30 Things I Love – A New 30 Day Blog Challenge!

30 Things I Love

I can’t believe it is the end of October already! A year ago, I participated in a 30 Day Blog Challenge at the encouragement of Holly Spangler at Farm Progress. Last year’s theme was 30 Days of Thanksgiving. I loved the challenge of writing every day, and of seeking out those things for which I am truly thankful. This year, I decided to jump in as soon as Holly mentioned it. I just couldn’t decide on a theme. I knew I wanted it to be something positive, something that gave me wiggle room to write about random things, and something that would push me to look at my surroundings in a different way. That is when I settled on 30 Things I Love. The photo above may look all sweet and romantic, but don’t be fooled! The things I love are pretty random!

My goal for this series is to introduce you to the things I love, and to give you a little positive thought to start your day. But let’s be honest. I am not a huge planner when it comes to blogging, so some things that I write about may be discovered the day before (like a great coffee shop or bakery), some may be things I have loved for many years (like my family). Part of the fun for me – and I hope for you – are the things I will come up with throughout the month. If something I post reminds you of something you love, please share it in the comments!

If you would like to follow other 30 Day Challenge blogs, all my posts will include a link back to Holly’s post that contains a full list of every participating blogger and a link to their blog. There are many great bloggers participating this year, with a wide variety of themes. I encourage you to check them out!




A Day to Count Blessings

Carolyn's Baby Photo
My baby photo. Liked the spiked hair then, too!

I love birthdays. As a kid, birthdays meant cake, presents, and being made to feel special for a whole day. As a grown up, birthdays are still fun, but I like to take time to count my blessings as well.

A year ago, Jonathan and I were taking foster parent classes. It was a 12 week commitment, right in the middle of harvest. We made it work, and we became certified in March. At the beginning of October, we received our first long term placement. This little guy has turned our lives upside down, but I feel grateful for the opportunity to love and nurture him until he is able to go back home, or until he is adopted. Days may get stressful, and I may feel like I am failing at parenting, but I know God has a bigger plan at work here.

Jonathan and I were able to do a lot of traveling this year, and I am thankful for all of the people we were able to hang out with. We had an awesome time in San Antonio, TX at the American Farm Bureau Annual meeting, where I was able to meet some of my online friends in person for the first time. We are so happy that we took the opportunity to get to know some of our Minnesota Young Farmer and Rancher contestants better while hanging out and discussing golf one evening. These awesome farmers and farm professionals are why I have faith that agriculture in Minnesota will be in good hands for years to come.

Following our stop in San Antonio, we went a bit further south to visit our migrant workers and their families. We have two families that come up and work for us every year. One family has worked for close to 10 summers for us. They have become more than just employees. They are also our friends. We loved visiting them and seeing where they come from. I think we could all use a little of their attitudes toward hospitality. We were so warmly welcomed!

In August, I attended the AgChat Foundation’s Cultivate and Connect conference in Austin, TX. You can read about my 10 Takeaways by clicking on the link. I was pretty much starstruck the entire time. So many people I wanted to meet in real life…and so many people I hadn’t met online yet…the conference was filled with awesome people! I have been so blessed by the friendships I have made with agvocates all over the world (I now have some Aussie friends! Lol) I still think about the keynote addresses, the breakout sessions, the networking…let’s just say, I can’t wait to go again!

Probably the biggest blessing this year was an addition to our family…in the form of my son-in-law, Doug. I have been praying for him since Anna was little, and God totally delivered. I could not ask for a more compassionate, Godly man for Anna. Their wedding day was perfect, and their ceremony was filled with so much love. Most of all, I am happy to see Anna so happy.

Yes, this year has been filled with lots of good things. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but the blessings smoothed out those bumps. :)

Here’s looking to year number 4(cough)!

The “new” Olson family. We welcomed Doug into the family in June


Guest Post: My 10th Celebration of Life

This post was written by my daughter, Anna (Olson) Meyer. Today, October 13, 2014, is the 10th anniversary of her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. Read on about life from her perspective, and learn why we call this anniversary a Celebration of Life. This post is also being published on her blog, Smiles Squared.


On this day ten years ago….my mother and I traveled an hour away from my hometown to visit my neurologist to receive my official diagnosis. The results from the spinal tap had come back, and finally, Dr. Nelson would tell us for sure if I had a pinched nerve, MS, or a brain tumor. He had given all three of these as possibilities as to why my entire left side had stopped working normally, but his theory was that I most likely had MS. That is what we knew before we got to Wilmar, MN. I was CONVINCED that it was nothing but a pinched nerve, and for some unknown reason my name had been on the prayer list at church for the last few weeks.
On that day, ten years ago, I was officially diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I was started on some medical steroids, and I was shown how to use the Autoject for my three-times-weekly medicine shots, just under the skin. (It would be another year before I gave myself those shots….and, of course, I was bribed—because what other way is there for a kid to be willing to do something unless they get something in return?)
Since my diagnosis, we have called the anniversary of that day my “celebration of life.” It is the day when I can look back on a year and see all the things I have been able to do, even though I have MS. On this ten-year anniversary of this life-altering diagnosis, I reflect on the things I have accomplished in my life!

1. I’ve been on all sorts of cool vacations and stuff.

Who cares if I had to rent a wheelchair to go Disneyworld? I went to Disneyworld! I’ve also rented wheelchairs at zoos, and even the Minnesota State Fair. Those places take a lot of walking, and I don’t quite have the energy to walk all that way. But I still got to experience it and enjoy my visits! Those places, by the way, have been the only ones I rented a wheelchair for. I can still walk! ….just not super far. I’ve been to the Wisconsin Dells and the Black Hills of South Dakota, just doing the tourist thing because I could. In high school, I went to a youth gathering with a church denomination, and had an AWESOME time with my cousin Jenni and my aunt Sheryl! In college, I went on TWO summer mission projects. Just because I have MS, doesn’t mean I can’t have fun! So I have to plan a little extra, and the south is typically a bad idea in the summer. I STILL LIVE LIFE.

2. In middle school, there were no cheerleaders, and I wanted to be one, so I petitioned and found a coach for middle school basketball cheerleaders!

Anna and the Lakeview Cheerleaders
Anna is in the front row, second from right

The January after my diagnosis. I am second from the right, front row. You know, the one with the big smile?
We were moderately good. Our most difficult move was when one cheerleader stood on the thighs of two other cheerleaders, but we stayed safe. I wasn’t really into watching sports, but I did notice that when our middle school teams had cheerleaders, the whole “crowd” was pretty riled up. You know, for a middle school game. Smiley face. Of course, this cheerleading team kind of left the middle school when I did. I always wanted to be a cheerleader. Our high school had football cheerleading, but by that time, I just wanted to play in the pep band. (We see why I became a music major?)
I was also on the golf team for a few years before the walking became too much for me and I acknowledged that I wasn’t that great. But it was fun!

3. I got my black belt!

Actually, I started Tae Kwon Do in 4th grade. In 7th grade, I got my junior black belt. I was diagnosed with MS in 8th grade. In 9th grade, I got my 2nd degree junior black belt. After I turned 16, sophomore year, I got my first degree adult black belt. And senior year, I got my second degree adult black belt! I was involved in Tae Kwon Do for 8 years; 5 of those years after having MS. I remember difficulty in my first tournament after being diagnosed, but then I just focused on what I COULD do instead of what I COULDN’T. I taught and I was a referee as my level advanced. I became inactive in TKD after I graduated high school, but I will always be a second degree black belt!

4. I finished high school AND college.

One of my college professors once told me that he had never seen such determination in a student. So I wasn’t the best. Who cares? I did as best I could. I was DETERMINED to finish well and I learned a ton while in those college years. I wrote a post about what MS has taught me over the last decade or so here.

5. I played a senior recital of percussion music.

At that time in my life, I had skill, because I was playing on these instruments all the time. I played a piece on the marimba, the timpani, some toms (drums), the vibraphone, and even flower pots! (Videos of all these can be seen on YouTube.) I loved that season in my life, when I could go from instrument to instrument in the percussion section in an empty band room and just PLAY.

6. I’ve had a “grown-up job” since I graduated.

Even before I graduated, I’ve been giving private lessons. According to some of my other music-major friends, I wasn’t charging enough, but still. As soon as I graduated, I got on the substitute teacher list for a few different school districts. And when I got to Kentucky, of course, I began working at a music store—giving lessons! And now I’ve started up this Mary Kay business! Before I was married, I paid my own rent, bought my own food, and loved when Mom and Dad came to Sioux Falls to take me grocery shopping. And now, I don’t get many visits from Mom and Dad (because I currently live, like, 20 hours away), but I still get care packages of coffee brands that aren’t sold in the south. (Thanks, mom!)

7. I’ve written, like, four novels.

Only one I’ve written is decent enough for me to want to publish it, but I do want to publish it! I also write shortstories and blog posts all the time. And other little things when I feel like it. I’ve kept a journal since I was diagnosed! And things have just kept moving from there. I don’t believe they will ever stop, either.

8. I wrote music for a class in college and directed an ensemble playing it in church one time.

So I maybe didn’t take into consideration that band instruments play better in flats than sharps. And that high school students can’t pick up music as fast as college students. But I was so proud of that piece! I even published my college friends and I playing the piece here on YouTube.


Anna and Doug
Anna and Doug
Photo by tony miller photography

My handsome groom and I at our wedding this last July.
Just this last summer, if you are keeping up with me at all on this blog. (I’ve kinda talked about it a lot….) Never did I ever think I would meet a man who saw ME past the MS that has been so apparent in my life. I have a limp, which is the most obvious symptom to the world and the first turn-off to anybody who sees that instead of me first (which is pretty much everybody). But Dr. Wile E. Coyote, while he notices my limp, only notices if it’s a bad day or a good day and helps me stretch sometimes. Or if he’s walking with me, and I pull him around. (He’s not as sturdy as my sisters when they’ve walked with me, hehe.) I love Dr. Coyote, my best friend, and he is what I need. But God knew that. And I am privileged to be starting this med school journey with him and trusting the Lord until graduation, and beyond! (Like, forever. Every. Minute.)

10. I have become stronger than I thought possible.

Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have had to push past the limits of where I would want to quit because something is hard. Being diagnosed so young (at 13), I had to face many decisions and situations that most teens shouldn’t have to face. I thank the good Lord for my always-supportive family who helped me so much!

On this day in ten years, who knows what things I’ll accomplish that I’ll be able to remember? The thing about having MS is that though we have to plan a little more, sometimes sleep a little more, and maybe be careful of what activities we chose to partake in, we still live normal lives. I haven’t felt normal for years, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would love to wake up one day and the Lord tell me, “You’re cured!” But I know that when people see me walking with a limp, unphased, it brings God more glory.
Anna E Meyer


It’s National Coffee Day!

National Coffee Day

I wasn’t always a coffee lover. I loved the smell more than the taste, so I didn’t mind sitting in coffee shops with my friends, the Domestic Goddesses. Then they encouraged me to try different types of coffee. Soon, I fell in love. I have many types of implements to make coffee with…a French press, electric drip coffee maker, filter cone, and my favorite…my espresso machine. Along with the implements, comes the need for good coffee beans. I may be a Mrs Olson, but I don’t serve Folgers. Right now, my favorite is Love Buzz, a free trade coffee that I purchase through my church. It isn’t bitter when brewed correctly, and works really well in my espresso machine.

I live two hours from a Starbucks, one hour from a Caribou (my favorite Midwestern coffee chain), and 11 miles from my favorite local coffee shop. With that in mind, for my 40th birthday, Jonathan gave me an espresso machine. I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much, I wore it out. Last July, my three daughters bought me a replacement. This time, it is a semi-automatic espresso machine, which means that after the water and coffee reservoirs are filled, all I have to do is push one button and it does the rest for me. It makes those tough mornings do-able for me…who am I kidding? Every morning is a tough morning for me!

The routine of drinking coffee with my breakfast every morning, while at the same time reading blogs and catching up on social media has become something that I miss when I’m traveling. For me, it’s a nice, gentle way to begin my day.

How do you like your coffee? Do you need a cuppa joe to get you started in the morning, or are you more of a I-really-have-to-stay-awake-and-I’m-desperate type?

Fun Fact Friday: Where I Came From…

Class of 1986

I grew up in Champlin, Minnesota, one of the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. I had a great childhood, in part because we lived in a neighborhood where kids would get together and play ditch-em, we’d ride our bikes, or just run around the yard playing whatever sport we felt like at the time. I have many fond memories of our house there.

In 1986, I graduated from Anoka Senior High School with a class of over 675 students. On any given day, there were close to 3000 students cruising through the halls of the high school. I had friends in many groups, but mostly preferred those who were in my youth group from church since they were the ones I saw most often. Our academic classes weren’t necessarily split into grades, so sometimes you weren’t sure if someone was in your graduating class or not. It was interesting sitting through graduation ceremonies and realizing you didn’t know someone in your class. That doesn’t happen where I live now!

Jonathan graduated in a class of 40, including 2 foreign exchange students. I’m sure if I asked some of those classmates where everyone resides today, they would be able to tell me. Most of them started kindergarten together, and a few have known each other pretty much since birth. There are good things, and bad things about being a close class. :)

Jonathan and I have been married for 26 years, and I still find it amazing that our town population is less than half of what the student body was at my high school. It was a bit of a culture shock when I first moved to the farm, but now I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Every day I am thankful that I met Jonathan, married him, and am now his right hand (wo)man.

I’m pretty proud of where I came from, but I’m even more proud of where I am today.


DIY: Easy Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup

CarolynCares Pumpkin Spice

Easy Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup

You know fall has arrived when you see pumpkin spice foods and beverages advertised everywhere. Here you will find an easy recipe for Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup, and two recipes that use it.

Pumpkin Spice Does Not Contain Pumpkin

Even though the word pumpkin is in the description, it does not mean actual pumpkin is in pumpkin spice products. This is not some sort of scam, or swindle, or bait and switch. Pumpkin spice is the description of the spice mixture that gives pumpkin pies, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin scones their excellent flavor. By itself, pumpkin, like most squash, doesn’t have a lot of flavor. It is an excellent source of vitamin A, and a good source of vitamin C, and potassium. I like to eat pumpkin in various forms, but I wouldn’t want to drink it, unless it is part of a smoothie. Trying to add actual pumpkin to a latte would be kinda gross, actually. I like my lattes with flavor, not fiber.

What is this Pumpkin Spice Blend?

Pumpkin Spice is a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. You can buy it at the grocery store, or make your own.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

Making Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup

A simple syrup is a way to add sweetness and flavor in one easy step. Since the sugar is liquified, there is no sugar sludge in the bottom of a cold drink, which is a huge bonus in my book.

I had all of the spices on hand, but not all of them were whole spices, so I used ground spices. Cinnamon is not really soluble, and I don’t like the mess it leaves in the glass or mug when I’ve finished a cinnamon laced drink, so I decided to use an empty tea bag.

Spice Filled Tea Bag

I put 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon cloves in the tea bag, then tied it shut with kitchen string.

I measured out 10 ounces of water into a small sauce pan, and heated it to boiling. As soon as it started to boil, I turned off the heat and added the tea bag. I let it steep for about 5 minutes, then removed the tea bag.

Infusing Water with Spices

Infusing the water with flavor gives you more control over the final flavor intensity. It is my preferred method of flavoring simple syrups.

After the tea bag was removed, I measured the amount of liquid left in the pan using a kitchen scale. I needed to add about an ounce of water to bring the total volume back to 8 ounces.

To the 8 ounces of infused water, I added 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 1/2 cup brown sugar, and stirred well. The pan was placed back on the stove, and brought to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Once it reached the boil, I set the timer for 3 minutes, and let it boil gently.

CarolynCares Making Syrup

When the 3 minutes were up, I removed the pan from the stove, and let it cool. I like to split the batch into two smaller glass jars, because I think it keeps longer. I used two small Mason jars, as pictured at the top. After the jars were filled, I placed them in the refrigerator where they can be stored for about a month. If it lasts that long!

Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

10 ounces water

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

Measure spices into an empty tea bag, and tie shut with kitchen string. Pour water in a saucepan, bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat, and place tea bag into water. Let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bag, and set aside. Measure water, and add water if necessary to make 8 ounces. Add sugars, and place pan on stove. Heat to boiling over medium high heat. Boil gently for 3 minutes. Let cool. Store in glass containers in refrigerator for about one month.

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

This is the drink that started the whole craze. Thank you, Starbucks! You can easily make a PSL at home using espresso, or very strong coffee. I have my own espresso machine, so that is what I used.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

8 ounces 2% or whole milk (milk fat brings out the good flavor in coffee)

2 shots espresso, or

1/2 cup very strong coffee

2 tablespoons Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup

Heat milk in microwave or on stove top while espresso/coffee is brewing. Pour the simple syrup into the bottom of the mug. Pour heated milk over top, then add the espresso/coffee. Stir gently. Top with whipped cream if desired. Enjoy!

CarolynCares Latte Milk
Measure milk, heat over stove or in microwave
CarolynCares Espresso
Brew espresso or coffee




CarolynCares Pumpkin Spice Latte
Place simple syrup in bottom of mug, add hot milk, and espresso. Enjoy

Apple Cider Sparkler

When we host dinner club, we try to find a featured beverage for the evening. One of the requirements is that it needs to be able to have a non-alcohol version as well. We found a recipe that sounded good, then adjusted it for the non-alcohol version. We loved the version we came up with better than the original.

Apple Cider Sparkler

1 tablespoon pumpkin spice simple syrup

2 ounces apple cider

5 ounces ginger ale


Put simple syrup in bottom of 12 ounce glass. Add apple cider, and top with ginger ale. Add ice. Enjoy

If you want to make it with alcohol, add up to 1 ounce of vodka with the apple cider.

CarolynCares Apple Cider Sparkler

The Possibilities are Endless!

I plan on trying this in a tea recipe that I like, but hate the spice residue left over in the bottom of the cup, as well as a fall martini recipe. This would also be a good simple syrup to use on a spice layer cake to help keep it moist (to learn that technique, click here).

Have fun, play a little in the kitchen, and feel free to share your ideas in the comments below!



Hold The Judgement, Please!

Why do you pass judgement

Sunday’s second lesson was a doozy. Hello, conviction, guilt, and being humbled! Read the full text below. Don’t just skim it, read it.

Romans 14: 1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Yikes! Living in a society that loves to label others, and judge them based on our own standards of what is “right” and what is “wrong” is not very Christ-like, is it?

What does this mean for agriculture advocates?

Agvocating, according to those who coined the term, is about “listening to others…and connecting with those outside of agriculture.” It is about opening doors to allow for dialogue. In the post that I linked to, it also describes agtivists, and what the differences are. There is one part of agtivism that pertains to the scriptures above. Mike Haley wrote, “Individuals practicing agtivism, or agtivists’ often take offense to others with opposing views and dismiss theirs concerns about agriculture to prove their point that today’s agriculture practices must exist in order to feed the world.”  By arguing over opposing views, or dismissing their concerns about agriculture, we are passing judgement on our target audience. We are telling them that their concerns are not important, or valid; they must think like we do in order to be right. But what if they are fully convinced in their own minds that their choices are right for them and their family? Do you treat them as a brother or sister, or do you despise them and call them unsavory names in forums where you think they will not see? “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God.”

I am thankful for forgiveness

Today’s gospel lesson and sermon talked about forgiveness. A few points have really stuck with me.

I am so thankful for forgiveness. Remember me talking about feeling convicted, guilty, and humbled? I know that I am forgiven. I don’t always think I deserve it, but God is merciful.

The gospel lesson and sermon also reminded me that I need to forgive. Asking forgiveness is only a part of the equation. I also need to extend forgiveness, “from my heart”. Not in word alone, but from the heart.

Matthew 18: 21-22

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Look closely at who Peter is concerned about. Another member of the church. For us, it could be a neighbor, another blogger, the customer service representative you need to have fix something, an elected official…anyone you come into contact with whether in person or online. Pastor also explained that seventy-seven times is code for infinity. We can never stop forgiving others. That is not an action that is ever done, or checked off the to-do list. The gospel lesson concluded with a parable about a slave who owed money, and whose debt was forgiven…but he turned around and punished another who owed him a lot less. When his master heard about it, this was the reply:

Matthew 18:32-35

32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Putting it all together

We should not judge others based on differences of opinion about food choices, farming choices, or lifestyle choices. Judgmental attitudes create tension, mistrust, and anger. I’m not sure any of those feelings are helpful when agvocating, or life in general. Agvocating can be done in a way that is positive, and creates conversations. That should be the goal. You don’t need to write about what your neighbor is doing, or throw others under the bus because you don’t like their choices. Sharing your own story, or using some of Ryan Goodman’s 88 blog topic ideas for agriculture bloggers are great ways to start putting positive messages out there.

There are times, however, when we will fail. We all do. Which is why we must forgive, and ask forgiveness. Seventy-seven times. To infinity, and beyond. Forgiveness heals relationships, it opens doors to friendships, and it is freeing. Walking around grumbling about who wronged you takes energy, and makes you miserable to be around. At least, that’s what my family tells me.

So, instead of looking for ways others are wrong so you can ‘set them straight’, look for ways to tell your own story. Listen to those who have a different opinion, and don’t rush to judgement. Forgive those who have hurt you, and seek the forgiveness of those you have hurt.

There is a song in our hymnal that I thought would be appropriate to close with.

In All Our Grief

Help us to put aside the angry word,

the clenching fist, the wish and will to hurt.

Teach us the way in which love best is served.

Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy,

Lord, grant us peace.

-Sylvia Dunstan


Related posts:

Is It Possible…Truth

What Does it Mean to Love Our Neighbor?

Loving the Good – A Challenge

Who Am I to Judge – For Farmers and Consumers

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