Day 179 – just tell me what you want

Day 179 – Sep 12th

Buying presents for children seems to be something of a first world proble at times, a dilemma between letting them enjoy Christmas and their birthdays, and not spoiling them with so many toys that they forget what they own. There’s also the consideration of space and where to keep everything with an ever increasing collection of jigsaws, dolls, and musical toys. Our house is fairly compact, which is fine for us, but if we don’t keep things in order it quickly and very easily becomes untidy.

The girls toys can quickly seem to dominate a room once they get them out, it’s hard to keep all the bits together so things don’t get lost, and wit more and more toys appearing it means that some toys don’t even see the light of day for weeks at a time.

With all these toys choose from Chloe still has a new favourite above all others, something we didn’t even buy for her… the car. No, I’m not talking about the red plastic Mini Cooper push along childs car that we bought from Toys R Us that they play with in the garden, I mean the 2.0L turbo diesel one sat on the drive.

Chloe has started trying to say a few words recently and has clearly learnt the word car, and will stand at the front door pointing outside saying “car, car” over and over until either a) we manage to distract her (not easy), or b) give in and take her out, accepting that you’re going to be stuck in that car with her for a good ten minutes, and even then you may not manage to get her out without a bit of a fight on your hands!

Incidentally, on the subject of first words, one of the other words she is beginning to learn is ‘Alexa’ after hearing us talking to our Amazon Echo all the time… how very 21st century! It’s quite amusing watching her stand on the edge of the chair trying to shout up to it! 

What other unusual first words have you heard?


Day 178 – If you don’t try, you’ll never know

Day 178 – Sep 11th

With hurricane Irma destroying Florida and the Caribbean I find it hard to really complain much about our fairly placid weather, plus it’s doesn’t make for a very exciting blog either, but today was a day of relative extremes for us here in the UK, glorious sunshine followed by torrential downpours, followed by glorious sunshine, followed by torrential downpours… you get the idea. It’s really stating to feel like Autumn has arrived, regardless of what the calendar is telling us it should be. The wind has picked up, a few leaves on the trees have started to turn red, some have even started falling off already. 

The biggest changes have to be the overnight temperature and the sunset times. At the height of summer there was still light in the sky at 10pm, but now it is almost completely black outside by 8pm. We’ve been lucky to have some very mild nights over the summer and haven’t even shut some of the upstairs windows in weeks, but over these last few nights we’ve really started to feel a significant drop in the temperature after the sun goes down, and the outdoor thermometer had recently been telling us that the temperature has dropped down into single figures during the night, (that’s basically below 50°F for our transatlantic friends) and it’s starting to feel a bit chilly at night, we are going to need to get our winter quilt back out of the loft and onto the bed this week, the summer quilt is just too thin to keep us warm at night! A brand new electric blanket to have the bed nice and toasty for when we get in, is already on order from Amazon!

The weather isn’t the only change going on at the moment, I also decide it was finally time to do something about my hair. I can’t even think of the last time that I had it cut, and I was beginning to get worried that if I sat for too long in one spot with a McDonalds cup in my hand that people may start throwing spare change into it! It was desperate!

I’d decided that I was doing something about it tonight, but instead of just buzzing the lot off like I usually do, I’d quite enjoyed having it a little longer on top, and so asked the wife for her help on doing something a little different with it. 

I was very pleased with the results, and considering the wife is no hairdresser, or even had much experience cutting hair, I think she did a cracking job! It seemed the perfect opportunity to try out my new backdrop to grab a photo of it. A single off-camera flash placed off to the side on a stand, and the black £10 backdrop hanging from the curtain rail was pretty much all I needed with my camera set up on a tripod. It turned out just as I’d hoped it would. Nice photo, shame about the subject!

Day 177 – Try to keep up with me

Day 177 – Sep 10th

Sunday wasn’t supposed to be much busier than Saturday, but we still had a couple of things we wanted to do.

Our first thing was a trip out to the park to meet a friend and her little girl who was the same age as Olivia. They had both recently turned 4 and both of them had new bikes. We’d agreed to head for one of Birminghams most well known parks, Cannon Hill park as its nice and flat for the girls to ride the bikes, and there is plenty of space of the path for bikes and all the people on foot. The other added bonus is the Garden Tea Room.

Cannon Hill Park may be well known for the infamous arts centre, or MAC as its better known, located at the main entrance to the park, with its shiny new appearance, its shows, its sleek cafe and the courses and other things it puts on, but the Garden Tea Room sat on the opposite side of the park gets a little overlooked. It serves good food at a good price and you rarely have to queue or wait for your food for long. There is both indoor and outdoor seating, plenty of room to store buggies inside and they offer high chairs for the little ones. In fact about the only complaint I have about this place is the fact that they don’t accept card payments for any of the food or drink. A bit of an inconvenience, but if you know about this in advance then you won’t go hungry when you get there, as one of the things the entire park, and the MAC centre are missing is a cash point. Luckily we had cash, so when a rain shower appeared on our walk around the park, we took the opportunity to duck inside and grab a bite to eat and a hot drink.

The morning was a lot of fun, the girls had a fantastic time on the bikes, riding in circles, charging through puddles, racing each other, and frequently stopping to jump off and pick up feathers or horse chestnuts, all before we headed for the duck pond to feed the ducks. We chose a smaller pond, away from the main boating lake, as it is literally plagued by geese, and we would have been mobbed within seconds!

After leaving the park it was over to my mothers for a couple of hours. We knew we were going to be pushing Chloe through her nap time a bit, but she’s coping better with waiting now, although we can’t push her too far, no-one wants a meltdown… and when this girl goes, everyone knows about it!

After getting home and Chloe getting a much needed nap on the way back in the car it was time for dinner, and the good old english classic of toad in the hole being cooked up by the wife. What a way to finish a Sunday!

Day 176 – What shall we do today?

Day 176 – Sep 9th

It’s Saturday and we’d decided it was going to be a fairly quiet weekend, I know it makes the wife happy when we break the busy weekends up with a few where we’re not doing much. 

The one thing with not making any plans in advance though is that if you don’t just want to sit around the house, you still need to be up and dressed at a reasonable time, or by the time you’re dressed and showered it’s almost lunchtime , the girls will be wang something to eat and we have to consider that Chloe will need to nap shortly afterwards. Essentially what this means is that if we’re not up and out of the house by 10am, we may not end up going until 2-3pm. It’s almost feels like a bit of a waste of a day, especially when we have to be back by 5pm to cook dinner, think about a bath and then get them both in bed by 7:30pm. 

Theses small windows do mean that if we are just staying local then at least we don’t really have to take travel times into account, and we don’t have to commit ourselves to being out for more than a couple of hours at a time. They’re good for trips to the park, swimming or even a trip to the shops. On this particular Saturday, as we had literally nothing planned, I suggested we head down to Toys’R’Us to see if Olivia wanted to spend some of her birthday money. Yes, she’d been bought some lovely gifts for her birthday, but none of which she’d actually chosen herself. Its a nice way to spend a little time, letting the girls wonder round being amazed by this Aladdins cave of childrens toys, although at 18 months I knew Chloe was going to struggle with the concept of putting things back on the shelves a little, and we did spend some time trying to wrench things out of her hands and coerce her to let things go.

Finally the shopping trip was successful, and we were heading back out to the car when we spotted the fire engines that were parked up for the charity car wash, with one of the wagons parked up and allowing children to sit inside and have everything explained to them. Olivia naturally was keen to have a look, and after having a look around the back, was allowed in the front to sit in the drivers seat, which she thought was amazing! It was a nice surprise from a random trip to a shop we don’t normally visit. It might not seem like much, but when you’re a child its super exciting, and when you’re a parent trying to entertain a child on a wet Saturday afternoon, you’ll take every opportunity.

Day 175 – No-one said parenting would be easy

Day 175 – Sept 8th

Friday at last, and it was the end of the first week of term after we’d come back from the summer holidays. After being back at work for a week, this was one day that the wife was really missing me and wishing I was at home, and sadly not because my charismatic personality or the charming wit that she’d clearly married me for… no, its because Chloe was about to get listed on eBay on a 7 day auction! Little miss whingy pants was beginning to do mommy’s head in!

We have created two beautiful, unique and very different girls, and the youngest of those is really showing us how different two girls brought up in the same environment can be, and testing our patience on a seemingly increasing basis with her episodes of moaning, whinging, wanting this, that and the other, and of course her little tantrums. She’s an absolute delight to be around for 90% of the time, but she is clearly not as placid and calm as her big sister.  

As a friend had recently commented on facebook though, you have to admire this fire and passion in her, even as an 18 month old toddler she is developing such a feisty personality, and I love it… as challenging as it can be!

Sure, it drives us a little nuts at times, but we have two awesome little girls, and I love to embrace their differences. I sometimes look at what they’re like now and  wonder what they’ll become when they’re older, what will interest them, what will they be passionate about or skilled in. So far we’ve got Olivia down as an author, and Chloe as the backpacking around the world adventurer! Who knows, the world is changing, possibilities are endless, creativity and imagination can go a long way… I mean if you can earn a living, and a very wealthy living too, by being a “youtuber” or an Instagram star, then who knows what the future holds!? Even blogging is paying the bills for those dedicated enough… if only I could work out a way to get more people reading!

Day 174 – we are made of star dust

Day 174 – Sept 7th

Its tough getting back into the swing of things after six weeks off work, and a poor track record of going to bed far too late. After feeling a little run down and unwell yesterday I decided to take the motorbike to work today, and it was so much nicer!

Sadly changes at work mean having to stay a little later than usual on a Thursday, so I couldn’t race home to collect Olivia from nursery, I had to leave that to the wife. As soon as I was home, Olivia was keen to get out on her new bicycle and go riding. She’d only had it two days, and I thought we’d end up just going up and down the length of our road, but she’d clearly been practising while she was at home yesterday and looked like she’d got this thing mastered, even using her brakes to slow herself down.

Todays photo was pretty much just an observation of how badly I need a hair cut. It was also a planned, deliberate pose… a close-up shot using the ultra wide angle lens, with a bounce flash illuminating me from above, and then converted to black and white using one of my favourite actions from my Totally Rad actions collection in Photoshop. It came out exactly as I’d imagined, that always makes me happy!

Day 173 – be grateful… there are people who would love to have your bad days

Day 173 – Sep 6th

Third day of the new Autumn term and the first day of the kids being back in meant a new class and some new faces to get used to. I wanted to feel more switched on, and be more on the ball, but I definitely wasn’t functioning at 100% today. I think a few cold germs, with the cumulative effects of repeated late nights over the holidays, on top of cycling to work again and pushing it hard in the rush hour traffic to keep up (after getting on the scales this morning and feeling truly horrified at the results)… it has all started to take its toll. I need a couple of days to slow down a little, get to bed early and do something about my diet.

This evening I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely couple, plus the mother of the bride who was proving to be a very useful point of contact, to have some final discussions about their wedding which is now less than two weeks away. The church is one that I haven’t photographed a wedding at before, but the reception venue thankfully is, and in fact it also happens to be where the wife and I had our wedding reception too, so it was lovely to head back there five years later. The last time I photographed a wedding there it had rained all day, so I am hoping for a little dry weather this time around. 

As it was an early evening meeting it meant that I missed out on some time at home with the girls, so it was great to get home and have time to see them before they went to bed, and be able to read bedtime stories, as I didn’t think they would still be up when I got back.

Once the girls were in bed, it was time to sit down for dinner, and as usual the TV was on, I wasn’t really paying much attention until the wife flicked on DIY SOS. Now normally I don’t watch a great deal of TV, largely because me and the wife have very different viewing tastes, but also because there is rarely much on that interests me anyway. The wife will sit down with the sole intention of watching something, and will flick through the channels until something grabs her interest, whereas I will generally not watch any TV at all, unless there is something specific I want to see and I will make time to watch it before going back to what I was doing.

I knew that DIY SOS was going to tug at the heart strings though, it always does. For anyone that has never seen it, it is based around a family in need, either a parent or child with a life limiting illness or disability in a house that is totally unsuitable and unliveable, and in just over a week a huge team of local tradesmen and women all give up their time for free to strip the house back to a shell and transform it, and the garden, into something absolutely amazing. The results are often mind blowing and the family are invariably reduced to tears. This particular episode featured a lovely, decent, honest family where the dad, who wasn’t especially old, had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and was given just three years to live. Not even long enough to see his young girls finish school. As a father myself, I just found the thought of this absolutely crushing, life can be so unfair… and so to all those who thought the ALS ice bucket challenge was a waste of time and water… screw you, man! The $100 million or £76 million that was raised in a single month as a result, enabled ALS researchers to uncover a major breakthrough in identifying and working towards treating the disease.

Its things like this that make you stop and think about everything you have, and everything you should be grateful for, appreciating every day because you just don’t know how many you have left.

What have you been thankful for today?

Day 172 – Happy birthday little princess

Day 172 – Sep 5th

Four years ago today life changed. 

It was a monumental change.

In the fourteen days leading up to that particular day, we had been very anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first child, baby Vokes. We had absolutely no idea if it would be a baby boy or a baby girl, just the thoughts and opinions of everyone who was suddenly an expert on old wives tales and those just “having a gut feeling”, all we knew was that baby Vokes was two weeks overdue, daddy was impatient and mommy was quite uncomfortable!

Finally after several even more uncomfortable days in hospital for the wife, our beautiful little Olivia finally arrived in the world. The feeling of being massively overwhelmed can never be fully described, as it can’t encapsulate how I actually felt at that moment when this tiny baby was placed in my arms. She was mine… MINE, and it was scary! I felt like I was suddenly carrying a ticking bomb that was about to explode and everyone else had turned and run away! All this still feels like it was only yesterday… honestly. Four years gone in the blink of an eye.

Now here we are on her 4th birthday, and she is turning into a proper little lady, a constant source of amusement. 

We’d already celebrated the occasion, once with our antenatal friends at a group party a few weeks ago, and then Olivia had her actual birthday party with her friends at the weekend, and tonight we were having grandparents and aunts and uncles over for a small buffet style birthday dinner.

Before dinner was served and presents were opened, we actually had to go and collect her from nursery. Only today she wasn’t walking home, being carried on my shoulders or riding back on her scooter… no, today we were turning up with her biggest birthday present, her brand new bike, and it went down a treat! It took a little getting used to, but she is keen to get back on and practise some more.

It was a lovely evening with the family over, and it came as no surprise that by the end of the evening she’d had way too many presents. The main issue being storage in our modest house, and the fact it leaves us short of ideas and things to buy Chloe (no point in buying this stuff twice!) for Christmas!

Definitely a first world problem!

Day 171 – Eat less, move more

Day 171 – Sep 4th

First day back at work after the summer holidays and also the last day of my little girl being three years old.

After a summer of indulgence, there was only one thing for it, back on the bicycle to get to work, it was time to burn off a few of those calories with a bit of pedal power!

I used to love cycling, and getting to work in just 20 minutes during rush hour always made me feel good, and a bit smug if I am totally honest. I wasn’t feeling so smug today though, my fitness levels have definitely dropped recently and it was a bit of a tougher ride in than I was used to. Not having the freedom to take the car to work made it an easy choice to cycle to work in the mornings, but since getting the motorbike I have to argue the whole thing out in my own head as to whether or not I have the energy to actually cycle in, on top of how much fun it is to take the motorbike anyway, which doesn’t really help matters.

Since getting the motorbike in October, I think I have only cycled into work about three times. THREE TIMES! That’s terrible, its no wonder my jeans are all getting tight! What I really need now is the weather to improve during September, I am counting on someone doing a little sundance and bringing the warm weather this way. There is nothing more likely to put me off cycling at the moment than the rain! It has been miserable and persistent lately, and we’ve only seen a handful of sunny days throughout the whole of August. I am willing to forego some time on the motorbike as long as I don’t get soaked cycling to work. The big thing about taking the motorbike is that all my clothing is fully waterproof, and so I don’t get wet at all when I take that!

I need to do something though, lets just keep our fingers crossed that we get a little sunshine to inspire me, I will soon be hitting the gym again though, and hopefully stepping it up a bit. The next big thing I need to address is that pesky diet!

Day 170 – all good things must come to an end


Day 170 – Sept 3rd

It’s now the last day before going back to work after six wonderful weeks off with my lovely family. In some ways it feels like five minutes since the holiday started, I almost don’t know where the time has gone, but in other ways it does feel like we’ve been off for ages and we’ve actually had quite a busy and productive summer.

At least we had the pleasure of seeing family today, a meal out to celebrate the mother in laws birthday properly. We’d booked a table at our favourite carvery and thoroughly enjoyed the meal, the setting, service and food are all fantastic and never disappoint. Thankfully we’d gone in hungry, as it seems so hard to come away from the servery with anything less than a mountain of food, although somehow I still managed to clear my plate. With lunch done it was back to the in-laws for a cup of tea, and so the girls could stretch their legs a little. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and of course the girls loved spending time with their grandparents.

There was one more chore for the day before I could relax in the evening, which I fully intended to do before going back to work in the morning! I had to assemble Olivia’s new bicycle ahead of her birthday. We’d picked it up from Halfords, and although they would have put it together for us, for free, I wanted to leave it in the box as it was easier to conceal until closer to her birthday. It was something I’d never done before, and had no idea how long it would take. Someone I spoke to recently suggested it could easily take a couple of hours, but thankfully I managed to get it done in about 45 minutes, which I didn’t think was bad considering that there we no instructions included on how to do it.

With the bike put together and then hidden under a blanket in the garage ready for Tuesday, it was finally time to open my final beers of the holiday, along with snacks and a film… tonight being the rather bizarre, but still amusing ‘Seven Pyschopaths’. Enough to distract me from the sad truth that tonight the alarm clock is going back on and tomorrow I don’t get to spend the day with the girls.

Its easy to feel a bit sad, but I do need to appreciate the time I have had at home with them, and the opportunities we’ve had for days out. It has been a real blessing having the wife at home as well, so we’ve been able to do a lot of things as a family. Opportunities like this don’t come along often.

Winter is coming.

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