A Christmas Eve Story

This Christmas Story is shared by Jonathan Olson.

Christmas Eve in Germany

My Dad Kenneth Olson was stationed in Germany for part of his Army service. From time to time he would share stories from those Army days with his family. Here is one we listened to and enjoyed, and now we want to share it with you.

It was Christmas Eve, 1958. All of their duties were done for the day, and the men in the barracks had the rest of the day off. It was a calm, quiet night. There were a couple of guys complaining about being stuck here on Christmas. It wasn’t quite dark yet, so Dad and his army buddy decided to head into the local small town to eat out. They went into a little restaurant managed by some immigrants. The wife was friendly and serving as the waitress, and the husband was in back cooking. There were very few people eating out that night, so the place was fairly quiet.

There was a little girl playing on the floor with a few small toys. She was the daughter of the couple running the restaurant. It was apparent they didn’t have much extra to live on. Christmas would likely pass with no fanfare for them.

As Dad and his buddy finished eating their meal, they talked over an idea they began to get excited about. They paid for their meal, left a tip, and went for a walk. They found just what they wanted–a store still open. They went in and did not have to look long before they saw what they were looking for. . . a huge teddy bear. They bought it plus some other things for the family. They returned to the restaurant and gave the teddy bear to the little girl playing on the floor. She was so excited. She hugged it right away. The mother, with tears running down her cheeks, thanked Dad and his friend. They then gave the wife and husband a bag with some gifts for them. They were so thankful. They admitted there wasn’t enough money to get their daughter anything special, so the gifts for her were very kind.

The husband insisted that Dad and his friend have some complimentary dessert. They did enjoy a bit of dessert, but the real enjoyment was watching the little girl with her big new teddy bear. She was still beaming with her huge smile. Soon the desserts were finished, and it was time to head back to the barracks. As they walked in the door, they heard one guy say, “this is the worst Christmas ever.” Dad looked at his friend and they both smiled. They were thinking to themselves “it is a pretty good Christmas.”

May the joy of Christmas be with you and your loved ones today and every day!
CarolynCares Kenny and Buddys Christmas
Kenny (far right) and a few of his buddies

Remembering Our Christmas in Italy

Christmas in Italy

It’s crazy to think, that one year ago today (December 21), we were on a flight headed for Italy. I was nervous, and excited for my first international trip that involved flying. When you live in northern states like Minnesota, you can travel internationally by car pretty easily. My family didn’t think driving across the border into Canada counted as a good international travel experience.

Our plan was to spend Christmas with my brother and his family who were living in a suburb of Naples. The six of us stayed with the five of them in their home for about a week, and had a fabulous time. They were awesome hosts, and guided us around to some of their favorite historic sites.

Traveling in Europe during the holiday season is a bit different than here in the United States. They take their Christmas season seriously! One of the highlights was our day spent in Rome and Vatican City. When you first step in to St Peter’s Square, it is pretty amazing…and this is coming from a Lutheran! In the middle of the square is a giant Christmas tree, and a Nativity. The crowds were pretty large in front of the Nativity, and the lines to get into St Peter’s Basilica were massive. We had pre-booked tour tickets for the Vatican, so we were able to avoid the line that stretched for what seemed like a mile, which was awesome.

The crowds inside the Vatican were almost crushing at times. Wall to wall people visiting during the week between Christmas and New Years. Seeing in person what we’ve only seen in books, on television, or online was pretty awe inspiring. We were able to see the Sistine Chapel on our tour and the art museum…plus everything in between. It may be a little silly, but I think my favorite part of the whole tour was seeing where the Pope stands when he addresses the crowds standing in St Peter’s Square, and in the courtyard of the Vatican. The contrast between the two was striking. The one where large crowds gather and cheer and celebrate was lined with stone. The smaller courtyard has a garden, and grass that is quiet and peaceful. We spent a little time away from the crushing crowds in the peaceful courtyard before continuing our tour. If you are planning on going to Italy, I highly recommend the tour, whether or not you are Catholic.

This past week Jonathan and I have been reminiscing about our trip and the fun we had celebrating Christmas in Italy. We are so thankful we had the opportunity to spend that time with my brother and his family in that beautiful country.

I’ll leave you with a photo of the Nativity in St Peter’s Square. Buon Natale!

Nativity in Vatican City Italy

I Have Stamps in my Passport! Holidays in Europe

Holidays in Europe

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! I have stamps in my passport! This past holiday season was spent traveling in Europe to spend the holidays with family and friends.  We were so excited to spend Christmas day with my brother and his family in Italy, and New Years Eve and New Years Day with Viktoria and her family in Germany. Viktoria was our exchange daughter in 2010-2011. We met her parents, and now the rest of her family (we’re missing one sister and boyfriend in the photo, but we did get to spend time with all of them).

I have so many things I want to share with you about our trip, but first, I need to calm down the jet lag, and start thinking clearly again! Until then, let me just wish you and yours a very Happy New Year!

30 Things I Love: Christmas Music

Christmas Music

I love Christmas music! Every year, I cannot wait until the local radio stations, and Sirius Satellite radio start playing Christmas selections.

The music in the photo is just a tiny representation of my collection. I love listening to winter songs, Christmas songs, and carols performed by many different groups and in different styles. Maybe it’s the lyrics that are always positive…no one is dying, except when Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, relationships are flourishing or being mended, and how can you not be inspired by a capella renditions Silent Night or O Holy Night?

When I am stressed, I listen to music which helps to calm me. Before my first experience flying on an airplane without Jonathan, I needed to redo my playlist on my iPod so I would have relaxing music during my flight. Looking at what music was available, I decided to put Christmas music on there. In August. The jazz of Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is so soothingly familiar, and brings happy memories of watching the Charlie Brown specials on TV when I was little. The sounds of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra go from a mellow synthesized orchestral sound to rock. Mannheim Steamrollers sound is also good for calming me. Who knows…when I need to fly in 2015, I may still have Christmas music on my headphones!

I also love singing Christmas choral arrangements with the church choir. The older madrigal style pieces really challenge us, but they are some of my favorite songs because of the harmonies. I always look forward to the candlelight Christmas Eve service, and singing Silent Night in harmony. Most years I have goosebumps, and some years, there are tears. It is such an emotional time. I love when we end that service with the singing of Joy to the World. It sets the tone for the rest of our Christmas celebrations. I love how Christmas music makes me feel!

What are some of your favorite Christmas songs or albums?

We made it to the last day of the 30 Things I Love! Thank you for coming on this little journey with me!

The complete list of the 30 Things is listed here:

Day 1: Pizza

Day 2: Shoes

Day 3: Shout Stain Remover

Day 4: The Ability to Vote

Day 5: My Heritage


Day 7: Black Velvet for Photography

Day 8: Strong Coffee and Strong Hairspray

Day 9: Peacefulness

Day 10: Winter’s First Snow

Day 11: Freedom

Day 12: Dairy

Day 13: Jonathan

Day 14: Coffee

Day 15: Seasons

Day 16: Scones

Day 17: #AgNerds

Day 18: Playing in the Dirt

Day 19: Friends

Day 20: My Church Choir Family

Day 21: OxyClean

Day 22: Small Town Celebrations

Day 23: Clouds

Day 24: Thanksgiving

Day 25: Sisters

Day 26: My Minivan

Day 27: My Daughters

Day 28: Viktoria

Day 29: Agriculture Organizations

Day 30: Christmas Music

A Christmas Card Sneak Peek!

Olson Christmas Card

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to you!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for following along with me this past year. I appreciate the comments, the thoughts, and the likes! I am looking forward to the new year, and continuing to share with you about my farm, family, faith, food, and fun.

Wishing you many blessings in the coming year!


Wordless Wednesday – Favorite Christmas Cookies

CarolynCares Peanut Blossoms Cookies


Peanut Blossom Cookies

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup shortening

½ cup peanut butter

2 Tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 ¾ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Sugar for rolling

48 milk chocolate candy kisses

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In large bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, shortening, peanut butter, milk, vanilla and egg. Mix until fluffy. Add flour, baking soda and salt. Blend at low speed until stiff dough forms. Shape into 1-inch balls; roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately top each cookie with a candy kiss, pressing down firmly so cookie cracks around edge; remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 dozen cookies

30 Days of Thanksgiving – Day 30: Christmas

CarolynCares Christmas

What is your favorite thing about Christmas? For me, it is the memories of Christmases past, and the wonder and excitement as we remember the miracle of Jesus’ birth. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in looking forward that we gloss over the true miracles and wonder of the first Christmas.

Some of my favorite memories are not of the gifts received, but of the traditions we had for decorating. We had one of those huge stereos that were major furniture pieces. We would play Christmas records (you know, the vinyl records that required a record player with a needle) while we put the artificial tree together, strung the lights, and placed the ornaments on the tree. When I hear certain songs, I can smell the dusty plastic of the old tree, and see exactly where it was standing in our living room. We each had the opportunity to pick an album to listen to. My favorite had to be Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians “Twas the Night Before Christmas” – the version with the Norman Rockwell cover.

When I married and had the opportunity to start my own traditions, playing music while decorating is one thing I kept from my childhood. We tried to incorporate some of the traditions from Jonathan’s side as well, such as hanging a large lighted star on the windmill. The lutefisk on Christmas Eve wasn’t one that carried over, though!  Starting new traditions with our daughters wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Not all of my ideas turned out to be great ones. It is fun to hear what they remember most about Christmases when they were younger. Everyone remembers things so differently.

Today we’ll be setting up our Christmas tree. I’ll be playing some of my favorite Christmas CD’s (still a little sad that my favorite album didn’t get remastered for CD release), and probably making a few Christmas cookies for the girls to take back to school. I am thankful for the memories made on days like this. I am also thankful for the December snows, the happy Christmas greetings shared between friends and strangers alike, and the wonder of the Christmas story.

Thank you so much for following along on my 30 Days of Thanksgiving! I’ll still be writing, but not every day. Just for fun, I’ll leave you with this…

Want to see other 30 Day Challenge blogs? Head over to Holly Spangler’s blog to find the link!

Merry Christmas From our Farm to You!

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year from the Olson family!

The Christmas season is typically filled with the hustle and bustle of baking, shopping, and decorating. This year, we added a trip to the Mayo Clinic for Anna’s yearly checkup, and grain hauling into the mix. Some decorating didn’t happen, but Christmas isn’t dependent on how festive the house looks.  After all, Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by farm animals.

I am so thankful for Anna’s positive check up. Her MRI showed no new Multiple Sclerosis activity, and her physical tests showed no major declines in strength or other issues. That was our first Christmas gift this year.  Anna and I left for Rochester a day early, due to a blizzard warning in that area. We wanted to get ahead of the storm, and avoid driving in the wide open spaces in wind driven snow. This was the third year in a row that we have spent extra time in Rochester due to winter storms. Our hotel was great when Anna’s first appointment went long, and we were late for checkout on Friday morning. They didn’t charge us a late checkout fee, even though they could have. That was our second Christmas gift this year.

On Christmas Eve Day, we started out with fresh caramel rolls for breakfast.  We all went in to our church’s candle light Christmas Eve service that evening, where we served as the greeters. I love seeing all of the families who have come home for Christmas. Having our girls home for Christmas was our third gift this year.

Our family opens gifts on Christmas Eve, following the candlelight service. I love the laughter, the delight, the joy at gifts given and gifts received. Two of the girls did the majority of the gift buying this year.  It was a fun night.

Christmas day dawned bright and cold.  It was a day of playing games with Jonathan’s cousins from town, and eating delicious appetizers and cookies.

In the midst of all the merriment, Jonathan has been out working in the single digit temperatures to load out semi loads of grain, as well as the usual pig chores. The cold temperatures always bring equipment issues, but typically things get fixed in short order. We are thankful for our dairy friends who are out in the barns every day – holiday or not. I haven’t heard any complaints about working holidays, or working in the extreme cold. This is the life we have chosen, and we are thankful for it.

So, from our farm to you, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


Catching Up Is Hard To Do…

I cannot believe that January is almost over! Typically this month is filled with farming book work, getting tax stuff ready, and all the other end of the year stuff that comes with running a business. This year we started out a little differently…

On December 26th, Jonathan’s sister and family came from the Chicagoland area for a few days. We had a fun Christmas celebration with that side of the family on the 27th. I love reconnecting with family, and catching up on their activities.

My side of the family arrived on the 29th. We celebrated Christmas with them on the 30th, and stuffed ourselves silly (again).  On New Year’s Day we drove down to Iowa to see relatives that were gathering at my aunt’s house. It was fun to reconnect and catch up on their lives.

Mom and my sister Pam spent the night with us once again, while Sheryl’s family stayed overnight at aunt’s house. On January 2nd, everyone headed for home. That is when Jonathan and I started packing for our trip. 🙂

On January 2nd, Jonathan and I left for Fargo, ND. We had an early morning flight from Fargo to Salt Lake City, UT. From Salt Lake City, we flew to Honolulu, HI! We were going to attend the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting, which was held on the 8th and 9th.

We were traveling with cousins Andy and Heather. We have traveled with them to Nascar races and Disney World, and they still like us, so we thought it would be fun to go to Hawaii together. We were right. We had a blast!

Our travel agent arranged for a tour company to meet us at the airport where we received a fresh flower lei, and an invitation to a free breakfast the following morning. We all thought, “Free breakfast? Okay!” It was a sales pitch of sorts, telling us about the various tour packages they have available. Since we had about 4 days before the AFBF stuff started, we gave a look at what we thought would be fun. For once in my life, I really didn’t care what the plan was. I chatted with a tour company employee while Jonathan signed us up for events. It was quite nice to be able to just let go.

(Pic: At the airport after landing in Honolulu…we had been up for about 18 hours at this point, and it is starting to show)

Our first activity was whale watching, while Andy and Heather chose to go snorkeling in an area with sea turtles. I get motion sickness really easy, so I made sure I took meds for that. Good thing! I had never been out on a boat in the open ocean, so I was a little nervous about the waves. This was a lunch cruise with a buffet of great food to eat while cruising out to the whale watching waters. At least that was the plan. The whales had a different idea. Two of them were in the harbor that morning. They think it was a mom and a juvenile calf that had followed a fishing boat for 6 days and over 800 miles! We got up close enough to be sprayed three times with whale snot.   I gave my new camera a workout!

(Pic: one of my whale photos. I have others that I am not sharing online…)

That evening, all four of us went to a magic show dinner theater thing. We met some really nice people from Australia and Canada. After that ended, we went to the Lani Misalucha show. The best part was when she did impersonations of different singers. She had some of them spot on! Sadly, no photos were allowed for our evening adventures.

The next highlight was Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial, where the weather was beautiful. The museum grounds had been improved since we were there in 2004, making it an even better experience. Three survivors were at a book signing for a few hours.

After Pearl Harbor we went on a city tour and saw the State Capitol building and the Iolani Palace. Friday night we went on a supper cruise where we would see the sunset while at sea, and watch fireworks over Waikiki. There were Polynesian dancers on board, so between the sunset and the fireworks we didn’t get bored. The night was beautiful. The fireworks had to compete with a great full moon over Waikiki for my favorite scene of the cruise.

(I’ll let you decide which you like better…the full moon or the fireworks)


Saturday we had some beach time, and just took it easy most of the day. Sunday brought the start of the AFBF Annual Meeting. The opening ceremony sets the tone for the entire event, with an address by President Bob Stallman. We were really impressed by what he had to say, and it made us proud to be a part of such a great organization.  We believe that there is room for all types of agriculture – organic or conventional, crop or livestock, etc. We need to work together, which is what President Stallman mentioned in his speech. The keynote speaker on Monday afternoon was Dave Barry. He was hilarious! It was a great way to end a great meeting.

(Pic: AFBF President Bob Stallman)

We also attended a luau, and went on a Circle Island Tour with a bunch of our Minnesota friends. We started our journey back to Minnesota (and reality) on the 11th, and made it home the afternoon of the 12th.  Our flight schedule took us from Honolulu to Los Angeles (no celeb sightings, but it was 5:00 am when we landed). Los Angeles to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Fargo. Then a 4 hour drive home. This didn’t quite work with us. Thursday evening was Parent’s Night for the dance team. Laura is a senior this year, so in my mind this was a big deal. If we were to catch our flight from Minneapolis to Fargo, we would not have made it back in time.  I was bummed when we discovered this before we left, but Jonathan made a few phone calls…

Cousin Denise picked us up from the airport in Minneapolis, and brought us home. Andy and Heather flew on to Fargo as planned, picked up our luggage (we checked it in under their names in Honolulu), and drove our van to their house. Jonathan and I made it back home in time to shower and change clothes before heading into the school. It was worth making it back in time!

The following morning, Jonathan and I ran some errands, then packed our bags to head to an organic farming conference a couple of hours away. We picked up our van on the way home from the conference the following day, and kinda crashed once we got home. That was a week ago.

I still have a few loads of laundry to do, and gifts to distribute. I finally caught up on reading all my emails as of this morning. Jonathan and I both feel like we are finally back in our time zone, and that our brains have finally caught up with us.  Hopefully, we’ll get caught up on the book work this week as well.

Vacation was great, but catching up is hard to do!