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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dumb kids

This is a story told to me by a friend [lets call him Bert] some years ago. He was at the time a newly appointed Superintendent of a School District in a big city. He found that the way the school system worked was that a student who didn’t pass at the end of a school year was still permitted to go on to the next grade with friends until they finally reached grade 10 or were 16 years old (at which point the law said they could leave school).

There were many complaints about these ‘unteachable’ students because they often purposely disrupted classes, so Bert persuaded his Board to let him hire a psychologist to test some difficult kids and see if they had problems that could be identified. The report that came back was clear – most of them could neither read nor write, and had been using their wits in order to manage at all. They had matured more slowly than ‘normal’, and had not been ready for reading when these skills were taught. If no one had picked up on that and helped them, then they had simply missed their chance and were passed on through the system.

Bert managed to hire a specialist to teach them to read, but he didn’t just stop there – he figured he needed to find some way to engage the kids outside the classroom, so he tried an experiment. He cobbled some money together, bought a run-down property and gave the students the mission to repair and refurbish the place - and assigned a supervisor to oversee the project. The kids had to read labels and instructions on nearly everything they worked with, and they had to use their math skills to measure and calculate the amounts of materials they needed and to keep track of finances. They cooperated, learned, and it was a success – so the next year Bert bought an old boat.

Bert kept in touch and found out that some of those labeled ‘losers’ went on to University, and one even ended up earning a PhD! It’s a good story, and it makes the point that not everyone fits the school mold. The smarter we get at recognizing and addressing this, the better.

In my 'Whole Brain' post, I noted that schools test for left-brained skills, but it is often the kids with artistic and creative talents who can be more perceptive and skilled at relationships. We need them both! Rie

Monday, October 25, 2010


At noon on a summer day in 79 AD, the inhabitants of the prosperous city of Pompeii felt and heard rumblings coming from the nearby Vesuvius Mountain. They watched in wonder as a dense, black plume of rocks and ash rose out of its centre, shot high into the sky and spread out over their city. They had never seen or heard of anything like this before, and while many of the 20,000 inhabitants fled, at least 2000 stayed, not knowing that this would be a fatal decision. The volcanic eruption first spewed ash and pumice stone down on the city for 18 hours, and then the top of the mountain collapsed, releasing lethal gases and a mud and earth slide that buried the city under 30 feet of debris.

Knowledge of the city's existence faded over the next 15 centuries, and its ancient remains were only discovered in the 18th century when a deep hole was being dug for the base of an aqueduct. Restoration has been slow, but 3/4 of the site, preserved in every detail because of the catastrophe, is now excavated and partly restored. Although almost all of the statuary and personal effects of the inhabitants have been preserved in the Archaeological Museum in Naples, many replicas are onsite, so one gets a sense of the grandeur of a thriving Roman city where time stopped one day long ago.
As excavators uncovered human remains, they soon realized that the skeletons were surrounded by empty space in the compacted ash where the entombed body had been. By carefully pouring plaster of Paris into these spaces, the final poses, clothing and figures of many of the victims of Pompeii bear witness to their final moments. Although the whole site was amazing, viewing these bodies probably had the greatest impact on me, bringing to life the horrors of the final moments of their lives.

Scientific records now indicate that Vesuvius erupts every 2000 years. This means that there is a 50/50 chance of it erupting again any day now. Since over the years Naples has grown in the volcano’s shadow to a city of 3.5 million, let us hope there will be plenty of warning in the event of that happening. Rie

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Amalfi Coast

I've read that the road down the coast from Sorrento to Amalfi has the most spectacular scenery in the world – and I now believe it. In the picture I took of the route the bus was taking over the cliff-hanging, switchback road, you can perhaps imagine the heart stopping views at every turn.

Amalfi used to be the large capital of a powerful republic, but the city slid into the sea during an earthquake in the 14th century, and it is now just a small town like others, with houses clinging to steep slopes rising from the coast. The picture taken from the ferry shows Positano with its front street lined with cafés on one side and the beach and ocean on the other.

Small narrow streets are mostly steps because they rise so steeply. One must be fit to travel!

We are enjoying the many ferries and the clear aquamarine water that is now a little too cold for swimming. Rie

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Isle of Capri

A couple of days ago we took the hugely popular day trip from Sorrento to the famed Island of Capri about 5 km out to sea. The ferry ride was rough on the windy day we visited, and I was disappointed to miss my main goal. It had been to visit the ‘magical’ blue grotto, but the waves were too high to risk rowing through its narrow opening. The incredibly blue water around the island was visible everywhere, as you can see in the picture.

From the dock it was only a few steps to take the funicular up to the small town of Capri with its tiny squares and narrow streets lined with designer shops, posh hotels and cafés – everything expensive. After a long sight-seeing walk, I enjoyed people watching while sitting in the main square eating delicious creamy Italian gelato.

While leaving, my camera caught the sun setting behind the town of Capri nestled between the limestone hills on either side. Rie

Monday, October 18, 2010


We were advised to make our headquarters for the Amalfi region in Sorrento, just south of Naples. It is a laid-back small town with southern Italian charm that dates back to Greek and Roman times. It has turned out to be a perfect location, on the beautiful bay of Naples with its steep-cliffed capes on either side. The picture I took shows where we had a snack behind the helpful Information Centre.

This is a town that caters to tourists, but really its appeal is not spoiled by them. It is a shopper’s dream, with a warren of narrow pedestrian streets filled with shops and cafes – even fruits and vegetables are displayed artistically.
We enjoy getting around using the many ferries to Naples, Capri, Amalfi, etc.

The combination of sights, food, warmth, good shopping and a great apartment are making this an unforgettable holiday. Rie

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rome tourist

We are in Italy with family, and the first few days we explored Rome. As you can see from the line-up in St. Peter’s square to get into the cathedral, even at this time in October there are still lots of tourists. Actually, it is a great time to visit because it is warm but not hot, and far less crowded than at many other times of the year. Finding it very expensive, however!

Rome is built on hills, and there are lots of steps everywhere and beautiful churches, as seen in this second picture.

Below, the Venetian palace took my breath away – a truly ‘monumental’ city!
Next we took the train to Naples, and from there to the beautiful town of Sorrento. I rented a lovely apartment [for 10 days] over the internet before our trip, and, with four of us, it is ideal: two bedrooms, two baths, living-dining room and well equipped kitchen - all less expensive that a hotel. More in next post. We are having a fine time!! Rie

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rie in Italy

I have flown off for a couple of weeks in Italy. A couple of days in Rome, and then down to the spectacular and historic Amalfi coast. Pictures to follow. Rie

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Whole Brain

For a long time I have been interested in fact that our brain has two separate parts - the left and right hemispheres (see picture).

Growing up, I used to watch in fascination as my older sister, a budding artist, mixed oil paints on her palette. She would be painting a green bottle, and yet would mix up some purple and white that she then applied in a long streak to the image of the bottle she was depicting. When I looked for the mauve streak on the real green bottle, I found that if, instead of being aware of the bottle as an object, I just looked at reflections and light patterns, then I could 'see' what my sister saw - and there was that mauve streak. Later I found out that she was using her brain’s right hemisphere, and that I could switch into mine too, not just in the way I looked at things, but in my approach to situations or problems as well.

I'm told that geniuses always use both sides of their brain, but most of us have a preference. The left hemisphere specializes in analytical thought, facts, abstractions, structure, mathematics, logic, words, efficiency, science and technology, etc. Left hemisphere ability is the principal focus for what can be tested in school.

The right brain, on the other hand, tends to specialize in "softer" aspects like intuition, feelings, sensitivity, creativity, non-verbal skills, rhythm, spontaneity, impulsiveness and the physical senses. The right hemisphere perceives the entire view and can recognize patterns and similarities and combine those elements into new forms.

Apparently, by the time we are two years old, one hemisphere begins to be more dominant than the other. Both halves are in touch through a bundle of nerve fibers, and our hemisphere dominance develops until we are in our mid teens.

You can test which half of your brain is dominant and to what extent by just clicking on the word test. Answering this test will take about 10 minutes, and there is more background information to read after you finish it if you like. I found it interesting that my left hemisphere is 67% dominant - as you may have guessed from my posts so far.

My goal is to try to use both hemispheres of my brain when I am making decisions and dealing with relationships, or trying to see a problem from another person's point of view. Rie