Another year, another list to update – this time my epic Daydreams To Do list.
In 2016 I managed to cross off…
2. Create the fantasy fine art photos that have been in my head for decades – after some tentative faffing in 2015, and some loving kicking from lovely friends, I have made a bit of headway with this – mainly camera calibration, confidence and ideas. But I did create this little lovely in a stolen moment just before sunset one summer evening…
Work needed, but it made me so happy and was the first thing I’d made for ages for the pure joy of it!
3. Outdoor dinner party (ideally hosted but I’d attend one just as happily, as long as fairy lights are involved) I had a gardenwarming BBQ in August!
4. Swim in a mermaid tail Yep, more mermaid swimming happened this year, and I met & swam with other mers too!
16. Take a boat out on Coniston & Windermere, following in the Swallows & Amazons’ footsteps – not quite, but I did follow in the Swallows’ footsteps on a gorgeous day trip to Pin Mill earlier in the year, with Rhiannon and Janine. We saw Alma Cottage, had lunch at the Butt & Oyster, had a glorious walk and then finished with tea & dessert at the pub. Everything about the day was magical!
27. Wild swimming – her’es me, just about to go into the sea, in Selsey!
29. Vintage events – Twinwood festival with Lou this summer – it rained but it was still glorious!
31. Photography training & courses – I did Nicola Taylor’s Creative Photography Roadmap in February, and will be diving back into that in 2017, and I had a training day with Kerrie Mitchell in March.
36. Meet an online friend in person – Met up with lots of mermaid friends this year!
39. Make a video for YouTube – not sure why this has been on my list so long, but here’s a mermaid one I made…
41. Finish my five year diary and buy another one for the first half of my thirties – I did finish my five year diary on my 30th, and I did buy another one, but I haven’t actually written in it all year!
45. Create a library in my house – my spare room is now a library with a TV screen and a sofa bed – reading perfection!
46. Complete an online class This year I completed Do What You Love <3 There are many half finished ones to go!
53. Go kayaking. To the pub?! I went kayaking almost by accident in October, with the girls, for Ally’s birthday. It was glorious! (I did try to go with Maddy in August but sadly that was the day Luna-kitty had an argument with a car, so spent the evening in the vet’s instead!)
As always, it’s lovely to see things on my list come to fruition, and I hadn’t actually realised I’d done so many this year! <3
Well, on the surface this year’s been a doozy. And not in the good sense!
But instead of focusing on all the bad stuff, I thought I’d try and see what lovely things have taken place this year, against the background of the world going completely mad and me losing a little of my (already dubious) sanity.
First things first – there’s always a list in that sidebar over there, and here’s what I had for 2016:
cook a curry from scratch ~ ride a horse, a unicorn or both ~ spend time by the sea ~ swim in a mermaid tail ~ have my colours done ~ go skinny dipping ~ visit ruins ~ wild swimming ~ build a garden studio ~ silversmithing workshop ~ photography training ~ launch mermaid school ~ start a herb garden ~ track business progress ~ experiment with film cameras ~ GEA meets
Not too bad, actually – I swam lots in a mermaid tail and launched mermaid school to the world, so got quite a few other people to be a mermaid too! This included a couple of random people at the pool I regularly swim at, dear friends Emily and Louise, Megan at Bodyposipanda and her lovely friend Joely, Lizzie, a selection of my amazing family who jumped straight on board, and of course my gorgeous clients.
I also managed to spend time by the sea at Selsey with Lou, which was incredibly good for the soul, much needed, and also involved mermaid tails and wild swimming – though swimming in the sea in a tail is MUCH harder than I expected! Hugs to Jo for the amazing pictures she took of us under very difficult conditions 🙂
Likewise I spent a blissful afternoon on Clacton beach with fellow mermaid Emily, talented photographer Grace and her fab other half, and bopo beauties Megan and Joely. We had an absolute blast and I hope to do lots more around the #bodypositivemermaids idea next year!
I had my colours done with the gorgeous Janine in January – I am a bold Winter, and I have found it transformational to know what colours and shades are most me. Highly recommended! Here’s a gallery of Sophie being draped, she and I did it together and it was fab!
My herb garden is up and running (well, currently snoozing for winter) was very effective and even survived the garden build! The only things it’s missing are parsley and thyme. Photos next year!
I had a day of VIP training with Kerrie Mitchell back in March, a catch up call with her just the other day, and this year I’ve become friends with the fabulous Sarah who has been photographically kicking my backside beautifully 🙂
And I’m typing this from my garden studio, which is three quarters of my converted garage, cosy as anything and honestly the culmination of so many hopes and dreams, I can’t even. Also it was finished on 22 December – cutting it fine for 2016 much?!
So a pretty good show for that little list, I think!
I’m still working on what I want to do in 2017 – but keep an eye on the sidebar, it’ll be up soon enough!
As Christmas Eve eve draws to a close, I am once again completely bemused by how fast the year has gone (I’m sure there is a conspiracy) and how much good stuff there has been in what feels, overall, like a very bad year indeed.
I celebrated the winter solstice with friends on Wednesday, with cooking (which turned out amazingly) and glitter jar making, which was a lovely way to start winter and end my build.
I got my keys back from my builder the day after the solstice, and oh, this studio space – it already feels like the most peaceful, productive space I’ve ever had. I am full of gratitude and excitement… and my home feels like home again, which is wonderful.
After Luna’s fourth incident, a couple of weeks ago, of arriving home with split, mashed claws (this time accompanied by a fat lip and heavy, terrified breathing for longer than is healthy, so yet another emergency vet visit), I gave in and bought a curfew cat flap. It’s made by Sureflap, who made the microchip flap I already had, and still does selective entry using microchips so that only my two furry idiots can come in. It also has a function where it locks itself at a certain time in the day, which I have set for half past three in the afternoon, so the cats still get eight hours a day of outdoor access but are safely in by the time it gets dark, and away from the school run and people rushing home from work. And away from the asshole tabby cat who seems to come out at night, and who I am fairly sure is part of the reason Luna keeps coming home hurt – the first incident was almost definitely a car accident, but there is no way she has been hit four times in four months when we live in a cul de sac!
Programming the cats in was hilarious – they recommend installing it and getting your cats to walk through, but with my luck this year I decided it’d be infinitely better to catch each cat, put the flap into learn mode and put it over their head before I installed it into the door. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, but I wish I’d filmed it – by the time I’d managed to get both cats programmed in, I was helpless with laughter, we’d got through an obscene amount of treats, and they sulked for the rest of the evening!
The proper year review post will come, once I’ve done my planning for 2017. This year I got an accountant (the lovely Kylie) who has successfully managed to get me to submit my accounts, and has done my tax return, so for the first time in years I am clear to spend NYE planning and relaxing, rather than doing my sodding business accounts in a panic. This is a Very Good Thing.
But today, I really just wanted to say Happy Christmas / Yule / insert whatever you celebrate here, mark the end of my day job year, and give heartfelt thanks for the studio where I am sitting and typing this to you.
I’m looking forward to Christmas and have mostly managed my shopping this year – though am behind with cards and have struggled to fit in all my responsibilities with all the things I love and want to do. For lots of reasons, I would like this to be the last year that I work full time at a day job – one of my big 2017 goals is to drop some hours so there is more balance in my life. And more consistent blog posts as I enter my thirteenth (!) year of blogging – if you are reading this and you’ve stuck around during this rather random year, I am delighted – thank you!
So after that wonderfully rambly post with no real point (I love having this blog back as a non businessy one), here are some more pics of the glitter jars. The turquoise represents the sea, the pink & gold is sunrise/sunset and the deep blue is the night sky.
Merry Christmas, happy New Year and I’ll see you in 2017!!
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.
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?!
This weekend I disabled the auto-renew on four of my domain names. When they expire, they’ll no longer be mine – and this is a rather strange feeling.
Some are old, some are ones I’ve not used yet, some I had great plans for but things have changed.
Mostly, there just physically isn’t enough time for me to maintain fourteen websites. Disabling these and letting them go leaves me with ten domain names and seven actual sites – carlalouise.com / carlawatkins.com / carlawatkinsphotography.com / runawaydays.co.uk / unfurlingyourwings.com / sillykittens.co.uk are all sites that I use and maintain and develop, plus of course inkdrops.co.uk which sits separately.
duckingfabulous.com / mermaiding.co.uk / mermaiding.uk / paperdollsburlesque.co.uk are all redirects, but valuable to me nonetheless.
So what am I giving up and saying goodbye to?
The Website Beautician
The Website Beautician is officially retiring when the domain expires in early December – I’ve been doing minimal maintenance work for a good 18 months now, and avoiding taking on any more website work. I loved the clients I had and their glorious small businesses, but it was one of those times where following your passion isn’t the answer to everything.
It turns out that though I enjoy fiddling with my own sites, and will happily sit up till 2am tweaking CSS, that joy turns to terror and heavy responsibility when someone else’s site, livelihood and money are involved.
Girl Meets Van
Girl Meets Van has also sadly come to a halt, because I accidentally bought a house last summer, it’s needed a lot more work to it than I anticipated, and the last of my camper van savings are going on the studio build which is starting at the end of October – I’ll finally have an office/studio space again and I can’t wait!
(I’m typing this to you from the bureau in my living room, where both laptops balance precariously among filing, the mic and piles of post its. My wall planner is draped over the sofa. It is driving me INSANE.)
While I’m letting girlmeetsvan go somewhat reluctantly, I’m also acknowledging that actually, my life goals and what I want have changed since I started that fund and blog.
Today marks the equinox – twelve hours of light and twelve hours of dark.
When I bought my house last year, and redesigned the garden to become a patchwork of patios and decking, with one big flowerbed and lots and lots of pots, I initially wondered whether I’d done the right thing. I thought I might find it annoying to have to water my garden and care for it (it felt initially like another thing for my endless to do list).
Actually, in a whirlwind of stressful events over the last few months, I’ve found it incredibly and unexpectedly soothing to wander round my garden each evening with a glass of wine and the hosepipe, as my Dad used to do when I was small. To talk to my pots and my plants, to trim them and dead head them and harvest my accidental chilis.
I’ve once again been able to watch the seasons change, and as autumn starts her approach, I am happy to draw my snuggly pink shawl around my shoulders, stockpile my herbs, and plan soups and stews and casseroles for the colder weather that will come.
In the meantime, this Indian summer is filled with walks with friends, conker gathering to see off the spiders humanely (I love my cats but they are rubbish at that particular job), and a fresh perspective on what I really want to be doing with my life.
I’m not quite there yet (does anyone ever get 100% there?), but I’m streamlining and shifting so that my various online homes, businesses and blogs alike, better represent me and what I do and all I stand for.
I’m also nearing the end of my current bullet journal and excitedly awaiting the next (it’s hot pink!) while planning a Get Bulleting subscription for Ink Drops. Perhaps it’s true that the back-to-school feeling never really goes away… and it’s the best excuse I know for new stationery!
I’m dreaming of the water.
Dreaming of the feeling of wild water on my skin, a feeling you can’t replicate in a pool, even an outdoor one.
Just me, a little boat, and a cool, gentle river to paddle up.
Though obviously, I’d wear a lifejacket…
This week’s discovery, quickly fuelling a long-hidden obsession, is kayaks. Specifically, inflatable kayaks and canoes.
I have loved the water since I was tiny, and now I run a mermaid school among other things – so it’s not like this is a surprise.
But I’ve squashed my desire to get out on the water near where I live for two big reasons:
The main one is my beloved Poppy car. She’s perfect and she’s glorious and she makes me unspeakably happy, but she is also undeniably a two-seater convertible and can’t tow. A kayak would melt (never mind whack passing cars unceremoniously) on the boot rack, and she can’t have a roof rack because soft top.
So all these years, I have made do with the occasional paddle when I visit Wells with my uni girls, or if I happen to be somewhere with an activity lake.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a whitewater rapid kind of a girl – I want to potter upstream to the pub, moor up, sit and have lunch in the sun, with a book or with friends, and then I want to get back in my boat and pootle downstream back to my hometown.
But without being able to transport my gear, that’s not been a reality.
The second reason is fear. I’m a strong swimmer, if not as fit as I’d like to be, and I adore the water – I’m not frightened of falling in. But I have learned to fear being on or in the water alone. Partly through being taught that water is dangerous, and partly because of the tragedies that can and do happen in and on the water, especially wild water rather than pools.
This fear-reasoning has led me to believe that I can’t own a boat while I’m joyfully single (or any kind of single), because I can’t go out in it on my own, and my friends are either too busy or don’t want to come boating with me.
Which is an unfair assessment of the situation, as a tentative reaching out over the last few days has yielded lots of people who were really quite enthusiastic about occasionally coming out on a gentle paddle, and as long as I take proper safety precautions, I absolutely can go out boating on my own.
I’m beginning to realise that though water can, definitely, be dangerous, my respect for it has become fear of what could happen, without any grounds in reality. And do I want to keep myself absolutely safe, or do I want to throw myself headlong into life and enjoy every experience that lights me up, as often as possible?
Enter my lovely plumber Dan. He came to do my annual gas service a week or so ago, and while catching up and showing him the garden (he was the one who did all the work on the inside of my house, and hadn’t seen the garden transformation), he happened to mention paddleboarding and his new inflatable kayak.
My ears pricked up… inflatable means foldable which very possible means fittable-into-Poppy!
And just like that, all my squashed desire to go out boating more regularly surfaced. Not to mention the wild mermaiding possibilities if you can get to places in a boat first!
Some research has thrown up that most are for two people but can be configured for one; that there is a canoe & kayak club in Wivenhoe, which I’ll be investigating, and that there is a new public pontoon on the river.
And also that there are a few local watersports shops! Two near my parents and one on the way to the beach. Perfect.
I also threw the idea out among some friends and discovered a friend who already has one, and paddles nearby – so readymade companions for day trips! (Pub trips…)
I’m planning a visit to see the boats I like in person in the next couple of weeks, and then I’ll start a fund for one of my own. Next summer is looking pretty glorious from where I’m sitting!
With love and unicorns,
Girl, Missing isn’t my usual read. Especially with YA or teen fiction, I mostly go for the extravagant fantasy, or at least a dash of magic and the supernatural, rather than books set in the real world.
But the blurb intrigued me and I’ve been feeling a bit lost lately, plus I quite fancied a real book for the beach so my Kindle didn’t get all sandy, so I took it with me on holiday and dived in.
And much to my surprise, I was hooked!
It’s fast paced and clever, and I found myself really caring about Lauren and Jam, and the situations they find themselves in.
It unfolds with some twists, and there were a few moments where I said “oh!” out loud, because I was so surprised.
Around halfway through, when some darker things started to happen to the central characters (it’s so hard not to give things away in reviews!), I succumbed to one of my own quirks and read the last few pages, so that I could get through the darker bits without them stressing me too much.
This is something that happens with most books, especially the dystopian YA titles I used to read loads of, and I attribute it to being HSP and having a ridiculously overactive imagination. I don’t see it as a bad thing, but for some reason it drives other people mad…!
So once I’d assured myself of the ending, I could go back and enjoy it.
I finished it in one sitting, partly because I was on holiday and I could, but mostly because I couldn’t put it down – I desperately wanted to know where they were going next and what would happen, and how they would get out of the next crisis.
Also very much loved the extra chapter at the end, which was part of the first draft – as someone who writes more naturally than she talks, but rarely attempts fiction, it’s wonderful to have little snippets into other writers’ processes and lives.
Overall an unexpectedly enjoyable read – recommended!
What’s on your holiday reading list?
*A review copy of Girl, Missing was provided to me free of charge. All opinions are my own honest & unbiased thoughts.
It’ll come as no surprise that I adore Harry Potter – books, magic and friendship are three of my favourite things after all, and I grew up with Harry and his friends – Philosopher’s Stone came out the year I started secondary school, Order of the Phoenix in the middle of sixth form, and Deathly Hallows as I returned to university for my final year.
The downside of being just a few years below Harry at Hogwarts is that for the most part, I’ve been too young to go to the midnight release parties for most of the books – and either working or without local likeminded friends when I was old enough.
But trekking to London for a release party, and trying to find my way back at 1am, didn’t appeal either – so I was muchly excited when I discovered that Colchester Waterstones was having a celebratory party for pre-orders, with books collected at midnight!
This time, Maddy, Sarah and Sophie were also enthusiastic enough to dress up, go for dinner first (there’s a fab Brazilian BBQ restaurant just opened in Colchester, we tried it and it was amazing), sit in the pub in our robes & hats playing HP Trivial Pursuit, and then head off to the party to play silly games and collect our books.
And I might’ve bought a few other bits and pieces too, because a lock in in a bookshop is far preferable to a lock in in a pub, for me!
Yes, that’s a diamond solitaire.
Yes, it’s real.
Yes, it’s on THAT finger.
After a long, long time – I finally said yes.
To time for myself.
To better self care.
To finally letting go and outsourcing – editing, cleaning, and an amazing VA (or two) who will lighten my admin load.
To a proper break from my businesses.
Yes, that’s my unexpected announcement – after seven years, I am having some time off!
Some background, for new friends & readers
I started blogging in November of 2004, as an extension of my diary, a way for my far away friends and family to follow my adventures at university, and to process and document my new life in Loughborough as an undergrad student.
Blogging was still in its infancy, and much of what I wrote then is now for my eyes only – I think even my imported posts from a couple of blogs ago only go back to 2011 now.
Following uni, I knew I wanted to run my own business eventually, and after a tentative look at buying an established business, I decided I’d much prefer to create my own from scratch, alongside the smorgasbord of random day jobs.
I launched my first one in 2008, selling handmade jewellery at local craft fairs and farmers markets. It didn’t even have a name until its third outing in, when the Christmas fair I’d applied to wanted to know what name to put on the stand. I happened to be looking at the rubber duck mascot in my car when they phoned to ask me, and I said Ducking Fabulous as a joke.
When I got round to checking in January 2009 and realised that the domain and all the social handles were available (of course they were – it was seven years ago!), I registered them and never looked back.
Since then, I have done something for my businesses every single day.
Every. Single. Day.
For 2,739 days and counting. (No, I haven’t counted each day, I did a rough calculation. But it’s still a staggering number of days without a break!)
I still believe this is the way to grow slowly and achieve more than you think possible, but after 7 years, it’s time for a breather.
I opened and closed various businesses and passion projects in between (Letters from my Twenties, The Website Beautician, Girl Meets Van, Lotta Fiero, Project Pin Up, the London Pin Up School, and others I can’t remember off the top of my head). Bank holidays, plane flights and proper holidays, weekends and any other time off the day job were all opportunities to do more for my beloved businessses.
Following the exciting-but-vulnerable launch of the Unfurling Your Wings alter ego course and sessions last year, eventually I was brave enough to do something with the carlawatkins.com site I’d owned for years but never used, which has become the hub for my business advice and photography. I also finally made the leap into mermaiding after several years of fruitless daydreaming.
I had a whole list of goals at the start of 2016, with two standout things on that list.
The first was to get Run Away Days up and running, which I have done by starting with the mermaid parties and experiences, and will eventually expand into other retreats and workshops, letting you quite literally run away for a day (or more) and spend some time on yourself and/or your beloved business.
The second was to get my photography confidence back, and through a lot of introspection, some amazing friends and support (more on them in another post) and a flurry of shoots in the last six months, I’ve done that too, both at Unfurling Your Wings and with the Business Soloists sessions at Carla Watkins Photography, alongside some personal work. There’s always more to learn, but I was happy with almost every single image from the most recent shoot I did (which is of course thanks to my fabulous client too!) and that’s never happened before.
So why the break? And wtf is with the ring?
I’ve achieved what I set out to do this year at warp speed – and I have come very close to burn out in the process.
2016 has already yielded greater success, emotionally if not yet financially, than I could have imagined on 1st January, and I am feeling a very strong pull to stop, and take a step back, and breathe.
I didn’t realise quite how devoted to my businesses I’d become until four people in ten days asked for my advice on starting up a new business, “because it’s what you do, isn’t it?” and I didn’t know how wrung out and exhausted I was until I found myself sobbing in my work car park over a broken car key.
(Welcome to the rollercoaster of self employment – it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever embarked upon, and yet I wouldn’t change it for the world.)
There’s work to do on my systems and processes, there are decisions about outsourcing, all kinds of admin and accounting and general tidying up of loose ends to do so that when I step back in, it will be smooth.
While I’m away, my lovely VAs will pick up emails and deal with bookings, so really nothing on the surface will change. I’m also quite certain that it will be impossible for me to stay away completely, because I LOVE working in and on my businesses – I created them because I couldn’t not.
I’ve done some serious thinking about my other commitments (my family, my day job, my mortgage) and the things I love the most (my family, my friends, my kitties and my home) and how all of that balances with working more or less 7 days a week for 7 years.
I love my businesses, I’m in love with them most of the time, but I created them to give me freedom, and I need a break. And I believe they will flourish more for that break, and the time I can spend working on them, instead of in them.
I want to shoot for myself, blog for the joy of blogging, finish my house & garden and get my studio conversion done, have friends over for dinner, do some of the amazing training I’ve bought and not started, play around with creating art, get art & photos up on my walls, fix my sleep patterns, dive into my to-read list, sit around with my kitties and do nothing in particular…
During the time I’m technically away, I’ll still be around sporadically on social, very possibly a lot more on my blogs, and either I or my lovely VAs will pick up emails across all businesses and arrange bookings and print delivery and such things. It’ll also be business as usual at Ink Drops, because Anna and I have a great monthly routine in place, and a girl can’t ever divorce herself from her love of stationery…!
But in my own businesses, aside from fulfilling existing bookings and making sure my clients have the best time ever, I will be stepping back and focusing on working out how to make this all work in the long term.
And the ring?
The ring is my symbol of saying Yes to myself. It was made by the very talented Chris Worle, and is the second of his pieces I’ve bought this year. The first was a London Blue topaz solitaire, the colour of the ocean, and of my mermaid tail, to commemorate the first Run Away Days mermaid event and remind me I can totally do this.
The diamond marks the return of my confidence as a photographer, and the start of what I hope will be a lustrous chapter of my life. It usually lives on my middle finger – but it’s staying on my wedding finger for now, to remind me of the promise I made to myself.
Which is needed, as in the week between officially starting my break and writing this post, I have advised two more people on starting businesses and dreamed up another couple of projects of my own! All of which is a much-needed indication that my creativity flourishes when it’s given a bit of space and time to do its own thing.
And of course I couldn’t resist messing with you all, as I know an engagement announcement from me is the very last thing in the world any of you would expect to see without knowing anything about it first. #sorrynotsorry!
Here’s to whatever happens over the next month or two – though in true Carla style, I’ve imagined so much through this post that I already can’t wait to plunge back into the whitewater rapids of self employed insanity with loads of new ideas and excitement and plans!
With love and unicorns,