Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places, Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger, Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Saturday, October 14, 2017

London, We Love You!

I'm lucky to have one of those careers where I don't know what's going to happen next so when I was offered a day in London to go to play with the latest iPhones by Three I didn't pause before accepting, especially as Looby was also included in the offer.

I'd say that Thursday was a gift, it was one of those rare magical days when the planets align to create near perfection, we had a plan to go to Harrods, and then the event at the Three discovery centre in Islington followed by a swift trip to Hamleys at Looby's request.

We travelled down at 8am and got home at 11pm exhausted because we'd also managed so squeeze in a trip to Buckingham Palace, Looby noticed an open window and concluded The Queen must have been looking for us, the same as she had when we'd had a trip to London when Looby was just 4 years old.

I think there's something magical about London, perhaps because I don't have to live there on a daily basis, I know my way around from all of the time I've spent there in another life and I'm pretty good at negotiating The Tube though I will say £18.50 for an off peak day ticket for Looby and I, we're used to just over £5 on the metro!!

So we began our trip at one of the most magical places of all, the Harrods Christmas department, you'll know from previous articles that I have a big of a love of department stores but Harrods is something else, I mean where else could you purchase a reed diffuser for £22,000 or a Suitcase with internal desk for £99,500?  Luckily all Looby wanted was this years Harrods Christmas bear which at £19.95 I think was a bargain and they don't even charge you for the carrier bags.

Yes, Harrods is the place where dreams can come true and when I win the lottery I shall be heading straight there for a celebratory shopping spree, Looby hadn't been there before and loved it, let loose with spare cash I think she could have come away laden with goodies.

Our main event of the day was of course going to Three for a session on the new iPhones, and iOS11, being an Apple fan girl by my own admission I was thrilled to have some time to test out the new iPhone8 plus, I will say that the camera on it is amazing

This is with the 7Plus my current phone which I love

This is using studio lighting mode on the iPhone8 Plus, now if you're me and you're a photographer you'll notice the difference straight away, the shadows alone with the even lighting are amazing, especially when it was shot indoors under artificial lighting, it should be that my outdoor late afternoon light is better but there's just no contest!  If I was going to upgrade right now I would without question however, what I'm holding out for is the iPhone X, that's going to have completely different and revolutionary new ways to take photos and it's going to be more intuitive, have better lenses and modes, I just hope I can pre-order one on the 27th October and have it in time for Christmas, there are rumours afoot that we may not actually see them in reality until early next year.  I also managed to pick up some new tips about Live Photos, did you know you can change the type of photo, it's a bit like having Boomerang but within the camera.

I thought I knew most of the new features of iOS11 but there were some hidden gems, and if you have never played with augmented reality yet, I'd suggest you check out one of the apps, I think AR is at the very beginning of it's creation and it's only going to get better and better, it's certainly got me excited.

After the event we knew we had enough time to go to Buckingham Palace so we had the loveliest wander through St James Park before finally visiting The Queen, it's a total highlight for me and Looby couldn't remember her visit when she was small except for the fact that she'd seen The Queen waving out of the window at her and she looked like granny, who knows if it actually happened but I've always believed it was possible!

She was definitely at home as the Royal Standard was flying this time around, could she have been looking for us too I wonder?  Looby did get a photo standing next to her this time, even if she was slightly more square than I remembered, definitely her though, I mean, look, she's even got a corgi!

Funny that she seems to live in Hamleys though!  I should mention at this point that I thought that Hamleys was actually hell on earth, it was noisy, crowded, they charged us £5 for a reusable carrier bag when Looby bought a London themed jigsaw, I was wholly unimpressed though she loved it and that's all that mattered.

For me, I got a walk in the royal park, I got to watch the pelicans and I got to spend some time soaking in the atmosphere at the palace, Looby said she wished we could have spent more time at the palace but sadly time was not on our side.  London is so vast that you really can't see much in day but I hope we'll get back down there soon through work or leisure, wouldn't it be amazing if I got more work there?  It's more probable than the train tickets perpetually costing half a months rent.

Thanks to Three for facilitating our trip and inviting us to their fabulous Apple event, they did not sponsor this post and all of my opinions are that of my own, I remain a fan of all things Apple and most things London.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Still succeeding in spite of anxiety!

still succeeding in spite of anxiety, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Yesterday I got confirmation of a couple of things in my calendar which have made me smile.  I work incredibly hard and I'm prepared to work even harder if I have to, trying to support a family on my own, running a now multi award winning business, it all takes time and utter dedication, yesterday I was helping Looby empty out her bedroom, lifting up carpets whilst trying to keep my business going, trying to come up with more ways to boost our income, well at least try to find that constant and before you say it, yes I realise that sometimes it would be a lot easier to just go to work for someone, earn money, come home and not worry about every single minute thing but hey, this is me, it's been 10 years of my life and although there are times when my anxiety is horrific and times when I think my entire life is about to fall apart and we'll end up living in a box on the side of the road, well I still wouldn't change it, it's me against the world with my brilliant teenagers (and super hero dog).  

I'm still trying to establish myself as a writer and get constant work and I'll always be a photographer, that's just who I am, I just hope it doesn't take 10 years for my writing to pay the dividends that photography has because I love them both equally and when I get the chance to use them together, well it's like magic really.

Tomorrow, Looby and I are off to that London, the big smoke, the city, we're thankful for Three who are enabling us to go and we'll be heading to the Three discovery store in Islington for an afternoon of Apple fan girl goodness.  Being not in a position to afford big trips to London, it's a fabulous chance to pop into Harrods and Hamleys to marvel at their Christmas departments before we hop on the train back at 8pm tomorrow night, when we get back we'll be exhausted but it will all have been worth it and you can be sure we'll share our London adventures with you dear reader.  I'm so grateful that they not only chose me to go along but they were so lovely and understanding about Looby coming too, it's the sign of a great brand for sure.

And next week, well on Wednesday we are collaborating with the Tyne and Wear Metro, you'll be able to follow our adventures all day on your social media as Looby, Holly Bobbins and I go on a great northern dog friendly day out to places we usually wouldn't go, it's a very exciting brief and we're so looking forward to it, I won't give too much away but stick with me and you can travel along with us.

I said yesterday didn't I that work is a constant, do what you love, it will keep you sane, well for me, it certainly does, it takes me to places I couldn't ordinarily go and it provides so much more than financial gain, which is just as well really...

We have grand plans in our house at the moment, yesterday we emptied Looby's bedroom ready to paint a giant sky on her walls, think blue skies and white fluffy sponged clouds, it's no secret that one of our inspirations is the decor of our local Sky Apple Cafe, Looby has long wanted to sleep on a cloud in the middle of the skies and we're one step closer to achieving it, yesterday we moved furniture, we demolished wardrobes, from a home education point of view this is a giant art project, it's design and technology and I hope when she has her projector showing the night skies on the walls and ceilings it'll also prove to be a constant science and astronomy guide, well at night, anyway.

Life may be quiet, life may be filled with my own stupid anxiety but at the heart we have each other and that's not something I would let anyone invade, for all of my rhetoric about finding someone, I'm not sure I'd change the dynamics of my family for anyone,

Mama, Teenagers, Bobbins, Cats and a whole lot of love, it's all we need really.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The continued search for the man with the swooshy hair

This is a post that I meant to write last night but yesterday was such a whirlwind, in fact the whole weekend was like a mini cyclone with work so when I got home yesterday evening, I sat in front of the TV unable to say anything other than "Wibble"

So I'm writing this on Monday evening and it's a well timed post because when you read this on Tuesday it will be World Mental Health Day, a day when I think we just need to be out there talking openly about this subject, something I've advocated for years and it's relevant because this weekend for me has really passed in a haze of anxiety. I still went to work though, I still did a great job.

I've had anxiety for years, it's partly due to bipolar, it's partly due to the meds I take and it's partially to do with life in general!  Do you ever feel sometimes that you can't do right for doing wrong?

Fenwick Newcastle Christmas Department 2017, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger

I was trying to be organised, trying to plan my Christmas party early so that all of my friends could be there so me being "wise" I started a group message, put the date out there and, well, suffice to say, I have no idea what happened but all hell broke loose and I remembered why I am a hermit and not great at friendship.  I'm kind of glad that Harriet puts up with me actually!  So after spending an angst filled evening followed by a sleepless night and very much overthinking I've decided that I shall never try and be organised and whatever happens in my life I shall never be temped to try a group message.  To be honest I hate Facebook messages at the best of times, for about 4 years I just stayed perpetually offline even when I was online. I do try to be slightly less hermit and more social butterfly (Yeah I know, who am I kidding eh?) but generally being the kind of person I am, I find friendship to be exceedingly complicated.

I also decided that I probably shouldn't have a Christmas party and then I though, to hell with it, I'm having one anyway, even if it's just me in a corner with jar of pickles and a bottle of sparkling water accompanying myself on the ukulele whilst doing Karaoke to show tunes, go on, you know you want to.  At least I have Holly Bobbins, she's a total party animal.

Holly Bobbins the beagle with the big personality, mandy charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, the continued search for the man with the swooshy hair

I've also been worrying about dating again, do you know it's around a year since I put my dating profile on my blog? I am still single, still scouring the internet (when I can't sleep) for a swooshy haired bohemian, I've decided that some of my other requirements are negotiable but not the hair, now I'm not talking long hair, I'm talking surfer swooshy, let me tell you, I might have to move to Australia because that could be where he's currently hiding.  I'm holding out for him though and if I never find him, well, hey ho, I'm happy to remain a hermit. Oh and I've just re-read my requirements from a year ago, let's just revise this to 33-40, swooshy, bohemian, funny, smart man who loves animals, travel, and cake. Must love Sci-Fi, Superheroes, and Christmas.   If you know this man, please send him my way!

Aside from that, good things are happening, this week and next week I have 1 special day when both Looby and I are doing things with brands we love, I can't give too much away at the moment but look out for updates this Thursday and again next Wednesday, work is the constant that never let's me down and it's that continual push to stay alive in the world of business and to keep striving to achieve the next level that actually keeps me alive, so many times when I could be swallowed whole into dark places but I fight, I fight some more and then on the really tough days, well my inner strength is an insurmountable thing. Over and over, I say this every day and to you I say the same because I see this message everywhere and it speaks to me...

Do What You Love!


Thursday, October 05, 2017

Last Night I Fell In Love...

Last night I fell in love, yes it actually happened, last night I fell in love with...

an advent calendar which costs just £150!!

John Lewis Beauty Advent Calendar, £150, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger

I'll tell you one thing, this beauty advent calendar is a definite way to my heart, just look at it's beauteous goodness and okay, yeah, it's £150 but it does contain £300 worth of beautiful presents, 24 tiny treats to make you fall in love over and over again, well at least for 24 days of December.  Maybe it was made more magical by the fact that it was in John Lewis?

For anyone who doesn't know me well, John Lewis is my favourite and my best, when I'm feeling sad and a bit glum I take myself to John Lewis and everything is happy again, all of the good in the retail world exists in John Lewis, cushions you can bury yourself in, sumptuous drapes you could hang in country houses, only the best people get to shop at John Lewis.

Now I should state for the record, I am not a beauty blogger but when John Lewis got in touch to invite me to their inaugural blogger event in their beauty retreat there was no way I was going to refuse, it's like being invited by the Queen for tea at Buckingham Palace, next year John Lewis, you should have a Christmas bloggers evening although I'm not sure I could cope with so much excitement, John Lewis and Christmas now go together in grand tradition, it isn't even Christmas until after we've first viewed that special advert which heralds the real start to Christmas.

Okay, so I'm guessing one or two of you cynical minds out there might be judging me for my materialistic love of a department store and for the idolisation of a false God but really, without John Lewis and Fenwick, life would be miserable and much like Waitrose the staff are the success of the store, they're always happy to help, always smiley so allow me this one deferment from my usual statement that life is about experiences and not things.
In saying that, last nights bloggers evening was most definitely an experience, I had a Decleor massage, an Elemis facial and a lovely hand massage from Jessica nails, there was music from a divine man announced only as "Mark" who I wanted to steal and pop in a corner of my living room so he could sing to me every time I walked past *insert winking smiley face here*

Last night was about so much more than beautification, it was about teeny tiny canap├ęs, sumptuous macaroons and more importantly it was about catching up with my most favourite ladies from the blogging world, some of whom I haven't seen for ages.  I don't go out a lot at night and I only work with select brands now, juggling a photography business, writing, home educating, single parenting, well it doesn't leave a lot of time and that was one of the reasons I went along, an excuse for a pamper, just for a couple of hours to leave the world behind and spend it in the glittery wonderland that is John Lewis Newcastle.

I really do hope they throw more events and even more so, I hope they invite this fan girl to come along and escape the humdrum of the world outside and slide into a decadent department store where simply everything is taken care of.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Is Facebook A Dating Site?

Is Facebook a dating site? dating in your forties, relationships, social media, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

The first time I thought about dating post marriage breakup was probably about 2 years ago, I had a look around, found out what Tinder was, went on one dodgy date with Doctor Dave and that proved that I was not ready to date anyone.

I tried again last year and after a couple of failed attempts I realised that I still wasn't ready although I did make a lovely friend from it so it's not all bad.  The thing is though that men, generally freak me out, if someone approaches me in a bar, I literally try to retreat into the wallpaper or I tense up so much that it's hideously unattractive, and that's just the ones I'm not interested in.  Should I, heaven forbid, see someone I actually find attractive (few and far between, I have niche tastes) I can't even speak in sentences.

On dating sites I swipe left on anyone who's too attractive feeling I'm not worthy and then I swipe left on all of the ones I'm not attracted too, let's just say it's not a huge pool of men left at the end.

I don't know how dating works now, I don't know how people meet people and even more so, I don't know how people meet people without freaking each other out!

I need to talk about a situation dear reader, I need to get this off my chest, in truth, it's late, I'm perturbed and I really don't know what to do.  You see, it appears that I have landed myself in a situation...

Let me just state, if you didn't know already, that I take my Facebook friendships very seriously, it's a rare day when I add someone I haven't already formally asked if it's okay that I add them.  If people add me, I usually accept assuming that I know them or in some cases, that they want to do business with me and haven't quite figured out Facebook business pages or LinkedIn.

So a man added me and then he broke into conversation like I've known him for ages, he's very civil, gave me compliments and can mostly speak in fully formed sentences.  So the first problem I have is right in that sentence, I am not good at accepting compliments, compliments make me suspicious, I'm not someone who gets complimented and when it happens it instantly worries me.  Also from adding someone on Facebook to treating them like you're new best friend, that's weird right?  Maybe I'm in the wrong here, maybe it's perfectly acceptable and it's being brave and the 21st century equivalent of walking up to a stranger in a bar?

It's always a bit of an issue when someone reads your blog and therefore thinks they know you, I hear the same thing from Vloggers, people come up to you and start chatting like they've known you for ages because, I suppose to them, they have.  I mean there's always a chance that someone out there has been reading my blog for the whole 11+ years I've been writing it, yikes, if it's you, you probably do know me better than I know myself.

Now, here's the thing, if someone just started speaking to me on Twitter every day, it would be fine, it wouldn't feel so weird because I think that's kind of what Twitter's purpose is, Facebook, and messaging someone, well that just feels intrusive to me, plus of course I'm on the back foot where someone has a greater knowledge of me and I know literally nothing about them.  I did tell them they'd freaked me out and they said that they just wanted to get to know me and me to know them but is this how it actually works?  Is this the way things are now?  Is Facebook fair game as somewhere you look for dates?

I actually have not replied to the second message, I've written this instead, it's probably a better way to understand my innermost thoughts and I guess it's funny that I'm comfortable sharing them with the 20,000 or so of you that read my blog every month but I can't do direct person to person conversations, it's also entirely possible that I am in the wrong and this is how things are done now and I just need to get with the program.

A friend of mine, in a previous comment or message, I can't remember which but he said maybe I didn't actually want to date anyone, maybe I only ever look for someone unobtainable or set myself unachievable dating goals because actually I'm just not ready, it's more the case I think that I'm scared, maybe I'm terrified of life moving on and things changing, while there's only me there's no one to let me down, no one to tell me what to do, no one to get in the way of all of the things I've worked so hard to build up, no one to argue with, no one to shout at me or get angry, no one to hurt me ever again the way's that I've been hurt before, no one to break my heart or the pieces I've glued back together...


Sunday, October 01, 2017

Slimming World, an Indoctrinated Cult, part 227

Slimming world, an indoctrinated cult part 227, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, dieting, health and wellbeing

Sunday morning and I've just climbed back into bed, the first day of October has brought with it rain, low light and all around bad photography conditions, especially when my day was supposed to be on the beach, many of my clients must have realised this yesterday as a lot of them had already rescheduled leaving me to break the not so unexpected bad news to the other couple.  I do hope that October gets its act together for the remainder of the month.

October is a funny one, it's nearing Christmas but it's too early to start seriously thinking about, it's the month of Halloween but if you're not a big fan of ghosties and ghouls then it's not got that much significance although I have promised Looby that it's going to be one of our home ed topics this month.

What October does give us though is usually the most splendid photography of the year, it's my busiest period and my favourite for the light (today excepted) which will only continue to get warmer and golden before sometime in November when it starts to get, well a little gloomy as the light levels fall, no matter then though as that's when the world starts to get twinkly, no with light and seasons and magic, the only ones I really worry about are January and February, dark forboding months, hopefully this year with all of that Hygge research they might be a little more bearable.

I read an article the other day which suggested that this is the busiest time of year on dating sites, it seems as we approach the cosier months of the year we all seek companionship a little more and I can understand that, I was just saying to Harriet the other day that it's been ages since I threw a dinner party, it's trickier now that I only have a table for four bottoms but I guess we could do teas on knees and a big bowl of slow cooker stew, maybe with a glass of warm dark red, for those who aren't so allergic!

One thing I am definitely treating myself to is a soup maker, there's that first autumnal day every year when I make the inaugural pot of soup, it's like a welcome to the warmth season, if you're making it, you get 10 bonus points if it's made with butternut squash or pumpkin.  It's funny that a couple of weeks ago I sorted out all of my cookery books, clearly, I was already preparing myself without knowing it. This leads me to my next point, that of dieting, I hate dieting, I love cake, it's been a battle ever since my HRT shenanigans and now I must do something, I briefly tried returning to Slimming World but it's more of indoctrinated cult than it is a supportive club, all of my issues were not only still there but heightened even more than they had been previously, I just can't be part of a club in which avocados are the enemy and also, whilst we're on this subject, I don't want to be clapped every week out of praise or sympathy, especially on the weeks where I already feel the world is too loud.  I've read many books over the last few years about nutrition and I have lost weight without the need of a club before so I've come up with a plan I'm calling "The Very Hungry Mandypillar" except I don't intend to starve, I just quite liked the name.  I'll let you know how I get on but I'm on a bit of a mission to be able to wear ballgowns for the formal nights on our forthcoming cruise to Norway  and not look like a beached whale, every time I look in the mirror at the moment I see Brian and Brian has got fat!

And so, I'll end this multi-paragraphed ramble in the hopes that someone, somewhere has at least enjoyed the emptying of my brain, I'm off to the shops to buy soup ingredients, squashes and avocados, just call me a Slimming World anarchist, go on, I dare you!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Luxury Retreat, Northumberland

A luxury retreat, Looby relaxes at Haggerston Castle Holiday Park, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger, travel, holidays,

Sometimes it's good to take a couple of days off from the world, I have to admit that since April I've averaged 1 trip away every month, it's a necessity though, business is so frenetic that when I can take time off I have to get away, it's the only time I really stop working.

Looby requested a lodge or caravan break for her birthday, she knows I much prefer experiences over things and so that's what we're doing, we're staying at a caravan called "The Retreat" it's situated in a quiet neighbourhood of luxury Haven holiday park, Haggerston Castle and it's so much more than your average caravan, it's everything you need and more and as we crossed the threshold with owners Jan and Carrie showing us around I felt my stress and anxiety subside for the first time in ages.

Today Looby and I have had fun, precious quality time, we hired a trike and with Looby in charge she rode it way too fast which made me giggle and occasionally squeal, in reality, it was probably perfectly safe but I'm such a cowardly lion when it comes to such things.

We've walked 17k today, we've ambled around the lake and we've explored the Italian walled gardens, it really is the most beautiful and serene place,  I know there's the Funworks and the noisy amusements, the show bar, the family pools but this holiday park is what you make of it, it's also got a luxury spa on site and a riding school, and you can bet when Looby goes on a hack tomorrow I'll be heading straight to the spa for a much needed massage.

We could have gone to the show bar this evening for the entertainment as we bought the passes so we could go swimming, shame we discovered after our purchase that Looby had forgotten to pack her swimming costume.

The last time I stayed at Haggerston Castle, I was 11 years old on holiday with my best friend Carole, much has changed since then, all for the best I would hasten to add although I was sad to learn you can't go up to the top of Haggerston tower anymore as the views, if I remember correctly, were fabulous.

I don't think it's the last time we'll hire Jan's lovely van as it's the perfect escape for us, it's a 2 hour bus ride, it's a dog-friendly park and because the park is so big I'm sure that Holly Bobbins would love it here, with all of the geese and swans around she'd be guaranteed lots of sniffs.

You know in 10 years time we may forget what we get for birthdays and Christmases but we'll never forget these moments, the quality time, the precious time, objects and things become obsolete but memories live forever.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Every Moment Counts

I was talking about this last week on my blog, how the moments of childhood pass so very quickly and pretty much every moment counts.  I've been trying to live more mindfully over the last couple of weeks, I've really slowed myself down, I've taken my camera out of high speed shooting again and I'm back to shooting the way I used to, mindfully, taking my time, and making sure that each precious  image I capture is exactly the way it's supposed to be.  In our lives at home I'm trying to be more aware and more present in the time we spend together and in the last week at least, by catching up on editing so I'm completely up to date, it means I have more time during the week with Looby, something I feel that is so important.  Yes we still have times of work but she needs those as much as I do on our home education journey.

This week I've been taking a challenge called "Every Moment Counts" it was set by Families online and when they got in touch to ask if I wanted to take part, I had to accept, a chance to take at least one mindful image every day for a week, it actually proved to be more of a challenge than I thought even though I do take photos every single day whether that's on my iPhone or on my camera.  I'm happy with what I did though, if anything it proved to me why living mindfully is the way forward, as someone who can be accused at living life at a million miles an hour it's so important that I slow down and enjoy the present, the now, the immediate because otherwise time does pass so very quickly and before you know it, well let's just say I don't want to get to 100 years old and have regrets.

So here are my seven moments from last week - 

1. Together, I caught them unawares, they really are the best of friends, Holly and Looby have a real sisterly relationship and from time to time they do get grumpy with each other but at the heart is real love and togetherness.

2. Tradition, last week we were learning about Hygge in our home education and Looby wrote the Hygge manifesto, Hygge is so full of tradition and gets the Danish through the cold winter nights and the darker times of the year, we really did learn a lot about them last week.

3.  Laughter, yes, Looby the comedian who thought I wouldn't notice that she'd put a giant bear in the trolley at Costco, she thought she was hilarious and much laughter ensued.

4. Three things - self explanatory really but Abigail came over and they're teaching Holly to be the ultimate agility dog, I have to say she's doing so well and enjoying it, Looby is buying weekly agility training things and how long, I wonder before we see Holly Bobbins at Crufts?

5. Colourful, there's no one more colourful than Looby and her new autumn jacket is proof that we don't need to conform to the dark colours of a uniform code anymore, it's no wonder that she's so happy since we started our home education journey.

6. Love - No explanation needed, Holly adores human sister Looby

7. Reflection, yep, we could have gone for a thoughtful photo but no, Looby is still trying to teach Holly to self actualise, Holly of course just thinks another girl and her beagle live on the other side of that glass!!

So there you go, 7 moments from the last week of our lives, some were just phone moments, a couple were with my camera but each one is special and precious, we can use technology for good I think, as long as it's not all the time, something which I'll be reminding myself of as we go through the rest of the year and beyond.  It's over to you now though, what are you doing to ensure as a family that each moment counts?  I'd love to hear your comments and ideas.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Now you are 14

Looby at 14, my bright beautiful unicorn of a girl, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Today is the day, I officially feel older than my years, today the realisation hits that my last child, my youngest baby is 14 years old, she's still so young and precious though, she still has a childlike wonder which no one has managed to steal or dull, I think everyone should view the world like Looby does, for Looby sees the good in everything, she genuinely wants to make the world better, I remember not long after he dad and I split up, it was nearing the season of shopping for Christmas presents and she asked if I was going to buy something for her dad, I asked, what did she think was appropriate?  "Oh, a mug, mammy" she said "You could just write "I'm sorry I messed up on it". She really did believe that would work, if only the world could be the way that Looby sees it.

Looby is my only child I was well enough to hold straight after birth, and the one I stayed in hospital longest with whilst my moods were studied and writing pads were scribbled on deciding what they should do to me, I'll always be grateful for that month though, because I really did bond with Looby, not even once did I feel postnatally depressed as I had with Iain or Abigail.

I've been thinking about Looby's childhood a lot recently, maybe because I have time now, because we have this precious time that mums and daughters don't usually get to experience, I'm incredibly privileged to be able to have a career which suits home educating, something else to be grateful for, I also know that whatever happens in this year, Looby will remember it for the rest of her life, it's both a blessing and a pressure point, I worry that I'll fail her and won't be able to make each moment count, make every second magical but then I realise that what I'm essentially doing is giving her time and space to become the person she really wants to be, time to discover herself, time to form an identity in a way that traditional schooling won't allow.

We have no uniforms other than occasional desires to wear unicorn wings whilst galloping around Sainsbury's, that's me, not her...

Looby is special and caring, she's hilariously funny, her concept and understanding of most things in life is somewhere between the surreal and the ridiculous but that is why we love her because there's no one else quite like her, she knows about Nihilism and Hygge and it may even be after our "Plan your own holiday" task that she's grasped that it's not a great idea to want to book accommodation which is 21.5 miles away from the nearest swimming baths if you really want to go swimming and mum doesn't drive.

In the last few weeks she's cooked and baked up a storm, she can follow recipes and she does try to adapt and add to recipes with, well I'd say with mixed results but she knows that even if it goes slightly (or disastrously) wrong, it's fine because she'l have learned something from the experience.  I love the way she's learning things now, I don't think she's ever likely to crave to be a quantum physicist but to be honest, it's a little overrated and there's no right answers, only theories and rarely absolutes with everything only proven until it can be disproven at a later date.

Looby has always wanted to be a farmer from the very first day she could tell us and she still wants to work in agriculture or with animals and she has a huge passion for horses and riding, I'm not entirely sure where this came from as I've never ridden a horse and I'm not sure her dad has either, he is the sporty one but I'm pleased that she has more ideas about what she wants to do with her life now than many of us have 20 years after being 14!

Biscuiteers 10th birthday, fashionista collection, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

She is my bright, beautiful, unicorn and I hope she never changes.  Today we're celebrating with a picnic (probably indoor because of the rain we've awoken to) and some fabulous iced biscuits, it's the Biscuiteers 10th birthday, a special one indeed for them and so they're celebrating with Biscuiteers 10 iconic tins, when they offered to send a tin, it was Looby who chose the fashion tin and a great choice it was, who wouldn't love edible shoes or an outfit you can shove in your mouth after you've laid it out on the table planning which top should go with which bottom! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Why I'm still alone after 3 years

Me, why I'm still alone after 3 years, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, relationships, love, dating

The year was 1999, it was October and I was out dancing on a Thursday night with one of my best friends, Mark (sadly not with us anymore) and I kicked our height in disco night club Baha and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a tipsy bohemian looking man with surfer like wavy blonde hair, he came over an introduced himself just before the end of the evening and we kissed goodnight.  Seven weeks passed until once again I was out dancing with friends when I spotted the blonde boy I'd kissed all those weeks ago, I ran up to him and said "I kissed you seven weeks ago at Baha, do you remember?"  I can't remember if he replied or if he just kissed me but that was the night that my life changed forever.  That was the night I met the greatest love of my life.

It's hard to believe that it's nearly 20 years ago and it's still harder for me to believe that we are not together, I thought this crazy bohemian boy with the weird ideas and even stranger behaviour would be mine forever, he still remains to be one of the few people on the planet who actually understood me, our bohemian ideals of truth, beauty, freedom and love drew us together, his love of life and total disregard of conformity terrified the life out of me at times but politically, morally and ethically we agreed with each other on so many levels.

We shut out the world and built a nest that no one else could invade, maybe that's where my hermit tendencies originate, I really don't know, all I know is that, in those first days, weeks, months, years even, I didn't want to let anyone or anything disturb what we had found.

I will never have any regrets about meeting him or spending a large chunk of my life with him because when it was good it was like the most magical thing on the planet, it was like the best piece of music you ever heard, or the tastiest cake you ever ate, 15 years we spent together and 3 years on from that and I'm whole again, I'm as healed as I'm ever likely to be but I've come to realise that you only really get one shot at love, well maybe not love but true love and soul mates, I honestly don't think that kind of lightening strikes twice, I'm not even sure I would want it to.

I'm much happier to be just me now, I sometimes shy away from the company of others because I'm content in my aloneness.  Meeting someone else terrifies me and though I occasionally glance at the Eharmony account I have, in 1 year of being on there, only 1 person has ever messaged me and he couldn't even spell!

I think the truth is that even though I get lonely from time to time, I would rather spend my life alone than settle for second best, I'm a complicated person to be with, don't get me wrong, when I love, I love with all of my heart but I'm not emotionally connected a lot of the time, I can seem standoffish and guarded, I can seem distant and aloof but that's more self preservation than anything else.  I know even before you have to deal with my strange personality you have to get past the fact that my face is odd and ageing and I have the body of a giant white jelly baby, I'm not what you would call, catch of the day!

It took me 25 years to find someone the first time and I think the only reason we fell in love was because we were in those days, clumsy and foolish, we spent a lot of our time out with friends partying and that meant that I dropped my guard, I relaxed, I stopped being so uptight.  I can't even drink alcohol without being wildly allergic and it actually interfering with my breathing so the chances of me relaxing enough to let anyone see the special parts of me (and they are in there, it's just an effort to find them) are microcosmic.

Since I've been on my own, I've watched couples split up, I've watched both sides then go on to have new relationships and it's amazing, people have actually got divorced and married again to other people and here's me, still on my own trying to work out if there's any way of becoming the kind of person someone could fall in love with.  Sadly, and believe me when I say that I'm not looking for pity here, but sadly I think not, at 43 I've missed my chance, I guess it's a good thing then that I have my kids, I have my dog and most importantly I know myself and whilst I can travel and not stay in one place for too long, I don't have to worry about the times I spend alone.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How practicing Hygge helps me deal with anxiety.

Holly Bobbins sits in the Neyladn Star Tartan Fabric Wingback Chair, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, a place to hide from the world

If you have read my blog for any great length of time you'll be aware that I have anxiety, it's actually been much improved over the last couple of years but every now and then, in times of stress, it rears it's ugly head.

The beginning of September was so full of change with no back to school, a massive change in routines and business took a dip with everyone returning to school and the world at large not having time to think of anything other than getting the kids back into routines.  I always worry when my income suddenly drops, it's essentially not really something you can plan for and part of the rollercoaster of self employment but it really hit me when I was down to the last £35 of my savings, I guess at least I had savings but scary as I'd just taken on the responsibility of home education and it's not like it's cheaper than state education, the costs are just different.  I'm also still supporting Iain who is trying hard to get an apprenticeship but because of Aspergers, well it's just tougher and that's without going into the fact that the job centre refused to accept his proof of id all of a sudden when they went online and so currently he's not receiving any benefits at all.  He does have a charity helping him to find an apprenticeship now though and came home from a day of work experience at the amazing tech firm Accenture so excited about the possibility of working there, I can only hope they see how brilliant he actually is because I think if they give him a chance, not only will they not regret it, it will be the making of him.

Suffice to say, this month has been tough although in the last week things have been getting better, at least financially, autumn is coming (tomorrow in fact) and so my calendar is getting very busy again, so much so that some dates are now close to full and I can relax a little knowing that I have a ton of hard work ahead but that also it's one less thing to worry about until the winter hits.

This week in home ed, Looby has been looking at Hygge, the Danish art of making cosy, it's something I've practiced for years, loving my home during autumn and winter, I hate it in summer as it's set up to be so dimly lit and cosy it doesn't really fit with summer so well, luckily I'm not often around in summer so I've just learnt to ignore it.  With the arrival of the cosier season it's meant I can truly embrace my love of all things Hygge so candles lit, new cosy throws for the sofa and this brand new chair courtesy of Sloane and Sons.

When Sloane and Sons got in touch to ask if they could gift me a chair I jumped up and down with utter happiness, our previous wing back chair was a little past it's best after spending a couple of years being Holly's favourite chair and I have to say after I took the photos of her in this one she quickly retreated back to the sofa, she hates the smell of new, I'm delighted!! I chose the Neyland Star tartan fabric wingback chair and it's the perfect size of chair to cuddle up in with a cuppa and a book and it goes with my lounge so well that it was just meant to be, I'm going to have many happy hours sitting in it and though I don't want to pre-empt the white stuff, it'll be the best chair to sit and watch the snow falling outside of the window.  Should you want to indulge, the regular price is just £299 but they have an offer on at the moment and they're just £245, plus they come in different fabrics so you can choose whichever style fits your own comfy sanctuary, I just give fair warning that when it arrives you'll want to stop everything and sit in it for just a little while, have that pot of tea or coffee ready to go!

My lounge, is really my place to escape to, to hide from the world and to feel rested and relaxed, it's the place where my anxiety subsides, where I feel safe and warm, I suppose you could call it my sanctuary, every home should have one of those.

Also in home ed we've been really upping our game with cookery and baking, I have to say that Jamie Olivers 5 Ingredients book is amazing for someone like Looby who is really just learning to cook, every single meal we have tried has been fab and she's needed no help at all because the recipes are so very simple, she even cooked when Harriet came over last week, if you have kids who are keen to cook or you just want simple and easy recipes which don't mean extra trips to the supermarket for exotic ingredients, this really is the best cookery book I think I've ever bought.

I think both building our own cosy sanctuary and cooking/baking more I'm easing us into the season of increased darkness, the lower light levels don't have to mean depression and the more I practice Hygge, the more it helps with my own seasonal affective disorder.  I'm lucky really, I can occasionally hide from the world, work in pyjamas and no one knows, well no one apart from Looby and Holly and to be honest, they like to embrace the cosy just as much as I do so I think, dear reader, my secrets are safe for now!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How saying yes actually made me more anxious

How saying yes made me more anxious, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, mental health, anxiety

It's Saturday and I have an unexpected and unplanned day off, I could be doing anything with anyone and yet here I am in my pyjamas sitting eating hummus with breadsticks catching up on work.  Harriet did take pity on me and invited me to the pub for a non alcoholic drink but since I've been completely allergic to even a sip of alcohol, going to the pub for a pint of Diet Coke which costs the same price as 2, 2 litre bottles sounds as enticing as inviting someone who's allergic to bees to go to a honey farm, and for anyone who thinks I'm being glib, the last time I tried red wine, I started wheezing so badly I needed an inhaler.

I realise I'm supposed to be saying yes to everything but quite frankly, saying yes more often has only proved that it's not working, not only is it not working, it's actually made me more anxious than I've been in ages. 

I think the big difference between Danny Wallace and I is that, firstly he was 26 when he did it, he had a large supply of friends who invited him to do things, he was a young go getter working for the BBC, oh and he also said yes to most of the offers in his junk mail, something I refuse to do or I would be having webcam relations with a Russian woman and my penis enlargement, I wonder why junk mail is all written assuming that the readers are men?

I'm now around half way through the experiment and all I feel is bad about myself, I've been trying to be braver, to put myself out there, I even offered up a spare ticket to a classical music concert to any bohemian man who might want to take me, guess what?  Yes, tonight I am going to see the Royal Northern Sinfonia on my own.

It is of course all my own fault, if you live like a hermit and only leave the house for work then the chances are that great things aren't going to happen very often and whilst I'm sure that never bothered Hannah Hauxwell I can't pretend that I haven't been feeling a little more lonely of late.  The worst part of this is that I know it's chemical related, I swapped my HRT again and it's the same one which made me decide I should try and date last year and we all know how that ended... Oh, if you're a new reader, I'll save you reading back, it ended badly, it made me realise that I'm such a niche catch that the chances of finding someone else who's compatible is smaller than the Higgs-Boson particle!

I don't mean to sound "woe is me" I think I'm just genuinely a little low and anxious currently.  I'm happy enough when I am working because work is the thing that completes me, once I stop and I'm here in my pyjamas in an empty house it hits me every time.  Of course I'm grateful for Holly Bobbins who loves me unconditionally and even chats with me on matters of philosophy from time to time, not only that, her thoughts on string theory and time travel, second to none, she's not so keen on Schrodinger's cat but that's dogs for you!

I'm considering now whether I should keep saying yes to everything and the answer is I don't know, I wanted it to change my life, to enhance the way I live and to offer me new experiences, so far it's only made me anxious and miserable showing up the shortcomings of both the way I choose to live and in my personality as a whole.

If anyone out there has any life changing experiences to offer please get in touch, I'd love to turn this month around and say that saying yes makes life genuinely amazing.  As always I'm waiting for your emails!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some thoughts about time and life and home education

My daughter who will be 14 next week, some thoughts on time and life and home education, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Where does the time go?  I remember looking down at Iain for the first time after he was born, I remember the first days in hospital and I remember when strangers told me to cherish this time because it would pass in the blink of an eye.  It did just that and last week he was a 21 year old, he's completely responsible for himself now, well sort of, he's still living at home with no sign of leaving but I love that, I'd miss him if he wasn't there.

Looby, my youngest, when she was just about to be three I told her not to grow up, she was perfect as she was, she promised me she wouldn't and then directly flouted my request, she's 14 in just 11 days. The truth is, we're all looking forward to things, we're making plans, we're booking holidays in advance, sometimes I think we stop enjoying the now because we're so busy planning ahead.

I'm trying to live more mindfully, to enjoy the passing moments and something I think is extra important when you are home educating.  We're in our settling in period right now, the one where we "deschool" because school is somewhere that institutionalises not just children but their parents too. We are so used to the daily routines that when we no longer have them we struggle a little to find ourselves again.  In saying that, we haven't encountered any major bumps but it's early days, it still seems like a holiday, maybe it always will, without the confines of timetables and rigid schedules, maybe we'll always just feel free now.

The strange thing about home educating is that the days are longer, the learning is everything, every single conversation we have directly teaches us something, it's something I never thought about before but then perhaps, perhaps it was because we never really had time to talk, the schedule of education encumbered us so that we had to try and fit everything we were and everything we did into shorter spaces of time, in a state education system there is very little time to just be, to be still, to think, to meditate.

Now, please, please don't get me wrong, I know for some school is a way of life and school is a good thing for some children but there are other ways and I know I am lucky to be able to give my daughter this untraditional learning experience.  Please don't think though it's because I am wealthy because nothing could be further from the truth, I still struggle to find the right kind of work to pay all of the bills and provide the extra experiences needed to get the most out of life, there are times when I worry what will happen if I don't get that next job or if I can't fill the sessions I've planned my income around but after 10 years I'm kind of used to the rollercoaster of work, life, finances, blood, sweat and tears that it takes to be self employed.

In home educating Looby I have given up seeing Abigail every day, her daily visits when she dropped her sister off on the way home from school every night are no more and her busy schedule means I haven't seen her in more than a week, something which makes me truly sad in my heart, I miss my big girl but isn't that life?  It's all so very bittersweet, I don't think there's a single person in this world who truly has it all, money doesn't buy happiness, love is the answer but even then, there are other extraneous factors which means having love alone isn't the whole answer to existence.

Now I don't want to be unnecessarily nihilistic because I do believe our lives have meaning although we'll probably never understand what that is, all we can do is try to make our mark, believing that all lives matter, I believe above all else that my children are the future and that the way that I parent has a direct correlation to their future failures and successes, another reason why it's the right choice to home educate Looby.

I hope this post has not been too profound, it's been a long time since I have been able to take the time to sit and write my innermost thoughts but here I am, at my desk sharing my thoughts whilst Looby is at the cinema with her friends, no need to worry about isolation with that one, she has many friends from lots of different areas of her life, a social butterfly will always be just that.  It is my aim with my month of saying yes that I too might become more social, I'm eagerly awaiting the chance to be less of a hermit, it's time to come out of my cave and into the light.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Home Educating My Teen, Our First Week

home educating Looby, our first week, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Oh, hey you, remember me?

Yes, I know, I was trying to blog more often you know but the first week back after summer always seems more than a little chaotic.

The funny thing is that Looby wasn't going back to school but we were settling in to our new way of life and anyone who's seen Looby in the last week or so has commented just how happy she is and how she's more like Looby again, hurrah for that I say, long may it continue.  It is amazing though, I think perhaps we're both so much happier and it was only a couple of days before we attended Home Ed trampolining where she made her first similarly aged friend.  I have no worries at all about Looby feeling any kind of feelings of isolation, she's made a new friend, she spent a day with her best friend from school at the weekend and then she saw all of her riding school friends yesterday, my social butterfly's wings have certainly not been clipped by the introduction to this new way of life.

What's amazing is that I wasn't sure when we should commence any kind of formal learning, the guidelines say that you need around 1 month for every year the child has attended school as a deschooling period and during this time you don't do any formal learning at all.  In Looby's case that would be 10 months which seems like an awfully long time to me so I decided that we'd just do things our own way, it usually works!  I feel and so does Looby that she's learnt more in a week about  real life than she ever learnt at school so that's already a win and within the first couple of days she set up her own blog and now she's blogging on a daily basis, please go over and give her blog a read, it's quite early days but she writes eloquently with a bouncy kind of style which makes for easy reading, she's more amusing than me and let me tell you, her blog about why she's home educated made me so proud, she also has had way better reader stats in a week than I ever had when I started blogging, she's a whizz!

This week is our first full week and we have lots of interesting things, we're at the Theatre tonight and tomorrow we're helping out at a dementia charity tea dance, home ed is brilliant because there are no boundaries and my financial aim this week is to accrue the funds needed for our cultural trip to Gdansk at the end of the month.

I need to sort my working times out, I am much behind currently as I wanted to spend as much time as I could with Looby but it's still early days and we need to work out how it's all going to work, it's probable that I'll just end up editing, sending newsletters and speaking to clients in the evenings and early mornings but that's fine, it's all doable, with my job, the brilliant thing is that I am mostly a digital nomad from Mon-Friday, I can literally work from anywhere on the entire planet!

I think I'm happy with life at the moment, I said yes to lots of great work things last week, nothing personal came up but there was always a chance that would happen, I'm just going to have to make sure I keep making my mark in a work sense so that I don't completely get forgotten about.

So this week, watch out for more blogging, more vlogging and definitely some new and interesting adventures, home educating is going to be the best ride we've ever been on together.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Why I'm about to say yes to everything

I'm Mandy Charlton and for the month of September I am saying yes to everything

Do you know the last time I went out with friends for a night out?  I think though I can't entirely remember that it was sometime in either January or February and it's not that I don't get invited out, it's just that I'm a bit of a hermit!  When I'm not working I like to be on my own, not speaking out loud and digesting as much information as I possibly can from wherever I can find it!

It's not that I don't like socialising, it's just that really, I'm now completely allergic to alcohol and I like to be in bed as soon as I can possibly manage it, plus the world is scary, I'm terrified of at least 50% of people, mostly the ones of the opposite sex, one of the reasons I've now been single for pretty much 3 years is that men terrify me, if I see one coming towards me in a pub I literally shrink back into the wallpaper.  

Now don't get me wrong, I love my life, I'm someone who embraces working 23 hours a day but I feel there's a change needed or not even necessarily needed, I've just decided that for the next month, in the style of Jim Carrey or Danny Wallace to be more correct, I'm going to say yes to everything. Obviously, I'm not going to take mad risks or endanger my life but it's time to say yes for a while instead of no just in case it makes a difference and there's something I'm missing out on.

I'm also going to say yes to every work offer I get, well with the stipulation that I'm not going to undervalue myself or put my business at risk but I do turn down a lot of opportunities which could lead to somewhere amazing but until I actually start saying yes, well nothing life changing is ever going to happen.

This week I have already said yes to going back to Slimming World and going to the pub quiz, I need to lose weight and the pub quiz jackpot is over £1500 with only 5 keys left, I'd be stupid to say no!!

I told Harriet today so she knows and I trust her with the information and power that I'll always say yes, I also told Abigail, cue several crazy ideas like sky-diving, I'm kind of hoping for more realistic possibilities, like maybe being asked on a date or receiving an exciting work assignment.

Of course there's always the distinct possibility that going to the pub quiz and rejoining Slimming World is the most exciting offers I'll get but you never know until you try and I guess that's why I'm taking a moment to write it down, first off, it opens me up to my readership, it puts notions out into the universe and it also means I can't go back on the idea.  I'll write a post in October to tell you if anything happens.

I am planning to travel in September with Looby so who knows what that might lead to and when she comes back from Tenerife this week I'll tell her my plan, again, I'll put aside any crazy ideas that come from that, I shan't be signing up for any bungee jumps or dangling by my ankles over any crocodile tanks anytime soon.

So, stay tuned, along with single handedly home educating Looby, this could be the most exciting September I've ever known.  So, over to you...  Want to set me a challenge or ask me to do something, you can leave a comment or email me!
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