NaNo…PhoMo?!

Two years ago, I started NaNoWriMo, wrote assiduously each day for a week, and ended up with the beginnings of the book of my cats’ story. Heavily fictionalised.

Last November, I was running around like a total headless chicken trying to finish the house before winter hit, and if I remember rightly, I had garden chairs instead of a sofa, and 70s tiles instead of proper carpet.

This year… I am attempting to tell my story in photographs.

Stolen Moments | Singlehood series | Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

This year has been so hard, in so many ways, but the last few months, even with all their trials, have taught me (along with some very good friends who have given me loving but firm kicks up the backside) that a) I can in fact take beautiful photos and b) that longing to make something of that talent/passion/call it what you will isn’t going to go away – I’ve been trying to get rid of it for a decade, and it keeps coming back to assert its presence.

So I am either going to attempt 30 photos or 50 photos in November. One a day, or the 50,000 goal of NaNoWriMo, translated into each picture being worth a thousand words. I’m sure mine won’t be, and that there will be a lot of cats, but I’m excited to give it a go.

Of course, it’s the 2nd already and I have taken no photos – the day job is manic, and yesterday evening was taken over with kitty anxiety when madam Luna appeared with blunted, frayed claws again. The fact that she seems utterly fine in herself, if a bit cross with me for poking her paws every time I get near her, that it really was only the tips (whereas with her previous accident, she lost all the claws on one of her back feet entirely) and that miss Clover had similar damage to the claws on one of her back feet, tells me that perhaps it’s to do with the concrete in the garden and their insistence on jumping off the shed.

So no photographs yet (the one in this post is from my Singlehood series, started last year). But there are fireworks this week, and a trip to Pin Mill, and my studio build, and a friendship shoot from last week to edit, and lots of delightful things to look at through my lens. And of course the mischievous kitteny cats.

I might even get round to finishing the rework of the Carla Watkins Photography site and blogging them on there!

And I realised just after I got really excited about NaNoPhoMo… that it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and National Novel Photo Month doesn’t quite make sense… I’m going to use the tag anyway though, I suspect.

Are you NaNo-ing?? Or are you with me on the NaPho-ing?!

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…!

Rediscovering campus

My day job is at the University of Essex, on a beautiful and quite big campus made up of parkland, woodland and buildings. The buildings are quite 60s, concrete and brutal… but the grounds are spectacular, and we even have two lakes, a country house hotel and a campus “farm” (large allotment, really).

When I first came here, following working close by the Barbican in London (equally brutal but less scenery, more people, and my actual office was the least inspiring building ever), I was captivated. That I could go for walks every day, spend time in woodland and by water, and all without bunking off work or going more than ten minutes from my house, seemed like a dream.

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Somehow, in the last three and a half years, I’d forgotten to be entranced by the gorgeous surroundings I work in. Reading back through my five year diary for a podcast I’m doing soon, I realised how much I longed for green space and water when I couldn’t have it.

I have now firmly told myself off for taking it for granted, and am trying to spend more time outdoors – especially now the weather is behaving itself!

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

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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…

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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.

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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

Oh hi, burnout – you can sod off now

There is something very strange about this time of year. So many of the happy-go-lucky, optimistic, sparkly people I know and love in the year are struggling to get through the last few days until the Christmas break – me included.

insta profile picThe last time I felt properly awake, back in September being a steampunk-Alice bridesmaid!

Yep, for the umpteenth year running I am feeling, and so writing about, burn out, in the last month of the year. You’d think I’d have learned by now, wouldn’t you?!

It’s been a weird up and down of a year, and I’ll post a full round up with pictures and links and stuff over the festive period, but I felt the need to waffle into my keyboard today.

It starts in November, when the evenings are drawing in, the leaves fall from the trees (or they do here in England, anyway), there’s a hint of a cold snap in the air, and I find myself perpetually tired. Once the clocks change, it’s like a switch in my body goes to “hibernate” and stays there until the clocks go forward again. I don’t, to the best of my knowledge, have any major deficiencies or illnesses that cause me to feel like this, but apparently I depend more than I realised on sunlight to keep me awake and healthy and happy. (maybe I’m partly plant?!)

November and December have also been really unexpectedly busy months for me – with a return to weekly burlesque classes, co-working sessions with Lizzie, visits from some of my best friends, my first studio shoots for boudoir and bumps, finishing off the renovations, a mini business retreat with Louise Rose, birthdays, Christmas shopping, a new baby and several engagements in my circle of uni friends, a trip to London to see Elizabeth Gilbert and meet up with my fabulous solopreneur friends, four successive sold out Ink Drops boxes (there are still a couple of slots left for January if you’re quick!), a Christmas shoot with local models and photographers, two long-awaited courses, the arrival of my mermaid tail and ice skating and a carousel ride to kickstart Christmas… it’s no wonder I’m exhausted!

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Real title: The Morning After The Night Before. Actually, this is how I feel 95% of the time right now)

And so in the couple of weeks before Christmas, I am inevitably tired, tearful, broke and cross, just as my day job is ramping up to push everything through before the January UCAS deadline and the Christmas break. My own businesses go on the back burner, my house descends back into chaos, my kitties sulk because I’m hardly home, and it’s all very far from the idyllic, calm, sparkly months I’d really like to experience through the winter.

Though actually, writing that list has made me realise my temporary bad mood is just that – temporary! Everything at the day job is completely manic and quite stressful, apparently for lots of us, but it really is only a few more days until Christmas. And except for time with my family and my kitties, and a hula hooping workshop between Christmas and New Year, I don’t especially plan to leave my house until January 4th.

So burn out, you can just fuck right off now, thanks.  I’m looking forward to immersing myself in my exciting new business plans in photography and the Unicornery, to my annual New Year’s Eve year reflection and planning ritual, and loads of time with my family and kitties. And sleeping in my lovely new bed. Which doesn’t play a symphony of springs whenever you sit or lie on it. Maybe I’m not burned out at all, and just catching up on years of lost sleep?!

So now I feel like I’ve slightly misleadingly titled this post – I am definitely teetering on the edge of burnout, which is an improvement on last year, but I’d really like my take away lesson to be to remember to breathe and say no, next year. In another improvement on last year, I’ve managed to recognise it and take some steps to make sure I don’t succumb in quite as bad a way… and I shall be planning carefully for 2016 so the final months of the year are blissful… or at least not stressful!

With love and unicorns, and narwhals too,

Carla xxx

Catching up with the 52 project

For all that this year has been one of the most momentous in my life (I bought a HOUSE, people), and for all that I’ve rarely been without a camera of some sort since January 1, I seem to have let my 52 project slip.

This is not for a lack of taking photos and more for a lack of having actually taken them off my various devices, sorted, edited and uploaded them… oops.

I’ve moved the album over to my duckingfabulous Flickr account and added the rest of this year’s – up to the first week in September.

Choosing one photo for each week is impossible, so here’s the whole album, organised by week…


Created with flickr slideshow.

Fairytales and Living Boldly – Brooke Shaden’s London meetup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my raw shots….

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One quick edit…

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

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

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

Just like magic! (house renovating and hen parties)

It’s been an utterly frenetic couple of weeks, and this happened…

Before:

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and after…

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Just like magic! It’s endeared me to about five of my new-not-new neighbours, all of whom were finding the trees at least as oppressive as I was, and who can now actually sit out in their garden and enjoy the sun.

So of course it has poured with rain ever since…!

I’ve also seen inside my garage for the first time (it wasn’t part of the let)…

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Somewhere for me to indulge my petrolheadedness… squee!

Also got measured for my bridesmaid’s dress and had a lovely weekend away in Brighton for Louise’s hen party – with some incredible rockabilly hair later in the evening, lots of yummy food, and a very vintage theme from the lindy hop class to the 30s bar in the evening. Was also surprisingly lovely to catch up with old school friends who I mostly haven’t seen in years – some bonds don’t ever break, just stretch – just like magic!

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I’ve decided hen parties are actually a nice way to get to know people before the wedding – though I proved again that I am a super-lightweight when it comes to drinking. And now it’s the countdown to the wedding… squeak!

Over the weekend, kitties dealt incredibly well with the stress of the tree removal… after one morning spent quivering under the bed (Clover) and watching impatiently from the window closest to the machinery (Luna), the following day I left them with lots of cuddles, yummy food and treats, under Mum & Dad’s supervision, and got this by text about mid-morning:

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Furry con artists. (Love them really!) As I type this Luna is happily shredding the paper I bought to wrap breakables in, and shouting for me to wave her favourite toy (a paperclip on a string – no, really) around for her to chase.

I’m still in the middle of the Great Declutter, and am getting rid of an insane amount of stuff, though I still appear to have an insane amount left. But that’s ok.

I have packed up a whole box of blank notebooks so will be looking for some kind of notebook based projects when the building works are over. Ideas on a postcard welcome!

If you’re interested in watching the story of the house unfold, there’s an album over on Flickr, and I’ll probably be Instagramming some of it on @duckingfabulous as well as blogging updates (though it seems that just getting it done takes all my time & energy – I am perpetually surprised by it being bedtime each evening at the moment!)

And nudged by Mimi, I’ve updated my Daydreams to Do list, and will probably be adding to it over the next few weeks and months, as I keep finding lists I’ve made in previous years, which are spooky for their accuracy about my life now. More on that in a separate post, I think!

Finally and easily on a par with the house for excitingness, I am approaching the halfway mark in the first, beta test of the Unfurling Your Wings course. Accompanied by twenty fabulous ladies, we’re in a whirlwind adventure of finding who we really are and how we want to show up in the world. Terrifying as it’s a very personal project, but also glorious. (and probably terribly timed, given the house, but it is making me do everything on schedule, which is brilliant). It’s wonderful watching the magic unfold.

That’s probably enough for one evening – back to a proper blogging schedule soon, I hope!

With love and unicorns,
Carla xx

The girl in the mirror

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She is by turns anxious and self assured; startled and calm; awkward and relaxed.

She admires her other self and the way the light sparkles in her hair and her eyes; is thoughtful and a little sad at some of her perceptions of herself.

They make eye contact, and she freezes.

Suddenly she is unsure.

Which side does the dust blur? Which of her is real and which is just a hazy reflection of reality…?

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Step through the looking glass and meet your alter ego with me, over at Unfurling Your Wings – I’m still accepting beta testers to start on 1st August. More at unfurlingyourwings.com/beta-group

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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