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This is it… the end of an era, the end of the big summer break. As much as I love my job, six weeks at home with Olivia has been priceless, time I have treasured every single day. This week will start with her being looked after by grandparents on day one before being taken to nursery on day two. The setting in at nursery last week went very well, but a full day is going to be a different scenario, so we’re keeping everything crossed that it all goes well.

Today was the mother-in-laws birthday and we were set to head out for a meal with the family, a lovely pub we’d been to once before that does an amazing carvery. It was so easy to eat far too much, but the food was delicious! Even better than we pile a few extra veg onto the plate and feed Olivia some normal food as she now has some very sharp teeth and can do some proper chewing. After the meal we all went back to the in-laws house and Clare produced a fantastic cake that she’d made for her mom, which we all tucked into. Clare is very clever in kitchen, but her real test will come this week when she attempts to make a cake for Olivia’s first birthday this coming weekend. We had a lovely few hours with the family, and we were home just in time to get the shopping delivery from asda. Our very tired little lady hadn’t slept much all day, and with a horrible cold she wasn’t a happy little bunny by bedtime, although thankfully she still had enough energy to stay awake in the car while Clare dropped me into town to meet a fellow photographer and 365 pal who was up from London for a few days. A really nice guy who it was great to meet and share a few beers with. Looking forward to the next time!

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I always say that there is no better way to start the weekend than with a run, and today I had planned to meet a friend at the local reservoir for a 7.5 mile run to help her train for the upcoming Birmingham Half Marathon, or Birmingham Great Run as its known these days. For me, this mornings training was more for the fun of it, but it will be useful if I do still decide to put my name down for the half marathon too. The weather was great for running, not too warm, not too cold, plenty of cloud cover to stop us overheating in the sun and we did the 7.5 miles without any problems. From there, it was straight onto a training session, and I was overjoyed to take my friend with me who had signed up and joined the team becoming my first recruit. This is great news for me as I start to build my team and look to the future, but this is fantastic news for her as she’s had a terrible time at work and could really do with an opportunity like this to become her own boss and get rid of the stresses of the day job. I can’t wait for the day when she becomes successful enough to hand in her notice at work, and that’s half of what this is about, not just helping myself but helping my friends as well, giving them a chance to change their life for the better. Its an exciting journey and I am glad I can do my bit. The training session was great fun and soon I was on my way home to spend the rest of the weekend with the family. We didn’t go far as I’d only hoped to catch up with one friend today, who was busy in the afternoon anyway, and sadly suddenly became available after they’d been let down, but too late for us to make it over to see them. Our only trip out today was a visit to Asda to get some baking supplies as the wife was making a cake for her mothers birthday on Sunday.

This week we’d had a number of deliveries (I love shopping online!), mostly for Olivia’s first birthday which is now just days away, and one of them was her new bumblebee rocker. We decided that at this age, she wasn’t going to understand her birthday anyway, and so it wouldn’t matter if she had one present a few days early. We put the rocker together and she loved it!

The plan for the rest of the evening was about as perfect as I could hope it to be really, chinese takeaway, a few beers and a good film with the wife, all followed by a bonfire in the garden to get rid of some wood we had left over from last year when we were working on the house, getting it ready to move into. There was a temptation to take it all to the tip of course, as it had been hanging around for so long, but why would I want to do that if I could succumb to my caveman instincts and burn it all in the garden? I purchased a fire pit for this very purpose, so that it would keep the fire contained and safe, so that I could burn as much as I wanted to without anything being affected by it, and could even happily walk away and leave the embers to go out by themselves.

Unfortunately, with a goal to get rid of all the wood in the garden to make way for next weeks party, I had to stay up a bit later than I planned as this wasn’t just burning for the fun of it. Thankfully an hour spent sawing the wood up earlier in the evening meant it was easy to burn lots of it quickly, and the job was done quite efficiently. Now, a rather large pile of wood is no more than a handful of ashes which can be put into the composter and put to good use! Having a garden is great!!

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Its amazing the things you take for granted that you suddenly become acutely aware of when you become a parent. I am suddenly aware of food and drinks with excessive salt, sugar or caffeine, I’m aware of my choice of language when confronted with idiots while I am out driving, I’m aware of how long I’m spending in the sun while we’re out as a family, and more recently the one thing I have become aware of, is fluoride. Obviously some of you who read this regularly will know that Olivia has been teething for a while and now has a few teeth on both top and bottom gums. At some point, even though there wasn’t many, we had to consider brushing them at some point and making it a daily feature, more so for her to get used to it than because her teeth need much brushing at this stage. Like so many other things, she loves putting the toothbrush in her mouth, to have a good chew of it, but isn’t quite so keen when someone else is holding it. Each time I take the brush and try to brush her teeth with it we have a performance, a sort of mini temper tantrum if you like. It wasn’t always like this, she did initially start off being really good about tooth brushing, but has soon since changed her mind. What does end up happening if we leave her with the brush, is that she’ll have a damn good suck of it, and will probably swallow any of the toothpaste that is on there. While the jury is out on the health benefits and implications of fluoride, I don’t feel like it is something that we need to expose Olivia to just yet. I have started using on myself and have also introduced Olivia to Aloe Vera tooth gel, which not only tastes good and leaves my teeth feeling super clean, but also contains absolutely no fluoride at all! Consequently, this is the only stuff I use on her teeth now, so she can quite literally swallow as much as she wants!

After the unnecessary battle with the one year old to get her teeth brushed, it was soon time to take her to nursery for her fourth and final settling in session, a whopping four hours! The first session was getting her used to the staff and other children while we stayed and watched. The second session was half an hour of her on her own while I left her there. The third session was an hour around lunchtime to see if she’d eat without me or Clare around, and todays fourth session was to see if she’d not only eat, but also take a nap. It was a bit strange being suddenly on my own and not quite knowing what to do with all this time on my hands. After last nights rather late night treating myself to a bottle of Jim Beam, the first thing on my mind was a little lie down! I’ll be honest, I didn’t get a lot done with my free time, mainly because one of my sisters said they would be stopping by, so I was waiting for them to turn up and they were quite late in the end, too late to mean I could start something or go anywhere. Finally the time came to collect Olivia from nursery, and I got there to find out she’d had a wonderful afternoon, and had behaved beautifully, as well as eating her lunch and taking a nap there. Exactly what we’d hoped for. We took a drive out soon after getting home, as I had to pick up my tripod and monopod from the venue where I photographed last weeks wedding. Being in the rather sick state that I was, I’d gone and left these behind. Only the second time ever that I’ve forgot something and left it at a wedding, I was just so glad that someone handed them in! Not a mistake I’ll be making again any time soon!

By the time we finally got home properly, there was very little I could do with the time I’d got, it was almost time to start preparing the dinner. I had defrosted some mince so that we could make up a big bowl of chilli, I just had to make sure it wasn’t as hot as the last one, as the wife was certainly not happy with it! With the wife finally home from work and little madam starting to fidget as she was getting really tired, having only had two short naps all day, it was time to get that bath run, get her in and out, and the put her straight to bed after she’d finished her last bottle.

Now its time for bed myself and catching up on 40 winks ahead of tomorrow mornings run! Oh, and Chilli was perfect thank you, it got a thumbs up from the wife!

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“Pass the remote control”

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I think there has never been a time that being a geek is cooler than it is now. I’ve even seen people walking round in t-shirts advertising the fact, and I can bet there is only one person to blame for all this… Steve Jobs, his legacy is living on! He brought cool and clever together in one product, that pesky iPhone. Yes, the pesky iPhone that I got sucked into and now can’t do without, the pesky iPhone that syncs nicely with my iPad, MacBook and AppleTV. Damn you Jobs, look what you’ve done to me, i’m a slave to your products!! Still, it has now been pretty much confirmed that September 9th will be the day the new Apple products get their showcase. What will the next iPhone look like? They’d better bring out something that quite literally blows our socks off, or I think that at this point, there will be an almighty exodus to the alternatives who have upped their game massively! Even the die hard Apple fans can’t hang around forever. I tend to get as excited about a new phone on upgrade day, as a 6yr old does about Christmas!! In an ideal world my brain says, “get a SIM only deal, they’re super cheap, its all you need!”, but I can’t help my heart saying “new phone, shiny shiny!”.

Anyway, the fact is, my geekiness, as uncool as it would have been once at school, is now useful. The afore mentioned Apple products will actually put on quite a nice display for Olivia’s birthday party in just over a weeks time. If the weather is good, as the forecast is suggesting, then hopefully most people will be outside appreciating my hard work in the garden, if the weather turns typically British and rains all over everyone, they will move indoors where I will have a big slideshow on the TV, courtesy of the Apple TV showing off lots and lots of Olivia based photos for her party! I have consequently spent the majority of the day sorting through said photos, finding the best ones, and tweaking them before uploading them.

The big feature of Friday was Olivia’s nursery session, it was nursery date number three, and this time they were keeping her for two hours. Which seemed like quite a long time, I mean, you could do all sorts with two hours? Couldn’t you? Apparently you can’t, I got a few bits done here and there, and suddenly its time to pick her back up again. It was nice to have a couple of hours off, but I would be glad to have her home again. When I got there, she was quite relaxed and happy, and had clearly had a wonderful time settling in. It comes as something of a relief, but we are still aware of the tale of our friends little girl who has recently gone through the same, and had a great settling in session herself, before having an absolute meltdown on her first actual proper day there. Its left us feeling a bit nervous, but I am quietly confident that Olivia will be fine. Fingers crossed anyway!

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HUMP DAY!! Yes it’s that half way point in the week where everyone who works Monday to Friday can breath a sigh of relief that the week is half done, that its all downhill from here on until the weekend and they are a tiny bit closer to the freedom of Friday afternoon! I am not quite so jubilant about this fact myself though, as the weekend ahead is signifying the fact that my six week holiday break is almost at an end and not only will I be going back to work, but I will also be sending my daughter off to nursery for the first time. And yes, she’ll be fine, I know that, and I have totally loved looking after her each day of the holidays, it has been a real blessing not many fathers are lucky enough to be able to do that, but I’d still rather be continuing the situation! It has been a great time and we’ve had a lot of fun. We have been out visiting people, but then I have also sat by at home and waited as she snoozed half the day away. That girl loves her sleep!

After lunch I popped over to see one of my sisters in her new flat and took Olivia with me, as my sister just can’t get enough of her. I was feeling decidedly tired after last night, and was consequently a little quiet while I was over there. This always bothers me when I leave somewhere knowing how quiet I have been, as I don’t want to appear rude or ignorant, but it does highlight to me the need to get to bed at a sensible time, especially in the last few days of the holiday, I need to reconfigure my sleeping pattern. I want to be up fresh and early on the first day back, as I will be back on the bike again and I’ll be needing some energy in the morning! I haven’t tackled rush hour traffic on two wheeled peddle power for six weeks now! We stayed for a couple of hours, and talked about my sisters new job role at my school, having finally left retail after six years of essentially being taken for a mug! Retail is no environment to work in when you have a family, its all about the business and the numbers, never ever about the staff! Staff are bottom of the pile, and completely expendable, staff needs are a mere inconvenience, and if you’re thinking of taking a day off sick, well that’s just for quitters, and if you take it, you’re now one tick box closer to the company finding a reason to fire you! Getting out of retail was the best move I ever made, my mental health was starting to suffer in the last few months before I got out, and I never thought I’d hear myself saying that! Thankfully, my sister is now on the path to a better life, one that can offer a much improved work/life balance and sense of security.

This particular Wednesday however, sees what I consider is probably going to be the peak of the social media viral craze, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now initially I thought that of course it was a good thing, but just wanted to keep my head down and stay invisible. Apparently that doesn’t work! Within 24 hours I had received not just one, but two nominations. There was no escaping it, although without any ice in our freezer and all the shops shut on bank holiday Monday, I put mine off until the Tuesday, which is technically over the 24 hours that you are supposed to complete the challenge in, but I completed it anyway, better late than never. I had noticed that the more people were taking part, the more there were some people who were getting quite vocal about what a waste of water it was, and how people in Africa had no water and we were just throwing it away for fun. To me, they missed the whole point of why we are doing this, and it almost annoys me a little bit. They’re like a grumpy old person living on their own that doesn’t want the kids playing out in the street to have any fun or make any noise! Their objections seem petty and almost to a point, irrelevant, and I’ll offer my thoughts as to why. Firstly, our water usage has never been a concern of anyone living in Africa, here we are using it to raise awareness of what is essentially a crippling disease at first, leading to a truly horrible way to die, literally trapped inside your own body as each internal organ starts to shut itself down. Not only that, but this activity is raising HUGE amounts of money for research into this, money that the charities and the sufferers of the condition could never have even dreamt that they’d ever see! What does it cost us? Our dignity and half a bucket of water, that’s it! That water was NEVER going to be wrapped up and posted to Africa, no-one was going to look at their bucket and think “maybe I should carry this to a hot country and give it to someone who doesn’t have any water!”. Doing this challenge isn’t going to affect the UK water usage one tiny bit, no more than filling up a childs paddling pool, washing the car, or using a hosepipe to water the garden. At what point do we actually think an activity is clearly wasting water. Does a child NEED to play in a paddling pool? Does our car REALLY need washing when poor Africans have no clean water? Should I wash my clothes each time I wear them, or hang them back up and get a few more days out of them? Where do we draw the line? The water we are using to raise this money changes nothing for anyone, but the end result is massive for these charities that are benefiting, and its not just ALS now, people are starting to choose their own charities, and so much money is being raised, its absolutely amazing! I completed my challenge on Tuesday night, made my donation to ALS and even made a donation to WaterAid to pacify those getting on their high horse about it. There are also some people voicing concerns about how ALS conduct some of their research, but I have looked into it myself, and don’t have a problem, I believe they are doing the best job they can.

If we disregard those who are stamping their feet and move on, then we come to Wednesday night and a challenge duo, Scott and Ian on the same night. It was a multi bucket fun fest of ice cold water, and this wasn’t going to be a low key, quiet affair. But respect to Scott for really getting on board and embracing his challenge, the video was hilarious, and I was just glad I got a good shot of it! Once the dry clothes were on, it was time for some hot drinks and hot spicy chicken to warm everyone back up again.

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IMG_7814It has become fairly apparent recently that my usual late night blog posts are becoming a bit of a problem. From the initial days of my photo-a-day project with a little commentary, I have now switch this around to the main focus being on the blog post, rather than the photo, although I committed to a second year of photos and so will endeavour to keep this up and review it again at the end of the year as it is fair to say that they have been less than inspiring in the last few months. I have to say though, it has been really good looking back on them, and using them almost as a visual diary of the last year and a half and being able to look at specific dates and remember the day. The problem I am having with the late night posts is that I am literally falling asleep while typing them as I am leaving them way too late, most often because I don’t have a photo to go with them for that day. As I am finding myself falling asleep, I tend to find myself typing absolute gibberish and miss out, or fail to elaborate on significant parts of the day, and have to delete parts of what I have written as some of it doesn’t even make any sense! I need to make a new plan going forward, something that can become a regular part of the day so I can establish it as a part of my routine.

So what happened today then? Well Olivia had her third session at the nursery to help her settle in, with each session being slightly different. The first time we went in with her, the second time we left her there without us for half an hour, today we left her for an hour just before lunch time so they could see how she’d eat without someone she knows nearby or in the same room. It was a big relief, it went well and we’re both confident that next week should be far less traumatic as a result. Now all we hope for, is that on her final session, in two days time, we can get her to have a sleep there, although I am not hugely confident about this bit being quite so easy, but we will have to see. After the nursery session, Clare decided to stay at home while I took Olivia out in the car to see my old school friend Richard and his little girl Erin, who is just a couple of months younger than Olivia. It was a nice afternoon, although it went very quickly. We enjoyed some tea and biscuits before a walk around the local park. It is so good catching up with old friends, and it has been brilliant that we have both been off work over the summer and been able to meet up. I had to leave quite promptly after our walk as we had the in-laws coming round for dinner, and although Clare was still at home and dealing with it all, her plan was to have Olivia sitting at the table in her high chair eating the same food as us, with us, and so Olivia was blessed with having her first taste of… lasagne!! Not only that, but chips and garlic bread to go with it! The lasagne itself was actually completely home cooked by the wife, which I was very impressed with, and there really is something special about home cooked food, its what we prefer to see Olivia eating. In fact a recent conversation with my friend let him to showing and demonstrating his bread machine, especially as I didn’t realise how crap some of the ingredients of shop brought loaves were. With Olivia loving her toast and sandwiches, I just couldn’t face giving her something like any more normal white bread that is made up of some many bad ingredients. The grandparents kept Olivia entertained in the run up to bedtime, and she ran out of steam pretty much bang on time, and was soon up to bed and asleep. Eventually Clare was off to bed, and before I went it myself, it was my chance to relax and hang out for a while, and so I treated myself to a little bonfire in the back garden while everyone else was asleep. The perils of being a night owl!

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The famous UK August Bank Holiday.

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It has been a truly traditional bank holiday, the weather being the most prominent feature of the day… rain… all… day… long!!

I’d made plans to take Clare and Olivia out for a surprise drive today to a little village in the Cotswolds, and would probably even have gone with a bit of rain about, but sadly that wasn’t our only problem. With Clare’s recent episode of sickness she was still feeling fragile and clearly had no intention of going anywhere this morning. Thankfully I was back to full health and feeling great, but Clare was not so eager to get out and get things done, and the weather did little to encourage that. On top of which, our little madam, Miss Vokes Jr, had her second day in a row where she needed three naps instead of her usual two naps. Very peculiar! So with travel plans now out of the water, what else do you do with a bank holiday? My wife not wearing any make-up told me all that I needed to know… she never leaves the house without make-up on, and with none on, I guess we weren’t going anywhere.

We seemed to spend a lot of the day staring out of the window, unable to believe the amount of rain we were having and how it showed little or no signs of stopping at any point, but we did get to watch a few films together, which was nice.