Monthly Archives: March 2012

More perils of teaching 5th graders

For the second week in a row, we were hit with an awkward question during last night’s 5th grade CCD class. We had been covering the Sacrament of Matrimony. My co-teacher, Sherry, said she was anticipating and absolutely dreading a question about gay marriage, but that never materialized. Instead, the question originated in a passage in our text.

“The deacon or priest asks the couple three important questions…Will they lovingly accept children from God and raise them in the faith?”

“So Mr. Poolman, suppose it’s not a good time for a couple to have children? Like maybe one of them is in the military and is being sent away. What can they do then?”

I stammered and stuttered, and looked over at Sherry for help. She signaled that I was definitely on my own for this one. Thanks for the help!

There are two problems in trying to answer that question.

1. As I mentioned in a post last week, the students are 10 and 11 years old. We’re not sure what they have been taught about sex by their parents. I really don’t want to open things up to additional questions like, “Mr. Poolman, what’s a condom?”

2. And that is because we do not have a mandate or permission from the students’ parents to get into a discussion of sex. Personally, it wouldn’t bother me to have such a discussion, but absolutely not without the parents’ involvement.

So after thinking about it for a moment, I answered that the Church does not approve of artificial means of birth control, but there are other, natural means a couple can use. And then I said that we really don’t have permission from their parents to get involved any more deeply in that kind of subject, and strongly suggested that they talk with their parents.

It probably wasn’t the best answer, but it was the best I could come up with on short notice.

Fortunately, there were no additional questions on that subject. Whooo!

We are going to discuss the Ten Commandments for the next two weeks, so we should be safe. Oh, wait! They do include that adultery thing, and coveting your neighbor’s wife. Maybe I’m not out of the woods yet.

Spellcheck doesn’t always work the way you want

Whoever copy-edited an article in our local paper, the Savannah Morning News, should take note of this. In an article on a recent sailing regatta, this paragraph referred to the members of a sailing team from an all-girls high school (St Vincent’s Academy) who crewed on some of the boats. (Caps are mine.)

“It was a chance to see that things are similar but not the same on the bigger boats with WENCHES, and see a different age group in competition,” Baczynski added.”

Somehow I suspect the good Sisters of Mercy won’t appreciate that characterization.

“Jersey Boys” and Bahama Breeze make a great evening!

We had a busy and very good weekend.

Mrs. Poolman and I headed down to Jacksonville for a quick overnight with her sister and brother-in-law, Bonnie and Rick, and to see the touring production of “Jersey Boys.” It was a lot of fun. Another couple, friends of Bonnie and Rick’s, also joined us. We started the evening with dinner at Jacksonville’s new “Bahama Breeze” restaurant. That is well on my want to becoming my favorite restaurant chain. It was really good! I had the grilled chicken with cilantro crema. Oh my! I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

I spent most of the dinner getting up and checking the Florida-Louisville “Elite Eight” game in the bar. Unfortunately, the Gators blew an 11 point lead in the last seven minutes to lose out on a trip to the Final Four. It was the only downer of the evening.

I have wanted to see the “Jersey Boys” for several years and have been on the look-out to find a touring group that would come close to Savannah. The show follows the story of the musical group, the Four Seasons (Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, etc.) I’ve been a Four Seasons fan since I was in high school. The production mixes drama scenes with many of the groups musical numbers. The music starts off a little slow as the show tells the story of the group’s early years. However, once they got their first hit in “Sherry,” their careers and the production took off.

This show is all about the music. The actor / singers did an excellent job. The actor who played Frankie Valli stole the show with his solo of “Can’t take my eyes off of you.”

If you like the music and have a chance to see the show, it’s definitely worth the price of a ticket.

Talking God and religion with fifth graders

For eight months of the year, for the past seven years, I have spent nearly every Wednesday evening in the company of about two dozen 10 and 11 year-olds. I volunteered to teach the fifth grade CCD class at our church. This is a religious education program for the kids who do not go to a parochial school. In a Protestant church, it would probably be called “Sunday school,” except we have the classes on Wednesday evenings.

Mrs. Poolman is not at all certain why I continue to do this. I’m not really sure myself. I am a practicing Catholic, but I’m not a particularly devout or religious person. I do get some sense of satisfaction from filling a definite need in the parish. While I don’t think I’m a particularly good teacher, I do show up with some reliability and fill the space. Our CCD coordinator, Paula, is not overwhelmed with people knocking her doors down to teach a class.

I think I’m also providing a service to the students. It is been clear over the years, that for many of my students those Wednesday night CCD classes are the major source of their education / indoctrination in matters of God, religion, morals, ethics, values and life. My big question is: “How much of this is actually sticking with the kids?” I don’t have an answer to that. I suspect the answer is “very little.” We don’t have much time. Nor do we have the repetition to drive it home. Those 45-50 minutes a week are easily lost in the midst of busy lives of school, sports, school activities, dance, friends, and so on. I try not to dwell too long on that depressing note

Mostly, I think I like the kids and the discussions we have. The curriculum for this grade is to cover the sacraments.  It leaves us lots of time to talk about all kinds of subjects. Once they get comfortable in the class, fifth graders are not at all shy about asking questions and offering their opinions. I have a co-teacher, Sherry. Between the two of us, we try to get the kids engaged and maybe thinking about things that they haven’t thought of before.

By this point in the year, we have gotten to know the students fairly well, and they have gotten to know us. We know who is quick to raise their hand and those who we to be coaxed into participating in a discussion.

During our class this week, we covered the Sacrament of Matrimony. While this sounds innocent, it actually is fairly tricky. The Catholic Church teaches that a wedding vow is permanent, and divorce is not an option. (The issue of annulment is much too involved for this age group.) This fun part is to teach the kids that this is what they should seek to achieve in their adult lives, without appearing to criticize their divorced parents, cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles, etc.

The other interesting issue is we are never quite sure how much our students of this age have learned about sex from their parents, school, friends, TV and so on. If we were dealing with 13 year olds, we could be fairly certain they have at least been exposed to “Birds and Bees 101.” But for ten and eleven year-olds, we aren’t as certain. It makes it difficult to answer a question about a pregnant bride, which is one query we received last night. To make life very interesting, it just takes one student to ask, “What do you mean that they had sex before they were married? What does that mean?” Then we have opened a can of worms, and they are crawling all over the place.

We are fairly certain one girl was trying to “work us” last night with this exchange.

Her: I see all the pictures of the brides here are wearing white dresses. Why do brides always seem to wear white?  

Me: It’s a tradition, but you can wear whatever color you like.

Her: Even black?

Me: Yes, even black.

Her: But why do they usually wear white?

Me: It symbolizes purity or innocence.

Her: Innocent of what?

Sherry (jumping in to help out): It symbolizes that she is a virgin.

Her: A virgin? What’s a virgin?

Sherry: You know the answer to that.

Her: No, really (laughing). I don’t know. What is a virgin?

Sherry: Ask your parents.

We have just a few more weeks of class remaining for this year. This has been a good group. I’ll miss them when we break for the summer. Then I’ll take my chances with a fresh class in the fall.

“Death of Kings” is a good read!

Sometimes I read for knowledge or understanding, and sometimes I just read for pure fun. The sixth book in book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, Death of Kings, is just plain fun.

The series is set in ninth and early tenth century Britain, at a time when the Danes (Norsemen) have invaded and occupied the central part of the island. The Saxon king, Alfred (the Great), is attempting to unite the other feuding parts of Britain to fight off the invaders and preserve Saxon Britain. The stories are told in the first person by Uhtred of Bebbanberg. Uhtred is a Saxon who was orphaned as a boy and was raised by a Danish family. So he has sympathies in both camps.

Uhtred is quite a character and it is his personal version of events that makes the stories so interesting. Uhtred is a sly, smart and very talented warrior. While serving a devoutly Christian king, Uhtred clings to the Norse gods, like Thor and Woden. He believes firmly in the “fates” who weave the outcome of human lives.  Much of the first five books revolve around Uhtred’s hot-and-cold relationship with Kind Alfred. Alfred doesn’t approve of Uhtred’s pagan religion or his disrespectful attitude towards the Church and the West Saxon nobility, but he needs Uhtred’s sword and his leadership.

In Death of Kings, Alfred dies. Uhtred is caught up in the scheming and back-stabbing as the Saxons and Danes all use the death to advance their personal agendas for their own futures and the future of the island.

Cornwell is an excellent writer who does a great job putting the reader in the middle of the action.

My only complaint is that sometimes it was difficult to keep track of all the characters, many of whom have strange, but similar names. In this book alone, for instance, there was an Aethelred, Aethelflaed and Aethelwold, all of whom were important characters in the story. When I read the next book in the series, I think I’ll keep a slip of paper stuck between the pages and use it to jot down some of the names and their roles for later reference.

You can read Death of Kings as a stand-alone, but I would suggest you will enjoy it more if you go back and start the series with the first book, The Last Kingdom, and work forward from there.

One fair warning – While the books do not contain much sex, they are full of violence. And Cornwell does not pull any punches. If you are squeamish about reading about someone losing his head, you might not enjoy them as much as I did.

Livin’ the green in Savannah

The weekend was a whirlwind here at Casa Poolman. St Patrick’s Day is a major holiday in Savannah, roughly a one-day equivalent to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, without the nudity. (Green beads don’t get you a show here.)

Our weekend started on Thursday, when my sister and brother-in-law arrived for a visit from California. They have retired and are taking their time, moving across the country, stopping to visit everyone they know from Redondo Beach to Maine. They picked a Savannah’s most interesting weekend to stop here.

For the past ten years, Mrs. Poolman and I have hosted a party of sorts on St. Patrick’s Day. We stake out a piece of one of the downtown squares on the parade route and set up a parade version of a football tailgate party. We have food. We have drink. And we have lots of people. I think we are going to have to reevaluate our plan before next year. The event in general and our little piece of it have grown so large and crowded that it wasn’t that much fun.

In the past, Mrs. Poolman has rented a porta-potty, mounted it on the back of a pick-up truck and reserved it for the use of our group.

The 2010 version of Mrs. Poolman's Personal Pick Up Porta-Potty

This year, our problems started on Thursday, when Mrs. P got a call from the porta-potty company saying that the city was going to enforce an ordinance against the placement of the potties, either on trucks, or on public property. Mrs. P was extremely upset and began plotting a scheme for next year.

Saturday morning started nice and early, 3 am to be exact. Mrs. Poolman and I were downtown by 4 am to lay a claim to a precious piece of real estate. There were already quite a few people standing around the perimeter of the square awaiting the go-ahead to actually move in and set up a party spot. We negotiated with some of the earlier arrivals, and discouraged some later arrivals from poaching on our claim.  When the police finally allowed people into the square at 6 am, we ended up with a plot that included about 15 feet of parade frontage on the perimeter of the square. We had only one minor hassle, when a woman with the group next to us tried to push my friend, Birdie (of our Europe trip last year), out of the way. Pushing Birdie is not a good idea. He stood his ground and they exchanged a few words, but no one came to blows.

Here is the "early crew" around 7 am.

As the sun started to come up between 7:30 and 8 am, other people, invited and not, started to show up. By the time the parade started around 10:30 am, we had entirely too many people squeezed into a relatively small area.

It turned out the problem was not really in the number of people we had invited. Our real issue was that many of our invitees had turned around and invited a goodly number of their friends too. A couple of extras would not have been a problem. But when some of our guests showed up with an additional five or six of their family or friends, it added up quickly. I found myself standing in the middle of our extremely crowded picnic site and asking, “Who the heck are all these people?”

Our site before it got totally crazy.

We did have a nice street-side plot to watch the parade.

It was a very good time.  One bright side was the appearance of our friends Sam and Lynn and their two 19-month old twins, Helen and Brittany. Very cute!

Brittany and Helen

It was still a lot of work, mostly for people who I don’t even know. If we do it again next year, we are going to have to seriously cut back on the “extra guests.” If you have a group of five or six people, then you are welcome to come on down at 0-dark-30 and get a site of your own next to ours.

The issue of the crowds that seem to grow geometrically ever year is a more difficult problem. There is talk about changing the rules for claiming a party site, maybe even doing a lottery or an auction. I don’t have a good answer. Next year’s party will also be on a Saturday, which means it will be as crazy as this year was. (March 17 will be a Sunday, but the parade will be held on Saturday.) If the rules remain the same, we may have to start posting people on the street adjacent to the square the evening before and work in shifts. At the very least, it now appears that 2 or 3 am will be the latest one can show up and get a good site.

This is going to require some thought and discussion.

Two good books

I recently read two pretty good books that are definitely worth a mention.

Liar’s Poker – Michael Lewis

I have been a Michael Lewis fan ever since I read his “The Big Short” that explained the way several people got rich during the housing-mortgage crash of several years ago. Since then, I have also read “The Blind Side” (which, I think everyone is familiar with via the movie) and “Boomerang,” in which he examines why the economies of countries like Greece, Iceland and Ireland crashed over the past several years.

“Liar’s Poker” was published in the 1980s and, in it, Lewis tells the story of his brief foray into the world of bond trading. As with Lewis’s other books, it is both enlightening and hysterically funny. Lewis has the ability to explain complex issues and be very entertaining at the same time. It’s a good story about some really crazy times.

Kill Shot – Vince Flynn

I’ve enjoyed Flynn’s novels since my cousin turned me on to him several years ago. Flynn’s main protagonist is CIA assassin Mitch Rapp. The books are almost a 21st century American version of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels, but without Bond’s worldly sophistication or Fleming’s sometimes off-the-wall bad guys. Flynn initially wrote 10 Rapp novels that brought the story to the present day. Then for books 11 and 12, Flynn went back in time and wrote two (“American Assassin” and “Kill Shot”) that tell the story of Rapp’s recruitment, training and his first few assignments.

Flynn novels are pure adventure. There isn’t a subtle bone in his protagonist’s body. There are the good guys and the bad guys, and very little in between. Rapp is one of the good guys, and his stories pit him against his obvious enemies, usually Islamic terrorists, and sometimes the not so obvious — like American politicians.  And in Rapp’s world, the bad guys almost always get what they deserve.

In “Kill Shot,” Flynn tells the story of one of Rapp’s early “hits” that went bad and all the subsequent fall-out.

Flynn doesn’t write an intricate, slowly developing story like a Fredrick Forsyth.  But his novels are exciting, fun and difficult to put down. “Kill Shot” and the rest of Vince Flynn’s books won’t be remembered as great literature, but they sure an entertaining read.