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, 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.

Friday, February 08, 2019

The Joy of Missing Out

mandy in a hat celebrating the northern soul movement from 45 revs, mandy charlton, photographer, blogger, the joy of missing out

A couple of years ago when my business was flying and I had the ability to make 5 figures a month I decided that I needed to do it all, I travelled, I bought new tech, I invested in my business and I was shooting 20 sessions every weekend and then having them edited by a Monday evening, in addition to the photography I was also earning a modest income from blogging and writing which lead to lots of extra trips.  The harder I worked, the more income I created but I also needed to challenge myself to earn more and more money, I thought that this was the thing that my children would be proud of.  Looby requested trips in this country but Abigail, the go-getter that she is requested 8 days on the Cote d'Azur.  I worked tirelessly that year and then I got to the end of November 2017 and I crashed, I crashed bad, I was worn out, burnt out and I lost my love of photography, so much so that I decided to give it all up.  I was a victim of the theory that more equals more, that you can have it all and if you just work harder and harder you will end up happy.

Wrong, if you work so hard that if affects your mental health, that if affects the ability to do the job that you adored, if you work so hard that all you can see is a target of more and more money and things and trips, let me tell you, you've got it all wrong!

This is the lesson I've learnt the hard way, I've regressed years into an agoraphobic state and to anxiety so chronic I just wanted to hide, I did hide for a long period, in the spring of 2018 I barely worked and I didn't regain my love of photography until late last year.  

Let's fast forward to where I am right now, January was probably my worst ever month, I earned just enough to cover our bills and ran out of money at the end of it, I've limped into the start of February and I'm just about supporting us all, this years tax return will probably show a difference of around £20k less income than the last year but...

I'm overall happier, I've organised my life, my home, I've rarely been out other than for dog walks or with Looby on our missions to the bargain shops of Newcastle.  I light candles, I snuggle in cosy blankets and I collaborate with select companies which I know I can identify with like 45 Revs, a clothing company which has it's roots in Northern Soul, something my friends know I adore, I mean who doesn't feel happy when listening to my ultimate summer song California Soul?

If you don't know what Northern Soul is Wikipedia is your friend and if you do, well you'll identify with the fact that it's the best music out there and there are lots of amazing Northern Soul DJ's up in Newcastle, something I'm thankful for, my best ever New Year's Eve was a mix of Northern Soul DJ's at Ernest a couple of years ago.

mandy in a hat and hoodie celebrating the northern soul movement from 45 revs, mandy charlton, photographer, blogger, the joy of missing out

Suffice to say I love the movement and without a doubt I always Keep the Faith so when they sent me a hat and hoodie I discovered the love of simple cosy clothing, it's actually the first hoodie I've ever owned and the reason I love it is because it's not gathered with a waist emphasising huge pocket on the front!

At the moment my days are filled with planning the future, clearly there needs to be a balance between doing less and not burning out, I made the decision to continue with photography for as long as I feel I can give it my all and really, it's my first love.  I've stopped eating take-aways and cook every day from our fully stocked cupboards I've been working towards having, I might have been slightly spurred on by Brexit prepping but it's made me a wholly better person to have organised spaces.

It's funny that you can make less and be happier but there truly is joy in missing out, a few weeks ago I found out that there's a book published this very day by Svend Brinkmann called "The Joy of Missing Out" (which I managed to grab an advance copy of) and yes, we share a love of philosophy but I absolutely identify with all of his points that this need to have everything, to have it all, is actually counter-intuitive and there's real joy in having less, doing less, nourishing ourselves a little more by living more simply.

Now at my very heart is a serial entrepreneur who comes up with new business ideas at least five times a day but I'm reining myself in and just concentrating on things like residual income which happens whether I work or not, it's not something easy to build up but it is something worth working towards if you're not already on that path, think of residual income as something that can be built by helping others reach their goals and finding out the things they need in their lives and helping them achieve that.  Affiliate marketing, workshops, coaching programmes, stock photography, they're all forms of residual income.

I'm still figuring out my exact path in life but whilst I'm not coming to events or parties or to the pub, I'm truly loving life at home, living simply, cooking, prepping for the future, for me at 45, there really is joy in missing out.

This article contains links to clothing from 45 Revs and Sven Brinkmann's book, both of which I was gifted but not paid to write about, and both of which I was happy to collaborate with because they're the simple pleasures I identify with.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

I'm one of the 48% preppers stockpiling for a no deal Brexit, here's why...

The desk of Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger, brexit stockpiling
In early December I lost my ability to watch most tv shows, now my days (much to the dismay of the teens) are spent with the BBC news channel and Sky News on in the background.  You see, I'd reached a point where I was so worried about the effects of a no deal Brexit and the consequences that are likely to happen if such a thing occurs.

Now you may laugh at me and I expected Iain to think I was over-reacting, as someone with ASD he's always very pragmatic and doesn't do drama, just the facts.  What I found though, is that he actually encouraged me to do it because he'd seen the news, he'd spoken to people and in the event of a no-deal Brexit it's quite possible that we'll end up with not only food shortages but also the possibility of rolling power-cuts and in extremes, issues with our water, given that the chemicals used to clean it all come from France.

The more you look into the facts, the scarier it gets and yes, I guess with my mental health it doesn't help as I'm anxious and paranoid about the health of my family but I also think I'd rather stock up now than have a situation where we have hyper-inflation and price rises beyond our control.

Let's think about this for a moment.  My main sources of income are photography and blogging, they're not what you would call essentials, no one is going to want their small people photographed if they can't even afford to feed their family.  I'm already seeing the effects of the continued lack of resolution in the withdrawal agreement within the businesses of The Inspire Network, naturally it's the smaller businesses which will suffer the most and currently families, like yours and mine, we don't want to make any big purchases because we still don't know what is going to happen despite knowing we're leaving on the 29th March, or are we?

I joined a great Facebook group called 48% Preppers and it's full of the most valuable information about what you should stockpile and what's likely to run out first in the supermarkets.  If you've looked around over the last few months you'll already have seen how much prices are rising and so with my own family, at least one of whom has a restricted diet I cannot afford for the food to run out.

Just after Christmas I started to reorganise our house, our cupboards and my life (although that's another story completely) and over the last few weeks I've simply been purchasing just a little extra, pasta, rice, noodles, flour, tins of vegetables and fruits, all of the things which we could potentially survive on as well as some luxuries we'll really appreciate should the shit hit the fan.

It's scary how much we rely on electricity and yet in a power cut, I'll lose wifi, light, heat even as my heating may be gas but it needs electricity for the pump and to light the boiler.  Lose the gas and it's not much better although I do have an air fryer and an electric pressure cooker plus a fan heater and a small electric fire.

If you're a parent I would go and join the 48% preppers group, yes, most are preparing for the worst case scenario but if you read all of the advice and the reasonings behind it, none of it sounds like scaremongering, it's just the facts so this year I plan to grow more fruit and vegetables in my own garden, I plan to grow my own potatoes in pots and mushrooms, well they can be grown anywhere dark like the airing cupboard.

I plan to keep buying extra with my weekly shopping, it's surprising just how much stuff you can get at Aldi or Lidl in comparison to Sainsbury's.

If the worst doesn't happen and if we actually agree on a deal then you know what, I'll donate it all to a foodbank or I'll just have it there to reabsorb into my usual grocery supplies but for me as a mum and a cat and dog owner, no way am I risking not being able to feed any of them.  Holly Bobbins should be okay, her dogs dinners are made in Devon, doesn't mean I'm not making sure I don't have a couple of months supply though just in case.

Looby will be okay, she'd quite happily survive on pot noodles and vitamin tablets, Iain, will do the same but on beans and smash if he has to, and I could eat pasta every day if I had to.  I'm lucky really, I can cook pretty well, in fact I'm well known amongst my friends for inviting anyone who'll come to my house just so I can feed them too.  We'll be okay, we still have lots of room left that I can pack stuff in if I want to, thanks to Mrs Hinch, most of my food supplies are all in stackable baskets and the Brexit cupboard has lots of space to spare.

You might think I'm crazy or insane and yes, I do carry the cloak of madness with me at all times but honestly, as a parent, would I not be foolish to think this whole thing is going to be a party at the palace?  Even the Queen has a plan to escape London I hear...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Holly Bobbins and The Pawfection Pack

Holly Bobbins the Beagle sits next to a pawfection pack for dogs, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

Holly Bobbins loves surprises, in the world of being an influencer she's way more successful than I could ever be and when The Pawfection Pack got in touch to see if they could send her one of their monthly subscription boxes, well it didn't take us a lot of thought to accept.

The box arrived and she excitedly waited for Mama to rip open the packaging eagerly sniffing at every product in the package.

Now I can't say that she didn't love it all because she did but there were definite favourites in there such as a fabulous giraffe soft toy and biscuits for dogs in the shape of human biscuits, who doesn't love a good cup of tea and a chocolate bourbon?

Holly Bobbins the Beagle sits next to a pawfection pack for dogs, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

The Pawfection pack is a monthly subscription box packed with goodies for your favourite four pawed friends, it's like a thank you for being the best pet ever and I shall definitely be ordering further boxes, I'm a subscription box fiend at the best of times and in the past Holly has tried others aimed at dogs but this is the most lovingly prepared and the owner also has 2 Beagle crossed pups who are adorable!

If you would like to sign up for The Pawfection Pack you can enter the code HOLLYBOB10 and get 10% off if you subscribe before March 22nd.

I should add that we haven't been paid to tell you this or recommend this and you should know as long time readers, Holly and I are very honest about the products and services we write about.

I think Holly's and mine favourite thing in the box was a neckerchief from Salt Dog Studios, she's been wearing it ever since and cutting a dash wherever she goes.
Holly Bobbins the Beagle sits next to a pawfection pack for dogs, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

Holly Bobbins gives The Pawfection pack 9 barks out of 10 and that's only because I wouldn't let her eat the whole pack of biscuits from the Little Blue Pupcakery in one go.  She is after all on a new diet and looking to slim those hips of hers.

Thank you so much to the lovely people at The Pawfection pack for sending us this lovely box of goodies suitable for the best four pawed friends in the whole of the land.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Organised Mind = Organised Life

It's been a crazy few days experienced at breakneck speed as I travelled to Dublin for the Facebook Gather conference and I'll fill you in on all of the happenings very soon when I've recovered from the brain filled exhaustion I'm currently experiencing.

This year has been such a positive force in my life so far, after all of the chaos and uncertainty of last year I feel like I'm really finding my feet in both my personal and professional life, current brain melt excepting.

I think the changes would have to be actually organisation centric too.

writing in my business planner, world handwriting day, stabilo, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I'm madly passionate about my planner this year and for the first time in years I am writing things out again, this seems more than appropriate for today as it's National Handwriting Day and Stabilo sent me some beautiful pens and pencils, they also have a full range of products which specifically help new writers whether they're right or left handed and here's the thing, in these days of technology, we're writing less and less but actually, there's nothing quite as beautiful as the lost art of handwritten letters and I think it's great to teach our children the importance of picking up a pen.  For me, as an adult, it's the ability to write down my scattered thoughts in a creative way and that's another thing it's important to tell our children, in a world full of similar type-faces, be the change, be the swirly whirly handwriting.  Unlike the words we type, all handwriting is unique even when taught in the same way.

quotes written with stabilo pens, national handwriting day, stabilo, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I had hoped to get Looby involved too but she's still at her dads having gone so I could go to the Facebook conference and then decided she's not coming home until tomorrow.

I digress, I think my point was that just emptying my mind with the freedom to write and not be judged for mistakes or whatever I write, it just helps to clear the brain, it's possibly even more effective than sitting down to blog although maybe there's a little less feedback but after a meeting with my new business coach this morning I am 100% sure that this year is going to be my best ever in both of my companies.

My main focuses for the next year are -

To build The Inspire Network, to push women to as much success as I can, to inspire them to grow and thrive and to make sure that all businesses are seen equally from the smallest kitchen table business to large corporations.  I want to nurture them with love and kindness and find out what they really need to know and then provide the experts to give them that information whilst working with some more closely and offering mentoring to a small proportion of them.

To continue the success of Mandy Charlton Photography and to move forward with my new workshops which help people to get out and not only take better photographs but also to encourage them to get out more and discover their local area.  I also want to start teaching the business of photography and social media for photographers, I've spent my entire business life leveraging the power of social media to build my business and now it's time to help others start up their own businesses empowering them with the information they need, something that I never had and would have loved to have known.

The future is surely bright!

I was sent a selection of pens for National Handwriting Day, it's a brand I already have a lot of and I admit to being a hoarder of pretty stationary, they did not pay me to write this article.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Air Fried Halloumi Fries Recipe

Air Fried Halloumi Fries recipe, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, food

If you're anything like me you'll know just how amazing Halloumi Fries are, they may not be so healthy you can eat them every day but it's January, it's dark and we need some home comforts whilst still trying to be a little bit healthier.  This Halloumi fries recipe is different because it's all done in an air fryer, it uses 1 cal oil and it's perfect for our vegetarian friends, in fact, I can confirm it because I tested the recipe just this week on 2 ladies who aren't veggie and one who most definitely is.  These air fried Halloumi fries may just change your life and they only take 15 minutes to cook plus a couple of minutes of preparation.

What you'll need

  • 2 tablespoons of the flour of your choice, I used plain flour but you could use spelt or even Polenta which would definitely give that crisp outside.
  • Large Pinch of Salt
  • Large Pinch of Paprika
  • Large Pinch of Black Pepper
  • 1 Cal cooking oil spray - (I used Frylight coconut but I use that for everything)
  • 1 block of Halloumi sliced into 8 chubby finger-sized portions
  • Dip of your choice to serve 


  • Combine the flour, paprika, salt and pepper on a plate with a fork
  • coat each of the Halloumi fingers in the dry mixture
  • Switch your air fryer to 200c
  • spray the basket with oil making sure it's coated all over so that the fries don't stick to the basket
  • put the coated Halloumi fingers into the air fryer and program it for 15 minutes
  • around halfway through turn the fries to make sure they're evenly browned on all sides
  • After 15 minutes your Halloumi Fries will be ready but they will also be hot so plate up with tongs
  • accompany with a handful of peppers, a green salad and add dips of your choice to the side, I love tomato and honey or sweet chilli
1 portion should quite easily feed 2 as a starter or 1 as a main course.

If you don't have an air fryer yet, they're so much cheaper than they used to be and they're incredibly versatile, especially if like me, you're often cooking in single portions, I've had a quick look on Amazon and this Tower air fryer is currently just over £30, it's not quite the same as mine but looks around the same size.

I've made a few different batches of these Halloumi fries and I definitely think that thicker works better than thinner when you're air frying and I also think you don't want to cram the basket too full of they're just going to stick, whatever you do though and however you cook them, I'd love to hear from them if you try the recipe.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Dog Friendly Hotel in Lanarkshire, The Elphinstone Hotel, Biggar

Holly Bobbins, reviewer of the Elphinstone Hotel, a dog friendly hotel in biggar, Lanarkshire, scotland
It took me approximately 5 days into January to get away on my first break of the year to a dog friendly hotel, The Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar, Lanarkshire.  We'd been invited with Holly Bobbins, chief "Pawsonality" and reviewer of all things dog friendly to come over for dinner, bed and breakfast so Harriet and I accompanied just to make sure she wasn't being a Mariah or Beyonce style diva, you know how she gets now that all of the fame has gone to her head!

The Elphinstone Hotel is situated on the high street of the small market town of Biggar in South Lanarkshire, a short 2 hour car journey from Newcastle and a very pleasant rural location in the midst of rolling hills and green countryside.

After a quick photo stop outside we checked in and asked where we could dine with Holly, the answer was she was welcome in the bar next door but nowhere else in the hotel or restaurant, a little disappointing as somewhere selling themselves as dog friendly and after many years of visiting a lot of dog friendly hotels, bars and restaurants I would say that this came over as more of a dog tolerant policy than dog friendly.  

No matter though for Holly, she was just delighted that the room had carpets (something I don't have at home) so she could roll around at will in her crazy beagle way.

After check-in Harriet and I went for a wander to the town park which is actually around a mile away from the town centre down a long country lane, not somewhere I would have liked to walk in the dark but on a summers afternoon I would think it's glorious.  We managed to catch the last light of the day whilst Holly Bobbins had a run around the lake and we found that there's a circular route from town to the park so this afforded us quite a nice Saturday afternoon walkies without it being overtiring for chief driver Harriet.

We popped into the bar on our way back for a quick cuppa after the afternoon exertions and Holly was offered some water which was brought over in an old used Ice-cream container, a lovely thought which does show the hotel is trying but I think it would only cost pence to have proper dog bowls and maybe a jar of treats on the bar for their four pawed clients.  There's really only 1 big table in the bar which we had both dinner and breakfast at so I think if our hosts could work towards maybe making the downstairs of the hotel as well as the bar dog friendly (leaving the bigger upstairs restaurant for patrons who don't want to dine with dogs) then I would be very keen to return.

The standout for me at the Elphinstone Hotel has to be the food, although we were in the bar, no style or flavours were spared when we dined that evening.  Scallops, Venison and a Cheeseboard of local cheeses were deliciously savoured whilst Holly enjoyed small morsels of venison passed under the table.  Harriet said the chowder and the chicken with haggis were equally delicious and she too couldn't resist the temptation of the locally sourced cheeseboard.

We noticed that the hotel restaurant was also full, especially for early January and surely that has to be testament to the skills of the chef, I cannot fault a single thing about the food, it really was utterly scrumptious.

After a wonderful and comfortable nights sleep our breakfast was a more simple affair but a full Scottish breakfast was on offer, none the less and Holly was grateful for the sausage brought out by the morning chef and after a quick morning stroll it was soon time to depart.

Biggar lies around an hours drive from the border and outlet shopping at the Gretna Gateway village meaning it's the perfect mid-way shop and we noticed that quite a lot of the village seemed to be dog friendly which is such a positive sign, I think with more retailers and hoteliers honing in on the fact that the four pawed pound is so strong, it can't be too long before we see a paradigm shift with more places being dog friendly than those who remain firmly no dogs territory.

Holly Bobbins gives the Elphinstone Hotel 8 barks out of 10 and if the suggested improvements actually happen then we would definitely consider a return visit during the summer months to get the most out of the local area.

Friday, January 11, 2019

10 Things I've learnt after 45 years on the earth

In just a couple of weeks I'll reach the great age of 45 years old, I'm part grateful and part stunned that I've actually made it through life so far.  I actually attach some disbelief to the age tag because since I was around 16 I've always imagined myself as 35.  I'm not sure if anyone else does this but I feel like I've always been in my mid thirties and the thought of reaching the next age category on many surveys, well it's a little daunting.  I'll be officially slipping over the boundary and sliding into the great age of 50 and I'm not sure I'm ready to accept that.

The sun setting over the cote d'azur,, the sun setting over the last 45 years of my life, mandy charlton, photographer, blogger, writer

Over the years though you learn a thing or two and once you're over 40, people tend to actually listen to you because maybe you've picked up a gem or two.  Just lately though (and maybe this is the gift of 45) I feel like I've learned more about myself than ever before.  Rather than ramble too much though here's just 10 things I've learnt in my first 45 years on the earth.

1. To a narcissist you will never be good enough and it doesn't matter what ever you do to try and attain that persons love, even if at times they build you up so highly you think you can't be loved any more, in those times, the higher they build you, the farther you have to fall when you do something they disagree with.  Just know that you are truly good enough at all times and turn your attention to others who see and appreciate your true value.

2.  Learning to love yourself is the most important thing you'll ever do, it's also the hardest, especially if you have spent years being knocked down by others but as the great Ru Paul tells us "If you can't love yourself how in the hell are you going to love anyone else?"

3.  Even the most neglected things can be resurrected with just a little bit of love and nurture, we all have times when we're so busy we forget about the little important things, like watering the houseplants but worry not, they'll still be there and will thank you for the extra attention by blooming back into life.

4.  You should always be happy working in your own business, yes there will be troubling times and challenges to conquer but if you're not happy in your own business then something is seriously wrong, after all, many people are unhappy working for others so they start their own businesses, why would you ever do things in that, that you don't want to do.

5.  In life and work you cannot do everything, outsource, outsource, outsource!

6.  You cannot change anyone else but by changing yourself you can bring about changes in others as they bend and mould to your changes.

7.  It is better to be happy and single with a dog than sad in a relationship.

8.  It is not the number of friends you have but the quality of the friendships which counts.

9.  Never give up on your dreams because you may just find them in the most unexpected places.

10. Don't ever beat yourself up for past mistakes, to err is human but every new day is a gift where we can start again trying to always be the best version of ourselves.

I'm sure in the next 45 years (hopefully, the females in my family seem to live for a very long time) I'll discover much more wisdom and many more truths about myself and others, I'm certainly not as scared of becoming 45 on February the first as I was to become 40 and actually I know why that is now, my life fell apart with my marriage when I was 40, well going into 45, I'm happy, I'm single, I have Holly Bobbins, my awesome teenagers and my brilliant and wonderful friends surrounding me.  I mean, how bad can that be, eh? 

Monday, January 07, 2019

Planning the future, it all starts today.

If you've read my last post you'll know that Christmas wasn't everything I wanted it to be last year (feels so weird to be saying last year when it wasn't even 2 weeks ago), I found myself lonely and isolated, yearning for company and also for answers to fix myself and my life without actually leaving the house.  Yes, that's the conundrum, I'm not the biggest fan of leaving the house unless it's for work or with people which throws up all kinds of challenges.

I did however find some kind of weird solace in cleaning and organising my home and if you have been following me on Instagram you'll know exactly what I mean, if you don't, then suffice to say, my kitchen cupboards have never been more organised and my entire life seems to have gravitated towards living in baskets, not me, living in baskets, my general stuff, effluvia, my accoutrements!

Apparently as a nation we're currently all cleaning crazy thanks to Mrs Hinch and other such influencers, let me tell you though, I've never found watching cleaning quite so fascinating as I have since I started following Mrs Hinch on Instagram, the woman is a marvel and it's hardly surprising that she's accumulated over one and a half million followers in less than a year.  I don't know her complete history but I do know that like me, she has anxiety and she uses cleaning to alleviate it.  What's fascinating is I can see why she finds cleaning so effective, for years when I'm angry or upset is when I nest the most, there's something very soothing about organising when your life feels like it might be spiralling out of control.

I think for a long time there have been some things in my life which I need to address, in September this year I'll have been separated for 5 years which means I can finally go and get a no fuss divorce, I never wanted there to be acrimony or hatred and even though we don't speak to each other I still think of him highly and always will as he's the father of my daughters and they adore him.  I do though need to move on with my own life, not that I'm looking for anything or anyone in particular, in fact I think I've just settled on being happily single with Holly Bobbins at my side for the rest of my life, yes, I may well experience pangs of loneliness but all things considered, when I look at other people's relationships I think I'm definitely better off not in one!

I have some things I need to tackle, I've already made a huge decision to continue with my photography business but I think there need to be changes, the way we do business in general is changing, technology, the economy, Brexit (God help us all), social media. I think I need to re-examine how I do business and how I can adapt to what the market needs most right now.  I know photography makes me happy and I can't live without it, the gap in my life would be a huge chasm of emptiness and I really don't think that would be good for my future mental health.

I also of course have spent a long time examining myself as a person, I think I'm a good person and I want to try and do as much good as possible, but I also think I need to keep trying to be a better, more open, more loving and all around more giving person and if I can achieve that, I'll be happier and more fulfilled.

I also want to try and help other women win at business, I want to try and help as many as possible through my work with The Inspire Network, currently I'm struggling in knowing what the future holds there but I also think the way we do business and the way we network is so different to the way we used to when the network was set up.  We do need to make some kind of income from it, if only to pay for the monthly running costs so it's important to look at that and see what I can do.  There are ways to run businesses which make money but don't cost other people anything such as affiliate marketing and perhaps that's the future, I'm completely open to suggestions and feedback and will listen with an open mind and the utmost of respect to any and all ideas.  I just want to help the people who aren't succeeding and also push those who are even further because 1, you can do anything on your own terms and 2.  when women support women, magic happens.


Thursday, January 03, 2019

New Year, New Start, Old Me!

Mandy Charlton, new year, new start, old me, taking cbd oil is changing my life.

The best thing about a brand new year is that you get another chance to start again, a new leaf in the calendar, a new chapter in the book, a whole new story to be written.  I was going to come and grumble about the fact that it wasn't the best Christmas but I'm starting as I mean to go on, and life after Christmas has been considerably better than it was before.  A few things have contributed to the change in my mood and so I'd rather write about that instead.

Firstly I've upped my dose of CDB Oil to 1500mg a day, a couple of weeks ago I switched to the oil, I'm currently taking Cannibigold   (I was kindly sent a small sample*) and taking 3 drops a day and it's quite miraculous.  2 drops a day alleviated some of the anxiety symptoms, 3 drops a day and it's night and day from where I was before I started experimenting with CDB products.  I really can't say enough good things about the changes to my mental health.  I think the only difference is that it has a taste to it, it's not the best-tasting thing ever but it's not horrid and the taste soon subsides.  

I've also had a lot of rest over the Christmas period, 2 pyjama days which I never have and I've been decluttering and cleaning my home like a demon, mostly I attribute it to Mrs Hinch on Instagram and a little to the fact that Lisa who helps around the house has had 3 weeks off but I've found myself really enjoying the process and my kitchen is cleaner than it ever was.  I took down the Christmas decorations in my lounge last week because they were making me unhappy but what I have done is left all my twinkly lights up all around the house because January, well it's dark enough and adding Hygge is always a good thing.

On New Year's Eve, I emptied, sorted and organised all of my kitchen cupboards with baskets, and I found joy, I guess somewhere between Marie Kondo and Mrs Hinch I've found inspiration.  I've also just had much more energy than I usually do at this time of year, today Holly and I did a 7.5k walk around the city and though I'm tired now, I feel more revitalised by January than ever before.

I haven't made any great plans to go on any drastic diets, if anything I'm just working on loving myself how I am a little more.  I get very cross with the fact that we're encouraged to feast for the whole of December and then come the first of January we're guilted into fad diets, now I'm not saying you shouldn't lose weight if you want to but if you don't love yourself now, 3 stone of weight loss is not going to help, believe me, I've tried it and found out the hard way.

So this year, I'm going to try and love me more, try and be happier to be on my own and fully embrace the single life and really, well and truly work towards being a good person and maybe finding a little success for me and my businesses.

So I hope you'll stay with me as you have in past years, I hope we'll have many adventures together, less anxiety and a whole lot more fun.

*I was sent a small sample of Cannibigold but these are my true thoughts and feelings, I've experienced better results with CBD oil for my chronic anxiety than I ever had with prescribed medication.
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