Friday, December 16, 2016

The Yule Ball Presented by Side Quest -- Cleveland, OH

Saturday I attended the Yule Ball presented by The Side Quest at the Ohio Masonic Center. This event sold out months ago and I was lucky enough to hear about it from two friends who hang-out at the Side Quest. Those two friends said that this event was going to be amazing, so I ordered tickets right after finding out the details. For your ticket you received access to the event which included unlimited food, one drink ticket, and live entertainment (along with a host of other magical things).

For those who are unfamiliar the Yule Ball was held in celebration of the Tri-Wizard tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. The entire book centers around the Tri-Wizard tournament, although the Yule Ball is only a small portion of the story, it makes for a fun excuse to dress fancy and celebrate the holidays and Harry Potter at the same time.

Based on the Facebook page for the event I gleaned that the dress was going to be a mix of formal and Harry Potter cosplay. Dave and I decided to dress-up and then wear cloaks over our outfits, other friends decided just to don robes.

Another thing that is important to note about this event is that a portion of the proceeds benefited  All Dogs Heaven from Lakewood, Ohio and The Ohio Bird Sanctuary from Mansfield, Ohio. Aside from just a portion of the proceeds benefiting these great organizations, there were also quite a few items being raffled off and the proceeds from the raffle benefited both organizations as well. $700 was raised for both organizations and Side Quest took that $700 figure a step further donating an extra $300 to each -- at the end of the night All Dogs Heaven and The Ohio Bird Sanctuary each left with a $1,000 donation from the Yule Ball. All Dogs Heaven also had an information table set-up at The Yule Ball and took some direct donations as well.

There were several places you could go once inside, the Great Hall had all of the food and musical entertainment, whereas Diagon Alley hosted a few workshops and vendors.

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On your way into the Great Hall you could stop and have a consult with three of the available Divinations professors. 

My friend Kaley and I opted for tarot, whereas Dave opted for tea leaves.

In the same room as the Divination was a photobooth backdrop which we had so much fun using. There were plenty of props to use and always someone else available to take a group picture for you.

The Great Hall was magical and decorated with "floating" candles just like in the Harry Potter Yule Ball. There were some tables on the lower level and plenty of seats up above since this was an auditorium. 

There were three drinks available for the evening -- Butterbeer, Pumpkin Juice, and Minerva's Nightcap. There were also beers and liquors available for purchase. It was much appreciated that Side Quest kept the drink prices pretty reasonable -- all of the cocktails were only $7-$8. According to the Facebook page for the event the Side Quest went through "6 gallons of pumpkin juice, 15 gallons of butter beer, and ... exactly a half ton of ice" at the Yule Ball.

Aside from the bar there was a variety of food available in the Great Hall courtesy of Pope's Kitchen. My favorite part of the food was the roasted potato bar with a variety of toppings. There were plenty of things to graze on all night and they made sure that the food was always refilled immediately.

The highlight of the evening for me was Eyelops Owl Emporium -- two representatives from the Ohio Bird Sanctuary in Mansfield giving us a presentation about some of the owls that live at the Sanctuary due to rehabilitation issues that made it impossible for them to be released into the wild. 

This is Monty, he's a barn owl. He fell out the nest as a baby and needs to live at the Sanctuary due to some damage he sustained in the fall.

Seymour the Great Horned Owl had to have one wing amputated, but is living a happy life at the Sanctuary.

After the presentation we got to take pictures with the owls, this one is blurry, but some of my Facebook friends and coworkers were shocked to find out that these were real owls. Monty gave me a little tap on the head with his wing.

This is Winnie, she fell out of the nest as a baby too and now needs to live at the Sanctuary -- she's a screech owl. There are two kinds of screech owls. She was so ridiculously precious, she kept looking at us and blinking her eyes really slowly, she didn't even look real, just like some adorable cuddly stuffed animal. 

I can hardly contain the joy that I'm feeling being so close to such a cute little owl.

This downstairs location was also considered Diagon Alley, unfortunately, I didn't get pictures of any of the amazing vendors, but snagged some from the Yule Ball Facebook Page. Everything was incredibly appropriate for the theme -- some of the vendors present included Kilted Katana (bow ties, ties, etc); Papyrasaurus (prints, cards, etc); My Friend Ellie Knits (House Scarves); Fear's Confections (a variety of sweet treats); Venus In Aquarius Apothecary (astrological aromatherapy); Crochet Til Death (crochet items); Phineas' Phantastic Wands (handmade custom wands); and Cuddle Cult (handmade ornaments).

Photo by Fear's Confections, posted to the Yule Ball Facebook Page.
Photo by Crochet Til Death, posted to the Yule Ball Facebook Page.

Photo by Crochet Til Death, posted to the Yule Ball Facebook Page.
Photo by Cuddle Cult, from the Cuddle Cult Facebook page.
Photo by Phineas' Phantastic Wands posted to the Yule Ball Facebook Page.
Photo by My Friend Ellie Knits, posted to the Yule Ball Facebook Page.
Some more Harry Potter details....

Everyone also had the opportunity to enter Ollivanders Wand shop in small groups to take part in the wand pairing. I have a feeling that this part of the Yule Ball will be coming back in future years, so I won't spoil any of the magic by revealing any details of what exactly went on in Ollivanders.

Of the six of us in my group -- two were staying in Tremont for the evening, two were driving an hour and a half home, and Dave and I needed to travel forty-five minutes home. We stayed for about two songs of Draco and the Malfoys before heading out since it was starting to snow lightly and it was already about 11:00.

I attended the event with six friends, here are our thoughts on what was absolutely amazing and what could be improved if the Side Quest holds the Yule Ball next year.

Room for Improvement in 2017:

  1. The event had a strict rule that NO ONE could enter before 7:00. It was less than 28°, and due to the number of people in line to enter the hall it was impossible to avoid standing in line. I don't know exactly what communication breakdown occurred, but the doors did not open at 7:00 and there was a lot of grumbling in the line. That moment left me pretty peeved. It was my understanding that the Side Quest had been working on the space for weeks and that they had been there most of the day prepping for the arrival of the attendees. Due to needing to check tickets and IDs at the door it was impossible to avoid the line, but they should have opened the doors at 7:00 sharp. Based on some of the exchanges between the people ahead of us in line and the Side Quest representative who was preventing us from entering the building, I know that we weren't the only ones who were unhappy -- probably not a big deal on a summer evening, but it was below freezing.
  2. One friend suggested more hot food/drinks for the ticket price. Maybe now that most of the decor has already been purchased ticket prices will decrease next year or we'll see an increase in the amount of food and alcoholic beverage allotted per ticket?
  3. Another friend wanted to fulfill her sweet tooth. She always loved the descriptions of traditional English desserts that Harry Potter and his friends enjoy throughout the book series, she thought it would be nice to add some desserts like that next year. I personally know of an amazing Scottish bakery in Wooster that would probably be interested in joining up with this event, they make an amazing treacle tart.
  4. Divinations became really popular at the end of the evening and there were a lot of people who wanted to participate. If possible, maybe more Divination Professors in the future to help keep up with the crowd! 

Things That Were Amazing and Should Stay The Same:

  1. Pope's Kitchen did such a great job, I have been to large events that run out of food and it's such a bummer for everyone. Being able to enjoy endlessly without worrying about the food disappearing really worked for this event. We were able to walk around and partake in different events knowing that we could keep coming back to snack. I got positive comments all around for the quality of food that was served. The bartenders also did an excellent job, although there were occasionally lines at the bar, those lines moved quickly. 
  2. Details, details, details. All of the decor from the photo booth, to the Great Hall, to the wand pairing everyone at the Side Quest put a tremendous amount of creative thought, time, and energy into making sure all of the little details fit the theme. Everything was elaborate and deeply appreciated by all of the Harry Potter nerds in attendance. 
  3. My personal favorite was visiting with the owls from the Ohio Bird Sanctuary and that also got high marks from my friends. Based on the line to visit with the owls after the presentation, I have a feeling that we weren't the only ones who loved this part of the experience.
  4. The Rockport Strings were excellent when we arrived, due to driving distances none of us really spent much time listening to any of the other bands, so we can't speak to their performances. 

My rating for the Yule Ball Presented by Side Quest:

Sunday, December 4, 2016

TubaChristmas at the University of Mount Union -- Alliance, OH

Friday night Dave and I attended the 3rd Annual TubaChristmas at the University of Mount Union. Full disclosure, I'm a 2012 University of Mount Union alumna and I enjoyed four wonderful years as a member of the Purple Raider Marching Band and as a concert oboe. I found out about this event via Facebook, since many of my mutual former band friends were invited. Although I may be slightly biased towards my alma mater and former band, I think we can all get behind a free musical event during the holidays (I should mention that it's free to attend, to participate there is a fee).

When Dave and I arrived on campus we were impressed how many community members were in attendance to enjoy the concert. The audience spanned a wide range of demographics -- there were families in attendance with small children, college students, and elderly couples.

The tradition of TubaChristmas started on December 22, 1974 at New York City's Rockefeller Center. Since that day cities around the world have hosted TubaChristmas events bringing tuba and euphonium players from all over the area to participate. The TubaChristmas event at The University of Mount Union started three years ago when the newest band director Dr. Otis French suggested that the band start hosting one of his favorite events. Now, the event is run entirely by the students who are members of the national honorary band fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi and the TubaChristmas event last night was the largest that has been hosted on campus.

Tuba players from the community and surrounding area are invited to attend an hour long rehearsal of popular Christmas carols. They are also highly encouraged to decorate their tubas to fit with the Christmas theme. After rehearsal there is a free concert with the tubas playing through the Christmas carols with the audience joining in for a sing-a-long during the second verse.

Although TubaChristmas events usually take place outside, the event at the University of Mount Union was inside the brand new Brush Performance Hall. Unfortunately, I only had my cell phone to take pictures, my camera has much better zoom.

Songs included: Deck The Halls; Good King Wenceslas; and Joy to the World among others. 

It's also tradition at TubaChristmas events to give out several awards to participants who have met certain criteria. At Mount Union's TubaChristmas event last night the oldest player was 88 years old, the youngest player was 11 years old. A woman named Lindy won the award for participating in the most TubaChristmas events, she had participated in 37. The furthest traveler last night was a Mount Union alumni who traveled 60 miles to play in this particular TubaChristmas.

There were Tubas with bows, light displays, and mini Christmas trees. The tuba below won best decorated for the event.

Thank you to Dr. Otis French and the members of Kappa Kappa Psi: Iota Lambda for hosting such a fun community event. Paula Kyser, on the far right, is currently President of Mount Union's Kappa Kappa Psi chapter and put a tremendous amount of work into organizing this event.

How cute are these sousaphones decorated for TubaChristmas?!
Great job to these ladies who are members of Kappa Kappa Psi! 

Dave and I are excited to attend TubaChristmas at the University of Mount Union in the future to see how the event grows. The holidays are such a busy time, but it was so much fun to sit down and enjoy TubaChristmas -- two of the best parts are that it's not a lengthy program and it's free!

My rating for TubaChristmas at The University of Mount Union:

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Deck the Hall at Stan Hywet 2016 Season -- Akron, OH

I was invited to participate in the Media Preview Night for Deck The Hall 2016 at Stan Hywet -- this is not intended to be a comprehensive post, because I absolutely want you to go experience Deck The Hall with your family. This is just a little taste of some of the new displays and decorations. Our preview took place last Friday on November 18, during the beautiful and unseasonable 70° weather that we experienced. You'll notice no snow in any of the photos and might note that I'm not even wearing a jacket. Deck The Hall certainly takes place in more chilly weather conditions, but there are places to duck inside to warm-up, and when the temperature is below freezing outdoor heaters will be placed throughout the grounds.

Deck The Hall features over 850,000 lights with both indoor and outdoor displays. There are local musicians, plenty of places for photo ops, and opportunities for both children and adults to be dazzled by the whimsy of Christmas scenes. Deck The Hall is Stan Hywet's yearly holiday celebration and it takes place on November 25-27 and December 1-4, 8-23, 26-30 from 5-8 pm. Tickets are available online and it's highly encouraged that you purchase them before arriving, although they are also available at Stan Hywet. If  you purchase your ticket in advance, make sure to bring the ticket that is emailed to you.

Our past experience with attending Deck The Hall cautions that it will be packed, if you're able to go on a week night rather than a weekend it would be best. Last year we attended on a Thursday with some friends visiting from out of state, but local schools were already out, so Stan Hywet was busy with families.

After you arrive and check-in, make sure to check out the tree lighting which takes place at 5:30 each night in the Courtyard with Santa.

Brand new this year is the Gingerbread Bake Shop window in the Courtyard -- this scene is fully animated. 

Also new this year is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, you can find him corralled next to Santa's seat. This is a great place for a photo opportunity if you have kids, they can visit with both Santa and Rudolph. 

The theme this year is A Storybook Christmas -- most decorated rooms in the manor house portray a popular and beloved Christmas Story. As in previous years, there will be musical entertainment in the Great Hall nightly.

A taste of the included scenes, don't worry, there is a sign with a synopsis of the book inspiration in each room: 

Other rooms are decorated in full Christmas splendor as well...

We took a walk down the Birch Tree Allee to the Tea Houses, this location holds a special place in my heart, because I'm getting married at this specific Stan Hywet location in the fall. I was excited to see both the Tea Houses and the Birch Tree Allee decorated for Deck the Hall -- it adds another layer of magic when you get to see your wedding ceremony location in a whole new light. 

Dazzle, the outdoor light show, has been reconfigured once again to feature new songs and light patterns. You can catch the show every twenty minutes while visiting Deck The Hall.

Corbin Conservatory is also decorated for Christmas and provides a cozy spot to warm up and take family photos during your visit. The poinsettia "tree" is another great photo spot, there are several thought bubble signs available to use for photos at the location. Just off Corbin Conservatory is Gingerbread Land which is the Playgarden transformed into a sugary gingerbread paradise.

There is always something new at Deck the Hall making it the perfect place to start a new family tradition. Thank you to Stan Hywet for extending an invitation to me for the event. Stan Hywet is one of my favorite Northeast Ohio locations and I am always happy to support their events. I look forward to many more visits to Stan Hywet in the future.
Check out Stan Hywet's website to learn more about Deck The Hall in 2016.

**Aside from the complimentary dinner that my guest and I received at Stan Hywet's Deck The Hall Preview, I was in no way, monetarily or otherwise, compensated for this post. All opinions written above are entirely my own, this post contains no affiliate links, and I am not receiving any monetary gain from this review.