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

Monday, January 13, 2020

Kitchen renovation on a budget



iris the cat in the kitchen of Mandy Charlton's home, photographer, blogger, kitchen renovation on a budget
My kitchen as it is currently



I've always been really self-conscious about my home, I was told over and over that it wasn't good enough or that it was smelly or dirty or what on earth did I think I was doing, or even that people would report me for the state of my home.  It affected my mental health so badly that for a period of 7 years I wouldn't let anyone visit at all.  The more it's reinforced by narcissists who believe you are always failing to be what they want you to be, the more you start to believe it.  I remember a friend coming over on the night my marriage broke down and I wouldn't even let her in the house and sat in the garden!  I started to travel a lot, always running away from my home, never wanting to be there and dreading my return because I was so uncomfortable in my own space.

I'm not sure what the change was but it definitely had something to do with Harriet who would come over whether you wanted her to or not, I also started to get friends and visited their houses and realised that most people don't live in palaces whilst I was Stig of the dump but rather that I had a pretty normal house in the big scheme of things.  If I went back at told my old self that I would be sharing photos of my home on my blog or my Instagram I would have laughed at myself.  Here I am though, sharing the story of my home renovations and photos of my favourite corners of my home on Instagram.

I have come to understand that I am something of a boho maximalist in interior design.  I like things, I like unmatched things, I love colour and patterns which don't necessarily go together in practice but actually all end up looking okay as a collection in my home.

Now I want to keep this real and say that no one is looking at my home and thinking it's some kind of aspirational dream, I spend hours pouring over some beautiful homes and interiors on Instagram and Pinterest but I know they're as far away from what I want as I can imagine.  Grey is the trend currently and I love grey, having the courage to have your entire house in shades of grey a la Mrs Hinch, is something I aspire to but something I also know just isn't me because I love colour too much.  I'm also a single mum on a tight budget, self-employed single parenting does not make great fortunes as yet but even if it did, I love the fun of thrifted items, of charity shops and of quirky handmade markets. I am a bargain hunter and I'm never happier than when I'm standing in Homesense surrounded by the colours and quirky objects that make a house a home.

I'm actually quite happy to let people into my home now though it's far from finished and I have a lady called Lisa who helps around the house on Tuesdays who I love dearly and she's become a friend as well as someone who has saved me from myself on more than one occasion.

My house right now is a work in progress, nothing is really finished, everything is in a state of flux, my downstairs loo was nearly done and then someone knocked the washbasin off the wall and when that was repaired the tiles were removed and I've still not worked out how to put them back on.
My magical garden over the festive period

Last year though, I started making big changes, I transformed my garden from being your average tiny Yarden into something which I think is really special (although at the moment it's more of a wintery dead mess).  The project ended up looking exactly the same in real life as it did in my head and so that's given me the confidence to start making some really big changes.

The colours I've chosen for my kitchen


Next Monday I am having the kitchen completely revamped, I couldn't afford a new kitchen but then I found a guy on Facebook who does vinyl kitchen wraps, now I could have had the entire room wrapped in grey but as I've already said, I love colour so I'm having it wrapped in Yellow, Blue and Pink and I cannot wait, the benches are staying but will be wrapped at a later date with an off white with a slight sparkle and I also want to change the lighting and the taps on the sink, I need help with those things and a bit more of a January budget so I've decided to go for it this year and try and shoot 30 weddings, I shot just over 20 last year and did a bloody good job so I'm hoping all of that leads to an increase in bookings and going by January so far, it certainly seems that way.  (Hurray!).

The very rough draft of how the kitchen cabinets will look after they've been wrapped.


I'm also installing a fake living wall at one end of the kitchen and then I have a big blank wall to fill, haven't decided on what colour that's going to be or what kind of wall covering but I am excited and hopefully it'll be distinctly different by the time I throw my birthday party on the first of February.  If there's one thing I know about my friends is that no one ever makes it upstairs because you will always find them in the kitchen at parties 🥳 
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Saturday, January 04, 2020

How to beat the January Blues Forever

How to beat the january blues forever, new year 2020, mandy charlton, photographer, blogger
At some point during the festive season, it's not unknown to wake up with a sudden feeling of anxiety or just feeling out of sorts, blue or weepy. January is like the evil twin of Christmas, it's the antithesis to joy, it's the return to routine, the return to boring food, messages in the media that we're not enough and failed resolutions. Here's the thing though, maybe it's Christmas which has a dark side, we're convinced we should eat all of the wrong foods, we're lulled into thinking it's better to be indoors for days at a time and even worse, sometimes with the most toxic people you've ever known (aka family).
I'm trying to love January more, I'm resetting my body today with some chicken, brown rice and green vegetables, it will taste healthy and I will curse the fact I'm not eating cake approximately 23 times but I made a promise to myself and to my liver consultant that I would lose at least 10% of my body weight before I see her again at the end of March, It's probably going to be a big ask to have gotten that far but I'm willing to give it a try. A few friends are joining me on the "Grumpy Girl's Lifestyle". We called it that because we'll be super grumpy if anyone asks if we're on a diet when we're actually just on a quest to change our lives and maybe you can join in too?
The concept is simple, get outdoors more, up your exercise, we're not talking Mo Farrah type marathons just moving a bit more. When it comes to food, something I struggle with because I love carbs and cake, it's just about cutting down a little, especially on cake and carbs, I've done it before and I know I have the power to do it again. I'm not going mad though, I'm not going on any crazy cleanse plans or doing sugar-free (which worked but wasn't at all sustainable on the long term). I'm just having a word with myself and generally trying to be a little more restrained than my festive self when we all say "Ah, sod it, it's Christmas" (for at least 3 months in my case).
Routine isn't a bad thing either, I go back to work on Tuesday and although my office isn't actually that far away from my bed I am making it my own personal resolution to get dressed every day, preferably before lunch as I'll be honest, Holly Bobbins also prefers an earlier morning walk before she gets down to the serious business of snoozing, beagle style. My mental health and anxiety can generally be at it's worst over the winter with the lack of light and the quietness of my photography business but I've decided that this year I'll enjoy the slower pace of life and I shall try to get outdoors as often as possible as being out in nature, once I actually force myself out of the cosy warmth of my house, is actually really good for me and more importantly for my mind. When I went into the festive season this year I was dreading it, I thought I would crash, burn and have an awful time but for some reason, I really enjoyed all that entailed and even had my best New Years Eve I can ever remember and my first without any alcohol at all, in the past, I've tried to endure alcohol but given that it feels like poison the moment I have 1 sip, this year I probably had 1 bottle of Champagne across the whole of the festive season and I'm happy with that, I am happy being a non-drinker! Whatever plans you have this year or however blue you're feeling right now try to remember that routine isn't a bad thing, the good foods are actually the bad foods in disguise and more than anything else, that you are good enough, you are always good enough, even if you don't believe that you are. Here's to 2020 and just being the same but better!
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Sunday, December 29, 2019

A Decade in review 2010 - 2020

Mandy with her daughter Looby at home in Newcastle upon tyne, photographer, writer, blogger, a decade in review 2010-2020

2020 is just around the corner, the roaring twenties some are calling it, it seems like the blink of an eye since I stood on the Redhugh Bridge with my friends Darren and Neil or as we called him that Christmas (Neilenium).  As the clock struck midnight we wondered what was around the corner, the Y2K bug never actually happened and technologically I think there've been more advancements in the last 20 years than ever before.

In 2010 (and thanks to my blog for being the diary of the last 15 or so years) I'd been in business for 3 years, I was settling in and loving what I was doing, my portraiture didn't really take off until around the end of 2011, just after Facebook introduced advertising, I was an early adopter and I'll always remember Christmas 2011 as the time when I accidentally made £30k in 3 months, I wish I could do that now but when I say FB ads have gotten more expensive, you wouldn't believe just how much more expensive, I've spent over £20k with FB ads in the last decade, if I hadn't, my business would have died long ago.

In April 2010, I'd just renewed my wedding vows, this last decade saw me wake up to the narcissistic abuse and coercive control and finally in 2015 I found my freedom, for the last 5 years I've had freedom from over 40 years of narcissism and although it's cost me highly I wouldn't change it for the world.  No one ever gets angry with me, no one ever tells me what to do or that I can't do something and I'm not even sure I'd take another chance on love, or it would have to be a very special person.  I've still never experienced someone having unconditional love for me and I'm not sure I ever will but at least I know I gave it and tried with all of my heart, to narcissists though, you'll never be good enough, that's one lesson I've learnt.

I don't want to dwell on the bad stuff because if there's been one amazing thing that's happened in the last decade it's that I've embraced my love for travel, I've still never done long haul but I've loved Europe with all of my heart. I even got paid to go on a cruise and be treated like a rockstar thanks to blogging and I shan't be forgetting that in a hurry!  Spain is my favourite country and Barcelona remains my favourite city.  Until you have seen the sunset over Tibidabo you have never really lived.  

In 2010 Looby was just 7 years old and now look at her, she's blossomed into one of the most amazing people on the planet, she's the product of unconditional love and no arguments, yes I annoy her by breathing sometimes but that is the teenage way!  I've never said no to Looby, I've never really needed to, she's such a beautiful individual girl who knows her own mission and has a heart of solid gold, her finest moment this year was to "come out of the cupboard" as she called it after she baked me a cake which said "I'm Gay" now we have to have cake every year on the same day and I'm totally on board with that!

Iain in 2010 was 14 years old, that alone makes me feel old, they continue to be an upstanding person in life too, they've been on their own personal journey with the realisation that they are non-binary, it's been the subject of many conversations and I'm still learning every day about the differences between gendered and non-gendered people, it's been a lot to get my head around but as I told them, as long as they're happy, that's my only wish.  It's something I need to write a complete article about, I just haven't had the time as we've hurtled towards the end of the year but they want me to do it, they freely give me permission so that in the end it will help anyone else (or their parents) who are going through the same thing.  I will say this for now, when we are born, we are formed from chromosomes which give us our assigned sex at birth, but that's far from how we can feel inside ourselves, gender is like a piece of string, we're all a little bit male or female or both or neither, non-binary is most opposite to genderqueer, Iain wishes their pronouns to be they and them and I respect that whole-heartedly.

Whilst we are on the subject of life-changing, 6 years ago, 4 little paws wandered into my kitchen, I fell in love immediately and Holly Bobbins has been my four-pawed best friend ever since, I've also rescued, or adopted several cats in that time, some who are no longer with us, a sad part of pet ownership but which teaches us just how precious life really is.

Speaking of friends, 10 years ago I hadn't met Harriet, I can't remember when that happened but we instantly connected and she's been my best friend and soul sister ever since, when I say we've had some adventures together, we really have, there've been holidays, tequila, dancing until dawn, laughter, crying, love and support and it's something I'll never stop being thankful for, I'm not someone who has a lot of friends (it's hard when you're a socially awkward hermit) but the friendships I do have, I cherish, Stacey, Rachel, Steph, all amazing female friends I've met in the last decade and I should also mention Ron and Steve who I've been friends with for over 20 years now and still see often, scary how time so quickly passes.

I could write more about this decade we're just about to step outside of but we'd be here all year, a decade is a long time to put in one blog post and I guess there are some parts I just don't want to talk about or even think about.  I'd say it's been a wild ride but actually, it's been pretty gentle, well I am now in my mid-forties after all and the wild party days of my twenties are long over, would I do it again if I had the choice?  Erm, no, I like going to bed at a reasonable time and my hips aren't what they used to be.

So 2020, I am ready for you, you're going to be my year, I don't know why, I cannot tell what's going to happen in the future but I am ready for you so come and get me!
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Monday, December 23, 2019

A Festive Break in Edinburgh



4 friends in a car heading to Edinburgh for a festive break, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, christmas


It's the 23rd of December, Christmas Adam or if you're a fan of friends, Christmas Eve, Eve, it literally could not be more festive! After a hard year of work and when I say hard, I mean juggling knives whilst trying to stay upright on an angry polar bear.  Suffice to say, our planned festive break in Edinburgh was well overdue.

Edinburgh, my second city and my favourite city is the best place to be in the festive season, it's jam-packed with stalls selling gluhwein, carousels, food and everything you could possibly need for Christmas.  It's also crammed with people, crowds are found in abundance in Edinburgh in November/December but then, to be honest, Edinburgh is just one of those always busy kinds of cities.

I managed about 3 hours before retreating to the Malmaison in Leith, I'd looked forward to my first stay in a Malmaison forever, I love the decor, I love the ambience, the luxurious hotel carpet and the fact it's dog-friendly (even if Holly Bobbins stayed at home on this occasion, I'm sure she's going to love it on future visits).  I've always loved Leith, it reminds me of Copenhagen and as the birthplace of my father, it's where I really feel my Scottish roots.

This trip was my Christmas present to Harriet and Looby, Looby brought her best friend Abbey too and we managed to get an absolute bargain price on the hotel, I'm not entirely sure why other than the fact that it's Christmas in 2 days time and maybe people are on their way home at this time of year rather than going on little jaunts like me!

One thing we have booked, our highlight for Christmas Eve is a before noon tea at Mim's Bakehouse which is also in the port of Leith, it's the breakfast equivalent to an afternoon tea and I for one, cannot wait, I'm very much a breakfast person, it's my favourite meal of the day, I often skip lunch but I can't ever skip breakfast and if it's a luxury breakfast then I am the most enthusiastic person there, luxurious breakfasts make mornings more bearable.

In truth, we had more plans for today, we'd planned to go back to the city centre to see Edinburgh after dark in all of it's twinkliness but I was overwhelmingly exhausted by five and all I could think of was sitting on a cosy bed watching TV, we did try and go to the cinema to see Frozen 2 but unbelievably every single showing was sold out so I had to console myself with several car-based renditions of "Into the Unknown".

There's something quite special about travelling at this time of year, there's extra magic about it and I don't know why but I can say one thing, tomorrow morning when we make our way back to Newcastle, for the first time in my life, I will actually be able to play "Driving home for Christmas" when we're doing just that.

Merry Christmas everyone, see you all on the other side.  It goes without saying that I'm so thankful that people still stop by to read my ramblings and I'll never stop being grateful for you, yes, you dear reader because you make it worth sitting down a couple of times a week and emptying my brain.



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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Surviving Christmas, mental health in the festive season




Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year, the magic, the promise... The general overwhelm, the anxiety, welcome to Christmas with a mental health challenge.

Christmas isn't just one day anymore, it starts in October and runs through to January, the festive period is more like a festive quarter now.  Don't get me wrong, I am the Northern answer to Mrs Christmas having developed my love of all things festive over many a year but as someone with bipolar, anxiety and who is on the autistic spectrum, Christmas can be a tricky time.  I cry more at Christmas than at any other time of the year because my emotions are heightened to stratospheric levels.  Charity adverts, small children doing sign language to Christmas carols, brass bands, they're my niche triggers, they may sound amusing but when you find yourself sobbing your heart out because of the latest Dogs Trust advert, it's really not that funny. 

Over the years I've written a few articles about managing your Christmas mental health and really I do practice all of the things I mention but I still find the whole period a challenge.  This year I was due to be on my own on Christmas Day because I didn't want to bother anyone else with my depression and I acknowledged that the potential of spending my first Christmas alone would be overwhelming but I've since said I'll go out with Harriet and her parents, people who thankfully have no expectations of me.

Good self-care is the most important thing with any kind of mental health challenge, I know from other bipolar friends how much our sleeping patterns can be disturbed by this time of year even when on the outside we might feel okay, last night, for example, I went to bed at 10, was awake between 1 and 2.30 and then I managed to sleep until half seven which is pretty good in comparison to previous years where I've ended up with mild hypomania and barely slept for the last couple of weeks before Christmas.

There is no easy way to deal with Christmas, all you can do is take precautions so if there's a family relationship that's troubling don't go and spend time in that situation.  If you are lonely, try and accept company and really, I know how much easier it is to just shut yourself away but that's kind of counterintuitive.

Next year I need to work on my current state of self-loathing, I need to work on changing my body and my mind, this year hasn't been the easiest with health issues I still haven't got to the bottom of but I plan to overhaul my life and my body come January when the cheeseboard season is over.

In just over 2 weeks time we get a whole new year, a whole new decade and jeez, I hope it's gentler than the last one, I do know one thing though, at least I have my freedom now, something 10 years ago it was still so far away it would take me another 5 years to escape to, it's cost me a lot, in some cases it's cost me everything but I'd never give it up again.
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Sunday, December 01, 2019

In Celebration of December


In Celebration of December, Mandy Charlton, blogger, photographer, writer


December is the month of crisp frosts, red-hued sunsets, long naps, cosy pyjamas.  It's eating croissants with ham for a lazy lunch on the sofa, it's snuggling under furry blankets watching Christmas movies.  December gives us hope, belief in magic, no matter how old we are, just for a while, against a background of twinkly fairy lights, life is better, people are kinder and that's why it's my favourite month of the year.

I realise December sees the start of winter and believe me, I hate winter but no hearts can fail to be warmed by the presence of warm festive lighting and no guilt about the number of hot chocolates topped with marshmallows and squirty cream.  You cannot fail to get on board with any month which encourages you to eat vast amounts of cheese for every meal, unless you don't like cheese and then really, I'm always slightly suspicious about people who don't like cheese, much like the ones who don't like cake, they're always, in my experience, just that little bit odd.

December is the month when most of the country have time off work together, 50 plus million people all taking naps at once, not worrying about the time of day or indeed what day it actually is because let's face it, that's the joy of Christmas confusion and that's why I love it.  For me, it's the month I finally start to relax, work is hectic from March through to Christmas and the only time I manage to genuinely not think about my businesses is that sacred 2-week break over Christmas.  I used to be available over Christmas, I have in the past photographed weddings and family photoshoots but not for the last couple of years because I find my mental health is so much better if I can truly switch off for 2 weeks.

This year the sacred period is Monday 23rd December until Tuesday 7th January and I cannot wait!

December is also the time of year for my annual Christmas party, I only throw one party a year and it's the highlight of my year, a time to drink champagne with my favourite people, I excel at grazing tables and festive entertaining and last night, the good and the wonderful all gathered together in my home to enjoy, laughs, drinks and a lot of cheese.  Two notable exceptions, Steve and Ron couldn't join us this year and they really were missed this year but sometimes, things like that happen for all kinds of reasons...

I have the best of friends, I reached the point where I was exhausted and as I went off to bed, my friends tidied up before they all went clubbing, taking out a truckle of cheese with them as has become an almost yearly tradition, no one knows quite why but for one night, the cheese really does get to live it's best life.

Today I'll light my advent candle for the first time and I will think of all of the things I'm grateful for, I'll muse about the year's highlights, this year has been a mixed one, it's been my favourite ever year of photographing weddings whilst portraiture has suffered a lot with the wettest year in business I can ever remember, my income has undoubtedly been lower but I've enjoyed more time off so there's always a positive to find in each event.  My health has been wobbly and ultimately I'm still not at the end of that particular journey, I cannot though, do anything whilst I have no answers so it's not worth worrying about.

I may have had a weird relationship with Christmas Day over the last couple of years but I have decided that, thanks to the kindness of Harriet and her family that I will celebrate with them and go to our local pub for Christmas lunch,  Christmas may, for many reasons, not be the one I planned and hoped for with all of my heart but for long as I shall be alive, I will always have magical December's in my heart.
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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Christmas Gift Guide - The Stocking Fillers Edition {ad - gift guide}

Popcorn Shed Jingle bell pop, features 6 different varieties of popcorn and although this is more of an advent gift than a stocking filler, I'm sure your popcorn loving family member will love this thoughtful gift, who wouldn't love to have popcorn for breakfast every day.  They also have lots of other fabulous popcorn based presents for all of the family this Christmas



Haribo Christmas Giftsets, is it even Christmas if you can't eat your whole weight in Haribo before breakfast?  Haribo make the best stocking fillers and little gifts to make everyone happy this Christmas


Blog Favourites Derwent have released a whole new range with Christmas gifting in mind like this tropical gift tag colouring set suitable for adults or older children, a perfect time filler for the long Christmas holidays.


On Christmas Eve, one of our family traditions is to burn a Christmas Eve scented candle and this year it's going to be this amazing Willow and Finn candle which, take it from me, smells just like Christmas Eve should


another returning company to the blog and the 2020 cooks diary is sure to offer up some hearty recipes as well as keeping you organised in the new year


Sometimes you just need a little lift which isn't chocolate-based, Gregory's Tree have that in mind with their organic strawberry fruit twists, perfect for stocking fillers which aren't sweetie based.


Every year we purchase a new board game  to play after Christmas dinner, with the hope we'll manage to stay awake enough to see out the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special, this year it's Relative Insanity from Interplay and as they say on the box, you can pick your nose but you can't pick your family


If you don't know what to get for your nearest and dearest, why not get them this stocking filler from Red Letter Days, it's filled with 2625 experiences they can choose from, no complaints if you're choosing your own gift!


I had hoped to get Holly Bobbins to pose next to this Christmas stocking from Harrow and Green but unfortunately, she was too busy sleeping after a busy day greeting her public, you can be sure however that she will be delighted to find this personalised stocking on Christmas morning.


I can confirm I tested the Samsung galaxy buds the moment they arrived and without a doubt the sound is amazing, the clarity of the sound is pitch-perfect and they're going to make a lot of people very happy if they find these in their Christmas stocking on Christmas Day


Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without good wine and this south African sauvignon blanc from the South Africa House of Wine is the perfect wine to accompany the festive season


Christmas is of course, also a time when we like to have a little liqueur after dinner or maybe mix it with our favourite champagne and this Cranes Liqueur is going to be perfect for that, it's cranberry and  blood orange flavour is sure to make the best cocktails at this years Christmas Party


High-tech Welsh firm Litelok has launched the world's lightest secure bike lock, ‘Litelok Silver’.
Coming in three wearable sizes, it’s a premium, durable, bike lock that’s been engineered for security using a unique patented material and hardened aerospace-grade steel alloy.  Perfect for when Looby cycles on her various adventures.


The Design Trust Diary Planner 2020 is the perfect present for your entrepreneurial friend to help them smash business next year, it's the diary which helps you focus on the things that matter and with this by your side you can focus on the most important things in your business next year.


This mini tree is the stuff that Christmas dreams are made of, I love, living presents, ones you can keep forever and this mini Christmas tree from Blossoming gifts will be planted in the garden at the end of the festive period to live out a long and happy life in my green border.


It is the party season and to help you to shine, we hope you'll find one of these T-Zone glitter masks in your Christmas stocking from Santa this year because great skin is everything and you deserve to sparkle!

If you're a dog owner like me you'll know all about misplacing the dog leads, I leave them everywhere but thanks to this beautiful slate lead holder from I Just Love It losing Holly Bobbins leads is no longer an issue.
So that's it, the last of my Christmas 2019 gift guides and I hope that you've more than enough ideas for gifting the most special people in your lives this Christmas, if you've missed my previous guides, you can see my bumper guide here and my foodies guide here


If like me you are always losing things and you need some way of finding them without calling upon the finder of the lost things, you can get Tile in sticker form this year, just stick it to your valuable possessions and then call them if you lose them, gotta love technology!


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