One Tip For A Stress-Free Halloween This Year

For years, the prelude to Halloween filled me with a quietly rising desperation.  As my neighbors gleefully decorated – and then decorated some more – for The Big Night, my kids began the litany of “when will we decorate, mom?” and “when will we put our costumes together?” and then again, “can we get cool decorations like them, mom?”

To be clear, I love Halloween.  I just never quite felt up to the task of meeting three kids’ excitement levels, which rose exponentially from the time they got home from school at 3 pm until the moment we began our sojourn of begging at just-before-sunset.  The rigors of trick or treating in a wheelchair, on barely-lit streets and root-churned sidewalks, are left to your imagination, but I will say that it was tricky (pun intended).

Even now, when I have no excuse for slacking off in preparation for The Night Kids Love, here is what my front door looks like the day before Halloween:  DSC03610

My neighbors, on the other hand, have been hard at work for weeks:



DSC03615My husband will be home at 9 pm tonight, just in time to throw together something festive. Thankfully, my kids no longer need my costume help or a chaperone.  I am free to relax at home on Halloween, greeting the slightly tense but oh-so-brave witches and monsters who ring my doorbell.

Even better?  Halloween is on a Friday night this year, so I stocked up on some pumpkin-flavored beer at our local Craft Beer Cellar – because it’s about time the adults around here took back Halloween (and take note, Keene, NH Pumpkin Festive Ruiners, we will do so responsibly!).


Craft Beer Cellar, Centre Street, Newton MA


Our local Craft Beer Cellar is fully wheelchair-accessible, with great ADA parking right out the back door.  They’ll even put together a selection for you and deliver to your house!  Plus, the sales guys are really into their beer and actually seemed to want to know what we thought of their selections, once they’ve all been tried out.

And don’t worry kids, I might have lame Halloween decorations, but I buy good candy.


Making Yelp More Accessible

IMG_4186Just entered my first restaurant review for Able Road, a website that aims to provide accessible information for anything about which you might write a Yelp review.

One of my pet peeves is how few hotels, restaurants, or other venues include information about accessibility on their website.  How hard is it, really, to add this information to the “hours and directions” tab on the menu bar?  The same goes for many guide books.

But then again, I guess I wouldn’t be writing this blog if including accessibility information was de rigueur.Marianne from Back

(In case you’re curious, the review was for a great breakfast place called Craig’s Cafe in Quincy Center.  My party and I can speak highly for the breakfast burritos and eggs benedict;  plus, what’s not to like about free coffee refills?   There is easy street parking, the front door is accessible, and the main cafe has wide aisles.  The fly in the ointment?  The bathroom is not only NOT accessible, but one must duck and weave through the kitchen and skid across the greasy floor to get to it.  Maybe go for the burrito but definitely don’t go to the bathroom while you’re there.)


Massachusetts Historical Society: Making History Accessible (If You Can Get There…)

John Adams and John Quincy Adams were members.  So were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  John F. Kennedy was too.

DSC03565Members of what? The Massachusetts Historical Society, which has a scholarly, sombre reading room (in which I know that even I could pen a masterpiece) and a research room (from which David McCullough and Nathaniel Philbrick have gathered information for their literary works).  The Society also offers lunch seminars (many are free and open to the public) and provides enrichment to K-12 history teachers throughout the area.

Recently, I attended Barbara Berenson‘s lecture on how Boston’s abolitionists (think William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, William Cooper Nell, and Frederick Douglass) fueled the flames leading to the Civil War.  Berenson, a compelling Civil War historian and speaker, side-lines as a senior attorney at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  She has written both a guide to the Freedom Trails Walking Tours of Civil War Boston and a book, Boston and the Civil War: Hub of the Second Revolution.  Berenson also leads walking tours – when I take one, I’ll let you know how accessible they are.  In the meantime, she is more than worth listening to, if you are interested in Boston’s Civil War history.

The Historical Society is accessible by outside ramp, although you must be buzzed in to gain entrance).  There is an accessible bathroom on the first floor and an elevator to the exhibits and seminar room on the second floor.  The research and reading rooms on the first floor are accessible.  I’d say parking is the biggest issue here, as it is on the end of Boylston Street near the Fenway (right next door to Berklee College of Music), and the parking garages are spread out.  Sidewalks are plenty wide to accommodate wheelchairs and giant-musical-instrument-toting scholars;  there are ample curb cuts (on most every corner of Mass Ave save one, weirdly) and pedestrian lights (although be prepared to hustle as they’re fast-changing).

If you manage to get this far, then next door, you have your pick of after-research venues in which to look as cool as you possibly can (do bring your cello along), or at least to people-watch: Pavement Coffeehouse and Berklee Book Store, to name but a few.


Don’t take the train though:  the green line stop at Hynes Convention Center is NOT accessible.  According the to the MBTA website, all buses are accessible.   I mapped a trip using  the T’s trip planner, and taking a wheelchair-accessible bus route from Newton Corner to the Hynes Convention Center involves four bus changes and is estimated to take 74 minutes.  I’m not sure what to say about this, except that I probably would only undertake this excursion if I were writing what promised to be a real blockbuster of a book.

Good Lord.  The Massachusetts Historical Society is cool but kinda hard to get to, if you use a wheelchair.  Maybe stick to the Boston Public Library.  At least the T stop has been updated here.


*If you do decide to make the journey, noteworthy upcoming events include:

-“Cocktails with Clio, featuring David Hackett Fischer” (author of Washington’s Crossing, a must-read for Revolutionary War fans) although, um, I just realized how expensive this is. I guess Fischer is a big deal.

– “Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England” with Colin Hirsch; our ancestors were serious tipplers. This one is free. There’s probably no food, no drink, and no Fischer.

– “Making History: King Philip’s War” – hey, Natick residents, this one’s for you.

– “Water Rights in the American Southwest” – I don’t know what you think, but I think this is a prescient topic.

– “So Sudden an Alteration: The Causes, Course & Consequences of the American Revolution” in recognition of the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act

Read This, Skip That: Adams National Historical Park, MA


copy of Ben Franklin’s woodcut representing the American colonies cut into 8 pieces

John Adams left quite a legacy.  Our second president devoted his working life to the ideals of democracy, and his descendants (including their wives and daughters) carried on his work as diplomats, politicians, writers, and historians.

The birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams (6th president) are the first stops on the Adams National Historical Park tour, which leaves by trolley from the national park visitor center on 1250 Hancock Street – but beware, it’s surprisingly hard to find the entrance.DSC03335The visitor center has one accessible entrance from Hancock Street and although small, has an informative 30-minute documentary (and an accessible bathroom).   The trolley is not wheelchair- accessible (despite the fact that it says it is in the National Park Service (NPS) brochure);  arrangements can be made in advance with the park rangers to follow in your car.  The two birthplace homes were built in the late 1600’s and are not accessible to power wheelchairs.  Rangers can make accommodations by ramp for small (really, really small) manual chairs or walkers.DSC03341

DSC03357“Peace field” is the third house on the tour;  John and Abigail Adams purchased this farm, not far from their old homesteads, and retired here to farm their 75 acres.  Six acres, a brightly-flowering garden (with original box hedge!) and a genteel home remain; but only the barn is power-chair accessible.  It might be worth taking in some programs at the barn just to soak in the ambiance of the estate;  even now, with the city of Quincy growing, bustling and motoring on all sides, there is a sense of escape once you enter through the gates.DSC03346

Marianne took a pass on this tour, and I would encourage other power-wheeclhair users to do the same. The homes are doorways to another time, and the Revolutionary War era comes to life within their walls but the late 1600’s were not a wheelchair-friendly time in architecture.  I’d suggest watching the HBO documentary “John Adams” (starring Laura Linney) or reading David McCullough’s historical novel, John Adams for a dose of the Adams family in the comfort of your own home.


The NPS does much that it can to accommodate the needs of wheelchair-users. I do not expect the government to retrofit these antique saltbox houses – an amendment which would substantially change the nature of the historic places – to accommodate power chairs.  To see the cramped nature of the few rooms, the low and dark doorway lintels, the utter simplicity of furnishings, and the cracks through the uninsulated walls is to begin to imagine what it was like to raise a family, carve out a life, and imagine a revolution.

I do expect the City of Boston to create ADA-conforming ramps and curb cuts to sidewalks, even in historic neighborhoods of Boston.  (See Laura McTaggart’s Cognoscenti article here on challenges by historic committees to pedestrian accessibility.)  It is the 21st century, and bicycles, skateboards, baby carriages, wheelchairs, walkers and canes all travel these streets now on their normal course of daily life.  To take a page from the revolutionaries:  don’t tread on our rights!

A Little Ottolenghi


Za-atar, saffron threads, harissa and sumac are definitely not ingredients that featured prominently in my childhood meals.  Meat and potatos (and the smelly canned green peas which pleased only my father) graced our dinner table.

I am still surprised that I, a most famously picky eater as a child, would yearn for the foods that Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi present in their gorgeous cookbooks, Plenty and Jerusalem, which feature a riotous, delicious fusion of Syrian, Turkish, Lebanese, Iranian, Israeli and Armenian foods.   In search of ingredients, I found Sofra Bakery and Eastern Lamejun Bakery, in the nearby Belmont/Cambridge area.  A half mile separates the two food stores, and both carry many of the same staples one needs for Middle Eastern cooking, but Eastern Lamejun is by far the more accessible.

IMG_3229It’s too bad, because Sofra has the added benefit of serving delicious breakfasts, lunches and take-out food, including their home-made sauces and baked desserts.  Although technically wheelchair-accessible (there is a ramp, the door is wide enough for electric chair entry and there is an accessible bathroom), the owners have placed bars in the middle of the room (the better to display wares and for stand-up dining) so that there is no true wheelchair access.  The path to the bathroom is further blocked by a long couch and low tables and chairs, so you would inconvenience about 1/2 dozen diners if you were to seek passage.  There is one table that is of the right height for a wheelchair, but it is wedged into a corner…and so, not truly accessible.

The interior is inviting, rich colors and hand-painted menus draw your eye, as do the stacks and piles of exotic looking prepared foods, spice packages and jarred delicacies, daily mezze plates… but you’re better off making a phone call and seeing if they’ll deliver to your car (there is a handicap spot directly out in front of the store).

IMG_3230Eastern Lamejun, an Armenian bakery, makes their own pita bread and hummus (the Arev brand), which are both exceptional.  My friends and I make special pilgrimages there monthly for sfeeha (Lebanese meat pies) and other Middle Eastern staples on the prepared food shelves.  All the spices, nuts, beans and grains you require to work magic in your kitchen are here.  In contrast to Sofra’s studied atmosphere, this bakery is all business.  The food is every bit as enticing, but there are no attempts to lure you in;  I imagine the shoppers here know what they want, how much it should cost, and seek to transact their business efficiently (maybe exchanging courtesies with the lovely Arabic-speaking ladies behind the counter).

Two very different places.  Both alluring, both stocked with most of your Middle Eastern cooking needs.  Only one is truly open to the wheelchair-traveller.

IMG_3214TBW has to ask:  Is Sofra’s ramp just for show? Why bother inviting a wheelchair traveller in to your store, only to place significant barriers at every turn?  I think I prefer no accessibility at all to faux accessibility.


More Tea, Please

DSC03386Where can you enjoy a scrumptious tea AND view an ancient cuneiform tablet?

The Boston Public Library’s main branch, that’s where.


The McKim Building of the Boston Public Library was built in 1848 and has been named a National Historic Landmark. These cloisters surround the garden.

Marianne and I enjoyed the best tea yet (we’ve been sampling; see here) at the library’s Courtyard Restaurant.  At $32 for full tea (that includes sandwiches and desserts), this is more or less on a par with the other high teas we’ve encountered in the Boston area, but the food is a solid 4 out of 5 (which out-ranks The Langham and Rowe’s Wharf, in our book).   I will admit that a menu list that includes assam tea (as this one did) merits extra points from me.  Assam, used in Irish Breakfast Tea, is rich and malty and welcomes a cube of sugar and splash of milk.   Ideal for mid-afternoon tea breaks.  But I digress.

The wait staff were attentive and responsive, and Marianne scored more macaroons for the road when we complimented the chef on their delicious-ness.  The marble windowsills, black iron window grates (is that a gargoyle peering at me?), heavy candles squatting under over-sized bell covers, and black-and-white historical photos gracing the walls give off a kind, warm, and gothic sensibility.  Enchantment.  I can’t think of a better place to lose myself with a book for an hour.DSC03384

DSC03441If you take the T and use a wheelchair, there is an accessible stop at the library, and the Johnson building entrance, on Boylston Street, is accessible.  It’s best to look at a map before you go, so that you identify workable entrances.  It’s a big building to circumnavigate if you don’t have to do so.  It’s also old, so be prepared for creaky lifts (or, as Marianne more aptly stated, “creepy” lifts).

DSC03367I can’t help you if you drive.  I parked in what might be the city’s most expensive garage (the Copley Square garage) because I could see the library from there, and I identified the curb cuts and walk lights we needed.  There were a lot – really, a lot –  of handicap parking spaces near the library but they were all taken.  I found that somewhat suspect, but that’s an article for another day.

DSC03405The Leventhal Map Center at the library is accessible, and although small, has beautiful images and is near the Courtyard Cafe.  The museum has published a virtual brochure called Walk To The Sea, showing how Boston doubled over the centuries.

DSC03417The Special Collections Room, on the third floor, is accessible by elevator.  The librarian we encountered is a treasure trove of information.  You must call or email in advance if you wish to see something from the special collection – George Washington’s Congressional medal perhaps? – but just standing amidst John Adams’ personal letters and books can be thrilling enough (Marianne might argue this statement).DSC03415

The marionette collection, housed in an enclave right near the Special Collections Room, is a small but chilly family you don’t want to miss.DSC03434DSC03423DSC03426

Still need one more reason to visit the library?  The main branch, as well as many others (like the Newton Public Library), offers museum passes.  You have to call in advance to reserve the passes.    Like me, you might find some interesting places to explore in the winter months ahead.   The Griffin Museum of Photography, anyone?

View from Boston Public Library's 3rd floor

View from Boston Public Library’s 3rd floor


Having Tea in Boston

DSC03386Boston, MA has a long history with England, as you most likely know.   Although we freed ourselves from her rule over 200 years ago, we have kept some of our legacy from across the pond, most notably perhaps, our predilection for tea (notwithstanding our equal and abiding love for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee).

This past summer, Marianne and I set to work reviewing high tea venues in Boston.  It’s hard work, but someone’s got to do it.

DSC03244Tea at The Reserve at The Langham Hotel is an elegant affair, served in a small, modern area off the main lobby, with ample space for a wheelchair to maneuver.  Tea is served between 2-7 pm, which makes it easy to meet friends after work for something other than a drink (although they do serve a champagne tea, too, should you so desire).   I found my tea weak, and I thought the selection was lacking.  $34 does get you a fairly good selection of sandwiches, very good scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, and desserts, as well as a pot of tea.  I’d give the food a solid 3.5 out of 5, 5 being the best.  The restroom had big heavy push doors (no electric door openers).  Moreover, the wheelchair-accessible stall was tight and awkward, although technically, it worked (except for the trash barrel, which was short and was opened by stepping on a foot pedal – not helpful if you use a chair).  If you enter from Franklin Street, there are handicap-accessible electric door buttons.  Parking is by valet, and the doorman was kind enough to let me leave my minivan right by the other hotel entrance.  Again however, as in the bathroom, the doors  are big and heavy – and have no electric openers.  You’re not far (less than .5 mile) from Faneuil Hall and their Boston National Historical Park’s Visitor Center, should you decide to make a day of it.

A late-summer afternoon tea at Rowe’s Wharf is a treat.  Tea is served at 2:30 pm inside, although we ordered ahead and my husband was able to eat what he described as one of the best lobster rolls he’s ever had (high praise coming from a connoisseur years in the making), while Marianne and I sampled the tea.  The price tag is steep, at $39, and I’d say the sandwiches, scones and desserts are on a par with the The Langham Hotel (so a rating of 3.5 out of 5).  Fairly predictable, except that Rowe’s Wharf tea does include a lobster pastry – nice twist on the seaside theme.  The waitress and valet actually bumped the experience up quite a few notches:  they both went out of their way to make Marianne’s experience pleasant, from letting us park near the fancy Maserati and Mercedes out front to personally escorting us to the handicap-accessible bathroom.  (As at The Langham, there were no electric door buttons for those using wheelchairs, but at least the bathroom was spacious.)  Another plus is that before or after lunch, you can roll and stroll for miles along the Boston Harborwalk (you can download a map here) and check out the New England Aquarium.  The Aquarium can be busy, but it’s a family favorite and we find that you can enjoy quiet visits (call ahead and ask the front desk what they suggest for quiet visiting times).

There’s more tea to sample: The Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library,  the Four Seasons Hotel and The Taj (although I have some trepidation about this venue based on the precious Teddy Bear Tea advertised on the website).  Stay tuned.



Hey Blue Hills, Marianne Is On Her Way

I love to hike, and one of my favorite, close-to-home places is the Skyline Trail in the Blue Hills, a 7,000-acre reservation managed by the DCR (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation) that encompasses Dedham, Milton and Randolph.  Everyone in my family has done it with me…except for Marianne.

But maybe that will change some day.  I am on the look-out for the 2015 release of a documentary called 4 Wheel Bob which chronicles the determination of a guy named Bob to hike the Sierra Nevada Mountain range – in his wheelchair.  You can find out more information on Tal Skloot’s film here.

In the meantime, these images  of Bob’s hike, taken by an accompanying photographer named Ezra Shaw, are truly inspiring.  Northeast Passage is an organization founded by the University of New Hampshire that offers a breadth of adaptive sports for wheelchair-users, including hiking.  For those of us who are not wheelchair-users but perhaps the companions, families, lovers of wheelers, check out this new endeavor:   Mothers of Adventure is a new, Boston-area venture that looks to connect hikers (the Blue Hills, anyone?) looking for local hiking partners.

Blue Hills Reservation with Mothers of Adventure, October 2014

Blue Hills Reservation with Mothers of Adventure, October 2014