Into autumn

I can’t get my head around the fact that it’s October. October!

With the falling of the leaves and the crispness of the mornings, it couldn’t really be any other month – but I was still surprised to see leaves on the ground when I walked into work the other day.

So what does the start of autumn look like in my world?

Mixing up my routine

I have been craving routine (I know, who knew that was something I’d ever want?) but mainly at home. At the day job, my routine is set in stone and needed a shakeup.

So taking inspiration from my first ever online course (a Free Range Humans one), I am parking in a different place, taking a different route and making sure I have lunch with different people every day.

I’ve also been taking the laptop out and about to work in some of the cafes, bars & student areas when I can, and have organised coworking sessions with colleagues for stuff we’re collaborating on.

So far, so good.

Burlesquing in public

It has been a LONG time since I’ve danced out – probably not since Hogswatch, actually… so I was chuffed to bits to have the chance to dance out with fabulous friends Lynsey, Annastasia and Jenna in September. Photos courtesy of Lynsey’s other half Mike!

(Edit a couple of days later – I knew I was tired – I did the Fling in July this year! But though it was gorgeous, that’s probably a good example of exactly how much my brain is fuzzing things at the moment…)

Paper Dolls Burlesque new line up | carlalouise.com

Paper Dolls performing | carlalouise.com

Paper Dolls performing | carlalouise.com

It was a greyhound show, and I did come home wanting greyhounds again. But I think Luna & Clover would eat them…

Mermaiding. All the mermaiding.

September was the month I finally got my pod! Sam organised a Clacton meetup, and four of the twelve mermaids there were me and my gorgeous models/friends/burlesquers – Jenna, Lynsey & Fran were mermaiding for the first time before modelling for me, and we all loved it so much that we want to do it again, regularly 😀

Here’s a shot of all of us:

Clacton September mermaid meet | carlalouise.com

And here’s the Colchester pod: Clacton September mermaid meet - Colchester pod | carlalouise.com

And here’s a really quick edit of some of the video footage of the girls’ first swim!

Watch us & subscribe on YouTube (I know, that’s a Vimeo link, means no adverts on the site!)

And then it was time for our mermaid shoot at the start of this month. We had the Loft studio for three hours, and it was basically playtime – mermaid tails, crowns, corsets and sparkly lingerie galore.

We spent the night before at Fran’s house, decorating shells & tiaras, and it was so utterly lovely I can’t even tell you 🙂

at Fran's before mermaid shoot | carlalouise.com

mer crafting ahoy! | carlalouise.com

AND THEN THE SHOOT.

These girls. They are naturals in a tail and apparently also naturals as models too – some people totally freak out in a studio environment but they were PERFECT.

I’ve not finished the edit yet, but here is a teaser:

Fran Lynsey Jenna Mermaiding UK studio sneak peek | carlalouise.com

Other happenings

Autumn has also brought:

  • meeting my GORGEOUS new niece, Odette Carla (yes, Odette Carla <3) – if her mum & dad are ok with it, she’ll get a post all to herself!
  • a 20 year friendiversary celebration with Louise
  • going out for dessert for Maddy’s birthday
  • tarot discussions & inspiration
  • new friendships
  • old friendships
  • ridiculous kitten antics
  • and a whole load more stuff I can’t remember because I’m tired.

I still miss Dad a ridiculous amount, I’m still prone to crying at the drop of a hat, and Mum & I still have an insane amount of admin to do.

But keeping busy isn’t a bad thing, and doing things that make me feel like me is a good thing, and a random side effect that I had not anticipated is that for several weeks now, my anxiety has been much, much lower. I’ve had some dips & attacks, but it has been SO nice to feel a bit more like myself and not be living with constant irrational fear all the time.

So there’s my autumn. I’ll try and post proper roundups of each thing on the relevant blogs:

Oh, and with all this multipod goodness going on, I started a podcast about being one, especially being one in business. But I can’t share it yet, only one episode and it recorded quite quietly. It’s coming, though!

I hope your autumn brings you happiness <3

Fling 2017 – a return to my magical self

Burlesque Jems at the Fling Festival 2017 | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

My first Fling festival was in 2011, and still stands out as one of the most magical experiences of my life.

My first performance there was with my troupe Paper Dolls Burlesque in 2013, running a tent, performing and getting people to dress up and do burlesque themed crafting.

It’s moved to Hylands now (same site as V festival), grown hugely and developed into a proper festival you can camp at, not just a one day extravaganza.

This year I performed with the Burlesque Jems, and was also their photographer for the day, capturing their performances and a few sneaky portraits too.

I made a last-minute mermaid bra so I could mermaid-burlesque (merlesque?!) and it was just a wonderful day – the most myself I’ve felt since before Dad went into hospital. It was amazing to merge two of my alter egos (Lotta Fiero and Kerenza Sapphire), brilliant to be back on stage, scary but eventually great to be out and about with my camera, and wonderfully indulgent to leave my worries and sadness behind and throw myself into festival life for a few hours.

Also, what better example of a multipod in action than photographing and performing all on the same day?

I had forgotten how much of a workout dancing and photography are though – my Sunday has been exceptionally gentle!

Here are a few of the photos – the rest will pop up over at Carla Watkins Photography and Burlesque Jems in the coming weeks.

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…

 

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?

Learning to let go

This weekend I disabled the auto-renew on four of my domain names. When they expire, they’ll no longer be mine – and this is a rather strange feeling.

Some are old, some are ones I’ve not used yet, some I had great plans for but things have changed.

Mostly, there just physically isn’t enough time for me to maintain fourteen websites. Disabling these and letting them go leaves me with ten domain names and seven actual sites – carlalouise.com / carlawatkins.com / carlawatkinsphotography.com / runawaydays.co.uk / unfurlingyourwings.com / sillykittens.co.uk are all sites that I use and maintain and develop, plus of course inkdrops.co.uk which sits separately.

duckingfabulous.com / mermaiding.co.uk / mermaiding.uk / paperdollsburlesque.co.uk are all redirects, but valuable to me nonetheless.

So what am I giving up and saying goodbye to?

The Website Beautician

screenshot-2016-10-16-20-14-01

The Website Beautician is officially retiring when the domain expires in early December – I’ve been doing minimal maintenance work for a good 18 months now, and avoiding taking on any more website work. I loved the clients I had and their glorious small businesses, but it was one of those times where following your passion isn’t the answer to everything.

It turns out that though I enjoy fiddling with my own sites, and will happily sit up till 2am tweaking CSS, that joy turns to terror and heavy responsibility when someone else’s site, livelihood and money are involved.

Girl Meets Van

screenshot-2016-10-16-20-13-06

Girl Meets Van has also sadly come to a halt, because I accidentally bought a house last summer, it’s needed a lot more work to it than I anticipated, and the last of my camper van savings are going on the studio build which is starting at the end of October – I’ll finally have an office/studio space again and I can’t wait!

(I’m typing this to you from the bureau in my living room, where both laptops balance precariously among filing, the mic and piles of post its. My wall planner is draped over the sofa. It is driving me INSANE.)

While I’m letting girlmeetsvan go somewhat reluctantly, I’m also acknowledging that actually, my life goals and what I want have changed since I started that fund and blog.

(more…)

Boating dreams

I’m dreaming of the water.

Dreaming of the feeling of wild water on my skin, a feeling you can’t replicate in a pool, even an outdoor one.

Just me, a little boat, and a cool, gentle river to paddle up.

Women in a kayak canoe on a lake with trees

Though obviously, I’d wear a lifejacket…

This week’s discovery, quickly fuelling a long-hidden obsession, is kayaks. Specifically, inflatable kayaks and canoes.

I have loved the water since I was tiny, and now I run a mermaid school among other things – so it’s not like this is a surprise.

But I’ve squashed my desire to get out on the water near where I live for two big reasons:

Practicality

The main one is my beloved Poppy car. She’s perfect and she’s glorious and she makes me unspeakably happy, but she is also undeniably a two-seater convertible and can’t tow. A kayak would melt (never mind whack passing cars unceremoniously) on the boot rack, and she can’t have a roof rack because soft top.

canoe-roofrack

So all these years, I have made do with the occasional paddle when I visit Wells with my uni girls, or if I happen to be somewhere with an activity lake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a whitewater rapid kind of a girl – I want to potter upstream to the pub, moor up, sit and have lunch in the sun, with a book or with friends, and then I want to get back in my boat and pootle downstream back to my hometown.

But without being able to transport my gear, that’s not been a reality.

Fear

The second reason is fear. I’m a strong swimmer, if not as fit as I’d like to be, and I adore the water – I’m not frightened of falling in. But I have learned to fear being on or in the water alone. Partly through being taught that water is dangerous, and partly because of the tragedies that can and do happen in and on the water, especially wild water rather than pools.

This fear-reasoning has led me to believe that I can’t own a boat while I’m joyfully single (or any kind of single), because I can’t go out in it on my own, and my friends are either too busy or don’t want to come boating with me.

Which is an unfair assessment of the situation, as a tentative reaching out over the last few days has yielded lots of people who were really quite enthusiastic about occasionally coming out on a gentle paddle, and as long as I take proper safety precautions, I absolutely can go out boating on my own.

I’m beginning to realise that though water can, definitely, be dangerous, my respect for it has become fear of what could happen, without any grounds in reality. And do I want to keep myself absolutely safe, or do I want to throw myself headlong into life and enjoy every experience that lights me up, as often as possible?

Enter my lovely plumber Dan. He came to do my annual gas service a week or so ago, and while catching up and showing him the garden (he was the one who did all the work on the inside of my house, and hadn’t seen the garden transformation), he happened to mention paddleboarding and his new inflatable kayak.

My ears pricked up… inflatable means foldable which very possible means fittable-into-Poppy!

And just like that, all my squashed desire to go out boating more regularly surfaced. Not to mention the wild mermaiding possibilities if you can get to places in a boat first!

Some research has thrown up that most are for two people but can be configured for one; that there is a canoe & kayak club in Wivenhoe, which I’ll be investigating, and that there is a new public pontoon on the river.

And also that there are a few local watersports shops! Two near my parents and one on the way to the beach. Perfect.

I also threw the idea out among some friends and discovered a friend who already has one, and paddles nearby – so readymade companions for day trips! (Pub trips…)

I’m planning a visit to see the boats I like in person in the next couple of weeks, and then I’ll start a fund for one of my own. Next summer is looking pretty glorious from where I’m sitting!

With love and unicorns,

Carla xx

A very unexpected announcement

unexpected announcement

Yes, that’s a diamond solitaire.

Yes, it’s real.

Yes, it’s on THAT finger.

After a long, long time – I finally said yes.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

To time for myself.

To better self care.

To finally letting go and outsourcing – editing, cleaning, and an amazing VA (or two) who will lighten my admin load.

To a proper break from my businesses.

Yes, that’s my unexpected announcement – after seven years, I am having some time off!

Some background, for new friends & readers

I started blogging in November of 2004, as an extension of my diary, a way for my far away friends and family to follow my adventures at university, and to process and document my new life in Loughborough as an undergrad student.

Blogging was still in its infancy, and much of what I wrote then is now for my eyes only – I think even my imported posts from a couple of blogs ago only go back to 2011 now.

Following uni, I knew I wanted to run my own business eventually, and after a tentative look at buying an established business, I decided I’d much prefer to create my own from scratch, alongside the smorgasbord of random day jobs.

I launched my first one in 2008, selling handmade jewellery at local craft fairs and farmers markets. It didn’t even have a name until its third outing in, when the Christmas fair I’d applied to wanted to know what name to put on the stand. I happened to be looking at the rubber duck mascot in my car when they phoned to ask me, and I said Ducking Fabulous as a joke.

When I got round to checking in January 2009 and realised that the domain and all the social handles were available (of course they were – it was seven years ago!), I registered them and never looked back.

Since then, I have done something for my businesses every single day.

Every. Single. Day.

For 2,739 days and counting. (No, I haven’t counted each day, I did a rough calculation. But it’s still a staggering number of days without a break!)

I still believe this is the way to grow slowly and achieve more than you think possible, but after 7 years, it’s time for a breather.

I opened and closed various businesses and passion projects in between (Letters from my Twenties, The Website Beautician, Girl Meets Van, Lotta Fiero, Project Pin Up, the London Pin Up School, and others I can’t remember off the top of my head). Bank holidays, plane flights and proper holidays, weekends and any other time off the day job were all opportunities to do more for my beloved businessses.

Following the exciting-but-vulnerable launch of the Unfurling Your Wings alter ego course and sessions last year, eventually I was brave enough to do something with the carlawatkins.com site I’d owned for years but never used, which has become the hub for my business advice and photography. I also finally made the leap into mermaiding after several years of fruitless daydreaming.

I had a whole list of goals at the start of 2016, with two standout things on that list.

The first was to get Run Away Days up and running, which I have done by starting with the mermaid parties and experiences, and will eventually expand into other retreats and workshops, letting you quite literally run away for a day (or more) and spend some time on yourself and/or your beloved business.

The second was to get my photography confidence back, and through a lot of introspection, some amazing friends and support (more on them in another post) and a flurry of shoots in the last six months, I’ve done that too, both at Unfurling Your Wings and with the Business Soloists sessions at Carla Watkins Photography, alongside some personal work. There’s always more to learn, but I was happy with almost every single image from the most recent shoot I did (which is of course thanks to my fabulous client too!) and that’s never happened before.

So why the break? And wtf is with the ring?

I’ve achieved what I set out to do this year at warp speed – and I have come very close to burn out in the process.

2016 has already yielded greater success, emotionally if not yet financially, than I could have imagined on 1st January, and I am feeling a very strong pull to stop, and take a step back, and breathe.

I didn’t realise quite how devoted to my businesses I’d become until four people in ten days asked for my advice on starting up a new business, “because it’s what you do, isn’t it?” and I didn’t know how wrung out and exhausted I was until I found myself sobbing in my work car park over a broken car key.

(Welcome to the rollercoaster of self employment – it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever embarked upon, and yet I wouldn’t change it for the world.)

There’s work to do on my systems and processes, there are decisions about outsourcing, all kinds of admin and accounting and general tidying up of loose ends to do so that when I step back in, it will be smooth.

While I’m away, my lovely VAs will pick up emails and deal with bookings, so really nothing on the surface will change. I’m also quite certain that it will be impossible for me to stay away completely, because I LOVE working in and on my businesses – I created them because I couldn’t not.

I’ve done some serious thinking about my other commitments (my family, my day job, my mortgage) and the things I love the most (my family, my friends, my kitties and my home) and how all of that balances with working more or less 7 days a week for 7 years.

I love my businesses, I’m in love with them most of the time, but I created them to give me freedom, and I need a break. And I believe they will flourish more for that break, and the time I can spend working on them, instead of in them.

I want to shoot for myself, blog for the joy of blogging, finish my house & garden and get my studio conversion done, have friends over for dinner, do some of the amazing training I’ve bought and not started, play around with creating art, get art & photos up on my walls, fix my sleep patterns, dive into my to-read list, sit around with my kitties and do nothing in particular…

During the time I’m technically away, I’ll still be around sporadically on social, very possibly a lot more on my blogs, and either I or my lovely VAs will pick up emails across all businesses and arrange bookings and print delivery and such things. It’ll also be business as usual at Ink Drops, because Anna and I have a great monthly routine in place, and a girl can’t ever divorce herself from her love of stationery…!

But in my own businesses, aside from fulfilling existing bookings and making sure my clients have the best time ever, I will be stepping back and focusing on working out how to make this all work in the long term.

And the ring?

diamond ring on blue tulle

The ring is my symbol of saying Yes to myself. It was made by the very talented Chris Worle, and is the second of his pieces I’ve bought this year. The first was a London Blue topaz solitaire, the colour of the ocean, and of my mermaid tail, to commemorate the first Run Away Days mermaid event and remind me I can totally do this.

The diamond marks the return of my confidence as a photographer, and the start of what I hope will be a lustrous chapter of my life. It usually lives on my middle finger – but it’s staying on my wedding finger for now, to remind me of the promise I made to myself.

Which is needed, as in the week between officially starting my break and writing this post, I have advised two more people on starting businesses and dreamed up another couple of projects of my own! All of which is a much-needed indication that my creativity flourishes when it’s given a bit of space and time to do its own thing.

And of course I couldn’t resist messing with you all, as I know an engagement announcement from me is the very last thing in the world any of you would expect to see without knowing anything about it first. #sorrynotsorry!

Here’s to whatever happens over the next month or two – though in true Carla style, I’ve imagined so much through this post that I already can’t wait to plunge back into the whitewater rapids of self employed insanity with loads of new ideas and excitement and plans!

With love and unicorns,

Carla xxx

All change… but only on the surface

It has been a crazy busy first third of the year… the most packed I can remember, and I don’t say that lightly.

Also, how the hell is it May?!

It feels a lot like everything’s changing – only of course it isn’t, it’s just that weird temporary feeling I always get when everything’s up in the air and I’m a bit anxious about it all.

wooden type at St Botolphs | carlalouise.com(my life is nothing like as organised as the type in this picture…)

Things contributing to overwhelm (which are also fabulous)

Thing #1 – mermaid school is a thing. Not only is it a thing, it’s my thing! The first edition of Run Away Days’ mermaid spa runs on Wednesday, and I have for once had a completely one track mind about it. It’s actually really nice to have prolonged laser focus on just one project, but I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m annoying myself with my perfectionism. So at 9pm when the event is the day after tomorrow, I am calling time on my inner perfectionist and proclaiming that done is better than perfect. It’s already going to be amazing so I need to stop beating myself around the head with my perceived failings.

Also, I have two more bookings, a tail sale and another enquiry – and I haven’t actually advertised it yet! So am muchly excited for the future of my beautiful little mermaid school.

Carla underwater in a mermaid tail

Thing #2 – My fledgling photography business has also taken off quietly in the background, as often happens to me when I’m trying to focus on one thing. This time, photography sessions have snuck in and taken on a life of their own – simply because I’ve finally got over myself, accepted it’s something I do (and do well), and actually told people I’m a photographer. It is amazing what that piece of information does… after all, most people don’t have a crystal ball kicking around, do they?!

There is a whole weekend of mini-sessions lined up in May with the Burlesque Jems, and a very exciting styled shoot collaboration with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, as well as some wonderful local artists, authors and artisans who want personalityful images of them at work and at play.

With two distinct strands – solopreneurs in the Business Soloist sessions, and women celebrating their true selves in Unfurling Your Wings sessions, I’m having a glorious time finally doing what I’ve wanted to offer, but have been scared to, for the best part of a decade.

Thing #3 – I am about to start smashing up my garden and re-landscaping. I say “I” – I really mean my brilliant builder Mark and his team, and my lovely parents who are once again project managing. I can’t wait to have a proper garden to enjoy the summer in, but with a digger and a skip the size of my drive arriving tomorrow, I’m mainly just freaking out about the cats. Though I suppose logically, if they can jump *into* the skip, they should also be able to jump *out* of the skip. No?!

At any rate, I’m tasking Mum with keeping them indoors until the builders have gone home each evening. Cross bored kitties are definitely better than squidged-by-digger kitties… they’re much too curious for their own good!

Thing #4  – I think it probably says quite a lot about my current state of overwhelm that I can’t even remember what thing 4 is.

Thing #5 – It’s trade show season for Ink Drops and we are having a completely wonderful time mooching round the Stationery Show and Progressive Greetings Live, drooling over new stationery, getting to know new suppliers and saying hi to our lovely existing ones.

On the plus side…

Delightful stuff that isn’t overwhelming

I got to meet up with Mermaid Azela last weekend, and we spent two hours swimming and taking photos and videos of each other underwater. It was a totally gorgeous way to spend a Sunday afternoon and we’re definitely going to do it again soon!

Mermaid Azela and Mermaid Carla

Cats make excellent Kindle stands… or at least, my Luna-kitty does. Clover stalked off in disgust when I tried it.

Lunathe kindle holding cat

But then, all the comfy places in the world to sit and she chooses an old recycling box…

Clover on recycling box

I’ve also been doing lots of reflecting, learning and reading… more on that in another post.

For now – I believe it’s time for bed, so I have a fighting chance of being awake when the diggers and the skip and the ballast and the paving stones arrive in the morning…!

Be the one who people talk about

In my youth, I was often the subject of whispers and giggling. In one memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons occasion when I was fourteen, I was also the subject of a secret bet – how long would the boy I was dating put up with me before he dumped me? (Answer, delightfully, seven years – take that, haters – and it was a  heartbreaking but also fairly amicable split).

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of people laughing as you walk past, speculating on your dateability or worth based on your looks, making comments about the way you look as though your body is public property, it leaves an intangible, but indelible mark on you.

I still look up nervously when I hear a group of people burst into laughter – there’s a tiny part of me that still believes they’re laughing at, or about me.

Though this reaction drives me up the wall, I have also developed a really good way of dealing with it. I once described myself as the person people invite to a party so that they have an anecdote to tell afterwards.

I have, over the past few years, become the girl that people talk about.

Carla in a mermaid tail | Be the one who people talk about | Carla Louise

They talk about the things I do, the wild and intense yet passing passions I have for an infinite variety of things, the pace of my life and the sheer number of delightful things I fit into it.

They talk about my persistence, my determination, my absolute focus on the things that matter to me, and my ability to ignore or deprioritise what I don’t consider to be important.

They talk about my love for who I am, who I’ve become, and my relationship with myself.

They talk about my fire, my zing, my unstoppable energy and my infectious enthusiasm.

They talk about the way I’m truly at home in my body and myself and my skin, and I love it for, not in spite of, all its supposed flaws I’m told I should hate and change. About the way I wear whatever the hell I want, regardless of fashion or body type or guidelines. Just what makes me feel good wearing it.

They talk about how I question the status quo of everything, from working hours to food to friendships and relationships and living.

They talk about my imagination, my ability to make my dreams real, and the path I’m on which gives them permission to start on their own.

I am still, very much, the girl people talk and whisper about. But this time, it’s on my terms – and the more they talk, the more people will find the courage to follow their own dreams. 

What do you want people to say about you?

What do you want to become part of your identity, so others can’t help but make the connection between that and you?

What do you long to do, or be, or experience, to see if your heart sings when you do?

This is your permission slip – go and do it. Create it. Try it. Experience it. It might be wonderful or terrible, but you’ll never know unless you try.

And you’ll give people something to talk about…

This post first appeared on Carla Watkins Photography. Syndicated with permission (from myself, ha!). 

My Sunday looked like this…

After a week of the flu, a week off work (where I got to spend time with Rhiannon, Lizzie, Sarah, Annastasia and Claire – I have such fab friends!) and a week back at work, I was looking forward to a really chilled out weekend catching up with bits and pieces, pottering around the house, kitty cuddling and spending some quality time with the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children book box set.

Alas, Poppy decided that the intermittent creak she’d had for a while was to get worse this week, and after a Monday spent cautiously driving Lizzie around, trying not to wince at the groaning noise coming from somewhere under the bonnet, I spent Saturday morning dropping her off at the garage. And getting the not unexpected, but also not terribly welcome, news that she needs new rear callipers and it’s not going to be cheap. Hmph.

I managed to squeeze in visiting with my cousin Briony and my Gran, a late lunch (and incredible red velvet & white chocolate cheesecake cake – I know, right?!) with Caitlin, and garden planning with my parents (a pirate ship is afoot), and was absolutely knackered by the time I got home.

So my Sunday looked like this. PJs all day, sleepy happy kitties, camera in hand and lots of sunshine (though it’s still pissweaseling cold out there – I made the mistake of popping into the garage barefoot. Brrr.)

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Clover | carlalouise.com

I had a midday nap, I read lots of my book (actually three books so far today… finished two and started one), ate pasta and cake, and luxuriated in relaxing. I felt a bit guilty, but relaxed anyway.

And now I’m blogging – and pondering Susannah’s latest post. I don’t think blogging is dead – but I do think the approach to it is different now than when I started eleven years ago. My approach to it is different to what it was when I started (and if you’re reading this, that’s definitely a good thing!).

This blog is still in the process of shifting back to being just a blog (every time I try and move the site around, I get sidetracked with an idea for a post which always seems more important somehow!), and for me that’s quite a big shift. Everything I do ends up as a business eventually, but as I think I’ve said before, I miss having somewhere to just pour words and photos onto a screen, to record my life and loves and passions in one place, to tell the story of my life. I love connecting with people through my blog (and am always amazed that people read it), but ultimately this one is my living room online – my own little space on the web. People are welcome to drop by and linger as long as they like, but the space is ultimately mine, for me to reside in and make my own.

I’m inclined to agree with Susannah that it’s not dead, it’s just one of many forms of communicating and storytelling – and I’d argue that it’s now reached maturity, as a solid companion of both businesses and hobbyists. Its sense of community has never wavered, at least not for me behind this screen.

Perhaps that’s a pondering too deep for a Sunday evening. But I am filled with gratitude to be sitting here at my much-longed-for bureau, tapping these words into my laptop while my kitties snooze in their cat palace in the conservatory. I’m grateful for their safety and their love, their silliness and their calming influence on me. I love that though my portfolio career is ever changing and my life is always fluid, that I’ve created a lifestyle where I can spend my Sunday evenings writing and reading and processing photos in my very own house, surrounded by things & felines that make me happy.

The journey’s not over, but it’s good to be able to acknowledge that I’m in a good place along the way.

With love & unicorns,
Carla

Goodbye 2015, you were epic

A whole year has passed, and this one so full of enormous and life changing events I don’t even know where to start.

The first and most obvious was buying my house – after endless viewings of places that were either too big, too small, too expensive or in the wrong place, the truth leapt out at me that the house I was renting was the place I loved most in the world. It was home for my kitties and me, and it was just right for the three of us, if in need of a bit of modernising.

So I asked my lovely landlord if buying this house was a possibility, and a few months later, we completed the sale. Then the most whirlwind few months of my life began – with the help of my parents and some bloody brilliant trades, I took down trees, changed the entire inside layout of the house, stripped and redid the wiring and plumbing, had a new kitchen, most of a new bathroom (I put a new bath panel in but left the bath & tiling – it’s already pale blue from my hair dye so figured there was no point buying a shiny new white one to dye that blue too…!), carpets, furniture, a sofa, a new mattress, a new base because I bought a heavy mattress… you name it, I think I’ve done it in the last four months.

In that time, I also moved back in with my parents for five weeks (I can cope without heating or internet but not without either), lost and found (but didn’t really lose, she’s just good at hiding) Clover-kitty, laughed, cried, rediscovered how much I love DIY and my overalls, found out I hate painting after the novelty has worn off, and got rid of a good 50% of what I owned.

Luna, Clover and I moved back in on October 10th, and though at that point I didn’t have flooring, a sofa or a proper bed, it was wonderful to be home. Now everything is more or less finished and it’s just the last lot of unpacking and the garden & studio to go, I am overcome every morning that this is my home, my permanent home, my kitties’ forever home – that it’s so beautiful, and it’s ours, and we get to stay.

There’s a profound change in mindset when you go from renting to owning, and it seems more pronounced for me here as it’s the same house I’ve lived in for a few years. It’s funny how protective I suddenly am of my carpet now I know I’ve paid for it and will have to replace it if anything happens! It’s been the biggest creative project I’ve ever undertaken, and in a weird way it’s also only just started – having sorted out the basics, I can now focus on decor, furnishings, fabrics, art and really putting my stamp on it. Eeeee!

So it’s also been the year I’ve put down roots – I have amazing friends locally for the first time since I left uni, and they are a wonderful addition to my far-flung friends, who I think now span every corner of the world!

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The undisputed highlight of this year was the trip to Texas to see Alan Jackson play live. I still can’t believe we got tickets, and such good tickets – we were right at the front, he was no further away than the length of my living room. I’ve rarely been so emotional, and it really was the trip and the gig of a lifetime – and a dream come true. I never thought I’d get to see him play live, and I’m so very glad to have been able to do it with both Mum & Dad with me.

The rest of the trip was incredible too – it was utterly lovely to catch up with all our friends over there. And I’ve found somewhere else in Texas that I could happily call home. I’ll always love Fort Worth, but the island of Galveston, with sea, sand and shops called The Witchery and The Naked Mermaid stole a little piece of my heart. I’ll go back one day…

My businesses have been a bit quieter in the second half of the year – partly because of the house, and partly because I finally got out of my own way and allowed myself to explore the possibility of making photography part of my business model. It’s my first love, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t constantly accompanied by a camera. As part of that shift and commitment, I have joined Shining Lights, an ongoing mentoring programme for creatives that started out specifically for female photographers. I joined in November this year and it has been transformative already. I’ve also booked a one to one day with my favourite photographer, Kerrie Mitchell – it’s in March and I’m already overexcited! I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!

Unfurling Your Wings was officially born this year after 18 months of dreaming, writing and rewriting.  22 brave ladies worked through the first ever live course, sharing insights and connection, and generally humbling me with the way they handled some quite big life shifts. I’m now making tweaks following their brilliant feedback, and will be launching properly later next year. This year, as I’m blatantly not going to get round to publishing this post till after midnight!

I have a new venture (well, several actually – when don’t I have new projects on the go?!) and the stock from the shop here will shortly be moving over to the Unicornery, which will launch in Spring/Summer 2016 with unicorns, mermaids and mythical, magical goodness galore!

I did manage a three day business retreat with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, down in Wincanton for the weekend that Hogswatch would have been.  We’re agreed that it was one of the best things we’ve ever done for our businesses – getting away from real life and all the endless things that need to be done when you’re in your own home, escaping to where nobody knew us, and spending three whole days working on our directions, our ideas, our thoughts and dreams and hopes. With a healthy dose of common sense from the other, because both of us can get carried away on occasion!

Out of that I found myself ditching some domains and blogs I no longer use (goodbye, Letters from my Twenties, Girl Meets Van and the Website Beautician), and simplifying and clarifying what I do have, so they fit with my new direction. Which is awesome.

Ink Drops continues to thrive, selling out two to three months in advance, as I write. Turns out there are a lot of stationery addicts like us out there! I love it so much, and I’m so excited to grow our little company in 2016.

I’m feeling more fired up about my businesses than I have been for ages, and I am determined that 2016 is the year I make some really big steps forward!

Kitteny cats and other pets.

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Oh, my beloved kitteny cats. June saw their 2nd birthday, and November the two year anniversary of when they came home to live with me forever. I am still slightly bemused that I spent so much of my life thinking I wasn’t a cat person – I am SO A CAT PERSON!! They make me laugh every day, they’re snuggly and silly and loving and ridiculous by turns, and I can’t imagine life without them nor remember what life was like before them.

We’ve had our share of frights this year – in February Clovie gave me quite a lot more grey hairs, by falling over and lying sadly on the floor, then spending the whole of the following day at the vet on a drip. She came home that night with a bandage around her leg and generally milked it for all she was worth – bounding around on three legs and demanding to be hand fed chunks of tuna, as they had fed her at the surgery. I believe I have a diva on my hands. Anyway, she was fine in the end, and to my very great relief it wasn’t the antifreeze poisoning we had initially suspected and feared.

The day before I moved out of my house for the main works to start, and just a few hours before they were due to go on their initial holiday to Hilltop, Clover failed to come home after lunch. Though she’s the treat monster of the house, even rattling her favourites failed to bring her home, and by 7pm I was a snivelling mess, wandering the streets with treats in hand, calling brokenly for my lost kitty. Just as I was about to give up and lose the plot entirely, my lovely neighbour turned up looking a bit sheepish and with a rather large scratch – he’d accidentally shut her in his garage in the pouring rain at 8.30am, and when he’d opened it in the evening she’d been spitting mad and starving hungry (she’s always hungry, lol). I definitely could have reacted better to that particular incident, but I was already so rattled by my house being all over the place and moving out, I wasn’t in the greatest of mental places.

While at my parents, Clover (again!) managed to scare the life out of all of us by finding the smallest, darkest, most hidden place in the whole flat and curl up for a nice long sleep. For four hours, she snoozed undiscovered while we assumed she’d escaped out of the sash windows and fallen to her death. We cried, shouted at each other, printed lost posters (to distribute to all the flats we were trying not to alert to the cats’ presence in the first place, as they’re not really allowed there), and generally experienced heartbreak on a scale I hadn’t even imagined. I had no idea how much it would hurt, to believe my kitty truly lost to me, and possibly dead.

So when, after all that heartache, Dad discovered her inches from him, hidden in the tiniest possible space under the printer, I could happily have smacked her furry little bottom (!) and I have a lot more sympathy for parents who shout from pure relief when they think their children are lost and then they come back. And of course I’d never hurt my kitties. Instead I showered her with love, with which she was distinctly unimpressed, shut all the windows, retrieved Luna from where she’d retreated into the bottom of the cupboard to escape her mad sobbing human, and proceeded to take both of them to bed. Where they both refused to sleep in their usual places on my head and my feet. But I had them both back safely. Worst day ever with the best possible ending.

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And just this morning, I heard an ominous thump, then found Luna crouched on the floor rather than sprinting away. When I picked her up and put her down again, she sort of crouch-limped across the conservatory floor, nearly giving me a heart attack, so I rang the vet and made an emergency appointment. Of course, ten minutes later I caught her bounding across the house at full speed, with nothing at all wrong with her. Cats!! Took her in anyway so that I could relax today, and it turns out she has one, possibly two, dislocating knees that she’s had since birth. They don’t cause her pain, but they do sometimes pop out which will cause her to shake her leg around until they pop back in. Le sigh!

But those incidents aside, they’re beautiful and gorgeous and snuggly and wonderful, and I’m immensely grateful to have had another year with them. And so glad we get to stay in the home they’ve known since they were six months old, and that they are so happy in.

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In sad animal news, this year we lost my beloved Harriet, who got me through so much pain and heartache when I first moved to Essex. I credit her with keeping me sane and alive on my worst days, and though she isn’t my own dog, she’s left a border collie shaped hole in my heart that no animal will ever be able to fill. I’m immensely grateful for a random series of events in September which meant that I got to spend an hour or so snuggled with her on the forbidden sofa for belly rubs before the rest of the household woke up, and which turned out to be the last time I ever saw my gorgeous girl.

My lovely friend Lizzie also lost her wonderful cat Mr M in December – he was one of my favourite ever cats and he is very much missed. <3

2015 has been gloriously full of fantasy and fun.

I had a steampunk and fae alter ego shoot with the fabulous Grace Hill earlier in the year, and introduced my steampunk gypsy alter ego, Petronella ‘Nell’ Blythe Merriman, to the world; there were unicorns aplenty, including an incredible cross stitched one by Sarah; and I finally got my longed for mermaid tail. I’m taking it for a spin on Monday – and I hope to add mermaiding to my income streams as well as keep it as a hobby.

I tried (and loved, despite the bruises) hula hooping with Anna the Hulagan, returned to line dancing, and I took up regular burlesque again as the Jems brought a class to Colchester, yay! I’ve cross stitched and coloured in, tried my hand at NaNoWriMo (I’m still shit at writing fiction but I really enjoy the challenge) and our Crafty Coffee group has grown. I met up and shot with the Colchester photographers’ group, and 2016 holds a writers’ meetup and a photography group at work, too.

2015 has been the year I have properly embraced single-at-heart. I didn’t actually know it was a thing until relatively recently, but oh, god, the relief of finding hundreds of other people in the world who just aren’t that bothered about finding love – like me, they’re too busy with their lives and business and animals and friends. And the concept of your primary relationship being with yourself, always – I can’t begin to describe how much that resonated. Though I’m sure I’ll waffle about it on here at times. I love my life, and I especially love my freedom. It can take some explaining, as people tend to assume that if you’re single, you’re looking for a man, even when you assure them you’re not – but it’s lovely to have found a niche at last.

Perhaps that’s part of being nearly 30… I feel like I’ve spent the last decade searching for where I fit and belong, and where I proudly stand out, and what I really want out of life. If that’s the case, I’m extra excited for my thirties!!

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Family and friends – this year would have been completely impossible if not for my incredible parents. My house is a monument of their love for me – from them being there every day to project manage, to diving in and doing the DIY despite their health issues, to housing me and the kitties for far longer than they expected without a murmur of protest, they have made my dream life leap closer and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put my gratitude into words. (Though I’ve tried, with a Spotify subscription, C2C tickets for March and a yet-to-be-chosen treat for Mum, plus lots of Christmas presents).

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We also had Christmas at my house this year which was really lovely – though we escaped to my favourite pub for actual lunch, it was so good to host in the house we’d worked so hard on!

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I’ve not seen as much of Gran as I normally do because the house took up every waking moment, but I’m looking forward to seeing her more regularly next year. Here we are in the summer – she takes a great selfie!

I am now the proud cousin of 43 and one on the way – and my eldest odd-daughter (we’re not religious and we prefer odd-daughter and odd-parent to goddaughter and godparent) and her other half have acquired an adorable puppy called Dexter. He’s a puggle. He is ridiculous and glorious. My middle odd-daughter is starting to visit universities and my youngest is halfway through GCSEs. I suddenly feel almost like a grown up- albeit one who swims like a mermaid, wears wings and fervently believes in unicorns. The rest of my extended family is as fabulous as ever, though my aunt and I have been hilariously successfully booking and cancelling lunch with each other for months as life conspires against us… perhaps 2016 will be our year?!

My gorgeous friends. The old and the new, the geographically distant and the ones just up the road. I’d be lost without you and I love you all. There have definitely been some shifts in my friendships over the last few years, as we’ve all grown into ourselves and started building our lives – hopefully the lives we dreamed of. There have been some drifts and some unexpected reunions, some people I get on far better with now than I did growing up, and some whose lives are so different now that though we love each other, we don’t have a lot in common any more.

There are always the people who, no matter how long it’s been since we last talked, even if that’s counted in years rather than months, always feel like I saw them yesterday, and we pick up just where we left off. And then there are my new friends, who have all solidified from acquaintances this year. As always, when I click with new people, I rapidly can’t imagine life without them. I’ve not managed to scare any of them off (yet)! And all of them, old and new, feel like blessings.

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Two of my best friends got married this year – one in May, one in March. I was bridesmaid at one and photographer and witness at the other, and oh, it was so wonderful to see two of the girls I love the most formalise their relationships with their frankly awesome men. I’m proud to have them both as honorary brothers in law.

One of my gorgeous uni girls had a baby in November, a seismic shift but a good one for our university group. More or less everyone my age is getting engaged or married, including my first love – we must be getting old! I am delighted for them all but a bit nervous about how I fit eight weddings in next year and possibly more in 2017. My sister-by-choice is pregnant and due in January – I’m unbelievably excited but also apprehensive, as though nothing could ever hurt our friendship, children do change things.

There has been a rash of house buying too – we must be at that age, all of a sudden. But I’m very much looking forward to a 2016 full of weekends away, at weddings, at hen gatherings and at people’s new homes.

Work wise, I passed the three year mark at the university – I have never in my life stayed in a job more than 21 months at the outside, so this was a major milestone.  Having panicked a bit and then realised my panicking was just habit, I’ve come to the conclusion that because I have an incredible amount of freedom on campus, to work how and where best suits me, I’m not finding it as restraining and draining as my previous jobs have been.

I think I’ve also started feeling differently about my day job since I agreed the sale of the house – suddenly regular income has a lot more appeal than it used to! And the people at work are amazing… it never ceases to astound me how lovely it is to find likeminded people who get me, who think like me and who accept me heart and soul for who I am. Mermaiding obsessions and all!

The day job highlights have to be the day the Comms office called me to say they’d saved some newspaper clippings of me in my knickers (promoting the new burlesque classes) and the sheer enthusiasm that followed the stunned silence when I told my team I was phoning our leisure centre to get permission to swim in my mermaid tail. I can’t begin to express how much it means that I work with people who understand how important everything out of work is!

There has been so much more to this year, and intriguingly this isn’t the post I thought I was going to write – but it’s an apt summary of one of the most rollercoaster years I’ve had. I hope that 2016 is just as epic but a little calmer – I’d like to have some time to breathe without worrying about what I’ve missed, not done or am getting behind on.

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As a final note, my words for 2015 were Freedom, Magic and Simplicity. I think I’ve achieved them all in spades – and they all helped in all sorts of unexpected ways. Simplicity especially, as in January I had no intention of buying a house, but by August I had – and in packing everything up so I could renovate, keeping a focus on the simplicity I craved but had never mastered made it much easier to get rid of stuff. It’s also making it easier to unpack and be very selective about what makes it back into my house from the garage.

There is always magic in my life, but far more so now I have my own house. And I think more than a little magic is in my mermaid tail and my friendships, my family and my kitties being safe and sound despite their tendency to get into mischief. I’ve found the magic of belonging and of finding my place in the world – the home I want to live in for a long time to come, and also greater clarity in my businesses and projects than I’ve ever had before. The confidence I’ve found in my photography after a decade of fear is also nothing short of pure magic. (or PFM, as my Dad would say).

Freedom… has come to me in an unexpected way. I don’t have the full self employed freedom I always thought I wanted, and do still eventually want. What I have instead is a steady income with an amazing manager who understands that I work best when I’m not cooped up – so I can work wherever and whenever is best for me as long as I’m on campus during the working day. Which is fine by me. I suddenly have freedom from renting and the security that comes from making payments towards your own place – sounds odd I know, but it makes such a difference to how I feel. And for the first time in my life I have better control over my money and no debt except for the house – which is giving me unprecedented creative freedom, as I stop wasting energy worrying about my overdraft and instead pour it into my imagination.

And on that note, I’m off to work through Unravelling and Leonie’s planners, and get my bullet journal sorted for next year… and think about what words I want to fuel my 2016.

Happy new year, my loves – congratulations if you read this far, and thank you, always, for reading at all. I can’t imagine my life without blogging and while I’d do it anyway, you guys are the best reason to keep showing up and waffling into my keyboard.

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xx

Fairytales and Living Boldly – Brooke Shaden’s London meetup

It’s always a weird mix of lovely and scary to meet people you admire. To unexpectedly have the chance to meet, talk to, learn from and shoot with one of the photographers whose work you most admire is a bit overwhelming… but in a good way!

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Fine art photographer & artist Brooke Shaden comes over to the UK and does a meetup in London once a year. I’d never been before, but spotted this one just a few weeks before it happened, so signed up on the spot. I arranged to meet Louise there, took half a day off work, and made my merry way into London on the 2nd of September.

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As soon as I got there my fear disappeared, because it was obvious that we were surrounded by likeminded creative types. Brooke’s talk centered on fairytales and living boldly, creating your own fairytale – and if you’ve been reading this blog for even a short time you’ll see how much that chimes with my own take on life.

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To add delight to the evening, the lovely Virginia (who I’ve known online for a long time, but who I’d never met) came and said hello – she’d recognised me from across the room which was a wonderful surprise!

We all swapped fears, and the ones I received were surprisingly similar to my own… fear of not being good enough, fear of never making self employment work. It’s unbelievably comforting to know that other people (whose work I admire) suffer the same fears and worries and doubts that I do.

Brooke set up some shots for us to see how she works, explaining her thought processes as she went.

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And then we were free to wander, roam, and play!

Here are my raw shots….

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One quick edit…

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and countless others lurking, waiting for me to turn them into the art that was in my head when I pressed the shutter….

I’m definitely having a photography moment in the second half of this year and it’s making me ridiculously happy returning to my first love! And it was a massive confidence boost to have models and costumes to play with, without the pressure of creating anything specific.

This event also ticks off 2, 36 and 52 on my daydreams to do list!