This photo, taken when we visited Montezuma in Costa Rica (ten years ago!), recently won third place in a “seascape” themed photography competition. So I took it as a good excuse to share it (again) on my blog.
It is crazy to think how much our lives have changed since we went to Costa Rica – shortly afterwards Jen and I started renovating the house where we now live with our two boys. And I have not been abroad for over three years, nor do we even have any foreign travel plans for the foreseeable future. Although it would be nice to take the boys over to Costa Rica…
The baby of the family is no longer a baby – Henry is a proper little boy now. Although he will insist that he is a “big boy”! We had a pretty quiet day today, with a trip to the zoo whilst Owen was at school. The main celebrations happened yesterday, with visits from grandparents and extended family. Henry loved seeing everyone and getting presents. Henry is an independent and resourceful little boy, so after the celebrations had stopped he snuck off upstairs to where he had already identified his main present to be hidden, then came downstairs with a big smile on his face and his new toy in his hands. Luckily for Henry, he manages to be incredibly cute when doing this sort of thing, so usually gets away with it.
Two has been a great age for Henry. Since his last birthday his speech has really come on, and he has become a right little chatterbox! He also has a great memory – remembering things that have been said to him weeks ago, or where things have been left. He is also great at recognising cars, especially Renaults (like Nanny’s). We seemed to mostly avoid the “terrible twos” with Henry – of course, there were a few tantrums, especially when he was tired, but he is generally good-natured and likes to be helpful. As I wrote in my recent post after our visit to Adrenaline Alley, Henry’s confidence has improved in the last few weeks – he is getting much more confident around other children. With all of the lockdowns over the last two years, he has missed a lot of the opportunities to socialise that Owen had, so it is good to see his social skills improving.
Henry showed some signs of turning into a “threenager”, but a lot of it was probably down to tiredness after a busy day, and me not understanding Henry’s vision for his outfit. Hopefully, he will continue to be his good-natured and loving self as he navigates being three. It should be an exciting year – moving to the pre-school at Owen’s school, potty training, holidays and hopefully learning to ride a pedal bike.
Since changing jobs and working full time again, I have missed my Fridays off with Henry, but we ended up with a Saturday to ourselves and made the most of it! We started off with the Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday at Birmingham BMX track. It has been a while since Henry last went, and both his riding and attitude have improved considerably. He was happy to just keep doing laps of the balance bike track, the only wobble he had was when the bigger kids went for their session on the full-size BMX track – however, once we had agreed that he could do the big track session on our next visit he got on with riding the balance bike track. With only three other riders it was a good session and they all rode well together. Henry only stopped to pester me for snacks! At the end of the session, they were invited to join the group on the big track, who were being filmed for the Commonwealth Games, Henry looked a bit nervous at the top of the big ramp, but did not hesitate to drop in, in fact, he did not even wait for his name to be called! As the light was good I brought my camera kit along and got some nice photos.
After the bike track, we went to Sutton Park to meet my friend Partho, and his dog Otto. Otto is a miniature dachshund and Henry’s “favourite dog”. Henry often asks to see photos of Otto on my phone. Otto seems to like Henry too! Henry was so good holding Otto’s lead, they looked so cute together walking through the park – everyone walking past commented! After a solid hour of riding and a long walk, Henry was starting to flag towards the end and needed carrying, but it was nice to be out in the park. Then, having worked up an appetite we grabbed some lunch at the pub. Henry was flagging by this point and even got to the second stage of tired toddler – the mad half hour. Otto loved having an excitable Henry to play with and it was so cute watching them play together, however, I knew it was time to get Henry to the van for a nap. Before we left, Henry had just enough energy to get into Partho’s car, sitting next to Otto. He asks to do this every time he sees Otto in the car – Henry is a stickler for routines and sitting in the back of Partho’s car with Otto is another one of his favourite routines.
By the time we got out of Sutton Coldfield, Henry was fast asleep in his car seat after a very busy morning! It has only been two months since I started working full time, but he seems so much more grown-up than when we last had a Daddy and Henry day out. It is hard to believe that he will be three next week!
Owen has been off school this week, so I also took a few days off work, with the plan that we would get out to ride bikes together. We had planned to ride at Cannock, but the trails were closed due to fallen trees from the recent storms.
Hicks Lodge, was actually our “Plan C”, after Cannock Chase and Snibston Colliery Park, which we drove to first, only to find the trails also closed. Hopefully, I will get to complete that trail one day! Fortunately, it is only a short drive from Snibston to Hicks Lodge, so Owen did not even bother to take his bike kit off. The route took us past the end of the road I lived on in the late 1980s, so we took a quick detour to see where I learned to ride a bike.
Hicks Lodge is a safe choice for riding with kids if a little tame for Owen now. The trail was a bit damp, but we were just glad to be riding. We only did one lap but repeated some of our favourite sections. Owen was taking it easy, so when we re-rode the last section I asked Owen to ride it at top speed and pretend it was an enduro stage – it worked, he rode much better and said that he enjoyed it more too!
The plan after this ride was to drop Owen off with my parents, so 417 Bikepark on the edge of the Cotswolds was the obvious choice. It is also Owen’s favourite place to ride. We started off in the “barn of dreams”, the indoor pumptrack. Owen was on his BMX, as his mountain bike was still muddy from Hicks Lodge. There was another little boy there on a BMX too, so it was nice watching them riding round together.
Before Owen tired himself out, I dragged him away to swap bikes and get goggles on to hit the downhill trails. We started off riding the lower portion of the blue graded “Cheese Roller” trail, which featured a steep corner that Owen was too nervous to ride on our previous visit. It was the same on his first run, but he walked around it and continued to the bottom of the trail, slowly. We pushed our bikes back up to the bottom of the steep corner, but this time I put Owen’s bike into a harder gear, which seemed to help him on the way down, as he was able to carry more speed, especially over the four big tabletop jumps at the end of the trail.
After pushing up it was time to let the bus take the strain, so we jumped onto the uplift bus to the top of the hill and rode back down the blue graded “Blue Racoon” trail – Owen’s favourite. He was going well until we came to a(nother) steep right-hand corner and pulled up to the side of the trail. I rode it first, then coaxed Owen down – he did so well. It must have given him a confidence boost as it took me a little while to catch him back up! Owen enjoyed the trail so much that we repeated the bottom section before stopping for lunch.
Fueled on confidence and tuna sandwich Owen was on fire after lunch – he rode the tricky corner on “Cheese Roller”, claiming he did not even realise that was the corner! He also rode the bottom section much quicker than in the morning. There was a queue for the uplift, so we pushed back up and rode the lower section of “Cheese Roller” again, but faster. Then we got another lift to the top – Owen was getting into the swing of it, waiting to hand his bike to the driver, then for me to put my bike on the trailer and collecting his bike at the top and going to the top of the trail whilst I unloaded my bike. His second full run on “Blue Racoon” was faster, and the scary corner was despatched with ease.
At this point, we had to buy more uplift tickets, before continuing down “Cheese Roller”. This was Owen’s fastest run – he even got the tiniest bit of air over one of the big jumps at the end of the trail. He was buzzing when we got to the bottom. Then we got in the uplift queue behind YouTuber Ben Deakin, who was doing some coaching. I gave Owen the choice of another run down “Blue Racoon” or attempting a full run of “Cheese Roller” – he chose “Blue Racoon” and set off quickly – looking so much more confident than he had in the morning! At one point he had a bit of a wobble out of a fast berm but managed to hold on to it and continued down to the bottom of the trail. After such a good run we decided to call it a day on the downhill trails as Owen wanted to do more laps of the pumptrack, although it had gotten busier.
I was so proud of Owen, especially how he conquered his nervousness about the steep corners and how well he rode after lunch. He was also by far the youngest rider on the downhill trails but rode (and behaved) sensibly – queuing for our last uplift he told me that it was “the best day ever”! I also had a great day, it did not matter that I was riding at Owen’s pace, it was just nice to be out on the bikes together. And after a wet and windy start to the year, it felt like Spring was starting to arrive – the sun was out and we even saw our first lambs of the year on the drive across the Cotswolds to drop Owen off with my parents.
Henry’s balance bike club, Ready Steady Riders, organised a trip to Adrenaline Alley in Corby, the biggest indoor skatepark in Europe – I knew Henry would love it, so put his name down straight away. Since telling him about it, every weekend he has asked if we are going to “the big skatepark”. Because the skatepark is indoors, two-year-old logic means that Henry thinks that his coach must live there!
The trip just happened to be arranged on the stormiest weekend of the winter, so I was not bothered about missing my usual Sunday morning ride, and was actually quite looking forward to a road trip in the van with Henry! As a special treat, I moved Henry’s seat to the front, next to me – which he loved. He gets a much better view out of the front of the van than he does in my MR2 Roadster, so was excitedly telling me all the things he could see.
We were in a different part of Adrenaline Alley to when Owen and I visited back in 2020, and it seemed like a better set-up, with a good viewing area/grandstand for parents. Henry got stuck in and did some good riding, only stopping to pester me for sweets after each lap, because for some reason Henry seems to associate skateparks with snacks. At one point there were some races and Henry won his race against the other smaller boys, he also did a good job of waiting patiently before and after the race. Henry did not want to try riding down the roll-in, but made use of the quieter track to do some more laps, before declaring that it was “time to go home”. Fortunately, I was able to convince him to ride some more after a rest and some more snacks. Henry did some of his best riding towards the end of the session, so I am glad he went back out. It was also good to see him jostling with the bigger boys to get to the front of the queue – obviously, normally I would not condone that sort of behaviour, but Henry can be really wary of other children, likely due to lack of opportunities to mix with other children over the last few years, so I am glad to see him getting more confident.
Then it was time for cake, as the trip was a belated sixth birthday celebration for Ready Steady Riders! We all went to the cafe, via a tour of the skate park and gatecrashing a YouTube video. Again Henry was really good in the cafe singing “happy birthday” and helping to blow out the candles on the cake, then when it was time to leave he gave his coach a big hug. He managed to stay awake for most of the drive home, counting the wind turbines, albeit missing out the numbers three, four and five. He also told me that he will be six on his next birthday.
It was great to have a bike trip with Henry, as it is usually something that I do with Owen. Henry did some good riding but I was most impressed by his attitude and behaviour. I am going to try to build on this by taking him to more Ready Steady Riders sessions, at least until he starts to ride the pedal bike that he will be getting for his birthday next month…
Back in the days before I started blogging, snowboarding was my life. I rode loads but had reached a plateau and grown-up life took over. I then discovered mountain biking, which gave me the same buzz as snowboarding, but with much less hassle and that became my sort of choice, and I have only snowboarded a handful of times in the past ten years. Although I had made a point of watching all of the snowboard competitions at the Winter Olympics.
Part of the story behind me getting back on a snowboard was that Partho and I were booked on a mountain bike “jumps and drops” course with Skillsloop, which was cancelled due to Storm Eunice. So we happened to be at a loose end when Rich asked if we fancied going to the SnowDome with him – sometimes these things just come together! Fortunately, the snowboard fashion of the noughties was for baggy kit, so it still fitted!
Walking down the stairs to the changing area at the SnowDome felt familiar, but it was not until I was at the top of the travellator and ratcheting up my bindings that I was sure the muscle memory for snowboarding was still there. Dropping in for my first run, with a traverse on my toe edge into a heelside turn, felt completely natural. Like I had never been gone. You could say “like riding a bike”! I had a slightly nervous wait at the bottom of the slope waiting for Partho (on skis) and Rich (also on a snowboard) to finish their runs – but when they joined me we were all smiles. Partho was noticeably faster on his second run, beating me to the bottom, but ending up on the deck to avoid taking out someone at the bottom. Resisting the temptation to spray him with snow, I went back up the rope tow to try to meet Rich halfway up the slope, but he was also quicker on this run.
We spent the next few hours doing laps of the slope. If I got a clear run I would hit the small kicker ramp and try to get some air, but was generally taking it easy and just enjoying being back on a snowboard. Strangely it felt like some of the best riding I have ever done, maybe it was a combination of no expectations and a familiar slope or the fact that I am a lot fitter these days, thanks to regular mountain biking. I would be interested to see how I fare on a real mountain with much longer runs.
It was especially good to be riding with some of my oldest friends, in the old days snowboarding was something that I mainly did with my brother, so it was great to be able to chat with Partho and Rich on the lift or to watch them riding down. Afterwards, we also went out for lunch, which felt like an extra treat in the week!
I am certainly not going to leave it another five years before I get back on my snowboard, especially now that my best friends are keen to join me. Maybe it could even lead to a trip to the Alps, which is not something that I would have been expecting to write even just a few days ago…
Henry got a bubble machine for his second birthday, in March, and although not technically perfect, I love this photo of him experiencing it for the first time. He looks so babyish compared to the proper little boy that he is now, eleven months later.
Another shot from earlier in the year. Owen and I had a week of bikes during the Easter holidays. This was a lucky shot whilst Owen was riding the skatepark, but I really like the colours. It was my phone home screen for a while too.
Chesterton Windmill is a bit of a cliche for photographers in Coventry, however, I was yet to visit with the camera. I had planned a silhouette shot backlit by the sunset, but this shot was from an initial scouting trip, one summer evening when I just needed to get out of the house. I am sure that the sun would be better positioned for a dramatic sunset in winter, but the sails were removed for maintenance in the autumn, so I will have to try again another year.
At the end each term, Henry’s nursery set him (us) homework, to share a few photographs of what he has been up to over the holiday. Owen also had this homework when he was at nursery, but I did not think to share the photos on my blog. As it is a nice recap, I have decided to start sharing them.
On my last Friday “Daddy day” between finishing my old job and starting at the new one, Henry and I went to Cannock Chase. It was meant to be a Little Rippers Meet, but that did not quite work out. I thought that Henry would really enjoy the new play trail, but he had his own agenda. I did get him to do a few laps of the “Butterly loop”, including riding this skinny. Technically, the photo is not great, but I like his expression.
On New Year’s Day I took the boys for a welly walk in our local woods – it was so muddy, but we needed to get out of the house. Henry likes posing in this tree.
Henry enjoyed sitting at Jen’s piano, he would play us a tune (well, some random notes) and sing along. He is really starting to show what his particular interests are. Hopefully the piano/music is something that he will continue with.
Henry and I had a few rides out in my MR2 Roadster, he seems to be turning into a right little petrolhead at the moment and made a few requests to “go in the sportscar” and who was I to argue?
Hopefully, 2022 is going to be a better year than the last couple! We have got a few things to look forward to – a rescheduled trip to our friend’s cottage on the Yorkshire Coast in Staithes and trips to Devon and Wales with Jen and Partho respectively. 2022 is also likely to be the year that Henry learns to ride a pedal bike, which will open up a whole new world of adventures. For me, the main thing that I am looking forward to is getting stuck into my new job in the tech industry. After fourteen years in the automotive industry, it is a big change, but hopefully, one that will be worthwhile. Unfortuantely it also means that I am back to working full time, after five years of not working on Fridays.
Jen and I saw in 2021 at home, after letting the boys stay up late to watch a film (Luca), I just about managed to finish my 2021 review post before Big Ben struck midnight. Then it was straight to bed! Predicably, the boys were up early in the morning, but Jen made us a tasty breakfast of pancakes and bacon. I took the boys out for a walk in our local woods – they are so muddy after the recent rain, so it was a good job we were all wearing our wellies. I probably should have put Henry in his all in one puddle suit, as he fell over into the mud a few times. In the afternoon Jen took the boys out, so I spend some time working on bikes in the garage, making some progress towards my big project of the year – refreshing my Orange Four.
This has got to be my main priority for the year. Starting in Christmas week means that I have not yet “met” my full team – we are working remotely, so I have not really met anyone. We have daily team meetings, which have been useful to get to know both the team and the projects I will be working on. The slower start has been good it has allowed me to brush up on my knowledge of the software stack I will be using. I can already see how React is going to help with some of my personal projects too.
Pass the AWS Certified Developer Associate exam
After passing the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam in 2020 my plan was to take the Certified Developer Associate in 2022, as you need to pass an exam every three years to keep the certification valid. My new employers are AWS partners, and also expect me to pass the AWS certification exams, so will be able to study on the job.
Redo my homepage
Rebuild my Orange Four
The Four has been my main bike over the last few months and has taken a beating. I have also been a bit lax on maintenance and it has got to the point where it needs a full refresh. The drivetrain all needs to be replaced, the suspension needs to be sent off for a full service, the dropper post also needs a service and the frame is looking a bit tatty, so I will send it back to the Orange factory for a repaint and fresh bearings. It had one last ride at the pump track yesterday, then its next ride will be after the refresh is completed.
I have also fitted the wheels from the Four onto my Clockwork Evo hardtail, so need to build up some new wheels for the Four. For a few years now the wheels and tyres have been the weak point in the build, so I am looking forward to finally being able to remedy that.
This is going to be a tough challenge – when I rode 2,015km in 2015 it was all-consuming, but I am much fitter now and was able to ride 1,000km in the first half of 2021, so I just need to keep the momentum going.
Get my weight down to 85kg
Yes, this one again! Hopefully, all the riding for the 2,022km goal will help! I will also need to focus on my diet though. When I weighed myself this morning I was 91.7kg, which is the heaviest I have been for a while. My dad did a great job of losing weight in 2021, which is great motivation for me to do the same.
If it feels like my plans for the year are a bit on the light side, it is because they are! After the last few years I have consciously not planned so much for 2022, and will just take things as they come. Whatever happens, here’s to 2022 being a much better year!
2021 has been another difficult year with all that has been going on in the wider world, and also at work. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel – after fourteen years in my old automotive job, just before Christmas, I started a new role with a tech consultancy. My old job had stopped being about software development, and the office was moved fifty miles away. After a particularly frustrating day at the office and commute, I uploaded my CV to a job site and my phone did not stop ringing for a week! It turns out software developers are in demand. Outside of work, it feels like the year has flown by – we had two good holidays, to Wales and Essex (blog post to follow) and lots of good bike rides.
As well as becoming a full-time geek, I have had a good year for new technology. Apple finally released their AirTags, after breaking my trusty iPhone 7 – I replaced it with an iPhone 12 Mini, which has been a great device. I bought a cheap Synology NAS to test the water for a new backup strategy, it worked so well that I ended up keeping it, as I do not feel that I need the latest version. Then, after many years of waiting, I finally upgraded my 2010 iMac (and 2015 MacBook) with a new 14″ MacBook Pro and a 27″ 4K monitor, which is set up as a docking station. The M1 Pro Mac is a revelation, Photoshop Lightroom opens almost instantly and it is nice to be able to work away from my desk sometimes. Lastly, Jen got me some AirPods for my birthday, which have been getting a lot of use. The reason for so much technology this year is simply that I have not upgraded anything for a while – hopefully, this will last me for a few more years, but hopefully not all needing to be replaced at once.
I have not used the MR2 Roadster as much as I would have liked, but the highlight was an early morning blast to the Elan Valley, with my friend Partho in his BMW Z4. The low point was finding out that it needed new tyres and had a hole in the rear subframe. I knew the tyres were old and worn, but I had not expected the handling balance to change so much with new tyres. Even on the cold and damp December roads, I could not break traction, which reminded me of when I first had it. The van has been great too, both on holidays and day to day, but especially for all of the bike trips we have done. Unfortunately, it has had a bad few weeks. On the way back from Cannock Chase with Henry (on our last Friday “Daddy day”) a car bumped into the back of us, then drove off, when we were waiting at some traffic lights. Then earlier this week, I scraped the roof on a lower than advertised height restriction. I just need to remind myself that the van is a workhorse, and is always going to pick some scuffs.
I had another good year on the bike, riding further than last year. More rides have also been with other people – rides with Owen, family rides and some really good rides at Cannock Chase with my friends. More riding has meant less time in the workshop, so I am going to need to catch up in 2022.
At the start of the year, homeschooling for Owen was hard for everyone involved, although there were a few projects that we enjoyed together – such as when I filmed Owen doing some maths work. As he moved into year 1 at school it has become apparent that he has got a talent for maths – I was particularly impressed when he had to explain the “part-whole model” to my brother, who is a maths teacher and is also a doctor of maths.
Owen’s bike riding has come on really well in 2021. The key moments were getting his Orbea MX20 mountain bike (one of three new bikes this year!), joining the Peddlamaniacs cycling club and the opening of the new blue graded trail at Cannock Chase. A new interest for Owen in 2021 has been video games, particularly Super Mario – the Mario Lego set (Amazon affiliate link) he got for Christmas went down very well!
Henry has had a good year too, he has become a proper little boy, chattering away – often about Nanny’s handbag and/or car or when my mum slipped on ice and broke her wrist earlier in the year. His catchphrase for the year has been “do it by myself” – which probably shows just how independent he is getting. He knows what he wants and makes it very clear – one evening when I picked him up from nursery, the teacher told me that she had thought Owen was stubborn, but Henry is ten times as stubborn. He does seem to be making friends at nursery, at last, which is a good sign.
Since his birthday, Henry has really started to get the hang of his balance bike, to the point where I think he is ready for pedals – if his legs are long enough for Owen’s old Frog 43 14″ bike. He loves going to the pump track, or skatepark, and seems to have a great memory for which snacks he has eaten at each track, then demands more of the same on subsequent visits. He is also becoming a little petrol head – he can identify his favourite cars: Renault, Range Rovers and FIATs, from quite a distance. His favourite Christmas present was a model Porsche Macan – to match Grandpa’s new car.
At the start of the year I set myself some goals. I posted a halftime update in June, but here are the final results:
Catch up on blogging
Narrow pass – I have shared 32 posts this year, including quite a few I had wanted to catch up on. However, I still have quite a few in my drafts that I need to finish and publish.
Publish more of my software work
Narrow pass – In June I wrote “I have a few more repositories on my Github profile, including the Twitter Bot I blogged about. I have a few more projects to finish off and share too. Ideally, I need to combine this with the previous goal and blog about these projects.” I have not done much more in the second half of the year.
Take a good wildlife photo
Fail – I did get out to the woods with my camera but did not manage to photograph any wildlife. I had also spotted a heron on a few bike rides, so returned with my camera to try and get a good photo. I was excited to see it there, but as soon as I got the camera out of my bag it flew off. I was pleased with some zoo photos, including the lorikeet above.
Ride 1,000 miles
Pass – This was an easy pass. So much so that in June I had set myself a stretch goal of 2,021km, which I failed to achieve.
Ride somewhere new with Owen
Pass – Owen and I rode together loads this year, it has been great. The photo above was taken at Thetford Forest on our October holiday. We also enjoyed the new trails at Snibston Colliery Park and the blue graded trail at Cannock Chase.
Get on top of cleaning the cars
Fail – All of the cars had a thorough wash at some point in the year, but given that they are all filthy now, I cannot claim a pass.
Partial Pass – I have sold quite a few items, including a bike, but seem to have added more things to the “to sell” pile.
Tidy my garage
Partial pass – With the family fleet of bikes increasing in size, installing some Topeak bike hooks (Amazon affiliate link) to get the bigger bikes off the floor has made a difference. However, the workbench is still a mess.
Get my weight down to 85kg
Massive fail – Keeping my weight down has not really been a priority this year. My dad has done a really good job of losing weight this year, showing me that it can be done. I will need to try harder next year.
Whilst I have missed a few of my goals for the year, I have achieved one of my main life goals of getting back into a software development job, which was not something I was expecting for 2021. Another positive is that we, as a family, have managed to avoid catching coronavirus. It feels like it has been closing in on us, with close contacts at work, school and nursery testing positive, but test after test have come back negative up to now.