fancy dinner party

Five Steps to Perfect Fancy Dinner Party Timing

Fancy dinner party timing can be a real hassle. Last week I talked about the basics of hosting your party, but if you want it to be successful and not pull your hair out, you will need to be a timing pro. You’ll want to write things down. I mean with a pen and paper. Do you remember those? You probably have some in a drawer somewhere. You may glance at them every once in awhile and think of throwing them out, but you never do. And now, vindication! You can use them! I know you’re wondering why someone who frequently talks about her automated to-do list suggests paper, but think about this. You’re going to be cooking all day. Your hands are going to be gross. Do you really want to constantly check your iPad or Galaxy or whatever gizmo you have?

time to write our your fancy dinner party timing
This is what paper and writing utensils look like.

That’s not to say you won’t need your gizmo – you probably will, unless you are a recipe printer. I’m not. But it’s just easier to have a piece of paper stuck on the fridge or taped somewhere when you only need to do a quick glance. Memorize it if you prefer, but you risk a really long gap between meals, or something burning, if you don’t. So, there’s that little tidbit of advice. Now let’s talk about the good stuff. I do have a Disney-themed fancy dinner party coming up, but I’m going to use last year’s French menu as an example for now. Feel free to steal it.

How to Plan your Fancy Dinner Party Timing

1. Pick when the guests will arrive.

Oh hey! Guests! When should they show up? You might think this should be the least of your concerns, but unless your friends love last minute invitations, you’re going to want to give them a heads up at least two weeks in advance. If you have an event with a dress code, make sure you give them time to prepare. They might also want to get a baby-sitter. I have no problem hosting kids at my dinner parties (they eat pizza), but I can’t watch them, not even my own. I also serve a lot of wine. My friends know this, so they don’t always want to drag the kids along. Maybe you don’t want kids there at all so you ban them. Whatever, it’s your party.

The reason this makes a difference in your timing is that once you send out those invitations, your start time is set. Now you know exactly how much time you have to get things done. Personally, I like to invite my guests to show up at 6:30 P.M. Most of them will be there by 6:45, and all of them will be there by 7:00, even the perpetually late ones. I will have the appetizers ready by 6:30, 6:35 tops. I will also be dressed, the table will be set, and the kitchen will be as cleaned up as it can be (the rest of the house will be clean, but I won’t do that – the hubby will). Anything else may or may not be prepared, but at least I have a goal time.

2. Write out your menu with active time & cooking time separated.

This is probably the most important step if you want to get your courses out at different intervals. Actually, if it’s your first time, you might need this step just to get everything completed before the guests show up. You may think you’re a great prepper, but you will find out otherwise if you’re trying to put together an entire salad while your guests are waiting on you. They may not notice – serve enough wine, they probably won’t notice – but you don’t want to be serving the last course at 11:00 at night. So, as soon as your menu is set, go ahead and write out this part.

My handwriting is strangely similar to the Excel font.

You may remember last week I said to practice practice practice. I hope you did! Sometimes when you use a recipe the timing will be completely off. Whoever wrote it may be able to make their cheesecake in ten minutes, but I sure can’t! The ones I find are the worst are vegetable-heavy recipes. These cookbook writers are obviously much faster choppers and dicers than the rest of us, so they can’t be trusted with times. When you practice, try to remember how long it takes you. You can copy times over from the recipe, but you can also tweak them once you’ve seen you in action.

3. Decide what to do in advance.

Now that you have a nice schedule of how long everything is going to take you, you can decide if you want to try it all at once or prepare in advance. My fancy dinner party timing is designed to take place over two days. Am I cooking the entire two days? No. But it gives me a break in between things, and who doesn’t want that? If possible, I like doing desserts entirely the day before. Once I picked churros, which have to be fried, and that was the worst decision I ever made at a dinner party. I was so tired of cooking by then, I gave up trying to make them look beautiful and just served blobs of fried dough. I did creme brulee last year, and it did have to be broiled at the last minute, but that was totally doable.

churros
These are my actual churro blobs. Don’t be like me. Serve nice churros.

One other thing I really like to do to keep my fancy dinner party timing in check is early morning vegetable chopping. That goes for all recipes. I’ll put them in baggies or bowls or something to keep them separated. For the most part veggies stay fresh looking after you cut them, so it’s one less headache later in the day. Soups are usually good in the slow cooker, so that’s another thing to think about doing early in the day. I rarely do the main dish or the side dish ahead, besides seasoning. Obviously this will all depend on what you’re cooking; a roast will go in the oven a lot earlier than something would go on the grill.

4. Set the table and get ready at the last minute.

Get ready at the last minute, you say? Are you crazy? I’m asking everyone else to dress up and I will barely have any time to look my best? Yep, sorry. Pro tip: You’re the one cooking. That means spills, flours, oil, sauces all over the place. Prolong the mess as long as you can. You can invest in an apron if you want, but taking it on and off every five minutes while you switch courses is going to get annoying. Also, this must be said – keep your hair back. No one wants a hair in their food. If you’re wearing an up-do, you can do that once you’re up for the day and it will stay. Probably. I don’t know your hairstyling skills. Mine are generally terrible, but I can still keep my hair in a bun.

Having perfect fancy dinner party timing isn’t really going to be affected by setting your table, but I would suggest doing it last, doing it first, or having someone else do it. I can’t do it first at my house because we’re a madhouse and something will mess it up, so I stick to last minute. If you’ve never read anything by me before, you might not know this, but I hate decorating. So my centerpieces will usually be something simple and a couple of bread baskets. Super easy. Waiting til the last minute doesn’t hurt me at all, although it might change how fancy my napkin folding gets. Yes, I use real napkins. I bought them for my wedding, so I might as well use them.

5. Keep your clock out while you eat.

You spent all this time scheduling it, now you have to keep your fancy dinner party timing perfect by watching the clock. Does that suck a little bit while you’re hosting all your friends? Yes, kind of. But someone always volunteers to help, so it could actually mean one-on-one time with people. Fun! You can have Siri or Alexa or whoever time things for you, but I feel like that would ruin the ambiance. Now, how long should you have between courses? I guess that’s up to you and how fast you eat, but I like about fifteen minutes between the end of one course and the start of another. I swear, it doesn’t make the meal last forever.

What? You think I own paper AND an actual clock? Don’t be crazy.

Let’s see how this works. I have people showing up at 6:30. My appetizers have to be ready to go. They have half an hour to eat them. Then at 7:00 I serve an amuse-bouche. No need for a fifteen minute break here; I tell them my rules (you have to try,  no offense taken if you don’t like it), then move on. So, we’re serving salad around 7:05. We have a lot to eat so courses are small. Assume everyone’s done in five minutes. That means soup needs to be ready at 7:25, a main course at 7:45, and dessert at 8:05. Everything’s done by 8:10 if I’ve planning my fancy dinner party timing correctly. That’s a great time to play a game or something, plus you only had to sit at the table for a little over an hour. Wah-lah! Dinner has been served.

Note:

I planned on keeping this fancy dinner party series on a week-by-week basis, but unfortunately I had to reschedule my Disney-themed dinner. How’s that for some crappy fancy dinner party timing, huh? This is probably not a huge deal to anyone, but I wanted to let you know in case you were eagerly waiting to steal my Little Mermaid soup or whatever I’m serving (hint: it’s not that). Don’t worry, it will be here sometime in May. Until then, I’ll have more frenzied ideas on the way!

 

 

 

Throwing a fancy dinner party can be a hassle, so follow these steps to make yours flow smoothly. #dinnerparty #fancydinnerparty #time #organizations #party #dinner
100g almond flour200g confectioners' sugar120g egg whites40g caster sugargel food colouringfilling of your choice

A Guide to Creating a House Cleaning Plan

I need a new house cleaning plan. Last week I wrote about moving. This week my new house is a disaster and I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s double the size of the rental I’ve been in since my child became mobile. I tried to get ahead of myself and create a new plan before I moved in, but I very quickly got overwhelmed. Why do I have a house with four bathrooms? Seriously, what am I going to do with them? Do I have to clean all of them frequently even if we’re not using them? What about the guest bedroom? The baseboards? Cabinets? Ahhhhh! I’m tired just thinking about it.

So, what am I going to do? Preferably find a nice housekeeper and call it a day, but I’m pretty sure my husband will frown on that. I may have mentioned it before, but when you work from home, people think you should be cleaning your own house, watching your own child, and working at the same time. I’m not sure when you get magical powers after signing a telecommuting agreement, but I haven’t got mine yet, so that’s a bummer. Anyway, I’ve got to have some kind of house cleaning plan in place soon or I’ll fall back into my old ways and forget about my beautiful checklist that keeps me on track. Let’s see what I can come up with.

Guide to Making a House Cleaning Plan

1. Decide what you will actually do.

Sure, there are plenty of lists out there that will help you figure out what you need to do and how often you need to do it, like this or this. Unfortunately those lists won’t clean the house for you, so they’re not necessarily the best way to make your own house cleaning plan. I want to have a clean house, I really do. I also want to keep my sanity. Since those two things don’t always go hand in hand, I can’t follow the perfect mom guide to a spic and span life. Let’s see. I have to do the floors. Have to. I should dust the fans – but I won’t do it regularly. So instead of making it part of my routine cleaning, I’ll wait until I accidentally hit it with something and dust falls like snow.

Making some things a priority doesn’t mean you’ll let the rest of the house go to the wayside. It’s more about feeling accomplished and not overwhelmed. I know I’m going to vacuum. I know I’m going to clean my kitchen and toilets. Making them the main focus of my plan is a good thing because the chances of me throwing in the towel on these things are really slim. Perhaps for you it’s dusting or mopping – we all have chores we don’t mind or dirty spots we can’t stand. Build off of those chores to start, and you might feel like it’s not so bad doing a little house cleaning.

2. Write it down – but make it easy to change.

My floors, always. Schedule says…..It doesn’t matter, they obviously have to be cleaned.

 

I don’t mean you actually have to get out a pen and paper, although you can. I use Todoist for everything, so that’s what I’ll stick to. But, having a list of what to do, whether written or electronic, helps you remember what’s due when the rest of the world has tried to fry your brain. I only mop every other week because if it was on my to-do list every week, I’d sincerely have to move to a shack with no floors. But if I didn’t write it down,  I wouldn’t remember if I’d done it or not. Can I look at the floor and tell if it needs mopping? Yes. Am I going to do it if there’s 8 million other things I did commit to in writing? No.

Of course, I do need the ability to change my list without throwing off my entire house cleaning plan. My new house is new new, as in, I’m the first person to live here. I wonder about baseboards. How long are these things going to stay clean and beautiful? Should I wait until they’re really dirty or do it every so often to make sure they never get dirty? I haven’t decided yet. I’m going to put it on my to-do list for two months from now, and then I’ll decide if I want to stick with a two month time frame or not.  It can go for frequent things too – I switched vacuuming days based on the dogs’ schedules, and I do that every other day. Sticking to it is important, but if you can’t change it for the better, you might not want to follow it.

3. Decide if you’re a weekender or a day-by-day cleaner.

Honestly, my schedule doesn’t have  a lot of differences between the weekends and the weekdays. There’s not much point in me loading all my cleaning up on one day since no day is free. But, that might not be the case for you. What’s more likely – you getting two free hours on Sunday, or you getting ten free minutes seven days a week? Some things you might like to do more than once a week. Forget about them for a minute. Think about your once a week, once every other week, and once a month items. What would it be like if they all landed on the same day? If you think that’d be better, load them all up on the weekend. If you think that giant list would cause you to ignore all of it, spread them out.

4. Not everything has to be on a to-do list.

You know what I have never considered putting on my house cleaning list? Laundry. Washing dishes. Picking up toys. That doesn’t mean they won’t get done, but I don’t know when I’m going to do them. Probably when I run out of pants, fill up the dishwasher, or every fifteen minutes respectively. Putting them on the list would be irritating to me, and if your house cleaning plan annoys you, you aren’t going to do it. You have to figure out which chores you’re going to do, but might need reminding, compared to chores that you’re going to do anyway and a reminder would only waste more of your precious time.

5. Share the load.

Make a to-do list for the rest of your family too. Ha ha ha, I’m just kidding. Does anyone have kids or spouses that will help out? What’s that like? Do you all marvel at how awesome you are when you’re done with chores and then take adorable family photos? Or is it, like, really stressful and you all walk around on eggshells trying not to disturb any of your pristine home? I’m fascinated, please share in the comments. Of course, families like that probably aren’t reading lists like this, but still, maybe you’ve heard rumors of these odd creatures. Share that.

6. Whine away – but still do the list.

I try to start my day with fives minutes to myself for breakfast, but usually the baby beats me up. I spend the morning chasing him around, occasionally picking up after him, and then furiously cramming as much work as I can into his morning nap. We eat lunch and do a chore. Just one. If my to-do list has more than two things, I can’t get them done. Because after that, we have to climb the stairs fifteen times, dump all the toys out of every closet, put them away, repeat, and then walk the dogs. Sometimes I can do a little more work in the afternoon, but most likely it’s not going to happen. Then my husband gets home, I cook him dinner, the baby wants to play some more, and eventually they all go to sleep so I can do more work. That’s seven days a week.

Do I whine about cleaning the house? Yes. Good lord, yes. Do I do it anyway? Of course. Who wants to live in filth?  My house is currently a disaster, but eventually we’ll get moved in. Then I’ll start my checklist back up. One day it won’t be so bad. I won’t be pregnant, my husband won’t be in school, and my kids will. I would sincerely hate if my house got ruined in the meantime because I felt like it was too much work to wipe my bathroom down once a week. I’m as tired as the next gal or guy, honestly, but it’s part of being adult. Articles like this are fun to read and relate to, but they’re not helpful. If you’re serious about creating a house cleaning plan, you don’t have to follow the rules of Good Housekeeping. You do have to follow your own.

how to

Brunch Time-Saving Basics

I’m not sure exactly when I became obsessed with brunch, but I suspect it has something to do with a bottomless mimosas brunch place in Chico, California. I don’t remember the name because it was years ago, otherwise I’d direct you all there now. If you know it, feel free to drop it in the comments. Anyway, I’ve been to plenty of places with unlimited mimosas, but this place claimed that your glass would never be empty, and IT WASN’T. Waitresses would just appear. It fascinated me. But that’s not actually why I became obsessed with brunch. It was their menu. They had a salmon and cream cheese omelet. What?! That’s crazy. I had only seen your basic brunch menu before then. This one was so awesome, it definitely sent me on a search for more amazing brunches.

Menu Options

But, while I absolutely recommend finding a place where you live that will help you enjoy brunch, I also love to cook. So why wouldn’t I enjoy two of my favorite things by having a little brunch gathering? This particular hosting duty is nice because it’s one kind of party that you can do with friends or family or both and it doesn’t feel forced or awkward. The first time I wanted to host a really nice brunch, I looked up some tips from the world’s best hostess, Martha Stewart herself. She said you needed a meat dish, an egg dish, a sweet dish, and fruit, and who was I to argue?

Normally I plan everything in advance and prep and all of that, but I have a confession to make. I plan my menu ahead of time, of course, but I’ve never done brunch without one crucial time-saving component. That would be my sister, my permanent co-host. So, I have been able to pull off some pretty time-consuming meals without going completely crazy, but I better be able to figure out something without her soon . I can’t have her cook her own bridal shower brunch, now can I?

Prepping the House

I’m going to have a lot more to say about brunches and brunch themes, but because you don’t have all day and I don’t either, today let’s focus on the basics and determine where we can cut time. We don’t need decorations, right? Nah, let’s go ahead and toss those out the window. A clean house will be fine. If you’re house isn’t already clean, here’s some tips for keeping up with it from day to day, but if you really want to host a brunch and you just don’t have time to clean, make sure your table has enough room for your guests and your kitchen is clean when you start. If it’s not clean when you finish, your guests will survive.

You know what else doesn’t have to be time-consuming? Drinks. Make your guests bring them. Or, if you’re the kind of person that has to do it all yourself, stick with regular OJ and champagne. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

Brunch Food Time Savers

Next up, the food. Obviously you can’t skimp as much here, but you can get away with combining some things if you like. Egg and meats go together perfectly. Fruit and sweet dishes do too. Fruit on it’s own would be easy too, if you buy it already cut up or pick something like strawberries or grapes. Chopping up a whole watermelon sounds like a pain. Of course, if you don’t want to combine (for the record, I always combine the fruit and the sweet – we may or may not have leftover fruit, but I like my sweet breakfasts with fruit) you still have a few other time-saving options.

brunch

 

Let’s look at eggs. Eggs can’t really be cooked ahead, but you know what is great about them? They cook super fast if all you need is to scramble them, plus you can dump whatever you want to go with them into one pan and call it a “skillet.” You could buy some pre-chopped vegetables too. Then it feels homemade, but you save yourself some prep.

What’s next? A meat dish. You know what that means to me, in the case of brunch? A sandwich. Super easy! Throw some ham or sausage in some bread, melt some cheese, and call it a day. Now, if you have a waffle iron, or multiple irons, a sweet dish is pretty easy. You make a waffle, you put some syrup and fruit on it. If you make a full waffle for each individual person, that’s going to take forever, but if you quarter them it should go fast. If you don’t have a waffle iron, you might need a little extra time for a sweet dish, but pancakes could work just as easy too.

 

Now, we’ve talked about a few ways to save time on a basic brunch, but I like mine a lot more cohesive.  Stay tuned for more specific plans!

Need help throwing brunch? Follow these time-saving basics. #brunch #timesavers #easybrunch
Housecleaning Tips to help you Prepare for Drop-by Guests

Housecleaning Tips in Case of Drop-in Hosting

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Look guys, I know what you’re thinking. Really? We should be taking housecleaning tips from someone who says she has no time for anything? I have news for you. Part of the reason why I have no time for anything is I’m always cleaning my house! Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But, seriously, I have two dogs and a baby. If I don’t keep up on my cleaning, after a week I’ll wake up to discover everything I own is covered in dog fur and my child is eating rotting leaves and sticks off the floor. This is not an exaggeration. The only alternative to constant cleaning that I can think of is getting rid of one of those little parasites, but I just can’t choose which one.

So, am I recommending you do the exact same as me? No, of course not. You may have made much wiser life decisions than myself and never invested in a furry friend. Perhaps your house stays pretty clean, or you could even have a cleaning lady (but don’t tell me about that; I’ll be too jealous). I’m only offering up my thoughts on a tidy house because of the one thing that every hostess dreads – the drop in visitor. You know who I’m talking about. For me, it’s my parents. They decide they want to see the baby and give me a call twenty seconds before they pull in the driveway. I can’t let my parents know I live in filth, now can I? So I try to keep my house in generally good condition.

Messy vs. Dirty

Before I get to my housecleaning tips, I would like to point out one thing. I have no tips to help you with a “messy” house. When I think “messy,” I think kids’ toys all over the place. I’m more concerned with “dirty.” Now that’s the house you want to avoid. Have you ever dropped in on someone unannounced? I’m guilty of doing this to my neighbors. Every time I do, no matter who it is and regardless of what their house looks like, they say, “Come on in, excuse the mess.” I say the same thing, whether I think my house is messy or not. Why do we do that? If you drop in on someone, do you expect their house to be spotless? Probably not.

Come to think of it, the only house my friends and I ever discuss is the one that actually is completely spotless. We wonder where all the toys are. Are they in garage? Do we need to donate some to their little girl because she doesn’t have any? Are they in some mysterious closet no one has ever seen? It’s fascinating! But seriously, I’m not going to notice the bouncy seat in the corner. I might notice if you have wine stains on your carpet, dog vomit in a corner, and a layer of dust so thick I can spell my name on your coffee table.

Housecleaning Tips – The Checklist

housecleaning to-do list

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but I live off a checklist. We’re in the 21st century now folks, so you don’t have to use pen and paper for this. I used to use Wunderlist, but Microsoft bought it and plans to discontinue it so I recently made the switch to Todoist. I also use Gqueues for some clients, but any of them could work for you. Here’s what’s great about using an app checklist:

  1. You can make events repeat. So, I have cleaning routines. I don’t have to wonder when the last time I cleaned the guest bathroom was. I check it off the day I do it, it disappears, and then reappears in two weeks. Time to get back to work!
  2. If you don’t check it on the day it’s due, it turns red and looks evil. Ugg, there’s nothing I hate more than an overdue checklist item. Some of you might need more motivation than that, I know. But for me crossing items off is the ultimate satisfaction.
  3. You can split up tasks into groups. For example, a few of mine are work, family, house, and writing. This helps you keep track of everything and see if you’re missing out. Plus you can easily see which task is the most important to get done.

It takes a little while to get your checklist worked out so that it’s the most efficient, but once it’s done, it’s so helpful. I know I’ve got to go clean my kitchen counters after this, then vacuum. Plus, that’s it for the day! My entire cleaning. I do one or two little things each day, and wah-lah, my house stays pretty tidy. That’s amazing considering the beasts that are always running around in here. If you’d like help making your own, I do have a few more suggestions you can find here.

Equipment

I like my checklist, but I’ll still use the easiest housecleaning equipment when I can be. Like, I vacuum everything. I mean EVERYTHING. For example, I use it on my laminate floors because sweeping takes way too long. I do have the option to switch it to barefloor over brushroll, which helps. I’m sure most vacuums have that option these days, but if yours doesn’t and you want it to, I recommend a Shark. I’ve had one for over five years and it’s still going fine despite all the things I ask it to do, like clean up cobwebs and constantly eat dog fur. Actually, it works so well, we bought another one in our last house so we could have one for upstairs and downstairs, because we are that lazy.

Unfortunately, I have not figured out a way to vacuum counters or toilets, so I do have to do some other cleaning. For that I like to buy multi-surface cleaners. The less cleaners I have to switch between, the better. I also keep a bunch of rags handy to get everything wiped down quickly, and then they get thrown on the dryer. I’ll admit, I am looking forward to the day when the human beast is able to help me out, but until then I’m fine with my checklist and minimal supplies. It’s great to know I’m not going to spend my entire weekend cleaning up, and if I decide to host a real party, the prep can be mostly cooking and decorating instead of cleaning. Hooray! Hopefully these housecleaning tips can help free up your weekend as well.

smash-cake

No Time for Execution

Today I’m going to be boring you with some random thoughts about hosting. It seems like for some reason, even though I’ve come up with 8 million ideas and started working on prep weeks in advance, I have no time for execution. I give up and say, eh, no one’s going to care where I put this decoration, and no one’s even going to know I scrapped guacamole off the menu. That cake I pretended to practice decorating looks crazy, but it’s going to get smashed anyway. These things are true, of course. But since I give up something every time, I’m obviously trying to do too much, right? I have to wonder why that is.

Does Getting Older Mean no Time for Execution?

There must be something that happens to people as they get older. We all of a sudden like fancy chalkboards and homemade paper flowers. My friends and I used to throw theme parties all the time in college. Toga parties, pirate parties, jungle parties, you name it, we did it. But even with those themes, and all the free time we had, there were rarely any decorations. I would also venture a guess that any type of food, even out of a bag, only made it to the white trash party we had that one time. I think half the reason we threw that party is because we wanted to make fish sticks. Don’t give me that look, people. Like you’ve never created an elaborate excuse to make fish sticks? Anyway, no one ever complained we didn’t try hard enough.

Nowadays, though, we live in a Pinterest world. We have to have parties or shoot blue or pink confetti into the air to tell everyone we know whether we’re having a boy or a girl when we’re pregnant. This is so weird, isn’t it? Does anyone, other than perhaps your mom, actually care what the sex of your baby is? No! No one cares. Yet for some reason they’ll still ask you how you’re announcing it. My own grandmother thought I was crazy when I sent cheap red and black invitations for my son’s first birthday party. She wanted to know what the theme was. Come on, Grandma. He’s one. He’s not going to remember it. Honestly, I don’t think he even enjoyed it. A Mickey Mouse theme would not have helped.

no time for execution
Who has time for a theme? Just throw stuff on the wall.

Forging Ahead Anyway

Even though I know all of these crazy details people feel like they have to do are silly and mostly created by the strange wasteland that is the internet, I try to do them anyway. I have visions of parties that are beautiful and lovely where all the food is delicious. Even my wedding fell short once I actually got there though, albeit just the decorations, and only because people kept messing with how I wanted it. But you see, there it is. I could  easily have adjusted my wedding tables the way I wanted, but I ran out of time.  If I wasn’t connected to the internet, I probably would have had tables with a vase of flowers and called it a day. And that was for my wedding – imagine how much lazier I would be for something smaller!

Maybe I should have been born in a different era, when even if there was no time to execute party plans it wouldn’t matter. On the other hand, I like all this stuff. I really do. It’s so fun. Do I plan too much? Yes. Do I always wind up giving up on something? Absolutely. Am I going to keep doing it exactly the same way? Probably. I hope you enjoy the ride!