11 Jun
2012
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Milkiest Chocolate Ice Cream

Jeni's chocolate-ice-cream

I’m back with another Jeni’s ice cream recipe. After making Salty Caramel ice cream, I wanted to try a flavor that was much more simple. A classic chocolate recipe sounded perfect. I decided to try the recipe for The Milkiest Chocolate in the World Ice Cream.

I don’t want to keep republishing all of Jeni’s recipes since I think her book deserves the credit and it explains a lot of the process in it but I will show you the ingredients and say the process is very similar to that of the first recipe I tried. One note, Jeni’s recipe in the book has a small typo so make sure to check her website for updates to the book. In this case you need 1 1/4 cup of cream instead of the 1/4 cup that is printed in the book.

ice-cream-ingredients

In this recipe you don’t use cream cheese, instead you use evaporated milk. Jeni explains that the goal is to keep the chocolate taste more pure which I’d say she accomplished in this recipe. The change in ingredients leaves the ice cream tasting a little sweeter too. My husband described the flavor as chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone. That enhancement made this ice cream taste anything but simple. I wished in a way that the flavor had more distractions because chocolate was the star and a whole bowl might be a tad overwhelming.

ice cream churn

The only problem I’d say exists with this recipe is how thick it gets. With cocoa, cornstarch, and chocolate there’s a lot of chance for clumps to form in the ice cream. To remedy this I suggest sifting the cocoa before you add it to the pot. Then run the ice cream base through a sieve first as you add it to the chocolate and again as you put it in its chilling bag. You want this ice cream to be as smooth as possible to get the purest taste. Also, Jeni suggests freezing this ice cream for at least 4 hours but I’d recommend going overnight. The ice cream really solidifies and the flavors enhance overnight. I know waiting is hard but trust me, it’s worth it.

chocolate-ice-cream

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8 Jun
2012
Posted in: DIY Projects
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Shower Curtain Pillows

I recently bought some resin Adirondack chairs (in blue) for my front porch. My house is white and my front door is red so I wanted to tie the color palette together with some Americana influences. I decided that pillows would be the easiest way to do this. My shopping trip left me disappointed. I could only find really expensive pillows or those with an old fashioned feel so I decided I’d just have to make my own pillow covers. I bought some waterproof outdoor pillows from Michaels with a coupon but when I went to the fabric store I found myself in the same conundrum– everything was too old-fashioned or too expensive.

pillow tutorial

The solution: a Target shower curtain. The modern rugby stripes matched my color scheme, the size of the fabric meant I’d have fabric leftover for future projects, and the shower curtain would add some waterproofing making the pillows more durable. I also came up with a pillowcase design that resembles a sham. That way you get a seamless look from the front but you can just pop the cover off and throw it in the wash.

Supplies

This design can be made in under an hour. The main skills you need are measuring skills and the ability to sew in a straight line. You’ll sew 4 straight lines per pillow. You’ll need a flat surface, yardstick or ruler, a cutting device (rotary or scissors), washable fabric marker, an iron or pins (check under “making the hems” to see which you need), matching thread, and a fully stocked sewing machine.

Cutting the Fabric

First up, you’ll need to make the cut. Well, cuts. I have 2-16 inch square pillows so I used a simple bit of math to calculate the size of fabric I needed to cut out.

pillow height + 1 inch = fabric height
pillow width + pillow width + 8 inches = fabric width

If you want to cheat and avoid some grade school math, just get 16 inch pillows like I did. My fabric height was 17 inches (16+1=height) and my fabric length was 40 inches (16+16+8=40). I marked the first 17×40 inch section on the fabric and cut it with a rotary cutter, though scissors will work just fine.

pillowcase cuts

Since I was using striped fabric and I wanted the pillows to match, I cut off some excess fabric before cutting out my second pillowcase section so the stripes would start at the same position for both fabrics.

Making the Hems

You’ll want a finished edge on these pillows so step #2 is to hem some edges. If you use a normal fabric you can use your iron to hold your seams but since my polyester wasn’t holding an ironed hem, I used pins to hold the edge.

hemming pillows

Place your fabric right-side down. You’ll first want to fold over both of your short edges 1 inch and iron or pin it in place, then fold that same edge over 1 more inch and iron or pin this edge securely. You’ll want to sew each of these hems in place by topstitching through all three layers of fabric. I sewed about 3/4 of an inch from the right (folded) edge. Make sure to repeat this step for all the short edges on your pillows.

Creating the Pillow

Place your fabric right-side up. You should have something resembling a placemat in front of you right about now. You’ll want to measure out the halfway point on the long side of your fabric. I started with a 40-inch length of fabric and used up 4 inches making the seams (2 inches per side) so my fabric should be at 36 inches long now. I’ll want to make my center mark at 18 inches.

This next part is a little counter-intuitive so make sure to read it twice before attempting. My pillow is 16 inches in length so half of that is 8 inches. Place a ruler next to the edge with the 8 inch mark (or half the pillow length) of the ruler at the center mark on the fabric. Make sure your ruler is facing with 0 on the right end of the ruler for this part. Watch the images for clarification.

center of pillow

You’ll want to take the left (short) edge of your fabric and pull it toward the center. Pull the fabric until the folded edge lines up with the 16 inch mark (or your pillow’s length) on your ruler.

pillow fold-1

Now take the right (short) edge of your fabric and pull it toward the center. Pull the fabric until the folded edge lines up with the 0 inch mark on your ruler. Your fabric will overlap near the center.

pillow folds

Now you’ll need to pin the bottom raw edges together. Repeat with the top raw edges.

pinning pillows

Sew a half inch seam along the bottom edge. Then sew a half inch seam along the top edge. Repeat with your second pillow.

inside out pillow

Turn your pillow case inside out, pushing out the corners firmly.

pillowcase

Now you can just slide the pillows into the pillowcases and you are set! The hardest part of this project is just the measuring. With 4 straight lines even a beginner can sew these pillows. See how they add that pop of color my front porch needed.

porch pillows

porch

Linking up:

Thrifty Decor Chick
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5 Jun
2012
Posted in: Household
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Car Headlight Challenge

How many of you drive an older car? I have one really new car and one really old car. How old? I bought it my senior year in high school and my 10 year reunion is coming up soon. It was already used when I bought it and right now it has over 241,000 miles on it. The car is likely to fall apart before it stops running. I’ve lost a gas cap and a door handle but I still get better gas mileage than most people I know. I also can’t handle the idea of saying goodbye to the car that lasted me through my first job, senior prom and the glitter I swear is still in there, those crazy Hello Kitty decorations I put in it, all those trips to and from college, the trips with friends,  and the memory of taking my little puppy home in it.

In an effort to make my car last just a little bit longer, I decided to do something about my front headlights. If you’ve ever driven an old car you know that they can grow hazy thanks to oxidizing. It isn’t just a pain; if I can’t see the distance that could mean hitting a deer on the rural roads I live on. I saw on Pinterest that you could use toothpaste to clear off that haze but I didn’t know how great it would work. I decided to test a different method on each headlight, toothpaste for one and baking soda for the other. For the baking soda, just add enough water to it until it forms a paste. Here’s the results:

It might be hard to see how it ended up so I made a detailed comparison for you.

And a quick before and after of each of the lights

While I didn’t see any miracles like the original pin showed, I did see an improvement from both methods. It may be a bit hard to see on your screen (click the images to enlarge) but the baking soda paste ended up getting the haze off just a touch better. It also used less product making it the more cost effective solution as well. I think I’ll keep applying baking soda to the headlights each time I wash the car until they look like new or until the car gives up and goes to car heaven.

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4 Jun
2012
Posted in: Food
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Pesto Chicken Skewers

chicken pesto skewers

In the summer there’s nothing better than throwing food on the grill and eating leftovers for days. Just because I like to eat some tasty food doesn’t mean I don’t love an effortless meal. When I saw the idea of these Pesto Chicken Skewers that La Kocinera shared, I knew I had to try them.

chicken pesto skewers

To prep for this recipe I soaked 7 skewers in water so they wouldn’t catch fire on the grill. I also pulled out 3 of my frozen pesto cubes to thaw during the day. The only other ingredients you’ll need are 2 chicken breasts and a half pint of grape tomatoes. Just cut up the chicken into bite-sized pieces and alternate the pieces on the skewer with the tomatoes. Brush on some pesto and grill until the chicken is done. That’s it! It’s so easy you barely even need a recipe.

chicken pesto skewers

I served this recipe with some sirloin skewers and some of my frozen twice-baked potatoes along with a salad. Like I said, my goal is to eat off a meal for days and we had a weekend’s worth of food with this meal.

Pesto Chicken Skewers

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 7 skewers

Recipe from La Kocinera

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto

Instructions

  1. If using wooden skewers, soak in water for at least 20 minutes to prevent burning on the grill.
  2. Alternate sliding chicken pieces and grape tomatoes onto your skewers. Brush with pesto.
  3. Heat your grill to a medium heat and cook about 5 minutes per side until the chicken juices run clear.
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1 Jun
2012
Posted in: Household
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June Task List

It’s time once again for this month’s Get Organized Now checklist. As usual I’m mapping out my favorites on the calendar and then scheduling all my other projects around their list. Up for me this month: finishing my closet, starting on my flower garden, and a lot of summer fun.

I wanted to share this great method of tackling these chores that Emily from Becoming the Wilmi has been doing. Each month she chooses 3 or more tasks from the list and blogs as she tackles them. I love how she uses her blog to keep herself accountable to each task. I had some issues keeping up last month so I just might follow her example.

June calendar
Source: Scout Creative-Download the free monthly calendar

June’s list seems to focus on recycling, repurposing, and reexamining what we own. Last June I did a huge purge of my house so I could probably use a yearly check-in so things don’t get out of hand. Here’s some of my top items to tackle this month:

  • June 2: Donation time! If you’re anything like me you have a few piles of goods to be donated. Books, electronics, clothing, household items–they all take up space. Clear some valuable real estate and do a good deed by packing it all up in your car and going on a donation spree. Better yet, see if a charity does pickups in your area.
  • June 10: Consolidating isn’t just about goods. Try to plan your day by taking as few trips out as possible. You’ll be more purposeful in your shopping trips and you’ll save gas, both leading to savings in the wallet.
  • June 11: Consolidate your cleaning approach. Break down your cleaning routine into 10-minute sequences. This way you won’t get overwhelmed with cleaning and you know that whatever you need cleaned it can be done in 10 minutes or less.
  • June 18: Eliminate superficial clutter. If you keep ads on the table to read for a week at a time you’re just wasting good deals and cluttering up your home. Learn how to decide “trash or keep” with just a glance so you don’t waste time making so many little decisions.
  • June 23: Today’s the day to tackle desk clutter. Throw out old pens, toss those scrap notes that mean nothing and clear your workspace.
  • June 30: Clean out your fridge. Now you’ll be ready for all your 4th of July foods. Here’s some tips for cooking with the odds and ends you find in your fridge.

How do you make time for the little things?

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30 May
2012

Corner Flower Bed Plans

My front flower bed wasn’t the only eyesore in my front yard. I have a second flower bed that sits on the front corner of my house that is just as bad or worse. My husband and I had pulled out all the eyesore plants but the remaining dirt and weeds became an eyesore themselves.

corner flower bed

You can see that we’re testing out pavers for yet another retaining wall and we have one bush we plan to save. We’ll also be making a second rain barrel base for our other rain barrel. We also would love to see a pathway to walk on, one that would connect our front door to our side door. We’re not sure if we’re thinking concrete or stepping stones or some other material but we know a path of some kind is in order.

corner flower bed

Our plans include designing an inner and an outer corner flower bed. You can see where our tentative dividing retaining wall would fall between the two but that bush would be in the outer ring. Then we’d build a sidewalk that would curve around the house to the side yard. We’ll dead end it where we hope to build a patio in phase 2 of this project. Phase 2 will be at some point in the future, probably next summer. Then we’ll expand the shade garden to follow the curve of our new path.

corner bed plans

You can see it all on my super-awesome guide. The blue area is the front flower bed we just finished. The orange will be the new corner flower beds, the brown will be our path, and the yellow is phase 2 of the project.

I’m still working on the timeline for this project and it’ll probably take a bit of a backseat until we get the closet done. It’s been bumped up the list though so we’ll be working on this before our fireplace. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the garden but for the most recent updates, make sure to follow my facebook page. I usually include progress pictures along the way over there.

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29 May
2012
Posted in: Food
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BLT Salad

My current job has me working later than my husband. He gets home about an hour before I do and our dinner time has shifted an hour later than it used to be.  Our meal planning has changed around. I now prep meals the night before or when I stop in during my lunch break as I often do. We’re really utilizing all those freezer meals I’ve stocked up on and we’re taking advantage of the crockpot too. Some nights we just want a quick and filling meal without all the work so that way we can switch to project mode as soon as our plates are clean.

BLT Salad

That’s where the BLT salad comes in. If you like BLTs then this salad is almost a clone of your favorite sandwich. You can make croutons from old bread ahead of time; just drizzle some olive oil, salt, and pepper over some diced bread and bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees. They stay crunchy and fresh for days but if you make them fresh then they’ll be chewy just like the bread of a BLT. Then you’ll toss some bacon, lettuce, and grape tomatoes together with those croutons. Last up is the dressing; the combination of mayonnaise and buttermilk is the perfect touch for the salad. Just toss and serve with some french bread. If you’re a little hungrier, serve this salad with some soup or a sandwich, maybe even a BLT if that’s not a BLT overload.

BLT Salad

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

    For the croutons:
  • 1/2 baguette, sliced into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • For the dressing:
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • For the salad:
  • 1 pound romaine, chopped
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Instructions

  1. Start by making sure your bacon is cooked. You can do this on the stovetop or in the oven with the croutons by baking for 15 minutes.
  2. For the croutons:
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss bread with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden, around 20 minutes.
  5. For the dressing:
  6. In a medium bowl whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese and vinegar.
  7. For the salad:
  8. In a large bowl, mix together lettuce, tomatoes, and croutons. Toss with dressing, sprinkle with bacon and serve.
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28 May
2012
Posted in: Household
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May Centerpiece

I realized just today that I haven’t shown my May centerpiece and tablescape to you all yet. I went simple this month since our table seems to be taken over by projects these day. April showers bring May flowers so my table is covered in bright flowers.

May centerpiece

May centerpiece

Check out my napkin rings. Can you guess the secret item I used to make them?

Napkin rings

Shower curtain rings! For $1.50 I bought 10 shower curtain rings and used them as the base for these napkin rings. Throw in a $1 set of flowers on sale at Michaels and some floral tape leftover from another project and I have a cheap napkin ring with plenty of leftover supplies for another month.

napkin rings tutorial

To make these super easy napkin rings, you’ll want to cut off your silk flower’s stem and wrap it around the shower curtain ring. Wrap the floral tape around the stem to secure it and continue your way around the entire shower curtain ring. Then just slide your napkin inside your ring and enjoy your work!

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23 May
2012
Posted in: Food
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Salty Caramel Ice Cream

A little bit ago I shared my experience trying a pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and a review Jeni Britton Bauer’s very own cookbook.

jeni's salty caramel ice cream

This weekend I finally made good on my plans to try my hand at making one of Jeni’s ice creams from her cookbook. I decided to try my hand at a recipe that didn’t include any hard-t0-find ingredients and would be a flavor both my husband and I would probably enjoy. That’s how I ended up with my cookbook turned to the recipe for Salty Caramel Ice Cream. It’s Jeni’s most popular flavor so why wouldn’t I want to try that?

Jeni's Ice Cream

Before you start this recipe, measure out every single ingredient and prep all your equipment. Your ice cream maker should be frozen 24 hours before even starting. I even poured my milk into a measuring cup so I could pour quickly when the moment came. The first half of this recipe goes low and slow and then suddenly you’re all in, racing to get everything in the recipe so you can start counting down the half hour it takes to chill it. For all things stovetop, I used a 4-quart pot for the process. I wouldn’t risk going any smaller than that with all the boiling this recipe takes.

caramel

Now the next part was the scariest for me: I had to make caramel. I don’t do well with sugared products because I’m impatient and easily distracted and that usually leads to sugar burning. Jeni has you make the caramel for your recipe by using the dry burn technique (see recipe notes) where you just heat sugar on the stovetop until it starts going through a transformation and then you invite all the other pieces of sugar to the party by melting them down.

Jeni says the look you’re going for is an “old penny” but I wasn’t sure if she meant 2001 penny that has seen my whole town or a 1953 penny that looks like it’s going green so I chose the more appetizing color. It seems to have worked out. Somewhere in the middle of the stirring process you’re likely to think you’ve failed and there’s an awful goopy mess but 1 minute later you’ll be screaming in glee “I’ve made caramel!” Embrace that moment because this is when the going gets crazy.

caramel ice cream

You’ll want to add just a bit of your cream + corn syrup to the cream while off the heat. It’ll crackle and pop so be careful. Jeni doesn’t suggest putting the pot back on till all the cream is added to your caramel but I found my caramel hardening too much so keep a close eye on things and introduce the heat as needed. After you add the milk you’re almost in the clear. You will need to keep a watchful eye on it so it doesn’t boil over and then add your slurry to thicken, stirring continuously. You can see above the soft golden tone the recipe starts to take on (and the mess this dish leaves behind)

ice cream

You’ll then pour your ice cream through a sieve placed over a bowl with your cream cheese and salt in it. All the little hard pieces of caramel will be left behind and then you stir stir stir! Make sure to add the vanilla in this step. I use my own homemade vanilla but whatever you choose, make sure it isn’t imitation.

ice cream maker

You’ll then want to chill your ice cream base as fast as possible. Pour your mix into a gallon sized Ziploc bag, seal it, and surround it with ice and ice water. Chill in your fridge for half an hour. Note: It’s very important not to let water get into your mix at this point. After your half hour is up, pour the mix into your ice cream maker and let it run about half an hour.

jeni's salty caramel ice cream

Now you have to freeze it for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better. I know, I’m a cruel and awful person to suggest such a thing. I scooped up a batch after waiting and sat down to test it. It was so smooth, just like the version I bought in the store. You can copy that quality perfectly in your own kitchen. My own version was lighter in color than Jeni’s official version so maybe you should aim towards an older penny than I did. I also expected more salt but that’s an easy fix. Overall I was thrilled with my results and have to say this is the best (but also the most complicated) homemade ice cream I’ve made to date. The only real disappointment I had was that it was eaten up so quickly. I guess I’ll need to make another batch or try a new flavor. If you’re a Jeni’s fan, let me know what flavor I should try next.

Salty Caramel Ice Cream

Prep Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 5 hours, 45 minutes

Yield: 1 quart

Source: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch (or just 4 teaspoons- it's the same thing)
  • 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.
  2. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.
  3. Mix the cream with the corn syrup in a measuring cup with a spout.
  4. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
  5. Heat the sugar in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until it is melted and golden amber in color (see note below). Remove from the heat and, stirring constantly, slowly add a bit of the cream and corn syrup mixture to the caramel: It will fizzle, pop, and spurt. Stir until well combined, then add a little more and stir. Keep adding the cream a little at a time until all of it is incorporated.
  6. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the milk. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.
  7. Bring back to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. If any caramel flecks remain, pour the mixture through a sieve.
  8. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and whisk. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
  9. Pour into frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy in ice cream maker.
  10. Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid.
  11. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

Notes

From Jeni:

Danger! This is the dry-burn technique. I don't add water to the sugar before putting it on the heat, as some chefs do. Caramelizing sugar dry means it goes faster, but you have to watch it more closely and be ready with your cream. Here is an overview of what you are going to do:

Stand over the pan of sugar with a heatproof spatula ready, but do not touch the sugar until there is a full layer of melted and browning liquid sugar on the bottom with a smaller layer of unmelted white sugar on the top. When the edges of the melted sugar begin to darken, use the spatula to bring them into the center to help melt the unmelted sugar. Continue stirring and pushing the sugar around until it is all melted and evenly amber in color — like an old penny. When little bubbles begin to explode with dark smoke, give the sugar another moment and then remove from the heat. Immediately but slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the cream and corn syrup mixture into the burning-hot sugar. Be careful! It will pop and spit! Stir until it is incorporated, then add a bit more cream and stir, then continue until it is all in.

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21 May
2012
Posted in: Home Renovation
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The Worst Room in My House

I have a secret. There is one room in my house that is not fit for human eyes, and that’s saying something considering the state my home has been in during the renovation process. This space is a tiny space between my dining room and my kitchen. I’m talking about my one and only hall closet. It still has the original shelves in there, it has no lighting, and it’s very dark in color. There is a lack of storage and so items end up falling or being dumped on the floor. Yes, it’s that bad in there.

cleaning closet

I’ll admit that this eyesore has actually gotten worse since I took this photo. Don’t ask me how that’s possible. Let’s just say I am hoping for a very dramatic transformation in the end.

The first stage of updating this closet was to define what I want this space to be. I want it to hold a vacuum, my steam mop, my iron, and all my cleaning supplies. I want my overstock of paper towels, napkins, and tissues in here as well. I don’t need the coat storage anymore so that rod can go. The games might stay or they might find a new home. Either way, it looks like this closet is due to be transformed into a cleaning closet.

The way I go about a renovation might seem a little strange so I’ll share my process with you. I do this behind the scenes of every project, though some have a much looser timeline. This project is on track to be finished right around the official start date of summer. Of course, we’ll be overlapping it with a few other projects so hopefully it won’t shift around too much.

First, I list out every step of the project. I’ll then reorder my list chronologically. Next, I map out a timeline for the project. On this project I am leaving the schedule very open, giving us entire weeks or weekends to accomplish tasks since my husband and I will have varying work schedules. It’s better to finish a project early than to have it drag out for months beyond what we expected. The last thing I do is assign each task to a person. Sometimes we’ll both need to consult on it, sometimes it just depends on who wants to work inside that day, while other tasks are claimed in a deathmatch. Or you know, just assigned because I like to micromanage.

The only real issue I foresee in this project is figuring out how to light it. We don’t really have the option of hardwiring it due to some limitations in the attic space above. I’d love to find a light bright enough to light the whole space and my two little wall lights that you can see by the ironing board just aren’t cutting it. Has anyone ever found success with a bright but not hardwired light?

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