The Perfect Gift for My Mom Was a Hedgehog PinCushion (Easy Sewing Pattern Included!)

It was my mother’s birthday recently, and I wanted to get her something that she would actually, well…use? She is a wonderful seamstress who passed her love for sewing down to me, so I decided to get out my needles and threads to make her something special. I hit upon the idea of replacing the ancient tomato pincushion she’s been using for decades with a brand new one!

But why the tomato? It’s traditional, of course. But maybe we could do something else… What would make actual SENSE to have pins sticking out of it?

A hedgehog.

A spiky, cute, rough little hedgehog, of course! And I know I am not the first person to have this stroke of genius. Just type it into Pinterest and you’ll see.

So, I drew some general shapes on paper, used them to cut some fabric waiting in my scrap bag to be used, and sewed it all together in about 30 minutes. I love it when projects come together with so little pain. With a little stuffing and decorative beads, there he was, peering up at me. I transferred all of my mom’s pins to his back and his hedgehog look was complete. My mom unwrapped him from a pretty gift bag on her birthday, promptly loved him, and he is now sitting happily on her sewing table.

IMG_0616Of course, since Mr. Hedgehog is a small, soft creature, my little girl, Ivy, also adored him, so I made her one of her own the next day. My sisters, reportedly unable to resist the cuteness, have also put orders in. If genesis matches demand we may soon be awash in tiny round cushion creatures. Wasn’t this an episode of Star Trek? Should I be worried?

If this little guys looks like someone you would like to take home as well, the very easy pattern is available for sale below. You can have him perched on your craft table in under an hour. They make great presents and Mother’s Day IS coming up. They would make adorable mother’s day gifts. 😉

GET THE PATTERN HERE

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Desert Spring Flowers of the Mojave

The plentiful winter rains in Southern California have really brought the Mojave Desert to life for those of us who call it home. The warm sun on the new plants and blossoms evokes the most wonderful spring scent. I love desert springtime!

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Desert dandelion (Malacothrix californica)

 

 

Here is Ivy with one of the lovely yellow flowers that are growing in large clusters everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Teddy Bear” Cholla Cactus Flower

These are our early cactus blossoms! I can’t wait for the other colors to arrive on the other cacti varieties. Purples, scarlet, oranges… 

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Can anyone tell me what these are, please?

These are so tiny and delicate. They remind me of miniature iris. 

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Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) Blossoms

One of my all time favorite is creosote. I just love the way this plant smells year round, and especially in the rain. There’s nothing quite like it. So refreshing!

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Wild Heliotrope (Phacelia distans)

This lavender beauty was very prolific up in our nearby Joshua Tree National Park. 

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Goldenbush (Ericameria linearifolia)
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Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)

Perhaps I saved the best for last. The yucca plants were all displaying their heavy heads full of succulent white blossoms up in Joshua National Park again. If you can get close enough to them without being stabbed by the fierce leaves, the smell is amazingly sweet and fragrant.

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The sun was setting on a cool evening in Joshua Tree Park. 

 

These photos are a meager handful of the desert flowers and rich plant life happening in the Mojave this time of year. We try to get outside as often as possible to enjoy it, always looking for new and interesting desert wildflowers. 

 

Recipe: Vegan No-Bake Lemon Cheesecake

One of the most convincing vegan cheesecakes I’ve ever had! This recipe is inspired by a recipe for Vegan Peanut Butter Cup Pie on one of my favorite cooking blogs Minimalist Baker. A craving for lemon (and a lack of ingredients) drove me to this adapted recipe for refreshing vegan lemon cheesecake drizzled with chocolate. I was very pleased to note that it was absolutely delicious and actually relatively “healthy,” with no added sugar and mostly composed of tofu and coconut.

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The most impressive feature of this cheesecake is that the lemon tang is such a great mirror of the slight sour flavor that most cheesecakes have from the (cream) cheese. It really did taste like real cheesecake!

It’s a no-bake, freezer-solidified cake as well, so it’s a perfect refreshing seasonal treat that won’t make you feel like you’re dying of fat and sugar intake when you eat it. Which is always nice.

With no further ado, here is the recipe.

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Vegan, No-Bake Lemon
Cheesecake

CRUST:

  • 2 packets of graham crackers
  • 4-5 Tbsp butter
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Pinch of salt

FILLING:

  • 12 oz soft tofu
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (i.e. the juice of two lemons)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 can full fat coconut milk, chilled overnight
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

Starting with the crust, place graham crackers in your food processor and pulse until ground to fine crumbs. Add butter, salt, and honey. Pulse again until graham cracker crumbs are fully coated and hold their shape when molded. Press into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

For the filling, place first five ingredients of the filling (everything but the chilled coconut milk) into your (cleaned) food processor. Process until smooth. Open the can of chilled coconut milk and separate the solidified cream at the top from the liquid. (The liquid will not be used for this recipe, but save it for other food preps.) Beat the coconut cream in a separate chilled bowl until fluffy. Transfer the rest of the filling from the food processor into the bowl of whipped coconut and gently fold together until all combined. Next, pour the filling evenly over the crust in the springform pan. Cover and freeze for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

After the cake has had time to chill and become solid, start preparing the chocolate drizzle. Use a double boiler to melt the chocolate into drizzle-ready liquid. If you don’t have a double boiler, simply put the chocolate chips in a small metal or ceramic bowl and float it in a small pan of water on the stove. Heat the water on low until the chocolate has melted. Remove the cake from the freezer and use a spoon or fork to drizzle the melted chocolate over the top.

Cover and return the cake to the freezer for 1-3 hours until the cake is really nice and firm. The more time it spends in the freezer, the harder it gets and the better it will slice. However, less time will equal a softer, creamier cake texture. Choose your preference and enjoy!

DOWNLOAD THE RECIPE HERE

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My Favorite Sewing Tips for Beginners (and Reminders for Lazy People Like Me)

I am not a well-learned seamstress, nor am I always a patient one. As much as I appreciate true skill and art of sewing, I (admittedly) tend to skip steps and “cut corners.” So, here are some of my favorite sewing tips, many of which I need to remember to do myself! 

  1. pins-1358849_1920.jpgZig-zig the edges of your fabric and prewash it. I confess I’m guilty of skipping this step. A lot. However, if you really want something to turn out well, do it. You don’t want to find out (surprise) that your perfectly finished garment has shrunk or bled in the wash later on. And DO put a zig-zag on the edge of fabrics you know might fray when washed. Trust me; otherwise you will have loose frayed strands wrapping around everything else in the wash, ligature-style.
  2. Use rocks to hold your paper patterns flat. Pinning the pattern to your fabric is a pain and sometimes you will want to minimize the amount of pins you stick in delicate fabrics. So, keep the pattern in place by placing medium-sized rocks at the corners while you trace out the pattern onto the fabric.
  3. Use a million pins. Pin everything in place to the nth degree, especially when working with knit and stretchy fabrics. This is probably a good tip no matter if you are an expert or not, but for those of us who aren’t enormously adept at guiding the fabric through the machine just right, having everything practically stapled in place with pins is essential. Trust me, I know the temptation to skip the pins and dive right into sewing. I’ve been there. But I’m telling you, fight down that impulse and pin it.
  4. Keep magnets handy to pick up or store pins. Pin cushions are great, but there’s something to be said for having a magic talisman that makes every pin it encounters stick to it immediately. Avoid dropped and mislaid pins by using magnets instead of (or in addition to) pincushions.
  5. Sew “manually” with the hand crank in tough spots. This might be  dirt obvious to most sew-people, but I honestly didn’t figure it out until I was trying to sew a topstitch halfway pretty. Don’t push the foot pedal, and use the hand dial on the side of the machine instead to manually “walk” the needle and thread around tricky curves.
  6. MY Rule of Thumb for cutting elastic is half the length it is supposed to stretch along. In other words, measure the whole distance this elastic is supposed to run along. (So if you are putting an elastic waitband in, you will measure around the waist.) Take that figure and divide it by 1/2. There’s your elastic length. Or at least that’s what I usually do. Naturally, I adjust the length if I think the elastic should be tighter or more loosesew-1345477_1920 (1).jpg
  7. Invest in nice sharp fabric scissors AND some of those tiny, narrow-nosed scissors for close encounters with threads. Yes, any old pair of scissors will do in a pinch, especially if you take the time to sharpen them nicely. But there is nothing so sacred or useful as a pair of sewing shears meant only for that purpose. Cutting things properly and easily makes the rest of the project go so much better, with a better result. And it’s always good to know that there is at least one good pair of scissors in in the house! As for the “tiny scissors” these make trimming loose threads and delicate areas so much easier–definitely worth the investment of a few dollars if you will be sewing with any frequency.
  8. Use a test scrap in your machine. Always test out stitches on a scrap piece of fabric first, especially if you have just messed with the stitch settings on the machine. If the tension needs to be adjusted, better to screw up on a scrap than on your actual project!
  9. Take a crash course in sewing machine tension. You always know if the thread tension is off on my machine because of the high pitched screaming that ensues when clumps of thread start appearing on my precious project. Here’s thread tension in a nutshell:
    • If the stitches are too loose on the “top” of the fabric you are sewing, the tension of the top thread (the one coming from the spool) is too tight and is pulling the stitches on the “bottom” through. The cure for this is to lower the tension on the spool thread, i.e. set the tension dial to a lower number.
    • Conversely, if there are loose stitches occurring on the “bottom” of the fabric, that means the tension of top thread is too loose. Increase the thread tension, i.e. set it to a higher number.
    • That’s basically it. I usually end up messing with the setting, sewing stitches on my scrap cloth until I’m happy with it
  10. Check that your machine is threaded properly constantly! When your thread falls off one of the main loop-de-loos or hooks (whatever) bad things happen. So, try to keep on top of it. And if your stitches suddenly started misbehaving, that is the first thing you should check. Maybe the thread has wrapped around the thread stand and gotten stuck. Rethread the whole thing if you aren’t sure.
  11. Use a safety pin to pull drawstrings or elastic through the casing. This is probably a pretty well-known one, but worth mentioning. Attach a safety pin to the end of the elastic/string, then bunch the fabric and guide the safety pin through until it comes out the other end. Make sure you attach the safety pin by folding the end of the elastic or string over once and inserting the pin through both layers of the fold. Otherwise, the end could unravel, the safety pin will come loose, and you will have to start all over again
  12. Keep a lint roller next to your sewing station to catch all your snipped threads and lint. All the little snips and bits that accumulate while I’m sewing drive me nuts, so call this the neat freak tip. I like to keep a small lint roller next to me and use it to quickly clean everything off. It’s fast and easy and everything stays put until I’m ready to throw it in the trash. If you aren’t into using a lint roller (not wanting to generate the extra waste) then just have a designated spot or container on your table to catch your thread waste. I really feel a clean station and a thread free project will actually help you focus and improve the final results.

 

“A stitch in time saves nine.”

                            –Ben Franklin, printer

Miso Soup: Healing Properties and My Easy (Lazy) Recipe for Sick Days

The other day I mentioned that my standard go-tos for sick days are rest and fluids–soup being one of those fluids. My all time favorite comfort soup for sick days is miso soup.

Japanese miso is most commonly made from soybeans, but can also be made with rice, barley, rye, buckwheat, millet, azuki beans, chickpeas and other grains. The chosen bean  or grains are formed into a paste, combined with salt, and then fermented with a special mold culture called koi  in a process that takes anywhere from three months to three years. It comes in different kinds of flavors and colors, depending on the type of grains used and how long it is fermented, from deep savory browns and reds to more mild light yellows. Miso is particularly renowned for its healing properties by virtue of the many minerals and antioxidants it contains.

The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb

Probably one of the most famous example of using miso as a powerful healing supplement occurred after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. In a hospital only 1.4 km from the bomb site, Dr. Tatsuichiro Akizuki observed that his patients and staff were mysteriously avoiding acute radiation sickness–unlike other nearby hospitals which noted horrible radiation effects amongst thousands of patients. He believed this was due to the steady intake of miso and along with a simple diet of whole grains, such as brown rice, and vegetables, without sugar. Dr. Akizuki concluded that the key was to ingest miso before exposure as a preventive measure that blocked the negative effects of radiation.

Free Radicals

But HOW can bean paste block radiation sickness? One theory is that the minerals and antioxidants  found in miso, such as zinc, copper, and manganese, work to protect the body from cell damage by oxidizing free radicals. (Szalay) Very briefly, free radicals are atoms, molecules or ions that have lost electrons, making them unstable. They then attempt to capture their lost electron from other compounds, causing a chain reaction of destabilization that leads to mass cell damage. Some free radicals are formed as part of the natural chemical processes in the body, such as metabolism or immune mechanisms, but they can also be formed by outside factors, including radiation. Antioxidants, such as those found in miso, restore stability to free radicals by donating one of their own electrons. Fortunately, they do not themselves become free radicals because they are stable in either form, and the harmful chain reaction caused by free radicals is ended.

Cancer and Tumors

Does miso soup affect cancer too? Miso contains amazing chemicals called isoflavones which have long been thought to prevent cancers. Isoflavones like genistein and daidzein have been the focus of many studies for their ability to inhibit cancer-causing agents (i.e., anticarcinogenic properties). The effectiveness and exact mechanism for this is still subject to study.

One possibility is the fact that isoflavones like genistein act as an enzyme inhibitor which can suppress the growth of cancerous cells being generated by faulty enzyme activity. Enzymes are chemicals within the body which serve as “messengers,” relaying signals and biological information by acting as chemical “on” and “off” switches for specific types of cellular activity. They are responsible for keeping all the processes in your body happening when and how they should. Should enzymes become mutated, they may tell the cell to do the wrong thing. For example, the switch could become stuck in the “on” position resulting in unregulated cellular growth (and potentially form a tumor). Thus, neutralizing these enzyme triggers can regulate cell signal pathways and stop further cancerous activity.  The beauty of this kind of therapy is that it works by deactivating mutated enzymes and improper cell signals, working to halt cancerous processes without the serious side effects of other cancer treatments. (Messina; Shulhn-Der)

Whatever the exact mechanism, epidomological studies conducted over decades have shown that consuming miso and soybean products correlates with a lowered risk of various cancers, including lung cancer (Nishi; Tuyns), intestinal cancer (Wakai), and breast cancer (Yamamoto).

Other Healing and Nutritional Properties

Miso contains a nice dose of zinc which is known to help heal wounds and boost the immune system.  In addition, vitamin K in miso aids blood clotting and prevents bleeding and blood loss after injury. Miso is high in protein, high in fiber, and–being a fermented food–offers probiotics and good bacteria for a healthy functioning digestive tract.

All of these components working together make miso an excellent dietary choice during all kinds of recuperation.

My Super Easy, Super Lazy Miso Soup Bowl

This is what I do when I want miso soup. You will need:

  • A couple chopped green onions
  • A handful of tofu cubes
  • 1-2 Tbsp miso paste
  • Water

Boil about 2 cups of water (bowl’s worth) in a saucepan. Reduce heat, throw onions in and simmer for a few minutes. Turn heat off and throw tofu cubes in let sit a minute or two for the tofu to heat through. Pour into a bowl, add miso, and gently mix with a spoon until the miso is fully dissolved. Enjoy!

ivydecorsmaller

Resources

“Miso Soup Benefits.” Med-Health.net. Accessed 12 Mar 2017. http://www.med-health.net/Miso-Soup-Benefits.html.

King, Margie. “Miso Protects Against Radiation, Cancer and Hypertension.” GreenMedInfo.com. 20 Aug 2013. Accessed 12 Mar 2017. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/miso-protects-against-radiation-cancer-and-hypertension

Messina MJ, Persky V, Setchell KD, Barnes S. Soy intake and cancer risk: a review of the in vitro and in vivo data. Nutr Cancer 1994; 21: 113–31. 

Nishi M, Yoshida K, Hirata K, Miyake H. Eating habits and colorectal cancer. Oncol Rep. 1997 Sep-Oct; 4(5):995-8.

Szalay, Jessie. “What Are Free Radicals?” LiveScience.com. 27 May 2016. Accessed 12 Mar 2017. http://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html. 

Tuyns AJ, Kaaks R, Haelterman M. Colorectal cancer and the consumption of foods: a case-control study in Belgium. Nutr Cancer. 1988; 11(3):189-204.

Wakai K, Ohno Y, Genka K, Ohmine K, Kawamura T, Tamakoshi A, Lin Y, Nakayama T, Aoki K, Fukuma S. Risk modification in lung cancer by a dietary intake of preserved foods and soyfoods: findings from a case-control study in Okinawa, Japan. Lung Cancer. 1999 Sep; 25(3):147-59.

Wang, Shulhn-Der, Bor-Chyuan Chen, Shung-Te Kao, Ching-Ju Liu and Chia-Chou Yeh. Genistein inhibits tumor invasion by suppressing multiple signal transduction pathways in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells. BMC Complement & Altern Med 2014; 26. 

Wolff, Meg. “Radiation and Miso’s Hopeful Healing Powers.” The Huffington Post. 25 May 2011. Accessed 12 Mar 2017. http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/836744

Yamamoto, Seiichiro, Tomotaka Sobue, Mints Kobayashi, Satoshi Sasaki, & Shoichiro Tsugane. Soy, Isoflavones, and Breast Cancer Risk in Japan. J Natl Cancer Inst (2003) 95 (12): 906-913.

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Growing Ivy does NOT support animal testing and thus we avoid directly citing scientific studies involving experimentation on animals. If you notice a resource we have cited wherein animal testing was used, please notify us.

5 Pretty Cool Things I Noticed When I Started Doing Yoga Everyday 

I recently started doing about 20-30 minutes of yoga every morning, usually by following a video. I need to do it EVERYday because I know I will probably “fall off the wagon” if I don’t. In the past, tomorrow has become tomorrow has become tomorrow, so I’m trying to make it a deeply entrenched habit. So far, so good! Here were some interesting side benefits (aside any body toning and weight changes).
1. I Sleep Better

With everything I’m trying to accomplish as a single mom, I sometimes only end up getting about 6 hours (give or take) of sleep every evening. So, I need to make those rest hours count. After I started doing yoga every morning, I noticed that I started feeling well rested even if I hadn’t slept for as many hours as I would normally like. I suppose perhaps I am more relaxed and I sleep deeper. That’s pretty awesome!

2. I Don’t Eat As Much

Just as a whole, my meals got smaller and more carefully chosen after I began regularly exercising. I have a few theories. Maybe it was because I had already made the choice to be healthy for the day by exercising and so it was easier to continue that trend by eating healthy too. Maybe it was because I was more in tune with my body after exercise and what it really needed food-wise. Maybe I didn’t need the comfort of food as much because I had already gotten my mood boost from exercise. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it.

3. I Get More Done In My Day

I have often neglected exercise due to lack of time. This might have been a completely legit excuse, but I am pleased to note that setting aside extra time for yoga in the morning actually seems to generate more productivity in my day, if not actual extra clock minutes. This might be due to the awakening and energizing physical effects of yoga, but, personally, I think it’s psychologically driven. I feel like I’ve already accomplished something and so I am inspired to accomplish more.

4. I Have More Energy–Even After A Tough Yoga Practice

Few things can melt you down in quite the same way as an intense yoga routine, and I relish taking shavasana (wherein you lie in a pile for a nice rest) at the end of class as much as anyone else. However, once I’ve moved on with my day–showered, eaten, whatever–I feel the opposite of fatigued. I feel energized and I have a lot more zest to go about my day. Yoga is definitely one of those investments where you spend energy to make (a lot) more energy.

5. I’m More Patient & Focused

Yoga is  not just about “working out.” It combines breathing with movement for an experience both strenuous and meditative. Putting yoga in front of my day is refreshing and clarifying for both my body and mind, so I end up more calm and focused throughout the day. Every part of my day, particularly being mom to a toddler, benefits from the extra patience.

 

All in all, I am holding on tight to this new routine. The yoga lifestyle is not just about fitness–it affects all aspects of your life.