Sometimes, self care looks like…

going to the beach and watching the sea and getting a sense of perspective.

charlestown harbour | Carla Watkins Photography | carlalouise.com

And sometimes, it looks like setting a reminder on your phone to actually bloody well eat proper food before the evening arrives!

After the recent heat, a gorgeous day yesterday (including accidentally transforming friends into mermaids in my garden) and an increasing habit of eating dinner at 10pm, today I woke up and just felt rough all over.

Lovely Annastasia came round so we could do the Ink Drops tax return (not fun, but felt good once it was achieved) and talk about stuff we want to do with our little company (fun and inspiring), but we were so busy chatting that I forgot about lunch.

Then Clover did a hat-trick of throwing up so I went into cat-related anxiety tailspin (admittedly nowhere near as bad as I have been in the past, but I was definitely fretting). On good advice I kept kittens in and went back to bed for a couple of hours – only to be woken up by furious catfighting outside my living room window. Gah!

Fortunately my two weren’t involved in that, and as they have managed to keep food down since, they are currently roaming the garden and having staring contests with pigeons and snoozing on the decking – it’s tough, being a pampered cat.

But it was only once I put dinner in the oven at almost 6pm that I realised I hadn’t eaten anything except some popcorn since breakfast, and breakfast was just a ciabatta roll because I wasn’t that hungry when I woke up.

No wonder I felt odd, and found routine things like cat puke overwhelming to deal with!

I am off to eat dinner now… and I think I shall put the laptop off and shut the studio until after I’m back from the vet tomorrow lunchtime. Could do with keeping the cats in, and it won’t hurt me to have a morning off like a normal person!

But this isn’t the first time recently I’ve forgotten to eat and then felt physically as well as mentally dreadful, so that is a lesson learned. During grief, but also in life generally, remember to eat proper food!

Seasonal musings, winter solstice and glitter jars

As Christmas Eve eve draws to a close, I am once again completely bemused by how fast the year has gone (I’m sure there is a conspiracy) and how much good stuff there has been in what feels, overall, like a very bad year indeed.

I celebrated the winter solstice with friends on Wednesday, with cooking (which turned out amazingly) and glitter jar making, which was a lovely way to start winter and end my build.

Glitter jars by Carla Louise | carlalouise.com

I got my keys back from my builder the day after the solstice, and oh, this studio space – it already feels like the most peaceful, productive space I’ve ever had. I am full of gratitude and excitement… and my home feels like home again, which is wonderful.

After Luna’s fourth incident, a couple of weeks ago, of arriving home with split, mashed claws (this time accompanied by a fat lip and heavy, terrified breathing for longer than is healthy, so yet another emergency vet visit), I gave in and bought a curfew cat flap. It’s made by Sureflap, who made the microchip flap I already had, and still does selective entry using microchips so that only my two furry idiots can come in. It also has a function where it locks itself at a certain time in the day, which I have set for half past three in the afternoon, so the cats still get eight hours a day of outdoor access but are safely in by the time it gets dark, and away from the school run and people rushing home from work. And away from the asshole tabby cat who seems to come out at night, and who I am fairly sure is part of the reason Luna keeps coming home hurt – the first incident was almost definitely a car accident, but there is no way she has been hit four times in four months when we live in a cul de sac!

Programming the cats in was hilarious – they recommend installing it and getting your cats to walk through, but with my luck this year I decided it’d be infinitely better to catch each cat, put the flap into learn mode and put it over their head before I installed it into the door. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, but I wish I’d filmed it – by the time I’d managed to get both cats programmed in, I was helpless with laughter, we’d got through an obscene amount of treats, and they sulked for the rest of the evening!

The proper year review post will come, once I’ve done my planning for 2017. This year I got an accountant (the lovely Kylie) who has successfully managed to get me to submit my accounts, and has done my tax return, so for the first time in years I am clear to spend NYE planning and relaxing, rather than doing my sodding business accounts in a panic. This is a Very Good Thing.

But today, I really just wanted to say Happy Christmas / Yule / insert whatever you celebrate here, mark the end of my day job year, and give heartfelt thanks for the studio where I am sitting and typing this to you.

I’m looking forward to Christmas and have mostly managed my shopping this year – though am behind with cards and have struggled to fit in all my responsibilities with all the things I love and want to do. For lots of reasons, I would like this to be the last year that I work full time at a day job – one of my big 2017 goals is to drop some hours so there is more balance in my life. And more consistent blog posts as I enter my thirteenth (!) year of blogging – if you are reading this and you’ve stuck around during this rather random year, I am delighted – thank you!

So after that wonderfully rambly post with no real point (I love having this blog back as a non businessy one), here are some more pics of the glitter jars. The turquoise represents the sea, the pink & gold is sunrise/sunset and the deep blue is the night sky.

Merry Christmas, happy New Year and I’ll see you in 2017!!

My Sunday looked like this…

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

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

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

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

Luna | carlalouise.com

Clover | carlalouise.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love & unicorns,
Carla

Goodbye 2015, you were epic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kitteny cats and other pets.

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.

freedom

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

And so this is Boxmas…

… and I won’t subject you to any more of my enthusiastic but distinctly off-key singing!

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It’s been a beautiful Christmas, one of the best I can remember. After a 2.30am wakeup call from Clover kitty with a shiny fish she really wanted me to have, for the first time ever, Mum & Dad and I had Christmas day to ourselves, and they came to me – the first time I’ve hosted! Naturally, we went to one of my favourite pubs in the village for actual lunch rather than risk my cooking… but we had our traditional breakfast at mine, and it was so lovely.

Being here really brought the house together – knowing I was hosting made me do all the last minute things I would otherwise have let slide for ages.  And oh, how lovely it was to wake up and snuggle with kitties and not have to rush across the county to get anywhere! I think all three of us needed a break, and the relaxing day it ended up being. And lunch out was perfect – atmosphere while also enabling proper conversation.

I’m not religious, but I do love the ceremony of Christmas, and the opportunity to dress up and feast with family – it always feels special and a little bit decadent. Something about it calls to my pagan side, too – banishing the darkness with fairy lights and spending time and breaking bread with our nearest and dearest.  This year’s dress was a dark blue chiffon with little silver and white bauble beads sewn all over the bodice – very me, very pretty, and very accommodating of Christmas dinner with an elasticated back!!

Boxing Day was spent over at my aunt & uncle’s with large numbers of my extended family, which was also perfect – though I think for the first time I’m slipping into the adult group rather than naturally into the kids. There are a few of my cousins at weird kidult transition ages – 15, 17, 20… and I managed to freak out one of my older ones by announcing my joint 30th & housewarming party in February. He still thinks I’m about 8, so it was something of a surprise to him that I’m nearly 30…

Unsurprisingly, despite the 15 degree weather, I didn’t pack my mermaid tail for the celebrations, and so sadly missed an opportunity to swim in it on Boxing Day, but there’s the whole of 2016 to mermaid to my heart’s content. That’s definitely a real verb, too…

Now, after all the celebrations, I’m curled up on my beautiful patchwork sofa, under my Secret Pillow blanket, one of my glorious Christmas presents from Caroline. Each Secret Pillow helps to empower women in India, who go through a series of workshops to improve their skills, make and sell the Secret Pillows, and develop a sustainable business to support themselves and their families. I’d not heard of it till I unwrapped mine on Christmas Day, but it’s one of my favourite presents – I love it!

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In between munching Christmas chocolate, and feeling a bit like I’ve been hit by a freight train (that’ll be the quantities of Dad’s amazing mulled cider I’ve consumed in the past 48 hours, then), I’ve started the process of rejigging all my websites again. Here’s how everything currently stands:

Carla Watkins Photographer is getting a proper front page, a way to get emails and updates, and once I’ve sorted out my photos and a couple of test shoots, it’ll have a gallery and an actual page where you can engage my services, you know, like a proper photography business! (#getoutofmyownway seems an appropriate hashtag here…) I’ll shortly be setting up a friendly group for solopreneurs to share the rollercoaster of self employment, too.  If you’re a solopreneur or portfolio careerist who fancies connecting with likeminded peeps, and you don’t mind the occasional f bomb, get yourself on this list!

I’m ridonkulously excited to work with more likeminded people, and also to geek out on the blog about all the business related goodness I’ve been absorbing and waffling about for years. Yay!

Alongside that, Unfurling Your Wings is getting a mini overhaul, with some tweaks to the course and a launch of the course & kit later in 2016. I’m adding boudoir and portrait sessions to the offerings over there, and I’m also planning some experience days – fancy a day at mermaid school, or running away to the circus? Watch this space

Something I’ve noticed over the last few months (and it’s no coincidence that all this clarity and action follows having a beautiful new, uncluttered space at home) is how much I miss blogging for its own sake. All my sites have a business slant to them, which is gorgeous and exactly as it should be, but I miss having somewhere that’s essentially my online living room.

The shop here, while full of gorgeous things, doesn’t feel right to have here any more. So most of my remaining stock will wander over to my new venture The Unicornery over the next few months, and this will revert back to its original purpose as a lifestyle blog, and record of my life and interests and multipod tendencies.

I never did get round to the planned sale, due to a severe lack of laptop (hilariously, as a result of the dead laptop, we had a count up of our technology. Once Mum’s new laptop arrives, we will have three decent laptops and one old spare, one desktop, four tablets, three printers, four cameras  and five phones between three of us in two houses. Getting a tiny bit ridiculous, no?!). Anyway, sale – perhaps I’ll have one to celebrate the opening of the Unicornery!

Hmm, and having promised myself an early night and a proper sleep routine, it’s now nearly 1am. Oops. That whole being-an-owl and hating mornings thing is definitely a big motivator behind the drive for full time self employment!

I hope you’ve all had a glorious Christmas, if that’s what you celebrate, and I’ll be back in the new year (or possibly even before, if I get organised).

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xxx

 

 

 

 

My curtains are purring…

There is nothing in my living room but a pile of suitcases, one recliner and some garden chairs. I have a glorious kitchen and no carpets, and my new bed is yet to arrive so I have put the old mattress on the floor. My bedroom floor is covered in filing and my makeshift curtains have just started purring…

Such is the joy of moving back into my house. And oh, it is wonderful… Rather odd, not least to have such a small amount of stuff in my home. And it looks so different! But quite inspiring at the same time, and I have great plans.

My carpets arrive in a couple of weeks, I am going to attempt to install sliding doors to make a wardrobe of sorts, and my sofa, bed and mattress and sofa bed for spare room arrive in the middle of November. Ish.

Luna and Clover and I moved home on Friday night, in a remarkably painless process – I think Mum and Dad were sad to say goodbye to the cats, but also relieved to have their house back. The three of us are not the most subtle visitors (especially as the litter tray had to live in my bedroom. I think Mum is probably still airing her study!)

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Let them out today and they promptly buggered off over the shed, but came back when they had done exploring. And have been good as gold (worn out?!) this evening. For any cat owners in the same situation, of moving their cats around a lot, I can highly recommend the Pet Remedy diffusers and Zylkene – I was dubious of both but they have helped chill my two out muchly 🙂

So what’s next? I want to re-read the Magic of Tidying Up and implement some of Marie’s advice – this means it may take me six months to get all my stuff back into my living space. But that’s a good thing – I keep a huge amount of things for sentimental reasons and I suspect a decent digital photo of the things would do just as well (plus they’re harder to get weepy over when I’m so inclined).

It’ll be good to get back into a routine – I have missed blogging regularly!

Can tidying up really be life changing?

I hate tidying up. Really, truly, hate it. But annoyingly I really like living in a space that isn’t full of clutter.

As I’ve tried to explain too many times to count, I don’t TRY to make things messy – chaos just follows me. I don’t deliberately leave things lying around, I’m just absorbed by an idea and don’t notice them lurking. I wasn’t born organised – and I am beginning to believe that the world can be divided into those who can stay tidy effortlessly and those who can’t stay tidy even if they make themselves miserable spending every spare moment trying to tidy up. (I suspect this effect is immeasurably worse if your partner/children/housemates/visitors are also messy by nature!)

My whole life has been lived in creative chaos – from my room as a child to my spaces at uni, from half the flat I shared with Julia to the whole house and garden I currently live in.

*I* know where everything is, it’s a filing system unique to me and I usually know exactly where to locate a specific item (under the bed, sideways a bit, behind that bag – there you go! Oh, you meant the other one? Basket on the windowsill, about a third of the way down, in a pink zipper bag. Sorted.) Until I tidy up, or worse, someone helps me tidy up, and then I have months of frustration because I can’t find anything.

I am naturally untidy and unashamedly lazy when it comes to housework – I will do the bare minimum to keep my house nice, and am easily overwhelmed by situations like my current one, when my house is filled with boxes and tools and goodness knows what else, in preparation for modernisation (plumbing and electrics. Necessary but oh-so-disruptive).

Much to the bemusement of the generation above mine, I have always unapologetically chosen fun things over housework for my entire life. Hoovering vs creating? No chance I’m going to pick hoovering (though the kittens’ faces when I do switch the Dyson on is unfailingly hilarious).

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t collect things that made me happy or curious, and I have always believed I’m happy surrounded by my precious possessions. I just happen to have a lot of possessions which mystify everyone else as to why they’re precious!

But as I pack up everything I own into boxes so I can more easily shunt them around the house during the electrical works (I lose either Luna or Clover behind or in boxes on a daily basis right now), I find myself wondering whether I actually, truly, need all this stuff.

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But how in hell do I even start to thin it down? (actually that’s a bit too melodramatic – I’m already two bin bags of clothes, three boxes of books and several bridesmaid’s dresses down… but the rest of it is overwhelming.)

Marie Kondo is the author of the bestselling book oddly entitled “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. I was initially hugely entertained by this – how could tidying up be fun, magic or remotely life changing? It’s just one of those endless, thankless, reoccurring chores. Right?

Well, wrong, apparently. David over at Raptitude reckons she’s got a good point and that her method is intrinsically different from most. She also acknowledges that very few of us were ever taught to tidy up – only told that it had to happen. (No blame intended to our parents – they weren’t taught by their parents either). She also comes highly recommended by my circle of friends who travel the world constantly and work as they go – some of whom had even more stuff than me before they took up that wandering lifestyle!

Marie teaches an all-at-once, drastic method of decluttering your living space and your life, using intuition rather than logic or emotion to choose what stays and what goes. I’ve not read the book yet but I’m aware of the underpinning concept of “does this spark joy?” – if so, it stays, if not, it goes.

And that, I think, is what’s finally got through and made me willing to give it a go. My intuition is strong and well developed; I have spent immense amounts of time on getting to know myself, what makes me tick, what makes me happy; and I know exactly what kind of life I want to live. Joy is something I wholeheartedly approve of and seek in my day to day life.

Perhaps having less stuff will give me more time and space, both mental and physical, to continue creating & living the life I choose. Perhaps this book will help me get there. And given I have to handle every single thing I own over the next few weeks anyway, it would make sense to turn it into an experiment alongside the Raptitude one and see if it makes a blind bit of difference to my lifelong messiness.

And if it works, my Mum (one of the world’s loveliest but also tidiest people, to whom my clutter is befuddling in the extreme) can sit back and smile, thinking that it’s owning a house that’s done the trick. As long as she’s happy, I don’t mind!

So. Ramble over, what am I actually going to do?

  • Buy Marie Kondo’s book (on Kindle, of course)
  • Read the book
  • Apply Marie’s concepts to my belongings as I pack them
  • Live in unintended minimalism while the modernisation work is completed
  • Move all my stuff back into the correct rooms and out of boxes and hopefully never have a messy house again

Hmm. I’ll keep you posted…

With love and unicorns,

Carla xx

Edit: I read and started applying Marie’s methods last night. I’m another bag of clothes down and can see my bedroom floor for the first time since I started packing…

 

 

 

 

A staycation and a surprise decision (well, two)

Excitingly and a little unexpectedly, I think it’s now safe to announce I’m nearing the end of the process of buying my house! SQUEEEEE! I’m delighted not to be moving, and I love this house and the life I’ve built around it, so I’m very happy to be staying.

More on what promises to be the biggest and best creative project of my life so far when all the legalities are completed and it’s actually mine 🙂

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However, this decision indirectly ended up leading to one of the best holidays I’ve had in ages – my staycation! A word introduced to me by an American friend of mine, it describes the time-off-work-but-not-going-away type of holiday rather nicely, I think.

I’d booked the week off thinking I’d head up to the Lake District for a photography holiday, or possibly across to France for a jewellery making holiday (both high on my wishlist at the moment!). But with the hottest week of the year predicted and house completion looming, instead I stayed at home, saw friends, pottered in my garden and started packing boxes up ready for renovating the downstairs part of the house – and I had a wonderful time!

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As any of you who have emailed me recently will know, I’ve barely been near my computer all week – and oh, how wonderful that’s been.

Spending time in my business – making the flurry of custom bracelet orders, packing delights from the shop up for people all over the world, reviewing the first draft of Unfurling Your Wings ready for the beta round in August.

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Spending time on my business – sorting out my filofax, arranging a day to go through my accounts with my VA, rejigging my plans and goals and directions, and brainstorming new things with wonderful likeminded solopreneurs. And trying and failing (again) to implement an editorial calendar. I really do prefer writing and posting when the mood takes me 🙂

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Spending time in my life (which I am trying to do far more often) – having breakfast in the garden (and eating cake for breakfast), drinking Prosecco in a secret garden in London, a burlesque workshop and a festival, playing with costumes, reading three books in a day before I consent to getting out of bed, cups of tea and putting the world to rights with my Gran… all of the things I love but so rarely seem to have time for in my life lately.

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And spending time on my life – reviewing my dreams, directions, goals, and working out how best to move in those directions. Writing, photographing, musing and walking. Playing with my Wild Unknown deck, musing over the meanings of the cards I’ve drawn. And, because I’m the list queen, making checklists so I actually do the things that are important to me each day, week and month.
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The biggest and most concrete realisation of this pottering, journalling, meditating and generally giving myself room to breathe has been that I want to keep this day job as part of my portfolio for much longer than I had initially planned. Yes, I was surprised too.

The grand plan was to do two years and then shift gracefully into working for myself full time.

And then I adopted my beloved kittens, bought a house and maybe most significantly, made real friends through work. And now I find I’m reluctant to leave the place where I see those people each day, where the work is varied and interesting and I have lots of autonomy and flexibility, while still being able to switch off when I leave the office.

Though I still hate the concept of the 9-5 and the insistence of organisations that employees be in a specific place at specific times, rather than assigning work and letting us get on with it whenever and wherever is best for us, I think I’d be very sad to leave this particular day job (or at least, the people in it) behind just yet.

Longer term I definitely still want total control over where and when I work – yet I’m reluctant to plan more specifically than a general direction to move in, because who knows where I will be and what I’ll be doing in a year’s time, never mind in five or ten years?!

So the biggest result of my staycation (brain-cation?!) is that now my short and mid-term plans involve growing my businesses in a slightly different way, so they’re entirely flexible, and then when I reach the point where it’s financially possible, I can shift the balance.

Part time instead of full time at the day job, and at least half of my time spent on my own ventures and projects. I can see the balance I want very clearly…

Likeminded people, and a beautiful campus, and a flexible but challenging job. Structure, and an office to go into when I need or want to, and watercooler moments with lovely colleagues.

A thriving business which helps women step into their own power and live the lives they’ve dreamed of. Another thriving business which connects stationery lovers and their longing for a simpler, slower, more organised life (and just happens to supply beautiful stationery as well).

And plenty of time for new projects and classes, for making and experimenting and reading and learning new skills. For spending with my friends and family. For entertaining in the house and garden of my dreams, and for relaxing there in my own personal sanctuary. For movement to be built into my life and for stillness and quiet to be as present as noise and being busy.

Not at all what I expected or planned when I quit London for a portfolio career – but intriguingly, it feels exactly right for where I am and what I want right now.

Who knew?

With love and unicorns,

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The ghosts of Carla past

Aka a spontaneous trip to say goodbye to my childhood home before it was sold.

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We moved in in 1993, when I was seven… and we turned it from an identikit new house on an estate to a much loved family home with a glorious garden. (I say ‘we’ – I had a miniature cement trowel and gardening kit, but while I was convinced I was helping, I’m now pretty sure my lovely parents were just humouring me…)

The Wendy house in the corner was the site of some of my most magical and happy childhood memories. It had electricity (because my Dad is amazing) and he and one of his best friends moved it for me from our old house – apparently 6 year old me made it a condition of moving, along with a Thelwell pony cartoon frieze in my bedroom.

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Not long after we moved in (though we had laid grass, top patio and put the Wendy house up)

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As it was when I saw it for the last time, at the beginning of May. Some difference! 

I probably wouldn’t have made a special trip to say goodbye to the house now it’s empty, but happened to be down the same weekend to see one of my best friends try on her wedding dress, and she only lives half an hour away from the old house.

So we went and wandered round, remembered all the happy times the house has seen, and also took some photos in the garden by my wendy house (I’m still slightly sad I haven’t been able to dismantle it and bring it to live up here, but my garden isn’t big enough and it’s almost 25 years old. I think it should stay where it is).

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I sat in my favourite place to watch thunderstorms (but no longer fit all the way through the window as I used to as a child), and I marvelled at how much the garden has changed since we first moved in, and I reminisced aloud with Lou and silently, nostalgically, quietly alone as well.

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I even found my hamsters’ gravestone. You can almost read “Dozy” but the dates, and Herman’s name, are long gone.

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And then we went and had tea with two of my lovely neighbours, and got in Lou’s car, and drove home.

It was strange but lovely – a little like stepping into the past, a little like looking to the future. I think I’d have found it hard to do if I wasn’t so settled where I am – so many rites of passage and key life events happened while I lived there. But I’ve flown the nest and the house should do what it does best – shelter and nurture a growing family.

I found some old photos of my childhood in the garden and my bedroom:

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I still have Larry the lamb. Sadly Biscuit the cat, Amadeus Woofgang Mozart the dog (what can I say? I was a gloriously geeky child) and Scruff the smaller dog have since found new homes. There’s the Thelwell frieze I apparently insisted my Dad installed before I consented to move house…!

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Terrible photo, but we lived at the top of the hill and Dad built me a sledge so I could have more fun on snow days. It was the envy of the other children in the close (as was my night time sledging!)

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Dad and I having breakfast in the garden. My late godfather Nick would have approved – this was when we still had a charcoal bbq, before we got the gas one I still use now <3

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Some things never change – I still love My Little Pony! 

I’m full of love and gratitude for our time there – it saw everything from knee scrapes to my first love, from Dad’s departure for a stint overseas to my driving test, and I left to go to university and start my adult life from there. Though I’ve not lived in it for nearly a decade, it feels very strange to think I’ll never go through its doors or see my beloved Wendy house again.

I hope that the family moving in loves it as much as we did. It’s bittersweet letting it go – but its sale is helping me buy a house of my very own – so a new era is beginning.

With love and nostalgic unicorns,

Carla

Witchy portrait fun

My first Halloween/Samhain with my two familiars, and I thought I’d have a bit of fun.

In preparation for trick or treaters, I had positioned my broom by the front door, bought most of my local shop’s supply of miniature chocolate bars and dug out my pointy hat.

Luna-kitten was looking rather obliging, so I also made a Halloween picture while I was at it…

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Loving my new lens!

Thought I’d share the best outtake too – I’ve never seen her look quite so horrified at my antics.

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Clover was very sensibly snoozing on the back of the sofa, just out of shot. She’s a great witch’s cat but she doesn’t like to flaunt it.

And as Saturday was the start of NaNoWriMo, I have accidentally now written almost 5000 words of a story/book about how Luna and Clover came to be witch’s cats… it’s so much fun letting my imagination out to play!

Jewellery and happiness

I’m sure I start every post like this, but how fast is 2014 disappearing to?! It’s turning out to be such a funny year – a mixture of ups and downs both big and small.

A few days away from the day job, in theory to work on my businesses and get myself organised again after some reshuffling, have ended up being gorgeous but not as business focused as I’d originally planned.

I’ve house hunted with a dear friend (and found one!), discovered I can drive a Luton van, experimented with glow in the dark paint, got Poppy through her MOT, visited my Gran, had a whole day with Mum mooching round the independent and charity shops of Maldon, fixed some jewellery, had lots and lots of kitty cuddles and started sketching out and playing with new jewellery designs. Which is exciting, as that’s been on hold since about February.

I’m planning to focus my new work on the printed pieces (wooden and dominoes) as talisman jewellery, to go in my shop here and also probably over on my Etsy shop at some stage. From trees to keys and owls to ravens (and of course typewriters and campervans and wings!), I hope that everyone will find something that helps them keep their beliefs and secret wishes by their side always.

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Annastasia and I have also been having a glorious time choosing new stock for Ink Drops, and one of our new artists lives just down the road from me – truly local!

Back to the day job tomorrow but I’m feeling ok about that – campus is so beautiful as we approach autumn and though there’s a huge amount of work to be done between now and Christmas, at least I’m busy… my Creator and Scanner selves don’t deal well with boredom!

And this afternoon I’ll be adding more stock to my shop… so keep your eyes peeled.

Have a wonderful Wednesday afternoon!

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