June check in

Just checking in – I really miss blogging like I used to, as more of a journal of my life. Over the 12 and a half years I’ve been writing about my life on the internet, I’ve seen blogging change and evolve and shapeshift so many times.

I haven’t quite worked out where it is, as a medium, today – some people say it’s dead, some people say it’s stripped back to its bare bones, some sit in the middle.

But for me, and I’m sure I’ve talked about this here before, my blog is my online living room. It’s decorated how I like it, it’s filled with the things and conversations I want to have, and people can visit and leave as they like. No scheduling, no shoulds, no worrying.

It’s probably not a strategy to build an enormous following, but that was never the goal for this particular blog. And I have plenty of business spaces to do the strategic-yet-authentic thing (though if I’m honest, even my businesses don’t have much of a schedule for blogging & social. I prefer to be present and write when I have something to say).

So, things that have been going on in my (still grief-fuddled) world recently:

This amazing box to brighten up my day job desk

hogwarts broomstick repair kit box | carlalouise.com

Friendiversary dinners & plans – from a year to 20 years, eeek!

Choosing a yellow rose to plant in Dad’s memory

A series of commercial shoots coming up for the Burlesque Jems (and I’m going to be on TV dancing with them – eee!)

Packing for holiday and wondering how the hell I’m going to get my biggest fin, two weeks’ worth of clothes plus my camera, lenses & laptop into hand luggage only

Mermaid filming, and some secret squirrel plans for Mermaiding UK’s blog

Celebrating my Gran’s 88th birthday (we missed Dad being a BBQ maestro but it was really lovely to spend a whole day just chilling out with family)

Gran's 88th birthday | carlalouise.com

Gran's 88th birthday | carlalouise.com

Happy lunching with friends at work

I was on BBC radio talking about being a mermaid!

mermaid on the radio | carlalouise.com

Ink Drops packing, podcasts and plans

Moving Crafty Coffee to a Wednesday, to fit in with my new part time hours

Planning for a creative day with friends

Julia and Willoughby came to stay for the long weekend and I had my first foray into toddler soft play – was hilarious! At sixteen months he is gorgeous and much more interactive than newborn babies… but I had forgotten how much energy kids have!!

Going back to burlesque classes – I had missed it SO MUCH

Jenny & Matt’s wedding (and unicorn shoes, and sneaking in brunch with Lou & Paul!) It was also… illuminating… to meet up with people I’d not seen for nearly a decade. I’m very entertained by how some of them still think of me, and also by the passage of time in the case of the boys – the teenage boys I was friends with and loved so much – they are all now hurtling for middle age, yet haven’t changed personality-wise at all.

me with the blushing (erm...) bride Jenny | carlalouise.com

the gorgeous bride Jenny and groom Matt | carlalouise.com

And I’m sure all sorts of other stuff which has escaped my brain for now.

I can’t quite believe it’s June, but I’m trying to keep up my Happy Jar and gratitude journal practices, and making an effort to cook & eat well, as grief is quite exhausting enough without also trying to survive on junk food.

I’m still sadder than I knew was possible, but I am getting through each day, and spending as much time as I can with Mum and my family and my kittens and my friends – these things do make you realise the important things in life.

And finally, I’m hoping to spend a bit more quality time with my camera over the next couple of months, around all the admin we have to do, and also of course around work. I read somewhere that immersing yourself in things you love helps with anxiety, as you’re too absorbed in your creativity to worry unnecessarily about things. I think maybe this is a good experiment to try…

 

Three months (and the importance of sleep)

On Thursday it will be three months since I lost my beloved Dad. I can’t believe it’s been such a long/short time without him – I know it’s still early days in terms of grieving and learning to live without him, but at the same time it feels like I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes since we lost him. Zombie-like ones, admittedly – I still have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going most of the time, and I am doing the day to day stuff on autopilot.

Mum and I have been doing the best we can to get up every day and deal with life without him, to try to get all the admin done (it is a never ending wave – as soon as we complete one thing, four more turn up and need doing), and to comfort each other as much as we can.

For his two month anniversary we went to Arger Fen, to see the bluebells – he and Mum had done this last year and loved it. It was peaceful and quiet, and lovely to walk together and be in nature and remember him, and also to feel that he was there with us too.

Mum and I at Arger Fen for the bluebells, Dad's 2 month anniversary | carlalouise.com

Someone asked me if I have good days and bad days – I’d say I have days, and bad days. There have been some lovely things in the wake of his death, people being so kind and opportunities to spend time with Mum, extended family and dear friends. There was even something as lovely, and as normal, and as life-affirming, as Jenny and Matt’s wedding.

But oh, how I miss him.

I have managed to negotiate a year of part time at work – which technically started yesterday, though they are still bashing out the details after having approved it temporarily for a month. This is a relief as I was able to spend the day with Mum, and get lots done (if not as much as we’d hoped). We were both exhausted by the end of the day, and I stayed a bit later than planned so we could have some dinner and relax a bit.

But when I arrived home, congratulating myself on my newfound calmness about the kittens despite being home late, I let them out for a few minutes, and when they came back in for dinner, Clover was leaving little bloody marks on the floor wherever she put her right paw down.

Because I am exhausted to my bones, because I am already tired and had used up all my decision making ability and sensibleness and adulting on the awful but necessary business of Dad’s estate administration in the day, because I am still so sad I cannot conceive of normal life, because the combination of sad and exhausted means I’m not well and I’m not sleeping properly and I struggle with everyday decisions right now, this relatively small incident completely undid me.

Poor Clover – I inspected her paw as best I could, thought there was a claw missing, but had seen her pee moments earlier, and all her other claws & paws were intact. So not trauma from vehicle impact. She proceeded to eat both biscuits and wet food, at which point I rang Mum and with her help made the snap decision to give Clover some of the Metacam I had left in my cupboard from a trip to the vet in May.

Figuring it wouldn’t hurt and might help, I caught her, dosed her and then let her get on with her evening while I got in the bath and cried and cried and cried.

I know that things will hit me at odd moments, and crying over my (probably perfectly ok) cat might seem odd when I’ve just lost Dad, though I love those two kitties of mine to absolute distraction – but I wasn’t just crying over Clover, it was everything – the loss of him, the realisation (again) that he isn’t coming back, the grief, the having to carry on with every day when I really just want to curl up and hide from the world, the responsibility for two little cats who I love more than almost anything else in the world, but who seem to damage themselves far more often than is reasonable…

When I had picked myself up and taken myself to bed, via a long phone call with Lou, a shorter one with Mum and some panicked texts to my fellow cat ladies for reassurance, I established Clover was absolutely not in need of the emergency vet, and went to sleep.

This morning I feel, not exactly better, but certainly better than I did last night. Clover, when I left this morning, was purring, eating, cuddling, seemed 100% fine and there was no sign of blood. And the “missing” claw is intact – damn all that fluff in the way! Am mystified as to what’s happened, but I am hopeful that when I get home tonight she will still be fine, and I can have another early night. In the meantime, I am trying to be as gentle with myself as I am with other people, while simultaneously not taking any shit from anyone.

clover | carlalouise.com

What I have learned from this incident is that I must look after myself and I must prioritise sleep over more or less everything else. If I am well rested, the anxiety is better, the decision making is easier, everything is slightly better than it otherwise would be, and I’m less likely to get overwhelmed by everything.

I can’t go round the grief, or past it, or over or under it – I have to go through it and so does Mum. And all I can do while we go through it is remember to be kind to myself, and not feel guilty if I need more sleep than usual, or can’t socialise as much as I normally would, and so on.

On Thursday it will have been three months. If I can survive that, however broken from the impact of losing him, I can probably survive just about anything…

Finding home

For the longest time, I thought “home” was a place. Where you live, the house or flat or other dwelling that you return to.

During the days before my beloved Dad passed away, in a tiny hospital room in the acute cardiac unit, I realised that I was wrong.

Home is not just a place, it’s the people you love.

So that little room was home in the truest sense, Dad and Mum and I all together, helping each other through that most final of partings. I’ve never been anywhere more filled with love.

And home is, of course, not just your parents, children or partner.

It’s where you feel you belong. Whether that’s with a group of friends, or in a particular place, or a mixture of the two…

I’m amazingly lucky to have lots of people who feel like home, and several places too (not least my actual house).

Last weekend, I was with my best friends from uni, in a cottage on a lake in the Cotswolds. We went boating on the lake, and I was home, both with them and on the water.

Finding Home - kayaking in the Cotswolds | carlalouise.com

And I’m now much more aware of people, rather than just places, being home.

I also spotted lots of things Dad would love, which I’ve added to my Instagram hashtag… #thingsthatwouldmakedadsmile

Where is home for you? Who are the people who make you feel at home?

Love, loss and grief

There’s still no easy way to say this, so here it is: on 8th March 2017, my beloved Dad passed away, with Mum and I by his side right to the very end.

It was a gentle, peaceful step over after a few traumatic days in hospital, and I will always be thankful that we were able to be with him – for his sake, and also for ours.

In the six and a half weeks since, I have learned things.

That grief is not linear.

That it is possible to be more devastated than you ever imagined, and somehow keep going day after day after day.

That losing someone you love is a physical, as well as an emotional, pain.

That six and a half weeks can feel like five minutes and several lifetimes simultaneously.

Chris and Carla in Luckenbach, Texas | carlalouise.com

In Luckenbach, Texas. March 2015

Writing and taking pictures have always previously been my saviour when bad things have happened, but this loss is too big to process.

I don’t know how to be me without Dad in my life. He has always been there, and has always been on my side. He and Mum and I have always been Team Watkins – and our trio is now two, and neither of us really know how to process that.

Though I am so thankful for Mum – she is also devastated, but in our grief we are at least together. And she understands more than anyone else does, which makes days spent with her easier than days spent anywhere else.

My Dad was rather special in lots of ways. I know I’m biased, but even with that. It’s impossible to get his whole life into a blog post, but over his 72 years on the planet, 45 with Mum and 31 with me, he packed in enough life experience as the next ten people you’re likely to meet.

I heard stories at his wake that I had never heard, and I have never been anywhere, not even at weddings, where so much love for one person suffused a place and imbued every tear, every laugh and every word with such joy for having known him.

Mum and I put everything we could into his funeral – though I had definite WTF moments and moments of not wanting to do it – not because I didn’t want to do the best for him, but for the simple fact that I didn’t and don’t want him to be dead.

We had an amazing celebrant, Roxanne, who helped us to capture his spirit in words (he would definitely have approved – words and stories were his thing), and a wonderful funeral director, Maxine, from Hunnaball. I think he’d have approved of that, too!

His coffin had our flowers and also our Cornish flag, his Stetson hat and a helicopter on it – it was perfectly Chris.

Flowers and mementoes at Dad's cremation | carlalouise.com

It was a sad but also wonderful send off – very personal, and very fitting for the amazing human that he was. And the wake was (to my surprise) joyful from start to finish. The pub we chose was packed out with people reminiscing, and looking at the photo boards we had put together, and celebrating his life and that we knew him.

I feel so many feelings at the moment, I’m exhausted just from feeling them. I’m told this is quite normal in the early stages of grief. First time I’ve ever felt normal and I don’t like it much!

Something I keep returning to is how lucky I am (relatively speaking, in the sense that we all have to pass on one day – clearly I would have preferred it not to be just yet in Dad’s case) to have been able to stay with him in hospital. How privileged Mum and I were to have 24 hours of peace with him at the end, where he was with us but sleeping, pain-free and calm. Those hours by his bedside were so precious, to be able to say everything we wanted to, to cry, to laugh remembering things we’ve done together, to read him messages from the many, many family and friends who wanted to say goodbye.

To wake up in the same room as him & Mum on the morning he died, incongruously giggly, because he was snoring and Mum was snoring, and I remember many a childhood holiday morning listening to them snore away merrily.

That little side room off the cardiac unit might have been a hospital room, but it was home in the truest sense of the word – it was bursting at the seams with love and the three of us, the most important people in each other’s lives, were there together, helping each other through the trauma of parting.

To sit with him right at the end, as he made his final journey and the step over to the big bar in the sky, as he always called it and I will forever think of it. To see with my own eyes that it was peaceful, and know that the two people who loved him most, and who he loved most, were with him right until the end.

To be able to tell him that I love him, will always love him, and am so proud to be his daughter – these things had been said frequently during our life, but it was still a privilege to be able to  tell him again, to know that he knew without a shadow of a doubt just how special he is to us.

To have been inspired by his courage and fortitude when the consultant told him he was dying – to have loved and been loved so much that his loss has sliced through the core of my being and Mum’s.

All of those things make me lucky despite losing him, and so immensely proud – and he always told me that grief is the price we pay for love. It feels like a price worth paying, to have had him in my life.

I was terrified of coming home that night. We went to Gran’s once we left the hospital, and  then eventually back to Mum & Dad’s, and then Mum very bravely sent me home to my kittens. She was right, in that if I’d stayed with her that night I may never have left, but I was so scared, and so emotionally done for I didn’t know how I’d react to being at home.

His spirit was everywhere at their house – his chair by the window, his cigarettes, his desk and his computer, his coat over his office chair. All the tiny things that you don’t even notice till someone has gone. But it felt very much like he had come home with us, and it was somehow less painful.

I walked through the door of my house, and sat on the floor and cried.

Because he is here, too. He built this house for me – we have spent the last 18 months on the project and he put my last shelves up in January this year. It was his last great legacy, and he is everywhere.

In the banisters that we waxed together, in the furniture that he built, in the garden he designed and the garage studio he insisted on converting in November, even though I was happy to leave that another year or so.

In the beautiful fence panels in the garden, the bar he and Mum bought me as a housewarming present, the much-loved BBQ he taught me to cook on when I was small, and which is now in pride of place in my garden.

He’s in my books and my technology, my sentimental jewellery and my beautiful kitchen. In my scotchguarded carpet and my curtain rails, and my decking we planned to turn into a pirate ship.

My whole home is a monument to his love for me – something I hadn’t fully appreciated until that evening.

Me and Mum and Dad at C2C, March 2016 | carlalouise.com

Me and Mum and Dad at C2C, March 2016 | carlalouise.com

He is physically gone, but he is very much still with us. There have been little signs – blackbirds and helicopters, a book I picked up by chance which had too many spooky similarities to be anything but a sign.

All sorts of things, but most of all just a general feeling that he is there, still. Just beyond sight, beyond that veil – but there, nonetheless. Keeping Mum and I safe as he has done all his life.

We are coping, day by day. I have survived this far with incredible family and friends, copious kitten cuddles, and the strategy of taking ten minutes at a time.

I miss him more than I thought possible, and there is a huge, gaping hole where he used to be. Nothing is ever going to fill that, but I hope in time I will get used to living with it.

We have so many happy memories – our travels and road trips stand out (especially the Alan Jackson trip in 2015 – a true once in a lifetime memory), but even our day to day life is a happy memory.

Fate works in mysterious ways, too – after being made redundant and then deciding against a job in the Gulf in 2008, I decided to stay in Essex and moved to Colchester where my parents followed me a couple of years later.

Geography means I have been able to pop in to them, and them to me, for all of that time – and when I bought my house, they were able to project manage the build for me without having to stay away from their own home. Which also led to lots of sundowners in the garden, and BBQ dinners when I got home from work. Mundane at the time, so very precious with hindsight.

I’ve stayed more or less single throughout my twenties & into my thirties – and while I’ve had various opinions about that during that time, I’m now more grateful than ever that I made that choice. I made it for my own happiness, but a side effect I hadn’t even considered is that I have had time and freedom to spend with Mum and Dad regularly. I see them most weeks unless I’m away, sometimes several times a week, and while the house project was in progress I saw them most days. That time, now, feels like a gift.

And so. Somehow or other, Mum and I have to learn to live without Dad. Or at least, without his physical presence.

It is the small things which are the hardest – when the cars play up, or the oven breaks – all the little things he would fix without batting an eyelid.

I hung all my pictures in my house over the Easter weekend – I think he’d be very proud, despite the fact that I will be needing blue tac to make sure they all stay hanging straight…!

The blog will, I suspect, be a big part of my recovery. I’ve missed it, but I wanted to post this before I resumed normal posts, and it is still so raw and I’ve found it very difficult to write. I’m sure more about Dad will find its way onto the blog as I remember it, discover it or rediscover it – but for now, I am going to post this, and then take away all “shoulds” and allow myself to blog, or not, as I feel like it.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you are one of the incredible humans who has been there for me and with me during this time, thank you even more. I am told that one day I will feel like myself again. Until then, I’ll just take ten minutes at a time.

In memory of truly the best Dad a girl could ever wish for. I’ll try always to make you proud.

Chris Watkins

22 August 1944 – 8 March 2017

Dad and me on my 30th birthday | carlalouise.com

Dad’s chosen charity for donations in his memory is Devon Air Ambulance, with whom he worked for many years. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here: http://christopher.watkins.muchloved.com/

How to wear your cats on your ears

Some time ago, the wonderful Laura Sparling created a limited edition run of custom cat lampwork beads – you could choose all the options and they would look, more or less, like your cats.

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

LOOK AT THEM…. they even have the right colour eyes!! 

Obviously I thought this was the best thing ever, and proceeded to buy lampwork portraits of Luna and Clover.

And then I bought a house and everything went to hell in a handcart for eighteen months while I rebuilt it.

This morning, I had a pet portrait shoot booked that sadly had to be rescheduled due to miserable weather, so instead I decided to have a mini artist date – and turn these cats into earrings! (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d type…)

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

It wasn’t a complicated make – extra ingredients were sterling silver ear wires and 3mm jump rings. I removed the lobster clasps from the cats and added the extra jump ring and the wire – the extra ring makes them hang the right way more easily.

And here are the finished earrings:

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

Plus of course the close up at the top.

It was lovely to make something for me – and even lovelier to now be able to take my idiot felines with me wherever I go!

Happy Jars

I’ve written before about having a jar to track how much you actually get done even while you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels.

My jars have come out of storage (finally!) and this year I’ve decided to use them as happy jars.

Partly because I now have my bullet journal for everyday tracking, but mostly because there is enough shit going on that reminders of the happy are always very welcome <3

So here are my two for home (the big one lives on the bureau in my living room, the smaller on my studio desk):

Happy jars | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

I’ve found a new home for the straws!

There’s a smaller version on my day job desk, and the plan is to empty all three at the end of each month, and record the happy things either in a journal or on the blog. I’m hoping it will work as well as my gratitude journal has in previous years, to boost my mood and recognise the good things regardless of what crap is going on around me.

Have you ever had a happy jar, or a collection of happy things?

I'm Carla, a quirky thirtysomething with a penchant for unicorns and glitter. I believe in magic and make-believe, and the gorgeous rebellion of making your life absolutely your own. And I'm a proud multipod!

I am a catalyst and photographer for small business owners, and a real life mermaid. I photograph people as they truly are, help women see and step into their brightest and best selves, add a sprinkling of magic to the mundane, and am a happy ambassador for stationery and slow living.

Proud to be both girly and geeky, when I’m not writing, photographing or daydreaming, you can find me dancing burlesque, riding my bicycle Bluebell, growing herbs and collecting typewriters.

2017 Things

Things I'd like to do this year. From my Daydreams To Do list and also from my general goals for the year.

~ experiment with film cameras ~ walk more ~ explore Colchester ~ beach time ~ kitty portraits ~ western riding ~ spa days ~ kayaking ~ learn to make bath bombs ~ recreate Lush's Angel's Delight soap fragrance ~ slow reading club ~ craft gatherings ~ work in sterling silver ~ build a catio ~ handwritten letters ~ photobook of the house project

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