Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How Do You Like It? I'll Take Mine Straight, No Chaser!

PR Event*

Not many people realise that when I started studying my Bachelor of Arts, my major was initially going to be music.
I finished my grade eight AMEB piano at the same time as I finished my highschool Grade 12, and music was a major part of my life.
But I'd always loved to write, so I chose literature and journalism as well. Later, I had to narrow that done, so my BA became a double major in journalism and music.
Whether it was because I never had enough faith in myself to make a living as a musician or a writer, or the fact that something about journalism sucked me in, journalism won me over.
But music was always there too.

Goody two-shoes choir girl, as part of the Darling Downs Singers. Don't blame me for the outfit. That was the uniform. The hair is my own doing. We even did a capella. 

I remember as a young pianist, my first, very wise teacher, explaining that there would be some pieces I would not be able to play convincingly until I had 'life experience'. She was right.
As I gained that experience (and then some), I honed my skills in piano, theory, choir, musical theatre and more. Occasional back-up singing for rock bands. (Yes, those who think I am quiet don't know me quite as well as you thought you did, do you?)  Providing background music in restaurants and on award nights.
And for fun, (and on special occasions), karoake.
I've dragged a family piano with me everywhere since I relocated to Australia, pretty much full-time, some years ago. In fact, I just had it tuned!
Though I'm rusty, my kids seem to have a natural talent for music, and in recent years, Mr 15, has shown a particular interest.
So I was thrilled when I was asked to help promote the I'll Take Another ... World Tour for the American a capella band Straight No Chaser.

This group is awesome. (Easy on the eye too. Just saying.)

If you love the Pitch Perfect flicks, you've seen nothing yet. And I say this with the greatest of respect.
This male a capella band is as far away from cliched college performances as you can get.
Although the group was originally formed by 10 guys who loved to sing at Indiana University, Straight No Chaser have grown far beyond that.
With more than 20 million YouTube views, too many public and private appearances to count, and a worldwide fanbase, they are bringing their I'll Take Another ... Tour to Australia, with the endearing subtitle The New Old-Fashioned Tour.

Who wouldn't want to see them?

Seriously the kids and I enjoy so many of the Straight No Chaser performances and, can't even choose a favourite.
I'll share a few here, but I seriously could go on and on.
And SNC, as their fans call them, are a capella, they do sometimes add in backing. And there is always humour and fun.
In the meantime we do have a double pass to giveaway to Straight No Chaser New Old Fashioned Concert in the Australian City of Your Choice.
Tour details are:

July 13 Perth, Australia, Astor Theatre
July 15 Brisbane, Australia, The Tivoli
July 16 Sydney, Australia, York Theatre
July 17 Southbank, Australia, The Palms at Crown in Melbourne

To enter, please state which city you are entering for, and your favourite Straight No Chaser song.
And in the meantime, sit back and enjoy a few of our favourite SNC music.

Straight No Chaser: Can't Feel My Face

Straight No Chaser: Creep

Straight No Chaser: Uptown Funk

And that's just a taste of what you're in for at a Straight No Chaser concert. Straight Up!

Entries are for Australian residents only or foreign residents who can make it to the concert of their choice. Entries close at 5 pm AEST on July 8, 2016, but please ensure you check back in to see if you have won and/or are easy to contact. MIA makes every effort to contact winners, but if they cannot be contacted within 24 hours in the case of timely events, reserves the right to award tickets to the runner-up. You can learn more about Straight No Chaser and their tour here

* Maid In Australia has been given a double pass to give away, as well as a pass for myself and my children to attend the Brisbane show as a thank-you for writing this post. Excuse me while I fan myself ...

The competition has now closed and the winner was Carolyn. Carolyn please get in touch so we can organise for you to receive your double pass. Thanks for entering.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Win Tickets To Oz Comic-Con

It's here again!

The most awesome event for anyone who loves cosplay, anime, gaming, sci-fi, TV, film, comics and basically all things fun: Oz Comic-Con.

Last year's event in Brisbane was my first time and it was freaking awesome. And I don't even consider myself a real fan.

But my teens are, and I'd hoped to take them (unfortunately a clash of interstate school holidays meant that didn't work out), so I went with a loved one as part of a birthday treat for him instead.

I had no idea how huge the whole cosplay, anime and gaming scene was until we approached the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre and saw the scores of impeccably dressed people making their way to the event.

But I had an inkling the day before at Comics Etc, where a couple of Cosplayers, still in costume, dropped by after a very busy day.

"You'll have the best time," said one. "Get there early and take plenty of water," advised another.

When we walked in, I was both devastated and kind of relieved my kids weren't able to come. Devastated, because they would have loved it. But in a way I was grateful because I don't think we ever would have made it out of there, and I think I would have spent a small fortune on all the cool merchandise for sale. There was so many cool things to buy, much of it limited edition or rare, that I was overwhelmed and didn't know what to choose for them.

Yay for us that this year we all can go!

Oz Comic-Con has already attracted huge crowds and rave reviews in Perth and Adelaide and is on this weekend (June 11-12) at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Guests in Melbourne include Robert Patrick, Callum Blue, Ivy Doomkitty, Lucy Lawless, Jake Abel and Samuel Anderson. Also attending is Rose McIver, whose career highlights include iZombie. Unfortunately she's only appearing in Melbourne, much to my teens' disappointment. (It is one of our favourite shows).

Oz Comic-Con will also run in Sydney (September 10-11 at the Sydney Exhibition Centre, Glebe Island), and Brisbane (September 17-18, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre). 

Kermit will be mixing it up Oz Comic-Con this year.

Read on for more details (including how to win a family pass to an Oz Comic-Con weekend).

And to give you an idea of what Oz Comic-Con is like, here are some photos I took from last year's event in Brisbane. This year's theme is 'Unleash Your Inner Geek' but I thought everyone who attended last year was pretty cool. 

Avenue Q - a very naughty puppet show for adults (and kids who had their parents' permission to attend)

Avenue Q was just one of the many shows included in the ticket price, on one of several stages. Performances are held throughout the weekend, so it's important to plan which shows and discussions you want to watch

They walk among us - some of the many colourful attendees

Some cute costumes. There are Cosplay championships and parades

Oz Comic-Con includes gaming areas, anime stations, family rooms, and chill-out areas

Last year there were free samples of energy drinks to help keep you going

They were kept pretty busy

More gaming, plus colouring in, and Dragonball Z

The youngest Wonder Woman I've ever met - and her Super Dad

Chilling out

I was pretty sure my son would have liked this shirt but wasn't sure if it was appropriate ... 

A posy of princesses take time for lunch

One of the many discussions. This one on a different stage

Furries and friends put their feet up

My only regret about last year's Oz Comic-Con is that we couldn't stay longer and see more shows and discussions. But, living in the country, we had a long drive home and work the next day. This year, I'll probably try to see it over two days rather than a few rushed hours.

'That Lola Bunny', also known as Variable is attending all shows, as is Jason Palmer, while Amanda Tapping is attending Brisbane and Sydney. Australian comic book artist Nicola Scott, who is huge in America, will be in Brisbane. More guests will be announced soon. 

Thanks to Oz Comic-Con, Maid In Australia has a family pass to giveaway to either Melbourne, Sydney or the Brisbane event. 

To enter, simply leave a comment on who your favourite character is, whether they be in a book, comic, on TV, film or in a game. Please also let me know which Oz Comic-Con event you would like to attend - Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane.

The winner will be chosen at 5 pm AEST on Friday June 10, 2016. Please do check in, especially if you are intending to attend the Melbourne event. I always make every effort to contact winners,and announce them here and on Facebook and Twitter, but sometimes it isn't easy tracking winners down!

Good luck.

Disclaimer: Maid In Australia has received two family passes to Oz Comic-Con as a thank you from the organisers for writing this post. One is for my family and one is to giveaway to my followers. I have received no financial compensation for writing this post, and my opinion of last year's post is entirely my own. 

The competition has closed and the winner is Dee Potter, whose offer to show off her Warrior cry pushed her over the edge. Please contact me so I can organise for you to receive your pass. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Remembering is not just for one day. It's forever.

And so another ANZAC Day has been and gone.
The inevitable comments began on social media that day, followed by thinkpieces and columns the next.
Why is ANZAC Day for one day? Shouldn't we remember those who died for us, and those who still serve their countries, every single day?
Personally I believe that many Australians already do this.
Perhaps I'm naive.
I know many servicemen and women. Some are members of my family.
Others are friends or partners of friends or family.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of them or the sacrifices they made and are making.
Not to mention the sacrifices of those left at home.
Or the problems those who have served overseas live with once they have returned from their assignments, often traumatised by what they have seen and done, left to continue their lives with inadequate counselling and care.
I grew up looking at the photos of those who did not come back from wars and wondering what happened to them. Talking to widows who were mourning deaths or disappearances. Often there was no closure. Just photographs. Maybe some letters.
Of NOT hearing the stories of some who did return, because they did not want to talk about experiences, but reading into the silences and meaningful glances; the talk of nightmares, depression and inexplicable rage and grief.
I breathed in the poetry, the history, and the unbelievable stories of wrongs and hardships which occurred around the world because of war.
In my later years, I visited museums, places of war, photographed uniforms, bombs, machinery. Put on headphones and heard stories of those who had been there..
In my own family, I heard tales that were too unreal to be true. Close encounters and escapes. You could not make this stuff up.
I knew it must not happen again.
And today war. in various ways, continues.
Our servicemen and women are called on to keep the peace, save lives, and to clean up in the aftermath of many atrocities. They also help to restore order and rebuild after natural disasters.
They go through unbelievable hardships, away from their loved ones, from the comforts of home, to do what is right. They see things that should never be seen.
They try to sleep, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on cots; shower in contaminated water; survive on rations; have limited contact with their families; miss out on countless firsts and special events. At home, their partners or families keep the home life together.
As one of our South Burnett Regional Councillors Ros Heit said on April 25 2016, ANZAC Day isn't about celebrating war, but is about remembering the sacrifices of those who gave up their tomorrow so we could enjoy our today.
In modern times, it is also about honouring those who continue to put their lives at risk to do good both in Australia and New Zealand, and where they are needed around the World.
As some Australians celebrated at race days, sports games and concerts, and hashtagged their photos #ANZACS that day, I felt ashamed for our nation.
Was this all that ANZAC Day meant to some Aussies? But my heart also swelled with pride when I watched school children marching with their teachers. I held back tears as I watched veterans waving as they were pushed in wheelchairs by the younger generation.
An image remains in my mind of a strong-armed, straight-backed gent, carrying the Australian flag, not just throughout the march but in the hot sun for the entire ANZAC ceremony at my home town of Wondai. Without wavering.
My own Uncle Percy, a former Mayor, at 90 and sharp as a tack, who had been up for the dawn service playing in the Town Band, gave the keynote address for a later service and then fronted up for yet another service at a nearby town, all without missing a beat.
His speech included tales of his own father's experiences at Gallipoli, together with letters sent home from diggers from the region. He masterfully wove the meaning of these stories in with other wars, and with the significance of the horrors of modern warfare that going on today, including the evil of terrorism and ISIS.
I doubt any Australian politician could have given a better or more poignant speech. And, despite fighting his own invader (cancer) he also stood tall throughout.
Unlike politicians, Uncle Percy doesn't have speechwriters. He wrote it himself and it came from the heart. It was magnificent. He epitomises the Australian Spirit, and I don't mind admitting to getting a bit of water in my eyes at times.
During the ceremony, the plight of those who return home was mentioned often, as was that of those who remain here while their loved ones are away and also support them when they return. Never quite the same  And who need support as well.
Perhaps some people have forgotten about ANZAC Day until next year. However, I'll wager those are the same people who thought of the day as just another holiday. An excuse to get pissed at the races, see a sports game or a concert, and who who told people to 'Fuck Off' for posting too many tributes on social media.
The people who care will continue to remember those who have served us and continue to do so.
Lest we forget?
Not on our watch.

My great-nephews Jack and Connor Hyde, followed by their sister Elliana, with other students from St John's Lutheran School, Kingaroy. They were marching at the Wondai ANZAC parade as part of the St John's Wondai contingent.

My niece Sue Hyde, who attended St John's Lutheran School as a student and now teaches there, with children in the march

Some of the lovely marchers on wheels

The Wondai Town Band

Just some of the marchers

These guys. And the man with the flag.

Uncle Percy, delivering an incredible speech ...

Watched by South Burnett Regional Councillor Ros Heit

Still standing ... and speaking. At the age of 90 and despite an invader of his own. I salute you Uncle Percy.

The Wondai Town Band

Children pay their respects

St John's Lutheran School Captains

Lucy Jacobson plays The Last Post on a bugle that is more than 100 years old.

The human faces of war

Lest We Forget

My cousin Leah wore her late grandfather Percy's medals he was awarded after serving at Gallipolli and the Somme

You can't have ANZAC Day without a band. Or music!

Lest We Forget 

Legacy, the Walking Wounded, and RSL Clubs around Australia all support returned servicemen and women and their families.
For more details, go to www.walkingwounded.org.au,  www.legacy.com.au, or your nearest RSL club,

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Re-discovering Brisbane - With My Teens

All good things come to an end, and when it came time for my kids to return to the Northern Territory recently, I decided to spend a few nights in the city where their lives began, Brisbane.

We spent most of their lives there, but these days, visits to Brisbane, for the kids at least, are usually reduced to hurried airport pick-ups and drop-offs. These typically take place at the crack of dawn or at night, such are the prices of air tickets between Queensland and the Northern Territory. (That means they usually have to catch the red-eye flights, and I drive home exhausted and emotionally spent.)

Thank goodness for Tigerair, which have brought prices down, and serve the best food of all the airlines on the domestic travel routes in Australia, according to my teens. However, they really enjoyed flying back with Qantas last time, when I landed - see what I did there? - a really good deal. It meant we could say our goodbyes at a civilised daylight hour, and the kids were able to make full use of a generous luggage allowance - all the better for taking back collectables - and the on-board entertainment system as well.

(Note: My teens aren't spoiled: Our family circumstances are that they live between Queensland and the NT, which means they travel a lot. I'm always on the look-out for the best deals. And they have tried ALL the airlines.)

In any case, this time I was determined to avoid the horrid drop off rush, and because we hadn't been able to afford a holiday, to take the time to spend some time reacquainting ourselves with the city we love - Brisbane.

We'd not stayed at the Mercure Brisbane North Quay before, but the hotel's affordable rates meant we could go for an interconnecting room for the same price as a usual hotel room.

Now the kids are teens, it was an idea I was keen to try.

To be honest, when travelling I usually go for apartments or cabins for the extra room and convenience. But for one night, that is usually a false economy, particularly somewhere like Brisbane, where city hotels often offer deals during holiday periods.

The Mercure Brisbane North Quay is an older hotel to be sure, but it's been renovated inside, and we were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. And how friendly the staff were. (Particularly to the teenagers. Let's face it - some hotels and resorts can treat teens a bit like aliens. And I might be biased, but mine are really a lot nicer and better behaved than many adults).

When we arrived, only priority check-in was available, and although we were not #accorhotel 
members*, the staff member on duty happily gave us the VIP treatment.

After reading some trip advisor reviews, I'd warned the kids that we might have to dump our stuff and park kilometres away, but nothing could be further than the truth. The parking station was right next door. An attendant was on duty who saw I had just checked in and showed me a place to park that was SO close to the hotel entrance, I could have wept.

 Yes, there was a charge to park ($36) but I don't know of any hotel in Brisbane's CBD that does not charge for parking, even for self-parking. (Except in the rare case of a special package, in which case it is usually built into the cost anyway). It drives me insane, but they all do it. In this case, at least the hotel had advertised it, so it wasn't a nasty surprise on check-out.

For me, the attraction was that once we had parked, we were so centrally-located, we could walk to everything. No further cost incurred. I've parked at many hotel car parks that have charged even more than this, where I have had to park a long way away or had to wait for ages for a valet to bring the car up. I was okay with that.

The rooms were actually really lovely. Mine had a king-sized bed which was one of the most comfortable I've slept in. The kids both had queen-sized beds.

We each had amazing river views - again among the best I've seen in Brisbane. A fridge, large TV, a bath for the kids, and a shower for me. 

The lobby featured a Nespresso machine where you could help yourself to free good coffee, hot chocolate, tea, free WiFi and computers, as well as magazines and a few newspapers.

But there was no time for that! We had people to see and things to do!

My king bed - bliss

My room was really very spacious

With my own work desk (the kids had one too)

I loved my day bed 

The kids bathroom, just like mine, except their room had a bath, and mine had a shower

The kids' connecting room. 'Lived in' within minutes of check in, but still comfy. They had two queen beds rather than one big bed and were quite happy. It looks dark, but that's a case of my rushed photography, because we were in a hurry to go out. 

View of the Brisbane River

And looking towards the other direction

I could seriously have stayed there all afternoon. But as part of the kids' Christmas/birthday presents, I'd bought them online vouchers to use at iPlay Brisbane. It was one of the discounted Living Social deals and was great value, giving them one hour each of unlimited play, so they could go crazy. I bought a couple extra so they could play with some of their old school friends, who they still stay in touch with. We chose the Albert Street store, just a short walk from our hotel, and just next to all the shops and eateries of the Queen Street Mall. 

At iPlay, Albert Street, Brisbane, waiting to meet friends.

Strike a pose

Let's get this party started...

All systems go...

Girls like games too!

Afterwards, we went to one of the 'coolest shops in the world'- we have now found a few - Comics etc. 

So much to choose from ...

Even better, with Manga Madness, the Birthday Boy got to choose himself an anime book he really wanted, at a vast discount to what it would have cost anywhere else (including online).

Afterwards, we fueled up with what I thought was an early dinner at one of the food courts at the Queen Street Mall. Harmonie even ran into an old school friend from primary school days in Brisbane. What were the odds?

And then it was back to our hotel rooms. Doesn't that sound decadent? We were just a short walk across a bridge to SouthBank, where all kinds of special celebrations were going on for the school holidays and the lead-up to Australia Day. But the kids just wanted to chill out and enjoy the pay TV, and some snacks we'd bought. Plus watching the city light up from our windows. 

Once again, I had to remind myself, as I often do, that time with the kids is not about me, but about them. Yes, there are days when I am going to drag their butts out of bed and make them experience something new if it kills them (joke), but I have to remember we don't have to do ALL the things. Sometimes just being together is the best thing of all. And the views and comfy beds were amazing. 

Watching the city light-up

Brisbane's South Bank from our rooms

Of course teenagers need to be fed within an hour of a four-course meal (I may have exaggerated a little), so we ordered room service. It was a holiday treat after all, and the room service menu was both pretty wide-ranging and reasonably priced. There was something there for everyone and there was no tray delivery fee either, which is a personal dislike of mine!

Even better, the service was prompt, and again, really friendly. The quality was great for the prices charged.

I'm pretty old-fashioned in that I still use a club sandwich as a standard-measure of room service quality. (I probably need to find a modern day equivalent). I also chose it because it was something the teens could share and fill up on. Chase went for a grown-up Angus Beef burger, and Harmonie chose a kid's meal, which was the best deal of all - a main, dessert and a drink for about $15.

Seriously, considering the cheapest meal deal at the mall food court was about $12, and this was real food, (the vanilla ice-cream was made from vanilla pods!) I thought this was exceptional value. 

Chase's room service burger and fries with aioli

Club Sandwich to share. A @WeWantPlates moment, for extra fun!

Miss 14's meal came with a giant bowl of vanilla-pod ice-cream and chocolate topping. She also had pasta with the topping of her choice, and a drink. But best of all, for a 'kids' meal' it was real food. Quality pasta, a nice drink (she chose juice), and vanilla ice-cream made with vanilla bean pods. No crap here. My kids have always been foodies and began ordering adult or entree meals from a young age because they couldn't stand the usual nuggets and chips and other rubbish.

Meal with a view - and a remote control

And my own television!

We all watched pay TV -  a rare treat - and chatted, between rooms. The kids would come in and out of my room and vice versa as required. Hot beverages were made as required.

I watched a movie I'd been wanting to see for a while, the kids watched cartoons, a few baths were enjoyed, and everyone went off to sleep peacefully.

I loved the experience of an interconnecting room. Of course, we've stayed in apartments before, and many hotel rooms, but never an interconneccting room. The kids loved it! Being trusted not to break into the mini bar (and we'd packed a few drinks and snacks just in case of midnight munchies.) Oh and the fun of ringing my room for the first five or ten minutes or so? So entertaining!

In recent times, many hotel deals end up with one child being in a single bed, which isn't really fair
now they are teenagers. In fact, I'm now the smallest of the three of us, and I don't want to sleep in a single bed if we're treating ourselves, so why should they? We don't mind sharing a room, but at the very least, we'd like a decent bed each, and the Mercure Brisbane gave us that, plus extra pillows and privacy. And it made the kids feel a bit special for a special occasion. Like the grown-ups they are becoming.

I woke early on Australia Day, also my son's 15th birthday, and watched the River City slowly come to life. I had warned the kids I might get up early to use the pool, which we hadn't had time to try yet, as I tend to wake early and they like to sleep in during the holidays. But in the end, I didn't want to leave them. I was happy to watch them sleep (Creepy Mum Moment) and enjoy the quiet time.

Good morning Brisbane!

Breakfast was included in our room deal, and as it grew closer to closing time, I rallied the troops. They were initially reluctant to move from their comfortable beds, and at least one wanted to order room service again (ahem) but I insisted on checking out the free included breakfast. 

Happy birthday to Chase - and Happy Australia Day. Nice view - and notice the built in charger and hidden electricity board. And juice served in a jar is always a novelty!

A big breakfast for a big day.

We would have done loads more at the Mercure Brisbane but the sad fact was, we had run out of time!

We didn't even get a chance to swim in the pool (which is rather small, but still would have been wonderful in the late January heat), or to use the gym.

Now that I live in Southern Queensland Country, and travel regularly to Brisbane, I would stay at the Mercure Brisbane North Quay any time. It would be perfect base to see a show at QPAC, an art exhibition, or just for a shopping or business trip.

I found the rooms much nicer and more spacious than some higher-rated hotels, and they were very quiet too. The location is so convenient (once you work out exactly how to get there. There's a one-way street system which google maps didn't take into account, so it's worth phoning in advance if you don't know the area, to get directions so you don't get lost like a certain driver did.).

The Mercure Brisbane is definitely a cool place to stay and I'll be keeping an eye on special deals both for when I'm in the city on my own, and when the kids are in the area again.

Maybe next time we'll have time to use the pool and pop across to South Bank too!