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

Friday, November 09, 2018

16 gifts your whole family will love - Christmas Gift Guide 2018

It's officially time to launch the first of my 4 gift guides this year, this year I'm producing my family gift guide (that's this one) a foodies gift guide (due out next) a stocking fillers gift guide and finally a last minute gift guide which will go out just a couple of weeks before Christmas.  Christmas gift guides are my favourite, with the help of companies large and small from all around the internet I get to bring you my favourite festive buys your whole family will love so here without further ado are 16 gifts your whole family will love.

For the pet lover


Personalised Pet Coaster and BIA Bling Mugs - 

Tis the season for hot chocolate and if you like your pet as much as I love my pet you'll love this personalised wooden coaster from A Few Home Truths it's simply gorgeous and now has pride of place on my desk for all of my morning, noon and evening hot chocolates.  Also, if you like this festive sparkly mug, you might be interested to know that they're available in sets of four and can be purchased from wonderful retailer Not Just Jugs, they're the perfect size for hot chocolate topped with cream and festive sprinkles, Santa would be quite delighted with milk in this mug too!


Pet Water Fountain - 

Cats and dogs much prefer to drink from running water sources and this Drinkwell Pagoda Pet Fountain from Pet Safe, I can tell you that Holly Bobbins is a big fan as is Pyracantha the cat once Holly Bobbins isn't around, yes it maybe a little extra but isn't that what Christmas is about and I promise your pet will love it.

For the whole family


Christmas Cards from Hallmark

Although it's not technically a gift, we send a staggering amount of Christmas cards in the UK and where would we be without Hallmark who have the most brilliant selection including your favourite couple, mum and dad, friends and all family members.


Walkers Musical Tin

You can't have Christmas without shortbread, well you can but seriously, shortbread is one of the most festive biscuits around and when you put it in a tin which plays Jingle Bells, consider that the most christmassy tin of biscuits you ever did see.

5 Gold Rings Card Game

Christmas is a time for getting together with the whole family, it's about having the time to play games together whilst you sit eating nuts and having an extra glass of wine, this Five Gold Rings card game is based on the TV show presented by Phillip Schofield and will keep you entertained long into the night.

For The Crafty One



Festive Bunting Kit

This festive bunting kit from Crafters Companion is sure to keep that crafty family member out of trouble during the long festive break, maybe you could even gift it early and then adorn your house with it when you are decking the halls.

For The Scent Appreciator



Candles and Diffuser From I Love Cosmetics

I love cosmetics have produced a whole new load of scents for this years collection and they're now producing the most gorgeous smelling diffusers and candles and all at really reasonable prices, Elderflower fizz has been my most favourite scent they've produced this year, every time I smell it, it reminds me of a summer wedding in an old english church.  Their Christmas gifts are quite simply fabulous but I'll warn you now, you'll want it all.

Forest Friends Reed Diffuser Set from Wax Lyrical

A favourite company of mine, Wax Lyrical have gone that extra mile with this forest friends reed diffuser gift set, all which have the different gorgeous smells of the festive season, you can be sure I'll be keeping these scents placed all around my house for the whole of the festive season.

For the Teen


Roller Skates from skates.co.uk

Firm blog favourites skates.co.uk have come up trumps again with these beautiful blue roller skates and you can guess which daughter wants them for Christmas, actually they both do but Abigail declared that they'd be better for Looby as she's less accident prone, hehe!  I love them too and if I wasn't 44 and utterly accident prone then I would have them on my Christmas list too.

For the bookworms 



A Girl Behind Dark Glasses

Girl Behind Dark Glasses is a factual account of one girl's battle against severe M.E. written by Jessica Taylor-Bearmann, Jessical tells the tale of the battle against the monster that is M.E. a harrowing story which follows the highs and lows of being hospitalised, captured completely by a voice activated technology diary which meant she could fulfil her goal to become a writer.


In The Fast Lane

In the Fast Lane by Lotte Moore is a story for those of us who keep trying, sometimes failing, yo keep all of the juggling balls in the air!

It's a complex tale of family relationships and challenges and all written by octogenarian author Lotte Moore, it's an emotional moving book about the ups and downs of family life which poses the question, can we ever truly be happy living life in the fast lane.


The Love Detective

The Love Detective by Angela Dyson is the first in a series "He'd thought himself a hunter, that I was easy prey but what he hadn't bargained for was contending with a woman who hadn't eaten a square meal in twenty_four hours. I get mean when I get hungry."

Appetite

Appetite is a novel by Anita Cassidy focusing on 3 main characters, Naomi, David and Matthew, it's about "food and sex, appetites we stimulate yet struggle to control, what happens when you give into your appetite and get hungry for more."

For The Whiskey Lover


Bramble Whisky Liqueur 

This Bramble Whisky Liqueur may look quite small but it's bound to pack a punch and is available from Demijohn and it would make a fabulous stocking filler.


So, phew, we've reached the end of part one and in just a week or so I'll be back with my gift guide for foodies which is always my particular favourite as I love food, cooking, being in the kitchen, entertaining... I am the woman who gets overexcited at platters and storage jars!!

Thank you so much to all of the companies who collaborated by sending items for this years guide, I really couldn't appreciate it more.



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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Santa on the Rooftop - Fenwick, Newcastle upon Tyne


Santa on the rooftop event, fenwick newcastle, mandy charlton photographer, writer, blogger


If you live in Newcastle upon Tyne, love Santa and you're a fan of Fenwick, you are in for the most festive treat ever if you've managed to book a slot for Santa on the Rooftop this year.

Looby and I went along yesterday and I can tell you it's worth every penny, we paid £11.50 per ticket and it's an understatement to say I was over-excited, I love Christmas so much and having a chance to meet Santa is always overwhelming for me.  To me, Santa is like the ultimate rockstar and it doesn't matter how old I am, Christmas is so firmly embedded in my heart.


Yesterday was so special, from our first greeting with an elf who beckoned us to a secret part of Fenwick to actually meeting the jolly old elf.

I don't want to give too many spoilers because I don't want spoil the magic of the experience but we made reindeer sing, we made decoupage toys in the elves workshop, it even snowed, oh and of course, Looby and I spent a good 10 minutes with the man himself.  Now, at the age of 44 and being a single parent,  no one really ever asks me what I want for Christmas and especially not Santa, I don't remember him asking me since I was a child so I have to admit to becoming a little tongue tied as I wasn't prepared.  The truth of the matter is all I really want for Christmas is for those I love, my children and my friends to be happy, yes, one day I'd like to find my own elf, someone who loves Christmas as much as me but it's a big ask and so for now, it's enough to see those around me happy and being loved.

Looby wasn't so tongue tied and she and Santa even ganged up on me insisting yes, we should move to South Shields near to her stables and she should be able to have a horse for Christmas, she does ask every year but a horse, well it's such a big ask, it's not like a kitten or a puppy, one day I know I'll be in a position to help grant that wish but for now, she's just going to have to settle for extra horse riding equipment/clothing.



The highlight of yesterday was when it snowed, I can't imagine a more magical setting than the rooftop of what surely is Newcastle's most festive department store (sorry John Lewis, you know I love you too but Fenwick just has the extra edge at Christmas).


The whole experience lasted around 45 minutes and we didn't feel rushed, we also had our own elf and that's testament to the fact that Fenwick haven't oversold the event so you're not likely to be accompanied by lots of people, they just take up a handful at a time and maybe that's what makes it quite so special.  The views of the city are magical enough for me to have attended, I love rooftop views and Fenwick certainly have some of the best around in central Newcastle.

You know, Looby may be 15 but last year we made a promise to always go and find Father Christmas every year no matter how old we are, as I've said so many times before, as long as you have Christmas in your heart there will always be magic.

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Monday, November 05, 2018

A Tough Week


Pumpkin Day Photo shoots in Jesmond Dene, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, newcastle photographer


It's Monday, my day off and here I am, sitting at my desk for the first time in days after a hugely busy working week last week, I shot way over 30 sessions from Wednesday onwards so you'll forgive me for my blogging absence.

In addition to that I also shot all of my gift guide products last Thursday, they're far from written but powered with copious rounds of toast and cups of festive hot chocolates, there's nothing really that I can't achieve.

October was a rough month for me personally, it always is, it has been for years with the same things happening over and over and I credit myself with being a moron for letting them happen.  I think my lonely heart betrays my sensible head far too often.

I've also been completely ill despite taking every vitamin in the world to keep me well, I guess it would have been much worse if I didn't take them but I'm grateful to a lovely company called Flyte who produce clean energy drinks made with the caffeine from green coffee, they offered to send me a case and it's pretty much how I made it through the week if I'm honest, unlike most energy drinks they didn't make me feel fluffy or headachy, they weren't too sweet and they didn't taste like chemicals, I would certainly drink them again, especially the green mango which was just delicious.

Flyte clean energy drink, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger,

The Pumpkin Day photo shoots in Jesmond Dene went incredibly well, it was a day filled with the cutest tiny babies and their siblings and it was so successful that I'm doing it all again but with giant wrapped presents, some of them may even be big enough to fit a family member or pet inside one or two of the boxes.





If you would like to book for the Christmas portrait day in Jesmond Dene on the 1st December you can see all of the details on that wee post above or just contact me through my Facebook Page

This week I'm hoping for a nicer, gentler, kinder week, I have 2 weddings to finish editing and about 30 portrait sessions and my calendar is really filling in a crazy kind of way so if you want a session before Christmas please don't hang around. 

I shall be back later in the week with my first gift guide of the season, filled with the yummiest photos of the best products around for you to give to your wonderful friends and family this Christmas day and if you need to contact me in between times, I'll be right next to the nearest hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane of course!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Christmas 2018 starts here - 8 Weeks to go

Beagle, wearing a festive neckerchief, Holly Bobbins, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, Christmas 2018, advent calendards


Today is officially 8 weeks until Christmas Day, can you believe that, it seems like it's only weeks since we were turning over a new leaf on the 2018 calendar and already we're nearing the end of the year, for me it's been such a challenging year and given the choice, I'm not sure I'd ask to repeat it anytime soon but being that Christmas is the very epicentre of my universe I'm determined to make the next 8 weeks as sparkly as blooming well possible.  I see Christmas as a beacon of hope, it's a happy time, it's filled with lovely things and everyone is just a little nicer during the festive period and when you're a lonely old singleton, well these are the things you appreciate most of all.


So, the first thing I've done this week is record my very first Youtube video for about a year, I'm determined to crack Youtube once and for all this year and so I hope you'll give my 5 favourite budget friendly advent calendars for 2018 video a watch!

You see, I love Christmas but I wouldn't want anyone to end up completely broke and in trouble over it.  For me, Christmas is about friends, food and family, now I may not have any family apart from my 3 teens but I am lucky enough to have been adopted by lovely Harriet and her family and that's who I'll be spending Christmas with, I'm so thankful for that.

Over the next 8 weeks I'm going to be recording several festive videos focusing on all things Christmas, decorations, presents, decking your halls and making merry, I've got it all covered!

This week I'm writing all of my festive gift guides, so this year I'll be featuring my general biggest ever gift guide, my gift guide for foodies (my particular favourite) and also a stocking fillers under £20 advent calendar which I haven't actually began to collate yet but I figure no one buys the stocking fillers until last right?

I have things for mums, for pets, for teens, pretty much everyone is going to be covered in there so stick with me over the next 8 weeks and don't forget in one weeks time it's officially okay to watch Love Actually as that movie begins 7 weeks before Christmas!  Although if you are anything like me you've been watching back to back Christmas movies on Christmas24 for the last 2 weeks and last week completely fed up, I even watched Elf for the first time this year.

Christmas I am coming to get you!

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Life 1 - Mandy 0


Holly Bobbins in Bed, life 1- Mandy 0, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger


It's been such a busy week that I'd not found the time to have even a quiet few moments to blog, packages keep arriving for this years Christmas gift guides which make me smile and thank goodness as life hasn't been too smiley for the last couple of days, a combination of a migraine I've had for 3 days now, my heart being squashed out of shape and just feeling all over off colour.

Life 1 - Mandy 0


As much as I would like to pour my heart out on my blog, sometimes I think it's just not worth it, I kind of made a promise that there are some things I don't talk about, mostly because of Abigail and Looby so suffice to say, I'm a moron, always have been, always will be.

You know, I am a dreamer, a lover, someone who can find magic in the smallest of things, I read this week for instance that we should truly cherish our friends who think about Christmas in February because they are the purest of heart, it's nice to think of myself like that, I just hung a quote on my stairs which says "As long as you have Christmas in your heart there will always be magic".  I've said that to the kids for years, I actually thought it was from a movie but it seems it might have been my own dose of wisdom, I have that you know, even if it isn't something I choose to use on myself.

For years I've looked to only see the good in others and this is the year when that has truly smacked me in the face, I know now that not all people are lovely or treat others as they want to be treat themselves, I still like to believe in good though and I think the reality is probably something like 90% of people are good and only 10% masquerade as good people but are truly cold with shrivelled hearts underneath.

I guess this is the year when I have learned so many lessons, whilst it's been not my favourite year I've definitely learnt so much from it, at least when you make mistakes you have something to learn from it.

Someone said recently of me that they worried for my mental health because it seems so all over the place and you know, I think that's because I blog, I write about how I'm feeling at the time when I sit down, I never pre-prepare blogs (kudos to the bloggers who do) and being bipolar, maybe I could describe that as when your brain is all over the place, it get's worse as you age unfortunately and I am, of course, considerably older than 2846!

Earlier today I described myself as an old bag of fat potatoes because that's how I currently feel, like a fat potato, you know the slightly mouldy one at the back of the cupboard, maybe not quite so bad as the ones which smell, I'm not quite that bad yet 😉(how did I just discover that you can blog with emoji now?)

I have several things I need to beat currently, when I'm not out working with my camera, basically people terrify me, I know it's agoraphobia but it takes me such a long time to get out of the house and carrying an enormous heavy camera and lens around isn't really a solution.  I think maybe I've been so ground down this year that I just feel like I'm not worthy of spending time with others, yep it's entirely crappy but that's anxiety for you.  I wish I could go back to before May when I thought I could change the world with my secret superhero pants and maybe next year I'll make a comeback with a new superhero weapon but until then, has anyone got a large cupboard I could come and hide in?
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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fenwick's Christmas Window 2018 Revealed *spoilers*


The 2018 Fenwick Christmas Department, The Snowman is the theme of the Christmas Windows, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger


It's that time of year again, The Fenwick Christmas gift department is open with huge clues pointing at the theme of this years Christmas window, if you don't want to know what it is, scroll past now...

Okay, if you remained, Looby and I think it's....The Snowman, in fact we're 99% confident, why?

Well, one, we were talking to a staff member yesterday who had been told that the pop up cafe was a huge clue (it's called The Snowman cafe) and two, it's the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs and Fenwick have lots of things devoted to that special event in their new Christmas gift department which this year, is in the basement.

Looby and I wandered around the Christmas department yesterday feeling that something was amiss, we can't put our finger on it but it seemed unfinished, it's certainly bigger now that it's taken over the basement but it just didn't feel as Christmassy as in previous years when it was on the second floor.

There are wooden frames up all around the department that look like they're a shell which need things attaching to, now either they've gone for a minimalistic look (awful, please never do it again) or they're not completing it until the windows are revealed in around 3 weeks from now (too late, the game is up, you might as well just do it).


I do think Fenwick have had an issue ever since they started having a dedicated Christmas gift department as it always reveals what the windows are going to be, even when they're trying to be all secret squirrel about it.  Looby and I of course are the great detectives and judges of all things Christmas being that we are possibly Newcastle's biggest fans of Christmas.


One thing Fenwick are doing differently this year is a whole new Santa's Rooftop experience, it sounds so exciting so after checking that it would still be age appropriate for Looby and I we've booked to go on November 5th home education comes in really helpful sometimes as most of the peak dates at weekends are already sold out.  Apparently if you're in Newcastle, you can already see signs that Santa's house is being erected upon the roof.  I can't even tell you how excited we are to go up there, not only for the experience but also for the epic views of Newcastle, it's £11.50 per person but it promises to last around 45 minutes to an hour so not too bad for Looby and I although if you're a big family I guess it's not the cheapest activity especially when in previous years a visit to Santa in Fenwick has always been a free activity.

Just to say, in case you're wondering, I wasn't paid to write this, it's not collaborative and Looby and I have bought our own tickets, we're just massive Christmas fans and assessing Christmas departments really has become our self given jobs at this time of year.

In conclusion, you can bet Looby and I will attend this years window unveiling, you can bet we'll queue like 5 year olds and take photos of every window and we really hope that we did spy the Christmas department in an unfinished state, it is after all only the start of the 3rd week of October.  if it is the finished article though, well, we might just have to jump on a train to Edinburgh to see Jenners in all it's glory in just a few weeks time.


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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I am everything and I am nothing - A Post for World Mental Health Day 2018

Mandy Charlton, a post for world mental health day 2018, depression, anxiety, bipolar, photographer, writer, blogger



Today is World Mental Health Day, a day when we raise awareness and understanding of mental health and I personally believe we've made more progress in the last 10 years than ever before.  The first news article I was featured in talking about bipolar caused me to lose business but now more than ever most people I know, clients, family, friends, pretty much all of them are aware of the personal battles I continue to fight, they also know it doesn't make me a worse person in business or in my personal life.  Because I have the ability to talk about my own issues in a public forum it also helps to create an understanding that I am who I say I am and if I'm not doing so well I will let people know, that's actually part of my own self care.

Bipolar, severe anxiety, agoraphobic thoughts, social anxiety, autistic traits, that's how you could describe me and I'd own every single thing because I'm also brilliant, slightly eccentric, a business woman, a mum, a friend, an entrepreneur, I own 2 companies and one beagle, I laugh, I cry, I love, I feel, I am everything and I am nothing all at the same time.

On days when I'm on top form, I am great at making money, I am fantastic at coming up with new ideas, I can speak in public passionately without any fear, heck I can even do a spot on the radio.

On the bad days, I worry about everything, I overthink everything, I'm scared of the world, I'm terrified of people and I'm paranoid that every single person out there hates me, I dread opening emails, I can't pick up the phone and I want to hide from the world forever without ever having to think about the simplest things like cooking or getting dressed or even getting out of bed.

I favour the good days over the bad although I have no choice which is going to hit me, sometimes it's situations I can't handle, sometimes it's work stress but sometimes it's none of that, sometimes I just feel so very very lost and completely lonely and the worst thing, those are the times when I have trouble reaching out and asking for help, the crazy upside down life of mental illness is that the more poorly you become, the more you feel trapped, that's when it's hardest.

I'm lucky, on the neurosis to psychosis scale I've never tripped into anything near psychosis since 2003 and I hope I never do again because that's when it's a quagmire, that's when you feel you are trapped at the bottom of a well with no way of escape.

I write about this stuff because there are others out there who can't, there are people who still don't feel they have the strength to talk about this stuff or they feel if they do it will affect their jobs or the lives they lead and in some cases we do have a way to go in the workplace understanding the effects of mental illness.

Today, I'm okay, I'm fighting a battle at the moment but it's not affecting my work at all and when I'm not at work I get to sleep lots, I don't go out very often but on the self care scale, I'm so much better than I could be.  I'm still funny and make people laugh, I can still have deep and meaningful conversations with friends and family and spending less time going out I have reacquainted myself with my love of cooking and baking, I try to turn each negative into a positive and one day I'll win again, I know I will and if you're in a similar place, if you understand what I'm saying and you feel it too, one day you will be fine too, with help and love and treatment and understanding.  Just don't sit there in silence, reach out to a friend, a mental health professional or there's always a listening ear here with me.

And when you can, continue to burn light the brilliant, bright burning star that you are.
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