baby · fatigue · health · pain · parenting · top tips

Parenting With Chronic Illness – A Collection Of Articles

Being a parent with chronic illness can be tough. It’s tiring enough looking after a baby or toddler without having to deal with pre-existing issues with fatigue and pain. When I started the Sickly Mama blog, one of the key things I wanted to do was write about parenting with chronic illness, and connect parents who suffer from chronic illness and disability to build a supportive network (you can join our Facebook group here if you’re interested!).

But of course I’m not the only one writing about this, so I wanted to do a post featuring articles from other blogs about parenting with chronic conditions, to bring together a range of advice on the subject from people who aren’t just me…

parenting with chronic illness and disability a collection of advice and articles the sickly mama blog

Parenting With Chronic Illness – A Collection Of Articles

Parenting and pacing yourself:

When you have a chronic illness, pacing is so important! I remember when my hen do was being organised, my husband was basically a consultant to my bridesmaids about how much I’d be able to do before I’d need a break. He did a great job, as did they, and I had a fab time (and then a really, really long sleep lol). But how do you manage pacing yourself while looking after a tiny, unpredictable bundle of energy (or two? Or three?).

I liked this blog post, which gives key tips on pacing yourself as a parent with chronic illness.

Coping with a newborn as a parent with chronic illness:

The newborn period is notoriously an exhausting and difficult time for all new parents. If you already have chronic illness, it can be quite scary wondering how you’ll cope with the newborn phase, especially if you suffer with fatigue under normal conditions. How much worse will it be when you’re woken up constantly by a baby who needs feeding every couple of hours? Will you be able to cope?

I’ve found a couple of articles that give tips for new parents with chronic illness, on how to manage that difficult newborn phase. This blog post covers tips for managing a newborn with chronic pain and chronic fatigue. And this post covers taking care of a newborn and yourself when you’re chronically ill.

I think the best tips for looking after a newborn when you’re chronically ill are about determining the things you absolutely must do each day (feeding baby, feeding yourself) and identifying the things which perhaps are good to do but not essential (giving baby a bath, doing the washing up). That way when you’re having a bad day, you can stick to just doing the essentials without feeling guilty, and on a good day you can aim to get a bit more fine. Oh, and asking for help is important. Always ask for help if you can!

Helping your child cope with having a parent with chronic illness:

When your child is still a baby, it’s not really something you have to worry about. But I’ve already started wondering – when Little Man is a bit older, how will we talk to him and explain things when I’m having a flare up of my symptoms? This is a really special article, which is actually written both from the perspective of a parent with chronic illness and her grown-up daughter, looking back.

I think the key thing I took away from the article was the reassuring sense that it’s totally possible to have a great childhood even with a parent who clearly suffered from very severe illness. Even totally healthy parents tend to suffer from the mum/dad guilt that they’re not doing enough for their children, so naturally the same guilt is there when you also suffer from a chronic illness that is sometimes limiting. But treating your child with respect, honesty, and trying to maintain a stable routine is what they need.

How to thrive as a parent:

So far in this blog post, I’ve used words like “coping”, “managing” and so on to describe being a parent with chronic illness. But that seems to be setting our sights a bit low. What about thriving as a parent with chronic illness? After all, none of us goes into parenting with the intention of just ‘getting by’ – we want to enjoy the experience!

I like this blog post which focuses on thriving as a parent with chronic illness. It includes some general tips on managing your days and practicing self care.

parenting with chronic illness a collection of articles and advice for parents

What are your top tips or best pieces of advice for others who are parenting with chronic illness? Let me know in the comments!

baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins Recipe

It’s autumn! The leaves are brown, the sky is grey, and going outside is starting to feel like a chore rather than a treat. But for me, one of the ways we’re compensated for the chilly weather and the shortening days is the delicious flavours of seasonal autumn cooking. And by that, I mean pumpkin! I absolutely love pumpkin as an ingredient in both sweet and savoury dishes, and I think these gluten free pumpkin muffins are a perfect autumn treat.

They’re made with tinned pumpkin puree, which isn’t always easy to find in the UK – although large supermarkets will often stock it in their international foods section. If you can’t find a tin of pumpkin puree, you can substitute it with homemade puree from a roasted pumpkin or squash – instructions here.

Okay, enough talk. On to the actual recipe!

gluten free pumpkin muffins recipe the sickly mama blog autumn

Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins Recipe

Ingredients for pumpkin muffins:

You will need the following ingredients for your gluten free pumpkin muffins:

  • 250g gluten free flour
  • 225g sugar (I split this between caster sugar, demerara sugar, and dark muscovado sugar – a mix with some darker sugar is ideal for a bit of extra flavour)
  • 2 eggs
  • 120g butter (salted)
  • 50g oats
  • 1/2 tsp xantham gum
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 can of pumpkin puree
  • 2 tsps cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
ingredients for gluten free pumpkin muffins recipe from the sickly mama blog

Method for gluten free pumpkin muffins

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees C and line a muffin tin with cake cases.

2. Melt the butter. You can do this in the microwave in 10 second blasts, stirring in between, until fully melted.

3. Add all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, and mix until thoroughly combined. Don’t worry if it’s a little bit lumpy though!

tinned pumpkin puree being mixed into a cake mix the sickly mama blog

4. Spoon the mix into the cake cases.

5. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. You’ll know the muffins are fully cooked when a skewer or fork inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

6. Put the muffins on a cooling tray to cool. Or eat them straightaway – they’re delicious still warm from the oven!

freshly baked gluten free pumpkin muffins cupcakes fairy cakes straight from the oven

Tips and pointers for your spiced pumpkin muffins:

These bad boys will keep in a tin for 3 – 4 days, although they’re yummiest fresh from the oven! You can also freeze your gluten free pumpkin muffins for up to three months – here are some pointers on freezing muffins. So you can make them now and enjoy them later!

This recipe is gluten free, however if you’re not in need of gluten free muffins, you can make them with regular flour and leave out the xantham gum. They’re just as yummy when they contain gluten, but do be careful not to over-mix the batter, as it will leave you with tough, chewy little cakes. Over-mixing is not such a problem with gluten-free baking, which is one of the few benefits of cooking for the gluten intolerant!

You can also very much get creative with the spices you use in these gluten free pumpkin muffins. I love a pumpkin spice blend that’s heavy on the cinnamon and ginger and light on the clove (by which I mean has NO CLOVES in it, because they’re disgusting). But a traditional American pumpkin spice mix has a good dose of nutmeg and clove in it, so you may wish to go for maximum authenticity there!

More gluten free treats…

Looking for more gluten free recipes? Why not try this amazing gluten free Rocky Road recipe – no baking required!

recipe for gluten free pumpkin muffins cupcakes fairy cakes the sickly mama blog autumn
Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Open Your Eyes Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

I’ve previously given my top tips on underwater modelling, based on my time as a professional mermaid and underwater model. So I’m going to continue this as a little blog series! Being able to open your eyes underwater is a really important part of underwater modelling. If you can’t open your eyes, you may still be able to get some beautiful shots with closed eyes, but to be a successful underwater model you need to be able to open them. As the old saying goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul – and in underwater photography, seeing a model with their eyes open is part of what really brings that magical, fantastical quality to the picture.

So if you’re not comfortable with opening your eyes underwater, how do you get there? Realistically, you do need to accept that opening your eyes underwater is likely to sting, and you’ll need to practice to get comfortable with it gradually, over time. Here are some key pointers that will help you get there.

Learn How To Open Your Eyes Underwater

1. Start By Staying Still

If you swim forwards with your eyes open, it’s more painful, because you’re effectively forcing the water into your eyes. For your first attempts at opening your eyes underwater, try to stay quite still as you open them.

Photograph by Gregory Brown

2. Avoid Chlorine If You Can

Chlorine and heavily salted water are the most unpleasant on your eyes, but even fresh water will sting a little bit. Aim to start trying to open your eyes underwater in lightly chlorinated water, or natural water that is clear and free of other irritants (such as a lot of dirt or sand).

If you’re in a public swimming pool, remember that these tend to have higher chlorine levels than private pools or tanks, so your eyes are likely to sting more in a public pool.

Make sure you have eye drops on hand for when you get out of the water – there are lots of great drops on the market, and I recommend looking for the kind that are marketed as being more viscous or gels, such as Viscotears liquid gel.

Check out those pink eyes in this backstage shot by Johannes Hjorth

3. Check The Temperature

It’s also worth being aware that the temperature of the water will make a difference. The most unpleasant underwater photoshoot I ever did was in an indoor tank, and me and the other models noticed that our eyes were burning much worse than normal. We spoke to the tank operators and they did several checks on the chlorine levels, which were completely within the normal range – but by the end of the shoot, we were all barely able to open our eyes (and seriously glad we had brought our eye drops along!).

Afterwards we realised that the problem had almost certainly been the temperature of the water – it was a cold winter’s day and the tank was located in a chilly warehouse, so the operators had very kindly turned the temperature up to ensure we didn’t freeze. However, the warmer water meant that the chlorine was reacting more easily with our eyes and thus a lot more painful than usual. So if you’re shooting in a heated pool or tank, try not to have the temperature turned up too high. You’re better off being briefly cold than having red vampire eyes for days afterwards!

4. Build Up Slowly

Start by opening your eyes for one or two seconds and build up from there. Practice makes perfect, but don’t spend too long practicing at once – spread it out over a number of different sessions to make sure you’re not putting your eyes through too much punishment.

Try opening your eyes while looking upwards initially, as some people find this easier.

Photograph by Hugh Spence

5. And Finally…

If you find that you’re still not comfortable opening your eyes underwater and want to shoot pictures with your eyes shut, make sure that you’re not scrunching your face up to keep your eyes closed – you want to look relaxed!

lifestyle · sport

Running 22 Miles For The British Red Cross Miles For Refugees

So in September, I took on the challenge of doing Miles For Refugees, a fundraising event for the British Red Cross. I committed to running 22 miles during September – that’s the length of the English Channel. And as of today, I’ve clocked in at 23.28 miles run in total across 17 runs in 30 days! Whoop whoop!

My fundraising page is here if you’d like to donate – or read on to find out more about the challenge and why I did it.

22 miles in a month for the Red Cross

Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much, considering some people run 26 miles in a day (and some absolute nutters apparently run 188 miles in a day… Seriously guys, you make the rest of us look bad). But I’ve never been a runner by any stretch of the imagination, so this is a big deal for me and by far the most running I’ve ever done in my life! Plus since having Little Man and being in lockdown, the most exercise I’ve done has been the odd half hour of yoga, so I’m definitely out of shape.

My experience with the Miles For Refugees challenge

Before I started doing Miles For Refugees, I had no idea how I’d manage with all the running. My hypermobility spectrum disorder means I have to be careful of high-impact exercise because it’s harsh on the joints. Plus, my undiagnosed asthma was the reason I never did any running at school or in my twenties – I couldn’t work out why I seemed so unfit that I was out of breath almost instantly when I started running. Surprise – I finally got diagnosed with asthma a few years ago and it explained so much!

I took due precautions, bought new running shoes, and was careful to take my inhalers religiously. I picked a distance that I hoped I could do within a month while allowing myself days off when my body just wasn’t feeling up to it. And I did okay! My very first run was 0.91 miles (1.5km) according to MapMyFitness, the app I’m using to track my runs. I was absolutely knackered by the end. My final run today was 2.15 miles (3.5km) and I was nowhere near as exhausted when I finished.

Plus, I increased my average pace from 12.55 minutes per mile on my first run to 11.54 on my final run (actually more impressive than it sounds, because on my final run I stopped for a quick chat with a lady who complimented my Studio Ghibli t-shirt). Don’t get me wrong, I’m still sloooooow, but I’ve definitely improved my ability to pace myself as I go and not end up totally exhausted after the first few minutes.

I discovered some new routes around my town, and found myself running at all times of day and all weathers (obligatory photo of me looking awful after getting absolutely drenched on a run, in the official Miles For Refugees t-shirt, is provided below). Sometimes it was fun, sometimes I absolutely hated it, but I’m proud I managed to complete it!

Why am I doing Miles For Refugees?

There’s been so much negative press about refugees and asylum seekers recently. A lot of the news coverage is pretty hysterical and completely loses sight of the fact that refugees and asylum seekers are human beings who are trying to find a better life for themselves and their families in a safe place. Isn’t that what all of us would do, when faced with conflict, poverty, persecution or unsafe conditions? Many refugees are fleeing war and conflict, have lost family members or been split up from them on the way. They are unlucky enough to find themselves in situations that most of us hope never to have to face.

The British Red Cross provides support to refugees in the UK and abroad, and also campaigns for a fair, effective and efficient asylum system in this country. That’s what Miles For Refugees is all about supporting! You can read more about the work of the British Red Cross here.

How can you help?

If you’d like to donate, my Miles For Refugees fundraising page is here. Alternatively, you can donate on the British Red Cross homepage here.

Thank you so much to everyone who’s already donated. It really means a lot to me. This has been a great experience, and I’m so glad to have raised this money for the Red Cross and for refugees who really need support and understanding right now!

running miles for refugees 22 miles for the british red cross fundraising the sickly mama
baby · child development · parenting · sleeping

The Sleep Regression At 8 Months

When Little Man was about 7 1/2 months old, we went to visit my parents. As they live a couple of hours away, this involved staying over. The little chap slept quite badly the whole weekend, but we weren’t especially surprised as he was in his travel cot which is still an unfamiliar bed for him. But when we got home, he continued to sleep badly even in his own cot. After a week of frequent wake-ups at night, I wondered whether he could be going through a sleep regression.

What is sleep regression in babies?

A sleep regression basically is what it says on the tin: a period of time (usually 3 – 6 weeks) where a baby starts sleeping worse with more wake-ups during the night, and/or trouble settling down to sleep.

Sleep regressions are particularly associated with developmental milestones and growth spurts, so there are some ages when you can more or less expect a patch of bad sleep to come along… And yep, 8 months is one of those ages!

When does sleep regression happen?

Most babies go through their first sleep regression around four months old, which is caused by changes in your baby’s sleep cycles, moving towards a more adult sleeping pattern. We actually didn’t notice that one though! At four months old, Little Man was sleeping so badly anyway that we were already up with him at least 15 times a night thanks to his tummy and colic… So there wasn’t really any capacity for his sleep to get any worse. There’s a strange sort of silver lining…

The next sleep regression is around eight months, although really it can happen any time in the seven to ten months range. And that’s where we’re currently at!

Our experience of the eight month sleep regression

It’s been a mixed bag so far! Little Man has sometimes had trouble settling to sleep at night, and often has been waking up fussing multiple times per night – we’d got used to him only waking once for a feed (or sometimes not at all!) so that has felt like a bit of a shock to the system.

This eight month sleep regression coincided quite closely with Little Man starting to crawl forwards and pull himself up on things. This is apparently often associated with sleep regression, as is the start of separation anxiety, commonly experienced around eight months.

In general I’ve noticed issues much more at night than with his daytime naps, although we have had a couple of incidents of naptime meltdowns and nap refusal. In fact, overall I’d say he’s actually been napping longer during the day (presumably to make up for the night time deficit!). However at times he is doing two very very long naps rather than three shorter naps in one day. That can be difficult to predict, and it’s often difficult to know whether or not he will want a third nap!

We’re probably almost four weeks in and things are just starting to improve again, which is positive. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re back to getting a reasonable night’s sleep most nights…

Tips For Parents

So what are my tips for sleep regression? I guess focus on the positives: although Little Man is waking up much more than he was a month ago, it’s still nowhere near as bad as he was around 5 months old with his colic, or in the very early newborn stage when they need to feed constantly.

I’ve also written previously about our white noise machine and how useful it is at soothing Little Man to sleep. It’s also something I’d recommend to any parents going through a sleep regression! The white noise owl has a noise sensor, and it turns the nose on automatically if it senses baby making noise in the night. This has been so invaluable over the last few weeks – sometimes I’ve been woken by the sound of Little Man fussing in the night, but once his white noise comes on, he’s happily settled back down to sleep and I’ve not needed to get up at all! Of course, it doesn’t work every time, but I definitely recommend getting a white noise machine if you don’t have one.

eight month sleep regression in babies how long does it last
health · top tips

Coronavirus Second Wave: Surviving Lockdown 2.0

2020 has been a pretty crazy year. I can’t say it’s been a bad year, because my lovely son was born in January, but it’s definitely been a mad year. And now it seems that we’re heading for the second wave of coronavirus… and another lockdown. The first lockdown back in March was a bit of a shock. None of us had been through anything like that before. Will surviving lockdown number 2 be easier, because we know what to expect, or will it be harder – for the same reason? It’s difficult to know, especially as we don’t yet know what a second lockdown will look like.

So in preparation, I’ve pulled together a round up of some of my favourite blog posts about surviving lockdown with your well-being intact…

Surviving Lockdown 2.0 And Maintaining Wellbeing

1. Coping with social isolation

One of the most difficult things about lockdown is the social isolation. It’s particularly tough if you live alone, but even those of us living with family, friends or housemates can struggle not being able to see the people we’re closest to, or even have those everyday interactions with other people that you don’t even notice under normal circumstances – a chat with a friendly check-out clerk, a quick gossip in the office, even just a smile in the street. Humans just aren’t made for social isolation.

This blog post gives some great tips on coping with social isolation, and the impact on our mental health. Check it out!

2. Creating a wellness retreat at home

My idea of maintaining wellness at home is agreeing with my husband an evening that I can have a bath while he feeds Little Man and puts him to bed (Little Man’s room is next to the bathroom and our pipes are super loud, so I can’t bath after he’s gone to bed!). I run a hot bath, add some bubbles, make a mug of herbal tea and grab a book to read while I soak. Luxury!

But this blog post made me realise I was aiming wayyyyy too low. You really can create a luxury wellness retreat at home – it just requires a bit of planning! Even if your family commitments mean you can’t quite clear your schedule for a while day of home spa relaxation, the links at the bottom of this post give some great ideas for lovely ways to boost your wellness when you have less time available. During coronavirus lockdown when you can’t go out or meet friends, it’s so important for your mental health to carve out some time for yourself, and this post is great inspiration for your next block of me-time.

6 ideas for surviving lockdown 2.0 coronavirus second wave mental health and wellness

3. Mindfulness meditations to combat Covid-19 lockdown stress and anxiety

Linked to the above, lockdown is inevitably stressful. Not being able to go out and spend time with friends and family is stressful in itself, let alone worries about catching coronavirus, managing food and medication shortages, employment issues and more. Mindfulness is a great way to combat stress and anxiety, and even as little as a ten minute mindfulness session every day can make a real difference to your mental health and wellbeing.

As we go into Lockdown 2.0, I’m going to be proactive about using mindfulness to manage stress, and working my way through this list of 10 minute mindfulness meditations.

4. Managing lockdown food shortages and limited shopping trips

If the newspapers are to be believed, panic buying has already started in advance of the second lockdown. Back in April, I set out some of my top tips for managing with lockdown food shortages and limited shopping trips. I’ll be revisiting some of those tips, and trying to make sure we have a well-stocked freezer before Lockdown 2.0 hits!

5. Improving Wellness At Home

I like this round-up post about improving your wellness at home. Some things are so simple and yet they do really make a difference to how you feel… Like making sure you get outdoors every day if possible. During the first coronavirus lockdown, we always made sure to pop into the garden every evening with Little Man, to spend a little time with nature, and it always really lifted my mood. Unless it was raining, of course!

6. Tips for mamas to survive Lockdown 2.0

Of course a huge focus of this blog is on parenting and being a mama, so I loved this blog post about how mamas can beat the lockdown blues. Of course a lot of the tips will be great for dads too (although probably not every dad will want a mini makeover). There are benefits to being locked down with kids – at least the time goes quickly as you’re caught in the constant whirl of feeding, naptime, playtime and tantrums – but there’s no denying it can be stressful and exhausting.

What are your top tips for surviving lockdown… again? Let me know in the comments!

coronavirus covid 19 second wave surviving lockdown 2.0 with good mental health and wellness
coronavirus · health

Please Become A Blood Stem Cell Donor

Normally when I write my blog, I just hope that my readers take time to read my posts and enjoy them. Today’s a bit different, because today I’m asking you to do something. Please, please, please sign up to be a blood stem cell and/or bone marrow donor.

Why am I asking you?

This is Adeline

She’s nearly four years old and was diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow failure almost two years ago. Ever since, Adeline has been waiting for a lifesaving bone marrow transplant. Recently, it seemed a donor match had been found, but her family have now heard that this has fallen through, and once again no matches are available.

adeline davies bone marrow failure become a blood stem cell donor the sickly mama blog

This is what Adeline’s mum has to say:

“One 3 minute phone call, I expected to get a date for transplant but instead heard the words: ‘The donors we have are not an option any longer,’ and ‘there are currently no matches for Adeline.’ It felt like a dagger in the gut and in the heart. Back to the start, just with far less hope.”

“The only way of saving Adeline’s life is a bone marrow transplant. So we need all the help and all the sign ups we can get!
Please register with DKMS, Anthony Nolan or any stem cell/bone marrow registry. All it takes is a few mouth swabs and you can save a life like Adeline’s.”

You can follow Adeline’s journey here.

Did you know?

Because of Covid, nearly 19,000 fewer people joined the stem cell register this year. That’s a massive drop, and given that many people struggled to find a donor match even before the current crisis.

Already, only 60% of transplant recipients receive the best possible stem cell match, and that drops to just 20% for people from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds. More donors from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds are desperately needed.

What does blood stem cell donation involve?

90% of blood stem cell donations are done by Peripheral Blood Stem Cell collection, a straightforward process similar to donating blood, although you will need injections in the days leading up to your donation. There’s no need for an overnight stay in hospital.

10% of donations are done via bone marrow transplant. This requires a general anaesthetic and a couple of nights in hospital. You can find out more about each method of donation here.

What if I can’t donate?

Not everyone is a suitable donor due to age and/or health conditions. Unfortunately, I’m not eligible to donate due to my pituitary tumour, which is why I’m trying to help out by spreading the word and encouraging others to become a blood stem cell donor if they can. If like me you can’t donate, please share the word on social media and in person to encourage others to sign up, and consider making a financial donation to the charities that run the donor registries.

Plus, remember to wear your masks, wash your hands, and social distance to limit the spread of coronavirus. A Covid infection could be the difference between life and death for someone waiting for a blood stem cell transplant.

Please, if you can, become a blood stem cell donor

So please do consider signing up to the donor registry today. You might just save a life.

baby · food · parenting · top tips

My Top Weaning Tips So Far

We started weaning Little Man at six months, so we’re now about seven weeks in and having two solid meals a day as standard (I’ll be honest, we could be doing three a day, I just can’t be bothered cleaning porridge off the walls that early in the morning). That means it’s time to share my top weaning tips so far, based on what I’ve learned!

We’re following a mix of traditional weaning (where the food is puréed or mushy at first, gradually increasing in chunky textures, and you feed baby with a spoon) and baby-led weaning (or BLW – where baby is presented with solid food options from the start and has to feed him or herself). This seems to be working just fine, despite some evangelists on the BLW side saying it’s all or nothing and you must never mix the two approaches for fear of confusing baby. Maybe some babies are more easily confused than others… Mine just seems to treat all food of all textures and presentations as an opportunity to coat himself in muck from head to toe.

In general, lunch is more of a purist’s BLW approach, where Little Man gets foods he can pick up himself and the time to have fun with them. Sometimes they even go into his mouth. Then at dinner, he sits in his high chair at the table with me and my husband, and there’s more of a concerted effort to get some food in his tummy.

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on our weaning journey so far, and I thought I’d share some weaning tips that I wish I’d known when we started!

Don’t make assumptions about what they will or won’t like

Little Man has consistently surprised me with what he enjoys eating. The other day, I was eating some very strongly flavoured salt and vinegar crisps. Little Man was on my lap, and he was reaching for them. We don’t normally let him have any kind of junk food, but I let him have a crisp, on the basis that I thought the flavour would be way too strong and acidic for him and he wouldn’t like it. I even thought it might put him off asking for crisps in the future! Predictably, I was 100% wrong and he loved it… Oops.

Other foods that he has liked despite my expectations have included raspberries, broccoli mash (come on though, broccoli is grim… I practically made myself ill from the smell when I cooked it for him!), risotto, Japanese-style pork croquettes, and more. Now, I just let him try whatever and see what he thinks. Fingers crossed it works and we avoid having a fussy eater later on in life!

Help them get started off

I often offer Little Man one or two pieces of his finger food before leaving him to try to eat himself. Giving him a piece straight to his mouth at the start of the meal helps him get enthusiastic about feeding himself the rest. I then often give him one or two pieces to hold, as he often struggles to pick things up initially and it seems to help him get the hang of it for the rest of the meal.

Weaning is tough

Don’t start sweet (unless you mean to go on…)

The other day, I gave Little Man some raspberries to start him off while I made veggie omelette for his main. Oops. He loves veggie omelette, but after the raspberries he was in no way interested. Every time he put a piece in his mouth, he just made a sad face. Now we don’t do sweet things until the savoury is out the way first…

Let him have his own damn spoon

Little Man ALWAYS wants to hold the spoon. He struggles a lot with his teething and loves chomping on our wooden spoons. He’ll take a bite from a spoon, then if his teeth are bothering him, he’ll get very angry if you try to take the spoon back to give him a second bite. So now I have a back-up spoon on hand, and I just let him keep the spoon he wants. It’s much easier all around.

Brace yourself for those first weaning nappies

Little Man has always had trouble with his stomach, but as his tummy had improved by the time we came to start weaning, I have to say I wasn’t fully prepared for the violent and explosive nature of the poops he produced after starting weaning. We went through a couple of weeks where he was routinely experiencing such forceful poops that they completely escaped his nappy and went right up his back. He’s also been quite windy, but fortunately doesn’t seem to have tummy pain like he used to when he was smaller. Luckily for us (and our washing machine), Little Man’s digestive system does seem to have begun to acclimatise to solid foods, and poops are now normally being contained within the safety of his nappy. But I really wish someone had warned me about those first few weeks!

What are your top weaning tips? Share them in the comments!

Blog post image for top weaning tips using a mix of baby led weaning and traditional weaning
Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Look Amazing Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Whether you’re a model heading for your first underwater photoshoot, or just going on holiday and dreaming of getting some awesome underwater shots in the pool, getting a good picture in the water is very different to getting a good photo on land. While I’m not performing now I’ve had my son, I spent years working as a professional mermaid and underwater model, so I’ve pulled together this short guide for modelling underwater, to help you get the pictures you want.

Underwater Modelling Top Tips

1. Keep Track Of Your Location Underwater

Being underwater affords so much opportunity for creative, gravity-defying poses. When you’re getting into position it’s helpful to be aware of the frame that your photographer is shooting into, to ensure that you know whether you can stretch out your arms and legs and still stay in shot, or whether you need to stick to more compact poses. For underwater modelling, aim to keep diving in the same spot unless your photographer wants you to move, as otherwise you’re likely to get a lot of blurry pictures. It can be tricky to keep track of this in swimming pools, as there’s always a tendency to drift in the water, so try to get your bearings each time you surface.

2. Relax Your Face And Open Your Mouth

One of the things that can make your face seem tense or unnatural in underwater pictures is the fact that most people naturally want to keep their mouth closed when they’re underwater. When you’re holding your breath, you’ll naturally want to close your mouth, and most people aren’t that comfortable at first with letting water into their mouth, especially if it’s chlorinated.

But you’ll find that if you can open your mouth underwater, it will help your facial expressions to look relaxed – and gives you a much wider range of expression in your underwater modelling photos. It’s actually probably more important than being able to open your eyes underwater, as closed eyes don’t necessarily make you look tense.

At first, the fact that you’re holding your breath may mean that even with your mouth open, your facial expression will still look a little stiff or unnatural – I recommend just practising at home in the mirror. When you’re doing your breath hold practice, try using a range of expressions, and you’ll find your expression quickly becomes more natural and relaxed.

Photograph by Gregory Brown

3. Getting The Poses Right For Underwater Modelling

You’ll find it helpful to go into an underwater modelling shoot with a mental checklist of poses that you want to try. It’s easy for your mind to go blank when you’re underwater, and communication with your photographer is much more difficult than on land, so it’s useful to be able to work through a set of poses that you’ve planned in advance.​

Make sure you try each pose several times, to give your photographer the best chance of getting a good shot.

It’s also handy to be able to work through a mental checklist of key points as you’re getting into each pose (having something to focus on will also distract you from the fact that you’re holding your breath!):

  • Point your toes (assuming you’re not in a mermaid tail!).
  • Shape your hands – flat paddle hands won’t look good in a picture. Relax your hands and create some space in between your fingers.
  • Relax your face – check you’re not squinting or pushing your lips out.
  • Check your hair – if it’s not floating up, try running a hand up through it for that magical underwater look.
  • Move slowly – give your photographer plenty of time to capture the shot.
  • Use props – props can look amazing underwater! A simple piece of fabric will transform your shot.
  • Think about your lighting (see below).
Photograph by Chiara Salomoni

4. Manage Your Lighting

Just as with normal modelling, it’s important to be aware of your light sources. Underwater lighting can be more complicated, particularly if you’re relying on natural light or surface light, rather than using underwater flashes.

Using surface light in your photography creates that beautiful marbled lighting effect that can be one of the hallmarks of underwater photography.

The side effect of this marbled lighting is the weird shadows that it casts, quite unpredictably – there’s an example of this in the photo to the right. This means that it’s a good idea to have a few takes of every shot – even if your pose is spot-on, the lighting may not be!​

If you are relying on surface lighting, remember to tilt your head upwards and towards your light source, to maximise the light falling on your face. But even if you do this, I guarantee you’ll get some strange shadows in your shots, so make sure you take plenty of photos!

This photograph by David Ballard shows typical dappled underwater lighting

5. Beware Of Bubbles

Unfortunately, bubbles have the propensity to pop up and ruin an otherwise awesome shot. If they’re in the right place, they can add to that magical underwater feeling in the photograph – if they’re in the wrong place, they will cast weird shadows and distort your facial features. When you’re doing underwater modelling, the key is to try to be aware of them and control them as far as possible.

When you first submerge under the water, the dive will usually create a cloud of bubbles and you will need to wait until after these have cleared to get the perfect shot. You can minimise this by diving into the water more slowly, and by getting your clothing and costume fully submerged beforehand, ensuring there aren’t any air bubbles trapped within the fabric. Checking your costume for air bubbles is a good idea in any case, as these can create peculiar floating bits of fabric in the picture.

So far, so straightforward. But now… introducing the ninja nose bubble! When you drop below the surface of the water, pockets of air are trapped in your nose and sinuses. These have a tendency of creating a surprise stream of bubbles from your nose at unexpected moments, particularly when you tip your head backwards in the water. The best thing to do is to just to be aware of the possibility of this happening when you tip your head back – if a ninja nose bubble does appear, just hold your pose and be prepared to wait for the bubbles to dissipate. You may need to repeat the pose a number of times to get the shot you want.

If it’s really ruining your shot, the best thing you can do is to get underwater, tip your head really far back, let the bubbles out and the water fill your nose, and then take your pose. This is not particularly recommended, as the sensation of water pouring into your nose is pretty unpleasant, especially if it’s chlorinated.

A nose bubble ruining this great shot by Shamira Crivellaro of MiraMarc Studios

And those are my top tips for your next underwater photoshoot! I’ll be continuing this series of tips and tricks for underwater photography, so keep an eye out for the next blog – and let me know in the comments if there are any aspects of underwater modelling that you’d be interested in finding out more about.

cocktails · food · food storage · recipes

How To Make Hawthorn Berry Gin – Foraging Recipe

Basically, foraging is like shopping – except everything is free, so it’s better. As I’m on maternity leave, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to pick berries this year, so I wanted to share some of the recipes I’m trying out. I’ve heard that hawthorn berry gin has a taste a bit like sherry, so of course that was first on the list to try. Whether you live in the town or the countryside, chances are you’ll have a hawthorn bush nearby, as they’re one of the most common types of plant used for hedges in this country.

This is a great way to transform a bottle of cheap £10 supermarket vodka into a bottle of gin you’d pay at least £25 for. Because yes – gin is basically just vodka that’s been flavoured either during or after the distillation process. Who knew?

Fair warning: this is my first time making hawthorn gin, so it’s not exactly a tried and tested recipe just yet! I’ve tried to read through a number of different recipes and select the “average” set of instructions to follow…

Hawthorn Gin: The Recipe

1. First, pick your hawthorn berries

It’s the perfect time of year for picking hawthorn berries! They’re also a great thing to forage, because unlike blackberries or even damsons, they’re not that popular, so it’s unlikely that other people will get there before you and pinch all the ripe berries.

The berries are ripe when they’re a lovely bright red, from late August through to October depending on where you live. If you’re not confident identifying hawthorn, you can find a guide here. It’s not likely that you’d mix it up with another plant, so it’s a pretty safe bet for a new forager! Remember not to pick all the berries you find – they’re important food for wildlife too.

Some people say you should wait for the first frost to pick hawthorn berries, but it’s not really necessary for making gin. If you want, you can freeze the berries and defrost before using them, to achieve the same effect.

foraging for hawthorn berries to make hawthorn gin uk

2. Prepare your hawthorn berries

Sort through the berries to remove any that are discoloured, and give them a wash.

Ideally at this point you want to top and tail the berries, cutting off the stems and the little brown bit at the bottom. You don’t have to, but apparently if you remove these parts, it reduces the amount of sediment that you have to strain out later. Some recipes leave the berries whole – others cut out the stone in the middle (but that seemed like too much effort to me) – this seems like the most popular approach though.

preparing hawthorn berries to make hawthorn gin recipe

3. Bottle it

Pack the berries into a sterilised bottle or preserving jar, adding sugar between the layers as you go. I find a lot of homemade gin too sweet, so I’ve not been over-generous with my sugar, but done recipes recommend vast quantities of the stuff. It’s basically just there for flavour, so you can add it to taste.

Leave a space at the top of the jar so you can give it a good shake. Then fill the jar or bottle with cheap supermarket gin or vodka.

making hawthorn gin at home recipe with hawthorn berries

4. Wait for hawthorn gin

And now… We wait! Leave the gin for about a month, giving it a shake every few days. Then, strain your gin. You can do this the traditional way through a muslin, or through filter paper.

Next, let it mature for 2 – 3 months before drinking. It will keep for about a year after that, so make sure you label the bottle.

how to make hawthorn gin at home with hawthorn berries

Now, I can’t report back on the flavour just yet because my gin is still infusing, but I will let you know how it turns out when we crack it out in the winter!