On Saturday we went along to Chestnut Hill’s annual Harry Potter Festival. This was a make-or-break year for us: we had loved the first two years that we had gone but last year the crowds were just far too intense for us to enjoy the experience. We had decided then that we would give it one more go to see if the organisers could make the required adaptations to accommodate the growing popularity of the festival and, if not, then it would be our last time going. I do very much feel for the organisers. They had come up with the brilliant idea of a themed local festival but its popularity had evidently snowballed faster than their ability to creatively problem solve. I am, therefore, happy to report that they had done a sterling job of resolving last year’s aggravating problems. There were far more portapotties than last year (though happily none of us ever had to use them); they had extended the stretch of Germantown Avenue that was pedestrianised; there were more police officers on duty to enforce the road closures; there was pre-paid wristband entry to specified activities; and there were designated parking lots around the area, including some with shuttle buses. As a result, it was a much smoother and pleasant experience than last year.
We parked on the campus of a church and from there it was just a gentle stroll to the centre of Chestnut Hill and all of the Harry Potter themed activities. We decided to start at the top of the Festival, the furthest point from where we had parked, and then work our way back down Germantown Avenue. We arrived there just as Professor Dumbledore took the stage to officially open the day’s event though we could not get close enough for anyone other than Mr Pict to be able to see over the heads of the crowd gathered around the stage. We did, however, bump into Lupin, Tonks, and Sirius Black who happily posed with my kids for photos. That is one of the things we enjoy most about the Festival, seeing all the cosplayers, the visitors dressed in costumes, or the Potterphiles wearing themed clothing. We saw even more dogs in costume than last year, including one dressed up as an acromantula and one dressed up as a golden snitch. The common nerdiness generates a warm family friendly atmosphere and a feeling of camaraderie.
We had decided not to buy the wristbands that would have given us access to certain activities. Partly it was down to expense but it was also because my kids had “been there and done that” in previous festivals. That did free up funds for indulging in butterbeer, chocolate frogs, and every flavour beans. Mostly, however, we just enjoyed absorbing the atmosphere, browsing fun stalls full of Potterphile wares – my 10 year old was sorely tempted by pocket watches – looking at displays in shop windows, and enjoying all of the costumes. The three younger boys did participate in some free activities too and came away with some goodie bags filled with freebies. My 14 year old was accompanying us under an Imperius Curse so was refusing to engage with any activity beyond strolling and inadvertent people watching.
There were on-street performances to watch too. We arrived too late to get within eyeballing distance of some of them but we did stop to watch a man carve a block of ice into Dobby the House Elf, we watched some great breakdancers (the Potter connection being unclear), and an acrobat performing in Hogwarts uniform. There was ample to see and do and this year we were not fighting through crowds or feeling like we were drowning in a sea of people. After a few hours of ambling, perusing, and taking photographs, however, it was time to return to the car. Aside from anything else, the younger boys were getting a bit crotchety from the heat and we needed a break from the glare of the sun. Once we got back to the church campus, however, the younger boys got a second wind and decided to play in the shade of the trees. They decided that the buildings could be Hogwarts and a wooden platform on the grass could be used as a stage for wizard dueling. It was a chilled way to end a day of Harry Pottering. The whole event passed our litmus test. They had made enough changes to make the growth of the Festival function effectively again and we are very pleased as it means we can return again next year.
As I have stated several times before, my kids and I are Potterphiles. I, therefore, decided to draw a Dementor in my sketchbook. Dementors are horrible creatures in the universe of the Harry Potter novels. They drain people of joy, happiness, and hope and feed on darkness, negativity, and despair. Furthermore, they suck people’s souls. In terms of their look, they are reminiscent of wraiths or the Grim Reaper. My Dementor sketch, however, looks like it has been drawn by someone whose soul has been sucked and drained of creative energy or artistic ability. I regret not underpinning this drawing with a pencil sketch because it went wrong from the get go, when I placed the dark inky ovals for the eyes and mouth. So at least that was a lesson learned.
On Saturday we visited the Harry Potter Festival held in Chestnut Hill, another suburb of Philadelphia. This was our third year of visiting and it has become a family tradition to attend. We almost did not go this year as we had a three way schedule clash to contend with, I have a pretty debilitating chest cold, and the weather was cold and rainy. My Potterphile kids were aghast at the idea that we might not go along to the Festival this year, bottom lips pouting out like open drawers, so when our schedule clashes were cancelled because of the weather we decided to head on over to Chestnut Hill.
The first year we went to the Festival, it was a delightful experience. There was lots of space to wander around and really absorb the magical atmosphere and observe the efforts the people of the town had gone to in order to turn their town into Hogsmeade. There were also very few long queues so the kids could get involved in all sorts of activities and really make the most of the day. Last year when we went, it was evident that the organisers were struggling to manage the vastly swollen number of visitors. Longer queues and more crowds meant we had to get the kids to prioritise what they wanted to do because there was no way we could complete their wish list. This year, I would estimate that the number of people attending had increased tenfold. It was unbelievably busy for what, in essence, is a local fete – albeit one with a theme that has massive appeal.
We were very lucky to secure a parking spot a few streets back from the town centre so that our walk was not too long, especially given it was cold and raining. As soon as we hit Germantown Avenue, however, we were met with a wall of people. I will state that the atmosphere was still brilliant. A large proportion of those visiting were either in full costume or were wearing clothes related to Harry Potter. My own children were wearing Harry Potter themed t-shirts but did not have them on display since they were wearing two layers on top. We had a great time seeing people all dressed up, including a baby in a front carrier dressed as a mandrake and a dog with a harness that turned him into Fluffy the three headed dog.
The crowds, however, were just intense. There is no other way to describe it. They got so thick at the train station end of town that it was impossible to move other than be carried along by the crowd. I spoke to two cops who were being pushed along beside me and one commented that it was a bit crazy thinking about how challenging it would be for them to move quickly towards an incident. I do not do well in crowds at all. It makes my anxiety spike and makes me feel aggravated and, with the kids, a little panicky. Everyone was being completely lovely about being squashed together and were being very accommodating and understanding but it was still pretty stressful. The numbers of people also meant that the queues for every activity, stall, and shop were staggeringly long. I overheard a whole lot of people complaining about the dearth of portapotties in town and that queues were often an hour or more long for those that were available. We were lucky that none of us ever needed a comfort break.
We did manage to squeeze into a couple of activities. Two of the kids bought potions in the grounds of the Jenks Elementary School and the other two snagged the last two bottles of butterbeer. They also got to have a go on some manual typewriters which they loved. It was peculiar to me to think that a machine that saw me through my undergraduate degree was now being considered something antiquated and alien to kids. They had no idea how to operate them, tapping the keys way too lightly as they would a computer keyboard. Furthermore, the children (not just mine) seemed to have no idea what to do when they reached the end of the line. I could see mine searching the keys for a return button. I showed them how to push the lever and move the roll along. And then I realised that a mother standing next to me also had no idea how to operate a manual typewriter. That made me feel very old.
As Potterphiles, we will definitely return to the Festival next year. Hopefully lessons will be learned and adaptations made but I wonder if anything can be done (beyond more portapotties and perhaps pedestrianising a larger stretch of road) to really accommodate the massive crowds in attendance. But we will give it another go next year and see if things have improved so that we can enjoy the Festival again as much as we did in our first two years.
We were at a Harry Potter Festival yesterday so I thought it might be appropriate to draw one of the Potterverse’s dastardly magical villains in my wee sketch book for today’s Inktober drawing. Voldemort was the obvious choice, which was why I decided against him. I was deciding between Fenrir Greyback, Lucius Malfoy, and Bellatrix Lestrange and opted to draw the latter. I thought drawing her would give me the opportunity to challenge myself with regard to different approaches to mark-making with my fountain pen. Although I read the books in advance of the movies, I now find it impossible to imagine the characters as anything other than the way they were performed on film. In fact, I cannot recall how I even imagined them when conjuring them up from the page. This, therefore, is very much the Helena Bonham Carter version of Bellatrix even though it is most definitely not an accurate portrait. I did achieve my goal of trying out a wider variety of pen marks in the one sketch so that’s something.
Today is my second son’s 11th birthday. One of the many things I love about my kids is that they get almost as excited for each other’s birthdays as they do for their own. They love to celebrate their brothers and to make each of their days special.
They always make each other personalised birthday cards and sometimes some other paper crafted gifts. This year, however, my 9 year old decided to get a bit more ambitious and make more elaborate presents for his big brother. The first thing he made – and which he decided to present in advance of the birthday – was a Vanishing Cabinet from the Harry Potter stories.
The second item took a lot longer to craft. He decided to put his new found love of sewing to the test by making an Ewok out of felt. He designed it and I showed him how to create the pattern for the pieces (a little bit of the blind leading the blind) and then he worked diligently and in secret for a few days in order to stitch it all together. I think he did a superb job, don’t you?
This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to use vellum. I do not possess any vellum and I had no desire to buy some so I decided to have another whirl at using deli paper. A couple of weeks ago, I used the deli paper as a collage material; this time I decided I would use it as a surface on which to paint.
Since we had just spent a fun day at last weekend’s Harry Potter Festival, I decided to actually document my life and work on a Harry Potter inspired page. I painted Harry on my journal page and then used washi tape to fix a “flap” of deli paper onto the page. I then painted Voldemort onto the deli paper “page” so that his face covered that of Harry beneath. I found the deli paper quite hard to paint on because it was so crinkly and the paint took longer to dry. It was a good way to add a flap since it meant I had an extra page without adding any additional bulk but I think I prefer deli paper as a collage material.
We had such a hoot at Chestnut Hill’s Harry Potter Festival last year that we have been counting down the days until it returned. It was held this past weekend and on Saturday Mr Pict and I took our four boys plus our 10 year old’s friend along to join in the fun and experience the magic.
The first thing that was immediately apparent was how much the Festival has taken off: we thought the place was absolutely packed last year but it was bursting at the seams this year. It was great to see that the Festival was being so enthusiastically supported and all of the wizards, witches and muggles milling around certainly added to the buzz of the place; however, it was a little too crowded for me. I don’t do well in crowds anyway but I also don’t do well herding five kids through swarms of people or dealing with the moans of five kids in long queues. This year they had closed off some cross streets in order to have more space for stalls, activities and events. I think they would benefit from extending this idea and pedestrianising a section of the street.
We enjoyed seeing the town all decorated so that Chestnut Hill was transformed into Hogsmeade. There were dementors floating around – including three on a construction site – and owls hiding in trees and giant spiders crawling across the fronts of buildings. Shops had been transformed into locations from the books, most with some sort of connection such as the sweet shop that had been turned into Honeydukes. It was even fun just to wander around, look at the people – and pets! – dressed up in costumes and look at window displays. We were particularly wowed by a trio of cakes in a bakery window: a sorting hat, a wedding cake decorated with golden snitches and a monster book of monsters.
As with last year, the boys enjoyed taking part in lots of the free events. The grounds of the Elementary School had again been given over to lots of craft activities. The boys had great fun making wands using all sorts of materials and then they visited the potions stall to buy some bottles of butterbeer and popcorn. We also visited the Franklin Institute’s stall where they were each given crackers from a cauldron of liquid nitrogen so that they could breathe steaming dragon breath. We went along to an open air theatre performance of a Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson. It looked to be fun – and the actor being Harry Potter even had a passing resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe – but there were just too many people in too small a space. Furthermore, my kids are not very pushy-shovey so could not get anywhere near the front when it came to the interactive elements. The kids were getting frustrated and hungry so we left part way through and scuttled off to warm up with butterbeer and muffins.
We were too late to go and spectate at the quidditch matches again so we will need to make that a priority next year – because we will definitely return for more magical fun next year.