Monday, April 23, 2012

Missouri Botanic Gardens

About a month ago I went to St. Louis to visit my mother. The weather was very warm, as it has been in most of the US this spring. It was late March, but the weather seemed like mid-May, sunny and downright hot at times.

My mother said she wanted to go to the Botanic Gardens. That sounded like a fun idea to me. I hadn't been there for a long time, many years in fact. I could remember going there as a kid. They had this round, tropical greenhouse with lots of exotic plants called the Climatron, and I remember thinking that was pretty neat. You could go in there and pretend you were in some exotic place far away.

But on that day in late March my  mother and I didn't bother with the Climatron. The Botanic Garden grounds were simply spectacular. There was no need to go inside to pretend that you were in some exotic place. The gardens looked like the very best gardens that we saw in Japan. It really was the most beautiful display of flowers I have ever seen. And just think, I was in plain old St. Louis, my home town!

Here are some of my favorite pictures that I took that day. I took all of these pictures with my phone, since I forgot to bring my camera, but they still came out surprisingly good. Really it would have been difficult to take bad pictures of all of those beautiful flowers.

You can see a bit of the Climatron in this picture

This is the gate to the Chinese Garden

The dogwoods were in bloom

The Azaleas were so beautiful

This is the small private cemetery where the Shaw family is buried

Friday, April 13, 2012

Crazy Trip to New York

A couple of weekends ago, we went to New York City to look at sailboats. That right there makes this sound like a strange trip, but the boats were actually in Connecticut and Brooklyn. Yes, there are marinas in Brooklyn, what can I say?

Anyway, we decided that if we were going to drive all that way, we might as well spend the night in the city. Since I had a hair appointment Saturday morning in Andover, we decided to drive there together and then continue on south.

Right before we got to Andover my phone rang. It was my hairdresser, wondering why I hadn't shown up. Although my calendar said the appointment was at 11, it actually was at 10. She even sent me a confirmation and I replied, but did I notice the time discrepancy? Nope. My hair is going to be pretty shaggy by the time my rescheduled appointment occurs. So that's weird thing number one.

We have been using Lee's nifty little iPhone as our gps, but something strange was going on. The sound wasn't working and we couldn't figure out why. Between messing with the sound and the navigator not paying attention at a crucial juncture, we missed our turn onto I-84, and continue west on I-90. We would have eventually gotten back on track but it was out of the way, plus we ran into traffic from an accident, so we decided to take the back roads.

This was both good and bad. It got us out of the traffic jam and headed back in the right direction, but we ended up with about 30 miles of 25 mph roads. Yes, they were your typical darling New England towns, but we wanted to get to New York before dark. We also figured out that if we unplugged Lee's phone from the auxiliary power the sound would work. Weird thing number two.

Finally we made it to our hotel. We took Harper for a little walk to a nearby dog park and watched her gleefully chase balls. Back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, but all of a sudden we realized that Harper's paw was bleeding, all over the white hotel room bedspread! This is where having a neatnik husband really comes in handy. While I purposefully worried about Harper's foot, Lee inspected her paw (just a small cut between two toes), and cleaned up the blood. We watched to make sure the bleeding had stopped and she wasn't limping, and then left for dinner. Weird thing number three.

Lee had chosen a sushi restaurant down in TriBeCa. Our hotel was at 11th Ave and 48th Street, but it didn't take too long to get there. But when we talked to our matre di, they had no record of our reservation! This was REALLY strange, because some restaurant had just called Lee to confirm. Fortunately he was able to call the confirmation number and figure out where he had actually made the reservation. Apparently when he was doing his sushi research he was debating between several different restaurants and just got his phone numbers confused.

Unfortunately the restaurant where we actually had the reservation was on the east side, at 401 73rd St. So what's another $20 cab ride? At least they were willing to hold our reservation. Weird thing number four.

Once we got there, it turned out to be a tiny Japanese restaurant. We sat at our little table, ordered saki, and let the server know if there was anything we didn't eat. This restaurant operated on the principle of omakase, which basically means chef's choice. They would bring us the sushi and we would eat it, with no decisions necessary. I told them I didn't like sea urchin, and Lee said he didn't like salmon. That was it.

The sushi was really, REALLY good. It was some of the best sushi I've had since the Tsujiki Fish Market in Japan, and that's really saying a lot. There was also a lot of it. We watched the table next to us, since they were a little ahead of us, hoping that we would get to the end of the meal before we exploded.

I was sitting with my back to the rest of the restaurant. The single aisle for the servers to pass was right behind my seat. Suddenly there was a crash and searingly hot liquid poured down my back! I screamed and frantically plucked my now very hot and damp sweater and shirt away from my back. A server had just spilled hot tea down my back!

The restaurant was silent, the other patrons stricken and shocked. I whispered to Lee that I really wanted to remove my shirt. The staff must of heard me as they quickly ushered me to the bathroom and handed me a stack of icy cold towels. I considered later that it must be standard issue for a restaurant to keep damp towels in the freezer, since burns are probably fairly common in a restaurant kitchen.

I quickly removed my sweater and shirt and applied the towels to my back. My back was red, like from a sunburn, but the towels really helped. Fortunately my outfit was black, and although it was damp the stains didn't show. I kept applying the towels as the pain gradually subsided. No blisters, and I really wanted to finish my meal. A little sheepishly I returned to my seat.

Our server apologized profusely and immediately told us our dinner was on the house. He hadn't been the one that spilled the tea. The other server had disappeared, and didn't show up again for the remainder of our visit. Poor guy. Since they were all Japanese he probably had to go into the back and kill himself.

My back hurt some, but the sushi was still delicious, so we finished our meal without further mishap. As we left the restaurant the manager came out into the vestibule, apologized yet again, and handed me an envelope. I asked for their card, in case I ended up at the doctor's or my sweater was ruined. In the cab on the way back to the hotel I opened the envelope to find a $100 bill! I could hear them pleading "please don't sue us"! But I'm not the suing type, and really no long term harm done. We will probably go back there again, but I think I'll sit with my back to the wall next time! This definitely qualifies as weird thing number five.

In the morning I went for a nice run along the Hudson and then we went to look at the boats. The first one was not in good enough shape for us, but the other two had things we liked even though neither one was "it". For those of you with some boat knowledge, we are looking at 10-20 year old Erikson or C&C 38's. Sometime in the next year we'll probably find the right boat, and my husband will be a happy sailboat owner again.

We made the drive back to New Hampshire without further incident. We were both really tired. Although its only a 4 hour drive, it had been an adventure-filled weekend. I guess we were feeling our age.

Friday, April 6, 2012

League of Women Voters Day at the Legislature

When I lived in Hong Kong, I became active in the Hong Kong Chapter of the League of Women Voters. It wasn't a very large chapter, but we had interesting activities, including speakers and tours of things like the Hong Kong Landfill and the Executive Council. And since it was 2008 we ran Election Central, which was a place for Americans to gather and watch the election results. It was also a chance for Hong Kongers to watch democracy in action. It was a lot of fun.

When I returned to the US I started to become active in the Austin LWV Chapter, but we moved again fairly quickly. I joined the New Hampshire LWV, but there isn't a local chapter in Salem, and I had in my head that Concord and the other chapters farther north were very far away.

But this week I decided to take a chance. After all the signs on highway said Concord was only 30 miles away. It was time to check out the capital of my new state.

The LWV members were very friendly and welcoming. The purpose of this event was for members to get an opportunity to observe the legislature in action. The New Hampshire House of Representatives is unique. It has 400 members. They all serve 2 year terms, for a salary of $100 a year. Each district could have 4 or 5 representatives.

It was a committee day, and the committee meetings were open to the public. The League had selected a variety of bills that they thought would be of interest to the members, and we all selected which bill we wanted to observe. I asked to watch the Criminal Justice Committee debate the sentencing for something called the "Women's Right to Know" act. The bill required health care providers to read a particular script to women that wanted an abortion. It mandated a 24 hour waiting period between the script reading and the abortion. That part of the bill wasn't being discussed. At the last minute, however, someone had added an amendment to the bill making the penalty for not reading this script a felony. That WAS being discussed by this committee.

We walked over to the state house, a charming classic building with a gold dome, maybe a quarter of the size of the capital building in Austin. We walked right in to the main lobby, where there was absolutely NO security! No policemen, no metal detectors, nothing. Yes, one of the members informed me, it is completely legal to bring a gun into the New Hampshire state house.

We went up to the second floor, found the room where the committee was meeting, and claimed our seats. It was pretty crowded. There were 16 committee members, plus members of the press, lobbyists, and concerned citizens like us, all waiting impatiently for the committee to begin.

What followed was absolutely fascinating. I would say that most members of the committee thought making this a felony was a very bad idea, regardless of how they felt about abortion. But what they wanted to do about it varied wildly, and didn't necessarily adhere to what side of the issue they were on.

Some members wanted to let the amendment stand, and let the bill go on to the senate. Not because they thought it was a good bill, but because they thought that then the Senate and the Governor would almost certainly defeat the bill completely. Other members wanted to simply remove the felony, because then the bill would be more likely to pass. And some members contemplated submitted the bill to a study committee, because that was sometimes a good way to let a bill die.

The committee was overall very calm and judicious in their discussions. Several people from the public spoke before the committee; a leader of Planned Parenthood, a Women's Health advocate, an anti-abortion activist (naturally, that person was male). Some members of the committee tried to steer the discussion toward issues like "when does life begin" but by and large the committee chair made sure the topic remained focused on whether a felony was an appropriate penalty for this bill.

The committee ended up voting 8-7 to remove the felony punishment, and send the bill back to the House. I have no doubt this bill will undergo many more gyrations as it wends its way through the New Hampshire legislature and makes its way to the governor's desk.

At the end of the day I reviewed the party affiliation of the different committee members. The member that was most stridently pro-life, and tried to steer the discussion toward where life begins? A Democrat. The committee chair, that said quite frankly "this is a bad bill and the only reason it made it this far is that we don't have enough women in the legislature"? A woman, and a Republican. I love this state!


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