Oktoberfest in La Crosse, Much More Than A Festival

I arrived at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in August of 2011, eager but looking forward to one day transferring to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I had always wanted to be a Wisconsin Badger, but due to curriculum availability, professor relations, and the price of tuition I stayed at La Crosse, nonetheless questioning my purpose in the city.

That question was answered on Saturday, September, 22  2012 when I was blessed with the chance to represent the city and Oktoberfest U.S.A. as Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012.  Fest was the following weekend and I was quickly thrown into a crazy, fast paced schedule-meeting tons of new people (thank goodness for name buttons) and being escorted from event to event all while balancing my studies as a college sophomore.  Fast forward to now, working in my professional career as a news reporter for News 19 in La Crosse, I’ve encountered a number of people who’ve expressed a dislike for Oktoberfest every year (usually with them not knowing I’m a former Miss).  Of course, I love to question them and figure out why they’re displeased with the event.  People have told me they avoid the grounds, don’t like their children to be around the “party” scene, and hate the “chaotic” traffic it draws to the area.  From an insider’s perspective I can tell you that while this perception holds some (very little) truth, there are many other positive aspects of Oktoberfest in La Crosse and quite frankly long-lasting benefits to the community that reach much further than a three day festival.  Don’t believe me?  Let me enlighten you…

  1. Family and Friends: All of the workers both paid and unpaid, royal family members (Did you know there’s a royal family?  Because some people don’t.  I’ll get to that shortly.), and Grenadier Corps are believe it or not, normal people who live, work, and play in La Crosse.  Many of them have families of their own and children that they choose to surround by the gemütlichkeit of fest.  Why?  Because they know the long lasting, positive impact that the festival and organization as a whole create.
  2. Embracing Our Roots:  Oktoberfest in La Crosse officially began in 1961, but the ideas and planning commenced much sooner.  In 1960 civic leaders from the area agreed that a community wide event was needed since they had been without one since 1921.  Deciding ultimately on the fall because it’s the time when the leaves change and it marks the end of harvest, an ideal time for a little relief and community fun.  Oktoberfest U.S.A. got it’s start on 6th and State Streets where the First Federal Bank once stood, it was the site of the carnival games and rides.  The very first Maple Leaf got it’s start going down Main Street, before it began growing and was moved to the Northside. Now it makes its way down Copeland Avenue to Downtown La Crosse.

  1. Tourism Revenue:   In 2014 Oktoberfest was part of three studies that analyzed the economic impact of the festival for the area.  The studies were conducted by the Economics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and West Salem High School’s DECA.  In sum, they discovered that the celebration generates roughly $15 million and creates 200 jobs.  High school students found that out of 413 random individuals interviewed along the two parade routes, residents from 70 different zip codes were identified spanning communities in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and of course, Wisconsin!  READ MORE HERE: Oktoberfest Impact Study
  2. A Year of Service:  To those directly involved with the festival, it’s a 365 days a year job.  Family members, the Grenadier Corps, and volunteers travel to countless parades during the spring, summer, and into the fall showing their support for other communities, showcasing Wisconsin’s rich German heritage, and of course increasing excitement for fest.  They also have a rigorous volunteer schedule.  Whether it’s large community events, visiting a local nursing home, taking part in a school function, cleaning up a local highway, or assisting in a fundraising effort of some sort they are some of the most compassionate people you will ever meet.
  3. Royal Family, Ambassadors:  The royal family consists of a Festmaster (equatable to a king) and his Frau, a Mrs. Oktoberfest, Torchlight Parade Marshal, Maple Leaf Parade Marshal, Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest, and Special Fester.  The Festmaster, Mrs. O and parade marshals are all chosen based on a community nomination process and are candidates who lead with a servant’s heart on a daily basis, giving back to the community in various facets.  The Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest title is part of the Miss Wisconsin and Miss America Organizations and although it’s a scholarship program which entails a pageant, the titleholder spends her year volunteering her time with a mission to make a positive impact.  Finally, the Special Fester is a young student in the area who has a disability.  This position is also chosen on a nomination basis and many of the past representatives and their families credit the organization with helping them come out of their shell and open up as a person.

Five and half years have passed since I served as an ambassador for La Crosse and Oktoberfest and I would not change my decision to stay in this beautiful city for anything.  It was the selfless volunteers with the Grenadier Corps, my personal Oktoberfest Royal Family, past family members, and my volunteerism in the community that without me even realizing it, helped influence me to change my career path from one I was forcing myself down, to one that I love.  It was my involvement with the program that led me to an internship due to mutual connections.  That internship position in turn led me to meeting one of my very best friends that God so graciously allowed my heart to open up to.  Not to mention, countless relationships and opportunies I would have never had the chance to experience had it not been for Oktoberfest.  

Prost to the Mississippi River’s incredible West Coast! If you didn’t know a lot about the heart and sweat behind the festival itself, I hope this message changed your viewpoint.  The next time you’re contemplating saying something negative about one minuscule part the atmosphere Fest creates I hope you remember just how positive the celebration is economically speaking for the City of La Crosse.  And I truly hope you make plans to come out and enjoy Oktoberfest, September 28 through October first.



The Perfect Presents for the Future Mrs.

Leading up to the big day, you want to ensure that bride in your life feels extra special.  Whether it’s a sister, extended family member, or friend you want to ensure she feels as pampered and glamorous as you would want to feel in the days leading up to and especially the night before your wedding, right? (Rhetorical question guys).  I’ve shared with you some bridal shower decoration tips and low key Bachelorette party items to purchase, now let’s talk pre-wedding day goodies you can’t pass up.

SEE: Gifts for the Bride in Your Life

I’ll be honest, this is only the second wedding I’ve stood up in.  The first one was for a dear friend of mine and now, I’m the Maid of Honor to my older sister (yikes is right).  It’s a much more stressful process than I ever imagined being directly involved in the planning process and details.  However, I found that keeping an electronic list on my “AnyList” App on my iPhone that covers both wedding tasks and items that need to be purchased has helped me stay focused in the weeks leading up to the wedding day.  It gave me gratification to see what I accomplished and was a constant reminder of what I still needed to see through.  One element of that list was gifts for the bride.  I decided to put together a basket to give her after the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, constantly asking myself, “If I was in her position what would I want?”  Here are some things that were included in that gift that are extremely versatile for the future Mrs. in your life…

A Simplistic Mrs. Necklace

Side note:  Be sure to know the bride’s taste before you dive into buying these cute gifts.  What am I talking about?  Well, for example, I ordered my sister this necklace in silver because I know she’s not a fan of gold (at all).  Whereas I would prefer the gold because I’m obsessed with it and can’t get enough gold accessories and furniture.Matching Shirts for the Bride and Groom

These v-neck and standard t-shirt shirts come in four colors: charcoal, black, heather gray and white.  I ordered the ones pictured from M&E’s Collection on Etsy, they’re the heather gray option.  I was pleasantly surprised when they arrived.  They’re lightweight, soft, and simple — perfect present for the bride and groom, but in my opinion it’s not newlywed overkill.  #ScoreA Customized Satin Robe

Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to embrace their new name and sport their love for their new hubby with a comfy, sexy robe?

Rustic Personalized Wedding Hanger

Future Mrs. Sash, great for a Bachelorette Party, Bridal Shower, or in this case, Pre-Wedding Festivities

Aside from the plethora of customized Mrs. items there are to choose from, nothing beats those personal, favorite items that are needed on the eve or day of the wedding.  I snagged this white “Mrs.” canvas basket at Walmart and decided to fill it with helpful items including: ibuprofen, tums, mini bottles of the  bride’s favorite alcohol, oil blotting sheets, and Peach-O’s (the bride’s favorite candy) among other items.  Some other useful things you may want to include in a basket for the bride in your life include: bobby pins, hair ties, mints or gum, and notes.  I had each of my grandparents and parents write letters and/or notes sharing marriage advice and reflective memories about th bride for her to read the night before her wedding and she absolutely loved it-highly recommend!

Still looking for some items for her or perhaps yourself if you’re the bride, no need to fret!  Here are some more of my favorite items that just never quite made their way to my cart, but were certainly pinned and saved just in case.




Why You Need Kleenex Facial Cleansing Products

First off, they’re made in Wisconsin, what more could you ask for?  Didn’t know that? Yes, it’s true Kleenex products are based in Neenah, pretty neat, right?  It’s a brand we all know and love; after all…be honest you don’t call other “tissue” brands tissue, you most likely say “Can you please hand me a Kleene?” Without even realizing it and now they have new products for you to obsess over.

Moment of truth...I’m always a little skeptical when it comes to facial cleansers and products because my skin is extremely sensitive (it’s a redhead thing).  However, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the Kleenex Cleansing Products and how refreshed my skin felt after using them.  Here’s a break down of the items…

Eye Makeup Removers

There’s 60 small, palm sized micro-fine textured pads in the standard container.  Better yet?  They’re an oil free remover that’s strategically shaped to control around your eyes and help remove all your eyeshadow, liner, and mascara.  All you need to do is wipe across your eyes a couple of times and flip it over to the reveal the fresh surface for the other eye.  While I don’t use waterproof eye makeup, I still feel as though there’s constantly reminantsafter  “removing” my makeup; with these I felt bare and clean.  Thumbs up in my book!

Facial Cleansing Wipes

Yes, yes, and yes!  These pre-moisturized wipes are based with water and aloe to remove impurities (and excess makeup) while moisturizing your precious face.  The simple instructions have you use the entire wipe to cleanse your forehead and cheeks, folding that in half for your nose and mouth, and then in half a second time to cover the remaining surfaces and your eyes.  I put the “purse pack” in my purse (naturally) and pulled them out on a drive back from Madison and was able to easily take off my make-up.  I would highly recommend them!

Kleenex Exfoliating Cushions

The packaging says “Radiant, smoother skin with just one use,” and they aren’t kidding.  These dual-sided, multi-layered cleansers are heaven sent.  Each pad is infused with a pro-vitamin complex that helps to cleanse your skin, while smoothing and brightening it.  Immediately after I used one my face felt refreshed and my skin felt firmer.

Final review?  I love the new cleansing products from Kleenex and have no reservations that you will as well, check them out friends!


Gifts for the Bride in Your Life

Do you have a bride-to-be that’s not into the crazy, night out on the town Bachelorette party?  Still looking for a way to spoil her before her big day and make her feel loved?  How about throwing a pool party bash with the girls or even a “Sunday Funday” get together with both sides of the wedding party and other close friends.  My sister wasn’t super keen on a wild evening, so we decided to have a pool party gathering with all the bridesmaids, groomsmen, their significant others, and friends.  I’m sharing some of the items I purchased for her because (in my opinion) it’s extremely important that the bride feels special; not just on her special day, but in the months leading up to her “I Do” moment as well.

Many of these items are not only perfect for a hot, summer day in the sun, but as pre-wedding gifts as well.  So whether you’re prepping for a typical bachelorette party, wedding shower, or laid back shindig — here are some gifts don’t want to pass up.

Bridal Hair Ties.

First off, in the midst of wedding preparation, Etsy has become my new best friend.  To the point where I downloaded the app on my phone and have both my debit and credit card linked to it (handy, but deadly).  There’s so many products to choose from with customizable items to ensure your bride will absolutely love them.  I ordered these hair ties from Two Lil Pumpkins’ shop on Etsy that read, “To have and to Hold Your Hair Back.”  Seriously, how cute is that?!  SHOP HERE: (Only $5) Bridal Hair Ties from Two Lil PumpkinsA “Future Mrs.” and/or Mrs. Customized Item(s).

This customizable, embroidered floppy hat was purchased from Magnolia Stitch Design on Etsy (I’m telling you, it’s as easy as Etsy).  It’s sturdy, the brim flexes with how the bride wants the brim to lya, and it’s absolutely adorable.  I would highly recommend this item as a fun pool party present for the bride or a honeymoon gift, it’s chic and gives her a chance to show off her new name.  P.S. I’m more of a baseball cap girl myself and there’s plenty of “Mrs.” washed out caps and yet again, customizable Mrs. ones to choose from on Etsy!  (Here’s my favorite: Future Mrs. Cap from Little Brownn Suitcase)A “Future Mrs.” Sash.

There’s countless cheap, chintzy sashes that read “Bachelorette” or “Last Fling Before the Ring,” it’s been done.  Try ordering a custom sash that has a classier saying across it or perhaps her name!  Check some out here: Lauren Lash Designs LLCMatching Bridal Party Tank Tops.

Nothing screams “BRIDAL PARTY” like matching outfits.  Lately, the whole LBD for the bridesmaids and a classic white dress for the bride has been all the rage when women take to the town for a fun night out.  SHOP HERE: Party Gift Store on EtsyBridal Floaties.

It’s no surprise that Target is a dangerous vortex…

You go in there on a mission, with a few items in mind (consciously repeating them to yourself) and walk out with six items you didn’t need and one of the things that you actually intended on buying.  You’re lying to yourself if you just said that has never happened to you.  Thankfully, I came across this fabulous diamond ring floatie and small drink floaties while searching online and ordered them for in-store pick-up.  So naturally and thankfully I avoided the countless distractions that would have consumed my attention had I walked through the actual store to pick them up.  Needless to say, the large tube is perfect for that bride-to-be in your life and it’s only $19.99, SHOP IT HERE: Big Mouth Giant Bling Ring Pool Float.

Diamond Floatieimg_0448Drink Floaties

Surprisingly, the Big Mouth Bling Ring Beverage Boats were much sturdier than initially expected.  Also, they’re too cute and suitable for the occassion not to purchase.

5 Practical Gifts for the Twenty-Something Woman in your Life

Let’s face it, no one really enjoys opening up little trinkets or knick-knacks.  There’s plenty of “just because” moments or times that call for congratulations that we want to show our appreciation for someone, but what is the best gift to give?  When it comes to a twenty-something woman, there’s a handful of things you simply can’t go wrong with.

1. A candle – You can’t go wrong with a good smelling candle.  Stick with the rule of thumb that if you love it and don’t want to part with it, they’ll probably love it too.  Personally, I am partial to Bath & Body Works candles.  They are very potent and the scent lasts, worth every single penny!  Like buying local and supporting small businesses?  Check out Lake Life Candle!  One of my best friends recently left me a present to congratulate me for my accomplishments at Miss Wisconsin and it included the “Clean Cotton” custom candle pictured below (yes, please)!  P.S. You can never go wrong with fresh scents!2.  Starbucks Gift Cards – I know a common mentality is that gift cards are impersonal, but in reality most people who receive think they’re amazing and are extremely grateful for them.  The best kind (in my opinion)?  Starbucks.  It’s without the doubt the gift that keeps on giving, after all you’re literally providing the gift of life; that’s pretty fricken spectacular.  #BlessUp everyone who gave me a Starbucks card during Miss Wisconsin week.  If there’s another coffee shop, store, or restaurant they love, don’t hesitate to pick up a gift card.  It’s a simple errand on your part and they will exude sincere happiness (I promise).3. Alex & Ani Braclets – These simple bracelets are in high demand right now and for good reason.  Not only do most of them come in silver and gold options, but there’s a variety of charms to choose from and they support incredible causes.  For example, I received a gold one with a unicorn on it where part of the proceeds went to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  How neat is that?  Millennials love any sort of philanthropic good that they can get their hands on, check out all the different kinds you can pick from here: Alex & Ani.  Oh and did I mention they’re super cute and stackable?  Just checking.

4. Bath & Body Works Items – If you know what scents they prefer, you’re already ahead of the game.  However, don’t fret if you aren’t sure what they like.  The perk of B&B Works products is that they can always exchange them for another scent.  Looking for a good one?  Try Rosé Champagne, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

5. Other Jewelry Items – This sparkly, statement necklace pictured below is from JCrew and can typically be found at their outlet stores.  I actually borrowed an identical one my roommate had for a year before she recently gifted me my own (thanks, Liv).  Jewelry is something “extra” women don’t tend to buy on a regular basis for themselves because let’s face it, it’s not needed.  So if you see something you like or know of a necklace or earrings they’ve expressed interest in, jump on it.  Bright tassel earrings are super fun and lively up any outfit, you can find some of my favorites at Target and Francesca’s.Hair Tie Bracelet – Yes, you read that correctly.  There’s metal bangle bracelets that have divots in them for your hair bands or pony tails.  Adding a little more class and glamour to the black, brown, or vibrant colored elastic band that typically stays on your wrist all day long (that is if you don’t lose it).  There’s plenty of options to choose from on Etsy:

Fifth and Final, That’s a Wrap

Hang on tight, work hard, embrace the moment, and trust in God’s timing.

And in what seems like the blink of an eye my seven year journey within the Miss America Organization is complete.  I am so incredibly honored to have finished as First  Runner-Up to our new Miss Wisconsin 2017, McKenna Collins and have won the Overall Evening Gown Award this year at Miss Wisconsin.  As I reflect on this experience I ask myself, how do I conceptualize seven years?  How does one sum up an elongated opportunity that has changed their life for the better?  Here goes nothing…

I started competing as a senior in high school with a desire to dance; to perform on stage and have fun.  At that time I had no idea the impact the Miss America Organization would have on my life.  At that time, I didn’t fully understand the scholarship opportunities that came with the job of a titleholder or just how desperately I would need those funds to help guide me through college.  At that time, I didn’t know the successes that God had in store for me and the frustrating lessons he would test my determination and compassion with; but as I look back on every experience I now know all those pursuits entailed intended purpose on His behalf.I competed in three local pageants before winning my first title on my fourth attempt as a sophomore in college.  That job, Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012 lifted me up in a time of emotional disparity and struggle.  It surrounded me with caring people in the community that motivated me and showed me the correct career path I was intended to follow.  I then was blessed with the titles of Miss Seven Rivers and Miss Madison Capital-City as I continued to set high goals for myself and worked to positively impact the communities I served through my platform and volunteerism.  Over the course of those first few years, this program pushed me out of my comfort zone (well the minimal one that was there) and enabled me to soar to new heights I didn’t know were possible.  I placed as a Top 11 Semi-Finalist those first few years as I navigated myself through college and worked to discover my true and without even knowing in retrospect what was happening before my eyes.The title of Miss Harbor Cities 2016 changed my life in various ways, unique to what I’d experienced in the past.  I was finally at a point where I really grasped what the position of Miss Wisconsin entailed and knew that I possessed the necessary qualities to take on the job and do it justice. Jenny, Danielle, and Abbey, my directors held me accountable for my rehearsals, challenged me through countless interview practices, and allowed me to showcase who “Tianna Vanderhei” was.  After finally placing in the Top 5 and winning Overall Interview at Miss Wisconsin 2016, I knew I couldn’t step away without giving it one final shot.

Winning Miss Badgerland at the Miss Wisconsin Sweeps competition in late April granted me one, fifth and final chance to vie for the job of Miss Wisconsin.  With less time than I ever had to prepare in the past, I focused diligently on exercising, eating healthy, drilling interview questions, and getting wardrobe items finalized around my full-time career as a Multi-Media Journalist (which trust me isn’t easy).  I made a number of school appearances in the less than two months before Miss Wisconsin, held our 3rd Annual CMN Hospitals garage sale (and raised $900 for the kids), and situated my life as if I wasn’t returning to La Crosse.  A great deal of success starts from within, it stems from envisioning your dreams and believing in your own potential.  In fact, on autograph cards to kids I often write, “Believe in the power of your dreams!  You can be anything and do anything you wish!”  Because let’s be honest, sometimes we all need a little extra encouragement.  Before I knew it, finals night arrived and I was an anxious, hot mess.  I took a brief nap before we left the hotel for the auditorium and LOTS of deep breaths.  At that point I told myself it was all in God’s hands and it truly was.  I felt content and was hopeful of making Top 11 for the fifth consecutive year, with an opportunity to compete again in every phase of competition and for my family and friends to watch.

I was called ninth.  My heart still dropped when I heard my name and I rushed to the center of the stage to thank the judges and join the other semi-finalists; hugging each and every one of them as I made my way to the end of the line.  I took each phase of competition as it came on Saturday evening, focusing on strutting my stuff and having fun in swimsuit before transitioning my mindset to talent.  I’ve danced since I was five and will tell you I have NEVER danced the way I performed on finals night.  My turns were spot on (no pun intended), my moves were strong and fluid, and my emotional presentation was projected straight from my heart; I left every ounce of passion I had on that stage.  In fact, I started crying as I bowed on stage and gracefully ran off to the tan stage area gasping for air with a huge smile across my face.  Never, in all my years of dancing have I ever performed the way I did that night and for that I am thankful.Intermission came and passed and evening gown flew by and suddenly they were calling names for the Top 5 Finalists.  My heart was racing, just praying for my name and then I heard it.  My thoughts in that moment?  “Breathe, focus on the on-stage question, your heel is tangled up in your gown…untangle your gown! Smile!”

I was asked what the worst kind of discrimination is, an open ended question.  I talked about how with tensions being so high in our country it’s important to respect others values, morals, and viewpoints.  At a time when there is an intense political divide and we tend to see things as black and white, people need to realize there is grey area; stressing that we need to not discriminate against others views but rather appreciate their perspectives.  I felt at ease about my answer and the conversational aspect of how I responded to it; to not only the judges, but the audience as well.

Then, the awards came.  I’ll be honest as soon as April Haldeman was called as 4th Runner-Up and I heard Erin O’Brien’s name for 3rd Runner-Up I don’t remember much else.  I had to ask someone who was 2nd Runner-Up after the fact because I stood their spaced out praying.  Seven years.  It was a dream of mine for seven years, building consistently with each experience, title, and relationship I made.  It all culminated to that one moment in time, standing on that stage hand in hand with McKenna who just so happened to be my roommate that entire week in Oshkosh.And then, I heard “Miss Badgerland, Tianna Vanderhei.”  Disappointment, sadness, and frustration consumed me as I watched McKenna be crowned Miss Wisconsin 2017 and walk the runway.

I also felt an immense amount of gratitude, accomplishment, and optimism-knowing full heartedly that God has something greater in store for me.

There’s so many people that have positively impacted my journey and quite frankly my life over this elongated experience and I’m beyond lucky to have so many generous, compassionate, and supportive people in my life.Thank you to my roommate, dance drill sergeant, and cheerleader, Liv Mercer.  We did this together!  Thank you for helping me with interview, watching me practice walking patterns while you recorded and were adamant about me doing everything over and over again.  Mentally and emotionally you have been my rock this year; I couldn’t have gotten this far without you.  I’m so blessed to have you and your family in my life.Thank you to Ken and Deb Morrall and Caitlin Machol for pushing me even further out of my comfort zone all while encouraging me to embrace my true self.  You helped me envision myself on tha Miss America stage, encouraging me to see the picture than what was in front of me in Oshkosh; which in turn expanded my level of compete.  Thank you for your selfless devotion to this program.  All three of you (Caitlin not pictured but certainly present in spirit and preparations all the way from LA) have and with no doubt will continue to impact young women’s lives for the better.  Crown or no crown, you are now a part of my life-there’s no getting rid of me!Thank you to Lisa Horman and Amy Ryan, my very first directors when I was honored with the life-changing job of Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest.  We were rookies together and I’d say we did a pretty great job of tackling that year as a team!  Thank you to Abby Ryan, my Miss Seven Rivers director for your devotion to this program long after your days as a contestant concluded.  You make a difference in so many young women’s lives and it is sincerely appreciated.  Ron and Joe, my fabulous Madison Capital-City directors, you two carry a bright light with you that shines into all those you come in contact with.  Thank you for your years of guidance, laughs, and encouragement of not only your titleholders but any women who reach out to you.

Joel and Marilyn, your generosity and drive to help people further their educational aspirations is astonishing.  Thank you for always cheering me on and helping me, I received countless compliments on my new talent costume and felt incredible in it.  Love you both!PROST to my incredible Oktoberfest Royal Family (that includes my 2012 family and all those who have come before us and succeeded us).  I cried twice during the week in Oshkosh, once Saturday afternoon at rehearsal and Saturday evening before I left my hotel for the show when I received a video of my Festmaster, Brad Sturm along with a number of family members and grenadiers saluting me with an Ein Prosit.  You all came into my life at a very difficult time for me and uplifted me mentally and emotionally.  The best part?  Once a part of Oktoberfest, always a part of Oktoberfest.  It’s no surprise the support of the La Crosse community is unmatched, but there’s nothing like the love and encouragement fest provides.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for all that you do and for devoting yourselves to the community and the people within it.

Courtney Pelot, my forever Miss Wisconsin-if I had to determine the best thing I’ve taken away from this program it’s without a doubt the friendships I’ve made; especially you.  Late nights in my hotel room during Miss Wisconsin week 2016 turned into a wonderful bond between us.  I am extremely proud of you and all you’ve accomplished this year and am ecstatic I was able to see you representing our state in Atlantic City.  Time to just be Court and Tia, AKA Collectivo Coffee dates on State Street, copious amounts of Rosé, and Badger Football game day…bring it on!To my family…

“Family isn’t defined only by last names and genetic ties; it’s defined by commitment and love.  It means showing up when they need you the most. It means having each other’s backs.  It means loving one another in their darkest moments and times of defeat.  It means never giving up on one another.”

I don’t think any of us knew just how deep we were getting into the Miss America Organization when Morgan first started competing in the fall of 2007, but after 10 years I’d say mom, dad, Ridge, and Reece have a firm grasp of this scholarship program and the benefits it reaps.  To my grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins, and family friends-you have no idea how much it means to me to have you there.  Thank you for your encouragement over the years, I love you all.

Ridge and Reece, you are without a doubt one of the greatest blessings in my life and in recent years have become two of my best friends.  Your maturity and selfless mentality constantly astonishes me.  Thank you for sitting through thirteen pageants (keep in mind that’s not counting Morgan’s competitions), cheering loudly, and giving the best hugs in moments when I’ve needed that supportive presence more than you know.  I love you both so much.Dad, I know how difficult it was at times to watch local and state pageants because of just how caring you are.  Anyone who knows you knows you wear your heart on your sleeve and that there’s a lot of emotions behind that sarcastic front.  I remember you saying to me one day, “Obviously I want you to do well, you’re my daughter, but I get so close with these young women and learn their stories and want them all to do well.”  I think that statement is a true representation of this experience as a whole and the people we’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way.  From overlooking charges for dresses on your credit card, to heartfelt talks, to anxiously awaiting to hear my name as you sat on the edge of your seat in the audience, you’ve endured a full spectrum of emotions watching me compete.  Thank you for being a constant in my life, for teaching me not to take successes and obstacles too seriously, and for believing in me.  I love you.Morgan, what began with your desire to serve Wisconsin Rapids, fueled a fire within me to get involved with the MAO.  Despite arguing as siblings typically do and stressing that we are more unalike than alike, we found common ground and dreams within this process.  I know you wanted this just as badly, if not more (if that’s actually possible) than I did and it breaks your heart to watch your little sister’s dream dissipate and not be able to do anything about it; but it’s okay.  We’ve both achieved a lot thanks to this program and gained a great deal of scholarship money for school (#winning).  We, together have left an imprint on our communities that we’ve represented, the state, and this program and heck we should be proud of that.  I’ve been singing and dancing by your side since 1993 and I have no plans to stop any time soon!  This may be the end of this chapter, but we have plenty of other ones to look forward to like obtaining your new title, “Mrs.” in August.

Mom, I know we didn’t want it to end this way.  I was really hoping for more long car rides across the state with the best co-pilot a woman could ask for (in the Miss Wisconsin mobile of course), but as fate would have it…God laughed at our plans.  Nothing has tested my mental, physical, and emotional strengths or pushed me out of my comfort zone more than being involved in this program.  You have been ready at the drop of a hat to assist me with whatever I needed: to buy a new outfit for an appearance or a rather pricey gown for competition, to get me a water, pick up coffee, or purchase adhesive bras during Miss Wisconsin week when I ran into wardrobe issues, you name it!  You woke up at the crack of dawn some mornings to accompany me to appearances and never stopped smiling.  Long days filled with excessive trips to Starbucks and Marcel the Shell pep talks that left us laughing so hard we cried have fostered some of my fondest memories.  It may not have been in the greater plans for me to be Miss Wisconsin, however, this program has brought me closer to the people in my life that mean the most and strengthened our mother, daughter relationship immensely.  To my look alike, role model, and best friend –  love you more than I can ever express to you in words or actions and I’m very appreciative of all that you do not only for me, but for our family and others.  Here’s to conjuring up my next goal in life and fearlessly chasing after it together.  XOI am humbled to be named 1st Runner-Up to our poised, accomplished, and determined Miss Wisconsin 2017, McKenna Collins and look forward to seeing what things she achieves during her year of service.  Now McKenna, go win Miss America girl!  After all, it’s happened before!  But in all seriousness, back to my question…how does one conceptualize seven years?  I find ease in my firm belief that everything happens for a reason and timing is everything.  This is by no means a loss, but an exceptional lesson that cultivated over that lengthy time frame.  I find fulfillment in all the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and the relationships that will last for many, many years to come.  Thank you to everyone who has believed in me, offered kind words, or affected my journey in some facet, without you none of this would’ve been possible.

Much love,

Just Tianna

Here Comes The Bride

Sunday, April 30 marked only 97 more days until my sister, Morgan Vanderhei says, “I do.”

Welcome sign was purchased on Zazzle, along with the other framed signs.

My mom and a couple of her bridesmaids and I had been planning the details of her Bridal shower for quite some time now and they all came to fruition.  Thankfully and much to our contentment, she loved everything (couldn’t be happier).  Are you working to plan a bridal shower or wedding event in the upcoming future?  Here are some more photos and details about the day:


All the shower guests absolutely loved the mimosa bar, it was a huge hit!  Highly recommend it.

Surprisingly enough, the lace and burlap runners adorning the tables were also purchased at Walmart (Vintage Burlap and Lace).  One of my favorite aspects, decoration wise of the shower were most definitely the “BRIDE” balloons I got at Party City.  I was able to pre-order them, pay for them ahead of time, and scheduled to pick them up Saturday morning when I left to drive home (so convenient).

The balloons helped create a focal point for the room.IMG_5217IMG_5147IMG_5077IMG_5079Now the countdown to the wedding commences!

We played a classic newlywed game where I asked Andrew questions ahead of time, wrote his answers on large sheets of paper, and had her guess her answers on the spot on a dry-erase board.  All of the guests received the fifteen questions and were able to fill out their guesses prior to Morgan making her guesses, super fun!

My favorite game was without a doubt ‘Bridal Shower Bingo’, played while Morgan was opening gifts.  I purchased the cards off of Zazzle and filled them out myself.  I thought it was a creative, unique game that connected the guests with the bride-to-be while she was opening presents (which let’s be honest, can get kind of boring).  Even better, I got amazing feedback that people thoroughly enjoyed the bingo game.IMG_5118The adorable, lavender bars of soap were shower favors for all the guests that we placed on the tables.  Amy, one of the bridesmaids purchased them from the Good Earth Soap based in Kewaunee, Wisconsin-be sure to check out their Facebook and website for more, homemade products!

Have any more questions?  Feel free to comment below or email me!