Category Archives: religion

A quiet, but enjoyable Christmas

Happy Boxing Day, as they might say in the UK!

We had a simple and quiet Christmas here at Casa Poolman. I am about half way through a week-and-a-half long holiday break. Within the University System, we bunch several holidays in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and close down the institute for a week. I added a couple of  vacation days to that run, so I will have off from the Saturday before Christmas through New Year’s Day. I love it.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Poolman is not so lucky. This was the year she was scheduled to work 12-hour shifts both Christmas Eve and Christmas. It stinks, but what can you do?

I spent the first half of Tuesday putzin’ around and taking care of last-minute Christmas preps. My CCD class provided the readers for a short Christmas Pageant during the 4 o’clock Mass. Everyone we were expecting showed up, and more-or-less on time. Yea! Last year, we had one child who missed all but one practice, but we agreed to let him participate after his mother called up and practically begged us to do so. Then “mom” failed to deliver him on time. We rearranged the readers to cover his slot, but he came running up just as we were walking into church for the start of Mass. I don’t blame the child, but the mom taught us a lesson we won’t forget.

No such drama this year. Our students all did great. After constant encouragement, they all read loud enough that the congregation could actually here them. Yea again!

Our reader team.

Our reader team.

Mrs. P got home around 8 o’clock and we split a pizza for dinner. Very fancy.

On Christmas morning, I got up and drove about 45 minutes out in the country to my daughter’s in-laws. Brad and Annie are great. It was very nice of them to invite me out for Christmas brunch. Writer Princess is very lucky (and so are we) that she has such a great set of in-laws. They a house on several acres out in the boonies. Annie has taken to raising livestock. She has turkeys, chickens, “runner ducks,” guinea fowl and goats. The highlight of yesterday’s visit were two week-old baby goats.  Very cute!

"Well, Tom. We made it through another holiday. Whew!

“Well, Tom. We made it through another holiday. Whew!”

Inquisitive goat.

“So what did you get for me?”

Back home in the early afternoon and started preps for dinner. I planned on a boneless rib-eye roast, twice-baked potatoes, green bean bundles and creamed pearl onions (Mrs. P’s creation ahead of time.) Everything went well, even the green-bean bundles, which were a little more effort than I originally planned.

Mrs. P got home around 7:30 pm and I handed her a vodka and tonic. The rest of our dinner guests included son, girlfriend, daughter, son-in-law, and son-in-law’s brother. I planned to take a picture of the meal, but, frankly, I was so wrapped up in getting it all together when it was time to serve, I just forgot.

Some friends/neighbors walked down as we were finishing dinner. We all gathered in the family room to open presents and visit.

Gathered around

Gathered around

...visiting.

…visiting.

I wish Mrs. P had been around for more of the activities, but given the circumstances, it was a pretty nice holiday.

Feeling a little guilty

In some of my past posts, I have mentioned what a good time my co-teacher and I have been having with this year’s 5th grade CCD class (Catholic religion classes for kids who don’t go to the parish school.) Now I’m feeling guilty.

I know there are plenty of kids out there with Asperbergers, autism, out-of-control ADHD, serious family problems and other issues that may make them behavior problems during our short hour together on Wednesday nights. They need love and religious education too. I’m just glad for maybe only the second class in nine years, I don’t have to deal with a whole bunch of them.  I’m feeling guilty because we actually have it pretty easy this year, and my co-teacher and I are enjoying it.

Our class this year is small, only 13 students. Typically our class sizes are closer to 20-25. And for the most part, this is a nice, well-behaved group. I have only one male student who seems to have difficulty sitting at his desk without falling out. As a group, they are not perfect, but they are good natured and manageable.

The best part for both them and us is it allows Mrs. R (co-teacher) and I to do different, and more interesting things when we don’t have to worry about pulling kids off of the light fixtures.

For example, this week we had them break into groups of two or three and brainstorm ways they can continue to serve God and their neighbors after they leave Mass.  With some classes, even doing that much was a recipe for chaos. However, this class handled it. When we asked them what they had come up with, the first group said they wanted to act it out with charades.  Mrs. R was not in favor, but I thought it was worth a shot. As it turned out, every one of our groups acted out their “charade” very well. We ended up going around the class three times. It was a little rowdy, but nothing totally out of control.

The students enjoyed it. Since they actually had to engage in the activity, maybe some of what we did may actually stick with them. One can always hope.

Back to the Wednesday night follies

For the ninth straight year, I am back teaching 5th grade religion classes at our parish church. Protestant churches would probably call it Sunday School, but since we are Catholic, it is called CCD and the classes are held on Wednesday evenings. These classes are for the children who attend public and other private schools other than our parish school.

As I have detailed in the past, my experience teaching CCD has had its ups and downs. We have had some really great classes, and we’ve had some that caused me to almost dread showing up on Wednesday evenings. Just two classes into the 2013-14 year, my co-teacher and I are cautiously optimistic that we have a pretty good group. So far they have been polite and respectful, while still participating in the class discussions.

Having a group that is reasonably well behaved and cooperative is better for more than just our sanity. If we have a class that will work with us and work with each other without descending into anarchy, we can make the class much more interesting, for both the students and teachers, through interactive activities and more interesting discussions.

That having been said, we also realize that our students are ten and eleven years old, and our class comes at the end of a long day in school. In adult terms, their CCD class is overtime for them. We don’t expect perfection; we just don’t need it to be a constant struggle.

Here’s hoping the rest of the years goes as well as the first couple of weeks have.

Hymns, funerals and extra mourners

I am not much into music, especially religious music. In church I try to sing along, or at least lip sync, when I know the song. However there is no way I can contribute to a song I haven’t heard enough to recognize the melody.

This past Saturday, I was the reader at 5:30 Mass.  Afterwards, I went over to Julie, the song leader, to compliment her on her contribution. A few weeks ago, after a Mass that had four hymns I had never heard before, I had teased her that she and the organist were apparently trying to sing every song in the hymnal at least once during the year. So when I approached her on Saturday, she asked if I thought they were doing any better with their music selection. This got us talking about “So what are your favorite pieces?” I mentioned a few, but said my all-time favorite was “On Eagle’s Wings.”

Julie responded, “Well you must not go to many funerals, because we always sing it there.”

I told her I had been to many funerals as a child (more on that in a moment), but fortunately, I had not much opportunity to do so lately.

During the course of the conversation, I recalled a television show that had a short run in the 1990s that focused on an urban Catholic parish. I couldn’t remember much about it, but I did remember one episode that concerned the death of a nun and a beautiful rendition of “On Eagle’s Wings” at her funeral.

Mrs. Poolman has accused me of being a bit obsessive on more than one occasion. I do hate to leave mysteries unsolved. When I got home, I got on-line and tried to locate this program. Actually, a quick Google search for “tv, drama, catholic, priest” turned up the answer in nothing flat.  “Nothing Sacred” was an ABC network program that had a short run in 1997-98. Beyond that, it turns out there are a number of episodes on YouTube. Since the show had only a short run, it was pretty easy to narrow down the episodes to find the funeral scene. Here it is. The clip is of the entire last segment of the show. The song starts just past the 9-minute mark.

So, why, you might wonder, did I attend so many funerals as a child? It had nothing to do with dying family members, although there were those too. I went to a Catholic grade school, and my sixth grade teacher, Sister Mary Leonard, was also the musical director for the parish. Fairly frequently, when she was called upon to play music for a week-day funeral. Usually there was no substitute teacher available, so Sister just brought the class along for the funeral. Three to four times a month, a grieving group of family and friends would show up at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church to say farewell to a loved one, and there, sitting in the back rows of the church, were 40-45 sixth graders.  We were all well trained on the proper procedures and etiquette of the Requiem Mass. We knew all the responses and the words to most of the hymns.

One day, we even attended a wedding. I wonder if the father-of-the bride looked over as he was escorting his daughter down the aisle and wondered, “Are they coming to the reception too?”

Looking back on it, I am a little surprised at how well behaved we all were. However, by that time, we were all veterans of a number of years of parochial school, weekly Masses, monthly confessions, etc. We were well aware that any cutting-up during a funeral Mass, might result in a lightning bolt from the choir loft. In any case, it would not be a pleasant experience. We knew what was best in the long run.

Feelin’ a little discouraged

As I have written in the past, I am involved teaching a fifth-grade religion class at our church. We are Catholic, so this class is for the kids who do not attend the parish’s parochial school. Most Protestant churches would call it “Sunday School.” In the Catholic Church, it’s called CCD.

This is my eighth year teaching 5th grade, and I have noticed that nearly every year, we hit a low point around February. I don’t know whether it is the spot in the curriculum, the attitude of the kids or the way I teach. However, it seems that nearly every year around this time I wonder, “Why am I doing this?”

Classroom management is an issue for me. Part of the problem is I wear hearing aids, so keeping track of multiple voices is very difficult. I have a co-teacher who is essentially my “enforcer.” She was not able to attend this week, so Mrs. Poolman came along to help. At one point she asked me, “You don’t get paid for this, right?” When I pointed out that she knew this was a volunteer job, she replied, “I knew you were a little crazy, but not this much.” Thanks for the support, Mrs. P!

I think there are several issues involved. The biggest is the class meets for an hour on Wednesday evenings. The students have already been in school all day, and this is “overtime.” We are seriously infringing upon their leisure-fun time.

While I try hard to make the class as interesting as I can, sometimes the activities I design to break up the routine are counter-productive. This week I planned a small-group poster activity. But once the groups got together, they decayed quickly into chaos. They were much too distracted by cutting up with each other and arguing over what color markers to use, to actually complete the assignment.

The class is not homogenous. There are typically 20 students on any given night. I have a small group of very quiet kids who I have to work on to draw out of their shells. And I have a few who are not naturally quiet, but are usually engaged and well behaved. And then we have:

–One little girl who is desperately needy for attention. Her way of getting it is to stir up trouble with anyone who is around her and then blame them for the disturbance.

–A few loud, high-energy (ADHD?) boys who have a compelling drive to be the center of all attention. They just roll over the quiet kids.

–A group of socially active “tween girls.” They are not intentionally disruptive, but they are constantly “a-twitter.” They just love to chat with their friends.

Next week, we’ll try it again. Since our last lesson was a total bomb, I’ll need to recover the same material, but in a more traditional style.

I hope I’m getting gold stars on my record somewhere for all this. Sigh.

Merry Christmas!

It’s been a nice, but somewhat busy few days here around Casa Poolman.

Most of Mrs. Poolman’s family came up from Jacksonville to visit over the weekend. This included both sisters, a brother-in-law, a niece a great-niece and a large boxer. Only two nephews and a girlfriend were otherwise occupied. We ate a lot, drank a lot and talked a lot. We had not all gotten together since sometime last summer, so it was a nice visit. Niece Ansley was down in the dumps because her husband is in the middle of a nine-month deployment on board a guided missile destroyer in the Persian Gulf. She was able to have a video conversation with him via her new smart phone. Not too shabby.

The gang headed home on Monday. Mrs. P and I went to Christmas Eve Mass at 6 pm. Some of my CCD children were the narrators for the Christmas Pageant which was part of the Mass. They did a great job. I’m proud of them.

Last week, I mentioned one of my students whose mother is somewhat frustrating. The problem is that she never can seem to get her son where he is supposed to be and when he is supposed to be there. This child desperately wanted to be a part of the pageant, but “Mom” couldn’t seem get him to any of the rehearsals, even those that were held during our regular class sessions. Unfortunately, the child is dependent on the Mom to get him where he needs to go. We can’t get too angry at the child, but the mother is another issue. He did show up for the first of our two programs during the regular CCD time slot last Wednesday and we allowed him to read. “Mom” promised me she would have him there for the Christmas Eve Mass. All the other kids were there by 5:30 as directed.  Jack was a no-show. My co-teacher, Sherry, and I were steaming, but we had a Plan B for the rest of the team. Then, at 5:55 pm, just as we were ready to walk the kids from the school to the church for Mass, young Jack came running up. Sherry and I shared some not-very-Christmas-like thoughts about “Mom.”

Christmas Day was fairly low key. Our children and their “sig-others” spent the first part of the day with the other sides of their families. They came over here around five o’clock for a Christmas dinner and opening presents.

Mrs. P is working today and tomorrow. I was pretty-much a slug today. Leftovers for dinner. Not to bad.

 

Hello parents! Anyone listening?

This fall I’ve learned a big lesson – don’t try to communicate with adults through their ten-year old children. It doesn’t work. The group in question, of course, is my 5th grade CCD class. (This is religious education for the kids in our parish who do not go to Catholic schools. Protestants call it “Sunday school” except ours is on Wednesday evenings.) This is my eighth year teaching 5th grade, and for some reason, we have had more of a need to get announcements to the parents than in past years. One big issue has been our Christmas pageant. Our class was asked to provide readers/narrators. However, this involved only half the class, which created the opportunity for confusion over schedules, etc.

Unfortunately, announcements made in class go through the filters of 10 or 11 year-olds, who may or may not remember to pass it on to their parents (and may or may not get the information correct.) Even written hand-outs don’t always make it to their intended destination. Of course an in-class announcement or handout is useless for a student who isn’t there that evening.

Then you have the students who deliver the message properly and accurately, but their parents don’t believe them.

Mother of troublesome child: “Yes, she told me that you told her she shouldn’t come to class tonight unless she was in the pageant, but I told her she must have been mistaken.”

Me: “No, she got it right. (And thank you for bringing her. It was a real pleasure to have her here with nothing to do except annoy the other children who are involved in the program.”

I maintain a second blog to update parents on what we are teaching and talking about on a weekly basis. However, judging from the number of “hits” it gets each week, I can see that most of our parents are not taking advantage of this resource to stay informed.

The inability to communicate with parents presents real problems when trying to schedule things like the pageant. One program will be during a regular CCD class time slot. That isn’t much of a problem; the kids should be there anyway. However, a second presentation will be at 6 pm Mass on Christmas Eve. The children have no control over their schedule. They can say they want to read at Christmas Eve Mass, but if their parents have another idea for the family, the little darlings have no say in the matter.

We have one boy who really wants to participate. He stopped my co-teacher in his school parking lot last week and told her how excited he was to be involved. The problem is — he was there for the first introductory run-though of the program but hasn’t been seen since. He missed the next two practices during the regular class time-slots as well as our special Saturday morning rehearsal. So do we penalize the kid because Mom can’t get remember when the rehearsals are and get him there? (FYI – If he shows up, we’ll let him read.)

In January, I’ll assemble an email list and see if that works any better.

Bottom line – I love the kids. The parents are a little exasperating.

Morons, rednecks and dental hygienists

Several things caught my attention over the weekend.

Apparently people with green lasers are causing havoc with Coast Guard rescue helicopters in Myrtle Beach, S.C. They shine the lasers at the helicopters and mess with the pilots’ vision while they are flying at night. Probably a funny practical joke to the person with the laser. I would imagine it would be less so to the pilot.

Although the article doesn’t state it, I would strongly suspect the culprits of this kind of moronic amusement are probably also to young to vote. Don’t they have anything better to do? And, as always, where are the parents? Idiots!

And a special nod to some of the folks in Jackson, Mississippi, for reminding us once again why most of the rest of the country things you are a bunch of yahoos. After scheduling a wedding for a black couple at the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, the church changed its mind and forced them to schedule the wedding at another church. Why? Because some of the church members didn’t want a black couple to get married in their church.

This is so wrong on so many levels, it is just amazing. Seriously, what do you really think God would think of how you treated two of his children? You’re a church! You’re supposed to know better. The pastor said he moved the ceremony to accommodate the haters because he didn’t want any controversy in his congregation.  So how’s that working out for you Rev? Your flock is in USA Today looking like a bunch of redneck Klansmen. 

And finally, I learned something I didn’t know over the weekend. Some dental hygienists are paid all or partially on commission. How I got to be this old without knowing that, I don’t know. But then again, I don’t hang out with a lot of dentists either.

I know when I go to buy a car, the salesman is going to try to upsell me the extended warranty, the undercoating and anything else he or she can tag on. Forewarned is forearmed.  But if I go to my doctor and she tells me I need some kind of treatment, I take it that she is giving me her best medical advice. I thought dental offices were the same. Guess not. I think back on a fairly expensive plaque treatment I had last winter. That was recommended by the hygienist. In retrospect, I wonder if it was really needed, or did “the baby need new shoes?” It shines an entirely new light on dental services.  Hmmm.

Not feelin’ the love

As we finished up our final CCD class of the year last week, I was reminded of a quote from one of our US senators on the state of education in the US.

“The biggest problem with education in this country is a bad case of PDD – Parental Deficit Disorder.”

He wasn’t talking about our 5th grade religion classes, but it seemed to fit our situation.

As I whined a couple of weeks ago, we are never quite sure how much of an effect we are actually having on our students. And we know the children don’t really appreciate our efforts. Heck, they would much prefer to be home watching TV or out playing with their friends. So would I at their age. (Or even at my current age!)

However, my co-teacher, Mrs. R, and I are a little disappointed in the lack of  participation and/or acknowledgment by the parents, for whom we give up 26 Wednesday nights to teach their children.

–We have 25 sets of parents who we have repeatedly invited to sit-in on an occasional class to see what we are teaching their children. So far not a single parent has taken us up on the invitation. We could be teaching their children straight from the Book of Mormon, and they would probably never pick up on it. (Not that there is anything wrong with the Book of Mormon, if you are an LDS, but we’re Catholic.)

–I maintain a second blog that I update weekly so parents can see what we are teaching and discussing. Of 25 sets of parents, my blog count averages around four to six hits a week.

–At the final pick-up last week, one, but only one, parent came up to Mrs. R and me and said, “Hey, I want to thank you for all you have done this year. You’ve been here every week teaching this group, and I want you to know my husband and I appreciate it.” One other student brought us a “thank you card.” We weren’t expecting a ticker-tape parade, but a few more “thanks for teaching my son/daughter” would have been nice.

Of course, we don’t teach the class for the parents or for recognition. We do it because we think it is an important job that someone needs to do. All the same, some acknowledgment from the parents would have been appreciated.

That’s enough of my whining. I’m on religious education vacation until September.

Good news and bad news

Our CCD director, Pamela, had some good and bad news for me on Wednesday evening. Apparently I have been working from an old schedule of classes and thought we still had two more class session remaining. I was wrong. We had class on Wednesday, but then our next class on April 18 will be the final class of the year. That means that this week’s class was really the last one that we would realy be able to teach anything.

Last year, I would have done a “happy dance” up and down the hallways, but this year,  I was actually a little disappointed.

First, I really like this class of 5th graders. They have their moments, but they are generally fun to teach. They are energetic and have good attitudes. We have some interesting discussions.

The second reason for my disappointment was that I had scheduled a two class-session to cover the Ten Commandments. This subject was not actually in our curriculum in the new texts we began using this year. However, it was such an interesting topic and generated so much discussion in past years, I decided to include it anyway.

Among the questions that usually come up are good meat for discussion like:

–The first commandment warns us to not worship false gods. Here in the 21st century, what are some of the false gods that some people worship? (ie: money, celebrities, fame, drugs, alcohol, etc.)

–What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? Does “Oh, my God!” count?

–Why do Catholics celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday rather than Saturday?

–What are Catholics’ obligation to honor the Sabbath?

–Why do most Protestant religions count the commandments different than Catholics?

–Why would God make it a commandment to honor your parents?

–Regarding the commandment “Thou shall not kill”, what about war, self defense, accidents, negligence, mental illness, etc?

–What is adultery? Does it also apply to boyfriends and girlfriends?

–What does it mean to “bear false witness? Does it mean any lie? What about gossip or rumors?

–Who are the “neighbors” it refers to?

–What does “covet” mean? What is the difference between admiring something that your friend owns, and coveting it?

And so on. Anytime I can get the kids to maybe think of something they haven’t considered before, I hope I’m having some impact.

So on Wednesday, we had a pretty interesting class, but there was the pressure of getting through all ten of the commandments in the roughly 50 minutes we had to work with. Before next year, I’ll learn how to read a calendar.