Vokesy

Photographer of weddings and people around Birmingham and the Midlands

40 things before 40 part 2

Here are numbers 21 to 40, the second half of my 40 before 40 list. Will I actually get all of these done? Its doubtful, to be honest I should have started this list ages ago if I really wanted to be crossing things off, but you still need to have dreams and goals, otherwise what is the point in it all? You just never know when your time is up. No matter how healthy you stay, how well you eat, sometimes your number is up and it can be “game over” quite unexpectedly! If like me, you are a cyclist commuting on busy main roads each day, then you can take your life in your hands just getting to work, and yet we are all so good at putting things off that we can tend to forget about what our dreams were before we all grew up and had to put them on hold. Some of us get lucky and have the money and the lifestyle to be able to do all the things they want, but the reality is that the majority of us don’t get lucky breaks like this. We have to work hard, save up, and make sacrifices! Still, like I say, you just never know what is around the corner, and sometimes you just have to stop putting things off and enjoy life a bit!

21) Take a trip by myself DONE!

Probably about ten years ago, after recently splitting up with an ex I decided I wanted to do something a little different and get away from it all for a few days… on my own! I’d become a big fan of Ibiza, having visited the island a number of times. Its such a diverse island, you can party the night away, visit secluded beaches or quaint old villages, there is literally something for everyone. I booked myself a few nights away and flew out with a very simple plan, beach or pool with a book, grab a few beers, watch a few sunsets and take the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone a little and make a few friends. It all went perfectly well until the very last night when some young local lad pretending to be friendly took advantage of my drunken state as I walked back to my hotel alone and ran off with my wallet! Thankfully there wasn’t much in it, and I’d left some money in my hotel room! Lesson learnt the hard way!

22) Print my photos

I’ve been snapping away since I was 9 or 10 years old, and have been trying to make my photos better all the time. I have a collection of albums tucked away in the loft full of prints from my old film cameras, but since the arrival of digital cameras most of my images (like everyone I guess) are all sat on hard drives somewhere, only seeing the light of day when I fire up the computer. I don’t like to hide my photos away and have printed a number of them already, some are in frames around the house, some are waiting to go into albums. I also have a large selection on a slideshow on my Apple TV which I put on every now and again, like a large digital photo frame, its fun to sit and watch! My plan is to get much more of my photos printed and into albums though, especially now we have Olivia and number two on the way! THey will be nice to dig out when they get older and want to look through them. I’ve made a start and just need to be consistently printing more each month to work my way through them. Technology continually changes, but printed photos will always look good in your hand!

23) Bungee jump

Its one of those things I’ve looked at and frequently thought “f*** that!”, but I guess if the opportunity ever came up, especially if I was dared into doing it, I’d probably give it a go… so its on my “before 40” list as its not something I’d really want to be trying for the first time when I am pushing 50 or 60! I don’t want my obituary to read “heart attack on a bungee jump… what was he thinking at 55?!”. Maybe one day the opportunity will come up, who knows?!

24) Plant a tree

Not everyone is going to change the world, and I am not likely to be remembered in history, win the nobel peace prize or have books written about me, but I would like to make my small contribution to the planet while I am still on it. We take enough out of the earth and sometimes its nice to give something back. I like to look after my garden and having trees around makes you feel like you are somehow a little further away from the grey concrete of the city. I was very lucky to move into a quiet tree-lined cul-de-sac when we bought our house, and it is especially beautiful when the blossoms on the trees running down each side of the road all flower for a few weeks each summer. So I took the opportunity to stick an apple tree in my garden when we moved in. Its lovely to watch it grow and start to fruit, and to think that it may still be here after I am gone offering its fruit and a bit more oxygen to the planet earth!

25) Ride in a hot air balloon

I’d never really given this much consideration until I started my martial arts class and got to know one of the guys there who was part of our class, who worked for a hot air balloon ride company. Sadly he moved away about a year ago and had to leave the club before I could try and hook up with him for a ride, but it did sound like fun and I’d love to give it a go! The thought of  peacefully drifting and the fantastic views, it all sounds lovely. I think I’m going to have to chase this one up and see if I can get in touch with him and cross it off!

26) See my favourite band live

Not exactly ground breaking ambitions, but sometimes the simplest things can be overlooked. Then again, sometimes life changes and we forget to chase what we really enjoy and just go with what we sometimes have time for in our busy lives. Back when I was 17 I was in full-on rock mode, I had the long hair and the black leather jacket and was all into a number of metal bands, my favourite being Metallica, and along with some friends I managed to get a ticket for one of their concerts for what now seems like the bargain price of £17, I dread to think how much it would cost to see them now! One of the other bands I got into back in my college days was a local indie band called Neds Atomic Dustbin, although I missed out on seeing them live before they split up! Much to my delight I found out that they have recently been doing some reunion gigs, and are having another one this December! So its sorted, me and a friend are booking our tickets and going to relive our youth for an evening! Sadly the long hair and the tight black jeans will have to remain a thing of the past, and we will be dressed a lot more appropriately this time!

27) Lose a stone

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Oh man, this is a tough one! I have done, half marathons, tough mudders, but this is the hardest! Its no secret, I love my food, and of course I love to have a drink at the weekend too! Yeah sure, I run and cycle a lot, I do it fairly regularly, but all I seem to do is balance the calories going in with the calories I burn off. As I am turning 40 the ability to shake this bit of excess weight off is just going to get harder and harder! I guess that as I am already regularly exercising 5-6 times a week, I guess the only thing I can really change is what goes in, limit the calorie intake a little. With the wife pregnant again with our second child, she is a little conscious of post baby weight after Jr No.2 arrives, so maybe if we start planning our meals a bit better she can help me to watch what I am doing a bit! I’ve lost a stone before with the daily use of the myfitnesspal app on my phone, and so I know it works. If I can get back into using that every day then I just might crack this!

28) Own stocks or shares DONE!

Well there’s some good news and there’s some bad news. The good news is that I already own shares, and obviously its one of those things you want to do to make money on, by buying when they’re cheap and selling when they’ve gained value. As it happened when I joined Tesco they gave me some free shares with the option to buy more on a regular basis out of my salary. I couldn’t touch them for a number of years and so just sat and watched them go up in value.

Unfortunately it wasn’t all good news… Its fair to say that Tesco has definitely seen better days than it has recently. With profit scandals, store closures, and the dramatic rise of strong competitors like Lidl and Aldi, the company are seeing some dark days. While I am not shedding too many tears after the tough, spirit breaking time I had while I worked there, with some ruthless managers pushing people to breaking point, the negative impact on me now is that my shares are now worth a fraction of what I originally bought them for, and if I sold them now I’d hardly get anything for them. People keep saying “Oh just wait, they’ll recover” but the future is looking somewhat bleak. In fact the store I first worked for has only just closed down this week, and another local superstore is rumoured to be closing down in the near future too. Its a sad time for the company, and a very sad time for my shares too! I can only sit on them a bit longer and keep my fingers crossed!

29) See a Formula 1 Grand Prix live

I have been to both Silverstone here in the UK, and Spa over in Belgium, but never to see a Grand Prix. I have always wanted to see a race live, and it looks like I may finally get a chance next year. If all goes well then me and a friend get to drive to Belgium to watch the race at one of our favourite tracks the

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It is also one of the easiest to get to outside of the UK, just 450 miles door-to-door, easily drivable! The european ticket prices are also far lower than Silverstone and will help to offset the cost of diesel for a fun weekend away! If I do pull this off, I will have just turned 40 when I do this, but I still count it as a win!

30) Teach Photography

What did I want to do when I was growing up? Well we all had our ideas and plans, and I’d like to bet that very few of us actually followed through with our dreams and ended up doing what we’d always dreamed of. I certainly never intended to work in a special needs school, or in retail, topping up my wages with bar work. One passion I’d always had since I was about 10 was the photography, but never thought of it as a career option, even when I was in college, and never thought I’d be good enough to do anything with it once I first considered that it could be an option. Eventually I was convinced by a friend to give it a go, and started shooting weddings, which I still do now and still enjoy. One thing I learned along the way is that the money isn’t necessarily in high paying clients or filling up my calendar with back to back weddings each weekend, the real money to be made is in the training! People will happily pay good money for all kinds of training, and this is especially true with photography where the training is notably expensive! It is definitely an area I would like to make plans to cross over into, perhaps to bring a little extra money in, and ideally be able to stay at home while Jr.1 and Jr.2 are little!

31) Learn to Drive DONE!

This may seem obvious and a bit less of an exciting goal, but in reality this is life changing and I still know so many adults that cannot drive! I have been driving for 20 years now, and can’t even begin to imagine what life would have been like without a driving license! Even if I’d only just passed my test and got one now, that’s 20 years of being very restricted in what I could do or where I could go prior to it. I’ve driven in America and across Europe and it has been a blessing. Undeniably it has become ridiculously expensive here in the UK with insurance prices rocketing and the introduction of the theory test, all adding to a very expensive experience for new drivers. I am lucky to have got my driving license when I did and it has helped with work, travel, photography and seeing friends and family that would otherwise have been difficult or impossible without it! Like I said at the start, this list isn’t just a bunch of things I want to try to do or have already done, its also a mix of things that would count others approaching this landmark birthday.

some I want to do, and some I have already done.

32) Learn to make cocktails DONE!

Who doesn’t love a good cocktail, they’re not just for the ladies! I had a brief experience working in a bar in the city centre that trained me how to mix and pour cocktails. The pouring was just as important as you had to count the alcohol rather than measure it. It was fun, I loved working there and enjoyed the experience, even if it did mean some extra late finishes, but sadly the bar went out of business and I was forced to find another bar to work in. Afterwards I did make cocktails at home with friends every now and again, and had fun making a few new ones up, but these days I tend to stick to a nice bottle of red if we have friends over. 

33) Learn yoga

Not something I have been desperate to try before now, but I know a few who do or have tried yoga, and they swear by it! To be honest, I am just curious as to what all the fuss is about, and whether it would help me with my running or my martial arts! There is every chance I won’t try this before I am 40, but I am intrigued enough to consider giving it a go at some point!

34) Own my own home DONE!

A mans home is his castle, and that is certainly what it feels like when you have a place you can call your own, especially when it is filled with the sounds of a loving family. When we found out we were expecting our first child we were still living in the flat together and realised that we needed to move quickly into second gear and find a house to live in fast! We moved into the house that used to belong to the wife’s grandparents, and so it was nice to keep it in the family, plus it was on a lovely, quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac which was perfect for us, particularly suitable for families and small children. I grew up on a quiet road myself, and it was nice being able to play in the street without the worry of heavy traffic passing by regularly, which was what it was like when we were in the flat! 

35) Complete a 365 project DONE!

I decided that as my wedding photography was part time, I wanted to keep using my camera even between weddings, to get to a point where I knew every lens and button inside out, and could use the camera in the dark and with my eyes closed. I figured a 365 project would be fun, where I had to take one photo every single day for a year. In fact I had so much fun doing it that I continued it into year two and managed to keep it going for two solid years in a row. It wasn’t easy towards the end, finding something different every day was tough, but it covered a very interesting time in our life and will be wonderful to look back on if I can get the photos printed into a photo album or photo book of some kind!

36) Write a bucket list

One saying that I hear always sticks in my mind, “I do not regrets the things I have done, but those I did not do.”

Its a great saying to live by, but obviously having a wife and family now, some of the things I “did not do” are going to have to stay that way. There is still a lot of time to be thinking about what else I would like to do while I still have the chance though, and thankfully a lot of my potential bucket list can wait a little longer! I know things like visiting NYC are not urgent and while I’d love to one day drive through Tuscany and photograph a beautiful sunset there to print on a canvas and hang on my wall, it can wait a while. I believe every man needs to have dreams though, which reminds me of another saying that I like, “a man without dreams is like a bird without wings”. Sometimes we get so caught up in our routines, especially once we have started families, and have been so sidetracked by our jobs that we might forget about doing all the things that we like doing, or may have dreamed about doing, until one day its suddenly too late. Its a well known point that the people who really appreciate time the most are the ones who have so little of it left. One lovely film I enjoyed with the wife a while back was “The bucket list” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, which makes you think about what you’d do if you suddenly realised time was almost up and you may never get the chance to do the things you’d always wanted to! I will start crossing a few things off soon, but first I need to get writing!

37) Learn to cook new dishes

I used to be such a fussy eater as a child, although I am much better now. Still not a fan of sea food though, a bit of a frustrating hurdle I can’t seem to get past!  I do enjoy cooking and have tried lots of new dishes, I especially love cooking for friends when we have them over, and its always fun trying to cook something new, although I don’t often get the chance, One thing I have never cooked is a curry,  I’ve not even attempted it, if you exclude the jars of cooking sauces I sometimes use! The irony is that I enjoy them so much, but I have always been put off from attempting to cook them by the first every curry cook book I owned being so complicated with so many ingredients I had never heard of, or would have no idea where to even begin looking for them! Still, I now own a recommended book called the curry bible, so I am going to delve in and give it a shot! Hopefully I won’t poison anyone, maybe I shouldn’t try it out at a dinner party!

38) Go wine tasting DONE!

On our honeymoon, as we were spending two weeks in California, we thought we should take a day out to sample the local wine. We had planned to spend out honeymoon driving down the coast, and had started our journey in San Francisco, only a short drive from the well known Napa Valley, and the lesser known, but equally beautiful Sonoma Valley. We booked a day trip where we were taken on a coach from San Francisco to three vineyards throughout the two regions, and got to taste some very different wines and buy some of the local produce. It was a really fun day and I’d love to do something similar again! Maybe if I get to arrange that driving holiday through France that I’ve always wanted to do…?

39) Take 40 days off alcohol

For numerous reasons I’d like to have a go at this. Like most people I love to have a drink, although usually only at the weekend.  I don’t have the energy any more for cycling to work, doing a full days work, and coming home to a two year old, all on a hangover any more, so weekdays are out for me! Even at the weekends I don’t drink that much any more, but I still could do with cutting it out for a while. It is also something that is full of calories (see point 27) that I can easily get a little carried away with, which isn’t much good on a calorie counting diet when I am trying to lose weight. Plus it will be nice to reset the system and detox for a bit. Why 40 days you ask? Well, just because the number 40 ties in with my age really, and it looks like I am making a bit more effort than just having the weekend off!

40) Plan my 40th

My 18th was an reasonably uneventful evening in town with a few friends, my 21st was a sensible family bbq, my 30th was a night in a pub up town, a bigger turn out that my 18th at least, but ruined by the fact that my then girlfriend only bothering to get me a card, and the only surprise I was getting was that there was no present! So that leaves me with my 40th, and what to do? It can’t be any more of an anticlimax than previous milestone birthdays, and I don’t intend to let it pass unnoticed.

Though this list may be long, the three main things I had always wanted to achieve before 40 was, getting married, buying a house and having children, and I did it! I managed all three, and if that isn’t cause for celebration then I don’t know what is! I think my original plans for hitting Vegas with friends for our joint 40th has now well and truly gone out of the window, especially with No.2 now on the way, but I am sure we can still do something fun!
If you were to be turning forty, or are actually turning forty, what would be on your list?

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40 things before 40

I am now well into the final year of my thirties, and its time perhaps for a bit of reflection. Looking back on how I got here, the journey along the way, as well as more recently since I met my wife and life moved up a gear.

When you are a child, time seems to go so slowly, always wanting to be older, waiting for something, the six week summer holidays can feel like literally forever, just waiting for the weekend can feel like torture, and yet as an adult time seems to go much faster, the months can feel like weeks, and weeks begin to feel like days. I have somehow only got two weeks left of my six week summer break, four of those weeks have gone already, and I don’t even know where! It still feels like the summer break has only just started, and already I need to give some consideration to squeezing everything in that I wanted to do before I went back to work!

Of course, anyone who knows me well, will know how I love to make lists. Any kind of event, in my opinion, is much more likely to go without a hitch with just a simple bit of planning, and nothing makes that easier than a list, such as our recent holiday in Torquay, or planning our wedding, or what to take to the hospital when we were expecting Olivia, etc.

One thing I did give some consideration to recently, was another kind of list, not a bucket list, but what seems to be a popular theme from the little research I did, forty things to do before you’re forty. I spent a little while thinking about my list, and came up with much more than forty options. I spent a little while whittling it down, and considering what I was hoping to achieve from it. This list is not specifically a list of goals or targets that I “must complete or I have failed at life”, some of the points are general things that I think most people would want to tick off before they’re 40, some are things I may have already achieved, some of them are things that I may never achieve, but that doesn’t make them any less valid, a man needs to have dreams! Some of these things may seem bizarre, or maybe just not sound very exciting, but for me they are things that I think are either important to do, or maybe something we just need to stop putting off. I will try to explain each one, even if only briefly, as to why I have chosen this above others.

Here is my list, in no particular order:-

1) Party in Ibiza till the sun comes up. DONE!

I have been to Ibiza a number of times, and on the last visit I got engaged there, popping the question as we watched the burning sun sink into the ocean. I love the island and have seen all aspects of it, from the old town to the rowdy english lager lout corner, from the sleepy villages to the international superclubs. I’ve partied hard and had fun, but I definitely needed to do that before I was 40!

2) Run a half marathon. DONE!

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I completed my first Birmingham Half Marathon in 2011 and then went on to it again three more times and also the Silverstone Half Marathon. I’ve broken the 2hr mark, but still want to try and break the 1hr45 mark, so I will undoubtedly try it again. Its no secret that I am fitter now than I was at 21, and do far more exercise, even if I am slightly heavier, but I am glad I got the half marathons under my belt before I got any older! Not that being over 40 would stop me, but when you are trying for timed races, you don’t want to leave it too late!

3) Get a tattoo. DONE!

I have never been opposed to tattoos, I’d just never found anything I liked enough until we went to California on our honeymoon, and I had a dragon put on my arm whilst in San Diego. It gave me the taste for more, but now we have a child and another on the way, that is just going to have to wait!

4) Visit Las Vegas.

This was originally my plan for my 40th, to get out and celebrate in style in Vegas with friends. Since the arrival of Olivia, and the news that number two is on the way, that trip has been postponed and my 40th birthday plans heavily downgraded!

5) Get married. DONE!

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Its not necessarily something you can make plans for, you’re either with the right person or you’re not! For me, it came at the perfect time though, I’d done a lot of growing up prior to meeting Clare and was ready to settle down!

6) Have Children. DONE!

I always wanted to have had my children before I turned 40, it was important to me. I didn’t want to be an “old” dad. I didn’t want people assuming I was the grandparent and not the parent. Sure, I left it a bit late, but again, it was the right time for me. Of course, I never went into any of my previous relationships trying to work out if they’d make a good mother or not, but as you begin to creep towards 30 that thought does start to cross your mind. Clare was perfect, and I knew as soon as I met her that she was the girl I wanted to settle down with and have a family with. She was my winning lottery ticket!

7) Learn to oil paint.

You may think its a pretty low goal, not much of an achievement if I do manage to do it. The artist in me would love to have a go at this though. Photography has been wonderful, but sometimes its nice to create rather than just capture. Why is this on my before 40 list? Well if I get to around to starting this and really enjoy it, I’ll have missed out on years of doing it, plus I don’t want to be 75 and find either my eyesight has gone or my hands are now too shaky.

8) Go to Disney World. DONE!

The child in me jumped at the chance of doing this! It was my first ever holiday abroad, my first journey on an airplane, and I was off to Florida! It seemed rude to go all that way and not do Disney! No matter how old you are, its still a lot of fun! Sure I was 23 when I went, but I felt about 7 again!

9) Learn a new language.

Yes, I am British, and yes I expect everyone to understand me no matter where I go in the world! I was top of my class in French at school, but that was a loooong time ago! I have been on Spanish holidays many times, and of course I know some key phrases such as ordering drinks and food etc, but not enough to hold even a basic conversation, so I can’t really count either of theses as knowing another language.

10) Complete a three peaks challenge.

I arranged to do this with friends 10 years ago and ironically couldn’t go myself in the end, even though my friends carried on! I tried it again with a large group of work colleagues more recently, but when part of the group got lost, it set the rest of us back and we ran out of time to get to Ben Nevis. A smaller group of us are going to try it again soon, without the distractions of slower members, so hopefully this will be completed before the big 4-0!

11) See a west end show. DONE!

Actually I have been to see several, and they are all fantastic. Each one was a wonderful experience, and worth every penny! The first was Miss Saigon back in the 90s, then I went to see Blood Brothers about 10 years ago, and more recently saw Mamma Mia which was so much fun, and the music blew me away! With nippers in tow, it will be a while before we get a chance to do it again, but I’m keen to get down and see another one, maybe for a wedding anniversary in the future!

12) Go to a festival.

Never done it. I guess they never really excited me when I had the opportunity, but now I realise I’d love to have a go! I refuse to pay the ridiculous prices of the big named festivals, the obvious famous ones, but I keep becoming aware of smaller, more local ones that friends go to, some of which are more child friendly. Maybe something to consider for when Olivia and Jr are a bit older?

13) Visit a casino. DONE!

I went to one about 10 years ago with some friends on a drunk night out, but was well aware I had no idea what I was doing, and saw fit to leave my wallet in my pocket and just watch! Last year a group of us went to one for a friends 40th birthday, and I joined a poker table, and even won a little money, enough to mean my night was virtually free, even after the meal and drinks we’d had! Bonus!

14) Play an instrument. DONE!

Not a lot of people know that I actually used to own a bass guitar and be able to play it. I was even in a band for a little while. We practised each week and it was fun, I even organised a charity band night at the pub I worked at, to raise money for a local charity. As the manager was a friend of mine, I left all my equipment where I thought it would be safe afterwards. I never saw it again. I knew who took it, but could prove nothing. I never played again after that!

15) Learn to ski.

Always wanted to ski, never done anything about it. The school I work at have even sent pupils on skiing residentials, but only staff with skiing experience could go! So unfair! Will I get a chance to learn before I am 40? Unlikely, but I am not ruling out the chance of doing it one day!

16) Learn a martial art. DONE!

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I’d thought about doing this for years, and never did anything about it, but then I discovered a friend of mine was a black belt in jujitsu and so joined him at his class. Five years later and I am now a brown belt in jujitsu, the next grading I take will be for MY black belt, although with each belt it takes longer until the next one, so I am still a few years away from black yet!

17) Drive down the coast of California. DONE!

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Of the many options we had for our honeymoon, we picked California. There was plenty to do, it wasn’t all based around one hotel, one pool and one beach. Plus Clare was unlikely to seriously burn her pale skin on this kind of holiday! We landed in San Francisco, took in Napa Valley, drove down Route 1 to Carmel, Pismo Beach and Los Angeles, and ended our stay in San Deigo. It was everything we could have hoped for from a honeymoon! I’d do it again tomorrow if we could!

18) Go camping. DONE!

Yeah, I know, it sounds simple! Its something that not everyone has had a chance to try though. I know I went as a child, with my dad and his girlfriend at the time, although I remember very little about it. I went about 10 years ago with a friend and our respective partners at the time, it was a failure! My friends girlfriend (after being warned about the lack of home comforts and luxuries) hated it so much she cried! We went home the next day! I got to go again on our recent three peaks attempt, and actually quite enjoyed it! I had a three man tent to myself, and thats about as small as I could go! I don’t know how people cope with smaller tents!

19) Complete a Tough Mudder! DONE!

Tough Mudder 2014

I did my first (yes, I did it more than once!) Tough Mudder in 2013, and have to concede that its name is fair… its tough! I enjoyed it though, the challenge enticed me in a second time, and I did it again last year in 2014. I found it much easier the second time around, and felt proud to wear the orange headband and also the green “2x Mudder” headband! I am man, hear me roar!! On top of which, all the money goes to Help For Heroes, bonus!

20) Attend a live Formula 1 race.

I have been a big racing fan for many years now, and even remember my dad taking me to the Birmingham Super Prix when I was a child, I must have been 10 years old at the time. I was never really exposed to football at home, so I never really got into it, it was more about the racing for me. I started watching the Formula 1 and even remember watching the race back when Ayrton Senna famously crashed and lost his life. Now I am a bigger fan than ever, and have run a half marathon around Silverstone, and have even been for a tour of the buildings. I also got to visit the Circuit De Spa Francorchamps in Belgium on a school residential a few years ago, sadly nowhere near the F1 race on the calendar! Belgium would probably be my circuit of choice to see a race at, plus its quite easy to drive to!

So there is 1-20, the first half of my list of forty things to do before forty. A number of them already ticked off, not exactly cheating, they are still valid points. In an ideal world I may have started this list a few years ago and had longer to work on it, but as I didn’t I am just going to have to plod through it like it was some kind of project I’ve been working on for a long time! Just use your imagination!

I will do the big reveal of 21-40 in a few days time, stay tuned!

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Switch off, put feet up, unwind!

For all those who despise the amount of holiday time that people working in education get, yes this is essentially a holiday within a holiday! I can’t defend the amount of time we get off, it is what it is, but you can sit smugly and gloat over your last minute 5 star all inclusive holiday that cost you £200 in the middle of June that I will never get to enjoy! My 5 start all inclusive holiday to the same destination will cost £1500 because I have no choice over when I take it!

Consequently, our first family holiday away was never going to be in the mediterranean, not only because of the ridiculously over inflated prices, but also because I have a toddler who I would have to spend a week covering up or hiding in the shade so that she didn’t get burnt, making us look like terrible parents who should be reported to social services for neglect! I also have a wife, who burns just as easily, and would take just as much covering up and hiding in the shade, and thats if she didn’t just plain melt away on the first day! So we had to look somewhere a little bit more sensible, and for me there was only one option… Torquay! I’d always wanted to go, I love the south coast and it was potentially our best chance of good weather within the UK, I’m a big fan of Devon and Cornwall, and lastly, if we did have any sun related health problems we were only a couple of hours from home and not far from an english speaking hospital!

I’d done some research a few months in advance, and found what looked like the perfect bed and breakfast. Being a big fan of tripadvisor, I checked out many of the reviews, and was surprised to see that the hotel I had just booked ONLY had 4 and 5 star reviews! This is pretty much a first for me, there is normally always at least a few negative ones, I take these with a pinch of salt of course, but no, not this time! I had a good feeling about this!

Finally the countdown went from weeks to days and we were packing to go, after a pretty straight forward drive we could see the sea and we’d arrived! I wasn’t disappointed! The room was lovely, the owners were amazingly friendly and helpful, and they just couldn’t do enough for us! The bed was super comfy, the place was absolutely spotless, and they cooked a fantastic breakfast! On top of which , we were a mere five minute walk from the harbour and a massive selection of places to eat!

The weather forecast leading up to this week hadn’t been fantastic, but thankfully changed at the last minute and we were blessed with some sunshine and warm weather, it was lovely. All I had hoped for was that our first family holiday and last holiday for a few years at least wasn’t going to be a rain soaked flop! I’d had visions of taking Olivia to the beach, splashing in the sea, and building sandcastles, as well as getting a bit of sun on my skin… and thankfully thats exactly what we did! We took in a couple of beaches, although Oddicombe beach was horrible and shingly, I just don’t get why people go there! Goodrington Sands on the other hand was a lovely beach, and we had a great day out! We also got to visit Paignton Zoo, which was a huge place and a lovely day, and we found out my aunt and uncle were staying close by, so we hooked up with them for afternoon tea in a beautiful quiet idyllic village called Cockington. On the very last day we enjoyed a ferry ride from Torquay across to Brixham, a bargain at only £3 for a return ticket! Olivia loved being on the boat, and we got a good 30-35 minute ride each way out of it, which kept madam quiet for a while! All in all, it was the perfect break, we made the most of each day (Olivia’s afternoon naps permitting!) and ate well, relaxed, and came home feeling like we’d been there a lot longer, in a good way! If you’re going to Torquay and looking for a room, check out the Ravenswood Hotel, you will not be disappointed!

Coming home sadly meant that firstly Clare is back to work, and secondly I am now into the fourth week of six of the holidays! They seem to be flying by so fast! It has been wonderful to have the time off to spend time with Olivia, the evenings just never seem long enough when I get home from work, as there is only a couple of hours before she is in bed. We do have her in a really good sleep routine though, and by half seven we are usually getting ready to read her a story and put her to bed. The girl needs her sleep, and as parents we need our adult time too! Sometimes having Olivia in such a good sleep routine can feel restrictive when you want to do things with your afternoon or your evening, but the long term benefits are worth the sacrifice now. I have some friends whose children have no bedtime routines, who are still up at 11pm and consequently struggle to get up in the morning. Each to their own, of course,  but if thats how they are as toddlers, then that habit that is going to be hard to break further down the line, and once they start school it is going to make EVERY single school morning a nightmare, trying to drag them out of bed. They will then be going to school tired, and will struggle to focus on the lessons. I certainly don’t want to be that pushy parent that makes my child work like a robot, but what I do want is to create some good habits that will give her the best chance at a good start! I think its the little things that make a difference too, like making sure that as much fun as we have, she still knows who the boss is! Kids need boundaries and an appropriate level of discipline, I don’t understand households that are run by a screaming five year old. I hate to see parents screaming, and sometimes swearing, at their children in the street because they haven’t been given any boundaries and now won’t do as they’re told! Olivia is reaching her second birthday soon, and we are already getting a taste of what may lie in store for us when the “terrible twos” begins. It will be a real test of strength and determination, but I can be especially stubborn when I need to be, and I am ready for any battle of wills that she wants to throw at me. If a child knows boundaries, and learns respect that we are hopefully setting ourselves up for less tantrums and an easier ride. I think working in a special needs school for so long has really helped me to learn some qualities that will come in useful.

It may sound like I have all this figured out, but the truth is that I still have no idea what is around the corner, or what problems Olivia is going to drop in our lap, or how I will end up dealing with them, but I do at least feel ready for the battle!

With number two on the way though, I am sure that most of my plans and good ideas will end up redundant and my rapidly greying hair will end up getting thinner as I pull more and more of it out!

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The importance of friends

My 40th birthday looms ever closer and while I have given it very little thought up until now, the reality is I can no longer ignore the fact that is not only the next birthday for me, but its also not very far away. Its a landmark birthday, and previously I’ve never been fortunate enough to have had anything particularly special done for any “big” birthdays before, indeed for my 30th birthday all I got from my ex was a card… no, not a card and a trip to Vegas… just a card! This time around obviously things are going to be quite different, while it may still be a big birthday, and I guess psychologically quite big to get my head around, I think the obvious fact is that I will be suitably distracted by baby number two who will be three months old by that point! So really I don’t expect much, indeed becoming a parent changes your mindset hugely, and now we have one child already, I am very keen to meet number two, and so having a happy, healthy family is pretty much all I could ask for. Its certainly far more than I expected around seven years ago, just before I met Clare, when I was in my early thirties and had become single again after ditching the ex who couldn’t even bring herself to buy me a present for my 30th birthday (yes, I’m bitter about it!). Back then I was beginning to think that either a) all women were crazy b) I wasn’t very good at this relationship thing (even though I considered myself a nice guy!) or c) both a and b were true, in which case I was knackered! I certainly didn’t think a wife and two children would even be a possibility by the time I was 40!

This happiness and contentment with life and the universe is a great thing, but it can lead to feeling a little guilty at times. Its true, I have left things to the last minute in terms of settling down, but not all of us are lucky to meet the right person for us so early on. I know of one couple who got married when they were in their very early twenties, “you’re too young!” they were told by so many people, but after celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary with two children in tow, they proved everyone wrong. Sadly this kind of good news story is rare, and while a lot of my friends were married long before me, I now start to see them become single again as their marriages break down, its very sad. On top of which, being a wedding photographer, you get to see the happiest days of some peoples lives, they are magical to share… but not all of them work, and I frequently get to hear about the ones who don’t… yet here I am feeling wonderful about life, a fantastic wife, a beautiful daughter and number two on the way. I can’t lie, I feel a little guilty sometimes, like I am used to not having these simple luxuries and feel bad that some people had them and have lost them. I even have close friends who have recently split up where children have been involved, its all I can do to hope they remain civil, for the childrens sake. It takes me back to my childhood where I was the one who suffered with the parents splitting up and only seeing our dad at weekends and school holidays, often it wasn’t even every weekend. Alcohol played a big part in his life and I was too young to understand, so often me and my sister didn’t question things, its just the way it was. It wasn’t great, but it was all we knew. As I started to grow up I put it all behind me and tried to forget about it, but then as you start to get close to, and turn 30 you do begin to have these thoughts about relationships, settling down, and families. I didn’t go into every new relationship wondering about marriage, but obviously after a while you do have to stop and assess the situation and think to yourself “do I see a future with this wierdo person?” and the answer was invariably “no!” regardless of how long it took me to do actually anything about it afterwards.

So now I find myself in that position that I always hoped, but never thought I would be in, wife and daughter and another one on the way. Life feels great, but I do sometimes still feel guilty when I am around friends in, or recently out of, relationships or marriages which hadn’t been working for some time. Either way, I have a wonderful wife and I think I am a fairly good, sensitive, considerate husband who tries to do all he can to keep the wife happy… I am pretty sure that after the rollercoaster that has been the last 30 years, I am owed a little happiness. All I can do is support my friends and be there for them, and just hope that if the tables were turned, they’d be there for me too! At my age, the majority of my friendships have lasted a good while now, and my friends will know that I am there for them, as they will hopefully agree with!

So back to the here and now, and here I am with two weeks out of six of my holidays already done, and I don’t feel like I have got much done, but it has been nice to catch up with some friends and family, even though I still have a whole lot more to catch up with and I am probably going to run out of time to do i!, especially with our first family holiday just around the corner! The last week has been spent well, we had fun visiting people, going to see the animals at the nature centre and going swimming too, it has been lovely spending time with Olivia and getting a few bits done around the house and garden on her nursery days.

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This weekend we had two childrens parties to attend, one of which we were involved in, as It was a joint part and Olivia was part of the celebrations. Two years ago we’d completed our antenatal course and got to know some great couples, and it wasn’t long before the first baby of the group appeared, the rest soon followed with only about six weeks or so between the first one and the last one. We all met up for their first birthdays this time last year and I managed to get a photo of each of them which the wife put into a lovely collage for all the parents…

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It was a photo that everyone fell in love with straight away, including myself, and one photo that I was very keen to try and replicate on their second birthday. I would be happy to make it a bit of an annual tradition so that we can see them grow up and keep a record of it. The joint 2nd birthday on the Saturday went really well, and everyone enjoyed themselves, especially the kids. I had made it my mission to get at least one good photo of each of them to create a similar collage made by the wife last year. It was far trickier than I had imagined, as they were all now mobile and very fast with rather short attention spans. If there is one thing I have learned from taking all the photos that I that has the kids are in charge, and there is no forcing them to do anything , especially if they are surrounded by distraction and are prone to not looking at the camera and running off! At times like this though, the perseverance tends to pay off and I got lucky, I managed to get a photo of each of them, although I wasn’t giving up until I had, and here it is…

2ndbday Collage

 

Such a good looking bunch of kids, this photo made me incredibly proud. I can’t wait to get it printed and on the wall, it will be something we all look back on for years to come!

-Days until my 40th birthday: 288

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Life moves up a gear, the next big announcement…

Anyone who knows me, or is at least friends with me on facebook, will have already heard this news by now. It has so far had a massive response from friends and family, and Clare and myself are over whelmed and very excited by it all.

After what has felt like an eternity, we can finally leave it up to our daughter to reveal our (not very well kept) secret…

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Yes, that’s right, in case you hadn’t guessed, she is going to be a big sister in around 28 weeks time! We went in for our 12 week scan yesterday and can confirm that we have one apparently healthy and very active little wriggler in there! The wife was adamant that there was either a) a problem or b) twins, and we are very happy to say that neither of these is the case.

So yeah, if you thought you’d already seen enough baby photos on one blog to last you a lifetime, then you may want to unsubscribe or stop reading this… there are far more to come!

I’d like to thank all my friends, especially all those who have shared their love on facebook, as the response was immense. Your support has been truly appreciated, and Jr will be happy to meet you all when they get here in February!

Life is about to get hectic all over again!

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Woosh! Week one of the six week holidays is gone in a flash, like a getaway car at the scene of a robbery, its left nothing but a trail of dust behind it!

I had, and still have lots of grand plans to make the most out of the holidays, to see lots of people, and be uber productive… yet a week has gone by already and I feel like I have done so little! Still, the importance of planning is not to be overlooked here, and anyone who knows me will know how much I love making lists. Lists are the only guaranteed way I will get things done, and done in a timely fashion. Without them I am prone to missing dates, deadlines and sometimes forgetting things altogether! The wife has already sought out chores for me to do, most of which I had plans to get done anyway, but now with the addition of a dry wipe white board in our kitchen, there is a never ending list of chores that gets updated anytime I complete anything off the list. It appears that I will not be without jobs to do over this six week break! I still need to make sure I find a little time for myself, just to put my feet up and relax, as I don’t tend to be very good at this and can end up feeling burnt out, sometimes I just forget to stop! I’m pretty sure the wife would disagree wholeheartedly on this one, but when I say I am “busy” its not necessarily doing housework or jobs that she had planned for me, it can be any number of things, editing photos, or emailing people about photos, working on the website, prepping my camera equipment for a shoot, or a hundred other things that clearly aren’t related to housework that the wife is probably blissfully unaware I even do! Trying to find the time to keep this blog updated is another very time consuming activity, and even though I started it for something completely different, I soon saw the benefits of keeping it up, even if I am now only posting once a week instead of the twice a week that I originally intended to. I can’t just type this blog up in 20 minutes, and I like to make sure I don’t miss anything out especially now I am only posting once a week. Its also virtually impossible to update the blog while I am looking after my daughter, she is almost two years old now and demands an increasing amount of attention. She can’t just be left to amuse herself with shiny, noisy things! I can usually pacify her for 15 minutes or so with an episode or three of Peppa Pig on the TV, unless she’s really tired and she may sit for a bit longer, but otherwise I have to do this thing called ‘parenting’ and apparently try to entertain the little person! I don’t always like to blog while the wife is still awake, as I feel a little antisocial sometimes, especially as I often haven’t seen her all day if we’re both at work. As she is often in bed before me, this gives me a small window of opportunity to get some typing done, although I do have to make sure I am distraction free, leaving the tv on is often enough to stop me from focusing on what I am supposed to be doing! Just lately I seem unable to focus properly beyond 10:30pm which is a little odd for a night owl like me, but my brain just begins to shut down and trying to formulate any kind of flowing thought which I can type up into something worth reading feels something like this…

So what has been happening in the last week? Well, there was a fantastic start to my holiday when we all met our good friends in Cannon Hill park with our little ones so they could run around and play together while we had a catch up. These were friends we had met at our antenatal meetings, and so our girls are only a few weeks apart. We had a slow stroll around the park,  and enjoyed the sunshine with the little ones taking in some fairground rides, before moving on to the Garden Tea Rooms for a rest in the sun, a quick drink and a bite to eat. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and we ended up staying for a few hours, longer than we’d originally anticipated, and with nap time rapidly approaching we had to get Olivia home before she fell off the cliff and the inevitable exhaustion fuelled melt down started, not uncommon when nap time is late.

Sunday we had a 3rd birthday party to go to, and with the mixed weather we’ve been having, it felt like a stroke of luck that we were able to enjoy another day of sunshine for it! Thankfully I still managed to squeeze a morning run in before it with my friend, and it was good to get out and pound some tarmac again as we haven’t run for a number of weeks and I’ve really missed it! All in all, a great start to the day, and a lovely afternoon with the party, but of course, as always Olivia’s nap time means we had to head home and let madam get her much needed sleep.

Then around rolls Monday again, as its the holidays there is no alarm clock thankfully, but the wife decided to unleash her chores list on me. I made no promises, even if Olivia was still in nursery two days a week! Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the first week is over, its all done and dusted. I’m not quite sure how it went so fast, if it had been a regular half term and only one week off I’d have been crying! Thankfully with five weeks still left to go, I can begin to unwind and appreciate the time off. With the second weekend already upon us, we have a day out planned courtesy of Olivia’s nursery, at Ash End House Farm. With our admission pre-paid, all we had to do was turn up and have fun! The day stayed warm and sunny, a huge blessing, and we got to enjoy a picnic outside at lunchtime. Olivia loved seeing the animals and  moved onto the playbarn afterwards, where she got to run around and let let off a little steam. After leaving red faced and a little warm, she certainly slept well that night!

Sadly the luck we’d had with the weather over the previous seven days didn’t last for us, and unfortunately on the one day we’d actually planned a bbq for some friends, it rained… ALL day! There wasn’t even a break in the rain where we could sneak outside and get the bbq on. We had no choice but to remove the problem of bad weather and cook everything indoors. Its not what you want when you’ve planned a bbq, but grilled burgers are better than no burgers at all!

So that was the first week of the holidays done, its gone in a flash and I am not sure where.

Exciting news to come soon, big announcement due. I’ll leave you guessing for a little while though!

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Another year draws to a close

Yet another summer term ends, and while we still have one more day tomorrow, it is for staff only as the pupils get to start their holiday at the end of today.

It has been a year full of trials and difficulties, some challenging pupils and some difficult staff issues too, and I will be very glad to see Friday afternoon roll around. At the same time it will be quite sad as our headteacher of some 25 years finally retires. I’ve known him myself for almost 20 of those years, which is actually over half my life, and quite a crazy way to think of it! It really is the end of an era, and he is leaving behind some pretty big boots to fill, a rather daunting job for any new potential head teacher!

So what is the summer holidays actually going to look like in the Vokes household? Well, we’re keeping Olivia in nursery for her two days a week, as we have to pay for those anyway. It gives me an opportunity to get other things done, plus she enjoys it anyway and gets a great deal out of it, so why deprive her of that? She is starting to make friends and learn social skills with the other children, a valuable lesson that she just can’t really learn at home, no matter how much I try to teach her. The other three weekdays it’ll be just me and little missy, so I am hoping to take her out to see friends and family, or go for some walks as she loves being outdoors… but for those rainy days where we have to stay at home I intend to but some kids paint and let her have fun painting and get totally messy! Kids need to explore, they need to be free to make a mess without worrying about consequences, and this is exactly the reason we had laminate wood floor put in when we were sorting the house out before we moved in, rather than carpet downstairs. Pretty much everything, including the sofa, can be wiped clean with little effort!

Then of course I am lucky to have Clare off work for a week and our trip to Torquay planned! I am very excited about Olivia’s first holiday, it’s going to be great, even if the British weather does treat us to a downpour, I am fairly confident we won’t care that much!

What has been happening more recently? Well there was the leavers prom that I always attend around this time of year. The kids looked fantastic and all the parents were keen to get their hands on some prints!

I have been going for a few years now, and have taken some nice photos along the way, but I knew I was on a time limit this year, and had to get back home as early as I could. So it was a case of rattling through the photos and trying to make the ones that I took really count. With my 85mm lens and a beautiful yellow flowered bush conveniently located on the school grounds, it all came together pretty well. Thankfully, the practical upshot of this was that I did not need to put up my background and lights this year, which saved me a lot of time and meant I was able to get home to the wife, who wasn’t feeling well, and be able to put Olivia to bed instead of her doing it.

The weekend was a busy one, and I had been asked to photo graph my friends little girl who was almost seven months old, and naturally I was delighted at the opportunity! As she was still only in the sitting stage, and not moving very far, this gave me an instant advantage, it meant I could be more flexible and move around to get a better shot. Just before we finished, we took the shoot outside and got a few photos in the natural light, under the shade of a tree in a local park.

Having such a cute little model always helps to make things easier though, and after a big snooze and a feed just before we started, she was in a fantastic mood and didn’t complain once about the camera being all up in her face either! I can’t wait to capture her again at 12 months and see how she has changed. These are the kind of photos I want to be doing more of! They are far less time consuming and far more stress-free! Of course I still do weddings, but I keep it low-key until friends ask me to help out, which I am always happy to do.

Of course, the blog wouldn’t be complete without a new portrait of my beautiful little daughter. I have taken so many of her since she was born, it was easy to get carried away, but now its time to start taking some proper portraits, especially as she has learnt to at least pause and look at the camera briefly now. I am not trying to get her to pose, or turn her into some kind of child model, but these are memories we will treasure when she has grown up and moved out. That day may seem like a long, long way off… but it will be here one day!

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You’re not held up by people cycling – you’re held up by other people driving (and yourself)

andrewvokes:

A great piece on why cyclists aren’t your problem!

Originally posted on As Easy As Riding A Bike:

Imagine a street that carries 14,000 cyclists a day, on the street itself. That equates to around 1,500 people cycling along the street per hour, or 25 every minute.

Imagine driving down that street. Surely a nightmare for any self-respecting driver who wants to make progress. A miserable experience. You’d never be able to overtake, what with all the cyclists trundling in front of you, often two or three abreast, taking up the whole road.

Well… no. Actually overtaking in a car on this street is pretty easy.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.46… It’s even easy to overtake with people cycling two abreast, in both directions.Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.17Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.58Even a very wide three abreast doesn’t present a significant problem.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.04This doesn’t compute, surely!

How on earth can it be easy to overtake when there are so many bloody cyclists in the middle of the road?

The answer is quite simple – the reason drivers can overtake easily…

View original 221 more words

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Sick of being sick

I’m not one of those people who gets sick often, but working in a special needs school makes it hard to avoid when you are constantly surrounded by snotty kids who have no concept of covering their mouth when they sneeze, or just regularly wipe their nose with the back of their hand before grabbing your arm. This last few weeks have been the worst though, first there is the virus/throat infection which knocked me out for a couple of days, and just as I feel like I am back to full health, it comes back and hits me again. I had to be over it by the weekend, it was time for our three peaks challenge, and the last time I was ill was during our practise walk up Scafell Pike, and it ruined me! I wasn’t really in any state to be pushing myself up a mountain, but I am stubborn and determined… yeah, in hindsight, I may not be so cocky next time! I was a right mess coming down, my legs could barely hold me up, and it was all I could do to stop myself from just falling over! Getting back to full health for the three peaks challenge was a priority, so rest and plenty of fluids was needed. I took it easy, tried to eat well, and tried to get myself stronger.

The weekend took a lot of planning and preparation, and the guy who had arranged it, lets call him B, seemed to be bearing the brunt of it, everyone had signed up and almost immediately abdicated responsibility expecting everything to be done for them, leaving pretty much everything up to B to organise. I couldn’t sit back and watch, so I stepped in to help him, as it wasn’t really a task for just one person.

I’d like to say that the weekend went without a hitch, but it really didn’t! We travelled down to Wales on the Friday after work, with the intention of setting up the tents, eating at a local pub, and then climbing the first mountain the following morning, followed by the second one later that day. As it happened we were late getting to the pub to check into the campsite and had to eat as we’d reserved a table and ended up pitching our tents as it was getting dark. By this point the wind had picked up, rain had started to fall, and the sky, although it had suddenly gone dark with the heavy clouds that had rolled in, was being illuminated by flashes of lightning all around us! It was good to finally be in our tents and getting ready to sleep. One of the group had decided that our strict schedule to keep us on track and ensure we had time to do all three mountains was just “no fun”, so decided to get quite drunk and keep everyone awake. It came as no surprise that we were unable to rouse him in the morning.

The showers were actually quite pleasant for a campsite, and better than I had imagined, so actually it wasn’t that bad pulling myself out of a tent at 6am so that we could pack up and get moving for 7am! Our drunken sleep friend was still no where to be seen at this point! It was a tough call, but he knew the deal and so we eventually had to leave him behind as we headed up the first mountain. The weather was pretty bad, and no photos were taken on this walk, as the wind and rain would have just killed any non-waterproof electrical equipment! We still managed the first mountain in a good time though, the lead group that I was in managed to get up and down Snowdon in 3 hours and 6 minutes. A good start as we’d got 15 hours to do all three mountains. The slower group unfortunately got lost and ended up setting us back 4 hours while we waited for them. With our driving schedule being strict to fit all the mountains in, we knew we’d blown it waiting for the second group. There was no way we could get to Scafell Pike and climb it in daylight now. We weren’t prepared for any night walks and couldn’t take the chance, especially as we’d agreed to rise at 4am to travel to Ben Nevis! We regrouped and weighed up our options. We agreed that as we were timing each mountain, there was nothing to stop us doing Scafell Pike as agreed and then doing Ben Nevis on a different weekend to continue to get a time for it and complete the challenge, and so thats what we did. We set up tent in the Lake District, and went out for food in Keswick before climbing Scafell Pike the following morning, knowing that Ben Nevis would get done on a different weekend and the challenge would still get completed.

It was certainly a learning curve for me. I have never done much camping in the past, and haven’t had much experience of helping to organise anything like this. I’d like to think that we will do it again, and be able to learn from this. We can make many improvements next time around and be better prepared. It was definitely fun, and I am just disappointed that we couldn’t get all three mountains done, but it was quite nice to get home a bit earlier to be able to see Olivia and Clare for a while and spend a bit of time with them.

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How to photograph your kids Russian style!

Never work with animals or children, that’s what they say isn’t it?! When you photograph kids, that’s kinda tricky. Any of my friends on facebook will know how many photos I take of my daughter, and in fact anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will also know. Russian mom Elena Shumilova takes it to the next level and shows you how she does it. This post is courtesy of the guys and girls at Smugmug, thanks for bringing this talented lady to our attention!

How to Photograph Your Kids

This famous mom photographer shares her secrets.

Last year, Elena Shumilova took photos of her sons as they played by the Russian countryside. She uploaded the photos online, then they started getting shared, and shared again… until they became a viral sensation, with over 60 million views.

These photos hit something magical all across the Internet — a sense of nostalgia for a childhood past. She even started getting letters from people in their nineties, saying the photos moved them to tears.

As parents, we instinctively want to take photos of our kids. We’re trying to preserve this brief slice of time before they grow up. But when we take our kids to professional photo studios, the results can end up looking stilted and unnatural.

We want to remember our kids as they actually are — not with the forced smile a stranger coaxed out of them at the studio, but with the real smiles and giggles they share with us every day.

How can we capture natural photos of our kids, the kind Elena seemingly has a magic touch for?

Photo by Ivan Makarov

Elena has mostly been quiet since her photos have gone viral, undistracted by all the media attention. Instead, she focuses on raising her kids and continues to photograph them every day.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

Given how quiet Elena has been, we’re excited to share a behind-the-scenes look at her in action. She invited us onto her farm in Russia, where we asked her to share how she captures these beautifully nostalgic photos.

This is what she had to say.

5 Tips to Get Better Photographs of Your Kids

by Elena Shumilova

Watch a video of Elena demonstrating these tips.

1. How to get your kids to look natural, not “posed.”

So you catch your kids in the perfect moment — they’re outside playing and laughing, the lighting is just right, and you see this perfect picture you want to capture. You rush to get out your camera, but then…

They see the camera. They stiffen up. They start posing. The moment is lost.

What do you do?

When photographing children, the single most important thing is to photograph them often — every day.

You can’t just do it sporadically, or they’ll freeze up as soon as the camera comes out. Consistency is key. That way they’ll be comfortable around the camera.

It’s these everyday scenes that you want to capture — the ones you’ll remember best when they grow up.

 

To get the most genuine photos, I try to catch them in the moment — when they’re playing with each other and have completely forgotten about the camera.

Here they’re playing “airplanes,” a game we also play together at lunchtime when they’re feeling picky about their food.

Watch Elena explain how she captures her nostalgic photos:

2. The types of clothes that work the best.

I follow a pretty simple rule: clothes shouldn’t be distracting. They shouldn’t take attention away from what’s happening in the photo.

 

For such a simple rule, it’s harder to follow than you might think. Kids’ clothes today are designed to grab your attention—with bright colors, cartoon characters, and writing all over them. In photographs, all this takes attention away from your kids.

When I started pursuing photography seriously, I actually replaced all their outfits. This took quite a while to do, but now I know that anything I pull from their closet won’t interfere with the photo.

3. How to best capture kids of different ages.

Newborns
A lot of parents have asked me about this photo — how did you get your one-month-old to look so calm? Infants are notoriously difficult to photograph because they’re often crying or fidgeting.

Here you’ll have an advantage as a parent. I’m his mom. I’m around him 24 hours a day, and I know when he cries and when he doesn’t. Let your parenting instinct help you choose the right moment.

The Golden Age: Ages 2–4
Something I noticed while photographing many children, including my own, is that there seems to be a universal age when kids are the most photogenic.

That seems to happen between ages two and four.

Kids around this age behave very naturally. They don’t care that someone is looking at them, they don’t care what others think, and they don’t care that a camera is pointed at them.

They aren’t yet self aware. And so, they’re free.

Ages 5 and Older
It gets a bit more difficult when they’re older. As early as age five, they start to become more self-conscious when the camera comes out. They start to pose.

The key here is to be very patient. Let them play while you disappear into the background. My best photos always happen at the end of a photo shoot, when my kids have forgotten all about the camera.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

4. How to get good photos of your kids with pets.

Just like people, every animal is different. Some pets like to be photographed, and others don’t.

Because every pet is different, there isn’t a magic formula for this. I spend hours observing our farm animals, figuring out how they move and what angles work best for them — just like I would for people.

I’ve also tried bribing pets with food, but it doesn’t work. It’s almost impossible to get a good picture when they’re chewing or licking their paws. So I’ve learned the hard way not to feed our pets during photo shoots.

With animals, you have to rely on a bit of luck — and constant patience.

5. Don’t give up.

This is the most famous photo I’ve taken. It’s been viewed over 10 million times — but I almost didn’t bring my camera that day.

Before I took this photo, my confidence was at a pretty low point. I had tried for a photo of my son and dog 14 other times — not 14 other photos, but 14 full photo shoots, all failures.

I was convinced that my hands were too clumsy, or my dog was not the right dog for it, or my kid was not the right kid for it. I was just feeling desperate that day and didn’t even want to bring my camera.

But something told me to bring it. And on that fifteenth day, it all just came together.

This dog of ours is now famous — but he’s not all that photogenic from most angles. He’s actually a pretty difficult dog to work with. From the previous 14 photo shoots, I’d learned what angles and body compositions work for him and my son.

It‘s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to think, “Oh, why bother, it won’t work anyway.” And it may not for the first 14 times. Those 14 photo shoots weren’t failures though, because I learned from them. And they’re what made the fifteenth one possible.

Don’t give up.

For when you get frustrated.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

When I was first starting out, I got frustrated easily. I used to create these elaborate setups — I’d bring my kids to a special place, in special clothes, at a special time with the lighting just right. I’d arrange it all. And naturally, I started to feel like they owed me a good photo.

But I started getting better photos when I realized: no one owes me anything.

If you get frustrated, your kids will sense it and won’t want to participate anymore. Which just creates a vicious cycle of more frustration. When I stopped feeling entitled to a good photo, I was more relaxed. It was more fun for me and for them.

Rather than creating high-pressure elaborate setups, observe your kids in everyday simple situations. Do it every day. Bring your camera along.

And then — when the right moment comes along — you’ll be ready.

See more of Elena’s photos on her SmugMug print site.

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