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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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iTri

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I tri. Yup, I am a triathlete although I really don’t feel like an athlete most days. I sometimes feel as exhausted as an athlete at the end of the day but certainly don’t fancy myself an Athlete with a capital “A.” As I have mentioned before I try to stay active and do races here and there but by no means do I have the body of an athlete. I race with my mom-bod just fine. 😉

12 years ago while living in Colorado I worked with a super amazing woman who competed in Ironman Triathlons and I was inspired by her to give one a try. No not an Ironman! Not even a full olympic length triathlon. My goal was to complete a sprint triathlon so I had to train. I started running (pushing my jogging stroller with my princess) in the mornings. I had to go early enough as to not get hit by all of the morning lawn sprinklers & there were lots of hills but I did it. I biked pulling a trailer but didn’t train much for the swim until later. After moving to Minnesota in June of 2006 I started to train for open water swim in a nearby lake. I felt ready but was still pretty nervous so convinced my husband and brother-in-law to join me and form a team to compete in a sprint tri.  Team Menne successfully completed the North Mankato Triathlon!  I swam, my brother in law biked and my husband ran. I felt really good after my swim….really good..so much so that I decided I could do the whole thing on my own. A couple of weeks later I completed in my first solo triathlon, the Elysian Rookie’s Triathlon. It was a bit different from the other one but I liked it! I was hooked!

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Since my first tri in 2006 I have tried to complete 4-5 tri’s a season and run a few 5k’s in between. Living in Minnesota there are plenty of lakes for swimming and I have been lucky enough to live in an area where there are lots of tri’s to pick from. I have a few a have done each year and then a few I have tried for something different.

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Over the years I have learned a few things and gotten into my own way of racing. Here is the quick and dirty.

  • First and foremost it’s fun for me. As long as it remains fun I will continue to do them.
  • It’s challenging but doable. My only goal is to finish although sometimes I get pretty competitive and push myself to be stronger. I don’t have the time or resources to train like the elites and I’m ok with that.
  • 10 years later I am still a rookie. Yup, a rookie. Just because I have done lots of sprint tri’s doesn’t mean I am good them. I’ve never won 1st, 2nd or 3rd place in my category although I have gotten close a few times. Again, I am totally okay with it. I’m not a serious racer.
  • It’s what you make of it. I have a hybrid type of bike so it’s not a mountain bike but it’s not a road bike…I guess it’s in between. I don’t have bike shoes and I don’t wear a wet suit. I’m pretty old school I guess. 😉 Again, I am ok with not having the awesome equipment. I just leave that to the pros.
  • Pre-race jitters never go away. Some of these races I do each year so I already know what to expect and am familiar with the race route yet still get the jitters. It’s a bit frustrating because I KNOW I have no reason to be nervous but my body has other ideas. It is what it is. :/
  • There are always other rookies and newbies. I really enjoy meeting other racers and love that the sport is so inviting of new people. First timers get so much great advice and support of more experienced racers. (Just don’t touch or knock over their expensive bikes).
  • It’s a family affair. Our kids do kids tri’s and enjoy them. Our oldest just competed with my husband and I as a relay team. It was his first adult race and he did well. My hope is that my racing instills an active lifestyle in our children.
  • Register Early! The cost varies from race to race and gets more expensive as the date gets closer so I have learned to plan out what races I can do and get registered early. It not only ensures you have a spot to race it also keeps the cost down.

Here’s some feedback on some of my favorite races:

North Mankato Tri (North Mankato, MN) 1/4 Mile Swim/2 Mile Bike/3 Mile Run | This is a well run race. The swim is in Hiniker Pond making it less scary for those who are uneasy about an open water swim. It’s a wave start but not too bad. The bike is very challenging with a few big hills but never fear, you get to come back down those hills. The run is nice and flat with plenty of water stops. The swag bag is usually pretty good too. Over the years this race has grown and has attracted more serious competition but still has some rookie participants. Overall a great race and well run.

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Elysian Rookie Tri (Elysian) .4 Mile Swim/8 Mile Bike/4 Mile Run | Who doesn’t love a race with “Rookie” in the name?? This is a lovely short sprint tri. This race is also a wave start but has plenty of space on the beach to spread out. The swim is a bit longer than others but the bike is short with ‘rolling’ hills. The run although longer than the typical 5k is flat on the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail. It’s a very organized local race. I highly recommend this race to anyone who has EVER thought of completing a tri. As a rookie tri they allow life jackets, snorkel or whatever (as long as it does propel you) which makes it less daunting for first timers. Although there are some serious racers who participate in this event it is really fun and full of supportive triathletes.

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River City Days Tri (Chaska, MN) .3 Mile Swim/ 16 Mile Bike/ 3 Mile Run | This is my favorite race but hasn’t happened two years in a row. (They took a year off for construction at the venue and then this year had to cancel due to low registration-big bummer). I love this race because it’s challenging but such an amazing course! The swim is at Fireman’s Park and has a time-trial start. The line may seem long with that type of start but gosh the rest of the race route is far more enjoyable with everyone more spread out. The bike is challenging being a longer one with some hills but it’s a beautiful route through the countryside. Be warned the bike route does go over train tracks! There is always a pile of water bottles in that area and I myself lost my speedometer on those darn things. Anyway, the run starts uphill but you get to run back down that hill flying right to the finish line. They have great music, and emcee AND you get breakfast after the race! Ahh-mazing!! This race entices many hard-core triathletes and has filled up fast.

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Lakefront Days Tri (Prior Lake, MN) 1/4 Mile Swim/ 14 Mile Bike/ 3.3 Mile Run | This race is ultra organized with tons of volunteers to ensure it goes smoothly. It’s not super easy to get in and out because it’s a Clearly Lake Regional Park but it is a nice venue for the event. They have an emcee, great music, delicious post race meal and race professionals on hand to assist with any bike issues you might have. The race begins with time-trial start and has a great swim course. The bike is out on an open course so pay attention to traffic. The run is mostly on the parks paved trail and ends with a nice open area for the crowd to cheer you through to the finish line. The volunteers make sure you get enough water at the stops and every finisher receives a medal. The race was cancelled last year and I hope it starts up again next year.

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Lake Waconia Tri (Waconia, MN) 1/2 Mile Swim/20 Mile Bike /4 Mile Run | This is a very challenging race because the 1/2 mille swim can be a bit much on a windy day. A number of swimmers need to be rescued. The bike seems long but is a beautiful route around the lake. The run is out and back on city streets with lots of people cheering you on. This is a big race with LOTS of competitive racers but still fun.

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Green Lake Tri (Spicer, MN) Sprint Course: 1/4 mile swim /13.4 mile bike/3 mile run
Olympic Course: 3/4 mile swim/21.3 mile bike/6 mile run | This race is filled with competitive racers and offers both a sprint course and an olympic length course. It’s a very fun event and the route is beautiful! Green Lake is a larger lake so the swim can be a bit scary especially when there are whitecaps. The bike route goes around the lake and the run is on a nice wide road for plenty of space for runners. This is a big race and so much fun. They do a great job of making this race a weekend full of fun. It’s worth making it a full trip staying the whole weekend in Spicer.

If completing a tri is something you have always wanted to do I encourage you to try one. You can do it! It’s not about wining, it’s about crossing the finish line. I have done them pregnant, post baby and everything in between. It CAN be done. Be active and have fun!

With God all things are Possible. ~Matthew 19:26

Patriotic DIY’s For Summer


Summer is here and independence day is right around the corner. What better time for a couple patriotic DIY’s right?

Patriotic Door Hang

The first one I made to use as a door hang for our front door but it could really be used anywhere. I liked it so much a made a few more as gifts for family.

Patriotic candle

The second DIY craft I made just to add to the table to complement the rustic looking flag bunting we have hanging on our mantle.

letter: I got the letter from Hobby Lobby for about $4. The paints are about $1 each and can be found at most craft stores. I was going for a rustic look so I used country red, uniform blue and white wash. If you are like me you have a drawer filled with various colors from other craft projects. The stars are actually stick on stars from the craft section of Hobby Lobby but I have seen them at other stores as well. They were $2.99 for a bag which was enough to make 3 letters although it depends on how you want to configure yours. I used painters tape to ensure straight lines and again I did have a few rolls of that in a drawer. (I was shocked to discover the kids hadn’t commandeered it yet. It seems kids inevitably find any and all tape in our house…) I added some twine which can be found at the dollar store in the craft aisle.

  1. Draw lines in the upper right hand corner to create a square of sorts.
  2. Paint that square blue & then let dry.
  3. Use painters tape to create vertical stripes.
  4. Paint white stripes in between the painters tape. Be sure to remember the sides as well.
  5. Before the white is dried carefully pull off the tape. (if you wait until it dries it tends to clump and pull the paint off with it…just trust me on this one)
  6. Allow time for the white stripes to fully dry.
  7. Paint the red stripes carefully using a thin brush. It’s easy to fix any mis-haps with the white if need be. Again don’t forget to paint the edges.
  8. After all the paint is dried apply the white stars as you desire. As a DIY Art/Deco project you have free reign to use your artistic desires no need to over analyze the placement of a few stars. 🙂
  9. After everything is completed and dried I wrapped a few pieces of twine/Jute around the line that separates the blue from the red/white stripes. You can tie a knot on the front or hide the knot in the back. Either way looks great.
  10. I choose to hang mine with some burlap ribbon that had stars on it but you can also use the twine/Jut. I think the hanging method depends upon the letter some are more symmetrical and hand easier than others. When I made a letter “C” I used the twine/Jute. I used a regular stapler to attach the ribbon and twine for hanging.
  11. Hang and admire your work. 😉

Candle: The table decor is super simple and super cheap. I already had the glass jars on hand left from table decor I used for a party. They can be found at the dollar store. The candles I used are also from the dollar store but really any candle could be used. The burlap ribbon is from Hobby Lobby and was about $6. The twine/jute is again from the dollar store. The sand is actually from our sandbox but you could also use rocks which are available at the dollar store in the craft aisle. I made two of them to decorate our dinner table.

  1. Measure & cut your ribbon. Make sure you have enough to go around the jar and overlap but.
  2. Measure and cut your twine/Jute with the same idea in mind.
  3. Fold one end of the ribbon and make sure that part is on top when you wrap the ribbon around the jar.
  4. Wrap the twine/jute around the ribbon on the jar and tie to hold the ribbon on. (You could use hot glue here if you wanted too but I tend to reuse items and wanted to be able to remove these in the future.)
  5. Cut a small circle out of cardboard.
  6. Use a lighter to melt a small portion of the bottom of the candle then while still hot gently press it onto the cardboard. This creates a holder of sorts.
  7. Put your candle/cardboard into the car and pour the sand in. The sand will help hold the candle in place.
  8. Enjoy!

Please share your ideas/feedback in the reply section of this post. Happy crafting!

My Menne Favorite Things….

I am not Oprah and certainly don’t claim to be but I like the idea of sharing a list of my favorite things. As a busy Mom I know how important some ‘things’ are and how much they can save time, money and well, my sanity sometimes.

My ‘Menne’ Favorite Things (in no particular order)

  • Magic Erasers Let’s face it..with kids in the house you are going to get a few Picaso’s on your walls every now and then. These things are amazing! I keep a box on hand at all times.
  • Good ol’ fashion Bleach. I have 6 boys so bleaching is a necessity. If you ask any of my children they will tell you “Mommy loves to wash my clothes.” Although I do love being their Mommy and enjoy a clean house that doesn’t mean I enjoy cleaning it and washing clothes all day. I guess they may be looking for a good excuse as to why they decided to use their sleeves as a napkin. I get the generic bleach at the dollar store of target.
  • Any leap product is awesome in my book. The leap videos like The Word Factory and Math Circus are great for learning and entertainment. I am not going to lie, my kids watch TV. If they are going to watch I feel much less guilty if it’s educational and these programs are just right.
  • Carpet Spray is another must have for my home. Kids spill, accidents happen but knowing that I can spray the stain and make it all go away is fantastic! I can carpet spray at the dollar store and that works just as well as the more costly brand name carpet spray.
  • Speaking of accidents…sickness is inevitable. When the bug is going around you never know when or where someone might vomit or well…something might sneak out the other end. 🙂 For all of those incidents I love lysol disinfectant spray. It smells wonderful and provides peace of mind that the germs are being killed.
  • The Perfect Sweeper is a must have right next to my Simplicity vacuum. Our house isn’t a massive soap opera estate but I vacuum it so frequently and got sick of going through so many cheap vacuums we finally went a step up and got the Simplicity and I don’t regret it one bit. To cut down on how often I use the vacuum my hubby bought us a perfect sweeper which is great for the kitchen to get the crumbs and cheerios which find themselves on my floors daily. The perfect sweeper is light and rechargeable and my favorite part….drum roll….You DON’T have to bend over to use a dustpan!! Woo hoo :O
  • Vinegar: This stuff is so under appreciated. It has many uses! Mix vinegar with water for cleaning off the counter, add to the wash for fabric softener, and of course cooking. I buy it at Aldi or in bulk at Sam’s.
  • The Boppy is a must have. It’s great for nursing, tummy time, learning to sit up and of course as a photography prop. The boppy now comes with removable covers to help with cleaning. It’s a great shower gift and worthwhile item to buy for oneself. 🙂
  • The Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper is genius. It’s a crib that attaches to our bed! I can sleep, baby can sleep and when it’s time to nurse I don’t even have to get out of my warm bed. Win-win! AND, it converts to a regular pack-n-play when the baby grows. The Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper is seriously amazing. They sell a mini co-sleeper as well so if you don’t have as much bedroom space you still have options. (full disclosure I bought mine on craigslist because well, I am cheap..i mean thrifty)
  • Born free products are very loved in our house. The babies love the Born Free pacifiers and bottles. I like that they are free of all of those not baby friendly chemicals and the bottle and sippy parts can work together. It makes for an easy transition and helps when washing dishes. They also have teething toys my babies have loved during that phase. I find their products online as well as in Babies-R-Us stores.
  • Huggies lil’ snugglers. Yea, I’ll admit it… I used to swear by pampers but feel as if that mesh fabric on the inside tends to stick to the baby’s bottoms in some weird way. The lil’ snugglers Huggies makes doesn’t do that and still keeps my babies dry. I have made the full conversion from Pampers to Huggies. I also found the Huggies to be a bit cheaper (at Sam’s Club) than Pampers. I also use the Huggies rewards program and love being able to ‘buy’ things with those points since I am buying diapers and wipes anyway. (I have tried to use generic diapers but have ended up with leaking issues and diaper rash problems)
  • My favorite lotion isn’t some scented spendy brand, it’s Goldbond Cream. It’s not greasy, it helps babies skin retain moisture and lasts long enough to keep their skin soft in between baths. (I also like Goldbond Cream for myself)
  • BOB jogging strollers are the best strollers ever. Seriously! No joke! They are also very expensive but so worth every penny. After 5 kids I had finally learned to spend the money to get the best stroller rather than trying to save money and get something that isnt’ exactly what I want or need. The BOB has single and dual options as well as breaks, no breaks, swivel or stationary front tires, etc. Endless options really. I have a BOB duallie and love that I can collapse it down to fit in the back of the van and still feel the kids are safe when it’s opened up. (I don’t have to remove tires, etc.) I can pop it up and clip it together quickly. I use it for running, walking, shopping…It’s more than just a jogging stroller. The tires are inflatable so they go well over various terrain, it has optional cup/snack holders, enough storage for me AND my storage includes a zipper so my phone or keys don’t fall out when running. The canopy is great on the duallie because each child has their own and it can go all the way down to accommodate the fussiest of kiddos. It has great shock absorption so I feel comfortable pushing my little ones when I clip the infant carrier into it. (Also worth mentioning, there are many options for clipping in infant carriers to accommodate all the brands). Living in Minnesota I also opted to purchase a shade/mosquito cover that keeps the babies away from the elements. We purchased ours from REI using our membership discount you can also find them at places like Target and used ones are on craigslist.
  • Bebe au lait: It’s the original hooter hider and I love it. I have 4 or 5 of them and use them regularly. I have one in the stroller, one in the diaper bag and a few around the house. They are so wonderful to be able to cover when needed but I can see baby and baby can see me.
  • Ergo Baby Carriers: I have tried a few different brands and styles throughout my years of babies and have found my Ergo to be the best for babies. I have a larger backpack style for hiking with toddlers but this one is amazing for babies. It’s so comfortable! I love the infant insert for newborns. I use it all the time when they are tiny to get things done around the house and they sleep so nicely in it. As they get bigger they transition well to using the carrier without the insert and then can ride on my back as well. I also got mine at REI with a discount coupon but they are also at Target and vary in price and style.
  • Nissan NV Passenger : When are family was too large to fit in our suburban and we didn’t really wanna drive two suburban’s everywhere we started researching a larger vehicle. We weren’t excited about the standard 16 passenger van so we looked into the Ford and Nissan vans. After reading too many reviews to count and watching many video reviews we test drove both the Nissan and Ford and although there is a large discrepancy in the cost we feel in love with the Nissan. It fits up to 12 people, the seats can move around (and I can even lift them), it comes with a backup camera, it drives like a truck, it has USB outlets and lots of storage. We opted for the 3500 for the larger engine for towing purposes. I love it. Oh, and I forgot to mention-the window on the opposite side of the sliding door opens! It’s great to have that option.

What are your favorite things? There is no such thing as too Menne or too many 😉 so PLEASE SHARE!

 

Yet Another John Deere Birthday

 

It was no surprise to me when my tractor lovin’ little boy told me he wanted his 4th birthday to be a ‘John Deere Birthday’ theme. He and my 6 year old son both had already enjoyed John Deere birthday parties in the past so I already had some John Deere decorations in my stash of supplies. (Frankly, my older boys had done repeated Thomas the Train birthday parties year after year so this was pretty common place in the Menne house…AND saves $ to reuse items!) I got out all of the John Deere party supplies and started planning with the almost 4 year old. He quickly decided he wanted a “big John Deere combine cake!” I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like because the thought of making an actual combine seemed overwhelming. I asked him about a sheet cake with a combine ON it or making one with frosting but he wanted a “real big combine” so to the world wide web I went hunting through images of John Deere cakes until I stumbled on this amazing blog A Quiet Life in a Loud House which had not only the best, most amazing John Deere combine cake but also had awesome DIRECTIONS!!!! I was over the moon excited to give it a try. Her photos were great and explanation was perfect. I have to give her credit for the whole thing! Decorations I used leftover John Deere napkins, party hats, balloons, crepe paper and signs from last year’s party. I got a green table cloth, green and yellow napkins, yellow cups, yellow plates and green plastic silverware all from the dollar store. I also found green and yellow ‘grass’ that is used for Easter baskets but it wasn’t the plastic kind so I grabbed a couple of those bags to fill glass cylinders to add to the color. I had white and yellow flowers left over from a baptism celebration the previous week which also were great to add to the tables. The last thing I did was raid the toy room to use the small John Deere toys the boys have as decorations.

The Cake I found some scrap pieces of 2×4’s in the garage and covered them with aluminum foil. I had to make sure it would fit on my round cake base. Then I baked #2 9×13 cakes. I started creating the combine cake by cutting the appropriate pieces ensuring it would fit on the wood base. I used skewers I had left over from another party to help hold pieces together. I frosted it and then added a cut bendy straw for the auger just as Lora did in her blog. I also used ding-dongs and donettes for tires and big wheels. (The boys liked eating the left-overs). I was wondering what I was going to do for the combine head but was able to find one of the boy’s toy combines had a removable combine head. Sweet! I attached it to a popsicle stick and it totally fit! I was then able to push that popsicle stick under the front of the combine to look attached to the actual cake. Needless to say I was pretty pleased with myself. I think the hardest part of was locating candy corn but my husband was able to find a bag for me. My son so so happy when we filled the hopper with the candy corn. He really thought it completed the cake. I used the rest of the cake pieces to make a square cake which worked great as a ‘tractor in the field’ kinda cake. I decided to make it look like the farmer was planting although I know plants aren’t instantly visible it was necessary for a 4 year old. I used a small toy tractor and frosting for this cake. Nothing too fancy. 😉 I made the lines on the cake with a frosting comb and used a small star tip for the ‘plants.’ Done! We ate the ‘field cake’ at our small family celebration on his actual birthday and ate the ‘big combine cake’ at his birthday party a couple days later. He liked them both and was thrilled with turning 4.

Straw Bale Gardening: Year 2

My first year of straw bale gardening was such a success I didn’t hesitate to embark on another year of straw bale gardening. My handy husband built me a lovely compost bin which was a perfect for all of last years bales. (I am looking forward to having fertile soil to fill pots with.) He used some 2×4’s we already had in the garage and some chicken wire leftover from last summer.

Set up this year was far less work that last year. We bought some new straw bales ($5 per bale) and lined them up where the old bales were. I actually added a few more bales but was still able to use the same area which was great. We added some new mulch between the bales to freshen it up a bit and then put the soaker hose back on and got the timer all ready.

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Oh, and my amazing hubby put the supports on which can be seen in the photo below. (It is something he built last summer to help stabilize the bales because as they decompose they fall apart.)

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I have already started the conditioning process for my 2016 garden. Tip: Be sure your bales are right side up. You should see the ends of the straw rather than the folded pieces. Once you have them all upright you can begin the process which involves sprinkling fertilizer on each bale followed by a good water. This is all explained in great detail in the book, Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten. (He also has the book Straw Bale Gardens Complete available on his website.)

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After applying the fertilizer the bales need a good watering. This also helps to push the fertilizer down into the bales and before you know it they’ll be cookin’. The kids are great helpers and love to lend a hand. The older kids each wear a digital watch which makes it easy for them to keep track of how many minutes they are watering each bale. (You can see my strawberries pushing through the mulch already)

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I am pretty excited to branch out and try some new veggies this time around. My plan is plant more of the items I need for canning in the fall to prevent buying from the store. I am also excited for the kids to learn more about growing onions, garlic, & potatoes. Most of the plants we will be growing can start from seeds planting right away on day 12; however, there are a few that must be started indoors first. I used this as an opportunity to teach my preschooler and toddler about gardening from seeds. My 2 and 4 year olds were great helpers and really enjoyed getting to play in the dirt, (and with the popsicles sticks of course).

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I’m looking forward to planting May 1st and (impatiently) watching for our first plants to sprout up. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

Straw Bale Gardening

With a big family like ours it’s great to find ways to save money and as an educator I also like things that help teach our children valuable life lessons so when our local librarian showed me a book on straw bale gardening I was all-in! She knew our house was built on very rocky land and therefore the soil is difficult for growing anything, including grass! She and I agreed this method would mitigate that problem so I checked out both of the books our library had on the subject, Straw Bale Gardens and Straw Bale Gardens Complete both by Joel Karsten. I read the books and was so glad I did because as with most instructions, you must read the WHOLE THING before starting or you’ll miss steps. It was also helpful to be able to ask questions when I attended a seminar by Joel Karsten at our local library. (I bought my own copy of Straw Bale Gardens too). image Living in a rural area it wasn’t too difficult to find someone selling straw bales for a decent price. I think I paid $5 per bale from a farmer who also insisted we take some farm fresh eggs . (Be sure you get STRAW bales NOT hay bales. There is a big difference!!) Then I had to decide where to put the garden. The book explains ideal locations and with that information I decided to use the area by our garage to get the most sunlight. It is slightly sloped so I had to make sure to put the line of bales the correct direction to avoid the bales tipping over. I also had to get underground lines marked so when we begin digging we don’t accidentally hit anything. I measured and marked off the area placing some rocks around the entire area. Then I laid down chicken wire, covered that with a layer of landscape fabric,  and placed the bales in a line. Finally in between the rows of bales I put down a layer of mulch. This required a great deal of mulch. I ended up using a full load from the back of a pick-up truck rather than bags of mulch. It was far more cost effective (and a great workout to shovel out). My husband placed the poles at each end of the bales and then I put up the wires for the plastic to hang on to create the greenhouse. The wires are also great for the vines to climb up. image It was a bit of work to get the garden set up but wasn’t too cumbersome. I was still pretty excited to start the conditioning process. I followed the instructions found in the book sprinkling fertilizer on each bale and watering them. My husband and I placed a soaker hose across the tops of the bales and got it hooked up with a timer so the watering the garden would be a snap. By day 12 I was ready for planting and was sure of this because when I stuck a thermometer into the bales they were hot!! I had already planned out the garden so I had the seeds, plants and map of what was going to be planted in each bale.

I had lots of little helpers for the planting. They helped plant the strawberry plants and tomato plants which go directly into the bales-no dirt! I put a layer of dirt on the tops of the bales that would be seeded. Then the bigger kids helped plant the seeds on those bales. Finally we placed clear plastic over the rows of bales which created a green house of sorts. We used rope and bungie cords to help keep the plastic from blowing away. As the plants grew we moved the plastic up. The kids loved watching the seeds sprout and the plants grow.

I planted May 1st and the garden was still producing tomatoes through the month of October! I had more than enough tomatoes and cucumbers. It was more than I knew what to do with so I decided to give canning a try.

 

I made spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa and pickles. It was enough to last the entire winter so it was definitely worth with the work. The kids were excited that we had our own pumpkins too!image.jpg Since embarking on straw bale gardening I have had many people stop by and ask about it. I suppose it looks odd to see such a garden. I have also had many people call, text or contact me via social media to ask questions. I am NOT a green thumb and often struggle to keep house plants so a successful garden was a surprise for me. If you think you want to do this you should. It’s a great way to get fresh produce regardless of the soil conditions you may have AND there is NO WEEDING!!   Happy gardening!!