Turning Forty

The countdown had to end at some point, the “days until I am forty” could simply not last forever! So here I am, forty at last. The only people who say it isn’t really a big deal are the ones that are already over forty anyway, the ones that look at you like you may as well get planning your funeral before you start anything else, are generally those under forty.

Its not to say that I woke up on my birthday and everything had changed, far from it, physically I felt very much the same, just a day older. In the grand scheme of things the earth was still round, planes had not fallen from the sky, the dead had not come back to life, and generally the end was not nigh! Mentally it was a slightly different story though, I guess in my mind I had crossed a threshold. I knew I was no longer a thirtysomething and I was already missing it. Being a thirtysomething meant you had only just left your twenties behind, and twenties were young, right?! Now, the only way I will be called young would be if I was found dead! The even more depressing thing about being a fortysomething is that the next big milestone birthday is fifty! FIFTY!!

Still, its here, and I need to start getting used to it.

One thing that turning (or even approaching) forty does to you is make you reflect on things a bit, a primary one being your health and physical condition. I would certainly not consider myself to be unfit, although I do still have a few pound to lose, but my fitness levels are definitely up there. I am cycling 11 miles a day, five days a week, I am now running three days a week as well, and its fair to say that I am far fitter now than I ever was in my twenties!

All this can change in a moment though, and you never know when you health can suddenly fall away. Previously I have run a number of half marathons and raised money for cancer charities, only this year I am doing something a bit different… I am hanging up the running shoes (for now anyway) and jumping on my bike to cycle from London to Brighton raising money for the British Heart Foundation.

Heart disease is still one of the biggest killers in the UK and cruelly took my grandad from us on Christmas day when I was just 13 years old. It was a very dark christmas day.

I knew he was ill, but I had never fully understood the gravity of it, and I had certainly not expected him to die, at least not yet anyway.

I still remember a lot about the day, it had been a nice morning unwrapping presents with my sister, my mom had been busy cooking the christmas dinner for lunchtime, and had just served it up and called me and my sister to come and sit down to eat, I was very much looking forward to it. I took a bite of my first roast potato and heard a knock at the door. Where I sat at the table meant I was closest to the front door, so I got up to open it, to find two of my uncles outside looking very sombre. I was caught off guard and so just let them in without questioning their lack of festive greetings, as they walked into the kitchen and just looked at my mom without saying anything. It was a delay of about two seconds, and she just knew, about five seconds later it hit me too.

My uncle Geoff is also a keen cyclist, and he talked me into doing this ride, he was one of the uncles stood on the door that christmas day to deliver the news. So we’re both pretty passionate about this cause. As I turn forty, I begin to wonder if I have done enough to keep healthy and keep this dreadful disease away. I have been actively doing cardio exercises for a number of years now, and intend to carry on for as long as I can. I need to keep my heart healthy and strong for my two little girls now, as well as for myself.

So I am writing this to ask for a little support for my ride, help me hit my humble target of £250 towards British Heart Foundation by clicking on the link and heading over to my Just Giving page here. If you can spare £1, great. If you can spare more, even better. If you can’t spare anything at all, then can you just spare 10 seconds to share my page and encourage your friends to support me.

Thanks
A.

365 project: days 117 -126

So the final countdown begins for the big four zero. There’s a party to plan for and I intend to make it a week of celebrations! I can’t pretend I am looking forward to the day when I can no longer say that I am still in my 30s, but I may as well push through that barrier with some acceptance and embrace the positive of what I do actually have around me. I know its just another day, and I technically won’t wake up and feel any different, but that landmark just says to me “Nothing else significant, and no other special celebrations now until you’re 50!”. In fact the only way I can be considered young by anybody now is if I was dead! Oh joy!

Ah well, on with the photos, and I am now up to day 126! Mini celebration, kinda means I have this thing under control and theres a very real chance I will make it through until the end!

117: The May day bank holiday Monday is traditionally a rather wet affair, as if the rain clouds are pre-booked in advance every year. We decide to spend the day at home and have our friend coming to visit with her little boy, so decide to make the best of staying in and get the kids to make and decorate some biscuits, which kept them entertained for a while.

Day 117 - May 2nd
Day 117 – May 2nd

118: One of those days with very little to report, except for the fact that the scaffolding that went up for a small job fixing a window four weeks ago is still up. The window was done in an afternoon, but the scaffolding is still here and beginning to anoy me!

Day 118 - May 3rd
Day 118 – May 3rd

119: I was lucky enough to be invited to a bloggers only evening to help promote the launch of a new chocolate store in the jewellery quarter. If you check back a couple of posts you’ll find the article I posted on the evening. It was a lovely evening and I was grateful to be a part of it. I learnt a thing or two about chocolate, got to taste some fancy new ones and even got to make my own!

Day 119 - May 4th
Day 119 – May 4th

120: Olivia has become a fantastic big sister and really looks after her new little sister, giving her lots of kisses and cuddles, and now has taken to including her when it comes to playing with accessories, including headbands.

Day 120 - May 5th
Day 120 – May 5th

121: Its BBQ Friday! The weather forecast is looking up for the weekend, and so I get the BBQ cleaned and light it up, throwing on some of the food I’d thought ahead and purchased the day before. Friday night meant burgers and beers for me. What a way to spend a Friday evening, at home and with my ladies, cooking meat over fire… RAAHHHH!!

Day 121 - May 6th
Day 121 – May 6th

122: The wife can’t help herself while she’s off work, passing the time with online shopping! This time for our daughter, buying her a mini trampoline. I was planning on saving this for her birthday, but to be honest, anything that stops her jumping on the sofa and our bed at the moment, is a bonus! With the afternoon turning into a bit of a downpour, we had at least something to keep her entertained indoors too!

Day 122 - May 7th
Day 122 – May 7th

123: Sunday showers us with more sunshine, and although the forecast is for a thundershower at some point late in the afternoon, the day starts warm and bright and so we make the most of it. Out comes the BBQ (again!) and out comes the gazebo also, along with the paddling pool. It was a lovely afternoon in the sun, and to make things even better, no rain arrived whatsoever! Good old fashioned fun in the garden!

Day 123 - May 8th
Day 123 – May 8th

124: I figured it had been a few weeks since my last proper portrait of Olivia, and I like to keep these up regularly. My favourite portrait lens is the 85mm f/1.8 lens, very popular with portrait photographers. It takes a wonderful flattering picture, and a little bit of sunshine finishes the photo!

Day 124 - May 9th
Day 124 – May 9th

125: This little lady is becoming an absolute delight in the last few weeks. The days of screaming just because she’s awake seem to have completely vanished, now she is spending most of the day happy, smiling and even laughing, only having a whinge or a few tears when she’s hungry, needs a clean nappy or can’t get to sleep, all easily fixable! Its the smiles and the laughing that do it for me though, they are so heart warming!

Day 125 - May 10th
Day 125 – May 10th

126: The godo weather can’t last, but the rain does leave behind a certain fresh quality to the air. Sadly the big downside is that heavy rain gives the cherry blossom trees that line the road a real battering and they lose a lot of their petals. The cherry blossoms did seem to start flowering early this year, and normally the flowers are gone within a couple of weeks, although this year they seem to be hanging on and on!

Day 126 - May 11th
Day 126 – May 11th

A taste of chocolate heaven

I love to see new businesses start up, and even more so to see them do well. When someone with a passion and a skill decides to take it to the next level, I wish them all the luck in the world!


This week I was lucky enough to be invited to a bloggers event after the recent opening of a new chocolate shop in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, which was aptly named The Chocolate Quarter. It is a family run chocolate making business, selling a unique range of their very own creations, and these guys like to get creative!

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On arriving I was given a very warm and friendly welcome from Jay, who ran the store along side his family and delivered our evening, sharing his extensive knowledge on the creation of chocolate, and shared many samples from around the world, made from beans from far away countries such as Tanzania, Madagascar and Ecuador.

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Not long after we arrived, we were all offered a hot chocolate, although I can’t lie about the fact I was slightly disappointed to find out it was made with water, and not milk, like I am used to. Jay was only too happy to explain that the milk dilutes the taste of chocolate and using water helps to bring out the proper flavours. Given that we were clearly not using cheap powdered supermarket chocolate here, you could see exactly what he meant. It was delicious, and yes was an instant convert, and yes I went back for more!

We were also lucky enough to be privy to some new samples for their as yet unreleased Fathers Day range, with flavours such as Stout, Bacon and Whiskey. The stout was a clear favourite with a number of us!

The special fathers day collection
The special fathers day collection

The next part was a lesson in tempering chocolate, the intricate details of heating and cooling the chocolate to create the perfect shine and ‘snap’, and then after being shown, creating our own truffles. It wasn’t rocket science, but still sadly looked like my two year old daughter had sat in my place and tried her hand at giving it a go, but in my defence it was my first attempt! There was chocolate everywhere, but thankfully a whole lot of thought had clearly been put into this evening for us and they had covered all number of details. We were particularly grateful for the disposable aprons, wipes and gloves! They even gave us presentation boxes to take our creations home in after we had coated them in cocoa, icing sugar and coconut!

With our leftover tempered chocolate we were treated to a fantastic fondue with a whole assortment of fruits, doughnuts, honeycomb and Turkish delights. It was the kinda moment when you drop all thoughts of slimming world, weight watchers or how tight your jeans have become and lose yourself in chocolately drunkenness! All nicely washed down with a glass of Prosecco.

At the end of the evening, before we left we even had the chance to purchased some discounted chocolates to fill the rest of our presentation box, from an amazing selection of flavours. It was so hard to decided which ones to pick without shouting “ALL OF THEM… GIVE ME ALL OF THEM!!”.
I managed to whittle it down to coffee & buttery caramel, viennese truffle, sea salt praline, amaretto & marzipan and violet cream before tearing myself away and running to the car to avoid spending a small fortune in there!

The Chocolate Quarter is definitely worth a visit for anyone wanting an experience, not just a box of chocolates! This wonderful warm and friendly family are only too happy to take the time to talk you through the chocolate and try samples, and the personality that shines through makes other chain based chocolate shops look cold, clinical and run by amateurs!

Will I be going back? You bet!

They can be found at http://www.thechocolatequarter.com/

365 project: days 111 – 116

As we approach the end of April, we look at heading into my birthday month and the imminent arrival of my 40th birthday, which continues to approach like a speeding train heading towards a car stranded on a level crossing! Still, on a plus note we are looking at Chloe finally having the harness off her legs, providing her hips are now as they should be, although the consultant, as nice as he is, seems very wishy washy in his diagnosis. I want to hear things like “Yes, this isn’t right, lets fix it with this” not things like “well, I’m not sure, would you like to try this just to be on the safe side?” The onus should not be on the parents to make a decision when you have been referred to, waited weeks for, and travelled to the childrens hospital for a specialist consultant to assess and diagnose. Still, if its coming off then the appointment is on my actual birthday, what a present that would be!

111: Its time for a change in the kitchen and the red that the wife initially thought was a terrible idea is now up and she loves it, and so do I. Sometimes you have to take a bit of a gamble!

Day 111 - Apr 26th
Day 111 – Apr 26th

112: An unscheduled Ofsted inspection at work causes the day to be a little stressful, but at least I have my girls to come home to. I loved this shot, our little angel is now 3 months old and growing at quite a rate, and getting noticeably heavier by the day too! All too soon those little hands won’t be so little any more!

Day 112 - Apr 27th
Day 112 – Apr 27th

113: The term April showers was part of the proverb “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers”, first recorded in 1886. This year it has been more evident than ever, as most days have featured at least one or more showers. It makes taking the little ones out to the park a bit of a gamble!

Day 113 - Apr 28th
Day 113 – Apr 28th

114: April showers, as it suggests often means that between these rain showers there can be periods of beautiful sunshine, and with bluebells popping up all over the place its starting to get very colourful outside. The upcoming bank holiday weekend is the annual bluebell walk at a local farm, which we’re sadly unlikely to make.

Day 114 - Apr 29th
Day 114 – Apr 29th

115: Staying on the weather theme, we decided to stretch our legs and get some fresh air by taking a walk to the local supermarket. As Olivia decided she also wanted to head to the park, we opted to take the car instead. We hadn’t even finished strapping the girls into the car when some black, end-of-the-world type clouds drifted over, it started to go very dark and a giant rumble of thunder unleashed a 15 minute hail storm, making it look like it had been snowing outside. In my 39 years on this planet I’d never seen anything like this before. As quickly as it started, it was over, and out came the blue sky and sunshine!

Day 115 - Apr 30th
Day 115 – Apr 30th

116: Our quiet weekend at home was continuing, which suited me around lunchtime as it was the Russian F1 GP today. We did at least manage to make it out to the park today, although Olivia wasn’t really herself and so we didn’t stay long. After a film and a few drinks in the evening with the wife, we were both ready for bed, as those early mornings can take their toll, but we still had to stay up and make sure Chloe had her last bottle of the day. Its definitely worth leaving it as late as possible as she is starting to do really well at sleeping through until the morning now. We have been really lucky with these two, and we are so grateful for it.

Day 116 - May 1st
Day 116 – May 1st

More of the 365 project: days 102-110

A damp and windy April is beginning to draw to an end, and my birthday month is almost here, the big 4-0 is creeping closer and we have actually begun making plans for a party to celebrate it. I don’t know why i’m bothered about leaving my 30s behind and entering into my 40s, I didn’t have this concern on the transition from 29 to 30. I do have to put things into persepctive and appreciate that I have everything I could possibly hope for by the time I’d reached this age… a wonderful wife, two beautiful daughters, a house, a nice car a great circle of friends. I guess its just getting used to the mentality that for most of my life, like most people I guess, I have considered 40somethings to be “a bit old”. Yeah let’s face it, I am not 21 any more. While I can’t fool myself into believing I am still some kind of spring chicken or peter pan, the grey hair certainly removes any doubt about that!

So on with the 365 anyway, what have the last few days been about…?

102: The day after an unexpected mid-April snowfall, and I find myself out walking in the sun in just a t-shirt. The wife had suggested abandoning the idea a cooked Sunday lunch, and heading out for a carvery. Thankfully the closest is within walking distance, and so we took advantage of the sun, and left the car at home. One of the big attractions of living where we do, was the lines of cherry blossom trees running along the local roads, which look amazing for a few weeks each year.

Day 102 - April 17th
Day 102 – April 17th

103: After climbing off my bike at the end of a Monday, the thought of putting my feet up is a very tempting one, that is until my daughter runs at me with her arms open shouting “I do painting, I do painting!”. Its hard to say no, she loves it so much, its easy to clean up, and she’s usually done within 20 minutes. I like her to get her hands messy and feel the paint, and make the marks that can’t be undone with a delete button. There are so many apps for my iPad where she can paint, colour in, make pictures and not get in any mess, but its no subsitute for the real thing!

Day 103 - April 18th
Day 103 – April 18th

104: Charging up the helmet camera that has been a useful addition to my cycling. What I don’t want to become is part of the helmetcam vigilante brigade, a few who take it too far, and what most drivers think cyclists who wear cameras are! There are so many idiots on the road though, and so many who hold no regard whatsoever for the life of anyone who decides to climb onto two wheels instead of start the engine of four. Our lives seem to be worth significantly less when we climb onto our bikes, but this helmet camera has helped to give me a better chance of getting home alive to see my family. It has been useful in capturing bad and dangerous driving where a van driver was reported to their company, but primarily I want it to act as a deterrent. I’d rather people see it, and think better of a close pass, giving me more room to continue my journey safely.

Day 104 - April 19th
Day 104 – April 19th

105: There is something especially satisfying about riding home in the sunshine, knowing that the winter is well behind you and the weather can only get better. When I got home, I noticed how beautiful everything looked at the clouds parted once more and everything was covered in the light of the setting sun.

Day 105 - April 20th
Day 105 – April 20th

106: On returning from work, I find that the wife has been busy in the daughters room, with a new set of wall stickers, to which the daughter is delighted. Gone are the unisex animals and leaves, now replaced with fairy princesses and a castle. Even better than the satisfaction she gets from it is the beautiful portrait it makes.

Day 106 - April 21st
Day 106 – April 21st

107: Gotta love that Friday feeling, the end of the working week. Its even nicer when you can spend it with family, and so I had my two sisters and their partners over for dinner and drinks. A lovely way to spend an evening, and something we don’t do often enough. I managed to cook up my signature risotto and it went down a treat, and no meal is complete without wine and a candle on the table!

Day 107 - April 22nd
Day 107 – April 22nd

108: Saturday is one of those elusive days that can disappear in the blink of an eye if you don’t have a plan. Its sometimes nice to slow down after a week at work and do very little, so we spent the morning having a little fun around the house, before the wife thought it was a good idea head out to the shopping mall at the busiest time during the week! We had to go toy shopping for birthday presents, but at least got to treat ourselves to a little lunch while we were out, I guess I can cope with a few crowds for a tasty lunch.

Day 108 - April 23rd
Day 108 – April 23rd

109: Sunday morning and time to go swimming, the bonus is meeting our friend with her little girl, and the double bonus is Clare coming along with Chloe to watch Olivia in the pool, as previous swimming sessions have been a bit of father/daughter time and Clare has missed out on how well Olivia is getting on in the water. Swimming is followed up with a visit to Boo Boo Coffee shop across the road, as they have a fantastic menu and even a childrens area. We missed out on soft play with some more friends because of Olivia’s need to nap after a busy morning swimming, but at least we caught up with them later on. All in all a weekend well spent!

Day 109 - April 24th
Day 109 – April 24th

110: The joy of being back to work on a Monday, but at least the nights are getting lighter, although a confused two year old is still questioning why she has to go to bed when “its daytime”. Once she was asleep in bed it was time to grab myself some dessert, as dinner had left a spot needing to be filled by something sweet!

Day 110 - April 25th
Day 110 – April 25th

365 project update: days 95 – 101

So its back on the myfitnesspal app again for me, and today was all going so well… cycling into work, followed by a 2 mile run on the treadmill as soon as I get to work, before I hit the shower. I even pack a sensible lunch, and all is going well… until that is, I get home and discover the daughters home made biscuits and weaken!

Its no secret, my 40th birthday is edging closer and closer and there is simply no hiding from it. I was really hoping that when it finally landed I could at least feel slightly better about things by being at least a few pounds lighter, but that has really not worked out very well so far. I was doing especially well with the half stone head start after my recent bout of gastroenteritis, but think I’ve probably put all that back on now. My failing is not in my lack of exercise, its clearly my weakness for food! Still, at least I am back into the running again now, and there is still hope, one slip up does not mean the war has been lost!

At least one thing I have been able to keep up successfully is the 365 project, and I have even managed to break through the 100 days barrier, which feels like quite a landmark event.

95: A birthday party to go to, and Olivia is ready in her pretty dress. She still needs her afternoon nap, and this particular party was right in the middle of nap time, so we had to push through, but she made it, and had a wonderful time dancing!

Day 95 - Apr 10th
Day 95 – Apr 10th

96: Practising with a little off camera flash, which I always think makes for a more pleasing portrait, and this little lady is changing daily. The endless screaming everytime she is awake has virtually disappeared now, unless of course she is either hungry or super tired, and she is making some lovely faces and cooing noises, but even better is her tracking and the way she actually watches you and turns to look at you.

Day 96 - Apr 11th
Day 96 – Apr 11th

97: A black and white abstract perspective shot, something a bit different. Sometimes you need to be stuck for a photo at the end of the day to force you to see something normal in a different way.

Day 97 - Apr 12th
Day 97 – Apr 12th

98: A little bit of warm weather and Olivia can’t wait to get into the garden, she loves being outdoors. Part of todays excitement was the watering can and the plant spray, any excuse to play with water. After repeatedly watering the weeds for me, she discovered the joy of spraying everything, including herself!

Day 98 - Apr 13th
Day 98 – Apr 13th

99: Nothing is cuter than a sleeping baby shot, and even though she is spending longer and longer awake, Chloe is still sleeping for huge portions of the day. I went for a slightly desaturated look in this shot, taking some, but not all of the colour out of it. She is growing at a rate of knots at the moment, and I don’t think this moses basket will be big enough for much longer. Best get that spare room sorted asap!

Day 99 - Apr 14th
Day 99 – Apr 14th

100: Yes! 100 days of not missing a shot, even if some of them have been a bit rubbish along the way. I love this close up shot of Chloe the focus was more on the hand, but it hasn’t made the eye look especially out of focus. When doing portraits, usually it is a priority to get the eyes, if nothing else, in focus. Typically it is one of the rules of photography, but once you have learnt the rules, you can start to break them.

Day 100 - Apr 15th
Day 100 – Apr 15th

101: The middle of April, and all we want is a bit of sunshine to break up the rainy days… so what on earth is happening when we throw open the curtains on Saturday morning to see snow everywhere? I spotted on the video monitor that Olivia was awake, and as soon as she was up and saw outside, she wanted to be out in the snow. So we got dressed and headed straight out and got some snowballs on the go! I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed when the whole lot had melted by midday! It was fun while it lasted!

Day 101 - Apr 16th
Day 101 – Apr 16th

To Facebook, or not to Facebook…

Like several hundred million others around the globe, I am well connected to social media, including the most famous of them, Facebook.

Recently, after some chronic battery issues with my iPhone which I have thankfully managed to fix, I was left in a position where I had no choice but to erase everything on my phone and frustratingly set it up as new again. When I began looking into the battery issue, it made me realise what a battery drain the Facebook app was on my phone, and when it came to reinstalling all my apps, I was left with the dilemma of whether or not to bother putting the Facebook app back on my phone.

It does seem a little silly that such a simple app has even become the subject of such dilemma for me, and that my thoughts about whether or not I should even have it on my phone have even become a talking point. I have a couple issues stopping me from putting the Facebook app back on my phone just yet, the first one being the issue with the battery usage, due to the app itself being open and the huge screen using power. The second and most important one being the massive distraction that Facebook can be. I find myself picking up the phone far too frequently, to literally check that nothing amazing and life changing has happened in the last five minutes that I might have missed. Its almost akin to smoking, the act of just doing it without thinking and subsequent cravings when its gone.

So how am I finding this Facebook free period of the day? Well I now have no way to access it while I am at work, and yes, the practical upshot is that my battery life has improved massively, and I am not picking up my phone just for the sake of it any more, like it is some kind of comfort blanket… but I can’t help feeling a little annoyed at what feels like a huge inconvenience.  I have always said that facebook, far from being a place to whinge, air your dirty laundry, or just show off about how great your life/children/partner is, is actually a really useful tool for staying in touch with your friends and family, its why so many of us are literally hooked on it, and likewise one of my old college friends who still refuses to sign up to any kind of social media misses out on so much of what is happening with everyones lives.

So is it just withdrawal symptoms? I know in reality that I am probably not missing out on that much during the day, especially when I get home from work and pick up my iPad, only to find just a couple of notifications for something I am really not that interested in anyway. Will it just get easier if I just try and push through it and leave facebook at home solely on my iPad, or will I continue to become annoyed with what feels like a huge inconvenience and crack? 

The truth is, yes, I will most likely end up putting it back on my phone at some point. The battery on my phone is good enough to not suffer too much, and I just have to learn that all things are good in moderation, including facebook!