Tag Archives: comfort zone

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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Happy New Year! Reflections on three years together

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The snow is falling softly at midnight and outside it is just stunning with the porch light reflecting on the white blanket covering our rolling hills.  Ray is making his way up the hill to his house with his dog, Hahli, who celebrated her first birthday yesterday.  Tomorrow we’ll be snowed in, here on Juniper Hill ….. and Andy and I will cross country ski across the fields, Brent will split lots and lots of wood and keep the fireplace going, and Oh Joy!  it is John’s night to cook and I am hoping for a repeat of the Beef Bourguignon that he made a few weeks ago. And maybe, just maybe… NO staff will be able to get here and it will be just us, all day. 

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Andy has been Special Olympics cross country skiing for years!

Our life sounds so idyllic… and actually, that first paragraph is pretty accurate. We have come a long way in three years!  But lest you think ‘Oh, that could never be my kid’ or… ‘it must be an easy group of guys’…. or… ‘they must have a lot more money than us’ or…. ‘my son just eats ramen, he would never be interested in cooking a meal’…. I’m also going to mention, of course,  the gritty details that go along with our idyllic existence here on the farm.

These days, it’s all about a comfort zone. An anchor.  Home. A safe place that we know, and trust. A place where familiar things happen over and over each day and week and month… with enough repetition so that when new and unexpected things occur, it’s not such a big deal because that comfort zone is there. The familiar people are there, the animals that we know, the same familiar food on the shelves, and that perfect size plate, spoon and glass that you like to use. It’s the comfort of being friends with your staff (even if the agency that sends them insists that you have a professional, not friendly, relationship.  Silly rule, yes.  More on that later). And it’s the comfort of being friends with your housemate’s staff, too.

It’s about routine.

It’s about weekday winter mornings when the fireplace is crackling and staff is arriving and everyone is getting up and ready for the day and the house is buzzing with familiar conversation and we’re talking about the dinner the night before and the leftovers are out for everyone to try.

It’s about that awesome time each weekday ~late-afternoon~ when staff leave and the screens go on …computer, television, IPAD, DS,…and the chips and popcorn fly off of the shelves .

It’s about the absolute best  after-dinner evenings anywhere. Music, The BigDSC_0108 Bang Theory, ice cream, slippers, tea, a cat on your lap and dogs sleeping at your feet.

And it’s especially about Saturday mornings. No staff.  Sleeping late.  Really late.  No responsibilities as long as the animals get fed. Nothing to think about or be reminded of until Monday morning.

It all sounds great… and it is, pretty much.  The comfort of the routine, the relationships, the extended Juniper Hill  family… it trumps the gritty stuff that happens.  It trumps the stuff that doesn’t happen also.

Because it is obvious to me, now, that being an adult with autism is just never easy. 

Not a day goes by for these guys, when they are not feeling discomfort, or frustration, or anxiety about something.

Yes, they are friends and they trust each other.  The familiarity is very comforting at this point. That does not mean, to them,  that the other’s voices are pleasant to listen to.  It does not mean that they  don’t say things to each other that are hurtful.  It does not mean that their taste in music and TV is acceptable to the others. It does not mean that they don’t find each other really annoying, at least sometime during the day. But having friends means compromising, and that can be SO difficult, how do we solve this?

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yes, everyone has their own favorite plate….

The staff are great, they have become part of our family and we love them.  It’s been a year now since the ‘new’ group of staff joined the staff who had been here since the beginning, and things have fallen together and the farm runs fairly smoothly.  But at 930 AM… when everyone is in the kitchen… (including the guys who live in the top house because they want to be eating breakfast where everyone else is)….when five staff have just shown up and are talking and moving around and in your way and bumping into you and going over what has to be done and LAUGHING and TALKING too loudly…  it’s JUST TOO MANY PEOPLE.   The guy’s funding works in a way that does not allow staff to work with more than one person at a time. Everyone needs ‘encouragement’ to get out of bed in the morning, and wants THEIR staff to be there   … how do we solve this?

The ‘system’ is supposedly set up to ‘support’ people with autism that live independently.  To support them in their dreams, their goals, their basic needs. In three years everyone here has come a long way in learning how to cook and make healthy ENOUGH choices, how to be organized and clean ENOUGH, how to be considerate ENOUGH  of others, how to think about finances ENOUGH to be kind of responsible….. but doesn’t this sound pretty much all ‘basic needs’?  What about dreams?  How does a support person make DREAMS happen?  What about love?  What about a life?  What about a bucket list?  It’s REALLY complicated, and REALLY hard to make happen for someone else….. how do we solve this?

How can you focus on dreams, when it takes ALL of your energy just to get through each day?

Basic needs…we’ll keep working on all that stuff as we go along.  And there’s more besides… there’s the continuing saga of the correct medication, or just having a job that you like, that you’ll keep, and that will pay.

The days are full here, and fulfilling.  Our family keeps growing… sometimes things happen and the living situation will change for someone …. so some of the guys have come and gone, and then come again… and gone again….

but always… they remain part of the family… and still remain part of the week’s activities, or the weekend excursions

and so the family grows…. and having this family, well, it makes our lives way more than ENOUGH.

But this coming year, in 2014…. we’re going to think about DREAMS….

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