baby · parenting · top tips

Common Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

Little Man has lots of lovely toys, but in the interests of trying to avoid our house becoming little more than extended toy storage for the wee fellow, we also try to ensure we supply him with common household objects to play with. Some household items make great free toys for baby, and not only do they save on storage space, but buying fewer toys is better for the planet too! So here’s my list of the top household items that will keep your baby entranced for hours…

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Common Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

A Wooden Spoon

“Oh, that’s where it was,” said my husband in an accusatory voice, as I picked up a wooden spoon from the playmat in the kitchen and handed it to Little Man. “I was searching for that for ages while I was cooking.”

Reader, we own a grand total of five wooden spoons (I counted for this article), but as it turns out, I had inadvertently selected my husband’s favourite spoon to give to baby as a fun new toy. Little Man loved it, and now the spoon has visible little gnaw marks on it from his two front teeth. Oops. So, although a wooden spoon is a great idea for an easy toy for baby, in the interests of marital harmony you should probably check with your partner before handing one over…

Egg Boxes

Every once in a while, our Sainsbury’s delivery will randomly substitute our chosen cardboard box of eggs for a plastic box instead. But not only are they less good for the environment, they’re also 100% less useful for their secondary purpose: entertainment for Little Man.

Just think about it. They’re made of cardboard, eminently chewable, not too heavy, an interesting shape and with a hinge that opens and closes. The perfect toy for a baby who’s interested in everything!

baby playing with a cardboard egg box the sickly mama blog household items toys
A twelve-egger in action

Packaging

One of Little Man’s favourite toys is known in our house as The Gold Floofer. It has been a favourite since he was a couple of months old. It’s actually made out of a shiny gold plastic envelope lined with bubble wrap, that contained a delivery for me. We’ve long since forgotten what was actually contained in the envelope, but I cut out a large strip from the envelope for Little Man, because I thought he’d like the bright shiny colour and texture. I was not wrong, and he’s been playing with it ever since.

Fruit and vegetables

Over the autumn/Halloween season, Little Man had great fun playing with a miniature pumpkin I used to create a seasonal display in the lounge. He’s enjoyed chewing on it and bowling it across the floor so much that we actually just started calling it his pumpkin!

Now he’s a bit bigger and stronger, I only let him play with tougher fruit and veg like pumpkin, that has a thick rind that he can’t do much damage to! But when he was younger, most fruits and vegetables made great play things, and he loved exploring the textures of different grocery items. The perfect eco-friendly, 100% biodegradable (and delicious) playthings.

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Fun with fruit and vegetables!

Shakeable items

I’ve also had great success in making various shakers for Little Man (fancier parents than I will call them ‘sensory bottles‘). One favourite was a bottle part-filled with coloured water and dried lentils, which he loved shaking and rolling across the floor. My husband went to empty it out though when it was getting a bit old, and he reported that it smelled “like mouldy farts” by that point, so maybe don’t leave it too long before cleaning and changing the water!

Another great success has been the Shake Shake Box, an empty ice cream tub with some dried seeds and pasta in it so that it makes a satisfying rattling sound when you shake it, and the sides of the tub are clear so you can see it all shaking around in there. It’s been going for about six months now and still remains a favourite.

Cardboard Boxes

Okay, this one was so obvious that I almost forgot it! What child doesn’t love a cardboard box?

Your Ideas For Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

Do you have any suggestions for other household items that make great free toys for little ones? Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

If you’ve enjoyed this article, why not check out my blog post with top-tips for keeping the weaning process eco-friendly?

baby eating a banana common household objects that make great toys the sickly mama blog
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.

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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.

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…

makeup make-up for underwater photography from a professional mermaid how to top tips the sickly mama blog

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 · health · hypermobility · pain · parenting · top tips

Looking After A Baby When You Have A Joint Condition

As a mama with hypermobility spectrum disorder, I have rubbish joints! How rubbish they are tends to vary from day to day and even hour to hour. Some days I don’t notice any problems – other days when my hands are very stiff and sore, I struggle to open jars; or I’ll find that my hip or shoulder keeps popping out of the socket, or everything will just be very achey and stiff. But how do my rubbish joints affect looking after a baby? I’ve written a little about being a hypermobile mama previously, but it seems time to do something a bit more comprehensive on parenting with a joint condition…

And so, here are my top tips, focused around looking after a baby when you have a joint condition, from the newborn stage through to when they start toddling. Hopefully this guide will be useful to other parents with hypermobility spectrum disorder, EDS, arthritis and other joint conditions. If you have any tips you think I’ve missed, let me know in the comments!

Looking After A Baby When You Have A Joint Condition

Feeding your baby comfortably

Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, especially during the newborn days you tend to spend an awful lot of time feeding and burping baby. Spending a lot of time in the same position is often uncomfortable if you have dodgy joints, and the limited range of feeding positions – and the fact that you don’t want to disturb a baby who’s happily feeding, by having to move them – can also be an issue.

Tips: Have a comfortable chair or spot in your house for feeding, which is set up just for you. I had a cosy armchair with a couple of cushions for back support, a footrest for my feet, and a spare cushion nearby which I could put under my arm or under Little Man to get us both comfortable. Having my arms supported definitely helped me. If you’re breastfeeding, there are different positions you can try to see what’s easiest for you. If you’re bottle feeding and struggling with holding a bottle, there are devices you can use for hands-free bottle feeding which clip on to a car seat or bouncer.

Poppers or buttons on baby clothes

Okay if you have terrible hands, these are THE WORST. I know lots of people hate poppers, and I know I’ve written about how I hate buttons on baby clothes previously; but as I love to labour a point and we have moved into the colder weather – which always makes my joints get even more stiff and achey – I just have to say it again. THEY SUCK. It’s hard enough to get my wiggly Little Man to stay still long enough for a nappy change, let alone while mama struggles to undo and then do up 5,000 poppers on the legs of his suit. Poppers/buttons are no good if you’re parenting with a joint condition!

Tips: All baby clothes should be mandatorily done up with zippers or, at a push, velcro. Obviously, I have yet to succeed in getting this written into UK law. And unfortunately it turns out that for some reason baby clothes with zippers are both hard to find and often really expensive. So my tip is: before the baby arrives, tell everyone who might buy you a gift that you want ZIPPERS damnit, and let them pay for it!

Alternative tip: Ask your husband/wife/partner/friend nicely if they can help with the damn poppers.

Hanging out on the floor all day

Turns out, having a baby means a lot of time spent hanging out on the floor. For me personally, getting onto the floor is fine, but it tends to be when I try to get up that I suddenly discover that I’ve been sitting with my joints in odd positions without realising it, and everything hurts. Oops. And the older Little Man has grown, the more time we’ve ended up spending crawling around together on the floor.

Tips: There’s not really much to be done about this one, unless you can persuade your baby to learn to fly! I tried bringing a cushion on to the floor with me, but once Little Man started crawling it was too much bother to keep moving the cushion around with both of us. My best advice is to think about specific activities that can be done away from the floor. For instance, a tabletop changing table might help for nappy changes, or bathing baby in the sink rather than in a tub on the floor. You can also look at getting a raised Moses basket and/or cot, so that you’re not having to stoop to and from the floor at nap time or when baby is very small and spends most of his/her time dozing.

Lifting and moving baby

I’m fortunate that although my joints are often painful and stiff, I tend to be okay with lifting and moving Little Man, but of course there are lots of joint conditions that could make it much more difficult to lift and move your baby around the house.

Tips: Using a sling or baby carrier is great, especially for the newborn phase, as you can take baby with you around the house without having to do lots of lifting, and spreading the weight evenly across your shoulders and back. Be careful though with using these aids if your joint condition makes you more likely to trip or fall – if that is the case, it may be safer to avoid using carriers. Make sure you follow good lifting technique to support your joints and minimise the risk to you and baby.

Related tip: Have a couple of stashes of key items around the house e.g. a couple of stations with nappies, wipes, a change of clothes etc. That way you’re not constantly having to carry baby up or downstairs or around the house if you need to change his nappy, clothes etc.

Taking ages with tasks….

One of the issues when your hands are stiff and uncooperative is just that things can take a long time, which is difficult for things like nappy changes when baby may just try to wiggle away.

Tips: My top tip is baby sensory videos to distract your little one! If you go on YouTube and search “baby sensory videos”, you’ll find loads of free videos that feature simple images and jolly music which will help distract baby while you get stuff done. Little Man loves the fruit and vegetable videos!

Your tips for looking after a baby when you have a joint condition

If you have experience of looking after a baby when you have a joint condition, I’d love to hear your tips. Let me know in the comments!

I also love this article about parenting with arthritis, which has lots of great advice that is transferable to other joint conditions as well.

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

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

One of the classic hallmarks of underwater model photography is beautiful, flowing, floating hair. It can be key to creating that truly weightless look that shows the picture really was taken underwater and hasn’t just been photoshopped. But how do you get your hair to look amazing underwater? Here are some tips from my time as a professional mermaid performer.

styling hair underwater and wigs for photography and modelling professional mermaid the sickly mama

How To Make Your Hair Look Amazing Underwater

Underwater Hair Wrangling

Different people’s hair tends to be differently floaty underwater; the finer the hair, the better it floats. The water you’re in will also make a difference; your hair will float better in saltwater than it does in a swimming pool.

Using oils and oil-based hair products

Hair is covered in naturally produced oils, which also help it to float, so if you’re finding that your hair is looking flat underwater, you can try adding a conditioning oil like argan oil beforehand (this will also help to protect your hair from chlorine and keep it from tangling). However, a word of warning! Oil in the water can ruin picture quality for your photographs – and once the oil is in the water, you won’t be able to get it out in time to rescue the shoot. If you’re the only model being shot that day, and you use a small amount of product, you may be okay – but a lot of product or a number of models all using a small amount of product could ruin your water quality. So make sure you discuss any user of hair oils with your photographer beforehand. Thanks to photographer Brett Stanley for this tip!

Moving your hair underwater

When you drop down through the water, your hair will naturally rise; however if you then swim or move forwards, it will push your hair back from your face, which can leave it looking flat. In order to get that perfect floating hair effect, once you’re in position, try shaking your head gently from side to side, or run a hand upwards through your hair.

Be aware of the position of your hair, as it can ruin a great shot if too much of it gets in front of your face; if that starts happening, the best solution is to use both hands to gently waft the hair upwards.

The hair is the primary indicator that this shot by Shamira Crivellaro was taken underwater.

Hair Colour Matters

Think about the colour of your hair and the colour of the background. If you are using a typical blue underwater background, blonde or red hair will be the most high-contrast colours, and will really stand out against your background. Lighter hair catches the light best underwater, so if you’re darker-haired (like me!) bear that in mind. Of course, you can always try wearing a wig (see below)…

Using Wigs Underwater

Despite what you might expect, wigs are totally do-able underwater. However in order to prevent your wig making a floaty bid for freedom, there are some key pieces of advice you probably want to be aware of:

  • Make sure you get a wig with adjusters inside and set them to a tight setting.
  • Then make sure you have a wig cap. For added security, I recommend french plaiting or braiding your natural hair underneath the wig cap, and then pinning the wig through the wig cap and into the plait.
  • Be prepared for your wig to be a crazy tangled mess once you’re done with the photoshoot. The longer the wig, the greater potential for tangling. Wigs with straighter hair are likely to take less time to untangle – curly wigs can get really messy. Bring a comb and be ready to invest some time teasing it back into shape.
  • Bear the wig in mind when you’re entering the water and getting into position. If you rapidly dive down or swim forward, the water will push against the wig and be more likely to loosen it. The more gently you move around, the less likely you are to dislodge the wig.

When you’re modelling underwater in a wig, you need to think about more than just making sure it doesn’t float off your head. Before you get in the water, make sure you’ve checked out the hairline of your wig in the mirror. Especially with cheaper wigs, while they may look great on land with the fringe/bangs hanging down, once you’re in water there’s the potential for all the hair to float up and expose that hairline.

If the hairline isn’t great, you’ll want to make sure it’s not exposed in the photos; try dropping below the water with a hand holding the fringe down.

Red wig underwater spirit of autumn how to make hair look good underwater
I wore a red wig in this underwater photograph by David Kershaw

Styling Hair Underwater

Generally the best bet is to leave hair loose rather than attempting to style it; loose flowing hair creates a great underwater effect. If you are styling your hair, you’ll need a lot of pins to keep it in place! Remember also if you’re planning to use hair clips, hairbands, tiaras etc. that you need to think very carefully about whether your hair is going to get hopelessly tangled in them.​

This also goes for necklaces; earrings; and clothing that’s close to your hair; when I made my first ever mermaid top, it had fake seaweed on the shoulder straps. It looked great, but every time I got in the water, my hair ended up tangled in the leaves, and sometimes it couldn’t be untangled and had to be cut free. Needless to say, I remodelled the top pretty quickly!

Bride with red roses underwater sickly mama blog how to make hair look good underwater
Photograph by Duncan Grisby

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.

how to style hair and wigs underwater photography modelling the sickly mama professional mermaid
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!

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! And I’m starting with a question: can you open your eyes underwater? 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 such as an ocean or lake 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. You may find that opening your eyes underwater in the ocean is less painful – but if there are a lot of waves, be aware that this can stir up the sand and leave you with painful sand particles in your eyes.

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!

Other tips on how to open your eyes underwater…

Can you open your eyes underwater with contacts in?

If you wear contact lenses, you might be wondering whether you can swim and open your eyes underwater with contacts in. The short answer is yes, you can – but don’t! Contact lenses provide an ideal surface for bacteria and germs to stick to, pressed up against your eye, so they increase the risk of eye infections and irritation, especially if you’re modelling or performing in chlorinated water. Additionally, if you open your eyes underwater while wearing contact lenses, there’s a pretty high risk that they may come away from your eyes and get lost, or that they will absorb the water and change shape, which can be damaging to your eyes and increases the risk of them floating away as well…

If you do open your eyes underwater with contacts in, make sure you take them out and ideally dispose of them as soon afterwards as possible, and rinse your eyes with eye drops.

How can you treat eye irritation and/or burning eyes?

If you experience eye irritation or burning eyes after opening your eyes in a chlorinated pool or salt water, flush your eyes out with an eye rinse or eye drops. Both chlorine and salt water can be very drying on the eyes, so keep your eye drops on hand and use them as needed to soothe your eyes.

If your eyes become very red and sore, this can be something that is actually visible in your underwater photographs. The best way to avoid this is not to spend too long in the water at one stretch, and to use eye drops. It’s pretty hard to quickly reverse the redness, unfortunately, so this may be something your photographer has to just fix when editing your photographs.

Is it safe to open your eyes underwater?

Unfortunately if you do open your eyes underwater, there is an increased risk of eye infections, so that is something you need to watch out for. Swimming pools, freshwater and saltwater pools all have a risk of containing bacteria and other nasties that could damage your eyes – and the same goes for natural bodies of water like the ocean, as well!

If your eyes are red, sore, blurry or burning the next day after your swim, or if they are really painful, you may have an eye infection – get your doctor to check you out.

Can you open your eyes underwater?

Do you have any tips for how to open your eyes underwater that you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

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 a second 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 a second lockdown 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. The one thing we do know is that lockdown has some pretty major effects on mental health.

So in preparation, I’ve pulled together a round up of some of my favourite blog posts about surviving lockdown 2.0 with your well-being intact…

Surviving Lockdown 2.0 And Maintaining Wellbeing

1. Coping with social isolation in a second lockdown

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, as does this post on loneliness in lockdown. I also like this post on keeping your mind busy during lockdown. Check them 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 2.0 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 second 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 second 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! If you have a garden and a little person (or people) at home, you can also check out these tips for making your garden kid friendly.

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 and this post with self-care tips for lockdown. Of course a lot of the tips will be great for dads too (although probably not every dad will want a mini makeover). This article on tips for mamas to create a successful routine for working from home is also great.

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. If you need some ideas on how to keep kids occupied, check out this post on an A – Z of family life in lockdown or this one on lockdown learning and home schooling.

For families that are staying connected online, I loved this idea of an online family scavenger hunt. And you can check out these tips on outdoor learning as well, in preparation for time in the garden or local park, or these ideas for keeping young children occupied with home play activities. It’s also worth looking for play activities that are also educational – that way you don’t worry about leaving kids in front of a screen for a while…

I also liked this post about tips for kids returning to school – useful for the end of lockdown!

7. Get cooking

I love cooking and baking, and I really think that getting in the kitchen and cooking something yummy is such a great way to keep occupied. Some recipes that I’m planning to try whenever the inevitable lockdown 2.0 starts include: these herby halloumi fries (omg I love halloumi so much!), this classic French tartiflette, some beetroot orange and ginger soup, and these Yorkshire puddings (okay, I should probably wait until we’re having a roast dinner!).

On the baking side, I’m going to try making some chocolate flapjacks, these little peanut butter and chocolate nibbles, and this chocolate espresso banana bread (can you sense a certain chocolatey theme?

8. Get daydreaming

It can also be fun to think past the end of lockdown and look to the future. Yes, there’s so much that we can’t do in lockdown, but in some ways it can focus your mind on what you really want to prioritise doing once things return to something a bit more like normality. I think we’ll all be better at prioritising the things that really matter to us once this is over. I like this post on things to do once lockdown is over – check it out! If you’re feeling brave, you could even think about booking a holiday so you have something more definite to look forward to. Some providers do offer holidays that are protected if you have to cancel due to Covid (but be sure to check the T’s & C’s) – you can read about one family’s experience of a pandemic holiday here!

Second Lockdown: Your Tips

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
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