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, April 16, 2019

The Transformation of My Outdoor Living Space

Just lately I've undertaken the epic task of transforming my outdoor living space, to some they'd call it a tiny back garden but to me, it's the place I live as soon as the temperature rises enough to actually not be outdoors without getting a chill!

I love my garden, it's tiny, it's urban but it's mine, there's nothing I love more than an afternoon pottering around the flowerbeds but this year for me is special, this is the year I want to complete the project and that takes work.

First we cleared the garden, thankfully Looby helped as we transformed what was a complete mess after winter and the reorganisation of my home, when we got to February and the garden was piled high with black bags and old stuff just waiting to go to the tip I was grateful for the help of friends to get it removed.

Next came, the hard work turning over the soil and planting vegetables and fruits so that we can be more self-sufficient, as a complete aside, this is the first time I've ever grown mushrooms and I've impressed myself with my ability to grow mould!

I digress, back to the outdoor space, so far I've planted Potatoes, Spinach, Rocket, Tomatoes, peas, blackcurrants and strawberries and they're all doing pretty well except for the tomatoes which were probably wiped out by the recent early morning snow, yes, I still have a lot to learn about gardening.  The thing is though, I always loved gardening, my parents had a back garden many would have envied and I continued gardening as I moved into my own house.

 Then I met Paul and for many years he took care of things because that's his job, he's a professional gardener so having to think about the dirty bits, the bits where you can encounter crawly things or get stabbed by prickly bushes, well I didn't really enjoy those bits.  Let me tell you, recently when I opened the bottom of the compost bin to be confronted with cobwebs, I quickly put the door back on and there it may stay until my next brave moment (could be never) arises.

I have donned gardening gloves though and gotten my hands dirty and it's actually so fulfilling to be able to transform your own space.  One of the main things I've changed was removing both boring big bins from my back garden to put them around to the front door space which no one ever uses, we live in a weird street and literally, the only person who ever comes to the front door is the postman.  We have no garden just a little pavement with no boundary apart from a small brick wall to the side so it's the perfect place which doesn't get any sun to store both bins and it's given me an extra 2 metres of usable garden with no fear of sitting out having to smell a stinky bin when the heat hits in mid-summer.

This month brought great excitement as the arbour I had been saving for, (for almost 2 years since I first spotted it on Amazon) finally arrived, I cannot tell you how happy this had made me and at every opportunity I have been out there sitting in it, it turns out it shelters you completely from the wind so I've already managed a couple of afternoons just whiling away the hours.

I've also just bought a Chiminea after several weeks of thought about what to do with a small firepit I had and also wanting to buy a bigger BBQ because I cook outside as often as possible during the fairer months of the year.  The compromise of a Chiminea seems perfect because it's a grander way to keep warm whilst also offering a grill which swings out

I've also been working out what we can do with our path, at first I thought I would gravel it but that would involve raising the height of the path, and chopping a bit off the gate and really, it took an hour and 3 people to get two hanging baskets attached to the fence!!  I fell down a Pinterest rabbit hole to find beautiful painted concrete paths and so that's what I'm going to do, multi-coloured bright squares of happy colours which should last all year around.  Looby also wants to paint the arbour but I'm happy to keep it just as it is, at least for a little while.

The next steps are to either bark or put slate chippings on the garden to make it look prettier and help suppress the weeds, I don't get too many but when feeding the birds they're always dropping seeds and trying to start their own Wimbledon-esque lawns and I seriously do not have room for lawn!

I also want 1 more chair, probably an egg chair which will sit outside the door to the left, there's just enough space if I juggle a little and yesterday a kind person brought me some bricks which I've edged the left side of the garden with, I'd like to grow succulents in the small brick holes so that's yet another project for summer and my path, as I've already discussed, I just hate it but if I don't paint it, I haven't a clue what to do with, in a perfect world I'd have pebbles and wooden slats as a pathway but I think it might be too complicated to achieve on my own, I'm getting quite good at gardening but I'm a long way from being Alan Tichmarsh!


Monday, April 08, 2019

Hunt The Double Yolker with HARIBO #AD

Have you heard about Haribo's great competition to win a premium UK family break with Forest Holidays?  I've collaborated with Haribo (and Looby) to try and find our very own double yolker amongst promotional packs of the family favourite, Haribo Starmix.  Haribo have hidden double yolker sweets and I'm guessing if you find one you'll be jumping up and down with excitement!

Haribo kindly sent us a whole kit of stuff and we had our very own "double yolker" hunt in the back garden.

First of all Looby was blindfolded and lead to the bottom of the garden after I had secreted the magical Haribo in small pots around our garden.  We may not have a huge back garden but that doesn't mean we can't go on a huge magical Easter adventure.

After de-masking I handed her a magnifying glass just in case any smaller spaces needed thorough investigation.

At the start of the egg timer, she went about the task of uncovering as many Haribo as she could checking for "double yolkers" everywhere, she was under strict instructions not to eat them before checking!!

Picking up Poppy Cat for help along the way they searched high and low for the magical prizes.  Black and White cats are not just useful for helping Postman Pat with the post you know!

After examining the haul of delicious Haribo Starmix we worked out that despite there being plenty of the yolkers there were sadly not any double ones.  Looby didn't mind as really she was only interested in eating them.

Holly Bobbins declined to get involved as there were no meat flavoured Haribo but she did consent to becoming a magical Easter Bunny for a little while later on in the day.

Later on we found that the Easter Bunny had been, just look at the size of those footprints, now I can't be sure but it might just be that on Easter Sunday we may just find some good old chocolate Easter Eggs hidden around our house, or maybe we'll even find some more packets of Haribo...

I want to say a huge note of thanks to Haribo for helping me to create a magical experience which returned usually grumpy teen Looby to a temporary state of child-like wonder, we may not have won the holiday but it was 100% worth it for all of the fun that we had.


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What Makes You Happy?

What makes you happy?  It's a question I've mused on for, well about 45 years if I'm honest and I always come back to one thing.  Photographs, well maybe not even photographs just having memories of happy things around me as much as possible, asked me if I wanted to choose some products from their range and it didn't take long to accept.  After all, all of my walls are full from top to bottom with memories.

I remembered that for all I had been on adventures far and wide I hadn't printed a lot recently other than small photographs, I investigated my folders on my iMac (of which there are many, my first 2tb time-capsule was full last year) and remembered the joy of the trips I took to Barcelona, Nice, Lincoln and the Lake District over the last couple of years, it's been a blast, I've made some memories I'll never forget and I've given my children memories that they'll never forget, including the day that Abigail and I had the biggest argument ever in Villefranche-Sur-Mer, I can laugh about it now but blimey, the most beautiful place in the whole world, somewhere I'd wanted to visit since seeing Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in "An Affair to Remember" and we had a 3 hour spell of angriness, strops and no one speaking to each other!!  Funnily enough I don't have many photos of that day, not because of the argument but because there are no photos of Villefranche-sur-mer which reflect just how beautiful it is to the naked eye.

I think photographs are a reminder of memories for me, it's not about the best photographs or some great piece of art, it's simply a reminder of a moment in your life when things were good, or fun, or beautiful, the times when your heart felt full and your soul felt happy.  I've been lucky to record moments of my children's life since Looby was a few months old and I fell in love with photography, I always loved photographs but it brings a new meaning when you have the ability to capture life yourself, it's like having the power to hold this immense piece of history or future history and that's one of the reasons I started blogging 13 years ago.

Life isn't always a happy, joyful thing, there are daily stresses, my health can be a dodgy old thing and so for those days, having a catalogue of amazing memories I can look at just by walking around my house is an incredible gift.

I had a lot of fun choosing Canvases, acrylic prints and even a blanket with the ever adorable Holly Bobbins on and the amount you can get for not very much is incredible, whats more if you enter MANDYCHARLTONPHOTO at the checkout you'll get 15% off the already discountedprices

I think I started a trend off as I've now introduced Harriet, Rachel and Steph to the company and they've all been buying their canvases from photos they've taken of their own personal memories so don't just take my word for it.

I have to also say that I wasn't quite sure how a blanket of an Instagram photo would come out in real life but it's amazing and to have a blanket with Holly on that I can always have near me forever, well that's something really special.

Disclaimer - I received some free products from in exchange for talking about them, my friends bought their own upon my recommendation and seeing the products and I'm continuing to use the company because the colours match, the products are lovely and they're also really good value for money!


Monday, March 18, 2019

When your teen tells you they're gay

Last week was a week I'll never forget, it was the week that Looby chose to tell me in her own special way that she is gay!

The event went like this...

A text message which said "Come to the shoe cupboard"

A coming out cake, what to do when your teen tells you they're gay, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I went down to the shoe cupboard and there she was sitting in the cupboard holding out a cake which she'd just baked and decorated, on the top of the cake it said (in rainbow coloured icing of course) "I'm Gay".   Now for anyone who knows Looby, she's my quirky comedy child so when she followed that by asking "Can I come out of the cupboard now?"  I burst out laughing and replied "I think you mean the closet?"

After that I asked her if she was sure, if she might be bi-sexual or pan sexual but she said no, she's definitely gay and she's known for a year.  I cried, she cried and I told her "Looby, you can be anything you want to be, just don't be a moron" and gave her the biggest hug.

Abigail had known since just after Christmas and Iain simply said "oh, okay" followed by his two best friends asking if they could be Looby's gay Godparents.  We ate cake and inside me, I was just so full of pride (no pun intended) because it must be something quite difficult to come to terms with when you're a teenager, societal norms still mostly evolve around hormones meaning you'll be attracted to the opposite sex, in fact, thank goodness she's no longer at a Catholic school where gay relationships aren't talked about at all and in fact, they're still seen as wrong.

The thing is, I've brought my children up around the best of all people, I've never worried about anything other than not bringing them up around morons and they've seen straight people who are terrible at relationships and LGBTQi+ people who've had long lasting, beautiful relationships.  

I actually thought we were moving into a world where there is no prejudice but two of my children's friends lately have told me that their parents didn't support them coming out or that they can't tell their parents because they'll be angry or worse and to me, that's such a sad statement, in fact I've told them they can live in my cupboards if necessary.

I don't know why we live in a world that still judges people on their sexuality, surely the only thing that should define you are your actions and ergo, just don't be a dick!

I know now, as I've always known and told my kids, that I don't care what they do, who they are, as long as they're happy.

I did have a more serious chat with Looby just to make sure she's okay, she doesn't need, help or advice from friends or organisations but she's so zen with her own self that I can't fail to be proud of her.

I do have to admit something though and it's just between us, when she told me, somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear myself thinking "gay, but, but, you're little Looby, aren't you still 3 years old and only thinking about horses" . The realisation that even my baby is now a grown up makes me feel, very, very old!

Monday, March 11, 2019

7 Gifts for Mother's Day your mum really wants

It's Mother's Day on the 31st of March and I for one shall be taking the day off.  I'm not sure what ideas my girls have in mind but you can bet, their list is different to my list of things I'd really like if money were no object.  I've compiled a list of just a few things which might not be exactly what you would expect for Mother's Day gifts but they're definitely things for mums like me!

1. Personalised Pillows from Nanu - Now I'm not talking about monogrammed pillows I'm talking about a website that you go to, Nanu, you then put in details about how hard or soft you want your pillows to be, which position you sleep in and your height and weight and you get your own customised pillows sent.  I can honestly say since mine arrived I've not woken up with neck ache once!  They even have a buy one get one free offer at the moment.  Go on, treat mum to a great nights sleep!

2. A smart home security camera system from Blink.  Okay, so this isn't the most romantic gift ever but you know what, I've been trying to catch photos of a cheeky squirrel who comes into my garden and pinches the birds nuts and this is the answer, it's motion activate and either sends you video clips or high res photos and it's brilliant for watching the birds.  Still haven't seen that pesky squirrel though!!  On a serious note, we live in a 3 storey house and we've had a couple of incidents we needed to get the police for, if we'd just had this security footage it would be have totally changed what happened afterwards, you owe it to yourself to keep you and your family safe.

3.  This collagen duo pack from Higher Nature is a welcome addition to my beauty routine, containing not only a serum but also a collagen filled drink I'm hoping that by the end of the month I'll be looking more like 25 than 45.  Okay, so I know, miracles don't come in bottles but at my age, I'd like to at least give my skin every chance to age more slowly and gracefully.

4.  This Mandala Travel mug from Spark your Bloom is perfect for those early morning double Nespresso Lattes I like to make but that's not the best part, this one also comes with paints so you can design your own colourful mandala or maybe get the small ones in your life to come up with something extra special just for you.

5.  Okay so no mum, and definitely not me, is ever going to refuse chocolates and these vegan chocolates from Yumbles also happen to be vegan and gluten free as well as a totally tasty treat to say thank you to a mum who's suitably amazing.  (Abigail, Looby, your mama is looking at you )

6.  Now you know, all mums love photos, well, not all mums but I love them, I'm going to be posting about my love for them in my next blogpost so this is really just a taster but if your mum loves photos I can't recommend highly enough for canvases, photos and all manner of gifts, I've even got a blanket with Holly Bobbins on, I'll leave that to show you in my next blog post though!  You can also get 15% off your next order with the code MANDYCHARLTONPHOTO and it's so worth having because this discount is valid on the already discounted prices.

7. Critically endangered socks actively save animals and the landscapes which they live in to protect them from things like palm oil plantations and loggers, it's such important work they're doing and you get soft beautiful socks made from sustainable bamboo, they're also just about to launch a kickstarter where buying socks will help save baby animals, it's probably my favourite gift and they've found a new customer in me because as i'm sure you all know, my family and I, we all adore animals and often adopt them through various schemes so this means we can buy socks and we know, we've saved animals in the process, it's a gift mum will adore.

I want to thank all of the companies who've helped with this gift guide, who've taken the time to get in touch and then send through the carefully selected products which I've received in exchange for writing the guide.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

I watched only the news channels for one month, here's what happened.

Mandy Charlton, I watched only the news channels for one month, here's what happened,photographer, writer, blogger

I've always loved watching the news, I get my updates from many channels to try and get an unbiased view but I'll be honest, mostly on TV I stick to Sky News and the BBC News Channel.  I was feeling a little overwhelmed and had a massive case of brain fog so I decided instead of just catching up on the news for an hour a day I would switch to only watching the news (there is a caveat, I do occasionally watch movies, documentaries and of course Crazy Ex Girlfriend on Netflix) and for the most part, I can tell you, it's been such a good experience.

It's not just that I am now hyper-aware of everything that's going on in the world but my brain fog has dissipated and I feel more intelligent.  I'm also an expert on Brexit and the goings on in Parliament and I've spoken about it on my own social media in an effort to pass on the news in an easy to digest way.

I've started having much better chats with my teenagers and I think even Looby is soaking it in by osmosis, she attests that she doesn't like the news but she knows what Brexit is and who leads which political parties,  a year ago and I don't think I could have said the same thing.

It's funny isn't it?  We spend so much time sitting at our desks, scrolling through social media and all that happens is that it essentially kills our brain.  We lose our awareness of what's actually going on in the world's current affairs and we start to obsess over what's going to happen to Julie's cat or what will Michael have for lunch today.

Now whilst I can't say that I hate social media, I'd be a fool to do so, after all, when it's the way I make some of my income.  I can say that being permanently attached to it, isn't a wholly good thing.  Nor is sitting at your desk working and not getting any information from external places.

I can honestly say I absolutely love the news channels, yes, they may repeat the headlines a billion times every day but if you look past that there are great shows about politics, about the arts, in depth travel shows, consumer affairs programmes, and yesterday watching the Michael Cohen testimony, it was better than the best drama, I literally could not stop watching, the scandal, the revelations, hard to believe he was actually talking about the leader of the free world!

I'm an all or nothing type of girl so I guess I do things to extremes but I would advise you to at least tune into the news channel just a couple of times a day and catch up with what's really going on in the world.  I did at points worry it would trigger my depressive thoughts but actually, being hyper aware just made me more determined and I feel more informed so that I'm not scared of everything that is going on on the world, I'm just prepared for whatever happens.  I mean, yeah, I could probably terrify people with some of the absolute hard facts of what could happen in a no-deal Brexit but I'm now as prepared as I can be and I put that down completely to having this new awareness of what's going on in politics.

I realise I've always been a newshound, after all I've even written for the Huff Post several times but even if you aren't, maybe just tune in for a while and listen to what's going on beyond those few headlines, you may just get a surprise and learn a few new things.

A short note about my absence from my blog -  I have now been missing in action for more than half a month though if you follow me on Instagram you'll also know that I haven't just been hiding under a blanket, I've genuinely been working on things and sometimes it seems like Instagram is the new blog so please do, come follow me on there!

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.
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