Fitness routines when there is no routine

Finding an fitness routine that I can stick with is seriously my biggest challenge to working regular exercise into my life.  It is something that is important to me, and I know everyone says “if you REALLY valued exercise you’d find a way to prioritize it.”  Well I agree with that statement.  But just when I feel like I’ve found a good groove, something in my life changes and I’ve got to start all over from scratch.

When I was training for my first and only triathlon, I had a, um, flexible schedule and could easily make time for a trip to the pool or an afternoon run.  Then I started a new job (a week before the race!), moved to a new town and since then have had a much harder time figuring out a routine.

I’ve written about how I’ve tried lunch hour gym time — great when you can work it in, but I found that my days were just too unpredictable to consistently get to the gym during the day.

I’ve also written about run commuting, which I thought would be a good option, but for whatever reason I couldn’t stick with it.  First it was too hot.  Then it was too dark.  I don’t think I live in a dangerous area, but I will say that part of my problem is i don’t feel 100% comfortable running alone after dark around here, and that really limits the number of hours I can carve out for a run!

Then I tried running in the mornings before work.  And it was GREAT.  I thought I’d finally found a routine I could keep up for the long-term.  I’d leave for work a little early, run around the mall, and shower at my work gym.  Throughout August and September, the mornings were the PERFECT temperature for a run.  The scenery was inspiring.  I could never stop myself from pausing to snap photos of the monuments at sunrise.  Such an invigorating start to the workday!




I was making such good progress, getting faster and adding distance.  I was so proud of myself!  I started making tentative goals to sign up for a 10k sometime this year.  But then — the story of my exercise life — circumstances changed on me.  Beautiful August and September turned to October.  It got dark.  And cold.  And I got pregnant.

I bought myself a nice pair of running tights, bundled up, and bravely tried my best to become one of those women who kept on running all 9 months.  But at about 8 weeks, morning sickness and fatigue set in, and apparently my body just really needed to sleep 12-14 hours a day during that time.  One morning, during a brief interlude of feeling normal again, I tried going to the gym, only to discover that gyms and pregnancy do NOT mix.  TOO MANY SMELLS!  Oh my god, all the women with their scented lotions and the man with the horrible BO on the treadmill next to me, I was practically homicidal.  Never.  Again.  Then a few days later my morning sickness came back with a vengeance and I wondered if I had pushed myself too hard.

So I let my gym membership lapse and took it easy until I was sure I was out of the woods, about 14-15 weeks in for me.  I tried to pick up running again, with a really easy 2 mile jog/walk routine, but the next day I was unusually sore and decided not to chance it again.  So I’ve given up running for now, and since I no longer go to the gym I’ve had to get creative about staying active.  Here is my routine now:

Walking.  Lots of walking. 

Between a morning dog walk and the walking I do just getting to and from work/metro, I figure I get in about 40 minutes of walking daily.  I take a route that takes me up some big hills to get my heart rate up, and if for some reason my morning is too frenzied I try to get out for a 20 minute walk during my lunch break.  I know it’s not good for me to be sitting all day anyway.  The biggest challenge has been staying motivated when the weather is ugly, as we seem to have had a number of nasty 35° and rainy days this winter.

Prenatal yoga

I have done yoga extremely sporadically since I took it consistently in college, but I have finally found a prenatal yoga class that I LOVE, that is affordable, and is convenient.  It is seriously my saving grace each week for relieving all the random aches and pains that crop up during pregnancy, and taking the time out to relax and meditate helps with any fears and anxieties that come with the territory.
Prenatal yoga is definitely different than a regular yoga class — much more a focus on stretching, relaxation and opening poses rather than athleticism.  We do a few challenging asanas each week — squatting for two minutes is REALLY HARD, okay! — so there is some emphasis on building strength and stamina, but mostly I leave feeling light, relaxed and limber.
Having an arsenal of yoga asanas has been really helpful as my pregnancy has progressed  and I am starting to get more uncomfortable after long periods of sitting or sleeping.  Stretching and a few poses every night before bed has become a must in order to assure a somewhat sound night of sleep!

Fitness DVDs and TV

I’ve always been one that has needed to get out of my house to really motivate myself, but as mentioned above, the lack of gym membership and daylight to run outside has limited my options!  On top of that, I know that once the baby is here I’ll have precious little time to exercise, and seeing as there are no gyms nearby with childcare, better that I start figuring out a contingency plan now.
Working out at home in short bursts has turned out to be a good solution.  I just needed to find the right programs.
First I tried some of the workouts I could find on Hulu since I was already paying for a subscription.  But it was a pain sitting through the commercials so that never really stuck.

I bought this prenatal yoga DVD in my first trimester before I started classes.  It is okay.  It wastes a little too much time with intros and segues and I get kind of bored by it.  But if I can’t make it to a yoga class, this DVD is a decent substitute.

Then I somehow stumbled across this bar method pregnancy workout DVD.  This one has been my favorite.  It cuts right to the chase.  It is broken into about 15-20 minute segments for each body part (arms, thighs, butt, and abs) that are easily selected if you don’t have the full 45 minutes to devote to a workout that day.  It moves at a quick pace and is broken up with recovery and stretching in between each set, so the 45 minutes go by surprisingly quickly!    I will have to check out a studio or their other “regular” DVDs in the future.

So those are the things that have worked for me thus far.  But with all the constant changes I’m going through lately, perhaps I’ll have to adjust my routine again.  What I’m learning is that flexibility is key, so doing away with the gym is probably a good plan for the long term.  I may not make that 10K goal any time soon, but I know that just being active for about 30 minutes a day is the most important thing, so I’ll live with my modified workouts for now.

How do you keep up a consistent fitness routine?  What types of workouts have been most effective for you?  Have you found any DVDs or at-home routines that you love?



Christmas tamales

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Sigh.  Christmas?  It’s March.  I know.  And I don’t really have any excuses either!  I guess I just fell out of the habit and it’s been hard to get things started again.

So I’m going to make a goal of at least one weekly post.  Here is what I’ve been meaning to write about since Christmas!

Are you a holiday traditionalist, or do you like to mix things up?  We definitely fall into the latter group.  We hosted Christmas dinner this year for the first time in our new house, and we spent weeks thinking about what we would make.  Then the New York Times had an article just in the nick of time which gave us our inspiration.

We’ve made tamales many times before, but it never occurred to me to make them for Christmas.  I didn’t know they were the traditional Christmas meal in Mexico!  They are labor-intensive, but then you’ve got a perfect, healthy and portable meal for weeks!  They freeze easily and can be tossed right in your lunch bag.  They’re also great for camping.

In the past we’ve used Alton Brown’s dough recipe/assembly, but this time we adapted the one in the NYT.

I think the pork filling is more traditional, but here is my veggie version.  We made both kinds.  Approved by my Mexican neighbor :).


For the dough:

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 4 cups dry masa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups warm stock

For the filling:

  • 1 medium-large pepper
  • 1 medium-large onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 can beans (or two cups cooked beans)
  • About a half cup shredded cheese
  • Salt, pepper to taste


  • Package of corn husks
  • A very large stock pot
  • Steamer rack


Heat enough water to cover the corn husks in a large bowl.  They will float so devise a way to keep them covered — usually something heavy like a larger bowl or dish on top will work.

Pour simmering water over husks and let soak for 30-60 minutes.

For the filling…

Saute some finely chopped garlic, a pepper and an onion with some chile powder, salt, pepper etc.  Add some beans — about a can or two cups worth.  We used pinto beans this time but black beans are great too.  Heat the beans through, adding some water or stock by the tablespoon if the mixture gets too dry.

Toss in a bowl and mash up coarsely with a fork or potato masher or whatever.  You can also use a food processor if you want it to be more of a paste.  Allow to cool to room temperature and mix in some shredded cheese if you want.  While it is cooling, mix the dough.

The dough

Use an electric mixer to cream the shortening, and then slowly add the dry ingredients.  Add the stock a cup at a time until the dough is soft and pliable, but not too wet.  You can also do this step by hand but it’s a little more laborious.


Spread a layer of dough about a 1/4 inch thick on each husk, leaving a little space on the top, the edges, and more space at the bottom.  I find this easiest to do by hand.  How much filling you put in each tamale depends on the size of the husk — they can vary widely — but definitely avoid over-filling and err on the side of too little.  Ease the dough away from the husk and bring together over the filling in the center.  This video has a demonstration starting around minute 13:

Wrap the husk around the tamale, fold over the bottom and tie with a string.

Steam all of the tamales for about an hour, until they release easily from the husk.

Serve with salsa, guacamole, cheese, etc.

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Enjoy for many meals to come!


Happy holidays! And happy news…

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Greetings and happy holidays!  And apologies for my extended absence.  The thing is, I just haven’t felt up to cooking, eating or doing much of anything these past few months.  I’m 14 weeks pregnant today and just now gradually emerging from the fog of sickness and exhaustion that was my first trimester.  Didn’t think my steady diet of bagels and clementines was really worthy of a blog post :).

We moved into our first house a year ago, on Christmas day, and I’m so happy with the difference a whole year makes!  This year, instead of unpacking boxes we will be hosting our first Christmas dinner, cooking in our new kitchen.  And of course, it would not be the holiday season without our first Christmas tree.

I’ve always been solidly on the real tree side of the debate.  The smell and texture of a live tree in your home is just one of those quintessential things about Christmas.  And I’ve always believed they’re the more eco-friendly option.  Artificial trees are made of petroleum, whereas real trees do cycle carbon, provide habitat, prevent erosion, etc during their lifetimes.

I have been reading recently, though, about the inordinate amount of pesticides and fertilizers that are used in many tree farms throughout the country.  Christmas tree farming is a long-term investment.  When you plant a sapling, it can be more than a decade before that tree makes it to a market.  The market also demands a perfectly shaped, fully and bushy tree.  This necessitates a pretty chemical-intensive farming model to ensure a large and speedy return on investment!

With the purging of chemicals on my mind lately, this concerned me.  How could I cope with the cognitive dissonance that perhaps, PERHAPS, my beloved real trees were not the most environmentally sensitive choice after all?  I started googling to see if there were any organic tree options in the DC area.  Turns out there is exactly one:  Licking Creek Bend Farm sells their sustainable Christmas trees to order and also weekly at the Adams Morgan farmers market.  So into the city we went in search of the perfect tree.

We came home with the most beautiful and fragrant concolor fir, cut only days earlier.  Its branches may be a little more sparse than your typical generic tree, but I think it looks natural and perfect in our home.  You’d think an organic tree would be astronomically expensive, but  they had a variety of price points and the one we selected was comparable to the prices you’d find at a nursery.

I also very much believe in decorating your tree with ornaments that are sentimental, meaningful, or handmade — no color-coordinated, themed trees in my house!  So since this is our first Official tree, it seems a little sparsely decorated as we slowly build a collection.  But I still love it.

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2012 so far has been a very special year to us, and I’m so happy to celebrate this holiday season with my loved ones and welcome in the new year.  Excited to see what 2013 will bring!  Best wishes to a beautiful holiday and prosperous new year to you!




Southern extravaganza: the best macaroni and cheese, greens, fried tofu and okra


Fall is here.  Winter is coming.  It’s the time of year I start moving toward heartier, heavier foods, but it’s also the time of year I gaze longingly at the lingering summer produce at the farmers markets.  It is the time of year for fried green tomatoes.

Alas, fried green tomatoes were not a part of this meal (it was several weeks ago…probably still summer!).  But they’d be the perfect accompaniment.  I dare even the most rigid omnivore to not enjoy!

The tofu recipe below is adapted from Veganomicon.  The others are from…?  Old and adapted beyond recognition.

Chile-Cornmeal Crusted Tofu

Canola oil for frying
1 pound extra firm tofu, pressed to remove as much liquid as possible
1 cup buttermilk (obv. use a vegan milk if you want to keep it vegan, but add some vinegar (i think, haven’t checked) to make it more buttermilk-y).
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons chile powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon lime zest
1.5 teaspoons salt

Slice the tofu into eight slices and then slice each of those diagonally so you have 16 tofu triangles.

Sift cornstarch* into milk and stir until combined.

In another bowl, sift together the remaining dry ingredients — cornmeal, spices, lime zest and salt.

In a cast iron skillet, heat oil, about a 1/4 inch or enough to mostly cover tofu slices.

Designate one hand your “wet” hand and the other “dry.”  Do not violate these designations.

With your wet hand, dip the tofu into the milk-cornstarch mixture.  With your other hand, drop into the cornmeal and coat on all sides.  Remove and place in the skillet, frying on each side for 3 minutes or so, until browned.  Don’t crowd the tofu if it can’t all fit in the skillet.

When finished, place on paper towels.

*As a warning, do not let two ingredients prefixed by the word “corn” confuse you, as it did for my friend and me, who, unfortunately yet hilariously, mixed them up, multiple times, in a row.

Classic braised greens

Traditionally cooked for hours in a pot with a ham hock and/or other non-vegetarian ingredients, they can be just as delicious without the meat.

You can use any combination of greens you would like.  I had some mustard greens, kale, and collards all together in one pot this time.  Remove the stems, shred into small-ish pieces, and simmer in a pot of just enough water to cover (add more periodically as necessary) for about an hour.  For flavor, I add some crushed red pepper, dried mushrooms, salt and pepper, butter, sliced onions, maybe a smoky dried chipotle pepper.

Fried Okra

Okay, to be honest, I had never tried okra before, and I was planning on trying to roast them as was recommended on a few blogs and websites.  But Mr. R wanted to fry them.  Which wasn’t a bad idea.  I don’t know what recipe he used, but it was just a basic one, like this.

Macaroni and cheese

This is a simple recipe that cuts out unnecessary steps with results that are just as creamy and delicious.

Half pound macaroni (or other small pasta)
4 tablespoons butter
12 ounces cheese (cheddar, smoked gouda, parmesan, gruyere, be creative!)
12 ounces evaporated milk
Salt & pepper
Optional:  garlic, onion, other seasonings.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions and strain, return to pot.  While still hot, coat with butter, then add the milk and cheese.  Stir until melted and gooey.

A delicious shoulder season combination of hearty yet fresh fare!







Windows and doors: soul of a building

Becoming the 5th owners of a nearly century-old house with a few years of neglect has been a blessing and a curse.  Nothing more exemplifies this dichotomy than the doors and windows of the house.

They are (okay, were) all original.  All 100% wood and glass.  All coated on the outside with chipping lead paint.  And all in various states of disrepair.

When you get into a situation like this, it is tempting to rip it all out and throw in the cheapest option.

But I truly feel like becoming the owner of a 90+ year old house is a commitment to its preservation.  I really believe that the concept that we should not invest in our own homes, that we should spend as little as possible, that we should only consider how to short change the next potential owner to maximize the return on our dollar rather than consider what is best for the house, for ourselves, is part of what got us into this housing market mess in the first place.  A house is a financial investment, and a big one at that, but should we really go about our lives thinking only of our immediate returns?  A house is so much more than that.  It is also a home.

All that, plus you know, I really hate vinyl.

Windows and doors, perhaps more than any other architectural feature, say a lot about a building.  You can tell so much about a house immediately simply by standing on the curb and examining the detailing and symmetry of the windows and doors.  Here is a website with lots of photos that explains it quite well.  Different historic periods had very specific ways of conveying the aesthetic of the day through the doors and windows.  On my morning commute through a few distinctive neighborhoods of DC, I love looking at the beautiful detailing and originality of the windows on the Victorian row houses.  And you can immediately tell when they’ve been replaced cheaply.  They simply don’t make ’em like they used to.  I mean, you’d never see a lovely stained glass transom light above the door of your average house built today.  People simply don’t build pretty things anymore.  They build cheap things.

Vinyl windows don’t have a very long lifespan.  They warp and generally need to be replaced after 20-30 years where they end up in a landfill.   They cannot be repaired.    They are quite ugly.  Their one claim to fame, their energy efficiency, is kind of diminished when you consider that they ultimately warp and bend out of shape.  And it is the opinion of many preservationists that a properly maintained, properly working wood window is not substantially less energy efficient than modern windows.

As for my improperly maintained wood windows?  I can attest that these are less energy efficient, ha.  But with adequate weatherstripping and those optically clear plastic sheets you hang over them with a hair dryer, you can gain a big improvement and reduce a lot of draftiness.

Here is one of the prettier casement windows in my house:.

Another one, plus a sleepy cat who thinks he’s now mantle decor?

Now, there are a few windows on the sides of the house, toward the rear, that we have absolutely replaced with cheap vinyl windows.  We also had the lead-painted trim wrapped in aluminum.  These were a little more urgent and a clear safety hazard (one was in our kitchen, one was preventing AC in our bedroom!).  And in the rear-side of a house, where it can’t be seen from the street, it’s not as critical to preserve its history.

But there are a few beautiful windows in the front that we so far just can’t bring ourselves to destroy.  And the door.  We NEEDED a new door!

Windows are very much one thing, but when you go through a doorway every day, it gets a lot of wear and tear.  I think if we really wanted to, we probably could have stripped and sanded and reglazed the glass on this door, but it was ultimately too much work for an old and flimsy door that really needed replacement.

Here it sits on our front porch waiting to be taken to Community Forklift where someone will hopefully upcycle it into something creative and pin it on pinterest.

It still even had the original doorknob with old-timey lever lock keyhole  (We switched out the knob with a cheap replacement as a temporary solution when it broke).

This historic door could not be replaced by just any door.  We wanted something that matched the historic feel and character of our home.

Our contractor and some of our friends/family were SHOCKED that we were not getting some sturdy, nondescript and cheap fiberglass door.  They also were taken aback by our choice of a door that had a similar lite (glass pane) pattern.  WON’T KIDS THROW ROCKS AT IT, BUGLERS BUST THROUGH IT, ETC ETC?! Um, well they haven’t in 90 years.  And if children really wanted to throw rocks at glass, everyone may as well get rid of their windows too.  Why is it so weird to have glass on a door these days?

Anyway.  We picked out a door from Simpson with traditional Arts & Crafts styling made of ash and stained.

If you would like a wood entry door, it is important that it is in a covered location and that you choose an appropriate species of wood.  It’s a good idea to have a storm door too.  That part is still on our To Do list.

But it’s a beautiful door, no?

We also ordered some period-appropriate hardware.

It is also incredibly sturdy, energy efficient, and should last this house at least another century.

Repairing the old windows is our next project.  Stay tuned!


Moroccan-spiced chickpea and squash stew

The temperature has dropped, fall produce is showing up at markets, and I am starting to crave warm and spicy autumnal foods.  But there are still so many tomatoes to be eaten!  This recipe perfectly blends the summer and the fall, making it a delicious shoulder-season meal.  Grilling the squash lends a beautiful, smoky flavor to please carnivores and herbivores alike — but you could roast it as well.

I actually had some delicata squash pop up out of the compost in my garden in my old house.  I bought one more from the farmer’s market.  You could use any kind of orange winter squash.

This recipe is very flavorful but I think even those who prefer more mild dishes could handle it.  As strong and fragrant as the cinnamon will smell, it actually lends just a very subtle touch in the end and works perfectly with the cumin.

Moroccan-spiced stew with chickpeas and grilled squash
Adapted loosely from here, and probably some other recipes for inspiration; there are a lot of google results for “Moroccan squash stew.”

1 lb squash — butternut, acorn, delicata, or even pumpkin
4-6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 cups chickpeas (or one can)
4-5 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1 bunch greens (I used Tuscan kale, but spinach would be find)
A few hot peppers (I had some cayenne but you could use jalapeno, serrano, etc)
2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
bunch of coarsely chopped celery, carrot, onion for stock
salt and pepper to taste
For garnish:  bunch cilantro, plain yogurt, hot sauce
Quinoa (healthy) or couscous (authentic) for serving

Make the stock:  toss a few handfuls of coarsely chopped celery, carrots and onion (I actually freeze celery/carrots in bags for this  purpose), plus the cinnamon stick, some dried mushrooms, a few peppercorns, thyme, etc — whatever sounds good in a stock — and cover with water.  Simmer until reduced in half, about an hour or so.  You will need two cups of stock.  Strain and set aside.  (NOTE:  you can obviously buy pre-made stock, but if you’ve got time, may as well do it yourself).

Peel and seed the tomatoes.  I’ve always just blanched them, but recently came across this easier method.  Chop them coarsely.

To prepare the squash, peel them, cut in half, scoop out seeds, and grill.  They do not need to be fully cooked at this point, just charred.  When they are done and cool to the touch, dice them.

Saute the onion in a large pot over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes with the cumin (and cinnamon stick, if you are using premade stock).  Add the tomatoes, garlic, chickpeas, potatoes, peppers, and grilled squash.  Raise heat to medium-high and cook for another 5-10 minutes or so, until the squash and potatoes are somewhat cooked and the tomatoes are getting saucy.  Add the stock.  Add the greens.  Simmer everything together until it is flavorful and stew-y, about 30-60 minutes (the longer the better!).  Check periodically if you need to add more stock.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

When it is done, garnish with cilantro leaves, hot sauce, plain Greek yogurt, etc.  Serve over quinoa or couscous.




Why everyone should be planting leafy greens now

If you have ever once thought about giving edible gardening a try, greens — lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, cabbage, broccoli, etc — are what you should plant.  And you should plant them now.  Here is why:

1.  Greens are some of, if not THE, healthiest thing you could ever eat.  They are chock full of anti-cancer phytonutrients and fiber.  And they’re versatile and easy to work into recipes.  Tossed in a salad, sauteed with a tasty sauce, cooked into soups and stews, scrambled with eggs, chopped up and mixed into a casserole — I’m hard pressed thinking of a recipe in which greens would NOT work!

2.  They don’t need a whole lot of sun.  Fruiting vegetables need a full day of sun, but when you’re just eating the foliage, you can get by with less.  If your only spot for a container garden is in complete shade, such as behind a wall or building, you might be SOL.  But if you get even dappled shade (like, through trees), or 3-4 hours of sun, you can probably grow greens.  They won’t be so prolific and bushy as they would with full sun.  However, they will probably not bolt as quickly, lasting longer into the season.

3.  Greens are very frost-resistant.  I kid you not, I had kale and broccoli growing over the winter that was snowmageddon.  It was covered in snow for like two months straight.  And it did not die.  I think the snow might actually insulate plants and protect them.  You can plant most greens in the late summer, keep them going over the winter, and harvest them in the spring.  I know that chard will also keep through the winter, and friends have had the same experience with spinach.  As long as you don’t pick the leaves when temps are below freezing, you should be good to go.
Disclaimer:  I have apparently moved from zone 7b to 7a.  I don’t know if that half a zone will make a difference.  And I can’t speak for north of zone 7.  But south of zone 7 — y’all definitely have no excuse not to garden year-round 🙂

4.  Greens are a gift that keeps on giving.  The chard and arugula I planted this year kept coming back even after I cut it.  Arugula does not last through hot weather, but the chard is still going!  After I chop off the broccoli heads, I can usually get at least one more small cluster of broccoli to come back.  Kale will keep going, but it’s hard to get a second harvest in before it bolts from the heat.  Anyone have any experience with spinach or other greens?

5.  You can even plant greens in the middle of winter.  I’ve never tried this myself.  But this winter I am excited to attempt starting seeds outdoors with a mini greenhouse as seen here.  If it works in Canada, it should work in Maryland, right?

6.  In the middle of winter, you don’t have to worry about pests.  You can neglect them pretty well during the winter.  But just before frost sets in, and after the last frost date, do keep a watchful eye on your greens because as some of the few plants remaining, the bugs will be all over that shit. I’ve had luck with a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth, as well as some of these organic pest remedies from Fine Gardening.  Sometimes all it takes is a blast of water from the hose.

There are many reasons to grow your own food.  First of all, it is fun.  Secondly, while its unlikely you will grow and preserve enough to feed your entire family year-round without several acres at your disposal and full-time work, food no doubt tastes better when it is imbued with the satisfaction derived from producing it yourself.  Some vegetables, tomatoes and corn, for instance, actually DO taste 100% better when freshly picked from your back yard.  And finally, we can go a long way to protecting our earth, promoting sustainability, independence and self-sufficiency by using all available space for something PRODUCTIVE.  Grass serves no purpose.  Why not grow something nourishing?  Even if you just have space for one pot of herbs — give it a try. Grow something.