craft · days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · Seasonal

Window Wanderland: Making An Illuminated Window Display

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve used pretty much all my spare time when Little Man was sleeping or doing his settling-in sessions at nursery to work on creating an illuminated window display for Window Wanderland. I themed the display around the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro, because a) it’s one of my favourites, b) I assumed there would be lots of families out and about with kids, and c) honestly the characters have nice simple designs that should be easy to recreate in a papercut!

I was really happy with the final result!

The front view

In this blog post, I’ll talk about how I created my window display, and also share some photos of some of my favourite displays from my local Window Wanderland event this year. Hopefully others will find it useful information and inspiration if you’re planning on creating an illuminated window display yourself. But first things first…

What Is Window Wanderland?

Window Wanderland is a scheme encouraging communities to set up “fun, local, all-people-friendly, window-display-based walking trails then share them with the world.” Illuminated window displays are set up by individuals or families in their homes over a couple of days, and then you can look up a map of your local area showing you where to find displays. It’s a really fun scheme, and obviously it’s especially great this year with the coronavirus pandemic, because it’s all outdoors and compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

How Do You Make An Illuminated Window Display?

The flippant answer is: however you want to! As I walked around the displays in my local area, I would say that it looked like most people (like me!) did displays using coloured crepe paper and black card. I did spot what looked like a display that had been painted onto tracing paper (?) so that it illuminated beautifully, which I thought was a great effect and allowed for a lot of detail:

How Did I Create My Window Wanderland Display?

By taking over the dining room table for about two weeks! Apologies to my very patient husband. I’ll outline exactly how I approached it and some of my top tips for making an illuminated window display with paper and card…

Step 1: Measure your windows

We have quite a complicated downstairs front window set-up, with 10 panels of varying shapes and sizes, so the first thing was to measure them up. I did a really bad job of this and actually got the measurements for six of the panels wrong, which I only discovered on the night when I went to put my display up in the window… Oops. They were only about 1cm out, but still! I recommend measuring everything twice…

Step 2: Buy your supplies

For my display, I bought a pack of 10 sheets of A2 black card, and a mixed pack of 20 sheets of coloured crepe paper (I already had a lot of the dark blue crepe paper that I used for the background colour). I didn’t use tracing paper as a backing, but lots of people do, especially if you’re going for a more collage-style effect.

My dining room table is in there somewhere…

I already had a craft scalpel in the house, which was essential for the finer lines, and a cutting mat. I also already had Pritt Stick glue in the house, but I ran out on the last day and had to run to the shops to get more – so make sure you have enough glue, as if you have large windows you can end up using a LOT. I also used blu-tack to stick the panels to the windows.

Step 3: Plan your design

I had a vague idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but I first cut my panels of black card into the right sizes for all the window panels – in some cases I also had to stick extra bits of card together to get the right size and shape for my windows. Then I outlined a reasonably thick border around the outer edge of each panel, and then started designing.

I did this as an iterative process, working panel by panel and outlining a design in pencil – rather than designing every panel from the start, before beginning to cut and paste, and I’m glad I did, because the first panel I did was way too complicated and took forever! After that, I simplified my designs a little, and also learned what shapes were easy/difficult to cut etc. as I went. You can see my excessively complicated first panel here – the top one with all the leaves:

I definitely think that when coming up with your design, less is more! I saw some amazing designs around town that were just done with two colours – black card and a white background (for instance, see below!). I think the simpler panels of my design have more impact as well.

Spooky…

Step 4: Cutting and sticking

My method was to cut a design out of black card, using a craft scalpel, and then stick coloured crepe paper in the gaps. For a few features, such as the eyes, I then glued more bits of black card on top of the crepe. It was quite fiddly, but I definitely got faster as I went along.

Actually one of the trickiest things was just finding somewhere I could put the panels while the glue was drying!

From indoors, you can see the construction more

Other Local Windows

Before I started making my Window Wanderland display, I really wanted to see other people’s displays, for inspiration! So I thought I’d share a few more displays that I particularly liked from my local area:

Koi carp and irises window:

This beautiful display looks like it was made in a similar way to my display: cutting the design out of black card, and backing it with crepe paper.

Abstract colours window:

This abstract design is so beautiful and I think something like this would be easily achievable if you’re not feeling confident about making your window display. Again, it looks like it’s made with black card backed with crepe paper.

Prehistoric ocean window:

This lovely prehistoric ocean display looks like it was made by glueing strips of crepe paper onto tracing paper, and then sticking black cut outs on top.

Window Wanderland

I hope this post has been helpful if you’re looking for some inspiration for a Window Wanderland display!

Are you taking part in Window Wanderland in your local area? I’d love to see your designs! Let me know in the comments or tag me on social media for a share!

how to make an illuminated window display for window wanderland pictures and inspiration the sickly mama blog art and crafts
baby · child development · health · parenting

Why Does My Baby Shake With Excitement?

Recently I’ve noticed that when Little Man gets excited, he goes through a very specific set of behaviours. He will raise both arms up and out wide, lean in with wide eyes, and start shaking. This could happen over a new and exciting toy, a new experience such as when we first took him to the seaside and dipped his toes in the ocean, or even a new food. It’s such a rapid shaking, it’s almost like he’s vibrating with excitement. This got us a bit worried… Why does my baby shake so much when he gets excited?

Shaking when excited

We’ve all heard the phrase “shaking with excitement”, but I have to admit I assumed it was a metaphor until I had a baby. It’s almost as if he gets so excited that he just can’t contain himself! Now, I know that babies do lots of things that seem weird (like staring at lights, or crawling backwards) but are actually totally normal. So, is it normal for babies to shake with excitement?

Is it normal for babies to shake with excitement?

Yes! It’s very common. It’s to do with baby’s developing nervous system. Their nervous system sends too many electrical impulses to the muscles and they get all twitchy. It’s normal for babies to shake with excitement, when they see someone they know or a favourite toy.

Some babies may also display shuddering or shaking at seemingly random times. No-one really understands the cause of this infant shuddering, but it’s not harmful and usually goes away by the time they’re four years old.

If baby is otherwise healthy, developing well and meeting his or her milestones, then there’s probably nothing to worry about if he or she tends to shake with excitement. Life is just that exciting when everything’s new!

When to get worried about baby’s shaking movements

Of course, as parents it’s natural to worry. Shaking can be evidence of a seizure, but there are some specific seizure warning signs to look out for:

  • If shaking continues for over 20 seconds
  • If the shaking movement is accompanied by vomiting, unusual eye movements, or loss of consciousness
  • If it’s associated with illness or injury, or if baby sleeps for a long time afterwards

If you notice any of these signs, you should seek medical help urgently.

Ultimately, you know your baby best, so even if you don’t spot any of the warning signs, if you think it’s time to call the doctor or NHS 111, then do it. It may help (if you think of it at the time) to take a video of the shaking behaviour that’s worrying you, to show your health professional.

why does my baby shake with excitement is it normal
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!