One week ago today, social media was flooded with photos of our nation’s heroes: our veterans. Our neighbors, family members, co-workers and friends, proudly wearing their military uniforms in moments taking place throughout the world.

There’s a reason I didn’t share this story that day… because I want to see more of those posts and pictures EVERY DAY, not just Veterans Day.

Think about your typical day. Here’s mine:

  • Wake up
  • Send boys to school
  • Work
  • Eat dinner with family
  • Hot bath while reading vampire romance

Now, let’s take a closer look at that day:

  • Wake up <<in warm bed, without fear of a bombing taking place outside>>
  • Send boys to school <<because free, high-quality education is the right of every American>>
  • Work <<at a job I chose, where I have the power to pursue anything I dream of>>
  • Eat dinner with family <<with no worry of how I or my children will find food>>
  • Hot bath with vampire books <<don’t judge. I like the characters.>>

Think I’m being dramatic? I’m not. Right now in Ukraine as well as other places in our world, bombings of hospitals, churches, neighborhoods are reality. Free, high-quality education? Look up ‘Most Dangerous Ways To School’ on YouTube; it’s a beautifully made documentary series, following children around the world and the miles they walk and dangers they face daily all for the chance of education. I could go on and on and on about food, free speech, career choice, family size…. there are places in our world, right now in 2022, where the daily goal is SURVIVAL, and I was near tears Thursday morning thinking I lost an Apple earbud.

So why me? Why us? How did we get so lucky?

It’s not by chance. It’s because we live in America. And something this beautiful doesn’t come without a fight; when that fight has come, time and time again, brave men and women have stepped up to defend the ideals and foundation our country was built upon. Jeff Kilgore is one of our local heroes who has answered that call, for 32 years and counting.

Officer Kilgore is an Omaha Police School Resource Officer assigned to Westside High School. Let me preface the following by noting I have profound respect for our local police officers. As a reporter, I consistently saw acts of compassion and courage in our community law enforcement in my 15+ years of broadcast news, sometimes things no one else saw. The sheriff who held a lost child in his arms until his momma arrived. The officers searching for days for a missing child without stopping to sleep or eat. The hardcore detectives who stopped mid-investigation to buy kids a new basketball hoop or play catch with them, to hopefully, build a positive relationship and make those kids feel special.

Officer Kilgore is of that same class of men and women, sworn to serve and protect us in our communities. At Westside, he is a constant advocate for the safety of children and educators, analyzing school shootings as they happen to provide better preparation and planning for our district and others. He saved a woman’s life at a Westside football game a few years ago, immediately providing CPR when she went into cardiac arrest, keeping her alive until paramedics could take over. He is part of the Omaha Police crisis team, helping support his fellow officers involved in traumatic incidents like officer-involved shootings, and he offers his SRO experience and assistance to other school resource officers across the Omaha metro area and beyond.

All of that is impressive in and of itself, and it is only part of Officer Kilgore’s story. As a member of the US Coast Guard and Army, he served in wars in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was proud to serve in Afghanistan in 2005,” said Kilgore. “I volunteered for the mission because it seemed like the honorable thing to do and my duty. Plus, I couldn’t let my brothers and sisters in arms go without me. We lost one soldier in Bosnia, SPC Blake Kelly, and I was not going to let that happen again.”

Officer Kilgore’s description of his fellow servicemen and women is reverential; that American armed forces are the most lethal on the planet, but what makes them great are the people who wear the uniform, regardless of what that uniform may be. In Afghanistan, he was side by side with true volunteers called to battle, the men and women of the Army National Guard.

“Our job in Afghanistan was to mentor our Afghan counterparts in charge of training basic trainees just outside of Kabul,” said Kilgore. He and his fellow American soldiers took Afghans, many of whom could not read or write, and trained them in multiple languages to ensure all understood. He remembers one interpreter in particular, a man named Jawad.

“I trusted him, understood him, and enjoyed being around him,” said Kilgore. “Jawad came from a family of tailors and always tried measuring me up so he could tailor a suit for me as a symbol of his gratitude for Americans, I guess. He thought all Americans were incredibly wealthy, he loved watching western TV shows like Gilligan’s Island, and he took pride in showing me the Afghan culture, educating me in many types of Afghan meals he even made me personally.”

Kilgore and his camarades missed weddings, graduations, births and more, but felt like they had made a difference in another part of the world with people like Jawad, while working to keep terrorism away from their doorsteps, and ours. Kilgore returned to Nebraska and retired from the armed services as a Lietuenent Colonel, continuing his full-time work as a police officer with both the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office and Omaha Police.

“We took raw recruits from the hinterlands of Afghanistan, made them into warfighters, and sent them to the frontlines to fight (the Taliban) alongside their American mentors down range,” said Kilgore. “Since 9-11-2001, our Armed Forces, my brothers and sisters, provided the ability for Americans to sleep at night, knowing that we had their back and that terrorists were not going to land another punch in the mouth that was planned, organized and executed from this part of the world.”

August 2021. Officer Kilgore watched from Nebraska as the United States withdrew all remaining troops from Afghanistan. The Taliban quickly moved in, killing 13 American military members who were trying to help people escape at the Kabul airport. One of them was Marine Corporal Daegan Page, just 23. He was a son, a friend, a hometown Omaha kid, a hero. Though they had never met personally, Officer Kilgore was emotionally destroyed. A guy who was typically unshakeable was visibly shaken in the days that followed. He talked about the withdrawal, deaths of our heroes, and unknown fate of the Afghans who stood with America for 20 years. With immense respect for Officer Kilgore and the time he took to share those thoughts, I will summarize his thoughts through one quote shared September 1, 2021: “recapping the last 3 weeks has been maddening for Afghanistan veterans and current members of our military. Our country is less safe, and why? My mind often wanders to my interpreters. Jawad and I lost contact in 2005. I hope he and his family are safe but I fear the worst; he spoke very good English and that is the scarlet letter he has always careered, and will always carry with him for the rest of his life.”

Here’s why I am reluctant to share more, and why I didn’t write this article in September of 2021: I was and am physically exhausted with the political theatre that seemingly comes with every daily news cycle. I was fearful that by sharing the insight of a man who was actually there, the primary planner behind the removal of intelligence equipment in Iraq, a war veteran who has now dedicated his life to protecting children and schools, I feared that I would be opening him up to unnecessary scrutiny from armchair politicos, adding undeserved insult to his injury.

Now, more than ever, this is an important story to share. Have a you ever reached a breaking point where you throw your hands up and ask why? Why am I doing this, why have I done all of this? What’s the point?

Think of that question when you are considering the scale of sacrifice these heroes make every day, to protect the freedoms and opportunities we so take for granted. My father-in-law, a decorated Vietnam Veteran, shared EVERYTHING with my husband, but suffered things so horrific at war he never spoke about it. My former co-anchor and friend since high school Adrian Whitsett watched his friends and camarades die on the frontlines of Fallujah or after, then came home to interview folks who had an opinion about everything our military did or didn’t do. How many of our heroes missed the births of their children or their friends’ weddings? How many suffered through weeks in the desert without a shower or a warm bed, or months in the jungle with no break or hope? How many lost friends and suffered emotionally and physically for years, and still now?

It’s why I cried while making this..

And why I was so damn proud to see this..

Because these moments reinforce to me there is a why.. that our country is so beautiful and the foundation of what our forefathers created is so special, it is worth defending again, and again, and again, so our children can grow up experiencing all of the freedom and opportunity these brave men and women have made possible. Because even though sometimes it feels as though we are so damn divided as a nation, we are the UNITED States of America; perhaps our arguments are so heated because we are united in our passion about a dream that is not easy to maintain and defend. Because America IS WORTH IT.

My why for writing this now, is to show Officer Kilgore and Adrian and every veteran I see in my neighborhood and at work and on Facebook… YOUR BRAVERY MATTERS. THANK YOU. Because of you, I’m comfortably sitting on my couch writing this now. Because of you, my boys are in school, learning about the principles America was founded upon, and the brave men and women who fought to ensure they still exist today. Because of you, I GET to go to work; not have to, GET to, to share stories about kids learning, kids who will change the world because of other adults who GET TO go to work to teach and love them. I get go, I can, I have the opportunity…. because I live in America. Because of the heroes who defend America and what our country stands for.

Who are we? What are we here for? How do we define AMERICA?

“Isaiah 6:8 reads: Then I hear the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am, send me!’,” said Kilgore. “Hopefully, that is enough in the end.”

Veterans Day. Every day. To our veterans, our true American heroes, I salute you.

Wanderlust: All I Know So Far

I have the COVID. I am in hell. Not the physical pain/vomiting kind of hell… but that bottomless pit of boredom, guilt and nausea that keeps you isolated from your family and depressed in your own thoughts.

Wow – ok, maybe I’m going a little too far. I’m on Day 11 and despite what the internet told me (‘by Day 7, you should be feeling better!’) I still can’t be up and moving around for more than a few minutes without feeling a whoosh of heat in my face and that feeling that something might come up at any minute, or without having a coughing fit so bad it literally takes me a few minutes to find solid breath again.

So here I am, back in bed, surrounded by pill bottles and my two canine nurses. (As far as they’re concerned, this is THE BEST. THING. EVER.) More than once, I’ve thought ‘if I were just near the ocean. If I could just breathe in that air and feel that sun – that’s all the medicine I’d need.’

Brian and I will retire by the water someday… but we still want to see more. We love to travel. As much as I have loved returning to some of our favorite destinations, there’s always a desire to venture somewhere new, where we haven’t yet explored. Belize – Fiji – Greece – Ireland. Maine – Montana – Alaska – Utah. So for a little while here… I hope you’ll indulge me in closing my eyes and remembering the beauty in my favorite, most memorable spots in our world… so far. Maybe you’ll be inspired to head to one of these, and maybe (hopefully!) you’ll leave me a note about where I can dream of heading next.

Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has some of the warmest, natural water I have ever felt. The ocean is like bath water. We spent a lot of time in the Atlantic there and learned of it’s many personalities… the powerful beach waves that pulled literal tons of seaweed to the shore. The serene, waist deep pools that hosted our catamaran party, along with hundreds of others. And the angry Atlantic that violently rocked our deep sea fishing boat… and my near-overboard body as I retched up my breakfast over the side. On this trip the men golfed, the women shopped, we did all the excursions.. and by our final full day I was exhausted. Brian begged me to come with him to a spot down the beach from our rental.. our friends and travel companions Shea and Sandy Connolly said we HAD to visit this place after they happened upon it while exploring our area.

If we weren’t looking for it, we might’ve missed it. Hidden away from the obvious destination of the beach, and past the creepy ass ghost resort, abandoned by investors decimated during the 2008 Recession. The only indication we were in the right place was a small shedlike hut that served as the ‘welcome center’. From the tiny gravel parking lot, you walked into this little jungle, much like Fontenelle Forest for my O-Town readers, just with different types of trees. Dirt worn path, random branches you had to duck around or under.. I mean, yeah, it was quiet and neat.. but what was the big deal? Then… the trees opened up to one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen… this hidden, turquoise pool in the middle of nowhere. The pictures here just don’t do it justice – it was magical. It was so quiet… so still. How did no one know about this hidden Eden? Benches and a little overlook had been built randomly at spots along the trail.. with both a board or rope swing to propel yourself into the pool. The most amazing was still to come… we jumped in, and the water was absolutely crystal clear. That pool was easily 20-feet deep.. but you could see EVERYTHING. Absolutely everything, all the way to the bottom. It was truly an unforgettable moment.. one of those, ‘is this real life?’ memories for both us.

The beaches of Kona, Hawaii at sunset

Hilton Waikoloa Village

Brian had always wanted to go to Hawaii – he’d been talking about it since we first met. So when our good friends Scott and Megan Phillips decided to renew their wedding vows, we jumped at the chance to join them (side note for guilt-ridden moms: we were parents of one 20-month old at the time, who stayed with his adored Nana and Papa. He ate brisket, went to the toy store, spent his days at the park. I missed him terribly – he didn’t give two toots I was gone!)

Of the eight islands of Hawaii, we visited the Big Island, the largest and most southeastern of the state. Our resort was the SPRAWLING Hilton Waikoloa Village on the northwest side, where Megan had stayed with her family as a child. When I say sprawling… I mean you took a tram to get from one part of the 62-acre complex to the other. I loved the pools. I loved the Lava Flows. I loved our company. I loved the shopping, the turtles, the volcano, the convertible drive past waterfalls and farms and ocean. But nothing compared to our breathtaking nighttime tradition.. watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, while a man ran up the length of our entire coastline, lighting beach-set torches along the way. It was sheer perfection for every part of our being; the colors of the setting sun like brush strokes against the water and palm trees, the sound of the ocean lapping against the shore, the smell of nothing but purity, the feeling of being there to witness it with my own eyes, alongside my husband. Megan and Scott chose one of those Kona sunsets to renew their love for one another after 10 years of marriage, with Brian and I watching a few yards away.


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The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon, Arizona, circa June 1999

I’ve never questioned there is a God. I’ve prayed to God since I was a little girl. But the first time I remember truly being blown away by the awesomeness of what our God has created was when I saw the Grand Canyon in person. I remember specifically thinking.. ‘how can anyone who sees this ever doubt we have a God?’

No descriptive memories here.. I visited the Grand Canyon while attending High School Speech Nationals in Phoenix the year I graduated from Papillion-La Vista. That day it was just me, my incredible speech coach (and PLCS Hall of Fame Inductee) Bev Ruff, Assistant Coach Mary Birky, and a fellow competitor from Bellevue East, my roommate for the trip. I remember sitting on the beautiful red rocks and staring… just staring.. awestruck by the sheer vastness, the enormity, the beauty that seemed to go on forever in every direction.

Anna Maria Island, Florida

Gulf of Mexico, Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island, Florida

This picture is imprinted in my heart. This was the first time our boys saw and felt the ocean; Brian captured this moment as Easton and Evan stood together in the warm Gulf waters, silent, just staring.

Take your children to the ocean. Take them to Anna Maria Island.

Brian’s cousins, Nick and Vicki Zec, own a beautiful vacation property, Alecassandra Vacation Villas, in Bradenton Beach. This tiny island off the coast of Sarasota is only 7 miles long and a few blocks wide, surrounded by bay and ocean. ABSOLUTELY PERFECT for families; we stay in a beautiful 2-bedroom where the boys have their own space and we have ours, with a kitchen, living room and pool. You hit the one island grocery store to stock up for the week, walk to the beach every day, and zoom around on your golf cart for putt putt, ice cream and the unique Mom & Pop shops. It is truly magical. It’s where Brian and I plan to take our boys every year as a family for the foreseeable future, and where we hope to invest in ourselves and retire someday.

There is nothing more beautiful than watching your children experience something glorious for the first time. The look on Evan’s face as he jumped over his first wave. Hearing the laughter of my children and husband together, as they sat in the surf and felt the waves crash against their backs. The joy and excitement in Easton’s voice as he begged his Dad to take him fishing off the pier. The gratitude in my heart when Evan reached over to hold my hand in our lawn chairs and just talked to me. When we are here, I have everything I could ever want or need and feel 100% at peace and happy.

Isla Mujeres, Atlantic Ocean near Cancun, Mexico

Punta Sar on Isla Mujeres, the Caribbean Sea west towards Cancun, Mexico

When Brian and I travel to international resorts, we typically stay ON the resort. We drink, we nap, we read, WE RELAX. We LOVE the all inclusive option, and we love getting our money’s worth and taking our time – NOT watching the time – without a care in the world.

Still, when we took our first trip to Cancun, Mexico with friends we heard about a day trip to a little island of the coast.. Isla Mujeres. I believe it is Mexico’s easternmost point in the Atlantic. IT WAS BREATHTAKING. It’s a tiny little tourist island with shops, restaurants, (and some VERY tiny swimsuits, as demonstrated by a very hairy, elderly gentleman).. but our favorite spot by far was Punta Sar at the southern tip. The bluest, turquoise waters. Trails that allow you to travel right up to the precipice before a 100-meter drop to the sea. The remains of a Mayan temple and markers throughout, explaining the history that happened in the very places you are walking. Brian just stood there at the top, stared, and breathed it all in. We would walk for a little bit and just stop to stare more. How are there places like this in the world that we had never heard about? That people haven’t seen? If you travel to Cancun – YES, enjoy the fruity drinks and the sunshine and the Michael Jackson tribute shows on the resort… but buy your ferry tickets to Isla Mujeres. 100% worth it.

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

H. Toad’s Bar & Grill, Lake Ozark, Missouri

My Dad purchased his dream home in 2013 – a perfect spot on an eastern cove near Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. I’ve written about it here before – if I haven’t already demonstrated with my previous ‘most beautiful spots’ – I am constantly drawn to the water. I get it from my Dad – he says it’s the Dane in us, part of our souls. I didn’t want to crash his new getaway just as he bought the place.. but we had just welcomed Evan, Easton was just 2, Brian had just worked a 120-hour week running the College World Series, and we desperately wanted a vacation that could accommodate all of our family’s needs with adding MORE stress. After a 6-hour car drive with a 2-month old and 2-year old… we arrived to sheer peace. This water is a different type of beauty than the ocean that I so love… it is serenely calm. No constant tide, no swells that rise and fall night and day.. just peace. ‘Papa’s Cabin’ as we call it sits in a private cove away from 20-something parties and racing speedboats. Often, my Dad and Mom catch their biggest fish right off their pier, just down the steps from their home.

This beauty is simplicity. You make time stop. Nowhere to be, nowhere to rush to, nothing to tune out, nothing to worry about. Just you, quiet, and the beauty of nature in every form all around you. The water goes on forever, unparalleled sunrises and sunsets, and just EASE of life. Simplicity.

We took a family trip to Papa’s cabin every year since. I will always remember Easton’s sheer delight in throwing rocks into the lake to ‘hit the fishies!’ Or Evan, blissfully asleep at 2-months old in the shade of a summer afternoon while I did a crossword right next to him. Later on.. Easton would outfish all of us (Papa disputes this statement), and find a new passion – creating new and exciting jumps off the dock. Everyone had a great belly laugh when Mom decided to go tubing… it was not pleasant. I am 40. Evan, though he never seems to stop moving, even found his calm and center while at Papa’s cabin… that’s him in the picture above, unprompted, just off by himself at dinner watching the sunset.

My Mom and Dad put the cabin up for sale this past fall when they moved into their new dream home – right on the edge of Prairie Queen in Papillion. Without the 6-hour drive, Papa can walk right down the path to fish every, single day… and Easton loves nothing more than to join him early on summer Saturday mornings. Still, it was so hard telling our boys that Nana and Papa were selling the cabin. I hope, even though they were so little when we had such treasured memories there, that they remember.

Montego Bay, Jamaica

Excellence Oyster Bay, Montego Bay, Jamaica

The Bahamas.. Cancun.. Los Cabos.. the Dominican Republic… Jamaica has been our favorite of them all. Click here for a recap of my personal promotion of this island paradise with all of my tips and tricks of travel! There was a moment during our last trip in November where I just stopped and tried to soak in the moment, because it was glorious.

This trip we stayed where we have been hoping to visit for years: Excellence Oyster Bay. We ADORE the Excellence properties in the Caribbean; this was our third of five and it absolutely lived up to our hopes (Brian’s favorite of our visits so far!) Located on the northern part of the island on it’s own little peninsula, you are cut off from the rest of the world for a few blissful days. Brian and I wandered the beach one day and found a magical spot… sandy, white beach, hidden behind a line of trees. In front of you, the serenity of the ocean, and to your left, the majesty of the mountains. Just us – just this tropical Eden. It was like a hidden little paradise no one had ever visited before except us.. and I wanted to stay forever.

90,000 Happy People

Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska * August 14, 2021

Sometimes.. God’s beauty manifests in a place even when that beauty isn’t within the place itself.

That was deep. I think.

I visited my final Most Beautiful Place In the World on August 14, 2021.. Garth Brooks at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. 90,000 people packed the stadium for the sold out show, the music legend’s largest EVER by the time the night was over. There is something so reaffirming about concerts – how often do we see tens of thousands of people together – happy – at the same time? No bickering, no divisive rhetoric or hate. Just people united as one to enjoy life for a few hours.


Even if you don’t like country, it was hard to argue that this night was something almost medicinal. It had been 19 months since we’d been amid so many other human beings. At that point, we had once again begun a vicious debate cycle of masks and COVID-19 protocols in school, but on this night – only smiling faces, laughter and pure joy in the memories these songs reminded us of. We were surrounded by our good friends Brian, Lisa, Toni and Greg.. and across the stadium we knew countless other friends were in their own seats, enjoying the same thing we were at that exact same moment. It was almost a mythical reality – beauty that would disappear from that place as soon as Garth stepped off stage – but captured in our memories all the same.


Logic would indicate I would call this blog post ‘The Most Beautiful Places in the World’… but what the heck do I know? I just read a biography in which the author, only a few years older than me, had visited something like 130 countries. I’ve only been as far west as Hawaii, as far east as the Dominican Republic. But what I’ve realized every time I’ve experienced a magical moment.. and now, as I’ve relieved those moments reflecting on such great memories.. there is so much beauty in the world. The tough times, the chatter, the chaos… it’s all just background noise. Find the good – find the beauty.

That’s all I know so far.

Wanderlust: The Jamaica Edition

Great picture – and I made it better.

I will not live life afraid. Smart? Yes. Afraid, no.

I’ve written here before… maybe it’s the Dane in me, but I feel complete peace, acceptance, and joy when I am near water. I close my eyes and feel the breeze in my hair; I lift my face to the sky and feel the sun and warmth on my face; I listen to the constant ebb and flow of ocean waves or lake water lapping up to the edge, and everything makes sense. Everything is ok.

So after the God forsaken year that was 2020, I was literally counting down days until a long-awaited trip with my husband. By long awaited, I mean rescheduled FOUR TIMES. We did all the research, got all the advice, did all of the planning we could… and this blog is intended to help anyone else doing the same.


DISCLAIMER: This post is in no way a political statement or expression of my personal take on COVID or anything else. You do you; everyone’s circumstances are different.. I hope you keep reading, but if not, I hope you check out another post on this blog! Cheers!

Montego Bay, Jamaica

We have a big map of the world hanging in our basement with a push pin set on each place we have visited. Once you do that.. and look at how much you HAVEN’T experienced, you realize what a vast, uncharted world we live in… and I want to see it! Neither Brian nor I had ever been to Jamaica and we heard GLOWING reviews from our friends Kali and Thor Tripp who were married and honeymooned there.

Perfect weather – 82 every day in sunshine and no rain (and this was the end of December!) Awe inspiring views – the ocean on one side, mountains on the other. Some of the kindest, most beautiful people I have ever met. Very reasonable prices and a variety of flight and resort options. If you are considering Jamaica – GO. JUST GO NOW. And to help in your planning, I’m trying to put all of MY pre-trip questions here in one blog to help you!



Brian and I had originally planned to visit Excellence Punta Cana in March of 2020. We have visited two other Excellence Resorts (Playa Mujeres and Riviera Cancun) and have absolutely loved our experiences. We booked our trip ourselves using Vacations By Excellence, which we found out the hard way, was a third party agency that bundles airfare, hotel, etc. We held out until the umpteenth hour to cancel our March 17 trip, which ended up being less than 72 hours before the entire resort – and the world – shut down. Unfortunately for us and who knows how many others, this was the beginning of a LOOOOONG, frustrating battle over phone and email to get credits and/or refunds from our trip. Turns out, Vacations By Excellence is NOT the same as Excellence itself; no straight answers, no emails for direct contact, no phone numbers that seemed to go through to someone who understood what we were trying to accomplish – all complicated by language barriers. We had finally accepted the fact that we might not ever recoup the several thousand dollars we had invested in this trip.. but holding out hope, I texted my longtime friend Megan Boyer, who recently joined the Cruise Planners Omaha Team as a Luxury Travel Specialist. Thanks to Megan’s advice and patience, we finally received an airfare credit and full refund for our resort booking. Lesson: Travel Agents like Megan are EXPERTS. They know the ins and outs, how to get things processed and how to get things DONE. I strongly recommend using a travel agent – particularly for international travel and particularly with so many unknowns right now!


Flying internationally? Download Mobile Passport! It’s a free app approved by the US Government that processes your passport and Customs Declaration Form electronically. When you are landing back in the US, you simply load up your info and submit – and then you can breeze past ALLLLLL of the people waiting in line at Customs and go in the special Mobile Passport line. This probably saved us 20 minutes when we arrived back in the US, and when you are exhausted and ready to hug your kids after being away for a week, that is everything.

Travelling to Jamaica or South America? Download Verifly! Another free app that imports all of your COVID clearance data so once again, when you are boarding onto your plane at the start of your trip, you simply show the app with the big green checkmark to the gate, and you are cleared to go! Especially if you are rushed at the airport, or just want the peace of mind that you WILL get on that plane, this was a big help. Heads up – remember to load up all of your information a few days before!


IF YOU PLAN TO TRAVEL BY PLANE ANYWHERE IN THE NEXT 5 YEARS, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND TSA PRECHECK. Brian literally said during this last trip ‘this is the best money we have ever spent.’ For $85, the Travel Safety Administration processes a background check for you and puts in on file, meaning you are CLEARED for five years on any aircraft to skip the security lines at the airport. No removing shoes, laptops, water bottles, jackets, NADDA. Parents, your $85 for five years will also cover your kids, allowing them to skip the lines, too! This last trip, Brian and I were super late for boarding TWICE, due to snow as we left Omaha, and due to my idiocy in not realizing a flight change when we left Jamaica. TSA Precheck was our safety net.


Photo courtesy Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall Jamaica

For me, the people of a destination are a make-or-break factor. Mexico will always hold a special place in my heart because of the kindness of the folks I’ve met in Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. On the flip side, I don’t have any desire to return to the Dominican Republic due to the ‘meh’ nature of almost everyone we met in Punta Cana. As for Jamaica – the people of this incredible place were by far, the most magical, uplifting, endearing part of our trip… and coming from a person who is in love with the ocean, that is saying something! From the moment we landed in Montego Bay at the airport, to our shuttle driver escorting us to the resort, and EVERYONE we met at the Hyatt Zilara Rose, we felt appreciated, pampered and welcomed. These folks went above and beyond to make sure we enjoyed our stay. You ask ‘how are you?’ and I never heard just ‘good’ but ‘fantastic’, ‘wonderful’, ‘blessed’, and always ‘thank you for asking.’ Joy emanates from Jamaicans – they dance while they work, they smile and offer you honest well wishes, and they sincerely hope you enjoy their country and want to return. You can’t help but absorb all of that positivity and gratitude to simply BE ALIVE and to be in such a beautiful place. IT. WAS. AWESOME. If you need a reminder of the good in humanity, oh, and a glorious beach escape – make Jamaica a destination in your travel plans.


FOR JAMAICA.. yes, you must be tested and cleared of COVID before you can even board a plane to get there. Once you arrive, those safety measures are SERIOUS. You must receive a negative COVID-19 test less than 10 days before your departure date from a certified facility. This can be either an Antigen or PCR test. Brian and I both used Total Wellness at 94th & F in Omaha and were very satisfied; make an appointment online, it’s covered by insurance with no charge, you drive up, and your results are texted to you within 20 minutes. If you do not have insurance, I think it is $80. You then use those results to complete the application for entry with the Jamaican Travel Authority, no more than 5 days from the date of your departure. We had our approval back within minutes (but I would still advise giving yourself the recommended 2-3 days leeway!) Print off everything, pack it up in a pretty folder, and take it with you to the airport – I had it on hand in my carry-on backpack and was glad I did! Once you get to your destination, you are good to go! To get BACK into the US – everything is changing later this month! (Thank you to reader Jeanne Derr) Click here for details!

Once you are in Jamaica – masks are required everywhere you go. I have been telling people Jamaicans are militant about COVID-19 safety; that’s not an exaggeration, as military members were literally at the airport as we got off the plane, and on our resort. They are very nice about it, but they make sure, at all times, you are wearing a mask if you are not sitting at your table eating in a restaurant, or in the privacy of your room. If you are lying on a chair on the beach or at the pool, you are good, but if you get up to walk to the restroom or get a drink, masks up! Was it super awesome? No, but keep in mind, this is a country that was DEVASTATED because tourism, their #1 economic driver, was shut down in their country. They want visitors back and if masks allow them to do that, so be it.


As I mentioned earlier, my husband and I were Excellence Resorts snobs; after visiting two of their properties, I had an unspoken goal of visiting all five of their Caribbean properties at some point. Unfortunately, Excellence delayed the reopening of Excellence Oyster Bay in Jamaica multiple times, and we finally said NOPE and looked elsewhere on the island. First piece of advice – don’t write off your entire destination just because one resort is closed. Are others open? Check out advisories and restrictions for the entire country!

After comparing prices, amenities, reviews and photos, we felt Hyatt Zilara would be a good fit.

AAAAAAAHHH. As I gushed about in Tip #7 – the service from the people of Jamaica is simply unparalleled, and absolutely highlighted by Hyatt Zilara staff. A few examples:

  • Our concierge emailed me a few days prior to our departure and asked what we would like in our room upon arrival. She answered every email I sent her within an hour each time. When we arrived, that same concierge, Natresha, sent us a bottle of chilled champagne to our room at no charge.
  • My ‘got on clearance’ luggage completely ripped apart at the zipper during our flight to Jamaica. We were convinced we were going to have to spring for airport or resort priced luggage just to get my stuff home but one request to our front desk, and they sent their resort ENGINEER to our room to help. This amazing man spent a solid 20 minutes realigning the zipper on my bag to seal it shut and save us a serious purchase.
  • Every. Single. Person. on this resort – from the landscape crew to the servers at restaurants to the gift shop staff – hold doors open for you, seem eager to have conversation and learn about you, and are always smiling. Always.

My favorite thing about Hyatt Zilara, aside from the amazing people, WAS THE FOOD. I seriously felt like I experienced a Top Chef culinary tour on this trip, which I don’t feel like is common for all-inclusive resorts. I was DAZZLED by every meal we tried!! My favorite: the sweet corn bisque at Urban Heat. Brian’s favorite: the lamb chops at Petit-PariZ. You MUST try: Di Roza. You literally watch a guy MAKING THE PASTA you are about to eat. I think I gained 5 pounds on this trip, and I regret nothing.


I have tried to make a mental list with each trip about the things I coulda woulda shoulda brought in my suitcase. For this trip, I think we nailed it! Here are my must have’s if you’re heading to Jamaica.

  • Bug Spray. At night.. and sometimes during the day.. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. This didn’t bother Brian, but I for whatever reason have been a lifelong draw for bugs and mosquitos. If you plan on being out at night, in particular if your patio is at ground level surrounded by landscaping, bring your bug spray!
  • Hydrocortisone – see above. Bugs love me. Within 48 hours, I had a few mosquito bites and a BEE STING. Thankfully, my husband had packed a small tube of this magic little lotion and it helped with the itching immensely.
  • Swim shoes. This resort is spread out over several acres and we walked A LOT – in the morning along the beach, to simply sightsee our destination, and to different restaurants and shops on site. I loooooooved my swim shoes that I bought on Amazon for $11. Great for walking on the sand and switching right to concrete without getting sand in your feet or rolling an ankle on the rocks in the ocean. I am 100% bringing these to the beach forever!
  • Coffeemate to Go. There are few things I love more during vacation than having a fresh cup of coffee while listening to the water. Unfortunately for me – I drink my coffee with ½ java and ½ Coffeemate! I brought along one package of single serving liquid Coffeemate cups – and it was GENIUS to add to my hotel-supplied coffee in my room every morning. Note: there ARE two coffee shops on site at Hyatt Zilara, but I wasn’t super impressed.. and this way, I didn’t have to leave my room to enjoy my morning brew!
  • Mt. Dew. This is my husband’s guilty pleasure – he allows himself one a day. Hyatt is a Coke resort and they are not currently stocking mini-fridges due to COVID (but you can request that once you arrive, and as often as you need it filled up.) Thanks to Expert Traveler Advice from my friend Scott Workman, I learned you CAN pack plastic bottles in your suitcase with no explosions, and I secretly brought along a few 20-ouncers for Brian 
  • Yetis. If you plan to enjoy a beverage or 2 on the resort or at the beach, your all-inclusive will likely give you your drink in a tiny little plastic cup. If you don’t finish that meager 8 ounces within 30 minutes, it will melt in the Caribbean sun! We learned from another couple during our last trip that if you bring your Yeti or whatever your favorite tumbler is, the resort will just fill that – and it stays cold!! Less waiting in line for drinks, less leaving your spot on the beach.. just enjoyment of the cold beverages.
  • Cash in SMALL BILLS. Be a good human and tip these amazing people. BUT – if you run out of smaller bills and are left with bigger denominations, you may be out of luck in getting change!  (PS – everyone loves dollars, exchanging for Jamaican money isn’t necessary).


The first time my husband tried an All-Inclusive resort was on our honeymoon: Dreams Los Cabos. I don’t remember making ANY dinner reservations; we just walked around and tried whatever sounded good that night. Now in the age of COVID.. that’s a no go. With limited capacity and social distancing, restaurants at our resort did the best they could to accommodate everyone but planning was definitely required. Restaurants were only open on a rotation – we had to wait until our final night at 9pm to even get in to the French restaurant we were dying to try. Make this a priority with your concierge when you arrive – or even in the days leading up to your trip if possible – to find out what will be open, and when you can make your reservation. (If you are heading to the Hyatt, you can make your reservation up to 48 hours in advance – and they have nifty iPad guides in every room showcasing what is open each day, and what is on each menu!)  You will also need to follow a dress code in certain restaurants – men, think closed toe shoes, and women, no bikini tops while you eat!



When I go on vacation, I dream about those handful of days for MONTHS leading up to the trip. I want to get off my plane and GET. THERE. as soon as possible. So the idea of standing around in an international airport, trying to figure out another culture and paperwork and customs and luggage AND COVID requirements? Ain’t nobody got time for that! So when I found out about Club Mobay on another traveler’s blog, it seemed like a no brainer. You pay $50 for arrival and $30 for departure for VIP treatment at the airport to guide you through customs, walk you exactly where you need to go, and ultimately get you to your resort FASTER. Everything I wrote earlier about Verifly? 100% stand by that – TO GET YOU ON THE PLANE TO JAMAICA. What about when you get off? We had a gal waiting for us with our names on a sign the second we stepped off the plane. She led us through customs (bumping us to the front of each line), to the baggage claim, and to our resort shuttle. There is also a lounge you get to enjoy while you wait – but our shuttle was ready before we could experience that… so was it worth our $100? Not sure. But it definitely gave me peace of mind.. which flying out of a blizzard, and going through xxx COVID checks, was certainly appreciated!

Now going HOME – 100% worth every penny. Remember I mentioned we were an hour late getting on our flight home because of a change in our flight? We ARRIVED at the airport just minutes before our plane was set to board.. and found HUGE lines at check in. AT CHECK IN. But one reference that ‘we were Club Mobay’.. and the amazing attendant rushed us right to the front of the line to get us going to catch our flight. I could’ve hugged her (and might have if not for the whole pandemic thing.) We skipped ALL the lines and got to our gate in time. HUGE. What would you pay to ensure you get home to see your children at the end of a long trip? PRICELESS.



Guys, I can’t stress this enough. This is the second time I have done this while on vacation – no social media checks, no email checks, no answering texts, phone on SILENT. You can literally feel lightness, happiness, and a spirit of LIFE resurface. It really makes me sad that I have become that person that is THAT weighed down by so much crap, so addicted to a tiny piece of machinery, but there we have it.

The world will revolve without you. Cover all your bases at work before you leave. Make a printout day by day schedule for your kids complete with lunch preferences and phone numbers. When you return, apologize then that you didn’t respond to the funny text, question or request.

All that being said, I would TAKE your phone. Dang, my iPhone 11 takes some freaking phenomenal photos, and at Hyatt Zilara, you need your phone in restaurants to scan a QR code for menus (no printed menus!). But then PUT IT AWAY. Don’t touch it. That will always be there – the ocean, the people, the smells and sounds and laughter and that ice cold pina colada… you will want them SO BADLY the second you are home with that phone back in your hands. Just LET IT GO.. let it all go and focus on the beauty and experience around you for that short time.

You + Me

So there you have it. My rambling, hodge podge recap of our blissful escape to Jamaica. To all of you considering a trip, DOOOOOOO ITTTT. So worth it. So magical. THIS is what life is about, remember? We work and sacrifice and give of our days and time so we CAN have magical moments to truly experience LIFE.

I have no idea what COVID will mean for us tomorrow, or next week, or next month. I do know we have experienced too much damn loss in the last year to take a single moment for granted.

Dream, save, plan and GO.

Safe travels – and report back! I need to plan for our next destination 🙂


American League

There are some things that are bigger than any one of us. Experiences we all relate to as parents, as Americans, as human beings. We share historic moments or milestones and remember ‘where were you when this happened?’

Summer of 2005… Hurricane Katrina would decimate Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Lance Armstrong retired after winning his 7th Tour De France. Lisa Duensing and her bff’s were strutting around UNL’s campus singing to the #1 song in America: ”Cause I ain’t no Hollaback girl.’

Ok, that might not have been happening, but Lisa and her girls had a lot to sing about.. her fiance, Brian, had just played in the College World Series and was picked by the Minnesota Twins in the third round of the 2005 MLB draft.

And they lived happily ever after. The end.

2015 Dozier

“You? You are WRONG. That is not what happened.”

This photo was taken in 2015 by the Minnesota Twins, 10 years after Brian was initially drafted by the club. To anyone who thinks that POOF: when a player is drafted they swim in millions dollars and live the life of celebrity royalty.. you. are. wrong. Brian and Lisa Duensing will be the first to humbly tell you they are blessed, grateful, and so very happy, but the journey from Omaha to Target Field was a long and winding road with tests and trials pushing them to the edge of quitting altogether.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

If you ever needed proof that everything happens for a reason, I present to you: American League. This chapter two starts with a packed bag in a bachelor’s apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska.


“They gave me two weeks after that to be at home and recover,” remembers Brian, who had just played with his Huskers in the 2005 College World Series. “Then I had to go to short season, which was in Elizabethton, Tennessee.”

Duensing Engagement pic

Brian and Lisa had been planning their wedding, which was supposed to take place that summer. All plans were postponed so Brian could pursue an exciting – and unexpected – adventure to play Major League Baseball. But being drafted doesn’t mean you punch your ticket for a big paycheck or the games everyone sees on TV.

“People would ask, ‘oh, when are you moving to Minnesota?” remembers Lisa. “And we’d say, hopefully in 5-8 years, if we even ever make it.”

They were 20 and 22 years old. While Lisa remained in Lincoln to earn her degree at the University of Nebraska, Brian started his professional career in Low-A Baseball in Beloit, Wisconsin.

“You get signed. You then average several years before, and if, you make it to the bigs,” said Brian. “You make $600 a month, trying to rent an apartment and maybe buy furniture.”

Brian notes he was fortunate in being drafted early to earn a signing bonus. But as he quickly learned in ‘Being An Adult 101’, more than 40% of that check was deducted for taxes. With wise advice from their parents, Brian and Lisa stowed away what was left, not knowing if/when they might need it in the future. Ironically, countless baseball families across the country are facing that very unknown right now, with the 2020 Minor League season in doubt.

“Some guys without that bonus, you flirt with the poverty line in the minor leagues. It’s a gamble,” said Brian. “There’s so many guys that are good that physically could not play anymore because they couldn’t afford it. They had a family, they had kids, they were split from their significant other, wife is trying to make money for him to play, it’s insane.”

In Beloit, Brian shared a 2-bedroom apartment with five guys. His bedroom was the kitchen.

“I had two air mattresses on top of each other in the corner of the kitchen and the pantry was my closet,” said Brian.

“Literally, people would be playing video games in the living room,” said Lisa. “They’d say, ‘hey, throw me a Diet Pepsi’ and Brian would be on his double air mattress and just toss it.’

And that, Brian says, was way better than his next stop: High-A in Ft. Myers, Florida, where he lived on someone’s couch.

“I was there a month,” said Brian. “I gave up seven earned runs in three innings. I bought a six pack of Rolling Rock and listened to ‘I Had A Bad Day’ for like, six hours. Just depressed. I go to the field the next day carrying it with me, ready to fight somebody I was so mad and half embarrassed. It was hot, I was miserable. My manager pulled me aside and said ‘listen, I need you in my office after the game. We need to talk.’ That straightened me up. He told me, ‘look, you’re going to have outings like that. You can’t let it eat away at you.’ I told him, ‘yeah, you’re right, I’m better than that.’ He said ‘yeah, you’re right. You’re going to Double-A.’

“What?!? I could have given up seven earned runs like three weeks ago!” he joked. “Timing is everything. I was left handed, one, I threw strikes. They kept making moves ahead of me, guys would get hurt, and I was the next in line. If I’m in a different organization, I might never had made it to the big leagues, who knows.”

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

“Things are going super well in Double-A,” remembers Lisa. “He lived in a Super 8 at this point.” It was the Summer of 2006, and the couple was once again planning for their wedding, already rescheduled once, with Brian now playing with the New Britain Rock Cats in Connecticut. Towards the end of the season, Brian was approached by the Minor League Coordinator about playing in fall league, more of an order than a request.

“I was like… ‘uhhh, ok, when does it end?’ Not like thank you or anything,” remembers Brian. “He said, ‘November 16. Why? You got plans?'”

Brian and Lisa’s second wedding date was scheduled for November 18. This time, their plans came first.

The following Spring, with Lisa nearing the end of her college career in Lincoln, Brian prepared to leave her once again for another grueling season of Minor League baseball. The night before Spring Training, Brian decided he’d had enough.

“He’s packing, because he always waits until the last day to pack,” remembers Lisa. “He just sat down on the bed in our room and was like, ‘I don’t want to go.’ Once I realized he was serious, I thought ‘this is my first test as a wife. I need to support my husband, but in my head I’m thinking this is not a good plan.’ We got in the car and drove over to his parents house. We walked in and Brian goes ‘I’m quitting baseball.’ Brian’s sisters were still young enough they lived at home. His dad turned to his sisters and said ‘GO TO YOUR ROOMS.’

Kent and Shari Duensing are Brian’s biggest supporters (along with Lisa), credited by many for instilling his solid work ethic, respect for others, and easygoing personality. In many ways then (and today) they were the guides and role models for their then 23 year old physically and emotionally exhausted son, and they remember that night well.

“I asked him why,” remembers Kent. “He said, ‘I just don’t want to go’. I reminded him, ‘Brian, you’ve put a lot of work into this. A lot of people believe you can do this. Don’t throw this away because you’re not sure. It’s not fair to you. It’s not fair to the people who think you can do it. It’s not fair to the people who supported you. You’ve got to give it another try, for the how many thousands of kids who never get this opportunity.'”

Shari flashed back to another time Brian wanted to quit.. as a young teenager. She thought of everything he might have missed; lifelong friendships, Jim Carrey impersonations on the field, teammates who constantly inspired and encouraged each other. These two proud parents wanted what every parent wants for their child; a life lived without regret.

“I didn’t want him to look back at the rest of his life thinking what might have been?” said Kent. “Sometimes, you’ve got to take that chance.”

The next morning, Nebraska was paralyzed by a huge snowstorm, and Brian’s flight to Florida was cancelled. Brian and Lisa spent the day thinking about what Kent and Shari had said.. they enjoyed time together.. they found their calm. Brian flew out the following day, giving himself a silent deadline of four years to make something big happen.

“God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.” – 1 John 3:20


Brian threw great in the first half of the 2007 season with New Britain. That May, Lisa graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and drove with her parents to Connecticut to finally join her husband… for one weekend. After watching Brian play in a weekend series, he left for a road trip, Lisa’s parents went home, and she was alone in a new apartment in Farmington, CT.

“It was scary, definitely a rough part of town,” said Lisa. “To go for jogs, I would literally run back and forth in front of our apartment building because I was so scared. For 30 minutes, I would just run one block of sidewalk.”

Lisa cleaned their apartment top to bottom (for both Brian and their roommate… yes, the newly married couple had a roommate) to welcome Brian home at midnight after his roadtrip. The next morning, Kent, Shari and about 10 relatives and friends were flying in to Connecticut to visit and watch him play.

“The next day at Noon, he gets called up,” remembers Lisa. “At 11:30, his parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles had all just landed in Connecticut. Brian calls them in the airport and says ‘I’m going to New York!'”

As the Duensing clan rented a conversion van for their impromptu 350-mile road trip, Brian and Lisa packed up their bed and clothes, so Brian could start the next day’s game in a brand new city.

“I said hello to the manager and he thought I was a young guy trying to get a bullpen catching job. He had no idea who I was,” said Brian. “He goes, ‘hello? Can I help you?’ ‘Ummm, I starting today.'”

Brian won that first game, despite a hard hit and a surprising ‘pep talk’ from his new boss.

“I was dealing my first outing and I got a line drive hit right off my ass,” describes Brian. “The manager and pitching coach come out, asking if I’m alright. ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ The manager literally looks at me and goes, ‘welcome to Triple-A’, and walked off. I looked at the catcher and I’m like, ‘did our manager just talk shit to me?’ And he’s like, ‘yeah. He did. Let’s go.'”

And Brian did. By the end of his 2007 season, he was leading the organization in the minors for innings pitched, and was among the top pitchers in all of Triple-A baseball for the same. In less than two years, Brian and Lisa had gotten married, had slept in a kitchen, considered giving up baseball, and had jumped three levels (and three cities) of the minor leagues in an unheard of two years. They hoped that their journey up and down the East Coast might someday lead to Minneapolis.

Instead, the Duensings were headed for Beijing.


“We get home, and I get a call from USA Baseball,” said Brian. “They asked if I would play with them in the World Cup in Taiwan. Of course, I said yes.”

November 18, 2007, on his and Lisa’s first wedding anniversary, Brian started Team USA’s Gold Medal championship game against Cuba, going 4 2/3 innings. A few months later, while still playing Triple-A ball in Rochester, the head of USA Baseball called Brian again.

“We want you to be on the Olympic Team,” recalls Brian. “I didn’t even know what to say. Um, awesome, yeah, ok. They had already talked to Minnesota, the Twins gave me the OK. I’m going to Beijing to be in the Olympics. What’s going on?!?”

Brian’s Rochester teammate Kevin Mulvey (now Head Coach for Villanova), worked with the Red Wings General Manager and the Twins to raise enough money for Lisa to cheer Brian on at the Olympic Games. 22 family members flew to North Carolina to watch Brian play in a pre-Olympics exhibition game with Team USA versus Canada. America’s roster included Brian, Jake Arrieta, Stephen Strasburg, Taylor Teagarden, and Dexter Fowler among others; seven players were Major League Baseball players 10 years after the Games. Together, they were part of the mere 588 people representing our country at the 2008 Summer Games. 588 – out of 304 million Americans. Brian kept a blog while he was in Beijing.

“It was just insane, the amount of countries that I didn’t know existed,” said Brian. “The athletes, so many people in such good shape. We go to the gym to get a workout in, and the first thing I see is this 6’3″ chick from Slovakia, repping like 300 pounds. I’m like, ‘uhh, no, I’m out.'”

Everyday in Beijing was a new adventure. Maneuvering thousands of security guards and translators (“I learned about three words in Chinese”), exploring the world’s biggest buffet with cuisine from around the globe, and having more than a few starstruck moments. His fellow Olympians included Lebron James, Shawn Johnson, Jennie Finch, and Kerri Walsh to name just a few.

“I sat down to eat lunch with some of the baseball guys,” says Brian. “Someone sits down with us, I look up and it’s Michael Phelps. I didn’t talk to him at all, I didn’t even say hello.”

One of Brian’s most memorable moments was being part of Opening Ceremonies, viewed by an estimated 1.5 billion people around the globe.

“The whole baseball team couldn’t sit together, so I look up and there’s a seat by our coaches,” remembers Brian. “There are two girls next to me. I asked them what sport? The blonde girl said judo. I started talking to them a little bit, asking them how the team looked, and she said America had never medalled in judo but they were hoping to change that. I told her hey, I’ll definitely keep an eye on that! Sure enough, this blonde girl wins the bronze medal, first female to ever medal in judo for the US. Fast forward like 8 years, I come to find out that was Ronda Rousey, one of the best UFC fighters of all time.”

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Team USA was also ready to represent on the baseball field. Brian took the mound August 16, 2008 as the United States faced Canada.

“We have a runner on first with two outs, bottom of the ninth,” remembers Brian. “We’re up by one. Somehow I completely had a brain fart, got on the mound, didn’t know what foot to step off with, I’m panicking. I tried to call time out.”

Brian balked – twice – but officials never called it.

“They had microphones in dugouts, only on the internet, as part of the ‘Olympic experience’, so everyone listening to the Canadian dugout heard every word in the book. The guy up to bat hit what I thought was a routine fly ball. I walk off and do this fist bump like ‘yeah, I got this huge win’, turn around, and the outfielder barely caught it at the wall. If that had been a homerun, I don’t think I ever would’ve played baseball again.”

Two days later, Team USA took the field again, this time playing host country China.

“We almost fought them, which would’ve been a disaster,” said Brian. “Couple of our dudes got drilled a few times, and one of our dudes <Nate Schierholtz> trucked their catcher because of it. He hit him so hard, he broke his own molar. Everyone jumped the fence and our security was trying to hold us back.”

Team USA won 9-1, and beat Chinese Taipei the following day. The team called on Brian again in their game against Japan, a victory that eventually helped the United States secure a Bronze Medal in the games, despite several major injuries. Most of Team USA returned to the states immediately to continue baseball season at home, but their Olympic journey wasn’t over yet.

“About two weeks later we got a call that Oprah Winfrey is having every Olympic medalist on her show,” remembers Brian. “Do you want to go? I was like umm, yes.”

“And I was like YESSS,” says Lisa. Brian was treated to a free, first class ticket to Chicago and a limo ride to Millennium Park. He met Oprah, President George W. Bush, and many of the fellow Olympians he hadn’t yet talked to in person.”

“Kobe Bryant talked to us for like two seconds, he was sitting right behind us,” says Brian. “Oprah has Jennie Finch stand up, and when she does, BAM, there’s my face!”

Watch for the bus ride – Brian is in the left aisle, middle seat!

“Just crazy times. I mean, I have an Olympic Bronze Medal and a World Cup Gold Medal,” said Brian. “But again, in high school I never thought I’d play college baseball. Then getting drafted. Then playing in the Olympics. I didn’t plan for any of it.”

“For so many, there is still so much pressure along the way, from the player, from his parents, from their spouse, from their friends,” said Lisa. “This is not to discount Brian’s hard work or how much he wanted it, but every step was like a surprise.”

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.– Joel 2:28

Much like Lisa and Brian themselves, when Kent and Shari are asked to recount memories from the CWS, or the MLB Draft, or the Olympics, there’s no bragging, just reliving treasured memories and moments they shared as a family. Kent and Shari were there with Lisa at Wukesong Baseball Field to watch their ‘little boy’ play that game in Beijing, as they have for almost 30 years.

“I just sat with my hands gripped on the bleacher seat,” said Shari. “It was just overwhelming, like, this is really happening.”

“Who would’ve thought this little kid from Omaha is now representing the United States,” said Kent. “To see him out there in a USA uniform, playing in a foreign country, it was really pretty cool.”

Yet when you ask Lisa, Kent or Shari who Brian Duensing is… they don’t see Olympian. Or Gold Medalist. Or top draft pick. Just as some things are bigger than any one of us, so too are the things we love most about each other: humor, loyalty, kindness.

“To us, he’s just Brian,” said Kent. “If you would’ve known him in high school or college or now, he hasn’t changed at all. He still talks to his grandparents. He knows where he came from. He has the same demeanor that he had back then.”

Case in point: Shari’s favorite Olympic moment, at the USA vs Canada exhibition game in North Carolina.

“You walk in, see all of these Team USA jerseys, and it was an emotional sight for any patriot,” remembers Shari. “I walk in, my sister was with me, we’re enjoying the game and Brian pulls up his jersey and shows his nipple to us. He’s in the dugout of Team USA! We have pictures of the whole family afterwards, the boys posed like that. We all busted out laughing. That’s just Brian!”

“I’m so incredibly proud of all my kids,” says Shari. “Brian and Lisa and my girls. To know they all grew up, they all support each other, I’m blessed. My favorite times are just to be with my entire family. It’s been an amazing journey Brian and Lisa have been so gracious to let us all join in on.”

Duensing takes the mound, Part Three on deck.


Click here to read part 1, Major League!

Major League

Brian didn’t dream of stadiums with 30,000 fans, pitching in the playoffs with a World Series berth on the line. He wanted to marry his best friend, teach with her at their hometown high school, and coach baseball with his friend and mentor. That was the dream, and the plan.

BD Omaha Mag

Photo courtesy Omaha Magazine

“God has a plan. Trust it, live it, enjoy it.”  – unk


I think I’ve mentioned a time or two.. I am fascinated with stories. A good story kindles something inside my heart, and I can’t help myself but share it with someone else to see if they feel the same kind of reaction I did.

Everytime my husband and I hang out with our friends Brian, Lisa, Greg and Toni, there are stories. So many stories. Fascinating, hilarious, bookworthy stories. When I decided to kickstart this blog again, I knew that if they were willing, I wanted to write about these. I soon realized that there was no way I would be able to fit everything into one blog and do these memories any justice… so I PRESENT TO YOU: MAJOR LEAGUE.


No, not that Major League. Although hats for bats DO keep bats warm.

For most of the last two decades, baseball has been constant in Brian and Lisa Duensing’s lives. Their journey has taken them through Lincoln, Beijing, the trials of minor league baseball, and through the euphoria and heartbreak of being a professional athlete. It is an incredible life, seeing and experiencing things that only a handful of people ever have the resources and opportunity for. It’s also so much more than most people realize: skirting the poverty line, packing up a van and changing homes in 12 hours, living life as an object owned by a corporation. In a world where timing is everything and sometimes, nothing makes sense (for the good or bad), the Duensings have turned to faith and each other to celebrate and survive every step of their journey.

Chapter one starts on the little league fields of Omaha, Nebraska.


Like how many millions of American kids before him and after, Brian Duensing started playing baseball when he was 9 years old.

“I played baseball because I was somewhat good, and because my friends played it and I enjoyed it,” said Brian. “Back then, I played select baseball for the Omaha Patriots. After my 13-year old season, I wanted to quit. Told my friends at the end of season banquet, ‘hey, I’m done.’ All I wanted to do was go on vacation. I was missing out on so much summer stuff that I thought was important – which is important. I just wanted to go camping with my family.”

He told his teammates, who physically sat on him in the parking lot after their final game of the season until Brian called mercy and said he would keep playing.

At 14, he moved up to Millard South High School and met Coach Greg Geary.


“Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one who finds the gold.” – Prov 1. 11:27 

For nearly two decades, Millard South Varsity Baseball Coach Greg Geary has been one of the most respected coaches in the Omaha metro and Nebraska. Yes, he’s had big wins, but he has also consistently molded and mentored successful young men both on and off the field. In Brian Duensing, Greg found talent, promise, and exceptional character.

“Brian was a special young man,” said Greg. I had a hunch he was going to be something special at the next level. I think the reason I thought he would do big things was that he just had that “IT” factor. He had a great work ethic (coming from his parents Kent and Shari!) and respected the game. He was also the kid that came over to our house when <our daughter> Madi was born (his senior year) to visit.  He cares about people and I always appreciated that about him, probably more than he will ever know. We had a great Coach/Player relationship. He knew how to have fun, but also knew when it was time to get after it.”

Under Coach Geary’s leadership, Brian dominated on the mound and at the plate. He led the state with a 0.74 ERA and a .522 batting average. Nebraska made him an offer to play baseball, followed by Creighton. Brian decided to become a Husker.

“What alway impressed me with Brian was he was the guy who was the first one at the field, and would always carry gear or put out bases without anyone having to tell him to do it!” said Greg. “Sounds like a small thing, but for a guy who was going to NU, he never, ever acted like he was better than anyone, and that still holds true to this day.”


“He was majoring in baseball, whether he knew it or not,” says Lisa.

“OK, whoa, hold on, let’s back the Truth Truck up for a second,” interrupts Brian.

BD Husker

At this point in our interview, I am giggling while typing, listening to this perfect pair share memories from each perspective about their journey through college. Note: journey, singular, because this time was, from the start, an adventure of highs and lows Brian and Lisa shared together.

Brian, a year older, started at Nebraska first in Spring of 2002. Big XII All Freshman Team. Lincoln All-Regional Team. When Nebraska made it to the College World Series, Brian got the start for Game Two. In one year, he had gained 13 pounds of muscle, and increased his pitching velocity from around 83 to 91 miles per hour. What could be bigger in a young man’s life?



​”We were best friends in high school,” said Lisa. “I was dating someone else and I told my parents that; they asked, ‘shouldn’t your boyfriend be your best friend?’ It was always Brian.”

The Duensings’ good friend and fellow Husker Mike Sillman remembers the team’s time working to recruit Brian, and relaying to the Nebraska coaching staff, “we shouldn’t be recruiting Brian. We should be recruiting Lisa. He’ll go wherever she goes.”

“The best thing was being his friend first,” said Lisa. “We knew everything about each other already.”

Within the first month of Lisa joining Brian at UNL, the two were dating. Lisa had also been a high school athlete at Millard South, and studied athletic training and science while working as a trainer with the Nebraska Gymnastics team. She understood college athletics better than most, and was part of Brian’s seemingly unstoppable journey from the beginning.

“I watched his baseball highest high and the lowest low,” said Lisa. “My freshman year, he went from being the National Pitcher of the Week, to tearing his arm the next week.”


Photo courtesy

By his sophomore year in Spring 2003, Brian had increased his velocity to the 93-96 mph range, and college sportswriters were calling him and Aaron Marsden ‘the best 1-2 combo in all of college baseball.’ He had also been hurting, but each time he started to get warm and find his rhythm, the pain would subside. His trainers and coaches thought Brian had tendonitis. He started his sophomore season at Louisiana Tech, and headed back to Lincoln for the season home opener. Cue Nebraska: it snowed, and the team spent the day clearing the field to prepare for a doubleheader the next day. By gametime at 3pm, the temperature was 28-degrees; so cold, metal bats were breaking during at bats. Brian threw a fastball in the third inning that went 45 feet… and sparked a burning sensation through his elbow. He had torn his arm.

The surgical option was a then-uncommon and frequently unsuccessful procedure now dubbed ‘Tommy John surgery.’ Trainers and coaches advised rehab instead, which took Brian out of rotation for the entire 2003 season. Spring of 2004 was supposed to be his return to the mound and to college baseball.

“I drove down to New Mexico with his parents to watch his first outing the next year,” said Lisa. “We drove through the night, 20 hours, pull up, get to the field. We were watching him play catch in the outfield: boom. Tears it. Done.”

‘But you must remain strong and not become discouraged. Your actions will be rewarded.’ – 2 Chronicles 15:7

Surgery. Rehab. Hearing ‘you’ll never throw as hard again.’ Brian had two teammates who had faced the same surgery and never threw again. But instead of being distraught or depressed, Brian reflected on his plan for the future: become a teacher, and coach high school baseball. Lisa rightfully refers to this time as life-changing.. but not for the reasons you might expect.

“Tommy John was the best thing that ever happened to him” said says. “Everything just got focused.”

Brian had been struggling with his Economics major, and despite tutors and perfect attendance, he had been one course grade away from being academically ineligible for the 2002 College World Series. During his time recovering, Brian switched majors and his grades shot up. He also returned to his alma mater, Millard South, to reunite with his mentor and good friend, Greg Geary.

“He coached a couple summers with Coach <Trevor> Longe and I,” said Greg.We had a heck of good time and I think he would tell you it was cool to see the other side, the coaching side. We have remained close since then and he means more to me than he will ever know.”

Brian also deepened his relationship with Lisa, a time where both learned a lot about each other. By 2005, Brian was ready to play, and ready to make a lifelong commitment to the person who never left his side. One year to the day of his muscle tear, Brian was set to start his first game in Hawaii. His Nebraska teammates knew it would be a day to remember.

“Everybody knew that we were supposed to get engaged and literally no one told me,” said Lisa. “Over Christmas break, I had to stay for athletic training and Alex <Gordon> was from Lincoln, so he had stayed, too. We were talking to him and I mentioned ‘I can’t go to Hawaii,’ and he was like ‘you have to go. You HAVE to go.’ And I was like, ‘what, am I going to get engaged there?’ And he just looked shocked. Later I was like, ‘dude! You almost blew it!’ and he said ‘I know!! I panicked!'”



I have been a Nebraska Baseball uber fan for as long as I can remember. So when Brian and Lisa say ‘Alex’ or ‘Daniel’ or ‘Jeff’ without saying ‘Alex Gordon’ or ‘Daniel Bruce’ or ‘Jeff Liese’ – full names required because hello, they’re celebrities – I still have a ‘woah’ moment. But when you ask Brian and Lisa about the success of the Nebraska Baseball teams they were a part of… it is clear they did and continue to view those teammates as family.

“Camaraderie was a lot of it,” said Brian. “We would get together every weekend. And it wasn’t like three or four guys, no, the whole team showed up. We all took care of each other. When I was a senior, they brought in all of the Nebraska recruits and there were like 18 of us. We were all homegrown. We felt like we knew where everyone was coming from. Even the guys who came from out of state fit right in.”

From 2002-2005: this was the team that Van Horn built. A perennial powerhouse with multiple prospects, future MLB stars, and coaching icons. Alex Gordon, Joba Chamberlain, Shane Komine, Tony Watson, Zach Kroenke, Dave Van Horn, Rob Childress, Curtis Ledbetter, Will Bolt.

“We didn’t even recognize Brian’s talent because everyone on the team was so ridiculously good,” said Lisa.

“There was a stretch when I got moved out of rotation, to the bullpen, and I felt like the worst pitcher ever. My ERA was a 2,” said Brian. “We played textbook, selfless baseball. Bruce had a cannon. Leise would run any guy down. Simokaitis was a magnet at short. I tell a lot of people, especially in ’05, every time we took the field, we honestly thought we were going to win. And for the most part we did. Sheer talent, we all wanted to win and we cared about each other.”

The team went 57-15, and Brian was a crucial part of the Huskers’ success. He posted an 8-0 record with a 2.6 ERA, and set records in the 2005 Big XII Tournament for number of innings pitched and number of consecutive scoreless innings. That season alone, Brian was named to the Big XII All-Tournament Team, a Collegiate Baseball National Pitcher of the Week, and named to the First-Team Academic All-Big XII.  The team, touted as arguably the best in Nebraska history, won their Super-Regional against Miami to earn a trip to Omaha and the College World Series. The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Christopherson wrote: “Joba Chamberlain and Brian Duensing looked like mischievous grade-schoolers as they ran to get a bucket of water from the dugout. Soon, in predictable fashion, the water was flooding down on Mike Anderson. The third-year head coach just smiled and the crowd cheered louder.”


Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Nebraska didn’t win the College World Series, but they were one of the last teams to play in the iconic championship at Rosenblatt Stadium. A plaque marks Infield at the Zoo today, listing the names of the homegrown heroes who grew up on Nebraska diamonds and played in the Omaha classic, Brian Duensing among them.


“He happens to be standing exactly where his dad did when he pitched for the Huskers in the CWS,” shared Erin Palladino, Brian’s sister. “Boston found that to be incredibly cool!”

Us, too, Boston. Us, too.


“Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.” – Philippians 4:6-7

As if the once-in-a-lifetime College World Series experience wasn’t enough, Brian and several of his teammates were also in the midst of a little something called ‘The MLB Draft’. Six Huskers were drafted in 2005; 16 more were selected over the next two years.

Brian had been contacted by every major league club except for his childhood favorite, the Chicago Cubs. He still had one, possibly two years of college eligibility with Nebraska on the table.

“He said to me, if I don’t go in the top 10 rounds, I’m going to come back,” remembers Lisa. “Then the White Sox called his dad, saying they knew he was engaged and wanted to know if I was on board. They told Brian’s dad they planned to take him in the fifth round.”

Lisa didn’t tell Brian, not wanting to jinx anything or raise hope for a deal that might not happen.

“I was just so nervous for him because I wanted him to be happy so badly,” said Lisa. “I just had no idea what to expect.”

A few days later, the 2005 MLB draft began as the Huskers were practicing for the College World Series.

“We were practicing, had music playing, but we all knew the draft was starting. Alex’s brother was sitting in the stands,” remembers Brian. “We’re looking at the clock, we’re taking BP. In between swings we look up at Alex’s brother and he holds up the number two with his fingers. We all freaked out, stopped practice, congratulated him, stuff like that. It was the coolest thing ever.”

Then the questions between teammates began… who would be next? Brian, are you going to be drafted?!?

“I wasn’t really expecting much,” said Brian. “Then practice is over and we have a team meeting like we do after every practice. I look up and I see our PR guy, Shamus McKnight, coming down the stairs as fast as he can. I thought Zach Kroenke got drafted. Shamus pulls Coach A off to the side. We were all kind of dispersing, and Coach A’s like ‘woah, bring it back up. We all took the time to congratulate Gordo. We have another guy to congratulate. Mr. Duensing just got drafted in the third round.’ My exact quote, I looked at him and said ‘holy shit.’ I was so dumbfounded. I did a bunch of media stuff, they were asking me questions like ‘was I excited to sign?’ and I had to stop and look at one of the reporters to say… I don’t even know who drafted me.”

The Minnesota Twins had selected Brian Duensing in the 3rd Round of the 2005 MLB Draft.


Lisa & Brian with Brian’s sister, Erin

“The day before the draft, Brian said to me ‘oh my goodness, can you imagine if  I went in the top 3 rounds? That would be the most amazing thing, like a dream come true’,” said Lisa. “And remember, this is when I thought I knew he was going in the fifth round. I remember just thinking ‘you’re so cute.'”

Day of, Lisa had been with a friend, monitoring the draft but still thinking an announcement was aways off. Her phone rang, and a very excited Mama Duensing was on the other end with the news.

“We literally went that day to the mall and bought Twins gear, including a hat for Brian, because he wore a Cardinals hat every single day,” said Lisa. “It got shelved that day, never to be worn again.”

“I only liked it because it was a Lids Throwback Hat!” chimed in Brian. “I had a White Sox one, too, and an Indians hat! I had hats to go with different colored shirts and stuff..”

“Ok, well we went and bought Twins stuff,” said Lisa.

New hats, new plans, a new journey.

Within the next 6 months, Brian and Lisa would officially become part of the Minnesota Twins farm club family, indoctrinated into a much misunderstood world known as Minor League Baseball. The next chapter of their lives would be challenging, trying, and exhausting. Tears, temptations to quit, and that beautiful big league carrot always dangling just out of reach. But for these two American kids in the heartland in the summer of 2005.. life was pretty damn good.

“I’ll never forget where I was when BD called me to tell me he had gotten drafted,” said Greg Geary, now Brian’s good friend as well as high school coach. “I was about to hit my second shot on hole one on Hammerhead at Tiburon Golf Club. I was so pumped for him.”

Brian and Lisa got married the following year. Madi Geary was their flower girl, and Brian’s teammates Andy Holz, Ben Bails, Darren Hoffart and Alex Gordon were all in the wedding party.


In sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. For better or for worse, until death parts us.

Play ball.


Part Two: coming soon!

Just a Number

‘Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.’ – Luis Bunuel

I kind of think that’s hilarious… and darn true. How much does age truly impact what we are capable of? As a journalist, I shared stories about octogenarians running marathons and toddlers belting our national anthem… on the flipside, I often saw/see people aged years and more because of smoking, pessimism, or sometimes, life’s hard knocks. How much of us is because of the number of rings around our trunks.. and how much is because of our gifts, hard work, and attitude about what we WANT to accomplish?


Photo courtesy

At 17 years old, Teresa Scanlan was the youngest Miss Nebraska we have on record. 6 months later, she became the youngest Miss America in 80+ years. She had just graduated high school months earlier, had only gotten her driver’s license less than 2 years prior, and now she was set to travel the world representing our program and country. How did a 17-year old become Miss America??

Answer: CLICK HERE. Watch Teresa’s post-Miss America crowning-press conference. She is articulate. Intelligent. Confident. Charming. And the fact that she was 17 doesn’t take away from any of those impressive qualities, it catapults each of them ten-fold; these skills were natural, instinctual, and this teen/woman was something incredibly special.

Less than one year ago, Teresa congratulated another 17-year old, hoping to follow in her footsteps.


Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

Her name is Makinzie Gregory, crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest before she even started her senior year of high school.

“The Scotts Bluff County Pageant, where I won my title, was actually the very first pageant I had ever entered, so to actually win seemed like a dream!” said Makinzie. “I told one of the girls backstage that I would LOVE to get a picture with Teresa, my female role model. Sometimes I wonder about God’s sense of humor because I did indeed get a picture with Teresa – presenting me the award in her name!”



Makinzie says she admires Teresa because she is articulate, kind and genuine, the epitome of strength and empathy. For the last year (likely longer), Makinzie has also worked to show those same characteristics as a Miss Nebraska local titleholder.

“Being a spiritual person, I believe in what the Bible has to say about service,” said Makinzie. “We should all serve one another, no matter the circumstances.”

Makinzie is channeling that mission through her personal platform: Different-Abled, Educating, Empowering, and Equipping the Special Needs.

“My presentations to the three elementary schools in my school district are definitely some of the highlights for this year!” said Makinzie. “I hosted a change drive in conjunction with my presentations, and we raised $2400 that has been donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals! I adore the kiddos wanting to take pictures, asking tons of questions, being shy, and acting goofy. Furthermore, it inspires me to know that I have the unique opportunity to impact these kids and act as a positive role model for them.”

Makinzie’s message is personal; the Gering High School valedictorian plans to pursue degrees in Elementary Education, specializing in serving children with special needs. She’s partnered with the United Way and volunteers with Buckboard Therapeutic Riding Academy. In both roles, Makinzie is working to learn the office work, marketing, event planning and presentation skills, to best advocate for this cause as it relates to families, government, and the business world.


“I would like to either obtain my Master’s degree in either education, special education, or school administration to further influence the direction of younger generations,” said Makinzie.

She’s got a great start, scoring a perfect 36 on part of her ACT exam, and potentially earning Miss Nebraska college scholarships at her chosen schools: Western Nebraska Community College and Chadron State.

Makinzie Gregory - Miss Old West Balloon Fest

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Most of the people I talk to are shocked by just how many opportunities for growth, scholarship and networking connections Miss Nebraska titleholders are exposed to,” said Makinzie. “One of my favorites is the growth I have witnessed in myself in only these past few months. I cannot even put into words how much I have learned and gained through my involvement in this organization.”


“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Unknown

The lesson we can all learn from women like Makinzie and Teresa, is to not let age define us. YOU define you. Maybe it’s a pageant. Maybe it’s a marathon. Maybe it’s a new love, a new job, a new adventure. Be vibrant. Be hungry. Take no prisoners, and see what happens, no matter what stage of your life. Makinzie Gregory may be one of the youngest women this year competing for Miss Nebraska… and she’s proud of it.


Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“I realized that if I didn’t compete, I would be constantly asking myself, ‘why?’,” said Makinzie. “My goal is to be able to see God’s work in everything. This is worth so much more than just an ‘experience’, as I have learned and gained so much for my short time as a titleholder. For that, I am extremely grateful.”


To follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest Makinzie Gregory, click here.


The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter


PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha Allie Swanson

COMING SOON.. Miss Alliance Kodi Baumann

La La Land

We are deep in graduation season both here at Westside and across the country, which means I have been writing, writing, writing, and WRITING nonstop. This is a time of year when we are celebrating the achievements of all students, our teachers, and of course, the Class of 2018.

In so many presentations I hear and write, the message is simple: JUST DO IT. Whatever your dreams and goals may be, whatever you want to do, and wherever your path in life may lead you, follow it with everything you’ve got. Work hard, be kind, appreciate the help others give you, and offer the same to those who follow. Be PASSIONATE about the desires of your heart in both career and life in general, and just DO it.

Regan Kolbo is a Nebraska girl hailing from Crete, population 7,000. She’s proud of her state, forever in love with her hometown, but she also heard a calling 1,500 miles away… to La La Land.

Regan Kolbo - Miss Sandhills

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The scary part of life is in the unknowing,” said 19-year old Regan Kolbo, who left for California shortly after graduating from Crete High School. She’s a gifted dancer, model, and the former World’s Miss Glamorous Teen, winning the national competition while representing Nebraska. That experience confirmed several things Regan already knew.. she was drawn to the spotlight, and belonged in the world of entertainment and performing.

Regan courtesy Ali Marie Photography

Photo courtesy Ali Marie Photography

So where to begin? How to dive into this world of fame and fortune?

Regan joined the Miss Nebraska sisterhood.

REgan 2

“Miss America titleholders seem to have a genuine heart and strong poise, and I knew that I needed to be a part of it,” Regan told me. “This is a system where I can mix my passion for dance and community service. Miss Nebraska is a program to be a part of because it creates a supportive environment for young women to grow and celebrate their successes, past and future.”



She could have competed anywhere, but Regan wanted to represent the state that owns her heart. She was crowned Miss Sandhills 2018, punching her ticket to compete at the 2018 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition.


“I am a fifth generation Nebraskan,” said Regan. “Nebraska will always be my home because of the hardworking, passionate and charismatic people that I grew up around. I cherish every ‘ope’ and ‘Go Big Red’ I hear, and top of the steering wheel wave I receive. From my family, to the Crete Cardinal Pride, to small town businesses, there is nothing like Nebraska.”

And history has shown there’s nothing like a little Miss America notoriety to get a leg up in show business. Past Miss America winners and finalists have gone on to find terrific success in Hollywood, including Kira Kazantsev, Vanessa Williams, and Phyllis George to name a few.

“This is an organization of strong, smart and talented women supporting each other and loving each other,” said Regan. “My goal at Miss Nebraska is to challenge myself and become the best women I can be. I challenge myself not to stress, and to enjoy being in the moment.”

Helping in that goal, Regan has focused on a key element of the Miss Nebraska program: service.

“My platform is Adopt, Don’t Shop,” said Regan. “While in LA, I have devoted more than 150 hours volunteering for rescue organizations Catmandoo and Tommy’s Lil Angels. In Nebraska, I lobbied for LB893, a bill that would require the humane sourcing of pets for sale or up for adoption in pet stores. I also plan to work with the Humane Society of the United States – Nebraska and the national nonprofit, Bailing Out Benji, to educate people about and end puppy mills. Nebraska ranks in the bottom four states in the country, described as the worst in the US regarding puppy mills.”

Purpose. Passion. Positivity.

Regan says she aspires to be like the women who will surround her at Miss Nebraska, and some of those in her adopted home of Los Angeles.

“Ellen DeGeneres is a superhero in my eyes,” said Regan. “She uses her show to make the world a better place through laughter, and she recognizes and rewards those who are also extraordinary in this world. As I begin my journey in the entertainment industry, I choose to remain like Ellen, who just wants to positively make people happy.”


Here’s what makes Regan happy: stepping on stage, posing in front of a camera, and walking up to a little girl in awe because of that sparkly crown and sash. Splitting her time between her two favorite places on the planet: Los Angeles and Nebraska. Regan Kolbo’s not living in La La Land, she’s actively PURSUING it. To all the Coulda Woulda Shoulda’s out there reading this, I’d argue because of that, this young lady has already won.

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“Honestly, I do not quite have a plan,” said Regan. “This Miss Nebraska journey has already taught me so much about who I am and where I belong. It has given me the skills and confidence to embrace the unknown and just to enjoy life’s rollercoaster.”


The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter


PREVIOUS.. Miss Star City 2018 Allison Baird

NEXT.. Miss Omaha 2018 Allie Swanson

Thinking Out Loud

“Why does God make it cold?”

My boys and I have had a lot of talks about God lately. My eldest, Easton, started Religious Formation this fall, (formerly known as CCD for my 30-something Catholic friends..), and so God comes up a lot, either by me referencing Him or by them asking. We’ve discussed how God makes it rain to give the plants and animals a drink. The other night, Easton told his brother it was dark because God painted the sky black. When the temps dipped 40+ degrees in 4 days, it was only natural Evan would question why God would make it feel so chilly outside.

“So we appreciate when it’s beautiful outside,” I replied. “If it was nice and warm and sunny everyday, we would get used to it after awhile and it wouldn’t feel as nice.”

My husband and I had just had a similar conversation not a week beforehand.. spending a few days on the glorious beaches of Destin, Florida. Everyday, we saw the ‘chair protector’ move into position right in front of our condo. From 9-5, he sat in the sun and made sure people didn’t use the fancy chairs unless they paid to rent them. Brian commented, “after awhile, you wouldn’t even appreciate the beach. You’d be so used to it, just sitting there all day every day.”

But how could you not appreciate this?


The constant, soothing roar of the waves coming in. The intoxicating aura of peace and happiness. Watching toddlers confusedly wobble on the sand, already trying to tackle walking without this new, strange squishiness under their toes. Seeing older couples, hand in hand, walking slowly past.. and wondering how many years they had been walking together just like that. No hurry. No to-do lists. Brian and I walked around in a daze for the weekend, grinning nonstop and almost drunk on life itself. Even Sunday night, when a thunderstorm blew through, it was beautiful and exciting. I was legitimately depressed when it was time to leave, almost tearful.

I knew why, too. Because all too easily, all too often, I let all of the other noise drown the good out. I am addicted to my phone. I can literally feel my blood pressure rising when my boys argue. I have probably 3 notepads with duplicating lists of things I need to do, would like to do, hope to do, should do. I think about bills, about projects, about people, about what people think.


Teri Donoho

Last month, Westside Community Schools lost a teacher who devoted herself to education and to the teenagers she worked with. Teri Donoho’s husband, Jay, told me about how hard the love of his life fought to beat cancer.. and they thought she had. The night before she was supposed to leave the hospital, Jay went home for the evening to take care of their dogs. She called him to say good night, I love you.. and she died a few hours later.

Kaelia, Kamie Stephen

Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Over the weekend, we got news that one of the young women who competed for Miss Nebraska last year, Kaelia Nelson, died. I remember thinking two things when I met Kaelia: “dang! She’s TINY!” (Kaelia, a stunning woman, was MAYBE 5 feet tall), then later ‘wow.. this girl is the real deal.’ Poised, so striking, an amazing dancer, and CONFIDENT. Kaelia had several tattoos, and proudly showed them during Miss Nebraska week.. they were a part of her, and not something to hide. We need MORE strong, vibrant, positive leaders in our world today.. and losing ONE is a terrible tragedy. My heart is broken, especially when I think of Kaelia’s parents. They have been in my prayers for days.


This weekend, we should be celebrating Cody’s birthday. We always did – his birthday and my husband Brian’s were within a few days of each other. A big party at Jack’s, a dinner with friends at Kobe, and moments we’ll never forget at the bar later on. One year, another wife and I were badmouthing one of the guys’ girlfriends. Cody, after a few moments of listening, looked at us and said ‘ya’ll are being bitches.’ …. Yup, he was right. I don’t know anything about that couple or their relationship.. I was being a bitch. And what I love about that memory is that it was classic Cody. He was CODY ‘WARDO’ WARDEN’.. and didn’t give a damn if you liked him or not. He was a big, loud, hugging, teddy bear of a man.. and if you were his friend, you never had to question if you had someone on your side.. because he was TRUE, honest and real. Cody beat all the odds, defeating brain cancer when first diagnosed several years ago. Exactly one year ago this month, the tumors came back. We celebrated Cody’s birthday at Jack’s again, knowing he had a tough road ahead. We lost him this summer.

Why? Why does this happen? What is the meaning of all of this? Why. Why. Why. Why. Why. Why.

Because if we lived everyday at the ocean, we would take it for granted. Because God makes it cold, so the sun and warmth feel even better on those perfect days. That’s the easy answer.. easy for all of us feeling grief and sadness indirectly. But for Jay Donoho, for Shardel Nelson, for Darbi Warden… it’s not enough. It doesn’t explain WHY them. Why did Teri and Cody get cancer – twice? Why won’t Kaelia be here to get married and have babies, to live a long, happy life? I don’t have the reasons. I don’t have any poetic, rationalizing theory WHY. For Jay, for Shardel, for Darbi… I am so, so sorry. I literally cannot imagine being in your place because it emotionally breaks me down to even think about it. I don’t know how I would continue through each day, each SECOND, if I lost my family. I pray that peace and strength surround you and help you every second of this terrible journey. Your loved ones MATTERED, they HAD PURPOSE. They were so very loved, and they each made this world a better place. Teri, Kaelia, Cody… their legacies will continue through their time here, and through their loved ones still here.

I tell myself that I will go home, and hug my amazing husband a few seconds longer. I will say a prayer of thanks I have a loyal, selfless, devoted partner in my life, a guy who still dips me back to kiss me on the beach, 12 years after our first date.

I tell myself I will watch my boys.. REALLY watch them and try to lock every moment into my memory, instead of looking at my phone. Their smiles. Their laughs. The things Evan says, and how they still want to snuggle and play. When they fight, I will close my eyes and thank God I have healthy, happy, smart boys who can talk, move, think for themselves, and yes, even argue with each other like brothers.

Still, I forget… I listen to all of the noise, I focus on the crap that’s not important, I let the less than perfect overshadow all of the good. How do I not appreciate what I have EVERY, SINGLE DAY??? How do I forget that my ocean IS my home.. and the second I walk into that door, nothing else should matter??? Please, God, let me remember this EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. that I have here.

Today, it’s dark and gloomy outside. It’s so very cold. The ocean seems far away right now. But I know I will see it again soon. I pray everyone else does, too.


For Teri Donoho

Please consider a donation to Crossroads Clinic or to the American Cancer Society

For Kaelia Nelson

Please consider a donation to a mental health awareness organization, to the Miss Nebraska Scholarship Program in Kaelia’s memory, or to the Peru State Dance team, of which she was a proud member.

For our dear friend, Cody Warden

Please consider a donation to Leap-For-A-Cure, the local organization fighting every day to help defeat brain cancer, of which Cody and Darbi were proud advocates.


Signing Off

First, to all reading this, I SIMPLY CANNOT thank you enough for the outpouring of support, kind words, encouragement, and simply, the act of reading these posts and reaching out.  As a writer, that means SO VERY MUCH to me, to know people are reading and watching.  THANK YOU.  I don’t know what I did to deserve so much love and kindness, but it has truly filled my heart and soul.  THANK YOU.

Second, my sincere apologies to anyone and everyone NOT included in the first post.  I’ve reread With More Complete Coverage probably 50 times and EVERY TIME I think ‘Holy crap!! How did I forget ____?!?”  And I feel TERRIBLE about that!!! We have so many influential people among us here and we have formed AMAZING friendships over the years. To be honest, at the time I wrote the post I was selfishly wading in a baby pool of my own memories and thoughts, and wish I had taken a few steps back to focus on OTHERS more than myself.  GUYS, I even forgot to WRITE ABOUT MY HUSBAND, BRIAN (who is the most amazing supporter, my best friend and my ROCK for the last 11+ years.)   I don’t want to be one of those people that’s all ‘focus on me.. FOREVER!!!’ BUT I do desperately want to recognize the people who have been so special to me throughout my years here.  I’M STILL ADDING NAMES AS I WRITE THIS!  And still, I know someone will be accidentally left off–PLEASE KNOW, to ALL of my coworkers past and present, the impact you’ve had on me as a person and journalist.  THANK YOU.

CARRIE ECKERT-PATTERSON.. my producer and partner in crime in the newsroom, at the poker table, and on the softball field.


TODD ANDREWS.. my first co-anchor, a destined partnership since Trina Creighton paired us up at UNL for a mock broadcast.

STEVE GOETZ.. the undisputed CHAMP of ‘Name That Tune’, ‘Slug Bug’.. who I could always rely on for baseball talk and to give 100% to our stories together.


CATHY BEELER… KIND, caring, GIVING.  A legend in our business, a leader in our newsroom.

RYAN LUBY.. watch for him now, because he’ll be a network reporter someday soon.  To me, he’ll also always be the guy who drove to King Kong to get me french fries at 9pm when I was 8 months pregnant.

ADRIAN WHITSETT.. my good friend since JUNIOR HIGH.  The big brother that I never had.  I am so damn proud of this guy, and so HONORED to be his friend.


MATT SCHICK and OWEN LEI.. yes, they go together.. because the three of us were a TERRIBLE TRIO for a stretch of time in the mid-2000’s.  From ‘frog wars’, to My Buddy ring tones, to getting yelled at at Omaha Press Club show practice (‘Carol KLOOOOOOOOSSSS!’), they are TRULY awesome, amazing men and friends.


JOHN CAMPBELL.. my fellow Monarch and friend.  Amazing father and husband, HILARIOUS, and I am SO HONORED to have shared our time at KETV together.

CHUCK McWILLIAMS.. our American hero, whose selflessness showed at KETV long before he sacrificed his safety and time with his family to keep us ALL protected here at home.

BEN GRAY.. strong, confident, patient.  The guy who pulled me aside when I was taking criticism with my head hung low and told me, ‘You stand up for yourself!’  I will NEVER forget that moment.

JIM REDING.. a man DESTINED to be a journalist.  A friend to everyone, and one of our leaders as our Managing Editor here at KETV.


MELISSA FRY.. my news SISTER.  One of the most beautiful people inside and out I have ever known.

PETE SOBY.. an unparalleled talent, and constant teacher to everyone around him.  I dare say HALF of the photographers in Omaha television were guided or influenced by Pete.

ROSE ANN SHANNON.. my mentor, boss and friend.  She went to bat for me when I was a green, wannabe, college student.  I owe my career to her.

SUZANNE DEYO.. my desk buddy for so many years in the Newsplex, and who I confided in that I ‘had a crush on a KPTM photographer.’  She called my now-husband, helping lead to our first date.

MATT BROWN.. ONE OF THE MOST TALENTED GUYS I HAVE EVER MET.  Director, graphics genius, team player, FRIEND.


TOM ROCK.. DOCTOR TOM.  The Godfather of KETV.  Along with Rob, there are few I respect more in our business, and as a human being.

RUTH BEHRENS.. QUEEN RUTH.  So dang smart, caring, and makes THE BEST. CHILI. EVER.

JOSH GEAR.. So, SO talented, eager and willing to learn, and literally GOOD AT EVERYTHING in TV news.


ALEX HOFFMAN.. my Miss America soul sister, a woman you literally just STARE at because she’s so striking and perfect.. then want to just HANG OUT WITH forever because she’s just so cool and AWESOME.


JULIE CORNELL.. in a world where transitions can be awkward and difficult, she welcomed me with open arms, guided me, and has ALWAYS been there with advice, an ear to listen, and INSPIRATION in everything she says and does in her own life and career.

TYLER WHITE.. JEREMY MASKEL.. STEVE HENNEBERRY.. JIM HEALEY.. KYLE GRAVLIN.. CAMILA ORTI.. this list could honestly continue FOREVER, and I will still have forgotten someone.  MY BRAIN IS AN EMOTIONAL TORNADO RIGHT NOW.  THESE are the people who have not only been my coworkers, but my friends and confidantes for the last 15 years.. and Sunday night, I will say goodbye to them here at KETV.

There’ve been countless others, too–the people we meet everyday who have allowed us to share their stories.  Bottom line, I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the last two weeks, about the stories and people both here at KETV and out in the field.  My friend, teacher and Assistant News Director Vonn Jones asked me to choose three of my most memorable stories to look back on these last few newscasts.  I did it.. with GREAT difficulty.. so here’s a little addendum to that final assignment.

Baby Lawrence

Paralyzed Bride, Gina Springhower

Casey Charf

Derek Ruth

Operation: Open Hearts

Evan Sharp & Rhonda Sharp


Clayton Hildreth

Drew Fiala

Jake Childs

Lane Thomas, Brayden Skillings, and the fight against SIDS

Ashley Bunn

Kyle Ienn

Amber Harris

Kayla Wilkins

Kasey Remmereid & Cassi Collier

Kerrie Orozco

Josue Ramirez-Marinero & Ismenia Marinero

My intention was to write something about each of these stories… what I still see and hear when I close my eyes.  But right now, it would be like trying to focus on one piece swirling in that tornado.. I feel like all of these stories and people have passed by in a FLASH.  I could write a novel.. and I INTEND TO.  As I’ve mentioned.. someday I want to write a book.  I want to devote the time and detail to each of these stories, and their ‘back stories’, that they deserve.  Someday.

I want to tell stories.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, consciously or not.  Sunday at 10 on KETV, I will close this chapter for now, fully intending to revisit it when my hubs and I are retired in San Diego.  He’ll golf, I’ll write.  For now, I am SO VERY EXCITED to begin this new adventure at Westside, and with that, I invite you to sign up here for email alerts about blog posts, or follow me on social media.. the stories will continue, just in a different way!!  There is SO MUCH GOOD in these students, in our teachers… WE NEED MORE GOOD STORIES!!!  THAT is where my focus will shift.. to the Westside Warriors family, and to my own at home.  I also plan to continue writing here on Anchor’s Away; pursuing my Throwback Thursday series this Husker Football season, and featuring the 2017 Class of Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, as well as other things that pique my interest in our amazing community!

I don’t want to rehash too much from my first post (TOO LATE!!)  but hey, I’m fulfilling our More Complete Coverage mantra one more time 🙂 My apologies for this one last walk (a long, LONG walk) down memory lane.  It’s been one hell of a trip.






See you Sunday at 10.

The Year of the Phoenix

“Phoenixes burst into flame and are reborn from the ashes.”

Every lyric of her song shone through her face.  She didn’t spin, raise a leg or lift an arm without passion behind her movement.  Finally, as the audience cheered and applauded, she jogged off stage and collapsed into the arms of a woman behind the curtain, allowing emotion to overcome her.

Miss Nebraska 2016 was simply the Year of the Phoenix.


Guys, I don’t have words to tell you HOW MUCH I LOVE MISS NEBRASKA WEEK.  These women are simply INCREDIBLE; they are physical specimens after months of devotion to health and unwavering dedication to fitness.  They glow with energy and charisma, arguably some of the most charming, personable, enjoyable people you could hope to meet.  They are intelligent; they are well spoken; they are confident; they are TALENTED.  They are the best of the best, and not just the contestants, but the board members and volunteers who work tirelessly year round to make Miss Nebraska week happen.


This year, my role shifted from the giddy spectator in the audience, to the selfie-loving goofball turned co-host on stage.


I was so very honored to emcee this year’s preliminary and final nights of competition, alongside respected News Director and community leader, Scott Carlson.  THIS GUY IS AMAZING! A consummate gentleman with the classic announcer voice who made the entire week just FUN!  We didn’t get the front seat view hundreds of others did this month in North Platte, Nebraska.. we got a behind the scenes look every day at rehearsal, and every night when everything was on the line.  For this year’s ‘recap’ addition of my There She Is series.. I’m filling you in.


June 6, 2016

‘Wow. I am so unbelievably blessed with the most incredible people in my life. I could not ask for a better host family. I feel so at home here. We stayed up for like an hour just talking about everything and my platform. I am really taking it all in. And I love this! I am enjoying every minute of it which is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Even just reflecting on my year and all of the incredible people that played such an important role in helping me develop into the person I am. I am so so so lucky by being blessed with the Halls and Denise and this organization. Honestly no matter what happens. God is good all the time. All the time God is good.’

She hit ‘send’ on her phone, connecting with her mom at the beginning of what would be an unforgettable week.  She’d been part of Miss Nebraska week twice before, finishing in the Top 5 and then as 1st Runner Up.  She’d spent years telling students and groups about how she’d been bullied as a teenager, tormented into self-doubt and silence.  She wanted this.. to BE Miss Nebraska.. but she already had perspective.

5 days later..

“Your new Miss Nebraska is contestant #12, Miss Omaha Aleah Peters!”


Photo courtesy Brooke Butterfield Photography

Who is Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters? I hope you’ll CLICK HERE and check out my interview with Aleah months before she traveled to North Platte.  You could also CLICK HERE to read about how she came OH so close two years ago, finishing 1st runner up.  Still, as I’ve written before, I believe you can tell so much about a person’s true character by what they say and do when they’re OUT of the spotlight…

Aleah sent that text message to her mom, Kay, two full days before she even began preliminary competition.  Folks, this year’s competition was CRAZY TOUGH.  Not just the Top 5, but any of the Top 10 could’ve become Miss Nebraska.  THEY WERE/ARE SENSATIONAL.  Yet this panel of incredible judges (including a motivational speaker, a woman traveling the country handing out checks to cancer survivors, a Top 5 finalist at Miss America, and one of Omaha’s most well known businesswomen and entrepreneurs), chose ALEAH to represent our state and everything we stand for.  Yes, they saw THIS..


Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph

..a 3-time world champion baton twirler dazzling the crowd with her craft.  YES, they saw a CHISELED athlete who has muscles I don’t even know how to tone.  And YES, they saw a bright, articulate young woman with an action plan and mission to make a difference… but perhaps they also saw what Aleah’s mom was proudest of in her daughter through that text message.  Gratitude.  Maturity.  Perspective.


And THAT is what she will now bring to countless children across our state and beyond, leading by example as Miss Nebraska 2016.


She smiled on stage, trying to hide the nervous electricity pulsing through her veins.  It was the first night of preliminary competition, the first opportunity after MONTHS, no YEARS of preparation, to take that step closer to becoming Miss Nebraska 2016. And then she heard it, “Miss Queen City Lianna Prill!”

Another night, another final stretch to wait for that envelope to be passed up to the stage.  She had performed her talent first that night; she set the bar for how the judges would compare and score all of the other talents that followed.  Then, she heard her name AGAIN, “Miss Queen City, Lianna Prill!”

Photos courtesy Brooke Butterfield Photography

Lianna was a double-prelim winner, claiming awards in both Evening Gown and Talent (a tie on Night 2 along with Aleah.)  The look on her face, BOTH nights, was PRICELESS, disbelief and sheer joy.  Lianna went on to finish 2nd Runner-Up at this year’s pageant, a huge jump from her finish two years ago, outside the Top 8.  I’d argue few deserved a boost like this more than this incredible young woman, knowing what she’d battled through over the last year.

As Lianna told me in her interview earlier this year, she has Celiac Disease; though she has completely changed her lifestyle to stay as happy and healthy as she can be, she IS still dealing with a chronic disorder.  Regardless, Lianna took on a full-time internship with us here at KETV, while working as an editor with the Daily Nebraskan, WHILE attending classes full time at UNL, WHILE taking part in events from Hastings to Omaha as Miss Queen City.  Already put to the test physically, Lianna was then dealt an unimaginable emotional blow; personal events in her family ultimately lead to her parents’ divorce.

Lianna needed this week. Her family needed this.  I simply BEAMED on stage watching Lianna accept her awards, and by late Thursday night I was nothing short of giddy for her when I bumped into Lianna after visitation.

“Lianna, you are a DOUBLE PRELIM WINNER!  You won TWO prelim awards!” I told her.

“I can’t believe it,” she told me, unable to hide her smile.  “I’m just so, so grateful.”


Focused.  Kind.  Humble.  THAT is the caliber of person this program recognizes and lifts up, helping inspire others facing challenges of their own.


June 10, 2016

‘I am heartbroken. Such a senseless waste of a beautiful life that contributed so much to the 4H community. She would have been the 6th Boulder County Fair Queen to receive the crown and join the sisterhood after me. I will always remember her as a great teammate, competitor, role model, horsewoman, and a kind soul. We will miss you Ashley.’

She had already been through a grueling week of rehearsals, appearances, and competition.  Saturday’s final run-through was supposed to be low-stress, and quick.  The night before she had received crushing news.. a close friend was dead.  Murdered, allegedly at the hand of someone she cared for.  She went to rehearsal Saturday stoic, telling her fellow contestants what happened.. women she knew in much the same way as the girl who was now gone.


Miss Western Nebraska Marie Allison lived in and competed in pageants in Colorado for several years before moving to Nebraska.  Through those experiences, she met Ashley Doolittle.  Police say June 9, Ashley’s ex-boyfriend shot and killed her, upset she had broken off their year-long relationship.

Less than 24 hours after hearing the news of her friend’s terrible death, Marie competed on the Miss Nebraska stage for one final time, and won the Non-Finalist Interview Award.  Somehow, she pushed through whatever pain and despair she was feeling, and stood tall not only for herself and the loved ones supporting her, but for the Little Sisters who idolized her.  They knew nothing of the horrors of what happens in our world.. they only saw beauty, love and kindness.


Self-confidence.  Leadership. Resolve.  THAT is what these young women showed more than 30 little girls this year, many of whom will grow up wanting to be just like their Big Sisters.


Now, the dancer.  The girl who conveyed every word and every beat of her music on the Miss Nebraska stage.  I stood behind the curtain, thinking ‘wow.. she is so passionate about this!’ and suddenly, I noticed that volunteer Jordan Engel was waiting alongside me.

“We’re trying to make sure someone is back here every night for Alex,” said Jordan.  After talking to Miss Fur Trade Days Alex O’Connor this spring, I knew she cared deeply for her platform, Congenital Heart Defect Awareness, and that she had dedicated her performance to kids everywhere facing what she had as a child.  I thought that was fueling her.

“Her uncle died last week,” said Jordan.  “His funeral was Friday.”

Alex had said goodbye to her uncle, who died suddenly and unexpectedly, just one week before arriving in North Platte to compete for Miss Nebraska.  What should have been a joyous and prideful time for her family to celebrate this amazing woman, was diluted and tempered by raw emotion and grief.  Alex used whatever she was feeling on the inside to light up on that stage and make everyone watching feel something incredibly powerful.. for herself, for her family, and for her uncle.


Photo courtesy Brooke Butterfield Photography

‘Billy O helping me with my queen wave. ❤️ you always knew the right things to do in order to make me smile. I cherished every moment I got to be with you. You will truly be missed. Rest in peace ❤️ my uncle.’

Compassion.  Strength.  Love.  THAT is what makes this entire week more than just a competition, it’s a showcase of the best attributes women everywhere; no, PEOPLE everywhere, should aim to achieve.

I’ve been a contestant in the Miss Nebraska Pageant.  It is exhilarating.  It is an honor.  It is SO MUCH FUN.  But it is also EXHAUSTING.  It is emotionally draining.  It is a competition that pushes you to become your best, but requires ALL you have to give.  To hear each of these stories throughout this week, knowing what these women were enduring as they took part in this marathon week..

I’m speechless.

Except I still have my Brandi Petersen Unofficial Fan Club Awards to hand out.  Oh yeah, I didn’t forget!! I know how much my readers look forward to these!



The Walking The Red Carpet Like a BOSS Awards

Ohhhhhhhhh, evening gowns, how I love thee.  Before I go any further, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to Joe Bohac and the Black Swan Dress Boutique for loaning me three GORGEOUS gowns to host the pageant!  I felt like a PRINCESS (albeit a princess who tested how far jersey can STRETCH before bursting..)

Another HUGE thank you to the backstage GENIUSES, Becky Serrano who styled my hair each night, and Sue Miller and her Mary Kay team for transforming me from Troll to Ta-da!  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU everyone!

OK.. now the AWARDS..


Miss Douglas County Savannah Rave (who was also 1st Runner Up!) had one of my FAVORITE gowns of the week.  I GASPED when I saw this gown… absolutely STUNNING on stage, and plus.. WHITE. JERSEY.  I mean, who can wear white jersey and make it look THIS dang amazing?  Her name is Savannah.  She’s AWESOME.  (Gown by Tarik Ediz from the Black Swan Dress Boutique.)


Miss Scotts Bluff County Allison Baird (a Top 5 finalist!)  was STUNNING.  I’ve said before how much I love COLOR.. yet two of my favorite gowns were Savannah’s white and Allie’s black.  THIS GOWN WAS SOOOOOO PERFECT.  It was elegant, mature (in a good way!), and SUCH a show stopper!  (Gown by Ritzee from the Black Swan Dress Boutique.)


Miss Kearney Stacy Pospisil (a Top 10 finalist) won a Preliminary Evening Gown Award for this dress.. and OH, HOW I LOVED IT!  Again, I LOVE color, and not everyone can work a hot pink, ruffly princess dress.  STACY DID.  It was GLORIOUS.  (Gown by Jovani from the Winning Crown Boutique.)


Another of my favorite gowns was on a teen contestant.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Carsyn Long!  THIS. WAS. PERFECTION.  (Carsyn is pictured above on the left next to the equally fabulous Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Emma Wilkinson!) You guys, I still can’t get ENOUGH of this BEAUTIFUL gown.. it’s like it was MADE for Carsyn and for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen competition.  Elegant, fun, regal, stunning. This might have been my FAVORITE gown of the week.  (Gown by Jovani from the Winning Crown Boutique.)

Finally, not competing but HOLY. COW.  THIS GOWN, worn by Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell during Wednesday Night’s Awards Presentation.


No words.  Ok, two words:  HOLY CRAP.  (Gown by Mac Duggal from the Black Swan Dress Boutique–FABULOUS owner Joe Bohac is next to Alyssa in the picture!)


The Our State’s More Talented Than Your State Awards

Two talent winners Night One.  Two talent winners Night Two.  Two Overall Talent winners.  An INCREDIBLE Non-Finalist Talent Winner.  An outgoing teen who is also a 6-time world champion, and a show-stopping teen crowned in her place.

Our state > your state.


This year’s field of talent was OUT OF THIS WORLD for both the Miss and the Teen contestants.  I have a strong feeling you’re going to see/hear from these incredible women long after their pageant days are done–they have PHENOMENAL gifts and those of us in attendance at this year’s pageant were blessed to witness firsthand!  It’s so hard to narrow this down.. but here were my favorites!


Photo courtesy Brooke Butterfield Photography

Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Emma Wilkinson.  Sometime, I’d like to talk to Emma’s mom about WHAT POINT she knew Emma had this GIFT–no, not a talent, a GIFT to sing.  Yes, you can improve.. yes, you can fine tune, but what this girl has is a God-given GIFT.  From the MOMENT her music began and she raised that microphone, I was BLOWN AWAY by her performance.  So was the crowd and the judges; Emma was this year’s 1st Runner Up.  Assuming Disney or Pixar doesn’t hear this girl and snatch her up for their next blockbuster, I am SO EAGER to see her compete on the Miss Nebraska stage someday!!

payton via kamie

Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph

Miss Nebraska State Fair Payton Merritt.  I’ve been pretty clear in my past posts that I ADORE this girl.  She’s brilliant, she’s kind, she’s stunning.. and MY LAWD can this girl sing.  Her voice is SO UNIQUE.  She can do things while she’s singing that are SO DIFFICULT: growls, vibrato, power, range.   She simply TRANSFORMS on stage from a petite blonde to a POWERHOUSE vocalist. This year, she shared her own rendition of the classic House Of The Rising Sun, and I texted a friend that this girl could WIN a prelim talent award at Miss America with it,  IT WAS THAT GOOD.  Payton walked away Wednesday night with a Miss Nebraska Prelim Talent Award (tying with Miss Twin Rivers Jenni Wahonick!) and was named a Top 10 finalist.

Right photo courtesy of Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph

Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Hannah Miller… now THE NEW Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen!  What a JOYOUS performance from our state’s new teen titleholder.  For Miss America groupies like me, this performance reminded me SO MUCH of Miss America 2013 Mallory Hytes Hagan.  Hannah’s tap dance was sassy, energetic and fun, it was a SHOW STOPPER!  For the last two years, Nebraska’s teen titleholders have finished in the Top 10 on the national stage in July, and I can’t WAIT to see Hannah continue that trend this summer!

Ok.. I just can’t narrow down the rest.  Miss Alliance Kate Duncan‘s vocal performance was simply BEAUTIFUL, and earned her the Non-Finalist Talent Award.  Miss Chadron Tyler Rambali’s performance of Let It Go with her Idina-Menzel-like-pipes shot her into the Top 10 in this, her FIRST try at the Miss Nebraska crown.  Miss Kearney Stacy Pospisil’s dance was absolutely BREATHTAKING, also helping her make the Top 10 this year.  This year’s competition was simply a talent SHOWCASE that I wish our entire state could have seen and been proud of.


The Put-Down-That-Runza, Petersen! Awards

Since I’ve been home from Miss Nebraska Week, and I’m talking to people about how it went, these women and their bodies are usually the FIRST thing I brag on.  Yes, I’m aware of how creepy that sounds.

I think ‘Swimsuit Competition’ and the stigmas associated with that phrase will in someway ALWAYS be stereotypes and negative connotations our program is faced with.  Here’s the deal; this is NOT a skinny competition.  This is NOT a contest to see who can survive the longest on chicken broth.  This is NOT public shaming of young women, in fact, it’s just the opposite. What I see more and more each year I return to North Platte are fit, strong, healthy women, PROUD of the work they have put in and ready to show that off.  I know better than anyone (thank you, Spanx), you can hide things under clothes.  The thing with a swimsuit–there’s NO hiding.  So these women have learned how to be the best physical version of themselves to prepare for that moment, and in doing so, establish healthy lifestyles that last long beyond Miss Nebraska week.  To ALL of this year’s contestants, I BOW DOWN TO YOU.

Aleah, Savannah and Stacy’s photos courtesy Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph.  Allison’s photo courtesy Black Swan Dress Boutique/Joe Bohac

Miss Scotts Bluff County Allison Baird was my Lifestyle and Fitness winner.  MUSCLE ON MUSCLE WITH MUSCLE.  ABS FOR DAYS.  It was like a magazine cover!  And Allie’s PROUD of that photo!! She told me ‘I worked hard to feel confident up there!’


Neither I, nor any of the audience gets to see the Interview portion of competition, but we all did get to see the On Stage Questions these women were presented with.  Folks, I’ve interviewed a lot of people over my 15 years of journalism.  I’ve heard politicians dance around questions they don’t want to (or can’t) answer.  I’ve heard leaders stumble and stammer when thousands (or more) were listening in.  These women, all 17-24 years old.. fielded some DIFFICULT questions on issues ranging from the transgender rights debate, to the presidential race, to prison control in Nebraska.  They were articulate, confident, INTELLIGENT.  THIS is the part of the competition I wish I could LIVE STREAM to haters everywhere, because IT. WAS. AWESOME.


I woke up groggy and immediately aware my feet HURT after a week straight of standing in heels for hours at a time.  I grabbed my phone, hoping to feed my social media addiction by seeing how far word had spread that Aleah Peters was the new Miss Nebraska 2016.  Instead, I saw pain, anger, grief.  49 people had been shot and killed inside a nightclub in the deadliest shooting in recent American history.  I drove home from North Platte, listening to news coverage on satellite radio the entire trip, my heart heavy for my friends in Orlando covering the horror, and for the country we increasingly seem to be turning into.

I don’t want to believe that.  I want to focus on the good.  I need to believe that like the Phoenix, we can be reborn from the ashes and soar to something higher.

These women give me hope.  That hard work still exists.. and pays off.  That good things happen to good people.  That when you recognize the good, it spawns MORE positivity, a cycle that leads to endless energy, smiles, and inspiration.


LOVE BEATS HATE.  Love for each other, love for what we do, and love for LIFE.

 Congratulations and THANK YOU to the Miss Nebraska Class of 2016 for allowing me to share these stories of challenges and successes.  I cannot WAIT to see how high and far each of you soar.


My thoughts and prayers are with Ashley Doolittle, her family and friends.  May she rest in peace.