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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The week of being social

Last week was probably the most social I've been in around a year, I had an absolute blast and for the first time in a long time, my anxiety levels were massively decreased, life has just been getting better and better.

I'm single, I'm content and for someone who's nearly 45 I don't think I scrub up too badly, well at least not after Abigail's best friend Hannah got involved and did my makeup for my Christmas party on Friday.

This years annual Christmas party was just the best, I absolutely loved it and I lasted until 2am despite not being able to drink a lot of alcohol although I was relieved on Saturday when I woke up without a hangover (unlike many of my guests).

One amazing thing was the Geordie grazing platter, if you are having a party I'd suggest this as the perfect thing to do and it's the sign of a good buffet when you get up to empty plates and platters the next morning.

I think I appreciate my girlfriends more than ever now, I haven't seen a great deal of people this year due to living like Newcastles next great hermit but, Friday night made me realise just how much I appreciate the people I have in my life, I might not have 2 full hands of close friends but the ones I have far outweigh the quantity of people I could have in my life who really wouldn't care about me like these ones do (and the others who were at the party but not in these photos, they know who they are).

Saturday night came around quicker than a beagle chasing a mouse and Harriet and I were invited to the press igloo at Dine By The Tyne, part of  Christmas Tyne, a new Christmas village which offers dining in igloos right on the banks of the Tyne, situated just next to the Baltic, you get the most wonderful views of the Millennium bridge as you feast on food lovingly prepared by the chefs from Colonel Porters.

The Igloo's are available for £200 for 10 friends and that includes a 3 course meal, I actually think for the quality of the delicious food and to spend a fun 90 minutes with some fabulous people you know, well it's a bargain as far as I'm concerned.  Harriet and I had an absolute blast and it was also lovely to be sitting with Lucy and Paul from For The Love Of The North who long time blog readers may know from their Doctor Who themed wedding.  It was so lovely to catch up with them, they're doing so well since they started their North East gift store which really does embody the spirit of all that is good in the North of England.

One of the things I loved about the igloos was the portable speakers they provide, isn't life just more fun when you can accompany an evening with a playlist, oh and for anyone wondering about how cold the pods are, they're super warm, they do have heaters in but by the time you get 10 bodies in, let's just say you shouldn't wear your Geordie big coat!


Thursday, December 06, 2018

How to survive Christmas with a mental health issue

Christmas is a joyful time of year, a time of togetherness, a time for love, for laughter and where family and friends gather around the fire to play festive games and drink eggnog...

Except, that's not what it's like at all is it?  The truth of the matter is that Christmas can be tough, for those who live with mental health issues on a daily basis, everything is amplified during the festive season.  If you're lonely, you feel lonelier, if you're depressed, Christmas can exacerbate that and heck, even the most joyous Christmas queens can be prone to meltdowns over the Christmas break.

Why?  Well the media doesn't help, Christmas movies show us a distorted perfection of the way we think our lives should be, those of us who are alone without families idealise what it would be like if we did have a big relative-filled get together but I think we're doing ourselves a massive disservice here because in all of my time on the internet, what I've witnessed on forums, in tweets and on Facebook is that for some of us, spending an extended break with family is actually like navigating the 7 levels of hell.

It's easy to believe we're not good enough just because we're not living that Insta-perfect life but just like Christmas movies, social media is a distorted view of the world.  Very few people are 100% honest on social media, feeds are curated to present the best of what we have, there's nothing wrong with that of course, I, myself love to post the best of my life in squares, pretty places, twinkly lights but at the same time, if you look deeper by following my stories or reading my blog I hope I'm much more real and down to earth.  I've certainly tried to give a first person account of a single mum who lives with bipolar and depression, who home educates, who tries her hardest to juggle multiple businesses.

Whilst I don't want this to become my own personal campaign for more realness on the internet and I'm not by any means a healthcare professional I wanted to give you my own top tips for coping with Christmas and all that it holds.

  1. Remember that Christmas isn't just 1 day - over the years I've come to notice that if I put all of my hopes, dreams and aspirations into just one day I end up having the biggest come down around Boxing Day, if you think of it more like a two week break with treats throughout you're more likely not to have that nosedive back to depression on Boxing Day and no day is so important that it should do that to you.
  2. Enjoy Twixtmas - Those days betwixt Christmas and New Year are some of the calmest quietest times of the whole year, time to read, to drink hot chocolates and mulled beverages, it's a time to look back at the highlights of the year past whilst planning for the new year, embrace this time and basque in it's specialness.
  3. Don't overdo things! - I can't stress this highly enough. A large proportion of the population will get the Boxing Day cold because they've drank for the whole of Christmas Day, suppressing their immune system and no wonder Boxing Day is a miserable existence. I've never been one for alcohol, I'm mostly allergic to it, sulphite free alcohol should stop the hangovers at least but also remember that alcohol is a depressant and if you have any kind of mental health issue and especially if you are taking anti-depressants or other medication, it's probably not a good idea to spend Christmas Day caning it!
  4. Overspending is the work of the devil! - I'd like to hold my hand up and say, guilty, guilty and more guilty. I do it mostly every year and being self employed I tend not to work for around three weeks over Christmas and it's really late February/early March by the time my income bounces back.  This year I have things in place to make sure this doesn't happen. Do you know I don't keep any money in my current account now?  I keep it all in my savings account and it helps me to spend less as I have to think about each transfer I make.   They won't miss my extraneous pile of crap I usually purchase at the last minute in guilt because I feel I'm not a good enough parent.
  5. Indulge in "Me Time" - It's easy to forget to look after yourself when you're so busy catering for guests, entertaining the family or friends that you forget to take time out, so here's what I suggest, run a bath, get a glass of wine and escape to the bath with all of your new products, even that 30 minutes out can make you feel like a whole new person, especially if you've got little ones, that is of course discounting them looking underneath the bathroom door shouting "Mammy, what you doing?"  (yes, lovelies, I have been there too).
  6. Don't be alone and lonely - There's a huge problem in our country with people feeling lonely and alone at Christmas. Maybe they don't have family or they feel isolated, you know what, no one should be alone at Christmas and whilst I can't invite you all for dinner this year I will be home for most of the festive season and even on Christmas evening so please, it's open house and I promise to do whatever I can to make you feel festive and fabulous.
  7. Don't worry about not feeling festive - Now I could never be accused of this but for some people, for very many reasons, they don't want to celebrate or they just don't feel festive at all and that's okay. You can spend the Christmas holidays however you want to and if that means watching a Harry Potter box set, then do it, no one is going to judge you.
  8. Make some time to get outdoors - spending two weeks cooped up inside your house isn't good for your soul so make some time to get outside, get some fresh air, I'm thankful I have Holly Bobbins to drag me out or I'd never go out, it's funny though because I always feel better afterwards, it's just the getting out there that's the hard part.
Whatever you do remember that it's your Christmas and you can do anything you want, I shall be doing what I did for a while during summer, turning my social media notifications off, and only going online to post occasional photos or you'll find me on Instagram which is my happy place on the internet, I need those two weeks off, I have much planning to do for next year and much reassessment of 2018.  It's been a pretty tough year over all and I need to make some decisions, tough decisions about where I go from here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Last Minute Gifts and Stocking Fillers

Who can believe we're already hurtling our way to Christmas day?  Whilst it's true that I've been celebrating Christmas since at least September there's no doubt that soon, very soon, it will actually be the big day!  With that in mind, here's my last gift guide of the year featuring stocking fillers and last minute gifts you can buy right now and they'll definitely be with you in time for Santa coming down the chimney.

1. (featured above) it's Christmas for pets too and Holly Bobbins got extremely excited when a small package from her favourite food company, Forthglade, arrived, Holly eats Forthglade anyway so I was happy for her to dive in and she definitely gave 10 barks out of 10 to the whole selection, it's got to be good if Holly Bobbins likes it!

2.  Fancy gifting someone some posh beer this Christmas?  King Cobra have that sorted, one of the only beers to come in a champagne bottle it's double fermented and with an alcoholic content of 7.5 vol, it's probable that you'll only need the one bottle this Christmas.

3. Whilst we're on the alcoholic section of the gift guide, here's some delicious Campo Viejo Cava sent all the way from Spain, the Spanish love this stuff favouring it over Prosecco and you know what, I've had it accompanying Jamón and Manchego, it's not as soft a taste a Prosecco, it's sharper and drier and it will certainly go down well at any party you're having this festive season.

4.  If Cava and Prosecco aren't your think then you need to get yourself some well rounded Barefoot Bubbly, made from Pinot Grigio this is one of my favourite aperitifs in summer and if it's good enough for summer then it's good enough for Santa.

5.  Reusable cups are the big thing at the moment as we all turn our attention to saving the planet.  rCup is the UK's first reusable cup made out of paper cups, it's also completely leak free and I have one on my desk right now!

6.  Now if you've been around on this earth for any great length of time you will know that Christmas just isn't Christmas without a selection box in your Christmas stocking and so this year why not grab a Haribo selection box and remember the classic days of Christmas past.

7. Sparkly, super protective and when I say super protective I mean that, whilst I wasn't going to test the dropping capability I managed to drop my iPhone S Max down the stairs and it was saved by this wonderful Speck case.  I've been using Speck cases now for over a year since they first introduced themselves to me and I really rate them as one of the best protective phone case companies out there.

8. Can't remember where you left your keys, phone, sunglasses?  A Tile which is Alexa enabled will help you to find it,  now I wonder if it's Holly Bobbins proof?  Not that we lose her but she does like to go on wanders for sniffs.  As the website says, "ring your things" just don't expect a full on conversation with your water bottle!

9.  Derwent have lots of ideas for Christmas including this stocking filling hand lettering set, oh how you'll swoosh and sweep when you write out cards and presents for the next 365 days, Calligraphy is the new black you know!

10.  Oh it's a backpack, well not just any backpack, it's a Riutbag this is the perfect backpack for people like me who like to travel and explore new cultures but get a bit scared about pickpockets, especially in Italy and certain spots in Spain, actually even London can be bad for this and if you're carrying your phone/camera and purse, well they're not things you want lifted from your backpack unawares.  This backpack opens inwards, i.e. all of the zips are on the back so there's no chance of anything being pickpocketed and I for one shall be using this on my solo travels in the future.

11.  As 2019 beckons you'll find yourself needing a diary and why not have one with recipes throughout, I remember the Dairy Diary from many years ago and it's still going strong, I reckon mums and grannies everywhere would love this in their Christmas Stocking 

12.  Whilst you're shopping for your dairy diary why not pick up a copy of cook it slowly, essential reading for those of us who find slow cooking  a necessary element to get us through the winter, this recipe book will be well used in my house!

13.  Smith and Sinclair make the most genius gifts that I can promise you'll want them all, from edible fragrances to alcholic gummies and little round disks that will transform a simple glass of Prosecco into the most envied drink at the Christmas party you can be utterly sure that these unique gifts will delight the recipient.

14.  Face masks used to be big in the 80's but now we're in the new century and not only are they still there but there's a huge market for them, my favourites are sheet masks because they're just so easy and convenient to use, great for mother/daughter bonding, couples date or just if you want to feel a little more pampered Skin Republic sheet masks are perfect for this.

15.  Fancy some guilt free chocolate, Eat Your Hat chocolate is organic, free trade and 95% cocoa in this instance, the perfect stocking filler for the chocolate gourmand.

16.  More alcohol, there's kind of a theme but I have to give mention to Mini Vino because if you're like me and can only manage 1 glass on a Friday evening then these single serve cups are amazing, perfect for picnics, parties and dates for one.

17.  The end of the year is for me about reflection and planning for the next year, it's rare I get a lot of time off work being a self employed single mama so this book from Project Love couldn't have arrived at a better time, if you're looking to reassess all that's gone before you and all that's still to come, go pick up a copy of Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019 and start planning your future today.

18. In previous guides you may have noticed, Whisky and Vodka amongst other things, well move over guys because it's Gin's turn and not just any gin, Biggar Gin from the borders of Scotland, perfect with Lime, Lemon or even cucumber, the perfect drink for a night in watching a Christmas movie or too.

 19.  Having white teeth has certainly become a huge industry in the U.K. over the last couple of years and activated charcoal seems to help those of use who have not the most perfect teeth, Procoal activated charcoal teeth whitening powder is 100% British and 100% natural, now don't forget to admire my whiter teeth when you see me in January.
20.  Well Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without sweets and sweets are what Swizzles do best, this year there are large tubs of sweets, large packets of your sweet shop favourites and you can even get your own favourite selection, if anyone wants to know, you can make mine a double lolly, I've been a fan since childhood.

Thank you so much to all of the companies who've been involved with this years gift guides, it's a process which starts during the summer months and takes many hours to get to publication, all of the items featured were gifted to me and I'm so very grateful because a gift guide without gifts just isn't fun at all.  This article also features some affiliate links.

Friday, November 30, 2018

How to throw the perfect Christmas Party

Christmas is nearly here and whilst it might be 25 sleeps until the big day, it's definitely the start of the Christmas Party season.  I throw one big party a year, it's always an annual Christmas party and it's talked about for the whole of the next year, well at least by my teenagers anyway, mostly recounting the ways in which I embarrassed them/myself/everyone.  Actually though, it's the best thing I do and I think I've got it figured out as a party host.

I think you see, there are some essentials that you need for a great Christmas party so let me share some with you now to aide and abet you in hosting the Christmas soiree of the year.

You've guessed it, no party is complete without my yearly signature cocktail and about 12 kilos of cheese.  Last year I made the perfect Cosmo as taught by the number 1 mixologist in the UK, this year I'll be making the most festive cocktail of all, I like to call it my Christmas Sparkle cocktail.

Christmas Sparkle Cocktail

1 Bottle of Prosecco
1 Bottle of sparkling red grape juice
Cranberries and halved red and white grapes

It's a really simple cocktail, it looks amazing having the halves  of grapes and the cranberries floating around and it tastes quite non-alcoholic so quaff not too much in one go and enjoy this sparkly festive delight.

Food is really important for parties and I like to cook for people, this year I'm turning my kitchen table into a giant grazing board but as it's quite a big table you'll have to come back after next weekend to see how that went, it's likely to be a smorgasbord of delights.

The Christmas Party Outfit

Essential to all good parties is what you're going to wear, this year I've chosen this beautiful burgundy jumpsuit by Coast from JD Williams, being regrettably larger than last year I'm delighted to have found something which is cut really well and doesn't make me look too rotund and it's got pockets which is an essential for me, I love outfits with pockets.  I actually love this outfit, if you see me over Christmas it's very likely that I'll be wearing it out to everything.

Looby also has her own sparkly party number, she saw this one on a recent trip to Saunsbury's and at just over £20 I think it's a bargain and she's also rocking the outfit, especially with her blue hair.

The Perfect Party Guests

So now we've figured out what we're eating, drinking and wearing, it's time to think about the guests, I guess I'm lucky that I don't have a great huge number of friends because by the time I invite my friends and the kids all invite theirs we still end up with between 20-30 people in my house but it's always pleasant, having a range of ages really keeps it light and lovely.  I have the best friends who all know how to party and none of them mind if I suddenly announce that I'm going to bed at 11pm, in fact last year when I did that, I heard a few of them were still there quite happily quaffing and chatting until 2am!  Just don't forget to source some emergency seats and you're sure to have the best time ever.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Christmas at the Charltons 2018

After our festive day out in London, Looby and I decided we couldn't wait any longer to deck our halls and bring Christmas to the Charlton house.  And then Abigail said she had an inset day so the festooning began.

Now I have to admit that things in our house had already began to get a little jolly, I'd been preparing gift guides since September after all and then this little chap and his babies arrived!

If you're a fan of Fantastic Beasts you may remember that the Niffler is a cute mole like character with a penchant for all things Gold and shiny, much fun has ensued since his arrival courtesy of Kap Toys, he arrived in glorious form with his Niffler babies which are brand new and available from independent toy stores and I think these are going to make the most wonderful presents this Christmas, just make sure you don't sit them too near your sparkly things.

Being one of the hosts of the #Nifflers Twitter party I can say was the most fun I'd had in ages, Nifflers really are the cutest and even more so in real life, the big one is so squishy and soft and the little ones are just the right size to fit in this years Christmas stockings, I'm actually surprised Holly Bobbins hasn't helped herself to one yet!!

Anyway, I digress, back to decking the halls and merrily festooning.  In total it's taken nearly a week to get everything the way we want it and I still have nothing outdoors, my garden is a mess and the weather has been too evil to do anything about it.  Indoors though we are a sparkly haven of warmth and twinkle.

and so to me, everything is now at one with the world, I've started my Christmas shopping and actually I'm doing pretty well with it, my house is sparkly enough that I feel no need to venture into the outdoor world and thank goodness for that as I score at least a 7/10 for being a reclusive hermit currently.  Next week is my annual Christmas party and I'm attempting to turn my entire kitchen table into a giant grazing platter which will go with my Christmas punch which combines Red Shloer with Prosecco, grapes and cranberries guaranteed to make any party a festively fabulous one!

The next few weeks are sure to pass in a blur, this time of year is so busy after all, I've pretty much turned down all invitations apart from my own party because I feel it's safer to let people come to me.  I shall however be taking a couple of weeks off at Christmas, I didn't book myself any weekends off last year so I reckon I'm overdue a long break where I can catch up on some books I've stockpiled, there can be no going back now though, Christmas 2018, we are coming to get you!


Monday, November 26, 2018

Christmas in London with the iPhone Xs Max

I love London, when you don't live there it becomes a magical place, a romantic getaway or a family trip, a special thing you don't get to do very often.  The lovely people at Three invited Harriet, Looby and I on a photowalk around Shoreditch and I snatched their hand off before they could even say "Come to London."

After a seriously early train to the capital, we arrived in Shoreditch, now for all of my time I've spent in London I'd never been to Shoreditch but I'll definitely be going again, Shoreditch is simply amazing, it's full of street art everywhere and not just any old street art, you'll even find some Banksy.  it's literally a photographers playground and next time I'll be taking my camera.  On this occasion though, the photo walk was to show the amazing capabilities of the new phones, the iPhone Xs and the iPhone Xs Max, now I should say that I'd already upgraded to the Xs Max and I'm a bit of a geek at the best of times so I knew about the adjustable fstops in portrait mode which I have to say is an amazing feature, being able to adjust the aperture after you've taken the photo is an incredible feature, you can't even do that with a high end DSLR.

I was super lucky to have Looby with me because unlike at home where she spends her life with her head in her phone she was actually willing to pose, in fact, she was pretty much the ultimate model!!

We spent 3 hours meandering around the streets of Shoreditch and even went to the iconic Brick Lane which was super busy, we had a scrumptious lunch and we ended the walk part of the day at Spitalfields market.  Next was a trip around London to squeeze as much as we possibly could into just a few hours, Harriet had never experienced London before so we wanted to make it the best day ever for her.  In just a few hours we went to Harrods, we had dinner in Covent Garden, we went to Christmas in Leicester Square, we went to Trafalgar square walking through the west end, "where's the Palladium?" said Harriet, "You're standing under the entrance" said me.  We even went to see Buckingham palace at night before a mad dash back to Kings Cross in an Uber whereupon we made our train, the last train out of London with 5 minutes to spare, I blame The Queen for that one, I shan't mention the train journey home too much but it took 4 hours via Lincoln, was filled with drunk rugby fans and LNER had triple booked everyone's seats.  Let's just say we were exhausted when we made it back to Newcastle after midnight.  You know what though, it was totally worth it.  We get few chances to visit London so it's crucial to pack as much in as possible and it's not every day you have to walk more than 10 miles, it's no wonder my Fitbit actually checked that I hadn't suddenly put it on Mo Farrah whilst I sat by a pool somewhere.

Thanks to Three for hosting us, thanks to Rob the photographer who I loved chatting too as I don't really know all that many photographers so it's always great to geek out a little and thanks to Looby and Harriet for joining me on our epic day in London.

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