Newcastle Photographer and Content Creator, Mandy Charlton, Always on a quest for adventure, often seen on buses, trains and planes. On a quest to be happier and healthier. Lives in Newcastle with her 3 cats, Iris, Maggie and Arthur. Loves good vibes, musicals and cakes. Full time professional wedding photographer in the north east of england alongside content creator on Tiktok, Instagram and Facebook

Monday, February 26, 2018

A worrying time for an outdoor business...

A worrying time for an outdoor business, my new face, mandy charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger
Spring, do you even remember what that was?  It's the start of Meteorological spring on Thursday and it's forecast to snow every single day this week, I mean, really?  What fresh level of Hell is this?  I thought I had prepared for winter, I had savings so that I could take most of January off and then I've worked on only a couple of occasions outdoors during February and now I can't even take on work for this weekend because I know that outdoor sunny photo shoots are more than unlikely.  I may yet offer snowy sessions but we'll see how it goes, I'm not sure prolonged exposure to temperatures which feel like -15c is a good idea

It's certainly a worrying time for business owners like me who need to be outdoors, I guess I'm lucky in that I can still do things from home and I have other areas of business I can work on, I can't imagine it's very much fun if your whole business eco system depends on decent weather though.

My life in general at the moment is pretty brilliant minus the irksome weather, my face is settling down after Friday's Facelift and I'm happier with no filters than I've been for a long time, it was even noticed on Saturday night , I guess it's easier for others to see it rather than me although I can definitely notice subtle differences, there are a couple of tiny areas I'm going to discuss with Dr Uzma and her team at my next appointment at the Queensway Skin Clinic but it was always the plan to be sensitive and then be topped up because it's much easier to have a little more than it is to start taking the fillers out again.  The swelling has completely gone now which is amazing and more than ever I'm trying to work on getting to the cause of Rosacea and although I know there's no cure I know there are products out there which can help massively.

This really was just a quick update, It's hard to write every day when life is going so well as it's not necessarily interesting for you to read articles which just say, life is good, life continues to be good, there's nothing groundbreaking and there are no huge plans, it's just nice though, steady and good and though there are some things I don't really talk about here, I will say that life is personally pretty perfect right now, I'm smiling a lot these days!


Saturday, February 24, 2018

What's it really like to have dermal fillers?

My face 24 hours after a non surgical facelift with juvederm dermal fillers at the queensway skin clinic, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

If you've been following me on Instagram you may have already seen my stories sharing my progress on my non-surgical facelift journey, yesterday was the day of my appointment, I had Juvederm dermal fillers injected into my face at the Queensway Skin Clinic in Jesmond  and though it's too early to really reveal the final results I thought it might be handy to discuss how it really was, what happens at the appointment and how you're going to feel afterwards.

I don't think anyone should go ahead with this procedure without serious thought, you are after all about to have needles and catheters inserted in your face and whilst Dr Uzma Olbrich and her team are amazing, you should know that there are risks, I read through the consent forms three or four times so that I knew exactly the treatments I was about to undertake, let's just say, the decision to  alter with your face should never be taken lightly.  Thankfully Dr Uzma and her team made sure I was so well informed both at the first consultation and then again before any needles were inserted in my face.

So, I arrived at the practice and the first thing they did was take some photos with a macro ring flash, this helps the practitioner really see where the issues are and also it's a good record of your face before the treatment.  After the photos comes 15- 20 mins of sitting with a good cup of coffee whilst waiting for the numbing cream to work on your face.  This makes treatment much more comfortable although you should note that they are sticking cannulas and needles in your face so it's not completely pain free, I actually found it to be uncomfortable more than painful if that makes sense.

So after drawing on your face to mark out the treatment areas the first needles are inserted, you'll find they use a mix of needles and cannulas so they can direct the Juvederm gel into the right areas, I had a mix of Juvederm Voluma which is a non surgical cheek filler and I also had some Juvederm Volift which is lifting like the name suggests.

I would say the only really uncomfortable bit was on either side of my nose, V ouchie but it was the last bit and bearable, probably not quite as bad as an eyebrow wax really and I'm not hard as nails just in case you are wondering.  In fact I hate needles so I closed my eyes throughout.

The whole treatment probably lasted around 45 mins and the effects of dermal fillers can be immediate though I have to be honest, I couldn't tell any difference at all apart from the swelling and redness.

What Happens Next?

Afterwards you're advised to take it easy for the rest of the day and because there's local anaesthetic in the fillers you're face feels pretty weird, it feels tight and not quite your own and it's a challenge not to touch your skin for 6 hours.  You're also told to wear no makeup for the next 12 hours and it was a blessed relief to cover up my rosacea today.  You also can't lie down for 6 hours and I can't have a facial or massage for at least 2 weeks.  Today my face feels a little tender and a bit bumpy in places but that's just the swelling going down and the fillers settling.  The next 2-3 weeks is really going to be where the magic happens.  Firstly the fillers will settle and they'll also send signals to my own collagen to start producing again and my face should regain a fuller texture.  

I have to admit that I can't really see a difference at all, it is sensitively done though and I'm going back in 3 weeks when we'll decide if I need a top up  but when the work is complete (I know, I sound like I'm having building work done) I'm promised I'll look rested, younger and like I've had a really good holiday.

I'm not sure what I really expected straight after, I have joked that I would wake up looking like Amanda Holden but sadly I'm still me.  If I can look in the mirror in 3 weeks though and see myself how my face looked in my late 30's when I didn't feel the need to use filters then they'll have done their job.

I think it's very hard when you are having stuff like this done, you check in the mirror every few hours to see if the magic has happened yet but really I think it's only going to be in a few weeks that I'll look at one of the photos I took just after and be able to see any big changes or big to me, not big, it's supposed to be subtle after all.

I am being given a non-surgical facelift in exchange for telling my story and I'm so grateful to Doctor Uzma and all of her team for helping me reach my true potential and helping me to look into the mirror and see the best version of myself which at 44 isn't a bad thing at all.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How not to behave at a Sage Gateshead concert

Royal Northern Sinfonia at Sage Gateshead, How not to behave at a concert, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, NE recommends, Nights out in Newcastle
My beloved RNS, please note, I'm not breaking any rules here, this was before the performance hence empty seats

I'm very lucky to freelance for a couple of fabulous north east sites reviewing concerts and events, namely NE Recommends and Nights Out In Newcastle, mostly at grown up, fabulous venue Sage Gateshead and occasionally at the Theatre Royal or the Whitley Bay Playhouse.  Last year I saw more music performances than I'd seen in my whole entire life, The Bootleg Beatles playing Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club, The Beach Boys, Elaine Paige and it's pretty well known that I am the original Royal Northern Sinfonia fan girl, I love live music.  I love orchestra's performing live, for me, the RNS can do no wrong, they could play the alphabet and they would still make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.  I'm quite alright to miss ASMR which irritates the life out of me, just give me an orchestra performing music I love and I'm in Heaven.

Sage Gateshead is in my opinion one of the most splendid music venues in the whole world, indeed it was Ben Folds who called it one of the four best symphony halls in the whole world, it attracts all kinds of performers from the world of classical music right through to pop, each concert is unique and brings it's own kind of audience, it's not a shouting, getting drunk and trying to crowd-surf type of venue although on certain occasions certain audience members have seemed to think that's exactly what it is.  Behaving badly at concerts is one of my absolute pet peeves and I've seen some pretty awful behaviour over the last year, let me take you on a journey through things you should never do at a concert.

1. Do not go out drinking all day and turn up with your "bessie mates" whilst wearing reindeer antlers.
2. Do not shout at a woman who's irritated by you and threaten her with a fight mid concert.
3. Do not try and have sexual relations in the row in front of me after having way too much to drink
4. Don't get told off by stewards for putting your handbag on the stage.
5. Don't be that drunk middle aged couple swinging each other around taking photos of the crowd.
6. Don't try and film the entire concert on your big screened phone, it's on every door that video and photography generally allowed during the performance.
7. Don't spread eagle yourself and settle down for a nap during a classical performance.
8. Don't have a big old chatter throughout an intimate performance when you are sitting just above the performer who's trying to play the piano and sing.
9. Don't have a chat with your workmates who are sitting at the opposite side of the concert hall
10. Don't try to high five the band or climb on the stage during the performance, this is a grown up venue not the back room of a pub.

Now, I realise, I'm a grumpy middle aged woman but really, doing any of the above things will only lead to you being told off or possibly ejected from the hall and you've probably paid quite a lot of money for the tickets to that performance.  If you want to get rowdy, go to a venue which has a mosh pit but don't for the love of all that is music, do it at a grown up venue featuring world class performances.  I've seen children at playgroups behave better than some of the adults I've seen getting ejected from concerts I've been at.

Sage Gateshead is the most wonderful building, the most unique concert venue and it's home to our beloved RNS, don't let your behaviour spoil my most beloved concert venue in the whole world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A dog friendly day out to Howarth, West Yorkshire

The Curiosity Society, Howarth, West Yorkshire, a dog friendly village, Holly Bobbins dog friendly guide to the north, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger
Sometimes you just need a day out with your dog to make the world a better place and Howarth in West Yorkshire is one of the most dog friendly villages I've ever visited with Holly Bobbins.

Haworth has long been connected to the Bronte sisters, they wrote many of their books at what is now the Bronte parsonage museum and pretty much every area of Bronte country is smattered with the heritage of this famous family, you can even travel the 43 miles of the Bronte Way should you feel like putting your walking boots on, perhaps that's why it's such a dog friendly place, you often find that places which welcome walkers have also cottoned on to the fact that many walkers have dogs with them and we live in a country where the weather isn't always kind.  When you want to enjoy a place with your dog you don't always want to sit outdoors.

I think it might be one of the most dog friendly places I've ever visited with Holly Bobbins, there were less shops, tea rooms and pubs which didn't welcome dogs than those with signs saying that our four pawed friends were most welcome.  

There's nothing that I enjoy more than an afternoon ambling around pretty little gift shops so if I can do it with my furry best friend then I'm declaring it to be the best village I've ever been to.

It's not just the dog friendly aspect that makes Haworth so very special though, it's in the pennines and quite high up, actually, the village is on a steep hill but it's all pedestrianised so you and your dog are safe at all times, it's also completely cobbled and very much like the set of a movie.  Parts of it reminded me of Beamish like the shop above which is set out like an apothecary and sells all kinds of magical wonders including loose bath salts in many varieties, Holly and I loved our wander inside, it was part Beamish, part Harry Potter, I like a place which feels full of magic.

After a dilly and a dally around the enchanted store we wandered the village and even though it was freezing cold with snow still lying in many areas we had a lovely time exploring this picturesque village which looks like it's a movie set from the 1940's.  If it does look familiar it could be that you've seen it when it was used as a set in many movies but most famously, The Railway Children was shot there.

I'm determined to make it back to Howarth in the summer months when no doubt it's a completely different village bustling with tourists and with steam trains regularly running all year around you can bet it's a hugely busy tourist destination.  Haworth for me, has everything, it's dog friendly, it's gloriously pretty and it's full to the brim with history so if you've never visited, get in the car and get there before the peak season.


Monday, February 19, 2018

My Mini Photo Shoot Schedule for 2018

mini photo shoot in jesmond Dene with Mandy Charlton Photography, newcastle photographer

Monday morning and all is quiet, so quiet that I don't seem to have written anything for nearly a week!  I'll be honest, last week was a huge challenge, several business things caused headaches, I had arguments with both of my lovely teens, I had a man fitting Sky Q which lead to having absolutely no internet for over 24 hours, not because we were changing over (heaven forbid no, Sky broadband is awful).  I'm not really sure what he did but our super fast broadband became super non existent and then the Hive installation engineer turned up so I ended up sorting out lots of things via the phone which I hate but now our house is well on it's way to being fully automated, which depending on your point of view is either terrifying or quite exciting.  The smart lighting is next followed by individual smart thermostats but they're not cheap and I'm saving for a Canon 24-70mm f2.8L MkII, go click the link and have a look at the price, it's quite scary but I've had one on hire for the last couple of weeks and I know it's going to be the best lens for my business and I.

Yesterday for anyone who wants to get ahead with booking their 2018 mini photo shoot, I finally published my mini photo shoot schedule right up until the end of September 2018, if you click that link it will have all of the places and dates plus a link to book and tell me what time you would like, it's the most bodacious move I've ever made and when they're gone, they are gone, I'm booking no more until the Oct/Nov/Dec period but I really didn't want to publish those just yet as it feels like I'm wishing the year away already.

Speaking of which, I currently have no travel plans for this year, you might remember that I booked a cruise with Abigail but then she asked if I could cancel it as she'll be at a "really important" Youth Parliament thing and I know for her this is once in a lifetime where as you can go on a cruise any time you want now so I took one on the chin and cancelled but it does make me crave for travel on a daily basis currently.  I currently have a couple of trips I'd like to do with Looby, one of which we're going to be talking about this week, Looby has an interest in geography, rural studies and of course all things horse and countryside so I'm going to try and plan a week travelling Scotland and will hopefully make it on a couple of train journeys I've always wanted to take but haven't so far, those being the West Highland line and the Far North railway line.  I'm hoping we can take Holly Bobbins along too and stay in some lovely dog friendly places, if you have any recommendations please do let me know in the comments.

This week is the week everything should start to change, we are on the downhill slope into spring and I for one am so ready, spring is my favourite season and the one which makes me the bounciest happiest lady in the whole of the north, fancy skipping into the spring flowers with me?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Holly Bobbins Vs The Shark

Holly Bobbins, my most beautiful and beloved four pawed side kick, she's funny and cuddly, she makes more mess than the kids with her toy collection and she sheds so much that every week her hair could make an entirely new dog.

It makes me thankful that we have no carpets although we do have a rug in our lounge...

Every morning and evening in her daily ritual Holly likes to sit on the rug, then she rolls over onto her back and moves around the rug like she's doing some kind of synchronised rug dance and all the while making a sound that sounds a little like "omonomonomomnom" . I'm fairly sure it's a beagle thing and it means she's happy.

This brings me to the next part of my story, we'd been for our break at Cross House cottages and returned early afternoon to a delivery of a "Shark DuoClean Powered Lift-Away Upright Vacuum Cleaner with True Pet NV801UKT" try saying that when you've had a couple of drinks.  from what I'd read, this Vacuum cleaner was about to revolutionise my life, never had I been quite so excited to hoover.  Now I should add that my lovely lady who helps with the housekeeping had just hoovered the rug the day before we returned from our soiree so you would expect it wouldn't be all that bad.

What actually happened was that after 1 hoovering run over our rug,  and lounge and kitchen floors where we have no carpets the entire compartment was full, to the brim, I wasn't even sure where it had all come from but it seems like we were living in the dust bunnies favourite holiday spot.  As you know, I also have 2 cats, Poppy and Pyracantha so they add to the dust but never did I imagine that the issue was as bad as it clearly was.

look, I'm sure I could tell you all kinds of technical things but from my point of view, it hoovers like it's an industrial power house without actually making very much noise at all, it's all completely collapsible so you can easily hoover stairs, under chairs, in your car, in the world of hoovers, this thing is at the very top of it's game.  Now far be it from me to tell you to ditch your Dyson but seriously, who wouldn't want a shark around the house and if you have a beagle, this thing is a necessary part of your life.

Go, go now, go get one and you can thank me later...

Monday, February 12, 2018

This is the Year Everything Changes...

Last year, around this time, I had a night out with Harriet, it was the last night out I would have until New Years Eve that wasn't work related, I worked every single weekend apart from one in July when I was in France with Abigail and I was working Saturdays and Sundays with up to 20 sessions every week, I loved it and it was all fine until I crashed and burned in October.  Now thanks to the brutal weather conditions we've had this winter, I've only shot 4 sessions since before Christmas but it hasn't mattered as I've been growing my businesses in other directions and also generally recovering.  I've also enjoyed some fabulous Saturday nights out that I wouldn't have had if I'd been working on the Sunday such is my commitment to my business.

This year, I'm making some big changes so that I can find the balance between still running the businesses that I adore and also having a quality of personal life which should in unison make me the happiest I've ever been.

Last year mini photo shoots, small 30 minute sessions costing £100 including the digital images which save around £200ish off the list price were the success of my business and I believe that there is a need for these in the North East of England and so starting this spring I will be offering them on selected dates only.  I'll shoot either 2 or 3 dates a month leaving the other days for writing, blogging and commercial photography.  I've found a love for lifestyle product photography and I think I can bring something different in my own style to the market.  I used to run a design team many years ago for a scrapbooking supply company and I've found that the way I style products is much the same, it's been the biggest revelation to me but Looby particularly loves it because although I'm still working hard, it's from my home.

Creative Food Photography, Mandy Charlton, lifestyle product photographer

I used to photograph products many years ago when I had a studio but it was a boring and thankless task, thankfully lifestyle product photography is a whole lot more fun and with companies catching onto the concept that a simple pack shot isn't good enough anymore, I believe there's a rising need for creative photography.  That brings me to my other point, I love food, we all know this but I want to grow that side of my blog because writing about it, eating it, doing creative things with it, this is the life I want.

I also want to make sure my blog is more focused than ever so I'm currently trying to work on which niches I fit into, I know I want to make it Food, Travel and something else, I'm not sure if Food, Travel and Lifestyle work though because isn't lifestyle a big bunch of everything anyway?  if you have any thoughts do let me know in the comments below.

Last year was really the year I got my stuff together and this year is an extension of that plan.  I'm not offering weekday portrait sessions at all this year as I want to concentrate on not only working from home but also on Looby's education.  After 12 years I've realised I cannot be everything to everybody and it's time to take a few calculated risks even if it means taking a cut in income.  Income though, whilst a necessary evil which pays the bills and allows us to do nice stuff, well it isn't the be all and end all.  I learnt many years ago that there are more important things and whilst I have that second chance, I'm never letting work crush the essence of living again.
This year, everything changes, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, life, work, photographer newcastle

I'm also taking on more small weddings, again I've found a need in the wedding market for high quality photography in smaller timescales, so my 2, 3 and 4 hour shorter wedding photography packages cater exactly for that.

So much good stuff is happening in my life right now, I smile every day and even my anxiety has completely subsided, it's like a miracle and there were times when I didn't ever see that happening again.  It's just the start though and there's still much to do, and so much to achieve, hang onto your hat though, as the best, is most definitely yet to come.

Friday, February 09, 2018

The woman who got her second chance

Gorgeous Flower Bouquet from House of Botanics, newcastle upon tyne florist, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger
Each year, around this time, I write a yearly Valentines post which makes me either seem like the most romantic person in the whole world or the most disappointedly disenchanted person, sometimes it's a mix of both.  I guess part of me is always alarmed that we as a society choose to commercialise that which is the most perfect thing in life and then the other part of me, quite rightly thinks, "A day celebrating love with chocolates and heart shaped baked goods, what's not to love, we need to do this more often".

I'd like to state now for the record that I am one of those creative people, if you didn't know that, welcome, you're clearly new around here.  Creative people tend to be the dreamers, the hopers, the romantics.  We need to be, there needs to be people who truly see the beauty the world, people who find magic in the tiniest details, people who believe that anything is possible as long as you want it enough.

I am guilty of all of the above and my life is proof that it's actually true, I believed and so I did.  I haven't blogged for a couple of days because I'm working on things, I'm working to change some direction, I always want to do what I do but I want to keep evolving and discovering new things and I want to focus and grow in new and exciting areas.

Let me tell you that now, as I sit here, late at night, I have everything, I am the woman who got a second chance, I am the one who held out and hoped and dreamt even in the darkest times and now I am content and fulfilled and have a life I love, a career I adore and most of all, I am surrounded by the most special people, positive people who give me life and make me want to be the best person I could possibly be.

I want to give an example about finding pleasure in the smallest of things. You see, if you ask any of my closest friends they will tell you that I am a bit of a tea and coffee snob, I have a waterbar that dispenses the perfect temperature of water, it's triple filtered so it makes the best coffee and tea, I grind my own beans and I drink loose leaf tea although I won't say no to a good silk pyramid teabag.  Coffee and Kin are a local company forged with love and I'm head over heels about their coffee, I've taken to mixing beans from Guatemala and beans from El Salvador to create my own blend of the most special coffee, I like to add double cream which makes the most amazing coffee, small pleasures which starts every day with a friendly wake up.

My point here is that if I can find pleasure in tea or coffee then surely I can find pleasure in everything and really, I can, no matter how many times I see squirrels in the parks around where I live, I still shout "Squirrel" and smile at them.  No matter how many times I see dogs out on walkies going past me, I still say hello to them and not to their owners.  No matter how many times I go for walks with the sun on my face it always feels magical like the first time I've felt it.

By loving the minutia in our lives it's easier to be completely rocked by the big things, happiness becomes a way of life and when the dark days try to invade, they're easier to fight and overcome.  I saw my therapist last week and she's ready to release me, I've asked for the next two sessions to still go ahead though, just in case.  But you know, I think I might have truly cracked it this time, I've learnt that by going the extra mile in everything I do it brings rewards and more fulfilment.

My heart is so full because every aspect of my life has fallen into place so this Valentines Day I don't really mind what happens because I know that true happiness is about something much deeper, although I don't mind at all if I receive a heart shaped cookie, it would be rude to refuse now, wouldn't it?

This post would not have been possible without Coffee and Kin who sent me beans which I accidentally mixed and then discovered that I'd just made the best and most heavenly blend in the whole of the universe.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Sugar Free February - Easy Sugar Free Recipes

a Fakeaway, Fake KFC Recipe with Heck Naked Sausages, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger
So you've started Sugar Free February but you're all ready wondering what the heck you can eat that isn't cardboard, I mean, takeaways are out of the question, cake is but a distant memory, there's no denying that sugar free living isn't easy but I've got a couple of recipes for you today which might just help.  I cut sugar out of my diet on Friday so I'm not even at the first week weigh in yet, a friend who dutifully started last Monday however has already lost 7lb at the first week weigh in and everyone else who's been doing it with me is feeling better, I haven't had a night sweat since starting and that for me is big, it also shows just how intolerant I am to sugar.

One thing I did notice on the first couple of days was how much I craved sugar, it's very much the cocaine of the food world and I know from my previous attempt that I just have to hang on in there, I also have a test I like to stick with, when I have tons of sugar in my diet I'm not all that fond of tomatoes but once I get it out of my system the tomatoes taste sweeter and better than ever before, and when I lost over 3 stone, I swapped crisps for tomatoes as my secret weapon.

Look, I'm not a nutrition expert, I've read lots of books, a whole lot of web resources and I just know it works because I've done it before, I'm a busy mum who lives on their own with my teens and coming up with recipes they like too has been the biggest challenge of all so when the lovely people at Heck got in touch to send me a food parcel, I knew I had to come up with some pretty special things.

Fake FC Chicken Escalopes Recipe

Ingredients - 

2 Heck Naked Chicken sausages
1 Crushed Weetabix
1 egg
Spelt Flour


Take 2 Heck Naked Chicken Sausages and squash them together and reshape into an escalope, coat with spelt flour, dip in a beaten egg and then cover in a crushed Weetabix, then simply grill under a medium grill taking care not to burn the outside until cooked.

Serve with a salad and healthy home made sweet potato wedges.

I tried this at the weekend after coming up with the idea and they're delicious, they taste just like a Fake FC chicken escalope but are obviously about a million times healthier.  The real test though was to see if Looby liked it, Looby is fussy at 14, I made it for lunch yesterday though and got a big thumbs up so if my fussy teen will eat it then I'm sure yours will too!

Fakekushari, a sugar free veggie and vegan recipe, sugar free February, mandy charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger

Fakekushari is an adaptation of Kushari, an Egyptian meal, it's completely veggie friendly and I think it may also be suitable for Vegans but don't quote me on that


Heck Supergreen Veggie Balls
Puy Lentils
Spinach, 1 bag of baby spinach
1 tin of Butterbeans
1 tin of  chopped Tomatoes
half a teaspoon of cumin
half a teaspoon of Chilli Powder
quarter of a teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
half a teaspoon of cinnamon
Salt and Pepper to season
Squeeze of honey (optional)

Method - 

Pop the veggie balls in the oven and whilst they're cooking take some prepared Puy lentils, season and pop in a wok or frying pan with no oil, if you do have to use oil, coconut oil is my chosen one, It's good for you and I like the taste. all you need to do is add some spinach a few moments from the end and you'll end up with a lovely mix.  

Next in a pan add the butterbeans, the spices and the can of chopped tomatoes and if you want to, add a squeeze of honey, this depends on how religiously you are about doing sugar free February but to me, it just enriches the beans, simmer everything down so it thickens and then plate it up.  

Now when I say that Looby is fussy, Veggie Abigail is about 15 times more fussy again and she ate everything, we also cooked up some Heck Bollywood Veggie Balls and added those and they were delicious and I've now got that perfect recipe for Mexican baked beans which I can assure you'll will go with a chilli or even nachos.

Now I want to add a caveat, Weetabix contain 1,7g of sugar in every 2 Weetabix but you'll probably use half a Weetabix so it really is a trace amount and remember, I did this a few years ago and I was religious about it and fell from grace about 4 months later as it wasn't sustainable, the way I'm approaching it this time makes much more sense and it means it's my life I'm changing rather than being "On a Diet".

I want to say a big thank you to my friends at Heck food for facilitating the ingredients for these recipes, it's always so lovely to collaborate with good companies who make healthy food and their range is amazing whether you are veggie or not, again, this was a collaboration but these are my honest opinions and I do not lie about good food!


Monday, February 05, 2018

Dog Friendly Accommodation for two in Northumberland - Cross House Cottages

Dog friendly accommodation at The apartment, cross house cottages, Warkworth, Northumberland

Holly Bobbins loves going on holidays, she gets to live her best life running around the countryside and she's always made very welcome given the wealth of dog friendly accommodation choices you can find now,  Northumberland especially seems to delight in offering cosy cottages where you can your pooch can holiday together.  Last week we stayed in the apartment, an open plan first floor property which is part of the dog friendly Cross House Cottages in Warkworth on the Northumbrian Coast.  The best thing for me as a home educating single parent is that Looby and I can not only take trips in the quiet times of the year but we can also get a bus direct from Newcastle which only takes around 90 minutes to get to the heart of the Northumbrian coastline.

Whilst the apartment is on the upstairs of the property if you would rather hire a ground level apartment the owners also have a garden studio which is again, an open plan dog friendly garden.  A huge secure back garden is perfect for your four pawed best friend to have a run around and if you're lucky you may even get to meet the resident poodles who are a very handsome pair, there's nothing better than oodles of poodles!

If you've never been to Warkworth before prepare to be wowed on your way into the village as the imposing ruins of Warkworth castle are your first view of this small rural coastal village, owned by English Heritage you'll find it's open at weekends during winter and week round during the peak months of the year, I've been many times and it's one of the most impressive ruins you'll find on the Northeast coast although if you want a castle which is completely in tact with rooms you can still visit you're not too far from Bamburgh Castle or Alnwick castle although both are unfortunately not dog friendly where as Warkworth Castle is.

For a small village they cater well for dog friendly breaks with 3 dog friendly pubs, namely, The Masons Arms (huge portions and my favourite of the 3), The Sun Hotel and the Hermitage Inn and do treat yourself to afternoon tea at dog friendly cafe Bertrams, you're in luck if they have the courgette and lemon cake on offer.

We really didn't do very much other than relax and rest, it's the time of year for staying indoors in cosy places although we did enjoy a sunset walk along the river and a walk to Amble and back the next day to make sure we'd worked up an appetite and doggy partner in crime Holly Bobbins had quite enough fun and exercise.

A stay at Cross House Cottages really involves minimal effort, all of the pubs are a mere hundred or so footsteps away so you can treat this holiday or mini-break as a relaxing haven or if you are more hardy you are right in the midst of the most beautiful coastline in the country with walks which take you to the most beautiful villages which nestle together making up the Northumbrian coastline, the best part is that most of the villages have a dog friendly pub or tearoom and they're all full of delicious treats, so much so that you may need to plan to walk off the calories afterwards.

Holly Bobbins was made so welcome that she couldn't dream of giving Cross House Cottages an immediate entry into her dog friendly guide and 10 barks out of 10 for the big secure garden which meant she could run around doing lots of sniffs to her hearts content no matter what time of the day or night and of course as usual she delighted every one she met and had many pats, dog treats and cuddles, I couldn't ask for a best doggy ambassador for our dog friendly guide.

If you have a dog friendly cottage you'd like to be included in Holly Bobbins Dog Friendly Guide please do get in touch and thank you so much to Lara who invited us to stay for 2 nights in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, February 02, 2018

9 Ways to Make February Lovely

After this weeks bombshell posts about having a facelift and giving up sugar, I'm pleased to say that today's is a little more gentle, actually, it's a lot more gentle and 100% lovely because it's February and we all know that for the main, February is about love.  Not only is it about love, it's also my birthday and so I've combined these two things for my monthly roundup, ways to make February more lovely.

Now you don't have to be in a relationship to have a more lovely month or even to celebrate Valentines day because love isn't just for couples, it's about loving you more, appreciating your friendships, it can be about falling in love all over again with a hobby, an aspect of your life or even a person.  Love creates infinite possibilities, it is the human condition to seek it out and when we don't feel loved, we feel desolate and empty so let's take a look around and see what love we can find around us, let's plan to make February the loveliest month of the year.

9 great things to make February the loveliest month of the year

1. Have you ever tried any of the Great British Biscotti range?  If you haven't then there's never been a more perfect month to indulge as they've just brought out a chocolate orange version, once my family had waited (im)patiently for me to photograph them it took them about 0.36 seconds to eat them so I reckon, if you can't say it with flowers, say it with chocolate orange biscotti.

2. If you love meat like I love meat then you will be delighted to know that Meat Stack, Newcastle's best burger joint (in my opinion) is now not just resident at No 28, it's also got it's own outlet in the Grainger Market which is open for breakfast from 7.30am until 5.30pm, so potentially you could do market meat stack followed by No28 meat stack for a day full of the amazing burgers, I can honestly say that as a family we never eat burgers from anywhere else anymore, and yes, I'm deadly serious when I say that.  I also never eat burgers with meat in them anymore because the southern fried paneer burger literally rocks my world.

3. What now follows is a very chocolate heavy post so if you have just given up sugar for February you may want to go buy these, lock them up and enjoy them in March, I cannot tell you the pain of having boxes of chocolates currently sitting on my desk staring at me lovingly.  This one though has already gone to a great home as a thank you for trimming a spiky Berberis.  Jenny Wren chocolates not only taste gorgeous but look at that box, it's like a delightful piece of art and the best thing is that you can purchase this expensive glossy looking box for only £6.49 at the moment at your local Sainsbury's

4. I'm going to own up right now and say that these chocolate truffles from Booja Booja didn't even make it to February, they're vegan, they're dairy free and they taste like small dreams when inserted into the mouth gently, what's more the box from the artists collection has been hand painted by artists in Kashmir, India, they're perfect for those who love chocolate and beautiful things and I think the thing I love about them most is the fact that I now have the prettiest wooden box I can treasure.

5.  Blog favourites Guylain have done it again for Valentines day with this beautiful heart shaped box which you can give to your honey or if you're single you can give them to yourself or even your best friend, the first person to run to my desk and hug me gets them!!

6.  Now I think that we'd all agree that there's nothing quite as lovely as a good nights sleep and to help I can tell you that this Nutri Expert Pillow spray not only smells divine it's also an essential oils pillow spray which can help aid you to have a wonderful and restful nights sleep, it's the perfect present to yourself.

7.  While we are on the subject of relaxation, another blog favourite company Amphora Aromatics have released their own range of essential oils, the relax calming oil is perfect for busy mums, teens just about to sit their GCSE's and can be burnt, or mixed with a carrier oil for that perfect massage, maybe that's a great idea for Valentine's evening after dinner with your love?

8. cold hands, warm heart or so the saying goes, well I know one thing, cold head leads to hypothermia and that is never attractive so if you have a friend like me and it's their birthday during mid-winter why not pick them up a buff hat, buffs are available for men, women, children and pets, I've been a long time fan so I was pretty thrilled when they offered to send me this one which goes perfectly with my face, it's a great gift if your soulmate likes to embrace the outdoors.

9. Finally for this month, well you know, being single is something I am a particular expert in although it's always made me a little sad and don't even get me started on the tricky and often ridiculous world of dating, luckily I have Jennifer Boon's book Survive and Thrive by my side to guide me through the tricky waters, will it work better than an evening spent on Tinder, well you just never know but there's only one way to find out.


Thursday, February 01, 2018

Why I've decided to have a facelift at 44

Today is my 44th Birthday and the best present I've received is the notification of my first appointment to start the treatment that will lead to a younger looking me, yes dear reader, this isn't clickbait, I am genuinely having a facelift.

A couple of weeks ago I went for a consultation at the Queensway skin clinic which is part of Queensway dental, I met with facial aesthetics specialist Doctor Uzma Olbrich and we talked about ageing, my face and what she could do to help. As part of our joint collaboration I'm going to be writing about the process and will be sharing some before and after photos too, I'm going to tell you all of the good parts, I'll chronicle the tricky bits, the bits which might hurt and I'll be as honest about this subject as I have been about the rest of my life.  Uzma told me that often patients don't talk about this subject, sometimes not even their partner is aware of what they've had done because although it is a facelift, it's non surgical and when I say non surgical, I won't be going under the knife, I'll be awake throughout and over a period of weeks and months I'll have needles filled with hyaluronic acid injected into the problem areas of my face.  When the transformation is complete I should look younger, rested and like I've just had the very best holiday albeit without any tan.

The thing is you see, I'm 44 on the outside, with makeup on, on a good day, my friends tell me I can pass for mid thirties, when I see me on a morning though, with puffy skin, well let's just say that ageing is a cruel and heartless process.  On the inside I feel 35 and that's how I want to feel I look on the outside.  Wait too long and when you have the fillers you have to have so much that it doesn't look like you anymore, at my age it can be so sensitively done that all you'll see is the very best version of me.

As a feminist I believe we should have the choice to look how we want to look, if we choose not to shave our legs or arms and we want to go grey, it's our choice but conversely if we want to look like the best version of ourselves for as long as we want to, if we want to age so gracefully that we can look 60 when we're actually 80+ then that's our choice too.  For me it was an easy decision, I didn't have anyone else to consider and I'm not doing it for anyone else but me, I've lived with only my dog sleeping on the other side of the bed for the last 4 years and let me tell you, I doubt she's going to congratulate me for looking so youthful.

As women of the new millennium we have so much power than we did before, we are confident, forthright and not governed by old standards, if we look back at our parents, grandparents and how we watched them age, it's a great thing to be able to say "That's not going to happen to me, that's not how I want to do it" I've lived my whole life not conforming and I guess that's why it was easy for me to make the decision.

I'm the least vain person but I've always lived by the rule that if you are unhappy with something take action, don't just sit and whinge about it because that doesn't change anything.  That's why my sugar-free February plan starts tomorrow (starting it on my Birthday was never going to happen) I'm taking action now to change the whole of me on the inside and out because I want to live a long and happy life and because I want the body I'm in to represent the person I am inside. I am after all a confident, positive, strong and independent woman.
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