Families add hockey rinks, adopt kittens to help each other cope through pandemic

Family therapist: It’s ok to feel both grateful for this time together and sad about what we’re missing

Building the Walls of Rink

-Kenny Register, with T-Rex Rinks, secures the boards of what will be a back yard ice rink in Stillwater on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. Stillwater brothers Nolan and Taylor Rinta of T-Rex Rinks, a company that installs backyard skating/hockey rinks, have seen a big jump in their business. They installed a rink at their own home that day. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

It’s been a tough year for kindergartners everywhere, including 6-year-old Oliver Skogen.

First, the Stillwater boy had to transition from hybrid to distance learning at Lily Lake Elementary School.

Then, hockey was canceled.

But Christmas? Oliver’s Christmas season will not be disappointing, thanks to Grandma and Grandpa (also known as Jeff and Beth Skogen).

“With everything going on with COVID,” said Jeff Skogen, “and with hockey not available right now, my wife and I decided a backyard rink is the next best option.”

That’s right, Oliver got a hockey rink for Christmas. Actually, the whole family did — the rink was recently installed by T-Rex Rinks in Grandma and Grandpa’s back yard in Stillwater.

The fresh air and exercise — and no screens — will be paired with a backyard bonfire and s’mores.

“One reason we got the rink is to spend time with just our immediate family outside,” said Jeff Skogen. “That’s what we’re looking forward to the most.”

Finding new ways to pass the time at home is part of the good of what has been a trying 2020 because of the pandemic. Whether it’s adding to our back yards or simply eating lunch together every day, our lives at home have a different rhythm and routine these days.

Building Ice Rinks

-Kenny Register, right, and Nick Johnson, with T-Rex Rinks, secure the boards as they construct a backyard ice rink in Stillwater on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. Stillwater brothers Taylor Rinta, left, and Nolan Rinta, not pictured, the owners of T-Rex Rinks, a company that installs backyard skating/hockey rinks, have seen a big jump in their business. They installed this rink at their own home. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)


We recently turned to social media to ask families, teachers and individuals: What has been good about spending so much time at home? Here are some of the responses we received:

“Getting pandemic kittens was the highlight of 2020! They’ve kept us entertained at home, and I think they are turning out to be very sweet cats in part because of all the attention.”

“I have really enjoyed eating lunch with my 8th grader many days of the week.”

“I am so happy not to wake up my 8 year old to get on the bus at 6:55 am.”

“My ADHD kid appreciates the project based learning, but could never work with block schedules in an in-school setting. At home, he is able to move around as needed and attend to the refrigerator at his whim. He misses his friends, but enjoys learning this way better.”

“We are having conversations about how to keep some distance pieces,” a teacher wrote. “Some of our hardest kids (with behaviors and academic struggles) are succeeding in surprising ways. For some kids this model seems to reduce stress and allow for academic growth in an unexpected way.”

“I like not having to wait at the bus stop at 7:30 AM when it’s freeezzzzziiinnnngggg!”

“At first, having everyone home all the time was hard. Then we got used to it and learned much more about each other.”

“We cleared about a half acre of buckthorn this spring. Our kids still shudder every time they are asked to do ‘yard work.’ ”

“I’ve loved connecting with students who are silent in regular, in person classes. The freedom of the chat feature or the option to share with your camera off has been downright revolutionary for many of my students. I also LOVE to see students share their pets — they immediately let their guards down and show you a different side than you may see in class.”
“I organized all my print photos!”
“I cleaned my washing machine!”

“We added a playground slide to our deck.”

“My night owls and I have enjoyed staying up later and not having to wake up at 6 a.m. to get ready for school.”

“I have liked not packing a lunch to bring to work every morning. Now I can go to my kitchen at noon and put something together.”

“I took up woodworking. I built a workshop, bought tools and am making 60% of Christmas presents this year.”


In 2020, many of us suddenly began to notice the dust on our baseboards or the peeling paint on our walls. When the pandemic shut life down last March, Realtor Joshua Dobbins turned his attention from other homes to his own.

What did he see?

An unfinished basement that he had started to finish before getting sidetracked by life.

Suddenly, he had plenty of time to finish it. So that’s what he did, with some design help from his partner, Elle Kirks.

“We turned about 900 square feet into a bedroom, a bathroom and a good amount of living space,” he said of the basement of their home in Crystal.

Along with the guidance of friends (including a contractor), family and building inspectors, Dobbins relied on a teacher many DIYers have used heavily in 2020.

“YouTube is amazing,” Dobbins said. “It sounds like it’s a cliché, but it’s true!”

Learning how to carve out an egress window, tile a bathroom, add heating and plumbing, sand walls and more was distracting — in a good way.

“Stuck in the house for that many hours, it gave me something to do,” Dobbins said. “I was in the basement almost every single day. I’d turn on my headphones and get to work. It was a stress reliever.”

After the remodel was finished, the couple planned to sell the home and move on. But it’s hard to leave what you love.

So now the couple is looking forward to the spring.

“We have a pretty big back yard,” Dobbins said. “And I haven’t finished the pergola yet …”


Erin Pash, co-founder of St. Paul-based Ellie Family Services, wants people to know that it’s OK to feel both grateful and sad about this time in our lives.

“In therapy, it’s called the both/and concept,” Pash said.

Think of it as a way to see life that is not “either/or.”

That is, you can enjoy more time at home and miss seeing your friends — you don’t have to “pick” one of these feelings.

“You can say, ‘I really miss my life’ while also appreciating where you’re at right now,” Pash said.

For example, while Pash is disappointed she couldn’t host her traditional big family gathering at Christmas, she has also enjoyed what the downtime has brought with it this holiday season.

“My husband and I played cribbage for two hours on a Saturday night recently,” she said. “That hasn’t happened since our honeymoon 10 years ago! It’s one of those little silver lining moments.”


COVID-19 took a lot from Minnesotans: their fun, their livelihoods and, for 5,000, their very lives. As we surveyed the wreckage of 2020, we also saw the silver linings that came out of the pandemic for this daily series of stories