Halfoween

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It’s certainly no secret that I love pumpkins and Halloween! 12 months is definitely too long to go without indulging in some Halloween-themed fun, which is why I love Halfoween, celebrated at the mid-way point between Halloweens! And I’m going for a Harry Potter theme for my celebrations! 🙂

In the kitchen – tasty treats

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Here’s what we’ll be munching on while watching Prisoner of Azkaban tonight!

Golden snitches:

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Dementor lollies:

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Dementor chocolates (Template from: More Than Thursdays):

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Spooky cupcakes:

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Graveyard chocolate puddings:

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In the garden – planting pumpkin seedsShutterstock - the mystery seedling.jpg

Pumpkins can take about six months from sowing the seed to harvesting the fruit, so Halfoween is a great time to be thinking about planting some!

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I planted my first pumpkin seeds on 14th April, and the first one germinated very quickly, appearing on 22nd, even though April has been a pretty cold month. I’ve now got lots of little seedlings, and a few not so little ready for re-potting! This year I’m growing one “normal sized” variety – “Rouge”, but I’m mainly focusing on miniature ones again since I’ve had more success with them in the past. I’ve planted “Jack be Little” again – I ended up harvesting about 7 pumpkins per plant from these when I grew them a couple of years ago, and I’m trying two new varieties – “Hooligan”, which has a pretty striped appearance, and “Baby Boo” – miniature white pumpkins! The Hooligan seeds germinated very quickly and successfully, but only two Baby Boo seeds have germinated so far, and I’d started to think the Jack Be Little seeds had failed, but two have just popped up this morning!

And, In the bathroom

The finishing touch!

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Happy Halfoween! 😀

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Home spa experience

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Scorpp/Shutterstock

There is nothing more relaxing than having a spa experience in the comfort of your own home! Creating your own products, tailored to you, your preferences and the needs of your skin is easy, cheap, and means you know exactly what you’re putting on your skin. You can invest in high quality ingredients that you know are good for your skin, like argan oil and shea butter, which are normally only found in tiny quantities in products that advertise that they contain them.

Some online DIY body care recipes have lots of ingredients and can make it seem more difficult than it is to create your own products. But actually, although there are lots of ingredients you might choose to add, like essential oils for their fragrance and effects, many products will work well with only two or three ingredients. So why not have a go at making some of the most simple recipes like the ones below, and then experiment with adding in new ingredients?

Face mask

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An effective two ingredient version is simply kaolin clay + water! This will draw impurities out of your skin and leave your face squeaky clean. You can store kaolin in a jar in the bathroom and just mix with a little water to get the consistency you want right before you use it. A simple addition is oats, ground in a blender (above), which help to exfoliate the skin. You might also want to add a couple of drops of essential oil, such as lavender, which smells amazing and is used by many people to treat acne.

Exfoliating body scrub

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Again, two ingredients are all that’s needed to exfoliate your skin. Either salt + oil, or sugar + oil if you want something more gentle. Just mix into a jar, which you can reuse again and again. Rub into your skin in circular motions to leave your skin feeling smooth. You can easily add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to this recipe too. Adding peppermint essential oil to salt scrub, and even a little ground pumice, makes a fantastic treatment for dry, tired feet.

Body butter

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Body butters can also be made with only two ingredients – a plant butter and an oil, which are melted and mixed together in an approximately 2:1 ratio (no need to measure!) then allowed to solidify. You can choose whatever butter and oil you use, depending on your own preferences, what you have available, or what properties you want your body butter to have.

Good butters to use include cocoa, shea, apricot, mango and aloe. Cocoa butter is much harder than the others, so it can help to whisk the finished product as it starts to solidify to make it a little easier to apply to skin.

My favourite oils to use are sweet almond, peach kernel, and coconut. To these carrier oils, you can add in smaller quantities of additional oils like vitamin E and argan oil for their nourishing properties, and any essential oils you want to use.

To make a body butter bar, go for a harder butter like cocoa, and add in a small amount of beeswax. All of these are excellent at moisturising the skin, but as they can contain no preservatives they are best made not too far in advance (although I’ve never had any go off even after 6 months!). Also don’t expect them to absorb into your skin as quickly as artificial products.

Bath melts and oils

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If you can make body butter, you can make bath melts and oils. Bath melts are made from exactly the same ingredients as body butters, but you’re best to include cocoa butter so your finished product holds its shape. Mix in your favourite essential oil (lavender is a great choice for a relaxing spa experience), then pour the mixture into a mould while molten. Drop the solid bath melt into hot bath water and it will melt, releasing the fragrance of the essential oil and turning your bath into a relaxing, moisturising experience.

Bath oils are even simpler, just dilute essential oils in one of the carrier oils listed above. There are lots of different blends to try if you feel like experimenting!

Bath salts

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These couldn’t be simpler – the most basic involves just one ingredient – Epsom salts, which are reported to be fantastic for relaxing sore muscles. You can add in other salts like Dead Sea salt if you want to, plus essential oils and herbs or flowers, it’s up to you.

Floating flowers and candles.jpgAs well as creating your own products, you can complete your home spa experience and set the mood by creating a simple floating candle bowl. Collect a few flowers from your garden (I’ve used hellebore, rhododendron and daffodil) and add some floating candles.

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An easy way to make your own floating candles is by removing the metal case from tea lights and sealing the base with some molten wax so the water can’t get to the wick, as shown above.

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For the finishing touch, light an oil burner to diffuse your chosen essential oil blend throughout the room, and complete the atmosphere with one of the many apps now available to help you tailor your own relaxing spa soundtrack! I love Nature Sounds and Relax Melodies.

So relax, enjoy, pretend it isn’t still snowing and get your skin ready for summer! 🙂

 

Plastic-free February

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Plastic has been in the news a lot recently, with more and more people recognising the devastating effect it can have on the environment, particularly marine life. It’s high on the agenda for marine conservation organisations, including Whale and Dolphin Conservation (#notwhalefood), and Marine Conservation Society (#stoptheplastictide). The UK government is taking steps to reduce ocean plastic pollution too, including plastic straws and takeaway coffee cups.

I’ve actually been on Skype today in my role as a Volunteer Speaker for WDC, talking to a class of schoolchildren from Yarborough Academy in Grimsby about whales and dolphins and the effects of plastic. The children are going to design plastic-free tote bags to help tackle the problem of plastic bags, which they will be selling in their local supermarket!

A growing number of people have decided to take on the challenge of “plastic free February” (#PlasticFreebruary, #PlasticFreeFebruary), and “challenge” is the right word – with so many products wrapped in plastic, it can be difficult to find alternatives. I’ve been going out of my way to find some plastic-free versions of products I buy this month, and some are certainly more challenging than others.

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Cucumbers were particularly difficult, but I did manage to find this plastic-free cucumber and plastic-free radishes from Panthywel Farm at Llanelli market. I also managed to find locally produced rapeseed oil not only in a glass bottle, but one that you can take back to refill, from Wright’s Food Emporium in Llanarthne.

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We’ve also started having local, organic produce delivered once a fortnight from Banc Organics, who do use some plastic (e.g. punnets), but take these back to re-use next time!

One of the big problems with plastic is that so much of it can’t be recycled, but make sure you check the packaging carefully. Some plastic can be recycled but is not collected with normal household recycling. Look out for example for anything labelled as “plastic – film” (such as what’s normally used to wrap toilet rolls – although there are plastic-free alternatives like those sold by whogivesacrap.org!), as this can be recycled at supermarkets along with plastic carrier bags.

In the garden – paper pots and growing your own food

One way to not only eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging but to know exactly what you’re getting with your food is to grow your own. Even at this time of year there are seeds that can be started in the vegetable garden. Onion and leek seeds can be planted in February, as well as salad leaves, which so far I’ve been completely unable to find plastic free in the shops. But my seeds that I planted a week ago in the greenhouse have germinated already!

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Now is also the time to start seed potatoes chitting on a sunny windowsill, ready to plant out in March. I’ve started three seed potatoes already in the greenhouse, hoping they’ll get a head start and I can harvest some towards the end of May. I managed to find plastic-free seed potatoes at my local Wyevale garden centre, where they’re sold loose so you can choose your own and put them into your own bag, or one of the paper bags provided.

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You can reduce plastic in your garden even more by making your own biodegradable seed-starting pots out of old newspapers. You can buy kits like the one in the photo to help you, or just wrap a piece of newspaper around a glass jar or tin can and stick together with biodegradable sticky tape. Make sure you do it quite loosely so you can remove the tin or jar. These pots work well in the greenhouse, but I can’t imagine they’d survive long outside here in the Welsh rain!

In the bathroom – homemade body care

There are shops that sell body care products without packaging. I’m a big fan of Lush’s Seanik shampoo bar, which is also paraben-free. But you can also have a go at making many of your own products. The challenge then becomes sourcing ingredients without plastic, but where that isn’t possible at least by buying in bulk the amount of packaging is reduced. Once you’ve created your products put them into small glass jars, which can be washed and reused.

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This month I’ve made this lavender soap, with homegrown lavender flowers, placed in a small piece of burlap to give as a gift, and I’m about to start on a whole range of products to create a plastic-free “home spa experience”, which I’ll share next month. 🙂

When creating themed soaps and bath bombs as gifts, I do sometimes like to add some glitter, but as this is going to be washed down the drain and isn’t always extracted during waste-processing, there’s a chance it can end up in the ocean and cause problems for wildlife. That’s why it’s important if you are making your own glittery cosmetics or body care products that you choose biodegradable glitters, like EcoStardust or Bio-Glitter, which are made from cellulose plant material rather than plastic. 🙂

For more ideas on how to cut down your use of plastic, check out My Plastic Free Life and Plastic Is Rubbish.

Winter creations

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(Long-tailed tit: Tomas Calle Boyero/Shutterstock)

Not being able to spend as much time outdoors during the short, cold days of winter, I try to cheer myself up by creating things inside!

In the craft room – cuddly penguins

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These cute penguins are made out of black socks, filled with rice and then tied at the end. I stuck a piece of white felt on to the front, then attached googly eyes and a beak made out of orange felt. The hat is made from a children’s sock pulled over the head (which obscures the knot tied in the sock). The children’s socks are long enough to cut some off to pull down over the penguin’s neck as a matching scarf!

In the kitchen – seasonal roast veg and fried egg

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This winter I’ve been harvesting kalettes for the first time, and after a bit of experimenting, I’ve found my favourite way to prepare them is by roasting them. I saw this recipe by Susan Feniger for roasted vegetables with a fried egg and thought it looked delicious, so I decided to have a go with the veg I had on hand. I roasted kalettes, sweet potato, onion, red pepper, potato and carrots in the oven, then added the fried egg.

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It might not look quite like the picture that came with the recipe, but it was delicious!

In the bathroom – snowman bath bomb

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I’ve wanted to make one of these for a long time, but with so many other crafts to do I didn’t get around to it before Christmas… but a snowman isn’t just for Christmas anyway! I wanted to experiment with decorating a bath bomb to add detail to it, and had read that a solution of powdered colours and isopropyl alcohol can be used to “paint” on to the bath bomb. On this occasion, the two halves of the bath bomb refused to stick together, but I carried on with my experiment and really like how it turned out! I used activated charcoal for the black spots and added them on with a fine paintbrush. I’ll be doing this to make Jack O’Lantern bath bombs come October!

In the garden – harvesting tiger nuts

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Another first for me, last year I planted some tiger nuts for the first time, and I’ve been harvesting them over the past month or so. I planted them in a large pot in the greenhouse, and made sure to keep them wet as they grow naturally in boggy ground. They were very easy to grow, not requiring any special attention, and easy to harvest too. They’re tubers, so harvesting is similar to potatoes. I just upturned the pot, worked through the soil to find the tubers and brushed the soil off. Getting them completely clean ready to eat requires quite a bit of scrubbing back in the house though!

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I’d never actually tried a tiger nut before (growing things definitely makes me more willing to try new foods!), but I’m enjoying them, they taste similar to coconut, but the texture is more crunchy. 🙂

Christmas crafting

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I’ve been having lots of fun this month with Christmassy craft creations!

In the bathroom – nativity soaps

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I love how these turned out! They’re melt and pour soaps with gold mica, frankincense essential oil and myrrh gum in star-shaped moulds! Mica doesn’t always mix very well with melt and pour soap, but I found that if I kept stirring it I was able to get the colour to disperse evenly.

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I created little labels and put each one into a gold star organza bag to give as presents.

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In the craft room – Christmas decorations and cards

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While I was making salt dough ornaments for Halloween, I made a few snowmen as well. I’ve hung one on the tree, but on a couple of the others I made holes in the middle (where the snowman’s scarf or buttons would be!) before I baked them, so I could thread them on to ribbon to decorate presents.

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I’ve also been making lollipop stick decorations, like the reindeer and Christmas tree at the top of this post, and this star.

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And I’ve been making homemade Christmas cards, I’d already done this year’s so these are ready for next year!

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The cotton buds were left over from the skeleton card I made at Halloween! The Christmas tree in the middle is made from folded cupcake cases with jewel stickers, and the one on the right from paper straws cut to different lengths. The snowflake was made with silver beads threaded on to silver tinsel pipe cleaners which I’d twisted into a snowflake shape, and I think it came out really well. 🙂

Happy Christmas everyone!

Hibernate or migrate?

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As autumn progresses and we head towards winter, many animals are now tucked up safely away in hibernation or torpor, and others have travelled great distances for warmer weather and more plentiful food supplies.

At the beginning of November I visited WWT Welney for the first time (I’ve now visited all the WWT centres!) to see the whooper swans that had started to arrive from Iceland, where they breed. By the time it got dark about 500 swans had come in to roost on the reserve.

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It was only towards the end of my week in Welney that I saw what I’d been hoping to find all week – a whooper swan with a leg ring on…

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And inside the observatory I used the “iSwan” touchscreen to find out more about her:

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The database revealed that Bjork had travelled 33,000 miles in her life on her back-and-fore migrations to Iceland! But not everything survives the winter by undertaking a great migration like the swans do. If you want to help out the smaller creatures that are looking for a safe place to hibernate in your garden, there are lots of things you can do to help out.

In the garden – hibernation homes

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Firstly, don’t tidy up everything in your garden, leave piles of leaves and the stems of plants that have finished flowering, as insects can hide inside the hollow tubes. You can also construct a special insect home like the one above that I made at WWT Llanelli, or make something really simple using natural and recycled materials, like the one below.

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Cut a 2 litre plastic bottle in half, then stuff full of pine cones, twigs, straw, leaves and anything else you think invertebrates might like to snuggle up in for the winter! Place it somewhere safe in the garden, preferably under cover, and at an angle so that rainwater won’t get into it.

Or if you’d like to provide a home for something a bit bigger, find out more about how to make and put up a bat box from the Bat Conservation Trust, and how to build a hedgehog house from the RSPB. 🙂

 

O Come All Ye Frightful (2)

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Last October I began to think about crafts and activities and I could do for Halloween that I would normally do for Christmas. This year, I decided to try to come up with an idea for each day of October, and I’ve been sharing one a day on Twitter (@pamelastyles). Here they all are! Happy Halloween everyone!

1. Halloween countdown calendar

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2. Halloween tree

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3. Jack Skellington spider snowflake from the Nightmare Before Christmas (tutorial)

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4. Pine cone decorations – I made a spider and a bat, but owls are easy too!

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5. Homemade Halloween cards

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6. Felt tree decorations

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7. Salt dough ornaments

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8. Cute pom poms – I’d normally be making robins and snowmen, but here’s a cute pumpkin!

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9. Halloween crackers

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10. Lollipop stick crafts – a spider’s web rather than a Christmas tree, star or reindeer!

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11. Seasonal socks – I have lots of Christmas socks, and managed to find these spooky Halloween ones!

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12. Jingle bells – a spider to hang on the Halloween tree!

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13. Candle – an artificial tealight glued into a toilet roll tube, “wax” effect created with a hot glue gun, then painted black with acrylic paint.

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14. Seasonal mugs

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15. Popcorn garland – food colouring gives it a Halloween twist!

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16. Glass jar lanterns

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17. Ice cream cone treats – witches’ hats shown alongside their Christmas tree counterparts!

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18. Gingerbread haunted house

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19. Gingerbread mummies (skeletons are another option!)

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20. Halloween wreath

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21. Homemade Halloween soaps

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22. Pom pom garland

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23. Halloween stocking – easy to fill with little spooky treats

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24. Homemade “Vampire’s kiss” bath bomb – rather than sparkly snowballs or scents of cinnamon and nutmeg, this homemade bath bomb turns the water blood red and contains sparkly red body glitter.

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25. Spider cake – there are lots of homemade Halloween cake options, it’s easy to make a spider one with chocolate buttons or mini eggs like this (a little bit of Halloween meets Easter!)

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26. Halloween gift wrapping – goodbye to red, gold and green and hello purple and black shredded paper, ribbons and bows!

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27. Halloween body care gift sets – these cauldrons contain dead sea salt body scrub, pumpkin spice orange and purple bath salts, spooky soaps, and even a Halloween-coloured rubber duck!

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28. Halloween jumper – I have lots of Christmas jumpers, but for the first time this year I got a Halloween one too!

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29. Placeholders – Ready for my Halloween dinner party!

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30. Centrepiece – with spooky objects and orange and purple flowers

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31. Egg hunt –  My real number 31 will be the Halloween dinner I’m making tonight, with  pumpkin soup, mozzarella ball eyes and witches’ finger breadsticks! But here’s a bonus activity – rather than Christmas, Easter meets Halloween in this spooky monster egg hunt! Put an artificial candle inside with some goodies and hide them in the garden after dark!

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Happy Halloween everyone!