Monday, April 30, 2018

My Favorite Photos of the Month - April

As I look back at the photos I took during April, there are many that are my favorites - not because they are exemplary examples of photography. Rather, they reflect unusual weather we experienced, volunteering we do as a family, people I love, and new chapters in our lives.

April started with a snowstorm that left many migrating birds and waterfowl wondering why they left a warmer climate.

The pond pictured below is on our way to the clinic/hospital where Sophia gets allergy shots every 2-4 weeks. The pond was filled with a variety of ducks, geese, and swans.

The next day, when we passed by the pond, it was empty - all the waterfowl had moved on to another location. I was happy to have the photo as a reminder of how much wildlife we saw in a relatively tiny spot.

On April 7th, Sophia and I went to a tea party hosted by the homeschool co-op. I'm not sure why we haven't gone in the past. It was a lovely event. Each person brought their own tea cup and saucer, so it was nice to see the variety of dishes.

There were so many different types of sandwiches, pastries, and desserts. Everything was delicious.

On April 13th, Sophia and I volunteered at Northwoods Humane Society where Sophia plays the harp for animals waiting to be adopted. We took many dogs out so they could be pet and receive one-on-one attention while Sophia played the harp.

There was one dog, though, who was so scared and reactive that he had to stay in his kennel. Sophia played the harp right in front of his kennel, and the more she played, the more his tail wagged. He looked much happier and content after listening to harp music.

Also on the 13th, the girls did a display and baked cookies that represented Malawi at the Festival of Cultures. They are collecting 1,000 books and raising $500 to help create a library in Malawi. It's the first-ever library at a school that serves 465 orphans and vulnerable children.

Starting on the late-evening of April 13th and continuing throughout the weekend, 18 inches of snow fell - about six inches per day. Combined with strong, blowing winds that created drifts that were knee to hip-level high, it made for a memorable experience.

Below is the snow that fell on the evening of the 15th and early morning of the 16th.

The birds - which had already begun migrating back to their summer homes - were left scrambling for food. With the ground still frozen and insects not flying, they relied on birdseed and suet at feeders. Below is a flock of 25 red-winged blackbirds.

Normally, red-winged blackbirds are down at the pond living amongst the cattails. Never have we seen so many at our feeders. It showed us how dependent they were on us to provide food for them.

On Thursday, April 19th, we attended an event for blood drive coordinators. The American Red Cross had many educational sessions in the morning followed by a taco bar lunch and desserts. We learned a lot and had a nice lunch together.

April was the time for three college visits. Sophia and I visited St. Catherine University and Northwestern University; and Olivia, Sophia, and I visited Bethel University - all on Fridays (the 6th, 20th, and 27th respectively).

The girls were able to go to college classes, meet with department heads, talk with professors, hear from students in different majors, and go to sessions about topics of interest.

Below, Sophia is at Northwestern in their auditorium.

On April 21st, Sophia and some of the Leo Club went to a mobile packing event for Feed My Starving Children. In about two hours, the teens and adults ended up packing 20 boxes filled with 36 packets each of food (720 total). This represented over 4,000 meals!

Also on the 21st, we attended an appreciation lunch for volunteers at the nursing home where we volunteer. We had a nice lunch and enjoyed talking with some of the other volunteers. We had to leave before the event was done because Sophia had a jewelry-making class at the art center in the afternoon.

By the third week of April, the snow was beginning to melt and we were seeing geese and ducks landing and swimming in the pond. The frogs emerged from hibernation and began singing. One of the sure signs that Spring has come!

On Sunday, April 22nd, we went as a family to the Mall of America. It was one of Sophia's birthday's gifts - going to the Mall and having lunch there as well as getting one item (she chose a new pair of tennis shoes).

There are 12 different things we are doing as a family between her 17th and 18th birthdays...the last year she is a "child." We plan to do the same thing for Olivia between her 17th and 18th birthdays.

The girls wanted to go to the American Girl store - a place where they enjoyed visiting when they were younger. They read the entire American Girl series - about each of the historical characters - during elementary school. Kaya, who is standing by her tipi, was the first character that the girls read about and did activities relating to the Nez Perce.

We stopped by a store after lunch that had a lot of items from Japan and Korea. There were animal-head backpacks that were huge. Olivia is holding the lion backpack below.

The month ended quite differently than it began in terms of weather. We were able to be outdoors without jackets; the lakes, ponds, and rivers are all ice-free now; and there's warm sunshine each day.

On the 27th, we were able to go on a golf-cart tour of Bethel University. It was a great way to see the 250+ acre campus.

At our first visit back in January, we only saw a small fraction of the campus (the academic buildings and a freshman dorm). There was so much more housing, a seminary/art studio space, beehives, gardens, and sports facilities that we saw on the golf-cart tour.

It was a bit windy on the 27th, and it brought back memories of a trolley ride we took when we visited Boston in September 2011. After going on a tour of Boston, there were roads blocked off for an event. The trolley driver asked if everyone would be okay with  going on the freeway to get back to our starting point. Everyone said, "Yes."

So, the open-air trolley went on the freeway - the wind whipping through the trolley. Everyone with long hair had their hair going all over the place. It was a wild...and quite memorable...ride. 

Anyway...April was a full month with lots of good memories. 

Outdoor Mom's Journal - April

During our outdoor time this month we places relatively close to home or explored the farm. The month started out with about a half a foot of snow falling before Easter. It was quite confusing for  the birds and waterfowl that were already migrating north.

In the middle of the month, from April 13th-16th, another 18 inches of snow fell.

A flock of about 25 male red-winged blackbirds gathered at the feeders to eat the birdseed and suet. The female red-winged blackbirds migrate north about three weeks after the males, so they avoided this snowfall.

The April 22nd - just a week after the major snowstorm, the pond was open, geese were swimming in it, and most of the snow had melted.

I added nature journal pages about...the unusual weather in April and what we experienced each day from April 13th through April 16th.

I did a two-page spread about red-winged blackbirds. I picked some photos and printed them in black and white to show the blackbirds at the feeder, the snowfall from one day, other birds and waterfowl that were around at the same time, and two sandhill cranes.

The third nature journal entry I did focused on frogs. We have many different types of frogs at the farm, so I included some facts about several types. Also found a picture in a magazine of a frog singing with its vocal sacs.

I am reading...
past issues of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine. There are several that I want to read before starting a nature-theme book.

I am dreaming about…
more days that we can spend outdoors without bugs and snow. This year, particularly this month, it has been a challenge with the amount of snow received in a short period of time.

The horses are sticking to paths they've made since the snow is up to Hoss's chest and Bailey's knees - the highest it has been since we adopted them in 2009.

The nice thing about April snowstorms is that the snow doesn't last long. The girls and I went on a golf-cart tour of Bethel University on April 27th. It was a bit chilly with the wind. Yet, it was much better than trudging through snow.

The most inspiring thing we experienced was...seeing so many birds at the feeders. We saw huge flocks of red-winged blackbirds, chickadees, and finches. There were cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, and juncos. 

We went through a lot of birdseed during the April 13-16th snowstorm. It was worth it to see the variety of birds.

Our outdoor time made us ask (or wonder about)...if migrating birds fly north and it's too cold, do some of them fly south for a bit and wait a week or two until the weather improves?

In the garden, we are planning/planting/harvesting....
nothing yet. The ground was starting to thaw around the 25th of April when the frogs starting singing. Just a week before, it was covered with snow that the wind blew into interesting patterns and drifts.

The photo above is the pattern of the snow one morning that I was shoveling a section of the driveway. It reminded me of sand dunes and drifts...except with snow instead. 

A photo I would like to share...the photo below is a puddle that froze overnight on April 8th. The swirl - almost like a labyrinth - captured my attention.

Thank you to Barb the Outdoor Hour Challenge for the idea of doing an Outdoor Mom's Journal. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hobbies that Begin with "Z" - 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.


Here we are on the final letter of the A to Z Challenge. Throughout the years, Sophia and Olivia have tried two hobbies that begin with the letter "Z": ziplining and zoology.


On July 10, 2014, Sophia and I went ziplining at Gunflint Lodge in Grand Marais, Minnesota. We had to get into the gear before we went to the first stop.

Before we went ziplining, there was a practice session that was low to the ground. It was to show us what it felt like on the wire; and gave us an opportunity to practice moving ourselves from platform to platform in the event that we didn't make it to next platform when we were up higher.

After that, we went on an ATV ride to the first platform.

We climbed the steps and then we were ready to do the first section of the course.

Sophia went first and took that leap of faith that the equipment was safe and sturdy.

The reward in moving along the course was seeing incredible views of Gunflint Lake and the forest.

It was such a beautiful view and one that you wouldn't normally see with hiking or trail riding.

Some of the sections between the platforms were longer which was fun.

Each one provided a slightly different view and level of excitement.

We were sometimes high above the treetops, and other times it felt like we were right among the trees.

It was nice when there were longer descents and we could spend time coasting above the trees.

Ziplining was a memorable experience; and we were both so happy that we had an opportunity to do this together.


Some of our first visits to the zoo were to Como Zoo which was the closest zoo to our home. There were classes for youth who were homeschooled, so the girls took some classes there about various topics. Below, they are learning about eggs.

October 17, 2007

After the classes, we would walk around and look at the animals; and the girls would sit on the statues.

October 17, 2007

When they were a little older (7 and 5 years old), we started visiting the Minnesota Zoo which was about an hour away from our home. There was a special room that had hands-on activities for the children to play with and touch. The girls enjoyed pretending to be veterinarians for stuffed zoo animals.

January 31, 2008

We still would visit Como Zoo to learn about the animals there - like the primates.

November 20, 2008

Visits to the Minnesota Zoo gave us new perspective about things we had learned as part of homeschooling. For example, we had studied the extinct elephant bird that once lived on the island of Madagascar. We were surprised to see a replica of an elephant bird egg and a statue to show its size.

February 12, 2009

We were able to see what bears look like when they hibernate.

February 12, 2009

I started taking photos of the girls by the bear statues at the Minnesota Zoo knowing that each time we returned, I would take another photo to show how the girls were growing.

February 12, 2009

As they got older, we were able to spend more time at the zoo and observe our favorite animals - like the sea otter.

February 12, 2009

We visited new spots and returned to places we always wanted to see - like the aquarium. Sometimes we were able to watch the diving and feeding time.

February 12, 2009

For one visit to the Minnesota Zoo, there was a special exhibit of African animals. There was an opportunity to feed the giraffes which was exciting.

June 3, 2009

The platform that people stood on was high enough so that a giraffe and person would be at head-to-head level.

June 3, 2009 

We always learn something new about the animals when we visit a zoo. Below, Olivia is comparing her hand to a print of a tiger.

June 3, 2009

When we visited the Roger William Zoo on our trip to the New England states, we saw a great anteater. None of us had ever seen an anteater before...except on cartoons. It was interesting to watch the anteater move and eat.

September 6, 2011

In March 2016, we attended a session at the Minnesota Zoo about exploring careers in zoology. After the sessions, we spent time looking at our favorite animals - including the bears. These are the same ones we observed hibernating.

March 15, 2016

Another place that the girls learned about zoology was at Fawn Doe Rosa in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. They were able to feed deer that came right up to them. 

June  16, 2016

We went back to the Minnesota Zoo with some of the families from our 4-H club. The girls sat on the turtle sculpture that is in the Tropics area.

March 16, 2017

We visited the aquarium again.

March 16, 2017

One final stop at the end of the day was at the bear sculpture. Compared to 2009, Sophia's shoulders are now higher than the bear's arm and Olivia has far surpassed the bear cub in height.

March 16, 2017

When Olivia and I were in Tucson, we went to the International Wildlife Museum. It has a variety of examples of taxidermy there, with animals being from almost every part of the world. 

July 2, 2017

There were sculptures of animals that no longer exist - like the dodo bird.

July 2, 2017

There were entire rooms of the variety of types of big horn sheep, for example. It was an eye-opener as to the number of types deer, for example.

July 2, 2017

We saw a musk ox.

July 2, 2017

The following day we went to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. Below, Olivia is looking at a bark scorpion.

July 3, 2017

She also got to look eye-to-eye at a brown vine snake.

July 3, 2017

At the Kartchner Cave, there was an exhibit about bats. We learned that if bats were the size of humans, that their ears would be significantly out of proportion with their heads. The photo below shows how big a bat's ears would be if they had a head that was Olivia's size.

July 3, 2017

One of the most amazing things we saw were elk in the wild. There was a small group of elk near the entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. The bus stopped so we could watch the elk and see how they ate. 

July 5, 2017

Another fun memory is when we were at the Grand Canyon and noticed a squirrel hanging around us. Knowing that the squirrels at home ate pinecones, we picked one from a tree and Olivia fed it. At first, the squirrel was a little nervous. However, it quickly warmed up to Olivia and would take the pinecone and eat it. She would pick another one, and it would come back for it. 

July 6, 2017

About a month later, RAD Zoo came to the local library. The speaker brought a variety of reptiles - some of which we could touch.

August 12, 2017

There were some reptiles that we could stand by and look at up close, but not touch - like this alligator.

August 12, 2017

We have had a great time learning about animals and reptiles throughout the years; and are fortunate to be relatively close to many different organizations that focus on education as well as taking care of animals.


That wraps up the A to Z Challenge. I was surprised at the number of hobbies that the girls have done through their childhood and teen years. I would like to continue to add photos to these posts as the girls explore these and other hobbies.

There are many photos from their early childhood that weren't included in these posts because they haven't been scanned yet or uploaded to my account on 

It would be nice to be able to look back on these early photos as well as ones that we will take until they graduate from high school. 

Thank you to all of you who have commented and left encouraging words. I appreciate the time you took to read the posts and share your thoughts with me.