Last week we were invited to head into the city and experience Liverpool’s Famous Grotto.  Originally based in Lewis’s Department Store, the Grotto is the world’s first and oldest Grotto and is now in it’s 139th year!  This year it has been relocated to St John’s Market.  As you might expect with a big city, there are plenty of Santa’s Grottoes taking place so I was interested to see exactly what ‘Liverpool’s Famous Grotto’ would have to offer.

Liverpool's Famous Grotto

We caught the train to Liverpool Central and it took us about five minutes to walk to St John’s Shopping Centre which is where the market can be found.  Once you are inside, it is very easy to find the Grotto…you just need to follow Santa’s snowy footsteps.  There are two different routes you can take but they are both clearly marked so there is no chance of getting lost or turned around.  The Grotto itself is tucked away upstairs in the Market but we found it easily enough and the kids loved spotting the footprints as we went along.

We absolutely adore all things Christmassy so were very excited to head on down for the grand opening.  On this occasion, there was a red ribbon cutting by Claire, one of the presenters from Radio City and as we had been invited for the media opening we didn’t have tickets but the desk to collect yours is right at the entrance so very easy to navigate.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about exactly what you will find in the Grotto as I think that would spoil the surprise but I will just say that it is fairytale themed, with a few local touches such as models of Liverpool landmarks and two bears who are ready for the derby (this was a particular favourite with Meg and Eli who sit very much on opposite sides; one red, one blue!)

Reindeer Lewis' Grotto Liverpool

Meg Lewis' Grotto Liverpool

With the head elf Liverpool's Famous Grotto

I thought the whole experience was well thought through with lots for the kids to spot on their way to meet Santa.  Although we never visited the Grotto when it was at Lewis’s, it is my understanding that a lot of the same set-up has been kept with just a few new additions for 2018.  I’m also not 100% certain but I got the impression there are a number of santa’s operating at the same time so I would imagine that this helps to keep the waiting time down for kids (and adults!) once you have wandered through to the Grotto entrance.  The tickets are also sold in 20 minute time slots so hopefully that reduces waiting times as well.

Lewis' Grotto Little Mermaid

Lewis' Grotto Snow White

Lewis' Grotto arch

Eli at the Grotto

As you go in, you will pass through the festive wonderland, which as I mentioned, has lots for children to see.  Then you join the queue for Santa. On our trip, Santa spent a good deal of time talking to both Meg and Eli, asking them what they wanted for Christmas and all the typical questions you would expect.  Then it was time for a quick photo opportunity and out the other side, presents in hand.

After exiting the Grotto you enter a Christmas shop where you can pick up the photo if you choose and a small section where children can write and post their letters to Santa.  There is a small refreshment kiosk as well as lots of Christmas themed goodies.  My only criticism of the whole experience would be that there is no way to avoid the Christmas shop.  I have a personal preference when we go on days out that you are not forced to go through a gift shop but I know it is not uncommon.  Although in the end we were shaken down for Christmas themed squishes for the kids and they were fairly priced which is a positive.

Lewis' Grotto with Santa

Lewis' Grotto Liverpool Santa

Writing letter to Santa Liverpool's Oldest Grotto

The Grotto is open now until Christmas Eve although opening times vary. Tickets are £10 per child and £1 per adult with time slots available every 20 minutes.  We would definitely recommend going if you are heading into the City over the Christmas period and with the Christmas Market now at St George’s Hall, it would be only a short stroll from the Shopping Centre if you wanted to extend the festivities.

We were invited along to the Grotto and given admittance.  All thoughts and opinions remain our own.
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I don’t quite know how to kick this post off other than to say that there is one important thing you need to know about me.  When I have an idea…I really go to town with it.  There are no half-measures to be found in our home.

So, way back in the springtime when we were having a general chitchat with the kids and picking their brains about what their ideal day would look like, and Eli piped up that his dream day would involve going to Hogwarts…an idea was born.  During our 10 day summer break when we were enjoying all things ‘stay-cation’ related, we were going to create our very own Harry Potter themed day.

We were subject to a few time constraints so not everything turned out exactly how I would have chosen it but both Meg and Eli said it was one of the best days of their summer holiday.  And perhaps it will inspire you with some ways in which you can make your own Hogwarts or Harry Potter experience at home too.  Whether you are looking for inspiration for a party or you just want to wake up the magic of Harry Potter, I will take you through the day as it happened for the kids; although you can trust that there was a whole lot of scurrying around for myself and James the night before!

Delivery by owl mail

Owl Delivery

The kids woke up to discover that they had both received a very special letter in the night.  I don’t think I will ever forget the squeals of delight when they spotted the owls on their doors.  You need a little bit of creativity here (thanks to James for his artistic skills!) but all it required was a white balloon with an owl drawn on in marker pen, some red ribbon and a letter I designed myself and printed off using the actual letter from Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone as my guide.  We attached them to Meg and Eli’s bedroom doors using double-sided sellotape.

Aboard the Hogwarts Express

The Hogwarts Express

I purchased a brick shower curtain to make our very own entrance to Platform 9 3/4 (the lounge) and used a printable I found online to show the kids where to go.  There are absolutely tons of different ways you could make your own moveable brick wall but this was by far the simplest one I could think of.  We simply pinned it to the door frame and cut a slit through the middle.  It baffled the dog for a fair while but Meg and Eli thought it was brilliant.

Once through the kids discovered that unfortunately, the Hogwarts Express had been taken to pieces and without the use of magic they had to work out how to put it back together.  They spent absolutely ages doing this and all it involved for us was a little bit of assistance now and then.  To set this up we simply gathered together a number of cardboard boxes different shapes and sizes, a roll of white paper (which I think we picked up one time in IKEA) and some coloured marker pens.

The Sorting Hat

I’d actually kind of forgotten that the kids would expect to be ‘sorted’ into their houses once they reached Hogwarts so we had to improvise a little.  Thank goodness for Spotify and the purchase once upon a time of a floppy brown hat which I’ve never actually worn but which served the purpose quite well.  Poor James did his best impersonation on the hat too.  We had to abandon our true houses and place them both in Gryffindor to stop any arguments although Eli, my darling boy, you are solidly a Hufflepuff and one day you will have to accept that.

Meg in sorting hat

Painting wand with pinecone end

Lesson One: Wand Making

We began with wand making because this was the most labour-intensive thing we did all day and had to be completed in several stages.  We used this fantastic video from RedTedArt as our guide.  This was where pre-planning came into its own as we had to source pinecones for our wand ends, chopsticks, acrylic paints and a glue gun ahead of time.  I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out and, in fact, James spent a good part of the rest of the week coming up with even more elaborate wand designs off the back of it which the kids are still playing with to this day!  We also took a trip down memory lane and purchased some ‘bangers’ (anyone else remember these?!), which we then used the following day when our wands were fully dry.  Every time the kids made a ‘move’ we threw one down and BANG, SNAP, POP.  It was truly magical.  If a little intense on the arms.

Our own beaters

make your own human quidditch

Lesson Two: Quidditch

This is the one I would do differently if we’d had a little more time.  We started by making our own beaters out of pool noodles which we all thoroughly enjoyed, especially when it came to naming them.  Where I feel we were a little let down was with the actual hoops we used.  I had a grand plan to fashion rings out of wire and then wrap them in gold paper but we just ran out of time with work and other commitments.  So in the end, I popped to our local Home Bargains store, dismantled some giant badminton rackets for the clear hoops within and attached them to the light stands I use for filming.  Not so glamorous but effective enough.  We used broomsticks which the kids already owned, and balloons for the Quaffle.  I couldn’t quite work out the logistics of including a snitch so we basically ran around for the best part of an hour, smacking a balloon and trying not to trip on the sticks between our legs.  Fun!

Lesson Three: Potions

Now this was by far the best lesson we did, and it was so effective but so simple.  We picked up some glass jars for super cheap in one of our local Pound stores and then some blackboard labels online.  I also bought some cauldrons although if I were to do this again I’d go for smaller ones, or be forewarned that we would need more of every ingredient to fill it.  We then scouted round the house and in the Pound store again for things we could pretend were more magical than they really were.  So strawberry scented washing up liquid became dragon’s blood, kale became gillyweed, glitter became pixie’s dust and so on.  We also used a very basic science experiment to wow the kids into thinking they had made their very own potion.  It was so straightforward but really impressive.

I’ve included a picture of the potion recipe below.  To help you out: the ‘dragon’s blood’ is washing up liquid, the ‘ground unicorn horn’ is baking powder, ‘Cornish pixie dust’ is glitter, and ‘Veritaserum’ is white vinegar.  What you are really after is the mixture of white vinegar and baking powder which bubble up and froth over when mixed together.  The coloured washing up liquid gave the mixture volume and colour and the glitter was just because.  We also ended up sprinkling flower petals in to give it that extra oomph.

Giggle Serum

Making Giggle Serum

Adding glitter to giggle serum harry potter day

make your own harry potter potion

Then came the tasting of the ingredients, again something which was very easy to set up and lots of fun.  I can say that because I was taking pictures and didn’t have to get involved!

We had filled some larger jars with food items; we had spaghetti in tomato sauce which were ‘rats tails’, pickled onions which were ‘blind cats eyes’, we mixed raisins in with green jelly to make ‘spawn of newt’ and we also ate some gillyweed.  The kids enjoyed the raisin jelly but not much else, though it was lots of fun to watch them squirm as they tried to decide if they were brave enough to give things a taste.

We finished our wands after potions, and left them to try whilst we wound down.  What better way to do that than by watching one of the Harry Potter movies?!  We feel that some of the later films are too dark for the kids just yet, so we stuck with good old number three!  My video is below if you want to see some more footage of what we got up to on the day.

*This post contains affiliate links.  Use of these links will cost you nothing but may help to make me a small amount of money.
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The end of August is always a funny time for us.  It’s the winding down of the summer holidays and the simultaneous gearing up for the return to school. It’s the tail-end of the summer and the looking ahead to the beginning of autumn.  And it’s also our anniversary.  The very last day of August, the 31st.  Chosen, perhaps subconsciously because it isn’t easy to forget!

This year, 2018, James and I will have been married for 11 years.  If 10 years was a milestone, 11 years feels like we’ve entered into a comfortable period.  We should know what we are doing by now…surely to goodness!  And it is something which we are often asked about.  I suppose it comes from being married in our early 20’s, there was a small expectation that we would grow apart rather than together but I have believed from day one that we were a team and I know the same for James.  We have worked hard to ensure that our goals and dreams align with each other’s, and have grown and matured together.

I am not going to write out a whole list of ways to keep your marriage going but as it’s something I often get asked about, I wanted to share my favourite piece of advice.  This is something that we haven’t always been great at, but something that we have tried to incorporate into our married life as much as possible.  And that is to constantly try new things together.  I don’t think life should stop when you reach a certain age, or when you’ve been married for X number of years, or your children are grown up…or any of the excuses we might think up for ourselves. I think that life should continue to be exciting and interesting and it’s certainly something we’ve found has been hugely beneficial to our marriage.  Whether we are celebrating 11 years like today, or 25 years…whether we are making the most of right now or embracing life after 50…there are many reasons to keep trying new things and ensuring that we don’t become stagnant in our every day.

wedding photo

We started a little tradition when we began dating, to keep things from becoming ‘samey’ of going through the alphabet.  We took it in turns, and we had to plan a date which began with the relevant letter of the alphabet.  So I went first and we went to see ‘Aladdin’ at the panto, then James took us to somewhere beginning with B.  These dates didn’t have to cost a lot of money, if any…it was more about being creative and trying different things together and it was a whole HEAP of fun.  With trickier letters we’ve maybe had to stretch the rules a little bit but it has occasionally pushed us from our comfort zones, made us have to think, and forced us to make that little extra effort when we’ve perhaps not really felt inclined.  We’ve continued this with regular date nights and although children and work and life commitments do sometimes get in the way, it’s important to us to carve out this time together.

Believe me, I know that it can be so much easier to come in from work and collapse on the sofa.  After you’ve put the kids to bed the simplest thing is to stick the TV on and unwind by watching your favourite shows.  And that’s amazing.  We’ve done that so many times over the years, binge-watching box sets.  But it’s also fun to venture out for new things.  Whether that’s a bit of vintage roller-skating or enjoying a simple indoor picnic chatting to one another.  Finding half an hour to go for a walk in the woods, or booking a class and learning a new skill.  From the tiny moments to the big; it’s all about not letting things go stale.

Is this mind-blowing advice?  Possibly not but I know from my own experience how easy it can be to fall into the every day routine, and then wonder why you’ve begun to feel bored and dissatisfied.  And I don’t think that is how life should be!

And if there is honestly one piece of advice that I could give to newly married couples that would be it.  Life will throw all kinds your way but try to find that time to spend together, to laugh and be silly, to try new things, to fail at new things, to experiment and experience.  And I really think you’ll enjoy it.

This is a collaborative post.
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Another month has come and gone in the blink of an eye.  We are well into the school summer break now and we continue to be blessed with gorgeous sunshine most days.  This is certainly turning into an unusual summer here in the UK; I can’t think of the last time we had such a long stretch of beautiful weather.

As you might well have to come to expect from us now, we haven’t had a spare moment to ourselves in July.  In fact, we have a 10 day stretch coming up where we have nothing but family time planned in and I can’t wait.  No outside commitments, no work, no DIY or other day-to-day stuff…just the four of us having some mini adventures together.  I hope the sunshine stays around because it will be absolute bliss!

Since we last checked in, the major thing we have ticked off the list was a review trip to the Northumberland coast.  I am currently editing and sorting content and photos although I did manage to get my vlog up last week.  We were invited to stay in one of the Ross & Outchester Cottages and had an amazing time.  Do go and check out the video if you have time, I feel like it really captures the essence of our visit.  If I add in the fact that we visited the second biggest used bookstore in the UK, flew broomsticks at the castle used in some of the Harry Potter movies and squeezed in some beach fun with the drone, I hope that will be enough to convince you.

Ross Sands Beach

Calling broomsticks alnwick castle

Barter Books

I have to admit that by the end of July, the kids were really ready for the summer holiday to begin.  There is something about the sticky weather and school days that just lead to grumpy, grouchy children and that was certainly the case here.  Both Meg and Eli were exhausted when the final day of school rolled around but unfortunately they didn’t have much time to recoup as the day they broke up James whisked them off for a three day camping adventure in Cheshire.  Camping really isn’t my style so I stayed at home which was strange in itself.  I think we worked out that it had been almost a decade since I had been in the house entirely on my own overnight with no husband or children tagging along.  I made the most of it by doing what I love best…hibernating and reading!  Although I did venture out for afternoon tea on one of the days just to prove I’m not a complete anti-social hermit.

Right after the camping trip, Meg and Eli went down south to spend a week with my parents.  I honestly can’t say how much they loved it, and how helpful it is for us too.  Knowing that we don’t have to worry about holiday care for the entire six weeks is a real relief but also knowing that the kids get to spend some quality one on one time with their grandparents is also a blessing too.  My parents didn’t let up the pace either and the kids were here there and everywhere during their week long visit.  Meanwhile James and I spent most of our evenings twiddling our thumbs and wondering what we did before we had the kids to take up our time.

One of the evenings I was lucky enough to be surprised by James with a date night and we headed into Liverpool for food at the Baltic Market (which I highly recommend) along with a round of Ghetto Golf.  Naturally I was crowned the winner despite the super strong gin cocktails I was thoroughly enjoying along the way.  It was a good night and if you are local to the area I’d definitely recommend both the Baltic Market and Ghetto Golf; lots of fun to be had.

Baltic Market

Ghetto Golf

We have started August strong with a mid-week wedding down in the beautiful Cambridgeshire countryside…but I will save that for the end of the month.  For now, I will leave with thoughts of a quieter 10 days or so.  A girl can always dream!

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Cast your mind back to the beginning of the year; remember when I said we were planning on keeping our heads down and having a quiet year…those have quickly become famous last words!  I feel like we are ricocheting from one thing to the next at the moment with no sign of things slowing down.  It’s partly why I really enjoy sitting down and writing these posts.  I can capture our month, look back and reflect and remember that amongst all the chaos we do make some amazing memories at the same time.

June kicked off with possibly one of my favourite trips, ever.  We were invited to explore the island of Guernsey for the weekend by Condor Ferries.  It was a total whirlwind of three days with barely any down-time as we wanted to really squeeze every second we could from our time there but it was definitely worth it.  Not only did we have a great time, but Guernsey isn’t a place we’d necessarily have thought about visiting before but I’m so pleased we did.  If you ever get the chance to go, snap it up.  You won’t regret it.

rousse tower cannon guernsey

Pirate Cove Guernsey

Meg gets a special mention this month too as she headed to a local sports tournament with her school, called Quad Kids.  It was held at the nearby university and involved the children taking part in four different sports, including the 400m for Meg’s age group.  I was quite surprised when school asked her if she’d be willing to take part, and she said yes.  Meg is absolutely brilliant at gymnastics, and in fact, most sports that she takes part in.  We have been asked a number of times for her to compete in things; her gym club constantly wants to put her forward for stuff, when she went swimming her instructor asked us to put her into galas and so on but what she lacks is a sense of competitiveness.  She doesn’t cope well under pressure either so I was absolutely gobsmacked when she took her place at the starting line for the 400m and then proceeded to fly around the track.  I’d honestly thought she’d hold back and not push herself.  I was gutted for her (BIG sense of competitiveness over in my corner…) because she was out in front the whole time and just got pipped to first place at the last minute but I was so proud of her for giving her all.  I would never want to push Meg to be something she isn’t, but to see her try her best, really try her best, was a brilliant moment.

Along the lines of sport, I can’t avoid mentioning the World Cup, which is currently taking over our lives.  I don’t mind really; I tend to only watch big football tournaments and I have been known to get quite competitive about it but this is the first year that Meg and Eli are really interested and it has brought a whole new element to the watching experience.  Eli in particular is feeling all the emotions about England and it’s hard to not keep reminding him to not get his hopes up.  This is England after all!  Yet at the same time, surely anything could happen?!  I won’t pretend to be an authority on the subject but I do think we have as fair a shot as anyone this time.

We’ve also been blessed with some absolutely stunning weather this month in the UK.  I keep waking up thinking that today will be the day the rain clouds return but so far we’ve just had glorious sunshine and blue skies.  Both kids have got tan lines from their school uniforms and James has been working hard to clear the garden so they can be outside soaking up every moment.  He recently cleared a mountain of ivy from the side of our garage and it once again brought home the scale of the project we’ve taken on here; everything has just been left and it means a whole lot of work for us.  I try to tell myself often that it will be worth it though!

I’ll end our round-up with a quick mention of my latest addition.  I have wanted another tattoo since I had my first done, about 6 years ago but I know what a slippery slope it can be so I decided to wait until I was absolutely sure of what I wanted.  In the end it still came to a quick decision between two but I love the one I have ended up with.  One of my all-time favourite bookish quotes is from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S.Lewis.  It is ‘courage dear heart’ and the tattoo has been inspired by that.  I’ve been asked a few times whether it hurt and whilst it wasn’t comfortable, it’s so fine and delicate that it only took a couple of minutes.

This post contains a sponsored link.  However all thoughts, words, and opinions remain my own.
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