San Francisco Archives - Eva Varga

May 8, 2015

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility of our schedule. When Patrick has business meetings out of town, we are often able to accompany him. This works not only to his benefit – he has company on the long drive, we often share in the task of driving so the other can catch up on work, and he can take advantage of the carpool lane – but to ours.

While he is engaged at his conference, we hit the road to explore the city or surrounding area. This is just what brought us to San Francisco earlier this week.

We assumed that we would be staying in downtown or the financial district as we had in the past. Come to discover, this conference took place near the airport in Millbrae. Not exactly convenient for walking. Though the proximity to the BART would have been ideal – our plans for the day provided only a small window of time and we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible.

A las, I made the decision to drive back into SF proper myself and take our chances with parking. Our first destination was Golden Gate Park. In all our previous visits to the city, we had not previously explored this gem. My goal was to locate the Roald Amundsen or Gjoa Monument as well as two historic windmills.

On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netIn October 1906, Roald Amundsen and his crew arrived in San Francisco aboard the 69-foot Gjoa. Previously a herring boat from Tronso, Norway, she had been retrofitted for Amundsen’s quest to discover the famed Northwest Passage. The Gjoa took the small crew up and over Canada, east to west, finally arriving near Herschel Island, in arctic Canada.

To get word back to the outside world of his success, Amundsen left his men behind in the icebound ship and skied some 500 miles into Eagle, Alaska, where he telegraphed the good news home. As he and his crew arrived in San Francisco a few months later, they were hailed as heroes.

This epic quest was not Amundsen’s only feat, however. He led the Antarctic expedition (1910–12) to become the first to reach the South Pole in December 1911, an epic race against Robert Falcon Scott. In 1926, he was the first expedition leader to be recognized without dispute as having reached the North Pole.

We had visited the Gjoa ship at the Maritime Museum in Oslo. It was exciting to experience this full circle. Not far from the Norwegian granite stele is located a short distance from two windmills.
On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netBuilt between 1902 and 1908, the two historic windmills that overlook Ocean Beach at the far west end of Golden Gate Park were originally designed to provide water for the fledgling park at the beginning of the last century.

Fresh water was essential to transform the sand dunes of the Sunset district into the green that it is today.  The ground water inland was insufficient, so the coastal winds were harnessed to pump deep water closer to the ocean shore.  The windmills were in use only until 1913, when they were replaced by more efficient electric pumps.

The North windmill, known as the Dutch Windmill, was the first, built in 1902 to fill the artificial ponds within the boundaries of Golden Gate Park. The South windmill, known as the Murphy Windmill, was the largest of its kind in the world, with gigantic 114 foot sails, each cut from a single log. These sails turned clockwise, unlike traditional Dutch windmills which turn counter-clockwise.

While in Golden Gate Park, we also enjoyed one of our most favorite pastimes, Letterboxing – the ultimate scavenger hunt. Hunting letterboxes in San Francisco is always enjoyable – the boxes tend to be well maintained and the stamps are amazing! Often, intricately carved or multiple stamps that “stack” within one another.

We hunted three boxes (Aphrodite, Artemis, and Breathe) and were delighted to find all three with ease. My girl has become quite adept at locating the boxes – often without the complete set of clues .. a real sleuth.

We also picked up a hitch-hiking stamp and hope to be planting it in Ashland next week. 🙂

To learn more about letterboxing, visit AtlasQuest.


February 24, 20154

Chinese New Year is a two week Spring festival celebrated for over 5,000 years in China. The most important of the Chinese holidays, the celebration lasts for 15 days and culminates with the Lantern Festival. Millions around the world will celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year on February 18-19, 2015. It’ll be February 18 according to U.S. calendars, and February 19 in Asia.

newyearSFFor the past couple of years, we have celebrated Chinese New Year in San Francisco Chinatown – our favorite way to celebrate the holiday. The San Francisco Chinese New Year celebration originated in the 1860’s during the Gold Rush days and is now the largest Asian event in North America as well as the largest general market event in Northern California. The celebration includes two major fairs, the Chinese New Year Flower Fair and Chinatown Community Street Fair. All the festivities culminate with Chinese New Year Parade.

Named one of the top ten parades in the world, Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco is one of the few remaining night illuminated parades in the country. Each year is associated with one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Many of the floats feature the theme of current zodiac sign; for 2015, it’s the Year of the Sheep (or Ram).

In 2013, we went alone and upon our return, the kids created a news-style report to share what they had learned, Chinese New Year in San Francisco. The following year, we invited friends to join us and it was so much fun to share in our new tradition.


We enjoy meandering along the streets during the Community Street Fair, shopping in the many stores (we always find great Mandarin language books), and stopping at the vendor booths. Coca Cola and McDonalds always have great giveaways and cues that wrap around several blocks! The restaurants are many – making it difficult to choose. Of course, we can’t leave Chinatown without stopping at the Fortune Cookie Factory.

There is something for everyone and we always have a great time. We look forward to this weekend getaway every year.

Activities to Celebrate Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year | Multicultural Kid Blogs

This post is part of the Chinese New Year series and giveaway on Multicultural Kid Blogs. Enter our giveaway to win one of these great prize packages, and don’t forget to link up your own posts about Chinese New Year on our main page!

Giveaway begins Jan. 21 and goes through midnight ET on March 5, 2015. Enter below for a chance to win! Remember you can make a comment on the blog post of a different co-host each day for an additional entry.

First Prize Package

All About China

From Tuttle Publishing, All About China: Take the whole family on a whirlwind tour of Chinese history and culture with this delightfully illustrated book that is packed with stories, activities and games. Travel from the stone age through the dynasties to the present day with songs and crafts for kids that will teach them about Chinese language and the Chinese way of life.

Long-Long's New Year

Also from Tuttle Publishing, Long-Long’s New Year, a beautifully illustrated picture book about a little Chinese boy named Long-Long, who accompanies his grandfather into the city to sell cabbages in order to buy food and decorations for the New Year. Selling cabbages is harder than Long-Long expects, and he encounters many adventures before he finds a way to help his grandfather, and earn New Year’s treats for his mother and little cousin.

A Little Mandarin

From A Little Mandarin, a CD featuring a collection of Chinese children’s classics – songs loved by families in China for generations – given new life with a contemporary sound and voice. The 15 tracks fuse rock, pop, dance, ska, and hip hop influences with playful lyrics to make it a unique and fun learning companion for all ages. Featured on Putumayo Kids Presents World Sing-Along.

Second Prize Package

US shipping only

Celebrating the Chinese New Year

From Tuttle Publishing, Celebrating the Chinese New Year, in which Little Mei’s grandfather tells her the stories of Nian and the monster Xi for Chinese New Year.

The Sheep Beauty

Also from Tuttle Publishing, The Sheep Beauty, which brings to life the kindness and generosity of those born under the sign of the sheep in the Chinese zodiac.

Chinese Zodiac Animals

Also from Tuttle Publishing, Chinese Zodiac Animals, a fun and informative way to learn about the ancient Chinese Zodiac, explaining the traits of each animal sign and what luck the future might hold for the person born under that sign.

Monkey Drum

From Tiny Tapping Toes, a monkey drum, plus a free pdf of a craft version. World Music children’s performer DARIA has spent the last two decades performing in the USA and around the world, creating music to inspire all the world’s children and allowing children to become a part of the celebration and the fun of exploring world cultures.

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January 1, 2015

One of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Golden Gate Bridge was the life mission of an engineer who had never designed or overseen the building of a suspension bridge. At the time of its construction the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, built hundreds of feet above the dangerously churning waters of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate. 

goldengatebridgeJoseph Strauss, a bridge builder from Chicago, had been visiting San Francisco for several years to supervise work on a small drawbridge, one of four hundred he had built around the world. But Strauss’s ambitions far surpassed any work his firm had ever attempted.

Bridges have long been an interest to us a family and we enjoy spending the weekend in the big city of San Francisco whenever possible. We watched the new Bay Bridge as it was constructed but the red hue of the Golden Gate Bridge has always captivated us.


straussJoseph Baermann Strauss was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on the 9th of January 1870. He loved poetry and hoped to pursue a career in the arts like his mother, a pianist, and his father, a painter and writer. Though he never became a fine artist, he would help create one of the most famous bridges in the world.

Following his college graduation, Strauss worked as a draftsman for the New Jersey Steel and Iron Company, and the Lassig Bridge and Iron Works Company in Chicago. Seven years later, he was named principal assistant engineer in the firm of Ralph Modjeski, a Chicago engineer. While working for Modjeski, Strauss developed his trademark “bascule” drawbridge design. Strauss’ bascule was a utilitarian structure, practical but unlovely.

Strauss eventually left Modjeski’s company, forming the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company in 1904. A prolific engineer, he constructed some 400 drawbridges across the U.S. Yet he dreamed of building “the biggest thing of its kind that a man could build.”

In 1919, San Francisco’s city engineer, Michael O’Shaughnessy, approached Strauss about bridging the Golden Gate, the narrow, turbulent passage where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. Strauss campaigned tirelessly over the next decade to build the bridge. He faced enormous opposition from the “Old Guard” — environmentalists, ferry operators, city administrators, and even the engineering community. Yet in November 1930, a year into the Great Depression, voters at last supported a bond issue for Strauss’ bridge. The ambitious project finally had its green light.

Strauss alienated many people in his quest to build the structure, his first suspension bridge. Obsessed with claiming credit as the span’s creator, he minimized the contributions of Charles Ellis and Leon Moissieff, the two visionaries who actually worked out the significant engineering challenges of building the bridge.

On May 27, 1937, the bridge opened to the public. Returning to his other great love, poetry, Strauss composed verse for the occasion, exulting, “At last, the mighty task is done.” It would be the last mighty task of his life. Exhausted, Strauss moved to Arizona to recover. Within a year, he would die of a stroke.

Bring it Home

  • Read about some of the opposition to the bridge. Then prepare a poster expressing either support for, or opposition to, the Golden Gate Bridge project. Your poster should reflect one of the arguments made for or against the bridge at the time it was being debated. Illustrate your poster with a drawing of the benefit or harm the bridge would bring to your community.
  • During his campaign, Strauss had bribes distributed to members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to secure their support for the project. Imagine that you are a young newspaper editor in San Francisco at the time and you have just learned about these bribes. How could you respond in a way that would be in the city’s long-term interest? Write an editorial condemning the bribes or praise the project as necessary regardless of the maneuvers that might be necessary to make it happen.
  • Read about Irving Morrow, about the man who designed the Golden Gate Bridge’s distinctive Art Deco features. Find a photo of another building or other object designed in the Art Deco style and explain what you like about the style. Alternatively, choose another bridge or building structure, find out what style of architecture it represents, and explain why you like it.
  • Coordinate a toothpick bridge building competition amongst your friends.
  • People love suspension bridges for many reasons: their beauty, their utility, their mathematical elegance, their long spans, or even for the regional bragging rights they confer. Research other suspension bridges around the world and create a PowerPoint or a webpage to share with others what you learned.
  • Learn how the Golden Gate Bridge was financed. What is a bond? Why do governments issue bonds? Why do voters have to vote to approve a bond issue? What is “collateral” and what did these six counties use as collateral for the bonds?
  • Visit the Golden Gate Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion yourself and learn more about the construction of this Strauss’ first suspension bridge.
  • While in San San Francisco, enjoy the Golden Gate Treasure Hunt in honor of the 75th Anniversary.

Science Milestones

September 14, 2012

One of the greatest joys of homeschooling is our flexible schedule.  Because we are not tied to a school schedule, we are free to join the kids’ father when he has conferences and work out of town.  Recently, a business meeting brought him to Oakland and we tagged along.  This not only ensures we get to spend quality time together – but it also allows us to explore new areas that we may not otherwise get to see.

On this trip, we ventured off the freeway via the local streets to take in the container ship port (from afar) and Chinatown.  After San Francisco, Oakland’s Chinatown is relatively small but we were able to browse several markets and bring home a box of moon cakes for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lawrence Hall of Science

Thereafter, we drove up to the Berkeley campus to explore the Lawrence Hall of Science.  The Lawrence Hall of Science is UC Berkeley’s public science center.  It has been providing parents, kids, and educators with opportunities to engage with science since 1968.  Read on to discover a sampling of the science activities in which we were engaged.

Design, Build and Test

Numerous exhibits allowed us to explore the science of engineering and solve real-world challenges. Here are just a few of the activities we enjoyed:

  • Create our own flying machine and test it in a wind tube
  • Explore what it takes to get a roller coaster over a hill or through a loop
  • Make balls over in midair using the power of air pressure

Explore the World of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is used by engineers and scientists, and it’s also used in the fabric of your jeans, the fur on your teddy bear, and the smartphones in your pocket!  The nanotechnology exhibit provided us with a chance to:

  • Zoom in and see what our favorite everyday objects look like magnified.
  • Find out how tall we are in nanometers.
  • Play with smaller and smaller magnetic materials and watch how they act!
  • Discover how geckos stick to walls and how gravity affects tiny objects.
  • See how a butterfly can produce a beautiful color on its wings without pigments using natural nanotechnology.
  • Learn about people who work in the field and how they got interested in the science.
  • Explore how nanotechnology and nano experiments can affect our future.

Explore Forces That Shape the Bay

In this exhibit, we were able to experience the geologic forces that shaped—and continue to reshape—our home, and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire bay. The activities in which we immersed ourselves included:

  • Riding a earthquake simulators
  • Set erosion in motion at a hands-on erosion table
  • Scoping out the bay with powerful telescopes
  • Controlling the water flow from the simulated Sierra Nevada
  • Learning how the San Francisco Bay has developed in 10,000 years
  • Look closer at all kinds of rock with the exhibit rock guide

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 22, 20111
We were in San Francisco last week and thereby took the opportunity to visit the Children’s Creativity Museum (formerly Zeum).  We weren’t quite sure what to expect (they opened only a few days prior to our visit) and upon our arrival, there was a school group ahead of us awaiting the museum’s opening.  The girl at the admissions desk gave us a 25% discount assuming it might be a little crowded but as it turned out, we still had the place nearly all to ourselves … one of the joys of homeschooling.  🙂

We went to the Claymation Studio first and were given a quick tutorial on how to create the characters for a short claymation movie.  We decided to cooperate together to bring to life the characters in Sweetie’s newest story … the Adventures of Perry the Porcupine (or so it is presently named).  Sweetie created Perry (shown in progress above), I created the king (visible for only a brief second in our movie), and Sweetie asked her brother to create the monster Perry encounters in the first chapter.  “You can create any monster you want!” she encouraged him.  
Believe it or not, we spent more than two hours working on our clay characters. When we were satisfied with our creations, we moved over to the backdrops.  The first scene in the chapter takes place in a village.  Sweetie, our director, selected the yellow building for the conversation between the king and his friend and loyal subject, Perry.  In the picture below, you can see how the camera and monitor were set up in relation to the ‘stage’.  

Buddy worked the camera, essentially pressing the space bar to take a photo.  Sweetie would thereafter move the characters ever so slightly to give the appearance that the characters were actually moving.  The entire process was surprisingly simple and we discovered after the first take that we could scroll back and manually delete specific photos as desired.

We spent only about 20 minutes creating our video, in total we were in this studio for nearly 3 hours and we were ready to move on and see more of the museum.  We learned that we needed to take many more photos than we originally anticipated.  The first scene was entirely too short.  We were also limited by the props available.  We would have like to make it appear as though Perry were walking through the countryside.  As it was, there was no way to elevate him.  It was also difficult to maneuver the snake monster in the film without our arms showing.

Despite our shortcomings, we were ecstatic with the results.  We had a fabulous time and look forward to creating more short films … to bring to life our characters and imagination. 

Here’s the final product: 

To create this video, we used a program called iStop Motion.  We hope to purchase it soon.