One weekend, two museums…what kid wouldn’t love THAT?

Years of parenting have taught me that my kids will tolerate a short stint in a museum if they are promised:   a) candy  b) ice cream or c) decaf coffee (if the kid in question is Marianne).

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Recently, Marianne and I checked out two Boston museums, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA).  The MFA is wondrously, marvellously accessible.  I could spend all day there (Marianne, not so much, and promises of decaf coffee only go so far).

MFA, Boston

MFA, Boston

Many of the interior doors are outfitted with accessible door openers, as are the exterior doors.  There is plenty of clear signage to direct you.  Docents are everywhere, and in our experience, they are extremely helpful;  one even took a picture for me of the two of us!  Bathrooms and water fountains are on every floor, with excellent wheelchair access.  There is an accessible Green Line T stop across the street, and there is decent parking in an outside lot (two caveats:  it is expensive at $10, and that is with the membership discount, and there seem to be only about five ADA parking spaces).  There are multiple venues to have a bite to eat, ranging from the expensive restaurant Bravo on Floor 2 to the serve-yourself cafeteria on the lower level.  There is also a glorified coffee shop on the first floor (Taste cafe) and a more upscale cafe (The New American Cafe) near the Chihuly glass in the museum’s indoor courtyard.  We had a terrible but inexpensive latte at Taste;  I think I’d schedule a little more time and budget for The New American Cafe next time around.

Photograph from "She Who Tells A Story" at the MFA, Boston

Photograph from “She Who Tells A Story” at the MFA, Boston

"She Who Tells A Story" exhibit at the MFA

“She Who Tells A Story” exhibit at the MFA

If John Singer Sargent is your cup of tea, there is an exhibit running at the MFA until January 24, 2014.  Marianne and I skipped it in favor of “She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World.”  The title describes it, but you really have to see it for yourself (showing through January 12, 2014).  I can’t recommend this exhibit enough;  it’s thought-provoking, mesmerizing, disturbing, and more.   (Note:  there is a curator talk on Thursday, December 19th from 6:30 to 7:30 pm in Remis Auditorium; tickets on sale as of November 21st)

Hippie Chic exhibit at MFA, Boston

Hippie Chic exhibit at MFA, Boston

We also visited the Hippie Chic exhibit (all clothes from the 70’s) and Think Pink (small exhibit that explores the significance of the color pink throughout history).  Interesting, but I’d skip these two exhibits next time and spend all my time with the photographers in “She Who Tells A Story.”

I used to be able to get guest passes for the MFA at our local library;  if that doesn’t work, single admission is $25 (7-17 are free after 3 pm on weekdays and on weekends).  I bought a membership at the supporter level for $75 which gives me and my children (17 and under) free admission for the year, plus a discount on parking and at the gift shop. That’s two more visits, kids!

Chihuly sculpture and The New American Cafe space at the MFA, Boston

Chihuly sculpture and The New American Cafe space at the MFA, Boston

In my experience, weekends are crazy busy at the MFA.  If you can get there late afternoon, say an hour and a half before closing on a weekday, it’s quiet.  Wednesday through Friday night they are open until 9:45 pm, which might also be a promising time to visit.  And if you’re over 21, you can enjoy a glass of wine at either The New American Cafe or Taste, the coffee shop on Floor One that doubles as a wine bar!

The Harborwalk, Boston, near the Institute for Contemporary Art

The Harborwalk, Boston, near the Institute for Contemporary Art

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) has beautiful, industrial space and has the advantage of sitting on the Boston harbor, with the Harborwalk running alongside and beyond.  The Harborwalk will remain a separate adventure – and blog post.  Suffice it to say, for now, that there are almost 40 miles of pathway and many segments are ADA-compliant.  Of course, the big question is: which sections aren’t?!  I’ll let you know.

Amy Sillman's exhibit, "one lump or two" at the ICA, Boston

Amy Sillman’s exhibit, “one lump or two” at the ICA, Boston

Amy Sillman’s exhibit “one lump or two” is on exhibit now through January 5, 2014.  I appreciate her use of color in the abstract pieces, but it’s the faces she creates that I love.  That alone is worth the price of admission to me ($15 for an adult, kids 17 and under are free; Thursday nights all are free from 5 to 9 pm).  The other space I appreciate at the ICA is the media lab, which looks out over the harbor as though through a camera viewfinder, and which has computer resources for researching contemporary art, artists or exhibits at the ICA.  The top level is accessible, and has two accessible computers, but the other three or four levels in the lab are not.  There is a kid-friendly (and teenager/wheelchair-friendly) art space on the first floor with ongoing projects for kids and teens.

The downside to the ICA:  the only parking, really, is at a public lot that charges $15/day.  The parking lot is in rough shape, and the wheelchair access through a gate doubles as a parking spot….so you have to hope that the car parked in the spot has left enough room not only for a thin person but also for a wheelchair or carriage.  Seems wrong to put the spot there, somehow.

The Bee's Knees Supply Company, Farnsworth Street, Boston

The Bee’s Knees Supply Company, Farnsworth Street, Boston

We walked and motored to the Bee’s Knees Supply Company for an early dinner.  The Bee’s Knees has a little bit of everything:  deli, sit-down cafe with great pizza and salad, wine story, charcuterie – in short, a gourmet grocery store, with in-store light dining.  The real reason we braved the sidewalks (see photos – ARGHH!):  the salted caramel ice cream.  Oh joy!  Oh rapture!  We’d brave these sidewalks again for that ice cream.  Our friend thought the pumpkin latte (seasonal, I am sure) was also de-lish.

Teeny tiny sidewalk space near Sleeper Street, Boston

Teeny tiny sidewalk space near Sleeper Street, Boston

But don’t wheel there, as we did, from the ICA.  Yikes.  The whole area around the ICA is still very much a work-in-progress, and the sidewalks are in terrible shape with potholes and sporadic curb cuts.  There are not enough crosswalks either.  The side streets around Sleeper Street, where the Bee’s Knees Supply Company is, are even worse.  The sidewalks are not always wide enough and there are holes galore.  Go there for sure, but not on foot or wheelchair from the ICA!


No horsing around or monkey business, just a great book about helper animals

When I was about 8 years old, I started the campaign for a pet: what I desired above all else was a horse.  (Although it’s true, I had never ridden one, I had read many fairy tales and books about horses and considered myself quite knowledgeable on all things horse-y.)   I had the perfect plan: we could convert our garage (which, I reasoned, we didn’t use anyway), and the horse could graze in the backyard.  Perfect.

From my adult vantage point, I can see now that a) the garage was so small that a minivan wouldn’t fit in it, much less a horse, and that b) the back yard of our home, in a densely-populated Boston neighborhood, was about the same square footage as the garage.

Pet number 2 on my relentless quest: a monkey!  Surely there can be no objections to a monkey pet? It could stay in my room.  Perfect.  Right, Mom and Dad?

It wasn’t to be.

But when my daughter Marianne was in fifth grade, a guy named Ned Campbell came to speak to her class in Newton.  Ned had a terrible car accident in his early 20’s that left him a quadriplegic with brain injuries.  He came to Marianne’s class with his helper monkey, Kasey, and his mom Ellen.  Ellen wrote a book, Kasey to the Rescue, about how Kasey’s companionship helped Ned through the depression he felt as a result of his injuries.

Kasey to the Rescue, by Ellen Rogers

Kasey to the Rescue, by Ellen Rogers

Marianne and I got to know Ned, his mom and Kasey better, and we even had a chance to meet Kasey at home with Ned.  I will say:  having a monkey, even a highly-trained helper monkey, isn’t quite the fantasy I had nurtured for so long.  It’s a lot of work, and caring for a monkey requires consistent commitment to its needs and a willingness to be alpha for it.  They are not playthings.  My childhood dreams have really taken a beating.

If you read Ellen’s book or hear her and Ned speak, you will see the impact Kasey has made on their lives.  To see Kasey with Ned, you know that all the work that goes into her care and training is worth it:  she curls up on his neck, nuzzles in under his chin and strokes him with her beautiful little hands.  She loves him, and he her.  Check it out:  Ned and Kasey were featured in USA Weekend magazine.

IMG_1883Helping Hands is the organization in Boston that trains capuchin monkeys to work with those with spinal cord injuries or other mobility challenges.  They spoke at the National Abilities Expo in Boston this past fall, and I imagine will be back for the 2014 expo.  Their website is informative, especially the video on it called Imagine a Monkey under the tab “who we serve.”   They love to talk about what they do.  If you think a helper monkey is for you, call them or check out their website.  Maybe Marianne will join the ranks of proud service monkey recipients some day!


The Accessible Home

Looks like the dates are already confirmed for the 2014 National Abilities Expo in Boston:  September 5-7 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.  Admission is free.  If you visit their website, you’ll see what workshops were offered at this year’s expo earlier this fall.

This year’s event was a treasure trove of information.  I was particularly interested in architect Deborah Pierce’s presentation on the book she wrote, The Accessible Home, Designing for All Ages and Abilities, since my husband and I have both renovated an older home for accessibility and then, six years later, built a more fully accessible home from the ground up.  (Pierce interviewed us for the chapter on child-centered homes.)  I wasn’t the only one interested – there was standing room only for her talk and slideshow!

The Accessible Home by Deborah Pierce

The Accessible Home by Deborah Pierce

Pierce compiled 25 case studies of accessible homes for this comprehensive book.  Her goal is to give families who are remodeling their homes a vision, so that they can incorporate accessible features in a harmonious and creative way.  As Deborah says:  “Homeowners are easy prey for a building industry eager to plunk elevator shafts against walls and cut holes in historic porches so that metal ramps can be installed near the front door.  Property values plummet with poorly conceived alterations….”   She goes on to say that she still sees a need for vision in designed or modifying homes for those living with a disability;  she closes that she “wrote this book to take disability out of the closet.”

And I’d say that she did.  I think anyone could find something in this book that resonates for them and looks like someplace they could call home.  The spaces she describes and photographs are thoughtful, warm, inviting, peaceful, and engaging.  None of them shout out “disability here!”  Pierce’s book covers all the bases, whether you are renovating a space or building from scratch, from loft space to second home, for people in wheelchairs to those who want to age-in-place.

I particularly love the chapter on “visitability,” which is the concept that even if you or someone you live with does not have a disability, you consider making your home “visitable”  when building or renovating.  A “visitable” house, in Pierce’s book, is one with an accessible entrance, 32” wide doorways for access to rooms, and an accessible bathroom.     The Council for Disability Awareness compiled statistics (updated July 2913) on disabilities, one of which is that about 1 in 4 of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before retirement.   When you add in aging parents (not to mention the aging baby boom generation, and we know how many of them there are!),  there’s a good chance that at some point, someone you love won’t be able to visit you if the basic accessible, “visitable,” features aren’t in place.

Pierce’s book invites you to sit down with it and dream about your future space, wherever and whenever it comes to pass.   You can buy her book through Taunton Press (it’s $6 more than it is on Amazon, but there’s a feature whereby you can look through the text before committing.)  And please check out her Accessible Home Facebook page!


“We regret to inform you that due to the government shutdown….”


IMG_1957This is one of the many ways a government shutdown hurts.

If you are a traveller with mobility challenges, the National Park Service is a GREAT way to see our country and to learn our history, our geography, and our flora and fauna.  I am passionate about the National Park system in the US.   Just ask my husband and kids, who have spent more time in the Civil War parks in Virginia and Pennsylvania than they care to recount, since I am also deeply interested in the Civil War.  Lucky us!  A two-fer!

When the government reopens, you can hopefully visit the national parks.  (Or is it, “hopefully the government will reopen, and then you can visit the national parks?”)  If you are a US citizen and have a permanent disability, you can get a free pass to all US national parks;  see:

The park that really blew me away this summer was Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming.  It sits astride the Continental Divide and it is so much more than just Old Faithful:  it is high plateau, surrounded by mountains, flowing with rivers, rift by canyons and filled with alpine lakes.

IMG_2643We spent one day driving the lower loop of Yellowstone counter-clockwise (we wanted to end the day with Old Faithful’s almost-every-90-minute eruption).  From West Thumb’s visitor center, we viewed West Thumb Geyser Basin, mudpots and fumaroles hissing away beside a quiet lake.  The boardwalks looked a little flimsy to support a wheelchair (and we were over very thin crust), but the rangers assured me that they hold the 2,000-pound bison that regularly walk through.  Umm, okay then. We gave it a try; and it worked.

IMG_2651IMG_2654The ranger gave us an ADA guide to the entire park, which was thorough and helpful;  we used it to find the right spot (Gull Point) to unpack our pick-a-nick basket (couldn’t resist a little Jellystone reference) along the western shores of Yellowstone Lake. Continued on past the Fishing Bridge and LeHardy’s Rapids to Mud Volcano and Black Dragon’s Caldron – so eerie, all that bubbling going on just underneath your feet!   Not all of this boardwalk area is accessible, but quite a bit of it is.  We relied heavily on that ADA-guide.

We passed through big herds of bison (walking on the road, rolling in the dust, and IMG_2671tramping through the water) in Haydn Valley on our way to Artist’s Point, on the south rim of Yellowstone’s “Grand Canyon” (pretty grand and not to be confused with the other Grand Canyon);  from here you have a gorgeous view of Yellowstone River, and it’s a short drive to the Canyon Village Visitor Center.

Although we had to whizz past the Norris Geyser Basin area and Grand Prismatic Spring in order to make the end-of-the-day  (for us) Old Faithful blow at 6:30 pm, it seems that many of the scenic spots or short walks to geysers, mudpots and fumaroles are wheelchair-accessible (generally the shorter paths).  We made it to Old Faithful, and we even got prime seating up front.  I imagine this is because we were so late in the day!

IMG_2682Yellowstone has so much to offer the slow-walker or wheelchair user:  its myriad pull-outs and short paths invite long days of wandering the roads by car, stopping at your whim to get out or just to watch the wildlife pass you by.   The terrain is beautiful whether you’re hiking it, rolling down a path, or viewing it from your car window.  There are multiple visitor centers (almost always accessible) with ranger programs and tons of information.   With advance planning, you can rent wheelchair-accessible rooms at lodging run by the National Park Service right within the park (although you probably need to plan ahead by at least 6 months).

IMG_2662The current closing of the national park system is one of many ways ordinary Americans (and visitors to our country) are affected by the inability of our government to function smoothly as a democracy.  People come from far and wide to see the range of beauty that America has on display in these parks.  Our national parks and monuments are a shining example of the some of the best things our country has to offer.  I close with a quote from Paul Schullery, a historian and writer who has written deeply on conservation at Yellowstone National Park (from National Geographic’s 6th edition Guide to the National Parks of the United States, page 7).

“..As the science of ecology matured…we began to realize that everything in the park was interrelated.  We seek to save the whole thing, the whole creeping, flying, grazing, preying, photosynthesizing, eroding, raining, erupting, evolving scene.  Call it wildness…or an ecosystem, or whatever you like, it is this entangled collection of processes that we must save.  That means many things, some of which haven’t been easy to hear.  It means that people like me, who love to fish, have to leave enough trout in the streams to feed the otters, pelicans, bears, and other wild fishermen.  It means we don’t pick flowers, or collect rocks, removing them from their place in the natural system.  These great parks…are laboratories or ideas, offering profound lessons in the natural way of things…”

Lessons, I think, that can apply equally to the “creeping, flying…erupting, evolving scene” which is our human world of interactions, both individual and societal.  Everything we do has an impact on something else in our system, our world.

Something to think about, as our legislators seem to so cavalierly propel us from government shutdown to looming default on our national debt.


“I’ll only be here a minute….”

Look at this carefully:

Parking violators at an elementary school in MA

Parking violators at an elementary school in MA

The owner of that uber shiny, big, white Mercedes Benz is parked illegally (no placard, no need) in the handicapped spot at an elementary school.  I am at this school every Saturday  during the school year with my daughter for her language class, and I’d say every week there at least two cars parked illegally in the three handicapped spaces.

The Town and Country minivan is parked illegally too.  No placard AND they are partially parked in the hatch marks.  Somehow, it’s the Mercedes that really pushed me over the edge, so I took a picture to show to the administration of the school.  Taking the picture made me feel marginally better, because the driver was sitting behind the wheel.

If it’s one of your peeves, how many times have you approached someone so parked only to be looked at in disbelief or with incredulity.  If the offender even deigns to respond, it’s usually a blithe explanation that “No one needs it right now” or “I’ll only be here for a minute.”

Well, check out this post in the New York Times recently:

Calling out the violator either doesn’t work (in my experience) or could result in their meeting your remarks with aggression.   But the ability to take a picture of the car and license plate, email it to the police station and have them deal with it (even if all they do is issue a warning) would be so satisfying.  At least you can feel like you’ve done something.  This app sounds genius to me.

What do YOU think?