2016 in review: Daydreams to Do

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…

Tea Party by Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

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!

©Photography by Grace Hill www.photographybygrace.co.uk

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!

Pin Mill walk | Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

Pin Mill walk | Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

27. Wild swimming – her’es me, just about to go into the sea, in Selsey!

Mermaid Kerenza Sapphire at 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

2016 in review: the sidebar list

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 🙂

Louise and Carla - mermaids by Jo Jackson Photography

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!

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…

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

 

Goodbye 2015, you were epic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alan-jackson-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kitteny cats and other pets.

a pile of kittens (Luna and Clover)

Oh, my beloved kitteny cats. June saw their 2nd birthday, and November the two year anniversary of when they came home to live with me forever. I am still slightly bemused that I spent so much of my life thinking I wasn’t a cat person – I am SO A CAT PERSON!! They make me laugh every day, they’re snuggly and silly and loving and ridiculous by turns, and I can’t imagine life without them nor remember what life was like before them.

We’ve had our share of frights this year – in February Clovie gave me quite a lot more grey hairs, by falling over and lying sadly on the floor, then spending the whole of the following day at the vet on a drip. She came home that night with a bandage around her leg and generally milked it for all she was worth – bounding around on three legs and demanding to be hand fed chunks of tuna, as they had fed her at the surgery. I believe I have a diva on my hands. Anyway, she was fine in the end, and to my very great relief it wasn’t the antifreeze poisoning we had initially suspected and feared.

The day before I moved out of my house for the main works to start, and just a few hours before they were due to go on their initial holiday to Hilltop, Clover failed to come home after lunch. Though she’s the treat monster of the house, even rattling her favourites failed to bring her home, and by 7pm I was a snivelling mess, wandering the streets with treats in hand, calling brokenly for my lost kitty. Just as I was about to give up and lose the plot entirely, my lovely neighbour turned up looking a bit sheepish and with a rather large scratch – he’d accidentally shut her in his garage in the pouring rain at 8.30am, and when he’d opened it in the evening she’d been spitting mad and starving hungry (she’s always hungry, lol). I definitely could have reacted better to that particular incident, but I was already so rattled by my house being all over the place and moving out, I wasn’t in the greatest of mental places.

While at my parents, Clover (again!) managed to scare the life out of all of us by finding the smallest, darkest, most hidden place in the whole flat and curl up for a nice long sleep. For four hours, she snoozed undiscovered while we assumed she’d escaped out of the sash windows and fallen to her death. We cried, shouted at each other, printed lost posters (to distribute to all the flats we were trying not to alert to the cats’ presence in the first place, as they’re not really allowed there), and generally experienced heartbreak on a scale I hadn’t even imagined. I had no idea how much it would hurt, to believe my kitty truly lost to me, and possibly dead.

So when, after all that heartache, Dad discovered her inches from him, hidden in the tiniest possible space under the printer, I could happily have smacked her furry little bottom (!) and I have a lot more sympathy for parents who shout from pure relief when they think their children are lost and then they come back. And of course I’d never hurt my kitties. Instead I showered her with love, with which she was distinctly unimpressed, shut all the windows, retrieved Luna from where she’d retreated into the bottom of the cupboard to escape her mad sobbing human, and proceeded to take both of them to bed. Where they both refused to sleep in their usual places on my head and my feet. But I had them both back safely. Worst day ever with the best possible ending.

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And just this morning, I heard an ominous thump, then found Luna crouched on the floor rather than sprinting away. When I picked her up and put her down again, she sort of crouch-limped across the conservatory floor, nearly giving me a heart attack, so I rang the vet and made an emergency appointment. Of course, ten minutes later I caught her bounding across the house at full speed, with nothing at all wrong with her. Cats!! Took her in anyway so that I could relax today, and it turns out she has one, possibly two, dislocating knees that she’s had since birth. They don’t cause her pain, but they do sometimes pop out which will cause her to shake her leg around until they pop back in. Le sigh!

But those incidents aside, they’re beautiful and gorgeous and snuggly and wonderful, and I’m immensely grateful to have had another year with them. And so glad we get to stay in the home they’ve known since they were six months old, and that they are so happy in.

harriet and me

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

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

2015 has been gloriously full of fantasy and fun.

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

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

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

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

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

christmas at home 2015 (1)

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

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

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

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

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

bridesmaid lou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

freedom

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

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

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

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

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

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xx

And so this is Boxmas…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

noel-boxmas-organising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xxx

 

 

 

 

Big Magic and belonging

Last week I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and met up beforehand with old and new friends from the Free Range Humans movement (i.e. people like me who want to get the hell out of 9-5 work and create a life that works for them).

Unusually for me, although I know I want/need/have to write about it, to get such an incredible experience down on paper and screen before the details escape me, I also don’t know what to write. I don’t know how to encapsulate everything that the evening was to me.

DSCF6836edit2

Firstly, I’d forgotten the excitement, constant inspiration and sense of total belonging that I have with these guys. We are the most random group of people ever, from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ages and at all sorts of stages in our journeys. Every single one of them feels like an old and true friend, even though some of them I only met in person for the first time last night (Vaska, Lisa, Issy, Marianne, Jenny, Becs – I’m looking at you!!).

We used to have regularish meetups and then somehow life got in the way and they tailed off – but I am determined to resurrect that regularity, I hadn’t realised how much I missed the boost they give me and the indescribable feeling of my worldview and plans fitting in so perfectly with theirs.

I’m also really hopeful that I’ll click with the Shining Lights girls in the same way, when I eventually get to meet them in person <3

And then after taking over Wagamama’s for a few hours, we wandered up to the Emmanuel Centre and settled to watch and hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about Big Magic.

The two hours shot past in a blur, I had chills and tears and giggles sometimes all at once. It’s uncanny how much of what she talks about stirs recognition deep within – though she admits there’s no scientific evidence to back it up, every one of us in that room and hundreds of thousands more who have read the book identify on a deep level with what’s in it.

I won’t spoil the book, but I will leave you with my favourite scribbled notes from the four pages I took in my newly-beloved bullet journal:

    • Having one foot in the real world, and one with the faeries – this is something you sort of must do, to live a full creative life. (Validation, right there!)

 

    • On criticism: Does the critic have your best interests at heart? Do they know what you were trying to do? Can they offer criticism in a kind way? If not, fuck them – you don’t have to listen.

 

    • “Honesty without kindness is not a virtue.”

 

    • “I am willing to take the risk of being insulted, in order to be heard.” – this one really resonated – I am so lucky to be alive in a time where I’m allowed to say and do what I want, that I need to ditch my fear of criticism.

 

    • It is far, far better to be alone than with someone who’s not supporting or lifting you, or making your life better, easier or happier. If none of that is happening, what is the point? This was so good to hear, it’s my general philosophy on relationships but always good to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!

 

    • There is a shit sandwich with everything. You have to work out what you love so much, and get so much out of, that you’re willing to eat the shit sandwiches. (I have a love-hate relationship with this analogy, something about it makes me uncomfortable – probably the fact that I don’t want to face the fact that everything I love has a flipside!)

 

    • Being creative is like having a border collie – if you don’t keep it occupied it’ll find something destructive to do.

 

    • You’re not obliged to use your creativity to save mankind, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what lights you up.

 

    • Don’t be an art martyr, and try or feel you have to do everything by yourself.

 

The quote that stood out the most, for me?

The ultimate act of creativity is to turn your own life into a work of art.

I am printing this to stick on my desk, my wall, by my bed, in my bathroom. That is what I want from this life, whatever form it takes – mermaiding, photographing, writing, dancing, having blue hair and a unicorn horn… all of the things that make me me.

And Elizabeth’s parting thought was this:

What are you willing to give up or say no to, in order to have the life you say you want?

Big Magic indeed.

With love and unicorns,
Carla xxx

PS Have you read Big Magic, or seen Elizabeth Gilbert speak? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
PPS I know the picture isn’t great, but I was too busy listening to take a proper one!

My curtains are purring…

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

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

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

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

image

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

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

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

What I wore: a secret wedding

Well, originally intended to be secret, and actually a small, intimate and utterly joyful celebration of one of the happiest and best-suited couples I know.

I chose my outfit around the shoes… which is becoming a bit of a habit!

shoes-down

A London wedding and being unofficial photographer meant long dresses were out – and I didn’t want to detract from the polka dotted, blue-and-red-and-white shoes. (which, for the record, I can walk and run in!)

So I chose a pretty beaded navy blue dress with a glorious chiffon skirt… dress-full-length

My hair was in ringlets when we left the bride’s room – sadly it doesn’t hold curl so by the time we arrived at the pre-ceremony brunch, it was more wavy, and by the time the ceremony was over it was straight again!

Here’s the gorgeous couple cutting their cake…

happy-couple

Aren’t they brilliant? It was one of my favourite weddings to date, and I was honoured to capture it in photos for them as well as being their witness (surprisingly nervewracking!)

Chocolate nostalgia

One of the great unsolved mysteries of my life has been whatever happened to the Secret chocolate bar.

I remember buying it in the newsagent near my school – inside the gold and purple wrapper and the white cardboard inner, lurked yummy strands of milk chocolate surrounding a whipped, truffley chocolate centre. You could snap it in half and then eat down either end to leave a nest-like shape with the last squidge of truffley cream in the middle. Perfection.

Over the years since it mysteriously disappeared, I’ve brought up the subject with lots of people, and almost no one remembers it. Several people have asked if I dreamed it… but it was a real thing! The internet has repeatedly failed me in the past in trying to find it, too. I thought maybe I had dreamed it… or got it muddled up with my very vivid childhood make-believe games .

Then out of nowhere I decided to Google it this morning… and look!

secret inside

secret

Looks like just as I gave up hunting, other people started looking. And starting petitions to bring them back. And discussing them at length. There is a fascinating (to me, anyway) thread on how they were made, from an ex-Nestle employee, here.

You can even watch the original (slightly random) 90s advert:

 

It got me thinking about other chocolates and sweets that have vanished (and the Wispa, my all time favourite chocolate, which was retired in 2003, but came back in 2007 after public pressure).

Spira

spira

I mainly remember trying to drink tea through a Spira after biting the end off. Amazing chocolate.

Wispa Mint

wispa mint

 

Marble

marble

Astros

astros

 

 

and bizarrely, the Mint Crunchie (which I loved but had forgotten all about till I started researching this post!)

Mint-crunchie

If you’re feeling nostalgic and have never tried making your own, take inspiration from Pimp That Snack – I went through a phase of debating supersized chocolate tributes a few years ago.

Have a look at such joys as the Juggernaut Yorkie, the D’Opal Fruits, the biggest Party Ring you’ve seen or my personal favourite, the Creme de la Creme Egg.

I’m off to raid the SU shop…

Images courtesy of boards.ie and goodtoknow.co.uk. 

Proof that in blogging years, I’m prehistoric

ELEVEN YEARS.

Well, ten and a half currently… but on November 6, this year, I will have been officially blogging for 11 years.

How the hell did that happen?!

nov-6-2004

Here’s my first ever blog entry, on my first ever blog, which I found by accident this afternoon. It’s… very pink. It’s also cringeworthy to read and contains way too many personal details about me and others for a public space, hence the blurring.

My 18 year old self was rather fond of text speak (though I’m cutting her some slack as it was, after all, 2004) and appears to have considered a blog a sort of mass email system (like an early form of Mailchimp, I suppose).

The “previous posts” on the right hand side has three more posts from the same day. Obviously addicted from the start. I’ll be honest, I’m glad it’s now been offline for some time (!) The about page is linked to my current Blogger account for comments, hence the up to date photo. I wish they kept old ones!

But as I’ve been referring to myself as “blogging for nearly a decade” for some time, it’s rather nice to have stumbled across solid proof of my first foray into writing online (and only because I was trying to work out how to change the “Carla at Ducking Fabulous” which crops up whenever I post a comment on a Blogger blog.)

At a time when all sorts of things are changing and when I’m feeling a bit at odds with myself about my direction and my progress on certain businesses and projects, it’s amazing to see, in black pink and white, exactly how far I’ve come since I started. Some of you will be reading this on my website, but for reference and anyone on Feedly, Bloglovin or any other platform, here’s a screenshot of my current front page (all my own self-taught work, including the graphics except for the doodled magic wand):

Screenshot 2015-04-27 17.34.23

 

To give some context to my ancientness in blogging terms, Technorati has published a State of the Blogosphere report every year since 2004. In October 2004 they were tracking around 4 million blogs, 40-odd percent of which hadn’t had a post in three months. There were 4.6 posts per second, or 16,000 per hour. That’s roughly 384,000 posts a day.

In 2015, as I write this post, Worldometer (which uses Technorati data) estimates that 3,704,924 (and growing every second) posts have been published today.

I’m currently working through Cerries Mooney’s amazing Calibration Kit and Aligned series, and in the process have been facing my own biggest business demons – comparisonitis and self doubt.

Stumbling across this proof of my status as blogging pioneer/dinosaur (as we’ve seen, eleven years is a ridiculously long time in the world of technology and the internet) has given me a new wealth of confidence in myself.

In my ability to learn code, CSS and a new platform (I switched to self hosted WordPress in 2008); my persistence; my natural abilities (this is probably the only thing I’ve done consistently for more than a decade, other than basics like eat, sleep and brush my teeth); and the incredible improvement in my clarity, direction and the look of my online homes.

It gives me a boost against my tendency, especially after a couple of glasses of wine, to freak out about entrepreneurs who have been going longer than me and are correspondingly more well known or successful. It addresses the fact that anyone who was writing a blog that could be understood by someone over the age of 20 had a far better chance of succeeding than I did back then. It reminded me that I’m a competent self taught photographer, blogger and website maker (among other things) – which is no small achievement.

It also opened my eyes to the fact that though now I can’t imagine being without my businesses, at the time I simply wanted to record my life – and all of that is ok. 

Something seemingly small and simple has helped me to rewrite my personal history more truthfully – and stop beating myself up for not having been in business since about 2006, like so many of the mentors I follow. And now I have an official blog birthday to celebrate!

I wonder if I knew, writing that first post which “felt strange”… that all this time later I’d still be doing it…?

The ghosts of Carla past

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

dear-photograph-wendy-house

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

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

old-set-early-days-garden

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

garden-now

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

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

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

me-by-path

me-by-wendy-house

wendy-house-from-window

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

on-alcove-roof

in-alcove

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

dozy-grave

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

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

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

old-set-bed-alcove-fluffies

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

old-set-snow

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

old-set-dad-and-i-on-patio

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

old-set-princess-pony

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

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

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

With love and nostalgic unicorns,

Carla