health · top tips

How To Cope With Having A Mystery / Undiagnosed Medical Condition

I’ve previously written about how it feels to have a mystery or undiagnosed health condition. This post follows on from that, and looks at tips and strategies for how to cope with undiagnosed illness or while managing an unknown medical condition.

tips for how to cope with undiagnosed illness the sickly mama blog

Tips For How To Cope With Undiagnosed Illness

1. Acknowledge and talk about your feelings

Having a mystery health condition is really hard and stressful. It’s completely natural and normal to feel sad, frustrated, angry, stressed out and more. Trying to keep your emotions pent up isn’t healthy. It won’t help you cope with undiagnosed illness, and it won’t help you feel better in the long run. Give yourself a chance to feel those emotions, and accept the way you’re feeling.

Ideally, talk to someone – a friend, family member or partner – about how you’re feeling. Not only will it help you deal with your emotions, but it will also help them to understand what you’re going through.

2. Communicate your needs

One of the most common complaints from people with chronic illness is that other people don’t understand what you’re going through. It can be especially upsetting and frustrating when it seems that the people closest to you don’t understand – or worse, that they’re not even trying to understand how you’re feeling. You can end up getting that your needs are sidelined or ignored, or that no-one is prepared to help.

Remember that the only way that people will understand is if you tell them. Try to be proactive about communicating and give people a chance to listen to how you’re feeling and what you need from them. I remember a few weeks after my first brain surgery, I had to travel across London. I was very wobbly and it was my first time out on my own, but outwardly I looked like a normal 21 year old.

At King’s Cross station, it was very busy but thankfully I got lucky and found a seat while waiting for my train. Everyone else with a seat in that area was middle aged or older. An elderly woman walked up and stood nearby, and started giving me angry looks and clearing her throat. Clearly she expected me to give up my seat for her, as the youngest person there. But she never actually asked for it.

If she had asked, I would have explained that I really needed the seat, and probably someone else nearby who wasn’t in such need would have offered her their seat. But she never actually asked, so I never explained, so she never got to sit down. No doubt she thought I was incredibly rude, but she didn’t communicate her need, so no-one accommodated it. This really drove home to me the importance of asking for what you need. You might not get exactly what you’re going for… But if you don’t ask, you’ll get nothing at all.

Be specific if you can – for instance, rather than saying “I get very tired and need to rest”, you’ll get better results from saying “I get very tired and can’t be on my feet more than about ten minutes at a time. Then I will need to sit down for half an hour”. You may think that your emotions and needs should be blindingly obvious to anyone with half a brain… But it’s not always the case.

3. Be kind to yourself

Remember to be kind to yourself. When you’re frustrated and stressed and finding it hard to get things done, it’s easy to push yourself too hard and forget to give yourself a break. But it’s important to look after yourself and your mental health. Don’t spend all of your available energy doing life admin – make sure you occasionally have time to have a bath, read a book, chat to a friend, or whatever it is that you enjoy.

But being kind to yourself isn’t just about having a spa day. It’s also about listening to your body and believing in yourself. When you’re experiencing medically unexplained symptoms, it can be easy to start worrying that they’re all in your head. When there is no label that explains the symptoms you’re experiencing, you may feel that people don’t take your illness seriously – or that you shouldn’t be severely affected by it. Try to remember that a diagnosis is not a permit to be ill. You don’t need permission to be sick. Your experiences – your pain, fatigue, whatever other weird and wonderful symptoms you’re experiencing – are real. And you need to listen to your body and its needs, and take care of yourself.

4. Be your own best advocate

It’s a hard truth that when you have a chronic illness, the one who cares most about finding a diagnosis and a treatment is YOU. Yes, it’s your doctor’s job to work out what’s going on, but no matter how committed your healthcare providers are, at the end of the day it’s just that – a job to them. Whereas to you, it’s your life.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. That is likely to mean different things to different people. It might mean chasing up those appointments that are slow to arrive, or those test results that no-one seems to want to discuss. Or, it might mean having the persistence to keep going back with the same symptoms that no-one seems to want to investigate, or pushing for a second opinion . It might mean using these techniques to get your doctor to listen to you. Whatever you need to do to push your best interests.

5. Seek out support to help you cope with undiagnosed illness

You don’t need to do it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for support. It can be difficult to find external support networks, because most charities and support groups focus on specific illnesses… Which is difficult if you don’t know what illness you have. But support is out there for the undiagnosed.

You can join Facebook support groups such as Undiagnosed Illness Support Group or Undiagnosed Chronic Illnesses… And many more. Equally, you may wish to look online for ways to connect with people who experience similar symptoms to you, even if you don’t have a diagnosis yet.

Do you have any tips on living with an undiagnosed medical condition or mysterious unexplained symptoms? What are your recommendations for how to cope with undiagnosed illness? Let me know in the comments!

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Relax Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Feeling calm and being able to relax underwater is a big part of being a good underwater model or performer, and that’s my background and where thus blog post comes from. But if you suffer from fear of the water, or enjoy freediving and want to improve your breath hold and confidence in the water, these tips should also be useful to you.

This is part of my blog series A Professional Mermaid’s Guide to Underwater Modelling – check out the other posts for more top tips on looking incredible underwater.

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How To Relax Underwater

Why is it important to relax underwater?

Staying calm and relaxed in the water is likely to help you hold your breath for longer, enable you to keep going for longer – and ensure that you actually enjoy yourself. If you’re modelling or performing underwater and you feel panicked or you need to make a lot of adjustments to your pose, hair or costume, you’ll burn through your oxygen much more quickly and find that you can’t hold your breath as long.

Practise makes perfect

The number one way to ensure you feel relaxed underwater is just practice. It’s not the advice anyone wants, but it’s true! The best thing you can do is spend lots of time in the water, diving and holding your breath, until it doesn’t feel strange or unusual or even particularly exciting. Once being underwater feels kind of standard, you know you’re relaxed! Of course it’s important to always practice in the water safely, with a dive buddy (see more on this below).

Underwater photoshoots in particular can be stressful environments; there’s a lot of pressure to get the right shots within a set time frame. If you’re not comfortable in the water, this will only exacerbate the stress and pressure. Making sure you’ve spent a lot of time in the water in a non-pressured environment will help you to have the confidence you need to relax underwater.

mermaid with sunglasses underwater how to relax underwater modelling the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Mark Jones

Minimise the pressure

In order to feel relaxed, you need to think about your environment both before and during your time in the water. Think about how you can create a calm environment that will help you feel relaxed. Music can be really helpful for this – a few times I’ve done photoshoots in a tank which had a sound system, which was awesome but obviously is not always available!

Be organised and ensure you’re not rushing around before you get in the water. If you’re feeling stressed out before you even begin, you’ll find it difficult to relax once you start swimming.

Breathing exercises

Ideally, take time to do some breathing exercises before getting in the water. This will help you to hold your breath longer, but will also help you to feel relaxed and calm. Focus on your breathing, your inhalations and exhalations, and try some specific exercises such as this breathing technique recommended by the NHS for anxiety and stress.

mermaid diving underwater light and dark how to relax underwater modelling the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Vanessa Mills

Be safe and manage risk

It sounds obvious, but ensure that you are swimming or diving in a safe environment. This is especially important if you are undertaking an underwater photoshoot or performance, or swimming in open water. Making sure you’ve undertaken a risk assessment beforehand will help you relax when it’s time to get in the water.

Think about things like: is there a lifeguard? Are you diving or swimming with a buddy? Are there any obstructions or hazards in the water? If you’re wearing a costume with a lot of fabric, or something like a mermaid tail that might be quite restrictive, aim to practice being in the water in your costume to ensure you feel comfortable and safe.

You should also consider the way your tank or diving area is set up. When you surface for a breath after diving, will you have something to hold onto, to give yourself a break for a moment if you need it? This could be the side of the pool, a float, a rock, whatever – but it’s good to know you can take a pause if and when you need it.

Linked to the above, think about the length of time you’ll be diving for. For modelling or performing, ten to twenty minute sessions with decent length breaks in-between is sensible, to ensure you don’t get too exhausted or too cold, and have a chance to recharge your batteries.

Don’t push yourself too hard

If you’re modelling or performing underwater and you try to hold your breath as long as you possibly can on every dive, you will very quickly run out of energy and start to find the rest of your time in the water much more difficult. As with something like running, it’s important to pace yourself. It’s better to maintain medium length breath holds consistently over a twenty minute shoot, rather than exhaust yourself with a couple of really long breath holds right at the start and then not be able to maintain it. Running out of air will stress you out, so make sure you take the next breath before you absolutely have to.

Similarly, if you’re trying to get over anxiety about being in the water, don’t force yourself to stay in the water for a really long time at first.

Learn More About Underwater Modelling

This article is part of a series sharing top tips on various aspects of underwater modelling! Why not check out this article on general underwater modelling tips to look amazing underwater, this post about learning how to open your eyes underwater, or the series page to see everything I’ve published so far.

baby · child development · parenting

Why Doesn’t My Baby Blink?

This morning was my turn to get up with Little Man and, in a rare and excellent turn of events, he didn’t wake up until 7am. We were both in a good mood when my husband came downstairs to join us an hour later, and we all started playing together on the floor. At one point my husband jokingly said to Little Man “Blink if mummy’s being difficult!” and I cracked up – I knew I was safe because Little Man just. doesn’t. blink. And he’s not alone – hardly blinking is one of those weird developmental things that’s actually normal for babies. But why don’t babies blink much, compared to adults?

why don't babies blink once or twice a minute slow compared to adults the sickly mama blog parenting

Why doesn’t my baby blink?

How often do babies blink?

If you’ve spent much time around babies, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t blink much. This actually freaked me out slightly when I was still in hospital just after Little Man was born and I realised he wouldn’t blink for what felt like incredibly long amounts of time. Fortunately, a quick Google told me that it was totally normal. In fact, babies often only blink around once or twice a minute. When you consider that adults blink around fifteen times a minute, that’s a pretty huge difference.

Why do we need to blink in the first place?

Apparently, blinking is still a bit of a mystery to science, which is a mad thought given that there are billions of humans walking around on the surface of the planet blinking 21,600 times a day each. In fact, we blink so often that adults actually spend around 10% of our waking hours with our eyes shut.

Blinking serves a variety of purposes:

  • Lubricating the eyeball by renewing your tear film, which not only nourishes the cornea, but also helps ensure a smooth optical surface to let your eyes see clearly.
  • Clearing away dust particles and any other debris from the eye.
  • Scientists now think that blinking may have a role in allowing your brain to get brief mental respites that help you to concentrate more effectively.

So… why don’t babies need to blink much?

Babies’ eyes presumably need to stay moist just like adult eyes. So why don’t babies need to blink as much as adults?

It’s been suggested that because babies sleep so much, they don’t need to blink as much, as they spend so much time with their eyes shut. Babies’ eyes actually don’t even make tears for the first month of life. Babies also have smaller eye openings than adults, proportionate to the overall size of their eyes. As a result, they might just not need as much eye lubrication as adults.

Alternatively, it’s also been suggested that babies may blink less because they need to focus more in order to take in all the visual information they’re receiving, so they can’t afford to take the short mental breaks that blinking affords to adults. Or that it may be related to babies’ underdeveloped dopamine systems.

So… What does all that mean?

As is so often the case when I’m writing about baby and child development on this blog, the answer seems to be: we don’t really know why babies don’t blink as much as adults. But the take-home message is: it’s totally normal for your baby not to blink much, so don’t worry.

why don't babies blink the sickly mama blog why doesn't my baby blink adults eyes
food · health · Just for fun · Seasonal

Brussels Sprouts: A Festive Safety Warning

Now, there are apparently some people in this world who actually enjoy Brussels sprouts, and they will insist on saying things like “it’s not Christmas without sprouts!” and “they’re incredibly good for you, you know!” BUT ARE THEY? I have always believed that Brussels sprouts are the work of the devil, and now it turns out I may well be justified in that belief. So I’m sharing this festive Brussels sprouts safety warning with you: these little green vegetables are dangerous…

brussels sprouts safety warning festive christmas hospital blood thinner vitamin k sickly mama blog

Brussels Sprouts: A Festive Safety Warning

Brussels Sprouts Overdose: The Facts

Back in 2011, a man was hospitalised at Christmas after overdosing on Brussels sprouts. Yes, really. You see, sprouts contain vitamin K, which the body uses to help with blood clotting. This can be a problem if you’re on medication to stop your blood clotting (a.k.a. blood thinners or ‘anticoagulants’ – like warfarin, which you may have heard of). All the vitamin K counteracts the effect of this medication.

The man in question suffered from chronic heart failure, and had been fitted with an artificial pump in his heart, while he was awaiting a heart transplant. It’s normal for patients in this situation to take blood thinners, and he was prescribed warfarin and his blood was monitored to check it wasn’t clotting too easily. All was well for four months, when the festive season approached. Suddenly, blood tests indicated that the man’s blood was clotting much too quickly. The doctors increased his warfarin, but it kept getting worse and worse. They told him not to eat too many leafy green vegetables due to the vitamin K content. But nothing seemed to help. Three days after Christmas, he was admitted to hospital.

While in hospital – eating hospital food – things started to improve. Eventually, under (presumably) intensive questioning from his doctors, he finally admitted that he’d been eating Brussels sprouts three or four times a week during the festive period. But not just that. Oh no. He’d been eating 15 – 20 Brussels sprouts at a time. That means he was munching down around 45 – 80 sprouts PER WEEK.

Now, I have some sprout fans in my immediate family, and they’ve long tried to convert me to eating this appalling vegetable. But I have never met anyone who loves them so much they’re guzzling down 20 sprouts a day (unless they’re so rightly ashamed of this sick behaviour that they’re hiding it from me, I guess). Anyway, the point is: not only are sprouts gross, they’re also potentially little green balls of death, so heed my festive Brussels sprouts safety warning and steer well clear.

Why do I hate sprouts so much?

Random side note: the the hatred of Brussels sprouts is, in fact, genetic (or at least, probably genetic). Those people who have this gene can taste the bitter and hideous taste of a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, which is extremely similar to a chemical found in brassicas, like Brussels sprouts. And cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower… pretty much all the vegetables I and so many other sensible people hate. So if you’ve ever been sat around the Christmas dinner table, watching your family guzzling down sprouts and wondering: why do I hate Brussels sprouts so much? Now you know!

food · gluten free · recipes · reviews

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream With Sweet Cocoa Collagen Recipe

I was kindly gifted this sweet cocoa collagen by Wellness Lab Ltd. You can use their collagen powder in drinks, smoothies and baked goods, so they asked if I could come up with a new ice cream recipe using it. And after a little experimenting, I’ve created this recipe for delicious malted chocolate ice cream with sweet cocoa collagen!

It’s high in protein, and comparatively low in sugar – with about 1/3rd of the sugar content you’d usually get in an ice cream, if you leave out the Malteasers. (But why would you leave out the Malteasers? They’re delicious!)

What the hell is collagen and why would I want it in my ice cream?

Collagen is a protein that is found throughout your entire body, in connective tissue like cartilage, bone, skin, ligaments and tendons. Your body naturally produces collagen, but as you age your body produces less of it. It’s been suggested that taking collagen supplements can help improve skin elasticity, and reduce joint aim and wrinkles, by helping your body to produce this important protein. Although it’s still early days in terms of the science, there are some indications that collagen supplementation may help with joint health in osteoarthritis.

Collagen supplements are really popular right now – not only because of their possible health benefits, but also because they’re high in protein and can easily be added to other foodstuffs.

What does collagen taste like?

I had never tried collagen supplements before, so I was interested to see what the flavour was like! In the sweet cocoa collagen powder, the collagen seems to give it a slightly malty flavour, which is what inspired this recipe. If you enjoy Horlicks or other malted chocolate drinks, you’d probably really like the powder just as a hot drink (you can just add hot water and stir!). I’m personally not such a fan of malty hot drinks, I prefer the flavour in baked goods and puddings… And especially in ice cream!

Where can I get hold of powdered collagen to try?

If you’d like to try the Wellness Lab powdered collagen (which comes in sweet cocoa, vanilla, or unflavoured varieties) click here and use code SICKLYMAMA for 10% off (Full disclosure: if you do make a purchase I will receive a small commission!).

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream With Sweet Cocoa Collagen Recipe

The Ingredients:

For this recipe, first you’ll need to gather the following ingredients:

– 300ml whole milk

– 300ml double cream

– 6 egg yolks

– 100g milk chocolate

– 5tsp of sweet cocoa collagen from Wellness Labs (use code SICKLYMAMA for 10% off!)

– 1tsp vanilla essence

– 2 handfuls Malteasers (optional, but delicious)

The Equipment:

Ideally, for this malted chocolate ice cream recipe you’ll need an ice cream maker. If you don’t have one though, don’t worry – I’ll explain how to make the recipe without one as well.

Here’s the list of equipment you’ll ideally want to gather, in addition to your ingredients:

  • Ice cream maker
  • Saucepan
  • Mixing bowl
  • Heatproof bowl
  • Mug
  • Wooden spoon
  • Spatula
  • Balloon whisk
  • Teaspoon
  • Container to freeze your finished collagen ice cream in (an old ice cream tub is perfect!)

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream With Sweet Cocoa Collagen: The Method

As with all ice cream recipes, there are two stages to this: first you make your custard base, then you turn it into ice cream. You can do both stages in one day if you have the time, or split them out over two days. Each stage itself doesn’t take that long – but leaving the custard to cool and the ice cream to churn is what takes the time!

Stage 1: Make Your Custard

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk your egg yolks with the vanilla essence. In a saucepan, gently heat the cream and milk together until just boiling. Keep back three tablespoons of milk for later.

2. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Slowly pour the hot milk and cream over the egg yolks, while whisking the yolks constantly.

3. Once combined, return the mix to the saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mix is the consistency of thin custard.

4. Remove from the heat and cool. You can do this quickly by placing the custard in a bowl over a larger bowl of ice water, or leave to cool more slowly. Ideally, you want your custard chilled by the time it goes in the ice cream maker – so make sure it gets some time in the fridge. You can even leave it overnight in the fridge if you want.

Stage Two: Make Your Ice Cream

5. Set up your ice cream maker to churn, and add the custard.

6. Meanwhile, set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Add three tablespoons of milk. Wait until the milk is warm, then add the chocolate, broken into pieces. Stir until the chocolate is totally melted into the milk. Remove from the saucepan and set aside to cool.

7. Take your sweet cocoa collagen and place it in the mug. Add 2 – 4 tablespoons of hot water, stirring to mix until you have a chocolatey sauce. Set aside to cool.

8. Once the ice cream has churned for 25 – 30 minutes and has thickened to the texture of soft serve/Mr Whippy ice cream, add the cooled chocolate and the cooled cocoa collagen mix. Allow to churn for a further 5 – 10 minutes.

9. Meanwhile, crush your Malteasers and place them in your ice cream container. Add the finished ice cream into your container and stir until the Malteasers are well mixed in.

10. Freeze your malted chocolate collagen ice cream for at least 2 hours, and serve when you’re ready.

Your collagen recipes:

Have you tried cooking or making ice cream with collagen? Share your recipes in the comments!

health

What It’s Like To Have A Mystery/Undiagnosed Illness

Today I’m going to be talking about coping with having an undiagnosed illness – one where the doctors can’t work out what’s wrong (or may even not believe that anything is wrong at all).

I think I’m pretty well equipped to write about this subject; it took years for my brain tumor to finally be diagnosed, including almost a year where I had a resting heartrate of 140 beats per minute (for context, about 60 – 100 bpm is normal, so that’s pretty darn fast) for no reason that anyone could explain. Then, more recently, after I gave birth to my son I experienced unexplained thyroid issues that took a number of months to diagnose.

What it feels like to have an undiagnosed illness

what it feels like to have a mystery undiagnosed illness the sickly mama blog

Having an undiagnosed illness is really stressful (unsurprisingly). It can be helpful to break down and acknowledge some of the key reasons why that is the case, and you may find this list helpful to share with family and friends if they’re struggling to understand what you’re going through. I’ve also written a follow-up post with tips to cope with having a mystery health condition.

The uncertainty is frightening

Often the options for what’s causing your symptoms may include life-changing and/or life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer. It’s very scary to live with the threat of that hanging over you, and it will affect those closest to you as well. It can be difficult to carry on going with your day to day life with that fear constantly in the background.

It’s surprisingly busy and tiring to manage healthcare tests and appointments

It is stressful, unpleasant and often exhausting to go through repeated sets of diagnostic tests. Not to mention that it can feel like a full time job to be constantly chasing up the hospital for test results, next steps plans, and appointments.

It’s hard and depressing having to adjust to having to change short and long term plans

You may have to make changes to your life or future plans based on your symptoms, with no idea whether you will ever be able to go back to how things used to be, or whether your plans will ever be achievable. It can be depressing feeling “left behind”, especially when new symptoms that you initially hope will clear up quickly seem to be sticking around indefinitely. You may feel like you’re mourning the loss of long-held ambitions or dreams.

It’s tiring to keep people updated

Friends, family and employers expect regular updates and it can be difficult to keep telling people that you still don’t know what is wrong.

You can end up minimising how sick you really are

In the absence of a diagnosis, it can be easy for other people to (purposely or unconsciously) minimise or be dismissive of how sick you really are. It can be difficult to get enough support, and it can be frustrating and upsetting to find that people close to you don’t seem to be taking your illness seriously, or even forget about it at times.

Linked to the above – it can be easy for YOU to underestimate your illness. It’s easy to beat yourself up for not getting things done or not keeping up with your normal routine, when there’s nothing “officially” wrong with you. You may worry that nothing is really wrong, that you’re just lazy, or weak.

what it feels like to live with an undiagnosed health condition or mystery illness the sickly mama blog

You can feel like no-one is listening

You may feel that friends or family members don’t understand what you’re going through, but it can be even worse if you feel that your doctors themselves don’t take your symptoms seriously or are not listening. It can be very depressing and stressful to keep going back to your doctors trying to get them to investigate your symptoms.

l’ve written previously about techniques you can use to get your doctors to listen to you, which you may find helpful.

It can be hard to manage existing responsibilities

It may become hard to manage your existing responsibilities – not just work, but parenting or caring responsibilities, or even smaller things like managing bills, life admin and keeping the house clean. Tasks that haven’t been done can build up, causing a high level of background stress and/or guilt about not doing a good enough job.

Money worries with undiagnosed illness

Chronic illness often brings money worries with it. Depending on where you live, you may be dealing with stress and worry about medical insurance and whether it is likely to cover the cost of your diagnostic investigations and subsequent treatment. But sickies everywhere will worry about employment, having to take time off work, and whether continuing to work is realistic in the long term, given your symptoms.

Your Experiences of Mystery/Undiagnosed Illness

Phew! That’s a lot to deal with. Have you experienced living with an undiagnosed or mystery health condition? How did it make you feel? Let me know in the comments! I’m planning on following up this post with a look at coping strategies for mystery conditions, so let me know your thoughts.

food · Seasonal · tea

Best Christmas Gifts For Tea Lovers

It’s no secret that I love tea. That’s why my Instagram account has a regular ‘Tea O’Clock’ feature, where I photograph and review various teas. You’ll also occasionally find tea round-ups and reviews making their way onto this blog. So as Christmas approaches, it seems logical for me to write a post with some great ideas for gifts for tea lovers. And no… They’re not all just different types of tea!

I’ve especially tried to focus on finding tea gifts that are sold by smaller independent UK businesses, and ones that try to be eco-friendly, so you know that your gifts are ethical as well as awesome. If you’re not based in the UK, you may want to double check shipping charges.

best christmas gifts for tea lovers small uk businesses and eco friendly the sickly mama blog

Best Christmas Gifts For Tea Lovers

1. Bath Tea by the Samovar Tea House

If you really love tea, you’re probably familiar with that sinking feeling when you get to the end of a cuppa. There’s just never quite enough tea in one cup (no matter how ridiculously oversized your mugs are). Well, now you can combat that feeling by quite literally bathing in an entire bathtub of tea, thanks to the Samovar Tea House’s Bath Tea. They offer two blends for your bath – a relaxation blend with camomile, lavender and rose buds, or an invigoration blend with green tea, peppermint and lemongrass. Just don’t try to drink it afterwards…

2. Self Fill Eco Teabags and Tea Scoop by VeryCraftea

An ideal gift for the eco-conscious tea lover. Put loose-leaf tea into these eco-friendly teabags for convenient infusing without a teapot or infuser. They contain zero plastic (did you know that loads of big-brand teabags contain plastic and may leach microplastics into your cuppa?) and are fully biodegradable and home compostable. And make filling your self-fill teabags that bit easier with a beautiful wooden tea scoop.

3. The Tea Test Kit Gift Set by Arthur Dove Tea Co.

Okay, I know that at the start of this post I said that this gift list wouldn’t just be a list of different kinds of tea. And this gift is… a bunch of different kinds of tea. But bear with me! This gift set is by Arthur Dove Tea Co., who often stock some really lovely and creative tea blends, and it’s a set of five incredibly Christmassy loose leaf teas: their Mince Pie Chai, Yule Log, Mulled Wine, After Eight and Fairytale of New York blends. All of which sound amazing. They’re also presented really nicely: each tea is presented in its own test tube, and the set includes a reusable muslin tea bag, so it’s eco-friendly as well. I think this is a fab gift for the voracious tea lover who enjoys trying lots of new blends of tea, or for any tea lover who’s nuts about Christmas!

top gifts for tea lovers tea subscription loose leaf teabags and scoops the sickly mama blog

4. Tea and Book Club Subscription by Bookishly

If your tea lover is also a book lover, you’re in luck! Bookishly offer an awesome Tea and Book Club subscription, where you receive a vintage book, pack of tea, and stationery every month. You can select a 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, or 12 month subscription – so there are plenty of options! I’ve actually been given this gift previously as a present, and I can testify it’s super. The teas are by Jenier Teas, and include some fantastic flavours you probably wouldn’t try anywhere else. And the books are awesome and very varied – everything from classics of literature, to vintage sci-fi, and more.

5. Alcoholic Tea by NovelTea

Full disclosure: I’ve never bought anything from NovelTea, so I don’t have experience of this company directly – but I love the idea! NovelTea make a range of alcoholic teas (or, let’s be honest, teaholic alcohols) – green mint tea with rum, oolong tea with whisky, earl grey tea with gin – and for Christmas, spiced tea with whisky. Sounds like a great idea for any tea lover who also likes a tipple!

top christmas gifts for tea lovers the sickly mama blog inspiration

Your ideas: best Christmas gifts for tea lovers

Do you have any great ideas for Christmas gifts for tea lovers? Are you a tea fanatic who’s received an amazing gift? I’d love to hear all about it (especially if the gifts are from small UK businesses and/or have an eco-friendly vibe)! Let me know in the comments.

baking · celebrations · food · recipes · Seasonal

Christmas Round-Up: Fun Ideas For Christmas 2020

It’s that happy season where everyone is posting about Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… In my house, the Christmas season doesn’t start properly until the 7th December, as my husband’s birthday is the 6th December and clearly takes precedence over the other festive season! But that doesn’t mean the preparations haven’t started, so I thought I’d share my Christmas round-up post, including ideas for festive baking, food and drink, gift ideas and family activities…

Christmas Round Up: Fun Ideas For Christmas 2020

Festive Food & Drink

Christmas is, of course, the season of food – and for those of us who love baking, it’s an opportunity to get into the kitchen and get creative! I’m planning on trying out this festive white chocolate rocky road traybake (complete with candy canes!) and this sticky gingerbread recipe. Of course, in our house gluten free baking is pretty important, so I was also excited to find this recipe for gluten free mince pies. Let’s be honest… It’s not Christmas without mince pies!

Baking with kids at Christmas

If you have young children, the festive season is a lovely opportunity to get them involved in baking (and eating, of course!). These easy no bake sweet treats are just the right kind of safe and fun recipes to make with your kids at Christmas. Slightly older will love this Mars Bar fudge recipe for slow cookers, which is also a lovely, simple recipe that they can get involved in creating.

Christmas drinks and cocktails

Cranberries are one of those ingredients that I really associate with Christmas, but other than cranberry sauce with your Christmas dinner, it’s hard to come up with much to do with them… I’m planning on using cranberry juice and orange juice to make some tasty morning mocktails over the festive season – just what you want to wake up to!

On the alcoholic side of things, earlier this year I made some delicious hawthorn gin which should be ready for Christmas – I can’t wait to enjoy it in some prosecco in a festive hawthorn fizz. You can find my recipe for hawthorn gin here. I’ve also tried making some Christmas pudding vodka – so I’m pretty excited to see how that turns out!

Christmas Gift Guides

Buying presents can be so tricky, and especially this year when lockdown and the Covid tiers system means it’s not easy to get out to the shops and just browse.

If you’re buying gifts for kids, there are some great ideas in this Christmas gift guide for children, or why not consider a magazine subscription so they get a new gift every month?

In our house, we’re very much aware that food intolerances and dietary requirements can make Christmas gifting challenging – so I love this guide to buying gifts for vegans!

Moving away from food and drink gifts, this guide has some lovely homeware gift ideas, to or this weird and wonderful gift guide gives some quirky and different ideas for gifts your loved ones won’t be expecting. If you’re looking for super-specific gifts, I even found this gift guide for fans of the TV show Friends (I actually re-watched the entirety of Friends over maternity leave so it’s kind of perfect…)

If you’re buying gifts for a tea lover in your life, I have a guide coming soon on the blog – keep your eyes peeled!

Fun Christmas Activities

Christmas is definitely time for relaxing in front of the television… But it’s nice to use your time off over Christmas to do some other fun activities – and as we’re all going to be staying indoors this Christmas, I’m trying to plan some fun activities in advance.

Christmas Crafts & More

I’ve always vaguely wanted to try making my own decorative Christmas wreath for our house, so I was excited to find this guide to making your own natural foliage wreath – hoping to get the chance to give it a go this year!

I’m also planning to use the time to do some home improvements; we’ve got some old furniture that we’re hoping to paint and upcycle, and we want to put up a mural in Little Man’s room.

Your Ideas For Christmas

What will you be getting up to for Christmas this year? Let me know your ideas for Christmas and the festive season!

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Do Incredible Make-Up For Underwater Photography – Tips From A Professional Mermaid

Chances are, if you’re looking for advice on make-up for underwater modelling and photography, you’ve found a lot of information on waterproof make up. Unfortunately, waterproof is definitely not the same as underwater-proof. A lot of time spent performing underwater as a professional mermaid and underwater model means I’ve learned plenty of tips and tricks that will help you get the best out of your underwater makeup up.

But before we even start to talk about brands and application, there are a few key pointers to be aware of…

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Make-Up For Underwater Photography

Underwater Make Up Needs Drama

Make-up generally needs to be more dramatic in order to make an impact underwater; the water washes out the picture. It’s not dissimilar to the effect of stage lighting; you need to ensure make-up is more vivid than you would make it for an above-the-water shoot.

The clarity of the water and the distance between you and the photographer will also make an impact; the further away your photographer is, the more ‘washed out’ the image will be before post-processing.

Once You’re In The Water

Secondly: no matter your make up, don’t touch your face once you’re in the water. Don’t do it. When you surface out of the water and your nose is full of water and your hair is in your eyes, don’t touch your face. Your make up will smudge, and the only way you can fix it is by getting out of the water, drying your face off (probably removing more make-up!) and patching it up.

It’s also worth being aware that the water you’re swimming in will make a difference, and chlorinated water tends to be much harsher on your make up than unchlorinated water.

Photograph by Jules Abensour

Types of Make Up For Underwater Photography

Different types of cosmetics perform differently underwater. Oil-based, alcohol-based, and silicone-based products are all more resilient. Grease paints, such as those used for theatrical and film productions are oil-based and shouldn’t wash off in water; well-known brands such as Kryolan are widely available online. However, I’ve focused this section on easy underwater make-up solutions from personal cosmetic products, rather than high-grade film and theatre products, as it’s more likely to be useful for those planning their first underwater shoot.

Foundation and contouring

Look for liquid foundation that’s advertised as being super long-lasting. Obviously powdered products do not hold up in water BUT a number of companies make cosmetic products you can use to transform powder-based makeup into a gel or paint-like consistency, which allows it to set in place and makes it more resilient. This is great for using your normal pressed powder bronzer, highlighter etc. I use Face Atelier’s transforming gel, which I’ve found very useful.

Underwater Eyelashes

Don’t be tempted by false eyelashes. It’s not worth it. Unless you’re planning to shoot for all of three minutes, the glue will give way and you’ll end up with eyelashes hanging off your face – or worse, floating around in the water ruining the shot until you can catch hold of them (yes, this has happened at a shoot I was at… Although not with my eyelashes, fortunately!).

Getting your eyelashes permanently tinted, or having proper semi-permanent false eyelash extensions from a reputable salon are both viable, but more expensive alternatives. Or, just go with a really good waterproof mascara: I use Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof which lasts well even in quite strongly chlorinated water.

Photograph by Hugh Spence

Eye Shadow and Eyeliner

My favourite brand of eyeshadow is Inglot. They do a great range of colourful eyeshadows, which I’ve found the be incredibly resilient underwater without the need to use a transforming gel – and the eyeshadows still look pretty good even after repeated dunkings in an aquarium with no chance to top-up.

With regards to eyeliner, there are a lot of good waterproof eyeliners on the market which I’ve found to generally hold up well underwater. Barry M’s waterproof eyeliner is perfectly good and reasonably priced!

Underwater Lips

Lipstick can hold up underwater, but don’t bother with lipgloss. I find MAC lipsticks to be about the best, but even with MAC if you’re spending a lot of time in a chlorinated pool, it will fade noticeably and you’ll need to top up. The best tip I can give you to help with that is just: try not to touch your mouth when you’re surfacing from the water, and it’ll last longer.

Photograph by Johannes Hjorth

Lip liner is a good idea to prevent it running; lip seal products are also available, but I’ve never found that they make much of a difference if chlorine is involved, unfortunately.

It’s worth noting that underwater photography tends to emphasise the blues in a shot and suck out the colour red, so choosing a more vivid shade than usual is advised.

Learn more about underwater modelling…

This article is part of a series sharing top tips on various aspects of underwater modelling! If you’re interested, you can check out this article on general underwater modelling tips to look amazing underwater or this post about learning how to open your eyes underwater… or see all my articles on my Guide To Underwater Modelling page.

baby · food · parenting

Weaning: Foods I Didn’t Expect My Baby To Love

So we’ve been weaning Little Man since he was six months old, and I’ve written a bit about it previously including my top tips for starting weaning. But I thought maybe it was time to write a follow-up post, expanding on one of the tips from my original article: that you shouldn’t make assumptions about what your baby will like.

As time has gone by, it’s come home to me time and time again how true this is! Little Man now basically eats whatever we have for dinner, with the occasional tweak – and it’s incredibly rare for him to not like something. He does have his favourite foods (anything Japanese, cottage pie, cherry tomatoes, banana) but the list of foods he doesn’t like is so short it’s not even a list, because there’s only one thing on it: feta cheese.

So I thought I’d pull together a list of some of the quite random foodstuffs that Little Man has tried and loved…

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Weaning: Foods I Didn’t Expect My Baby To Love

Kimchi

If you’re not familiar with kimchi, it’s a Korean foodstuff made of fermented cabbage and other vegetables in a tangy, sometimes spicy sauce. When my husband made kimchi fried rice for us, although I dished some up for Little Man, I also made him a separate supper as we didn’t expect him to like the strong flavours of kimchi.

Boy, were we wrong! He wolfed it down and demanded more. This baby normally enjoys fried rice, but he seemed to enjoy it more than ever with the addition of the strongly-flavoured kimchi. Who knew?

Curry

I know so many grown adults who are quite fussy about curries, so I never expected Little Man to be quite so keen on them. He’s already tried a wide range of different types of curry, from more classic Indian aubergine curry with a bit of spice, to Japanese dry curry. And he’s seemed to enjoy them all! I was surprised to discover that he really doesn’t seem bothered about a bit of chilli spiciness in his food, and he has happily eaten a number of foods with a bit of a chilli kick to them.

Weird weaning food combinations

Early on in the weaning process, I discovered that Little Man would very much enjoy eating the strangest combinations of foods. This was super useful as we started our weaning journey and he was eating a lot of mashed and softer foods, because I could put pretty much anything on a plate for him. I remember once I sent my mum a picture of Little Man enjoying his lunch, and she asked what he was eating. The answer? Sweet potato, porridge, and broccoli. Yum. Not sure why I haven’t been awarded my first Michelin star yet… Presumably they have a backlog due to Covid.

baby unusual weaning food deconstructed prawn tacos the sickly mama blog high chair
Deconstructed shrimp tacos

Dashi

Dashi is a broth or stock flavoured with seaweed and flakes of dried fish. It’s a key ingredient in many Japanese dishes.(and is the reason why some westerners complain that so much Japanese food tastes vaguely fishy!). We’ve discovered though that Little Man love love loves dashi! He has absolutely wolfed down any meal which contains it.

I think a lot of small children enjoy fish for its soft texture and yummy flavour, so if your child is one of these kids, why not try cooking them something with dashi – for instance this Japanese oyakodon recipe is easy to cook and even easier to eat!

Watermelon

Okay, I didn’t expect that Little Man wouldn’t like watermelon (who doesn’t like watermelon???) – I just didn’t expect him to like it quite as much as he does. We discovered that giving him a big piece of rind with a little melon attached was amazing at soothing his gums while he was teething in the summer. Obviously you need to be careful that he doesn’t bite bits off the rind and end up choking, but at around 6 months Little Man’s bite wasn’t strong enough to actually cut through the rind, so he just really really enjoyed chewing on it!

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Pasta all’amatriciana

Coffee

Okay, bear with me – NO I’m not advocating giving your tiny baby coffee! Little Man has the habit of climbing up on us and begging to try a bit whenever we are sat down with food or drink and he doesn’t have any. He was doing this once with me when I was drinking coffee, and I thought actually it’s so bitter that if he tried a bit, he wouldn’t like it and would leave me be to enjoy my coffee in peace. So I dipped my finger in my coffee and let him lick it, just to get the taste. And of course, you guessed it… He loved it. Oops.

Weaning foods: the verdict

So I guess in summary, I’ve found on so many occasions that my expectations of what Little Man will or won’t like are totally wrong. I’m sure at some point he will go through a much fussier phase, but right now we’re trying to get him eating as many different foods as possible (within the realms of NHS guidance on safe foods for weaning), and he’s loving it!

What unexpected weaning foods does your baby love?

Have you discovered any unexpected foods that your baby has loved during the weaning process? Let me know in the comments!

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