There are three hobbies that Sophia and Olivia have done throughout the years that start with the letter "H": harp playing, hiking, and horseback riding.
Sophia has been playing the harp since she was in fifth grade. She has always been eager to share her skills with others and encourage them to try their own hands at playing. She was happy to see her Grandpa Dan try to play the harp on June 25, 2011.
That same day, Olivia was listening to Sophia play while she was holding her harp music (this was when she didn't yet have a music stand). Eenie, the cat, was intrigued with the harp.
The first time that Sophia played in public for people in a nursing home was on November 27, 2011. We brought the harp to visit my dad who was in the late stages of Alzheimer's Disease. He lifted his head to watch Sophia play the harp. She had learned a song from The Sound of Music - one of his favorite movies.
On my mom's birthday (April 24, 2012), we brought the harp to her home. She was home for a temporary stay on her birthday since she was living in an assisted living facility while her blood sugar stabilized. Hearing Sophia's harp music helped relax my mom and bring comfort to her that day.
On August 1, 2012, Sophia and another harpist entered a contest at the Washington County Fair. They played Eldelweiss from The Sound of Music.
Both of Sophia's grandparents (my parents) loved this song and the movie, so it was a good performance for her to see. Below, Sophia is introducing the song, the other harpist, and herself to the audience.
Sophia has a strong interest in animals and music; and one of the animals that lived with us for a short period of time - a bunny - was intrigued with the harp. We fostered the bunny with the goal of helping it relax and become more adoptable. It was nervous and high anxiety.
The more Brooke (the bunny) listened to the harp music, the more relaxed she became. Within two weeks, Brooke was ready to go to an adoption event, did exceptionally well, and was adopted!
February 3, 2013
Sophia began sharing her skills at the nursing home. Below, she played the harp on Good Friday in 2013 for the seniors and their families.
March 31, 2013
Sophia always has taken the time to explain to others about how the harp works if they have questions. Below, Betty was asking questions about the harp and how to play sharps and flats.
June 24, 2013
One thing that we do each year at the nursing home is play as close to Christmas as we can for the seniors and their families. Sophia plays the harp and piano, and Olivia plays the piano. Tia, the volunteer director, often will sing along with some of the songs that Sophia plays.
December 22, 2014
It's touching to see the seniors sing the songs that they have known for decades.
Sophia has enjoyed playing the harp by herself and with ensembles. Sometimes the ensemble is all harpists; and other times it includes other instruments - like organ, violin, and piano.
May 21, 2017
A fun - and educational - experience was the recording of a CD of Sophia's harp music in May 2017. She spent countless hours practicing the music she selected for the CD. For two nights (consecutive weeks), we spent several hours in the evening at the church sanctuary recording music.
May 22, 2017
She worked with a composer/performer/artist who also did a video recording of Sophia and created a video. He edited her music together and we listened to it to give feedback where we wanted things modified. By June 29, 2017, her first harp CD was completed.
Sophia is still playing for the animals; and each month plays the harp for dogs and cats waiting to be adopted at Northwoods Humane Society. Olivia and I pet the animals which helps them further relax.
March 9, 2018
It's been a joy to watch Sophia's harp skills develop; and see her want to share her music with seniors, animals waiting to be adopted, and anyone else wanting to hear her music.
Hiking is something that we have enjoyed doing as a family since the girls were very young. We have enjoyed exploring different natural areas around the state as well as when we go on vacation.
One of the places that we have hiked is Minnesota Valley Natural Wildlife Refuge. On March 16, 2009, we went through the woods and enjoyed the trails.
We were thrilled to see things that we don't normally see or see up close - like this albino squirrel.
Olivia was able to see a red-tailed hawk up close on the hike also which was a highlight for her (and us).
We have gone on many walks at William O'Brien State Park. There's a walk along the river that has a huge rock on it. The girls always climb on the rock.
April 7, 2011
William O'Brien has many different trails. One of the trails that we explored on May 24, 2012, was one that had bluebird boxes installed on it.
We were with a group, and all the children used their binoculars to watch the bluebirds fly around the field and into the nesting boxes.
Often we take the dogs with us on hikes. Below we are walking at William O'Brien State Park along the St. Croix River. At the end of the pathway, there is river access which the dogs (and girls) enjoy. Below, Montague and Cooper are with Sophia and Olivia.
May 16, 2013
In June 2013, we took a trip to Grand Marais. We went up the Gunflint Trail to Lake Saganaga and hiked around the trails near the Chik Wauk Museum.
This was an area that my dad took Boy Scouts and Little Brothers when he was younger. They would go on canoe trips starting at Gunflint Lake or Lake Saganaga. I was happy to be able to go back here after bringing my dad up for a final hike in September 2010.
June 5, 2013
On the same trip, we stopped at Banning State Park and explored the creeks, early Spring flowers, and abandoned structures.
June 3, 2013
May 4, 2014
Less than two weeks after the fundraising walk, we adopted Aspen and she went on her first hike. We took her to Osceola Landing on the St. Croix River. She was less than eight weeks old, so her stamina hadn't built up yet. She preferred to be carried for part of the hike (thus the towel Olivia is wearing on her shoulders).
May 15, 2014
More recently, we went hiking at Afton State Park in the morning of May 19, 2017. The previous night, when we were camping, we heard very odd noises outside of the yurt. The noises were rather frightening, so we called the police. Nothing could be found.
We went hiking the following day - starting right around the yurt. As we were walking, we noticed a lot of hoof marks in the mud.
May 19, 2017
When we came home, we looked up sounds that deer make. Ended up that the unusual sounds we were hearing were from a frightened deer - a noise that sounds like "barking" - but not like a dog.
When the girls were younger, they did therapeutic horseback riding through Courage Riders and River Valley Riders. One of their favorite parts was when the horses would trot.
August 18, 2009
Sophia seemed more connected to Bailey.
On July 4, 2010, the girls were able to ride in the Afton parade. The side walkers were there, and both the horses and girls were dressed up.
They had a great time riding in the parade and waving to people.
The girls were regularly riding horses through the therapeutic riding programs. However, they weren't riding the horses at home. One was a miniature horse, so he isn't one the girls could ride. The other is a Pony of the Americas, and could support a moderate amount of weight. The challenge was, she had not been ridden.
We had to gain her trust and then the girls hooked her up to lead her around the pasture and run areas. We didn't have a saddle, so they were limited where they could go with her.
August 6, 2010
A memorable experience that the girls had was when their dad took them on a trip to California and they were able to go horseback riding through the desert. They were able to see amazing rock formations and experience riding in a completely different climate.
April 8, 2014
It was quite a contrast to riding in Minnesota where the ground is covered in grasses and weeds rather than rocks. Below, Sophia and I are on horses after we ate a lunch on the trail. Olivia also was riding with us, and we each enjoyed being able to spend a day riding.
July 9, 2014
We went on another trail ride while staying at Gunflint Lodge, though the second ride was for a shorter time period.
July 10, 2014
We were given horses based on our riding experience and comfort with horses. All were wonderful horses and we had a great time exploring a part of Grand Marais that we would not have seen had we not been on horseback.