Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Most Important Post I've Posted-- And It's Not Even Mine

For a topic as important as the survival of public education in North Carolina, I'm dedicating this space for the next few days to this crucial blog by James D. Hogan.  It will take you 10 or 15 minutes to read and digest it, but it is the best and most detailed summary of the multi-front assault on our state's schools.


http://www.forum.jamesdhogan.com/2015/08/the-war-on-north-carolinas-public.html


Friday, July 31, 2015

Anatomy of Creating a New Game: GI Joe



Former students may recall that I loved to invent and adapt new games, both for indoor and outdoor recreation.  Many games I taught my classes were taken from The New Games Book,  volumes I and II.  Creating Math games was a fun way to practice less-than-fun concepts in a meaningful way.

Well, I'm still at it. Let me explain the latest "New Game."
It all started when I was at the recycling center and Judy noticed that a printing company had dumped stacks and stacks of these GI Joe posters.  We can't fathom why, but we rescued many dozens, hoping to share and re-purpose them.



The poster depicts GI Joe in 247 different outfits (13 x 19).
The game I created works like this. (Any of the details can be varied; games evolve according to your purpose).
Two players each place 4 (or more) toy soldiers on their side of the playing board (the poster).  Each players soldiers need to be distinguishable, either by color or some other characteristic.
Using a six-sided die or a spinner from any game, players alternate making moves.  On a turn, a player can move only one soldier, but in any direction: forward, backward, sideways, or diagonal. However, the soldier cannot change directions on the same turn.  If your roll of the die lands you directly on an enemy soldier, that piece is destroyed and removed (with all the sound effects you desire).  You can even whack him, but take care not to disturb the whole "battlefield."


By positioning players within striking distance of each other, risk is involved.  You may move within 3 spaces of an enemy, but if the opponent rolls a 3, YOU will become the victim.  Likewise, if you have two soldiers within 6 spaces of an enemy, you may have 2 possible numbers that would give you victory, but so would your opponent.  If an opponent develops a numerical advantage, you may develop defensive strategies and with lucky rolling, even the game up.
I would not suggest allowing too many playing pieces, but you can experiment. If there are a lot of soldiers, almost any roll of the die could result in a "kill," and that might be fun, too.

I hope you don't think this game is too violent.  I always thought playing army was a safe way to play out aggressions.  And all the plastic soldiers come back to life at the end of a game.

Using real action figures adds to the atmosphere, but you could just as easily use tokens from another game or even coins.  Use your imagination and I bet you can come up with a game better than this one.


And for anyone who has read this far, all you have to
do is contact me to get a free GI Joe poster.  You supply 
your own game pieces.  Happy Gaming!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mattresses, Microwaves, Belts, and Hoses: Are we getting HOSED?



In trying to be eclectic, I decided to investigate mattress makers' claims that the weight of your mattress doubles in 10 years.  I found that the scientific investigators scoffed at such a ridiculous claim.  Only commercial mattress websites and light-weight glamour/consumer chat sites gave it any credibility.

 Since most of the weight of a mattress is from its springs, no amount of dead skin, dust mites (plus their poop) could conceivably add significantly to the weight, even in 100 years.  Plus, these items could only add to the outermost layers.  I've beat a lot of dust out of some throw rugs over the years, and I've never noticed one seeming even a tad lighter when I brought it back inside.  And these are rugs that are walked on daily.  I think the mattress "urban legend" was perpetrated by the industry, following suit with all manner of extended warranty scams and the like.

When we bought our last mattress we were told it was good for about 14 years.  Now the same one is being advertised as an 8 year mattress.  Remember when auto parts places started pushing "replacing your hoses and belts every four years"?  Aside from the fact that many people don't even keep a car that long, the recommended practice is to have your mechanic check hoses and belts whenever your car is serviced.  It's not hard to detect cracked or damaged parts well before they'll give you a problem.

 I still think the solution to falling for items like these  is better teaching for critical thinking at early ages.  But I'm afraid too many gullible adults are not qualified to provide the training.  Let's be skeptical of advertising claims, but not paranoid.  Let's buy into common sense, not nonsense.  We'll sleep better.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Oh, Deer . . . The Bold One

Do deer like petunias?  Well, maybe for an
appetizer.  He ate a few, then carefully crossed 
the road and ambled away through the stumps
of recently-cut pines.

He's become a recent visitor and didn't bolt
even when I took a picture and video from
our porch doorway.

Here's the 50 second video of his calm
departure.  Be careful, little one.

video

As usual, we are taking mild, but not extreme
measures to secure our garden.  But we don't 
begrudge the local deer their appetizers, as long
as they leave the main course for us.

And, of course, I don't eat petunias, anyway.

Friday, June 12, 2015

An All-Video Blog of June Fun

My previous post today was all photos and
text, and this post is all videos.  Since Blogger
seems not to want me to post anything over 
one minute in length, I will put a couple more
on Facebook.  Here's a sampler

Slip and Slide, Sprinkler, and Playhouse
video

Brianna: Stream hiking in style
video

A Couple of Swingers
video

Are You Dizzy?
video

Remember to look for a couple more videos
on Facebook.  You'll enjoy them, too.


Adventure Times SIX!

On a fun-filled Tuesday afternoon, our four
grandkids were joined by Kirby cousins
Riley and Reece. Reece was comfortable 
calling me Grandpa, since everybody else
did.  And Bri insisted that he is my grandson.
No, but he and Riley got the full grandkid
experience this afternoon.
Starting at the tree house.  Claire is perched
on top as Riley and Reece explore.

A different angle, as Claire hugs a tree.

What do you think Reece thinks of all this?

Just a short distance away, Riley tries
the swing.  And what does Reece have?

Claire, in her flowing garb, has just
leapt from the swing in style.

Reece is a nature lover like the rest.  Way to
go Jacob and Carrie.  He LOVES his yellow
magnolia leaf.  And Evan has to find one, too.

Maybe you think Riley has a hurt thumb.
Nope, she's licking blackberry juice.

The first wave of blackberries ripened just
in time for all the kids to eat all they wanted.

 Chow down, everybody.  You don't get a
feast like this every day!

Back near the house, roly-poly bugs are the
next item of interest. And we have them a-plenty.

Now for some rip-roaring swinging.  Let's get
this swing set airborne!

This happy pair, Hunter and Evan travel
miles without leaving this spot.

Next up?  The waterfalls!

Reece likes using a hockey stick to stir
things up, just like the others always have.

Riley says, "Let's see where this path leads."

Evan practices his boat rescues.

Since we played hard at the stream but 
didn't get in, it was water slide/sprinkler
time when we returned to the house.

Some slides were graceful as could be.

Others were simply surprising!

Evan's goal is a two-point landing.
With no bump.

Everybody knows when Hunter slides.
He has perfected his squeal of excitement!

One after another, the kids slide on and on,
scrambling up the ladder or over the walls
for their next turn.

I think we had burned off the calories of
the blackberries by now.

A home-made water slide is quite satisfactory.

In a weak moment, I gave the kids full
charge of the hose.  More squealing ensued!

Time to reload.  And nobody can serve up
great snacks like Grandma.  Three kinds
of fruit and a platter of chocolate chip
cookies.  In fact, there were four kinds of
fruit, because Claire and Riley had kiwi!

Reinvigorated, the girls head out to do some
gymnastics.

This may not be gymnastics, but it's still fun.
And totally out of control.

Yes, that was a great afternoon for all six
kids plus us adults who looked on, smiling.

The next day, Bri and Hunter were back
for more.  And as a special treat, we headed
to Beulah Hill for a change of scenery.

They like these swings better than ours at
home because with longer chains they can
soar much higher.  And at least part of the
time they were synchronized.

I'd like to think this contraption contributed
to Bri learning to bike without training wheels.
Amanda reported that last night at home, Bri
rode for the very first time with no trainers or
assistance.  Fantastic!  With my little invention,
velcro and some tape held a little white bar in
place so I could walk alongside her, helping her
balance.  It was a little odd, but easier than walking
behind her trying to hold on to the seat.
Anyway, congrats to Bri!

And just for a change of pace, she takes
the Hot Wheels for a stroll.  I never know
what to expect, but they're always thinking.

We went inside the church and I gave them
a tour of the ten stained-glass windows, including
one dedicated to their great-great grandparents,
Jesse and Ada McKenzie.


Look closely and you will see accompanists
of the future.  That's Bri on the keyboard and
Hunter on the piano.

Back at home, we had a delicious lunch of
their favorites: pizza rolls, chicken nuggets,
and fries.  I don't mind them, either.
Then it was back to the stream.  And today
we were in swimsuits, so Hunter went on his
very first stream hike.  Bri had tried it for the
first time just a couple of weeks ago, and little
brother is usually not far behind.

Like Mark Twain on the Mississippi, Hunter
sets out to get acquainted with every curve,
sandbar, and especially deep spots.

You explore upstream; I'll head downstream.

These pictures tell about half the story of
our fun.  I'm going to post a separate blog
with selected videos from those two days.
I know a lot of my readers don't have time to
watch videos (that only make them jealous ; )
so that one is especially for family, but all
are welcome.  In fact, most of my readers are
just like family, so come one, come all!


Monday, June 8, 2015

SFL First Graders: Welcome to YOUR Nature Trail!


Note: This post is republished from my Blog of
 the Sandhills Farm Life Nature Trail at
 There you will find many more exciting posts,
 including video tours of the trail and detailed
 information about the amazing living things on your trail.

Friday, June 5, was FUN DAY for first graders
at Sandhills Farm Life.  And I was thrilled to be
a part of the day, thanks to an invite from teacher
extraordinaire and former student of mine, Rachel
(Black) Arrington.  Rachel and I are posing near
Big Rock, well known to all trail walkers.

Rachel introduced me to six successive groups
of children, telling all that I had been her third
grade teacher many years ago (1983) and that
she and her classmates had helped to institute
this very trail.

I talked to the students about this being their
nature trail, and invited them to bring their
families there during the year.  I reminded them
to utilize their eyes and ears to observe like a
scientist.  And I cautioned not to taste or touch
everything they saw.  Many plants are toxic,
though most are safe.  And we do have a few
patches of poison ivy, which I avoided.

Here are a few highlights of what I showed the
children.  I told them that on a 20 to 30 minute
hike I couldn't tell them everything, and that
they should have their second grade teachers
invite me to do a longer nature walk next year.

For pure motivation, I emphasized some of
our unusual and iconic trees and distinctive
plants.  First stop was "The Slingshot Tree."
I asked kids to imagine a giant putting a
rubber band on this tree and launching a
boulder across the ball field.

Almost all my readers are acquainted with
Jack, Will, and Tom, the poplar tree with
tree massive trunks.

We did "limbo" under the hanging branches
of Sourwood Sally.  We did not, however,
have a sourwood snack.  I'll save that for
their second grade nature walks.
Mrs. Arrington asked me to discuss the
importance of standing dead trees in the
ecosystem, as it interconnected with part
of their science curriculum.

Here's another nice snag on the trail, which
appears to be a favorite home and feeding
station for birds.

 Of course, big rock was a favorite.  We did
not attempt to cross the stream to climb.
That's something to look forward to.

We paused on these benches at Big Rock,
but didn't stay seated for long.  In connection
with our camping theme, I introduced them
to the all-new Farm Life Camping Song. It
isn't really all new.  I adapted the words from
a cherished song from Camp Cherokee, where
I got my start working with young children.
The original song was called "We've Just Been
Overnighting."  Here are my slightly altered lyrics.

We've just been on a campout,
We've hiked o'er hill and dale;
We climbed the Blue Ridge Mountains
And scampered down again
(We thought we saw a snake!!)
The hike was so refreshing,
Though it thundered now and then.
So here's to dear old Farm Life School,
We're home again!

Here is the video I recorded later at home.  It was much
better with first graders assisting, I promise you.
video


I pointed out the difference between two
adjacent varieties of maple tree:
Sugar Maple

and Red Maple.

In a space of less than 50 yards I pointed
out four varieties of ferns.
Netted Chain Fern

Lady Fern

Cinnamon Fern

My favorite, and the least common on our trail:
Royal Fern.

Another of my favorite plants is 
Jack-in-the-Pulpit.
It pays to learn the difference between this
three-leaved wonder and less desirable three-
leaved plants, such as poison ivy and kudzu.

 Jack-in-the-Pulpit flowers form clusters of
berries. By fall, the stems and leaves will have
disintegrated, but you will find clusters of red
berries throughout the area.  They are easily
distinguished from dogwood berries, which
may be single, or in groups of two or three.

Here's a lovely late bloomer to give you
an idea of this unusual flower.

Less common is the deep burgundy flower
of some pulpit plants.  Evidently it is a
recessive gene.

 Here is a flourishing tangle of Kudzu,
my three-leaved nemesis.

I wage constant war against kudzu, but it
cannot be eradicated.  Here you can see it
trying to overtake trees that border our trail,
but I will make it regret that, shortly.
With NO herbicide, just a sharp blade.

 Not surprisingly, precariously leaning
Old Man Poplar became an instant favorite
with the first grade.

Of course, they loved every living thing they saw!

Every child had a chance to offer Old Man
Poplar a boost as we returned from our hike.
Perhaps he's just a tiny bit straighter.

From the upper trail you can see the 
Slingshot Tree in the background.

Homeward bound!  Let's sing it again:
"We've Just Been on a Campout . . .!"

That's right, Mrs. Arrington!
That extra push is all we needed!

By 3 p.m. Friday, calm had returned to the
nature trail.  I can only imagine the tales 
those 120 children had to tell when they got
home.  And the trail was left to its "permanent
residents." Like this well-camouflaged spider.

And this beautiful, iridescent damselfly.
It's first cousin to a dragonfly and the both
eat their weight in mosquitoes!

48 hours later, on a nice Sunday afternoon,
I was drawn back to the nature trail.  I was
determined to spruce up a few maintenance
items that had caught my eye.

For instance, a virtual deluge of rain back
in March had lodged this huge log under
the old bridge, lifting it from its anchors.
It looks like it's beyond hope.

Hmm.  How does one proceed?

First, use a rope and brute strength to 
manhandle that tree trunk up onto the bank.

 Then, drag the bridge back into place, wedge
a sturdy 2x6 board under the cracked beam,
and maneuver the tree trunk into position to
reinforce the bridge's position.
(Some former students may recall that the 
pilgrims had to resort to similar ingenuity
to reinforce a cracked main beam when they
were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.)

 Next item.  I had brought some old shoes
for stream hiking so I could clear debris and
limbs from the stream bed.  Here are samples of
 what I dragged out.  Tsk, tsk.  Is nothing sacred?

But the source of the main offense was within
a stone's throw of Farm Life School Road, which
crosses over our little stream.  Last year, Duke 
Power had some stately and ancient trees cut at
streamside.  As if that weren't bad enough, they
carelessly allowed limbs and huge sections of
trunk to tumble into the creek bed.  The heavy
spring storms had flooded the whole area and
floated massive logs downstream.

 Before I dragged limbs out of the stream,
it looked like some dysfunctional beavers
were building a dam.

 Waters will flow more freely past Big
Rock when it rains again.

 This log, when still in the creek, was catching
and tangling every smaller branch or vine
that washed down the stream.

 Relatively clear now, the stream should
be washed clean by the next good rain.

 The stream will be running free to devise 
its next change of course, possibly relocating
this gravelly sandbar.

 I didn't make a brush pile, but simply tossed
branches of all sizes onto the bank.  They will
 eventually decay there and enrich the soil.

 Of course I know that they would've decayed
in the stream without my interference, but I
felt that cleaning up Duke Power's debris
at least gives the stream a chance to start fresh.
So to speak.

 When I was both filthy and soggy, and had
accomplished a good afternoon's work, I
was delighted to see my nieces Emma and
Jessie arrive for a nature walk.  Both girls
are alumni of dear old Farm Life and had
been on the trail before.  But they were
pleased with improvements that had been
made even since they moved on to high school.

Emma with Jack, Will, and Tom

 Jessie with Jack, Will, and Tom

 Emma on Big Rock

 Jessie on Big Rock
(Do not try this at home!  Unless you have
a big rock, that is.)

 Emma lifting weights

 Jessie doing chin-ups on the world's
biggest chin-up bar.

 And me, Mr. Loyd, also known as Uncle Ken.


Okay, when is the last time YOU were on
the Farm Life Nature Trail?  Last year?
10 years ago?  20 years ago?  NEVER?!

It's time!!!  It's YOUR trail.  The temperature
drops 5 degrees the minute you step under
its sheltering deciduous branches.  And, oh,
the wonders you'll experience!
It's a comfortable and informative stroll,
and the trail is short enough and with loops
that you can cater your walk to the time
you have available.
So make your plans now.