Hidden Gems Archives - Page 2 of 2 - Eva Varga

July 19, 20122
Periodic Table of the Elements
Photo by E.Lite

When I was in college, I spent a great deal of time on the campus of the University of Oregon.  While I was not a student here, my boyfriend (now my husband) was and I thereby spent a great deal of time with him in Klamath Hall and the Art Library (he liked the intimacy of this library better than the larger Knight Library).  One of the things I remember most about this part of campus was the visual Periodic Table of Elements.  When we had free time in Eugene recently, I knew this was one venue I wanted to share with my kiddos since we had recently spent some time learning a little chemistry ourselves.

I was delighted to discover that the building was accessible in the summer and open to the public.  Prior to our arrival, my kiddos couldn’t quite understand my desire to show them this when I tried explaining it in words.  Once they saw it in person, however, they were excited and very grateful.  They loved finding their favorite elements:  Au, Po, and Ra.  Can you tell we also read a biography of Marie Curie?

I inquired with thestaff as to the specifics regarding the elements on display but to my surprise, no one seemed to know anything.  If memory serves me correct, however, I believe that one mole of each element is on display. A mole is a chemical mass unit, defined to be 6.022 x 1023 molecules, atoms, or some other unit. The mass of a mole is the gram formula mass of a substance. For example, 1 mole of copper has 6.022 x 1023 atoms and weighs about 63.54 grams.

May 21, 2012

When my mother came down to visit us last week, we were eager to show her around some of our favorite locales, one of which was Turtle Bay.  It was here that we stumbled into an ancient world – one we previously were not familiar.

Welcome to the ancient world of penjing. It’s a place where a lone, wind-blown tree grows meditatively from the side of a rocky cliff. Where the stunning beauty of Chinese landscapes have been captured in their grandest element and then, through an ancient art and the touch of a master gardener, reduced to a size that fits on a table.

Penjing (pronounced “pen jin”) is an art form that dates back more than 1200 years, evidence of penjing is depicted on the walls of the tomb of a Tang Dynasty prince from the Shanxi region of China.  This ancient art form is similar to bonsai, the art of dwarfing trees and shaping them, but differs from it by incorporating intricate outdoor vistas.  In its finest form, penjing became a scholarly art like poetry, calligraphy, painting, and gardening.

Sculpted by Chinese penjing master Qiao Hong Gen, the pieces pictured here were amongst the eleven pint-sized masterpieces on exhibit in Turtle Bay’s McConnell Arbortetum & Botanical Gardens.  As we wandered about the gardens between our usual lessons, we marveled at the miniature landscapes.  Sweetie evan stated she wouldlike to give this form of expression a try herself.

October 28, 20115

We’ve been to Chinatown before … in Vancouver, New York, San Francisco and even Portland. As the kiddos are learning Mandarin, it is an opportunity to practice their language skills as well as experience a tiny bit of another culture.  We thereby visit whenever the opportunity arises.  Thus, our visit to San Francisco last week was not complete without spending a portion of the day in Chinatown.  This time, we visited a few new places … both of which the munchkins have asked, “Can we stop here every time we come to Chinatown?”

When we first left the motel on 2nd and Howard, Sweetie asked if she could hold the city map.  I asked if she wanted to be the navigator and she exclaimed with glee, “Yeah!”  We led us to the Children’s Creativity Museum and from their she directed us to Powell Street Station to catch the cable car.  I was very impressed with her sense of direction.  Upon boarding the cable car, she was careful to read each street sign and signaled to us when we had arrived at Jackson Street, where she felt we should get off.

Fresh frog legs, anyone?

We walked two blocks – stopping briefly when anything unusual (at least us) and then turned onto an alley where we immediately found the San Francisco Fortune Cookie Factory.  It is literally a hole in the wall … located on Ross Alley, it is one of the oldest fortune cookie companies in San Francisco.  If you are looking for a tourist attraction (i.e. a tour), gourmet fortune cookies, single cookies, or picture taking opportunities (they charge 50 cents) – this place is not for you.  If you are looking for a tiny shop, free samples, flat cookies, cookies in bulk, or great customer service – you’ve found the right place.

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Within a few paces of the entrance you can see fortune cookies being made right in front of you. First, the thin circular cookie is pulled off a hot press. Then, a fortune is placed on one side of the hot, flat dough. Next, each soft, hot cookie is shaped over a steel rod into the shape of a fortune cookie. This process must be done very quickly, otherwise the cookie will harden before it has the right fortune cookie shape. When you are inside the factory, you will be amazed at how quickly the fortune cookies are made.  An elderly man was at the entrance giving us free samples of warm cookies fresh of the grill.  We watched for a few minutes while enjoying our samples and then before departing, purchased a bag of flats for ourselves.

Enjoying their first tea sampling at Aroma Tea Company

From there we wandered about, going into shops that appealed to us including a coin / jewelry store that had solid gold coins.  Buddy wanted to buy one of course but it was several thousand dollars.  He settled for a gold-colored U.S. dollar coin instead … an even exchange.  Sweetie found the Aroma Tea Company and saw that the sign said, “Free Tea Tasting” so she asked if we couldn’t take part.  We sampled three types of tea and purchased two.  Great idea, Sweetie!  My stop was to a book store where we purchased a few children’s books and a tablet for each of the kiddos to practice writing their characters.

Another delightful afternoon exploring and learning.  Life is good.

October 6, 20112

One of the excursions we have wanted to take ever since we have lived in Central Oregon is to Richardson’s Rock Ranch, just north of Madras.  Somehow or another … it just never made it onto our calendar.  Now that we are moving, I insisted we make the drive.  The night before our departure, my mother called me to say that she would be joining us and that she would be bringing along my niece and nephew!  What a nice surprise!

We met at the ranch around 9:45 a.m. and checked in at the office.  From there, it was only 7 miles to the digging site (we selected an easier one since we were beginners) but the road was not maintained so it took us a good 20-30 minutes to get out there.   We began our quest immediately and were not discouraged.  Everyone found thundereggs … some even appeared to be discarded on the ground.  Our buckets were full within an hour, thankfully as it was getting quite hot already, and we made our way back to the office to weigh and cut open our thundereggs.

According to ancient Native American legend, when the Thunder Spirits living in the highest recesses of snowcapped Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson became angry with one another, amid violent thunder and lightning storms they would hurl masses of these spherical rocks at each other. The hostile gods obtained these weapons by stealing eggs from the Thunderbirds’ nests, thus the source of the name “Thundereggs.”

The Thunderegg was designated Oregon’s official state rock in 1965.  Today, Thundereggs are made into beautiful jewelry, especially bolo ties and pendants, pen stands, bookends, and decorator pieces. Their value ranges from about $1 per slice or half egg to well over $100 per slice or single cabochon.

A Thunderegg is not actually a rock. It is a structure, sometimes a nodule or geode, occurring in rhyolite, welded tuff, or perlitic rocks.  Scientists do not agree on the processes forming Thundereggs. Some insist that the characteristic and unique internal pattern of typical Thundereggs is due to expansion and rupture of rock by gases. Others claim the pattern is due to drying of a colloid or gel. Thundereggs range in size and weight from less than an inch and under one ounce to over a yard in diameter and over a ton in weight. Most eggs collected are between two and six inches in diameter.

If you are interested in teaching a geology unit in your homeschool, you may be interested in a 10 week unit I developed for the middle grades or logic stage.  Earth Logic: Our Dynamic Earth.  I have also created a Squidoo lens where I have organized numerous free online resources and have shared a short interactive quiz.  You can find the lenses here …  Geology Rocks:  A Homeschool Unit Study and Geology: How Well Do You Know Your Stuff?