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Winter is the perfect time for working on a landscape plan to spruce up your curb appeal. Working on a plan you can put into action once the weather warms up is almost therapeutic. Yes, dreaming of flowers, shrubs, birds, bees and all that comes with springtime helps make winter tolerable. (And I am not ashamed to say it!)

How to Start Dreaming

If you have photos of your property to work with, great. If not, you can easily access photos of your property on Google Maps. Google Maps presents opportunities to look at your property at varying time frames and from various angles. Some photos will show upgrades you’ve already made. Using photos like this is a great way to start your landscape dreaming and planning.

The reason for referring to photos is to look at your property’s curb appeal so you can decide what needs a boost. Is it time to remove that big old creepy-looking tree? Is a shrub overshadowing your front door? Is a flower bed too small to have an impact? Would a couple of flower-filled urns on either side of your driveway add pizzazz? Is a falling over retaining wall detracting from your curb appeal? Do you simply crave more privacy or color?

Online or magazine photos of other properties can give you ideas for what upgrades you might want to include. There’s no better time than winter to flip through colorful inspiring garden magazines. You can even do a Google search of properties in your favorite locations. You can swoop over to France or Italy or down to California or Georgia if you’d like. Of course, climates vary and similar plant materials may not thrive in your area.

What to Plan

Start your plan by assessing the shape and flow of your walkways and adjacent plantings. Do they work? What needs improvement? What does your budget allow for? Is this the year to add a retaining wall or new sidewalk?

Assess the foundational plants on your property. This includes evergreens and deciduous trees that form the backdrop and framework for everything else. Are they balanced? Is something overtaking the area? Would it help to add a few more tall shrubs to provide an attractive background for other plantings?

If the existing shrubs, trees, and hard surfaces are in good shape and appealing, your plan might simply include adding colorful flowers.

Use Winter for Research

Some garden centers close for the winter, so use this time to research possible additions. Then if need be, find a contractor. Being first on a contractor’s list will ensure your dream sidewalk or patio becomes a reality early in the season.

Research the trees, shrubs, or perennials you might want to add to ensure they meet the hardiness of your area. Research blooming phases and predicted sizes of matured trees and shrubs ensuring there will be no future overcrowding.

Adding new flowerbeds may necessitate cutting out some turf. Will you be up for the challenge or should you contract that work out? And chances are several inches of quality planting soil and mulch will be needed to top up garden beds. Would you bring this in by a dump truck? Would you buy it in bags and dump it yourself?

Winter can also be a great time to look at options for growing your own plants from seed, bulbs, or dry roots. Getting plants started indoors can be a fun project.

Landscaping and gardening can become addictive yearlong hobbies. Once you see the plants you’ve installed grow and bloom and notice the dramatic difference small changes make, you’ll be proud of your accomplishments. Not only will a well-designed landscape make your property look good, it will become a fun place to dabble in and to admire all year long.

by Joy R. Calderwood

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All-Natural Beauty Recipes: Bathroom Essentials

Why load up your bathroom cabinet with expensive products, which can contain harmful parabens and dyes, when you can make your own pure and natural products at home? Most of the ingredients in these fun and easy-to-make recipes are commonly found in most kitchen cupboards and each batch you make is guaranteed to save you money, with the ingredients costing a fraction of what you would usually pay for shop-bought products!

Whitening Toothpaste

Conventional toothpastes can be expensive and also full of added ingredients that are completely unnecessary such as sweeteners and even sodium lauryl sulphate, a foaming ingredient which is also found in shampoo. This isn’t something you would necessarily want in your mouth! This simple recipe for whitening toothpaste contains only natural ingredients. Experiment with various essential oils to suit your taste, and try putting a pinch of sage in it. It has antimicrobial properties which make it ideal for use in toothpaste, although it does taste quite strongly, so you’ll only need a pinch! You will need a glass jar to store it in, this recipe will make approximately 5 ounces of finished product. Store it in a cool dark place to keep the oils stable.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons distilled water
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
3 tablespoons coconut oil, softened
½ cup baking soda

Optional Ingredients

1 tablespoon xylitol
3 drops essential oil to taste – peppermint, clove, orange and anise all work well

Equipment

Glass mixing bowl
Spoon
Pestle and mortar
Glass storage jar
Measuring cup

Method

Use the pestle and mortar to reduce the sea salt to as fine a powder as possible. Add it to the baking soda and mix together thoroughly. Add it to the baking soda and the xylitol if you have chosen to use it. Start adding the coconut oil to the mixture and then a little water and keep mixing until it reaches the desired consistency. Store it in a glass jar and simply scoop onto your toothbrush and brush your teeth as normal when you are ready to use it.

Dry Shampoo

This dry shampoo is perfect for camping trips with no showers or even for the days when you fancy a lie-in instead of waking up early to wash your hair! You can add a drop or 2 of essential oil (the powder will absorb the oil, making sure your hair smells gorgeous with no greasiness), and the recipe is available for all hair tones; for light hair, use just the powder and essential oil of your choice, but for darker and auburn/red hair you can mix it perfectly with cocoa powder and cinnamon to match your hair tones and avoid that ‘dusty look that dry shampoo sometimes has after you apply it. Either arrowroot or corn starch both work very well as an absorbent base powder; experiment with both and find your favorite!

Ingredients

¾ cup of absorbent powder
3 drops of essential oil

Dark Hair
3 tablespoons of cocoa powder (unsweetened)

Red Hair
3 tablespoon cinnamon

Equipment

Glass mixing bowl
Clean salt shaker (for application)
Sieve or colander

Method

Sift the absorbent powder through the sieve or colander to remove any lumps. Add the other ingredients and mix together well. When applying it, it needs to be at the roots of your hair. Separate your hair into sections using a comb and some hair grips if it makes it easier. Shake a little bit onto each section of hair, one at a time. Comb through each to absorb the oil, and there you have it – clean, sweet-smelling hair in a fraction of the time that it takes to wash it!

All-Natural Deodorant

Store-bought deodorant can contain everything from aluminium, which has been linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease to parabens and dyes which can irritate your skin. This home-made deodorant comprises of only natural ingredients and you can be confident that it will keep you smelling great on the hottest of days, while the shea butter and coconut oil are kind to the delicate skin under your arm. You can experiment with optional ingredients and essential oils to find the combination that works best for you.

Ingredients

1/3 cup baking soda
1/3 cup corn starch powder
6 tablespoons coconut oil – solidified
6 -7 drops essential oil – lavender and lemongrass work well

Optional Ingredients

Arrowroot powder (use instead of corn starch)
2 tablespoons shea butter
3 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons beeswax
6 drops Vitamin E oil

Method

Melt the coconut oil in a bowl over a pan of hot water and add your chosen essential oils. If you are using shea butter and/or beeswax add these too and stir continuously until all the ingredients have melted. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes, then add the vitamin E and corn starch. Whisk thoroughly for a few minutes until it is all combined. Then, pour into your chosen storage container and store it in a cool dark place. When you’re ready to use it, simply scrape off a small amount and apply it to a clean dry underarm with your fingers and it will melt into your skin. Wait a few minutes to get dressed to avoid marks on your clothes.

Aloe Vera and Coconut Facial Moisturizer

This luxurious facial moisturizer contains only six natural ingredients which will pamper and nourish your skin, and none of the chemicals and preservatives found in store-bought products. This recipe uses almond oil, which is excellent for dry skin, as the base but you have lots of other options too; try grape seed oil for acne-prime skin, or apricot kernel oil for skin that feels dry or aging. Hemp oil is also a great choice for this recipe as it is very light and suits all skin types. You can also add a few drops of essential oil to your moisturizer; try lemongrass to brighten and tone or lavender which is soothing if you have dry skin, or problems with blemishes. Be careful when adding the essential oil — you only need to add a few drops — just enough to give your moisturizer a very faint scent. You will find that this recipe makes around 350ml of finished product or enough for 6-7 small jars, and it will last at least 12 months when stored in a cool dark place. Why not split the cost of the ingredients with friends, make a batch between you and take a jar home each!

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons Aloe Vera gel
3 tablespoons cocoa butter
3 tablespoons coconut oil (solidified)
4 drops carrot seed oil
1 teaspoon Vitamin E liquid
5-6 drops essential oil

Equipment

Glass mixing bowl
Hand blender
Storage bottles
Mixing spoons
Pan
Whisk

Method

Place the Aloe Vera and your chosen oils into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Melt the coconut oil and cocoa butter in a pan over a low heat, stirring continuously. When they have all melted, combine with the oils and mix together. It now needs to be blended, but only a little at a time; over-blending will render it far too runny. When it has reached the consistency of mayonnaise, it is blended to perfection. Place into your storage jars and leave the lids off until your moisturizer has cooled; store in a cool dark place and it will keep for 12 months.

Cucumber, Tea Tree and Aloe Vera Facial Mist

This refreshing and rejuvenating facial spray has the irresistible scent of your favorite essential oil and pure distilled water to give your skin a moisture boost. Ideal for cooling down on a long hot day in the office, or during a flight or long drive. It can even be spritzed lightly over your make-up to give your skin a fresh dewy look or sprayed lightly on dry hair to moisturize split ends and give your hair a lovely fresh scent.

Ingredients

1/2 cup distilled water
3 tablespoons organic Aloe Vera
1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
1 organic cucumber
5 drops tea tree oil

Equipment

5 oz. glass spray bottle
Glass mixing bowl
Knife
Chopping board

Method

Peel and dice your cucumber, and place into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix thoroughly together, remove most of the cucumber chunks until only a couple are left, then pour into the spray bottle and give it a good shake. Keep it out of direct sunlight and in the fridge before use.

Silky Vanilla Beeswax Lip Balm

This tempting lip balm is easy and fun to make and costs a fraction of the price of store-bought products which can contain chemicals and preservatives. You can add an optional tint with a pinch of red or rose Mica powder, a sparkly mineral derivative found in cosmetic products. Make sure you choose one that states it is ‘cosmetic grade’. This recipe uses a couple of drops of vanilla for a subtle scent but you can use an essential oil of your choice (peppermint, anise and lemongrass are all great options), or you can leave it unscented if you prefer.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons coconut oil, solidified
2 tablespoons shea butter
1 ½ tablespoons beeswax, grated
2 drops vanilla extract

Optional Ingredients

¼ teaspoon Mica powder (rose or red)
2-3 drops essential oil of your choosing

Equipment

Glass mixing bowl
Pan of hot water
Spoons for mixing
1oz glass jars for storage

Method

Melt the grated beeswax, coconut oil and shea butter in the glass bowl over a pan of hot water, stirring continuously. Add the essential oils and stir again thoroughly. Place into your storage containers and allow to cool. This recipe will make the equivalent of 10 standard sized tubes.

Cooling Peppermint Foot Lotion

After a long day on your feet, a cooling foot lotion with hints of peppermint is just what you need! It will leave your feet feeling soft and silky, and the vitamin A in the olive oil will help to keep cracked, dry heels at bay. You can also add tea tree oil to this lotion if you wish, it has quite a strong smell but it has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties which can be helpful for problem feet.

Ingredients

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup distilled water
25 – 35 drops peppermint essential oil
3 tablespoons shea butter
2 ½ tablespoons emulsifying wax

Optional Ingredients

10-15 drops tea tree oil

Equipment

2 glass mixing bowls
Pan of hot water
Spoons for mixing
Hand-held mixer

Method

Combine the emulsifying wax, shea butter and olive oil in a glass bowl over a medium heat, stirring continuously. Remove from the heat when all the ingredients have melted. Add the peppermint essential oil to the mixture, and also the tea tree oil if you have decided to use it. Pour the distilled water in slowly, and use the hand-held mixer to combine them thoroughly. Mix until the ingredients are no longer showing any sign of separation. Place the mixture into your storage jars and leave uncapped to cool and thicken. This can take up to 48 hours and you should end up with approximately 12oz. of finished product.

Remember, when buying the ingredients or your products, always buy the best quality that you can afford. Try to use organic products wherever possible as they are much better for you. When it comes to storage jars, if you aren’t using brand new ones, remember to sterilize them with some boiling water before you put any of your finished product in them. You will also need to label them with the contents and the date you made them.


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