Author Archives: Kassandra Lamb

The Importance of Backstory (Or How the Brain Connects the Present to the Past)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University today, talking about characters’ backstories, the human brain and implications for writers.

Here’s a teaser…

First, a brief excerpt from my own backstory—I recently let go of someone whom I have loved dearly my entire life. I did so because he was acting in a way that was far too reminiscent of my dysfunctional family.

I spent many hours and beaucoup dollars in my youth on therapy, and it was successful. For a very long time now, I’ve hardly given a thought to all that craziness I grew up with. So when this person, after experiencing a highly emotional event, suddenly began acting like his crazy father (the brother of my crazy father), I had to make a tough choice.

I contemplated letting it slide for the sake of family peace, but I repeatedly found my stomach, chest and throat tightening up in a very uncomfortable way. It took me awhile to sort out that this was the same uncomfortable feeling I’d had all too often as a child—a combination of confusion, fear and hurt.

Why am I telling you this sad story? Because it provides some excellent examples of the connections that I’m about to explain—between our minds, our bodies, and our emotions—and between the past and present.

How Our Brains Connect Us to the Past

Some people still scoff, to this day, at the idea that our past affects our present and future reactions. But there is actually a scientific explanation for how this works.

There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It is a component of the limbic system, located between the cerebral cortex (the thinking part of our brain) and the brain stem (the part that controls automatic functions, like breathing).

The Importance of Backstory: How the Brain Connects Past to Present

The limbic system, comprised of several structures and organs, is the emotional center of the human brain. One of the hippocampus’s most important functions, as part of this system, is processing memories.

And right next door is the amygdala, the part of the brain that feels anger and fear, and produces our instinctive knee-jerk reactions to those feelings.

The hippocampus not only processes memories—without it, we would have no long-term memory—but it also remembers the emotions (and the physical sensations associated with those emotions) of past events. Read More

Implications for Writers—The Importance of Backstory

First of all, we need to give our characters backstories that match their current neuroses. Any time a character overreacts (or under-reacts) to a situation in the present, there has to be something in their past that explains it.

Then, how do we show the reader that very important backstory…

Read More…

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

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IRL Mysteries: The Mystery Behind That Annoying Tamper-Resistant Packaging

by Kassandra Lamb

You know what I’m talking about – those frustrating, multiple layers of plastic, foil, paper, and/or cotton that keep you from the pill that will wipe out your headache, calm your anxiety or dry up your allergy-produced drippy nose.

Pills weren’t always distributed that way. Here’s the in-real-life (IRL) mystery behind tamper-resistant packaging, which is still unsolved to this day.

In 1982, seven people died mysteriously. Three were in one family, but the rest were scattered around the Chicago metro area. Other than the family members, there was no connection between the victims.

The Investigation

The mystery behind tamper-resistant packaging
Photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash

The police quickly discovered that they had all taken Tylenol® shortly before their deaths. The capsules were tested and were found to contain potassium cyanide, along with the actual medication.

Someone had tampered with the drug, with no particular victim in mind and for no apparent motive. The hardest type of crime to solve.

In the next few days, there were several copycat tamperings and more people died.

The drug’s manufacturer, Johnson and Johnson®, determined that the contamination was not happening at their plant, but nonetheless they immediately implemented a massive recall. Investigators soon decided that the tampering had happened in the stores.

The Response

So Johnson and Johnson came out with the first tamper-resistant packaging. Their quick response to the crisis saved their company, and also saved many, many lives since then, as such packaging soon became the norm.

Some of the copycat tamperers were caught, but the one who started the whole mess was never found.

The police thought they had their man when James W. Lewis sent a letter to Johnson and Johnson demanding a million dollars to stop the killing. He was convicted of extortion, but there was no evidence that he had actually done the tampering. He had just taken advantage of the situation.

Other leads were pursued but no culprit was ever definitively identified, and the Tylenol-tampering murders remain unsolved today.

So the next time you are cussing at that pill-bottle you can’t get open, remember this mystery behind that tamper-resistant packaging.

It’s there for a good reason.

To read more about this case and Johnson and Johnson’s response to it, see this article in The New York Times.

This is the first in a new series here on misterio press, regarding IRL mysteries that remain unsolved. In some ways, it’s a rather grim topic, but we are mystery writers after all, so we find such things interesting. We hope you do as well.

Are you old enough to remember the Tylenol-tampering in the 1980s? Do you know of any other in-real-life mysteries?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

An “Off” Week Goodie: Why Hugs Are Good For You

by Kassandra Lamb

I saw this article yesterday and wanted to share it.

Hugs are good for you
Photo by C.Valdez on Unsplash

I don’t know about the whole Chakra thing, but it is true about the cortisol levels going down and hugs encouraging the release of oxytocin.

The latter hormone makes us feel good, and also facilitates more social interaction.

In other words, the more we hug, the more we like being around people, and thus the more likely we are to get hugs.

I’m not sure about Virginia Satir’s numbers, though. I suspect a few hugs a day will suffice for well-being, and I’m pretty sure hugging cats and dogs and other cuddly pets counts (snakes and lizards, maybe not).

Also, a word of caution. Not everyone is comfortable with hugs, so never hug anyone unless you’re sure they’re okay with it (you can always ask, though).

Virtual hugs from us to you!! (Not as satisfying, but the best we can do. 🙂 )

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Why Is the Divorce Rate So Low? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

No, that is not a typo in the title—I am asking why the divorce rate is so low. As I contemplate the approach of the 44th Valentine’s Day I will spend with my husband, I thought this was a fitting time to again offer up this post I originally wrote in 2012.

I am absolutely amazed that anybody makes it for 44 years, or longer even, without divorcing. Or committing homicide.

The Divorce Rate is Lower Than You Think

Why is the divorce rate so low

My mother and I going into the church before my wedding. I had no idea what I was getting into.

The common myth is that the divorce rate is 50%. This is just plain not true, but like most myths, it gets repeated so often, with absolute certainty on the part of the person saying it, that we all believe it.

This frequently quoted statistic is based on comparing the number of marriage certificates issued in any given year with the number of divorces filed in that year. That number indeed hovers around 50%, because the number of people getting married has been going down at the same rate as the number of people getting divorced.

The Real Divorce Rate

Counting the number of people who are STILL married in any given year and comparing that to the number of divorces is a more complicated and costly process, so it isn’t done very often. (This data, by the way, is collected by the Center for Disease Control. So I want to know which is the disease, marriage or divorce? I’m assuming the latter. But I digress.)

Comparing those getting divorced to those still married paints a very different picture. The divorce rate in the U.S. actually peaked in 1979 at 23%  (yes, that is twenty-three percent; it has never been 50%). These days it hovers around 20%. Much better odds than 50-50!  (If you don’t want to take my word for it, here is a good article on the subject at PsychCentral.)

So why am I saying the divorce rate is surprisingly low, if it’s actually a lot lower than everybody thinks it is?  Because it just isn’t all that easy to stay married for decade after decade.

Stresses on Marriage

First we’ve got that whole men-and-women-don’t-really-understand-each-other thing going on. (See my gender differences posts for more on that topic.)

Then, throw the stress of parenthood into the marriage mix. Are we clueless about what we are getting into there, or what? But then again, if we weren’t clueless, the species would have died out by now. If we knew in advance how hard parenting is, nobody would do it!

Why is the divorce rate so low

Me giving my mother heart failure, before the age of seatbelts and air conditioning.

And we’ve got the whole aging process, and the fact that people change over time, as they experience new and different things. We don’t always change at the same rate or in the same direction as our partner does. So it takes a lot of work to stay on the same wavelength.

And we should keep in mind that marriage was invented back when the average lifespan was twenty-five years! As recently as the early 1900’s, one partner or the other was bound to die after a couple decades–from childbirth, disease or a cattle stampede.

And I can’t help but suspect that, before the days of modern forensics, a certain number of household accidents were early versions of a Reno quickie divorce.

So how have hubby and I made it this long?

Choosing Well

First, you’ve got the making-the-right-choice-to-begin-with factor. We lucked out there, or perhaps it was divine intervention, because I had definitely dated my share of losers before he came along.

The most important part of making that right choice is marrying someone who shares your values. You don’t have to have all the same interests or even come from the same background or ethnic group. But you do need to care about the same things in life. And fortunately we do.

The Most Important Factor in Surviving Marriage

Communication. You gotta talk to each other, every day, about the little stuff and the big stuff, and about how you feel about things. It’s real easy to get out of the habit of doing this, or to decide that a certain subject is just too painful, or will start a fight, so you don’t go there.

Study after study has found that the single most important factor in marital satisfaction is that both spouses consider their partner to be their best friend.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to my best friend! I hope we have many more, but I’m not taking anything for granted, because marriage is hard work.

Why is the divorce rate so low

When you stop laughing at hubby’s funny-looking tuxedo, please share your thoughts on the important factors in keeping a relationship strong.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Where The Research Takes Us: Weird Stuff We’ve Researched Lately

By the whole gang! Researching our stories has taken us to some rather unusual places recently. Here’s some of the weird stuff we’ve researched lately.

First up…K.B. Owen

Part of the fun of being a mystery writer is the research tidbits you discover. I’ve learned a lot of esoteric stuff in the course of trouping through the Library of Congress, writing to museum curators, and ordering/reading books such as a 19th century pamphlet on bomb-making by anarchist Johann Joseph Most (much to the despair of my security-clearance husband, I might add).

But I’d never done a hands-on experiment before, which brings me to:  Lighting salt on fire

This was prompted by the writing of my latest Concordia Wells mystery, Unseemly Fate (published May 2019). There’s a Halloween party scene on campus, and Concordia is helping with one of the common 19th century traditions, the ghost-story telling activity.

You know how, on sleepovers as a kid, you’d turn out all the lights and tell ghost stories with only a flashlight under your chin to make it extra spooky? Well, the Victorian version of that was lighting salt on fire (not under one’s chin, of course). This newspaper article (The New York Tribune, October 7, 1900) describes what’s involved:

Pretty cool, right? But how long does it last? What color flame does it give off? In the interest of being able to convey a true account, I knew I’d have to try it at home. As you can see, I kind of went big on it, though – no “dessert spoonful” here:

It burned for 18 minutes, LOL. Adjusting down, a well-saturated spoonful would be about 5 minutes. Which means…keep those stories quick, ladies and gentlemen!

Vinnie Hansen

My research through the years has unearthed intriguing material such as the use of blue scorpion venom to treat cancer in Cuba. This strange fact became an important element in my book Black Beans & Venom.

weird stuff authors researcharched lately

The Grateful Dead exhibit

I’m currently working on a short story, “Reviving the Dead,” to submit to next year’s Bouchercon anthology.

My research took me to our local University of California, Santa Cruz, where the library houses a Grateful Dead collection, which seems strange just on the face of it.

But I learned a lot!

weird stuff authors researchFor example, did you know the chemist Owsley Stanley, famous for making LSD in The Sixties, was also the Grateful Dead’s sound engineer?

Gilian Baker

Picking a poison is easy, right? Not so!

There’s lots to consider before killing off a character with a deadly dose! When I began writing my latest cozy, Libel to Kill, I thought I had a brilliant way to poison the victim—put it into their Epipen and then expose them to something they were allergic to.

Alas, after hours of research, I realized it wasn’t feasible to add poison to an Epipen. Now, in real life, that’s a very good thing. In fiction, not so much.

Discouraged, I moved on to find other ways to dose the victim. For a while, I thought the killer would jab her prey with the filed-down tip on an umbrella, like the way the CIA used to kill spies. (Yes, really!) Then I considered a dart gun.

But in the end, none of those ideas worked with my plot. And even if I decided on a cool method of delivery, I still needed to decide on the actual poison. I didn’t like any of the ones I found. Either they took too long to act, they weren’t reliable, or they were too easy to find during an autopsy.

weird stuff we've researched lately

A stonefish, considered the most venomous fish in the world  (Photo by David Clode on Unsplash)

At one point, I seriously considered somehow using a blow fish or some other kind of poisonous sea life. There are quite a few toxic fish out there.

I didn’t go with that idea either, but it did eventually point me in the right direction. I won’t say more because the exact poison I used would give away the story.

Let just say that it comes from a rather cute creature that one definitely would not think of as toxic.

Kassandra Lamb

I’m not sure I’d call this research item weird, but I most certainly found it intriguing. As I was preparing for my current project, The Lord of the Fleas, the next installment in my series about a dog trainer who trains service dogs for military veterans, I was developing the character of the veteran around whom the mystery would revolve. The murder victim is his mentor and friend, and he is a prime suspect.

I needed him to have a physical disability that would make it difficult, but not impossible, for him to deliver a killing blow. I stumbled on a condition called Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury. Unlike the spine injuries we usually think of as causing paralysis—a severing of the spinal cord—in this case, the cord is partially crushed, affecting the functioning of the nerves below the injury, but not completely cutting off all signals to the muscles and sensory receptors.

In the process of researching this, I found a series of videos by a young man with this type of injury. I’ll let him explain it. He does it so well.

Shannon Esposito

As a murder mystery writer, I’m always looking for unique ways to kill someone. While researching bees as a murder weapon for book 6 of my Pet Psychic series, I became utterly fascinated with them.

Did you know they communicate through dance? There are two types of dances they do, the round dance and the waggle dance. The round dance is a simpler message, used to convey information about food sources which are 100 meters or less away from the hive.

For more distant food sources, scout bees use the waggle dance. That’s a figure-eight dance which—depending on how fast they waggle and in which direction they begin and which direction they circle—indicates the direction, distance and quality of the food source.

Yes, quality! Superb nectar will elicit vigorous dancing from the scout bees, whereas just so-so nectar dances will be shorter and less enthusiastic. Scientists call this using vector calculus to communicate.

 

Who knew bees were so smart!

We hope you’ve found this weird stuff we’ve researched lately as interesting as we did. What weird stuff have you ever had to look up, for school or for your work?

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

6 Questions to Ask to Avoid New Year’s Resolution Failure

by Kassandra Lamb

Avoid New Year resolution failure
(image by Nevit Dilmen CC-SA-BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I sat down today to write a New Year’s post. I looked at past posts, seeking inspiration, and decided that I couldn’t improve on last year’s, so I’m re-running it. If you find your resolutions/goals are out the window by February, here are 6 questions to ask yourself to avoid New Year’s resolution failure.

The problem may be with how you are wording the resolutions/goals. Or perhaps they aren’t quite the right ones for you.

1.  Is the goal/resolution too abstract?

I will be the best person possible sounds good, but it is doomed for failure as soon as you make your first mistake of the new year. Instead, ask yourself what traits or behaviors you would like to improve and make the goal more concrete and specific.

I will strive not to interrupt people during conversations is much more doable.

2.  Is it too big?

avoid New Year's resolution failure -- chunk it down!

Chunk it down into more manageable sub-goals. These can be celebrated as they are achieved, versus only looking at the big goal that feels so far away and difficult.

I will write and publish my first novel this year feels overwhelmingly hard. But if you chunk it down into:

  • I will finish the first draft by June.
  • I will strive to do two self-edits by September.
  • I will send it to a professional editor by October 1st.
  • I will investigate what is involved in getting my book published.
  •  I will set the publication process in motion by the end of the year.

3.  Is it something within your control?

When I was a novice psychotherapist, I foolishly thought that I could readily help people lose weight. I had studied hypnosis and figured it would be a great tool to get people to eat less and exercise more.

And the hypnotic suggestions usually did work, but I soon discovered that weight management was much more complicated than that. Even when people did everything they should do, they didn’t always lose weight. Sometimes there were physical issues—slow metabolism, medications, genetics, etc.—and sometimes there were psychological barriers. And sometimes it was a plain old mystery why the pounds weren’t coming off.

Note that I’m calling it “weight management,” not “weight control” as it is more often labeled. The reality is that we cannot directly control certain things, and our weight is one of them.

Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.

― Epictetus (Greek Stoic philosopher, circa 55-135 AD)

So to avoid New Year’s resolution failure, look at those resolutions and ask yourself if the end goals are totally within your control.

I will research and establish healthier eating patterns and increase my activity level is more realistic than I will lose thirty pounds.

4.  Are you “shoulding” on yourself?

Is this a goal you really want or are you setting it because you believe it is something you should be doing?

Does I will find a better-paying job get shifted from one year’s resolution list to the next? Maybe you really like your job, but it just doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet. Are there other alternatives, such as asking for a raise or looking for a second-income source?

Maybe, after asking these questions, you realize you really should pursue the goal, even though you don’t particularly want to, but being clearer about why you are doing it may help you get there.

So the resolution may become I will look hard at my finances and try to find a way to ease them, which may require changing jobs.

5.  Is your measurement criteria accurate? Or to put it another way, are you judging success based on the right aspect of the goal?

avoid New Year's resolution failure -- use realistic criteria

One of the frustrations I encountered when working with clients on weight management was their obsession with the scale. The reality is that the number of pounds we weigh is not always the best measure of our health or even our appearance.

After a while, I started asking clients to put their scales up in their attics and use a measuring tape instead to keep track of how many inches they were losing as they lost fat and toned muscles (which get denser and heavier when they are toned). Going down three clothing sizes was a better indicator of success than how many pounds they had lost!

6.  Is your resolution related to a goal or dream that you have lost interest in or one that you don’t care enough about to put in the effort required?

This can be a subtle reason why New Year’s resolutions fail. Sometimes, things we used to be gung-ho about aren’t so important anymore, and sometimes a goal turns out to be too damn difficult to be worth the bother.

It’s also sometimes hard to admit this to ourselves.

So ask this question, when you find yourself feeling lackluster about a resolution/goal: Are you giving up due to lack of confidence but you really do want it? (In which case, figure out what you need to improve your skills and confidence and push yourself to get there.)

OR are you not willing to make it happen because it’s just not important enough anymore?

There’s no shame in this.

And it doesn’t mean the goal was stupid to begin with—things change over time, including our enthusiasm and willingness to commit resources to something. And it may be a goal that becomes important again down the road, when the resources are more readily available. 

My first novel, 17 years in the making. Now I have 20-some books out. (Multiple Motives is FREE on all ebook distributors.)

I started writing my first novel 15 years before it was finished and 17 years before it was published. For the first 5 of those years, I will finish my novel was on my New Year’s resolution list.

And every year, I would fool around with it some—change the opening, add a scene or two—but then I would get discouraged and put it away again.

I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t willing to put in the effort to get it published once it was written. This was back in the days when traditional publishing was the only viable alternative.

I knew getting a publisher would be difficult, involving many factors I couldn’t control, and I HATE not being in control of my own destiny.

At that point, I stopped putting it on my resolutions list and told myself I would pursue my writing dream once I was retired and had more time and energy. The story languished in my hard drive, all but forgotten, for years.

But after I retired, I decided to finish writing it, even if it never got published. In retirement, I could justify “wasting time” on something that might never pay off. I sat down and finished the first draft in 6 weeks. 🙂

Hopefully these tips will help you modify your resolutions/goals this year, so that they are less likely to end up on the trash heap. Can you think of other ways to avoid New Year’s resolution failure?
Fireworks for avoid New Year's resolution failure
HAPPY NEW YEAR!! (Photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

A Short But Loving Holiday Message from Misterio

Our blog is officially on hiatus until January 7, 2020, but we thought we’d share some fun music. This first one isn’t exactly a Christmas song per se, although it’s on Pentatonix’s Christmas album this year.

But it very much expresses how we at misterio press feel about you, our readers. You’re the best!!

And another fave Christmas song, also a cappella!

Hope Everyone has a Great Holiday!!! See you in 2020.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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10 Tips for Making Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post. I’m posting it partly because I’m busy with my own holiday preparations, but the message bears repeating — how to make your imperfect holiday a happy one!

This time of year is supposed to be joyful – full of good food, time spent with family, tinsel and bright lights, and lots of packages under the tree.

We tend to have high expectations for the season, and also to feel that we have to meet others’ expectations so that everyone has a fabulous holiday. The reality sometimes falls short, and all too often in our attempts to make the holidays perfect, we end up short – as in short-tempered… and major stressed out!

Maybe we need to loosen up on some of those expectations and prioritize what’s most important for ourselves and our families. It’s okay to have an imperfect holiday, as long as it is a happy holiday.

First, let’s break things down a bit, to look at what makes an imperfect holiday a happy one. We have gifts, decorations, food and family (I refer to Christmas below, but the same ideas apply to other holidays of the season.)

Tips for making your imperfect holiday a happy one -- cull your gift list and shop early.
A shopping mall in Toronto, Canada (photo by Benson Kua, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

GIFTS: Some people (like me) love to shop; other’s loathe the process. If you fall into the latter category the first thing you can do is…

1. CULL THE GIFT LIST. Do you have people on your list for whom you have no idea what they want or like? Then you probably don’t know or like them well enough to be spending money on them. Are there relatives on the list with whom you exchange token gifts, neither party really caring whether the other likes what they get?

See if you can get them off the list without offending them. Suggest that you not exchange gifts, just enjoy each others’ company. (They may very well agree with great relief.) Or buy them something inexpensive and consumable, and repeat next year. You don’t have to be creative when nobody cares. (My mother-in-law got scented hand lotion from me every year. She was fine with that.) Suggest your extended family draw names and each person gets, and gives, just one gift.

2. SHOP EARLY. Whether you love or hate shopping, this is good advice. Yes, there are great bargains closer to Christmas but there’s also a lot more pressure. And these days, retailers often have sales going off and on throughout the fall.

Christmas shopping tends to bring out the procrastinator in many of us. It feels like such an overwhelming task. But the longer we put it off, the worse it will be. On the flip side, the sooner you start, the less pressured and the more fun it can be.

I begin in October, usually with an all-day shopping trip. It’s a fun, low-stress day, because it’s only October and I have lots of time to find those items that didn’t jump into my cart that day.

3. DO YOU HATE TO WRAP? Or do you love it? If you love it (as I do) starting early on your shopping means you have plenty of time to enjoy the wrapping process. I make it part of my evening routine as I watch TV. Wrapping three or four packages a night, I’ve got it done in no time. And it gets me in the holiday spirit!

Tips for Making Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One -- gift bags!
Photo by Melinda & Cristiano, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr/Wikimedia

But if you hate it, I have two words for you…

Gift Bags!!! For a buck or two apiece, your wrapping is done!

DECORATIONS:

4. DECORATE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, NOT THE WORLD. Unless you totally get off on decorating (I know a couple of people who do), keep it simple. Ask yourself what is most important for you and yours?

For years I struggled with those #%@&* outside lights, stringing them over trees and bushes and freezing my tuckus off in the process. Today, the inside of my house is a Christmas wonderland, because I enjoy putting up those decorations. But outside, there’s a wreath on the front door and a pre-lit table tree in the dining room window. That’s all my neighbors are getting from me.

And you know what? None of them have complained.

5. MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR. When I was a kid, my father was in charge of decorating the tree. He was meticulous. All the ornaments had to be balanced, the tree totally symmetrical. (He was an engineer.) He would carefully put one strand of tinsel on each branch.

Tips for Making Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One -- let the family decorate the tree, even if it does end up lopsided
A slightly off-kilter tree, but still gorgeous! (public domain–Wikimedia)

He made my mother nuts!! And my brother and I fled to our rooms until the tree was done.

The blinkin’ tree doesn’t have to be perfect. Get the whole gang involved and it will be done in no time. And if you must have symmetry, you can move a few ornaments after everyone else is in bed.

FOOD: If you love to cook, go for it. If it’s not so much your thing (like me), look for ways to keep it simple.

6. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME. I learned this from my grandma. Every year, she came over to our house on Christmas Eve. She made the dressing that night, and prepped the turkey. The next morning, Mr. Turkey just needed to be transferred from the fridge to the oven.

7. IS THAT BIG MEAL REALLY WHAT YOU WANT? Again, ask yourself what really matters. You just had a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Is it crucial that you have another one a month later?

A few years ago, my family was facing some stressors around the holidays that made us want to simplify things as much as possible. We decided we would have a cold buffet for Christmas dinner, for just that year. I baked two turkey rolls the day before and my daughter-in-law and I made or bought various salads. I was sure it would be a letdown not to have the traditional big Christmas dinner.

Guess what? We didn’t miss it one bit! The meal was just as tasty, and so much less stressful. Instead of spending inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen prepping and then cleaning up from a big meal, we spent that time balancing plates on our laps and laughing and talking as we enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve been doing Christmas dinner that way ever since!

FAMILY: Being with family is the heart of Christmas and perhaps the most important component in making an imperfect holiday a happy one. But how do we define our families?

8. SPEND CHRISTMAS DAY WITH THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER THE MOST. One of the mistakes I sometimes see people making on Christmas is that they spread themselves too thin. Christmases were special for me as a kid because they were relaxed. We opened our stockings, then had a leisurely breakfast. We opened our presents, then had a leisurely dinner.

Tips for Making Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One -- celebrate Christmas with the extended family on a different day.
Christmas with the extended family, on 12/26. We’re having a ball, can’t ya tell? 😉

We went to visit the extended family the day after Christmas, or the following weekend. We saw everybody eventually, but NOT on Christmas Day!

The first year I was married, my husband and I tried to keep everybody happy. We got up extra early to exchange our own presents, then went to my parents’ house for brunch. Then we jumped in the car and drove for two hours to have Christmas dinner with his family.

Never again!

9. WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY OF CHOICE? If you don’t like your biological family, do NOT spend the most precious day of the year with them. Politely tell them that you want to spend Christmas with just your spouse and your children. If you’re not married, it’s okay to make your close friends your family of choice. If it feels too hurtful to say no to your biological family on December 25th, then designate another day—perhaps Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas—as your “family of choice” Christmas.

Last but definitely not least…

10. BE JOYFUL. The bottom line here is that this is supposedf to be a joyful time of year. So do your best to set it up so it is fun and relaxing for you and those who are most important to you. A less stressful, imperfect holiday makes for a happy holiday!

Any other ideas for simplifying Christmas preparations and minimizing holiday stress?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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An “Off” Week Goodie: Star in a Paranormal Mystery!

Star in a Paranormal Mystery

Have you ever imagined yourself a character in a mystery?

One of our misterio press authors is about to make that possible for one lucky winner. Enter now and maybe you will star in a paranormal mystery!! (Okay, that sounded a little gameshow host-y, but seriously, this is a cool giveaway.)

Kirsten Weiss will name a character in an exclusive, paranormal mystery short story after the winner of her giveaway, running through this Saturday, December 7th. The winner will also receive a hand-bound, original copy of the story, limited edition of 1! (They’ll even get to choose the color of the stitching in the spine… as long as it’s orange, purple, or black, because those are the colors she’s got).

But everyone’s a winner in this contest, because ALL entrants will receive a PDF copy of the finished story.

Want to enter? Just click here! http://bit.ly/2OTyPGs

Next Week: How to manage stress during the holiday season!

Kirsten Weiss has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer re-runs and drinking red wine. The latter gives her heartburn, but she drinks it anyway.

Now based in Colorado Springs, CO, she writes genre-blending cozy mystery, supernatural and steampunk suspense, mixing her experiences and imagination to create vivid worlds of fun and enchantment. If you like funny cozy mysteries, check out her Pie Town, Tea and Tarot, Paranormal Museum and Wits’ End books. If you’re looking for some magic with your mystery, give the Witches of Doyle, Riga Hayworth and Rocky Bridges books a try. And if you like steampunk, the Sensibility Grey series might be for you. To connect with Kirsten, see her author page here on misterio for social media links.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

I’m Thankful I’m a Clumsy Gardener

by Kassandra Lamb

As a follow-up to a recent post, When Your Garden Tries to Kill You, I had promised to tell the rest of the story of how my garden tried to kill (or at least maim) me and why I’m thankful I’m a clumsy gardener.

This month marks the 9-year anniversary of the beginning of my writing career. And it got started, for real, because of my poor gardening skills.

I’d been futzing around for decades, rewriting the same first five chapters of my Great American Novel, and telling myself that someday, when I was retired and had more time, I would get serious about my writing.

Well, five years of semi-retirement came and went, and I still wasn’t getting serious.

Then one day, I was gardening.
Thankful I'm a clumsy gardener ~ here's my somewhat wild garden now.
The only section of garden still separate from the lawn. As you can see, I don’t keep it very neat anymore.

Not my fave thing to do and definitely not my best skill set.

But we’d inherited all these areas of plants and flowers, installed by the previous owner of our house, and I was valiantly trying to maintain them. (I’ve since pulled up most of the railroad ties that divided them from the lawn and told our lawn guy to mow right to the fence!)

That day, I had bought several bags of mulch, dragged them around to the backyard, and I was pulling weeds and then spreading fresh mulch around the plants.

When the pile of mulch bags was down to one bag, I looked at it and thought, Gotta be careful. I might trip over that.

Sure enough, not more than five minutes later, I stepped back to admire my now weed-free garden and tripped over the blinkety-blank bag of mulch. My body twisted and so did my foot, right under me.

The good news was, I didn’t break it.
I'm thankful I'm a clumsy gardener, despite this lovely sprained ankle.
A re-enactment. I didn’t think to take a pic of my swollen foot at the time.

The bad news was, I might have been better off if I had. I sprained my ankle, badly, and the foot itself…suffice it to say that multiple things tore loose that are supposed to be attached to one’s skeletal system.

A visit to the ER resulted in my obtaining a new possession—a lovely pair of crutches. I was told to put minimal weight on it, elevating it as much as possible for the next several weeks.

No longer able to walk all that well, much less garden, I found myself with time on my hands. And one day I got an idea for yet another change to the opening of my novel.

I'm thankful I'm a clumsy gardener or this book might never have happened.

I sat down at my computer, thinking it might take me maybe 15 minutes to capture this new idea for the first chapter.

Well, with not much else to distract me other than hobbling to the bathroom on my crutches, the first draft of Multiple Motives was done six weeks later.

And this is why I’m thankful I’m a clumsy gardener.

Now, the month of November reminds me of both the worst injury I’ve ever had (I know, I’m counting that as a blessing too!), but also of the best thing ever. My dream of being an author finally happened!

Have you ever had a bad thing happen that ended up being the catalyst for a good thing?

P.S. I’m also extremely grateful for the many friendships that have evolved from my writing career, including the one with Barb Taub, whose fun post inspired both this post and the previous one.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!!!

Thankful I'm a clumsy gardener ~ "Give Thanks and Eat Pie"
Photo by Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash
The Kate Huntington Mysteries Books 1-5

Psst, I have a new boxed set out, the first five books in the Kate Huntington Series.

Available at AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY. Just $9.99 for FIVE BOOKS!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.