Tag Archives: Celebrations

From housing model to home: five years later.

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Through the grove beside the pasture, a well-worn path now leads down the hill to Home

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and another worn footpath, now the shortcut to Ray, Pete and Brent’s house


In the summer of 2010, we painted the newly rehabbed 4 bedroom house a
forest green. We fenced two acres of pasture and moved in two alpacas, five cashmere goats and a bunch of chickens. Over the next 10 months we got to know eight (yes 8!) pretty cool guys and their families. 

Five years later, and these same eight guys are still around.  There are five guys living here at a time now, here on the Hill.. in two different houses.  All eight of the guys have spent time living with each other here.  Some have left… and returned, left again… or moved to their own apartments, or gone home with family for health reasons. But still… on Wednesdays and birthdays, most of the original 8 guys are together. Celebrating milestones together, working together (well, a little!), going on trips together, hanging out on market day in the Juniper Hill booth together, talking together, eating together, just being good friends… together.

June 2015 Celebrating Patrick's one year anniversary in his own apartment!

June 2015 Celebrating Patrick’s one year anniversary living in his own apartment!

The ease of their interactions is obvious… how sensitive they are to each other’s moods, and how much they care if someone is not having a good day. The support they give to each other, the shared humor, shared food, and shared history.  The brotherly bickering and how quickly it gets resolved. The level of confident independence at which they move through their day … with each other for company and support.

Five years ago, we began as a Housing Model.  We are a family now, and Juniper Hill Farms is a Home. It’s different, and it comes with complications.

For the last five years, the slide below has been the final point made in the Juniper Hill Farms presentations that I’ve done for family groups, housing, or autism organizations.

‘Our goal is to help other families feel capable of creating a living situation like this for their family member’

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Seriously, ‘Our‘ goal?  Wait, let me check with the guys.  Hmmm I don’t think so.

It was, and still is one of MY goals. Learning from these guys about life? It’s still exciting every single day.  I laugh, I get frustrated, I philosophize, I have fun.  Every experience with them shapes the story of how to create a life of ‘inter’dependence and happiness for an adult with autism… a story that will hopefully encourage other families to give it a try. In five years, the learning curve has not leveled off, not in the least. It continues to show the increasing complexity of an independent life with autism, and how rich that life can be for them as well as for everyone around them who is lucky enough to be along for the ride.

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Celebrating Michael’s birthday (really Ray is having fun!)

The guys, however? They now have other interests. And priorities.They really just want to get on with their lives.

We had so many visitors that first year.  We had an open bedroom so that we could welcome interested guys who were looking for more independence and who wanted to see what that felt like for a week or two, or a month or two. Its scary to just make a move… much easier to just test the waters. So just come to Juniper Hill to try it out!  It was a really good idea, at the time.

We also had families and groups of people from related fields visiting to see what we were doing.  The guys were used to strangers coming in and out.

and actually … well, they were strangers as well!

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Check out this year’s new variety… Greenburst!

Brand new to the living situation, we all did the best we could. There were not a lot of established routines that first year… everything was a trial run and we worked out kinks every day.  We learned how to take care of animals and we tried to grow sunflowers. We had dinner together every night, went on fun trips together, argued and worked things out. We became friends with the staff, and with each other. Semi-organized chaos, that first year or two.

Then slowly, things began to change.

First the comfort level, then the trust, began to build.  That’s when everyone started to get their own ideas about things.  They started talking to each other, instead of just to the staff and me.  They made their own plans.

Fast forward five years. It’s now September, 2015!

IMG_4048These days, what we have on ‘the Hill’ is  community.  And we have a home, and a family. It is not that different from most other people’s homes. Everyone here has a life that involves getting out into the wider community every day.. where they work, volunteer, exercise, shop and eat.  Just like most people.  They come home each day and sit around the dinner table and shoot the sh*t. They grab a bowl of ice cream, their IPad, or ‘their’ seat in front of the TV and watch movies.  Or documentaries.  Or animated funny stuff with raunchy jokes. On weekends they sleep late…. hang out with the animals… take care of their home…walk to the creek. Just like most people.

So… what’s the problem?

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yes.. this is the staff schedule in the house.

Try to imagine people showing up in your kitchen at 9 in the morning. Every. Single. Day. 9AM. When you just want to grab a glass of orange juice in your Hello Kitty pajama sweat pants and go back to bed and read a book  (hey, there is more than just one of us with Hello Kitty pajamas..) We love the staff.  Just not always at 9AM.

And how about MEETINGS??  Looking forward to coming home from work in mid-afternoon and taking a nap on the couch?  There are five people who are a part of your housemate’s ‘team’ sitting on it already. YOUR couch, not theirs.

and WEDNESDAYS!!  When our best friends come over,  and our former housemates.  and each person’s staff.  and people doing community service.  and volunteers. and everyone is trying to talk at once and the house is not big enough and people are trying to cook lunch and staff are catching up with each other and both bathrooms are OCCUPIED at the same time and no one really feels like ‘volunteering’ anymore because they just want to hang out. and EAT. No wonder it’s sometimes the day of meltdowns and hiding in bedrooms. But.. we LOVE Wednesdays too. Wednesdays are how we BECAME this community. (and we do get some sunflowers planted…. and watered…).

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Meet Ethan! He came to visit the farm with his parents this summer, and stayed to try it out for a few months. He is now well known as ‘the chicken guy’ at the market. And he is going to settle in with us for the winter, at least!

Families call regularly and ask to visit the farm. There are so many young people on the spectrum who are coming of age and want to have a life independent from their parents.  There are also so many aging parents who wonder what plans to make for their adult child. Farm life sounds good to many of them, and most people want to see it for themselves.

So we are planning better now.  Most meetings can happen at Starbucks (better coffee too), or the supports coordinator’s office, or outside on the picnic table.  (Anyplace but the couch.  Or the kitchen table!)

and visitors.. feel free to come on Wednesdays… we will feed you! and occasionally during the week we will sneak you in when it’s quiet.  Just don’t come on the weekends, that’s pajamas time.

IMG_5363We look ‘bigger’ on the internet… on this blog, our Facebook page, our YouTube and Instagram.  We look ‘bigger’ in pictures.. pictures of sunflowers, and pictures of great food, pictures of our booth at the weekly farmers market, and group photos with our animals and friends.

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5 years later, and the furniture is looking well used. This is where Andy’s heel sits.

Really… we are just a home.  Not so different from yours. It gets kind of confusing  to entertain so much of the time.

and…well…. we don’t always want to dust. That’s all.

See you on…… Wednesdays!

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Yesterday, this black swallowtail butterfly emerged from its cocoon. We have been watching it all week! It seemed like a good metaphor for this post.

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Autism Celebrations, Acceptance, and Community Living

‘There are new rules and guidelines for Home and Community Based Services being drafted that will dictate what type of living and working situations Medicaid dollars will fund for people with disabilities. There is language in the new rules and guidelines that is a threat to the farmstead model. There are disability advocates who believe that farms are by their very nature isolating and that people with disabilities living on a farm will be tantamount to living in an institution…..we at AACORN Farm disagree!’ (Catherine Pinto, founder).   And we at Juniper Hill Farms disagree as well!!

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50 candles on Pete’s birthday cake today!  Yellow cake with buttercream frosting with a banana cream pie on the side, as per Pete’s request that he made LAST week at Andy’s birthday celebration.  25 or so of Pete’s closest friends sang Happy Birthday and cheered as all 50 candles were blown out.  Presents included cans of crab, sardines and oysters as well as doggie treats for Shauna and Pete’s favorite Lemon Ginger Tea.  After cake, we pulled names out of a basket to see who our $5 Secret Santa will be for next week’s holiday party…. And then? Our bellies full of cake and homemade macaroni and cheese, we made the weekly mass exodus off of Juniper Hill for Winter Wednesdays afternoon bowling.

There have been birthdays almost every week since Jose kicked off the birthday season on September 20th… and now after the holidays in January we will have Karen, Patrick, Rebecca, John, and Aggie for 5 birthday weeks in a row.  We’re thankful that we are a community of mostly winter birthdays, or we would never get summer sunflowers planted!

lp.aspxCelebrations happen naturally here on the Hill. There is a momentum that can
not be avoided, an unspoken ‘rule’ … that HERE is where we celebrate.  Here in the loud, crowded, somewhat worn and disheveled dining/family room right off of the always chaotic Juniper Hill kitchen.  A poster on the wall quotes Emma from Emma’s Hope Book …. ‘Helpful Thoughts of Calming Kindness’… wise, poetic words reminding us all to STAY CALM. Through weekly meltdowns, drama, and anxiety… it all comes together somehow. It doesn’t exactly ‘STAY’ together… ever… but it does ‘come together’ each week,  and by the following week everyone is ready to do it again.

Four years ago … in the beginning…… the question ‘How does an adult with a disability celebrate holidays and birthdays once they are living independently in the community?‘ was not considered.  The first six months involved setting up services and support people , finances, pots and pans and furniture. Logistics.

Then all of a sudden, birthdays happened.  And holidays.

But actually … mostly nothing happened.

NOW WHAT?  This was not part of the plan! Families would call and make the effort, but it was often difficult to be available on an actual birthday.  Staff was gone on holidays and there was no guarantee that a birthday would fall on the same day as scheduled staff. And wasn’t I supposed to be ‘just the landlord’?  Who was going to make this happen? And whose responsibility was it to help the other guys acknowledge their housemate’s birthday?

Just HOW important was this, to make sure that celebrations happen for each person? It was glaringly obvious… celebrations were at the top of everyone’s list here. The idea of taking on that responsibility was overwhelming.

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How do neurotypical adults celebrate?  They call up friends, or friends call them. They’ve stayed in touch with friends from high school or college. They have gotten to know their neighbors socially, or their co-workers, or their church. They make plans.  They initiate.  They drive themselves home for Thanksgiving. There is an entire multi-generational community that sustains itself without too much effort.

But these guys, and many other independent adults with a disability… don’t.  They don’t initiate.  They don’t drive. They have rarely stayed in touch with school friends. It is difficult to pursue social relationships on their own, whether in the neighborhood or at the workplace. Their aging parents do their best to pick them up for family events and drive them back home again afterwards.  Sisters and brothers stay involved the best they can, but they are raising families of their own.

And for many many people, living independently in the community with a disability… they spend these special occasions alone.

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So why does this work here at the farm?

What we really DO have here is  a community… after 4 years of working together, 4 years of eating together, 4 years of living together or just being together for a few hours each week. That’s all it took.  Just real life…  and familiarity, true friendship and trust.

We have a community… and they want to CELEBRATE!

So we do, together.  ALL. THE. TIME.

Something else happened today, another incident that embodies the importance of the relationships that exist within the Juniper Hill community.

One of the guys kind of ruined the bowling event today, for most everyone there. It involved LOUD melting down, blaming and bullying of others.  Upon returning to the Hill, he disappeared for three hours.  Around the farm, into the woods, or up in the other house at the top of the hill…. he went somewhere (because on a farm, there is space. There is room to be alone, to have your quiet space, to reflect without interruption.  Another bonus of country life.)… The rest of us feasted on some pretty amazing leftovers for dinner, put up Christmas lights, and sang Christmas carols with YouTube videos.  Actually, I had absolutely nothing to do with the singing part, that was INITIATED (yes, they initiate now) by the others.

***(just a side note about having the word ‘bully’ in quotation marks.  This guy, this quotation marked ‘bully for an hour’ is the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate and generous guy you will ever meet.  But not during a meltdown. No one is. That’s why it is called a meltdown).

They were rocking the Christmas Spirit here… when the afternoon melt down **’bully’ returned.  And here’s how it all transpired….

No judgement.  No complaints.  No mention of the afternoon meltdown.  It was over, after all.

Instead, there was a pretty amazing welcoming reception because the leftovers that were the most coveted had been cooked by the ‘bully’ the day before.  Everyone raved about the ‘accidental chicken stew’ (he had intended to make soup!).  Then they served up leftover birthday cake, found enough space on the couches for everyone PLUS the dog… and watched three Christmas movies in a row.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t been wrong.  It wasn’t that it hadn’t been a big deal at the time it happened.  Feelings had been hurt, people had been made to feel uncomfortable.  Tomorrow, he’ll probably talk about it and think of some ways to possibly avoid it next time.

EVERYBODY here does this, or something like it.  There is such comfort in this knowledge. They all have their stuff (me too!) . We have all needed to be forgiven and accepted.  Regularly, actually. And everyone works hard every day to keep it together. Everyone is doing the best they can, and most of the time we all understand that…. three hours later.

We do community AND forgiveness, AND acceptance…. really really well here.

Dear Center for Medicaid/Medicare Services… Please don’t take this away from us, just because we live on a farm and not in what is considered a traditional ‘community’ setting.  Don’t change this life we have built here, just because most of the people here have autism and you think that we should be living closer to more non-autistic people.  This IS a community setting, and we do ‘community’ better than most anybody.

Please…

Rethink ‘Community’.

Opening Day of Winter Wednesday Bowling 3 weeks ago!

Pumpkin time at Juniper Hill Farms!

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We are having some gloriously sunny early fall days …

Check out our ‘Feeling like Fall’ video!

 

 

Springtime Firsts

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First cookout tonight. First time eating dinner outside, first deviled eggs from our chickens. First bonfire, first roasting of marshmallows, first toad eating the insects at the porch light. First bright orange tulip this morning!  The predictability of each season is always a cause for celebration here. All house and car calendars have the pages turned by noon on the first of each month, and the day’s discussions are centered around the month to come. April 1st brings t-shirts and shorts, no matter the weather.

Tonight was joyous.

Springtime, food, fire and long time friends.

Oh, and marshmallow peeps.

We learned that in an emergency situation… when there is a bonfire and no marshmallows… that marshmallow peeps will do.

 First, we feasted on Patrick’s grilled steaks, pierogies, salad, and deviled eggs…look how yellow the yolks are from our chicken’s eggs!… We still have 4 dozen eggs from them in the fridge, and John Pags actually sold 2 dozen at work today! It’s their first year laying, they must be very excited.

DSC_0278Then Patrick, man of the evening, built us an amazing bonfire from all of the downed branches from the winter storms.  We have plenty of wood for the entire spring, summer and fall weekly bonfires. This called for a celebration!

DSC_0170I donated my hidden stash of Easter season marshmallow peeps, and we just so happened to have 4 Hershey chocolate bars in the closet.  No graham crackers, we improvised.  We collected roasting sticks, and got down to business.

 

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Andy doubles up

And Ray sharpened his stick…..

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Pete tried out roasting

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Ray.. still sharpening….

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Ray’s stick is almost sharp….

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Patrick made a great one… the sugar caramelizes it so nicely….

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After he dropped the first one…

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By the time his stick was sharp enough… Ray had almost missed the peeps.. but he got one last one…

and it was perfect….

and it was perfect….

I could end the story there… but there’s a little more….

People often ask us how we deal with alcohol, etc. here.  And I can honestly say that alcohol, with this crowd, so far is never an issue.  For various reasons, the guys are either adamantly against it because of experiences in their lives, can’t have it because of medications, or they are just plain moderate about it and barely interested. I, for one, look forward to having company over for dinner, when I can have a glass of wine without my housemates lecturing me!

Tonight, no company.  But it felt like a wine kind of night.  So after the peep roasting, I broke into the Sutter Home Chardonnay cooking wine (OK really, we buy little bottles of pretty decent wine for recipes) , brought out a hidden 6 pack of Vernor’s (really amazing) ginger ale, and had one bottle of Heineken saved for a special occasion. I gave them their choice.  They chose the ginger ale.  I chose the chardonnay.

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Happy Spring Everyone!

 

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All stories and pictures of the guys shared not only with their permission, but with their constant insistence on using every possible photo of them in each and every story on this blog… 

 

Effortless Inclusion……it could be. it should be.

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Imagine this.  A place where inclusion just happens.

I imagine it can be this way in elementary school classrooms, where children have not yet learned to judge those with differences. That would be beautiful to see!

I wish it worked as well for adults.  Perhaps it does, somewhere.  I see the media spreading the stories of high schools electing prom queens with disabilities, or football players with autism being allowed to play on the team for a day…. nice stories, but I always wonder what their lives are truly like, once they leave school.

In my 30 years of being intimately involved in the lives of many adults with disabilities, in several states from one coast to the other.. rarely have I seen real inclusion while out in the community. And I really really really want to see it, and I want to believe that it is happening.

Instead what I DO see is planned efforts to bring people with disabilities into the community.  In grocery stores.  In churches.  I see them with their support workers, walking around the mall. Present in the ‘community’ with typical people, living parallel lives.

and I see ‘typical people’ make real efforts to be extra friendly to them… for a little while.  Then they turn and go on with their conversations that they were having with their typical peers.  They leave work with their typical peers, they go to happy hour.  They have brunch with their peers at their house on a weekend. They call up and say ‘hey, want to go to the Y today?’.  They tell each other their secrets.

And too often, the person with the disability leaves their ‘inclusive’ community activity … their job, their school, their mall exercise….and goes home. They go home to their house with mom and dad, or their group home, or to their apartment where they live alone. After work they go to the YMCA program for people with disabilities.  Or their support worker will come over and take them to a movie. People from work don’t stop by or call.

Sorry, for being so cynical.   I’ve just met so many lonely people over the years.

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I am tired of defining ‘inclusion’ as the process of bringing the people with disabilities into a society that often is just not that interested.  It is such oversimplification to say the a person is ‘included’ just because they have spent their day alongside a typical person outside in the community.  Parallel lives, that is not inclusion.

I have seen true inclusion.  I see it every Wednesday actually.  Here on the farm, a place where several people who have autism live.  A place that borders on ‘congregate living’, which is supposedly a bad thing.  Just like all those other farms across the country that people with disabilities call their home,  that are being so severely criticized these days for supposedly being isolating, without choice,  and not inclusive.

These people here at Juniper Hill have shown me that there is another way , without really thinking about it at all.  And I think their way is better.

And all those typical people that really haven’t thought too much about including people with disabilities into their lives…. they are REALLY missing out!

So I say… Isn’t it time they came to US?

I say ‘US’, because most days I am immersed in a community of people who are not neurotypical.  And I say…. Lucky Me! It is my community as well as theirs, because having a disability is not a ticket into the club. These folks around me who happen to have a diagnosis… they are way more welcoming and willing to REALLY include all those ‘typical ‘ people into their lives.  There is no judgement here.  In fact, these people I am surrounded by, they spend very little time wishing they were ‘included’ in the typical community.  They don’t even notice who around them has a disability and who doesn’t.

They do not define people by their disability.

Today was our Wednesday Volunteer and Stop by the Farm Day, that we have every week. The way it works is this:  if you want to come to the farm and hang out you have two choices:

You can come at 1030 and work until lunch….  you cut sunflowers, fill birdfeeders, weed, feed animals, clean barns…. mow.  Then at lunchtime, everyone stops working, we gather in the kitchen to fix our plate of delicious food that Jose and Carin have prepared, and we go outside and sit at long picnic tables with our good friends…  and we talk about the day, what went on in our lives this week, the latest HALO/Lego news, the food, and the weather.

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If you did not show up to volunteer at 1030… you can still come. But you must bring your own lunch!  You can come to hang out, because sometimes after lunch we go for a hike… or play Bingo, or just sit around and tell stories.

Here is why this is inclusion..

There were over thirty people here today.  Seven of us live here.  Ten or so people who are part of the autism/disability community showed up to volunteer… so more than half of the people here had a diagnosis….. not that anyone here notices that about each other. Several people here were the staff people for these folks.  (Now, I know officially support people ‘don’t count’ as contributing to inclusion, because they are paid to be here.  But really, it depends on the support person.  Things especially change when you work at the same place for three years.  It’s kind of insulting to think that they don’t really count, these wonderful people who have become part of the family).

And who else was here with us today?

‘Uncle’ Harold and ‘Aunt’ Peggy, in their eighties, they are neighbors on the lane for the summer and doing work around the farm

Dylan, the farm hand who makes sure the animals all get fed correctly and that the weeding gets done (OK, he’s my son…)

Rebecca, who found us last year while looking for possibilities for community service.  Now she just comes because it’s great fun and folks,  and it’s the way she prefers to spend her free time on Wednesday mornings.

Ezra, who is a contractor who is tiling the bathrooms in the top house and who has gotten to know everyone and spends every lunch time with all of us.

Ari, Ezra’s 12 year old son who comes along with her and hangs out on the farm now.

Peyton, the Eagle Scout who is building a shed here as his project.

Peyton’s brother Mike, who helped him out today.

Alison... who is a neighbor that lives in the development across the road and works with one of the Juniper Hill guys on Fridays.  It was her day off  today, and she was home with her 7 year old son.  So she called us up and invited the whole crowd over to her pool.

So the entire crowd, full of Jose’s chili (now that I read this, it sounds a bit dangerous!), loaded into cars or walked over to Alison’s… and swam and sunbathed for two hours.

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Afterwards, Alison drove a couple of the Juniper Hill guys back home. Her 7 year old son Daniel had really taken to Michael (as many young Lego heads do)…. and Michael had invited him over here to see his Lego collection.  The two of them…. Michael (who is 22 years old and lives here) and Daniel… headed up to Mike’s house at the top of the hill while Alison caught me up on the stories of the day… (I did not go swimming… I grabbed the opportunity to be alone here in a quiet house after a very energetic morning of organized chaos with 30 people).

Michael and Daniel returned 20 minutes later, and Alison and young Daniel left.  Daniel went home with one of Michael’s Lego men, just because Michael loves to give presents to people.

And then everyone took a nap til dinner.

That’s a beautiful, friendly, INCLUSIVE day on the Hill.

Check out these other farm communities across the country where folks with autism live! Go visit!   Agricultural Communities for Adults with Autism

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From Tolerance to Acceptance…. getting through the rough parts

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EVERYTHING WORKS OUT IN THE END.  IF IT HASN’T WORKED OUT YET, THEN IT’S NOT THE END…. Tracy McMillan

It takes time… lots of time. It takes time to accept the fact that food has to be shared, that the TV has to be shared, that friends say hurtful things but often don’t know they are doing it, that friends say hurtful things knowingly but only are saying it because they are hurt and scared.  It takes time to learn to roll things off your shoulders, even if they really bother and annoy you… like being teased. or people in your personal space.  Or loud outbursts.  Or changes in plans. Or having to clean the bathroom, cause it feels like you do more work than everyone else because bathrooms are gross and should count three times as much as any other chore.

It takes time.. to get past TOLERANCE, and move into ACCEPTANCE.  There’s a big difference between the two! Often, the folks with autism get there ahead of their parents.

As a ‘housing counselor’ to parents who have taken the leap and helped their IMG_0932young family member move out on their own, I’ve witnessed the fear and frustration and confusion and uncertainty of whether or not it was the right thing to do.  Remaining at home was  safer for your adult child in lots of ways…it is just so scary to allow the rough parts to happen and not give up.  You know that there are probably going to be more rough times for awhile. And it was easier and less time consuming too, to just have them living at home.  No worrying about staff not showing up. Their clothes matched, their room was cleaner, they brushed their teeth better, and you could keep track of what they were eating. Really, is this worth it??

I began writing the Juniper Hill blog in the winter of 2012, and  my first post was about how much everyone was learning to accept each other, in just one year. Now, two and a half years since we started, there are still rough spots…. but the relationships have grown, and mellowed.  I am not a parent to any of the guys, and therefore have different feelings..  Less worry, less uncertainty.  But for me, I am quite sure. It is worth it.

Brent requested a family dinner at Red Lobster for his birthday last week… so we piled into two cars, made a grand entrance  and took over their largest table for two hours.  We had MORE FUN than anyone else in the restaurant that night, we were pretty sure that everyone wanted to be us.IMG_0931

We ordered fun drinks, our favorite seafood combinations, took silly phone pictures of ourselves, reminisced about past birthday celebrations, listened to everyone else’s requests for THEIR future birthdays …. and clapped to the Red Lobster birthday song for Brent.  And we ate cake, of course!

It didn’t start out like this, our life together.  Wow, not by a long shot.  And the meltdowns and frustrations and arguments still occur, but they’re different now.  They just don’t go as deep, are over more quickly, and are taken in stride by the other guys.  Two and a half years together, and I think the word here really is IMG_0948acceptance.  It just kind of happened…. over great dinners, fun trips to amazing places, cozy evenings by the fire, helping each other through frustrations, talking over problems, arguing about house rules, coming together and caring about each other in times like hurricanes and power outages, and celebrations of course, celebrations of accomplishments…. holidays… birthdays… milestones.

It was not always easy. There really  had to be lots of flexibility, and patience, and tolerance, and FAITH…to get through the rough parts. There has to be tolerance first, before you get to acceptance.  I’m not sure that it is ever easy, especially with autism.

First there was that fist fight on the deck that first year… and the time theIMG_0942 pitcher of iced tea got thrown all over everyone in anger (and panic no doubt)…. and the banging on the walls…holes and more holes… Hey!  that still happens!….. and the teasing over each others likes and dislikes and beliefs… and the stealing…. and the meltdown yelling at midnight… and the phone calls EVERY TIME I was out at night because somebody would always take it upon themselves to order the others around, and this was scary for the more submissive guys…

It’s difficult to write about negative things, it’s always easier to tell happy stories. I worry about discouraging people from taking the chance on independence.  But although these are true stories,  they are also HAPPY stories… just with some glitches….and somehow it puts the ‘lack of tooth brushing’  in perspective! (Keep reminding the staff, the tooth brushing will come).

And we love to tell the ‘pitcher of iced tea’ story… it’s become legend!

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The friendships are there. We really know how to have fun together…. and laugh….and we are one big kooky quirky eccentric amazing marvelous family…   It was great to be reminded of that, at Red Lobster last week.

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The importance of Waffles: a guide to making a happy home

homealoneLots of after-dinner belly laughing, whoops and hollers the other night, along with a few expletives directed at the bad guys… it was Home Alone 1 and 2, back to back.

All staff and visitors were gone after our volunteer’s ‘Opening Day’ on the farm and it had been our first sunny 80 degree day…. what better time to watch Christmas movies? Tired from the hot but awesome hike to the creek after working,  we foraged on lunch leftovers and sat down for a spontaneous movie night and miraculously, everyone actually agreed on Home Alone as being worth their time. Life was Good.

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The trail to ‘Dylan’s Creek’

Superstorm Sandy blew through our corner of Pennsylvania without much fanfare last fall.  But here on the Hill, the anticipation of Sandy for the entire week DSC_0062before she arrived was pure torture.  The best thing to come out of it (besides Brent’s amazing ‘Pocket Radio Hurricane Mobile’ that he made to distract himself from the weather channel), was my inspiration to blog here about the importance of weather and all those other seemingly harmless things that get in the way of an independent life and make things difficult for these guys.

But now, after a hike to the creek and spontaneous Home Alone togetherness along with last week’s 500th birthday party of the year (well, not really 500),  I’m thinking a blog about all those little things that make an independent life so much better is a must. You see, these guys here and others like them, the ‘in-betweeners’, can survive in the community living semi-independently. With a knowledge of basic safety and microwave use, and a staff person that comes in regularly…. these guys can survive with that.   But in order to thrive, we are finding that there are lots of little things each day that make life better.

Take waffles, for instance.  Not the frozen kind… although they should be on thewaffles1 list as well because a quick breakfast of toasted frozen waffles when you are in a rush is pretty good. No, I’m talking about the kind made from scratch, right out of Joy of Cooking..thick but light and fluffy, and golden brown… a bit crispy on the outside….mmmmmm.

It all started the time we had our friend Dude I’m an Aspie Matt Friedman over for a Sunday brunch of Chicken and Waffles.  It is just an awesome combination and we are all still talking about it.  So I started mixing up the waffle batter (minus the chicken) and leaving it in a bowl next to the waffle maker on saturdays…. (the ‘if you build it, they will come‘ kind of teaching model :)). It worked with Ray, he just started taking the time to cook them.  Around here, it only takes one person to start a trend.  Pretty quickly, ‘waffle envy‘ set in and everyone joined in.  Tonight when the leftover batter was gone, Jose said ‘These are much better than the ‘others frozen’. How do you make them?  I want to learn‘.  So I helped him step by step, wrote the recipe in the ‘NOTES’ on the house IPAD…. and I bet there’s going to be a lot of waffle batter in the fridge from now on.

Of course, you can learn to live independently without homemade waffles.  But why would you want to?! We started making a list of all the other things that add to our lives here, our ‘How-To’ Guide’ for other folks out there who are planning to live on their own someday (some of our list is more for the country living folks…there are different ones in the city!).  And here is our list below (starting with the obvious)

Holiday and birthday celebrations are a given, of course! Brent’s obsession with every holiday and Andy’s eye for important dates coming up on the calendar ensures a celebration for each and every one.  The crowd of friends DSC_0038who make it a habit to drop by on Wednesdays have pretty much all requested that their birthdays (and their staff’s) be celebrated as well. So we have been blowing out candles almost weekly all winter long this year. It’s just the best thing about Wednesdays !

A home where friends and neighbors drop by …now that spring has arrived, we look forward to Wednesdays when our friends come to volunteer… and the group continues to grow.

Fun trips to cool places.  Trips and leisure time activities off of the farm, with the Juniper Hill gang all together…  shared experiences truly build friendships.  We know that here.DSC_0357

Dessert ….. especially if it involves whipped cream and fruit served in stem glasses.

and Puppies… or other pets.  Nothing like puppy cuddles.  Now that Ray’s puppy Hahli is here, our Juniper Hill ‘village’ is helping to raise her together. Alice, our wonderful dog-like tuxedo cat, is always looking for a lap to nap on (which is very easy to find here.) and Bruno, our almost 30 year old cockatiel, always chimes in along with the dinner ruckus.

and there are lots of less obvious things that make us feel like we are Home:

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Andy keeps the bird feeders full

Bird-feeders (cardinals in the snow, squirrels doing acrobatics to steal the bird seed)

Bingo tournaments (with prizes from the dollar store)

House plants (especially if they flower, like Christmas cactus)

Your own seat at the dinner table

Your favorite fork, perfectly sized and bent (and favorite cup, knife, and spatula.. )

A Water Cooler… because for some reason, a water cooler makes it more fun to drink water.

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Rubber boots (to walk in the creek)

a House IPAD  …this needs it’s own blog post, so many uses!  Fun apps (Math Bingo!), email, facebook, YouTube, Music, detailed chore lists for staff to use when teaching skills, privacy internet (explanation?  some other time), and now waffle recipes at the tip of your finger.  Wow.

Photos on the fridge … family pictures, pets, our trips

Bus charts.. and other charts.  Visual lists on the fridge to check off.  Brent’s bus chart keeps him focused on going to work and helps him to board the bus, even when there is a new bus driver.

Christmas lights all year long.. just one strand?… OK so we changed the color and added red chili peppers so they don’t look Christmasy…  it sure makes it cozy in the evening. We don’t think it is tacky.

Little pads of paper or notebooks.. and pens…lots… because everyone likes to make lists, draw, and write down facts (that they are reading off the IPAD)

Chickens.  Highly underrated, entertaining creatures in your yard, especially the little bantams.  Fresh eggs every morning.  (well, probably will not be high on most people’s list,  not really at home in the city!)

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Saturday morning cartoons, forever….

Bacon.  self-explanatory.

Frozen strawberries in the freezer… so you can always make a smoothie.

Spontaneous movie nights.  A VHS collection and player (I don’t know why. but it’s true).  and also Netflix streaming all kinds of movies to please everyone… from Abbott and Costello to Anime.

TV Blankets…. to curl up with on cozy winter evenings.  Preferably a Brent’s Blanket .

Tray Tables… cause sometimes you eat dinner in front of the TV.

Picnic Tables… cause it’s great to eat outside in the summer.

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A Grill.. even a small one.  for the hotdogs and hamburgers that you are going to eat at the picnic table.

A Crockpot.  Throw in meat and vegetables at noon and cook it ’til dinner, and the house smells delicious all day.

A Vegetable garden.  with tomatoes, and potatoes.

Night lights, and a guy with OCD who turns them on at dusk, as well as turning on a light in each main room in the evening (and the Christmas light strand of course!) … absolutely wonderful to come home to after work.  Without him, the guys would sit in complete darkness with just the light from the television.  Really.

A Pond, with fish.  We have been working on this for two years, soon to be finished. We will let you know how nice it makes us feel, soon.

A Fireplace and someone who loves to build fires every night... and a place to sit by it with a book.

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A Fireplace that streams on Netflix. Apparently almost as good as the real thing around here.  Check it out!

Lots of tea choices, for a hot cup of tea on cozy winter evenings in front of the Netflix  or real fireplace. Especially Tension Tamer, Sleepytime, Peppermint and KAVA Stress Relief.

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and especially Music... really cozy when it comes from three directions in the house all at the same time… heavy metal from the basement, Christian rock in Spanish from upstairs, classical or jazz ‘soft music’  from the living room when it’s Andy’s turn for the IPAD.

We could keep going…

As time goes by  here on the Hill, with the same guys and staff becoming a family after two and a half years, new traditions/habits/routines continue to evolve. We realize them in retrospect!

So go out and buy a waffle maker. Here is our recipe (simplified from Joy of Cooking): Turn on the wafflemaker. Put 2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons sugar in a bowl  and MIX.   Break 3 eggs into center of dry ingredients and MIX (just eggs), then MIX 2 cups of milk in with eggs, then MIX everything together.  Add 1/2 stick of melted butter and you guessed it… MIX. Put a cup of batter on the pre-heated waffle maker, and set the timer for 5 minutes.  If you don’t have syrup, yogurt or jelly works too!

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Dylan’s Creek

Feeling A.A.L.I.V.E.

DSC_0052Last weekend we visited the Wolf Sanctuary of PA  for the Full Moon Tour …  listened to wolf lore by moonlight, warmed our cold feet by a huge campfire, got to know 40 rescued wolves, gazed into their yellow eyes and heard their lonely howls.  It was under 20 degrees F, but we walked around for two hours and Jose still wanted to keep asking questions as we were leaving. We warmed up at Cousin’s Pizza at 1030 at night and told our favorite wolf stories.

Our trip to New York City last month was a beautiful unseasonably warm and sunny day strolling the pedestrian street at Times Square, eating lunch at the HardRock cafe, and seeing a ‘sensory friendly’ production of ‘elf’ off Broadway. We checked out the New Year’s ball that we had just watched on New Year’s Eve, does it sit up there all year long?!  and we watched the skaters at Rockefeller Center before we boarded our own private, quiet and not too crowded bus back home to Pennsylvania.

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Rockefeller Center, New York City

This past year we have had box seats at minor league baseball games (box seats IMG_0639so we can walk around, have our own bathroom, eat Crab Fries and be somewhat flappy without bothering others)….. watched the spectacular Disney on Ice, spent a week at the beach, seen the most amazing jelly fish at the Baltimore Aquarium, met the HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS!, gone to the China Buffet once a month or so where we can eat lots of fried dumplings and make ice cream sundaes with unlimited whipped cream for dessert…… and amazingly we got to geek out at the New York City Comicon where we talked Anime/LEGO/ Ninja Turtles non-stop for 6 hours.

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We’ve learned to tolerate … maybe even enjoy….each other in the van on the way to events; gotten comfortable in restaurants; learned to make it through (without meltdowns) the dreaded ‘getting ready and loading up’ period before each excursion, learned that new places and faces don’t have to be scary, and formed close, trusting relationships with our dear A.A.L.I.V.E. family and friends who we see on many of our trips.

Priceless…

And just how do the guys get to do this on their $698 dollars a month?

A.A.L.I.V.E.  Adults with Autism Living with Independence, Value and Esteem.

Money is tight for many people who have a disability and who are trying to create a fulfilling, productive, independent life for themselves.  Even when you’ve been able to put some money aside for a fun trip, it is difficult to structure an outing to meet the needs of folks with severe sensory issues and a fear of new environments. It’s a strange, scary, noisy, crowded world out there!

WE ARE SO LUCKY to live in southeastern Pennsylvania!

Colleen, Frank and Brian Foti, Founders of A.A.L.I.V.E.

Colleen, Frank and Brian Foti, Founders of A.A.L.I.V.E.

The A.A.L.I.V.E.organization has evolved into an amazing resource for adults with autism … and it’s such a GOOD IDEA… to structure experiences for folks like the Juniper Hill guys so that they can venture out of their comfort zone and see and do amazing things.

You COMPLETE us, A.A.L.I.V.E….

THANK YOU!

Holidays and autism: free-to-be age inappropriate

Yesterday morning, Brent arrived at the main house at 700 AM to search for hidden easter eggs, something he has done with our family for 25 years.  He wore bunny ears, and found every egg but one (hard-boiled, and yet to be found, ugh) of the 3 dozen we colored the evening before.  His giant Easter basket (another 25 year old tradition) contained all the usual chocolate eggs and bunnies, jolly rancher jelly beans, and a few kitschy plastic Easter toys… but the best part these days are the things that he buys himself, wraps up, and gives to us the week before, to make sure the ‘easter bunny’ puts them in his basket.

Brent as a Hershey’s Kiss

As he has gotten older, he has taken matters into his own hands, refusing to take any chances that the holidays won’t happen the way he wants them to. He spent many years tormented with the possibility that something would happen before the big day came…. Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s, Halloween, May 10 (his birthday).  For a month leading up to any event, his anxiety was through the roof and he would melt down at the smallest disappointment. Not any more.  He has figured out that if he just does it all himself, he doesn’t have to depend on any of the rest of us to do it right.

He buys himself birthday presents and Christmas presents, wraps everything up, and hands them to people weeks before the actual day, and instructs them to give them to him on the holiday itself. It’s not that we would ever forget a present for Brent on any of these occasions, EVERYONE that knows Brent loves to get him things on holidays… he gets so much pleasure out of a box of Lucky Charms cereal, or a ball of yarn or a key to your car.

But he just has to be SURE. He remembers a time when he was told that holidays were for children, that he was getting too old to trick or treat…. he remembers a time when he heard rumors that Santa and the Easter Bunny were not REAL, and he doesn’t want those times to ever come back.

Twenty five or so years ago….. as a young and inexperienced student of ‘behavior modification’ for people with intellectual disabilities, I was trained to teach ‘QUIET HANDS’. …  and ‘age-appropriate’ behavior…. to facilitate ‘fitting in’ with society.  I didn’t question this, back then. (Oh yes, I question it, now.)

Dylan and Brent 2008

It was my son, Dylan, who made sure, long ago, that we preserved these holiday traditions for Brent.

Brent joined our family in 1984 when he was 16 years old, and by the time Dylan was born… almost 22 years ago… I had already begun to try and make Brent ‘understand’ that he was an adult (he was 21) and that adults celebrate holidays differently from children. There were a few years before Dylan knew what holidays were all about, and those years were frustrating for Brent.

Not to worry, those days are gone forever.

It began with Christmas Eve, with Dylan and Brent putting on their Christmas pajamas and listening to Grandma Bobbie read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ before they went upstairs to Dylan’s bedroom. Brent moved to the spare bed in Dylan’s room for the night.  They knew the rules… they had to wait until 630AM before they could go downstairs to see if Santa had come.  Sometimes they would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night together, anyways.

Christmas 1998

But it was Halloween where we REALLY got creative.  It was fine for a few years when Dylan was really young… but there came a time when I just couldn’t let Brent trick or treat in the community anymore.  You can not imagine how scary he is dressed up as a clown.  Clowns are creepy anyways, but with a stiff autistic gait and no response when spoken to….

So we solved this problem. Brilliantly, I might say.  We had two houses on our lane (and now we have three houses!  last year was great fun!).  Each house has 4-5 doors to the outside, counting the garage, basements, playroom, etc. Brent gets dressed up in his costume (actually, Brent wears his costume for at least three days, everywhere he goes ).  We stay inside the house, and Brent runs around outside of the house knocking on each door and exclaiming TRICK OR TREAT! when we answer with a bowl of candy.  So now Brent gets to Trick or Treat at 13-14 doors, and ends up with a bag full of Halloween candy.  Last year, the other guys on the Hill wouldn’t join him, they thought it was childish.  Guess what?  This year they did.

And as for all of us boring neurotypicals who tried to end this childish behavior?  We are embracing Brent holidays…. and now we get dressed up in our costumes and run around on the INSIDE of the houses…and change our wigs and hats and masks for each door that Brent knocks on.

And yes, each Christmas Eve Brent still packs his overnight bag and walks next

Brent and Dylan, Christmas 2012

Brent and Dylan, Christmas 2012

door to our family home where Dylan is…. to spend Christmas Eve in Dylan’s room.  And my absolute favorite moment of the year is STILL the time that comes on Christmas Eve after Brent reads us ‘The Night Before Christmas’ in honor of Grandma Bobbie… and he and Dylan go upstairs in their Christmas pajamas, and Dylan tucks Brent in and reminds him to wake him up at 630AM (Dylan needs a little help getting out of bed that early now)… so that they can go downstairs and sit together by the light of the Christmas tree lights…. playing with that kitschy singing toy Santa that Brent had on his Christmas list.