California Archives - Eva Varga

June 17, 2015

As we were planning our road trip on California’s famed coastal highway, a friend recommended we try Santa Maria Barbecue.  As I outlined our trip on a map, I tried googling it with the belief that this was the name of an establishment. I soon gave up my preliminary search when I came up empty handed.

Santa Maria-style Barbecue @WellTraveledFamily.netI didn’t give it any further thought until we were just a few miles south of Santa Maria. I had begun to seek out options for dinner.  When Patrick stated he wanted barbecue for dinner, I was reminded of my earlier failed quest.

I again struggled to find the restaurant, so I called our hotel to inquire. Only then did I realize my error – it was a style of barbecue.

Santa Maria-style barbecue is a regional culinary tradition rooted in and around the city of Santa Maria—which sprawls across the ranchlands and vineyards between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara—for 150 years. This traditional style barbecue menu was copyrighted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1978.

Santa Maria-style Barbecue @WellTraveledFamily.netRecords from the days of the ranchos, the giant cattle ranches that covered this territory when it was Mexico, describe almost bacchanalian scenes of whole bulls’ heads and other beef cuts roasted in pits dug in the ground. Tortillas, salsa, and beans were served along with a slew of other sides. These were all-day celebrations—for vaqueros relaxing at the end of a cattle roundup, or guests from the city invited for a ranch adventure.

By the early 1900s, a less daunting cooking style emerged—asado, which involved skewering hunks of beef on green willow rods and setting them across a pit of burning red oak. The Santa Maria Valley is often rather windy, so the style of cooking is over an oxidative fire as opposed to a reductive fire that many covered BBQs use.

Remarkably, that’s still pretty much how people here do it: over a fire of California coastal red oak and on a grill that raises and lowers the meat to the flame. The meat has no sauce, just a dry rub of salt, pepper, and garlic salt. The traditional accompaniments are pinquito beans, fresh salsa, tossed green salad, and grilled French bread dipped in sweet melted butter.

Santa Maria-style Barbecue @WellTraveledFamily.netWe settled upon Shaw’s Restaurant and were not disappointed. Upon entering, we were immediately drawn to the Asado-style bbq pit that was slowly roasting the meats. We also observed that the dining room was full of customers.

We ordered the trip tip and it was by far THE best tri tip we have had. The food portions are generous; the kids shared a rib eye steak and we had leftovers for lunch the next day.

We all loved the taste of the red oak smoke given to the meats while cooked on a wonderful open pit wood grill. Next time we’re in Santa Maria we will be coming back to Shaw’s for Santa Maria-style barbecue.

Tip :: If you are looking for a deal, lunch is cheaper than dinner and they also have early bird dinner specials on the menu from 4-6:30pm.


June 3, 2015

The past couple of years, we have enjoyed a week long holiday road trip in the spring. This year, we chose California’s Central Coast via Highway 1.

We departed Anaheim mid-day on Wednesday and headed to Ventura where we began our road trip northward along California Hwy 1. Upon checking into our hotel, the Ventura Beach Marriott, we ventured out to explore the area.

image of young boy playing in the sand on Ventura Beach, CA California State Beaches

Ventura is home to beautiful beaches, a vibrant downtown, and a fun-filled harbor. Here, Island Packers’ crews transport guests via boat to the extraordinary Channel Islands National Park – one of three key destinations on our trip.

Our first stop was San Buenaventura State Beach which consists of a 1,700 feet pier featuring a snack bar, restaurant, and bait shop. People often come to this beach to surf, swim, and picnic. Biking is also done here and there are bike trails that lead to other nearby beaches.

While there, we observed a group of young people playing volleyball, another passing the time idly, as well as several runners and walkers. We eagerly began to explore the beach according to our interests – Patrick sat along the pier and watched for whales, Jeffrey rolled in the sand building an imaginary airstrip, while Geneva and I looked for small invertebrates.

image of two marine invertebrates: By the Wind Sailor (jellyfish) and Pacific Mole Crab Animal Adaptations on the Sandy Shore

We were were rewarded handsomely finding hundreds of Pacific Mole Crabs (Emerita analoga). Belonging to the superfamily, Hippoidea, these decapod crustaceans are adapted to burrowing into sandy beaches. These delightful little sand crabs cannot walk; instead, they use their legs to dig into the sand and beat their uropods to swim.

Geneva and I spent time watching them surf the waves and burrow down into the sand for protection. I shared stories of the investigation I undertook in graduate school one summer looking at whether particle size influenced what beach the larvae settled upon.

We also observed many By-the-wind Sailors (Velella velella).  Velella is a cosmopolitan genus of free-floating hydrozoans (very small, predatory animals) that live on the surface of the open ocean. There is only one known species. The deep blue, by-the-wind sailors that are recognized by many beach-goers are the polyp phase of the life cycle. Each “individual” with its sail is really a hydroid colony, with many polyps that feed on ocean plankton.

Snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) nesting sites are monitored here and temporary informational/warning signs and fences (or ropes) are erected near nest sites during the breeding season. To help in the recovery of the bird, non-native vegetation that threatens the beach habitat has been removed and beach goers are educated to the sensitive nature of the area.

images of restaurant menu and two menu itemsLocal Dining

After a couple hours on the beach, we began to get hungry.  Craving fish & chips, we sought out a local eatery and chose Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Company. Their signature item is most definitely the Giant Fish Taco and it was delicious! Geneva ordered the Ceviche – also very good but heavy on the vegetables.  The boys each chose traditional fish & chips which were average.

They have communal benches along one side of the building outside as well as shady tables out front. We chose to dine inside, however, and came to regret that decision as the sun was beginning to set and there were no shades or blinds on the window.

Have you been to Ventura Beach? What activities do you enjoy here? Do you have a favorite restaurant?

October 3, 20141

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%!!


September 26, 20142

The volcanic activity of the Cascade Range has created unique geological formations that can only be seen in this part of the country. From gigantic obsidian glass flows (at Newberry Crater near Bend, Oregon), steaming mud pots at Lassen National Volcanic Park, and lava tube caves surrounded by a wide diversity of scenery make this journey an unforgettable experience.

The 500 mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway winds its way from Lake Almanor in Northern California through dramatic volcanic landscapes to Southern Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park.

volcanic-legacy-logoLiving in this region, we have had the opportunity to explore many of the volcanic sites over the years. This past weekend, we enjoyed unplugging and reconnecting with one another while camping at Manzanita Lake. It was the perfect field trip to augment our current geology cycle in STEM Club.

I am delighted to share some of the highlights from our experiences over the years along the volcanic scenic byway with you today.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

We will begin our tour with the remarkable hydrothermal features in Lassen Volcanic National Park which include roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), thumping mudpots, boiling pools, and steaming ground. These features are related to active volcanism and are indications of the ongoing potential for further eruptions from the Lassen “volcanic center.”

manzanitaManzanita Lake at Lassen Volcanic National Park

At the nearby Loomis Museum, we learned how B.F. Loomis documented Lassen Peak’s most recent eruptions (1914-15) and reviewed the geologic, historic, and cultural past at the Lassen Crossroads Information Center.

Subway Cave

Heading Northwest towards Burney, we come to the Subway Caves where you can hike 1/3 mile through the largest accessible tube in the Hat Creek Flow. The lava was discharged in large volumes from a series of north-south fissures (cracks in the earth). This river of lava crawled northward 16 miles, covering the floor of Hat Creek Valley. While the top crust cooled and hardened, rivers of red-hot lava insulated by newly formed rock above, continued to flow. Eventually, the lava drained away, leaving tube-like caves. The entrance to the cave was formed by a partial collapse of the cave’s roof many years ago.

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Not far from the caves, McArthur-Burney Falls features a 129-foot waterfall, cascading at a rate of 100 million gallons of water daily. While it is not the highest or largest waterfall in the state, many claim it to be the most beautiful. Additional water comes from springs, joining to create a mist-filled basin. Burney Creek originates from the park’s underground springs and flows to Lake Britton, getting larger along the way to the majestic falls. Teddy Roosevelt once described Burney Falls as the “eighth wonder of the world”.


Castle Crags State Park

Heading north now along the I5 corridor, we come to Castle Crags State Park which features 28 miles of hiking trails, including a 2.7 mile access trail to Castle Crags Wilderness, part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  The Pacific Crest Trail also passes through the park.  The park is named for the 6,000-feet tall glacier-polished crags.  The solitude you experience as you explore the forest or traverse part of the Pacific Crest Trail cannot be matched.

Klamath Wildlife

Continuing north, we exit I5 near Weed towards Klamath Falls. Along the border between California and Oregon are numerous wildlife viewing areas including Grass Lake Rest Area near Macdoel. North of Klamath Falls, you can’t miss the nearly 30 miles long and eight miles wide Upper Klamath Lake, the largest body of freshwater west of the Rockies. Because the lake is so shallow, a highly nutritious blue green algae flourishes, sustaining a food web that lures fly fisherman, bird watchers, and nature enthusiasts from across the globe.

Collier State Park & Logging Museum

Back on the road, we come to Collier State Park is located just north of Chiloquin, Oregon near the confluence of Spring Creek and the Williamson River. Beneath towering Ponderosa pine trees, this park features an outdoor museum of historic logging equipment dating to the 1880s. You can imagine the rugged woodsmen and the immense task of moving raw timber with innovation and brute force. There is also a relocated pioneer village, giving you an idea of how these families once lived.  Railroad buffs can learn about the role the railroad played in logging.

Crater Lake National Park

Lastly, we come to one of the gems of the National Park system, Crater Lake. The collapse of Mt. Mazama created a caldera that filled with clear blue waters to form the deepest lake in America and the 7th deepest lake in the world. There is so much to explore at the 183,225 acre park, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

One of our most memorable activities in the past was creating a 3D topographic map of the park, Build Geoography Skills with Topographic Maps, for a geography co-op.



September 12, 20142

These past couple of years, we have been immersed in a variety of field trips and experiences that have brought the Gold Rush era alive. The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James Marshall in Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California.  The gold-seekers, called “forty-niners”, often faced substantial hardships. While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the Gold Rush attracted tens of thousands from around the world.

At first, the gold nuggets could be picked up off the ground. Later, gold was recovered from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. More sophisticated methods were developed and later adopted elsewhere. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners.

Additionally, the Gold Rush also resulted in attacks on the indigenous people who were forcibly removed from their lands. An estimated 100,000 California Indians died between 1848 and 1868, and some 4,500 of them were murdered. The advances in mining technology also dramatically altered the landscape and ecosystems of Northern California.

Bonanza5Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

At Whiskeytown National Recreation Area near Redding, California, visitors can discover how pioneers/prospectors Charles Camden and Levi Tower reshaped the landscape to create a home for their families and an “oasis” for many travelers during and after the California Gold Rush.  If you plan to visit yourself, be sure to visit the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area website to download the activity guide for teachers and students.

In the past few years, we have enjoyed a tour of the Camden house, discovering the El Dorado Mine, and trying our hand at finding gold the old-fashioned way, using a gold pan in the creek. Each experience has provided us with a deeper appreciation for the hardships the pioneers endured.


Nevada State Museum & Carson City Mint

The Nevada State Museum and Carson City Mint, in Carson City, Nevada is an unusual museum in the sense that it seemed to have a little bit of everything. While other museums have a particular focus, this one had everything from natural history to guns. We enjoyed the coin mint exhibit and the mock mine the best – two special collections that set this museum apart from most.

Another exhibit we enjoyed was Finding Frémont: Pathfinder of the West, on display through spring 2015. Who was John C. Frémont? To some he was a villain, yet others see him as a hero and pioneer of Manifest Destiny who opened the West to settlement.  This was of particular interest to us because Shevlin Park, near Bend, Oregon (where we lived for nearly 10 years) was the location of the campsite of the Frémont Expedition on the fourth night of  December 1843.


Empire Mine, Grass Valley, California

The Empire Mine, the site of the oldest, largest, and richest gold mine in California, produced 5.8 million ounces of gold in its operating history of 106 years (1850-1956). George Roberts, the original discoverer of the gold soon sold his interest and by 1869 William Bourn Sr. owned controlling interest. The Bourn family maintained control of the mine until 1929 when it was sold to Newmont Mining. It ceased operation in 1956.

In 1975 the State purchased the surface property as the Empire Mine State Historic Park. The park contains many of the original mine buildings, the owners cottage and the restored gardens and grounds as well as the entrance to the abandoned and flooded shafts and tunnels.

We enjoyed walking around the grounds which include a club house for entertaining, extensive lawns with fountains, a reflection pool and gardens with a greenhouse, as well as the Bourne cottage. Living history is one of the main attractions of the park and it was certainly our favorite.

Volunteers in period dress recreated characters from Empire’s colorful past and led us on a tour of the two story home of William Bourn, Jr. Styled after the noble estates of nineteenth century England, the cottage was built in the late 1890’s. The architecture is distinguished by a remarkable redwood interior, leaded glass windows and massive granite walls.

Bonanza2Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City, once a vital settlement between Denver and San Francisco, influenced the entire country. Virginia City’s mining proceeds amounted to millions of dollars, equaling billions today.

We recently had the chance to explore this picturesque, Victorian-era town and relive some of its colorful history.  As we strolled along the board sidewalks, we were able to peak into Old West saloons, visit a couple museums, and even don hard hats to explore the tunnels of an old gold mine. One of the highlights of our visit was the staged gun fight. While the Virginia City Outlaws Wild West Show is a comedy, it gave us a small sense of what it was like to experience gunfire in the street.

We also enjoyed visiting a couple of the pioneer cemeteries where nearly every plot is fenced or bordered, a typical practice of the Victorian period. Grave markers range in materials from wood to metal to cut stone. The inscriptions on the markers give silent testimony to the social and economic fabric of the area. Very few of the adults buried in these cemeteries were born in Nevada. The birthplaces noted throughout the grounds provide a glimpse of the scope of immigration and the makeup of the settlement that supported the Comstock mining industry.

There is so much to see here that you will want to stay a few days to take it all in. Perhaps you fancy a ride on a stagecoach, horse-drawn carriage, trolley, or the V&T Railroad steam engine train that crosses the high desert landscape dotted with old mines.

July 6, 20141

A couple weeks ago, I spoke in length about the options available to families who choose to homeschool in California.  For some, homeschooling high school is a long way off. For others, like us, it is just around the corner.

My daughter will be entering 7th grade this year and we are committed to homeschooling through high school.  She is already far exceeding my expectations in mathematics and strives to be fluent in Mandarin.

Regardless of her career path in the future, it is crucial that we are prepared and knowledgeable in regards to the options available to us as her high school years approach. I have thereby begun to gather resources and together, we have already begun preparing for college

preparing for collegeGraduating High School

Private schools including home based private schools and private independent study programs create their own graduation requirements. Students enrolled in a PSP should check with their school for specific requirements.

Earning a Diploma

All schools, including home based private schools and public, charter and private independent study programs can issue a diploma once the requirements the school has set for graduation are completed.

Proficiency Exam

Students may also earn the equivalent of a public school diploma by taking the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), as per California Education Code section 48412. Students may take the test if 16 years old OR if the students has completed one year at the 10th grade level OR if the student will complete one year at the 10th grade level in the semester the test is taken. 

College Bound

For students interested in attending university, some additional requirements (courses and exams) are not to be overlooked. Parents and students should be certain to inquire with each university, as requirements may vary.

Course Requirements

Freshmen applicants to four-year universities in California are required to complete a minimum of 15 year long courses (or credits) for admission. However, students may also meet this requirement by completing college courses or earning certain scores on SAT, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate exams. It is worth noting that most applicants have an average of 22-26 credits when they enter the university as a freshman.

  • History/Social Science ~ 2 courses
  • English ~ 4 courses
  • Mathematics (including elementary algebra, geometry, and intermediate algebra) ~ 3 courses
  • Lab Science ~ 2 courses
  • Foreign Language ~ 2 courses
  • Visual/Performing Arts ~ 1 course
  • College-Prep Elective ~ 1 course

For more specific information regarding course requirements, including specific test scores, click here.

Advanced Placement

Advanced Placement courses are courses that either offer an in depth, advanced study of a subject, or explore subjects outside the scope of typical high school coursework. These courses may be taken through private schools or through local community colleges; however enrolling in AP courses is NOT a requirement for college admission or for taking college Advanced Placement exams.

Homeschoolers have the option of studying any subject in depth, at an advanced level, so even if your student hasn’t taken courses labeled “AP”, they may still opt to take AP or CLEP exams at the college level to test out of coursework.

Exam Requirements

In lieu of a high school diploma, the California University system also requires the Certificate of Proficiency awarded by the State Board of Education upon successful completion of the California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE), a proficiency exam from another state, or a GED.

Depending upon the university, freshman applicants must also submit the following test scores:

  • ACT Plus Writing, or
  • SAT Reasoning Test

For more in-depth requirements for admission to a California university, visit the University of California’s Admission Requirements.