Category Archives: Projects

Inch By Inch And Row By Row…

Today was my first day back at the farm for the season. Although it was my first day, others have been hard at work, installing a new greenhouse (greens through December! yay!), planting starter plants, getting in leeks and garlic and greens and more.

It was a beautiful, windy day, and I enjoyed the sunshine along with the fast-moving clouds. It’s an exciting time as we all look forward to those food boxes starting to fill up with wonderful things to eat.

I learned to use a stirrup hoe today — and another kind of hoe, one to run down the middle of the bed to pull a wider swath of weeds, one to run over the little leek plants to remove weeds on either side. When I finished weeding with my hoes, I walked over to take a look at our new greenhouse and then back to the fields to weed a few rows of garlic.

By the time I finished up, I was exhausted but oh so happy. Here are some highlights from this beautiful place where I work! If you are in the Algonquin/Dundee/Cary/Geneva/Crystal Lake/Woodstock area and would like to enjoy a weekly or bi-weekly box of beautiful, fresh, organic produce, check out Bob’s Fresh and Local and sign up for a share.

Compost pile where I get to take my veggie waste every week.
The leeks I hoed.
Garlic rows for hand weeding.

The old greenhouse…and our big beautiful new one.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

A Falafel Feast for Israel Day

This past weekend, I prepared (with a little help from my friends at MCJC) a Falafel Feast for 100 on Israel Day.  The pictures, with the exception of one my son took a while back of the finished product, are from an iPhone so not the best.

We served up Falafel two ways, in a tray with Moroccan Eggplant Salad, Israeli (Jerusalem) Salad with Tahina, Hummus, Muhammara, Moroccan Sweet Potatoes and Red Cabbage Slaw … pickled turnips and for the daring, Harif or Z’hug — or in a wrap with Lebanese Pita (from my friends at Sanabel Bakery in Chicago), Hummus and Israeli Salad with Tahina (or any other choice), pickled turnips and Harif or Z’hug on the side.

All the recipes are in this blog except for the Tahina, which I now see I never posted. I’ll do that soon!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

CSA Veggie Yummies This Week

Hummus with radishes, kohlrabi, zucchini & red bell peppers.
Hummus with radishes, kohlrabi, zucchini & red bell peppers.

I had two social occasions last week so took Hummus with CSA veggies to one (greens, radishes, kohlrabi, zucchini and red bell peppers) and pasta salad to the other. This Hummus recipe, btw, is excellent. Be sure to check it out on this site.

For this pasta salad, I used (as always) whole wheat rotini, zucchini, tomatoes, chopped greens, Kalamata olives, capers, green onions, quartered artichoke hearts, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, hot paprika and salt to taste.

Pasta salad with CSA veggies.
Pasta salad with CSA veggies.

And then we enjoyed this wonderful Stir Fry for an at-home meal. I like to make a big bag of chopped greens for Fatoush early in the week when everything is beautifully fresh. I used some each day, and later in the week, I can start using what remains for a quick and easy stir fry. I also use up lots of greens — tops of radishes or kohlrabi in these dishes.

Stir Fry with Kohlrabi greens, Bok choy, green onions, radishes, lots of sliced onion, garlic, a bit of red bell pepper, sauteed tofu squares, brown Basmati rice, salt, hot paprika, extra virgin olive oil, a bit of soy sauce...mmm hmmm, can't beat that.
Stir Fry with Kohlrabi greens, Bok choy, green onions, radishes, lots of sliced onion, garlic, a bit of red bell pepper, sauteed tofu squares, brown Basmati rice, salt, hot paprika, extra virgin olive oil, a bit of soy sauce…mmm hmmm, can’t beat that.

Addendum: Ah – forgot all about this one. At the end of the week, I use up any leftover greens or other veggies in a soup. I used potatoes in this one as well and topped it off with quinoa, making it a nice, substantial dinner. This soup included a large onion, minced and sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with a little fresh minced garlic, about 4 cups of potatoes and 8-10 cups of chopped greens (I’m pretty sure the greens included kohlrabi tops as well as others), 6 cups of water and seasoning to taste. I typically use salt (2 tsp.), hot paprika (1/2 tsp.) and freshly squeezed lemon (1/4-1/2 cup or the juice of 1-2 lemons. And now I know what they mean by “pot liquor.” Mmmm…mmmm…good.

Soup with greens and quinoa.
Soup with greens and quinoa.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

More CSA treats: Kohlrabi

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I’ve never done much with kohlrabi before, so it took some experimenting, but I had a couple of good things this week. First, here’s how I made my Stuffed Kohlrabi:

Remove the stems from 3-4 kohlrabi and fully peel away the tough outer layers of them. Set aside the greens.

Using a coring tool, insert into the center of the peeled kohlrabi, but do not pierce through to the base. You will probably not be able to remove the plug. Insert again, slightly out more toward the edge, again careful not to pierce the base. Continue this process, circling around the original central plug. Then, using a small serrated knife, remove the plugs and scrape a little to make the central cavity fairly smooth. Reserve what you remove from the kohlrabi.

Oil and salt the kohlrabis inside and out. Add a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of a Dutch oven, place the kohlrabis cavity side down and saute until slightly browned. Turn the kohlrabis over onto its base, turn down the heat, add a little water (2-4 TB), put the lid on the Dutch oven, turn down the flame, and cook until the kohlrabis are tender. Set aside until ready to assemble.

KOHLRABI FILLING

Ingredients

  • Kohlrabi – inside pulp of 3-4 kohlrabi
  • Bok choy – stems, petite diced; greens, chopped 1/4″ pieces
  • Brown Basmati rice, 1 cup dried
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp.
  • Oregano, 1-1/2 tsp.
  • Lemon Juice, 1/2 squeezed

Instructions

  1. Cook the rice until done.
  2. Chop the kohlrabi pulp, and add to a pan with a little extra virgin olive oil, and saute.
  3. Add the Bok Chop stems, petite diced, and saute briefly.
  4. Add the rice to a food processor, then the sauteed ingredients and seasonings.
  5. Pulse several times until the mixture is evenly mixed and chopped and looks like coarse grains.
  6. Add seasoning to taste (salt, a little hot paprika if desired)
  7. Use this mixture to fill the reserved kohlrabi.
  8. Add marinara to a dish, and place the stuffed kohlrabi on top of it. Add a little more marinara to the top, and a few garlic scapes for garnish.

Note: For a different flavor profile, try using my Matboukha for the sauce, and in the filling, replace oregano with za’atar (available in the Middle Eastern section of some stores).

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Now what to do with those tough kohlrabi greens? Read on…

(green_smoothie

The Bok choy greens are more tender than kohlrabi, so I used that for the Stuffed Kohlrabi filling, which doesn’t get much processing before it hits my teeth. Here’s what I did with the kohlrabi greens, though: I made my standard Greenie (green smoothie), and it was good! Even my non-green loving husband enjoyed it.

GREENIE (makes 2 16 oz. Greenies or more)

Ingredients

  • Ice cubes, 8-10
  • Apple juice, about 1/2 cup
  • Apple, 1/2 chunked
  • Banana, chunked
  • Pineapple, 6-8 chunks
  • 2-3 cups rough chopped kohlrabi (or any) greens*

Place the ice cubes in a Vitamix (a blender works almost as well). Add apple juice to 1 cup mark. Add apple chunks, banana chunks, pineapple chunks, and chopped greens. Process until smooth and delicious. More ice makes it thicker.

Note: Greens contain a natural toxin to prevent over-grazing and eradication of the plant. Just vary your greens — don’t use the same one all the time. Keep your fruits and other veggies light-colored so you’ll end up with an appetizing, bright green drink.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

One thing I love about my CSA

Stir fry of onion, Bok choy, radishes.
Stir fry of onion, Bok choy, radishes.

I love having a box of fresh veggies, many things that I don’t ordinarily get, then trying things out with them. Sometimes combinations surprise me! – like this Stir Fry of chopped onion, Bok choy stems, salad radishes (that’s the Julienne veggie) and Bok choy greens, added last. Add a bit of salt, a few drops of soy sauce if you wish, and oh, my, was it good!

Here’s a note about how I stir fry: I cut all the veggies first. I heat some extra virgin olive oil in a wok and often throw in a little minced garlic first. This time, I don’t believe I did. Then I add the onions, sauteeing until soft. Then I add the remaining “hard” veggies, most “hard” first, sauteeing for a few moments after each — reserving any greens. When the veggies start to brown a bit, I add a little salt and soy sauce, stir and cover if needed to steam the veggies for a couple of minutes.  Uncover and add the greens, stir together and sauté briefly until the greens are wilted, adjust seasoning, and serve.

I also made Fatoush with what I had on hand instead of the usual, and it, too, was delicious with a creamy vegan dressing:

FATOUSH

Ingredients

  • Mixed greens, any you have on hand or like. Bok choy and Butterhead Lettuce featured heavily in this one.
  • Garlic scapes
  • Green onion
  • Red cabbage (I usually use it but don’t see it here – must have forgotten)
  • Tomatoes – organic grape tomatoes, quartered
  • Radishes – organic, Julienne
  • Cucumbers – organic, sliced and quartered or Julienne
  • Pita – Whole wheat Lebanese pita, cut into squares and toasted
  • Sumac  to sprinkle

Ingredients for Sauce

  • Mayonnaise, 1 cup (I use Hampton Creek Just Mayo – vegan)
  • Tahina, 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, 1/2 – 1 clove mashed (opt.)
  • Salt, 1-2 tsp. (start with 1 tsp. for dressing, add additional to salad after mixed)
  • Hot paprika, 1/4 tsp.
  • Lemon, freshly squeezed, 1/4-1/2 cup, to taste (start with 1/4 cup for dressing, add additional to salad after mixed)

Procedure

  1. Prepare salad ingredients: slice greens 1/8-1/4″, then cut across into 2-3″ pieces. Quarter grape tomatoes or petite dice plum tomatoes. Julienne cucumbers and radishes.
  2. Stack the pita pieces, cut through them lattice-work style so you end up with 1-2″ squares, roast in a 200 degree oven until crunchy, cool thoroughly and set aside or bag for later use. I like to use whole wheat Lebanese pita, available through a local Arab bakery. Lebanese pita is larger than pocket pita and thinner. Makes a great “crouton.” Stored properly, they keep for a long time once toasted and thoroughly dry.
  3. Make the dressing. For a vegan salad, use a vegan mayo. Your dressing should taste salty and lemony because by the time you add it to the salad with its moisture, it will lose some potency. I start a bit lighter on the seasoning, then add the remainder if needed when the salad is made up. You don’t need to use all the dressing at once — if you have leftover, just store in a covered jar.
  4. Put all salad ingredients into a bowl. Add toasted pita so you have 2 parts salad to 1 part pita. Add some dressing and a pinch or two of sumac (available in Middle Eastern stores and online), and mix gently but completely. Add more or less dressing to your liking.
  5. Sprinkle additional sumac over the salad and serve.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

My New Wednesday Tradition: A Simple Salad

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On Wednesdays I work at the farm (CSA).  I bring home my 3/4 bushel box of food, beautiful food, and I just can’t wait to have something while it’s so fresh. I enjoy a simple salad each week with whatever looks like it will work in a salad.

I’m not a greens-tearer. I like my salad in bite-sized pieces, so I cut the greens. This week I used butter head lettuce, mizuna, spinach, another green (not sure what it was), radishes, beet greens, raw beet root and scallions. I dressed it with extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon, salt and freshly ground black pepper (tho the radishes were spicy enough to carry it).

Oh, this was a treat! I think I ate about a gallon.

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If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Farmer for a day, and what a beautiful day it was!

I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this year, and what a beautiful start to the season. Yesterday was sunny with a few beautiful clouds and a cool breeze, perfect gardening weather. This CSA is on the edge of a forest preserve (Brunner Family Farm) just 10 minutes from my home in Algonquin. I signed on for a Worker’s Share because I want to be part of the process as I once was when I had a farm of my own. Although I’m interested in growing a lot in a tiny space like my deck, being out in the fields has so many advantages, and I couldn’t resist the experience. This was one of those days that provided them all!

Yesterday I got to water some of the plants just beginning to come up, moving from plant to plant, up and down the rows, giving each little plant a good soak. As I finished two rows, I moved the very long hose over two rows and began again.

After a couple of hours, Bob, the CSA owner-operator, came back to check on me from the fields where he was working, planting more rows. He thought I might be getting bored. Bored?! Oh my goodness, no. Being out in that beautiful place on a day like yesterday, feeling the warm sun and perfectly cool breeze, hearing little other than breeze and birds, watching the tall grasses wave and the plants grow, seeing the sunlight sparkling on small puddles of water as I worked…knowing that cows were over in another area being cows and chickens in yet another area being chickens…there’s just nothing better to restore one’s soul.

I thought about the plan I’ve had for several years to move but then thought how fortunate I am to not only live with my husband next door to my younger son and his family and not at all far from my older son and his, but to look out on a pond in a wetland conservation area, to walk to the corner for my groceries every day, and now to drive just ten minutes from my home and farm to my heart’s content. It’s time to give my soul a Sabbath, a rest from planning and reorganizing, and just be, appreciating where I am in this moment in all its amazing, miraculous details. Time to just watch the plants grow.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

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 For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Let’s Bring Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to Our Local Grocery Stores

 foodshed

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day 2015: An Addendum

Do Food Products’ Labels Tell Us Anything?
Have you ever noticed that there’s lots of “nutritional” information on all the items in the center part of your local grocery store and NONE on the real foods around the periphery of the store? Of course, this information is required on the commercially created food products in the center of the store, and I imagine we assume it’s not needed for the real food. I mean, a carrot is a carrot, right?

I also notice that those items that do carry nutritional information display it in very small print on the back or bottom of packages, as if it were an afterthought or at least not a very proud thought. On the other hand, those same packages often proudly display nutritional claims in big letters on their fronts, claims like:

  • Heart healthy

  • 0 Trans-fats

  • Low Glycemic

  • All Natural

  • High Fiber

Well, the devil is in the details, and the details, as we remember, are on the backs and undersides of those packages in the Nutritional and Ingredients Labels – so IF you can see the small print and IF you want to take the time while you’re shopping to make your own decisions about what’s healthy and what’s not, you’ll likely find a mismatch between front and back. Or at least a mismatch between the description, “health claim” and the reality of what those claims are.

Health claims on the front are nothing more than advertising, and they have little to do with the real health of the product. Low Glycemic. OK. By now we all know it’s a good idea to eat lower in the glycemic index, but did you know that high fructose corn syrup is a low glycemic index sweetener? Does that make it healthy? And then there’s “All Natural.” Did you know the FDA has declined to define what this label means?

As for the unreadable Nutritional and Ingredients Labels, what do we do with the fact that there are at least 56 names for sugar that manufacturers use to hide added sugars in their foods? The information about sugar may show up in some form on the labels, but you will probably need a Ph.D. in nutrition to figure out where it is and what it means to you.

A Fun, New Approach to Labeling and Real Food Shopping
So how can we make shopping a more satisfying, educational, useful experience?

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Jamie Oliver, British chef, popular food guru and creator of the Food Revolution

In February 2015, British chef and popular food guru, Jamie Oliver, circulated a petition for a Food Revolution Day 2015. He gathered almost 1,600,000 signatures in 196 countries, and I was one who signed.

The purpose of Food Revolution Day was to make compulsory practical food education part of the school curriculum. “With diet-related diseases rising at an alarming rate, it has never been more important to educate children about food, where it comes from and how it affects their bodies.” You can read more at http://www.foodrevolutionday.com/campaign/#SRQYHj7fBeMHEoV0.99.

I support this effort whole-heartedly! I’m surprised at the number of times I check out of the grocery store, and young (and sometimes older!) cashiers aren’t certain what a fruit or vegetable is, even though they are surrounded by these products all the time in their work environment. Kids have no idea where various real food items come from and more often than not have little more ability in a kitchen than to open the microwave and put in one of those packages with the tiny print Nutritional and Ingredients Labels on the back.

To return to the issue I started with, I’d like to add a dimension to this struggle to require food education in the schools. Let’s start by introducing it in supermarkets! Here’s a word picture, a picture I would like to see as a reality some day.

Let’s call those Nutritional Labels on the packaged foods in the center of the store pretty much what they are: unreadable and not particularly useful as presented. Let’s ban those bogus health claims on the front of packages, and let’s move the Nutritional and Ingredients Labels to the front of the package and enlarge the font size. Or make pictographs of them. Let’s place large signs or videos in these sections of the supermarket that explain why this information is important and what it tells us.

Then let’s move onto the periphery of the store and develop a visually attractive system of labels for each item, telling what it is, where it comes from, what nutrients it has and how those nutrients help us. Don’t put it ON the foods (we hardly need glue added to the list of substances that has touched our real foods): put it on great-looking labels over the section for that item.

Let’s place regularly changing recipes near each item. Let’s place large signs or videos at various places that explain, in an interesting visual way, aspects of human nutrition and how real food is the critical component of a healthy lifestyle.

Then the schools can do their part. Why shouldn’t kids learn about food in the environment that for most of them IS the source of it? The grocery store! Teachers can use the tools that supermarkets and grocery stores provide as the basis of curricula they can develop. It can include field trips to supermarkets, homework assignments that involve trips to supermarkets and interactions with the kids’ parents and siblings, and followup work back in the schools.

We do these kinds of things with museums and consider it the best kind of education — why not with supermarkets? Home schoolers could be in on the venture, tapping into this public environment. Tired working parents shopping at the end of a day would find it easier to shop healthfully for their families with truly useful (and entertaining) information at their fingertips.

Everybody wins, including the supermarkets and grocery stores who create this kind of shopping environment. We’re all going to love hanging out in those real food sections of stores, finding out what’s there this week and learning about what we can do with it and what it will do for us! And that’s a very good thing.

All we need now is an operating food co-operative. Hmmmm… that’s right, the Food Shed Co-op is coming, just as soon as you sign on!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Vegetating with Leslie: Spring into Health

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Woohoo! Just agreed to teach another class at McHenry County College in Spring 2016. This one will be through the Personal Development Program and includes demonstrations in their state-of-the-art kitchen.

The demo part should be interesting. As I mentioned to the program director, I’m hardly one to demonstrate knife skills, and that’s what’s involved in a lot of the cooking I do. Well, as I always say, if I can make these foods, anyone can!

VEGETATING WITH LESLIE: SPRING INTO HEALTH
*Asterisked items are what I will demonstrate.

Session I: Spring into Health. Prepare your kitchen to support your best health. We’ll take a close look at the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) of processed foods, sugars, low fiber, low nutrient density and how it undermines health. We’ll talk about what to remove from your kitchen, what to put in your kitchen and how to organize your kitchen.

Demo and share: Nutrient Dense Sandwich on *Homemade Spelt Bread

Session II: Eating the Rainbow: Nutrient Density. What is nutrient density, what can it do for you, and how can you construct a diet that is nutrient dense?

Demo and share: *Fatoush (Middle Eastern Salad), *Green Smoothies

Session III: Rethinking Breakfast: Out of the Box. We’ll take a look at breakfast alternatives from other parts of the world, in particular the Middle East and rethink breakfast possibilities for the most important meal of the day.

Demo and share: Middle Eastern Breakfast (with *Israeli Salad and *Ful) and my current *Breakfast Bowl

Session IV: Make Mine Middle Eastern! Why is it important to choose a cuisine, at least to start? How can you use the basics of Middle Eastern cuisine to build a nutrient dense diet you can enjoy without feeling deprived? We’ll use the Mezze (appetizer) table as the basis of a great, nutrient dense diet and compare it to the S.A.D. which began these sessions.

Demo and share: *Hummus, *Muhammara, *Tabouleh, Israeli Salad, *Red Pepper Salad, *Olives, Pickles. How to use items like this for Midday Meals, Snacks, Dinner, Appetizers.

I hope you can join us!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Finding a Way Back: Giving Voice to the Quiet Story of Depression & Suicide

Run for Lisa King

Philip King's route on his Run for Lisa King.
Philip King’s route on his Run for Lisa King.

A friend asked me to “Like” a FaceBook page recently (Run for Lisa King), and when I arrived at the page, I found a story that I wanted to tell, a story about depression and suicide, a quiet story that affects so many so deeply and in such unquiet ways.

It is part of my story and the story of my family, and it is part of the story behind the page I liked and hope you will like. I admire Philip’s effort and am inspired by it. Please support his campaign. I will follow his story in this post with my own.

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Philip King’s Story

Run for Lisa King
A personal campaign sponsored by Philip King
March 28, 2016 — October 5, 2016

On January 8th, 2014 I lost my mother, Lisa King, to suicide. A few months later I lost a great friend In a similar situation. Dealing with those losses has been difficult, and as usual, I turned to running to help get through the hard times.

A couple months ago, I decided that I wanted to find a way where running all those miles could help somebody other than myself.

Next year I plan to run across the country on the northern portion of the American Discovery Trail from Delaware to California to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention. The trail covers 4,803 miles, and my goal is to average about 180 miles a week. I will leave on March 28th, 2016 and hope to finish by October 5th.

Help us complete this journey by visiting my donor page. You can read more about us on FaceBook, www.facebook.com/runforlisaking.

Philip King running with his brother, Jeff King.
Philip King running with his brother, Jeff King.

My Story

Many years after the life experience I will share below, I thought that part of the difficulty was that I had no idea what was happening with me or what I could do about it and thought the way I felt might just be the way it would be for the rest of my life.

I wondered if I might have found help more quickly if depression and suicide hadn’t been such a “quiet” story. Yet 45 years later, it remains quiet. The media and public consciousness are filled with news about the things that can kill us and undermine our health. Not so much about depression and suicide.

I believe it’s important for people to share their stories. Despite my belief, I have shared my story with very few and would like to do that now.

In 1967, as a freshman in college, I struggled with my first depression, an event that occurred each year for the next five years until the birth of my first son in 1972. These experiences usually lasted at least four or five terrifying months, beginning just after Christmas and extending until summer. As anyone knows who has experienced an episode of severe depression, it can be very difficult to explain to others who haven’t “been there.”

I’m not short of possibilities for what the roots of these depressions may have been: S.A.D., hormones, genetic predisposition, extreme family instability, a beloved grandmother to whom I always looked for refuge and anchoring and who was in a long battle with cancer that she lost in 1969, the instability of changing relationships that are usually a normal part of the dating years, leaving home for a college far away (not the right thing for everyone), lack of a community network, lack of a faith community or community of any sort with common values and a sense of mission, poor diet, lack of appropriate and regular exercise, depressing music, pot, alcohol . . . and it was the sixties. It seemed as though the world was disintegrating.

The decisive moment of my depression came in 1970. I was out in a field on a night I had been in a car accident. I’m pretty sure the sky was filled with stars, but that’s not how I experienced it. I was overwhelmed with a physical sense of the blackness and emptiness of the universe and felt totally alone in it, although I wasn’t alone, even at that moment. I was absolutely certain I was going to die if I moved or left that place, although nothing in my physical condition suggested that was a possibility. That’s why I say it’s difficult to communicate to another person what you’re experiencing because it’s so out of synch with their reality.

That night I understood something. I understood that the ultimate question and answer are very simple. The ultimate question is “Do you choose life?” And the answer is either “yes,” or “no.” They got that many, many centuries ago: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live . . . “ (Deut. 30:19)

I realized that I was on a self-destructive course, sliding toward suicide, and I decided that I needed to make my decision: I had to decide if my answer was yes or no, and if no, end it — and if yes, change course.

Perhaps it didn’t need to be that stark, an either-or equation. Perhaps a professional advising me would have said it’s good to recognize the question but postpone action because perceptions change. The professional wasn’t there, and that’s not what I felt to be true.

At that moment in my universe, I saw nothing that required either choice from me, that supported me or provided me with a reason that I could perceive or hold onto, to choose life. I’m not sure why I did. Perhaps I had a faith that I wasn’t able to recognize at that moment. Perhaps it was just an innate desire to live, whether or not I could see any reason for it. But the choice I made that evening was yes, and for the next three years, I struggled to find the kind of equilibrium that would allow me to live a constructive life, to overcome the yearly terror that this time, I might not make it.

Whatever the reason for my choice, I was fortunate. Others come to that moment and are not so fortunate. When you are unable, for whatever reason, to grasp and hold onto a reason for a “yes” decision, it is a profoundly dangerous moment. Not everyone makes it past that moment.

I admit, many of my decisions for years were driven by the fear of returning to that place. Eventually I did have help and support, but many of the most important steps I took away from depression and suicidal urges were steps I discovered and took on my own. That is the story I want to share here, what I learned on my own about finding emotional stability and living a constructive life. I think you will see why I find Philip King’s story so meaningful.

What I learned about depression

What I learned . . . is just what I learned, no more and no less. It’s how I came to understand the experience with depression I had so many years ago. What I want to say may correlate to some medical information only accidentally, and it’s not meant to be a guide for anyone else. In sharing experiences with each other, though, we may find commonality, and there may be some part of what I know for myself that is useful to others.

A couple of years ago, another family member experienced a depressive episode, ultimately diagnosed as a “panic attack.” The knowledge of what it feels like to be in that space never leaves you. That doesn’t mean, though, that what worked for you will work for another. Each person’s path is their own, and as painful and even frightening as it may be to see a loved one suffering, all you can do is be there. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to offer suggestions from your own experience that are useful, but in the moment of choice, the decision is theirs. If their answer is “yes,” the path back that they find is also uniquely theirs.

I didn’t even realize I was doing most of these things during the years they counted, now 45 years ago. It was later reflection that helped me understand how I had somehow managed to help myself.

12 things I did to banish depression

Today you would never imagine that I am the person I just described of forty years ago. I am happy, even joyful in my life. It is possible to get there, I can promise that.

  1. Get past that moment – somehow. If you don’t make it past that moment or moments, the rest of what follows isn’t worth much. It is possible to get to a different place, a place where you can experience joy and meaning. Take the word of others when you can’t provide it for yourself.
  2. Love isn’t always enough – have a backup. I knew my parents and others loved me. Everyone has their own life, though, and for me, there was a particular set of conditions that demanded the attention of people I loved and left me feeling as though the enormous emotions that were overwhelming me just didn’t matter. Even if people who love you do hear you and are able to let you know you matter, no other person can be present at every moment of your life, moments that may include that awesome moment of decision. I needed backup support but wasn’t sure what or where to get it.
  3. Do some simple homework on foods that contribute to mental and spiritual health, and be careful about what you eat and drink. We learn more about nutrition every day. Eating the right foods and drinking the right beverages can make a difference. I didn’t have that information in those early years. At a later time when I wanted to get off antidepressants that I took for two years, I pumped up my nutritional awareness and exercised caution and was able to discontinue the meds with no difficulty.
  4. Exercise every day, preferably outdoors. Now we know that exercise increases the production of serotonin, associated with well-being. Then I just knew I felt better when I took a walk or went running or biking along the lake.
  5. When you’re outdoors each day, no matter for how short a time, look up. I heard Deepak Chopra say this once. It works. It works especially well for me to lie on my back in the grass and watch clouds drift by overhead.
  6. Be engaged in your own survival and the natural cycle of death and rebirth. Most of us have little involvement in our own survival and are far away from natural processes. We don’t grow or prepare our own food or drinks, and most of us are so disconnected from their sources that kids can’t recognize common raw food items and know where they come from. We are sheltered and alienated from the process of life and death, including our own. I don’t mean to suggest that you go on a wild boar hunt. I found it meaningful to have an organic garden or forage for food, dig in the dirt, have a compost heap, and to make my own yogurt and cheese and bread and pickles. Cooking real food with the products of the earth satisfies me deeply, and probably one of the reasons I love it so much is that it is a way I can be involved in my own and my family’s survival.
  7. Use structure as a tool. It can substitute temporarily for meaning and helps build it. I stumbled on the value of structure. The year I was in the accident and found myself in that field, I had dropped out of school. I was always a top-level student, but in my sophomore year of college, I was simply unable to concentrate, and my grades started dropping precipitously. Although I may have done the right thing for my grades and for financial practicality, I did exactly the wrong thing for my emotional stability in dropping out of school and leaving town. I had no structure in my life. When I returned to town, I joined the YMCA and started swimming a couple of miles early each morning. The exercise provided benefit, but more than the exercise, going out to the pool structured my day and provided more benefit. As I came to understand that, I added more structure to my day. Later, in the course of my academic career, as I studied religious literature, I saw that the structure of a text contributed as much as the actual content to meaning. Initially I didn’t perceive meaning, but the elements of structure in my life helped calm my soul. Eventually those same structures allowed me to see and experience meaning again.
  8. Be part of a meaningful community, even several communities: family, work, faith, groups whose values you share. Community. Others have said it. It’s not new information. I had never gotten very involved in school or community activities. Since we moved a lot when I was growing up, I never integrated deeply into any community and hadn’t developed the skills to maneuver through communities, to enter them and exit them. Although I was involved in sports, it was an individual endeavor for me. I wasn’t part of a team and didn’t make friends through that avenue. I simply didn’t have a community network that could sustain me or give me a sense of balance and belonging when family failed.
  9. Maintain a spiritual practice. Choose a practice that points in a positive direction. Mine is Judaism. I like it because it provides a structured guide to living, a guide based on the deeply hopeful and optimistic premise that we can make the world better. In practicing according to that guide, I came to see things differently. Sitting around waiting for it to happen just didn’t work for me.
  10. Reach out to help others in some way. “Tzedakah saves from death.” (Prov. 10:2 and quoted in the Talmud). Tzedakah means righteousness, giving to others. I have always understood this verse to mean that when we reach out to help others, when we connect with them in their need, we affirm life and our common humanity. We participate in something greater than ourselves. I don’t know what the psychological or body chemistry explanation might be for why this works to elevate mood and generate a sense of well-being, but it worked for me. I wonder if this is why biblical law requires each person, no matter how poor, to contribute. I believe it expresses an intuitive understanding that reaching out to others is life-saving for all of us, no matter how much or how little we have.
  11. Find meaningful work. As I got involved in work that felt meaningful to me, my equilibrium improved. Now, at an age when many of my friends are beginning to retire, I can’t imagine not working. I don’t need to make more money than what’s required to pay basic bills, and if I didn’t need to pay basic bills, the money wouldn’t be the relevant part of work. It’s just a matter of using what I have to offer in constructive, world-building ways, even if it’s a drop of water in a vast ocean. It all counts. Like giving, work is life-saving for all of us, no matter how much or how little we are able to do.
  12. Set goals you can work toward. It’s probably also a good idea to set goals you can hope to achieve, and when you do achieve them, set more goals. The point is to keep a forward-looking worldview and feel that you are a necessary part of tomorrow. You are.

Why I like Philip King’s Run for Lisa King

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As you read what helped me work my way out of depression, I think you can understand why I admire Phil King’s effort so much.

Phil’s lengthy run is a goal he set for himself, and it has a positive, world-building purpose that is greater than himself. He created a structure for his life and his project that will carry him through the better part of a year. In first creating, then living with that structure, he will have an opportunity to rebuild his own worldview after devastating loss. His run will work in some ways like a spiritual practice.

I believe Phil has found a creative, meaningful, life-affirming way to respond to the tragedy of suicide and to share his story with many others, who may also find meaning in the path he has found.

I hope you will support Phil King’s Run for Lisa King project and help him give a face and a voice to the quiet devastation of depression and suicide.

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