Sunday, April 26, 2020

Finding out I have melanoma

As many of you know, I received a stage 3 melanoma diagnosis a few days ago. It came as quite a shock.

At the start of the week I actually thought I had a stage 0 diagnosis, because the only information I had received was a text message with a cryptic initial pathology report that mentioned the words melanoma in situ. I had googled that phrase and seen it meant pre-melanoma or stage 0 melanoma, so I had thought I was in the clear and would just need one more outpatient surgery to have a larger 0.5cm margin taken to ensure I stayed free from melanoma.

I had been waiting for around six weeks to speak to someone who could confirm that for me.

Two weeks ago, I received a phone call from a hospital booking clerk telling me to keep my phone handy because a doctor was going to call me, but the promised phone call never came. And then I received another phone call from the booking clerk asking me if I could come into North Shore Hospital for a face-to-face consultation with the surgeon. I could.
That meeting took place last Tuesday, 21 April.
Because of the pandemic, I was the only person in the waiting room. It was kind of eerie. Most of the chairs had been stacked against a wall. Despite that, I still had to wait an hour to see the surgeon, who was apparently working in another part of the hospital and hadn't expected my particular clinic to start until later. Because of the pandemic, she was meeting me in an outpatient area that is usually only used for medical queries, so things were a bit scrambled.

I figured the meeting was to discuss the larger 0.5cm margin surgery, but I asked the surgeon, just to double-check, that the excision had shown a melanoma in situ. She told me that no, it was a level 1 melanoma, otherwise known as a thin melanoma. Still very treatable with a 1cm margin outpatient surgery and the only reason she had wanted to see me face-to-face rather than doing the planned phone consultation was because she wasn't sure how close to my ear the site was and wanted to get a good look in case we needed to do a skin graft or pin my ear.

Well, that turned out to be not a problem. The site was far enough away that there would have been plenty of skin for that simple surgery.
It was lucky I did see her face-to-face, however, because a couple of weeks before my appointment, the lymph node next to the melanoma site had begun to swell. The surgeon was able to do a needle biopsy then and there, which she hoped would just show that the lymph node had swollen from the trauma of the excision.
That was my hope too.

Because my lymph node was swollen, the surgeon booked me in for a CT scan to get a good look inside the lymph node, but she told me this would be upgraded to a PET scan if the biopsy contained melanoma cells.

Two days later, I got the phone call no one wants to get. My surgeon had just ordered a PET scan for me. The lymph node did indeed contain melanoma strands.

I was trying to get my head around this and still remain sentient enough to ask her questions while I had her on the phone. I managed to find out that the PET scan would be a full-body one and that I would be injected with a glucose-based substance for it.
And then I started crying. I had to apologise and explain that I was feeling quite overwhelmed. She then started apologising about the fact she had to tell me all of this over the phone, but she hadn't wanted me to get alarmed when I saw that my booking was now for a PET scan.

To be honest, I preferred hearing it over the phone, because I didn't have to go through the ordeal of getting to the hospital by myself, waiting for an age in the waiting room, all the while trying to tamp down my growing anxiety. Instead, as soon as the phone call was over, I was able to walk downstairs and hug my husband.

The surgeon did put me in touch with a melanoma nurse, who I can reach out to and ask any questions I may have. The nurse will also follow up on my case to make sure all the scans and procedures happen as they should. I haven't thought of any questions yet. Really, I'm just waiting to see what the PET scan shows - if any other areas light up with cancer, to see how extensive my general surgery will be.

At this point, I haven't received my PET scan booking. I imagine that won't come through until after the long weekend. I am scheduled to meet with my surgeon on 6 May and she's hoping my PET scan results will be back by then, so I hope she's right and the wait won't be too long.

However long the wait does turn out to be, I plan to use this time in drawing closer to my Lord and appreciating my precious family.

I have chosen to make all of this public because I would love for as many people as possible to battle for me in prayer.

Thank you my friends. I will keep you updated on any further developments.

Emma xx

Saturday, April 25, 2020

What we ate, week ending 25 April 2020

I wasn't planning to go to the supermarket this week, but I had an appointment at North Shore Hospital on Tuesday that left me feeling quite jittery (from the local anaesthetic), so I decided to head to the nearby PAK'n'SAVE to give me time to walk around and calm down before driving back over the Harbour Bridge.

There were no queues at the supermarket and everything was well-stocked and well-priced. It was like a dream from the olden days. (Not that I'm hating these newer, slower-paced times. Far from it.)

While at the supermarket I did another big two-week shop. I'm enjoying not having to go to the supermarket as often, but our fridge isn't that big so I'm always shuffling food around, trying to find what I need. It's annoying so I'll probably go back to once-a-week shopping when all of this is over.

I got the news on Thursday afternoon that melanoma has spread into my lymph node, so that threw a spanner in the works for me, mentally. Paul took over making the dinners towards the end of the week while I processed things so I didn't get many photos, but here's what we ate...

Breakfast - Paul cooked French toast for everyone. I ate Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding topped with frozen raspberries.

Lunch - Leftover macaroni and cheese, leftover pizza.

Snack - Pumpkin bread; mandarins and feijoas from the garden. We also decorated banana chocolate chip muffins with chocolate icing and Sketch goblin toppers to celebrate the fact my husband's game, Regicide, became fully funded on Kickstarter. (You can see my photo of the cupcakes over on Instagram.)

Dinner - Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs served on rice (cooked in homemade chicken stock) with a side of Summer Cob Salad to use up some of the tomatoes and basil from my garden (pictured above). I didn't have avocado for the salad so I subbed in cucumber instead. This was my first time making the honey mustard chicken recipe and it was so good; I'll definitely be making it again.

Breakfast - Paul cooked the kids baked beans on toast. I intermittent fasted.

Lunch - For the kids I made leftover French toast from Sunday that I reheated in a frying pan, sausage rolls, apple slices dipped in peanut butter, and feijoas from our garden. For myself I made Quick Keto Toast topped with basil pesto, tomatoes from our garden and hemp hearts.

Snack - Pumpkin bread, apples and feijoas.

Dinner - Chicken chippee wraps (pictured above), featuring tomatoes, coriander and lettuce from our garden, as well as diced cumber and grated carrot and cheese. My eldest daughter and I made our wraps using lettuce, while the younger two kids used tortillas to contain all their fillings.

Breakfast - Paul cooked waffles for everyone (pictured above).

Lunch - I ate some leftover Summer Cob Salad and rice before heading off for my doctor's appointment. Paul cooked two-minute noodles for himself and the kids.

Snack - Plums, mandarins, apples, feijoas. (I got a whole lot of yummy fruit at the supermarket.)

Dinner - Chicken chippee wraps again. Paul was in charge of cooking, because I wasn't sure how I'd be feeling after my doctor's appointment, so he made our winner chicken dinner that everyone loves. No one complained about having it twice in a row. The kids were actually excited when I joked that it was all we were having for dinner from here on in.

Breakfast - Paul cooked French Toast for the kids.

Lunch - The kids had 2-minute noodles and fruit.

Snack - Fruit - feijoas, plums, mandarins and apples.

Dinner - Spaghetti and meatballs.

Breakfast - The kids ate cereal; I had a little bit of leftover spaghetti and meatballs.

Lunch - The kids had sandwiches and more cereal; I ate some of the filling from the night's stuffed capsicum dinner, which I prepared early in the day.

Snack - Feijoas, mandarins and plums.

Dinner - Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers - I loosely based my recipe on the Damn Delicious one, but I used a can of chilli beans and half a jar of salsa in place of all the beans, tomatoes and spices her recipe calls for, because that's what I had. This meal was vegetarian and really delicious. The kids were all worried going into it, heck, I was worried for them, but they all found it surprisingly "not terrible." I was glad I had prepped the meal early in the day, because I don't think I would have been in any head space to cook it from scratch after getting the phone call from my surgeon.

Breakfast - Cereal for Paul and the kids.

Lunch - I made peanut butter sandwiches and a medley of sliced fruit for the kids.

Snack - Fruit.

Dinner - Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese. I was grateful that I had frozen an extra one of these last week, because it made for the easiest meal. I just pulled it out in the morning to defrost, and then Paul baked it in the oven come dinner time.

Meal prep for the future - This is a side-note, but I cooked a tomato soup to use up the pile of tomatoes that was growing on our kitchen bench. It was a simple recipe - lots of butter, an onion sliced into wedges and a heap of tomatoes. I cooked that down on a low heat to caramelise, and then added about 300 mls of chicken stock, salt and pepper and cooked it for a while longer. It smelt heavenly by the time it was finished. I froze it to eat as a future meal.

Breakfast - Cereal.

Lunch - I made bread-maker dinner rolls and Paul served them with sliced fruit and vegetables.

Snack - ANZAC cookies and fruit. I tried to make the ANZAC cookies a little bit healthier for the kids by using half rice malt syrup instead of golden syrup, and substituting Natvia for some of the sugar. It worked okay, but the biscuits crisped up way too fast and were slightly dark around the edges when I pulled them out of the oven. The kids seemed to like them fine anyway.

Dinner - Paul made Red Curry on Rice. This was a chicken dish and he used a store-bought red curry paste for the flavour, but also added keffir lime leaves, fish sauce and coconut cream, as well as sliced capsicums, carrots and broccoli. He cooked the rice in half chicken stock/half water for added nutritional value and flavour.

And there you have it - another week of meals from my household to yours.

I probably won't do a meal post next week as I'm not really thinking about food at the moment, but I hope you found some inspiration here to keep you creating delicious and satisfying meals in your home bubbles.

Bless you all and thank you for your prayers, those of you who are praying. I really appreciate them.

Love Emma xx

Sunday, April 19, 2020

What we ate, week ending 18 April 2020

Hey friends! How are you doing?

We're doing well. It has been a couple of weeks since my last supermarket shop, so I'm very grateful for my local dairy, which has kept us stocked in bread, flour, milk, cream, bananas, apples, onions and other essential food items like chocolate. I'm also grateful for my garden, which has provided us with fresh fruit and vegetables.

I think I'll try to go another week at least before heading to the supermarket. There are still lots of things in my freezer I'd like to use up, rather than stacking more food on top of them.

Breakfast - The kids had cereal and Easter eggs (Happy Easter!). I made myself a tuna salad (pictured above) with plain tuna, cottage cheese, diced apple and celery, and a few leaves of spinach, lettuce and coriander from my garden. The salad didn't have as much flavour as I would have liked.

Lunch - Paul cooked us all French toast; I also finished the last slice of mince and cheese pie from Saturday night's dinner.

Snack - More Easter eggs.

Dinner - Honey soy chicken kebabs, homemade potato wedges and green peas.

Breakfast - The kids had cereal; I intermittent fasted.

Lunch - Feijoa smoothies and salami slices.

Snack - Paul made popcorn and fairy bread because the kids were doing an online Minecraft birthday party for their cousins.

Dinner - Slow Cooker Korean Beef on rice cooked in homemade chicken stock and served with a side of stir-fried vegetables. I got gravy beef on special at my last supermarket shop, and I've seen Frugal Fit Mom make this recipe a lot, so I decided to give it a try. It turned out delicious. We ate it all, with no leftovers.

Breakfast - The girls and I had sugar-free chocolate frappes (made with homemade milk kefir, vanilla protein powder, cocoa powder, Natvia and Strawberry Kids Good Stuff); I also wanted something to crunch on, so I ate a few crackers topped with basil pesto and tomato slices; Master J ate cereal. (Sultana Buds, to be precise.)

Lunch - This was a bit of a hodge podge lunch: Miss S had Milo Cereal; Master J had feijoas from our garden and a few slices of salami; Miss L had a salami salad sandwich; I made myself another tuna and cottage cheese salad, but this time I added basil pesto and lots of cherry tomatoes from my garden for increased flavour.

Snack - Feijoas

Dinner - Nachos (pictured above). There was enough beef/refried bean mixture leftover from this meal to make 12 burritos to freeze for future meals.

Breakfast - The kids ate cereal; I had my world famous Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding.

Lunch - Overnight bread and salami sandwiches.

Snack - Feijoas from the garden (pictured above).

Dinner - Lime and chilli butterfly chicken, roast potatoes and green beans.

Breakfast - The kids had their usual cereal and I once again ate Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding.

Lunch - Stove popped popcorn and homemade banana ice cream (pictured above). This was actually healthier than it looks, as the ice cream was made with frozen bananas, cream and vanilla protein powder.

Snack - Chocolate chip cookies and Banana chocolate chip muffins. (I had a bit of a baking day.)

Dinner - Chicken enchiladas (using up the leftover chicken from Wednesday night's roast chicken and the leftover sour cream from Tuesday's nachos, as well as some grated zucchini from our freezer.

Breakfast - The kids ate cereal; I intermittent fasted.

Lunch - I cooked bacon for the kids and served it with a platter of feijoas and New Zealand cranberries from our garden. I then used the bacon grease to cook eggs from our chooks and tomatoes from our garden for me.

Snack - Chocolate chip cookies and Banana chocolate chip muffins that I had baked the previous day.

Dinner - Homemade pizza (pictured above). We saw a cute video of a one-year-old Miss L making pizza with her daddy on Facebook memories, and it inspired us to make pizza again. I made the dough in the bread-maker, and then we divided it up so everyone got to choose their own toppings. This dinner went down a treat. Everyone loved it and that NEVER happens. I served sliced apple and carrot on the side, because we all like having something fresh to crunch on with our meals.

Breakfast - The kids had Up & Go, which I had bought for a homeschool camping trip we were meant to go on before we decided to self-isolate. (Our family chose to self-isolate a week before the government made in mandatory.) I ate leftover enchiladas from Thursday.

Lunch - Leftover pizza.

Snack - Feijoas and apples for the kids. I ate Easiyo banana yoghurt. (I bought Easiyo sachets in every flavour, so we can enjoy fresh yoghurt during the lockdown.)

Dinner - Pumpkin macaroni and cheese served with a side of buttered green beans and peas topped with sliced almonds (pictured top). We had our best ever pumpkin harvest this summer, so I've been adding pumpkin to all sorts of recipes. I had enough macaroni and cheese to freeze half in a lidded Pyrex container for another dinner. I also had some pumpkin puree leftover, so I whipped up a couple of loaves of Pumpkin Bread.

There endeth our week of meals. What's been cooking in your bubble?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Frugal Fun in quarantine

Hey friends!

It's been a while since I've done a Frugal Fun post, but what better time to do one than now? It's not like we can go to the shops and spend a heap of money anyway, and with the economy taking some hits due to the pandemic, it's good to be wise with the money we do have.

Here are some of the frugal things I've done over the past few weeks. I'd love to hear what you've been doing too, as that helps inspire me and my other readers to find creative ways to save money.

In the home
The girls and I made beeswax wraps in a variety of sizes just before the lockdown. We haven't really needed the smaller ones, since we're not packing lunch-boxes at the moment, but I've been using the larger ones to cover my Overnight Bread bowl.

We made the wraps out of fabric we already had - some bought and some cut out of old clothing. The beeswax has been sitting in my cupboard for many years. I originally bought it at a farmers' market, with good intentions of making balms and lotions, but I have to confess, this is the first time I've used it.

To make a beeswax wrap, simply sprinkle a fabric square with grated beeswax and iron it between two sheets of baking paper. Cover your ironing board with a towel first, to soak up any melted beeswax that might go wandering.
I printed off two Regicide posters, one for Master J and one for Miss L, to stick up on their bedroom walls. Regicide is a fun card game my husband helped create, and it's currently running on Kickstarter so that he and his co-collaborators can raise the funds to print it. You can order Regicide through Kickstarter and, if it reaches its funding target, you'll get a copy sent to your door. (It's really close to reaching its target. Woohoo!) Our whole family is excited about Regicide. We played a game of it last night, just using a regular deck of cards, and were soooo close to winning. We were down to defeating the last evil king and thought we had it in the bag, when we lost. There are instructions up on Kickstarter about how to play the game, so you can play it for free too and see why we like it so much. If you want to print one of the free posters, just scroll to the bottom of the Kickstarter page and follow the instructions there.
We swapped the girls' sleeping arrangement around, because Miss L was getting too tall for the top bunk. With the swap came a chance to freshen up their areas, so I attached a large floating shelf to the wall of the top bunk. Miss S is now using the shelf as her side table up there. I got the shelf for free from an op shop a few months ago. I think it was free because the package had been opened and was missing its screws. I managed to find all the screws I needed in our toolkit, so I was able to attach it to the wall without trouble.
The girls also painted all the smaller pieces of furniture in their bedroom pink, purple and aqua, using tester paints I gave Miss S for her birthday last year.
I hand-sewed a duvet cover for Miss S, to give to her at her upcoming ninth birthday. To make the front, I used a pink flat sheet we don't need, as well as the good ruffled panel from an old duvet cover of mine that had worn out. I made the back for the duvet using a white flat sheet from one of my sheet sets. (We don't use top sheets on our beds, but all sheet sets come with them, so this was a great way to turn a couple of them into something useable for us.) I found a matching set of buttons in my button jar to use for closing the duvet cover.
I recovered a round cushion in some of the leftover pink fabric from the flat sheet, and have been hand-sewing fabric flowers to cover the cushion with. I haven't quite decided on the final flower arrangement yet - they're all still loose at this point - but the cushion will be another gift for Miss S's birthday.
I'm currently turning another one of our flat sheets into a fitted sheet for my king-size bed, because one of my two fitted sheets tore the other day. This is slow going because I'm hand-sewing it, but I'm halfway there. I pulled the elastic out of the torn fitted sheet to re-use in the new one I'm making.

I like to watch TV or YouTube while I'm sewing. The TV helps me feel connected to the outside world, while the sewing helps me feel like I'm still being productive. I recently downloaded the TVNZ OnDemand app to our TV so that I can stream shows for free. My favourite TV show of the last year was The Resident. My favourite YouTubers to watch are Jamerrill Stewart, Frugal Fit Mom, Ana White, This Gathered Nest / Angela Braniff, Farmhouse on Boone, Jordan Page and The Elliott Homestead. My girls love watching Moriah Elizabeth make crafty things and they get inspired by her to create their own fun projects.

In the garden
I've been trying to use as much fresh and frozen food from my garden as possible.
I've been finding all sorts of ways to use tomatoes, as they're still producing well. We've been having them on Overnight Bread and Quick Keto Toast as well as in dinners. I've also made sun-dried tomatoes using my dehydrator, and I've frozen all the other excess tomatoes in ziplock bags, so I can cook with them even after the plants finish producing.
Necessity is the mother of all invention and we've definitely been getting creative with pumpkin, since I harvested a heap of them at the end of summer. I've been taking my queue from The United States and making Pumpkin Bread and Pumpkin Pancakes, as well as Pumpkin Soup, Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese, and Butter Chicken Soup with added pumpkin.
All the zucchinis and marrows that I grated and froze during the summer months have been making wonderful additions to our dinners of lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, soup and enchiladas.
Although they're not edible, I've been enjoying watching the caterpillars on the swan plant outside my kitchen window turn into crystallises and Monarch butterflies. This week the swan plant was almost stripped bare by the hungry caterpillars, so Miss L helped me shift them to other swan plants around the garden. These swan plants all self-seeded from ones I planted in my garden from seed when we first moved here. New ones keep popping up all the time and we always have butterflies drifting around. It's so beautiful.
I've been picking flowers from our garden to make simple table arrangements that add a burst of colour and fragrance to our days. (Can you spot the Monarch butterfly?)
I moved the chicken coop and chicken run off the raised garden bed they were sitting on so that I could plant that garden out with carrot and beetroot seeds to maximise production over the coming months.
I built a large wooden compost bin out of scrap wood, so that I could add all our garden waste to it and produce compost to top up my raised garden beds with. I've been chopping up all the larger material, like hedge clippings, as I've added them to the compost, to help them break down faster. The yard is looking much tidier now that I have a place to direct all this garden waste.

Your turn! Share in the comments below or over on Facebook any fun or creative ways you've saved money lately.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

What we ate in our fourth week of COVID-19 isolation

Well, I did it. I survived my first lockdown supermarket shop.

It actually wasn't a terrible experience. I didn't know that Countdown opened at 9am now instead of 7am, so I arrived at 8.15am. When I got there, people had already started queuing outside, but I managed to come in at about tenth in line.

In the hour between 8am and 9am, Countdown was letting essential workers in, but not the elderly, which seemed a bit wrong to me. One lady was waving her Gold card around, getting quite upset that she had to stand in a queue. I sympathised with her.

The line kept growing as I waited, and I soon couldn't see where it ended. Luckily, I had brought a book with me, so I just read that as I waited.

When Countdown opened its doors to the wider public at 9am, I got to go in very quickly because they let the first 100 people in all at once, and then moved to a one out/one in system.

The supermarket had pretty much everything I wanted and I bought enough food to last us for two weeks, so that I can now isolate myself for that length of time in case I picked up any nasty bugs. (I'm looking at you, Coronavirus.)

Here's what we've been eating this week, thanks to my supermarket top up and my wonderful garden.

Breakfast - Paul made everyone French toast. I had mine with banana slices, cream and maple syrup. Beyond decadent!

Lunch - Paul made the kids baked bean cheese toasties. I ate leftover lasagne (pictured above).

Snack - Apples

Dinner - Paul made chicken chippee tortilla wraps. My eldest daughter and I had ours wrapped in fresh lettuce from the garden. So crisp and satisfying.

Breakfast - The kids ate cereal; I had Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding.

Lunch - Hot cross buns (from the supermarket) and a fresh vegetable platter.

Snack - Chocolate cake pops. (I pulled these out of the freezer and Miss S helped me ice them with melted chocolate and sprinkles. I posted a photo of them over on Instagram, if you want to see how they turned out.)

Dinner - Roast lamb, mashed potatoes and broccoli (pictured above). I started the lamb in the slow cooker in the morning, and then Paul moved it to the oven to finish browning just before serving time.

Breakfast - Miss L made feijoa smoothies for everyone, using feijoas from our trees; The younger two also had baked beans on toast; I ate Quick Keto Toast topped with basil pesto and fresh tomatoes from my garden.

Lunch - Lamb/salami sandwiches with cheese, cucumber, tomato, mayo and gherkins.

Snack - Raspberry White Chocolate muesli bars (store-bought).

Dinner - Creamy sun-dried tomato chicken on spiral pasta, served with green beans and peas (pictured above).

Breakfast - The kids had cereal; I ate a strawberry chia seed pudding (made with coconut cream, water, chia seeds, Strawberry Kids Good Stuff, Strawberry Avalanche Drinking Powder, vanilla protein and collagen powder, sliced frozen strawberries.)

Lunch - Sausage rolls with tomato sauce, apples and peanut butter for me and the kids; Paul made a lamb sandwich, using cold cuts from Monday night's roast.

Snack - Chocolate zucchini muffins that I pulled out of the freezer. (Whenever I bake, I pop a few into the freezer for easy lunchbox fillers, but since we haven't been needing lunchboxes lately, I've been using up all the previously-frozen baking for afternoon snacks.

Dinner - Lamb and Quinoa Tabouleh Salad (pictured above). I really liked how last week I was able to make three dinners from one roast chicken, so this week I tried to make the most of Monday's roast lamb. I searched up uses for leftover roast lamb and this recipe came up. I changed out a few things so that I was able to use mainly fresh ingredients from my garden, like spinach, coriander, parsley, mint, lime and NZ cranberries. Paul and I thought the salad turned out so delicious, although a couple of our kids weren't fussed on it.

Breakfast - Cereal for the kids; Boysenberry and raspberry bircher muesli for me (pictured top).

Lunch - Paul make lamb sandwiches for us both, and he cooked two minute noodles for the kids.

Snack - Mini salami sticks, feijoas from our garden and carrot sticks.

Dinner - Rosemary and balsamic roast chicken thighs (pictured above) with crispy potato cubes, green beans and broccoli. (These were big chicken thighs, and we had a lot of meat leftover, so I set that aside to use for the following night's dinner.)

Good Friday
Breakfast - The kids ate cereal; I ate Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding, which I had prepped the night before.

Lunch - Miss S made 2-minute noodles for her and her siblings, while Miss L sliced up an apple and served it with peanut butter for all the kiddos. I had store-bought rosemary and garlic crackers topped with basil pesto, cheese and tomato slices. I also made myself a sugar-free chocolate frappe, which Miss S liked so much, she drank half of it.

Snack - Chocolate hot cross buns (pictured above). I made these with the help of my trusty bread-maker. I wanted to do something this Easter to help us remember what our wonderful saviour has done for us. The actual buns turned out kind of dense, but most of us liked them anyway. Miss S made the crosses for the top. Didn't she do well?

Dinner - Butter Chicken Soup, using up the leftover chicken from Thursday night's dinner, as well as homemade chicken stock and pumpkin puree and grated zucchini from our garden that I had previously frozen. I also found chicken gravy in the fridge that still seemed good, so I threw that into the soup for extra flavour. Waste not, want not. I served the soup with homemade naan bread that I made using my trusty bread-maker.

Breakfast - I cooked streaky bacon for me and the kids; For myself and Miss L, I also made a sugar-free chocolate frappe since yesterday's one had turned out so dang delicious. I also made myself Quick Keto Toast with basil pesto and sliced tomato (pictured above). (I woke up really hungry.)

Lunch - Leftover naan bread and hot cross buns.

Snack - Apples. Raspberry and white chocolate muesli bars.

Dinner - Mince and cheese pie and a quick garden salad. The pie was a store-bought Ponsonby Pie. I didn't feel like spending heaps of time in the kitchen today, and this pie is about as easy as dinner gets. For the salad, I simply picked lettuce, basil, beans and cherry tomatoes from the garden and threw them into a bowl with some carrot sticks (after washing everything, of course).

So there you have it. Another week of meals done and dusted. I've especially enjoyed the time around the table with my family this week. Seeing their precious faces all day every day is lovely.

I always love to see what you guys are eating and feeding your families, so please do tag me into any Instagram or Facebook posts you share. You may see me copying your ideas in next week's menu.

Happy Easter my friends!

Love Emma

Thursday, April 9, 2020

How to fill a raised garden with free materials

With food security being much on people's minds at the moment, many of you are wanting to start new gardens or expand your existing ones. I've certainly felt the urge to increase production here on our little urban homestead.

To that end, I thought it would be helpful to share how I filled all our raised garden beds almost entirely from free materials I gathered. Hopefully it will inspire some of you to give it a try.
Our yard before the raised gardens were built.
When we moved onto our property four years ago, there were a few trees dotted around, but no vegetable gardens or edible plants.
Ben building a garden bed to wrap around two sides of our deck. 
My amazing brother-in-law, Ben, swooped in and built us five raised garden beds and a wraparound garden bed for our deck, using reclaimed fencing from his brother's farm. That was a wonderful gift as buying our house had used up all our savings so I didn't have much to put into gardening, even though it was something I really wanted to do.
Three of the raised beds Ben built. 
Our lack of spare cash meant I had to get creative filling all these wonderful new gardens. This video by Janet Luke inspired me to look around for free resources in my garden and neighbourhood.
I drew the diagram above to show you the approach I took to filling my gardens. Now I'll talk you through the process.

Layer 1 - Brown
You can build your raised garden beds directly on grass/weeds, but you're going to want to do something to kill those existing plants. I layered flattened cardboard boxes, then several layers of newspaper and then fallen cabbage tree leaves inside my raised beds, directly over the grass to form a thick weed mat layer.

Tip 1: Use matte cardboard and newspaper, not glossy.

Tip 2: Overlap the cardboard and newspaper so there are no gaps for grass and weeds to grow through.

Tip 3: Wet everything down with a hose before you add the next layer, to hold it in place and help the fibres of the cardboard and newspaper to knit together and form an effective weed barrier.

Layer 2 - Green
Now it's time for a green/nitrogen layer to help the cardboard break down over time so that worms can crawl through and start percolating your garden. Make this layer about 10cm thick. You can use grass clippings, seaweed, animal manure, green hedge clippings, used coffee grounds, sheep dags or kitchen scraps - just whatever you have access to.

Layer 3 - Brown
Because there are going to be many more layers above this one, this is a good place to use up large sticks and small branches collected from around your garden.

Placing branches at the base of a garden is a method known as hugelkultur gardening. It's brilliant because it uses up all those scrappy sticks and branches that otherwise end up messing up your yard. Also, these branches will benefit your garden by retaining water, increasing fertility and producing heat as they break down, thus helping plants grow even during the colder winter months.

Wet the branches with a hose before you start adding your next layer.

Layer 4 - Green
Spreading used coffee grounds in my layered garden.
It's now time for another nitrogen layer. This needs to be extremely nitrogen-rich to help break down the branches and sticks of the hugelkultur layer, otherwise those branches can end up competing with your plants for nitrogen.

I'd be tempted to use animal manure, blood and bone or coffee grounds for this layer, if you have access to any of them. Otherwise, you could use grass clippings and then pee on them for an extra nitrogen dose. (I could be being overly cautious in suggesting the use of urine, but I think it's better to be safe than sorry. And hey, it's free!)

Spray this layer lightly with a hose before you start building your next layer.

Layer 5 - Brown
Carbon-rich layer of fallen leaves.
Now that we've finished with our weed matt layer and our hugelkultur layer, you can use whatever brown/carbon-rich matter you'd like for this next layer. Options are untreated sawdust, fallen leaves, wood mulch, shredded paper, toilet paper rolls, pea-hay, straw, or small twigs and sticks broken into short pieces.

Autumn leaves are everywhere right now in New Zealand, so they're a good bet.

Spray this layer down lightly with a hose before moving on to your next layer.

Layer 6 - Green
Nitrogen-rich seaweed layer
Throw on another layer of green/nitrogen-rich matter, like grass clippings, blood and bone, animal manure, hedge clippings, used coffee grounds, kitchen food scraps, seaweed if you live near a beach, or sheep dags if you're on a sheep farm. Spray this green layer with a hose.

Layers 7 - 10 (or more)
Wood chips and chicken manure. 
From this point on, just keep layering brown/carbon layers with green/nitrogen layers and giving them a quick spray of water in between until your garden bed is full.

You can leave your garden material to decompose for several months before planting into it, and it won't cost you a thing.

Otherwise, if you want to plant straight away, you could spread a layer of finished compost, topsoil or potting mix over the top of your layered materials and bed your seedlings directly into that.

All the layers you've built will keep breaking down over time until they create rich compost but, because you've been careful about layering nitrogen material with carbon material, none of that action should hurt your seedlings planted above. In fact, the composting action will release fertiliser, invite earthworms, hold moisture and create warmth for your plants.

Please do note that the level of your garden fill will sink over time as the composting action happens, so you will need to keep adding more soil/compost to your garden bed. However, by layering all these gathered resources together, you will form a rich, fertile base for your plants and get your garden off to a wonderful start.
Two gardens full and ready to grow, one garden still filling. 
When I was filling my gardens, I just concentrated on a couple at first, so I could fill them quickly, top them off with store-bought potting mix and start growing vegetables as soon as possible.

I then spent longer filling the rest of my gardens with whatever I could find, but that was great because it meant I always had somewhere to put my grass clippings, kitchen scraps and fallen leaves.

It was fun sourcing my next layer of brown or green material. I was always on the hunt, and I enjoyed that element of it. Waste materials became my treasure trove.
Eventually, however, all my gardens filled up and got planted out. Now they're producing an abundance of food for my family all year round.
This month, I finally got around to building a separate composting area to corral all the same types of materials that I first filled my garden beds with, so that I'll have something free to top up my gardens with each year as they drop. It means I'm back on the hunt for brown and green material again, and I'm loving it.

It's giving me something to focus on during the current quarantine and helps me to see what an abundance of resources I have just lying around.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you have any questions about building a no-dig, layered garden, please feel free to ask them in the comments below and I'll get back to you.

All the best for your gardening adventures! I'm rooting for you. (No pun intended. Seriously. Puns are the worst.)