#BeInspired This is a warning: never let the oil in your lamp run dry, never stop making your music.

Okay I promise I’ll give the poetry a break next week, but did I mention I am a total Fangrrl when it comes to Omar Musa’s work?? AND YOU GUYS. I GOT HIS NEW BOOK, signed and everything! So much happy!!! <3

So yes. Enjoy this one – one of his earliest poems 🙂 <3

How To Have A Pinterest-Worthy Party WITHOUT Going Insane (Part 1)

Another three-part series because this is something that’s on my mind right now 😉

It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure sometimes to host ‘perfect’ events, what with the advent of Pinterest and Instagram and the like. My family is Big on Events, and we can Pinterest party like it’s… uh, 2017. I’ve been involved in plenty of events-coordination that took weeks and even months of planning, and my sisters, mother and I have collaborative Pinterest boards spawning out our ears.

But let’s face it: My life is packed. I don’t have TIME to hold Pinterest events. And honestly? I tried one for my birthday a while ago when I turned 30 and… eh. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. It’s just that the sheer amount of work coordinating on the day meant I was pretty stuffed by the time the party actually *started*.

Also, many of the “events” I’m doing these days are for kids, and you know what? A three-year-old doesn’t care if you spent six hours on their party or one or twelve. They just love that it’s a party.

But! It is entirely possible to get a party worthy of Pinterest and Instagram WITHOUT going insane, losing your mind, and making you want to stab your eyeballs out by the time the party arrives. All it takes is a little bit of planning…

1: FOCUS

The first really important step is to figure out which bit of partying you actually enjoy. My middle sister loves decorating. My mum loves cooking. Me? I love the cake. (Okay shush, I can hear your shock and surprise from here :P) So for me, that’s my deal-breaker: everything else I can hack, but the cake needs to be top-notch.

Figure out that one thing that is make-or-break for you as far as an awesome, wow-factor party is concerned. It is having the entire room full of themed decorations? It is an incredible, awe-inspiring cake? It is having every item of food totally in theme? Or is it something else entirely?

2: IDEA KERNEL

Okay, now that you know what’s important to you focus-wise, it’s time to brainstorm some ideas. Chances are you or the person you’re planning for has this bit covered for you: my son requested a Toy Story party for his birthday this year. (Incidentally, “Toy Story” is too big a kernel for a keeping-yourself-sane party, so we narrowed it down further: Buzz was his favourite character, so we’d be having a Buzz focus.)

Last year it was Frozen (which I chose, but he was OBSESSED with it at the time, so he was pretty stoked), and when he turned three I initiated him into our time-honoured family tradition of sitting down with the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Cakes cookbook and letting him pick a cake (no shocks to anyone, he chose the race-car :)).

Recently, I’ve been planning for the baby’s party. Figuring this year was the last year I’d really get to steer the party-theme ship, I decided to do narwhals, because NARWHALS, Y’ALL. However, when we recently discovered that she is totally obsessed with cows, I flipped and now we’re running with cows.

Narwhal cake.

It’s important that you hone in on that one specific thing is that you’re interested in, because it helps when it’s time to…

3A: PLAN (BRAINSTORMING)

While you can totally do this months ahead (and I do because I like to get things sorted during school holidays so term time is less insane), you do run the risk of having to flip if the person’s interest changes (especially with kids). Of course, you can always say, “Tough luck!” Your call 🙂

What you DON’T want to be doing, though, is planning the night before. Har. But with that said, if you use this system you could easily pull off a low-stress, Pinterest-worthy party with only a few hours of planning a week or so ahead, if you can either do everything yourself or have people you can outsource to.

So what exactly do you plan? EVERYTHING, but usually in a specific order.

First of all, hold onto your idea kernel. It’s going to be your guiding light when you come across ideas that are shiny but ultimately distracting.

Narwhal cake. <– Idea Kernel for the narwhal party

Secondly, brainstorm. I do this on Pinterest because it’s a great way to generate a lot of ideas fast, and you don’t have to do the thinking because you can pretty much be guaranteed that someone out there has already done it for you. Alternatively, you could do image searches on Google; you’ll still get some good results, it’s just more of a pain to try to save them and they might not be as strictly relevant.

So what am I searching for? Anything around my idea kernel. For the Toy Story party I searched ‘Toy Story cakes’, ‘Buzz Lightyear cakes’, ‘Toy Story party’, ‘Toy Story food’, etc. Often on Pinterest you can luck out and find that someone’s helpfully put together some composite images that show the food, the decorations, and the cake all in one; these can be a great place to look for ideas, especially for food.

For the baby’s party, you can see the original Pinterest board here. If you note that the first pins are at the bottom and most recent are at the top, you’ll see the gradual drift in ideas: my idea kernel was narwhals with mermaids in a teal-and-purple colour scheme, so down the bottom of the board are a lot of mermaidy pins with purple and teal colour-schemes. However, as I went along you’ll see that the pins drift towards silver + blue + Arctic. I had this thought that since it was a winter party and narwhals are Arctic I could incorporate that… but because I had my idea kernel, I realised I was drifting away from what I really wanted, and knew it was time to stop brainstorming.

Ideas as I started to drift
Initial ideas

When I was re-brainstorming for the cow party, I knew I’d be looking at a lot of farm party things – but because I knew I wanted to focus specifically on *cows*, I could avoid getting distracted by all the cute general-farm-themed stuff out there, and it literally took 15 minutes to put together a plenty-big-enough board.

How big is ‘plenty big enough’? You know it’s time to stop brainstorming either when you find yourself repeating a lot of ideas, or when you start to drift away from your kernel. You can get a perfectly decent brainstorm done in 10-15 minutes.

 

So now you’re finished the brainstorming phase of your planning. Tune in next week for the nitty gritty of what you actually need to plan to keep yourself sane 😉 <3

Made It Monday: Party Decorations!

Welcome to #MadeItMonday, where I post something I’ve made in the previous week, and where you can join in and post something you made too! The rules are easy: post a pic somewhere of something you’ve made in the last week (ish; let’s say in the last month as the hard-and-fast) and tag it. Sit back and enjoy scrolling through all the beautiful things we’ve collectively created, and celebrate the fact that humans can be awesome! 🙂

Well, I was planning to show you jellyfish today, but since I switched party themes 😛 you get a cow garland instead. This is literally a third of the decorations for the party DONE, and the party isn’t for a few months. The aim is to have it all pre-made and ready to go so the actual party is as little work as possible – more on that on Wednesday 🙂

For this garland, all I did was find an image on the interwebs that was licensed for reuse, figured they’d look cute at about four to a landscape-oriented A4 page, figured out I’d need about 18ish to go the length of the table, plus a couple so it can drape nicely makes 20, printed 5 pages of 4 cows, cut them out while watching TV, and then just ran them all through the sewing machine to string them together.* All up, it took about half an hour while zoning out and watching the aforementioned TV. Not too shabby.

* If you’re going to sew paper on a regular basis, use a separate needle for it. Paper blunts blades faster than fabric, which is wh you also don’t use your good sewing shears to cut these cuties out 😉

Garland of cute cartoony black-and-white cows strung together.

Close-up of one cute cartoony cow from the garland

What have you made this week? (It doesn’t have to be fancy!!) Don’t forget to tag your contribution, or even better, leave a link in the comments!! I love seeing what inspiring things other people have made 🙂 🙂 🙂

Made It Monday: Sort of?

So, I literally haven’t made anything in the last week, which is sad. This is mostly because my health is not great right now, and three hours of uprightness is enough that I need to go lie down for an hour, which is SUPER FUN and REALLY HELPFUL for my to-do list. Much tears and sadness.

But anyway, you know all that cake and party stuff I’ve shared the last couple of weeks? Yeah. I have the baby’s party ALL PLANNED OUT, with menu and shopping lists and everything.

Yesterday, we went to the Sydney Easter Show. Turns out the kid is OBSESSED with cows. Who knew? And when I mean obsessed, I really actually mean it. The cow pavilion was like her own private Heaven. So much cute 🙂

But what this means is that now I’m faced with a decision: run with the party that’s already planned, or switch and incorporate cows somehow? Because it’s not *actually* my party, and because she likely won’t be this obsessed with cows at any point in her life again, I’ll probably switch – BUT NARWHALS, Y’ALL. **NARWHALS**!!!!!!! *sniffles*.

…I guess it’s back to the drawing board. This is what I get for trying to be organised this year 😛 😀

Stages of Love – Commitment and Happily Ever After

Today is the third and final post in Liana’s Science of Love series! Catch up on the first post here, or the second one here.

Welcome to the beautiful, danger fraught world of Commitment.

The Basics
Commitment is a place few authors dare to tread. Committed couples? Where’s the romance in that? (Confession: I totally think you can write a great romance with married characters and this is why EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE exists.)

Traditionally life after the wedding is summed up in one of two ways: They Lived Happily Ever After -or- The End.

One sounds like life was all roses and wedding cakes for eternity, and the other sounds just a little like I Married An Axe Murderer. Neither of those are very promising for story writing. Luckily, science hasn’t been as cynical of the committed life as fiction writers. I would go so far as to suggest that happy married life is one of those well kept secrets that only the locals know about.

So why aren’t happy faces making the headlines? First, good news doesn’t sell, second, Commitment is a very difficult stage to explain. There are so many variables that people can (and have) devote a lifetime to explaining why some couples stay together, and others fall apart.

 

The Science Behind Commitment

The euphoria of early Lust is gone. The feel-good rush of oxytocin from phenomenal sex wears off. Here is another victim of Cupid’s arrow, in love. And now the fore brain steps in, crushing the screaming hind brain with the sharp stiletto heel and makes a choice.

Do I love this person?

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
– Mr. Darcy answering when he fell in love

Like so many, Darcy confused love with Lust. He was well in Lust with Elizabeth Bennett within moments of meeting her. The true love came later when he acknowledged that there was more than a physical desire. The moment of acknowledgment, when you make a conscious decision to be in love, is when the Commitment phase starts.

This can overlap the other stages. Scientific evidence suggests that love isn’t even a matter of sequential stages, but a cycle [reference].

We are familiar with the daily light cycle: sunrise, sunset, darkness, sunrise again.

Think of love in the same way: initial Lust and desire, Attraction and fulfillment of Lust, conscious decision to protect the object of Lust that becomes a self-less design in the form of Commitment, True Love incites feelings of Lust.

The Variables
If you really want to drive a scientist crazy start an experiment with too many variables (things that could vary). For instance, ask them to find out what makes a person age 30 fall in love. The age and gender can be controlled. You might be able to narrow down the data but asking only women of a certain nationality, religion, or region, but after that? Variables! How were they raised? What books do they read? What food do they eat? It all plays a part.

For the sake of my sanity we are narrowing a very broad and complex topic down to the easy to identify variables :

Expectations
– Personal Prejudice: Freud has a field day with this and while he isn’t used by psychologists today, he didn’t have a point: your brain is hardwired to notice certain things. The fore brain (stilettos and STANDARDS) makes a concious decision about who you will date. This involves looking more than jaw lines and rippling pectorals and moves into the area of noticing social cues, indicators of wealth, past relationships, and expectations of what you want.

No matter how well suited an individual is from an evolutionary stand point your personal prejudices will get in the way. Did you get burned by someone named Chris in high school? The chances of you falling in love with another Chris are low. Did you adore your parents? You’ll probably marry someone like them. Are you looking to move up socially? The chances of you falling in love with someone from a lower social strata are limited.

– Sphere of Influence: Some people divide this into Peer Group and Family, but I don’t. By age 25 most people have either moved past their nuclear family or have become friends with them. If you are writing YA or historical fiction you can use the Peer Group vs Family influence as conflict, but for our purposes here they are the same.

The Sphere of Influence is what people you care about will say about the relationship. The classic example is Romeo and Juliet. They were falling in love, definitely in Lust, but the disapproving family killed their chances of Commitment and brought about a tragic end.

A more modern example might be a college student posting a picture of someone they met on FaceBook and asking all their friends if they should go for it.

How much the Sphere of Influence affects a relationship depends on how much each individual involved relies on other people’s opinions to make choices and establish their sense of self-worth. The weaker an individual’s sense of self is, the more they rely on the judgments of the Sphere of Influence.

– Social Conjecture: This aspect of expectations has the least influence on whether or not a couple form a Commitment. This is what you think other people you don’t know think you should do. If you think society is pushing you to have a career before marriage but none of your friends actually say so, the idea falls here. You think society wants you to work more than marry, but there is no proof or weight to the idea.

This can also include taboos or laws that prevent a relationship from developing.

Availability
– Physical: Repeat after me: I cannot love someone I have not met.

I know this breaks the hearts of all the Fangrrlz out there, but Justin Bieber does not love you. No. He doesn’t. You may lust after him, and Edward Cullen, and Harry Potter but it doesn’t change a thing. If the person doesn’t know you exist, they can’t love you.

You can’t love someone who doesn’t know you. You can Lust after them all you like, but it isn’t love.

Please note: Physical ability to fall in love does not mean physical proximity. Many happy couples maintain faithful, long-distance relationships. For all those long-distance relationships to work there has to be a moment where you meet physically, catch the persons scent, and let the hind brain do its job of assessing genetic compatibility.

– Emotional: I think the biggest symbol of this is the wedding ring. In Western society the wedding band is a clear indicator that the person with the ring is Off Limits. Body language and behavior will also signal whether a person is willing to engage in a relationship of some kind.

Emotional indicators are often confusing, and this is great source of conflict for a writer. It is a great source of doubt and confusion for anyone dating.

A person can Lust after anyone they want, but there needs to be a positive emotional response from the Lustee if the relationship is going to have a happy ending. Even in asexual or aromantin individuals there is some level of emotion, it may not lead to a sexual relationship, but sex isn’t required for romantic relationships of any kind.

– Reciprocation: You cannot love someone who doesn’t know you exist, and you can’t establish a Committed relationship of the romantic kind with someone who doesn’t reciprocate. When someone says, “I’m so in love! Why won’t he notice me?” the answer is, “You are in Lust. That’s the norepinephrine talking. Get a life.”

The chemicals from the first stage of Lust make you obsess over someone. The cuddly feel-good chemicals of Attraction come when the person begins to pay attention. The Commitment stage of love is a mutual choice. Unless they make the same choice as you, it isn’t Love, it’s infatuation.

If you are writing a romance of any kind please print that sentence out and tape it above your monitor. One sided affection is creepy-stalker-love. Not romantic!

Spiritual Persuasion
Most researchers would put religion under Sphere of Influence, and yet again I disagree. Spiritual or religious belief is a amalgamation of personal prejudice, sphere of influence, and social conjecture and I think it needs it’s own space.

What religion does that social mores don’t is offer a long-term consequence to your actions. It’s more than getting snubbed at dinner parties because you married the wrong person, it’s the personal belief that your choices in love will have eternal/immortal consequences. And then it adds another layer of social expectation on top of that.

Picture this scene some 3000 odd years ago:

Boy: Father, I’m in love!

Dad: Great, what’s his name son?

Boy: I fell in love with a woman, Father.

Dad: What? NOOO!!! What in the name of Zeus do you think you’re doing? This is a conservative Hellenistic household and I won’t have you shaming the family name by bringing your liberal Jewish smut in here!

Boy: But, Father! I love her!

Dad: Oh, no you don’t! You can’t love a woman! They’re barely smarter than cattle! Now, put on your toga like a good boy and we’ll go to church.You’ll go to the orgy and you’ll like it!

Despite the hind brain kicking you and insisting that two of one gender to not evolutionary sense make, society has often pushed away from evolutionary tendencies to secure homosexual, incestuous, or caste -based relationships as the norm.

Society is very fond of forcing the naturally slutty human being into monogamous, or infertile, relationships. And religion with the threat of eternal damnation and/or the end of the world for not marrying your sibling is often the mechanism of enforcement.

What makes these spiritual beliefs different from Sphere of Influence is that the beliefs learned in childhood are so firmly ingrained in the Personal Prejudice that a person may not even look outside the walls of their spiritual belief when considering love or a long-term relationship. It becomes a block to ideal evolution on multiple levels.

Procreating with a sibling is a Bad Idea (looking at you House Lannister), but other things (only marrying in a tribe, race, religion, or caste) can be equally limiting the dispersal of genes. And nobody but a geneticist will care about this in real time, which makes this a fun fact to remember when writing societies that tightly control the movement of genetic material.

Last Thoughts
Romantic love and sex are always consensual. Everyone involved should be happy and enthusiastically willing. There are many opinions on what is right or wrong, or what makes the ideal relationship/couple/parenting group, but that is always a personal choice. Don’t judge someone else’s happiness. If it’s working for them, and it’s a consensual relationship between adults, you smile and let live.

There is too much hate in the world, and if you take on the mantle and title of Romance Author than your job is to bring a little more happiness and love to the world. So make sure it’s an inclusive happiness.

Originally posted at www.lianabrooks.com.

#MadeItMonday: In Fairness, It’s Not *Quite* Cake

Welcome to #MadeItMonday, where I post something I’ve made in the previous week, and where you can join in and post something you made too! The rules are easy: post a pic somewhere of something you’ve made in the last week (ish; let’s say in the last month as the hard-and-fast) and tag it. Sit back and enjoy scrolling through all the beautiful things we’ve collectively created, and celebrate the fact that humans can be awesome! 🙂

Pressed for time again this week what with the wrap-up of school and all – Monday I drove back from Deniliquin (6 hr drive), Wednesday I had debating until 9:30pm, Thursday was parent-teacher interviews until 8:30pm, and Friday was DIE THE DEATH OF THE LAST DAY OF TEEEEEERM day. Woo.*

All of which is to say that pretty much all I’ve done this week that could tenuously be called creative and isn’t either a) making resources for school, b) writing (or more accurately editing these days) or c) website admin is a continuation of last week. I Got My Planning On today and finished planning out the baby’s (slowly) impending birthday party, including a menu (soup and bread, plus birthday cake and hot chocolate), a guest list (family, which still equals nearly 25 >.<), a shopping list (extensive) and an equipment list (not quite so extensive). It *sounds* like an impressive degree of organisation, but really, it was maybe an hour tops, including finding the soup recipes and compiling a comprehensive shopping list, and given that the end of next term involves report writing and semester grades and all sorts of time- and brain-consuming things like that, the hour of organisation now will save me a lot of stress later.

Plus if I can make decorations during this holiday break (the three jellyfish (which hopefully I will have to show you in two weeks’ time) and the cotton-wool snowflake string) then all I have to do is make food. And honestly, I could probably even make soup ahead of time and freeze. Organisation, y’all: it really works.

ANYWAY, as part of all this I sketched out the cake in a little more detail so I could figure out what I’d need to add to the shopping list. I still haven’t decided on a flavour of cake; I have both white and dark chocolate mud cake recipes that are *mine* and are *glorious* and my standard go-tos that I’ve made for heaps of parties and weddings, but…. I’ve made them a lot? Last year I did a coconut mud cake with raspberry buttercream filling for the baby, and it was REALLY TASTY, and I enjoyed the excuse to make something different. So! If you have suggestions for slightly a-typical cake flavour pairings, I AM ALL EARS. Suggest to me, peoples! Suggest!

But yes, this is the cake plan. Narwhal (BECAUSE NARWHAL) that will have a shiny silver horn, a teal-y coloured base icing, darker teal ganache dripped over the back, and decorations in white, silver and dark teal over the back–silver cachous, white almond confetti, and royal icing flowers mainly, I think. We Shall See.

Narwhal cake.

So yeah, that’s pretty much it this week. Don’t forget to suggest cake flavours for me – I could really use some inspiration!! 🙂

* But seriously: Holidays. WOO!

What have you made this week? (It doesn’t have to be fancy!!) Don’t forget to tag your contribution, or even better, leave a link in the comments!! I love seeing what inspiring things other people have made 🙂 🙂 🙂

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If You Want To Get Out Alive (Run For Your Life)

I don’t know, this song feels kind of relevant this week. I’m drowning in school work and the world, and just… yeah. I feel like I’m running just to stay alive. The good news, though, is that tomorrow? SCHOOL. HOLIDAYS. I get two weeks of no work (though I have way too much I still need to do, of course). But anyway. Here’s to keeping running, and to hanging out for your next break