Wednesday, 15 October 2014

"Daa Daa"

The trouble with trying to write about things that happened very early in the morning is that it's difficult to remember them in any detail. As such, I don't know exactly what time it was when Ben woke up this morning, but I think it was sometime between 5 o'clock and 5:30am. I went to get him out of his cot and brought him back to bed so that B could feed him, both of us hoping that he'd go back to sleep afterwards. And as luck would have it, this is what happened. He wasn't asleep for long however, and at about 5:40am he woke up again. I was only dozing at the time and so was a little bit more with-it than I had been earlier. I was awake enough to realise that Ben didn't intend to go back to sleep anyway...

What was cute, was that Ben is so used to our morning routine now that he crawled over to me while I was half-asleep, tried to climb on top of me and said "Daa daa". He's been sounding a lot more like he's trying say words (or at least make slightly more specific noises) for a couple of weeks now but this was the first time that he seemed like he was making a deliberate attempt to talk to me and I was delighted! We then went downstairs and had a lovely time playing together before Jess came down to join us about an hour later and we all had breakfast.

Although he's not very good at sleeping and won't sleep through the night even though he's almost a year old now, Ben is a joy to be around most of the time. He's a very good eater (he loves fruit pouches and marmite on toast) and he certainly knows what he wants when it comes to toys too, much to Jessica's dismay most of the time! He's especially fond of phones, remote controls, baby wipes and stones from the fireplace, and he doesn't like having any of these things taken away from him. He also likes playing with his little lion toy, putting things inside things (i.e. his building blocks back in their box), being chased around the front room, being tickled and occasionally sitting in his car seat to watch TV.

I love everything about him (except perhaps for his nappies) and am looking forward to spending the rest of my life getting to know him as he continues to grow and hopefully discovers how wonderful it is being a dad with children of his own someday.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Newsletter in Jeopardy

I can't quite remember what it's called but there's a very famous American quiz show where the host reads an answer and the contestants have to offer an appropriate question befitting of that answer. It might be called "Jeopardy" but I'm not 100% sure on that and I can't be bothered to Google it right now.

Anyway, a new edition of one of my company's many, many email newsletters landed in my inbox this afternoon. This one is bi-monthly but this doesn't mean it's worth waiting for. Far from it. In fact, it's difficult to imagine why it even exists or what it's supposed to offer its readers other than some motivation to stop reading their emails and get back to work. Maybe that actually is what it's for? If so, it's a work of genius.

Regardless of the above, in true "Jeopardy" (possibly) style, I've decided to come up with a short brief which could have been behind the conception of the idea that went on to become this newsletter:

"Use as many words as possible to talk about how great you are and how well you're doing at everything without actually writing anything worth reading. Don't forget to ramble on pointlessly at every available opportunity! Please also remember to include as much business speak as possible, and refer constantly to your meaningless 'core values'."

Monday, 13 October 2014

Jess is 202 (weeks)

Jessica has seemed much more settled at school lately. We don't have the same difficulties persuading her to get dressed in the mornings and she's quite happy to be left there after being dropped off too. Part of this change of heart seems to be that she has a new friend called India who has started coming along with her to the three windows through which I wave to her and pull silly faces on my way out. I've had to stop poking my tongue out when I'm pulling silly faces now as Jess got in trouble last week for poking her tongue out and blowing raspberries at her teacher, so I'm trying to distance myself from that as much as possible. But Jess and India were both in fits of laughter as I left this morning, although I think Jess was laughing as much as she was mostly because she didn't want India to be laughing more than her. If I have to leave her anywhere though, it's nice to know she's with friends who are all laughing together when I leave.

At home, Jess is going through a phase of wanting to do lots of drawings and "arts and crafts" (mostly cutting things out and sticking them to things) at the moment. Her drawings are surprisingly good. So much so that I didn't believe B at first when she showed me one of her more recent pictures. Fortunately it's possible to tell if her pictures are genuine as she always draws hair in a funny way by starting with a thick vertical line on the top of the head and then doing lots of curved lines sprouting out at the sides. In this way, most of the people she draws often look a bit like they have carrots on their heads but I love that she has a "style" of her own already.

Her reading and writing is also continuing to improve at an impressive rate. I supervised her and Ben in the bath last Saturday while B was doing some tidying around the house. We got the foam letters out (most of which Ben tried to eat) and with minimal help from me she spelt out "Cat", "Jessica" and "Ned" on the wall (Ned was supposed to say Ben). Her favourite book at the moment is her Beginner's Bible and I usually read her at least five or six stories from it before bed every night. This is a very special time for us at the moment and is one of my favourite parts of the day. She understands the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament and prefers the New Testament as she likes hearing stories about Jesus. She was particularly pleased with herself when she realised (without any prompting from me) that if you take the U out of Jesus you get Jess!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Struggling to Hear Terry

The church that B and I go to (Reading Family Church) belongs to a worldwide network of churches known as New Frontiers which is pretty huge. New Frontiers was started by a man named Terry Virgo, and today Terry came to preach at Reading Family Church for the third or fourth time that I can remember since B and I found Reading Family Church a little over eight years ago. So obviously we were both very keen to hear him speak, but also had a photographer coming round to the house to take photos of Jess and Ben which complicated things.

Originally the plan had been that I'd go to the 9am church meeting while B stayed at home with the kids, then she'd go to the 6:30pm meeting while I stayed at home with the kids. We changed our minds about this though, and ended up all going to the 9 o'clock meeting which wasn't ideal for a number of reasons. Firstly, Ben wouldn't be left by himself in crèche. I stayed with him for a while but every time I thought he'd forgotten I was there and was happy playing by himself he read my mind, stopped what he was doing, and looked round to make sure he could still see me. As lovely as it was knowing that he was so reassured by my presence it was also a pain as I wanted to be back in the main meeting.

Next, B came to feed Ben to encourage him to go to sleep. This is something that hadn't occurred to me but he would be in a foul mood by 11am when the photographer arrived if he hadn't slept for an hour or so beforehand. Needless to say, he didn't go to sleep as expected, even though he was exhausted, so I ended up taking him out for a drive in the car to get him to sleep.

What happened next is what I found the most surprising. Not that Ben actually feel asleep as I'd hoped (which he did), but that B seemed to have no idea where we were even though I told her that I was going to take Ben out in the car with me when I took him off her. I had planned on driving around until 10:30 at which point I'd arrive back at church for the end of the meeting, pick up B and Jess and we'd all go home. Instead, I stopped briefly to have a look at my phone and saw that I had about a dozen missed calls from B and an angry message asking where I was. So I cut our drive short and went back to church.

As it later turned out, B had been so frantically trying to get hold of me (I still don't really understand why) that she'd missed most of Terry's preach, and was waiting on the road outside the school where Reading Family Church holds its meetings when I got back. We got home again at 10:45, with Ben still asleep, and with neither of us having heard any of Terry's message despite both of us having been at church. So, I then left B and the kids at home and went back to church for the 11 o'clock meeting, heard Terry speak and got home again at around 1pm shortly after the photographer had finished with the kids, packed up and gone home.

Thankfully the rest of the day wasn't nearly so confusing. We all had lunch together and then B went to have a lie-down as she'd got up early with Jess and Ben this morning. After about an hour Jess was getting worried that we wouldn't have time to go to Dinton Pastures (as we'd promised her) so I left Ben with B and Jess and I went by ourselves. We took her bike with us but she gave up cycling on it about halfway round the lake which meant I ended up carrying it instead. It was good fun though, and Jess was especially glad of all the rain we'd had the night before as she was very fond of the puddles!

Once we'd got home again I did something quick for Jess and Ben to eat, then we watched a bit of some Disney film before they went to bed. B and I were both still as tired as each other and I'd had a bad headache all day too, so we spent what was left of the evening having a Dan's Healthy Salad on the sofa and watched the remaining two and a half episodes of series four of Breaking Bad. The last two episodes were simply amazing and I was so satisfied with the eventual conclusion that I felt like jumping up and down cheering when the main bad guy got what was coming to him. There's still 16 episodes of series five left to watch, although I'm not sure my nerves are ready for them yet if series four was anything to go by...

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Carters Steam Fair and 2048 Reached!

After Jess had had her swimming lesson this morning B, Jess, Ben and I all went along to Carters Steam Fair at Palmer Park in the afternoon. It hardly seems possible to think that it was pretty much a full year ago when we went last went to Carters Steam Fair. This afternoon was very similar to the afternoon we enjoyed over at Prospect Park last year in terms of the things we did and the rides that Jess went on, but this time there was a sleepy little boy in a pushchair with us whereas last time he was a tiny baby still growing inside his mum's tummy.

There were a few rides that Jess couldn't go on as she wasn't tall enough, but she was fine on most of them and even won herself a magic wand and a pair of fairy wings on one of the stalls (which she was delighted with). She had some candy floss from a stick, played on some of the machines in the vintage amusement arcade and then went to play at the park afterwards.

The other thing about today was that I finally broke my "2048" addiction. 2048 is a mini-game on a phone app that I wrote about recently. I said then that I suspected I'd probably win it sooner or later, and today I successfully managed to create a single "tile" within the game worth 2048 points. Surprisingly though, this wasn't the end of the game! I got a little message congratulating me on this achievement but it allowed me to continue playing so that in theory I could have worked towards a 4096 tile, or an 8192 tile, or a 16384 tile or perhaps even bigger. This is never going to happen though, so rather than strive for bigger and bigger scores I decided to call it a day and haven't played it since. Before I gave up indefinitely though, I decided to check my top score of 23,940 against other top scores online (you can do this through the app). I wasn't expecting to be at the top of the list, but I wasn't expecting to see so many people having scored 150,000 either; presumably this is the maximum possible score but it's more than six times my score and as such I can't quite comprehend how this is possible! I guess I'll just have to settle with knowing that I'm in the top 2%...

Friday, 10 October 2014

Family Carvery

After getting home from work today B, Jess, Ben and I all went out for a carvery for dinner. Carverys are great as they're not too expensive and are a good way of getting Jess and Ben to eat plenty of meat and vegetables without all the usual fuss and mess (well, the mess is still made but it's not us who has to clear it all up for a change).

I opted to upsize my meal and went for a "Kingsize" but it wasn't nearly as big as an actual king and the two sausages I got were laughably small. Not that I actually got to eat these, or indeed much of the meat I was served with either as I ended up sharing most of this out between Jess and Ben. This meant I had to fill up on roast potatoes, carrots and peas but it was nice seeing Jess and Ben eat so well, and sharing food isn't something that comes naturally to me so I need all the practise I can get anyway!

My favourite part of the meal was probably a bizarre game that Jess invented whereby we all took it in turns to wear B's sunglasses and pull a sad face. B took pictures of all four of us doing this (including Ben) and then made a hilarious collage out of the four photos. Another highlight was the elderly man at the table next to us who told B and I that our children were a credit to us as he was getting up to leave. Obviously I knew this already, but it's nice to know that other people notice how wonderful they are from time to time...

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Day Without my Beloved Forums

Annoyingly enough, Carcassonne Central was unavailable for most of today. Whilst this would be nothing more than a slight annoyance for most people, for me it was a major problem and even I was surprised at how much I struggled to get through the day without it!

As an Admin of the site, part of me felt like I should have been actively trying to get it back on its feet. I discussed this with another of the Admins by email and he felt the same way. However, since neither of us have any of the details relating to the hosting company, site credentials or even contact information there was little either of us could do. And by little I mean nothing at all.

After a few hours I was getting fairly desperate and so signed up at which is kind of like a sister-site to Carcassonne Central, albeit one which speaks mostly German. There are English-speaking areas within the forums though, and several of the members at CarcC are also members of CarcF so I was able to chat with some of them and even posted a short bio surrounding my history with Carcassonne in their New Members area.

The site came back at around 5:45pm, just as I was getting ready to go home. This prompted a sudden flurry of activity as I visited CarcF and the CarcC page on Facebook to advise others who were missing it that it was finally back.

Because the crash had been caused by a database error (some sort of corruption relating to a specific table as far as I could tell from the error message), the last database backup had to be restored in order to bring it back online. This meant that anything posted after the last database backup was lost so I spent a little while trying to bring everything up to date again from email notifications I'd received on posts I'd been following and even, in the case of one thread in particular, from what was left on the screen of my laptop at home. The most recent edition of the newsletter that I'd posted the previous morning was also lost, but fortunately I had a personal backup of that so was able to restore that too.

Before long everything seemed to be back to normal again apart from a blip on the forum statistics page showing that there were a grand total of 0 posts yesterday. The forums behind Carcassonne Central run on a PHP architecture called Simple Machines Forum which uses a MySQL back-end. I've never used MySQL but I'm sure it would have been an easy enough task to have restored a copy of the most recent backup of the database and then used this to copy over just the corrupted table(s) in the live database, leaving recent messages intact and minimising disruption. I would have been more than happy to do this but because I simply don't have access to the inner-workings of CarcC at this kind of level I don't know whether I'll ever have the opportunity to use my expertise in this way.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Bored and Sleepy

Ben had me up at 5:20am for the second day in a row this morning. I didn't cope very well with this (yesterday's late night didn't help either) but struggled on regardless and managed to get myself through the morning at work without facing anything much to contend with. By the afternoon I was in a position that I could probably get on with something quietly for three or four hours before going home, but had forgotten all about the new HR policies meeting I was required to attend.

Now, I'm perfectly prepared to admit that in the 34 years that I've been alive for so far I have lived through some pretty dull experiences. Excruciatingly dull on some occasions, yet today's meeting was up there with the best/ worst of them in terms of how dull it was. What's more, I was utterly exhausted and couldn't keep my eyes open for any longer than about two minutes at a time, so it was inevitable really that I was going to doze off at least once during the meeting. I just hadn't realised how difficult trying to stay awake was going to be, or how long an hour can feel like when you're out of your mind with boredom and can't concentrate on anything other than the idea of how nice it would be to just lie down under the table for a few minutes...

The rest of the day wasn't too bad once that meeting was out of the way. I left a little early so that I could get to Jessica's school in time for her parent's evening appointment at 5:30pm and met B there. The feedback we got was all very positive and I loved hearing all about how well my little girl is doing. Whilst I want my children to do well in life, I don't believe that education is everything. I'd far rather Jessica has a happy and rewarding life than a rich and successful life (if the two options are considered to be mutually exclusive), but it sounds like she's getting the best of both worlds at the moment; she's doing very well with her language and maths skills, but is making friends and playing well too. Understandably, I left feeling very proud indeed!

Monday, 6 October 2014

As Proud as Can be

B and I will be going to a "parents evening" at Jessica's school tomorrow. I suppose to give us some idea of what we might like to discuss with her teacher, she brought her record book home with her today. I didn't even realise she had one, but there's an entry in it for pretty much every day she's been at school and it's full of short accounts of things she's done, drawings, quotes of things she's said and little pictures showing what she's been getting up to. I had a look through it at lunchtime and it was one of the most entertaining things I've read in a long time! As entertained as I was though, I was also incredibly proud.

There was a short story about how Jessica had seen someone struggling to open something so she'd gone to ask them if she could help, before opening whatever it was and giving it back to them. There was another story about how she'd shown some children how to find certain games on the computer, and several stories about how much she likes arts and crafts. My favourite though, related to something that happened today where she'd written an "S" and was asked to think of some words that began with the letter S. She reeled off a whole list of words beginning with S, the last of which was "sink". By all accounts she then went off on one about how Captain Smith had driven the Titanic into an iceberg and that it had sunk to the bottom of the sea. I love how fascinated she is by Titanic, although the fact that they almost always end up building Titanic out of pretty much anything that comes to hand whenever she and my dad are playing together makes it rather hard to avoid!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Winkworth Arboretum

B, Jess, Ben and I managed to get to the 9 o'clock church meeting this morning for a change. I wasn't actually there for much of the meeting as I spent the majority of it in the crèche with Ben. I did manage to leave him and go back to the main meeting, but B had to go and collect him because he eventually realised that neither of us were there and got upset. I then took him back to crèche and spent the rest of the meeting there chatting to Matt about parenting.

After church, we went home for half an hour before setting off again, this time for Winkworth Arboretum in not so nearby Godalming. We talked about going there with our friends Andy and Kathryn when we saw them on Saturday at Mad House and thought it might be nice to meet there. But we arrived a little before them as we planned to have a picnic lunch and then took some photos of Ben standing up by himself (for the purpose of his "Today I stood up for the first time" milestone card).

We went back to the entrance after our picnic and met Andy, Kathryn, Amy & Jemma there. Then we set off on what turned into quite a long and hilly walk which was especially tiring for me as I was pushing Ben in his buggy. The girls collected differently coloured leaves and generally explored but because of where we were, we the parents had to be particularly strict with regard to them wandering off through risk of them falling over/ down hills etc. This made it a little bit more stressful than I'd anticipated but I enjoyed seeing all the various colours of autumn around me and the exercise was very welcome too.

In the evening, once the kids had gone to bed, I spent a while setting up a little Carcassonne puzzle for inclusion in the monthly newsletter that I've started writing for Carcassonne Central. Meanwhile, B was attempting to organise some of our photos and videos on the laptop. Inevitably she got distracted and ended up watching old videos of Jess from later 2012/ early 2013. Understandably, I quickly abandoned my project and went to reminisce with B on the sofa. Listening to Jessica's little voice chattering away so confidently and fluently at such a young age really reminded me how lucky I am to have been blessed with such a wonderful set of travelling companions throughout this journey that's called life. It's rarely very relaxing or peaceful at the moment, but I love every day and I love those who make it what it is so very much.