The Winchester Mystery House & Gun Safety

The story of the Winchester Mystery House centers around Sarah Winchester, the heir to the Winchester empire. As a result of her husband’s death in 1881, Sarah inherited over $20 million dollars, an incredible sum, especially in those days. She also received nearly 50% of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and an income of about $1000 per day, which was not taxable until 1913.

Her wealth, however, could do nothing to ease her pain from the loss of her husband and her only child who died in infancy. Seeking guidance from a spiritualist medium, Sarah was informed that there was a curse on her family “… that has resulted from the terrible weapon created by the Winchester family. Thousands of persons have died because of it and their spirits are now seeking vengeance.”

WinchesterIf You Build It …

Sarah was advised to sell her property in New Haven and head towards the setting sun. “You must start a new life,” said the medium, “and build a home for yourself and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon too. You can never stop building the house. If you continue building, you will live. Stop and you will die.”

Believing that she was guided by the hand of her dead husband, Sarah moved to the Santa Clara Valley in California in 1884. She purchased a home that was under construction from a local physician and tossed away any previous plans for the house. For the next 36 years, she kept 22 carpenters at work, year around, 24 hours each day, building as inspiration came to her.  The sounds of hammers and saws sounded throughout the day and night.

The results were chaotic, a veritable labyrinth, but also include many architectural oddities. Sarah also built into the design elaborate spying features by which she could spy on her servants.

Art Glass

What was most impressive to us was the mansion’s dazzling art glass windows. Many were made to order in Austria and imported by Tiffany’s of New York. They are spectacularly designed, utilizing both concave and convex glass “frames” inset with glittering “jewels.” Mrs. Winchester herself designed the special daisy and spiderweb patterns that are embedded in many of the window.

In the Grand Ballroom are the two leaded stained glass windows, each inscribed with a quote from Shakespeare. The first, “Wide unclasp the table of their thoughts,” is from Troilus and Cressida (IV:5:60). The lines are spoken by Ulysses, and refer to Cressida’s sometimes flirting nature. The second, “These same thoughts people this little world,” is from Richard II (V:5:9). The imprisoned Richard means that his thoughts people the small world of his confinement.

Today, the house has been declared a California Historical Landmark and is registered with the National Park Service as “a large, odd dwelling with an unknown number of rooms.”

gun safetyGun Safety

My little man is surrounded by avid outdoorsmen.  His grandfather, uncles, and many cousins all hunt. Though my husband and I are not hunters ourselves, he has been around guns his entire life. He loves talking about guns and likely knows as much about guns as he does aeronautics or Legos. He absolutely LOVED our visit to the Winchester Mystery House.

The State of California requires all first time resident hunters, regardless of age, to complete hunter education training or pass a comprehensive equivalency test before purchasing a hunting license. Though a license is not required to simply accompany a hunter (unless you yourself are carrying) and his papa is adament about gun safety, his intense interest proved it was time he enrolled. He wants to go hunting with Papa.  I want him knowledgeable and aware so he can be safe.

The Hunter Education course in which he enrolled consisted of ten hours of classroom, homework, and field instruction in the following areas:

  • firearms safety and handling
  • sportsmanship and ethics
  • wildlife management and conservation
  • archery
  • black powder
  • wildlife identification
  • game care
  • first aid
  • survival

After he completed the course of instruction, he took the final examination – an 100 question multiple choice exam requiring 80% or better to pass.

I strongly believe in the merits of this class. Though I sat in on the course with him, I did not help him with the reading material. If he wanted to hunt with Papa, he needed to prove he was mature enough to pass the course on his own merit.

The exam took him nearly an hour to complete.  I was very proud when the instructor announced he had passed … a solid score of 95%!!

 

Building Anticipation for Florida

In the fall of 2012, we surprised the kids one morning with the announcement that we were going to Disneyland.  As we live in Northern California, we woke them early (about 4 am, if I recall) and explained that their bags were already packed.  Their response was not of delight and enthusiasm, but rather a subdued, “Really? Can’t we got to Yosemite instead?”  

My daughter has never been interested in princesses.  When we brought the kids to Disneyland the first time in 2007, she had just turned five and my son was only 2 1/2. She had no interest in a princess make-over or the pretty dress-up costumes and she was too young to enjoy most of the rides.  My son barely remembers the trip.  Though they enjoy Disney films, their favorite movies at that time were Samurai Jack and The Polar Express.  In the end, we had a great time but the kids weren’t all that interested.

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As they were significantly older and taller the second time, we expected to have a much different experience in 2012.  We were not disappointed.  They were able to ride all the rides, they lacked only courage.  My daughter loved Space Mountain and went on it 4 times in succession, stopping only when her belly betrayed her.  My son, on the other hand, was not keen on any of the roller coasters.

We did our best to encourage him but assured him he wouldn’t be forced to go. We would get in line as a family and when we got to the front of the line, we asked him one last time, “Do you want to ride or do you want to wait here?”  He would begrudgingly choose to ride but made it clear that he wasn’t happy about it.  When the ride was over, he would proclaim, “That was fun!”

We went through this every time we approached a new ride.  Not surprisingly, he loved every ride he went on and thanked us later for encouraging him to push past his fear.  Neither of the kids went on Screamin’ – we knew it would have been too much.

In the months and years that have followed, the kids have talked fondly about their experience at Disneyland and have inquired when we might go again.  When my husband suggested to me privately that we go to Disney World and the Florida Keys for our spring vacation several months ago, I knew I wanted to try to surprise the kids once again.  This time, however, I knew we had to do something different to build the anticipation.

disney12

I came up with a secret reveal countdown.  Beginning on the first day of April, I hung on the wall 22 envelopes.  Contained within each was a picture or message giving them a little hint of what was to come (I didn’t actually put anything in the envelope until moments before they were given permission to open it in case they peaked).

  1. Image of a suitcase with text, “It’s no April Fools, we’re going on a family trip!”
  2. Image of an airplane
  3. A map of the continental US
  4. An orange
  5. A picture of a Seminole Indian
  6. A picture of a barking tree frog with a QR code to the Youtube video
  7. A picture of Juan Ponce de Leon
  8. An alligator picture
  9. Image of a mangrove forest
  10. A picture of a manatee
  11. A picture of a horse conch
  12. A new fly for my daughter’s fly rod
  13. Beach sand
  14. The date “3 March 1845”
  15. A quote by Ernest Hemingway
  16. A picture of a space shuttle
  17. The 5 flags of Florida
  18. Universal Studios logo
  19. A picture of our hotel at DisneyWorld
  20. A picture of the monorail
  21. The package we received from Disney with their tickets and the USB drive video
  22. Our itinerary with their new trip journals

Our trip was incredible!  I’ll be sharing highlights over the next few weeks.

Exploring Alternative Energy – Hydroelectric Dams

In STEM Club, we are immersed in energy resources presently – so a field trip to a hydroelectric dam is the perfect field trip.  Shasta Dam, the 2nd largest dam in the country (after Grand Coulee in Washington state) is in our backyard – so it is the perfect field trip.

Hydro DamsShasta Dam is a curved gravity dam across the Sacramento River in the northern part of the U.S. state of California, at the north end of the Sacramento Valley. Like another curved gravity dam (Hoover Dam), it was a continuous pour concrete project, and in its day, ranked as one of the great civil engineering feats of the world.  The dam is 602 ft (183 m) high and 3,460 ft (1,055 m) long, with a base width or thickness of 543 ft (165.5 m). The reservoir created behind Shasta Dam is known as Shasta Lake and is a popular recreational boating area.

generator at shasta dam

Hydroelectric power is universally known as one of the cleaned, most efficient and inexpensive ways to produce power. Hydroelectric power is electricity generated using falling water.  At Shasta Dam, as water races down pipes (penstocks) towards the power plant, that water is directed at the blades of a water wheel (turbine).

The turbine is coupled to an electric generator by a long shaft.  The generator consists of a large, spinning “rotor” and a stationary “stator”.  The outer ring of the rotor is made up of a series of electromagnets.  The stator is comprised of a series of copper coils.  As the rotor spins, its magnetic field induces a current in the stator’s windings thereby generating electricity.

The five generators at the Shasta Dam have recently been upgraded by the Bureau of Reclamation, replacing the turbine portion of each generator.  This increases the plant capacity to 710 megawatts, with each unit running at 142 megawatts.  Utilizing the latest technology in design, the new turbines are more energy efficient.

Our visit this past week to the dam was not our first.  We toured the Shasta Dam facilities when we first moved to California.  Even so, we all learned something new and enjoyed the experience.  One of the highlights was discovering that since the Shasta Dam is a curved gravity dam, we could hear our echo bounce back and forth when we yelled across the span.  Additionally, one our first tour, we were most impressed by the train tunnel – as my son was passionate about trains at that age.  He is now more impressed with engineering marvels and as a result, he stayed close to the tour guide the entire time asking many questions.

Minecraft Model Shasta DamWhen we returned home, he created a model of the dam in one of his Minecraft worlds. Proving once again that Minecraft is educational.  He is now brainstorming ideas to create a three dimensional model showing how electricity is generated and transmitted to our homes.

If you are interested in touring a dam in your area or simply learning about dams from the comfort of your home – I have created a FREE set of notebooking printables to guide you along on your study.  These printables are a small part of my newest mini-unit, Alternative Energy Resources: Hydroelectric Dams, a 13 page ebook available for purchase in my store. In the coming months, I will be releasing a complete curriculum for energy resources.

Art of the Brick :: Lego Sculptures

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to see Nathan Sawaya’s “Art of the Brick” exhibition when it was at our local science museum.  Like most young boys – my little man LOVES Legos so this exhibit was fascinating to him.  My daughter loved it too!

Nathan Sawaya is a New York-based artist who creates awe-inspiring works of art out of some of the most unlikely things. His recent global museum exhibitions feature large-scale sculptures using only toy building blocks. Born in Colville, Washington and raised in Veneta, Oregon (My home state, yay!) Sawaya’s childhood dreams were always about fun.  He work connects with us because he uses items we are all familiar with … his Lego sculptures captivate our imagination and everyone thinks to themselves, “I could do that!”

What I love about his work is that while his sculptures appear to simply be snapped together from LEGO bricks, there is a little more to the process.  Like many sculptors, Sawaya makes preliminary sketches of his pieces. He also uses graph paper to translate these sketches into LEGO reality.

art brick

 

As a train enthusiast with an impressive collection of HO trains for his years, Buddy’s favorite piece (shown above) revealed a remote train depot, part of Sawaya’s ‘In Pieces’ series.  The ‘In Pieces’ series features isolated individuals standing in recognizable but chillingly empty minimalist scenes with geometrical design, derived from common features of the American landscape. Incorporated into the piece, the figures have elongated limbs, referencing society’s idealized bodies.  Juxtaposed against a desolate, American realist environment, the images are both appealing and ambiguous.

There were several other pieces in this series on display and we enjoyed each one. Using the style and content of the American Postcard as a reference, the photographic elements have been color graded with pastels. As the viewer begins to examine the piece closely, the series reveals its brick-by-brick fabricated construction.  This process also represents the direct processes involved with digital photography today.  Clear references to pixelation and technology are apparent through the stylized manipulation and digital enhancements.

If you are interested in seeing this exhibit yourself, check out Sawaya’s website, The Art of the Brick for more information.

Nature Study in China: Phylum Mollusca

Prior to our departure for holiday in China, we had enjoyed the new DreamWorks movie, Turbo. Snails were thereby on our mind and to the delight of the kiddos, we happened upon a few small garden variety in the ancient gardens of China and at the Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu.  In Yangshuo, we discovered what the locals called Duck Snails, a large freshwater snail belonging to the family Ampullariidae.  The more accepted common name is the Apple Snail, an aquatic gastropod mollusks with gills and an operculum.

apple snails

Field Studies

We first noted the presence of these snails because of the bright pink egg masses that we observed all over the shoreline of the Yu Long (Dragon) River. These egg masses are laid on solid surfaces up to about 20 inches above the water surface. An average clutch contains 200 to 600 eggs, with each egg measuring 0.9 to 1.4 mm in diameter. Soon thereafter, as the kids began to play in the river, we found adult snails in a variety of hues, ranging from creamy yellow to a light pink.

As amateur naturalists, we are not sure exactly what species we observed (Pomacea canaliculata or Pomacea insularum) – perhaps even multiple species.  Based upon our research, we are leaning towards P. canaliculata.  Even so, the kids enjoyed playing with them and watching them glide across the surface of the bamboo boat structure that was anchored near shore.

Sweetie expressed wanting to take them home and of course, I explained that this was not only illegal (customs would certainly not allow us to transport live animals back to the states) but it would also be negligent on our part and potentially environmentally catastrophic.

applesnails

Phylum Mollusca

When we returned home, I took advantage of their interest in the snails, to engage them in a little nature journaling.  I pulled out a few text books and had the photographs we had taken in Yangshuo available on the iPad.  Sweetie ran to her room and brought back one of the shells she had collected during our stay.  We then got about sketching and noting our observations in our journals.

As they worked, I read aloud a book that I had purchased years ago in Hawai’i, Beyond ‘Ohi’a Valley: Adventures in a Hawaiian Rainforest by Lisa Matsumoto.   The illustrations are very beautiful and the characters are very comical; the storyline tells about the native animals of Hawai’i and the impact of invasive, non-native species.  While discuss how similar problems could occur with the introduction of the apple snail – in fact, it is happening …

Pomacea canaliculata is native to temperate Argentina and northwards to the Amazon basin. Through human introduction, this applesnail has rapidly spread to Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, southern China, Japan, Philippines, and Hawai’i. There are indications that they are invading Australia. In the 1980’s, channeled applesnails were introduced in Taiwan to start an escargot industry. This snail was originally imported under the name “golden snail” or “golden applesnail” for human consumption. However, the Asian escargot market never materialized and applesnails, that escaped or were released, ultimately came to cause extensive damage to rice fields. 

I’ve posted more pictures and information about Pomacea canaliculata onto Project Noah.  I encourage you to hop over if you are interested in learning more about Apple Snails.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study.
 

The Secret of the Tides

I grew up in Bandon, Oregon and though we now live in the valley of northern California, we travel home as often as possible.  While we go primarily to see family, the ocean pulls us to her just as compellingly.  We have enjoyed exploring the tide pools, investigating the unique estuarine habitats, and tasted freshly caught Dungeness crab many times in the past.  Recently, however, we spent some time taking a closer look and discovering the secret of the tides.

tidal chart

As pictured in the the photo collage above, we visited a beach access area at both low tide (6:59 a.m. @ -1.9′) and high tide (6:56 p.m. @ 1.5′).  I specifically selected this area because on low tide, we had access to tide pools.  Shortly after I took the photo, we walked down the stairway and spent time investigating the marine invertebrates.  While we marveled at the sea stars and innumerable sea anemones, I began to pose questions about the animals we observed and about the wave evidence on the shoreline.  We noted specifically where we found each species and shared our hypothesis for how these organisms could survive in such a dramatically changing environment. I’ll share our discoveries soon – the kids are still working on their nature journals.

Create a Tide Graph

One of the most useful activities we undertook this past week was to create a tide graph and then use the newspaper to also plot the corresponding moon phases.  To create a tide graph yourself, use a tide chart and select a specific month; you can access tidal data from NOAA.  Use a piece of graph paper to  graph the highest high tide and the lowest low tide for each day (recall there are typically two high tides and two low tides each day).  Use a different colored pencil for each tide type.  The day of the month should be on the x-axis and the height of the tide on the y-axis.  Tides can be negative, so be sure to include negative numbers on your y-axis.

Lastly, find a moon phase calendar for the selected month (or look up the moon phase in your local newspaper).  Sketch the four major moon phases (new moon, 1st quarter moon, full moon, and 3rd quarter moon) under the corresponding calendar date and label them accordingly.  After completing the graph, answer the questions listed below.

  • Is there a relationship between the phase of the moon and the tides?  Explain what you observed based upon your graph.
  • What are spring tides? Based upon your data, around what phase(s) of the moon do spring tides occur?  How do you know this?
  • What are neap tides? Based upon your data, around what phase(s) of the moon do neap tides occur?  How do you know this?

Take it Further

If you have enjoyed this activity and would like to explore related lessons and inquiry activities, check out Estuary Ecology, a fourteen lesson hands-on life science curriculum unit study that focuses upon estuaries and salt water marshes.

** Please note that graphs will vary depending upon the selected location and time of year.  A great extension activity is to create tide graphs for distinctly different locations (Newport, Oregon and Cape Code, Massachusetts, for example) and/or different seasons.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study.

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