Homeschooling – so far….

I’ve just come home from a massage. Yes – the last time I came home from a massage to write my blog post “Forth Time Lucky” – that was full on – wine, tears and typing. So best be ready.

Sol has been homeschooled for 6 weeks now. I’m going to list the positives and the negatives to date:

POSITIVES

  • Sol struggled to hold a pencil or pen properly to write. Granted he is just 5 years old but without consistent OT intervention, I wasn’t sure how this would improve in a school setting. At home, Sol has a slanted writing board where he can clip on paper. He has a seat with a non-slip cushion and a foot roller that allows him to regulate his sensory processing and this means he can comfortably FOCUS on trying to write with the correct pencil grip. He would probably NOT have this in a group classroom at school.
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Sol can Write!
  • There are no distractions. Sol’s dyspraxia means that with lots of noise and movement, he is very easily distracted. He is not able to focus on multiple requests. He needs one request at a time. With NO distraction, Sol can execute what is asked of him. A recent social experiment – Sol and I were in a busy cafe and a good friend came up to say HI and ask Sol how he was doing. Despite the fact that Sol knows this person very well, he was not able to answer. Thirty minutes later, the cafe had cleared out somewhat and our friend came back to speak with Sol again, and then Sol commenced to communicate without distraction.
  • No distractions mean that Sol is picking up speed on areas that he was behind in when he was in a classroom setting. My concerns were that he was behind on reading and writing and in SIX WEEKS, I do not have those concerns anymore. Can I just say that this realisation is worth the anxiety of starting Sol in homeschooling. Sol is starting to read and understand sounds and language, as well as transfer this across to writing words and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
  • Sol can take “sensory breaks” as and when he needs it. There is overwhelming research and support  to show that young children cannot be expected to sit still for longer than 15 mins. Sol can easily do 15 mins or more at home but we make it part of his learning to take a break on the trampoline or some playtime outside and “recap” his lesson while he is moving. Just think about that a second – how many people do you know that use exercise or movement to help them work through an issue, problem or idea? I know I do it!
  • Sol is surrounded by teachers and specialists with his best interests in mind. We are able to curate a curriculum that puts Sol’s strengths and interests first. This means that he will not be learning anything that bores the shit out of him and things that he may not have been interested in before are now made interesting to him and in a way that he can understand and learn.
  • While I was initially hesitant that Sol would not be having school “everyday” like a neurotypical kid, this has turned out to be a blessing. Sol has 12 hours of lessons – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only. This leaves Tuesdays and Thursdays to focus on his Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Swimming, Playdates and other activities. Sol also has Visual Therapy twice a week and this is quite intense (separate post coming). So in a nutshell, Sol’s FULL education is well balanced and we don’t have to try and fit in all his specialised sessions after school hours when he would be way too tired to get much out of them.
  • Sol is consistently praised and encouraged for his efforts. His self esteem and his willingness to learn remain as high as they ever were. On the days he doesn’t have Ms Rachel, he is often in his classroom, sitting at his desk, doing his “homework” as he likes to call it.
  • We use technology to compliment his learning. We have apps and programs that allow Sol to interact in a less formal way with lessons and keep him abreast of learning with technology. It is very likely that Sol will require a laptop if he re-enters the school system. At his age in a classroom setting, this would be unlikely. Once the schools catch up and realise that differently wired kids respond well to learning through technology, then we may consider going back. Sol will always struggle to write and it will take him longer and that is a part of his challenge – why make him suffer for it if he can get all his ideas down on a laptop from the get-go?
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Learning through technology
  • While I work full-time, I have a certain amount of flexibility in my hours and destinations – I can pop in and see Sol at home! We might have lunch together or a mid-afternoon cuddle.
  • Sol doesn’t need a haircut now. If he was still at school, I think we’d need to keep his gorgeous curls contained. As he’s at home, we are going to let our little dude grow his amazing hair. Skater boy! Here we come.

There are probably a few more positives and as these present themselves, I can update in another blog.

NEGATIVES

I’m going to address the biggest one last as this is where my TRUE message for today lies.

  • Hang on, give me a second to think of one.
  • Got it! Nope, the one I was thinking about was that we didn’t get access to a school library anymore but then I remembered that my daughter is at an International School and as a parent, I can take books out of the library and so we do! In fact, Sol and I went there together and we can take out 10 books at a time. Sorted.
  • If I expand on the book-thing a little, I loved the association the schools have with the Scholastic Book Club order. And luckily my BFF can help me out with ordering books too.
  • Do I have access to materials for art, craft etc. HELL YES! Check this out! TWINKLS

So, our biggest “perceived” negative and the one I can see concerns MOST parents that ask me about Sol’s homeschooling experience is the “lack of socialisation”. Let me frame how this could have also been our biggest concern. While Sol was at pre-school, he had a ton of friends and an insane playdate schedule. Sol was loved by teachers and kids alike. He is a kind, funny, sweet kid and this draws people to him, particularly those that take the time to get to know him. Sol adores his buddies.

As the socialisation of kids Sol’s age continues in the school environment, I’ve noticed that Sol is not sure how to relate to the “style” of play of his friends. Words like “dumb, stupid, bad guy and you can’t play with us” are some of the things I have heard recently directed at Sol.  I went to an average school where bullying was common and “kids were kids”. I even had a bully who targeted me and to this day, I remember the feelings of anxiety of walking home after school thinking that my bully was going to attack me verbally and sometimes physically. We were taught to believe that we should just handle it and it would eventually go away and if it didn’t, then you arranged a “face off” with your bully and just fought it out. Which sounds horrifying when I think about either of my kids having to physically protect them selves from some asshole.

I have friends with kids at school who are being bullied or have been bullied. And this includes isolation.  While schools have implemented “anti-bullying” days and processes by which a kid can gain support if they feel they are targeted, it’s the “words” that are hurting our kids the most. In every class there is an “alpha male or female” who owns the power to grow or slay their classmates with a few choice words. And I don’t mean “choice” like us Kiwis use the word “choice” (meaning awesome, amazing). The alphas are the ones you want to be friends with because then, like the caveman days, you’ll be protected and you’ll ultimately survive. And school is like that. If you are alpha, popular, funny, good looking and smart in a neurotypical way, then you will survive and thrive the school system.

How does this pervasive caveman mentality continue year-on-year in our schools? When did I become “that mum” who advocates for the “underdog”? Do I want for my child to be subjected to that type of behaviour? HELL NO! Does this make me an over-protective parent. Well, probably, but let’s just dive a little into “what is over-protective”?

Knowing that my child has a learning challenge and will struggle in a noisy, busy environment and this will make him “stand out” as different and not “good-different” but set him up for ridicule and isolation – I choose to shelter him a little longer until he has his “witty, appropriate responses” to the ignorants that try to dim his light.

I believe that my choices for Sol will positively impact his world and the world at large. This kid is going to change lives because he will continue to be kind, sweet, empathetic, open minded and not isolated. The state of the world today indicates that we need more people like Sol. The greatest gift I can give Sol is to understand his gifts, his challenges, how his brain works and to not shy away from his uniqueness. I don’t need him to know as a 5-year old that he doesn’t “fit in” or that there is “something wrong”. I want for him to grow with confidence in who he is, own it, share it and not be judged in a negative way for it – just like every single parent I know.

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Speak for those who cannot

Processed with MOLDIV

When I write a new blog post, I generally aim to share from our experience a challenge or difference related to Sol’s dyspraxia and then to finish on a positive word that reveals the hope I have for Sol’s future, despite the daily challenges. As the days go by and as I’m able to write and converse with others about dyspraxia, I’m becoming more bold and forthright in my role as Sol’s advocate. Sol started homeschool 4 weeks ago – thanks to everyone who has asked about Sol during this “experiment”. I can see the doubt in parents faces when they ask how everything is going. I get it! If I was not up to speed on Sol’s learning difference, he would be back in the classroom with his peers and I’m not sure he would have learnt the volume in the same focused way he is getting at home with Ms Rachel. When I’m able to share that Sol has accelerated past the lesson plan set by his online curriculum for his age, I get a surprised response.  I was also surprised at our last group meeting when Ms Rachel and Ms Aqila told me that they are able to blend and “double up” on the lesson plan for reading and writing as Sol is speeding up. Math – not so much but hey! He’s his mothers son – the right brain creative!

As Sol passes the 5.5 year mark, one of the areas that stands out as “needing work” is his speech. I’m going to break it down to be fair to Sol and paint a picture that simplifies one of the indicators of dyspraxia – speech apraxia.

After Sol’s MRI at 6 months old, we were informed by the neurologist to watch out for a delay in speech. This was an accurate warning and one that proved correct. Knowing this information actually decreased my stress levels around Sol hitting milestones with speech. I set my sights on the 2.5 year mark and if he wasn’t making strides in his verbal communication by then, I would seek help. And we did find the most fantastic speech pathologist in Dr. Cindy Lian.

Sol started weekly one-on-one speech sessions with Cindy and continued these for two years. Sol believed that he was going to “Aunty Cindy’s” to play with all her cool toys but like all amazing child educators and specialists, there was always a lesson plan that was masked in play. I saw a great improvement in Sol’s confidence and speech to the point where anyone would be able to understand 95% of conversation today. The other 5% is usually linked to a transformer character that you may not be familiar with – Optimus Prime, Megatron, Gridlock and Sideswipe. If you have never heard of these characters, you wouldn’t know what Sol is talking about and he will actually think that YOU have a problem with hearing!

Left field – Ronda Rousey (UFC Women’s Champion) has Speech Apraxia – read it here

The challenges we face today are linked to the following:

  • Organsational processing – where Sol might get distracted and jump from one topic to the next. This is obvious when he is answering my question, then stops as if he has thought of something else, pauses, then resumes to talk about another topic but often related. Actually, I know adults like this too – LOL.
  • Vocal pitch – Sol speaks in either a high pitch OR a loud register. This is dependent on his environment and who he is with. When he is one on one and there are no other distractions, he has a high pitch. In a crowded room or with a bunch of other kids, it sounds like he is shouting. (I have actually booked Sol into an ENT specialist to evaluate whether his pitch is affected by his breathing as he’s always had nose breathing issues – a future post).
  • Vocal speed – and this is also linked to coordination or the inability for Sol to coordinate his mouth into the words he wants to say. Actually, his brain is thinking quickly and his mouth can’t keep up. On reflection, you’d think he would get more frustrated than he does but honestly, he’s very rarely had a meltdown or tantrum around not being understood.

In the third example, I see the greatest challenges for Sol socially. I can see how other kids respond when it looks like Sol wants to say something and it doesn’t come out fast enough. And I’ve also noticed that he is starting to NOT speak in social situations when he is around people he doesn’t know. This points out that he is now AWARE of how he sounds, particularly to other kids. To our close friends that interact with him all the time, Sol never shuts up. For them, I am grateful. And Sol has also started to gravitate towards other children who don’t necessarily use verbal communication to “play”.

Sol now has  a “group” speech session with two other boys and Cindy. The purpose of this session is to help the boys interact socially and across their unique speech barriers. Happy to report that they have a great time and seem to have no issues understanding one another. Cindy has done an incredible job of bringing them together as they are able to accept one another and build confidence in each others company.

On a positive note and highlighting Sol’s strengths here – Sol has a memory for movie lines. Not just the words, but the emotion, the intention, the body language, facial expression – you name it. Most days we are treated to a re-enactment of a character and all the “famous” lines. He really keeps me laughing and it’s something I look forward to and encourage him to do. Dave and I try to play the “other characters” to build on his passion but we often fail miserably as we don’t “say it right” – HOW IRONIC.

We are 100% confident that with Cindy’s help and keeping Sol’s self esteem high, that his apraxia will abate and he will likely go on to be the next Sam Neill – oh, you didn’t know about him either??

I hope this all works out…

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I’m going to fast forward and write about what’s happening in Sol’s life at present. This Monday, when most expatriate kids will be going back to school after the summer break, Sol starts homeschooling.

I never saw myself as one of those mums who would even consider homeschooling! I love that my kids can be with their peers Mondays – Fridays most of the day, learning and growing with experts –  School Teachers. I have a huge respect for school teachers. I love my kids but I would never consider a career in teaching or entertaining kids. I need more compliance in my life. Teaching group fitness classes is right up my lane as people generally listen and follow along, get results and we all walk away happy!.

Let me just set one thing straight – I am not going to be Sol’s homeschool teacher. I have engaged an “expert” for that role too! In fact, I have met two fantastic humans who are invested in Sol’s success and are on board with our goals of having Sol LOVE learning, stay creative and adjust the “system” to meet his needs. Ms. Aquila and Ms. Rachel have all the youthful energy to keep up with Sol as well as being qualified teachers in Special Needs and have worked with kids that required a more specialised focus. I  had eight recommendations I could contact to find a fit for Sol and  I spent the last 3 months discussing/emailing/meeting with these incredible people before I decided on Aquila and Rachel. In the end, the decision was with Sol. They came over for a “playdate” and the love triangle was sealed.

Finding a homeschool curriculum had it’s challenges – only because there are SO many to choose from. I did not know that 3% of the world’s kids in western countries are homeschooled and this is growing. The reasons for an increase in parents looking at homeschooling is due to the following:

  • when the school curriculum doesn’t meet the beliefs of the family
  • bullying and unsafe schools (this is so crazy!)
  • kids with special education needs
  • elite athletes, movie/TV stars, entertainers
  • world travellers

The past two years, Sol has attended the most amazing preschool. He was in Nursery and  Reception Years and we were able to set up an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) with the School Principal, his homeroom teacher and the Learning Support Specialist – all at his preschool! Every person was 100% invested in Sol’s success and enjoyment and I can say, Sol loved preschool. He made a ton of friends and he did accomplish some pretty big goals. His homeroom teachers are gifted people. Whilst they were not specialists in dealing with dyspraxia (and we didn’t even have a diagnosis back then), they accommodated and adjusted to feedback we were able to give over time. Things such as Sol’s inability to sit still on the mat was due to his sensory processing challenges – so they let him walk around, or lie down or hold on to something and he was never scolded.

They helped him develop appropriate socialisation skills in the classroom and through his preschool, we found that Sol loved the stage and drama. He was always deeply intrigued by the productions and shows the kids were exposed to. And recital day was always a joy for us – Sol loved being on stage – singing, acting and dancing. He’s never had stage fright and has the BEST smile. After one recital, a kind parent said ” Sol is so good, he should do speech and drama”. He was three years old at the time? And had significant speech issues, so I had a wee chuckle about that compliment.

For a really fun video and understanding on sensory processing challenges, check this out! I have a friend in Australia to thank for sending me this video after reading my blogs – thanks Gayle! Warning! You may end up spotting some of these factors in your own kids – LOL.

As we prepared to have Sol move across to the Main Campus for Year One, we were able to visit the school, meet the teachers and discuss with the Learning Support at the Main Campus how Sol might “fit in”, “adjust” or “adapt” to school life in a much bigger, busier environment. I have many friends who have children attending this school and it is without a doubt, an amazing school. I have friends that are teachers at this school and they are passionate about teaching there. And I truly believe that all the International Schools in Kuala Lumpur, or Asia for that matter, are world class facilities…..for neurotypical kids. The International schools are quickly realising they do not have the resources, skills and facilities to cater for the 10% of kids (yes, that’s 2 kids in a class of 20) who have differences in learning styles or learning challenges. They are only challenges because they don’t learn the “system”. The schools are preaching “inclusiveness” but are applying a “band aid” by having parents with SEN children employ a PLA (Personal Learning Assistant) to follow their child around the classroom and the school. International School Fees are a house deposit, EVERY YEAR, and then the extra employment costs of a PLA. GO FIGURE THAT OUT! And I can assure you that kids with SEN are already spending hours after school with OT’s, PT’s, Speech sessions and extra tuition, all paid for by the parents.

Having Sol sit with a class of 20 kids and realise he is not able to follow what the teacher is asking or complete the tasks required would quickly erode his self esteem. If I gave a rating of Sol’s self esteem today, it would be 12/10. This kid thinks he has superpowers, is amazing, can do anything, play with anyone, try’s everything, and is relentless in his pursuit of what he wants. THIS, I cannot allow to change. I need people around him that never lose sight of that and a learning environment that engages Sol 100% of the time, where he has the time he needs to focus, learn and succeed. Instead of employing a PLA, I’ve employed a homeschool tutor who will spend 12 teaching hours just with Sol and a flexible homeschool curriculum that will support him through the years.

In the end, I chose the Bridgeway Academy as it allows the flexibility to adapt the curriculum for a child with Special Education Needs. Bridgeway is an American curriculum and Sol is in Kindergarten this year. This is equivalent to Year One in the British system – funny that it’s called a “system” because that’s exactly how I view it now. A system of checking boxes, getting into boxes, staying inside the box, call it what you will. In Sol’s Kindergarten year, there are some “benchmarks” and we can go as slow or fast as Sol likes. We can also adapt the learnings to whatever Sol is interested in and apply other resources into the lessons too. Today, we will go to see the Moscow Circus and when Sol starts homeschool this week, a lot of his learnings will be around his experience at the circus. With any American curriculum, there are going to be elements of “nationalism” and so instead of celebrating the Forth of July, we will celebrate Waitangi Day! Instead of learning about Thanksgiving, we will incorporate some of Sol’s Maori heritage.

Sol has homeschool Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, 8.30am – 12.00pm. In the afternoons and on Tuesdays and Thursdays he has OT, PT, Speech, Visual Therapy and group sessions at a private learning facility – all of which deserve their own posts in the future.  Sol is still taking swimming lessons and recently joined capoiera and loves it.

Am I anxious? Absolutely! I am definitely stepping outside my comfort zone on this decision to homeschool Sol. I listened to my gut instinct that was screaming that a mainstream environment in Sol’s formative learning years could cause long term damage to his self esteem and potentially set his learning back! I listened to heart breaking stories of other families who had tried the “promise of inclusion” at one of the swanky well funded International Schools only to have their child fall into themselves and beg not to go to school. I can and have learnt from those who have attempted the minefield before me. I refuse to have Sol think for ONE second that he is “stupid or dumb” because I also know, that is not the case. And I refuse to risk having ONE person in his life that doesn’t see or believe in his potential. Some may question my decision or worry for Sol’s lack of contact with his peers but I believe, as his mum, that he will gain more from this opportunity and any of the “missing” pieces we can figure out. Actually, most of the time I don’t even need to figure it out as my support group are always available to feedback, motivate, and provide new and exciting information.

So wish us luck! And I’ll continue to blog about Sol’s learning experience along with more posts on his superpower – dyspraxia.

Imagination is more important than knowledge – Einstein

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(Above – Sol’s classroom)

References

Bridgeway Academy

Movimento Capoeira

 

 

Friday Feels – Putting the Brakes on

Early morning – check my phone – message: “Looking forward to reading your next blog post today”. Gulp.

It’s Friday and I’ve committed to writing a post – every Friday. And all week I’ve been thinking about what I should write about today. Should I carry on with “what happened next” in Sol’s journey? After reading last week’s post, I felt overwhelmed by all the technicalities of having my 6-month old baby have a brain scan. And explaining what happened and the results felt incredibly clinical.

This week, I have received “I wish more parents were like you” about 3 times.  You’d assume I’d feel a bit chuffed and proud of myself when I receive this affirmation but I want to assure you, none of that statement makes me feel like I’m kicking ass as Sol’s mum. I feel happy for the specialists that confirm it because I can see how frustrating it can be for them to try to help parents that are in denial about their child’s needs. If I am ONE parent that takes on board their professional opinion and implements it for the benefit of my child, then we are all making the world a better place and making a difference to a special soul – my Sol!

So Friday morning, I’d just worked 60 hours in 4 days and I was feeling pretty smashed. I booked for a facial after a long hiatus, and lay down to receive my “selfcare” (it’s the new buzz word you know). “What am I going to write about, what am I going to write?”

And then the tears came. There is something incredibly therapeutic about having someone touch me, whether it be hair, massage or facial. It feels like lying down and human touch brings my thoughts and feelings to the surface. So todays blog, instead of a clinical breakdown of Sol’s diagnosis and journey, is about being a parent of an SEN kid. This is the first time I’ve also written that Sol has SEN – Special Education Needs. Another “box” to compartmentalise the fact that he doesn’t sit in the 90% of a failing education system – oh wait, gotta put the brakes on, can’t write about that in this post.

This post is how I feel about the incredible journey I am blessed to take with Sol-man and those loving people who have knowingly and unknowingly decided to come with us. To put this into context, a little about me, Sol’s mum.

I’m a Kiwi, born in New Zealand, neurotypical (jokes on me), sister, dancer, athlete, high performance student. I studied Physical Education at the University of Otago and went into the fitness industry just as Madonna made “Personal Trainers” a thing you needed. So I have an in depth understanding of how the body works. I also took some papers in Sports Psychology and Nutrition and these have served me well across career and life. New Zealanders are the most self deprecating people I know – down to earth, not dramatic, creative, friendly. We love the outdoors, physical activity, sports, beach, barbecues and good belly laughs at the expense of each other, usually close family members. This culture and upbringing has given me some of the qualities to help navigate a future amazing life for Sol. I have a good “bullshit reader” on people – I can pick a fake a mile off. I don’t take myself too seriously but I can prioritise the things and people in my life that are important. I’m loyal – to my family and those who take the time to get to know me. This is the moment that the tears came during the “face mask” – I thought of those special people who send me an sms or kind word every few days to encourage me to keep going, keep advocating for Sol, keep my head up. It tells me that even when I don’t see them, they have me in their thoughts. That kindness…..I can’t even. (Means, I have no words).

And I guess the way I “present” myself to the world at large indicates that I am a woman that knows what she’s doing and knows how to get there. And in some aspects, that is true. If I think about how I might be perceived – organised, go getter, stoic, driven. They are all admirable qualities but the quality I have most harnassed the past few years, is EMPATHY. Because this quality is what gets me through all the challenges that I have experienced. And all the people that have shown empathy (not pity) for me and have allowed me to reciprocate, have helped me grow the most as a mother, wife, friend and person.

It’s getting kind of deep and I want to bring this back to Sol and so I’ll frame how EMPATHY has best served me. In my journey to investigate Sol’s unique view of the world, I’ve been “friended” and I’ve “befriended” many parents in the same circumstances. After this post, I may even be “unfriended” – lol. We are all learning about our kids and what they need to be the best humans possible. We are all battling an education system that demands we pay “extra” to allow our kids to sit in a mainstream class environment without accepting they need to step up too. We are all sharing contacts, information and insights into the latest therapies, education, tutors, playgroups, etc. This group of enlightened parents has been a God-send. And my empathy for those parents that are struggling to gain a diagnosis so they can help their kid move forward – three words – Don’t. Give. Up.

And there are parents that deny that their kid is unique. I’m using the word “unique” pretty loosely because I don’t want to say that having a learning challenge or social challenge is a negative thing. When it comes to dyspraxia,  Daniel Radcliffe and Florence Welch have done pretty OK with it. The denial is two-fold.

1.The desire to have their kid “fit in” to what society deems as “normal”. That they can read at an acceptable level, can do math, can write, can play sports.  And that’s pretty much it! These parents want their kid to have a “normal” school life, to be in a normal classroom with 20+ other normal kids and that some of the “normal” might rub off on them and then we can all breathe easy and maybe no one will notice that said kid has some learning challenges until they start to act out and then get the label “bad kid” and next thing you know they are standing on a roof ready to jump!!!! Did I say Kiwis weren’t dramatic???

2. EGO – yep, I said it. Ego is that little voice that says “You’re not good enough” or “You’re better than everyone else”. Ego also tells you that if your kid is acting up or not succeeding in society, that you are a “failure”. Ego also turns up the dial on what “everyone else thinks”. Ego sounds like this – “What will XXX and XXX think if they know my kid needs to have speech therapy”. “What will THEY think if I take my kid out of school?” “What will my parents think if I want to get my kids some extra support?”.

Once you can put your own ego aside, not worry about what “everyone” else thinks and go with your gut feeling that your kid needs some support, the journey gets really exciting. And I mean that! I’m excited about the people I’ve connected with, the information I’ve learnt, the support I’ve been given. And I’m most excited that I might just be the next “Harry Potter’s” mum.

I have huge empathy for those parents who need to navigate through societies turned-up speaker on why “normal” is BEST. I look forward to their break throughs when they realise that there is a whole world of help, support and love ready to bring them into the fold and help them create the most amazing world for their unique child. I am a product of this support and love and today’s tears during my “scrub and serum” was an acknowledgement that I am not alone and I am blessed by an incredible support network for whom I could not do what I am doing for Sol, without them. Special thanks goes out to Steve Jobs who, without his bucking the “normal” system, I would not have this lovely laptop to share my thought’s through. Peace Out.

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