What to Do When the Spirit of Christmas Ghosts You

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas this year.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s not just this year, though for some reason, it feels even worse than usual. Normally by this time of year, I’m happily working my way through holiday romances and mysteries on the e-reader, as well as indulging in my love of cheesy Christmas movies on Hallmark and Netflix. I’ve picked a night to do my annual re-watch of the Muppet Christmas Carol, and I’ve decided which of my other beloved favorites to add to the list. Will it be Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer or How the Grinch Stole Christmas? It’s a Wonderful Life or Christmas in Connecticut? I rotate these favorite classics to keep them fresh but also to make room for new movies, like A Cinderella Story: A Christmas Wish or Last Holiday with Queen Latifah.

I normally hide presents all over the house (sometimes to the point of forgetting to recover and wrap them in time for Christmas), though we’ve begun to scale back on that too. Most years I become possessed by a seasonally driven urge to bake. Completely ignoring my lack of skill in the kitchen (oh boy, do I have a post to share with you about THAT at some future date), I try my hand at dozens of different kinds of cookies, filling the house with the scent of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Co-workers and neighbors are the recipients of anything edible that my family can’t finish, though I eat far too many of them myself.

We haven’t done the elaborate holiday dinner for some time now. The family is smaller, its members scattered. Most of us have so little time off from work that travel isn’t feasible, even if the pandemic hadn’t made it impossible or unwise. We’ve never been big on outdoor decorations, either, and when you have pets, Christmas trees with ornaments can be problematic.

So we’ve been scaling back on Christmas a little each year for a while now.

Last year, while the pandemic still raged and vaccination wasn’t on the horizon yet, there was a desperation to my attempts to get into the holiday mood. This year, there is just apathy. I haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to watch more than one or two of the new holidays movies out there, and haven’t watched any of my old favorites. I have dozens of holiday books on the reader, and keep scrolling past to read something else. The weather isn’t helping, either. It’s been a balmy 70 degrees here recently with nary a snowflake in sight.

But in a conversation with one of my friends this morning, she said that though she and her husband feel the same, they put up a few decorations, and were glad they did. She planned to watch a cheesy movie and drink some hot cocoa, and suggested I should do likewise.

You know what? I’m going to take her advice.

Scaling back doesn’t mean going all out Grinch. Maybe finding the Christmas spirit is a little like writing when the Muse has left you. 

Sometimes you just need to sit down and do it. Don’t wait for the feeling to come. Go out and grab it.

Or put another way, if you open your heart to the spirit of Christmas, it will come.

Tonight we took a chance on a new holiday movie, Single All the Way. Lately the newer holiday movies have been a little hit-or-miss with me, but this movie was one of the best, most satisfying holiday movies I’ve seen in some time. It perfectly nailed the goofy, strange dynamics of a loving family. The writing and acting was top-notch. It took the fake boyfriend trope and turned it on its head. Best of all, there were no bad guys, unless you count demanding bosses who expect you to work over the holidays. Highly recommend.

Making it Rain Cozy Mysteries: Black Friday Sale!

Hey there! If you celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US, you know the day after T-day is called Black Friday, due to all the pre-Christmas sales that kick off the crazy shopping season.

I’m here to suggest a better idea: stay home. Enjoy a quiet day on the couch with a cozy mystery! Making it Rain Cozy Mysteries is a fabulous collection of over 20 cozies each only 99 cents for a limited time! There’s a little something for every cozy lover (and I’m about to do a little shopping there myself)!

You can grab a copy of An Embarrassment of Itches–still only 99 cents. It’s the first book in the Ginny Reese Mysteries, featuring a house-call vet who finds herself stumbling over death more often than not. It’s Diagnosis Murder meets All Creatures Great and Small in the first books of this fun, new series. InD’Tale Magazine awarded An Embarrassment of Itches a Crowned Heart of Excellence and described as “nailing the perfect cozy mystery.”

The next installment of the series, The Dog Days of Murder, is coming soon! Look for it just after the New Year.

So come along and join the fun! Shop for yourself or the cozy mystery lover in your life. This deal ends Nov 30th!

Holiday Gift Guide for the Writer in Your Life

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

It’s that time of year again–when we start thinking about holiday shopping and what the writer in our lives might want as a gift. Okay, that writer is me. Just kidding! Okay, maybe I’m only kidding a little.

See, most non-writers don’t have a clue what kind of gift to give to the authors in their lives. They want to show their support! They want to give something useful. But if you’re not a writer yourself, it’s hard to know what to get. That’s why I’m going to recommend a few things myself but I’m also opening the door for YOUR suggestions. Tell me what you’ve been longing for, what you have on your wish list, what you’d dearly love the most. I want to know about it! Who knows, someone you love might stumble across this list and get you the one thing YOU’VE been hoping for!

Let’s start with the easiest kinds of gifts to shop for: books on craft! There are SO many out there, and many are targeted to genre as well. I know a lot of people who recommend Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. For romance writers, many consider Romancing the Beat an invaluable tool. I’m also a big fan of The Emotion Thesaurus (and the other books in that line).

But as a mystery writer, I also love books on forensics and police procedure, as well toxicology, poisons and the other means by which you can kill someone. Keep in mind, books on craft aren’t necessarily about writing per se; they can also include books and courses on marketing, advertising, and so on. 

What about planners? I would be lost without my Author’s Planner by Audrey Hughey!

It’s more than just another notebook or calendar. SO MUCH MORE. You can track your daily and weekly goals, your expenditures (to make doing your taxes so much easier!), plan your marketing and social media campaigns, newsletters, you name it! What I love about it is it’s large enough for me to work in without cramming tiny notes everywhere, and the coil-bound cover allows it to lay flat while you’re working on it. It’s a bit like having an organizer, an accountability partner, a cheerleader, and a coach all rolled up into one.
 
The 2021 Author’s Planner is designed to be your all-in-one day planner and writing-career coach, helping you organize your writing life and get on a clear path to reach your goals.
 
Have you thought about editing software? I bet you haven’t! But there are some great programs out there. I like ProWritingAid the best, but there are lots of services out there. Right now, PWA is having a Black Friday sale until 11/30/21 so you can get a year’s subscription up to 50% off!
 
Online courses are also wonderful! There are all kinds of courses on mastering Amazon ads, writing blurbs, or just writing in general. I got a lot out of Inkers Con last year, and the best part is you have access to the materials for three years after the conference! I’m toying with attending live versus digital in 2022, but to be honest, it’s FAR more economic for me to attend digitally–no airfare, no hotel, no boarding the dogs… and I can attend in my PJs if I want! You can still get access to the 2021 Conference if you want to start there. I believe it’s discounted right now!
 
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been toying with looking into such software as Scrivener, Vellum, and Atticus for formatting to take my self-published books to the next level. Unfortunately, Vellum is for Macs, but sometimes I’m tempted. I’m very tempted…. 
 
Likewise, the author in your life might be jonesing for some graphics programs, such as the premium services offered by Canva or Bookbrush. Sure, we can use the free versions, but the paid services allow us to take our publications and social media graphics to that coveted next level of professional design.
 
If all else fails, offer to gift your writer the funds to cover the purchase of cover art or professional editing! Those two items right there represent a huge chunk of investment, and something most indie authors would love a little help with.
 
So what about you? What’s on your wish list? What have you been eyeing for yourself or someone else?

Have You Written a Holiday Romance or Mystery? Tell Me About It!

Last week I posted about my love of holiday movies and books. I’m particularly fond of holiday romances, but I’m partial to holiday mysteries too. In last week’s post I asked for your recommendations, and I certainly want to hear about your favorite books and holiday movies, so drop in at that post and tell me more!

But this week I want to hear all about the holiday stories you’ve written! Doesn’t matter if they were published this year or in years past, I want to know all about them! Drop your links, share your blurbs and teasers. SHOW ME THE STORIES!

I’d love to make this the ultimate 2021 Holiday Book Shopping List!

 

As much as I love holiday romances, I haven’t actually written one myself. Maybe next year! The closest I’ve come is my snowed-in paranormal romance, Ghost of a Chance. She’s a fangirl with a dark secret. His inner wolf isn’t speaking to him. Pitted against each other for an valuable inheritance, cut off from the outside world, they must learn to work together when a series of increasingly dangerous events threatens their lives. When it becomes clear that these incidents aren’t accidental, who can they trust?

Like snowed-in stories? Then check it out!

But PLEASE leave me your holiday book links!! 

 

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: I Need Your Holiday Movie and Book Recommendations!

Okay, so those who know me know I am a SUCKER for holiday-themed romance stories and movies. I got hooked on them as a teenager when I discovered an anthology of Regency Holiday Romances. I devoured it, and have looked for more every holiday season.

For me, that “holiday season” starts in November, and some years lasts until March. I crave romances that take place in snowy venues, mysteries in snow-bound country homes, average girls who find their prince in a fictional kingdom in the snow-covered Alps.

See, the key ingredient for me is snow. It’s a rarity here, and cause for celebration because Snow Day! Am I right? When you live in the hot, humid, sweltering South, you pine for ice skating parties, sledding down monster hills, and drinking hot cocoa by a crackling fire in the hearth. I love stories where the girl returns or arrives in a small town and falls in love–probably because I am not a city girl myself. I love wreaths on the doors, and baking snickerdoodles, and at this time of year, I want holiday stories and movies.

Mostly because the message of these stories is guaranteed to be uplifting. There is joy, hope, love and a little bit of magic to be had in these stories, and we could all use a little bit more of that these days.

This is the first of a series of Holiday-Themed Posts asking for your recommendations.

This post is for story and movie recommendations. This time, Monday Nov 8, I’d like very much if you’d sell me on YOUR favorite holiday movie or novel. This post is for you to recommend something you love, but not your own work, please. Next week, Monday Nov 15th, I’ll ask for links to YOUR holiday stories–and I want to hear about them ALL. There are 12 holidays of all nationalities and religions celebrated in December alone–if you’ve written a story set during one of these times, I want to hear about it! It does not have to be a new release, either! The post after that, Monday Nov 22, I’m going to be asking for your gift-giving recommendations, with special focus on those for writers.

I have some current favorite movies to share with you here. Yes, I love It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, and not a single Christmas goes by without a re-watch of The Muppet Christmas Carol. But I also love The Holiday, with Jack Black, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, and Jude Law. A fun, heartwarming movie about finding your place with the right people. I also adore Last Holiday with Queen Latifah–I adore how she finds her inner lioness when she thinks she is about to die. I’m also a sucker for The Princess Switch movies–how many characters can Vanessa Hudgens play in one movie? Can they possibly add a 4th character? We’ll have to see! Because I also love musicals, I make a point of re-watching A Cinderella Story: A Christmas Wish. Just love this one! I’m also fond of A Princess for Christmas, in part because I really like Katie McGrath as an actress and she brings her skill to this movie.

As for stories, there are almost too many to share! I have on tap to read On Christmas Tree Cove by Sarah Vance-Tompkins, Holiday Ever After by Jill Shalvis, The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo, and Jenny Holiday’s A Princess for Christmas. In the past, I’ve enjoyed A Timeless Christmas by Alexis Stanton, It Happened One Christmas (Anthology), Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory, A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas, and SO MANY MORE. It’s embarrassing how many of these stories I have on my Kindle, and I’m looking for more!

So share with me YOUR favorite holiday movies and stories! I want them all! Tell me where I can find them, but more importantly, why do you love it so? Why should I love it too?? I can’t wait to indulge!

Accolades for An Embarrassment of Itches!

Talk about embarrassing! Yesterday I received an email congratulating me on my recent recognition from InD’Tale Magazine: a Crowned Heart of Excellence from their reviewer, Moira Wolf.

Only I wasn’t aware of any such recognition.

After making a confused face and saying, ‘What Crowned Heart?”, I scampered off to the website to check, and saw that yes, indeed, I’d received a very nice review from them. But the only place the Crowned Heart shows up is in their digital magazine itself, not on the review page I linked here.

So yes, An Embarrassment of Itches has received one of InD’Tales top honors! I believe that puts it in the running for their year-end awards as well, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

It also received a stellar review from Linda Tonis with the Paranormal Romance Guild! (Don’t let the name fool you, they review books from all genres).

Hmmm. I guess I’d better crack on with the next installment, eh? Not to worry–I’m working hard on Book 2, The Dog Days of Murder. Hopefully we’ll see a Christmas release date, but if not then, just after the New Year!

 

Why I stand with #RomanceforRoe and #OurChoice

Photo by Roy Reyna via Pexels

Once upon a time there was a young girl who was raised to believe she could be whatever she wanted to be when she grew up.

As such, she worked hard, studied hard, made it into the college of her choice, and focused on achieving the goals that would allow her to pursue her dream career.

It wasn’t until she’d been out on her own for a few years that she began to notice some odd things. Mechanics and car salesmen treated her as though she were not capable of driving a car, much less making big purchase decisions without consulting with a male relative. The career she wanted was highly competitive and male-predominated, and she was frequently told she should try for something else, like being a teacher. She began running into young men with outdated ideas about the roles women should play, especially in relationships. She was offered salaries a fraction of that of her male cohorts, and many times they took all the credit for work she did as well.

She naively believed that the battle for women’s rights had been fought and won before her time.

Then she came across a fascinating book titled The Mercury Thirteen: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight. (If you haven’t read it, you should)

The Mercury Thirteen told the story of thirteen women–pilots and patriots who in many cases gave up their jobs and families for a chance to be one of the first US women in space. Despite their sacrifices, despite passing the same battery of advanced testing that the men of the Mercury 7 team passed, these women were shut out of the astronaut program by the boys club at NASA and Capitol Hill. That alone would have made for fascinating reading, but there was one statement that stood out among the others: at the time of the program, a woman in the US was incapable of opening a bank account, obtaining a credit card, or renting a car without the permission of a male relative.

The thing is, that wasn’t all that long ago. Neither was the passing of Roe v. Wade. Those battles that the young woman had assumed were over and done with had been fought by her grandparents and parents, not by some unknown agents in the mists of time. Those battles had been fought to grant her the choice of growing up to be whatever she wanted to be. It was just by luck that she’d entered into a world where choice was even an option for people such as her.

It’s all about choice. It’s about agency: over your life, over your finances, over your body.

Here’s the funny thing about civil rights. These battles aren’t something that you fight for and cease to worry about once that victory has been achieved. They are something that needs to be defended every single day or someone may try to take them away.

To that effect, I’m proud to stand with 35 other romance authors in offering stories as part of the Our Choice Anthology.

Says Jackie Barbosa, who spearheaded the Romance for Roe project, “The Supreme Court’s rejection of an emergency injunction against S.B. 8 (in Texas) means that abortion access is now in jeopardy in every state. As romance authors, we believe all people deserve happy endings, including pregnant people who decide to terminate a pregnancy for any reason. That’s why we are raising funds for PPFA and NARAL Pro Choice, leaders in the national legal fight to protect the reproductive rights of all Americans.”

Since Sept. 1, S.B. 8 has decimated abortion access in Texas, forcing the overwhelming majority of patients to either travel hundreds of miles out of state to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. Politicians in Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, South Dakota, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, and Oklahoma are currently pushing “copycat bills” to their citizens of constitutionally protected rights—which disproportionately impacts women; Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color; members of the LGBTQ+ community; and those with lower incomes.

According to its website, Planned Parenthood and its litigating partners have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider intervention in the federal case against S.B. 8 brought by abortion providers, funds, and supporters, which won’t be heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals until December.

For all the details on how to donate and get your anthology, go to romanceforroe.com

Romance for Roe Fast Facts

  • 36 authors
  • 6,418 pages
  • 1.57 million words
  • 20 contemporary, 8 historical, and 8 speculative romances
  • 4 USA Today Bestselling authors
  • supporting two national charities
  • 100% donation based
  • Running for 9 months

 

Author and Anthology Fun Facts

  • 4 USA Today Bestselling authors contributed to the anthology: Zoe York, Eva Leigh, Susannah Nix, and Elizabeth Bright
  • There is a husband and wife team who both have romance stories in the anthology – Nico Rosso and Eva Leigh
  • The stories by Liz Crowe, Carrie Lomax, and Elizabeth Bright all feature a person having an abortion and living HEA (happily ever after – the defining feature of the romance genre); all three stories have also never been published before
  • Most of the stories are full length (>50,000 words or 200 page) novels, but there are also short stories and novellas
  • Nearly all of the stories are by Americans, but there are international authors from the UK and beyond
  • Not all romance authors are women – male and non-binary authors have also contributed stories
  • The anthology covers much of the spectrum of romance currently available, with gay, lesbian, poly, bisexual, and straight characters
  • The stories range from ‘sweet’ kisses-only to erotic. All the stories have their heat level listed, so readers can *choose* what they’d like to read.

 

FAQs

 

Q: What is Romance for Roe?

A: The Romance for Roe charity anthology project was organized by author Jackie Barbosa, with support and assistance from Eve Pendle, Zoe York, and Carrie Lomax. Participating authors responded to a call on social media to contribute a story to this charity anthology in late summer 2021.

Q: Who are the participating authors?

A: Please see the list at the bottom of the Home page.

Q: Is Romance for Roe a charitable organization under the U.S. tax code?

A: No. Do not send money to Romance for Roe; we are not a charitable organization, and it will not be accepted. Donate directly to the organization of your choice, PPFA or NARAL .

Q: What is your affiliation with PPFA and NARAL?

A: None. Romance for Roe has no legal relationship with either PPFA or NARAL Pro Choice America. The charity anthology is a voluntary collaboration organized by author Jackie Barbosa.

Q: What will I receive when I submit my donation receipt?

A: You will receive an email with a link to download the anthology via Bookfunnel. Bookfunnel is a paid vendor and is not affiliated with the Romance for Roe project, Planned Parenthood, or NARAL Pro Choice.

Q: Can I submit a donation receipt for other abortion funds?

A: Romance for Roe is supporting PPFA and NARAL at this time, to counter the legal threat to Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut. Other organizations are raising funds for direct abortion access, and we encourage you to support them if it is financially feasible for you.

Q: Who retains the copyright to the books?

A: Each contributing author retains all rights to their intellectual property.

Q: How do I get in touch with the Romance for Roe organizers?

A: You can contact Jackie Barbosa at romanceforroe@gmail.com.

Q: I donated and forwarded the receipt, but I haven’t got the download link. Help!

A: First check your spam folder. Most likely the receipt and reply with the download link are there. If you received two receipts, please try the other one. If it still doesn’t work, please contact us directly and we’ll try to sort it out.

Q: I donated $10 cash in person / have a photograph/scan of the receipt, can I still get the ebook?

A: Unfortunately not. We’re only able to process digital donations at this time.

Q: Can I buy the ebook from my preferred book retailer?

A: Retailers take a cut of 30 – 65% of the price of all books they sell and charge a download fee dependent on the size of book, but we wanted all the money you donate to go towards increasing access to abortion. Therefore, we are not making this available on retailers.

Q: Will there be a paperback of this anthology?

A: There would need to be about 15 large volumes for the anthology to be in paper, so we don’t feel that’s feasible. Sorry!

 

Whoa, that’s a LOT of stories! I hope you’ll join me and these talented storytellers in raising money to support the defense of a person’s right to choose.

Cozy Mystery Bookish Event Oct 5-14 2021 #CozyMystery #Giveaway

Woot! I’m so thrilled to be participating in the 2021 Cozy Mystery Bookish Event at N.N. Light’s Book Heaven! What with Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp going down, and even some other social media sites, such Twitter and TikTok struggling to keep up, I hope I can get the word out!

It’s simple: check out the Rafflecopter and enter to win your chance at a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Along the way, you’ll find a lot of wonderful cozy mysteries waiting to be explored, including An Embarrassment of Itches by yours truly, writing as M.K. Dean.

When An Embarrassment of Itches was reviewed at N.N. Light’s Book Heaven, they said, “M.K. Dean weaves a brilliantly written cozy mystery and An Embarrassment of Itches kept me guessing until the very end. If you’re a pet lover who loves cozy mysteries, you’ll thoroughly enjoy An Embarrassment of Itches. If you’re a fan of cozy mysteries, you’ll love An Embarrassment of Itches. If pet lovers’ cozy mysteries are your reading jam, pick up An Embarrassment of Itches and start reading. I can’t wait for the next installment in this highly inventive cozy mystery series. Highly recommend!”

Here’s the Rafflecopter to get you started!

 

 

Teaching Yourself New Tricks: Advice from an Old Dog Trainer

The other day I was complaining to a group of friends how frustrated I was with my journey to better health. That I was so frazzled and stressed that even the smallest things seemed impossible. That I was so angry at how much I’d had sacrificed and given up in the last few years that I resisted like hell when asked to give up anything else. How exhausted I was all the time, and how this impacted my ability to make good personal decisions when all my energy for good decision-making was reserved for work.

I begged for their support. I was hoping for some other bit of miraculous advice, the perfect diet plan that would allow me to shed twenty pounds in two days, feel AMAZING with just some small tweaks in my routine, and take at least twenty years off my appearance. Okay, not really. But certainly that’s the expectation we have when starting any new ‘clean up your act’ plan. Miracles in 21 days or your money back.

The response I got startled me.

One of my friends said, “You wouldn’t expect a reactive dog to make huge improvements overnight. Why do you expect the same for yourself?”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a reactive dog is one who over-reacts to things in its environment. This kind of behavior can be hard-wired into the dog through genetics (certain breeds, especially the working and herding dogs, have been bred to respond to certain situations and stimuli, and can be more reactive as a result), through poor socialization (not having seen enough different things as a young pup, which makes the whole world an intense place), or from a terrifying incident–like getting attacked.

Reactive dogs are tough to live with because almost everything sets them off: movement, sound, certain situations. They lunge and bark in public spaces, making them difficult to walk. The tendency is to keep them home, which makes the problem worse, especially if you stop having people come over. The risk of a reactive dog biting someone is high because their displays are often fear-based, and if you can’t calm them down, their response is disproportionate to the stimuli.

I’ve had two reactive dogs, so I’ve had to learn a lot about managing them.

The first was Abbey, a female German Shepherd that came from bloodlines that featured a lot of Schutzhund champions. Schutzhund is a dog sport that tests a dog’s performance during tracking, obedience, and protection work. That is not to say that a Schutzhund dog can’t make a great family pet, but the sport does prize drive as a characteristic, and reactivity can be a consequence of high drive.

Abbey would have probably been a tough-but-manageable dog had she not had a horrific experience. When she was about three years old, we were out walking after a heavy snowstorm. My neighbors had a litter of adult mixed-breed shepherds that lived in a pen with little human interaction. On this day for the first time ever, they decided to let their unsocialized, untrained dogs loose to play in the snow. Four dogs all about Abbey’s size jumped us as a pack with the intent of killing her.

Had it not been for the excessive snow, they probably would have. Abbey dove under the snow pack while I waded into the mass of dogs, screeching like a banshee, grabbing dogs by the scruff and slinging them across the yard. Their owners came charging out of the house to collect their dogs–with never a word of apology or to see if me or my dog had been injured, mind you.

And after that, if Abbey saw a dog even 100 yards away, she went into an impressive display of barking and growling, pawing the air while I held her back by the collar. Going for a walk was no longer fun. We were like victims of assault, constantly looking over our shoulders for another attack. Abbey thought a good offense was the best defense. She even reacted on garbage days when people set their trash cans on the curb. Whatever was new and different in her environment was grounds for being defensive.

Over the next three or four years I worked on her behavior, taking “aggressive” dog classes, working with trainers and behaviorists. It wasn’t until one such trainer helped me to see that she was over-reacting out of fear that I was able to start managing her better. In the end, we were able to safely introduce her to strange dogs, and pass another dog-walker on a six-foot-wide trail without her blinking an eye.

But it didn’t happen overnight.

When I got my next reactive dog, Sampson, I had a better handle on what to do. I’d made sure Sampson had been well-socialized as a puppy, but his problem was he had a strong prey drive. If it moved, it lit him up. I could always tell when he wasn’t getting enough exercise because he’d flinch if a car or a jogger passed us while we were out walking. I’d have to take him to the side of the trail if we met someone on a hike and ask him to sit while I fed him treats. This required me to be hyper-vigilant, always scanning our environment for something he might react to and heading off that reaction before it occurred. Fortunately, he was very food-motivated, and eventually it got to the point when he saw the jogger, the cyclist, the car, etc, he’d flip around, plant himself in front of me, and stare at me while drool streamed out of his mouth.

A wonderful dog, but not easy to live with.

I bring this up because much like all worthwhile things in life, retraining a reactive dog is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, dedication, and consistency to see results. You can’t decide that this time, you won’t reinforce the behavior you want while discouraging the behavior you don’t want. The results matter because not following through will lead to a lifetime of trying to prevent your hysterical dog from hurting himself or someone else. Not to mention it is horrible to live in a state of such anxiety all the time.

And at no point did I tell either of my dogs they were fat, lazy, or stupid for behaving the way they did. I didn’t scream at them. I didn’t tell them they were ugly. I didn’t set them up to fail. I didn’t ask them to do something not very much fun without providing some kind of reward to make it worth their while. I didn’t expect them to get it right 100% of the time, either. I accepted anything that moved in the right direction until it became a consistent habit and I could ask for a little bit more. I acknowledged that if they got it wrong, I was usually to blame because I wasn’t paying attention.

Why would I treat myself–and the changes I want to make in my life–with any less patience and compassion?

I shouldn’t. And neither should you.

So remember the tenants of dog training when it comes to yourself and the changes you want to make in your life:

  1. Set yourself up to succeed. Look ahead for the triggers and plan redirects around them.
  2. Calmly and firmly tell yourself no when faced with a decision that isn’t good for you (like walking into the break room and discovering boxes of doughnuts from the best bakery in town). Be sure to reward yourself for making the right decision. This is critical! You’ll have to figure out what your “high-value treats” are. Try not to trade one bad habit for another (i.e. you’re trying to quit smoking so you’re eating lots of cookies, or you’re spending too much money shopping online).
  3. Be patient. You’re in this for the long-haul. Getting ten little things right can be set back by getting one major thing wrong, but getting something wrong isn’t the end of the world. Just do better next time.
  4. Remember that you’re making changes for a reason. Failure to stick with it has consequences. Failing to train your reactive dog may result in your dog biting someone or getting into a serious dogfight with injuries. Failure to make needed changes in your life may result in further damage to your mental and physical health.
  5. Remember that some of the behaviors you’re dealing with may have their roots in past trauma. I never blamed Abbey for over-reacting to the sight of strange dogs–we both could have died on that snowy day! Be kind to your wounded self too.
  6. Learn from your mistakes. Failure to plan is planning to fail. I wouldn’t leave the house without a treat bag full of high-value tidbits to distract my dog in certain situations. I also learned to recognize which situations were too overwhelming for her to start, and adjusted our interactions as a result. Identify your triggers and challenging situations and plan accordingly.
  7. Accept that it is up to you to affect the changes you want to see, and that you can’t necessarily expect help from others. When you’re out walking a reactive dog, you have zero control over what other people are doing with their dogs, or on skateboards, or with kids in strollers, etc. It is up to YOU to take yourself and your dog out of a situation that you suspect will be triggering. Same if you’re trying to alter your habits (be it food, alcohol, drugs, swearing, or a pervasive need to sing Disney songs, whatever). You cannot expect others around you to create a safe zone for you. Accept responsibility for your own life.
  8. Ask for help and support. Wait, what? Doesn’t that contradict the last rule? No, not really. Training a reactive dog will fail if some members of the house refuse to support the training efforts. It isn’t reasonable or fair to expect the world at large to cooperate with your efforts to make change, but it is reasonable to ask for help from those in your immediate circle. It’s okay to admit that a house full of cookies (or alcohol or Chez Doodles, whatever your poison) proves to be too hard to resist. You can sit your family down and explain that you have to make changes in order to improve the quality of your life, and while you’re not asking that everyone follow the same strictures you might be making for your personal health (for example, going dairy-free), you are going to need to set limits on how much of the high-temptation food is in the house, and that when choosing to eat out, preference be given to a restaurant that has more options than pizza or burgers. It isn’t wrong to ask for this kind of support, particularly in the early stages of change when you are trying to get a handle on it. You wouldn’t take a reactive dog to a dog park until you’d learned how to manage their reactivity in public. A dog park is too much for many dogs, not just reactive ones! You start out with smaller, quieter walks until you know how to manage your dog in more stimulating situations. So if you’re trying to affect change in eating habits, perhaps eating out with the family isn’t the best choice at first.
  9. Consider professional help. Sure, you’ve been training dogs (or feeding yourself, or dealing with your own issues) all your life. But sometimes you need the help of a trained professional to manage a specific issue. Sometimes that reactive dog needs medication to calm down to the point it can listen appropriately to your training. You might need therapy to deal with old wounds. Perhaps your current methods of coping, which come with consequences, have their roots in previous trauma, and you won’t really effect change until you figure out how to heal from that.
  10. Give yourself credit for the changes and improvements you make. They may not seem like much at first, but don’t discount them! A baby step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. Eventually, you will no longer be satisfied with baby steps, and you’ll be able to continue pushing forward. Six months or a year from now, you’ll look back in astonishment at how far you’ve come.

So there you have it: why training yourself is no different from training your dog. If your dog slips its collar and runs off, you wouldn’t beat your dog for finally coming to you when you called it, would you? No, you wouldn’t–or you shouldn’t, at any rate.

Then stop beating yourself up for returning to the path you want after briefly straying from it. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

DYI Salon Nails at Home

First, I need to start this post off by saying I am NOT affiliated with any of the companies whose products are mentioned here today. I’m just a gal who loves nail polish and thought I’d share my experiences with different brands.

But you could sum up my love of nail polish–and horses–in this OPI commercial.

 

I’m not one of these people who is supremely talented with nail art. I’m also hard on my hands, and the day job prevents me from wearing my nails too long. To be honest, it’s hard for me to grow my nails out very long these days, which is probably just as well for a writer as well as a horsewoman.

But that means I need nail polish that lasts.

If you’re interested in what I do for nail health, I’ve posted about it here. In that post, I mention that when the pandemic struck, I stopped going for my monthly manicure at the nail salon. (I stopped everything: haircuts, doctor’s appointments, going to the grocery store… I got everything I needed online and if I couldn’t get it that way, I did without.)

After a year of going nail-polish free, I realized I’d broken my nail salon addiction. I no longer felt I could afford either the time or the cost of getting my nails professionally done. And to be honest, of all the things I gave up in 2020, going to get my nails done was the least traumatic to lose. Besides, you can’t check your O2 levels with a finger pulse oximeter while wearing most nail polishes.

But gradually, the urge to paint my nails returned. Painting my nails is a form of self-care. In times when we’ve had to sacrifice so much for so long, I’m not going to apologize for a little self-indulgence.

I went back to my old standby, Live Love Polish first. Sadly, after over a year of abandoning my shades for salon manis, most of my LLP colors were too old and tacky to be revived. I discovered that the site has moved away from selling any polish but their own brand, which is understandable, but I missed the variety they used to offer, particularly when it came to thermal nail polishes. I adore Rothko Red, and was sad to see LLP no longer carried it, but fortunately, I was able to find it elsewhere online. Thermal nail polishes are so much fun! They are color sensitive, like mood rings, so the tips of your nails are often darker than the beds. The color changes dependent on temperature, so I’ve seen my nails go from one shade on a cold morning walk to another after washing your hands in hot water. So much fun!

LLP still has some other fun polishes–most notably, their magnetic series. You paint your nails in black for a base color, then paint the magnetic shade of your choice over it. (My personal favorite is Siamese, but I don’t see it on their site anymore). Before the polish dries, you hold a magnet over the nail, which aligns the metal flecks in the polish to cause a linear area of refraction. The effect is similar to a tiger’s eye stone, very cool!

But neither polish is great in the longevity department. I don’t know about you, but I resent spending a significant period of time painting nails, waiting for them to dry, doing a second or third coat, more drying time, and then a top coat as well… only to have the edges wear or chip within 24 hours. That’s no fun! Gel polishes seemed to last a little longer, but no where near the promised two weeks touted by the companies.

So I began exploring other options. You’ll see a lot of those on Facebook and Instagram! The two that appealed to me the most were ColorStreet and Nailboo

ColorStreet is a system that has you apply strips of real nail polish to your nails. (No, I don’t understand how they do that!)

What I like about ColorStreet is that I can create some of the fun nail art designs I’ve seen online by using their clear overlays on top of a base coat polish. I found the application a wee bit challenging at first, and I would strongly advise watching the videos for tips. Do NOT apply strips to your thumbnails until you’ve done the others because you need your thumbs to shape the color strip around your nails. And be absolutely sure to apply a top coat of clear polish!! I didn’t do that the first time and was disappointed at how quickly the color began to peel as a result. There are other useful tips to know as well–such as using a flat iron or other such device to reseal your packages once you open them to save for future use–I’m afraid I wasted quite a bit of my first package as a result of not knowing these things in advance.

The end result? I really like some of their patterned designs (and am saving them for special occasions, such as Halloween, or the next time I go to a book convention) and the color lasts longer than your standard nail polish (even premium brands such as OPI) but I didn’t find ColorStreet to be cost effective for me, and the application can be a little finickity. Don’t be in a hurry!

But this sheet color Dallas Darling (since discontinued) came out nicely, don’t you think?

But then I discovered Nailboo. I have to say, I am in LOVE. It’s basically the SNS powder system I enjoyed when I was getting my nails done at a salon and it’s SO EASY. I’m going to attempt a little video later today. If I am successful, I’ll link it here. But the short version is not only is the Nailboo system easy to use, but the nail polish is incredibly durable too. Cost-wise you are paying more for the system than the others, but the ease of use and the durability makes up for it, in my opinion. So far, I’ve maintained a shade for two weeks without major issues, aside from twice I’ve had the entire polish pop off the nail in one piece (much like a fake nail) when I hit my hand wrong about a week post polishing. No big deal. I just reapplied the powder and it matched the others like I’d just done them all.

A couple of tips:

  1. Apply the base coat carefully. This is the coat that you use for the building powder, as well as the color powders. If you’re messy when you apply it, you’ll wind up with powder adhering where you don’t want it. Once I’m applying the actual color, I don’t take the base coat to the side edges of my nails, as this can result in a ridge of buildup that needs to be filed down, or you can get too thick a coating.
  2. Use the little brush provided to dust off the powder between applications, but just lightly brush over the nail or you can smudge up the powder. Be sure to use the cleaner to clean the brush afterward or you’ll end up with clumps of polish gumming the whole thing together.
  3. When the instructions suggest waiting two minutes between applying the activator coat and any next steps, wait five instead. You’ll thank me for it later.
  4. After I apply the first coat of color powder, I don’t take any subsequent coats all the way to my nail bed. This tend to build up a thick edge that will catch on your hair and clothing a week or so later, and make it easier to pull the paint off. I try to taper the color application here as a result.
  5. When the instructions tell you to buff and file the nails before applying the top coat, DO IT. Don’t be shy about buffing that surface. If you don’t, you won’t get that highly desirable glossy shine with the top coat because the color coat will be too rough.

The whole thing takes about twenty minutes to do both hands, even with the wait times. Seriously, the more you do it, the faster you’ll get as well. Here’s Ocean Blue before the final buffing and top coat. There were some thick areas of powder buildup where more stuck to the nail than was supposed too–I suspect I put too much base coat on. But it filed down without issue.

And here’s the final result. Pretty snazzy, eh? Honestly, it’s like getting salon nails done for a fraction of the time and price. What I paid for a Nailboo starter kit was the equivalent to a single trip to the salon. I have no idea how long a jar of powder will last, but I suspect I’ll get at least four or five treatments from one jar. Maybe more. My only con for Nailboo is that so far, their color palette is somewhat limited. But I think that will expand as the product catches on!

 

I’m curious: what do you do as a form of self care?