Angela Olson had an unexpectedly busy spring.
As the principal at Xavier High School, the spring typically is a busy time for Olson as the school year gets wrapped up. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, her role shifted her duties during the last couple of weeks.
Among virtual announcements and adapting plans to celebrate the class of 2020, Olson logged some 300 miles driving around the area visiting the home of each Xavier High School senior — 179 in all — to hand over their diploma, video crew in tow.
But when she wasn’t working on activities to honor this year’s graduates or updating school families on times to drop of school iPads and textbooks at the end of the year, Olson made time to bake — cakes specifically — turning to a hobby that has kept her busy in the kitchen for the last decade.
“I started making cakes for my nieces and nephews in 2009,” she said. “The first cake was a 3D Thomas the Train when my oldest niece turned 4. That started a tradition, and now I have made the five of them a special cake for their birthday every year.”
Olson said she started posting the cakes on Facebook for other extended family members to see, and that led to orders from friends as well over the last several years.
In the weeks since the pandemic began impacting Eastern Iowa, Olson has seen an increase in cake requests.
“I typically have a few close friends that will ask for a cake every now and then outside of my immediate family, but now I’m making about one cake a week,” she said. “Maybe people want to celebrate more, or maybe since I keep track of them by posting images on Facebook, more people are spending time on social media and seeing them.”
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Either way, the requests are rolling in. Olson is having to get a little extra creative, especially when it comes to planning and delivery.
“I have been buying cake supplies every week in anticipation that people seem to be asking so that I don’t have to make extra trips to the store,” she said, adding she’s also making cakes a little smaller than usual, knowing it is usually immediate family members enjoying the sweet treat.
Most requests have been fairly close, so she can deliver. Luckily, she said, no dogs have found the cake before the homeowners. But Olson relied on a friend to get a cake to her niece in Ames who turned 15 recently, since she could not be with the family to celebrate.
“I enjoy that it brings people joy,” she said. “It’s a combination that has proven to make people feel special: a little extra care in a cake and plenty of sugar. It’s a great way to make anyone feel extraordinary on their birthday.”
Olson admitted the cakes do take a fair amount of time. She notes she is not a trained professional nor does she own professional baking equipment.
“I’m not fast, but that’s not a bad thing,” she said. “When I am making cakes, I spend a lot of time thinking about and praying for the person and family who will receive the cake. That is always a special piece to the process.”
Most of Olson’s cakes are for birthdays, but she said she’s also baked and created cakes for showers, first communions and baptisms.
“I have also done cake pops and the most stressful were the two wedding cakes I made because that’s a lot of pressure,” she said.
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As for the designs she’s tackled, Olson said they become ever more challenging and she’s always up for new ideas.
“When my nieces and nephews were younger, I would search for ideas on the internet that were tied to their interests,” she said.
She’s made everything from Lightning McQueen and a bulldozer to a ladybug and a puppy.
“Now that I have others beyond my family that ask for cakes, I don’t usually use my own ideas entirely,” she said. “I have the person asking search the internet for some pictures based on their interest and then find a way to recreate a similar version.”
While 3D cakes are the trickiest to make, that is what makes them fun, Olson said.
“My favorites are when they look big, bold and clean,” she said. “But really it’s the reaction that probably helps the ranking of which cakes become my favorite.”
Not surprisingly, she’s even made a pandemic-themed cake.
“I had more fun making the toilet paper cake than I anticipated, and it was even more fun to know so many people had a good laugh,” she said.
Recently, Olson has started making cakes for friends who didn’t request them and left them on their porch as a sweet surprise.
“I don’t make the cakes to make money or even because it’s my most favorite hobby,” she said. “Overall, I’d choose to be outside with any free time. But what keeps me always saying yes is being able to help make someone’s day or event special. So if during a pandemic, that means starting a cake at 4 a.m. before work, or finding a way to get a cake delivered to another city, I am so happy to do it. I sincerely hope every cake helps make someone still feel celebrated when celebrations are restricted.”
So despite her busy spring, Olson remains grateful for her time spent baking.
“People have inquired with caution asking if I have enough time to make one and while I have been putting in a lot of hours for work, it’s been good to get off the computer and spend time doing something for someone else,” she said. “And hopefully it’s adding fun to celebrations during this time as well.”