Mandy Charlton - Photographer, Writer, Blogger

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

14 Days To a Tidier Home Challenge

Around Christmas when I'd reached the correct dosage of CBD Oil and I was experiencing what it used to be like to have proper amounts of energy I started to tackle the decluttering, reorganisation and general zhuzhing of our home.

2 months on and the place is being transformed daily and so when Vonhaus got in touch to see if I wanted to join in their 14 days to a tidier home challenge it seemed appropriate to join in.  The kindly sent me a steam cleaner and some wonderful storage boxes and it's helped me so much in my mission.

So, do you want to take the challenge too?

14 days to a tidier home challenge

Day 1: Bins and recycling: sort through all the bins in your house and get your recycling separated. 
Day 2: Wipe down your kitchen units and steam the cooker tops. 
Day 3: Empty and clean out the fridge freezer - don’t forget the kitchen cupboards! 
Day 4: Vacuum Day: Focus on the floors, give all the rooms in your house a good vacuum. 
Day 5: Vacuum Day: Move the furniture and hoover those hard to reach areas of your home. 
Day 6: Clean the windows - inside and out! 
Day 7: Wash the curtains and wipe down the blinds. 
Day 8: Take everything off the sideboards, shelves and get dusting! 
Day 9: Get your bedding, blankets and cushions washed – after all everyone loves fresh bedding! 
Day 10: Wardrobes: Clear out any old clothing, reorganise and wipe down your wardrobes. 
Day 11: Remove wrinkles from clothing, curtains and upholstery. 
Day 12: Wash out your shower, shower screen and/or bath. 
Day 13: Let’s mop: antibacterial your floors and wipe down the tiles. 
Day 14: Finally take a trip to the tip: Declutter your home from unwanted clothes, items or food and take it to the tip, food bank or local charity shop. 

So I didn't strictly stick to the plan myself as I was already midway through and I have a little help on Tuesdays from Lisa our lovely housekeeping diva but if you're not already on a house beautifying mission then it's a great place to start.

Over the last few weeks if you follow me on Instagram you may have seen some of my before videos of the general state of my cupboards, well now I can say that every single cupboard in my kitchen has been decluttered, cleaned and completely reorganised, we've even got a Brexit cupboard.

One of the reasons I chose to work with Vonhaus is because I actually love their products, I've worked with them in the past and I've shopped at their website so it felt like a natural partnership to me and I'd never promote a company I didn't identify with.

I'm in a place now where I have roomy storage, I have space to put things and I can actually see the wood for the trees, I've already done one tip run, I've laid floor in my downstairs loo, I've taken a whole trolly full of stuff to charity and I still have rubbish which needs to be cleared in bulk and another massive charity shop run to do.

The amazing thing is that when I feel anxiety creeping up, I take control and clear out another cupboard or reorganise or make a list and it gives you back just enough control to help with the anxiousness.

February is usually one of the worst months for my mental health but I'm kind of gliding through winter this year and even though life is far from perfect and there's a difficult financial climate out there in the real world I think I may make it to spring (my favourite season) reasonably unscathed.

The next step in my process is to attempt to decorate on my own, well I'm hoping I can grab some help from girlfriends and the kids.  I know I want to go with a dark decorating scheme and I've chosen a dark green for the lounge, I just need a little income to purchase all of the colour matched paint and then I am most definitely on it!

If you take the 14 days to a tidier home challenge I would love to see your before and after's, my before's were so grim that in most cases I did it on Instastories so they didn't last forever.  Please do share your photos and stories and I'd love to know if tidying and organising can bring about changes in your general mental health.

Friday, February 08, 2019

The Joy of Missing Out

mandy in a hat celebrating the northern soul movement from 45 revs, mandy charlton, photographer, blogger, the joy of missing out

A couple of years ago when my business was flying and I had the ability to make 5 figures a month I decided that I needed to do it all, I travelled, I bought new tech, I invested in my business and I was shooting 20 sessions every weekend and then having them edited by a Monday evening, in addition to the photography I was also earning a modest income from blogging and writing which lead to lots of extra trips.  The harder I worked, the more income I created but I also needed to challenge myself to earn more and more money, I thought that this was the thing that my children would be proud of.  Looby requested trips in this country but Abigail, the go-getter that she is requested 8 days on the Cote d'Azur.  I worked tirelessly that year and then I got to the end of November 2017 and I crashed, I crashed bad, I was worn out, burnt out and I lost my love of photography, so much so that I decided to give it all up.  I was a victim of the theory that more equals more, that you can have it all and if you just work harder and harder you will end up happy.

Wrong, if you work so hard that if affects your mental health, that if affects the ability to do the job that you adored, if you work so hard that all you can see is a target of more and more money and things and trips, let me tell you, you've got it all wrong!

This is the lesson I've learnt the hard way, I've regressed years into an agoraphobic state and to anxiety so chronic I just wanted to hide, I did hide for a long period, in the spring of 2018 I barely worked and I didn't regain my love of photography until late last year.  

Let's fast forward to where I am right now, January was probably my worst ever month, I earned just enough to cover our bills and ran out of money at the end of it, I've limped into the start of February and I'm just about supporting us all, this years tax return will probably show a difference of around £20k less income than the last year but...

I'm overall happier, I've organised my life, my home, I've rarely been out other than for dog walks or with Looby on our missions to the bargain shops of Newcastle.  I light candles, I snuggle in cosy blankets and I collaborate with select companies which I know I can identify with like 45 Revs, a clothing company which has it's roots in Northern Soul, something my friends know I adore, I mean who doesn't feel happy when listening to my ultimate summer song California Soul?

If you don't know what Northern Soul is Wikipedia is your friend and if you do, well you'll identify with the fact that it's the best music out there and there are lots of amazing Northern Soul DJ's up in Newcastle, something I'm thankful for, my best ever New Year's Eve was a mix of Northern Soul DJ's at Ernest a couple of years ago.

mandy in a hat and hoodie celebrating the northern soul movement from 45 revs, mandy charlton, photographer, blogger, the joy of missing out

Suffice to say I love the movement and without a doubt I always Keep the Faith so when they sent me a hat and hoodie I discovered the love of simple cosy clothing, it's actually the first hoodie I've ever owned and the reason I love it is because it's not gathered with a waist emphasising huge pocket on the front!

At the moment my days are filled with planning the future, clearly there needs to be a balance between doing less and not burning out, I made the decision to continue with photography for as long as I feel I can give it my all and really, it's my first love.  I've stopped eating take-aways and cook every day from our fully stocked cupboards I've been working towards having, I might have been slightly spurred on by Brexit prepping but it's made me a wholly better person to have organised spaces.

It's funny that you can make less and be happier but there truly is joy in missing out, a few weeks ago I found out that there's a book published this very day by Svend Brinkmann called "The Joy of Missing Out" (which I managed to grab an advance copy of) and yes, we share a love of philosophy but I absolutely identify with all of his points that this need to have everything, to have it all, is actually counter-intuitive and there's real joy in having less, doing less, nourishing ourselves a little more by living more simply.

Now at my very heart is a serial entrepreneur who comes up with new business ideas at least five times a day but I'm reining myself in and just concentrating on things like residual income which happens whether I work or not, it's not something easy to build up but it is something worth working towards if you're not already on that path, think of residual income as something that can be built by helping others reach their goals and finding out the things they need in their lives and helping them achieve that.  Affiliate marketing, workshops, coaching programmes, stock photography, they're all forms of residual income.

I'm still figuring out my exact path in life but whilst I'm not coming to events or parties or to the pub, I'm truly loving life at home, living simply, cooking, prepping for the future, for me at 45, there really is joy in missing out.

This article contains links to clothing from 45 Revs and Sven Brinkmann's book, both of which I was gifted but not paid to write about, and both of which I was happy to collaborate with because they're the simple pleasures I identify with.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

I'm one of the 48% preppers stockpiling for a no deal Brexit, here's why...

The desk of Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger, brexit stockpiling
In early December I lost my ability to watch most tv shows, now my days (much to the dismay of the teens) are spent with the BBC news channel and Sky News on in the background.  You see, I'd reached a point where I was so worried about the effects of a no deal Brexit and the consequences that are likely to happen if such a thing occurs.

Now you may laugh at me and I expected Iain to think I was over-reacting, as someone with ASD he's always very pragmatic and doesn't do drama, just the facts.  What I found though, is that he actually encouraged me to do it because he'd seen the news, he'd spoken to people and in the event of a no-deal Brexit it's quite possible that we'll end up with not only food shortages but also the possibility of rolling power-cuts and in extremes, issues with our water, given that the chemicals used to clean it all come from France.

The more you look into the facts, the scarier it gets and yes, I guess with my mental health it doesn't help as I'm anxious and paranoid about the health of my family but I also think I'd rather stock up now than have a situation where we have hyper-inflation and price rises beyond our control.

Let's think about this for a moment.  My main sources of income are photography and blogging, they're not what you would call essentials, no one is going to want their small people photographed if they can't even afford to feed their family.  I'm already seeing the effects of the continued lack of resolution in the withdrawal agreement within the businesses of The Inspire Network, naturally it's the smaller businesses which will suffer the most and currently families, like yours and mine, we don't want to make any big purchases because we still don't know what is going to happen despite knowing we're leaving on the 29th March, or are we?

I joined a great Facebook group called 48% Preppers and it's full of the most valuable information about what you should stockpile and what's likely to run out first in the supermarkets.  If you've looked around over the last few months you'll already have seen how much prices are rising and so with my own family, at least one of whom has a restricted diet I cannot afford for the food to run out.

Just after Christmas I started to reorganise our house, our cupboards and my life (although that's another story completely) and over the last few weeks I've simply been purchasing just a little extra, pasta, rice, noodles, flour, tins of vegetables and fruits, all of the things which we could potentially survive on as well as some luxuries we'll really appreciate should the shit hit the fan.

It's scary how much we rely on electricity and yet in a power cut, I'll lose wifi, light, heat even as my heating may be gas but it needs electricity for the pump and to light the boiler.  Lose the gas and it's not much better although I do have an air fryer and an electric pressure cooker plus a fan heater and a small electric fire.

If you're a parent I would go and join the 48% preppers group, yes, most are preparing for the worst case scenario but if you read all of the advice and the reasonings behind it, none of it sounds like scaremongering, it's just the facts so this year I plan to grow more fruit and vegetables in my own garden, I plan to grow my own potatoes in pots and mushrooms, well they can be grown anywhere dark like the airing cupboard.

I plan to keep buying extra with my weekly shopping, it's surprising just how much stuff you can get at Aldi or Lidl in comparison to Sainsbury's.

If the worst doesn't happen and if we actually agree on a deal then you know what, I'll donate it all to a foodbank or I'll just have it there to reabsorb into my usual grocery supplies but for me as a mum and a cat and dog owner, no way am I risking not being able to feed any of them.  Holly Bobbins should be okay, her dogs dinners are made in Devon, doesn't mean I'm not making sure I don't have a couple of months supply though just in case.

Looby will be okay, she'd quite happily survive on pot noodles and vitamin tablets, Iain, will do the same but on beans and smash if he has to, and I could eat pasta every day if I had to.  I'm lucky really, I can cook pretty well, in fact I'm well known amongst my friends for inviting anyone who'll come to my house just so I can feed them too.  We'll be okay, we still have lots of room left that I can pack stuff in if I want to, thanks to Mrs Hinch, most of my food supplies are all in stackable baskets and the Brexit cupboard has lots of space to spare.

You might think I'm crazy or insane and yes, I do carry the cloak of madness with me at all times but honestly, as a parent, would I not be foolish to think this whole thing is going to be a party at the palace?  Even the Queen has a plan to escape London I hear...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Holly Bobbins and The Pawfection Pack

Holly Bobbins the Beagle sits next to a pawfection pack for dogs, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

Holly Bobbins loves surprises, in the world of being an influencer she's way more successful than I could ever be and when The Pawfection Pack got in touch to see if they could send her one of their monthly subscription boxes, well it didn't take us a lot of thought to accept.

The box arrived and she excitedly waited for Mama to rip open the packaging eagerly sniffing at every product in the package.

Now I can't say that she didn't love it all because she did but there were definite favourites in there such as a fabulous giraffe soft toy and biscuits for dogs in the shape of human biscuits, who doesn't love a good cup of tea and a chocolate bourbon?

Holly Bobbins the Beagle sits next to a pawfection pack for dogs, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

The Pawfection pack is a monthly subscription box packed with goodies for your favourite four pawed friends, it's like a thank you for being the best pet ever and I shall definitely be ordering further boxes, I'm a subscription box fiend at the best of times and in the past Holly has tried others aimed at dogs but this is the most lovingly prepared and the owner also has 2 Beagle crossed pups who are adorable!

If you would like to sign up for The Pawfection Pack you can enter the code HOLLYBOB10 and get 10% off if you subscribe before March 22nd.

I should add that we haven't been paid to tell you this or recommend this and you should know as long time readers, Holly and I are very honest about the products and services we write about.

I think Holly's and mine favourite thing in the box was a neckerchief from Salt Dog Studios, she's been wearing it ever since and cutting a dash wherever she goes.
Holly Bobbins the Beagle sits next to a pawfection pack for dogs, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

Holly Bobbins gives The Pawfection pack 9 barks out of 10 and that's only because I wouldn't let her eat the whole pack of biscuits from the Little Blue Pupcakery in one go.  She is after all on a new diet and looking to slim those hips of hers.

Thank you so much to the lovely people at The Pawfection pack for sending us this lovely box of goodies suitable for the best four pawed friends in the whole of the land.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Organised Mind = Organised Life

It's been a crazy few days experienced at breakneck speed as I travelled to Dublin for the Facebook Gather conference and I'll fill you in on all of the happenings very soon when I've recovered from the brain filled exhaustion I'm currently experiencing.

This year has been such a positive force in my life so far, after all of the chaos and uncertainty of last year I feel like I'm really finding my feet in both my personal and professional life, current brain melt excepting.

I think the changes would have to be actually organisation centric too.

writing in my business planner, world handwriting day, stabilo, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I'm madly passionate about my planner this year and for the first time in years I am writing things out again, this seems more than appropriate for today as it's National Handwriting Day and Stabilo sent me some beautiful pens and pencils, they also have a full range of products which specifically help new writers whether they're right or left handed and here's the thing, in these days of technology, we're writing less and less but actually, there's nothing quite as beautiful as the lost art of handwritten letters and I think it's great to teach our children the importance of picking up a pen.  For me, as an adult, it's the ability to write down my scattered thoughts in a creative way and that's another thing it's important to tell our children, in a world full of similar type-faces, be the change, be the swirly whirly handwriting.  Unlike the words we type, all handwriting is unique even when taught in the same way.

quotes written with stabilo pens, national handwriting day, stabilo, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I had hoped to get Looby involved too but she's still at her dads having gone so I could go to the Facebook conference and then decided she's not coming home until tomorrow.

I digress, I think my point was that just emptying my mind with the freedom to write and not be judged for mistakes or whatever I write, it just helps to clear the brain, it's possibly even more effective than sitting down to blog although maybe there's a little less feedback but after a meeting with my new business coach this morning I am 100% sure that this year is going to be my best ever in both of my companies.

My main focuses for the next year are -

To build The Inspire Network, to push women to as much success as I can, to inspire them to grow and thrive and to make sure that all businesses are seen equally from the smallest kitchen table business to large corporations.  I want to nurture them with love and kindness and find out what they really need to know and then provide the experts to give them that information whilst working with some more closely and offering mentoring to a small proportion of them.

To continue the success of Mandy Charlton Photography and to move forward with my new workshops which help people to get out and not only take better photographs but also to encourage them to get out more and discover their local area.  I also want to start teaching the business of photography and social media for photographers, I've spent my entire business life leveraging the power of social media to build my business and now it's time to help others start up their own businesses empowering them with the information they need, something that I never had and would have loved to have known.

The future is surely bright!

I was sent a selection of pens for National Handwriting Day, it's a brand I already have a lot of and I admit to being a hoarder of pretty stationary, they did not pay me to write this article.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Air Fried Halloumi Fries Recipe

Air Fried Halloumi Fries recipe, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, food

If you're anything like me you'll know just how amazing Halloumi Fries are, they may not be so healthy you can eat them every day but it's January, it's dark and we need some home comforts whilst still trying to be a little bit healthier.  This Halloumi fries recipe is different because it's all done in an air fryer, it uses 1 cal oil and it's perfect for our vegetarian friends, in fact, I can confirm it because I tested the recipe just this week on 2 ladies who aren't veggie and one who most definitely is.  These air fried Halloumi fries may just change your life and they only take 15 minutes to cook plus a couple of minutes of preparation.

What you'll need

  • 2 tablespoons of the flour of your choice, I used plain flour but you could use spelt or even Polenta which would definitely give that crisp outside.
  • Large Pinch of Salt
  • Large Pinch of Paprika
  • Large Pinch of Black Pepper
  • 1 Cal cooking oil spray - (I used Frylight coconut but I use that for everything)
  • 1 block of Halloumi sliced into 8 chubby finger-sized portions
  • Dip of your choice to serve 


  • Combine the flour, paprika, salt and pepper on a plate with a fork
  • coat each of the Halloumi fingers in the dry mixture
  • Switch your air fryer to 200c
  • spray the basket with oil making sure it's coated all over so that the fries don't stick to the basket
  • put the coated Halloumi fingers into the air fryer and program it for 15 minutes
  • around halfway through turn the fries to make sure they're evenly browned on all sides
  • After 15 minutes your Halloumi Fries will be ready but they will also be hot so plate up with tongs
  • accompany with a handful of peppers, a green salad and add dips of your choice to the side, I love tomato and honey or sweet chilli
1 portion should quite easily feed 2 as a starter or 1 as a main course.

If you don't have an air fryer yet, they're so much cheaper than they used to be and they're incredibly versatile, especially if like me, you're often cooking in single portions, I've had a quick look on Amazon and this Tower air fryer is currently just over £30, it's not quite the same as mine but looks around the same size.

I've made a few different batches of these Halloumi fries and I definitely think that thicker works better than thinner when you're air frying and I also think you don't want to cram the basket too full of they're just going to stick, whatever you do though and however you cook them, I'd love to hear from them if you try the recipe.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Dog Friendly Hotel in Lanarkshire, The Elphinstone Hotel, Biggar

Holly Bobbins, reviewer of the Elphinstone Hotel, a dog friendly hotel in biggar, Lanarkshire, scotland
It took me approximately 5 days into January to get away on my first break of the year to a dog friendly hotel, The Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar, Lanarkshire.  We'd been invited with Holly Bobbins, chief "Pawsonality" and reviewer of all things dog friendly to come over for dinner, bed and breakfast so Harriet and I accompanied just to make sure she wasn't being a Mariah or Beyonce style diva, you know how she gets now that all of the fame has gone to her head!

The Elphinstone Hotel is situated on the high street of the small market town of Biggar in South Lanarkshire, a short 2 hour car journey from Newcastle and a very pleasant rural location in the midst of rolling hills and green countryside.

After a quick photo stop outside we checked in and asked where we could dine with Holly, the answer was she was welcome in the bar next door but nowhere else in the hotel or restaurant, a little disappointing as somewhere selling themselves as dog friendly and after many years of visiting a lot of dog friendly hotels, bars and restaurants I would say that this came over as more of a dog tolerant policy than dog friendly.  

No matter though for Holly, she was just delighted that the room had carpets (something I don't have at home) so she could roll around at will in her crazy beagle way.

After check-in Harriet and I went for a wander to the town park which is actually around a mile away from the town centre down a long country lane, not somewhere I would have liked to walk in the dark but on a summers afternoon I would think it's glorious.  We managed to catch the last light of the day whilst Holly Bobbins had a run around the lake and we found that there's a circular route from town to the park so this afforded us quite a nice Saturday afternoon walkies without it being overtiring for chief driver Harriet.

We popped into the bar on our way back for a quick cuppa after the afternoon exertions and Holly was offered some water which was brought over in an old used Ice-cream container, a lovely thought which does show the hotel is trying but I think it would only cost pence to have proper dog bowls and maybe a jar of treats on the bar for their four pawed clients.  There's really only 1 big table in the bar which we had both dinner and breakfast at so I think if our hosts could work towards maybe making the downstairs of the hotel as well as the bar dog friendly (leaving the bigger upstairs restaurant for patrons who don't want to dine with dogs) then I would be very keen to return.

The standout for me at the Elphinstone Hotel has to be the food, although we were in the bar, no style or flavours were spared when we dined that evening.  Scallops, Venison and a Cheeseboard of local cheeses were deliciously savoured whilst Holly enjoyed small morsels of venison passed under the table.  Harriet said the chowder and the chicken with haggis were equally delicious and she too couldn't resist the temptation of the locally sourced cheeseboard.

We noticed that the hotel restaurant was also full, especially for early January and surely that has to be testament to the skills of the chef, I cannot fault a single thing about the food, it really was utterly scrumptious.

After a wonderful and comfortable nights sleep our breakfast was a more simple affair but a full Scottish breakfast was on offer, none the less and Holly was grateful for the sausage brought out by the morning chef and after a quick morning stroll it was soon time to depart.

Biggar lies around an hours drive from the border and outlet shopping at the Gretna Gateway village meaning it's the perfect mid-way shop and we noticed that quite a lot of the village seemed to be dog friendly which is such a positive sign, I think with more retailers and hoteliers honing in on the fact that the four pawed pound is so strong, it can't be too long before we see a paradigm shift with more places being dog friendly than those who remain firmly no dogs territory.

Holly Bobbins gives the Elphinstone Hotel 8 barks out of 10 and if the suggested improvements actually happen then we would definitely consider a return visit during the summer months to get the most out of the local area.
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