My silly kittens are 4!

Luna and Clover, unbelievably, turn 4 today.

Luna in the studio on her 4th birthday | carlalouise.com

Clover eating bamboo on her 4th birthday | carlalouise.com

Or at least I think they do – had to pick an arbitrary date for when we thought they were born when I got them, and while the vet registration says 25th, I have always celebrated on 22nd.

They have been properly in the wars recently and it’s been an awful 12 months.  Luna got hit by a car last August, and has come home more than 10 times with mashed, split & blunted claws since then. Vets maintain that is consistent with vehicle trauma, but in the last three days I have witnessed my two yowling & fleeing from the enormous & fearless tabby cat from down the road, and both times poor Luna’s claws have all been completely buggered straight afterwards. So I think I have my answer as to what is causing it. She also has a massive gash and two scabs on her head at the moment, so looks more like a thug than she is – she’s just been defending her territory, her home and her sister!

Clovie has had various bouts of puking and cystitis and hairballs, which is unpleasant for all concerned, and both of them have been having digestive issues since December. The poor little pair have been in and out of the vet so often that the receptionists now know me by my voice when I get on the phone.

I’ve struggled a lot with guilt and anxiety over them in the last year or so – possibly sounds ridiculous given what else I was coping with, but I also think that was part of the reason I fixated on them. I couldn’t make Dad better no matter what I did, but the cats’ health is both my responsibility and sort of within my control – I can at least take them to the vet and do my best to get them fixed when things do happen.

It’s been a bit better recently, though I am very fed up of having to plan every arrangement with the caveat that I may have to cancel when I get home if I need to take the cats to the vet – this cannot possibly be normal, but has become my normal because they seem to damage themselves so frequently!

But despite all that they are happy little cats, and at the moment are giving me purpose to get out of bed in the mornings, and excellent cuddles when it’s not 150 degrees outside.

Luna on her 4th birthday | carlalouise.com

Clover on her 4th birthday | carlalouise.com

Neither of them were feeling particularly photogenically cooperative today – it’s been ridiculously hot (record breakingly so) for the last few days and we are all hot, tired and floppy. But I got a couple of the portraits I like to do on their birthdays, and one each of their silly personalities too. So I’m happy.

And just now I shall head indoors to have dinner and give them theirs, and hopefully it’ll be cool enough to have a game of mouse-on-a-stick!

Clover on her 4th birthday | carlalouise.com

Luna on her 4th birthday | carlalouise.com

 

Three months (and the importance of sleep)

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

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

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

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

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

But oh, how I miss him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

clover | carlalouise.com

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

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

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

How to wear your cats on your ears

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

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

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

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

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

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

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

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

And here are the finished earrings:

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

Plus of course the close up at the top.

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

Why vets are magical

In the middle of May, towards the end of the first round of the garden work, I took my pair of silly kittens to the vet for a worming tablet, a general checkup, and a chat about Clover’s intermittent coughs and sneezes.

silly kittens at the vet

Clover was pronounced fine (we suspect mild asthma, but not severe enough to need treatment – just to monitor, as it could also be caused by the dust and stress from the building work).

Luna, on the other hand, found herself booked in the following week for an operation to remove a tooth.

Which is definitely not what I was expecting! And having lost our family dog Harriet late last year after she went into the vet for an operation, I was understandably incredibly worried about letting my precious kitty go in, while also knowing I couldn’t leave her in pain.

My vet practice, Colne Valley Vets on the Hythe in Colchester, is amazing – the vet nurses who booked us in were calming, reassuring and obviously loved animals – I think we even got a small purr out of madam Luna on the way in. They called me as soon as she’d woken up, with the happy news that she still had all her teeth, and the problem had been caused by an overgrown gum, which had been trimmed away and should now stop causing her pain.

And when I went to collect her, they went through everything in detail, listened patiently to my questions, and then took me through to see the vet when I asked about the small cut on her ear. He was cuddling her when I went in (and she was lapping up the snuggles)- I love that they cuddle their patients! Her ear injury is consistent with a paw swipe from the right hand side, so we concluded she was probably defending her realm from the various intruder cats who are quite excited at the idea of two young, pretty lady-cats living here…!

luna after op

She has two patches of fur missing where they gave her the drip and the anaesthetic, and though they assured me she’d be sleepy and want only soft food, she was running around like a squirrel on steroids and refusing to eat anything but crunchy biscuits… and since she’s recovered fully and been allowed back outside again, she’s been twice as excited about her food, and very meowy and happy… and of course, extra silly.

And I am so relieved she came through it ok that she’s getting even more hugs and playtime than usual. I don’t know if it’s true for all pet owners, but I had absolutely no clue how much I’d love the little furry idiots – I couldn’t love them any more if they were human children. Which probably explains my near-constant state of terror that something might happen to them…

More kitty goodness over at SillyKittens.co.uk (yep, they have a whole blog of their own) and on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts 🙂

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…!

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

An afternoon of kitten-sitting

holly-1 ivy-1

This is Holly, a young mama puss, and her scatty but wonderful kitten Ivy. They were found together in a bin in Clacton, which makes me simultaneously want to cry and punch things every time I think about it. But they have the best home ever now, with my lovely friend Lizzie (who I co-work with on a Monday and burlesque with on a Wednesday, and who, for her sins, also deals with my accounts and watches me mermaid… she’s a very good friend!) .

I had the very great privilege of kitty-sitting one afternoon last week, while Lizzie was away for work, and was more or less bouncing off the walls with excitement – I love my own kitties with every fibre of my being, but I’ve never really had time with a proper, tiny kitten before!

And something that’s always been on my list as a potential job/income source/career mixed with fun is house and pet sitting.

So I bounced over to Lizzie’s house after my morning at work, let myself and my laptop in, checked the front door was closed, checked it again, went to open the living room door to let them out, and checked the front door again just in case.

I cuddled them, fed them, had lunch with some difficulty – they’re an extremely affectionate and curious pair, and I think they also wanted some of my chicken) and after playtime with them, settled down to do some work.

Except… kittens are distracting sort of by definition, and Holly is the most purry, loving cat I’ve come across in some time – she rivals Clover for her engine noise, and she’s much better with people who aren’t her owners than either of my kitties are.

So I spent a lot of time petting them, playing with them, taking photos of them, watching them sleep, watching them eat, watching them play, playing with them some more, laughing at the way Ivy-kitten bounded up and down the stairs, taking more photos and worrying about them. I also woke them both up more than once to check they were still alive – why is it you worry more about other people’s animals?!

When evening came, and I gave them their dinner and snuck out, I ended up sneaking back in again four times to check, in no particular order, the kitchen cupboards were shut, the lights were off, the loo seat was down and that they hadn’t somehow morphed through the door and followed me outside.

Can’t imagine how I managed two medium kittens of my own…!

I had the most glorious time, and I’m stupidly excited to see them again, but realised I worried about them even more than I worry about my own (which is no mean feat), and I got very little done because they were JUST SO CUTE. So I’ve crossed pet and house sitting off my list of things to investigate and potential things to do. Which is a relief, because that list gets longer by the day!

Here are some more pictures of the little angels…

holly-2 ivy-looking ivy-tunnel-2 ivy-tunnel-tongue

 

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!

alan-jackson-2

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.

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

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

2015 has been gloriously full of fantasy and fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xx

A kittenish birthday

Though it seems completely impossible, my two silly felines are two years old. Already. Still the very best decision I’ve ever made, they continue to make me snort with laughter on a daily basis and give the absolute best cuddles.

However, they were entirely nonplussed by both the occasion and my insistence on taking birthday portraits…
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52 Project: Weeks 7 – 9

Oops. I’ve been taking as many photos as ever, but somehow have completely failed to choose a photograph every week and put it on the blog. The first three and a half months of 2015 have flown past with indecent haste!

I can’t choose just one so the 52 Project will be more of a my year in pictures type project…

Week 7 (9-15 February): Creativity

Louise Rose Couture at Retro Photo Studio

Assisting Louise Rose Couture with a shoot at Retro Photo Studio – which was so much fun! I have a whole stash of shots from my behind the scenes documenting of the day, but I’ll share them in a separate post. This was a quick snap with my mobile.

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Collaging and creating and giving myself permission to rip up old magazines. A lovely way of spending an afternoon.

Week 8 (16-22 February) Birthday joyfulness

Obviously I’m struggling to pick just one for each week. 16-22nd February involved birthday chilling, an amazing photo treasure hunt with a wonderfully eclectic selection of friends, and most importantly, my fluffy Clover-kitty was back to her usual silly self after a poison scare involving a stay at the vet.

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Week 9 (23 February – 1 March): Preparation

Getting ready to head off on holiday, I had a calming and colourful Lush bubble bath, got woken by the Nose-Biting Kitten Alarm (TM), finally cracked off-camera flash for product photography and found a stowaway while packing my suitcase.

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