Shopping for dinner guests

I'm having the book club meeting at our house tonight, although unfortunately only three of us will be here. Some had prior obligations or travel; others said they would come and then changed their minds; others said they might come and then bailed. I think some people let themselves get busier than there are hours in the week, which is easy to do, but inconvenient for the hostess. I'm especially happy to host the book group this month because I want to show off our new siding and paint job, the patio, and the yard. The house looks a lot different since these two ladies were last here. It's fun to be able to say, "Look at all our livejasmin projects!" once in a while.

As I'm not the cooking type, I went to Pike Place Market to look for tasty dinner foods that wouldn't require much preparation. It's another sunny, gorgeous day, and a great time to visit the market. I find the tourists endearing because I remember how much I loved Seattle when I visited. I'm often startled at seeing people daunted and annoyed by all the stair-climbing that is par for the course in the market and elsewhere in Seattle. The elevators in the market are a little hard to find. People with two legs in working order will stand at the bottom of the stairs trying to decide whether or not it's worth the effort to walk "all the way up there" and looking sorry they came. (I wonder if I could earn tips by helping people up the steps.)

I got pasta and pesto, smoked salmon, cherries, salad mix, and white wine for my two guests. There will be leftovers, I'm sure.

I forgot to mention that on Saturday around noon we saw a bald eagle soaring over our nearest main road, MLK Way at Union Street. It's a very urban area, away from the water - surely not far, from a soaring perspective, but just not worth a visit for a bird that likes water. In six years I'd never seen an eagle overhead from that road. We parked the car to watch him from in front of the supermarket; he headed southwest, became a tiny dot on the sky, and disappeared.

Putting myself on an allowance

I got a new freelance technical editing client that is giving me a lot of work this week. This work came along just at the right time, before I went on any interviews for on-site contracting positions. And best of all, I was referred to this client by someone who likes Northwest Notes. I hope I can take her to lunch sometime. (You know who you are! Thank you!)

I went to the Weblogger Meetup last night at Bauhaus Coffee. Twelve or thirteen people showed up and it was a lot of fun. I managed not to be a mousy introvert and instead met a lot of nice people. One couple that I met live right on our block! Sometimes Seattle seems so small. I imagine thousands of people sitting alone in their rooms typing their Live sex chat weblogs, never knowing that someone right next door might be doing the same thing—even if they've looked at each other's websites. It's great to have met these neighbors as well as all the others.

The other day I did a little checkbook research and found out exactly how much money I've been spending on plants for the garden. YIKES! I wondered where all that money was going. I'm cutting back dramatically. Tom is so nice that he hasn't mentioned this, so I have the opportunity to show some restraint voluntarily. This gives me a new guideline for yard work: there's tons of work that can be done at low or no cost, such as pruning and digging out unwanted or invasive plants and shrubs; amending soil; moving a few plants to better locations; keeping weeds pulled from existing flowerbeds; putting down black plastic to kill grass for future flowerbeds; and learning to root plants from cuttings in order to grow some free ones. When I do shop for plants, before I buy anything expensive for its type, I'll look for something cheaper with close to the effect I want. It will be especially important to remember this resolution next spring when the urge to buy plants hits the hardest.

I've pulled almost all of the defunct poppies out of my "experimental mound," which is the pile of dusty soil and turf chunks that we dug out for the patio base last year. Before I took my reckoning the other day, I had bought some perennials to put there to last the rest of the summer: three small lavender plants, three Lantana with orange flowers, three white alyssum that smell really good, two wooly thymes, two Blue Star creeper, and two hen-and-chick type of rosette plants called Sempervivum tectoram.

It's hard to water plants on the mound because the water wants to run off. I have to water a little with my watering can, then wait, then water a little, then wait, and so on. The soil is so fine and dusty (i.e., it's no good) that the water almost can't penetrate. I tried to pick plants that can grow in crummy soil, so maybe I'll be lucky. It's an experiment. Every now and then I run into a plant that does well year after year no matter what—I'm hoping to find a few more of those. In the meantime, besides diligently watering those dusty-mound plants, I have to keep hand-pulling long grass rhizomes that try to regrow from the turf chunks under the soil. I think they're not buried deeply enough there.

Saturday is the Columbia City Garden Tour, so I'll get lots of ideas there. I can't wait. I loved the Central District garden tour last year and it's coming up in July, but Saturday's tour should be just as good. I've got my fingers crossed for rain tonight to spruce everything up and fill my barrel.

Better mood through exercise

I'm thinking about starting a separate weblog devoted to exercise, fitness, strength, and weight maintenance. I just did a bunch of writing to explore one of many topics I'd like to talk about there—using exercise to lift a low mood—and it seems I have a lot to say. You can read it here if you'd like to hear more about what I'm thinking about that particular subject.

Maybe a weekly blog would be realistic; I'd like to produce high-quality, useful jasminlive articles about many exercise topics, both to help me explore my own thoughts and goals and to help readers look positively on exercise and fitness even if they haven't enjoyed it before. Of course I'm coming from a lay person's perspective, not a medical or scholarly one. But I think this can be a good thing because I've already seen helpful fitness or weight-loss websites written by lay people, including Stumptuous and Poundy.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this fitness weblog idea, it could really help me if you'd share them in comments or by email. Do you think fitness magazines are helpful? Why or why not? In what way can a lay person, experienced with weight loss and different approaches to exercise, offer help that the magazines may be missing?

Review: The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg

The Rural Life portrays each month of the year—weather, wildlife, garden chores, mood—as it’s lived on farms or ranches in various parts of the U.S. The author has lived all over the country and apparently collected his writings from each place into this essay collection.

The book begins its January chapter with a contemplation on journal-keeping. Klinkenborg states up front that it is his worst writerly instincts, rather than his best ones, that makes him want to keep a journal. This seems charming but disingenuous, as we’re about to continue reading what is essentially a collection of journal pieces. More candidly, he acknowledges that “What drives the impulse toward New Year’s journal keeping is also the shocking realization that the only thing left of the old year is a few tufts of wool caught in the barbed wire.”

The reader is set up to imagine that a year’s journal will follow, but in fact, as mentioned earlier, the essays jump all over the country and obviously encompass many different years. I read reviews that complained about this. I found that it made the book seem sketchy. I had the sense that Klinkenborg wanted to publish a book of rural essays about his New York farm but didn’t have enough material, so he built out the book with essays from elsewhere.

Still, I enjoyed the writing throughout because of the author’s long-practiced contemplations of seasons in the country and how they are reflected in human emotions and activities. Happily (to me) lacking an overt political agenda, the book focuses mostly on positives through description and reporting of natural events and farm routines. But the author also sums up ways in which developers and housing planners destroy farm lands and culture even as they try to evoke its peacefulness in the minds of new-home buyers, and his anger at this destruction and exploitation is apparent. Most of all, though, he displays clear-sighted, down-to-earth devotion to farm life and its setting within the natural world that it modifies but does not blot out.

Read this book slowly and enjoy the mental trip to the country; let the author show you the details you might miss on your own:

You usually see robins tugging at earthworms as though they were anchor chains, but now the robins run along the edges of gravel roads, picking off [grass]hoppers as they go…. In the morning, as the sun is getting strong, the hoppers climb from the high grass onto the eastern walls of ranch buildings, where they wait until they’re fully charged, ready to go off. They’re easy to capture in the morning…. Look near enough and it’s possible to see your own reflection in the impassive, oval eye.

Mysterious slug behavior

Last week’s jury duty was intense and left me feeling shaky. I’m glad it’s over. We convicted a young man of a carjacking with a loaded handgun. He’s a 19-year-old who's been a member of an L.A. gang since he was six years old. His dad is in prison and he lived with his sister in the Seattle area. She kicked him out of the house after an argument one day, so he took his uncle’s gun and went to his 30-year-old car-thief friend’s house to drink 22-ounce Budweisers and smoke “primo” (pot mixed with cocaine). After driving around trying to sell some stolen stereo equipment, they bought some more beer and went back to the apartment.

Later, the 30-year-old ringleader called the 19-year-old kid (our defendant) out to the kitchen and said let’s go downtown. He took the kid’s stolen gun off the top of the fridge and put it in the glove compartment of the kid’s car. Our defendant then drove the two of them downtown to where a concert was letting out. In the parking lot, the ringleader made the kid give him the gun so that he could take a young woman’s car while she was talking with her friends. The kid was surprised and reluctant, but he cooperated, thinking his friend could easily kill him if he didn’t. He ran around to the passenger side and got in the car while his friend pointed the gun at the woman and her friends. The two robbers then drove off, making it about a quarter-mile before the police caught them in a blaze of sirens and spinning lights. Meanwhile, the ringleader made the kid trade shirts with him. Later he plea-bargained with the state in order to get the kid tried. He testified that the kid had held the gun during the robbery, which was contradicted by witnesses who said the gunman was the same guy who drove the stolen car away.

Our defendant wanted to use the defense of duress, which says you’re not culpable if forced to cooperate with a crime. This didn’t work. The defense of duress is specified to be unavailable if you intentionally or recklessly put yourself into a situation where duress was likely to occur—such as, in this case, by bringing a gun to a felon, drinking and using drugs with him, and driving him to a place where he steals a car. Also unfortunately for our defendant, a guy who is not only young but seems never to have had any positive adult guidance, you’re guilty of the crime as an accomplice even if you’re not the one who handled the weapon. If you cooperated, you’re guilty of being armed during the crime, even if there was only one weapon.

It took us two hours to come up with a unanimous verdict. We felt so sorry for the defendant because of his youth, his lack of guidance, his seeming lack of intelligence, and his falling under the spell of such a villainous older guy, that we wanted to let him off. Most of us saw right away that under the jury instructions, which explained the law and other rules, we had to convict him, but two of us tried to hold out for the duress defense. They said his behavior was not reckless, that in fact it would have been reckless for him not to cooperate with the ringleader. But the law also specified that we had to judge according to the behavior of “a reasonable person,” even though he is so young and has not led a reasonable life. By that standard, our defendant’s behavior was reckless if not intentional, so he had no defense.

Because of the ringleader’s plea bargain, our defendant was unfairly convicted of a worse crime than the ringleader, even though the ringleader held the gun. Our defendant now has his first “strike offense,” as in three strikes and you’re out, while the ringleader, in spite of about five car theft convictions, has no strike offenses on his record yet. And of course, our defendant will get more jail time, maybe twice as much, according to what the prosecutor told us after the trial was over. The defendant thought this older guy was his friend; instead the “friend” made him an accomplice to a felony and even made him trade shirts in hopes that the defendant would be identified as the gunman. All the jurors agreed that when the 30-year-old gangbanger testified at the trial, we were struck by how evil he seemed. He was covered with tattoos, wore a permanent scowl, and lied under oath.

Just to be clear, ultimately I think the defendant, in spite of his age and disadvantages, made bad choices that another in his same situation might have avoided. There’s no excuse for his chain of decisions and behavior. In spite of the fact that I and all the other jurors felt a lot of compassion for him, and I know he was ruthlessly exploited, I don’t believe it was impossible for him to avoid this crime. I hope the corrections officer assigned to him happens to be a mentor-type, because this kid thinks he’s a decent person who never wanted to hurt anybody. Maybe a tough counselor could teach him how to live a life that can be more fairly judged by the standards of “a reasonable person.”