Learning to Give My Worries Over to God

I remember a sermon at my old church, a few years ago. Our pastor was preaching on worry and our need to give our anxieties over to God.

He used the example of an email. "It's like if you get an email, and instead of opening it up and reading it, you immediately forward it on to God. You don't even look at it, you just forward it on."

It sounds great. I loved the imagery it gave to the situation.

But I wrestled with it for weeks, months probably, as I asked again and again: "How do I not open it?! How do I forward it on and forget about it?!"

I remember the desire burning within me to not let worries and anxieties run my life as they had for more than two decades. I remember talking on the phone to a friend, beseeching them about this mystery of how to just "give it over" to God.

It was something I could not wrap my head around.

Finally, I determined to memorize Philippians 4:6-7, which counseled me: "Don't worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

That was the key, for me, to understand this Christian catchphrase of "giving my worries over to God."

It isn't enough to just stuff them in an envelope and forget about them, because that's not the way worrying works. But praying about them—even if it just looks like telling God everything he already knows about what we're feeling and what we want—somehow ushers in his peace in quite a mysterious way while we wait on his answers.

In sharing these worries and anxieties with him in prayer, he gently reminds us that it's not all up to us, that he is guiding us, that he intervenes in even the most mundane of interactions, that he knows what he is doing and what he is allowing, that our character matters more to him than our convenience.

And we slip into that place of trust where we know that God is bigger than our circumstances and that it's all safely in his hands. We stop worrying because we know that we can trust God with whatever is happening and however it turns out.

It has been a learning process for me, this "giving it over to God," that has happened only gradually over the past few years. I'm not quite sure exactly how it happened or when. But God was gracious in leading me through this great mystery of learning how to let him have these things.

Of course, I still find myself running frantic with worries, even over the most trivial of things. Again and again, I have to admonish myself to give words to these worries, to whisper them to the heavens and let them soar up there to stay.

So I curl up and tell God what's worrying me. I ask him, sometimes over and over again, to take care of this for me. To settle my heart. To take this worry from my hands. I don't know how to do it on my own. I don't know if I even can do it on my own. But I know that he can—and he will—take and bear that burden for me.

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Perfectionism and Picking out a Washing Machine

There are some decisions I can make quite easily, things like which watermelon to buy or whether to wear my blue suede flats or my mint green peep-toes.

But there are other decisions that cause my stomach to twist into knots and attempt to dive down to my toes. You'd think that I was about to give a speech to a thousand people or at least go in for a job interview, something that really is momentous.

In actuality, I was going shopping for a washing machine.

There's something about making a purchase that costs more than a day's work that paralyzes me. Especially when I don't know anything about it and have no clue what the "best" product is to select.

So for two days I researched and worried, comparing reviews online, visiting stores and taking notes on all their models, unable to decide between this model or that model for fear of choosing the wrong one. Essentially, obsessing over this purchase.

Finally and uneasily, I made the decision, though the knot in my stomach didn't give way until a few hours later when I finally had some time to process everything. And I realized that there's no perfect washing machine. Some may break in a year, others may break in ten years. But all of them are going to break.

Even more than that, I can't make a perfect decision. Even with the wisest counsel, tons of back issues of Consumer Reports, and all the Amazon reviews in the world.

Our new washing machine got installed this morning. Even with one load already in the dryer and all signs looking good, I'm still a little apprehensive that it's going to break down any moment now or shred our clothes like a block of cheese.

But in spite of all that, I'm reminding myself that I'm not perfect. The machine isn't perfect. But God is.

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Breaking the Allure of "Stuff"

I've been thinking a lot about stuff lately. "Stuff," as in things and objects and items and the role they play in my life. And how much they mean to me.

I realized this awhile ago when my day-old laptop got stuck on the Windows update screen for hours. This had happened to my previous computer and there was nothing we could do but wipe it and start over.

While my new computer was fresh and starting over from scratch wouldn't be a problem (everything was already backed up on our external hard drive), I hated the idea of shipping it off. The idea of taking my new computer, which was supposed to make things easier, and box it up and get it worked on already. It's one thing when it's already made it through a couple of years, because you expect that. But less than 24 hours?!

I'm embarrassed to admit I cried at the thought.

And it was that moment when I realized the emotional attachment I had to this thing, the unhealthy control it had over me. It's one thing to despair over a life or hard circumstances, but things—no matter their price tag—certainly do not deserve to fall into that category. And I had unwittingly allowed it to creep into that dangerous territory.

It was definitely a heart-check for me to be able to see this situation and my reaction in this light. Humbling but also enlightening. And from it, I found a renewed calm and decided to not let this circumstance or this thing rule over me and my emotions and my reactions.

I got on my husband's computer, did some research and found one suggestion for fixing the problem. I prayed and decided to try it myself. What do you know, but it worked? And all that emotion had been spilled out for nothing—except that it taught me a terribly important lesson that I've tried to hold dear in the weeks since.

Then, the other morning, I woke up early with big plans to go on a baking spree, cranking out bagels and bread and pizza dough. And after I threw the ingredients in, I could tell something was wrong. It wasn't making the churning sound I was accustomed to. I opened it up to see a chunky mound of flour and the machine making a clicking sound, but not the large doughy ball I'm used to seeing. I resigned myself to the fact that it had broken.

But this time, rather than despairing, I pulled the dough out and kneaded it by hand. I took control of the thing rather than letting it control me.

And then, with my dough swelling and rising, I decided to test the machine out one last time before I started looking into other options. As it turns out, some dough had got stuck to the paddle and had kept it from chugging and churning. It wasn't broken after all. No emotions spilled out, and some arm muscles got an unexpected workout.

So I went ahead, threw my next batch of bread-baking in and thanked God for this latest lesson of His.

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Let's Try Something New, Shall We?

It's been awhile since I've posted about my job. That's mostly because I haven't had a consistent paycheck since December, when my last gig ended. Fortunately, my husband was able to find a salaried job just weeks before mine ended, so I've been able to relish this time-off without having to put applications in at Walgreens or Kroger.

During this break—the first I've had since the summer I graduated college, seven years ago—I've been able to spend it packing up our home and then unpacking it again, baking up weekly loaves of homemade bread, reading, and, mostly, relaxing

But now, I am finally feeling recharged to get back to work, to dip my toes back into the pool of paychecks and productivity. The catch? Given my husband's changing work schedule, we've decided that a traditional job probably will not work for us. So instead, I'm going to give a go to freelance writing and editing.

For over three years, I worked as in-house editor and writer at a fun design magazine. Then, for about two years, I transitioned into a role as a publicist, writing press releases for new books and pitching story ideas to magazines.

So you would think I would have already made the leap to freelancing, given all that. But there's another aspect that is something of uncharted waters for me. Aside from a couple of job interviews, I've never had to "pitch" myself and definitely not on a monthly or weekly basis. I've never had to look for clients. I've never had to figure out what I ought to charge for individual pieces of work. So I've been hesitant to try out the whole freelancing thing, despite my writing portfolio and experience.

People always say that if you want a job, you have to first go out and apply for it; God doesn't just have someone knock on your door and say, "Here's a job!"

But you know what? That's exactly how this all came about for me: One day, I opened an email that said, "Here's a writing job we'd like you to do!" And that's when the light bulb went off and I realized that this was where I was being led, at least for this season, to put my talents to work.

I started a to-do list of how to start this journey, things to do and folks to contact. I don't expect to make a full-time gig of it, but I would like to be able to cultivate enough work to supplement my husband's income and keep my working at my trade while still tending to things around our little homestead.

I'm eager to see where this leads; it just feels right.

(And if you know of anyone who is looking to hire someone to do some freelance writing or editing for them, please get in touch!)

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How to Pare Down Your Closet and Be Happy With It

Like I said, I now only have about half as many clothes, shoes, purses, and accessories in my closet as I did before our move. And I couldn't be happier about this clean sweep of mine.

It can be so freeing to get rid of the extras and only see your favorite pieces staring back. Especially when all that the others were doing was taking up space and making you feel guilty for not wearing them anymore.

Does it make you want to take the pruning shears to your own wardrobe? Or even just to a section of it?

If so, here are some tips for how to pare down your closet and be happy with it:

Determine your personal style
The first thing to consider when you start flitting through your closet is what do you want it to become? What kind of fashion statement do you want your clothing to speak when you put them together? Keeping this in mind when you're examining pieces will really help set the bar for what you keep and what you cast out.

For me, I decided that I wanted my closet to be one of laidback sophistication. Pieces that are casual but in a grown-up sort of way.

What kind of personal style do you want to cultivate with your clothing?

Be honest about what you actually wear
It doesn't matter how cute it is if you aren't comfortable enough to wear it. Those items should go, as well. For me, that was my small collection of high heels. I had some that were beautiful: sweet mary-janes, knee-high boots, office-worthy pumps. But the the truth is that I never felt comfortable wearing them and only wore them on rare occassions, in which awkward self-consciousness ensued.

I have to embrace that I'm a flats kinda girl. And that's okay. My shoe collection (which you can see here) is now pared down to my favorite flats, which all get major use.

What's taking up space in your closet that you wish you wore but never feel quite right in?

Divide and conquer: Sort into piles
I created three piles: Yes, No, Maybe.

Everything that I loved and actually wore went into the "Yes" pile. Those were things I wouldn't think twice about getting rid of. They were things that fit my personal sense of style and were things I actually wore. Those are the easy decisions to make.

Then you have the "No" pile, which, for me, are the next easiest decisions to make. These are things you've held onto but know you haven't worn in a long time—too long. Or the things that have a stain on them or just aren't flattering.

The last pile is the "Maybe" pile. This is where things get murky, because you can start justifying to yourself why they could work. "Well, if it was a little shorter. Well, maybe I'll have an opportunity to wear it. Well, I might find a skirt that goes with it perfectly."

Justifications like these can easily grow the "Maybe" pile into a hulk. But the reality is that most of the items in this pile should eventually make their way to the "No" pile. It's more of a stepping stone to ease you into that part of the break-up, because kissing your wardrobe goodbye isn't always easy.

What clothes are you holding onto  "just in case"?

Say your goodbyes
Now you've done your organizing, and you should now have a "Yes" and a "No" pile. (Remember the "Maybe" one should now have faced the truth and made its way into "No.")

If it makes you feel better, you can hold onto the "No" pile for a couple of weeks, sealed up and out of sight, to make sure that you really can live without those items. I did this and found that I was completely satisfied with all my "Yes" decisions, and that helped me be okay with getting rid of all the rest.

You can try to sell some of your clothes to consignment stores or on eBay to ease a little of the guilt of getting rid of so much. But once you've done that, give the rest to a good cause. That'll help you feel better about it, too!

Rejoice in renewed simplicity
Go figure out what to wear. Because it should be easier now, not harder. That's part of the joy of simplicity. It can be difficult to get there, but once you are, it sure feels like home!

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Living with Less: Why I Got Rid of Half My Clothes

It's been about two months since I considerably downsized my closet, taking huge armfuls of sweaters, tops, purses and shoes, and shoving them into garbage bags destined for secondhand shops. And even though I still ask, What to wear? each morning, I've found that the answers to that question are much more satisfying now.

I realized I haven't really said much regarding this wardrobe overhaul of mine, so I figured it was time for some details and updates.

What prompted this wardrobe overhaul? Well, we were in the midst of our apartment move—packing up all our belongings and moving within a 2-day time frame from when we found our new place—when I was overwhelmed by all of the stuff we had. Much of it was kitchenware and food, furniture and books, things that took up space but served useful purposes.

But then I came to my closet and I just couldn't bear the thought of moving all of those clothes on top of everything else. It just seemed excessive to me. Add to that the fact that the closet in our new apartment was significantly smaller than what I'd enjoyed in the old apartment? (See a little sneak peek at the new closet.) It's then that push came to shove.

In a moment of fortunate haste, I decided to divvy up the clothes, separating the ones that I love from the ones that go unworn month after month or that I only wear because I feel like I need to get some use out of them. 

I've cleaned out my closet dozens of times before, but this was the first time I'd ever been so ambitious and decisive while weeding out my wardrobe. "Like" no longer cut it. Now, they had to overcome the threshold of "Love." As I stuffed garbage bags full, I noticed that the "Love" pile was significantly smaller than the "Goodbye" pile.  This should be interesting, I thought.

I still held on to the "goodbye" pile for another month after we moved (mostly because I was so busy unpacking that I didn't feel like going out of my way to donate them, but also because, you know, just in case). And I found that I didn't have any use for the castoff clothes after all. Even though they were sitting right there the whole time, I found that I didn't miss them and never went rummaging back through them to rescue anything.

I was content wearing only my favorites and having less hangers to flit through to find them. It was something of a relief.

That's when I got rid of the clothes for good.

And you know what? I can honestly say that I haven't regretted the decision to downsize one bit.

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A Few of My Favorite Things: Cooking & Baking Edition

Now that you've had a sneak peek at the rooms in my humble little abode in the recent Apartment Tour series I posted, I thought it would be fun to look a little closer at some of the individual things within my house that make it function a bit more like a home.

This will kick off a new series, A Few of My Favorite Things, that I'll be periodically posting over the next couple of months.

Up first is looking at five different products that I've found to be essential when it comes to cooking and baking: Those items that have proven to be totally utilitarian, often-used (almost on a daily basis), or simply just keep meals from being ruined before dinner even starts.

Here's a little more about each product and why I recommend it:

1. Cast Iron Skillet
: It took me awhile to give cast iron a try, but now that I have, I will never go back! This is pretty much the only skillet I use, so much so that it stays on the stove-top all the time. (Although part of that is also likely due to the fact that it's pretty big and doesn't really fit anywhere else!) I also love it because it's so simple to clean up; no soap needed! Here's an article that goes a bit more into why you should consider going cast-iron in the kitchen.

2. Digital Timer: Sometimes I try to multitask a bit too much, resulting in dishes that end up extra-crispy (or worse). So a timer quickly became essential. (This one also allows you to take the temperature of your food, but we don't use that option very often.) I like that this one has strong magnets on the back (our previous timer met an early death by falling off the fridge) and a loud beep that you can't ignore.

3. The Food Substitutions Bible: This book has been a standby in my kitchen, because invariably I have a recipe I want to try, only to discover I have run out of eggs or don't have allspice in my spice collection. Detailed with specific substitutions, this book has the well-researched answers with thorough recommendations of how and when to make certain substitutions. You'll be surprised at some of the easy swaps you can make!

4. Bread Machine: This is the gadget that I, surprisingly, use the most in the kitchen. I love being able to whip up bread in just a couple of hours, without having to run to the grocery store. I'm still doing a lot of experimenting, but I have nailed down some homemade standbys, including pizza dough, hamburger buns and bagels. The version I've linked to here isn't the exact same one I use, although it's the same brand. Mine is one my mom has had for years (likely a decade) and has kindly let me experiment with for the past year! Given that it's lasted for so long, I feel like I can really recommend this brand! Plus, it's pretty affordable, too.

5. Pampered Chef Pizza Stone: I received this as a wedding present, and while at the time I didn't do much baking to speak of at all, I now find that I use this baking stone at least once a week, for everything from pizzas to cookies. So much so that it's now covered in gnarly black and brown stains that it proudly wears like battle wounds, because as they say, "The worse it looks, the better it cooks." (Here's a more in-depth article about choosing stoneware.)

P.S. Unless otherwise stated, all items pictured and linked are the exact version I've come to love!

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A Trip to the Library and What I'm Reading Now

My husband and I went to the library yesterday, which—as bibliophiles who brought more books into our marriage than furniture—we both especially enjoy. Because who doesn’t like being able to pick up any book you want and take it home, without having to count your pennies?

Which is why I came home with an assortment of books (and had to restrain myself from bringing home anymore):

The Natural Formula Book for Home & Yard
We like to make things ourselves (remember the shampoo?!). And while the internet is filled with all sorts of recipes and variations to do so, I like the idea of having everything gathered into one, definitive guide. It seems pretty complete, but I’m not sure how accessible the recommendations will be (such as if they require going to a chemistry shop for ingredients or whether they make use of standard kitchen staples). We'll see...

How to Fix (Just About) Everything
With visions of future home-ownership still occasionally fluttering about, I have been on the lookout for a good, thorough resource filled with instructions about how fix common household problems. I even sat in a bookstore for a good hour flipping through their fix-it section and came up empty. I’m not sure whether this is the answer, which is why I brought it home with me: So that I could flip through it at leisure and see whether it will really live up to its name.

Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two
It’s summertime here in Atlanta, and that means that around dinnertime, the temperature gets pretty hot, no matter how much shade you have. Add a blazing oven to that and no central air, and it becomes a recipe for disaster. So, to minimize how much I have to use the oven (and how often we eat salads and pasta), I decided to look into using my crock pot more. I like that this one is geared toward making smaller portioned meals, but we’ll see if any of the recipes are keepers.

Moosewood Cookbook
I’ve heard about this cookbook and even had a copy on my Amazon wishlist for a time. But I didn’t really know what made it so special that people swoon over it, so I snatched it up to see for myself. Having only glanced at it briefly, I was thrilled to see that all the recipes are hand-illustrated. Such a visual treat! For that reason alone I wouldn't have put it back on the shelf. Now, whether or not the recipes will fit snugly into my kitchen is yet to be seen...

The last book that you can see in the pile is one I’m reading, but isn’t from the library: Growing Up Amish. It’s a memoir from author Ira Wagler who grew up Amish. In it, he describes his experiences and frustrations growing up within the conservative community and what eventually led him to leave the fold for good. I’m about halfway through and riveted by his experiences, many of which are not the typical fodder you’ll find in tales of the Amish. He showcases them in all their humanity—both good and bad—which quickly erases any presumption that their lives are perfect, in spite of their pious efforts.

What are you reading that you’re enjoying? Have you read any of these books?

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The Windows are Open and I'm Waxing Nostalgic

Summer is here in the South. Our windows are open and the sweet sounds of birds chirping (and garbage trucks barreling by) prance inside. As I sit here at my computer, there's a gentle breeze at my back, while I relish this annual milestone of letting the outdoors in.

Fortunately, our new little home is surrounded by large trees that work to keep our little apartment cooler than you'd expect. When we moved in, the branches were bare and I didn't really believe my landlord when she told us that the entire yard would soon be coated in shade.

Yet, just three months later, here we are. When I first planted my container garden, the leaves were still unfurling and the backyard was filled with light. Now the leaves have grown in so much that it has become a dance of scooting and twirling the containers so that they can bask in the sunny spots that are ever-changing.

I asked my husband the other day, "Does it feel like we've been living here a long time, yet?" Because sometimes, it feels like we've been living here for what seems like forever and at other times—like when I fight to find the light switches, groping for the places they were in our old apartment—it seems like it hasn't been that long at all.

When I think back on all the places I've lived, from Cincinnati to Athens to Birmingham to Grand Rapids to Atlanta, there are aspects that still feel like they happened yesterday: Walking along the cobblestone streets of Athens to meet my best friends for a picnic on the green. Fighting giant cockroaches and grasshoppers with my roommate in Birmingham. Driving to the beach on Lake Michigan. Packing up a huge moving truck and making the two-day journey southbound, with my husband of one month and a future unknown.

And yet then I think about how much has changed, and this thing called life astounds me at how it seems to move so quickly and yet so still at the same time. Somehow, it is both at the very same time. Isn't life such a mystery?

Like the leaves that take shape and the breeze that whispers through my window, today slips by so slowly it is almost unnoticed, with its promises of all that may be. And yet, it changes everything.

Here is to today...

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What I've Been Cooking Up in the Kitchen Lately

You might have noticed that I haven't posted a recipe on here since, uh, November. More than six months ago!

I guess that's mostly because I haven't been experimenting too much with entire dishes themselves (or I just haven't had too much luck with the new ones I have tried). Instead, I've been experimenting more with learning how to make a lot more of individual, everyday items in my own kitchen. Things that typically come in cans or bottles have been on my recipe to-do list over the past few months—not quite the sexiest of food blog posts.

More and more, I've found myself asking, "How can I make that myself?" Whether it's hummus, bagels, granola bars or chicken stock, I've become much more confident when it comes to making these convenience foods myself, and started walking through my cupboards and fridge shelves wondering what I can recreate next.

Here are some of my latest exploits in this attempt to DIY my menu:

Exhibit A: My homemade hot dog buns. I have a recipe that I use in conjunction with my breadmaker that makes wonderful hamburger buns, but I was afraid to use it to make hotdog buns because I wasn't sure how they'd turn out size-wise. Surprisingly? They are much easier to make than hamburger buns when it comes to getting them the correct size. Plus, they just look better than hot dog buns you can buy!

Exhibit B: My foray into salad dressings began with a raspberry viniagarette, which my husband loves, shown above. Personally, I'm more of an Italian dressings person. So far, I've mixed up one Italian dressing recipe a couple of times, but have another one I'm eager to use to see if it suits my liking more.

Exhibit C: Using my crock pot to cook up homemade refried beans. One of my favorite things about eating at a Mexican restaurant is the ubiquitous side of rice-and-beans that comes with your meal. But I hate buying things that come in a can if I can help it, so this recipe was a hit on the very first try! Those are my kind of recipes...

Currently, my list of Things To Make Myself includes: ranch dressing; bbq sauce; baked beans (in a crockpot, using dried beans); salsa; spaghetti sauce.

This process of testing and trying new recipes has developed slowly over the past few months: Slowly, as I think of one product I'd like to remake. Slowly, as I buy up the ingredients to make it once my store-bought version runs out. Slowly, as I cross my fingers and give it a go. Slowly, as I take my first bite.

And through that process, I've learned that there's a lot of things I can make myself that taste just as good as the store-bought version, but are (more often than not) healthier for you and cheaper to boot.

Plus, let's face it: You can't put a price tag on the satisfaction of being able to say, "I made it myself!"

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Apartment Tour: The Bathroom

It's been a few weeks now that my husband and I have been living in our new apartment, and I wanted to share what we've done to turn it into a home, room by room. It isn't perfect, and I don't want to portray it as so. But it is real, and that's what I want to showcase—the beauties, blemishes and all. (I explained a little bit about that here.)

This week, I'm going to show you around our bathroom. Feel free to browse all the previous posts featuring the apartment tour here.

We've now made our way to the last stop in the Apartment Tour series, the oh-so-exciting bathroom. It's a tiny room, which made getting the photos a little tricky, but here we go...

LEFT: If you come into our bathroom, this is probably what you're looking for—the toilet. On top of the toilet is a wicker basket from Target (here's a link to it on Amazon), where I keep toiletries like toothpaste, mouthwash, and contact solution handy.

The art in here is an attempt to weave together the blues-and-green color scheme of our linens. (I brought green towels into the marriage, my husband brought blue ones.) On the left wall is a collection of framed photographs in mismatched frames and a duo of cast-iron silhouettes. To the right is a framed envelope that is illustrated with Ecclesiastes 3:11, which used to hang in our former kitchen. (Click here for a closer-up look at that piece of art.)

RIGHT: To the right of the toilet is our sink, which you can see here. It's noticeably smaller than most other sinks, which causes water to always be splashing out! To the right of it is a small shelving unit that functions as part beauty counter, part toilet-paper hider. We also have a medicine cabinet, which I love. You can surprisingly fit a lot of stuff on those skinny shelves!

Finally, see that window there? I don't really know what purpose it serves, because it looks out into the back hallway of our neighbors' part of the house. They walk down that hallway any time they enter or leave. No light would come in anyway, but needless to say, that curtain stays closed! (The curtain, itself, is one I sewed up when Holly and I had the pleasure of living together back in our single days!)

LEFT: Just beside the "window" is our towel rack and dark-wood wall clock. The shower is beside that. (For perspective, the shower is on the opposite wall from the sink and toilet.) The colors of this photo are a little off, so the shower curtain and towels are more of a dusty-blue than the greyish hue that's shown here.

RIGHT: Right outside the bathroom door is a built-in linen closet, which you see here. On the top shelf, I store our smallest space heater and Vornado fan. The next shelf holds our quilts and blankets, which are stored in some oversized Ziploc bags. Below that are our stacks of bath towels, hand towels, hair towels, and washcloths. The big blue box holds extra toiletries that don't fit anywhere else. The bottom shelf holds my collection of white boxes that organize our smaller toiletries by category (such as "Cosmetics," "Medicine," "Eye-Care," etc.) that I implemented in our previous apartment.

P.S. Anyone have any nice point-and-shoot cameras they'd recommend for low-light photographing? I'm getting a little tired of how crummy mine keeps coming out, despite playing with all the settings. Thanks!

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