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Day 198 – Just a little peace and quiet?

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Day 198 – Oct 1st

Is it bad parenting to give little ones an iPad to keep them quiet for a while? 

I was up early to watch the Formula 1 Malaysia Grand Prix, and its fair to say that I don’t watch a lot of tv, if I am home alone I will generally turn it off and put the radio on, but the Formula 1 is one thing I will always make time for. Today’s race was an 8am start in the UK, but I was up much earlier than that to watch all the pre-race coverage. It came as no surprise to me that both of the girls woke up at the usual time, and so being the good husband that I like to imagine I am (although the wife may often disagree), I took them both downstairs with me so that she could sleep in a bit, in the hope that I’d still be able to watch the race. 

Now I am not a fan of the idea of using an electronic device as a babysitter, and we do heavily regulate how much time Olivia gets to use the iPad for, and Chloe only gets to watch a bit of Peppa Pig here and there on the iPhone when she needs to be distracted for a nappy change or something. I think its fair to say that I do try to encourage the girls, wherever possible, to do anything else other than use iPads, getting outside if its dry, or some colouring, play-doh or a bit of painting if its wet, even a bit of Disney on the TV if they’ve run out of steam.

This morning though, I’d made an extra effort to get up especially early for the race, and figured that just for an hour or so, that if the girls were up at the same time as me and the wife was staying in bed, a little time on the iPad wouldn’t hurt.

With the race out of the way, we allowed ourself a bit of a slow start to the day once the wife was up. The plan was to go out for lunch with the family, but not until the afternoon, so we could take our time and relax, making the most of a Sunday morning. It gave us plenty of time to shower and get dressed, and we even made it to our carvery on time, a rare treat when you have young children.

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Day 197 – With a little help from my friends

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Day 197 – Sep 30th

We had made no hard or fast plans for Saturday, and although the wife often likes the odd quiet weekend at home, I like to feel like I have done something with my weekend, and today was a day where we certainly ended up doing more than we expected.

I had been reminded that we were hoping to trial a dance class for Olivia and we missed out on it last weekend, so today was the day. We hadn’t told Olivia until the night before or she’d have been driving us insane asking about it numerous times every day.

Olivia loves music and dancing and we knew she’d be keen, and Clare had happened to find a reasonably priced class that allowed us to go free for the first session to see if Olivia liked it, which she did. I was aware that I probably wouldn’t be able to take any photos because of the other children there, but I took my camera along anyway, just in case there was an opportunity. The class was a bit hit, she loved it, and even though parents couldn’t go in and had to watch from a viewing window in a separate room, this didn’t faze her one bit. Looks like we’ll be going back next week!

After dance class we popped home for a little lunch before heading out to see some of our friends and their children. We certainly don’t see enough of them considering they are less than 10 minutes up the road, but today I had an objective, I was trying to recreate a photo of the mother with her son as a baby that I hadn’t taken, by shooting another with her little girl. It had been mentioned weeks ago, but as it was a favour and not a job, nothing had officially ever been put in the calendar. Today we finally got around to making a date, and although I took all my kit with me, in the end it was a fairly simple set up. The shot was low key, meaning predominantly dark, and needed to be taken at an angle and processed in black and white. Compared to the original shot, I got it pretty close and was quite pleased with my efforts, considering I wasn’t there for the original shot, and had no idea how it had been set up.

To finish the day off I’d also managed to arrange a few beers at the pub with a friend on the evening, which seems to be a rare treat these days. It was a nice end to the day, and this particular friend is one of my oldest friends that I have known since school, who also happened to be one of the best men at my wedding. It was nothing more than luck that we ended up living within a mile of each other, which makes it such a shame that I don’t see him more. Still, we discussed the idea of starting a movie night as I have quite a few great films in my collection that he’s never seen, so hopefully we can catch up a little more frequently in the future.

Day 192 – Can you speak slowly please

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Day 192 – Sep 25th

My brain is literally just taking up space today. When someone asks me a question, I am hearing dial-up internet tones before my brain starts retrieving information at dial-up speed and getting an answer back to you around five minutes later… and possibly a wrong or incoherent answer at that!

After yesterdays busy day the evening took a turn for the worse when Olivia woke up crying and coughing… a situation which pretty much carried on into the early hours and through the night. We tried cough medicine, childrens Ibuprofen, drinks, and keeping our fingers crossed… none of which seemed to work.

When it came time for getting up for work, I was in that frame of mind when you roll over to look at the clock, and with your eyes closed just keep your fingers crossed that its about 3am and you can roll back and go back to sleep… this didn’t prove to be the case. It was time, one way or another I was getting up.

My plan for cycling to work was swiftly abandoned in favour of the much easier motorbike option, it was about all I could manage today. Hopefully we’ll have a better night tonight!

Day 190 – Just take it easy

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Day 190 – Sep 23rd

The weeks can all tend to fly by so fast, and sometimes its good to slow down and take it easy. Saturday was a day that we did not want to do a great deal, with the only exception being our visit to the local fire station open day. The girls enjoyed seeing the fire engine, police van and ambulance, as well as the dance troupe that were putting on a demonstration. Which got us thinking about something we had only discussed recently anyway, the prospect of Olivia joining some kind of dance school or gymnastics thing. I know she’d love either one of those, but we can’t seem to work out which one will be best suited, or even what is on offer in our local area, so we still need to do our research and find out what there is for a four year old. We can’t rule out other options too, a friend of mine has recently enrolled her daughter into girls rugby, I’d naturally be quite happy for Olivia to do that if its what she really wanted, although the truth is that she’s just not that kind of girl… her sister, however, different story!

Our only other commitment for the day was one of my sisters coming for dinner that evening. It’s always nice to have my sisters over, although tricky trying to find a weekend where they’re both free at the same time. We ate, drank wine and had a pleasant evening, and even the wife managed to stay up a little later than normal, although thankfully it wasn’t too late, as our girls are pretty unforgiving in the morning! 

Day 181 – Tomorrow is a new day

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Day 181 – Sep 14th

When your previous evening hasn’t gone to plan and you start the next day still feeling grumpy about it you have to give some consideration to the fact that most of your problems are generally going to be trivial ones that you just need to let go of, and it’s only you that can change whether you’re going to let yourself be happy or not. Take a reality check on the situation, if you have a house, a job, hopefully people around you that you love, food in the cupboards… you’re already better off than half the people on the planet. 

So that’s what I had to do. I can’t take my grumpy mood to work, as it certainly won’t help thing. When I get home my girls don’t deserve the grumpy version of me either, they should have the best version of me that I can be. Sometimes it’s not that easy to arrive home after a day at work with the enthusiasm of a childrens tv presenter, especially when you’re tired, hungry, and inevitably annoyed with some idiots driving on the commute home. Riding home on two wheels frequently means that someone will have had me swearing at some point, whether they can hear me or not, and so when I get home I’ll put the bike in the garage, take a deep breath and give myself a second to let all of the days frustration just drain away. As soon as you walk in the door and see those two little smiling faces looking up at you, everything else just melts away. You can close the door and shut the big bad world out.

Mindset is a big thing, and a while back at work we had a training day, which was called The Art Of Being Brilliant. Presented by a particularly enthusiastic and motivating guy, it was all about positivity and making the choice to be happy. There were mixed feelings about it afterwards, some found it ridiculous and patronising, some found it an utter waste of time, but like myself a lot of people remained open minded and found it interesting and inspirational, enough so to pick up a free copy of the book that had been offered with it. It was very much about this “better version of you” mindset. I never did read the book in the end, as I have many books at home still waiting to be read, although a lot of what was said on the day did stick with me, I just need to remember to put it into practise a bit more often. Maybe I should go back and pick the book up after all. 

How do you pick yourself up when the day isn’t going your way?

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

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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 150 – How can two children be so different?

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Day 150 – Aug 14th

I write today’s post from the comfort of my new garden furniture, with a fire in front of me, a beer next to me, and the stars above my head. Life feels good at the moment!

Monday we had the pleasure of my friends coming to visit with their baby daughter. Olivia just loves holding babies and playing with them, she’ll make a wonderful mother one day! I love watching all the kids grow up, and change, and develop their personalities… often wondering what they’ll turn out to be like when they’re grown up. What will their passions be? What will they do with their lives? Where will they travel? How will they make sense of the world as it constantly changes and becomes ever more confusing?

I watch my girls especially, to see what clues they’re giving off about what they will be like. What will they look like as adults? Will they still get on with each other? Will they want to hang around with their parents or head off around the world with a backpack? How much of how they turn out will be down to us, or will they be more influenced by who they meet along the way?

We certainly do have two very different girls, as I’ve mentioned before, and trying to predict anything about them is impossible. Chloe is so full of spirit and determination, so visual with her emotions, whereas her big sister was so passive and placid… although she is becoming a bit more determined lately, learning negotiation skills along the way that we haven’t taught her!

The differences between them are amazing, such beautiful little girls, with such different attitudes. It still makes me wonder how the two of them could be so different, but I wouldn’t change either of them! Not one bit. 

I am so proud of them both, I think they’ve made me a better person!

Day 138 – Who needs sunshine to have a bit of fun

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Day 138 – Aug 2nd

Time to make some indoor entertainment, August has landed with a wet start and little signs of improving any time soon. With two little girls who love getting outdoors we decide to head out to a soft play centre so they can burn off some energy with some climbing, jumping and sliding.

They may have energy to burn off, but its time to slow it down when we get home. Olivia loves to sit down and write, draw and colour, so I created a sheet where she could do all three, overwriting numbers, letters and her name, colouring in shapes and matching numbers to groups of dots. She’s amazing and does so well, I can’t wait for her to start school and show off her skills to the teachers. I love that she loves doing it too.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with our friends stopping by to visit, their son is a few months older than Olivia and they usually play well together, although they were both a little lively and loud, so putting the minions 9 mini movie compilation on the TV quickly restored some peace and quiet as they both soon became engrossed in it.

With dinner done and bath time for the little ladies out of the way, its time for stories and bed for them. I decided to grab a quick shot of the chillies I have grown in the greenhouse as my photo of the day. I love growing chillies, far easier to look after than tomatoes, and there are still many more growing yet to come. I’m picking them and leaving them by the window to let them ripen before they end up in the freezer, ready to go in a chilli the next time we cook one, as they turn from green to red they become hotter, just the way I like them! This shot had to be engineered slightly with some sheets of A4 white paper and two Canon Speedlites bouncing light off the walls and ceiling, trying to minimise the light reflections on the chillies themselves. A high key shot requires two things, a white background and lots of light!

Has anyone else had any joy with growing chillies?

Day 137 – The devil finds TV for idle viewing

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Day 137 – Aug 1st

A week off work should mean turning off the alarm clock, but any parent knows that this is a fairly irrelevant task, as those pesky kids have no concept of “sleeping in”, and I have barely peeled my eyelids apart before our bed is turned into a trampoline.

There is a delay at this point, a few moments where me and the wife see how long we can tolerate the sleep terrorists invading our bed and crawling over us like we’re some kind of fun, organic assault course.

The temptation of a hot cup of tea and some toast is a strong one, and escaping downstairs means the little ones have enough distractions to occupy themselves so that we can get used to being awake.

After dropping Olivia at nursery for the day, there was only Chloe to entertain, but with the wife taking her shopping, it meant that I could actually take a little time to use the steam room at the gym, something I had been wanting to do for a while.

I have been missing the gym recently, due to some sort of chest infection, on top of the fact that I somehow seem to have injured my heel, preventing me from running or doing a great deal of cardio. I usually get to the gym in the evening when I have the time, after the girls are in bed. I don’t like missing out on bed time and reading stories unless I have to, which means my gym session is often ending just before the gym closes, so there is no time for the luxury of the steam room or sauna. Today I thought I’d give it a blast, and see if the steam room could help clear up my chest a bit, on top of its other reported benefits.

With only one car between us, I was dropped up to the gym when the wife left for the shops, but had to make my own way back. Halfway, I paused along the bridge over the motorway to grab this shot. I had toplay with a few settings to get some motion blur in the traffic to give it a sense of movement, easy to do at night time with longer shutter speeds, but not so easy in the day time.

I found a little time in the afternoon to start sorting out the garage, it has been on the agenda for a while, and whilst I didn’t have quite the impact I wanted, I did make a start and have a few ideas on how to maximise the minimal space we have available. The six week holidays sound like a great opportunity to do so many things, when in reality they are gone in a flash, and some serious planning and time management is required if you want to get done half of the things that you expect to. Its no secret that I have spent a portion of the last few blog posts whinging about the weather, but its so annoying when all you want to do it get outdoors and it can’t go a single day without absolutely throwing it down! Yes, I know I can’t complain, I’m aware that most people don’t get that much time off in one go, but when you are used to it, you get used to saving jobs for then, and making plans to see people, go places and entertain the kids.

As the day draws to a close I can grab myself a beer, catch up on the blog and… wait, whats this? The wife has put Celebrity Big Brother on the TV?!? Oh man, I really don’t want to watch this, its truly painful… but who are these people?? Its the kind of show that the wife loves, but that makes me want to put the TV on eBay! I am sat with the TV straight across from me and I am trying not to look, but I am totally dismayed at what counts as “being a celebrity” these days, and my eyes keep being drawn back to the joke that is modern entertainment! So far half of the people who have walked in to the house were absolute nobodys who have had a vague appearance on a reality show, and are now being classed as a celebrity in order to appear on a celebrity reality show! It must get pretty awkward when all these so-called “celebrities” meet and look at each other, wondering who everyone else in the room actually is, because the truth is… none of them are famous enough to be called celebrities!!

At least I have the internet!

Day 129 – Lets start as we mean to go on

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Day 129 – Jul 24th

This is it, the summer term is finally over, the last day in work is finished and I can go home to six glorious weeks with my girls!

I will now get to spend, not just most days, but the whole six weeks with them, after a text message from my friend which informed me that they no longer needed me to look after their son any more, rather than the flexible arrangement we had previously, they needed the support to be more regular and with more help during the week rather than just at the weekend, which I could never have offered because of the hours I work and getting the girls to bed. I’ve been doing this for over two years now, and it has been nice to help friends out, especially as their needs were quite specific and it was an area I happened to have experience in, but I’m glad I can have more time at home with my own family now.

So as I arrive home with the sun shining, what better way to spend the afternoon than head straight back out to the park. Everyone is just sat around glued to the tv, yawning and stretching, so lets go and get some fresh air in our lungs and wake ourselves up! Clare decides to stay at home to prepare dinner and tidy stuff, so I strap the girls into the car and head down to my favourite local park and nature spot, Warley Woods. What better way to spend the afternoon than working up an appetite in time for dinner.

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