Self Improvement Unlocked

Partners in Crime


I have always been a self-improvement book junkie. I haunt the Self Help section in the book store.   I love the feeling I get standing there, so full of possibilities. Yes, I can lose 20 pounds! Yes, I can get organized! Yes, I can have more money! Yes, I can enjoy the most satisfying relationship ever! I am hooked on the potential. I get the same feeling in an office supply store, or an organization Mecca like The Container Store, or even a fabric store, and I can’t even sew.

I am completely smitten with the idea of becoming a better me. No more bad food choices. No more procrastination. No more avoiding exercise. No more clutter. No more sketchy money habits. No more sleeping late. No more dust bunnies the size of a Buick.

I am also completely smitten with the idea of all those improvements happening magically while I sleep. I am a hardcore hedonist at heart and not much for muscling my way through a huge, sustained effort to achieve, well, anything. For a while I even deluded myself that if I bought the self-help books, the attribute I sought would be part of the purchase. “Thank you for buying the newest book on weight loss, ma’am. I’ve slipped some self-control in the bag for you as your gift with purchase.”

Recently though, I have been making some major progress in becoming a better version of me. I’ve lost eight pounds. I’m getting up earlier. I’m getting more accomplished. I’m keeping the house picked up. All my floors are mopped. I’m going outside several times a day and moving much more. I am loving this new way of life.

What happened? It wasn’t all me. I hooked up with a relentless motivational partner, a real Marine Corps drill sergeant of a beast. No excuses, no waiting, no putting it off, no sirreee. I adopted a puppy. I got a gorgeous, six-month-old, Belgian Malinois, Energizer bunny of a puppy named Biscuit.

Now usually, I am not a puppy person. My habit is to rescue older dogs, kind of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get situation that offers few surprises and far less training. With an older dog, you know its size, temperament, and habits. It is already past the teething phase, so you get to keep your furniture intact. Housebreaking an older dog consists mainly of pointing to the doggie door. Boom. Done.

Puppies are totally adorable, but in a dictatorial kind of way. I watch Biscuit sleep and my heart melts. While my heart indulges in puppy pitty pat, my brain can’t help but think, “Damn, she’s recharging.”

Sleep in until eight? I don’t think so. Dawn’s first light is your new rise-and-shine. You can’t say “just a minute” to the last two inches of a puppy’s colon. Stay inside and read? Nope. You’ll be going outside every two hours, no matter the weather or heat index. Even with regularly scheduled walks, you’ll end up mopping more than ever. Your floors will gleam. Puppies are single-minded and if their brain is fully occupied with a rousing game of keep-away, it won’t process the “Yowza, gotta pee” signal until it is far too late to get outside.

Are you in the habit of dropping your belongings just wherever when you come into your house? Yeah, that’s not going to work. Anything below four feet is in imminent danger of becoming confetti. I have an added twist because we also have an adolescent Great Dane who is Biscuit’s partner in crime. Mosey is just fourteen months old, can rest her chin on the kitchen counters easily and can stand up and nudge the upper kitchen cabinets open. It seems that she and Biscuit are tag-teaming me. Biscuit, whose nose is amazing, gives directions to where the rawhide chews are hidden and Mosey pulls them down from the cabinets. So anything of real value in this house is now crammed behind closed doors or sits above six feet. My house has never looked cleaner.

You can forget about leaving fast food wrappers in your car. You can forget about setting something down “for just a minute.” You will never be able to open a cellophane package without your dogs doing their very best Biafran orphan impersonation. Evidently, all cellophane sounds like nummy treats to dogs, even if it’s just a pack of light bulbs. If you want privacy while you go to the bathroom, you should’ve named your pup Privacy, because you will never pee alone again.

Misplacing your cell phone used to be just inconvenient, now it triggers a major panic attack. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, I do not want to have to take you to the emergency vet. Tell me you did not eat my iPhone.”

I know it sounds like I’m complaining but really, I could not be happier. Finally, I am getting up early, losing weight, cleaning my house regularly, getting lots of sunshine and fresh air, and saving money by not buying all those self-help books. Hey, maybe I should write one.

The Puppy Plan for a Better Life


Molly Dugger Brennan

Chapter One: Adopt A Puppy

Chapter Two: Take Care of Your Puppy

Chapter Three: Live Happily Ever After

The End.


Yes, I’m Puppy Insane

I have been quiet for a month or so and I apologize for that.  I do have a legitimate excuse.  I have adopted two young dogs within the last month and they are running me ragged, but in a good way.

Mosey is a 14-month old Great Dane who was available through an ad on Craig’s List.  It was my first Craig’s List experience and to tell the truth, I half expected it to be the kind of experience that gets made into a cautionary TV movie, or even worse, an America’s Most Wanted special.  Naturally, I took my husband Gruff with me.  It all turned out beautifully and now I have an adolescent, 100-pound Great Dane pup.

If you’ve ever raised a puppy, you know how relentless they are in exploring.  Now, imagine that same mischievous pup being tall enough to rest her chin on the kitchen counter, stand up and nose the upper cabinets open, and grab the dirty dishes out of the sink and take them off to lick them, preferably while reclining on something upholstered.  How many times a day do I ask myself, “What was I thinking?”

The second pup is a seven-month old Belgian Malinois, a super intelligent and high energy breed that is favored by the military, police departments, and border patrol.  A movie is coming out this summer, entitled Max, about a Malinois.  I really hope this movie shows how much training and work is necessary to make these dogs into happy, productive dogs because you don’t want an intelligent dog bored and frustrated in your house.  That doesn’t end well for anyone.

It would break my heart if this breed suffers from the “101 Dalmatians” syndrome.  That’s an actual thing, where everyone enjoys a movie featuring a breed of dog and rushes out to get one, not understanding its exercise or training needs.  One year later, the shelters are overrun with those dogs.  If you marry the wrong person, you divorce them.  If you get the wrong dog for your lifestyle and can’t make the effort to make it work, they end up in rescue, shelters, or worse.  Don’t go through doggie divorce.  Save yourself the guilt and pain.

Hold up, you say.  Molly, you’re not exactly an athlete.  You don’t even like to sweat.  Why would you ever take on a Malinois after what you’ve just said?  Good point.  One, I have owned a Belgian breed before, a Belgian Tervuren.  It was a great experience though he was an adult when I got him out of rescue and then spent lots of money and time training him properly.  Two, I am training this dog as a service dog for myself so I needed a working breed.  Thankfully, I work from home so I can spend several hours a day putting this pup through its paces.  Between the training, and the Great Dane chasing her through the house and yard, she is exhausted.  An exhausted dog is a well-mannered dog.

So this will forever be known in my diary as the Summer of the Pup.  Wish me luck.  I will need it.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Biscuit and her ears

P.S.  A great big shout out to my husband, Gruff, who suggested we get these two dogs.  This man loves me, not in a flashy dozens of roses way, but in a more meaningful, everyday, makes me happy way.  There is no one else for me than this man, who thinks of me, my comfort, and contentment constantly.  I will love you always.

Affording Doughnut

Doughnut 1st Day

(This piece was originally posted on my old blog.  I am running it again in honor of Doughnut, who passed away on Monday.  Sleep well, my little clown.)


Are you financially secure? Is your retirement plan fully funded? Are your children’s orthodontia needs, wedding plans, and college tuitions all paid? Do you have piles of cash just lying around your house, collecting dust? Well my friend, you are exactly the type of person who should adopt an English bulldog.

I am convinced that the English bulldog is the only animal on the planet that makes the platypus seem smartly designed. The bulldog’s whole head is so convoluted and badly put together that the eyes, the teeth, the ear canals, and respiration can only be described as totally jacked up. “Jacked up” is the official medical term used by my veterinarian, who bred English bulldogs until he came to his senses.

Why would breeders make something with so many inherent weaknesses? In a word, adorability. Humans are hardwired to go all squishy when they see something with an oversized, rounded head, big eyes, and a snub nose. I believe this coding was to bond us with human babies even when they were screaming loud enough to rupture your eardrum, but the response is indiscriminate. Show a human something that has a wobbly, balloon-like head with large blinking eyes and we become goo. How else could Hello Kitty, a rudimentary sketch of a cat’s head, have become a mega-bazillion dollar industry?  Adorable sells.  Big time.

English bulldogs have adorability to spare. Even when they’ve matured past puppyhood, they still reduce humans to blubbering baby talk. “He’s mama’s squishy-wishy cutie-patootie, yes he is. Aren’t you, baby? Aren’t you my darling little pudding pop?”

God help me, I am a new bulldog mother and I am completely smitten. Before I adopted Doughnut, I read all the papers on bulldog health problems. I told experienced bulldog owners that I had found an article calling bulldogs a $5,000 check waiting to be written. I thought it was a joke. I laughed. Their response was different. They said, “Really? That figure seems low.” Uh-oh.

I did it anyway. I found a photo on and fell in love. I saw swinging jowls, mismatched ears, nubbins of teeth pointing in all directions, and a face only a drunk mother could love.* That’s the one for me! Thank God I’m married and not actively dating anymore. If this bulldog thing is any indication, I just can’t be trusted to choose wisely.

I have had Doughnut just two weeks now. His first surgery is booked for this Tuesday, when he’ll have his ear fixed and a massive amount of dental work done. Did you know that teeth can point straight back and up towards one’s ears? Apparently they can, though it doesn’t help one chew.

I am optimistic that Doughnut is hale and hearty in all other areas. He does appear healthy. My vet has thoroughly examined him and uttered the classic, qualifying line, “He seems quite sturdy. . . for a bulldog.”

Take pity on me if you see me on the street corner behind a card table, selling baked goods to raise money for vet bills. It means that I have adopted the canine equivalent of a money pit. But I should have known that. After all, I adopted a bulldog.


* “. . .a face only a drunk mother could love” was the reaction of my friend, Al P., to Doughnut’s photo. It was a phrase I fell in love with and had to use. Thank you, Al.