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

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Christmas at the Charlton's 2020

It's Christmas at the Charlton's 2020 and Abigail commented yesterday that I hadn't blogged a lot this year and I should be blogging now because other people might want to read about what you do when you are at my life stage, i.e. with an empty nest! Well, the truth is that I've blogged less this year because I've just done less exciting things than ever before.  There's just not been a lot to write about and having just survived my first year in E-commerce at Philomena's Boutique I'm actually pretty tired right now!  I did realise, however that I hadn't shared this year's festive house and I like to write about the year's festive decoration as much as a record for me than anyone else!

Not going to lie, this year I went big as an antidote to 2020, I put up my decorations on the 2nd November with the help of lovely Looby and I've been living the twinkly life ever since.  it takes approximately 50 batteries to refresh all of the various sets of fairy lights and twinkly decorations, thank goodness for large multipacks you can get these years!

Christmas at the Charlton's 2020,  festive decoration at Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I can't remember a year when my home has been more twinkly, cosy or welcoming, renovating my home throughout 2021 remains to be one of the best things I've done because my home is me! I'm pretty sure everyone would guess correctly on "Through the Keyhole".

The latest room I've worked on is my spare room and it's such a lovely cosy cocoon, I've really been enjoying having Abigail stay since she came home from Uni for Christmas, it's actually not quite finished as I still have some art to go on the wall and actually I think this room is going to end up being my bedroom, I just need to swap the beds over and then my bedroom will become the office and the office will be a spare room, yes, still lots of changes to make in 2022 but I am really looking forward to doing more renovation.  I lost my zest for it during the first lockdown but I'm raring to go again during the winter when I doubt we'll be able to do much else really!

This year I'm counting myself to be very lucky as I'll be spending Christmas Day with both Abigail and Looby and it's the first time in a few years, it's really the only Christmas gift I want or need so even if I have to spend a lot of the next few weeks alone, this last week that I've had with Abigail and Christmas Day, well it's enough really in this very weird year of 2020.


Friday, December 04, 2020

How to survive Christmas if you're on your own

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Surviving Christmas 2020 if you're on your own is admittedly going to be harder than ever, for people who live alone or for many reasons won't see family this year, loneliness threatens to be much worse than ever before.

During the first lockdown, I managed 9 weeks alone but it was sunny and I spent most days in the garden pottering.  This time it's been different, the light levels are awful, it's cold and the twinkliest time of the year reminds us even more so of the people we're really missing right now.

I do have some experience of spending the Christmas holidays alone, I've seen people on odd days but for a while, I thought I'd be completely on my own on Christmas Day this year.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago Abigail and Looby told me they'd be spending Christmas Day with me this year and that's the only Christmas gift I really need.   Still, though, I've had a yearly campaign to end loneliness, not just with the old and frail but for everyone, as no one should be alone at Christmas, I've had an open house for the last few years and it breaks my heart that I cannot offer that this year but I acknowledge that it's just not safe to welcome strangers into my home or even people I know, I don't believe it's okay for us all to abandon the caution like Boris has told us we can, I think that's a recipe for causing the death of your nan if I'm honest and a lockdown in January will be horrific. 

There is great hope, of course, we now have a vaccine in the UK and I'm in the 6th category myself to get vaccinated, I cannot wait, I'll queue for it now if they'll let me!

Christmas Day Alone

Almost certainly for a lot of people, this will be the hardest day to spend alone but there are things you can do.  Sarah Millican has a hashtag on Twitter #joinin and it's for people spending the day alone to just be able to talk, I did tweet last year when I was alone for part of the day and it's a really lovely community feel.

My first thought is that to get you through the day you are going to need treats, so get yourself a box, a hamper, something to put wonderful things in over the next couple of weeks, it could be a book you've wanted to read, a bottle of amazing gin or maybe even a special present like a subscription that brings you treats once a month for the rest of the year, Willies Cacao has a chocolate subscription full of wonder and when I was talking to them about this article and my gift guide they asked if they could send me an example of what you get every month through your letterbox and wowser, it's a load of chocolate so you can spoil yourself throughout the month whilst learning about chocolate.  They'll even send you the tasting notes, maybe when all of this covid nonsense is over you could throw a chocolate tasting party, that's my plan!

another subscription you could try is the Craft Gin club, I mean, who wouldn't want a monthly treat of craft gin with accompaniments, a magazine and all kinds of extras, I've been a member now for 3 months and I look forward to it's magical arrival every month, oh and they even have a special Christmas gin produced in association with Philip Schofield,  you can bet I'm having a bottle of that in my love yourself Christmas hamper. If you sign up with my link you'll get a massive £16 off your first delivery.

Christmas TV

This year it seems the TV channels have pulled out the stops and so the schedule is going to be a bumper one with more people staying at home than ever before and I for one shall be fixed to the sofa for this year's festive Doctor Who with my favourite Captain Jack, I honestly can't wait, I haven't read all of the schedules just yet but I will be heading out very soon to grab my yearly copy of the Christmas Radio Times, it's a yearly tradition since Childhood, you know that Christmas is definitely here when the special Radio Times appears in the shops, I definitely buy it for nostalgic reasons more than anything else as I would never usually buy a hard copy TV guide.

How to survive Christmas 2020 with a mental health issue

I've written previously about how to protect your mental health at Christmas so I'll let you pop over and read that but I still stand by the fact that for me, Christmas is a season, it's not just one day so embracing the whole of December is the best way to enjoy it rather than focusing on the one day, putting all of your hopes, dreams and aspirations into that and then ending up depressed and anxious as I have over the years.  Now I try to embrace each twinkly moment of joy and it really helps.  This doesn't mean, however, that we will manage the whole period unscathed so just know that it's okay not to be okay and that this isn't your whole story, it's just a brief pause before the next wonderful chapter.

Without a doubt, the festive season this year is not going to be the same and I'm so happy that I had the best New Year's Eve last year because there's obviously not going to be any hint of a New Year's Eve party nor indeed my annual Christmas party, honesty, no one is going to have the best Christmas ever this year so please don't let social media fool you that they are.  in many people's lives, they will be mourning the loss of normality or even worse, they'll be mourning the loss of a relative with an empty space at the table so please do not put pressure on yourself, just be kind to yourself as much as you possibly can.

I also want to write about the fact that whilst many will be having Zoom Christmas parties and virtual present openings with their families and friends,  I cannot think of anything worse, I loath the phone, and even more so I hate video calling.  For me, it's in person or nothing and I already have my plan on the Saturday before Christmas to be Santa to all of my friends I can't be with, I'm off to deliver special packages to them all,  I will be using hand sanitiser, masks and I'll be stepping away from the door to a safe distance for them to retrieve their parcels but because for me, spoiling my friends is the best part of Christmas this will mean everything.  I'm making a lot of gifts this year because of the restriction of budget due to covid but that doesn't make them any less special.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The 12 Gins of Christmas, the ultimate gin recommendation guide

The 12 gins of Christmas, the ultimate gin recommendation guide, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger
My gin dresser, back in October, it's since grown with even more bottles, I collect a lot more than I drink!

(AD, gifted items and affiliate links). Trying to choose 12 gins for "The 12 Gins of Christmas" has been an epic and quite magical task and first of all, I want to say thank you to the companies who've sent gins to me, some but not all of these gins were kindly gifted, others I've personally selected and bought with Christmas in mind.

Firstly let me tell you about my own personal gin journey.  Many years ago I loved a Hendricks with cucumber and then for 9 years I couldn't drink alcohol at all without horrible side effects.  I came off some medication in February and suddenly I could drink.  In the meantime, the world had gone through a craft gin revolution and so I've sincerely enjoyed sampling many gins on route to having my own personal collection.  I must state that I collect more than I drink, I love the bottles so much and I occasionally have a glass of gin in the evening which I savour and love so much. So come with me on my first ever gin guide journey as I recommend the 12 gins you should be looking to have in your own personal gin collection.

Off Piste Gin is a triple filtered gin made by a family run business, it's made from pure sugar cane and infused with alpine botanics, so basically, you taste this and you're transported to the alps, can you smell that mountain air, have you spotted that deer in the distance, will you be skiing today?  It's a really delicious and smooth tasting gin.

Rock Rose winter edition gin is infused with the flavours of spruce which were collected in December last year, drinking it will remind you of bracing walks, roaring fires and dark nights.  It comes from Dunnet Bay right up at the top of Scotland, Caithness was somewhere I had the pleasure of spending time in the late summer and so drinking this reminds me of that rugged coastline and the beautiful area it's from.

Sacred Christmas Pudding Gin is actually made from Christmas puddings, now if that sounds at all weird, I can assure you that what this actually tastes like is Christmas, it's like festive infused fruits and not at all like drinking an actual Christmas pudding! It's a wonderfully festive gin and I absolutely recommend it for Christmas 2020.

Highclere Castle Gin is a London Dry Gin and if you're looking at the picture or thinking it sounds familiar then you will know that Highclere is also known as Downton Abbey, and as the website tells us, it's born from a castle,  renowned for it's parties, acclaimed for it's taste.  It's a really lovely and easy to drink gin, serve with a light tonic and a slice of lemon and I can't fault it for an evening aperatif.

Spode celebrated it's 250th Birthday by releasing Spode Gin, a London dry gin which has flavours of Earl Grey with orange and undertones of Jasmine and Chamomile, it's an easy drinking gin perfect for parties or simply an evening by the fire.

If cold, dark December's are not your favourite thing, a glass of Old Curiosity Secret Garden pink elderflower and Jasmine gin  from Prezzybox is just the ticket for it will transport you to sunnier and warmer moments, it has my vote as a lovely gift for a summer flavour lover.

I'm going to let you into a secret, I love sparkly things!  M&S have released 2 special snow globe gin liqueurs this year, one with the flavours of clementine and the other is rhubarb, this stuff is harder to get than gold dust in some branches but I managed to acquire a bottle of each with my persistence, I bought the clementine in branch and the rhubarb, I managed to get in one of their hampers.  I've not tried either yet but they look sparkly on my gin dresser when they're all lit up!

I managed to acquire a bottle of Roku gin in a recent Amazon deal and it's just delicious, it's raised in Japan and it makes a lovely G&T with a slice of lime or lemon because sometimes you just want a classic, I always make my G&T's in balloon glasses with the tonic right to the top, I love the flavours of craft gins and believe they should be savoured and definitely not glugged!

Think of Christmas and one of the first flavours that comes to mind is plum and this is encapsulated in a release from the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, I picked my bottle up in an Amazon sale and I have to admit, it's one I'm saving for the festive period, a plum and vanilla gin liqueur sounds like the perfect Christmas Eve drink to me.

another popular Christmas flavour is of course orange but orange is one of my all year round flavours and would you believe that this orange marmalade from

Zymurgorium is a tasty treat, the company behind it are actually Duerrs who make jams and marmalade and honestly, it's delicious, I picked up my bottle for a steal at John Lewis but it's available in a lot of places.

Mermaid Pink Gin is my absolute favourite all time gin, if you look closely you'll see there's not very much of this one at all and that's because it's the one I drink the most, it's summer in a gin and I like to put in frozen soft fruit like strawberries, raspberries or cherries, I then accompany it with a light or Mediterranean tonic and it's honestly splendid, so many days during summer this was my go to gin so it's perfect to gift for Christmas and drink at a later date, I love every release from the Isle of Wight distillery but this one is really special.

My last gin recommendation is this amazing Malfy Rosa Pink Grapefruit Gin which tastes of pink grapefruit, I found it in Morrisons where it's readily available but you can grab it on Amazon too, serve it with tonic or a pink grapefruit mixer and then add a slice of pink grapefruit and it's a taste sensation which will remind you of Italy in the sunshine.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

The 24 movies of Christmas 2020 guide

Love Actually, The 24 Movies of Christmas Guide, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

The 24 Movies of Christmas

Christmas is coming and without a doubt, we all need as many ideas as possible to have the best Christmas possible and that's why I've come up with my favourite 24 Christmas movie suggestions so you can watch one every day from the beginning of December right through until Christmas Eve, I'm such a huge fan of Christmas movies that I could probably do a deeper cuts list as well but hey, let's go with the popular selection first and see how we get on...

  1. Elf
  2. Nativity 
  3. Nativity 2, Danger in the Manger
  4. Arthur Christmas
  5. The Santa Clause
  6. The Santa Clause 2
  7. The Santa Clause 3, The Escape Clause
  8. Home Alone
  9. Home Alone 2, Lost in New York
  10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  11. A Christmas Carol
  12. Muppet Christmas Carol
  13. Jingle All The Way
  14. The Holiday
  15. Miracle on 34th Street
  16. Love Actually
  17. Surviving Christmas
  18. A Christmas Prince (Netflix)
  19. A Christmas Prince, The Royal Engagement (Netflix)
  20. A Christmas Prince, The Royal Baby (Netflix)
  21. Deck The Halls
  22. The Christmas Chronicles (Netflix)
  23. Scrooged
  24. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

The omissions from the list

Now I should say that there are omissions from my list like The Polar Express (which totally freaks me out), Christmas with the Kranks and Die Hard, none of which I rate and also, Die Hard, not a Christmas movie in my humble opinion though many (usually men) have argued with me about this one. We've also skipped Nativity 3 and 4, 3 is okay, 4 is dreadful, absolutely awful and the same goes with Home Alone, there are 2 more movies in the series but uy! Not good at all.

This is my list of favourites though so feel free to mix and match with your own selections, most movies can be found on iTunes, sky or terrestrial tv but a couple are Netflix originals and really, the "A Christmas Prince" trilogy is almost iconic, it's ultimate escapism.

My absolute favourites are Elf, The Holiday and Love Actually and I'm not ashamed to say that I often watch them as early as October.  Hopefully, you'll fund moves you love here too and maybe some that you've not seen before, you could even start now and then rewatch some of them but my intention is that this is your own personal Christmas advent calendar and if you love them do let me know.

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!


Friday, November 13, 2020

The Ultimate 2020 Christmas Gift Guide

It's November, we're in lockdown but we're still edging ever further forward towards Christmas and if you're at my house, well Christmas is already here and my home is a festive wonderland, today I'm unveiling my ultimate 2020 Christmas gift guide which I started compiling in early September and scouring the internet for the best ideas for your loved ones in Christmas 2020.  Many thanks to all of the companies who have gifted me with their items, some of which will be donated to local charities.

Gifts for foodies

Rubies in the Rubble Christmas Relish Giftset - Christmas isn't Christmas without a panoply of cheese, cold cuts, chutneys and relishes, I'm fairly sure Nigella would approve if you opened these with your boxing day leftovers or your Christmas party tea.

Mermaid Salt Vodka, you may already know of the Isle of Wight distillery which excels at making both the blue and (my personal favourite) pink gins, well this year they've released Mermaid Salt Vodka which is infused with island sea and is described of having a flavour like the subtle kiss of a mermaid and there's no time like Christmas for a kiss under the mistletoe, I'll toast a sip to that.

Christmas is of course also a time for indulging in what I like to call "the good wine" and the lovely people at Independent Wines have premium wine by the bottle full and this year they're keen to tell me that they also have their own gift wrapping service so whether it's a red/white/rose or you'd like to indulge in something deliciously sparkling, that's where I'd go to purchase something lovely.

If ales are your thing then head on over to the independent Park Brewery, a microbrewery, who make stand out ales to be savoured.  They sell pale ales, IPA and my favourite, Isabella (the name of my granny) an American brown ale.  They've also been working with the Friends of Richmond Park to produce Tread Lightly, a pale ale which encourages us to enjoy our local parks but to leave nothing and take nothing.

Blog favourite Willies Cacao who happen to make my all-time favourite hot chocolate have once again excelled themselves to bring a range of the chocolatiest hampers, amazing chocolate gifts as well as a brand new chocolate subscription service, I've actually been working on another article with them which I'll be publishing soon but for now, go check them out and gift your friends (or yourself).

For people that favour a cider over wine, have you checked out Cider is wine, I think we all have one view of what cider is but really, this cider is intended to be savoured just like a good glass of wine they have quite the selection of cases of premium cider

I fell in love with Iberico Jamón on my first visit to Barcelona when you could buy it in a cone as a snack, honestly, pass me a Jamón cone over a cone of chips every single week.  I'm fairly sure that this Bellota Jamón from Cinco Jotas is the best you will ever taste, with an incredibly intense flavour you will remember forever.

Vegan friends popping over at Christmas, Oggs have the loveliest vegan products and as my serious journalistic job is to taste test these goodies, I can tell you from this non-vegan, I absolutely loved the vegan mince pies and a couple of friends also agreed that these are simply just tasty bakes whether vegan or not.

If you love your Nespresso but you're also concerned about the environment I recommend Lost Sheep coffee who's Nespresso compatible pods are all compostable and their coffee is so good, my personal favourite is the funky camper variety and I also love the decaf for those times when I want coffee but I also don't want caffeine.

I absolutely adore this fantastic Highland Cow chopping/serving board from Just Slate, a Scottish made family run company, I've long been a fan of the hairy coo's and saw a few on my recent trip to the Highlands.  Suffice to say this is going to be treasured and one would look great in your favourite foodie's kitchen.

For the gin lover in your life, and who doesn't like gin? Bobby's Schiedam Dry Gin is named after Jacobus Alfons, also known as Bob to friends and family and it contains 8 different botanicals which are all separately distilled, Bobby, you had me at gin!

Gifts for Pets

Forthglade has, as ever made a selection of festive meals for dogs this Christmas and it's only right that our furry four-pawed friends get their own Christmas feast, Holly Bobbins loves Forthglade food although she's currently on a special vet diet so this large pack has gone straight to our local dog shelter so that our local homeless dogs can eat well this Christmas.

Of course, Holly and the cats still deserve a few treats this Christmas and if you're looking for gifts for your pets you'll find something for all of them amongst the brands of Mikki Pet, Nylabone and Pet Love, I already know that she's going to love the flat squeaky badger and I won't end up with any stuffing all over my floor!  Oh and wait until you see Iris with catnip, I actually grow it in the garden for her and she sits on it and won't let anyone else near it!!

If you have a pampered pet like mine you might want to buy them some  top dog grooming products from Sniffle and Likkit, they have everything from Whippet wipes for muddy paws to dry shampoo, you know how stinky beagles can get so these are definitely going to come in handy.

Gifts for those who love their homes

Gus, isn't just a gorilla, he sits on top of a beautiful half bottle of wine made into a candle by Marokka, you only need to buy one lid and then you can get refills of the candle, this one smells of an evergreen forest so it's perfect for Christmas and in buying it you know it's sustainable and good for the planet.

Gifts for music/tech lovers

If you need some power in your life, of the tech variety then you need Juice power, they have everything from chargers to wireless speakers so you can blast those festive tunes and really, don't tell me you're not listening to "Step into Christmas" right now, shame on you if you're not ;)

If you're looking for someone who loves music of a more personal variety then you can't go past something like a pair of Edifier Bluetooth earbuds, I speak with some authority and say if your young adult is at Uni they will really appreciate a pair of these and confirm that they're great for sound too

Gifts for Beauty Lovers

For the beauty lovers in your life, why not get them some luscious lip balms as the ultimate stocking filler from Dr Paw Paw, perfect for the Christmas party season even if it is more of an intimate gathering for one this year!

If you'd love something of the anti-ageing variety I can really recommend the products from Slow Ageing, I don't think anyone would say no to a firmer body whatever age they are and it's a bath that also feels like a treat and smells good too

2020 has been rough and January promises to be a hard month so having something like this Alphagreen rejuvenate bundle in your armoury might just be the best present to yourself or someone you really care about.  I've been using CBD products now for a couple of years and find that they really help me personally, I find they just calm me a little and with the hectic life I lead running 2 busy businesses, a gift like this really is just the ticket.

Gifts for art lovers

For the art lover in your life, please check out Ink and Drop for quirky art prints and canvases they have so many varieties that I just love, this one was going to be for Looby and it's now hanging in my livingroom where she tells me that it definitely looks best!

For Christmas lovers

For lovers of Christmas and quirky gifts you really can't go past Philomena's Boutique, I hear the owner is the queen of Christmas and she's put so much thought into making her online gift boutique a real aladdins cave if beautiful quirky gifts you just won't find anywhere else.

Gifts for Travel Lovers

Okay so 2020 was not the best year for travel but with a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon I don't know about your but I'm already planning next year's travel adventures and a gift like a Red Letter Day's voucher is a great way to start the excitement of planning your next trip!

Educational Gifts for Kids

If you'd like to treat your kids to a fun educational subscription box which comes under the disguise of fun why not get them a year-long subscription to Our Little Globe, this one pictured above teaches kids about Christmas around the world and there are lots of fun activities and crafts which the small people in our lives love to do, just don't be surprised when they give you a Christmas card written in Japanese.

Fun stocking fillers for adults

If the special person in your life likes peanut butter then this must surely be the ultimate gift, Jackpot peanut butter is strictly for the over 18's in your life but there is a non-sweary version,  I just preferred this one as it reminded me of Bruce Willis in Die Hard and no, Die Hard isn't a Christmas movie! 

It's Christmas, why not have yourself a cocktail, you don't even have to purchase ingredients as. they come in their own little pouches, Disco cocktails come from the good people at Ladies and Gents cocktail bar and they're big on taste and low on the effort you have to make them.  Glass, Ice, maybe a flourish and you're good to go!

Gifts that give back

Finally, the good people at Treedom gifted me my own tree,  she's a cacao tree and she's called Mildred, she's in Cameroon and she's helping to offset my carbon footprint and well as being splendid, wonderful and producing cacao, when you gift someone a tree, you're literally helping the planet.

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