Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas Loveliness {an album}

Hands down, this was my favorite Christmas ever. It wasn't any one thing in particular that made it so special. It was all the little, lovely moments tied together. Ella is at the perfect age for soaking in the magic of the season. Taking her to see Santa this year was far more fun that I had imagined. She danced on her toes in front of him while asking him to bring ballet slippers and he stood and danced right along with her. Adorable. She whispered that the Christmas lights in our neighbors' yards were gorgeous and exclaimed with delight that Christmas is when we "celebrate Jesus' birthday!"

Those details were only part of it. Another was that since I hate the obligation of giving a gift just to give a gift, I tried to make each gift meaningful this year. I think I did a fairly decent job. It was fun searching through Etsy and Amazon for fun gifts way back when I was in the hospital in November. Some gifts came that way while others were second-hand things I found at shops around town. That was one change my family made this year. We've started giving thrift store and garage sale finds, which I think is fabulous, since I love, love, love second-hand shopping.

Pete had to work all the days around Christmas and was on call on Christmas Day, so I took the kids to his parents' house before Christmas and my parents' house after. Pete's sister, Kathryn, was able to fly in from Virginia for Christmas, so we definitely wanted to make our way over to see everyone.

Papa Olsen & Sammy
Ella's booster seat when we visit

Nana Olsen always does a beautiful job decorating
Auntie Kristin knows exactly what Ella loves!
Sam opening a gift with Auntie Kathryn

Nana & Papa with the little ones

The afternoon of Christmas Eve we ventured back to Duluth to be with Daddy. Ella & I made krumkake to set out for Santa with a big cup of milk. We've been working on intentionally doing things the last two years that we want to make a part of our holiday traditions.

Ella's one Christmas Eve gift
a recorded Night Before Christmas from her godfather Anton!

We spent a very quiet Christmas Day at home since Pete was on call. This is how we've spent our last few Christmases, and we love it. No expectations. No traveling or busyness. It's lovely. We started by checking our stockings with Ella when she discovered the milk and cookies were gone! She was in awe. And she got the ballet slippers she asked Santa to bring! Oh that Santa. He's got some pretty good elves, eh?

Sam's ornament from Santa

Thanks, Salvation Army, for the great slippers.

Ella picked 5 things from the dollar store for Daddy

Ella has her very own Knuffle Bunny! She loves the Knuffle Bunny books.

Ella's wanted a robe. I found this Gap size 4 beauty at Goodwill.

The morning after Christmas, I took the kiddos to my parents' house where all of my siblings and their kids were anxiously awaiting more festiveness. (I like that word. Festiveness.) Being with my family is basically the very opposite of being with Pete's family. His family is quiet and traditional, which makes for a very nice environment for rest. I always consider it a vacation to go to his parents' house. Visiting my family is the complete opposite. We are made of noise, chaos, and lots of laughter. This year was the epitome of such gatherings. Six kids under five with two uncles who were all about getting the little ones as wound up as possible made the holiday pretty fun. Just as an example, my older brother brought balloons that are made not to be tied but to let out all their air while they fly about the room making crazy high-pitch squeaky noises. And this was before a single Chrimstas present was opened. It was great fun.

Malena & Ella were ready for food!
kids' table with Wyatt

Jake & his girl, Valerie. (We really like her!)
Maira, Malena, Ella, Hailey

waiting patiently

I gave her a girly tutu. Mike gave her the weapon. Jake defended himself with Ariel.

All this chaos and Malena has a plastic sword. Yikes.
I'm still tired from Christmas, which doesn't really set me up for success tonight. Unless I swing through Caribou on the way to Eli & Krista's for our New Year's shindig. At long last, we don't have to celebrate at the hospital, which is exactly where we rang in the last two new years. It wasn't all that bad since we could watch TV and eat free food from the caf. But this year I'm planning to put the kids to bed, grab an apricot ale, and ring in 2013 with long smooch with my man. Sorry if that's not what you want to hear, but I actually get to this year, so I'm taking full advantage. Unless, of course, a mama needs to have a C section right at midnight and he's paged in for it. That's a very real possibility. But I'm so praying it doesn't happen. Maybe he won't notice if I bury his pager in the snow.

Blessings, friends, as you ring in the New Year! There are so many good things to come.

Oh, and just 13 days till Kenya!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

our family photo card from Shutterfly

Merry Christmas!

our family Christmas letter 2012

We hope this letter finds you enjoying many holiday festivities and traditions alongside friends and family. We are especially focused on family this year as ours has grown with Sam’s arrival and Ella is at a perfect age to get excited about everything from Christmas lights (“Oh, gorgeous!”) to celebrating new family traditions (“Mama, let’s have strawberry shortcake for Jesus’ birthday!”). We are soaking it all in while also preparing to leave for two months in Kenya. More on that later. First, the family.

Samuel Thomas: On May 24 we welcomed Samuel Thomas Amani to our family. Sammy is now seven months old and is a smiley, social little man who loves to cuddle, eat, and play with his big sister. Sam was born with Down syndrome and has proven to be strong and very healthy. Though we were surprised by his diagnosis upon his birth, we know that God was not. We continue to trust that He will show us how to parent our darling little boy and look forward to all the things that God has for him.

Miss Ella: Ella, who will be 3 ½ on Christmas, continues to keep us on our toes. She started Montessori preschool in August and absolutely loves it. She is learning the alphabet, to care for her surroundings, and even how to sew a button. She enjoys running (she didn’t knock anyone over during races this year!), dancing, making up songs, and playing outside. Ella makes us laugh with her silliness and reminds us of the sweetness of a child’s pure heart when she whispers, “I love you, and so does Jesus.” What a lovely girl she is.

The Mama: Angela had a very busy year, indeed. She nearly completed her Master of Education, worked hard on developing her online bake shoppe, The Little Yellow Kitchen, had a baby (kind of a big deal), and went through the craziness of a ruptured appendix in November. With a desire to focus more on family, Ang recently closed her kitchen and extended her grad work through next semester. She continues to write the family blog and will be exploring the joys of photography with her new DSLR Canon Rebel camera.   

The Daddy: Pete spent the year working as hard as ever and is now in his third and final year of family medicine residency. He will complete residency at the end of July, take a month off (yay!), and begin a job in September. Details of the job will be on our blog as soon as they are finalized. In non-medical news, Pete bought a black, lifted Jeep Wrangler this summer and was pretty excited when he was called on to drive through the treacherous waters of the Duluth Flood to rescue the clinic in June. (Okay, he just had to close it, but our street was practically a raging river, so it was certainly an adventure.) When he’s not working, he loves napping with Sam and taking Ella on their weekly daddy/daughter date.


Kenya: On January 13 we will be trading the bitter cold of Minnesota for the warm sunshine of East Africa. Pete will be working at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya while Ella, Sam, and Ang soak in daily family life and explore local schools. We’ll be traveling with World Medical Mission, a part of Samaritan’s Purse, and plan to return in early March.

We ask for your continued prayers as we prepare for our adventure abroad and explore all that God has for us down the road. May you be blessed with happiness and peace through this holiday season and the entire year!

the Olsens

Friday, December 14, 2012

Photo Friday: Christmasy

I surprised Ella this week by setting up the Christmas tree one night while she was sleeping. We've decided to keep the decorating light to stay in line with the simplicity we're trying to incorporate into life. It works well since we really don't have a lot of decorations anyway!

our tree in front of the window so we can see the lights from the street at night

the mantle
the upstairs railing by the bedrooms - garland from Target last year
mesmerized by the tree

Miss Ella was delighted. And so was I.

I almost forgot to share something that happened in all our sorting & boxing! A couple weekends ago we were packing the Jeep to be gone for the weekend and decided to donate a load of stuff at Goodwill on the way out of town. We dropped Ella off with friends in town, left the donations at Goodwill, and drove to the Cities where Sam was staying with another friend, Shauna. I had made cupcakes for Shauna and for the Christmas party we were attending that night but couldn't for the life of me find them when we were at her house. I looked and looked and looked. I was still baffled when we got to the Christmas party until I remembered what we had put the cupcakes in. A grocery bag. We had another grocery bag along with two boxes of stuff to donate. I asked Pete, "Love, how many bags did we donate at Goodwill today?" He responded, without question, that we had left two bags and two boxes.

I hope you enjoyed the cupcakes, Goodwill. They were my little Christmas treat to you. :)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Changes in the Kitchen

As I mentioned last week, there are more changes taking place in our house. One question Pete & I are often asked is how we do everything we do. Pete is in residency, which often requires 80 or more work hours a week. I'm in grad school, take care of the house and our family schedule and such, run The Little Yellow Kitchen, and am on leadership with our Mops group. Together, Pete and I teach the six-week premarital counseling class at our church a couple times a year, and we regularly meet with individuals or couples to encourage and support them during challenging times. And, most importantly, we have Ella & Sam. The thing is, we love everything that we do. We flourish in times of busyness. So much can be accomplished! But two months ago I started feeling something wasn't quite right.

rose cake - most requested style

It was about that time I really started struggling to keep the house in order, something that helps me feel that this home is a place of rest rather than a cube of anxiety. I couldn't keep up on laundry or dishes or the mail. I was constantly rushing from place to place and had a hard time focusing on class work when I really needed to. I felt awful when I would forget to return phone calls or emails. And then I got sick. And when mama gets sick, everything stops.

very first batch of cupcakes - August 2010

I had a lot of time to think during my week in the hospital. I couldn't do anything at all. Even writing a simple two-sentence text to my sister was a challenge because my meds made me so tired. It was during that time that I had the first quiet opportunity in a long time to reflect and to ask God what he thought of my life. I don't think that he thought I was way out of line or deliberately ignoring him in any way. But I did feel like he was telling me he has something better for me. And then I remembered the concept of margin.

Margin was something that come up in a book I read while studying with a group at our church last year. You know, like the margins on a piece of paper or along the edge of a page in a book. The margin is blank, empty space. Having margin in life means we have time to breathe, time to soak up the good stuff all around us, and time to simply rest. I went back to the book (The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith) and read the chapter on margin. Three sentences really stood out to me.

When we lack margin, it's our own doing and a sure sign we have stepped outside the kingdom. So be honest and be ruthless with your schedule. Your spiritual, relational, and physical health depend on it.  (Smith, p 130)

This hit me. My crazy full schedule really was my own doing. It was all great stuff, but I know from plenty of personal experience that even if things are good, they aren't nearly as amazing as what God has for me. I really don't want to be outside his kingdom. After praying about it and talking with Pete, I started to realize that, yes, God has better things for me if I follow his direction and make more room in my life.

first fondant designed cake - my favorite

And so, with a full and content heart, but a little sadness as well, I am announcing that I will be closing The Little Yellow Kitchen at the end of December. I have absolutely loved seeing this little hobby turned business take off through the past two years. I'm so glad I seized the opportunity to go after it and see what I could do with my baking. With each project I completed, I was amazed and pleased that I could create something so beautiful. It was fun being a part of so many weddings and parties, special events that people remember for a lifetime. It's been wonderful, and I truly do feel ready to set it aside for now.

My hope is that I won't fill the space with busyness. Instead, I want to slow things down and enjoy small moments. I want to sit and eat lunches with Ella in the nook and focus on Sam's development as he grows. I want margin to be a real thing in my days and to continue to seek God's guidance for what it is he has for me.

first wedding - for my cousin

So farewell, Little Yellow Kitchen. Thank you all for making the kitchen such a special place. It has been a dream. 


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