Tag Archive | miss nebraska

Just Like Fire

Aleah Peters woke up this morning as Miss Nebraska for the last time.

This is the 36th blog post I’ve written this spring about the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants. Out loud, that’s been my excuse for why it’s taken me so long to write an article about Aleah, her final send-off in blog form. Subconsciously, I think I’ve been avoiding writing this.. because I want her to stay Miss Nebraska forever.

Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

As volunteers, we work so hard to make Miss Nebraska relevant, memorable, a woman with substance in our state. From Day 1, Aleah GOT IT. She used every single moment of her year to make a difference, to market herself, to positively represent the Miss Nebraska brand and to take our organization to the next level. She is kind, she is passionate, she is hardworking, she is dedicated, she is down-to-earth, she is smart, she is talented, she is powerful. And with tears in my eyes as I write this, I’m not ready to see her go.

She hugged every child who approached her, and signed every autograph. She accepted every media interview I threw at her, and nailed it with charisma, articulation and humor. She thanked, acknowledged and was truly grateful for every supporter and loved one who stood by her throughout her journey to Miss Nebraska three times and to Miss America. She crisscrossed the state, visiting 2-3 schools every week in addition to fundraisers, galas, and volunteer events. She awed students with her innate talent to twirl, but many remember her long after for the powerful, personal message about bullying she brought to thousands. We want a Miss Nebraska who makes a difference. Aleah Peters changed our part of the world, one visit at a time.

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“I can’t believe that my year is already over and pretty soon it will be someone else’s turn,” Aleah told me recently. “This year has been a huge blessing and an amazing opportunity. Truly a transformational year. Although I feel like I blinked and it was over, there were some weekends and days that felt like a long year of work. A few drives that seemed to take forever or weeks jam-packed with events and appearances I thought would never end. But I wouldn’t trade the long weeks or long drives for anything. Being Miss Nebraska is work. It is a full-time job, but luckily, it’s a fun job.”

When Aleah was crowned Miss Nebraska 2016, she had just graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She was a mature young woman who truly understood that this moment of sheer excitement was just the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that she embraced and ran with from day one.

“I had a very clear idea of the job that I was applying for and what I was getting myself into,” said Aleah. “I knew what I wanted to accomplish as Miss Nebraska and I knew I wanted to share my message in schools. However, I didn’t realize what a voice I had or what an impact I could make until I did. I never knew how many kids needed to hear my message. I never knew how many eyes would light up when I walked into a room. I never knew I had the power to make every child in the room silent by telling my story. That is how this job became so much more than a job.”

Throughout her years just competing for the title of Miss Nebraska, Aleah spoke to thousands of students about Cyberbullying Awareness. As she told me throughout that journey (click here to read more!) her passion was based on her own experiences being bullied as a teenager by a group of girls from school. Her mission to #MakeKindnessViral is increasingly important in today’s climate of technology and anonymous assault; even Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has made Cyber Safety a key platform based on ongoing problems affecting children, adults and businesses across our state and beyond. Schools across Nebraska asked Aleah to come in and talk to their students, and in October, DeMoine Adams and Teammates brought Aleah on board to visit even more.

Several principals within Westside Community Schools invited Aleah in after she was crowned Miss Nebraska, asking her to share her platform. Over and over, she told hundreds of students about those dark days when she was afraid to answer the phone, when she was afraid to leave her house, when ‘mean girls’ simply made her life hell. In every presentation, she found ways to connect with the students she spoke with, helping them understand her story and hopefully, sending them back out into the world more equipped to deal with bullies, and less likely to become one themselves. One of Westside’s Teacher Leaders told me months later, “our students still talk about her and what she said.” This same scenario played out at schools over and over again throughout this past year.

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“One little girl in a wheelchair asked her teacher if I would meet with her after the school assembly to help her with her project,” said Aleah. “She explained to me that she experienced bullying because she is different from the other students. Another powerful moment was when I spoke in a town that recently experienced a suicide. Many of the students raised their hands to ask what I thought of suicide. It was very clear that there were still some open wounds and a lot of healing for the town but the students were trying to learn more and understand why this happened. Any time a student approaches me and lets me know that they appreciated hearing my story, it makes it all worth it.”

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“One of the highlights of my year was meeting Dr. Mark Adler,” said Aleah. “[Dr. Adler is] the Superintendent of Ralston Public Schools who lost his son to suicide because of cyberbullying. Dr. Adler thanked me for the work I was doing, and that meant a lot to me.”

Aleah’s stories from each visit are varied and often, hilarious. To countless children, especially our youngest Nebraskans, Aleah was a princess personified.

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“I will never get over walking into an elementary school assembly and seeing their eyes light up,” said Aleah. “At one school, the principal was trying to get the students to quiet down and she said ‘obviously we have a very special guest with us here today’ and they all started applauding. Elementary school kids are so much fun and they asked the silliest questions. ‘Did you take a limo to get here?’ ‘Do you live in a castle?’ It was always fun to explain what Miss Nebraska is to them. In one 3rd grade class we lined up to take a picture and the teacher told a student to stop being goofy. With a grin from ear to ear he said ‘I’m so happy right now.’

Among Aleah’s favorite moments as Miss Nebraska was representing our state at the 2017 Miss America Pageant.

“Miss America was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Aleah. “I am so happy for Savvy Shields, our Miss America 2016. She is an incredible Miss America and is doing a GREAT job. Regardless of how the competition went, I still won. I won 51 new friends. I won with the relationships I made. I walked away from the competition so fulfilled. I put my very best on the floor and that is exactly what I wanted to do regardless of what place I earned. Some of my favorite Miss America moments include: catching my somersault trick on stage and going crazy! I ran off stage with pure joy and excitement and jumped into Chris the security guard’s arms. I love twirling for an audience and that was one of the most adrenaline rushing performances I have ever done. Another Miss America moment that I look back on and appreciate now is filming our introductions in a hurricane warning. The wind was insane! We went from an amusement park to go out on a boat. I remember curling up in a ball because I was freezing, more than ready to get off, when the camera crew said ‘let’s do that again!'”

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“After we all got done with our swimsuit prelim competitions we crushed about 10 pizzas between 8 girls at our meeting that night,” said Aleah. “I also loved seeing my cheering section in the audience. I was able to spot them right away the second I walked out because there were huge N’s and pictures of my face.”

“Through all the dinners, rehearsals, and late night meetings, I just remember laughing for two weeks straight,” said Aleah. “I won so much more out of the Miss America competition than a crown and scholarship money. I made memories and friendships to last me a lifetime.”

In one of Aleah’s last school visits, she talked to a group of Kindergartners about success. She shared how she competed for Miss Nebraska three times.. winning 3rd place, and then 2nd place before winning our state title. She explained to these children that to her, success was more than just winning Miss Nebraska… it was about working hard, having a great attitude, and being the best version of herself she could be.

To Aleah Peters, this year has been so much more than a pretty crown. She has maintained an INCREDIBLE physique because she learned how to be healthier as part of this journey, and stuck with it. She continued to visit schools and schedule appearances even after her time at Miss America was done, because she wanted to make a difference with the time she had. She opened her heart to this year’s 16 Miss Nebraska contestants, constantly offering guidance and support. She talked about the $26,585 in cash scholarships she has won, and encouraged other young women to sign up for the same journey she’s had.

“I wanted people to know Miss Nebraska,” said Aleah. “I wanted people to relate to her, to be able to talk to her, to try on her crown, learn how to twirl baton, and to be inspired by her.”

As this journey ends, Aleah, true to form, is ready to begin another. She is getting married in September and moving to Florida, where she plans to work in communications.

“The Miss America Organization has given me so much,” said Aleah. “Not only scholarship money and best friends but it has helped me become the best version of myself. It has helped me find a passion in service. This organization has transformed me into the type of woman I want to be. It has given me confidence, shown me what commitment and dedication look like, and pushed me to accomplish more than I thought was possible. I am excited for the big changes ahead! Only God knows what is in store for me and I am so excited for him to show me.”

GIRLS WITH ME

I’m having a hard time perfectly explaining why this woman is such an incredible role model not just to countless children, but to ALL (myself included!) I am in complete awe of how she takes care of herself, eating healthy and getting to the gym everyday despite her crazy schedule. I am so impressed with her strategic business skills marketing herself to make the most out of every moment of this year. I am humbled and inspired by her sheer kindness and goodness, even towards the ‘mean girls’ who inspired the life changing messages she’s taken to so many.

“I think everyone should be proud of all they have accomplished, including those mean girls,” said Aleah. “So instead I say thank you for giving me a story to share. Thank you for allowing me to relate to so many children who have been bullied. To freshman year Aleah, [I would say] you will get through it and you still be stronger because of it. Appreciate the obstacles you’ve had to overcome because they shape who you are.”

We all wake up every morning with a choice.. to get through the day, or to use every day to our full advantage. The Miss Nebraska Class of 2017 has already accomplished so much in their communities, on their campuses and for so many others around them. They each have a spark; so did Aleah at this time last year. And look what she did with it… a young woman who became Miss Nebraska and simply put, was just like fire.

Just like fire, burning out the way
If I can light the world up for just one day
Watch this madness, colorful charade
No one can be just like me any way
Just like magic, I’ll be flying free
I’mma disappear when they come for me
I kick that ceiling, what you gonna say?
No one can be just like me any way..

No one will EVER be like Aleah Peters. Thank you for your smile. Thank you for your spirit. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for being YOU, our forever Miss Nebraska.

“Appreciate the little things, word hard and dream BIG! Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Realize that you can always find a commonality with someone and you can always learn from someone. Be a friend and make kindness viral. Appreciate the journey every step of the way.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * The Year of the Phoenix

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Fighting For Hope

CLICK HERE * 2014 * How Do You Like Me Now?

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Up For The Challenge

What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced?

The fact that nothing immediately comes to my mind as a forerunner tells me I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life. I think of breakups, hiccups throughout my career(s), how do I raise happy, healthy children, and simply time management. This is all just life, right?

How about this for a challenge.. battling a chronic disease, surviving a car accident, facing your parents’ divorce, all while double majoring in college and launching your own organization.

WHAT?

Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

“Although I’ve experienced plenty of life obstacles, I’ve used every experience as motivation to propel me to my goals,” Lianna told me recently. “I use my sassy and positive attitude to accomplish my dreams.”

Lianna doesn’t dwell on what’s happened to her. Instead, she focuses on what she’s doing NOW. For more than five years, she’s worked nonstop to make the world a better place and to make her aspirations become reality. For example… her mission to become Miss Nebraska.

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“There is nothing I want more,” said Lianna. “When I was eight, I promised myself that once I was qualified to compete, I would give it everything I had to become the role model that I looked up to back then. This organization continues to give me a stage to perform on, a voice to share my message, an opportunity to give back to Children’s Miracle Network and a scholarship opportunity to help me graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln debt free.”

Lianna was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012, the first step in that journey to achieve her dream. It was a chance for her to sing and perform for thousands of people across the state and at the national Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition that year.

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“I. Love. Talent.” said Lianna. “Standing on stage under bright lights and not seeing anyone in the audience allows me to truly perform for an audience of One. I believe everyone has a gift and belting out a song on the Miss Nebraska stage is how I give mine back to Him.”

But that exciting year wasn’t without challenges; around the same time Lianna finally found an answer to the crippling pain that had haunted her for years.

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“I unknowingly suffered from Celiac Disease for a decade,” said Lianna, who explains more about what that is HERE. “I needed to adhere to a strict gluten and dairy free lifestyle. It was then I realized the crucial link between diet and wellness.”

Lianna spread awareness of Celiac throughout high school, earning a D.J.’s Hero Award and a $10,000 scholarship for her efforts. She continued as a Miss Nebraska titleholder to advocate for others diagnosed or not yet diagnosed (approximately 1 in every 133 people).. but realized that her message applied to everyone, not just those facing this chronic disease.

“I wanted to make my message universal,” said Lianna. “‘Eat Well, Be Well’ focuses on healthy lifestyles full of whole foods designed for our bodies. Nutrition is a game changer and eating well makes you feel well and be well!”

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Lianna, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took her message even further, forming the Gluten Free Community on her campus. She’s also a busy sorority member on campus, a staff member at the Daily Nebraskan, and a student with two majors in her work towards a career in broadcast journalism.

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Her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed; Lianna is now a finalist for the 2017 Miss Nebraska Community Service Awards, and earned the People’s Choice Award sponsored by Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe after earning more than 1,100 online votes from her friends, fellow students, and perhaps, strangers inspired by her story. A story and mission that once again, are all part of her lifelong dream.

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“Hey, I’m not a Barbie! I lead a healthy lifestyle, and I strive to be well-rounded,” said Lianna. “The Miss America Organization is a training ground for interviews, jobs and life. It has given me the opportunity to hone communication skills that I will use in the future and in my career, not to mention, it funded my college career and allowed me to not only attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but double major and graduate this year. I have become the best version of myself because of the four points of the Miss America crown.”

Service. Scholarship. Style. SUCCESS.

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How do you measure success? Only if you rise about those challenges and accomplish your goals? Or do you succeed through pushing yourself further than you ever thought possible in the attempt?

Lianna Prill looks at every challenge as more motivation.

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Appearances speaking about Celiac Disease aren’t work; they are opportunities to help more and more people Eat Well and Be Well. Every time she takes the stage to sing, Lianna doesn’t think ‘what if I mess up?’ She embraces each moment and revels in it. The countless hours spent visiting schools and groups across Nebraska don’t take away from her time, they add to her resume as a future reporter and anchor.. and possibly, a future Miss Nebraska. THAT may be the biggest challenge Lianna Prill has ever faced, and she says BRING IT ON.

“I want to give back in any way I can; the Miss America Organization makes that possible,” said Lianna. “I have worked incredibly hard on my journey to Miss Nebraska this year, and I am looking forward to seeing God’s plan unravel.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill, CLICK HERE to follow her on Instagram, CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Wonder Woman

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Fueling The Journey

For more information about the Miss Alliance Pageant/Miss Harvest Moon Festival Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook. You can also email Director Riki Cornish Hunter at riki.hunter@farmcoop.com or miss.alliance.pageant@gmail.com or call 308-430-4355.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Memorial Day

Early 2003. I was a student at UNL, and planned to meet my good friend Adrian for lunch. Many of you know him as KETV’s award winning anchor & reporter Adrian Whitsett; I’ve called him ‘friend’ since our high school days at Papillion-La Vista.

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Then, Adrian was enlisted in the Marines and had spent time across the US and in Japan. I don’t remember where we were or what we were doing that day back in Papillion, but I remember at one point, him telling me that he would probably be leaving soon. He couldn’t tell me where he was going or when, but just wanted to let me know.

March 20, I was lying on the couch in my parents basement swollen like a chipmunk after having my wisdom teeth removed, when network news broke in; the United States was invading Iraq. I pointed to the TV and said ‘hey!!’ and realized that was what Adrian was talking about.. he was there.

While I attended candlelight vigils for our troops and wrote Adrian letters from the comfort of my Omaha apartment, my friend was on the front lines of a war-torn, unstable country thousands of miles away. He eventually lost hearing in one of his ears from firing high-power weapons; he cleaned himself in the 120-degree+ Iraqi heat with Wet Wipes; he saw and experienced terrible things most of us will never even think of. Adrian came home that August. Thousands of brave Americans did not.

Army Pvt. Kenny Nalley of Hamburg, Iowa. He was 19 and wanted to be police officer.

Marine Lance Cpl Shane E. Kielion of Omaha. He died the same day his son, Shane Jr., was born.

Army National Guardsman Spc. Joshua Ford of Pender, just 20. The same explosion that killed him claimed the leg of one of his fellow soldiers, a man who bravely stood to salute his fallen brother at their return ceremony.

A Nebraska woman has spent countless hours volunteering and uniting people across the state, ensuring we remember these brave men and women on Memorial Day and ever other day.

Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

“My grandfather was a Marine during the Korean War, and was very proud of the years he served his country,” Allison told me recently. “When he passed away, I knew I wanted to do something to honor him and everything he stood for. That is when I first got involved with the Nebraska Honor Flights.”

Vietnam Honor Flight (2016)

The Honor Flights are massive cooperative efforts to fly veterans to Washington DC, at no charge to them, to see the monuments and tributes built for them and the friends they have lost in war or since conflict. They are organized by Patriotic Productions; founders Bill and Evonne Williams are literally angels on earth, devoting their lives to this cause and to their traveling Remembering Our Fallen exhibit, a tribute to every single man and woman who has died serving our country since 9/11.

In 2014, Allison spearheaded efforts in her tiny hometown of Chester, Nebraska to raise $500, the cost to send one Korean veteran to DC on an Honor Flight. They raised $4,000.. and Patriotic Productions asked Allison to join them as a guardian, a trip she also talked about when I interviewed her in 2015.

Korean Honor Flight (2014)

“It was an amazing and humbling experience that truly set me on a lifelong path to honor and respect these men and women,” said Allison. “Since this first Honor Flight, I [have helped] with the Gold Star Kids Honor Flight. This was a weekend dedicated to families who have lost a loved one in combat. To hear these little kids talk about their heroes with such optimism, hope and love was something very special.”

This mission, which she dubs ‘United We Stand: Honoring Our Military’, was Allison’s personal platform of service when she held two local Miss Nebraska titles in 2014 and 2015. She didn’t compete in 2016, but never stopped focusing on this important cause.

“The year I took off I was able to raise over $14,000 for the Vietnam Honor Flight and serve as a guardian for the second time,” said Allison. “I made over 300 ‘Bracelets for the Brave’, used as a fundraiser for a Kindergarten class to raise money for our veterans.”

So why compete again for Miss Nebraska, when she was accomplishing so very much as Miss Allison Tietjen?

Miss Heartland

“This fall, I was looking through Facebook and noticed a message that was never opened,” said Allison. “It was sent May 2015. The message was from a mother who just sent her son off to the Marines. She had received one of my ‘Bracelets for the Brave’ and told me how much that meant to her. She thanked me for thinking of her and wished me well as I competed for Miss Nebraska. At that moment I realized that all of this isn’t about me. It is about those mothers who know that Miss Heartland cares about them and their sons/daughters who are going off to serve our country. It is about the veterans who smile when Miss Heartland shakes their hand and tells them they are appreciated by myself and students across Nebraska. What clicked for me is I finally understood what the ‘power of the crown’ really means, and it’s why I competed for Miss Heartland and I’m working towards Miss Nebraska.”

Allison, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, has reached out to schools across the state to spread her message of patriotism and appreciation.

“I have students write Thank You notes to our active military and veterans,” said Allison. “I sent them to a non-profit called A Million Thanks that will send them to US service members all over the world. I have collected 300 so far and my goal is 700 by June, and 20,000 as Miss Nebraska.”

Remember that last goal Allison set and crushed? She is on pace to raise 60-times that initial $500 she had hoped for.

“I sent an email out to as many elementary, middle and high school principals as I could, detailing what an Honor Flight is and how they can get involved,” said Allison. “I described what my school and community did, and with just emailing, I was able to help start eight school fundraisers that raised a total of over $14,000. This year, I sent out another mass email and have around six schools that I know of raising money. In total, schools across Nebraska have raised $30,000 for Honor Flights in the last two years!”

Allison credits the Miss Nebraska Organization for showing her another way to serve her country, as well as helping her find a purpose and passion. She also volunteers through her sorority, Alpha Phi, Girl Scouts, and her church, University Lutheran Chapel, where she plays piano.

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“I always tell students I’m speaking to, ‘find what you love, discover your talents and strengths, and ind how you can use those strengths and passions to serve others.’ Being Miss Nebraska is not alway a glamorous job. I want people to know that behind the makeup and beautiful gowns are just a bunch of strong-willed, determined women who are working to make this world a better place.”

Africa

For this woman, that won’t stop if she doesn’t win the Miss Nebraska crown. She’s proven that twice now. When the lights turned off and the crowds went home, Allison proved her power. She studied abroad in Africa. She went skydiving. She took care of her body and mind (“piano is my therapy”). She was motivated to make every day better than the last for herself and everyone around her.

Every time a man or woman signs that paper, puts on that uniform, and leaves all of our comforts to PROTECT everything we know, they are ensuring we have another beautiful day. Another opportunity to wake up in America and do anything we set our mind to.

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Adrian, an American hero, was home to sing at my wedding eight years ago. I cannot wait to watch him marry his best friend and love, Emily, this October.

We take so much for granted. We take every day for granted, we take our freedom for granted. We never say thank you enough to the men and women, and their families, who sacrifice so much to make that possible.. so we can say what we please, do as we please, and work to become whatever we want to be..

..even Miss Nebraska. And if she wins, Allison hopes to say thank you to as many service members and their families as she can.

“I am the small town farmer’s daughter, but I am able to walk into a room full of strangers, clearly speak, share my story and take control of the room,” said Allison. “I understand what it means to give back and serve others without hesitation. I know how to put your heart and soul into something and be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. I truly believe that we live in one of the greatest countries on earth and that is because of the men and women who have served for us.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Patriotic Productions, the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit and the Nebraska Honor Flights.

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Click here to follow Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * All-American Girl

CLICK HERE * 2014* Where The Heart Is

For more information about the Miss Nebraska State Fair/Miss Heartland Pageant or to become a contestant, email Directors Chelsey Jungck at cjungck@statefair.org or Shelley Penner at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Center Stage

Last week, I had one of those life experiences that reminds you of everything all at once. You’re smiling, you’re crying, you’re so happy, you’re so utterly grateful.

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Meet Ellie, the cute little brunette with the pixie cut on the left, and Kaleb, the strong, blonde gentleman in the middle. They are both elementary school students at Westside’s Sunset Hills, and when their principal, Michelle Patterson, found out they were competing in the Special Olympics for gymnastics, she scheduled a field trip so their entire 3rd and 5th grade classes could attend to cheer them on.

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They made signs. They wore Team Sunset Hills t-shirts. They exploded with cheers and rally chants every time Ellie or Kaleb stood up to compete, and they applauded just as loudly when one of the other athletes did well. Ellie stopped mid-floor routine, turned and grinned at her cheering section. I bawled behind my I-phone. CLICK HERE to watch Ellie & Kaleb’s story on KETV by Sarah Fili and Adam Ennis!

I remember another moment several months ago when tears welled up in my eyes.. watching Kindergartners in my son’s class run up to him to say hi and give him a hug. He has friends; he’s happy; he feels loved and wanted at school. It made my heart burst with pride and happiness for my sweet boy.

It’s all so much the same; we as parents have a universal wish for our children, perhaps more than anything else. We want them to be happy.

Kogan Murphy isn’t a parent, but she wants the same thing for every child she comes in contact with… so those children don’t go through what she did as a teenager.

Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

“I was bullied for years in middle and high school,” Kogan told me recently. “I struggled alone for nearly five years before anyone stepped in to help – they just didn’t know or couldn’t see what was happening to me. There were days I feared for my life and days I couldn’t leave the house, let alone feel safe enough to go to school.  Although I triumphed by working with people who supported and cared about me, not everyone is so lucky.”

It seems like these stories are everywhere these days, happening to people you would never predict as the target. Kogan is a gifted ballet dancer, a gorgeous blonde, a confident and mature young woman. Why would anyone bully her? It’s a question Kogan has asked for years, and one she intends to find answers to and solutions for.

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“I have spent over seven years now researching, living, visiting, speaking and gathering information on bullying,” said Kogan. “I was a victim of both harassment and physical violence. Unfortunately, as is often the case with technology, the harassment didn’t end when I got home at night. A large portion of my bully’s attacks came through online channels and social media. I have spoken to many different age groups and types of people about bullying and it continues to become a more and more important issue that is still so relevant today.”

Kogan found a powerful weapon against her bully when she was 17.. in the form of a crown. That was the first time she competed for the title of Miss Illinois.

“I still felt very lost after being bullied, “said Kogan. “What most people don’t realize is that even after the bullying stops and the problem is ‘resolved’, there is still a lot of work to be done. It took me years of trying to get my school grades up and figure out who I was again. Each time I competed, I felt like I was a little bit closer to finding myself again.”

Kogan held multiple titles within the Miss Illinois Organization, but took a year off when she moved to Omaha and joined Ballet Nebraska.

“I have been dancing for 21 years,” said Kogan, who has since performed professionally in productions including Swan Lake. “Dancing has always been a great way for me to express myself and I love getting the opportunity to perform. I also choreographed my solo for Miss Nebraska and it is very special to me.”

Kogan discovered the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant in her new home, and decided to refocus on the organization that had done so much to build back up her self-confidence.

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She was crowned Miss Douglas County last fall, and was immediately surrounded with a network of people offering constant friendship and encouragement no matter life’s circumstances.

“The people you meet during your year, the people who volunteer their time and money to make this organization all that it is, and then of course, the mentoring,” said Kogan. “Over the past 6-7 years being involved in this organization I have met countless young women that I have looked up to and admired and then been able to take on that ‘big sister’ role myself with many little girls and my ‘pageant families’!”

For Kogan, this has also been an opportunity to try prevent other kids from traveling the same rough road she had to. She visits classrooms, youth groups and dance classes all over Eastern Nebraska sharing her personal platform: ‘Respect: Changing the conversation about bullying.’

“I feel so lucky that I have been given the opportunity to have a voice and share my story,” said Kogan. “Having a dramatic personal experience gives me the credibility and relevance to connect with kids and adults alike; I’ve been there. I have been hurt, afraid for my life and embarrassed. No one should feel afraid to go to school, leave their house or feel as if their life does not matter. I am proof that there is a way out and a way back to having confidence in yourself. Let’s bring RESPECT back to the conversation. Everyone deserves the right to feel loved, appreciated and wanted in this world.”

AGREED. I think that’s why I was so touched by what happened in that gym last week. My hope is that not only did Ellie and Kaleb feel loved and supported, but that all of their friends saw the value in loving and supporting others. I was only a bystander that day, but I left that gym feeling like I could conquer the world.. and that our world was an accepting, beautiful place. Love multiplied again and again that day, and I hope the lasting memory every single one of those children will have is that smile on Ellie’s face. I hope they all realize they can do that throughout their whole lives; they can impact someone’s life by simply being KIND.

It’s a message Kogan Murphy will continue to spread through her words, through dance, and she hopes, as Miss Nebraska 2017.

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“This organization has not only shaped me into the woman I want to be but it continues to encourage me to be the best version of myself,” said Kogan. “I am very much at a place where I would love to dedicate a full year and serve the wonderful state of Nebraska through this organization. My goal and mindset is to always be the very best version of myself, enjoy every moment and know that timing is everything.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy on Facebook.

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant or to become a contestant CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, and CLICK HERE to follow on Twitter. You can also email missomahapageant@yahoo.com, or contact Director Marianne Grubaugh at ggrubaugh@cox.net.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS..Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere

COMING SOON.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Superwoman

Raise your hand if you watched Miss USA Sunday night!

Ok, good. Glad we’re all on the same page.

Oh, how I LOVED it – and how excited it made me for the Miss Nebraska Pageant in just 3 weeks!! (EEEK!) I LOVED the gowns, the intelligence, the poise… and the evolution.

The Miss America Pageant started in 1920, first created based on an event called The Fall Frolic in Atlantic City. Designed to bring business to the boardwalk, the main attractions were the young ‘maidens’ who sat in rolling chairs, headed by a Miss Ernestine Cremona, dressed in a flowing white robe representing ‘Peace.’ It was so successful, a newspaper-based beauty contest encouraged photo submissions, allowing women nationwide to participate in a ‘bather’s revue’; the Atlantic City Businessmen’s League paid for eight women from across the US to travel to New Jersey to compete to become ‘Miss America’. Margaret Gorman, 16, won the title and $100. 30 years later, Miss America 1950 Yolande Betbeze refused to pose for photos in her swimsuit. Sponsor Catalina created its own pageant: Miss USA. Decades later, the two programs have become the clear queens of the pageant world; two powerhouse organizations that empower women and provide them countless platforms for service, career advancement, opportunity and personal betterment. Perhaps my favorite part is that within both of these programs we are seeing more and more successful women of all shapes and sizes, a far cry from the bathing suit showcase of 1921.

Right photo courtesy Pageant Update; Left photo courtesy Vince Bucci/FOX

Miss Georgia 2017 DeAnna Johnson was a showstopper during last week’s preliminary competition in Las Vegas. She is curvy, healthy and CONFIDENT. Miss USA host Ashley Graham, the first plus size model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, grew up in Nebraska to become one of today’s most sought after muses, and just launched her own swimwear line ‘For All’. And one of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants is not only working to become healthier, she is proudly sharing that journey to help inspire others.

Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere

“One of my favorite quotes is from Miss America 2001 Angela Perez Baraquio Grey,” Jaicelyn told me recently. “<She said>: ‘Before any barriers are broken, you have to break it for yourself. It’s so cliche to say, oh, believe in yourself, but if you don’t believe in yourself, you’ve already lost. For me to just believe that I could was enough.’ I want to make sure that throughout this experience as a titleholder, I am believing in myself. We as humans are all pretty harsh critics. It is important to put that belief that we can do things and believe that we can strive to make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small.”

Jaicelyn has competed in the Miss America Organization before, a woman born to speak her mind and destined to perform. Now living in West Point, she was crowned Miss Queen City of the Plains at one of Nebraska’s first local pageants last summer, and somehow, that moment sparked a new fire within her.

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“When preparing for pageants I never really focused on the fitness portion of the competition,” Jaicelyn posted on Facebook. “This time around I decided that it was time to change. I started right after I was crowned Miss Queen City 2017 at 240 pounds. Now I am currently 190 pounds. I feel more healthy and have more energy than I ever have before. This wasn’t just a diet for me, but a lifestyle change. I neglected to take care of myself for years. But throughout this adventure I’ve realized how important self-care is, both physically and mentally. My weight loss journey has been a hard one, but it’s been completely worth it.”

50 pounds GONE. I cannot adequately express how incredible that is, and the dedication and hard work that kind of progress requires. Yet, those are traits Jaicelyn has showcased repeatedly as Miss Queen City, particularly through her personal platform #Hopelist: Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness.

“Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetic disease that affects the motor neurons and makes it hard for the afflicted to move their muscles,” said Jaicelyn. “SMA is a very rare disease. In June of 2013, my cousin, baby Mathis, passed away from Type 1 SMA when he was only 9 months old. When he was diagnosed with SMA, my aunt and uncle decided to create a #Hopelist. This was a list of different things that focused on making memories with Mathis before he passed away. I believe it is so important for people to make goals and have dreams. As Miss Nebraska, I will help educate people about SMA, as well as help people create #Hopelists of their own.”

Jaicelyn notes this is what kept her coming back to compete for a Miss America Organization title, to serve others, visit people and share her platform.

She’s organized group efforts to make finger puppets for young SMA patients. She’s delivered cookies and Valentines to National Guard soldiers. Jaicelyn has spent countless hours in classrooms and kids’ clubs, encouraging them to eat healthy and stay active.

“I’ve been able to put myself out in the community and make a name for myself,” said Jaicelyn. “As a titleholder, I’ve also been able to meet countless people both in [my] community and across the state. That’s something I always look forward to whenever I volunteer or have appearances, is the fact that I constantly get to meet new people.”

And when they’re lucky, Jaicelyn performs for them.

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“I remember the day I fell in love with music, “said Jaicelyn. “I remember vividly as a young girl, waking up on Saturday and hearing Angel by Shaggy. I walked out into the living room and saw my dad standing behind his DJ equipment with the biggest smile on his face. In that moment, I could see how much he loved music and the power music could have on an individual. [This] gives me the opportunity to convey my love of music with the audience. As a titleholder, I’ve had countless occasions to share my talent with others and those experiences are the ones I’ll remember for a lifetime.”

Jaicelyn also notes the other perks of competing for Miss Nebraska; scholarships that are helping pay for her education at BYU-Idaho, and friendships through both our state program and the Miss Utah Organization.

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“[I am] spunky, energetic,hopeful and I have a BIG personality,” said Jaicelyn. “I enjoy being in the company of other people, whether it’s striking up a conversation with a stranger at the store or speaking in front of hundreds of people, that is just how I am and where I am most comfortable. I love to laugh and something even more rewarding for me is to make others laugh. Through this organization I’ve received incredible support from my family, friends and people all over!”

We all face challenges, and so often we say to ourselves ‘I can’t do that because <insert excuse here>’.

I’m not smart enough to apply for that job.

I’m not talented enough to get that part.

I’m not thin enough to compete for Miss America.

Jaicelyn Shakespaere tells herself I have as many hours in the day as Beyonce.

For every excuse, she instead finds inspiration.. sharing the stories of women like Malala Yousafzi, Frida Kahlo de Rivera and Rosa Parks. Each raised the bar a little higher, pushed themselves to do more and cleared a path for those who follow their lead. In a way, Jaicelyn is doing the same thing as Miss Queen City of the Plains. Competing for Miss Nebraska, and really, life’s journey in general, isn’t about being the skinniest or the anything-est. It’s about becoming the best version of yourself.. and Jaicelyn,  singing Superwoman on International Women’s Day, is doing just that.

Even when I’m a mess, I still put on a vest, with an S on my chest, oh yes. I’m a Superwoman.

YES SHE IS.

“Since I’ve been competing, I’ve had the dream of competing on the Miss America Stage in Atlantic City. Competing in the Miss Nebraska pageant is helping me get one step closer to achieving my goal and crossing yet another item off of my #Hopelist,” said Jaicelyn. “I am going to be completely and 100% myself. I want to show the audience, judges and fellow contestants the best ‘me’ that I can be. I loved myself beforehand, but I love myself even more now, which I never thought could be possible. Win or lose, I’m going to show people what I am made of, what I stand for, and make sure I give it my all.”

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To follow Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere on Facebook, CLICK HERE.

For more information about the Miss Queen City of the Plains/Miss Kool-Aid Days Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also emails Directors Angie Trausch at angie.trausch@gmail.com or Angela Keiser at angelakeiser@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Can’t Stop The Feeling

It was one of those days where, from the moment I opened my eyes, I just thought ‘nope, not gonna do today.’ I should’ve just called a mulligan on this one, turned off my alarm, and gone back to sleep.

In our house, we’re big fans of the movie Trolls. I’d like to think I’m more Poppy than Branch.. and anyone who’s heard my car concerts on my daily commute will echo that this girl loves to sing (and scrapbook!) But sometimes, my inner Branch takes over and negativity, criticism, and pessimism cloud over everything and take hold of my attitude and psyche. The singing stops, the smile fades, and I a) eat my feelings and/or b) pout, feel sorry for myself, and waste away what might have been a great day.

It’s a life lesson that, at 36 years old, I still haven’t mastered. How do you take life’s hits, rise above and prove to the world you are a BOSS? At just 18 years old, a high school student in small town Nebraska has made it her mission to do just that.

Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman

“I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to not sweat the small stuff, and to just enjoy life,” Shaniah told me recently. “It’s too short to waste time away with worries and regrets.”

Shaniah has faced some tough choices over the years, namely her decision several years ago to move from one parent’s home hundreds of miles away to another. As Shaniah described to me last year (click here to read more!), this move didn’t just include changes at home; everything in her life was new and different.

“Leaving wasn’t easy; I moved to a new school, with all new people, and was the ‘new girl’ in a small town,” said Shaniah. “It took a lot out of me emotionally and multiple problems arose. I didn’t truly find myself until I was a sophomore in high school when I was tired of being the one who no one really knew.”

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It was around that same time Shaniah discovered something called the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization.

“The minute I heard about it, something sparked my interest,” said Shaniah. “It wasn’t the dresses or the makeup, it was more of what the organization offered. I have always loved to help people and I’ve always had a drive to share my statement with others. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to help build my own character and find my true self, along with helping others throughout it all.”

Shaniah served as Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2015Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen 2016, and in this, the first year she was eligible, was crowned Miss Chadron 2017 and an official contestant in the Miss Nebraska Pageant.

“At state, I’m going to have the best time ever, make amazing friends and endless memories,” said Shaniah. “No matter what the outcome, it’s the experience that’s important to me and gaining experience will help me and my future as I continue this journey.”

A journey Shaniah is taking full advantage of, and appreciating, every step of the way.

Shaniah has volunteered from one end of city limits to the other in her adopted hometown of Gordon, Nebraska. She visits classrooms and civic groups, hoping to connect with everyone she meets with, especially children. She shares her platform, ‘Overcoming Adversity in Order to Be Your Best’, and uses her own story to ensure her message resonates with everyone.

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“In addition to emotional and social adversity, I’ve also faced physical adversity,” said Shaniah. “I was a three sport athlete and I’ve overcome two significant injuries in basketball that set me back, one almost ending my athletic career for good. It was a hard decision for me, but I chose not to play basketball my senior year. As tough as [that decision] was, through hard work, exercise and nutrition, I have gained everything back from my injury. I am at full strength and have received a full ride volleyball scholarship.”

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And for Shaniah, there’s no coulda woulda shoulda. The time she might have been on the basketball court, Shaniah spent focusing on her new title and preparing for Miss Nebraska.

“I am a firm believer that pageants give young women the opportunity to gain many lifelong skills and attributes,” said Shaniah. “From personal experience, I can honestly say that I have become a more well rounded person, enhancing my poise, confidence and leadership skills from my years of competing.”

At the end of Trolls, after countless displays of love, perseverance and bravery, Poppy is named Queen. Shaniah, who describes herself as confident, driven and compassionate, already has her crown… and her journey is just beginning. Sometimes, all any of us needs is a reminder we all have happiness inside, a light brighter than any dark. Poppy, and Shaniah, remind me to crank up my radio and put Can’t Stop The Feeling on repeat.

“My mission is to share my story of struggle and strife with those who have some sort of adversity they’re facing,” said Shaniah. “There is always a person there to listen and there is always a way to get through something even if it seems like it’s impossible. I understand firsthand how hard it can be to have the confidence to overcome something that seems impossible. But with my continued faith and my determination to become better, I have achieved the goals that I set for my life and continue to reach every opportunity I can.”

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Click here to follow Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHANIAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Divergent

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Nebraska’s Top Model

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Sara Smith at misscnwdirectors@gmail.com or by calling (308) 430-2613.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. The Perfect 10: Recap of the 2017 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant

NEXT.. Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespare

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Beachbody Or Bust

I’m not fitness expert (and I don’t play one on TV) but I’m on a mission.. to hold my own at this summer’s Miss Nebraska pageant, the two weddings we’re attending this summer, and my good friends Adrian and Emily’s beach wedding in the fall! If Christie Brinkley can pose in a swimsuit in Sports Illustrated at 60, I can certainly eat healthier and rock a suit at the pool this summer!

With the help of my Beachbody Coach Amanda Soltero, I’ve been meal planning using Fixate; recipes focused on clean eating and portion control. The food is great and I’ve really enjoyed the recipes! If nutrition is 80% of the battle in health and weight loss, I’m hopefully taking the first important steps in the journey to become the me I’m more proud of.  It’s not perfect, but I feel good about the results I’m seeing. Here’s hoping this meal plan benefits you as well, and please, give me your feedback!

Every week I choose three meals, a breakfast, and two snacks.  This gives me a little variation so I’m not eating the same thing at the same time everyday, but I’m only cooking once a week and then grabbing and going for work or at night when I’m juggling little guys’ dinners, too. If you don’t like something–don’t make it! If you’re like me, you just won’t eat it and hit up Runza instead. If I make a substitution or have an extra snack (like a much-need trip to Scooters!) I just make sure I’m within my calorie allotment for the day. (MyFitnessPal is a great, free app that shares what your magic number is based on your goals.)

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ON THE MENU THIS WEEK:

Turkey Tacos

Fixate Chicken, Apple & Sweet Potato Salad w/ Four-Ingredient Drop Biscuits

Moroccan Carrot Salad w/ 1/2 Turkey Sandwich

Baked Oatmeal Cups

SNACKS: Fruit, Yogurt w/ fruit and granola

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TURKEY TACOS

Low Sodium Taco Seasoning Packet

4 cups shredded lettuce (I get the plastic containers of mixed greens – doubles for lettuce, salads, etc. and a healthier choice than iceberg lettuce)

1 LB ground turkey

salsa

corn tortillas (which taste like crap, but a healthier option than flour tortillas)

Fixate has a recipe for a healthy version of turkey taco meat. I just use a taco seasoning packet, but low sodium if I’ve got one.  Prepare using 1 LB of ground turkey.  Divide into four portions.

For each meal, use 2 corn tortillas, 1 Cup shredded lettuce and 2 TBL salsa (again, Fixate has a healthy recipe; until summer/Farmer’s Markets I just buy fresh salsa from the deli at HyVee).

Calories: 319 per serving.  Recipe courtesy Fixate/Amanda Soltero

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CHICKEN, APPLE AND SWEET POTATO SALAD

Warning: this is a new one for me! I haven’t tried it yet, so fingers crossed!

Recipe 1

Calories: 176.  Recipe courtesy Beachbody.

I’ll be eating this with FOUR-INGREDIENT DROP BISCUITS

Recipe 2

Calories: 104 per biscuit. Recipe courtesy Beachbody.

Total calories for meal: 280

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MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD WITH SPICED CHICKPEAS

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Again, you’ve been warned.. I haven’t tried this one yet. I don’t even know what the hell a chickpea is. Also, cut this recipe IN HALF if you only want four meals – otherwise you’ll be eating this all week long.

Recipe 3

Calories: 161. Recipe courtesy Beachbody.

I’ll be eating this with 1/2 a turkey sandwich, using whole grain bread, mustard, no cheese.  Use 2-4 ounces of deli turkey (25 calories per ounce.)

Total calories for meal (based on 3 oz of turkey): 326

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BREAKFAST: BAKED OATMEAL CUPS WITH RAISINS AND WALNUTS

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I love breakfast recipes that all I have to do in the morning is grab them and go.  I will bake these tonight and have them ready for the next two weeks.  Cut the recipe in half if you only want 6 of them. I’m also using cranberries instead of raisins because I already have them in my pantry. NOTE: If you like the idea but are worried you’ll get sick of these after a few days, I’ve had a healthy cereal and unsweetened almond milk on hand to substitute here and there. Think Cheerios or something with little to no sugar. Almond milk is 30 calories a cup versus 80 for skim milk.

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Calories: 154 per muffin. Recipe courtesy Beachbody.

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SNACKS

A fruit every morning.  I love apples and pears.

Greek yogurt with granola every afternoon. I feel like this gives me a protein boost when I’m dragging around 2pm, and I LOVE the extra crunch by adding granola to it. Fixate offers a yummy granola recipe I really like, but you can also choose a bag of granola at the grocery store to simplify it.

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Recipe 5

ALRIGHT, TEAM.. LET’S DO THIS! And again, please let me know if this works for you or if there is anything I can to make this easier or better for you!