Wednesday, December 30, 2015

And so this was Christmas

Christmas was a mixed blessing this year.
Christmas was a blessing, because I was surrounded by people who love me and whom I love back. There was plenty of food and drink, and lots of laughter and tradition.
But it sucked, because my kids were not with me - though I will see them soon.

Bittersweet - watching other children leave a drink and snacks for Santa and the reindeer when yours are not there. Mind you, mine are too old for that now! 

As I often do at Christmas, I thought a lot about festive seasons gone by. The good, the bad, the indulgent, the basic. From childhood through to now, and many in-between.
Being the only one in a group to be 'on your own' can be lonely. In fact, it's the worst. Even harder, when you are separated from your children, and there is only a short window of time when you are allowed to contact them.
You grieve as you watch others share what you cannot. But - it's life, and it can also be a useful time to reflect. That's what I did this year.
And I found parts of my life flickering by in memories, a little like a slide show.

My childhood church

In church, on Christmas morning, as the pastor somehow tied the story of an amorous gorilla into the birth of Jesus (don't ask) I remembered many childhood scenes, sitting perhaps on that same pew with my Mum and Dad.
As it often does, my mind wandered, struggling to stay with the logic of the Christmas 'sermon' and the joy of the season. And this time, instead of my siblings, (and assorted partners over the years) crammed into the pew, it was just my elderly parents and I. And the memories turned on and off, like someone was flicking a switch.
There was the time I took a first boyfriend to church, feeling so self-conscious, awkward and shy. The times when I took my own children along to church, and I tried not to laugh at their antics. The changes, as members of the congregation came and went, grew up, had families of their own.
As my ailing Mum scratched distractedly at her skin on her arms and legs and made them bleed, my Dad grabbed her hands and held them. I wanted to photograph that moment, a close-up of their hands, though I can picture it vividly in my mind's eye.
I rarely saw Dad holding Mum's hand back when we were kids. Now he does it all the time. There was something special about that moment. I know he did it to stop her from scratching, but she was also letting him. She wouldn't have done that once. There was something beautiful about that mutual act of love, but I thought it would be bad form to take a photo in church. (Perfectly okay to talk about the sexual activities of a gorilla on Christmas Day though ...)

Morning tea at Mum and Dad's cottage later 

Afterwards, there was the pop of champagne corks, the fizz of a soda stream constantly refilling non-alcoholic drinks. Jokes, music, phone calls, noise.

Tears when 'Santa' appeared to be overly generous to some and not others. Momentarily hurt feelings when a present from adult children - Meals on Wheels deliveries - to elderly parents, meant an admission that it made a patriach feel old. But grateful all the same.

This pair... and friends 

Many pets, friends dropping in, motorbikes, buggy rides in the bush. Air-conditioning, rain, seafood, Christmas in the Australian country.
The exhilarating moment when my 85-year-old Dad rode in a bush buggy, that I was too scared to ride in. (I promised to do it if Mum would ...)

One of the other grandparents, bravely taking on the bush-bashing buggy ride ... 

I thought about Christmasses past. Some spent in places like England and New Zealand.
There were times when I was a kid, an innocent teenager, a full-of-myself adventurer. When I was married, pregnant, a mother, divorced. Times of going without, and times of being okay. Times of unbearable pain, but hiding it. Think Emma Thompson in Love Actually.(There are reasons that movie resonates with so many of us ...)
Into my memories flew a time when, one of my best presents, was a Christmas stocking full of dolls' clothes, that my mother had sewn herself, from scraps of fabric which were left over from making our clothes. I only realised, much later, that we were probably broke at the time, and that was actually a labour of love.
There was another year, spent in the English countryside, when my then husband and I put the turkey and fixings on in our rented holiday cottage, and went out to find a pay phone - there were no mobiles then - to ring home. We came back to discover we were supposed to put pound coins in a special 'box' to make the oven work, and the cooking had never started. A rookie Aussie mistake. Christmas was late that year, but it was bloody awesome, even if it was just the two of us. That was all we ever needed.
A hot Brisbane Christmas, heavily pregnant with my first child and as uncomfortable as hell, but full of hope for the future. Another one, where overseas relatives visited and joined in our strange Aussie traditions.
Christmas is so many things for so many people.
When the festivities were over, I returned home, and people asked me whether I received any good presents.
Well, as a single adult, I don't really receive presents. And yes, I miss the days when Christmas meant pampering, with gifts of jewellery, lingerie, lovingly hand-made and chosen gifts. (Though I would have swapped it all for a cuddle from my kids...)
I was spoiled a week or so before the 25th, when my sister arranged a surprise visit to her hairdresser, to get my long-neglected locks into shape. That was so thoughtful and needed! It was the best gift I have received in many years.

A hairdressing salon on a farm

After the cut, without make-up, because - surprise!

And in the days leading up to Christmas, a good friend organised a much-needed few days away to relax and de-stress on the Sunshine Coast. 

The destination also happened to be one where I'd spent a lot of time as a child, and there's probably a whole other blog post in that. Importantly, I think it's one of the most beautiful destinations in Queensland - and that's a huge call - and just being back by the sea, in nature, with great food, quirky shops, friendly people and good company, healed a part of my soul.
Back home, Lucy was being well taken care of by my wonderful neighbours - there are always my neighbours or friends and family who take her in and visit regularly - so I only had to put my feet up and relax.
As for presents on Christmas day, it was special enough, just to be included in family celebrations.
It was present enough, to hear my kids say: 'I love you.' Even though it was on the phone, and not in person.
It was lovely that, when I stayed with my sister and her family, Lucy could come too, even though she was a little bit naughty at times and thought it was fun to visit the neighbours whenever she had a chance!

Lucy in her Christmas finery 

It sounds corny but it was present enough to be present.
On Boxing Day, it was fun to watch movies on fold-out chairs and armchairs on the big-screens in my sister and brother-in-law's eco-friendly, smart-home with family and friends. Lucy by my side, food and drinks and company at hand. 
And when I returned to my own place, to have other friends and family, reach out. 'Do you want to come over for coffee?' "Do you want to meet for a chat?"
As simple as that.
They knew instinctively that I would be struggling coming back to an empty home, and they fixed it with a cup of tea and a chat. (Okay and maybe a few hugs).
And I have friends and family in Brisbane and beyond, who offer me a bed when I am picking up the kids when they can, or a place for respite. Not to mention those throughout Australia and the world. The internet and skype has made connecting and staying in touch so easy. I never know when I'll get a skype call from someone on the other side of the world, just when I need it the most. (JH you are amazing at this!)
You know I am so lucky!
So often I get bogged down in what I don't have, what I can't do, what I've stuffed up, what I can't provide...
But my friends and family - and my kids - remind me I'm okay.
Throughout the year, I've had so much support from them, I've had help in the form of home-cooked meals; a hand putting furniture together (okay I basically just watched, felt guilty, and provided drinks); lawns being mowed; Lucy being taken in; ME being taken in - sometimes with just 30 minutes' notice (long story); and so much more.
So my friends and family who really care are the best presents of all.
And if you need a lift, I love this display from the 2015 South Burnett Hancock Prospecting Christmas Lights Competition. Says it all really ...Let It Go

Friday, November 20, 2015

Where dreams do come true

The kids had been begging me to take them to Dreamworld for ages.

In the old days, when we lived in Brisbane, and I covered a lot of animal, travel and entertainment stories for national and international magazines and newspapers, we were regulars at theme parks.

Probably the last proper visit to Dreamworld was when the Wiggles and  Hi-Five (the original members of both groups) performed at the park. That's how long ago it was! And we were regularly invited to cover major events.

A young Chase even was cuddled by Kathleen de Leon, who confessed she was very clucky at the time (pre her marriage to Daniel Jones).

More recently, we attended a live filming of a Big Brother eviction. But that was really just an evening, live-filming event, and we didn't actually get to see any of the park. (Even though, as a veteran Big Brother reporter, seeing the experience through my childrens' eyes was a completely new experience. And awesome!)

So it was great to revisit Dreamworld with my older, wiser, stronger kids.

It was all fresh for my teens, who had been too young to remember the theme park from their visits as Wiggle-loving toddlers. (How I would love to post some pics of those days, but I think my offspring would kill me  or even worse, exact their revenge at a later date...)

  Dreamworld has been revamped and rethemed since then. And big time. So the visit was just as much fun for me. 

It was also the first time I have taken my kids to a theme park as teenagers.

These days they have gone well and truly beyond the kiddy rides and are way into the fast and furious thrills. They love the animals, colour and adventure as well, and they're fit enough to want to keep on exploring, rather than tiring and asking to go home way before we've seen everything.

In fact, this time it was the adult who was flagging way before they did. 
But I still had a very long drive home to 'look forward to...

We had plenty to enjoy in the meantime.

Map Guy wasted no time decided which attraction which we should head to first, while a certain Miss 12 was attracted by the pretties. A little bit of her mother in her then ...

Actually Harmonie was just like a kid in a candy store ... funny that 

Mmm... chocolate

Time for a coffee, but an iced version, because even at 10 am it was so freaking hot. #thisisQueensland

Zombie Evilution was first on the list. The kids were keen for me to go into battle, but as soon as they read the exclusion list (weak neck, motion sickness, weak back, nervous disorders, recent surgery) I was dispatched to be Bag Lady while they had the fun. Apparently Chase was the winner for his team! For the record, I am sure I would have kicked some serious Zombie butt in there ... 

Zombie Central 

The iconic Shark Shack food outlet. This is where the hungry Man Child chose to have a snack, while Miss 12 and an adult friend went on the Wipeout. Luckily, the two facilities are next to each other, because, although Harmonie was well taken care of, she also wanted me to take photos and videos. And although Mr 14 thinks he is bullet-proof, I didn't want to leave him alone. Okay, call me a helicopter mum. but I'd rather be safe than sorry. I was hovering more than helicoptering, in any case.

About to be wiped out ... My daughter has a stronger stomach than me!

But everyone went on The Claw. Well except me. Bag Lady duties you see ... Apparently it was Teh Awesome

An iconic Dreamworld stand. Important fact: You can get your refillable slushie containers refilled here also

Chase's mid-morning snack, which cost around $26. You don't have to buy the special drink container (which costs extra) but the idea is you can then refill it at a vast discount throughout the park. And they have something cool to take home.To be honest though, there were only a few stands/facilities that sold the slushie drinks, which were what the kids were after. And the hot dog stand and Shark Shack closed early, even though it was school holidays. (Trust me - I walked there especially to refill it when we couldn't fill slushies elsewhere). 

Just riding along 


I must confess: I wanted desperately to have my photo taken with the Madagascar crew. But no one would join me, and because we were running out of time (the kids had a plane to catch in Brisbane that night), I didn't feel like we could take time for a photo opportunity for me. I had only watched that movie a million times because of the kids!That particular area was Nick Jnr the last time we visited, and Dreamworld have done a great job at rebranding the whole feel of the area.

After all those rides, I did insist that I get a 'turn' at doing something I wanted to do. And that was to see the animals, including the tigers. Again, I've been lucky enough to get up close and personal with the tigers in a previous life - I've even had one jump over my head, and yes I've patted them - but I can't go to Dreamworld without checking in.

They are just like big pussycats (but not really), and what you see really depends on what they are doing and how they feel on the day.

The kids saw their first Cassowary that they remember, though we have seen them before. I encountered cassowaries a few times in the wild when I lived in Far North Queensland, and it's always a treat to see these rare, flightless birds. "Look, an emu," shouted a bogan to his kids, as he rushed on by. I had to be restrained from running after him and giving him a talking to. 

The obligatory koala shot. There are more koalas at Dreamworld than you can poke a stick at. Not that you would ever do that. Perhaps a better term would be: 'Find asleep in the fork of a gumtree'
We saw more animals (and there are so many including kangaoos, wombats, dingoes, Tassie devils, crocodiles, and emus. Ahem. But my son began having an allergic reaction to either the animal food or one of the animals, so we had to move on.

It was fine, as going on the water rides took his mind off things and his reaction cleared. I joined him for this ride, which I have done a zillion times, but I still screamed like a girl, And afterwards, my pants were soaked. Because of the Water Ride you understand. 

We also went on a circular water ride but no one could get a pic of that one, because we all rode on it.  In fact, we couldn't get a pic of everything, and we didn't get to do or see everything we wanted to do. (You seriously need a few days ....)

We ended the day with a slice of American-style pizza (and chips for those who needed them). A nearby sandwich joint did not sell sandwiches, only subs and and a few sad pieces of sushi, but perhaps it was the time of day and they had sold out.

We were really sad as it was time to get on the road to Brisbane and we'd only seen a percentage of the park. And the big loss was that our entry included the adjacent WhiteWater World too, which we would have loved to have tried out.

At the time, Dreamworld was running a promotion where patrons could renew their tickets on leaving, allowing entry into both worlds and the Skypoint Observation Tower at Q1, the highest beachside observation tower in Australia, until the end of June 2016. (For a small fee, conditions applied).
We really wanted to do that, but there was only one operator on duty, a line of people, and a seemingly particularly demanding couple taking up all her time when we were leaving the park. We waited and waited, but that couple's queries never got finalised.

With the clock ticking, we had to leave. but I'd recommend checking it out if you are visiting the Gold Coast or a resident, because just one more visit would make it more than worth your while.  

Our verdict?

 Having visited Dreamworld pre-kids, with babies and toddlers, young kids, and now teens, a visit to Dreamworld is a must for all ages. It's no Disneyland, nor has it ever tried to be. It's an iconic Australian theme park, that has moved with the times and really does have something for all ages and tastes. 

Our tips

  •  Plan ahead. Work out what you want to see the most and head there first (and if the queue is really long, go somewhere else and come back later).
  • Take snacks, and/or refillable water bottles. Generally, you're not allowed to take your own food in, but staff turn a blind eye to you bringing in water bottles each and a few snacks that fit into your bags.
  • Queensland is hot, even in winter. Slap on the sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses, and reapply the sunscreen often. Drink plenty of water.
  • If you have a legitimate food allergy or condition, you are allowed to take food in (check first regarding conditions), but I find kids usually don't care about the food as much as the rides and experiences. 
  • The main trick is keeping all of you hydrated. There are water points throughout the park where you can refill your bottles. Staff aren't going to make a fuss about a few vegemite sandwiches or snack packs, but don't try to bring in an esky. You can still have a picnic but you might be asked to leave your esky in the car, get a pass out and come back later. Unless you have the real allergies or food conditions, and can provide proof of these.
  •  I must admit, shelling out $26-ish for a hotdog, chips and drink was a lot to swallow (get it?) for just one teen's snack, particularly when he needed more food and drink later. And it was pronounced only 'edible'. 
  • I would welcome more healthy choices. 
  • At the time we went for our second 'lunch/snack', there were a few pieces of sushi left that didn't look appetising, and as I said, no sandwiches available for a tween who just wanted a vegemite sambo. She chose a New York slice of pizza instead, joined by her brother. One of them had a meal deal and one just a slice. I think it was another $30 or so for that, and they were still hungry. (Don't worry - we grabbed Japanese food on the way to the airport). 
  • Having said that, a trip to a theme park, sporting event, upmarket resort, theatrical presentation or similar is a very rare treat for most families, and food and drink costs are always high. When you keep that in mind, our Aussie parks are quite reasonable compared with others around the world.
  • Try to avoid the gift shops. Because - money and stuff. But if you do go, they actually have good quality merchandise and a lot of it is practical. Like drink bottles, cups, collectables and pens.  
  • Go to the loo! It should go without saying, but if you see a loo without a queue, especially if you have small children, elderly parents, or a Mummy Bladder, GO! Because the minute you are busting, you will not be able to find one for ages. And then there will be a line for kilometres. (Okay, I do have a tendancy to dramatise). The same goes for water fountains and the stalls with slushie machines. 
  • Get there early. It's in a pain in the butt to set the alarm during a Gold Coast holiday, but it's well worth it when you burst through those turnstiles early, feel like you have the park to yourself, and get straight to the ride you've been aching to do, without having to wait. 
  • Allow extra time to leave if there are special deals on. 
  • Just enjoy. Have no expectations. If one ride has a long queue, another will not. If someone is tired, a show will be on. It's all about the fun. And the #DWhappiness 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

MIA gets racy with Rachael Finch

This week I was invited to sip champagne and compare fashion tips with model mum Rachael Finch.

Clearly that's because we have so much in common, and look so much alike we could be twins.

(Okay, I made that bit up).

Actually, it's because I'm a travel writer and blogger, and Virgin Australia are often kind enough to invite me to events or launches which they think might interest my followers.

On this occasion, Race Carnival ambassador Rachael Finch offically opened Virgin's hugely popular Hat Valet service with Australia's premier millener Nerida Winter at a swish event at their flagship Sydney Lounge.

Virgin offers the Hat Valet service as part of the Spring Racing Carnival, and is a tradition that is simply 'out of the box' in terms of travel in Australia.

Traveller and race fans adore the Hat Valet service, because it provide first-class handling of a girl's (or guy's) most important fashion accessory, the headpiece.

For now, the service is only available for Virgins customers travelling between Sydney and
Melbourne during this year's Spring Racing Carnival.

Virgin staff provide free boxes for hats and fascinators at Sydney and Melbourne check in, take care of them, and hand deliver them to passengers on arrival.

"So you don't have to worry about travelling with your hat or hair piece, or worrying about where to put it or if it will get crushed," explains Rachael. "And you don't have to worry about your hair getting messy, or your lipstick needing a touch up. It's all done for you, so you arrive race-track ready."

That's because during the Spring Racing Carnival, guests at Virgin's Sydney Lounge can also avail themselves of complimetary blow-dries and hair-styling, make up touch-ups, ModelCo make-up kits, and even shoe-shining provided by social enterprise franchise Buffed. But more on that later.

As I mentioned, I was invited to try out the services available to Virgin highflyers and Lounge guests in Sydney, with Rachael, Nerida, and other fashionable guests. But, in typical  #daysofbronnie style, life intervened, and I had to content myself with a phone interview.

I must admit to feeling a bit peeved with a phone chat, knowing my new best friend  interviewee had been sipping champagne, having her luscious locks tended to, and her already- perfect make-up touched up, just minutes before our chat.

To make matters worse, Rachael then experienced the magic of our regional  phone line connections - or lack of them.

"Are you in a tunnel?" she asked, as our connection was first disconnected, and then I was forced to get up from my desk, walk around, put one arm in the air, stand on one foot, and then freeze,* lest we lose contact again.

"Your voice is echoing like you are in a giant room," she said. "Oh, I've lost you again. Okay, now that's good."

Once I'd found a sweet spot - country followers will be sooo familiar with my frustration - we continued.

We talked about the Hat Valet service, and how important it was for women, having invested in a good hat or fascinator, not to have to worry about irritating passengers by wearing their headpiece on the plane, but also, not to mess up their hair by taking it off. Instead, just being able to turn up at the airport and have their hairpiece safely and expertly looked after, AND having their hair and make-up fixed, takes a lot of the stress out of race day travel.

But a lot of my followers are men, who also travel a lot, and like a bit of pampering as well. And, I’ll be frank. Many of them are whingers. I am sorry guys, but you are. You’ll read this and say: “Why do women get everything? What about men? Why do we miss out?” So there were questions to be asked. And ask them I would ... 

And let's be honest ladies, if we've gone to a lot of trouble to look good, the last thing we want is to be let down by a partner who turns up with a crumpled hat, untamed moustache, bad hair, or dirty shoes, when we have dressed to the nines.

So I wanted to know if the Hat Valet and associated Virgin Lounge services were available to  men as well as women.

"So what about men?" I asked. "Did any men have any blow jobs in the lounge this morning?"

There was a momentary silence, and as I wished for the ground to 'swallow' me whole, Rachael, the publicist, and I suddenly burst into fits of laughter.

I apologised profusely, as I earnestly explained I meant blow dries. Blow Dries! (Seriously, what was I thinking?)

"I've never actually been asked that question before," Rachael laughed, putting me at ease by admitting I'd made her day.

And to set the record straight, men did and can use the Hat Valet service, to ensure their hats arrive in style, and many of them also use the hair (and make-up) touch-up service. And even have blow dries!

"When you consider Australians spent around $50 million in race wear for the Spring Racing season last year and retail stores like Myer can see up to one headpiece per minute fly out the door during the busy pre-racing season period, we know how important this accessory is to race-goers," says milliner Nerida Winter. "They want to be able to wear them again.

“I know some of my clients love Virgin Australia’s Hat Valet service and look forward to using it on their trip to Melbourne every year.”

As for the Buffed service, it is now permanantly available in Virgin's Sydney Lounge for small fee for $8, which goes to the Buffed artisan.

Virgin Australia Group Executive, Public Affairs, Danielle Keigher said the enterprise supports homeless, displaced or marginalised Australians, who are excluded from mainstream employment. Buffed gives them the skills, location, equipment and the environment to set up a business as shoe and leather treatment artisans.

The Hat Valet services are exclusively available to all Business Class guests, Platinum, Gold and Lounge members through the premium kerbside entry of Virgin Australia’s Sydney Lounge until and including November 7.

In the meantime, Rachael has exclusively shared her trips for this year's racing season with Maid In Australia:

"Monochrome is always a safe 'bet', she advises. "If in doubt, you can never go wrong with black and white.

"But the seventies look is really big this year. I like a fitted dress that sucks you in and shows off your figure as much as anyone, but you can't breathe, and you can't eat.

"I love the longer sleeves, the floaty hemlines, and feminine fabrics that are in this year. It's a modern take on a 1970s vibe and you feel a lot more relaxed when you're wearing something like that."

Something a bit more for the non-model mums like me, I suggested. 

"It's whatever makes you comfortable," she says. "If you feel comfortable and you can move around, you'll look good. And the look is a lot more forgiving if you actually want to eat and drink. And who doesn’t?”

And if you're wondering if Rachael will be taking her own child along to the Melbourne Cup, this year it's a firm 'no'. That's not because she's got anything against children at the races, but because, as she points out, it's an individual thing depending on the child, the parent, and the venue.

"Some race days cater for children, and even have Fashions On The Field for kids," she says. "And some children are fine at these events. But Violet is two now, and she's delightful, but I think parents will understand when I say she can be a bit of a handful. At this age, I don't think race days are the best place for her. She wouldn't enjoy it, and I couldn't relax. Maybe when she is older."

As for selfies, Rachel isn't a fan of the duckface or this year’s current race trend, the poking out of tongues, and then posting of tongue-pics on social media.

“Oh no, I don’t like that at all,” she said. “I’m a fan of keeping your tongue firmly in your mouth. My best selfie tip is to grab someone, and put a big cheesy grin on your face. And just have fun and enjoy the moment.”

Advice I could have heeded earlier!

More details about Virgin Australia's Hat Valet Service and Race Carnival Lounge services are here.  

Have you ever made a slip of the tongue? Wished for the ground to swallow you whole? How did you recover?

*Okay, I made that part up too. But I did have to walk around and stand in one spot for the rest of the interview, or we lost the connection …

Monday, October 12, 2015

You had me at hello ... (And win a free house clean!)

 My kitchen - AFTER a clean 

One of the fab things about blogging is that sometimes companies send you products to review.
Other bloggers are feted with things like chocolates, champagne, and invitations to weekends at posh holiday resorts.
Maid In Australia, however, seems to be destined to be forever opening hampers of healthy food products, cleaning aids, and air fresheners.
I guess it’s the fact that my blog is actually named Maid In Australia, and everyone assumes that either: A. I am a maid, or B. I have some kind of crazy desire for cleaning. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)
The fact is, the name Maid In Australia is kind of a play on words.
I started this blog after my original blog Aussies In Auckland, about my family’s life across the ditch – originally started to keep our family and friends in touch with what we were up to in one fell swoop – gained a cult following in New Zealand.
With it came national media attention and invitations to events. Regular home deliveries of chocolates and flowers, and attendances at events like real-life Nights At The Museum or invitations to the zoo with the kids. It was like every day was Christmas.  
That came to an end when we moved back to Australia, but I’d already developed a massive addiction to fondness of blogging, and I wanted to continue. But what would I blog about? Our lives in Australia? Well, why the bloody hell not? 
And like magic, the title just came to me.
I’m a travel writer. I was made in Australia.
The name reflects my love of travel, particularly in my own country. I write a lot about my adventures in Australia and beyond.
There was a fair bit of irony there too. With two kids and several pets , I felt quite a lot like a maid when I started this blog, for I was forever running after everyone else and putting myself last. And as I'm single, I'm in serious danger of becoming an Old Maid. 
Finally, the name’s a bit of an in-joke, because I hate housework, and I somehow missed out when the genes were being handed out for tidying and decorating. In fact, I was once given books on cleaning and tidying for Christmas! (Hints anyone?)
But I’m the first to admit, I need all the help I can get in that department.
One of the best gifts I ever received was after having my second child. My then in-laws gave my then husband and I several weeks of cleaning after our little angel came home.
I was working full-time, and with a toddler on the go as well, it was a blessing to have a real-life domestic goddess arrive once a week to do all the big jobs, like the kitchen, bathroom and floors.

Be honest - who doesn't love a clean bathroom, when they haven't had to do it themselves? 

And those long hallways don't mop themselves ... (And sadly, Everybody Loves Lucy doesn't seem keen to help!)

Since then, whenever I’ve been lucky enough to have loads of work on, I’ve invested in my own cleaner.
That way, I’m not only paying my own good fortune forward and giving someone else some work, but instead of spending a day or so of cleaning and doing a half-arsed job (and paying for it later, because my arthritis means housework is actually bad for me – true story), a professional cleaner can get through my chores and do a great job in a few hours. Everyone wins.
So I was delighted when HomeHello contacted me to offer one of YOU, my lovely followers, a free three-hour clean at your home.
What I love is that HomeHello was set up by a group of students at the University of New South Wales, to make it easier to book home cleaning services in Australia.
Since kicking off their start-up in 2014, it has turned from an idea into a fully-fledged, professional business. The team has cleaned hundreds of Sydney and Melbourne homes, and there are plans to expand to other cities and states as soon as they can. (Sadly, they haven’t reached the South Burnett yet, but I live in hope…)
All their cleaners have police checks, are insured, have been individually screened and trialled, and are regularly checked for quality assurance purposes.
Plus, there is a list of things cleaning involves, so you know exactly what you are getting for your money. Certain things, like end of lease cleans, are excluded, but most cleaning like mopping, vacumming and making beds are included. You can add on extras like fridge and oven cleans as well.
There are no contracts, and you can book one-off or regular cleans, from $25 an hour.
Booking is quick, safe, and easy. You simply enter a few details into the website, and before you know it, a qualified cleaner will be making your home shimmer while you relax, catch up on work, spend time with your partner or kids, or do whatever the hell you like with your free time.
While I haven’t been able to use the service myself (because it’s not available here), I do know of several very happy customers who swear by HomeHello.
To enter to win a free three-hour clean, simply comment below on what you would do with your free time while someone else makes your home sparkle.
There is a catch: The clean is only available at homes in Melbourne or Sydney.

Entries close at 5 pm AEST, on Wednesday 21, 2015. 

If HomeHello was available here, I think I'd spend my free time right here ... after clean bedding had been put on of course! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Oz Comic-Con comes to life!

Who doesn't love a little Comic-Con action?

We're huge Cosplay, gaming, anime, and pop culture fans in this household.

So I'm delighted to announce that Oz Comic-Con is back!

Oz Comic-Con produces pop culture events across Australia that celebrate TV shows, movies, comic books, graphic novels, anime and gaming. The events feature multi-genre content from across the spectrum.

After the huge success of the inaugural Oz Comic-Con Brisbane and Sydney in 2014, and a recent sell-out show in Melbourne, Australia’s best-loved pop culture extravaganza is beaming into Brisbane and Sydney this September.

Taking over the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on 19-20 September and the Sydney Exhibition Centre at Glebe Island on 26-27 September, Oz Comic-Con Brisbane and Sydney will feature a huge variety of celebrity guests, comic artists, interactive features, and awesome exhibitors.

There will be appearances by film and television stars, comic book artists and voice actors; gaming demonstrations and cosplay competitions; creative workshops and master classes; and hard-to-find merchandise.

Guests currently include Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver, Stargate SG-1), Tim Rose (Star Wars), Daniel Portman (Game of Thrones), Dante Basco (Hook) and Mike McFarland (Dragon Ball-Z).

Cosplay guest Yaya Han

Mark Sexton
(Mad Max: Fury Road)

Olivia Hack (The Last Airbender)

Mike McFarland (Dragon Ball)

Nicola Scott (Teen Titans)

These are just a few of the guests who will be appearing. Quite frankly, I know a few people who will be at risk of peeing their pants if they get to meet any of these talented creatives, and they are just a few of the guests who are set to appear.

Over the coming weeks, many more names will be added to this stellar line-up.

Guests will be available over the Comic-Con weekends for autograph and photograph opportunities, as well as taking part in exclusive Question and Answer panels.

Cosplay and costume lovers, take note! Oz Comic-Con Brisbane and Sydney are hosting their respective state finals of the Australian Championships of Cosplay, with Sydney the venue to be the venue for the national finals. The lucky winner will score the opportunity to compete in the 2016 Crown Championships of Cosplay at Comic-Con in Chicago.

The events will also host a kids and adult cosplay parade, for cosplayers of all ages and abilities to showcase their fabulous costume creations.

Taking place during the September school holidays, Oz Comic-Con Brisbane and Sydney are also a perfect way to keep the whole family entertained.

From the Family Activity Room, where kids can take a break from the main show floor to play, to the Berocca Boost Gaming Zone where gamers of all ages can showcase their skills, there’s something at Oz Comic-Con for family members of all ages to enjoy.

"It's been a huge year for Oz Comic-Con, and we're looking forward to bringing the final two shows for 2105 to Sydney and Brisbane," said Paul Baker, event director at Reed Exhibitions. "It really is the ultimate all-ages show. No matter how old you are, or what you love, Oz Comic-Con is Australia’s best and brightest pop culture extravaganza."

Oz Comic-Con was created by Sydney-based company DCA Enterprises, which now works in partnership with international event organisers ReedPOP to produce the Oz Comic-Con shows.
The ReedPOP portfolio includes New York Comic Con, PAX (Prime, East and Australia), Star Wars Celebration, Emerald City Comicon and the UFC Fan Expo.

Oz Comic-Con proudly supports local Australian talent and businesses in many areas, providing a platform to showcase Australian creativity and endeavours. Oz Comic-Con will continue in Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne next year.

Thanks to Oz Comic-Con, Maid In Australia has two family passes to give away. The passes are for either the Brisbane or Sydney show. Family passes are for two adults and two kids up to the age of 16 and allow entry for the whole weekend. Each family pass is worth $160. 

To enter, comment below saying who you would love to see at Oz Comic-Con and why. 

The competition is open to Australian residents only (or people who can get to either to the Brisbane or Sydney shows), and closes at 5 pm AEST on August 31, 2015. 

The winners are Lisa McLean and Sarah Potter. Please contact me so I can organise for you to receive your prizes. And congratulations!