This winter seems to be dragging on like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Is it just me, or is this winter particularly long and cold, with some really nasty bugs going round? We’re all looking forward to half term, the start of spring and better weather. As a mum I often find myself scratching my head over ways to fill the days right now, and I wondered if other mums are too. What can we do right now to make the days seem less dark?
Take pleasure in the small moments
They say “the days are long but the years are short”, so make them count. Life with kids is all about the small moments. Whether it’s sitting on the kitchen floor sharing a punnet of blueberries with my kids, or helping my boy learn how to read, I try so hard to be present in these moments. Being a mum means simultaneously living like a blue arsed fly, and feeling the days drag by.
The first time I baked with my boy was one of the most stressful moments in my entire life. I can’t abide mess, especially in a tiny kitchen, and he tried to eat half the raw mixture so I didn’t even get a big cakey reward for my efforts. I tried to think about why this had gone wrong, so the next time I let him choose what we’d be baking. We regularly baked and still do on rainy days. He knows it’s something that’s just for me and him, and it’s a wonderful way to bond.
Find a seriously good boxset – or several of them.
There’s a reason why TV is crap in the summer – because the best things are on in the winter. TV Land knows we don’t do much with our evenings at this time of year, so you can guarantee there’ll be good stuff to dive into once the kids are in bed. After a total dearth of decent telly in the warmer months, we were pretty happy to delve back into Stranger Things and Peaky Blinders this winter. Have a date movie night with your partner – or a movie day with your kids, and embrace the hygge.
Think about your summer holiday.
We all need something to look forward to. Looking ahead to what you’ll be doing in warmer months is not just a good way to get through the cold months – it’s necessary. It doesn’t matter whether you’re having five days in Northumberland (which was epic when we did it) or if it’s a month roadtripping across mainland Europe (holiday goals), research something with your kids and get excited about it!
Do something productive that you enjoy.
I rarely feel more peaceful than when I’m embracing my passion – photography. It’s not always easy to take photos at this time of year, and god knows I get sick of being in the four walls of my house, but I make it a priority. I’m a creative person and I love working with my hands, so whether I’m cooking something new or creating something with my camera, I need to have something going on. At the moment I’m doing a year long project, taking a photo every day and making time for it. It keeps my creative juices flowing, which keeps me feeling centred.
Eat something good for you
Right now I have a delicious ale stew bubbling away in my oven. I am salivating at the thought. I’ve always been a fan of the kind of food that sticks to your ribs, but at this time of year it’s on another level. My find of the century has been a waffle maker from Lidl for the princely sum of £10. Pile them up with greek yoghurt and fruit, drizzle some honey over, and have a foodgasm.
Get out, regardless of the weather. And grab every opportunity for sunshine you can.
This is the best tip I can give for winter wellness: GET OUTSIDE. Waterproofs and wellies exist for a reason, so tog up and get out. Run around with your kids if they moan about being cold, fill your lungs with fresh air and enjoy whatever gorgeous part of the world you live in – rain or shine.
I love the outdoors, and love spending time with my kids outside. I love the feeling of all piling back home ready to just chill out and feel cosy with them. Winter’s almost over and I’m so looking forward to spring, but these things are making life a little easier. What about you? How do you get through long winter with small children?
I can often find myself feeling a bit blue, especially when I’m at home with the kids and it just doesn’t seem to stop snowing. I hate being cold and inactive, and the feeling that I’m stuck inside. The above stuff is just my personal checklist, things I like to spend time doing when I know that getting outdoors in the sunshine isn’t easy to achieve. For me, self care is my primary goal at this time of the year, along with making sure my kids have an awesome childhood.
What about you? What’s your strategy for surviving this time of year?
“I really like Christmas. It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it….I’ll be seeing my dad, my brother and sisters, my gran and my mum. They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun. And you won’t understand, but you will learn some day, that wherever you are, and whatever you face, these are the people who make you feel safe in this world. My sweet, blue eyed girl. And if, my baby girl, when you’re 21 or 31, and Christmas comes around, and you find yourself 9000 miles from home, you’ll know whatever comes, your brothers and sisters and me and your mum will be waiting for you in the sun.”
Oh Christmas! The preparation started about October (I’m only half joking). We say it every year but it’s true – the shops really do seem to start stocking Christmas things the moment Halloween finishes. Gone are the Novembers full of jaws stuck tight with bonfire toffee – replaced now pinterest boards of Elf on the Shelf ideas, and a tv schedule full of Kirstie Allsopp. By the time December starts, everything is geared towards Christmas.
George started school this year, and since half term ended he’s been dizzy on a diet of Christmas songs (not of the O Come Ye variety, but newfangled songs about Brussels sprouts). He’s collected a cool ten Christmas cards from children at school I’m not sure he really knows. The toddler enjoys the lights and the increase in her daily chocolate provision. The moment school broke up last Friday, George came home and, giddy with excitement, immediately climbed into a large box. He stayed there for nearly an hour, his sister feeding him chocolate tree decorations as sustenance.
I’ve become vaguely scathing about Christmas this year, despite being so festive I can practically shit glitter. I bloody love Christmas. I loved going to see my son in his first Christmas show at school. It was only 10 minutes of nativity based stuff, which was a small mercy. If you know what it’s like to have one four year old tell you a story, try having 45 four year olds and 30 three year olds telling you a story you already know IN UNISON. So well done school. They did 45 minutes of Christmas songs, and George played the classic role of “Boy from Zambia” in their song about Christmas around the world. We also had his class party and Christmas jumper day to sustain the excitement/elevated blood sugar levels.
It’s true what they say. Christmas is for kids. Certainly my Christmases as a student spent with a bit of tinsel wrapped around pole pale in comparison to what I have today, and I’m only marginally more sober these days.*
I’m struggling a bit with Santa. I’ve spent so much of the past few years instilling a sense of honesty and fairness in him, that it feels disingenuous to tell him that Santa brings him presents. I mean, George really believes. He’s a card carrying member of the Santa Party. He is convinced it’s the Santa and not me who brings him his presents on Christmas morning, and he’s already threatened to stay up all night on Christmas Eve to catch Santa in the act. He’s smart though – we have a gas fire, the type that’s like a fake wood burner with glass doors. He cannot fathom how Santa will not get stuck inside that tiny stove. And I lied to him. Looking deep into his blue, shining eyes, I told him that Santa is Magic. Hi, my name’s Caroline, and I’m a massive hypocrite. Sherry, anyone?
*I am not a heavy drinker – since having two children my tolerance to alcohol is terrible and I am merry on one glass of wine.
Anyway, Christmas isn’t just about presents and songs. I suppose for some people their faith is an important factor. It doesn’t feature in this house, but I don’t really think that matters. To me, Christmas is bringing light and warmth into my family at the darkest time of the year. It’s a feast with family.
It’s a whole day with my parents, my husband, our children, my sister and her husband, and their precious boy. It’s going to the In Laws on Boxing Day, for more mayhem, walking their dog in the field, watching old films and playing silly games. It’s about love. Not santa. Not presents. Not violently shoving other shoppers out of your way as you charge through the shops on Black Friday. It’s mushy, I know, but Christmas is about love. And I love it.
Introducing Documentary Family Photography Sessions
To showcase a bit of what happens during a documentary family photography session, I decided to spend a whole day photographing my own family. For my ‘Day in the Life’, I chose a day when we were getting ready for Christmas. We woke early, and my husband and son went to collect our Christmas tree, leaving me and my young daughter at home to prepare the house. This is what we got up to….
Pre-Dawn. Bleary eyes and bodies.
Before the sun. I couldn’t resist capturing the early morning half light in my kitchen as I made crumpets, cups of coffee and hot chocolate through bleary eyes. My kids are early risers, and this is a comforting scene.
My son is a comfort seeker. He would spend all his days in hoodies, pjs and slippers if I let him. My daughter is going through a naked phase, and will not keep clothes on even if she’s frozen.
A Lazy Morning
I had a morning in the kitchen, and the kids wandered in and out while I washed pots and cleaned surfaces. Every now and then I’d stop what I was doing and pick up my camera to take a few shots.
detail family photography nottingham
I love these photos of them playing together, and just pottering about. It’s what our life really looks like most of the time, especially at this time of year when going out takes planning.
What I love most about documentary photography is the way it captures natural connections. Here you can see the relationship between my son and daughter, the way he insists on a kiss from her before going out, and the way they’ll both do their own thing but refer constantly back to each other. The age gap between them ceases to matter when we’re at home and they’re free to explore at their own speed. They play together and apart, and that’s what I wanted to capture.
George also loves to help his Dad, so when they brought back the tree and Tom announced the bottom of it needed to be sawn off, George was all over it like a rash!
And then we spent some time decorating the tree together. As the years pass we accumulate more tree decorations, things they’ve made at school and nursery. We have a one eyed penguin made from a footprint – he started out with two but the passage of time is a cruel dictator – that I insisted went on the tree. Effie found the chocolate decorations, and decided to ‘help’ us by reducing the number of things to put on the tree.
These are the moments I want to remember. They’re not big. They’re not bold. They’re beautiful. Our house is small, and a little untidy. It is not instagrammable, but it’s ours.
I will be launching my family documentary sessions in the New Year. If you’d like to know more about them, feel free to contact me anytime at email@example.com.
I like my blog to be a positive place, where I talk about my kids, my life, my business, and try to serve people through being helpful or entertaining. But recently I’ve made massive changes to my business, and I think this is a really good place to address what I want to do from now on. I’ve learnt so much about how I can serve my clients properly, in a way that pleases all of us, and why I’m never going back to what I used to do.
I started out as a photographer three years ago. Of course, I promptly fell pregnant as soon as I got my first booking, and I didn’t have the headspace to consider how I wanted to work. I took no time to plan my workload, what I needed to earn, and how I would serve my clients. I had no clue what I was actually doing. I just wanted to take photos that made people happy.
A photo from January 2017, before I’d invested in training
Before a session I’d have a brief chat with my clients to find out who and what I was taking photos of. I’d do little or no preparation, wing it through the session and send them a CD with 80 photos on. This would cost them a maximum of £100. I didn’t know how to edit a photo, so I just used presets and hoped for the best. I didn’t know how to sell prints or wall art, so I didn’t bother. Clients generally liked the photos I sent them. Eventually I scrapped the CD and just put all their photos in an online gallery, with the option to buy prints as well as download their digital files.
At the time I thought “wow, £100 for 4 hours work!” and justify it to myself that I could do 4 a week and make a respectable income that way. But I didn’t get 4 clients a week. I loved each and every photography session I did, but I felt so flat afterwards. I steadily decreased the number of photos they were getting because I realised I’d taken “serving clients well” with “giving them everything they want as cheaply as possible.”
Hustling hard, and getting nowhere fast
In February 2017 I watched a webinar about this very subject. My daughter was 1 and I’d been back at work for a few months. Having time away from it had giving me lots of time to think about what I wanted, and what was going wrong. This webinar was like throwing a grenade into my business. I was practically giving my work away, devaluing the work of photographers everywhere, and I was failing to make a living myself. I was part of the problem, not the solution. I knew that if I didn’t change my business I wouldn’t have a business left.
I had only basic kit and no training. I was paying for insurance, fuel, marketing, and a website, but I hadn’t factored them into my business plan. It’s safe to say that at this point I didn’t even have a business plan. And then I went through the maths, and realised that after costs I was selling photos for just 64p each – only slightly more than a pint of milk.
I was embarrassed and a bit disgusted with myself. In making things easy for myself I had failed to do the job properly. I wasn’t proud of what I was achieving. I did practically no preparation or after care. I knew I wanted to change this aspect of my business most of all.
Running a photography business doesn’t come with a map. It’s up to us to find our own way of working that we enjoy, that pushes us, that makes us proud to serve our clients. I’m not saying that photographers who charge so little are doing anything wrong. Everyone has different values, different costs, and different ways of working. Once I’d realised I’d put so little value on my own work, I knew I had to look hard at where I wanted to be to work out how to get there.
Above: Photos from a training session that changed my perspective on outdoor children’s photography.
I’ve spent the past 9 months training, and working on my business. I have worked with some of the best photographers in the UK to develop. I’ve upgraded my kit completely. I subscribed to a programme of ongoing business training. And best of all? I took the time to work out how I want to serve my clients.
Improving My Service
I’ve worked out how much time I want to spend working for clients. I now have lots of touch points with them, from enquiry to delivering their products, I spend about 12 hours on each client. I speak to them before they book to make sure I’m the photographer they’re really looking for. We chat about everything they want, what might hold them back or cause them to worry, and I plan the session around this chat. I budget for things to take longer than they probably will, so that we don’t feel rushed or harassed at any point. I edit every photo by hand, and when I’m done I see clients again and go through their photos in person. They pick what they want to buy, and I help them with their decision. If they’re nearby and it’s convenient for them, I’ll even hand deliver their order.
I value my clients, and I want to show them that, but I’ve realised that valuing them and giving them everything for very little aren’t the same thing. I’ve also realised that just plonking their entire photoset into an online gallery isn’t good customer service, and therefore not good for my photography business. Photography is a luxury business, not a basic human right, and photographers need to earn a living just like everyone else.
My time, and yours, is worth more than a pint of milk.
As a child photographer, I’m always telling my clients that the best thing about photographing their kids is that they get to stop time. For an hour or two, they can press the pause button on their adventure. They have a way to remember their kids in that moment – the way they smile, the colour of their hair, the long eyelashes. This time, it’s my turn to press pause.
On Friday 13th of November at a quarter to midnight, you were born. From the very moment I lifted you into my arms I was head over heels for you. You had dark brown hair, and big, deep blue eyes. You were immediately a lot louder, and a lot hungrier, than your big brother. Those two things are possibly related. But anyway, you are, and have always been, perfect. You completed our family just like buns complete burgers, tonic completes gin, and coffee completes life.
We had a rough start, but you quickly developed into a smiley baby with a filthy laugh. I won’t lie – once the screaming hungry newborn phase was over I breathed a massive sigh of relief. We started 2016 completely knackered, but by Spring we’d found our rhythm. Your dark brown hair had been swiftly replaced by a dirty blonde pixie ‘do, but your eyes remained enormous and blue. You idolised your brother George, and found the cat to be an endless source of hilarity. Your first food was a stick of cucumber, but you had no teeth and got a bit angry about it. Now you’re two, you still get incredibly angry at cucumber, but in a different way.
Look at you now. My big, beautiful, wide-eyed girl. You have your dad’s long legs and skinny fingers. In every other way you look exactly like me when I was a kid. When people tell me you look like me, I take it as the ultimate compliment – because you’re fab.
I know I’m utterly, unashamedly biased, but I think you might just be the cleverest, most fun just-2 year old in the world today. George was hilarious fun at your age too, but in such a different way. I don’t know if it’s because having a big brother means you’ve always had to compete, or if it’s something innate in your personality, but you have a sense of tenacity that he just didn’t have. This stubborn streak seems to be common among younger siblings – I should know, because I am one. Just this morning George moaned that he was tired, and you, ever competitive, piped up “No! I tired FIRST!”
And although I love your sweet little voice, your self-assuredness and your long, long fingers, the truth is that I love you so much I can’t even find the words to express it.
You love dogs. Wearing your wellies and going hunting for puddles. Singing the words to songs you’re not entirely sure of. You’d live on pasta if I let you. If I give you a chocolate biscuit you manage to eat only the chocolate off the top. You love your bed, and the army of teddies that inhabit it day and night. Your favourite book is Stick Man. You hide behind your hands every night when Daddy gets in from work, and shriek with joy when he finds you. You won’t hold my hand when we walk anywhere, because you love to run. Your favourite thing in the whole world is making everyone you meet draw itsy spiders in your colouring book.
When I was expecting my first child I was completely naïve. I was going to breastfeed until he weaned himself, cosleep, do baby-led weaning, and possibly look into homeschooling.
After 24 hours and a little help from the NHS, George came tumbling into our lives.
As the fog of the first year lifted we discovered that my jumper baubles are entirely decorative, a theory corroborated after having another baby and finding once again that formula is magic. We did cosleep a little, but our baby turned out to be some kind of nocturnal octopus. Baby led weaning was a hilarious affair in which we redecorated the house with avocado in a manner befitting of a Jackson Pollack splashfest, and homeschooling? Ha. Mumma needs a hot cup of tea and a good sit down.
And somehow, starting school felt like an inevitable shock. A year ago I found myself in the awkward position of having to choose a school for George. I know exactly nothing about state primary schools. I didn’t go to one, and even if I did, it’s 20 years since I finished primary school. I was completely underwhelmed by the local offering, mainly because they all involve uniforms and OFSTED, which I’ve taken to understanding is a bit pointless.
Nevertheless, we searched and searched, and looked around a few schools. George got allocated a place at a school within walking distance, which means I have to get exercise whether I like it or not. We spent a couple of mornings there before starting school properly, presumably so he could cry in front of people who don’t know him and get confused about toilet etiquette. George tells me his favourite part of these taster days was when I joined him for lunch, probably because I had to fold myself into a seat suitable for a 7 year old and eat my roasted Quorn fillet off a plastic tray with partitions.
I was nervous about quite a few things. I’d not managed to teach him the alphabet, he couldn’t button up his own school shirt, he thought he was going to a school named after a leading brand of baby bath products, and he wouldn’t drink water unless it had squash in it. I had managed to get him wiping his own bum after going to the toilet, but even that was almost a bridge too far for him.
George was nervous about everything about starting school. We talked a lot about what was going to be different about school and why change is good. I had a lump in my throat for the whole of August despite my fixed grin and outward positivity. We talked about all the things he was going to learn and the friends he’d make, and how we could spend time after school doing fun things like playing football, baking or killing baddies on the playstation (his favourite thing, and the ultimate treat).
And now it’s half term. He’s been at “St. Johnsons” for 7 weeks. He knows almost all of the alphabet, despite early protestations that W was surely a made up letter. Phonics is actually amazing, and he’s actually reading some words (which puts paid to my plans to spell swear words aloud when expressing distaste). He’s only learnt one swear word in the playground so far, which I think bodes well. And best of all – he has a proper friend.
In the first couple of weeks I left the school grounds with a huge lump in my throat, knowing that he’d be crying. I tried not to let the feeling overpower me, partly because I’d have to spend the rest of the day being professional with clients or entertaining my one year old daughter, but mostly because I wanted to be only positive about this big change in a small kid’s life. And then one day I went to drop him off and another boy yelled “George!”, then enveloped him in the biggest bear hug. George left my side, clutching his favourite bunny and his friend’s hand. He didn’t cry. And then, and only then, I wept with pride.