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!). 

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.

a pile of kittens (Luna and Clover)

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.

harriet and me

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).

christmas at home 2015 (1)

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.

bridesmaid lou

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

Big Magic and belonging

Last week I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and met up beforehand with old and new friends from the Free Range Humans movement (i.e. people like me who want to get the hell out of 9-5 work and create a life that works for them).

Unusually for me, although I know I want/need/have to write about it, to get such an incredible experience down on paper and screen before the details escape me, I also don’t know what to write. I don’t know how to encapsulate everything that the evening was to me.

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Firstly, I’d forgotten the excitement, constant inspiration and sense of total belonging that I have with these guys. We are the most random group of people ever, from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ages and at all sorts of stages in our journeys. Every single one of them feels like an old and true friend, even though some of them I only met in person for the first time last night (Vaska, Lisa, Issy, Marianne, Jenny, Becs – I’m looking at you!!).

We used to have regularish meetups and then somehow life got in the way and they tailed off – but I am determined to resurrect that regularity, I hadn’t realised how much I missed the boost they give me and the indescribable feeling of my worldview and plans fitting in so perfectly with theirs.

I’m also really hopeful that I’ll click with the Shining Lights girls in the same way, when I eventually get to meet them in person <3

And then after taking over Wagamama’s for a few hours, we wandered up to the Emmanuel Centre and settled to watch and hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about Big Magic.

The two hours shot past in a blur, I had chills and tears and giggles sometimes all at once. It’s uncanny how much of what she talks about stirs recognition deep within – though she admits there’s no scientific evidence to back it up, every one of us in that room and hundreds of thousands more who have read the book identify on a deep level with what’s in it.

I won’t spoil the book, but I will leave you with my favourite scribbled notes from the four pages I took in my newly-beloved bullet journal:

    • Having one foot in the real world, and one with the faeries – this is something you sort of must do, to live a full creative life. (Validation, right there!)

 

    • On criticism: Does the critic have your best interests at heart? Do they know what you were trying to do? Can they offer criticism in a kind way? If not, fuck them – you don’t have to listen.

 

    • “Honesty without kindness is not a virtue.”

 

    • “I am willing to take the risk of being insulted, in order to be heard.” – this one really resonated – I am so lucky to be alive in a time where I’m allowed to say and do what I want, that I need to ditch my fear of criticism.

 

    • It is far, far better to be alone than with someone who’s not supporting or lifting you, or making your life better, easier or happier. If none of that is happening, what is the point? This was so good to hear, it’s my general philosophy on relationships but always good to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!

 

    • There is a shit sandwich with everything. You have to work out what you love so much, and get so much out of, that you’re willing to eat the shit sandwiches. (I have a love-hate relationship with this analogy, something about it makes me uncomfortable – probably the fact that I don’t want to face the fact that everything I love has a flipside!)

 

    • Being creative is like having a border collie – if you don’t keep it occupied it’ll find something destructive to do.

 

    • You’re not obliged to use your creativity to save mankind, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what lights you up.

 

    • Don’t be an art martyr, and try or feel you have to do everything by yourself.

 

The quote that stood out the most, for me?

The ultimate act of creativity is to turn your own life into a work of art.

I am printing this to stick on my desk, my wall, by my bed, in my bathroom. That is what I want from this life, whatever form it takes – mermaiding, photographing, writing, dancing, having blue hair and a unicorn horn… all of the things that make me me.

And Elizabeth’s parting thought was this:

What are you willing to give up or say no to, in order to have the life you say you want?

Big Magic indeed.

With love and unicorns,
Carla xxx

PS Have you read Big Magic, or seen Elizabeth Gilbert speak? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
PPS I know the picture isn’t great, but I was too busy listening to take a proper one!

Creating A Magical Life – the Dream Board

It’s no secret that I’m a great believer in talismans – visual or physical (or both) representations of what means the most to you.

Things you’re aiming or hoping or striving for; things you want to be reminded of; dreams you’re chasing; anything you want to keep in mind.

three-talismans | carlalouise.com

And I’m also a convert to the power of manifesting – or making what you want happen. The concept has undergone a bit of a transformation, from something totally away with the fairies to something more concrete and tangible, and I believe much more socially acceptable than it was a few years ago. (It’s possible I just hang out with very open, likeminded people, but either way I don’t much care what people think – it works for me!)

I’m the biggest fan of magic going, but actually I’m not convinced manifesting is particularly ethereally magical. I think it’s a more practical magic – if you get clear on what you want and remind yourself of this regularly, then you’re much more likely to notice opportunities to make it happen – opportunities that may otherwise have passed you by.

Gratitude and goals lists are already part of my daily routine – usually the last thing I do at night before I put the lights off and snuggle up with a cat on my head (yes, really – Luna-kitty refuses to sleep on the bed unless she’s on my head, purring loudly into my ear. It’s a surprisingly nice way to fall asleep). These tend to be more immediate – things from the day I’m thankful for, things I hope to achieve in the next few days/weeks/months. I have a list for each year too, though I’ve not yet shared that here.

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So when I saw Leonie’s suggestion in her 2015 Shining Year workbook to create a dream board for the year ahead, I jumped on it – a wonderful combination of talisman and manifesting list!

I covered an old noticeboard in pretty fabric, and found a teacup to store my pins. Then I dug out my scrapbooking stash, some precious objects, my 2015 intentions list and my Pinterest boards and proceeded to create a visual representation of the things that mean most to me and the things I intend, hope for, wish for and plan for in the coming year.

Some highlights:

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At the top is my Hogswatch 2014 medal – as one of the outstanding highlights of 2014, and with the passing of Terry Pratchett while I was away in Texas, Hogswatch 2015 in Wincanton is the one event I will be at by hook or by crook this year.

On the other side is a Night Circus inspired embroidery my gorgeous friend Gabby made for me – to remind me to keep my imagination, my dreams and my eclectic style going and not succumb to normality.

Then there are the other pins – ranging from reminders to inspiring quotes to business goals to personal aspirations, skills I want to acquire and experiences I want to have, things that inspire me and beautiful things I’d love to have in my life (velvet cloak, anyone?).

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I add to it constantly, and tick things off as I achieve them too. It lives in my living room, at the heart of my house – and it’s one of the best ways I’ve ever had of keeping track of multiple intentions.

Big thanks to Leonie – I’m already excited to see how it’ll look by the end of the year!

Do you have a dream board? Would love to see…!

Self-worth boost: the Achievements Jar

Self-Worth  Boost Achievement Jar | carlalouise.com

You know how it is – you’re rushing around, juggling your business, your day job, kids, family, friends, social arrangements, getting the car MOT-ed and trying to find time to clean the house without waking the neighbours at 1am with the hoover.

And as you sink into bed each night, you wonder how it is, exactly, that you’ve spent all day full speed ahead but don’t feel like you’ve actually achieved anything.

I’ve felt like this for all the time I’ve been running my businesses – because between my shop and Unfurling, Ink Drops and my day job, I am more or less constantly on the go.

And yet you are doing SO much more than you give yourself credit for.

How do I know this? Well, at the start of 2015 I set up my achievements jars. I think I first came across them on Pinterest though I have no idea whose pin they were.

I have one (the biggest) in my living room, by my dream board, one on  my desk at home,

Self-Worth  Boost Achievement Jar | carlalouise.com

and one on my day job desk.

Next to each one I keep a little stash of torn up pieces of paper (a great way of using scrap that would otherwise go in the recycling straight away).

During the day, I scribble down what I’ve just done and pop the pieces into whichever jar is nearest, and empty the jars regularly into my beloved Ikea resealable patterned plastic bags.

They can be as small as “played with kitties” or as big as “added new products to my website”; as mundane as “hung washing before work” and as exciting as “ordered prototypes of custom talisman” or “successful experiment with new bangles”.

Self-Worth  Boost Achievement Jar | carlalouise.com

The idea is that by keeping track of even the tiny things, you see the paper build up and have a tangible reminder that although it may feel like you’re not achieving anything, you are Doing. So. Much. And so much good!

You can adapt the concept for a memory jar, for compliments, for good days – but I like this simple catch-all, and it has really helped me to take a moment to notice what I do.

And realise that every single thing I do, from everyday routine to motivated action to much-needed rest time, is moving me forward into the life I’m designing, not just the obvious things.

Try it – you might just be surprised at how much you’re achieving without giving yourself credit.

Self-Worth  Boost Achievement Jar | carlalouise.com

Approaching 29

Seven weeks into 2015, and just a few hours from my 29th birthday.

I’m not one to get overly hung up on ages and dates, but I did get a bit of a shock at Christmas when I showed my cousin my 30 for 30 list, and blithely declared I had 25 months left to do it all in. She swiftly pointed out that a) maths clearly isn’t my strong point and b) I had 13 months left, not 25.

Oops.

That list rapidly became ‘daydreams to do’, because my 29th year is already packed full of wonder – there are some things on that list I know I will do in my life, but I also know I won’t do this year – I don’t want to squish in all the experiences, I want to have time to anticipate and then savour each one.

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So what have I learned, in my almost 29 years on the planet? Here’s a list, in no particular order:

Sometimes the things you’re most opposed to can lead to the most glorious moments of your life.

I definitely don’t want children (the cats are quite responsibility enough) – but I’m properly excited for more of my friends to have children, so I can be the cool auntie who brings inappropriate presents and has them over for weekends full of sugar and fun.

Living on my own has been one of the best decisions I ever made. And it isn’t lonely.

Occasionally, you’ll make decisions which will change your whole life and turn it upside down. But mostly, you’ll move towards your dreams step by (sometimes painfully small) step.

We overestimate what we can do in a day, but (massively) underestimate what we can do in a year.

Pets are actually small, furry family members, and just as precious as fellow human beings.

I can tassel twirl. And as part of the Paper Dolls burlesque troupe, I also do it on stage. The shy, gawky, nervous 15-year-old me is staring down the passage of time, awestruck and slightly embarrassed and bloody proud of how I’ve dealt with my body image issues in the last few years.

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I’ve learned we shouldn’t pigeonhole ourselves too early in life – discovering at 19 that I was creative, after a lifetime of being told I was academic and not creative, was the single biggest revelation of my life to date.

If you don’t like your job, get the hell out. Don’t quit without a plan, but start looking – knowing their shit is no longer your problem when you hand in your notice to a place that’s wrong for you is an amazing feeling.

Your first broken heart hurts like hell.

You learn an absolutely ridiculous amount about yourself from relationships and their endings. Seriously, it was like a crash course in How Carla Works, both times – in very different ways.

Never, ever settle for being second best or someone’s backup choice. You are worth SO much more than that.

Try everything that catches your fancy, if it’s possible – I have a room full of craft materials, half of which I’ll probably never touch again, but all of it has brought me joy and new skills at some stage.

Serendipity and coincidence are sweet – and never get old.

Old friends and new friends are just as precious, but in different ways. Don’t abandon the old in favour of the new unless you have good reason to do so. And don’t assume that just because someone is very different to you, that you can’t be friends. Variety and different perspectives are always good!

Don’t feel guilty about things you can’t control or influence. Spend your energy doing what you can, but remember that everyone has their own free will.

Nothing is original, but no one can do what you do like you can. And never second-guess people’s reactions to what you do. Telling people about my alter ego coaching and course has been eye-opening – the reactions have been amazing from even the most unlikely people.

If you make a daft statement like “I love this house so much, I can’t ever imagine crying while I live here” when you move into a new house, you are highly likely to be proved wrong within the week.

Having good friends within walking distance is unbelievably sweet – especially after close to ten years of trekking up and down the M25 on a regular basis. (I’m still working on getting certain people to move up here….!)

It’s ok to stop doing things you don’t want to do – whether that’s a business, a job, a relationship, a house… it’s good to have a plan first, but you don’t have to do anything forever unless you want to.

Life is too short to worry about your weight or what other people think of you. Wear, and do, what makes you the happiest.

Oh – and if you want to dye your hair, go ahead and do it. I waited 9 years to dye mine blue/turquoise – and while I love that it represents me so perfectly right now, I do wish I hadn’t waited so long.

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Here’s to the very last year of my twenties!

With love and unicorns,

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Why being interested in ALL THE THINGS is actually a good thing

Discovering, a couple of years ago, that I was a Scanner, was a turning point in my life.

If you’ve never come across the word in this context before, alternative names include Renaissance woman/man/soul, polymath, da Vinci personality, multipassionate, multipotentialite, and some that are less complimentary – dilettante, flake, Jack-of-all-trades, fantasist.

Barbara Sher, who coined the term Scanner, goes into it in much more depth in her books, but the gist is that it’s someone who has many interests, usually moves jobs often, can’t seem to settle on one thing to do and who has ideas all the time, and frequently leaves projects seemingly unfinished.

I’m not normally one for labels, but I’d struggled for years with my many, many interests, and my attention span waxing and waning depending on what I was doing, but also on when I was doing it and what other things were currently on my radar. I had more hobbies than the rest of my group of friends put together, and found it utterly impossible to stay in a job for more than 18 months or so without being bored to tears. By the time I was 24 I had a CV which spanned as many pages as my Dad’s did – he was 66 at the time.

Even the line dancing I adored, I stopped once I’d reached a certain level. I qualified for, competed in and placed in the World Championships in Nashville in 2000, and it has taken me fifteen years to rekindle my love affair with line dancing. I got what I wanted out of it, and then I quit. (Though I’ve worn cowboy (girl?) boots ever since I was nine.)

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Modern Western society expects us all to be specialists, and to choose one thing to do for the rest of our lives. Even at 16 I raised eyebrows by choosing English, French, German and Physics for my A levels. So many people told me that I should have taken another Humanities subject. I’d have taken something arty (photography or textiles or something like that), but I was told at school, repeatedly from childhood, that I was academic and not creative. So I did what I could at the time, while dreading the thought of refining my choices even further.

My tendency to stop completely and move on, once whatever I was doing ceased to be interesting or fun, has been frowned upon over the years too – because in our society, whether at work or at play, quitting is seen as giving up, as being unreliable and therefore as a bad thing. I couldn’t understand why people would continue with all sorts of things, most of which were either supposed to be fun or which took up a considerable chunk of precious life –  work, relationships, hobbies, projects – long after they stopped enjoying them.

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Discovering blogs (or weblogs, as they were known in the misty recesses of 2005) was a revelation – here at last was somewhere where I could write about and share the day to day stories of being me, of everything I did – and instead of simply recording it in a diary, I found likeminded people! Other people’s writing, blog comments, forums for incredibly niche hobbies like collecting model horses – for the first time, no one judged me for having a series of bursts of enthusiasm for something, then taking a break and returning to it later.

(A vaguely relevant side note – I found it hilarious when people started extolling the virtues and wonder of internet dating, and meeting people online, a few years ago – because these were the same people that gave me repeated lectures on how stupid I was to go to London to meet new friends I’d met online through my hobbies… whether Wheel of Time fans, model horse collectors or photographers. My first internet meetup was with Chloe in London when I was 19, back in 2006 – and it was apparently far from normal to do that then. She’s now one of my dearest friends. Who knew something held in such suspicion would become so mainstream so fast?!)

Regardless of the type of project, idea or pastime, I followed (follow!) a pattern of sorts – I’d have an idea or something would pique my interest, I’d research it a bit and decide I wanted to learn about it or learn to do it. I’d do some more research, meet some people who already did it, buy some things related to it (craft materials, jewellery tools, small collectable resin horses, typewriters…) and then throw myself into it with an all-consuming passion. Until the next thing caught my attention.

An example – at the time I write, I have just found the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series. I ADORED MLP when I was younger, and had avoided the new style ones in case I hated them. Then I saw an episode on YouTube and am now devouring the first and second series on DVD, while scouring shops and the internet for MLP memorabilia to keep on my desk, pin up in my studio, and hang from my handbag.

I’ve driven both my (now ex) partners and my parents, and probably my friends too, up the wall for decades with my wild enthusiasm for a new project which dwindles into inertia just as they’re starting to come round to the idea of me having chosen My Thing, at last.

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So after the best part of a decade of doing this and blogging, and trying to justify my inability to choose or find that One Thing to do with my career and free time that was supposed to keep me interested for the rest of my life, I found one of Barbara Sher’s books in the library.

And I read it, and I cried… because there at last was proof that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t a flake and that I wasn’t broken. I just had a different kind of brain – and there were other people out there like me.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’ve actively sought out other people who get it, though the majority of people I know still don’t. Which is ok – we’re just wired differently! Lots of the solopreneurs I now count among my dearest friends (the internet is a properly magical thing!) are also scanners, and we’re learning how to make our personalities work with our businesses rather than forcing ourselves into a box.

When I find a new thing, the time I spend engaged with it varies – from a few days to a few years, and I am never without several things on the go. (if I’d had a £1 for every time someone asked me how I fit so much in and follow so many hobbies, I could probably retire tomorrow). And I have a noticeable cycle, though the timing isn’t consistent – generally, if it’s something I discover and like enough to chuck myself into it, I make friends within it and then continue to return to it after intervals, throughout my life.

Examples of these include collecting, painting and showing model horses; my car Poppy and the club I belong to through her; roller skating (started at age 6 and I go through phases of being addicted to it every few years); horse riding; jewellery making; papercraft and scrapbooking; customising shoes and clothes; reworking the interior of my home; sewing; camper vans; cross stitching, baking, wanting to write a book… the list is endless (almost literally).

The only things which are consistent are writing and photography. Which brings me to the heart of this post.

When it became apparent at an absurdly early age that I was going to write, and read, far more than I was going to do anything else consistently (the photography came later), it’s been suggested repeatedly that I should be an author and write books, or a journalist and write articles, or a travel writer, or [insert traditional writing-related-job here].

And they’re all good ideas on the surface. But the trouble is, I don’t want to write whole books (well, I do, but I know myself well enough now to know that completing more than one is highly unlikely – the kick I’ll get when I finish Unfurling is highly likely to be enough for me to move onto something else instead of writing a second book).

I don’t want to dive so deeply into one subject that I don’t have time or energy left over to explore all the other amazing things out there – which, if I pursued a traditional writing career, I would have to do. Even journalists, who write short to medium articles instead of whole books, usually specialise in a broad topic – business, or travel, or cookery, or lifestyle.

And while thinking about my blog, and where it’s headed over the next few years, and how I got into blogging in the first place, it occurred to me that it really is the perfect place for my scanner personality to develop, grow and flourish.

It takes the two things I do naturally and consistently, and applies them to the ever-changing series of things that I do equally naturally, but much less consistently. I can write one-sentence posts, or 2,000 word epics like this one – and I get to choose, rather than an editor.

Since I very first started blogging back in 2006, and in a more structured way since the inception of Ducking Fabulous in 2010, I have used my very own space on the internet to record, write, think out loud and muse about life, learning and all the things that catch my fancy.

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To explore and investigate my passing enthusiasms, catch ideas I’d like to follow up in the future, and record my journey through learning and practising and discovering. It gives me a self-made library to refer to when I come back to something I’ve done before, and means I have tangible evidence of how I’ve improved, changed, or grown in a particular area.

Through my writing I’ve learned to give myself permission not to finish things, and to hop, if I want to, between interests. I allow myself to stop doing things if they’re not working – a complete antithesis to the previous generation’s work ethic, which tends to be along the power-through-and-keep-going-even-if-it’s-hard-and-it-should-be-worth-it-in-the-end lines.

Credit is also due to the rise of blogging in popularity and as a career choice – I no longer have to explain what a blog is, and it’s the best excuse I’ve ever had for trying out new things – all in the name of fresh content for my lovely readers. Yet this blog, seemingly uniquely for a blog that supports a business, is still very much my little space on the internet. I’m forever reading articles which tell you what you must and mustn’t do in order for your blog to be businesslike, or relevant, or grow your readership… and I stand by my belief that a blog is the equivalent of your home online.

I want people to see me for who I am, and if they resonate with me and like my writing, then some part of my business will probably be a good fit for them. Whether it’s jewellery, tarot decks or courses depends very much on them and what they’re looking for.

I’m trying this year for the first time to schedule my posts and write them in advance, and while it works for some types of post, it’s failing miserably for others. Like these. I need to write them when the inspiration strikes, and then I want them out there so I can have the conversations they spark while the subject is still fresh in my mind.

So what about you? Are you also a scanner, or beginning to realise you could be one? Let me know in the comments (or email me if you’d prefer it not to be public) – I’d love to know.

With love and unicorns,

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Three words for the year ahead

There is a definite trend towards choosing a word for the year, a word to keep in mind through all you do and experience over the following twelve months.

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2014’s words – how did that go?

Last year I chose Abundance and Balance, and they played out in interesting ways for me. Not as I expected, but the next time something goes to plan will be the first, so that was no real surprise.

I learned that I have far more than I had first assumed, and, led by the abundance mindset, I started to get control of my finances for the first time in my life. Little things, like paying my insurance for my beloved car Poppy in full, from money I’d saved instead of overdraft or borrowing from parents. There’s a way to go before I’m properly sorted on the financial front, but I’m getting there, and it feels brilliant.

Balance was also intriguing – I had intended to have a better balance between all the things I do – my day job, my own businesses, my family and my friends (kitties come under family, in case anyone thinks I’ve forgotten them), as well as fitting in time for self care and doing fun stuff.

But 2014 turned out to be the year I hit burnout in quite a big way, and by November I was unproductive, forgetful, snappy, tearful, struggling to wake up, struggling to sleep and sleepwalking through my days while doing the absolute bare minimum essential to appearing reasonably human. And how did this relate to my declared value of ‘balance’? Well, Naomi summed it up for me – you have to experience life out of balance to realise how important it is, and to put measures in place to maintain it.

Taking what Balance taught me last year, I rested as much as I could over Christmas (could do with another month, but 12 days was pretty good going) am putting up a solid fence around my alone time and breathing space, making sure I have at least one weekend a month free of any commitments at all, and learning to say no. I’ve given up the SW class I was at with my mum in favour of dancing, resting or creative fun on a Tuesday, and I’m allowing myself to have whole afternoons or evenings just talking to people rather than endlessly following my to do lists regardless of how I feel – and 2015 is already happier for it.

So what are this year’s words?

As ever, I couldn’t settle on just one, so I’ve gone for three.

2015 will be my year of Freedom, Magic and Simplicity.

freedom

Freedom – of all kinds. Freedom to choose what I do and when, freedom from the 9-5 arbitrary working times is my ultimate goal, but I’m also aiming for financial freedom, improving my ability to say no to things that won’t enrich my life, and true emotional freedom (I’ve come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years, but there’s always more work to do).

magic-ring

Magic – because if I had to choose one word that I embody, it would be magic. I feel magic, I make magic, I am magic – and with each day that passes I relax into that and stop worrying about what people will think. This year I want to make sure I never forget to appreciate the magic and wonder all around me, and embed my own magic into my signature programme Unfurling Your Wings, and my free e-course Everyday Magic, so I can share it with as many other people as possible.

simplicity

Simplicity – because by goddess I am fed up to the back teeth of my clutter! I love my creative home, but it is truly full to overflowing and I need to simplify down – one girl and two cats do not need more possessions than an average family of five. And the more I clear, the more space I’ll create for more gorgeous stuff/things to enter my life.

I’m also using simplicity in terms of arrangements, plans and thoughts. Trying to take the simplest path through everything, and it should also apply to my work, or at least my day job work – the past of least resistance and most efficiency is often the simplest. And just applying it to the 40-odd hours a week I spend at my day job would improve my life enormously.

They’re in the front of my daybook and on the bracelet and ring I made for these photos so will be with me every day of 2015. I wonder what the next year will bring…

PS I’m planning to add custom stamped jewellery to my shop – let me know if there’s a particular word or phrase you’d like!

On my desk: Planning geek heaven! (contains Filofax goodness)

open-filofax-1

My love affair with Filofaxes blows hot and cold, but I am certain it will never blow over.

It’s that time of year when I start needing to write stuff in my diary for the following January and February (and March, given our upcoming trip) and my stationery addiction comes out to play. (Oh, who am I kidding – it comes out to play most days!!)

I blogged over on Ink Drops recently about my custom daily planner, and I have been really enjoying using it. However, when three months of the year is chunkier and heavier than a standard A4 hardback notebook, it’s not the most practical for planning – and it’s become more of a daybook – somewhere to record what I do, spend my time and money on, am grateful for, would like to do next, and all the random thoughts that occur throughout the day.

Then I ambled into my friend Nic’s office and found her pulling apart an A5 Filofax, while her printer churned out some beautiful planner pages. And a little light went “ding” in my head.

closed-filofaxc

On leaving the library in 2011, I was given a Paperchase voucher (because they knew me well) and I bought myself… yep, you guessed it,  the most glorious plum leather A5 Filofax. I adored it and I’m not entirely sure when or why I stopped using it.

And wouldn’t you know, there is a whole world of Filofax and personal planner customising out there – a way for me to let my inner crafter loose!

open-filofax-2

I’ve spent most of my spare moments this week creating dividers from scrapbooking card, joyfully making lists of what sections and sub-sections I want to have in there (I’m in geek heaven) and Nic and I have even bought a proper hole punch between us so we can easily add more custom bits to our planners.  I’m also working on a whole bunch of custom inserts, which I might chuck in the Etsy shop if I ever finish a cohesive set of them!

I’ll reveal it in more detail at some point, and review the punch too (you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find one, but this one was reasonable at £32 and has worked exceptionally well so far).

open-filofax-0

The best part? Except for the punch, I’ve not spent a penny – I’ve used scrapbooking card & papers I already owned, Project Life cards and stickers from my stash to jazz it up, and I even already had colour coded pens (why does that surprise no one?) to keep with it.

 

 

Discovering photography

I discovered photography in 2006, when working at the Telegraph with a creative director who was utterly obsessed with the medium.

He helped me choose my first ‘proper’ camera – a Panasonic DMZ-500 bridge, I believe – and encouraged me to go out shooting at lunchtime, on the train, at weekends.

self portrait with my first bridge camera | carlalouise.com

(with my beloved Panasonic – and to give you an idea of timescale, LOOK HOW SHORT MY HAIR IS…)

I took self portraits everywhere, mainly because I found it easier to use myself as a model than faff either asking a stranger or organising a proper shoot.

self portrait at the Telegraph circa 2008 | carlalouise.com

self portrait on the train circa 2008 | carlalouise.com

After my intern year finished, while my boyfriend of the time revised for his Masters exams, I took myself off on photo walks around our home town. I took accidental pony porn, terrible close ups of flowers, pictures of cars, dogs on walks, woods, people, shops.

Most of them were technically awful, but by that time I was addicted to the feel of the camera in my hands, the click and whirr of the lens, the ability to capture a moment in time by pressing a button.

Eight years on, I’m still blogging and still photographing – and recently rediscovering just how much I love the click of that shutter and committing moments to paper or pixels. And the pull of creating what’s in my head through my lens is as strong as ever – it’s an elusive thrill but one I never tire of chasing. It’s kept me sane through ups and downs more times than I can remember. And my camera is probably the one inanimate object I’d save from a fire if I could only pick one thing.

 

I’ll be forever grateful to Himesh for starting me on that journey and giving me the confidence to try a new art form without worrying about the results.

What’s your starting-photography story? Did you grow up camera in hand, or discover it a little (or a lot) later in life?