Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

How to be more productive

Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, how to be more productive



It's just approaching 7.30am, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the beagle is snoring after getting up, having breakfast and then deciding a post breakfast snooze was in order...

So far today, I've launched an offer, I've posted in my Facebook groups, I've written a newsletter, I've even made some money, to all intents and purposes, right now I am Casey Neistat!

If you don't know, Casey Neistat gets out of bed every morning at 4am because it's the most productive part of the day when the internet is quiet, the chances are that even if you send out 10 emails, you won't have to worry about getting replies.  At 4am, the world is a quieter, more peaceful place and a place you can be uber productive too.

There's 1 single problem with this though...

I hate mornings!!

I've come to understand I'm more of a night owl than a lark, I literally loathe mornings and rarely get out of bed before about 8am, and that's dependent on if I wake up with a migraine or not, in which case, I usually take the medication and then sleep until 9ish because it knocks me out.  It's actually rare that I'm up at half five but today was the exception.  Looby had obviously disturbed because I heard her up and about and I decided in my sleepy brain that today was the day I would embrace the morning, I would get up, I would have copious amounts of frothy coffee courtesy of Nancy the Nespresso and I would get a start on the day.

Now it's not the first time that this has happened, I have had periods in my life (usually during the lighter summer months) when I've risen early and it's always the case that by 10am I have changed the world, well my world, not the actual world, I may be many things but I'm not God!

There are other things you can do if you can't bear an early start though, a couple of years ago, after working on my laptop, always in front of the TV, I found I just wasn't being productive enough so I got a desk and I got an iMac and it's still true now that when I'm sat at my desk in front of my iMac, I feel like businesswoman of the year, "buy, buy, sell, sell" my internal monologue shouts and I often plan my best schemes to take over the world (in the nicest way possible) when I'm sitting at my desk.

I think having an area in your house where you "go to work" helps massively when you are self-employed, if you don't have one it's pretty much just sitting at the laptop whilst watching Game of Thrones and we all do that, self employed or otherwise...

It's hard to separate life and business when you are self employed or work from home and it doesn't work for everyone.  I have 2 friends, the lovely Rachel and Steph and they both work remotely, employed by companies to save desk space and work from home (it's the future) but they're both paragons of productivity, clearly for some people, they need a cubicle and a boss who'll ask for proof that they're actually not slinking off to the water cooler every six seconds.

I've been self employed now for over a decade and if it wasn't for productivity and self management I would have been homeless, starving and probably sectioned.  It's like I've build my own structure, my own targets and my own to-do list which I mostly always manage to complete.

Working alone is hard and if you're one of those people who goes through periods of not being as productive as you should be, why not get a friend who's also self employed to be your accountability partner?  It wouldn't actually work for me as I hate being told what to do, there's a reason I am the mistress of my own destiny but for some, it works and if that's you, then do it, do it now!

The truth is, to be productive for me in a perfect world, I need the early morning starts, it's probably my only time of day when my brain fires with the right pixels, quite simply I write better, I think better, I just do stuff better and so right here and now, for the next few months of lightness, I shall be sleeping with the curtains open in the hopes that Mr (or Mrs) sun wakes me up early every morning so I can achieve everything I want to this year.

Go on, wish me luck...
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Monday, April 29, 2019

Spring in the small urban garden


night time in the garden, spring in the garden, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Today marks the start of a new semi regular feature which is all about gardening and what's going on in my garden, I say semi-regular as I still get bored writing about the same things over and over but right now it's such a big part of my life having seen it's complete transformation over the last few months.

I've always loved gardening, when I met Paul, it was me who was the keen gardener, I'm one of those plant nerds although I can say right now I do not know all of them or their botanical names.  I think I just have one of those brains where I can't remember what I did yesterday but I can remember what a plant is called.

It's been a couple of months of hard work and I've done it all by myself, although Looby occasionally helps with planting or putting something together for me but it's probably the first project I've taken on since being single and where my vision has actually related to the end result.

My biggest irk currently is the paving and the fact that I actually have no idea what to do to it or pretty much, how to actually achieve that, and that's with all of the research time I've spent on Pinterest looking at ideas.

Lighting in the garden is really important to me and I've spent next to no money on any of it, I really did have countless sets of fairy lights of all different types (solar, mains, battery) in my garden and home previously.  There are still areas that need more twinkly bits I feel but I think I've gotten to a point where if it was all completely finished I would have nothing to plan when I'm pottering around of an afternoon.

The big stuff, the heavy stuff, that's all done apart from the aforementioned paving and a Juniper tree which started as a bonsai, then stood in front of an ugly area and is now completely out of place and blocking out all of the light to a red camellia which I think would flourish if it were removed but whilst I still have the searing burning hot pains in my neck I don't think removing a 5 year old tree which I'm mostly allergic too is a great idea.


My garden has been done on a really low budget, I've used Facebook groups, I've begged, borrowed and stolen things from my house to be repurposed in the garden.  The string moon chairs are expensive everywhere apart from TJ Hughes where I randomly found them selling them singularly for £24.99 each, I wanted hot pink, Looby chose grey but it is her garden too.  The cheap water feature is made of solid plastic, also from TJ Hughes, it's weird and I wouldn't recommend it, it empties itself at random moments and i've no idea where the water goes to but until I can save a couple of hundred for the water feature I actually want, it's just nice to have the sound of running water as I sit in the arbour.

Rachel suggested at lunch yesterday that I get another arbour, not one to sit in but one half way up the path to grow fragrant climbers like Jasmin and honeysuckle and I have to agree, it's something I want to add in the future and then perhaps I could hang some pretty lanterns from it to shine in the nights.

As you can see from the last image, I still have plenty of room for new plants, although that is the shady side of the garden so it's getting plants to suit the conditions, we used to have a Gunnera in there near the Rhubarb (they're from the same family) until Petunia the husky came and thought it was tasty and so told Holly Bobbins she should eat it too, that was the end of Gertrude!

I really want a hardy palm too but so far I've only seen cheap ones in pairs and I definitely do not have room for 2 palm trees in my garden!

May in the garden marks the transition from spring to summer with the bedding plants finally able to go outside when the risk of frost has passed, I cannot wait to get some big blousy colours going on and I plan to spend every moment I'm not working pottering around and enjoying my garden.

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Why I'll never give up, no matter what life throws at me



This week has not been the best week with regards to my health, if ageing is the cause then I'd quite like a refund please!  After several more conversations with doctors, my lovely longterm doctor thinks it's probably I have Fibromyalgia, basically it's a pain syndrome, yes, I know, you're sitting there thinking, "oh that does not sound fun" and you would be right.  It's actually quite possible that I've had it for quite some time as I've had all of the symptoms but they've always been looked at in exclusion rather than as a whole and it's only now because of me going through agony with my neck, head and arms that we finally seem to be coming to the same agreement.  it's a genetic thing and my mother has it and I'll be honest, I think there's a good chance (or actually not good at all) that Iain and Abigail have it as they already have symptoms.

My next step is to see a specialist physiotherapist who'll test my pain points and then depending on the outcome they'll refer me to a rheumatologist and possibly the pain clinic because currently, the neck pain is off the scale and I can't currently find the £600 it would take to make it better with Chiropractic or massage which is what I've done in the past.

The point of this blogpost isn't to whinge or complain though, I mean, I rock a disorder and I'm amazing at syndromes, yes it's another hurdle to get over but you know what?  No one has ever died from Fibromyalgia or Bi-polar or indeed Reynauds (that's all my disorders and syndromes right there, although I think Reynauds may well be a phenomenon).

Yesterday I went to my very first TEDX at Newcastle College, the theme was life finds a way and pretty much it was about health, life, death and mental health, it was one of the most inspiring events I have ever been to and it's only reinforced my ambition to one day give a TED talk.

Death, cancer, mental illness and suicidal ideations, all things which are the end of some and you know what, that is to be completely forgiven.  I have had times in my life where I could have crawled into a corner and never come out or where I thought those dark thoughts and nearly ended everything but in every case, just as in mine, the decision to fight onward, to choose life and to accept the things you can't change, it's those things which were paramount in all of the speakers lives just as in mine.

You see, if you fight against something you can't change, you are just using energy pointlessly, it's the fighting for the things you can change and moving onwards despite the situations, finding some kind of inner strength that you're not sure where it came from, those are the things which inspire other people.  Not only that, those are the things which define you as a person for the rest of your life.

So here I am, some days, the pain is so bad, even the good drugs won't take it away, the searing, burning pain at the base of my neck and feeling like my shoulders are like a giant breeze block because everything is in spasm.  the migraines I wake up with every day, the tingling and pins and needles in my hands, the pains in the centre of my hands which made me question if I was about to experience stigmata...  but am I about to give up?  Hell no, I've come to far for that.  I do have 2 companies to run and I've had to make a few adjustments to my work calendar just until it settles down again, the good thing about flare ups is that they are exactly that and so I should be back to tip top form soon enough.

Yes, it's tough that I can only work 1 day at weekends currently but if I look for the positive in that, it's actually pretty lush doing photography one day at weekends and then on a Wednesday because I am absolutely loving what I'm doing, I have the best work life balance I've ever had and every week I can't wait to get out there again with my camera.

It's funny how things happen I think, I did not know that when I started my garden that I would end up with haven where I might not be able to do lots of heavy stuff but I can enjoy it, it's reached that point where it's lovely just to sit in and listen to the trickling water fountain and watch the birds as they come and grab some food from our all you can eat bird buffet.

There are so many things to enjoy in life, so many things to be positive about that I refuse to let another disorder, a syndrome or pain destroy the happiness I've worked so hard to find within myself.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A dog friendly trip on The Seasider, Whitley Bay {Ad}


The Seasider Bus, a dog friendly adventure from north shields to whitley bay, mandy charlton photography blog

Dog friendly activities have become much more of a thing in the 5 years I've had Holly Bobbins, as you know she loves adventures and specifically travelling on buses, trains, and boats so when we were invited to try out the new Stagecoach Seasider bus which runs between North Shields and Whitley Bay I couldn't say yes fast enough!

I knew Holly would love the open topped bus because we'd previously done the open topped bus in Edinburgh, she loves the feel of the wind in her ears and the fact that she can watch the world go by and see all of the sites.

It's not just Holly who loves an open top bus tour either, I've been on the open top bus tours in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, London, Stratford-upon-Avon... The list goes on, I absolutely love a good bus tour!

The Seasider Bus starts at the north shields ferry terminal (the tyne and wear ferry not the big DFDS one which goes to Amsterdam) and winds it's way along the beautiful northeast coastline until it reaches the seafront in Whitley Bay and it's a journey which maybe takes around half an hour on the days when traffic isn't too bad.


I think I've already worked out my ultimate day trip and I'd recommend this to anyone who's holidaying up here in the north of England.  I'd suggest you start with a morning in South Shields and then you jump on the ferry, get the seasider bus when you get off and then go to Whitley Bay and when you are done ambling around the seafront there jump on the land train to St Mary's Lighthouse, just make sure you've checked the tide times for St Mary's causeway so you can get the most out of the trip.

For our trip we simply did North Shields to Whitley Bay where we took Holly Bobbins for a stroll along the beach, the beach at Whitley Bay is dog friendly up until May when half of it remains dog friendly but the other half isn't.  No matter for us though in April and Holly loved rolling around on the sand the way she always does.  There's something about a sandy beach which makes her roll around making the funniest sounds, she absolutely loves it and it's the most active I ever see her.



We followed that with coffee and a sumptuous pancake breakfast at the dog friendly part of Spanish City, Valeries Tearoom does the best cakes I've seen in Whitley Bay along with a very hearty breakfast menu although Holly was so tired from the sea air that she didn't even stir for the offer of a pancake or some bacon.



After filling our tummies we got on the return bus to the ferry, they run every half hour and Holly barely moved for the rest of the day when we got home, all of that sea air and visiting her favourite places lead to a very tired but totally content beagle and I can't wait to do the trip again during summer just for her when you are a dog owner, just like when you are a parent, you definitely owe it to your dog to give them the best days ever!
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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Let's talk about my health scare


Over the last few weeks I've faded into the black on even my own facebook page, I stepped away and didn't work for pretty much 3 weeks other than my existing calendar commitments.

The truth is that I've had one of those health scares which I think a large proportion of people have at some time or other but it doesn't stop it throwing your life into turmoil.  I'd been feeling unwell for ages, mostly complete exhaustion coupled with some other dodgy symptoms which we're still trying to get to the bottom of but when I was told I had to have a scan on a lump, well, your mind goes to some pretty dark places and suddenly my world came to a halt.

Here's the thing, if it had been the big C, I honestly have no idea what I would have done, I have business interruption insurance and I have people around me in my business who would have looked after my clients but for me personally, I have the kids, I have a handful of close friends but for someone going through a serious health crisis, I would have had little to no support.  I made plans for work because when you run your own companies that's essential but I didn't really make any plans for me except to take some time off and think it out, and whilst I couldn't concentrate on many things in life I just poured my heart and soul into my garden and making sure I had a haven where I could feel safe and calm.

After 2 weeks and 6 days I finally had a scan on Thursday to be told that I have a cyst and whilst it's a big inconvenience, that's all it is, it's a sebaceous cyst just like the ones I have on my head or have had removed.  I've learnt some people are lumpy and some people are not.  To say I breathed the biggest sigh of relief is an understatement but it lead me to think, for every one who breathes that sigh of relief there are also those who face the real challenges that follow and I can't think how hard that must be.

It's looking more likely that I have CFS, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also sometimes known as ME, it's not perfect but let me say this now, I work at weekends and whilst it may take me a week to recover with migraines and neck pain almost every day, it won't stop me working.  I have my calendar down to me just working on weekends and Wednesdays now and at weekends I mostly only work for 1 day and sometimes it's just for a couple of hours, it's not brilliant but it's manageable and more than that, it's not cancer and so for me, I'll just have to be careful of the flare ups and it's really something which has probably been underlying for a long time, there are maternal genetic factors that made it 8 times more likely that I would end up with it or the sister syndrome, fibromyalgia, at this point though, it's more likely CFS.  I do have brain fog but I've been straight up, if I get my words mixed up, just laugh at me, it's what the kids do.

I also think since this current flare up I'm actually way better than I was, I'm not getting so mixed up and I'm back to my regular 10 hours of sleep a night and after working on Saturday I didn't even need a nap afterwards, when it was at it's worst I had to have a nap after a half hour photo shoot.

I attribute my improving health 100% to my garden, the ability to be in a calm place outdoors for 10 or so hours a day has aided my recovery tenfold. I already take a whole raft of vitamins including a high strength vitamin D3 but there really is nothing like the real thing, nothing like pure sunshine to make you feel stronger, better and healthier in yourself.

I sat in my garden yesterday afternoon after a day spent pottering around the garden and wandering around a local garden centre with Holly Bobbins and Harriet, I was happy in my heart that I've escaped a crisis, getting old is crappy but at least now I know with some changes to my diet and the continuation of garden therapy I should hopefully live for at least another 50 years if I'm lucky!
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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Transformation of My Outdoor Living Space





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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Monday, April 08, 2019

Hunt The Double Yolker with HARIBO #AD

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



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

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


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


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


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


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



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


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

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




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