Armenia Without The Plane Trip

Maybe you knew that sumac is an edible spice.  I only learned this recently, and I just ate some.  (Disclaimer: I bet you can’t go and pick the sumac off the tree in your backyard and roast it.  But then again, maybe you can….my friend Lauren cooks with grape leaves she picks from a parking lot near her house.)IMG_4177


Seta’s Cafe, Belmont

Seta’s Cafe opened in 2013 on Belmont Avenue in Belmont (right on the border of Watertown), and although I’ve only had one dining experience there, I’m already planning my return trip. Lunch today was Luleh Khorovats, which is ground lamb and beef, grilled with onion and spices (yes, sumac), served on homemade lavash bread.  Seta serves brunch, lunch and dinner, and caters.  This is an accessible place: parking lot behind the restaurant, ramped door, space between tables, room to place your order, and an accessible bathroom.  I must return soon for brunch, because I cannot resist the allure of Foul Mudamas.  (Isn’t language a beautiful thing?)IMG_4169

To round out your dining experience, you could visit the nearby Armenian Library and Museum of America (review coming next week).   Tickets are on sale now for “Women of Ararat,” at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown on March 28th and March 29th.  “Woman of Ararat” is a love story of a young couple, William and Julie, which also tells the story of Julie’s family, four generations of Armenian women living in Watertown.  Later this spring is a centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide:   on April 23rd, Trinity Church hosts a memorial service and on April 24th, there will be a procession leaving from the Massachusetts State House to Armenian Heritage Park.


The Labyrinth, Armenian Heritage Park, Boston, MA

Side note: I had no idea where the Armenian Heritage Park is, but I found out and look forward to going.  With Marianne.  Just as soon as the ice and snow melt.   It’s on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway (the website claims the Greenway is fully accessible), near Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Christopher Columbus Park.  World Labyrinth Day on May 2 might be a good time to visit, as the labyrinth looks beautiful and accessible.

In “About Us” on her website, Seta says “My baba (my father)…..would hand me a piece of the dough and say ” This is what the dough should feel like once it’s done” and so I learned to bake bread my grandfather made at his bakery in the Armenian Quarters in Jerusalem.”

I’d say she learned well.   Dining at Seta’s cafe is an inviting, and accessible, first step into Armenian culture.

The (New And Improved) Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Art Museums, courtesy of their website

Harvard Art Museums, courtesy of their website

The new museums on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, MA, are beautifully accessible in many ways.

IMG_3403Formerly in three separate museums, Harvard’s works of art are now collected in one recently renovated space called the Harvard Art Museums.  My subway trip took me an hour (just as the MBTA trip planner said it would).  The Harvard Square stop on the Red Line is accessible, as is the path through Harvard’s campus to get to the new museum.    Were you to drive in, beware that parking is costly.

For Cambridge residents, entrance to the museum is free.  It is free on Saturdays for Massachusetts residents from 10 am to noon.  An adult pays  $15 to get into the museum.

IMG_3450There is a small (um, rather expensive) cafe, Jenny’s Cafe, in the lobby with accessible seating in the courtyard.

IMG_3426I spent about two hours looking, perhaps, at the architecture as much as the works of art.  Three separate, historic, museums (the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger, and the Sackler) have now been united with glass, steel and cedar.  The museums do have a wonderfully presented collection of early American portraits (my favorite is Joseph-Siffred Duplessis’ Benjamin Franklin, with his gorgeous, basset-hound eyes;  a close second being John Singleton Copley’s dignified old Yankee, Sarah Morecock Boylston).  The Busch-Reissner Museum (originally the “Germanic museum”) has a significant collection of German expressionism and materials related to the Bauhaus.  Don’t miss the lightbox gallery on the top floor, which has a digital play on the museum’s holdings.

Having poured over many and many a website looking for accessibility info, I have to give the Harvard Art Museums a giant shout-out for a truly “accessible” statement on accessibility on their website.  In general, I find their website masterful in that it is easy to navigate and it has succinct information.  You can also access the  on-line directory of the museum’s complete collections from the comfort of your own home, which might tide you over until you can get there in person.IMG_3389

A Potpourri of Accessibility Bad Behavior

Winter is coming, and with it, there will be lots of bad behavior in the Boston area.  I’ll get ahead of the season with an early rant.  Here are some things that make me scratch my head in puzzlement (on a good day) and bring on that fractious feeling (on a not-so-good-day).

Misleading signage.  Like this supposedly ADA-compliant bathroom at the Boston Athanaeum.

Supposedly ADA-compliant bathroom at the Boston Athanaeum

Supposedly ADA-compliant bathroom at the Boston Athanaeum

What is accessible about this bathroom?  I’ll tell you.  Absolutely nothing.  A little baby wheelchair could not even begin to fit in this room.  The lack of grab bars add insult to injury.IMG_0004



The promise of accessibility.  Route 9 in Newton has undergone a transformation over the past year, with shopping opportunities galore.  The plaza that includes Wegman’s has a fully-accessible parking area, complete with more accessible parking spaces than you could want; clear, wide sidewalks; a myriad of curb cuts; and an accessible, pedestrian walkway across Route 9 over to The Mall at Chestnut Hill.  But, oops.   If you use a wheelchair, you hit a full-on dead end…. with all that glittering allure of Bloomie’s just about out of reach.  The developers of both of these malls must have spent tens of millions of dollars designing and building these respective spaces, and they got so so close to getting it right.   They need to finish the job.

The Mall, Chestnut Hill, Newton

The Mall, Chestnut Hill, Newton

The “Now You See It, Now You Don’t” Phenomena.  Here are two examples of perfectly accessible spaces that have been made inaccessible by the placement of pretty things for you to buy (in the Whole Foods case) and trash barrels (Walgreen’s, below).IMG_0005
IMG_0007In both parking lots, there are plenty of spaces, there is good signage, and there are ramps and curb cuts.  In the Whole Foods parking lot though, a wheelchair user must navigate through the parking lot upon exiting the door.  Yes, there are yellow pedestrian lines in the lot, but you take your life in your hands competing with the harried drivers.  It’d be much safer to be able to stay on the sidewalk for as long as possible.  Or hey, maybe just go to Wegman’s, because they are an ADA-compliant dream.

And in the “What Were They Thinking?” category we have the Atria, a big assisted living facility in Quincy, with three designated handicapped-parking spaces.  Yup, three, for a facility which serves a population with the median age of about 87.  In the five years in which we have been visiting my aunt there on a regular basis, I think Marianne and I have scored the designated handicap-accessible spot exactly four times.  We have A LOT of competition for these three spots.  And to top it all of, there is no curb cut for the Outback, where we usually wind up parking.  What were they thinking?

Atria Marina Bay, Quincy

Atria Marina Bay, Quincy

Maybe they weren’t.  And that’s my point:  please think outside the box and consider the needs of all your visitors, whether they be wheeling a chair, pushing a carriage, navigating with a walker or a cane, or lugging along an oxygen tank.   We’re everywhere.

Some Peace And Quiet In Cambridge

Hushed footsteps on marble floor, soft murmurs among the wooden pews, dim light reflecting a simple space.  Morning service at the Monastery of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (a monastic community of the Episcopal Church) can set the tone for the day, and the chapel is beautifully accessible.  Street parking along Memorial Drive, at least at 7:30 am on a Saturday morning, was not a problem.  Here’s the worship schedule.  The chapel is open all day, and the monks lead five prayer services daily, including late-night Compline.

All are welcome.  It’s worth a visit, if you are so inclined.IMG_3252

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.)


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.


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

Slide, Switch, Pull: Lessons from a Saori Weaver

IMG_4212Our SAORI teacher sounds a lot like Marianne’s yoga guru (Diane of  Yoga teaches the power of repetition to center a busy mind: Sa, Ta, Na, Ma. Mihoko introduces us to the SAORI mantra: slide, switch, pull.  There is something undeniably meditative about this contemporary, Zen-based, art form from Japan.  SAORI weaving is a truly accessible art. IMG_4240Slide, switch, pull, we murmur to ourselves, as we thread our soft and silky, sometimes scratchy, yarns on the loom.  Spools of varying hues and textures surround us on bookshelves and in baskets.  We sit immersed at our shuttles, while the bobbin gently thrums and thwaps, and the wooden frame clicks.   Silenced for two hours, we are wrapped in our cocoons of texture, sound and color.  Sometimes, a happy choice must be made;  we rise to choose from the shelves or pick from the basket at our side.  Shiny red cotton, a bumpy nub of mossy-green wool, or a surprise texture like the twig we found on the pathway or the discarded bit of orange twine?  Back to work…..and to create. IMG_4262Marianne, her friend and I spent a companionably quiet morning in this still workshop in Worcester, learning to weave,  following our own artistic imperative, being at peace.  SAORI looms are adapted to make it possible for people with physical disabilities to weave, and there is something so centering about this experience that I imagine it would benefit those of us with ADHD or sensory integration challenges too.  . “A mistake is a happy accident” says Mihoko, and in fact, practitioners of SAORI weaving welcome the unexpected.  Which many of us who live with different abilities can tell you is a good thing:  things don’t always turn out the way one expects if your hands aren’t following your brain’s orders, or you’re doing a two-handed skill with one hand, or you were too distracted to listen to more than one or two steps of the directions. IMG_4239Saori Worcester is a wheelchair-accessible venue.  Mihoko teaches trial classes or you can sign up for a basic course (6 weeks) or advanced (12 weeks). Class times vary.  Pre-registration is required.   Whether you’re product-oriented (think clothes, bags, toys, cushions) or about the flow, it’s worth a try.  And a shout-out to Janelle and Sato, who told us about it in the first place!IMG_4267