Sunday, September 3, 2017

It's the most Oz Comic-Con Time of the Year! (Giveaway)

It's that time of the year again.

No not spring. (Although it's true that spring has sprung. I even had to stop and drive around a pair of pigeons making out on the middle of the road on the way home from the school run the other morning. #countrylife)

Not flu season. Though my kids have been struck down by #teenflu and Mum's nursing home was in lockdown for ages because of influenza and gastro, which has been raging through our region and most of Australia by all reports.

And not ALMOST school holidays. Though the countdown has begun. And assessments involving severed heads, and anatomically-correct-as-possible hearts are taking up as much of the kitchen table as possible. (Don't ask. Although I am seriously proud of the project in progress.) Even Miss 14 dragged herself from her sickbed to attend school so she could dissect a toad recently. She was not impressed, however, when another high school stole OUR school's order for lungs and hearts out from under them. She had been looking forward to blowing up the lungs (via a tube) as I had done when I was a teen. (I turned veggie after that. Well for as long as you can in the country.) "We were only left with bladders to cut up and they smelled like wee," Miss 14 complained. Who knew there was a black market in animal organs to dissect for school science projects?

Anyway, I digress. It's the time of year, that we start to think about nothing else but 'unleashing our inner geek' * and getting ready to immerse ourselves in all the anime, cosplay, sci-fi, and cartoon fun in the world.

And before you think that Oz Comic-Con is only for people who are into these things, it's actually not. I've lost count of the number of parents, partners and friends, who have been dragged along by their kids (or indeed, vice versa), only to fall in love with the whole concept and not want to leave. (And yes, it is for those who love everything Comic-Con. I'm just always amazed that someone like me could become so addicted that I'm even considering cosplaying this year. In the past, the closest I came was wearing my tee-turtle T-Shirt!)

Here, you can meet your favourite performers from TV and movies from days gone by from those which are in vogue now - to even those which are crowd-funding and in production, so you can get in on games and collectables from the very beginning. Plus, there are art, clothes, jewellery, forums, shows - the lot.

 Even Mums get to fangirl ..

Oooh, you can even buy the necklace!

One must keep up one's sugar intake ...

So tempted. I always wanted a unicorn ...

These shoes!

There are loads of cool competitions. Forget the glamour, vaseline-lens shoots of the past. This is the type of photo shoot I would love to take part in!

One of our favourite spots is Anime Station. It's great to sit and lounge in - and a good place to meet up. But they also play anime classics throughout the event. Of course, my kids have seen them all, but it doesn't mean they don't mind watching special versions with friends while they cool their heels - and minds. 

 And just outside there is a library of books to flick through while you are chilling or waiting for friends.

Says it all

Another place to sit down for a while and add your own masterpiece to a canvas ...

Unlike many big events, there's a really great vibe. You don't get a hard sell to spend money, most participants are polite and patient, and there are a lot of free activities once you get inside the event. Though feel free to spend up extra for those up close and personal meet and greets with your favourite actors, writers and cartoonists. Even more importantly, exhibitors, artists, and cosplayers are usually more than happy to chat and pose for photos.

Here (above) the kids line up to have illustrations signed by one of their favourite artists and illustrators, Austin Mengler. The Perth-based concept artist was so generous with his time, answering ALL the questions about how he got started, what inspired him, did his work give him nightmares,  and more. Because we're budget challenged and we could only afford one piece of art each, Austin even helped the kids pick the illustration which would suit them best. And most of the exhibitors are the same. There was another guy who made really cool jewellery and watches out of recycled materials, which I couldn't afford that weekend. But he talked to Harmonie and I about it for ages, and directed me to his website so I could buy later if I wanted to. Then there were the people selling the clothes, the shoes, the toys, the T-shirts ... I could go on. 

All the Better to Eat You With (Austin Mengler)

Chase came home with this one (above), which takes pride of place on his wall. And the memory of such a talented artist taking time to chat - whether or not we bought some of his art or not, and even though we ended up buying just one - is an example of the spirit of Oz Comic-Con. Austin Mengler didn't have to do that, but he did.

Cosplayers, posing for photos. There is etiquette involved, where you should ask before you take a photo. But we've never been refused. A few of the shops have the same rule, but I've found if I ask first and explain why I'm taking the photo, it's all good. 

The rules are laid out clearly at all the entrances and throughout the event. Harmonie and I always joke that 'no annoying loud things' means that her brother must not be allowed! 

And as I said most cosplayers are usually really happy to oblige and pose for photos...

Even when touching up their make-up in the rest-rooms!

I wanted to get a photo taken with this guy, but no teenager would be my photographer. Apparently that would be 'too embarrassing!'

So I got my own back by photographing Harmonie buying a 'healthy snack' ...

And Chase, who met up with some Brisbane mates!

There are always loads of giveaways. From drink and snack samples, to stickers, newspapers, posters and (this is the best) badges of anime, games, and manga. This one was with uber, but we never got a chance to use it. Sob. One teen said it was 'too embarrassing' to collect the free badges of a game in production, but I notice he quickly grabbed mine as soon as we got home!  

More free entertainment. A chance to watch artists at work!

A close-up of their talent ...I don't know about the kids, but I could have watched for ages.

Throughout the day there are free shows on, throughout the event  It's important to plan ahead so you get to fit in as much as possible.

You can just be wandering around, and come across something awesome like this: A Cosplay dance-off! 

In case the video doesn't work (we know what the internet can be like in some places - cough!) here is an example of what it looked like! 

Now, with all the excitement, the exhibits, shows, artists, and STUFF to buy (and I haven't even touched on the artists, actors, and writers who are appearing this year ... details to follow), Oz Comic-Con can get overwhelming. Last year, there was a Reach Out Room, where people could go to chill out on bean bags, read, mess about on provided iPads, talk to trained counsellors or do whatever. This year, I'm told in Brisbane and Sydney there's a Family Room, which will do much the same. But Anime Station, as I mentioned, has always been great for us. There are Bean Bags/slouch bags there, books, colouring, and movies. There are also places throughout Oz Comic-Con for younger and older kids (and adults) to chill, colour, play the latest games, or just take a break. In Brisbane, the only Oz Comic-Con I've been to, people regularly pop in and out, head to South Bank Parklands, which is basically where the convention is held, hang out on the stairs or in the foyer, or come and go.  

Even the parking station is an adventure at Oz Comic-Con ...

So cool!

I've been a convert of Oz Comic-Con since day one. It's an event which I can attend with my kids - and their friends (and parents) - and we always ALL find so much to love we don't want to leave.

The best thing is that Oz Comic-Con has given me a family pass for four people (two adults, two kids) to attend one of their events at Brisbane or Sydney.

The tickets are valid for the entire weekend. For dates and programs, and details of special guests, go to the official website

To enter, just leave a comment here, saying why you'd like to experience Oz Comic-Con and who you would take along. Don't forget to mention if it's Sydney or Brisbane you're entering for. Brisbane's event runs on September 23-24, while Sydney's is from September 30-October 1.

The giveaway ends at 1 pm AEST on September 15, 2017. NOTE: Because Maid In Australia was down (the blog not myself) for a few periods during the competition, we have extended the competition deadline to give people more time to enter.

And also? This just in. I quote:

'MARVEL is bringing its hottest new experiences to Oz Comic-Con Brisbane (23-24th Sept) and Sydney (30th Sept-1st Oct), and you can be one of the first to see them!  There will even be a number of interactive experiences showcasing the latest MARVEL film on the show floor.

To celebrate the release of the upcoming MARVEL Studios film Thor Ragnarok, MARVEL is giving you the chance to find out. Stop by the MARVEL stand in Brisbane and Sydney and put yourself in the ring as you face off with Thor and The Hulk… and get the photo to prove it.

Thor Ragnarok releases in cinemas October 26th 2017

And here's one for the Star Wars fans:

Fly an X-Wing
To celebrate the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi,  for the first time ever in Australia, challenge your inner Poe Dameron and take to the cockpit of a Resistance X-Wing Fighter with your trusty pal BB-8. Stop by the Star Wars stand to save the galaxy, only at Oz Comic-Con Brisbane and Sydney.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives in cinemas December 14th 2017.

So enter now. And good luck!

* I actually don't think the people who attend Oz Comic-Con are geeks. Most of them are pretty cool, really arty and very talented. 

DISCLOSURE: MIA will receive a pass to attend Oz Comic-Con with her family in return for running this giveaway. No payment will be received and all opinions are honest and my own.

The competition has closed and the winner is Anna Gilmore! Congratulations Anna. Please contact me to arrange entry to Oz Comic-Con in Brisbane this weekend!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Dose Of Vitamin Sea

Confession: I have been a very bad blogger.
Somehow, in spite of my best intentions, I haven't quite kept up with my blogging recently - as any of my followers will have noticed!
But it's been a busy time.
Since I last posted:
  • The kids returned to school and settled in.
  • Miss 13 turned 14. (She chose not to have a public trip down memory lane though.)
  • I survived another surgery (and this time the results were a lot better).
  • I've grappled with watching my Mum fade away in front of me as she battles leukemia and dementia at a local nursing home, separated by poor health for the first time in her married life from Dad.
  • I've managed to fit in a bit of a social life. Yes really! 
  • I'm getting back into the writing routine again.
  • We've had Easter, and the kids got to spend quality time with their Dad.
  • That meant I got to catch up with loved ones too, including one of my best friends who was visiting from his home overseas.
  • Chase had at least one emergency trip to hospital (he's okay though, thank God and the Universe).
  • I've enjoyed watching him gain fitness and confidence in training for this year's Kokoda Challenge.
  • I got a bit of water in my eye when I watched both kids perform with the school choir at our Kingaroy Eisteddfod. (The choir they were members of gained second place in each section.)
  • I've been grateful for the support, as always, of our family and friends. For better, for worse. 
So basically, it's just been busy!

However, the highlight of our year so far was when we visited Sea World on the Gold Coast, so the kids could swim with at least 60 manta rays, 60 sharks and hundreds of fish at Shark Bay.

Sound familiar?

Why yes, because from the moment he discovered it was a thing, Chase begged me to let him do the Tropical Reef Snorkel at Shark Bay. When we lived in Brisbane, that dream came true. His sister wanted to do it too, but needed an an adult (that would be me) to accompany her.

Shark Bay

Back then, I imagined it would be pretty tame. After all, I'd dived and snorkelled on real reefs, with wild sharks, including the Great Barrier Reef which was once practically part of my backyard.

But being in close confinement with sharks, rays, and fish which are used to humans is a different thing entirely. It was quite breathtaking being so up close and personal to so many species, and also, having them swim so fast and close to you. One actually bumped into me, much to my mixed delight and horror.

And this year, when Chase turned 16 and some of his friends are having birthday parties to celebrate the milestone, I asked if he'd like to have one too.

His immediate response was no, but could he swim with the sharks instead? His sister - whose birthday is about three weeks later - loved that idea too, so I had immediately had found two birthday presents in one.

Now I'll be honest. After doing it once, I didn't know if modern kids would really like repeating an experience again. What if the memories weren't as good as the reality? Wouldn't they rather try something new? Swimming with the dolphins? (Cute, but sharks and manta rays are awesome). Indoor sky-diving or jet-packing? (Over too fast). Whale watching? (Love whales, but the kids don't get along with boats all the time).

Plus Sea World is on the Gold Coast, which is the home of many cool things. In particular, my kids love the food, shopping and sunshine.

While the Gold Coast was once a short drive away, now we live in the country it's pretty much an overnight event. Truthfully, I wouldn't have managed a four-hour-plus drive each way there and a full day at Sea World as well, so it was self-preservation too.)

As it happened, of all the places to book, the nearby Sea World Resort had an amazing special on, which made it better value than anywhere nearby. How lucky were we? I kept checking that the price wasn't per person, not for all of us! So I certainly recommend checking their website if you are planning to stay over.

Staying so close meant we could go 'home' to our room when we were finished, and also have unlimited entry to Sea World, Wet 'n' Wild, Movie World or Paradise Country while we were there. (Sadly, we didn't have time to take advantage of that this time, as it was a normal weekend, which meant we had to be back in time for school on Monday.)

So after a long drive, and an early morning for us, we made it. As an animal lover, I have no qualms with visiting Sea World on the Gold Coast. I've written many features on Sea World and the people who work there, and I know they have good hearts and do loads of rescue work that wouldn't otherwise happen without their funding and expertise. I also know that the animals there are released back into the wild if they are deemed healthy enough and able to cope. The breeding and education programs are also world class.

It was a while before our snorkel, so the kids wanted to check out the rides and attractions.

And although it's been quite a few years since our last visit (bearing in mind that country school camps often include a visit to theme parks like Sea World, and both my kids enjoyed that), there was plenty to keep us entertained.

First up, was the Jet Rescue ride. Last time we visited, the kids missed out on this one because there was a large queue and, being that little bit younger, their energy was waning.

This visit, the park was pleasantly populated, and because we'd arrived early, the queues were short. Winning!

Practically no waiting time! What a great start to the day.

Here they come. The kids are in front!

Loved seeing the enjoyment on their faces!

Oops, I was spotted taking photos! 

The kids had so much fun they did the ride again, and got on immediately. They probably would have ridden all day had a certain male not been 'nutted', a technical term I believe, during the ride. Or maybe it was an excuse to stop and find something to eat! He had churros on his mind ...

On the way to find churros, we did the obligatory stop to pat the stingrays at Ray Reef. The kids have always loved stingrays, and we've even been lucky enough to feed them on previous visits.

Chase got his first chance to try the underwater camera his Dad gave him for his birthday

First pics taken underwater ...

Sea World now has a big shady, undercover area in the middle of the park. A much-appreciated improvement since our last time there. (It's probably been there for ages, but this was our first time in years.) It was nice to have somewhere relatively cool and quiet to sit. 

We liked the design of the place too and the attention to detail.

As with all theme parks, food and drink are expensive. And while there are healthy options like salads and wraps these days, feeding hungry teens can really break the budget. We saved money by stopping during our road trip - recommended for sleepy Mum anyway - so we weren't starving by the time we got there. I winced and treated the kids to some reusable drink cups, which are free to refill (or $1 if you decide to go for a frozen drink.) They can be used on future visits, and although we also took in a water bottle each, I don't like to be completely stingy. They also enjoyed churros, which seemed to have gone up in price, but are a rare treat. We decided to skip lunch, and spend the money we'd saved on an early dinner of Japanese food instead. (This proved to be an awesome decision. I instagrammed the hell out of that meal, but hopefully I'll post about it later.)

We still had time to spend before their snorkel, so the kids spent a little of their pocket money at the shops. I thought the souvenirs were pretty good value and quality for a theme park, and quite useful too, with products like cups, towels and backpacks available as well as the usual suspects.

A seagull helpfully sent us in the right direction ...

To Shark Bay!

I love that Sea World has a 'hands on' policy wherever possible. And there is always a friendly employee around to give information and answer questions. (Like on our previous visit, when Chase asked why some sharks were chasing and biting each other. Um, they were mating. But to give the employee credit, she explained simply and in terms appropriate to the kids' ages.) The 'do touch' policy applies to the touching pool. Once you're snorkelling, you are obviously not supposed to touch the marine life, just as you wouldn't on a real reef.

Some really important information about sharks, which are so misunderstood by some. 

Setting up for their experience.

Checking out the marine life.

Last minute instructions. Participants are given a full briefing before their experience, and the loan of wetsuits, masks, snorkels and flippers are included. There are also two staff members on hand if there are questions or concerns throughout the experience.

Cleaning masks. A bit of a spit and polish, as regular snorkellers and divers would know!

And they're off!

Not being able to join them, I thought I might feel like I was missing out. But, considering I hadn't long had major surgery, it wasn't an option. As it happened, I think I got as much out of watching the kids enjoy their experience as they did actually doing it. (Parents will understand). Being out of the water also meant I had the chance to take photos to capture the occasion.

As for my fear the teens might find the experience a little less exciting since they had done it before? How wrong I was! Chase had turned 16 and Harmonie was about a week away from 14, and their extra maturity and fitness meant they were far more confident and stronger swimmers, even mastering free-diving to get a closer look at the marine life. Having experienced the reef snorkel before too, the 'fear factor' was gone and they were able to really enjoy every minute in the water.

As an added bonus, because it was the last snorkel of the day and the crowd was enjoying watching the group snorkel, the friendly staff actually gave all the participants a little longer in the water. 

The kids couldn't wait to explore the reef.

Chase wasted no time putting his birthday camera to good use.

The underwater gallery makes for great viewing. And yes, that's my part-mermaid Miss 14 they are enviously watching. (Okay I was eavesdropping!)

Diving deep.

Under the sea ... but where are my kids?

Hello! (Okay, not one of my children but I'd happily adopt this creature!)

The idyllic scene at Sea World ...

All smiles after their experience. Sea World provides each swimmer with a complimentary photo but I thought mine was a better. But before I allow myself a smug moment, it's hard to get the perfect shot when friendly sting rays and manta rays are appearing at the subjects' feet.

And for old times' sake, this is the photo from the first time the kids did the experience, when I accompanied them. 

The kids were on a high after their snorkel, and after a refill of their drinks, we took our time heading out of the park, enjoying the scenery along the way.

A different kind of shark...

Can't get enough sharks!

An iconic spot ...

It was almost as if the dolphins were waiting to say goodbye to us! And truly, this unexpected delight occured as we were making our way out of the park. The kids loved communicating with the dolphins, and it was really special end to the day.

See you next time!

I have to say that the Tropical Reef Encounter really is one of the best animal adventures you can experience in Australia for the price. It's $59.99, which includes everything you need, including a photo. Sea World has loads of other experiences on offer, so you can choose the one which suits you best. You DO have to already have Sea World entry, but for a special occasion or present, you really can't beat it. And you don't have to leave Australia!

Now the kids are older, I don't tend to buy them presents, but rather experiences that we can share and hopefully remember forever. This was really wonderful.

It was made even better by the second half of the kids' birthday presents, the overnight stay at Sea World Resort, and a spot of shopping and eating on the way home. But more on that later...

I only wish we'd had more time to return the next day, or try out one of the other theme parks. But hey - there will be other special occasions I'm sure.

NEWS FLASH: Sea World has just celebrated the birth of twin baby polar bear cubs. I can't wait to go back see them!

Do your kids like birthday parties? Or do they prefer experiences and/or treats instead?