Contentment Over Comparison

Guys, I have a confession. I am a total and complete phony. While I have a surprisingly convincing ability to fake enough confidence to get myself into all sorts of situations, I rarely posses enough real confidence for any of them. And - bonus - I also don't have the credentials or skill set that I have somehow created the illusion of possessing! On more than one occasion, people have confessed to feeling intimidated around me, which I find absolutely hysterical. In these laughable conversations, people have said that when they first met me they assumed I was very confident. I then explain the elaborate magic trick I like to call "overcompensating for insecurity!" and then we all throw our heads back in laughter and become fast friends. It's true, I have a big (read obnoxious) personality. But, that is often mistaken for being self-assured. In reality, I am just an extrovert who desperately wants to be liked. So basically, I'm a puppy.

 I spent most of my adult life in an almost constant state of self-doubt. Or more realistically, vacillating between self-loathing and absurd pride. Pan over to this embarrassing sample of my inner-dialogue:

Moment #1: I can't do anything right because I am the worst. End of story, nothin's gonna change my mind.

Moment #2: Sure! I can do that! There's nothing I can't do because I am basically amerrrzerrrng. (With "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now" playing in the background while an industrial fan inexplicably blows my hair around like Beyonce.)

Moment #3: Why? Why? Why would I agree to that? I am not capable, I know nothing and I am a total phony. Everything I do is horrible because I am a garbage person.

Moment #4: Did that guy just say I couldn't do something? Excuse me very much... we'll see about that mister. God has been equipping me for this my entire life! I am capable! Somebody, BRING ME MY HAIR FAN! 

Moment #5: He's right. I basically belong in prison. Because of definitely being a full-time, Grade-A, maximum strength, free-range garbage person.

Guys. It's sick. It's a really gross cycle of pride and comparison and insecurity and overcompensating. It made me super critical of myself, and then I felt small. And when people feel small they are intimidated and resentful of people who seem free and confident. And when people are intimidated, insecure and self-critical, they tend to be hyper-critical of other people. This would make me feel bad about myself, and then I would lather, rinse and repeat this destructive cycle all over again. 

The problem is that every time I tried to break out of this cycle, there seemed to be someone waiting in the wings with just enough criticism to make me feel like my growing sense of healthy, appropriate, God-given, God-driven confidence was premature, or worse, that it wasn't secure confidence at all, but was an unhealthy arrogance. It was as though any progress was immediately set back by one critical remark. 

I am not going to pretend that I am entirely through with this whole insecurity and comparison trap thing. That would be a lie. But here's what I do know: The more intimately acquainted I become with the character of God, and my worth in his estimation, the less I care what people think. I have found that God is much easier to please than people are. The closer I draw to Jesus' wholesale acceptance of me, the less concerned I am about the approval of man. I still have plenty of vulnerable moments where I am blindsided by rejection or criticism, but more and more I am letting God's love encourage in me a healthy self-acceptance. And not one that comes from some delusion that I am great, but from a much deeper security in who God made me to be. I am no longer (as) afraid to say that yes, I have gifts.

It took me 36 years to feel like I have gifts. 

Maybe it sounds prideful to say that I have gifts. But, I don't think it is. For me, it is profoundly healing. For the first time in my life, I feel as if I am working toward something resembling a confidence that comes from my identity and value being so securely rooted in the God who sees me (flaws, fears, strengths and all) and has still decided to allow me the privilege of doing ministry in spite of those things. Or maybe even because of those things. Scripture is filled with so many dirtbags that God chose to love, equip and use for his glory. I am not the first garbage person with gifts that God has chosen to use. And I won't be the last. But I AM all done denying my value. It's just plain offensive to the one in whom I find my worth.

As many of you know, just last month I had the privilege of speaking - alongside two other wise women from my church - about this topic of comparison, envy, jealousy and contentment. Despite the fact that I had been studying these topics for over two years, I was honestly terrified. The weeks leading up to it, I battled to mute every voice from my past that told me I had no business being a speaker. I had to filter out those that said I don't know enough, or I'm not churchy enough, or that I'm too silly or that I just want to make it about me. Those that said I was too outspoken or stubborn or rough around the edges. I had to lean in to God's word more than ever, and I had to trust that he chose me to be a part of this mission to help others be free from the bondage of comparison. Are there more gifted women at our church? Certainly. Are there professionals with more experience and bigger name? Of course. But that's not what God did. He allowed Nancy, Julie and I up there instead. Who am I to question him? Who am I to doubt what he is capable of doing - even through the likes of me? Who am I to figuratively spit in the face of my creator by saying he made me without any gifts? 

Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you feel like a total phony when your colleagues seem to know what they are doing, while you feel totally lost. Maybe you tend to be the critical one. Maybe you have a history of being so harsh with yourself that being harsh with others is an unintended, yet ugly, side effect. Even if you are a much better behaved person than I, you still have a little garbage person in there somewhere and I believe all of us can relate to the struggle of uprooting jealousy, envy, pride and insecurity in order to be more content and secure. A number of you have asked if the event was livestreamed and recorded. It was, and all three parts have since been put up on the Equip page of our church website! I generally would shy away from putting up a video from a speaking event because I hate to watch myself speak. But, I really think the content that these women and I worked so hard to present is valuable. I think we are valuable. And I think you are valuable. So this is worth sharing. If you have ever had enough pride that you fantasized about having a hair fan, you should check it out. If you live in terror that your incompetence will be discovered at any moment... you should check it out. And if it is as hard for you to recognize that you have gifts and worth as it has been for me, you should check it out. We discussed this topic in three parts, within the context of faith and the Bible, but there was still plenty of practical wisdom for just about anyone... even my fellow garbage people. 

Enjoy. 

Love, Marriage & A Side of Grief

Apart from the occasional humorous anecdote or good-natured jab at his expense, I don’t often write about my husband. Sure, I write a lot about life and family in general, but I don’t think I have ever written about marriage or romance. Since I debuted as guest-blogger here for the first time ON Valentine’s Day, it felt like maybe I should write about my husband, Tom, once and for all. As I sat down, I discovered that I just couldn’t do it.

First, allow me to explain why I don’t usually write about him. You see, I grew up with a bad-to-the-bone single mom who raised the junk out of us four kids. She taught us all the important things: like how to be kind and compassionate, how to curl and feather our bangs to perfection and how to make homemade donuts. Basically, life essentials. And she did all of this alone. She did this in the wake of a divorce and then the death of my 17-year-old brother just shortly after. She is incredibly strong, and she did a pretty great job with us. But still, it was not easy.

So, every time I feel compelled to tell the world about what an incredible man my husband is, I think of the women who are raising the junk out of some awesome little kids, and are maybe doing it alone. I think about the people who have marriages in crisis or marriages that are just okay. I think of those that are still grieving the death of their spouse, or all the peeps who are single-n-lookin-to-mingle. OR the zillions of people who are happily-single-and-just-sorta-sick-of-hearing-about-other-peoples-marriages. And I panic. It starts to feel all weird and braggy, and I get in my head about it all. I tend to be hyper-sensitive to other people’s feelings and situations. It’s the blessing and the curse of being an empath, and sometimes it prevents me from publicly celebrating certain victories or gifts in my life. Including my husband. I just don’t want my joy to bump up against someone else’s grief.

In the past year and half, however, I have spent a lot of time studying pride, jealousy and envy in the Bible. These are three things that I have struggled with immensely for the past couple of 36 years. (Alright look, basically from conception on I have been a pretty gross person ok?) I have sooooooo far to go in this journey of uprooting pride, sinful jealousy and envy from my heart, but the one area that I have felt pretty strong is coming along side of those who are grieving or struggling. This is very natural for me. What is less natural and requires more of an effort, is the celebration piece. Celebrating others, and feeling the freedom to celebrate in my own life.

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, that is what I am committing to do. I am going to celebrate all things love and marriage. And while I am still quite afraid of bumping into a wound or two, I am giving myself permission to publicly celebrate a man who is long overdue for me to gush over him a bit. Guys, if you take the beloved Jack from the hit TV show This is Us (hold the drinking problem and 70’s mustache - replace it with mild-to-moderate anxiety and lumberjack stubble) you have my husband Tom. He is dependable, thoughtful, conscientious, protective, hilarious, steadfast and strong. Unlike Jack, he would never die in a fire to save our dog, but that’s seriously his one and only flaw.

In the past 15 years together, we have faced some really dark times. We have had some big wins and some pretty major losses. We have had moments where we felt like total failures as parents, we have been passive-aggressive and cranky (me), hangry (him) at times, but also really devoted and self-sacrificing. He lives more like Jesus than any man I’ve ever known. All the good in our marriage has been him. So I celebrate him today. And I celebrate marriage and love and things that are going right. And for those with wounds - whether fresh or long held - there is plenty of room for this empath to give a reverent nod toward grief today too.

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Deck the Halls with All my Baggage Fa Lalalala

There’s nothing quite like the holidays to bring out all your bitterness and deep-rooted sin problems. I know, I know… nobody but Scrooge McDuck wants to read something that shatters the illusion of the jolly holidays which is why I waited until after Christmas to punch pinterest in the face. I have taken a long sabbatical from blogging and household chores and really all my responsibilities and it just felt wrong not posting one last time before the new year. Perhaps posting this little truth bomb here will help me leave my cranky pants in 2017. Alright, here’s how it’s all going to go down. I am going to be really honest. If my honesty in previous posts tends to make you gasp and cover your mouth with a gloved churchlady hand, then it’s okay to not read this blog ever again particular post. It won’t hurt my feelings yes it will but I’m aware that I’m sort of like dark chocolate. A tad bitter for some people. Although, I don’t really even love dark chocolate myself, because it’s a little too pretentious and classy and definitely should be sweeter. Maybe I’m more like Pop Rocks, delightfully youthful and somewhat unexpected, but definitely not for everyone. If you love my zany Pop Rocks ways and you find my honesty refreshing, relatable and supes adorbs, then I cordially invite you to kick back with a packet of really odd candy and enjoy the fireworks.

Ok, I have mixed so many metaphors at this point that I am not even sure what’s happening.

Ahh yes, all my baggage.

I have to say going into this that I have come a verrrrrry long way since this post in 2012 where I explained Why I am Done Pretending to Like Christmas. In fact, the past two years have been full of deep, genuine, joyful anticipation of Christmas. Still, there was this nagging sense that somewhere around the edges of the holiday season, there is a dark, looming fog that threatens to consume the progress I have made.

I notice the cloud creeping in from the edges every time I see the picture perfect images that people post about their own holidays. You know what I am talking about… Those Facebook posts that are basically a list of ways people are being awesome. Like, literally people are posting accomplishment checklist. Still not sure what I am talking about? Allow me:

Chores all done: check! Kids all reading (above grade-level) in their tidy and quiet bedrooms: check! Free-range, organic dinner in the crockpot (smells amazing btw): check! Errands run, house cleaned, diy decorations up, rose gold mason jars polished, marriage on fleek, personal sin problems resolved: check, check and check! All by 10:00 am! #blessed #adulting

How ‘bout hashtag gag me.

I know, I know… I sound jealous and petty and bitter. Yes, that’s fair. Guilty as charged, I am a dash of each of those things when I read those perfect Pinterest posts. But, I also feel sorry for the person posting it. And I feel sorry for me. And for America. Because doesn’t our country have enough problems without people gushing over these braggy checklists?

I just don’t buy it. Unless people out there are living in an entirely different universe than me, I really cannot conceive of this kind of day. Now, it is entirely possible that there are only four of you out there that can relate to me on this – and I am just a hot mess while the rest of you are fanning yourselves with tiny DIY pallet wood fans. But I have to believe that I am not the only one who had to wash tomato soup off their puppy this holiday season. I can’t be the only one who didn’t have time to arrange my vintage, heirloom ornaments on my Etsy tree skirt to post a magical instapic while I was taking my tree down. Because I am a sinner, and I put my Christmas ornaments away like everyone else – in a panic, right before a party, wrapping everything in tissue paper from the 1700’s. My process is not photoworthy. Not even the low-fi filter can make my Rubbermaid bins look idyllic.

I just started liking Christmas guys. And now that I finally like Christmas, I scroll through social media and find out that I am bad at Christmas. And at life.

But, deep down, I know that it’s all an illusion. This world has told us that we have to hide away our reality in order to present a more palatable version of our lives. We value “being authentic” as long as everyone accepts that “authenticity” on Instagram means “I wear quirky hats.”  

So, I thought that I would kick the Pinterest illusion in the nuts this year by capturing my true Christmas. I also took an exorbitant amount of time to also try to capture the really idyllic images as well, just to remind us all that spending 45 minutes to crop/filter dust and clutter out of a pretty picture doesn’t change reality. Before I share my pictures, I just want to say that I celebrate Christmas because I believe that the Creator God conjured up a wild redemption plan that included a cast of unlikely characters (eh hem, an unmarried teenage girl) to bring forth a savior who chose to leave paradise to come to earth through a lowly birth in a stable. He did all this to set the world free - free from our sin problems, free from comparison, free from fear of man, free from the world's expectations for us to keep up. But, he also came to set us free to enjoy things as he intended them to be enjoyed. So, there is nothing but freedom to wear that fedora while you handcraft a micro-wreath made from salvaged driftwood. Just make sure you are doing it because you really love driftwood, not because Instagram makes you feel like the wreath you have isn't good enough. 

My front door:

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What's lurking just behind my front door:

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Let's take a closer look...

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Yes, that is one cheetah print fake nail. 

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My elegant and regal puppy:

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Drinking the tree water...

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covered in tomato soup...

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and licking the broken candlestick (the shards of which I was vacuuming during the tomato soup incident of 2017)

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1,000 hours spent cleaning and decorating to achieve these next pictures, plus a bonus of banishing the children outside and spazzing out every time they walk in the door.

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And what it looked like for five days before those above pics:

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Puppy in ugly Christmas sweater:

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Which she wore for 30 seconds and then reverse-birthed herself out of.

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Hand-dipped and decorated chocolate covered Oreos and gift cards for teacher gifts:

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Not Pictured: A long string of texts between one particular teacher and myself in which I had to apologize for violently threatening a bystander, and for my child going through her purse. #Mombarrassment 

Fancy Christmas hairstyles:

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Actual Christmas hairstyles (plus zero ability to keep eyes open in a photograph)

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Note below - London's blue teeth (I believe from a candy cane eaten the previous day), Harper's egg-shaped hair about 3 months past due for a shape-up, Jay all weapon-ready with his war-face on, and Tom's mustache so thick that when I kiss him it feels like I am getting smacked in the face with a Christmas tree branch.

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Attempting to take a nice picture of London, and she gives me a 90's rap album cover:

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And our family Christmas picture. We were so close to getting that perfect image and I thought we got it, until I zoomed in on Jay doing the Michael Jackson scream from the Black or White video. 

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This is Christmas. And life really. It's beautiful, and messy, and hilarious and slightly disturbing. A least that's how my Christmas - my life - has always been. Maybe yours is tidier than mine. But don't go feeling bad about yourself if it's not. Jesus came into this mess of a world for our freedom. May your 2018 be filled with joy and mess and enough freedom to find the beauty in the chaos, whether it's handcrafted or not. 

Day 31 Part 2: Before The Storm

Before a storm, there is often this slightly ominous change in the atmosphere. There is a sudden calm, quiet stillness as pressure builds into a storm. You can't see the pressure building as much as you can feel it. This is very much what October feels like for me. Throughout the month there is a slow build, an atmospheric shift within me. November 1st is usually when the storm hits and finally all that building tension is released.

There are a number of factors involved in this phenomenon, I'm certain. The pressure I put on myself to close the month out with something meaningful, moving and poignant as well as exhaustion from a month of spilling my guts and the subsequent vulnerability hangovers... on top of my normal life with five kids and a literal mountain of laundry to do at all times. This year, however, the pressure built earlier in the month than it has before. The storm came fast and furious last week.

There has not been any violence in my home for almost two years. This probably doesn't sound like much of a victory to the typical person, but in the world of Reactive Attachment Disorder and adoption trauma a two year stretch is a massive deal. We went from daily rages, violent outbursts and extremely disturbing behaviors to two years free of violence. Sure there have been close calls and some damage to clothing and property... but no physical harm. 

Until last week. 

I have been at a pretty low place the past several days. It is discouraging to feel like I am being pummeled by life and grief and once again, by my kid. It reminds me that the grief/trauma recovery process is more cyclical than it is linear. As much as I expect myself to be further along in my process, I always seem to find myself feeling all the same things over and over. As much as I expect my son to be further along in his process, I find him struggling with the same behaviors and feelings over and over again. I don't expect myself to "relapse" back into stages of anger or unforgiveness, but it happens. I don't expect my son to regress back to violence and aggression, but it happens. We cycle back into old patterns and long-held coping strategies of self-protection, shame, control, anger and denial. 

I have cycled through these things myself so many times that nothing seems to surprise me anymore. Yet, this past week I found that I was surprised. I was blindsided in fact. Much in the same way that my son regressed back into physical aggression, I found myself back to being a young girl trying to comprehend the gravity of Adam's death. This happened when the Grand Haven Tribune (my old hometown newspaper) published some photos of Adam from his last day on this earth, photos I had never before seen.

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First of all, I have to say what an unmatched treasure it is to discover something new. When somebody dies, there is very rarely anything new. Whatever time you had, whatever memories, the jokes, the moments, the photos... whatever you had is all you'll ever have. There is no more. Only rarely, if you're very fortunate, will you discover something new. Someone will share a memory or a story you hadn't heard before. Or someone unearths photos you've never before seen. That is what Matt Deyoung of the Grand Haven Tribune did for my family. And it was truly a gift.

But, even gifts can trigger that old cyclical grief. And that is what happened when I saw these old pictures for the first time. Without warning I had regressed to that eleven year old girl who could not comprehend this loss. There was one picture in particular that wrecked me. 

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I still don't fully understand it myself, but my response was so peculiar and irrational, as if my brain is trying to solve Adam's death or make sense of something so senseless. I can't explain it but when I saw this picture of Adam sort of coughing in the background, I had a brief unbridled moment of hope. I gasped and thought "Maybe he's just sick!" Seeing Adam doing something so physical and bodily as coughing - for one brief moment - allowed my brain to file Adam's absence as temporary and explainable. Not gone forever, just somewhere else getting better. The foolishness of this lapse is almost embarrassing to me. But there was something about seeing my poor sweet brother - my hero, my buddy - so alive and still present in his physical body that allowed my unguarded mind to dream of a boy who was not gone afterall.

It was only a moment that I regressed to that childlike way of thinking. Like my own son backsliding after two years of progress, it was a fleeting, irrational moment. But there was a world of pain that rushed in after his folly and mine. I simply cannot look at that picture of Adam coughing without being absolutely wrecked. 

My son and I are a lot alike. We have both been through hard things, experienced some trauma, learned some unhealthy coping mechanisms. We are both afraid of love, because we are afraid of loss. He has Tom and I - who have adored him since the moment he joined our family and we have met every single need since then. I spend the majority of my time each day chasing him down with that love trying to prove that he can trust me, that I will never leave him. And here I am, with a perfect heavenly Father who chases me down with his perfect love and restorative kindness, proving time and time again that he will provide for my every need and he will never leave me. He asks me to trust him, to love him back, to draw near to him. 

And still I pull back. I always pull back.

Like my son, I'd rather maintain some illusion that I am in control. I push back on God's perfect plan just as my son pushes back on my good plan for his life - a life of privileges and responsibility and blessings. Just as my son will push me away, but superficially bond with anyone and everyone he meets... I reject God's perfect and fulfilling love in favor of some cheap, artificial, temporary comfort. 

This month has torn my heart wide open for a bunch of different reasons. The unexpected criticisms, the setback in my son's therapeutic process, this moment of irrational hopefulness upon seeing my brother cough... these were all painful moments that contributed to the building pressure before the storm. But as I sit here and contemplate closing out #AdamsActs for the year it occurs to me that maybe it wasn't my traumatized 11-year-old brain that gave me that moment of hope. Perhaps it was that perfect heavenly father of mine, reminding me that Adam isn't gone forever. He IS somewhere else getting better. In fact, he's already better. He's with his father in heaven and is completely and perfectly healed.  

 In loving memory of my big brother, Adam H. Provencal. I have wished for you to be here, to meet Tom and my kids... Oh how you would love my kids. I have longed to hear your voice, please forgive me for not remembering the sound of it. I have longed to hold your hand, to see you wrestle, to hear you rap or say "ghostman on third" just one more time. I love you and I miss you and I am so glad you are whole and healed in paradise with the God you loved. I'll see you when I get there, save me a spot.

In loving memory of my big brother, Adam H. Provencal. I have wished for you to be here, to meet Tom and my kids... Oh how you would love my kids. I have longed to hear your voice, please forgive me for not remembering the sound of it. I have longed to hold your hand, to see you wrestle, to hear you rap or say "ghostman on third" just one more time. I love you and I miss you and I am so glad you are whole and healed in paradise with the God you loved. I'll see you when I get there, save me a spot.

 

 

Day 31 Part 1: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

If I attempted to conclude this month of #AdamsActs in my current state, I assure you that it would be found lacking. I will reflect on this month and everything I learned and grappled with in a final post tomorrow. In the meantime, I thought I would give a quick update from yesterday's post... I did deliver the pecan pie to Mr. Al and he said the words "barca lounger" a record number of times. We chatted for over an hour and was thrilled to have someone sit and stay a while. He also chastised me for not buying stock in Microsoft, because if I had just done that then, well, I would have made enough money in one week to fix my teeth by now. I didn't take the pie back after this remark even though I sort of wanted to. So, I am counting this as a bonus kindness.

I will write more tomorrow but to hold you over, I have included some pictures of our family's Wizard of Oz themed costumes. I make these all myself as a grand overcompensation of grief and baggage! Enjoy!

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ON the far left we have Marlie as Glinda the Good Witch. 

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Next to her we have Scout as Toto, then me as the Cowardly Lion. 

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Tom "Always a Good Sport" Capuano comes in as Scarecrow.

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London was Dorothy, Harper the Tin Man and Jay was a Winkie (The Wicked Witch of the West's little helper.) 

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Annalee was the Wicked Witch of the West and her friend Paige popped in as a bonus addition of Oz himself (as seen in back middle.)

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They had a great time and then came home to work out all their OCD issues right on the living room floor. 

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My real post will come tomorrow but for now, I plan to follow the yellow brick road straight to bed.