Monthly Archives: April 2015

Early Bird/Night Owl–which are you?

by Kassandra Lamb

My husband has been sleep deprived lately. He teaches part-time and this semester he ended up with an 8:30 class. This is problematic because he is a night person.

picture of an owl

photo by Dominic Schulz, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

I’m even more of a night owl. His normal bedtime is 12:30 a.m. Mine is 1 to 2 a.m.

“Well, why doesn’t he just go to bed earlier?” the morning people are asking themselves about now.

It’s not that easy. What people often don’t get is that being an early bird vs. a night owl is not a choice. Our individual circadian rhythms dictate when we are most alert and when we get sleepy. And these circadian rhythms are determined by a part of the brain that we have no control over.

Like my husband is now, I spent most of my working career sleep-deprived. And I’ve spent my entire life explaining to people who are not night owls that no, I can’t get up at dawn to go on that all day outing. If I do, I will be miserable, because I will be operating on four to five hours of sleep.

“Just go to bed earlier” is their response. But that won’t do any good. I will stare at the ceiling sleepless until the wee hours of the morning. Often I sleep less well if I go to bed before I am drowsy. And the longer it takes for me to fall asleep, the more likely I will start to worry about whether or not I will get enough rest. At that point, all hope is lost!

If you’re interested in how all this works biologically, read on. If you could care less about the biological mechanics, skip the next two paragraphs.

image of brain showing hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is that tiny blue structure (image by Balusen.com staff, CC-BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Our sleep-wake cycles (one of several circadian rhythms in the body/brain) are controlled by a tiny structure in our brains called the hypothalamus. This structure controls much of our physical functioning, mainly through its interaction with our endocrine system (the glands that produce hormones). In response to fluctuations in daylight, the hypothalamus signals the pineal gland to increase or decrease the release of a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin makes us sleepy and promotes deep sleep.

For the average person, melatonin levels start to increase around 3 p.m., when sunlight is becoming less intense, and peak at around 2 to 3 in the morning. But melatonin is affected by other things, such as our age and individual variations in circadian rhythms. For some of us, melatonin levels increase earlier (early birds), for others, later (night owls). On the opposite end, the peak will be later, so night owls, even if they get a full night’s sleep, will be less alert in the morning than early birds.

Sadly, our society is not kind to night owls. Indeed, we as a culture do not value sleep as we should. Instead of encouraging people to get adequate rest, we market power drinks full of caffeine and praise people who “burn the candle at both ends” as ambitious and dedicated.

But sleep deprivation is not a minor issue. It drastically reduces productivity, increases the risk of accidents and undermines good physical and mental health. We need to work toward supporting better sleep habits in the U.S.

a thrush with a worm

Does the early bird really get the worm? Heck if I know. 😉  (photo by Iain of Scotland, CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Recently a writer pal blogged about 5 things she wasn’t going to apologize for anymore. One of them was being a morning person. She is absolutely right. Why should we have to apologize for or constantly explain our body’s natural circadian rhythms?

As with all innate traits, we need to learn to be more tolerant of those who are different from ourselves. So I will make a promise now: I won’t complain about my early bird friends who want to leave the party at 9 p.m. Nor will I growl at them when they offer a chipper “Good morning” at 9 a.m.

In return, please understand that I can’t “just go to bed earlier” and outings with me need to start at 10 a.m., not 7 a.m.

How about you: are you a night owl or an early bird? Do you get tired of explaining yourself to those on the opposite end of the spectrum?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

There Is a Season For All Things

With spring finally here, after a particularly brutal winter in a good part of the United States, we decided to reflect a bit about the seasons. So we asked our authors this question:

What is your favorite season and why?

Several of them waxed quite poetic with their answers.

shannonportraitShannon:

The seasons pull my soul along as surely as the moon affects the tides. Right now we’re heading into spring. Spring births restlessness. The kind that makes me want to plant herbs and fairy gardens, clear out clutter and polish everything in my life until it shines like the moon.

We’re just leaving winter behind and I say good riddance. Winter buries me in darkness. Just like a tulip bulb waiting in the suffocating, cold earth, I wait in stillness for the season to leave. My soul mutters, “This too shall pass” as the days grow darker and colder.

Before that came fall. Fall also brings restlessness for me, but a different kind. Fall brings a deep ache for bare Gypsy feet, a need to be blown into unknown places like the brittle leaves when the high winds howl. Fall brings longing for travel, exploration, to be anywhere but where I am.

Shannon and her boys, on the beach at sunset

Several years ago — introducing my sons to sunset on the beach

And then there is summer. My love. The season where I finally feel like myself.

Summer blows my heart wide open with bone- warming sunshine and precious ocean time. I am no longer restless or curled inward. I am alive. I feel my heart beating, overflowing with gratitude.

shuffing feet in sand

Summer brings salty hair and lips; sweet, lazy laughter-filled days with the kids. It brings peace on healing rays of sun. In the summer, I feel connected to Mother Earth and grounded in the moment as I dig my toes into warm sand. Summer is my long, contented sigh and when it comes, I am finally home.

K.B. Owen
Kathy

There is something about autumn that has always appealed to me: the fresh, crisp air after the humidity of summer; the blaze of golds, reds, and burnt oranges that sweeps across the landscape; kids starting the new school year (most of them ready to go back – the parents sure are); roadside stands and farmer’s markets spilling over with harvest bounty.

It’s a time when I feel more energetic and want to do more things, whether it’s visiting a pumpkin patch, going leaf-peeping, making a hearty stew, or cleaning up the yard. I find myself exploring new recipes to use up the surplus in my garden, or learning ways to preserve some of it for winter.

photo of pumpkinsIt’s a time to pull out the fall decorations, to spruce things up with pumpkins, gourds, and tea lights, and to pull out the backyard fire bowl and sit around it, swapping tales of our day while sipping cocktails.

Our family looks forward to the fall holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving, too. My kids have been able to enjoy Halloween in a way that I never could in my childhood, because my allergy-induced asthma often put me in the hospital in late October, especially during my trick-or-treat years. I carved my first pumpkin at 22. But I think I’ve now carved enough pumpkins to have made up for lost time! I consider myself very blessed to enjoy many Halloweens with my own children, and every year it feels like I’m just as much of a kid about it as they are. I don’t think I’ll ever “quite” grow up in that regard.

me with normal-sized headKass

The seasons really affect my mood. They always have. When we lived in Maryland, my favorite season was summer, hands down.

I hated winter with its short, gray days and icy roads. I would start to come to life in the spring, but that is Maryland’s rainy season. So while the temperatures were warmer and the threat of ice and snow faded away, it was still gray and damp all too many days.

Summer was what I lived for. Yes, it was hot, but the long, long days of sunshine were worth a little sweat. I love being outdoors and I love projects, and there was always something to be done on our little horse farm–a fence needing mending, an outbuilding to be painted. I was in my glory!

azaleas blooming in the woodsNow I live in northern Florida, and while I still like summer a lot, spring has become my favorite season. Unlike in Maryland, spring tends to be fairly dry down here. For days on end, the sun shines, the temperatures hover in the high 70’s to low 80’s and the humidity is relatively low. The mild but rainy winters produce lush greenery and gorgeous spring flowers.

Winter still depresses me a little, but I know it will be short-lived and I will come to life again in March, when our long, glorious spring begins.

1512492_1496572107233708_1637885544_nVinnie

I wonder if our favorite season might correspond to the arc of our lives. When I was growing up in South Dakota, I loved springtime, especially May, that sliver between freezing cold and hellish hot. As a young adult, I became a beach bunny in California and loved summertime beach volleyball. The long stretch of day meant more playing time.

Vinnie and her husband hiking in fall

Vinnie and her husband hiking in the fall.

Now, in the autumn of my years, my favorite season is fall.

When Emily Dickinson wrote, “There’s a certain slant of light,” I feel she must have meant the angled light of autumn. Here in Santa Cruz, that soft light ushers in our loveliest weather.

With the shortening days, self-reflection takes hold in me, a quiet repose that suits my current stage.

How about you? What is your favorite season, and why?

 

Posted by Kassandra Lamb on behalf of the whole gang. We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Best Way to Resolve Conflict

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple weeks ago, I posted about how to handle bullies, those who promote conflict for its own sake to make themselves feel better about themselves.

But what about more everyday conflicts? What’s the best way to handle all those times when we find ourselves locking horns with someone who has no more desire to fight than we do?

I saw this approach to handling conflict in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is the absolute best approach to conflict resolution.

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0)

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief. But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps, then I’ll give an example.

  • DISENGAGE:  This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes for both of you to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need. Often it is what they think will satisfy their needs, when something else will also do so, and perhaps better.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY. Often we are told that in order to resolve conflict, we have to compromise, i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want. Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution available that gives both parties all of what they want. But we have to look for it.

The first step is the easiest of them. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface. But if those steps are done properly, often step 4 isn’t all that hard.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm, rather than when emotions were already running high.

young couple sitting apart on bench

photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would probably feel neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart talk?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I since I did indeed have a couple boyfriends like that).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse…hmm, another good idea for a blog post. *stops to jot that down*)

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What do you think of it? How do you tend to deal with disputes?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

It’s in the Aether

by Kirsten Weiss

In the wacky world of Victorian science fiction, aka steampunk, machines are typically powered by steam. But the fictional Victorians discovered an alternate power source: aether.

Because seriously, powering a ray gun with steam is just ridiculous. 😀

But what exactly is aether? It depends on who you ask.

~ Ask an ancient philosopher, and he’ll tell you the matter of the universe is divided into four elements (much like this post): earth, wind, air and fire. Everything in creation was composed of different combinations of these elements.

Plato (public domain)

Plato, from The School of Athens fresco by Raphael, in the Vatican (public domain)

The concept of the elements as building blocks for matter really got going in the 3rd century, when Plato proposed a fifth element: aether. He considered it the material filling the region of the further reaches of the cosmos.

Aether as an “in between” element was used to explain several natural phenomena, such as gravity and the movement of light.

~ Ask an alchemist, and they’ll tell you that aether is the substance which pervades all matter – sort of an animating spirit, the anima mundi. This fifth element is an incorruptible substance that activates the other four.

For example, the Philosopher’s stone, of Harry Potter fame, is a magical substance which can transform lead into gold and is composed of aether.

Mice and Mechanicals Square~ Ask a Victorian-era scientist, and he’ll theorize that aether is a hidden, dark energy in space. So empty space isn’t actually empty – there’s an energy within it that, according to the Victorians, can’t be detect yet.

~ Ask a modern physicist, and she’ll tell you that in the 20th century, scientists discovered the universe was expanding. This expansion must be driven by some sort of energy.

Could it be… aether?

We also know that atoms aren’t “solid” per se – there is space in between them. Is it aether?

Which of these theories about aether makes the most sense to you?

Aether plays a major role in my new pre-Steampunk novel of suspense, OF MICE AND MECHANICALS, now available for pre-order on Amazon and Kobo.

book cover Mechanicals, Mayhem, and Murder.

All Sensibility Grey wants is to tinker in her new laboratory in boomtown San Francisco. A stranger in a strange land, she is finally making a life for herself as a purveyor of mechanicals to eager miners. But a pair of government agents have other things in mind.

Loves and loyalties fracture, and mysterious forces threaten to destroy Sensibility and her clockwork secrets. Tangling with occultists, aether gone wrong, and a local vigilante group, Sensibility must decide where her allegiances lie, and whom she can trust.

OF MICE AND MECHANICALS is book two in the Sensibility Grey series of pre-steampunk, paranormal suspense set in the wild west of the California gold rush.

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten has worked overseas, on the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone. These experiences gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature and sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes paranormal mysteries, blending her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem. Kirsten is the author of the pre-Steampunk novels, Steam and Sensibility and Of Mice and Mechanicals, and the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mysteries/urban fantasy.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )