August so far: time, grief, cats and heat

So here I am, just over a week into my new life, and as ever, my instinct is to write it all out… on the internet. Because a fourteen year habit is hard to break!

I have been bullet journalling and proper journalling, but nothing quite hits the spot like a blog post. Or a cheeseless pizza.

Pizza to celebrate the last day of work | carlalouise.com

 

Time is precious

And never more so than being able to sleep and wake on my own schedule. I realised a long time ago that, alongside loving the various challenges of being an entrepreneur, a massive part of my drive to work for myself is that I just don’t get on well with the standard times that society deems acceptable. For waking, for eating, for living, working and sleeping, I do everything later than I’m supposed to, and it drives everyone around me absolutely nuts.

And oh, it is BY FAR the most satisfying part of this new journey so far. I wake up (not even that late, but past the point at which I’ve always had to be at a day job desk) and I’m NOT TIRED – I’m raring to go. I don’t have to drag myself through a shower solely to wake up enough to pass as a functioning human, but instead can have an invigorating shower with my own essential oil mixes, I can dye or deep condition my hair, and I don’t nearly break my ankle trying to get out in a hurry so I’m not late for work.

It. Is. Bliss.

Grief can make me have misdirected meltdowns

I feel like this is probably something I should already know, or certainly should have learned in the past seventeen months. But apparently I am a stubborn one (who knew?!).

On Tuesday Mum and I went to the crematorium to finalise our choice of final resting place for Dad’s ashes. When we first visited, a helicopter flew over, and it felt absolutely like the right place. But actually choosing the niche where his ashes, and later on Mum’s, will stay for always was rather more emotionally exhausting than I’d anticipated.

So of course just before we went, I had a total panic about all things business and life, and only after I got home did I realise that all of that was simply grief, redirected somewhere which was easier to get a handle on.

I still can’t get my head around Dad not being here, it seems impossible that he’s never seen my studio, and I can’t believe that I’m doing this Massive Life Thing without him. It’s the weirdest experience. I miss him.

We had a sneaky BBQ which I think he’d rather like… I’m also eyeing up a pizza oven to go on it, which he’d definitely have liked.

Carla and Mum BBQing | carlalouise.com

Mum is of course around, and wonderfully supportive even through her own grief – I’ve no idea what we would have done without each other.

Studio 19

is my happy place. Almost exactly a year ago I went to Open Studios with Rhi, and it felt like such a good place to be. Though I could never have dreamed that just a year later I’d be established there and able to spend as much time as I want in my studio!

I hopped briefly in and out during the first whirlwind week, but today was the first time I got to actually go and work there – shooting new Ink Drops selections ready for tomorrow’s strategy/wrapping/Ink Drops pasta session with Anna. Outside Studio 19 | carlalouise.com

And it just felt so strongly like exactly where I was always meant to be, doing what I was always meant to be doing.

It’s a while since I’ve felt this contentment, and sense of rightness in what I’m doing – for much of the past few years, even while building my beloved businesses, I’ve battled anxiety, feelings of desperation & being trapped in a 9-5, and of course, latterly, grief.

So although grief is absolutely still part of me, I am also revelling in feeling like I’ve made the best possible decision. And I reckon Dad would approve of that.

Life with cats

Oh, my kitteny cats. They are never predictable, are they? Clover had a fright five or so weeks back and has been behaving very strangely ever since. The insane heat we’ve had didn’t help matters, as it was then hard to tell if she was refusing to go outside from fear, or just because it was too damn hot.

Clover snoozing in the cat tree | carlalouise.com

She had her final vet visit yesterday and was given a definite diagnosis of stress – so nothing medical underlying her behaviour, which is what I was fretting about. Poor little fluff had made it very obvious all was not well in her kitteny world, so I was worrying about what else might be happening under the surface.

Luna snoozing in a suitcase with one paw up on the side | carlalouise.com

Luna is as cheeky as ever, and I think all three of us are loving me being home more – I can pop in and out much more calmly than before, I love not having to rush out first thing in the morning every day, so I get mid-morning cuddles when I’m here, and apart from their breakfast being later, they certainly seem to be enjoying the extra attention!

Reading vs TV vs Netflix

I’ve realised (though it is more of an affirmation of something I’ve known a long time), I’m really not a film or TV person.

Giving up TV, when working full time, to have more time to work on my businesses, was easy. I haven’t had a TV licence now for I think four years, and I don’t miss it at all. I rarely even watch DVDs, and my TV set is gathering dust in my spare room.

I do go through small phases on Netflix, mainly of kids’ programmes – I worked my way through Ever After High, My Little Pony, H2O Just Add Water and Mako Mermaids, and am now most of the way through Spirit: Riding Free (which was maybe a less wise choice as while I love it, it’s about a girl and her Dad on the Wild West frontier and it makes me cry more often than an animated kids’ series probably should…).

But reading – I can’t give it up. I have temporarily switched back to reading things which are useful to one business or another, or to my self development – Women who run with the wolves, a proof copy of the new bullet journal book, and an incredible take on boudoir photography.

But I literally can’t exist without the written word – it’s part of my DNA, and without it I am sad and not quite whole. Much like I am when I don’t pick my camera up for too long, but without the attendant creative angst!

Friends are magical

And Mum, of course! I worried a little that I would lose some of my social circle, and by extension some of my social skills, by changing to a life where I am primarily on my own. I live alone, I work in my studio alone and as I’ve already established, my body clock isn’t very normal!

So far, I’ve been proved completely wrong. Which is good! I know I have worked exceptionally hard to make and maintain my friendships, but I am also exceptionally lucky to have the people I do in my life.

Teeny orangey frog | carlalouise.comthis little guy was by the studios today. he’s not representative of my friends, but he’s cute and I figured it was easier than trying to tag the many people who have been instrumental and wonderful lately <3

The studio was also definitely the right decision – with 30-odd artists also based there, there’s always someone to chat to as you refill the kettle, and it’s wonderful to get an insight into other people’s creative processes.

And I managed to sneak to see Julia and Odette before they move to Ireland – I have no idea when I will get over there, but I am SO excited for their new life too! In a nice ironic twist, I chose one of the hottest days of the year to go – we had a lovely actual day, but the train home was in rush hour (because Clovie needs her routine!), lacked air conditioning, was packed with people due to cancellations and was held for 40 minutes outside Colchester station. Which gave me a nice reminder (not that I needed one) of why I’d very much prefer never to work in London again for more than a day or two at a time!

Talking of temperatures…

The heatwave has been insane. I have been more floppy and lethargic than normal, the cats keep asking me to turn the heating down and I’ve been devising ever more creative ways to wear minimal clothing without getting arrested.

After the storm | carlalouise.comWhen we had the first downpour I ran out in it, I’ve never been so pleased to see rain in my life. To the right is my happy, soaked-to-the-skin self after around 90 seconds outdoors.

Today has been intermittently thundery with massive downpours and sun in between – only at half nine am I now starting to feel a little cold at the end of my fingers… but even that’s a novelty after the weeks we’ve had!

(to put that into perspective, it’s currently 18 degrees in my living room, as I type this at my bureau (because vintage + tech FTW!). For the last… six or seven weeks, it’s not dropped below 25 degrees downstairs at any point. Upstairs has been 29-32 constantly, even with windows open.)

And on that note, I shall go and find some photos to break up my ramblings, and then find some food and head for bed 🙂

P.S. Looking for the businesses I keep mentioning?

Photography with soul for your gorgeous creative business (plus a blog & podcast for multipods, side hustlers and solopreneurs everywhere) – carlawatkins.com

Delightful stationery, dropped through your letterbox – who doesn’t love new stationery? – inkdrops.co.uk

Be a mermaid at mermaiding.co.uk

Lifestyle & pet photography lives at carlawatkinsphotography.com

On the precipice of a(nother) new life

Five and a half years ago, I wrote about leaving London for a new kind of life. More time, more space, no commuting… apologies if the link won’t work, my redirects are misbehaving and it’s much too sunny a day to sit and fix code!

And now here I am on the precipice of another new life – the one I have sought since I was old enough to know what adult life looked like, the one I have worked towards every day of the last eight or nine years.

I handed my notice in last week and from 1st August this year, I will be fully self employed.

new life part 2 | carlalouise.com

I should probably be terrified. Instead I know with a deep certainty that this was the right time for this decision, that it is a million percent the right decision, and I am a strange mix of utterly calm and completely overexcited.

At work I have been described as “gleeful” as I’ve been imparting the news – of course there’s a sadness at leaving people behind, it’s always the people that make the job. Though hopefully I won’t lose too many of them with the change. And I am very good at what I do, and am proud of what I have achieved during my years at Essex.

But this… this freedom to pursue my own dreams, to live my own rhythm, to be answerable to nobody but myself… to fit my work around my enchantment & joy, so I am living my fullest & best life… it’s what I’ve craved since I knew how adulthood worked.

I have never understood the 9-5 life, and the way that the human race has created a rat race for themselves, wanting ever more money & power for no discernible reason. I’ve seen so many people sell their souls to their employers, and altogether too many people stretch to buy the home of their dreams, and then spend hardly any time in it, because they are stuck at work earning the money to pay for the home… which they never see. It is a conundrum I have tried and failed to get my head around.

And ultimately, this is what I have always wanted. A chance to give my all to my businesses and my life, instead of using the best of myself on a job and then only having the dregs of my energy for the things that are most important to me.

My time in “proper” jobs has taught me huge amounts about myself, who I am, how I work, what makes me happy, what makes me sad, what I will & won’t tolerate, and a million more small ways to know myself. In the last five years I’ve also discovered my love for the solo life, how to tackle my anxiety, what my natural waking & sleeping rhythm is (it’s nothing like what the general world expects which would explain a lot!), how to control most of my allergies, and I am learning how to live without Dad, though this is by far the hardest lesson.

I know it will involve some sacrifice, and I know it will involve harder work than I’ve ever put into a day job.

But as I stand on this precipice, I cannot wait for the end of July. and the leap into something I have loved from afar for so long. My quartet of businesses & my blog bring me joy on a deep level – I am already settling into giving them more of a boost, as they will no longer be side hustles, but the main part of my livelihood.

I am most looking forward to the freedom to design my days as I please, to wake & sleep as my body tells me, and not feeling so goddamn exhausted all the time. To be able to lose myself in creation and not have to put it aside before I am ready, because of a schedule created by someone else. And to changing other people’s lives & businesses, in small but significant ways, through my photography and my mermaid tails, and the connection of handwritten letters.

And on that note, I am off to sit in the garden with my beloved kitteny cats and enjoy the May sunshine!

2017 – the year I’m not reviewing

For the first time in the 13 year history of this blog, I’m not doing a roundup post – I can’t face it. Nice things have happened this year, but the balance is eclipsed by the loss of Dad.

I have just come home from a week with Mum (Luna & Clover came too) and it was wonderful to spend time with her but we both found the hole he has left behind him was even bigger over Christmas. He was always so damn competitive enthusiastic about the Christmas lights that I’m going to have to seriously up my game in his honour next year. My neighbours are going to love me…

On the plus side, we did find some wonderful photo memories of me & Mum & Dad during the Christmas break, which I plan to make into an album so they’re not just lurking on a hard drive somewhere.

Anyway, that’s why this isn’t a round up post this year. And technically, all the businesses are taking a break till 2nd January.

But old habits die hard and I’ve never yet spent a new year’s eve without writing on my beloved blog, so instead, have the best 18 photos from my mermaid life & business (because most of you won’t have a steady stream of mermaid goodness in your feeds!):

Mermaid Kerenza Sapphire best nine 2017 Mermaiding UK best nine 2017

Being a mermaid really wasn’t something I thought could make actually happen – yet now I get to make other people’s mermaid dreams come true as well as my own, and it fits beautifully alongside my photography, business photography and stationery ventures.

My current quartet of businesses feels meant to be, and I really think Dad would approve. Plus I can run them with Kitten Assistants Luna & Clover, who really do light up my life. On that note, I’m off to feed the kitten assistants and read a good book.

I hope 2018 is everything you want it to be and I’ll see you on the other side.

xoxo,
Carla

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.

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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!).