Life is but a puzzle we try to put together…

Piece 1: You Are Here

The new year brings a refreshing new start. It’s like a beautiful blank piece of paper with endless possibilities. For our church that new start comes in the form of a ‘restart.’ We discussed the idea of hitting the ‘restart’ button which included a dialogue about figuring out where you are. It was a pretty vivid visual for me. If I am hiking somewhere and wanna find the top of the mountain I first need look at a map. I need to find where I want to go, where I am and THEN I can determine the best route to take. If I have no idea where I am or cannot find that lovely ‘you are here’ pin then how can I possibly navigate myself to where I want to go? Apply this to your faith journey. If you don’t know where you are how can you find the path? So, we all took this survey asking us various questions to help us take a personal inventory on where we are and help locate ourselves if you will. For me it was like a splash of cold water on my face that was much needed. I was sort of stuck but didn’t realize it. I also didn’t really want to face the fact that I wasn’t opening the Bible enough.

Next came excuses. I never read anymore. As a mom of 8 I am on the go from the minute either a child or my alarm goes of until the kids go to bed. And then some. I have tried to read during the day. Forced myself to sit down at 1pm every day and try to read. Yup, that ended with a nap of sorts which isn’t helpful for anyone in my home. I tried reading before bed, same thing. I decided I needed to change the bucket. Rather than find time to read I found the time to be read to. I opened up the YouTube app on my iphone and searched “dramatic reading of the Bible.” So for the past 4-5 weeks I have been listening to the Bible every day. I just put my phone in my pocket and go about my daily chores listening when I can and pausing when things pop up. I cleaned the kitchen while listening to Genesis, folded laundry to listening to Leviticus, and even listen in the car with the kids. I listen when I can a little each day with no pressure to go faster than I can handle. It’s been interesting to be reminded we are all human, we make mistakes and families are messy-even biblical families. I am enjoying this method of ‘opening’ the Bible daily.

Piece 2: A Word and a Dream

As a mom of little ones I don’t usually get a lot of sleep. Even when I do get a nice bout of sleep it’s usually light sleep and I wake easily. I don’t remember dreams often and sometimes wonder if I even have time for dreams with such little sleep. So when I recently woke up with not memory of a dream, it was VERY vivid and even strange. We were in our van with my husband was driving and the kids in the back. We were navigating road and road filled with twists, turns and crazy construction. At one point I recall looking at my husband thinking “Thank goodness he’s driving because I couldn’t do this!” You see at that moment we were driving straight up a ridiculously steep hill that was filled with construction and we couldn’t see the other side of the slope. I was terrified we wouldn’t make it but he floored and up we went.

I woke up at that moment with the word “Logos” as if it was written on my forehead. At first I thought maybe I was just wrong and it was Legos…after all so many of my boys play Legos. I let it sit for a bit and couldn’t kick Logos. I didn’t know what the word meant and just felt I had to look it up. At that moment the day started and I figured I would look it up later. While in the van with my family I was reminded of the dream and told my husband all about it. He smiled and asked me if I wanted to know what “Logos” means. He said, “it’s Greek for the word.”

Putting the Pieces Together

I am not one to always understand my dreams, I certainly don’t understand all of the Bible but I did feel that this was God’s way of telling me to continue to listen to the Bible and trust in the path is has laid out for me. As a type A control freak letting go isn’t my strong suit but somehow He seems to find subtle ways to remind me to keep on keeping on. It’s was certainly a nice feeling to have a couple pieces put together. 🙂

If you are looking for a nice audio version of The Bible I also like The Story which is available in a variety of places but I have enjoyed it on youtube here:


A Current Snapshot Of Our Big Family Life

“You sure have your hands full!”

“Are they all yours?”

“How many sets of twins do you have?”

“Are you religious?”

“Do you homeschool?”

“What do you drive? A Bus?”

“Have you ever thought about the carbon footprint your large family is having on the planet?”

“Are you done having kids?”

“Do you know (insert other family who also has more than 4 kids here)?”

These are all things people have said to me. Some of them get on my nerves. Some of them make me wanna punch people in the throat. Yup, I can get that irritated by it. The funny thing is sometimes I get the comments when I don’t even have ALL of my kids with me. It’s hard not to respond in a snarky manner when someone says, “Looks like ya got your hands full” when I only have 3 of the 8 kids with me. For whatever reason it makes me feel like they are trying to tell me I can’t handle my children or am not in control of the situation. Regardless, it doesn’t come off as a compliment. I can honestly say I am more in control of the situation when I am getting 2 full grocery carts to my van with a toddler in the shopping cart and a baby strapped to my back. Yeah I am sure it looks strange to see me pushing a cart while pulling the other but I assure you “I got this!” I truly believe God wouldn’t give me more than I can handle. I am not perfect but somehow I do my best with the skills God has given me to be a Mom, wife and keep my house rolling.

As a mom of 8 I am not normal. Pretty sure there isn’t anything normal about our family and that’s totally cool with me. A house of 6 boys and 2 girls can be a bit much for anyone and being the Mom of a crew I can say it’s certainly not for everyone. Our kids have chores, there are rules and to do lists but there is still much to be done. I do 2-3 loads of laundry EVERY SINGLE DAY. I can put it off every now and then but then the next day will be 4-6 loads and well, that doesn’t sound awesome. I empty and re-load the dishwasher 3-4 times a day depending upon the time of year. The kids help with various chores based on their rotating chore chart and it all works.

This past week is a great example of how things work. We have a routine for the school week and a routine for the weekends. The weekend came and went and then late Sunday night we recieved notice that school would be closed on Monday due to snow. On Monday we then received notice that due to the extreme cold temperatures school would be closed Tuesday & Wednesday. On Wednesday we were then notified that the polar vortex would be staying a bit longer causing the temperature to reach -58 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill thus no school again Thursday.

So we had 2 days of our regular weekend family time followed by 4 full days of bonus family time. The 4 days were different because we were basically shut-in. It was too cold to go outside so it wasn’t like a typical snow day where the kids can get outside and be active. Many families were overwhelmed with this bonus time. Our family rocked it. Why? Our big family comes with friends. This is precisely what spurred this post. My daughter who is 2 weeks shy of turning 14 said, “Mom I love that we have a big family. Many of my friends hate snow days because they miss their friends and feel that they have nothing to do at home. I love being home to BE with my family. I miss them when I am at school.” After hearing her thoughts I reflected upon how we spent our time over those 4 bonus days.  The littles played Duplo blocks, pretend police officers, matchbox cars, little people, tinker toys. The Middles built forts for everyone to play in, they read books to the littles, they worked on their science projects and they played computer games. The bigs played some X-box, connected with the younger ones playing Minecraft, played ping-pong with the middles and played knee hockey with the littles. Everyone seemed to pair off here and there to play, read, or build some legos. We made lots of snacks, baked yummy treats, made some snow cream and watched some fun family movies. We snuggled, we argued, we played and did our best to enjoy the bonus time together. Although they don’t always get along sometimes their siblings are their best friends. And yes, I did have more dishes than normal but I didn’t feel like a cruise director trying to entertain everyone.  I was able to watch them interact, play with them, read to them, snuggle them and just BE. It seemed to happen organically and that right there made me smile from the inside out.

“You sure have your hands full!”

So, yes. Yes I have my hands full. As a mom we are always juggling things and we make it work.

“Are they all yours?”

Yes, they are all mine. (Although in public places they do seem to attract more children that are NOT mine. It’s pretty funny.)

“How many sets of twins do you have?”

None. We don’t have any twins as of yet but we would welcome a set of twins.

“Are you religious?”

Yes. We aren’t perfect but we are children of God and do our best to raise our children in a loving christian home. We attend church every Sunday, we are involved in our church and do our best to serve the Lord.

“Do you homeschool?”

A little. Our school aged children attend public charter schools; however, the little ones do a preschool at home with Mom.

“What do you drive? A Bus?”

No we don’t drive a bus. We have a Nissan NV & a Ford 150. We used to have a Chevy Suburban and a GMC Yukon XL but after outgrowing them we did A LOT of research on larger vehicles and went with the Nissan NV and LOVE IT!! It’s a 12 person van that drives like a truck & tows like a dream. It has plenty of room, fits carseats well & has a back-up camera. I will be the first to admit it was hard to find one that wasn’t a commercial van but it was worth the work to get one. If I could wave my magic wand the only change I would make would be to add 4-wheel drive and put a vacuum in it. Even without those things I love my van. It’s a box on wheels and I can’t imagine life without it.

“Have you ever thought about the carbon footprint your large family is having on the planet?”

No I don’t think about the carbon footprint we are making. We recycle. We regularly use the thrift store & pass down clothing from one child to another but no we don’t think about it.

“Are you done having kids?”

Well after our first was born we thought we’d wait 5 years before having another but baby #2 arrived 2 years after the first. We thought we were done after 4. We thought baby #5 might be the last and we had baby #8 last year. So I guess it’s safe to say we aren’t sure. 😉

“Do you know (insert other family who also has more than 4 kids here)?”

This one is a funny one. No there isn’t a club for large families, at least not that I am aware of. We are finding that we are meeting other larger families. This has more to do with our van. We have people now ask if we know other families that have vans like ours. Yes, we are meeting those families and it’s funny. Maybe we should start a club for families with lots of children who also drive Nissan NV’s. 🙂

For other Mama’s who hear these comments and questions know that I feel ya. Like most other unpleasant things, this too shall pass. 🙂

Unicorn Birthday

After a successful Alice in Wonderland inspired ‘unbirthday’ party our 12 year old asked for unicorn birthday theme for her 13th birthday. We used crepe paper, balloons and other supplies found at the dollar tree


Now this wasn’t just a plan ol’ unicorn birthday she wanted a ‘highway unicorn‘ cake as featured on the Tastemade website. She has spotted this amazing dream of confection on Instagram and fell head over heels for it. She picked colors for the party based on the cake. I used my circuit to create a birthday banner and we were pretty set. 

The Cake28161984_10156268234008447_2226629957559993145_o


I followed the directions from copy me that while still utilizing the tastemade website for the video guidance.

For this cake I used a 9″ round cake pan. I bought boxed cake mixes although I did tweak them so they taste like a bakery cake. (Use butter in place of oil and double it, milk in place of water, double the amount of eggs). I then divided the cake batter in small bowls and then colored it. After greasing and flouring the pans I put dollops of the various colors into the pans to create a colorful camouflage affect. It was a lot of work but turned out pretty well.

28161718_10156268234258447_3967890415895182686_oThen after they were out and cooled I wrapped them in clear wrap and popped them in the fridge to prep them for frosting. A few hours later I took out the layers and frosted between each layer with butter cream. I then put a layer of icing around the edges and wrapped it all again with clear wrap and refrigerated it over night. The next day I made more butter cream and tinted each color. Using a pipping bag without any tips I pipped frosting around the cake doing 2 rows of each color. Then I went back with a triangle tool I have and scraped the edges. As I did this the colors bleed into one another creating the pretty sunset appearance.27908152_10156268234253447_5434330012146473044_o

Before the frosting dried a pressed sprinkles into the bottom layer and then sprinkled more around the edge of the cake stand. After cleaning up here and there I used melting chocolates and then drizzled it around the edges. After allowing the chocolate drizzle to cool in the fridge it was time for the gold. I used some edible metalic food paint (I got mine on amazon) and painted the now hardened drizzle. This took the most time because it was so small and detailed.

Finally I used the remaining pink butter cream with the Wilton 1 M tip to decorate the top and placed macrons on the top and added a bit more sprinkles for the last decoration. I must confess I did NOT make those macarons. I had my wonderful husband pick them up from Macarons by Maddie Lu at the Mall of America. They were so beautiful and so delicious and so worth purchasing. 27908085_10156265616018447_5885695216402896878_o


This was a fun cake and totally worth the time it took to paint the chocolate drizzle.

Happy Baking!!


2018 Birthday Cakes

In 2018 I made a few cakes in addition to teaching my oldest daughter to make a few. I didn’t take enough photos during the process but thought I’d share them regardless. Hopefully this will provide some guidance and if nothing else, confidence to some of you to DIY a birthday cake.

Highway Unicorn Cake

My daughter (bless her heart) enjoys watching baking shows with me. Our favorite shows would have to be the Netflix Original Nailed It because well Nicole Byer is hilarious. We also really enjoyed binging Zumbo’s Just Desserts. Between the baking shows and her perusing Instagram she decided for her 13th birthday she desperately wanted what is called the ‘Highway Unicorn Cake.’ It’s as crazy as it sounds but oddly enough one of the easier cakes I have done. I really enjoyed making this one and REALLY enjoyed seeing her reaction to the finished product.


For this cake I used a 9″ round cake pan. I bought boxed cake mixes although I did tweak them so they taste like a bakery cake. (Use butter in place of oil and double it, milk in place of water, double the amount of eggs). I then divided the cake batter in small bowls and then colored it. After greasing and flouring the pans I put dollops of the various colors into the pans to create a colorful camouflage affect. It was a lot of work but turned out pretty well.


Then after they were out and cooled I wrapped them in clear wrap and popped them in the fridge to prep them for frosting. A few hours later I took out the layers and frosted between each layer with butter cream. I then put a layer of icing around the edges and wrapped it all again with clear wrap and refrigerated it over night. The next day I made more butter cream and tinted each color. Using a pipping bag without any tips I pipped frosting around the cake doing 2 rows of each color. Then I went back with a triangle tool I have and scraped the edges. As I did this the colors bleed into one another creating the pretty sunset appearance. Before the frosting dried a pressed sprinkles into the bottom layer and then sprinkled more around the edge of the cake stand. After cleaning up here and there I used melting chocolates and then drizzled it around the edges. After allowing the chocolate drizzle to cool in the fridge it was time for the gold. I used some edible metalic food paint (I got mine on amazon) and painted the now hardened drizzle. This took the most time because it was so small and detailed. Finally I used the remaining pink butter cream with the Wilton 1 M tip to decorate the top and placed macrons on the top and added a bit more sprinkles for the last decoration. I must confess I did NOT make those macarons. I had my wonderful husband pick them up from Macarons by Maddie Lu at the Mall of America. They were so beautiful and so delicious and so worth purchasing. If you want the recipe without a video check out this one at Copy Me That. (see more of Lauren’s Birthday in the Unicorn Birthday party post)

Portal Cube Cake

My boys ask for some of the craziest cakes. I have made a few Minecraft cakes over the years but as they have matured in age so has their taste in games. I have done a portal themed party and can now add Portal 2 to my list. My 9 year old asked for a portal 2 theme this year and decided he wanted a cake ‘cube’ cake. I had no idea what I was in for screen shot 2019-01-24 at 2.00.45 pmuntil I saw a cube plush online (left), So this is what I came up with (right).

I used a 3″x3″ square cake pan making 3 layers with buttercream frosting between each layer. Then I use the remaining batter to make cupcakes. I cored out each cupcake so they could fit nicely on each of the corners. I cut straws and inserted them into the corners then pushed the cupcakes onto them so they would stay. I then tinted the buttercream frosting and made stars all over the cake with the exception of the pink lines and hearts. I used a basic tip for that. In the end my son was happy with how it turned out so I’d call it a win.


Cookie Cake

My oldest daughter Lauren was once again scrolling through Instagram and saw what is apparently a ‘thing’ they call cookie cakes. It’s a giant sugar cookie cut out layered with frosting and then topped with another giant sugar cookie cutout. She decided it would be fun to make one for her little brother Matt who was turning 11. I thought it might be a good learning experience.

It looked cute enough but would it taste awesome? I like chewy cookies so I was concerned it would be a crunchy mess of crumbs. I was so wrong. My go to for cookie recipes is Sally’s Baking Addiction so I looked through her recipes and found a chocolate sugar cookie recipe. Since Matt loves mint Oreos we decided to make it chocolate with mint frosting in the middle. We used paper to create the numbers we wanted in the size we desired. Then I taught my daughter my not so secret trick of using the template to then cut out what we would need from waxed paper. She rolled out the dough and carefully cut the numbers and then baked them. While the 4 numbers were cooling she whipped up a batch of mint buttercream frosting  using a recipe from Baking with Blondie. Let me tell you this frosting is Ah-mazing! It’s so delicious I can’t even find the words. It was perfect.

After plenty of time to cool Lauren laid out the first two cookies then using the large round tip she made what looked like small Hershey kisses all over the cookies. After covering both of the cookies she then laid down the second layer of cookies and repeated the frosting. After completing the frosting she placed mint Oreos on the top with a few chocolate chips for decorative flare.


We all enjoyed the cake and hands-down I would make another one. It was delicious and a perfect alternative for anyone who has a sweet tooth but isn’t a fan of cake. As you can see both kids were happy with the end result.

Unicorn Cake

Lauren had so much fun making the cookie cake and while watching Nailed It was inspired to make a unicorn cake herself. She really enjoys learning to decorate cakes although her perfectionist personality can get the best of her. She tweaked a couple box cake mixes for the actual cake and tinted the batter so each of the layers was a different color. She then made some homemade buttercream frosting. After hours of tedious decorating she made some fondant for the unicorn’s horn. (she really enjoyed learning to use a variety of tips to make various designs and flowers). We rarely make fondant the hard way so we used the cheat method and made the marshmallow fondant. She used the marshmallow fondant for both the horn and the ears. After rolling it up on a straw she painted the horn with some gold edible metalic food paint. She also painted the inside of the unicorn’s ears. Despite a few hiccups it went well and she learned a lot. Here is how it turned out. 48270566_10157039405973447_5682499585264582656_n

Team Umizoomi UmiCar Cake

My little 2 year old is really into Team Umizoomi thanks to Amazon Prime Video. Naturally for his 3rd birthday he wanted a Team Umizoomi Birthday celebration. He really likes UmiCar and wanted an UmiCar birthday cake.screen shot 2019-01-25 at 2.38.18 pm

I thought that should be easy enough because I could always frost UmiCar on a round cake; however, that seemed too basic. I decided I wanted to make an actual car. As luck would have it while thrifting with my husband we found a wilton car cake pan (Wilton 3-D Cruiser Cake) and got it for $2.50. It was perfect. I looked up the directions online and found them on the wilton website.Screen Shot 2019-01-25 at 2.47.59 PM.png

As per my usual I tweaked a boxed cake mix and baked the cake according to the wilton directions. After the cake car cooled I took to it with a sharp knife and a spoon to hollow up portions of the cake to look more like UmiCar. While the cake was cooling I make a couple batches of home made butter cream frosting, (buttercream recipe.) After allowing it to cool I did a layer of crumb frosting to clean it up a bit. After 30 min in the fridge I went back using the wilton #18 star tip filled the cake it with stars using the appropriate colored buttercream frosting.


I used a small round tip for the eyes and mouth and finished it off by placing the 3 Umizoomi characters inside. Isaac loved the cake and we all loved eating it!


Baking birthday cakes is a labor of love. They aren’t perfect but they are made with love. I hope that you feel the urge to give it a whirl and bake one for someone you love.

Happy Baking!

~Menne Mama

Mrs. Menne in the Mrs. Minnesota Pageant

I have seen the reality TV shows about pageants and have watched my fair share of Miss America pageants on TV but never really had an interest in pageants. Although they weren’t pageants in high school I was a part of the homecoming court and later ran for Rice County Fair Queen. I didn’t win a crown with either of those but had fun along the way.

Many years later as a mom of 7 spending my days pushing a double stroller and taking care of my kiddos I never thought of myself as pageant material but after reading the local newspaper gave it a second thought. I read about the Mrs. Minnesota International pageant seeking contestants for Mrs. Sibley County and chatted with a friend about it. She thought it wasn’t a crazy idea and even encouraged me to go for it. I researched a bit about the pageant. As cited on their website, “The Mrs. Minnesota International Pageant showcases the many accomplishments of Minnesota’s married women. Her multiple roles of wife, mother, professional and community volunteer are recognized and celebrated.” After reading their website and their mission “To Make a Difference,” I thought it just might be a good fit for me. Although I felt nervous about it I talked to my husband about it and expected him to think it was a bit crazy but he was so incredibly encouraging.


Photo by HMD Photography 

Although my husband was busy preparing to be away for military training he took the time to double check the deadline and supported me in the application process. With the encouragement and support of my friend & my husband I was happy to throw my hat in the ring for a chance to represent the amazing people of Sibley County. I would be proud to represent such caring, strong, hardworking people. We all roll-up our sleeves to help out others, we work together to do what the community needs, we take the time to go the extra mile. My application shared information about me including my husband, family life and what I enjoy spending time on. It also included my message to “Get Involved.” Small towns like the one I live in is successful because so many people step up to help out. It takes the help of everyone to make things happen. Everyone working together is the very reason I love where I live.


Mrs. Sibley County

Weeks later I received an official letter from the pageant director that I was chosen to be Mrs. Sibley County International 2018. I was shocked and excited. I was later presented with a banner and crown and was very honored to represent Sibley County.

Mrs. Sibley County with Crown 2

Photo by HMD Photography

As Mrs. Sibley County International I was also able to be a contestant in the 2019 Mrs. Minnesota International pageant so I quickly began the application process once again. This time around my service platform needed to be a non-profit so I chose one I had a lot of experience with, ‘Choice & Innovation in Public Education.’ I also had to obtain sponsors for my pageant entrance fee. I was nervous about this; however, friends and local businesses were so kind and generous in their support. I quickly raised the money required and began preparing for the pageant.

Mrs. Minnesota Contestant

The Mrs. Minnesota International pageant includes three areas; interview, evening gown, and fitness wear. The interview is 50% of the score whereas evening gown and fitness wear are 25% of the score. I ordered my fitness wear (everyone wears the same fitness wear), found a dress that would fit me (I would be competing 33 weeks pregnant), and read through the packet of information to prepare for the interview. I also created a ‘pitch book.’ The Pitch book is a three-ring binder which includes the contestant application, sponsors, head shot, family photos, resume, volunteer work, newspaper clippings with contestant, the contestant’s platform statement, platform website, personal website & information regarding the current Mrs. Minnesota.

Before I knew it April 28thwas here and my husband and I were heading up to St. Paul to the Mrs. Minnesota International Pageant. Ready or not it was pageant weekend!

The Mrs. Minnesota International Pageant

Friday April 27th

We arrived at the pageant hotel and got checked into our room. Shortly after we headed over to the Wellstone Center for pageant check in at 4pm. We were a bit early but we used the time to meet other contestants. (This pageant also includes Miss Minnesota, Miss Teen Minnesota and Miss Pre-Teen Minnesota.) They collected all paperwork as well as pitch books and volunteer service resumes. My husband and I don’t get dates for dinner with just the two of us so we took advantage of the dinner break to go to a nice restaurant. After dinner, we attended the pageant orientation. It was great to meet everyone had have our questions answered. The pageant director was so kind and all of the staff were amazing. We even had drawings for prizes and each received a lovely ‘swag bag’ which the sweetest items to help us remember this special weekend. After orientation, the rehearsals started at 8pm which gave us a chance to get more comfortable on the stage. We were able to figure out spacing, walks, practice with the microphones, etc. This was when I first got to talk with the other contestants and really get to know them. It was a ton of fun despite the heels. After rehearsals, it was back to the hotel for some rest.

Saturday April 28th

Personal interviews started at 9am but what time your actual interview was depending upon your number drawn. I was with the first group so I got my interview done right

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Photo by                           Paula Preston Photography

away. I was actually pretty excited for this part because I like to talk and am very passionate about my platform. Many people say this is the hardest part of the pageant but I disagree. It’s just a conversation with people.


The interviews were held at our hotel which was really nice. We just had to get up to the correct conference room and we were set. I walked into the room and saw the five judges each at their own area and an empty chair across from each of them. Each of us contestants were instructed walk in order and each stand with our back to the judge we were near. When the judges’ officials instructed to begin, we turned around, sat down, and started our interview with that particular judge. When we had only a minute left, we were told to finish up and then when the time was up we were told “time.” This continued with each judge until we were all done. It went really quickly but then again, I really enjoyed it. I liked getting to know more about the judges and share about my family, my life and my passion for choice and innovation in public education.

After the interviews were finished we went back to the Wellstone Theater for lunch and then rehearsals. This was ‘go time’ meaning we had to bring all of items we needed for the pageant. That meant all luggage, dress bags, etc., because we would be getting ready at the Wellstone Theater. Anyway, the lunch was great. My husband and I were able to set with other contestants and their husbands and talk. We really a great opportunity to get to know them as a couple and share more about us. Around 12:30pm we started rehearsals again.

This bigger rehearsal was fun. We were all getting more comfortable with one another and friendships were blooming. We had time both on-stage and off-stage talking, sharing laughs and learning even more about one another. A portion of this rehearsal also included our husbands which provided lots of entertainment for us. The pageant host, co-host, and coordinators were so much fun. They really made the rehearsals a blast. Who knew rehearsals could be so fun? The fun had to end by 4pm so we could go get

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Photo by                           Paula Preston Photography

ready for the night’s competition.


After rehearsal concluded we all went to the pageant dressing rooms to get ready.  When we arrived at our dressing rooms we found the sweetest gift bags that included snacks and water which I put to use in between my time on stage. After getting hair and make-up done, all dressed and ready it was time. We headed out for some photos before lining up on stage for introductions.

At 6 pm the pageant started. The host and co-host set the

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Photo by                           Paula Preston Photography

stage for a fun night and then we hit the stage. Each contestant gave their introduction and then we went right into the on-stage interviews. We were each given a moment to share about our platform followed by a response to a question specific to our platform. I felt that was the most nerve-wracking part. Not knowing what the question would be and how to answer it within the allotted time. After the interview, we had to rush back to the pageant dressing room to change. While we were getting into our fitness wear the pre-teen, teen & miss contestants were onstage for the fun fashion wear competition. Back to the stage we all went in our


Photo by                           Paula Preston Photography

fitness wear which honestly with me being 33 weeks pregnant was laughable. My baby bump was so big my fitness wear couldn’t even cover it. Regardless I walked the stage with pride workin’ it with my baby belly. (we all wore white tennis shoes which were so comfortable who wouldn’t rock it?!?) Despite the swollen ankles, massive belly and the water retention I felt pretty. After the fitness wear we had a short intermission while we got into our evening gowns and lined up to hit the stage once again. This was particularly fun because this time we were accompanied by our husbands. I loved walking the stage in an evening gown on the arm of my beloved husband. The way he


Photo by                           Paula Preston Photography

looked at me and the little smirks exchanged were memorable. After the evening gown competition, the curtains closed and the husbands took the spotlight for some special interviews. It was such a cool experience to be back stage listening to our husbands respond to questions and interact on stage. We all giggled and even cried happy tears at the various responses. They were all so sweet. After the husband interviews, we were all lined up when the curtains re-opened and it was

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Photo by                                                 Paula Preston Photography

time for the coronation of the winners for Pre-Teen, Teen, Miss and Mrs. The current title holders were given an opportunity to give a farewell speech of sorts. It was fun to hear their insight on their previous year’s endeavors. They announced the 2ndrunner up, first runner up and then the winner for each crown. Afterwards the winners were crowned and the pageant concluded.


After Pageant Awards Reception

Following the pageant, we attended the After Pageant Awards Reception which was pretty neat. It included not only the contests and their spouses but also family and friends. It was the first appearance for the new Pre-Teen, Teen, Miss and Mrs. Minnesota ACS_0032International. They were each introduced and each one spoke very eloquently about their plans for the next year. They were all so excited. The director and other pageant staff spoke about the pageant and gave out special awards. The special awards were:  Amity Award, Community Service Award, Directors Award, Peoples’ ACS_0033Choice Award, Pitch Book Award, Photogenic Award, Team Spirit Award, and Volunteer Service Award. There was also a very special award for one of the husbands, Best Supporting Husband Award. I was happily surprised to receive the Directors Award, Community Spirit Award, and Pitch Book Award. On the other hand, I was not surprised when they announced my husband as the recipient of the Best Supporting Husband Award. He is so sweet and was there for me every minute. He even went so far as to rub my legs with lotion because they were so swollen due to the pregnancy.

As the recipients of special awards were announced photos were taken and we were able to celebrate everyone’s’ accomplishments. We were also able visit with our fellow contestants who were now our friends as well as their families and friends. It was so neat to get to meet their children, parents, etc. We enjoyed cake, shared stories, hugs and took photos. It was a great way to conclude the pageant weekend and kick-start the reign of the newly crowned.

My Thoughts

As we left the Wellstone Center and started the drive home my husband and I ACS_0031shared our thoughts on the weekend and the entire pageant competition. We were both so happy that I did it. It was a wonderful experience! I was nervous about getting sponsorship but the local community responded with such overwhelming support both financially and with such kind words. (I even brought one of the notes I received from a sponsor with me to the pageant.)  Having never been in a true pageant before I didn’t know what to expect but I can say with certainty that the Mrs. Minnesota International Pageant was awesome and exceeded any of my expectations. The director was so sweet and supportive. The staff were all so kind and helpful. I never felt stupid asking questions. The contestants were not only kind they were above and beyond supportive of one another. I recall telling my husband, “I don’t envy the judges. What an incredibly hard decision to make because they are all such deserving women.” I truly never expected to gain such great friendships. These women were all so amazing, talented, strong, compassionate and hard working. I am so very proud to be a part of the pageant sisterhood.




I had such a fun time. It was truly an incredible experience and I am so glad I did it even being so pregnant. Someday my daughter Josephine will have a great story about her first experience with a pageant with Mommy. And her newborn photos with the crown are so special.



Photos by HMD Photography 

I am honored to be Mrs. Sibley County 2018 and am cheering for Minnesota 2018, Valentina Kostenko as she prepares for the upcoming Mrs. International Pageant which takes place July 20th-21stin Charleston, West Virginia.

If you are someone who loves to give back, do community service, volunteer, you should definitely think about this pageant. If you have a charity you are passionate about and would like a platform to help spread the word about it this is the pageant will give you that. If you have ever given pageants a thought you should definitely give this one a try. Maybe you are looking for a new and exciting experience, you wanna try something you have never tried before, then try this! The Mrs. Minnesota International Pageant will not disappoint. If you are interested and would like an application for the 2019 local competition call Pageants Unlimited at (952) 432-6758.

Star Wars BB8 Cake

IMG_1084I have all of my birthday party supplies organized in large zip bags stored in 2 large totes in a closet. This works great to reuse items, mix n’ match crepe paper, balloons and other small items to save money. I have some favorites, as do the kids (I cannot tell you how many Thomas the Train or John Deere parties we’ve had). So when my 5 year old decided to go with a Star Wars theme for his 6th birthday I was elated. I hadn’t used my Star Wars party supplies in 10 years!! So I happily pulled out all of the saved items and began planning. The party we had 10 years ago was a much bigger party which included a fun menu (Jedi Juice, Leia Lemonade, Yoda Soda, Hoth Dogs, Jabba Jello, Light Saber Pretzel Sticks, Wookie Cookies, Naboo Nuggets), Star Wars games (Jedi Training, pool noodle light sabers), a Darth Vader Piñata and an official Jedi Certificate. This time around was a bit more low key. (We have a big party when they turn 5 with lots of friends etc. and then smaller birthday celebrations with 1 or 2 friends for all other parties as we feel they enjoy it a bit more with less kids and commotion.) Anyway…….

As I was planning I checked with the birthday boy about what he wanted for the menu and what kind of cake he wanted. After much debate about the menu he took no time to decide he wanted a BB8 cake. So I assumed I could just do 2 round cakes (one small and one larger) to look like a BB8 laid down and we were good to go. The birthday boy had other ideas. He explained while that while that would be cool a 3D BB8 cake would be “Even more aaawwwesome!” He then quickly drew up some step by step instructions as to how I could make such a cake.IMG_1083

I explained how I was nervous about it’s structure being sound but he assured me that I could handle it. After a few laughs I decided my 5 year old’s faith in my baking ability was enough to give it a go.

IMG_1013I started out with my Betty Crocker Bake’n Cake Pan. It seemed to be about the same size as the BB8  plush he had. I was stuck on how to make BB8’s head though. While shopping at my favorite dollar store The Dollar Tree I found these small class bowls that were not only perfect for ingredients while baking they were exactly the size I needed to make BB8’s head! And a set of 2 for $1?? -heck yeah!

It took 1 1/2 cake mixes to make half of BB8’s body and his head and then another 1 1/2 cake mixes to make the second half of BB8’s body. All in all the baking was very simple. I hadIMG_1012 to bake 2 rounded cakes, 2 insert pans and then 2 of the small
class bowls. I placed the small glass bowls on a tray incase they overflowed. I followed the instructions from the bake’n fill set and all of the pieces turned out great.

After baking I let them all cool. Once I was able to frost the crumb layer I put the insert cake piece into the rounded pice and then wrapped them in clear wrap before putting them in the fridge to set.


Left: Insert Cake Right: Round Cake

The next day I was ready to build the cake and do the final later of frosting & decorating. IMG_1071






IMG_1072I started by cutting off a small portion of the top of one of the rounded pans so when inverted it would sit without wanting to roll. I wanted to be sure BB8 wasn’t going to roll away ;).

Then I inverted that base piece, frosted the flat portion to ‘glue’ the two base pieces together. After a nice layer of frosting I placed the IMG_1073second base on top making a nice round cake ball. (This is what I did 10 years ago when my first born asked for a Death Star cake).

I then frosted to fill in the gaps around the ball.


After trying to get the sides as smooth as I could I was ready to prep for the pipping. I used the lid of a tub of frosting to make 4 initial circles that would later be pipped.


I decided it would be easier to do the pipping on the base before putting BB8’s head on so I got started right away. I used chocolate frosting with black Wilton coloring to make the black (starting with chocolate saves on the amount of coloring to make black). I used vanilla frosting with a touch of the black Wilton coloring for the gray and then vanilla with some orange Wilton coloring to make the orange color.  I used the plush BB8 as a guide and got started. You can see a round wooden piece under the cake base. This is actually a Lazy Susan I got from Ikea which works great for spinning cakes as I decorate.

IMG_0444As you can see I did all the pipping on the base including writing ‘Happy Birthday’ on the base BEFORE putting the head on. Crazy? Possibly, but it worked for me.

SO then I took a couple plastic straws and cut them to place into the base for additional support. In the past I have used disposable chopsticks from a restaurant but I didn’t have any on hand so I decided to go rouge ;).

I gently placed the head on BB8 which was a messy task butIMG_0446 a simple hand-washing remedied the situation.

IMG_1076Finally I added the details to the BB8’s head. I finished with 2 silver candles. I cut the base of one of those candles to make it look more authentic to BB8’s antennas.


Boom, DONE!


IMG_0448My favorite was when he got home from school and was able to see the finished product. He was pretty excited with how it turned out. I guess mama can follow directions. 😉


As you can see it’s a lot of cake but it was yummy and he was one happy birthday boy.


Happy Baking Friends,

May the force be with you!




When your soldier is away…

This past year was a challenging one for our family a because my husband was away for a few months. I say ‘few’ because it was less than a year but even as I say it I quickly remember how hard those ‘few’ months were. As a mom of 7 (with #8 in the oven) solo parenting was challenging at best. I cried, I gave myself some slack and sometimes I thought I couldn’t do it but somehow we all made it through because…well…we have to.


Now that I am on the other side and my husband and I have had the opportunity to talk about what helped get us through the challenges I have decided it might be helpful to share some insight with others.

By no means is it easy to see your soldier leave but we are proud of him and really enjoy being reunited when Daddy comes home. Our children have learned that Daddy’s military service requires sacrifices from all of us. Here are some tips that really helped us to make the sacrifices a bit more bearable.


Depending upon operational security this may or may not work for everyone but for us it   did and was very successful. My husband would record a short video and send it to me to share with the kids. This is a great way to tell the kids a quick, “Hello, Daddy loves you.” It is also a great opportunity to remind the kids that they too are serving in their own way and that he’s proud of them for working hard at home. He sent videos whenever he could. The great part of technology is the kids could watch them over and over again whenever THEY needed to. When one of the little ones was having a sad day and just wanted daddy they could watch the video until they felt better.  Sometimes he would even include special messages for any of the kids who had anything special that day. I also have to admit this started as videos for the kids but soon included videos just for me which served as great encouragement on the hard days.

2.Daddy Dolls


Daddy Dolls inc. has hug-a-hero dolls and they were an amazing tool for our. These are custom made dolls with a photo of their soldier so they can hug and snuggle them. They are not too expensive ($32.95) and worth every penny. Although we didn’t opt for the recorded message you can add a recording device for $7.95 to record a special message for the child. For my little ones they were happy to carry around Daddy and snuggle with him anytime they wanted to.


3.Countdown Chain

We all know that the military is unpredictable but we can at least estimate how long our soldier may be away. Whether it’s a daily, weekly or monthly countdown it is helpful to tear that piece off. I always felt like I accomplished something.


The kids colored lots of pictures, made many drawings and wrote letters to Daddy. I would collect them in a file and mail them in clumps. The mail isn’t fast but it’s something tangible for the kids to make for him and something for him to hold.


When we did have an opportunity to talk to Daddy it was a struggle. For some kids talking to Daddy made them miss him more for others it was helpful. Sometimes we had a hard day on our end and sometimes Daddy had just endured a very challenging day on his end. Trying to talk to one another without pushing our negative feelings from the day onto the person on the other end of the phone is very hard.


Another extremely difficult part of communication was choice of words. Any time my husband would down-play his role as a soldier or his being away would instantly let the wind out of my sails. For him he was trying to be humble about his service, what he was doing, and did not want to burden me with his stories and stresses during his time away. For me it sort of under minded or made light of the incredible sacrifices the children and I were enduring while he away. Being able to discuss this while he was away improved our communication and helped us during the rest of his time there.


At the end of the day it was our faith that got us through it. We prayed for each other, weprayed together. Once in awhile we were able to FaceTime during a meal so we could do a quasi family meal. Somehow doing those regular daily things as a family made it seem like Daddy wasn’t so far away.

What helps your family get through challenging times? If you are a military family how do you cope with deployments? What tips work well for your family?


More Crazy DIY Cardboard Costumes

Last June I set out to make some fairly large cabbage costumes but didn’t want to involveScreen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.01.36 PM chicken wire or other things like that. When it comes to costume making (& most other things) I try to use what I’ve got and well, the Menne’s have plenty of purple cardboard boxes (thanks to my obsession with I have already done Lego costumes with cardboard boxes so how card can it be right?

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.02.25 PMAnyway, I searched the internet doing my homework to see if it was possible to take a rectangular box and turn it into a ball and wouldn’t ya know it’s totally possible and even easy! In fact making these cabbage costumes inspired two of our family halloween costumes BB8 and the head of R2D2. (more info on how I did that below the how to section).



How to:

Supplies: Cardboard boxes, box cutter, duct tape (FYI the real stuff holds better trust me), marker, tape measure.

Optional supplies: Papier-mâché mix (flour, water, glue), newspaper, spray paint.

1. Find some boxes. I honestly break down boxes flat and store them for rainy day play or random costumes.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.02.50 PM

2. Open the boxes flat and determine the size of pieces you’ll need. Be sure you cut the pieces so the corrugated flutes are going left to right. This is so you can get the pieces to bend to create the round ball shape.
Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 4.43.52 PM

Think of a beach ball. The pieces need to be long enough to fit the person you are making it for and need to be able to be rounded to connect. Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 4.39.20 PM

3. Draw the shape the size you like. I have used pencils, markers and sharpies and tend to like the regular Crayola type markers because those marks are easier to cover up later on.

4. Cut your first strip carefully. (I like to put more cardboard under the piece I’m cutting on when cutting in the house. Otherwise I’d advice cutting on the lawn to avoid scratches on your flooring.)

5. Use that strip as a template to trace and cut more strips. The number of strips you’ll need depends on the size and look you are going for. More strips do make it a bit bigger but more thin strips make a much rounder ball shape. (I learned that the hard way.) I have used anywhere from 8-12 strips on various projects.

6. Roll the strips to make a curve. This is where the corrugated flutes come into play. I tend to use the edge of a countertop to help save my hands some of the work. Making the shapes slightly rounded helps when taping the pieces together.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 4.05.39 PM

7. Now for the fun part. Tape 2 strips together. The side with the smaller flat end will be your ‘head’ end and the other end with the larger flat end will be the ‘leg’ end.


This was my first ball and in retrospect made the strips far too wide.

8. Continue to add strips on one at a time using the duct tape to connect. If you feel the need you can tape from both the inside and outside. It truly depends on how sturdy you wish for the ball to be.


I used packaging tape for my first ball and can assure you duct tape is superior.

9. Finally decide where to put them and cut arm holes. (even if you don’t think you need them it’s a good idea for safety incase the person inside falls over they can catch themselves a bit).

10. Adjust the head hole and the leg holes. I like to use a stake knife to cut these because it seems to cut through tape and cardboard a bit better than the box cutters. I also tape the edges of the head and leg holes to add comfort for the wearer.


My first two costumes were from a large box from our new wash machine


11. Use newspaper or whatever paper to Papier-mâché the exterior of the ball. I use the packaging paper from my purchases…and no I get no perks for promoting them I just love to shop purple)


Drying the layer of papier-mâché

12. Paint it. I like to spray paint because it’s quick.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.02.16 PM

This one has ‘leaves’ to look like a cabbage.

13. Make it your own! You can go nuts adding whatever detail you want.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.01.47 PM

My first go at this I made two of the cabbage costumes.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.03.00 PM

The smiling cabbage is my second cardboard ball costume.

Star Wars Cardboard Costumes

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.02.39 PM

R2D2 & BB8


I used the same directions as shown above to make the body of BB8. I then made a smaller ball shape and cut it to the right size for BB8’s head. I then inverted the portion I had cut off and placed it inside the ‘head’ and then hot-glued a bike helmet into. I also hot glued straws wrapped in duct tape for the antenna. I hand painted the details on BB8 which got old real fast. 😦


BB8’s head.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.51.22 PM

Spray painted with matte white and then penciled in the details before painting.


I started with a 14″ Sono tube from Menard’s but you can find those types of concrete tubes at your local hardware store. I cut it to the right size for my son, cut a couple arm holes and then spray painted it. I used blue duct tape, gray duct tape and a couple sharpie’s to add all of the detail.

For the head I used a similar process as I did for the BB8 head but used more strips to create the looks of R2’s head. I ran out of hot glue so I actually used duct tape to tape the bike helmet in the R2 head.  I then found metallic spray paint at my local hardware store Bender’s True Value. Once again I used blue duct tape for details and cut a few holes to look the part and also serve as a safety feature for him to look out when he wanted to pull his head in.  Finally I got some pieces of foam from Menard’s and cut them to look like R2D2’s legs and then duct taped the heck out of them. Finally I added straws to look like the wires. The boys both loved their costumes.


I seem to enjoy the challenge DIY costumes and hope you can have fun with the process too.

Happy costume making friends!

Yummy Fresh Bread (step-by-step)

I love to bake and with a big family we eat a lot of bread. I started making our bread a number of years ago and have tried a few recipes and methods and have settled on this one. For me baking loaves of bread is super cheap, easy and very enjoyable. I promise it’s easier than you think. Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh baked bread?!?!? This just might be your gateway to homemade pizza & cinnamon rolls. 😉

If you are a regular reader you know I am an Aldi shopper. They sell yeast packets which make this super easy. I buy my bread flour in bulk at Sam’s club but it’s also sold at Walmart in large bags. (I have found the cheapest price is at Sam’s though) Aldi also carries sugar, salt and shortening. You can find bread pans at your local thrift store or buy them new at your favorite store. I find the thrift stores have nicer pans and a good selection of size. If you are really ambitious you can order larger bread pans & bread bags online. I have 4 larger pans myself but don’t order bags anymore. (They were great, I’m just too cheap)

Traditional White Bread

What you need:

Bread Flour (If you are curious as to why bread flour here you go: Baking 101)

White Sugar


Lard/Crisco/Shortening (you may substitute with butter or vegetable oil)


#2 9×5 pans

cooking spray

clear wrap or a light cloth


Large bowl


I like to start by measuring out all of my ingredients. I use small custard cups and a couple pyrex liquid measuring cups to hold the ingredients. I also like to line them up in order of use. 

  • 2 packets of active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 Cups warm water (110 degrees F )
  • 3 Tablespoons of white sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons shortening melted
  • 6 1/2 Cups of Bread Flour

Step-by-Step Directions

1. Measure out your ingredients

image image

2. Spray the inside of the large mixing bowl


3. Attach a dough hook to your stand mixer (you can use a wooden spoon but I assure you the stand mixer will make this much easier)

4. Empty the 2 packets of yeast into a stand mixing bowl (or large mixing bowl)

5. Pour in the sugar


6. Pour in the warm water.


7. Start the mixer on ‘stir’ or the lowest setting. Let it mix/stir until the yeast and sugar dissolve.


8. Add the shortening and salt


9. Add the flour 2 cups at a time until it reaches a ‘dough’ consistency. 


10. It takes roughly 6 minutes to kneed in the stand mixer.


11. Turn it out onto a floured surface. (I use a large cutting board (18×20 3/4″) I found at Ikea). 


12. Kneed it by hand until smooth and elastic. (I tend to do about 4 turns and it’s ready; however, if you are not using a stand mixer you will need to kneed it by hand for about 8 minutes or so)

*You want to be able to push on it with a finger and it bounces back rather than leaving an indent.


13. Make the dough into a ball and place it in the greased bowl.


14. Cover with clear wrap or a light towel. Let it sit for an hour. It will double in size. 

15. Spray your bread pans with cooking spray (be thorough so the bread doesn’t get stuck)



16. Punch down the dough.

17. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.


18. Cut the dough in half and place one piece in each of the bread pans. 


*You can roll it up, tuck it under or just drop it in. The appearance is up to you. I used to make 2 batches (1 white and 1 wheat) and then make a swirled loaf but my kids prefer the plain white bread.

19. Cover the loaves with loosely clear wrap or with a light cloth (you want it to have the space to rise so don’t let the clear wrap get too tight)


20. Let the loaves rise for 45 minutes

21. Move your oven racks down to allow for room for the bread to rise and then preheat the oven to 425 degrees F

22. Remove the clear wrap or light cloth and place in the oven. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes

23. Remove from the oven and place them on their sides. As they cool remove the bread from the pan and then place on the other side to cool. (This is so it doesn’t get too moist on the sides)


24. Slice and enjoy!


This may seem like a long process based on how I laid it out here but I assure you that it gets faster and easier each and every time you make it. I started out taking my time and needing to read everything step by step but now I don’t need a recipe anymore and it goes so fast. Give it a whirl!

Adventures with Daddy!


I know, I know…we all have the best Daddy’s. But really, my children have been blessed with THE Best-est Daddy that ever was. He is the Daddy that say, “I’m NOT babysitting, it’s my own kids!” He’s a cuddler, he reads stories and he loves to put them to bed and snuggle. He has a busy schedule being a student at Bethel University (getting another Master’s degree), the mayor our community, and weekend warrior (soldier in the MN Army National Guard) and working a full-time job. Despite his demanding schedule providing for our family he still makes the time to be there for the kids and today was no exception. He works downtown Minneapolis so he leaves for work before the kids are awake and gets home in time for a late dinner. The kids don’t understand what a commute means and certainly don’t understand rush hour traffic being our town is so small there aren’t even stoplights. So this morning the kids awoke to something fun and very sweet to connect with Daddy today.

Two of the boys ‘friends’ (Donatello the Ninja Turtle & Scott the dog) went to work with Daddy this morning! Mom got texts all morning so the kids could follow along. Every time my phone made a ‘Tweet’ sound they ran to see what Donatello & Scott were up to! It was a big hit.