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Day 245 – fun with a 50mm

Day 245 – Nov 18th

Todays shot was simple, Chloe was starting to feel better after having a temperature and not eating much this week, and was happily sat watching tv. I had put my 50mm lens on my camera, and knew that I’d get a cracking shot out of it. The 50mm f/1.2 lens gives a notoriously narrow area of focus, and as with almost all portraits, the key is to make sure that the eye is in focus, most other things are out of focus giving a huge emphasis on the specific area you are focusing on. I love this effect and this lens.

I didn’t have a lot of time to get a photo again today. For an hour each Saturday morning Olivia has dance class now, and getting out of the house without Chloe tagging along is getting harder, sometimes its just easier to take her. So ahead of any temper tantrums I had decided that we’d all go to the dance class, and while Clare waited inside watching Olivia I would take Chloe off for a wander around Streetbike to have a look at new things.

That afternoon I was heading out to meet a new friend, the husband of someone I work with who I met at a party a few months ago and found we had absolutely masses of things in common. One of which was a fondness for new and different craft beers, and there are a couple of shops in Birmingham which specialise these. It was a fun afternoon and Cotteridge Wines is truly a unique and quirky place. It kind of looks like someone had a great idea in around 1970 and then thought “oh this is working, lets not change anything… ever!” Fold away chairs are placed around crates stacked up to be used as tables. The toilet is literally a bathroom with a bath in it, and the corridors make it feel like you are walking through someones house. BUT.. they have some absolutely amazing craft beers on offer and are clearly doing well, so well in fact that a couple of other shops in the local area have tried to copy the format.

Sadly I missed putting the girls to bed, but did make sure I got home at a sensible time and not too drunk even though we were drinking some pretty potent ales!


Day 244 – You know whats going to happen, but you still have to try

Day 244 – Nov 17th

Friday night, where I love to get the girls into bed so that me and the wife can sit down and relax together with a drink and a film. Traditionally the wife doesn’t do so well for staying awake in front of a film, we kind of expect her to nod off at some point, but every now and again we find something that really grips her, and she will still be focused all the way through to the end credits… not this time! Yet again, even though we’d picked a film we both liked which this evening happened to be Dallas Buyers Club, I don’t even think she made the half way point.

Usually it is left to me to make the choice as to what film we watch, sometimes its a hit, and sometimes its a miss. Its hard to predict what someone is going to like, no matter how much you think you know them. Apparently even when a film is a hit, its no guarantee that the wife will stay awake.

Oh well, lets try again next week!

Day 198 – Just a little peace and quiet?

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.

Day 197 – With a little help from my friends

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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?

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