At peace

Today we laid Dad’s ashes to rest.

As ever, I find it hard to write about grief, my own and also Mum’s. This year has in many ways been harder than the first, as the reality of life without Dad starts to sink in, and the buffer of essential admin starts to shrink.

We both seem ok on the surface, yet we are so far from ok underneath. Tears are never far away, and though we go through the motions of life, neither of us are fully living, and neither of us can really conceive of a life without Dad.

To the outside world, it probably seems that the grieving period should be over by now.

I’m learning daily that grief doesn’t lessen, when you loved someone so very much and were loved in return. The pain of losing Dad is as raw today, and every day, as it was the day he went to the big bar in the sky.

A wise person said to me recently that of course, less than two years after his sudden passing is still very early days, when you consider the length of our time with him. He and Mum were married 44 years, and I have been alive for nearly 33. She is right – the time he’s been gone is a drop in the ocean compared to the time he was here with us, and I don’t think our hearts truly understand yet that he is gone from this world.

Most people are understanding, and while we try to keep the depths of our grief from showing even to family and friends, their support means the world.

Yet not everyone is kind, even when reminded we are grieving. Of course everyone has their crosses to bear, their own tragedies and losses and difficulties- it’s part of being human.

But this last couple of years have definitely shown me people’s true colours. I guess Dad was right, in a roundabout way, when he told me death really does bring out the best and worst in people.

Today was quiet and private – just Mum and I and the gentleman from the crematorium office. It was hard to do but felt peaceful, too – and I love that he has a permanent memorial there.

He is remembered and missed elsewhere too – my lovely auntie Kate sent us a photo of the wreath of yellow roses she’s put on his other memorial for Christmas, on his Mum’s grave in Cornwall, and we shall go to his pub and have a drink for him there too – because it’s always five o clock somewhere!

He is always with us – around us in spirit, alive in our hearts and minds and memories.

I am blessed to be his daughter and Mum’s. But goodness, I miss him.

No place like home…

I’m home safely from a gorgeous two day branding shoot with Louise Rose Couture, who is also one of my very best friends in the world.

I LOVED the magic we created together and I adored having an excuse to spend time together before Christmas – we are both so busy we didn’t know if we’d manage it otherwise!

And I slept like an actual log at her house.

But after a long drive home, I opened my front door and Luna and Clover were waiting for me, tails quivering with happiness that I came home (I was literally gone for 28 hours and Mum visited, cuddled and fed them twice in that time, so it’s nice to know I’m loved!).

Aside from the specific happiness at both of them being back to normal after Clover’s stressful summer of hiding, I was filled with happiness to be home. There’s just no place like home, is there?

It’s vibrant and cluttered, gorgeous and messy, full of all the things I love and built with love by me and Mum and Dad.

It’s my sanctuary and I love it.

Not doing so well on the daily posts but this is probably the most I’ve posted in a month since about 2012.

On a separate note, Facebook informed me yesterday that in 2009, I did my very first craft fair.

Nine years of hoping and wishing, dreaming and scheming, planning and doing… and here I am, living the results of my dreams.

Apparently this time several years ago I also wrote to my 13 year old self. She definitely wouldn’t believe me if I told her, but I think she’d be proud. I know that Mum is and I’m sure that Dad is.

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!

(Can you hashtag #streamofconsciousness?!)

Flashes between worlds

I found my prom albums recently, and some photos of me competing at Worlds, and I sat, quite unaware of time passing, in an almost trancelike state for a while.

The girl I was then was so close I could hear her and almost reach out and touch her – and I couldn’t help but wonder what my fifteen year old self would make of my life now.

I don’t think she’d believe any of it.

But the flashes forward I had in my early 20s weren’t far off my life right now, though I never anticipated losing Dad so early in my life. But my home, my chosen creative path, my silly, loving little fluffsters, my friends both local and far flung… they were all part of those occasional flashes in one form or another.

And this evening, when Luna clambered off my camera bag and got into my lap and stayed there, kneading and purring and looking at me with big adoring eyes before going to sleep, I found myself quite unexpectedly between worlds again.

I was at once myself, here and now and 32 years old, and at the same time I was older – in my late 70s, sitting on my sofa with another cat on my lap, my silver hair twisted into a plait and still reaching my waist. I was so happy and yet so wistful – life to that point had been full of joy and friendship, happiness and contentment and purpose, yet had passed in no more than a breath. I could feel very strongly that I’d done what I wanted to with this one precious life, but I wasn’t yet ready to leave it.

It was so clear it was unnerving. Perhaps cats really are magical?

But these flashes into my past and my future, while unsettling, serve me well – they help me to keep choosing to live my life the best way I can, in a way that’s true to me.

I don’t know when they’ll come, or what triggers them, but I know now to pay attention to them – and adjust my choices accordingly.

Fourteen!

Today my blog turned 14 – fourteen whole years since I first tentatively wrote some words and sent them into cyberspace.

Words and pictures are how I process the world – I am a photographer and I am a writer, but creating and using them together is how I navigate life.

Multipod life is a glorious thing but does mean almost nothing lasts forever – and I am proud and pleased and happy (and weirdly not at all surprised) that I have kept one thing up for so long. My whole adult life 🙂

Today involved working and friends and hot chocolate and kittens – and my first booking for 2019!

Here’s a kitten the size of my camera…

Calligraphing

That’s definitely a word!

Today Mum and I went to Mistley to learn calligraphy – my birthday present to Mum that we only got round to booking last month!

No photo because wordpress is sulking, but here’s my Insta pics:

It was great fun but also much more mentally taxing than either of us expected – and very much like dancing, in that you have to focus so you don’t balls it up!

And when you are focused like that, everything else floats away.

We also had incredible pizza in Lucca’s of Manningtree afterwards.

AND I remembered to blog!

All in all, a fabulous day!

2017 – the year I’m not reviewing

For the first time in the 13 year history of this blog, I’m not doing a roundup post – I can’t face it. Nice things have happened this year, but the balance is eclipsed by the loss of Dad.

I have just come home from a week with Mum (Luna & Clover came too) and it was wonderful to spend time with her but we both found the hole he has left behind him was even bigger over Christmas. He was always so damn competitive enthusiastic about the Christmas lights that I’m going to have to seriously up my game in his honour next year. My neighbours are going to love me…

On the plus side, we did find some wonderful photo memories of me & Mum & Dad during the Christmas break, which I plan to make into an album so they’re not just lurking on a hard drive somewhere.

Anyway, that’s why this isn’t a round up post this year. And technically, all the businesses are taking a break till 2nd January.

But old habits die hard and I’ve never yet spent a new year’s eve without writing on my beloved blog, so instead, have the best 18 photos from my mermaid life & business (because most of you won’t have a steady stream of mermaid goodness in your feeds!):

Mermaid Kerenza Sapphire best nine 2017 Mermaiding UK best nine 2017

Being a mermaid really wasn’t something I thought could make actually happen – yet now I get to make other people’s mermaid dreams come true as well as my own, and it fits beautifully alongside my photography, business photography and stationery ventures.

My current quartet of businesses feels meant to be, and I really think Dad would approve. Plus I can run them with Kitten Assistants Luna & Clover, who really do light up my life. On that note, I’m off to feed the kitten assistants and read a good book.

I hope 2018 is everything you want it to be and I’ll see you on the other side.

xoxo,
Carla

Merry Christmas!

With bittersweet, very mixed feelings, I’m approaching the end of Christmas Eve, the first one without Dad. We went to his pub for a drink on Friday afternoon, and they’d put both his plaques up in his indoor & outdoor spots – he’d be SO pleased by this, I can’t even tell you!

I’ve moved myself and my Silly Kittens into my Mum’s flat for a few days, which has had mixed responses from the cats – Clover is ruling the roost, Luna is happiest when cuddling me but really is also quite cross that she’s not allowed outside because we’re not at home.

They are however both doing their Important Cat Job of distracting us and making us laugh – they are an actual pair of furry idiots, I love them so much.

Having managed to have get some rest and a lie in over the last couple of days, I’m too sleepy to blog properly – but did want to post this, of the two fluffy con artists caught at quiet moments today.

Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, wishing you a wonderful, peaceful few days.

Fling 2017 – a return to my magical self

Burlesque Jems at the Fling Festival 2017 | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

My first Fling festival was in 2011, and still stands out as one of the most magical experiences of my life.

My first performance there was with my troupe Paper Dolls Burlesque in 2013, running a tent, performing and getting people to dress up and do burlesque themed crafting.

It’s moved to Hylands now (same site as V festival), grown hugely and developed into a proper festival you can camp at, not just a one day extravaganza.

This year I performed with the Burlesque Jems, and was also their photographer for the day, capturing their performances and a few sneaky portraits too.

I made a last-minute mermaid bra so I could mermaid-burlesque (merlesque?!) and it was just a wonderful day – the most myself I’ve felt since before Dad went into hospital. It was amazing to merge two of my alter egos (Lotta Fiero and Kerenza Sapphire), brilliant to be back on stage, scary but eventually great to be out and about with my camera, and wonderfully indulgent to leave my worries and sadness behind and throw myself into festival life for a few hours.

Also, what better example of a multipod in action than photographing and performing all on the same day?

I had forgotten how much of a workout dancing and photography are though – my Sunday has been exceptionally gentle!

Here are a few of the photos – the rest will pop up over at Carla Watkins Photography and Burlesque Jems in the coming weeks.

June check in

Just checking in – I really miss blogging like I used to, as more of a journal of my life. Over the 12 and a half years I’ve been writing about my life on the internet, I’ve seen blogging change and evolve and shapeshift so many times.

I haven’t quite worked out where it is, as a medium, today – some people say it’s dead, some people say it’s stripped back to its bare bones, some sit in the middle.

But for me, and I’m sure I’ve talked about this here before, my blog is my online living room. It’s decorated how I like it, it’s filled with the things and conversations I want to have, and people can visit and leave as they like. No scheduling, no shoulds, no worrying.

It’s probably not a strategy to build an enormous following, but that was never the goal for this particular blog. And I have plenty of business spaces to do the strategic-yet-authentic thing (though if I’m honest, even my businesses don’t have much of a schedule for blogging & social. I prefer to be present and write when I have something to say).

So, things that have been going on in my (still grief-fuddled) world recently:

This amazing box to brighten up my day job desk

hogwarts broomstick repair kit box | carlalouise.com

Friendiversary dinners & plans – from a year to 20 years, eeek!

Choosing a yellow rose to plant in Dad’s memory

A series of commercial shoots coming up for the Burlesque Jems (and I’m going to be on TV dancing with them – eee!)

Packing for holiday and wondering how the hell I’m going to get my biggest fin, two weeks’ worth of clothes plus my camera, lenses & laptop into hand luggage only

Mermaid filming, and some secret squirrel plans for Mermaiding UK’s blog

Celebrating my Gran’s 88th birthday (we missed Dad being a BBQ maestro but it was really lovely to spend a whole day just chilling out with family)

Gran's 88th birthday | carlalouise.com

Gran's 88th birthday | carlalouise.com

Happy lunching with friends at work

I was on BBC radio talking about being a mermaid!

mermaid on the radio | carlalouise.com

Ink Drops packing, podcasts and plans

Moving Crafty Coffee to a Wednesday, to fit in with my new part time hours

Planning for a creative day with friends

Julia and Willoughby came to stay for the long weekend and I had my first foray into toddler soft play – was hilarious! At sixteen months he is gorgeous and much more interactive than newborn babies… but I had forgotten how much energy kids have!!

Going back to burlesque classes – I had missed it SO MUCH

Jenny & Matt’s wedding (and unicorn shoes, and sneaking in brunch with Lou & Paul!) It was also… illuminating… to meet up with people I’d not seen for nearly a decade. I’m very entertained by how some of them still think of me, and also by the passage of time in the case of the boys – the teenage boys I was friends with and loved so much – they are all now hurtling for middle age, yet haven’t changed personality-wise at all.

me with the blushing (erm...) bride Jenny | carlalouise.com

the gorgeous bride Jenny and groom Matt | carlalouise.com

And I’m sure all sorts of other stuff which has escaped my brain for now.

I can’t quite believe it’s June, but I’m trying to keep up my Happy Jar and gratitude journal practices, and making an effort to cook & eat well, as grief is quite exhausting enough without also trying to survive on junk food.

I’m still sadder than I knew was possible, but I am getting through each day, and spending as much time as I can with Mum and my family and my kittens and my friends – these things do make you realise the important things in life.

And finally, I’m hoping to spend a bit more quality time with my camera over the next couple of months, around all the admin we have to do, and also of course around work. I read somewhere that immersing yourself in things you love helps with anxiety, as you’re too absorbed in your creativity to worry unnecessarily about things. I think maybe this is a good experiment to try…

 

Finding home

For the longest time, I thought “home” was a place. Where you live, the house or flat or other dwelling that you return to.

During the days before my beloved Dad passed away, in a tiny hospital room in the acute cardiac unit, I realised that I was wrong.

Home is not just a place, it’s the people you love.

So that little room was home in the truest sense, Dad and Mum and I all together, helping each other through that most final of partings. I’ve never been anywhere more filled with love.

And home is, of course, not just your parents, children or partner.

It’s where you feel you belong. Whether that’s with a group of friends, or in a particular place, or a mixture of the two…

I’m amazingly lucky to have lots of people who feel like home, and several places too (not least my actual house).

Last weekend, I was with my best friends from uni, in a cottage on a lake in the Cotswolds. We went boating on the lake, and I was home, both with them and on the water.

Finding Home - kayaking in the Cotswolds | carlalouise.com

And I’m now much more aware of people, rather than just places, being home.

I also spotted lots of things Dad would love, which I’ve added to my Instagram hashtag… #thingsthatwouldmakedadsmile

Where is home for you? Who are the people who make you feel at home?

Love, loss and grief

There’s still no easy way to say this, so here it is: on 8th March 2017, my beloved Dad passed away, with Mum and I by his side right to the very end.

It was a gentle, peaceful step over after a few traumatic days in hospital, and I will always be thankful that we were able to be with him – for his sake, and also for ours.

In the six and a half weeks since, I have learned things.

That grief is not linear.

That it is possible to be more devastated than you ever imagined, and somehow keep going day after day after day.

That losing someone you love is a physical, as well as an emotional, pain.

That six and a half weeks can feel like five minutes and several lifetimes simultaneously.

Chris and Carla in Luckenbach, Texas | carlalouise.com

In Luckenbach, Texas. March 2015

Writing and taking pictures have always previously been my saviour when bad things have happened, but this loss is too big to process.

I don’t know how to be me without Dad in my life. He has always been there, and has always been on my side. He and Mum and I have always been Team Watkins – and our trio is now two, and neither of us really know how to process that.

Though I am so thankful for Mum – she is also devastated, but in our grief we are at least together. And she understands more than anyone else does, which makes days spent with her easier than days spent anywhere else.

My Dad was rather special in lots of ways. I know I’m biased, but even with that. It’s impossible to get his whole life into a blog post, but over his 72 years on the planet, 45 with Mum and 31 with me, he packed in enough life experience as the next ten people you’re likely to meet.

I heard stories at his wake that I had never heard, and I have never been anywhere, not even at weddings, where so much love for one person suffused a place and imbued every tear, every laugh and every word with such joy for having known him.

Mum and I put everything we could into his funeral – though I had definite WTF moments and moments of not wanting to do it – not because I didn’t want to do the best for him, but for the simple fact that I didn’t and don’t want him to be dead.

We had an amazing celebrant, Roxanne, who helped us to capture his spirit in words (he would definitely have approved – words and stories were his thing), and a wonderful funeral director, Maxine, from Hunnaball. I think he’d have approved of that, too!

His coffin had our flowers and also our Cornish flag, his Stetson hat and a helicopter on it – it was perfectly Chris.

Flowers and mementoes at Dad's cremation | carlalouise.com

It was a sad but also wonderful send off – very personal, and very fitting for the amazing human that he was. And the wake was (to my surprise) joyful from start to finish. The pub we chose was packed out with people reminiscing, and looking at the photo boards we had put together, and celebrating his life and that we knew him.

I feel so many feelings at the moment, I’m exhausted just from feeling them. I’m told this is quite normal in the early stages of grief. First time I’ve ever felt normal and I don’t like it much!

Something I keep returning to is how lucky I am (relatively speaking, in the sense that we all have to pass on one day – clearly I would have preferred it not to be just yet in Dad’s case) to have been able to stay with him in hospital. How privileged Mum and I were to have 24 hours of peace with him at the end, where he was with us but sleeping, pain-free and calm. Those hours by his bedside were so precious, to be able to say everything we wanted to, to cry, to laugh remembering things we’ve done together, to read him messages from the many, many family and friends who wanted to say goodbye.

To wake up in the same room as him & Mum on the morning he died, incongruously giggly, because he was snoring and Mum was snoring, and I remember many a childhood holiday morning listening to them snore away merrily.

That little side room off the cardiac unit might have been a hospital room, but it was home in the truest sense of the word – it was bursting at the seams with love and the three of us, the most important people in each other’s lives, were there together, helping each other through the trauma of parting.

To sit with him right at the end, as he made his final journey and the step over to the big bar in the sky, as he always called it and I will forever think of it. To see with my own eyes that it was peaceful, and know that the two people who loved him most, and who he loved most, were with him right until the end.

To be able to tell him that I love him, will always love him, and am so proud to be his daughter – these things had been said frequently during our life, but it was still a privilege to be able to  tell him again, to know that he knew without a shadow of a doubt just how special he is to us.

To have been inspired by his courage and fortitude when the consultant told him he was dying – to have loved and been loved so much that his loss has sliced through the core of my being and Mum’s.

All of those things make me lucky despite losing him, and so immensely proud – and he always told me that grief is the price we pay for love. It feels like a price worth paying, to have had him in my life.

I was terrified of coming home that night. We went to Gran’s once we left the hospital, and  then eventually back to Mum & Dad’s, and then Mum very bravely sent me home to my kittens. She was right, in that if I’d stayed with her that night I may never have left, but I was so scared, and so emotionally done for I didn’t know how I’d react to being at home.

His spirit was everywhere at their house – his chair by the window, his cigarettes, his desk and his computer, his coat over his office chair. All the tiny things that you don’t even notice till someone has gone. But it felt very much like he had come home with us, and it was somehow less painful.

I walked through the door of my house, and sat on the floor and cried.

Because he is here, too. He built this house for me – we have spent the last 18 months on the project and he put my last shelves up in January this year. It was his last great legacy, and he is everywhere.

In the banisters that we waxed together, in the furniture that he built, in the garden he designed and the garage studio he insisted on converting in November, even though I was happy to leave that another year or so.

In the beautiful fence panels in the garden, the bar he and Mum bought me as a housewarming present, the much-loved BBQ he taught me to cook on when I was small, and which is now in pride of place in my garden.

He’s in my books and my technology, my sentimental jewellery and my beautiful kitchen. In my scotchguarded carpet and my curtain rails, and my decking we planned to turn into a pirate ship.

My whole home is a monument to his love for me – something I hadn’t fully appreciated until that evening.

Me and Mum and Dad at C2C, March 2016 | carlalouise.com

Me and Mum and Dad at C2C, March 2016 | carlalouise.com

He is physically gone, but he is very much still with us. There have been little signs – blackbirds and helicopters, a book I picked up by chance which had too many spooky similarities to be anything but a sign.

All sorts of things, but most of all just a general feeling that he is there, still. Just beyond sight, beyond that veil – but there, nonetheless. Keeping Mum and I safe as he has done all his life.

We are coping, day by day. I have survived this far with incredible family and friends, copious kitten cuddles, and the strategy of taking ten minutes at a time.

I miss him more than I thought possible, and there is a huge, gaping hole where he used to be. Nothing is ever going to fill that, but I hope in time I will get used to living with it.

We have so many happy memories – our travels and road trips stand out (especially the Alan Jackson trip in 2015 – a true once in a lifetime memory), but even our day to day life is a happy memory.

Fate works in mysterious ways, too – after being made redundant and then deciding against a job in the Gulf in 2008, I decided to stay in Essex and moved to Colchester where my parents followed me a couple of years later.

Geography means I have been able to pop in to them, and them to me, for all of that time – and when I bought my house, they were able to project manage the build for me without having to stay away from their own home. Which also led to lots of sundowners in the garden, and BBQ dinners when I got home from work. Mundane at the time, so very precious with hindsight.

I’ve stayed more or less single throughout my twenties & into my thirties – and while I’ve had various opinions about that during that time, I’m now more grateful than ever that I made that choice. I made it for my own happiness, but a side effect I hadn’t even considered is that I have had time and freedom to spend with Mum and Dad regularly. I see them most weeks unless I’m away, sometimes several times a week, and while the house project was in progress I saw them most days. That time, now, feels like a gift.

And so. Somehow or other, Mum and I have to learn to live without Dad. Or at least, without his physical presence.

It is the small things which are the hardest – when the cars play up, or the oven breaks – all the little things he would fix without batting an eyelid.

I hung all my pictures in my house over the Easter weekend – I think he’d be very proud, despite the fact that I will be needing blue tac to make sure they all stay hanging straight…!

The blog will, I suspect, be a big part of my recovery. I’ve missed it, but I wanted to post this before I resumed normal posts, and it is still so raw and I’ve found it very difficult to write. I’m sure more about Dad will find its way onto the blog as I remember it, discover it or rediscover it – but for now, I am going to post this, and then take away all “shoulds” and allow myself to blog, or not, as I feel like it.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you are one of the incredible humans who has been there for me and with me during this time, thank you even more. I am told that one day I will feel like myself again. Until then, I’ll just take ten minutes at a time.

In memory of truly the best Dad a girl could ever wish for. I’ll try always to make you proud.

Chris Watkins

22 August 1944 – 8 March 2017

Dad and me on my 30th birthday | carlalouise.com

Dad’s chosen charity for donations in his memory is Devon Air Ambulance, with whom he worked for many years. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here: http://christopher.watkins.muchloved.com/

2016 in review: the roundup

The last of my yearly review posts, this one is all the things that have happened this year.

2016 was hard… in so many ways, for so many people. So I’m focusing mainly (though not exclusively) on the good here, because those are the things I’d like to remember.

Friendship was a major theme of the year for me – making new ones, consolidating new-ish ones, refreshing old ones, and letting go of some entirely. Also, right at the end of the year, making friends with a kindred spirit in the cat food aisle of Tesco. Yes, really. #officiallyacrazycatlady. My friends have put up with a lot this year, and have endlessly soothed and comforted me during the bad times, and also shared in and multiplied the good ones. I am unbelievably blessed!

Kittens have had an interesting year – Luna got hit by a car at least once and lost all her claws on one foot (they’re just now starting to grow back). She came home three more times with mashed claws, and we had two more emergency vet visits, at which point I bought a curfew cat flap, which they are not that excited about, but which is soothing my frazzled nerves during the winter days when it is full dark before I come home. They’ve had a whole string of things wrong with them, including an operation Luna needed on her mouth earlier in the year, and I am now on first name terms with the entire staff of Colne Valley practice. Who have been amazing throughout. They are, however, as glorious as ever, and while I’ve had some WTF moments, I am very glad they are in my life and that they’ve survived the building of the house, the garden and then the studio!

The build is finished! I’m writing this from my garden studio, and I got all my keys back from various trades on 22 December. Which felt momentous, after sixteen months of disruption. It has been exciting and stressful in equal parts, though now the dust is (literally) starting to settle, I am enormously grateful to have created my perfect home almost from scratch. Now I just have to pay for it…! The studio feels particularly momentous, as I need to kickstart all my business activities again, and having a dedicated home for that is quite magical – it’s true that you don’t know you’ll miss something until it’s gone! It’s also very restful to have my living room back and not have trailing cables all over the place…

(more…)