My Autistic, Unschooled Kid is Now in College – and doing just fine thanks!

How Unschooling Really Works

My son Liam is 18. He just finished his first semester in college. I am very proud of him. So what? You say. So did a gazillion other kids this fall. Well, that’s true. But there is a difference. My son Liam is autistic – and he’s never taken a final exam before in his life. Or a mid-term. Or any kind of standardized test.

Until this fall, Liam was completely unschooled. He went to a few years of school when he was younger — kindergarten through second grade. Then it was clear that the whole school thing was not going to work for him. Without getting into too much detail, classrooms are too loud for Liam and he couldn’t do the school work. Also, he hated worksheets and sitting all day. What he did like was fixing his teachers’ computers. He was six and this was what he wanted to do. If Mrs. Reed was having trouble with her internet access or had a virus, Liam was her man. Again…he was six.

After meetings with special ed people and IEP’s and psychologists and three days of tests (that Liam actually liked), we decided that perhaps Liam would just be better off at home. I got all excited about being Liam’s teacher. In fact, my other son, Alex, wanted to stay home too, so now I had two pupils and I went a little nuts. I turned the dining room into a classroom and we said the Pledge every morning. I wrote things on the chalkboard and we read the books we were supposed to read and we did math and then science and then we had “recess.”

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How Thinking About Suicide Comforted Me

The Drawer:

The manly smell of my father’s things wafted out of the drawer as I slid it open. As a small child, I loved to look at my father’s box. It was a place where he kept strange little things I didn’t yet understand. A medal from the National Guard. A picture of my mom long before I knew her. Small pins that represented things I didn’t know about. A picture of himself in what I assumed was his favorite car. A ticket. A matchbook or two. I would hold these things in my fingers, tracing their edges, and wonder what magical meaning they had and what made them so worthy of this box. Nothing of me was in it.

I was 15 now, though, and the pins and pictures had long since held any mystery for me. I only went into my father’s drawer for one thing usually. Spare change. Inside this drawer was an assortment of coins and dollars that I pilfered because my friends always got to go “overstreet” for lunch and I never did. In my tiny Vermont hometown, overstreet is literally the term for crossing over the street and going to the store. Other kids would go and buy Mountain Dew and chips for lunch. I never got to do that. My mother always sent a check for hot lunch which cost about 75 cents a day, or she would humiliate me and make me pay with change, including the pennies. No, it did not occur to me that there were people in the world who couldn’t afford lunch. I was a precocious, self-absorbed, self-conscious teen and could not have cared less about such things. At least, not how they related to the fact that I had to pay for my lunch with pennies from my mother’s piggy bank.

I slid the drawer open one particular day to find a gun sitting in it. A big gun.  Continue reading

Why “Just Average” is the New Awesome

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My fancy big book that made me think I was special – for a while.

From the time I was very small, I was led to believe that I was special. I was an only child, so really, my every whim was indulged. Every toy I wanted at Christmas magically appeared and anything I wanted to try I was, pretty much, able to do. As I got older, I learned to love the “gold star.” I entered every school contest, almost every club, and played every sport (to be fair, my school was very small and only offered three sports – one for each season).

I grew up believing I could do or be anything I wanted. And pretty much, I have. I’ll be honest, though, it hasn’t always been enough. As my adult life evolved simultaneously as a parent (I had my first child at 19), so did the world. There was no Internet when my first couple of kids were born and so everything I knew about parenting I read in books or saw on TV. I started to evolve as a person and develop my own passions too, which included writing, homesteading, and dog mushing in addition to my parenting.

And I wanted to be the best at those things. I wanted other people to acknowledge I was the best. I wanted my gold star. 

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How to Make Chocolate from Cacao Beans

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Yes, I made these. From beans that I processed from these:

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We have the good fortune to live on a small farm in Hawaii. On our farm are many cacao and coffee trees. Unfortunately, due to years of neglect, the coffee isn’t fairing so well, and we will likely have to cut a lot of it down. I hope to put a herd of dairy goats out that way soon. When we first moved here, I wasn’t sure how you could get chocolate from these pods. A little research and a lot of trial and error yielded our first cocoa powder (which was amazing) and now we have learned how to make actual chocolates and chocolate bars. We even sell them occasionally!

So, how do you start?

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How to Move to Hawaii

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

You can do it!

As a life long lover of winter, my friends and family were quite surprised when we moved to Hawaii. Other friends, couldn’t believe we could do it. Most people who ask me about it wonder, “how do you just move to Hawaii?” “Isn’t it expensive?” or “Isn’t it hard to do?”

Believe it or not…not really. The hardest part is generally figuring out where to go once you get here. In our case, after figuring out the cheapest flights here (out of San Jose, CA; one way; on New Year’s Day), it was a matter of making hotel reservations and then finding piece of land we both liked and could afford.

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Me, My Dad, and Yard Sale Saturday

fleamarketA typical summer Saturday morning during the first 15 years of my life always began the same way. No matter where we lived or what kind of car we drove. My father would brew coffee and then tell me to “get a move on.” Now, most kids would complain and whine and moan — and I did — but I was not being told to do chores. No. I was being told to get in the car at the ungodly hour of 6 am so we could go yard saling.

Yard sales are where my father lives and breathes. If you go into his garage, which is really a neat version of a “Hoarders” home, you will find boxes and stacks of all of his yard sale finds. Walk into my parent’s home, and you will enter a very tidy suburban home. Everything perfectly clean and in its proper place. However, once you enter the basement or the garage, you enter, the “junk” zone. Alternatively, this could be called the “collectible” zone. My father still has Wheaties boxes that you are not allowed to open or eat the cereal out of because Cal Ripken Jr. is on the front.

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Hawaii Con Fun

We spent some time on the Kohala Coast last weekend playing at Hawaii Con! What a fun event. If you are geeky like us and into Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica or anime or anything similar – check it out. We really had a fun time and were sad we could only spend one day there. We hope to volunteer next year – or come for the whole thing. Also, the Mauna Lani resort is AMAZING. Definitely worth the trip!

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

 

The Trouble with Tribbles

The Trouble with Tribbles

 

Seamus enjoying a Hawaii Five-O hot dog - Portuguese sausage, wrapped in bacon, covered in pineapple salsa and cole slaw. Mega-yum!

Seamus enjoying a Hawaii Five-O hot dog – Portuguese sausage, wrapped in bacon, covered in pineapple salsa and cole slaw. Mega-yum!

 

Commander Riker at HawaiiCon 2016. Such a funny man!

Commander Riker at HawaiiCon 2016. Such a funny man!

 

Cylons attacked Seamus!

Cylons attacked Seamus!

 

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

 

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