My First Reader Survey

In all the years I have been blogging, I have not ever posted a reader survey.  I think I am well over do … how about you?  The intent of a reader survey is to find out more about who is reading my blog and to discover how I can help her. I love science and it is my goal to provide you with the tools and inspiration to engage your students in meaningful, hands-on science and service learning experiences.  How can I best do that?  What specifically would help you .. curriculum?  lesson & printables?  online courses?

Please take just a few minutes to complete my reader survey so I can better understand your needs. I’ll make it worth your time – I promise.

reader survey Don’t worry, I’m not asking how much you make or how much you weigh and everything is completely confidential. I’m not collecting any personally identifying information.

The survey is just 12 short, easy questions – all multiple choice except for a couple short fill-in-the blank.  I’ll leave the survey open for about two weeks.  Then, if you’re curious, I will share the results.  Just leave me a note in the comments if you’re curious. If nobody cares, I’ll just keep the results to myself.

As a special thank you for giving me just a few minutes of your time, I am offering a $20 Amazon gift card to one lucky survey responder!

Edited 2nd July 2013 – The survey is now closed.  Thank you to all you took part.  I very much appreciated your feedback and value your input tremendously.  🙂

Welcome to My New Home

I have officially moved!  Virtually anyway.  I have finally taken the plunge and have set up a self-hosted website.  I am so excited that you have stopped by to visit.  The moving process – just like a physical move in real life – is a long and tedious process. I still have many things to tweak as I begin to develop my online presence here.  I will continue to share our homeschool endeavors but with a greater emphasis on science, field trips, and service learning education.

My mission is to provide teachers with the tools and inspiration to engage their students in meaningful, hands-on science and service learning experiences through tangible curriculum, shared resources, and real-world contexts.

Those of you who have recently subscribed to my newsletter (specifically those who have expressed interest in the Entomology Online Workshop), rest assured that I have your subscription on file and you will continue to receive the newsletter.  Remember though, upon receiving the email confirmation, you’ll want to edit your settings to subscribe to specific interests (homeschool blog posts, entomology course, science logic, etc.).  Lastly, if you use Google Reader, Feedly, or another aggregator, please add my new site to your list.

Delicate Arch at Arches National Park

I am excited for the what the future holds and look forward to building a relationship with you as I continue to work within the science and homeschool communities.

The NSTA Conventions :: Flashback Friday #1

I follow the National Science Teachers Association on Facebook and Twitter.  As a result, I have been seeing many posts this past week regarding the convention that is taking place in San Antonio this weekend.  I haven’t attended an NSTA convention in many years – I believe the last one was in 2002, a few months prior to the birth of my daughter.  As I read the tweets, I recalled how much I thoroughly enjoy conferences.  I thereby pulled out my journal and read a few entries (before I began blogging, I kept a hand-written journal).  Here is one I would like to share:

21 March 2001 
I have just attended my first National NSTA Convention (after attending a few smaller, regional and or state conventions).  It will certainly not be my last.  I  had a spectacular time and it has been even more special because Patrick was able to attend with me.   
The first day, like the other conventions I have attended, is a little overwhelming (trying to get organized, finding the location of the talks I am interested in, navigating the exhibit hall, etc).  Buzz Aldrin was the keynote speaker.  We had to wait in line for nearly two hours to enter the lecture hall (tickets were not distributed, it was first come, first served).
Just after we arrived, I realized that I had forgotten my copy of his book Men From Earth in our hotel room.  I was distraught as I had desired him to sign it.  Patrick, to my delight, was willing to ride back to retrieve it – a 1-hour bus ride – one way!  This meant he would miss Buzz’ address.  Patrick you are an angel!  Thank you for being there for me & coming to my rescue!
After Buzz’ address, I waited another hour for the book signing – needless to say, he wasn’t too happy to sign an old book.  He was there to push his newest title.  He signed my copy but was noticeably grumpy about it.  I heard later that he refused to sign a NASA lithograph a man had cherished since he was a little boy. 
The line waiting at the convention was very common.  I learned there were approx. 20,000 people in attendance.  Incredible! 
Thursday night, we attended a dinner in my honor at Cafe de France.  It was superb!  I ordered Greek Salad, Venison Steak with steamed veggies and potatoes, and Amaretto Cake.  Regrettably, I don’t recall all the details the server used to describe each dish.  Next time, I will be sure to write it down or request a keepsake menu.  [ I really do this now! I have quite a collection of menus. 🙂 ]
The award coordinator for the CIBA Foundation, Lois Amend, was very classy.  It was a memorable occasion just meeting her.  I felt so comfortable in her presence – she was very humble and down-to-earth.  
On Friday, I did get a change to go to a couple of sessions and see many of the exhibits.  Surprisingly, even though there were four 160 page catalogs describing the activities (short courses, sessions, workshops, tours, and special events) there were few that were actually of interest to me.  Those I did desire to attend frequently conflicted with one another.  Disappointing yet I don’t believe that I’ll spend as much time in line at future conventions.  I spent another 2 hours Friday afternoon waiting to have Bill Nye sign a book – in retrospect, had I known he was going to address the Council for Elementary Science International (CESI) luncheon on Saturday – I would’ve waited.
I also participated in the NASA NEW Share-a-Thon on Saturday whereby past participants of the NEW workshops shared with prospective applicants activities and projects we had learned ourselves.  I was very nervous.  I had brought two activities to share:  film canister rockets (which turned out to be a familiar favorite for many) and Geometry of Moon Phases – a hit!  There were so many attendees, I ran out of handouts!  It felt really good to share my ideas with others.  Even other NEW alumni enjoyed the moon activity.  Wendall Mohling (NSTA Coordinator for NASA) and Christina Gorski were very appreciative of our participation and gave us small thank you gifts (NEW lapel pin, a patch, and a coffee mug).  Very Cool!
The highlight of the trip was above all the CESI luncheon on Saturday.  The council members were so genuinely excited to meet me.  I could not believe how special they believed me to be.  The CESI/CIBA award, I learned, is their highest honor.  When Patrick and I arrived, we were quickly ushered in (despite the huge line of people who had purchased tickets).  After we were shown our seats at a reserved table near the podium, I was quickly introduced to Barbara Morgan, the luncheon speaker and next teacher in space.  She was as excited to meet me as I was to meet her.  Everyone was giving me hugs and shaking my hand.  It was a little overwhelming.  When I looked over the luncheon agenda, I discovered that Bill Nye was also being presented an award.  My name was on the same agenda as his!! Wow! I am still in awe.  There were nearly 400 people at the luncheon including Connie & Bonnie (fellow JPL NEW alumni) … it was great to see them. 
When Barbara Morgan gave her address, she said, “Isn’t it wonderful to have bright, young people like Eva Varga teaching?”  I was so honored.  People I didn’t know were taking my picture as I was presented my award. As the luncheon came to a close, others came to shake my hand and congratulate me.  A retired woman even gave me the microscope she won during the raffle, “You’ll need this more than I, dear.  Besides, I don’t really want to pack it home.”  How delightful! 🙂
A few people even recognized me in the exhibit hall and came up to express their good wishes.  “Eva, you are such an inspiration.  Congratulations on your award.  You certainly deserve it.”  I never would have guessed the scale to which this award would be recognized.  I have truly been blessed.  The benefits will continue as the new relationships I’ve developed promise to open doors for me in the future.
In the word of Bill Nye, “Science teachers, like Eva Varga, are what keep the PB and J in teaching .. Passion, Beauty, & Joy.”

I share this with my readers in the hope that you will be inspired yourself to pursue your passions.  I have come to realize I miss this part of my life – the professional me.  I am thereby taking strides to bring her back.  Look forward to great things to come as I share my experiences and skills more regularly.

Have any of you attended conventions?  Perhaps a homeschool convention or blogging conference?  Perhaps you have attended conferences focused on specific interests or hobbies like stamp collecting, knitting, or jewelry.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

Have We Lost Our Cultural Identity and Sense of Community?

Throughout life, I suppose, everyone looks for connections with others, a feeling of worth within a community.  For some, this need is met through Greek fraternities and sororities at the university. For others, this need is met through their church or spiritual center.  While attending university, I sought out cultural groups in an effort to discover who I was and where I fit in.  As I was minoring in Spanish, I joined the Latin American Cultural Center – but as I was too timid to speak in Spanish in small groups, I often felt out of place.
When I had submitted a paper for my U.S. History class about Norwegian Americans, my professor had asked if I was familiar with the fraternal organization, Sons of Norway.  To his surprise, I was not. I had come from a small community on the coast where the lodge did not have a presence, despite a large number of Scandinavians.  Upon looking into Sonja Lodge in Eugene (where I was attending school),  I also learned that an aunt and uncle were active members.  I thereby joined the lodge and attended a few social events.
Within a few years however, I sadly let my membership lapse because as a university student paying my own way and thus working 30+ hours a week, my social calendar and my pocket book were both pretty slim.  I had enjoyed receiving the Viking magazines in the mail, however, and often wished that I had had the opportunity growing up to take part in a lodge.
After graduating, I returned to the same community where I had grown up.  I taught in the public school for several years and then welcomed my first child.  Shortly thereafter, we moved to central Oregon where I rediscovered Sons of Norway.   Fjeldheim Lodge is very active in the community and has a strong public presence, taking part in the annual Christmas parade, hosting an annual bake sale, and coordinating Ski for Light programs.  They are also very fortunate to have a broad, multi-generational membership – with an active youth group, engaged adults who were active in the community, as well as numerous retired members.   We joined as a family and immediately felt a sense of family and connection.  I knew this is where we belonged.
We now belong to Shastafjell Lodge in northern California.  While I still have that same sense of family and the connections with the other members are strong, I realize more than ever the struggles that fraternal organizations are encountering today.  Like many lodges, Shastafjell’s membership is declining and we struggle with filling board positions.  The active members are frankly tired.  They are willing to pass the torch to the next generation.  The problem is, this generation – MY generation – are not involved in the organization.  Why?? Are we too busy? Perhaps we aren’t interested?  Maybe we just aren’t aware?   I really don’t know the answer and as I discuss this with other members and other fraternal organizations, I have come to discover we all have the same concerns and frustrations.
This past weekend, the Sheriff’s Association put on their 17th Annual Multicultural Faire. I coordinated our lodge’s participation in this event and helped to man the booth while also enjoying the entertainment.  The older members of the lodge remember in years past that the mall was lined with booths from a large number of different organizations.  This year, there were only eleven.  The bag pipers were noticeably absent.  The German Edelweiss Singers and Folk Dancers performed but did not have a booth for the first time.
As I looked around at the cultural groups that were taking part in the event and observed the interactions between visitors, a few things became evident.  First, as a society, we are distracted.  The majority of people walked past the booths without making eye contact or smiling.  Many walked with their heads down, intent on whatever was engaging them on their mobile phones.   I realize that we have become immune to salespeople pushing products and trying to sell us something.  In essence, that is what we are trying to do as a fraternal organization.  But what I observed was also a lack of social courtesy and community engagement.  We seem to be scared to talk to people, to hear their story.
I also observed that the cultural groups from Europe that took part in the faire were represented by the ‘Greatest Generation’ as coined by Tom Brokaw (with the exception of myself and my two children).  The cultural groups and dancers from Asia and Latin America, had participants of all ages.  When immigrants come to a new country, they typically settle in areas where there are similar ethnic groups for support both spiritually and financially.  The groups taking part on Saturday were representative of the immigration trends in the U.S.  Perhaps over time, as successive generations begin to identify themselves more as American, they begin to loose the connection with their ancestral heritage?  Here is an interesting graphic I found to illustrate this.

Source –
I am not exactly sure what contributes to what I perceive to be a decline in volunteerism and participation in fraternal organizations.  I know, however, that it is not restricted to cultural groups.  Lions Clubs, The Grange, and Kiwanis groups are experiencing the same declines.  Lodges and Grange halls are closing all over.  It saddens me that we as a society no longer see the value in these unique communities.

I want to encourage you to consider joining a lodge as a family.  Look around you and see what opportunities may be available to you. If you are interested in getting involved in a fraternal organization yourself, there are many organizations to choose from.  I have listed a few below.  I encourage you to take some time to explore those of interest to you.  Read their missions statements.  Talk with members in your community.   Discuss the options available with your family.  Perhaps you will find a group that feels like home to you as well.

Alternatively, if you are a member of one of these groups, I would love to hear about it.  How long have you been involved?   How did you first discover the group?  If you know of a group that I neglected to mention – please leave a comment.   Perhaps your family volunteers in other ways.  Please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences.

We Have Enough .. Our Efforts in Frugality

My husband and I have often discussed the fact that many kids today are growing up with an attitude of entitlement.  We admit that we struggle with this even in our own home.  My youngest, though he has everything he could want, is always wanting more.  My husband and I have both come to realize that he is indeed spoiled and we need to nip this in the bud.  But how?  How can we teach our children that, “We have enough.”

Before I proceed I want to make it clear I am not giving parenting advice — I’m certainly not qualified to do that. Rather, this post is about what I would like to teach my own children and how we are striving to do just that.

I have had a cushy life compared to most people in the world. I enjoyed a blessed middle-class life. Both my parents were educated (they each had their high school diploma and my father had attended university for a few years).  By no stretch can I say I struggled, though there were stretches when my father was unemployed (he was a saw-filer and the timber industry experienced economic turmoil in the eighties and nineties).  We heated our home with a wood stove and enjoyed the comforts of a washer and drier.  We had a television and even got a VCR when I was in junior high school.  My brothers and I rode the bus to school and took part in a variety of extracurricular activities.  My husband grew up in similar circumstances.  Our fathers worked in blue-collar jobs and our mothers stayed home with us when we were young, taking on clerical jobs when we (and our siblings) got older.

I am in the fortunate position of having been brought up in a developed country, leading a comfortable life.  My life is the American dream; I am able to provide for my children the things that I did not have.  At the same time, however, I want them to appreciate how blessed they are to get them.

So what will I teach my kids?

What can I teach my kids who will grow up in the upper-middle class American society?  I can’t teach them frugality .. it just won’t stick.  Instead, I will teach them…

    • There are many people who have it worse than you. Appreciate what you have and focus on taking advantage of that.  Be grateful for that and do not focus on what you do not have.  [Note:  This is one area we work on daily with our youngest. The skills and mindset we hope to instill is a life-long pursuit.]
    • Shed the sense of entitlement. In America, many are becoming reliant on the system.  In other countries, however, there are no food banks, unemployment benefits, Medicare or Social Security. As we are fortunate to have the means by which to travel, I try to communicate an awareness of poverty in other countries as well as our own. I hope to instill in my children that which was common in my grandparents’ generation …  hard work and persistence will pay off.
    • Take responsibility. I feel responsible for my parents’ retirement, my kids’ education and my own retirement.  Growing up, my father emphasized the importance of putting money away, so saving comes naturally to me.  Similarly, when we make mistakes, we own up to our mistakes.  When my little guy damaged another’s personal property, he had to pay for the damage himself even though he was only five years old at the time.  As parents, it is our job to teach responsibility, not to bail them out or to make excuses.
    • Get priorities in order. Realize what is important in your life and figure out if you have the means to provide for it. If not, eliminate or minimize what you spend on things that are NOT important to you.  Everything else will automatically fall into place.  If is material in nature (a new bull whip, for example), look for opportunities to earn money.  You will have a greater appreciation for the value of money when you know how hard you worked to earn it yourself.
    • Help others as much as you can.   In the United States, people who are struggling to come out of poverty have access to need-based aid or government assistance. What they lack is a mentor or someone to guide them along the right path. They need someone to show them there is a world full of opportunities waiting for them, and give them the hope and confidence they need to get back on their feet.  We volunteer at the mission for this exact reason.  On a weekly basis, we work with those who are making efforts to put their life back in order.
    • Contribute to and take advantage of your social network. When this country was first founded, immigrant communities were some of the most closely knit communities. In many areas, this is still true.  As members of the Sons of Norway and the local homeschool network, I offer my skills and expertise to others (coordinating events, publishing the newsletter, etc.).  I work hard to build these communities and I model for my children that relationships with others contribute to our own success as well as our happiness.
    • There are plenty of non-material ways to feel rich. I feel rich when I can spend time with my family. I cherish the memories of holiday meals and gatherings at my grandmothers and I make efforts to build similar memories and traditions with my own children.
    • Be resourceful. I won’t teach my children to make their own clothes or grow their own food just for the sake of saving money. Anyone who has ever sewn or knitted a garment in the United States knows how expensive it is.  I will teach them how to do all those things and be resourceful because they are good skills to have.
    • And finally, I will teach them to never stop learning.  Wherever life takes you, keep an open mind or you will never grow.

Ultimately, I want my children to be good citizens of the world.  By living my life according to the principles I’ve outlined, I hope to teach them how to evaluate what goals are important in their life and how they can achieve them.  My ultimate goal is that they will say, “I have enough. I am happy.”

Fårikål: Norway’s National Dish

As a Norwegian-American (like most, my great-grandparents emigrated to America in the late 1800s), it has been my goal to incorporate more Norwegian traditions into our daily lives. Serving Fårikål is just one of the new traditions we honor.

Fårikål is Norway’s national dish. A casserole of seasonal lamb and cabbage makes this simple dish a favorite autumn treat. Fårikål season is from September to October when the fattened lambs come down from the mountains.  In fact, the last Thursday of September in Norway is National Fårikål day.

lamb shanks and cabbage
 prepped for cooking
Lamb shanks prepped for cooking

Fårikål used to be made from mutton for flavor but over time lamb has become more favored as it is more readily available in our supermarkets.  It is traditionally served with new potatoes, cowberry sauce or lingonberries, and crispy flat bread.

1 ½ kg lamb or mutton stew meat

1 ½ kg white cabbage

4 teaspoons whole peppercorns

2 teaspoons salt

3 cups water

  1. Cut the head of cabbage into wedges.
  2. Add meat and cabbage in layers in a casserole dish. Sprinkle salt and pepper between layers. Pepper grains can possibly put in a special pepper holder. (Some people also like a smooth fårikål. Sprinkle a little flour then, about 1-2 tablespoons per 4 portions, between the layers.)
  3. Pour the water into the dish. Bring to a boil and let fårikål draw on low heat until meat is tender (it separates from the bone), ca. 2 hours.
  4. Serve steaming hot with boiled potatoes
Image of Fårikål ready to serve
Fårikål ready to serve

This humble stew of boiled lamb and cabbage, has been Norway’s official national dish for more than 40 years. The last Thursday of September every year is National Fårikål Day. I have recently learned, however, that Norway has launched a nationwide competition to replace it.

In our home, we eat it with potatoes and crispy flat bread (sometimes even Naan – a traditional Indian style bread that is readily available at our local supermarket).

The recipe I shared here is a traditional recipe.  For a variation of this traditional recipe, visit My Little Norway.