your living obituary — just like the one I penned for my father-in-law. If we read your words on air during our next podcast, we will send you a pack of Heirloom Registry labels so you can preserve and pass on the stories of your family heirlooms. Send those entries to info (at) houstory (dot) com. (If you just want to inspire others, but would prefer we not use your real name when reading it, let us know.)

Finally, make sure to check out the links we mentioned in the podcast with our Herd stories at the end of this post, as well as photos of Dan’s Klamath Falls trip. And of course listen to the podcast, too.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

Continue reading

Introducing ‘Houstories’ Podcast

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

When was the last time you poured yourself a nice beverage, settled into a comfortable chair, turned off all the lights, closed your eyes … and turned on the radio? There is something truly powerful and wonderful about this oft overlooked medium of yesteryear.

houstories, podcast, house history, family heirloom

Mike (top) and Dan: The Houstory Brothers. Family heirlooms, historic houses, family history and structured goofyness.

In many ways, radio broadcasts free us of the boundaries that television and more visual mediums inherently create. Much like reading books devoid of pictures and art, radio allows us to use our imagination. When you listen to a ballgame, you can imagine what the player looks like when they slide into second base. Or when you tune into a radio mystery, it’s your choice whether the murderer has a mustache or not, or is dark-haired or bald.

Imagination is truly freedom to create entire worlds.

Today, Houstory is proud to introduce the first episode of “Houstories: The Stories of Home” podcast (SEE BELOW TO PLAY FROM ON-PAGE PLAYER). For those of you who don’t know what a podcast is, I think the easiest explanation is this: radio played over your computer (as opposed to, well, your radio). Have a topic you are interested in? There is most likely a podcast about it — including ours.

A description of our podcast: “Ever noticed a house and wondered what it would say if its walls could talk? Been in an antique store and tried to imagine where the object had been previously? This podcast is for you and the voices in your head. Brothers Mike and Dan, founders of Houstory and maker of The Heirloom Registry and The Home History Book, are your hosts. Family heirlooms, historic houses, family history and structured goofyness.”

You can listen below.

For a quick tutorial on what podcasts are and how to access them, check out this video (done by Ira Glass for the incredibly popular “Serial” podcast) for a little more information. It’s kind of awesome.

We are very proud of this effort. However, like any new endeavor, it may take a few episodes to get out the kinks and find our “voice.” Rest assured, we will. I hope you take a few minutes to give it a shot, and then to let us know what you think.

Keep in mind we can only improve with your feedback.

PODCAST CHAPTERS

1:41 – 13:06: Dan interviews Mike about the origins of The Heirloom Registry and The Home History Book archival journal, as well as the podcast format.

13:06-30:47: Gamwell House Feature

30:55-37:18: 5 Questions with Thomas MacEntee

In case you have a fever and the only prescription is more Gamwell House information, scroll to the bottom of the page for 20 more minutes of bonus audio on this beautiful historic home.

Finally, a favor or three:

1) If you like our podcast, please share the link of this Web page with your friends and sign up to subscribe to Houstories by simply adding your e-mail address next to the podcast feed logo (see below for what it looks like) on the sidebar of this blog. 

podcast, houstories

2) Leave us a comment. We need to hear from you if we are going to continue this effort, so speak up Houstory Nation!

3) If you like what you hear, give us a good review on iTunes

Thanks, and hope you enjoy!

Gamwell House, house history, Bellingham, Washington

Gamwell House front door

BONUS: Gamwell House Audio. 

 

‘The Vista House’ – A jewel on the Columbia River

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

I wasn’t necessarily planning on writing a blog entry this week, but I was inspired to when I saw “The Vista House” on a recent trip to Central Washington. I had to share what I saw.

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

 

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

 

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

They call this octagonal structure a “house” in the loosest sense of the word. It’s more of a monument/observatory perched 733 feet above the Columbia River below. Designed to withstand the area’s famous winds, the face of the building is faced with ashlar-cut sandstone, and the interior walls are Alaska Tokeen Marble and Kosota Limestone.

In other words, this thing ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

According to The Vista House Web site, the building — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — was built between 1916-1918 by Multnomah County (Oregon), “as a comfort station and scenic wayside for those traveling on the Historic Columbia River Highway, which had been completed in 1913. It is also a memorial to Oregon pioneers. It was formally dedicated on May 5th, 1918.”

During the early part of this century, the building underwent a five-year renovation and was re-opened in 2005 to the public.

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

The day we were there was a perfect time to take in the views the property affords. I will say it was pretty darn crowded, and be prepared to stop and start quite often on the way down the mountain, especially if you go by the popular Multnomah Falls trailhead. Don’t let the people and the huge, vicious dogs (see the picture) dissuade you from the journey, though.

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house, dog

 

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

 

 

Washington coast antique store full of stories

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Click to connect with me on LinkedIn

I went to a presentation a few weeks ago that featured Annie Leonard, author and founder of The Story of Stuff.  The Story of Stuff, if you haven’t heard of it, is an organization that effectively uses video to examine the ways we, as a culture, manufacture, use, and often throw away stuff.

The Story of Stuff message, while perhaps not as personal, is very similar to what Houstory is trying to convey. The Story of Stuff looks at issues from a much more global perspective, examining not so much the individual stories associated with the things we manufacture and buy, but the systemic environmental and economic burdens our throwaway culture places on the planet.

Interestingly, Annie said she can’t look at simple objects anymore without thinking of their provenances.  For example (and I’m paraphrasing), a simple faucet has myriad parts. The handle, the stem, the screws that keep it together. Where was the brass mined? In which factory did the threaded spindle get manufactured? These stories are ever-present in how she views the world and objects within it.

In much the same way, I ponder the stories of the things I see everyday as well. For example, I can’t walk down the street without seeing a house and wondering who lived there. Or if I’m visiting a friend’s house or browsing through an antique store, I can’t help but question who owned the objects I’m seeing, and what their stories were?

the simpsons, antiques

Who once owned this Chia Homer? A mystery remains…

Recently, I visited an antique store on the Washington coast. And, as per norm, I saw history and stories everywhere I turned. Today, I’m going to share a small glimpse of what I encountered in the form of a short video. For purposes of time, I focused on popular culture-type items. I hope you enjoy!

Do you ever wonder about the stories behind your stuff? Let us know what you think. Leave a short comment, send an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet.

Share your homes for the holidays

Home and the holidays.

The two concepts just seem to go together effortlessly, don’t they? Kind of like awkward conversation and once-per-year family dinners. But it all adds up to the same thing: family history and tradition.

family heirloom, holidays

This year, we are asking you to share some of your family traditions — specifically your holiday family heirlooms and your beautifully (or at least uniquely) decorated houses. Let the Houstory Nation know what is happening out there.

Do you have a favorite leg lamp you break out every December? Perhaps a cookbook or family ornament? Or maybe you’ve spiffed up your house into a frenzy of wintery celebration?

Show us what you have, and we will share them with other Houstorians.

Simply e-mail photos to info@houstory.com by Dec. 15, and we will try to put them up on the Houstory Hearth sometime before Christmas, and share them with our social media audience.

Alright, now that’s out of the way, full disclosure: I’m totally going to steal the following from Cleveland.com, who are doing a similar activity. Why re-invent the wheel, right?

Here are tips they suggest, and we suggest, too, for taking great photos.

*****

Be sure to include the full names of the people in your photo and the communities where they live. We also need to know who took the picture.

Here are some basic tips that should help make your shots rise to the top!

  1. If you’re outside shooting, it’s always best to have the sun at your back, or maybe off to your side. If it’s behind your subject, the photos won’t look good. If the front of the building faces east you’ll want to shoot early in the day, or morning, if it faces west, then later in the day.
  2. When you’re inside shooting you should have the windows behind you, not behind your subject. If you can see a window behind your subject, you need to move to the other side.
  3. Close ups are good and make very dramatic shots!
  4. If you get a variety of these three things then you’ll have short photo essay that tells the whole story of the event. An overall picture sets the scene, a medium shot , and then a close up tell a powerful story.

*****

Looking forward to your contributions!

– Mike and Dan

Zillow: Top 10 Haunted Houses in the United States

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

The next time you take a walk down a street in your neighborhood, take a close look at the houses and imagine the stories that have taken place within their walls. For most, it would probably be easy to envision relatively happy tales: newlyweds moving in to their first home, holidays around the table, etc.

c180323_l

 

For other homes, especially dilapidated buildings in a state of disrepair and decay, the stories envisioned may be darker by nature. In fact, some may be downright scary.

Today, in honor of Halloween, we will examine the top 10 haunted houses in the United States, as presented by Zillow — “a home and real estate marketplace dedicated to helping homeowners, home buyers, sellers, renters, real estate agents, mortgage professionals, landlords and property managers find and share vital information about homes, real estate, mortgages, and home improvement.” The site boasts a database of more than 110 million U.S. homes.

Last year, they developed a list of the 10 most haunted homes in the U.S.

On a related note, do you own a haunted house? A recent Wall Street Journal article says it may be a tough sell. Let us know your creepy house stories — and have a Happy Halloween!

 

houstory halloween

FamilySearch Genealogy Video Series Highlights Importance of Preserving Stories Now

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

Too often, genealogists and family historians don’t consider their own stories — or even their own family members — as valuable branches of a family tree until its too late.

Sure it’s great to research the “big branches” of ancestors hundreds of years ago, but why not look a little closer to home in terms of both proximity and time? Yesterday, I stumbled across a great video collection produced by FamilySearch that really illustrated this point.

The “5-Minute Genealogy” series episode I came across, called “Learn From Family,” drove home the importance of sitting down with loved ones to share family history before that option no longer exists. It included tips and techniques for completing the task.

Take a looksy. Let it soak in.

And then DO IT!

Have a great week…