celebrations · history · Just for fun · Seasonal

Just Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway? Love, Beekeeping and Epilepsy

Ah, Valentine’s Day. If you have no-one to spend it with, it can be an unwanted reminder of singledom. And if you do have someone to spend it with, there’s a lot of pressure for the perfect romantic day. But you may not know that St Valentine is one of those greedy saints who is the patron saint of all kinds of random things, not just romantic love. So just who was St Valentine…?

Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway?

St Valentine The Romantic

First things first: there are various legends and stories surrounding St Valentine, which may actually refer to multiple different figures. Valentine’s Day itself honours Valentine of Rome (who died in 269) and Valentine of Terni (who died in 273), but there were apparently even more early Christian martyrs named Valentine, which at this point seems like it was basically the Roman Empire’s equivalent of the name John Smith.

The legend that most obviously connects a St Valentine to a tradition of romantic love relates to a Roman priest during the reign of Claudius II, who was apprehended performing marriages for Christian couples and assisting Christians, who were at that time being persecuted. This was a major inconvenience to the emperor at the time, who supposedly believed that unmarried men made the best soldiers (legend is silent as to why he believed this, but perhaps the widow’s pension scheme simply proved too costly on the imperial purse). St Valentine was therefore promptly put to death. How romantic.

So next time you’re single and a newly coupled-up friend tells you about their Valentine’s Day plans, you can smugly remind them that Valentine’s Day is a holiday for married couples, and St Valentine (or any one of the various St Valentines) would certainly disapprove of chocolates, flowers and a romantic dinner out of wedlock.

St Valentine The Epileptic (?)

Less well-known is the fact that St Valentine is also the patron saint of epilepsy. And once again, he’s not the only one. According to Epilepsy Action, there are forty separate patron saints of epilepsy, although St Valentine is the most famous one… which does seem a little unfair, considering some might argue that he’s already famous enough for the celebrations on February 14th. He’s very much stealing the epilepsy thunder from other saints like St Vitus. Ever heard of St Vitus? No. But after he freed the Emperor Diocletian’s son from demonic possession (read: epilepsy), he was promptly put to death for doing it like a big old Christian. That’s gratitude for you.

Anyway, the point is that St Vitus literally died to cure epilepsy and you’ve never even heard of him.

So how did St Valentine become one of the many patron saints of epilepsy? Well, allegedly it once again comes back to the name Valentine. Epilepsy was for many years known as the ‘falling disease’ and in German, there is a similarity between the word ‘fallen’ and name ‘Valentine’, which led to alternative names in German for epilepsy, such as St Valentine’s disease. Bit of a weak connection, if we’re totally honest. St Vitus is pissed as all heck about it.

St Valentine The… Everything Else

Saint Valentine (well, one of them anyway) is also, for some reason, a patron saint of beekeepers – a link that seems even more tenuous than his connection to epilepsy, but there we go. The best justification for this link that I could find was a few beekeeping websites that vaguely referred to a supposed relationship between love and honey/bees. I can only assume they’re confusing love with pollen.

Now, you may be thinking that, well, someone has to be the patron saint of beekeepers, and maybe there just weren’t many volunteers for the job. Perhaps St Valentine just offered to help fill a blank spot on the celestial staffing rota? But no. St Ambrose and St Bernard of Clairvaux (you have to include the “of Clairvaux part, because otherwise people assume you’re talking about a dog) are also patron saints of beekeeping. If anything, you might say it’s a little oversubscribed on saints.

On top of this, Catholic Online lists St Valentine as the patron saint of fainting, greetings, plague, travellers and young people. It’s certainly a miracle that he has time to rest at all, especially as he seems to have overlooked the opportunity to become the patron saint of something a bit more chill, like embroidery (Rose of Lima got that gig). No wonder he needs Cupid to lend a hand on the 14th February…

So there you go. If you’re feeling a little left out this Valentine’s Day, why not try a spot of beekeeping, or celebrating your love for travel? It’s just as valid a way to mark the occasion as a box of chocolates and a bunch of roses…

children's books · Just for fun · parenting · reviews

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Zoo Sounds (Usborne Sound Books)

Since having a baby, my husband and I have often discussed some of the vagaries of the children’s books that we read to Little Man. No matter how much he loves them, to the adult eye, a number of these books have some pretty major issues. And so I thought I’d start a new series on this blog, called Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews. I’m going to review Little Man’s favourite books. And I’m going to be brutally honest about it! Read on for the first instalment: a review of Zoo Sounds by Sam Taplin, and illustrated by Federica Iossa, from the Usbourne Sound Books range…

brutally honest children's book review zoo sounds usbourne sound books sam taplin the sickly mama

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Zoo Sounds

Judging A Book By Its Cover:

With a title that sounds more like the name of a disk in the BBC’s famous Sound Effects Library, on first sight Zoo Sounds did not inspire me with confidence that a roaringly good yarn was in store.

How wrong I was. In fact, if you press the small button in the middle of the book’s cover, you will quite literally hear the (slightly tinny) sound of a lion’s roar.

The cover includes pictures of some of the animals whose sounds feature in the book, along with the word denoting their accompanying nose: a lion (“roar”), a monkey (“ooh-haa”), an alligator (“splash” – hmm, okay), a bird (“squawk”), and a couple of meerkats. What sounds do meerkats make? Other than “simples!” – as my mother rightly pointed out – I have no clue. I’m looking forward to finally hearing the cry of the meerkat, courtesy of Zoo Sounds

False Promises Of The Meerkat Kind

But brace yourself, my friends. For Zoo Sounds – despite prominently featuring not one, but TWO meerkats on its front cover – not only does not feature any meerkat sound effects, but actually doesn’t feature any bloody meerkats at all, in any capacity. Pretty sure they could be done for false marketing… Or at least, false meerkat-ing! (Dad joke alert!)

The Plot Thickens (Or Not)

Speaking of false promises, I have to admit that I didn’t have high expectations of Zoo Sounds in terms of plot. I wasn’t anticipating a Game Of Thrones-esque struggle for power between the lions and the monkeys, mediated from the sidelines by their semi-mythical meerkat overlords (although if anyone wants to write that children’s book, I will gladly review the heck out of it).

But I did expect some plot, even a simple one. Like perhaps a family on a walk through the zoo, or a zookeeper doing their job and seeing the animals along the way. But no. Zoo Sounds has dispensed with the frankly conventional notion that a story book should have, you know… a story. It’s literally just several pages of random animals making noise, and then it ends, abruptly, after an alligator hops into a pond (spoiler alert).

I’m not the only person to have this criticism of the book either. One Amazon reviewer closed their (3 star) review with this zinger: “This one reminds me of the scene in Elf when Buddy’s Dad demands to ship the book even though it hasn’t been finished.” Ouch.

What Does The Penguin Say

One of the things that I try to do when evaluating a kids book is to consider its educational value. And, to be fair, there’s a fair amount of educational value in Zoo Sounds. Lots of animals to discuss, including their accompanying sound effects, and most of them are doing something you might reasonably expect said animal to do (the monkeys are eating fruit, the seals are eating fish, you get the idea).

However I’ve had to downgrade the educational value score for this one because I just straight-up do not believe that any penguin on earth sounds like the corresponding ‘penguin’ sound effect in this book. I freely admit, I’m not a penguin expert, and perhaps someone who is will prove me wrong. Maybe there is a sad, demented species of penguin, somewhere in remote Antarctica, that sounds like the man from the Go Compare advert being subjected to cruel and unusual torture. But until I get some cold hard proof of that, I will continue to describe the penguin sound effect as ‘wildly unrealistic’.

Little Man’s Book Review

Obviously this wouldn’t be a very good children’s book review if I didn’t take into account the views of an actual child. And Little Man absolutely loves this book. I asked him to write a review, but sadly it was so full of expletives and foul language that I felt unable to publish it. So instead, we’ll have to infer the review from his behaviour: a huge smile whenever we sit down to read together, and regularly selecting the book to be his chew toy du jour.

If I had to suggest what Little Man’s favourite features about Zoo Sounds are, I would say that: a) he loves sticking his finger through the cut-out hole on the front cover (but not, for some reason, the cut-out holes on any of the other pages), particularly if I grab his finger and pretend something is nibbling on it; and b) he likes turning the book over when he hears the sound effects, and trying to work out where the noise is coming from. It’s good stuff.

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: The Verdict…

And so, in conclusion we come at last to the moment you’ve all been waiting for… Drumroll please, it’s the Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review Star Rating System:

  • Plot: * (1/5)
  • Illustrations: *** (3/5)
  • Interactive features: ***** (5/5)
  • Educational Value: *** (3/5)
  • Little Man: ***** (5/5)

Aggregate Score: (3.5/5)

brutally honest children's book review zoo sounds usbourne sound books sam taplin the sickly mama
Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Use Your Natural Buoyancy For Underwater Photography (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Controlling your buoyancy is key to successful underwater modelling. Ideally, you want to be able to sink when you want to sink and float when you want to float. Everyone has a different level of natural buoyancy, so you will need to learn what works for you! I’ve collected together my top tips from my time as a professional mermaid and underwater model, to help you work on controlling and using your natural buoyancy for underwater photography.

Understanding Your Natural Buoyancy

On average, the human body has a density of 0.98 compared to water (according to Wikipedia!). That means that most people’s bodies are inclined to float, rather than sink.

Your body composition plays a large part in determining whether you’re more sink-y or float-y; muscle and bone are more dense than water and sink, whereas fat will float. Women naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men and so are more likely to be inclined to float – great in a shipwreck situation, but potentially more of a challenge when modelling underwater.

When it comes to learning how to control your buoyancy for underwater photography, you could work on changing your body composition, but that tends to be quite a long-term fix! In the short term, buoyancy control is mainly about controlling the amount of air inside your lungs, which effectively act as a floatation aid when full of air.

It’s also worth remembering that the salinity of the water will make a difference: if you’re swimming in salt water, you’ll always be more floaty than you are in a pool.

buoyancy for underwater photography two girls floating gregory brown the sickly mama blog modelling professional mermaid
Photograph by Gregory Brown

If You’re Floating Too Much

If you find that you’re constantly floating to the surface when modelling underwater, the first thing to think about is your breathing. Our natural instinct is to take as deep a breath as possible before submerging, in order to be able to last as long as possible underwater; however, having lungs full of air is likely to make it difficult for you to pose in place for long.

As you’re about to dive, take a deep breath and then puff out a little air before going underwater; you’ll need to experiment with this to find the exact amounts of air you need to breathe out in order to be able to float neutrally in the water or sink to the bottom and stay there.

If you’re a very competent swimmer and this is something you’re struggling with, you can also think about incorporating diving weights into your costume. Scuba divers use these to compensate for the buoyancy of their equipment. You can purchase small amounts of lead shot ballast online in pouches which can be hidden or incorporated in weight belts or costumes. However, being weighted down always has the potential to be dangerous – your weights should be quick release, and you should be careful not to weight yourself down too much. It’s always good practice to have an agreed hand-sign so that your photographer and/or assistants know if you’re in difficulty and can come to assist.

johannes hjorth monochrome bride floating water roses buoyancy the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Johannes Hjorth

If You’re Sinking Too Much

If on the other hand, you find that you’re sinking too much and you’re not able to simply float in place underwater, firstly make sure you’re taking a good deep breath before submerging. You may find that it’s your natural instinct to breathe out as you’re diving down in the water, thus making it easier to dive down quickly, but if you tend to have negative buoyancy (i.e. you sink!), you need to hold on to that breath of air while diving.

If that still doesn’t make a difference and you find you tend to sink straight to the bottom, this is probably a natural effect of your body composition. You’ll need to try to get good photographs on your way to the bottom, while swimming, or after pushing off from the bottom of the tank or pool for an underwater jump.

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Photograph by Holly Meadows

Playing With Buoyancy For Underwater Modelling

Finally, it’s worth thinking about how you can capture great shots underwater while working within the limitations of you/your models’ natural  buoyancy.

If you constantly float and can’t stay in one place for long, you’ll need to go for shots with more movement; try diving down to the bottom of the pool or tank and then allowing yourself to naturally float up through the water (remember: if your lungs are full of air it will mean that your torso floats up first, so you will pretty much always maintain a vertical body position if you do this).

Having a model with negative buoyancy who sinks straight to the bottom can be great for setting up more complicated poses or scenarios, or working with props.​

Having two models with different natural buoyancy affords a lot of possibilities for underwater photography; having one model with negative buoyancy who is able to remain at the bottom of the pool means they can act as an ‘anchor’, who can hold the more floaty model in place. This makes it much easier to catch the perfect shot of more than one model, while keeping the underwater ‘feel’ in the photograph.

buoyancy on a chair sickly mama blog gregory brown underwater modelling mermaid professional
Photograph by Gregory Brown

More tips for underwater modelling

This blog post is part of a series of articles on underwater modelling and photography, based on my experience as a professional mermaid and underwater model. You can read more top tips for underwater models here, or learn how to open your eyes underwater here.

baking · food · gluten free · low FODMAP · recipes

Gluten Free Low FODMAP Pineapple Raspberry Crumble Recipe

I love a yummy crumble when the weather is cold. But this autumn, my husband started on the low FODMAP diet to try to work out if he has any food intolerances other than gluten intolerance, which we know about. And on the low FODMAP diet, you’re not allowed to eat apple. So what the hell do you put in a delicious winter crumble? Well… Why not turn it into a summery sunshine crumble instead, with this delicious recipe for gluten-free, low FODMAP pineapple raspberry crumble!

gluten free low fodmap pineapple raspberry crumble recipe the sickly mama blog

Gluten Free Low FODMAP Pineapple Raspberry Crumble Recipe

The ingredients…

To make your gluten free, low FODMAP pineapple raspberry crumble, you’ll need the following ingredients. This is a store cupboard crumble recipe, so it’s made with ingredients you can keep in the cupboard or freezer – but you can of course use fresh fruit if you’re feeling fancy!

For the filling:

  • 1 tin pineapple rings
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries
  • 50g caster sugar
  • (1 tbsp spiced rum – this is optional as rum is high FODMAP due to the sugar content! However you may choose to risk it for a biscuit, as a single tablespoon of rum spread over 6 – 8 portions of crumble is a very small amount per serving)

For the crumble topping:

  • 250g Gluten free plain flour
  • 150g Butter
  • 125g Sugar (golden caster is perfect)
  • 50g Oats
  • 50g Dessicated coconut
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Pineapple Raspberry Crumble: The Method

1. First, make the crumble topping. Put the butter, sugar, and flour into a bowl and rub the ingredients together with your fingertips until you have a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs. Sir the oats, cinnamon and desiccated coconut through the mixture.

2. Drain the pineapple rings, putting the juice from the tin into a saucepan. Chop the pineapple rings into bite-sized pieces, and line the bottom of a 15cm x 30cm casserole dish with the chunks.

pineapple and raspberries in a casserole dish

3. Stud the casserole dish with frozen raspberries (no need to defrost) – see picture above. Put the leftover raspberries into the saucepan with the pineapple juice.

4. Add the sugar to the saucepan and stir over a gentle heat. For an extra bit of flavour, add the spiced rum at this point. Bring to a simmer and keep stirring over a low heat until it reaches the consistency of double cream.

5. Pour the cooked-down raspberry pineapple mix over the fruit in the bottom of your casserole dish. Don’t worry, you’re not expecting it to cover the bottom of the dish – the fruit will release more liquid when you bake it.

cooking down raspberries to make a syrup

6. When you’re ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

7. Cover the fruit with crumble topping, and bake for around 40 minutes or until the crumble is nicely browned. Serve immediately.

Tips and Tricks for your Pineapple Raspberry Crumble

If you fancy a more grown-up sort of pineapple and raspberry crumble, you can of course increase the rum content! Or, if you do need your crumble to be low FODMAP, you can add spiced yodka instead – vodka is low FODMAP (unlike rum, sadly) so you can have as much as you like! Here’s a recipe to make your own spiced vodka at home.

If you need to be strictly low FODMAP, be careful what you serve your crumble with, as both custard and ice cream are sadly high FODMAP. You can get lactose free custard – we’ve tried some oat custard, which was pretty tasty – or lactose free ice cream.

gluten free low FODMAP pineapple raspberry crumble recipe

More gluten free recipes…

Looking for more tasty gluten free recipes? Why not try these gluten free chocolate cappuccino brownies?

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.

baby on a mat surrounded by yummy fruit toys the sickly mama blog
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.

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!