Saturday, June 25, 2011

Five Easy Steps to Misery and Unhappiness

GiaPissed2I have been noticing a lot of articles, books, and talk shows telling me how to be happy lately - and I think that is great. But, there is one little problem with this. It seems as though most people do not actually have happiness as their goal. Acquiring, achieving, and advancing yes, those are goals many people have and live by. And of course, the goal of fitting in – that is a big one. You are going to want to put that one right at the core of your life. But, happiness seems to be something a substantial number of folks would prefer to live without. So, I put together a list of the quickest paths to unhappiness so you can all get to miseryville a little faster.

1. Pay close attention to what you are being told you are supposed to do, because you don’t know any better.

This is one of the most important elements of unhappiness. If you listen closely, you will find that nearly everyone has something to say about what you are supposed to do and how you should do it. Listen to them – all of them. The closer you get to the way everyone else wants you to do things, the better things are for you and the closer you’ll be to your goal of unhappiness.

I don’t know what kind of hippie-freaks you have been listening to, but freewill and rational thought are just going to get in the way of your perpetual misery, and besides, there really is only one right way to do things.

Make sure you listen closely every time you hear someone say “You should do this…” or “You need to do that…” and for the love of God, make sure when you hear the phrase “People just don’t do that around here…” or “That is just not what we do.” – stop whatever it is you’re doing.

Just accept it. If it is not for everybody, it is not for you. Try not to think about it too much.

The great thing about paying such close attention to what you should do compared to what you are doing is that it is so easy to see when you have messed up. It allows you to immerse yourself in a pool of the backward-looking emotions we all want more of, such as guilt and regret.

It is a win/win. :-)

2. Stand your ground! Flexibility is weakness!

Once you have figured out what you should be doing – never change. The more you can stay the course, the better. Never reevaluate your course just to see if it still makes sense for you – just keep going.

Keep doing all the same things you are doing even when it is not working for you, there is simply no faster way to unhappiness.

Keep your expectations high and rigid. When the rest of the world wavers even the slightest outside of your rigid expectations, throw a tantrum to let everyone know just how very, very wrong they are.

When other people state their needs, it is important to summarily dismiss them and reiterate your needs. Being generous or giving in any way will only lead you away from that familiar, comforting misery.

3. Keep a mental ledger of all the wrongs ever done to you, and blame, blame, blame!

Never let it go! Never let it go! Your parents, your spouse, your ex-spouse, your ex-parents – whoever. Surely there is someone in your past you can blame – so what are you waiting for?

You are fat because of your elementary school gym teacher. You can’t have a healthy relationship because your dad never told you he loved you – OK, well, he did tell you – but not in the precise way you wanted him to (good job! – it sounds like you’ve already mastered guideline #2). You can’t pay your bills on time because this season of The Bachelor is soooo good! How are you supposed to pay attention to anything else?

Get yourself good and mad by picking someone from your past, close family members work really well – but it can also be relationship from two decades ago. Then write down every infraction, no matter how small and no matter if they meant to be malicious or not (understanding intent is just going to interfere with your goal of building maximum resentment). Start with important betrayals, like “You didn’t record that episode of Fraiser that night I asked you to back in 1997! You never listen to me!” and move onto accusations like “You don’t even know me well enough to know why I am mad at you – so I am not going to tell you.” This is awesome because your targets are likely to be so confused they will not even mind being blamed – brilliant!

This also gives you some great one-liners to toss out before unleashing your exhaustively complete laundry list on your unsuspecting victim. Zingers like “”Well, let me tell you something Mister…” and “you just put the nail in your coffin!”

Pro tip: Never rattle-off your list of betrayals and disappointments in person. Instead, use the good old-fashioned telephone so you can hang-up (be sure to slam it for effect) after making your point. After all, their reality really has no place in yours.

Blame only works if you stick to your version!

4. Speculate about the lives of others. It’s no wonder they have it so easy!

It is difficult to remain unhappy if you appreciate the things you have or see others in a positive or empathetic light. Whatever you do – do NOT walk in another’s shoes. Figuratively or literally (especially if you don’t wear socks – yuck.)

Instead, dwell on all the ways others have it easier than you do.”Oh sure she got that job, her parents paid for college” – “Oh it must be nice to be able to go on vacation, they have it sooo easy.” “Of course she works out every day – she has a housekeeper!” This injustice to you is everywhere! Not dwelling on what other people’s lives must be like means you’ll be missing yet another opportunity to feel slighted by the universe. Don’t let that opportunity go by!

I know everyone always says you can’t judge others because you don’t know what it is like for them – but, come on, you know. You know. You can judge others because you are always in the right – the farther they are from the way you do things, the more deserving they are of your righteous judgment! Not judging others is a rule that really only makes sense for other people. Not you. Same thing goes for hypocrisy.

It is best if you can speculate about how good others have it, and then turn your envy into high expectations that will undoubtedly be unmet. And that’s when you’ll be swimming in anger. It’s beautiful. Here’s an example: let’s say your brother married but did not have children. What can you do? Realize that of course he should be saving up for your children’s college - what else would he do with all his money? Grown men just don’t fly off to Vail to go skiing on a moment’s notice you know. Later, when you discover that your brother decided NOT to pay for your kids’ college, open up the floodgates and let that seething bitter anger fill your soul. I told you this was going to be easy.

Also, I think it’s important to frequently say things like “The least you could do…” followed by one of your ridiculously high expectations. Like “The least you could do was pay for my kids’ college education!” Frequency is important. The more you say it, the more effectively you are able to convey your perpetual disappointment.

5. Never be afraid to call out “No Fair!” – it is so empowering!

Remember, you are the victim here, and don’t let anyone tell you differently! If anyone gets something you don’t have, that is just not fair. And everything must be fair. Strive for this. Don’t be distracted by people pointing out that maybe it is not fair that nearly one billion people in the world lack access to clean drinking water, or it is not fair that you were born with arms and legs and they were not. These people are so out of touch with your personal pain – it’s just best to ignore them.

Instead, concentrate on what others should be doing to make things more fair for you. Once you decide to fully measure your success by comparing yourself to others, you won’t have to worry about trying to achieve that actual success thing anymore. Your cue to be unhappy will be that oh-so-familiar sound of the universe screwing you over once again.

And be sure to take everything for granted. Appreciation is for losers who have way too much time on their hands.

For parents, the path to unhappiness is even wider and easier to take. We can choose the well-worn road of martyrdom, sacrificing everything for the kids and forgetting ourselves, or the “I am a bad parent” flagellating that is so easy to do.

Of course, the best thing you can do for your children is to live your best, happiest life and show by example what loving, healthy relationships are like. But you don’t want any part of that scene – because that would make for happy kids, and it’s hard to get visits from happy kids when you live in Miseryville.

Instead, foster a co-dependent relationship by teaching your kids to be weak and entirely reliant upon you for everything. Do everything for them – driving, talking, thinking -- and be sure to put all this on your ledger. Work hard to suppress their natural urges to be independent, thinking beings.

So if unhappiness is for you, this is your recipe.

GiaHappy

Um… I won’t be there, but have a great time and don’t worry about sending me a postcard. I’ll be just fine over here.

 

 

 

 

 

More from Karen:

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father’s Day

Sometimes it sucks to be a dad.

DadAs a dad, or even as a man, you are swimming upstream when it comes to having close relationships with children. There are a lot of societal factors working against you. People are often suspect when a man shows interest in hanging out with children, and no one wants to set off any creepy alarms. If you are a dad who has gone through a divorce, chances are you are not the custodial parent of your children and you are probably in danger of being called either a deadbeat dad or a Disney dad, or maybe even a deadbeat Disney dad. If you haven’t gone through divorce, chances are high you work outside the home and your connection to your children is limited by that. As a man, you are probably programmed to be emotionally detached and and may consider providing your only familial obligation. If you are a dad who is able to spend days as a caregiver for your children, it may be tough to be the only man at library story time, or awkward when a group of moms corner you at Chucky Cheese, interrogating about why your kids are being chaperoned by you instead of their Mom.

Yes, there are some serious “Good Daddy” cards stacked against you, so here are five things I think all dads need to hear:

1. IT  IS NOT ALL ABOUT YOU

Maybe it was all about you earlier in life. Maybe your mom cut the crusts off your sandwiches until you were 25, or you bought every new toy that came out and spent all of your free time playing with them, or maybe you long for the days when your wife gave you the impression that you were the center of the universe.

Guess what? That is over. Time to put on your big boy pants and realize you have a little person depending on you.

2. SHOW UP

I get it - you work. You are tired. You are not particularly interested in pretending to be The King at the royal tea party or throwing a ball to a kid who clearly can’t catch one. You want to come home and put on Sports Central and zone out.

But don’t. Push through it and hang out with your kids. Go to their sports stuff and school stuff. Sit with them when they do homework. Take them with you when you go to Home Depot. Just show up and give them the message they matter.

3. REAL MEN SAY I LOVE YOU

Working all the time to provide for your children does not tell them that you love them.

You need to tell them that.

You working all the time just tells them you like your computer. Tell them you love them and that you are proud of them. Kids don’t get tired of hearing “I love you, no matter what.” and “I am so proud of you.”  Even when they tell you to stop saying it and tell you it’s embarrassing and roll their eyes. They need to hear it. A lot.

Being a hard worker is a great thing, but keep balance in your life and your family at the top of your priority list. You will be happier and ultimately more productive.

What you say to your kids and the messages you send to them through your actions matter. A lot.

4. IT ONLY LASTS A MOMENT

You are a dad for the rest of your life, but the time when your kids are young and in constant demand of your time and energy will go by so quickly your head will spin. I know it seems like dinner time and bath time and bed time leave you with no time – but that only lasts about 10 precious years. After that they will need your physical (but never your emotional) presence less.

It may seem hard to believe when you are in the thick of diapers, elementary school science nights, and piano lessons – but there will be a time when your kids will be doing their own thing and you will want to be with them, but they will be too busy for you.

Come on, you have all heard “Cats in the Cradle” – you know what I mean.

It only lasts a moment – so be in the moment.

5. BE A HERO

Congratulations! You are the barometer by which your children will measure all other men in their lives.

Set the bar high, kids.

Show your sons that men behave with integrity, honor, and strength. Show your daughters that men treat people with respect and have dignity in their relationships.

Even if your father was deeply flawed, or maybe nonexistent in your life. Even if you struggle with addiction or difficult life circumstances – be the person your kids think you are. Be a hero.

My dad is a hero. He was everything a kid wants a dad to be: strong, caring, filled with integrity, and a sucker for my tears. He also had the good fortune of dying 10 years ago, solidifying his title as a hero and achieving legendary status.

But when I talk to friends about their dads, there always seems to be a yearning. They are yearning for approval and pride, of course, but it seems to me they are also yearning for just knowing their fathers. Mothers are usually the primary caregivers and the source of unconditional love, but dads are a bit trickier. As kids we often don’t know where we stand with our dads and we can spend a long time trying to figure that out.

I am thankful every day that I am married to a great dad to our children. He plays hard, encourages them to be strong, and tells them all the time how much he loves them. I also have two baby daddies who love my kids fiercely and who have always been committed to showing up for them.

There are lots of great dads in my life, and in the world.

Today is Father’s day. A time when those with dads who don’t wear ties or play golf look desperately for an appropriate card, and usually settle for a box of beef jerky or membership to the bacon-of-the-month club. A time when we honor the contributions our fathers have made to the world and to our lives. A time when we think about what our dads mean to us, and what we mean to them.

Think about the kind of Dad you want to be – then be that Dad.

Think about your Father, and love him for exactly who he is.

Happy Father’s day.

P.S. Have a story about your father you’d like to share here? Please do so in the comments section below.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Five Steps to a Great Divorce!

DivorceCakeI have a friend who says she does not believe in divorce. "Well," I frequently tell her, "there is strong evidence to show it exists." And, indeed, this is true. Divorce happens. It happens all the time. And for whatever reason, our species has become one that does not necessarily mate for life.

Now, I do believe in marriage. I believe in it strongly - so strongly, in fact, that I have been married three times. I realize some people think having more than one marriage means you are demeaning the institution - but I disagree. For me, it means my faith in marriage is so strong I publicly jump into it even when it seems to be, at least statistically, a really poor choice. I love being married and I’m so in love it seems like I gush out something that sounds like a wedding vow to my husband at least once a day. I love marriage and believe in working hard to make it great and fighting for it with ferocious intensity. I love marriage and my wish for everyone is that they have the happiest, healthiest union they can.

But still, divorce happens.

Sometimes you look at your partner and realize that the person you once stood across from and promised to love forever is no longer someone you can live your best life with, or maybe unconditional love has been replaced a betrayal of heart, mind, or body, or maybe your spouse tells you staying married is no longer an option - but, for whatever reason, divorce happens.

So, what to do when divorce rolls in like a storm? Well, isn't that just the question of the century? How can anyone attempt to give really good relevant advice about one of the most devastating things that can happen in your life? Who is someone else to tell you what to do when your life is ravaged by the divorce tornado, when there is no way to possibly understand your situation? What idiot thinks she can shed some stupid light on the life altering upset that comes with the end of a marriage?

This idiot.

Since I am now pretty delirious with happiness, I figure I may have done something right - so I have organized my thoughts, strategies and perspective to share. Yes, divorce happens - and it sucks, but here are five ways to minimize the suckiness:

1. Own Your Part

In my last divorce, my ex-husband told everyone about how I was the one who was divorcing him - even though he first asked for a divorce. Twice in fact. Six months apart. Complete with details and logistics. A plan. He was awfully fond of saying "It takes two people to get married, but only one to get divorced."

OK, I suppose that may be true - but it does take two people to participate in the dynamic that leads to D-land, so figure out what your part was in all of it and own it.

If you don't own your own part in creating your reality, you risk thinking of your ex as the aggressor and you as the victim. You risk being trapped by a bunch of "If only he/she would___, then I could ____" or "I have no choice but to..." or "You left me, so I have to...." or any other victim-like thing that leaves you feeling powerless and angry. That is not who you want to be.

Figuring out your part in the ill-fated marriage dynamic and owning it is a lot less expensive (both financially and emotionally) than living like a victim. Plus, no one really believes you when you say nothing is your fault. Not even you. Not really.

2. Find Your Tribe

This one is both heart-breaking and inspiring. Just like your life and your parenting and your home, your tribe will shift in divorce. The tribe you thought was yours, the one you counted on to support you no matter what, may leave you and break your heart even more (if possible). They may leave you because they don't know how to act with you anymore, or because you are now broke, or because you are messing with their picture of how things should be, or because having a single person among married ones is too dangerous an idea for them.

Whatever the reason, this may feel like the end of the world to you - but, as always, it is not. The world will keep turning and a new tribe will emerge for you. People who love you no matter what will there for you and they will say things like "Do you need to stay with me for a while?" "How can I help you?" and ""You are so strong, I am so proud of you." Somehow, it will happen - you will get what you need and you will know the difference between people who are not strong enough to be a good friend and those who are. It may take a while, but this has great value.

Getting a divorce is a great weeding out process.

3. Un-charge your emotions

I give this advice, although I have not learned to really follow it. But, I am Italian - maybe this is possible for others.

It is really important to realize that divorce is nasty business. It brings out the worst in people and they switch to intense self preservation mode. Knowing this can help you get some emotional distance when your ex is taking you to the mat over your grandmother's gravy boat. You are hurt and thinking "Who does this? He/she once loved me, we have kids together - why the cruelty? They don't even like gravy." This is painful. Being targeted and bullied is tough, especially from someone you once thought was your heart, your family. You may think "What have I done to deserve this?" And the answer is; this is not about what you deserve, it is about divorce. And it sucks.

I think it is inevitable that at some point in the divorce process, you will think "This is not fair." It is also important to note at this point that I have never, ever heard of anyone come out of a divorce who did not feel screwed. Both parties will feel like they got screwed and both parties will choke on the unfairness. Just know that it will happen and accept it. As soon as I was able to realize that I was not going to be treated fairly and that the person I spent so much of my life with had no trouble picking the meat off my bones as I lie dying in the desert, I felt much better. It is freeing really.

It is also good to remember that your divorce settlement will not define who you are as you go forward. Even if you leave the marriage with nothing more than the clothes on your back and a bread maker, you are still in charge of your own destiny and you can do anything.

But in order to un-charge the emotions of the situation, you need someone to argue for you so that you can give them all the information and sit back and work on your own healing.
Some people think it is smart to try to negotiate on their own to save money. It is not.

Get a lawyer. Get a pit-bull of a lawyer and let them charge up emotionally. It will cost you outrageous amounts of money and may make you sob as you write the check, but inner peace is worth it and you should just resign yourself to the fact that you are going to be broke for at least the next 5 years.

Divorce is expensive - but nothing is as expensive as your sense of well-being.

4. See the big picture

Again, easier said than done.

As you journey in to D-ville, someone is likely to say something to you like "I know it is tough now, but in 20 years you will be at the kids wedding and you will be thinking about what a great job you did." And you will want to smack that person in the face. But don't.

They are just trying to tell you that this too shall pass, and they are right.

This marriage did not work for you, something else will. You feel like you have been run over by a truck, but you won't always feel that way. Eventually, you will recover from the financial loss, the loss of security and self esteem, and the deep, deep sadness that comes with the end of a relationship.

The weight and the difficulty of this process will not last forever.

Connect with the big picture and with the things in your life that are working. If you have children, enjoy your relationship with them. Be thankful for health you do have. Relate to your support network, lean on them and be of help to others to get you out of your self a bit. Appreciate the fact that you live in a time and place where you are able to get a divorce and move on in your life.

Focus on the big picture of where you want your life to be even when, especially when, that seems so far away.

5. Get your groove back

This is the fun part. Chances are if you are getting a divorce, you have been deeply entrenched in misery for some time. You may not even remember what your groove looks like, maybe you feel like you have never been in your groove at all. But no worries - it is never too late to embrace your groove.

Here is the thing - you are never going to be 38, or 55, or 43 - or whatever age you are, again. This is your one chance to have this day, this year, this precious, precious life. The divorce is happening because your marriage was not letting you live your best life. So, now it is time to claim your right to your best life -after all, isn't that the point?

So, how do you do get a ticket to ride on the best life groove train?

First, take really good care of yourself. Eat, sleep, drink lots of water and go for long walks. Imagine yourself walking through the divorce swamp and coming to the gorgeous meadow in the other side. Exercise. Move your body so much during the day that you fall fast asleep at night and get out of your head a little. Exercise until you feel your body getting stronger and you will start to feel stronger about everything. Make yourself go through the motions of taking great care of yourself even when you don't feel like it. You can make yourself happier from the outside in.

Second, find your groove - what do you do really well? When are you at your best? When was the last time you felt on top of the world? Why? Once you figure out what makes you happy - do that.

And lastly, get in touch with your smoking hot, attractive self. Put on your favorite sweater and the jeans that hug your ass and meet the world with a flirty smile and a friendly hello. Realize that all the self doubt that comes with divorce does has no place in your life. So, you are not the right person for your ex - but you are the right person for yourself, and probably for someone else out there when you are ready for that. As my Mom said "There is an ass for every seat." You are just finding a more comfortable chair.

It is possible to emerge from a divorce stronger and happier than ever, to thrive in the new life you create for yourself. Of course, it is also possible that divorce throws you into a downward spiral of depression self loathing you are unable to emerge from - but the good news is, it is up to you.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Show Me Your Awesome!

GenieLampBeing resourceful is something I have always thought I was pretty good at. I have put together many a big-themed party fit for any episode of Martha Stewart – OK, maybe not Martha, but at least a feature on Rachel Ray – OK, maybe not Rachel either, but a party worth a mention on the local news arts and leisure segment. Yeah, there has been some mention-worthy leisure. We’re talking about a party with enough food and alcohol to instill everyone with next-day-regret, a fiesta with enough attention to detail to make it seem like it was thrown by a gaggle of gay men, and all this produced with nothing more than items from the house coupled with the sheer will and intestinal fortitude to make it happen.

Then I met my husband who builds Tesla coils with a 12-pack of Corona bottles and a cashew can, and I knew I had met my match.

It is a good way to live, really. Using only what you have available makes you stronger. Sure anyone can go out and buy a bookcase, but not everyone can fashion one out of coffee cans and planks, or transform a chicken coop into a book case, or arrange their books in various forms of luggage all stacked up to create little suitcase cubicles. I have done all of these things and quite frankly I am a little sad my current house has built-in bookcases. Seriously. It limits my creativity.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter was in a production of Aladdin and we were in charge of the lamp, so of course we headed to Good Will to play a game of arrange random kitchy things until they look like a genie lamp. That was fun, then I gave it too my editor/husband who outfitted it with a switch, batteries, high intensity purple LED lights, a fan to blow out sublimated C02 from dry ice placed in a thermo-isolated martini shaker top (so the kids didn’t freeze off their little fingers). At the right moment the kids flipped the switch and squeezed a turkey baster at the side of the lamp which splashed water onto the dry ice sending a purple haze out from the spout of the lamp. You know, just keeping it simple. But standing in a thrift store trying to think of a new way to use things is fun, at least to me.

But there is more to repurposing and resourcefulness than just being green and frugal.

Using what you have also means finding what you do well, and doing it. When you use what you have, your innate talents or those you have picked up on the way, you are a happier person and it definitely makes the world a better place.

Letting your inner awesomeness remain untapped is criminal and we should all be vigilant about preventing this. If you know someone so tangled up in self-doubt he fails to recognize his abilities, find a way to help him see it. If you know someone so trapped by seemingly fabricated reasons preventing the pursuit of her calling, nudge her a bit in the right direction. Enroll her in a class, or print up business cards stating her expertise and its benefits and hang them around town. I have actually done this for someone and it lead to a change in careers. If you want to spread happiness and serve the world – it is your obligation to use your own fabulous self and to guide others to use theirs.

Now the hard part of this may be finding your awesome. It was just here a moment ago. I remember seeing it in the car next to my cell phone. But now where did my awesome go?

Sometimes finding your awesome is intuitively obvious; maybe you are a born math genius or have a beautiful voice that makes burly men weep. Maybe you have always performed at the top of your class or been able to take apart and reassemble anything mechanical. But if you are like most people, your awesome is a maybe more obscure and challenging to recognize. Maybe you are really great at cuddling or seeing patterns in things, or you can create order out of chaos (or the other way around, though that may be less of a marketable job skill), or you have the ability to put people at ease (or asleep – again less marketable but an awesome skill nonetheless). Sometimes these things may be difficult to see as talent because they are not the obvious resume boosting fodder – but trust me, your awesome exists and you can always find a way to use your power for good.

The easiest place to discover your awesome is in whatever you find yourself doing. If you spend all your time thinking about decorating your house – maybe your awesome is design. If you’re thinking deeply about relationships and how to make them better, maybe you could help others do the same. If you get great satisfaction in cleaning to the point of OCD perfection – please come over to my house. Seriously. Right now. You can start in the kitchen.

Of course, your passion is your awesome. Whatever makes you happy is what you should be doing. If you can find a way to make a living doing it, great! But, even if you can’t quite find a way to do that, immersing in your awesome makes you happy – and you, happy, makes the world a better place.

P.S. Still looking for your awesome? Well, when something comes naturally for you, it’s easy to conclude it comes just as naturally for everyone, which means you might not recognize it as your awesome. I used to think everyone could manage 12 things at once, speak confidently in front of large groups of people, and delve into imaginary worlds and make up stories with ease. It took me a really long time to figure out that these things were somewhat unique to me, that they were the composition of my awesome.

I often make up stories for the kids with reoccurring characters and ongoing plots, or sometimes I make up stories that include illustrations drawn during the made-up storytelling. After doing this the other day for my two-year-old at breakfast, I looked up to see my husband/editor with his jaw dropped open and a look of total surprise on his face. “Did you just make that up?” he asked. I said yes and he exclaimed “Here’s you:” and then he mimed magically controlling things with telekinetic powers, “What? Can’t everyone make objects fly through the air and spit carnival music out their ears? Isn’t that just what we all do?” Oh yeah – that may be some awesome I have going on there. It does help to be around people who appreciate your particular brand of awesome; it makes it easier to spot.

Caution: This does not mean you need to let others dictate what your awesome.

Your awesome is about what makes you happy – not what makes others happy. Beware of compliments that sway your direction. Sometimes, if you are searching for who you are you become very susceptible to suggestion, so try to stay true to your genuine awesome.

Just because you make an amazing Chicken Masala does not mean you should be a chef, and just because you are a wizard with numbers doesn’t mean you should be an accountant. The world is not best served by squeezing you into a role that doesn’t fit; it is best served by you claiming your awesome and finding happiness.

Make no apologies for what you don’t have – but for the love of all that is good and right with the world – find your awesome and USE WHAT YOU HAVE.

More from Karen:
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