Sunday, April 22, 2018

Hobbies that Begin with "T" - Blogging from A to Z Challenge

During the 2018 Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on hobbies that I have introduced to my daughters to through their childhood and teen years. Some were done as part of homeschooling, while others were areas that we explored because we were interested in the subject or activity. These are hobbies that anyone of any age could try as well.


There are three main hobbies that begin with the letter "T" that Sophia and Olivia have explored: table tennis, topiary, and travel.

Table Tennis

On February 23, 2014, while we were staying in Ely, Minnesota, we had the opportunity to play table tennis. The girls had never played table tennis before, so it was fun teaching them how to play.

There aren't a lot of places where table tennis is played these days.

Seems like it was much more common 20 years ago or more.


The first time the girls saw topiaries was at a children's concert by the Ordway Theater in St. Paul. There were a variety of topiaries in the shapes of animals. The girls' favorite one was a horse.

May 29, 2007

The next time we saw topiaries was at the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island. This mansion had an extensive garden filled with flowers, trees, and topiaries.

September 5, 2011

It would be fun to create and have some topiaries around our farm. The animal ones that we saw in 2007 were so clever and the perfect size for children to interact with and enjoy.


The earliest travel that the girls did was throughout China when we adopted them. Sophia was adopted in November 2001; and we saw a lot of cultural and historic sites as well as art museums.

We saw beautiful sculptures - like this one at the White Swan Hotel that was carved from jade.

In November 2003, we returned to China to adopt Olivia. Sophia, Paige, and I walked on a section of the Great Wall.

The steps were different heights - some only a few inches high and others ones that she had to crawl up. She could have kept going, but the tour bus was leaving soon and we had to return.

We tried to show them as much as we could while we were there since neither had left the orphanage when they were there (Sophia was there until she was 11 months old and Olivia was at her orphanage until she was 10 months old).

We returned to some places we saw on the first trip - including the White Swan Hotel and the jade sculpture. This time we had both girls in the photo.

We hope to return to China in 2019 - when Sophia graduates from high school. Hopefully the jade sculpture will still be there. It would be nice to get a photo of the girls by it.

Many of the trips after that were relatively close to home. A favorite place to visit was Grand Marais. We would stay at various rental homes throughout the area. One of the most memorable one was Rosebushbacka. The girls were playing in a field of wildflowers and wild onions in the photo below.

June 16, 2006

Another time we traveled for an extended period of time as a family was due to water damage in our home and the wood floors needing to be re-done. Our insurance company covered the cost of staying in hotels while the five-day floor re-sanding and re-finishing process was being done.  

On our trip, we went to Duluth. One of the places we visited was a train museum. Below, the girls explored an old mail train car. 

September 2, 2008

In 2009, we began traveling with my parents. They used to take many trips. However, the last one they took was a challenging one because, unknown at the time, my dad had mid-stage Alzheimer's Disease. He struggled with reading a map and finding his way around the cities and towns they were exploring.

With my mom's low vision and inability to see signs and drive, they made a decision that it was safest to stay in areas that they knew rather than travel. 

So, they offered to take us on driving trips to places they wanted to see and pay for all our expenses, if I would drive. It was a great arrangement. 

Our first trip was to Pella, Iowa, to see the tulip festival. We stopped for a picnic in Albert Lea, Minnesota. It was a bit chilly that day. Yet, it was a nice stop.

April 29, 2009 - picnic in Albert Lea, Minnesota 

Another trip that we went on was to Grand Marais. This one was my idea because my dad used to take Little Brothers (through the Big Brothers Little Brothers program) and lead Boy Scouts on canoeing and camping trips. 

We stopped at a Bearskin Lodge on the way up the Gunflint Trail and saw a friendly chipmunk there. The girls fed it Pik-Nik potato snacks. 

September 8, 2010

We continued up the Gunflint Trail to Chik-Wauk Museum on the shore of Lake Saganaga - a place my dad used to canoe on decades ago. We had a picnic there, went through the museum, and the girls, my dad, and I went on a hike. My mom stayed back due to mobility issues.

September 8, 2010

We have take numerous trips up north and have enjoyed the views of Lake Superior. 

September 9, 2010

Many times we just enjoy the view. However, there have been times that the girls have waded into the frigid water.

Another trip that we took with my parents - the girls' grandparents - was to Wabasha to visit the National Eagle Center. We were able to see eagles up close.

We also went to Lark Toys and went on a carousel ride there. The girls rode different carved animals - like a unicorn that Sophia liked and otter that Olivia liked. My dad rode on a beautiful carved seat and would wave to my mom and me each time he passed by.

July 19, 2010

We continued to Winona and then into Wisconsin to visit the Shrine of Guadalupe. This is a place that my parents wanted to visit for many years. I was happy that we were able to go there along with a family friend who we have known since the 1960s.

July 20, 2010

One of the traditions that I did with the girls was take them on a "Not Back to School Trip" each September. It was a perfect time to travel because kids were back in school and things were quiet again at places we wanted to visit. 

So, in early-September 2011, we went on a driving trip around the New England states. It was a wonderful way to explore six states and see a beautiful part of the country. 

Below, we had a snack at the pagoda at the Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island.

September 5, 2011

We visited Ben & Jerry's in Vermont.

September 7, 2011

We took a tour of the Louisa May Alcott home in Massachusetts.

September 9, 2011

The first national monument that the girls went to was Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota. Below, they are sawing pipestone.

June 8, 2012

On that same trip, in addition to seeing the Corn Palace and Prehistoric Indian Village in Mitchell, South Dakota, we went camping at Lake Shetek State Park where there are pelicans. The girls enjoyed swimming in Lake Shetek since it was unseasonably hot that day.

June 9, 2012

The girls enjoyed reading books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. So, in 2012, we visited some places where Laura had lived and attended church. We went through Spring Grove where she went to church and then headed to Burr Oak, Iowa, where the Masters Hotel is located. It's one of the places where Laura lived. 

We also went to Amish farms, businesses, and a farmers market. My mom went with us on this trip; and especially enjoyed visiting the Amish farms.

August 25, 2012

In June 2013, we visited a couple of state parks and did some camping. Below, Sophia is by some rocks at Banning State Park.

June 3, 2013

We traveled through Two Harbors and were able to watch some ships come close to the dock where we were standing.

June 4, 2013

In April 2014, Paige took the girls to California since he was receiving an award for radio promotions.

April 5, 2014

They saw the ocean and desert; and went horseback riding through a beautiful part of the desert.

April 8, 2014

A few months later, the girls and I went to Grand Marais. We all went horseback through the forests which was beautiful. Sophia and I went ziplining. 

July 10, 2014

Olivia and I went rock climbing along the cliffs of Lake Superior. This was at Tettegouche State Park.

July 12, 2014

All of us went kayaking on Lake Superior by Split Rock Lighthouse. We were able to see the lighthouse from a new perspective as well as sea caves and a shipwreck.

July 12, 2014

 In July 2017, Olivia and I explored Arizona while Sophia went to Take Action Camp in Patagonia, Arizona. Olivia and I visited a wildlife/taxidermy museum.

July 2, 2017

We went to Saguaro National Park and saw the huge saguaro cacti.

July 4, 2017

We drove to northern Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, and spent part of two days there.

July 5, 2017

We returned to Tucson after seeing many museums, historic sites, caves, and parks.

July 8, 2017

We met Sophia at the airport and took one last picture by the cacti. It's not something we see in Minnesota.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hobbies that Begin with "S" - Blogging from A to Z Challenge

During the 2018 Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on hobbies that I have introduced to my daughters to through their childhood and teen years. Some were done as part of homeschooling, while others were areas that we explored because we were interested in the subject or activity. These are hobbies that anyone of any age could try as well.


Sophia and Olivia have tried many hobbies that begin with the letter "S": scrapbooking, sewing, singing, snowshoeing, spelunking, and swimming.


One of the things that the girls both tried was digital scrapbooking. They learned how to create a 200+ page scrapbook filled with photos, text, and graphics.

July 1, 2016

They worked on two books - one for the 2015-16 year and the other for 2016-17 year.

July 8, 2016

They worked with some other teens, but ultimately oversaw all the page designs and corrected errors or worked with the layouts.

May 4, 2017

We are debating about whether to do books for the 2017-18 years and forward just focusing on our homeschooling activities, or if we some different theme books that looks back on the girls' homeschooling years.


Just like quilting (a hobby the girls do that begins with "Q"), sewing is something the girls have been doing since they were young. Below, Olivia is taking a quick break from sewing a little quilt.

September 25, 2007

Sophia sewed a rebozo based on a picture she saw in an American Girl book. She used the rebozo for a play she was in based on the book she was reading. 

February 20, 2008

Olivia also sewed a costume for the play. She made a sash.

February 22, 2008

The girls did hand-sewing as well. Below, Sophia is making a scarf.

November 17, 2008

A year later, she made an upcycled apron using a pair of jeans and lace. She won first prize at the county fair on her project.

July 29, 2009

Olivia made a stuffed Santa toy (or pillow - depending on how you used it). She entered it into the county fair for one of her 4-H Cloverbud projects (for children 5-7 years old).

July 14, 2010

In 2016, the girls began taking sewing workshops through 4-H. At one session, they learned how to make pop-up containers. They were challenging to make, but both girls still use them.

September 25, 2016

Another project they made was a travel pillow. They chose the fabric and created a cute holder for a pillow.

November 11, 2016

Between hand-sewing and machine sewing, the girls have developed their skills and taken on progressively more difficult projects each year.


When the girls were about five years old, they began singing in the children' choir at church, the Almost Angels. One year, the choir director said he had a musical play that he and his wife were directing at their art center. 

So, both Sophia and Olivia auditioned and received parts in The Chocolate Milk Cow. They had a lot of fun at the rehearsals and performances that happened during the summer.

June 17, 2009

On the girls' First Communion, they sang in the children's choir.

January 9, 2010

One year, they sang in a 50s song and dressed up in handmade "poodle skirts."

February 13, 2011

The children's choir had performances almost monthly throughout the homeschool year.

September 18, 2011

There were a couple performances at Christmas - usually a week or two before Christmas as well as on Christmas Eve. For Music Sunday on the Sunday before Christmas, they were able to dress in choir robes and sing with the adult choir.

December 18, 2011

The girls also have done Christmas caroling at a group home for adults with different developmental disabilities.

December 19, 2011

The girls typically sang at Easter with the Almost Angels.

April 8, 2012

They also sang in the holiday play at Christmas to raise money for purchasing livestock for women in need in third-world countries.

December 15, 2012

By the time Sophia was almost 12 and Olivia was almost 10, there were only a few youth left in the choir. It also was difficult to get together the children's choir to sing on Christmas Eve. However, even with only five girls, their voices carried throughout the sanctuary.

December 24, 2012

A year later, the girls donned red hats to sing a favorite Tomten song followed by the traditional St. Lucia song.

December 15, 2013

They sang on Christmas Eve again and wore special scarves that were sewn by the choir director's wife.

December 24, 2013

In the Spring, the girls sang songs with a new - and younger - group of children.

March 23, 2014

Their voices helped guide the younger ones and sustain the choir until the younger ones became more comfortable singing and knew the songs.


For whatever reason, the girls received snowshoes for Christmas in 2010. Neither was particularly thrilled. However, they were intrigued with these odd, large shoes that would give them the ability to easily walk through and on top of snow.

December 25, 2010

We went snowshoeing with "real" snowshoes in Lilleskogan Park. The pine paths wound through pine trees which was beautiful.

February 1, 2014

Snowshoeing was a fun...yet exhausting.

February 1, 2014

The girls both took breaks as they snowshoed through the park. It was hard work! They were tired.

February 1, 2014

Although neither has put on a pair of snowshoes since 2014, at least they know how to snowshoe and could do the opportunity presented itself.


Although Olivia has toured a number of caves, they all have been accessible ones that were led by guides.

That is...until July 5, 2017, when Olivia and I explored a cave on our own without a guide. The ground was not modified in any way - so there were no smooth, lit pathways or handrails.

Rather, we needed to wear headlamps as well as have another source of light to ensure we could see as we made our way through and back in the cave.

We crawled over large rocks and boulders.

We navigated through passageways.

We enjoyed seeing the various colors and formations in the lava tube cave.

There were parts where we had to crouch down to get to the next section of the cave.

It was particularly challenging when we had to crouch down and climb over large rocks and boulders.

It was truly a rugged self-guided tour of  cave made by lava.

When we made it out, we looked at a map that showed where we had been.

Olivia will be going on a trip in early-May to explore several caves - some of which are equally as rugged as this one in Arizona.


The girls began taking swimming lessons when they were very young. It was important to us that they know how to swim - first as a way to enjoy themselves and second to have the skills if they ever fell into a lake or river and needed to swim to safety.

Once they were comfortable in water and had mastered the basic skills, we visited local beaches where they could play in the sand and swim in the water.

June 30, 2008

We also went swimming in hotel pools which the girls liked. This was always a special treat.

July 19, 2010

They continued taking swim lessons through the local community education program.

October 13, 2010

It increased their confidence in being in water.

September 6, 2011

Whenever we traveled, they would go swimming in the hotel pool. Below is a picture of a special pool we went in while we stayed in Maine - it was a saline pool.

September 8, 2011

It was different than other pools the girls had swum in.

September 8, 2011

Below, the girls are in Ely swimming. Earlier that day, they went to the International Wolf Center and the following day they were going dog sledding. It was a fun vacation.

February 23, 2014

When the girls would go swimming, often Sophia would pick up Olivia and throw her forward into the water. Olivia would laugh and have the greatest time being tossed into the pool.

February 23, 2014

She also liked jumping into the pool from the edge.

February 23, 2014

The girls enjoyed going swimming in Hastings with some of the youth who were on the Wildlife Project Bowl team one year on the night before the regional competition.

March 10, 2017

Swimming is something that they will probably continue doing throughout their teen years and well into adulthood.